Conversations with Mike Figgis…

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Maysa Moncao, now fully returned from overseas festivals, attended one of the Soho Create sessions in London where she caught up with British film director Mike Figgis who talks about his methods of working and the creative process.

Read more about Soho Create.

Being invited to one of the Soho Create sessions attended by the director of Leaving Las Vegas is a good invitation.

t turns out to be even more full of surprises as the venue is a small church in a small square in London’s West End. And even more overwhelming when you discover as a flaneur for the first time in Soho Square that there are actually two churches on the same square.

Last time I met Mike Figgis was about four years ago at Festa Internazionale del Cinema in Rome. He then was launching Suspense of Disbelief, a movie title based on Coleridge’s notion that “a writer could infuse a human interest and a semblance of truth into a fantastic tale and the reader would suspend judgement considering the implausibility of the narrative”. Certainly it was one of the most metalinguistic features exhibitted in Rome and it is a pity it didn’t gain more popularity.

But now in the pulpit of the French Protestant Church, Figgis is talking with me:

“I came to film quite late, while there was a happening and performative scene in New York.”

He goes on explaining that one of the most important concepts was the idea of improvisation. The artists would collectively make a performance, for example, relating to the environment, and would use all of the rubbish they could find around them:

“Because there was no director, I started to suggest scenes and that would be my first attempt at the creative process”.

Needless to say, when Figgis suddenly found himself directing movies for the industry, it was a shock for him:

“In the film industry sometimes you have to shout ‘Are we making the same movie?’, because clearly it did not seem so.”

Figgis studied music and he was interested in sound. Perhaps this explains some of the inner voices we can see in Figgi’s movies, such as the huge influence of David Lynch on his work. The next moment of enlightment in the church is Figgis quoting Lynch:

“Having a creative idea is like fishing. Catching the big fish: meditation, consciousness and creativity”.

Lynch often says that some of his ideas for movies come from a song, a tune, a small fragment of a composition. (NB:If you are interested in knowing more about this process, I recommend reading Lynch’s book called ‘Catching the big fish: meditation, consciousness and creativity’. It is an open door to the creative process).

Back to Figgis, he affirms: “I actually don’t care who’s seeing [my movies]”. This kind of freedom and detachment leads to a modus operandi based on the notion that “perfection is a wrong idea. You have to keep on going, keep on going endlessly. Just start. There is no excuse not to do so with all the technology we have.”

At the same time, it allows Figgis to a lack of method on set that will be ammended on the editing desk: “If we want to shoot at 3 in the morning, after some bottles of wine, we will do it.”

Then what catches me is why his movies are so dense and full of layers of meanings. I ask him about it:

“You know, the other day I was watching a dance choreography with a friend and we said, ‘But that is really bad!’ And of course they’ve thought before all about it and couldn’t avoid the mistakes. So for me is all about the chances you’ve got.”

Yes, and definitely the idea of producing ‘a success’ can limit your creativity!

Figgis is now writing a book on dramatic situations and researching other big names. He quotes Ingmar Bergman and the importance of showing the face in a movie. “For me, close-up is a dramatic act that can fully reveal a character.”

At the end of this conversation, balancing between causism and method, it is hard not to feel anxious ahead of the release of Figgi’s next movie. The only thing he tells me it is that it will be shot in January 2016 and it won’t be in London. Oh, well, at least it clears the fog of anticipation away!

Maysa Moncao

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