Articles – Q&A with Ray Lawrence / Director

1) When did you first realize that you wanted to become a filmmaker?

As a child, living in London, my father would take me to the cinema two
or three times a week. In those days they ran one film continually – in
a loop, so you would come in at any given point and leave, if you
wanted, when that point came around again. I think he did it to escape
his real life, he loved cowboy films, Randolph Scott in particular.

We’d stay for a couple of showings, I’d fall asleep, wake up then go
back to sleep.

On Saturdays, my grandfather would have the same need to escape to the
pictures and take me along as well.

So it was kind of inevitable that I’d end up in the business somehow. I
do remember wanting to be an actor and playing out the films on my
parents bed the next day. But I grew out of that quite quickly.

When we immigrated to Australia, at high school, my interest turned to
art and I later studied to be a painter – I still hold that interest.

2) How did you get to a point where it became your fulltime career? Was
it a long tough process?

It wasn’t until I fell into advertising (it was the only outlet where I
could put my art school training to any use) that I came across film, in
the form of commercials. Very crude, rough and ready jobs for used cars.
But watching them being filmed somehow ignited my interest and gradually
I wormed my way in. Used car ads soon lost their appeal and I turned to
writing, figuring I would tell my own stories and make them into films.

Which kind of worked in a roundabout way – I wrote a feature script and
sent it to Paramount Pictures in New York. Surprisingly someone liked it
and asked me to come over and discuss it. This was the early 70s –
things were a little different then, a little more relaxed. We headed
there to make a new life. When we arrived the guy that had made the
invitation had been drafted! (none else was interested) So there we
were, no money, no prospects and no green card.

Not wanting to come home with my tail between my legs, we went to London
where I could work. I schlepped around the agencies finally getting a
job as a writer/producer. The producer part was so I could hire
out-of-work directors – use their union ticket – paying him to read the
paper, while I directed the commercials I had written. It worked for a
while and I managed to win a few awards. But life in London was a bit
bleak, so we returned home to set up Window productions with an old
friend who was a photographer. We were the first of the small companies
and struggled for three years! Finally we got a chance to show our stuff
and as they say, after that there was no stopping us. Window, at its
height was up there with the best production companies internationally.
So for the most part, everything I have learnt as a director, I learnt
on the job making commercials. During that period I met and worked with
Peter Carey. We both wanted to move on from commercials. He as a writer
and me into features. Our first collaboration was a wonderful screenplay
based on one of his short stories. This was in the days of sweeping
outback period films and we didn’t fit into that category. A chance
meeting with Tony Buckley made it possible to make Peter’s novel Bliss
into a film. Since then it has been a long and winding road but always
interesting.

3) Is there anything specific that you look for in a script, and/or in a
writer, when choosing your next project?

The most important thing is to find people who are like minded and have
similar tastes.

4) Are there any common mistakes that you often see writers make?

Mistakes can be corrected. If you are working with the right people,
anything can be done.

5) Do you have any tips for upcoming writers? (could be in terms of the
process, the industry or anything else)

Don’t try and read what you think the market wants. The market is always
behind or just on the edge of falling behind.

Know yourself and see where that takes you.

6) How do you generally work with writers when developing a project?

I try to point out in an oblique way where any problems I think may be.
I find making specific suggestions on how to fix it doesn’t help. The
writer will see it as an abstract, as an actor does, and if she agrees
then it gets done in a new and fresh way, otherwise I try to see it from
their point of view. If that doesn’t work. I trust my instincts and keep
at it.

7) You wrote and directed Bliss. Was there a noticeable difference
directing a film you had wrote as opposed to working with a script
written by another writer?

I have come to prefer to work on films written by other people. I’m
involved in the script but not on a detailed level like the writer.

If I’m involved in the writing I seem to get bogged down, when filming,
with the original words/the original structure and it closes me off to
any visitations.

8) If there was a piece of advice you could give your younger self when
starting out, what would it be?

Talent is important, but staying power is more important.

9) What do you enjoy most about the filmmaking process?

I love knowing we have a tight well structured story to tell. I love
finding the actors and working with them, watching them brings the
characters to life. I love editing. I love every part of it except
raising the money and selling it once you’re done.

And also what do you find most difficult or frustrating?

See above.

10) It would be great to get an idea of how you work with actors.

Each actor needs something different from a director so you have to find
that out by listening not asking.

I have found that rehearsals are more about discussing the
character/scene/story and it’s a good time to listen.

11) Do you have a film you’ve directed that stands out as being your most
memorable, or what you’re most proud of? (Could be in terms of the
process or/and end result?)

It’s been said before, they are like your children and you don’t like to
play favourites.