Exclusive Interview: Stuart Hazeldine

Stuart_Hazeldine_Profile_Pic_6_1.preview Most of you will know Stuart Hazeldine for his blazing debut feature Exam, a tense and claustrophobic thriller starring Jimi Mistry and Colin Salmon, but you may also know him as a prolific Twitterphile and one of Hollywood€™s hottest screenwriter. With credits like The Mutant Chronicles and the as-yet-unproduced Paradise Lost adaptation (originally cast with Bradley Cooper and Benjamin Walker before the funding got pulled), as well as a whole host of uncredited rewrites on the likes of The Day The Earth Stood Still, and spec scripts for sequels to Alien and Blade Runner, he is a force to be reckoned with, both as a writer and as a director. Stuart was kind enough to give me some of his time and discuss his career to date and his directing methods, as well as 3D, Stress and, er, Tripods€ Thanks for your time, Stuart. Let€™s start with the standard question- what inspired you to get into making films? As with most people, it was watching them and being overwhelmed with the envelopment of a world, having your emotions worked over by great storytelling and thinking €œwouldn't it be great if I could create worlds like the filmmakers I grew up watching did? Wouldn't it be great if I could move people emotionally and provoke them to thought?€, etcetera. You€™ve done some very interesting work as a screenwriter- I had no idea you€™d written spec scripts for Blade Runner and Alien sequels! Is there a particular challenge to taking on an iconic franchise with beloved characters and a well-known mythology and making it personal to you? You definitely don't want to blunder into much-loved story worlds and screw around with their characters without understanding why they're so loved. I've passed on many remakes and sequels because I knew I didn€™t have sufficient passion and identification with them to do them justice. I felt I would be found out if I tried. That wasn't a problem with Blade Runner and Alien, because they're my two favourite films and they did more to make me want to be a filmmaker than any other movies. So the risk with them is being too enslaved by your love, to the point where you can't make bold leaps. You have to strike a balance between keeping the tone and essence of those worlds, respecting their canon law, but adding enough new DNA to give audiences a reason to return and re-invest. It has to feel like a natural progression story-wise. Whether my spec sequel scripts succeeded isn't my call, the readers can judge, but I gave it my best shot at the time and I wrote as respectfully as possible. stuart_hazeldine_bafta_guru_photocropNot all directors feel this way, but do you personally find that screenwriting and directing go hand-in-hand? In an ideal world, I think all films would be written and directed by the same person to preserve their singularity of vision, like as with novels, plays, etc. But practically a really broad skill-set is required to write and direct, and not everyone has both, yet they can still make defining creative contributions as a writer or a director. To make a film, you have to be the God of that world in a way that most artists don't have to be- only Novelists come close. They can match screenwriters for God-like power over their stories, but then you add the skills a director needs to bring a story to life in pictures: creative, interpretive, leadership and logistical skills, which makes it way harder than novel writing. I can't think of any artistic profession that stretches the creative muscles of a Human being the way writing and directing a feature film does. Making a movie wearing those two hats is the 'Ironman' event of the artistic world. I did it with my debut, and I produced and financed €“ and I ended up in hospital with the stress! Making the leap from your debut short Christian to your debut feature Exam, do you find there is any real difference between directing a feature and directing a short, apart from the increase in shooting time? The main difference is just handling the addition depth of story that a feature script contains, and all that brings with it in terms of supervising development, rehearsing with actors, etc. The rest is just a matter of endurance and motivation due to the attrition of a long schedule, as you say. I absolutely love Exam, and its brutal minimalism. Did you have a particular method of directing for such a film, which has very intriguing limitations? Well, logistically I drew a birdseye diagram of the room opposite each script page with the positions of each character mapped out, and I told my actors they could improvise new lines of dialogue during rehearsal but they were going to learn their 'dance moves', their physical positioning in the scenes. We ended up making tweaks there too, but in general we didn't go too far off-base. I chose, or rather, allowed, a slightly more theatrical and heightened acting style than I normally would €“ I prefer subtlety and underplaying if I'm going for reality, but the characters in Exam aren't real people. They're types. They're worldviews in fleshly form, so we went for a different kind of acting to reflect that. It's a war of ideas rather than characters. EXAM-Movie-550x364You seem to have quite a close creative relationship with Alex Proyas, considering all the uncredited work you€™ve done on some of his past films and projects he has in development. What is he like to collaborate with? He's great to work with. He has strong ideas of what he wants and doesn't want, yet he's very open to ideas if he creatively respects you, and he leaves room for you to make your mark on a piece too. We always got on well in the room and seemed to want to reach the same goals creatively, so it's always been a great experience writing for him or with him. What are your thoughts on the way the industry is changing, i.e. the over-reliance on 3D and computer graphics, the fact studios are only interested in low-risk franchise-starters based on pre-existing properties€? 3D exists mainly because we need to keep drawing people to the cinema, and that means offering the audience something that they can't get at home- it€™s the same with IMAX, and it€™s the same with 48fps. The same thing happened in the 50€™s in response to TV's popularity- suddenly you had to go see a film in Smell-O-Rama. As a filmmaker looking at it as a tool, I think it's useful for certain films- highly immersive movies like Avatar, with their amazing alien worlds. Paradise Lost would have worked great in 3D, AND in IMAX, given the vertical nature of angels and demons flying. But I'm not a believer that all movies would benefit from 3D currently. I like paintings. I like the frame and what that does compositionally for a picture, the way it affects your arrangements of the elements. Lose the frame and you lose a lot of the visual power of the image in my opinion, and that would be a shame for stories that would benefit from a more compositional eye. Maybe not Comedies or Blockbusters, but I'd like to see a Terrence Malick film with a frame around it. What advice, if any, would you give to aspiring filmmakers/screenwriters on honing their craft and breaking into €˜the industry€™, whether it be independent or the studio system? Carve out ten per cent of your creativity for figuring out to build your career. It's rarely enough to simply be creative on the page. How are you going to get your great script read in the first place? You have to improvise and hustle. How are you gonna persuade that hot girl to go on a date with you when every guy in town is asking her? How are you gonna get to know her when she blanks most people? Your script is a Sperm and the Financier or Director is an Egg. There are more of you than there are of them. You need to be fight. So fight by being persistent and creative. And hopefully, by writing a great script too. No point falling at the final hurdle, is there? Exam PhotocallAnd I must end with the customary question- what next? I believe you had a hand in the Paradise Lost adaptation which is slowly crawling out of development hell, as well as scripts for Moses and a reboot/remake of The Tripods; and Imdb lists a project called €˜Battle Chasers€™€ Battle Chasers is an old project from way back that Imdb seems to think is eternally active. I loved writing it and I'd love to see it get made, as it's one of my better scripts and it's a fresh fantasy world I haven't seen for a while, if ever. But it's not a brand that carries a huge fan base so Studios are reluctant to make those pictures these days. Sigh. Tripods is similar. Great concept, the script works well, could be a huge franchise but not many studio execs have heard of the books, so bit of an uphill battle. Really hope we win, though. That could be a huge franchise. As for Paradise Lost€ one day we have to get that made. That one is the motherlode- a billion dollar movie, no question. It's time will come, and when it does I really hope it's made properly. As for what's next, I have a Moses movie at Warner Brothers and I'm currently writing Agincourt for Michael Mann. Both could be great historical epics. I hope they get made. Exam is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray
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Aspiring Director, Screenwriter and Actor. Film is my passion, but I indulge in TV, Theatre and Literature as well! Any comments or suggestions, please tweet me @IAmOscarHarding