Chat with Mike Figgis
<BBC Host> Hello and welcome to this evening's chat with Mike Figgis. Mike was Oscar-nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for "Leaving Las Vegas".
<BBC Host> You can start sending Mike Figgis your questions NOW by typing them into the box at the bottom of the page. You must press return/enter on your keyboard to send a question.
<BBC Host> Before he arrives here are some interesting facts about Mike Figgis:
<BBC Host> Mike Figgis was Oscar-nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for "Leaving Las Vegas".
<BBC Host> Mike Figgis was brought up in Kenya from infancy to age 8.
<BBC Host> Time Code was improvised by the actors appearing within it. Instead of a script, they used a music-like notation to show where they had to be at any given time.
<BBC Host> Mike Figgis is ready to start answering your questions.

<Question-from> Jessica Martin - There are rumours on the internet that the DVD for Time Code will be something special - can you tell me a bit more about it?
<Mike Figgis> It'll be interactive, which means that you can select any one of the four individual soundtracks and solo them.
<Mike Figgis> You can mute the score, and also included in the package will be version one (of the fifteen that were shot). Plus,...
<Mike Figgis> ... documentary footage and the trailer.

<Question-from> Mike Law, Leeds - Why did you choose to premiere Time Code at the Yahoo Internet Online Film Festival?
<Mike Figgis> Because they asked me!
<Mike Figgis> Life is often very simple!
<Mike Figgis> Seriously, though, I thought it was a good, high-energy venue to premiere the film.
<Mike Figgis> And it proved to be just that. A very interesting mix of Hollywood film characters plus a lot of new, digitally-based filmmakers.

<BBC Host> You can start sending Mike Figgis your questions NOW by typing them into the box at the bottom of the page. You must press return/enter on your keyboard to send it. We look forward to receiving your questions!

<Question-from> Smiley01girl What do you look for in actors?
<Mike Figgis> A degree of health (it's always tricky when they die half way through a shoot...), a certain sense of adventure, and preferably an absence of production staff - managers, agents, creative friends, and the like.
<Mike Figgis> It's difficult working with very rich actors, because inevitably they become a little spoilt, and the managers and agents tend to control things more than is healthy.

<Question-from> Vicky Rice Mike who is the best actor/ actress you have worked with?
<Mike Figgis> I don't have those kind of feelings. Different actors give different things (that's not a great word...)
<Mike Figgis> I suppose I'm more interested in the idea of the ensemble than individuals stars, but I do find that actors like Stellan Skarskard and Holly Hunter somehow seem to raise the overall level of the ensemble.
<Mike Figgis> So, I'm interested in working with these kind of actors, catalysts.

<BBC Host> Here are some interesting facts about Mike Figgis. Time Code was one of the first films to be shot entirely on digital cameras
<BBC Host> in one continuous take using four digital cameras.

<Question-from> Sean McGrady - I'm still absorbing Timecode 2000. I enjoyed it but I cannot say yet what its value is for me in cinematic terms. However, given the fact that you regard much of Hollywood's output as "topheavy" in terms of special effects and formulaic scripts, how would you compare your "experiment" with other, more mainstream films of yours
<Mike Figgis> It's difficult to talk about films in retrospect. What's interesting is the period of time when you are actually making the film, and trying new things.
<Mike Figgis> Now, these things may prove to be quite small afterwards, and other things assume a significance which you hadn't consciously set up at the time.
<Mike Figgis> So in talking about it afterwards, I find I have to resist the temptation to overendow certain ideas.
<Mike Figgis> To me, it's just a work in progress situation. Some things work better than others. That's all.
<Mike Figgis> I would certainly say that films like Time Code and the Loss of Sexual Innocence were far more rewarding to me in terms of being able to move forward as a filmmaker.
<Mike Figgis> But I also want to resist the temptation to place too much emphasis on technical elements of the process. At the end of the day,...
<Mike Figgis> ... the storyline of One Night Stand is emotionally very satisfying, even though this film was made in the context of what we would think of as the studio system.
<Mike Figgis> I hope this answers your question.

<BBC Host> Hello to all those of you who have just joined us. Welcome to tonight’s live chat with Mike Figgis.
<BBC Host> Time Code was improvised by the actors appearing within it. Instead of a script, they used a music-like notation to show where they had to be at any given time.

<Question-from> Kirstie Lamont If the dialogue in Time Code was improvised, how did you make sure you got the storyline you wanted?
<Mike Figgis> In discussing the process with the actors, I made it clear to them that they could improvise but that the sum total of their improvisation needed to impart certain plot points, and schematic material.
<Mike Figgis> How they arrived at this, was their choice. But there were clear goals in terms of storyline.

<Question-from> filmgirl Did your earlier work making pop videos influence your experimental cinematic style?
<Mike Figgis> I have never made any pop videos. I hope this answers your question.
<BBC Host> You can send Mike Figgis your questions NOW by typing them into the box at the bottom of the page. You must press return/enter on your keyboard to send a question.
<Mike Figgis> But as a matter of interest, I'm about to shoot a pop video for David Gray. It's a lovely track - Babylon.

<Question-from> katie rose Do you have to work long hours?
<Mike Figgis> Yes!

<BBC Host> A review of Time Code is available on the Website here
<BBC Host> Question from the host - What was it like working with Saffron Burrows
<Mike Figgis> It was alright if you like that kind of thing!
<Mike Figgis> No, seriously, she's a really good actor, and someone who was growing all the time, so when she worked with Peter Mullan, it was clear that her acting rose to a much higher level.
<Mike Figgis> This ability to raise your game is something that I'm very interested in with actors.

<Question-from> pen jackson - was it hard to raise funding for films without defined scripts?
<Mike Figgis> Ordinarily speaking it would have been very, very difficult. But a more or less chance meeting with the head of Sony Pictures led to them funding the film.
<Mike Figgis> This was because most of the Hollywood studios are cautiously intrigued and deeply worried by the phenomenon of digital filmmaking, and I think Sony were keen to be seen associating, albeit very cheaply, with some kind of digital filmmaking.
<Mike Figgis> My original plan was to finance this myself and shoot it in London with a group of friends, really as a one-off experiment.
<Mike Figgis> I'd intended to put an ad in a magazine announcing the commencement of principal photography of the film on, say, the 20th September, and then inviting people to the premiere that evening. A sort of film joke.

<BBC Host> We're chatting this evening with Mike Figgis - Oscar-nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for "Leaving Las Vegas".

<Question-from> ganondorf no1 - as a director what would u say the hardest part of your job is?
<Mike Figgis> Well, things have changed. But in conventional filmmaking terms, the hardest part is post-production.
<Mike Figgis> It's deeply boring, and becomes less creative with each passing day.
<Mike Figgis> It's also the time when studio executives feel the urge to be creative.

<Question-from> euan - What do you do to get away from the directing business?
<Mike Figgis> I play music.
<Mike Figgis> I play piano and trumpet. I studied classical guitar. Sometimes it's nice to play somebody else's music. Other times it's nice to improvise.
<Mike Figgis> Once in a while, I play with a band.
<Mike Figgis> But I don't have such a strong desire to need to get away from filmmaking.

<Question-from> cj99 - Do you feel that the quality of movies/scripts has deteriorated in the last 5/10 years?
<Mike Figgis> It's hard to put a time on it. Yes they have. But it may have something to do with the time that studios started testing films in a serious way in front of so-called impartial audiences.
<Mike Figgis> I think this was a significant moment where control began to slip away from the creative elements of the filmmaking teams, and into the hands of executives and the money.
<Mike Figgis> Once a system was seen to work, where the audience could vote on whether they liked the film or the ending of the film - that was a bad day.

<Question-from> Simon Bidgood - Where do you see the British Film Industry in 20 years time, can we overtake the US with further investment?
<Mike Figgis> It's hard to overtake a country that has already absorbed your film industry. We are part of the American film industry.
<Mike Figgis> There are exceptions - Ken Loach, Mike Leigh - but recent pronouncements from film bodies - The Film Council, The Arts Council - have made it clear that fewer films will receive money and more money will go into fewer films.
<Mike Figgis> In other words, they'll try and choose potential blockbusters and put the bulk of investment into those.

<BBC Host> Did you know that Mike Figgis was brought up in Kenya from infancy to age 8? If you'd like to ask him more about his life, or the films he has directed, just ask a question now.

<Question-from> kirstie lamont - Will you be shooting more films digitally in future?
<Mike Figgis> Yes - quite a few. Feature length films, short films, films for the Internet. I am intrigued enough to want to continue, and also to try and work with companies like Sony on modifying the cameras and making them more user-friendly and efficient.
<Mike Figgis> One of the problems of this technology is that the designers tend to have scant knowledge of practical filmmaking, and new designs are usually dropped and replaced by something entirely new, rather...
<Mike Figgis> ... than the idea of creating a prototype and then developing it into an efficient tool - as has been the system with 35mm and 16mm cameras.
<BBC Host> Send a question by typing it into the box at the bottom of the page. You must press return/enter on your keyboard to send it.

<Question-from> gaijin_jo - Which countries cinema do you like best?
<Mike Figgis> One of the things I love about cinema is the range.
<Mike Figgis> I'm a huge fan of world cinema, because each country uses cinema in a very individual way.
<Mike Figgis> I remember reading the autobiographies of Bergman and Bunuel. These are two highly individual film directors - one from a hot country, Spain, one from Scandinavia.
<Mike Figgis> Reading both books, and marvelling at the extreme differences between them, and yet they're both highly individual artists.
<Mike Figgis> Having said that, like most filmmakers I grew up with a real love of American cinema.
<Mike Figgis> Perhaps there's something about America and cinema that seems very comfortable. It's almost like a medium that was invented for this new country.
<Mike Figgis> However, I've had time to think on that, and as I said, I'm now more of a world cinema fan.

<Question-from> ian smith - Would you ever go back to writing and directing for the theatre?
<Mike Figgis> Yes. There's nothing quite as thrilling as doing live performance, and going back to an earlier question, much of the filmmaking process is unspontaneous and quite dull.
<Mike Figgis> So it wouldn't be too difficult to try and go back to the excitement of live theatre once in a while.
<Mike Figgis> The real issue is one of timing. Films take up so much time, and with theatre, you do have to plan a period of time that you can be free.
<Mike Figgis> So it does require a bit of unspontaneous planning.

<Question-from> kelly peter - Which of your films means the most to you?
<Mike Figgis> In one sense, it's always the last film you make, because it's the one that needs the most help, which is why I'm in this chat room today.
<Mike Figgis> But, I think every film I've made contains small scenes which have a special significance for me.
<Mike Figgis> That's a very personal thing.

<Question-from> pen jackson - what's your worst?
<Mike Figgis> It's very difficult to answer something like this. There's nothing I've done which I'm ashamed of or I thought was actually bad.
<Mike Figgis> As I said earlier, it's very much a work in progress attitude that I have for each film.
<Mike Figgis> Obviously, I try to make the films work for an audience. That's the main point of making a film, and in retrospect, one can see that certain films, let's say Leaving Las Vegas, demonstrated its own success.
<Mike Figgis> Whereas Liebestraum, was a dismal failure at the box office, and received deeply abusive reviews.
<Mike Figgis> Clearly it was a failure, but it happens to be one of my favourite films. A film like Mr Jones, which was taken over by the studio...
<Mike Figgis> ... new scenes were added, and it was re-edited and re-scored - I find it impossible to watch this film. I think it's a bad film now.
<Mike Figgis> But what I'm trying to say is, the issue is very complicated.

<Question-from> jack o - Mike,How long does it take you to make a film,incluiding writing?
<Mike Figgis> Each film is different. Time Code was very quick - a matter of months. Miss Julie has been on my shelf as a script for some seven or eight years. But then the shooting process was very quick - 16 days.
<Mike Figgis> The editing and scoring was also quick. The same with The Loss of Sexual Innocence. That was on the shelf for 17 years, and we shot it in three weeks.
<Mike Figgis> It's usually the script stage that's long. Well, the way I work. In the studio system, the shooting and editing process is interminable.

<BBC Host> Welcome to our chat with Mike Figgis - we've got just twenty minutes left to go, so if you'd like to ask him a question, now's the time to do so. We hope you're enjoying his interesting answers!

<Question-from> gaijin jo - What do you find are the biggest obstacles to doing justice to a screenplay?
<Mike Figgis> Good question.
<Mike Figgis> One's own imagination. A script which is usually a bastardised short story still allows the reader an entirely individual picture of character, location, season.
<Mike Figgis> Once the process of casting and decisions about location have been taken, a very narrow reality emerges.
<Mike Figgis> Then one enters into the process of what can you do within these very defined, narrow possibilities. At that point, one realises what a script is.
<Mike Figgis> It's a blueprint of a possibility.
<Mike Figgis> The real work has just begun.

<Question-from> lisa g - What do you think about the work of Harmony Korine, who also seems very into digital film-making?
<Mike Figgis> Unfortunately I haven't seen either of his films. But I have read interviews with him and he seems like a sparky dude!
<Mike Figgis> He seems interesting.

<Question-from> filmgirl - Which film-makers have had the biggest influence on you?
<Mike Figgis> Some of the New Wave directors like Godard and Truffaut. Bunuel, Bergman, Coppola. The usual suspects (not the film!).

<Question-from> jack o - If I wanted to be a film director how and what would i do about it,when I am 14?
<Mike Figgis> Are you lying about your age already?
<Mike Figgis> Buy, borrow or steal a digi camera, and get on with it.

<Question-from> kelly peter - Upcoming projects?
<Mike Figgis> Another digital film / multiscreens / improvised dialogue etc. Maybe set in Venice. Maybe shooting in November.
<Mike Figgis> What I'm trying to say is that, I'm trying to raise the budget right now!
<Mike Figgis> Next year, a feature film of 'By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept'. A really great script.
<Mike Figgis> A short, ten-minute film, which will be part of a feature in which fourteen directors will each contribute a story that has something to do with time.
<Mike Figgis> That should keep me busy.

<BBC Host> How did you get in to film making? Did you always want to be a director?
<Mike Figgis> I had no plans to be a director.
<Mike Figgis> I was really much more interested in music to start off with.
<Mike Figgis> Then I became interested in drama, and almost by accident, I drifted into film.
<Mike Figgis> I started using film as part of live theatre performance - what used to be called performance art - and I became intrigued by film.
<Mike Figgis> Even at that stage, I really had no ambition to direct films. I just liked film.
<Mike Figgis> Then, Channel 4, here in the UK, was created, and I saw an opportunity to begin making films. That was the start of it.
<Mike Figgis> I made a one-hour film for Channel 4 called The House, starring Stephen Rea, and Nigel Hawthorne. It was quite an experimental film, but it led to me directing my first feature - Stormy Monday.

<BBC Host> Just about five minutes left with Mike
<BBC Host> Mike's latest film "Miss Julie" is out this Friday.

<Question-from> jules caine - Is it true that Miss Julie is shot entirely using a hand held camera? What effect did you hope to create using this technique?
<Mike Figgis> Yes, this is half true. In fact, we used two cameras - handheld. The reason being that the budget, having shrunk considerably, as is usually the case in British film production,...
<Mike Figgis> ... we had to shoot the whole film in 16 days.
<Mike Figgis> Miss Julie is adapted from a stage play written by the brilliant August Strindberg in the late 19th century. The action takes place in a very confined location.
<Mike Figgis> - the kitchen of a grand house in Sweden.
<Mike Figgis> The text is brilliant and extremely dense.
<Mike Figgis> I asked both actors - Saffron Burrows and Peter Mullan - to learn the entire script before we started shooting.
<Mike Figgis> I wanted to create a system where we could shoot very long takes. This was because not only was there a time constraint, but on a more creative level, I know that actors hit a performance high after about, say, five minutes.
<Mike Figgis> If it was possible to give them the freedom of the set, and not to have to stop all the time, I was hoping to have a very hot film environment.
<Mike Figgis> I feel that this paid off handsomely, and we shot in sequence, sometimes for sixteen minutes without breaking.
<Mike Figgis> If I'd approached the text in a more conventional manner, i.e. with lots of set-ups, lighting changes and endless breaks for the actors, I would never have achieved the kind of flow that's necessary...
<Mike Figgis> ... to engage with something as highly evolved as this text.
<Mike Figgis> I've never been able to shoot a film in this way before, and interestingly enough, it was this experience of working with two cameras in sequence and the very long takes that directly led to the ideas...
<Mike Figgis> ... that were the basis for Time Code.
<Mike Figgis> In fact, there is a love scene in Miss Julie which uses split screen. I'd never planned it this way, but in order to save time, I made a system on the set of viewing playback on both cameras simultaneously.
<Mike Figgis> So I watched the whole film in split screen, and became more and more intrigued by the psychology of what I could see on the screen.
<Mike Figgis> It's hard to define exactly, but I'm convinced that you get more than twice the information in two screens than you do on one.

<BBC Host> A review of Miss Julie is available here and an interview with one of it's stars. Peter Mullan, is available on the Website here. An interview with Saffron Burrows, star of Time Code and Miss Julie is available on the Website here
<BBC Host> A final word from Mike Figgis

<Mike Figgis> Thank you for the questions. They were good. I'll be back at some point in the future, and be happy to give a progress report on where this is all going for me. Goodbye!
<BBC Host> Thank you for joining the chat with Mike Figgis this evening.
<BBC Host> A full transcript of our chat with Mike Figgis will appear tomorrow at
<BBC Host> Don’t forget to visit the BBC Films website at
<BBC Host> Thank you for joining us this evening. The chat with Mike is now over. Thank you for being a great audience and sorry if there wasn't time to answer all your questions.

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