Continuing from our Second Look at Griff the Invisible, we got to chat with writer/director Leon Ford about this, his debut film. It’s been three years since the film first debuted, but the project is still one that is close to Ford’s heart. Read on to see what he had to say about his inspirations, what it was like to work with star Ryan Kwanten, and… how he used to be Batman?
Griff the Invisible was your first feature film – what was the transition from TV and short film like? Was there anything (good or bad!) that you hadn’t anticipated?
The obvious difference at first was that there are many more interested parties. Features are a commercial venture so the audience is always in the forefront of your mind. As opposed to short film, which are much more autonomous as no one really expects to make money from them. I had a great team around me when I made Griff so I found it much more rewarding to make a film for the audience and for the commercial interests than I did any of the shorts. As for TV, I first went on to write TV after the film came out and that transition has been fascinating. TV is driven by the producers, which makes it even more of a collaborative process. As a writer you are fitting into their vision, much like being an actor for hire. It’s a lovely feeling if the producers are brilliant and it’s horrible if they are not.
I was really impressed with the cinematography – Griff’s discomfort in the ‘normal world’ seems so well echoed in the oppressive surroundings of the city, while the framing and vibrant colour scheme are comic panel perfect. How did you and Simon Chapman arrive at the look of the film? Can you tell us more about your working partnership, having completed several films together?
Simon is a very open and collaborative DP. One of his real strengths is being able to put aside his own ego and make you think you came up with all the clever things in the film. It really felt like we developed the two worlds of the film together. We share a great working relationship with Sophie Nash, the Production Designer, so this was crucial in locking down the overall look of the film in a short amount of time. We all made a few shorts together too so we had a short hand that made it all easier. Sydney is a very bright and beautifully summer city so the real achievement here was making it look as much like Gotham as we could find/afford.
You’re obviously a very busy man, managing to fit writing, directing and acting into your career, but if you had to pick just one, which would it be and why?
I often get asked this and I honestly don’t know. I’d be sad to lose any one of them, and I’d be happy doing any one of them. As long as I could still tell stories somehow, I think I’d be happy. The closest I can get to an answer is that writing seems to be the discipline that least relies on youth, and as I can never see myself retiring then perhaps I should choose writing.
What drew you to the world of superheroes? What were your inspirations for creating Griff’s story?
Batman. I always loved Batman, wanted to be Batman. Was Batman as a kid. Amongst other lesser known heroes, like Monkey Magic. But yes, the idea that a mortal human being can create a superhero out of sheer intelligence, inventiveness (and lots of money) always excited me the most.
How did you go about creating your own superhero? Do you see you anything of yourself in Griff?
Yes I do see myself in Griff, I think I am in all my characters. But Griff is particularly special to me as he is doing what I and many of my writing and acting colleagues still do. We invent worlds and live and breathe them. What a wonderful way to spend your days! I often can’t believe we get paid to do it.
What is your process in terms of working with actors, such as Ryan Kwanten, in your films? How is that impacted by being an experienced actor yourself?
All I know about directing actors is that you have to be very quick at reading their levels of comfort and imagination and engagement. And you have to respect their process, often without asking what their process is. You have to stand back when they know what they’re doing (which is most of the time) and step in when they’re off course. It requires a lot of observing quietly from the dark while looking like you’re not observing. And it requires a lot of intuition. I love actors and wish there was more opportunity to work with them as a director.
Your films seem to share a feeling of playfulness and an interest in re-examining the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Could you tell us more about the importance of these things to you as a director?
I think every director has something that really excites them and that they tap into in all stories. Like a trigger or a portal into a story. And mine is the possibility of extraordinary things behind the ordinary things. The world behind the walls. The world inside his head or her head. The possibility behind that door…
What are your own personal influences and beliefs as a story-teller?
That if you’re going to go to the immense trouble of making a film or writing a book, then it should be an extraordinary story. I say this having written some very ordinary stories in the past and thinking ‘what a waste of time that was’.
In the years since the film was finished, have your views/opinions about it changed? What do you think of it now when you take your own “Second Look”?
I haven’t seen it since it came out. I’m too scared to. Maybe I’ll watch it when my kids are old enough to see it.
And, last of all, can you tell us what you’re working on next?
We made a short film called The Mechanicals a number of years ago that premiered at the Venice Film Festival. I have written a feature length version of this world and we are in early financing talks at the moment. Stay tuned. Hopefully…