Q & A 2010 Filmmaker Flashbacks
“Another Year” writer–director Mike Leigh
In ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations throughout 2010 with leading filmmakers Martin Grove focused on many of the year’s most interesting movies. Looking back, here are excerpts from a dozen filmmaker flashbacks, all of which are available in full in our Q&A archive.
(1) Writer–director Mike Leigh’s comedy drama “Another Year,” starring Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen, was an official selection of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is generating an Oscar nominations buzz, particularly for Manville, who won Best Actress in the National Board of Review awards.
- Q: I really enjoyed “Another Year,” particularly the performances you got from your cast, most of whom you’d worked with on many other films over the years. How did you work with the actors? I recall your telling me in the past that you do a lot of rehearsing.
- A: It’s not just rehearsing. I did what I always do, which is to spend months — in this case, five months — working individually with each actor, creating a character together, building up a whole world, exploring, researching, making a completely three dimensional world. What I do is I really create the sort of premise for the film so I can then get out on location and make the film up as we go along and distill it and make a properly constructed dramatic, precise movie.
- Q: You have a film here in which people do something they don’t get to do very much of these days – and that is they sit and talk to each other. Was it improv?
- A: Everything in all my films, this one being no exception, comes out of improvisation, but we then rehearse very thoroughly and the scripting goes on as a development of what starts in improvisation. So what we wind up with is very precisely scripted, but we do it through rehearsal.
(2) Director Nigel Cole’s comedy drama “Made in Dagenham,” starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson, had its World Premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and played at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.
- Q: Do you like to rehearse with your actors?
- A: I do, but in this case I made a decision not to so much. I made a big attempt in this one to kind of make it feel real for the actors on set and to kind of keep out of their way. I had a conversation with Helen Mirren when I did “Calendar Girls” about working with Robert Altman on “Gosford Park.” She told me about how the amazing thing working with Altman is that you never knew what he was doing. You never felt like the camera was there and the actors had to play to the camera.
With Altman it was all about the scene. And then the cameras would be doing their stuff and you wouldn’t know if it was your close–up or even if you were in the shot. I loved the sound of that and on this one I tried to take the same approach so I kind of kept the cameras back and out of the way of the actors. That process of moving in for an actor’s close–up can often be a performance killer. It constricts the actor physically because the camera comes in, the lighting comes in, the technicians come closer and the actor gets a little wound up. You know, “It’s my close–up now” and gets nervous or tries to do something different. So I deliberately tried to make every scene as real and as fresh for the actors as possible.
- Q: Did that leave you wishing later on that you had close–ups to use?
- A: I was making sure that we were getting them, but often I wouldn’t let the actor know we were. The camera might be on a very long lens and kind of picking out the close–up from somewhere away. I found that liberating. I really enjoyed that method of working and will do it again because it meant it was all about me and the actors in the scene. It reduced the technical process somewhat, I felt.
In everything I did I tried to make it as real as possible. For example, we shot the scenes where they get to meet Barbara Castle quite late in the schedule deliberately. By then all the women who were playing the strikers knew each other terribly well and had become quite bonded as a group. But I deliberately wound them up about how we were going to be working with Miranda next week and kept them apart so when they actually met it was a bit like them meeting Castle, herself. They were kind of meeting this slightly intimidating and incredibly famous person.
(3) Writer–director Steven Antin’s musical “Burlesque,” starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, generated widespread media coverage after reports surfaced claiming there were on–set battles between Antin and Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper during production.
- Q: When it came to casting, I’ve heard you had Cher and Christina in mind from the start.
- A: I always wanted Cher and Christina. Somehow the stars were aligned and the gods were smiling and I got them. And it wasn’t a small task because these are two women who don’t say yes so easily. There’s a whole process involved in convincing them and getting them on board. Cher is not only an Academy Award winning actress, she’s been doing this for a long time and she really knows what’s right for her and what’s not. She knows what she’s comfortable doing and what she’s not comfortable doing. She hasn’t done a movie for a while and it’s not from a lack of offers. It’s because she hasn’t felt anything was right for her.
And the same thing goes for Christina. She’s never done a movie before, but she’s been offered movies before. So there was a process involved. For me it was a constant dog and pony show and a show–and–tell. I showed them elaborate storyboards and images and photographs and books and movies and clips and went through every musical number and scene. They had a lot of rewrites and things that they wanted changed, also, and I addressed all of their notes and other writers came in and addressed some of their notes.
So it was a process getting both of them on board. Once they were on board they were there a hundred percent and continued to be involved with the process all the way through the making of the movie. There’s always ideas being exchanged. Cher had ideas for every scene she was in. Sometimes the morning of she’d come to the set and say, “Oh, I was thinking about this scene last night. Could I try this?” Or, “Could I change that?” Or, “Would you consider this?” Or, “Can I ad lib this part?” And I’d be, “Let’s do it” because I would know something great was going to happen and it did.
And the same with Christina. She had a lot of thoughts and notes and ideas about who the character should be and what she was comfortable doing and what she wasn’t comfortable doing and the kind of character she wanted to play. So it was a big process.
Clint was very involved with that process — helping me get the actors on board. You know, ultimately the actor has to feel comfortable with the director and believe that the director can actually manage the ship and execute this very large vision. They ultimately felt really confident in me and my ability to do this based on how prepared I was. But it wasn’t without the help of Clint, Donald De Line, the producer (and Sony Pictures Entertainment co–chairman) Amy Pascal. There were a lot of people involved in helping put this great task together. You know, you never know where a good idea is going to come from. So it really felt like a very collaborative process in that way.
- Q: I’ve heard talk that at one point you had been considering Lindsay Lohan for the role of Nikki that went to Kristen Bell. Is that true?
- A: Not really, no. I mean, I love Lindsay Lohan. I think that she’s a really talented girl. But I really wanted Kristen Bell to do it from very early on. I think Lindsay was going through a lot of stuff at that point so I don’t think it was the right time for her to be doing a movie like this.
But with all due respect, Kristen was somebody that I thought was really right for this role and I hadn’t seen her do it before. So I was really excited about the potential of her playing this bad girl because I hadn’t seen her do it. I knew Kristen could pull it off and bring some levity to it. She’s just great in the movie.
(4) Director Stephen Frears’s comedy “Tamara Drewe,” starring Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans and Tamsin Greig, was an official selection of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.
Stephen Frears — Director of “Tamara Drewe”
- Q: Looking back at production, what were some of the challenges you faced?
- A: It was quite an easy film to make. I mean, you had to deal with the weather so you had to revisit locations. They had to redress it and things like that so you did get a sense of time passing. Other than that, it was just the cows that were difficult.
- Q: You needed them to do certain scenes that are important to the story.
- A: The charge without anybody alongside them — without wranglers driving them on in the conventional way.
- Q: Is there a secret you can share about wrangling movie cows?
- A: You just have to be lucky, amongst other things. And patient. And in the end we got what we wanted.
- Q: How did you work with the actors other than the cows?
- A: It’s really that you cast them very precisely. Once you cast somebody precisely, they’re quite intelligent enough to work things out and to work out how to play it, themselves. The important thing, I think, is the casting of them and then to treat them like grown–ups.
- Q: Do you like to rehearse with your actors?
- A: No. I didn’t rehearse.
- Q: About half of the filmmakers I talk to say they can’t possibly work other than by rehearsing and the other half say they don’t like to. What’s the case for not rehearsing?
- A: It’s just that I don’t really understand the rehearsal process. But once I see them standing in the right place, I understand it. So it’s really my limitation. Sitting around and discussing it doesn’t make any sense. As soon as it becomes concrete, I understand it and I’m covering it with chalk marks on floors and things like that.
- Q: Is it better to work that way in terms of getting fresh performances?
- A: I would think it was because it was more spontaneous. I’m not sure an actor would necessarily agree with me. But I like to respond to what’s in front of me.
(5) Director Jon Turteltaub’s epic comedy adventure “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” starring Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel, was one of the summers most anticipated films, but opened to just $17.6 million and wound up doing a disappointing $63.2 million domestically.
- Q: Did you storyboard?
- A: We would do these little animatic pre–viz cartoons of tiny sections of it. Normally, you would use a pre–viz guy to sort of stage the whole thing, but in this case what we did is just have the visual effects house start to test looks and images and feel. The big hurdle was at first that everything was coming back looking like a cartoon. The brooms were looking like cartoon brooms, not real. I felt the more cartoony you make it, the less believable it will become, the more cutesy it becomes. I wanted the mops to look like mops and the dust buster to look like a dust buster and the sponges to look like sponges.
In our version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” the magic is very based in reality. We’re not in some unspoken, unknown fabled ancient land. We’re in Manhattan and so we really wanted to ground everything. Then there’s a lot of work that you have be precise and as detailed as you have to be. Then some production designer has to create a massive set that can hold eight inches of water in it and things like that. So every department on the movie has to come together and prep this stuff and when all that’s said and done you get on the set and you go, “Oh, wait a minute. It looks better over here.” And 80 people look at you like they’re going to kill you. It’s not like a movie where you just get on the set and figure it out and start shooting.
- Q: What challenges did you face beyond all the obvious ones?
- A: In 58 days of shooting we had 46 days of rain.
- Q: Where did you shoot?
- A: Brooklyn and Manhattan, mostly. We somehow picked the year where it rained every day. It’s not that it rains every day, but it’s sunny in the morning and rainy in the afternoon. That’s one of those unexpected things you can’t plan on. So you need to be quick on your feet. You need actors who can hurry. You need a DP who can make a cloudy day look like a sunny one. And none of that is all that easy in New York City. You know, with all the buildings it’s never all that sunny anywhere, but suddenly you’re shooting sequences underneath a 20 foot tarp so it doesn’t look like it’s raining, but it sure sounds like it’s raining. There was so much of that, we were pulling our hair out. That was the big surprise. Hollywood has its grip on the world, but it still hasn’t figured out the weather yet.
(6) Director James Mangold’s action comedy “Knight and Day,” starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, was another high profile summer movie that under–performed at the boxoffice. It opened to $20.1 million and took in just $76.4 million domerstically.
- Q: You’ve got some very heavy action in “Knight and Day.”
- A: The most miraculous thing that I’ve never experienced before is that in the case of both my leads I had two people who are not only world class actors and incredibly gifted comedic actors as well as serious actors and incredibly easy on the eyes, but I had two actors who are also incredibly gifted as stunt people. Our stunt coordinators could tell you that either Tom or Cameron could stop acting tomorrow and start a career as a stunt person. They’re both incredibly skilled.
They’re each really great drivers, really incredibly skilled fighters, really physically coordinated in a myriad of ways, very aware of their own boundaries and how to work with cable safety, high speed motorcycles and cars. Cameron is a really great driver. I mean, an insanely good driver of cars and does all her stunts in the picture. Tom, I think, already has a pretty well known reputation. When you’re directing the movie, you may have heard the press but then you actually find yourself directing the film and you watch your male movie star running on the rooftops of Austria on a rainy cold night with no net and no cable and he’s seven stories in the air and on pitched roofs from the 14th Century jumping and leaping from one to another and you’re going, “This guy is absolutely incredible.” And, of course, jumping from car to car, hanging on to cars, falling off the sides of buildings. It’s all him. He loves it.
- Q: And the insurance people let you do this?
- A: (Laughs.) I couldn’t speak to it other than to say that Tom’s really, really, really careful at the same time that he’s really, really bold. And what I mean by that is that he’s very smart about this stuff. He is in on the planning of the stunts. He’s physically there. He shows up days in advance to walk through it, to check the grounds, to understand the footing, to think about it. He trains. He warms up. You couldn’t find someone who is more methodical and organized about what they’re doing when they enter a challenge like this.
When you have actors like this, one of the things you actually regret about the emergence of amazing CG technology and face replacement and all these other things that they can do with computers is that actually this guy and girl are old school. I mean, it’s really them. Even though there’s many tricks we could have up our sleeves, you feel it watching the movie. You just sense that this is them.
- Q: How did you come to direct “Knight and Day?”
- A: It was roundabout in the sense that Tom and I got to know each other talking about “3:10 to Yuma.” He had been curious about that film and we had met a bunch of times talking about that movie and him potentially being involved in it. When that didn’t happen, we still parted with a real great relationship and a real interest in doing something together. We continued talking about other things I was working on. It was late in 2009 that this script crossed my desk — a rewrite by Scott Frank at that time.
I really liked the script. I thought it needed work, but I thought there was a kind of intense charm to it and an originality about it. I’m always looking for something that feels to me like at least I haven’t seen it before in the last five to 10 years. What I was told was that Cameron was attached and that Tom had read it and was curious about it, but it was without a director and obviously was going to need more work to kind of rope it all together. So I met with Cameron and I met with Tom and I talked with them about what I’d try to do with the script.
When I heard Tom and Cameron were curious about doing it, it seemed to me to be a huge opportunity. I think what made it a huge opportunity is it’s wonderful to work with stars, but it’s also most wonderful to work with them when they’re interested and prepared to do something that is so perfect for them and so perfect for them in this moment. My own sense was that this was the movie Tom should be doing right now. And this was also a great opportunity for Cameron. And then I just felt like this is exactly the kind of movie I’d want to see these two exact people and no other two people in. In many ways, my involvement was based upon whether we could reel in both of these actors because it was about this particular grouping.
For me this was a movie that wasn’t just about a story that had to be told, but it was also about personalities that had to be right for it to work. I’m a big Tom Cruise fan and I had missed one aspect of his acting canon that I just hadn’t seen in five or six years. You could say it’s comedy, but it’s also more warmth and even a more flawed character. I think the one thing that comes from playing the kind of hero that was in “Valkyrie” or the kind of hero that occupies the “Mission” films is that he doesn’t have a chance to show a wonderful aspect of his personality and his acting personality, which we’ve seen in films like “Jerry Maguire” or “Rain Man” and certainly “Top Gun” and “Risky Business.”
There’s a kind of, yes, he’s cocksure and yes, he’s confident and yes, he’s a laser beam of focus and incredibly skilled, but there’s also things he’s not as good at and there’s things where he’s got something to learn and there’s places where it’s like he’s not computing what someone’s saying and there’s a tremendous warmth of comedy that comes from watching him struggle with his relationship with Rene in “Jerry Maguire” or struggle with his relationship with Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.”
What I saw for him in this beyond the physicality was the dance that he and Cameron could do through this picture would also afford him a lot of moments of kind of watching the gears turn in Tom’s head that to me were my favorite kind of Tom Cruise moments. Of watching him try to cope with stuff that isn’t always rational. You know, Qantas Airlines (in “Rain Man”). The stuff where you’re watching him have to deal.
(7) Director Harald Zwart’s reimagining of the action drama “The Karate Kid,” starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan and Taraji P. Henson, was one of the summer’s biggest hits. It opened to $55.7 million and went on to gross $176.6 million domestically.
- Q: Looking back at production, what were some of the big challenges?
- A: We had a 560 man crew. It was the biggest crew I’ve ever had. I had 90 drivers. One of the things I did between takes is that I try to run a green set so I learned how to say “Turn off your engines and save the planet” in Chinese. I walked around to all the drivers because, you know, it’s so hot that a lot of people were just sitting and cooling off in their cars. So I tried to prevent cars from idling on the set and tried to be more conscious of plastic waste and all that stuff. There were 90 drivers so there were a lot of people to talk to.
We all wanted to have a movie that had the spirit of “Slumdog Millionaire,” almost an independent flavor to it. I wanted to shoot in the street in Beijing in the tight little neighborhoods there. So I said to everyone, “We can’t have 560 crew and 90 drivers. We have to be able to jump in and out of a van with a handheld camera. Jackie and Will (Smith) have to be half–disguised because people recognize them.” And they were all up for that. It was really as if we were doing a much smaller movie.
We backed up into the neighborhoods and they all jumped out of a van. We had this one hand–held monitor and we shot on the streets with realistic surroundings. And it was the same thing when we went to those temples where we had to go up with a gondola that holds two people at a time. It would have taken a day to transport the whole crew up there so we just went, “Let’s go handheld.” And then Jackie and Will were both carrying lens cases. It was almost like doing a student movie — just with these huge movie stars. And that was just amazing to me — how flexible we were and how supportive they were, the producers and the actors, of the whole filmmaking process. I think the movie has that authentic flavor. It doesn’t feel arranged. It feels like we went straight there and staged a realistic story.
- Q: How was it working with Will Smith as a producer. How involved was he?
- A: Will and Overbrook are, I think, the most inspirational people I’ve worked with. They are very, very respectful of the filmmaker. They are very supportive of the filmmaker’s vision. Having Will there just made the approval process so much quicker. Any new ideas, anything we were insecure about, we just fixed it right then and there. He’s an incredibly inspiring creative force. I’ve never felt better as a filmmaker. Will was also there as a dad to Jaden, obviously, so that was really helpful. It was great for Jaden to have his parents around.
- Q: Was it difficult communicating with your crew? Was it mostly a Chinese crew?
- A: Yes, it was a complete Chinese crew. I just had key people like the production designer and DP and editor — those were non–Chinese people. But the whole crew was Chinese or Hong Kong Chinese.
- Q: How has the story changed since the original “Karate Kid?” (The 1984 hit was directed by John G. Avildsen and starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.)
- A: Well, funnily enough, the story hasn’t changed that much. The epic story is still the same. It’s about a boy who has to stand up for himself. The life lessons, the emotional impact — that’s still the same. We’ve done it our way. The thing we were wanting to really not fall into the trap of is that we don’t think there is a way to top “wax on…wax off.” Wax on…wax off is really just one of those iconic moments that are just brilliant in the original movie.
But the idea of a kid thinking he’s learning something whereas all along he’s been learning martial arts, that idea is the same although we’ve changed it from “wax on…wax off.” If you look really carefully you can see that every single one of those iconic moments are somehow spread out through the movie. There is a scene where Jackie casually waxes his car and he waxes on and he waxes off and we make no comment about it. He’s just waxing his car in the scene.
- Q: But it’s there for people who know the original.
- A: Exactly. And then we feel really good about the replacement ideas. The core idea is the same, but the execution of it is completely different. We’ve tested the movie and it tests incredibly well. Sony ran a test screening and we scored 97%, which was one of the highest they’ve done. What everybody tells me is that after like 10 minutes they forget that they’re watching a remake. And that was really good to hear.
(8) Director Richard Loncraine’s drama “The Special Relationship,” the third film in screenwriter Peter Morgan’s trilogy about Tony Blair, debuted domestically on HBO and starred Michael Sheen as Blair and Dennis Quaid and Bill Clinton.
- Q: The independent film business has changed quite a bit since “The Queen” opened theatrically in 2006. For instance, you”re premiering on HBO and I would think that a few years ago this would have opened as a theatrical film given the success of “The Queen” with six Oscar nominations, including best picture and director, and a best actress Oscar win for Helen Mirren.
- A: I know. Well, it is a theatrical movie outside America and the U.K. It’s going to be a feature film everywhere else in the world. But I have to say, I’ve done four films now for HBO — well, “Band of Brothers” (a miniseries) obviously was a very different thing. But the other three films I’ve made (with HBO), we could never have got the money to make them independently.
- Q: What’s interesting is that this is now a way for independent filmmakers to tell stories that are hard to get into theaters and yet to still be able to reach a big audience.
- A: Yes — in fact, a bigger audience than they’d probably ever get in a theatrical mode.
- Q: How did you become involved with the project?
- A: Well, I’d done two feature films for HBO before (this one) — “The Gathering Storm” with Albert Finney and “My House in Umbria” with Maggie Smith — and they were both produced by Frank Doelger, who’s a wonderful producer. Peter Morgan was originally directing and then he decided it was not for him. But unfortunately he decided rather close to “the off” so we were only four weeks from the first day of principal when I got the phone call. Because it came from Frank Doelger and HBO I read it instantly because I’m a great fan of anything they’re doing. I read it on a Thursday at lunchtime and Friday morning I started work. I was in there at Pinewood with a crew that I’d never met before — not a single member — which was exciting and frightening at the same time because at my age you kind of have built your crews up that you know and you trust.
- Q: Yes, you have a comfort level with them.
- A:You do. But, you know, I’m 63 years old and there’s something rather good about having to live off the land, as it were. It wakes you up a little bit. It stops you being quite so safe. And I met some wonderful people on the shoot. It was a really very good happy shoot. When directors leave a film everyone gets rather nervous. So it took a few hours to run the troops, but they were lovely people and they’d been chosen very wisely by the production team and the cast was equally good. So it was a joy to work on, I’d have to say. I really enjoyed it.
(9) Writer–director Michael Patrick King’s “Sex and the City 2,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, was the sequel to a blockbuster but didn’t do nearly as well. It opened to $31 million and went on to gross $95.3 million domestically and $193 million internationally — compared to the original’s $152.6 million domestically and $262.6 million internationally.
- Q: I can’t believe it’s two years since we spoke about your having just made the first “Sex and the City” movie, which was your first feature as a director. Now you have a $400 million–plus grossing film behind you. Was it different making your second film?
- A: It was completely different in that it was designed to be different. I only have one rule having written “Sex and the City” for lo these many years and that is — “Never repeat.” So I wanted the movie to be different. The movie was completely different in that it became a gigantic different type of movie to make. The first movie was set in New York and it was kind of an emotional landscape for Carrie Bradshaw. The ups and the downs were all in her storyline, in her emotions with getting jilted at the altar.
This movie is up and down and all around the world. I knew that it was an economic downturn when I sat down to write the script. So I thought, “I’m not a banker. I can’t balance your books or fix Wall Street. But what did moviemakers do in the other Big Depression?” They made big movies and escapist comedies. And I thought, “Maybe that’s the way to go.”
So I had this homage to the movies of the ‘30s and in the whole beginning of the movie (Stanford and Anthony’s wildly elaborate wedding reception) just from a technical point I got to direct a movie that felt like an MGM musical with big glittery sets indoors and musical numbers with Liza Minnelli. And in the second half of the movie I learned a whole different other type of filmmaking, which is more the road picture or the epic sort of David Lean feel. So for me, it was a gigantically different movie.
And the fact that it was the sequel to a blockbuster opened the door for it to be bigger. I was able to do everything that I wrote, which is a rare gift for a writer — to imagine something and then actually be allowed to do it as big as you imagined it.
- Q: When you were writing, were you thinking, “I’m going to write this scene I’ve always wanted to do — to go to the Moroccan desert?”
- A: When I sat down to write it, I just wanted it to be a continuation of the party I saw in the audiences when I would see people seeing the first movie. I saw women were dressing up, having cocktails before and after and taking pictures of themselves. It felt like this big party and I thought, “I want the vibe of this movie to be fun and a party.”
And then I started to think about a road picture because I went around the world with the first movie. We opened in London and in Berlin and we were in Paris and Tokyo. And all of a sudden, I started seeing that in every city I went to these four characters — Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte — had girlfriends waiting for them and that it was actually bigger than just one city. They were coming to see their girlfriends. I think that put the word global in my head. And then I started thinking, “Where is the cutting edge travel destination?” At that time, everybody was buzzing about Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I settled on Abu Dhabi because it was more exotic and more unknown and, also, there (was) no financial trouble there that we’re seeing in other places. So then I started thinking, “Oh, wow, how exotic and far away.”
Once you open the door to that sort of crazy thought process of modern city but with all those ancient ideas like flowing veils and sand and camels, it just seemed funny to me to put Samantha in the Middle East. It seemed kind of Bob Hope & Bing Crosby to put them all on camels. Hopefully, it’s a big old fashioned Hollywood movie, but with a contemporary edge.
(10) Directors Brian Koppelman & David Levien’s drama “Solitary Man,” starring Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Jenna Fisher, Mary–Louise Parker, Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg and Danny Devito premiered in September 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
- Q: How did “Solitary Man” come about?
- A: Brian: I wrote the script in our downtime on weekends and in early mornings. I’d written the first 20 pages and brought them to David to say, “Should we work on this together?” because we always trade our ideas back and forth and pitch things to each other. He read it and said, “I think you have the tone and the voice of this, so you should finish it and then we’ll talk about how to make it.”
Once I did finish it and showed it to him — and we went up and made a bunch of movies in the meantime — he said, “Let’s figure out how to get this thing made.” We then showed it to Steven Soderbergh and Paul Schiff. Michael Douglas was always our first choice. Steven immediately felt Michael was the right guy for it and gave it to Michael. Michael read it. We sat down with him. He shook our hands and said, “Let’s make this movie.”
- Q: When was that?
- A: David: The first draft of the script was finished in September of 2007. We sat down with Michael Douglas and he committed to the movie around March 15 of 2008.
- Q: The two of you directed “Knockaround Guys” together, but it’s unusual to have pairs of directors and it’s not something the Directors Guild usually agrees to. How do you work that out?
- A: Brian: We’re waivered into the DGA and there are a handful of directing teams. We made “Knockaround Guys” in Canada and we were members of the Directors Guild of Canada. When you shot in Canada at that time you were under the Directors Guild of Canada and they don’t have a prohibition against team directors.
In order to join the DGA as a team you have to have directed before as a team and you have to really be a bona fide team. By directing “Knockaround Guys” in Canada under the DGC’s auspices we were able to prove to the DGA that we were a team. And then we went and appeared before a board at the DGA when we wanted to go direct the pilot episode of our TV series “Tilt.” So by the time we directed “Tilt,” which was four years ago, we were already in as a bona fide team.
- Q: How do you work as a directing team?
- A: David: Seamlessly. We approach all aspects of the job in a joint manner. We both talk about the material. Often, we’ve written it. In this case, Brian wrote it. We plan the approach towards the shoot. We are in rehearsals together. We almost always see eye to eye on the way things unfold. When we’re shooting a scene, 99 percent of the time it’s the exact same takes that we’ve chosen.
Brian: We used to divide up the duties, but for us it’s (now) a collaboration from the beginning.
(11) Director James Ivory’s drama “The City of Your Final Destination,” his 24th collaboration with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, stars Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexandra Maria Lara, Norma Aleandro and Omar Metwally.
Director James Ivory
- Q: I understand it wasn’t easy to get this movie financed.
- A: No, it wasn’t easy. We thought we were financed and in fact we had been promised financing from a bank in California. As Ismail’s always done, you don’t hesitate, you just get out there and get started and assume. He was always such an optimist and he could always pull it off. He always just assumed the money would come. Luckily, the company (Merchant Ivory Productions) had some money so what happened is we set up when the shooting would be and we made all our deals with the actors that they would come at such and such a time.
We still hadn’t secured the financing by the time the shooting started, but we started anyway. We had enough money and we did manage to raise some of it. We had enough anyway to finish the film, to do all the shooting in South America and do everything with all seven actors that make up the cast. Then we came back and the loan still hadn’t gone through because the loan was contingent on the film being bonded by Film Finances, but there was a disagreement between Film Finances and the company as to what the budget ought to be and what it had to be or could be and so forth. And that went on and on and on.
Meanwhile, we were there and the actors were there and we had to shoot because we couldn’t send them all home. And so we did. We did what you really never should do. I mean, Ismail would never have done it. If you don’t have all your financing arranged at least you have to have an American distributor somewhere in the background. If you don’t have that, it’s extremely risky to start out. You could have the distributor and no money or you could have the money and no distributor, but you can’t not have both. That’s a desperate act.
And that’s exactly what happened to us because we neither had an American distributor at that time nor people who were interested (in going ahead to finance the picture). I mean, Sony was interested at one point. When we came back from South America we were in a real mess. We couldn’t go on and complete the film. We couldn’t do the post–production and we owed a hell of a lot of money to people, including some of the actors, and all sorts of things. It was just a mess for about a year. But then, eventually, we were able to get the film bonded and another bank came forward with more or less the same amount of money and so we were able to do it.
- Q: When was this?
- A: We were shooting the film in 2006 and the early part of 2007. So our problem period was the rest of 2007 into the summer of 2008. That was the sort of period when we (were having problems). Actually, it was possible to at least cut the film, but we really couldn’t finish it. We couldn’t do all the things we had to do and pay everybody and all of that. But the money was there from the end of the summer of 2008 and the film was quite quickly finished. There was a tiny bit more shooting to be done in Montreal. The American scenes were supposed to be done in Boulder. But it was the wrong time of year to go to Boulder, so we went to Montreal.
The film was done by about Christmastime of 2008. Then the whole business of the rating of the film and the making of prints was the next step. And somewhere in 2009 we were all done and showing it to people. It opened at the Rome Film Festival in October of ‘09. That was the world premiere. It’s since been at the Tokyo festival. It was in the festival quite recently in Uruguay at Punta del Este. That was like the South American premiere of it though not yet the release.
- Q: What was the film’s budget?
- A: It was $8 million–300–and–some–thousand.
- Q: There have been so many changes in the specialized distribution business in the last year or two. How has that impacted on you?
- A: As you know, it’s certainly been much harder for independent films to just assume they’re going to be distributed and someone’s going to buy them. The financial crash scared everybody. I think distributors were holding on to whatever money they had and saying, “Sure, we’ll distribute it, but we’re not going to give you an advance.” People who made independent films (ran into this). Two Oscar winners, “Crazy Heart” and “Hurt Locker,” apparently had those kinds of problems that we also had. It was just very, very hard to get a distributor to commit and to make some kind of a substantial payment.
- Q: And yet you’re certainly not a proven success as a filmmaker…
- A: Well, it wasn’t easy. It really wasn’t. Everyone has been very, very nervous about funding films at all and buying films. They’re being really tight fisted about it, which is not a bad development. If this tends to bring down the price of making a film because no one’s going to put up the gigantic amounts that the stars up to now have always taken sort of as their right and it brings people down to a way of making films that just isn’t so grossly swollen, that would be good.
- Q: How were you able to make your movie for only $8.3 million?
- A: That was partly because we were making it in Argentina because it’s not that expensive compared to certain other South American countries. We had wonderful crews and everything you could ever want was there. But it’s a country that is not highly priced.
(12) Director Atom Egoyan’s drama “Chloe,” starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried, is a remake of the 2003 French film “Nathalie” (directed by Anne Fontaine and starring Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart and Gerard Depardieu). It is the first of Egoyan’s 13 feature films that he did not write as well as direct. Its screenplay was written by Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary”). The film was produced by Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Jeffrey Clifford and executive produced by Jason Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki, Thomas P. Pollock and Ron Halpern.
- Q: How did “Chloe” come about?
- A: We had actually cast Amanda Seyfried before (shooting the 2008 drama) “Adoration.” We had quite a massive search for the actress who would play Chloe. We went everywhere and looked at thousands of actresses, as it turned out. She just stood out and really from the moment she came into the room she was our choice. At that point, “Mamma Mia” (with Seyfried as Meryl Streep’s daughter) had not come out and really there wasn’t any way that it could be financed with Amanda. So I went out and made “Adoration” and while I was making that “Mamma Mia” came out and was a huge hit.
Also, I worked with Liam Neeson on a play at Lincoln Center in New York about a year and a half ago and after that experience, which was really great, Liam mentioned that we should work together again. So I presented him with the script and he came on board. Julianne Moore we’d always had in mind. So suddenly between the success of “Taken” (the 2008 thriller starring Neeson) and “Mamma Mia,” it suddenly fell into place.
But it’s difficult these days with drama even when the package is as enticing as it was in this case. And then, of course, add to that (the participation of The Montecito Picture Company principals) Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock. Everything seemed to be such a high caliber, but it’s just tough in terms of making dramas these days.
- Q: When was it that you began casting “Chloe” and trying to put it together?
- A: I first met with Ivan and Tom almost three years ago. Ivan had developed the screenplay. He’d seen the French original on its release in 2003 and decided to purchase the option and then hired Erin Cressida Wilson to write it as a screenplay. Ivan was even thinking of directing it himself, but realized that he wasn’t, maybe, the right person. “Exotica” had always been in his mind and so he approached me. We met in late spring 2007 and at that point we began to look for actresses.
We really cast a very, very wide net between the States, Canada, England and through the miracles of online casting now really went through hundreds if not over a thousand actresses. It was really daunting. And then Amanda Seyfried walked into a room and she was so immediately appealing. She seemed to capture something and surprised us all. We looked at each other after she left and I think we knew that was Chloe.
But, unfortunately, at that time she really (wasn’t a big enough name). Everyone knew that “Mamma Mia” was coming out, but no one really could have anticipated that it was going to strike the nerve it did. “Adoration” was in place so I took time away to make that film. And then when I finished it, I met Liam. We knew that we needed to have the strongest cast possible. It was the only way it was going to get made. And so we did. I can’t imagine a better cast for this film.
- Q: This seems such a different kind of film for Montecito to have made.
- A: It is, though I liked “Disturbia” a lot (the 2007 thriller that Reitman and Pollock executive produced for Montecito). I thought that was an interesting film. And I also think that in Ivan’s own filmography the missing link, if you will, is “Dave” (the 1993 romantic comedy directed by Reitman and starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver) because “Dave” is also a film about a marriage and it’s also a film about a surrogate really as someone who reignites Sigourney Weaver’s passion for her husband in this very unusual way. I think “Dave” is not only the missing link between my work and Ivan’s sensibility, but it also explains a lot about father and son.
I think it’s an interesting link between Jason and Ivan, as well, in terms of sensibility being a political satire. It’s a very accomplished work. When people think of Ivan they immediately think of the “Ghostbusters” and the “Beethovens.” They forget that (“Dave”) is one of Ivan’s finest films. As you know, Montecito does so many different types of films. It’s really quite astonishing to look at their development slate. They’re really one of the most active companies, I think.
- Q: And they did a great job of raising money when it was still possible to do that and that puts them in an enviable position to fund projects now.
- A: But even with all that, this was a challenge. The deal with Studio Canal, who is their partner, was very specific. The pieces had to fit in a very particular way and they eventually did. It only really happened when we had secured all three cast members. It was clear that if we weren’t able to shoot it last March, it wasn’t going to happen. Studio Canal ended up stepping up to the plate and really financing it.