Famed editor Walter Murch once said there are two types of directors. A Hitchcock-type who has the entire film in his head before casting and shooting starts, or a Coppola-type who thrives on collaboration and the potential for other ideas.
After sitting down with emerging writer director Felix Thompson, it’s fair to say that he leans more to the style of Coppola than Hitchcock.
“What I love about a film as opposed to a novel is that there are so many people that come into it,” said Thompson, whose first feature King Jack is now streaming on Netflix and Amazon after a stellar reception from critics and film festival programmers.
“Your job as a director is to make sure everyone is telling the same story, but you have to allow them to have the freedom to bring something extra, ” he said in an exclusive interview with New Machine Magazine.
Thompson, whose twenty-something age belies his maturity and perspective on cinema, considers a story to be a living, breathing organism that can adapt to new ideas and fresh perspectives. Moreover, he believes filmmaking to be a creative process larger than any one person, where the story becomes bigger than any single storyteller. “It becomes this beautiful and alive piece of work, with many potential collaborators”, said Thompson. Something he calls ‘the collage of life experience’.
Thompson’s enjoyed a productive couple of years, starting with winning the audience award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival for King Jack and recognition at the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards as ‘Someone to Watch’.
King Jack is a William Golding-esque tale of a young man’s personal awakening one summer in upstate New York. It’s a beautifully simple story with performances that take on a natural feel, evoking the works of Rossellini or Cassavetes. King Jack’s simplicity, a word that Thompson likes, masks a complex human transformation, solidly performed by 15 year-old Charlie Plummer (Boardwalk Empire) and keenly told by Thompson and shot by his frequent collaborator cinematographer Brandon Roots.
“I wanted to tell a story that was about this one weekend that changes a boy’s life. That moment in a person’s life when you realize the world doesn’t revolve around you and you have to care about someone else more than you care about yourself,” he said.
The film was developed through the Sundance Producing Lab, a lucrative program for production-ready scripts that sees participants mentored with established filmmakers.
In Thompson’s case he got Peter Sollett, who wrote and directed the breakthrough short Five Feet High and Rising which was the basis for his first feature Raising Victor Vargas, works that made an impression on audiences as well as the young Thompson.
“I have admired Peter since seeing his short, so to have him mentor me at the development stage was amazing”, he said. Through the Sundance process, Thompson was also able to secure casting director Avy Kaufman (Brokeback Mountain, Boardwalk Empire) which led to casting Plummer as the lead.
Australian-born, Thompson’s depth of story and world views are likely helped by the fact that he traveled the world as a child with his English father and French mother before ending up in New York. He went on to graduate from the famed Tisch School of the Arts film program, with his first short Bedford Park Boulevard resonating early, scoring screening spots at SXSW, Tribeca and London right out of the gate.
“(Bedford Park) was a really great launch into the world, but I wanted to make another short film to ensure that success was not a fluke”. It wasn’t a fluke. His follow up short Third One This Week scored a premiere at SXSW, thereby establishing him as a young filmmaker on the march.
Thompson, who is also a trained editor, said he learned how to direct from his work cutting films for other directors. “What I love about editing is you really get to see inside the mind of the director, while learning your own taste at the same time,” he said. “If someone has everything in a wide, medium, close up or two shots, you realize they don’t know what they are trying to say with the scene,” said Thompson, who likes to create a realistic, unobstructed feel for his actors on set before the camera slips in to capture the scene.
“I give the actors as much freedom as possible, so they never feel like having to be somewhere for the camera, so we will block the scene, their backs can be to you, they can be wherever in the room and we will find where that feels the most alive and then now let’s move the camera around that,” he said.
He counts filmmakers such as the Dardenne Brothers, Shane Meadows, Derek Cianfrance and Denis Villeneuve as influences, with a taste that gravitates towards films and filmmakers that dramatize the everyday.
But his favorite film of all time? Well, it’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
“I think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has great characters with something to say about the world. It’s ultimately a ballad to optimism.”