Friday, May 29 at 9 PM

Nightingale

HBO Films

Interview with Director Elliott Lester

HBO

How did you go about creating a character that, despite committing a terrible act, didn’t alienate the audience?

Elliott Lester

The key is to portray his humanity, not hide it and create an image of perfection. Peter Snowden wakes up in the morning and he has a cigarette and he dances around with his underwear on. We’ve all done that. When we’re lonely, we don’t just sit there on the sofa doing nothing. We listen to music. We go online. We try different ways to get connected. What Peter’s condition is, is a side-issue. What he’s done is a side issue. Who he is, is significant.

HBO

Peter’s connection to others, or perhaps lack thereof, is an important component of the film.

Elliott Lester

The meta-narrative of ‘Nightingale’ is this idea of isolation and being connected while not really being connected. I think there’s a condition now where we are constantly taking selfies, this idea that we are our own internet creation. Peter Snowden is very much “on” when he’s recording his vlogs. He’s holding a camera up to himself saying, “This is really who I am. This is really what I'm about,” when he’s the complete opposite. What you're watching is a cry for help. But he doesn’t see it as a cry for help -- he believes people really are interested in his fish recipe and who’s coming to dinner. It’s facile and asinine in the same way that you can go on YouTube and you can look at facile, asinine, dullness for hours and hours and hours. Why is it that we have to do this? What is lacking in our affirmation, our confidence, that we need YouTube people to comment on us and tag us? It’s kind of a strange way to be validated.

HBO

Peter is in constant dialogue with people we can't hear on the other end of the phone or on the internet. Why did you decide only to show Peter’s side of conversations?

Elliott Lester

This movie is not about anything other than Peter. Not hearing the other side of the phone call makes us more focused towards him and we can interpret what’s being said. I believe you actually hear the conversation on the other side even louder because of the way David [Oyelowo] portrays Peter. Early on, we discussed hearing the other side of the phone calls, and I wasn’t for it. It would’ve changed the way you experienced what Peter’s experienced, and I didn’t want to let the audience in on knowing which conversations were real and which conversation weren’t.

"The meta-narrative of ‘Nightingale’ is this idea of isolation and being connected while not really being connected."
HBO

How did you prepare to shoot ‘Nightingale’?

Elliott Lester

David and I collaborated in the truest sense of the word. We had about four or five weeks of prep that started with him coming over to the office. I asked him to change his diet because Peter Snowden is like a child in some ways -- every day is his birthday, so he’d indulge himself and eat cake. When David would come have lunch at the office, I’d give him huge piece of cake to eat. I think that started to inform the character from the inside out. We began working on the voice, and rather than look at other movies, we looked at YouTube, where Peter might be informed. We watched a lot of these YouTube sensations, including Antoine Dodson and the HBO documentary ‘Me at the Zoo,’ about the obsessed Britney fan [Chris Crocker].

David Oyelowo is definitely the hardest working man in show business. He is relentless in his pursuit of honesty and the truth. My phone would ring at all hours of the day to discuss aspects of the script. David completely immersed himself. That was the only way to leave blood on the wall. I never called him David. I called him Peter. I don’t know David Oyelowo on ‘Nightingale,’ but I can tell you I met Peter Snowden, and I miss him because we had some good times.

HBO

What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

Elliott Lester

I hope that they see a humanity in Peter Snowden that they see in themselves. That maybe, some of the behaviors they have are not too dissimilar, that some of their feelings of being isolated and cut-off are not too dissimilar and that in recognizing these similarities, realizing that it’s actually okay to feel those things.

Also, the fairytale story for young and aspiring filmmakers, which is that you can find that little script and go out and make that little movie with not a lot of money and it can get the attention. That it won’t get spurned because you’re not making ‘Star Wars’ or ‘The Avengers’ or anything like that. That these pieces have a forum.