Last Monday, “Captain Phillips” director Paul Greengrass gave an hour-long speech as part of the David Lean Lecture, an annual event held by BAFTA where they bring in some of the world’s greatest filmmakers. Greengrass talked about his early years and how he went from making documentaries in the UK to commercial films in Hollywood. And, on a serious note, he talked about the struggles that British directors have to face on a regular basis, as they constantly fight for control over their work. Greengrass’s passionate speech displayed a great concern for the future of UK cinema. He spent much time extolling the greatness of David Lean, but worried about “the David Leans of tomorrow.”
Paul Greengrass told the audience at the lecture that directing movies is a futile, but worthwhile attempt to recapture the childhood experience of watching a movie. Greengrass’s passion for movies came from his father taking him to see “Doctor Zhivago” when he was just a little boy. In speaking highly of David Lean, Greengrass noted that Lean was often “difficult and mercurial” and how that’s such an important trait to have as a director.
He then talks about his days as a young adult, working for British programs such as “World in Action” and how that helped give him his voice and taught him about the world. But Greengrass was also self-deprecating when it came to his first major feature film: “Theory of Flight.” When talking about the failure of the film, he notes that he really did not care for the material and how he did not really have his own point of view on the film. He was a “shooter,” not a director. And through those mistakes, he then decided to only direct stories that he was passionate about. But he also notes that, in today’s atmosphere, he would not have had the types of second chances that he did back then.
Greengrass put the entire UK film industry on notice in his speech. He says that only “a tiny percentage of directors get a second chance” and how there is no one taking the time to nurture the craft of young British directors. He also talks about the lack of diversity, saying that the industry needs to be “less white, so that it reflects the diversity of the country we live in… Studios are falling over themselves to bring movies to the UK.”
He then adds, “When the BBC brought back 'Doctor Who,' the director who directed the first episode, and set that style, and contributed to the success of that show, earned by a wide margin less in residuals than the stuntmen. That’s a fact.” These directors are constantly marginalized and being shut out by writers, editors, and executives. But directors who complain about these things are likely to get blacklisted, and Greengrass then says, “We need to do more to look after young directors to protect them and help them grow.”
While Paul Greengrass may have been critical about the UK film industry, you may be surprised to learn that he had mostly positive things to say about Hollywood. He says that Hollywood is “full of smart, committed people who support filmmakers” and how their unions are powerful, unlike the UK. But he also points out that “Hollywood studios fall over themselves to bring movies to UK” thanks to the tax breaks. In order for the UK film industry to grow, Greengrass says they must “leverage the tax breaks against the studios in order to create opportunities to our own producers and directors, to make UK distinctive content.”
The director covers a lot of ground in just over an hour. Check out the audio below via Deadline or watch the whole thing.