My Cultural Life: George Clark
Battle of the Bone director on cooking for Jackie Chan, adapting children's books and scaring the bejaysus out of us!
When did you fall in love with film?
I don't know exactly when I became interested in film. I do know that it was at a very young age. I see myself as a cartoonist by trade, but since leaving school I became keen to write both scripts and books. I've never learnt about filmmaking, been to any class or read any books on the subject - it's just been a passion, something I've always dreamt of doing. I became an avid collector of Asian cinema from about 12-years of age, and now with over 2,500 films in my collection, I've learnt all my methods of filmmaking from watching Jackie Chan and Co making theirs.
When DVD came out I was in heaven because I was able to see all those extra features, making-ofs and behind the scenes bits you can't see on video. This was when I started considering filmmaking as a career, it helped me think about a lot of things. I've always watched films with a technical eye - the angles, the filters, the edits, the choreography. I think the idea of being able to create something to entertain people is what appeals to me.
Now that you're a filmmaker, is it all it's cracked up to be?
I want to say yes and no... It is strange, but even after all we have achieved, we've still got to get some recognition from the 'right' people in NI. Yellow Fever Productions pulled off a pretty amazing debut [with Battle of the Bone] but have yet to be seen as a serious production team. I think that's because we opt to do things a little differently (due to my Asian influence of filmmaking), and my promise of giving inexperienced people with a passion for filmmaking a chance. Who else would gamble their debut film on a fresh, inexperienced team, with a plot line involving zombies and kung fu?
To have made one of the most talked about and covered movies ever made in NI, followed by a 2 week cinema run in which I was up against my hero (Jackie Chan) with Forbidden Kingdom and Kung Fu Panda - then to win the Audience Choice Award at the Freak Show Film Festival in Orlando (beating films from the makers of Saw and Blair Witch) and finish with a huge DVD launch in HMV, is quite over-whelming. It still hasn't hit me, and I don't think I want it to yet!
I'm still broke. We all still work for free, but we keep doing what we do because we love it. I think, unlike most other production companies, we ran before we could walk - which isn't a bad thing. I just hope it inspires others to get out there and follow their own dreams, as I did.
Why was Battle of the Bone so well received?
I think the reason BOTB got the attention it did was because it was so different. I wasn't afraid to make it different. People still relate to the Troubles too much when making films in Northern Ireland, and I wanted to make a film that took that theme and twisted it to a stage that was unheard of. I still say BOTB is the mother of all Troubles movies - it should have been the final nail in the coffin and put a stop to the annual release of movies from Northern Ireland that all relate to our dark days.
In the beginning, everyone thought BOTB was ridiculous. Even some people in my team thought it would never work. I got emails and calls from local people telling me how stupid it would be, and how the £10,000 budget should be spent. But I just ignored them because I wanted to prove a point. I remember my assistant director got a call from a local filmmaker telling him to get the rest of my crew and leave me because I would ruin their name if they ever wanted a career in filmmaking. Naturally, they didn't! By the time BOTB was released there had been that much press coverage people were beginning to sit up and take notice, almost accepting what we were doing.
I think it really hit me when we went to Orlando for the Freak Show Film Festival. One of my actors and production assistants, Graeme Livingstone, came with me. We arrived on the Thursday (our movie wasn't being shown until Sunday) and within 10 minutes were approached about distribution. By Friday lunch time, we were the most talked about film at the festival and there were a hell of a lot of good films there. The producers of Saw had their new flick in, one of the guys involved in The Blair Witch had a £2.5 million dollar film entered. As the festival moved on, I was amazed at how much attention BOTB was getting - and so far from home. It was incredible. Our film played to an almost packed house on Sunday morning, then later that afternoon we won the Audience Choice Award. I've still to believe it all happened...
If you could have made any film in history, what would it be?
I have quite a few films in mind, but I'm going to roll with Charlie Chaplins Modern Times simply for the chance to work with such a genius. Chaplin was a huge influence on Jackie Chan. I always say that Chaplin was the first American kung fu star. Chan, like Chaplin, also multi-tasks on his own movies - directing, producing, acting, choreography, editing, and even singing/composing the main songs. I don't think I'd do anything different because his films are usually just perfect, but if I was to name a movie with the option to make it better, I'd say any Uwe Boll film. I've never made it past the first 25 minutes of one as a viewer.
If you could have three directors (actors, or writers) round for dinner, who would they be and why?
Another hard question... there's just so many I want to meet. Obviously, Jackie Chan would be first on the list. He has been my inspiration as a filmmaker. I'm sticking with my heroes and going next with Chow Yun Fat. He is possibly the coolest actor on earth. There isn't one Chow Yun Fat movie I could say isn't entertaining, and even in his average Hollywood films he lights up the screen as soon as he comes on.
Then there is my all time favourite comedy actor (Stephen) Chow Sing Chi. The guy is a legend, and although he has only recently become known in the west, I have over 20 of his finest films in my collection and have been hurting myself laughing at him for years. He is also an amazing director and will hopefully not fall into the Hollywood trap like the others have.
If I had enough food, there would be a hell of a lot more...
If you could adapt any book to film, what would it be?
I would love to say some of my own childrens books, but the one I would most love to tackle is Jackie Chans auto-biography, I Am Jackie Chan. I read his book from beginning to end on a flight back from New York 10 years ago, and I was just gobsmacked. For me to bring that to the screen would be a dream come true.
What cultural events are you most looking forward to in the months ahead?
In the film world I am most looking forward to the return of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao collaborating once again after nearly 15 years. These guys, when on film together, rule the roost back in Asia. Unfortunately they fell out during the shoot of Dragons Forever - ironically the film that seperated them! But over the years they have worked in pairs with the whisper that they will return to the big screen together. Now there's a film I wouldn't mind being responsible for!
On the music scene we have just kicked off our new online show - LicX (www.myspace.com/licxbelfast) - which promotes music talent from Northern Ireland. It's a weekly show, with 20 episodes per season and we already have four seasons lined up. After each season we aim to put on a festival with the 20 bands involved, so I'm pretty excited about that. The first LicX festival should be in April 2009.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
I can't honestly remember any advice I've been given. I tend to give it more than I get it! I've always been head strong in making my own decisions and although I listen to other's views, I rely on my own judgements. So if I could change the question to 'what's the the best piece of advice I've given', I'd say - be yourself, believe in yourself and do what you really want to in life. It does work. The best quote I've ever heard, and one I've taken from Einstein himself is, 'Imagination is more important than knowledge'.
If you could write your own epitaph in no more than ten words, what would it be?
Here lies George Clarke... Dreamer, legend, and he's behind you!