Interview: Author Fiona McIntosh On Movies And Film

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Fiona McIntosh and asking her 10 questions as to her views on movies and film.

For the uninitiated, Fiona is a renowned author, raised in the UK before finding herself in Australia, known for her work in the fantasy genre with trilogies such as Trinity, The Quickening, Percheron and Valisar. Not limited to only one genre, she has also delved into crime with her Jack Hawksworth novels ‘Bye Bye Baby’ and ‘Beautiful Death’ and more recently has released historical fiction ‘Fields of Gold’ with upcoming ‘The Lavender Keeper’ out in April.

Sam: Do you think that being a full-time author has impacted the way you view movies?

Fiona: Let me flip that and say that I think that movies have definitely made an impact on the way I write my novels. I am a mad keen movie-goer since childhood. Films have taught me how to imbue emotion into my stories and modern films in particular have taught me how to leap straight into the action to suit the new millenium’s reader and his/her desire for immediacy. In terms of how I view movies now, I think I can more fully appreciate their storytelling power because I am a writer. Before I was a novelist I suppose I believed it had to be far easier to tell a story through film than books. After all, film has sound, visuals, and lots of tricks – from fabulous musical scores to special effects. But now that I write stories to entertain the public I have amended that opinion to have a greater respect for filmmakers.

I have at least 150,000 words and maybe 500 pages to guide my readers through a complex story. The movie maker has around 120 minutes to build worlds, build characters, build tensions, build the all important relationships and their conflict or their tenderness, build trust with the viewer and at the same time deliver fast paced scenes, crisp dialogue, loads of action that we demand as well as fabulous backdrops and amazing special effects. Plus filmmakers have enormous sums of money in the balance so the stakes are high but they can’t be faint-hearted and must constantly ramp up the experience for a very demanding movie-going public. Books aren’t any easier I might add but I think because I’m in the business of entertainment now, I don’t take what filmmakers do for granted.

Sam: Have you ever thought about making the jump to screenwriting and trying your hand at writing a screenplay for film or TV?

Fiona: Yes! Every single day of my writing life I daydream about screenwriting and adapting one of my crime books for the small screen and my more action/adventure/romance books – whether they’re historical or fantasy – for the big screen. And dare I say my new novel, ‘The Lavender Keeper’, out in April 2012, is the most ‘adaptable’ of any book I’ve written. It screams to be a movie with its WWll setting, its incredibly romantic and dangerous backdrop of Occupied France, its tense adventure and even more tense triangular relationship of a Brit spy, French resister and a German colonel. I can see the credits rolling in my mind’s eye. I can even see who some of the actors might be… I can hear the first refrain of the musical score. Sigh.

Will I ever make the jump into screenwriting? Yes, I hope so. Perhaps Peter Jackson will phone me soon and ask!

Sam: Any thoughts on the state of the Australian film industry?

Fiona: I don’t know about how the Aussie film industry is faring financially but I think in terms of what it delivers and its potential, then we’re looking at a healthy industry. Australian actors are everywhere! Most Americans probably don’t realise how many Aussies are appearing in their movies and TV. So we have the talent and range of actors and I know we don’t lack for creativity in terms of storytelling or skills for making movies. Hopefully we’ll go from strength to strength as international productions look to Australia for that skill set and/or ideal facilities.

Anyway, Peter Jackson or Baz Luhrmann if you’re reading this, ‘The Lavender Keeper’ would make a great Australian-made movie… oh and Hugh Jackman you would make a perfect DCI Jack Hawksworth on the small screen for my crime books!

Sam: What do you think of the state of the fantasy film genre?

Fiona: Look at all the blockbuster movies of even the last 20 years – I haven’t checked but I’d guess that most are fantasy. Just consider the fantastic success of Star Wars, Raiders, Matrix, Batman, Terminator, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, Iron Man, etc… good grief, the list feels endless. And think about what they have done for movie going audiences and their makers – how would the movie industry have survived without the fantasy genre? And now we’re mixing it up, throwing together cowboys with aliens or taking traditional characters like Sherlock Holmes and adding a fantastical feel to the movies.

I think the fantasy film genre is alive and pulsing with vibrancy and fun.

The special effects become more gobsmacking, the stories can be complex, the relationship stuff that we all crave are intensifying… robots have a heart and all that! Movie makers are delivering huge, satisfying experiences and now as we move into 3D, fantasy is the genre made for that option. The movie industry should thank the fantasy genre for its incredible stories and scope for storytelling because like books, it’s sf that is one of the genres that just keeps selling in huge numbers… and fantasy films will continue to attract the queues into theatres. Audiences never have and I doubt ever will tire of fantasy in films. It’s the ultimate escape.

Sam: What are some of your favourite movies?  And why?

Fiona: Wow, so many to choose from. But if I force myself to choose films that had a major impact on me then I would have to begin with the Disney animations of decades ago – full on fantasies with witches and talking creatures and magical premises. Loved them. Star Wars, the original, had a profound effect on me because there’d never been anything like it before… for me and in the 70s when special effects were still dodgy it exploded off the screen with eye-boggling effects and was the ultimate moviegoing experience of my life. I really ‘believed’ in the story, the technology, the conflict, the characters, the landscapes and the setting. Hated the next trilogy though that sacrificed its previously brilliant storytelling and fabulous characters for wooden actors in the lead roles, special effects and ghastly inventions like Jar Jar Binks. What was in his head to allow a character as brilliant and sinister as Darth Vader to be such a whining, pathetic youth?

Anyway, moving on. There have been grand tales like Out of Africa and The English Patient that are so incredibly romantic, so brilliantly presented, with perfectly developed characters and huge, sprawling stories across magnificent vistas that they will share my life always – and I can watch over and over – but I do find myself returning to movies of a more fantastical nature as my top ten. I cannot ignore the brilliance of LOTR, realised on the big screen in a masterful way by Peter Jackson, or the Indiana Jones series that brought so much fun to movie-going. Smaller films like Pan’s Labyrinth surprised, shocked and delighted me. Alien, the original shocked when the brave captain was killed so early and a young woman was left to save the day. Back in the late 70s, this was highly original! Animations are now blowing me away – Toy Story trilogy, Wall-E and Up are all incredible poignant on an emotional level, let alone the fantastic visuals.

Sam: Any hidden gems that you would recommend?

Fiona: Pan’s Labyrinth if you haven’t already seen it and his [Guillermo del Toro’s] Orphanage – another fantasy – is pretty scary and brilliant too. Have you seen his line up? Everything from a Frankenstein remake to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and quite a few fascinating projects in between. Definitely a director to watch!

Cairo Time – no thrills, no spills, no sex or drugs or rock n’ roll. A quiet film about a few days in Cairo. But it is filled with sexual tension and is wildly romantic with two brilliantly played lead characters by actors who aren’t household names.

Incendies – French Canadian film with English subtitles set during the civil uprisings of a make believe Lebanon of the 70s. There is a twist to shock. And I love twists!

The ‘Girl’ series – Swedish version. I am very happy with the American remake and probably because I love Daniel Craig but the original is more edgy, feels more dangerous somehow.

Sam: Are there plans to adapt any of your novels for the big screen?  If not, which of them would you most like to see adapted?

Fiona: No plans in the pipeline but for the big screen I would most like to see ‘The Lavender Keeper’ hit movie theatres. It has all the elements that women in particular look for in adventure romances and as I mentioned earlier, the wartime setting in occupied Paris and bomb-blitzed London and the alps of Provence – well, it’s irresistible! Now if Daniel Craig would accept one of the leads – and I know precisely which one (tailored to him) I think we’re on our way…

Sam: What are some other novels that you would like to see adapted for the big screen?

Fiona: I’d love to see either The Quickening or Valisar series adapted by Peter Jackson or Guillermo del Toro for the big screen. They understand fantasy. Both would do an amazing job in making the story leap off the screen and into the audience’s collective heart. My sons believe both stories are too brutal but I disagree. You don’t have to show brutality on the screen to make an audience feel the pain. Clever filmmakers can build the tension and the fear so well that the audience’s collective imagination will do all the hard yards.

Sam: This one’s a little different – do you have a favourite movie score composer? 

Fiona: It’s hard to go past John Williams. He’s responsible for an incredible number of blockbuster movie scores that we all instantly recognise.

What are some of your favourite movie soundtracks?

The Mission
Star Wars
Pink Panther
Singin’ in the Rain
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Great Gatsby
Life is Beautiful

I could actually make a list of 100 movies whose soundtracks I love. As I teenager I collected movie soundtracks. I still have them – beautiful vinyl LPs in original sleeves and plastic. Sigh – used all my pocket money on them and listened to everything from The Sting to The Deer Hunter while I studied.

Sam: Finally, your favourite movie of 2011 and most anticipated of 2012?

Fiona: It’s not a big screen presentation but it so easily could have been a blockbuster movie trilogy. Nothing has got under my skin quite like Game of Thrones from HBO on the small screen. GoT is stunning – visually and emotionally.  Sweating on the new series mid 2012.

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