He directed “The Bodyguard”, “L.A. Story”, “Volcano”, and was one of the first film directors to embrace prestige TV projects with HBO such as “Temple Grandin”, now Mick Jackson has returned to the big screen to tackle a very relevant social justice theme – the truth. “Denial” is the true story of how an American professor was called on to prove the Holocaust happened in the court of law, or be found libel..
Released in cinemas late last year, it was somewhat overshadowed by another male/female truth/lies contest playing out in real time – the U.S. Presidential election. Ahead of its release to Digital and DVD 26 July, Mandy spoke with Mick about the trend of “alternative facts”, how closely they followed the real story (spoiler – very!), the lessons we can take from the film about how to battle destructive fake news, and going against the grain of traditional courtroom dramas.
I really loved the film, I thought it was so fascinating, You get so used to the structure of these types of movies – the three acts and the build-up and the arc of the main character finding their voice…and this wasn’t like that!
Mick: No! That was one of the attractive things about working on this movie. Like you said there are many films – every Jimmy Stewart film or Henry Fonda film you saw, or “Erin Brockovich” with Julia Roberts – starts out with a timid character who doesn’t have a voice, a nobody, and something happens in their lives, something crucial, some injustice, and through the film as you watch you’re really with the character because they’re getting a voice, and at the end, they stand up and say a brilliant speech and everyone applauds and everyone leaves the movie theatre feeling really great. Well this isn’t that!
In fact it’s the opposite of that. It’s a woman who starts out as that end point in fact. Deborah Lipstadt, who the great Rachel Weisz plays in the movie, starts out as a very very enabled woman. She’s articulate, articulate, well informed, passionate, she speaks and argues very well in public and in private. She’s very media savvy. She eats interviewers for breakfast and knows reporters on a first name basis. She’s extremely lonely but very driven and self-reliant. She’s the kind of person who pushes past you to open the door for herself. Her one passion is for the survivors of the holocaust. She’s Jewish and her gifts, whatever they are, are to tell their story. She’s involved both politically and socially. So she comes with all these gifts – a natural for standing up in court and confronting this man who has sued her for libel – David Irving.
Instead of what she expects to do, which is just that, stand up and say ‘you lied about this and I can prove this’, she is told by her very eminent British legal team ‘look I know you want to do that but you can’t do that because if you do, he’s very clever, and he’ll make the trial about you. And he’s got a dossier about you as long as your arm, and he’ll reduce you to that and make it not about him, but about you.’ And she was like ‘I don’t get to testify at all?’ And they were like ‘no no! And you can’t speak to the press because that will just piss off the judge. He’ll say, naturally ‘oh you refuse to testify in court, then how come you’re talking to the Evening Standard?’. ‘Well,’ she says’, then I can at least bring Survivors in. I am their champion, I can have them speak their story in court’. And again, ‘no. Sorry. If you bring them to court he’ll do what he’s done in trials like this before, he’ll reduce them to tears – they’re old people, they’re on the verge of death, their memory isn’t that good anymore, if he challenges them on a tiny detail and they say ‘oh I don’t remember’ or ‘maybe it was over there’, he’ll say ‘no it was over here, see, you can’t trust a word they say, they’re all liars and cheats.’
So it was very difficult for her. Not only is it difficult to be deprived of all your major weapons, your articulateness, your feistiness. But she was in a very unfamiliar environment. Where you come from you’re a tenured professor, it’s nice and warm and you have a very nice life. Here you’re suddenly on the world stage in an unfamiliar, alien environment almost, where it seems to rain every day, it’s cold, it’s windy, it’s foggy, it’s dank, the people are very stuffy, they wear horse hair wigs in court, and their hearts are stones just like the building, you know, ‘why has no one warmed to me?’. So in the middle of this she goes through that. In effect, the title “Denial” has a double meaning because of this. We realised as the film that David Irving, for ideological reasons, denies the truth in order to serve himself. But she has to do the opposite, deny herself the opportunity to stand up in court in order to serve the truth. So there’s a self-denial on her part that gives the film a kind of structure.
Yes that was great. There’s a great line from the lawyer, ‘They’re a strange thing consciences. Trouble it, what feels best isn’t necessarily what works best’.
Mick: It’s interesting, this film, I’ve been working on it for – well I’m not working on it anymore apart from this interview I’m doing with you now [laughs[ – but I worked on it for about five or six years to get it off the ground, and David Hare, the writer, worked on it for about a year longer than that. It was originally about truth and lies and it still is, and it wasn’t really as topical then in 2011. There was a Donald Trump then and he was going on about [Obama’s] birth certificate, but nobody in their wildest dreams thought that he could be the President. The more we pursued this film the more timely it seemed to be getting. We know as we knew then that we were watching lies and blatant lies about climate and immigration and race and photo fraud and fake news of all kinds. Back then it was true, but now it is more so, and the principal antagonist in this story is somene who is described as a liar, a racist, anti-semite, misogynist, hangs out with extreme white workers who distort tracts of history, and a demagogue whipping up crowds of supporters with outrageous statements for political reasons. It couldn’t be better. And a misogynist too, he referred to his assistants as being ‘very nice girls with very nice breasts’. And a bully, there’s a scene where Irving reduces Deborah Lipstadt to silence by invading her lecture and haranguing her. He’s a bully.
So it was inevitable that it would get more and more topical. But nobody knew it would get this topical. Except our distributor I have to say, Bleaker Street, as we approached release date, had this idea, and I thought it sounded like a good idea at the time, why don’t we do our platform release around the Presidential debates – in other words, we open in a few theatres before the first Hillary Clinton / Donald Trump debate, maybe people will see a comparison there. A couple weeks later, another Presidential debate, more theatres…And to some extent that happened but I think people were so tied up in the debate itself that people didn’t see that this was an analogy of it. It is about truth and lies as those debates were. So in that sense I think people relegated it to a Jewish movie. Which it is – it’s about the holocaust, but it’s not just about that. You can the holocaust was just about the Jews but it isn’t, and you can say Hiroshima was just something that happened to the Japanese but it isn’t. These things happen to all of us. We all live in the same world. For whom the bell tolls and all of that.
I think what’s happening now, interestingly, it’s taking on a different form. It’s not a predictor of what would happen if you elect someone like Donald Trump or David Irving to a position of power, so much as a, so this is what we’ve got now. We’ve got free speech and fake news and alternative facts and those terms that get chopped and turned around depending on political gain and obfuscation. What can we learn from this film? One thing we can learn is that a forum for fighting this sort of denialism is in the courts. It seems to be happening in the United States, and in this movie it’s happening, where you can’t get away from the awkward questions by making a snappy one liner that gets the crowd roaring. You actually have to stand there and answer the question, and when someone says ‘well what is your evidence for that?’ you actually have to say it rather than ‘no everyone knows this, everyone knows this’. Well, you tell us why they know it.
I think that is one lesson you can draw from the movie – go to the courts. And that’s one reason why now this particular administration is attacking the upper estates of the constitution, like the press and the courts, because they fear this is going to their undoing. It’s going to be about the truth. So that’s comforting if that’s true.
You mention the traditional formats of this type of film and that it’s uplifting at the end, this film did have that aspect too, it was uplifting, justice prevailed, which was good!
Mick: Yes even without that reverse dynamic, she does fight through, and with Richard Rampton as her champion as it were at the end. The truth is proved.
Which is comforting, we will have to start applying it!
Mick: I must say, it was great for me, and this may not have been a question you were going to ask, it was great to work with such a wonderful cast of English actors. I’ve been in Hollywood now working for 26 or 27 years, and it was great to back to actors of the calibre of Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, really really great, They’re all actors of great passion. Rachel spent a lot of time with the real Deborah Lipstadt before we started shooting and she, the real Deborah, was often on set to be consulted and say ‘yes that is how I felt on that day and you’re getting it right’. Rachel is a great person to work with because she is so like the real Deborah Lipstadt – she’s very feisty, very passionate, smart above all, headstrong, opinionated, spirited, and is insanely talented. Which is great! There are downsides to that because she wants to be in the moment at all times. She’s very intensely in the moment but it’s great, it brings that vulnerability in terms of being in the story without knowing what comes next. You’re just in the moment of that scene. So that’s great.
Tom [Wilkinson] I think brings a different kind of passion to it. I find that in all the things he’s done, as decent as someone like Ed Murrow [gave eyewitness reports of WWII for CBS and helped develop journalism for mass media], or Joseph Welch, the secretary of the army who famously said to John McCarthy, ‘at long last, have you left no sense of decency?’ I can see Tom doing that.
Tim Spall who plays Irving, wonderfully courageous actor. Initially we had a very wide list of people as David Irving – not an easy role to cast – and we sent out the scripts to a lot of agents and a lot of them said ‘what? Are you crazy? I’m not putting this in front of my client! They don’t want to play someone like this!’ A lot of very well-known actors said they’ll die forever if they played this part. All except Tim, and he wasn’t the last choice to play this part, of all the front runners, he was the one who said ‘yeah I’ll do it’. If you look at all the movies he’s done he’s played very conflicted and challenged characters, most recently playing Ian Paisley [in “The Journey”] and JMW Turner [in “Mr Turner”] and he even played the last hang man in England, Albert Pierrepoint [in “Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman”]. So he took this part and ran with it. And I know it cost him a lot playing Iring. There’s one part at the end where Irving is arriving at the court room, and demonstrators outside are throwing eggs at him. And we had to do a lot of takes because the people throwing the eggs didn’t have very good aim.
Mick: Yes! He got hit with a lot of eggs and it hurt him. It hurt him physically and it hurt him emotionally because if you really immerse yourself in this character – unpleasant as you find the character – you try and be him and people humiliate you by throwing eggs at you. It was fortunately one of the last scenes we shot of the movie as I don’t think he could have taken many more takes of that. But I was surprised how intensely he was in the character that he could have that reaction.
It was a fantastic performance. I know a lot of the real life counterparts were involved in making this film as well as Deborah, I was wondering, did you reach out to David at all during this process?
Mick: No. No we deliberately didn’t do that. The position we decided to take is that we were telling her [Deborah’s] story and we were not going to do one of the things which she objects to when she goes on television, is they interview her then they surprise her by bringing someone else who is a rabid alt-right person and say ‘and now we’d like to hear from the other side of the story’. And she would say, and quite rightly, ‘there isn’t another side of the story. There’s only truth. What’s the other side of truth? Lies.’ She doesn’t like that. So what we did is say, okay, everything that happens in the courtroom is from the transcript of the trial. We may edit it so it doesn’t last 17 days but everything said in court is true. With Irving, we’re not going to consult him and say ‘how did it feel when…’ and all that sort of stuff but we will take every single word he utters in the film from a pamphlet he wrote, a book he wrote, an article, a speech, a lecture, whatever. Everything he says is true in that sense. It says at the top of the film ‘based on a true story’, well both David Hare and I think it should say ‘this IS a true story’. This all happened, not just because of the words, but the actions and the fights and the arguments between her and the lawyers all happened and for those reasons. She did have a row with the real Richard Rampton in Auschwitz because she thought he was being disrespectful and essentially, trying to play Devil’s advocate. And they did reach a reclushmore at the end and he became her champion in court. And it’s nice that there is thing that is the opposite, as you say, of the classic Hollywood movie, this odd couple things that runs through it and they become the best of friends. And he actually wins the case for her and she loves that and they’re best friends still.
Aw that’s lovely. But I imagine David Irving had a few things to say when the film was released?
Mick: Oh he did. He’s not a man to mince his words, and they’re almost always offensive. He is an equal opportunity offender. When he heard that we were making a film and he was in it, he was outraged that we cast a glamorous Hollywood actress as, his words, ‘the Neanderthal Deborah Lipstadt. A better and more appropriate casting would be Ernest Baorgnene but he’s dead.’ Isn’t that awful?
It’s terrible! It’s hard to fathom, although, I’m getting more used to it I think. That’s the sad thing about Trump, I’m getting used to the fact there are people who can make these vile, misogynistic remarks.
Mick: Don’t get used to it!
I know! We should not normalise this!
Mick: When I did Q&S with the real Deborah Lipstadt when we had screenings of this movie, someone always asks, ‘what is the lesson of this? How can we take your story and draw a moral from it? What can we do?’ And she says, ‘if somebody says something that you think is doubtful or outrageous and you’re wondering if it’s true, go to the source. Not someone saying ‘I heard this is true’ but who told you that or where did you read that? Track them down, track those sources down, you can do that online, that’s one way the internet is good, and find out who said this, why did they say this, what’s their political background, why are they saying this. If it’s not true, where did they get the story from? And if they can’t say where they got the story from and there’s no evidence, then unfortunately it’s true, if your opinion is based on lies, then ipso facto, your opinion is a lie. Don’t, whatever you do, hit re-tweet or re-send. If you can’t prove it, you can’t vouch for it, don’t tell someone else, don’t spread it even further on the web.
Absolutely, and I fell this movie is going to have long legs, it will be relevant for a long time.
Mick: But for the wrong reasons I fear!
You were on to it! It’s great that you were so sadly prescient in bringing this to us now. I’m wondering though, you have an incredibly diverse range of projects, what’s next for you, what are you working on?
Mick: I try to do things that have a social content to them. I’ve done things like nuclear war and child abuse and journalistic ethics, so this fits into that school of movies. I’m interested in the story of Wernher von Braun at the moment, he was a Nazi rocket scientist. He didn’t start as a Nazi, he was a German rocket scientist who was co-opted by the Nazis and made a member of the Nazi party and a member of the SS in order to get the resources he wanted to make the two rockets which fell on London during World War II. The German secret weapon. Actually, the very first guided missile. He did that claiming he had no knowledge, or very little knowledge, of the vast slave labour and underground factories that manufactured them in inhuman conditions on a production line basis. And he defected to the Americas at the end of the war, and because of his knowledge of rocketry he found himself designing the Saturn V rocket that got the Apollo astronauts to the moon. So you have to ask the question – is this is a story about a visionary of space? A national hero? Or is he a war criminal? So that’s kind of an interesting project.
Well you find excellent projects, and thank you for your time, really loved the film.
Mick: Thank you.
“Denial” is released on Digital and DVD 26 July.
Aquaman screenwriter talks Justice League cameos, Julie Andrews & more!
Lisa Carroll talks to the co-writer of the blockbuster
Most people who want to get into entertainment have to leave their small town; writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s career literally got started in his.
“Shawshank Redemption” happened to be filming at the local prison in Ohio and Johnson-McGoldrick was able to work with the production, becoming an assistant to producer/director/writer Frank Darabont. However, it was patience and resilience that got him the rest of the way and now he’s part of one of the biggest blockbusters to come along this year.
Johnson-McGoldrick sat down with Moviehole to talk about the intricacies of co-writing “Aquaman,” Topo the bongo-playing octopus and Julie Andrews’ great role (not Mary Poppins!).
Moviehole: How did you get started in writing?
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick: I got started at a very early age. I was interested in putting on shows and I liked entertaining people from childhood. In my teenage years, I thought I would be an author and it was more because growing up in Ohio, it never occurred to me that you could work in movies. Back then to me, movies in the theater came out of a little box. At 16, I realized it was a job to make movies, and I decided not to write books so I went to film school. I wanted to direct and did a film and the script was good but the movie was terrible…that’s how I got started.
Moviehole: Your mentor was Frank Darabont. What are the most important things you learned from him?
DLJM: It was a great mentor ship. At the time I was frustrated, because it was five years between “Shawshank” and “Green Mile” and I was like, when are we going to make it? He was writing and I got to see firsthand the emotional rollercoaster of it, the ups and downs — it’s a lot when you’re in your office by yourself all day long, you’re part of a process with no complete control over things. It helped prepare me emotionally for the excitement and disappointment of that job. He knew it was what I wanted to do and he was reading everything I wrote and giving me critiques. I remember reading “Saving Private Ryan,” (Darabont worked on the film) and reading his writing; I think stylistically in my approach in writing I’m very influenced by his writing. We are still in touch and there is stuff we want to work on someday.
Moviehole: What is your writing style?
DLJM: I have only worked with a partner once on “Wrath of the Titans.” I work on my own, and on this film we (Will Beall, co-writer) didn’t work at the same time — he did a draft and I did a draft, they went back and forth between us and he was the one who started that process on “Aquaman.” I actually met him for the first time at a WGA event. Meeting him went well. It’s the nature of the beast, you’re hired and fired and rehired. I have found mostly that writers understand that when you meet up. I don’t have hard feelings about being rewritten, especially on a movie this size. I used to have to be alone with total silence, I’ve since learned to do it in different circumstances and while working consistently, I am not precious about it.
I have to work on a plane or in a coffee shop and so I make a mix of soundtracks as music is a big part of it for me, I love soundtracks. I can’t work with others talking. The music depends on what I’m working on. The only thing I have to avoid is a soundtrack if it’s too iconic, so I get soundtracks of movies I haven’t seen. My favorite all-time soundtracks are “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but it’s too much of a visual image with those movies, I need to picture something original.
Moviehole: What was the biggest challenge about working on “Aquaman”?
DLJM: It was a lot of fun to be honest, you’re writing “Aquaman!” It was a little like getting to go play and I felt like the challenges that were faced were harder for Zach Snyder for “Justice League” — because he was the one who had to figure out who Aquaman was. It’s a maligned character and people are more familiar with the robot chicken character of Aquaman — a guy with a blond pompadour riding a fish is the conception. Zach cast Jason (Momoa) which completely shattered people’s perceptions and we were able to steer Jason back to the classic Aquaman. I don’t think you could’ve shown him in a suit right out of the gate. He had to show Aquaman was cool.
Moviehole: There’s a lot of psychology to writing then?
DLJM: Sometimes you have to break people’s expectations, like with Daniel Craig with “Casino Royale” breaking someone’s head with a toilet seat; two movies later on, he’s in a tux and he’s fighting komodo dragons.
Moviehole: What was your biggest surprise learning about the character Aquaman?
DLJM: When I first got this job, I went back to the comic issue one of Aquaman and was pouring through the issues, knowing we are doing a different take on the character. The biggest surprise I had reading it was that everyone had in their head an antiquated idea of who Aquaman was because of the cartoon show – the one with Aqualad where he had an Aquacave, and he got married and had an Aqua baby and it was an innocent comic at the beginning.
Then it took a dark and sophisticated turn long before ”Watchmen” came about, it became about what comics could be. You had Black Manta kill Aquababy! It took a dark turn and it was that abrupt; Aquababy didn’t even have a name. The stories changed from Superman under water to a broader scope where he had to deal with politics and palace intrigue and he was a king. You went from the bongo-playing octopus Topo to a baby getting murdered. James Wan (director) was all into the octopus getting into the movie so Topo made it in the movie. He was all into the old school hat tip to Topo.
Moviehole: What about the special effects on “Aquaman”?
DLJM: James early on was making a comparison about “Star Wars” under water, and I think it will surprise people — it takes us out of the typical superhero story. It’s not about a nuclear bomb, it takes place on a grand scale in a world we’ve never seen. It’s what makes that character different from other superheroes. We have a whole underwater civilization to explore and it feels like the opening of a giant world.
Moviehole: Not to do any spoilers, but how did Julie Andrews get involved?
DLJM: That was a surprise! Especially as “Mary Poppins” is coming out? That came early on from a very early incarnation as James always had this character that was going to be in it and communicate telepathically. At some point in the process, he said this type of creature always had a male voice so he thought why can’t it have a female voice? And it needed to have a lot of menace and gravitas. When he said it, I wasn’t thinking about the Mary Poppins thing of it.
Moviehole: Any Justice League stuff going on here?
DLJM: There are no Justice League cameos in this film. We discussed doing that and it was a fun thing to get to write, but it was the decision to have Aquaman stand on his own two feet that was the right way to go.
Moviehole: Any advice to newbies getting into the business?
DLJM: The hardest thing to do is getting your foot in the door. The thing I found was that I got very lucky in that I graduated from film school and just a few months after that “Shawshank” came to shoot in my hometown and I got hooked up in production. I gave Frank a script and he liked it and read it and that’s how I got my foot in the door. You have to be prepared for that luck when it happens. I had a script to give to Frank, plus I was working on a script after working 12 hours a day. There was stuff outside of my control, but I was also busting my ass to take advantage of that luck.
Sometimes it seems pointless, but if you have a pile of scripts to hand to someone, as long as you’re working you’re ready to pounce when luck turns that way. I always found pitching to be really difficult, it was hard to go out there and sell myself and I had to force myself to go and drive to meetings. Every nerve in my body wanted to turn around and go back. But eventually I can do it and be good at pitching. I had to learn though countless pitches and it seemed pointless but it was actually not.
Moviehole: Any upcoming projects?
DLJM: Next year I’ll be working on “The Conjuring 3,” the script is written so we will hopefully shoot it next year.
Interview: Judy Craymer, conceiver of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray
When you hear the word “ABBA” you may not think automatically of Judy Craymer, and yet, she has almost single-handedly been the driver behind ABBA’s prominance in popular culture in the last decade. Craymer is an English creator and producer of musical theatre, bringing the musical “Mamma Mia!” to life, first on the stage, seen by more than 60 million people worldwide, and then in film.
As the conceiver of the sequel, we also have Craymer to thank for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”. Now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray, we sat down with her to get some behind the scenes insight.
Did anything go wrong behind the scenes – any injuries, funny moments?
Everyone got the giggles when Julie Waters did anything. they always had a surprise from her.
Did Cher make any changes to the script or was there anything she suggested that made its way into the movie?
Cher had input on the script. They always wanted her and the role was written with her in mind. When she confirmed she had her own suggestions, Cher had an ear for her dialogue. She knew who the mother was and she had a lovely time. Loved it. She had an input in what she was wearing and suggestions from the team about her hair.
Did the actors playing the younger versions of Pierce, Stellan and Colin spend time getting to know/bonding with those stars before filming took place?
We had a dinner at an outdoor restaurant and it was like being out with the parents. Younger cast, older cast, with the younger cast belting out songs at the table.
What was the most difficult scene to film and why?
Dancing Queen was a challenge. Men with megaphones, music, ques and dancers, and marine safety with wind and rain. Quite complex timings and logistics wise. It was very bumpy on the water and people’s feet were worn from the 1970s sneakers.
The Super Trouper scene – they didn’t know what they were doing until halfway through it. They had to shoot in London and just didn’t know what it was going to be but knew they wanted costumes with sparkles to make it ahead of time. Choreography took about a day for that scene alone.
Which star got the giggles the most on set during filming?
So many! It was all great. Meeting and working with Cher and bringing everyone together. Every song was a highlight. On Judy’s birthday they all sung happy birthday to her including Cher, Meryl. On the music side of things – being in the studio and hearing the music with a six piece orchestra is mind blowing.
How did the concept arise?
In mymind there was always going to be another film. I went to Richard Curtis and spoke to Catherine Johnson who wrote the original and asked how we could revisit it. Richard Curtis said she could go back and forth in time and then the light bulb idea came.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray.
Interview: Pippa Anderson, film editor for SOLO: A Star Wars Story
The Vice President of Post Production for all Star Wars films
When you think of the person cutting together roaring Wookies, blaster battles and high speed space chases, you don’t necessarily think of a female, ex journalist from Brisbane Australia, and yet, it is in fact Pippa Anderson who is the Vice President of Post Production for all Star Wars films.
One female of many on the Lucasfilm executive team, as well as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Anderson oversees the entire post process for the Lucasfilm slate, including live-action, direct-to-consumer, and animation. Since 2013, with production schedules often overlapping, she has led the post production process for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” as well as the “Star Wars Rebels” animated series. She will continue to oversee post for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.
Ahead of the digital, DVD and Blu-ray release of “SOLO: A Star Wars Story”, we sat down with Pippa to talk life in the male-dominated film industry, how Peter Jackson started her on her journey to Hollywood, and her advice for keeping sane with so many (high-stakes) projects on the go.
When you first started your career, it was actually in journalism, and now you’re the VP of post-production over at Lucas film. Were you surprised about where your career has taken you?
Pippa: Oh yes, I would say surprised and so amazed, and you know really pleased the opportunity came up and that I was in a position where I could grasp it with both hands. That involved obviously changing jobs, but also changing life, moving to Sydney, to New Zealand and then setting up life here in California. So yep all of that was fantastic. You know when I came into Lucasfilm at the time I did in 2013, Kathy [Kathleen Kennedy] and I, we’ve talked about it recently, taking over from George and you know we were in development on “The Force Awakens”, which was the first film with Disney, and then followed up with “Rogue One”, and then we also have Rebels really going strong. And then there was “Last Jedi” and then “SOLO”. “Force Awakens” was the highest number one movie of 2015, “Rogue One” 2016 and “The Last Jedi” 2017. Not only are they amazing movies, but grossing crazy amounts of money. Wow, how could I not be amazed, surprised and delighted to be right in the middle of that?
And I hear you still have your Australian accent?
Pippa: Yes, I was born in Brisbane in Queensland. I spent a good deal of my adult life before heading off to New Zealand to work with Peter Jackson, in Sydney; in Putney area in Sydney, for those that really want to get specific because my great passion, one of my many great passions is boats in the water.
So we lived on an island there at the time, you know; as in you could only get there by boat. So it was a pretty and amazingly fun early life and I was a freelance editor and a post-editor supervisor then and then I moved over to join Peter Jackson to be his head of post in New Zealand. But then from there of course, you know I moved to California and I spend some time in London. So I think my accent is pretty modernized these days. You know, it’s got a lot of all of those flavours in it, so. Funny it only takes an hour or so to– when I’m back in the room with all these Aussies, for it all to come back.
It seems that almost every aspect of film, from screenwriters to directors to editors to critics, is male-dominated. Lucasfilm has an executive team that is more than 50 per cent female which is incredible to see. Was that part of the attraction for taking this position?
Pippa: You know I can’t say enough how what an honour it is to be part of the executive team under Kathy and also under Lynwen Brennan who’s the General Manager of Lucasfilm and also the Executive Vice President. I mean, both incredibly strong, smart, sharp savvy women and so they’ve surrounded themselves, and I’m delighted to be part of it. There are strong, smart, savvy women who are at the heads of very diverse roles such as Legal Finance, Human Resources, Post-Production, Publicity, Marketing, Story Development; what else? X-lab you know, ministry of entertainment, visual effects, animation, et cetera.
I mean it’s phenomenal that it’s across the board with a range of skills and talents – no wonder it’s a great team, but you know we have at our helm if you will, we have Kathy who’s such an inspiration, such a role model and an inspiration.
Working on so many films across the board, such as “SOLO”, and I’m sure you guys have a really busy slate, how do you manage to stay (a) Sane, and (b) Have that work-life balance?
Pippa: Yes, okay, I think that might be a different interview [Laughing].
How do we do it all? I certainly don’t wear the Gal Gadot Wonder Woman suit. Because the secret really is just amazingly dedicated teams. Really talented people, you know I’m talking in post now.
In terms of Skywalker Sound, in terms of the editors and the editorial team. I mean everybody loves Star Wars and so it isn’t usually very difficult to find A-listers, people who are excellent, who are really keen to work on a production, to come on-board. I for one definitely try to provide an environment where everyone can be individuals, and collaborative, work together, still be at their best and be at their best at all times within their own areas of the post-production process.
And they are the ones that enable me to kind of stay on top; not sure about the sanity bits, and definitely another conversation but stay on top of all of the curveballs, the changes, the very fact that that for me in my role, where I have very often got different complex productions you know; we’ve got one production that might be going on with all of the challenges that entails, but then we all have a number of different productions, all the way from starting to talk about something in the future in the very early sort of nascent stages, all the way through to whether you’re in that full-on crazy delivery time with mastering delivery and try to manage the system. All of that at any one day of any one week can theoretically all be happening at the same time. So you know I rely incredibly heavily on all of the teams both in London where we typically shoot, and in the teams in post land which is usually for us in Los Angeles, and of course my core, my incredibly, oh such strong, small core team here in San Francisco.
And did you grow up watching Star Wars, were you a big fan? And if so, what is one of your favourite Star Wars movies from that era, just for the fans out there?
Pippa: First of all I should say I grew up loving movies. I love that version of storytelling. I mean using all the different aspects like location and music and picture obviously and all that stuff. I just loved that storytelling and thought it was such a good expression of whatever was going on in society or in the world at that time. I wasn’t per say a Star Wars fan, but I very quickly became one. I’m old enough to have been there when the original came out. And I just was so smitten with this movie, and it was different, there was nothing else like that around at the time and I just loved the way that the story was excitingly told.
For the time, it was sophisticated. So as a movie experience, it was amazing. Now I’m talking about “A New Hope” now. And what it did do ,and then this was George’s brilliance, was just those fundamental things and issues like good and evil, and anger and betrayal and sacrifice and such different level; all those things that make human beings tick, and enable human beings to either effectively or not, interact with each other. It was just so well done that I was smitten, you see, and I saw the movie many times.
Then of course I loved “Empire” and “The Return of the Jedi”, but I have a special soft spot for “A New Hope”, just because I think it was that the first time I really received a movie like that into my heart.
What excites you about working on the Star Wars franchise in terms of the direction it’s going ?
Pippa: What I love is the fact that now with the new Star Wars films, I really loved the fact that it is so generational, speaks to all generations, and really able to go in that direction of diversity. I mean obviously as a woman we have this amazing executives with so many women but just also there’s such strong women being a role model. And then we’ve got women, people of colour, people of different backgrounds. We’ve got– yes, our minutes you know I could wax on forever but I love the fact that the standalones allow us to go inside the Star Wars universe and express new things. We can deal with stories, we can answer questions like Solo came about; how did he and Chewie meet, how did they find the Millennium Falcon, how did they get it off land, metal etc.
All of those things which is in sort of a Canon if you will, but it’s just very exciting to be able to explore the Star Wars universe now and do that in a way that is really satisfying from a personal and a sort of a societal and social point of view.
What kind of advice can you give, kind of aspiring filmmakers?
Pippa: Honestly, I think I’ve got to say this. I think you know I don’t want this to sound glib or anything but I think you know the best thing you can do is to be a bit of student of life.
Really, you know be observant, watch lots of movies, be open in your thinking, respond to people around you and everything because all of those things are a part of I think what makes you a good filmmaker or a good person in post-production – in fact a good human being really in all those ways. I mean you can choose to go to some film school or you can choose to go out like I did – and back then, by the way there weren’t so many film schools or possibilities to do it that way, you effectively came up through the ranks in a way; and they both have pluses and minuses, but they both get you to the same goal if you could be determined. And I think that’s one thing that is to be is, just don’t give up.
And be serious, keep your eyes open and don’t give up, and then as the opportunities reveal themselves, take them.
“SOLO: A Star Wars Story” is now available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.
Extensive extras invite fans aboard the Millennium Falcon with Han, Chewie and Lando, and behind the scenes with the stellar cast and crew
Lucasfilm’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” directed by Academy Award®–winning filmmaker Ron Howard—the creator of unforgettable films, such as “A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13,” “Parenthood” and “Splash”—took moviegoers on this summer’s wildest ride with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). The action-packed journey explores Han’s first encounters with future friend and copilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and notorious gambler LandoCalrissian (Donald Glover), as well as his adventure-filledpast alongside fellow street thief Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke)and career criminal Beckett (Woody Harrelson).
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