AN INTERVIEW WITH Ian Woodward, WRITER & FILMMAKER
As a screenwriter, director and producer, please introduce yourself and let us know how you became involved in film production?
I’ve had a fascination for films and making films for as long as I can remember. As a six-year-old, according to my parents (I have no recollection of it), I’d take a breakfast-cereal packet, stuff an empty towel roll into one end, and pretend I was a cameraman. I loved make-believe, as I still do today, and everything about show business and entertainment. But in my late teens my parents made the judgement that, rightly, the film business was no place for their eldest child to be if security was an important actor when it came to future job prospects. So, no film school for me and therefore university beckoned, followed by a period in journalism. But during this time I always made films, to start with in 8mm, 9.5mm and 16mm film stock before video and the digital revolution swept me – and the rest of the world – off my feet. The rest is history.
What sparked your interest in visual storytelling compared to writing stories?
By inclination – indeed, obsession – I am a storyteller and so I took to filming like a pig to mud or the proverbial duck to water. As the great French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard once observed, “A story should have a beginning, middle and an end…but not necessarily in that order.” A good philosophy, as in some of my films I have begun with showing glimpses of the end of the film. Woody Allen went further: “If my films make one more person miserable, I’ve done my job.” I don’t subscribe to that ambition, but it does make me chuckle.
How did you start out, and what were some of the important milestones along the way?
Discovering for the first time that some people seemed to enjoy a film I had made was by far the most important milestone for me. Like most creative people – and not least those who begin with a blank slate and create something out of thin air as opposed to an artefact that has been produced from tangible materials such as stone or wood or metal – one feels a natural lack of confidence in what one has produced. We need something, a yardstick by which we can measure the intangible and the subjective…and what better way to evaluate such criteria than an audience watching “out front” at a prestigious event like the American Golden Picture International Film Festival? Let’s not be coy about it, an award is the ultimate milestone. A filmmaker never becomes jaded by the awards a new or newish film receives. Such tangible affirmations of one’s creativity are as essential to the health of creativity as stuffing one’s mouth with pasta and potatoes is essential to the life-giving sustenance demanded by the human body: each would almost certainly perish without the sustenance of the other. Milestones? How could we survive without them?
As the writer, what was the inspiration for writing the screenplay for "I Love You Truly"?
As someone who earns his living as an author, the concept of the twin opposing poles of romantic love have always intrigued me, as of course it has through the centuries for a host of writers, composers, artists and poets. The interaction of opposites is a complex, fascinating one, which is when I wrote my biography on the English screen star, Glenda Jackson, I gave the book the sub-title “A Study in Fire and Ice” because that most aptly summed up her complex personality. And so, with “I Love You Truly”, I wished to convey a lyrical evocation of romance while at the same time underscoring the harsh reality that for most of us real love is composed of ecstasy and agony. Neither condition is immune from the other because love doesn’t bring and never has brought total happiness. On the contrary, it’s a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield, sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we’re doing the right thing. This was the starting point of “I Love You Truly”. It asks if there is such a thing as love at first sight. It explores in words, music, and song and moving images the on-off-on relationship of a young woman and a young man as, slowly, they begin to find out more things about each other and experience true love for the first time. It is a story of two people discovering and building trust and finding a soul mate who they hope will be with them forever.
Tell us about your collaboration with cast and crew in this film. How you chose them and how did you first meet your actors, and what was it like to work together?
Working with and cajoling actors and motivating a film crew is every bit an art as writing a screenplay or editing a production. None of these things, especially where egos come into play, is easy…which makes these challenges all the more satisfying when things work out fine. And when they don’t? Let’s not go there! Happily, it was an absolute joy to work with everybody on “I Love You Truly”. Charlotte Frost and Richard Mark as the young lovers brought so much original thought to their roles, nuances of interpretation I had not even thought of when writing the screenplay, that I cannot over-emphasise the brilliance their acting personas brought to the film. Added to which, I was bowled over by their incredible commitment to what was demanded of them over the film’s six-week shooting schedule. The film was quite experimental in places. Firstly, I dispensed with standard dialogue by writing the screenplay as one long, continuous poem, alternating between rhyming verse and blank verse. Second, I wanted some parts of the onscreen dialogue to intermittently “become” a voice-over of their thoughts that continue halfway through a sentence. I use this device throughout the wedding scene. I knew that Charlotte and Richard could not quite fathom what this VO/dialogue device was all about, and that they were sometimes “talking” to each purely by their thoughts, without opening their mouths, but you would be hard-pressed to notice this uncertainty on the screen. Even so, I suspect there were times between takes when they must have thought I was a little bit mad – but I’ll forgive them for that because I probably was! It helped greatly that they were so accommodating and so much fun to work with. Richard Mark, who has a degree in music, is an accomplished pianist. Between takes during the church scenes, he’d entertain cast and crew by tickling the ivories on the grand piano which stood in one corner the nave. I vividly remember hearing him play one day the exquisite opening moments of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Who can forget the powerful moment in “Immortal Beloved” where Gary Oldman, as the nearly-deaf composer, plays the same notes forlornly while leaning head-down over the top of the piano?
What are the films or people that had impacts on you and deeply inspired you to become a film producer, screenwriter and director?
Inspiration? A great word, simple and complex at the same time! All the films which I have written and directed have sprung from a message I wished to convey through the vehicles drama and music. To me, a film without music is like a pie without a crust or a waffle without perfect blueberry syrup. My film “Too Many Ghosts”, for example, is a fictionalised commentary on the folly of war. This message is clear and strong from the opening shot of odious Hitler rallies. Set in Europe between the last five days of the Second World War and a few days after the end of hostilities, it is told against the musical backdrop of England’s iconic national composer, Sir Edward Elgar: his patriotic 1st Symphony and “Land of Hope and Glory”. This is music is bursting with an arousing message declaring that “evil will not and cannot triumph when confronted by all that is good and decent in the world”. Again, as the writer-director of “Adoration: A Natural History”, the underlying message, while being far less complex than that found in “Too Many Ghosts”, is nonetheless compelling, I hope, in its honesty and sincerity. It is, quite simply, a clarion-call for humankind to stop damaging the environment. I can think of no greater example of a filmic message than that which shines so brightly in Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born”, starring himself and Lady Gaga. This tragic love story between a breathtakingly talented woman and a troubled rock star is a raw, powerful piece of art that makes a momentous leading role for Gaga. It will most probably leave many young cinemagoers emotionally exhausted and a little heartbroken. Beyond this, it should leave the audience with a strong and relevant message about how we function in today’s society and the marks we each give to the world. In the film we learn that Gaga’s character, Ally, has been told that she will never be a successful singer, despite her talent, because of the way she looks; and we soon see that even when her career takes off, there are those negative forces around her who remain preoccupied with image, pressuring her to change her appearance and trying to make her performances bigger and “better”, rather than focusing on the beauty of her voice itself and what she has to say. But she eventually learns that the most important part of being an artist is speaking your truth: “everyone has talent” but what is really special is having something to say and to say it from your soul. This is the beginning of a greater message: what’s important is what’s inside us, rather than the exterior image and perception of “success. The film addresses a number of significant subjects including gender, alcoholism and addiction, but what stands out for me is the way the story’s message is used to subtly question how our lives have become focused in modern society. All in all, Bradley Cooper has come up with an attention-grabbing film which tells the story and gets the message across in an informative and entertaining way.
What are your favorite genres to work on? Why?
Being a sucker for books based on and about historical characters, my first love in the cinema is the biopic...and if that embraces an element of love and romance in all its manifestations, then so much the better. Examples of this genre which immediately spring to mind are “The Passion of Christ” (with Mel Gibson in the title-role), “Gandhi” (Ben Kingsley) and “Laurence of Arabia” (Peter O’Toole). So as a filmmaker I am drawn to real, flesh-and-blood characters such as the composers Tchaikovsky in “Love Song” and “Tchaikovsky in Love”, the Czech Republic’s Smetana in “From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields” and Edward Elgar in Too Many Ghosts” – the titles of four of my own biopics. My next docudrama will zoom-in on Felix Mendelssohn. As an aside, I think genre is important for audiences because it allows them to know what kind of film they are going to see and what they can expect when going to see a film. Also, certain audiences prefer certain genres, so the genre allows the audience to choose what type of films they like to watch. Films are broad enough to accommodate practically any film ever made, although film categories can never be precise. By isolating the various elements in a film and categorizing them in genres, it is possible to easily evaluate a film within its genre and allow for meaningful comparisons and some judgments on “greatness”. It is perhaps worth taking into account the fact that films were not really subjected to genre analysis by film historians until the 1970s.
Your beautiful film "I Love You Truly" is officially selected in the
"American Golden Picture International Film Festival".
What were some of the challenges you faced in producing this film?
As an author by profession, writing a screenplay is always a joy for me and no challenge at all. The biggest challenge for me after the screenplay was completed was, oddly enough, to come up with a title with the word “love” in it which had not already been used in any previous films. Even variations on existing song titles were not going to work for me – for instance, “All We Need Is Love”, which I doubt John Lennon would have been impressed with. Each and every one of my films has involved the use of a great many locations within a 20-mile radius of London. I have never been even remotely tempted to shoot a film in just one location. That wouldn’t interest me at all. Yawn, yawn! Cutting to different locations, and often intercutting back and forth from, say, Location One to Location Two, is a vital creative tool for me in advancing a storyline and, where a plot requires it, make an audience aware of a passage of time, a twist in the plot, a new sub-plot, and so on. But this method of filming requires a great deal of time, energy and money to pull off: location fees, transport and catering costs, etc. While casting a film is always something I enjoy, it can also be quite nail-biting and stressful. Will I ever find the perfect professional actor for the role? When writing a screenplay I always have a very clear image in mind of what I want each character to look like and sound like. After using the services of four London casting agencies, we then spent two long days of auditions before I found the actors I had been “writing” for. Fortunately, this wasn’t all that difficult because “I Love You Truly” has only two lead characters. But some of my films – “I’ll Walk with God” and “Love Song: The Triumph and Tragedy of Tchaikovsky”, for example – have involved huge casts and crews.
To you, what part of the filmmaking is the hardest part? Why?
It is precisely because I love my films to be set in many different and contrasting locations that, in turn, I create huge problems for myself. On average it takes about three solid, tiresome months seeking out exterior and interior locations and sorting out the shoot dates and contracts: permissions, location fees, viable electrical socket points, catering, make-up facilities, washroom vehicles, parking arrangements, cast and crew transport (trains, cars), and so on. Aggh! But when I see the results onscreen, all the negotiations, all the paperwork, all the reassuring PR exercises, all the…well, all the pre-production angst suddenly seems worth it.
In professional industry filmmaking who would you like to work with if you have a choice?
Well, if a Fairy Godmother was around to grant me one film-related wish, it would be to work with the English actress Felicity Jones. She was absolutely stunning as the long-suffering ex-wife of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything”; while in “The Invisible Woman”, she was mesmerising as the Victorian actress Nelly Ternan, the secret lover of Charles Dickens. We can all dream!
What keeps you inspired to continue writing the screenplays, producing and directing films?
I love how film has the power to connect with an audience in a way that no other medium can – well, with the possible exception of music. In my view, films are especially influential to the world today – especially to the young – because, while going unswervingly into your heart, they can also indirectly manipulate you in a way that may not be advantageous. That presents a great challenge for the filmmaker. And, along the way, that “influence” becomes a part of you...which you may not even discover until sometime later. I think what works really well in films targeted at today’s young audiences, for instance, is the sheer humanness that radiates from them, be it in science fiction or romance or humour or horror. I believe most new films seen by young people tell the truth in a hard-hitting, uncompromising manner. A young audience consumes this truth, albeit unknowingly, as it penetrates deep into their hearts, increasing ever more the huge possibilities that cinema already possesses as a fundamental art. Having said this, the impact on an audience is also dependent on how such people interpret what they see on the big screen. If watching “good” can change our minds in a good way, then watching “bad” can similarly change our minds in a bad way. It is all governed by how our minds behave and the sort of lifestyles we inhabit. Films made over the last decade in India, for instance, and certainly all over the world, can be distinguished from those made in 1990s in that they are lack a certain moral base where bad is shown more than good. Research done on the impact of violent (or “bad”) movies reveals a palpable relationship between watching violent movies and acts of aggression in real life – but, thankfully, only for a small percentage of young adults.
What is your next film project? What are your film-producing goals in the future?
In early summer this year I begin principal photography on “The Great Music Trio of Buckingham Palace”. The docudrama focuses on the close friendship between Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Felix Mendelssohn. The German composer’s Wedding March and Fingal’s Cave wont stop buzzing around in my head…I can’t wait to get going to exorcise it!
GOOD LUCK IAN
Ian Woodward's Links:
Encore Films UK:
IMdb “I Love You Truly”: