THOUGH PERHAPS more immediately known as the son of renowned film director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity, My Beautiful Laundrette), Will Frears has made a name for himself in his own right as a stage director of great repute, both in the U.S. and his native U.K.
The gregarious young Englishman makes his first foray into film direction with All Saints Day, a 15-minute short about a man and a woman on the early morning after a late night of Halloween costume parties in the East Village.
We spoke to Frears last week.
What’s All Saints Day about?
Will Frears: A friend of mine who lives in the East Village told me a story. His birthday is All Saints Day, Nov. 1. He said his favorite thing to do on his birthday is he gets up very early in the morning, makes a big cup of coffee and sits out on his front stoop, watching all the people coming home from their late Halloween night out, still in costume.
So I came up with this story that’s very complicated and sort of took you across all of New York, ending up with this girl coming home from Halloween talking to a boy on the step. Then my friend, Brooke Berman, who ended up writing the thing, said, hey, what if we just leave it all on the stoop? And I though, oh, that’s clearly how you do it. And we were off to the races.
Do you think your skill set as a theatre director translates well to directing film, or is it a completely different animal entirely?
Will Frears: Complicatedly, both. You know, I didn’t grow up around or on film sets. I actually had a far less interesting childhood than that (laughs). If only it had been that exciting. So I have no idea whether my skill set translates or if I even have a skill set (laughs).
When I was doing all those plays I always had in mind that in my ideal world I’d get the opportunity to work in both mediums. Some stories work as films and some stories work as plays. The job of directing is as a storyteller looking for a medium that supports the story you want to tell. The content has to come first. I feel with the little film directing I’ve done, all you ever try to do is surround yourself with people much cleverer than you and ask them questions. The director’s job is to be a question-asker.
So you see yourself as less of an all-powerful film auteur and more of a facilitator -- like the theatre director, who, once the curtain goes up, has no power at all over his cast.
Will Frears: Other than the power of a baleful stare, yes (laughs). No, I couldn’t imagine myself being an auteur. The thing about directing is all you have to do is have a good idea and get out of the way. The nice thing about coming out of the theatre is being able to work that way.
I don’t come from an auteur thing. I don’t have a genre I work in or one thing I’m interested in. The wonderfulness of directing is you get to learn about new things and try new things all the time. It’s like having Chinese takeaway dinner — you just have all this choice, and then a short time later you’re ready for more.
So many novice filmmakers are very tightly wound, very serious. You seem to have a very relaxed, loose attitude.
Will Frears: I once had a conversation with my father when I was in the middle of doing a play that was not going so well. I couldn’t tell why it wasn’t working out. And he said, “Things only go well when they go easy.”
That’s the choice — when it’s going well, the best play I’ve ever done feels like breathing. If you’d met me as a young grad student I was wound as tightly as any of them. Eventually you realize it’s a lot more fun when you’re not lifting the whole world on your shoulders.
All Saints Day screens Mon. Oct. 29 at 9:30 a.m. at the Trustees Theatre and Wed. Oct. 31 at 11:30 p.m. at the Lucas Theatre.