Cinemaisseur chats with award-winning Director and Fat Punk Productions Founder
PHOTO CREDIT: DIRECTOR ROBERT DAVID DUNCAN
Director Robert David Duncan is an actor, director, writer and producer who has made over 30 films, receiving over 100 official selections in festivals around the world and winning several awards. He is also an acting, filmmaking teacher, coach and has written books on acting and filmmaking. He recently completed the feature “It’s About Love” which is now heading into its festival run.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN ENTERTAINMENT AND DIRECTING?
I began acting over ten years ago when I first went to the Stella Adler Studio in New York to study. That was a great experience, as was studying with other great NY-based instructors like Roger H. Simon. My first break was getting cast in an indie feature right after getting back to Vancouver. After enjoying acting for many years, I made the move into directing and filmmaking a few years ago, and have since made many films, ranging from micro-shorts to feature length. I now also teach and coach people on acting, directing and filmmaking.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE THE ROLE OF A DIRECTOR?
I love directing. For me, a director is a chief encourager, vision communicator and safe-space creator. Because I was an actor first, I know that actors all come from different traditions and ways of working, and that generally, the more you let them work without interference, the better the product will be. I normally do my own casting, and have been fortunate to work with the same actors over and over, so I know what to expect. One thing I like to do is to work with the actors as extensively as possible before the shoot, beginning with the casting meetings, the table readings and other exchanges so that we have a clear vision of who the character is, and what the story needs. In this sense, a lot of the directing can be done before the shoot. On set, it is more like conducting an orchestra, where everyone is expert at their own instrument, and my role is to make sure everything is mixing together well to best serve the story. Everyone knows I try for a 3-take maximum, so we all focus in and make our days comfortably. I also work closely with the cinematographer in order to create a zone of safety and calm on set, so people aren’t being distracted, and they can feel safe to play and enjoy the work.
OF THE PROJECTS YOU’VE WORKED ON TO DATE, COULD YOU PLEASE TELL US WHICH PROJECTS WERE HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOU?
This has been a particularly great year, because our feature “It’s About Love” that I wrote and directed was completed and has begun its journey out into festivals. Also this year, Ross Munro‘s feature “A Legacy of Whining,” which I co-starred in, premiered and has gone into distribution. I also was one of the directors on the feature film “Breathe Easy” which was a record-setting global collaborative film effort, which was an amazing process to be a part of. It was a year of features for me, both as a director and an actor!
IF YOU COULD HAVE DIRECTED ONE MOVIE FROM ANY MOVIE IN CINEMA HISTORY, WHAT FILM WOULD YOU LOVE TO TACKLE?
Definitely “The Godfather: Part II.”; It’s a beautiful movie on so many levels.
COULD YOU NAME SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE ACTORS AND ACTRESSES OF ALL TIME, AND WHY THEY INSPIRE YOU?
Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Marisa Tomei and Sally Hawkins come to mind. They all seem to have something magically compelling going on inside them that makes their work very watchable.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE FILMS OF ALL TIME AND WHY?
The Godfather: Part II” for the story, the acting and the cinematography, “Apocalypse Now” for the amazing vision, “Moonstruck” for the rich cinematography and performances and “When Harry Met Sally” for its very human-scale comedy and drama.
IF SOMEONE WAS GOING TO MAKE YOUR LIFE INTO A MOVIE, WHO WOULD PLAY YOU?
How about Mickey Rourke? I would pay to see that!
IN THIS INDUSTRY, POPULARITY CAN BE IMPORTANT, BUT ALSO FICKLE – SO FAR WHAT ARE YOU EXPERIENCES SO FAR WITH THIS?
I think I am very lucky in that I don’t crave fame. I like having fun and making art. If the art moves someone, inspires them, makes them smile, then I’m happy. But honestly, I’d make my art anyway because I enjoy the process and the exploration. I’m not motivated to be famous, maybe because I’ve already done plenty of cool things in my life, and I feel very fortunate, lucky in love and in life.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE IN CINEMA GOING FORWARD IN YOUR CAREER?
Someday, I would love to make a very richly-coloured film that beautifully tells an uplifting, inspiring story. Something like a “Moonstruck” or an “Amelie.” I also have a big weakness for rom-coms like “When Harry Met Sally.” Classic, human-scale stories.
DO YOU ENJOY INTERNATIONAL FILMS, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITES?
I love international films, and try to see them whenever I can. I really like films by Mike Leigh and Aki Kaurismaki for example. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” by Taika Waititi from New Zealand was another film I really enjoyed. We are lucky in Vancouver because we have a number of festivals that focus on Asian films, South African films, Turkish films, you name it. It is a great city for world cinema. I also run my own festival for one-minute films called the Miniature Film Festival, and we regularly get submissions from over 40 different countries! l also enjoy the fact that many of the official selections in festivals I have received for my films have been all over the world, not just in North America. I think cinema is a wonderful global bridge-builder and community-creator.
WHO IS THE DREAM DIRECTOR YOU’D LIKE TO WORK WITH ONE DAY?
I would love to work with Mike Leigh, just to see his process of working with the actors and shaping the final product.
ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON ANY PROJECTS?
For sure. I have another film, “Fat Punk,” in post-production now and am developing a few new projects also. I like trying to have a balanced pipeline of projects at various stages of development so that there is always something on the horizon.
CAN YOU IDENTIFY WHAT YOU FEEL ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
I have been told that I am a good team-builder and collaborator who creates a positive environment on set. Also I know from myself that I have a strong bias for getting things done as opposed to waiting and that can be both a strength and a potential weakness. I like to work fast and finish things, even if they are not perfect. Finished beats perfect in my book, and that could be both a strength or a weakness!
DO YOU FEEL THAT ANYTHING IS MISSING FROM THE FILM AND TV INDUSTRY TODAY?
Maybe this exists somewhere, but I would really like to see a kind of open TV channel where independent filmmakers could get their stuff slotted for programming for free, non-exclusively, similar to a public-access TV model. It would be great to reach some kind of audience with our products, even if it was just, say, one-time at 3am. Kind of a “broadcaster of last resort.” You could make it challenging to apply so that the channel wouldn’t get totally overwhelmed. Knowing there was some sort of guaranteed viewership would allow new filmmakers to work backward from that to build a more compelling business case for their films, and attract more funders. There would still be a ton of upside distribution potential to aim for, but having a floor there would help too.
COULD YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR?
I see myself as a creative explorer. Filmmaking is the latest in a series of adventures and careers I have enjoyed. I could see doing other forms of art and other adventures someday. I may always make films and act because they are things that I enjoy doing and know how to do, but I am also being drawn to other modes of expression and mixed, experimental forms of art. Onward!
You can visit Director Robert David Duncan's Website here .
(Interview courtesy of Cinemaisseur)
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Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.