Today on the show we have Oscar® nominated filmmaker and screenwriter Joe Wright.
Joe has established himself as one of Hollywood’s top directors with his rare ability to captivate global audiences through his extraordinary cinematic craft.
Most recently, Wright directed the psychological thriller THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, starring Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Gary Oldman. The film follows an agoraphobic psychologist whose life is turns upside down when a befriended neighbor suspiciously disappears. The film was released by Netflix in May 2021.
Previously, Wright directed the war drama the Academy Award winning film DARKEST HOUR. Written by Anthony McCarten and starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, the film follows Churchill’s early days as the British Prime Minister during World War II. At the 90th Academy Awards, the film earned four nominations, including ‘Best Picture’ and won for ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Makeup and Hairstyling’. The film was also additionally nominated for nine BAFTA Awards including ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best British Film’, four Critics Choice awards, and a Golden Globe award.
Wright made his directorial debut in 2005 with the critically acclaimed film PRIDE & PREJUDICE. Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen and Donald Sutherland, the film was adapted from the Jane Austen novel of the same name and garnered commercial and critical success.
Wright received the BAFTA Award for ‘Most Promising Newcomer’ and also won the ‘Best Director of the Year’ award from the London Film Critics Circle. The film also received an additional five BAFTA nominations including ‘Best Screenplay-Adapted’, four Academy Award nominations including ‘Best Actress’ for Knightley and ‘Best Original Score’ and two Golden Globe nominations including ‘Best Film’.
His sophomore directorial feature was an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s ATONEMENT, which was released in 2007 by Universal Pictures. Reuniting with Keira Knightly and also starring James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan, the film opened the 64th Venice International Film Festival, making Wright the youngest director to ever open the event.
The film went on to receive thirteen BAFTA Award nominations in major categories including ‘Best Director’ for Wright and ultimately won for ‘Best Film’. At the 80th Academy Awards the film also picked up seven nominations including ‘Best Picture’ and won for ‘Best Original Score’ and earned seven nominations at the Golden Globes, winning ‘Best Motion Picture – Drama’ and ‘Best Original Score’.
In 2012, Wright released his film adaption of Leo Tolstoy’s historical romantic drama ANNA KARENINA, which first premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Marking his third collaboration with Keira Knightley, the film depicts the tragedy of Russian aristocrat and socialite ‘Anna Karenina’, whose affair with ‘Officer Count Vronsky’ leads to her ultimate demise.
His adaptation earned four nominations at the 85th Academy Awards, six nominations at the BAFTA Awards including ‘Best British Film’, a Golden Globe nomination, and two Critics Choice Awards.
Additional filmmaking credits include the 2015 prequel PAN starring Hugh Jackman; the 2011 action thriller HANNA with Saoirse Ronan; and the 2009 drama THE SOLOIST starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
His new film is the magical Cyrano starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, and Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Too self-conscious to woo Roxanne himself, wordsmith Cyrano de Bergerac helps young Christian nab her heart through love letters. This musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play tells the story of Cyrano de Bergerac as he pines for the affections of the beautiful Roxanne, who has fallen in love with another man named Christian de Neuvillette. Though Cyrano understands that his social status and physical appearance will forever keep him apart from his lady love, he offers his skills as a gifted poet to Christian in an effort to bring the two lovers together once and for all.
Enjoy my enlightening conversation with Joe Wright.
Right-click here to download the MP3
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Joe Wright. How're you doing Joe?
Joe Wright 0:14
I am excellent. Thank you. I'm very well,
Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've, I've been a fan of your work for quite some time. So I'm excited to kind of dive into the weeds with you on on on your career. So first and foremost, how did you and why did you want to get into this insane business?
Joe Wright 0:33
Um, I don't know. I mean, I think I'd like to be able to tell you a story that clearly illustrates a particular moment in my life, when I knew I was going to be a filmmaker. But it was more incremental than that. I knew I always knew that I wanted to be in drama. Somehow. My parents were puppeteers. And they did you know, puppet shows for for adults and kids. And so I grew up in this kind of fantasy world of fairy tales, which was no preparation at all for the harsh reality of contemporary life. I went to a drama club after school where you paid the equivalent of like, 10 cents a lesson and and you went and did improvisation workshops with other kids from the local area. That was an important kind of stepping stone. I, I hung around in a pub in Islington, in London. That was you know, a lot of actors went there and writers and people and there is a little theater upstairs where people put on shows. But running parallel to that was a was a passion for film from you know, the age of six, I remember asking my mum how films were made. And she happened weirdly to have a long strip of cartridge paper. And we we drew a picture or she drew a picture of a prince and a princess and then divided that to another square. And there was a dragon and the dragon came and stole the princess and, and told the story of George and the Dragon. And then we we cut a hole in the lid of a shoe box and wound this paper through this aperture. And she said that's, that's how you make films. It's it's storytelling with images, one after the other. And, and I guess that kind of set my whole imagination on fire in early age,
Alex Ferrari 2:53
Was there a film was there a film that lit your fire?
Joe Wright 2:56
There was an idea to be an actor, I thought I might be an actor, you see. And my plan was to be a very famous actor. Obviously, because you're not gonna plan to be a you know, out of work actor. And, and then through acting, I was gonna, I was gonna move into directing. However, I sat around in my house for, you know, a year waiting for the phone to ring and nothing much happened. And then my dad had a stroke. And I thought, Okay, I need to do something with my life. So I went to art school, and an art school I was, you know, I gave up acting, and I just started making short films. And to answer your question, there are many films that that influenced me along the way. I think David Lean's Great Expectations was one of those, especially the power of the, of the graveyard scene, and when Pitt runs into Magwitch. And then, you know, when I was about 15, in the same summer, I saw for the first time taxi driver and blue velvet. And, and, and I thought, you know, I thought Blue Velvet was a comedy actually. But I watched and rewatch those films over that summer. And I think they really had a huge impact on my understanding of what a director does, actually.
Alex Ferrari 4:31
That's, that's amazing. Now how you say you were doing shorts, there's a short called crocodile snap. How did you get that short off the ground, get the money, get the everything to kind of put that thing together?
Joe Wright 4:42
Um, well, I that was after I left college, and I'd made a short film at college, which had won a prize and the guy who gave out the prizes for fuji film The guy he was that his name is Jeremy Howe. And he wrote to me saying he liked my movie, you know, my short film. And he ran a BBC series called 10 by 10, which was 10 short films of 10 minutes. And I called his receptionist every day, bugging her. And I think I bugged her to the extent that in the end, she told me where he was having a meeting that day. And he just said, if you want to talk to him, just go down there and talk to him. And I turned up, and I hung around, it was the Royal Institute of British architects, and I hung around this very imposing institution for three or four hours until he finally came out. And I said, Jeremy, Sir, I need to talk to you about this film and, and he said, Well, I'm very late, but you've got between here and Googe Street, subway station to, to pitch and, and so that four or five minutes of that walk really changed my life, because I managed to persuade him to let me do this short film. And listen, I'm talking about $3,000 Probably, budget. But to me, that was an astronomical amount of money and inconceivable for me to to get hand my hands on. And he commissioned this short film, and, and then that got nominated for a BAFTA. And from there, I was kind of on the very early stages of some kind of ladder.
Alex Ferrari 6:52
Now, how did you make the jump from a $3,000 short to directing Pride and Prejudice? Which is a bit more than $3,000 if I'm not mistaken?
Joe Wright 7:02
Yeah. Well, I was, I was very lucky. I mean, I always tell sort of young filmmakers who are trying to figure out how to how to get into the business, how to gain experience. I always tell them to hang around actors. And basically to find if there's a if there's a little fringe theatre, if there's a actors workshop, if there's anything that involves actors, putting on shows, telling stories, that's your best bet. And as I mentioned before, there is this pub in Islington called The Old Red Lion. And drinking this pub was this incredibly important character called Kathy Burke, who is an actor and director and writer. She won the Palme d'Or for Gary Oldman is nil by mouth. And she was very influential. And every time I made a short film, I'd give her a VHS copy of my short film. And without telling me every time I did that, she would pass that on to this producer friend at the BBC. And so one day I got a call out of the blue saying, will you come in to the BBC to meet Catherine Waring? Who is this producer? And I went along and it was in the days where you could still smoke in offices, and I couldn't see her through the midst of tobacco smoke. Although it did smell a bit odd. And, and through the smoke, I heard this raspy voice say, so would you like to do a three part drama for the BBC? And I could have I jumped out of my mouth. And I tried to play it very cool and said yeah, well it depends on the script
Alex Ferrari 8:59
Lessons for everyone learning if you're in the room and they offer you something like this, you got to act cool. You can't just lose your your crap right there.
Joe Wright 9:09
So it depends on the script. And and you know, she she sent me the the first episode and I was actually bowled over by it was a really beautiful piece of writing called natureboy. And, and I was suddenly directing at the age of 26. I was directing three one hour episodes. So three hours of television, a budget of I think 3.4 million pounds. So that was a huge steep learning curve. And then I made about 14 hours of television. I did about Yeah, three or four TV projects, each one kind of bigger than the last. And, and then one day I was asked to go and meet working titled to talk about Pride and Prejudice.
Alex Ferrari 10:03
So yeah, so it wasn't like, Oh, I just made 1000 out of moving, they just give you Pride and Prejudice you, you built a career.
Joe Wright 10:12
Great, it was great because people say, wow, you're, you know, this is the first time film director. As if I was somehow, you know, blessed from, from heaven, with this kind of ability to make, you know, to know how to make movies at that level, at that level. At that level, it was very hard, hard won. And I didn't tell anyone that really I was quite, you know, reasonably experienced in TV. I let them believe the myth of of talent. But, but yeah, it was the teacher that that that improvisation workshop, I always used to say it's 99% in 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. And I think that was that was very, very true.
Alex Ferrari 11:07
Now, you've worked with some remarkable actors in your career, how do you approach or do you have any advice on directing actors because you've been able to, you know, pull or collaborate on some amazing performances?
Joe Wright 11:23
Yeah, I mean, I think, I think I think the fact that I used to act as a kid means that I, I never, I never shrouded the craft in this kind of mystic reverie. Gentlemen, people will think of actors as almost being like, witches or you know, warlock. This strange kind of alchemy happens and somehow they're able to do this thing shape shift. It's, it's it, it's certainly an art. Acting is certainly an art, but it's also a craft. And I approach actors, as crafts people as collaborators, I am completely open with them about the process. I don't I don't expose my fears too much to them. Because they need bolstering they need to believe that you believe even when you don't. But I but I share the process. I tell them exactly what the story is that we're trying to, you know, try to tell I make them a part of it. And I I don't bullshit them either. skews language. I don't I don't try and kind of, you know, I think they often get infantilized, alright. And if you treat actors like children, they'll behave like children. Where if you give them the respect of intelligence, then then they'll reciprocate intelligently. And yeah, and I think it's, it's really, it's really just talking straight to them. And not not kind of, you know, I remember I remember, you know, there are tricks, you know, but I remember talking to Keira Knightley on on Pride and Prejudice and, and saying, Listen, your head of department, right, there's that there's the camera department, there's the art department, there's the acting department. And it's an department like any other department in telling this story. And you as the lead actor, are the head of department. And therefore, as head of department, any new department member that comes in on a day to day or a couple of lines, your job is to make them feel welcome and ask them if they're okay. And support them, you know, and that was a trick that we really worked because it it grounded her and it meant that every supporting actor that came in therefore supported her because she had reached out as a you know, as the head of department
Alex Ferrari 14:22
That's a that's an amazing I've never heard that that technique before that's a really great technique to use.
Joe Wright 14:28
Oh Gary Oldman that but here it was it it also I mean, the other thing with actors is that generally they are all different around what makes them tick. And then you know, and then and then play to their specific
Alex Ferrari 14:53
Yeah, strengths and stuff. So So do you I always tell act I always tell filmmakers This is that as A director, you really need to create a safe space for the actor, if the actor doesn't feel that they're in a safe space where they can really go on out on a limb, you know, with their craft, if they feel they have to protect themselves. That's when the problems start. Is that is that your experience?
Joe Wright 15:16
I think that's a brilliant piece of advice. Absolutely. I think I think, you know, we're all exposed, we're all, you know, scared of being judged. Am I a good director? Am I a good boom operator, you know, am I doing okay? But for the actor, they're in front of the camera, and that's a whole nother level of vulnerability. And therefore, you have to support them. And, and, and create that safe space, which is one of the reasons why I do rehearsals, I do a lot rehearsals prior to shooting two or three weeks for a movie, and, and that is partly about learning each other's rhythms and so on. But it's also about just getting to know each other and getting to a point where they feel safe, looked after,
Alex Ferrari 16:09
And comfortable and comfortable with each other. Because if there's gonna be any issues, I'd rather be in rehearsal, then, as far as personality conflicts or techniques, ones, method ones not method, things like that. You've got to figure all that stuff out in a much cheaper environment, and a much cheaper.
Joe Wright 16:25
Yeah, your cheapest days or your rehearsal days. But also, you know, to other things, I think it's really important to like your actors. So when you're casting, you have to figure out whether you like this person, because you're gonna have to talk to them a lot. And I find it personally I find it difficult to talk to people I don't like one do I like them? And to do I respect their intelligence because there's a there's a kind of myth that goes around the, you know, the airhead actors. The the most successful actors I've ever met are the most intelligent people I've ever met. You know? Great be that, you know, Tom Cruise is incredibly smart, you know, and Nicole Kidman incredibly smart Gary Oldman, incredibly smart. These people are really, really smart. They're not, you know, and intelligence, as in, you know, as with music or science or politics plays an enormous part in the ability to act.
Alex Ferrari 17:30
Now, do you storyboard by any chance, because even you have you paint on such big canvases.
Joe Wright 17:37
I storyboard when the sequence involves very specific ideas of montage. When I'm interested in how one image cuts to another, I'll draw those two pictures and put them next to each other on a piece of paper and see how they work together. If it's a long developing shot, or a long steadycam shot, then I don't. Because I don't find it useful. But I storyboard everything I do. And often also, what I'll do is I'll get plans of the set. And then just mark out diagrams of the camera move the direction, the light direction in particular, so that my DP can pre light confidently knowing that that's the direction I'm going to be looking in. So I plan very, very carefully, but not always storyboarding.
Alex Ferrari 18:29
Very cool. Now, there's one film that you made that is one of my favorites. And when it came out, I saw the trailer and it blew me away, Hannah. I absolutely loved Hannah. And it was kind of like a revelation when it came out. It was obviously a big, very big success even spawned off a very successful television show. At this point, how did you get involved with Hannah and and how did you bring that, that energy that that movie has it's so so wonderful.
Joe Wright 18:59
Um, thank you. Hannah happened because Sasha Ronan called me up and said, I want to make this film Hannah and I want you to direct it. And I was like, great. Alright, then let's do that. It was was it I mean, I'd worked obviously with Hannah on atonement, Sherman. I had worked obviously with with Sasha on atonement. And she was 11 Yeah, she was a kid. Yeah. And then she was 16 when we made Hannah and it was something that you know, that focus features had sent her and I guess she liked working with me and and asked me to ask me to do it and I read the script. And it was interesting actually, that that that process because there is the script, I read it There was two credited writers, one of whom was a guy called Seth Lochhead. And this script was really uneven, it was really patchy, there are moments of kind of surreal flights of fantasy that I'd never encountered in a kind of certainly not in an action movie. The strange almost sort of hallucinatory experience. And then there were the, there are bits that were like purely procedural kind of actions by thriller. stuff. And so I kind of questioned what that was about and discovered that actually, the studio had been scared of set lock heads original original script, which was the kind of more hallucinatory thing and that they'd brought on another writer to write the more procedural stuff and kind of tame it down. So I basically went back to Seth and he and I worked on developing his flavor and his ideas more fully, but also kind of, practically so that it was actually shootable Yeah, and I bring you know, I work very closely with writers every film I make is extremely personal. And, and so there were elements that I was, you know, there was stuff I was angry at the world at the time, something had happened to a friend of mine a woman who had been Yeah, something bad had happened to her. And and so the film was a kind of innocent, outsider's view of this crazy world in which she was born into
Alex Ferrari 21:58
And I guess those that that horrible thing happen to your friend and this script at the same time, kind of came together at that moment where that energy and that anger you might have been perfectly fit that that film.
Joe Wright 22:13
I kind of, I don't know. I don't you know, I'm I think things seem to if you allow them to things seem to happen at the right moment. I'm not much you know, I'm not I don't really I'm not, I'm not really into the idea of an interventionist God, but I do believe that if you get into the flow of things, things happen as they should.
Alex Ferrari 22:41
Yeah, I've been given the advice is like don't push the river the river is going to the rivers flowing with or without you. You trying to push it, it's not it's only going to make you tired.
Joe Wright 22:51
Exactly right. It's really I've tried it. Oh, yeah. I've spent a lot of my career trying to get
Alex Ferrari 22:59
Like can we get this one little project pushed a little bit more can we get just a little bit more money just let it let it happen. Now um, as directors you know, we always find I'm sorry.
Joe Wright 23:12
As they say in Frozen just let it go
Alex Ferrari 23:14
Just let you read my mind know I have God think others over that phase. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Anyway, anyway, anyway. So as directors there's always a day that we have that the world we feel like the world is coming crashing down around us on a shoot day or in the middle of a movie and, and oh, my God, how are we going to get through this? Whether that be the camera fell into the lake, we're losing the light, the actor broke their leg, something happens, that you feel like, I don't know how to get through this. What was that day for you? And how did you overcome that day? Is there a day in your in your career that you can that you can say publicly?
Joe Wright 23:58
Usually, usually, right usually happens at about four o'clock
Alex Ferrari 24:06
Every day, every day,
Joe Wright 24:07
Every day you think you're going along fine. You know, you started the morning with confidence in your plan. And, and maybe you've taken a little bit too long over hurdles or setting up that shot or this shot and, and you've got, you know, three scenes to get through and then suddenly you go oh, God, it's lunchtime, and I've only done you know, half a scene or one scene. And then everyone's a bit slow coming back from lunch because they've had the apple pie and custard. And, and you're trying to get through and then at about four o'clock you go, Oh, you know, oh, no, I have, you know, two hours left. And I've still got to do this three page scene. How am I gonna ever get through the day um, and you get through by by economizing basically, you get through by figuring out what the essentials of that scene are, and shooting that. And, and often those end up being the most interesting scenes. Because you haven't had the luxury of, of, you know, over articulation. So, so I think often, you know, and in a way, I'm beginning to try and apply that, overall to the films I've made, you know, to just what are the essentials, what's important and, and stripping away the kind of the decoration if you like. And I'm really listening to to the story. So that's a kind of general answer for you. I mean, certainly the day that Mount Etna erupted whilst we were shooting the battle sequence of Syrah No, that was a fairly catastrophic day. I would say, the only solution that day was to pick up the camera case and run
Alex Ferrari 26:27
The hell with the day, the hell with your day.
Joe Wright 26:29
Yeah, I have no other advice for for young filmmakers who happened to be facing a volcano erupting other than to say run.
Alex Ferrari 26:41
Forget the shot. I mean, if you can get the shot, maybe let the camera run for five more seconds, but then run
Joe Wright 26:47
And then run and protect your head as well. Because the projectiles stones
Alex Ferrari 26:52
You were that close how you were really there.
Joe Wright 26:54
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, we shot a sequence. Well, I mean, Jesus, I laugh now, right. But I was literally crying. We had planned to shoot the the battle sequence at 16,000 feet at the near the summit of Mount Etna. And four days prior to shooting, there was a unprecedented snow storm. And our set got buried and two meters of snow, including the 100 foot techno that we read. And, and the whole thing was completely inaccessible. So with only, you know, four days, notice we had to, we conceive the whole very complicated sequence anyway, down to 8000 feet. And that was interesting to kind of go, Okay, I've got no set. I've got, you know, a bunch of guys dressed as soldiers. I've got no set, I've got a camera and a tripod. And that is literally it. I've got no tricks to hide behind, though, you know, I can't even move the camera, I've got no track. Because I'm working on a kind of vertiginous, volcanic slope, and to really kind of go Alright, what do I need to tell this story? What How can I tell this story with these very few basic tools at my disposal? And that was that was fascinating. But yeah, then then the volcanoes erupted.
Alex Ferrari 28:34
Because I remember watching that sequence. And Sarah No. And I was it was, I mean, it was beautiful. And I'm thinking to myself, because in today's world, you just don't know how much is visual effects? How much is you know, did he shoot this on a green screen? Like, how much of it was, and I'm like, when you said that, because I've been at 12,000 feet. And it's, I was having problems walking. I can only imagine trying to shoot at that level. It was brutal. It's absolutely brutal. It's like it's absolutely brutal. But those scenes that in sernova, specifically, they were, they were beautiful. There would be those that those war sequences without knowing the backstory behind it. I'm like, Okay, this makes sense. But that's but that's the thing is and I feel that as as filmmakers, if you're given to, if you're, if you're if you if you if I told you, Joe, all you got is time and money, which would be fun for a minute, but at a certain point, you just like, I need limitations. And those limitations are what help you chisel down the fat on a see.
Joe Wright 29:36
I've done it, I got time and money I got you know, they gave me they gave me $180 million to make pan right. I got you know, all the tools I could could possibly want. And it was the biggest disaster of my career. Whereas, you know on a film like atonement for an instance, I had one day to shoot a montage sequence of the beach at Dunkirk, I understood that there is no way I was going to be able to complete that sequence in a single day, given the tide coming in and out. My only solution therefore, which I thought was a pretty good greatest solution was to shoot the whole thing in a single steadycam shot. And that for a while was the was the the shot that defined my career, you know, so. So I do strongly, strongly believe in limitations, liberal liberating us creatively and using, you know, always having a kind of a positive solution based outlook. Because generally, what we're doing and you know, is to, is to find solutions, there are a series of problems over the course of a day. And our job as a as directors is to gather these people together and marshal them through the, through the problems by finding solutions collectively. And, and those of creative solutions as well as practical solutions. If you're living deeply deeply in the heart and head of the film, then those solutions will carry through the story and the themes that you're trying to express.
Alex Ferrari 31:28
So, you know, as when you're when you're on set, you know, especially at at the indie stage, there's 1000 questions, but I can only imagine at these 100 $80 million stages. How do you what advice would you give filmmakers dealing with that barrage as you know, young directors who are being asked every minute, what do you think of this? What do you want to do there? How do you do this? How do you move that? Because I mean, directing is essentially compromise, compromise, compromise. It's never what you want. But you know what I mean? So as far as answering and dealing with that kind of hurricane, because you're in the center of a little mini hurricane and every day as a director.
Joe Wright 32:06
Alex Ferrari 32:06
How would you approach that?
Joe Wright 32:07
I love that. I love that feeling. I love being on set.
Alex Ferrari 32:11
Oh, God. Yes.
Joe Wright 32:13
The two the two very kind of practical suggestions I would make. A, well, I get up two hours before having to leave for set and I spend those two hours reading the script. And writing a shortlist every morning. I've done I've already done, you know, first drafts of a shortlist and or storyboards with my DP earlier. But I spend those two hours kind of very quietly contemplating what's really necessary and and what the story is that I'm, I'm trying to tell. So that's one thing that grounds me and helps me keep focused. And the other thing is, when someone comes to you with a question, the first or an idea, which can be just as challenging sometimes is the first thing that comes out of your mouth is thank you. And that buys you a window of time to one bring your bring your panic and your ego down and just buys your little little window between their question or their suggestion and your answer. It just kind of is a magic word that breaks things down. And then you can approach the question or the or the suggestion with a kind of clear, clear of ego. Really? That's, but it kind of works. You should try. Try to work.
Alex Ferrari 33:59
Oh, no, it definitely it definitely does be I mean, I was the best advice I've ever gotten on set is don't be a dick. Best advice in the business best advice you could get in this business. Don't be a dick.
Joe Wright 34:13
Absolutely. That's a fundamental piece of advice.
Alex Ferrari 34:18
Now, you know, earlier in your career, or I'm assuming throughout your career, you've got to deal with rejection. How do you deal with rejection? I'm sure there's projects that you wanted to get off the ground that didn't, you know, a lot of people think that like, oh, once you get to a certain level, they just constantly you all you got to do is make a phone call and they give you $50 million, or $100 million, and just make whatever you want. And that's not the truth. You know, after talking to so many filmmakers over the years. I know that's not the truth. But there's a kind of lore in that of young filmmakers thinking that, you know, people have to they have that opportunity and they don't generally how do you deal with those rejections? How do you keep moving forward?
Joe Wright 34:57
Right, I think I think you're absolutely right. There is no final destination. You don't you know, there is no, there's no arrival, you don't get somewhere and go, Oh, great, I need it. I'm here. I'm here. And now people are gonna let me make my films. And that's certainly not my experience. I think I find I find rejection really hard, actually. And I haven't, and I haven't yet found a very healthy way of dealing with it. But I, you know, this is all I can do, right? is all I can do, I haven't got, you know, wealthy parents to lean back on, I haven't got any other source of income whatsoever. It's my job. It's my vocation, and it's my life. And it's my heart. And it's everything i i Love. It's also a spiritual practice, I believe, but it's, but it's a job, you know, I got put food on the table. And so therefore, I have to get up, dust myself down and go back to work. And that's all it is, you know? It's like, Okay, that didn't work. Let me try something else. Let me try something else. Let me try something else, you know. Because I don't have a choice. You know, I don't have the luxury of going well, that didn't work. And I'm really hurt. My feelings are really hurt. So I'm going to just go and take five years off and sit on my dad's yacht, you know, that is an option. So it's just about picking yourself up Dusting yourself off. And keeping on going. I mean, I had a, you know, I had a terrible crisis of confidence after pan. Sure, I shouldn't talk too much. But you know, I had a terrible crisis of confidence after that. I called up. Alfonso Khurana said, I'm having a terrible time. And we've talked about it, and he's someone who I thought never experienced crisis of confidence. You know, he's, he's great. He's Alfonso Corona, may, you know, gravity and Roma. He said, Man, I'm having exactly the same problem myself. You said, I'm going through the same thing. I said, Oh, you you know what, you go through that too. Because yes, a man I go through this too. You know, it's, it's hard. We all go through it. And we, you know, and and we went and, and watched a couple of early Italian, neorealist movies and felt much better. You know, I think, I think practically something you want to do is just go and watch the films that made you fall in love with filmmaking in the first place. Remind yourself of what you love about film. Which isn't careerist bullshit, it is the art form itself. And then put that into work. You know, it's no, it's no coincidence that having had that experience, I went and made Darkest Hour, which was essentially about this little guy who had a crisis of confidence. You know, his name was Winston Churchill. But fundamentally, for me, it was about a guy who had a crisis of confidence, who doubted himself as others doubted him, and, and so I was able to put all of that experience directly into that movie.
Alex Ferrari 38:54
And, you know, I think as as artists, we all have that moment, especially when you're on set. And I've and I've talked to so many different directors at so many different stages of their career. And it happens all the time that you have that kind of imposter syndrome. You could have won an Oscar, and you feel like oh my god, someone's gonna come in and go what are you doing here? You don't belong here security escort Joe out off the set. Is that
Joe Wright 39:18
We all have that. The only person that doesn't have that is in a written Yeah. doesn't have that.
Alex Ferrari 39:26
I don't think I don't think Cameron has it either.
Joe Wright 39:30
Maybe not Cameron. Okay. But apart from in a Ritter and Cameron. Everyone else is imposters they're the only true guests. You know, what are you gonna do? You're gonna go to the party and go, Oh, I'm not an imposter. I belong here. And then they're lonely because, you know, you think you're the only one that belongs, you know, it's it. We all share we all come and we you know We're humans similarities are far greater than our differences.
Alex Ferrari 40:05
Agreed 110% And that's why I try to do when I do these shows and I speak to people like yourself is I want to kind of break down the myths of so many because when I was coming up as a young filmmaker I you know, I looked up on on the on the mountain, Mount Hollywood where Spielberg and Cameron and Lucas and Coppola and Scorsese lived,
Joe Wright 40:24
Alex Ferrari 40:28
Joe Wright 40:29
The man is worried he worries all the time.
Alex Ferrari 40:33
And he's Steven Spielberg.
Joe Wright 40:35
And he's Steven Spielberg. , exactly. It's like it. I mean, my God, and in a way, that's what the movie Sarah knows about her. So I did that. And yeah, it's about someone who, who feels like they're living in the wrong body who's an imposter. It's about a safe feeling like you're different from everyone else. It's what we, you know, it's what I'm trying to talk about in the movies is, how do I fit in? How do I how do I communicate with other people? Hannah is about a girl trying to go How do I fit into this world? How do I connect with other human beings? Why is it so difficult to connect? Why is it so difficult for me to get past my own feeling of lack of self worth? Why can't I allow people to see me really for who I am? All of those questions, that's drama. And that's why I love making drama, you know, and what I've discovered is that I have to make the movies that I love. I've tried making, you know, movies, big CG movies, I've tried making movies that, you know, twisted, dark thrillers, I've tried making movies that that aren't really expressive of who I am. But I'm messing around with genre and trying things. It was interesting, but the films that work are the films that speak of who I am as an individual.
Alex Ferrari 42:04
Right! And you could absolutely tell that and you know, I just happened I had the pleasure of watching Sarah No. Yesterday, in fact, so it's fresh in my mind. I absolutely adored the film. I think it's wonderful. It's one of the best films of the year without without question. The performances are wonderful. I, how did you how did you bring that story? What made you want to bring that story back? Because it has been told obviously, a million times before because Cyrano de Bergerac what, what made you want to come in and throw your your twist on it?
Joe Wright 42:38
I would always have wanted to tell that story. Because I feel it is I identify with with with Cerner, you know, I, as we've talked about, I feel like I don't fit in or unworthy of love, incapable of connecting with other people. My, my, my insecurities, my fear of intimacy, all expressed through that character. And the question was that, or the problem was that it had been done before. And so there wasn't, you know, an opening for me to to I couldn't remake the, the nose version. And then when I saw Peter Dinklage play Cyrano, and I think often creatively successful movie is about the right actor in the right role at the right time. Like, you know, Gary Oldman, and in darkest hour, or Kara in Pride and Prejudice, or indeed Sasha and atonement. And seeing Pete In that role, suddenly, the emotional weight of the story hit me in a way that I hadn't experienced before. Because, however, strong the suspension of disbelief might be, you're always aware that Jared Pedja is wearing a you know, big prosthetic on the end of his face, and at the end of the night, is going to take that off and go to the bar and get drunk. Whereas with P there's a amedia authenticity, you know, that P is is gonna be always been, he is he's always going to be P He's, he's he's lived with that experience, and he brings the weight of that experience to that performance. And then to see him opposite Haley Bennett, who is so extraordinarily womanly, feminine and feminine. And and, you know, she's not one of these kind of androgynous girls that kind of completely asexual she's kind of she's got this extraordinary femininity and, and sexuality and intelligence and, and so to see him opposite her seemed like the perfect, perfect coupling
Alex Ferrari 45:20
The casting was phenomenal enough. I mean, it was an absolutely phenomenal, I hope Peter gets nominated because he was it's a tour de force, it's an absolute tuna force performance on his part. Now I always wanted to ask because I've never spoken to a director who's worked on a musical before. So how do you approach directing these large set pieces and musical sequences, because it was just, I've just I've never directed a seek a musical sequence, I don't even consider how you would even go at that level with so many costumes in the locations and everything.
Joe Wright 46:00
Thank you like you would any other sequence you know. And the choreography is probably the biggest difference, dance. But that is really very much like fight choreography. You know? It all has to be very, very carefully worked out and rehearsed. endlessly for weeks on end, prior to shooting. All of the we made a choice to have all of the singing happen live on set. So that there was a level of intimacy and that there will be a fluidity between the speech and the singing.
Alex Ferrari 46:46
And you can't should you cut between performances like so if someone's singing here on set and someone's? Are you cutting those performances are you laying down like on an ADR track afterwards, have them live on set,
Joe Wright 46:57
No that they're singing live on set, and that's what we're cutting with. Okay, so they're wearing ear wigs, so they can hear the music backing track. And if they are singing in duet with another performer, we've got a temp recording of that other performer playing in their ear. And then when I go and shoot that other performer, I've got what we recorded on set from first performer playing in there. And sometimes we had live accompaniment because we wanted to kind of you know, we wanted to be off click as they say so so we could so they could be more kind of they could move the written the melody around and the rhythm around a little bit more. But but shooting the singing live like that enabled a much a much more tender, fragile, intimate experience. We're not seeing we're not hearing them through a glass panel. We're not, you know, we're not having them talking, talking and then suddenly needle drop and we're into it's a musical. It's as natural as singing along to the radio whilst you're doing the washing up.
Alex Ferrari 48:15
And I saw that right away. I was like, Oh, he's he's doing it that way. I was like, Oh, this is nice. And and when you see Peter just start singing, like, you know, in the middle of like he's having a conversation then just starts to sing naturally like you it was it was wonderfully done. It was really wonderfully executed.
Joe Wright 48:32
Well, thank you. I mean, that's also massive. You know, massively helped by the band, the National who wrote all the music and lyrics and then their music has a kind of contemplative emotionality, the yearning and and it's not kind of, you know, it's not I was about to say another film that it's not, it's not 80s musicals.
Alex Ferrari 49:01
Got it. Exactly. Fair enough. Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, when is when is your know are being released? And where can people see it?
Joe Wright 49:09
It is being released on it's been released on on January 21. In you know, selected theaters and then goes wide on February the fourth.
Alex Ferrari 49:22
Okay. And I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Joe Wright 49:29
Oh, God. I mean, I think we've covered that, haven't we? I think we might. I mean, you know, yeah, as I said earlier, find actors go to go to you know, there's a little room upstairs of a pub. Going put a show on.
Alex Ferrari 49:50
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Joe Wright 49:55
Alex Ferrari 49:57
You know what, that is one of the most common answers it out of all everybody has a lot of people. That's a that's a lesson that a lot of people have learned. It's fascinating that and patience
Joe Wright 50:09
Yeah, I still haven't learned it. But yeah, that's the lesson I'm continuing to try and learn.
Alex Ferrari 50:15
It's always that and patience. Patience is the other big one that a lot of people have to learn.
Joe Wright 50:20
What? Yeah, maybe. Let me read the same self help book.
Alex Ferrari 50:26
And lastly, three of your favorite films of all time.
Joe Wright 50:29
Uh, well, I can't even begin to films into just three. So I'll just come with three off the top of my head. See, I can't even do that.
Alex Ferrari 50:44
I'll get to directors too if you'd like.
Joe Wright 50:47
I'm trying to be clever. I shouldn't be clever. I should just tell you what the films that are brief encounter by David Lean, okay. Fellini's ama code. And viscosities. The Leopard.
Alex Ferrari 51:06
Amazing lists are amazing lists. Joe, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It was so much fun. Please continue making movies. You you you are needed in the cinematic world. So I truly, truly appreciate you, my friend.
Joe Wright 51:23
Bless you. Thank you so much.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Please subscribe and leave a rating or reviewby going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show? Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors