Dexter Fletcher is a veteran British actor who has recently made an impressive directorial debut with the critically acclaimed low budget gangster drama Wild Bill.
Fletcher is a veteran British actor who has recently made an impressive
directorial debut with the critically acclaimed low budget gangster drama Wild
Bill. Best known for
his work in front of the camera, Fletcher began his career as a child in
classics such as Bugsy Malone and The Elephant Man, before going on to
adult roles in the likes of Band Of
Brothers and Lock, Stock And Two
Smoking Barrels. After the
success of Wild Bill, he claims to have caught ‘the directing bug’ and is
already hard at work helming his next project. To celebrate the film’s Blu-ray and DVD release Fletcher
held an exclusive workshop on how to direct a movie, at the prestigious St.
Ermin’s Hotel. Peter D. Marsay, a
filmmaker himself, went along to get the low-down. Here, in this two-part feature, he shares Dexter’s top tips
on how to direct a movie:
on a project – what story do you want to tell and why?
“Filmmaking is storytelling” said Fletcher, and it is a fact
that most budding filmmakers have a million and one ideas floating around their
heads, but lack the decisiveness to settle on one and put the time and work
into it to make it happen.
Fletcher had some helpful thoughts on how to overcome this common
problem, “Choosing projects is about whether there’s a story in there that
[you] can connect to and want to tell, because then you’re telling a story that
means something to you.”
Filmmaking is far too much hard work to bother with if you
don’t care about the story you’re telling! Find material you connect with and go for it.
aware you’re making a product – how can you sell it?
Many fresh faced filmmakers want their work to be 100
percent Krzysztof Kieślowski and zero
percent James Cameron, and then
wonder why they can’t find an audience, let alone make a living! Depending on the balance of art and
commercial viability in your personal dreams as a moviemaker, you might want to
rethink that balance depending on where you see yourself in ten years: still
working at Blockbuster and sharing your weekend passion projects with friends
and family, or wining and dining with Brad and Angelina on the set of Mr. &
Mrs. Smith 4! There’s nothing
wrong with wanting to be auteur, but even the best know they need to make a
Some words of wisdom from Fletcher: “The art takes care of
itself to a large extent, it’s the commerciality that you need to keep half an
eye on. You’re not just here to be
an auteur and make an artistic piece of film that no one’s going to want to see
… what’s the point of doing that?
Think about what’s going to be good in the trailer! There’s a guy getting kicked in the
balls in my film. It wasn’t my first choice, but I was talking to an editor of
trailers once and he’s like, ‘always the shot they want is someone getting
kicked in the nuts.’ It’s a great
trailer shot because everyone goes ‘ooh!’
It gets a response. It
seems kind of mercenary and calculated but there’s nothing wrong with it. You
are making a product.”
big names – what have you got to lose?
“Start with Brad Pitt
and work your way down!” joked Fletcher, but he was serious too. Apparently the first thing most
investors asked about Wild Bill was ‘who’s in it?’ Make no mistake, star power counts. Case in point, Gemma Arterton was originally cast in Wild Bill but couldn’t make
it at the last minute. Would the
film have done bigger business at the box office had she made it? You’d better believe it. But how can directors yet to make their
debut, hope to cast known stars in their shoestring budget labours of
love? “The great thing about our
industry is that the people who are involved in it genuinely love film …”
said Fletcher, “if you’ve got a good script and a good story that you believe
in, and a great opportunity for an actor to do something different, then you’ve
got nothing to lose by asking them.
What I tried to do was offer great actors the chance to do something
different. If they love it and
respond they’ll turn up for a sandwich and a good scene.”
There are plenty of examples of big name actors lending
their talents to low budget productions for purely art’s sake, (see John Hurt in the 2011 short film Sailcloth). So pick up the phone and make the call, because if you’ve
got a top script the talent’s not as hard to tap as you think.
lucky – live in hope!
So many things have to go exactly right for a film to be
made that it’s a miracle every time one is finished. With that in mind, anyone
who has made a film deserves respect for seeing the project through to the end
(yes, even Uwe Boll), but one thing
that never hurts is a little luck.
“Any moment you can get lucky!” said Fletcher.
Be it luck or divine providence, unplanned moments of brilliance
can give your film a unique edge, and they do happen! One such moment occurred on the set of Wild Bill, resulting
in a shot of which Fletcher is especially proud: a paper aeroplane is thrown
from high up a block of flats … the camera follows it perfectly as it soars
through the air for twenty seconds plus.
It is a sensational shot.
However, such events cannot be bargained on, and Fletcher reminds us to
be realistic, “Where there’s no luck, then adaptability is going to be the next
hard and be flexible – roll with the punches
“Obviously there’re no guarantees for [luck] so you also
have to work hard”, said Fletcher.
A large part of walking the walk as a filmmaker is having the passion
and commitment to put in the blood, sweat and long hours it takes to see a
project through to completion.
Make no mistake, there can be just as much pressure on set as fun and
then some, and it is true that when the going gets tough the tough get going. “Save the stress for when you get home”
continued Fletcher, acknowledging the pressure that he sometimes felt on the
set of Wild Bill. “You’re going to hit bumps and
roadblocks all the way and it’s about making sure you can keep things moving.”
Don’t give up then, even when there are fraying tempers. Just remember that if you keep your
head, and aren’t afraid to improvise solutions, then everyone will be friends
again by the end of the day. Prime
example: unexpected snow in London prevented Fletcher from shooting a crucial
scene as planned. Did he
panic? Far from it! He improvised a swift relocation and
shot the scene in a cafe instead.
It might sound like a compromise, but sometimes a spanner in the works
can lead to an even more effective outcome than originally planned. Let it happen, roll with it! Just make sure that as much of the
heart of your script makes it to the screen as possible. The rest is peripheral.
Check back on FilmJuice soon for Dexter Fletcher’s final
five film directing tips!
is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 23rd July, from Universal Pictures UK.