Interview: Writer/Director Richard Shepard
Richard Shepard is fast becoming a well respected writer-director following the release of The Matador and now the well reviewed The Hunting Party starring Richard Gere and Terrance Howard.
In the film Gere and Howard are among a group of journalists who are mistaken as a CIA hit squad as they try and track down a Bosnian War Criminal. I haven’t seen the film yet due to the staggered release that films get on an international level, but I am really looking forward to it.
Shepard’s previous film The Matador is a first rate black comedy starring Pierce Brosnan as a hit man going through a midlife crisis and Greg Kinnear co-stars as the business man that he befriends while in Mexico. It is a film that you must seek out on DVD. Brosnan gives a fascinating performance (okay, I know I’m biased because I’m Irish) and Kinnear is always good value.
Shepard comes across as a really nice guy and with a bit of luck he’ll live up to his potential- that is, if the studio machine doesn’t eat him up and spit him out. He’s got a distinct style and he seems to want to make edgy- grown up films. God bless him for that.
Anyway, enough of my crazy ramblings, here’s the interview.
How did you first get interested in filmmaking?
I wanted to be the third baseman for the NY Mets baseball team, but at around age 12 I realized that you had to have an iota of athletic talent to play professional sports, so I started making super 8 movies instead.
What types of films do you enjoy watching?
I’m a movie fan I will see everything from art film to Bourne Ultimatum. (which was my least favourite of the series, despite the great reviews it got).
What do you think has been the greatest achievement of your career so far?
That I have a career at all. I’ve had more ups and downs than you can imagine. Five years ago my agent fired me and I was dead broke. Stamina is something they rarely teach you at film school.
What’s the most difficult part of your job as a writer-director?
Everything is hard. Writing is hard. Getting financing is hard. Getting talent attached. Filming, editing, the release. It’s all hard, but it’s also incredible fun.
Run me through your average day.
When I’m writing I try to write five pages a day. Even if it’s just crap. five pages a day. That way I can get a draft quickly. And then I do the hard part– rewriting. I’m a big rewriting. My first official first draft is usually my tenth draft. But writing is a solitary job, while directing is a 17 hour a day overload, of working with hundreds of people and managing hundreds of personalities. I like writing and directing since they are so very different.
What was it like getting so much critical acclaim for The Matador?
Amazing. Roger Ebert’s rave — the first real review of the film at Sundance, changed my life. But you if you are going to read reviews you have to be able to read the bad ones. It’s tough, very tough.
I thought it was a great film and that it should have been a great breakout film for Pierce Brosnan. However, I was disappointed by the release pattern and marketing. I believe that it could have grossed a lot more. What’s your opinion?
Completely disagree. The film was made for 12 million bucks and made more then that in US theatres and over 30 million in US DVD rentals alone. Pierce got a Golden Globe nomination and I travelled the world to film festivals supporting it. Do I wish it made a hundred million? Sure. Do I wish it was a hit in every country? Sure. But I am very happy how the movie was perceived and that so many people saw it.
As an Irish man myself I think that Brosnan’s possibly the definitive Bond- Was it surreal working with such an iconic actor?
Its surreal meeting him. But after a few minutes you realize that he is funny, warm and decent and lovely (like most Irishmen).
Your new film The Hunting Party has a very interesting premise and it looks fantastic- how would you describe it?
It’s a true story about the journalists who try to track down the mot wanted war fugitive in Bosnia and along the way get mistaken for a CIA hit-squad. It’s an adventure, a drama, a thriller and a black comedy. We were just at the Venice Film Festival where we got a five minute stading ovation. it was pretty cool. especially since it was 2 in the morning.
Again you’ve got a great cast- Do you let the script speak for itself or do you actively pursue specific actors?
I have been very fortunate to have been able to work with such great actors. Actors seem to be hungry for interesting parts. I love seeing actors such as Brosnan and Gere play different sort of roles then we’re used to seeing.
I quite like the original title “Spring Break in Bosnia”, why the change?
Too many people thought it was “Spring Time in Bosnia” it was way too clever for its own good.
The Hunting Party is based on a magazine article, how do you develop ideas? What’s your creative process?
I’ve always done original material before this. But something about this article stuck out at me. It just seemed like an amazing adventure story. I got hooked. There is no formula.
Your films are all made within a certain budget- would you ever want to make a $300 million picture?
If it’s a giant Hollywood movie that I like– sure. But there’s something cool about making movies for less money. You’re under the radar. You have more room to experiment, you can break the rules. I like that.
Are there any dream projects that you’re working on or would like to make? If so what?
Tim Burtons making Sweeney Todd I would have love a go at that.
What’s up next for you?
Writing. reading. Relaxing. It’s been a tough year and a half.
Who are your heroes within the business? Past or present.
I love the writer/directors: Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Spike Lee, Alexander Payne. As a kid I loved Scorsese and Coppola and William Friedkin.
Is there anyone that you would like to work with?
I have been very lucky working with such great actors and crew members. I have a list of people, but it’s a secret.
It’s notoriously difficult to get into the film business- how did you manage it?
Hard, hard work. Not giving up. A shot of talent, a pinch of luck. And writing. Writing is how I made it. Made it as a writer and then as a director. If you want my script you have to take me a director. that sort of thing.
What advice would you give any young writer directors?
Keep writing. And dont send out your first draft. Rewrite a lot. And then rewrite somemore. And know that you only have one or two shots, so make sure that someone other then your roommate or girlfriend has read your script and given you hard notes before you show it to anyone in the business. And don’t give up. It’s hard. But it’s worth it.
Which do you prefer writing or directing?
In fifty years- what would you like people to say about your career?
That he had one for fifty years.
This interview first appeared on Collider in 2007.