Raul began his career as an actor, and now writes prolifically for stage and screen. He christened the theatre at the Beaumont Studios with his brutally thrilling play In the Eyes of God, which has been recently published by Talon Books. He has directed all of his own plays, which also include For What We Reap, Walter, Surveillance, and The Cop Play. His feature film directorial debut, The Falling, was nominated for the Claude Juntra award at the 1999 Genies. His latest feature film, VICE, will be released in the fall. Dig it.
1.) In one word, describe your present condition.
2.) What’s your opinion on the current state of Vancouver theatre?
The smaller venues are actually doing some interesting things. I generally don’t like what the large theater companies show. And the truth of it is there are two camps: Us and them. The “Them” do shit productions but think they are the best. They like to pat each other on the back and call “Us” film and TV people. They like to think of us as people who don’t understand theater – which is bullshit. I grew up in the theater. I’ve traveled to three continents doing theater. I’ve been writing, acting and directing in the theater for over twenty years. They can kiss my ass. I do shows that non-theater people like. I do shows that open people’s eyes to the theater experience and make converts. I entertain. Yet, I’m not a sell-out for a bunch of Grannies or people that pay for culture. You want to rehash Cabaret or Romeo And Juliet – bite me.
3.) What influences your writing in terms of story and theme?
Life around me. Either what I’m going through on a thematic level or the world at large. I love how people have an inability to communicate with each other. I love how people betray each other. I love what desperate people do. We don’t need cartoon villains when all we have to do is look at how poorly we treat the people around us – be it our loved ones or our neighbors, or both. We live in a violent, fucked up, self serving, world and it angers me. That’s what I write about now.
When I was younger I explored love, loss, growing up, and the notions of the idealism that comes with youth. Now I hate the world. I want people to wake up.
And the strange thing is no matter how vile or fucked up a story gets people are drawn to it because it rings true.
4.) From an artist’s standpoint, how does your work in the theatre compare to your work in film?
Theater for me is about exploring a truth. I like my theater to be un-apologetic. I like to explore themes. I allow my characters to dictate the plot.
But when I write film scripts I’m in it generally for the cash. It’s my bread and butter. Moreover, distributors don’t really want to make people think. Everyone says they want quality but look at the crap that comes out of Hollywood or on Network TV. Yes, there are some good things out there but I’m not one of the lucky ones that are allowed to write that. They keep me with the bottom feeders puking up filth for the lowest common denominator.
When I direct my own films it’s a battle from day one against producers, distributors, and money restrictions, to get what I want. In the theater world we have no money from the onset so it makes it far more a creative process and I love it. In the theater I call the shots. I get to do what I want, and say what I want. My first play, “For What We Reap” was about betrayal. My 2nd play “Cop Play” was about making the audience people laugh and have a good time. “In The Eyes Of God” was about American business, “Walter” was a true story looking at the flaws of the Death Penalty in Virginia and “Surveillance” was about male relationships and how fucked up men are.
But in the film world I’m known as a two-bit hack writer of Sci-Fi, horror and B action. How wrong is that? I don’t even watch the stuff I write. But I guess that’s my fault because I’m a whore and I commit to whatever I’m doing. When some LA producer (that thinks he’s a player) asks for a creature flick I give him the best Goddamn creature flick that he can do for his million and half dollar budget.
5.) What’s your approach as a director to working with your actors?
There is no magical single way to deal with actors. Everyone needs something different. Think of the different relationships you have. Some people need to be nurtured. Some people like to be left alone. Some people like to talk about everything until they’re blue in the face while others are doers and keep their mouths shut. You speak to them, they shut down.
True actors’ directors are the ones that listen to everyone as individuals. It’s about respect. If you give them respect as artists then they’ll do the same back. But at the same time if they refuse to return the respect then I’m no shrinking violet. I lay down the law. I’ve fired friends of mine in the past.
6.) Who are your main influences on your work?
When I first started acting it was all about Shakespeare. I wanted to be Richard Burton bringing The Bard’s words to the masses. Then, when I first started writing, Pinter and Beckett blew me away. Later Mamet and Rabe took me into an entirely different world. And finally Artaud took the cake with his theories of what theater can do and be. I directed his play “Jet Of Blood” a long time ago but I didn’t get it right. I’m still trying to aspire to the theater that Artaud would have done today. I saw a show in Edinburgh in 2005 that was inspired by Artaud and it has to have been the best piece of theater I have ever seen. I doubt I’ll ever be able to come close to such a masterpiece.
7.) What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t when you started?
I started doing community theater when I was a kid. It was something fun to do. It was make-believe. Acting classes then were held in ballet studios and I was usually the only boy. Then one weekend when I was 13 I took a Stanislavsky workshop and my world changed. I learned that acting wasn’t an adolescent instinct, it was a craft. I wanted to pursue as many different acting methods and techniques that were out there but no one was teaching teenagers what I wanted to learn so I became frustrated. That’s one of the reasons why I shifted into directing. But as a director I didn’t want to say the same shit that someone else had so I started writing. By the time I was in college I thought I knew everything. Now I have to be honest. There is still so much to explore. I have my limitations and theater has its limitations. I can’t make a living only doing theater. It’s a love/hate thing. One can only present their work to a limited audience in the theater. In film I have a much larger audience. Theater dies as soon as it is born. It becomes a memory – Hopefully a good one. I’ve had a run of good plays in the past that I’m known for in some circles – some small circles. But a bad film everyone can see over and over again on DVD in many countries and everyone will think of you as an idiot. I’ve got that too.
8.) What’s your best piece of advice to the neophyte writer?
Never stop writing. Write everything that’s in your head and don’t try and edit yourself. That can be done later – years later in fact. One just needs to create a wealth of material to draw from. One always learns by each new story that they write. Every tale presents new problems. Everything can be changed and improved. Just get to the end of the story and finish the draft – that’s the biggest rule. Finish and then go back and re-read it. If you stop halfway through and re-read your work you’ll cripple yourself and kill the momentum. Art comes from instinct. Use it while it’s still there. I could go on and on.
9.) What are your top 3 must-reads, on theatre or film, for the aspiring artist?
1 – The Director And The Stage by Edward Braun
2 – Any theater history book you can find. You have to study what has been done before. There are reasons why we do things today. There can be a lot to cull from. You don’t have to like the theater from the past but understand the process and why it was done. For me theater started to get exciting when Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler.
3 – Other than those two things forget reading – go see theater. Go to the fringe in Edinburgh and see stuff from around the world: dance, musicals, comedians, etc… That’s where you’ll learn the most.
I don’t recommend reading plays. Plays aren’t supposed to be read. They are supposed to spoken. Read them out loud with a group and then discuss them.
10.) Any plans for more theatre down the road?
I have lots of plans. I have lots of stories that I want to tell. I just unfortunately don’t have the time right now. Theater for me has never been about making money (nor should it). It’s about feeding my soul. My reality is I need to pay the mortgage. I need to write and direct in the film/TV world to make money. I’m a whore, remember. The next time I’m not worried about cash, will be the next time I do another show. I have two plays that I’ve been writing and several others just waiting to be produced. But that’s the way I’ve always worked. “In The Eyes Of God” was written ten years before I produced it. “Surveillance” was about 7 years. I have another play I wrote 4 years ago that I dying to do.
11.) What’s Next?
Right now I’m trying to get another film going. I need to keep directing to keep the momentum going that I achieved from doing “Vice”.