Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy found early success as the most in-demand and groundbreaking music video director of the 80s, working with artists like Duran Duran, Billy Joel, Elton John and many many others. His 1984 horror film RAZORBACK (1984), set in the Australian Outback, is now a cult classic, as is his 1986 fantasy adventure HIGHLANDER, which starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, and launched a huge franchise of films and TV series. Russell's career has had its ups and downs, but he has travelled the world, worked in a variety of genres, and directed films such as HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING (1991), the revenge thriller RICOCHET (1991) with Denzel Washington, the spy thriller BLUE ICE (1992) with Michael Caine, the heist thriller THE REAL McCOY (1993) with Kim Basinger and Val Kilmer, the superhero film THE SHADOW (1994), and the horror film RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (2007). He is now one of the most successful directors working in television, and is currently an executive producer and recurring director on the hit show Teen Wolf. In the final part of our two-part interview we talked about his two HIGHLANDER movies, RICOCHET, BLUE ICE, his time on RAMBO III, THE REAL McCOY, THE SHADOW, RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION, and directing for TV, including Teen Wolf. 

Part one of the interview. 
With HIGHLANDER, what was the hook that got you interested in making it? 
It was a brilliant script. It was from an original draft by Gregory Widen. He had originally written it as a thesis at UCLA. Larry Ferguson and Peter Bellwood came along and did a rewrite, which was actually called The Dark Knight. I read the script when I was cutting the Wild Boys video. I loved the genre, I loved the action, and I loved the strange complexity of the intercutting timelines. What really grabbed me though was the sense of tragic, epic romance in the story – the man who couldn't die and had to watch people he fell in love with wither and die in front of him. That continual pain and angst was a driving force in the character of Connor. He wanted to win the Prize because he was sick and tired of being Immortal. 

What made you cast Christopher Lambert in the lead role? 
We were sitting in the office in Los Angeles looking at a list of the usual twenty actors that was bandied around. I was flipping through a magazine and I saw a photo of Christopher in GREYSTOKE (1984), and I said ''This is our guy. This is him!'' The producers said ''Yeah, but he can't speak English. '' I said ''Well, I am sure we can work that out.'' And we did! We got a coach in, and he learned very quickly. As well as in GREYSTOKE, I had also seen his work in SUBWAY (1985. He was an extremely good-loking guy. But it was so much to do with what he told you with his piercing eyes. They seemed to span centuries. He had an air of mystery, and he could convey something with just the flick of his eyes. They told a thousand words. Christopher is also kind of an old soul, and his character had to carry this burden of living for thousands of years. He was so right for the role. It would have been so wrong to put a known actor in the role. He needed to be an unknown or an unknown to a lot of people.

During the Paris premiere, which was a massive event, we were driving up the Champs-Elysees and there were these gigantic 60ft wooden statues of Christopher and Sean on either side of the boulevard. The film played to a huge audience and there were fans outside trying to get in. I remember that everyone just stood up and applauded at Christopher's first big close-up in modern dress. He looked like a million dollars. He wasn't just a French star at that moment, he was a bona-fide international star. 

How was meeting Sean Connery for the first time? 
Sean came on board, and I was piss-scared meeting him. I knock on his hotel door, he opens it, and there he is - Sean Connery, James Bond 007, who I first saw in DR. NO (1962) and grew up watching. Sean turned out to be a complete gentleman. I remember we sat down and had tea and cucumber sandwiches or something, and talked about the film. 

What qualities did Connery bring to the set? 
We only had seven days with him, so every moment counted. We always had multiple cameras on him, and we also had to do things like shoot over Chris to Sean, and then weeks later we would shoot across a double back to Chris. We didn't have time to finish full scenes with him. Sean came with great enthusiasm and was very prepared; very energetic, and very smart, and great fun to work with. On his first day, we flew up to Glencoe, and on the plane, he opened up this bottle of home-made Scotch and said ''Try this. '' I had a shot, and I don't know what proof it was but it blew my brains out!

On his last day, we had like thirty minutes left. He was going to get paid a lot of money if we had gone over. Sean looked at me and said ''You're not going to finish. '' I said ''Just stand there for a sec. '' We put three cameras on him with a very neutral background, and I said things like ''Now stand to the side. Now swing your sword. Now take your hat off. Look angry, scream. '' And so on. We did this for a while. I kept looking at my watch. It came up to the end of the thirty minutes, and then I said ''Right. Cut! That's a wrap. '' Sean laughed and said ''You bastard!'' I remember we had a farewell party in some little pub in Glencoe.

He was such a treat to work with. I was such a fan of his. Everybody respected him so much, but he was so respectful of others too. He was so helpful with everybody, and when he was on set, the bar was raised and everybody rose to the occasion. 

To what do you attribute the success of the film? 
Well, for one thing, we got great people involved on it. Aside from Sean and Christopher, we also had Clancy Brown, who was wonderful as The Kurgan, and we had Allan Cameron for our production designer, who went off and did THE JUNGLE BOOK (1994) and THE MUMMY (1999). James Acheson did the costumes, and he later did THE LAST EMPEROR (1987). And we had this great marriage with the music and Queen. Michael Kamen had this great rock and roll background, and was a fantastic composer. He had just done BRAZIL (1985). It was just a great combination of talent.

None of us quite knew what we were doing. I remember the costume designer reminded me that in 1558 Scotsmen didn't fight in kilts. They didn't start wearing kilts until the 1700s, and they actually battled naked before that. I thought ''Well, we probably can't do that! '' We broke the rules a little bit there. I don't think anyone cared. We had a Frenchman playing a Scotsman and a Scotsman playing a Spanish-Egyptian. I think people were driven by the story more than anything. 

One of the most distinctive things about HIGHLANDER is the use of the Skycam. How did that come about? 
During pre-production, we heard about this device. I think when we used it, it was only the first or second time it had ever been used on a film. We only had ten minutes to shoot the wrestling match in Queens in New York, and I wanted to start the film off big, so we used the Skycam. These days, I guess you'd use a drone. We also had some hidden hand-held cameras. Later we got together again and built the audience area at a different location, and did some extra close-ups of Chris. 

How do you feel about HIGHLANDER II now? 
HIGHLANDER II was basically a mistake. The original film had been written as a one piece story. It wasn't written with a franchise in mind. When the film became a hit in Europe, they wanted to do a sequel. There were a number of bad drafts. I was signed on by my agent without my even knowing. There are a number of different cuts out there, but whatever version you're talking about, the story is a real stretch. Even though we worked long and hard on the film – 6 day weeks for 12 weeks, all night shoots – it didn't work. The whole shoot was a trial. We shot it in Argentina, and it was the wrong country to do make that sort of film in. I never bitch about tough shoots, because you end up working harder on them. I like them. But when you don't get a rush from the end result, it's very disappointing. It's weird how they built a huge franchise off of the first film. I can't quite understand it. It's like they say in the film ''There can only be one. '' In a genre film you can create any scenario you like, but once you break your own rules, the audience feels betrayed, which is what happened with HIGHLANDER II. 

How was the experience of making RICOCHET? 
Before the movie, I had been directing on Tales of the Crypt with the producer, Joel Silver. There were big holes in the original script, so there was a major re-write. Originally, in the opening gunfight, the bullet ricoched off something, which was why it was called RICOCHET. In the re-writes, the title stayed but the story changed. As far as making the film went, it was fabulous. Denzel is an extraordinary human being, and always totally in the part. We did a lot of scenes where he was drugged up, beaten up and disgraced and whatever, and I remember on a Friday night I would say to him ''Denzel, don't take this home with you!'' John Lithgow was brilliant. He was playing this evil villain but once you called ''Cut!'', he'd start talking about some baseball game or something he was doing at his college. He could just switch in and out of character. He and Denzel had different styles of acting, but both were wonderful. After we finished filming I called up Denzel and he said ''Oh man, I've just been sitting on the couch, watching TV, and eating lots of cake!'' He had had to stay fit, and be put through all these things by John. It was a rigorous, tight schedule; long hours and exhausting. 

Do you prefer fantasy films to more grounded stories? 
I love all kinds of movies. I just like good stories. I grew up with genres and I have a great passion for them, but RICOCHET, like most if not all my films, has its dark side, and I do like to explore the different sides of humanity - the light and the dark, which of course have to co-exist. I like filming that battle between them. 

Making BLUE ICE, how much were the Harry Palmer films on your mind? 
We purposely tried to make something different than those films. We knew there were going to obviously be comparisons to Harry Palmer, so we just decided to go with Michael's character as written, and have him be different, like loving jazz for example. I didn't watch any of the Palmer films when we were making it. Working with an icon like Michael Caine was great. He's such a wonderful man and such a pro. When you work with a guy like him, it makes your life a lot easier. I learned important things from him like always doing three takes – one for me, one for you, and one for the camera. 

How different do you think your RAMBO III would have been? 
There's still 20 minutes of my footage there in the middle, with the attack on the Russian fort. It was a career decision to do the film, after the success of HIGHLANDER. I was also in serious talks with Dino De Laurentiis about doing TOTAL RECALL. Sly called me up and offered me RAMBO III and I guess I got starstruck and said ''Yes, of course. '' We got along like a house on fire at the beginning. He was very supportive. I travelled the world trying to find locations and we ended up shooting it in Israel. After a couple of weeks of filming, it became clear we had some creative differences. I was trying to do something with the scope of HIGHLANDER, and I had forgotten I was filming a billion dollar face, and should have been filming more close-ups. I wanted something darker and more epic, with stranger undertones. We decided to call it a day. It was all very amicable. It was nobody's fault. Sly is a wonderful man, and we still remain friends. 

What did you enjoy the most about working on THE REAL McCOY? 
Kim Basinger was a delight, and one of the most amazing women I have worked with. Marty Bregman, who produced it, was great. It's not often you can put rain towers on four blocks and just take over a whole square of a city basically. We shot it in Atlanta, which was a wonderful, giving place to film. They opened up a bank for us at the weekend so we could shoot in there, and let us have full access to the safe. There was great trust on that film. It was another one that was shot very quickly. Working with a pro like Terence Stamp really pushed me and everyone else to do their best. 

Were you a fan of THE SHADOW character before you took on the movie? 
I'd heard some of the radio shows and watched some of the films growing up, and I did a lot more research after being offered the project. We had the Northridge earthquake during filming, which slowed us down for a little bit. One of my favourite memories is of filming on the famous Universal New York street before it burned down, and of having to stop filming when the tourist bus came through. We'd wave as it drove past. Alec Baldwin is a genius and a joy to work with. He's a ball of energy, and has a great sense of humor. Tim Curry was great, as was the wonderful Ian McKellen, who I have remained friends with. He was a driving force on the film for me, and always kept me going. 

How was the experience of directing RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION? 
It was a delight. It was one of the toughest films I've done because of the extremities of the heat. We filmed in Mexicali and it was 125 degrees every day. We had zombies fainting left and right. I remember we had about thirty guys with these big water tanks on their back with a hose attached. You'd go up to them with a plastic cup and they'd give you water with lime and salt. You'd drink it and then put a bucket of ice water over your head! You'd come home at night and your T-shirt would have these rings of salt from all the sweat.

The cast was great – Milla Jovovich and Linden Ashby, for example, who is now in Teen Wolf. My friend Paul Anderson, who wrote and produced it, was there and supportive and positive throughout. I came in with 70 pages of very rough concept drawings I had drawn up and he and Jeremy Bolt took a look and said ''Oh wow! You want to do all this?'' We did have a difference of opinion at the beginning because I wanted to shoot it during the day. They had never shot zombies in sunlight before, and they were worried they wouldn't look scary. We went out to the desert in California to do some tests, and they looked at the rushes and were surprised that it all worked. My idea was that if we shot it at night, we'd run into problems in Vegas. Plus, the first two films had already been set at night. I wanted the third one to be a breath of fresh air. We also had some extraordinary landscapes in Mexico, so we could do helicopter shots and wide, panoramic shots. 

You've become very successful directing for TV, currently with Teen Wolf. How different an experience has it been? 
You get your scripts a lot later, usually about a week before you shoot. You have to think fast and get your ducks in a row very quickly. You have to stick to a 12, maximum 14, hour day. Budgets are very tight. But it's been a great experience. We have an incredible showrunner, Jeff Davies, who also did Criminal Minds. We are on the sixth season, and I've been with him since the pilot. When we did the pilot we felt like we were the little train that could. Nobody really believed in the project because we were based on a very campy, humorous movie. We wanted to make something that was darker and had more reality and humanity to it. We had a byline for ourselves that we wanted to make it sexy, scary, and surprising. We've tried to keep that mantra going. 

Does directing TV sharpen your skills? 
It keeps you on your feet. When you're on the set, you're always prepared, but when you're blocking you might realise that there is a better way of doing it. The germ of the idea always has to be spontaneous. My clock is basically my watch and my assistant director. You have to make the best with the time you have, and the challenge is that if you have to rethink things you still have to stay visually and emotionally effective. Working on Teen Wolf for so long, it has very much become a family. We know each other so well that a nod or a gesture says a thousand words. All of us have been on the journey together. It's been a fun ride. 

 Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy found early success as the most in-demand and groundbreaking music video director of the 80s, working with artists like Duran Duran, Billy Joel, Elton John and many many others. His 1984 horror film RAZORBACK (1984), set in the Australian Outback, is now a cult classic, as is his 1986 fantasy adventure HIGHLANDER, which starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, and launched a huge franchise of films and TV series. Russell's career has had its ups and downs, but he has travelled the world, worked in a variety of genres, and directed films such as HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING (1991), the revenge thriller RICOCHET (1991) with Denzel Washington, the spy thriller BLUE ICE (1992) with Michael Caine, the heist thriller THE REAL McCOY (1993) with Kim Basinger and Val Kilmer, the superhero film THE SHADOW (1994), and the horror film RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (2007). He is now one of the most successful directors working in television, and is currently an executive producer and recurring director on the hit show Teen Wolf. In part one of our interview we talked about his early years, directing DEREK AND CLIVE GET THE HORN (1979) with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, his brilliant work on music videos in the 80s and beyond, and making his feature debut with RAZORBACK.    

What were some of your favorite films growing up? 
From an early age, it was usually genre films, from Hammer to anything Universal was doing. Up until 1969, a lot of the Hammer films were banned in Australia because of some strange censorship rule, so I had a glut of films to catch up on, and I watched whatever I could get my hands on. In my teens I went through a major European phase where I became a huge fan of Fellini, Bergman, Bertolucci, and Ken Russell. It was usually the films that pushed boundaries that interested me. 

 When did you first start making your own short films? 
I picked up my first camera, a standard 8mm camera, when I was 14, and made a short film with my friends with it. When it came back from being developed, I sat down and scratched around the images with a pin to create a ghostly image around the people in the film. I worked on it every night for about three weeks. I guess that's why I wear glasses now! My love of film and photography, and of the power of the image, came at an early age. 

When did you start thinking of becoming a filmmaker in a serious way? 
I was still at school when I was making the short films. Later, I got a job editing the news at the TV station Channel 7 in Sydney. It gave me the opportunity to creep into the editing rooms at night and edit my own films. I was also doing some acting onstage. At one point I couldn't decide if I wanted to be an actor or a film director. I think in my heart I felt more comfortable being a filmmaker. By this time I was shooting on 16mm. Two of my films won the City Film Festival Award for Best Independent Short Film. It was the delight and the hunger and the escapism that really drove me. 

How did you get involved in making music videos in Australia? 
During this period, no-one else was doing them in Australia, so I started a small company, which was me and another guy in a station wagon with a camera and a tri-pod. We would go around and film Australian bands like AC/ DC. These videos would be shown on the Australian music shows like Countdown. Still wanting to be a filmmaker, I made a short film called Rape the Rutherfords, and I sent it to the Australian Film Academy, with the idea of getting into Australian Film School. But they said ''This is not quite the film we are looking for. '' It wasn't politically correct. It was the best thing that happened really, because it allowed me to carry on doing my own stuff. I learned from my own mistakes and taught myself. 
How did you make the move to England? 
I went to England for two weeks to make a small video and I ended up staying two years. I did the video for Buggles, 'Video Killed the Radio Star', which opened up MTV. Before I went off to do RAZORBACK I did a whole series of videos in a row - True with Spandau Ballet, Total Eclipse of the Heart with Bonnie Tyler, I'm Still Standing and That's Why They Call It The Blues with Elton John, and The Reflex with Duran Duran. 

Why do you think the Buggles video took off the way it did? 
Nobody knew the impact that the video would have and how timely it was when we were shooting it. We went into the video with no concept of what it was going to do. It was a catchy, well written, well produced song. Trevor Horn went on to produce many more great hits. It was a one day shoot. I just had this idea of it being set in a strange laboratory, with a girl coming down a tube on a wire. The girl was a friend of mine and wouldn't talk to me for a while because she couldn't walk for about six days afterward! 

Your videos encapsulate much of the 80s, which is an incredible achievement. 
It was the beginning of the MTV era. It was a whole new thing. When people were first asking me to do videos, there was never really a need or a request for a concept. They would just send me a cassette of the song. I'd listen to it with my eyes closed, come up with some ideas and write something down. We'd shoot the video the next day or two days later. It really was just grab what you can and do it. I was very naive in many respects. I had gone back to Australia for Christmas, and Ultravox gave me a cassette of their song Vienna. I listened to the song and told them ''I have this idea of you guys in gondolas. '' I was a typical Australian, not knowing anything about Europe. They said ''No, it's Vienna, not Venice!'' We ended up shooting the video in areas of London. We went to Vienna for just one day to get some shots in the cemetery and Town Square and whatever. I'm proud of that video because it's so operatic. 

Your videos were memorably cinematic. 
It was a time of experimentation, both in storytelling and video making. I never wanted to be literal in the videos. I wanted them to be little mini-dramas of themselves. I would cheat in a way by cropping the images on the top and bottom to make them look more like widescreen films. I remember on one video, MTV called and said ''We have a technical problem. There are these black stripes on the top and bottom of the screen. '' I said ''No, the black is meant to be there. '' The cropping of the videos was a little unusual in the early days. It stemmed from me being a frustrated movie director. 

Why do you think you collaborated so well with Duran Duran? 
The first video we did together was Planet Earth. I did some very rough storyboard sketches for the video and there were some unusual images, and the band said ''Yeah, let's go for that.'' The guys turned up on a bus from Birmingham, and arrived in their New Romantic clothes. I had my surfer hair and was in a T-shirt and jeans. But we just hit it off. They were young and brave, as was I really. From then on, we just had this bond. I remember for Hungry Like the Wolf, we were in Sri Lanka and just before the shoot, Simon wanted to lighten his hair. The hair colorist was a local and screwed up quite a lot. He had made Simon's hair yellow. I was wearing this big hat, and Simon said ''Give me your hat. Let's cut down the rim. '' We flew in a new hair colorist, but in the first couple of shots of the video he's wearing my hat. Simon and I had a brotherly relationship. We just became very good friends, the whole band and I actually. We travelled the world together. In those days I was a tourist with a big camera. 

When they were released, your Duran Duran videos were events. Videos like Girls on Film and Rio. 
I remember when we were shooting The Wild Boys at Shepperton, Sting was next door filming THE BRIDE (1985) and came to visit us just as we had Simon strapped to a windmill. It was an event for someone like him to come and say hello. We ended up becoming friends. It was also an event when the windmill got stuck at one point with Simon underwater! 

Which videos that you had previously seeen had captured your imagination? 
One of the videos was Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which was directed by my friend Bruce Gowers. I joined Bruce's company in England before I formed my own. The friendship and collaboration that Bruce and I had was very important because through him I met Queen. I had visited the set of FLASH GORDON (1980), and I loved the music they did for that. I had the idea of getting them to do some music for HIGHLANDER and I showed them rough footage of 20 minutes of the film, and they said yes. I thought they'd do one song, but they said they wanted to do each write a song. It was a great collaboration, and a true friendship grew out of it. I remember many nights with Freddie during the recording of some of that material. I don't think I have ever crashed at somebody's house like Freddie's. I crashed in the guest bedroom, and he woke me up and said ''You want me to make you breakfast?'' I go downstairs and there he is making some bacon and eggs. I am sitting there thinking ''I am having breakfast cooked by Freddie Mercury. This is insane. '' The great thing about that period was that many great friendships were formed with people like Freddie and Elton, and Duran and Rod Stewart. 

How was working with Billy Joel on the videos for Allentown, Pressure and She's Right on Time? 
I remember the first time I met Billy. I had been doing a video for another artist, and I flew on a planeat 5am to met him in New York. I thought I was going to go to a hotel and freshen up before we met, but I was driven straight to Long Island where he lived. He opened up the door and the first thing I said was ''Do you mind if I have a shower?'' He said ''No problem.'' So I took a shower, freshened up, and we started talking about the videos for Pressure and another song. 

How would you characterise your working relationships with the artists you worked with? 
I always had a relaxed relationship with them. It was very much a collaboration of ideas, and doing something that was true to the song and as cinematic as possible. It's hard to be truthful to the intent of the music and to not be too literal to the lyrics. The lyrics are usually ambiguous and have many meanings. I was more interested in being faithful to the central concept of the song. 

How did you come to direct DEREK AND CLIVE GET THE HORN with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook? 
I was a friend of Richard Branson's, and I was doing some videos for Virgin Records, with bands like the Sex Pistols. This was the very early stages of me being in England on my two week gig that ended up two years. He came up with this idea of filming Derek and Clive, and I was a huge fan of their previous records. We basically recorded them doing one of their albums over two nights. We had three cameras running, so if one camera ran out, we could keep filming. We would start the cameras at three minute intervals just to be safe. It was fun, and Dudley and Peter were just wonderful guys. 

What are some of your favorite memories of working on the film? 
Dudley Moore was on the fence about doing the recording because he was just about to go off and film 10 (1979), but Peter egged him on, which comes across in the film I think. It was a great couple of days. Peter and I would sit in the editing room for many hours late at night. He taught me one great lesson about gambling. We went to the casino at the Ritz Hotel late one night after editing. I had never been to a casino before. Peter put down about 5, 000 pounds on black at roulette, and it came up black. He took the 10, 000 pounds he had won, and put it in his pocket. That taught me that in life sometimes you have to jump in the deep end and learn to swim quickly. 

How did you come to direct RAZORBACK? 
I was in England shooting videos for Elton John and I got a phone call from the producer, Hal MacElroy. He liked some of the videos I had been doing and he asked me ''Do you want to come and do a feature film?'' That had always been my dream since I was a kid, so I immediately said yes. He then told me it was about a wild boar terrorising people, and I said ''That sounds great! ''

I got off the plane to Australia, and the producer said ''Do you want to go for lunch?'' I was so zonked, because I had just done the Elton videos back to back, that I slept on the on the couch right there in Brighton. We were to start pre-production on the Monday, so I had to edit the Elton videos over the weekend. While we were shooting RAZORBACK a lot of the songs I had been making videos for became No.1 hits in America and the videos were playing on all the TV stations. I could hardly remember making them because I was so immersed in the chaos of shooting the film. 

How was the transition from making videos to making a feature film for you? 
I was blessed to have Dean Semler, the cinematographer, who had just come off THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981). I brought my production designer, Bryce Warmsley, who had done a lot of my videos. I knew Ivor Davies from Icehouse because I had done a few of their videos and I got him to do the score. I do remember the first day of the shoot. We were in the Outback, in a little town near Broken Hill. I woke up at 3 or 4am, and went and sat on the hill in the dark. I started thinking ''What have I got myself into? I'm making a 35mm anamorphic feature film. There's 110 pages of a script. '' I ended up throwing up.

We started shooting and I think I realised at that point that the whole thing was like a rollercoaster. There's that moment when the rollercoaster goes up – creak, creak, creak – and that's when you start throwing up, and the nerves and the butterflies in your stomach start happening. Then the rollercoaster goes over the edge, and as long as you're prepared during the creaky ride up, and you have a good concept and a good group around you, you'll be okay. From my videos and continuing on through RAZORBACK and after, I've always made sure I have a group around me that are as important as me, and people whose expertise and talent I want and encourage. I want them to be part and parcel of the team and to be proud of their work. I guess there has to be a captain of the ship, but it only takes one crew member to screw everything up. You just encourage everyone to do their best and have fun. The more they feel part of it, and the more fun they have, the day goes faster, and the better the work is.

I am directing and executive producing the TV show Teen Wolf at the moment, and sometimes it's an exhausting shoot. You're shooting 14 hours a day, it's freezing cold or it's raining, and there is all this craziness going on. When people start questioning the reality of certain things happening in the script , I say ''Guys, it's a show about werewolves. Let's just have fun and go for it. '' 

How was working with actors for the first time? 
On Day 1, Scene 1, I had the older actor Bill Kerr and David Argue doing a scene together. David was a more improvisational, spur-of-the-moment stick of dynamite, and Bill was a trained thespian. David was improvising a little and went off on a tangent, and Bill was waiting for his cue. Bill looked at me and said ''When do I say my line?'' It was a very quick lesson in collaborating with actors. We came to some understanding that there would be some improvisation but there would also be at least a couple of takes where we stuck to the script. I told Bill ''I'll warn you when we are not sticking to the script, and you just jump in when you want to. '' That worked out very well. 

The film has some distinctive and memorable camera movements. Were these always planned beforehand or did you sometimes come up with them instinctively on set? 
A lot of it was worked out on the location scout, and some of it just happened when we were blocking the scene. You always have to think very fast on your feet and have different options ready if for whatever reason you can't shoot it the way you want to. The sun is going down and you're losing time. But the scene where we tracked across the car and the tree, and the truck is coming through the karangoo hunt, for example, was worked out on the location scout. We shot that on my 30th birthday as it happens. 

How was working with Dean Semler? 
He was such a gentleman and a genius with his lighting. One day an assistant cameraman had a Panavision Gold camera on a tripod and hadn't set it up properly. The camera fell on the lens and destroyed it. The kid broke down in tears and Dean just said ''Just get another one. It's called insurance. It was an accident. '' Dean was very much a man of the moment as much as I was. I remember I was shooting a night scene and I was trying to shoot it in order. I would shoot in one direction, and then turn the other direction for the next scene. He taught me that you shoot everything you need in one direction, and then turn around. You save yourself an hour. He taught me a lot. 

In the way you kept back from revealing the monster too much, were you consciously thinking of JAWS (1975) and ALIEN (1979)? 
Yes, I loved those films and I learned from them that the less you see, the better, although I didn't have the advanatage of being able to hide my creature in the ocean or on a spaceship. In RAZORBACK, it was definitely better that way. It's a film I'd love to remake actually. The creature was very basic. We had an animatronic head that looked pretty good in close-up. We had a mechanical boar which unfortunately had been built before I had even come on to the film and had cost some stupid amount like a quarter of a million dollars. It's in the film for about two seconds. The most effective shots of the boar in the film were of a real pig running around with a blanket on it and some rubber tusks. I said to Dean ''Just shake the camera a lot. '' Whenever we brought in the model it was tough. 

Did you have much interaction with the writer, Everett De Roche? 
We got along well. We had some great meetings when we were developing the script. He was terrific. The script was taken from a novel but we had to take out a whole part about diamonds being smuggled in the pet food because we didn't want to make the film too long. A friend of mine, a famous Australian personality called Ian Meldrum, had read the book on a plane and after seeing the film called me up and said ''Where are the bloody diamonds?'' To this day he complains about it whenever I see him. 

Part two of the interview. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


David Siegel and Scott McGehee have one of the most diverse, interesting and unpredictable careers of any modern filmmakers. Their five films to date - SUTURE (1993), THE DEEP END (2001), BEE SEASON (2005), UNCERTAINTY (2008) and WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2012) - have shared thematic concerns but are very different from each other stylistically, and underscore that they are filmmakers who enjoy challenging themselves. In the second part of our two-part interview I spoke to David and Scott about the nature of how they collaborate, how they choose and find inspiration for their projects, how actors they work with respond to having two directors, some of their as yet unmade projects, working with Richard Gere and Steve Coogan, and the making of UNCERTAINTY and WHAT MAISIE KNEW.  

Part one of the interview.  

Have there ever been projects that didn't take off because one of you wasn't sufficiently interested? 
DAVID: Oh yeah. But they usually get nixed at a nascent stage. We've never had any big disappointments because one couldn't convince the other.

SCOTT: We focus on the ones that we are both excited about, and the other ones just fall away.

DAVID: To be honest, usually we go down the road and we both agree that something sucks. 

How is your writing routine? Do you actually sit down together and write? 
DAVID: The way we do it is not so dissimilar from other writing partnerships. We beat out the story in very fine detail from beginning to end. Then we go back to the beginning and start writing sections separately. Long before we finish a script, we put it back together and re-read it, and re-outline it. Then we start trading each other's sections and re-write each other from the new outline. This goes back and forth many times, and we often say that by the time the script is finished it is hard to say who has written what. 

When you direct, do you each have different responsibilities? 
SCOTT: During pre-production, we share the same responsibilities equally and work side by side. Post-production works the same way. On set, David tends to be more our voice and I tend to be a couple of steps behind him, supporting him and communicating through him. But only in the broadest sense. Not as a rule or anything. It's just our tendency.

DAVID: Our working style on set is really just a way of keeping things moving. The substance of the film – its look and feel, its tone of voice, the work we do with actors – is really a 100% partnership. 

How do actors usually respond to having two directors? 
DAVID: When we talk to actors, they say that if they entered the process of working with two directors with any degree of scepticism, they come out of it really enjoying it because there really are two of us on the set who know everything that is going on. I don't think, from what I hear, that it's dissimilar from the way the Coens work. 

Do you spend a long time developing your projects? 
SCOTT: We spend a lot of time finding the project we want to do and talking about it, and then of course it takes time to get it made. Or the project falls apart. We've often joked that we've not made many more movies than we've made. We are always aiming to narrow the gap between our films.

DAVID: We're working on more projects simultaneously than we ever have before. 

With the knowledge beforehand that you are going to spend a long time on a project, does the nature of your previous project factor into the project you choose to work on next? Do you try to do something different from the last film? 
DAVID: We never think of it that way. I think if we had had a pattern of making movies more quickly that notion might have been more present. 

Where would you say you find most of your inspiration for projects? 
SCOTT: I am not sure there's a pattern to be honest. We react to things in the world. There are things we hear about or find, and there are things suggested to us.

DAVID: Something shifted after we made WHAT MAISIE KNEW. Almost everything we are working on now tends to be culturally, socially or politically topical and relevant. I don't know if it's the times we are living in or the stage of life we are in. Or just a general sense of urgency in regard to our work. We've had some frustrations in the last year with some of our projects but I think we feel a personal connection to our work right now that is deeper than what it's been before. 

Was it much of a transition working with a big star like Richard Gere on BEE SEASON? 
DAVID: A transition in the sense, maybe, that when you are in a room with someone like Richard, you feel like you are in the room with an aristocrat or something. Which is a little weird, at least the first time, for a couple of middle-class kids. But Richard is a really nice, really down-to-earth guy, and he brought some of that famous sparkle to the film.

SCOTT: The process of working with him was very straight forward. He had agreed to be in what was essentially an independent film, and he took it very seriously and worked with us well. He was great. 

What was the project that you tried to get off the ground before UNCERTAINTY? 
DAVID: That was Baby Baby, another iteration of Snatch. We tried to make it right after BEE SEASON, and got very close before it fell apart.

SCOTT: We had moved the location from Italy to Istanbul, and done a big rewrite on it. 

How did UNCERTAINTY come about? 
SCOTT: We were so frustrated after Baby Baby fell apart and wanted to try something that was immediate and different and improvisational. We worked in an improvisational style with young actors, and made it with the smallest crew we could manage. We didn't have much money, but we were able to run around the streets of New York. It was a way to freshen things up for us when we were feeling like things were really stuck. 

How did the film change things up for you as filmmakers? 
DAVID: UNCERTAINTY wasn't commercially successful but it really shifted things up for us as filmmakers.

SCOTT: It changed how we thought about writing and working with actors. Before the film we had been much more specific about what we put on the page and in what we wanted to put on film. It loosened us up. 

Did you feel like UNCERTAINTY took you full circle to SUTURE? 
DAVID: We were thinking about that when we were writing it. The real highlight of making that movie was the rehearsal process that we had with the actors, Joe and Lynn. We took a month where we did improvisational play in relation to their characters' backstories. We wrote the film in script form, but there was no dialogue on the page, only scene direction that described what the characters would be talking about. The idea was that we would come upon the dialogue based on the rehearsal. It was like a Mike Leigh situation. So, by the end of the month, we had created backstories that could hopefully act as a kind of shared history for the actors that would come across more as a shared life on screen. It had a real profound impact on Scott and me. We had had really good working relationships with our actors previously, especially with Tilda Swinton and Juliette Binoche, but we hadn't gone through this particular kind of intimacy before. There was something about the simplicity of it and the unconventionality of it, and how open and free Joe and Lynn felt during the process. It was absolutely lovely. 

I loved how high concept and beautifully mad the film was on one level, but how real and palapble the central relationship was. 
SCOTT: I think of the relationship between Joe and Lynn as the real achievement of the film. They really worked hard on that and really developed something. Our crew sometimes felt that they were watching two people who really were in the middle of something. And they weren't. Lynn was engaged to a guy who actually spent some time on set.

DAVID: Joe and Lynn decided early on that they would just be together all the time. They started living their days together as if they really were a couple, always together, always holding hands.

SCOTT: Lynn has a strong, womanly kind of presence and Joe's youth was still a dominant note. They worked on really 'manning' Joe up, and it really showed. You can see it in the thriller plot where he really takes charge and looks out for her. The subtlety of how their relationship worked together was something they worked on together in a really lovely way. 

In general, do you always want the shooting style to mirror the themes of the film? 
SCOTT: Yes. We are big believers that the style of the film should be relevant to what the film is about.

DAVID: That hasn't changed at all over the years. When we write scripts we are designing them as much as we are writing them. 

How did you manage to convey so vividly in WHAT MAISIE KNEW the world as seen through the eyes of a very young girl? 
DAVID: That was the hook that drew us to the film – to see the world through the child's eyes. Which is what Henry James was doing in the novel, as well. Structurally, he had written the book in a way that was pretty challenging, but it felt, to us, like something that lent itself to cinema.But it did require finding a child who would be adept enough to pull it off, and we didn't have an actress until four weeks before the shoot. Our casting director, Avie Kaufman, had been looking for a long time, so we were really starting to panic. We found Onata Aprile here in New York. We were so lucky because we had no back-up who we thought would be up to the task. In hindsight, it might've been a little nutty to go into pre-production without having found a kid. But we did find her in Onata, who was amazing. She's one of the most naturally talented actors we have ever worked with. She was 6 years old so she wasn't even able to memorise dialogue, but she was preternaturally able to live within the scenario of a scene in a way that blew other actors, like Julianne Moore, away. 

I was impressed by how, often, you would just let her be quiet in a scene, and not always have her emote or 'act'. 
SCOTT: She was just so good at that. We didn't have to trick her with scenarios that weren't scripted just to get a reaction from her. She could really let her imagination run in the direction of the story we were telling, and really just live in that moment. She was so natural at it that we could really let the camera watch her. We talked a lot about her in cimparisonto to Tilda Swinton actually. She also has one of those faces that lets you in and lets you feel like you are experiencing some interiority. 

Did the experience of making a film told through the eyes of a child change you at all in any ways? 
DAVID: Not so much in relation to my actual childhood, but I would say that making the film had an emotional impact on us. We were both going through some transitions in our personal lives, some unexpected. I had a dog who was 17 years old and very close to me who died a few months after we finished shooting the film. Scott's father became unexpectedly ill right after we shot the movie and ended up dying a few months later. I had an uncle who also passed. I had other issues going on in my personal life, as well. So, in a way, the film became a kind of rite of passage. When you're cutting a movie, that's really when the feelings of a film really hit you because you're watching it over and over. All these things were happening during this period, and it did really have a big impact on us. 

How was working with Steve Coogan? 
DAVID: We loved working with Steve. A great experience. He's a super talented actor. We had a lot of fun with the off-screen fight between him and Julianne Moore. Couldn't stop laughing. I mean, Julianne Moore is one of the great actresses but even she couldn't hold a candle to him in the comedic improvising department. He'd be feeding lines to her, making suggestions to help her keep up – ''Talk about my hair!''

SCOTT: He was the guy we wanted for that role the moment we read the script. One of the things that appealed to us about him is that he can be a jerk but still be so lovable. When he's behaving at his worst, you still care about him. We thought that would be a real help with that particular character. 

Did you rework the film at all during the editing? 
DAVID: The editing of that movie was a big deal. The story is told through a series of ellipses, with most of what you might think as 'plot' happening off screen, or between the scenes. It reflected the script in that way. We tried to shape Maisie's point of view and dynamically modulate what the pitch of that was in terms of what was being fed to her by the adults in her life, as well as what she was actually witnessing and processing. So that balance was the real challenge, editorially, but fun and creatively rich. We value having a program that you're pushing against. Here it was the structure of the book. It winds up opening other ideas and ways of thinking that are inevitably rich. When you're thinking about something as specific as what she is experiencing and what she would or wouldn't be seeing, it's interesting to see how far you can deviate. That's a fun game.

SCOTT: Staying with her emotionally became our guide. Which meant that in scenes where Julianne Moore is giving an amazing performance, we were sometimes not looking at her, but instead looking at this six year old actress whom no-one knows. Maisie became our way through the movie.

DAVID: We found that we learned things editorially on that movie that weren't as apparent to us before. 

When did the idea to use bold colors throughout the film come in? 
DAVID: The idea was to color the movie in a little bit. The film isn't literally from her point of view, but we wanted to infuse the whole movie with the sense that it was hers, without it feeling like it was a child's film. We designed the film so it stayed an adult story but somehow still felt like it belonged to Maisie.

SCOTT: We were also very conscious that audience expectations of a divorce or custody battle drama would be that the film was going to be a downer. We worked with Giles Nuttgens, our cinematographer, Kelly McGehee, the designer, Stacy Battat, the costume designer, and Nick Urata the composer to keep a sense of buoyancy. It also reflected Maisie's optimism and her ability to see the best in people. We wanted that color to be the brightest color. 

With your love of drama and storytelling would you consider going into TV at any point? 
DAVID: We are actually working on three television projects right now.

SCOTT: It's been a real education getting our feet wet in the TV world. We're really excited. It's a different way of thinking about story. 

SUTURE is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow, and has been restored and remastered. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.