Out now on DVD, here is our interview with Papadopoulos & Sons director Marcus Markou, conducted by Mark O'Connell for Film-Reviews.net!
For the uninitiated, can you give us a brief synopsis of what Papadopoulos & Sons is about?
It's about a very rich Greek London businessman called Harry Papadopoulos - who's now part of the British establishment - who suddenly loses everything in a financial crash - the cars, the mansion, everything. The only thing he has left is an old forgotten and dormant fish and chip shop which none of the family know about. The reason the banks can't take it is because its half owned by his estranged wayward older brother Sprios. So Harry, together with his family, is forced to reunite with Spiros and start again in the chippie - where, as you can guess, he has to rediscover real happiness. It's a fairy tale.
When did you first conceive of the film, and how long did the entire production take from start to finish?
I've always had this story knocking about in me since my late teens. I always wanted to explore what is lost when we pursue material wealth. I am the son of immigrants and it's been a big question for me. In the story, Harry is forced to rediscover his lost Greek roots and the idea of community. It took about 3 months to write the script and then a year to make - from the first production meeting to the first screening. In the middle of that were 24 days of shooting - the quickest bit!
Were any of the characters inspired by your own family or experiences?
Yes, plenty. I am the son of Greek Cypriot immigrants and I was exploring my own journey home to my Hellenic roots.
With the current recession, your film is certainly very topical. Do you think that the best comedy can come from tragic situations?
I have always viewed the world as a bitter sweet experience. At a cosmic level reality is more of a comedy than a tragedy. We do take life and our lives too seriously. So I do like taking a hero and plunging him into unknown territory and forcing him to loosen up and find joy.
What challenges did writing, directing, financing AND self distributing the film present, and do you have any tips for Indy filmmakers?
The challenges are surmountable. If you have a plan and a good team of people around you then each of these challenges can be broken down and dealt with. The best advice I have for film makers is to never forget your commitment to telling the story you need to tell. The story that you feel God, the Universe - or whatever higher power you believe in - has inspired you to tell that story. You are a story teller - that's a really important job. The world needs story tellers. That is what you are. And so the technical experts in the film making business are the people that will help facilitate that story coming to life. Therefore, find the very best people you can to help you - whether they are actors, art department people, sound recordists, camera team etc. You are the story teller, the cast and crew are there to help you bring that story to life. But don't forget what you are and why you are. There is a danger that you may get distracted by technical film making aspects and you lose sight of what you are. Of course, you need technical knowledge but you need it in order to free the technical experts at their job. You need enough knowledge to know what people are doing - not to actually do it. There is a danger that some film makers may get lost in the technical maze of technical film making.
Stephen Dillane is perhaps best known for his serious roles such as Game of Thrones. Did his comedic versatility surprise you and did you write any characters with particular actors in mind?
No, it only surprises me that someone like Stephen Dillane doesn't get more comedic roles. Good actors can do comedy! In fact, Stephen Dillane's Hamlet for Sir Peter Hall in the 90s is still talked about as a comedic Hamlet and I saw Stephen in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing - in the late 90s. Again, Stephen is intelligent and witty - and so its easy for him to transfer these traits into a character. The same goes for Ed Stoppard or Selina Cadell. They're all good actors and good actors can play comedy. Sadly, the industry has this bizarre idea of 'serious actors' and 'funny actors' - it's far too crass and reflects the ignorance of producers who would benefit from going to drama school for a year or join an impro class. I would loved to have seen the late Norman Wisdom play King Lear, for example. And someone like Antony Hopkins would be perfect to play Tommy Cooper - if that film was ever made. By the way, my dream is to unite the following five actors as brothers: Antony Hopkins, Stephen Dillane, Michael Sheen, Michael Gambon and Mark Rylance... I know the BFI are charged with supporting the British Film industry and I know the British government encourages film making with generous tax breaks but I don't even believe the script has to be very good to justify this project. It is of extreme national importance to see these five actors play brothers in a film.
Do you have any funny stories from production?
We laughed a lot on the set. It was hard work. It was very tough. We shot it in 24 days but one should never take film making too seriously. This is not surgery and we were not attempting to dock a ferry or land a plane in difficult weather conditions. Yes, there are safety aspects to film making but when something 'goes wrong' its not often fatal. Often it's a dropped line or missed continuity or someone stepping out of shot or the lights in the wrong position etc. The trick, I think, to film making, is for everyone involved to remember what took them into this - whether you're the costume designer or making props or an actor with just three or four lines. We need to remember that it was the idea of playing and having fun. If we are not playing or having fun then we are not really connecting to the spirit of making believe.
How did it feel to win the Audience Award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival?
It was very special. This is a Greek audience in a city famous for its love of film. The award carried the name of Michael Cacoyannis - who made Zorba the Greek (and was a Greek Cypriot) - who sadly passed away one week before we started shooting Papa & Sons. And the film does do a nod and wink to Zorba. So it was very special. They were very kind to me and the film. I felt very fortunate. Awards that have a big voting base are very special. It's a very visible thumbs up from lots of people.
Can you reveal anything about what you are working on next?
I'm exploring something. It's still in the soup stage but I think it's the most exciting stage. You start to uncover a world and its characters and their backstories. It's so much work because you are editing. Every time you work on a character and his or her story you are effectively making getting rid of a 1000s alternatives. Each choice is actually the decision not to do or say 1000 other choices. You're always editing.
Finally, have you got any messages for fans of Papadopoulos & Sons, and people thinking of watching it?
Papa is a sweet, gentle, old fashioned fairy tale with a gentle pace and heart. It's like fish and chips. Simple and uncomplicated but when done well - delicious. It's a film about family love. It's not for everyone - it's not for the cynics or those who would prefer snail porridge. As Stphen Dillane explained to me, when we were trying to work out why the film couldn't get into any British Film Festivals, "Papadopoulos & Sons isn't cool. It's not a black leather jacket [which film festivals love]. Your film is a warm, fluffy, red jumper." Of course, the truth hurts because there is a part of me that wants to be a cool leather jacket (in fact I have one that I've only worn once in 12 years - true) but I'm now extremely grateful that the film's a fluffy red jumper that people can buy in their 1000s on Amazon or Itunes or find on Netflix or even wait till its screened on the BBC [who bought the free TV rights] in a couple of years time.