Hugo Blick is the writer, director and producer of The Honorable Woman now airing in France.
ILTVSW was lucky enough to talk with the British artist about jumping from comedy to thriller, keeping the integrity of the story with a pulse of electricity and Caravaggio.
ILTVSW. The Honorable Woman is a thriller. It is a masculine genre but you went for women heroes, was it a difficult challenge ?
Hugo Blick. Traditionally thriller genre is dominated by a masculine hero and in order to succeed in which ever goal he is been given in the story he must battle all the opposition and triumph at the end like a traditional greek hero. So it was really interesting to bring a female perspective to the thriller genre because the way the female characters solve the obstacles that they have to face was very different. That provided nuance to the story and I think it helped the argument to be made.
ILTVSW. You have created incredibly powerful female characters … Writing women was it something new for you ?
Hugo Blick. At some point in the past I have written a number of comedies for women. One is just being remade now in the US by Kim Cattrall Sensitive Skin. So I have written for the female voice in the past. And then I made a piece called The Shadow Line that has a very noirish style to it and was very dominated by masculine voices. With The Honorable Woman I was keen to marry the two experiences that I had had. One with writing for women and the other writing thriller genre. It provided an opportunity to do that.
It is all about the story and the idea
ILTVSW. Most of the time A-list writers are specialized in a genre, how do you deal with jumping from comedy to thriller?
Hugo Blick. That journey has been unusual and it’s been remarquable in my country but it really is the thing by which I am becoming interesting in. I write, direct and produce so it takes me up to three years to achieve a big project like The Honorable Woman. So it is all about the story and the idea. And if the idea is best expressed through comedy, it must be comedy because I found it the most useful tool. The issues surrounding Palestine and Israel probably could be dealt with by a comedy in some way I am sure but for me it definitely needed a drama for its structure and that’s why I went for it because it was the most efficient voice for the argument.
ILTVSW. You said that the writing part of your job was the hardest one, do you believe in learning it as a craft ?
Hugo Blick. When I started out, I had the instinct of comedy and because I had it, it gave me the opportunity to learn the craft of filmmaking. So as I grew in confidence my ability to tackle the bigger subjects that The Honorable Woman perhaps explores came with that maturity. So yes, I think you do have an opportunity to learn your craft as you go through your journey.
ILTVSW. The Honorable Woman is a very complex piece of storytelling, how do you manage not to get lost during the writing ?
Hugo Blick. I spend about four or five months thinking about the story and then I have a large white board which I nail to the wall of my office and I write down almost like it is a scientific formula the scandal that has caused the story to exist. Often scandals when they start are very simple. It is the attempt to cover up the scandal which makes the complexity. By the time I get to the cover up of the scandal is where my story begins and that is where the scripts go through and then my scripts go back through time and get to the head of the scandal and they do it by the exploration that the characters need to pursue. That’s how I find my way through the script. It is quite a complex system.
ILTVSW. Isolation seems to be a very important element in your writing …
Hugo Blick. Yes I am intrigued by that. Particularly in The Honorable Woman but it was present in The Shadow Line as well. Nessa Stein is really in shock in the first half of her story and she is completely isolated despite the world that surrounds her and its opulence. But she is in shock because of the things that happened to her in her past and then eventually half way through the show we return to her past and see what it is. So we see both mental isolation and physical isolation. That’s where I think the most intriguing exploration of characters can exist. And I think it assists me in the personification of the big story, the big issues that surround our characters are drilled into only through them. And that’s why I do it.
ILTVSW. The show has eight episodes, why did you go for this specific length ? How did you know it was the right number?
Hugo Blick. I didn’t actually. BBC was very generous and they said it could be more than six episodes and less than ten. It just came in at eight. I think it was a good length and I might look to pursue an eight parts structure in the futur. True Detective was eight parts as well. I think eight is a nice one.
On the floor, I have amnesia
ILTVSW. During the writing process do you think about the directing ?
Hugo Blick. No, I don’t. It is just about the story. However I know that by the time I put pens and paper I have already thought about the scenes and it won’t be a blueprint to myself. I kind of only work out what it is I will be wanting to shoot. So the writing is not an exploration of the shooting, I explore the idea before I write it down and than the writing down is the bit that the director will pick up.
ILTVSW. Being the writer and the director of all the episodes do you sometimes are in conflict with yourself ?
Hugo Blick. Definitely. On the floor, I have amnesia. I have forgotten the details of the script. What I know in my soul on every scene is what I said before, the pulse of electricity. One pulse of electricity travels through the all story no matter where it is and if it isn’t there a scene shouldn’t be there. The scene is only a system to travel this pulse of electricity from one side of it to the other. I don’t mind how it has traveled through performance, design, lighting … If all of that is helping then I am happy. Sometimes when I ear two actors expressing something I go : « That sounds great ! » and think it is improvised. It turns out that in fact it has been previously written and that they learned their lines and being brillant actors they appear to make it seem just as if they just thought of it.
ILTVSW. What kind of director are you ? How do you work on your set ?
Hugo Blick. I don’t rehearse at all. So I meet with the significant performers that hope to play any role and usually what I would do is just spend time with them. I see the way which they kind of function and I am thinking will that relate to the character ? If I see there will be a mariage there usually what happens is that on the set I leave the actors alone as much as possible so that they can find the rhythm of their characters for themselves. I feel that unlike wearing a character if the actors can come as close to themselves that they possibly could be on set, in fact what happens is they sort of become translucid and the character springs through them. That is a very interesting thing to witness. So what I do on set is to hopefully create an environment of complete confidence and security for the actors and their performances so that they have that confidence to pursue it. I think that shows on the screen.
ILTVSW. How do you manage to create confidence ?
Hugo Blick. By letting them be. By not always interrupting what they are trying to explore. I think they should do what best express is the character need within a scene. As long as that need is the same that has been written so there is like a pulse of electricity that passes through a scene, and that is the sort of argument of the scene, as long as that remains the same as the script, how it is expressed can change. And the actor needs to feel that liberation and I am there to protect that pulse of electricity and to encourage the actor to tell the truth.
ILTVSW. The show is beautifully shot, how did you work it out ?
Hugo Blick. I don’t do a lot of preparation. I don’t plot out or storyboard or anything. I don’t much care to move the camera too much. I think that people in space are extremely interesting as they move through space so choosing the angle so we can witness that movement is the paramount interest to me. Why get in the way of it if the performance is really fluid and the angle to witness is really strong ? So I don’t like to intervene too much. And it gives it a certain look and a certain stability I think which I certainly enjoy.
ILTVSW. Can you tell us about your methodology ?
Hugo Blick. In a certain time in a filmaker’s life you reach a maturity of filmmaking where you kind of aren’t influenced consciously by anybody other than the story you wan’t to tell. I think I have reached that point with The Honorable Woman. However as a method of work I might start working with the composer who makes the soundtrack. I think less is much much more. Sometimes it has twelve notes and I say I will have six. For me a Bach piano aria is probably the most perfect piece of music you can ever ear because it evokes so much actually using so little. So as much as possible I like to be essential not guided with extra information. So I hope that what gives it a certain kind of beauty because I am trying to strip out what isn’t necessary.
I consider myself a filmmaker in a way that someone else might consider himself a painter
ILTVSW. The photography is very sophisticated and singular how did you come up with it ?
Hugo Blick. I believe that a frame that have darkness shows the humans where to focus, where to think. It also gives a sense of fear into a scene even if is the acting and the script aren’t directly suggesting it. To give you an influence definitely Caravaggio is one of them.
ILTVSW. You write, direct and produce, is it the only way to preserve your vision as an artist ?
Hugo Blick. Yes. I consider myself a filmmaker in a way that someone else might consider himself a painter. I just do one painting every few years. So it is more a very deeply personal relationship with the craft and medium of filmmaking that I do as opposed to the desire just to make films. I have the desire to tell a specific story which haunts me for the three years of its construction and then I have to go find another story I need to make deeply individual to me.
ILTVSW. How do you get the feedback that is so precious in the creative process?
Hugo Blick. You tell your collaborators what the show is and what it is not. During the editing of the show I have a lot of feedback from all the investors, producers and executive producers that are really valuable and I love to ear them. They are incorporated because everybody is trying to make the same story. Problems emerge when everybody pretends they are making the same story but in fact they are trying to make something else. There is a lot of preparation in preproduction so that everybody who is invested in this piece of filmmaking is invested in the same story. And then it is going to be great as a collaboration.
ILTVSW. Finding a new story after such an intense and long ride must be difficult ?
Hugo Blick. I have find a new story that I am really keen to get on with. The thing that I have find unusual with The Honorable Woman is it has been an international story that on the other hand I find myself distracted by the long tale of the show. But it is a good place to be, I am not really complaining. The new story you build it up. It is a itch that just can’t be easily scratched. It is a story that has to be told. So I have to tell the next story. I am in pursuit of what that is and next week I go off to Rwanda and start to do the research on it. I kind of know what it is and look forward to starting line.
Titre : The Honorable Woman (2014)
Creator : Hugo Blick
Cast : Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stephen Rea, Andrew Buchan, Lubna Azabal, Janet McTeer.
Networks : BBC 2 & Sundance TV, Canal Plus (France)
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Next week in ILTVSW … The French version of the interview.