I recently got the chance to talk to director Elliott Lester about his new film, ‘Blitz’ – starring Jason Straham, Paddy Considine, David Morrisey and Aidan Gillen. Here, Elliott talks about the development, background and style of the project, whilst giving advice to wannabe directors on how to get into the industry….
Elliott Lester with Jason Statham – (Source: BettiBerlin.com)
Hey Elliott. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. ‘Blitz’ is in UK cinemas right now. For anyone who has yet to see it, how would you best sum it up?
It’s a rough, raw no nonsense homage to Don Siegel. In many ways it reflects what the book is, which is a pastiche of the great American pulp-crime novelists.
You directed the movie – what made you want to tell this story in the first place? I understand it’s based on a novel by Ken Bruen?
Yes, Thomas Brant is a wonderfully rich character. Ken is a classic crime writer and is steeped in the tradition fast: hard hitting dialogue with a un-relenting plot. For me, it was the chance to grapple with a terrific screenplay penned by Nathan Parker (Moon). The original screenplay was a page turner; exciting, rich and full of tremendous characters. As a film maker, it has to start with characters; who they are, what they project, the inner conflict they have versus the world they exist within. I found the key relationships quite unique. Thomas Brant befriending a gay detective. The gay detective befriending the female, a recovering undercover cop. The female cop having a relationship with a street kid who kills somebody. These are characters that should not work well together, that for all intents and purposes make very little sense. However, what Nathan did so well was forge them into something plausible. There is a truth in each relationship which ultimately makes them work. Philosophically, the screenplay comes from a very simple place, it suggests we are all people with problems and that those problems don’t prevent relationships from happening. Also, its incredibly violent.
How would you say this film is different from any other action films released this year? Were you going for a particular style?
I would say that it has a little more soul to it, a touch of anger that is not often seen. We did not set out to compete with the traditional Hollywood blockbuster, we could not, the budget just simply didn’t allow for that. Stylistically, I looked at certain era’s in movies and watched John Boorman’s classic ‘Point Blank’. I wanted Brant to have the same swagger as Lee Marvin. Peckinpah and Ford are also influences. Before starting the shoot, my dear friend Walter Hill and I spent time discussing his body of work. ‘The Warriors’, ‘Southern Comfort’ and his work with Charles Bronson all inform the feel of ‘Blitz’. Furthermore, London had changed so much in the 15 years since I had lived here that I wanted to capture its essence. Bruen was writing in a different era and the many of the places are now shopping centers. The locations are not necessarily truthful, we shot all over the city of London. The point was to build the flavour of London, slightly dreamlike and otherworldly, a city where characters like Brant and Weiss could move through.
The film stars Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, David Morrisey and Aidan Gillen – what was it like working with them on-set?
Jason is a pro, he shows up ready to work, hits his marks and knows his lines. His instincts for action are second to none. Paddy, is a delight. When assembling the cast I had a wish list of actors, he was on the very top. In many ways he is really one of a kind, in his approach, his dedication to the role and his professionalism. We spent a lot of time discussing the character and we would meet regularly and research. It’s the one gift that you get as a director and that is working with professionals who embrace the role to the point where they disappear and the character is standing before you. Paddy and I would go and hang out on Old Compton Street, in the heart of London’s gay district. We would go to bars, chat with people, dine and he would take something away each time that would later show up in Porter Nash. He is a gentleman and a rare genius. David Morrisey. Again, we lucked out in our casting with him. David is a warm, kind and very generous actor. We met at the casting session and straight away there was no doubt that he was 100 % right for Harold Dunlop. David asks a lot of questions and builds the character from the inside out. We spoke seldom after our initial session, we simply did not need to. He turned up on-set and each take was better than the last. Aiden Gillan is the most fearless, fantastical, complicated acting genius of his generation. For a director he gives you pure joy. Aiden made a Barry Weiss so much more than we ever imagined and it really is all him. He is the actor you can take the reigns off and let run wild. Aiden became Barry and moved into a shitty council flat (the one we shot in) and stayed there for the entire duration of the shoot. He ate a diet of crap, sugar filled drinks and sweets and would create home movies that he posted on YouTube. I have never seen such commitment! I simply fell in love with everything he did and every choice he made. It was bold and it was right. He is exactly what every director wants in their actor. A motherfucking selfless chameleon, ready for war each day on set!
Let’s talk a bit about you Elliott – what made you want to get into the directing chair in the first place?
I had been an Assistant Director for a few years in Los Angeles and simply felt that my time was right. Most directors go through film school – I came through the crew. Being creative is something that I had always gravitated towards. At some point my instincts kicked in and I simply felt compelled to shoot.
What does a Elliott Lester day usually consist of?
Angst for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then I kiss my son and tuck him into bed.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a director in the film industry?
Go and fucking run at everything. Make every mistake you can and do it now. Don’t listen to anyone EVER. The industry needs new blood: new writers, new directors and new actors.
What films have inspired you as a director? Do you have any favourite directors?
There’s too many to name.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
I am shooting back to back commercials at the moment. It’s a fantastic way to keep the tools sharp. New formats, new techniques and HD is getting better and better. I am currently re-writing ‘The House on Balcombe Street’ as well, which is the true story of the siege that took place in the 70’s.
Thanks very much for the interview!