Mark Pellington's versatile, fascinating resume as a filmmaker includes the paranoid thriller ARLINGTON ROAD (1998) with Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins; the horror mystery THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) with Richard Gere; the innovative concert movie U2 3D (2007); the offbeat, thoughtful comedy HENRY POOLE IS HERE (2008) with Luke Wilson; the unforgettable, coruscating I MELT WITH YOU (2011) with Rob Lowe, Thomas Jane and Jeremy Piven; and his latest film, the comedy drama THE LAST WORD (2017), with Shirley Maclaine and Amanda Seyfried. Getting his start in MTV, Pellington is also one of the most exciting, innovative music video directors working, with U2's 'One' and Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy' amongst many memorable, game-changing highlights. He also directs short films and documentaries, and executively produces the TV mystery series Blindspot. The breadth of his work across different formats speaks to his talent, passion and great interest in the world around and inside him. In the third part of a three-part interview, I spoke to Pellington about the making of his new comedy drama THE LAST WORD, featuring Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Heche and Philip Baker Hall, and his next film NOSTALGIA, with Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, Ellen Burstyn and Bruce Dern in the cast. 

Parts one and two of the interview. 

How did THE LAST WORD come your way?
I met the writer, Stuart Fink, about two and a half years ago when we were doing a commercial together. He told me about this idea he had of a woman who was going to write her own obituary. I thought it sounded like a great idea. He wrote the screenplay and we developed it, and we got Shirley MacLaine attached, and then Amanda Seyfried.

What attracted you the most about the project?
After I MELT WITH YOU I wanted to do something a little less nihilistic, and a little lighter, something that would show a different side of my personality. It was also a great chance to work with Shirley Maclaine. It was a fun experience, and I got it out of my system.

Was the chance to tell a female-centered story also part of the attraction?
To be honest, not really. I just wanted to tell a good story. A couple of other passion projects I was working on weren't happening and this one started to ignite. You have to focus on the ones that are more likely to get made rather than the ones that are having problems.

Did the story speak to you about where you are right now in your life?
It spoke to me a little about mortality and getting older, but it's the least personal of my movies.

When you were making the film, were you consciously trying to avoid the pitfalls of comedy dramas?
I wasn't really aware of any pitfalls. I mean, reading some of the reviews, it makes me think that maybe I should have done some things differently. I really like the movie, and I think people love Shirley MacLaine's performance. She's in 90% of the movie, so I must have done something right. Some people have criticised the screenplay for being too simple and for the tone being erratic and inconsistent, but I'm pretty pleased with it.

What was the experience like of working with Shirley MacLaine?
She's amazing, a legend. She was challenging at the beginning. She had an old school way of working where you had to hit your marks. But sometimes I don't like marks in rehearsals. I taught her to be a little more spontaneous. You definitely have to be on your toes with her, but the more you work with her, the more she respects you as a filmmaker and you're on an equal footing.

What kind of energy did she bring to the set?
She was a pro. She knew what everybody was doing. If you think about it, she's been doing this for over sixty years, so imagine how great she was.

Did you have any chances to talk to her about some of her films?
THE APARTMENT (1960) is one of my favorite films, so towards the end of the movie when we had more time and we were more relaxed, I would ask her about Fred MacMurray and Jack Lemmon, about Billy Wilder, what it was like to shoot the film and specific scenes. She told me about her and Debra Winger hating each other on TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983), which is widely known. Her brain is very sharp and she has a vivid memory.

It has been interesting to see Amanda Seyfried's career develop and for her to grow as an actress. Did you enjoy working with her?
She was really terrific. She's a really great young woman and a good person. She's very good at playing these nervous types of characters who are unsure about their entry into becoming a woman. Interestingly, I hadn't seen in her many films before I worked with her. My daughter knew more of her work. I had seen her in Atom Egoyan's CHLOE (2009) and in TED 2 (2015) and others, but I hadn't seen MAMMA MIA! (2008) or LES MISERABLES (2012).

You also got to work with one of the great character actors, Philip Baker Hall. How was that experience?
He's another old pro, and a terrific guy. I mean, what do you tell that guy? ''Would you like to do it again?'' He has emphysema, so he needed oxygen before every take. That was difficult to watch. He came to the premiere the other week and it was great to see him. Anne Heche is a pro too, and great in the movie.

Did you feel THE LAST WORD revisited the territory of HENRY POOLE IS HERE at all?
I would definitely say THE LAST WORD would make a decent double feature with HENRY POOLE in the flawed yet well meaning comedy drama canon of Mark Pellington! I tried to be less sentimental on this movie than I was on HENRY POOLE because I wasn't as sad. I think I had more of a handle on the mixture of heart and humor on this film, although I like HENRY POOLE a lot, particularly Luke's performance. Comedy dramas are tough. I don't think they are my strong suit. I like watching them and I like making them but I think thrillers or straight dramas are easier to do. I'll never be Hal Ashby, but that's okay.

Working on THE LAST WORD and looking back at who you were on HENRY POOLE, did it make you realise how far you have moved on from your grief?
I'm a lot happier now. I'm all fixed! HENRY POOLE was four or five years after my wife died. I MELT WITH YOU was a dark turn that had to do with the death of my mother, and I had relapsed. I got sober after I MELT WITH YOU, and I could never make that movie again. I loved it, but that was where I was with my life, and THE LAST WORD was actually more like where I was a couple of years ago. It takes a while for a movie to get made and then come out. I had a great time making NOSTALGIA, and I just signed on to do a thriller called THE TRAP for Sony. It's going to be a big scary movie, and it's been too long since I have made one.

What can you reveal about NOSTALGIA?
It's an Altman-esque exploration of memorabilia and loss, and family and technology. It has a great ensemble cast - Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Catherine Keener and Bruce Dern are in it. I'm editing it now, and it's very personal to me. I'm very proud of it. It will be out at some point this year. It was written by this writer-director named Alex Ross Perry, who did movies like LISTEN UP PHILIP (2014) and QUEEN OF EARTH (2015). He's a real literary talent.

How was Ellen Burstyn to work with on the film?
She's one of the greatest actresses I have ever worked with. She had an eight-page monologue to deliver on the movie, and she just nailed it.

How about Bruce Dern?
Bruce was a trip to work with. He had a lot of energy and lots of fun anecdotes and stories to tell about Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson and Old Hollywood.

Having been so busy with these two films, did you get to see any films recently that impressed you?
I think LION would be my favorite, then ARRIVAL and MOONLIGHT. Then they all tend to blend together but I enjoyed HACKSAW RIDGE and LA LA LAND. CHRISTINE with Rebecca Hall was really good. That film really got to me and stuck with me for a long time. I have been working a lot and I haven't seen as many films as I would have liked.

Have you been impressed by any TV recently?
I did enjoy Big Little Lies with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

Would creating a serialised TV series like Boardwalk Empire be something that would interest you?
Absolutely. I'm very active in TV development, but TV shows are slow burn. They take forever to get going. I had a show at Fox that didn't get picked up for this pilot season. I am developing a show called Black Bag that is about super low-tech, underground surveillance, and is written by Alessandro Camon, who was nominated for an Oscar for THE MESSENGER (2009). It's one where I would definitely direct each episode.

Pellington's website and Vimeo site


Mark Pellington's versatile, fascinating resume as a filmmaker includes the paranoid thriller ARLINGTON ROAD (1998) with Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins; the horror mystery THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) with Richard Gere; the innovative concert movie U2 3D (2007); the offbeat, thoughtful comedy HENRY POOLE IS HERE (2008) with Luke Wilson; the unforgettable, coruscating I MELT WITH YOU (2011) with Rob Lowe, Thomas Jane and Jeremy Piven; and his latest film, the comedy drama THE LAST WORD (2017), with Shirley Maclaine and Amanda Seyfried. Getting his start in MTV, Pellington is also one of the most exciting, innovative music video directors working, with U2's 'One' and Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy' amongst many memorable, game-changing highlights. He also directs short films and documentaries, and executively produces the TV mystery series Blindspot. The breadth of his work across different formats speaks to his talent, passion and great interest in the world around and inside him. In the second part of a three-part interview, I spoke to Pellington about the making of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, U2 3D, HENRY POOLE IS HERE, and I MELT WITH YOU, and the themes and approaches of his work.

Part one of the interview.

How did you get involved with THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES? 
The same company that produced ARLINGTON ROAD, Lakeshore Entertainment, offered it to me as we were mixing the film, and I passed on it because I didn't want to be making another movie that soon. They came back about a year and a half later, and they had rewritten it and it had gotten kind of weird and become kind of a creature movie, so I got hold of all the different drafts and cut and pasted together a draft rewrite with two writer friends Laewis Klahr and Ernie Marrero. It was the draft I wanted to do. They showed that version to Richard Gere and he liked it. We had made everything more suggestive and less overt. More ambiguous.

The finished film is pretty much that draft. I'm really proud of that movie. I love it. I think it still holds up, and it has gathered a little cult around it. I like it the same way I like DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) or the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956).

How much of a believer in the supernatural are you? 
I believe in the power of the human mind – madness, subjective disturbances, mental illness, dementia. I believe in grounded reality. I grew up watching and loving ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976), THE CONVERSATION (1974), and Sidney Lumet movies. I never watched fantasy, and even now I never watch stuff like LORD OF THE RINGS or Game of Thrones or any of these comic book movies. I don't relate to them. I grew up in the age of Watergate and punk rock. Realism, realism, realism.

When you were putting together the script of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, were you trying to ground it as much as possible? 
Yes, I think so. Guillermo Del Toro picked me to do a remake of THE ORPHANAGE (2007) a few years ago and we tried to get it going. He loved THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. I would tell him ''The more it's in your brain, the better. '' We would have these discussions about the power of the mind. I've just never had an affinity for creatures or monsters.

What was it like collaborating with Richard Gere? 
Richard was great; a gentleman, a pro. The whole movie was him reacting, and he's a very good actor for genre, a terrific truth seeker and reactor. He was great at keeping it real and restrained.

With U2 3D, you were working with new advanced technology. Are you someone very comfortable with technology and someone who sees it as always a positive thing? 
I'm not a very tecchie person. The smaller the camera, the better. I was asked to be involved in the film by the band because they knew at the time that the co-director, Catherine Owens, had not had quite enough experience. I was a security blanket to aid her.

Filming a concert is very easy, frankly. It's not possible to shoot a bad angle at any one of U2's shows. I remember meetings where people would say ''You can't do this. You can't do that. You can't move the camera here. '' We talked to James Cameron and he said ''You should do anything you want with it. '' He was sort of wrong. Poor Catherine spent a year in post figuring out tech focus issues and the 3-D, and rendered a beautiful film. I'm proud to have been part of the team. This was 2005, which is so long ago in relation to 3-D and digital.

What do you find the most enjoyable about working with U2?
They're good, down-to-earth blokes, like any of these artists – Bruce Springsteen or The Foo Fighters. Interpreting their music is a gift. The great ones are very trusting and let you do your own thing.

Do you feel you have to fight a tendency to be bold and innovative when you are creatinfg, or is it story that you are always the most focussed on? 
It really depends what I am working on. I made this 57-minute music film called LONE (2014) for an artist named Chelsea Wolfe. The 'story' that I got out of it is like something out of a Jodorowsky or Lynch or Tarkovsky film. It's completely unconscious and very symbolic. My next goal is to make something that is like 'my version' of UNDER THE SKIN (2013). That was one of my favorite films of the last few years. It had enough of a plot to keep you going but wasn't over-talky. It worked on a subconscious level. Big screen. Cinema.

It's all about character. I do enjoy plot though, especially when I do TV. I love all these different mediums. If I want to go and play with the unconscious, I'll do a music video or a short film or a poem. If I really want to go and tell a story in a clearer narrative and a different way, I'll go and do a TV pilot. It's good. I feel like I can express myself personally as well as pay the bills. I feel like I've never worked a day in my life.

Would something like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) be something you'd be interested in doing?
Oh, yeah. The TV series I produce, and directed the first few episodes of, Blindspot, is pretty big. It's like THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) meets MEMENTO (2000). After I finished directing the pilot I thought ''I'd like to do a movie like this. '' It was probably the equivalent of a $50 to 70 million movie. I had fun.

You know, life kind of derailed me a little bit, but I have one final act. I have been climbing my way back up. I would crush a movie like FURY ROAD. To make that kind of movie you do need the access and the success though, to put yourself in the position to get those kind of opportunities.

I found HENRY POOLE IS HERE to be a different film for you, and very affecting. 
I was very sad, and grieving my wife's death, and newly sober, so I liked the positivity and the sweetness of the story. That's where I was at the time. I don't think I could make that movie now. I love the movie and I am very proud of Luke Wilson's performance. I don't blame anyone for how it did at the box office. Sometimes they land, sometimes they don't.

I MELT WITH YOU provided quite the contrast.
Yes. I had relapsed, and my mother had died. I was fucking angry and sad. The Orphanage wasn't going. The economy collapsed. Another movie collapsed. I had been making these videos on 5D, and I was like ''Fuck this. The system is out of control. I'm having to beg people to make movies. The only way I can get control is to get some money, put up the rest myself and say ''Let's go and make the movie. '' ''It's a movie I loved doing and am really proud of.

It must have been a cathartic experience making it. 
Fuck yes! Incredibly cathartic. To a degree that's all it was. My agent said afterwards ''Well, you needed to get that out of your system. '' I said ''Yup!'' I'm proud of its expressionism. I learned a lot. The great thing is that the movie will be there forever. When it came out, people just jumped all over it. There are people discovering it now who think it's cool. It's like one day it was suddenly TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) or something.

How does negative criticism generally affect you? 
When critics come after you with their knives, they really come after you. It's not fun, especially when you feel it's personal. It's tough as a filmmaker to read that stuff. When you make a movie that is unrelentingly dark and uncompromising, that's often what happens. Or non-cynical. You just have to accept it and move on, but it does make it harder getting another film going, which is what happened with I MELT WITH YOU.

How much of the film was you dealing with your middle age? 
Most of it. I think I was 47 when I started shooting it so I was definitely squinting at 50 and all that entails. I think though that it was more to do with my mother dying. My father had already passed. You really realise that you're next. Something happens when your second parent dies. You can't explain it. It profoundly changes you. Having a child myself and being a single father as well ... a lot was going on.

How much of the movie was improvised? 
It's all scripted. A couple of moments are improvised, especially in the party scenes, but it's mostly scripted. Everyone gave great performances.

How did the very distinctive use of color come about? 
My cinematographer on the film, Eric Schmidt, and I had been doing a lot of videos together at that point with the 5D camera. We had a great color grader on the film. It was all stuff we had been doing on my videos.

Do you see any themes yourself that run through your work? For example, you often seem attracted to characters who are in extreme situations and are more hyper aware of reality and their surroundings than other people. 
That's true. It's also ironic that I made a film about two widowers and I became one myself. I think I am interested in male protagonists who are lost and are going through a very dense, fucked up journey to try and come to terms with some kind of truth, which I can certainly relate to. But there are no rules really to what I am drawn to. When my life changed, I didn't just want to take any kind of movie, which is why I didn't make so many for a while. But then the business changed and suddenly the films I wanted to make, mid-level thrillers, got sucked away. There are 80% less movies made now by the studios than there were ten years ago. So if you haven't hit the A List or you're not a genre guy, then it's difficult. Plus of course they always want the 'new guy' who just had a hit. Everybody is one movie away from getting back in the game. I tend to hold firm to the projects I want to do, but I'm open to any new challenges. That said, I don't want to do anything I don't feel I will do a good job on. 

There's a project called Clang that I have been trying to make since before 'Jeremy'. It's ambitious and deeply personal, and is a film I feel like I have to make. And I will. 

Part three of the interview.  

Pellington's LONE short film can be viewed here.  Pellington's other short films, videos and TV pilots can be viewed here.


Mark Pellington's versatile, fascinating resume as a filmmaker includes the paranoid thriller ARLINGTON ROAD (1998) with Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins; the horror mystery THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) with Richard Gere; the innovative concert movie U2 3D (2007); the offbeat, thoughtful comedy HENRY POOLE IS HERE (2008) with Luke Wilson; the unforgettable, coruscating I MELT WITH YOU (2011) with Rob Lowe, Thomas Jane and Jeremy Piven; and his latest film, the comedy drama THE LAST WORD (2017), with Shirley Maclaine and Amanda Seyfried. Getting his start in MTV, Pellington is also one of the most exciting, innovative music video directors working, with U2's 'One' and Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy' amongst many memorable, game-changing highlights. He also directs short films and documentaries, and executively produces the TV mystery series Blindspot. The breadth of his work across different formats speaks to his talent, passion and great interest in the world around and inside him. In the first part of a three-part interview, I spoke to Pellington about the early years and how he became a filmmaker, the genesis of his 'One' video for U2, and his experiences making his debut GOING ALL THE WAY (1997), and ARLINGTON ROAD.

Growing up, what were some of your most memorable experiences watching movies? 
I can't say that I'm a filmmaker that was weaned on movies and who grew up saying ''I want to be a filmmaker.'' I think I fell into it. But I do remember seeing, at an age earlier than I should have, STRAW DOGS (1971) and NETWORK (1976). Those were the two biggest movies that shook me up. They weren't like the typical movies I would see with my friends at the time. JAWS (1975) and THE EXORCIST (1971) also had a profound impact on me. The first film I saw that made me think ''Wow, this is a world that I might be interested in creating'' was BLUE VELVET (1986). It powerfully transported me to a place. I was 24, living in New York and was two years into working for MTV, immersing myself into the world of visuals in a serious way. But even then I had no dreams of being a 'filmmaker'. I was interested in music and collage and editing. 

How did you actually get involved with MTV? 
I did an internship there after my third year of college in 1983. MTV was about a year and a half old. I lived in New York for the summer, and I was really gobsmacked by the city and the music and the art. My whole world was just turned upside down. I was lucky enough to get a job with MTV after I graduated from college as a production assistant on on-air promotion. 

Were you already a fan of MTV before you became an intern? 
Yes, I was. I am from Baltimore, Maryland. My father played pro-football, but I was kind of like a preppy jock, really into punk rock and New Wave music, which went against what was expected of me. I just loved that music, starting in 1976, when I was about 14. It really spoke to me, and that fuel really set me apart from the other kids. Music just guided me. I wanted to write about it or be an AR person for a record company. That was my interest. 

Did you quickly find you had a talent for music videos and collage? 
In my first year at MTV I was going to these edit rooms and audio suites. I ended up being an assistant, lugging tapes to studios where people were putting together stuff. MTV taught you to mix the audio and the voice and all the music and cut picture to it, so that foundation in 'audio first' was how I was trained. I made a promo when I hadn't even been there a year. I watched every video that came in, and at that time it was like twenty videos a week. You would look at them and see these really great shots and powerful images. They weren't the really mainstream videos that MTV was playing. I would cut them all together as one piece and put some text over it and make my own thing. It was a collage, but at the time I didn't even know what a collage was. I didn't know anything about Dadaism or John Hartsfield or anything artistically. But pretty quickly after living in New York I got turned on to William Burroughs and within a year I had immersed myself in cut-up theory. I found that the idea of chopping things up felt good to me and I just kept on doing it. I did my first video in 1986, and at that time MTV would let you direct videos at the weekends. I had success directing videos with people like De La Soul and others, and before I knew it, I had a reel. 

One of your first big successes was your video for Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy'. 
I left MTV in 1990 and I had done a show for MTV and Channel 4 in London called Buzz, which was a 30 minute collage show. I did a bunch of stuff for U2 because they were fans of Buzz. And then 'Jeremy' was a big success. It was the first video I ever did that had any degree of narrative. 

After 'Jeremy', did you start to think that directing films would now be an option? 
People started calling after 'Jeremy', and I did have a screenplay that I was writing that I wanted to make. I had also already done a documentary about my father and his struggle with Alzheimer's, and I spent two years travelling the country making these beautiful short films about poets for a TV project. In 1995 I was 31-32, I had gotten married and I decided that making a movie was going to be my next challenge. 

Would you consider yourself a restless person given the different genres and formats you have worked in and continue to do so? 
I don't think it's restlessness. I just love doing different things. If I just made movies, I'd be in trouble because they are harder and harder to get made, unless I just make any script that they send me. I think my career has just evolved from one thing to another. I will always do videos because I love them, and they are very subconscious and they are free. But after doing a bunch of them and working on the abstract you want to work with actors and play with story in a different way. So my career and my body of work and my art are all intertwined. I've had successes and I have had missteps. I've made movies that I loved that were annihilated in the press. In my personal life, my wife passing away changed my art and my being and what I was interested in. The next thing you know, I'm in my 50s. I hope when I'm in my 70s I can look back and see that I had the chance to make a lot of the things I have in my brain and on my computer. 

Your video for U2's 'One' is particularly moving. How did that come about? 
I did a bunch of stuff for them for Zoo TV. I did three songs worth of material for the video screens. About a month after I had finished they sent me the song 'One' from Dublin and said they needed something for a video. I made images of flowers, of text and of buffaloes looping. They asked me to make it into one single-screen video. We tried intercutting with footage of the band but that didn't work. The version with the buffaloes was just one of three versions we made. I got the inspiration from a still they sent me of buffaloes falling over a cliff, and Bono saying it was about love. We found stock footage of buffaloes, we blurred the footage and slowed it down, and it took on a life of its own with the song and the edit. 

Was moving to feature films an easy transition for you? 
It was very difficult actually. I wish I had done a short with just a master/ close-up/ close-up, using the basics of film grammar. My first movie, GOING ALL THE WAY, was a coming of age comedy and I really learned a lot on that. Film is a different beast, a different pace. If I knew then what I knew now! But everybody's got to make their first film and go through those growing pains. 

What did you learn the most from making the film? 
I learned not to shoot 132 page scripts. I have a three and a half hour assembly of the film. I'd love to recut it and make a new version of it. I learned to listen to my AD and people that had made movies before. I was the most stubborn first-time filmmaker on that movie. I learned a million things. But I have to say it was fun making it. 

Did you find you had a natural affinity with actors after doing so many videos? 
I had also worked with poets and I had done commercials, and I did not feel uncomfortable talking with actors. My casting director was a wonderful woman named Ellen Chenoweth, who brought in tons and tons of young actors. It was a Who's Who of people who have gone on to great things. They would come in and afer they had read, I would pick their brains and learn from them. Ron Eldard, who had just done Barry Levinson's SLEEPERS (1996), came in, and I was trying to describe something to him. But I had never studied acting or theater and I was struggling with the terms. I ended up playing him a piece of music. He said ''You know, a director can use any tool at their disposal. There's not just one way to direct. '' To this day, I remember that as a good piece of advice because it loosened me up to just be myself. I knew the script, I knew the story, and I knew the characters, so I could just be myself. My storytelling skills have improved over the years, and it's only over the last few years that I feel like I've mastered that side of it. Something clicked in. 

I see ARLINGTON ROAD as one of the most underrated films ever. 
It was a great script and a great movie. I was very lucky to have fallen into that. I was in the right place at the right time. I worked really hard on it. It was a big step going from a $3 million movie to a $22 million movie with movie stars. I recently saw it again for the first time in many years. It's very straight, and static and controlled; probably more so than I would do now, but that was then. 

What was your initial reaction to the script? 
I was horrified by the opening. I think the way we used the sound and the score in the film added even more to the horror of it. The ending was just a fucking punch to the stomach. My heart was beating and I thought it was going to head one way and then the rug just got pulled out from under me. 

Did you encounter any resistance from the studio to change the opening and the ending? 
A European company, Polygram, financed it, and they were cool with the way it was written. But we did end up having to shoot two alternative endings. In one of them, Jeff Bridges gets pulled away, and his partner, the black FBI agent, opens the trunk and Jeff was the culprit. I thought it was a complete joke and I only shot one take of it, with a grip stand and a ladder in the shot. The producer said ''Just shoot it, so we can say we did it contractually. '' The scripted ending that Ehren Kruger wrote was that Jeff's kid ends up living with Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack. We tested it and it was perfect, but it tested really badly with women who said ''You killed the hero, and the villains take away his kid. Are you kidding?'' So we went with the other ending, where at least the kid goes to live with some relatives. 

How did you come to cast Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins? 
We offered Tim Robbins either role, and he chose the villain because it was a shorter amount of time and he had never played a villain before and thought it might be fun. We all put our heads together and came up with Jeff for the lead role. He was very 'cool' at the time as opposed to 'hot', but we all loved him and had huge respect for him. He was amazing in the film, and is a great guy that I am still in touch with. I learned a great deal from him. 

What were some films that you looked at when preparing the film? 
The only movie we watched and studied was ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), which we did over and over again. I've learned it's better to study one or two movies really well than to try and study twenty movies. On some of my TV work I don't like to look at anything else at all, and just go with my gut.

Part two of the interview. 

Pellington's website. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


Sean Ellis is the British director behind CASHBACK (2006), which he expanded from his Oscar-nominated 2004 short film with the same title; THE BROKEN (2008), a haunting, compelling horror mystery in the vein of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956/ 1978); METRO MANILA (2013), a crime thriller/ drama set in The Philippines and filmed in the native Tagalog language; and his latest film, ANTHROPOID (2016), based on the true story of the assassination of Hitler's third in command, Reinhard Heydrich, during WW2. In the final part of a two-part interview, I spoke with Ellis about filming in widescreen, the deep experience of making METRO MANILA, becoming his own cinematographer, and the making of CASHBACK, THE BROKEN and ANTHROPOID. 

Part one of the interview. 

Your films are very epic and you seem very comfortable filling the widescreen frame. Is filming in the wider frame something you enjoy? 
Yes, I have always enjoyed filming in widescreen when I have had the opportunity. METRO MANILA wasn't because it came down to a budget issue. It would have been great to have filmed it anamorphically but on the other hand I always felt METRO was more of a documentary film, so the 1:85 ratio was appropriate. I remember when we were grading it and they put a 2:40 mask on it I loved how it looked. It made the film even more cinematic but we decided to stick to 1:85 because much of the framing was very tight and we also decided on having the subtitles on the picture instead of having it at 2:40 ratio and putting the subtitles in the rebate black. 

How did the experience of making METRO MANILA change you? 
It took me out of my comfort zone as a filmmaker and made me look at things differently. There are directors who just make very good commercials and they yearn for the longer format and say ''I'd love to make a film. '' And I say ''Well, why don't you?'' They say ''It's hard getting finance. '' It's all difficult. Just because I've made films before doesn't mean it's any easier for me – in fact it can make it even harder, especially if your last effort 'didn't perform' with critics and audiences. But at the end of the day you either get in the ring or you don't. With METRO MANILA it was just a question of me and my wife taking seven pelican cases of camera gear, a script and a fistful of cash off to The Phillipines and figuring out how to make a film. It meant that as a filmmaker I needed to know everybody's department because everyone was doing at least three jobs. I needed to know how to record sound and slate it properly so that I wasn't going to lose some takes because I couldn't find them during editing. I was doing the focus and the operating and the lighting. My wife was line producing the film, clapperboarding and continuity, as well as changing the batteries in sound recorders! We were doing everything. The cast and the crew got in two vans and we would drive around, stop at a location we liked and film a scene. It was pure guerrilla filmmaking! 

At what point did you decide to film it in the Tagalog language? 
It was very early on. I got the original idea in The Phillipines. I thought I could perhaps transpose it somewhere else but I felt it would not be faithful to the source of my inspiration. The idea was to make a small film in the native language. I have a slight regret that I did ANTHROPOID in English. The reason we did it that way was because I felt the story needed to be heard by the rest of the world, and also to get the budget we needed meant we had to shoot it in English. If we had filmed it in Czech it probably wouldn't have travelled very well and would only have been known in the Czech Republic. I would love to do more films in different languages because it is a lovely way of working and a freeing experience in some respects. 

Why did you make the switch to become your own cinematographer on METRO MANILA and now ANTHROPOID? 
On METRO it was because we couldn't afford a cinematographer. We made the film for £45, 000. I enjoyed being the DP. It got me back to my background in photography. We shot on the Canon 5D so it was easy for me to use and I had already spent nearly a year shooting commercials with it so I knew how to get the film look I was after from it. I loved operating the camera and being so near to the actors. For ANTHROPOID I spoke to Robbie Ryan about being the cinematographer but we lost him when he went off to do AMERICAN HONEY (2016). I thought if I didn't DP ANTHROPOID I might never do it again, so I decided to do it. And again, I really enjoyed it, and I think Jamie, Cillian and the actors really appreciated me being so present. It was a new experience for them being able to speak to the director from the lens. As long as I'm able to do all that it demands I think I'll carry on being the DP. 

On THE BROKEN, how much was INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS on your mind when you made THE BROKEN? 
Quite a lot. The Kaufman remake influenced me a bit and is one of my favorite films. THE BROKEN is a 'broken' film in a weird way and incomplete. It was sort of taken away from me in the editing room and it was never realised in a way that ever satisfied me. I learned a lot about filmmaking from the process of making it because you learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes. The trouble with your successes is that you don't really know where you went right whereas it's always very easy to pinpoint where things have gone wrong, and people are generally more likely to tell you. THE BROKEN was not a pleasant experience or a film I look back on fondly, but funnily enough I was in a bar once and a round of drinks got sent over to me and they were from a guy who said ''THE BROKEN is my favorite film. '' That has never happened to me on any other film! The film did connect with some people on a level I can't explain, despite some of the venomous critiques it got. It makes you feel like there's a reason why you're doing what you do when you get an amazing response like that. You've just got to keep going really. 

I felt it was a film that really got under one's skin, especially the emotionally devastating twist ending. 
I think the loss of the self is sort of a metaphor for the loss of our innocence and the question of where it all went wrong. I think there's still more to be said about this theme, and one day I'll get to say it in another film. 

Is it true Nicolas Roeg, one of your heroes, was going to film a cameo? 
Yes that was an idea at one point but it didn't happen unfortunately. My connection with him was through his son Luc, who I'm friendly with. 

Considering the advances you've made over your four films, are you able to look back at CASHBACK and see the good things in it? 
There's some naivety in the film that is kind of sweet but at the same time it is not a film I would make now. I'm still figuring out what I'm trying to say as a filmmaker and I think CASHBACK says more about me as a photographer than as a filmmaker, and with the break-up I was going through at the time it was very easy to write. 

I loved the way you managed to balance the different tones. It very easily could not have worked. 
It probably came from the naivety that I never ever thought it wouldn't work. I think most filmmakers step onto the set thinking they are going to make a masterpiece and then halfway through the shoot just hope they are going to get a few good scenes. By the time they are nearing the end they just hope they are going to be able to finish it. The craft of filmmaking is something that you can break down but even so, there is always something that is an unknown factor. Even the greatest filmmakers make bad films from time to time. If there was a secret to filmmaking, they would make great films all the time. 

You wrote the script for the expanded feature film version and started filming it in a space of seven weeks. Did this make you feel that anything was possible in the world of film? 
It made me feel very lucky. I've always subscribed to the idea that fortune favors the bold. That could be construed as being cocky, but if that attitude gets you to the point where you are doing what you said you'd do, then that's a good thing. There are so many people that say they are going to do things but they never do them. I believe things want to be created and you just have to harness them in the right way. Then the angels of creativity will help you to conspire to create something.

We set out to make the feature version and see if it was possible to get the money together and the cast back. On paper we shouldn't have been able to pull it off but we did it. The financing was so difficult, but actually the financing of ANTHROPOID was even crazier. We had Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy's dates set but we still hadn't managed to secure all our finance. We had managed to secure 2 or 3 million from the Czech Republic but we were still looking for 6 or 7 million. The BFI turned us down, which was surprising considering METRO MANILA had done so well at the BIFAs. We were fast approaching the last day in order to mount the film – that day came and went and I realised that the film had fallen apart. Then I get a call from Christina Bazdekis and Peter Trinh, my agents at ICM, and they tell me they have just found a company called LD Entertainment, who have read the script and love METRO MANILA, and could I Skype them ASAP. I was then on a two hour Skype call with Mickey Liddell and Pete Shillaim, which ended with them saying they were going to greenlight the project over the weekend and that I should fly to Prague with my team on Monday to start prep. Talk about the eleventh hour! If it wasn't for them ANTHROPOID wouldn't have been made. 

When you are putting your screenplays together do you usually start at a particular point in the story and work backwards or forwards, or do you start with a general idea? 
It's usually just an idea that doesn't go away. I ponder on it until I am able to pitch it to somebody the length of a joke. I always pause before I give away the ending and if they ask ''And then what?'' I know they are interested. If they only say ''Oh, that's interesting'' then I know they are not interested. If the 'punchline' makes them say ''He does what?'' or they give a big reaction, then I know I'm onto something and I'm able to start expanding the pitch into sequences and a full script. 

Do you enjoy collaborating with other writers? 
I do, yes. I don't have the most amazing confidence as a writer, which probably comes from my dyslexia. If you read my writing you'd be shocked at the grammar and spelling. I enjoy the comfort zone of being able to bounce ideas off another writer and play ball with ideas. It can be very inspiring. 

What can you say about your next project? 
I'm adapting someone else's work, which is an interesting experience for me because I usually create my own material. 

What was the last great film you saw? 
I think the film for me last year was ROGUE ONE. It really took me on a journey and they did a great job of bringing back that sense of excitement that the original STAR WARS films had. I can't remember the last time I sat there at the end of a film thinking ''Wow!'' 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.