THE FINAL MISSION – AN INTERVIEW WITH WINSTON JAMES

Winston James’ ‘THE FINAL MISSION’ takes you on a journey into the minds of criminals who try to save themselves at any cost. The film follows a man as he’s trying to convince his friend of his loyalty. The friend is turned and points a finger at two suspects, ending up killing the wrong one and facing his ultimate nightmare- going back to jail. 

CULT CRITIC – What motivated you to write this film and how was it received so far?

WINSTON – Real life issues were a motivating factor. Often in the news we hear about urban gangs and law enforcement going up against each other. That’s a topic that always seems current. So I wanted to tell one of these stories in a suspenseful narrative form. And we on the cast and crew are fortunate to know that wherever the film is screened or whoever sees it, it’s usually enjoyed and well received.

CULT CRITIC – What films did you draw inspiration from when working on ‘The Final Mission’? What did you learn from them and what did you do differently?

WINSTON – The first half of the film where the setting was inside a building I had no major inspiration from any other films. But the standoff outside at the end I definitely drew inspiration from Sidney Lumet’s ‘Dog Day Afternoon’. I wanted a suspenseful standoff and a tense negotiation between Lex and the detectives which we achieved. And I wrote the standoff to be much longer in the negotiation dialogue. But Lex was alone and he didn’t have any hostages unlike Pacino’s character in DDA, so realistically I had to shorten the standoff.

CULT CRITIC – In a criminal world where loyalty is key, you chose to confront that with freedom. At the end, Crane and Lex both made the same choice, but in different ways. What prompted that choice and what were you trying to say about that world?

WINSTON – Yes, loyalty is important in that world, and members usually have to play a clever game to survive. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but in the film it seems as though one of the members’ loyalty has been compromised. And he possibly made a deal with the authorities to save himself from doing some serious jail time. I’m not trying to say any one specific thing about that particular world. But what I’m saying in general is that for whatever reason whether it’s business partners, lifelong friends, trusted partners in crime, or even family members, so called loyal individuals can always turn against each other due to strong differing opinions or various other reasons and that’s just plain reality.

CULT CRITIC – The film keeps you on edge from the beginning to the very end. Are thrillers your main attraction? If so, what is it about that genre you admire most?

WINSTON – Thrillers, action, and dramas are my favorite types of films to write and produce. When I was starting as a filmmaker I watched and studied lots of Alfred Hitchcock films. And although his films were not considered modern day, his style of suspense just captivated me. A good thriller, which can incorporate action and drama keeps me interested and on the edge of my seat, and I would like to do the same for my audience.

CULT CRITIC – Tell us about your work process with the actors. How did you help them connect with their characters? What was the most challenging scene you had to work on?

WINSTON – The way I help my actors to fully connect with their characters is through writing either a bio or writing many details about their character and discussing it. And a bio is done especially if the character is a major part of the film. This is why I also believe that some rehearsal is good, because it’s not only for blocking, but it also helps the actors to really understand their characters well by the time the camera starts rolling.

The most challenging scene to work on was the interior part when Crane and Dante were arguing to prove their individual loyalty while Lex was interrogating them. Anytime you have a scene where you have three or more characters talking with each other it can become a challenge because you have to decide how many and which individual shots to get which could include close-ups, two shots, wide shots, over the shoulder, etc. All this as we had to do some re-takes and were also starting to lose sunlight which was the majority of the lightning used for the scene. But I worked with a good veteran editor to get the footage assembled smoothly.

CULT CRITIC – How was shooting the final scene where so many actors and angles came into play? How did you prepare for that and what was the most important feeling you were trying to convey? 

WINSTON – The final scene really wasn’t that difficult to shoot. I had visited the location and had planned and prepared a detailed shot list weeks beforehand. It was shot in one day but months later after the interior scene due to budget reasons. Then the original cinematographer was no longer available due to previously scheduled obligations. So I brought in a camera operator to get the shots for the scene. And since the c.o. was brought on to the production with little time to prepare he was mostly there to get the shots I prepared for.

I got medium and close up shots of all the actors, over the shoulder, ECU’s, wide shots, two shots when needed and various camera moments. My editor and I put the footage together to match seamlessly. The most important feelings that I wanted to convey in the scene were suspense and tension, and I believe that was achieved.

The only major problem we had with the scene was a technical issue with the audio recording where at first the dialogue wasn’t coming through correctly, but it was eventually resolved.

CULT CRITIC – You wrote, directed and produced the film. How was that experience and what did you learn? Which role do you relate to best?

WINSTON – Writing, directing and producing this film at the same time was not an easy task. I was originally trying to get others to do the producing duties but that didn’t work out so I wound up producing it myself. Doing all three on a film is not something any filmmaker should take lightly, it’s a monumental task, especially if you’re detailed about your work as I am. 

I once saw director Spike Lee talk about how difficult it was taking on all three duties for his film ‘Do The Right Thing’ and how he would never do that again. I so understood what he meant and mine was only a short film, I wouldn’t want to know what he went through doing a full length feature. So you will definitely need assistants and associates in those positions to help if you’re going to  produce, write and also direct a film because you can burn out.

Now out of the three I would say I relate best to directing. I like writing and producing too, but the actual look of the completed film and also assisting the performance of the talent as a director is what I prefer most.

CULT CRITIC – What is your next project?

WINSTON – I’m writing a dramatic feature about some individuals facing some personal struggles from both their past and present. It won’t be as gang related or as street heavy as this one but I’m hoping it will still be thrilling and impactful in a way the audience will still enjoy.

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