Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coleman Hough on "Bubble"

What screenplays had you written before Bubble?

COLEMAN HOUGH: Before I started Bubble, I had written a movie for HBO about the life of Katherine Graham. And I was developing a TV series with some producers in Los Angeles. The thing for HBO, I was hired to do it, I did it and it was completed, but it's never been produced. It's still in development. Apparently, one of the re-writers is Joan Didion. That's kind of cool. If you're going to be re-written by anyone, Joan Didion's the one.

And then I went to Los Angeles last Fall and was developing this TV series. And I ran into Steven, and he wanted to know what I was doing. I told him and we started talking about working together again. He said that Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner had commissioned him to do six films in this new format, day and date release. And he said, "Why don't you write the first one?"

I was thrilled. And then he said, "I don't want to use actors, I want to use just people in the town. And I want there to be no scripted dialogue; I want it to be all improvised." So then I thought, well, what am I going to write?

What was his concept for the movie?

COLEMAN HOUGH: He had an idea, he wanted to do a tale of jealousy that took place in a factory, a love triangle. So I said, "Well, what kind of factory?" And he said, "I'm thinking about an animal testing facility." And then we started talking about the political implications of that, and we decided we didn't want that overlay of political implications.

We started brainstorming about other factories, and I was researching industries in the Midwest, because I knew he wanted to film in the Midwest because it was during the re-election, and Ohio specifically was such a hot swing state. I found two doll factories in Ohio and Indiana, the only two remaining doll factories in the country.

I started making some calls. I didn't tell them what I was doing, I just said I was interested in making dolls and I wanted to know if they did tours of their plant. So I went with a location manager and it was this fun research trip for two weeks, with a week in each town. It was really great, it was like working as a site-specific playwright. I fell in love with the Ohio town, because it was right on the Ohio river.

From the people I met in the town and the feeling I got from the town, and just by observing the life that I had landed in the middle of, I fashioned this story. And then I presented it to Steven and he liked it; we made some adjustments and that gave us our shooting outline.

And you were on the set throughout the shoot?

COLEMAN HOUGH: The fun thing, the great discovery, was that he wanted me on the set every day, because he wanted to be constantly incorporating the stories of the actors into the story.

So I found my job to be the best job of all, because I was not only putting the non-professional actors at ease -- Steven called me The Human Green Room -- because they would hang out with me. I would listen to their stories and we'd share stories and we'd talk about things we'd done and I'd ask them a million questions. Their stories were so great and so rich. So, whenever I would see Steven, on a break or whatever, I'd say, "Okay, I've got a good one. You've got to get Debbie to talk about …" whatever story they had told me that day.

For example, the scene where Rose is taking a bath in the house she's cleaning is a story from my life. I've always wanted to put that scene in a movie because I used to take baths at parties. When I was in my 30s I went through this weird phase where I would just disappear and take a bath at a party, because my idol, Zelda Fitzgerald, used to do that.

I've always wanted to put that in a movie, and I thought, what if she takes a bath in the house where she cleans. And so, that day Misty, the actress, was very apprehensive about wearing the nude suit and being in the bathtub. So I told her that story from my life, and it put her at ease. She just thought that was so funny and it just made it more delicious for her to do it.

How did you create the characters once you had the story roughed in? And did it change once you cast the non-actors?

COLEMAN: I had a clear idea of the characters before we cast the actors. We cast the actors based on the characters I'd imagined. When Steven and I were reviewing the audition tapes, the criteria was, are these the people that I imagined? So we didn't have to make any adjustments to the story, because they were the characters.

So, Debbie just jumped out, she was Martha, and Misty was Rose. They couldn't have been more perfect. We found them, they found us. The whole Bubble experience was like the magic synchronicity of everything. The town opened up to us, everything that was meant to be happened. It was wild.

How difficult was it for you to not write the dialogue and let the actors make it up on-camera?

COLEMAN: It was very hard for me at first, because that's what I write. I'm a playwright and dialogue is what I love to write. I felt a shift -- Steven always talks about a writing head and a making head, which is developing a film and then actually making it. And it's true. So I got to experience that in terms of listening to their cadences and pointing out to Steven the things that really spoke of their characters. Like Misty would say, "Oh, yeah," that was one thing she said that was so that character.

We filmed in the bait and tackle shop for a long time. I would listen on the monitor through all the shooting, and I was thrilled when that woman said, "The darker the water, the darker the bait." And I said, "Steven, you have to start there. It's such a great line."

So it was kind of like writing it as I heard it. It was such an honor, because it was like not making it up in my head, but listening to it and catching it. Which is what you do when you immerse yourself in a world or a culture, you start to hear certain phrases or certain intonations. That was a hard adjustment, not hard but challenging.

I always thought dialogue was so important to me in writing scripts, and I couldn't imagine what that would be like to relinquish the control of that. But it was thrilling. On the first day of shooting, we did the lunchroom scene, where's there's an awkward silence and then Rose says, "Do any of you all smoke?"

I got chills when I was watching that, because of the silence. That's what I love to write; in fact, in a lot of my plays the stage direction says, "There's an uncomfortable silence between them." And the fact that they just trusted that silence, and the sub-text in that line "Do any of you all smoke?" I just couldn't have written anything better than that! Just by putting them in that situation, it was amazing to see the organic response.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Adam Lefevre on “Return of the Secaucus Seven”

What was your experience making Return of the Secaucus Seven?

ADAM LEFEVRE: It was really quite wonderful. It was my first film -- for a lot of people who were in it, it was their first film -- and it was John Sayles’ first film. All of us had the blessing and the curse of being gung-ho and not quite sure what we were getting into.

I think there was only one person who was in the Screen Actors Guild at that time; the rest of us had gotten together at a summer theater where we shot it, in North Conway. We actually used the Lodge that the theater people stayed in, and John shot it at the end of that theater's summer season.

The movie is always held up as the perfect example of how to construct a low-budget movie, writing to the resources at hand.

ADAM LEFEVRE: John had very specifically tailored the script to who he knew he had. He had tailored the movie to people's type and abilities. Because his budget was very limited, it had to be thoroughly plotted out. People have said that a lot of it sounded improvised, but really very little was improvised, because he didn't have enough money for film to do that. He knew going into it exactly what he had to get, and he was very diligent about getting shots and moving on, getting shots and moving on.

Everybody knew everybody and worked with each other before, so there was a level of comfort there and a lot les time necessary to get to know each other, because the centerpiece of the film was this group of friends. I think it was advantageous that we had a shared communal history, and I think, since there was so little time, it was good to have that going in.

John knew that and I think exploited that in a very good way. I think from the point of view of the actors, that made it easier for all of us, because there was already a history there of friendship. Subsequent to that, sometimes you arrive on a movie set and you end up in bed with somebody you haven't met yet. In this case, the working relationship among the core group was already established.

It was really a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

What did you learn from working on that movie?

ADAM LEFEVRE: I learned a lot. The lesson for me was learning to be still and not to act. If you thinking right and feeling right, the camera will see it. It was great for me in that regard, and the fact that the movie got some notoriety was helpful for me subsequently, it was a calling card for me.

Working in a low-budget movie is very much like my experience in working in episodic television, because there you gotta move. You get the shot and you move on.

So it was helpful for me, because as an actor you learn to take care of yourself, there's a baseline that you want to give, an artistic standard that one sets for oneself and that you want to make sure that you do.

And so you learn to have a certain amount of confidence that, even without any direction, you can come up with something that will work and hopefully be interesting as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jim McBride and L.M. Kit Carson on "David Holzman's Diary"

What was your inspiration for making this film?

MCBRIDE: It was a combination of things. Michael Powel's Peeping Tom had a big impression on me. I saw it when it was banned in the United States; maybe it was banned everywhere, I don't know. On my first visit to California, a guy I knew got a hold of a print of it and showed it at midnight at a movie theater that no longer exists here. I was just knocked out by it. The whole idea of self-examination.

Then, in addition to that, I was very interested in Cinema Verite. Kit Carson and I were going to write something for the Museum of Modern Art about Cinema Verite, and we interviewed all these filmmakers--like the Mayles brothers, Ricky Leacock, Pennebaker, even Andy Warhol--who were making films that purportedly were for the first time entering into real life and finding out the truth.

People were really passionate about this idea that you could find the truth with this new, light-weight equipment and faster film stocks and synch sound--all the stuff that was very new in the sixties. So at that time I was very passionately interested in all of that, and at the same time I felt there was something wrong here.

So you didn't out to specifically fool people?

MCBRIDE: That certainly wasn't the idea. One wanted to make a movie that would be believable. Yes, on one level you wanted people to believe that it was real and to affected by it, but on the other hand, I didn't set out with the intention of fooling people. But just as with any film you make, you want people to suspend their disbelief, you want people to believe it.

I know that this film is an important film to a lot of people, and always, constantly surprised when people come up to me and say, 'I saw your film when I was in college.' My own experience with the film is that it's never had any kind of commercial release, it's never shown in theater. It really only has a life at film festivals and colleges. So I'm always surprised that more than seven people have seen it.

I know that at a lot of early showings people walked out, but I think that was more from being bored than being fooled.

How did you and Kit write the film?

MCBRIDE: I had a different way of working with Kit. We were writing this thing for the Museum of Modern Art, exploring this whole idea of truth.

For those parts of the film that took place in his apartment--we really did it all in one long weekend, I think--we spent several days beforehand with just a tape recorder in a room. I would give him a sense of what I wanted to have happen in a given scene, and then he would put it into his own words, and then we'd listen to the tape and I'd say 'I like this, I don't like that, change this.'

It was very much controlled improvisation, and by the time we actually went to shoot the scene--although it wasn't written down--we all knew exactly what was going to happen. Because we didn't have a lot of film to fuck around with, so we had to get it on the first or second take. So it was pretty carefully rehearsed.

How did you get involved in this project?

CARSON: Jim had conceived of this idea to do a film called David Holzman's Diary, which was, at the time he introduced it to me, a 12-page outline on David Holzman, this guys who starts the movie by saying 'My life is all fucked up and I'm about to be drafted and I figure it's time for me to try to figure what's going on. And if I shoot everyday and look at the rushes of everyday, I can find the plot again, because I've lost the plot.'

The interesting thing is that at the time I was also studying the roots of the English novel. And the roots of the English novel are these fake diaries, like Robinson Crusoe and Pamela. It was the first way they figured out to do long-form fiction, was to make diaries out of it.

So that also informed what we were attempting to do, because a diary is something that feels like it's real time, but you know, if you think about it for two seconds, 'Oh, yeah, he's edited this together.' So it's not really happening in front of you. It's been examined and purposed, structurally, to be this way.

What was the experience of shooting the film like?

CARSON: On my Easter break from college in Texas, I came to New York. And since I didn't know how to do it any other way, I just became the character. I lived in the editing room, I slept in the closet, and I lost my girlfriend who at the time thought I was nuts -- just like Penny in the movie thinks I'm nuts. So it worked.

We did several days of improvising through the scenes, between McBride and myself, until he felt that we got the shape of the scene. And then when we would shoot, I told Jim that I was not going to rehearse. 'Just turn the camera on and I'm going to do it.' Because I didn't want to filter the improvisation any further. If I had rehearsed it before we turned the camera on, it would have turned it into self-conscious thought. And I wanted to keep it raw.

We were satisfied that we had the shape of the scene, built off of the 12-page outline. We knew the beginning, middle and end. But I said to Jim, 'I want to surprise you.' I had no idea what I was saying when I said that, but the idea was to keep that instant alive, the instant when anything can happen.

I like the idea of not filtering the moment, not knowing how I'm going to do.

So we shot maybe two or three takes each time.

Were you involved in the film after it was shot?

CARSON: I came back from Texas and Jim had put the film together, sort of, and he had Thelma Schoonmaker come in and take a look, because Thelma was everybody's pal at that time.

What Jim had done was take the worst takes of the two or three that we had made, because he felt that was more truthful to the character. And Thelma said, 'Fine, that may be more true, but it's horrible, so you have to use the best takes. Otherwise it's really painful if you don't use the best takes.'

I understand his thought, that the bad takes make it seem more like a documentary. But Thelma talked him into using the best takes.

What lesson did you take away from making this movie?

CARSON: The lesson I took away is that there is a lot of depth of thought required; you can't just do it off the top of your head. Jim had this brilliant idea. It came out of six months of experience interviewing a dozen documentary filmmaker to conclude that, 'No, wait a minute, this is not true. Therefore, let's expose it.' That was all Jim's energy. But it came from spending all that time thinking about it.

And from my angle, it came from studying the roots of the English novels, studying what documentary IS, so that you say, 'Oh, I know. It's an act of fiction.' It looks real, and you propose it stylistically as 'this happened, just now,' but it's actually been edited and pieced together.

What you try to achieve when you create any fiction is truth, a fictional truth that has the right ending.

With the movies I've made since that time, I've always tried to stay in touch with the job of telling the truth in your own way in this particular story.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Jon Favreau on "Swingers"

After you'd written Swingers, why did you decide to try to make the film and not just sell the script?

JON FAVREAU: By keeping the script, you maintain control over every aspect of the movie.

Creativity, you're giving up final cut usually right off the bat. When you're making it yourself, it's up to you and only you what ends up in the movie and what compromises you want to make creatively. So, for some nominal fee, they're really getting a lot of leverage over you, both creatively and financially.

A lot of changes were asked of me: changing certain characters to women, making the characters more likeable, changing things that interfered of what my vision for the piece was.

In defense of those people, they're used to developing scripts, they're looking for clues in the material, they don't know what the overall vision of the piece is, so the best thing to do is to not take any of that upfront money.

Was Swingers based on your life?

JON FAVREAU: It wasn't a true story, but it was definitely based on people and places and inspired by events that I had experienced.

When you write from that, you're incorporating a lot of things that are very real and well understood by you. And the script inherits a certain sincerity and a certain subconscious vision that you might not even be aware of when you're doing your first script, if it's a personal one. It becomes much more difficult later on to do that.

But if you stick to things that you know and understand and people that you know, it allows a very true voice and you tend to come off as a better writer than really are, because you're incorporating so much of reality into your piece.

Did you write it for you and Vince Vaughn?

JON FAVREAU: I wrote things that I knew that they could do well. But at that time, Vince had not really played a character like the persona that was presented in Swingers, even though it was based very closely on him. The characters that he had played never really played into his rapid-fire delivery or his sense of humor. He was always playing it much more straight as an actor. I don't think he saw himself as a comic actor as much as a good-looking, leading man type.

So I was tapping into something I knew he could do, from knowing him so well, but I didn't really know whether or not he could deliver, because he hadn't done it before. It's good to have those touchstones.

What really got us there was that we had done so many staged readings of it, to try and raise money, that it served as almost a rehearsal period. So that by the time we got to the set, where we didn't have a lot of time and we were shooting a lot of pages a day, we had already gone through the material so much and had chemistry from our relationship in our personal life, and that certainly made things easier. There was no learning curve in the relationship by two actors that are cast opposite each other. Everybody already had a level of familiarity that helped to keep the process a little more streamlined.

When did you realize how much fun audiences would have with the phone message scene?

JON FAVREAU: Not on the set. The crew was not very entertained by it. We shot all the apartment stuff in a day and a half, so about a quarter of the movie was shot in a day and a half on paper. So that was one of those things that was crammed into a very crowded day at that location.

And there were concerns. Doug Liman (the director) was concerned that it was too many messages. But I felt pretty strongly about it, having read it in front of audiences live, at staged readings.

It wasn't until the whole movie was cut together and the significance of that moment, where it fell in the story, it was definitely a pivotal point in the film. And because you were so emotionally involved in that moment in the movie, the audience was engaged with the film. And had they not been engaged with the character, that scene would not have been as funny or as poignant. It was because of the work that had been done by everybody involved up until then that it was funny.

Now I think people enjoy it alone, because they remember the movie. But had that just been done as a sketch, it might have been a clever thing, but I don't think it would have had the impact that it does in the context of the film.

It all goes to emotion. If you're emotionally engaged, everything is going to be funnier, more satisfying, scarier, everything. It's that emotional connection that you feel with these guys. And the reason you feel that is because the story was so personal and sincere, and that's a very hard thing to maintain as you do bigger and bigger movies.

It's the one thing that you really have going for you in a small movie, that you're doing something that's so really and usually so personal that you have a level of emotional engagement that you will not get in a high-budget, high-concept movie.