Leo Leigh (Cinematographer & Filmmaker) Interview

His documentaries are thoughtful vignettes, a narrative of colour portraits that get to heart of telling a story.

 

Over a cup of tea I spoke to cinematographer and filmmaker Leo Leigh about video nasties, photography, and vivid dreams of burning hotels (his) and flying on a bike with Rick Wakeman (mine).

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?

Leo: I’m making a film about an 81-year-old ping-pong veteran called Marty Reisman, who was an American Champion and British Champion, but he was never a world champion. He lives in New York and still hustles for money. He’s challenging a 17-year old, it’s the life and times but where he’s at now. He’s got an amazing collection of old suits he had made in Saville Row.  He used to have money …Well, he used to have a lot more money than he does now. He’s an interesting character.

Jennifer: I can imagine.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE FILM ‘LOONY IN THE WOODS’

Leo: We made it in about 2006 and I co-wrote it with a friend of mine Leo Bill, who’s also in it.  I directed and Dean Puckett the documentary filmmaker; he produced it, it’s an homage to all the video nasty films that were released in the 70s and 80s.  I’ve got quite a large collection of old VHS horror films and because I’ve spent so much time watching them on VHS, that was the quality I wanted no matter how bad it was. I wanted the film with that look, so we shot the film and then downgraded it three or four times onto VHS.

Jennifer: A bit like Harmony Korine’s ‘Trash Humpers’

Leo:  Yeah but before that

Jennifer:  Yeah, you were there

Leo: I’ll have you know.  Thank you very much and goodnight (laughs)

Jennifer: He stole it

Leo: Well making a film with that look has probably been done before and will be done again.  

It’s kind of like a comedy horror and we are planning on releasing it online.

Jennifer: I saw some clips. Have you seen Sleepaway Camp?

Leo: No

Jennifer:  That’s a 1980s one.  Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela Springsteen is the serial killer in the second one.  You mentioned that you had a large collection of Video Nasties it reminds me of the Comedian and Filmmaker Richard Sandling, who won an award for a stand-up routine based on his VHS collection.

http://www.richardsandling.com/video-sleeves-01.html

Leo:  Yeah, they’re great you can actually get a book called Video Nasties  which has all the original covers scanned in, but the artwork, the tone of the film,music and that VHS look, all add to the kind of weirdness of the experience of watching it.  The hiss of the VHS with used bits of how crappy it can look is part of the film, and it’s not just whacked onto VHS and then; however, it came out, we’ve actually picked specific moments that would be more downgraded than others in order for it to serve a purpose.

Jennifer: The colour is very saturated with blocks of colour.

Leo: We shot it then edited some of it, and converted it into NTSC and boosted the colours on a VT operating deck which a friend of mine was working.  Some bits of the film are more downgraded than others depending on how it looked.  It wasn’t just on a computer.

Jennifer: I like the way a lot of thought has gone into it

Leo:  It’s not a case of just whacking it together.

Jennifer: Do you think you’ll make more feature films?

Leo: I have done a few feature-length documentaries but in terms of fiction and working with actors that’s all I want to do really..

Jennifer: It’s not all though is it

Leo: No, but I like making documentaries, but you fall into a documentary easier because it’s there it exists and it’s out there it’s more accessible.

Jennifer: Is it because they’re more marketable?

Leo: It’s not that it’s more marketable. I couldn’t really care about that…

Jennifer: Probably, the wrong word to use

Leo:  It’s more to do with the fact that it exists out there and all you have to do is go with the camera to the place, and you can do it on a low budget with a small crew.

Jennifer: Can you do it on the hoof without any permits?

Leo: I don’t think i’ve ever really got a permit for anything I have ever done only within reason unless you film someone’s house you get a release.  In America, it’s harder to film.

WHAT RESPONSE DO YOU GET WITH YOUR FILMS?

Leo: Well Swansea Love Story is probably the most interesting because of the subject matter it being about Heroin use in Swansea.  When the film was released,and if you go onto Youtube, for example, and look at the comments it’s people that are very against the film and people that are for the film.  In Swansea, itself there was a drug bust by the police which was a result of us making the film, and a lot of blame was put on us because of that.

Jennifer:  How do you feel about that?

Leo: Well, it’s bollocks because it took us to go and show that was the problem in Swansea.  The idea that the police were oblivious to any drug-taking place is ridiculous. The only reason I feel that they did it was because we had shone some light on it, and they felt embarrassed and had to do something.  In America when it went online there, there were some interesting comments some people didn’t quite understand why we didn’t help the people in the film.Why did we make the film, and didn’t just help them?  The answer to that is I personally feel that the film is helping because it gives an insight into what drug-taking is like and therefore, educates people.

Jennifer: Without preaching.

Leo: Yeah, when I made the film with Andy Capper (VBS TV) we just filmed what happened, and we didn’t want to preach.

Jennifer: You’re like a silent observer in a way

Leo: There are filmmakers that would’ve observed more, but we did kind of get involved with them and their lives.  I’m not going to judge anybody for taking drugs.  A lot of people will look down on somebody that takes heroin but won’t know the circumstances that they were faced with when they first took heroin.  If you’re living in a town with unemployment and you’ve got nothing to do and you’re a young kid and somebody just says: “Have you tried this?”, and as a bit of escapism you’re going to do it.

   WITH CORNELIUS AND AMY (SWANSEA LOVE STORY) DO YOU THINK YOU’LL REVISIT THAT STORY OR HAS IT BEEN TOLD?

I think of that documentary ‘Streetwise’ and the relationship that developed between Tiny and the photographer Mary Ellen Mark.

Leo: You can always revisit stuff like that because with people like Amy And Cornelius, their lives are always changing quite drastically.  I’m never going to say no, but I do feel that story has been told that’s not to say we would never do it. A lot of people ask me that question.

Jennifer: Because they’re interesting characters, but it’s heartbreaking, especially when you hear Amy saying certain things that come out as she becomes more drunk.

Leo: It was hard to stomach at the time as you can imagine.  It’s not easy to hear that.

HOW MANY HOURS OF FOOTAGE DO YOU USUALLY SHOT FOR A TEN-MINUTE DOCUMENTARY?

Leo: It varies.  I made a short film that’s about ten to fifteen minutes called ‘The Sonic Manipulator” With him, I shot twenty hours maybe more.   

Jennifer: Where do you begin?  Where do you start?

Leo: With Claude, I’d go visit him and he’s a man with loads of ideas so when you film somebody like that it never ends and he’s constantly got something to say.  He’s got ideas about music, about his career and all these inventions, and if you feel like you’ve got to put it down into fifteen minutes and characters like that always repeat themselves so you end up just using a variation of other bits.  I shot a bit of film about the Pope when he came to London, and that was five hours of footage and that’s like a ten-minute film.  If you go to an event it’s obviously going to be less footage because it’s only a day but if you’re spending a lot of time with somebody it’s not actually about the amount it’s just about the variation of  things that they’re up to in order to tell the story so the amount is kind of irrelevant in a way.

HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR FILMS?

Leo: Truthful. Honest.  I’ll always feel there’s a sense of humour in my films. Take Swansea, for example, if you tell somebody about that film, they’ll assume there’s no humour in it, and I imagine there are  filmmakers that would’ve filmed it, and got footage of funny stuff, but wouldn’t put it in because they felt it would be disrespectful but, that to me is ridiculous.

Jennifer: That’s silly because that’s life isn’t it.

Leo: There’s always comical moments in the most tragic scenarios.  Yeah, so truthful is my short answer.

DO YOU COMPOSE MUSIC?

Leo: Yeah, I make music with some friends of mine.  We did some music for some short films, and I’ve made music of my own for a few films in the series that we shot in Tokyo one about the homeless community, and one about robotics. I wouldn’t describe myself as a composer.

Jennifer: What sort of music is it?

Leo: Banging Techno.

Jennifer: Oh..

Leo: No, not really. I wish I could make banging techno but I’m too scared of it.  How would I describe it?  Each track would serve the film really so I couldn’t put a name to it.

Jennifer: Is it guitars?

Leo: Some of it’s samples.  I’ve used a ukulele, an Irish drum.

Jennifer: Are you quite an expert on the ukulele then?

Leo: No, not really but they’re very simple tunes they’re not complicated in any way, they drive the film along.  It doesn’t get in the way of what you’re looking at.

TALKING ABOUT MUSIC.  WHAT WAS IT LIKE SHOOTING ‘SOFT FOCUS’, THE MUSIC TALK SHOW WITH IAN SVENONIUS FROM ‘NATION OF ULYSSES’?

Leo: Well that was the first time I worked for VBS TV and it was great, really fun.  I met Andy Capper there, and I met a few others that worked there.  We shot Mark E Smith from The Fall which I watch regularly because it is literally one of the funniest interviews ever.  When we got there, we were filming in this hotel in Manchester, we set up four cameras, and we lit this little area, and he turns up, he wasn’t really pissed, but he obviously had a couple, and as soon as he got there, he ordered a few Stellas and you can see him drinking them, and he was just totally on point and the way he was talking.

Jennifer: He’s very cerebral.

Leo: He’s a funny guy and he starts laying into Jack Black and starts taking the piss out of the School of Rock (mimics Mark E Smith) “that fat fooking cunt.  Jack Fooking Black” and we were all just behind the camera pissing ourselves laughing.

Jennifer: Is Ian Svenonius quite deadpan?

Leo: What’s great about Ian is he gets slightly fazed by it, but he’s funny he’s not like a rabbit in the headlights he kind of battles through it.  The other really good one you should watch is him and Billy Childish.

Jennifer: That should be interesting.

Leo: They end up having this amazing conversation about the War.  I’m a massive fan of Billy Childish and it was basically just holding a shot and sitting there listening to them.  There were also people like Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream.  It was great to listen and be part of filming some of these legends.

Jennifer: When you film something like that, how do you go about it?

Leo: We chat about the angles and how we want it to look and you kind of get into a rhythm with anything. The first day you’re working it out.  Any first day of any shoot is always slightly dodgy, and there’s a lot of times where somebody will go back and reshoot the first day.  When you get into that rhythm by the third or fourth day and we were shooting this for a few weeks you end up just getting into auto mode; and you know the angles and the lighting and each thing is different, but once you find your feet, and you get into what you’re trying to achieve it just works itself out.

TALKING ABOUT LIGHTING.  IN A PAST INTERVEW, YOU SAID: “YOU LEARNT MORE ABOUT LIGHTING IN HALF AN HOUR WATCHING THE CINEMATOGRAPHER DICK POPE SHOOT A SCENE THAN IN THREE YEARS OF FILM SCHOOL.  

WHAT IMPRESSION DID THAT LEAVE ON YOU?

Leo: When he lights it’s like state of the art, really sophisticated stuff, but he manages to make it look really natural and real.  You get a lot of cinematographers that do very extreme lighting and they’re the ones that stand out

Jennifer: Like Roger Deakins.

Leo: Yeah people like him, but obviously, he’s regarded as one of the greats, but Dick has this ability, especially when you’re referring to the work he does with my Dad it’s very realistic, but at the same time has a mood to it.  I’ve seen him light a few things the particular thing you were talking about was Vera Drake. Just watching him tweak and light and over a few hours watching him build, shoot a scene and use his technique which obviously, he has built up over the years.  It’s almost like the penny drops when you see somebody that good, you think oh, ok that makes sense, and then you take that, and you adapt it and use that.  He’ll constantly come over and say: “check this out” and he’ll actually want to teach you whilst you’re there, and shows you how stuff works “look at this camera, look at this lens, look at this, look how this works”. It’s the best education.

Jennifer: And he’s very enthusiastic.

Leo: He’s like the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, he’s done a lot of documentary stuff and that’s how he started, and he did a lot of undercover stuff.  If you look at his CV, you can see that he’s a true master at what he does.

WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF FILM SCHOOL?

Leo:  It depends on the film school.  The one I went to I thought it was pretty shit to be honest I’m not going to get into why I thought it was because it’s boring, but what’s good about education is apart from anything when you go  somewhere like that you meet like-minded people, and you talk about film. You stick a load of young guys and girls in a room that are into film it’s going to be educational whether or not they actually pick up a camera or not. I had a good time there, a few of us formed a group called collective vision.  If you were on a project, you could always call somebody in to do a bit of editing, a bit of sound, and you ended up just talking about film and watching film and that’s what it’s all about. We had some pretty funny raves when we were there. (laughing) That was good.

I LOVE THE RULE BRITANNIA SERIES ON VBS TV.  IT DOCUMENTS PARTS OF THE BRITISH ISLES THAT ARE NEVER SEEN OTHER THAN IN A PATRONISING WAY.  WHY DO YOU THINK IT HAS TAKEN SO LONG TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?

Leo: Well, there are films that have been made that I would say, are up there if not far better than other films, we’ve made.

Jennifer: That’s years ago with filmmakers like Humphrey Jennings

Leo:  Have you seen ‘Think of England’ by Martin Parr?

Jennifer: I’m in two minds about Martin Parr.

Leo: (looks at me questioningly)  What’s that then?

Jennifer: Sometimes I look at his photos and feel that he looks down his nose or is quite judgmental about his subjects. That’s just my opinion.

Leo: Fair enough.  Well, you’ll probably hate this then.

Jennifer: Oh I’ll watch it

Leo: (laughing)  Why do you hate his guts so much? Look you’re going on record saying you hate his guts.

Jennifer: No…just..

Leo: This interview is over.  Nah, only joking.

Jennifer:  No it’s just with some photographers when you see some of their shots there’s a certain image or feeling that comes across

Leo: Fair enough that’s interesting but I don’t know the answer to that question.

Jennifer: Well, I read that Spike Jonze said it would be a good idea if the stories in Vice magazine were made into films.

Leo: Yeah that’s one of the reasons why VBS exists. He’s very much involved in VBS, and he makes his own stuff.  He made a thing called Spike Jonze spends Saturday with….. He did one with MIA.

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP FIVE DOCUMENTARIES?

Leo: There’s so many films.  I tell you the ones, i’ve seen recently that I thought were brilliant.  I saw a short film called ‘Lift’ and it’s so amazing it’s just one guy in a lift in a council block the whole time and it’s all the different characters coming in and out. A real character study.

Jennifer: It’s quite simple then.

Leo: It’s one of the best short documentaries i’ve seen in years.  It was like a total breath of fresh air.  I also saw a film called ‘All Day Strolling,

(’http://www.spinetv.net/mag/2011/Oct/19/all-day-strolling/)

which is set in Georgia that’s a brilliant film and a really good documentary I saw at the London Film Festival recently is called ‘Last Days Here’ about a band called ‘Pentagram’ and it’s about the lead singer.

Jennifer: I have seen the pictures.  He looks like Arthur Brown. 

Leo: The mad world of Arthur Brown.  He’s kind of like that and he smokes crack in his parent’s basement and thinks there’s lice living under his skin but in terms of what happens in the story it’s like a perfect documentary.  It’s got the most amazing story arc, it just builds and you’ve got to watch that film (laughs)basically.

Jennifer: It sounds incredible.

Leo: There’s another film. You’ve probably seen it. It’s pretty famous. Paradise Lost.

Jennifer: Is that about the three friends?  I’ve never seen it but I’ve always wanted to.

Leo: You can watch it on Youtube

Jennifer: They’re Metallica fans.

Leo: Yeah. Another filmmaker you should interview called Dean Puckett, he told me about that film, and I watched it the other day. It’s really good.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PHOTOGRAPHERS?  WHAT ELSE INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE FILM?

Leo: There’s so many but I guess one that I will always go back to is, and I’ve been looking at her photographs since I was a little kid is Diane Arbus     because we had a book on our shelf in the living room, and I discovered this, and I literally became obsessed with these images, and I think it’s something to do with the characters,

they’re so unusual and the photographs but there’s something almost ordinary, it’s like they’re so comfortable with the situation.  It really looks like they’re being themselves, I think that’s down to the fact that Diane Arbus had the ability to communicate to people in a way that brought something out in them.  I went to this huge exhibition of hers at the V&A and I used to have this dream about a hotel that was burning and I had it like two or three times, it was really weird the hotel would be burning, and I would be inside the hotel on some stairs, and then we went into this exhibition and the first thing on this wall was a dream she’d written down it was literally the first wall in the whole of the exhibition, and it described this hotel that was on fire.  I thought it was pretty weird.

Jennifer: Oh my god that was a bit odd.

Leo: It was a bit odd.   So the next day I burnt down a hotel and I….(half smile/half serious)

Jennifer: Oh dear (laughs)

Leo: No.  I just thought it was weird.  It sounds a bit freaky.  What do you think about that?  You look a bit scared.

Jennifer: No. No. I just think you’re bloody mad (laughing)

Leo: Why…Why I’m I mad? It’s only a hotel burning.  You tell me one weird dream you’ve had.

Jennifer: Oh well

Leo: You’ve got to put this in. If you don’t put this in i’ll be really upset

Jennifer: It’s not weird it was fantastic.  You know Rick Wakeman

Leo: Yeah

Jennifer: I was reading an interview with his ex-wife Nina Carter….Well, I read The Daily Mail but only for a good laugh.

He looks slightly aghast

Leo: Yeah a great laugh.

Jennifer: I read it online with the comments’ page.  No…No I’m not a purist I read most of the papers from The Sun to The Telegraph just to get ….

Leo: Congratulations

Jennifer: Ha Ha.  Anyway this interview.  I read it then forgot about it, a couple of days later I had this dream.  Rick Wakeman took me off to his castle, and we were on these bikes, we were going over London, but it was like that London in Stephen Spielberg’s ‘Hook’, the red telephone boxes, ridiculous doddery, old men, and we end up flying in the sky

Leo: Flying in the sky

Jennifer: Yeah

Leo: Ok

Jennifer: My Mum was waving to me but when we got to his castle, it was like a semi-detached house inside.  It was really disappointing, and that was it.

Leo: Anti-climax.com

Jennifer: Ha but it was really good because up until then I loved the feeling of the dream.

Leo: pretty crazy eh.

Jennifer: I’m not a Rick Wakeman fan but I knew where it came in because I read the interview about her days living in a castle on the Isle of Man.  Odd but it was good.

Leo: We’re both weirdos

Jennifer: Ha ha.  Speak for yourself.

Leo: So..Anyway, her photographs to me are amazing. They just tap into the freaks and geeks and underbelly of New York and they’re beautiful to look at.

Jennifer: Did you see the film with Nicole Kidman? I never saw it.

Leo: I don’t really want to watch that.

THERE’S SO MANY FILM FORMATS OUT THERE SUCH AS SUPER 8, 16 MM, DIGITAL, ETC.  WHAT ARE YOU INTERESTED IN?

Leo: All three. What one would I work on? I normally work on digital because it’s accessible but I’d love to shoot on 16 mm I’d love to shoot on 35 mm but I’m not a format snob or anything.

ONE LAST QUESTION.  WHAT QUESTIONS ARE YOU NEVER ASKED ABOUT FILM?

Leo: The thing about that question is there’s probably an affinity amount of answers.

Jennifer: Give me a few.

Leo: (laughs) Oh ok.  You got all day then have you? Er….I could just say anything.

Jennifer:  You could say something really banal.  Something about the catering or something

Leo: Oh I see you mean like that.

Jennifer: No, not like that.  It could be anything.

Leo: I’m always asked about the catering.  Catering is the best bit about filmmaking.

Jennifer: Ha Ha

Leo:  Is there a good caterer? Oh I don’t know.

Jennifer: Ok Leo.  We’ll leave it there.

Humphrey Jennings @http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/453623/

http://diane-arbus-photography.com/

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/

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Greg Hall (Filmmaker) Interview


I met Greg Hall four years ago, after a screening of his short films at Portobello Film Festival’. We spoke about his début ‘The Plague’ made at the age of 22, and shot on a mini dv in three weeks on a budget of £3,500. We touched on the high ratio to low ratio of female producers to female directors, the singer Donovan and his filmmaking plans for the future.

His second feature ‘Kapital’ commissioned by ‘The Manchester International Festival’ is a dark, and uncompromising fable loosely based on four fairy tales. A collaboration between the acclaimed composer Steve Martland, who wrote the score without seeing the film, with the story edited to the music as a guide.

His third film – SSDD recently won best film (no budget feature) at the London International Independent Film Festival.

Interview with Greg Hall, Shortwave Cinema, London International Independent Film Festival – April 25th 2011.

YOU’VE SAID IN PAST INTERVIEWS THAT THE UK LACKS A REAL INDEPENDENT FILM SCENE, THERE’S NO SUPPORT, AND A TENDENCY FOR UK CINEMA TO CHURN OUT ANOTHER HODGE PODGE OF BRIT ROM COM.  DOES THE FAULT LIE AT A MAINSTREAM BRITISH PUBLIC WHO PREFER CINEMA TO BE A PATCHWORK OF REALITY TV, SOAP OPERA AND SITCOM?

Greg Hall: I think the audience kind of plays into the hands of accessible mainstream/soap/rom-coms. Michael Moore the documentary filmmaker has always said: “If you give some intelligence to an audience, they will rise to it, they will go away and they will research it”, so I think a lot of the times the filmmakers in the industry think of the audience as this dumb mass.  You can put ideas out there to an audience, not everyone may like it, some people might be challenged by it, but that’s a good thing. And people will go away and talk about it, debate about it and that’s as filmmakers what we should do, as artists, challenging an audience. I think a lot of it comes from advertising and demographics. This is the audience, they’re aged this to that…

Jennifer: They’re branded

Greg: It just lumps a load of people together.

Jennifer: Especially that age range from 18-35 years.

Greg: Exactly.  It doesn’t really work.  In generalisations it works and for people who want to make money for advertisers it does make sense, but fundamentally for someone like myself who makes cinema, I think my films will actually last longer than if I was just an advertiser thinking how do I make a quick buck because I’m making culture that I think will resonate with human beings (laughs). We are very intelligent people, and we shouldn’t be treated any differently?

WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN UK CINEMA SINCE YOU MADE YOUR DEBUT FEATURE ‘THE PLAGUE’?

Greg: Someone about two months ago raised the point that the film ‘Annuvahood’ has just come out, and about the whole idea that the Urban genre has come of age, they pointed out that ‘The Plague’ was the almost like the first film, it was before ‘Bulletboy’ it was before ‘Kiddulthood,’ They were asking me about how did I think that genre had panned out. I think Urban is a bad kind of label.

Jennifer: Especially in terms of music

Greg: Sometimes it’s a euphemism, it means Black.  I think things have changed a lot in the UK, but I still think it’s commercially minded so even though the urban drama may have seen a big explosion with funding it doesn’t fundamentally mean that interesting filmmakers that challenge the way we think will come through.  I think all it means is there has been another avenue to make money.  That’s the problem with the British film industry is that it’s so focused around just trying to copy the American example but in a bad way; because at least in America they have a very strong underground, whereas in the UK there is a real schism between support for the underground contrasted to that of the mainstream.

Jennifer: With the success of Shaun of The Dead, you now see Zombie films and other derivatives of that.

Greg: I think you get a pattern of that every five years.  You will get one big British film, and then get five or six imitations. I don’t really pay too much attention to that personally. I take influence from cinema, books, music and the people who I’m around.

AS A UK FILMMAKER BASED IN LONDON ARE YOU LOOKING TO MAKE FILMS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE UK THAT ARE RARELY SEEN ON THE SCREEN?

Greg: I’m not against that, my second feature ‘Kapital’ was made in Manchester because it was funded through the Manchester International Festival. At the moment, I see myself making films in Britain, I’ve kept to London because that’s what I know, and that’s where I live.  I see that very much as part of who I am. I wouldn’t turn down making a film across the country or anywhere on the planet.  As a filmmaker the themes I’m looking at are very universal, and even when I’m making films about London as a city, it’s definitely a universal approach I’m taking to it.  I just think I’m a no budget filmmaker (laughs) so I don’t get too many offers.

YOU’VE READ THE KORAN AND THE BIBLE.  ARE YOU INFLUENCED MORE BY TEXT THAN BY WATCHING OTHER DIRECTOR’S FILMS?

Greg: Yeah I have read the Koran and the Bible but I’ve also read many other books, so I wouldn’t say I was influenced by religion per se, but definitely by books and reading, other art forms, whether it’s comic book art or installations. Politics is probably the main influence, whether it’s community organising or anti-fascist mobilisations, being out at demos protesting etc.  I take a lot of influences from life, but I would say in the past two years I’ve made more of a concerted effort, watching more films, and to get to know more directors, and there are wonderful directors out there who are mainstream, and who really influence me.

Jennifer: Any particular directors?

Greg: Wes Anderson.  I think the way he makes films is very much like a book, there’s a literature sense, clear chapter points, also British directors like Peter Watkins, who did fake documentaries such as ‘Punishment Park’ and ‘The War Game’, heavily influences me. But whenever people ask me to name directors I go blank….I’m like uh…..

Jennifer: There’s too many I suppose.

Greg: Yeah

HOW WAS THE PLAGUE VIEWED IN OTHER COUNTRIES? WHAT REACTIONS DID YOU GET, ESPECIALLY AS IT WASN’T A HERITAGE TOURISM PERIOD DRAMA OR A PLUCKY BRITS IN CRISIS SCENARIO TYPE FILM? I’M, PARTICULARLY INTERESTED IN HOW AMERICAN AUDIENCES RESPONDED.

Greg: I only screened once in America in New York, and it went down really well, and there was actually a guy there who was a lecturer of film studies at New York University I think, and he loved it, and wanted to use it and show it alongside films like ‘Babylon’  a British film from the 80s.  In Austria, it showed at a squatted venue with skater kids. Even in places like Sarajevo there is an audience, it’s bizarre we talk about globalization, and globalization of culture, there’s definitely a youth culture or an underground culture, and I think with a film like ‘The Plague’ they see it was made for no money, and people are generally attracted to it like that; and it was made from the streets, it’s anti-authoritarian and you are ticking a lot of boxes in people’s books no matter where they are from on the planet really, but it has mainly shown throughout Europe, and I remember showing it in Berlin and there was a French guy who couldn’t speak a word of English and he had to say this through a translator and he said; “I didn’t understand a word that they said, but that was just like where I live.”

Jennifer: It’s not just about dialogue but you can see how the characters react

Greg: Those universal themes with people struggling and striving, and that resonates with people.

Jennifer: That must have made you feel pretty good to hear that response.

Greg: Definitely…definitely

IS THERE SOMETHING THAT YOU WANT TO DO WITH FILM THAT HASN’T BEEN DONE BEFORE?

Greg: Everything that I try to do with film I would hope hasn’t been done before, but it probably has, and that’s why I do it.  I think I said earlier the reason I make films is because I’m dissatisfied with the representations within British cinema, so I would definitely hope that I’m challenging an audience’s views, and pushing the envelope of what is accepted within cinema, especially British cinema., cos I’m British that’s what I’m operating from.  I wouldn’t say I have any great thesis or this is what I’m doing that’s so unique. A lot of the times I say that I steal from people, whether it’s from books, other films, that’s what culture is about, an amalgamation of different influences. So really it’s not so much as about doing something new, but I hope I’m pulling together elements that haven’t been pulled together before.

CAN YOU GIVE ME A LIST OF THE FIVE RULES OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION?

Greg: Wow…um..shameless self-promotion.  I don’t know, people have accused me of shameless self-promotion, but I don’t think there are any rules.  I mean times have changed since I first started making films, I think nowadays with things like YouTube, Twitter and all that, which I’m really behind……

Jennifer: What do you think of Vimeo?

Greg: Yeah Vimeo is a great video hosting site.  There’s a whole new load of tools for people to use now, and I think they could probably tell me more about self-promoting because my company is ‘Broke but Making Films’ and most people are like “Why are you broke and you should have made money by now”, so I don’t know. I self promote to the point of wanting people to come and see my films, but that’s about it, I don’t self promote any further than that.  Sorry I don’t think I can think of any rules.

WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T WORK IN FILM?
Greg: I’ve always said the best judge of my films is myself, and I took that thing from the documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman who said: “Fuck the audience. I use myself to judge whether something works or not.” And I think personally that’s the reason I got motivated  to make films, when I make films that’s how I judge it, if I like it and I think it’s good. Obviously there is still an element of you wanting other people to watch, and what they’re going to make of it ….

Jennifer: You have to be selfish don’t you.

Greg: Yeah, but I do think why are you doing it otherwise, and not just to please other people, but to please myself because I don’t feel that, that film or that style of cinema is out there, so therefore it’s about what I like so that is really what I think I try, and judge with what works. I’m always learning, and I’m always seeing different films, seeing different art forms, and learning, and taking things from that, but yeah definitely I would be the best judge of what works, and what doesn’t work, and I would say that to any filmmaker …..

Jennifer: I think that’s how most filmmakers work isn’t it

Greg: Yeah that’s the way they should work…

Jennifer: You make the film you want to make, but it’s a bonus if someone else likes it

Greg: Exactly. You know you’re not mental (laughs)

Jennifer: Yeah like a one man crusade.

THE UK FILM COUNCIL REJECTED FUNDING FOR ‘THE PLAGUE’.  AT THE TIME YOU SAID THAT THEY WERE INTO THEIR DEMOGRAPHICS.  DO YOU HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THE DEMISE OF THE UK FILM COUNCIL?
Greg:  There’s definitely issues within the industry of how they bring the new kind of filmmakers through, but then in the same breath at least with the film council they were established so that they could develop, and I know they were trying to reach out, and trying to change things, and I think by scrapping it totally, and moving it somewhere else was a bad move. It just felt like another Tory cut really, and that’s the reason behind it. I kind of like the idea that if it went back to the British Film Institute, but I’m not filled with confidence about where they move that money to, and I do think removing something like the film council, no matter how much I criticised it, at least it was there and then it’s not. I have to be careful as well, as we’re hoping to get a little bit of money from the film council for my new film, so maybe one day they will fund me before they go ,…..

Jennifer: Do you think the Tory Government see art as a luxury?

Greg: The Tories have always kind of seen it like that, but then fundamentally I’m an anarchist, as artists we show these universal themes, and we look at areas that other people don’t want to look at, we go into the grey area where government, and the media will want to paint issues as being very black and white.  I think as artists we very much go through an individual kind of journey…..

Jennifer: You’ve got to show the grey haven’t you.

Greg: And we show the grey. We venture into the grey. We are the grey that’s where we exist as artists, we’re many things and we can’t be pigeonholed, and we as artists, we challenge that, and we should always challenge it, and therefore, personally as an anarchist, I don’t see why any government would want to support art. A lot of the times they do support art in the hope that it’s going to be …..

Jennifer: That they will get something out of it.

Greg: Exactly, I think all artists shouldn’t be aligned to any kind of political group, but fundamentally I think that’s what we need to do, we need to communicate, connect, and governments don’t really want the masses of people to do that, to think for ourselves or discuss these things.  I think the truest art, true filmmakers, and cinema is a forum for us to think about things, it’s a philosophy at the end of the day, it’s modern day philosophy. I  think any philosopher worth their salt will go to the point of questioning why there’s a government, and a divide between rich and poor, and a massive divide between the rich being a tiny élite, and the poor, basically, and the rest of us. I don’t get it really. It doesn’t make sense to me.

WHAT PROMPTED THE SAHARA LIBRE EXPERIENCE?

Greg: My producer Becky who’s also my sister, her company Olive Branch Theatre took herself and two other actors out there to the refugee camps to devise a theatre piece with young guys living on the camps and create a performance and perform that to the rest of the camp. They asked me if I wanted to go along, and I went out there with them, in sixteen days I shot about 52 hours of footage, I’m editing that at the moment and that’s just a documentary to give away, to put it online.  I was documenting them creating this theatre piece which is devised from the young people’s experiences I didn’t want it to be – oh here’s a documentary and we’re following these people from Britain and their experience – I wanted it to be about the play that they create and then break that down and through that narrative show the history of the Sahara camps from the 70s when it used to be the Spanish Sahara, the war with Morocco and the current situation, they’re in at the moment. I just got tagged along, and I ended up having an amazing experience…….

Jennifer: It must have been quite an interesting experience

Greg: mind-blowing….mind blowing. Being in the Sahara desert in a refugee camp.  I’m cutting that now, and hope to take it back out there and screen it as well,and hoping to do some film workshops with a film collective.  There’s a lot going on….

Jennifer: That’s still going on then

Greg: Yeah.  I think it will always be going on, as long as the refugee camps are there. I think once you’ve been, and you meet people and you make friends with those people you can’t turn your back on them.  I think I’ll be back out there……

Jennifer: You can’t just take and then that’s it.

Greg: Yeah it’s not a case of me just going there, and bam, I’ve got my film and I’m gone. It’s an investment there, you know people, and I hope to get out there soon…

Jennifer: How did they respond to you?

Greg: They’re the most warmest, and friendliest people.  We stayed with people in the camps..Yeah it was mind blowing.  Glad to get back, and be able to use a proper toilet, that was the main thing and not have to use a hole, but apart from that it was amazing.  They are relying on international law to help them out, and as an anarchist, I don’t really think international law is going to help them, and it’s really depressing, but human beings are human beings, they’re beautiful creatures, and families with children, and that’s the face of what I’ve seen within the refugee camps, and that’s why I’ll be going back because I know people, and have personal ties with people, and international politics aside I just hope there’s freedom for every single human being on this planet. We shouldn’t be born into slavery, and we basically do live within a monetary slavery at the moment.

Photo – Hannah Powell http://www.facebook.com/photo_search.php?oid=34055279235&view=all
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