TIFF ’14: Deanne Foley on Talent Lab day 2

BLOG: The East Coast filmmaker shares her experiences on the second day of the TIFF Talent Lab, sharing insights gleaned from a day with filmmaker Mike Leigh.
Deanne Foley

Day two of the TIFF Talent Lab in the can and it’s everything that I’ve hoped it would be so far.

We are a diverse group of Canadian and international filmmakers given the privilege of diving deep into the creative process with renowned filmmakers and actors. And today, we had one of the masters of contemporary cinema.

Let me back up a bit…when we applied to the lab, we were asked to name a filmmaker who’s influenced our work. An overwhelming amount of us labbers named British filmmaker Mike Leigh and today, he sat in the same room with us and generously shared his remarkably measured creative process.  I wrote pages and pages of notes hanging on to his every word like an overly keen first year university student.

Within seconds, it became clear how deeply he feels that filmmaking is an act of discovery.  For him, the preparation puts the foundation in place to create conditions that allows him to embark on a journey to discover what the film is truly about. In the beginning, there is only a sense of the spirit of the film. During an intensive six-month rehearsal period, he collaborates closely with his actors to research, improvise and build characters that are three dimensional “like real people in the street.”

He does not produce a script or write dialogue for his actors ever but rather writes an outline where he organizes all the possibilities of discovery in a structured form – all informed by location, rehearsal with his actors – in order to turn the ordinary into extraordinary dramatic moments which I have seen in all of his films such as Naked, Happy Go Lucky, Vera Drake and Secrets & Lies to name a few.  It’s a challenge to condense his creative process in less than 500 words so I leave you with five quotes by Mr. Leigh:

-Always have a film in your head. It can change, grow, go sideways but it cannot be a fixed, concrete thing.  It must remain fluid.
-A common mistake for emerging filmmakers is ungrounded performances. The goal is to capture something that lives and not something that desperately pretends to be real.
-If a film doesn’t work it’s because there hasn’t been enough time allocated to the right things such as rehearsal and prep.
-Never compromise on what the film is about.
-Life inspires me.