Exploring the Dark Art of Interviews with Submarine Director Richard Ayoade


So let's set aside the interview process for a second. Do you feel comfortable observing or witnessing the conversation about your film? Are you reading about it -- what others say, what they think? Do you want to know?

You do to an extent, but I think the problems of that film are so specific to that film that it's very unlikely to be repeated. It's unlikely that it will help you with the next film, unfortunately. I think self-consciousness is a very paralyzing thing. If you're given to self-consciousness, you don't want more of it. It's certainly not something that shouldn't exist. It's just that what are you going to do with that information?

In that regard, praise is worse than criticism. At least criticism can be the start of a discussion. But I think one of the difficulties is I don't think anybody who's written things doesn't have a point where they just go, "This is rubbish. This is all terrible." Kafka wanted none of his stuff published. And unless you extremely bulletproof -- in which case you're probably not a writer -- you will stop. You'll give up. Any negative comment you completely believe, regardless of how outlandish it is. If there was some kind of comment about this film that said, "I think it's anti-Semitic," then part of me would say, "Is it? I don't think it is, but maybe it is? I wasn't aware." It will get to you in some way. It won't help people seeing your films. It won't necessarily make you better. It may just make you worse. I think it's very rare for the discussion to be something that's outside of that particular film, and it's very hard for it to be outside that particular film. And by the time you're doing something else, the problems of that particular film don't apply.

Speaking of which, I've read classifications of this film as "quirky." That could be taken as either pejorative or as a compliment, depending on the filmmaker. What do you think?

My association with the word "quirky" is probably more pejorative, but I realize what it's trying to describe -- and that what it's trying to describe isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's kind of offbeat. I guess it's a shorthand, isn't it, to say "not mainstream," perhaps? Or describing something it isn't rather than something it is. It's very... "Kooky," perhaps, is a more injurious term. But it is difficult. There's such a spectrum associated with that. Some people might take it as the highest compliment. I wouldn't refer to myself as "quirky," because "quirky," for me, has become a word to describe people who aren't actually quirky but think they're quirky. Like a "You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps!" sticker. That's the most un-deranged thing possible. [Laughs] It's a manufactured, mass-produced sticker that you have consciously sought out and purchased.

Do you, like Oliver, have an 8mm film of memory? Or is it more like 16mm? Pixelvision?

DigiBeta. Early Beta footage, actually -- maybe not with the full resolution of the [Thomson] Viper, or something. Not really. It's one of those things: When you see super-8, it's such a cliché of remembered times. I think he's sort of trying to put something into that container as a shorthand. It was just something that was meant to be a joke, really -- his being self-consciously formal about it.

Memory's fascinating, though. It's very fungible, and no one remembers one shared experience the same way. Here, though, it's shown as a phenomenon recorded on film. What did you want to say about memory, if anything?

Well, I suppose with that moment, because they're happening at that time, they're not memories. He is trying to see himself in the moment, from the future. Which is probably a way of not having memories and not particularly experiencing the moment. It's more about him standing outside himself.

Is that a variation of this film's endless toying with era? We never know exactly when it's taking place.

Yeah. There's an element to which it doesn't feel like a contemporary story. There's not a "now"-ness to it that felt important. But media is just necessarily historical because it's recorded and it isn't the present. I guess I'm interested in the idea of archiving and the idea that people's sense of themselves can sometimes exist in archives. Especially people who obsessively collect things -- that creates a kind of shape to something. You record something, and then you shape it. I remember Scorsese saying something like that. Whether something is documentary or fiction, there's still a recording process and a shaping process that exists in both. [Oliver] is trying to do that at the time: "This is the shape of this moment."

Do you have archives?

No. I'm quite bad at taking photos. Things that are commercially released, I have a copy of, but a lot of stuff... Fairly early on, unless you have massive resources, it's quite hard. Like, do you keep all of your rushes? And you do self-consciously go, "Well, what are you going to do with all this stuff?" Probably in 20 years it will seem like an error. But it's just storage.

Is there anything you regret not keeping?

I don't know yet. I had quite a few Star Wars toys. I was about 12, and my mum said, "Come on; enough's enough. You've got to pass these on." I knew something was wrong with the transaction at the time; I thought, "This isn't right. I'm not getting these back." So yeah. I had some good Star Wars toys.

A while back I actually went to a Star Wars-themed birthday party for a 37-year-old man.

Yeah. Maybe she was right. She probably did do me a favor.

Submarine opens June 3.

[Photo credits: Page 1 and 3, Getty Images; page 2, Sundance Institute]

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  • Troofire says:

    There's nothing as boring as an interview in which the interviewee is mainly asked questions about his antipathy to interviews. This was a waste of time

  • So you read maybe a quarter of this?

  • edward says:

    I'm a huge fan of the Richard on The IT Crowd. But I have to agree the interview grew tiresome. Half way through he was still talking about not enjoying talking about his film. I think the interview would have served him better with some judicious editing.

  • Wandering Menstrual says:

    I guess I'm in the minority, but I really dug this interview. I found Ayoade's intelligence and humanity to be a refreshing change of pace.
    I assume Troofire would have been happier with a puff piece where Ayoade gushed and rattled off effusive canned responses about how great his cast is and how he has the best DP in the business or whatever. But I actually enjoy a little shop talk and theory every now and then -- especially from a dude who's as articulate as Ayoade.

  • Bradley Paul Valentine says:

    I would't blame the subject or the interviewer, especially when the intent is the title of the piece. You really couldn't find anything interesting in that? I understand this site is meant to be entertaining, but I come here because it is also witty and intelligence and informative, not just noisy. For that to work, the audience to be entertained sometimes has to help out by bothering to do some thinking, reflecting, to find what is good about it even if it might not be immediately identifiable.
    I think it's interesting lately I've been noticing interviews online at different sites seem to be growing in the chagrin at being part of the grinding machine actors and other talent are part of where the same questions, bland interrogation held over and over again. And the subject and interviewer's job is to in a way make a connection and make it "good" every single time, if possible. The interviewer gets really one swing while the subject is kept there all day going through the motions over and over and over.
    I think the dynamics of that is interesting as hell.

  • Man, you really nailed it. You have no idea how much I appreciate this.