Interview: SUBMARINE writer/director Richard Ayoade, executive producer Ben Stiller, and composer Alex Turner

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
June 6th, 2011

Last week, I had the pleasure of submersing myself in a press conference for Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut SUBMARINE (based on the book of the same name) with executive producer Ben Stiller, composer Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, and Ayoade himself. SUBMARINE tells the coming-of-age story of 15-year old Oliver Tate, played ever so brilliantly by actor Craig Roberts who is on two life missions: to save his parents’ deteriorating marriage and to lose his virginity before his next birthday.

My mission was neither of those, but to find out just how these three lads came together to create such a unique and coming-of-age film for our time. Check out the press conference below.

I'm really curious to hear about the process behind creating the music for the film. Alex, how did it work between you and Richard? Also, being from a modern band and working on a film with a period feel to it, what direction did you take (if any)?

Richard: I made you live without electricity for a while.

Alex: Yes, candlelight (laughs). Some already existed, there were a couple tunes I had already done previously that just happened to fit in some places. A couple of the others one I wrote after I had seen some footage the film and read the book. Originally we were going to do a couple of covers, that was the plan.

Some John Cale tunes, a Nico song “I'm not safe” and a version of Billie Holiday’s tune “How deep is the ocean” were in talks. We ended up abandoning that idea once I saw the footage. But I suppose that helped me once I saw rough cuts to figure out what exactly the temperature should be.

Richard, what was the hiring process in bringing Alex on board as composer?

Richard: It was an extensive interview process and on the third one, he got it! No, I just asked Alex if he felt like doing it. This was maybe a year before it was finished. There were just gaps really, where we knew there was going to be a whole song. So I can’t even remember whether there was temp music in those sections ever, it was just to be determined really. We kind of waited until Alex had written before we even started editing those bits, so yeah we cut them to the music.

Ben, how did you get involved in the project as Executive Producer?

Ben: It just sort of fell in our laps, we were sent the script. My production company Red Hour got sent the script and my producing partner Stewart Cornfield read it and called me up and said this is a really good script and they asked if wed like to be executive producers on it.

I asked him “What does that mean” He said, “I don’t know” And I said, “ Do we have to do anything?” He said, “Probably not, we just have to be there for them and support it.” I said “Ok that sounds good. Then I read the script and I thought it was really great. It was really simple; it seemed to have a real voice. I hadn’t read the book.

Then when I saw what Richard had done previously, I thought that was funny and I thought this was diff than what he had done from what id seen. I basically said sure, this seems like a good thing. Then we got dailies sent to us, talked on the phone a bit. And when the dailies started coming in, that’s when we got excited. We already were very supportive of it and then he shot this film test. Literally this film test came in and it was like a movie. It was amazing; literally I was like this is crazy, this is great.
I started looking forward to seeing the dailies and just thinking that this is going to be amazing. I was just very happy the way it was coming together. Then I came to England to do my mini piece that I’m in on TV. That’s when we got the chance to sit down and that was it. We were lucky enough to be sent the script and be there to support it any way.

Could you all share your thoughts on lead actor Craig Roberts?

Ben: I found him really interesting to watch when I started watching the dailies. He is young, yet he has this older quality about him. Not mature, but sort of like a young-old man (laughs). Which is great. I guess what I’m saying is that he has character; he is interesting to watch. What I thought when I met everybody is that Richard had created this bond with the actors. I felt like he created some sort of connection w them where they all felt very much responsible for the movie as he was, that they were all in it together and that’s a very special thing. I really think that’s just a genuine camaraderie that comes out and have respect and they all seem to get that and be in for the same thing. That was a very nice feeling.

Richard: One of the main things I suppose with Craig, as well as with other actors, is just liking them. That is really important to me - wanting to work with people who you get on with and who you like. Hopefully that translates! I’m very bad as in I’m not a terribly social person, so I have to really like the people to work with them. It was just a pleasure working on set and I couldn’t have asked for more from the cast. Craig has been acting since he was seven, so he’s been on more film sets than me! He’s great.

Alex: I met Craig a couple of times. I think that he and the rest of the cast are just great. He is a funny chap! He came up to me and said quite confidently “You do realize we look an awful lot a like” Which is true, have very similar hair and bags under our eyes (laughs). But yes, he is great.

What were you favorite coming-of-age films growing up?

Richard: THE GRADUATE, I think that’s great. 400 BLOWS, too.

Alex: I suppose THE GRADUATE, like Richard said. In terms of how we used music in the film, in the way that THE GRADUATE the songs play out in their entirety. Harold and Maude, as well.

Ben: TOWERING INFERNO! Weirdly my favorite John Hughes movie is PLANES, TRANES, AND AUTOMOBILES. SUBMARINE made me think really more of the Salinger books; obviously Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey. Just that voice and those stories are what I find to be so heart breaking and that came through in the writing of the screenplay. And I do think that the music is a huge part of it too in that way that sort of Hal Ashby-esque way, the way that Robert and Alex collaborated is great and gives the movie a voice. Also, the images; I just think the images are so amazing in this movie coupled with the music – it’s just beautiful.

Ben, you strictly went on to the script as producer. Is there a difference when you look at a script as a writer yourself and also as an actor?

Ben: Actually, * executive * producer… one step more removed!

Honestly, it’s the same thing. As an actor, you look more at it more in more terms of yourself being in it, which is a whole other thing. But just to read a movie and visualize it, I find the director to be a huge element in any movie. As a writer/director, it’s sort of a tough thing to gage when someone hasn’t directed a movie before, you just don’t know. Sometimes it can be a great script that is written beautifully and then the writer/director does not have the facility to translate it.

And ultimately, you just have to take that chance. You look at the piece of material, and know that it has integrity and that it’s good. Could be funny, there is humor in it. I saw humor in Richard’s previous work and he just seemed like a really thoughtful guy. And after that, honestly it’s taking a chance, you just don’t know. I’ve had to go both ways working with first time directors. We were very fortunate that Richard happened to be incredibly talented. Do you like hearing that? (looks at Richard)

Richard: Yes!

Alex, what is it like to write for a character as opposed to how you regularly write songs?

Alex: I think I was definitely aware, half of the songs already existed in a way and some were written after I’d seen and was aware of what the film was. I think my role was more about not making it about the character too much and avoid a narration. More about having the music sit in the background a little bit more and if it can help compliment what’s going on, without being too direct. That was the balance I was trying to strike, certainly in the lyrics for the tunes, that was what I was aiming for.

I thoroughly enjoyed doing it, it was very different than what I do with Arctic Monkeys and a lot more stripped back. It was sort of allowed to be like that because you have these wonderful images, so I thought it could just be an acoustic guitar melody and coupled with what’s going on in the screen, is a good blend.

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