Thursday, July 24, 2014

"The leap of faith I took was that if we designed the head right people would make an emotional connection to the character, and I think they have." - An Interview with Lenny Abrahamson

Although the large head worn by Michael Fassbender in Frank will look familiar to many viewers in the UK, Lenny Abrahamson's new film is far from the portrait of Frank Sidebottom that those viewers might expect it to be. Chris Sievey's comic creation was a perpetually upbeat northern pop star who emerged as one of the most bizarre success stories of the 80s and 90s, but the Frank we meet in this film is a resolutely uncommercial American musician viewed as a visionary by the rest of his bandmates. Instead of taking us back in time, screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan have brought Frank bang up to date, using him as the inspiration for a very 21st-century tale of fame, artistry and confused ambition. With his fourth feature, Irish filmmaker Abrahamson is moving into new and unusual territory, and I spoke to him about it ahead of the film's cinema release earlier this year.

Before discussing Frank I wanted to quickly ask you about Adam & Paul. You recently attended an event in Dublin to celebrate its 10th anniversary. How did it feel to look back at that film a decade down the road?

The way things are, it came as a shock to me that it was 10 years. It feels much more recent to me. But I have very warm feelings towards that film and I have very good memories of making it. I suppose there are two strands to what I felt. One is that the film still feels relevant as things haven't changed all that much. I attended this very interesting discussion about 'where are Adam and Paul now?' with lots of people who work in that area, working with ex-drug users and current drug users, and the film still feels relevant to people in that world. And then with my own feelings on the film, it was just that experience of making a film where you had no expectations. It's your first film and nobody is looking over your shoulder, nobody is expecting all that much, and we had a very pure experience working with Mark and Tom. I also think a lot about Tom Murphy who died a number of years ago. He was such a great actor, and every time I think about that film I think about what a loss he is.

There is actually a connection between Frank and Adam & Paul because I noticed that you’re working with the same cinematographer on both films.

Yeah, James Mather. I think Frank and Adam & Paul do share a stylistic link, and therefore it felt appropriate that James was the DP on both. The central section particularly where they go off to record the album has a lot of freewheeling slapstick playfulness about it, and that echoed some parts of Adam & Paul.

And I felt that both films share a similar tone, with the absurdist comedy giving way to something deeper and more soulful.

That's true. Even though Frank is more overtly a comedy than Adam & Paul, it has its darker side or more poignant side, and that shape where you can play along with this really pleasurable surface and then find yourself looking down into something much deeper seems to be a feature of both films. In a way, it's been something I recognise in all of my films, it's there in Garage as well. You open with what looks like a very easily categorisable person, you think you know who he is and you don't expect him to reveal anything too deep, and then the film takes you to an unexpected place. It also happens in What Richard Did, you think this character is comfortably containable emotionally, and then you realise there's something deeper to be experienced there.

So when Frank was first pitched to you, was that tonal shift the thing that hooked you into it?

Actually, that tonal shift came later, it developed through the process of working with Jon and Peter. What hooked me initially was that freewheeling maverick playfulness at the centre of the film, that section was what really hooked me when I read it. The structure around it and the story was quite different, and then we started working together on it. As we developed the idea we realised that we could get at something with real emotional power through the telling of this story.

When I first heard about this project I assumed – as I guess most people did – that it would be a film about Frank Sidebottom, but it has turned out to be something quite different. Was it like that at any stage, or was it always developed as a work of fiction?

Before I got involved it had already moved away from a biopic of Frank Sidebottom or a biopic of Chris Sievey and Frank Sidebottom. Jon and Peter had already decided that they didn't want to go that way. So the Frank that I encountered when I first got involved was already American, and was more Johnston and Beefheart than he was Sievey and Sidebottom.

Taking it in this direction allows you to ask some fundamental questions about the nature of art, and the film draws a line between people who see success as exposure and people who see it as the act of creating something.

That's right, and while the film is very comedic it gave us a very vivid world that allowed us to talk about these things. The idea of picking a quintessential outsider seemed like the best way to explore those ideas. We're looking at a person and we just know that they're never going to function in the mainstream, but there is something so clear and beautiful in what they're doing, and that allows you to explore the tensions between creativity and success, and to ask what actually constitutes success.

You've chosen to set the film today rather than in the 80s and 90s, and one of the running gags in the film is Jon's obsession with social media. Do you see people like Jon as a particular product of this era?

We're all taught now that we have to be our own promoters and our own publicists, so people don't just make things they get out there and market it through social media. That's sold as an empowerment so that you take back your career from 'The Man', but on the other hand it takes your energy from the primary simple nature of making something and it turns you into your own marketing department. I don't necessarily think that's healthy, and in Jon's case he's somebody who confuses success with the numbers of hits and retweets and followers, so there's a kind of quantitative metric these days of what counts as success. Initially that was meant to be empowering and freeing because you could own that a little bit, you know, it wasn't just about being signed to a record deal, you could get out via social media and do it yourself. But at the same time, those numbers impose their own kind of tyranny.

As an extension of this, your main character's Twitter and Tumblr accounts are both live in the real world. How involved are you in the marketing aspect of your films? Obviously with a film like this it might require a more unusual approach to selling it.

Film4 have a really strong digital department, so with Anna Higgs and Hugh Garry we talked for a long time about how we could do it. The irony is that we're using those very tools to get the word out about Frank, but I think we're doing it with a certain kind of rich, ironic inflection as well. Given that Jon's tweets are the narration of the film, it was a lot of fun to create his account and actually it has been running for months. There's a really rich backstory there.

That's what surprised me when I looked it up after watching the movie. There has been a lot of work put into that.

And now it's actually going to get even richer, because Jon is kind of going to go on the journey of the film and you'll be able to see that reflected in his tweeting and blogging. In a nice way he'll be able to point you in the direction of some of the musical influences that went into our creation of the band, and his YouTube choices will become more relevant. So there's a nice bubble of interconnected content and material that adds to the experience of watching the film.

I was hugely impressed with what Michael Fassbender does with the character of Frank, but what are the challenges involved in shooting an actor whose face you can't see?

Well, there are loads of challenges. I watched a film not that long ago with a character who wore one of those Venetian masks, very flat and close to the face with no features, and I felt that was a very inert thing to put at the centre of the frame. But what's interesting about the Frank head that we had is because it's kind of cartoon-like in its expression you end up with this puppet-like figure in the middle of your scene. Rather than closing down the expressive possibilities it really adds to them and takes you into the territory you get with really great animation.

The head is slightly different to Frank Sidebottom’s head. Did you spend a lot of time working on that look?

The leap of faith I took was that if we designed the head right – and it is very similar to Frank Sidebottom's, but different in crucial respects – people would make an emotional connection to the character, and I think they have. People are very good at finding meaning in things, and in fact they impose meaning on things if they can't find it. You know the early experiments people did that showed how montage works? They would should a close-up of a person and cut to something warm and fuzzy like kids playing, you'd feel that the person was registering pleasure and all the things that go with an image like that. Then you'd cut the same close-up with something disturb and feel that the person is registering distress. So we're very good at reading into images what the logic of the edit tells us to. Part of the challenge is how you construct the scene around Frank to help the audience really see something in that face, to help them believe that they're feeling an emotional response to it. With Michael you've got someone who is so physically articulate and so good at adding the smallest tilt of the head, or doing something with the rest of his body or his voice, to create an incredibly rich character. It allows us to play with things that are hidden too, so when you don't want them to know what Frank is thinking, you have that possibility and it works really well, either comedically or dramatically. The expressive possibilities come about in a different way but they're all still there.

You make a joke of it in the film, with Frank telling Jon what expression he has on his face.

Yeah, that was really funny to do, and that's some of the stuff that people really seem to go for when they watch the film.

And there’s a good line where a character wonders what’s going on inside his head, and we wonder which head he’s referring to.

Yeah, "I'd love to know what goes on inside that head." The funny thing as well is that when we were shooting, it was amazing how quickly we forgot that he was wearing the head. To answer your question in a slightly different way, I thought I would have to do an awful lot more work as a director to make scenes work with the actor's face hidden. What I discovered was, if you just trust the scene and you work with the actors to find subtle ways to use inflections of their body and voice, he's just there. The character just appears. You don't feel you're missing anything, he's no less expressive than any of the other characters in the film.

It reminds me of a film I loved recently called It's Such a Beautiful Day. The design of that lead character is as basic as it gets, but he’s invested with so much emotion.

That's a really good example. You can look at the most basic stick-man drawing, and it goes back to what I was saying earlier about how people are really god at finding meaning. With the most simple line drawings or even the most basic puppet – a glove puppet, for example – you can create massive emotional effects. Sometimes those effects can be strong in a different way to what you can get with a straight live-action drama. There's something about that simplification that brings out a core emotional meaning, and I think that's what you get with Frank.

This is the kind of project that could work brilliantly or fall flat on its face. Was there any particular point in the making of it where you could feel that it was coming together and you'd made it work?

There were lots of moments when I was very worried leading up to making the film. I decided to make the film and then I immediately thought, "God, this could be awful." I used to think, what if we're sitting in the edit a month after shooting the film and we look at each other and say, "Well, the head doesn't work." I mean, that really could have happened. One of the first scenes we shot with the head was the ashes-spreading scene in the desert, and when I first saw it loosely cut together by Nathan, our editor, I felt the tension draining away because there was something really lovely and delicate. It was strange in the right way – not just quirky in some kind of easy indie way – but delicate and expressive and human. I think the other thing was developing the music with Stephen Lennox. We had a week's rehearsal with the band before we shot and they really gelled, and I just felt that this music was impossible to categorise but it was clearly really good. Again, it's not a gimmick, there's something very unconventional but clearly authentic about it, and that was another point where I felt the film might work.

The music has to walk a very fine line between being totally uncommercial but also showing some sign of creativity and talent.

Exactly. Given that the dynamic of the film is Jon wanting to impose himself on the band to make them successful, you sort of have to be with Jon at various points in the film, you have to want them to succeed even if you ultimately learn that would be a disaster. It's no good if you immediately think, "Oh for God's, there's no way this band is ever going to be successful." There are parts in the film where the joke works because the music is completely barking, but for the most part you can, like Jon, imagine that it could work. Quite early on we decided that while the music was eccentric, experimental and unconventional, it needed to be good, and the reason that the band was never going to be commercial had as much to do with the members of the band. You just know that they could never handle that kind of exposure, or in Clara's case just didn't want it. If we had gone for a straight comedy where they make some kind of crazy noise music, then you don't really have anything other than a one-note gag.

I wanted to ask you about your next project, but just before calling you I saw an announced online that Brie Larson will be starring in your adaptation of Room.

Yeah, it's amazing how news gets out. I was out and had my phone switched off, and then I turned it on and saw people talking on Twitter about it. But yeah, we have cast Brie Larson and we're really excited about it.

So you still have to cast the child?

Yeah, now that we've cast the mother the race is on to cast the child, and we've put aside a few months to do that so we're aiming to shoot the film in the autumn. Now the search for the boy begins and obviously we have other roles to cast as well, but we're heading for an autumn shoot.

Each of the films you've made so far has been something quite different from the last. Is that important to you? To push against whatever it is you've made before?

It seems to be. I make my choices in a very instinctive way, but I'm always drawn to something that I don't quite know how to do, and something I'm interested in exploring. You can't know it completely at the beginning or there's nowhere to go. With Room, apart from the technical challenge of working in a tiny space for a large chunk of the film and working with a child, it's another film that's tonally hard to get right. The book is told from the boy's point of view, so you have that really lovely voice to get between you and the harsh truth of events, and when you take that voice away it puts great pressure on the filmmaking. I find that a very scary and exciting challenge. But above all I find it very moving, and I think the ultimate thing for me is that the films I'm drawn to make are the ones that are very humane and possess a kind of unsentimental tenderness. That's what I found in Room when I read it and that's what really tied me into it.

Frank will be released on blu-ray in September

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Matthew Barney Experience

Norman Mailer may have won the Pulitzer Prize and unanimous critical acclaim for The Executioner’s Song, but as he collected his plaudits the author believed that his true masterpiece was yet to come. “I was working with the vanity that this was the nearest I was ever going to come to the possibility of writing a great book,” Mailer told George Plimpton a few years later when discussing the decade-long gestation of his sprawling 1983 novel Ancient Evenings. But when that book was finally published, not everybody shared his view. “It is, speaking bluntly, a disaster,” The New York Times stated, while New York Magazine described it as “nasty, brutish and endless” and The Nation dismissed it as a “long and tedious wallow in the faeces of Ancient Egypt.” Nevertheless, the book sat in the bestseller list for 17 weeks and it still has many ardent defenders today.

Whether you think the book is a misunderstood masterpiece, an unreadable slog or something in between is a matter of personal opinion, but the one thing everyone could surely agree on was that Ancient Evenings was unfilmable. Opening my copy of the book (which I long ago filed away in the “unreadable” section) at random, my eyes landed on the following passage, which is indicative of the novel’s content:

“Then Thoth put His hand on the hips of Set, that is, so far as He dared, for Set was shaking with rage, but Thoth proceeded to make the same speech to the semen of Horus. Would it appear? A voice flew right out of Set’s buttocks. It was a full, sweet-smelling wind, and it said, ‘I am the transformation of the seed of Horus.’ This wind smelled sweet as lettuce. The Gods roared. For They knew Horus had buggered Set.”

Stanley Kubrick famously argued that “if it can be written or thought, it can be filmed,” and in this case the only man bold enough – or foolhardy enough – to accept the challenge was Matthew Barney. Appointed to the task by none other than Mailer himself, who regarded the artist as an authentic genius, Barney has very liberally adapted Ancient Evenings into an epic, six-hour extravaganza called River of Fundament. This magnum opus recently received its UK premiere in London, having prompted applause, disgust, awe, walkouts and general bafflement at its previous screenings. I felt it would be unwise to immediately jump in at the deep end with River of Fundament before familiarising myself with the artist’s work, and so, before his latest film screened, I spent the day with Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Andrew Sarris on Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin

"The difference between Keaton and Chaplin is the difference between poise and poetry, between the aristocrat and the tramp, between adaptability and dislocation, between the function of things and the meaning of things, between eccentricity and mysticism, between man as machine and man as angel, between the Girl as a convention and the Girl as an ideal, between the centripetal and the centrifugal tendencies of slapstick. Keaton is now generally acknowledged as the superior director and inventor of visual forms. There are those who would go further and claim Keaton as pure cinema as opposed to Chaplin's theatrical cinema. Keaton's cerebral tradition of comedy was continued by René Clair and Jacques Tati, but Keaton the actor, like Chaplin the actor, has proved to be inimitable. Ultimately, Keaton and Chaplin complement each other down the line to that memorably ghostly moment in Limelight when they share the same tawdry dressing room as they prepare to face their lost audience."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ace in the Hole

On April 18th 1948, The New York Times ran an article entitled “The Happy Union of Brackett and Wilder.” The piece was timed to mark the imminent release of two films on which Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder had collaborated – The Emperor Waltz and A Foreign Affair – and to celebrate their enormously successful decade of working together. They had established a degree of freedom and control over their pictures that was exceptional for filmmakers in the studio era, and Wilder told the paper that they were “The happiest couple in Hollywood.” On the evidence of that article, most people would have surely assumed that the Brackett and Wilder team was set to run and run, but it wasn’t to be.

Read the rest of the article at Mostly Film

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"I was often trying to stop making sense, or at least to create other kinds of logic." - An Interview with Joanna Hogg

Joanna Hogg has been living in London for over three decades, but it has taken her three feature films to finally make a picture in the city she calls home. Her acclaimed debut Unrelated was set in Tuscany and her second film Archipelago took place on the small island of Tresco, but Exhibition is set almost entirely in and around a very unusual West London house designed by the late architect James Melvin, to whom her film is dedicated. Starring musician Viv Albertine and artist Liam Gillick, the film is a mysterious, fragmented and intimate examination of a married couple’s relationship with each other and the home they inhabit. I met Joanna Hogg recently to discuss it.

The house is so central to the film. Was that the starting point for this project, or did you come at it from a different angle?

There were a number of ideas I think I'd formed before finding the house. One of the themes or ideas I'd wanted to explore was an idea of seeing an artist creating a piece of work, actually seeing inspiration at work, and how that creativity or inspiration is also connected with sexuality, and out of that was formed the idea that D should be a performance artist. I hadn't started with that idea but it came out of looking at and thinking about creativity and sexuality and this idea that being very creatively engaged in something is on some level a kind of a turn-on. All these ideas change and develop over months and weeks, and having gone through thoughts of her being a painter or writer, I thought it had to be something visual, it had to visually express some of those ideas I'd been exploring. When I thought about the house....that's what's exciting about the early stages of creating a story, sometimes you'll have all these different ideas and they seem to be disconnected, but the glue became the house in the way. So many of the ideas came from just being in that house and observing the character of it.

It's fascinating to see how expressive D is when she's creating her art, compared to how she behaves with her husband.

That's right, yes. I was really interested in how she keeps those two things very separate, or tries to, because I think that's very difficult in a relationship. She is trying to create this work on the one hand but she is also trying to balance this with a relationship and I felt those pink sliding doors were a very theatrical division, between her world and her world with H.

Were those pink doors and the other striking design features already present when you found the house?

The house was designed in 1969 and I came to know it in the early '90s, but the architect hadn't changed it very much. It was much more monochrome and was more open-plan in fact. Those pink dividing doors weren't there. I think it was around 1994 when the house had a refit. We're getting architectural here, but an outfit called Sauerbruch Hutton based in Berlin did a redesign or update, so they added and changed some features, but the essentials of the house, like the spiral staircase, remained the same.

So you didn’t have to make many amendments in terms of production design?

What was great about Stéphane my production designer is that he recognised the gifts that the house was already handing us and he didn't feel the need to put his own stamp on the design, so he just did some subtle things within the house and the costume design was also very much part of his work, so the stripy nature of D's clothes that reflect the venetian blinds. These echoes were enhanced by the production design and costume design.

Did you immediately know how you were going to shoot in this space, or was that something you had to work out during the process of filming?

Some of that was worked out when I was writing because I took some photographs inside the house when I was conceiving the ideas, so some of those frames that I created in my still photography were mirrored within the film. A lot of the time we were finding those frames as we were shooting and it is quite a challenging house to shoot in, partly because it has this lift block all the way through, so you can't look easily from one side of the room to the other. But that's a kind of gift, in a way, so we used that, and quite often we built towers in the garden so the cameras were outside the house looking in and then reversing that, so you have an interesting inside/outside relationship. I really enjoyed looking out of the house and seeing chairs floating in the garden, you know, how when you're looking out you're sometimes seeing more of the inside than outside. I liked playing with that. But yes, from a practical point of view it was very challenging with just this cube with a spiral staircase as an access point. Ed Rutherford, the cinematographer, had to take his equipment up and down and everyone got very tired moving things around the house. But I made it very clear that we would only have the necessary people working when we were shooting or we'd go crazy, so you'd often have a whole group of people waiting outside for us to finish a scene.

On Archipelago you had Ed Rutherford shooting in a very low light, so it seems you always like to give him a fresh challenge.

It's true, it was the opposite. Sometimes there was too much light or it was a matter of balancing the reflections. I think he did that really beautifully.

You have said that your writing process changed a lot between Unrelated and Archipelago. Was there a similar progression here? Because it does feel like something different to your prior work.

In some ways I made some changes. I initially wrote a document that probably looked a little bit like the Archipelago document, which I'd describe as novella-like and illustrated with some photographs I'd taken. Prior to shooting I hadn't shown Viv and Liam my document, but after the first few days I thought I'd like to show them something but just feed them scenes gradually, not give them a whole document, because I didn't want them to know what was going to happen. The night before shooting a particular scene, I would write the dialogue for that scene in a relatively conventional way, but I'd only give that scene to Viv and Liam about half an hour before shooting, so they would get an impression of the kind of dialogue I wanted for that scene but put things in their own words. It's a very fine balance that, because I want things to be naturalistic but I also want to control what's being said, so it's something I'm continually playing with and for the next film I might try a different approach again.

You cast Viv and Liam at an extremely late stage. What are you looking for in a non-professional actor when you hire them? How do you know that they are going to be up to the task?

It's a total leap of faith. It's a kind of bolt of lightning realisation that this person is going to be right. With Viv, I had the advantage of having known her for many years, I'd met her in 1984, and when the idea came to me it was via my husband, because I'd been on the phone to Viv to ask her for ideas of musicians who might be good in a film, and I put the phone down and Nick said to me "What about Viv?" As soon as he said that I knew Viv was absolutely the right person. So I had the benefit of knowing Viv and knowing how she would inhabit that house, I knew she'd inhabit it very well, having lived in modern buildings herself and understanding the open-plan nature of it. What I didn't know was how good an actress she would turn out to be, and likewise with Liam, I knew he had some kind of performing gene in him but not to the extent that he did. They both became actors, they're not playing themselves they're both very much playing against type, and they do it brilliantly. That's the magic of casting and that's what I find so exciting about it.

Do you get anxious about leaving things unplanned and open to chance like that? Or are you confident by this stage that it will come together?

Well, there is a plan on the one hand, but within that plan there's a lot of room for the unknown and for me to change my mind. I'm creating a space for things to happen but I've still got my plan to fall back on. I've got a clear idea of what I want on some level but I'm not afraid of something unexpected happening, and that's a real interesting balance to try and maintain.

In the film D talks about being unwilling to open her art up to people and to questions or criticism. Does that reflect your own feelings about making a film?

I think I am a little bit like that, and I can relate to her in that way. I'm quite guarded at home and I don't talk about my ideas until they're formed enough to withstand any criticisms, until the ideas stand on their own. I'm possibly too guarded sometimes, so it was interesting for me to depict that.

One of the common themes in your work is what’s left unsaid. We are aware of some trauma in D and H’s past that informs their behaviour, but we are never told what it might be. Do you worry about striking that fine balance between being mysterious and intriguing or being too oblique and alienating an audience?

I suppose I do a little bit, but nevertheless I still can't guarantee that people aren't going to be frustrated with not having enough information, or with having too much information. I remember with Unrelated, afterwards some people said that it was a shame we had that scene in the hotel, we didn't need that information about Anna being unable to have children. I possibly listened to that on some level, because although I don't regret having that scene in Unrelated, it's an important scene and beautifully played by Kate and Mary, I do like audiences engaging their imagination, and sometimes I think if you've got too much information it's a hindrance to you putting something of yourself into what you're watching. It is a fine line, but with Exhibition I never even entertained the idea of what D is afraid of happening to H being explained.

It’s very effective, that sense of unexplained dread. It feels like a horror film at times.

Yes, which is something I'm interested in. I wanted to create something quite horrifying, but not in the traditional sense, and I was interested in the house having mood changes as we do as people, so that night the house becomes something quite threatening and ominous.

You obviously enjoy working with non-actors, but Tom Hiddleston is somebody who has become enormously famous since you first worked with him. Has that has an impact on how you use him in your films?

I don't think so. I think Tom is a special case because he manages to get the right balance of what he puts of himself into a role and what he invents, and he does it so convincingly, that I find working with him I get a similar satisfaction as I do when I'm working with non-actors. I think it's about letting go on some level, and I think Tom is able to let go into the character and create characteristics that are very tangible and real. I'm always looking for the truth in something and he is a truth-seeker, so I really do enjoy working with him. I don't think that contradicts working with non-actors as well and I think it was really interesting to watch Tom working with Liam and Viv.

It did take me a moment to recognise him when he showed up. It’s not like a movie star suddenly walking in and disrupting the film.

Well, he was apparently standing outside the house with Harry Kershaw, who plays the other estate agent, and they were mistaken for estate agents by some people walking past. I think that goes to show what skill Tom has at morphing himself into different characters.

Has the way you work with Helle le Fevre changed over the years? Editorially, this feels like a leap from Unrelated and Archipelago, which feel more like companion pieces.

I was definitely setting out explore depicting different levels of reality and creating a piece of work that was less linear, more fragmented and more dreamlike, and that was naturally going to affect the editing process. In fact, a lot of those different levels and the fragmentation was created in the editing. So that was the challenge from the outset, and I think Helle and I worked together and kind of pushed each other, and I was often trying to stop making sense, or at least to create other kinds of logic. That takes time to work out and we would work on a scene and look at it, and we were continually pushing further and experimenting more, and that got taken into the sound design as well. It was very exciting. Again, Johan the sound designer is someone who has worked on the other two films, and I think that really helps when you've got a working relationship with someone where you can push each other. By the third film you know each other very well, so you can just play around with things and have fun. In the end, we were almost creating a musical score. I don't think we realised that at the outset when we were mixing, but as the days went by I had to call up Gayle and say, hang on, we've barely just begun the process and we need a lot more time, so we extended our sound mix because it was going into the realms of music and involved some very intricate work.

Having made films in Italy and Tresco, this is your first time shooting in London. How was that experience for you, and will you make another film here?

To begin with, a lot of people who had shot in London before said it's an absolute nightmare shooting in London and warned me that it's not going to be like having your own island or farm in Italy. So I was slightly dreading it, but perhaps because we created our own island in London we managed to maintain control of it and we managed to get a blanket agreement for the area in which we were shooting so we didn't get stopped every time we put a tripod on the pavement. The scene was set before the shoot by the location manager and that made it a lot easier. And yes, this is my first film in London, my home town since 1979, and I'll definitely do more films in London. I've got another film that I'm developing, which is set in London, but I've got another that I'm not sure where it is set yet, and it's quite unusual for me to not know where the film is going to be set when the story is already coming together. So that's a bit of a mystery, and which film will happen first I'm not sure.

I was intrigued by the special thanks credit for Martin Scorsese at the end of the film. What is the story behind that?

That was because he was an admirer of Archipelago, and I was very flattered and very impressed by his support of other filmmakers. He's an incredibly generous man. I thought wouldn't it be wonderful if I could show him Exhibition and get some feedback from him, so I showed it to him at a relatively late stage, when we had almost finished editing and done some sound work. There's nothing more to say about that really, except that he dedicated some time to watching it and discussing it with me, and I was just so impressed with his generosity. I find that very humbling and it makes me feel that I should have the same kind of responsibility to other filmmakers coming up, and I try to do my bit to support and encourage younger voices making films.

On the subject of mentors, Derek Jarman was somebody who was a key figure in your early career. His work is now being celebrated at the BFI, so I just wanted to ask you about the influence he had on you.

Well, he was obviously another very generous spirit. He inspired me at a particular point in time, I think it was about 1980 when I first met him, and I am not unique in that respect. He was very generous to a lot of filmmakers, and I just happened to be there at a time when I needed encouragement and needed to get some confidence in my own filmmaking. He showed me that you can do it by just picking up a camera, you don't need to get permission from anyone. I think, as this season is obviously showing, he was completely unique in the landscape of British film, in creating his own environment to make films in a very uncompromising way and working with people he wanted to work with. He was an inspiration and is still an inspiration, and at that particular point in time he was certainly a fortuitous encounter for me.