Monday Prescription – How To Be Danny Boyle

Hello Film Doctor Friends. We hope you have been enjoying your Easter holiday weekend – those of you who’ve had it – and getting re-charged for the new working days ahead.

While his latest project, Tranceis making its way through nationwide cinema screens (out from March 27th), Danny Boyle “has made it” into Film Doctor‘s “How To” Monday Prescription.


Listen to all advice, but only take what feels right // Your environment doesn’t define You

Boyle was raised in a working-class Irish Catholic environment. He spent eight years as an altar boy and his mother had the priesthood in mind for him, but aged 14 Boyle was persuaded by a priest not to transfer from school to a seminary. Boyle later likened directing to being a man of the cloth: 

Whether he was saving me from the priesthood or the priesthood from me, I don’t know. But quite soon after, I started doing drama. And there’s a real connection, I think. All these directors — Martin Scorsese, John Woo, M. Night Shyamalan — they were all meant to be priests. There’s something very theatrical about it. It’s basically the same job — poncing around, telling people what to think.


Life Is A Stage…”

Boyle studied English and Drama at Bangor University, and started his creative path in the theatre. He’s been quoted to claim the reason for seeking employment in the theatre was that it “seemed a much easier and more accessible way of getting in to the arts”. He began with the Joint Stock Company, then joined the Royal Court (1982-87) as artistic director of the Theatre Upstairs. He has also directed five productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In 2011 Boyle re-visited his theatre career, directing “Frankenstein” at the National Theatre.


The TV Ties That Paid Back

Boyle’s theatre expertise proved to be transferable and in 1987 he moved into television drama at BBC Northern Ireland. In his time there, he produced Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) and directed some hard-hitting plays about the Troubles and a couple of episodes of “Inspector Morse” for ITV.

But the series that got Boyle properly noticed on the TV circuit was “Mr Wroe’s Virgins” (BBC, 1993), a period drama set in 1820s Lancashire about a charismatic preacher, who sets up his own church and recruits seven young women to service in his household. The potent mix of sex, scandal and religion made for compelling viewing, and confirmed Boyle’s skill at directing actors and creating atmosphere.

On the strength on “Mr Wroe’s Virgins”, Boyle was contacted by producer Andrew Macdonald and screenwriter John Hodge, who were seeking a director for “Shallow Grave”.


Home And Away

Following his ‘home turf’ success with “Shallow Grave” and the international recognition of “Trainspotting” , Boyle made a move to the USA.  Upon arrival, however, he didn’t “leap” into Hollywood blockbusters – declining an offer to direct the fourth installment of “Alien”, Boyle chose to make the rather low-key “A Life Less Ordinary” – a UK-funded, US-based crime comedy.

It goes to show that establishing a “household name” allows you to explore other production options and territories. It also goes a long way in defending your artistic integrity & project choices.


Genre Exploration

Looking at Boyle’s “film catalogue”, you find he has explored a rather wide array of  genres and subjects – from darker, psychological explorations (“Trainspotting”, “Trance”), to sci-fi (“Sunshine“) and ‘disaster movies’ (“28 Days Later“), biopic/adventures (“127 Hours“), and set-piece dramas (“Slumdog millionaire“).

But it’s always come down to one essential thing – good storytelling.


‘Monday Prescription’ No.57 – If you exceed in storytelling, you can, indeed, cross career sectors – just like Boyle has ‘covered’ theatre, TV and film. Creative success is transferable, but you do need to start with a track record in one field, before moving on and diversifying – you can’t do it all at once to start off with. Don’t want to pigeonhole yourself? Get a fuller portfolio by exploring genres and subjects, formats and styles.

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Have a great week!
The Film Doctor Team
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