Tag Archives: Indie

SPRING (2014): How do you know it’s love? #FILM #RECOMMENDATION

Spring Poster
Spring Poster

It’s been over a week since I saw American indie, SPRING, directed by brilliantly by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, but I haven’t really stopped thinking about it. Love is my favourite genre of all time, but only a few movies have made me reflect over it, and those films need not necessarily be entirely about love at all.

For example, the last film that made me deliberate over love was Spike Jonze’s HER. Unfortunately, I never did end up writing about the film, and I know that Her is about so many larger issues than love – but at its heart, it was about the heart. Because when you think about it, is there really an issue larger than love? Deeper than matters of the heart? Wars have been fought about it, Facebook has been invented over it, wonders of the world have been created for it…

What I really did love about Her – and I think I’ll go back to the film one of these days to feel again what I felt when I first saw it – was that it asked a very pertinent question about love, and attempted to explore the answers to the same: Can love exist beyond bodies? If yes, then can love exist beyond souls too? Of course, in the answer to this question, lies an entire universe of questions about the mind, loneliness, intimacy and sex, which needs to be answered first. And the genius of Her lies in the fact that each one of its viewers would have a different answer to the same, and each one of those answers would be the own, personal truth of that viewer.

Spring, of course, is not nearly as complex as Her, and it doesn’t need to be, because the beauty of the film lies in the simplicity of its theme. But Spring too, raises a pertinent question about an aspect of love that may seem all too simple, but is, in fact, the most complex question, perhaps, of all time: How do you know it’s love? And as an extension to the same: *When* do you know it’s love?

I cannot continue any further without mild spoilers about the plot, but trust me, as in all romantic films, the movie’s not really about the climax at all, but about the journey towards it. Spring is a genre mash up of a romantic comedy and body horror. It’s Richard Linklater meets David Cronenberg; or Woody Allen meets Guillermo Del Toro. But the terrific thing about the film is that it’s got its own, unique take on love, which is distinctly different to those of the aforementioned masters of cinema.

If you’ve seen the trailer of the film above, you’ll know that Spring is about a guy (the charming Lou Taylor Pucci) who meets a beautiful Italian girl (and my God, Nadia Hilker *is* beautiful) and over multiple nights of a Before Sunrise-esque romance, falls desperately in love with her. But instead of a train that the girl needs to get on, there’s a fantastical, paranormal, biological or perhaps straight-up twisted phenomenon that the girl needs to get with, and her love is tested against this ticking clock, but also by this phenomenon.

To go into the territory of strong spoilers: The girl has a condition wherein she’ll morph into another woman every 20 years (but only after becoming a monster first) and live another life from scratch, unless… she falls in love with somebody. And that’s the brilliance of Spring: writer Justin Benson possibly worked backwards with the answer to the question of ‘How/when do you know it’s love’ – when you morph into another being – and created this beautiful, quirky horror romcom that leads upto the ‘will she/won’t she’ climax on drugs.

The body horror element of the script is what lends a wonderful weirdness to this odd scifi romcom, but as with Her, at its heart, Spring is not about the body, but about the heart too. It takes the fear and profound anxiety of learning whether or not the person you love, loves you back, and compounds it with the terrifying fantasy element of the worst way to get turned down ever: by getting eaten by the monster that person turns into! But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… as a couple, right?

Lame jokes aside, the gorgeously shot (by Aaron Moorhead) and directed Spring is easily my favourite indie film of the year so far and perhaps will be on the top of my list through 2015, because ultimately, it is about love, in its purest and most heartbreaking form, the love that ‘comes around only a couple of times if you’re lucky.’ And if you’re really lucky, she’ll know that it’s love too.

 

Agree/disagree with the review? Know other films similar to it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
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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.