AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER CRAIG (PART 1 OF 2)

Peter Craig is one of the busiest, most in-demand and talented young screenwriters currently working. Before his success as the co-writer of Ben Affleck's THE TOWN (2010), Peter wrote three acclaimed novels - The Martini Shot (1998), Hot Plastic (2004), and Blood Father (2005). All three share an interest in exploring the complex but loving relationships between fathers and their offspring. Peter, with Andrea Berloff, adapted the latter novel into the excellent 2016 Mel Gibson thriller of the same title. Peter also co-wrote the HUNGER GAMES two-part MOCKINGJAY finale (2014-15), and has worked on scripts for a TOP GUN sequel and a third BAD BOYS film. Amongst his forthcoming projects is the submarine thriller HUNTER KILLER (2017) with Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman and Billy Bob Thornton. In the first of a two-part interview I spoke with Peter about the early years (including his cameo, as a child, in the Burt Reynolds film HOOPER, which also starred Peter's mother, Sally Field); how he approaches writing novels and the themes that interest him; adapting his Blood Father novel into a movie and working with Mel Gibson; and his experiences co-writing THE TOWN.           

Growing up, what were some of the films that affected you the most? 
I remember being very young and seeing Scorsese's movie ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1974) and being blown away by it. I found it tragic and terrifying and incredibly real. I felt immediately connected to the mother-son relationship in that movie. It's a road movie too, although I know a lot of it takes place when Alice stops in Phoenix. It just really sunk in and was completely in my head for most of my life. I was also really into BADLANDS (1973) as a teenager. There's a movie that nobody really sees anymore called OVER THE EDGE (1979). It's Matt Dillon's first movie, and is about these kids taking over the school and a PTA meeting. You can't find it anymore, but I watched it over and over as a kid. It came out like when I was 8 or 9 and all through when I was 12 or 13, I was obsessed with it.

The movie has such a great energy to it. 
Yes, and I had never seen characters like that before. It had that kid Carl (Michael Eric Kramer), who was dropping acid in Junior High School classes. I knew kids like that and that was the first time I had ever seen a movie that was showing teenagers the way they really were. That film was pretty exciting. 

Do you think a movie like OVER THE EDGE made you realise that real life could make good cinema? 
It was kind of like punk rock to me in that it made me think ''Well, anybody could do that.'' I grew up in the 80s, which was an era when there weren't necessarily great movies, but there were a lot of really fun movies. Things like REPO MAN (1984), and all the Alex Cox movies. Some of those really weird early Penelope Spheeris movies like THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (1985) and SUBURBIA (1983). They were kind of like punk rock movies to me because they made me feel like anything could work if you leaned into it enough. 

Did you start entertaining ideas about being a writer, a screenwriter or a director first? 
I always wanted to be a mystery writer, or a writer like Jim Thompson, for most of my life growing up. I was a novelist for a while, a kind of pulpy writer, and I published a few books. They did okay, but I couldn't really make a living off of it. I would have had to write a couple of books a year, and it wasn't going to be sustainable. 

Did your experiences on film sets with your mother, the actress Sally Field, make you want to be involved with film? 
Maybe a little bit. My mom would let me hang around quite a bit on the movies she didn't take as seriously; but if it was something that required a complicated performance from her, I was more with my grandmother or dad during that time. I think I got more interested in being a screenwriter when she would do plays. There were times when she'd do theater over the summer and I would hang around backstage. My brother and I would sometimes sneak onto stage during the day. I would have been 9 or 10 years old. I got the idea that ''Somebody is writing all this. '' I was completely fixated on it. My father wanted to be a writer and wrote huge amounts that he never quite finished. He had completely different views of the world and they weren't all that favorable about Hollywood – but he'd dreamt of being a writer also and used to read me his work growing up. 

How did your small role in HOOPER (1978) come about? 
That was fun. I was a little tiny kid and my mom had just started dating Burt Reynolds. He was kind of a good guy and he would try to keep me out of trouble and keep me engaged. I played an orphaned kid who was trying to convince Burt to do a chariot race fundraiser - and it was in this scene that he first meets his rival, played by Jan Michael Vincent. 

Did you have any conception of how huge a star Burt Reynolds was? 
When you're a kid you don't really pay much attention to adult actors. Of course I knew what my mom did for a living, and she would have interesting people around her all the time. But I don't think I processed at the time how famous Burt was. I just knew that he had a pool table at his house and a gate with his initials on it. 

Do you think being around Hollywood people as a kid stopped you from being starstruck when you worked with stars later in your career? 
I know everyone is just a working person and I don't worry about it too much. But every now and then I get impressed by certain athletes or writers or directors. 

Mel Gibson has been a huge star since the 80s, so I imagine working with him on BLOOD FATHER must have been a kick. 
I had an interesting experience with him because the first day he came to work, we all looked at each other and said ''Oh, shit. That's a movie star. '' He is such a magnetic actor and we were amazed at how good he was from the get-go. There's a quality to being a star that is different from just being an actor. He had it, and he still has it. It was really interesting to just be standing there and watching him turn it back on. 

What was he like to work with? 
Great - it has been a great thing in my life to be able to become friends with him. Mel's such a good director himself, and he's such a generous guy to work with. He wasn't going to step on anybody's toes or cause any problems, but every now and then he'd have a really good idea about a line or lighting, or how to pace a scene - and he would quietly take me aside and say ''What if we tried this?'' If he took the initiative to speak up, it was always a great idea. I had a lot of respect for how he handled it. This could happen at 3am when we are lighting a scene, for example. There's a death scene that we didn't end up using in the movie. Mel was on his back and he said ''Why don't we move that light about three feet down?'' We tried – and it was perfect. He was so alert at all times; it was like he was operating on a different plane. It was a blast to learn from him. 

How was working with the impressive supporting cast? 
There were a lot of good actors on that movie. I'm still friends with Richard Cabral. He plays one of the gangsters and he is on a TV show here named American Crime. He was nominated for an Emmy. William H. Macy was a great guy. He sat there and played the ukelele. Michael Parks just brought it. Dale Dickey was the sweetest woman I've ever met in my life, and I am still friends with Erin Moriarty too, who's been working nonstop. I just saw Diego Luna at Cannes. He's a great guy. I don't want to leave anyone out of that group. They were all amazing. 

Was there a time when you pursued acting yourself? 
There was a sad little phase in my teens. I had acted in high school, but really just because I wanted to write and be around the girls. There was this 'Lunchtime Theater' we would put on, and I would write some of the the skits for it. Then I went through this period of acting classes and auditioning and really trying in earnest – but I just didn't have much talent. Acting is the hardest thing to do, and if you don't have the talent, you shouldn't waste your time. There are a lot of people who are just not born with any natural aptitude for it, and I was pretty clearly one of them. 

Did the acting experience you've had make you a better writer in any way? 
Yes, in knowing how hard it is. It's harder to work with actors when you think there's a chance you could do what they do. I know there's no chance. I know how hard it is. I know how far they have to go. I know how much they have to relive traumas and things every day in order to do what they do. It helps just having so much respect for how hard that craft is. Writing is hard too. But if you're not in the mood that day you can figure out how to get in the mood. You can take a run or have a bigger breakfast or delay for a few hours. Actors can't. They have to get exactly where they need on command. I don't know any other art that is like that. Painters don't have to paint right at the exact moment you're telling them to. I've worked a lot with actors on set and I think they feel the respect that I have for them. 

Your novels, including Blood Father, are concerned with the often fraught relationships between fathers and their children. What fascinates you about this theme? 
The stories have just turned out that way. I've created these characters, and these issues are things I'm working out in my own life. I have kids and I have good but complicated relationships with my father and my stepfather. There's nothing more fraught than family relationships. So you look for any charged relationship and you follow it as far as it goes. 

What is usually the hook to get you started writing on a novel or script? 
Sometimes it's a moment that grows into the whole thing. With my second book, Hot Plastic, it was a father refusing to live without his son. He goes and abducts him from his mother's house and drives off with him. I didn't know what was going to happen after that. I just knew that was how I wanted to start the book. The book of Blood Father is a little different from the movie, but it was just this idea of a father who has just completely got his life together, and he's reunited with his daughter. Fathers have a tendency to think of their daughters as these soft, delicate creatures; but she's harder and more of a bad ass than he ever was. And she draws him back into his old patterns. Some of this comes across in the movie, but not all of it. In the book she is a much more volatile creature. It's like chemistry. You play with a couple of elements and you try to see if they work together. It's kind of the same with writing scripts too. There's less room to stoke the fire with scripts though. You can write yourself out of trouble in a novel, but you can't in a script. 

You're very busy as a screenwriter. Are you still interested in writing novels? 
Yes, but unfortunately I haven't been able to get back to writing them. I'm trying to. I have a mostly- finished book that I have had to keep leaving for almost ten years now because of script work. Scripts are a lot harder, actually. They're really rewarding if you feel like you stuck the landing. But there's nowhere to hide in a script. There's no room for error. Everything needs to hang together perfectly. It's like a spider's web ... sculpted out of so little. In a novel, you can just impress people with a huge volume of material. Not that I impressed anyone ... But if you read Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace, they're so dazzling that you surrender to the narrative. 

How much research do you usually do on your novels and scripts? 
There's never enough, really. There's always something you miss. I did six to ten months research on my first two books, and I kept researching over the rewriting phase. On some scripts, it's almost all research, even on ones that you wouldn't think. I was working on the Top Gun 2 script with Tony Scott before he passed away, and he just loved research. He had his research guy named Don Ferrone, and we would go to every Air Base, every Naval Station, and talk to everybody we could. We got to see the inside of Drone Trailers and hang out with pilots, sit inside an F-16. When it's that exciting, you can get addicted to the research part. But after a while we had thousands and thousands of pages of notes, and I looked up and realised ''Wait a minute. I actually gotta write this script.'' You can't fall in love too much with all that material, because you bury yourself in it. 

What was the first screenplay that you wrote? 
It was a script called Southbound. It was bought and came close to going into production a couple of times, but there were some problems with how the money was configured. It was about a Customs and Border Control agent who takes a bribe to let some 'unknown contraband' across the border,. It was a small movie - about how that compromise affected the officer. A real Mestophilean story. It did well in terms of giving me a reputation. It was at least adequately written. 

What projects did you work on before THE TOWN? 
I think THE TOWN was probably my fourth job. I tried to do an adaptation of my second novel that didn't work out because it's too sprawling. That caught the attention of Adrian Lyne - and we briefly worked together to try to get it made into a film. When that didn't work out, he wanted me to come and work on THE TOWN, which I did for a long time, before things came to a head with him. (Adrian was the director originally attached to THE TOWN. ) When Ben Affleck took over the project it went really quickly from there. Adrian was brilliant but unwilling to compromise on some numbers. Ben did it for a budget the studio was happy with. 

Did you collaborate with Chuck Hogan, the author of the novel, on the TOWN script? 
I did it mostly with Adrian, who would bring in Chuck for notes and suggestions. Chuck was in a weird position, really. I wrote a draft that was just way too long, and I assumed that Adrian and I were going to cut it down. But Adrian read it and decided he didn't want anything cut. He wanted to shoot a really long movie, like WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) length. Chuck was brought on to suggest cuts, but he wasn't really empowered to take anything out. He was in this weird positio where anything he cut was going to upset Adrian, who had really dug in on this issue. You want a director to like your script, of course. But in this case, the studio just wasn't going to make the movie at this length. Once Ben came on to direct, he used all that material – but he also made the smart cuts that needed to be made, the ones that the producers and I had been wanting to do for a while. 

Did you continue to work on the script when Affleck came on board? 
I was kept in the loop a little bit by Graham King and Gail Lyons, who were the producers – but not really. I could see everything that Ben was doing and I was really happy. He used all the best of the earlier drafts, and he just very effectively fine-tuned it with his co-writer Aaron Stockard. Ben's choices as a director are what made the film a hit. There was an issue with the ending. We had a really bad test screening with the original ending, where Doug (Affleck) dies. There were about six different endings written at that point, and ben chose the one that left everyone with the best feeling and the most hope. At the time, I didn't have enough experience to know that that was the right decision, but now in retrospect I can see that it definitely was. He took what was essentially a dark 70s movie and mnaged to turn it into a genuine commercial success. 

How different do you think Adrian Lyne's version of the film would have been from Ben Affleck's? 
It was a lot of the same material; but, that said, it would have been very different because Adrian would have shot it differently and he would have cast it differently. Ben shot it for half the budget Adrian was fighting for. That is a massively different movie. It would have been a very different pace, and had a very different set of priorities, which isn't to say it wouldn't have been an amazing movie. But the director is everything for a movie: its tone, its pace, its theme and underlying ideas. 

Was Michael Mann's HEAT (1995) on people's minds during the making of the film? 
Yes, of course, and so was THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973). Ben put EDDIE COYLE on a TV in the background in one scene. We knew we were using tropes from films like those and we leaned into it. 

Part two of the interview. 

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

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD SHEPARD (PART 3 OF 3)

For many film viewers, director Richard Shepard burst onto the scene with his hilarious, perceptive Pierce Brosnan thriller THE MATADOR (2005), but Richard had actually been making feature films for around a decade and a half before that film. He made his sole directing debut with the unique David Bowie/ Rosanna Arquette comedy drama THE LINGUINI INCIDENT (1991), and after its troubled production and critical and commercial failure, he regrouped and made a trilogy of effective, low-budget thrillers (1995's MERCY, 1999's OXYGEN, 2000's MEXICO CITY) that prepared him for his breakthrough with THE MATADOR. Richard is one of the industry's most under-rated talents. His films are always hugely enjoyable, skilfully mix genres and tones, take fascinating and unpredictable turns, and show us actors like Pierce Brosnan, Richard Gere (2007's THE HUNTING PARTY) and Jude Law (2013's DOM HEMINGWAY) like we have never seen them. He also directed the acclaimed documentary I KNEW IT WAS YOU: REDISCOVERING JOHN CAZALE (2009), and with shows like Girls is one of the most sought after and successful directors working in television. In the third and final part of a three-part interview I spoke with Richard about how he has maintained his focus and enthusiasm throughout his career; the importance of location scouting, and filming in real locations; his musical approach to creating films; and his experiences making DOM HEMINGWAY and THE HUNTING PARTY.   

Parts one and two of the interview.      

Do you enjoy alternating between different kinds of stories and different mediums like films, shorts, and TV episodes? 
I like to mix things up and not get too complacent. If you don't try to do stuff that's different, you can get really stagnant very quickly. I look at the filmmakers who have continued to work their whole lives. They're filmmakers who make movies in which actors are given freedom and great roles, which is something I think I do. Some filmmakers get trapped in that they have to make films at a certain budget and in a certain way. As an independent filmmaker I'm uniquely trained in continually having to be on my toes, which is both a burden and a gift. It doesn't allow you to rest on your laurels. You're always having to look for your next thing.

How did you achieve the British flavor of DOM HEMINGWAY? One would swear it had been made by a British writer and director. 
Before I came to England to prep DOM HEMINGWAY, I'd only spent five days in the country in my entire life. I got a sense of the city, and because I had purposely created Dom to have a rhthym of talking that was his own and not typical Cockney gangster rhyming slang style, it allowed me to have a character that was unique and wouldn't expose my naivete. Working with Jude Law on the two months of prep was amazing. I've never rehearsed a movie more, and I've never had the pleasure of having an actor so committed to a role. He truly was a partner. He came to many of the auditions. We went to many of the locations and rehearsed scenes with the other actors. I like to think I can take in places very quickly and in the case of London I really did. Other than me, we had a totally British crew. I was surrounded by people who weren't going to let me misrepresent the city and its people. 

What was it like working with producer Jeremy Thomas on the film? 
I beg him on a regular basis to allow me to make a documentary about him, but he's afraid of sharing tales that might offend people who are still alive. I told him ''I'll film you and wait until you're dead to put it out!'' He's had his hand on so many great movies. He's a deep lover of cinema and it seeps into everything that he does. He's a lover of life, and a lover of art. Where he wants to be is surrounded by people who want to have a good time. Film sets by their nature are that. It was a joy and a rare gift working with him. He's a raconteur and will talk about anything, and pulls no punches. As a film buff I'd sit next to him and have fairly long, drunken conversations about every movie he has ever made. Having produced SEXY BEAST (2000) and THE HIT (1984), two of my favourite British gangster movies, he was the perfect person to produce DOM HEMINGWAY. Having Jeremy as producer also sent a message to people like Jude Law that we were doing something that would be smart. Jeremy doesn't really do movies that aren't smart. You walk into his office in Soho and it is a four storey building filled with alternate movie posters of the films he has done. Posters you have never seen before. The first time I walked in there I felt like I didn't want to leave. 

I think one of your strengths is making the audience feel like they have just been to a real location and spent time in a real geographical space. You also have a good eye for interesting, offbeat locations within cities. Is location scouting very important to you? 
Location scouting is as important as casting your movie. Where things happen in a story are important in getting the audience visually interested in what they are watching. I'm careful that the choice of locations are not cliche. I love location scouting, and I'm always looking for something that surprises me and feels authentic. When an actor comes onto the set and the set feels right on every level, it makes them better actors because they feel they're in a real place that is also cinematic. I've been very lucky to work with great production designers. The location scout for the villa in the South of France for DOM HEMINGWAY was about as fun as was humanly allowed. We drove through the South of France, having very long lunches which were being paid by someone else and then we were looking at gorgeous chateaus. There are worse things to do in the world! Driving through Bosnia on THE HUNTING PARTY looking for locations was great fun too. 

I was surprised that you actually filmed a lot of THE HUNTING PARTY in Bosnia. 
A lot of Bosnia still has unexploded land mines so we did all the stuff set in the woods in Croatia. But a lot of the film was shot in Bosnia. It adds an authenticity when your actors arrive in a country where the real story took place in, and the local crew is telling them stories about what they went through in the war. The financiers wanted us to shoot the film in Bulgaria because they could save about three million dollars. I even took a depressing trip there. It could have worked, but I decided the film wasn't going to be the same unless we had Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg walking through the streets where it all happened. The bullet holes and the mortar holes in the buildings are not set dressing – they're real. There was no way the actors weren't going to be affected by the environment. 

On OXYGEN, there was a really good street energy and I hadn't seen New York like that before. 
It's weird. When you don't have much money, you have to figure out ways to make things interesting visually. Location scouting isn't expensive ultimately, and I have learned that the bigger the production value in the places I choose to shoot, the bigger the movie will feel. If the movie feels big, then the limitations of the budget will be less noticeable. The goal is to make the audience feel that they are looking at something fresh or interesting. When you work on a movie, the location people tend to bring out these big folders of locations they have used before and they know they can get. Finding new places requires more work but it adds value to the film. In THE HUNTING PARTY, there's a scene where the lead characters are kidnapped and taken to a barn in the middle of a valley. I had stressed to the production designer, Jan Roelfs, that I wanted a deep valley with green as far as you could see, and he spent two months searching all of Croatia, but he couldn't find what I wanted in area that was safe enough to shoot. He said ''I have an idea and I want you to be open-minded. '' So we drove for thirty minutes into a beautiful valley and it was perfect, except, as I told him ''There's no barn here. '' He said ''I've found a barn'', and we then drove twenty minutes away where there was this perfect one. He told me he wanted to take the barn apart and rebuild it at the other location. Which is what he did! It was cheaper to do that than to continue searching. 

How much does music influence your approach to making movies? You seem to have a punk rock approach to not only the soundtracks but the films themselves. 
I think I do. Punk rock is energy to me, and energy is central to everything with making movies and telling stories, especially in the world we live in of short attention spans. The right music can really lift you in some sort of great way. Very few things are as enjoyable as sitting in an editing room and putting on an image next to a piece of music and seeing it work. Often I am just like ''I want it to feel like this song or have the energy of this song'' and we will plop it on and we now understand what the scene is going to be even if it isn't going to be that particular piece of music. Music is another area where you can add production value to your movie, so I consider things very seriously. Music means different things to different people so I can only really go off how the music makes me feel or what it reminds me of. When it works, it's a connectivity with the audience that is wonderful. I think there is a real punk aesthetic in all that I do in terms of how everything is always slightly off-kilter or not normal, which is good. My movies tell stories in a different way in the same way that punk music is a different way of telling a story than a pop song. 

The choice of music can often, for good or bad, tell you how well the filmmakers understand their own film. 
That's right. A lot of times filmmakers get into fights with the financiers who want more traditional music, and they lose that fight. You have to stay true to what your movie is, and sometimes you have to be creative when you don't get your way. For the end credits of THE HUNTING PARTY we wanted to have I Fought the Law by The Clash, but they wanted $150, 000. I said ''What if we just pay for the song publishing, but we get a band to cover the song in Bosnian?'' It turned out even better than having The Clash. 

Was the score of the film influenced by John Barry at all? 
Rolfe Kent said he wanted to do a John Barry style score and I thought that was a perfect idea. There's been a movement away from Barry's style of music but I am sure it will come around again. I felt the film was an adventure movie so I wanted to feel that in the score. 

What projects do you have in the pipeline? 
I just finished shooting a short film that I made in Tokyo with Elizabeth Moss. It was a really great experience, and hopefully it will be premiering soon. One of the reasons I was itching to do this project was because I really wanted to do a love story and I had this idea that was perfect for a short film. It's really unlike anything I've ever done before. It was really exciting and freeing making a movie with a twelve person crew. I came off that project a better filmmaker than when I went in, which alone makes it worthwhile. I've also been directing on Girls, and I'm in the midst of writing a new feature right now. I'm a different filmmaker from when I started out, and a different person. I know what I'm doing a little bit more. But you don't want to know too much. I think part of making movies is exploration. The movie reflects the moment you're making it. 

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

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD SHEPARD (PART 2 OF 3)

For many film viewers, director Richard Shepard burst onto the scene with his hilarious, perceptive Pierce Brosnan thriller THE MATADOR (2005), but Richard had actually been making feature films for around a decade and a half before that film. He made his sole directing debut with the unique David Bowie/ Rosanna Arquette comedy drama THE LINGUINI INCIDENT (1991), and after its troubled production and critical and commercial failure, he regrouped and made a trilogy of effective, low-budget thrillers (1995's MERCY, 1999's OXYGEN, 2000's MEXICO CITY) that prepared him for his breakthrough with THE MATADOR. Richard is one of the industry's most under-rated talents. His films are always hugely enjoyable, skilfully mix genres and tones, take fascinating and unpredictable turns, and show us actors like Pierce Brosnan, Richard Gere (2007's THE HUNTING PARTY) and Jude Law (2013's DOM HEMINGWAY) like we have never seen them. He also directed the acclaimed documentary I KNEW IT WAS YOU: REDISCOVERING JOHN CAZALE (2009), and with shows like Girls is one of the most sought after and successful directors working in television. In the second part of a three-part interview I spoke with Richard about the themes and concerns of his work; how his artistic choices affect his career; his writing process; and making the documentary  I KNEW IT WAS YOU: REDISCOVERING JOHN CAZALE.     

Part one of the interview. 

In THE MATADOR and DOM HEMINGWAY, we have protagonists who are outside of conventional society and free, and yet need the connection of friendship or family to make them whole. Do you feel that happiness is a balance between freedom and connectedness? 
I think deep connection is something we all strive for. In THE MATADOR, Pierce Brosnan's character has no friends. The only people in his address book are colleagues and whores. Then when he gets a friend in Greg Kinnear he can't do his job anymore because when you're able to be emotional with someone it's often impossible to be emotionless in other areas. With DOM HEMINGWAY, I wanted to write a character who would be the ninth guy and have only two lines if this was another crime movie. I wanted to follow a guy who had lived his life from the moral code that was required by criminals, and to look at, like us all, the sacrifices he makes when he makes certain choices. I think also in THE MATADOR and THE HUNTING PARTY I was looking at how what you can do defines you, and if you're choosing to do things in your life based on what society expects, and not what is best for you, how you can end up really hurting yourself. I find these themes very interesting.

Your films are always very entertaining, but has the richness and complexity of your stories made your career more difficult? 
These films are fun but the humanity in them hopefully makes them more interesting and challenging. But that has hurt me in terms of box-office, and in terms of what people want and expect, and how they can be marketed. I think if I didn't have my TV pilots to keep me liquid, I'd be in a difficult position. I'm lucky in that I am able to toggle between the two worlds of independent movies and television, but it's frustrating because I like to take things that you think are one thing but are not, and those films are difficult to get made. 

I guess a wonderful quality about your films that make them hard to market is that your films are difficult to adequately describe. 
They take one thing about a movie and market it from that angle. DOM HEMINGWAY was marketed as a crime movie when in fact it was an anti-crime movie. THE MATADOR was the anti-assassin movie. As soon as you put a gun in Pierce's hand on the poster you're setting up an expectation that the film doesn't really deliver. 

Are you influenced by Scorsese's idea that everyone, no matter how repugnant their actions or personalities, is worthy of redemption?
Certainly growing up, Martin Scorsese was one of my favorite filmmakers. There's no doubt that he has explored entertaining ways to hang out with sociopathic characters. We are very different filmmakers on many different levels. The first is that he is deeply fearless in a certain way, or at least he used to be. I operate with a little bit more fear than he does. I think audiences are interested in characters who you don't meet every day. If we wanted to see people we meet every day, we'd stay home and watch reruns of Friends or Seinfeld on TV. People go to the movies to have a different sort of experience. I think the blurring of television and film right now in terms of the darkness of the storytelling on TV is interesting. Breaking Bad probably would have been a movie twenty years ago but is now a show. There's a cross-pollination. What we expect and what we see is changing rapidly for the better for the most part. 

When you write screenplays, what propels you forward? Is it finding out where the characters are going to take you? Or finding a way to get to an end you have already predetermined? Your stories always take unpredictable turns that elevate the material. 
I used to write by outline and I stopped with THE MATADOR. It's terrifying and freeing at the same time because I know enough about story structure at this point that I don't need an outline and I trust the characters enough to continue to interest me. But it's scary because you do want a complete movie. In the case of DOM HEMINGWAY I wrote an entire second half that was completely different to the second half that exists now. I enjoyed writing it but in retrospect it wasn't that interesting, so I looked at it again. You get in these situations where months of your life go into the toilet. Thankfully I'm a fast writer, but the fact of the matter is that I do like unexpectedness. I write movies the way I watch movies. I don't want to be bored. As soon as I am writing something that I am bored writing, I know it's going to be boring in the cinema. It does give me a lot of freedom and it does take stories down unexpected routes. But I think this is what good stories are. If you can hold the audience's interest and the detours make the audience happier, then you've won. There are so many movies where you almost know what's going to happen at the end by the first frame of the movie. I can't tell you the number of movies I have walked out of before the last fifteen minutes because it's obvious how things are going to play out. I'm always striving to write movies and go see movies that are revealing and interesting and unexpected. 

I have always admired the confidence you had on THE MATADOR to stop and take the time to have the scene where Julian (Pierce Brosnan) reunites with Danny (Greg Kinnear) and meets Bean (Hope Davis) for the first time. 
The ending of THE MATADOR works so well because you care so much about the characters, and a lot of it is because of that scene where they are in the house talking. That scene deepens everything, and there's an underlying tension. You don't know whether Julian has come to kill Danny, whether they had sex in Mexico (which is suggested a little bit), or whether Julian killed Danny's business rivals to get him the contract he needed. You're legitimately nervous during the whole scene, even though it's not 'exciting' compared to the rest of the movie. I think it's the heart and soul of the movie. And it works because you really don't know what is going to happen. And also because you're also enjoying the company of all the characters. I happen to love scenes with three people in a room talking. DOM HEMINGWAY has such a scene where they are all in the chateau. That area of drama is super fun for me to write and direct. It's also fun for the actors because it is slightly theatrical. It's not every day that they get to do that much talking in a scene. 

 Are you a fan, by chance, of the movie SEXY BEAST (2000)? It has similar qualities to your work – it can't be easily described in terms of narrative or genre, takes unexpected but thrilling detours, and has dark but nevertheless fascinating characters. 
Oh, absolutely, without a doubt. SEXY BEAST has been a huge influence on me and many of the movies that I have done. It's one of the most perfect movies ever. You think you know what that movie is, and then you just don't. From the opening frame, where Ray Winstone is sitting out there in a tiny bathing suit and he's boiling in the sun, and he's got his towel and his lotion – you're like ''What the fuck is happening?'' Then Ben Kingsley comes in and he's this raging id. Yet there's this pop sensibility to the way it's shot and in the use of music. I love all of that. You're always trying to make a piece of entertainment. You don't want to make something that people don't want to watch. If you can bring them in in some way visually or with music and sound to ease them into thinking they're watching one movie and deliver them another movie, that's great. 

THE HUNTING PARTY definitely had that masterfully judged tone of seriousness and fun, which is a precarious balancing act. 
I wanted to make a movie in a post-war environment. THE THIRD MAN (1949) has always been a film that has affected me deeply. I was given this Esquire article that had been written by Scott Anderson and it connected with me. I wasn't an expert on what had happened in Bosnia. I ended up researching the topic massively and reading fifteen books and travelling to Bosnia a lot, speaking to a lot of the important people. I went to the village where Karadzic was hiding, I went to the little town where Richard Gere and Terrence Howard question the locals. I went everywhere they do in the movie, really, short of finding him, in the research of the movie. I decided at a certain point that the absurdity of it all, and the cynical black humor I found in the Balkans, were things I wanted in the movie. I wanted to make a kind of 1940s Warner Brothers B movie in which Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston go on an adventure. I wanted to make a deeply fun, very cynical, super smart movie that wasn't preachy or too serious. When I was researching the movie, I found out that if you hang out with a bunch of war reporters, they're a funny, cynical bunch of guys. That energy is in the movie and is deeply correct. That attitude is real. Getting compliments from journalists about that movie proves to me that even though the film is silly and out there, the core element – the way war reporters joke with each other and challenge each other – rings true. It makes a very difficult subject sort of fun. The idea that you can make a fun movie about war criminals is a tough one to take, especially in the world we live in. But for me that was the way in, and the world I wanted to explore. 

I think it's one of the most under-rated films of recent years. 
I could say that about literally every movie I have made! 'Under-rated' or 'hidden gem' are the terms used for most of the things I have made! It's frustrating, without a doubt. I feel lucky that I have been able to get to make the movies I hve made. I have a level of control making the movies, but I don't have any control over the marketing of them.

What inspired you to make I KNEW IT WAS YOU: REDISCOVERING JOHN CAZALE? Was he a big figure for you growing up? 
Without a doubt, John Cazale was my favorite actor as a kid. At first, I didn't even know who he really was, but I was always really connected to him. When my father took me to revival theatres to see THE GODFATHER (1972), THE GODFATHER PART II (1974), THE CONVERSATION (1974), DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) and THE DEER HUNTER (1978), I always felt drawn to this sad guy in all these films. When I was older and in college, I finally put it all together that it was the same guy in all five movies, and then he died. There was something amazing about that. I always loved him, and whenever I would talk to an actor, I would talk about him. I remember vividly when I was making MERCY, talking to Sam Rockwell about John Cazale at length, and seeing the passion he had for him. I realised it wasn't just me. One day after THE MATADOR I was sitting around procrastinating about what I wanted to do next and I thought ''What do we really know about John Cazale?'' At that point there was nothing on the Internet about him. He was really lost a little bit. I started thinking ''Somebody should do a documentary on him. '' After a little while I said to myself ''You know what. I could actually be that person. There's no reason I can't do it. '' It was an incredible experience making the film, being able to speak to Sidney Lumet, Coppola, Pacino, De Niro, Meryl Streep and Gene Hackman, all of whom were deeply affected by him and clearly loved him. It was also incredible to be able to tell his story and to see the film reignite interest in him, which is what I wanted it to do. The film has been shown in so many retrospectives and at so many film festivals. The people that have seen it seem to love it. 

I just wish it was three hours long! 
There isn't three hours of material on him out there. Here's the thing. He never did a filmed interview, and there is no behind the scenes footage of him working. The project started as a feature film but we realised there was no other footage. We had a staff of people out looking for stuff, but it just wasn't out there. We could have had people talking about him forever and forever, and we could have showed twenty minutes of clips of each of his movies, but I didn't want to do that. I'd rather people leave the movie wanting more rather than feeling like we had beat a dead horse. His life was cut short, and I think, in a way, the movie is cut short on purpose. 

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

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD SHEPARD (PART 1 OF 3)

For many film viewers, director Richard Shepard burst onto the scene with his hilarious, perceptive Pierce Brosnan thriller THE MATADOR (2005), but Richard had actually been making feature films for around a decade and a half before that film. He made his sole directing debut with the unique David Bowie/ Rosanna Arquette comedy drama THE LINGUINI INCIDENT (1991), and after its troubled production and critical and commercial failure, he regrouped and made a trilogy of effective, low-budget thrillers (1995's MERCY, 1999's OXYGEN, 2000's MEXICO CITY) that prepared him for his breakthrough with THE MATADOR. Richard is one of the industry's most under-rated talents. His films are always hugely enjoyable, skilfully mix genres and tones, take fascinating and unpredictable turns, and show us actors like Pierce Brosnan, Richard Gere (2007's THE HUNTING PARTY) and Jude Law (2013's DOM HEMINGWAY) like we have never seen them. He also directed the acclaimed documentary I KNEW IT WAS YOU: REDISCOVERING JOHN CAZALE (2009), and with shows like Girls is one of the most sought after and successful directors working in television. In the first part of a three-part interview I spoke with Richard about his early years; co-directing the romantic comedy COOL BLUE (1990), which gave Woody Harrelson his second film role; making THE LINGUINI INCIDENT and working with David Bowie; his time making MERCY, OXYGEN and MEXICO CITY; the genesis of and the experience of making THE MATADOR and working with Pierce Brosnan; and his approach to creating stories.     

What were some of the most important films for you growing up? 
The 1933 KING KONG was certainly a deeply influential movie. I was certainly intrigued by it. It used to play on TV a lot, so I saw it so many times. This was obviously the days before VHS or DVD or anything. My Dad was not in the movie business at all but he was a big fan of movies, and he loved that movie, so we would watch it together. There was a joy showing my stepson the movie a few years ago. He also really liked it, which was interesting because it is in black and white and the special effects have really dated. There is something magical about the story, and none of the remakes have managed to capture the energy of the first one.

Do you think any of the film's qualities found their way into your work? 
I guess I love adventure stories, and THE HUNTING PARTY was definitely something of an adventure story. I certainly understand why Peter Jackson wanted to remake KING KONG because it did seep into the consciousness of a lot of filmmakers and it captures a lot about what great storytelling is, which is the journey into the unknown.

I feel like I had a very good film education when I was growing up. I got to see a lot of great movies because I grew up in New York City, and there used to be a lot of revival theaters. I got to see a lot of great movies because my Dad would take me a lot and he had a particular taste. He took me to some really interesting stuff. CASABLANCA (1942) was another film that definitely affected me in the idea of these rich characters in sort of an exotic place. You can watch that movie today and it truly stands up. There's an edge to Bogart that is very modern. There's no doubt that I am constantly looking for that sense of adventure. In a way, when you go make a movie on a foreign location you get a little bit of that energy. Somehow, the hotel bar of where you're shooting suddenly feels like Rick's bar in its own magical way. There's something about it. 

When did you start to entertain the idea of becoming a filmmaker? 
I think it was when I realised I couldn't play third base at the New York Mets, which was around the ages of 8-11. My baseball dreams kind of died with the realisation of my ability. I got given a present of a Super 8 camera when I graduated from sixth grade, which was something I really wanted. I started making Super 8 movies. I didn't realise that you could actually make a living at it, but as I got older I realised that filmmaking was something that I was obsessed with. It started to feel like it was the thing that I had done the most and the thing that I most enjoyed. By the time I went to NYU Film School, I definitely knew I wanted to be making movies in some capacity. I was writing screenplays, and I was trying to get an agent. I was so aggressive in trying to have a career that I was ahead of my ability actually to do something interesting. I was lucky because so many people don't know what it is they want to do but I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. 

How did your first film, COOL BLUE, come about? 
I co-wrote and co-directed the film with my buddy Mark Mullin, and it was not my sole artistic expression. It was the days when you could get a few hundred thousand dollars from a video company to make a movie; the same era when Steven Soderbergh made SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989). That's a brilliant movie, and COOL BLUE was made by two 21-year old nincompoops who really didn't know what they were doing. I am glad I had the experience and I learned a lot but there was nothing artistic in it on any level. It was my next movie, THE LINGUINI INCIDENT, that I directed myself, where I felt I had made a movie I could call my own, for better or for worse. At least it had my fingerprints on it, even if it wasn't a great movie. It was certainly me at that moment, even though I co-wrote the script with Tamar Brott. 

How was the experience of making THE LINGUINI INCIDENT? 
I have had so many ups and downs in my career, but that was a deeply difficult production for many reasons. The producer and I did not get along. The movie opened on the weekend that the riots in Los Angeles happened. We famously had the lowest per-screen average ever because there was a curfew. There was not a lot of great things that came from that movie. I wrote an article for Filmmaker Magazine called 'Escape from Movie Jail' because that's how it felt at the time – that I was put into Movie Jail after the movie. 25 years later, I can look back on the film in a different way and find things in it that I am happy with, but at the time it was a tough thing to go through. It's one thing to make a movie that you're proud of but that no-one sees. That tends to be what I do! It's another thing to make a movie that you're not really proud of that nobody sees. It's tough. But it informed who I was. It led me into a road of being a different kind of writer. It took me a long time to find my voice as a writer. Even though I made a few small movies between THE LINGUINI INCIDENT and THE MATADOR, in many ways THE MATADOR was a re-introduction into the industry. Many thought it was my first movie, because they hadn't seen the others. It was the first movie I did that had a true voice of originality to it. It took me a long time to find that voice. Some people are blessed to have an original voice from the get-go, but I wasn't one of those people. 

What was it like working with David Bowie? 
He was always such a deep pleasure. I have been asked many times which movie I would remake and I generally answer with THE LINGUINI INCIDENT. I feel like I could make that movie really well right now. I wish I could have had the chance to work with David again, even on the same project. He was a deeply curious human being who was so incredibly sweet. Because of this, he was an incredible presence on set. He would never go to his trailer. He would always sit on the set, and everyone who worked on that movie had their time to sit and talk with him. David was a genuine human being. That was a real lesson. He was so famous that he had circled back to being a real person. Not really being part of the movie business, acting in movies allowed him to take some of the pressure off his shoulders and just deal with being an actor. He seemed very happy. I went to see music with him, I went to dinners with him and I have all these great memories, but in a weird way, they were wasted on a 25 year old. I wish my current self could have known him as well. I feel very lucky that I got to work with him, even though it was the weird experience of making that movie.

How close was his character in the film to who he is in real life? 
 think he decided he was going to be that character for the length of the movie. He lived a true artistic life. I wonder if I had been on the set of say, THE HUNGER (1983), if he would have been the same, charming guy offscreen. Probably, but I don't know. I think it suited him to be the guy he was while making our movie. And he was in a pretty good place in his life. While he was making the film he met Iman and started dating her. She has a little cameo in the movie. I ran into David about eight or nine years ago on the streets of New York. He was of course charming and lovely. I said to him ''Making that movie was a really difficult experience for me. '' And he said ''I look back on that film with only fondness because I met my wife on it. '' 

How do you look back on THE LINGUINI INCIDENT now? 
There are certain things in it that I am still happy with. My experience of doing a movie that was female-driven definitely helps me now when I direct on the TV series Girls. That, and being the oldest person on set, means I bring a different point of view to everything. I think the film was ahead of its time and behind its time simultaneously. There are things in the movie that are really relevant and fun and there are things that are just not. But there was something there, without a doubt. 

MERCY, OXYGEN and MEXICO CITY could be seen as a loose trilogy in that they share similar themes. They are also all similarly budgeted. Was this because of circumstance or were you interested in exploring similar themes during this period? 
I grew up in New York but I had moved to Los Angeles and had lived there for a number of years. After THE LINGUINI INCIDENT was a disaster, I kind of re-looked at my life and ended up moving back to New York City. I love thrillers and I got obsessed with films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), and I would watch them on a loop. Out of this, and my anger at my career and where it was, I started writing my own little thrillers. MERCY was Sam Rockwell's second movie. It was a movie we made for $50, 000. It was really nothing. It was the only way I could get a movie made. I was obsessed with the idea of trying to make a movie that was not going to be taken away from me, and that was going to be my own, whether I had any money or not. Making that movie really changed my life on many levels. It was an incredibly satisfying experience because even though we didn't have any money, we had freedom by the fact it was just us doing it. It saved me because I was finally able to show something I was proud of, whether it was great or not. I was proud of it at that minute.

It led me to get the money to make OXYGEN and MEXICO CITY because the money I got for the foreign video rights for MERCY enabled me to pay back the people who financed the movie. I was on a little bit of a roll. They're similar movies because thrillers were the kinds of films the people wanted to finance. They gave me half a million dollars to make OXYGEN, for example. They were great experiences because I really learned a lot. 

How did THE MATADOR come about? 
The three thrillers set me up to make THE MATADOR in a way because after a stretch of time of making those movies, which was like eight years, the money dried up and I found myself back to zero again and broke, and still not having made anything that had broken through into the mainstream. I would get jobs here and there but I wasn't really making a living because I wasn't making anything truly original.

I wrote THE MATADOR, thinking that, again, nobody would give me much money for it. But this time I wrote and wasn't trying to please anyone. I wasn't trying to write to a specific genre. I wrote it simply for me and as a fun thing that would be a different thing for me to do. In a way, that freedom of not trying to compromise and not trying to please anyone allowed me to write something truly original. Through a series of incredible events, we got Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear and a real amount of money to make the movie. This never would have happened I think if I was again just trying to fill a void or be calculated in any way. It took me almost fifteen years of my career to actually find a voice that was my own. It changed everything. 

How did you attract a star of the calibre of Pierce Brosnan? 
I had an agent at the time who believed in the script, but there was an opportunity to perhaps write the sequel to THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999). THE MATADOR was sent to Pierce's production company as a writing sample to try and get me that job. Pierce's producing partner, Beau St. Clair, read the script and thought that it might be a great vehicle for Pierce. It was a real stroke of luck because I think if we had just sent the script to Pierce at his agency or whatever, it would have never gotten to him. The timing was perfect because Pierce had just found out that he wasn't going to be Bond again and really wanted to get rid of that character in a way. I remember that Greg Kinnear was to say ''What, are you James Bond or something?'' to Pierce, and we changed it to ''What, are you a spy or something?'' A few people thought it would be funny to keep the Bond reference, but I wasn't one of them.

I feel that the movie business is a lot of luck met with talent. You have to have both, really. And that was definitely a moment when luck came into it. Pierce signed on, and we basically raised the money and we were ready to go. I was still really broke and in a pickle because nothing had come through. We had to wait six months while Pierce went off and made AFTER THE SUNSET (2004). He finished the movie and we were getting ready to go to Mexico and one afternoon, Pierce dropped out and let everyone know he didn't want to do it anymore. It was a very bad day for me because we were nine weeks from shooting and I was so broke that I don't think I could have paid the next month's rent. It was that kind of crazy situation. It was soul crushing. Eventually we were able to convince him to voice what he was nervous about, which was that this was a really different character for him. He was scared. To his credit, he came around. This, I think, happens to actors who are given a character who is different from what they normally do. I've seen it happen again and again, but at the same time they are drawn to the danger of the role. I think if you spoke with Pierce he would tell you it was one of the great experiences of his life getting to play that character. He genionely had fun, and I think that's one of the things you see in the movie. His relationship with Greg Kinnear in the film doesn't feel manufactured like it does in a lot of these buddy movies. 

The movie felt like a rebirth for Brosnan as an actor. 
It's interesting. When an actor feels like it's an opportunity, they'll do the movie for very little money, which is what Pierce did. The cost of the movie was his entire salary on a Bond movie. On THE HUNTING PARTY and DOM HEMINGWAY, the actors did the movies for very little because they saw an opportunity to do something different and challenging. In a way, that energy seeps into the whole production because it's not a film where everybody is just taking a paycheque. It's a film where people are trying to do something. The energy of making those movies was in a way similar to making MERCY, which was done for practically nothing, but it was the same drive, the same energy and the same feeling amongst the crew. 

We've never seen Pierce Brosnan, Richard Gere and Jude Law as they are in THE MATADOR, THE HUNTING PARTY and DOM HEMINGWAY, and they have probably never been better. 
I'd like to think so too. I like to take actors that you think you know and make you look at them in a different way. You can go a long way with a character in terms of darkness, edge and even unlikeability if you have a likeable actor playing the part. I fel like that's fun for an audience. You take that movie star charisma to allow you to like the guy who is deeply rude and anti-social to the point of being a killer. In a way, audiences somehow respond to that. 

I find it interesting in your films that the audience never feels like they are being forced to like the lead characters, and that we are allowed to get to know them like we would when we encounter new people in real life. 
If you can fall in love with a character who has no lovable qualities on the page, then you can really get an audience to connect in a deeper way. It's reflective of real life, where there are certain people who you like immediately, and there are others who you are not sure if you like. You may never end up liking them, but if you do, it's somehow a deeper connection because you had to work through some stuff. This is why sometimes the material is sometimes scary because actors want to be liked from the get-go. They're always nervous about whether people like and accept them. One reason why actors become actors is to become accepted. To play someone who is not immediately easy to connect with is risky, but the right actor can have the confidence in their abilities and the confidence in me as a director to get them to the right place. I remember with Jude Law on DOM HEMINGWAY we talked a lot and wondered ''How much further can we push this before we will never be able to get the audience back?'' It's great when you have a partner like I did on DOM HEMINGWAY, THE MATADOR and THE HUNTING PARTY. Those three films are of a family. The three lead characters are not dissimilar. All three films offer a role to an actor of a certain age transitioning from matinee idol to the next chapter in their career.

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