Interview with Stephen Frears, Part 2

In which we ponder what's wrong with the kids today.

PK: So how did you become a filmmaker?
SF: Sort of by accident. I worked in the theatre and then I met a film director and he said, ‘come and work on my film.'

PK: This is Karel Reisz?

SF: Yes. Karel. I'd never been on a film set before.

PK: So you've been working in film since...

SF: Mid 60s...

PK : How would you describe the art of cinema from that point to where it doesn't seem to be that important any more ?
SF : Well, you sound as though you don't agree with me...

PK : Let's say I'm being the devil's advocate.

SF : Yeah. Well, first of all it became the separation into Art House..and I mean the films I was talking about, "High Noon" ...they were all commercial films. They were enormously entertaining ; they were made by highly intelligent men. And they were commercial films. So there wasn't this separation between Art House and popular entertainment.

PK : So you think that the fragmentation...

SF : I don't think it's helped. The cinema became self conscious, didn't it ? Directors started becoming important.

PK : You try to straddle the two...

SF : Yes, yeah.

PK : How successful has that been ?
SF : Well, I'm still going (laughs).

PK : Recently it seems like you're on a bit of a roll... "The Queen"...

SF : I'm having a good time, yeah.

PK : How involved are you in the making of the film ? It seems like a real collaborative effort....

SF : It is very collaborative and I am responsible for everything.

PK : And you don't like to write scripts at all...

SF : I don't, no. I can't write. I depend entirely on other people...I find what other people do is interesting. I don't worry about it, to be quite honest.

PK : So when you're making a film you're not really thinking of ...if someone has already said ‘oh, this might be a good way to allude to the Hardy novel...seduce her with the drumsticks' or do you come up with inspirations like that ?

SF : That was in the script. It seemed a good idea.

PK : But you did encourage having the two teenage...[two teenage girls who observe the goings on and manipulate what's happening through pranks].

SF : Yeah. Yeah, we increased them cause they're such good fun. But they're not in Hardy (laughs). No one reading celebrity magazines in Hardy.

PK : No cell phones or computers...

SF : Absolutely.

PK : Do you think computers are ruining the world ?

SF : I don't know. All change is for the good and the bad, isn't it ?

PK : It seems that comic books, graphic novels, video games, all seem to be having an increasing...

SF : I can see...I have come to see-but only in the last two or three weeks-that what a graphic artist does is exactly what I do. Do you draw it in long shot ; do you draw it in close up ? You break it down into panels or whatever it is. So I'm not surprised.

PK : Like a storyboard ?

SF : Well, it exactly...what they do is exactly what i do.

PK : But not quite as expensive.

SF : No, I do it sort of live.

PK : Did you think that those two kids were becoming sort of the director and the screenwriters of the film.

SF : Yes. I loved how they were sort of moving people around.

PK : Did you identify with that ?

SF : Very much so.

PK : It's kind of like self-reflexivity, that doesn't really jump out at you.

SF : Well, it's nice that device, isn't it ? People talking about what's in front of you ; people describing the film you're watching, really.

PK : So the film is kind of about authorship or the creative process ?

SF : No..

PK : You teach though, don't you ?
SF : I do.

PK : How would a class of yours go ? What would that entail ?

SF : I'm very practical. If you want to make a film, well I'm practical ; I'm also's really..what you uncover ; the questions you should be asking : How do I make this believable ? How do I make that believable ? How do I deal with this ? So you try and steer your students to actually thinking about things that really matter.

PK : So it's a filmmaking course ?

SF : Yeah. Very practical.

PK : And have any of those students gone on to..

SF : Yeah, but I don't know that you would know of them.

PK :Speaking of which, the casting of this film...except for Gemma Arterton, is not highly recognizable.

SF : It's very accurately cast. It seems to me you have to get the world right, which means you can't really make it with famous people.

PK : Do you prefer working with people who are less known ?

SF : I don't mind. I've had good times with both. As long as the people are nice, I'm easy. And they're not sort of child molesters or anything like's just straightforward. This seemed to me, you have to get it accurate.

PK : Your films are all different but there seems to be some abiding themes. . Like unhappy love. People who can't get what they want because of class differences or injustices. Is this something that you're conscious of ?

SF : Well when you say that I can recognize...I see what you're talking about. I don't really worry about these things (laughs) I let other people worry about them.

PK : What do you worry about ?

SF :Making the film and making it interesting and making it entertaining.

PK : So when you finish the film you don't reflecton it but move on to the next ?.

SF : I'm not allowed to do that because now I have to be involved in the selling of the film. But I feel as though my work is done.

PK : Promoting it and talking to the press is your favorite part, I can tell.

SF : You've spotted that ; hawk eye here. I just make them, really. And then you learn a lot.

PK : Do you go see your movies with audiences-

SF : No. One of the nice things about movies is people tell you learn a lot.

PK : Do you read reviews ?

SF : No. But people come and talk.

PK : Do you pay attention to how much money they're making ?

SF : No, except that I want a quiet life. The less money they make the more of a struggle it is.

PK : What part of the process do you get the most satisfaction from ?

SF : What I really like is opening an envelope and someone says, ‘come make a film on the moon' and you think, ‘oh, I never thought of that.' (laughs) You know, you read something and you're over there ; and you read this, and suddenly you're over there. It never occurred to me to make a film in the English coutnryside about the middle classes, and then someone says that to me. So you're in France in the 18th century, or in Pakistan, or whatever it just go off somewhere and suddenly you're on an adventure. So it's very interesting.

PK : So you're kind of like a kid exploring the world.

SF : Yes. I can't think of anything better.

PK : And you get away with it.

SF : And I get away with it....sometimes.

PK : Well, they keep letting you make more movies.

SF : I mean, it's the idea that at my age you can find something fresh that's so interesting.

PK : What's your take on the situation with British films now, what with the end of the UK Film Council  and so on... ?

SF : You know...I'm very cheap ; I can make films cheap. But it's still getting tougher and tougher.

PK : And that's because of the politics you think ?
SF : The truth is American independents have it tough, don't they ? Everyone's having it tough in their own way. The studios are having it tough ; they can only make these absurd films. So everyone's having it tough. We're just the victims of a lot of things : of the recession, of course, but also the change in taste, the dominance of young people, and things like that.

PK : Damn them !

SF : It's just life. There's no law which says people have to watch the films you like.



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