TIFF 2010 Interview: NEVER LET ME GO director Mark Romanek

Chase Whale

by: Chase Whale
September 16th, 2010

mark romanek

In the third part of our interviews for LET ME GO, we spoke to director Mark Romanek. You might remember Romanek's ONE HOUR PHOTO, which broadcasts one of the many weird sides of Robin Williams. With a background of directing music videos, Romanek has a very unique vision for film and he seems very passionate about every project he takes on.

This week, NEVER LET ME GO released to the public. After you see the film, read this interview. Romanek goes into a lot of great detail on why this movie is very effective when it comes to life intimating art and the feelings you should pull coming out of the movie. Interview after the break!

So at what point did you come onto this project and how long did it take to get made?

We finished about three months ago. We shot about a year and a half ago, I think. It hasn't been sitting around on the shelf too long. I got involved with it about two years ago. Peter Rice recommended me to Andrew McDonald, and Alex [Garland] and I went and met with them in London and met Kazuo [Ishiguro]. I guess they liked my idea as a movie, it jived with what they wanted to do. From that point on it was all about finding the right Kathy. Peter Rice saw Carey in AN EDUCATION at Sundance and sent all of us a four word text that said, "hire the genius Mulligan." I asked him why it was such a brief [text] and he said, "because the movie isn't even over yet." He knew that we were struggling to find the right actress and he saw this girl, and just like everyone else in the world they went "holy crap, she's amazing." He said "that's Kathy," and at that point the movie was greenlit.

At that point were you wanting to make Kathy a little bit younger than she is in the book?

We were just looking for the right actress and it didn't seem to be a big deal if she was a bit younger than in the book - it didn't seem to change anything fundamentally, so when we found Carey we made her a little bit younger. I didn't see the matter, as long as they were pushing the late twenties.

It is funny, though, that when the movie was made, obviously people in the industry knew who Carey Mulligan was and we have Andrew [Garfield], who looks to be on his way to stardom. When you shot it, Keira Knightley was the biggest star, and in five years people might be [saying], "oh, this has Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in it." Why do you think this is all happening for them?

They have it, whatever "that" is. They're brilliantly good. There's an appeal that they have. They're both beautiful to photograph and yet unusual looking in a way - not traditionally or classically beautiful - and they have the chops. They're serious young actors.

What kind of discussions did you have about filming the donations? It's one thing to read about things, it's another to watch them on-screen.

We felt like it would be a cop out to not deal with the reality of what's going on. It's meant to be shocking, it's not meant to be disgusting. I tried to infuse it with a sadness and emotion to it when she's sort of left there all alone, like a piece of meat, and so it's not just shocking and gratuitous. I think it would have felt wrong to not deal with it directly at some point.

Do you see yourself continuing in the independent arena? You kinda had flirted with big budget studio stuff.

Yeah, probably for a couple more films. I'd love to make a bigger film if [we had] resources, if the story is exciting to me.  But I'd rather do it when I have more autonomy to navigate the studio process, which I didn't really have the last time around. Look at David Fincher or Christopher Nolan, they've worked themselves into the position where they can make big budget films in the way they 'd like to. I'd rather wait until I get to that place, if I'm lucky enough.

We are in a time when a lot of people, after one independent film, are getting offers. SPIDER-MAN is the ultimate example of that happening. Do you feel like you have to be especially wary since someone could be dangling a lot of money in front of you and then push you around?

That's a yes or no question and the answer is yes. You know, it's a jungle out there. I had a really nice experience on this movie. All the director wants is their idea of the movie to be believed in. And for the producers to facilitate, you do the job that they hired you to do. People underestimate how, if a film comes out well, how it has to be beautifully produced as well, not just beautifully directed and acted. Sometimes producers get a bad wrap and on this film, I think you met some of them, Alex and Kazuo are technically producers. It was a very supportive and collaborative thing. Whether you like it or don't like it, it's the film we wanted to make.

The thing I think is kind of interesting with this movie is it fits in the sci-fi era where we're talking about cloning, but in the past. Normally I've seen topics like this dealt in the future. Did you feel like you had to approach it in any different way, because normally in the future you see everything is very modern and sleek?

Yeah, it's more hard sci-fi! First of all, I wasn't making a science fiction movie, I was making a love story. I always felt like the science fiction, maybe Kazuo said something similar, is really just a delivery system for these more interesting themes about immortality and friendship and love and how we choose to make use of this brief time we have in the world and how we come to the end of our lives and regret not lived it. These are the things that Kazuo writes about in a lot of his books. I was making a love story, the science fiction is the suit that the whole thing played out in, and it's Kazuo's original conception to be in alternate history, not futuristic, so it never felt right. You know we dabbled with some more futuristic-looking buildings or some of the sci-fi tropes you'd expect in sci-fi films...it never felt right. Since the film is about the preciousness of time, the brevity of our time, having things show the patina and age of time and the wear, having things be old, and show the effects of time, it felt like a more evocative setting for the themes in the movie. It's one of the things that makes it an original idea as a novel.

Since you're dealing with those themes every day, before you start, while you shoot, as you're putting it together, do you have a different approach to life now?

Well, I think the book affected a lot of people. It affected me before I made the film. It made me think about how every day is so precious. We really are here for a very brief amount of time. I have two beautiful children and a beautiful wife and every day I put this [iPhone 4] away when I'm with my kids and I try to make those moments count. One of the nicest things I had someone say to me about the film was that they called their father, because they realized they haven't spoken to him in like, three or four weeks, and called him to say "I love you, Dad. Thanks for being a good dad." And, you know, this moved people to tell people that they love them because that's what's important.

Things like that can be a part of movies a lot, but not necessarily spoken out loud. You know how they always say there's the seven stories. That's one of these themes. Is it hard to kind of deal with that, you know "live every moment" thing, and how did it feel original when you're making a movie like this, because the story is original, but the themes are as old as time?

You're lucky enough to find that, some original new idea for a story or a tone of a film you haven't quite seen before, and yet the themes that are in it are sincerely expressed and meaningful - that's what you're looking for. That's why I wanted to do it. I felt it was sincere and that I could do something that I hadn't quite seen before. It's not wholly original, there are other films that have similar plots. There's other cloning stories or whatever, but the tone of it I felt I hadn't really seen. I couldn't find a template for a movie that had handled this type of thing, so it felt a bit out on a limb. There's like, Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451 is kind of a literally subtle science fiction, but you know, it's not the same. Godard's ALPHAVILLE is a subtle science fiction film, but that film's much more of an arch.

So subtle science fiction you think is a good banner?

No, I mean it's a love story and science fiction gives it an original twist. I mean this sort of patina of science fiction gives the love story an original twist, but I'm very concerned that people come to see it [as an] emotional story and engage with it emotionally. If they think they're coming to see a film with ideas on social commentary and the ethics of biology and stuff they're going to miss the movie. They're going to be watching the wrong movie.

Be sure to also check out Kate's review of NEVER LET ME GO, along with my interviews with stars Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.

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