I know a lot of your background was in TV as well, so I was really curious about some of your filmic influences on these three movies. At the same time your first two films were coming out there was a low budget movement over here where directors were making very similar types of films. Were you aware of these directors at all?
Yes, I’m very aware of those films. And I’m sure the filmmakers themselves probably don’t like the “mumblecore” kind of label.
For the most part they just kind of grew to accept it.
Yeah, I mean I’ve used the phrase myself.
Do you think you share influences with this type of filmmaking?
I’m sure with any of those guys Eric Rohmer comes up often. With Andrew Bujalski and whoever else.
In terms of influences, certainly with my first film, “Unrelated,” Rohmer was sort of hovering in the background as an influence. And then increasingly with time I found that it’s not just films or other filmmakers that are inspiring me, it’s other art forms. And more than that it’s just being observant about everyday life. That’s what’s really most inspiring to me.
In “Exhibition,” I’m curious about the progression, the sort of tonal shift away from your other work. Your first two films and the first half of “Exhibition” are very similar in the sense that they’re very objective and external from the characters, but then “Exhibition” gets very subconscious and in this one woman’s head. What was the impetus for that?
In fact, I hadn’t really conceived it as something that would develop increasingly as the film went on. I wanted this film to work on different levels of reality. That was something that I hadn’t really tackled. The other two are more realistic in a sense. This one has a more dreamlike reality, and isn’t a subjective film necessarily, but I wanted to convey the feeling of being inside someone’s head. And then in editing it takes on its own life, and structure changes a lot.
Stylistically, by the end of the film, it’s a lot different too. There are some big, noticeable camera moves, which is something that doesn’t happen in your other two films.
We actually shot more of the moving camera than what ended up in the film. I was just very aware that for the third film I didn’t want it to feel like it’s in the exact same packaging as the other two. I wanted to push myself into new territory. It’s stranger. It’s in some ways a more difficult film, even though it’s traveled more than the other two and is getting U.S. distribution. It’s interesting.
This is your first film actually set in London. Do you think that had anything to do with the changes in it?
I think that was sort of just me, in a way. For the first two films I didn’t want to explore that intimate territory. I wasn’t ready to. I had to go through those other stages to be able to look at a relationship like the one in this film.
I’m also curious about your directing process. How much of these films are improvised? Has that stayed consistent from film to film?
That’s really changed for each film as well. For the first one I was really sort of making up the rules for the first time. Despite having worked for a long time – maybe nearly twenty years – as a director before I made “Unrelated,” in film school and in television, I hadn’t developed my own personal rules for making a film. In television that’s dictated to you. It’s a fighting battle. For the first time I was set free and could do it any way I wanted to. I suppose I wanted to hold to some stability, to I wrote the screenplay for “Unrelated” in a very conventional way. But then when I started shooting I realized I wasn’t interested in the words on the page. I was interested in what was going on in front of me. It was much more interesting. So I didn’t carry the script around. I sort of discarded it and developed a much more interesting way of working, which was coming up with ideas in the moment and adapting lines.
So that was really exciting, so for the next one I though well, I’ll cut to the chase and not bother spending months on the screenplay. I wrote more of a novella or a short story. Strangely, even though it was much shorter, it was more detailed and more precise. So I used that as my blueprint. I would shoot chronologically so the actors and I would adapt things as we’d go along.
But then with “Exhibition,” I wanted to work in a different way. Again, I wrote my sort of novella. For a lot of the scenes I would write the dialogue the night before and the present the scene to the actors an hour or half an hour before the scene. So not enough time to memorize the line, but enough time for them to get the gist of what I wanted. It was an interesting way of working. A bit stressful because I’m working every night until the next day’s work. I found that quite satisfying. I fed them what I wanted to feed them.
Have you found a permanent calling in film, or would you ever go back to television?
I’m not going back to TV… Though, I guess television has changed a lot from what I was doing. It’s become more interesting, actually. Jane Campion is working on television now. So I guess I shouldn’t really say no to television at all. But nevertheless I do really like making films for the sacred space of the cinema. Those ideas just translate better than they do on television. I’m exploring new territory again on my next film. I feel it’ll be my first three films, and then this new one will go in a different direction.