When making a biographical film, it can be a struggle to artfully balance authenticity and movie magic. Location can make or break this balancing act and takes hours or pre-production time to achieve the overarching look and feel. “It’s not showing off, it was preparing [the set] to be as beautiful as the acting was,” says director and Distinguished Artist Michael Apted who shared the style and technique used in his biopic film Coal Miner’s Daughter with this fall’s Industry Insiders class.
As an Englishman, Apted admits that his “ignorance was complete”; he knew nothing about country music or the culture accompanying it. And he found this to be in his favor. In his earnest attempt to make the movie as truthful as possible, he had no prejudices about the subject of his film, singer Loretta Lynn. He was able to delve into the world of Coal Miner’s Daughter with a fresh perspective. He did so with the clever use of location to introduce authenticity. Apted explains, “You’re having to make fibs and shortcuts when condensing 25 years of a woman’s life into two hours. You have to get as much reality as you can.” This approach lead to the Coal Miner’s Daughter shooting in the rural south, Lynn’s former home. This attention to detail gave the movie genuine depth but came with its own set of hazards and complications. What he could not achieve on location, he did his best to reproduce. “We decided to build the cabin because we had so much work to do in it,” Apted confides, to the surprise of the students. The set was so realistic that many did not realize that it was fabricated.
Understanding that not everyone in his audience has access to shooting on location or Academy Award nominated art direction teams, he shares his own approach. “I liked to go to the real places even if it was impossible to shoot there.” In the search for truth in film, he finds that understanding the setting is integral to portraying the story accurately.
In addition to the Industry Insiders class, Apted is working with 10 scholars throughout the semester as part of the Distinguished Artist Program where he works one-on-one with the students to develop their projects – be it screenplays or episodic series.
From the editor: Michael Apted screens a film and participates in a Q&A every Monday this fall at 7 p.m. in the screening room at Chapman Studios West. Join us anytime!