Fernando Meirelles is Brazil’s biggest filmmaker. A multiple award-winner for City of God, The Constant Gardener and Blindness, his new film 360 stars Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz and Jude Law. He talks to Tom Seymour about how he learnt his craft making 700 TV commercials...
There are eight different languages spoken in 360. Why is it important to you to make films with so many different cultures?
Maybe it’s not a motivation to write about different cultures and to shoot something in different countries. I think it’s a lack of motivation to talk about a specific problem in a specific country. If I was going to shoot something in Brazil, I would make local stories about the people and culture of Brazil. But when I work outside, I don’t have really strong ties with other cultures. So when I’m outside Brazil I see myself as a world citizen.
Do you identify yourself as a Brazilian filmmaker?
I love to be a Brazilian filmmaker and I can’t wait to shoot my next film there. I’ve worked in Brazilian television for the last eight years, because to make a film takes two years, and if it’s very successful, it will be seen by two million people in Brazil, and it won’t travel much. When I work in TV, the financing comes from the television studio, it’s much faster, and the show gets seen by 45 million people, so in Brazil I see myself more as a TV man.
Would you advise young directors to start out in commercials?
Commercials are the best school you can have – better than film school. You’re paid – and you can be paid a lot – to learn and to test things. When I was working on commercials, I made about 700 films over ten years. I worked with almost all the fine cinematographers, all the best actors, all the best production designers and art directors. You have to shoot two or three days, you have a great technician next to you, so you talk and you learn. I got those guys to teach me, and after ten years of working I managed to create my own team. That’s a team I still work with, and I think they’re the best in Brazil because I’ve tested them many times.
When you reflect on who you were as a director of commercials, and the director you are now, what has your experience taught you about the job?
I’m more relaxed today. I trust my instincts more, which may not be a good thing. I feel very confident on set. If you give me some lines and four actors and say: “You have to shoot this in five minutes,” I could do it. I feel comfortable with the grammar of storytelling.
What is the grammar of storytelling? Are there basic rules you feel a director should follow, as a writer does?
No, actually. It’s more of a sensibility. All I can do is put people together and try and get the best out of them. You must learn how to work with the image, with location, with light, with how you’re going to move the camera, where you will cut. You have to pay attention to the sound of a scene. This is before you worry about the actors and the way they will deliver their lines. There is no recipe; you need to be able to cook anything. If you’re good with images but you don’t know how to relate to an actor, you’re done.
What’s your advice to young directors?
I was still finishing school when four friends and I were hired to make 45-minute stories every week. I was shooting, cutting and creating ideas every week. We would jump in the car, drive through the city and find something. That was a very important time for me, and if you want to be in this business I really recommend doing filmmaking a lot. You have to shoot all the time, and test things all the time. You have to practice.
360 is out in cinemas today.
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