You are setting up a new production company with your wife Yan called Above the Sea? Love the image (see related content), why the name?
My wife Yan and I have had ABOVE THE SEA for about eight years.
ABOVE THE SEA is the English translation for Shanghai.
Shanghai is the name of our oldest daughter.
When I heard the translation I just thought it sounded like a poem or something cool anyway and called the company that…
We produced LAKE OF FIRE, my documentary movie, about the issue of abortion in America… that was an ABOVE THE SEA movie…
It was theatrically released and nominated for an independent spirit award, a satellite award and shortlisted for an Oscar…
Then we made DANI CALIFORNIA a music video for THE RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS [50,000,000 + hits on YouTube, by far their most successful music video ever]. My concept was to bridge them as a hybrid Beatles/Rolling Stones – had them play and act out the history of rock music as many of the biggest acts of this era – utilizing each of the personalities of the band, as actors and musicians, and focusing their charisma…
and then we made the JOHNNY CASH’S GOD’S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN video which won a Grammy Award in 2007 [25,000,000 + hits on YouTube].
We kind of got blessed by Rick Rubin it was a good time…
Where will Above the Sea be based?
The company is based in Los Angeles, I have a post production department here and a recording studio…
We are developing movies and television things and web content also.
I’m doing the post production and scoring the music on my new movie called ATTACHMENT that I’m starting in September starring Sharon Stone and Tom Felton.
Will you still be represented by other production companies around the world?
The big thing for me is that I have been able to leave the commercials production company that has represented me for the last 10 years in America and it feels fantastic, like a new beginning, like I’m starting all over again, like I’m standing in my room in Dean Street like I did in 1986 and I looked out on Soho and thought fuck I have to succeed and I have to try and do cool shit and I have to try and make things better and I have to try and change things and I can not stop everyday until I drop and I’m writing this now like 25 years later at 2:14am in Los Angeles and I’m as wired and excited again about the British commercials scene as I was back then even though I have some movies now that I’ve made and I thought the commercials scene was done with me or I was done with it. But now I’m getting the flooding thoughts of going back there and being in being there cos it’s all there in Soho and London and everywhere in all the places, the dark rooms of flames and telecine and editing and shit.
I want to go back there and breathe it in all over again and take in there with me what I have learnt by working in America, all these life experiences – I think of work as some kind of a religion or something mental just like that! I think of work as if it’s a kind of soul mate living in the country of my brain.
I started making commercials in 1983, I think I made three commercials in three years or something and then a few more before that moment, then I had a kind of epiphany moment as I looked out of the window at the raggedy rooftops and grey clouds and smudges of white sky from my home and office in Soho and I saw the red flashing light on my answering machine I think i’d just been out for a walk or something, it was Jeff Stark’s voice, ” Hey Tony it’s Jeff here I’ve got something for you, a script!”
I looked at the machine and I looked out onto the street again and well, then everything changed… I mean like it really changed… See when you’ve made like eight commercials in five years you get a lot of free time! So for those five years I spent all of it all my free time at the cinema any fucking cinema but mostly at the National Film Theater on the South Bank. One after the other after the other after the other after the other movie I sat through, slept though, scratched my head through, hundreds and thousands of movies, it was kind of like my film school.
And with that phone call from Jeff and the willing and the budget that Paul Arden and Jeff got me from the sacred well of Charles and Maurice Saatchi – well I just fucking went to town and threw the lot at the screen and got the Intercity Relax commercial, you see everything that I had learned over the previous five years just ripped out of me… and also of course working with a budget of 250,000 pounds and that was back in 1987 and was one hell of a lot of money… and that was that! I was off to the races.
So my new company with my wife ABOVE THE SEA – well I want to stay independent. There are one or two companies that I’d like to have some kind of friendship with – but nothing formal – when I work with a British agency my wife and I would prefer to work directly with them – see that’s the best way for me to give the most.
I want to give, I want to be a big part in the British scene again I want to make a British movie soon I’m developing one actually [more about that another time].
Your latest feature film Detachment stars Adrian Brody as Henry Barthes, a teacher with a murky past who drifts between troubled inner-city schools. In an interview with Brody he talks about your method of on-the-fly spontaneous directing. How does this work?
I should talk a bit about my new movie DETACHMENT. I hope everyone goes to see it, it’s kind of like my new showreel, actually I stole that line from Ridley Scott he said that to me once about his recent movies being his new reel [I should just be so blessed to end up with a career like that – AMAZING!].
DETACHMENT is a tiny little indie flick I shot and edited two years ago. I’m very proud of the performances. I worked so hard on that aspect – working with Adrien Brody was an incredible experience [and my daughter Betty Kaye also!], Adrien protected me, he was a producer on the movie also – our dynamic set the tone for all the other actors – he really is one of the great New York actors. Actually I told Robert de Niro he was the new king, Adrien that is!
So yeah I don’t really wanna say anything more about movies here cos that’s not the vibe I wanna give I just wanna say that my heart is in a really good place, I wanna so badly make it happen in London this time, I wanna be a part of the D&AD community again, I wanna be a part of it all…
What are your greatest fears?
My greatest fears are not finding a cure for pain, suffering and death, not finding a cure for pain, suffering and death and not finding a cure for pain, suffering and death. Of course the chances of me finding it are beyond impossible really but really for the world not to find it! I’m scared they won’t find it in the next 40 years say! It can be found of course, IT CAN BE FOUND. Love beats death.
What advertising has impressed you recently?
I liked the Lurpak work that Weiden London did, GREAT! You see it’s great when you do really cool shit for a difficult product. That’s the real test you know. You know what I mean. Butter is not fashion. It’s not the media, it’s not a cause. I mean it tastes good but it’s not like ‘yeah I buy butter you know. Look in my fridge there’s butter’. You know what I’m saying. Like you won’t find anything butter-related on the walls of an art gallery. I don’t think so anyway. And then I saw that commercial and I thought cool and the sound track was genius, which of course is always where the real magic inhabits.
How important is it for you to shoot your own films? Do you use other cinematographers on commercials? What is your relationship with your camera?
I shoot everything myself, I love cameras, the way they look, what they do, I still remember looking out over Tiverton Road in Potters Bar which is where I lived as a kid and held my brand new Brownie 44a that my Auntie Shirley bought me. It was great. Beautiful grey plastic, a little black area, the little red Kodak word. Little did I know that Kodak would one day send me own fridge, for nothing! Fuji too! And now digital and a new regime, a new beginning.
Are you still singing?
Yeah I’m singing more than ever, although I have not performed live or recorded for a while. I’m hoping to write some songs for my new movie and maybe sing one or something. Tom Felton is gonna write some and sing a load also. I dropped a dustbin lid on my finger a few months back and could not play my guitar. I thought my career as a guitarist was over hahahah! But what it did was to focus me on my singing. I never hear any of the songs I write, just on guitar. I hear massive productions kind of, so yeah, this is still a craft I am chasing .
What are the key lessons you’ve learnt over the years from your extraordinary career?
Well I learnt that collaboration is key. However experienced you get, however much you learn, it’s always about working with a team of people. Each person focusing on the work and not on their own contribution. Steve Jobs stressed this also and how he in fact based everything on his studies of the Beatles and that paradigm. I have lived my whole life, to tell you the truth, based on that school. Paul McCartney, George Martin, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Brian Epstein and Jeff Emerick. Collaboration and of course a deep belief in yourself in the long road of challenges. And that restriction is the magic wand and not a deterrent. And that ego is hiding always trying to trip you up, the devil is always there.
Do you have a specific process for creating work – for instance does it start with sketches or words, or does an idea just arrive?
With me everything starts from painting, throwing paint around, drawing, writing words, scribbling, from within myself, from within, I paint what’s inside of me [much easier that to paint than reality!], I direct what’s inside of me, I shoot from my feelings, not emotions, feelings. Feelings being so important to me. Detachment is not for intellectuals or for emotional types but for those who feel. Feel deeply with absolutely NO CYNICISM.
Photo credit: Armando Estrada
Photo credit: Armando Estrada