Michael Winterbottom

Michael Winterbottom: Interviews

Edited by Damon Smith
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Michael Winterbottom
    Book Description:

    Prolific British director Michael Winterbottom (b.1961) might be hard to pin down and even harder to categorize. Over sixteen years, he has created feature films as disparate and stylistically diverse as Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People, In This World, Butterfly Kiss, and The Killer Inside Me. But in this collection, the first English-language volume to gather international profiles and substantive interviews with the Blackburn native, Winterbottom reveals how working with small crews, available light, handheld digital cameras, radio mics, and minuscule budgets allows him fewer constraints than most filmmakers, and the ability to capture the specificity of the locations where he shoots.In Michael Winterbottom: Interviews he emerges as an industrious filmmaker committed to a stripped-down approach whose concern with outsiders and docu-realist authenticity have remained constant throughout his career.Collecting pieces from news periodicals as well as scholarly journals, including previously unpublished interviews and the first-ever translation of a lengthy, illuminating exchange with the French editors of Positif, this volume spans the full breadth of Winterbottom's notably eclectic feature-film career.Damon Smith, Brooklyn, New York, is a film programmer and editor for Babelgum. His work has appeared in Reverse Shot, Boston Globe, Time Out New York, Cinema Scope, and several other publications.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-841-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    Within minutes of meeting Michael Winterbottom, even the savviest journalist learns one thing about the affable, boyishly handsome British filmmaker: he doesn’t like to be pigeonholed. Asked a personal question, he demurs. Loath to psychologize his characters or intellectualize the artistry behind his craft, Winterbottom often reverts to the plainest language he can find to address questions about style and motivation. “It’s just a story that interests me,” might be the commonest refrain of the interviews gathered in this book, regardless of whether they appeared in mainstream newspapers or highbrow film journals. It isn’t that Winterbottom is willfully evasive or...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  5. Filmography
    (pp. xxv-2)
  6. Wings of Desire
    (pp. 3-4)
    Geoff Andrew

    A busy man, Michael Winterbottom. Having already attracted attention for TV work likeLove Lies Bleeding, the Roddy Doyle seriesFamily, and the opening episode ofCrackerhe went on to make his first, low-budget (£400,000) theatrical feature,Butterfly Kiss, before following that with the BBC filmGo Now(which premieres at the Edinburgh festival) and, currently in pre-production, a TV movie ofJude the Obscure. Right now, however, it’sButterfly Kissthat’s of interest: an edgy, discomforting tale of two none-too-bright young girls on a murder spree in north-east England.

    Winterbottom made the film—which stars Amanda Plummer as...

  7. People Who Are Excluded from Society: Interview with Michael Winterbottom
    (pp. 9-19)
    Michel Ciment and Yann Tobin

    Q: What is your background?

    A: My family is from Lancashire, where my mother was a teacher and my father worked at Philips. We lived in a big housing complex next to a small town. The television was always on; this was how I discovered not only old films, but also the young English directors of the seventies, like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Later, I was a regular at local cinema clubs.

    Q: Was the choice of the Northern English countryside inButterly KissandJudeconnected to your upbringing there?

    A: Yes, and that of Frank Cottrell Boyce,...

  8. FIR Chats with Director Michael Winterbottom
    (pp. 20-21)
    Roy Frumkes

    FIR: One can draw similarities betweenJudeand your previous film,Butterly Kiss. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the idea of doomed couplings, for instance …

    Winterbottom: I think there’s a connection in the sense that both are love stories and both are about people who are outside of society. I think the key difference is, I hope, that the audience, when they watchJude, are really going to be with him, seeing the world through his eyes. Jude is someone I admire, and I hope audiences do too. In that way I think it’s an easier...

  9. An Interview with Michael Winterbottom, Director of Welcome to Sarajevo
    (pp. 22-25)
    Stephen Garrett

    After making his film debut in 1995 with the killer-lesbian, road-trip romanceButterly Kiss, and following it a year later withJude, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’sJude the Obscure, director Michael Winterbottom next moves toWelcome to Sarajevo, a complete departure from the filmmaker’s style and a considerable challenge to audiences wherever it is shown.

    Shot on location and intercut with documentary footage,Sarajevobrings to vivid life the intensity of war correspondence, and gathers together the considerable talents of lead actors like Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, and Emily Lloyd, all of whom play supporting roles to the story...

  10. Michael Winterbottom: Welcome to Sarajevo
    (pp. 26-33)
    Liza Béar

    Lancashire-born Michael Winterbottom’s directorial bravura was first noted in his debut featureButterly Kiss, and subsequently inGo Now, featuring Robert Carlyle as a man coming to terms with multiple sclerosis. His latest achievement,Welcome to Sarajevo, unlike Srdjan Dragojevic’sPretty Village Pretty Flameor Emir Kusturica’sUnderground, views the horrendous Bosnian conflict from the diverse perspectives of a cadre of international journalists covering the Sarajevo siege. It provides a rare dramatic insight into the dynamics—and ethical dilemmas—of war reporting. The American freelance “loose cannon” approach, personified by Flynn (Woody Harrelson), is juxtaposed with the more closely coordinated...

  11. Winterbottom Walks through Wonderland
    (pp. 34-37)
    Jasper Rees

    The producer Steve Woolley was once asked to compare the American and British film industries. He said it was like the difference between the NASA program and a couple of old women in the outer Hebrides knitting jumpers.

    Michael Winterbottom—Butterly Kiss, Jude, Welcome to Sarajevo—is knitting a lot of jumpers at the moment. I met him at Goldcrest’s offices in Soho, London. In cutting room 206 the final touches were being put toOld New Borrowed Blue, a romantic comedy Winterbottom shot this summer about a French Romeo who comes to stay with his old pen-pal and her...

  12. Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland
    (pp. 38-42)
    Anthony Kaufman

    In Michael Winterbottom’s wistful family portraitWonderland, starring a cast of stellar U.K. thespians (Gina McKee, Molly Parker, John Simm, Shirley Henderson, Ian Hart), the British director does for South London whatShort Cutsdid for Los Angeles. Ten ordinary characters in search of an exit, looking for meaning and contentment against the backdrop of London’s everyday sights—the Southwark Bridge, the Elephant & Castle roundabout, the Brixton cop shop—banal places somehow made familiar, vibrant, and beautiful.

    A sense of community suffuses this South London universe, culminating in a fireworks show where the illumined faces of strangers provide a humanity...

  13. An Interview with Michael Winterbottom: The Claim
    (pp. 43-49)
    Damon Smith

    Q: Why did it make sense for you, as a British director, to take the story ofThe Mayor of Casterbridgeand relocate it to the American West in 1867?

    MW: The starting point for what me and Frank [Cottrell Boyce] and Andrew Eaton, the producer, wanted to do was make a film about Europeans going to America, rather than wanting to make a film aboutThe Mayor of Casterbridge. So it seemed to us as Europeans perfectly legitimate that we should make a film about the experience of being an immigrant. And really from that point, the idea [was]...

  14. The Film Factory
    (pp. 50-53)
    Simon Hattenstone

    Michael Winterbottom looks a little miffed when I ask him how he has managed to make so many films in so little time. “I don’t make that many films,” he says, defensively. Oh come off it, you’re always at it! He tries another tack. “Most people make a lot of films,” he says. Which is blatantly not true. We’re lucky to get a film every two years out of British stalwarts such as Leigh and Loach—and they’re the prolific ones.

    I tell him it’s meant as a compliment, and he relaxes. “One reason I make quite a lot is...

  15. Anarchy in the U.K.: An Interview with 24 Hour Party People Director Michael Winterbottom
    (pp. 54-59)
    Jeremiah Kipp

    You could pick any member from the rogue’s gallery of characters that inhabit the mad Manchester music scene of24 Hour Party Peopleand make an entire movie solely about them. They run the gamut of being fiercely independent, brilliant, hilarious, larger-than-life, and even heroic.

    There’s the foppish television personality, Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), who doubles as a record company impresario and compares the emergence of punk to the heyday of Renaissance Florence; the drug-ad-dled troublemaker, Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham), who pioneered a new wave of dance music with his band the Happy Mondays; and the troubled young intellectual, Ian...

  16. World in Motion
    (pp. 60-63)
    Jessica Winter

    On the borders of Afghanistan, that other country where America won the war but lost the peace, a massive refugee crisis grinds on mostly forgotten by the world at large. For prolific British director Michael Winterbottom, however, the situation has occasioned a politically charged road movie.In This Worldis a stark, startling account of two Afghan refugees attempting the perilous trek from a crowded camp in Peshawar to the gold-paved streets of London. A daring hybrid of documentary and fiction that took the Golden Bear at Berlin this year, it even features two real-life displaced Afghans in the lead...

  17. Michael Winterbottom
    (pp. 64-66)
    Sheri Linden

    Michael Winterbottom’s words pour forth in a high-octane rush, a fitting complement to his nonstop work behind the camera. The London-based director’s surfeit of creative energy has fueled four films in the past two years alone, and he knows what he wants to do next. In the decade since his striking big-screen debutButterly Kiss(which premiered in the United Kingdom in 1995), he’s proved to be not only the busiest British filmmaker of his generation (he’s forty-three) but, in the view of many critics and fest programmers, the most compelling and versatile.

    United Artists is readyingCode 46, a...

  18. Michael Winterbottom on Code 46: Typical Love Story in an Atypical World
    (pp. 67-70)
    Wendy Mitchell

    Usually, I’d be offended at being offered only ten minutes of interview time with a filmmaker; but with Michael Winterbottom, I almost want to encourage him to stop talking and get back to work as soon as possible. Since his 1994 debut feature,Butterly Kiss, Winterbottom has established himself as one of the more eclectic and prolific contemporary filmmakers. In the past five years he has given us a masterful slice of life of damaged Londoners (Wonderland), a Western (The Claim), the Manchester music history/comedy24 Hour Party People, and the vérité Afghani refugee storyIn This World.

    Now Winterbottom...

  19. Michael Winterbottom Gets Naked
    (pp. 71-81)
    Stephen Rodrick

    On a bleak British afternoon last fall, Michael Winterbottom and his small crew were preparing for filming on the top floor of Felbrigg Hall, a possibly haunted seventeeth-century manor in eastern England. Winterbottom, one of England’s most prominent independent filmmakers, was directing an adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s often-cited, rarely read novelThe Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, aptly described by the comedian Steve Coogan, who plays Shandy in Winterbottom’s film, as “a postmodern novel written before there was a modern.” (The cast includes the critically acclaimed British actors Jeremy Northam, Shirley Henderson, and Stephen Fry, all working at...

  20. Chaos Theory: Michael Winterbottom on Tristram Shandy
    (pp. 82-88)
    Adam Nayman

    With his seen-it-all gaze and embedded smirk, the actor and comedian Steve Coogan carries himself like the living embodiment of British unflappability. It’s amusing, then, to see the former Alan Partridge’s face scrunch up while discussing his professional relationship with Michael Winterbottom, who has directed Coogan in the two best movie roles of his career: Manchester pop impresario Tony Wilson in 2001’s exhilarating punk odyssey24 Hour Party Peopleand eminently flappable British comedian Steve Coogan in this year’sTristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. Actually, the pair bring out the best in each other: both films rank among...

  21. Michael Winterbottom: “That’s How People Are”
    (pp. 89-96)
    David D’Arcy

    Take a great work of literature and try to adapt it for the screen. You have a risk, more likely a certainty, that the film won’t come close to measuring up to the original. If you bet on this expectation, you’ll rarely lose. Name anything by Henry James or Ernest Hemingway or even recent fiction by Elmore Leonard, and you’ll find the same problem.

    YetTristram Shandy; A Cock and Bull Storyby Michael Winterbottom, a loose adaptation ofThe Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Esq.by Laurence Sterne (1713–68), breaks the mold, not because it’s rigorous, although...

  22. In Praise of Folly: An Interview with Michael Winterbottom
    (pp. 97-105)
    Richard Porton

    During his whirlwind career as a director, Michael Winterbottom has emerged as something of a chameleon. Befuddling auteurists who reduce directors’ careers to a constricting set of themes and stylistic choices, Winterbottom’s films include sober adaptations of Thomas Hardy, forays into political cinema such asWelcome to SarajevoandIn This World, an earnest jab at dystopian science fiction—Code 46—and9 Songs, a curious amalgam of hard-core sex and rock-concert film. Despite this dizzying eclecticism, Winterbottom’s recent films—9 Songs, 24 Hour Party People(a faux biopic of the British rock impresario Tony Wilson), and his most recent...

  23. Michael Winterbottom’s Road Movie
    (pp. 106-116)
    David D’Arcy

    In February, I thought thatThe Road to Guantánamowas one of the high points of the Berlin International Film Festival, where it made its world premiere. After seeing the film again recently, just before its release in the U.S. this past weekend, I still feel that way. The story is of four young men of Pakistani origin traveling from the English Midlands to Pakistan, then venturing for vaguely charitable reasons into Afghanistan, where three are caught up in the town of Kunduz as the Taliban surrender to the Northern Alliance. They are taken prisoner with everyone else that the...

  24. Michael Winterbottom Opens His Heart
    (pp. 117-124)
    Peter Sobczynski

    In recent years, British director Michael Winterbottom has made a reputation for himself as one of the most prolific filmmakers working today—and one of the most eclectic. Since 1995, he has made fifteen feature films (with three more in pre-production), including literary adaptations (Jude), melodramas (Welcome to Sarajevo), sci-fi (Code 46), surreal comedies (Tristram Shandy), erotica (9 Songs), biopics (24-Hour Party People), meditations on the war in Iraq (In This WorldandThe Road to Guantánamo) and even a sort-of western (the brilliant and sadly underseen 2000 masterpieceThe Claim). All of these are oddball genre choices to be...

  25. Interview with Michael Winterbottom
    (pp. 125-130)
    Alex Fitch

    As part of a series celebrating architecture on film, the Barbican recently screened the underrated British science-fiction filmCode 46, which tells a tale of forbidden love in a city that is futuristic and yet very familiar. Just before he went onstage to do a Q&A following the screening, Michael Winterbottom discussed some of the film’s themes and ideas with Alex Fitch.

    AF: WithCode 46, did you try to capture a particular architectural aesthetic that hadn’t been seen on film for a while?

    MW: No. When we were thinking of making the film it was much more about what...

  26. Michael Winterbottom’s True Stories: The Shock Doctrine
    (pp. 131-134)
    John O’Connell

    The Slaughtered Lamb pub in Clerkenwell, East London, is a funny place to meet Michael Winterbottom. A stone’s throw from the offices of his production company, Revolution Films, it’s named in winking homage to the pub in John Landis’sAn American Werewolf in London—the one on the Yorkshire Moors where everyone stops talking when the two hitchhikers walk in. Winterbottom, it quickly becomes clear, would have been no good as an extra in that scene. He cannot stop talking. Words tumble out at speed, colliding unintelligibly.

    At forty-eight, the indie auteur remains boyish in appearance and manner. You sense...

  27. Michael Winterbottom: Genova
    (pp. 135-143)
    Colin Fraser

    The small British town of Blackburn, Lancashire is mostly famous for two things: four thousand holes and one prolific director. Not that a young Michael Winterbottom filled his days counting to see if indeed there were as many potholes in his home town’s roads as John Lennon had famously sung about in the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life” (a task completed, incidentally, by a council worker reporting on the shabby state of Blackburn’s traffic system). Winterbottom had other things on his mind.

    Speaking down the line from his (hopefully hands-free) car phone, Winterbottom chatted withFILMINKen-route to...

  28. Michael Winterbottom: The Killer Inside Me
    (pp. 144-152)
    Damon Smith

    Q: Your method of adapting novels—Tristram Shandy, Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge—is not to be strictly faithful to the story or methodology of the source text. How did that play out here?

    A: Well, it was the opposite, really. When I read the book, I thought that you could almost film it. The book tells its story through dialogue. Jim Thompson is a brilliant dialogue writer and plotter. And then I approached the people who had the rights, and they already had a version of the screenplay which they’d sent me. In terms of individual scenes,...

  29. Index
    (pp. 153-158)