Screenwriter Luke Davies on Beautiful Boy, masculinity, and ‘manipulative’ filmmaking

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Well, all film, including good film, is manipulative. The word has negative connotations when what it means, I think, is that ‘manipulation’ has an agenda that is deceptive and buried. Ultimately, I can support and I live with this film because the agenda is not deceptive. The books are incredibly moving and I can vouch for the fact, as an ex-addict myself, I vouch for their authenticity and their power. And as an ex-addict, or let’s say an addict who is 29 years clean and sober, I believe in the message of the film, which is not even hitting you on the head with a hammer, but which to me says there are no clearcut, black and white answers, but that love is at the centre of the answer and that there’s no guarantee that your loved one will survive the traumatic chaos of addiction.

We can’t hold your hand, but we can show [a story with] the kind of message that is you keep showing up no matter what. As filmmakers, what we tried to do was to not be morally judgmental, to not make one of those movies that is hitting you on the head with a hammer. Ultimately, yes, all films are manipulative, but I prefer the gentle flow of Beautiful Boy, which tells the story, much of which is very distressing, and gets to a point of ambiguous resolution with father and son scene at the end.

First interview I’ve done in quite some time, this! I didn’t realise it’d been so long, actually – about six months since I spoke to Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn about A Quiet Place – but it’s a good one to come back with, I think. I’m really pleased with this piece; it goes a lot deeper, I think, than a lot of previous interviews I’ve done, and hopefully sets a new standard to try and reach in future.

In theory, I’ll have a review of Beautiful Boy up on the site in a few days time – I, admittedly, wasn’t a massive fan of the film. (That said, though, it’ll be interesting to watch the film again with this interview in mind – I wonder how much it’ll influence my opinion?)

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Erik Aadahl & Ethan Van der Ryn on the sound design of A Quiet Place, how they hope it influences other filmmakers, and more

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I think that the biggest takeaway is that sometimes it can be more powerful and more engaging to play less sound, and have the sound be more focused, than to play a lot of music, a lot of sound effects, a lot of dialogue. Sometimes doing the opposite can actually create a more engaging and powerful experience.

With a lot of blockbusters, there’s been this kind of race to the edge of the cliff sonically with ‘how much louder can everyone get?’ and going bigger and bigger and louder. What happens is there’s kind of this numbing effect to that much volume and I think audiences kind of start to tune out from it – so using negative space in A Quiet Place actually made people tune in. I’ll be excited to see how other filmmakers kind of see that and say “hey, you can have a blockbuster that does something totally different with sound”.

One of the things I did with this one, which is something I always enjoy reading in interviews myself, is ask Erik and Ethan what they thought of some other recent films, specifically which ones they felt had impressive sound design themselves.

It’s not something you always get an opportunity to do – understandably, since, you know, the point of these interviews is to talk about whatever they’re promoting – but it’s often the question that yields the most interesting answer, because it you get to hear what these professionals think of the work of other artists, and how they engage with that work.

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Michael James Shaw on Avengers: Infinity War, his character Corvus Glaive, and more

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Part of the trick of playing a villain is finding the love in the character’s journey, and not playing ‘evil’, you know? With Corvus, there’s a strong connection to Proxima, but also he betrayed his people to work with Thanos. I created my own little history about why he’s looking for redemption with Thanos, and searching for retribution through his work with him. I find it kinda helpful to create that backstory.

As I’m talking to you, I’m also watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel – there’s a history that may not be in the history books, but of what it means to be an alien. [It’s] outside our normal viewpoint, just to have a different level of consciousness. That opened up my imagination about what their world could possibly be like, and how they communicate on multiple levels – whether it be through actual English, or through clicking, or whatever. It just let me go wild – there were no limitations in terms of how he moved and how he expressed himself, you know?

My interview with Michael James Shaw! We spoke about Avengers, Constantine, and his upcoming show Blood and Treasure.

There are no spoilers for Infinity War in the interview, or very very light spoilers if you want to go in completely blind. I’d not seen the film myself when we conducted the interview – it actually hadn’t even been released yet. There was a still a week or two to go if I remember correctly.

What was interesting about this interview, actually, was that when I conducted it Michael’s identity as the actor playing Corvus was still being kept secret – to the point that, when it was being arranged, I wasn’t actually initially told it was going to be him. At first, he was just referred to as the Corvus Glaive actor (admittedly I had a hunch it was going to be Michael, because one of the things they did tell me was that the actor had previously been in Constantine, and Michael struck me as most likely of the cast to be Corvus).

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Composer Mac Quayle on American Crime Story, working with Ryan Murphy, and more

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More established composers mention this to up and coming composers, saying it’s really important that you develop your own voice, it’s really important to have a singular voice. I heard it a lot and so I think maybe it’s a little bit of a daunting target to hit.

And so it’s not something I’ve really set out to [do, thinking that] I need to develop this voice. Rather I just do the work that I’ve been asked to do and I try to be as creative as possible and try to do something unique if I can, and I’m making decisions while doing that that are inferred from my own experiences and my own tastes and life and all of that, and so hopefully the final product then does have this, some sort of stamp on it that you might able to identify as my voice.

I spoke with Mac Quayle a while back about American Crime StoryThe Assassination of Gianni Versace, as well as – across a wider discussion of his history of collaborations with Ryan Murphy – American Horror Story, Feud, and Scream Queens.

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Writer Cavan Scott on Pacific Rim: Aftermath, ordinary people in extraordinary worlds, and more

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I’m massively influenced by comic books, no matter what I’m writing. As I said, when I was starting to read as a kid, they were pretty much what I first read, rather than books, rather than prose. Also, anyone who knows my past, knows that I’m quite heavily linked to Doctor Who, and Doctor Who has been a massive influence on my storytelling. From the classic series of the last century, that’s all episodic cliffhanger based storytelling – which again works very well for comics, yeah, and the kind of books that I write as well. [The books] are usually thriller based, both for adults and kids, and very much [shaped around] cliffhangers. At the end of every chapter there is a cliffhanger – it hopefully keeps you reading on! I have to thank Doctor Who for that, because at such an early age [it was] so influential.

Had a very nice chat with Cavan Scott recently about Pacific Rim, visual storytelling, and of course Doctor Who. Cavan is a very nice guy, whose voice was much deeper than I expected it to be. Though that might just have been our phone connection. Anyway, check it out!

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Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett on the sound of Blade Runner 2049, their creative process and more

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When we work on a film, and Ron can speak on this, we’re always responding to the audience in the moment, as you do when you watch a movie as audiences do. We were marinated, so to speak, in the original Blade Runner but each thing was new. We approached each day, each scene, as a new thing.

Another interview I was very pleased with here – Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett, sound mixers on Blade Runner 2049. Very funny guys, they have some good jokes in here.

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Mark Mangini on Blade Runner 2049, the importance of sound design, and more

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I think another interesting metaphor, which maybe the public could more easily understand – they may not understand what a cinematographer does – but sounds are to sound designers as words are to a writer. A writer uses as their simplest tool, words, to build sentences to build paragraphs to build chapters to build scenes to build scripts. Every single word in the screenplay or a novel is chosen for a reason. There’s no misplaced word. There’s no word that isn’t there for a reason. Writers sweat over words like sound designers sweat over sound.

In that regard, we choose our palette of sounds and the order of those sounds and the way that it presents it to the audience; in the same way that the writer chooses their words and builds them to coherent sentences and lines of dialogue and soliloquies, so too does the sound designer with sound. I think that might be a helpful way of understanding the kind of effort that goes into creating the soundtrack to a movie.

One of my favourite interviews I’ve ever done, this. I spoke to Mark (pictured here at 19, working for Hanna Barbera) for around an hour, I think it would have been, and I had a great time. He said some genuinely interesting things about his creative process and way of working that I think are going to stay with me for a long time – I’m not especially musically inclined, but a lot of what he said rang true with me, and I’m going to want to steal some of his ideas for a long time to come.

But that aside, Mark was just really lovely to talk to – it’s always nice to listen to someone who’s enthusiastic and passionate about their work, and that’s something that was especially true of Mark. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

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Film Review | Agatha Christie’s Crooked House (2017)

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What’s notable about Crooked House amongst Christie’s oeuvre, however, is that the story has never been adapted for the screen – until now. This means that all the hallmarks and idiosyncrasies that define Christie’s work, the ones that we’ve become so familiar with, here feel slightly different. The stately home, the eccentric family, the mystery and intrigue – it all feels slightly subverted here, in fresh and unexpected ways. Indeed, the way the case unfolds is difficult to anticipate, keeping the audience in suspense to the last possible moment.

Here is a film review. A film review written by me, no less! Admittedly that’s probably exactly what you’ve come to expect on this here website of mine, but hey, sometimes it’s good to be specific.

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Screenwriter Tim Rose-Price on Agatha Christie’s Crooked House, murder mysteries, and more

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Agatha Christie knows about people, human emotions, weaknesses, greed, envy – and poison.  People like murder and they like working out whodunnit and she keeps you guessing to the last page.  The definition of the devil in The Wrong Box – I think I’m right about this – was someone who went round public libraries tearing out the last page of Agatha Christie books.

An interview with Tim Rose-Price (not pictured) about his recent Agatha Christie adaptation.

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Director Daniel Fitzsimmons on his new movie Native, his love of smart sci-fi, and more

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The characters in the film are from a society who are constantly connected to each all the time through telepathy. So, there’s no need for expression, there’s no need for art, there’s no need to make sense of the abstract, because there is no abstract, because everybody’s feeling what everyone else is feeling all the time anyway. In that sort of immediacy there’s a numbness, which I found quite an interesting subject to explore through, through these two characters.

Every so often, after I’ve done an interview, I realise there’s a question I should have asked but didn’t. In this case it was “do you think all art is an attempt to express an abstract concept?”

Of course, what I’m not going to do is edit the interview to make it seem like I said something I didn’t. Because that’d just be ridiculous. Wouldn’t it?

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