Filmmaker 2 Filmmaker: Vincent Monton & Jamie Blanks!
Welcome to FILMMAKER 2 FILMMAKER, where we pair filmmaker with filmmaker to discuss one of the aforementioned filmmaker’s features and gain a unique insight into that production in a way that only a filmmaker’s perspective can give us.
VINCENT MONTON is an accomplished cinematographer, having worked with such auteurs as Richard Franklin & Phillip Noyce and lensed Ozploitation classics like ROAD GAMES, LONG WEEKEND and THIRST. While Vincent first stepped into the director’s chair in 1986 for the Everett De Roche penned WINDRIDER, starring Tom Burlinson & Nicole Kidman, it wouldn’t be until 1994 that Vincent would direct one of his own scripts. Now with that film, POINT OF NO RETURN, making its Australian disc debut courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment, the time is ripe for a reflective chat about the film and Vincent’s career in general.
Leading the discussion is Australia’s own Master of Horror, Jamie Blanks (STORM WARNING, VALENTINE). The pair are longtime friends and even collaborated on Jamie’s own 2008 reworking of LONG WEEKEND with Jim Caviezel & Claudia Karvan.
Jamie Blanks: Tell me about the origins of the film. Was it always intended as a TV movie? Tell me about how it came to be?
Vince Monton: Well, it was made in the sort of go-go ’90s, when you could actually finance a film, where the finance could be raised for something. It was going to essentially go to television, and also the VHS market, because we didn’t have digital platforms, et cetera. So it was possible with pre-sales to put the money together with tax incentives and things, which is how this was done.
I didn’t do it though, because what happened was that I was approached by the producer, and he said, “Look, we’ve raised money to do this film, a film about a prison break, a guy who breaks out of prison.” It was going to be a prison break. “And the script we’ve got, now that we’ve got the money, we kind of … The script is appalling, or it can’t be done in the time, and blah, blah, the budget. If you can come up with a screenplay about a prison break, you could direct it.”
And I said, “Well, I don’t have a prison break script, but I could write you one.” And the thing was, “Well, we have to get it shot before … ” Our fiscal year is, I think, June the 30th, because the tax shelters and all that sort of stuff. “It has to be shot before, let’s say, June the 30th, or something like that. And so, there’s a deadline, a tick, tick, tick deadline, and you need a screenplay, and you can direct it if we like the screenplay.”
And I said, “All right, I’ll write a screenplay.” So I went and did that, but knowing that you’re going to direct it, you don’t fall into the traps. Because when you write a script that some poor bastard is going to direct, you’re going to write all sorts … all the night shoots, and all the night shoots in the rain.
Jamie Blanks: The cliff caves into the ocean and falls on the cabinet.
Vince Monton: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And once you do, “Oh, my God, I don’t want write myself into a corner here.” So I don’t want to do a film stuck in a prison with prison breaks and guards and junk like that. I’ll do a prison where it starts off after the guy has broken out of prison. He’s never going to be in the prison. I can try it, but how will he escape? Well, he goes to his brother’s funeral on compassionate leave, to watch his brother being buried. Obviously, he’s a prisoner, and he’ll make his escape there. He escapes from the two cops that are guiding him. So then it becomes a chase movie, because the two cops who lost him have to get him back. And in the meantime, he’s trying to find out why his brother is being buried, i.e. who killed his brother?
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, it’s a great economical setup. I really liked that too.
Vince Monton: This is a word of advice for directors who are starting off. Don’t ever ask for budget. A budget is irrelevant. Because you say, “Oh, I got $10 million.” And you find out that your lead actor is earning five of that. So I said, “Look, hang on…all I want to know is what’s the fee, but what’s the schedule? How long do I have to shoot it in? How much money do you guys got?”
Jamie Blanks: And?
Vincent Monton: And they said, “Three weeks.”
Jamie Blanks: Wow. Three weeks.
Vince Monton: I said, “Okay.” Three weeks.
Jamie Blanks: Wow.
Vince Monton: I, of course, knowing I’d have to direct this, wrote something that could be done that I could do in three weeks, manageable cast, manageable locations but the other thing I did is, you’re always fighting the schedule. Even if you’ve got $100 million, $200 million, the schedule is always the killer, how long you have to make it in.
Jamie Blanks: Right.
Vince Monton: And I don’t particularly like flashbacks in stories. I mean, I think that it can get a bit confusing, and you often don’t need flashbacks. You just put in, because … So I thought, “Well, how am I going to tell the flashback story?” Well, I thought, “I’m not going to do flashbacks. All I’ll do is… he finds a tape, a home movie, which is essentially what his brother was doing while, Grady, our leading guy is in prison.
Jamie Blanks: That’s right!
Vince Monton: And it’s a home movie. And I thought, “Let’s not do this usual bullshit of shoot it on film, and then put down to tape. Shoot it like a home movie.” And we went out in a pre-production week. Pre-production. Why don’t we do pre-production? Blah, blah, blah. I say, “Well, grab a hand camera, Louie. Grab a Handycam.” I think it was Louis Irving, my DOP’s Handycam, “And let’s shoot the home movie. Let’s have them going to karaoke, and scuba diving and play golf, and all that sort of shit.”
Jamie Blanks: Nice work.
Vince Monton: And then just completely create the entire backstory. I shot it in pre-production, which of course, magically doesn’t show up in your schedule. The first assistant kept saying, “Well, where’s the schedule? Where are these scenes’ schedule?” And I kept saying, “Don’t put it on the schedule. We’ll shoot it in pre-production”. Things like that. I mean, you wake up to all these tricks, because I’d shot lots and lots movies and directed one or two before. And you just wake up after a while. How can you get around this without-
Jamie Blanks: Absolutely.
Vince Monton: …without it banging over your head? Just take the pressure off.
Jamie Blanks: We had that together on LONG WEEKEND, I recall, very many times. You had some really good advice for me about little ways we can get around some of the bullshit.
Vince Monton: And as you know, it’s a craft.
Jamie Blanks: That’s right!
Vince Monton: It’s a craft, and there’s a creativity. But if you can’t get the craft right, the creativity, you just don’t get to use it. You’re always with a gun to your head all the time, and you just can’t be creative, because you’re trying to get the schedule, you’re trying to organize this army of crazy people, all want to go in different directions and stuff. Unless you get that managed and under control, you just lose control of the picture as a director.
Jamie Blanks: So there’s three weeks. So tell me a little bit about the shoot itself?
Vince Monton: Well, first of all, I had a very good cast. Like Marcus Graham, he’s just the most superb, intelligent actor. He’s great. And being a stage actor, he’s used to very hard work, just getting the job done. And that’s to me, so important. I do not tilt towards directing actors. I don’t come from that background. So to have actors who know what they’re doing. Don’t get in their way. Once they got it sorted out, just go.
The other thing is that I was able to essentially schedule it chronologically, because I also, to make things easier, he ends up being holed up in his brother’s holiday house, hiding out there. So most of the movie, I had a three week shoot, and two weeks takes place in one location, one, big, expensive holiday house. So you could control the situation. So it was kind of easy to try to shoot chronologically, from makeup and hair, and what happens on the set, et cetera, so that was a sort of good way to do it. And I could control that because there weren’t many locations shifts, and I could jam two-thirds of the movie into essentially one location.
And the other thing, as you know, is travel a killer. Every hour you spend traveling is an hour you don’t spend shooting.
Jamie Blanks: Correct.
Vince Monton: So it was really, from my point of view, I’m not going to spend my time in and out of vehicles and trucks and moving gear around the place. It’s like a circus. Get most of the movie in one place. Get set up and just make the movie, like a studio. But in fact, it wasn’t a studio.
Jamie Blanks: Just circling back. Tell me a little bit about the other two films that you directed and how you got your directing career started. What was it like making your first film coming from a background as a DP?
Vince Monton: My first film, straight in the deep end, was doing WINDRIDER with Tom Burlinson and Nicole Kidman. Whenever you’ve got Nicole Kidman on your CV, it helps a lot.
Jamie Blanks: It sure does.
Vince Monton: Yeah. And then we shot that in Perth. It was an Everett De Roche script, and that was shot in Perth, lots of water stuff, et cetera.
Jamie Blanks: Well, I’m very familiar with WINDRIDER, I just recreated the trailer in high definition for Umbrella, so I know the film very well by now.
Vince Monton: Well, there you go. You probably know it better than I can remember it. But yeah, it’s one of those circles that happens around is that I had actually … Well, I shot, I think, at the time, a couple of Everett De Roche scripts and it then came around that I actually ended up directing one of his screenplays. And when I say, “shot”, I mean as a director of photography.
Jamie Blanks: Right.
Vince Monton: So it was familiar territory.
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, and he was a good, close friend, Everett. I know you two guys were very close.
Vince Monton: Yeah. Yeah, we were very close, and we were that tight-knit group that came out of Crawfords Productions, a bunch of directors and DOPs, and lots of writers came out of Crawfords, because they were writing drama, learning lots and lots of drama. So it was a great, creative steam train in the film industry, because companies like Film Australia and that were making documentaries, which trained lots of great DOPs, et cetera, and technicians. But companies like Crawfords were churning out long-form drama, and a lot of good writers came out of that creative landscape.
Jamie Blanks: Right. And so, WINDRIDER was really well done. There must’ve been quite a few challenges, shooting out on the water on that movie, I imagine.
Vince Monton: Whenever you say, “water”, people’s knuckles clench. Whenever-
Jamie Blanks: Absolutely.
Vince Monton: Yes, of course, we did LONG WEEKEND together.
Jamie Blanks: And I did STORM WARNING as well. I had people out in boats, and it was … Oh, my God. Yeah, I know. I know all of that.
Vince Monton: Yeah. If anybody ever wants to warn themselves off water, just read or have a look at JAWS and the troubles they had with the studio. Like whatever you think is hard, just rack it up a few more notches if you say, “water”. People go, “Eck.”
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, just quadruple it!
Vince Monton: Yeah. Yeah, and it’s so utterly unpredictable. And always get a second unit. Let them do the hard work is probably a good idea.
Jamie Blanks: Exactly.
Vince Monton: Let them get wet and cold.
Jamie Blanks: That’s right. Oh, God, I remember going over a wave on LONG WEEKEND and falling on the back of the boat on my way to do a shot with Jim Caviezel out in the water. So I got completely drenched, and it was not a fun day. All right, so-
Vince Monton: And then the camera gets drenched.
Jamie Blanks: Oh, yes.
Vince Monton: And there is something about electronic lenses and sea water. They don’t like-
Jamie Blanks: They hate each other!
Vince Monton: Somehow it is the sort of like alchemy atrocity getting all those things in one area. You know something is going to go wrong. Also, I’d done Phil Noyce’s picture, DEAD CALM.
Jamie Blanks: Oh, wow. Yeah, of course. That must’ve been very challenging.
Vince Monton: Oh, my God!
Jamie Blanks: I can’t imagine the difficulty of that one.
Vince Monton: You just go in every day, with three call-sheets to work out what the weather was going to let you shoot that day depending on the sea, yeah.
Jamie Blanks: It’s an incredible film. One of my favourite Australian films, DEAD CALM.
Vince Monton: So obviously, Jamie, the last thing I would want to do is have anybody actually escape from prison on this one, and then end up on a boat. That was one place this guy was never going to end up. It was not going to be that his brother had a boat. No, his brother’s going to have a nice holiday house somewhere in a nice quiet forest off a flight path.
Jamie Blanks: Well, you did have a guy do a dive into the Yarra river. I mean, that would’ve been probably a death sentence today if you tried to jump in that water. It’s like a chemical experiment. That Yarra. I was looking at that shot when the guy jumped in. I’m just like, “Oh, God.” I’ve been on the banks of the Yarra with a camera, filming stuff with a white night schedule, and you can smell the water. It smells so bad. It’s just toxic.
Vince Monton: And he had to do it twice.
Jamie Blanks: Oh, maybe it wasn’t so bad in the ’90s.
Vince Monton: No, it was worse probably.
Jamie Blanks: Poor bugger.
Vince Monton: Yeah. Yeah, no, it was and that bridge that we filmed off that crosses the Yarra from South Yarra, I think it was the last time. In fact, they opened it up just for us. They’d shut it off, because it was just not strong enough to carry traffic, and now it’s a historical kind of monument. And I think we convinced them we could use it for two hours a day, so we had to do the whole thing in two two-hour blocks.
Jamie Blanks: Oy.
Vince Monton: Or maybe four-hour blocks, but it was like very difficult to shoot. And yeah, he jumps off the bridge. But yeah, we had to it twice. Not for any other mistakes. We just wanted some other angles.
Jamie Blanks: How many cameras did you have on it?
Vince Monton: Two. Only two. Well, in the film days, the other guns you heard was always, “How much film were you shooting?”
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, right, exactly. Well, you got three weeks. You can only shoot so much.
Vince Monton: Yeah, it works to your advantage. I mean, even if you had three more film editors, we wouldn’t have time to shoot. But now of course, there is the advantage. The huge advantage is that you can put more cameras on something, on a scene, which helps your cutting enormously. You can keep shooting, and the film doesn’t roll through, so you’re going to have to keep the cameras rolling. And you can see what you’re getting immediately. I didn’t even have video split. You can’t sit back and watch what the cameras shooting on a monitor, not even video split. Nowadays, you can not only watch video split, you can actually see in definition what it looks like, what the lighting is like, if it’s in focus, et cetera. But in those days, we’re just before video split, so I had to rely completely on my director of photography, who was Louis Irving, who was also operating. And I knew what he was shooting, and I’d just go to him, “What do you think?” And he’d say, “It’s fine.” Or, “No, we need to do it again.” And he’s my eyes. It’s like you just have to say, “Okay, let’s do it again.”
Jamie Blanks: And why did you choose Louis Irving? Had you worked with him in the past? Because I imagine being a cinematographer, turning that job over to someone else is a huge … you’re making a huge leap of faith, because you obviously have a very clear vision in your mind what you want it to look like. How did it go working with Louis?
Vince Monton: Well, I gave Louis his first job out of Swinburne, as a focus puller at Crawfords when I was shooting at Crawfords. It was his first job. And then he ended up … When I went into feature films, I gave him his first job as a camera operator. Because in those days, if you’re doing a high enough budget as a DOP, you wouldn’t get your hands dirty and the director of photography, cinematographer actually operating the camera. You’ve got some other person to do that. So you get someone obviously that you trusted completely, and he was my operator. And then he went onto to shoot stuff as a DOP himself, and I was lucky enough to get him to shoot this. And it makes the shorthand and everything so easy, because I know what he’s doing, and I can see what he’s doing, and lining up shots, I could tell exactly what he’s doing. But I also had a working policy that because I had been a director of photography, I would back off on whoever was shooting the at the time. I would try not to even look through the camera.
Jamie Blanks: Oh, wow.
Vince Monton: And just go, “Look, this is your gig. This is kind of how we’d like it to look. Maybe look at a few movies.” And then never, never get involved with, “No, you need more backlight here. Yeah, try to never, because it can be intimidating.
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, that’s really respectful and-
Vince Monton: So you just back off.
Jamie Blanks: … and very kind and respectful of you. I really love that. That’s very professional too. It’s really a professional tactic.
Vince Monton: It makes it easy. And I remember Joe Pickering, I think he shot WINDRIDER. It was a little unnerving. He said, “You want to look at the framing?” I’d say, “No.” You know?
Jamie Blanks: Yeah.
Vince Monton: “You sure?” And I think I’d say, “I’m going to get through the film without looking through the camera once. I’m going to trust what the director of photography is doing. It’s his job, his gig. He’s got to interpret it his way.” We’re guiding him, but [inaudible 00:19:43] no, no, a bit more of the left, a bit more of the right.” No, no, no. None of that, because they know what they’re doing. You hire good people and let them do it, because you don’t have time, so you’ve got to delegate. If you’re going to be trying to direct a movie and worrying about the composition of every shot, then there’s something else you’re not doing. You’re not-
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, correct.
Vince Monton: You’re not doing what you should be doing.
Jamie Blanks: There’s so much to keep you focused. So what were the biggest challenges of the shoot, do you think, as a director? What did you find presented the biggest obstacles to overcome?
Vince Monton: The schedule is always a problem. I mean, getting it done, as you know, getting it done in a certain amount of time. There’s never enough time. There’s the shot you want, another take, another this. There’s never enough time to do everything you want.
And on a tight budget, or tight schedule, it always feels like you’re under pressure. That was, I think, the hardest part of it. Although I’d written a screenplay, I sort of didn’t touch it after we had locked it down. So I didn’t want to get into situation of everyday mucking around with the dialogue and changing this and changing that, because again, there wasn’t time, and it’s too distracting to do that. You got to trust the script and do then do the script, even if you’ve written it. “Can we rewrite the lines?” I’d say, “No, what do you want to say?” And it did give me that flexibility with the actors, say, “What would you say?” Just yeah, do it.
I mean, because I always feel that the last draft of the screenplay should be in the editing room. You do a screenplay, but you never know how the actors are going to play it, not exactly. You don’t know what the dynamics are going to be really. Sometimes you think, “My God, I never thought of that.” And you realize of course when you cut it that sometimes the structure is a little bit wrong, and you can restructure. You can actually change the timing and chronology of the script, do more in flashback, or speed things up, or drop whole scenes out that are just not necessary. It’s just too much exposition. And I think you should do that in the editing. I think the director really always has the last draft, which is the final cut.
Jamie Blanks: So talk to me about that, Vince. Was this pre AVID and Lightworks? Were you cutting on film, or did you cut on tape? How did post work?
Vince Monton: We weren’t cutting on film. We were cutting on tape, I think.
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, that makes sense.
Vince Monton: Some tape editing process, like Lightworks maybe. Not Lightworks. What was the system that had some tape system they used to use? Lightworks?
Jamie Blanks: It was a pre Lightworks system that I’m trying to remember. There was also the punch, where you’d have it all on U-matic tapes and sort of create an EDL, and then assemble it off your online masters. But you’d have to…
Vince Monton: Yeah, that sounds clumsy enough. I’m pretty sure that’s how we did it.
Jamie Blanks: It was sort of in the early ’90s, that AVID kind of presented themselves and the Lightworks. I remember I graduated film school in ’93, and it was ’94 before I got my hands on an AVID. They were just starting to come into sort of frequent use in the Lightworks. So it might’ve been … I don’t know. What year was it that you shot the film again?
Vince Monton: ’93, ’94.
Jamie Blanks: Oh, yeah. So AVIDs and stuff were definitely around at that point. You might’ve had your hands on one of those. But how was the editing process? Were you involved in that much, or did you just leave it to your editor to sort of work off your notes? How did it go?
Vince Monton: Well, for a start, the editing was in Sydney, and I was shooting in Melbourne.
Jamie Blanks: Oh, okay.
Vince Monton: But that was good, because I always start … whenever I work with an editor I say, “Start cutting it. Just cut it. Cut the scenes, and put your interpretation on it.” And it’s much easier now with digital, because sometimes if you’re working with work prints, started hacking away, and it wasn’t right. You’d have to go back and reconstruct the work print to do things like that. But with digital, it’s much easier.
And I like it when editors start cutting, just cut, cutting while you’re shooting, even if I’m not there. And by the time I finished shooting, the editor had got it, in Sydney, had just about done an assembly and then I would spend the normal number of weeks refining and changing this and changing that, or maybe we’d do this, maybe a pickup there, no, I intended that to be over there. But it’s always interesting getting another person’s interpretation-
Jamie Blanks: Absolutely. Especially while you’re still shooting. So were you seeing rushes during the shoot, or how did that work? Would you see any dailies or anything like that?
Vince Monton: Yeah. Like we were watching video rushes, not work print rushes. So I was watching rushes as we went.
Jamie Blanks: Oh, good. Right.
Vince Monton: Absolutely. I would go up to Sydney, and the editor would get a chance prior, which is good. I always prefer to do it that way. I don’t want to micromanage the editing.
Jamie Blanks: Yeah, absolutely. So how do you feel about the movie now, looking back on it?
Vince Monton: How do I feel about the movie? I cannot bear watching … I can’t actually bear watching it, but I always watching movie and thinking, “Oh, my God, I should have done that differently.”
Jamie Blanks: Oh, you’re the first director to ever say that, Vince. I can’t believe you had that reaction to one of your own movies.
Vince Monton: Oh, don’t all directors say that?
Jamie Blanks: Of course, they do.
Vince Monton: Of course, they do. This is when it’s locked down, and you’re watching it some years later. You become … well, especially if you’re looking at it 20, 25 years later. You think, “Oh, my God.” Because you become better at things.
Jamie Blanks: Absolutely.
Vince Monton: One hopes you become better.
Jamie Blanks: You want to change everything.
Vince Monton: It’s too late. Imagine if a director could remake his same film five times, and you just go, “No, forget the screenplay, and I’ll do it differently, and then differently, and then differently.” Some directors are accused of making the same film over and over again. I mean, John Ford, was accused him of making the same Western over and over and over again.
Jamie Blanks: Well, there’s Hitchcock. He got to make, what, 50 movies? You know? But Robert Rodriguez tells me it’s like, “Give me 40 movies to direct, and then I’ll give you a Psycho. Give me that much practice.”
Vince Monton: Actually, in terms of challenges, I was going to ask you, how do you find working with actors?
Jamie Blanks: I love working with actors, and it’s something that I was very apprehensive about when I first started directing, because I really, apart from high school drama and acting in school plays and things like that, I didn’t have a huge amount of experience with actors. But I did have a fantastic drama teacher who was a wonderful director and so kind and just was able to get the best out of everybody. So I really just tried to model myself on him. I remember speaking to him just before I made the movie and getting some tips from him. And I just tried to channel him as much as I possibly could, and I found that was really helpful, because I’d spent three years with him at school, got to know him very, very well. He’s still a very dear friend of mine, and he did love working with actors. And I did. I grew to love it, and I was able to build a rapport with them all. I was able to get them all on my side, so that they wanted the same things I wanted in the movie. And I’ve always loved it.
I’ve had a couple of experiences, very, very few, where it’s been a bit prickly. But most of the people I’ve worked with, especially all the ones here in Australia and Canada and out of L.A., they’ve just been wonderful to me. So yeah, I do cherish working with actors. But my real … where I feel most confident is moving the camera and blocking my scenes and thinking … My background was editing, so thinking like an editor as I’m shooting and not overshooting my coverage and wasting time on that. And just trying to know in my head what I was cutting from and what I was cutting to. That’s the philosophy I’ve always tried to maintain. Know where you are in your cut shooting.
Vince Monton: It’s always, looking at it from the point of view of craft, so useful, coming from another solid background like editing or cinematography or writing, to actually walk in, and you have a good idea, good background to fall back on.
You were asking me about the greatest challenge. Shooting and all that doesn’t … I always know how to get the story on the screen one way or the other, not as strong with the editing. But you have a fairly good idea how much you can give your editor and let them use it. So give them enough material to edit. I think the greatest challenges for me is the actors.
I don’t come from a background of acting, and that is to me, the most difficult. I think I come more from the Stanley Kubrick-Ridley Scott school, which is like, “Come on. This is not RADA.”
I did a picture with Malcolm McDowell, and he used to tell some wonderful Stanley stories from Clockwork Orange, and-
Jamie Blanks: Oh, I would have loved to have heard those stories.
Vince Monton: Oh, yeah. But one of them was like he said on the first day … I think he recounted this many times. “On the first day on the set, I asked Stanley, blah, blah, blah and he said, “Malcolm, Mal, this is not RADA. You get paid a lot of money. You’re the actor. You show me something.” And he said, “Oh, it was fantastic, because I could do what I wanted. Nobody was telling me what to do.” So it was like, “I’ll let you know when I’m happy with it. Go for it.” And that must be terrifying to some actors, to say, “Look, I’m not going to tell you how to do it. Just show me. You do it.”
Jamie Blanks: Well, the thing is they’re all different, so everyone has a different way of working. And that’s one of the things, I guess, as a director, you start to learn after working with these actors that they all need different things, and they all respond to different direction or no direction, and you start to learn how to handle them as the shoot goes on.
Vince Monton: Well, I think one of the hardest … well, one of the most decisive things you’ve got to do as a director, from my point of view, is your casting.
Jamie Blanks: Correct.
Vince Monton: That’s most of the job with an actor, I think.
Jamie Blanks: Couldn’t agree more, Vince. You’ve done most of your job by the time you’ve cast your roles. I totally agree.
Vince Monton: Yeah. And I keep in my head remembering Michael Caine saying, “The two best directions I’ve ever had from a director are, ‘Do it a little faster, or do it a little slower.’ And that’s all I ever listen to.” He says, “Otherwise the rest of it all, I know what I’m doing.” And you think, “Yeah, I guess if you get somebody of Michael Caine’s caliber, I guess that’s all he probably does need.” He’s prepared. He knows exactly what he’s going to do. The actor knows, and you don’t want them to bump into things and help them a bit with scenes, but it’s up to them to interpret.
And Welles keeps saying that the most important in the film is the actors. I mean, but then he’s probably right. I mean, no matter what you do with the angles and the editing, the audience is watching a story through the actor’s eyes. And if they don’t connect with that actor, you’re wasting your time, no matter how good a film you’ve got.
Jamie Blanks: Exactly. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that. It’s true.
Vince Monton: So that was what I found. I always find that the most challenging is working with the actors. I mean, you do get actors like Marcus, who are just incredible. They just add to every scene, and you go, “God, they’re just so-
Jamie Blanks: I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor have to do an entire movie in cuffs before.
Vince Monton: In what? In cuffs? Yeah, he didn’t like that idea.
Jamie Blanks: I bet he didn’t.
Vince Monton: “Can we cut it, find a thing to get it off earlier?” No.
Jamie Blanks: Yeah. “I can’t articulate. I can’t use my hands.”
Vince Monton: Yes, yes. “And how do I get my tee-shirt off if I’m wearing handcuffs?” How would you get tee shirt off?
Jamie Blanks: That’s an extremely inventive way of keeping the shoot on track over three weeks, you handcuff your lead actor.
Vince Monton: Well, at least he was handcuffed to himself. It would’ve been a lot funnier if we’d handcuffed him to a steering wheel, and he had to carry that around for the rest of the shoot. Yes, of course, that was a problem. Oh, yeah. Wow. Yeah. But yeah, look, they were terrific. The cast was terrific, very hard-working, no problems at all. But the other thing is, how have you found this like different styles of actors in scenes together when they’re working different approaches and different styles? I’ve found that to be some of the most prickly things among themselves.
Jamie Blanks: It’s true. Well, I’ve worked with a lot of young actors, especially in my first couple of movies, and some of them came from television. And I’ve found when they were working with the older actors, like a Robert Englund or the John Nevilles and stuff, they were very respectful, and they learnt a lot from these other actors. But sometimes getting them to work with each other … Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was different. Like we had Jared Leto, who had a very different approach to the role, and there’s all sorts of backstory that I won’t go into it here, but there’s a whole backstory behind him.
But yeah. They do have different styles, and sometimes it gels, sometimes it doesn’t. Our job is to just kind of roll with that and figure out how do I get the best out of these guys in the time that I’ve get to get it? You know?
Vince Monton: In the time that you’ve got. But I find, for example, when you get actors who nail it. One, two takes, and they’ve got it.
Jamie Blanks: Yep, and we love those guys.
Vince Monton: They don’t get better, they actually get more exhausted. And then they’re doing a scene with someone who gets better and better. And you get an actor who’s starting to … by take 10, they’re just buffing. They’re really getting better at it.
And you got the actors who take one and two is the best take, and they’re getting exhausted. There’s no freshness to the performance, nothing. And you think, “Wow. They’re both in the scene.” And how do you get the best out of both when you know that they’re just working completely different approaches and completely styles. And of course, they get prickly with each other.
Jamie Blanks: I can recall, Vince, you and I on LONG WEEKEND, those sequences with Jim and Claudia. You were often operating the second camera on those. I remember Claudia loving the fact that I could tell when she was doing to do her peak take, and we’d get her coverage. We’d get her closeup and stuff, and she’d come over and say, “Oh, God, I’m really worried that, that was my best take, and we still got to do closeups.” I said, “Don’t worry. Vince got your closeup basically.”
Vince Monton: Well, that’s the great thing about shooting multi-camera.
Jamie Blanks: Absolutely. I love it too, and things cut seamlessly between the two takes, which is always a bonus as well.
Vince Monton: Definitely.
Jamie Blanks: All right, my friend. Thank you so much for the chat.
POINT OF NO RETURN is available now on DVD & VOD from Umbrella Entertainment.