In my on-going series bringing attention to film directors who don’t simply sit comfortably behind monitors, nursing cups of Starbucks, but who jump into the filmmaking process with a camera on their shoulders, getting dirt under their fingernails like the rest of the crew, this week I want to pay homage to UK filmmaker Mike Figgis.
Mike Figgis had been a musician and performance artist before ultimately becoming a writer-director of crime noir films Stormy Monday and Internal Affairs. At first he was welcomed to Hollywood and given carte blanche. After that, however, he started to suffer from more and more corporate and committee interference.
As a last-ditch effort, he turned to Leaving Las Vegas, a little known novel about a man who drinks himself to death by real-life alcoholic John O’Brien. Figgis wrote a spare 63 page screenplay, Nicolas Cage leaped at the part for a fraction of his fee, and the film was made for $3 million, shooting on Super-16mm. Everything about this project was the opposite to how Hollywood works. Cage won the Academy Award for Best Actor and I feel the film was slighted and should have won Best Picture. In dead, the L.A. Film Critics did name Leaving Las Vegas as their Best Picture of 1995.
Here is behind-the-scenes footage of Figgis making Leaving Las Vegas. Filmed with a bare-bones crew and two Super-16mm cameras. Figgis operated the B-camera, using his own personal Aaton Super-16 camera.
In later years Figgis has continued his independent streak, entering the Digital Revolution with Timecode, an experimental film where four hand held DV cameras told an ensemble cast story in real time and no edits. Instead, the screen is broken into quarters and your eyes alternately wander from one screen and on story to another. Quite bold and extraordinary that they shot this film without ever getting into each other’s shots!
Figgis has no interest in following in other people’s shoes, either by story or execution. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a miss. But he is always original and searching for something new. That’s what makes him stand out as a true artist.