No matter what you write in your script, money and time forces you to make cuts and compromises and those always have a consequence.
In 2011, I'd just wrapped shooting on A SIERRA NEVADA GUNFIGHT with Michael Madsen and John Savage. Then I got a call from my bud, Sean Fernald (RED VELVET), telling me about a movie that was about to shoot a few states away in Washington and would I be interested?
The result was my working as Head Production Designer on MINE GAMES.
Though the movie was shot in the U.S., the crew and company making it were largely from Australia. Yes, foreign films do get made in the U.S. in the same way that American films, like ALIEN, are largely shot in England and other countries.
With a 2013 release in the U.K., MINE GAMES sees its VOD / DVD debut in the U.S.A. this October 7, 2014.
MINE GAMES stars
MINE GAMES was co-writer, Director, and Producer Richard Gray's first foray into Suspense Thrillers, which he soon followed up with THE LOOKALIKE (U.S. release NOV 7th), SUGAR MOUNTAIN (post-production), and the remake of Takashi Miike's AUDITION (Gray's version in Pre-Production).
As you can see, Richard keeps busy. With my work on MINE GAMES to be released, and now the anticipated re-creation of AUDITION, I had the chance to talk to Richard about the two.
E.C. McMullen Jr.: Hey Richard. You've been making movies since 2003, but you're new to American audiences. So take us back to how it all began.
Richard Gray: I made a few movies in school, but Yellow Brick Dreams is the one that started playing film festivals and I used that as a springboard I guess.
I directed a TV global warming documentary (Fish Out Of Water), and some TV pilots, but nothing clicked for me again until 2005 when I was accepted into the Australian version of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's reality show, Project Greenlight. My script Summer Coda was the runner up, which means it didn't get made for the show. But it set me up with the contacts and gave me a huge boost in confidence about what I could do.
It took me five years of hard work to find the funding for it, we raised about $700,000 (US). But we did it, and we made it. Summer Coda was my first feature film and a tremendous experience shooting out in a small city called Milurda on the Victorian, New South Wales, South Australian border. It's the desert. A stunning place to shoot. It was also my first experience with the Red Camera. All five of my features have been shot on the Red.
ECM: How is low budget film making in Australia?
Richard Gray: Tough mate. Despite Project Greenlight, it still took me another five years to get Summer Coda up. But I learned a lot. And after it was out there, things began to, in a very small way but noticeable, things began to click. It was a nice calling card. No one knew or cared how little money we had, the film stood up and it was what we used to move to the US.
ECM: You began with your graduating short film in 2003 and seven years later you released your first feature. You kind of rode the techno transition in cinema, going from film to digital tape to digital cards.
Richard Gray: Yeah, actually at my film school - the VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) - we started on 16mm and moved to 35mm, but also shot HDCAM, we were kinda just before RED and the indie 5D movement – which changed a lot of things I guess. I am a film lover but at Summer Coda's budget level we couldn't afford film, and the quality we were seeing from RED made it a no brainer. No way could I have had the same opportunity with the cost of film. But saving money isn't necessarily always a good thing.
ECM: What's not necessarily the good thing?
Richard Gray: The downflux of the digital revolution is the influx of so much content. So many people are making so much, but so little of it is good. And not good in the sense of, anyone can make a bad movie. But there's this attitude I think, for young indie filmmakers, which is, "Let's just get out and shoot it." Which is actually GREAT, everyone has an opportunity including myself, but the discipline, the training, knowing how to tell a story, might not be there.
A film still lives and dies on its screenplay. It will always be the most important thing. It's exciting but camera technology can be a blur, changing all the time.
ECM: Several times a year.
Richard Gray: Yeah, always something new to learn or know or incorporate, but I enjoy the education.
ECM: Tell me about what you learned on MINE GAMES with the Red.
Richard Gray: Well we learned a lot of lessons in Mine Games. We had the Red Epic, and it had just been released and it was incredibly buggy. At the time, the Red One was up to maybe Build 41, where the Red Epic was up to about Build 4 from memory. No amount of resolution is worth an unpredictable camera – but we got there on the fly.
It always comes back to money and time.
No matter what you write in your script, money and time forces you to make cuts and compromises and those always have a consequence. I mean, if something, a movie like THE HOBBIT can have camera / tech challenges, imagine how a $700,000 (budget) deals with it. You write or direct a story to be great, as great as you can make it. But at the end of the day the only thing that matters is what you capture between Action and Cut.
ECM: You are about to start your sixth feature film, and you've worked with a variety of actors. In a Cohen Brothers movie you see the same actors, over and over: For example, there's always a place for John Goodman in a Cohen Brothers movie.
Richard Gray: Yeah, I've been lucky to work with a wonderful diverse group of actors, but it's not all by design. On different pictures I've made great friends with our actors and I'd love to work with them again. We always plan on it - the problem is usually time frame. Scheduling doesn't allow it, as the actors are making another movie or TV series. Working with actors is easily the best part of my job. Often, they've worked with dozens more directors than you've made films, and as a director, I learn from them. If I can create a happy set where everyone wants to drink a beer with each other at the end of each day – I'm a happy man.
This Interview copyright 2014 E.C.McMullen Jr.