Director Michael Driscoll’s Guidance on Overcoming Mental Challenges in Filmmaking
It’s the biggest test for any filmmaker. When you’ve hit a wall, or ran into severe writer’s block, what can you do? What are the tools needed to overcome such barriers?
British writer and director Michael Driscoll is mostly known for his work on Borgia, the Netflix Original period TV drama set in Rome during the renaissance. Parallel to filmmakers like Del Toro, Gondry and Edgar Wright, his body of work is edgy and dynamic. Driscoll’s ability to create stylish worlds for the screen is no easy task; “It takes years of experience, a dedication to maintain artistic vision and an ability to collaborate with others.”
A director to watch in 2018, Driscoll’s work is notably stylish, and will no doubt continue to gain recognition. His track record is impressive. From his 2017 silent noir, femme-fatale, Two Black Coffees to his current futuristic western The Perfect Orchid, then moving to 80’s nostalgic horror/thriller film Break In Break Out. He has no plans to stop making genre: “I’m working on a detective story set in early 1950s LA as well. That’ll be a real treat.”
Getting his start on Borgia, the internationally co-produced big-budget historical drama, Driscoll’s directorial career has spanned across vastly polarising TV and film productions. His cast enjoy the collaboration: “an obviously highly-talented and creative director,” according to Matt Di Angelo (from BBC’s Ordinary Lies), who played Bear in The Perfect Orchid. Marta Gastini (The Rite), who played the lead role in Two Black Coffees, mentions “I immediately appreciated working with him. Michael is not only a very careful and generous director, he is also very clear on what his objectives are, and at the same time very open to discussion with his actors.”
Michael Driscoll has repeatedly shown his appreciation for creative filmmaking, which is surely difficult to maintain. How has he managed to conceive artistic environments with original story content?
We spoke with Michael to hear his thoughts on overcoming creative barriers in the industry.
We often hear about the lack of original stories in the industry, that we’ve “seen it all before.” How do you stay engaged with that in mind?
The best filmmakers are always the ones who put themselves into their work — it could be large, clear parts of their personality, it could be something really subtle, a childhood memory, a personal nuance for a scene, or a bit of influence for a character. I’m mixed race, coming from two broadly different cultures, and I’ve been lucky to live and work in several countries, so I think I’ve got a life experience and a wide scope that I can bring to the table.
It’s not easy to stay completely original — there’s a lot of content out there being remade and recycled. I think the best stories are the ones that have a really strong powerful message. If a filmmaker has put in some underlying personal aspects into the story, it makes it even more satisfying to watch. I remember reading a Sam Mendes interview where he said ‘it’s not enough to just admire a script, you have to have a way in that’s yours and yours alone’. I think that’s what sets apart great directors from good ones, finding that personal feeling to add to the visual narrative.
What’s harder: getting started or being able to keep going?
That’s a good question. I think it depends on the type of project you’re working on. If I’m feeling really passionate about a specific idea, getting started is the easy part. Then I guess maintaining that drive and enthusiasm to keep developing the idea becomes more difficult. In general however, It’s probably the other way around. Sometimes you feel like when you’re developing a project, it can feel really daunting, and that can hold you back from really getting going. It’s important to not let anything challenge or dissuade you, and maybe use other ways to influence your ideas and methods into cracking the code, so to speak.
It all depends on the size and scale of the project. If you are conceiving a new world, something visually different from our own, you need to take so many things into consideration. What idea works in this environment, what doesn’t, what serves the story best? It’s all down to piecing together strands of logic, but the story has to be the key factor.
Most of the time though, I generally focus on prioritizing the ideas for projects that I’m really passionate about, stories that I really want to tell, as that will push me to get myself into a schedule!
When inspiration is waning, when you feel creatively sapped, what do you do? How do you stay fresh?
First of all, you’ve got to have an open mind. I keep involved in current trends. It’s obviously important to know what’s happening in the world. I read a lot, especially the news. Being so far from home, I like to keep on top of the European news! I watch a lot of tv shows and movies, when I’m not working I could watch a movie every night. With my background in the arts I love to go to museums. I have a close friend back in London who runs a gallery so I’m lucky to get invited to shows over there. You never know what you might stumble across that might give you a boost of inspiration, or open your mind up to something completely new. Anything could and should inspire.