To save money, famous director goes underground

London UndergroundStephen Frears, a two-time Oscar nominee for best director, watches his personal budget by taking London's subway. It's nothing. Really. Because he is older than 60, the 69-year-old British filmmaker rides for free on the Underground with the Freedom Pass. It's easier than taking a car in the central part of town, he told WalletPop.

"I pay taxes all my life and this is the state giving me something in return," said Frears, whose latest film, Tamara Drewe, opens Oct. 8.

Frears has helmed several successful films over the years, including The Grifters, High Fidelity and The Queen. But he draws on his middle-class upbringing to shape his lifestyle.

"Lack of ostentation. instinctive sense of modesty, and also reliance on things like intelligence and wit, which of course are free," he said. "I live comfortably but I don't live extravagantly."

The same could be said of his films. Frears said he has felt most at home when his budget is modest. In fact, the one film of his that he considers a "failure," was the major studio-backed Mary Reilly with the biggest star of the time, Julia Roberts. The movie cost $47 million and earned back just $5.7 million.

"If you make a film with the studios, they top-load it with costs," he said. "A film that cost x ended up costing 4x. In my mind, Tamara Drewe should have cost x and that's what it cost. So I'm made to feel comfortable. If they had said 3x, I would have been uncomfortable."

Frears certainly spared the coffers on the casting for Tamara Drewe. Instead of a drawn-out audition process, he required just one interview to pick Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) to play the temptress Tamara, who stirs up a writers' colony in a return to her childhood home. No tryout necessary. He hadn't even seen any of her previous work. He said he just knew. Asked if that wasn't a bit of a financial risk, he chortled, "It's not my money."

Turning serious, Frears declared that financing becomes the central question in filmmaking. He tells his students that instead of studying film they should be cracking the books on economics.

His personal equation in determining the films he makes goes like this: "I have a finite audience. If you come to me and profit depends on everyone in the world seeing the film three times, I'm not your guy. So you learn the scale you operate on."
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