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Interview: British filmmaker James Marsh #Firstpost #Film

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In conversation with Shadow Dancer director James Marsh

Academy Award-winnning British film director, James Marsh, best known for his documentary film, Man On Wire, is out with a new movie, Shadow Dancer, that premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was screened out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival, and will premiere in India at the 2012 Mumbai Film Festival this week.

Set in 1990s Belfast, the movie is about an active member of the Irish Republican Army, who becomes an informant for MI5 in order to protect her son. Marsh, who is a fan of Satyajit Ray and is “very aware of the whole Bollywood phenomenon” talks about his movie, the art of documentary filmmaking and Hollywood movies that cater to 12-year-olds:

 

Congratulations on your film winning the Golden Hitchock at the Dinard Film Festival. It must be really reassuring for you that your film, which is about a very specific region and a very specific time in Northern Ireland, is getting acceptance amongst the worldwide audience. Was that something you ever worried about?
James Marsh (JM): To be honest with you, films about Northern Ireland are not perceived very positively even in the UK. The conflict has played out over decades and blighted so many lives and to be really brutal about it, it’s an episode in our recent history that we’d like to put behind us. That said, the events of the story in Shadow Dancer take place during quite an unusual time, actually – the beginning of a process of dialogue and peace that would end up paying quite a lot of dividends later on.

When I read the screenplay, I saw a universal dilemma that the main character faces as a mother and the member of a family. And I felt that the dilemma she’s put into transcended the politics. The history of the conflict goes back hundreds of years and you can’t expect to take that all on in one film, so my hope was to try and focus on the characters and their psychology.

Has there been any marked difference between the reactions of the regular movie buffs and the politically aware audiences or critics? JM: We’ve been quite fortunate, actually. We’ve had some very positive reactions from critics and audiences both in the UK and in other festivals like Sundance and Berlin. We screened the film in Belfast at the Belfast Film Festival a few months ago and it was a rather nerve-wracking experience for me. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to it there but in fact, it had a very interesting reception, going from the questions that were asked after the screening and the conversations we had.

People were very receptive to the film, and I think they were impressed with it, as a piece of filmmaking – that we had made a film that wasn’t a shabby, ugly look at The Troubles, but was a thriller with a story and (chuckles) a movie star in it. In fact, we have had a fairly positive reception amongst the Irish media and critics, so I’m really glad about that.

Your last two movies, Man on Wire and Red Riding: In the Year of our Lord 1980, were thrillers. Was there any learning that you brought into Shadow Dancer from those? And would you say you are more comfortable with thrillers as a genre?

JM: That’s an interesting observation. I guess it would seem so, I think that perhaps the thriller, a bit like the horror film, is a director’s medium. In a thriller, you are trying to control precisely the information that the audience is exposed to during the course of the film, and you are trying to precisely control the mood too. It’s a genre where you have to be very prepared and thorough about how you go about making the film.

And yes, to think of it, Shadow Dancer is a similar kind of film in terms of genre to both Man on Wire and Red Riding; in fact, even my first feature film, The King, had some suspense and a rather uncomfortable atmosphere in it, so by the time I got to making Shadow Dancer, I got better at that process of making a film that relies on mood and atmosphere. (Chuckles) I guess I specialise somewhat in that now, and I do believe I’ve enjoyed making all those films.

I’ve noticed that you shoot your films in unique ways. There’s a lot of innovation in the way you frame the shots.

JM: Oh yes, cinematography is extraordinarily important to me. It’s something that you have a big influence on and can use in unique ways, and I believe, you should use, as a director. So, before I shoot any film, I spend a lot of time talking to the cinematographer, and discussing all kinds of different reference points – not just of other films but of photographs and paintings and locations. A big part of the job is, of course, to visualise the film, and I tend to go in the shoot with a thoroughly prepared document that lays out each scene in terms of show it’s going to be blocked, and work out shot sequences and camera moves before I actually shoot. I don’t always use those ideas since you sometimes get better ideas when you are shooting or you get inspired by the actors or the location but I prefer going in with a plan. I can always improve upon it as the film is being made.

Do you keep actors in mind during the process of writing or cast separately?

JM: Yes, I do, actually. (laughs) Obviously, usually you don’t end up getting the people you have in mind. For this particular film though, the first instinct I had when I read Tom’s (Bradby) screenplay and then began working on it with him, was to cast the actor Clive Owen. I’ve always liked him and felt that this was a chance for him to do something at a slightly different pace of film and a slightly different budget level than he’s generally used to. When we first put the film together, he wasn’t available to work on it and then we went back, when the film was actually ready to shoot, and he was happy to do it, having had seen Man on Wire, which he quite liked.

Andrea Riseborough was an actress I had seen on television in England and felt that she was kind of extraordinary. She had done a few films but those films hadn’t worked out terribly well, and I thought, here’s a great chance and a wonderful role for her. I needed someone really, really great to do this, if not, the film wouldn’t work if the acting of that character wasn’t really special and really layered in all kinds of subtle ways. And Andrea, I think, just carried the whole film in her face. We used a lot of fairly withering close-ups on her, but she carried them so beautifully that you could always sense that there are many different things playing out in her mind. That’s an extraordinary gift for an actress.

So, to answer your question, I guess, in a long-winded way, I really want to work with actors whose work I really like and half the job of direction is to cast people who you think are great and to let them bring what they want to bring to the project.

Your movies tend to be about a central character, and generally about how people around them influence their choices.

JM: I guess, where you are coming from is a sense that in many films, not the least of which is mine, you tend to invest in the central character, and try to find connections in the central character from your own life and your own experience. Where I’m concerned, what I’m actually interested in, actually, is the dynamics of a small group, be it a family that you see in Shadow Dancer or in Project Nim or in The King, or any other sort of group, like the group of conspirators in Man on Wire. I’m drawn to this dynamic and I believe that all drama comes from some conflict between a group of people.

This is your second feature film as a director, though you’ve done many documentaries.I’m curious to know that most kids, growing up, want to be feature filmmakers, as opposed to documentary filmmakers. Were you always interested in the art of making documentaries or did you see making them as a step towards making features?

JM: I always had the fantasy of being a feature film director and making movies, (laughs) in Hollywood. But in the UK, we have a big culture and tradition of documentary filmmaking, particularly on television. And television documentaries in Britain are very, very good and well-made, with lots of money put it. So yes, growing up, as I was trying to figure how to get my foot in the door of filmmaking, documentaries and television were a more realistic place to start. I didn’t go to film school, I got a job as a journalist working on a TV show in London. And that was definitely a calculated plan, that somehow, in 20 years, I’ll become a feature film director, though I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do that!

And then, when I got into making documentary films, as a filmmaker, I found them very satisfying and rewarding. You can be really quite experimental in documentary filmmaking too, and you can come up with different ways of conveying the truth of the situation you are trying to get at. So, Man on Wire, for example, is full of elaborate black-and-white style movie-type reconstruction. I believe these elements of drama in documentaries allowed me to actually feel confident enough to go ahead and write a screenplay and make The King, which is the first feature film I made.

Your documentaries are like genre films, like features and that’s what you bring into them from your feature filmmaking experience. But what do you bring into your feature films from your documentary experiences? Is there anything that crosses over?

JM: I think the main thing is a sense of the story structure. In a documentary, we are dealing with real events and real lives. So what you look for there is a dramatic shape to the story, and all great documentaries have that. The dramatic shape doesn’t mean you are fictionalising anything, but that you are trying to find the semblance of a structure to the real events that happened. And I think that sense of structure and story construction is very hard to come up with in documentary, and often happens in the editing room, when you are putting it together. That really helps you both understand a good screenplay and also to write them, because you have a sense of how the story works.

The other big learning is the collaboration with actors on a feature film. In a documentary, you tend to make the people you are interviewing as comfortable as possible, to get them to trust you, and I use the same kind of approach with actors too. On the other hand, the fundamental difference between the two forms, for me, is that the means of production are very different. A documentary tends to unfold over a longer period of time, whereas a feature film is shot in a very intense period of six or seven weeks where you either do it or (laughs) you can’t do it. If you make a mistake or something goes wrong there, you’ll just have to live with that.

How do you keep the two mediums separate? How difficult is it for you to decide what to do next?

JM: I try and keep an open mind. In a feature film, what you are looking for is a story that you want to need to tell. And in a documentary, they are harder to find, those kinds of stories. I mean they are easier in fiction because you can always (laughs) write them. So with documentaries, my criteria to evaluating them is: “Is the story truly and awfully unbelievable and preposterous?” (laughs) In other words, if it was fiction, would you not believe this story? Man on Wire, for example, is a story people would struggle to believe was real.

As for me, I like doing both. Both have different kinds of creative rewards and I think one really helps the other. When you are doing a feature, you get a little overwhelmed by the scale of it and making a documentary is a much more intimate kind of form of filmmaking, which I really enjoy too.

You’ve probably learnt so much about human psychology through your documentaries. How do you apply those learnings to your real life?

JM: You know, I would say, in fact, that I’ve made those documentaries, be it Man on Wire or Project Nim, in particular because you find out so much about how people behave in unusual circumstances. I’m actually a very pessimistic person by nature but after spending two years with Philippe (Petit) for Man on Wire, I was inspired and reminded that you shouldn’t ever think that anything you want to do is impossible. I applied it to my filmmaking – I mean, in filmmaking too, you face all sorts of hurdles like not getting funding or things not taking off.

As for Project Nim, it is a great story about child rearing and although we were doing this with a chimpanzee, I realised that you can’t try and bend your children into something they are not, the same way you can’t bend Nim into a human being. Each one of us is born with certain personalities and as a parent it’s up to you to understand your childrens’ potential and how you can best nudge them to achieve that potential as opposed to imposing things upon them. So yes, I’m actually blessed and lucky to be doing work that I find personally enlightening.

Do we see you doing a mainstream American, big-budget movie at some point in time? To put it in other words, if you had all the money to make a film, what sort of a film would it be?

JM: What a great question! I’m not sure, actually. Of course, if someone were to come to you with the right idea and if it had a certain scale and money and ambition, I’d love to, but I would say this, I don’t think very many of those films are made in Hollywood, any more. Most films now made in Hollywood are made keeping 12-year-olds in mind. They don’t really appeal to me when I watch them, but that said, there are also two-three great films that emerge from the studio system and I’d love to do those. But, in a sense, I’m pretty happy with where I am as a filmmaker. It’s fantastic to have the freedom and independence to do the work you want to do and find the money to do that, even if it’s not a huge amount. I’d rather be doing that than working in a system, because (laughs) I have my own strong ideas about things and don’t really like being told what to do.

So, no superhero movies for you?

JM: (Laughs) Well, I would do one if it were truly subversive, but I think those kind of films are made for the lowest common denominator and denigrate entertainment. As a filmmaker, I’m not sure I’ll be very good at doing that sort of a thing. I wouldn’t want to spend two years of my life working against a green screen with people in strange costumes walking in front of it. (laughs) That would be kind of boring.

What are you upto next?

JM: My next movie is an independent American film, and it’s a comedy, (laughs) but a very cruel and nasty one. It’s inspired by one of those great American true crime stories that can only happen in America, I guess. It’s about a beauty queen who is getting older and gets her dumb boyfriend to kidnap the richest man of that small town for ransom, failing to receive which, they plan to bury him alive. I’ve been working on the screenplay with a writer at the moment. The actress in the story is British though — Carrey Mulligan. I think she’s a great actress and does a very good American accent. I’ve wanted to work with her for quite some time, and she liked the script. I’m glad to moving away from thrillers and documentaries on this one!

 

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on October 16, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/mumbai-film-festival-in-conversation-with-oscar-winner-james-marsh-492067.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Interview: American filmmakers Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman #Firstpost #Film

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In conversation with The Words directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal 

Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal are an American writer-director duo. They wrote 2010’s Tron: Legacy and have recently written and directed their first movie, The Words, about a writer who has to deal with the consequences of plagiarising someone’s work, and that features a star-studded cast including Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde and Dennis Quaid.

The film, whose script was developed at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, also had its world premiere at the 2012 edition of the Sundance Film Festival and is now premiering at the Mumbai Film Festival. In the interview, the duo talks about the rights and wrongs of plagiarism, the process of collaboration and how Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali has inspired a scene in their movie.

 

Before we start talking about the movie, I’m interested in knowing your personal takes on plagiarism. Having made a movie on the topic, do you overanalyse your work now?

Brian Klugman (BK): Not really, because I think, we are all subconsciously inspired by the writers and artistes we see and read. But stealing someone’s work verbatim is certainly a cardinal sin for writers.

Lee Sternthal (LS): Yeah, I feel the question about plagiarism is: At what point does something become outright thievery? At what point does it go from being inspiration to being something you have copied, so to speak? I’ll give you an example here. Brian loves and speaks a lot about the films of Satyajit Ray, and they are a huge influence on him. There’s actually a scene in our movie that we ended up cutting out later, which was inspired by Ray’s Pather Panchali. In the scene, Bradley Cooper’s character is on the bus, going to work, and he’s got so much hope in it. And then later, he’s coming back on the same bus and he’s totally broken.

So here, we’re quoting Ray’s work as inspiration. We used his scenes as a, sort of, jumping off point for our own work. And so, hopefully, in being inspired, we have used that work that came before us to discover our own voice and what we are trying to say. So that’s a good thing – when your engagement with somebody’s work inspires you to push yourself to discover what you are trying to say, as opposed to copying down something to get a result – that’s  bad.

BK: I think art was anyway intended to be a dialogue, you know.

You guys you have had this script for 12 years. What was the starting point for it, and what made you both sure that this was the right project to debut with as directors?

BG: We set out as much to talk about plagiarism as we, kind of, wanted to address the realities of being an artiste and the realities of being a man, and being confronted with your own limitations. It actually started off as a conversation about writers who’ve lost their work, especially Earnest Hemingway, whose wife accidentally left some of his manuscripts on a train. So Lee and I really got into this conversation that made us think about how Hemingway would have reacted and what would have happened to the man who’d have found them? It was an incredibly fertile ground, so over the years, we kept coming back to this project.

LS: We saw a very personal connection to the film and to the character that Bradley Cooper plays in it, a young ambitious writer, who cheats himself out of the possibility of finding out how good he can be, when he plagiarises a story. We also connected to the character of the old man, played by Jeremy Irons, whose work disappeared from his life long ago, and when he confronts it again, he is also confronted with his past. It was just something very real and something we really wanted to tell. BG: And then, as we moved forward, there were elements of real life that made it more interesting for us: the film is also a kind of comment on our society in general, a comment on this desire of getting everything immediately, the desire of getting an immediate gratification. So we connected to the many layers the story had.

Isn’t it a big gamble to be co-directing with your best friend? When did you guys first click as a collaborative team?

BG: Well, we have been friends since we were kids, so, I guess, we started making stuff up together since a very young age. I think that kind of history has been incredibly helpful to us in collaborating in that we never really talked about the details of how we would go about this. We never really outlined how it would work, we never defined it…  it was just a very natural thing for us to do.

LS: You know, when it’s two people instead of one, people just want to know who wins the fights (laughs). But it’s not about that – before we actually got this film, before we did anything actually, we were constantly having all sorts of conversations and arriving at a single vision of what we both wanted to do. So when we got into filmmaking, the most important thing was to have one voice, so people arne’t getting two different messages from us. And we communicated the same that to all the people we were trying to work with, whether behind the camera or in front of the camera. We are two different people with two different perspectives, but we really respect each other and we enjoy finding the middle ground. That makes it worthwhile and that’s the joy of it.

Do you guys compartmentalize by departments or do you take a decision on everything together?

LS: We collaborate on everything together, but are there things Brian does better than me? Yeah, there a lot of things (laughs).

BK: I think, in filmmaking, no rule can be steadfast because it is such an incredibly improvisational process. But when you are on set, it’s probably the best to have one voice coming out, and one person speaking to the cast and crew. So, in general, Lee and I settle on a single message for the actors, for the cinematographer, and so on – we collaborate on everything and then go separately on delivering these messages in our own ways.

LS: Brian has a lot of experience as an actor… so he is really good with them and really understands what the actors are going through. On the other hand, I enjoy getting into the technical aspects more… whether its the design aspects, the cinematography and things like that. So there is no steadfast rule, but these are the kind of things we gravitate towards, based on our skill set and personalities.

You guys were writers for quite long, before you decided to take up direction. How did your strengths as a writer help you during direction?

BK: I think they are two different beasts but they definitely are connected. When you are a director, it is a wonderful tool in your toolbox if you are a writer as well, you know… especially when you are dealing with budgetary constraints. To be able to write yourself out of certain situations, is a wonderful skill to have.

LS:  I think, as a writer you have a certain degree of luxury of sitting and thinking about things. For example, if a problem comes up that you don’t know how to deal with, you just come back to it later. But when you are directing a film, especially a low budget film, where you don’t have as much time and money, you really don’t have that luxury. If a problem comes up, you have to come to an agreement and make a decision and go with that. And that’s kind of the thrill of it too, you know. That’s really exciting.

For a film shot in $ 6 million and in 25 days, how did you guys even manage to get such a star-studded cast?

LS: Well, no one told us that we couldn’t (chuckles)! And that’s what it was. Bradley’s our childhood friend, he liked the script and agreed to do it. And then, an executive producer on the film had worked with Jeremy irons before. She passed the script to Jeremy and when he got interested and came on board, we suddenly had two huge actors of each of their generations in an independent film! That made the movie interesting to people, and all of a sudden, Dennis Quaid wanted to come in, and then we got Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde and wonderful character actors like John Hannah and JK Simmons to come in too. So we got really fortunate – once it started happening, people just wanted to come in and be a part of it!

Bradley Cooper is both the lead actor and executive producer of the film. Isn’t that a tricky situation to be in?

BK: No, not at all. You’ll see that a lot, but in our case, it was really nice to have an actor who wanted to help your project. When you are making an independent movie, a huge portion of it is just trying to get it off the ground and getting actors to read it, especially if it’s your first film. So to have an executive producer who is also an actor in the movie and wants to help get in made was very fortunate.

LS: And you know, we’ve known each other for such a long time that there was a lot of trust between us. The foundation was collaboration and after that, things were only really good.

You’ve got two projects lined up – Break My Heart 100 Times and Johnny Depp’s Rex Mundi. Tell us about them, and also about your dream project, if you have one.

BK: Break My Heart is a young adult novel that’s got a wonderful story. It’s an emotional thriller and it’s got a lot of scope to it and we are rewriting to direct it. The Johnny Depp movie is something we are working on as writers. It’s an incredibly exciting epic piece set in alternate history, in Paris in the 1940s.

LS: It’s sort of like Raiders of the Lost Arc, it’s that kind of a fun adventure. And you know, for Brian and I, we always really enjoyed the idea of telling epic stories. So we are writing this one, but at some point of time, we’d like to direct such a movie too.

BK: Yeah, I would love to make an Indian Jones kind of a movie at some point of time. It meant so much to me as a kid but I don’t think we have the knowledge to pull that off yet.

 

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on October 21, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/living/mumbai-film-festival-in-conversation-with-writers-of-tron-legacy-on-their-directing-debut-497670.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: American filmmaker Marshall Lewy #Firstpost #Film #Indie

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In conversation with California Solo director Marshall Lewy 

Marshall Lewy is an American independent writer-director whose new movie, Robert Carlyle-starrer California Solo was an official selection at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and is now premiering at the Mumbai Film Festival.

California Solo is the story of a former Britpop rocker who faces deportation from Los Angeles after staying their many years, and has to confront the demons of his past and present. Marshall, who has worked with an Indian producer on his first film, Anna Paquin and Breckin Mayer starrer, Blue State, and has lived his fantasy of visiting a film studio in Mumbai 10 years ago, talks about writing a script in 16 days, working with the powerhouse performer Robert Carlyle and why he finds political themes interesting

 

How does one manage to write a script in 16 days? That’s sort of a superpower.

Marshall Lewy (ML): (Laughs) It was actually a story I’ve been thinking about for a few months, and there’s actually another film of mine that had fallen apart and this film came out of the ashes of that one. I just wrote this because I really wanted to have a film at Sundance and I think it was from a lack of caring in the sense that I wasn’t worried about what would happen with it. I had this little idea about a certain guy who gets into trouble because of immigration and the steps he has to take to stay in the country and that these steps lead him down his personal path as well, and I think with that as my map, it became easy for me to write it quickly. So, I actually didn’t write it that fast because it was a singular experience where I had spent a while thinking about it and then because the story was very clear to me, I was able to write it very quickly. Some other screenplays I have written are about more complicated stories so they take longer to figure out.

If you had Sundance in mind, what made you attempt a drama in the limited time you had? The assumption would be that it’s far easier to make a romantic comedy like first movie, Blue State, than a drama.

ML: Yeah, you would think it’s faster to write a rom-com, but the thing about a rom-com is that even though it’s more likely to happen, it’s also more difficult to make one that’s original. With Blue State, for example, I really tried to take the romantic comedy structure and use it to tell a political story, to do something a little bit different. And to be honest, I haven’t had a lot of interest in going back to that structure because it’s been done so often, unless I come up with an idea that’s very fitting and very interesting.

You dealt with borders and deportation in Blue State too, and now California Solo is also thematically similar. What’s your fascination with that subject?

ML: (Chuckles) I don’t know, actually, because funnily, my next film, Exodus is also thematically similar. It’s actually a heist movie but it’s about people who steal money and move to a Caribbean island and you know, cut all their ties with their past. So the fascination… I think, there’s something personal in each of the films I make, but I do treat the subjects differently, like California Solo is very different in tone from Blue State, which was a comedy. Both have similarity in that both are very focused on character, and a portrait of a person who is searching, and is denying their past, who are lost in their lives, and their circumstances are carrying them towards a greater acceptance of their reality.

But the best reason I can think about why I keep coming back to these ideas of crossing borders and pushing yourself to be on your limits in some geographical way, is that for a long time I’ve had the ‘Grass is greener’ syndrome. I think there’s something better on the other side I’m missing out on (laughs) and that I should be a part of.

Another theme common in both movies is that they both make strong political statements. Are you an overly political person?

ML: Not overly… I did volunteer and work for the John Kerry campaign for an year so some of Blue State was from my experience – going door to door, actually driving to Ohio to do that, but I didn’t actually move to Canada like the character in Blue State. So the most political thing I’ve ever done in my life is making a movie on politics (laughs).

So I think, in general, I want to say something in the films I make, and I think with blue state and that particular time In America, it felt very important to say something explicitly political, and in California Solo, there’s a lot of very interesting angles under discussion about immigration policies and the bureaucracy that can be very inhuman in a lot of cases. In the story, Robert Carlyle’s character is a permanent legal resident, he has a green card and been living in the US for over 20 years and yet he faces deportation. A lot of people who’ve seen the movie and who have a green card and assumed that they were as good as being a citizen, which is sort of the conventional wisdom, didn’t even know this was possible. I was less inclined this time around to have overly political statements being made, and hence decided to make it a bit understated, but I would still hope that all my films say something about the world, even if they’re carried in a different sort of vessel.

You wrote the film specially keeping Robert Carlyle in mind. What is it about Robert as an actor that made you write for him? 

ML: I’ve always liked him – he’s a guy who has played very sympathetic and compassionate characters, and he’s also often played villainous and angry characters. He’s very well known for Begbie in Trainspotting, he was this crazy person in The Beach, he’s on TV right now on Once Upon a Time as Rumplestilskin. So something about bring those two together – having that anger and danger lurking under somebody who’s otherwise charming and affable was something I thought I hadn’t seen as much, so I thought he’d fit into the character I had in mind. And through the years, I’ve always thought he is a great actor and that he should be playing leads in American movies. So the idea of taking someone who’s such a great Scottish actor and putting him at the heart of an American independent film set in LA was interesting to me.

How do you go about directing an accomplished actor like Robert Carlyle? He’s also actually friends with many Britpop artistes – so what did he bring into the role from his end?

ML: I was certainly very open to the idea that it was a collaboration between us, especially in a film like this which is such a character study. I based the film on some of the great character study films of the ‘70s and the ‘80s like Kramer vs Kramer, Tender Mercies, etc. So while it’s obviously my job as a director to steer the ship of the film, I was very aware of giving Robert the space to inhabit the character and bring his ideas, and it was just fun to watch him.

Every actor’s going to bring a lot but Robert, in particular, brought a lot of stuff to this role because I he actually knows Britpop artistes – the Gallagher brothers from Oasis are his friends. That’s also one of the reasons I cast him was because Trainspotting and The Full Monty happened at the peak of the Britpop era. So he became famous at the time when the character in California Solo was supposed to have become famous, in that very scene. So he brought a lot of those details to the movie – the idea always was that certain bands and songs have been really huge in the UK and not so much in the US, so that’s why there was a chance for him to hide out in the US, because he doesn’t want to go home.

This film was made on a really small budget. Do you think in terms of budget when writing a script?

ML: Yeah, I’m always aware, I always think about where I want the script to go, what the intention is. If it’s a script if I think I’m writing and I’m directing and if I might have a hand in putting the project together then yeah, I think about it. So in California Solo, I was aware that I wanted a script that I could make even if I didn’t have that much money to make it. I wrote it with that in mind and tried to keep it to locations that I knew in LA… a lot of the locations are just a few miles from where I live and I knew there would be favours to ask for and friends I could get in touch with (chuckles), so I could make it for as little money as possible. Whereas in the other stories that I write, if the story and my intention dictates that it’s going to be a much bigger movie, I am not worrying about the money and I’m trying to make it as big as I can, because that will probably get more interesting.

What’s the learning from your first indie film that helped you here? Are these movies leading up to a bigger budget mainstream Hollywood film?

ML: One of the most important things was picking the right crew and collaborators – to really try and find people who I shared a common vision with, and with whom I felt like we were all making the same movie. So being able to really trust all the people I was working with was really nice.

But yeah, I think, someday I’d be happy to make a big budget movie but I like them both and I don’t feel like smaller movies are a step – or that every film has to be bigger than the last one. That’s especially not the case in today’s world, because it keeps getting cheaper and more possible to make better smaller films. So if I had $50 million, for example, I’d rather make ten $5 million movies than one $50 million movie (laughs).

Tell us about Exodus and Born to Run, your future projects.

ML: Born to Run is a book I read early on through my agent, before it came out and became a bestseller. I optioned the book and started working on it, without knowing it would become a phenomenon. Peter Saarsgard, the actor, also read the book and fell in love with it so he got in touch, wanting to  get involved as a director. So we did some sittings in a room, spoke a lot on the phone, and collaborated on the project, where I was always working on, only as a writer. The book’s based ona  true story, so it was a really fun time working on something like that.

I also have another project lined up based on a true story, called The Imposter’s Daughter. That’s a graphic memoir about a woman who find out that her father, who she’s always looked up to, is a con artist and a fraud. So the story’s about her uncovering the truth about what her father’s upto her whole life.

As for Exodus, it’s the same larger project that had fallen through before California Solo happened. It’s thankfully happening now and we plan to shoot sometime next year. As I said, it’s basically a ‘paradise lost’ sort of a film – about what happens to and between these guys who’ve stolen some money and moved to the Carribean Islands.

 

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on October 23, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/mumbai-film-festival-director-marshall-lewy-on-his-latest-film-california-solo-499501.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: American filmmaker James Ponsoldt #Firstpost #Film #Indie

Mumbai Film Festival 2012: In Conversation with Sundance winner James Ponsoldt on his movie, Smashed

James Ponsoldt is an American independent filmmaker whose first movie, 2006’s Off The Black, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Six years later, he’s out with his new film, Smashed, that not only premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival but also won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic.

Smashed, which is premiering at the Mumbai Film Festival, and stars Die Hard 4’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, is a comedy-drama about an alcohol-loving couple whose marriage faces a tough test when the wife decides to get sober. Ponsoldt, who says that his love for American musicals stemmed from his love for “Bollywood’s song and dance”, talks about making American indies, the importance of humour in tragedy, and why Satyajit Ray was a major influence on him to take up filmmaking.

 

In your first movie, Off The Black, Nick Nolte played an alcoholic, self-destructive character, and in your new movie, Smashed, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character is quite similar. What attracts you to these characters as a writer?

I think everybody, sort of, has their demons that haunt them and that they struggle with and I’m endlessly fascinated by this struggle. (Chuckles) Obviously, there’s nothing about alcoholism that seems exotic to me, it’s just something that so many of the people I love have grappled with it, and I’m really interested in such stories about profoundly flawed characters, with good hearts, who want to fix themselves. It doesn’t matter to me if the path they are on is, you know (chuckles), the right path, in that they could be totally misguided but I think it’s very inspiring and hopeful when someone tries to be better person so he/she can give, and receive, love better to the people around them.

I’ve read Smashed was going to be a comedy earlier but in development, the story evolved to something serious. How did you maintain the essence of the first draft of the script?

It was very important for us that, first and foremost, the story feels honest. We didn’t want to write something funny if it wasn’t (chuckles) funny. We knew that the story deals with a very serious subject matter, alcoholism, but our approach was always that we wanted to be very human, warm, gentle and compassionate and have empathy for the characters, and wherever there is an opportunity for humour, which basically could be good-intentioned people trying to be kind to each other but just not connecting with other people, we explored that place. A lot of people think that a movie about a heavy topic like alcoholism is something you can’t make light or, or that you have to treat very seriously, but I disagree. I think, as long as you are coming from a place of honesty and respect, you can find humour in everything. And you should. It’s important that we process pain and grief through humour, and connect with people through that.

How did you go about infusing humour in a sensitive subject like alcoholism? Was that the biggest challenge at the script level?

Well, it was hard (laughs). I tend to start with characters before plot… characters that are real, and three-dimensional, and complicated. We’re all complicated, we all have our own neuroses, our own hypocrisies, and I love films that celebrate this fact. So, as long as people are truthfully reacting to what’s around them, the audience would potentially go with these characters anywhere. And I think a part of the reason we watch films is that we get to go to places and do things we otherwise never would, and most of our films are about characters making bad choices and having to deal with the consequences. Personally, I’m not interested in passing judgement on the characters, and there’s no central message that I hope for the audience to take away. I think life can be hard but if there’s a real generosity and a central kindness and decency to people, people would enjoy spending time in the world of the film and take their own message away from it.

It’s interesting to hear your thoughts about humour, especially since I’ve read that your comedy idols are Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton. But their style of comedy is worlds apart from yours.

You know, I love the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton Charlie Chaplin, Harold Llyod, and others like them, and what I think is really great about them is that they were sad clowns. In fact, I think all clowns are sad clowns and they help us see the duality of life – the joy and the pain. There’s a lot of clichéd things about how interlinked comedy and tragedy are. Some people say comedy is just tragedy played twice as fast or that in films, comedy is tragedy seen from a wide shot. What I think is that if you can identify with the character, it will hurt when they are hurt and your heart will break when their heart is broken or when the fall literally or metaphorically. And I’m very interested in stories that walk a very fine line                between comedy and drama, or stories where the audience isn’t sure whether they are seeing a comedy or a drama, and I think it’s okay if they are, (chuckles) uncomfortable. I like films that relish an opportunity to put an audience at a place where they might find themselves laughing at the most painful moments or empathising in the funniest moments. And I think that’s life. It’s not just a comedy or a tragedy, but both.

Off The Black was made in 23 days and Smashed was made in 19 days. With such time constraints hat come as part of being an independent filmmaker, how do you go about the shoot? Did the learnings from Off the Black make Smashed easier to shoot?

Yes, of course, if we could have had an extra week in both of those, I’m sure we would have found ways to use the time (laughs). And that’s what I’ve learnt from my experience – that time is the most precious commodity on a film. So I took advantage of every free second that we had in Smashed.  I think, not having enough time forces you to be very specific and focussed, and to make clear decisions. Big movies think they can solve their problems just be throwing money at them and no one ever has to make a clear decision. But when you don’t have money and the clock is ticking, and the money is essentially burning (laughs), it forces you to question what your intent is, what your story is actually about and what your characters actually want, and that’s very helpful.

Also, you spend a lot of time in pre-production with the actors and crew so you are in sync with what we were trying to do. For my second film, I was just looking for collaborators and people who share my value system, but that would challenge me to do better. I try to surround myself, as much as possible, with people who are more intelligent and talented than I am (laughs), so, hopefully, it would bring the best out of me and the film.

In such a short time span, especially with a film like Smashed that depends so much on performances, how do you bring about the intimacy between the actors?

I spent a lot of time with Mary, both developing the character and having her spend time with people who had dealt with alcoholism. And then I just had her and Aaron spend time together. More than rehearsals, it was them going out and getting lunch, talking and drinking and spending time the way a married couple would that helped them, and generally helps actors develop trust, which is the most important thing for me. And then I spend time with them to develop my trust with them too, and then we can all, (chuckles) sort of, go to emotionally vulnerable places together.

I also like to cast actors who are brilliant and interesting, and who have wonderful imaginations. I don’t micromanage or tell them what to do. I look for actors from television, Hollywood blockbusters and small independent films all over the word and I think there are some great actors, who I feel may be on a particular medium or who may work in a particular genre but could be doing well somewhere else just as easily, if they get the chance. I cast Mary because for this part, I needed an emotionally strong person whom the audience go on a journey with, as opposed to pitying her. And she’s played these characters in action films who are physically strong but I thought were also strong emotionally. And I cast Aaron because he’s so brilliant on Breaking Bad.

You mentioned watching all kinds of genres on film and TV. Were you always interested in all kinds of cinema, growing up? If yes, what genre would your dream project be of?

That’s a tough question (laughs). I saw a lot of films when I was young. But interestingly, the Apu films and all of (Satyajit) Ray’s films, especially Aparajito, were a big inspiration to me. I saw them when I was 17 or 18 years old, around the same time I saw 400 Blows by (Francois) Truffaut. And I was so struck by them because they just felt so mature, honest and wise, you know. I felt like that the person telling the story understood human nature because I had found a connection to the characters. And the big fun Hollywood movies I watched as a kid me feel different, like I was seeing some part of myself and my own struggles and fears on screen. And I guess that was what excited me about making movies, you know – the way a part of me that was a lonely, confused teenager, who was trying to figure things out, connected with those movies, I hoped that I could make films that could connect with some other (laughs) confused young person who is trying to figure things out for themselves. So that they would know that they weren’t alone in the world and that they were feeling what other people were feeling. It’s so exciting to me that a film made in India in the 1950s connected to me in Georgia in the US in the 1990s, and I think, that’s the real goal of any kind of art… to convey an emotion to another person who doesn’t know you.

As for me, I’m interested in small, relationship films but I’m also interested in big action movies! I connect with movies where there are characters I can relate to and where there are relationships where I feel the stakes are high, where the stakes are life and death. So even if I make a huge genre film about aliens from outer space (laughs), I will try and find relationships in them that are meaningful and that resonate in my life and among people that I know.

What’s your next movie going to be? You must be getting all sorts of big budget offers after the amazing reception and awards at Sundance?

(laughs) Yes, I’m getting quite a few screenplays but I’m just grateful that I’m getting to work consistently, actually. In fact, I’m in the middle of editing my next movie that I’ve already shot over the summer. The movie’s called The Spectacular Now and is based on a brilliant and celebrated young-adult novel. It’s the most genuine story about adolescence that I’ve ever read in my life. Like I mentioned, the Apu films by Ray and Truffaut’s films were great because they weren’t really about any specific time or any specific country. They were about a transcendent time in a character’s life and simple stories about growing up, falling in love or having your heart broken. I believe The Spectacular Now’s script, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is quite like that and it’s a real honour to make that film.

 

Note: This interview first appeared on Firstpost.com on October 12, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/mumbai-film-festival-in-conversation-with-sundance-winner-james-ponsoldt-493601.html

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: American filmmaker Richard Linklater #Film #Indie

Is there an easy way to introduce Richard Linklater? An icon of American independent cinema, often credited with paving the way for the era of low-budget, light-comic, self-exploratory gen-X movies, Linklater’s legacy as a writer-director is deep and varied, his films fiercely original and undeniably interesting. He has managed to forge an inspiring film career by living and operating at the periphery of the American film industry in the era of clone blockbusters, and is one of the few remaining high-profile filmmakers who work not for money, but for the love of cinema.

Before Midnight, the long-awaited third film in Linklater’s utterly beautiful and romantic Before… series starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, released across the world earlier this year, premiering in India at the recently- concluded Mumbai Film Festival. In his first ever interview with an Indian publication, over the phone from his home in Austin, Texas, the director of cult classics like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life and School of Rock offers an insight into his mind and craft. And he’s just as amiable and charming as every one of his films. Excerpts:

Q In the 18 years it’s taken to complete the Before… trilogy, how has your idea of love personally changed?

A Now that I think of it, for Julie [Delpy], Ethan [Hawke] and I, making these films sort of introduced [to us] this subject of long term relationships and the definition of love or what love even means. That’s become the subject of our lives, you know. I find myself reading a book on that or reading articles or statistical data on couples.

Movies are like that—when you are making a movie, you tend to feel that you are doing a Masters [degree in] whatever the situation is. Over two decades now, this subject [has] really made me follow notions of relationships of long term, and question how things change and how things remain the same.

I don’t know if that’s an answer, but it’s definitely a subject in our lives and I’m always constantly thinking, ‘Oh this could be good if we ever do another movie—this notion or piece of information’.

So we can look at it both emotionally and scientifically, and we have our own lives going on with our long term partners, and it’s involved in there too.

Q In this time, how has the idea of love changed for Hollywood? Is ‘romance’ still relevant today?

A (laughs) I don’t know. I mean, the first film, Before Sunrise, wouldn’t happen today, or at least in the same way. It certainly wouldn’t have the same result, like they wouldn’t exchange numbers. I mean, they would get each other’s emails or texts, you know. People communicate differently today. That film was a little old fashioned even then.

I don’t think young people would approach love the same way [now], but I still think the core of that movie—two people meeting, that moment of attraction, of falling in love—that never goes away. That’s relevant. That was relevant 500 years ago and will be relevant 500 years from now. Nothing’s going to change in that area between people. There is something about that that is eternal, but the details of it change generation to generation.

But I can honestly say that Before Midnight covers an area that is not covered a whole lot in movies today, for obvious reasons. It’s not about the beginning of a relationship, it’s not about the end of a relationship. It’s about when they are having their problems. It’s kind of the middle area, which is not often used as subject matter for something in the romantic realm. It’s not very commercial. You don’t see a lot of compelling films made on this. Hollywood would never touch these films.

We have a low budget, and we make these independently, so we can do whatever we want and express things that don’t need to fit into a Hollywood romantic comedy construct. We can make something that we feel is much more honest, but we know we don’t have a huge audience for these movies. We just kind of figure our audience might appreciate some of the blunt honesty (laughs) of our characters in their situation.

Q I’m also asking about love in the time of the movie studio, because the Before… trilogy is one of the few movies where romance is real and uncontrived. How did you manage that?

A That’s a compliment, thank you. I think it’s just the approach. It’s what you are going for, you know? What is real? I don’t pretend any of it is actually real. I mean, they are not documentaries; they are actually scripted and rehearsed excessively, very well thought out, very constructed.

But the effect I am going for in the viewer’s mind is [for them] to accept it as some kind of reality, to feel like it’s real.

I don’t know if people want to feel that way. I like going to movies often, going into someone’s unreality. When you go into a Tim Burton film or a James Cameron film, you will enjoy being in their reality, [which] you know is not real but it’s wonderful. I’m not asking people to be in some kind of parallel reality, but to relate to [a film] on a closer level.

That’s what I love about the way people perceive movies. I kind of like that a film could be anything and mean something different to every one; it just has to be true to the story you’re trying to tell. People just come along for the ride.

Q When Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and you got together to write Before Midnight, how did you find common ground for it, considering that you might all have been in different places emotionally after 18 years?

A I think we just incorporate our different moods, you know. Whatever changes in character or whatever vibe you get from this movie that’s different from the last one probably reflects our changing mood, the atmosphere, the things we’ve all been through. I’ve tried to incorporate our personal reality into this film, into something that’s real for Jesse and Celine.

I think Ethan, Julie and I trust each other artistically, so we don’t have to work too hard to find common ground. I think we are all trying to be honest when we write something that means something to us. Julie not feeling good about something or being paranoid about something, you know, some of that might find its way into the movie. Or if Ethan is feeling creatively satisfied and has such ideas, then we’ll work that in. So we’re kind of basing the film on where we are at, to some degree. Our writing sessions were like comedic therapy (laughs). We’d sit around, laugh a lot, and just talk for hours and hours.

Q How would you say you have evolved as a writer and director in these 18 years?

A You know that’s a good question, because I don’t know if I have that much (chuckles). Stylistically my movies are still very similar—well, I do that on purpose—but I don’t know if I’ve matured that much. With anything you do, you get a little more confident, you get a little more experienced. I guess that’s all good, but I don’t feel I have changed significantly. I think my concerns are pretty much very similar. What I’m getting at is that I’m always surprised I’m much more similar than different.

I would say the same about Jesse and Celine: it’s not so much how they have changed; it’s really more interesting how they have stayed the same. And to think of it, am I that different than I was at 24? I am more mature and more experienced, of course. Life has a way of doing that whether you like it or not. But the gist of my life, what I’m interested in, what I care about, artistically, it’s still kind of similar.

Q You’ve mentioned that your films are semi-autobiographical. How many movies do you think you’ll need to express all facets of yourself completely?

A (Laughs) Well that’s really the question, isn’t it? I don’t know. I wonder if Ingmar Bergman [would say] at the end of his life… that he expressed himself completely in his movies. I don’t know if that’s even possible, if any filmmaker is totally satisfied. [Michelangelo] Antonioni, towards the end of his life I think, finally wrote a book [That Bowling Alley On The Tiber: Tales Of A Director] to say, ‘Here’s 30 movies I’ll never make.’ He had ideas, and a few pages about each of them. A book about unrealised movies—I could do that book now. I have 10-15 unrealised films (chuckles).

But to answer your question, you’d have to make, like, a hundred. Every film does say something. In every one, you are communicating something. But that’s sort of the challenge artistically, isn’t it? To try to express what you want to express. And some novelists or writers have perhaps spent thousands of pages trying to do that. I admire people though who kind of say, ‘No, I’ve said all that I have to say,’ and [then] quit writing, quit making movies, quit painting or quit making music. But I don’t really believe it. I don’t think you can retire from expressing yourself.

Q Do you write to discover something about yourself or do you already have philosophies you centre your films around?

A To be honest, I am always trying to discover something. I don’t look forward to the day that I have some knowledge to impart. If I have something worth making, it’s something I [either] have mixed feelings about or am trying to discover something about, or I’m not totally sure what I think about it, and that’s why I think it makes it fertile ground to try to make a movie.

To make a movie about something, specifically, that I definitely have strong feelings about and then [to] convey them exactly—that’s a lot less interesting, I think. Things you have strong opinions about find their way into the general tone and core of the movie anyway.

Films are truly much more about the exploration of your thought and lot of exploration is just the process of making a movie. And I’m inclined to think that everybody feels that way. I wonder if [Alfred] Hitchcock felt that way. Was he just physically manifesting what he had all planned out or was he discovering his deeper feelings about the subjects that he made [films about]? For example, in Vertigo. I don’t think anyone just renders something they’ve just printed out, as much as they try.

Q Your movies are very dialogue heavy, and that goes against the conventional wisdom of cinema, except if you are, say, Woody Allen. Why is dialogue so important to you?

A I don’t know. You’re right; that is Film School 101. (In a stern voice) ‘Don’t talk about things, show it’ (laughs). It is a visual medium.

The first time I turned on a camera and heard the characters, I thought that people talking revealed a lot; that was as interesting as any landscape.

I’m not that verbal myself. I’m not much of a good talker; I’m more of a listener.

When you fall in love with cinema, it’s usually visually, but it’s just the way you evolve. Like I said, I’m as surprised as anyone!

When I was making my first film, I thought strictly in visual technical terms; I wasn’t thinking so much dialogues or character, even though I had a background in theatre. I should have known that was coming.

I never improvise on camera. Never. Ever. That’s never made sense to me, I don’t know how to do that. It’s always very scripted and rehearsed. You know, it can be a loose idea, I can sit with the actors, but by the time the cameras are rolling, we have worked it out. We know what we’re doing. I don’t leave it to chance.

Q Even with your fascination with dialogue, you don’t just direct to, say, deliver the poetry of a script, as in the case of an Aaron Sorkin movie. You take direction very seriously, don’t you?

A Yeah, I mean, cinema is the most important.

I remember every movie of mine having a little cinematic scheme in mind—visually. I mean, I’m not, like, uber-stylist; I’m not that interested in that. But I do really believe in a cinematic design to the story you’re telling. And you spend a lot of time to work on it. I think people who come strictly from writing backgrounds, might not think that way.

But I always felt that it was primarily a director’s job to think cinematically, in terms of pictures and stuff, you know? What’s the particular tone, style, approach to a movie—I’d have really strong rules in that area. I plan all that, even though, again, it doesn’t drive too much attention to it I hope.

But, you know, it’s about creating a parallel world of characters and trying to make that work when it all comes together in the movie. I don’t see anything as separate; [it is] all part of the same thing, which is trying to tell the story appropriately, and that’s different from film to film.

Q Comedy has also always been an important part of your films, even when you are dealing with subject matter as serious as death (Bernie) or drugs (Waking Life).

A I think it’s just the way I see the world. Everything’s funny, you know! I’ve done a lot of comedies where most of what I do is pretty comedic, but Bernie was a challenge because it is about death. There is some dark subject matter swirling around that movie. But I think to make that a consistent comedy was a real challenge. That world’s so much like ours, even though it’s tragic [and] there’s a lot of ups and downs. I think it’s not a bad way to see the world through a comedic lens. Whatever tragedy, hardship or struggle, comedy is a pretty good way to offset it. And not more consciously—again, that’s just in films—but in the way you naturally see the world, I think, and the way you approach drama too. I just can’t help but see the humour. And I admire that in movies I like.

For example, Raging Bull is a movie that would never be listed as a comedy.

It’s just too dark a subject and what you take away emotionally from that movie is anything but comedy. And yet, if you really sat down in front of it, you would find yourself laughing very consistently throughout that movie.

And I thought that was brilliant! I mean, when I saw that movie, something clicked in me—this was before I was even thinking about making movies [myself].

It’s kind of like how I see the world: in the middle of fights, in the middle of all the horrible stuff, I would have these funny thoughts. Even as a kid, when things were bad, or parents were mad at you, there was always something ridiculous about it, something funny. I always liked that tone.

So even with Before Midnight—people wouldn’t think that film’s a comedy, in fact it’s an extreme opposite of it—when they fight in the movie, Julie and I think that’s pretty funny. Celine and Jesse don’t think it’s funny, far from it; but we, the audience, do. And I like that mixture—a little uncomfortable, a little real. I think it’s the right approach to a movie and to life.

Q Do you ever find it surprising that living in Austin, outside of Hollywood and the studio system, you have managed to have such a spectacular career?

A Yeah, well that would be my point of view—and I guess it’s yours—but Hollywood wouldn’t look at it that way. They would look at my career as an underachievement or a failure, you know. Whatever (chuckles). It’s all perspective.

When I go to LA, I do feel like a nobody, because I don’t fit into that world so well, you know. I haven’t made all that money. What I mean is that our concerns are not exactly the same. They are sometimes, yes, but it’s nothing I think about a lot.

It’s just the way it all worked out. I’m lucky to live in my own bubble and managed to make a life and living out of my kind of cinema. I’ve been lucky to get a lot of films made, because it’s hard to do, and it’s harder to do today. I think I came around at the right time. It would be tougher to get started now, doing what I’ve been able to do.

Q What would it take for you to come back to the studios? A superhero film?

A (Laughs) I don’t know about super heroes, but I’m always on the lookout for comedies. You know, when you are trying to get a story told, some need a bigger budget and studio backing because some are inherently more commercial. So obviously, I’m not averse to that.

School of Rock and Bad News Bears are good examples in the last 10 years of times I found myself way into a story where I felt I could express [something] or I was the right director for, but those are probably the only two films [I have done] that maybe would have existed without me. Like, if I wouldn’t have done them, someone else would have. None of my other films would exist as movies, you know, if I wouldn’t have done them. But those two, they are part of the system.

But I like the system. It’s nice to have that support. They have $30 million, a 50 day schedule, you can do it right. It’s kind of nice to have the—if you’re lucky enough—subject matter they think it warrants. Usually, I’m in the area where they say, ‘Oh! This isn’t a very commercial movie; we’ve got to do it for nothing!’

That’s okay, but that’s tougher over the years too. Bernie would have been a studio movie 10-15 years ago, but by the time I did it, it was like an [off-beat] independent movie.