Knucklehead’s photographically minded director talks us through the muses that shaped and inspired him.
Like trees growing around manmade structures, people are shaped according to the things they encounter. Directors are no different. No matter how unique their style, the people, places and art they encounter influence their work.
Charlie Crane, one of Knucklehead’s sharpest directors, came to directing through a passion for photography. We asked him about the people and creations that helped turn him from a young man with only one GCSE who can’t swim into a filmmaker who makes things look effortlessly cool and chooses to spend his spare time wandering around North Korea.
“Before I was a photographer I was a photographer’s assistant and before that I was a general mess. I was doing a part-time job with someone. He was doing an interview for a magazine and he said ‘you should come and see this guy with me, he’s a black-and-white printer’ and he was just this amazing dude.
He was probably the best black-and-white printer in the country. He was printing a lot of advertising work but he also did a lot of great non-commissioned black-and-white photography, for [people like] Sarah Moon and Bill Brandt.
His house was just filled with prints all over the walls, all stained with nicotine because he smoked so heavily. In his kitchen there were developing trays and empty 7Up bottles that had been filled with different developers and toners and he had prints slapped up against the wall – when a print’s wet you can chuck it against the wall and it sticks there and you can assess it.
He would tone and work in his kitchen and his darkroom was in the basement. The only person that has ever been in his basement is his electrician (but I’m not sure that’s true). He just lived and breathed what he did and he was amazing at it, incredibly creative, incredibly different.
I think that inspired me to become a photographer – what he did, the way he lived and the way he did it. He was completely immersed in it. That taught me you can do something and it doesn’t have to be a job - it’s just what you do. Just immerse yourself completely in it. I tried to hold that inside me as a work ethic, and I’ve always liked going to work since.”
“I’ve never met him, it’s just his work and I find it completely beguiling. I can just sit and stare at his photographs. Their composition, their steadiness and their calmness have an incredible power on me. I think that he’s a very intelligent photographer.
He’s a German art photographer and studied the Düsseldorf Academy at a time when photography was evolving into what everybody recognizes it as now. There was a whole load of stuff going on in America with [William] Eggleston and all those sorts of people. And there was also this thing going on in this Germanic school and I love both schools.
I think if there’s work I go back to again and again and I can sit with and sit with forever, it’s Thomas Struth’s work, both his portraiture and his landscapes, but particularly his cityscapes. I can just live in those pictures. I adore them.
What I really love about moving imagery is you can change things and move from one place to another. But I also love a still, beautifully composed frame. And for me to be able to have all those things in moving image storytelling and then to be able to hold on a still frame – I want those still frames to be like his still frames. They’re so considered, the composition is so lovely that you can just sit and absorb them and they kind of wash over you. That is something that I find really inspiring.
It has a really direct impact on my work. Interestingly I rarely put his pictures into treatments because sometimes they don’t necessarily suit a particular job, but in my mind some of his imagery will always find it’s way into things.”
“I find his [David Fincher’s] other work really engaging, very emotional, very clever and very sophisticated but when I went to South America on holiday Fight Club was on in the cinema. I watched it and I walked out and I was like ‘fucking hell. You can’t do that. You can’t do that with a photograph. You just can’t. You can’t make someone feel like that, not like I felt from watching that.’
I was a photographer’s assistant then so I thought ‘how do you do that?’ I walked round in this country, in this city I had never been to before. There were loads of new things to look at, but I just couldn’t get out of the film. That’s really amazing.
I’ve watched a lot of films but I’ve never really watched them with that confidence and maybe that’s being somewhere else or whatever, but it just made a massive impact on me. I think that the way he tells the story is so complex and intelligent and yet he deals with emotionally challenging subjects. That was a very defining and inspiring moment.”
“When I was a photographer’s assistant I worked for a guy called Malcolm Venville who’s a director but also a photographer and he influenced the way I worked, defiantly. He was just a real eye opener to the way that a director works compared to a lot of photographers.
I’d assisted quite a lot of photographers but I’d never assisted someone that also worked as a director and the different way that they collaborate with people. He was very trusting of me to do things. It was much more overarching directing –not micromanaging – a lot of directors micromanage.
His influence on me is about collaboration, with the crew and the agency; about making work with other people and seeing a much broader picture and not being so narrowly focused on this tiny thing but taking an overview.
It was such a different experience to work with someone like that. It has influenced me an awful lot, in the same way that Bill Rowlinson did.
To see a photographer that can translate their work into moving imagery and do it really well was very inspiring too. To see that there is a path that has already been trodden was a massive eye opener for me, for someone who has come from assisting and starting with wedding photographers and moving up the ranks.”
“One of the things I love about Takeshi Katano is he’s got this bloody awful thing that he does – Takeshi’s Castle. So he’s a really wacky comedian and does these game shows. He writes, he paints and he makes these arty, emotional, thoughtful movies and I think that’s fascinating.
I don’t know much about his filming processes but I do like that it’s really rough around the edges. He doesn’t do loads of takes; he keeps it quite simple. There’s an edge to it, a rawness so you get an emotional story.
It’s just so different from someone like Fincher in that he can just go ‘right ok we’ve got two takes, ok lets move on’. It’s just about getting the story across and then he’s going to go and do something else. And I love the lack of polish and the variety of movies that he makes. I don’t necessarily like all of them but I have some favourites, like Sonatine, which is a really beautiful movie, and his version of [The Blind Swordsman:] Zatoichi, which is amazing. There’s just a sort of silence to it.
Again, he has a contemplative nature to his work. He’s got this weird, wacky thing that he does and he acts sometimes and he directs and he’s, again, immersing himself in what he loves. I love cross-pollination. I think that’s fascinating and such a wonderful thing about making moving imagery.
I think that [Werner] Hertzog can do the same thing, not in the same way but he can move around so much. I haven’t studied film, I wasn’t some clever film bod and a friend of mine told me to watch Grizzly Man. It’s all found footage and I was like ‘that’s so against my aesthetic. I don’t like that at all.’ Then I watched that movie and I think it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life. It just showed me how important it is not to have pre-conceived ideas. I thought that was just insane, such an incredible look at our relationship with animals. It blew my mind.
Herzog can do these crazy projects and go ‘that’s what I want to do right now’ and I think that’s what a lot of really good artists do. They’re not just stuck in one medium. They move around. They can paint, they can make a film and then they can draw, then they can sculpt and I see that as a very similar sort of thing with both Hertzog and Katano.”
Have a look for these influences on Charlie's reel.