Escapist, The: Interview with Director Rupert Wyatt

Director Rupert Wyatt talks about some of his inspirations and ambitions in directing “The Escapist.”

A Contrast of Styles

“Well, I love prison escape films in general. But I didn’t want to make The Escapist in the American style which tends to gloss over a lot of details. There were several French films which were my models such as Jean Pierre Melville’s The Red Circle or The Samurai. These are really meticulous films which focus on the details of the escape and I like that. I also wanted to convey a place where time stands still, as it does in prison, through a very static camera style and then contrast that with the speed and urgency of the escape. So the film cuts back and forth between these two styles. The escape should be seen and not heard and that’s allowed us to have a very mobile and fluid camera which moves around the characters. And in the prison scenes, particularly with this sort of cast, the shots reflect the incarceration of the characters, so the two styles work together to tell the
story.”

Creating the Look

“The Director of Photography [Philipp Blaubach] and I have worked together since 1999 so we understand each other very well by now. We met and did a short film and we’ve worked together ever since. Philipp has this
extraordinary ability to see everything in terms of light and he’s done a tremendous job here; he’s achieved exactly what I wanted. I particularly wanted to avoid the whole cold, sanitised feel of a typical British prison which can be very whitewashed and flat. The inspiration is much more Midnight Express or South American in terms of look; very hot, overcrowded, everybody sweating. And we wanted to costumes to blend in with the prison, and Maeve has done a brilliant job there.”

Involving the Audience

“It’s a real danger in a film where so much is suggested rather than said – especially when you’re working on a schedule of 26 days – that the audience might miss the key moments in the story. All the decisions that Frank makes are really to himself – for instance when he learns when his daughter has died – and that’s where an actor like Brian Cox comes in. He has the ability to tell you a story just by the way he behaves and looks. But it’s a very fine line for a director because you don’t want to confuse the audience.”

The Great Escape

“I did 10 drafts on the script and mostly that was concerned with getting the details of the escape right. Myself and Daniel Hardy (co-writer) talked about this a great deal from the very beginning. The laundry room was obvious starting point since Frank works there and then one by one he gets other people involved because each one of them is needed for a particular reason. Every time I found a solution I had another problem. For instance I came up with the idea of the steel cap in the laundry room but then had to solve the problem of how you could cut through it which led to the fight between Lenny Drake and Two Tonne because Lenny needed to get a diamond. But I couldn’t reveal all that too soon… so the development of the script was shaped by largely practical issues but also by maintaining a sense of suspense and drama. And it then became the big action scene set in the prison which was important to showing the kind of world these men inhabit. All of that developed out of the steel cap as the point of escape.”