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netribution > features > interview with name james rogan > page one
Last Saturday, and a solemn, distressed day it was too, I decided to drink a lot of coffee with a young chap called James Rogan that Nic had met at Edinburgh. On the Friday he rather rudely described him as a 12 year old upstart director who reads English at Oxford in his spare time. As Nic lay at my slippered feet as though he had taken a bullet I called james up to arrange a meet. After describing myself as a morose, bald man with a curly beard I asked how I would recognise him, his response was thus, "I look very young and thin."
I forgot to apologise to my colleague but I met James at Bar Italia and he did indeed look young and was carrying, rather like the ubiquitous red rose, a book of 14th century poetry for me to identify him.
The interview was an uncommonly shambolic affair on my behalf but it seemed to turn itself into a pleasant conversation, stubbornly recorded by the one attentive ear of my Dictaphone. The lucky bastard is indeed reading English at Oxford, he has been making feature films since he was 13 (I gathered that he was 22), his latest, Dead Bolt Dead, has performed well at Cannes, Edinburgh and Raindance and is currently being sold to a number of territories world-wide. We had a charming chat about ancient Greek epic writers and Westerns and then, while the Dictaphone was relieving itself, we talked about photography, Harry Andrews in Ice Cold in Alex, and a house in the country to retire to. Like a lot of people I enjoy interviewing, James has a lot going for him and I clearly haven't but then my Mum had always told me that.

| by tom fogg |
| photos by tom fogg|
| in london |
  Where were you born?
In London but my father is South African and my mother is Scottish.

I thought Rogan was an Irish name?
It is, my grandfather did some research and found out that a priest ran away with the village prostitute some time in the 17th century. Its probably myth but its quite a fecund family nonetheless.

How did you start out as a director?
I'd worked in film from 13 on the Children's film unit which is an organisation that had you make a feature film every year for Channel 4. It is still a unique organisation but the Channel has since stopped commissioning the films, its patrons are the likes of Attenborough and Spielberg. It's very unknown but you are likely to see the people who went there in 5 or 10 years time throughout the industry. So I was working on camera at that age on a 70 minute, 16mm film and it’s the not the best you'll ever see but the simply the responsibility of producing enough footage to edit was great. They were a bit like the Children's Film Foundation films but a lot were better, they were directed by adults by made by kids.

When did you start work on Dead Bolt Dead?
We started up the company, myself and Paul DeVilliers, in October '98 on our gap year. We went into production in March '99, finished it in May, edited for 10 weeks and did the music for 10 weeks. We had the film mixed by the guy that mixed Alien in the theatre where they did Bladerunner, which was just amazing.

Pitch it to us.
It’s a darkly comic thriller set in the aftermath of an ambush. Its set in present day London and its about several characters who have to talk themselves out of a death sentence. Its very stylised and arthouse, the French love it and sold it half way through to finance the post production. We got a good sale to a company called Mosca Films and we've used a sales agent called Film Distribution. They are really, really into the project.

Has it had a festival run?
Yeah, we took it to Cannes for a market screening and on the back of that we sold it to Canada and some other territories that they won't tell us about until after MIFED.

Was Paul the producer?
Yes and he also wrote it for me to direct. Other than that we had a lot of professionals working for us as well, a lot of people straight out of film school, people older than me from the unit that have gone on to places like Bournemouth, London International and Ravensbourne. They were an extraordinary crew in that I love the technical aspects of film, that's where the creativity comes from and I had a spot on relationship with the AD who went on to co-produce the film. I'd worked for the DP before as a cameraman so I knew his style and we just gelled. The editor and I just had the best relationship because she wanted to play and experiment. She also worked incredibly fast so that I could sit there with her - suggest something and she would do it within a couple of minutes. She was a contact through the other producer who was a Ravensbourne graduate, his girlfriend had met her at Sheffield documentary festival, she turned up and said she liked the project. She's got a very dark sense of humour and she put the film together exactly as I wanted it to be.

Who conceived the project?
Yes and it took 5 years. As soon as I'd made my first feature I knew I wanted to direct because the teacher on the unit was a great teacher but not a great director. We decided in our gap year that we would make our first feature.

So why are you studying English?
Good question! Because it's a much nicer thing to study for 3 years than to go straight into film! Also a lot of filmmakers come from the background of modern film and don't even watch old films, which is extraordinary. To take it right back to the Greek epic narratives, you can learn an awful lot about narrative techniques.

Which of those influence you in particular?
Homer's great and I'd love to do The Illiad as a proper Trojan War movie as opposed to the jokey, monsters and Gods fashion. Of course The Odyssey would be the sequel and hasn't been done very well before, in the whole sword and sandals genre, Gladiator showed that these films can be popular but it wasn't a particularly great film. Narratively I felt it wasn't too strong and Ridley Scott has so much more to offer a movie.

So why do you think he did it?
Money? (laughter) Recreating the epic is certainly an attractive proposition and he has because there will be plenty to follow now. Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix are great but the if you compare the story to that of Spartacus and Ben Hur it's very small. The Aeneid has an incredible ending with just 2 men doing battle, eventually Aenius kills Turnus and it's literally a book of them slogging it out. It's really worth it. The first 6 books are of him travelling around but in the last 6 he arrives and they just fight, the description is really visual.

Does the descriptiveness depend largely on the translation?
It does. My favourite translation of The Aeneid is Dryden's, it’s a poetic translation that is wonderfully easy to read and at the end it really captures the moment where Aenius overcomes him and he is begged to have his life spared so that his victim may live in banishment. You feel pity for the man because he has been an honourable fighter and has had honourable cause but because the Gods are against him he is bound to lose.

Is there a sense of divine intervention in your film?
Well, in my film I hope that it continually poses questions. Now, this is not something that everyone will appreciate but the idea is that as you watch it you will always be questioning certain aspects within it.

How did you approach the score in Dead Bolt Dead?
We wanted an Ennio Morricone type score to compliment the film's Western allusion, the film takes place in real time but you can only tell that because High Noon is playing in the background and we constantly cut back to it. There is also an allusion to Once Upon a Time in the West with a spinning, kinetic toy which reminds us, probably won't remind anyone else, of the spinning water wheel in the exposition of Leone's film.
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