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Sam Mendes: A Life in Pictures

1 December 2015

Sam Mendes gave a fascinating insight into his career, which has seen his varied work explore visions of modern America, through to his bold direction of the Bond franchise in Spectre and Skyfall.

Director Sam Mendes joined us for a look back at his career in film, where he discussed his theatrical roots, his process of working with actors and portraying both American and British identity in his work.

Listen to the interview in full >

Mendes first entertained thoughts of directing films when he was studying English at Cambridge. It was after university where he began directing theatre, which included establishing and running the Donmar Warehouse for ten years.  He made his first film, American Beauty, whilst he was still artistic director at the Donmar and noted his reaction upon reading the script for the film for the first time; "it was a very beautiful, visually articualte script."

#SamMendes on reading #AmericanBeauty for the first time: "it was a very beautiful, visually articulate script".

— BAFTA Guru (@BAFTAGuru) November 30, 2015

American Beauty was critically acclaimed, winning six BAFTAs. Mendes felt that was partly to do with the timing of the film’s release, commenting on America’s concern with certain political relationships and the relevance of the film in a pre-9/11 world.

Mendes discussed the use of sound in the films and Thomas Newman’s beautiful and evocative scores. Mendes has worked with Newman on six of his seven films, as well as other frequent collaborators such as cinematographer Roger Deakins and costume designer Albert Wolsky. He talked about his working relationships with these figures: "The best collaborators know when to say no to you."

Mendes next read the script for his film Away We Go, which he thought had "an honesty and lightness to it". Mendes commented on the both liberating and frightening nature of filmmaking as well as the importance of finding a working flow and rhythm, especially in the editing room. 

What defines you as a director is your rhythm, and finding the courage to shift rhythm

His most recent work on Skyfall and Spectre is perhaps his most widely recognised. Mendes feels Skyfall, like American Beauty, was released at the right time, following Bond's involvement in the 2012 Olympics and the feeling of British pride. This led to the question about whether Bond was an accurate reflection of British identity, with Mendes suggesting it "walks the line between reality and fantasy."

#SamMendes on British identity in Bond: "it's aspirational. It walks the line between reality & fantasy".

— BAFTA Guru (@BAFTAGuru) November 30, 2015

Mendes finished his Life in Pictures interview by taking questions from the audience and was asked about the support that new directors get at the start of their career, stating that:

It is incredibly important for new directors to get proper training. A lot of [establishing yourself] is will power. Get out there and do it. Get involved and be part of it

Read the transcript in full >