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Conceptualizing a Modern Day Film Noir with 'Last Looks' Director Tim Kirkby

Director Tim Kirkby speaks with Script about helming 'Last Looks,' creating a specific mood and tone for the film with his cinematographer and the creative distinctions between a film and a television director.

Charlie Waldo (Charlie Hunnam) is an ex-LAPD superstar who left the force and now lives a life of simplicity and solitude deep in the woods. Alistair Pinch (Mel Gibson) is an eccentric actor who spends his days drunk on the set of his TV show. When Pinch’s wife is found dead, he is the prime suspect and Waldo is convinced to come out of retirement to investigate what happened. The case finds Waldo contending with gangsters, Hollywood executives and pre-school teachers, all in pursuit of clearing Pinch’s name ... or confirming his guilt. 

Last Looks doesn't shy away from being a modern-day film noir crime/mystery film. It's a fun ride with Waldo, a recluse sleuth, as he comes back to his stomping grounds in Los Angeles to solve a case he wants absolutely nothing do with. I had a great time speaking with director Tim Kirkby about taking on this project, originally adapted (and screenplay penned by) from Howard Michael Gould's book of the same name, and creating a specific mood and tone for the film with his cinematographer. Plus, we talk about the creative distinctions between a film and a television director.

Charlie Hunnam as Charlie Waldo in the action/comedy, LAST LOOKS, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Charlie Hunnam as Charlie Waldo in the action/comedy, LAST LOOKS, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: How did this novel get on your radar, or did this come to you as a fully written screenplay?

Tim Kirkby: I was in LA, editing a project and I was looking for the next thing. I wanted to do another film, I loved the experience of doing the film that I was working on, but I wanted to do something slightly different. I didn't want to do hard comedy. I didn't want to do a sort of franchisee film, I was looking for a unique story and that came to me, it was called Waldo. And I loved it immediately, because I really enjoyed where it started, which was simple, minimalist, in Waldo's woods, and this character who was lost and broken. And he was sort of like an eco-warrior. And I love that you could be just outside LA and you live minimally. But of course, what's the story up to this point? How did this human get to this point? What sequence of events? And then enter these three groups of characters who jar his world and lure him back to this polluted city that he never wanted to return to. And I just love the contrast - I'm always looking for contrast in the film - and through the POV of a broken individual or lost character. So, I went with it, I really enjoyed it, I found it incredibly intricate, the script.

Tim Kirkby

Tim Kirkby

It took me a while to get to the end, I was trying to reread all the pages, a lot of names to take in. But I liked all of that. It reminded me of Chinatown where you have to keep up, and if you see Chinatown at home, and make a cup of tea, you could lose the whole thread of the film - you can't leave. [laughs] You have to process everything you're seeing - I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed the storytelling, the narrative, the structure, the words on the page, and I thought, visually, it could go a couple of different ways. It could be incredibly film noir, or it could be sort of handheld and naturalistic, but I just wanted to use a couple of those cinematic tropes, but not rely on one specifically and try to enjoy some of those influences.

I talked with Charlie Hunnam in those early days, he was attached when the script came to me. He's so spiritual and Zen and a very nice individual who's very focused and very passionate and incredibly open. And he loved the character too for the reasons I said and so with him and Howard, the writer, we just tweaked it here and there, and kept polishing it. And then it was, ‘Who's going to play Alistair?’ And on my shortlist was the wonderful Mel Gibson.

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Sadie: It's great casting, too, especially for these two actors to take these characters and make them their own.

Tim: Yeah, and Mel, he's one of the most charismatic people I've ever met. He loves mucking around, He's very enthusiastic and he's incredibly sensitive. And he found, obviously from his point of view, there's an opportunity to play probably one of his heroes, as in Oliver Reed, or Peter O’Toole or Richard Burton. He's got a lot of stuff to draw on. So, he was really interested in this character. But it was very important to not play the modeling side of the character because there's a couple of scenes where obviously, Alistair is being quiet, and there's a beautiful scene towards the end of the film where he says, ‘I'm tired, Waldo. I’m tired.’ And it's that rare thing that actors have to be on all the time. They have to perform off-screen and this poor character Alastair Pinch who is this prime suspect of killing his wife is just exhausted of who he is. And once Mel was on, then we tried to get the film financed, and Brad Feinstein stepped in, and off we went.

(L-R) Charlie Hunnam as Charlie Waldo and Mel Gibson as Alastair Pinch in the action/comedy, undefinedLAST LOOKS, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

(L-R) Charlie Hunnam as Charlie Waldo and Mel Gibson as Alastair Pinch in the action/comedy, undefinedLAST LOOKS, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Sadie: And the rest is history. Going back to the filmmaking part of it, you touched on it as well, Chinatown and film noir. This does feel like a modern-day film noir, where you’re tipping your hat at it. When you were initially sitting down to prep with your cinematographer, was that always the intention?

Tim: Yeah, definitely. Whatever projects I do, I go on Pinterest, and I do a mood board. And it could range from 10 pages, 50 pages, 500 pages, whatever. I also then start making a folder in my iTunes of tracks that I think will suit the film. And the music and the ambiance and the atmosphere is a huge deal for me. I start doing that, the moment I'm invested in a project. When you get to hiring the Director of Photography, you've already have a library of 200-300 stills and film clips and a sort of arsenal of music to sort of play. So, I sit down with DoP, and I'd say, ‘I'm thinking this,’ and we watched The Big Lebowski together, we watched Chinatown together, even things like Mulholland Drive. If you look at Mulholland Drive, there's a couple of scenes where the railings are painted light blue so in Last Looks, the railings are painted light blue as well. Because the film wasn't shot in LA that's the other thing that we wanted to try and find other ways of capturing LA as best as we could which is why it's a little bit more film noir, and as you said a little bit of a tip of the hat, maybe a little bit too much, but I don't personally have an issue with that. I enjoy the angles and the lighting and that sort of thing. I wanted the flavor of film noir with comedic overtones of a sort of Big Lebowski. We shot on the Sony Venice with anamorphic lenses just to sort of really put him out of step, quite isolated when he's in Idyllwild, and then go quite tight on him when he's in LA just to try and fill his paranoia. We just watched a lot of things together, and really that's the relationship where you've got to be joined at the hip.

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Sadie: I appreciated what you did in terms of making Paramount Studios its own little character there. It’s a little homage to old Hollywood.

Tim: Yeah, when I first took on the project I was in my naivety, I was thinking, ‘Yeah, we're going to shoot this all in LA, and it's going to be great. And we're going to see Waldo cycling down Hollywood Boulevard.’ But of course, the reality is, it would cost five times the amount. [laughs] And so we ended up shooting in Atlanta. And we only shot one day in LA, which was the exteriors. So obviously, when you move a unit, it takes forever. So, you're looking at three shots - the whole Paramount Studio thing, it was really tricky to try and not make that Paramount. Apart from the minority of people in the industry who know that's Paramount Studios, your chances are greater that you’ll get away with it. And likewise, with the Paramount Studios in Atlanta, which doesn't have as much character, it's very functional, but we managed to try and get away with it and populate it and have tourist buses go past talking about King Kong and that sort of thing. [laughs]

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Sadie: With your background mainly in directing for television, and you’ve also helmed features previous to Last Looks, in terms of storytelling, especially from a director's point of view, do you find that you have more to creatively explore with narrative features rather than episodic?

Tim: Oh, god, yeah. There's two types of television directors, there's obviously the episodic director, who jumps in and does a couple of episodes, or there's in the UK, you're the director of the series. And so, you have more input. The episodic director, unless you're doing like Game of Thrones or Stranger Things, you jump in, the trains moving, and you do the best you can. But that trains moving, whether you're on it or not. With a film, it's all about you. And so, it's up to you, where you want to spend your time, where you want to spend your budget, and how you want to tell the story. And, of course, that's what one wants, as a director, you want to have your vision as pure as it can be. And I love television, I'm not knocking it, I've made a career in it. The certain television that I adore, I've worked on. It's very immediate. And you can use and try things, it puts you right in the arena with the actors, and then you might be off doing something else the next week.

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With a film, you can really take your time and process. And I like having one narrative, because you talk about that narrative with the actors. And they would have read the script, and they would know the parts, and it just feels a bit more enjoyable in the sense that you can form it any way you want. I think with television, you are sort of anchored to this episode. And you have to get it in the can. Otherwise, they don't call you back. You are under a bit of a time pressure. [laughs] And I've had that happen before. [laughs] A show that will remain nameless right now, I went in, and I do the work with the actors. And then we do another take and I go, ‘Yeah, great. Wouldn't be great if we did this?’ and they did it. ‘Why don't we try this? And maybe if you say this?’ We did it. And then on day two, the producer came and said, ‘You're working the actors too hard!’ I said, ‘No, I'm just trying to get in a different performance.’ ‘Well, I'm just giving you a warning, Tim,’ and they never called me back. And it's probably one of the best episodes and one of the highest ratings of the series. [laughs] But that was not the remit of the job. It's where you want to put your energy ultimately and film for me like every director, it's a privilege and an honor to work in and get paid to realize this script. And there's the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you edit, and they're all different, they all produce different feelings and challenges. And that's amazing.

RLJE Films will release Last Looks in Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on February 4, 2022.


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