|LONDON — British writer/director Guy Ritchie made his name with the flashy, hyperkinetic indie gangster caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and followed that up with the similarly flavored Snatch and RocknRolla, which once again visited the seedy underbelly of London gangster life.
Now, armed with a reported $100 million budget, and backed by the Warner Bros. machine, Ritchie has joined the big leagues with his latest film, Sherlock Holmes.
Predictably, this is not your father’s Sherlock Holmes. Long gone are the traditional — and easily parodied — capes and deerstalker hats. Instead, as embodied by Robert Downey Jr., the famous detective is now part intellectual sleuth, part action-hero, partnered with an equally slimmed-down and pumped-up Watson, played by Jude Law. Here, Ritchie talks about making the film and his love of post.
POST: What sort of film did you set out to make?
GUY RITCHIE: “I wanted to give it my interpretation, I suppose, of Sherlock Holmes. My idea of how he should be portrayed was gestating for decades — and I liked the idea that he’s this very intellectual but also very visceral and physical guy. So he has this sort of marriage between being physical and intellectual, and the fact that he’s flawed makes him so appealing and interesting.That was what I was trying to bring out in the film, and the studio wanted Guy Ritchie-isms, so we had similar ideas and approaches to make it all more accessible. They wanted more of me and I wanted more of them.”
POST: A lot of die-hard fans complained that this film was going to ruin the Sherlock Holmes name, that it would just be a big effects-laden Hollywood sellout. Did all the talk worry you?
RITCHIE: “No, because I actually tried to stay very true to the original books and characters, and it’s not like I’m not familiar with all the stories. So I tried to remain faithful, even though obviously I have an opinion that percolates through the film.”
POST: Were you always a big Sherlock Holmes fan?
RITCHIE: “Yes, I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. They were the first stories I was familiar with as a boy, and I always loved them.”
POST: Holmes has been portrayed on screen more times than any other character. How do you explain the character’s continuing appeal?
RITCHIE: “I think it’s probably the sheer depth of the character, as there are so many nuances in him that Doyle managed to pick out. Endearing as he is, he’s also rather vain and arrogant, but somehow that gives an authentic feeling to him as a character. The breadth and depth of his character — and the fact that he’s clearly a genius — makes him so interesting and accessible to modern audiences.”
POST: You shot a lot of it on location.
RITCHIE: “We did, and that’s something I also love doing. We had really great locations — by far the most interesting locations I’ve ever been involved in. I wanted to show the extremes of Victorian England, so we go from the gutters to the Houses of Parliament. It’s not easy finding period places, even in England, so we also shot in Liverpool and Manchester as well as London, and then we combined all those with CGI. Then we shot a lot of the interiors, such as Holmes’ apartment, on stages in Brooklyn at a former armory, and then put the whole jigsaw together in post.”
POST: Do you like post?
RITCHIE: “I do. I love it. The part of the whole filmmaking process that I find the most difficult is all the promotion of the films (laughs). So for me, the post process is really an extension of everything else you’ve been doing in production, and directing and editing is really a very similar process. So for me, I find myself continuing to work in the same way in the edit suite as I do on location or on the floor. I’m as creatively involved in post as I am at any other stage. And I love post as it’s fairly relaxing compared with the actual shoot.”
POST: Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
RITCHIE: “We did nearly all of it in London. We did a lot of it out of my office on Charlotte Street, and at Technicolor in Soho. We had a bunch of different post houses working on it, essentially all British.”
POST: The film reunites you with editor James Herbert, who previously collaborated with you on RocknRolla, Revolver, the documentary The Ego Has Landed and the ABC television pilot Suspects. Tell us about that relationship and how it works.
RITCHIE: “After doing so many projects together we have a real shorthand, which is a huge advantage on a project this size. He began editing at my offices as soon as we began shooting. I’ve got to say, it does make a big difference having an editor who really understands your sensibilities and what you want from a scene. That shorthand between us takes a lot of man-hours out of my day, and that’s a big plus when you have very long hours shooting. We also had a lot of visual effects shots — done by Framestore and Double Negative — so it was a pretty challenging edit. He’s a really great editor, and that made the edit go pretty smoothly.”
POST: There’s obviously quite a lot of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there, and what was your approach to dealing with them?
RITCHIE: (Laughs) “I’m not sure exactly how many we did in the end — it must be 600 or 700. What I do know is that where we could, we stuck to shooting real locations. And then when push came to shove, we ended up in Brooklyn to do various scenes.
“To reconstruct Tower Bridge as it was being built did mean that we needed the benefits of modern technology, and Double Negative created all of the Tower Bridge scenes [over 300 shots], along with the shots of the Thames. Then Framestore did the boat, all the dockyards and the Houses of Parliament. And Cube Effects also did a few shots, and the Visual Effects Company did all the aerial sequences.”
POST: What was the most difficult visual effects shot to pull together?
RITCHIE: “Definitely some of the stuff we did for the whole Tower Bridge sequence. That was very tricky to get right.”
POST: You have a very strong, distinctive score by Hans Zimmer. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
RITCHIE: “It’s so important to me. Talking about the whole post process, this is always the spot where I get most excited. I always love getting all the music and audio together, so I spend a good deal of time on it, on all my films.
“For this, I spent a lot of time and many late nights with Hans trying to come up with what we felt was as an original soundtrack as we dared. And that was inspired by what was happening in England in this time in history, so we got quite a lot of Eastern European and Irish influence. It’s basically a folkie feel that percolates the period, as opposed to the more obvious classical and traditional and refined school of the time. So we went for something far earthier, and instead of an orchestra we used just a few strings, with things like a banjo and zither, to give it that flavor.”
POST: Where did you do the mix?
RITCHIE: “We did the pre-mix in London and then the final mix on the lot at Warners.” [Warner Bros. Post Production Services’ Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill were the re-recording mixers on the film.]
POST: Where did you do the DI?
RITCHIE: “We did it in London at Technicolor with timer Adam Inglis and the DP, Philippe Roussselot, who did a great job playing with some of the frames and darkening skies, that sort of thing.”
POST: This has got to be the biggest production you’ve done so far. How tough was it?
RITCHIE: “It was tough. The hours were very long and we all had to work very hard, but I loved working with all the people, so there were no personality problems or clashes. That was easy. And it wasn’t scary, taking it on, as I had a great crew and we just worked through problems as they came up.”
POST: Did the film turn out the way you originally envisioned it?
RITCHIE: “Yes, I think it’s exactly the film I intended to make, and as we were putting together the DVD material, it hit us that there are no deleted scenes. Everything I shot is in the movie. So we had a very tight script and we shot it and didn’t waste anything.”
POST: There’s talk of a franchise if this is a hit. Would you be on board to do another?
RITCHIE: “Well, we’ll have to wait and see. I honestly haven’t given it too much thought yet as I’ve been working so hard to finish this one. But if all goes well, who knows? It’s been a very pleasant experience so far.”
POST: What are the best and worst parts of being a director?
RITCHIE: “That’s tricky! I really love being a director, and the good parts are that you travel all over the world, you get to meet interesting people, you get an enormous train set to play with, you learn a great deal, and they pay you a good salary to do it. The bad parts? For me, it’s dealing with the promotion of your film. I’m just not very good at it.”
POST: What’s your view of Hollywood?
RITCHIE: “Thus far, it’s been very positive. This was a great experience and I’ve found them to be very filmmaker-friendly over at Warners. They’re deeply smart, deeply supportive, and it was great working with them and Joel Silver.”
POST: Obviously, when you’re working on a film, you don’t have much time to catch up on other releases, but have you seen anything recently you loved?
RITCHIE: “Yes, I absolutely loved Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It was so much fun and definitely one of his best. I just love his visual style and the way he mixes it all up, and his great dialogue.”
POST: What’s next?
RITCHIE: “I don’t know. I’m not too good at thinking very far ahead, so I take each day as it comes. In terms of projects, I’m a chicken sitting on a few eggs, and one will crack before the others, so I have to wait and see which one it is. I just keep them warm.”