Acclaimed directors often drop in to shoot the pilot for a TV series. They don’t often stick around for seconds. Director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) is one of those rare film directors who must love brains and chianti a lot. He went from directing the pilot of Bryan Fuller‘s Hannibal to serving as an executive producer and moving on to direct more episodes, fully immersing himself in the world of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
The material for Hannibal is right up Slade’s alley, a director known for having a moody and atmospheric eye. It’s very much in the genre mold we’ve seen on television in recent years, the type of television Slade says he’d prefer to see more of. We recently had a long-form interview with Mr. Slade regarding Hannibal and many, many, many more subjects. As you can tell by our chat below, Mr. Slade isn’t exactly a man ever at a loss for words.
Because of that, we’ve got two big interviews with the filmmaker on tap. For now, here’s what director David Slade had to say about Hannibal, how digital can’t touch film, the obsessive nature of filmmaking, and why The Man Who Fell to Earth is really an allegory for working in Los Angeles:
From the start of your filmmaking career, did you want to avoid that stigma of a style over substance music director turn filmmaker and jump right into character driven material?
Hard Candy was just a great script. I had never really had any conception of how the work I did would be appreciated or not appreciated or judged or valued. And it is certainly well to keep that kind of point of view that attitude of, “Well, I’m the world’s worst critique of my films and work because I can see the flaws above everyone else.” So if you wanted anyone to tear my work apart, it would be me. I would be merciless. I would rip it to pieces.
It was something that I picked up and read cover to cover, put down again, took a breath, and then read again. It was just a very original piece of material. I never really considered the quandary of the commercials video director being rejected by the film world at large, most certainly the critical part of the film world at large. And it’s something that, throughout my career, I’ve always had to kind of be on the outside of that anyway.
When I was doing music videos, everybody was very snobbish about music video directors doing commercials. It was all guys from ad agencies. To this day some of the top amazing, fantastic directors came out of the ad agency world. There was a lot of snobbery around that. So I didn’t do too many commercials. And I just try not to think about those kinds of things. When you start making a film there are so many problems to solve. Certainly, from my own experience, I don’t think anybody really thinks about how you are going to be perceived. There’s so much to do in the moment [Laughs]. I think it actually serves you well. I think it’s a mistake to try and overthink how you are going to be received because that assumes that you are going to be received in the first place.
I’m just very happy to be doing this for a living. I worked real jobs where you had to work. I worked in a gas station. I guess just from your title of your website that we’re talking about today, I applied to a national school of film and television and was rejected from that in England. I ended up doing my degree in fine art because they had a film department there.
It’s always been on the periphery of things. The answer really is, I was always lucky enough to be so embroiled in it that I never had the chance to think about how it would be perceived. By the time the first film was out and being perceived, there was such a huge backlash against the subject matter in the film in general that I was just fighting to stay above water. I was lucky to have a great cast who fought with me. Ellen Page was several times confronted at film screenings. Someone jumped out of the crowd to try and attack…It’s so fun to talk about now, but at the time it was a bit scary.
People ask other crew members when you work on a TV series like, say, Hannibal, you know, “We’ve wrapped the final episode. We feel like the family is all…” There is this great feeling of loss. In my experience, I don’t really get that because you are always into editing, you are on to the next thing, and then the next thing is coming along. You’re always developing other things, so you are writing, or you are taking photographs. You are doing something. I guess it just fills a void, really. I can’t imagine the void being there, if that makes any sense.
It does. Before we jump into Hannibal, when you were rejected from film school in England, how did you take that?
Just exactly what I expected to happen. I was already making short films and videos anyway. I was working with the drama department at a local college doing theater stuff. I was filming in a film department in Sheffield, a Sheffield independent film unit, and I managed to get…What I would do is I would learn hands-on by basically serving as a staff member there and they getting free time on the editing, whatever it would be, in lieu of work. So I would be the person who had to sit there with tons of BNC cables and figure out how to put a three-quarter editing deck together or a three-machine suite together because people were always pulling them apart. I’d do that all day and then I’d get all night to work on the stuff.
I quite enjoyed the fact that you set your own boundaries and you push yourself as much as you can. And it’s odd now sometimes. I feel like I’m in a weird state and I wake up in Hollywood and I’ve got a couple of studio movies underneath my belt, and I take these meetings with people. Sometimes it’s this great, weird sense of oddness that comes at you, because I’ve never really stopped thinking the way that I started thinking. I realize now that it…What was the character? A good friend of mine and I, often talk about Jerome from The Man Who Fell to Earth as a study for somebody who ends up here in Los Angeles. I mean the book version more than the film version. I thought Bowie was fantastic. Just this man slowly being corrupted and just being angry at being corrupted, but not knowing what to do except the thing that he knows how to do and surviving, but into a state of madness. [Laughs] You get those kind of moments which you think are clarity and you’re not sure whether they’re madness or not. Does that make sense?
Yeah. It’s a very strange industry full of strange people. Some of them are endearing and some of them are the antithesis of endearing. As my old mum said, if you haven’t gotten anything nice, don’t say anything, because nobody wants to fucking hear it. [Laughs] I think I kind of rolled all over your question there, and that probably wasn’t a real answer. I’ll try to get better. I promise.