Life and Nothing More/Antonio Mendez Esparza

Never has a title been more apt. This remarkable fiction film, so close to documentary, depicts the life of Andrew, a troubled black teen whose father is incarcerated and whose mother desperately tries to keep her son from following in his path. Availability: Opens October 24, New York City, Film Forum, with national rollout to follow. Click here for trailer and theater listings near you.  Thanks to Sylvia Savadjian for arranging this interview.

DT: One thing that sets your film apart from others is the invisibility of your point of view as director.

AME: I’m Spanish. I’m not an American citizen. I’ve been living in the community where I filmed for nearly five years. I teach at the university here, and I was trying to observe the community and the characters living in this world. That’s one aspect of it. The other aspect is that in a way I tried to make the camera invisible, even for the actors, as much as possible. We tried to forget that it’s a movie and just tried to interpret real life. The actors were always performing, even though the movie has the appearance of being a documentary. Sometimes things happened that were fortuitous, or they just happened to happen, but nearly 90 percent of them were things we were building toward. Those are the two elements that forced me into a specific aesthetic.

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DT: Another thing that struck me was the fact that there were really only two subjective moments in the film—when Andrew is playing with the knife in the courtyard, and when he appears in the final scene.

AME: Subjectivity was something we tried to avoid as much as possible. I think we’re always getting to know the characters even though we have so few subjective shots. My hope is that even though the shots are very objective, we’re still feeling with the characters, what they’re feeling. We are observing and feeling part of their lives. But you’re right. In my mind, Andrew is the protagonist of the story, so with him I could have a little bit more leniency, when to be tight on him, when to try to understand him. He’s also a more secretive character, but he has a huge arc that goes with this unveiling of himself.


DT: Silence as an expression of rage plays an important part in a number of your films.

AME: The way you word it is quite wonderful. Silence becomes a sort of weapon. In the silence one can feel that the knife may be coming. There’s an explosion to come in this staredown, in those moments when we fear what may come next, so yes, for me it’s very important to work with that element. It’s always difficult for an actor to find this rage. For a nonprofessional actor to find this rage that comes from the outside, sometimes it can take a very long time for them to feel that it’s justified. That was a big part of the casting. Violence in films, at least for me, is very hard to justify. It’s very hard to feel real. When you have a scene that’s violent, even if it’s a slap or something, it makes the director nervous. The actors should be too, because how are they going to find it? I think silence is where they may be able to find this sudden outburst. I think that’s the work of the actor.


DT: Let’s talk about the soundscape. The birds were particularly noticeable when you went into the wealthy neighborhoods. They’re there again at the end of the film in Andrew’s house, when it’s all clean and beautiful and she has new curtains and everything is straightened up and painted. Suddenly you hear birds at their house.

AME: We were always playing with sound. One of the challenges we had at the end was how to get inside the house. There are no characters in the frame. You see the door and Andrew comes in, the camera is very tight. You hear the car, the closing of the car, somebody walking, then you hear some keys, and then you hear some birds. It’s all built.

I was a city person. Here it’s very wild even if it’s a little suburban. There are squirrels, there are owls, raccoons, little foxes, frogs. It’s a very wild, rustic place, and I wanted to convey that feeling. All the sounds we used are all local. After we finished shooting we spent a week or ten days just recording sounds to put in the mix. Then something funny happened. We discovered that some birds are seasonal, so not every bird you can see throughout the year. If you want to be honest with the film and the season has changed, will you hear these birds or not? We didn’t go as far as that, but it becomes a very intriguing discussion in terms of do you want to be so realistic or do you allow yourself [liberties]? I am making a fiction film. In a way I am happy to cheat if I think it will help the film.

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DT: You spent two years doing research before you started shooting. Can you talk about that?

AME: I made my first film, Aqui y Alla, six years ago. It premiered at Cannes and was well received. After that movie I found a job here at university, but it was nearly impossible to make another film, which was a little disappointing. Little by little I started trying to see if I could make a film here. The story was going to be a single woman working in Walmart—her life was the circumstance of the film. I started interviewing people, meeting people, very slowly, because I have a full-time job. I was doing it with the help of some students, very slowly reaching out to the community, trying to understand a little bit better the place where we lived. That was the process of discovery. We went to schools, saw fathers in permanent incarceration; all these things came to be part of the film, by my understanding issues in the community. Even delinquency became a part of it after extensive research in the court system and juvenile court. I would say that little by little I built this world that was a life.

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DT: Some people believe that artists should only tell their own stories—that a man can’t write a woman’s story, that a white guy from Spain really can’t tell the story of a young black American. Do you agree?

AME: It’s a big question. I think artists always have a responsibility, and that responsibility can vary. It can be only with yourself, and that may allow you to do whatever you want. There have been some artists who don’t think they owe anything to anyone, only to themselves. Other people may think they have a responsibility with the actor or with one particular person. I think this is the big question. With my first film, I had a sense of responsibility with the Mexican community I was depicting, and in this film with the community I am depicting. For me it becomes the thing that may paralyze me, but in both cases it was no more than a moment of serious doubt. It’s not a question that only came after I finished the film; it was always present in my mind, but in the end I think it’s a question for the audience, and I think it’s a question for each artist to answer personally.


DT: By the way, I think it’s a terrific film, and I don’t agree with that position.

AME: I don’t agree with it either. Many of my students at university are facing this question. They come to me with doubts about stories that aren’t their own. Of course it’s wonderful if you tell your own story, but it’s also wonderful if you’re trying to reach out and understand something else. I believe that even if you’re telling your own story, you’re trying to discover something about yourself that you didn’t know, so there is always this discovery. That’s the most important thing that can happen while you make a film. If you’re  just making a film about things you know and there is no discovery, the work is going to suffer. It’s not going to be much. There has to be discovery in the journey, there has to be the unknown. I think this question is becoming more and more tricky, because now young people are paralyzed by it, and I’m not sure that’s so great.


Copyright © Director Talk 2018


Reality/Quentin Dupieux

In Rubber, a psychotic tire goes on a killing spree while a group of spectators watches from the sidelines…until they become characters in the film.  In Reality, a young girl finds a videotape in the belly of a slaughtered pig.  When she finally gets to watch the tape, she discovers she’s part of someone else’s universe.  One of the smartest, funniest, and most imaginative filmmakers working today (and possibly ever), Quentin Dupieux has the rare ability to make us think and laugh at the same time.  Click here to watch the trailer. A highlight of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.  Availability:  May 1, exclusively at the IFC Center, New York City.  Available on demand and via digital platforms.   Thanks to Sara Sampson, Sara Sampson PR, for arranging this interview .Thanks to Ben Myers and Dennis Myers for suggesting questions.


DT:  Cinema is the perfect language for telling the stories you want to tell.  Is that a happy accident, or did you fall in love with cinema the instant you saw it?


QD:  Yes.  When I was fifteen, I basically watched movies all the time, especially B movies.  I was really excited by them. Then, when I started playing with video cameras, the feeling was always exciting, too. It has always been my element. I did tons of short films when I was young, so this has always been in my guts forever. I don’t know about the stories I’m telling; I just know that making movies and having ideas and filming and writing dialogue and editing—all of this is a huge part of my life.


DT: At the Q&A at Lincoln Center, Elodie Bouchez said that you made Rubber after having a bad experience with actors.  Is that true, or was that a joke?


QD:  It’s half true.  Let’s just say the idea was to make a movie without counting on actors.  The idea was to create a character using a stupid object, so yes.  On my first movie, dealing with the actors’ egos and the actors’ feelings was boring to me.  So that’s why I decided to do something like this. The funny thing is, when I did Rubber, I was interested in something else, but the actors on Rubber were so amazing that I instantly connected again with them. I did these Levi’s commercials at the end of the ’90s with a yellow puppet, and that was one of the highlights of my career, because a puppet has no feelings.  You have an idea and the puppets do it. So I was trying to do this again with a tire, which worked perfectly, but at the same time I had a really good experience with all the actors.  It was exciting, and they were all very connected to the movie.  They were all involved, and suddenly I realized, The tire is boring and the actors are amazing.  That’s what happened.


DT:  Your movies are really fun, but in fact Reality changed the way I look at life. I recently dreamed that I was in someone else’s dream.


QD:  Wow.


DT:  It was really weird.  How do you tread the thin line between comedy and philosophy?


QD:  I think they’re exactly the same.  I don’t think humor or fun or jokes are away from the brain.  When you laugh, it’s a stupid reaction to something, but it’s also part of your mental situation.  Sometimes you’re not able to laugh just because you’re not in the mood for it and it’s hard to explain why you’re not in the mood, and sometimes you just laugh at everything because you’re in the mood but it’s hard to describe why you’re in this mood today and not yesterday.  So to me it’s the same, and that’s why I have a problem when a movie is just trying to make me laugh—when the premise is You’re going to laugh. It’s harder to laugh for me because they are trying to make me laugh.


It’s hard to explain, but I think it’s like that in real life.  Everything is mixed up.  You don’t decide, OK, today is only about the fun, and today I’m only going to laugh. You can’t do that.  Everything is mixed up.  You have your real life, you have your problems, bills to pay, you have to argue with someone, but at the same time you can laugh with someone else.  Everything has to be happening at the same time, just like in real life. It may sound strange and even stupid, but that’s what I’m trying to do in my movies.  Of course, I’m trying to make you laugh, but it has to be more complex.  It has to contain some other elements.  Otherwise it’s just a long joke. There aren’t many pure comedies that are really good. It’s very dangerous to go there. That’s why a lot of comedies end up with the characters getting sentimental at the end, because you can’t watch something that’s just supposed to be funny. You need something else, just because as human beings we are more complex than just one [type of] information.

We need more. As a writer, as a filmmaker, it’s the same.  When I’m just filming funny stuff, it’s not satisfying.  I know something’s missing, so that’s how I usually build my stories and my scenes.  I always need to find something else.  Not just one element. It was the same for Rubber.  A lot of people told me, It would have been better if it was just a horror movie with a tire killing people—forget about the spectator scenes. And I said, That’s not interesting. Just one idea—that’s not enough.


DT:  What do you like about B movies?


QD:  You feel closer to B movies in a way because they’re more human. They’re charming, because you see the intentions and the filmmaker trying to create effects. You can feel it.  The reverse is Spider-Man. It’s perfectly done, and everything is so finished, so sharp, that you don’t feel the filmmaker. Of course I know it’s a different kind of entertainment.  You’re not supposed to feel the filmmaker when you watch Spider-Man, but that’s why I’ve always been more attached to B movies—and when I say B movies, I’m also talking about John Carpenter, for example. I’m also talking about the good B movies, not just the bad ones.

In B movies you feel the human beings behind the movies, whereas Spider-Man is more like a movie made by a computer.  There’s no accidents, no surprises.  If you compare the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the recent remake, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.  The first one was really charming and more scary just because it seems to be happening in real life.  It’s more disturbing.  The remake looks like a generic movie, and even the actors are like computer-generated characters.


DT:  I know exactly what you mean.  What does the violence in Rubber and Reality accomplish?


QD: I honestly don’t see violence in my movies, because the violence I’m shooting, like these stupid head explosions or rabbit explosions in Rubber, I don’t see as a violent scene.  I see it more as a guilty pleasure. I’ve seen kids watching Rubber, and they’re not scared of the rabbit explosion.  They think it’s funny because they know it’s fake and they know it’s impossible, and the way it’s filmed, there’s nothing shocking about it. I’m not a violent guy, so the violence you see in my movies is just for the fun.  I would not be able to do a real horror movie, because when you do a real horror movie, you have to dive into the horrible stuff, and I’m not attracted to horrible stuff.  To me, Rubber is like a cartoon.


DT:  The second time I saw Reality, I tried marking where the music came in to see if it signaled a shift in reality.  As you’re both a filmmaker and a musician, can you talk about the role of music in Reality and film in general for you?


QD:  It’s always different. In Reality, I decided to use only piece of music. It’s always the same piece. The idea was to create an hypnotic feeling. Basically I used the music every time the movie was slowing down. There’s always new information in the movie, but at the same time it’s a giant loop.  You see some things twice, sometimes three times, so the music was there to help everyone be focused.  It was there to keep you excited and interested, because if you remove the music, the movie is going to be superflat and almost the same. Nothing tells you to enjoy. The editing was to help this process of the giant loop and help people understand the mass of my movie, because this movie is really logical, in a way. If you watch it ten times, you’ll see that everything is right on time.  There’s no random stuff.  These days I think there’s too much music in movies in general. Back in the ’70s or ’80s, music was a character in the movie. Music was really important.  I’m not a huge fan of Tarantino’s, but the way he uses music is incredible, the way he strikes with old pieces of music.  It’s hard to explain my process, because of course I  make music, too.  I would love to stop using my music in my movies only because I think I’m doing too much.  I’m writing, I’m shooting, I’m also editing.  I think at the end of the day it might be annoying for other people. They’ll say, Oh, this guy is doing everything. It’s a little boring, I think.


DT:  What do you like most about making movies?


QD:  Honestly, it’s to stay close to my childhood.  I don’t want to be a professional, because suddenly it’s not about the fun anymore.  It’s about being smart. I honestly have no idea what I’m doing; I just want to stay close to my childhood, when I was trying to make short films with a bad video camera.  I want to keep on feeling this.  That’s what I’m looking for when I’m writing, that’s what I’m looking for when I’m shooting. I always make sure what we shoot is exciting.  It needs to be exciting every time.  Even the stupidest shots …everything has to be exciting.  Like I said, just like a kid playing with Legos.  That’s what I’m doing.


DT:  When is Rubber 2 coming out?


QD:  [laughs] We don’t know…maybe I’ll do it one day.



Copyright © Director Talk 2015


Manos Sucias/Josef Wladyka

Along the Pacific Coast of Colombia, Afro-Colombian fishermen are forced into the drug trade by paramilitary groups and guerillas threatening to kill their families and steal their land.  Out of countless stories collected firsthand from the people living this nightmare, director Josef Wladyka has fashioned a heart-stopping tale of two brothers forced to deliver a shipment of cocaine stuffed into a homemade torpedo. A highlight of the Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Availability:  Check local theater listings here. Thanks to Tribeca Film Festival for arranging this interview.


DT:  Let’s talk about your research into representing the Colombian drug trade authentically.


JW:  The research started in 2007 when I was just backpacking with my friend through Ecuador and Colombia.  We were going along the coast, talking to locals in all these towns that are under siege.  You’d hear stories about people getting inside homemade submarines and doing all sorts of crazy things trafficking drugs. It sparked my initial interest:  What’s going on here?

I speak enough Spanish to get by, but I’m not fluent, so I was always with someone who spoke perfect Spanish. When I went with the very specific intent of researching these areas and trying to find people who were involved in actually going on a mission, a friend of mine from Tumaco [Colombia] went with me   I also went to Malaga Naval Base, which is near Buenaventura.  I got permission from the government to see captured narco submarines and narco torpedoes. It was probably five years of researching and just going back to Colombia and Buenaventura, and starting to meet with some of the theater students and actors in the film.  It was an evolving process. The script was always changing as I learned more.



DT:  At what point did you know you wanted to make a film?


JW:  In 2009.  I was going through the graduate film program [NYU], and I was starting to think about what I was going to do for my thesis film.  This Colombia material was always in the back of my mind.  A lot of stories were starting to come out in the newspapers about the narco submarines and all this stuff going on, and that’s when I really wanted to research this and see what type of film there was here:  What was really going on in these places?  This script evolved from there.


DT:  The film included a lot of references to guerillas and the paramilitary, and even witches.  Who are they and how are they involved in the drug trade?


JW:  That’s an extremely long conversation. Buenaventura is a place that’s very much historically been forgotten by the government.  It’s over the Andes Mountains on the Pacific Coast.  It’s the biggest port in Colombia, so lots of imports and exports come and go.  It’s the richest port, but the people who live in the area have been completely left out of that economy, and since it’s in a specific region of Colombia with hidden mangroves and jungles and all this dead stuff, it’s the epicenter for a lot of narco trafficking.

Paramilitary groups and guerilla groups control different regions. In Buenaventura, the barrios have these things called invisible borders, where the barrios are controlled by different groups. For example, in real life, my lead actors couldn’t go to each other’s neighborhoods. A lot of the time people are extorted into doing this stuff; the drug traffickers come and take over their land and force them to plant cocaine, or they’ll come and start killing people to take control of the place. The right-wing paramilitaries are one group, but there are also these bands of gangs.  It’s an extremely complicated thing. In this area of Colombia there’s also a lot of superstition about witchcraft. Those little motorcycles on the tracks at the end of the film are called brujitas (little witches).  It’s a place that’s very much under siege. Last month [April 2014], Buenaventura had become the most violent it’s been in several years, so there was a lot of protesting going on, people asking the government to come and help stop the violence. It was all over the news in Colombia, and our film was premiering in Colombia while all of this was going on.


DT:  How was it received?


JW:  Colombians loved it. It’s interesting—now that I’ve sat with the New York audience, I see it’s completely different. Colombians are a lot more emotive.  It was beautiful.  I was extremely nervous; the actors hadn’t seen the film.  The production coordinator, who was from Buenaventura, was very, very emotional.  A lot of laughing, a lot of crying.  It was intense.


DT:  Imagine…all that from your thesis film. Can you tell me about the folk music you used?  It was very powerful, and a great use of music.


JW:  There are three types of music in the film.  There’s the score that was done by Scott Thorough, which is the music in the cinematic moments of the film.  There’s hip-hop and rap from Buenaventura, so we have some songs from two very popular rappers in Buenaventura. The third type of music, which you’re speaking of, is called currulao. It’s African-Colombian folkloric music very specific to this region of Colombia.  It’s very beautiful. My friend from Tumaco sent me two hundred songs from the area, and I listened to all of them. Halfway through the editing process, we started editing the a cappella parts over the images and it became very beautiful and powerful. There’s not a lot of women in the film, so it was almost like the voices of the women longing for the men as they go on these crazy journeys.  They’re singing about the ocean, and the beach, and God, and I hoped we could use the music, since it’s really hard to track down the artists who make the actual music. We found them, though. There’s two groups:  Grupo Gualajo and Grupo Socavon. They did all of the folkloric music.  We feel very lucky to have permission to use that music.


DT:  In the rap song the younger brother was singing, there’s this notion of fighting to maintain harmony.  What does that mean?


JW:  Buenaventura is a complicated place.  There are people who are just trying to maintain and go to school and have a normal life while all this madness is going on, and there are rappers who are trying to be artists while all this stuff is going on.  He’s basically saying, There are a lot of problems here, but we’re trying to be at peace in my neighborhood. He’s talking about a specific neighborhood in Buenaventura.


DT:  Can you talk about the filmmaking workshops you did with the local community to maintain a positive impact on the region?


JW:  That happened when the production crew saw Buenaventura for the first time. Elena Greenlee [producer] and my cowriter/cinematographer Alan Blanco had never been to Buenaventura before. It’s a very intense place, and we went on very extensive location scouts to talk to the community leaders in these neighborhoods. We were always extremely upfront and honest with them. We said, This is exactly what the film’s about, this is why we want to do it;  we’re gringos, and if you don’t feel comfortable with us doing this film here, that’s fine. But they wanted us to make the film and tell the story so much because it’s reality. It’s a matter-of-fact way of life.  But they also said, What are you going to give us?

We were a very small-budget film. We didn’t have big money, and that’s when Elena and all of us came up with the idea of doing filmmaking workshops.  She had worked on the film City of God and they had done a similar type of thing, so she was really brilliant in championing the whole curriculum of how we were going to do it. We did it all during preproduction, which was a crazy intense time, but we made sure to do it. It was a beautiful collaboration, and a lot of our crew came from these workshops. A lot of the cast came from them as well.  And that’s how we earned people’s trust for them to say, OK, we’ll let them come and shoot in these neighborhoods; they want to use us. Buenaventura’s a place where a lot of things are promised but little is followed through, so people there have this natural defense: You guys are just talking.  At first, because I’m American and they saw that Americans were coming to these displaced communities, they thought, Maybe this is something real. And I kept coming back, and they thought, Why does this Japanese Polish guy keep showing up here?…maybe he’s for real.  Then once the production people started to show up, the locals thought, OK, this is really happening, and we’re going to get on board with this.


DT:  From what I’ve read, it sounds like the offscreen relationship between the actors who played the two brothers was very much like their onscreen relationship.  They were really terrific.


JW:  They’re in my heart.  I love them so much.  They’re both from Buenaventura, they both have had extremely difficult lives, but they’re both very serious actors.  They went to the same theater school in Buenaventura, and they take their acting very, very seriously.

When they were first cast, they didn’t know each other very well and were feeling each other out.  I wanted them to be in the same hotel room from the beginning of it all so they’d really be like brothers, could really form that relationship.  I remember the moment Jarlin told Cristian, We’re going to be the first guys from Buenaventura headlining a film—this may never happen again, so we’ve really got to come together and work hard. They were in their beds every night studying the script together.  They took it very, very seriously.


DT:  In the press notes, Jarlin said, It’s a social responsibility to show the pain.


JW:  Yeah. He wanted to put his own personal stories and things that have happened to him out there. Alan and I wrote the script based off my research. Then one of my good friends, Orlando Cordozo, who lives here in New York but is from Barranquilla, translated the script into Colombian Spanish. I brought him down with me to be my translator, to be attached to me, because he knew the script so well, and he’s my friend and I needed someone as a reflection of me.  I speak Spanish, but to articulate intellectually, especially with the actors during the rehearsal process, I needed someone there with me. He was a godsend.

Once we’d cast the two main actors, we went through the whole script scene by scene and changed all the dialogue to local Buenaventura dialogue. At the same time I was always open. Because I wanted to be as authentic as possible, I was open to their ideas about changing stuff around. For example, we had written a scene where one of the brothers is crying and talking about his son who was killed, but the actor brought a real story that happened to him, and that’s what he’s saying in the film—that he was one of those little kids at the soccer field where all his friends got killed. We did a lot of stuff like that to include as much as we could. There’s a lot of racism in the film. In Latin America in general there’s still a lot of racism toward Afro Latinos, so I asked, Does this seem real to you; is this too much? And they said, Do more, do more. We didn’t want to beat that over the head too much, though, so it was a process.


DT:  One of the things your film made clear is the fact that film is such an international language.


JW:  Film is a powerful thing. When you backpack as a traveler, you only learn about a place to a certain extent, on the surface.  But if you make a film somewhere…  Buenaventura is a part of me forever.  Probably seventy-five percent of my friends on Facebook are from Buenaventura.  They’re making and posting videos, so I get to watch all this stuff they’re doing.

Our film deals with an international issue, so I think it transcends Colombia. Obviously Colombians know about Buenaventura, but we’re really hoping that the rest of the world can go past that.  That’s why the film has action-y elements to it. It’s accessible. Alan and I always felt that it still had to be an entertaining piece of fiction so that people would go see it. Then, if we leave the audience with something to think about at the end, we did a good job. It’s not a documentary.  We could have made a documentary, but it’s a narrative film, so it should be dramatic, it should tug and pull on the audience and be a good ride.  Our whole style, and the way we shot it, and the way we wrote it was to just ground the audience immediately in going on one of these trips.  Not a lot of stuff is going to be explained.  It’s just all happening, and you’re going with them.


DT:  What’s the biggest difference between what you learned in film school and what you learned on set?


JW:  The biggest thing you’re not going to learn in film school is what you have to do to get people to jump on board and actually get a film made—navigating all the different personalities you need to help you make your film.  In film school you make a little short film and that’s it.  But if it’s a real feature film, there’s a lot of people involved. Just the sheer size of a feature is overwhelming. I don’t know if that can ever be taught.



Copyright © Director Talk 2015

Viaje/Paz Fabrega

Over the course of a weekend, two young Costa Ricans share newfound love, laughter, and light-heartedness as they explore their country and each other.  In luminous black-and-white, director Paz Fabrega has fashioned a modern fairy tale for anyone who embraces romance. A highlight of the Tribeca Film Festival 2015.  Availability:  Check Tribeca Film Festival schedule.  Thanks to Christine Richardson and James Moore, Tribeca Film Festival, for arranging this interview.


DT:  Costa Rica is so glorious in color.  Why shoot black-and-white?


PF:  For that exact reason. Because this place was so green and so lush, it took on too much importance. The film looked like a nature documentary. This is a story about characters and relationships, their gestures and their interactions, so we needed to put the landscape behind. I also think that landscape in black-and-white is very interesting.  It’s unusual.  It’s something different. This place has some mineral, I don’t know what it is, that makes things white. It’s not white-white, it’s a dirty white, so in color it just looks muddy, but in black-and-white it becomes something.



DT:  So you also tried it in color?


PF:  We were already thinking about shooting black-and-white, but we shot both when we went scouting. Then we decided to shoot it straight on black-and-white, which is something you should not do normally. It was great for us, because on the one hand we didn’t have color monitors, so we were just looking at the screen on the camera. That allowed us to find interesting black-and-white compositions right away, because we were working very fast and very improvised.  It also made color corrections much easier, because normally you would have all the color information and then you would take the greens and do separate corrections. It made post very simple because there wasn’t that much we could do.  And I liked that. When I went to film school, it was still film. With film there’s not that much you can do in post, and that’s the way I like to work.  You have what you have, and you have to commit to that.  You can’t change everything around once you’ve finished the film.


DT:  What camera did you use?


PF:  The Canon 5D Mark II.


DT: Neto Villalobos [Costa Rican director of Por Los Plumas {All About the Feathers}] also shot with a Canon 5D [Mark I]. How do you shoot an entire feature with an SLR?


PF:  We weren’t sure it was going to be a feature.  We were just going to see what we would do with the material.  It was three years ago when these cameras were coming out, and I loved that you could use photographic lenses on them.  I guess now there are more options, because you have the Blackmagic. That would probably be better, but I bought this camera because we could have the freedom to shoot whenever we wanted. We didn’t have to think about rentals or borrowing from someone, and that was what I could afford.


DT:  How did you do sync sound?


PF:  We recorded sound with an H4 recorder and a boom mic.  And then we used a clapboard to sync it up.


DT:  A little old-fashioned way of working.


PF:  It’s a pain in the ass.


DT:  You established a production company in Costa Rica.  What’s the film industry like there?


PF: It’ not much of a film industry. It’s hard to get projects going there. When I finished film school in London, I went back to Costa Rica. In London it was easy to find people—sound recordists, editors—who were working on different projects and would come to yours.  Even if it was a low-budget project, they’d do it for less than their usual fee. I knew lots of people who had well-paying jobs, and then they had their personal projects.  In Costa Rica there’s not so much of this. Because there just aren’t that many people working, it’s harder to bring together a team of people to work on your film.  That’s the one hand.  On the other hand, it’s all independent filmmakers.  There’s no structure. I think that’s very good for us, because nobody’s wasting time trying to get a job or trying to get into the industry.  Everybody’s just going out and shooting their films. It’s the way I want to keep working for a while.


DT:  So you’ll keep working in Costa Rica?


PF:  I want to make a few more films there.  I can apply for a fund and get together a group of people and just go out and shoot a film.  I’m still exploring.  Unless there’s some amazing script that I feel is exactly right for me, I don’t see myself going into a structure where I have producers and investors and all this apparatus.


DT:  So what does it mean to establish a production company there?


PF:  It’s just a legal thing you need to have in order to apply for funds.


DT:  Local funds, government funds?


PF:  Local funds, but when I established my company, my first film [Agua Fria de Mar] was a five-country coproduction with Europe. A lot of films are made as Latin American or Latin American–European coproductions, and for that you need to have an established company.


DT:  How developed was the script when you gave it to your actors?


PF:  They never got a script.  I had a structure—the man and woman meet, they go away together, and at one point she reveals she’s in a long-distance relationship with someone else. I knew she was leaving, but I wasn’t sure about the ending.  I just wanted to see how it went.  Initially it was more about a girl that has decided to leave and starts sabotaging her own decision, but when I saw my actors together, it was so much more interesting. They were so great together.



DT:  They were adorable.


PF: I just loved filming them. The stuff where she was on her own just wasn’t as interesting as the material when they were together, so the film became more about that.  That’s very much what I wanted to do with this project.  When you’re making a film, you have to plan everything beforehand. Then suddenly you get your actors and there’s this amazing thing going on, and the script is saying, Look this way, but you’re saying, No, this is great, let’s just go with this. That’s what happened with Viaje.


DT:  Do you plan on working that way in the future?


PF: I’d like to work that way, but you can’t do that on every single project.


DT:  Not if you have producers.


PF:  Especially if you have producers.  People want to know what you’re going to do before you do it.  But as I said, because in Costa Rica we can work with funds and do our own sort of thing, we have a little bit more freedom in that sense.  But I also think that if you want to be more well-financed and have producers, you can do that process beforehand.  You can get in touch with the actors, do some previous work, write a script, then hand it to your producers so they have some assurance which way it’s going.  You know which way it’s going because you’ve already seen it.  Mike Leigh sort of does things like that.  He doesn’t ever hand over a script, but by the time they shoot, everybody knows what they’re doing, which helps when you have producers.


DT:  It also helps if you’re Mike Leigh. What’s your next project?


PF:  It was meant to be a documentary but couldn’t be shot as a documentary. It’s about a group of kids, like a soccer team that came here for second division or minor league soccer. They played three games and didn’t score a single goal. They lost sixteen to zero, then thirteen to zero, then eight to zero. Then they disappeared, and nobody saw them again.


DT: This is a true story?


PF:  This is a true story. It turns out it was a group of kids that intercepted an invitation to a real team so they could immigrate to the States. When they got here, even though they didn’t play soccer and didn’t know each other well, they had to go and play with semiprofessional soccer players.


DT:  Great story.  I’m looking forward to seeing the film.


Copyright © Director Talk 2015

Woman in Gold/Simon Curtis

Maria Altmann spent her childhood in the sumptuous luxury of the prewar Jewish aristocracy in Vienna–an era and way of life brought to an end when the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938.  In order to save their lives, Maria and her husband fled, leaving behind their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, to witness the destruction of their people.  Sixty years later, in California, Maria decides to fight back; with the help of young attorney Randy Schoenberg, she has decided to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s fabulous portrait of her aunt Adele, stolen from her home by Nazis to become the centerpiece of the Austrian artworld, where it is renamed Woman in Gold. Simon Curtis directs Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann and Ryan Reynolds as Randy Schoenberg in this lush reimagining of Maria’s real-life story.  Availability:  Opens nationally April 1. Check local listings for a theater near you.  Thanks to Rachel Aberly, PMKBNC, for setting up this interview. 


DT:  I love that the film is so lush and big and high-stakes but so internally driven at the same time.  Can you talk about how you balanced that focus on emotions with such a huge set and cast?


SC:  Thank you for that.  I don’t really know the answer, actually. You basically just make each scene work and then make the film work in the editing room. In the editing it was always going to be about how the past and the present interact. Photographically we were trying to do something different for each of the time periods, so it was a question of balancing all of that, I suppose.


DT:  How did you deal with the different time periods?


SC:  I had a brilliant DP in Ross Emery, and we talked about it a lot. We wanted the modern scenes with Helen and Ryan to be as colorful and real and documentary as possible, but contrasting the architecture and light of Vienna and Los Angeles.  The earliest scenes, the Adele scenes, should be as golden and as radiant as possible for obvious reasons. For the 1938 past, which was the end of the Jewish community, the end of an era and a terrifying period, it seemed right to desaturate.


DT: Did you use special filters or lights in the Adele scenes, because she’s glowing.


SC:  We did a lot of the coloring in post. That’s the simplest answer.


DT:  Your enthusiasm for the subject persuaded BBC Films to come on board.  Why did this story matter to you so much?


SC:  I just thought it was a very moving story of the twentieth century and placed a woman of a certain age in the center of it. That appealed to me, and it was a story of the immigrant experience.  We’d all love to revisit moments from our past to make things right.


DT:  It wasn’t really the typical immigrant experience.


SC:  But the universal of having to leave behind a life and having to reinvent oneself is.


DT:  Alexi Kaye Campbell, who wrote the screenplay, consulted frequently with Randy Schoenberg, the young attorney who actually prosecuted the case.  Were you involved in those discussions, and did they in any way complicate your job as a director?


SC:  No.  Randy was phenomenally helpful. We got two for the price of one because he was able to explain the legal procedure, being a lawyer, and he gave us the emotional stories too.  So, for example, he told Alexi how he’d broken down in front of the Holocaust Memorial, and that became a very important beat in Ryan’s Randy story, too.


DT:  That was actually my next question—one of the most moving moments in the film for me is his reaction to the Holocaust Memorial.  To me, it seemed like this moment of self-recognition that comes from realizing you’ve been kidding yourself your entire life.  Is that how the real Randy Schoenberg described it?


SC:  We tweaked the character of Randy to make him more of an all-American guy who hasn’t really dealt with his past and his family’s history—that happens before our eyes in the film, if you like.


DT:  Let’s talk about the sound design in the dancing scene at Maria’s wedding.  It was really, really remarkable.


SC:  We worked very hard on that.  I’d read that their wedding was the last big Jewish social event before the Nazis arrived, so we made it first off as a sort of naturalistic dance, and then it becomes a sort of emblematic dance. We decided to build in the jackboots arriving as part of that concept.


DT:  It was very effective.  The chase scene, where Maria and her husband escape, was so exciting it had me sitting on the edge of my seat.  What were the logistics involved in that?


SC:  We had a second unit with us in Vienna because we had a lot of things and locations to shoot in our three weeks there.  It was a team effort, and it involved Tatiana Maslany (who played the young Maria Altmann) running more than an Olympic runner ever had to run.  I’m very proud of the sequence.


DT:  Did you have to build special sets?


SC:  Most of that sequence takes place on the streets of Vienna and in an extraordinary building.  When they’re running down those stairs, that’s actually the building—built, I think, in the 18th century—to paint the back lots of the Vienna opera house.


DT:  What kind of reception did you get in Vienna while you were filming there, because the film is not particularly flattering to Austrians?


SC:  Really good; they were really supportive of us being there.


DT: Why?


SC:  They’re very proud of their city, and it’s amazing how few films have been shot there, considering how cinematic it is.  Did you see the homage to The Third Man, where you see Orson Welles’s Ferris wheel at the end of the film?


DT: Fantastic.  Can you talk about the replica of the painting?


SC:  That was a massive effort, because the credibility of the film hinged on that being close-up proof.  It was a really detailed, tricky thing to do. We had a really brilliant guy in London who worked with Jim Clay, our designer, to achieve that. And we also had to do two versions, a sort of work-in-progress version, and then the finished version, so it was a big achievement.


DT:  You did something unusual for such a high-budget film—you shot the early scenes in a foreign language.


SC:  That was something I was really pushing for, because that’s part of the identity thing—Maria starting her life in Vienna speaking German and ending her life speaking English in California.


DT:  That was a very nice touch. How interventionist were you with your two stars?


SC:  I wouldn’t use that word—I would say I collaborated with them. They’re both incredibly smart, both incredibly experienced, both incredibly well prepared.  But also wanting a dialogue.  Usually every member of the cast has a different version of how you can help them, and your job as a director is to work out how you can best help each person on an individual basis. Sometimes that involves a lot of talking and a lot of notes, and sometimes it involves no talking and no notes.


DT:  Depending on the actor.


SC: Sometimes depending on the actor in different films. I can work with the same actor twice, in different parts, and we’ll have a different version of working.


DT:  What was the hardest thing for you about this film?


SC:  It was logistically tricky—three time periods, three countries, two languages, English actors speaking German, German actors speaking English. The hardest job was pulling it all together.


Copyright © Director Talk 2015

The Angels’ Share/Paul Laverty (screenwriter)

Screenwriter Paul Laverty and his longtime collaborator, director Ken Loach, address the economic crisis in Europe with The Angels’ Share, a dark comedy about a gang of young men and women facing chronic unemployment in Glasgow.  When their mentor introduces them to the tony world of whiskey, the gang decides to strike it rich by stealing a rare vintage and selling it off. •Availability:  In theaters and VOD April 12. Thanks to Matt Mazur, Donna Daniels Public Relations, for arranging this interview.  Thanks to Keith Gardner for making his vast knowledge and collection of films available to us.


DT:  Paul, you have a degree in philosophy, you trained with Scotland’s most prominent lawyers, and you practiced law yourself.  You worked with a human rights organization in Central America, where you saw the war in El Salvador, and you received a Fulbright to study filmmaking in the U.S.  How do your experiences affect what you write?


PL:  It’s pretty hard to be objective about your own experiences, but curiosity has been key to my work.  In a sense I was indoctrinated through the Catholic Church.  I was taught by Jesuits; I left home at the age of twelve and studied at seminary until I was twenty.  Many of them were very kind and very, very warm, but they saw things in exactly the same way, and they presented the world in black-and-white terms.  I remember studying Marxism to undermine Marxism.  I should thank them for my ability to enjoy the contradictions in life and my curiosity for seeing people who have a different experience from me.  And, I suspect, curiosity is probably human nature, especially for the child.  You know, somebody tells you, This is what you must believe, and you say, Well, why?  Also I saw power and hierarchy in a very obvious way there, and that made me curious, of course.   In Nicaragua I wanted to learn another language, see the world from another perspective.   It was interesting with Thatcher dying today, because she was a great supporter of Reagan supporting the contra, which destroyed Nicaragua.  That was an incredibly important experience, because I really saw how raw politics operated in the most brutal fashion.  I was an eyewitness to how William Casey, head of the CIA, financed the contra to sow terror in Nicaragua.  I’m not speaking with a rhetorical flourish about how they tortured and murdered people:  They did that.  So it always makes me laugh when I see so-called liberals making a film like Argo, which I saw on the plane yesterday.  They want their cake and they want to eat it; they set up at the very beginning how cruel the dictatorship was, yet at the same time they tap around and the heroes are once again the CIA.  The very last thing  in the film was a quote from Jimmy Carter saying, We pulled this off, we protected our country’s integrity and we did it in a peaceful manner.  On that particular occasion, yes, they might have, but there’s a humor about it when progressive liberals think they’ve made a liberal film when once again the CIA, which has sowed torture and murder throughout the whole world, are turned into such wonderfully humane characters.


DT:  And you have the Academy patting itself on the back.


PL:  Yeah, and then The Hurt Locker before that, which was even funnier.  According to Lancet magazine, over a million people died in that war, not directly from the invasion but as a consequence of the invasion—internecine battles and all that.  In Fallujah, children are still being born deformed because of pollution with uranium dust.  And right in the middle of it are these two lovely bomb disposal experts coming out with a good old joke, and they’re funny, and they’re poignant, and they’re fragile but rounded individuals in the middle of this misery and murder and systematic cruelty.  It’s just mind-boggling.  The idiot who writes for the Guardian said the great thing about Hurt Locker is that of course there wasn’t a lot of politics in it.  But with the premise of the film, and the main characters being such wonderful, well-rounded people obviously doing good in Iraq, and people calling that nonpolitical, it really is kind of laughable. By the premise and the choice of characters and the narrative you always reveal a deeper kind of politics.


DT:  Absolutely.


PL:  Of course it was no surprise that these two American propaganda films have won the Oscars.  And we’re supposed to treat it seriously and bend the forelock before these geniuses.  It’s hilarious.  You couldn’t write it.  All the contradictions…you would really struggle to put it into a screwball comedy, wouldn’t you?


DT:  Well, there’s your next screenplay.


PL:  The problem is that when Kissinger wins the Nobel Peace Prize, you kind of give up on irony, really.  It’s so beyond what you could possibly imagine.


DT:  There’s a lot of improvisation in your work with Ken Loach.


PL:  Not as much as you think.


DT:  What happens if your characters come up with something that you really want to use but it throws your script off story?


PL:  It’s much more organic than that.  One of the great things about the way Ken directs and works is you don’t hear the lines of the script; you feel like you’re hearing it for the first time. It doesn’t feel like a script speaking back to you; you feel like these people are actually speaking and talking.


DT:  I really felt that in My Name Is Joe.


PL:  Exactly that. I do many, many versions of the script, so it’s very, very tight when we come to actually do it.  Ken gives the actors freedom, and oftentimes things will develop or not, but usually when we get back to the edit again, and I’m quoting Ken now, it usually gets back to about 90 percent script again.  So it’s much closer to the script than some people think.


DT:  You have a script editor.  What does he do?


PL:  The wonderful Roger Smith. It’s another voice, another one to throw awkward questions at you.   He’s an old colleague of Ken’s, the same generation, and Roger often asks the tough, difficult questions, so we have great respect for his opinions.


DT:  At what point do you bring him in?


PL:  When we’re writing the script.  I’ll put something down on paper to test it, see if I feel it’s secure, a good premise, because you’re asking talented people to spend two years of their lives involved in this. If I feel it’s good territory and it’s really what we want to do next, I’ll do an awful lot of research, which is very journalistic. Not to copy things off the street but to get underneath and find out what’s going on.  Just listening to people.  You don’t copy, again, but it informs what you’re going to write.  Then forget all about it and go and write the fictional piece. I write the script by myself, then I’ll meet up with Ken again and we’ll try and be our own toughest critics.  Ask our tough questions of it: Is this the best option?  Is this the best choice?  We have always seen kind of eye to eye on that, and then you try and make the script tighter, more organic, and then you look at the locations and the actors again, and you might chop and change things a little bit.  And then you have a very, very tight script. Ken shoots in sequence, so the actors get the script in sequence, and they love it.  Sometimes if it’s a surprise we won’t give them the script.  We’ve got it planned out, though, so maybe the actual lighting and the actual words might not be used, but you’re true to the scene that you’ve imagined.  Other scenes are just exactly as we’ve scripted.  It’s all very organic, and I’m involved all the way through the process with Ken on the shoot.  We do the casting together, we often do the locations.  For Angels’ Share I met Paul Brannigan, the protagonist, when I was doing the research.

Paul had a very tough life, but he was very talented and very smart, and Ken’s really open to taking on the possibility of a young lad who’s never acted in his life. He’s also open to what you’ve discovered in the process beyond the script. I feel we’re filmmakers first. I write, Ken directs, but we meet in the middle as filmmakers and we try to help each other out.  We’re not in opposition.  Our loyalty is to the story, and sometimes you’ve got to change the script to make it possible, so it’s a complete working relationship.  Ken’s a very, very smart, tough collaborator who’s open.  He’s not a man who’s scared of ideas.


DT:  When you start out writing a script, do you know where you’re going to end up with it?


PL:  That’s a good question.  You can’t just start a script on page one and go.  In the process of doing all the research and thinking about it, characters form in your mind, the premise, the little puzzle you’ve got to unravel, the narrative.  Things are happening, so I do have a rough idea of where it’s going to go. I’ll write that out, but I also like to leave space to be ambushed by the characters, because in the process of writing things sometimes you think you’re heading here and they’ll take you over there because the character in the moment brings you there.  I think it’s quite good to leave space for that, but I think every writer has to find their own way.  I believe that a lot of the Hollywood gurus want everything worked out perfectly before you write the script, but I always like to leave space for the characters to speak to you, to bring you into parts that you might not know. I think it’s a balance of having some structure so the whole building doesn’t fall down but at the same time not creating something that’s so organized it’s sterile.  Everybody has to find their own way.  I like to have someplace to aim for, and that’s part of what’s going on in my head in the preparation, because I listen and do a lot of research, usually beforehand.  So things form in your head, you steal bits from here, there, and everywhere, and then when I come to write the script I usually write it very, very quickly.


DT:  Your collaboration with Ken Loach began when you wrote him on your return from Nicaragua.   Why did you write Loach in particular?


PL:  He was one of the few political filmmakers around.  I’d seen some of his films and loved the sensibility.  And to be honest, they weren’t exactly queueing up to go and make a political film in Nicaragua with somebody who’d never written before.  I wrote a lot of people, but Ken was the one who responded, and true to the man, he’s had that tremendous curiosity all his life.  He’s interested in what people have seen; I’d never written a script before and didn’t know much about the film industry, but that didn’t interest him—what interested him was what I’d seen in Nicaragua.  And he said, It’s a very long shot that we’ll ever make a film there, but I had a sense that we were just going to do it.  He told me to go and write a few scenes. Actually writing scenes, as opposed to just talking about it…it’s one thing to write a treatment, it’s another thing to write a script.  It felt tremendously liberating to actually give a character a name, how he should speak, and a job. I’ve been writing ever since.  It’s a drug, to be honest.  There’s a great kind of rush.


DT:  It’s like you’ve brought someone to life.


PL:  (Laughs)  Yes, it’s an instinctive thing, isn’t it?  You focus in on something, and you just feel that if you can tell the story of this person, you’ll capture the contradictions of something much bigger.  It’s always like trying to find that little premise of those characters.

Angels’ Share is  a little story about a young lad who’s trying to find a job.  He’s got a kid, but it’s the story of millions of young people around Europe at this time.  In Spain, where I’ve spent a lot of time, 60 percent of kids under twenty-five years old have no work.  Greece is similar.  Ireland, Portugal, tremendous crisis.  And these are people who are well trained.  They’re students.  So you can imagine people like Robbie, who’ve had no chance, who haven’t finished their education.  What was a great shock to me when I spoke to them was that many of these young kids think they will never have meaningful work in their lives. That’s a huge existential crisis, which is a huge political crisis.  If you took your work away from you, or if you took my work away from me, my life would be in a crisis.  Can’t look after your kids, can’t organize a place to stay.  It’s affecting the demographics in Europe.  Fewer and fewer people are having children. Older and older people.  Less workforce.  And what you see is this deregulated, precarious work economy.  It simply will not work in a sustainable fashion. Now, the film doesn’t go into all of that, but the story in a strange way shows the story of one kid who wants what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wanted in 1948 after the crisis of the war:  to have a dignified life you’ve got to have the right to work.  All of these other rights come from that, because if you have meaningful work you can plan your family, you can have a house, you can have some autonomy in your own life.  So although it’s a dark little comedy, hopefully by revealing that life you raise all these questions we’re talking about.


DT:  You also use the world of whiskey to show that someone like Robbie can enjoy the same thing as the prince of Saudi Arabia.


PL:  Probably a lot more because he’s got a better palate.


DT:  It’s interesting to me that the gang’s mentor, Harry, is a lot like the character of Joe (My Name Is Joe) and the character of Eric (Looking for Eric).  You have these men who are broken themselves but protecting these kids who are in these desperate situations.  The tension and the irony of having this imperfect mentor is so interesting.


PL:  Well, we’re all imperfect, and I think that for a lot of kids who’ve come from broken families, with tough experiences, if you have just one reference like that, who can see a talent in you and give you a chance, it can turn your life around.  It happens again and again.  You spend time with Paul Brannigan and listen to his life, you find he’s had a chaotic life, a very violent life.  I’m only saying this because he’s talked about it in public himself.  His parents were drug addicts, so Paul grew up in the street, very violently. Most people would be crushed or broken by it, but Paul’s an exceptionally intelligent boy, very sharp.


DT:  You see it in his face.


PL:  You see it in his face, yeah. But you can also tell that he’s distrustful, because life’s been very tough for him.  We wanted to try and find that in the film as well because of the life story that Robbie, his character, has.  But Paul’s life story is actually much more traumatic than Robbie’s.


DT:   How did you meet Paul, and how did you get him to open up on screen?


PL: We found Paul, but it was his talent that spoke.  It was a thing in Glasgow organized by the police called the Violence Reduction Unit. People were usually fighting on a Friday night—Friday’s a flashpoint—so the police organized a football/soccer league.  Paul was running that after coming out of prison, and I went along just to speak with him and all the group. I saw the way he handled himself, and it was a little like the way Harry handles Robbie in the film.  Paul looked interesting and very smart.  He’s quite distrustful, sure; why should he trust anybody from the film world?  Just all good common sense.  And the more I got to know him, the more I became interested in him.  I just thought, When it comes to do the casting, we must see this kid.  Not even thinking he’ll be able to get the main part, we just thought we want people like that who are smart and bright.  But he never turned up for the first two appointments, so I had to chase him all over the place to find him, and eventually got him to come along.  The beautiful thing about Ken is that he gives people confidence.  He allows talent to express itself.  He creates an environment where people have confidence, and I think that was very, very important.  Then Paul got the part through his own talent. And you never know, and that’s the thing I love about Ken; he’ll take the chance.  It takes bravery to cast someone who’s never acted in his life and who’s come out of prison, and the whole weight of the film is carried on his shoulders.  But Ken doesn’t make him feel like that.  He just makes him feel like one of the gang.


DT:  I was reading an interview with Jasmine Riggins, and she said the way Ken works—giving actors the script only scene by scene the day before they’re shooting—they don’t even know what their function is in the film.  They don’t know if they’re playing a main part or a walk-on.


PL:  Yeah, Martin Compson in Sweet Sixteen had no idea either.  The first day of the shoot he wasn’t going to turn up because he had the flu, and he thought he had just a small part.  But he carries the whole film, too.  I think it takes the pressure off people, and they just love it, day by day.  It depends on the scene; sometimes we’ll have two or three days in advance, depending on the scene, and also on the actor.  You just use your judgment. There’s no fixed and fast rule, but Ken shoots in sequence.


DT:  Tell me about Sixteen Films.


PL:  I’m very privileged to work with a wonderful director, Ken, and Rebecca O’Brien, who doesn’t get the credit she deserves. She’s a wonderful producer; we can spend our time doing our jobs because Rebecca’s so good at hers.  She creates the framework in which we can work.  And also what’s very, very important is the films are of a modest budget.  That means we have total creative freedom and make our own decisions.  We decide together what’s important; we’re not being told what to do by financiers who say you must cast such a such person because the film is so expensive to make.  We also have my colleagues who help us do the research or organize things…it’s just a wonderful atmosphere.  It’s very, very small, four or five people who work together with Ken and Rebecca, so it’s a wonderful working environment.  To work with friends is a great privilege.  All your energy goes to the work.  There’s no politicking and no other agenda.


DT:  You’ve worked with other directors, including your wife.


PL:  Yeah, working with Icíar [Bollaín] and Juan Gordon and Morena Films, that was a very nice experience, too.  We worked very much the same way.  It’s a good model.  I worked with another director, Clive Gordon, who was very nice as well.  The problem there was that the script wasn’t very good, so I blame nobody but myself for that one. Clive was a good guy.  Very nice, warm director.


DT:  When you were writing the script for them, you wrote in the same fashion?


PL:  People have asked me to write scripts for them, but I’ve never done that.  What’s nice is to choose what you feel is the most important to you in the moment.  That’s coincided obviously with Ken and the things we talk about together, but we’ve always chosen our stories because we feel these are the best ones to tell at the moment.  It’s great to have that freedom.  Not everybody has had that.




Copyright © Director Talk 2013