Writer/Director Martin Radich on his latest film film Norfolk – words Paul Risker
Norfolk is the sophomore feature of writer/director Martin Radich that sees the filmmaker forge a bond between this and his 1998 debut feature Crack Willow.
While the latter looks to the relationship between a father and son, the former focused on the loneliness and grief of one son following the loss of his father. In both films the relationship of the son to the father have been a central thematic drive or inclination of the filmmaker forging a bond that cannot be ignored.
Radich has received significant recognition for his feature and short filmmaking, particularly from the The Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) where Crack Willow played as ‘Best of the Fest’ and Norfolk would be nominated for The Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film in 2015. Meanwhile, in 1998 he was the recipient of a BAFTA award for his short film In Memory of Dorothy Bennett, that was also nominated at the EIFF, along with his 2000 short film A Good Man is Hard to Find.
Ahead of the theatrical release his film Norfolk, Radich spoke with Flux about the importance of exposure of the filmmaker to cinema and the discovery of the creative voice, film as an extension of its creator and the vitality of the collaborative process. He also shared his thoughts on working with constraints and the need to write with foresight to avoid contradictions.
Why a career in filmmaking? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?
I’m of an age where I was a teenager in the early eighties when video shops exploded. I was eleven or twelve and that’s all we did growing up as teenagers – went to the video shop each night and hired films. And at that time the video shops were keen to fill their shelves with a vast array of films for you to watch – trashy horror, experimental martial arts, comedy or war. There was just a diverse range of films and I got to about seventeen or eighteen, and I bought a Super-8 camera. So just one thing led to another. There was no decision that this is what I was going to do because I ended up working in a biscuit factory for five years when I was seventeen. And it was only while I was there that I met someone who encouraged me to go to art school. But even when I enrolled at art school, it wasn’t going to be film that I was going to pursue. I was just interested in art in general – fine art, sculpture, photography, literature and music. It was when I went to Edinburgh Art School that I began to focus on film.
I recall Quentin Tarantino saying: “If you want to make films, watch films. If you want to write books, read books.” But I have also heard the contrarian opinion to pursue that which you are less familiar with or rather have had less exposure to. How do you view the importance of exposure to a creative medium as being integral to the individual pursuing it?
I suppose I am split. I certainly believe it is valuable to have an understanding and knowledge of whatever the medium is that you are pursuing. But I am now at a point where I have had my education, and I don’t need to continue to absorb films at the rate that I once did. And now, especially when I am starting to write a script or even when I am making a film, I don’t reference anything. I don’t want to see or read anything – I just want it to come from inside me. But at the very beginning it’s important because watching a diverse range of films helps you to find your voice by.
Discussing the relationship of the film and the filmmaker, writer/director Rebecca Miller remarked to me: “If they are made honestly, all pieces of art are self-portraits of the person making them.” Reading your statement for Norfolk, the inspiration and influences were personal and subjective. Can your yourself envisage a connection between not just Norfolk and yourself, but also your other films?
Absolutely, and the artists I admire the most are those that leave their DNA in whatever it is they have created. Everything I have ever written or shot has me in it. Obviously you create characters and those characters have opinions. They don’t necessarily agree with your opinions, but regardless, somewhere within them there is something of you. As I say those are the filmmakers that I greatly admire and that’s the kind of vain I see myself. I make personal films and the script that I have just written is even more so, because I am using a bit more of my upbringing. I can see myself in everything that I have ever done [laughs], for the good or for the bad.
Do you feel that you’ll reach a point where you will exhaust the personal, or do you think it will find a way to endure and continue to define your cinema?
My outlook changes and my attitude changes. My anger subsides and then it rises. My enthusiasm for things dips and wanes, and then reemerges stronger than ever. I think now there is plenty of fuel for the fire.
The collaborative nature of film is what makes it a truly special art form. Having written the script you’d have had a good understanding of the characters and narrative entering the shoot. When on set with the actors, did they reveal new things about the characters that you didn’t expect, and how did that change the process? And for you, is filmmaking a journey of discovery whereby you don’t quite know the film you will end up with?
I think that’s the type of film I want to make. I want to make a film that captures elements of spontaneity. You don’t just want to write the script and then precisely capture that because it can lead to a lifeless film. In the past I’ve made films where there was no script. We would make up each scene on the day and that would involve a great skill from the actors to be able to improvise those scenes. Norfolk was obviously scripted, but I greatly encourage actors to bring their own interpretation to the characters and to the scene. And if they suddenly show me something unexpected, it gives me the chance to witness it exactly how the audience might see it. So for instance, if it has not been written, auditioned, rehearsed and blocked, then it comes to me fresh. But if it has gone through all of those processes it can feel quite stale. I would always encourage the actors to come up with something new. There is a scene towards the end of Norfolk where the father comes home to the son, and in the script it was never meant to be as big and dramatic. But because of a few things that happened on that morning, the scene suddenly exploded, and thank God it did. For me it’s really incredibly emotional and it was the actors that brought that to the scene, which I’m eternally grateful for.
Filmmakers have told me that editing is the best training ground for a director. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how the experience of editing Norfolk will impact your approach to writing and directing in the future?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that the editing has impacted upon my new project. I would say that is more the budgetary constraints and the restrictions of the schedule. So what I’ve written now is quicker, not simply the tone and pace of the film, but how it can be captured on set. Whereas what I had written for Norfolk, it was very sedate, very languid and a very hypnotic type of story. And when you suddenly feel you’ve an hour to shoot that scene, it’s almost working against what it is you are trying to capture. So that’s caused me to write something that has more freewheeling momentum, because I anticipate that if I am lucky enough to get more money to make another film, it’s not going to be a massive sum of money. And so those restrictions of a tight schedule are going to be there, and it’s those that have caused me to think about the writing of the next one, rather than the edit process.
Speaking with Ryan Bonder for The Brother, he explained: “It probably takes about a year before you start to feel like yourself again, because it really can take a lot out of you.” In a sense the filmmaker is liable to an empty feeling as they are trying to return to who they were, while for the films audience, our experience is in a different time zone. In a sense are we not experiencing your past, and therefore we are forever chasing your present?
Well it’s very true, and it does take a while to come out of the system. I say this hand on heart, you sometimes forget the metaphors and the symbolism when you are sitting there writing it. I have answers to everything [laughs], but what starts to happen is once you begin speaking to costume and make-up, the cinematographer and the actors, you pass over the baton of the meaning of those moments to them. And then it’s almost a cathartic experience where all of these ideas are permeating and are floating away like motes of dust. And by the very end you are: Oh, how did I create this? I don’t know, I’ve forgotten… It’s left me. Now it is in the hands of the audience to enter the world as they wish.
German filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?
It is an incredibly precious and special thing to be able to make a film – to go through emotional ventures with the collaborative team. And if you are making more personal work, then you are going inside and pulling something out, whether it be rotten or whether it be joyful. I think it somehow does alter who you are, which is unavoidable, especially if you are digging deep. On all the films I’ve made, they’ve enabled me to explore something or to get something out there from within, and I would have thought that has to change you. I wouldn’t want to make anything that didn’t and I think it’s got to have my blood on it for it to have any merit – if that doesn’t sound too pretentious.
Writer/Director Martin Radich on his latest film film Norfolk – words Paul Risker
Norfolk will screen at the following cinemas and will be followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers:
24 September – Encounters, Bristol
26 September – Manchester Home, Manchester
29 September – Broadway, Nottingham
1 October – Orkney, Scotland
4 October – Glasgow Film Theatre, Glasgow
5 October – Filmhouse, Edinburgh + Masterclass & Arthouse Crouch End, London
Further October dates are still to be confirmed, but will include Eden Court, Inverness