Interview with Dominic Burns
February 3, 2012
As the Britiish comedy How to Stop Being a Loser is released in the UK on DVD next Monday, February 6th, we caught up with the film’s director, Dominic Burns. WhatDVD.Net’s Gill Critchley spoke with Dominic about the film, the cast, and about his own experiences with dating.
Gill: Just wanted to say I watched the film last night and it was absolutely hilarious, it’s a really really brilliant film.
Dominic: Thank you very much Gill.
Gill: You’re welcome. Just wanted to ask what was it like directing yourself in your movie because I know you starred in it for a bit?
Dominic: I have always found it quiet tricky directing myself. I always say I try not to give myself any big roles, have more of a small fun role.
I was aware that as long as we were kind of having fun and a lot of the material was improvised and as long as we were in flow of it we would get away with it. But genuinely speaking it is difficult, I wouldn’t ever consider putting myself in any leading role and directing myself. So yes it’s quiet tricky.Theres no partial technique that I use, and also I just lean on the team around me and just make sure everyone else is feeling it as well. It’s always a collaboration with it being an independent film.
So yes as long as I was feeling it and everybody else was feeling it, we just went along with it and sort of went with it.
Gill: It really comes across that everyone seems to get along really well, so quiet a close knit team.
Dominic: I mean independent films are always really, really difficult but we did really have some fun on that one, it was great. It was good fun.
Gill: So was it purely because you got on so well with everybody that made you want to sort of be in it as well as sort of direct as well, you know get involved with that fun atmosphere?
Dominic: Well it’s funny really because I started out as an actor, and acting is always what I wanted to do. So I think when it came to, weirdly, I got in to directing and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to, so I’ve always liked to keep the acting up. Also I’ve done bigger parts in other stuff as well. And it’s fun to work with other directors and learn from other directors, be on other sets and see how they come on.
So I always try and keep the acting sharp and it’s like anything, you keep practicing and keep learning and so I do try and give myself something in the films a bit. So it was just a case of in Loser it was just a fun part and obviously the biggest attraction to me was the opportunity to work with Martin Constant who you know, I’m a huge fan of his, I’ve just seen The Disappearance of Alice Creed just before we did the movie, so I was actually quite star struck when I first met him.
We got on like a house on fire, you know.
Gill: Oh yes, fantastic. What would you say was your favourite part of the movie, have you got any bits that you like watching more than others?
Dominic: I mean with Simon Phillips, he plays the physiatrist, I really like the scenes between him and James; you know it’s really good fun. Every time we cut back to that bit in the film, it always makes me smile, and also the Richard E Grant scene. I love it; I mean he was just a joy to work with.
But also the Adele Silver scene in the shop, when she plays a character called Charlotte and James attempts to chat her up, but it was her time of the month!
Gill: Yes (laughs)
Dominic: That always makes me chuckle. It’s fun you know because when we were screening it was really interesting to see which jokes and which moments went down best with a live audience
Gill: Yes that’s right
Dominic: Yes, some of the scenes really did bring the house down; it’s just such a good scene in that one. But in terms of the economical film, the whole film was really good fun, there was a great vibe, everybody got along really well, which is not always the case in these kind of movies. Yes the whole film was good fun there was no part of any shoot where I didn’t enjoy it.
Gill: Yes because I was going to ask, was there any funny or difficult moments when you had to adapt the directing?
Dominic: Definitely, we had a very tight budget on How to Stop Being a Loser and at that point it was very, very difficult. For example, on Sheridan Smith’s scene we literally got into the location 5 minutes before showing her it. Trish the producer just literally found the location, she was like right ok I’ve found it, so we could get to the location and shoot within 2-3 hours, so it’s very difficult working like that. Very little prep, and you have to think on your feet the whole time, often have to adapt or tweak the script. So yes it was very challenging.
I think anything with a tight budget is always going to be very tough. But the bottom line is everyone on the shoot had a great attitude, everybody was there because we love what we do at the end of the day and certainly everyone wasn’t there just for the money and that was what nice about the actors that we bought in as well because we had such a low budget we weren’t paying anybody a fortune, so everybody from Richard E Grant to supporting artists, everybody was there because they believed in the project and had a passion for it and that made it a really great atmosphere to work in.
Gill: Do you think the fact that it was sort of some things were spur of the moment that makes it more natural for them to come together more naturally, do you think?
Dominic: I think it can do yes, I think Loser has its faults and I think it’s aware of its faults. As a film maker, I mean me personally, I think as a film director I’ve grown hugely you know. The last project I did was a sci-fi movie, it couldn’t be more different to Loser but at the same time there is no way I would of been able to pull off that film if I hadn’t have had the experience of Loser, so the whole thing was a learning curve, so it definitely was a case of trial and error. A case of jump in with two feet and then try and make as much work as we can do.
Gill: Yes, yes
Dominic: and that’s what we all did, I do think there are definitely faults that can be picked without question but, at the end of the day, I think the nature of the shoot certainly contributed to the film absolutely.
Gill: Yes, Brilliant, So you were talking about future projects and things like that, I know you were in the film Airborne that was with Mark Hamill and Gemma and Simon are in that as well, so have you got a bit of a team together now do you think, with those actors, have you got any future plans to do any other movies?
Dominic: Yes, definitely. We’ve actually done two since loser, we did a film called Airborne with Mark Hamill. Gemma and Simon were in that as well, and we’ve also done UFO with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bianca Bree in, Sean Brosnan and Simon Phillips.
I often use the same cast members; if I click with them I very much enjoy directing performances. That’s my thing, so if I click with an actor and we get on well, and the work flows I will always want to work with them again. Obviously I enjoy meeting new people and expanding horizons and so on but Simon is so much fun and Gemma is like the least diva you’ll ever meet. She’s just an absolute scream. Gemma is so much fun, I literally can’t wait to work with her again to the point of when I look at projects now I will specifically look for a part for her because her attitude is just great, and the same with Simon. Also what helps is Simon and Gemma got on very well so you didn’t get any problems or bullshit, or you know any diva action behaviour, you know there’s just no room for it on an independent film.
The perception of film is so glamorous but it’s not, it’s tough, it’s cold, your standing out in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere snow, wind, rain. I mean don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining, and don’t want to come across otherwise.
Gill: Oh no, no.
Dominic: It is hard work, it genuinely is, and if you start getting actors or crew that start complaining or moaning, it does make the process so much more difficult. I always try and remind people that we don’t dig a hole for a living, it could be a lot tougher you know, it really could and we should be appreciative of what we do and Gemma has certainly got that attitude, there’s no wonder that she has been so successful and I really respect Gemma as well because she’s given up the modelling and a huge income, you know, so she can be taken seriously as an actress. And she’s a bloody good actress as well, and she’s got every chance of being taking very seriously.
Gill: Yes, brilliant thank you. What was it like working with people like Mark Hamill on Airborne? What was that like, was that different?
Dominic: Yes, well, Mark Hamill was an absolute joy to work with. I really do get on well with Mark, he invited me over to his house in L.A for dinner and he is literally one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked with, and for people who are fans of Star Wars and stuff like that he is exactly how you expect him to be.
He’s got amazing stories, he doesn’t mind sharing them or asking questions. He’s very good with fans, as you can imagine there is a steady seam of people wanting photographs, autographs and autographed posters. I mean he does it all, he has no problems whatsoever, there’s no looking down on his fans at all, he’s always happy, always happy to tell a story. The only problem was of course when we were on set Mark would start telling a story and everything would just stop dead, everybody, you could just hear a pin drop and everybody hanging off his words, so the fella in charge of keeping us on schedule was hurrying everyone up. The poor guy had a nightmare because of course every time Mark opened his mouth everyone just stopped and Mark’s a fabulous raconteur as he tells a great story. But yes it was a dream come true for me, you know I love Mark and the Star Wars movies, and what was quite eye opening for us was, when the word was spreading around that we were working with Mark Hamill, some people’s reactions, especially the younger generation, was oh my god you work with the guy who does the voice of the joker, they actually jumped to that before Luke Skywalker, which I found you know very unusual
They jump to knowing him out of a Batman film, didn’t know it was as popular as it is.
Gill: No, no I thought it would have been Star Wars for any sort of generation.
Dominic: It’s amazing to think that some people thought about the joker before Luke Skywalker, but he really is great. You meet all sorts in this game but Mark is the real deal, he’s such a lovely guy I can’t praise the guy enough.
Also he’s a really strong actor and I think he likes to pick stuff that will challenge him rather than, I think, he gets offered a lot of the same stuff, not to talk out of line but I think that’s the case and I think it was nice for Mark to do something a little bit different. I mean Airborne is a twilight zone movie, just tongue and cheek really and Mark’s brilliant in it you know, looking forward to getting it out there.
Gill: Yes, I can’t wait to see that one I was reading up on that one as well I think it sounds brilliant, really good.
Dominic: Let you guys judge it when it comes out!
Gill: I was going to ask you, do you find any differences as obviously How to Stop Being a Loser has been compared with Hitch, so do you find any differences with UK and US films, rom-coms or more action and horror films, are there any differences with making those?
Dominic: Yes absolutely.
I mean that’s a very interesting question. I think comedy is probably the hardest to portray as ironically How To Stop Being a Loser has gone down better in the states than it has over here, which is strange. It’s not actually out in the states but obviously it’s been taken to market and been filtered around and the reaction we’ve had in America has been really positive, they seem to get it which is often not the case.
I think in terms of money men for example, they’re always very nervous putting money into comedy because it’s so hard for it to translate. For example, if you think about it, I mean what a lot of people don’t realise is that when you make a film, when you make an English film, fingers crossed England is only a very small part of the marketing that the film will make. You sell the film to Japan and Australia, literally all over the world, then comedy is certainly the most difficult to roll out internationally.
I think that Hollywood find the same thing, like the way Die Hard would roll out internationally would be very different to say the way American Pie would roll out internationally. Just to take to extreme examples. So yes I do think there is a distinct difference between English and American films in terms of comedy, just because of the differences in sense of humour, although there is a project that I am sort of looking at at the moment. It’s kind of an American style programme but set in England. It’s something I’ve always felt is possible. I do think that How to Stop Being a Loser does have an American sense of humour but obviously on a very low budget.
I do think generally speaking, film is different. I’ve got a lot of friends in the states that have made films, but I haven’t directly so it’s difficult for me to compare them directly, but I would say it’s very different and America is very tight on unions, where as England isn’t on that kind of stuff, but I do think if you go anywhere in the world, raising money independently or within the system it’s very difficult, but I do think what is interesting about technology is advances in digital cameras etc.
What I think is really interesting about what’s happening is that it’s becoming more accessible to make a film for younger people, well not just younger people, people with less money to make a film. I mean things like, we’ve just done this film called UFO which is an alien invasion kind of thing in the UK, and the effects in that film are going to be remarkable but for us to be able to have access to these kind of effects at the kind of budget we would need 10x the budget we had to get anything close to those affects.
And I think what’s interesting, as film making generally becomes a little bit more accessible I think that’s positive. I mean film makers and people in the industry probably want that to be the case, because of course what that does is flood the market with people that want to make films. Personally I think that’s probably a positive thing because I think it gives talent the opportunity to rise to the top, as opposed to people that are connected or people that know somebody.
Gill: Of course
Dominic: All of our group that we work with have built from the ground up and nobody got a golden hand shake out of it, the people I work with.
Not that I am aware of anyway, and we’ve all had to work our way to wherever it is we are now and I think that it is a positive thing. Having been given the opportunity to meet people who are talented just to work and go to work just to show off what they have got to offer, rather than only people that can get themselves in a privileged place to make a movie in the first place
Gill: Yes, yes. Definitely I think it might even make them better actors because they have worked their way up.
Dominic: Absolutely yes, I think that’s definitely the case. The more experience you get on screen the better you’re going to be, I mean, my girlfriend at the moment is considering whether or not going to performing arts school or not, but the thing is all the actors and actresses I audition are trained to act on stage and they don’t realize the difference between acting on a camera and acting on a stage. That’s mainly just because they haven’t been given the opportunity to act on a camera before and don’t realize what it entails. They go on courses where they think they’re getting taught to act full stop, but don’t realize the huge difference between acting in front of camera to acting on stage and screen. So if they can get experience in small films or student films, any experience on camera, it will absolutely improve their skills.
Gill: I know it’s a bit of a change of pace and genre for you perhaps with How To Stop Being a Loser with doing films like Cut, a horror film in the past, so what made you take that sort of change in to rom-com type films?
Dominic: I suppose, well Cut, I am quiet passionate about that film. It’s a tiny film on a tiny budget and we did the whole thing in one single take, and the problem with Cut was the sound was buggered, you know. The sound was, we just didn’t have enough money so the sound didn’t work and it kind of got swallowed. I mean I loved the film very much but the film never done as well as it could have done, I think because of the sound. But in Cut there are a few jokes and it’s quiet a dark script, if you know me at all I do pretty much enjoy laughing more than anything else you know I don’t take much seriously.
Gill: Yes, yes
Dominic: I like to enjoy things and have laugh so it was never really a stretch for me to do a comedy and even in Airborne and UFO there were definitely, well hopefully, laugh out loud moments even in all the chaos. So I’ve always fancied doing a comedy and Simon actually loved the script, he was actually in love with the script. Being completely honest, I would have changed a few things to be honest. But yes I adored it and thought it had a lot of potential and I felt that we could make something of it so having read the script I said ok yes, I can do this and off we went. So it’s more the opportunity found me to be honest. I mean Simon and I will often throw each other scripts and when I’ve usually written anything the first draft will go to Simon, and Andy Thompson another guy I work with. We do try to kind of get each other opinions before we go forward with anything. I mean we’ve just finished Jack Falls which was quite a serious film, quite a tough shoot and we just fancied having a laugh! And we bloody did you know, really good fun.
Gill: Yes, yes I think that really comes across in the film, everyone got on really well and there’s a great sort of vibe to it as well. Just out of interest for me really, you were talking about Cut being done in one take. Was that in any way inspired by Rope, the Hitchcock film?
Dominic: Well do you know what, it’s funny you should say that because I’ve seen Rope, but seen it after I had seen Cut, and after making Cut. I think Rope is absolutely cracking. Really I mean Cut really came from, I struggle when I write to pass a lot of time, which I know is strange but in my writing everything I’ve written sort of takes place over a short period of time, and when I was writing Cut I got about a third the way in to the script and realized that the whole thing was taking place on one night just naturally.
So I thought ok, so let’s see if we can go all the way through the film with it being in one night and maybe we can do it in maybe a 24 style but in real time. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t think it had been done before, and I asked around and people told me I was insane and as soon as somebody tells me I can’t do something , it kind of makes me just want to do it.
Gill: (laughs) Yes.
Dominic: I mean I got told that about an alien invaders movie and here I am with a post-production of UFO, you know. But the idea with Cut was how cool could it be to be a part of the cast. As an audience member, just sort of right in there with the cast. So you know that at no point it’s going to cut to day time, and everything will be safe and you get that breath of air and everything rises and rises and you know because you can’t cut that you’re stuck in that picture for the whole time. I really got on board with that concept I thought that was a really cool idea. I noticed that I think Sun Dance this year has seen a one day horror that has come out and is getting quite a lot of attention. I was thinking oh god we done that 3 years ago!
Dominic: But erm I do think the idea is a good one. I think it particularly lends itself really nice to horror, I would say that the claustrophobic feeling that you can’t escape, and the more we built on the idea the more it worked. With UFO, a film we’ve just done, we done a seven minute steady shot without cutting in the middle of that at a supermarket riot, and there is no way we would have been able to pull that off without the experience of Cut. The whole sort of one take thing is something I really want to look back into, it’s something I don’t feel I’m done with yet, you know.
An actor that we work with called Joey Ansah, who is best known as the guy who fought Matt Damon in the Third Bourne Ultimatum in Morocco.
Gill: Oh right
Dominic: He’s becoming a big actor now he’s in UFO and got this idea for a huge one take fight scene, even though it’s been kind of done before, but Joey got some really good ideas about things so Joey and I are getting our heads together now for something a little bit special.
Gill: Oh right that sounds great, Have you got any influential directors that you look to, maybe draw on some of their ideas?
Dominic: You know, I’ve just got loads, I get asked this a lot and every time I give the answer I give a handful of different names. I mean the ones that immediately spring to mind, in terms of comedy, I’d say John Hughes, Tom Phillips he’s doing great work at the moment, in terms of directors generally I mean Michael Mann, Oliver Stone. I love Chris Nolan, Peter Anderson.
You know it’s really difficult with directors as there’s some amazing guys out there but I think often with directors. I’ve got this thing where I ask somebody what their favourite film is and then I ask them who directed it and 6 times out of 10 they have no idea!
Unless you’re specifically into film people don’t know directors or follow them, which is fine by me. I’m not particularly famous but I do think there are a lot of unsung heroes that even I couldn’t tell you the names of, you know.
I’m a big fan of 80’s films and I like a lot of the 80’s humour so maybe I draw on that quiet a lot. Shane Meadows is a great writer, others that do a lot of amazing work, so yeah there’s loads. But I’m a film nut; I’m always watching films so.
Gill: Ok thank you. Ok well a light question to finish with; I was going to ask you I know How to Stop Being a Loser going out 6th February, perfect Valentine’s Day movie to watch, Have you got any tips for the perfect Valentine’s Day?
Dominic: (laughs) you’re going to get me in trouble here. The perfect valentine’s, something un expected, I always like to try and surprise my girlfriend you know, always try to do something that she didn’t see coming and as required a little bit of effort that goes beyond just popping to the shop to buy her a box of chocolates, so something with thought and something with effort.
I always think as well if you make it something special that you guys know about, something you know your partner enjoys. I mean I’m no Romeo, but yes I will always try and do something like that, something that is special.
Gill: That sounds perfect, thank you and thank you for talking to me
Dominic: You’re very welcome