The Brothers Hawkins have arrived on the scene with a loud bang that could be seen as an ode to a favourite weapon of choice in the crime genre. Now as their feature directorial debut, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, makes its way into UK cinemas, HeyUGuys had the opportunity to lightly interrogate the filmmaking duo, as they shared with us their thoughts on the creative process and the first film in their directorial canon.
Zeke Hawkins: We grew up at the movies. Whilst our parents were trying to deal with having two boys, we would go to the cinema four times a week throughout our childhood. So we have always loved movies. In terms of a seminal moment, I remember when I was eighteen and I first saw Steven Soderbegh’s Out of Sight. It is a great movie because it’s a traditional narrative crime film, but it also has the strong presence of its director. I remember watching it and having this feeling – this is what I want to do with my life, which I attribute to being aware of Soderbergh’s presence.
Simon Hawkins: Movies such as Out of Sight or crime genre movies with a strong directing voice are the films that we looked to for this film. But we also looked at first time filmmakers within the crime genre, for example Sugarland Express and Blood Simple. But it all started with the Out of Sight type movie.
There is a school of thought within storytelling that you should stay away from creative influences, the reason being that they can intrude on the creativity or work of the individual.
Zeke Hawkins: When we are in the creative process we like to watch as many movies as possible, because by watching movies we can see what worked here and there, and how that can be applied. But it is not necessarily to copy a movie or to worry about doing specific genre things that we have seen in other crime movies like our own. Watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books or listening to a lot of music all serves as strong inspiration for us when we are in the creative process.
Simon Hawkins: When you are in the process of making a movie it can be exciting when you realise something that you are trying to do was done well in another film. Every day we watched a lot of movies, but it’s not about copying, rather it is about doing something with your own voice. To know that you can do it successfully is very exciting.
Zeke Hawkins: For instance there is an idea we had in the way we composed the framing to show the pressure Bobby was under by not giving him a lot of head room. This came directly from the movie Milk, where the Josh Brolin character who was always under this weird emotional pressure had a ton of head room. Milk is nothing like our movie, but it was by watching that film that a simple idea such as headroom arose, and we took that and brought it to our own movie.
Texas is known for its expansive flat landscape. How did the landscape influence the feel that the film impresses upon its audience?
Zeke Hawkins: When you are in Texas just turning the camera on and seeing that flat landscape has such an immediate effect on the viewer in terms of understanding that the characters are totally on their own. They are out there in the middle of nowhere, with nowhere to turn to for help and nowhere to hide – it is just flat as far as the eye can see. On an emotional level, and this is true of other flat landscapes including the ocean, the viewer has a different sense of what it means to be alive. It’s about how insignificant you can feel when you can see forever, and how relatively small you are to everything around you. So if you are shooting in Texas you don’t even have to incorporate it consciously. You just show the landscape, and the logical and strong emotional effect on the viewer will naturally occur.
Simon Hawkins: Something that was particularly interesting about where we shot the film – a small corn farming town, Portland, South Texas, which is near Corpus Christi – is that it’s a port city, and so it’s windy, and in the last five or ten years all these windmills have been put up around these towns. So when you are driving or walking you can’t help but notice these huge modern windmills as far as the eye can see. But when you pull up closer to them you realise how proportionately larger they are than everything else, and I think that was something else that was interesting in the movie. Even when you were intending to show these ominous windmills, you couldn’t help but have them appear, because they were in the background or in the rear view mirror of the car, and they intrinsically added to the feel of the film.
How do you approach the creative process? Do you go in with the intention of shooting the script verbatim or do you like to collaborate with the cast and allow them to shape their characters so that you finish with something different than what you may have started with?
Zeke Hawkins: We like to collaborate and to let things grow and change as much as possible. I think that in a lot of ways the job of the director is not necessarily to be generating all of the ideas, but to be creating the framework for all the creative people they are working with to generate the ideas. We are just making sure they all work together, and so in that regard we are trying to get everyone we are working with to bring as much to the table as possible. It’s in the editing process when we start putting it all together, locking it down exactly how we want it.
How did the experience of directing your first feature film compare to your expectations?
Zeke Hawkins: I had worked as a director’s assistant on two films previously, one of which was Capote. I was there every second of every day throughout the process for about two years, and so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, even though we hadn’t directed a feature film together before. But the key thing as a director is when you are doing a short film, music video or commercial, you can control a lot more, whereas when you are doing a feature film there is a lot more letting go, and letting yourself live in the storm of the making of a movie. You cannot possibly control everything at once, and so even though a film is much bigger, it becomes more about living in the moment, and trying to get what you can on any given day.
What has allowed pulp crime genre to endure, and continue to contribute to compelling drama?
Zeke Hawkins: In the pulp crime genre what you are guaranteed is a good and relatively straightforward story. I think as long as we have movies then good stories are going to endure, whereas other genres might be looser with that. So as a filmmaker it’s exciting because you know you have the anchor of a good strong crime story to pull you through from start to finish, where people will just want to know what happens, and so you can enjoy focusing on the characters and the art of it all. At the end of the day whether it’s films or books, it is exciting to find out what happens, and the crime genre always has that anchor pulling the viewer through, and it is something we will always return to.
A creative writing tutor once mentioned to me that it’s not about creating a game changer, rather it is simply telling a familiar story well. Do you think that we have a tendency to lose ourselves in this need to create a gamechanger or in the case of us critics to fall foul of our greatest flaw – the tendency to say, “This is nothing we haven’t seen before?”
Zeke Hawkins: I think you’re right in what you’re saying. The most important thing with a movie is whether it is good and whether it tells a good story. When people are looking for salacious stuff or are looking for something that as you say is a game changer, for me that’s personally less important than whether it’s a good movie and it’s done well. In terms of looking at it from the filmmaking side, all we can do is rely on the fact that if make it how we see it from our unique point of view, then it will be inherently unique and interesting. Maybe some people can work in a way that they try to be a game changer, but I don’t think we can. All we can do is do it how we see it, and trust that it will be inherently unique.
With your first feature film behind you, how would you describe the experience of your first film?
Zeke Hawkins: We are proud of the film, especially when we go back to watch it. We were not there for the original seed of the idea – the movie was originally put together by our producers Brian Udovich and Justin X. Duprie, who worked with writer Dutch Southern on the original draft of the script. So I think in terms of figuring out our own point of view or our own vision as we move forward; by developing our own projects we will be originating the idea, and it will inherently start becoming more and more how we want to do it. But I think in a broader sense we don’t worry about that all too much.
Simon Hawkins: I think that question will probably be easier to answer a couple of films down the road, where we can start to see where certain things developed, because you can always see a contrast between movies.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place is in cinemas on August 15th.