Thursday, November 11, 2010

Paul Cotter on “Bomber”

What was your filmmaking background before making Bomber?

PAUL: I started out with a Geography degree, worked on glaciers in Pakistan, then in my mid-twenties decided to have a career change.

I started working as a reporter/researcher for BBC radio following the indie rock scene in Manchester, England, then summoned up enough courage to try to be a filmmaker. I was rejected by all the English film schools I applied to (they said I was a social scientist and didn't have the necessary background), so I applied to American, Australian and Polish schools and ended up doing an MFA in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University.

I graduated, went to Nashville, worked in a camera rental house, loaded film on country music videos, moved to Chicago, started focus pulling on indie features and finally started making short films. Bomber is my first attempt at a feature.

Where did the idea come from? What was the writing process like?

PAUL: My father was a Bomber pilot. In 2001 I spent 3 weeks in a car with him on a road trip through Europe. I wouldn’t say “stuck,” because it was actually a holiday. A holiday with my mum, dad and sister. We started in Belgium and rather recklessly ended up in Budapest. It wasn’t planned. We just ended up driving across Europe.

Two big memories stuck with me. First, how strange it was to be an adult stuck in a car with your parents for three weeks. The roles are reversed from the holidays you had as a child. You end up doing most of the driving and your parents sit in the back and ask “are we there yet?” All the while you are still their child, and what’s worse you tend to act like one. The second memory was traveling with a man who was seeing Germany for the first time in years, having bombed it 60 years before. The idea for plot came out of that.

The writing process had two stages: the first took a year where I wrote a lot of rubbish down. I had a script, but it was wandering and dull. I then took a huge step back, rewrote it as a micro-budget, imagining I had zero resources at my disposal and that's the script I shot with. This second phase took me about 12 weeks from start to finish.

How did you fund the film?

PAUL: Three separate donors, including myself. All small amounts. Filmmaker friends who just wanted me to make it. The film didn't cost very much.

What sort of camera did you use for production and what were the best and worst things about it?

PAUL: Sony EX1. The best thing was the size of the camera. That it was so small. There was no worst thing. It was pretty cool to work with.

You wore several hats on the production -- writer, director, producer. What's the upside and the downside to doing that?

PAUL: Well I should say that during the shoot itself I handed the producer reins over to Maureen Ryan, which was huge. I don't think I could have used those two sides of my brain at the same time.

The upside to wearing several hats is that you can change things very easily if the production needs it. It's very immediate. You lose a location first thing in the morning? No problem. Write a new scene, change a few details and your shot list is probably there in your head already. It's also good in that you are very intimate with everything going on. There is no mystery.

Downside? You can get overwhelmed. The fact that I did so much myself. It’s exhausting. But I surrounded myself with a really cool group of people and we did a great job, and created a film I am proud of. So you forget about all the challenges.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

PAUL: Smartest? Kept the crew really small (7 people including myself and my editor). It really helped make the process an intimate affair, and that shows in the film. The film feels personal, because the way we made it was personal. I truly believe that.

Dumbest? Nothing super-dumb, but a great lesson I learned when you have a tiny crew and no lights is to shoot as much as possible in the shade. Under a tree, near a house, anything to stop you blowing out the image and getting sunburn!

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

PAUL: Small is beautiful.

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