TIFF16: Interview Pete Travis

Kategori Interview, TIFF af - september 30, 2016
TIFF16: Interview Pete Travis

Når man møder Pete Travis er det første, der slår en, at han er en vidende mand. Der går ikke længe før han detaljeret begynder at referere til andre film, der har inspireret ham, og med tidligere film som Vantage Point og Dredd, er det tydeligt, at han er en mand, der værdsætter de visuelle muligheder i filmmediet.


London at Night © Vincent LaForet

Da jeg satte mig ned med ham, var det i forbindelse med verdenspremieren på hans seneste film, City of Tiny Lights, der blev fremvist på Toronto International Film Festival. Vores samtale strakte sig over alt lige fra hans filosofi som filmskaber, til de mange film han anerkendende værdsætter for deres unikke evne til at beskrive mennesket på lærred, imens han meget ydmygt stræber efter at genskabe bare en smule af det i hans egne film. Og grundet ændringer i planlægningen fik jeg også lov til at få en meget længere snak end først planlagt – hvilket jeg er meget taknemmelig for.

I have seen the film and have a lot of questions about the stylistic choices, but first I would like to ask you a few general questions. The first being, why did you decide to tell this Neo-noir story set in London?

I have always wanted to make a British thriller that was about something. I grew up watching thrillers, when I was younger. Then, in the 80’s and 90’s a new wave of British films came out with My Beautiful Laundrette and Mona Lisa. It felt like defining moments in British cinema for me, because they told stories about real life in a poetic way. They weren’t grim or miserable. They had a poetic flourish that I felt had been missing before, and I’m not sure we have seen since. I always loved those movies and secretly wanted to the chance to do a Mona Lisa or My Beautiful Laundrette again.

The title felt like it could be a movie.

Then, I read this book [City of Tiny Lights] that Patrick [Neate] had written. I loved the title, even before I had read the book. The title felt like it could be a movie. A city of tiny lights seemed to sum up a big wide-shot of a city full of twinkling lights and behind each of those lights is a family, full of dreams and aspirations that we might never met. But all of those dreams and aspirations are actually what makes up a city. It felt strangely like a title that could have existed in a noir. You could imagine Raymond Chandler thinking of that line. It is actually the name of a Frank Zappa song, but it might just as well have been a Raymond Chandler novel. So I loved the idea of that. The chance to tell a story about hope set in a city that was thrilling and the notion that the hero’s job is to dig up secrets and bury them, but the biggest secret he isn’t able to face is the one in his own life. I really like that and think it’s a really cool idea that someone becomes a private detective to hide something from their own life. Those are the reasons why.

You have made very distinctive stylistic films, like Vantage Point and Dredd, which are anything but by the numbers. So, I was wondering what you would say, you have taken with you from those productions?

I think each time you make a film, you need to find the style that tells the story of that film. I guess, I have been lucky to find different kinds of stories to tell, but each of them required a different way for me to do them. My job as a filmmaker is to find the right way to tell the story we are doing. So, I wouldn’t say there are influences from my previous films in this, except the handheld camera, which has become a stable for me, because I just love the veracity and the beauty that can give. There is something very intimate to me about a camera that is handheld and a part of the story. I think that is a common thing in all of my films, but the color of the light, shape and texture of the storytelling needs to be different for the story you are telling. With this I wanted a thriller that was set in a big city.

I wanted to make a story, which felt like the London I live in with the people I know.

I love Michael Mann’s work. I’m a huge fan of Collateral and Heat, or even John Fords movies set in the west. Stuff like that, which has an extraordinary sense of place, where the landscape is an important character to the story. That there is something achingly lonely about the landscape, with men and women thrown into them, who struggles to make sense of their lives. This was the chance to do something like that in London, the city where I live. Where I felt increasingly of the last 15-20 years is represented as either a place where poor people who can’t decide whether they love each other live, or fake people pretending to be gangster live somewhere else. None of which, frankly, feel true to me. I wanted to make a story, which felt like the London I live in with the people I know.


I couldn’t help but notice that the players in this film are very ethnically diverse and I guess you have already answered my question, but was this intentional? They are never explicitly referring to anybody’s cultural background, but it adds a subtle nuance to the characters that there is this underlying tension between them. Was this one of the ways you wanted to represent the London that you know, because it is a sort of melting pot?

Yeah. The extraordinary thing is that so often in movies we deal with people’s race, sexuality and background as the social issue of the story. That is fair enough, but to do that all the time feels very limiting to me. London is full of people of all races, sexes and backgrounds, and they have all got social problems that they are struggling with all the time, but they all get along even though they are different. So, I was keen to populate the movie with people who are all different, but their culture, sexuality and skin wasn’t what the story was about. Melody is a girl who is selling herself as a high-class hooker, but that has nothing to do with the fact that she is black. That just happens to be her job. Tommy is a private detective, but he is not a private detective, because his dad comes from Uganda and he is a second-generation Asian. That just happens to be his job.

“It’s kind of shocking, when you do [a multicultural story], how surprised you find people are by that. Then, you realize that we must be doing the opposite of that.”

Diversity in casting is clearly an important issue in film and something we have sadly been lacking in doing something about for quite a long time, but equally so is diversity in storytelling. It’s about telling stories about ordinary people, who aren’t defined by and labeled as problem, because of where they come from. So, I was really keen to just have a story about a bunch of people, who just happens to be of different races and backgrounds, but that wasn’t what their character was. It’s kind of shocking, when you do that, how surprised you find people are by that. Then, you realize that we must be doing the opposite of that. We are defining people by social issues, as if people walk around with a rug-sack, which are defining the problems that comes with their class, race or sexuality, which is kind of nonsense, because that is not how the real world is. So, I think it is about time that we not only have diverse casting, but diverse storytelling. Where we see people just as people.

I couldn’t agree more. I also think some of the reasons why people are surprised is because you usually don’t mix cultures together on film. It is either black or white and I don’t know why?

Well, London is a multicultural city. There are people with all different races getting along with each other. Of course, there is tension between races and certain areas in London. I am not pretending that those things don’t exist. We just wanted to tell a story which reflected the different racial mix in London, but that didn’t mean all of those people had problems or social issues that was attached to where they come from. I find that limiting.

It is also important, because we tell stories about people whose lives get ignored. When I met Cush, who plays Melody, she said to me that she loved the script, because it told the story of what it was like to grow up for her in London. She could recognize all of her friends, who came from all sorts of places and the personal tensions about who would go out with whom. That was exciting and fresh to see it represented like it had never been represented before. I think she is right. That is one of the things which makes the film feel special, because even when the [the characters] are young it is a mixed group of people that are all getting on. That is just accepted, because that is what happens.

You touched a little bit on the younger versions of the characters and I felt the fractured storytelling represented the human memory. Normally, this way of telling a story would feel forced, but it works because it is told as Tommy starts to remember his past. Is that what it was supposed to represent?

Somebody would walk into a scene in the present and walk out in the past.

Yeah. The past was always an important part of the story and you are trying to find ways to show how the present can influence how you remember your past and how your memories can influence the present. Therefore, it was important to mix it up and not just start with Tommy having a cigarette and fade to the past. I wanted the past to have a real presence. I was influenced by director John Sayles who made Lone Star, where the past and the present are beautifully connect by the way he shot it. Somebody would walk into a scene in the present and walk out in the past. It wasn’t a cut, but a continues thing. So, I wanted to do that, because the past is present in your life. It is always in your consciousness. We tried to do that a few times. It is fun to play with, because it gives you a sense of the past being alive. Tommy’s problem is that he hasn’t buried his past and he hasn’t dealt with it. Therefore, it is constantly alive for him. In this story the mystery, he is unravelling in the present forces him to face those mysteries in the past. So, it was always about finding a way for the past and present to collide with each other.

You have already mentioned that you like the handheld style of filmmaking, but I also couldn’t help but notice that you break a lot of “rules”. When you go to film school there are certain rules for how to tell a story, you start with an establishing shot, and then a medium shot and so on. Here there are a lot of scenes where the camera is far away from the actions as if it was a documentary, others where the images is out of focus and you even use zoom, even though that is one of against the cardinal rules.

When I saw it, it created this uncertainty, because of the realistic feel. Was that the intention?

Yeah. I guess I have always loved the handheld camera, because it can be both poetic and beautiful, as well as visceral and really make you feel like you are in the scene. I think there is this misunderstand by people that it is just shaky-cam. It is if you do it wrong, but it can be used to capture and really tell something poetic about life and our struggle, and I want the camera to do that. I love the zoom lens, because it puts me on the edge of my seat. I can cut to something close obviously, but when the camera is zooming in on something, I feel like I am looking closer. There is a wonderful story about the making of Rosemary’s Baby, where the cinematographer tells this about the scene in the bedroom. He put the camera in the middle of the room, so it could capture it all, but Roman Polanski kept telling him to move the camera further and further away, until you only saw half of the woman’s head and the back of the door. The cinematographer thought, “This is ridiculous, this guy doesn’t know what he is doing”. Then, you get to the theater and everyone in the audiences moves to the side to try to look around the corner. I have always loved the story.

The handheld camera is an inquisitive friend that keeps asking be awkward questions.

It is a well-known story, but it sums up what the camera should be doing, which is to be a part of the film, a character in its own right. It should be asking you things. I have loved putting things in front of the lens and the object you’re focused on. Not because it looks cool, but it creates mystery. What is the truth of this frame, what should I be looking at, where is the meaning? If there is something to distract it creates that. I want the audience to have fun, but at the same time, I don’t feel like you should leave your brain at home, certainly not your visual brain. The handheld camera is an inquisitive friend that keeps asking be awkward questions.

The music in the film is extremely subtle and almost not present at times. Then, there are action scenes where the music volume is increased, but the frame rate and shutter speed is lowered, which makes it very chaotic, because you can’t quite make out what is going on. The audio also isn’t in sync in these scenes. I was just wondering what the reasoning behind this is?

This is my third time working with Ruth Barret, the composer, and she is an extraordinary artist. She seems to effortlessly capture the emotion of the scene. She has no problem creating thrilling music, so she spends a lot of time trying to figure out where the emotional beats are. Then, she finds the theme, which depicts that emotion. There is an instrument in Collateral, which sounds like a hunting cry from a child and it plays whenever Tom Cruise is in frame. We wanted to create something similar for Tommy. This lone wolf standing in the rain shouting for help and search for the meaning of the world. I needed it feel like that and Ruth really captured it.

Having a gun in a British film is frightening, because they don’t really exist.

At the same time, when it comes to the frame rate and shutter, which creates the blurring slightly out of focus image and makes everything chaotic. We used that in a sort of action scene, where a gunman chases Tommy. I wanted to capture the fear of what it is actually like being chased by somebody with a gun. Cause, guns are rare in London. It is not like in America, where you see guns every day in movies. Having a gun in a British film is frightening, because they don’t really exist. I wanted that fracture. We have a very loud drum and bass sequence accompanied by a frame rate and shutter angle, which makes it all slightly hallucinogenic and I quite like that. It wasn’t meant to be hallucinogenic, it was meant to be just scary and a bit unnerving. However, I guess being chased by a gunman through a narrow stairway is actually frightening and I wanted it to feel like that.

That is the beautiful thing about working with a composer, who you have a connection with. The fact that you can inspire each other and that is why I love working with Ruth and why I have done it three times now. Every time she has found a way to effortlessly, capture the soul of the story, which I think elevates it. The music in the beginning of the film is just extraordinary. I think it is really haunting. Even by the time you see Tommy, you feel like you know the aching that’s inside of him. It plays all over his face, when he lights his cigarette. You kind of feel like you love him just two minutes in. That combination of Riz [Ahmed] and his extraordinary openness as an actor, but also the score and the way it gets under his skin and seems to capture something about him.

On that note, I also have to ask about Riz Ahmed, because he is kind of blowing up right now. Everything points to him being a huge star in the near future, and no matter what, everybody will know who he is by the time the new Star Wars film comes out, which makes me curious as to how you cast him, because I have read that he was attached very early on?

Riz is a friend of Patrick [Neate] (manuskriptforfatteren). They through the book slam scene in London, where people share music and read excerpts of their novels aloud. So in a way, there was never anyone but Riz in my mind. I think we approached him about five or six years, before we started – at least five years before. After that, we always seemed to bump into each other at social gatherings throughout the years, and he was always asking how the project was going and where we were in the process. He was always committed to do it, even then. The great them about was that even as his star started to his and there was a much more demand of time, he stayed loyal to our commitment.

I think he loved the idea of a story where he could play an ordinary person.

I think he loved the idea of a story where he could play an ordinary person. We didn’t ask him to be a terrorist or a sidekick. He was just a guy with a cool job, who kissed a girl when he was seventeen and then his life went wrong. Tommy is a man who isn’t defined by where he comes from and I think he loved the script for that, and I loved him for being loyal, because it would have been very easy for him to say: “I’m too busy to do this small film”. So, we are very lucky that he stayed, because there is nobody else who could have played the role for me. It was the same with Roshan (Tommys far). There is no one else who could have played him. Everybody made commitment to do it, way before we had the funding. Ironically, part of the reason why it took so long to make is, because we had to juggle everybody’s schedule.

Riz has a very special quality. You can see why people want him in their movie. That, manly quality, but also the aching emotion and vulnerability that his eyes suggest is a sought-after quality. Only the likes of Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington has it, but Riz has the same thing and I hope he gets the chance to pursue stories that always him to show that, because he is an extraordinary talent.


© Getty Images

I always ask this, when I meet a director, what is your directorial style?

It is the hope in it, as much as what I do with the camera.

Controlled chaos, I guess. A sort of improvised jazz, not classical music. I kind of nicked that from Paul Greengrass, because that is how he describes his style, but mine is similar to that. I like poetry. I want it to be effortlessly real, but it has to be beautiful for me. I need to have an image that I can remember and feel says something about the context of the film. I guess, if you look at all of the stories that I have done, they’re all essentially hopeful. They are all about people, who are thrown into extraordinary crisis and somehow manage to hold on to their humanity and forge a better future. I guess that is how I would define my style. It is the hope in it, as much as what I do with the camera.

I also have to ask. Since this is a British production and you’ve also made American productions in the past, what is the difference between making a film in the US and in the United Kingdom, besides the budget?

I have been lucky to make stories on a big canvas and stories that are more personal. For me, it is a bit like going to the beach, sitting in the sunshine, having cocktails and eating rich food. Big movies are a bit like that, but I like being able to climb in the mountains on my own. I like being able to do both. If I stay on the beach for too long I get fat. It because a bit too rich and too much, which is why I need to be able to go hike on my own. I think they are to parts of my personality. I am never going to give up on going to the beach, because I like it too much. It is a way to tell stories to loads of people, but going off, and hiking is like telling a personal story. That is how I see it and I want to continue doing both.

What was your favorite moment in the making of this particular film?

My favorite moment? It is hard to pick one moment, because I love the adrenaline of the being in the moment. I guess, there are lots of good moments in this film. I was blessed with seeing magic every day. I like going in and being surprise, and that happened every day for me. It was those things, where the unexpected happened. When you have actors like Riz Ahmed, Cush Jumbo and Billie Piper, they are giving you that all of the time. So there isn’t “one” moment. I think it is a process, where you feel energized by the magic that people create.

Lastly, I would just like to ask you, what do you hope people will take with them, after they have seen the film?

It is a movie for everybody, even though we all can’t be as cool and effortlessly handsome as Riz Ahmed – sadly.

We have all been seventeen, we have all had hopes when we were young and reach our thirties only to ask, where they all went, whether we have lost them and can find them again? I think everybody can relate to that. That is what the story is about, the dreams you had when you were young, and can you keep the alive, as you grow older, especially in a city that can seem very lonely? You might lose the friends you had, but different people can sustain you in different ways. That is the joy and excitement of living in a big place. It can be lonely, but maybe it can also be your savior. It is a movie for everybody, even though we all can’t be as cool and effortlessly handsome as Riz Ahmed – sadly.

Skrevet af
Grundlæggeren og chefredaktøren på siden. Med min baggrund inden for medievidenskab, og forkærlighed for film, håber jeg at kunne dele mine oplevelser med andre – på forholdsvis interessant maner.
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