Paul Chart [Interview]

 

 

Today’s interview subject is a multi-faceted human being who has done some incredible work in so many different positions within the world of film. It’s Paul Chart, Everyone! Paul has been in the business for over 40 years and has accomplished some amazing feats in his time. One of these great feats was what initially drew me into the hopes of having him on the site to answer a few questions. This would be the 1997 film he wrote and directed entitled American Perfekt. It is an absolutely incredible film that has lived in my mind since I first saw it as a young man. It’s wonderfully written and features amazing performances from the likes of Amanda Plummer, Fairuza Balk, Robert Forster (RIP), and our new friend and guest of TWS, Rutanya Alda. It is an absolute classic film.

Through getting to know Paul a bit more, I have learned that he has a wonderful short film making waves right now entitled, Nasty. And Folks, it is WONDERFUL. Mr. Chart was kind enough to let me check it out, and I will be sharing my thoughts with you soon! Like real soon. Like Sunday. It will be discussed on Sunday. It will also be discussed below in the incredible answers that Paul was able to carve some time out his schedule to answer for us. So Folks, please enjoy some brilliant words from the great Paul Chart!

 

******

 

What initially drew you to the world of filmmaking? Was it something you had wanted to do since your youth, or did you just happen to find yourself in this world one day? 

The truth is, I can’t recollect a conscious time when I didn’t want to make films. From the age of about 4 or 5, I was totally obsessed. 

But what actually drew me? Two main reasons: One, a cliche, my childhood in London was a dark, dreary and lonely place to play in, and films offered me a glimpse of a completely different life, location and future. In short, they offered hope. Secondly, they also offered me control. I already suspected my thought processes were way too tangential and ill-equipped to navigate the conventional 9-5 life heading my way, and so I definitely needed a job that wasn’t a job. Film allowed me both a career and a way to make sense of that chaos. I was suddenly holding up a piece of film of someone walking across the room. I had another piece of mag film with their dialogue. Another with footsteps. Another with a ticking clock, etc. It gave the chaos around me a form and rhythm I could understand and control and even repeat. A way of making sense of my own story, and possibly offering something of value and entertainment to others along the way. Along with music, it saved me. 

As for getting involved in actual filmmaking, I had no idea what a director or producer did, let alone how to get into the industry. Movies seemed to be made only by highly qualified professionals, using complex and expensive machinery behind closed doors – and I was a working class kid with no resources and no filmmaker friends, acquaintances or relatives. And so I read books. Shot Super 8mm films on reversal, and learned how to shoot, process and print 35mm stills from negative. This was between the ages of about 8 and 14. My Aunt Yvonne also lived in Borhamwood and I would sometimes stay with the family. Elstree Studios was just a walk away, surrounded by a tall metal fence. But at the back, that fence was covered with bushes and trees. It was here that I cut a hole in the fence and would secretly walk the back lot when nobody was about, trying to figure out how everything was built. The excitement was unexplainable. It still gives me shivers thinking about it now. 

And then VHS arrived, and a certain amount of Heaven entered real life. I could now watch more movies than ever. One or two a day .. more if possible. So by the time I was offered my first industry shot, despite having no experience, I was fairly well educated in film history and production, and roaring to go. Maybe I’m now simply addicted to film. When I’m not writing or shooting or editing or something, I certainly suffer some kind of withdrawal effect. Therapy would probably help, but then I figure the films would be a lot less interesting. Plus I’d be forced to write crap to pay for the sessions. 

Best stay addicted to film and work out my issues that way. It’s the devil I know. 

 

What was your first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And were there any sort of lessons learned from this project that you still value to this day? 

My first professional gig was writing a feature for The British Film Institute called White Lies. Although, that didn’t just happen overnight. There was a considerable lead up to it. 

I was studying for an Honors Degree in Fine Art at Sheffield University, and one of the reasons I’d applied to that particular college was that it also happened to have a half- decent film department which nobody really used. So every weekend, I’d take out as much gear as I could, and get to know how it worked. Before long, I was shooting 16mm neg and reversal, and recording sync sound with a Nagra. Can’t tell you how exciting it was to look across the room and see actual real film gear in a box in my own apartment. Anyway, while at college, I managed to earn a couple of Fuji scholarships which financed a couple of short films. Both films, a comedy called Hand in Hand (made with wonderful Glaswegian filmmaker Jim Shields), and a musical spy thriller called Foreign Bodies. The films ended up being screened at BAFTA, and picking up some awards and attention, the most important of which was some fantastic support from Sir David Puttnam, the most respected and influential British film producer of the time. Puttnam took me under his wing, and introduced me to Colin MacCabe at the British Film Institute. Within a few weeks, I was writing my first feature for the BFI, White Lies

Through Dave Puttnam I met Patsy Pollack, Joyce Gallie, Mary Selway and a whole host of other amazing UK casting agents, actors and artists. Through Joyce, I was introduced to writer/producer Joshua Sinclair (Night Porter, Shaka Zulu) who flew me to Vienna a couple of times to work on my first ‘international’ picture, a plotical thriller called Judgement in Berlin (aka Escape to Freedom). I was originally hired to rewrite Sean Penn’s dialogue but ended up rewriting the whole script with Joshua. 

Those two very different job situations were the first ones that introduced me to the professional film world, and also ultimately bought me to Hollywood where I met my longtime mentor, and close friend, director Irvin Kershner (Never Say Never Again, Empire Strikes Back). Kersh had a formidable reputation as a man who did not suffer fools lightly, and I remember that first drive up to his house being a long and nerve-racking one. All for no reason, however. 

Kersh wasn’t so much gruff and loud, as he was passionate and childlike and intent on getting his shit right. He was also incredibly well-read and had a wicked sense of hunmor. We hit it off from the moment we met, and he immediately hired me to write a huge remake of Forbidden Planet – the first of many projects we collaborated on. Kersh also later produced my debut feature film, American Perfekt

This was all still relatively early on in my career – and what did I learn through all this? Well, there was the physical stuff – which I loved – like how to load film and operate a pro camera, record, edit and mix sync sound, organize a crew, create a budget and schedule, work gracefully under pressure and without sleep, and make sure everyone gets fed (that last one might actually be the most vital). 

Philosophically, however, and I don’t want to sound cute, but the most important thing I learned from all this, was that virtually anything was possible. I mean, as a kid from London, making films was just a dream. Yet here I was, in Hollywood, working with actors and directors I’d admired for years, while constantly shoving my own jaw back into my face in disbelief. That’s the thing I most like to pass on to any prospective filmmaker who feel such things are out of their reach. For despite the film schools and plethora of hyperbolic and technically adept students and social networkers with unprecedented access to amazing new digital gear – there are still dark and lonely places where meeker souls dwell. Souls who have interesting stories and unique points of view to offer, but who might never venture forth into filmmaking without a small shove and a gentle enthusiastic compliment.

 

“American Perkect” (1997) on set.

 

Your 1997 film American Perfekt was one of those absolute gem of a films that came out when I was young and very interested in the world of indie film. And it truly holds up. It is bizarre yet beautiful tale, and I am curious to know what inspired you to bring this story to the screen? Was there something personal behind this storyline? 

Firstly, thank you for the kind words. 

American Perfekt was an idea born out of my experiences in Thatcher’s Britain during the 80’s. It was ostensibly a warning about how relying on any one absolute system of reference for navigating life’s metaphysical challenges might ultimately breakdown and cause one to simply throw the baby out with the bath water in a desperate effort to change the direction of one’s life at any cost. 

At the time, Thatcher had promised to save the country by running it as business – which gave many a feeling of control and security. Issue I had, was that a business is not a democracy. It’s choices are ultimately governed by profit and loss, not compassion and justice for all. This direction seemed to embrace autocracy. Autocracy, historically, does not enjoy giving up power, and will lie, subjugate, dismiss and belittle any opposing voice it sees as a threat to it’s continued survival. That was the political climate which initially created Perfekt. Cut to America in 2020. The film is possibly still relevant. 

American Perfekt also posed the idea that we are all equally good and bad, all able to be friendly, to help those in need and be kind – and also able to be cruel, hate and to kill. It’s the freedom we have to make those choices which ultimately make up our characters. Perfekt was designed, therefore, in two juxtaposing parts. Two sisters faced with similar challenges, make different choices and behold different consequences. I even originally considered casting Amanda (Plummer) as both sisters. 

As for it’s physical production, I’d just landed in America with a dear friend of mine, John Conway, and we needed to make a cheap first feature – and how complicated could it be to shoot in the desert? Well, more complicated than you’d expect. But what really made a complicated script work was Robert Forster. I needed someone so comforting in the lead, that even if you turned around to find them standing over you with a bloody knife, you’d still only expect it was for thoroughly benign reasons. Luckily, I met Bob within the very first few weeks of arriving in LA. I not only knew I had my lead, but it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship 

Trouble was, even though everyone recognized Bob’s face, he was not box-office at the time, and when the script began receiving attention, the pressure was on to cast a bigger name. Plus – as is common- it made more sense to make the pic for a decent budget so folk could walk away with a decent fee even if the pic tanked. This was when it clicked to me that a 5 million dollar film with people taking large upfront fees, is almost the same as a one million dollar film with everyone taking scale and percentages. With that bold, and naive notion in mind, I called every other actor up and asked if they could take scale so I could use Bob in the lead. To my utter surprise and delight, everyone – Dave Thewlis, Amanda Plummer, Fairuza Balk – and everyone else involved – said, yes. Amazing actors, wonderful people, dedicated artists – all focused on making the best film possible. I still remember that night. It changed everything. 

So, anyhow, I recalculated the budget with a producer friend of mine, Andrew Schuth, and took this crazy film, with a great cast for an unheard-of tiny budget, to Irvin Kershner, who in turn, took it to Nu Image, where the mixture of names, genre and budget convinced them to finance a totally fucked-up film. 

Now Nu Image mostly made low budget exploitation films and ran a hard-core, no-nonsense business – and I was an ‘artist’ trying to project a ‘vision’. My relationship with them was, therefore, complicated, mostly my own arrogant and fearful fault – What I must say, though, is that Avi Lerner, Boaz Davison, John Thompson and the rest of the Nu Image team never messed with my cut of the film, and they deserve a lot of thanks and respect for allowing such a film to be made – for any budget. The fact it ended up being chosen for Cannes among many other major Film Festivals also kinda blew a lot of people’s minds at the company (mine included), and I like to think it was helpful to Nu Image, too. I certainly remain grateful. 

As for how I approached directing the film – I grew up watching a lot of great movies, but I often felt I learned more from the ‘bad’ ones, mostly because there were so many elements I imagined how I might personally ‘improve’ if I was to have a go. As time went by, however, I began to see these ‘faults’ less as negatives, and more as unique character traits of the filmmakers themselves. To this day, I still love Fulci, Deodato, Lenzi and countless other directors as much for their moments that don’t quite work, as anything wonderful thing they’ve also succeeded in pulling off – a quality I find missing in pictures so well groomed and pre- visualized that personality is often forfeited for technique and spectacle. I’m not for bumper stickers, but I like the one that goes: We admire people for their strengths, but connect with them though their weaknesses. 

Consequently, if I was directing a scene in Perfekt, and knew how to make it work by emulating a scene from another film, I consciously threw the concept out and started again, until I could find an unexpected element of risk in every shot and every scene. Theory was, that some of this was gonna work, while other scenes may fail – but if the value system was consistent, and all my choices were distinctly my own, I might at least create a unique and intriguing total atmosphere – possibly full of faults but distinctly a consistent vision – which was what I always enjoyed most about the films I loved and remembered. They didn’t need to be perfect, so much as Perfekt

In keeping with the major themes of chance and fate, some elements also had to be completely surprising, while other elements had to remain almost infuriatingly predictable. 

That was only fair – the yin to the yang. Sorry (but not really) if that bothered some people. 

In the past, their have also been some other question about Perfekt I can maybe answer. 

No, I have never read The Dice Man, and it never played a part in the creation of the script. 

Although Perfekt preceded No Country For Old Men (both book and film) by several years, I have no idea if the Coen’s, or Cormack McCarthy, ever saw it, or drew inspiration from it. You’d have to ask them. I like the Coen Brothers’ work, however, so whatever, more power to them. 

 

“American Perfekt” (1997) on set.

 

Throughout your career, you have worked in what seems to be every position available. From writing and directing, to editing both film and sound, and beyond. With that I am curious to know what is your favorite aspect of filmmaking? If you were forced for one reason or another to only do one gig for the remainder of your career, what would it be? 

God, I love it all. Recording sound, photographing, editing, production design, special effects, the music. Except for acting (I don’t like being in front of the camera). Every facet of the process has something glorious and fascinating to offer. And it still kinda surprises me that so many directors don’t have more of a general knowledge (or even interest) of overall film production. The more you know, the more tools and skills you use to realize your vision, the less mistakes, and the more choices, you can make. Each of these skills are also simply a means to an end – that end being the finished film – so my interests in all of these facets probably simply comes under the heading of direction. Directing is probably where I’ll spend more of the future. Writing can take forever, and I have too many scripts already sitting in a drawer doing nothing as it is. I’m also very open to directing other people’s scripts. Budget or genre isn’t a factor. Only originality. I recently created a production company, Lionhart Films, specifically designed to make unusual films. The first film I directed for the company, Nasty, stars Robert Forster, and was dedicated to Kershner. 

If you were given the opportunity, as well as an unlimited budget, to write and direct the biopic of any legendary figure from world history, who would it be?

Sorry, don’t have anyone legendary I’d want to make a biopic about. 

My personal interests are far more insignificant and peripheral. I am drawn, however, to making a film about NY indie director Andy Milligan. Now there’s a filmmaker who fascinates me – on so many levels – and I am proud to say I probably own one of the world’s largest collection of Andy Milligan films – including mint 16mm prints of Legacy of Horror, and The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!, a fact that will only impress about five people in the known universe, but still makes me giddy to think about. I imagine, however, the audience for such a pic would be pretty small. 

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers? 

Many new projects in development, or about to go into production. Too numerous to mention them all … 

A feature adaptation for Walter Mosley’s controversial novel Killing Johnny Fry produced by Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress) and Denise Grayson (The Social Network), an epic sci- fi TV series called The Fourth Kingdom produced by Vince Gerardis (Game of Thrones) and Todd Garner (Aquaman, Mortal Kombat), a paranoid political thriller set in 1930’s Paris cafe society called Fay White’s Book of Monsters exec produced by Matt Kennedy, a music documentary following David Bowie’s ex band as they cover and re-record classic Bowie track “Rock and Roll with Me”, and a short thriller I wrote and directed called Nasty, also produced with the great Denise Grayson through my new production company Lionhart Films starring Robert Forster, Lisa Pelikan, Aaron David Gleason and Lenny Von Dohlen. ‘Nasty’ is currently screening at festivals across the U.S. 

I also recently finished the scripts for Six Million Dollar Detective, a neo-noir detective story about a ageing detective who gets rebuilt by a bunch of low-end plastic surgeons, and thrown back onto the streets of Hollywood to finish off a case in spectacular fashion, and a giallo thriller called Clean Me about a late-night DJ who comes to the conclusion his new apartment is either haunted, or he’s sharing it with a cleanaholic madman who refuses to ever reveal themselves. 

The next studio feature film I develop, and will also direct, however, will most likely be The Flint Heart, a large budget, highly irreverent adult fantasy along the lines of Princess Bride from the book by Edon Philpot and Catherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia). 

And, of course, anyone out there with a new and interesting project they wanna run by me. I’m all ears and eyes … 

What was the last thing that made you smile? 

Well, that’s easy. Picking up my kid from school today – and watching them walk along the road towards my car. Oh, my God, you can’t beat that kinda love. Oh, and the 5k digital movie camera sitting on my work desk right now, complete with matte box, follow focus and a gorgeous set of prime lenses. Thrills me as much as the 16mm NPR I had sitting in my damp Sheffield apartment so many years ago when I was a student. Some things don’t change.

 

 

Being ever so kind as he is, Paul Chart was gracious enough to share a few photos from over the years from American Perfekt and Nasty, which were discussed in our interview. Please enjoy!

 

 American Perfkect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nasty

 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

One Response to Paul Chart [Interview]

  1. Pingback: Sunday Matinee: Nasty [Short Film] | TRAINWRECK'D SOCIETY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: