Dean Cavanagh is that very rare breed – a maverick whose talents have been successfully proven over several different disciplines.
He is an award-winning artist; a screenwriter and playwright, writing the highly acclaimed Wedding Belles with Irvine Welsh and the forth-coming movie version of the hit on-line series Svengali. He has also been a journalist, with bylines in i-D, NME, Sabotage Times and the Guardian. Dean is also a documentary-maker, a film and TV producer and a musician, with along list of collaborators, including Robert Anton Wilson.
Now the multi-talented Cavanagh has written and directed (with his son Josh), his first movie - the much anticipated Kubricks.
In this exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds, Dean talks about the ideas and creative processes behind Kubricks. How he collaborated with Alan McGee, and developed the film with his son Josh, discussing his thoughts on cinema and synchronicity, and explaining howKubricks came to be filmed over 5 days, with a talented cast this summer.
Dean Cavanagh: ‘Stanley Kubrick has always fascinated me in that he was clearly trying to convey messages through symbols, codes and puzzles in his films.
‘For me his genius was in the way he presented the ‘regular’ audience with a clear narrative structure and for those who wanted to look deeper he constructed hidden layers of subjectivity. He was clearly a magician working with big budgets in such an idiosyncratic way that it’s hard not to be intrigued by him and his oeuvre.
‘I’ve been following Kubrick researchers like Rob Ager and Jay Weidner for the last few years and I really wanted to dramatize a story based around Kubrick as an inspirational enigma. There is a wealth of material about the esoteric side of Kubrick on the net and Ager and Weidner are great places to start the journey from.’
DM: How did you progress towards making ‘Kubricks’?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘I’ve been writing screenplays and theatre on my own and also with Irvine Welsh since the 1990’s. Up until last year, I never really had any desire to direct a film but Alan McGee encouraged me to have a go. He offered to produce a film if I would write and direct with the emphasis being on us having total control. This was music to my ears after having mainly dealt with people who are always looking for reasons not to make a film. Alan’s credo was “just do it and let’s see what happens”. There’s a great freedom in working with him.’
DM: Is it difficult to make films in the UK?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘Me and Irvine have had so many negative experiences with the UK film and TV industries that we could fill a book with our stories, and we probably will one day. You would have to ask Irvine his take on it but my views have been well documented and I’ve been swimming through the ashes of the bridges I’ve burnt for quite a long time now. I won’t go into a rant on here about it but fundamentally if you are of the opinion that the filmed arts in the UK are mediocre, just find out who the gatekeepers of the industry are and you’ll understand why. They care more about protecting their salaries than projecting exciting stories and concepts.
‘I like to call it The Great British Mediaocrity Industry. It might not be popular to say, but give me US and European film & TV over anything that’s produced on these shores at the moment.
‘I think the opening and closing rituals of the Olympic Games says all you need to know about mainstream UK culture. The Clash’s “London Calling” played as egomaniacal performers jockeyed for position to secure themselves knighthoods from The Queen and her brood. Every single one of those ‘artists’ involved have the blood of the victims of Empire on their hands in my opinion.’
DM: How did you start to write ‘Kubricks’?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘I started writing a script for Kubricks and then binned it. It was counter intuitive trying to set in stone something that I wanted to evolve out of a bringing together of cast and crew. I suppose it’s the antithesis of how Stanley worked.
‘Me and Alan (McGee) talked at length about creating a few relatively big scenarios on the land surrounding his house but then decided to scale down even further. I relished the idea that there was a tiny amount of money to work with. I would definitely not have wanted to make the film with a “real” budget purely because “real budgets” come with real strings attached and we both wanted to make this an unreal experience. I think we succeeded in that everyone involved walked away with a magical glow about them.
‘The film is essentially about a Stanley Kubrick fan, Donald (Roger Evans) who is trying to construct a film in his imagination whilst undergoing a neurolinguistics therapy session with Chris Madden (who is in fact a practicing neurolinguist) the more that Chris delves into the mind of Donald the more the film starts to reveal itself.
‘Donald ‘conjures’ up two characters, Joanna Pickering and Gavin Bain, who could be read as mirrors to Jack and Wendy Torrance in The Shining or Dr. Bill and his wife in Eyes Wide Shut. There are a lot of hidden symbols and double meanings in the very loose narrative but, fundamentally it’s all about the process of “no budget” filmmaking. It will definitely be a love it or loathe experience for the viewer.
‘We’ve got this idea about putting all the footage from the shoot up on our website so people can download and edit the film anyway they want, and put their own scores on it if they like. There’s so many relatively cheap editing software programs about that I reckon we could see some very interesting takes on the film. I like the idea that there would be all these subjective interpretations of Kubricks in the ether. We’ll have to try and work out the bandwith logistics as the files are huge.
DM: Were you constrained by budget, time, location?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘We had five days in which to shoot a feature length film - for budget and time restrictions - which could have obviously been stressful but we warded off any stress by enjoying ourselves.
‘I know it sounds a bit simplistic but we all just decided to enjoy the process. It was a little edgy at first because the cast and crew turned up knowing nothing about my idea or what was required of them. This created an electric atmosphere of ‘forced experimentation’ that really shines through in the footage.’
DM: You’re making this with your son, how was it to work with him?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘There was never any plan to get Josh involved but he was coming up with some really good ideas and scenarios. I love working with younger people and he just kind of integrated himself into the process, which again appeals to mine and Alan’s interest in collaboration.
‘I don’t think either me or Josh are ambitious. I’ve worked with ambitious people and to be honest I find most of them have sociopathic traits. For me creating is reward in and of itself.
‘I’ve always had this notion that pure creativity is a mirroring of the life process. Let’s face it, the end “result” of life is death, so surely everything that you create in life should never be about the result but rather about the “doing” if you are being true to yourself and the life trajectory.’
DM: ‘Kubricks’ is the first part of a trilogy, can you tell me about the other 2 parts?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘The next film is going to be shot at an old Welsh chapel Alan McGee has bought and the third part will hopefully be shot in a house that has been built in one of the remotest parts of the UK I’ve ever seen. A kali yuga/singularity theme will run through all three films. We are working with the same cast and crew for the films but we want to get friends like Anton Newcombe involved in either scoring or “acting”. It would be cool if we ended up with a little community of cast and crew that strives towards a creative continuum. We’ve already found a great young cinematographer called Tom Mitchell whose work and attitude has to be seen to be believed.’
DM: You’re a writer, musician, and artist, what do think of contemporary culture?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘The last thing I’d ever want to do is tag myself with a description of any kind. All I really care about is having the freedom to create things for the sake of creating.
‘My interest in culture isn’t so much about the “products” that materialize but in the processes that create the products and where symbolism and synchronicity fit in to the creative process. Culture now moves at central nervous system speed and anyone can be creative if they choose. If you create because you have an end goal in sight and want to attract an audience to validate your work, I think you could overlook the sacred and sorcerous dimension of creativity.’
DM: Has Magick been important to you?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘My interest in esoterica was cultivated by my voracious consumption of the works of Bowie, Robert Anton Wilson, James Joyce, William Burroughs, Jung and of course Stanley Kubrick. Magic is such a broad church and I suppose my bag is synchronicity. I’ve experienced some mind blowing syncs in my life and they started to increase when I became friends with Alan McGee. I am always intrigued by occulture and psychogeography and how it is now starting to slowly run into the mainstream. I get a lot of entertainment from the Synchromysticism Forum and various blogs and it’s such a liberating experience sharing ideas, concepts and connections with people purely for the sake of it. Having no agenda is always a liberating experience.’
DM: What’s your view of cinema today?
Dean Cavanagh: ‘Not that I have anything against Hollywood films, but with the advent of the internet and relatively cheap technology I was of the opinion that Hollywood would be threatened and it would open the door for less established, less bankable talent to step up to the financing tables with fresh ideas. I was wrong of course, all Hollywood has done is consolidate even more and concentrate on what it does best: Event movies. They know that they cannot be competed with in that arena. What you see now is less low and medium budget size films being made and franchise and event movies being pumped up even more with finance. It’s not something that bothers me because I’m an admirer of all kinds of films as long as there is something that excites or resonates with me.’
Meantime, you can download the soundtrack to Kubricks heret.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
With thanks to Dean Cavanagh