I recently got the chance to talk to Tony Sebastian Ukpo about his new film, ‘Paris 60’. Here, Tony talks about how the idea came about in the first place and which filmmakers have influenced him as a director…
Hey Tony. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘Paris 60’.
Thanks for having me!
What is the general premise of the documentary, for anyone who hasn’t heard of it before?
The idea is essentially docu-fiction, following the life of a casting director as he goes about his duties while waiting to have a first meeting with the woman who is to be the love of his life. It deals with themes of love and identity, as well as nostalgia and memory and is heavily and deliberately inspired by the films and directors of the French New Wave, specifically Jean-Luc Godard.
You both wrote the fictional parts of this documentary and directed it – what made you want to focus on this particular subject in the first place?
Well it’s a very personal story in many ways, but the thing that made me interested in following through with it as a full-fledged film was kind of as an artistic release. I’d been making very New Wave inspired films and scripts in the four to five years prior, really immersing myself in that cinema and catching up on films I’d never had the opportunity to see, and wanted to finally cleanse myself (if you will) of that influence in a way that was more direct, so that I could really begin to take that inspiration and apply it to my own style rather than experimenting with the form in a way that was up to that point trying to adhere to a certain style of filmmaking. The actual fictionalised content was a mix of real thoughts, as well as more fun recreations set to a specific theme, and that had to fall in line with the real world material in the film. It’s a very thin line in the end between what is actually real and what is fabricated in the final film, but the focus came from really just a love of that style of cinema, but more importantly and specifically, my fiancée.
How hard was it to put the documentary into production and film it? Were there any problems during the making of it?
Actually it was incredibly easy, because ultimately my subjects were very generous and forthcoming about my being around and filming, and following that process. There were no problems as such, simply due to the nature of the subject being documented as there are no interviews, and it leaned more towards observation, but it was rather a question of time, and knowing when you reach that point where you feel it’s time to stop, knowing when to be there to capture those moments that were necessary for the film, but also moments where things could happen that you might not expect. Then there’s the waiting, but that comes with the territory in documentary filmmaking, so I was prepared for that.
What’s the reception been surrounding the film?
It’s a very niche film, and I was very nervous about what the “general public” would think of it, but it’s been surprisingly very warm and positive. People took a lot out of it that I wasn’t expecting, and most interestingly for me, people were of two minds as to which sections were real, and which were staged, and that for me was the ultimate coup. So far, even for people who felt a little challenged by the form in terms of lengthy sequences or more abstract elements, they still came away thinking they’d seen something really moving, but still able to recognise the lighter elements as well, so over all I’m very happy about the reception to the film.
Let’s talk a bit about you Tony. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I’ve always liked stories, and world building. The idea of being able to create people and places and situations that you couldn’t experience in your own life. The idea of telling stories that people could get sucked into, be it because of personal identification, or so they can be swept up in an elaborate fantasy always fascinated me. I wrote a lot growing up, didn’t read as much as I could have, I wasn’t a book-worm or anything, but what I did read inspired a very healthy imagination, and I watched a lot of films and TV shows. Ultimately it was the desire to try to make things that I would be interested in seeing, and also making versions of things that I liked so that I could participate in them and share that experience in whatever way was available to me, that got me into storytelling first through short stories, then comic books, then the turning point as many a filmmaker would tell you, was when I first got my hands on a camera at a point where I had more time than I knew what to do with and the ignorance of youth to soldier me on into this brave new world.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Once upon a time it used to be lot harder to make films. Now you can make one on your phone, from start to finish. That means story boarding, scheduling, shooting and editing all on a single device, and to a quality that is decent enough to play on your TV and look like a real film. So my advice to people wanting to get into the industry is to just go for it. Don’t ask anyone anything, don’t wait for anybody, just do it. There’s so much information online that helps teach at the very least the basic principles of making a film, and that’s as good a start as you’ll need. From there, your determination will lead you in the right direction. It’s a different journey for everyone, but if you’re really motivated to make that ambition a reality, the first step is to just jump into the fray and see what it’s like for yourself. It’s the best way to keep your own creative identity, as well as the best way to experience the hardships of film in an environment that is ultimately very difficult to stay a part of. We’re all just a little bit crazy in this town, you kind of have to be really, but that’s what makes it all the more special when you’re actually doing it.
What films have influenced you as a director? Any favourites?
As a general rule I don’t tend to play favourites because it is near impossible with the amount of brilliant pieces of work that have graced our screens over the decades. I can always do a top of my head list of great films, but that will change every time you ask me. What tends to remain constant are my main cinematic mentors who are Jean-Luc Godard, Powell & Pressburger, and Takeshi Kitano. All for various reasons ranging from style and the content of their films, to their general philosophies about film and filmmaking. I think a filmmakers story is very important, and a great indicator as to why their films are the way they are, and how they eventually evolve.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
It’s a tough call. But then I can also be rather shy when it comes to famous people, I tend to just want to leave them alone and admire from afar, so it’s not something I’d be inclined to do normally. If I had to pick, I guess it would be Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, and Lauren Bacall.
What is your favourite word?
I have a soft spot for the word “hemisphere”. Ask me on another day and it may well be something else. There are lots of cool words out there
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
Weirdly ‘Paris 60’ was my first feature film, and that came out after I finished my 4th! I have another feature coming up that I hope to shoot at the end of summer called ‘After The World Ended’ which is a sci-fi drama in the vein of ‘Gattaca’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Solaris’, or more recently ‘Moon’ by Duncan Jones. I’m in between phases at the moment in my cinematic cycle, so it’s following on from my last film ‘Random 11’ which was more of a genre film, to something that is still genre, but more, for lack of a better word, thoughtful. Bit of a return to a European New Wave sensibility. I love science fiction, so I’m happy to finally get round to making one, that is rather ambitious at that. Also a few smaller projects here and there, writing and setting up future projects, we’ll see how it goes. I’m just happy to still be able to make stuff.
Thanks for the interview!