Meet The Director: James Marsh talks about Hold On To Me, documentaries and the importance of cinematography

james_marsh

James Marsh was at the Mumbai Film Festival last year talking about his feature film, Shadow Dancer (Clive Owen). The interview was insightful and we’ve excerpted a few responses here, as well as his remark on Hold On To Me at the end. Excerpts from First Post:

I’ve noticed that you shoot your films in unique ways. There’s a lot of innovation in the way you frame the shots.

JM: Oh yes, cinematography is extraordinarily important to me. It’s something that you have a big influence on and can use in unique ways, and I believe, you should use, as a director. So, before I shoot any film, I spend a lot of time talking to the cinematographer, and discussing all kinds of different reference points – not just of other films but of photographs and paintings and locations. A big part of the job is, of course, to visualise the film, and I tend to go in the shoot with a thoroughly prepared document that lays out each scene in terms of show it’s going to be blocked, and work out shot sequences and camera moves before I actually shoot. I don’t always use those ideas since you sometimes get better ideas when you are shooting or you get inspired by the actors or the location but I prefer going in with a plan. I can always improve upon it as the film is being made.

Your movies tend to be about a central character, and generally about how people around them influence their choices.

JM: I guess, where you are coming from is a sense that in many films, not the least of which is mine, you tend to invest in the central character, and try to find connections in the central character from your own life and your own experience. Where I’m concerned, what I’m actually interested in, actually, is the dynamics of a small group, be it a family that you see inShadow Dancer or in Project Nim or in The King, or any other sort of group, like the group of conspirators in Man on Wire. I’m drawn to this dynamic and I believe that all drama comes from some conflict between a group of people.

This is your second feature film as a director, though you’ve done many documentaries. I’m curious to know that most kids, growing up, want to be feature filmmakers, as opposed to documentary filmmakers. Were you always interested in the art of making documentaries or did you see making them as a step towards making features?

JM: I always had the fantasy of being a feature film director and making movies, (laughs) in Hollywood. But in the UK, we have a big culture and tradition of documentary filmmaking, particularly on television. And television documentaries in Britain are very, very good and well-made, with lots of money put it. So yes, growing up, as I was trying to figure how to get my foot in the door of filmmaking, documentaries and television were a more realistic place to start.

I didn’t go to film school, I got a job as a journalist working on a TV show in London. And that was definitely a calculated plan, that somehow, in 20 years, I’ll become a feature film director, though I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do that!

And then, when I got into making documentary films, as a filmmaker, I found them very satisfying and rewarding. You can be really quite experimental in documentary filmmaking too, and you can come up with different ways of conveying the truth of the situation you are trying to get at. So, Man on Wire, for example, is full of elaborate black-and-white style movie-type reconstruction. I believe these elements of drama in documentaries allowed me to actually feel confident enough to go ahead and write a screenplay and make The King, which is the first feature film I made.

What are you up to next?

JM: My next movie is an independent American film, and it’s a comedy, (laughs) but a very cruel and nasty one. It’s inspired by one of those great American true crime stories that can only happen in America, I guess. It’s about a beauty queen who is getting older and gets her dumb boyfriend to kidnap the richest man of that small town for ransom, failing to receive which, they plan to bury him alive. I’ve been working on the screenplay with a writer at the moment. The actress in the story is British though — Carrey Mulligan. I think she’s a great actress and does a very good American accent. I’ve wanted to work with her for quite some time, and she liked the script. I’m glad to moving away from thrillers and documentaries on this one!

If you’re interested in reading the entire interview, click HERE.