Six Questions For "One Night Stand"'s Mike Figgis
by Anthony Kaufman
When New Line approached Mike Figgis (director of “Leaving Las Vegas“, “Stormy Monday“, “Internal Affairs“) to direct a four page treatment written by Joe
Eszterhas they paid $3 million for which director Adrian Lyne had already
abandoned, he also refused. “Would you like to rewrite it?” they offered.
He responded, “If I wrote it, I’d rewrite the entire script.” After New
Line agreed, Figgis scripted “One Night Stand“, the story of a happily
married, commercial director (Wesley Snipes) from Los Angeles who comes to
New York to visit a best friend dying of AIDS (a powerful Robert Downey,
Jr.). There he has a one night stand with a married woman (Nastassja
Kinski) — both events forcing him to reevaluate his life.
indieWIRE: What specific things did “Leaving Las Vegas” enable you to do in
your next film, that being “One Night Stand”?
Figgis: In no particular order of importance, it allowed me to have a
reasonable budget for the music and control of the music. That was the
first time ever I had that without having to fight or argue my point. It
allowed me, even after previews where certain things in the film tested
negatively which I thought were strong things — in my opinion they tested
negatively because they were things that audiences weren’t used to, like
Wesley talking to the camera and so on. And whereas in previous situations,
that may have resulted in a situation where the studio insisted on changing
something, in this particular instance, what it came down to was they said
we’ll respect the directors feelings and we’ll go with the director’s cut
rather than imposing.
iW: Let’s talk about music because it is so important to your work. . .
Figgis: Yes. It’s just an integral part of the way I think. From the time I
was 11, my whole ambition was to be a jazz musician or to be involved in
music. . . . I kind of slipped into drama and theater and ultimately
theater slipped into film. In my heart, if someone had said to me, “What do
you do?” I would have always said, “I’m a musician, but I also direct.”
Then the period of making films in America became tricky, because there’s a
huge clash between those two ambitions. Studios have sort of come to terms
with “writer/director” but “director/composer” always creates a problem.
It’s an unusual combination. . . . but it’s like second nature to me, in
the sense, that I don’t feel the necessity to go to another source of
music. I can take my time writing because I’m around for the whole process
of post-production which is an advantage I have over any other composer. I
also agree with Morricone in that film scores should be simple, should not
be overburdening the overall structure of the film. The function of the
music is a complex psychological one, but not necessarily a complex
technical one and of course, if you bring a composer in, the composer’s ego
will dictate that he has to demonstrate his abilities as a musician. I
don’t have that hang up. I don’t need to prove it. As a musician, I just
want to serve the film.
iW: How much do the industry people, the execs, how much are they in tune
with what works musically?
Figgis: They haven’t a fucking clue. They have not got a fucking clue. They
work on what I call the Marks and Spencer theory. Good high quality
control. You could walk around any street in any large town in Britain and
you’d see people wearing the same clothes, the same little badge on their
left tit and so on. And people’d say, look, there, this is the taste of the
people. And I’d say, no, this is the taste of the three high street
retailers. So this is a funny situation where because films have made more
money, executives will say, “See, we have proof. We put this kind of a
score in and it works.” It has nothing to do with anything. They end up
with an idea that they know music, but they know jack shit, they really
iW: There is a striking change of tone from Wesley Snipes’ witty prologue
to the avant-garde art piece, credit sequence. It was quite jarring, but
that was your intention. . . ?
Figgis: I like to see a film that challenges my visual sense and makes me
really concentrate on what is going on. I like to work. I like to be
entertained, first and foremost. Within that entertainment, I like to be
asked to work hard. In a piece of music, I like the music to say ‘listen
very carefully to the base line. When I see a film I like to be nervous
about the fact that if I don’t concentrate, I might miss something. I like
the audience to work. All filmmakers have one wish, one ambition, to
somehow put the audience on the edge of their seat. . . .I like to do it
through the texture of the film.
iW: As far as that visual texture, something strikes me is your use of
fades. . . ?
Figgis: A couple of years ago, I realized one of the problems with film was
the idea you had to have pictures on screen all the time. And one of the
great things about theater, there are times when the lights go down and
they come up again; and in that time, you’re thinking very carefully — it
gives you a moment of visual relaxation where your brain is allowed to be
stimulated. It also means that you don’t always have to find a smooth edit
from the scene you just come out of to the scene you’re going into.
iW: When you’re shooting scenes that are improvised with the actors, how do
you let the actors go when you have the set up and the lights and the
cameras to worry about?
Figgis: I run two cameras. All the time. I encourage (I operate as well)
the D.P. to learn the dialogue. Don’t worry about whip, just go for it, try
to follow the dialogue, and even if you’re late, try to get it and I’ll do
the same from a different angle. So we’ll always have coverage. . . . I
always have a little shopping list in my head for the editor, he’ll need a
reaction shot. So I pop that off while he’s doing the main shot. So there’s
always something for the second camera to do in terms of getting good
coverage. I would say to the D.P., ‘Don’t worry if you’re out of focus.’
Don’t ever cut. I don’t mind if you see the focus being racked.
In another film I just shot, I had two cameras fighting their way through
extras to get the shot — it just feels just like news reel footage. It has
a chilling feel to it. Sometimes when you don’t quite get the thing you
wanted to get, something makes it look even more real. . . It’s a very
interesting time for cinema. Because of video, because of the rise of the
documentary, because of the small VCR, a combination of that and the AVID
and computer editing have completely revolutionized the way we think about
film. It’s a really good time to be a filmmaker.