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Andrew Goth and The War of Art

Andrew Goth and The War of Art

Articles - Directing

Autumn has come to Beverly Hills, and the bar
at the Four Seasons Hotel glows with warm afternoon light, autumnal
colors and the heat of celebrity. There are several movie press
junkets occurring at once, and at any given moment one can turn
and see the likes of Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Greg Kinear or
even Siegfried and Roy taking in liquid refreshment between
pitch, PR, and BS sessions.

Sitting comfortably unaffected amongst all of the
“glamour” is Andrew Goth, the dynamic young writer-director
who makes his feature film debut with Everybody Loves Sunshine,
an explosively violent and uncompromising but beautifully acted
and photographed tale of gangland warfare and obsessive love set
in Manchester, England. The film stars British music phenom Goldie
as well as David Bowie and Goth himself playing a leading role.

Goth is as charismatic in person as he is on screen.
He is completely passionate about moviemaking in general and this
film in particular. No doubt this quality proved invaluable in
securing such a talented cast and crew on his first feature. Our
talk began with a discussion of gang culture in the UK.

ERICH LEON HARRIS (MM): You show a side of Manchester
that many American audiences have never seen before. Could you
tell us a little about the origins of this story.

ANDREW GOTH (AG): This film is based on urban legend.
It’s a fictitious rendering of what I thought these gang
wars were about as a child. I wanted to make the picture feel
big. In England lately there have been a lot of films that feel
tiny. Some of my heroes are people like Sergio Leone. So
in the opening sequence, when the main characters are being released
from prison, I wanted to get tight on their faces and make the
audience see these guys like I did when I was a kid. I shot them
in slow motion and from a low angle to make them look larger than
life, very menacing, because all of their power is based on fear
of their violent potential. I needed a big beginning, with no
backstory to tell people exactly who these guys are.

MM: The only people who seemed to move freely
through the war-torn neighborhoods were the children, who had
no fear of these very violent guys.

AG: The whole aspect of adding the children was
to show where I was at that age, because that was when I met them.
I used to go looking around Manchester for the gangsters with
my friends. We knew they were around and we idolized them.

MM: In addition to gang culture, the film shows
a culture where blacks and whites are not bound by color lines.
Everyone mixes freely. There is an interracial couple whose main
conflict comes from the husband’s loyalty to the gang as
opposed to any racial baggage. Is that your experience?

AG: Yes. That’s exactly how it is and exactly
how I’ve lived my life. I find it quite saddening, the line
that is drawn between the races here in America. It’s very
different in England, I’m glad to say. It’s never been
a factor in my life. I find it very strange and sad that I have
to explain or defend that relationship to critics.

MM: How do you defend that criticism?

AG: It’s really more confusion than criticism.
People keep asking me “What is going on here? Why did you
do this? Does that happen?” I wanted the film to challenge
people and stay with them. Of course, I’m not naive, we have
our problems, but we have more of a friendly mix, racially.

MM: Your visual style is as sharp as your writing.
The colors in your palette are very lush. One sequence where the
warlords meet was reminiscent of Kurosawa. What other moviemakers
have influenced you?

AG: Certainly Kurosawa, without a doubt. But whoever
my influences were, it has left me with a desire to shoot all
of my films in Cinemascope. I want t

o be as wide as possible. I want to create as
big a feeling as possible. The guys who shot the film had just come
off of Seven Years in Tibet and the whole creative discussion was
to make sure the audience didn’t know what was coming next.
To really shake up their sensibilities. To go from a tight, confined
space to the vastness of the moors. That’s where we had the
moors murders, the famous child murders in the ’60s.

MM: Those were the murders committed by Hindely
that The Smiths sing of, right?

AG: Yeah. You could bury a body in the peat, and
the body floats around under the surface for miles, and you never
know were it may turn up. [That setting] was the ideal contrast
to some of the claustrophobic rooms and clubs. I like that, and
I like to get in real close on faces like Sergio Leone did. I
like to use special lenses to make people seem larger than life.
Manchester is very cold and gray and I wanted the title Everybody
Loves Sunshine to be ironic, so every time a character is in the
sunlight, they react to it. I would counter the grays with red,
like in the Chinese restaurant, or the blues and greens in the
clubs.

MM: This being your first film, how do you feel
about the finished product?

AG: I’m very proud of it. The passion of all
the people involved with it makes me proud. I walked around with
the script under my arm for five years before it was made. I had
cast the film the first year and I was able to use 90 percent
of the actors five years later. Those things really make me feel
good.

MM: What influenced your decision to cast yourself
in the lead role of Ray?

AG: It was definitely not my first choice. I had
planned to go out and find an actor to play Ray. We had very stringent
budgetary restraints. So to play one of the lead roles was financially
beneficial to the production, because I could waive my fee and
such.

The final decision came based on the work I had
done with Goldie. Goldie and I hung out and worked on the script
for about a year and a half before we ever had the money to shoot.
When we rehearsed, I would always play the part of Ray, because
he was always going to play Terry. These cousins were very close,
to the point of having homo-erotic overtones to their relationship.
I wanted p

People to feel the ambiguity and that element
was very difficult to get across properly. He and I were able
to almost workshop that feeling. Then, when we were finally financed,
the bond company said that there was no way that they were going
to let me direct and play a leading role, because who was I? I
had no track record. So we went out and looked for an actor, but
Goldie never considered that I wouldn’t play the role of
Ray, so he really pushed for it to happen, and in the end the
bond company came around to the idea. So they rearranged the schedule
so that we worked five-day weeks and not too many back-to-back
days.

MM: How did it feel to be pulling double duty
on set?

AG: I wasn’t afraid at all. I had total confidence
in the performances. The camera guys had worked with Kenneth Branagh,
so they were very helpful in showing me how they had worked on
his set, and I could see on the video assist that what we were
getting was good. To critique my performance was an ever-changing
thing.

One day I think I was okay, the next day I’d
hate it. So I’d have to bite my lip. As an actor and a director,
I don’t think that it’s a scary proposition if you’re
as immersed in the process as I was.

MM: Working with a talent like David Bowie, with
you being a first time director, were you in any way hesitant
to tell him if you thought his performance needed something extra?

AG: I was definitely nervous, without a doubt. But
I took time out to fly to New York at my own expense to meet with
David before the shoot started. I didn’t want him to fly
in and start shooting, because I only had him for two weeks. I
needed to meet him and relax about it beforehand. That meeting
was the best thing that I could have possibly done. He invited
me into his workspace and we had drinks and hung out. Ten minutes
into meeting with him, you forget that it’s THE David Bowie.
He told me how he had prepared his character, even the suits that
he had chosen to wear. You see, he’d been in England when
the Krays were around and he had all kinds of fantastic anecdotes
about the time. Even how guys would sew razor blades into their
jacket lapels in case someone grabbed them there, they’d
be cut. There’s a subtle moment in the film where you see
David sewing and you see him trim the thread with the hidden razor.
Plus he was exactly the right age that Bernie should be. He’s
really looked after himself, so he looks great. Since the character
of Bernie was a homosexual in the film, David knew how those guys
would have taken pride in their appearance.

MM: The homosexual aspect of Bernie’s character
is nearly invisible. You really don’t know anything until
he’s being accused of being a faggot by Goldie’s character.
Is that by design?

AG: Yes. It has to be. You see, it really is a subtle
thing until it’s used against him. He could have never had
the power he has within the gang if it were any other way. Around
the table

with the guys, he has to put on a front. But
you get a sense that the really pretty guy is his lover, a fact
that’s overlooked, if not totally accepted by the others.

MM: At the outset David Bowie wasn’t even
considered for the role of Bernie. How did he become involved?

AG: I hadn’t really thought about the actors
for the supporting characters until the film was financed. Once
we were in production, I knew I wanted Bernie to have a standard
English accent. He would have to be in his forties and be the
sort of guy whose performance would center the audience. I thought
British actors like Bob Hoskins or John Thaw would be right for
the role of Bernie and had set out to read them. Then I happened
to see The Hunger.

MM: That was one of Bowie’s early films—he
played a vampire, right?

AG: Exactly. The thing about his performance there
that changed my thinking was that he aged from a young man to
a very old man during the course of the film, which really impressed
me. I asked Goldie what he thought of the idea, as he had worked
with Bowie on a music project. We were concerned that casting
a superstar in that role might throw the whole film off-kilter.
But over the next few days we decided to just send David the script
to see if he was even interested in doing the project. He called
three days later.

MM: What’s that like—answering the
phone and it’s David Bowie on the other end.

AG: I remember the exact moment because I had just
had an angry conversation with my Director of Photography. He
wasn’t going to do the picture because the money wasn’t
right. So when the phone rang again, I thought that it was him,
but when I heard this smooth, almost melodic voice, I knew instantly
who it was. I began pacing with nervous energy, trying to calm
myself. I was in the production offices and I kept flagging down
the staff and pointing to the phone, mouthing the words “It’s
David Bowie!” I could tell right away he was serious about
the project. He was asking things like who the editor was, and
who the DP was. David likes to know about as many of the production
elements as possible because he’s been around for so long.
He knows the right crew is essential.

MM: How was he on the set with the other actors?

AG: Most of my cast were young and inexperienced,
just out of school. They were nervous, but when David arrived
he started talking to them, asking about their background, telling
them stories. He set them at ease within five minutes. He was
wonderful.

MM: With it getting to be nearly impossible to
get financing without a star in the lead, what advice would you
give a rookie director on approaching a legendary talent?

AG: On this project everything was in place before
we approached David, but I’m learning on my new feature just
how essential those “A-list” actors are to a film getting
made. Personally, I find dealing with all of the agents and managers
and studio executives frustrating. I was naive before, and I guess
very lucky, now that I see what having an international superstar
has done for the marketing of the film. But David made this film
because he wanted to. He doesn’t have to do anything that
he doesn’t want to do. I would tell any director not to be
afraid to approach any talent who might be right for a role, no
matter who it is. The worst they can say is no.

MM: We understand the film was going to be released
straight to video, but you fought for a theatrical release. How
important was that to you?

AG: Now that the film is made, it really is the
most important thing. Like a painter or any artist, you want your
work to be seen by as many people as possible. I want it to be
on 22,000 screens, but we’re only going to be in LA, New
York and Chicago at first. When I found out the decision had been
made to go straight to video I was very disappointed because we
are very proud of this film and we want it to be seen on the big
screen.

I made it to be seen in the cinema. So we went out
and raised the distribution monies ourselves. We can only afford
to do three cities so far, but hopefully the film will catch on. MM

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