EXCLUSIVE: Q & A With 'Creditors' Director Ben Cura on Status of Production; Film Stars Director, Simon Callow, Christian McKay, Andrea Deck
Last fall, Ben Cura attempted to raise funds for his feature film debut "Creditors." The initial Kickstarter campaign did not go as planned, but the actor-director persevered, obtained funding from other sources and launched a second campaign that was successful. Cura is currently in production for the film, which is based on a play by August Strindberg. The filmmaker recently took some time to talk to Latin Post about the progress on production.
Latin Post: What has been one of the greater challenges of production? How has it been different from the first shoots for the film?
Ben Cura: The whole thing is an exercise in balancing pragmatism and instinct -- and most importantly, keeping a cool head. A shoot isn't easy. A lot of things happen unexpectedly: you're working with human beings, which as much as it may seem obvious, is something which you must remind yourself of every morning before you hit the set. It requires you to be malleable in both a creative and a personal way.
Let me say that again: a film shoot is about working with human beings. Which means talking, arguing, getting angry, getting frustrated. There have been tears and there have been moments of sheer joy too. There have been moments when I've nearly lost it. But you try and remind yourself that it's because everyone wants to do the best they can. And they do.
The material we shot back in September 2013 was shot with a much smaller unit, in a much more point-and-shoot style than what we're doing now. This means the style is different, which was the whole point -- it'll make sense once you see it.
LP: What have you learned most as a director making this film? How has it informed you as an actor? And the inverse: how have you developed as an actor and how has that informed your directing?
BC: This is my first gig as a director, so I've tried to take a step back, keeping an eye on what each department brings to the table, without dictating what should happen in any one scene outright. Chances are, if you allow people to present you with decisions, thoughts and options -- you may solve a scene quicker, better and more efficiently than if you blindly stick to your guns from the very beginning. That said, each crew is different, and it takes a while to oil the machine and getting it running smoothly and efficiently, but once we got there, it really all became about people putting their heads together each time we prepared to shoot a scene, and collaborating with each other.
As an actor, I found the experience has reinforced the way I've always believed is the way I should work, and which I apply on every job I do; that is to both come into a project with my own pre-made decisions -- which is something many directors welcome with open arms; there's nothing worse than having people sitting in front of you, waiting for you to tell them what to do, it negates the whole creative process -- and to also come in with an open mind, a collaborative one. Try this, see if that works. Step out of your comfort zone. If you've seen a scene play out in your head in one way for months, and suddenly you're asked to do the opposite, do it -- chances are, something will work. And if not, you would have proven your initial decision was the right one all along, to both you and the director. Play. That's it, really.
LP: What is it like to work with such great actors as Sir Simon Callow and Christian McKay? How about working with Andrea Deck?
BC: The great thing about any of those actors, all of the actors in the film - others you haven't mentioned such as Tom Bateman and Ania Sowinski -- is that, first and foremost: we are all friends. There is no need to waste time with curtseys and distancing compliments. If something doesn't work, you just say it, and no one will sit in a corner thinking "Oh God the director hates me" -- because it's me. They know what I think of them and I know what they think of me. So it became about letting them play -- and occasionally I'd say "You can do that better" or "That's too much or too little" -- but because they're all such great actors, my job was extremely easy. I kind of cheated, really.
LP: How has cinematographer Ben Hecking helped you develop your vision as a director?
BC: We helped each other, as you do in any collaboration. Some days I'd let him dictate the pace, and I'd intervene whenever necessary, some days I'd have something particular in mind -- and that would push him in another direction. Sometimes he'd come up to me and chat about something I thought would work -- and after showing me how it actually wouldn't, we'd both find a new way of tackling the shot. At points I'd come up to him after having let him work for twenty minutes, and I'd see a shot being lit in exactly the way I thought it should be, and sometimes I'd see a shot for the first time, and it would be even better than what I'd seen in my head. Ben, in turn, had a great bunch of people in his department.
LP: Have you develop a specific routine or process as director everyday? Freedom is obviously essential, but are there certain approaches that you repeat in preparing every scene?
BC: It really depends on what your definition of freedom is. Freedom isn't easy. Freedom is set within a bunch of parameters, and is achieved when respect for time and confines is given. It's achieved when preparation is over and playing begins. And it only really occurs during very brief moments on set, usually only when the camera is rolling. And even then, freedom is about precision, and precision is about limitations -- and the trick is to know what the limitations of a moment, shot, scene, shoot, script are, and to feel free within those confines.
To me, my job as a director, is to set and protect those limitations, and to spur play within those confines. It's a little bit like feeding a hamster cocaine and locking him inside a different box for a few minutes each time.
LP: What has been the biggest surprise that you have had while film? Something that you did not expect to happen when you were prepping the scene?
There are too many for me to even begin to remember. They'll probably come back to me in snippets as I look back on the most intense parts of the shoot. Most of them are about what people brought to the table. Their love for the story. And their excitement when it came to telling it. Which was the cause for both frustration and excitement, in equal measure.
LP: Have you found the need to make a lot of alterations to scenes in the script throughout the process? How have you approached this as an actor and director?
BC: Of course. It's a film script. As they say, it's only a blueprint. And what works visually when you're writing it, almost always needs tweaking, changing or adapting when you come to shooting it. So we did. Dialogue, too, is malleable. And I know this very well: if you listen to your actors, chances are most of your problems will be solved before you even notice they're there. An actor will always look beyond what's on the page. There are very few people who are more obsessive than actors. I should know. I am one.
Want to know more about Ben Cura and his previous work? Want to know more about his inspirations for "Creditors?" Check out a full-length interview that actor-director did previously with this writer.