With its second season set to premiere on STARZPLAY in the UK this week, Flickering Myth's Martin Carr got the chance to sit down with Castle Rock stars Tim Robbins and Lizzy Caplan to discuss their roles in the Stephen King series; check out the exclusive interview in the video below...
As servant draws in rave reviews and reminds the world what M. Night Shayamalan has hidden in his wheelhouse, Martin Carr recently sat down with him to talk shop. Engaging, informed and truly passionate about every you could imagine Shayamalan opened up on casting, filming and where this sits amongst his back catalogue...
First of all I'd like to say congratulations on Season 2 and the renewal for that.
First why don't you let me know what attracted you to the project to begin with?
I think it was a combination of the premise and the tone. The premise of the woman dealing with her grief in this manner and the tone which has this wit and dark humour that was masking pain. That kind of nomenclature to let is talk about something that's difficult.
You're an executive producer on this. Would you say that you were hands on during the production process itself?
You can't be any more hands on than I was!
What did that entail for you?
I mean it's really funny, I didn't know I was going to do this much. I didn't known what I was going to do but it ended up being a lot and I loved it! We shot it, we built it 20-something minutes from my house, and I was there all the time and hired everybody. It was a beautiful thing; I was just really interested. One thing I got a lot of satisfaction from was working with the other directors and with multiple editors. You know I make a movie every two years and its lonely. I don't live in LA so this was like wow, I get to talk about cinema and this and that.... why are you doing that...? What was really fun was to see how each director, they're good at something or let's say they have a lean towards something. So, one is frenetic so the episodes are frenetic, one is more intricate in performance and so that one's more internal and one is more muscular and so that one has a lot of like movement and stuff like that and that's really nice to see that. That's when they're directing well, I think.
The name might not sound familiar but Yetide Bakadi is a character actor who embodies every character she takes on. Anyone familiar with American Gods will remember the sensuous Queen of Sheba known as Bilquis. Ancient as the desert sands and wise beyond measure in conversation Yetide is softly spoken, disarmingly geeky and pivots between considered reflection and easy laughter depending on the topic. In other words a real pleasure.
Firstly thank you for taking the time to talk season two. For those who are unfamiliar who is Bilquis and how does she fit into American Gods?
Bilquis is the ancient Goddess of love also known as the Queen of Sheba and she fits into the story in a wonderful way, In that we have already seen a more expanded view of her than we usually have in the book and in this world where you have the very powerful Gods, Mr Wednesday versus Mr World recruiting expressing there is only one way or the other. We now have this Goddess who is in fact a Queen who is forging her own path and offering a third way.
How do you think she evolves in this second season as appose to the first?
Well the first season was very much about trying to survive and you see her going through some hard times, but you also get some of Bilquis's back story and we see some extremely low lows and towards the end of the season you see her beginning to reach towards the heights that she wants to and actually begin to thrive. She comes in very early on in the wonderful place that is House on The Rock to a meeting she wasn't invited to and literally brings her own folding chair and says she will be heard. You can clearly see that this is a Bilquis who is stepping right back into her power. So the second season you see her evolution and see her being to thrive. And you get to see what some of the other aspects of her are.
So for you how does she differ from the book?
Apart from the fact she didn't die immediately?
Yes apart from that.
I actually think she is very much an extension of the book. You get to spend more time in the room with her so to speak and Neil (Gaiman) describes how with the books you were in a house and you could open certain doors, but in a television show you are able to open up other doors.
Martin Carr chats with Bad Samaritan director Dean Devlin…
Holed up in a local bar opposite Cowes yacht basin and looking out at glorious sunshine I find myself Transatlantic with Dean Devlin. Producer, writer, director and independent filmmaker of blockbuster tent poles including Independence Day, Stargate, Godzilla and The Patriot. With his latest directorial effort Bad Samaritan, we find him out of that comfort zone, deep in thriller territory and taking a certain Doctor along for the ride.
First we discussed what drew him to that material. From his slightly colder New York locale he discussed how Brandon Boyce, screenwriter for Apt Pupil, had come to him with the finished script looking for a second opinion. Having been friends for years Dean was only asked for his thoughts never thinking that the material might appeal. Having finished the piece he told me how he felt excited to the point of signing on to direct immediately. By his own admission the subject matter was like nothing he had done previously, but as with everything it was the story that had him hooked.
Knowing Dean primarily from his work as a producer I asked how his directing style differed in comparison. As he discussed this at length it became apparent that the defined roles of producer and director did not really apply to him. His working relationship with Roland Emmerich and the independent nature of his approach, meant Dean had more creative input than normal. For this reason his directing style us defined and reliant on good story telling. His focus therefore was always about making this the best story it could be through an openness and creative inclusion with all his actors.
Leading me to ask him how he balanced the differing genre requirements of Bad Samaritan. Dean was very clear that his lack of comfort with this subject matter meant a delicate approach was needed. On more than one occasion I stated how it felt like we were going into Eli Roth territory, while Dean made it very clear of their intentions in his answers. From the off certain elements which might be considered disturbing were never intended to be sexualised. This area more than anything needed carefully structured consideration and Dean said he felt his team had struck the right balance. Villainous intentions here were never about any sense of physical gratification, but rather concerned with the retention of power.
Considering the complexities of this single evil force my next question was simply why did he pick David Tennant?
Dean not only revealed our shared love of Doctor Who but why he considers David Tennant so completely underrated. Name checking his work on BBC drama Broadchurch then jumping ahead to recall Kilgrave from Netflix’s Jessica Jones. Dean explained how being independent from the constraints of studios meant he could choose who he wanted. There was no pressure being applied to cast the latest celebrity made famous on social media sites. He talked at length about how kind, professional and considerate David Tennant was to work with, but went further by explaining his method. Unlike many actors he is able to switch the character off once scenes are complete. However when those cameras were rolling Dean was genuinely in awe of what David put into the performance.
During the interview I also shared my thoughts on David Tennant, as I felt few actors would have been able to give this character any sense of empathy for audiences. When I asked Dean whether he had any reservations about the darker elements he once more lauded his leading actor’s ability to communicate those fixations with care and consideration through performance. Engaging as David Tennant does so completely and yet to emerge unscathed and unjudged by an audience took great skill.
Next we deviated onto the topic of Robert Sheehan who plays Dean’s central protagonist. He commented on Robert’s emotional vulnerability and said few actors would allow themselves to go to those places on-screen. I mentioned how Robert Sheehan added a naturalism which worked well opposite David Tennant’s intensity, before Dean said that he thought Robert Sheehan was one of the best young actors working today.
I then broached the subject of other directors and more specifically what qualities made a good feature film director for him. Above all he stressed an ability to tell a story and control vast groups of people towards one aim. There are literally armies of people that are involved in making a feature film. Being the director of anything requires fortitude, a thick skin and passion for your vision, which roughly translates into not letting people interfere. Which also implies a need for independence from studios where possible, that in turn allows for artistic freedom.
Martin Carr chats with Jim Capobianco…
One overcast Sunday afternoon I found myself on the phone to Jim Capobianco. Affable, Oscar nominated and busy on post production work for Mary Poppins Returns, we talked about his career in animation and a passion project known as The Inventor.
MC: What got you interested in animation as a career?
JC: When I was growing up I just loved Sunday morning comics and started to get interested in cartoons and drawing characters, which lead to reading about animation. In high school I took a class which was about graphic arts and making t-shirts and photography and such, which contained one assignment on animation. I told my teacher that I wanted to do hand drawn animation. He looked at me and said I don’t know how to teach you that but here’s a book and go forth.
So, I started animating this little film, which I didn’t finish obviously because animation takes so long, (but) he noticed how hard I was working and just said keep going. So, for the rest of that time and into my senior year I still hadn’t finished, so I took the second unit of his course and sort of created an animation programme for myself. Then I got into the Californian Institute of the Arts, CalArts, near Los Angeles, which, was sort of a feeder school for Walt Disney Studios at the time. When I got into animation there was only Disney and Don Bluth Studios, so there wasn’t much hope of a career in animation, but I sort of lucked out. Roger Rabbit and Little Mermaid had just been, released and they would usher in this new era of animation.
MC: So what was the next step for you?
JC: When I got into CalArts I just wanted to be an animator and thought animation consisted only the person who drew the characters and movement through the scene. Then, I realized there were all these other areas of film making that went into animation especially storyboarding and story development. A wonderful teacher named Joe Ranft, a huge mentor in my career, pointed the way for me to go into storyboarding, so after CalArts I knew that’s what I had to do and Disney was where I had to go. They were beginning to expand, having had success with Beauty and the Beast and then Aladdin. They were gearing up for The Lion King and Pocahontas and needed to staff up, my timing was perfect. I came in on The Lion King as an apprentice storyboard artist.
MC: So how did you go from storyboarding to a story artist then contributing to that screenplay?
JC: On IMDb I am credited as both writer and story artist on The Lion King which I have never corrected because I believe storyboard artists contribute to the writing, they are writers with pictures on feature film animation projects. When I came in on Lion King there had been a script, but it wasn’t quite working so they were redeveloping it. Two new writers had been brought on, who have since become good friends, they were rewriting while we were storyboarding, then they would see what we boarded, and rewrite and we would see what they wrote and re-board. It was a very collaborative environment.
JC: One sequence I had an impact on was when Mufasa and Simba are underneath the stars, right before Mufasa dies in a stampede. So, I got this little scene and they didn’t really know what they wanted but knew Mufasa had to teach Simba a lesson for going away into the hyena graveyard. So, I wasn’t handed script pages or anything. I had to figure out how it connected with the existing movie which already had the ghost scene where he comes back to Simba. So, I did some research and looked into African tribal myths and legends, where they have the belief that their ancestors are in the sky and stars, which I thought was perfect. I wrote that in and that way it connected, seamlessly, to the later scene. Later for the song Hakuna Matata they needed Simba to grow up and didn’t know how, so I suggested they do it in the song. So, we created this simple little moment of Simba growing up as they cross the log, which achieved that. Sometimes a little idea solves what seems like a big problem.
MC: Would you say it was a natural transition from Disney into your involvement with Pixar?
JC: I was with Disney for about five years and started getting tired of the way they were telling their musical stories. Only changing the names of the characters and the stories all seemed the same – another musical. I wanted to go into storytelling because I saw there was so much potential in animation to tell amazing stories. A lot of my education at school was looking at live action films and in addition to Joe I had another great teacher, Alexander MacKendrick, who was a director for Ealing Studios and head of CalArts’ film school. He opened my eyes to the power and variety of film storytelling and it was that power I wanted to bring to animation which is why I went into storytelling.
JC: So along comes Pixar with Toy Story and I thought here are these guys doing an animated film in a new way, not just with computers but also with their storytelling. Giving it an almost live action sensibility in the way they were handling character. So, Joe Ranft who I mentioned earlier had gone to Pixar, saw my work at Disney and said come up here. When I gave him a call, I lucked out again they were developing A Bug’s Life and in a real story crunch. That’s when all the story reels and storyboards are being made ready for a presentation to the executives. They needed help and they hired me right away. Within a month I was working there.
MC: Having worked on so many projects across Disney and Pixar what makes a good story?
JC: I think first and foremost it must have interesting and compelling characters. They don’t have to be nice or likable. Often when we are developing the story executives say the character isn’t nice, what I think they mean is they aren’t compelling. In live-action movies there are always characters who are despicable, such as in The Godfather films, but you gravitate towards those characters because of their family dynamic, you can relate to it. So, I think it is important to develop characters which you, as an audience member, can relate to on some level and live vicariously through. I always think of storytelling as educational which is why people used to tell stories around camp fires to pass on information. Even with narratives in film we put characters into awful situations where they have to figure a way out, so they are inadvertently educational. The audience learns how not to do things and how to do things and it’s entertaining, hopefully. I think you can have a film with really strong characters, but a weak plot and people will still love it.
MC: Speaking of character and having worked in catering for so long, when it came to Ratatouille I love how much you got the kitchen environment right. How did you achieve this?
JC: Research. I was brought on board by the original director Jan Pinkava as his story supervisor and we were the only ones developing it. At some point I suggested we write it because he was having trouble getting it on paper, which is when I got my first writing credit. We ended up researching the heck out of that because it was just a rough outline of a rat in Paris who cooks, which made me think how are we ever going to make this work?
During the research you see what you can pull out to add drama and excitement. When you really study kitchens, people who become cooks and filter through those restaurants, you discover they have varying backgrounds of a dicey nature. So, we saw them as a gang of pirates. Then we found out about the passion which is an artist’s passion, just as in writing or animation but through cooking. I am a big believer in research when you are making films, because that is where all the little gems are. We also had to go to Michelin three-star restaurants in Paris and see the kitchens, how they work and get that more viscerally. Especially the food, we really suffered for our art!
MC: Does your approach differ between say a Disney or Pixar project depending on what elements you are involved in?
JC: Each project is similar yet they all have different requirements depending on those areas which need development. For something like Mary Poppins Returns which is an actual sequel, it’s much more about respecting the old film. Both paying homage to that but also giving the audience a new and exciting experience. In this particular process I am the animation sequence supervisor, so I oversee the 2D animated section, which sits inside a larger idea, allowing me to work with the writer and director together.
The Inventor, on the other hand, is about Leonardo DaVinci. So what story do you tell? He had this huge life with lots of different adventures of his own. I chose to focus on the end of his life where he moved to France. I thought that was fascinating because here is a man who has always lived in Italy, who has to move to a different country and environment. Also, it’s how he has had a huge career and he has done all these amazing things and so it becomes a question of what is left. Exploring that aspect comes back to character again.
What drew me to Leonardo is that we see him as this super genius but researching and learning about him you realize he was just a human being with flaws and emotions. In his notes there are grocery lists, he procrastinated and got distracted by other things he wanted to learn. So, there was this passion to do more which makes him more like us and it was that aspect I wanted to portray. So, you asked me with my projects what was the thing which connects them all and I think it’s finding a window in which to enter the subject matter. You have to find a foundation to build on and with Leonardo it’s the idea that he was human like all of us.
MC: What attracts you to a project?
JC: Mostly I am put on the project so it becomes about what is it I can grab onto and get excited about, that window in. Like in Toy Story 2, we had a different ending where there was a chase on a freeway. We knew they were going to the airport but never got there. We then thought, wouldn’t it be exciting to have a chase through an airport from a toys point of view. I took this idea and developed a third act with a chase through the luggage compartment, onto the plane and then like an old Western train chase onto the aircraft itself. It was something I wanted to see! This is ultimately what gets me excited about stories and for me goes back to character. I want to see Leonardo as a human going through that Renaissance world. Or discovering how a rat cooks in a kitchen and survives. Which is when you realize you have the power to make those ideas a reality.
MC: So finally completely off topic I have to ask whether you are a Marvel or DC fan considering Avengers: Infinity War has just been released.
JC: I’d have to say Marvel!
MC: Many thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your career and your current projects.
Martin Carr chats with Opus of an Angel director Ali Zamani…
Where did the idea for this film come from?
I was always inspired by the thought of how someone would deal with the notion of losing everything that was so dear to them, what triggered them, when they were at the lowest moment of their life, to turn to suicide, and what stories they had to tell. One day while I was out for coffee, I saw a special ed class on a field trip. One child was visually impaired and had an infectious smile and life seemed to be so beautiful to her. It got me thinking of how these two extreme outlooks on life, if touched, would they be able to influence each other and to what extent.
How did you go about casting for the central duo?
For the role of Maria, I felt it was important to cast a person that was visually impaired to try to not only give the film a sense of authenticity but also be able to get an insight into the ‘perception’ and world of people with such a disability. Junior Blind of America, an organization based out in LA, was invaluable to our casting efforts for the role of Maria. When we reached out to them for recommendations of potential students that could play the part of Maria, Kaylynn’s name was the first on the list.
We actually auditioned more people for the role than I can count, but when I met Kaylynn in person it felt like I was actually meeting Maria. She read for the scene and I got goose bumps. It was abundantly clear to everyone in the room that the role was meant for her.
We audition dozens and dozens of great actors for the role of Stephen; ultimately William McNamara was a perfect fit for the role and instantaneously understood the deeper sense of grief of the character.
How did you decide on the look for this film?
Achieving a sense of realism was the main objective when it came to setting the look. Wanted the audience to really feel immersed into the journey of Stephen and Maria as they traveled across the City of Angels. I achieved this through a lot of visceral handheld camera shots and organic/on- location scenes rather than studio sets.
What challenges did you face shooting on location?
Having a lot of scenes throughout the film, general control over the environment sometimes proved challenging. Dealing with other sound and noise such as helicopters and airplanes was definitely not fun for our sound mixer.
Thematically Opus tackles some important ideas, what do you want audiences to take away with them?
From the moment we released that our story was something that could help people who are dealing with the struggle of depression, I knew it would be an emotional journey. Ultimately, the audience should be able to take away an uplifting message of being able to overcome tragedy and tribulations by believing in something more than earthly things and experiences.
Fragmented flashbacks and sensory manipulation add a unique element to Opus, why was it important to use these techniques?
It was important because I really wanted to be able to try and put the audience in the shoes of a person that is visually impaired. Doing this would help immerse the audience further into the world of my character Maria.
Both William McNamara and Kaylynn Kubeldis differ vastly in their acting approach. What challenges did you face in balancing these within the overall movie?
Being a veteran and conventionally trained actor, William brought a well-polished performance whereas Kaylynn brought an extremely natural and organic performance due to the Maria character being so alike her own character. The chemistry between these two approaches really meshed together well, even though in an awkward fashion, which further emphasized the two-character’s unlikely relationship in the movie.
There is a lot of emphasis on silence over sound and dialogue over visuals. What were the reasons behind these choices?
I wanted the audience to visualize scenes themselves, through Stephen’s descriptions of the world and life throughout his journey with Maria. Again – this would put the audience in the same boat as a visually impaired person.
If you had to believe in either pre-ordained destiny or divine intervention which would it be?
This is something that I’ve actually pondered on since an early age and throughout my own life experiences I’ve actually gone between the two. Still don’t think I can answer which I believe in more.
If you had to recommend Opus to a stranger using only one word what would it be?
Martin Carr chats with director Blake Robbins…
Convivial, candid, passion and forthright are all words which describe director Blake Robbins in conversation. Openly collaborative, driven by a desire for unconventional methods of movie making and ploughing his own furrow with singular determination. It was my pleasure to talk to him early this week about his new film The Scent of Rain and Lightning which was released Friday.
Hi Blake, many thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your new film. What prompted your move behind the camera having been an actor for so long?
The simplest answer is career dissatisfaction. For my first movie The Sublime and Beautiful I basically created a starring role for myself, because no one was inviting me to do lead roles in their films. Equally important though was that I think there had always been a storyteller itching and clawing to come out. So it was one of those opportunities to do two things.
What interested you in directing?
My general observation on actors is that they fall into two camps. Those that are curious about everything, the entirety, the whole, while there are others who just want to run their race. Neither makes a better or worse actor, that’s just the reality, so you find some actors ultimately end up diving into writing, producing and directing stories. I always found myself in the former camp from day one of being interested in everything. So through twenty plus years of being an actor I put together my own film school of observation and what I responded to which others did.
Why this particular project?
The straightforward answer is the project made itself available and they asked if I was interested. For me when I looked at it I saw the characters were very rich and not cookie cutters. At the same time they were grounded in archetypes in a really beautiful way, like some of those movies I grew up on and loved. People like Elia Kazan and John Ford who did big American ensemble pieces, yet had really good actors in them with nuanced and interesting roles. I was drawn to the idea of a whodunit but have seen enough really good ones, so wanted to work towards really finding out who it happened to and why. Then my goal became that the reveal would carry enough weight to make that journey satisfying.
With both my films so far as a storyteller and movie maker I was much more interested in the questions than answers. Far too many movies give you an answer, then another one and after its done giving answers, you’ll go out have dinner and never think about this movie again. My hope was that I wouldn’t be the only movie lover who would love my movie. I hoped I would make it and this would find passionate fans, because there are enough movies made for the other person. There are five, six, seven movies a week which come out for the person who wants disposable or consumable content. Movies where you can go do the dishes while you watch and they’ll make sure to tell you what you missed. Whereas when I watch my movie I feel like I understand all of these people and not one person talks about motives.
What is the most important part of the filming process for you?
Plot has been elevated to and become the driving force in most films and I find it one of the least interesting. If you equate the human body to a movie then plot for me would be the bones, but if I took a human being and all it includes would I say that bones are the most important part? I for one would more interested in soul, brains, organs, heart, in muscle, even tendons and so while plot gives me shape and allows me to appreciate something artistically it is not a chief concern.
Films these days are put through the Hollywood machinery where God forbid anyone can’t follow the plot. They won’t let the movie run its creative course unless plot is recognisable at all times. For me that kind of throws out all these amazing films from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies where plot is put in the proper position. I think I am stealing this quote from Martin Scorsese when he says ‘I’ve never revisited a film because of the plot’.
Because the plot of this film is the killer of this girl’s parents gets released and we need to find out what happens. That this girl is able to take on an ex-convict filled with vengeance towards her and the family makes her an extraordinarily cinematic character. Mainly because ninety eight percent of all other twenty year old girls would back down. However I believed every step of the way that Maika Monroe as Jody Linder would do that.
Did you see a lot of people for that role or for those roles generally?
I zeroed in on Maika almost immediately but the first person cast was Maggie Grace because she and I share a business manager and she had seen my first film. She reached out and mentioned she would love to help if anything else came along to throw her support behind.
So when Casey and Jeff sent me this script I saw Maggie as Laurie and importantly saw it as something she had never done. I thought this part was built for a heroine from Tennessee Williams, someone who was just too big for the world and Maggie could bring a lot to that. So she did it mainly because she responded to me as a film maker and then came on board as a producer.
Although my casting director threw maybe four or five actresses at me I immediately thought Maika was not only right, but could be the grown up daughter of Maggie’s character. So when Maika and I met I offered her the job in the room and she said yes. Perhaps to a Hollywood fault these people do look like family. They look connected and related and I know that poses some challenges but I would rather that than never believe it. I believed that Mark and Justin were brothers, just as I was convinced Will Patton would be the father figure. From there I went to Brad Carter who I had seen in an episode of True Detective, thought he was stunning and also that he could exist in my independent film and make things very interesting.
How would you describe your directing style?
Well I’ve only made two films so I think my style is evolving. I have a team which include my cinematographer and production sound team who worked on both films. Half way through my first they started calling me ‘Blakenstein’ and this was an affectionate way of saying I was creating my own monster. These people had worked on maybe fifty or sixty features, so I found it fascinating that they thought my production approach was unique. I come from a place of love and collaboration and I tend to save my ideas for last because I want everyone involved. Acting I think is the hardest thing to do on set, so I try to surround them with craftsmen who are willing to indulge and support the actor’s process.
An example of that is the fact that we never laid down a mark. In order to do that I have to work with a special group of camera and sound people who love actors and love the moment as much as I do. In both my films I employed the use of focus, soft focus, light and dark and the juxtaposition of them. So I indulged that approach because I felt this was a puzzle and putting together that puzzle, I wanted things to come in and out of focus artfully with shape and craft behind them.
Just to pick up on something you said about marks and not laying them down. Are you saying you don’t do any blocking?
That’s not entirely true, what happens is I over prepare with my team of actors. I will never tell them they have to do anything, I will find out what they want to do, how they want to do it and earn their trust over time. I don’t do a blocking rehearsal, but I will come and have the conversation and get a kind of general shape and feel then share that. It means everyone has to be really good so we can hide the technical elements of the movie, because there can’t be a video village right next to set, in case someone walks over there and you see the movie.
If you look in my movie even with the tight and wide shots the camera is always moving, and if we did our job right you never see the tiny place where we hide the technical aspect. My actors tend to be on set and seldom if ever see anyone, other than a handful of people who are absolutely necessary. I want to provide them with as close to a real and private experience as I can. I tend to spend time hiding behind the camera with a monitor so I can say things. I will sometimes step on a moment and if they will tolerate me make a suggestion. So it becomes a living breathing thing we create together.
I think that explains why it feels so different to some things I have seen because of your process.
Well I couldn’t do it without a really talented crew and actors who are willing to be brave and truthful. For instance that scene where they are having breakfast at the Linder household is really breakfast. That is me telling production crews you need enough eggs to serve forty people because that will make it happen in two hours as appose to eight.
I think we did that scene two or three times on two different lens sizes and I would run around pointing at actors to cross over. Or I would come up with hand signals and they would be in character responding to what is happening and know the script. So they all had to really trust me and not launch into it, because for me I wanted to get a sense of this world that they live in. At this point I had very few scenes like that and I wanted anyone watching this to want to have breakfast in this household, with this family and understand why. They are very generous, everyone is included and it’s full of life and to me that’s more important. There were three or four plot elements and I squeezed them in there but the rest is story.
Were there any challenges you came up against on set?
All the police personnel on film were real police. I had to do something fast so asked them to send over some cops because we were asking for cop cars anyway. I said to the police what would you do here, how would you get a gunshot victim from here to there, and they said we would do this and I said can we roll on it?
Everyone was willing to sign waivers and they were going to show us how to do it. Then unions came in and told me I can’t tell them what to say otherwise I have to upgrade them. I can ask them if they would be willing to say what they want to say, don’t ask them to memorise any lines and just catch it in the boom.
How long did it take you to shoot?
We shot it in twenty one days, twenty technically, one day for some additional B-roll. My first film I shot in twelve days. In The Sublime and Beautiful I was the central character and knew I could do seven or eight pages a day. With this one though you are waiting on actors to go through hair, make-up and wardrobe, combined with the reality of getting them to and from set which added more time.
If you had to tie the film to a genre what would it be?
A Midwestern crime noir is what I would call it. My cinematographer and I were talking and he said that we should coin the phrase Midwestern realism. I am drawn to the people that live in the Midwest because I have roots in Kansas and Oklahoma. My family is from Arkansas Kansas and I feel like it’s a neglected area of the world for Hollywood.
What do you have coming up next either in front or behind the camera?
I have been attached to direct another Midwestern which is a kind of modern day Bonnie and Clyde dealing with family. I met this gentlemen on the film festival circuit and he loved my films and agreed to let me attach myself as director. So we are just waiting for the next draft of that script.
There is also a Dardenne brothers influenced Midwestern movie I want to do from an outline and it’s all kind of teed up except for the financing. I had two other movies lining up before Scent of Rain and Lightning came to me, so maybe there is something else out there which hasn’t revealed itself to me yet.
I do love both of these movies and hopefully this one finding an audience beyond even the film festival circuit, will perhaps make those others become a reality. I am also writing an unconventional love story set in New York. I have twenty five pages of that and I’ll get another twenty five pages out next week and then I’ll see if I can round it into form.
If you could remake one film what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t remake any of them. Sorry to pull the rug out from under you there but I would rather be invited to put my taste, approach and ideas into Hollywood films. For instance the next project we are putting together as a sort of modern day Bonnie and Clyde could be called a remake, but I’d much rather stand on the shoulders of that movie than try to remake it.
Blake thank you so much for taking time out to talk to Flickering Myth and my congratulations on The Scent of Rain and Lightning which is a great movie.
Martin Carr chats with Jon Voight about his new movie Surviving the Wild…
Martin Carr: How did you first get involved in the project?
Jon Voight: I was given the first draft of the script and fell in love with it.
MC: What first attracted you to the part of Gus?
JV: Well the character reminded me of my father who was a golf professional and, so he was a teacher, but also a teacher of life. He was a very charming man, he never lectured when he was trying to tell us something, he always put his teachings in the form of humour, and so the character of Gus, reminded me of my father.
MC: Given the very specific circumstances of your character, how did you and your co-stars go about playing through scenes?
JV: The only adjustment that was made, was that some characters could not hear or see me. Only one character could hear and see me, and that was the character of Shaun, played by Aiden Cullen.
MC: Given the amount of location work involved were there any challenges which this film presented for you?
JV: We had wonderful locations in Kentucky, and we saw areas of Kentucky that only a very small percentage of people know about. Of course, the carrying of our equipment into these remote places was sometimes quite a challenge though. Sometimes we had to go up the mountains in ski lifts with the equipment on the chairs, piece by piece, which often took quite a long time. And there were long treks through small and beaten paths in the woods. Nature is very refreshing and good for the soul – so for whatever difficulties we had to endure, we were greatly rewarded.
MC: Was there any advice you gave to your young co-star Aidan Cullen which you could share?
JV: When you are working with a very talented actor, which Aiden Cullen is, you don’t want to say too much, you only want to encourage and keep the work fun. Because it is fun. I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious or inferior to me, because of perhaps my reputation and people telling him what a great actor I am – he is every bit as good an actor as I am when he plays his role properly, which he certainly did.
MC: In terms of developing Gus are there any choices you made during filming which were not in the script? If so how collaborative were those decisions?
JV: I always play with the pieces I get, as I search and discover the character. In general, the writers and directors understand that I am looking for a collaboration. In this film, I worked with very nice people and we continuously played with the material. Aiden had been doing work in an improvisation class, and that helped him in the film, as he did a lot of improvising.
MC: In light of your illustrious career were there any experiences from other productions which you applied on Surviving the Wild?
JV: The key to this character for me, is the communication with the boy and our chemistry. All the successful performances I have had in my career are thanks to the remarkable chemistry I’ve shared with the other performers, from Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda to Eric Roberts and Nick Cage and the same is true here with Aiden Cullen. Our relationship is the sparkling essence of the movie.
MC: And finally, if you were stranded on a desert island and had to Survive the Wild what three things would you take along?
JV: I would want to have a leather man, it’s a package of well-made tools in one compact unit. It is like a Swiss army knife with a few more things. A couple of good books – definitely the bible and Rashi’s commentary on the Bible. All the great writers, from Dickens to Hemmingway, Goethe to Victor Hugo, used the bible as a fountain for inspiration – and its stories inspire as well.
Many thanks to Jon Voight for taking the time for this interview.
In the run up to season four of Black Mirror we were lucky enough to sit down with writer/producer Charlie Brooker and showrunner Annabel Jones. Who gave us their thoughts on advancing technologies, their unique writing process and how the series has evolved since moving to Netflix.
So you have obviously worked together for some time, how did you get to know each other?
AJ: We don’t know each other.
CB: This is literally the first time we have met (laughter)
AJ: We started working together seventeen years ago and just happened to be in the same building.
CB: Which was a weird place to work, and ended up working in the same company, and then you were the boss, and then so all the shows I’ve been involved with Annabel has been there as well. So all the sort of ‘Wipe’ shows and ‘Deadset’ and things like that. So we’ve always sort of worked together. (laughing)
AJ: We’re always so busy discussing other things that we never really discuss it ourselves which is a bit odd.
Thank you for ‘USS Callister’, I think it’s my favourite ‘Black Mirror’ and feels like the flagship of this season the same way ‘San Junipero’ was in the last season. I was just wondering whether ‘San Junipero’ influenced it in any way?
CB: Yes and no, in that it’s really hard to say which one is the flagship, because everyone has different favourites. So you guys have seen two episodes and so far I think of the people we have spoken to, they seem split as to which one is their favourite. Which is interesting and then there are another four you haven’t seen. And they are all very strong flavours this time around. But certainly ‘San Junipero’ influenced the decision because that was the first episode which was written for Netflix generally anyway, was the first episode of season three which was written, it was a conscious decision to try and experiment and expand what the show was and up end what the show is.
CB: And so ‘USS Callister’ is very dark in places but has moments of comedy that you maybe wouldn’t have expected, I think, like a few years ago from ‘Black Mirror’. So ‘San Junipero’ because we were pleased with the way turned out, I think it gave us the confidence to say, right we can play with the tone more than we have before. So certainly in that respect we were ‘so what haven’t we done yet?, we’ve done the Eighties and we didn’t think we could do the Eighties, can we do space’.
AJ: But often there are lots of things colliding and you know you’re either talking about a particular topic, or a theme, or a ‘what if’ scenario and sometimes they all just collide and Charlie will have one moment of ‘I’ve got it’ and it all comes together and you have a story. But sometimes it’s very different so they all evolve very differently. But in terms of flagships its interesting because if, and Charlie is absolutely right, we don’t think of any one episode as being a flagship, because if we did then we haven’t done our job properly, because all six should be great and all six should engage people in different ways and everyone should have a different favourite, because that’s an anthology show.
And do you have a favourite from this season?
AJ: I don’t, I don’t (smiling)
CB: That’s like asking, which is your favourite child.
AJ: Or favourite piece of music because we all play different music to play different moods and reflect different moods, so we can only offer up the films we think are the most compelling stories and it’s for everyone else to react to them.
Do you think the series has changed at all since it’s become a purely Netflix show. Has the influence or non-influence of Channel 4 changed anything?
AJ: No, I think it’s more about the breadth of the series going from three episodes to six, suddenly you can explore and push the perception of what the show is without breaking it. As Charlie has already explained we did ‘San Junipero’, which has very upbeat endings and the bittersweet ending and aesthetically it’s very very different. And so we could do that because at the same time we were doing ‘Shut Up and Dance’, which is a very domestic, small, and grounded kitchen sink drama and those two can co-exist within a run of six. Whereas suddenly if you’re in a run of three they feel more exposed. So I think it’s about the number of episodes we’ve been doing, also I think on the Netflix platform you can experiment with duration, you can tell much bigger stories like ‘USS Callister’ which fits a feature structure.
It’s like an hour and fifteen or something like isn’t it.
CB: Seventy four minutes (laughter)
AJ: And then we have ‘Metalhead’ in the run this current season which I think is about forty minutes.
CB: Thirty eight minutes (laughter from the whole table)
AJ: (Trying not to laugh) You want to know more about running orders.
CB: I’m the man
AJ: So I think the length of the run has allowed us much more freedom to tell different stories.
Can you talk us through the writing process? What makes a good Black Mirror idea, what makes a bad one? Where are you getting your inspiration from?
CB: Well it really varies because what generally happens is it’ll start with. We will be discussing an idea and usually we’re going (hushed tones) ‘Oh God we’re got to do another episode, what are we do?’, and often we’ll be discussing something, it could be an issue like parenting, or just an observation on life and then at some point, there’ll be a ‘what if’ idea that occurs and then we’ll ping pong it back and forth and I’ll be trying to think of the worse possible outcome, and Annabel is challenging me going ‘that wouldn’t happen because’ and I’m like ‘yeah no it would’, then at the point where I realise I can’t shut up and you’re going ‘oh that sounds horrible’ that’s when we sort of think ok we’ve got somewhere here, then there will be a point where you get excited about the idea. And then write up a brief treatment that’s a couple of pages that outlines the story and send that off to Netflix, they come back with feedback on that. Then I go off and I write the first draft, sometimes that can take two three days, sometimes it can take two or three weeks or a month, its random and I can’t predict what’s going to happen. Then I email it to Annabel and you pull it apart, but in a good way. It’s a thing every writer has to go through where you sort of write this thing and then you hand it over and you get notes back and you get really defensive like ‘I know, I know, I’m not saying it’s perfect’.
AJ: And then I give it a mark.
CB: Then you give it a mark out of ten. And so then we go back.
Do you literally?
CB: No, (laughing) not yet, don’t put ideas in her head. And then sometimes you rip it up and you start again. Now that has happened several times and you just go ‘oh Christ it’s not working’ or you literally park it and you go ‘well I’m stuck on this one, so I’m going to write another one’.
AJ: Not very often though. I don’t think we’ve abandoned (many).
CB: No, well ‘Hated In The Nation’ I wrote half of it and I was like ahhhhh! And I put it in a drawer and came back and finished it off.
AJ: I didn’t put it in a drawer.
CB: No you kept encouraging me to go back to it. And so, but when the director comes on board and then the cast come on board again it changes again, so Jodie Foster had lots of thoughts and suggestions on ‘Arkangel’ for instance, so you go back and re-draft it, or I think I was saying about ‘Crocodile’ was originally written with a male lead and we sent the script to Andrea Riseborough and she was reading the script to look at one of the other roles, and she came back saying ‘well actually I’d like to play this part, please’.
AJ: She hadn’t played that kind of role before and she thought ‘this is a real challenge for me can I get into that mind set?’
CB: And we sort of thought about it, discussed it, and said that’s interesting we hadn’t thought of that, so you go back and you change other aspects of it to suit that set up. And so by the time you get to the end, as more and more people get involved on it, it gets more and more flesh on its bones. So my job at the start when I’m writing the script is describe what I think the finished programme with be. Basically what I do is imagine it, write it down and it transforms throughout the process as everyone comes in and alters it and puts in lots of suggestions and luckily I’ve found that now when I get to the end, I can’t remember what it looked like originally in my head because the finished product has now got so many things I wouldn’t have thought of added to that skeleton.
Coinciding with the home-entertainment release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D, Flickering Myth’s Martin Carr chats with screenwriter William Wisher about the 1991 sci-fi action classic…
Martin Carr: Hi William. How did you and James Cameron first meet and subsequently get involved with the Terminator franchise?
William Wisher: Well the short version is I first met Jim in late 1972. He had graduated from high school in Canada the year before and I knew his girlfriend at the time Sharon Williams and she said ‘you should meet my boyfriend because he’s into the movies and science fiction and all that’, and we did and we have been friends ever since.
MC: Considering the original Terminator was quite a dark film in comparison to Terminator 2 which seems more deliberately commercial, did you both consciously decide to go that way during writing or did it just happen?
WW: Quite honestly I think that’s just the way it went. Terminator had a budget of about $6.5 million I think, and I did a little bit of writing on it, but that’s basically Jim’s picture, and he was going for what he could get with the budget that he had. So when we got to Terminator 2 we had $100 million, so there were more things that we could do and technology had come a long way in terms of CG – not that there’s as much CG in T2 as you think. Jim would know the exact answer but I think there were something like fifty-two to fifty-five shots in the whole film. Of course Linda had a twin sister so we used her to put them both in the same frame, and the guard with the card at Atascadero (state hospital) were twin brothers. So there is CG which is evident when you see it, but there is also practical stuff which some people thing is CG but isn’t.
MC: I know this is a contentious question, but how do you think the subsequent sequels compare to Terminator and Terminator 2 which many people consider to be science fiction benchmarks?
WW: Well I have a rule about these sorts of things, which is if I didn’t work on it I’m not going to comment on it. They made their pictures and I made mine with Jim and I think it’s up to other people to decide how they feel about those other films. I wasn’t involved.
MC: I understand William. Moving onto the script how did the writing process work between yourself and James Cameron?
WW: We wrote the treatment for it and Jim has a term which is called a ‘scriptment’, which is a process I also use, where you start out writing your treatment and just continue to expand it until you finally get the screenplay. With Terminator 2 we wrote it at his house taking turns at the keyboard, writing it out loud so to speak, coming up with ideas and all of that. Then once we got to the end I think it was about fifty pages roughly we cut it in half. He expanded one half and I expanded the other half and the movie was all there. Then once we were done with that and both halves were in screenplay form, we got back together and spent three days in the same room going over it, then he printed it, stuck it in a briefcase and flew off to Cannes so Mario Kassar could read it.
MC: Considering the moments between Sarah and Kyle Reese in the Special Edition I have to ask whether there was more to that in your original script?
WW: Yes. Everything that you see in the Special Editions including the Kyle dream sequence and the scene where they take out Arnold’s CPU and turn it from read to write was all in the script. It was edited out for a variety of reasons, either for time, or sometimes you put a thing together and you go ‘you know that’s not working quite the way I want it to’. Also Terminator 2 had a different original ending as well, where you see Sarah and John Connor in a future world, where they have avoided the war. That got previewed and the audience didn’t much care for it, so Jim called me up and said ‘I have an idea let’s just do a narration over this extra piece of footage that we have’, which was actually originally used as the drive up to Cyberdyne. I think I wrote part of it, or he wrote something and sent it to me, then I re-wrote it then sent it back, but basically we did that in like a night as I recall. And it was written to the length of the piece of footage and whatever we had to do had to be done in that time.
MC: So if you had the opportunity and it had tested more favourably, would you have preferred for that to be the original ending of the movie?
WW: I actually prefer what exists today in the official release because it was almost a little too happy. In retrospect we discussed that, but decided to leave it a little more open and more cautionary. Like sure we won this round but we have stay vigilant. [In retrospect] I infinitely prefer that and am glad the original ending didn’t preview that well, because I think sometimes adversity makes better drama. I like it a lot and think it is the right note to end on.
MC: Bearing in mind that yourself and James Cameron have been friends for so long and Terminator 2 is considered one of the great sequels, where else would you take the new reboot?
WW: Well that’s interesting because Tim Miller is set to direct that and I’m not working on that, so there’s no good answer I can give you. I don’t know where they want to take it and since they are definitely taking it somewhere I don’t want to second guess where they might want to go with it. So I’m going to leave that one alone.
MC: And finally in terms of the original structure getting back to the script, was it shot as it was written, or was a lot of stuff juggled in the edit to make it work?
WW: Practically nothing changed. Things came out in edit from the script that we shot, but the only thing from the script that we changed was a line of description became a line of dialogue. When Arnold says ‘I think I need a vacation’ that was originally just a piece of description which said ‘Arnold looks like he needs a vacation’. And Jim said something like ‘that sounds kind of cool just say it’ and to my knowledge that’s the only thing that was changed from the script, all the other stuff that you see in the Special Editions was simply decided in edit.
MC: Many thanks for your time William this has been amazing.
Martin Carr chats with Mark Jackson about The Orville, working with Seth MacFarlane and Jon Favreau, and more…
Just a short walk from Waterloo station I sat down to talk with Mark Jackson. Known to UK television audiences from The Royal and theatre goers in productions as varied as War Horse and Noises Off!, we discussed his love of science fiction and a need for optimism in the genre. Starring alongside Seth McFarlane in the Fox network sic-fi The Orville, he proved to be funny, self- effacing, passionately engaged and easy company.
Martin Carr: For those who don’t know, what is The Orville and who is your character Isaac?
Mark Jackson: The Orville is a space comedy/drama. It’s not so much a spoof. Although that was the sort of thing people might have been expecting, it doesn’t go that far. It’s set 400 years in the future and there’s a conglomeration of planets and societies, alien and human, called ‘The Union’. The concept is quite familiar to a lot of sci-fi series. Isaac comes from a planet called Kaylon and he’s an artificial life form. We don’t tend to use the term ‘robot’ – I think he probably gets offended by that. The Kaylon consider themselves to be vastly superior to biological lifeforms and actually they are, for all intents and purposes, but they are not part of ‘The Union’. So Isaac is sent as an ambassador and science officer to the USS Orville, which is a ship and exploratory vessel of the Union. He is sent to report back to Kaylon, to observe the aliens and the humans and determine effectively whether it is worth joining ‘The Union’.
MC: You’re the only English actor in the show. How did your casting come about?
MJ: Well, as you say, most of the other actors are American, but with a couple of the roles, Isaac and Bortus, they cast the net quite wide. I know they auditioned in America, Canada, Australia and here for Isaac. I got the audition through my agent while I was living here and went up for it. Obviously it was a sort of crazy concept that had Seth McFarlane attached to it. A sort of sci-fi, Star Trek-esque show. I grew up with The Next Generation and always wanted to be in it. I’d have killed to be in that show, so obviously this was a strange opportunity to live that. So in terms of the audition I was thinking this would be nice but, like with most auditions, actors are quite pragmatic in thinking ‘I’ll never get this’. We knew there was interest quite early on. Seth had already seen the tapes after about twenty four hours. The man works like a mule so I’m not surprised by that. There was a lot of dialogue going on, a couple of times FOX checked my availability to go out and do a test for the part which is quite common practice, and both times they said ‘well no, actually you don’t need to come’. Read into that what you will. Then six weeks after auditioning I eventually got offered the part. I was just stepping on a plane for a holiday to Barcelona so it couldn’t have come at a better time really.
MC: Isaac’s voice, it’s quite distinctive to the character. Did you get any inspiration from anywhere else? Is it a specific homage to a particular character?
MJ: Once I finally got offered the part, I had a telephone conversation with Seth shortly afterwards and we immediately bonded over Star Trek: The Next Generation. He really grew up with it you know. He is a Star Trek nut and, interestingly, a few years ago he approached a company to actually bring Star Trek back but for various reasons it didn’t work out. So with this show there is no escaping it, it certainly doesn’t deny it, it is an homage to Star Trek. ‘A love letter’ are the words that’re being used quite a lot, but at the same time it goes off in a different direction. What’s nice about The Orville is it takes the main characters that you would have seen on Next Generation, but really delves into their everyday lives on the ship. You get to meet their partners who are often behind the scenes on Next Generation. And that’s where it’s really different. Yes the mission of the Orville is the same as the Enterprise, yes there are endless worlds and possibilities, and it is essentially an adventure show, but that is why it’s appealed so much to the ‘Trekkies’. They’ve really responded so warmly to The Orville.
MC: I know when the premiere aired ratings went through the roof and our reviews of the series have been very popular on the site.
MJ: Well the original reviews weren’t good, let’s put it that way. Seth is one of America’s leading satirists, and therefore one of the world’s leading satirists, and he is not afraid to speak his mind, so I think he’s probably rubbed a few people up the wrong way, including critics. When the pilot aired I looked for the reviews, and they were just terrible, and I thought ‘oh well that’s it’. But the audience response was incredible. I think it was the biggest FOX premiere for a couple of years. The thing is pilots are very tricky. The first episode of anything is very hard because you have to introduce all the characters and there is just a load of exposition. It’s not just the characters but their relationships you have to introduce, so that’s a lot of work for a pilot. And it did really well. What was nice was as soon as we got to episode two it could really take off, and we could start exploring the characters, we could start going on specific adventures. So that was really nice to see. The ratings did fall a bit partly because they moved from Sunday to Thursday, but they’ve remained steady. It’s been very encouraging.
MC: I was going to ask about the rehearsal process considering your theatre background and how it differs because I know Seth McFarlane does open table reads as live events. Is it more theatrical in that sense? Do you get more time in the same room with people?
MJ: Well we have a table read for every episode and it’s a nice way to meet the new actors who come on for each episode, because there is always a guest cast. Obviously with theatre you get three to six weeks rehearsal which you need – you can’t do a play without it. It’s improvisation otherwise. I think with film you do get more rehearsal time, they have the luxury of time and the budgets, but with television in general there is little time for rehearsals. With soaps there’s no rehearsal and you get on and you play your doctor and you get off. With this we got a bit of rehearsal, but it would be in the half hour before you shoot, so it’s certainly not weeks. If anything needed changing that would be a good time to bring it up, but generally that wasn’t the case because the scripts are so tight. It’s a testament to Seth that he knows exactly what he wants and it doesn’t change. Not because he’s draconian in any way but merely because it works and it’s really good. You also need to have a thought for the entire crew as there are ninety people on set. You need to do blocking for them, the director and the director of photography (DOP) need to figure out exactly which shots they want. They have an idea but it can all change on set because they think ‘actually that light there and that background is rather nice’, which allows for their creativity which is great. So we get a bit of rehearsal but you certainly need to know your lines when you get there, don’t bump into the furniture and, I think as it goes on and everyone has their character down, it becomes a lot easier and you throw yourself into it.
MC: This harks back to something we have already talked about where others have labelled The Orville as a parody. Being on the ground and being directly involved with that, how did it come across to you while doing it?
MJ: Every episode has drama to it and certainly as we go along it becomes more and more apparent that some of the characters and their relationships are having real difficulties. The Orville, like all great sci-fi, takes issues of today and transplants them to a place millions of light years away. Often addressing human prejudice, because we all carry that with us to an extent. If it was just a straight out comedy it could be done in a half-hour episode and it would be funny and lovely and that’s fine. But it’s the drama that makes the comedy work well,. You have to earn the laughs and then you have quite disturbing endings to some of the episodes, which people don’t expect. I like how the show is not a parody but gently pokes fun at the sci-fi genre.