TF talks to John August

When did you decide to make The Nines your directorial debut?

It was probably late 2005 and these ideas I’d been working with for a couple of years sort of forced their way through my pen. I recognised that nobody else was going to be able to direct it.

What was Ryan Reynolds like to work with?

Ryan was fantastic. I wrote the characters without any attention to or idea of who could possibly play them. It was only as I met with Ryan and started to get my detail into it, and ask other directors about their experiences with him, I thought that he was just the right guy. He was fantastic.

How did it feel to have an actor essentially playing you?

We shot part two last in the schedule and by that point, Ryan and I were so comfortable enough with each other that it wasn’t particularly strange for him to be emulating my weird mannerisms and playing my worst qualities. It’s making a movie. One of the things I really realised in shooting The Nines is that this relationship between a writer and an actor is sort of strange and special.

I’ve played all of those characters before the actors have, and so there’s a hand-off that happens that doesn’t go through directors. But with the ‘Gavin’ character, that hand-off didn’t really happen. We were both playing ‘Gavin’ at the same time, and as I was doing those off-camera interviews we were sort of creating those moments together. It was a really great experience, It’s like working with live clay as a sculptor.

Is Melissa McCarthy a muse figure to you? You've said she was integral to writing this project...

I wrote the movie for her, and I wouldn’t have written it if I couldn’t count on her being in it. It’s not so much that she’s a muse; she has an under-valued asset. I knew her from ‘Go’ and had written into everything I possibly could. She’s one of those people I can rely on to bring something amazing to the screen. So it was tremendous to be able to work with her again and to be able to portray an aspect of our relationship, our mutually beneficial relationship, and the dangers of that – in part two.

Are you a nine? Can you sum up the concept to someone who hasn't seen the film?

I think the movie is about a creator’s responsibility to his creation - and I think when any artist creates something or screenwriter creates the world or a video designer creating a game, there’s a point at which you need to walk away. That’s tough. Figuring out at what point you’re allowed to walk away is a one of the toughest decisions. It’s really sort of, taking a step back to see it all from a bigger perspective and what if this universe that we were living in were created by someone that who was not necessarily all powerful but very powerful and at some point you should just go on home.

It's a mysterious, complex film - but it has a very clear resolution in the third act, unlike, says Donnie Darko, was that closure important to you as a writer?

To me it was important that the direct questions that the movie was asking would be answered. In answering those questions, of course, we evoked say, twenty more questions about the nature of life and the universe.

The movie doesn’t aspire to ask for answers; I just wanted to give enough closure so that you could say the movie makes sense within its box but also ask a lot of questions outside of that box. Hopefully it gives you a lot of great things to talk about over a pint at the bar.

Do you have anything exciting planned for the DVD? It strikes me as the sort of film that could potentially have a long life on DVD...

Absolutely - these last four months have been all about the DVD, the North American DVD – it’s amazing. We have a lot of very cool special features, where for the opening section, the scripts scroll past, the story board unfolds in real time and then you have the final shot - so you can see how we all put it together.

Your first film was Go - another multi-narrative which has several characters weaving in and out of stories - what is about that structure that appeals to you?

You know, I think there’s something really rewarding about a set of short stories. There’s something you can do when focusing on 30 minutes of film that you really can’t do when focussing on 2 hours of film.

I really wanted to revisit that three-part structure but I didn’t want to do the same time-trip that I’d done in Go. So I thought, what if the story was stacked up in layers instead of going back and forth in time? It was a narrative challenge but it also allowed some opportunities that you wouldn’t reach otherwise, it gave me the opportunity to rhyme things visually and rhyme the concepts that wouldn’t take place in a normal movie.

How do you deal with writer's block?

Writer’s block is one of those terms for everything from procrastination to fatigue. I think as long as you’re writing the thing you want to write, you are not going to hit writer’s block. It’s only really when you’re forced to write something that you don’t feel like writing that it happens.

Sometimes you can just muffle through it, but sometimes you have to take to a completely different task. I’ve never sat down at the typewriter with that big classic, “I can’t think of the next word to write” but there have been times when I’ve been working on the fourth draft and lost all interest.

How do you feel about the writer's strike?

I just came back from the picket line this morning, actually, on a 5.30am to 8.30am shift. It’s been tough but necessary. The issues we’re facing are, well – we’re really the first strike of the internet age, because the issues are really about how do you pay for content that’s going to come through the internet, and how do corporations pay their creators, their writers, for the work they’re doing? It has to get figured out. Fortunately, I belong to one of the biggest unions that can help set the tone for that.

Would you like to get back into television writing at some point - your style would suit something like Lost, for example...

I was persuaded to write and direct one of the episodes of Heroes that’s coming up at the end of the season. They’re doing a six-part series called Origins, which is an anthology series, which is not linked to the main storyline but ran the same characters. I was really excited to be doing that but it was one of the first shows cancelled due to the strike. We won’t be shooting those episodes until they combat that.

I love television, though. I love it as a form and I love the age of television that we’re in. I hope to do it at some point but it’s hard for me to stop my feature writing and do one episode of that.