The GenreOnline Interview – Writer And Director Gavin Hood
Gavin Hood is the Academy Award Winning Filmmaker of Tsotsi and his other film credits include Eye In the Sky, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender’s Game. His latest feature film, the riveting political thriller Official Secrets opens up theatrically in the U.S. and the U.K. on August 30, 2019. Mr. Hood was kind enough to grant me an interview regarding the film. If you have not seen the film or are unfamiliar with the story, hen there may be spoilers ahead. My spoiler free review can be read by clicking on the link here.
Gavin Hood) Hi Mark.
Mark Rivera) Hello Mr. Hood. May I call you Gavin?
Gavin Hood) Please. May I call you Mark?
Mark) Of course. I just like to ask who I interview for the first time what they prefer rather than assume.
Gavin) Fair enough. Absolutely. Please call me Gavin.
Mark) I watched Official Secrets and I must say it was very riveting. In the film, you intercut scenes from news reports in history as it was going on and I know this was based on a book so my first question is how do you adapt what is history into drama?
Gavin) That’s a great question. First of all thank you for pointing out the footage. You know you have your characters of George Bush, Tony Blair, Colin Powel, and the question arises, Should I cast them with Actors? So much of the story is really told as we all learned about as it occurred on TV and we watched George Bush and Colin Powel and I thought we could use the real broadcast footage and let them speak for themselves and once you do that you start gathering a ton of archive footage and then it becomes a question of How do we edit this in? So there is that side and there is the other side, which is just extensively interviewing the real people because this is the first film I have done where the characters are still very much alive. Although there was a book, it focused mostly on Katherine and I was referred to Journalist Martin Bright and he put me in touch with others and ultimately to Ben Emmerson, the Lawyer played by Ralph Fiennes, who is this formidable intellect and we spent many weeks just talking to these people who are very much alive and I wanted to make sure their story is accurately told.
It was interesting because when I made Eye In The Sky, although the research was very detailed, I was writing about fictional characters and in this case the people are very much alive and they are going to comment very much on whether they thought the movie was good or bad so you really need to make sure that you get the facts right because otherwise you are going to lose their support.
Mark) When you do use the news footage does it fall under fair use?
Gavin) We had to pay for it. So you buy according to which news organizations footage you want to use, make a deal to use the footage because the footage was shot by a particular photographer and the news organization and they own the rights to that footage.
Sometimes you find you want to use a clip of say, George Bush speaking and that particular footage is owned by NBC or CNN and you might find you make a better deal with one than the other, but you are essential getting the same thing or you like the angle of a particular camera better than another angle.
Mark) I found it interesting that Katherine Gun is someone I had never heard of and we all have heard a lot of names like Julianne Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and she predates all of these people, but why is it I never heard of her before seeing this movie?
Gavin) There is a woman called Reality Winner, that is her real name, and she is in jail now for releasing the information of the hacking of the 2016 election. She actually went to prison for five years.
Mark) We all know now that the news is like 90 percent owned by multi conglomerate corporations and I want to know from your point of view because you live in America and you are an international man, I mean did youu know about this person before this project?
Gavin) I think that’s a great question Mark. I didn’t know either. When I was approached by my Producer about her, I researched her and I thought to myself, Wow. Why don’t I know about the story? So I know exactly what you are saying and I agree with you one hundred percent, and on the one hand, you could get all conspiratorial about it or on the other hand here is what I really think happened. She leaked that memo and the Chileans, Mexicans, Bulgarians, Angolans, the smaller countries on the UN security council were so outraged that they refused to bring the Iraq situation to a vote in the UN. Meaning that Tony Blair and George Bush never got the UN authorization for war. What Bush did immediately was say, “We’re going in anyway.”
So for a day or two Katherine’s story was big news. Certainly in England and then it got crushed by a much bigger story that was what are we all watching? Troops and helicopters invading Iraq. At that moment, the public is interested in a war. These news organizations are not covering how we got into the war. Now all of what they are reporting on is the war. So in a way, a big story got crushed by a bigger story and it is only in retrospect, now that we know what a disaster that war was and how much we were lied to, you kind of go back and ask what actually happened here?
The other thing that crushed it was the Attorney General withdrawing the case. Then of course, the world moves on and other stories pop up and the story dies. Katherine is also quite shy. After all she had been through that year, she quietly needed to get over it all and withdraw. So just think about Katherine as opposed to Snowden or Julian Assange, who are much bigger political figures and continued to leak out the information and talk about it, Katherine released only this one memo. She was a young woman, an ordinary person going to work and came across this while doing her job and it really upset her and she ‘s leaked this one memo and then they turned her life upside down. Put her under a tremendous amount of stress and then they dropped the case. If she has one regret, it is that she didn’t get her day in court. She has said to me, “In some ways I was relieved they dropped the case, but what Ben and I really wanted was the trial so we could expose the truth and they took that away from us when they dropped the case.” In a way the film is an opportunity to say, “Wait a minute. This is what happened?”
Mark) Was GCHQ an independent contractor that worked for the British Ministry of Intelligence?
Gavin) No. It is a government agency that is the same as the NSA. It is not as sexy a name. NSA, the National Security Agency. Government Communications Headquarters. It’s so British to kind of call something so that it appears innocuous. GCHQ is exactly the same as the NSA. So there is two kinds of agencies. CIA and the British equivalent is MI-6 and they deal in human intelligence. They are on the ground talking to people. The NSA and GCHQ are the spies who listen in to conversations and so they are signals intelligence. NSA and GCHQ do the same thing. It’s just a much more boring name.
Mark) You have some fantastic talent in this film. I mean I don’t always know the names of the talent, but I recognize the faces.
Gavin) We were very lucky to get such great talent. Anything that might generate a conversation that is slightly political also has financiers worried. So you need to do everything you can to give them confidence that the film has a chance of being seen and part of how something has a chance of being seen is with Actors so we were very lucky when Kiera Knightly said yes and then with Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith. When Ray Fiennes said he can give us six days because he was directing his own movie, we shot everything with him in six days.
Mark) This is a great film and I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about it.
Gavin) I thank you for your interest in it because we live from film to film so thank you very much for your generous words.
Click here to read my theatrical review of Official Secrets.
© Copyright 2019 By Mark A. Rivera
All Rights Reserved.