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Vancouver International Film Festival 2008 

Interview, Let Him Be director Peter McNamee

Is this your first film in the VIFF? Do you have any other festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favourite and least-favourite parts of the festival experience. Do you plan to attend VIFF for the screenings?This is my first feature film and our first time at VIFF. Myself, producer Carol Wright and cast members Kathleen Munroe, Sean Clement, Nathan Fleet & Sarah Bennett Kneebone will all attend the Wednesday night (October 1st) screening.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I am originally from the UK. I immigrated to Canada in 1987. My background is in music production. I worked as a recording engineer / producer with some of England’s biggest rock stars as well as being involved in sound design and production for radio and TV. I fell into film/video production shortly after arriving in Toronto. I started an independent record label and ran into problems on our first music video for one of our acts. So much so, that I decided to finish it myself. It never struck me as being that difficult and as John Ford the American Director from the fifties once said directing is just common sense. Shortly after that I met my producer, friend and business partner Carol Wright who, at that time was VP of Marketing for BMG Canada. She needed assistance with her companies conference video and asked me if I could help out. It was a great creative and commercial success for BMG which resulted in my producing many TV and radio spots for them as well as many of their corporate presentation videos. I went on to work on more mainstream TV commercials and corporate marketing and communication productions for many other national & International record & entertainment companies.I’m a gut up rather than a head down kind of guy. I trust and follow my instinct implicitly, and believe that film making is a collaborative process. I have found that I get the best from everyone I work with if I like, trust & believe in them and the work that they do,The desire to make the film came from my desire to do something for myself that was longer than 30 seconds. My whole creative life was spent producing and following directions from other people. While I thoroughly enjoyed that time and was always given tremendous support for my left field creative and it paid the bills. It was time to do something for myself. Thankfully I had the support of Carol who supported the concept of Let Him Be from the outset. My idea was to make Let Him Be and throw it upon the web ala Blair Witch. It was her commitment and that of our co-producer Marty Katz of Prospero Pictures, from the get go, to make a feature film and we did. I have a few movies in me and am currently in the process of writing another one that I will direct and developing two others that we will produce.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question, “When I grow up I want to be?” finish this sentence, please!

Play in a band and be a songwriter / performer.

While you were making the movie, were you thinking about the future release of the film, be it film festivals, paying customers, critical response, and so forth?

While making the film all I was ever concerned about was making the film. I never thought about anything else. We never set out to make the movie for fame or fortune; those things are just the by-products. We made the film because we wanted to make a film. It was very important to Carol, Marty and I that it was to be the best it could be within our realm of possibilities. Having said that, it would never have been made at all without the unwavering support of my family, friends and the incredible cast and crew. The one thing about making a movie with friends and family is that you are always guaranteed one full house.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.

About four years ago I sent Carol a short story and some demos on which the film is based. My idea was to get a bunch of friends and industry colleagues together and bang out this 60 minute documentary about these two students finding John Lennon alive and well in a remote part of Canada. Throw it up on the net and see what happens? She loved the idea but said that the only way to do it justice was as a feature film! I put together a 4-minute pitch of the movie using slides and some of the demos along with a longer version of the story. I was introduced to Marty by a mutual friend and decided to pitch him the idea even though the kind of movies he makes were way out of my snack bracket. He loved the concept and said that he would like to get involved and make this movie with us. From there we went looking for money. My only condition was that all the funding came from private sources and that they put their money in and walked away. They had no creative input or any involvement whatsoever. It took us almost 2 years to find all the funding with the majority of it coming from family & friends. I began writing the script with the cooperation and guidance of a very good friend who is a professional screenwriter and we went from there.

The rest is as they say history. A detailed longer version of this story will be included at some point on the Let Him Be DVD. A documentary the making of Let Him Be don’t mention the B word to be directed by Nathan Fleet who co-produced the music and appears in Let Him Be.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

There was only one real challenge and that was finding the money. Production wise it was very important to me that the film was made from the perspective of the young filmmaker and that it stayed true to his realm of possibilities. Tim Bennett played by Sean Clement is based upon me. Everything he does is based upon what I would have done in the same circumstances. All the hidden cameras and production approach were and had to be exactly as it would have been in reality. I also wanted to make the most imperfect perfect film.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

Thanks to Tim Dashwood (director of photography), Tiffany Beaudin (editor) and Paul Moyer, Supervising Producer at Egg Plant Pictures in Toronto, my dog’s breakfast of a shooting format using multiple mini dv, digital 8 and pro-sumer hi- def cameras was all edited, conformed and up-rezzed to HD without any problems at all.

Tim Dashwood did a great job both shooting the film and making all different shooting formats work technically even though the production style was not one he was accustomed to. It was important that the look & feel of the film was never beyond the film student Tim Bennett’s abilities with his shoot from the hip approach. So much so that we only used available lighting and the set ups were very quick and most scenes were shot in one or two takes in the moment.

Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

The film premiered at the Sudbury Film Festival on September 16th. Overall I was stunned at the amount of people that stayed behind afterwards for the Q&A that got it. By that I mean the narrative and the film’s production style. It has a sincere simplicity and reality about it that leaves the audience pinching themselves to see if this is real or not. The shooting style, scenes and dialogue are very natural and do not appear produced or construed in any way shape or form which draws the audience into every moment. One person even commented afterwards that the credits spoiled it for her as she was convinced up until she saw them that what she was actually seeing was true. Overall it was a wonderful experience. It’s a magical feeling being in a room full of people who have totally tuned into your vision. The audience was also very interested in the music.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

No-one directly but my indirect inspirations are The Cohen Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, Billy Wilder, Cameron Crowe, Albert Brooks, Julian Schnabel, Francis Veber, John Sayles, Sam Shephard and Woody Allen, essentially all writer / directors to name but a few.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

As far as it wants to take me as long as I get to decide where I end up? I neither want nor see myself working under a studio system or with big budgets. It is very important to both Carol and I that we maintain creative control to make the films we want to make. Creativity is my drug and I would relish a situation where we could put out a movie every 2 years?

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in? Writer or psychologist.

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

My earlier filmmaker influences plus off the top of my head: Robert De Niro,  Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Day Lewis, Jeff Bridges, Brad Pitt., Jessica Lange, Eric Idle, John Turturro. Larry David, Larry Charles, Rosamund Pyke, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kim Basinger, Carey Mulligan, Warren Beatty, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Do you think that you have made it in this profession yet? If you don’t believe so, what do you think would happen for that moment to occur?

No. I guess I will be working on that for the rest of my life. I am more inspired by the journey than the destination. I am very lucky to be part of a profession that can inspire, entertain, and provoke people.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Critical media response is extremely important. I think anything that gets the word out about you and your work in any way shape or form, good or bad is better than nothing at all. Bad reviews are better than no reviews at all. I rarely consider movie reviews when deciding what to go and see. I base my decision on whom the director, cast, & writer are and go from there. Having endured the creative and production process most of my life it was inspiring enough for them to make it and be involved I am going to watch it.

If your film could play in any movie theater in the world, which one would you choose?

Empire Leicester Square in London, England.

Do you have an opinion on the issue of A Film by (Insert Director Here)? Is this something you use? Many people collaborate to make a film yet simultaneously, the director is the final word on the production.

I used this term for Let Him Be as I am ultimately the person who cultivated, encouraged, and coerced everyone into joining me on the whole adventure. The way I look at it as someone has to be ultimately responsible for the vision and have the ability and where with all to realize that vision and that was me. If this movie turns out to be a flop I take full responsibility but if it is successful every one involved gets to share and celebrate that success. It only takes one person to have a dream but it takes many more than to bring it to reality.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

You have to see Let Him Be. It’s a great premise that will get you and keep you until the very end; wonderfully portrayed by actors who one day will be major stars. It was independently financed and made for considerably less than most major pictures spend on their catering budget.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Technology today has made it never been easier to be a film maker. So do it! Having said that, technology should never be your starting point. Some other bits of advice: Start with a great script, people who believe in you and it, a great cast; DOP and editor in that order. You can only learn from your mistakes. There are no rules. Nobody knows anything. Never put your destiny in the hands of anyone else. Believe and be true to yourself.

And finally what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

The Godfather Parts I & II as they are nothing short of brilliant in every aspect, and because of how Coppola ultimately conquered all obstacles and succeeded after having suffered and struggled in the writing and making of every frame, and I know in smaller manner what that was like.

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com