Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lesli Linka Glatter on "Twin Peaks"

What did you learn from directing on Twin Peaks?

LESLI: I directed four episodes and that was a huge turning point for me.

There was a scene in the pilot for the show in which Michael Ontkean is talking to Kyle MacLachlan. It's in a bank, in a room where you look at your safety deposit box. In the middle of the scene, on this table, is this moose head. They play the whole scene in this room and no one ever refers to the moose head. The scene is incredible.

So, when I got to know David, I went up to him and said, "How did you ever get the idea to put the moose head on the table?" He looked at me like I was kind of crazy, and he said, "It was there." And I said, "What do you mean it was there?" He said, "The set decorator was going to hang it on the wall," and David said to the decorator, "Leave the moose head."

Something just cracked open in my brain: "Be sure you're open to the moment. Be sure you see the moose head on the table. Don't try to control things so much that you're not open to what's happening in the moment."

That was a great lesson and a huge turning point for me.

From Steven (Spielberg) I learned, "Do your homework and never pretend you know what you don't, because someone is going to be there who knows and you're going to get caught." Which was all about planning and control.

And from David I learned, "Yes, do all of that, but be sure you're open to the moment."

This may be an ignorant question, but how do you get a TV show to the exact length required by the network?

LESLI: It's a bloody drag. A lot of the times, the scripts are too long. And if you have a story that's really great, some things are just going to have to go. I think it's horrible, but that's how it is. They're not going to change the time because of you, so you have to conform to what it has to be. It's really unfortunate.

At what point can you tell that you're going to be in trouble, length-wise?

LESLI: I can tell now by reading the script. I can read it and go, "Ah, this is way too long. We're going to be ten minutes over." Also, you don't have that much time to shoot.

One of the good things about directing TV is that you learn very clearly what the dollar scene is and what the five-cent scene is. You have to know what your important scene of the day is; if you're going to divide the day up, that's where you're going to want to spend the bulk of your time. And the scenes that aren't important you need to move through quickly. So you have to find a way to shoot them that's going to tell the story. But if you have a very emotional scene that's the turning point of your story, that's where you want to be spending your time. It's not all equal. Directing TV really teaches you how to do that. Because you have to.

What advice would you give to someone who's thinking about pursuing a directing career?

LESLI: Be sure you really want to do this. Follow your dreams. And listen -- but don't listen -- to how difficult it is.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Steven Soderbergh on "Sex, Lies & Videotape"

How did you approach the casting of this film?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: I think you have an idea, and you stick with that idea until you're confronted with the fact that there's something better than your idea. I think the smart play is to go with the better idea.

In the case of Andie I was laboring under the illusion that she was not much more than a model and couldn't deliver what was required. Fortunately for me, she came in and proved me wrong. And I was happy to be proven wrong.

It happened to me the other day on a movie we're starting next month. It's a supporting role, and one of the people who came in was someone I know and who, on first blush, I would have said, 'No, I don't think he's really right for this.' Of all the people I was looking at, he was the one I would have potentially said, 'I know him and I think he's good, I just don't think he's right for this.' Sure enough, when I sat down and looked at what he did, I immediately said, 'Oh, that's the guy.'

What was it that made the difference?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: He did something that was different from what I'd seen him do, and different from what other people were choosing to do, and suddenly he seemed like the only guy who should be doing it. So you have to keep your prejudices in check.

I'm a big believer that you get the cast you're supposed to get. I've had people drop out, many, many, many times, and always, in retrospect, I felt they dropped out because I was supposed to get somebody better. That's just the way it works.

How do you rehearse?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: I used to really rehearse properly, until I realized that I was really using the rehearsal time to get a sense of them personally, and to see if I could in some efficient way unlock a method of communicating with them. And once I realized that, I started being much less formal about the time that we were spending together. And now it's become like a Fellini thing, where I just take them all out to dinner and get them juiced up and leave it at that.

On that movie, I felt I had more time to do the work than I have had since on any movie. That was the only movie where I never once felt rushed and felt like I had all the time I needed to do the work on a given day. And every film since then, I've felt like I didn't have enough time.

You seem to love juggling a lot of projects at one time. Why is that?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: As my career has gone on, I've gotten more and more aggressive about keeping my plate full. I've got some things that I want to do, so many ideas that I'd like to pursue, that's it hard to find time to do all of them. I'm mystified by directors who say, 'I can't find anything I want to do.' I look around and I want to do everything. There are stories everywhere.

I guess it depends on what kind of film you want to make. I like all kinds of films, and so I'm casting a much wider net than some other directors. The algorithm, more often than not, is that a director has a certain aesthetic and he or she looks for material that will be well-served by that aesthetic. I'm just the opposite. I'm totally story-driven, and then I sit down and try to determine what aesthetic is going to work best for this story. So that gives me a lot more freedom.

Is there any downside to your job?

STEVEN SODERBERGH: It's the best job in the world, it really is. It's really difficult for me to find any downside to it. It's what I love to do. It's hard, but it's not like work to me. I jump out of bed, ready to go. It's pretty great.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Henry Jaglom on "Someone To Love"

What was your inspiration for making Someone To Love?

HENRY JAGLOM: I was alone, and I didn't understand why I was alone. And I looked around at my friends and I realized that I was part of a whole generation of people that were alone and that it wasn't just a generation but that it was a function of something that was happening at that period in the 80s and the 90s where people who always assumed that they would be married and have families found themselves somehow in the middle of their lives on their own.

So I thought I would try to make a movie about it, but what I would do is go through my phone book and actually pick out people I knew who were alone and put them together in some central location.

You had an idea, right, but not really a script for the movie.

HENRY JAGLOM: I had a plan, a super structure, but I left it up to the individuals as to what they would say and depending on that was what I would say. I knew what I wanted to talk about in terms of loneliness and relationships, but I was actually seeking the movie as I was in the movie.

I decided I would just do it that way and then when I got back to my editing room I would look at what I got and what everybody gave me and find a way to put it together into a narrative.

What did the people in the movie -- your friends -- know about what they were getting into?

HENRY JAGLOM: No one knew anything. I just told them I wanted them to be in a movie, and I wanted to be able to deal freely with the facts about their own single situation in their romantic life at this moment. I confirmed with some of them that they were in fact still single, that they weren't involved, that I didn't miss anything, and that's all I asked then to do.

And only one person ended up leaving. Kathryn Harrold left, she didn't realize it would be that personal. The truth was, she was uncomfortable, and I thought more people would be uncomfortable, but actually everybody likes to talk about themselves.

How much did you find that movie in the editing?

HENRY JAGLOM: One hundred percent. Actually, fifty percent in the shooting and fifty percent in the editing. But nothing in preparation. It's the kind of movie where you absolutely cannot prepare, because you don't know what people are going to say.

Several of my movies have a mixture of a storyline -- which is a narrative, which is created by me -- and an interview structure, which is spontaneous and real and comes from the people. So I can prepare one half of that, but I can't possibly prepare the interviews without interfering with the reality of it.

But in the case of Someone to Love, because the entire thing was about somebody making a film, there could be no preparation. It would be absolutely wrong for me, from my point of view, to have anybody know anything in advance of what anybody was going to say.

The narrative is created in the editing rather than written beforehand, and that's true of many of my movies. Orson Welles said to me once, 'Everybody else makes movies, but first they decide what the narrative is, and out of the narrative they try to find their theme. The difference with you, Henry, is that you choose your theme first, and then you try to discover, out of your theme, the narrative.' And that's very true of my process.

You're known for not rehearsing before you shoot. What's the benefit of working that way?

HENRY JAGLOM: The magic of reality. The honest surprise of what happens the first time when somebody thinks of something or you see them thinking and discovering it and saying it.

The most truthful moments, it seems to me, are the moments that just happen and even surprise the person themselves as they're saying something, because they don't know they're going to be saying it. If you rehearse, no matter how good you are, you know you're going to be saying it. And unless you've got a Brando or a Meryl Streep or the handful of actors who are better each time, you've got human behavior which is better and truest the first time.

God, I would die if I rehearsed and someone in rehearsal gave me a great moment, because a great moment is what you look for in film. It's all about the moment.

I was complaining about not having more time, not having more money to do something I wanted to do, and Orson said this line that I now have over my editing machine. He said, 'The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.'

That was just about the most important thing that has ever been said to me, because if you don't have limitations you start throwing technology or money at a problem.

But if you have a limitation, you have to find a creative solution, and therefore you create art.

For me the most valuable lesson from Orson, and it happened during that movie, was make whatever happens work. It's good to have limitations, because you have to find an artistic or creative way to surmount them. And it's more fun.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Alex Cox on "Repo Man"

What point were you at in your career before this project?

ALEX COX: I had written two scripts for money, one for United Artists and one for the director Adrian Lyne, and made a short film (40 minutes) at UCLA.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

ALEX COX: Various sources. People I'd met in LA, a repo man with whom I rode around, punks from that scene.

Do you begin with story, character or theme?

ALEX COX: Urr... it depends on the project. If it's a bio-pic it's the character. In the case of Repo Man, probably theme - the imminence of nuclear war, the superficiality and stupidity of almost everything else.

How much research did you do and how did that help you write the script?

ALEX COX: Just riding around with a repo man, going to punk gigs, and a monthly subscription to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The theme for the film seems to hinge around "the lattice of coincidence." How important is having a theme before you start to write?

ALEX COX: It depends on the project. Repo Man's theme probably changed when the ending was re-written near the end of the shoot, and the destruction of LA replaced with the transcendental flying car.

Did you outline the whole story before you started writing the script?

ALEX COX: No, I just started writing scenes and dialogue.

What's your writing process?

ALEX COX: Write until it's finished. Then re-write it. There were 14 drafts of Repo Man. The first one probably took a month or so. Some later ones just a few days.

Was it always planned to be a low-budget film?

ALEX COX: Yes, and much lower budget. Around $120K at one stage, of which $50K -- our salaries -- would have been deferred.

How did you come up with the idea to use all "generic" food?

ALEX COX: We couldn't get any product placement! Apart from Ralph's Supermarket, who gave us the generic stuff, and the Car Freshener Co.

How do you know when the script is done?

ALEX COX: When they give you the money to shoot it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Stefan Schaefer on “Confess”

When did you start writing screenplays?

STEFAN SCHAEFER: I wrote my first screenplay in 1995, and of course like most first-timers I thought, "Oh, this won't be so hard." I'd read a bunch of screenplays and thought I had a decent understanding of structure and how to subvert structure.

I wrote three, maybe four screenplays before Confess, and none of them had been produced and they were basically an exercise how to create a compelling story.

How did you come up with Confess?

STEFAN SCHAEFER: In about 1999, I read this article in The Times about these young hackers who were being hired by security firms and the government to counter-hack and protect corporate and government property. I thought it would be an interesting documentary to pursue. I started meeting with them, and they were all really reluctant to go on tape, to be interviewed. So I thought this was a great world, but it was hard to get access to it.

At the same time I was reading about the revolutionary impulses happening in Southern Mexico and about Subcomandante Marcos, this charismatic revolutionary figure down there. He was using the media in an interesting way, writing these treatises weekly to the newspapers in Mexico City, and he became this underground media figure and revolutionary.

And I got to thinking what could an anti-corporate, anti-establishment quasi-revolutionary movement look like in the U.S.? These two influences led me to the idea that one of the few viable options for voicing political dissent and undermining government and corporate agendas is via the Internet.

So I began sketching out a story about an ex-hacker who begins a series of abductions and forced confessions which, when he broadcasts video clips of them via the Internet, gives him a mythic status among those who are disaffected, disillusioned, angry at the status quo. I talked to people about it and there seemed to be interest, people were interested in the first draft.

We were moving in the direction of going out and creating an investment memo and approaching investors and possible distribution people. And then 9/11 happened and that undercut the whole venture, because of the whole terrorism theme in the movie.

When you started, were you thinking you would direct it?

STEFAN SCHAEFER: No, I didn't necessarily think I would direct it. The more I invested in it and thought about it, and felt strongly attached to it, the more I thought I could direct it. Then, when I thought of it in that way, I thought it would probably be relatively low-budget.

More and more people at that point were beginning to do DV features. And I'd shot so much documentary stuff in digital formats that I felt very comfortable doing that.

When I went and work-shopped it at the Hampton's Screenwriting Lab and Larry Lasker read it, he helped me a lot with the structure of it, but he also said, "Up the stakes. Have him target higher-profile people."

Originally he was targeting people in his world more, and then it took on this bigger dimension following my work with Larry out there. It was such a long development process, that the script went through different iterations in terms of thinking about what the budget would be.

I always thought that this was something I could shoot for not a whole lot in New York, leveraging every relationship I've built up for years. And at a certain point, after 9/11 and after the script was languishing there and I was turning 30, it became "I've got to shoot a film one way or the other. And I'll shoot it for $50,000 or $25,000 if I have to." Which probably would have been unrealistic, but that was my feeling: one way or the other, I'm going to shoot this thing and have a feature under my belt.

What process did you go through writing the script?

STEFAN SCHAEFER: This was a script that helped me come up with the way I write now. I gave myself deadlines that I wanted to meet; I wanted to get a first draft done in X amount of weeks. So I would try to write every morning, five days a week at least.

It doesn't have to be that way. Things have evolved; I have a kid now. Now I go to a writing space, the Brooklyn Writing Space, that's the most productive place for me to be. It's a 24-hour access carrel situation, with no Internet access. I just find that without the distraction of a phone or checking e-mails or going on-line to do research and ending up deep in some Internet tangent, it helps me focus.

I also used an outline/step sheet structure with Confess as we did revisions. I did a lot of drafts of this script. And I would go back to the Step Sheet and try to re-organize things.

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

STEFAN SCHAEFER: I had it in the earlier drafts, and then when we went into production we weren't totally committed to it. And then as we saw the cut coming together, we decided that we should bring it back in. So it was something that was there early on, and then pulled out in some of the middle drafts, and now it's back in there.

I'm not in love with narration as a device, but people seemed to like it in this project.

It what point in the process did you decide to open the movie with the flash forward of the senator's kidnapping?

STEFAN SCHAEFER: That was in post. That was driven by the whole idea of editing and re-editing, and the idea that it's kind of an edited universe and that he's editing what people are saying to make a point. We thought we could also then bring into the narrative structure, to give people a visual appreciation of that, and have that be an underlying idea while they're watching this movie.

That was one of the first structural changes that we made in post. We screened it for a few other filmmakers and that was an idea we had after hearing their comments, and we decided we'd try it. And we like it.

Were there any movies that inspired Confess?

STEFAN SCHAEFER: For this movie we were thinking about, in terms of the building sense of paranoia and the camera angles and the surveillance motif, The Conversation. That's one that we returned to the most in our discussions. But I also looked at a lot of tech movies, to see what I wanted to do and what not to do. Movies like pi I thought were interesting. Then there were movies where I didn't want to go in that direction, like Hackers.

I wanted to have the technology be central to the story, but also not date it too immediately. In writing it, and then in shooting it, I tired to be aware of that.