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Maneesh Sharma Interview #Fan #Pandolin #QnA

“Entering Mannat to meet Shah Rukh Khan was my Fan moment”

Maneesh Sharma is one of the most sought-after young filmmakers in India. He started his career with Band Baaja Baaraat and swept all the Best Debut Director awards for the film throughout the next year. From there, Maneesh has grown from strength to strength as a director, and then, as a producer for Yash Raj Films, with his much acclaimed first film, Dum Laga ke Haisha, winning the National Award. His passion project Fan has been in the making for about 10 years now. From its origins to the final production, this has been a ride for the filmmaker and fans alike. In an exclusive and in-depth chat with guest writer, Nikhil Taneja, Maneesh Sharma opens up about the film, its genesis and his long association with YRF.

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Pandolin.com. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/EEC8Ru


You wanted Fan to be your first film, isn’t it? I find it interesting that although your eventual goal was to make a thriller-drama of this scale, why did you only make comedy-dramas before this? Why did you not gravitate towards any thriller in your career so far?
It was obviously unplanned because I was very driven to make Fan as my first film and having said that, I also wanted to make my first film with Shah Rukh Khan. When I was coming to Bombay, I told my friends in Delhi that there would definitely be a day when there will be a film called Fan and it will say “Starring Shah Rukh Khan, produced by Aditya Chopra and directed by Maneesh Sharma”. Ye toh mujhe karna tha. Adi (Aditya Chopra) was always encouraging, but he would always tell me that you must develop it (the film’s idea). Therefore, it came with a suffix that it cannot be your first film.

In the time I was trying to develop the idea, Fanaa (*his first film as an AD for YRF*) released. Then Adi told me that he is planning a Madhuri Dixit comeback film. When I heard ‘Madhuri Dixit film’, there was no need to talk any further (smiles). So I put Fan on hold and worked on Aaja Nachle. When I got back to Fan after that released, Adi again called me and said that this time, he was making a film with Shah Rukh and wanted me to work on that (chuckles). I thought, “Obviously. If Shah Rukh and Adi are doing it, then I am doing it!” Rab Ne… (Rab Ne Bana di Jodi) happened and I reiterated ne last time that I wanted to make Fan. But Adi told me that since the film is a very ambitious one, not just financially, but creatively, he asked me to first make a film where I didn’t have to break mountains so I could hone my craft. Since I had kept at it for 5-6 years, I got dejected that I won’t ever be able to make this one.

Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) came out of that dejection. The story of Band Baaja… happened, Adi liked it and agreed to produce it. I must say that it was a very honest film because it was my first film and it came from an organic space. We just made what we wanted to make. Thankfully Band Baaja… put me in a place that Adi could talk to him about the film. By then I also knew SRK because of Rab Ne…. And it was also a sheer coincidence that I received my best debut director award from SRK himself on my birthday (smiles). We kept talking about the film and had some equation by then. Before BBB released, Adi and I had discussed that in terms of development and writing, Habib Faisal would be the writer. Since it would take time, I did Ladies vs Ricky Bahl as its script was ready.

When Adi planned Jab Tak Hai Jaan with SRK, he also told him that there was an idea for a film by me. SRK liked it and he told Adi that he wanted to do both! So it was decided that he would do Fan after Jab Tak… so Habib would also be able to write properly after Ishaqzaade. Meanwhile, Shuddh Desi Romance happened (laughs).

People keep talking about how I work within the same milieu but it was not at all planned! I only take ownership of Band Baaja Baaraat. That came from me, I liked it and thought that it would be a new voice. Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Shuddh Desi… both came as bound scripts to me. When people say that my command on Delhi is very good, I feel like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Shuddh Desi Romance is set in Rajasthan (laughs). And Ladies vs Ricky Bahl too had barely 10 minutes of Delhi. Even in Fan, a quarter of the film is in Delhi but this association has got too glorified, that I am good with that milieu. Another thing that is said is that all my films are set in the middle class, which is another unplanned thing.

Your question is right to an extent – if I was planning to make Fan then why the other kind of films? When I was in film school, it was on my bucket list that I wanted to direct a Jaideep Sahni film and it happened. l liked the script and also thought that the film had great attitude in the writing. Another thing is that directorially, Shuddh Desi… was a very tough film. It is not that I am always looking for a larger scale in terms of money, VFX, etc. It may very well happen that the next film that I end up doing might be a 3 crore film with a newcomer. I think your association with the film/script at that point in your life is very important because you are charged about different things in different phases of your life.

For the same reason, I admire Yash Chopra as a director in terms of his body of work and I find it weird that this thing about him being the King of just ‘romance’ is talked over and over again. He made movies like Deewar, Kala Patthar, Mashaal, Dhool Ka Phool and Satyakam. Whatever he did, he did it well, irrespective of genre. Therefore it is beyond me to classify him into one slot. I think it will take at least 10 films for me to achieve a prolificacy. It is not that the next film that I do has to be a comedy. I think there is honesty in being unplanned, and I hope that I will be able to retain it. Success and failure will come and go and I know that I will make both good and bad films.

For example, I did get some flak for Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and I am not being defensive here but no one tells that it is a shit film. It was ‘okay’. And I think people were reacting to the monkey on its back with respect to Band Baja Baaraat. But I was not trying to outdo or match what I did with Band Baja Baraat. I was excited to make an Indian chick flick. I was not planning a bigger, better film after a successful film and I don’t want to do that even after Fan now (smiles).

Did a Shah Rukh Khan film for YRF outside of Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra’s direction feel like a daunting task? Being from the same college as Shah Rukh Khan (Hanraj College, Delhi) and your associations with him from assisting days help during the shoot or did you have to figure how to direct him from day one onwards?
The thing, is arriving at Fan has been a very long journey, vis-à-vis Shah Rukh Khan. I’ll tell you a little story. It was in 2004 and I was about to graduate from my film school. I wanted to meet Shah Rukh Khan and pitch him an idea that I want to make a film with him and to ask him how to go about it. One night I was partying really hard during my college days at Cal Arts, LA, and it was 1:30 am that I called his spot boy, Subhash Da, and told him that my name is Maneesh and I am graduating from film school and I have a script for Shah Rukh Khan (chuckles). He said to call him back in 10 minutes. I thought he was just brushing me off but I did call back after 15 minutes and he said wait for a minute and then from the other side, Shah Rukh Khan’s voice comes on, ‘Hello?’ I was standing on a LA street and wondering whether this was real (smiles).

So I immediately became formal and started saying, ‘Mr. Khan’ and being courteous.  I told him I wanted to pitch him a film. So he gave me his manager’s number and repeated the number too. I said I’ll be in India in June/July and asked when will be a good time to meet him. He said he was preparing for a show, ‘Temptations’ and was very focused on it but we’ll figure it out. I thought that I spoke to Shah Rukh, so now I am definitely making this film, it is done (chuckles).

When I came back to India from college, I tried contacting his team but there no response. So I went to Bombay and crashed at a friend’s place. I dropped him a long message saying that ‘You asked me to come here and because of that I am here and now you are not responding at all’. A couple of hours later I got his message that I am shooting and at 6:30, come to my place, the address is ‘Mannat, Band Stand, Bandra’. I thought, ‘Really?!’

So, I landed there. Entering Mannat to meet Shah Rukh Khan was my first ‘fan’ moment. I went to the guard and I said that I am here to meet Shah Rukh. He said that he is not there. I thought that this is a standard response so I said to him that I had received a message from him but the guard said that he really is not there. Fifteen minutes later SRK messaged me that he is running late and will be there in 20 minutes and will inform at the gate and I can come in after that. So when his car came, a whole horde of fans ran in to have a look. These are all were very strong images and the idea seeded there and then for the film.

When the Mannat gate opened, I felt like I was walking in 48 fps (laughs). I met Subhash Dada, put a name to the face. I was sitting in what used to be his meeting room then. I just looked around the room and it looked astonishing – the great sea view, there were different VHS tapes that were kept there, even Fauji’s, there was a jukebox.

When Shah Rukh Khan came in, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s how he looks! (smiles). We had an hour long chat. He is, of course, a very gracious person and if you meet him in person for a chat, he will own you. He had a very professional manner. We talked about Delhi and Barry John, our common alma matter, and we discussed a lot of things. He liked the idea and then after talking about a lot of things I left. I had no idea how this process works. I mean to get his time like that, I don’t know I can pull it off even no!? After that I met other people too but I realized that if I have to work in the industry, first I need to know how it works. So I decided that I will start but I will only work at Yash Raj films. Then, somehow, Fanaa happened… and you know the rest of the story.

But by the time Fan happened we had also completed a sort of journey ourselves through Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, on which I was an associate director. So by then, it was not directing a superstar, it was more like a collaboration, like working with an immensely talented person. We just wanted to make the best film possible.

You seem to have a certain instinct about the films you choose to make, both as a director and producer. It seems to me that you have an innate understanding of young people of India. While ‘Bollywood’s’ idea of ‘the youth’ is young people from Bombay, you make stories from all over India, be it Delhi, Rajasthan, Haridwar or even your upcoming films as a producer which are set in different cities. Is this something that you look for in a script? Is there something in particular that you are assessing, for that matter, whenever you read a script?
No, I don’t, actually. As a script, BBB came from me because of my understanding of a particular subculture. From the people and places I knew and the spaces I understood. It may sound strange but BBB came from an in-flight magazine (smiles). I was in a flight and reading this article about six case studies about these new age entrepreneurs. In some cases, these people were just packaging your gifts well, that’s all. And that kick-started the thought that it is somewhere talking about the middle class and lower middle class’ aspiration. It was very exciting to see self-employed people trying to start a business and make money. So the idea started there; that if there were two youngsters from this milieu who have no resources but they have a vision then how would they go about it. I don’t think of it as a love story but as a relationship story between these two.

Whether it was a rom-com or a ‘youngsters’ story or even a love story, whatever audiences must have thought of it, it probably was about the conflict of their aspirations to do bigger weddings. I think two things happen: I have more affinity towards, and understanding of, this kind of material. And the second thing I get excited about is when something has not been done so far. I cannot say if something is unique in the preparation phase but if something is fresh and exciting, I back it up and enjoy the process of seeing it through. Even for Shuddh Desi, the thing that excited me was that we were talking about three young people in a very regular situation which society considers very irregular because ‘live-in’, as a situation for our audience is still something that happens only in New York or Europe or Australia or may be in South Bombay. That excited me so I guess because I come from the same environment I get hooked to it.

When Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s script came, I was busy with Fan’s pre-production. At that stage I was developing a script with Sharat (Katariya). Then one day, he wanted to narrate an idea to me for feedback. It was a script for him to direct. I told Adi about it and explained to him why I felt about the characters and space, etc. He said that if you are so excited about it then why don’t you produce it? Now I knew he was looking for some creative producers and I probably was on his mind on that list, but he said that I really have to believe that I can do it. I was happy to do it because I thought that at least the movie will get made that way. I did not even do it for Sharat, I just did it for what he had written. My only contribution after reading the draft was asking Sharat, ‘Why don’t we set it in 1994?’ Prem liked audio cassette but the film was written contemporarily. But it gave me a cue of why don’t we take it to the time the transition happened to CDs. This also gave some context to some of the regressive character behavior. Sharat also got kicked about ‘90s and it became a big flavor. It wasn’t as if I was tempering with his material but it was just an idea. That’s the only way you go for it. You just feel that this feels right and hope that others also find it right later on. This is the only thing that I want to protect about myself.

Your career and filmography is still young but I’m curious to know if you ever think in terms of what your legacy when you select a script to direct or produce. Do you think in terms of, say, at the end of your career, people should think about Maneesh Sharma in this particular way?
It’s a very interesting question. Do I think about legacy in a certain way? Yes. Say after my ten films, you might hate them or dislike them but when you discuss them there will be a certain intention. You will find that there is something worth deconstructing. But if you think that I plan my movies to be in a certain order, or plan some kinds of projects at certain points in my career, then it is not so. At least so far it hasn’t been so and hopefully it won’t be so in future too. I don’t belong to that school of thought.

When I am backing a script in any capacity, my only criteria is that if I like it, I will do it. Let me tell you how Shuddh Desi happened. I was suffering from jaundice in the middle of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl’s shoot. There was a lot of pressure of time because some 20-25 days of shoot was left, three songs were to be done. One day Adi said that you are just lying down, read a script and give me feedback. Adi was not looking for me to direct it. Adi and Jaideep were discussing it and they thought that let’s also ask Maneesh to read it since he is lying down idly anyway (chuckles).

In that state I read Shuddh Desi romance and I remember I read 65% of it and I was feeling drowsy only because of my physical state but I was really enjoying the script. I put an alarm that I will wake up in 45 minutes to read the rest and I did that. I loved that script. It was a slightly different draft, though, principally, it was the same film. I called Adi in the morning and said it is terrific so he called me to the office.. he wanted to meet me and Jaideep together. I was very excited about the script and told them whatever I felt about it. It was a week or so later that I asked Adi, ‘By the way, who is making that film?’ He said that he hadn’t attached any director yet, so I said, ‘Then I am making that film’ (chuckles). He was planning something else for me and I said, ‘Don’t worry about that’ so this happened.

I must tell you another thing that since the reception of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl was different, everyone kept saying that I was making a ‘comeback’ film. They wanted me to do a ‘safe’ film. Now I did not know how it was an ‘unsafe’ film, I was not thinking like that at all. You have to stick with your instincts and thankfully, it worked well. It was actually my most successful film on box office despite what everyone was thinking about it (smiles).

Earlier, of course, since you were in the middle of Fan, you probably didn’t have the mind space to think about another film for you to direct. But when you got closer to Fan releasing, and you liked a script that came to you, how did you choose between producing it and directing it yourself? And how will you go about it in the future?
If I read a script and I really like it, I get very excited about it. Now whether I am excited about it in the way that I want to direct it or I just want to just creative produce it, that answer does come easily. It is not that if I am directing a film then it is more mine, I just have to think about the number of hours given to this film on a day-to-day basis for several years. Otherwise, for me, it is always the case that if it is a good project then it should be made, and it does not matter in what capacity I am attached to it.

Do you discuss with Aditya Chopra about the kind of projects that you’ll produce and the ones that you’ll direct? Has there been any particular idea for how your films as a producer will be similar or different from everything else by the banner?
Not at all, yaar. It’s all about instinct. Between Adi and me, there has been no such discussion that I will do something in one capacity or another. In fact, one thing that’s very heartening is that Adi said, ‘There might be a scenario that I might not like a script that you like but I’ll still want you to make that film, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having you as a producer. If you are fully convinced, then make it, otherwise the larger purpose of finding new voices and creating new content gets defeated.’ I think I have quite a free room in the kind of projects that I want to do. I really have to believe in a project to do it and so far it has not happened where I had to really sell him an idea. It will happen someday where he will not be convinced and I’ll have to really try to convince him (smiles) but so far it hasn’t happened.

So what are the aspects in which your thought process is similar to that of Aditya Chopra’s? How are you guys similar as producers?
I think Adi and I have a really good confluence. It is a nice give-and-take relationship. See, even if you start with the fact that he is Yash Chopra’s son and has grown up in this industry, the fact is that he has made a mark with his first film in a way that no one else has done. His understanding of the industry and Hindi films is of a certain ‘darja’ (level). I am a Delhi boy who wanted to make a film. Our one commonality is that we both are film buffs; we like films in general. There is lot of respect for each other in the manner that I view certain portion of film in one way and he in another way. Our film association has almost been five to five-and-a-half films old. If you keep that aside and we are talking about any X film, then there is a commonality and a passion for films, yet worldview wise and ideology wise, we do not think in the same way, but in a constructive manner. Adi backs films like Band Baja or Shuddh Desi Romance because he has an acumen, and he knows that cinema has to change and new voices have to come in.

You have also assisted him when he directed Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, what are the things you picked up from him as a director?
What I realize now fully and I realized it back then too is that we are from very different schools. I am a very unstructured director. I never give a shot breakdown to my ADs. We always start from a blank slate on the shoot’s morning. It works for me and I find a certain energy in that. Adi is the complete opposite. He is a writer-director, I am not, though I may have given the story for two of my films. I have realized one thing that if you read Adi’s script on paper, you feel like it has been directed over there itself. It has so much clarity for everyone. Whoever reads it, there are no different interpretations, whether it is an actor or a production designer or a DP. He directs it first on paper and then it is just about logistics of taking a shot. That is a big learning. Another thing is collaborating with music directors, which was completely alien into me. He was heavily involved in the music of both Fanaa and Aaja Nachle, both films where he wasn’t the director. This is something that I have learned from him.

Finally, a question out of curiosity. Will we ever see you directing or producing something on digital?
Yes, why not? I don’t feel there is a demarcation between the formats. I like storytelling and whatever it comes on is fine. During my film school, I had worked on all kind of formats so my association is in fact stronger with these formats.

 

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Note: This interview first appeared on Pandolin.com in April 2016.
Link: http://pandolin.com/entering-mannat-to-meet-shah-rukh-khan-was-my-fan-moment/
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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Interview: Danish auteur filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn #SundayGuardian #Film #Unedited

‘Art can be an act of violence’

Nicolas Winding Refn interviewed by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) over phone for The Sunday Guardian

Nothing about Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn is ordinary, or indeed, normal. He is a self-confessed ‘fetish filmmaker’ whose movies have raw, unflinching and ‘sexualized’ violence that often put Quentin Tarantino to shame. He has a penchant for the vile, whether it’s through the antics of his characters on screen, or through the reactions they elicit from reviewers across the globe. He’s revered by some with a staunch fandom, and loathed by some with an equal fervor. His films, from the cult classic Pusher trilogy, to the recent critical achievement, Drive, have not only catapulted him on to the world stage, but have also rewarded international stars Ryan Gosling (Drive), Tom Hardy (Bronson) and Mads Mikkelsen (Pusher II) with the career-making acclaim that’s helped them reach where they are today.

Counted, along with Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and Susanne Brier, as one of the greatest contemporary Danish directors, Refn is colour blind and dyslexic, and holds, amongst his many idiosyncrasies and inventive style, writing with index cards and shooting in chronological order. As his new film, Gosling-starrer Only God Forgives does the rounds of film festivals in India, in his first interview ever to an Indian publication, Refn is just as intriguing as any of his movies.


Your thoughts on Indian cinema haven’t ever been documented before.
Indian culture was a huge inspiration to me when I was shooting Only God Forgives in Bangkok. But the cinema culture of India is very interesting to me too, and also, I think, musically, India is a very interesting place. While Indian films haven’t directly inspired me, the whole world of colour, that flamboyant style, is inspiring. In terms of cinema, what I usually prefer to look at, and I’m not an expert at it, is to see some of the more fantasy oriented of Indian cinema. India’s fantastical films are not very inspired by European cinema, which of course, is very, very good. I mean, god! It’s fantastic! I like fantasy in the cinema of Europe too, but when I see the fantasy world of India, that’s when I really find it fascinating. Because I feel like I’ve been transported into a cultural time warp, in a way.

You’ve often spoken about your love for fantasy and the Grimm fairy tales, and there’s an undercurrent of the fantastical in all your films. Where did this stem from?
I come from a background of logic, you know. My family is Scandinavian, which is all based on logic of life and times. Religion is not part of our upbringing in any way. What changed my life radically was coming to New York when I was eight years old, and seeing new York. And for me, in 1978, it was really like coming to a fantasy world. So I think that because my life changed at a young age, I became very, very interested generally in fantasy. And when I say fantasy, I mean the language of fairy tales, myths, or fables or something that was removed from my original background, or upbringing.

And then, my mother was always very good at reading me the Brothers Grimm or, you know, obscure science fiction, when I was little. So I guess it also came a lot from my upbringing, thank god. But I do have very much of an interest in the esoteric, you know. When I started making movies, I tried to capture reality in film. I wanted to capture authenticity. But I also quickly realized that it was ludicrous, because there is no such thing, the capturing of authenticity. And I became much more interested in heightened reality, which in essence is fantasy, or fairytale, or whatever you want to call it. But something where it was removed enough from reality, so it wasn’t reality, yet at the same time, it was emotionally accessible, you know. And that is what I find much more fascinating to lose myself in.

You have admitted in the past too that your early career was about trying to make a great film, and now, you are only doing what you like to do. What, according to you, made for a great film?
Well, I guess, that’s the one thing I thought that I could try to capture, when I was young and naïve… what made for a great film? My favourite film is probably It’s A Wonderful Life. But then I also like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So I realized you can’t capture greatness, you just have to make what you believe in, and hopefully, it works. So that’s why I say my life is in two stages – the first time I was trying to capture the ingredients, and I failed, miserably (chuckles). But, by failing miserably, I also realized that I should approach what I do in a radically different way, in order to really find a reason why I was doing it. I realize essentially all I was, was a fetish filmmaker, that throws everything like a pin up magazine.

Growing up, what was it about the movies that made you want to make a great film?
You must understand, that in the early 70s, when I was born in Copanhagen, there was only one television station. And that one television station would show [content of] maybe 4 hours of 5 hours a day, you know. So something may be for children in the afternoon for an hour or in the evening, and then once a while, maybe something in the morning. But it was very, very, very, very limited. This is before VHS, of course, or whatever they had back then. And I was too young to run to the cinema unless somebody took me. So what really changed my life was the access to American television. I suddenly realized that through television, I had the ability and the power to switch channels and see many different kinds of films that were on TV. And of course, I went to the movies when I became older, and constantly, during my teenage years, or as much as I could.

But it was really television that radically changed my life, because television became accessibility… a bit like how the internet has become a way for us to see mass entertainment because of online streaming. Suddenly, we now have full control of how we wanna see it, when we wanna see it, and what we wanna see. And that’s what I experienced, coming to see television when I was 8 years old in America. And as I said, I liked all kinds of films. Of course, being young, you are more interested in, what are called, entertainment for 8 year olds, but I always liked the cinema of the occult, the cinema of horror, the cinema of fantasy. Anything that was subliminal, I always found interesting.

So is there a reason you make films today? Is it to explore something about yourself or to explore something or somebody intangible?
Very much. I think there’s a reason I make every film. And I think the reason comes purely out of myself, you know. I’m not a political filmmaker, I don’t have a political message that I want to get across. Or a social oriented message, for that matter. That has no interest in me. I like the act of creativity, I like the act of expression, and I think that essentially art with a singular vision is what really can change the world. Every film of mine is an extension of my alter ego. Especially my last three, Valhalla Rising, Drive and Only God Forgives.  Although Bronson was autobiographical in a more direct way, in the sense that I took somebody else’s life and made my own autobiography. And I did that because Charlie Bronson is an artificial character. He’s a made up persona by Michael Peterson. So in a way, I was taking a constructed reality to base it on my own autobiography. Because you know, the first half of Bronson is about a man who aspires to be world famous, not knowing why. Which is very much how I started out.

But, like Bronson, I was very nihilistic in everything I had to do. I was destroying everything around me. I felt art had to annihilate everything, a bit like Bronson. You realize violence is a way to become famous, but of course, it had its limits, because his stage is a prison. And it’s not until his art teacher explains to him that his art can be his act of violence, and for me, that’s when I realized that I should no longer try to capture great filmmaking and, that I was becoming nihilistic about everything. I should actually just enjoy the act of creativity, and not think about the results. And that’s what Bronson did, you know. Of course the consequence is that Bronson’s stage was a prison, because that was the flip side of him achieving everything he always wanted. Whereas, I, thank God, have a wife and children (laughs) who I go home to. But that’s very much an autobiography.

So what do you want the audiences to take back from your movies? Is there a take away you have in mind?
No, except polarization. You can love it or hate it, as long as it has penetrated your mind and implanted a thought, which is a very, very personal and individual experience. I don’t have a personal agenda that I want to get across. I believe art is upto people’s own interpretation. That’s when it becomes interesting. It inspires people to think, but they have to look at it from their own perspective. All I can do is to release it, all I can ask them is to absorb it, and do with it as they wish.

Art is like weapons of mass destruction; it has the same power, you know. War and weapons of mass destruction can change history. So can art. The difference between the two is where war destroys, art inspires. Art inspires thoughts, but it has to come from a singular vision in order to speak to an audience.

That begs the question about your responsibility as an artist. Your movies have often been accused of glorifying violence in your movies. Do you ever worry if that’s the takeaway for the audience?
I think anybody who has the ability to create has the responsibility. But I do think that there’s a big difference between people feeling and seeing something violent or glorified, and being violated. I think a way to react to your responsibility is by always making sure that there is a consequence to the violence. Violence in my movies always brings destruction with it. It is never based on humour or a cartoon.  But people can be violated by the images, because they feel that it penetrated their mind, in a way that it is absorbed, and they have no shield against it, and then it becomes, of course, much more of an experience.

There’s so much more violence in other films or television than in mine, so, sometimes people get confused. They think they see more than what’s actually there. It’s the power of subliminal images, because art works as a two-way experience. Art has to plant a thought, a seed in the mind of spectator, then the spectator continues to build their own visions with it. So it becomes a two-way experience, a flow, and not just a passive viewing of entertainment, which brings nothing because there’s no thinking in it. It doesn’t inspire thoughts, or reaction, should we say.

It’s also to do with the way you design violence in your films. What are you trying to express when you design a beautiful-looking violent seen?
That’s because art can be an act of violence. Why should it not be a seductive sexual experience? The violence of art is much more shocking the more you sexualize it. That goes back to the initial instinct of art. It’s an act of sex and violence. The more you purify that, the more, the more a penetration it becomes. That’s why I always say, art is a combination of sex and violence. It’s just an endless ability how to create the equation, you know.

I’m surprised you don’t factor love into this equation. Your films are essentially about people striving for love, than either sex or violence.
Of course, because love is what makes it all interesting. Sex and violence are the ingredients. You see, in order to get to love, it has to start from somewhere else. You have to fall in love, you know. I am strong believer that the core, in terms of our interests in storytelling, lies in love. If you have love for your characters, the audience falls in love with your characters when you tell a story, whether it’s a story, or  a book or a television show or a painting. There has to be an expression of love, because I believe, like you say, that’s essentially what people want to strive for.

What about romance? Is that important to you too?
I wouldn’t call romance a pure emotion because I think romance means thought. Romanticism is great, and it’s great to make films about romanticism, but, in terms of drama, the initial ingredient of drama, is combination of the two core emotions within us as human beings, which is lust and violence, or sex and violence, or aggression and desire, whatever you want to call it. But those are very, very primal emotional instincts that have nothing to do with logic, they are purely based on instinctual needs, you know. And that’s what drama is based on. Then of course, we can alter it and create stories around it, that can end up being romantic. But romance is a process, you know. You can make something romantic, but it has to be based, primarily, on the, the idea of desire and lust.

I’m very interested in knowing about your writing process. Your interest in primal emotions translates to your writing as well. You use index cards to write, isn’t it?
Well that’s more because realized I wasn’t a very good writer (chuckles). if I approach the movie based more on what would I like to see, then I could create a story after knowing what I would like it to be visually. Like I said, it’s a bit like shooting a pin up magazine. You pose the women in a certain precision. You photograph them in a certain position that you desire. You normally don’t really know what it all means until you start having a series of images. And then you suddenly realize there could possibly be a story in this.

Is your pin-up magazine approach why you shoot chronologically too? You are one of the only directors in the world who does that.
Yes, I always write chronologically, so I shoot it that way. I basically did it because I read that John Cassevetes had done it in his film, so I thought, ‘Well, if he did it, maybe I should try it!’ And yes, it became a way for me to submit myself to the creative process. Doing everything chronologically, like painting a picture, helps your work constantly evolves. I’m not interested in the results anymore, I’m interested in the process. The results are of no interest when it’s over.

Of course, you have to be smart about it. You may have to produce yourself, and that makes it easier, because of the production cost issues. You just have to know your limitations here, but also what it brings in terms of the positive impact. For example, it’s great for the actors. You have to write with the mindset of shooting in chronological order. You can’t just do it. You have to build it into the project from the beginning that you are developing.

Do you think you’ll every attempt anything conventional before you’re done? Do everything the way everyone normally does, just to see how it turns out?
(Laughs) I hope so. (Laughs again) But I don’t know. Because normality is only interesting if you twist it.


Note: 
An edited version of this interview first appeared as The Sunday Guardian cover story on June 28, 2014
Link: http://www.sunday-guardian.com/artbeat/art-can-be-an-act-of-violence

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Interview: Canadian auteur filmmaker David Cronenberg #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie Cinema: David Cronenberg on Cosmopolis

Canadian auteur director David Cronenberg came out with his 20th film this year, Cosmopolis, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name. The film, about a tumultous day in the life of a 28-year-old billionaire set against the background of a financial meltdown, evoked extreme mixed reactions from critics. Cronenberg, in an exclusive interview, told us what led him to make the film, why he chose Robert “Twilight” Pattinson as the lead, and how Satyajit Ray is important to him.

 

Your movie is the first cinematic adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel. Why do you think you have succeeded in turning a DeLillo book into a movie where no one else has?

(Laughs) Well, it’s funny you ask that because, I think that while Don’s work is very literary, his dialogue is very cinematic. So I am, myself, somewhat surprised that no one has made a movie from his work, and I’m not sure what the reason is. For me, every new novel is a possibility to translate into cinema. It won’t be the book, it can’t be the book, because the two media, literature and cinema, are extremely different. They seem to be very connected, and they are very connected, because even in the early days of sound and cinema, many of the movies made were adaptations of books and plays in particular, but they really are very different. So you have to accept that when you are going to adapt a novel, you are creating a new thing.

When you think of it, for example, even a very bad novel can do things that cinema can’t do at all, you know, like give you the idea that you are living inside someone’s head, and hearing their thoughts and feeling their thoughts as they flow. In cinema, you sort of, internalise the inner monologue. And often you find filmmakers try to get that effect by having somebody read the book while you are watching the movie. But to me, that’s an admission of failure. It means you haven’t really understood that you are creating a new thing that is related to the book, but is not exactly the book.

So, to come back to it, perhaps DeLillo is intimidating because those inner monologues, that he does, are sort of inside the head, and the abstraction, the metaphysics and the philosophy are very intense and very complex. Maybe that intimidates people. But for me, I really first went for the dialogue for Cosmopolis, apart from the characters of course. To me that was the spine of the movie and I didn’t worry about the things that were completely literary about the book and I could not even have done that. I knew the dialogues could be cinematic, so I just didn’t worry about them. In fact, DeLillo loved the movie, so he’s quite happy with it, you know.

It’s interesting you say that because you once even said in an interview, “To me dialogue is cinema”, and generally, not many filmmakers hold dialogue in high regard.

Well, yeah, I think, you know, cinema is about the human condition, really, and so much of the human condition exists as words, as conversation and as dialogue. I mean, you don’t have culture and you don’t have human society without words of some kind, and without human communication. And human condition by words gives you an abstraction. So I know that it’s easy to think of cinema as being essentially action or visual and it’s a common misconception that it is action of a very crude, physical kind, but, in my experience of cinema, (chuckles) over 65 years of it, I feel that without dialogue, without words, without conversation, without this talking, and without the human face – because I think the thing we photograph most as filmmakers is the human face – in particular, cinema wouldn’t be cinema.

You also said the characters of Cosmopolis attracted you. What was it about Eric Packer’s character that resonated with you?

For me, the whole idea that you must have a character who is perfectly sympathetic, is a very crude, and a very uninteresting kind of approach to cinema. I think the character has to be very interesting and fascinating and charismatic. I mean, he has to be somebody you want to watch and see what he says and see what he does.

So what’s interesting about DeLillo’s book is that all the way through, the characters are not particularly sympathetic in an obvious way. But by the end of the movie, you see that this character is, somewhere inside there, a very naïve, vulnerable child, who’s only going to get a haircut, but what he’s really going back to his childhood. He’s going back to the barber who gave him his first haircut. And when he’s there, you begin to see the innocence that’s there underneath the hard surface, and I think it’s a really interesting transformation and transition that you see in this character. At the beginning you think that this guy is very unemotional and hard and cold, and cynical perhaps. And by the end of it, you see that there’s a lot of emotion and a lot of vulnerability underneath there and the character turns out to be far more complex than you might have thought.

A lot has been said about your unconventional choice of Robert Pattinson for the lead role.

The thing I liked about Rob Pattinson as an actor is that he’s a serious actor. And you could lose sight of that, because he’s had this big popular success with the Twilight movies, but he is not afraid to play a character who is difficult to like, you know, because some actors are afraid to do that, because they feel it is too personal, that they themselves will not be liked by their audience, and so on. But a real actor is not afraid to play an unsympathetic character, and Rob is a real actor.

Also, I think to be an actor, you need intelligence, first of all. For example, Rob immediately realised that the script was quite funny, and most people don’t get that. Then you want sensitivity to the subtleties of the movie, in terms of what is going on in the movie, the dialogue and so on. And Rob, personally, is very knowledgeable about cinema.

(Chuckles) I don’t think his Twilight fans realise this about him, but he’s really an aficionado about art cinema. I mean, on the set I’d find him talking to Juliette Binoche about obscure French cinema, (chuckles) so you know, he brings a real depth of understanding of the history and art of cinema and all of those things mean that you have a lot of power and a lot of responsiveness from your actor as a director. It’s like driving the Ferrari instead of driving, you know, a Volkwagen Beetle. And you get that with Rob. I must also add, he’s very down to earth and very easy to work with. He’s not diva at all, you know. He’s really a sweetheart.

Cosmopolis is again a departure from anything you’ve done before. Do you ever plan to return to the body horror genre you are so loved for?

I am not really deliberately avoiding the genre but you know, it’s I just don’t want to keep doing something that I’ve done before. I feel that as an artist you are primarily interested in observing the human condition, in all its complexity and so, I, I really want the field to be wide open, I don’t really restrict myself.  It’s all very intuitive for me, you know, the things that interest me.

But in a way, I’ve been exploring the theme of human technology and of human invention in all my movies and capitalism is another example of technology. When you think of money as technology it starts to make sense in terms of what I’m interested in the movies, which is human creation… things that we create, that we cannot control.

And then when you think of it, capitalism is like a Frankenstein monster, we invented it, we created it, we humans, but we seem not able to control it. You wonder why everybody in power couldn’t get together and say, “Look, this financial problem is not good for anybody, so why don’t we just fix it, because after all, we invented money, it’s not as though it’s the tsunami or the hurricane. It’s not a natural force, it’s a human force. Why can’t we all just get together and fix it?” But of course, it takes on a life of its own and we really can’t control it.

But the movie is still not anti-capitalist, it’s more complex than that. There are characters in the movie who are anti capitalist and so on, but all the main characters are very pro capitalist, (chuckles), so it was funny and ironic when Rob Pattinson and I rang the opening bell of the NYSE, you know, (chuckles) and the people there were very friendly. They were certainly all capitalists and they were very proud of NYSE and they were very happy to promote the movie Cosmopolis because of course, that’s capitalism too, isn’t it!

What are your thoughts on Indian cinema?

To be honest, I’m not familiar enough with it to be able to speak on it. But you know, we have a huge Indian population in Toronto, and whenever there are Bollywood festivals here, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding them. I understand that there are a lot of interesting changes and that there’s a great evolution in current Indian cinema. I also know Deepa Mehta well because she’s a fellow Toronto filmmaker so I do a strong connection between Toronto and Mumbai.

But of course, I remember…. I mean I’ve seen the classics of the ’60s and so on, and they had a huge influence on me. You know, It’s just so intriguing to see a film from another culture in another language, because you can actually live in some other life that’s not your own, for a while, and that’s really quite fantastic. I mean that’s what the essence of cinema is. So, those films made a big impression on me.

Are you referring to the movies of Satyajit Ray?

Yes, you know, Satyajit Ray and the world of Apu. Because those were part of the, what we think of now, art cinema “with a capital A”, of the late ’50s of the early ’60s. So those movies were part of movement that had movies by Italian cinema’s (Federico) Fellini, Japanese cinema’s (Akira) Kurosawa and French cinema’s (Jean-Luc) Goddard and so on, and they primarily represented India in those days.

And it was exciting because you really felt that there was a world movement that, in a sense, where elevating cinema from just being entertainment for the masses to, an art form. Because when movies began, people thought it was just for the lower classes, and it took a while before people realised that cinema was an art form, you know. And Ray’s movies were an important part of that.

So how’s your novel going? How different is it from writing a screenplay?

It’s really an interesting process. My father was a writer and Brandon always wanted to be one, and frankly, I never thought I’d be a filmmaker, even I thought I’d be a writer. So, you know, it’s taken me a really long time to come to terms with writing fiction, but the thing about it is that I’m surprised how much like directing it is. Because you are casting it, you are choosing the costumes, you are choosing the locations, in a way you are choosing when you do a close up, when you will do a long shot, you know, or do you describe this person in detail or not. So, it’s closer to directing that screenwriting, weirdly enough.

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on December 22, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/2012-in-indie-cinema-david-cronenberg-on-cosmopolis-564472.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Canadian filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie Cinema: Brandon Cronenberg on Antiviral

Canadian writer-director Brandon Cronenberg came out with a unique first film this year, Antiviral, about a man who works for a company that harvests diseases from celebrities and then injects them into paying clients.

A bizzare, surreal but a very well done and confident take on celebrity obsession, Antiviral premiered in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It has subsequently travelled across the world, winning the Gold Hugo award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Best Canadian First Feature Film Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. In an exclusive interview, Brandon talks about making a fantasy horror film, the intimacy of illness, and his father, legendary filmmaker, David Cronenberg.

 

You mentioned in an interview that you decided to explore the celebrity obsession through illness because it’s more intimate than sex. Can you elaborate?

If you look at it in a certain way, illness is at least as intimate as sex in that, you know, it’s something that comes from someone else’s cells that penetrates your cells, and goes from their bodies into your bodies, so it is very sexual and very intimate. But I think we don’t see it that way because you often don’t know what it can do to you, so there’s a nervousness and there’s anxiety, but if you look at it in a certain way, you are passing something from one body to another body.

So if I just exaggerated the celebrity obsession phenomenon very slightly and connected it to the intimacy of illness, and talked about it with this new perspective, I thought it would be an interesting way of seeing things. So while I do think that Antiviral is a fantasy, it’s not very far-fetched in the sense that it’s sort of like our world, where we do comment on celebrity culture all the time, but it’s exaggerated very slightly, and I think that’s an interesting way of putting it.

What gave you the confidence to explore the subject within the limitations of indie budgets? How did you know the subject was good enough for your first film?

(Chuckles) Well it was the only script I had written at the time that I had the opportunity to make into a film, which is why I chose it. I mean I had a number of ideas and I’ve made some short films before, but this is the first full-fledged feature script I had written. But yeah, the subject is just something I found very interesting and I thought that the script turned out good, so I just went with it. And I think, you know, you just have to have confidence in what you are doing or hope for the best. Or else you become paralysed and can’t do anything. I fortunately had a lot of good people I was working with, so that made me more confident that we could do it together.

Apart from being a writer and director, you are also a painter and a musician. When you are writing a film, are you combining all these elements in your head, or do you tackle one beast at a time?

It’s a little of everything, I guess. When I’m writing, I just leave it open. Sometimes, I have a very specific image in mind, and sometimes I have very specific music in mind, and so I try to have as clear a sense what I want, as much as it’s possible. But when you start to make the film, everything changes, you know, because you suddenly have actors and they have their own interpretations, and it takes on its own life. So I try and be as clear in my mind as I can when I’m writing, and then I try not worrying too much if there are better things.

When I went to film school, this is actually the best advice I got at it: that at every stage of the film you look at what you have and you’ve got to make the best film you can with that. So, you know, you write the best film you can and when you have your script and when you have your actors on the sets, you look at that and you sort of shoot it in a way without worrying if you deviate too much, or if you come up with other ideas or certain other obstacles. And then you take the footage and keep looking at it at every stage with fresh eyes and letting it evolve until you have your final film.

Now that you mention it yourself, it’s curious that you felt the need to go to film school at all, since growing up with your father, David Cronenberg, one would assume he was all the film school you’d need.

I think, unless you are making a very specific kind of film, you can’t do it on your own. You are going to need to be plugged into a community, so a film school was a way of, you know, teaching yourself filmmaking because unless you have people to make films with, the process is very difficult. Film school gave me a period of time where I could meet other people who wanted to make films so we could all experiment with the equipment, and that’s why it was very important.

On the other hand, a lot of the films people make in films school haven’t really succeeded in that industry because ultimately, we’re learning in a very artificial environment. I think learning in an academic environment you can only teach yourself so much, but you actually have to learn filmmaking by simply doing it. So for me, going to my father’s sets or working on his film – I worked on Existenz in the special effects department – I think I got a sense of filmmaking and a sense of the process in the real world, and that was an advantage.

Since you’ve attempted horror with Antiviral, which is a genre done so well by your father, were you at any time worried about the fact that you’d be compared to his work?

Yeah, it occurred to me that would happen but I tried to ignore that because first of all, the film is representative of what’s interesting to me and what I wanted to do. So my filmmaking cannot be defined his filmmaking. Also, it would be difficult to do something he hasn’t done because he’s just done too much! And secondly, you know, he’s my father and we have love some of the same things, and I grew up with him, so it’s obvious our films, interests and aesthetics would overlap to a certain extent. So, for me, if I’ve got into a film, I have to worry about people as little as possible.

So is your father a proud dad after he sees your work, or does he get technical about it?

(Chuckles) Oh no, he was a very proud dad. But also, you know, in our family, I see early cuts of his films and I showed him my film, and since my mother’s a filmmaker and my sister’s a photographer, we all show each other our projects in advance.

How much importance do you give to external opinion for your film? I read that six minutes of your film was cut after its premiere at Cannes.

Well, the 6 minutes we cut was less because of outside feedback and more because we were rushing the film to get it done for Cannes, and we hadn’t had a chance to step away from it. And then we saw it again with fresh eyes, and noticed that there was obviously a part of it that we felt could change. But yes, the external point of view is a tricky thing. When you’ve tried to have a certain effect and communicate certain things, then at a certain point you need to start showing other people and seeing if they are getting what you are trying to say. Because if nobody understands what you are trying to say, then you should be worried and take that feedback back to your film. So it’s not so much trying to make everyone happy but trying to gauge whether or not the effect you are trying to have is working.

So what do we see from you next? Something lighter?

I’m not really interested in making a light film. I may do it eventually, but to me that’s not very interesting. Because I’m not interested in filmmaking just as a form of entertainment. For me, filmmaking is an art form and I’d like to do things with it people haven’t done before.

Does that mean we’ll never see you making a superhero film?

(Laughs) Well, I don’t know! I think that with a very large budget you start to lose control, because there’s too much money invested, so I think there’s sort of good middle ground where you have enough money to do what you want but you don’t want to answer to too many people and that’s how I’d like to stay. So I’m probably going to remain independent because I don’t think I can work inside the studio system unless I’m very, very established because I don’t ever want to give up control over my filmmaking.

Since you are both a writer and a director, would we see you working on projects that are not conceived by you?

I wouldn’t want to write for anyone else because if I invest that much time in a script, I would want to direct it myself. Of course, I would direct something for someone else if I found the script interesting. But I like working on a film from an early stage, so it will have to be a script that I could connect with, and it would have to be in line with my sensibilities.

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on December 22, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/2012-in-indie-cinema-brandon-cronenberg-on-antiviral-566363.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Australian filmmaker Wayne Blaire #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie Cinema: Wayne Blair on The Sapphires

If you didn’t catch The Sapphires while it played at the Mumbai Film Festival, you definitely missed one of the most likable, charming and heartwarming movies of the year. Australian actor-director Wayne Blair’s first full length feature film, The Sapphires is about four talented indigenous Australian girls who form a music group and travel to Vietnam to sing for troops in the year 1968, when racism was still rampant in Australia.

In an exclusive interview, Wayne tells us about dealing with racism through comedy, the responsibility as an indigenous Australian and why movies about fractured souls appeal to him:

 

You’ve dealt with the sensitive issue of racism in The Sapphires. In 1968, racism was still quite rampant around the world, but you still hear about it in Australia today. How did you go about tackling this in the film today?

You know, tackling the subject of racism was sort of the mission statement of the two writers, Tonny Briggs and Keith Thompson. As you said, racism still resonates in Australia today as it did in 1968. It is just inherent in the society that we live in Australia, and it sort of rears its ugly head when you least expect. So, it is a truth and we just wanted to talk about the truth and remind our own country of where we stand in 2012, you know.

We could have gone much harder in dealing with this theme but we chose to deal with it through comedy because I suppose Tony Keith wanted some balance, some love and some joy in the film. Also, because while we wanted the film to resonate with the non-indigenous people who come to watch it, we wanted to do it in a way that it is a subtle way rather than in a weighty or hard-hitting way. Subtlety has an undertone of humanity and with that humanity comedy, which is great medicine, you know. We just wanted to tell a beautiful story that when you can walk away from it, you have a little tear and a little laugh and it makes you feel human again.

We’ve not seen too much of the indigenous Australian community on film. Since you are indigenous too, what were the challenges for you in trying to represent the community respectfully?

We just wanted to show that that aboriginal people did exist in the world back then too, and whether it was through soul music or the Vietnam war, we did participate. And that all we’ve wanted in the end is just love, respect and most importantly, to be considered equal. While everyone knows about the civil rights movement in America at the time this story takes place, there was a civil rights movement in Australia that mirrored that. That even in Australia aboriginal people did exist and they were fighting for the same rights as the non-aboriginal people, and perhaps still continue to do that.

Being indigenous, you just have a responsibility to your own stories. Because if you don’t tell them, who else is going to? Perhaps if a non-indigenous person may have directed the film, he may not have treated it the same way as I did. For example, if I walk into in an Indian restaurant and I see Italian people serving it, it would make me question it, you know. The food may still probably be good but there’s something about the authenticity if it came from the real people. So I have this responsibility, and I understand that, and I will continue to deal with this subject, because sometimes, you have to leave ego and ambition at the door.

You weren’t looking to make your debut with The Sapphires, and the movie just happened to you. Is it the kind of movie you always wanted to debut with?

No, I actually had another film that I was trying to debut with for the last three-four years, but that didn’t work out. But when The Sapphires came on to my table, its premise was so strong that I just had no choice but to partake in this adventure. It was one of those things when I was in the right place at the right time. It just felt right, you know. I didn’t really weigh the pros and cons or strengths and weaknesses as one really should do in these big things in life. And when Chris O’Dowd and Deborah Mailman, two actors who have a warm heart and a generosity of spirit, came on board, I knew I couldn’t have been involved in a better first movie.

Apart from the issues of racism, the movie would have been tough to make because it is a period musical, which are two really difficult genres. Plus, you had a limited budget, isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s interesting that when we started, the budget was about $ 13.5 million and then every six months, the budget went down by half a million. So bloody hell, you just want to shoot the film but the budget would keep going down, you know. But I think it’s first about getting the script to a state where it is strong and then just isolating the big moments of the film. We shot the film in 33 days, so ultimately, it all came down to the preparation and casting. One of the key reasons it worked was because we had a great cinematographer, Warwick Thornton, whose film, Samson and Delilah had won the Camera d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Usually cinematographers come eight weeks before shooting, but we spent 3-4 months talking about the film. We watched movies like Ray and The Tina Turner Story and The Color Purple to prepare, and we sort of became cohorts through the film.

The other major reason it worked well was because we auditioned for eight months. Usually when an actor auditions, they only have 2-3 scenes to do, but since we had to filter down from 120 girls to four, by the time we completed, the shortlisted girls had done around 15-20 scenes. So, in a way, we had already shot most of the film before we shot the film and by the time the actors came on the sets, they had already lived and breathed their characters for eight months. And that’s lucky because we were shooting on film and not on digital, so we could only do 2-4 takes for a scene. It all worked out well, but when I look back now, (chuckles) I’m surprised how ambitious it was for a first film. At that time, though, all I was thinking about was completing the call sheets every day.

You were an actor in the play of the same name, on which the film is based. Did your relationship with the original Sapphires help during the making of your film?

Yes, the play is written by Tony Briggs and is based on his mother, Laurel Robinson, and his aunt, Lois Peeler, who are two of the four original Sapphires. So I have obviously interacted with them a lot and it was beautiful, because they trusted us implicitly. And of course, since Tony was also writing this, and he and I were interacting every day, I was sort of in the belly of the beast, in a way. So whenever I had to make decisions on the set with regards to the character and dialogue, it was a no brainer, because we knew we had their trust and blessings. The four ladies are very humble but also very strong, so if I would have screwed up, they would’ve been on me very quickly (chuckles).

You’ve been an actor for a long time before turning director, having been directed by the likes of Phillip Seymour-Hoffman on stage. Did your insight as an actor make it easier to director other actors?

Yes, I think the most important thing I learnt from working with the various actors and directors is the importance of communication. You just have to have a way to communicate your vision to each individual on set and off set, and of course, everyone is different, so you have to have a level of communication which is different to each individual. From acting in theatre, I learnt that your creation has to have a connection to the truth and what you want to say to the world. That what you do has to be real. Phillip, in specific, had an attention to detail and a heart that was laid out on the table from the day I met him. He isn’t a cerebral person but he is a man of heart and a man of truth, with a soul that is fractured but that is also very real.

So where do you go from here?

I’m not too sure what I’m doing next but I do know that I’m fortunate to be part of the indigenous Australian community that’s been breaking out in front of the world of late. I’m just a cog in that wheel but I will continue to tell our stories with humility and generosity, so I can give something back to my own community. What I loved about films I grew up with was that they had love and heart and truth, and I admired stories about being a fractured human being in the world. That’s exactly what I’m after too. I’m after stories of fractured human beings who teach us that it is alright to be both sad and happy because that makes us human. But I like treating my work in a lighter way because I believe I’m part of one of those cultures in the world – along with Indians and the Irish – who appreciate love and joy than normal!

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on December 24, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/2012-in-indie-cinema-wayne-blair-on-the-sapphires-567777.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Brazilian filmmaker Luciano Moura #Firstpost #Film

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In conversation with Father’s Chair director Luciano Moura

Luciano Moura is a Brazilian film director, based in Rio de Janeiro. He has worked on many Brazilian TV shows and commercials, and his short film, The Residents of Humboldt Street did the rounds of film festivals around the world and won many awards. His debut movie, Father’s Chair, produced by Oscar-nominated director of City of God, Fernando Meirelles and stars Brazil’s biggest star, Wagner Moura, who is slated to play the villain opposite Matt Damon in Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium.

Father’s Chair premiered internationally at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and in India at the Mumbai Film Festival. It’s the story of a man, who has a difficult relationship with his family, going on the road to look for his missing son. In his interview, Luciano talks about the tricky relationships between fathers and sons, working with Fernando Meirelles and Wagner Moura, and the challenges the Brazilian film industry faces.

 

Your movie revolves around the relationship between a father and a son. Did the story come out of your relationship with your father or your son?

Luciano Moura (LM): (Laughs) It came from my relationship with my son. When you see the movie and if you have a son, you’d understand what I’m talking about (laughs). I mean, like all fathers, I’m very afraid of letting my son go and live his own life. I want to be there for him forever and it’s really hard to avoid the fact that he’s growing up. It’s a difficult situation, but I have to deal with it. In general, we try very hard to avoid certain moments in life and try to put them off for as long as possible. We try to control our life but life doesn’t work like that (chuckles). The movie was my way of exploring this relationship.

In the movie, Wagner’s character, Theo, has put his career before everything else. His family and his relationship with his son are falling apart, and he reacts very badly to these problems, and tries to control them. And one day, his son goes missing. Then, he has no choice but to deal with this. So he goes on the road to find his son, but he discovers another boy in place of his son – the son he never knew he had. At the same time, he also starts discovering himself, and realises that we can’t change life the way we want to… we have to change ourselves instead.

What’s your relationship with your son like, and how has it made its way into the movie?

LM:  (Chuckles) My son is about 15 years old now, but when I started to write this story, he was about 10. I didn’t know this feeling so well at the time but I was still afraid of it. That’s because I think relationships are important everywhere in the world but the first two relationships you ever have as a child – with your father and your mother – they define you as a person. Those relationships change your life and are the most wonderful and important relationships, but also the hardest to let go off.

I mean, personally, even after he’s grown up, I don’t have a bad relationship with my son, but it’s always difficult to understand how to go about it. You have to deal with a lot of responsibility as you grow up and raise children, as you try and understand what’s the right way to go about things, what are the wrong ways to avoid. And the thing is, nothing works (laughs). Things always keep changing and you just have to go along with them and discover on your own how to go about them. You just have to (laughs) pray, and hope that you are pointing your children towards a good way but the fact is, you can’t ever be sure what the good way is (chuckles)! This is how I feel about raising my son and I made the movie to talk about this.

What did your son think of the movie?

LM: He was fine with it (laughs). He liked it because he knows that it was based on him, or at least inspired by him, because in his case, he thankfully didn’t run away (chuckles). So I think he’s kind of proud of his father at the moment.

You’ve made a documentary before, and you’ve also directed many commercials. Was a feature film a natural transition?

LM: Yes, in fact, I always wanted to do a feature film. And after my short film, The Residents of Humboldt Street, travelled the world and won awards, I thought of getting into features. But Brazil was hit by a huge financial crisis at the time, and I had to postpone my plans. When I finally started making my movie, all my experience came in handy. The good thing about shooting a commercial is that you only shoot two times a week or six-seven times a month, so you have to prepare a lot for the shoot. You have to know the equipment, know the actor and know how to direct a set. Because there’s a sense of urgency, you become very fast. That’s helped me in making a movie.

The biggest difference in the two mediums is.. (chuckles) there’s a lot more people. They are many more people and big sets and lots more work. I mean, we had only six weeks of shooting and we had to cover 38 locations. To do that in that much time, and still telling the story in exactly the way you have planned it, you need to have done most of the planning before the shoot. And on the shoot, you just shoot objectively. You cannot have doubts when you are on the set. So preparation helps in shooting precisely what you want and also in cutting costs.

When you were writing did you have Wagner Moura in mind? Were you worried if Brazil’s biggest movie star would work with a debutante director?

LM: Yes, of course. He has the same look and age as my character and he’s also, obviously, a very, very good actor. So he was always my first choice, although yes, I had my doubts if he would accept the role since he’s such a big star in Brazil. But you know what’s the best thing about him? I sent the script to him through a common friend and after he read it, he rang me and said he loved my film and he wanted to do it! He didn’t behave like a star and go through an agent to get to me. And then of course, he really did do the film, because he loves honest stories. He portrayed the character in a very honest and powerful way too – he gave me many different levels to play with. We rehearsed a lot and discovered the character together. It was incredible to work with him since he really made the character bigger than I could imagine.

What was the contribution of your producer Fernando Meirelles, the director of Oscar-nominated movies City of God and The Constant Gardener?

LM: I’ve worked with Fernando’s production company, O2 Films, as a director on the HBO show, Sons of Carnival. I’ve also directed an episode of another show, Antonio, for them. I’ve worked with him for nine years now. And so, since the very beginning, when I wrote my first draft, I hoped that he would produce my movie. I went to him with the script for that and also because I wanted his opinion on the script as a director. And Fernando was very, very helpful. Not only did he produce my film but he also helped me sift through everything I had written and help find the core of the story, but in a very gentle way. He’s a gentleman that way, but he’s also a very clever producer, I have to say. One of the moments I was very happy and glad was when I showed my first cut to him. He really liked the film and that was a huge compliment to me because he’s one of the greatest directors from Brazil.

There are far more Brazilian movies making it to film festivals over the world, than ever before. Do you think Brazilian cinema is coming of age?

LM: You know the Brazilian industry is like a wave – we have a big wave sometimes and a very small wave at other times (chuckles). It’s an inconsistent industry. But now, from the last four years, we have more Brazilian films and have started to do better. Some films like Elite Squad 1 and 2, which starred Wagner, got through to 12 million people in Brazil, which is a record. But we’ve been making many comedies for quite some time. It’s because HBO Brazil, which is the biggest TV channel here and has a lot of big budgets and deals with actors very professionally, is making a lot of comedies which get watched a lot, and because of that, movies have followed the trend too.

On the one hand, it’s a good thing because it makes the audience like Brazilian films and come to the theatres, since we don’t have much of a movie watching tradition. But on the other hand, the movies are rubbish! They are all of the same style, one silly comedy after another. So the big challenge now is to get the audience to come to the theatres and watch other kinds of films. Yes, the industry’s surely doing better than before – you can actually call it an industry now – but the box office gives us no money. The films are mostly funded by the government, but hopefully as more and more movies become hits, we’ll get a lot more financing into the industry.

What’s next for you? Do you plan to continue doing films in Brazil or are you Hollywood bound?

LM: I do have an American project in the development stages. It’s based on a book, ‘The Boy Who Fell Out Of The Sky’. We are still trying to flesh it out so I’m not sure when it’s going to happen. But I do have scripts that I’m trying to make in Brazil also. Another thing that I’m looking to do is Brazilian TV since it’s really getting stronger every year, and has much more funding and better production values than before.

If I do go to America, I don’t want to go there just to do a regular film and make a film to make a film, because then my movie will also look like a copy of any other American film. If I direct a film there it would have to be to my liking and my style. And (chuckles) that’s always difficult. But Hollywood can wait… I have a lot of great options to do something more serious in Brazil too.

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on October 25, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/mumbai-film-festival-brazilian-director-luciano-moura-talks-about-fathers-chair-502865.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Danish filmmaker Mads Matthiesen #Firstpost #Film

2012 in Indie cinema: Mads Matthiesen on Teddy Bear for Firstpost.com

At a time when the Danish film industry is churning out one remarkable thriller after another, be it in films or on television, Mads Matthiesen surprised the world with his small, intimate love story, Teddy Bear, about a Danish bodybuilder who has problems in talking to girls and goes to Thailand on a quest for love.

The simple and sweet film was one of the best debuts of the year, picking up the World Dramatic Award in Direction at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and many other awards since, in various festivals across the world. In an exclusive interview, Mads talks about his viral short film that inspired the movie, about the stories that interest him and why Dogme 95 rules have stopped working.

 

Denmark has a population of around 5.5 million people. Your short film, Dennis, has over 4.5 million hits on YouTube. How did it go so viral? And has as everyone in Denmark seen this movie?

(Laughs) No, many people from different countries have seen it too. A lot of the US and Europe has seen it, but yes, a lot of people in Denmark have seen it too. It’s become an art school exam tradition now. Every year during the examination period, I get a lot of emails from students saying they want to write about it or interpret it. 

It went viral because Youtube sort of bought the film. It premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival as part of the Short Films Competition and Youtube had collaborated with them that year. So we made a deal with Youtube, and they promoted and pushed the film quite a bit, and we also made some money out of it too. Within the first month, we had over a million hits, and after that, it took off on its own.

Dennis was the foundation on which your feature film, Teddy Bear, was built. Where did the seed for Dennis come from at that time?

Initially, I wanted to do a film about a 30-somethig guy still living with his mom who had trouble with girls and though he is very close to his mother, he has a troubled relationship with her. Now, normally, if you go with the cliché, you’d think of the person being a little overweight with glasses, and not very good looking. But I didn’t want to go for something so obvious. When I was discussing this idea with my co-writer Martin Zandvliet, who also co-wrote Teddy Bear, we came up with the idea that the guy would actually be the opposite – a huge, masculine bodybuilder. And while it was not an obvious take, it was still something I could connect with. Because I can understand the psychology of a person who’d start pumping iron to make his presence felt to the world, but still has problems inside.

Kim Kold wasn’t a professional actor when you cast him in Dennis. What made you believe you could make him act and how did you go about making him?

Since we didn’t know where we could find a bodybuilder for our short film, we put up casting ads in gyms across Denmark. Kim saw it and came for the auditions. Initially, I took him on more for his muscles and looks than talent, since as a person, Kim is nothing like Dennis – he’s very open, talkative, has been married a couple of times and has kids. He’s also very different from me, but when we started working together, I realised that we had something in common. Kim understood Dennis. He understood how hard it can be to communicate with girls, with your parents, and being an outsider.

When you are working with non-actors you try and work around with what they can do and what they are comfortable with. But I realised going ‘wow’ at his very first scene. He wasn’t like a non-actor… he could build the character, talk about his psychology, his background, and his feelings. He was focused and wasn’t acting just because he had got the chance – he was determined to act well. He gave his 110% and that shows in his performance.

How did the short film evolve into a full length feature film? Wasn’t it difficult to keep yourself inspired about the same subject for four years?

The reason I stayed inspired and excited about the subject is because I decided the feature film won’t be a remake or an extended version of the short film. It would be a sequel to the short. So Teddy Bear starts where Dennis ended. The character, the setup and the conflicts are the same, but it has new scenes. Martin came up with the idea of sending Dennis on a quest for love to Thailand, and how it affects his relationship with his mother when he does find love.

Even though the film took about three years to finish, I was excited because it was my first film and a story I understood very well by now. I also learnt a lot from it – like the fact that you can’t be stuck at any time. You need to keep moving, the film needs to keep evolving. Also I think that while making a good short film is as difficult as making a good feature film, the feature film is a more complicated process and for a first-time feature filmmaker, it’s a whole new world. There’s more money, more people, more expectations like ticket sales, distribution, etc. So it’s more work but the gist is the same – you have to tell in an exact and precise way, so the message gets across well.

Is your film made under the Danish Dogme 95 rules? It seemed inspired by them.

No, it’s not. Dogme was never a new thing, in a sense. It was taking some of the old ways of doing films and making some rules around that. I have always thought that Dogme was a good thing because it taught us to focus on the story, and how it’s told, and on getting close to the actors, rather than on the technical aspects. When you are focussing on big action scenes and cranes and big crews, your core tends to shift from storytelling. When you are working with a small crew and it’s like a family, then the storytelling is also more intimate.

So I think it’s great that filmmakers like Lars Von Trier, who I’m a big fan of, made films under those rules all those years ago, because those films are important for our culture and history. But I think the movement didn’t last because the filmmakers started repeating themselves and so, people got bored.

In most of your short films so far, the themes surround love, happiness and troubled relationship with parents. What fascinates you about these themes?

I think I have a tendency to write about people who are outsiders in the community surrounding them. People who are making efforts to be part of society, trying to become a part of the social life surrounding them. And how these people deal with love and family. I don’t know why I find these things fascinating… they have nothing to do with me. I’m not analysing myself here, I’m just picking up stories that make me interested or curious.

For example, with Dennis and Teddy Bear, I wanted to explore bodybuilders, because I’m curious about what they do in life. Why would they just want to pump iron and make themselves bigger? Why do they spend all those hours doing just that? I’ve been to a gym only once in my life, so I never understood this. And with all my other films too, I explore people, characters or environments that I’m curious to know more about. In Teddy Bear, Dennis goes to Thailand to find a girl for himself. I wrote about Thailand because I don’t get why people go there. They call it paradise for love, but in my eyes, I don’t see it as one. So I wanted to understand that too.

You say all your characters are outsiders. Do you consider yourself one as well?

No, I don’t really. But still, you know, there’s a feeling of loneliness that’s in all of us, that almost everyone experiences at some time or the other. That we are not understood and that in many a sense, we are alone in the world. I see it and feel it too, in relationships, families and life in general; having a hard time communicating what you really feel. But it’s not exactly all about me. I mean,

I have done a couple of shorts maybe 10 years ago that were based on private stories. But that didn’t work well for me. I’ve come to realise that my films should be personal but not private, as clichéd as that sounds. There’s probably a lot of me in my films but it shouldn’t be so close to me that I am not able to analyse it or even understand it myself. Now I only want to tell stories about others, who probably feel in some way as I do.

After winning the World Cinema Award for Direction at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and being nominated for a Europe Discovery Award, where do you go from here? Will you continue making small, intimate films, or will we see you doing trademark Danish thrillers?

I don’t know what my future is, but I’m not going to make big commercial films for selling tickets. (Chuckles) I mean, I hope I can sell tickets too but I want to keep trying to do something new with every film. I don’t want to do what others are doing but want to tell stories about things that interest me, about people who interest me. And since my films won’t be sequels or popular genres or action flicks with half-naked women, I just have one thing to remember… I will have to try and make films with small budgets. If I could be someone like a Michael Haneke in my life, that would be a dream come true!

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on December 29, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/2012-in-indie-cinema-mads-matthiesen-on-teddy-bear-572516.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.