Radio Interview: James Marsh on “Shadow Dancer” (& His Career & Film Industry Trends) With Filmwax Radio

I found this radio interview podcast by Filmwax Radio of Hold On To Me director James Marsh at Rooftop Films blog site. Marsh was promoting his current thriller, Shadow Dancer, during this time. I’ve seen the film on VOD on cable TV- it’s superb. I encourage a watch, it’s very tense, beautifully shot, and the acting is superb.

I took notes for you while listening to the interview. While Shadow Dancer is discussed, the great majority of the interview is on Marsh’s career path, his approach to filming and his actors, and production and distribution trends in the film industry. In particular, he speaks of what any more than casual observer of the film industry knows– quality adult films are being squeezed out of the Hollywood marketplace. Studios simply favor the money making prowess of blockbusters. Marsh says you can make money on a good film, but the studios are focused on the financial return. He says “here’s a huge audience crying out for good stories”.  That audience has moved increasingly to cable TV channels like HMO and VOD- who have acted on the opportunity.


Here is download link: MP3


My notes from listening to radio interview with James Marsh

[BuckyW note: I’ve put some parts in colored “quotes” , but note the quotes aren’t always verbatim, but are very close to that. Host starts interview asking about Marsh’s directing career trajectory, notes he started in documentaries]

Made documentaries in Britain BBC and UK’s Channel 4
He had an ambition to make feature films

Made a hybrid drama and documentary Wisconsin Death Trip
That led to feature film of The King including William Hurt and that experience was difficult (or some words to that effect). [BuckyW notes that star Gael García Berna received strong notice for his portrayal of the main character, Elvis. There’s a nice profile in wikipedia on the film.]
The film didn’t do well in US
You are only employable as your last film..

So after that detour into feature films
Went back to documentary, Man On Wire
Was originally supposed to be TV film
Grew into something else, well received
[BuckyW: Marsh won an Oscar for this film]

Then Red Riding Trilogy , I did the middle one
Had gone back to England after some years away to make it

You can plot my [film career] course…

The King- anxiety and dread in wacked out mythical story

To Man on Wire- thriller which is kind of a heist story

Then to Shadow Dancer- more feverish nightmarish story

[BuckyW: they then speak of Shadow Dancer]

[Host: Clive seems to choose projects that are character driven, the story, even though he’s an international star and celebrity]

[Marsh:] He’s a very smart man-like all good actors- he’s very smart
He makes bigger films and makes them work well for him, as an actor and then he’ll do films like mine where he has the same sort of comfort levelNo airs or graces, easy, generous actor, a delight to work with

like all good actors- he’s very smart

What I try to to do [on film set] is create a very comfortable environment for people to work in, to do what we are doing- we are working
The actors are exposing themselves so you want to make it feel safe for them, that if they make a mistake that they are not punished for their mistake by anybody. So you give them responsibility but you give them safety and comfort so they can look forward to a harmonious, un-stressful set.

[Host: Your cinematic references in Shadow Dancer], was this by design? Inspired by anything?]

I looked at specific films but avoided most known Irish troubles movies
[An exception was] Elephant, by British director Allen Clark
Extraordinary, gets to the heart of the pointlessness of it all
It’s where you don’t want to see anymore you want it to be over but Clark shows you more and more
Marsh talks of Clark’s use of steady cam and what that tech can do for you
Clark used that tech before anyone else did other than Stanley Kubrick who used it in The Shining
So that film was important to look at.

I’m also fond of the great conspiracy movies from the 70s in America

[BuckyW: it was difficult to understand, I think he said Klute.]
The director worked with good DPs
Also Bresson he’s so clear in what he’s making
Pickpocket is a very suspenseful movie and full of suspenseful set pieces
[set in] low-key normal environments, so good principle to bring to this film

MI5 as portrayed in Shadow Dancer was prompted by experience with BBC environment [he explains how bureaucratic that environment was and why-government funded]

[Host notes Shadow Dancer was opening in New York City and also would be available on VOD for other markets, asked him his thoughts on this]

Any use of platforms that allow you to find a different kind of audience [is good]

As a filmmaker you make things at a certain technical level but actually increasingly the means of consumption- with flat screen TVs at home- is not bad
So as a filmmaker you can be happy in that you get the same aspect ratio
And TV itself or that means of consumption of movies has made a remarkable comeback in the last ten years
We are all looking to do TV now, all great filmmakers, all great actors are
Same portal as VOD
I hope people can make money out of this as a distribution model
Because it certainly works for filmmakers and audiences
Get access to things they are aware of in the culture and they can then see it on VOD

[Host asks if he’s interested in this himself]

[emphatically:] I want to do it and have a project with Simon Chinn that he can’t talk about
Ambitious TV project, segments, 4 -5 hour episodes
Clive is looking at something similar

Drawn to the resources TV can give us because the obvious reason is, that the need for sophistication, complexity, is being so ill served by the mainstream movie culture in this country, which is a global phenomenon

You are making films for teenagers in China, not making for me anymore that pretense is long gone, so be it, but you are losing an important part of the demographic
So TV is taking it back from you
Breaking Bad, Boss, The Wire, House Of Cards, are great pieces of narrative filmmaking
Filmmakers can express themselves quite well in that medium
[Netflix is mentioned]

Gives choice to empower the consumer, to make their choices
Watch when you want, how much you want at a time. At your own pace.
Schedule your own film festival

[He says when he grew up there were only a few TV channels to watch]
Somehow you lose when you have just a few channels
It was a culturally coherent part of how you grew up
British TV, everyone is watching the same things

[This distribution trend/opportunity is…]

Moving pack towards a novelist approach. There’s a huge audience crying out for good stories and if Hollywood won’t give it to us them HBO, the BBC channel 4 will and are.

So then [Hollywood film products] you are just going to end up with Transformers and Fast And Furious 10
Just for teenagers

Mistake to think it’s only about making money. You can make something good and make money

But the goal is often to just focus on the financial return
It is a business so it’s always been the case

[End interview]


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