"Nothing," "Cube" - Vincenzo Natali Print
Written by Patrick Douglas   
Sunday, 01 May 2005
Image"Cube" director Vincenzo Natali talks about his latest release "Nothing" in an e-mail interview from May of 2005

Where did the idea for “Nothing” originate?

Desperation. It came from a period when I was looking to make very low budgeted films. It was conceived as a two hander for the two actors I knew who would work for free: David Hewlett and Andrew Miller. The fact that they are excellent performers is beside the point. I needed to do something cheap! But over the years as the idea evolved, my desire to make it had very little to do with practical necessity. I became fascinated with this notion of editing reality. I think everyone does in their daily lives. We have to censor the vast amount of crap that's thrown at us, especially in this day and age. And we also edit ourselves and our memories to help define who we are. It's a very basic human process but I don't think there have been many films that have explored it.

You did an amazing job of portraying two opposite types of abysmal living conditions. The first being Dave and Andrew’s life in the hustle and bustle of the real world and the other being their life in the peace and quiet of nothing. How were you able to capture each side so well?

This being a kind of modern folktale, Nothing defines its world in larger than life terms. The 'real' world of the city is a noisy, busy, mad place, where as the void is completely quiet, serene and calm. I tried to make a point of shooting everything in the city in a rough (some might say 'irritating') pseudo-verite style. The void, on the other hand, is very composed and the camera never shakes. But it has its own kind of inherent madness.

Was it actually easier to film this movie without having to have a backdrop through most of it?

Some things were easier. For example in a shot reverse shot situation, we wouldn't move the camera position at all. We would just do one shot with Andrew looking in one direction then do one with David looking in the opposite direction. For 'tracking shots' the actors would just run on the spot or we would put them on a treadmill. It was so basic, it was funny. But other aspects of shooting against white were tricky. When you remove all geographical reference points, the basic grammar of film language starts to fall apart. I was always conscious of whether a scene would be disorienting, because it's impossible to tell where characters and props are in relation to each other. And of course, I tried to play with that disorientation as well. The really tricky part was to come up with a cost effective means of painting out the shadows... because there can't be shadows on nothing!

Let me see if I have this straight, you’ve known David since high school. How did you guys originally start working together?

I'm a very bad actor and after making many super 8 films where I was both filmmaker and star, I began to realize I should find somebody good to be in front of the camera. David was the resident thespian at my high school and so one day, I sheepishly asked if he would be in one of my movies. The love affair continues to this day.

ImageWas it a no brainer to cast David and Andrew for this role?

As I mentioned before, these two are the only actors foolish enough to work for me for free. But in addition to that, we happen to be very good friends. And I was very keen to make a film with just the two of them as the only cast. My plan had always been to workshop and write the script with them. In the end, we wrote the scenario and then Andrew and his writing partner, Andrew Lowery (who appears in the film as David's boss, Crawford) translated it into a real screenplay. Not an easy task. One of the wonderful things about doing Nothing with friends is that we could spend a lot of time rehearsing and developing the scenes together. No one was being paid so we didn't have to deal with the usual formalities that one does with movie stars. Every time someone complained, I just had to remind them that they were also the producers -- they didn't have anyone to complain to except themselves!

What’s the story behind keeping their real names in the script?

Creative bankruptcy. In our next collaboration, I'm considering giving David the part of 'Andrew' and vice versa. Just to mix things up a little.

Explain the scene after the closing credits. What happens to Dave and Andrew?

Isn't it obvious?

“Cube” and “Nothing” are two of the most fascinating and bizarre movies out there. You’re able to put together these films on I’d imagine relatively limited budgets. Is that a good thing in today’s cinema as far as creative liberties are concerned? Does having a lower budget and not being affiliated with a huge studio give you more flexibility from a director’s standpoint?

Yes. These movies would never be made through the system as it exists now. I consider myself incredibly lucky and blessed to have made three unusual films with complete creative control. The only downside is that very few people see them! It seems to be the basic trade off -- poverty for freedom. But I'm hopeful. There is a growing appetite for new, cool stuff. I think it is possible to cross over. All that needs to happen is for Hollywood to produce a string of two hundred million dollar flops. Once the formula stops working, they'll start to look outside the box.

What do you think of the two “Cube” movies that have come out in the past few years?

I have to confess, I have not seen them. I'm sort of flattered that they exist because I think it speaks well of the first one. But they really don't belong to me. For better or worse, I had absolutely nothing to do with their creation.

What projects do you have coming up?

Actually, I'm in Paris right now finishing a my segment of an omnibus movie called "Paris Je T'aime", which stars Elijah Wood and a very attractive vampire. And there's a lot of features in the works. Many have been percolating for years. At the moment, I'm adapting a JG Ballard novel called, 'High-Rise'. And I have an original horror film that I'm hoping to shoot next year. 

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