Thursday, November 27, 2008

George Romero on "Martin"


Where did the idea for the story come from?



GEORGE ROMERO: Initially I was thinking of doing a comedy. I just got one of those ideas that comes to you in the shower: If there really were vampires, they'd have problems living hundreds of years. They'd have to keep changing their passport photos, they'd have all these practical problems. So I wanted to do a comedy about the practical problems of a vampire in today's age.



I had started to keep a notebook on it. One day it just occurred to me that I could do this a lot straighter and I could do a thing about somebody who's not a vampire at all.



I just thought that that would be more -- not romantic -- but it would be, in a way, more of a tender story and a whole new spin that was not comedic. I wanted to just spin a vampire yarn a bit differently and leave the door open as to whether he is or is not a vampire.



You left it open for the audience, but did you decide going in that he wasn't actually a vampire?


GEORGE ROMERO: The decision that I made was that he was not. In my mind, Martin is not a vampire, he's a kid that's been fucked up by family and mythology and movies and whatever else has influenced him. You just have to make that decision in the dark room somewhere and keep both doors open.



Like your other films, Martin isn't really about what it appears to be about on the surface. It's not really a vampire movie, just like Night of the Living Dead is more than just a zombie movie. They're really more reflections on the times we're living in.


GEORGE ROMERO: That's what I try to do. I try to use the framework and use the genre, because first of all it's the easiest way for me to get financing. Really all my films are people stories. Even at the heart of
Night of the Living Dead, it's really about the people and how they screw themselves over and can't get it together.



I like that theme tremendously, the lack of communication, the idea that people are still working their own fiddles and have their own agendas even faced with sea changes in the world.

I also like that "monster within" thing, which is in the zombie films and in
Martin to some extent. Even in a couple of the things I've done that Steve King has written. The ones that I'm drawn to are those, like The Dark Half.



Martin is even sympathetic in the sequence where he goes to kill a woman and is surprised that her lover is there, which is a remarkable scene.



GEORGE ROMERO: That's my favorite sequence. I think it's the most successful sequence I've ever done.



I like its complexity. It's a very complex situation and you have to be watching the movie closely to get everything that happens in it. But what I like the most about it is the execution of it. It's very close to what I had on the page and I was able -- again, because of the small, dedicated crew and all their cooperation -- to do it, make all the shots. There are a hell of a lot of shots in that sequence. And the geography is clear, you don't get lost.



You can't do that sequence without a lot of shots and these guys moved fast and we got it. It was great. I still think it's maybe the best-executed thing that I've ever done.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rebecca Miller on "Personal Velocity: Three Portraits"


What was going on in your life before Personal Velocity?

REBECCA MILLER: I had basically given up, at least for the time being, the idea of making films, because it was so hard for me to get my films made at that point. I had made one film, called Angela, which had won the Filmmaker's Prize at Sundance, They've discontinued the Filmmaker's Prize; all the filmmakers voted on their favorite films, the ones in competition.

Angela did well with some critics and things, but it didn't make money. It was a very uncommercial film. And then I had written The Ballad of Jack and Rose, which was something I would make later, and I wrote another film that collapsed in pre-production. So I had gotten to the point where I just felt like I didn't want to just wait and wait to make films and tell stories. All I did all day was write these screenplays that nobody seemed to want. So I decided to write short stories.

My friend Gary Winick called me. He was making this series of films for the Independent Film Channel. He had come to them with this idea that he would make ten films a year for a million dollars, but what they ended up giving everybody was a $250,000 budget.

He asked did I have anything, did I want to make a film on mini-DV for that much money? And none of the films that I had already written were really right for that, because I figured (and I was right about this), that you'd have to tailor a script for that medium and for that budget; you shouldn't just take one of your script and try and turn it into that kind of shoot.

I was sick of writing screenplays that no one was going to make, I said, "If you want to look at the stories that I'm writing, I could maybe do something out of one of them." So I gave him a few stories from the collection and he read them and he really liked them. He ended up giving them to Caroline Kaplan, who was running InDigEnt with him, and they ended up green lighting the film. It was also Gary's idea to use three stories at once and make a trilogy, and when he said that my mind took off.

The thing that's great about Gary is that he really insisted that I feel completely free. At first I was sort of checking with him and saying, "I'm doing this, I'm doing that," and he was like, "Look, do whatever. The point is that we want to get filmmakers who have experience and who we believe in to feel free."

And so I wrote the script for Personal Velocity in about two months. It took me about two years to write the book, and I knew what everybody in those stories was feeling and I knew the characters from top to bottom, so writing the screenplay was mostly about finding the form and the structure.

How did you decide which of the three stories to use?

REBECCA MILLER: I chose the ones that were the most dynamic in terms of action, where there was conflict that was externalized, because some of them were very interior. And also where I thought that there was a good clash; like I thought there was a very good clash between Delia, which is a story about a working-class woman struggling with an abusive marriage, and Greta, which is about an upper-middle class woman struggling with the clash between her own ambition and a marriage which is feeling increasingly stultifying, and finally her ambition propels her out of her own marriage.

They both involve crisis, but of a different order.

And then, class-wise, Paula is kind of a floater, because she's an artist, she's from that class although she doesn't really produce anything, but she's in-between the two classes.

At what point in the process did you decide to use narration?

REBECCA MILLER: I always knew I was going to. The narration was built into it.

Early on Gary had said that he loved the way the narrator spoke in the stories and that it would be a pity to lose that. And I also thought that with the three stories, I thought it would be a good thing to link them together. And it also gives you a lot more freedom, because we're jumping back and forth through time constantly. And the narrations also carries a lot of the humor. It's a sympathetic third voice.

In the end there was a whole debate about whether or not to make it a male or female voice. I always knew that it was meant to be a male voice, but then there were some people who saw it and said, "You can't make it a male voice; it's about women."

But I just ended up really liking the male voice, because I thought it differentiated itself from the other voices. Otherwise, it was just another's woman's voice, it was like a soup of women's voices, and I thought it was good to have the male voice.

Also, I thought it was kind of optimistic to have a male voice, it seemed to be sympathetic and unjudgmental of this of these women while some of there struggles were against men, and it was my overriding view, my own point of view, which is that it's very possible to have sympathetic males in your movies.

How did your background in acting help the writing process?

REBECCA MILLER: I think there's a really big advantage to have been an actor when you're the director, because you have more of a sense of what the actors might need and help them keep it all natural.

In a way, the film isn't naturalistic at all. It's like a poem, in a way. But the way that it's happening and the way that it's shot leads you to believe that it's naturalistic. It's a funny combination.

I think that acting was a very necessary step for me. I had a weird, long apprenticeship, in that I was a painter for quite a while and then at a certain point realized that I wanted to make films.

I acted for about five years while I was writing my first screenplays and still painting for some of that time -- it was like a bridge. Without the acting I don't know that I would have been able to successfully make that leap -- when I was a painter I was so far away from the mindset of being a filmmaker and being more sociable like that and thinking about what it's like to be on a set where there are so many people. I just learned all sorts of things, just how it works, what a film set's like.

One of the problems with being a director is that you never get to go on sets -- even if you go to film school, you don't usually get to be on sets when you're coming up. You learn when you get on your own set, but it was nice to just understand certain things, to have been around directors. For writing it probably helps, too.

You're writing to shoot, and that's what's important to remember. And I really remembered it with Personal Velocity. That screenplay was really tailored, it was absolutely tailored to the medium. I don't think I even cut any scenes out; there was no waste in that thing.

You shot what you wrote.

REBECCA MILLER: I shot what I wrote and I kept what I shot. Which is really unusual. Usually you end up realizing that there are internal repetitions that you didn't notice. But this was all done in a spirit of such economy, so I was very conscious of not wanting to shoot anything extra.

We had no overtime, so we had to finish our days, and we had no extra days. So there was no leeway at all. If you weren't making your day, you had to start cutting scenes. And there was on occasion where I did have to cut a scene, which was completely unnecessary and I think in the end I would have cut it anyway afterwards.

Did you tweak the script after it was cast?

REBECCA MILLER: I'm sure I did. I'm usually kind of tweaking things until they get said. But I do really believe very, very strongly in having a very, very strong script, then you can throw it out. The thing is to have a really strong script and if you are the director then to fool yourself into thinking that you didn't really write it and that it's somebody else's. Then you can be totally irreverent with it and throw it out.

It's a blueprint, it's only a blueprint, but at the same time, if you're really well prepared, then you can always change everything. It's when you're not prepared, I think, that things get really scary.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chris Kentis on "Open Water"


Why did you decide to do a digital feature?

CHRIS KENTIS: That was the whole reason we wanted to do the film. We were really excited about the technology that was out there, and truthfully, kind of inspired by the Dogme 95 films. We just wanted to get out there and experiment with this new technology.

Right after we made our first feature, Grind, which was made in much more of a traditional way -- we had a crew and shot on 35mm and all -- our daughter was born. So we were excited about trying to make a movie in a very different way. The idea of working without a crew, the idea of being able to take our time (which meant working on weekends and vacation times), being able to include our families. Also the idea of collaborating with actors in a certain kind of way.

We were really anxious to try to make a movie in a different way, to try to stretch and challenge ourselves creatively.

You said that being able to take your time was important. Why? What's the advantage of taking your time?

CHRIS KENTIS: The first advantage of taking our time was that I was able to work full time and help finance the film. Another advantage is that movies tend to be rushed, especially if you look at the things coming out of Hollywood today and the schedules.

Ironically, two of my favorite filmmakers were not very prolific: Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick. I think there's a lot to be said for taking the time to get it right, and I think most films don't really have that advantage. It's a process of refinement.

How tough was it to keep the ending the way you wanted it?

CHRIS KENTIS: Not tough at all, because that was the whole point of the project. To not have to answer to anyone. None of the choices were made because they were the most commercial choices; they were made because this was the film we wanted to make.

Because the film was based on a true story, that was going to be the ending from the get-go, from day one. Now the specifics of what happened to her evolved during the course of the process, but there never was going to be any other ending.

To the credit of Lions Gate, and all the distributors that were interested in the film at Sundance, it was never questioned.

I'd say that the majority of people really responded to and loved the ending, and yet there's this perception out there that you always have to have a happy ending. It's interesting how that happens.

In the 70s, I think it was more common for the main character to end up dead, even in a romantic comedy often the main character would end up with a tumor and die. That's the other extreme.

The whole impetuous behind this story was when I read about the true incident, it deeply affected me, and so it was to try to capture that. To have the audience have the same kind of emotional response that I had when I read the story. You can't help but ask, 'What if that were me and Laura? What if it were us?'

Our hope was that when people watch the movie is that, hopefully if the audience is with the movie, they'll ask themselves, 'What if that were me? What would I do in that situation?' and experience it that way.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kenneth Lonergan on "You Can Count on Me"


What was going with life and your career before You Can Count on Me?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Before that I had been making a living as a screenwriters probably for about five years. I was making a living writing screenplays, doing pretty well, but my main interest was playwriting, which I was doing mostly with the Naked Angels theater company. I had just had my first big break in playwriting, with my play This Is Our Youth. It was very well received and it bumped me several levels up instantly, which is very unusual. So I had just become a sort of off-Broadway playwright with some cache, and I was already basically a Hollywood screenwriter of comedies.

Where did the idea for You Can Count on Me come from?

KENNETH LONERGAN: It came from an assignment that my theater company had given. We were doing an evening of short plays based on the subject of faith and I was poking around for something to write on that topic and I had the idea of this brother and sister. I wrote a ten-minute scene with these characters, which basically was the first step in writing the screenplay. But whenever I say that, I then read that "He adapted it from his own his play." But it was, honestly twelve pages long and it was never meant to be a full-length play. As soon as I thought of it as a larger piece it was immediately a screenplay.

And that scene is still pretty much in tact, right, as the first scene where Terry and Sammy meet in the restaurant?

KENNETH LONERGAN: It's that plus the scene at the end. Literally. Minus the note of hope that he expresses when he tries to tell her that he's not going back into the toilet, he actually liked being in Alaska and maybe there's something there for him. Although some people have interpreted the movie as him going back into the depths, and other people have noticed that he actually was a tiny bit of a step up from where he started.

What was it about those twelve pages that made you think you had the beginnings of a feature script?

KENNETH LONERGAN: I loved the characters, a lot, and I thought the scene was really very good. And when it was performed it was performed really nicely and I just thought there was something very moving about the situation. I guess I liked the idea of how crazy she was about him, and the whole dynamic of her having more faith in him than he had in himself. Even though she's a little misguided about him, just liking him that much brought him up a little bit.

And I liked the idea that they were at such cross-purposes, but also that they liked each other so much. And also the idea that they had had this shared tragedy and her reaction was a sort of blind faith and his reaction was more closer to mine, which is that it has no meaning but you have to piece together your own feelings about things like that, because none of the available systems really did if for him. He feels that is less deluded and less involved in fantasy.

Just the kind of double-sidedness of her having faith in this bum, just because she liked him, and then him kind of living up to it a little bit more than he might have if she didn't have that faith. I just liked that whole dynamic. I liked her taking care of him and him disappointing her -- all the dynamics between them. I just liked the people a lot.

Once you had the story, how did you proceed? Do you write an outline?

KENNETH LONERGAN: I almost never do an outline. I've done outlines for assignments, and even then I think I've only done them twice. I have nothing against them, I just don't usually work that way.

For You Can Count on Me, I split the lunch scene up, because I knew that the last part of the scene would be the last part of the movie.

I had, at one point, a whole different ending. Originally the last scene was going to be the scene with her and the little boy at the kitchen table. But then, once it was all written, I realized that it really should really end with the brother and the sister. So I made that adjustment.

Their affection for each other is the main thing that creates the tension, because if he's not her favorite person in the world, there's no conflict when he starts to endanger her kid, because that's a pretty clear choice.

So I realized that there has to be a series of disappointments that he creates that involve the kid. I didn't really bother to think what they were at first, I just knew that there should be about three of them and that they escalate. So I didn't know that he was going to take the kid to see his rat-bastard father at the end; but as it developed, she had a husband who was gone and that turned into another element. It all sort of folded into itself in a way.

Were you always planning on directing this script?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Yes, I wouldn't have written it if I wasn't planning to direct it.

Did that change the way you wrote it?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Completely. I had been aware of what professional screenwriting was like in Hollywood many years before I got into it. I got into only to make money, because I knew there was no creative protection.

This was the first screenplay that I ever wrote the way I would have written a play, meaning putting my heart and soul into it. Every other job I'd done, including the spec script for Analyze This, I definitely did as good a job as I could, but I wrote knowing that the script would be destroyed. And I wouldn't have written You Can Count On Me if I'd known it would be destroyed; I wouldn't have written it if I wasn't planning to direct it, and I knew the only way to protect it was to direct it.

The only reason it occurred to me to direct it was that I have two friends -- one at my professional caste level and one much fancier than me -- and they both had very little trouble directing their first movie. I realized that it probably wouldn't be that hard for me to do it, either. So that's what I set out to do.

I knew that if it was an independent movie that I would have a fairly good chance of controlling the material and I also knew that I wouldn't do it if I couldn't control the material.

Did you think about budget concerns at all while you were writing?

KENNETH LONERGAN: No, I didn't. There's no call for anything expensive in the story anyway. I might have thought about it a little bit, in the periphery of my mind, but not really. I knew it would be cheap.

Did you tweak the script after it was cast?

KENNETH LONERGAN: The only thing I changed in production was I did a little bit of cutting and re-wrote the last scene a little bit, because I felt it wasn't clear what his feeling was about going away.

How do you know when a script is done?

KENNETH LONERGAN: It feels right. I always feel that the ending must be at least as good as the rest of the movie. If the ending isn't great I feel like it's not a successful endeavor. I feel that if I have the right ending than that's a big help. And then I feel that if there's nothing else that I can work on and improve, then I basically leave it alone. You can always futz around with it, but unfortunately there's a certain point when I start rewriting it that I start making it worse. Thankfully, I think I've learned to identify that point and then I leave it alone.

When you get out of the groove of it, I really think it's dangerous to mess around with it too much. I tend to rewrite myself a lot as I'm going, but not endlessly. I find that a lot of writers are either too ready to rewrite stuff, which is dangerous because they just get lost instantly. I know I do. New writers are way too eager to take other people's comments and show it to everyone and get all the feedback they can get.

The feeding frenzy in the movie culture now to have everyone dive and anyone can give a note, I just find it repellant and very bad for the scripts and for the audience, ultimately.

The other thing that writers can do is not be self-critical enough. I think you have to be very much on your own side but be very unflinching about noticing when something's no good. You have to be able to step away and step back, but basically trusting your own opinion and hoping that if you like it somebody else will.

I think the rewrite frenzy is just appalling. It's shocking; I'm still shocked at 43 at how cavalierly people think it's okay to just chatter away about something someone's worked on for two years and the assumptions behind it. Personally, if I'm writing a screenplay for somebody else, I would get it to where I think it's good, but I wouldn't go one step beyond that, because I know it's going to be ripped to pieces no matter what.

Basically, you sell it, you get hired, and they first try to get you to destroy it. Then you don't destroy it enough and then they fire you and get someone else to do it. That's never not happened to me, except when I was the last destroyer on Gangs of New York. But that was a little different, because even though there were script changes that I would not have done if I was making the decisions, in the end I feel there was an artist making the movie and making the decisions and getting other people to help him shape what he wanted. It's a little different when it's a rotating committee of people who don't know how to do anything, which is what it usually is.

Did you learn anything writing You Can Count on Me that you still use today?

KENNETH LONERGAN: Yes, but I didn't learn it enough. In the editing, the first cut, I thought every scene was very good but the whole thing dragged. The problem was that every scene had a beginning, a middle and an end. So I chopped the beginnings and, more particularly, the endings of every scene, and suddenly the story propelled itself from one scene to next much better. That's because it didn't have 200 little soft resolves. So I've been trying to think about writing in sequences instead of scenes, but the truth is I haven't really applied that, because it's very hard for me to judge that on the page. It's something I know can be dealt with in the editing, so I can't say I actually have the faith to write a really short scene.