Q&A: Pete Travis
EmptyPete Travis is a Manchester-born television and film director who, before becoming a director, was a community worker. His life as a filmmaker really took off after Paul Greengrass sent him a script he had co-penned with Guy Hibbert for Travis to direct. His latest project, the thriller "Endgame," stars several big British names including William Hurt and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is set against the backdrop of the negotiations in South Africa that brought apartheid to an end. Travis spoke to The Hollywood Reporter's U.K. bureau chief Stuart Kemp about casting, the prospects for his film at the American Film Market and why great art, suffering and supporting Manchester City football club go hand in hand.
The Hollywood Reporter: You came to filmmaking late in life? How late and why?
Pete Travis: I had another life before this. I used to be a community worker and I was essentially looking for a year off and did this post-graduate filmmaking course. I made this film in what I am sure was a ridiculously cack-handed fashion and embarked on making shorts. I did some theater and a couple of shorts. You have to have a passion for this job and now that I have the chance to tell stories, I can't imagine doing anything else. It helps if you have done other things and are trying to make movies about something that affects people. I just bring what I know from life experiences and all my films have hope in them and are about people striving to be more than they are.
THR: How did you come to be involved with "Endgame"?
Travis: I got sent the script by Paula (Milne) and it was very powerful and very moving. What attracted me to it was that I could make a thriller out of it. It wasn't written as a thriller originally. I'm not interested in (recent) period pieces. I wanted to make a film where you waited, not knowing what the outcome was and everyday knowing you could die for your actions.
THR: Is the collapse of apartheid something you had been interested in before you started "Endgame"?
Travis: In terms of my personal life, it was a very important part of my life to try and do the things you can about something that is happening thousands of miles away. But as a filmmaker it was my duty not to give a shit about it and concentrate on the right thing, which was to tell a good story. It is not interesting to make a movie about apartheid and South Africa, it is important to make a very powerful and moving story about people.
THR: The cast has an impressive collection of Brits. How involved were you in that?
Travis: They're all in it because of me. I picked every single one of them. William Hurt is a good friend of mine and once he had said yes, we had to fight off interest from other actors. Chiwetel Ejiofor was my first choice for the role he took because I have always wanted to work with him. Then I met Jonny Lee Miller and just knew he was the right person for the role as the businessman who brokers this extraordinary deal.
THR: Paul Greengrass sent you the script for his project "Omagh," co-written with Guy Hibbert. How did that come about?
Travis: I had just made a television project called "Henry VIII" and Paul knew about it. We met and got on really really well and he was struggling to find someone he could trust with his script. We just had a kindred spirit about it and he trusted me with his script.
THR: You won the Discovery award in Toronto with "Omagh." What affect did that have on your career?
Travis: "Omagh" changed things for me as a director. Winning Toronto made a difference and winning a prize later in San Sebastian also helped as well. It put me on the map with American producers. Because of the story about a family trying to discover what happened (about the bombing in the Northern Irish town of Omagh) it hit home with audiences. There are families around the world struggling to find the truth.
THR: Your movies often deal with political themes. Is that what lights your candle as a director?
Travis: Yeah, but it's the story first and foremost. I don't go to the movies for someone to preach to me. For "Omagh," it was a family searching for the truth. The politics (of my films) hopefully infuse the themes but you are not whacking people on the head with it. All themes are important, but if the human story is not there, you haven't got a movie.
THR: Are you going to the AFM yourself?
Travis: I won't be going because we're still doing the score on the film and I am finishing it up.
THR: The film is being sold at the AFM by Target Entertainment. What are they telling you about the prospects for your film?
Travis: I think the current climate for a filmmaker is all about if you have made a good powerful and exciting movie that keeps people on the edge of their seat. If it does that, it's good. Everyone (at Target) is very excited about it and making people forget how Apartheid ended and taking them on a suspenseful journey means I have achieved something.
THR: Do you think there is an appetite for this type of movie in the current economic climate?
Travis: People are always looking for movies about hope. When times get tricky, movies that show how things got changed by humanity are always of interest. And thrillers are as popular as ever.
THR: You were born in Manchester so does that make you a blue or a red?
Travis: A blue. I support Manchester City. Which teaches you about suffering from an early age. But as I know, great art can come out of great suffering.