Interview with director Eric J Liddle

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

When I was growing up I always thought that music was going to be my preferred choice of artistic expression. I went through a lot of different bands and phases – and what made me realize that film was more suited to me was going through a David Lynch binge in my early teens. This was really where my film obsession really grew legs and just a few months later I was registering to study film at University.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Although I studied my Masters at a pretty young age, I don’t feel like this gives me an advantage to other young filmmakers. If anything, the most essential thing to be a successful filmmaker is to forget about “the rules” and create a work of art that is an unprecedented realization of your worldview. If anything – institutions like universities are too focused on teaching you “the rules” and trying to get you to adapt other filmmakers styles. Still, its good to know the rules in order to know how to break them!

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

It is definitely harder to keep going. Filmmaking is an expensive craft, and especially if you are making avantgarde/arthouse flicks that are pretty much guaranteed to make little profit. But of course, it is only financially difficult to keep going – if anything, the more films you make the bigger itch you have to make more. Its like an addiction. It becomes all you think about.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

I was so nervous going into this film as I was working with a crew and team that I would meet only for the first time in L.A. Sure, we had FaceTimed before hand but with them being German and me from the UK I had to learn how to make an immediate impression with people and understand how to get my point across on what I wanted with the film without being too direct and off-putting. When you know someone well you can be as mean to them as you want (not that directing is about being mean!) – but it was definitely a challenge to make an immediate connection with my team but by the end of the 4 week shoot in L.A they felt like my family. It was daunting but ended up being one of the most beautiful experiences – and you can really see in the film now (I hope) that we were having a blast whilst making this.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

So,  Sunshine Periphery had such a long pre-production – we spent months raising thousands of pounds to take our European crew to the USA. Ironically however, the largest part of our pre-production had to take place in the short 2 week period before our shoot began when we were in L.A. This lead to a lot of precarious situations. The day before our shoot me and the cinematographer Julian were driving around in a van in L.A all day in what honestly felt like a delicately co-ordinated heist. Our time constraints were so thin that it literally had our producer in tears from stress at one point. We had difficulty with insurance for our van and it delayed our start by about 3 hours, meaning that the rest of the day we were playing catch up. It also lead to me overpaying for our stopwatch prop by about $200 – which still gives me shivers to this day! I will also never forget heading to some random home in the LA hills at midnight to pick up an unwanted piano – only to wake up a few hours later and drive to Utah! Our bodies were pushed to the limits mentally and physically – this is what a lot of people never consider in filmmaking, you need to be prepared to go through hell and back!

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

The hardest artistic choices in Sunshine Periphery came in the edit. We were very focused in the States and knew exactly what we needed to shoot and how to shoot it. But the edit through up a lot of challenges, especially in how to keep the audience invested in what is a surreal journey, and I have to give props to my brother and editor Kaspar who really done an incredible job in helping guide me through the process and create something that is both unique and at the same time pays homage to classic surrealism as I had originally intended.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

So the core members of my team I have strong relationships with. I run a film house with the editor Kaspar in Glasgow and I went to film school with the DOP Julian. My relationship with the producer Valentina was built on FaceTime calls and most of the rest of the cast I either met in Los Angeles or for a weekend before hand in Berlin. It is important when making a film to be as kind, supportive and helpful as possible to everyone in your team. This is something I feel I excel as at a director, bringing people together and making them feel valued. My good friend Matt, who plays Grim in the film, I actually met whilst working in a kitchen in Glasgow – but he’s such a good presence and kind hearted and genuine person that I knew bringing him along, despite his lack of acting experience, would be beneficial for the entire team. But long story short: love and value your collaborators like they’re your family.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I could not care less what the audience wants. It sounds blunt and cold, but film for me is most interesting when a director gives you something that you have never seen portrayed before. In order for film to continue to evolve, we need to not worry about audience but instead worry about innovation and creativity. There will always be an audience – even for the most obscure films. Humans are all subconsciously similar – so even the most arthouse ideas will mean something to someone out there – if you make a film for an audience you begin to lose your authenticity as an artist. Was Van Gogh worried about who his paintings were for?

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

If it wasn’t for my last film, Mister Swolo’s, success on the film festival market – I don’t think an experienced producer like Valentina would have had the faith to back me on a project as ambitious as Sunshine Periphery. To an outsider, I understand how film festivals can seem similar and at times kind of like an award for the sake of it – but they are truly invaluable to keeping cinema alive. Could the general structure of the film festival circuit be improved? Of course, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth taking your film into market. To make the most out of them… I would say try and go to as many screenings as possible. Network. Create as big a buzz as possible from your selections. Get it out into the world that you’ve made a film that people want to see. It may sound egotistical but as a filmmaker starting out its pretty much essential to show people that you’re making work that is of interest to different cultures and people around the world. 

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I completely believe that all filmmakers, regardless of whether or not they are referencing a classic cinema style, should always aim to innovate and bring something new to the table – or as you put it be ‘fresh’. What really formed my taste in cinema and lead me to be more interested in the avant grade and the arthouse is the fact that unlike when watching more mainstream/Hollywood cinema, you don’t tend to see the same formulaic narrative time and time again. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of Hollywood films and have nothing against other people who do – but I also believe that variety is essential. Do I want to make the next edition of the marvel universe? Absolutely not. I’ll be in my own lane making films that likely will continue to divide opinion, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.