“Snatch” and “Sherlock Holmes” director Guy Ritchie picked up the Gold Yusr Honorary Award for his contribution to cinema at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah. “They’re a funny thing, awards,” Ritchie tells Variety the morning after the awards ceremony that opened the festival. “It’s best to be grateful about them. Methinks.”
Ritchie first burst onto the British cinema scene with the Cool Britannia crime caper “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) almost a quarter of a century ago. It was a debut that was helped along by some high-powered fans, Ritchie told a sold out audience at his In Conversation masterclass, telling how A-listers like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt championed the film. Pitt went on to appear in his next film “Snatch” (2000) as an incomprehensible bare-knuckle fighter, a decision – Ritchie explained to the audience – made because they were worried about Pitt’s accent.
Since his first two films, Ritchie has branched out from the crime genre. “When you first come out of the slips you’re familiar with a particular genre,” Ritchie tells Variety. “You’re comfortable with that, but you realize that you can’t keep doing that for the rest of your life. So it’s good to be changing genres, putting yourself outside your comfort zone, leads to an enthusiasm about the industry as a whole. The filmmaking process as a whole and the ability to have your voice within a genre that’s completely alien to you is challenging in all the right ways. And I think once you do that you realize that there’s so much more, it opens up so much more content.”
That generically diverse content Ritchie has lined up includes a Jason Statham U.S.-set caper “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” a new Jake Gyllenhaal film “The Covenant,” set during the war in Afghanistan, and two live-action Disney musicals, “Aladdin 2” and “Hercules.” As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also directing the first two episodes of “The Gentlemen,” a television spin-off from his hit 2019 film of the same name. “The idea is to be quite busy for the next few years,” Ritchie says. “It’s a funny thing: the older you get, the more you like filmmaking.”
Ritchie seems to revel in the new challenges which he approaches armed with the experience garnered over almost three decades of filmmaking. “You get more cunning about what the right budget should be, which is something you don’t really start off with,” Ritchie comments. “You just want to make a movie. When you first start you have no money, but after a while you do. Every $10 million it costs to make a movie is a big difference. And you become quite savvy in terms of what movies can do what and so you tailor them for the market, and you get better at that. Because no one wants to lose money.”
Financial realities have to be taken into account, further complicated by streaming and COVID. “The market’s changed so much in the sense that the theatrical world hasn’t settled down,” Ritchie remarks. It’s important, he says, to understand the “dark art” of marketing, especially in approaching streaming platforms versus theatrical release.
Dealing with criticism is also an important skill to acquire. “You get judged on things you don’t think you’ll be judged on,” Ritchie says. “You get judged on the apparent success of the film or the apparent failure of the film and often that judgment is just wildly literal. And in a way you don’t need to fucking explain yourself: it is what it is. Do you care? You just have to press on.”
Ritchie has a philosophical approach to keeping himself detached from the discourse. “People have a lot to say about things,” Ritchie says with amusing understatement. “They’re not even saying you have to listen to them. There’s an implicit acceptance that people say things and you should pay attention to what they’re saying, it’s almost like eavesdropping. And also how much do they mean it? How much is just hyperbole in their appraisals and judgment? So much of it is hyperbole and shouldn’t be taken literally. It’s quite hard to work out too but if you’re listening in to someone else’s conversation, you just shouldn’t listen to someone else’s conversation, because if they knew you were listening in, it would be a different conversation.”
In Jeddah, however, it seems he has found an appreciative audience. “It’s quite funny that they seem to like my movies in this part of the world, which is a revelation,” he tells Variety. “It’s good to come to an emerging and interesting market. If I get an excuse to go somewhere new, I’ll go. So far, the impression has been very good.”
Could it serve as inspiration? “I’ve never been on a trip that I’ve regretted going on. You end up in certain situations where you think if I hadn’t gone I would never have known. Because the world works in mysterious ways and there’s no way of knowing unless you’ve been there. So…”