Green Knight, The: Director David Lowery on his Two New Films

Director David Lowery on his New Movies: ‘The Green Knight’ and ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’

For filmmaker David Lowery, the pandemic-related delay allowed to reshape his Arthurian epic, The Green Light, with fresh perspective after a tough shoot.

Based on the 14th-century Arthurian poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” the film chronicles King Arthur’s impulsive nephew, Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), and his quest to confront the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson).

Shot in the spring of 2019, the cast and crew battled the elements of Ireland’s countryside, while the director endured his own ailments. The film was originally slated to premiere at 2020’s South by Southwest, but Lowery appreciated the opportunity to recover from the shoot and rework his cut with fresh eyes during the first months of the pandemic.

“It took me a long time to get past my memories of how miserable the shoot was,” Lowery says. “I had much fun making this movie, but in many regards, it was also a nightmare and really hard. As a result, I carried that baggage with me for a lot longer. Had the film come out last year, maybe you would’ve seen evidence of that baggage on screen. But because I had time to re-approach it and redevelop  affection for it, the film doesn’t bear much evidence of that pain now.”

Lowery says that Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade opened the door to his love of Arthurian lore.

Lowery is now busy wrapping Peter Pan & Wendy for Disney, which he’s eager to introduce to children of this generation, much like Spielberg’s Hook was the preeminent Peter Pan story of his own youth.

“I still love Hook, and there are things in that movie that are as good as they’re ever going to get when it comes to Peter Pan adaptation,” Lowery shares. “There are things that I love about J.M. Barrie’s novel that I had to leave out because I couldn’t do them better than Spielberg did.

I don’t seek to supplant it, nor do I seek to supplant other Peter Pan adaptations. It is a work that is evergreen for a reason. I am very happy that my movie will be the Peter Pan that an entire generation of children are introduced to, but I also know that this won’t be the last Peter Pan movie. So I try to do justice to it and treat it with the respect it deserves, while illuminating it with my own perspective.”

The Sir Gawain and Green Knight Poem?

When I was young, I had a certain passion for Arthurian lore that was the result of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That set me on the path for discovering the adjunct legends associated with The Sword and the Stone, including King Arthur’s knights and their quests, in particular those set out to find the Holy Grail.

During that childhood obsession, I wrote my first screenplay at the age of seven about Sir Percival and his grail quest. And around that same time, my mother brought home a book called The Arthurian Book of Days, which was a calendar that took the form of an illuminated manuscript. And each day had an Arthurian legend prescribed to it. And the entry for December 25th centered  around Sir Gawain and his duel with the Green Knight, which takes place at King Arthur’s Christmas feast.

That was my introduction to the story, that was the first time I ever read it. And then during my freshman year of college, we did a survey of all of the canonical texts of Western literature, beginning with The Iliad and continuing on with The AeneidThe Odyssey and Beowulf.  The final one was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which was the first time that I read the poem proper.  The story  had an impact on me, and that impact is now born into this film.

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Director David Lowery, actors Ralph Ineson and Dev Patel on the set of THE GREEN KNIGHT. ERIC ZACHANOWICH / A24 FILMS

Green Knight‘s Imagery and Storyboarding

I storyboarded in fits and starts. There were parts that were heavily storyboarded, and others where we just showed up, rehearsed with the actors and synthesized what the actors were doing with what my ideas of the scene were going to be. And then we would start shooting. And in some ways, that wasn’t the best way to go about making a medieval epic because, sometimes, an actor may have an inclination to walk to a part of the set that didn’t exist at all because we couldn’t afford to finish building it.  But nevertheless, that’s how we approached a lot of it. I always love following the whims of my cast, and I really don’t like to define my own vision until I know what they want to do. There were certain sequences that needed to be storyboarded, whether it was for visual effects or just for the sheer complexity of them. So the scenes with the Green Knight entering the Great Hall, we had storyboards for that. We had storyboards for Morgan le Fay [Sarita Choudhury] casting her spell. Oddly, that was the most storyboarded sequence. Every shot of that was something I drew out. And then very often, the night before a shoot, I’ll draw a series of rough thumbnails of how I think we need to tackle the day.

As crude as it may be, when I’m the one doing the drawing, I can communicate better than me just trying to explain what a shot will be. So it really was a blend of those two approaches, and I’ve continued that on the film [Peter Pan & Wendy] I’m making now. I’ve storyboarded a lot of it, and I always do these storyboards myself. I do a lot of thumbnailing myself, I draw a lot of pictures and it’s always fun to go back to them at the end.

With Green Knight, I’m looking back at the storyboards I drew, and the movie wound up looking a lot like them. Even down to the color palette, because I often will put color in. But I also am always the first one to throw those storyboards away if a better idea comes into play or if an actor has an idea. I love being spontaneous on set and I love being able to have a plan, but I love being able to cast that plan aside at a moment’s notice. So I got into trouble on this movie a lot with that. We would come up with new ideas, and when you’re dealing with a period film, if you point the camera another direction, you have to be prepared to have set dressing, props and costumes that you may not have on hand. Y0u can’t just be as spontaneous as you might be in a more modern film, but nevertheless, I tried to be as nimble as I possibly could.

 

 

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Green Knight A24 FILMS

 Personal Ailments while shooting?

It took me a long time to get past my memories of how miserable the shoot was. And it took a long time for the rose-tinted glasses to emerge, as they always do, for me to be able to look back on it fondly. It was a great time. I had so much fun making this movie, but in so many regards, it was also a nightmare and really hard. But I would never complain. It was a luxury that I got to make this movie. I was very grateful that I had the opportunity to make it, but it took far more out of me than I expected. And as a result, I carried a lot of that baggage with me for a lot longer. Had the film come out last year, maybe you would’ve seen evidence of that baggage on screen in the way that I cut the movie. But because I had time to re-approach it and to redevelop some affection for it and to let that baggage fall away, the film doesn’t bear much evidence of all of that pain now. Although certainly for Dev, you can definitely see what he went through. That’s all loud and clear right there on camera.

I still love it. And if you hear the word “bangarang,” your eyes are going to light up.  But I can certainly look at it as an adult and imagine what it was like for my parents to endure that movie.  I don’t think my parents were fans of it. They weren’t fans of a lot of the movies I loved as a child, but I still love those movies now. And there are things in that movie that are as good as they’re ever going to get when it comes to a Peter Pan adaptation. And there are things that I love about J.M. Barrie’s novel that I had to leave out of my screenplay because I couldn’t do them better than Spielberg did. And frankly, there’s a lot of things I can’t do better than Spielberg could.  But there are scenes in Hook that are truly beautiful. And in spite of whatever criticisms people may level, including criticisms that Spielberg himself has, there is some truly wonderful material in that movie, and it remains dear to my heart and probably always will.

The Green Knight is an evergreen property. It’s not as well known as Peter Pan, but it’s a work that has stood the test of time. All I can do is try to do justice to it and treat it with the respect it deserves.  I’m speaking both of The Green Knight and of Peter Pan & Wendy when I talk about this.

One of things I can do is try to illuminate it with some degree of my own perspective.  I can try to illuminate it in a way that hasn’t been done before. This is the one chance I have to tell this story, and I’m going to give it my all and make it as personal as I possibly can. But no matter how personal they get, they are still works that will withstand not just the test of time, but they’ll withstand me and whatever I try to do with them. So I look forward to seeing more Peter Pan films in the future, and frankly, I would love to see someone else tackle The Green Knight at some point.

 

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David Lowery on set of Green Knight. A24 FILMS