A short conversation with the director of 'Edge Of Darkness'
My sit-down conversation with Martin Campbell didn't take place under the best of circumstances, through no one's fault. It was just one of those things. It was the press day at the Casa Del Mar, and things ended up running super-late. My interview was supposed to be at 12:05, and at 2:00, I was finally ushered into the room where Campbell was sitting, visibly agitated that his lunch was being delayed by yet another reporter. Even worse, I knew that Devin Faraci from CHUD was waiting to talk to him after me, meaning his lunch was even further away than he thought.
It's hard enough to have a real conversation in these circumstances, but when things get this sort of tight, what you get is pretty much a quick set of cursory responses. I credit Campbell for attempting to dampen his own irritation with the situation, and I hope we were able to touch on some points that are of interest. You be the judge:
Martin: How are you?
Drew: Very good, sir. So... my 4-year-old is now a fan of your work.
Martin: Oh, good.
Drew: They sent us the Disney "Zorro" to watch first...
Martin: Oh, have they?
Drew: ... and then when the BluRay for your first Zorro film showed up, he insisted and it became like a big event this week in the house.
Martin: Oh, when did the BluRay come out?
Drew: It just came out about a week ago... maybe two weeks ago?
Martin: Oh, good, the first one?
Martin: Oh, I must get it.
Drew: And it's gorgeous.
Martin: Is it gorgeous? Yeah.
Drew: That’s one of the things that I’ve always liked about your work... you seem to have very particular taste in cinematographers. And your films, they all have a really lush Hollywood look to them.
Martin: Well, certainly that did. Deliberately so, of course.
Drew: Oh, yeah. Gorgeous. And it’s one of those things that... even in this film, which is ostensibly more gritty and more of a real-world procedural, it’s really… it’s beautiful. I love the look of your pictures.
Drew: When you’re preparing the visual style of a film, how do you make your choices about how you’re going to… what your palette is going to be, how you’re going to shoot each picture? What is it that inspires you on each film, because they’re very different?
Martin: Well, obviously with something like "Zorro," you’re looking for something very lush and kind of romantic and a period feel to the whole thing, a very warm kind of look to it. Very much in the Old Hollywood Technicolor days, when you'd get those great, like, "Robin Hood" stuff, like the Errol Flynn "Robin Hood". Something like “Edge” is a much grittier look than that. It’s not nearly as lush, and in fact it’s hopefully quite different. So really it’s just like, depending on the subject matter, the way in which you sit with your D.P. and say, "Right, how do we want it to look?" I did a film years ago which failed completely called “Beyond Borders,” and there are three sections to it, three time spans and it takes place over many years. And we literally altered the photography for each of those time spans, so it’s, you know…
Drew: What is it that brought you back to this material? I’m always interested when a director returns to something they’ve done before, and with “Edge of Darkness,” it seems that you had more room the first time. It was more expansive. What was it in a feature film version that you had either not said or that you felt like you could do again or do differently?
Martin: Well, first of all, when I made the movie I didn’t even think about the series. I simply treated it as though it was a new movie that didn’t have anything to do with… and it was suggested to me I think about 2000, about 8 years ago, that I could possibly think about making the series into a film. And I was lukewarm at the time. First, I didn’t think it would compress to two hours or 110 minutes actually. And then we got money to develop it, which we did while I was doing other projects. And then finally I sent it to Mel and he was interested. And then Graham King offered to finance it and Bill Monahan wrote the final draft, so that really... that combination brought everything together.
Drew: Monahan is such a smart writer.
Martin: He is. Very smart.
Drew: I loved his “Kingdom of Heaven” script, and especially when Ridley was able to put the entire thing back together.
Martin: Yes. Much, much better movie actually.
Drew: Can you talk about working with somebody like Monahan who comes in with such a strong voice on material that you were already intimately familiar with and had been working with for many years?
Martin: Yeah, he’s… it’s very good to work with Bill, you know? I found that he was very cooperative. And we sat down… you know, he did a lot of work on “Edge” to get it down to its final draft. Just an interesting guy. His dialogue is interesting. His characters are interesting. There’s a quirkiness to his dialogue. Interesting dialogue. Rhythms. And he never hits the nail on the head. He never makes… he never goes for the obvious, which is what I liked. There’s a lot of subtext in his work, really.
Drew: When I was very young, I read William Goldman’s book Adventures In The Screen Trade, and there are things you cannot help but pick up from Goldman as he talked about his process, particularly with movie stars. In this film, the ginger ale seemed to be one of those things that is repeatedly mentioned. It’s not really thematic. It doesn’t really do anything but give Mel's character a quirk that sort of stands out. A movie star note.
Drew: And it feels like that was something that was there to give the guy just a little bit more life.
Martin: Yeah, it was almost old-fashioned, you know. He is old-fashioned. That character is old-fashioned, you know? My mother used to give me ginger ale for a bad stomach. Everyone else would give you some medicine from the CVS or whatever, but not Craven. It’s the old wives remedy of ginger ale. It settles your stomach. It’s that kind of notion, yeah.
Drew: It’s interesting because there has been a layoff for Mel for a while from starring roles.
Drew: But he is such a particular kind of movie star. And you really play to his strengths in the film. You play to the angry Mel and that sort of Mel is a force of nature. Were you confident you could get Mel when you first approached him or was it a wooing process?
Martin: It was a wooing process. I mean, he saw a couple of earlier drafts of the script. He was interested. He had seen the series, but it did take the Monahan draft to push him over the edge.
Drew: Does it help with casting around him? Is it a matter of who he gets to play off of?
Martin: Well, I mean you just have to get… always in movies, it’s always about getting good people and surrounding your actor with good people.
Drew: Because I know he produced "IvansXTC" with Danny Houston.
Martin: That’s right. And all actors rise to the occasion if they have good actors against them.
Drew: Danny is perhaps our greatest screen lizard at the moment.
Martin: [laughs] Oh, he’s wonderful. He is brilliant.
Drew: There is something about him. The moment he shows up you know he’s going to be that guy.
Martin: Yes, he’s fantastic. He’s always entertaining. I can watch Danny Houston do anything.
Drew: And his character, it almost seems like he has a… and this is something I’ve noticed with the very rich many times... that there is a social remove. When he asks Mel in the car, "What was that like?"
Martin: Yes. Oh, it’s a brilliant moment, yeah.
Drew: And it’s a really ugly moment, but it almost seems like it’s naïve to some extent, from this point of view which is "Why wouldn’t I ask that question?"
Martin: Exactly. Oh no, it’s a great line actually. And of course, Mel repeats it right back to him when he’s in the car with him. So it’s a very powerful, powerful moment there.
Drew: My last question is this... and I know you’d like eat.... but advertising is a very, very difficult thing for films because you have to balance how much you give away, how much you tone you imply, how you sell a movie. I was actually surprised that this film is more of procedural mystery about his daughter’s death than it is an action film. But when we see the trailers, the trailers are very definitely selling it as an action movie from wall-to-wall.
Martin: Sure, yeah.
Drew: And I think that trades on your reputation. Are you worried ever when you see like a campaign that the film itself may not be that movie and you’re worried that the movie goers might feel duped?
Martin: No, if you mean they feel cheated, absolutely not. I think the point is if they enjoy a film as I hope they will, then the fact that it’s not sort of wham-bam action from beginning to end... it’s not "Payback," for example. You know? I just hope that they’ll be entertained enough and it will engage them enough not to even think about that. Of course the studio will sell it the way they want to sell it. That happens in every movie, you know? So hopefully they will enjoy it.
Drew: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Campbell. It’s very nice to finally meet you. Enjoy your lunch.
Martin: It’s a pleasure. Thanks very much.
Despite the tension of the day, I sincerely thank Warner's Anne Chun and Mr. Campbell for their efforts, and I hope the next time I talk to him, it's under less tense circumstances.
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