Interview with Russell Mulcahy


Cult Projections: When you started out directing music videos you were in your mid-20s, did you have any kind of formal training before that?

Russell: Not really. I was a film editor for Channel Seven. It was before the high security or whatever, and I used to creep in there at 3am and make my own movies. And one of them won the best short film at Sydney Film Festival, so then I started making videos for bands like Hush and ACDC, and then I carried on. 

CP: You landed international gigs very early on, The Stranglers and The Buggles.

R: Tony Hogarth from Woods Records sent me to England to do a video for some punk band up in Birmingham. I’d never left Australia. So there I was on a flight to England. I stayed in a B&B and did the video. So, people saw it, and said “You can stay” and so I did some more videos, “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Bette Davis Eyes” and Duran Duran and Elton John. 

CP: So was that around the same time you did the movie for Dudley Moore and Peter Cook?

R: I did that too. That was quite an experience. 

CP: Haha. 


R: But the first thing that really happened was I’d done the video for “Hungry Like the Wolf” and producer Hal McElroy asked me if I wanted to come back to Australia to do a movie. And I went, “Yes! Absolutely!” And then the next question I asked was what was it about. And he said, “Well, it’s about a giant killer pig.”

CP: Haha.

R: It turned out to be Razorback

CP: You did Razorback, and two years later you did Highlander. Those two films have gone on to garner cult followings. Did you feel at the time you were making those two features that you were creating films that would get such a response in the future?

R: No. I never have. I never do that. I just try to make the best film I can. There’s no real ambition, so to speak. I love movies. 

CP: When you came to do those two features, did the experience of all the music videos help you with directing the features, or did you find new challenges?

R: Well doing the music videos was my training ground in a way. I never went to film school. I read a few books on Russian filmmakers, and was a big fan of European cinema. I just wanted to go into movies. Which is why I used to crop and use black and white. And MTV called me up and said “You’ve got black at the top and bottom, so we’ve blown it up and scanned it” and I said “No, no, no, that’s the way it’s meant to look!”

CP: Philistines!

R: So, eventually they agreed to it. 

CP: Would you say your approach to directing has changed much since those early features? 

R: Umm … I don’t think so. I’m very used to shooting fast, and I just come up with images of how I want it to look. 


CP: So it’s been ten years since your last theatrical feature. What brought you to In Like Flynn?

R: There was this six year period where I was co-executive producer and director of a show called Teen Wolf. But the script to In Like Flynn was so good, and I’d seen [Flynn’s] films and he’s an Australian icon, and the treat of coming back to Australia to do a movie, of such a wonderful story. 

CP: Were you familiar at all with the book Beam Ends?

R: I read it after I saw the script. Luckily Luke Flynn [Errol Flynn’s grandson] was involved in it. It was very authentic, adventurous. It’s basically an action-adventure-romantic story of a man who lived life to the fullest. 


CP: Indeed. Were you involved with much of the casting of the movie?

R: Yes. We got a wonderful cast. 

CP: How tied to the script were you? Did you have much freedom as a director? 

R: They left me alone. There were no arguments. 

CP: So do you think you’ll direct an adaptation of My Wicked, Wicked Ways

R: Probably. Some people have said that it should have a sequel. There needs to be a sequel about the rest of his life. Which is intriguing. 


CP: So you’re leaving the door open for that one?

R: Oh yeah. I think it’d be intriguing, and as an adventurer I’ve got to see what happened with his life in Hollywood. There should be a double feature. 

CP: Part one and part two.

R: Exactly.

CP: So, you’ve spent a number of years directing television; Teen Wolf, also Queer as Folk, Skin ---

R: Queer as Folk, that was an absolute joy to film.

CP: Also episodes of The Hunger for Tony Scott. 

R: The Hunger with Tony. A sad loss. 

CP: Yes, very much, very much. What’s been the best experience working within the confines of a tv series when you compare it with the limitations and freedom of shooting a feature?

R: There used to be a negative feeling within the industry about directing, or making tv films, or shows, or whatever. The quality of tv now is so good, it’s actually sometimes surpasses feature films. There’s none of that negative feeling anymore. 

CP: It’s been described as the golden age of television. 

R: That’s a great expression, yes. There used to be the golden age of cinema, now there is the golden age of television. 


CP: How have you found the progression from analogue to digital? I presume you shot In Like Flynn on digital. 

R: Yes. going back to Razorback and Highlander they were shot on 35mm film. One anamorphic, Highlander was 1:1.85. Everyone seems to be shooting digital now. It has its pluses and minuses. When you are shooting film, you are very cautious of how many takes you do, because the film is rolling through the camera. With digital you can be a little less cautious. You know what I mean?

CP: Indeed. No doubt you have a few favourite toys? Technology is advancing so quickly, as a director you’d have a wide range of tools at your disposal, both in production and in post-production. Any favourites? 

R: Well, When I’m shooting, I’m cutting the film in my head, so I don’t really over-shoot. There’s an expression I use, that there’s essentially three takes; one - for the actor, two - for the director, and three - for the camera. Because the camera says, “That was out of focus”, the actor says “Can I do one more?”, and I’ll say, “Can you change that bit.” Normally I do three takes. Because in the past, when I was doing, say, Razorback, or whatever, I would do, say five takes, six takes, and either one or four was the best. You can overdo it. 


CP: True. With In Like Flynn, it’s quite concise, roughly a 90-odd-minute film, and now we’re in this golden age of television, and with Netflix producing a lot of original content —-

R: There is a longer cut. 

CP: Oh, okay. Will that be lined up for the Blu-ray & DVD release? 

R: Yes, I’m sure the DVD will have the longer cut, which is probably ten minutes longer. 

CP: With Netflix a lot of film directors are expressing how much joy they have in being able to take the time to tell a story over ten or thirteen episodes, does television still appeal to you because of that kind of freedom, or did you enjoy once again working within the narrative confines of In Like Flynn

R: I love both. It’s great to be able to tell a story in about an-hour-and-half or two hours. But what’s really good with a tv series is where you can develop characters and storylines, and interweave, and all that.

CP: You have an action thriller in pre-production, do you have anything lined up or in development? 

R: Yeah, we're developing a couple of projects, actually, and they’re more in the thriller genre. Which I love. But, I mean, I just love good scripts. From Highlander to Swimming Upstream, with Geoffrey Rush, to Queer As Folk. I just like good concepts. I always said to myself, reading the script, would I go see this movie? And when I’ve read it, yes I would love to see this movie, then that’s the answer. 

CP: Thanks Russell!