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Stephen Frears Interview

3 October 10 words: Duncan Heath
"I was born in Leicester which was tragedy, but then I was brought up in Nottingham which was my triumph"
 Stephen Frears - on the job

Stephen Frears may not be a name that you instantly recognise but he is a shining example of local-boy-done-good with a directorial portfolio including, amongst loads of others, High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen and My Beautiful Laundrette. His latest film is an adaptation of Posy Simmonds' Tamara Drewe and he was kind enough to let us have a bit of a natter with him about it...

Were you a fan of Posy Simmonds prior to making the film? 

I’ve know Posy for about thirty years, I think. I’d read Tamara Drewe  in The Guardian but I read it as a film.  The first time it ever crossed my mind to actually do it as a film was, oh, about fifteen or eighteen months ago when they sent me a script for it.  I couldn’t believe what I’d been sent, I just thought it was a treat. 


Did the visual nature of basing a script on a comic book make directing Tamara Drewe easier?
I’m so used to films coming out of language so I thought it was very liberating. The idea that I had in my mind was that it was a cartoon and therefore the idea of making a film using those techniques was a great one. I found that I could get away from the tyranny of realism. 
You said that you didn’t want to agree to doing the film until you had cast the main parts – is this because of the nature of the material or do you like that reassurance before entering into any project?
Well, I knew the film would only work if you got it right. You don’t want to take pot luck, you want to actually know that certain people are in place. Normally you agree to make a film and then you cast it and you never quite know what you’re going to end up with. So, I wanted to know before I committed. The truth is, the money normally comes when you get certain people on board but with this project I didn’t want to have famous people, I wanted to have the people who were right. Thankfully the producers and the financiers were good enough to agree with me. 

Your career has covered a number of genres across a few decades now – is there any genre that you’d still like to cover that you’ve not had a chance to do yet? 
I don’t think of it like that, I find material that interests me. If a story happens to interest me I’ll make it, I don’t really worry about genre – I just like having something interesting in front of me.  
You’ve established yourself as a bit of an icon amongst directors – have any newer directors influenced you?
Influenced me? Not so much, however, I’m full of admiration for people. I think that Andrea Arnold’s film Fish Tank was absolutely wonderful. I see good work and I admire it, I don’t quite see how it would influence me. It’s the wrong way ‘round really but I teach young people so I’m constantly aware of the opportunity to learn from young people. 
Do you ever see yourself retiring from film?
I’d kill myself. I don’t think it’s my decision though, I think it’s somebody else’s - I guess they just stop giving you money…

You were born in Leicester and directed the 1969 documentary about St Ann’s – do you still see the Midlands as home? 

Yes, I was born in Leicester which was tragedy but then I was brought up in Nottingham which was my triumph.  No I don’t suppose that I see it as home anymore but I love coming up to Nottingham. I’m on the regional film board and I love coming up.
What’s your fondest memory of Nottingham?
I was eighteen when I was in Nottingham and it was incredible. I remember the sawdust on Yates’ Wine Bar floor and I remember the mill girls coming in on Friday nights – it was fantastic! 
A hot topic at the moment is obviously the abolition of the UK Film Council – what are your thoughts on this as someone who works within the industry?
There are two separate things that really matter: there’s the film council and then there is the money that the government gives to films. So far no-one has threatened the money that the government gives to films. Whether it’s done through the UK Film Council or some other organisation it doesn’t seem to be terribly important. What is important is that there is public money and that it is distributed by intelligent people. I mean the UK Film Council was a very bureaucratic organisation with huge overheads and it made silly mistakes but it did a lot of good things as well so I don’t get my knickers in a twist. 
It covers so many things like, for example, it covers Nottingham and if those things are maintained, the fact that it’s used by one body rather than another, it’s fine. It was done rather gracelessly but it was a bit of a non-event, I thought, because in the end there is public funding and it has to be distributed by somebody. It’s what they say next, what they put in its place and whether the money is cut or restricted that is going to need listening to.  Who do you write for by the way?
Leftlion – it’s Nottingham’s local culture magazine.
I’ll avoid the obvious joke…

Tamara Drewe review

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