What's your role in the Film Industry?
I wouldn't want to pigeonhole myself under any label. I started off as a writer/director on my first feature film – a self funded project, a position I took by default, by risking everything thinking it would get me a foothold on a career. It was only through experience that I realised the industry doesn't work quite that way in this country. I'm a British national but have lived in the States. Over there that kind of tenacious, 'either find a way or die trying' attitude is revered. The industry loves the likes of Robert Rodriguez who'll sell their own blood and rent out their bodies for medical experiments in order to get their first films off the ground. For some reason we don't seem to celebrate audacious resolve so much in this country. People who try to think 'outside the box' and will do anything to make things happen are often seen as a bit of a joke. But not many of us are born into privilege and certainly no one is born into experience. My greatest hope for the BFA is that both filmmakers and actors currently fighting for their vocations, as well as those with influence, can embrace a little of our American cousins' attitude and champion ourselves and each other for having warrior spirit and the courage to dare.
Why did you start the BFA?
"Aut inveniam viam aut faciam" is Latin for "I shall either find a way or make one." Attributed to Hannibal when he was told by his generals it was impossible to cross the Alps by elephant, but could have come from a Seneca play.I've always been charged by optimism and an 'anything's possible' attitude.A big part of that came from my dad constantly telling me 'nothing is impossible' when I was very young.It's probably why I did throw caution to the wind and gave up everything to make my first film, thinking it would set me on a road, so it was a slamming realization that things aren't that easy.But I fought on anyway.A very poignant and personal project I tried to get off the ground soon after my first film is called 'Age of Descent' it's a multi strand story about five teenagers affected by the knife crime epidemic, cyber bullying, sexual identity and other issues.It begins with the sadly familiar news footage coming through of another teenager's death in a knife crime incident. Then jumps back to the beginning of that term and we follow five ordinary teenagers, knowing one of them is destined to become the child lost to a statistic. I had a huge response to it as a script and it attracted amazing actors, but the sad truth is unless you're bankable as a filmmaker it's practically impossible to get films off the ground.I understand the business aspect of that, film is incredibly high risk and if you invest in it you've got to be prepared to lose your money.But the sadness comes from the fact that it's also an art form, and like any art form, dies without talent at its heart.I had such an overwhelming response to 'Age of Descent' from high end industry professionals who told me it was an important story and needed to be told, down to teenagers who'd helped with the research, themselves having been caught up in knife crime, cyber bullying etc, who told me how much the screenplay affected them.It's tragic, not only for me, but for any filmmaker, writer, actor whose got something to contribute but just doesn't stand a chance.There's a whole host of films that haven't been realized, and talent that's going unrecognized because of it.The BFA is all about us challenging the conventions in a very gentle, non-confrontational way and building our own platform and discovering ways of bringing our projects and careers into life ourselves.
What started your interest in film?
I have always been obsessed with film. Ever since the age of about 5 or 6 when my mother took me and my sister to see films like Star Wars, Close Encounters, E.T. Even at such a young age I felt the effect films can have, the way that there in the dark, they can take you to another place, move part of your soul, change your life. I remember walking down the high street with my dad holding my hand after seeing Superman and feeling invincible. Films can do that. Although part of it would have been my dad holding my hand that made me feel invincible.
What's been the highlight of your career?
I can't say I've had one yet. It's all part of one great journey.It's the little triumphs along the way.Having an actor fall back in your arms and do things even they wouldn't have through they could do because they have such trust in you, pushing them to places beyond where they've been, emails I get from BFA members telling me they were about to give up but changed their minds because of a newsletter, I sent out, experiencing watching a film with an audiences and hearing them laugh, cry or jump, shout at the screen because of something that's provoked them.But if I had to pick one moment it would have been when the late great Rik Mayall signed on to play the Headmaster in Age of Descent, a role I wrote for him.I was heartbroken when he died and I'm so glad I had the courage to approach him and now have the knowledge that he read my writing and liked it.A feeling I'll always treasure alongside the sadness of it never being fulfilled.
What was your first job in the film industry?
I went straight from being an assistant in the banking industry to writing, directing and producing a feature film. I made it happen. There was no working my way up to it. It was in at the deep end and a baptism by fire for sure.
Is there anything you'd do differently?
My first film I made by offering a profit share to the majority of the cast and crew. It's a terrible way to make a film. And it's the one thing if I could turn back time I would change. Terrible for all involved. Sadly it's the way most people make their first films and has become a substitute or a 'new form' of film financing. A lot of filmmakers don't often have anywhere to turn for funding and resort to it without fully realising the consequences. It's never a good thing to do. Hypocritical of me to say as it was exactly what I did. The work I'm doing with the BFA aims to bring a more altruistic form of Entrepreneurial Filmmaking to the fore in a way that's philanthropic, safe, fair and appropriate for all concerned. We aim to encourage innovation and hope that our work will allow filmmakers to be groundbreaking and inventive and bring films and careers into fruition in a protective and non-exploitative manner.
What is your favourite British film? Why?
Nicholas Roeg's 'Don't Look Now' without a doubt. I love films that have terror juxtaposed with beauty. I watched a screening of it recently and it's amazing how advanced it was in terms of sound design and the mood of clammy dread it created. Nicholas Roeg was there at the screening. I asked him a question at the end of it and I was so in awe of his greatness that I sounded like an idiot. My favourite moment is where Hilary Mason collapses to the bed screeching 'Fetch him back! Please fetch him back!' and you as an audience just know, the way Julie Christie knows, that something pretty terrible is about to occur. I always take lines from my favourite films and put them in my own scripts. I referenced that line in a script I wrote called 'Justin' about a young lonely office worker who may or may not be an omnipotent serial killer currently at large in London.
Which film would you have loved to have worked on?
Before my time but I would have loved to have been involved with 'Sleuth'. The original not the remake. Two of the greatest performances ever committed to film. One of my favourite sub-genres are small claustrophobic chamber pieces with a few characters and only one location. What a privilege it would have been to see Olivier and Caine sparking off each other. And also it just looked like it would have been so much fun. I loved the fact there were only two characters in the whole film. I read an article that said that for a film to work the minimum amount of characters you can have are two; an antagonist and protagonist. Then 'Buried' came along and disproved that theory. My script 'The Blood of an Englishman' about some nefarious goings on at a dinner party set at a remote lighthouse is an homage to Sleuth and that tight claustrophobic simple set up. However the third part of Drowning Room Only only has only one character in the whole script so that's a little nod to it too. It's the part of the script I had the most fun with. After all 'It's only a blood game' as Milo Tindle would say.
What's the first film you ever saw?
Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Claw. They used to rerun the old Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films on Friday evenings at about 6pm in winter. I used to love them. That one and 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' were my favourite. The Scarlet Claw terrified me. I seem to have spent a lot of my childhood terrified by films…I think it all came out later in my writing.
Who's your favourite director?
I have loads – but more specific films than a director's body of work. To cite directors I'd go for Hitchcock – of all time. Of more recent years, Peter Weir. I find his films so moving. I'm also a fan of Gus Van Sant. I love 'Elephant' and 'My Own Private Idaho'. I love the haunting unforgettable performances he encourages out of actors. Also a big fan of Kubrick who I think was the last great auteur. And I'm a massive fan of Polanski's early work. Harry played the Artful Dodger in his recent version of 'Oliver Twist' and I love it when he starts talking about it and him and what it was like working with him. From the things he tells me you can understand why he was the genius he was in his heyday.
What's your favourite line or scene from a film? Why?
I could cite many lines and scenes from Psycho. Psycho is one of my favourite films for the use of dialogue. Every line of a film, every image, every thought process should somehow reflect and enhance a film's central conceit. And Psycho does this brilliantly. Even from the outset the characters' dialogue gives you clues as to what you're seeing but don't really know you're seeing. 'They also pay who meet in hotel rooms' and 'I'll make her pay, with her fine soft flesh'. Which is exactly how she does pay. Norman Bates 'I must have one of those faces you can't help believing' and 'but she's harmless, she's as harmless as one of those stuffed birds'. Hitchcock was a master manipulator. He sows devious little seeds in Psycho's audiences' subconscious from the first frames of the film. And the final moment is monumental – the perfect juxtaposition of shots – The mother's skull over Norman's smiling face with the chain pulling the car out, anchored into his heart, and the delicious line 'Why she wouldn't even harm a fly'. It's the perfectly blended resolution of dialogue, imagery and theme.
Favourite screen kiss? Why?
Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson in 'The Year of Living Dangerously'. No dialogue, just an unspoken rain drenched understanding between the two of them accompanied by one the most amazing soundtracks. Just beautiful.
Who's your favourite screen hero and/or villain? Why?
My favourite screen character is Father Dougal McGuire – but as we're keeping it to film then probably my favourite anti-hero is Elizabeth Taylor's Martha in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' she's more villainous than Darth Vader and more broken than Bambi. Favourite villain would be Raymond Lemorne in Spoorloos (The Vanishing). His arch is perfectly set up by his extreme claustrophobia – detailed by him being exempt from wearing a seat-belt. It makes the film's final dénouement from where he looks knowingly through a rain splashed window at Rex Hofman to the final frames where he sits calmly, and even more knowingly, in an autumn breeze with leaves brushing by his feet all the more shocking and sinister.Close follow ups would be Robert Mitchum in 'Night of the Hunter', Shelley Winters as the mum from hell in 'Lolita' and Robert Walker as Bruno Anthony in Hitchcock's 'Strangers on a Train' – in a far more fun and camp way!
Favourite actor's performance, comedy and drama?
For a comedy role it would be Crispin Glover as George McFly in 'Back to the Future'. So brilliantly nuanced it's never not funny – no matter how many times you watch it. I can't imagine anyone else ever playing that part. Favourite dramatic performances for an actress it would Juliette Binoche in 'The Three Colours Blue'. It's one of the most skilful and painful portrayals of soul churning grief I've ever seen. For an actor Leonardo di Caprio in 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape'. I remember saying to some snooty girl I worked with after seeing it that he'd become the biggest star of his generation. She tossed her eyes and said 'Who says? You think you know everything.' I don't think I know everything but I did know that! Ha!
Funniest moment in a film?
Either Jack Lemmon dancing with Joe E. Brown in 'Some Like it Hot' or Harrison Ford in the 3rd part of the Indiana Jones trilogy telling some Nazi in a really intense tone that Marcus Brody 'has got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he'll blend in, disappear, you'll never see him again. With any luck, he's got the grail already'. Quick cut to Denholm Elliott wandering around a market saying 'Uhhh, does anyone here speak English?'. It's a bit what my dad was like when we all went to Miami once. Also the two creepy little girl ghosts in 'The Shining' only funny because it's what me and my sister looked like in the 70s.
Favourite Last Line to a movie?
Alex de Large in 'A Clockwork Orange': "I was cured alright!"
Most shocking scene in a film?
The murder of the taxi driver in Kieslowski's 'A Short Film About Killing'. It stands apart from the stylised, glorified and ineffective violence you see in other films. It's almost unbearably real. It's simple, stark and brutal and delivered with shockingly visceral efficiency. Its overall effect gives you the stomach churning disbelief of what being subjected to something like that must be like. As Hitchcock said 'it is very difficult, very painful, and takes a very long time to kill a man.' I do believe in the theory that the more shocking violence is created by cutting away and leaving it up to an audience's imagination but this scene is a very powerful and disturbing alternative to that conjecture.
What Films would you recommend to people that they probably haven't seen?
I'd definitely suggest to people to check out old silent movies. Especially filmmakers and screenwriters. Films should be told with images, not explained through dialogue. Watching old silent films really exemplifies that. Some of them are so moving, frightening and powerful. I'd recommend 'Sunrise; A Song of Two Humans', 'The Cat and the Canary' and 'Greed'. They're brilliant.
Most moving scenes, moments, films?
Mary Tyler Moore's performance is 'Ordinary People' really astounds me. Through the whole film you just think 'what a bitch' then by the end you realise the poor woman is just absolutely unable to cope with the enormity of pain life has thrown her way. And on a final slightly more cheesy note I really love the end of 'The Truman Show' for the triumph of the human spirit feeling it leaves you with. But not as much as the end of 'The Dead Poet's Society' and sweet little Ethan Hawke standing on his desk 'Oh Captain my Captain!' The perfect resolution to a story arch as the painfully shy kid with zero self worth grows through his teacher's belief and finally finds the courage to dare. I normally cringe when people compare my scripts to other films but an actor I really love compared Age of Descent to 'The Dead Poet's Society' and that made me smile!