Getting Direct With Directors...
Michael Winterbottom, pictured on the set of Code 46
No.3: Michael Winterbottom

One of the most prolific contemporary British filmmakers, Michael Winterbottom has been critically praised for the likes of Wonderland and The Claim, without ever abandoning Britain for Hollywood. With his award-winning drama In This World now out on DVD, the 42-year-old director discusses what made him make films, his favourites, and why he doesn't spit in the cinema.

Why did you become a director?

I think I became a director because I like watching films. That was the starting point. When I was a teenager I grew up in a town called Blackburn - a small town, not much cinema, but I saw films on TV.

Then when I was about 15 or 16, there was a film society in Blackburn and it won some prize, so they were having a special season of films and they were showing new German cinema. It was films by Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders, all that kind of 70s German New Wave; films that seemed on the one hand very simple - you could imagine you could make them, they were low budget, they were cheap - and at the same time very exotic, because of either their attitudes or just the culture they were from, which was kind of familiar but different.

From that point on, watching those films - especially watching them projected on 16mm, so that after every reel there'd be a break while the person laced up the projector - it just seemed like it would be a fun thing to do.

What do you think you'd be if you weren't a filmmaker?

A teacher. Probably teaching English.

Which other director would you most like to see at work.

Jean-Luc Godard.

"What did you say about my film Winterbottom?!?" Joaquin Phoenix in Buffalo Soldiers

What was the last movie you paid to see?

Buffalo Soldiers. I thought it was OK. I wasn't a big fan of it. I think Joaquin Phoenix is a great actor, and I think there were probably lots of interesting things in it, but I didn't think it was a great movie. I think the writing's quite interesting and there are some good actors in it, but the way of handling the script and the actors together, the direction, is not my favourite.

What's the last movie you walked out of?

Buffalo Soliders... No, I'm kidding. The last movie I walked out of? Probably The English Patient. I've walked out of lots since, but that's the last one I can remember. I walked out of that big time.

Do you believe in God?

No.

Who's the most famous person you have in your contacts book?

Apart from [In This World writer] Tony Grisoni? The most famous person? I don't have any famous people in my contacts book.

What's your favourite movie quote?

I don't know any movie quotes. I can't remember the lines in the scripts I direct, let alone the films others direct! [laughs]

Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?

To be honest I'm not very keen on these most favourite, least favourite, best, worst... Um, underrated directors. Underrated by me or by other people? [laughs] I don't know.

OK, which do you consider the most overrated?

I don't want to answer that. Slagging people off's not very nice.

What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?

Can't think. I don't remember things very well to be honest.

A scene from Michael Winterbottom's next movie, the sci-fier Code 46

Do you believe that test screenings are a good idea?

No. I think test screenings are a crap idea for the sort of films that I make. If you're making a $100 million movie that has to make $500 million to break even, then fine, you're in a business and people want to make sure that it's going to make money. But if you're making a film which is like, you've had an idea and you and all the people working on it have gone away and made some version of it, then actually whether 50 people in Croydon like it or not is not really that important. They're not going to go and watch it anyway, so why the **** are you testing it with them?

How seriously do you take reviews?

Not seriously at all, unless they're good [laughs].

Here's another question you're probably going to loathe. There are five minutes left to the end of the world - what do you do?

Don't panic!

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Don't know. Sorry.

Any worst advice spring to mind?

Tony Grisoni once told me to call someone up. It was very late at night. In fact, he dialled the phone and then put me on. That was pretty bad advice. Never let Tony Grisoni call anyone up late at night for you - that's my best piece of advice.

What performer would you love to work with?

Nicole Kidman.

What film makes you want to spit?

[laughs] Um... isn't this back into my most overrated, most underrated area? I never spit in the cinema.

What are your three favourite films and why?

Knocking around that area would be Bout De Souffle, the Godard film. Cries & Whispers, the Bergman film. And... um, I don't know, Amarcord, the Fellini film. Because I really enjoyed them when I watched them [laughs]. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm just really rubbish at these good/bad, best/worst questions. I think Nick Hornby has got a lot to answer for, to be honest.

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