Interview: Gerald McMorrow

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Read our interview with Gerald McMorrow, debut director of British sci-fi Movie 'Franklyn'

Gerald McMorrow directed ‘Franklyn’, a debut British film opening this week (see review opposite). It’s a welcome oddity: a fractured story, partly set in London, partly set in a fantasy metropolis called Meanwhile City, that straddles contemporary realism and the look of sci-fi. McMorrow previously made a short film, ‘Thespian X’ (2002), and has directed commercials for Cheerios and Greenpeace and various promos for bands.

What was the starting point for the various stories that come together in ‘Franklyn’?
‘After I’d finished my short film “Thespian X” I started to write another. This was, in a sketchy form, about a young woman in her flat attempting to take her own life, while upstairs an assassin is about to take out someone across the road in a restaurant. Short films are just that, short – so when the story became more convoluted I had a pleasant surprise and found that I was writing the third act to a longer film.’

Why do you mix realism and fantasy?
‘As I started tracing the characters back from this denouement, it became an exciting “what if?” in reverse. There were questions that needed to be asked about one of the character’s motivations and origin and the answer came back as the utter creation of a fantasy environment. This place, Meanwhile City, and everything in it say more about Preest’s character (Ryan Phillippe) than any amount of exposition could ever do.’

What were the constraints – financial, and practical – of trying to realise this fantasy metropolis, Meanwhile City?
‘For an independent project, I knew it was going to be tricky imagining the fantasy elements of the film. But I was very blessed to have a “perfect storm” of heads of department and post-production supervisors. We couldn’t waste one frame – everything had to go up on screen. Leonie Hartard, my costume designer, Lawrence Dorman, the production designer, and Ben Davis, the director of photography, sat down with me and we created rules – colour palette, textures, atmosphere and even lenses that were to be used in London and lenses to be used in Meanwhile. We stuck to them.’

Was it difficult trying to explain your exact vision for Meanwhile City?
‘I always carried around a mood book when we were in development. It was a scrapbook filled with torn-out pictures, sketches and designs and anything that looked like Meanwhile (a lot of pictures from Mexico City and Florence got Photoshopped along the way). But most importantly I had the support and belief of Jeremy Thomas of Hanway Films, who as a creative producer balanced the financial structure for such an ambitious project with the faith in me and my crew that we could pull it off. It was pretty scary at times but the fact that we had a limited budget forced everyone to think laterally and creatively. It was good fun in hindsight.’

It’s an unusual film for British cinema.
‘I think it’s great to see London used in a slightly different way. London isn’t just a backdrop for romantic comedies and gangster movies – a city is a character in its own right – if it gets pigeonholed it can feel a little dull.’

You ask that the audience engage with a story that’s complex and mysterious. Do you think filmmakers need to respect audiences more?
‘One of the reasons I wrote it was the lack of anything like it out there. I wrote the kind of film that I would like to see. It’s a story that needs a little more attention from an audience, but I think it’s an enticing journey with a satisfying conclusion. It can also be viewed again and again, its ambiguities studied further. Audiences are a hell of a lot more capable than studios give them credit for. There are so many examples of successful movies that have made it through the system without being mangled in the “dumb machine”.’

Author: Dave Calhoun



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