Mark Romanek is a polite soft spoken man from Chicago with only three films to his name so far: Static with Keith Gordan, One Hour Photo starring a dark and twisted Robin Williams and recent release Never Let Me Go with young actors Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. Many readers might be familiar with Romanek’s music video history. He has got to work with some of the greatest artists of a generation including Iggy Pop (‘Beside You’), Madonna (‘Rain’) and Jonny Cash (‘Hurt’) to name just a few; of course his most famous music video is ‘Scream’ with Michael and Janet Jackson, which the Guinness Book of World Records has as the most expensive music video ever made. Strangely Romanek is not happy with this achievement and constantly protests that he doesn’t like ‘being known as the guy who makes all the big budget things’, and that in fact this is inaccurate as the most expensive music video of all time is ‘Michael Jackson’s ‘Black and White’, which was $10 million as opposed to the $7 million ‘Scream’. ‘I am waiting for one of these interviews to get back to the Guinness people so they can correct it,’ Romanek adds. No, Romanek, brought up on avant-garde and independent film makers such as John Cassavetes, is much more proud of his less expensive projects: ‘I did a music video for Beck of about $200,000 and it is one of the best things I have ever done.’
After about ten years in the music industry that were ‘a lot of fun’ Romanek has developed enough of a reputation to get on the radar of the studios and get into making films which, as a self-confessed ‘film brat’, was his true calling. He may only have a few films under his belt and it is clear from the way that he talks about them that he holds a soft spot for each one. His first major production was One Hour Photo, which was released in 2002 and starred Robin Williams as mini-lab photo technician who becomes obsessed with the Yorkin family whose pictures he prints for over ten years. The film got overall positive reviews and demonstrated a darker side to Williams that the audience had not seen much of before. Of course Romanek, who comes across as tirelessly modest, takes no credit for William’s transformation in the film, saying that Williams ‘felt a really deep connection with the character and understood him intimately’.
Romanek’s new release certainly has a lot to live up to and has been gaining a substantial amount of hype around it since its first première back in the summer of 2010. Adapting Kazuro Ishiguro’s powerful novel Never Let Me Go for the silver screen is a risky move since many people will have strong opinions about what is left in and what is taken out but Romanek doesn’t seem intimidated by any of this: ‘Alex Garland did a great job with the adaptation … I wept at the end of the script like I did at the end of the book, so he successfully transferred the emotional mechanism of it.’ Romanek certainly has a lot to be confident about: screenwriter Garland has already gained a reputation with his novel The Beach and the screenplays for films Sunshine and 28 Days Later. On top of this, Kazuo Ishiguro himself was on board to help out and visited the set once or twice. Romanek describes how Ishiguro ‘always thought he would just be in the way, but it was a tremendous morale boost.’ The author even gave his seal of approval by having tears in his eyes when he saw the final product. For Romanek this was a huge relief as ‘it would have been horrible if he had hated it.’
As well as a strong team working on the script, Romanek was fortunate enough to get an equally strong cast in front of the camera. Andrew Garfield, who recently made his name in Oscar-nominated The Social Network and has now been cast as the new Spiderman, was Romanek’s first choice to play Tommy. Romanek says ‘I wanted Andrew because I saw his performance in Boy A, which was astonishing but not widely seen which is a shame’. Keira Knightley‘s agent approached them for the part of Ruth which just left the part of Kathy to be filled: ‘We were having trouble finding a Kathy because we just couldn’t get the right person and at the time we knew about Carey [Mulligan], but she couldn’t get a film financed with her as the lead. But then the head of the studio at the time saw the world première of An Education at Sundance and sent a text to all of us saying “Hire the genius Mulligan”.’ All these factors make Romanek sure that his film will be well received here in Britain, saying ‘we have screened the film and it seemed like British audiences were deeply moved by it, even though British people don’t like to admit when they are moved by something.‘ In fact at the time of the interview, Romanek was more nervous about the speech he had to give when the film opened the London Film Festival than how the film will be received. ‘I have to get up and speak in front of 2,000 people, my friends and family are there,’ he complained, ‘I have my little spiel but it is still terrifying. Public speaking is the scariest thing – people are more afraid of it than death, which means they would rather die than give their own eulogy.’