Never mind the money, make me a movie
1995 is a bumper year for Britain at Cannes, and yet no homegrown film-maker showing on the Croisette had more than pounds 3m to spend, an eighth of the average Hollywood budget. So, what if money were no object? Ryan Gilbey asked four of the British directors
Thursday 18 May 1995
"I'm still a novice really, so this wouldn't be feasible until about two or three films down the line. This is one I've had in my head for a while. It would take place in Ireland, in Derry, where I grew up, and be set in a part called Free Derry, a section cordoned off by the populace. It's about a mysterious foreign man who arrives from the river, and no one's sure who he is, but as the story unfolds, we find out he has strong connections to Derry, and that he's come to avenge his father. It would have the feel of a Greek myth, I think. I like to do things that have a certain mythical feel but are still tied to reality. I'm interested in creating mental landscapes, which is where the large budget would come in. I'd need a lot to recreate Derry as it was - I'd want to build the big tower blocks once used as lookout posts, they've all been demolished now. It involves lots of monumental moments in Irish history, too, like the siege of Derry, and they would have to be recreated. As far as casting, I imagined a French actor in the lead, preferably Gerard Depardieu. The budget would be about pounds 40-pounds 50m, but first I'll have to prove that I can handle a more humble amount without doing a Kevin Costner."
Three Steps to Heaven, representing Britain in Directors' Fortnight, is the first feature from Constantine Giannaris. He also made the acclaimed short Caught Looking.
"If I could make anything, it would be a huge epic, a medieval film set in the 14th century, around the eastern Mediterranean conflict between Islam and Christianity, in the aftermath of the Crusades, concentrating on that conflict and the displacement of people. I'd make it an amazing epic, with action scenes - very violent, but more European in tone, more moody, something like Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev rather than a Hollywood blockbuster. But it would need this unlimited budget because I can't imagine who on earth would fund it. I'd love to work with Jeanne Moreau or Jean- Louis Trintignant. And Jean-Paul Belmondo, too, when he was younger. But he ain't. I come from a low-budget background - the first film I made cost pounds 3,000 - and Three Steps to Heaven is my first feature; it cost about pounds 450,000. If we'd felt at all constrained by that budget when we were making it, I don't think we would have gone ahead, because it's quite ambitious. Luckily I've got a mad, inventive producer, Rebecca Dobbs, and the low budget disciplines you, it's good for you. I'm working on Marchetti now, which is a sort of urban criminal thriller set in Holland and London."
Ken Loach, who won the Best Director Award at Cannes for Raining Stones in 1993, returns to the festival with Land and Freedom, set during the Spanish Civil War.
"I can't really answer that, because an unlimited budget would be a liability. The more you spend, the more restricted you are because the more money you've got, the bigger the investment, the more nervous the investor and the more they dictate who should be in your film and what the ending should be. In other words, the more it has to conform to the American pattern of film-making. I've never been in that position because I've never made large amounts of money. The budget is always appropriate to the scale of the film you're making anyway. It's like a musician composing; you're always aware of your resources. The only time I've ever thought that money might have made things easier was on Black Jack. But really the only limit when you're working on a film is your own talent, your own imagination. I can't talk about casts in an abstract sense either. Like budget, you work with whoever is appropriate to the film. Casting is often about hiring stars, and I do find stars pretty boring, actually, because then a film becomes all about watching those stars. I carry ideas for films around in my head, but I'd never share them and show them the light of day, not until they were completed."
Terence Davies directed Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. His latest, The Neon Bible, is based on John Kennedy Toole's novel, and stars Gena Rowlands.
"My dream film is one that's already been made. It's Singin' in the Rain! Exactly as it is, with the same cast and everything, only with my name on it - I wouldn't let Stanley Donen or Gene Kelly near it! I love it just the way it is, but I wish I'd made it. I first saw it when I was seven, and it was a revelation. I went with my sister, and during that scene in the rain I cried and cried and cried. She asked, "Why are you crying?", and I told her, "Because he looks so happy!" Nothing does that for me like the old Hollywood musicals. I love Cries and Whispers, too, but it's hardly a toe-tapper, is it? I wish I could say I'd made something as great as Singin' in the Rain but alas, no, I haven't. Can you imagine putting together something so wonderful? There isn't anything today that fills me with so much joy. I was a child then and a lot of it is to do with the ignorance of childhood, that time when you didn't know how films were made. When I started making films myself, watching them became a different experience, not so magical. In those technicolour musicals, everyone has wraparound teeth and huge kitchens; it was wonderful. Nothing else has affected me quite that profoundly."
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