EXCLUSIVE: Spotting cinema with Spottiswoode

In the fall of 2011, I had a chance to interact with one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, Roger Spottiswoode. In a 45 minutes long conversation, Roger and I discussed about his life, actors and of course about his cinema at length. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation….


His name may or may not ring a bell, but Roger Spottiswoode has been directing feature films for over nearly thirty years. Spottiswoode’s first film credits were as an editor on Love and Music (1971), Straw Dogs (1971), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), The Gambler (1974), and Hard Times (1975). Five years later Spottiswoode returned to the big screen scribing 48 Hrs. (1982) and Another 48 Hrs. (1990), while accumulating 25 directing credits.

Starting with Terror Train (1980) through Shake Hands with the Devil (2007), those directing credits range from such celluloid sludge as Turner and Hooch (1989), Air America (1990), and the James Bond adventure Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), as well as outstanding made-for-cable dramas like And the Band Played On (1993), Hiroshima (1995), Noriega (2000) and Under Fire, which starred the likes of Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman as journalists covering the 1979 revolution in Nicaragua.

Roger FilmsWith a history stretching into different facets of the moviemaking medium, Roger Spottiswoode has been around the boulevard of bloated/bogus/beautiful dreams a few times. I met this ace director at a suburban hotel, which apparently is his third visit to the country. “3 years ago I came here and went to Kerela, where I lived with somebody who was a doctor and was doing her cancer research there,” Roger said. Though it was a pleasure trip for him Spottiswoode revealed that he’s planning to shoot his latest project in India. “The story is about the great Indian mathematician Ramanujan. I’m planning to shoot it in Tamil Nadu, precisely around Chennai.” He said he has decided to sign the southern superstar Siddharth for the role of Ramanujam.

As mentioned earlier, Spottiswoode started off his career as an editor, as has been the case with many directors. “I always wanted to be a director, I had to earn my living and I thought I could learn about film making so I got into editing,” he said.

He began his career with the great Sam Peckinpah, “Oh..!! He was a brilliant and a difficult man, I have learnt a lot from him. He was a wonderful guide and a teacher. Why I say that he was a wonderful teacher because he was a man who would never tell you what to do, he would just tell you how he wanted the feel of the film. He was the best kind of person from whom you could learn everything about filmmaking.

He used to say that you need to know a film backwards.” By this, Roger explained that Sam used to expect every crew member to know everything about the film, “He was a director who really expected you to bring something to the party”.

Roger Spottiswoode at the location
Roger Spottiswoode at the location

While he left Sam Penckinpah’s style alone so it wouldn’t look like another of the director’s films, when he became a director he did keep in mind Sam’s style of working.

Spottiswoode’s first film was Terror Train and the second was Under Fire. Both films were shot by the legendary cinematographer John Alcott. For a newcomer like Roger Spottiswoode, that was an achievement in itself. Recollecting that moment Roger said, “Terror Train was shot in 25 days, when I got the script, John Alcott had just finished filming The Shining and was not doing anything for that period of time. Luckily, one of my producers knew him and when I met him, he told me that I just have 25 days to finish the shooting so for that he needs to do 30 cameras set-ups a day.” Spottiswoode goes on to say that John Alcott always loved challenges and they developed a certain amount of rapport which later on resulted in signing Alcott for Spottiswoode’s second movie Under Fire.

Spottiswoode went on to direct the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, “I was doing a lot of good movies and when they called me they were already aware of my work. So when I got the script, we did spent a lot of time in discussing the film; its screenplay, its casting and its locations. Initially, I wanted to shoot the film in Vietnam but the production people had reservations on that so we had to change it to Thailand. Nevertheless, the total experience was awesome. I worked with some great actors, great technicians and brilliant crew members.

Roger Spottiswoode with Sylvester Stallone
Roger Spottiswoode with Sylvester Stallone

Talking about actors, Spottiswoode have worked with some of the great actors in Hollywood. He has directed the likes of Tom Hanks and Pierce Brosnan. According to him, both actors are the nicest he’s worked with. “Tom used to drive himself to work at the sets of Turner and Hooch,” he says. Roger further reveals that in the movie Turner and Hooch, he wasn’t the producers’ first choice. He came on board after five days of shooting since nothing was working out. “When I came on board I decided to take it from the start and so we re-shot entire scenes and Tom never complained about it. In fact, he would contribute to everything associated with the film, whether it was at the sets or at the editing studios or at the production level. He was never the sort of person to just arrive, shoot and leave. He was incredible to work with.

Roger also spent a considerate amount of time with Pierce Brosnan too. “Like Tom, Pierce is also a very down to earth actor. On the sets of Tomorrow Never Dies he’d always arrive on time and wouldn’t leave the set till the scene was done.

Sadly, Roger has not seen any Bollywood film except Lagaan and Udaan. According to him, he cannot watch any musical, “It’s not that I don’t like music, I do listen to music…a lot but classical. You can call it a drawback of mine but I cannot watch any musical films be it Bollywood or Hollywood.


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