INTERVIEW WITH 'LIAR' DIRECTOR MARTIN SMITH
Collabor8te/Dazed: All your films so far have been written and directed by you, are you looking forward to bringing someone else's writing to the screen?
Martin Smith: It's a unique challenge. From time-to-time I've directed commercials, so it isn't the first time I've directed another person's writing in the broadest sense, but shorts are very different - passion projects - and the opportunity to make your most strongly authored work. I felt there was something in the script that I identified with and could make my own, and that's something I'm very much looking forward to.
C8: This won't be the first short you've made focusing on Scottish kids probing the limits of their environment - is this a subject matter that keeps on giving for you?
MS: The characters in the stories I've explored to date have been at a point in their lives where they have decisions to make, and the acts they are going to undertake will inform those decisions. There's a moral complexity to this and that is something I'm very much drawn to. Also characters who are black or white don't interest me in the slightest - it's the shades of grey that are within all of us that interest me the most. The advantage of looking at characters in these situations is that these scenarios present themselves on a regular basis and naturally are the main focus of their experience - it's an intense period which informs the rest of your life, and full of drama, some of it large and externalised, some of it small and intimate.
MS: After your script, great casting and cinematography are really important. Once you have those then you are on your way. My work is constantly evolving and each project informs the next. Things I tried out in terms of working with non-actors, and the use of camera, all inform the next project. Next to actually shooting my films, casting is my favourite part of the process; that's where I start to step into the world of the story and it becomes real. Characters who were on the page at first come to life through those castings and improvisations. I absolutely love this process, and spend a long, pretty intense time making sure it is right.
C8: The Scottish filmmaking scene continues to produce a lot of really exciting new talent, what do you put that down to?
MS: I can't speak for other Scottish filmmakers, but I always liked to watch and listen - there's always a lot of shit going on - funny, sad, violent, supportive. There are great stories here; there is a strong storytelling tradition. There are strong contrasts - all the cities are within a short drive of the most stunning dramatic countryside, brilliant colour. And people get fucked-up here and that always presents drama.
C8: TRACKS bagged you a Scottish BAFTA - has that helped open some doors for you career-wise?
MS: Well it's not why you make films, but it helps. It's great to get industry recognition and that of your peers. I got my agent after making TRACKS and I got a feature into development after that. I think you've got to be careful and carry on with the work you want to make. It's a little like an insurance policy, and people do give you a certain amount of respect, but I still think you have to work as hard as ever. One thing I love about filmmaking is that as soon as you have achieved something there is always another rung of the ladder up - always more to do, you've got to keep pushing.
C8: The UK can be a difficult place to get films made, are you feeling positive about the future of the industry?
MS: Man, it's hard to get films made up here. I'm positive but guarded. You have to just push really, really hard. I've learned that from hard experience. I've never felt more determined to see my work made. At the end of the day I have made huge sacrifices to get to where I am and I'm not stopping before I've seen it through - I will not stop before I've made my feature films.
MS: Documentary is a really useful way of seeing the world and getting an insight into the lives of people. I get to step into the world of people that I would never normally meet and get to know them in a really deep way over a period of time. People talk to me about things they may never have said to their friends or family. To earn their trust there is a dialogue, I give a little of myself to get a little of them in return. Quite often I shoot my documentaries - I would never shoot my dramas - but the time I need to get to know the participants is important, it's a very intimate relationship that develops, one of trust. A film can have a really powerful effect on a person and it is so easy to misrepresent them. I'd hate to do that. Obviously my drama work informs the documentary. Every time you place a camera you are making a moral judgement on that person, who you photograph them with, how you edit their conversation, all of these things are scripted in drama but in docs you are using a real person and their daily existence to serve your own story, so there is a huge responsibility there. One thing that is so different from docs to drama is the reshooting - in docs I can return to a character over anything up to a six month period - sometimes more - to get my story. In a short film that might be only four days - it is just so intense in comparison. But that's something I'd like to change in the future, there are definitely documentary skills that will transfer to my drama work, that instinctive way of working and freedom are really useful. Of course to make that work you have to have a team who understand that sensibility, but so far I have been very lucky.
C8: What, for you, is the essence of a good collaboration?
MS: Trust, and using the best of your collaborator's ideas. I'm lucky in that I get to work with great people. I'd be stupid not to listen to their ideas and how they see things.
C8: If there's one piece of advice you wish you'd been given when you were starting out, what would it be?
MS: Take all advice with a pinch of salt. Take what works for you, chuck out what doesn't - trust your instincts.
C8: Apart from the Collabort8e short LIAR, what's next on the horizon for Martin Smith?
MS: I like to mix things up - I've got a feature in development called SHOWS and I'm shooting a documentary at the end of the year.