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An Interview With Director Duncan Jones (Mute)

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Conducted By: Darryl Griffiths

First off. Just to say that i got to see the film last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Found it to be really thought-provoking stuff.

Thank you mate.

‘Mute’ has undoubtedly been a passion project of yours, for a number of years. What have been the main challenges in bringing it to the screen and how has the concept evolved over time?

Yeah, it’s tricky. I mean Mike Johnson and myself wrote it sixteen years ago and i hadn’t made any other films yet. It was kind of being designed to be my first film and just to give you a context of how long ago it was. I think Sexy Beast and Layer Cake had just kinda come out. There was this feeling of this new wave of British gangster films and maybe be able to ride on the wave off the back of that and do this little thing ‘Mute’, as a contemporary London-based film. Obviously over sixteen years it’s changed dramatically from what it was originally into the film that we’ve made now.

In keeping with the project. Setting it in Berlin in 2052. I know it’s a city that is of great sentimental value for you, without being intrusive. From a strict narrative standpoint, what was so appealing about setting it there?

Well, i mean i was there for a little while in the 1970’s, when it was this little island of western civilisation in the middle of the Soviet Union. Even back then, you could kind of get a sense that the energy and dynamism about the city, was really about the future and what Berlin was going to become. What was gonna happen to the city in the future, whether it was the fears being kind of disappearing into East Germany or whether Germany was going to be united. Even back then, there was sort of feelings about whether that was going to be an option and every decade that i came back to Berlin after that. Even after the wall came down, i think Berlin of all western hemisphere cities has always felt like a place that had its eye on the future and less on what it was at that particular point in time. Which is kind of ironic because it’s such a city which is absolutely built upon its history, but that’s the interesting thing about Berlin is that it really does seem kind of dynamic and forward-looking, and for a science-fiction makes it an ideal place to set a story.

Setting the film in the not-too-distant future. Yet with the slick aesthetic, it still feels quite modern day. Were you really looking to maintain that in the building of this world?

Yeah i think one of the things I’ve noticed in science fiction films, a lot of times it feels like the future is all designed by one company. Obviously you can feel the production designer’s hand on it and the aesthetic choices. One of the things that i asked Gavin Bocquet who was my production designer, which is the antithesis of what a production designer wants to hear, is make it ugly. Make it clash. Make things feel like they are designed by different companies that weren’t talking to each other when they design things. That was really kind of part of the design and feel of it. What worked in our favour was that as much as possible on location we were shooting in Berlin, in the actual existing city and that kind of gave it an authenticity. It was really about what  props and things can we bring to this? What sets can we build on the actual city streets to create something that feels really tangible and real.

Shifting to the characters now. We are mainly led through this world by Leo played by Alexander Skarsgard. He’s very much the moral fibre in this decadent world, feeling like a relic of the past. Was it rigid in how you wanted to articulate the character to Alexander or quite collaborative in how you achieved it?

I think it was pretty collaborative. Having lived with it for such a long time, i had pretty strong feelings about elements of it. But to be honest Leo’s character was much more flexible because i really understood the challenge that i was asking him to try and navigate. This character is going to have to have a beginning and an end, as far as where he starts and where he ends and not  having any dialogue to use as a crutch. So let’s together. Come up with the best way for the audience to actually engage and care about this person, knowing that we’re going to be relying on other characters talking to him and what you can do in your performance to get them to buy into it. Fortunately we also have half of the film with Cactus and Duck who are basically the other extreme, so that is really what allows us to get away with it. We don’t spend the whole film with Leo, perhaps only spend half of it with him.

Leaping to that other extreme. Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s on-screen partnership is fascinating. With their respective back catalogues, we’re almost programmed to like these guys, yet the film goes to such a dark place. Without stripping them of their comic smarts, were you conscious of playing to their strengths whilst pushing them out of their comfort zones with these characters?

Yeah absolutely. I think as far as casting them, it was using the baggage of the fact that they are always seen as such good guys, particularly Paul Rudd who is the audience’s darling. I think that was absolutely something that i wanted to do. Use that to get the audience on side and think ‘OK, i’m watching these guys because somehow they’re going to tie into being the heroes of this movie’ and then slowly start to erode and pick away at it, revealing who Cactus and Bill really are.

Of course the film has seen you reunite with prolific composer and Moon collaborator Clint Mansell, serving up a soulful score here particularly for the sequences shared by Leo (Skarsgard) and Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). How do you feel his work enhances the narrative?

I mean music is such a huge part of film making i think and can carry so much of the emotion, whilst actually changing the emotion of any given scene. Not every project is right for every person as far as composers go, but i always knew that when i got around to doing ‘Mute’, Clint was the guy i wanted to work with on this. He totally understood and felt the same film i wanted to make, which made it a really enjoyable collaboration. I think he understood how important it was, not just for us to come up with the theme tune that would be the signature to the Leo/Naadirah relationship, but also be able to bring that back to throughout the film. Even when she’s not around, to keep her alive just through the music.

With this film, Moon and Source Code. There is undoubtedly a deep affection you have for the science-fiction genre, whilst in ‘Mute’ being various film noir elements within it too. What were your earliest and fondest memories of this genre offerings, that really inspired you?

Oh that’s hard to say. I’ve always been a fan of escapism. So as far as the science-fiction side of it, i love the escapist aspect of it and now that i’m making films myself. I think what i have grown to love about science-fiction, even with all that escapism. You can actually use it to try and allow people to feel like they can be open to ideas, that they might not be otherwise open to, because you’re talking about them in something which doesn’t feel like a personal attack on them. There’s a certain distance to it because it’s just science-fiction, so i think i kind of like that aspect. As for noir thrillers, i feel like i haven’t seen that many of them in recent film making. That’s probably more on me than on what’s being made, but i think that’s why i wanted to make one. I kind of felt like i haven’t seen a good one in awhile. This is the kind of film that i used to enjoy and would love to see something like that and that’s why i wanted to make ‘Mute’.

Before ‘Mute’. There was the experience of making ‘Warcraft’. Coming off the back of helming a big-budget Summer tentpole. Did it significantly alter your thoughts on the Hollywood studio system, especially heading into this project with Netflix involved?

Yeah. It was a long three and a half years of politics and trying to negotiate very intricate problems. Just on a political level making ‘Warcraft’ and i think off the back of that, i really kind of committed to myself. Promised myself that i’m going to make a film for me next, because this one has been too many compromises and too much politics. So i think that’s why i felt like i had to make ‘Mute’. The wonderful thing was with the relationship with Netflix, is once they agreed to what i wanted to do, signed off on the script and were happy with the cast. They absolutely just let me go ahead and make the film i wanted to make. I had final cut. I didn’t have to agree to anything really. I just made the film i wanted to make.

With the Netflix aspect in mind. After receiving such support, do you believe streaming services in the near future may overtake the major studios, in terms of harbouring talent?

Ermm. I don’t know. What i would say is the studios have made a commitment, to making a type of movie that is going to become i think increasingly challenging to keep original and to make them feel like, i’m seeing the same film every year every time i go and see a big studio film. So i respect the creativity of the people that they are getting involved in doing studio films. Because i think they’re the ones who are doing the heavy lifting of finding ways to make remakes, franchises, sequels, reboots, in keeping them original as possible. But i think it’s going to get tired, unless they start bringing in some original ideas and original characters. Original talent will get you so far, but eventually you need the ideas themselves to be original.

On a final note. Within ‘Mute’ you get a sense of an emerging world of warm gestures and inclusion, is being oppressed by cold corporate figures. Considering the state of the wider world, were you keen to represent that level of diversity within the film?

I mean Berlin in particular is this incredibly strange place and i think they see themselves as quite apart from the rest of Germany in some ways. But i think the dynamism of that community is mainly because of the massive immigration. The number of Turks and Arabs and Africans and Russians who’ve come to Berlin and kind of made it this really interesting and dynamic place. I can only see that continuing and becoming more so in the future and i think that was the Berlin we were trying to mirror in some sense. Get ahead of as far as our science-fiction depiction of it, but it’s weird. I think the world now is changing so bloody fast, it’s very difficult to get a bead on which direction it’s going because it’s zigzagging every second. But it feels right and while we were in Berlin, it felt like this was a future that could come to pass from where we are now.

Duncan Jones’ Mute is available to view on Netflix from Friday 23rd February.

Interviews

Up Close with Autumn Kendrick

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Movie Marker got up close with leading Canadian actress, Autumn Kendrick to chat about life before Los Angeles and her hilarious new TV show, ‘Scuba Love’. 

Can you tell us about your early beginnings growing up in Canada, and how you transitioned to life in Los Angeles?

My first trips away from home to perform started around the age of 11 and took me to Montreal, Winnipeg, Louisville and New York City. I put some roots down in Indianapolis, while at Butler University studying not only ballet and Arts Administration but also getting my degree in Sociology Social Work. After school I was able to continue dancing professionally with a small contemporary dance company in Indiana. Eventually the wear and tear on my body caught up with me and that brought me to a career in modelling. Modelling was supposed to be a short escape but turned into a full and wonderfully successful career. It was modelling that definitely gave me the travel bug – getting to work in countries around the world: Milan, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, New York and eventually Los Angeles.

My transition to loving Los Angeles took a bit, but once I got into acting, I felt like I found a home. I originally came to escape New York City winter for a couple months and stayed a couple years. Canada is my home, but I do not think I could survive another true Canadian winter. Los Angeles is my home, and where I have my career as an actress.

You have had an exceptional dance and theatre career in Canada so far, what inspired you to take the acting journey?

Dance to acting seemed like a natural step. I never had the greatest technique or was the most flexible, but my success came from my ability to perform and bring a character to life. I remember being young and auditioning for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and them liking me not because I had the perfect body or technique but because I has a unique passion and quality I brought to my performance. When I would win competitions, it was not because I did more turns or bigger leaps, but because I would move the audience and just live the story.

With my last dance company, I would be cast in leading roles because I could bring them to life. When I started modelling, I always missed the make-believe time so, even for small shoots I would make up this crazy backstory for who I was and what this character was thinking – meanwhile it would be a simple white backdrop beauty shoot. But that depth is what I think made me stand out from other models and helped me make an easy transition into TV commercials. I just love everything about being on set and working in film, from the moment the director called “action”. I was hooked. It was the first time since leaving the dance world that I felt fulfilled and happy. I was born to act.

You recently worked with Wes Craven for a lead role in the crime-thriller film ‘The Girl in the Photographs’. Can you tell us about the film, and what it was like to work on such a big film?

It was a lot of fun. I mean getting to work with such an amazing cast and crew was an honour. Plus, everyone was so sweet and supportive the entire shoot. I remember Kal Penn coming up to me after my first take and giving me the sweetest compliment ever. He was also great at sharing his own stories to help me out and feel more comfortable on set. We were a really close crew and it felt like I was gaining a second family during this shoot, and we are still all super supportive of each other and close.

Wes Craven is a legend, and the most giving person to work with. Having him cast me when he has started the careers of so many big stars of today, well breathless. Wes came to the first table read and at the end of the reading he talked about how special this project was, how excited he was for it and how he felt like us as a cast were going to be spectacular.

Filming near my childhood home was also a great plus. I had the chance to visit family and keep my feet on the ground. However, every day on set I just kept being in shock and pinching myself to be working with people that I idolize and admire. It was an incredible film to work on, and to play one of the leads was beyond amazing.

As an actress-producer, we understand you have just released a hilarious new series. Can you tell us about ‘Scuba Love’ and how it came about?

‘Scuba Love’ came from spending time in so many dive shops and thinking either someone needs to make a reality show on a dive shop or make it into a scripted comedy. Finally, I grabbed some courage and friends who were cinematographers and directors that also loved the dive world – sat down and said let’s make this. Now instead of seeing a hilarious interaction and thinking that should be in a skit, I jot it down for a future scene in Scuba Love.

It’s a comedy that follows a young female instructor who losses her job and her boyfriend in one fell swoop and decides to jump into the pool (jump all in) and make her life all about scuba and begins working at her local dive shop. We follow my character, Aly, as she helps bring a large scuba shop up to date, while also facing a male dominated world. As we follow her life we also get introduced to the wonderful joy of underwater. The exciting feature of this web-series (beside being on the only script series about scuba diving) is with each episode there is an educational clip on a topic related to diving, be it how to clean your gear, or steps to help protect our oceans, or even interviews with crew on why they love scuba diving – yes everyone involved is a diver.

Scuba Love

Can you tell us about your character, Ali, in ‘Scuba Love.’ What is she like, and did you have to carry out much research before filming?

Aly is such a fun, strong women who doesn’t let any obstacles stop her. She doesn’t allow unfortunate events to dissuade her but instead powers ahead to fully embrace the world of scuba. She also does not let men underestimate her, just like in a lot of sports where women are often over-looked as a source of information, Aly doesn’t back down from showing her wealth of knowledge and empowerment in this environment.

As for research, I am one of very few female Instructor Trainers. Not only do I teach people how to scuba dive, but I also teach potential instructors how to teach scuba diving. Being at an elite and unique level in the scuba diving world is something I never imagined I would excel in when growing up, but it certainly is a passion that I discovered during a trip to the Belize. So yes, I had just a little bit of training before filming and I loved every moment of it.

What type of genre of film or TV show are you drawn to traditionally?

I adore old musicals, if only I could sing! Actually, science fiction and fantasy films are what I gravitate to, and what I hope to work on soon. One of my favourite shows growing up ‘Star Trek’, with Patrick Stewart in the role of Captain Picard.

This year I have been doing some major binge watching of fast pace dramas such as ‘West Wing’ – I mean how great is that show. I basically can get behind anything that isn’t too scary and not too much gore…I am sadly squeamish (yes, I know that is ironic since I was in a death scene that Wes Craven was quoted saying that was very gory).

What can we expect to see you doing over the next few months?

We have many more episodes laid out for ‘Scuba Love’, of which I star, as well as some fun commercials and films I can’t talk about just yet.

To learn more about Autumn Kendrick, visit her video channel: Scuba Love
Instagram: @AutumnKendrick
Twitter: @AutumnDmonkey
Facebook: Scuba Love Web and Autumn Awesome Divers

 

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Interviews

An Interview With… Steve Hodgetts & Arabella Burfitt-Dons (Love Possibly)

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In the mockumentary, Love Possibly a documentary film crew follows the hopelessly romantic, Alex, on his quest for love. Following their wins for “Best Feature” and “Best International Feature” at the LA Edge Film Awards and Catalina Film Festival, Che Grant and Michael’s Boccalini’s new feature is now screening at the Raindance Film Festival.

Lead Actor Steve Hodgetts and Producer Arabella Burfitt-Dons sat down with Movie Marker’s Marion Donnellier to talk about Love Possibly

Q. Steve, your transformation into “Alex” is impressive. How did you prepare for the role?

SH: Alex is very different from any character I have played before. In terms of research, I watched a lot of youtube videos to try and master the lisp as best I could. Alex is a very anxious and socially inept person so I tried to remember certain traits people tend to have when they are nervous. For instance, he uses his hands to mask his face and dances his eyes around. These are all different traits I took from people I have met. Also I think everyone deals with anxiety to a certain extent and I just tried to amplify my own anxiety x 1000.

Q. How much of your personal experience did you use?

SH: I think there is a little bit of Alex in everyone. I just tried to remember my own anxiety and try to magnify it as best I could.

We all know someone that looks like Alex.

SH: Absolutely. I think Alex is just very socially unaware. Especially due to his speech impediment, I don’t think he’s had an easy upbringing. I think if I’d met him, I’d be mate with him.

ABD: I think the idea behind the character of Alex is that everyone can relate to him in a way, whether it is because of his anxiety, loneliness, finding love or heartbreak. Because the story is mainly based on the cast and crew’s own experience, we hoped that people could relate to it.

Q. Such as in Alex’s favourite film, “Sleepless in Seattle”, modern rom-coms all have a similar structure. How do you think the character of “Alex” would fit in one of them?

ABD: I think it would be very interesting to put him in a very conventional rom-com and to see how it would play out. I think it would be very beautiful and would resonate with the audience of a normal rom-com.  It is kind of what we tried to do here. It is a spin on a rom-com ,which is a recurring theme throughout the film. It is meant to be an non-conventional and ironic rom-com. I think if we put him into a character in a normal rom-com, it would probably achieve a similar thing and would be relatable to the audience.

SH: I think a way it would be slightly better because he is quite relatable. He is more of an “everyman”.

Q. You mentioned most of Love Possibly was improvised. Was there a point while shooting when the story or tone deviated from what was originally intended?

SH: The directors knew the narrative they wanted to achieve from the start. The plot never changed as a result of the improve and it only allowed a couple of changes in scenes. I would say 75% of it was improvisation and brought a certain realism to the film.

ABD: Although the narrative is still very close to Che and Michael’s original vision, we stripped everything back in post production and started from scratch in terms of brainstorm, how to plot out the story and how to piece it all back together. At one point we were brainstorming without even referencing the footage that we already had just to see what came up. Whilst we pieced it back together, because it is improv and always very open, we managed to pull together the final edit. Improv opens up opportunities of changing the storyline in a positive way as well as being, obviously quite difficult.  It is exciting as a filmmaker because it allows you to take your story in another direction and it still works.

Q. How do you choose the project you want to work on? What’s the most important factor(s)?

ABD: Script! I really enjoy spotting upcoming talents and really enjoy working on under represented art forms. That is the beauty of working in independent films, you get to see such incredible and varied projects that wouldn’t normally get made by the big studios. Personally that is something I like and catches my eyes.  I also enjoy projects that really connect with the audience and with me. And obviously amazing talents as well. Working with filmmakers, directors and actors that are incredibly talented and helping them bring their talent to life.

SH: Always the script I would say and interesting characters. In terms of acting, I would definitely rather play someone that is widely different than a character that is similar to me because it wouldn’t be very challenging. Which is why Alex was always so fascinating, because he is so different.

Q. What did you learn from Alex?  

SH: Always think before you say something. Probably not to worry as much. He makes situations worse because he is so worried.  In some situations, Alex is the normal one and surrounded by crazy people. His mum is very out there and her boyfriend is nuts.

ABD: Expending on the anxiety theme, I think when you make a film that highlights and showcases a difficulty that a lot of people have, it resonates with you as a filmmaker. Everyone has anxiety to a certain extent in this day of age. There is statistic that was release recently that shows significantly high number of millennials suffer from anxiety because of the nature of the period with live in. I have learn from Alex character because I know anxiety but seeing it in that form, makes it all the more relatable.

Q. We don’t see many rom-coms dealing with mental health. Most films are either entirely focus on the topic or omits it entirely.

ABD: I would like to see it more in characters in bigger films and that is why I wanted to explore it in that film. I think when films do cover that topic it tends to be all about the anxiety but what is nice about “Love possibly” is that although it deals with that topic there isn’t a massive emphasis on it, it is just part of it.

Q. The film was financed through Kickstarter. Do you have any advice on how to run a successful kickstarter campaign?

ABD: A lot of it is about the talent behind it. Pulling together a very good pitch that justifies what you are trying to do. Show that you are serious about it. Show that is a serious project as well as a passion project. Put it out there to as many people as you can, there is no better way than to kick-start the project.

SH: Find someone that has a lot of twitter followers or lots of money!

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Interviews

An Interview With… Selena Tan (Crazy Rich Asians)

Selena Tan, who plays Alix Young- Cheng in the film spoke to Movie Marker’s Rehna Azim about the success of the movie and her life as a ‘Dim Sum Dolly!

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At the time of writing Crazy Rich Asians has grossed $166,791,962 at the Us box office and $55,100,000 overseas for a Worldwide total of $221,891,962. Audiences are not only flocking to repeat viewings but also turning this movie with no big stars into something of a cultural phenomenon.

The film is being credited with reviving the near dead rom-com genre and boosting tourism to Singapore. Importantly, the film is also being celebrated for bringing to the Hollywood forefront an ethnic minority group that is not aggressively pushed by the media and in advertising.

Selena Tan, who plays Alix Young- Cheng in the film spoke to Movie Marker’s Rehna Azim about the success of the movie and her life as a ‘Dim Sum Dolly!

Q: You started your professional career as a litigation lawyer then moved into the entertainment world. That’s a brave leap. What made you make the change?

A: I had dabbled in theatre and singing since I was at school. From the age of 14 I had been involved in community theatre. It never occurred to me I could do it full time or make a living from it. So I did a law degree and qualified as a lawyer when I was 23 but I soon realised that I had been performing for 10 years and was a way more experienced actress than a lawyer. But law is demanding and it consumed all my time for the first 2 years. But after a while I began to get the itch to perform again. I started doing some theatrical work on the side but really it was like having two careers at the same time. I was constantly exhausted.
So I sat down with my parents and said, I can always go back to the law but I have a real passion for acting. It gives me room for expression the law doesn’t. They were supportive and that’s when I started thinking about what I could do in the entertainment field and how I could best connect with an audience as an artist.

Q: What is a Dim sum dolly?!

A: (laughs) It’s an idea I developed in 2012. Three very different girls performing together; different sizes with different talents and capabilities. I wanted to create a cabaret/comedy/musical act that was socially aware and politically topical. In particular I wanted to tackle taboo subjects. We put on a lot of makeup and that seemed to help us get away with controversial topics because we made people laugh. It was like being able to serve a fluffy cake with a raisin in the middle!

Q: Was Crazy Rich Asians as fun to make as it is to watch?

A: More so! I really lucked out with that movie. But you know, I initially turned down the audition. I’d just finished a big production with my company and had a holiday booked in Phuket. I really needed that break and took it over doing the audition. Fortunately, I was offered a second audition when I returned from holiday because they hadn’t found the right actress for the part. The stars aligned and it all worked out for me. I thought it would be great because I could just be an actor and not worry about the directing or putting the production together.

Q: What was it like on set?

A: Like a resurrection! A total new injection of zest and life. It was like I’d been jump started. I was surrounded by so much talent from around the world and everyone was so passionate about the project. I got to make wonderful new friends and show them my country, its places, its people, the food. Since the film came out I’ve been approached by so many people, including old friends from my past who have all been touched by this movie and what it’s done for our country. Young people tell me they now believe anything is possible. Tourism will go through the roof. It’s just a beautiful film about my country. It’s a love letter to the country actually. Until now people used to say, ‘Singapore? Which part of China is that?’ Now they know who and what we are.

Q: The film has been praised as a step forward for more diversity in cinema but it has also faced some criticism for focusing on one group in Singapore which is multi-ethnic. What do you think the film offers the push for diversity?

A: The push for diversity is a movement. A single film can’t do everything and yes, some people have asked, where are the Singaporean Indians and other groups in this film. Yet the spirit of representing minorities is being embraced by our film and by all those around the world who are going to see it. Certainly , there is a need for an ever more diverse Singapore to be showcased, including people on the fringes of society.
But, you know, the film has already inspired so many people around the world. I have a niece in the UK who suddenly feels that, yes, there might be opportunities for her now in the acting field which she didn’t feel before. She’s excited that maybe she could be like auntie Selena and that thrills me. Young people in India, Malaysia are watching the film and being encouraged in their ambitions. At the same time we’re reaching audiences in LA and New York. It’s mind-blowing!

Q: The success of the film has been tremendous. Of course fans want to know, will there be a sequel?

A: At the premiere in Singapore Warner brothers did say they want to do a follow-up. I certainly want to be in it!

 

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