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SXSW Interview: “Bomber” Director Paul Cotter

SXSW Interview: "Bomber" Director Paul Cotter

Editor’s Note: This one of a series of interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films will be screening at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.

Director/Writer: Paul Cotter
A bittersweet comedy about love, family and dropping bombs on Germany. Cast: Shane Taylor, Benjamin Whitrow, Eileen Nicholas [Courtesy of SXSW]

“Bomber” will screen in the Narrative Features Competition.

Please introduce yourself…

I was born in Brighton, England. I studied Geography at University and worked on glaciers in Pakistan. I packed it all in in my mid-twenties and decided to become a filmmaker.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

After my brush with Geography, I volunteered for my local BBC radio station in England, researching and reporting on indie bands in Manchester. It was a lot of fun and it opened up my eyes to the possibility of a life in a creative field. That had never seemed like an opportunity to me before. My culture and my education channelled me at a very early age into subjects I was good at, namely social sciences, and I didn’t think I could do anything else. Then I find myself working in radio, working with bands I love listening to and it’s quite a buzz. That’s when I realised I could probably do anything in life I put my mind to. And I thought to myself, “what would be my dream job?” And the answer was to be a filmmaker. I loved watching films and they had shaped and defined my knowledge of the world. So I decided to quit everything and start from scratch. I decided to become a filmmaker.

How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?

My father was a Bomber pilot. In 2001 I spent 3 weeks in a car with him on a road trip through Europe. I shouldn’t say “stuck”, because it was actually a holiday. A holiday with my mum, dad and sister. We started in Belgium and rather recklessly ended up in Budapest. It wasn’t planned. We just ended up driving across Europe. Two big memories stuck with me. First, how strange it was to be an adult stuck in a car with your parents for three weeks. The roles are reversed from the holidays you had as a child. You end up doing most of the driving and your parents sit in the back and ask “are we there yet?” All the while you are still their child, and what’s worse you tend to act like one.

The second memory was traveling with a man who was seeing Germany for the first time in years, having bombed it 60 years before. The idea for plot came out of that.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.

It was very simple. I took three actors and seven crew to Germany and made a film. I wrote the story around things I knew I could get, and if anything got to complicated I ditched it in favour of something else. I owe a nod to Abbas Kiarostami. I did a workshop with him in 2005 and he taught me three things:

1) How easy it is to make a film. Strip away all the bells and whistles and assorted paraphernalia and what you have is a subject and a camera. It’s that simple.
2) Embrace your surroundings. Don’t fight what the world gives you. It’s one big happy location. Embrace it.
3) Use real people wherever possible. Actors are great, but real people are equally as great. It’s hard to cast and dress a good cow farmer. Find a cow farmer. The mud on his boots and sweat on his brow, and callouses on his hands are real. It’s difficult to have someone who went to drama school re-create that.

I’ve also been inspired by my fellow filmmakers. People like the Duplass Brothers and Joe Swanberg. I met them on the festival circuit when I was schlepping my shorts around and they’ve been tremendously inspirational and supportive. They really encouraged me to go for it.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

The fact that I did so much myself. It’s exhausting. But I surrounded myself with a really cool group of people and we did a great job, and created a film I am proud of. So you forget about all the challenges. And anyway, if you think to much about the challenges, you just freeze so it’s best not to think about them. And furthermore my wife’s a doctor, so anything I do doesn’t really seem like that big of a challenge. Hanging on to your life with a team of surgeons working feverishly around you – that’s a challenge.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

I can only define success in my own personal terms. Success to me is simple. E.M. Forster put it best when he wrote at the beginning of one of his books: “Only Connect.” If I can connect, I’ve succeeded.

As far as my goals: I just want to keep developing as a filmmaker, stay happy doing it and eventually shuffle-off my mortal coil with a body of work I am proud of. If I get to make 7 feature films and four of them are good enough stand the test of time, I’d be happy. Deep down, I think it’ll be more, but “baby steps”.

What are your future projects?

I want to see if I can do a real genre film with this lo-fi, personal form of filmmaking. I loved American B-movies as a child. “Gun Crazy,” “Detour,” “The Killers.” Genre is a fascinating form for telling stories. Kind of like adult fairy tales. I wonder if I can do a film like that Bomber style. I have some bigger projects too, but who knows. Let’s see what happens.

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