‘An Antique Tea Set Was Worth More Than Our Budget:’ How Peter Greenaway and Janet Susman came up with The Draftsman’s Contract | Movies

Peter Greenaway, writer/director

One summer, over 40 years ago, my family and I stayed in a house near Hay-on-Wye. I always had a pen in my hand, and I always drew. Intrigued by how the appearance of an architectural piece changes depending on where the sun is, I decided to paint the house from different perspectives. I set up maybe five lookout points in the garden that offer different views of the building as the shadows move and the light changes. And I thought this was an idea for a movie. At the same time, I was fascinated by the big country houses in England – we lived close to Funthel Real EstateAnd in previous holidays you have painted wonderfully Holkm Hole in Norfolk. I started thinking about the home drama genre, like the crucial drama of English cinema. Because I had a certain scribal streak, I thought about number counts, alphabetic combinations, and color coding.

I needed to fill this all together. To make it dramatic, I developed a whodunnit at the heart of the film. The 1694 film is about money, property, sex, power and art, but its original premise was: Should an artist paint what he sees or paint what he knows? vision and belief. Just because you have eyes doesn’t mean you can see.

We spent several months researching the site. Groombridge place, a moated manor house in Kent built in 1662, stately but not extravagant, which is exactly what we wanted. It was well taken care of, although we had to give the garden a bit of care – serving figurines, bowls, orange trees and the like. We’ve all transitioned into long shooting weeks in the hot summer; The man who owned it was – if memory serves – a retiree who made a fortune on insurance. He moved out to live in the attic and stayed out of our way but on quiet afternoons, if you listened carefully, we could only hear cricket on the radio upstairs. The tea set for the tea party – which was very fashionable at the time – was his tea set and it was very expensive. People were joking that the movie’s full budget wasn’t worth the antique tea set. Maybe they are right!

The sheep belong to the neighboring farm. I forgot about them until I recently re-watched the movie. There is one shot that I particularly liked that is completely human-free: You just watch, through the painter’s framing device, the sheep heading towards you. They stayed beautifully inside the frame. The painter brilliantly played Anthony Higgins. I loved the way he swung his hips as he walked around the possessions and the sass and vanity he was throwing his lines. Everything is deliberately stylized – the costumes, the wigs, as well as the dialogue – people use 50 words to say something when he does 20 things. If anyone got off script, they’d be slapped: Manufacturing was a feature of the movie.

I had firm ideas about who I wanted to act and how they would perform. I like to use experienced actors in the theater because some of what I do is very tall. Most movie theaters are “Cut. Cut. Cut” which allows a lot of actors, we must say, with less experience, off the hook. An American critic said the contract for The Draftsman wasn’t really a movie because there were only about 60 sequels. He believed that “proper” Hollywood films should have at least 300 films.

The curse of all cinema is the desire to tell stories. I’ve always refused to let composers read the scripts – I don’t want them trying to explain it. Michael Nieman and I have worked together before and knew he was brilliant. I told him when the movie was shot, and talked about the country houses that inspired me, but I don’t think I gave him more clues. I said go away and write the music you want, and I felt confident enough for my science his music To be able to rank, in the edit, which part went where.

The movie was a huge hit and I still, 40 years later, get paid a small fee every three months. Art films weren’t supposed to make money – what a silly idea!

And what are the graphics? It was done by me – this is my hand you see. I still have them, all 13, in an attic somewhere. To be honest, I’m not quite sure where it is, but BFI is very keen to get it so I have to find it one of these days.

Explain… Anne-Louise Lambert and Janet Suzman in the Draftsman contract.
Explain… Anne-Louise Lambert and Janet Suzman in the Draftsman contract. Photo: Everett Group / Alamy

Mrs. Janet Susman (Virginia Herbert)

The text you sent was too thick. So many words, full of emotion after restoration, obfuscation and vanity. It was ridiculously not possible, but that piqued my interest. Peter was doing something no one had done before and I resumed his sheer originality and boldness. As soon as we started filming, I realized he was filming a maze.

Peter has the eye of an artist. He loves paintings, everything is laid out perfectly, every detail is important. He photographed only with natural light and candlelight. Kubrick was the only person who had ever done this before – in Barry Lyndon – he had a special, expensive lens that could capture low light. Instead, Peter put a small lamp behind each candle to increase the wattage.

The intricacy of our costumes and elaborate wigs was extraordinary. We had to get up at 6 every morning to get dressed. Mind you, I wore worse – I should have worn an original Elizabeth dress with a 19″ waist for an RSC production. The director only caved after one of the other actors fainted at rehearsal.

Filmed in long-running shots. I remember a certain scene that was eight minutes long, an inside scene with a lot of dialogue. We had to talk very quickly and clearly about the whole single shot. It was nerve-racking. He was a very creative and intuitive director. While filming another scene on a hillside, the sun was going behind the clouds, and instead of saying “cut,” as most directors do, he said “No, keep rolling!” So during this scene you see the faces are shaded, and then when the sun rises again, it’s back to the light.

The budget was so low that there was a great friendship with everything, and there was an ease between the various disciplines on the set which was very productive: the costume girl could move the prop without being caught, and the make-up or lighting teams could make it. suggestions. There was a warm and cooperative atmosphere.

When I saw it finished, With music by Michael Neiman, I just thought: “Yes!” It pushes the movie forward in the most amazing way, giving it a perfect ride. When you’re shooting or working out, you want the thing to be good but you have no idea if it is or not. But with this I felt that there was a quality in the work that was extraordinary. We knew it would be special.

The Draftsman Contract is now released in select cinemas and on Blu-ray. retrospective season, Frames of the Mind: The Films of Peter Greenaway Present at BFI Southbank, London, until December 30th.

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