DIRECTOR'S CHAIR: ROGER DONALDSON - 'THE BANK JOB'
HOLLYWOOD — Aussie filmmaker Roger Donaldson started out making TV
commercials and documentaries back in the early ‘70s and directed his
first feature, Sleeping Dogs, in 1977. Now, 30 years later, and with a
successful Hollywood directing career under his belt (The Recruit,
Thirteen Days, No Way Out), Donaldson has a new film to talk about
called The Bank Job.
A highly charged heist thriller that tautly interweaves high-level
corruption, murder and sexual scandal in 1970s London — and which is
based on a true story, The Bank Job stars Jason Statham as the leader
of a low-tech gang that digs and tunnels its way into a bank vault only
to find they’ve bitten off far more than they can chew. The real
robbery was one of the biggest ever at the time, allegedly netting in
excess of $15 million in today’s dollars, and reportedly exposing lurid
secrets about a member of the Royal Family.
Here, in an exclusive interview, Donaldson, whose other directing
credits include The World’s Fastest Indian, The Bounty and Dante’s
Peak, talks about making the film and his love of post and visual
POST: What sort of film did you set out to make?
ROGER DONALDSON: “A very tense, amusing, fast-paced thriller.”
POST: Given it’s a period piece, what were the biggest challenges of making the film?
DONALDSON: “Recreating London of nearly 40 years ago is a huge
challenge, from finding appropriate locations to dealing with the
weather. We ended up having to shoot in winter, but that also gave it a
great look. And thanks to what you can do in post with visual effects
now, I was able to enhance the look a lot.
“Technically, the hardest scenes in The Bank Job were the exteriors of
the bank, which were a mix of real and digital. Half the building was
real, half digital, and the same for the cars. And you get this finesse
and detail you could never get in the analog world. And then for the
opening and last scenes, which are set in the Caribbean and
Mediterranean respectively, I actually shot in Sardinia, and then shot
some stuff in Australia. So it was quite an international production in
POST: It’s such a fascinating story, with all the angles about the
Royal Family and blackmail photos allegedly found in the vault, and
some of the official files on it are still classified. How much is true?
DONALDSON: “We’re not saying it’s a dramatized documentary, but it’s
based on real events that supposedly all tie together, and we did a lot
of research in archives and so on.”
POST: You used your Indian editor John Gilbert, who was Oscar-nominated
for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. How does that
DONALDSON: “He’s a really great editor and just gets better. We shot
this on the Arri D20 digital cameras, which take film lenses, so the
look you get is very similar to film. It has the same depth of field
and so on, and the big plus is that you really see what you’ve got as
“So we had digital files, which were input into the Avid. We did
consider going to the Mac Final Cut Pro system, which potentially would
have given us the ability to edit in a higher resolution, but John
hadn’t used Final Cut. He was very familiar with Avid, and we were
already down the Avid road, so it would have been a step backwards. We
began cutting in London and then moved the whole post operation to
Omnilab in Melbourne.”
POST: Why did you do post there?
DONALDSON: “My dad was very ill and I wanted to be close to him, but it
also turned out to be a great choice. Omnilab has all these facilities
under one umbrella, such as Iloura, which does fantastic visual effects
work, and has CGI and animation departments. They’re very experienced
and they’ve worked on films like The Lord of the Rings and Ghost Rider.
And so we could also do the visual effects and digital grading there
too, so it was very convenient. And they have some great people there.
“Our visual effects supervisor was Marc Van Buuren, and the guy who did
the film-out used to work at Disney in LA and they were both so good.
The other reason was that Omnilab actually co-funded the film, so that
made sense too.”
POST: Do you like the post process?
DONALDSON: “I love it. It’s definitely a high point for me, but I like
all the different stages of a film. I enjoy preproduction, finding
locations and so on, and then shooting is always full of problems and
stress, so it’s tough. Then when I get to post it’s like having this
big jigsaw puzzle and you can sit down and finally enjoy making the
“I love the whole process of post and pulling together all the
elements, including the visual effects and music and score, and you’re
able to contemplate the whole film more. On this film, as it’s so
complicated, John and I had a lot of fun putting all the pieces
POST: How did shooting on the Arri HD system affect post?
DONALDSON: “Not that much. The big thing is you can feed the files
directly into the computer without having to digitize. So it was all
digital until the final film output. We actually graded [with Lustre]
most of the time in 1K, and then we’d go to 2K if I was concerned about
“And going all digital really helped me with the look of the film. For
instance, it began raining half-way through a scene one day, and I was
able to keep shooting and then in post digitally remove the rain where
it showed on people’s coats and so on. It wasn’t terrible, but if we’d
been on film and you didn’t have a digital output available, I’d have
been screwed — and it’s not that long ago, either, that that was the
POST: The visual effects shots by Iloura are very subtle. How many total and how did you go about dealing with them?
DONALDSON: “There are quite a few, but most of them are taking stuff
out, doing touch-ups and so on. And we did choose locations that worked
for the period as far as we could. Shots like the walkie-talkie falling
to the ground are all effects shots, and a lot of the wide views of
London streets are a mix of effects shots and real locations. With the
bank building, the top of the façade is still the same as it was in
’71, but the bottom was totally different, so we photographed the top
and added it to the effects shot.”
POST: Did you do a DI?
DONALDSON: “Yes, at Omnilab, and then we did the looping between London
and Australia, and that worked really well. Now that post has become
this global thing, thanks to digital files, you can work like that very
effectively now.” (At Omnilab’s Digital Pictures, master files were
shot out to digital negative via the Arrilaser film recorder. DI film
recording supervisor Tony Poriazis used certain image processing
techniques for the 2.35 anamorphic blow-up process. Multiple DI
negatives were filmed out via the Arrilaser to replace the traditional
lab interpos/interneg process. This saved generation and quality loss,
as well as film dirt build-up, and improved the overall quality of the
prints on the thousands of screens worldwide.)
POST: How important is music and audio for you?
DONALDSON: “I think you just can’t underestimate how crucial it is. I
really love good crisp dialogue you can understand, and I love all the
sound effects and music to support it, so that the whole lot weaves
together into a great audio experience that supports the whole visual
experience. The audio all starts with the sound recordist on the set,
and we had this brilliant guy, Simon Hayes, who did all Guy Ritchie’s
films and 28 Weeks Later.
“He had two great boom operators and I’m very fussy about getting good
on-set tracks, so we were in total sync about that. Then we mixed in
Melbourne at Soundfirm and I was very pleased with the quality of the
“The composer, Peter Robinson, is English and has done several of my
films. He came down to Melbourne and we recorded with the Melbourne
Symphony and then mixed it at Sing Sing Studios there. So we worked
very closely, and his recording was being done in a room at the same
place where we were mixing the film and doing all the sound effects, so
it was a very tight arrangement.”
POST: Did you make the film you first envisioned?
DONALDSON: “I think it did, but anyone who says they know exactly how
their film’s going to turn out at the end when they start isn’t being
quite truthful because part of the process is discovering the film. For
me, the creative process doesn’t stop when you finish shooting — it
only finishes when you’ve done the last possible thing in post, and
every day it’s a matter of, ‘How can I make this better?’ So I never
want to be rooted so rigidly to a plan that I can’t take advantage of
any opportunities that come up in post to improve things, whether it’s
an effect or an audio cue, or whatever.”
POST: You must have seen a lot of changes in the post world since you began making films in the ‘70s?
DONALDSON: “The biggest is the digital revolution. I don’t think you
can exaggerate the impact of the digital world on post today. When I
began, you had to mix your film in one take! Now, in the world of
digital editing and mixing, you have so much more control. And you see
it in every aspect, from the preciseness of the editing, to the quality
of the sound mix. And it’s just the beginning. Post gets better every
“Where filmmaking is lagging behind the most now is in the capture of
the image. The gear is still very heavy and cumbersome, but I’m sure
that will change and the movie camera will end up being not much bigger
than a 35mm still camera. When that flexibility comes, I know I’ll be
able to shoot films with a lot more energy and put the camera in places
that are a lot more interesting.”:
POST: What’s next?
DONALDSON: “I’m developing three very ambitious projects. I don’t know
if they’ll come off or not, but one of them is set in London, New York
and India, and the fact that everything’s become so global now will,
I’m sure, help get the film made for a reasonable budget.”