Dexter Fletcher has just turned 50. Having been on film sets since he was six years old, both in front and behind the camera, who better to talk at Advertising Week Europe about the power of the past in film making than the director of the deliciously retro ‘Eddie the Eagle’ biopic?
Fletcher is particularly gratified by Eddie (as he affectionately abbreviates it), his third film, which is the first to go around the world, thanks to Fox saturating America with promotion even before its UK release, and set to become the biggest British film of the year to date.
“Lots of people remember the time fondly,” Fletcher said, of the movie’s 80s setting. “However, there’s a whole generation who don’t know anything about it. It gives the older generation some currency.”
Fletcher always wanted to be a director one way or another, having led theatre workshops and made films with his brother as a kid. For him, a movie set is a more natural environment than any, and his long career has given him a thorough understanding of everyone’s on-set roles, and how they co-operate to deliver an end result.
However, the difference for him is being involved, as a director, from beginning to end. “As an actor, you come in and do your bit, sit in your trailer, have a cup of tea, learn your lines and don’t bump in to the furniture,” he joked.
Having worked with a range of incredible directors, including Matthew Vaughn, Alan Parker, Guy Ritchie and the “amazing” Mike Leigh, Fletcher has picked up the trade through a “case of osmosis”.
The penny really dropped for him working on a couple of low budget horror films of questionable artistic merit, directed by a heavy-set gold merchant with enough spare cash to make a movie.
“He was absolutely awful,” said Fletcher. “If this guy can direct, what’s going on? I can do better than that, how’s this guy made it happen? I can either sit here and do nothing or put that to the test and see if that’s true.”
Actor slash director
Because of his acting background, he feels he can understand his performers’ process better, sympathising that they have to put themselves out in a way that others involved in the process don’t, as a bad film follows them most. “What’s always engaging and interesting to me is that actors are all heading to the same destination but come at it from different angles,” he added.
“When people get nervous, that’s what kills creativity and creativity is absolutely essential when creating any endeavour.”
Fletcher hopes his latest movie, despite being a creative interpretation of the truth, featuring a fictional alcoholic ski instructor played by Hugh Jackman, will help new generations appreciate the story of a “fun guy” who wanted to pursue a dream through “sheer pig headedness and very little talent”.
“Eddie got a bit of a rough deal back in 80s, people seemed to want to disown him, people embraced him elsewhere but not in England,” he commented. “Whether you win a medal or you don’t, if you compete, you have to commit and sacrifice as much as the winners do.
“He understands when people are taking the piss out of him – he chooses to ignore that and go ahead. It doesn’t matter what obstacles are around you, if you continue to believe, you get somewhere.”
When many might be intimidated by directing an A-lister like Jackman, Fletcher felt he had a good relationship as he is a star for a reason.
“He’s renowned as the nicest man in Hollywood,” Fletcher commented. “He doesn’t have to go around convincing people, in fact he’s very good at being a very normal guy who goes ‘I got really lucky’.”
However, directing Christopher Walken proved more daunting, as he wasn’t aware of Eddie the Eagle and seemed confused by the entire project.
“The only time he really engaged was when Hugh Jackman walked in,” Fletcher laughed. “Before that he was going ‘what the fuck is going on’. I was like ‘fuck me, he’s ‘The Deer hunter’.
“He was slightly confused, but when he clicked in, he was there and you realise these people are big stars for a reason. This is not their first rodeo.”
The nostalgia resurgence
Nostalgia came with the territory of telling a story set within living memory, and Fletcher reinforced this with the use of 70s fonts, reminiscent of fondly-remembered British TV show ‘Multi-Coloured Swap Shop’.
However, the director thinks that the box office success of last year’s Jurassic World and Star Wars Episode VII could be put down more to recognisable titles than retro reminiscence.
“In terms of saleability, that’s half your work done,” he commented. “When you pitch ideas, people go ‘yeah, but what’s the title?’ – you’ve got to have a title, star and budget.”
A consistent theme that Fletcher acknowledges in his film making is the ‘feel good’ factor. “I enjoy being on the set so much, learning what other departments are doing, the films so far have a feeling of excitement and fun in them that seems to translate.
“When people come out they go ‘ah, I feel good’,” he said. “I want to do something about war next where everyone gets blown up and killed.”