BY JULIAN MITCHELL
David Lowery, writer, director and editor of The Green Knight, has admitted that the film was the one that finally made him grow up. He directed Disney’s Pete’s Dragon and has just wrapped on the Mouse House’s Peter Pan & Wendy, so you can understand that his convictions incline to the sentimental and perhaps childlike. But it’s still a strange admission.
However, it turns out that the interviews for The Green Knight acted for him like a form of confessional. He had a lot to get off his chest and was more than generous with his answers to questions.
The film’s distributors, A24, started the reveal with some of Lowery’s childhood memories. A photograph of an eight-year-old Lowery, one of his brothers and a friend have them in mid-sword fight, all wearing helmets from the medieval era. It’s only Lowery who has the full armor on, made out of cardboard and papier-mâché.
The picture encapsulates his burgeoning interest in Arthurian lore and Grail mythology. Fired by movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lowery’s keenness to talk about the film is also explained by how exacting the project was. After a tough shoot with weeks of editing and re-editing, talking about the film was perhaps the release he yearned for, as he told The Hollywood Reporter.
“The last few months of post on this movie, I was editing in hotel rooms in British Columbia while we were location scouting,” he said. “I cut so much of this movie on a 16-inch MacBook Pro while in this tiny little hotel in the middle of the woods. I’d wake up in the morning, go location scouting and get back to the hotel and get back to the edit.
“I just could not let it rest, Lowery continues. “I was consistently going back and re-cutting scenes and re-interrogating the material, trying to figure out the best way to put it together. If you were to look at the very first assembly of the movie, it’s not that different in terms of the themes being there in the movie and the scenes being what they are on a physical level.
“Changing the rhythm of a scene can really change the way in which viewers absorb it and absorb the messages you’ve tried to embed within it. And what I think the extra time editing allowed me to do was just really draw out those themes. So everything I was hoping to accomplish with the film, I was able to bring it to a much greater fruition when I was able to re-approach the edit.”
READ MORE: ‘The Green Knight’ Filmmaker David Lowery on the “Nightmare” Shoot and ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ (The Hollywood Reporter)
Critics have remarked on the great look of the film, which was shot by director of photography Andrew Droz Palermo on the large-format ARRI Alexa 65 camera with the beautiful and mysterious DNA range of lenses (ARRI doesn’t disclose where they get the vintage glass from).
Entertainment Weekly asked the director about the look and feel of the film, and what the visual references were. “In terms of visual references, we looked at everything from Andrei Rublev, which is, I think, one of the greatest movies ever made, and which you could never make now. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but that was a great visual touchstone for us,” he said.
“We looked at Willow, the Ron Howard film, which is one of my favorite fantasy films of all time. We looked at a lot of ‘80s fantasy, to be honest, like Ladyhawke and Dragonslayer and Willow. Those were big ones for us because they were fantasy. They weren’t tied to a specific time and place in human history, and yet they still felt like a grounded reality.”
READ MORE: David Lowery on his quest to make the marvelous medieval epic The Green Knight (Entertainment Weekly)
Anyone watching the movie expecting a sword and sorcery Game of Thrones-type experience will be disappointed. It’s a much slower burn. In fact Lowery’s starting point was a 700-year-old poem about a Knight called “Sir Gawain” that he had studied in college.
The poem tells the story of an incident at the court of King Arthur, involving Sir Gawain’s acceptance of a challenge from the mysterious Green Knight, leading to a test of his chivalry and courage. He explained his directorial process, the film’s themes and much more to Frame.io’s Michael Cioni in a far reaching interview for Sundance Collab.
The story behind the production of The Green Knight is a sorry one for Lowery. First he became ll and ended up having surgery after the film wrapped. He didn’t even tell his wife that he was ill but just ploughed on; not unlike having his own quest to conquer. The shooting schedule was condensed down to around a month-and-a-half with principal photography in the republic of Ireland, near the very rainy town of Tipperary.
He told The Hollywood Reporter, “It took me a long time to get past my memories of how miserable the shoot was. I had so much fun making this movie, but in so many regards, it was also a nightmare and really, really hard. And as a result, I carried a lot of that baggage with me for a lot longer.”
He also opened up to Collider about the challenges that piled up for him to finish the film, “I was deathly ill for half of the production and my main memory of the shoot was just pain. I thought that if I can make it to the end at least someone else can put it together.”
With the shoot done, the film’s edit had a target for completion. It was to premiere at the 2020 SXSW film festival in Lowery’s home state of Texas. The only problem was, as he told Vanity Fair, he didn’t like the film as it was.
The ensuing pandemic cancelled the festival and film premiere, giving him another six months to find an edit he could live with. “I just gave myself permission to dig back into the movie, unlock it, and rework the entire thing,” he told VF. “I found the affection I needed to cut it with love in my heart instead of disappointment and hate.”
The story of the edit is also one of the Auteur. Lowery adapted the original poem, directed the film and edited it, albeit remotely. He has been quoted as saying that his perfect distribution method for his movies would be to attach his laptop to the back of the projector to give him time to perfect his creation. Media distribution company Frame.io couldn’t manage the laptop-to-projector connection, but did help out with his remote set-up.
Lowery’s assistant editor, Presley Impson, used Frame.io to send Lowery edit changes from her Dallas base to wherever he was in the world. “Whether I’m in New York or London or Ireland, the way we’ve set up Adobe Premiere to function between us, we’re able to deal with the same footage in real time, and Frame.io was a big part of that,” he told Lisa McNamara in an interview for the Frame.io Insider blog.
The team also worked with Frame.io for VFX. “Working with Weta Digital, Presley would put the shots on Frame.io and I’d watch them, try them out in the edit, think about them, let them marinate,” said Lowery. “Then I could give very specific notes for them to turn around the next iteration.”
“I feel like with The Green Knight I could drive the ship the way I wanted to, and everything rippled out from the edit. I know there were a lot of people working to make that happen, but we’ve managed to make the post process more fluid, which is the way it should be.”