James Marquand talks to Stefan Pape about directing as part of a trio
As British thriller I Against I hits cinema screens across the nation today, The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape was fortunate enough to speak to director James Marquand, part of a directing trio alongside Mark Cripps and David Ellison.
I Against I tells the cat and mouse story of two men who are out to kill one another, both believing the other to have committed a murder they have instead been accused of, creating a chase taking place across the streets of London across one fateful night…
Marquand – son of Richard Marquand, the director of Return of the Jedi – speaks about his desire to get into directing from a young age, whilst also discussing the logistics of working on a film as part of a directing trio. He also discusses working alongside Ingvar Sigurdsson as well as letting us in on his future plans and projects…
This being the week leading up to the release of I Against I, there must be a real sense of excitement and relief for you?
Yeah definitely, making a low-budget indie film is inevitably a bit seat of a pants, and you have your moments, there is always unexpected twists and turns and obstacles that come in your way so it’s absolutely great to finally have got it done and we’re pleased with the film. It races along and it’s definitely entertaining. I think the story works well and it was kind of an interesting puzzle in a way because… I’m probably answering about three of your questions in one go by the way, but maybe that’s a good thing. But yeah, my production company Stray Dogs films were really impressed with some short films that Mark Cripps and David Ellison had done and it was trying to marry up what they did, give them a shot of getting a feature film made which is never an easy thing and particularly in the current climate is very hard to raise funds, so it was to give them a shot and to do something that fitted our remit and marry something together that works. Kind of a crazy idea having three directors, but hopefully people will agree that it’s worked pretty well.
How does it work having three directors? Do you all just work together, or shoot separate scenes? What are the logistics?
I dare say that on a great big multi-million dollar Hollywood movie where you have a million people to do every job it would probably be a bit more confusing but there is so much to do on an independent film, and you have to do so much. We planned it out and worked out what we wanted to do beforehand, and they led whilst I sort of oversaw things and advised them. But the film is very much our attempt at realising their vision and my own, it’s fair to say that, and that bit was quite fun. They’re heavily influenced by Michael Mann and Ridley Scott and ’80’s thrillers and things likes that, and even computer games like Max Payne and that kind of stuff. But the two things I think were a big influence on this are John Boorman films like Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific where you’ve got these these two characters playing cat and mouse, on that case on a desert island and in our case in a nocturnal urban environment. So it was fun for them to show me their influences and in reverse for me to show them some scratchy old movies.
I suppose three heads are better than one in many respects…
In terms of the physical scenes, directing scenes and directing actors, we kind of took turns, but a lot of what we did was a bit guerilla style, not by choice, but we were literally losing locations hours before filming and all of that stuff that happens that makes independent film making an extra challenge I suppose, so its a team effort, absolutely. But from my point of view it was about trying to realise their vision with fitting in with our own remit as well, so yeah that’s kind of how it works.
As someone who has no doubt have seen the sets of a big Hollywood blockbusters – just how different is it having a much smaller and more intimate cast – and do you think people almost work harder as a result?
I think generally on indie films people work hard, there’s no doubt about that, and they’re in it, to be a bit pretentious, for the right reasons, they’re in it because they love films. On bigger budget films of course people are very professional and good at what they do, but it comes a job, a paid cheque. There is no doubt that is the massive difference, the cast and crew involved in I Against I, by the end, were a real team, we’d fight for each other and you have to have that kind of environment to do it, look we have our moments for sure, but at 4amin the freezing cold and it starts snowing and those moments that happen an be a little bit tiring but i think generally on low-0budget indie films you rely on creating a good team effort and atmosphere and environment. That’s crucial, absolutely crucial.
You’ve managed to capture London really well – and of course much of this was filmed on location in what looks like the middle of the night. That must have been really fun to shoot at times?
You know what, it was, in spite of the fact it was so bloody cold. We were just out on the streets. Also the support you get in London – which actually surprised me – was fantastic. The police and all that. There was on borough which I won’t name who were terrible, but aside from that the help and support was fantastic and I would recommend to anyone wanting to make a film to do it in London. Generally Londoners are just not interested, they just get on with it and get out of your way. Then the support from the authorities was superb, so I couldn’t really fault it apart from that one borough.
There is a very stylistic look to I Against I – as someone who is also an artist, do you think that it helps when constructing the visual experience for a film?
Yeah definitely. My main creative partner in what I do is Matthew White, and he and I go back a long way, and for our degree show we made our first film – about a guy who you think is asleep on the tube but then you find out he’s dead, edited on cello tape, this is going way back! We’ve always worked together and that cinematic quality he deserves massive credit for that, the visuals of the film and the look of it, and for him and I it’s great to work together because we like the same things and the look we’re after, and that worked with with Mark and Dave’s Michael Mann ideas. A film that has been mentioned a lot was Collateral, but also I guess what people need to understand is that this is hard boiled, a stylised movie. We’re not not trying to make a film taking a gritty look at the streets of London, we’ve tried to make a film that is a homage to hard boiled cinema and I think people need to watch the film thinking about it in those kind of terms.
For me Ingvar Sigurdsson is the stand-out performer and he comes with a quite substantial reputation in European cinema, you must have been thrilled to have got him on board?
Yeah really thrilled. He’s a guy I’ve known for a while and I first saw him in a film called Angels of the Universe – an Icelandic film about schizophrenia and he plays the main part in it and he’s like a genius isn’t he? Just an incredible actor, and such a great guy and totally professional. We were very thrilled in getting him. We really spent some time trying to think of the right people to cast and we were really appreciative of our lead guys to come and do this because it was a hard shoot. For something like this, the whole thing centres around the performances and it was really important we got the best actors we could, so I couldn’t fault any of them really.
For yourself personally directing is obviously in the family given your father’s illustrious career – is this something you’ve always wanted to do from a young age?
From a young age yeah, it was. I think that my dad has obviously been a massive influence on me and I’ve learnt a huge amount from him, in fact I’m still learning stuff now and he was always renowned for being an actor’s director and I guess when I started coming from an arts background being a painter and what have you, my natural inclination was to focus on the look, the mise-en-scene, that kind of visual side of things, but in the end what I have learnt is that yeah that stuff is great, but you need great actors and a great script and in a way that is so much more important than the other stuff. So yeah the experience of growing up watching him direct – I was pretty much on set for every film he did – and also I suppose humanised the thing for me. Having been privileged to have grown up in a film-making environment at pretty much the highest level, I have had no kind of feelings of being somehow inferior to this enigmatic thing that makes these great movies. These people are are real people, they’re fallible and they make mistakes and any one is capable of doing it if they’re willing to duck and dive, and be tenacious – and I dare say have a little of talent. Although the other things are almost more important!
So just finally, what’s coming up for you next? Any projects lined up?
There’s a project that we’ve been working on for a while, and I’m directing this without Mark and Dave, and it’s called One Night in Istanbul which is about Liverpool football fans during the 2005 European Cup and we’ve just been out to Istanbul and sorted out locations. We’re just in the process of casting that now and I’m pleased to say it’s a slightly higher budget. We’re looking to shoot that in the next few months, obviously subject to cast availability, but that’s ready to go and the next one on the table. I’ve also got another one in the pipeline called The Boy with a Thorn in his Side, which is sort of like The Graduate, about a young writer in London, a romantic thing. Personally I’m not really interested in being pigeon-holed as a director of a certain genre, I’m interested in all genres, for me it’s about stories that have some heart and soul really and ring true to what they are.
I AGAINST I IS OUT NOW