Michael Winterbottom is a bit of a legend, moving fluidly between conscience-pricking films like The Road to Guantanamo, the outrageous invention of A Cock and Bull Story and the Hollywood star power of A Mighty Heart. So he’s the perfect person to play a part in PlayStation Shoot! – the short film competition that’s all about pushing boundaries and breaking rules. We asked him to talk us through it.
LWLies: How would you describe the Shoot! project in your own words?
Winterbottom: Well, my involvement is mainly with a short film called Bitter, done by Joel Wilson and Jamie Campbell. They’re very bright and enthusiastic and they have lots of ideas. And they’d already done quite a bit of good stuff on TV, so my involvement was really just to do anything I could, anything that Revolutionary could do, to help them make their film.
LWLies: How and why did you get involved?
Winterbottom: Anything that gives people a chance to make a film, and other people to see that film, is great. It was wonderful to work with them.
LWLies: You exec-produced Bitter – how hands-on were you during the ﬁlm’s evolution?
Winterbottom: I want them to do what they wanted to do. They know what they’re doing. That’s the whole point: for them to do what they want to do.
LWLies: How much experience have you got of working on short ﬁlms and, if so, what were they?
Winterbottom: I don’t actually! I think in many ways, making a short film can actually be harder than making a long film. It’s very hard to make something that’s interesting for, say, six minutes. So I didn’t really start that as a filmmaker – I started doing documentary and then TV stuff, so I don’t really have any experience in that at all. But for Joel and Jamie, who have also made a lot of documentaries, I think it’s a great chance to add to what they’ve done.
LWLies: What bit of advice would you offer a budding young ﬁlm director?
Winterbottom: I think these days it’s possible to go out and make a film with no money. To shoot with a digital camera and edit on Final Cut, which is what we use. If you want to make a film, just make a film.
LWLies: With so much media competing for our attention, why is short ﬁlm important?
Winterbottom: Well, it’s difficult, because as I say, I don’t come from that kind of background. I think it gives people – directors and producers and so on – to get some experience of filmmaking. For short film, in terms of storytelling and other things, you have to have a different kind of approach. There are short stories and there are novels. A good short story might not necessarily become a good novel. So I think the best thing about Shoot! is the way it can be a practical help to give people a relatively relaxed environment where they can start gaining experience they can take away.
LWLies: What do you think PlayStation and the PlayStation Network are bringing to the table in terms of new ideas and opportunities?
Winterbottom: What PlayStation and the PlayStation Network are doing here is definitely a great idea, because when you’ve made a short film, you want people to be able to see it. And it can be hard to do that. So a scheme like this is a new way to show films, to create an audience for films. It’s a great thing.
LWLies: Would you get involved in another PlayStation ﬁlm project?
Winterbottom: Yeah, sure. I mean, what are you doing? You’re doing what you can to help. The people who’ve made the film make the film, so what you’re doing is being encouraging in the background.
LWLies: After directing more than 20 films and TV shows, you're an experienced part of the British film scene. Do you feel a responsibility to pass on the benefit of those experiences to a new generation? Do you think we do a good enough job of supporting new talent?
Winterbottom: Well, I think these days, to a certain extent, it isn’t the institution’s fault. Most people who make films don’t want to be part of a big institution. They want to go out and be determined to make their film. I think the area that is weak in Britain for people starting to make films – and for any people making films outside the mainstream – is distribution. Trying to find somewhere to show your film. That’s the hardest thing. Any idea to try and show films and get them shown is a great. I’m sure Joel and Jamie could have gone off and made their film anyway, but now they feel like there’s some point in making it – because people are going to watch it. That’s the important thing.
LWLies: What are you working on at the moment?
Winterbottom: We’ve been on the verge of starting filming The Killer Inside Me for a while. We’re going to shoot it in Texas. It’s a thriller. It’s set in a small town in Texas and it’s based on a Jim Thompson book, a classic cult ‘50s book. And basically it’s about a sheriff who goes around killing people. Well, there’s nothing too horrific… But yeah. I think it’s a brilliant book. Jim Thompson’s a great writer and I think it’s his best book. There is some violence but it’s also quite melancholy and tender. The way he kills the people he loves, there’s a sort of weird bittersweet thing about it as well.