A Chat With Director
The British filmmaker on the production
with The Man Repeller and why trust trumps
hierarchy on set.
London-based filmmaker Danny Sangra is what you might call a jack-of-all-trades. A keen drawer from early childhood, spending a significant amount of time at his mother’s hair salon in Leeds where he would redesign the covers of her magazines, he later added illustration and photography to his interests. It wasn’t until 2007 that Danny began delving into filmmaking: when a friend published a new album, he spontaneously decided to shoot a video to accompany the release. Fast-forward a few years and Danny’s portfolio now includes music greats like A$AP Rocky and Lianne La Havas as well as couture houses from Miu Miu to Mulberry.
Most of all, he excels at scenting out stories and creating situations on set that allow his protagonists to loosen up, leading to natural and light-hearted shorts like his new work with Leandra Medine aka The Man Repeller for the new Mercedes-Benz Fashion Creatives video series.
The day after we wrap the shoot, I meet up with Danny for an interview – and burgers – at the Wythe Hotel, a definite must.
Let’s start with yesterday’s production. How was it from your perspective, and how do you feel today?
It ran so smoothly, although my part isn’t over yet. But Leandra was very concise with her answers, and she’s very articulate. Sometimes when you’re interviewing people the interview partners don’t necessarily believe in what they’re saying, or have the knowledge to back it up. It forces you to dumb down the questions. In this case we were having a conversation. In doing that we had a decent amount of answers and could move on quickly.
Any funny or challenging moments you’d like to share?
Knowing that Leandra is extremely well read was a little daunting. And the first location was a bookstore. You know that expression “choose your battle ground”? I would say that’s her domain. She was picking out all of these books and asking if I’d read this or that, and sometimes I was just like “uhm…”.
What was good is that I had an assistant during the interview, because it’s hard to interview someone and listen to what they’re saying while simultaneously thinking about having to shoot this or that.
How would you describe your creative approach and directing style?
I like to work with small crews and with people that I could be friends with, if we aren’t friends already. My set is quite a friendly environment with no real hierarchy. When things need to be changed I’ll say it, but if things are going well I won’t add an opinion for the sake of adding an opinion. I don’t know if “relaxed” is the right word for my approach because I still know what I’m doing, but it’s not a high-intensity environment. I trust the people I work with.
Humour plays a big part in your work as well. There’s always a funny moment and behind-the-scenes insight.
I feel like the characters are all really aware of themselves, like in a meta-fiction. They know they’re being filmed, even when the story doesn’t say they’re being filmed. And I’ll obviously write things that I think are funny, though I don’t think of myself as a comedy writer.
Could you imagine working on feature films in the future?
Yes, making feature films is what I want to do. But I want to make sure that what I make is as much mine as possible. I don’t want to be the kind of director who uses someone else’s script for the first film. And there’s one script that’s currently in the works.
You’re currently working on a lot of shorts, many of them are made for the internet. What impact does the medium have on the process and final film?
For my independent short films I have to shoot on a low budget, but if you have good ideas you’ll find a way. You definitely need people you can rely on and who believe in what you’re doing. The first project is the trickiest, because you haven’t yet done anything that people can believe in. I imagine that stays throughout what you do until you hit Scorsese level. And so having the internet allows direct access to an audience that is willing to watch three or five minutes of a short film. Five minutes for a short film is the internet’s version of “Apocalypse Now” though.
Are there any filmmakers that you admire?
My main influences are Jean-Luc Godard and Woody Allen. But my favourites are: Kurosawa (though I’d never make a film like him) and Scorsese. I’ve heard stories about him from friends who have worked with him – I can dream to be at that level, that smart and how he is with his actors.
And John Cassavetes is the one I admire most as far as his approach to filmmaking. He would make things with nothing, no money, just his friends. Instead of trying to get distribution he’d hire the cinemas and sell tickets – that’s truly independent film. How can you not admire that?