Nicolas McClintock interview
Major life changing events can happen in ten minutes - birth, death, catastrophic electoral fraud. Fifteen different directors played with their concept of Time in their contribution to Ten Minutes Older, a compilation feature of 10 minute short films released on DVD this week. Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Bernardo Bertolucci, Wim Wenders, Chen Kaige, Jean-Luc Godard – these are just some of the world class directors involved in the project.
The films could not be more different from each other – whether it’s Spike Lee’s examination of Al Gore’s tense moments before admitting defeat on that fateful American election night ('We Wuz Robbed'), or Jim Jarmusch's portrayal of a calm but frustrated actress (Chloe Sevigny) trying to enjoy her break with a phone call and a king-size cigarette despite constant interruptions ('Int.Trailer.Night'). We talked to the man who came up with the original idea while sitting in the bath (“Time, short films, great directors: what’s it all about?”) – producer of Ten Minutes Older Nicolas McClintock.
LF: The directors were given the theme of Time to work with. Did you then work with them on each individual idea? How did the script approval process work?
It wasn’t so much approval, more helping out with development wherever I could. For example, Werner Herzog’s first idea was about the death penalty. He’s very opposed to the death penalty and wanted to film the last ten minutes of someone’s life before they are executed on death row – not in any mawkish way but in a factually correct way. We spent seven months researching the idea and trying to set it up, getting in touch with various criminologists around America, but in the end it just wasn’t going to work.
Eventually I put Werner in touch with Adrian Cowell, the filmmaker who made the original stuff in the jungle 20 years ago, and Werner made the film (Ten Thousand Years Older). There were quite a number of scripts that were never made! Or there were other directors who wanted to be involved, like David Lynch, but because of time constraints weren’t able to participate. There was even one film that was made but not included in the end.
Abbas Kiarostami made a wonderful ten minute piece, but it just wasn’t going to work in the cinema. It was more of an art-installation and needed to have a space where you could contemplate it. Mostly though, I would just tell them - listen, if you’re sitting in the bath and you have a great idea, just write it down and phone me up and I’m sure it will be fine.
LF: Did they all have the same budget?
Yes, they were all set the same subject and budget. It was only fair. People cut their cloth to suit what they were doing.
LF: Coordinating 15 films at the same time must have been quite a challenge. Were you involved in the production of each of them?
The films were produced by the directors’ own teams and we just tried to be as helpful as possible. I was there for the shoots of about two-thirds of the films. I made one journey, in the space of 36 days that was completely surreal. I went from London via Moscow to Beijing, where I spent 7 or 8 days on Chen Kaige's shoot - then Beijing via Vancouver to LA, and out to the desert for 5 or 6 days for Wim Wenders' shoot.Then it was LA to New York to meet with Jim Jarmusch's production people, and then New York to London where I thought right, I can have a rest now! This was about day 28.
But Victor Erice was about to start shooting in northern Spain so I jumped on a plane the next day. I went around the world in 36 days, living in different time zones – it was like travelling in time. You’re moving into a whole different world, and dealing with jet lag all the time. I realised pretty soon that we’re actually snacking and napping animals. As long as you snack and nap when you can, you’re alright. I’d be up in the middle of the night in LA, getting out of the hotel, buying the paper and doing what I normally do in the afternoon, but it was 4 o'clock in the morning.
LF: What was the high point of the project for you?
The first film we turned over on was Aki’s (Kurismaki). I remember being in a garage in Helsinki with his crew, and I was standing off to the side thinking: "Fucking hell - I had this idea sitting in the bath and now it’s happening". I must admit I got a bit emotional at that point. Another great moment was during the same shoot, when Aki was setting up the scene with the band in the café, where the man and woman have a brief conversation. Aki wrote that scene out ten minutes before they shot it – he sat down at the table with a scrap of paper, wrote out the lines and handed it to the actors. They tried it a few times, and then they went for it. That was very special. It was great getting to see how all these different directors worked - Bernardo is fantastic, Victor Erice was fantastic - they were all fantastic.
LF: Any particularly hairy moments?
There was a point about halfway through the project when our first financer went down the pan - an absolute nightmare. These were the same financiers who had been backing Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote. At this stage Aki had shot his film, Mike Figgis had shot his, and both Jean-Luc Godard and Jim were about to start theirs. It was a week and half before Christmas and we found out that the financier had gone bankrupt. I had to gather everyone in the office, a week before Christmas, and say I’m sorry, this is it. One week before Christmas and no one had Christmas shopping money! It was a nightmare.
Shortly after the news, a screenwriter friend Andy Hislop and I went up to the split level roof of our offices on Whitfield Street. I filmed him doing a fake suicide just for the hell of it, jumping from one roof onto another roof. It was a way of dealing with it. I then spent the next two and half months alone in the office. Wim put me in touch with Ulrich Felsberg from Road Movies and effectively rescued the project when Ulrich came on board. We managed to revive it, and then went to AFM (American Film Market), where it really got back on the road.
LF: Did any of the directors collaborate on each other’s films?
They were all interested in what each other were doing but I specifically didn’t want to let them know. We (the Ten Minutes Older production team) really kept it from them. I might occasionally mention oh someone is doing a documentary or something. Wim joked about it at Cannes – that I had kept everything such a secret. Some of them had seen each other’s work – Jim and Wim had seen each other’s films when they were both at Technicolour for the grade. But the premiere at Cannes in 2002 was the first time they would have seen all their films together.
LF: What has been the life of the films since their theatrical release?
There has been an enormous amount of interest in all of the films - it's become quite a cult thing. I think this is obviously because of the directors involved. Every film student has to make a 10 minute film - and people want to know what these guys are going to do with 10 minutes. The sale of pirated DVDs has been huge - I recently found second hand DVDs on Amazon for $130! Some of the individual shorts have been shown more. Spike's film, because of its political content and the elections, was shown at loads of Democratic conventions right across the States during the run up to the recent US elections. That's probably the film that's had the most life to it independently of the rest, but people generally find all of the films fascinating. They all manage to capture a sense of time, each in their own way. I don't have a favourite one. I like them all for what they are. Each of the films has something intrinsically beautiful about it.
Nicolas McClintock is currently scripting and developing the music for his upcoming feature, "a very exciting musical film set in London."