Stefan Schwartz and Dan Futterman "Shoot Fish"
by Tamari Pacanowski
British film director, Stefan Schwartz (“Soft Top, Hard Shoulder,”
“Giving Tongue“) is making his American debut with his energetic and
clever new film, “Shooting Fish.” Schwartz had made a $10,000 short
sci-fi thriller on borrowed money to gain entrance to the National Film
School of London. He and his film were rejected because the
administrators didn’t believe that Schwartz was “thinking of his
audience.” But Schwartz was not too discouraged, for the short sold to
the B.B.C. the very next day. In 1992, Schwartz’s road movie “Soft Top,
Hard Shoulder” received a B.A.F.T.A. award, the UK equivalent to the
“Shooting Fish” (which opened last Friday from Fox Searchlight) stars
Dan Futterman (“The Birdcage“) as the smooth-talking American, Dylan,
Stuart Townsend (“Under the Skin“) as the Brit techie-nerd Jez, and Kate
Beckinsale (“Much Ado About Nothing“) as the smart and charming Georgie.
The term “Shooting Fish” is slang for: to swindle, to rip off, to
defraud. In the film, Dylan (Futterman) and Jez (Townsend) are two
orphans who swindle their way through life, conning the rich and making
them literally buy into their elaborate scams. Georgie (Bekinsale) is
lured into helping the Robin Hoodesque duo conduct their schemes, while
she scams to maintain her family fortune.
indieWIRE: I understand that you gave a lecture about filmmaking at
N.Y.U. recently. What did the students want to learn from you and your
Stefan Schwartz: There was one guy who was really interested in the
process of filmmaking from start to finish and that was interesting
talking about that. What I think he was driving at was the more
technical, what do I as a director go through. I think there are two
extremes of directors within which everyone else falls. There is a
director who has an absolute vision of how a film should be — they know
exactly where every chair is, where the actor moves from this chair to
that chair, how a scene is structured, what the lighting is like,
everything that’s on the walls, have a very clear vision of everything.
And then they are just using the crew around them to fill that vision.
And then there is the director on the other side, who says, right, well
this film is about John and Sally meeting. That’s what the scene is
about, and it’s about them meeting in a slightly awkward way, and they
don’t quite meet — what is particular about that scene — and the
emotion you want to create in an audience when they’re watching that
scene. So then, what you are saying is “how can you help me, Mr.
Lighting Man,” or “how can you help me, Mr. Designer or Mrs. Designer,”
and you are asking everyone to add to that emotional strand, or that
feeling that will come out of the scene. So you are going, well, if
that feeling is that, then I need these kind of things, okay, let’s go
warm colors because it’s a warm scene with the light coming through this
way, and you get the expertise of everyone around you.
iW: What type of director are you?
Schwartz: I’m much more towards that side, then having an absolute
vision, I’m much more about having a feeling and be true to that.
iW: You said that “Shooting Fish” was made on a “tiny” budget, 3.5
million dollars — what were the restrictions in creating the stylish
design of the film.
Schwartz: Mainly time, and not being able to afford the design that you
iW: Did you achieve the look that you wanted?
Schwartz: Up to a point, you know, I think there were scenes for me
where I think it worked and scenes where, which I don’t want to tell you
about, where I don’t think it worked, where we kind of didn’t have
enough time or didn’t have enough resources to effect the environment.
iW: The settings in this film are imaginative and beautiful. How did
you create the surroundings in which Dylan and Jez lived, the silo, for
example– what mood were you trying to achieve, and how do the
characters fit into it?
Schwartz: What I wanted was a space whereby we could see what sort of
life they lived and to give a sense of what they’ve been through as a
pair. So I wanted to fill whatever the space was, with free things.
Everything they get, they get for nothing. They’re doing the
competitions, they’re the kind of people that actually take brochures
from the people on the street rather than “no thank you,” and hand back
the flier — anything they can to get something for nothing and they go
to the skips, the junk, garbage cans and reach around the bits and
pieces, so we tried to fill that space with lots of things they could’ve
gotten for free, make it sort of an Aladdin’s cave, sort of a magical
environment that they surrounded themselves with. I wanted somewhere
with out windows so it’s kind of protected from the outside world,
there’s no outside world getting in to it. And they met doing the
“scatometer stomping” and I just thought it would be fun, that is where
they ended up living because that was their first meeting and they
became family as it was.
iW: You mentioned earlier that you allow your Director of Photography
freedom in choosing shots, how much improvisation do you allow for your
Schwartz: Actors are basically stupid, no. . .
Dan Futterman: Stef. is very precious about the words that he has
written…We do a huge amount, no we improvise, we do a lot of rehearsal
and then you get into the filming stage…
iW: Can you site an example where you used improvisation in the film?
Futterman: That whole kind of montage of computer selling…you just
said alright, just stand there, sell, bring in a group, sell them the
computer, turn off the computer, bring in a new group.
Schwartz: Just shooting along, coming up with funny lines, which I
claimed later…In rehearsal, playing with the actors as much as
possible. Trying to make the scenes work, when they’re not working,
changing bits of dialogue, any funny lines they come with I take,
because obviously I get credit in the end for it. Kate is very funny.
iW: How much rehearsal time do you like to have with your actors.
Schwartz: As much as we can get, with this it was three weeks. Part of
that is just chatting, part of it is playing basketball, part of that is
iW: What’s it like to collaborate with another writer?
Schwartz: Well, we’ve [Richard Holms] been doing it for ten years. I
find it really invigorating because you can find someone to bounce ideas
off of. I’ve written a couple of scripts of my own, it’s quite a lonely
process, it’s quite hard, discipline wise, forcing yourself to write; I
have good days and I have bad days, but you’re always on your own, but
when you are writing with someone, bouncing off ideas, there’s a lot
more energy, you kind of work off of each other’s strengths and
weaknesses, and help each other through the bad patches. So I much
prefer writing with someone.
iW: Were there scenes in “Shooting Fish” that you and Richard disagreed
Schwartz: Yeah, billions. For every ten scenes you write, you keep one
that’s good, that we both like and think is fun, but we’re not very
protective of our work, so if I go through and criticize a scene, he
doesn’t get all “”struffled”” and go “what are you talking about, it’s a
great scene,” you just go ahead and move on. If you get too protective
you don’t get anywhere, you just end up arguing the whole time. We just
trust that each other sees something, be respective. As soon as it
starts becoming a fight, it stops being fun and it starts being a
struggle. Generally you get hooked on what you think are good ideas,
and they’re not good ideas. They might be, but it’s not the end of the
world if you loose them, you’ll always find another one.
iW: What’s your next project?
Schwartz: There’s a thriller which I’d love to make in New York, we
have to look for finance now for that. There’s another film in another
company in the UK which is based on a book called “A White Murk With
Finns,” which is sort of a bank robbery, sort of fun, I’m just finishing
[Tamari Pacanowski is a graduate of Fim and TV at NYU. She is currently
making a documentary on the Hare Krishnas (’94-’95 Warner Bro.’s
Production Award) and is completing a screenplay for a short film
entitled, “Giant Shrimp.”]