Roger Michell is a world renowned Theatre and Film director with nearly 40 years experience. His films, including Hyde Park on Hudson, Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Enduring Love and Morning Glory, have brought him into contact with some of the biggest names in the industry. Now Roger has taken on probably the most important role of his career – judge for the Norwich Film Festival! Roger kindly answered our questions and gave some advice for those looking to break into the industry.
1) You began your career in the theatre before making the transition to film directing, is this the inevitable step for theatre directors?
No. very few theatre directors do film and even fewer do so effectively. Theatre is very very different and also is not film’s shabby second cousin!
2) How did you manage to make that transition? Did the opportunity present itself or did you seek it out?
I applied for a wonderful course the BBC used to run for theatre directors. The BBC put you through an amazing 3-month flying school and you came out the other end totally exhausted, exhilarated and theoretically ready to tackle anything from EASTENDERS to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
3) What first attracted you to directing?
God! Don’t know. I started at school aged about 8 years old putting on little shows … ghost stories mostly.
4) You seem to flit between directing films and theatre – do you have favourite?
No … but when engaged in one always long for the other one.
5) In general how does a director become attached to a project?
Either you’re offered something you actually want to do (very very rare) or, more likely in my case, you develop it from the ground up: either from an existing book or a play (PERSUASION, ENDURING LOVE, TITANIC TOWN, BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA, HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, MY NIGHT WITH REG) or from an idea with a writer (VENUS, LE WEEK-END).
6) You’ve worked with some very big stars. Without naming any names, have you ever had to work with a particularly difficult actor or actress and how do you manage any awkward situations they may help create? Alternatively, are there any actors/actresses you would like to work with again?
Generally if you treat people properly they treat you properly too: once the actor/star senses that you consider the most important thing to be not your own ego or even theirs but the project in hand and that your only motive is to make them look as good as possible within the context of the story they become emminently collaborative and helpful. I have worked with one or two absolute arseholes but even they had their delightful moments and i’ve ended up on good terms with them all.
7) When you first become attached to a film the scale of the project must be quite daunting, particularly with a film such as Notting Hill with the seemingly endless number of stars and the several different story arcs. How do you scale it down so it becomes less intimidating?
You can’t scale it down. It is intimidating. You have to bury your fear and rise to the occasion!
8) Which has been your favourite film to work on and why? Is this the film you’re also most proud of?
This is like asking for the name of my favourite child. Sorry!
9) You have worked with a variety of writers, such as Hanif Kureishi, How important is the collaborative process for you?
Film and theatre are the most collaborative of the arts. That’s their appeal. I don’t have the courage/ability to be a painter or a poet or a novelist so this is the very best thing I can do.
10) What is the best and the worst thing about your job?
er … the cutting room … and the notes from the studio.
11) Do you have any advice for budding directors trying to make it in the industry?
Make films! On your smart-phone if necessary. When I was starting out you needed a whole crew and masses of gear to make a movie. Now you need only imagination, some friends (optional), and a laptop.
12) Finally, how important do you think film festivals are in establishing future talent in both the UK and abroad?
Anything that encourages audiences to see new work and off-the-beaten-track work I applaud. Bravo Norwich!