FILMS GONE WILD: Q&A WITH “FISH TANK” FILMMAKER ANDREA ARNOLD, FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER’S FIRST FILMMAKER-IN-RESIDENCE
This year at The 51st New York Film Festival, the Film Society of Lincoln Center named director/writer Andrea Arnold, as their first Filmmaker-in-Residence. The initiative was developed in partnership with luxury brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, to further the goals of filmmakers at an earlier stage in the creative process, with the filmmaker having an opportunity to focus on developing a script or prepping a film, etc. in a supportive setting and creative atmosphere. Then, while they are doing that, they would also participate in master classes, mentorships or cultural exchange and enrichment film programs with the Film Society of Lincoln Center members, the film community and the public.
That was, more or less, what we stated in the press release when we announced the program and the first filmmaker to take the new program out for a spin, so-to-speak.
Andrea Arnold is an English director and writer who, following a brief career in front of the camera, made her debut with two short films, MILK in 1998 and DOG in 2001. In 2005, Arnold won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for WASP and her first feature film, RED ROAD won the Jury Prize in Cannes in 2006. Her 2009 film FISH TANK, starring Kate Jarvis and Michael Fassbender, once again won the Jury Prize and in 2011, she directed an adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The film was shown at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Osella for Best Cinematography.
That was the boilerplate mini-bio on Arnold that really tells a fraction of the story of the entertaining, earthy, and wonderfully welcoming presence that she is in-person. And frankly, the Filmmaker-in-Residence program was a great success immediately, in that Film Society and Jaeger-LeCoultre chose someone that wasn’t just a viable film creative to assist and promote as they progressed with their next project, but someone that turned out to be an “ambassador” as well. That, of course, is of huge importance with a program that by its very nature had to depend on the first participant to not just help map out and determine what it would actually be, but also be “the face” of that program’s inception. Film Society hit a home run on that front, and I’ll take a very safe guess that when we see the film that Arnold’s residency helped produce, it will simply add to that success ratio.
Now that she has returned home to England, I wanted to check in with Arnold and get her thoughts on the experience and see what lies ahead for the new film project – her first film to be shot in the States.
What were your thoughts when you were first approached to be Film Society’s first Filmmaker in Residence?
The email dropped out of the sky. It was a lovely thing. The possibility of living and working in New York. I had been a few times to New York but very briefly and had always wanted to know it better. I wanted it. Shamelessly.
Once you decided to do it, how did you think it would help as you were finishing work on the script for the next film, and then the actual production preparations for the film?
It was perfect timing for a story I had been working on. I have always wanted to make a film in America and had been nursing this particular project for a while. I had just finished a first draft of the script and was lonely. I thought it would be really good to be in America to write another draft. Energizing for me and for the project. I could meet producers, crew and really move things along.
Now that you are at the end of that process, did it play out the way you thought it would? Were there any surprises or things that happened that you didn’t anticipate?
I didn’t get as much writing done as I planned but it didn’t matter. It was the right thing to have happened. It was better to make the most of New York and meet people than sit writing by myself.
During your residency, I believe you completed a second draft of the script for this next film. Can you shed any light on what your working process is like when you are re-writing?
I wanted to do a second draft but I didn’t quite finish. I made plans and did some of them. I will finish the next draft very fast now. Rewriting is so much easier for me than the first draft. The first draft is a struggle. I always understand so much more once I have the first draft. I like getting feedback, which helps you to see what could work better. Rewriting is when the story really comes alive. I feel braver.
The impressive Advisory Board included: Henry Bean, Brady Corbet, Charles Finch, Naomi Foner, Larry Gross, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Danny Huston, Tamara Jenkins, Ed Lachman, Bennett Miller, Matthew Modine, Ed Pressman, Ira Sachs, Paul Schrader and Marisa Tomei. Can you tell us a couple of people you spoke to while you were here and other than just basic encouragement and how that particular person “helped” you as you were prepping for your next film?
Larry Gross and Naomi Foner very generously read and gave me feedback on my script. As well as more complex thoughts, Larry told me Americans might not understand these expressions and words:
Did you thieve it?
Bloody noisy kids
Sicked it back up
I reckon you’ll take to this easy.
Henry Bean is going to read my next draft. It’s a big time thing for someone to read and give notes and I wanted to save him for next time.
Not a fan of red carpets or getting her photo taken, it actually took some time to convince Andrea to take off the fox mask at the reception we were throwing for her, because Andrea Arnold will just up and wear a fox mask at her party if you don’t watch her. (Photo by Misun Jin)
During a dinner at the apartment of Film Society’s Executive Director Rose Kuo, you and I had a fun debate about the merits of the much discussed, very long sex scene in Abdellatif Kechiche’s BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR versus an achingly long (I thought) two-shot of the mother and father toward the end of Tsai Ming-ling’s STRAY DOGS. I was adamantly Pro-BLUE and you were solidly Pro-STRAY DOGS. However, I didn’t get a chance to ask about your thoughts on the length of individual scenes in your own work. Do you have an innate “feel” for what will be right or is it an agonizing process to edit?
I cannot forget that scene in STRAY DOGS or the cabbage scene. Loved that film. I do have an instinct in my films about lengths of scenes. It is often slower than my editor’s instinct and we debate. I don’t find editing agonizing. I enjoy it a lot. It’s a chance to look at your story again. Find things you didn’t know were there. Its also warm and you can eat biscuits and sit on soft chairs.
I also personally advised you to be careful about shooting in Austin during the summer months because, as I learned from first hand experience doing that in Dallas, there was no hotter place on the face of the earth. So, bearing that in mind, you’re going to try to shoot there in May, staying as far away from June/July as possible, right?
Looks like we will shoot in the summer. A red head in Texas in June/July? Asking for trouble isn’t it? Nothing I like better than trouble. I will enjoy very much shopping for a nice Stetson.
I remember someone asking if you had a chance to say hello to Michael Fassbinder, who was so great in FISH TANK, while he was here at NYFF with his latest film 12 YEARS A SLAVE, which I believe you hadn’t. As you plan to make another film on a much more modest budget than, say, the next X-Men movie, would you relish the chance to have that much money to play with or would that ultimately be a distraction for the way you like to work?
I don’t wish for lots of money. The more money you have the less you can do. My only worry with smaller budgets is music. I have lots of contemporary pop music in this new film because it’s truthful to the story and the characters but it can cost. I fret very much about that but I won’t feel limited in any other way. I will feel liberated.
We got you to appear on one of the red carpets during NYFF (prior to the Gala Tribute to Ralph Fiennes). I think it’s safe to say that there are a dozen things that you would rather do than walk the red carpet, have the photographers take your photo and do the interviews. Why is that?
I have always hated having my photo taken. Since I was small. I know this is a silly thing to say when I have been in front of the camera for a living but its true. I think I did the wrong job to start in life. I don’t regret it but it wasn’t really me. I have been known to go in back doors and hide in toilets and leave through the bar to avoid red carpets.
During the entrances for the Tribute to Ralph Fiennes on October 9, Film Society’s Executive Director Rose Kuo, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Laurent Vinay, Andrea Arnold and Ralph Fiennes each find their own photographer to look at, with Andrea Arnold the only one getting it right this time (Photo by Olga Bas)
Do you see that as part of the overall process of making a film and then getting it out there for the public? Or is it something that, as a filmmaker, you don’t believe is necessary or actually even helps to achieve that goal (of creating awareness for the potential audience out there)?
It’s part of it and gets a film attention. Some of the small films really need that. I guess its necessary. But the devil in me would like to pour gasoline on the red carpets of the world and put a match to them.
Filmmaker-in-Residence (and Belle of the Ball) Andrea Arnold flanked by Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Laurent Vinay and Film Society’s Rose Kuo at a reception celebrating her residency on October 3. (Photo by Misun Jin)
You also participated in a panel discussion on “Story Creation and the Artistic Process” with Larry Gross, Naomi Foner, and Henry Bean. Now, you certainly have established your place at the table, so-to-speak with that lineup of heavy hitters, but in those moments when you are among the accomplished, famous or critically regarded peers do you have any artist-type insecurities that pop up or do you get so swept up in the excitement of getting to “talk film” that who’s who and what they’ve done or achieved onscreen doesn’t even enter into it?
I don’t see famous/accomplished/critically regarded people as scary any longer. They are just people. With all the same fears and worries as me. And you always learn from other people doing what you do. Always.
(From left-to-right) Film Society’s Eugene Hernandez moderates a panel with Henry Bean, Larry Gross, Naomi Foner and Andrea Arnold on Story Creation and the Artistic Process on October 3. (Photo by Misun Jin)
Final question: During your time here in New York, you borrowed a bicycle from our Marketing and PR Director Courtney Ott to get around on. So, what is your best guess as to how many miles you actually put on that bike? Be honest…
It was very kind of Courtney to lend me her bike. I was openly a bit down my nose at it to start. It had sit up handlebars with a basket and no gears. Slow in other words.
In London I have a road bike (she says pompously). What I didn’t know at that time however was how kamikaze pedestrians are in NY. They do not wait for red lights. They leap off the sidewalk all the time, throw themselves into the road, wander aimlessly down the bike lanes. You have to go slow or you would kill someone.
So Courtney’s bike was perfect. I went at a leisurely place weaving around all the people. Taking in the sidewalks. I loved it. I used it pretty much all the time. Manhattan is pretty flat. Great for bikes. No idea how many miles though.
Posted on November 25, 2013 in Features, Films Gone Wild by John Wildman
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