Dr Gerald Lawson
Dr Gerald Lawson: Writer, Producer, Director.
Interview Transcript:Q#1. Where did the story come from?
Over the years, I have been struck by how a will can generate all sorts of emotions, and unearth repressed emotions, in the sense of entitlement and fairness, and who did what, and who put in the hard work with perhaps ageing parents; and how there can be a perception that ‘This will ain’t fair ‘’.
And it would take the wisdom of Solomon to say well, you know, it is fair! I guess judges, in the end, in many cases, have to try and play that role.
And in a way, I’m surprised that more scriptwriters haven’t pursued that area. A will can really put the cat among the pigeons, in terms of family dynamics
So I thought – why hasn’t someone written such a script before? And I thought – well, OK, I’ll have a go.
Q#2. Why are family dynamics so interesting?
I suppose the two great human relationships are (i) your partner or soul-mate in life, and (ii) your immediate blood relatives.
And these appear to be the most fruitful areas for pursuing drama.
Q#3. How was Henri Szeps cast?
I’ve been an admirer over many years of Henri Szeps, and I thought – I don’t suppose he might care to take a look at the script?
So I made contact with him personally. I didn’t meet his agent. I went to him direct. And when I explained what I was on about, he chuckled and he smiled and he nodded. And I thought: “Well, who knows?”
And a week later he rang me up and said: “Yes, I’d think I’d like to do it.”
Q#4. What’s it like directing Henri?
I remember a comment by a director (Phillip Noyce), who had worked with Michael Caine, who had been a noted actor for 40 years, and he said: “The idea that I could tell Michael Caine how to act is absurd.”.
I have to say I felt a little bit over-awed with Henri, he’s been around the acting scene, also for 40 years.
I’m actually reluctant to call myself a director. I call myself a ‘Film Organiser’, if there is such a concept.
I was once taken by an interview that Clint Eastwood gave, in which the interviewer – who was a longtime friend of Clint Eastwood – said to him: “Actors from your films have said to me ‘When I’m in a film with Clint Eastwood directing, he doesn’t actually do any directing.’ How do you respond to that?”
And Clint Eastwood replied: “Yeah, that’s right. I think most directors talk far too much. Everyone’s had the script for months. Everyone’s had a chance to read it through and think about it. The idea that the Director has some brilliant insight that no-one has ever thought of before, that’s ridiculous. It’s better to get talented people together and keep your mouth shut.”.
So I thought – “ I could go along with that concept.”.
There’s probably 40 people in Newcastle who are better directors than me, and who could have achieved better results. But I felt, if I can get talented people together, and let them do their thing, that will probably get more interesting results, than me coming along and laying down the law.
I was also conscious that having written the script, there’s a possibility that you become so attached to the script, that you become inflexible.
I felt it was better to see how other people run with it.
So, I don’t really feel that I am a fully credited director, who always knows what’s going on, and who lays down the law. That may sound a bit of a cop out, but for better or worse, that’s how the film emerged.
Q#5 . How did the story evolve during production?
Well, it is true that the story, perhaps more than most, was an on-going, evolving work, partly because it was such a prolonged project.
If we had knocked it all off in the initial shoot, I am sure that the story would have been a bit immature in some ways. The characters hadn’t quite evolved or defined themselves. And there were elements in the story, that, in retrospect, weren’t working out. So the fact that way the project took a fair while to complete, allowed it – in my mind anyway – to be substantially improved.
Q#6. Did you use test screenings?
Yes, we had a test screening, and it was interesting, because we vaguely thought – ” This is a pretty good film”.
And then, guess what? Some of the test audience said: “That wasn’t working!”. And there were consistent criticisms on some particular areas of the film.
And we had to say: “We’ll have to re-visit that.” In the end, we found a lot of validity in those initial reactions. So we were grateful that we had the time to absorb them, and to make adjustments.
Q#7. What’s it like making low budget films?
Obviously, with a big budget, you’ve got certain options, well you’ve got many options. But with a small budget, by definition, you have a small film crew. That also means that you’ve got a flexible film crew, and there were a number of occasions where we literally did a U- turn on a ten cent piece, and moved to another location.
Q#7. Is it unusual to have a helicopter in a low budget movie?
We have a small scene with a helicopter shot. We managed to sneak in that helicopter scene. It was our choice, it wasn’t a formula shot, or a sly joke. The opportunity arose and we were able to incorporate it effectively into the narrative.
Q#8. Has the technology changed what’s possible since your first film?
It’s true that we had so much more mobility and flexibility as we got to the third film, because of developments in lightweight and mobile cameras. You wonder – will these guys keep on inventing even more cleverer tricks? What’s going to be the next quantum jump in technology that makes it even easier to tackle scenes, which previously you thought were far too technically complex to attempt on a low budget.
Q#9. Why make these sort of films?
Perhaps I’m an old fogey. I don’t go and see films like Iron Man. I don’t even go to see films like Harry Potter. So I may be an absolute dinosaur. But for my demographic, there hopefully should be a story in there that engages people. If you can’t engage people, then additional money just won’t help – it’s not going to work.
Q#10. Is there a moral to this story?
I’m not trying to lay down a moral. Maybe there’s a moral of sorts buried in there. But I’m not trying to inflict it on people – I’m just telling a story. Hopefully, an audience might connect to it. But I’m not trying to lay down the law or inflict a certain point of view on people. I’ve told a story, and – well, who knows?
Q#11. Which is your favourite scene?
(Laughs) It’s like being asked – which of your children is your favourite child? I think I’ll pass on that. There are a few. I have several special moments that I like. But I think it’s unfair on the actors to pick out one, and say that I prefer it to the others.
Q#12. What’s it like making films in Newcastle?
I am very grateful that on many occasions, locations were made available, often at some inconvenience, such as hospital scenes, and often at short notice. I don’t know if that sort of thing would have happened in a capital city. Maybe I’ll move on one day to a project in a capital city, and reality will hit me – that you just can’t walk in at short notice and make use of resources and facilities. It helped that I was a resident there, and had some connections and knowledge of the people involved. But nonetheless, I look back and think – ‘Wow! These people were very generous with their time and resources and they didn’t have to be’.
Q#13. Did you find that people wanted to help.
Repeatedly. We needed a couple of bar stools in a hurry. I literally drove down the road to the nearest pub. I didn’t know anybody in the pub, but I said to the barman: “Are you in a good mood?” He looked at me suspiciously. I went on: ” I’m making a film down the road and we need a couple of bar stools. Is there any way I could beg, borrow or steal a couple of bar stools?”
This guy didn’t know me from Adam. I can’t recall if I flashed my driver’s licence to him. But he just nodded and said: “Yeah.”.
Q#14. How supportive were the cast and crew?
The goodwill of the actors and crew was very gratifying. If you have the cast and crew on-side, it’s such a blessing.
Q#15. How do you decide the film is finished?
I guess you’re always wiser after the event. You can always say: “What if we . . ?”
I think the time comes when you have to say – ‘Look the film is done. Warts and all. We think it’s a good film. So be it.’