Mega-Interview: David Slade Discusses the Changing Film Industry

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After five episodes of NBC’s Hannibal, it’s already fair to say creator Bryan Fuller‘s horror drama is one of the most atmospheric series on television. From the mood to the show’s bold textures, each episode leaves a cinematic impression — an impact director David Slade (Hard Candy) had a hand in sculpting.

According to Slade, production in the often chilly Toronto weather and fast-paced production is no cakewalk — which you can read more about in a production blog he wrote — but the final reward is worth it. Speaking with the show’s executive producer for well over an hour, it’s obvious Hannibal encapsulates the genre work Slade wants to see more of on television, and he’s proud to be a part of Fuller’s new show. The two men have different sensibilities, but Slade those two distinct outlooks fused together rather nicely.

Here’s what else Slade had to say in part two of our massive discussion with him (you can read part one here), where he touched upon the show’s striking atmosphere, the long-gone music video industry, and how the film business is not one to inspire noble actions:

You mentioned not wanting to do something that’s easy, because there’s little point without a challenge. After gaining plenty of experience, does most of it come easy to you or are challenges still out there?

I look for challenges. I really do. Listen, the whole notion that nothing good is easy is a misnomer. There are things that are good and easy. And sometimes you want to focus yourself in certain places. I’m trying to find a really easy way to say this. If you are going into a very mainstream area where there is a hell of a lot of incredibly closed doors, not for any negative reason, they are just closed. I’m talking about the way things have been done. And there are lots of standards there, and those standards don’t match yours. Your standards are different. I wouldn’t say they’re better off, just different. Then you are going to have a fucking lot of fighting going on. I can’t see me going in and doing a half hour comedy where I just hold the cameras, sit there, and drink water on a director’s chair and say action and cut. No, it’s far more immersive, the process, to me. And that’s what’s makes it exciting, which is not to say I invite fighting. I really don’t. I’d actually rather not. But it’s part of the process.

It is, just because, quite simply, there are people that have way more power than you do who have a vision of the way something should be done. And if you don’t come on the door and say, “Why can’t you do it differently?” they’ll just keep doing it that way. And so it’s just common sense. You have to knock on the door and you have to ask politely. If that works it’s great, and then you can go onto the next door and you can knock on that. And sometimes people won’t be as polite and they’ll tell you, “Go fuck yourself.” And you have to weigh, “Well, okay. There’s two ways we could this: my way or my way really complicated later on down the line and angry.” You find a way through. I think it would be crazy to assume either, first, that I go out looking for any kind of fight. But it’d also be crazy to assume that I don’t expect one.

When I say fight I don’t mean in an antagonistic way. I just mean fighting for something. The context of the word fight is fighting for something you believe in. it’s not about antagonizing people. It’s about pushing something really hard so that it breaks through ahead of the way it would have been done normally and becomes the thing that you want it to be, because it’s going to last longer than you are.

I spoke to Francis Lawrence who made it sound like music videos prepare you for that because sometimes you’ll be fighting over the smallest things imaginable. Was that your experience?

There was never a thing where you were like, “Well, this is just a training ground for something.” I think I was so immersed in it that I never went, “Well this is just practice for something.” I was just very happy to be doing what I was doing at the time. Francis Lawrence is an astonishing filmmaker, an incredibly gifted visual filmmaker. I have great respect for his work. I remember talking to other people about how gifted he was at just getting those fine details down. It was something that I probably wasn’t as good at, but I wanted to get those little details down.

But yeah, when you are doing music videos through the 90s, which I did, and the 2000s, you were put in the position, really, as an independent filmmaker. You were being financed by a major record company, or a minor record company, or whatever. So you were expected to deliver incredibly stunning production value, incredibly strong performance, and an incredibly good idea that was going to last. You were given one day to shoot it, and it was brutal. It still is. It’s weird. Someone showed me this thing where bands have competitions now for people who make videos for…I don’t know what the website is. But I found that withstanding that it’s gone so far around that now to get a music video you have to enter a competition and do it for free, which is a little fucked because that means that only either students or rich people can do it, which I don’t like, personally.

I find exciting work that I find challenging is…you come across it every now and again. I scour the internet and everywhere for it. I’d much rather be excited than to be depressed about things.

Do you think it’ more difficult to break into the music video industry now?

There is no music video industry now. [Laughs] I mean it’s not an industry. But it’s interesting. It’s a paradigm shift. Right now, and it sounds like I’m being apocalyptic, but it’s just because we’re on a paradigm shift into something else. And when we get to the other thing, people who were wanting to make films, and are good at making films, and who have really put in the work to become filmmakers and wanting to make music videos will find themselves unsure of something to do in a world where…I have to think that way. I’m interested in all forms. I know that television is now becoming largely for online delivery.

Independent films are really hard to make. So people do deals where their film is going to come out on demand. All of these distribution ways are shifting the paradigm. Digital technology is changing every three months. I love that because I am thoroughly excited by change and infested by it. I love studying it, but I know that it terrifies some people. I try and remain optimistic and just say, “Well, this is not the end of anything. This is just a paradigm shift.” The goal post may be shifting, but at a certain point you either get used to shooting into the goal as it moves or get to a place where you know where the goal is again. You’ve just got to keep up with it.

So I don’t think it’s any more difficult or easy than it ever was. I just think it’s completely different. I think filmmaking is largely about preparation, and taste, and luck. If you have all of those three things, I think you will find you can work somehow. It’s a very interesting time, though, because filmmaking is something that people…It’s great. The internet is like this ‘70s punk ethos. It’s like, “I don’t need to be able to sing. I’m a punk band. I don’t need to know how to make a video. I got an iPhone. Which I actually welcome. And as much as it actually leads to huge rivers of dirges of shit, there’s a pearl in there. There’s this famous line and I have to re-appropriate it to everyone, essentially. When they said, “Hey, anybody can make a film. We didn’t mean everybody should!” [Laughs]

But out of all that comes Shane Carruth, who I think is a kind of visionary that couldn’t exist without the way that the internet works. I find him to be fascinating.

I just spoke to him this morning, actually.

You did? I find his work to be astonishing. There is no depressant for Shane Carruth. Hollywood could never make Shane Carruth. The music video industry could never make a Shane Carruth. Shane Carruth makes Shane Carruth. He shoots for himself, and I’m excited for people like that way more than I’d be excited for filmmakers of the ‘70s at the time, because it was still a fairly nepotism-run industry. It always has been. It costs a lot of money to take a camera out of the box. I know we should talk about Hannibal some more…I’m expanding my bullshit pontifications on the world of film.

Just to sum up, the thing is the blank page, the blank canvas which painters always face, there was no such thing in film, and there still isn’t this thing in film, whatever you want to call it, the way of using moving pictures and sounds to tell stories, because it costs so much money to get all the various tools assembled that that canvas is no longer blank by the time you sit down to work on it. It’s already well covered and filled in. It has to be. It’s just the way the industry works and the process of making films works. The closer you get to a blank canvas as a filmmaker, or, rather, the closer, I think, that a filmmaker can get to that experience, starting with a blank canvas, I think the better it’s going to be for films.

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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