Extraordinary Rendition: Jim Threapleton interview
We caught up with debut feature film director Jim Threapleton to find out more about CIA intelligence thriller Extraordinary Rendition starring Andy Serkis and Omar Berdouni. Jim tells us about his personal journey from runner to director, the torturous theme that drives the movie and his next project which proves the second coming of the first Mr Winslet.
LOVEFiLM: How long has the journey taken for you to be able to direct your first feature film?
Jim Threapleton: I don't think there is an easy way to writing and directing at all. I did start off the career as a floor runner and then assistant director at various levels so that gave me a grounding in the industry in general. From there it was about utilising whatever contacts I'd been able to make in the executive world to nurture writing projects.
LF: Where did the idea to base the film on a political secret originate from; did you want to make a statement?
JT: Not really a statement as such. As my producer and I, Andy Noble, became more aware of the debates surrounding extraordinary rendition, and the increasing numbers of case studies; it became more of an issue to be compelled to try and articulate artistically.
Extraordinary Rendition seemed to warrant a much quicker turnaround if we were going to take part in some small way in the debate; the politics. So we went straight into it, we didn't develop a traditional shooting script; it was done from a treatment, and then fully improvised form there really. There was a sense of urgency about the project in terms of making the public as aware as possible that there was an issue to debate.
LF: The timing of the release was all important then?
JT: That's absolutely correct - there was a ticking clock on the interest levels in the public arena. I think it's still very much increasing. So there was a time frame that we wanted to act on so, like I say, in some small way contribute to the debate.
LF: The torture in the film almost made it feel like a modern day Passion Of Christ at times; was this wholly intended?
JT: For sure. That is an interesting parallel actually, although it has not to this point been mentioned and it wasn't a kind of conscious decision on my part. It would be argued I'm sure by Mel Gibson that there was a legitimate point to the levels of violence in his film.
For me, it was dealing with a landscape where to a certain extent audiences can be de-sensitized to graphic violence. You know - when the franchises like Hostel or Saw are so successful - what I struggled with was trying to set a bar that meant the serious nature of torture and incarceration were being articulated and portrayed in a legitimate way. Whilst those sequences are very brutal and unrelenting, it was about suggesting that whilst an audience at the end of the film can turn the DVD off and go and do something else; these victims of extraordinary rendition are there for the long haul.
LF: The budget for the film was tight; do you think you could have done better with more money to spend?
JT: I don't think so really. The restrictions that we had in terms of production budget meant that there was a kind of economy of ambition and perspective. I was always aware that I was able to do one thing as effectively and as powerfully as possible, which was to generate a punch in the guts to the audience in relation to a very raw current political topic.
LF: Had you always planned to shoot the film in a non-linear fashion?
JT: No not at all; having developed a pretty strict shooting treatment, the film was then entirely improvised. The work that would have been traditionally been done on the story in two years of script development had to be then done in a really tough edit process with one-hundred-and-forty hours plus of shot footage to distill down into a story structure that worked.
LF: Andy Serkis' and Omar Berdouni are great in the film, how did you go about casting them?
JT: I was lucky enough to be at the same agency as both Omar and Andy. Films of this sort have to utilise whatever industry shortcuts there are to get to the right individuals for the story. And I'd known of Omar's work in United 93 which was also an improvised film with Paul Greengrass and obviously Andy Serkis; his reputation and body of work speaks for itself in many ways. Having had the opportunity to talk them through the project they embraced it whole heartedly and took the challenge of improvising their way through these character portraits.
LF: And Andy Serkis has a great Middle Eastern accent?!
JT: Incidentally, Andy has Iranian heritage. That was something I didn't know until we actually started the workshop process. He felt very connected to that side of the world really.
LF: So what's up for you next?
JT: My second film Exposure will be shot in June and July in the Highlands of Scotland, and is a much more commercial and different beast to Extraordinary Rendition. We're aiming for early 2009 release and hope to get it to Sundance first off.
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