How can you be a first-time filmmaker and a veteran all at the same time? Well, if you're director Fredrik Bond, it's easy. For the last decade or so, he's been an acclaimed, award-winning commercials director, picking up honors from the British Television Advertising Awards and being nominated twice for the Directors Guild of America’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials. He's been a globetrotter as well, growing up in Sweden, studying in New York, living in England and Los Angeles, and always working his passport for wherever the job would take him. But this week Bond arrives in Park City, ready to prove himself at the feature level with "The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman," and we had a chance to speak with him before the fest about the movie. The first thing he shared was how much he appreciated the Black List-ed script by Matt Drake ("Project X").
"Over the years, I've just been reading and reading and reading and just trying to find that script," Bond said about choosing his first movie. "I had been writing a little bit, enough to how hard it is to write, and I appreciate great writers. [And] I'd been reading scripts trying to find a great script I knew I would kill everything to do. And that happened to be 'Charlie Countryman.' "
For his first outing as a feature filmmaker, he's nabbed a great cast, with Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood in the lead roles of a movie that tells the story of Charlie Countryman (LaBeouf), who while traveling abroad falls for Gabi (Wood), a Romanian beauty whose unreachable heart has its origins in Nigel, her violent, charismatic ex. As the darkness of Gabi’s past increasingly envelops him, Charlie resolves to win her love, or die trying. The always great Mads Mikkelsen plays the villain Nigel, while Til Schweiger, Rupert Grint, Melissa Leo and James Buckley fill out the supporting cast. And if the story sounds slightly over the top, well, that's because it is.
"It's a mashup/gangster/coming-of-age spiritual love story. There is an aspect in the film which is very spiritual, in the sense that the spirit of his dead Mom is part of this whole journey this main character goes through," the director said, describing the film. But he credits his cast, especially his leads, for bringing a sense of realism to the story, preventing it from spinning off into unreality. "I think Shia and Evan really grounded the film. I think their performances are very soulful," he enthused. "They are two amazing young actors, their working techniques are very different, but I think they are equally amazing talents. The script was so out there, it was so important that it felt real…and to bring it down to something that's relatable and didn't feel like a cartoon. They did an amazing job doing that."
However, moving from the commercial world where you're working in short bursts, to a full-length film, might seem daunting, but Bond told us that even from a young age he was getting a sense of cutting and shaping films. "I collected movies as a kid. I had a bit of a pirate bay in my basement, in the early '80s. But at the same time I was quite obsessed with commercials from England, because I used to spend my Christmases and holidays in England with family and friends," he explained. "So I used to record the commercial breaks, so I basically had a collection of thousands of commercials from England in this library of films that I had. So I started to do my own short films by editing commercials and snippets of movies together, and do my own little collages."
And that sense of assemblage, of creating narratives even within a short time frame, was something that stuck with Bond when he grew up and began working in the field. "When I started doing commercials, I was lucky to work with some amazing creatives who had written some great scripts. And I actually found that commercials were sort of like my mini short films," Bond said. "I could explore so many different worlds and characters and actors and work in a really creative environment, so even if I knew in the back of my head that features was something I really wanted to do, I so thoroughly enjoyed doing commercials, because I really got to have a great time with it."
But if shooting a feature afforded Bond one key luxury, it was the ability to simply have more time than he would while lensing an advertisement. "It's different to some degree because you have a little bit of a longer time to think your decisions over. But the the difference is not that big. I always try to spend as much time with the actors as I can, even on commercials, but there's only so much time you can spend with an actor on commercials before they think you're crazy," he said. "The biggest thing was spending so much more time with actors, which I love, because that's always where the spine of the movie is going to be built on. And that's going to be the soul of the movie. For me that was the biggest difference, how much time I spent rehearsing and trying to figure out things with the actors."
Featuring a wild mix of romance, action and drama, and all powered by a solid soundtrack (more on that in a second) it's not exactly a surprise that many of the films that Bond has cherished over time share those elements. "I have a bunch of movies that I've loved for a long time, and they just kept coming back to me, for different aspects [of the film]. When I saw 'Trainspotting' for the first time, it blew my mind how unconventional it was in its storytelling, and how it could blend a lot of different characters, in a cinematic tree," Bond shared. "Definitely 'The Graduate,' in terms of this boy's journey in finding himself. And other movies like 'True Romance' and 'Pulp Fiction' and even one of my early favorites, 'The World According To Garp,' was one film that always hovering somewhere. And also 'After Hours' was a big favorite film of mine as a kid. And another film that I just love is 'A Swedish Love Story' by Roy Andersson. All these movies that I love, in one way or the other, kept [coming up] through the process of the film."
But of course, everything changes once you get on set and you're in the mix of shooting. And that was true for Bond who told us the influences that might have been present before gave way to working in and adapting to the immediacy of the moment. "That was pretty much before we got Bucharest," he said of the movies he mentioned. "When we got Bucharest on location, all that sort of falls to the side, and the locations, the local actors, our main actors, the city in itself, just guided us in what the flavor would be."
And helping to set that flavor is the music of the film, which features a score by Dead Mono and Christophe Beck and songs by The xx, M83 and Moby (who Bond directed the "Body Rock" video for), and the latter in particular really became involved to try and help get the right sound for the movie. "I was playing some stuff on set that Moby had done. As we were shooting, I had Moby send me some stuff that I should listen to. It was definitely an inspiration through the process," he said.
"He was really generous, he made an amazing gesture. He's a very open and generous guy, and he basically opened his library for me," Bond continued. "A bunch of stuff, sketches and things he had done over the years, and he tried some stuff as we were shooting. It was an incredible experience. I would be shooting through the day and at night and I would come back home and in my inbox I would find three tracks from Moby. It was quite extraordinary."
All told, it sounds like everything worked out well for his first feature, and Bond is certainly excited to finally get it out there. "The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman" doesn't yet have distribution lined up yet. The film will premiere on Monday, January 21st.