Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hannah Drake

Hannah Drake is a theatre director from Tickenham, North Somerset.  She studied at St. Andrews University and got her MA in Drama Directing at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.   She is attracted to very good writing and has directed productions of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Into the Woods as well as several radio dramas.  More on Hannah:

Hannah Drake
March 23, 2011
Downs Tea Room
Bristol 11:30 am

It’s a sunny day by the Downs in Bristol, and we are sitting outside having some tea and coffee.  The view across to the downs we can see girls playing Lacrosse, and the field to our right boys playing football.  The clinking and clanking of teacups to saucer can be heard and the murmur of adults deep in conversation.  Giggles from children and trucks loudly passing by set the ambiance.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Just yesterday I had a design meeting for a production of the Importance of Being Earnest which I’m doing at the Redgrave in September.  What I’m learning very quickly is, especially when you’ve got a classic text, if you want to move it to a different period, you have to have a goddamned good reason for doing it and trust the text.  

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

The best advice my mum ever gave me was to be financially independent.  Don’t have debts to other people, which I think you can take into any sphere of life.  It’s not quite as hideous as saying follow your own star.  Probably the best advice I’ve had in a theatrical context, is there is no right answer.  It’s not about being right. We’re in a society where from very young, people are tested.  You do exams, exams, exams and if you just answer the right question, just get the right thing, you are validated as a human being.  And in the arts it’s completely the opposite.  It’s more interesting seeing people be spontaneous and alive rather than formulaic and correct.

Advice you’d give to another young director?

You have to be incredibly patient, not only with the process of trying to build a career but also with people. That’s the biggest thing I learned from Andrew Hilton, to trust the process and to trust the actors and it will work.  And that comes back to its not about being right, it’s about experimenting.  Meet people.   It is, sadly, all about who you know.  Talk to people whose work you admire.  And probably the biggest thing I would say is don’t be an asshole, ‘cause nobody likes an asshole.

Who or what in the theatre inspires you?

I love unconventional staging, I love thrust staging, in the round.  Immersive theatre--

(Guys passing by “yeah I did that mate.  Saved myself loads of money by buying a bike...” We both laugh)

I like theatre when you’re really close to the action and when it happens around you, I find that very exciting.  I unashamedly love musical theatre, with the proviso that its not band musicals, like Mamma Mia where you’ve taken music and you try and construct a story around it.  I mean it’s an interesting exercise, but I don’t find it particularly engaging.  But the interesting stuff, coming out of America particularly.  There’s a lot more musical scratch nights.  Mercury Musical Developments work with new musical theatre writers and there’s some interesting stuff coming out of there. I think that for me, what’s really inspiring above all, is music. I’m a little bit obsessed with, at the moment, Max Richter.  He’s very much in the realm of like Ludovico Einaudi where its repetitive piano music and it can… paint worlds.   I find that really inspiring.

What is your earliest theatrical memory?

Ummm… I think it’s the Bristol Old Vic but it could be the Weston Playhouse, I'm not sure.  I have this memory of a Saturday or Sunday morning, and of walking through the doors of the dress circle and it was quite steep.  Taking my seat and being very excited and it was quite special.  It’s that overwhelming sense of going into an auditorium and the expectation and excitement of something about to happen.  That's why we make theatre, it’s that experience you have as an audience member or as a performer, and that relationship.

In the age of twitter, facebook, etc do you feel that theatre makers have to catch up or somehow adapt to the ever-dwindling attention spans of today’s audiences?

I was thinking about this as I was driving in, about how theatre responds to digital media.  I think while I agree that theatre probably shouldn’t be more than (slightly unsure?) about 3 hours, hemmm… I think if you have a really exciting idea, the best performances and engage people, if you can get people's attention, then you’re fine.  It shouldn’t be a problem.  There’s a lot made about people having shorter and shorter attention spans and perhaps its true, but if you can create something people want to see, they will sit there for as long as it takes.  I hope. 

How has the economic climate affected you, as a young start up director?

Pause.   I suppose for me, in some respects, it’s restricted my geography.  There are loads of opportunities, but they tend to be unpaid.  I did work in London for about a month and it was fantastic.  But I think the economic necessities of living, has perhaps delayed me or certainly changed what would take me to London.  It’s a fantastic place to be inspired, to see such a diverse amount of theatre, but I feel I’d need to have a job before I can go there.  But that could just be an excuse! I suppose the other thing is, knowing that its that much harder to find funds to put on theatre.  The flipside of that is, if I can’t find an opportunity, it has made me more gung ho about creating my own work.  I think because I’m still sort of quite young, I've got the luxury of not having dependents.  I've got a lot of independence.  It means that if I was offered this amazing paid opportunity somewhere, I would find a way to do it.

Do you feel in the UK, Bristol in particular, that regional theatre lives in the shadow of London?

Inevitably.  Theatre is very London centric.  But what’s fantastic is you’ve got a lot of new opportunities and new blood going into the regions.  People have been talking about this so much as Bristol becoming this artistic city and if you look at,  Plymouth for example, that has a huge sense of a regional theatre.  I think its not necessarily in the quality of work that’s being produced in the regions, I think its more fundamental now.  It’s an entrenched attitude that people think of the West End and that’s the place where theatre comes from.  I suppose you do have to have a center and at the moment that is London.  I don’t think it will change.

The dynamics of a rehearsal process are individual to each production.   Have you ever been in a situation where there was a tension amongst the cast or crew?

Touch wood.  Not actually as a director.  I’ve had some interesting experiences as an assistant director. I was working on a production and there was quite a severe gap in communication between our level and the over arching producers. We were part of this bigger event and were not given our time allotted for technical rehearsal.  With the kind of show we were doing, you really needed about two days just to tech and we didn’t even get one, we got half a day.  So in that respect, as the assistant you’re in a really privileged position, because you are supporting the director, who has to go through that.  Because its not completely my artistic neck on the line, you have the freedom to spend the time and go around to people individually and check that their okay and to take over and do the warm up, so that the director can go and freak out in the corner.  You have a more personal, I think, relationship with the cast and the director.  You’re the bridge in many ways and the buffer for the director so in that respect… you’d find yourself the bearer of many secrets.  What’s useful about that is that you then know how to bring people together.  So far I’ve been quite lucky that generally it’s mostly been happy.

Dream Projects?

The big ambition, which is probably completely fool hardy, is to try and find a way to stage The Iliad.  I started off as a classicist, and it’s the most ridiculously epic and current story.  A challenge to create something that is still relevant to us now but that maintains the spectacle and story of that thousands of years old poem,  I think is quite exciting.  I might do it in a circus tent, I might do a monologue... its just the one I keep coming back to.  I’d also quite like to do Macbeth, of the Shakespeare’s that’s the one that really appeals to me.  I had this really inspirational English teacher when I was about 14 and as part of studying the play, we had to write the first sequence of the film script for it. The idea we had at the time, is what if the witches were children and that stuck with me.  The witches and the idea of the supernatural.  What society decides to be the other, what we find dangerous and there’s certainly a culture and attitude of the youth, you know…

Wielding knives…

And hoodies.  There is this danger in packs of kids.  I think that could be quite interesting to explore.  I’d love to work at the National [Theatre] and Regents [Park] open air theatre, I think that would be a very magical place to work.  I’d like to tour. I’d like to run my own theatre one day, I have a vague idea that perhaps downstairs it will sell tea and cakes and things and upstairs there’ll be a theatre.  Yeah.  Loads of things.  One step at a time to get there I suppose.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

I do agree with Simon Godwin about the two definitions.  From my own experience if we make the question, the ambition and the desire to be a director dead, then very much not.  I’m a member of the Genesis Network at the Young Vic and on that website you've got listed directors in the early stages of their careers, anything from first weeks to ten years, to whatever.  There’s over 700 people. I know people who I trained with, who aren’t yet on that network, if they were ever to choose to be.  So there’s definitely still a hunger.  People have this drive to tell stories, to create.  In the 20th century, you had I think, the cult of the director.  The director became a role in and of itself and you would go and see theatre purely based on who the director was.  In the same way people would go and see a Steven Spielberg film.   I wonder now if that is declining?  If the interest in the director as an individual is lessening?  But then its hard for me to say that because as a director, I have to be aware of the work of people that I admire and people I want to meet, and so perhaps, I have a slightly skewed view on how many directors are actually out there.   I’d hope the director’s not dead otherwise (innocently smiles) I’m sort of just wasting my time.

Thanks Hannah for sharing your thoughts! 

On this beautiful sunny day Hannah and I ordered some more cappuccinos and the conversation kept going.   Our conversation went into talks about formalizing companies, directors we admire and maybe why the director should be dead.  I will post excerpts of our follow up discussion midweek as many more laughs and interesting things came up.

Next Sunday, we are in London talking to a performance artist/director who doesn’t really think he is a director at all…?

Hannah Drake’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, runs from the 29th of September to the 8th of October at the Redgrave Theatre, Bristol.  Tickets avail through the Colston Hall  £13-16.

“Apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?”  Harold Pinter

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Jacob Cooney

Jacob Cooney is an independent filmmaker originally from Humboldt, California.  He has made music videos, shorts and features, which include Eighty- Six, Fierce Friend and Grime.  He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Jacob Cooney
Santa Monica, CA
March 17, 2011
LA 10:30am UK 5:30pm

Jake’s home in sunny Santa Monica.  He is in the back office looking out the only  window in the room, at a bush.  A shrubbery to be exact.

You are promoting a new project called Grass Lake.  What’s that about?

Grass Lake is an indie thriller.  It’s about four friends who go on a fishing trip and find drugs and money in the lake and they bring the drugs and money back to the cabin where they’re staying at and in the middle of the night the dealers come to collect that money and all hell breaks loose.  They start questioning each other, their motives.  And its really about being faced with this opportunity good or bad that could make your life better and how far would you go to ensure that you take that thing home with you.  Will you backstab your friends?  Will you stay true to your morals?  That kind of thing. 

It seems that your preferred genre to date are psychological type thrillers.  What attracts you to that?

I’ve always been I would say a horror fan.   Since I was little just really loved the dark material.  When I was younger it was definitely just straight horror but as I’ve gotten older and mature it’s been more of the thriller, the web of deceit kind of material that I’m currently into.  It’s where everything for me lives and stays in the darker horror or thriller genre.   Suspense.  And then I like to work with every other genre within it, I could do a dramatic horror I could do a comedic horror but I always tend to stay within those realms.

Who or what are some of your influences?

Well the greats for sure.  You know, Wes Craven.  Frank Darabont, who started out more on adventure type drama with The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. But he’s always been into the dark Stephen king material and ever since I was probably ten or so, is the the guy that I follow closely.  Frank Darabont, most recently did The Mist and The Walking Dead, so he’s really doing more of the darker stuff that I like.  The zombies and the drama and just the weird, dark, dark material. 

Is being an Indie filmmaker, in LA, in 2011, a good thing to be?

Chuckles.  Uhhhh.  For some people.  For others it’s a really hard racket.     In general right now it’s hard all the way around.  Budgets right now for films are anything between $100,000 and $35,000,000.  That middle ground is very hard at the moment because you either have people that want to fork out a lot of money to ensure they make their money back by doing a blockbuster type movie or you have the true indie people who are doing their movies for $25,000 and utilizing all of the things that they have, the talent they know, the equipment they got in their garage, to make the type of movie that they want.   But when doing that, the question is about the distribution and the market of it.  But the good thing about being an indie filmmaker is that there are a lot of ways to market and get yourself out there, especially with the internet and making your money from IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, other sites like that.  It’s a give and take.  You either make your big movies and hope to god that the overall audience loves them or you make your really small movies and cater to your niches, your niche group that you know is going to like it.  But its very hard all they way around, ‘cause if you don’t have a project that’s sold beforehand, it’s a little bit harder to get investors behind you.  Especially because investors right now are all about, what have you done? What have you sold?  You really have to hit the pavement and be able to talk a good game and really believe in yourself to push your projects forward.

Once you acquire the funds, is the investor or producer now more creatively in control over the project?

I tend to produce as well as direct, especially with the smaller projects.  The biggest thing is whoever you have on your team you need to know you work well with them and you trust them and you know you guys have the same vision for the project.  As far as the creative control, it depends on the producer actually.   There are creative producers out there and then there are more of the business producers, in my experience I have worked with both.  I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to keep my creative vision pretty much 100% in tact without having to deviate from that since the producers that I’ve worked with all have the same vision for the project.

So it seems like today indie filmmaker’s have had to take on some ‘Guerrilla tactics’ and use different channels to detour around permits or paperwork.  Have you ever been in a position where you had to do that?

Uh.  A lot, actually.  Location permits and insurance raises the budget of your project by thousands and thousands of dollars so what I tend to do is try and find locations where I know the owner and try to work the personal connection first.  If I don’t know anybody for the specific project then I make sure I get on a good rapport with whoever is renting the apartment or owns the apartment, as an example.  But I make sure I get on their good side and become a friend first so when we come in to shoot or we start talking about money and permissions and all that, it’s a little bit easier to make it happen with the budget that you have.  As an example, for Grime when we were doing the first push to make it happen we needed an entire apt complex and just randomly found this perfect location. Driving down this main street in East LA area and looked off to the right down this side street, saw this building, went in and we just started talking to the building manager and owner.  Probing a little and seeing what was there.  A couple of days later we went back to talk some more and before we know it he was inviting us into his apt for a soda and we finally asked him about permissions and permits and in just spending time with him he ended up giving us 2 apartments and use of the entire building for $2,000.  So that is how I like to do things, if I cant pay it outright I’d like to have a good relationship with whoever it is I’m asking for a favor. If I have the money to pay, ill just pay it and move on.  That’s really the easiest thing to do.  But as of lately the budgets haven’t been the highest or the most workable so in knowing that the next couple of projects are going to be that way you really have to be that stand up person, make friends and be out going.  You either end up with another friend or another connection.  And you can always go back and utilize that location or whatever it is again on another project so it just works out really well.

What is your process or style? What do you do when you are preparing to shoot a scene?

Well I like to do a fair amount of rehearsal during development and preproduction. I like to meet with each actor individually to talk about their character, what their thoughts are on the character, what they feel them as the actor can bring to the character to make it more of a dynamic presence and then I like to meet with everyone as a group and then talk about the group as a whole.  I’ll use Grass Lake as an example, obviously each character in the film has his own thing going on, but as a group they’ve known each other for 25 years, they have their own relationships within this group of four people, so what I have done and will be continuing to do is talking about their character, getting that locked in with them so they can go off and work on what they want to work on with the character they’re playing and once we have everybody cast ill bring all four together so they can get to know each other, get comfortable with each other  and then they can start having a dialogue about their potential relationships and their past and all that stuff.  Once were shooting I’ll spend a good 45 minutes rehearsing and blocking the scene.  We block out the scene, know what kind of point where we’ll be and then after that I let the actors go and finish makeup or rehearsing amongst themselves.  I get with the DP and we light the scene, we bring the actors in and then we rock it out.

Dream projects?

Well let’s see.  Recently I sat down with my managers and chatted about projects and went through all my ideas that I have listed in a document.  Every single one I have a reason for liking it or loving it.  Ultimately I would like to do this little indie drama about a friend of mine, Jack Hanrahan who was a writer and a comic book artist.  He wrote for [Rowan and Martin’s] Laugh-In, he wrote Inspector Gadget, Dennis the Menace, a bunch of stuff and I randomly met him when I was doing my thesis back in college.  He was one of the lead actors in my thesis and we became really good friends.  But his story is very, very turbulent.  He was at the top of his game, won Emmy after Emmy after Emmy and at the end of his life he was homeless and destitute in Cleveland and ended up passing away in a homeless shelter. So that’s a story I want to tell, it’s a rags to riches to rags story.  I want to infuse animation with live action and tell his life story.  It definitely needs to be told, it’s very heartbreaking.  You know he had to sell all of his Emmys to pay rent.  Just crazy.  Crazy story and I call that one Thin Ice Ground.  On the flipside there’s one that I just finished writing with one of my writing partners called Extra Delivery and it’s a horror comedy about two elderly postman who have to save their town from an alien invasion.  And its just every crazy idea we could come up with, we put into the script.  I am so excited whenever I think about it.  The thing I want to do is fill it with all these B movie horror icons that I grew up watching like Bruce Campbell and Clint Howard and Richard Riehle and I just want to go an make it.  It’d be like going to summer camp.  It would just be awesome. 

Around the world Los Angeles has a reputation and there is a view of Hollywood based on the movies it churns out.  As a resident of Los Angeles what is your honest opinion of Hollywood?

Laughs.  I always wade towards the optimistic route.  In general, I think that Hollywood is looking to make as much money as they possibly can, throwing out the worst ideas you can possibly make.  On a personal note I think everybody has those dream projects that they just haven’t been able to make.  Deep down there’s a lot of great stories but when you look at the surface it’s very commercial.  That’s really my thought.  We need to go back to the old days of Hollywood and really make those classics ‘cause right now those are definitely missing.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

For me, no.  I don’t think so.  I would say on the bigger budgeted blockbusters maybe you need a person in that chair but do they actually have the vision for the movie?  Sometimes, sometimes not.   Sometimes it’s just really machine driven and they’re there just to make sure the machine keeps working.  On the level where I’m at, and indie films, the director is most definitely not dead.   ‘Cause more often then not we’re the ones spearheading the projects, especially if you’re writing and directing, the projects become your babies.  You want to see them come into fruition the best way possible and its really your job to facilitate the project and get the right people involved, at the right time and shepherd it all the way to the finish line.  Right now you just can’t be a director, you have to be a writer-director, or a writer-producer-director or a producer-director.  That’s kind of where you have to live these days, you can’t just be one thing.  But the director in my mind is not dead its just been incorporated into the bigger ideas and positions, like producers and writers as well.

Thanks Jake for sharing your thoughts!

You can follow Jake’s new project at twitter@grasslakemovie.

And thanks to Steven Hughes for helping me out with some super dope questions for this interview!  We are back in Bristol for next week’s interview, till then I will be California dreaming…

"I feel that my job is to create an atmosphere where creative people can do their best work." John Frankenheimer

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sebastian Barfield

Sebastian Barfield is originally from Birmingham, UK.  He currently works at BBC Bristol as a producer and director.   He has made some fascinating programs that include, White Gospel and Seven Ages of Rock. You can follow Sebastian on twitter@sebbarfield

Sebastian Barfield
Totterdown, Bristol
Sunday Mar 6 2011

Interior: Sebastian’s living room.

Sebastian makes me a lovely cup of tea and we sit in his living room for a chat.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a series.   Making two films out of three, Arts of Regency [working title], for BBC 4 about the collision of art and history in the 9 years of the regency period, which is 1811 to 1820.  It’s the period when you had [Lord] Byron and Jane Austen writing, you had [JMW] Turner and [John] Constable painting.  You had Waterloo, the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which changed the country and Britain’s place in the world.  You had this figure of the regent as this sort of fat popinjay kind of guy, who was really ridiculous but was also a patron of the arts.  In a way he is one of the most interesting royals of the lot because he actually does commission some really interesting things and left quite a legacy.  For me that mix of history and art is a subject I’ve been getting into as a filmmaker. It straddles the two, its not an art programme, its not a history programme, but a hybrid and they’re often more interesting when you’re crossing genres.

When is that due to air?

I think September.  No pressure then, given I’m having a baby in July.

Ooh, congratulations!  How exciting.

What got you into directing and why television?

I thought I wanted to be a journalist.  Like a lot of people I don’t think I knew what I wanted to do when I left university and thought maybe I was going to be an academic and did some work as an archeologist.   My dad was an archeologist. I went for a course the BBC ran, I don’t know if they still run it but at the time, they ran this training school for journalists.  Because I was in this dead end job and didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, I just thought I have nothing to lose and I went for it.  I found myself getting through all the different stages and doing really well and got an assessment. I had to do viewing orders for the 6 o’clock news and did really well until the final interview and I blew the final interview.  So I was like Aright.  Back to telesales, but one of the people on the board, whose pretty high up at the BBC now, I think she felt I should have gotten it, called me up and offered me a work placement for a month as a researcher and its, you know, one of those things that changed my life.  I didn’t really know what a director did, what a producer did, I certainly didn’t know what a researcher did. The thing about this industry is that its pretty hard to get started in, its always been hard but I feel its even harder now than it was in the 90’s. I found the area I was interested in working in and just built up my experience until one day my boss came over and said

Interior:  BBC headquarters

I think you should direct.
And I was like

Yeah, yeah no I think you would be good at it. 

I am not a pushy kind of individual but having someone I had a lot of trust in telling me that I went

He did say

People make out like its really hard, but it’s not that hard.  There’s a lot highfalutin stuff around it but you can do it.

And that was quite encouraging.  Although it is hard, he was wrong. It’s bloody hard.

In television the role of director and producer sometimes seems to be interchangeable.  Can you elaborate on what the distinctions are?

Yeah, it is for me, I am producer/director. The way I always look on it is that the producer is sort of the project manager but the producer is also sort of author.  When there are two roles the producer is responsible for the editorial side and the content, and also the money and the director is the person whose got to go out and give it a look and bring the material back, with a presenter or certainly with a crew, although increasingly you’re on your own with the camera.  But the director is the one that goes out, directs, probably cuts the film but they’re kind of subservient to the producer, who might as well have hired the director. For me that’s all academic because I do everything really.  Although with TV what’s good is it’s a team thing, you are as good as your team.

In Portrait of an Artist, we follow Laura Cumming as she delves into the world of self-portraits. What drew you to that subject?

Actually they’ve changed the title to Ego: The Strange and Wonderful World of Self-Portraits.  That project started before me.  Laura had written the book, a few people were interested in making it in BBC Bristol.  My exec Mike Poole, he was the one that picked it up, he got it commissioned to the channel and got them to buy it, which is a real skill.  I was the guy that was assigned to make it. I’d never made a film about the visual arts so that was a huge thing for me.  What I found really interesting about that film and the things I feel I didn’t get quite right was the way these static pictures… how you actually ‘paste’ them so an audience appreciates the key elements in the painting.  What I learned making that is its all about the timing, when you show a certain bit on screen and when you got to get the exact moment when you cut to the next move.  When you stand in front of the painting there’s an infinite number of ways you can look at that painting.  On TV especially when you’re talking about portrait size in a TV’s landscape you have to go in and direct the viewers eye and you have to work out how a viewer would look at that painting and move the camera around.  This is all done in the edit and graphics but I spend an enormous amount of time just trying to get it to feel right.  It sounds kind of obvious but when you watch a film and it doesn’t feel right, it’s all in the pacing of the way the camera follows the painting.  There’s a brilliant graphics person called Orla, who did all the moves so I was working pretty much with her and a great editor.  This is all a team thing but what l learned is how you transfer the picture to the screen.  Should be really simple but it wasn’t.

Do you get a lot of assignments or do you go ahead and say I’ve got this idea for a  documentary I want to do?  How does that work in the hierarchy at the BBC?

Well at the BBC I am staff producer, although invariably I am expected to direct.  It is expected of me that I will generate ideas.  I don’t have to generate every idea but come up with good ideas that can be made.  I’ve had lots of ideas commissioned that other people have made. There’s a team of development specialists who devise that.

Is it like a big happy family or does it get competitive with people wanting to do their own ideas?

Everyone wants to do their own idea but what gets commissioned is often not down to us and is often not down to how good the idea is in the first place.  That’s the big myth. People get disappointed when their ideas don’t get commissioned.  It was probably a great idea, its just the person commissioning has 50 ideas crossing their desk a week, they’ve got their own agenda, they want to find a vehicle for X and don’t want to commission Y because his last film won a Bafta or there’s a whole other agenda that doesn’t necessarily relate to that idea.  My ideas that don’t get commissioned stay in my hard drive and in 2 years time, I’ll print them out and say hey got this great idea….

In Dec 2010, the BBC reported that following the six-year license fee freeze, there would be 16% cuts in budget.  How has that affected programming in the last few months?

To be honest we don’t know.  That’s the simple answer.  We’re all still in a very good position cause we have this huge amount of money we know is guaranteed coming in, so actually lots of people would give their right arm to be in that position, you can’t complain.  They’ve got this initiative called delivering quality first, we’ll see how that works as its only in its very initial stages.  They seem to be trying to initiate a cross-organisational discussion about how to almost re-engineer the BBC.  If you work for the BBC you can email your suggestions in and the process is going to take six months. I’ve certainly emailed my thoughts; there are certainly areas that aren’t being run right. If you’re asking about the 16% cuts…its worrying.  We’re waiting to hear how that is going to affect us.  What is affecting us immediately is the license fee freeze that the BBC trust has introduced, before the license fee negotiation, as I understand it they didn’t take an above inflation rise, which we were expecting for this year. Because TV is commissioned two years in advance, that money has been spent, this years budget has been spent and obviously that was budget spent assuming that we had this above inflation rise, or whatever that rise was, I don’t know if it was inflation or above inflation but we weren’t anticipating a freeze so suddenly there’s a lot of money that’s got to come out of the budget very immediately, and I’m definitely feeling that.  You will see on BBC local news website that producers are up for redundancy and a redundancy process is going on.  I am a producer and you can read into that in maybe I’m personally being affected.  But my understanding is that’s not part of the big 16% percent reductions coming down the track, this is sort of the interim of the cost savings the trust introduced, which I don’t think anyone was expecting.  All you can do is lose yourself in the programme and make a good programme.  That’s all you can do really.

Who or what in television has inspired you?

When I went for my first jobs there were a few programmes I remember really inspiring me.  There was a Michael Wood series I remember as a kid, In search of the Trojan War and the one he did about Alexander the Great. I just remember being very transported in terms of history.  He is a fantastic presenter, a proper historian able to bring these big histories to life just by his ability to write a script and deliver it.  Simon Sharma as well.  Often people talk about directing and its all about visuals and camera work but what’s often forgotten, in TV at least, is the importance of writing a script and being good with words. The writing is often left to the last minute and someone like Simon Sharma and History of Britain is so brilliantly worded.  Beautiful writing is often overlooked and I’m not saying I’m a great writer but I’ve worked hard on the commentary.  Adam Curtis is a big hero of mine. If you look at his blog, its one of the most interesting things BBC has done online. He’s putting up excerpts of programmes no one has seen in 40 years that explain what’s happening in Egypt at the moment or with Obama or in the advertising industry.  He’s almost merging journalism and you tube in a completely new way.  The thing I’ve taken from his programmes is that they make you look at the world in a different way, there’s this sort of default way of looking at a subject and a good programme should make you think about it differently. Every time you look at it, it should be from a new angle that you wouldn’t have come at without seeing that programme and his programmes always do that.  That’s always an aspiration I would say when I’m making a programme.  I do try to find that left way of attacking it.

Dream projects?

I’d like to do some more music projects.  I did a lot of music docs and I’d like to work on another BBC2 music series. There haven’t been a lot of them of late but I feel I’ve come on a bit as a director now and its time to have another go.  I’m pretty lucky because I’m in a place where I’m pretty happy creatively and doing interesting programmes.  There’s always another programme coming down the track, something very interesting and usually pretty different to the last.  The one before Portrait of an Artist was History of Now, which was very quirky and opposite of the artist programme which is very slow and quite traditional, but funny and witty.  I felt we did something interesting stylistically with that. I’d like to do more work with that.  I’ve tried to get some work off the ground that merges history with animation.  That’s an area I’ve been looking at. There are quite a few things I’d like to do that I don’t feel I’ve quite nailed.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

I don’t know really. When I started working in TV certainly there was a much stronger sense of the director as auteur force than it is at the moment.  Because of reality and formats, formats in particular, when you are directing shows like that, you’re filming to a blueprint. There is a blueprint which is a menu if you like, a script that’s applied to every programme, a structure and I think the preponderance of those sorts of programs has been at the expense of the auteur type director. So you don’t get the auteur films any more, you get things that are much more formulated. There are directors but its much harder to get your own voice across...I think.

Thanks Sebastian for sharing your thoughts!

“No man ever said to his wife, honey we’ve got to see this film. I hear the director brought it in under budget.” Billy Wilder

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Patricia Runcie

Patricia Runcie is a director, an actor and playwright.  She explores her ambitions from her current home base, Queens NY.  She has worked with companies such as Theatre for the New City, The Looking Glass Theatre and LoveCreek Productions.  She performs and directs regionally at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, in beautiful New Hampshire.   She teaches drama and is co-founder of Regroup Theatre.  She is sitting on her couch, looking out from her 6th floor window, at the view of LaGuardia Airport. She can see a tiny sliver of water. 

The phone rings.

Patricia Runcie
Queens, NY
Thurs, Mar 3 2011
11am NY 4pm UK 

What are you working on?

A baby!  Laughs    Well, artistically what I’m working on is Annie with students.  I am preparing for Steel Magnolias this summer at Winnipesaukee Playhouse.   But as I am currently gestating, I am not actively directing.  Well, with the kids I am and I tell them all the time, I treat them and approach the process with them, the same exact way I do with professionals.  Except that I don’t curse, otherwise it’s pretty much the same.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Oooph.  Oh my godHmmph.  I think its ‘keep it simple’.  I tend to get kind of overwhelmed and try to go back to what are you basically trying to say?  When I go back to that I end up building on things.  I think you get all these different opinions and you get lost in the process a little bit.  I go back to ‘keep it simple’.  Which is actually something my Math teacher told me in high school. I’m finding recently that’s something I go back to a lot.  And to honor yourself.  That’s something I’d forgotten but in the last two years found again.

Who or what are some of your biggest influences?

Hmmm.   Umm…lets see.  Well you were a big influence on me.  Collaborating with you and Regroup [Theatre] and Dana [Lynn Bennett].  Teachers that I’ve had.   Influences for me have never been like a specific person.  I love so many people in the theatrical world but I think more of an influence is just the world.  People, what I read in the newspaper, what I see on TV and how that elicits something in my body, the reactions I have when I get inspired by something in life.  Which is what often makes me want to speak and do that through my theatrical work.     Pause.  And actors.  The people I work with directly, they often are the biggest influence and inspiration to me.   Books are more of an intellectual influence but as far as a more visceral influence that I actively use would be people and the world and what I see.

What is a technique that you would employ to assist an actor struggling with character in a production?

Oh!  That’s a good question.  First I would say it would depend on the nature of their struggle.  If they were coming to me for advice or if I was seeing them struggling.  You have to approach that differently and I think I would tailor it to the nature of their struggle.  I tend to go back to improv.  Back to basics, to the character and the world of the play, the circumstances and probably come up with some process oriented improvisational exercise or experience that could try to lift us out of the technical problem we are having.  Go back to the basic organic response to who the character is and see if we could work it through that way.

You are also an actor and a writer.  Do you feel that is a hindrance or that it gives you an upper hand in directing?

I have a two-part answer.  Individually I feel it could be a hindrance because I don’t have one thing that I am specifically focusing on.  When I’m writing, I’m like should I be acting or directing?  When I’m directing a lot of times I think oh but I want to be acting, so that’s an individual thing.  But in the process, I find it very helpful.  Especially the acting/directing because I know how to speak to actors, I speak their language.  I can understand what their going through, I’m sympathetic to it and I appreciate the vulnerable quality to what their doing.  Some people say, oh you should never be an actor and a director, but often we all start as actors and we go into these different fields depending on where our life takes us.  As a writer you’re thinking about character, so that of course feeds to when you’re acting and when you’re directing.  I often say, if you were acting all the parts, you have to know the motivations of all the characters so you can tell the story and do justice to the playwright.  They all feed into to each other.  You know, personally and individually, as far as a career to get any where you have to focus, focus, focus and sometimes I feel a little divided.  That’s my own personal journey and I have to learn how to compartmentalize. 

Do you feel that New York City is theatrically oversaturated?

Yes.  And speaking of over saturation…with this blatant taking of our name, by these NYU girls.

Laughing.  Oh no.

People end up like we did, young artists, wanting to make their own projects.  Which is great if it’s done correctly.    What I’m sick of seeing in NY after being here for 10 years, are all of these projects that are unpaid, and badly organized and at the end of the day you’re just like why did I just waste my time, by doing another crazy, oddly written play and badly produced in a tiny little theatre for no money, that isn’t really going to do anything for me?  I mean how many little plays can you have on your resume?  As an artist its great to keep working but then again, their needs to be a respect brought back to acting and directing and writing in NY.  People need to get paid.  And that’s hard to do because there isn’t a lot of money.  Off-Broadway is all movie stars.  It’s just hard to break that feeling...  I think there can never be enough theatre, but, there needs to be theatre that respects the artists work and is not just community theatre.  Its needs to have a level of professionalism and people need to hold themselves accountable to a level of professionalism.  Then the theatre will gain respect by the public as well.

Do you feel that the financial climate we’re in, puts demands on theatres to bring in the big names because that’s how they’re going to sell tickets, which inadvertently shuffles down to effect the artists that are trying to make original work and are not getting the work through?

Yup.  It’s the Catch22 of show business.  It’s a business and also this incredibly beautiful artistic process.  The fact that it goes hand in hand is ironic.  It’s a shame because you want to get people in seats and that’s absolutely why producers don’t want to take a risk. On Broadway its like lets remake every movie that’s ever been popular because we know people will come and see it, just because they know that name. No one wants to take a risk on something original.  Some producers still are which is great.  And the argument is, well we do these silly shows so that we can do other shows that we take risks on.  I do believe in that.  If I had my own theatre company, sure, Christmas time, I’d be doing the Christmas Carol because that will bring in money for the year.  And then I could do original work and plays I want to do.  That’s how you keep your business going.  But I think especially in NY it’s really hard to break into even just getting paid work.  Its almost impossible cause no one is going to take a chance on anything new, and this is speaking as a playwright, director and actor.   To take a chance on something new is very risky especially in the financial climate we’ve had.  If you’re putting money first of all on an art form, you want to make sure you get a return on it.  I think that has definitely impacted what we’re seeing on Broadway and Off Broadway and who were seeing.

Do you consider yourself a struggling artist?


Complete this sentence.  In my heart I am…

…a theatre artist.

Dream projects?

Well I’d be working on the full-length play I have yet to finish writing.  I would love to do Chekhov.  To answer that question a) My dream project would be to have my own theatre space, where we could do theatrical workshops, main stage productions, classes, drama therapy.  b) A lot of actors say oh I would love to play this part but I’m too old or too young or too fat or a man or a woman or whatever.  I would love to have a kind of review where people choose something they would never actually get cast in, but they get to perform. I think that would be very interesting.  That’s a project that has been kicking around in my mind, something I would love to do.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

I don’t think so.  I think the director is absolutely vital.  When you collaborate even in a loose sense, there is always someone that comes out with ideas, someone who sees the play as a whole and has a specific vision for it.  I even notice with my students, there are some natural directors that come up with ideas and see the whole thing as a picture.  And this is going off your last blog, I like that he [S. Godwin] brought up the feeling of being dead and I think that’s something that needs to be addressed.  Directors constantly need to re-evaluate how fresh they are.  I think directors can get worn down by producers, constraints of money and actors, designers and what not.  And to try and keep true to the play, the playwright’s vision, your vision and the people you’re working with, to keep that alive while you’re working on a show from beginning to end, I think, is very difficult and you have to consistently keep refreshing.

Thank you Patty for sharing your thoughts!

We head back to Bristol next week and chat with a BBC television director.  Till next Sunday!

“Observe things in daily life — bestow them with imaginary backgrounds to heighten various emotions. Remember those scenes and draw on them.” Konstantin Stanislavsky