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5 Films That Influenced Christopher Nolan

By MICHAEL MAHER

Before Christopher Nolan was a blockbuster director, he was a kid who loved movies. Here are the five films he identifies as his biggest influences.

Christopher Nolan has established himself as one of the blockbuster directors of this generation. The skills he has acquired as a filmmaker can be credited to the countless movies he’s seen in his lifetime.

“Movies become indistinguishable from our own memories,” Nolan said in an interview with Wired magazine. “You file them away and they become very personal.”

Here’s a look at how five specific films played a major role in establishing Nolan’s blockbuster worlds.

2001: A Space Odyssey

In May of 1977, Star Wars reinvigorated the world’s love of sci-fi and space films. That summer, theaters in the UK re-released Stanley Kubrick’s space epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“My dad took my brother and me to Leicester Square, which is where you’d find the biggest theaters in London. I remember very clearly just the experience of being transported to another world. I was a huge Star Wars fan at the time. But this was a completely different way of experiencing science fiction. I was seven years old, so I couldn’t claim to have understood the film. I still can’t claim that. But as a seven year old, I didn’t care about understanding the film. I just felt this extraordinary experience of being taken to another world. You didn’t doubt this world for an instant. It had a larger than life quality.

When I tell people this story, they often find it unusual that a child of that age would want to see 2001. But the truth is all of my friends went to see 2001 in the year after Star Wars. We would all sit and talk about what it meant. It was ‘pure cinema.’ The fact that it’s challenging cinema in an intellectual sense doesn’t bother you when you’re a kid. You just appreciate the feeling of the movie.” — Entertainment Weekly

“It just has that sensory stimulation of pure cinema that speaks to people of all ages. People forget kids like it too — because we were all into spaceships.” — Empire Magazine

It’s obvious that 2001 highly influenced Nolan’s Interstellar, but director Stanley Kubrick would be the one that really shaped Nolan as a filmmaker. Not only did Kubrick’s work leave an impression, but so did his personal approach to the craft.

“From a storytelling point of view, from a directing point of view, there is one thing I associate with what he does, which is calm. There is such an inherent calm and inherent trust of the one powerful image, that he makes me embarrassed with my own work, in terms of how many different shots, how many different sound effects, how many different things we’ll throw at an audience to make an impression. But with Kubrick, there is such a great trust of the one correct image to calmly explain something to audience. There can be some slowness to the editing. There’s nothing frenetic about it. It’s very simple. There’s a trust in simple storytelling and simple image making that actually takes massive confidence to try and emulate.” — Entertainment Weekly

It’s not Kubrick’s filmmaking alone either, as the director also influenced Nolan’s approach to studio collaborations.

“I think anyone who is working [for the studios] looks to Kubrick as the great example of someone who is able to make films that were very personal to him, very idiosyncratic, with a great degree of passion, while collaborating with the studios and making what he did fit within the economic models of their times.” — Entertainment Weekly

That mindset has since helped Nolan’s production company, Syncopy, establish itself as a blockbuster powerhouse in a matter of years. Syncopy has collaborated with Legendary Pictures, DC Entertainment, and Warner Bros. to produce films that have hit nearly $4.7 Billion in box office sales — in less than a decade.

Blade Runner

Director Ridley Scott had just blown audiences away with Alien when his 1982 follow-up film, Blade Runner, hit theaters. The films established Scott as a blockbuster filmmaker during Christopher Nolan’s most influential years.

“I have always been a huge fan of Ridley Scott and certainly when I was a kid. Alien, Blade Runner just blew me away because they created these extraordinary worlds that were just completely immersive.” — Media Factory

This film has influenced nearly all of Nolan’s movies. He considers Blade Runner a key touchstone of science fiction. The film’s production design and style were key to establishing the base of Nolan’s Batman universe. Nolan even cast Blade Runner star Rutger Hauer in Batman Begins.

“It’s hard to say what was conscious homage, and what was my analysis of why Blade Runner was so convincing in its production design and in the way it uses its sets. From a pragmatic point of view, Blade Runner is actually one of the most successful films of all time in terms of constructing that reality using sets. On Batman Begins, unlike The Dark Knight, we found ourselves having to build the streets of Gotham in large part. So I immediately gravitated toward the visual treatment that Ridley Scott had come up with, in terms of how you shoot these massive sets to make them feel real and not like impressive sets. And immediately we started looking at the rain, the handheld cameras, the longer lenses…

So myself, my designer Nathan Crowley, and my cinematographer Wally Pfister, we started to throw all of that into the mix of how you can help the look of something, how you can create texture, as Ridley Scott has always been the absolute master of. Creating a texture to a shooting style that maximizes the impact of the set, and minimizes the artifice — the feeling that this world has edges to it that you would see at the edge of the frame. Blade Runner is one of the examples of how you can take a camera and get down and dirty… and really envelop your audience in the atmosphere of the world you’re trying to create. We definitely tried to emulate that style, and I think in doing so we actually created homage, particularly where we used the rain very much.” — Forbes

The Spy Who Loved Me

Released the same year Nolan first watched Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me may be the most well-known Roger Moore Bond film. To the eyes of a kid, this was the coolest Bond ever. To Christopher Nolan, 1977 may have been the greatest year ever.

“One of the first films I remember seeing was The Spy Who Loved Me and at a certain point the Bond films fixed in my head as a great example of scope and scale in large scale images. That idea of getting you to other places, of getting you along for a ride if you can believe in it — in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Lotus Esprit turns into a submarine and its totally convincing, and it works and you go ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’” — IndieWire

Nolan frequently cites this particular Bond film often, but he is a huge fan of Bond films in general. He credits the franchise for creating threats that played on audiences fears.

“Interestingly, the Bond films, back in the 60s, they were very specifically about Cold War fears — They introduced the threat of nuclear terrorism very specifically for the first time in movies and they were closer than people realize, in pop culture terms, to what people feared at the time. And I think that one of the things in taking on an action film set in a great American city post-9/11, if we were going to be honest in terms of our fears and what might threaten this great city, then we were going to come up against terrorism and how that might feature in the universe of Batman. And I think we approached it with a great deal of sincerity.”

It wasn’t only the Dark Knight trilogy that benefitted from the influence of 007. In fact, the closest thing we may get to a Christopher Nolan James Bond film is Inception.

“The Bond influence on the film was very intentional because, for me, growing up with the Bond films — they’ve always stood for grand-scale action.” — BBC

The Spy Who Loved Me was not the only Bond film to be a major influence, as Nolan also cites On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as his favorite Bond film. Overall, it was the world of James Bond that showcased an expansive cinematic universe.

“I think for me, when you look at the idea of being able to create a limitless world and use it almost as a playground for action and adventure and so forth, I naturally gravitate towards cinematic worlds, whether it’s the Bond films and things like that. So without being too self-conscious about it or without too much intention as I was writing it, I certainly allowed my mind to wander where it would naturally and I think a lot of the tropes from different genres of movies, heist films, spy films, that kind of thing, they therefore sort of naturally sit in that world.” — Collider

The Thin Red Line

Terrence Malick‘s 1998 film, The Thin Red Line, is listed as one of Christopher Nolan’s all-time favorite films. The film helped Nolan realize that there were no set boundaries in film editing, which helped him set up the story in Memento.

I also see a lot of attempts to do what I saw Terrence Malick doing, in terms of the portrayal of mental states and memory. If you watch The Thin Red Line, that was a revelation to me. He’s cutting to memories and flashbacks with simple cuts; there are no wavy lines or dissolves. There are moments [in Memento] where Guy’s character is remembering his wife that were taken very much from that film. — Movieline

Superman

“One of the great films that I am very influenced by that we haven’t talked about was Dick Donner’s Superman. It made a huge impression on me.” — The Hollywood Reporter

“Donner took on the character of Superman, he made the image of how people my age saw Superman. I still remember the trailers. I remember going to the cinema to see something else and seeing these epic trailers — the character standing in the cornfield, Marlon Brando’s voice — and that stuck with me.” — IndieWire

One of Nolan’s biggest takeaways from the film was the realistic setting.

“… the world is pretty much the world we live in, but there’s this extraordinary figure there, which is what worked so well in Dick Donner’s Superman film.” — The Hollywood Reporter

“When I talk about reality in these films, it’s often misconstrued as direct reality, but it’s really cinematic reality. It’s about trying to find the translation and credibility in the events and fantastical nature of what is going on.” — IndieWire

That cinematic reality played a huge role in the world of the Dark Knight trilogy, and once again appeared in Superman’s universe with the Man of Steel franchise, which was produced by Nolan.

Finding the Next Lost: What Is an “Operational Theme” and Why Don’t I Have One?

By Javier Grillo–Marxuach

One of the many perks afforded a journeyman writer/producer in television is receiving scripts for network television pilots as they are being made. It’s like the best possible version of the TV Guide Fall Preview Issue I used to compulsively reread under the covers with a flashlight as a kid. Except that now I have the added thrill: if my agents do their job, if I am good in the interview, if a million other moving parts click in the correct order, I help the people who created these shows realize their vision.

This inside window into the totality of network development puts us journeyman television writers and producers in an interesting position to spot and track trends as they develop, fade, or mature. One trend that persists — almost a decade after its inception — is every broadcaster’s ongoing quest to put on the air the next great serialized high–concept sci–fi show: to find the next Lost.
Of course, it seldom works.

My own modest contribution to the evolution of Lost — and having worked on a number of shows with similar goals in the years since — provides something of a vantage point from which to judge the success — and failure — of these attempts. More often than not, it boils down to the presence or absence of a crucial element I call “the operational theme.”

In high school and college, most of us could pick a lofty word or idea and designate it the “theme” of a play or novel: “power,” “alienation,” “banality of evil,” or (my personal favorite) “the shallowness of modern life.” We could then write a coffee–and–Red–Bull–fueled paper, using choice quotes from the partially–skimmed bit of required reading, and have a pretty good shot at not winding up ashamed to show the report card to our parents in the morning. Sadly, for the professional television writers — even the really astute ones — this is neither enough to create something that will connect with an audience — nor will it survive the production goal of many seasons and possible syndication.

Television is a populist medium with little patience for intellectual phumphering. Hour–long drama is — first and foremost — about creating characters driven by internal forces that, melded to the right situation, can fuel every action, every line, every scene, and every plot for hundreds of successful episodes. This is the operational theme: a situational vector that cleanly delineates the potential variations of action in service of the protagonist’s consistent emotional need. This is crucial to the success of a television pilot. It is crucial to the successful episodes to come. It is, indeed, what television pilots should see as the first order of business to establish. And yet, it is most often the part that’s missing — especially from the sci–fi shows.

In a procedural series, the operational theme of the protagonist is usually pretty cut–and–dry. He or she is — sometimes quite literally — dedicated to bringing about law and order. The reason cops, doctors, and lawyers rule — and will probably always rule — the airwaves in some form or another is that their operational theme is baked into their personality. It is a function of their job — the eradication of suffering and injustice at any cost — and is usually fused with personal obsession brought about by past trauma.

If television is to be believed, the most dangerous thing to be in the world is the spouse of a detective. Most of them wind up dead at the hands of some psychopath who remains uncatchable for the span of episodes it takes to score a lucrative syndication deal for the series. Television thrives on workaholic protagonists who sacrifice — or have sacrificed for them — their personal relationships in favor of protecting people like us — the viewer!

As television has evolved to include more serialized, heavily “mythologized” drama — even in the stock genres of crime, medicine, and the law — the operational theme of the protagonist must remain front and center for the series to succeed. In Breaking Bad, Walter White’s operational theme — “to save everything I love I must become something everyone hates” — creates an endless supply of drama. Every situation Walter enters requires him to tell, develop, and sustain a lie.

This brilliant operational theme requires every single scene in the show to be front–loaded with deception and subterfuge. It’s a recipe for perfect ongoing drama that allowed the show to slowly string out and develop its more academic theme: the seduction of a good man by the infinite charms of wealth, power, and his descent into darkness. But make no mistake, academic is the right word for those themes. It was the initial simplicity of Walter White’s operational theme that consistently opened dramatic avenues episode after episode.

It doesn’t end with Walter White. The current “golden era” of television is littered with very easily identifiable operational themes that burden their protagonists. Tony Soprano wants to remain a sadistic mobster even though his unconscious musters every weapon at its disposal to get him to turn away from his horrific life. Don Draper continually tries to keep up the idealized appearance of the successful mid–century man in the grey flannel suit as his inner demons plague him with the truth that his entire life is a lie. Doctor House wants to be left in peace to be a belligerent drug addict but is forced to put his basic instincts aside and perform the job of genius diagnostician.

Outside of TV, my favorite example of the perfect fusion of situation and character into operational theme is the film Die Hard. The entire narrative is an extended metaphor for marital therapy: a husband trying to earn back his estranged wife. The terrorists are the physical manifestation of the emotional barriers that keep John McClane from familial bliss. As with any person in couples counseling, McClane systematically loses his metaphorical armor as he fights to the point of exhaustion. He ends up shoeless and bloody, blubbering to his “therapist” about his love for his wife — bleeding both thematically and practically.

The bathroom confession in Die Hard could have just easily been an episode of HBO’s In Treatment: a man denuded through adversity of all the trappings of macho pride, forced to confront his raw emotional wounds.

It seems obvious, and, frankly, inevitable — in the way that a Mark Rothko painting, or an Arne Jacobsen chair, appear inevitable — that simple operational themes are the key to serialized success. And yet, by and large, most attempts at serialized, mythologized sci–fi fail to pull off this trick. Think of all the genre series that have attempted to capitalize on the serialized mystery/heavy–mythology vogue triggered by Lost: Flash Forward, Kingdom Hospital, Surface, The Event, Invasion, V, Threshold, Awake, Journeyman, Dollhouse, Persons Unknown, Terra Nova, the American remake of Life on Mars — the list goes on and on.

Most of the sci–fi shows we now regard as classics — and the majority that are currently successful and truly long–running, like Supernatural — are not Lost clones. Rather, they are straightforward procedural franchises with simple operational themes.

The brothers Winchester, Nick Burkhardt in Grimm, Mulder and Scully in The X–Files — even Buffy, the Vampire Slayer — are all basically cops: rolling into a new case week after week, interrogating suspects, finding lore that matches the methodology of the villains, confronting evildoers, serving justice, and moving on to the next week’s transgressor. In the best of these series, an overarching theme buttresses the set–up: Mulder and Scully’s dynamic was defined by opposing viewpoints which fueled every scene. In addition to being thrust into stories by their occupation every week, they always had a basic ideological conflict that spoke to their character.

Even the beloved crew of the Starship Enterprise are hyper–competent trouble–shooters placed into stories weekly by dint of external mission as opposed to internal need. In the best Star Trek series, this necessity was supported by an interesting character dynamic: Captain Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are a three–man representation of the ego, superego, and id. The drama of the series lied in watching these three archetypes integrate into a coherent solution to the planet–of–the–week’s problem: McCoy would shout, “dammit, man, we gotta do something!” Spock would reply that “to do something would be illogical.” Kirk would eventually say “I have a plan.”

Compare that infinitely fruitful character interaction with the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation — a long and tedious stew of underdeveloped, under–thought characters kept afloat by the exigencies of a procedural franchise. On Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first two years there was always a potentially interesting issue with the planet–of–the–week. But it took almost two years for the characters to become anywhere as interesting as the show’s premise. (It’s a miracle of the extant love of Star Trek in the core audience, or the innate intrigue of the show’s premise, or the economics of first–run syndication in the late eighties — or maybe some combination of the three — that the show survived long enough for its characters to find their way into being fully–realized people who could carry a story like “The Inner Light,” “Chains of Command,” or “Tapestry.”)

Had the writers merely dropped the original characters of Star Trek: The Next Generation on a desert island — a place with no innate sense of mission — the series would have surely collapsed.

Lost succeeded in telling a longitudinal story because it managed to create a central operational theme for every single one of the characters in its voluminous ensemble. In the earliest days of the creation of the series, the creative team behind Lost — co–creators Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams, with the assistance of Paul Dini, Christian Taylor, Jennifer Johnson, and myself — came upon the idea of using flashbacks to develop the operational themes for each character. The flashbacks to the crash of Oceanic 815 first presented in the pilot transformed into full–blown plots extending through the course of the series. The island stories were presented in direct contrast to who the characters were in their former everyday lives. Every action in the island — present became an attempt to compensate for shortcomings in the past’s real world.

The operating theme of Lost is simple and applies to every character: who do you say you are when you can reinvent yourself with impunity? Every member of the Lost ensemble was living a lie on the island. These lies dictated their behavior and led them to try — either successfully or unsuccessfully — to remake themselves into their most desired version of themselves.

Jack strove to lead in spite of a life of personal failure and the scorn of an unloving father. Kate yearned to prove herself a good person in spite of being a wanted criminal. Michael tried to be an able parent after being absent from his son’s entire life. Charlie struggled to be a caretaker to Claire and her unborn child while concealing his drug addiction. John Locke — mysteriously healed of his paralysis by the island — was hell–bent on proving himself a man of action and principle after a lifetime of meek submission. Sun pretended to be a dutiful Korean wife, concealing even her fluency in the English from the brutal husband — whose brutality itself was a smokescreen to conceal a deep yearning for his own broken dreams — whom she was preparing to escape. The list goes on. What’s important is that every character had the same operational theme. The synthesis of personal desire for reinvention in contrast to the reality of each character’s previous life propelled one story after another for the course of Lost’s first two seasons: forty–eight hours of television that cemented the show’s place in the popular culture.

The operational theme of Lost — obvious as it seems in retrospect — did not become clear to the creative team until after the pilot had been shot and we were tasked with figuring out how exactly the series would work in episode after episode. We were very close to falling prey to the fallacy that makes for the downfall of most of the proposed serialized sci–fi pilots that come down the pike: we were almost — almost — seduced by a shiny concept — the mysteries of the island, from the smoke monster to the presence of ghosts from the past in the present. We almost focused on the mystery instead of the operational theme of the characters.

To this day, I thank god we had the epiphany early.

By dealing with the unknown, beguiling, and generally spectacular (aliens! robots! vampires! alien robot vampires!), sci–fi as a genre has the sneaky ability to fool otherwise extremely capable writers into believing that a nifty concept with a lot of unanswered questions is enough to carry a television series. It isn’t.
To have something spectacular take place — the arrival of aliens, a space/time conflagration that causes everyone to see a few minutes of their future, a plane crash in a mysterious island — and then spend twenty–two episodes showing how the characters figure out merely what happened, how, and whether it can be fixed, is not only the biggest failure of the imagination possible in sci–fi drama, it is also an insult to the genre. It assumes that sci–fi is somehow “easier” than a deeply character–driven kitchen–sink narrative (like Mad Men) that requires the protagonist to have a rich inner life in order to motivate conflict.

The island on Lost served the same purpose as the ad agency on Mad Men: it was a space where the protagonist sought to invent a new life in spite of all evidence to the impossibility of that endeavor. The conspiracy inOrphan Black is nothing more or less than a perfect physicalization of a young woman’s struggle to define her own identity: one which just so happens to cause her to come into conflict and allegiance with numerous clones of herself, all of them living vastly different lives with remarkably different outcomes.

Many big and shiny ideas can tap dance around a lack of an operational theme for a while — the length of a pilot, maybe even a season of decompressed cable–style narrative. But no amount of spectacle can obscure the truth that a protagonist or ensemble with a stark, robust, and recognizable operational theme is the source of all televisual drama.

Ironically, sci–fi, the genre that most often suffers from underdeveloped characters on TV probably demands more character from its characters than any other genre. Why? Because it is, at the core, a metaphorical exercise. Sci–fi poses a question that extends beyond the easily understandable stakes of the cop, doctor, or lawyer. How are the aliens, robots, mysterious islands, viral outbreaks, and vampires an external manifestation of your main character’s self–concept?

If you are writing a genre pilot and your premise can’t answer that question — while placing your protagonist in a place where the pursuit of their most prescient emotional issue is in consistent, discernible, and direct opposition of those aliens, robots, islands, viral outbreaks, and vampires — then, like any other writer in any other genre, you have to dig deeper. Because the privilege of having a scholar find and explain your lofty thematic concern like “power,” “alienation,” or (still my personal favorite,) “the shallowness of modern life” doesn’t come right away. Scholars and bloggers don’t proclaim the deep meaningful metaphors of your creation you have done the hard spade–and–trowel labor of putting an interesting main character on the screen. You must first put your characters in the one, singular (and preferably, for my money, science–fictional!) situation that mostchallenges their true self. That’s your operational theme: challenge your character’s innermost identity, do it week after week, then have your agent call my agent.

The Binge Director

Steven Soderbergh can make a whole season of The Knick almost as fast as you can watch it.

Article by Matt Zoller Seitz

Steven Soderbergh is in motion. It’s a warm day in Greenpoint, and the 52-year-old director, cinematographer, editor, and executive producer of Cinemax’s late-Victorian-era hospital drama The Knick is on the show’s main set, camera in hand, circling a table in a surgical theater, blocking a scene in which a patient’s gallbladder is removed. Soderbergh speaks softly. The cast and crew hang on every word. Then he starts shooting. He is moving, pausing, repositioning the actors, and moving some more. Technicians and writers gather just out of camera range, staring at an iPad that’s patched into Soderbergh’s camera via wireless, as the scene is sculpted and refined in real time. If you watch the screen, you can see aesthetic questions being asked and answered by the shifting positions of the actors in relation to Soderbergh’s lens. What is the point of this scene, this shot, this camera movement? Where is the best place to begin? On André Holland, who plays Algernon Edwards, the hospital’s acting chief of surgery? Or on Clive Owen, who plays Edwards’s onetime boss, the brilliant surgeon, medical inventor, and self-destructive opium addict John W. “Thack” Thackery? Perhaps the first shot should both start and end with a close-up of medical instruments used in the procedure? Would that be repetitious? Okay, maybe the shot should end farther away from the actors, and then the next shot should pick up in close-up? Ah, yes, there we go, that worked. Much better. With its elaborately choreographed and composed long shots, this is the kind of scene that might take three hours to complete on network hospital dramas and even longer on Hollywood movies. Soderbergh knocks it out in less than two.

His direction of The Knick is unusual in pretty much every imaginable way, but let’s start with the fact that it’s all his: Soderbergh helmed the entirety of the show’s first ten-episode season, which aired late last year, and did the same for season two, which premieres on October 16. For all of its visual evolution in recent decades, TV is still a writer-producer’s medium where series directors rotate in and out as needed, rarely overseeing more than two or three episodes in a row. Occasionally one person might direct eight back-to-back episodes of a limited-run project like The Honorable Woman (Hugo Blick) or True Detective’s first season (Cary Joji Fukunaga). And once in a great while you’ll see the majority of a long-running series directed by a single person, as with Louie (Louis C.K.) — but rarely on a show with as many moving parts as The Knick, and in such a punishingly tight time frame. Soderbergh has now directed 20 hours of a lavish costume drama at the speed of a run-and-gun indie film: Both seasons wrapped, according to The Knick co-creator and co-writer Jack Amiel, in about 150 days, “which is less time than a lot of crews would spend shooting one big movie.” The Knick shoots eight to nine script pages a day, double the typical rate for a TV drama, and burns through an hour-long episode in just seven days, versus the industry norm of ten to 14.

The Knick’s second season opens with a good portion of the main cast scattered to the winds: Thack has been ousted as chief of surgery for his drug use and is feeding his addiction by performing facial reconstructions on syphilis victims; the former nun Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) has been kicked out of the order for facilitating abortions; hospital-board member Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) is in San Francisco agitating against the quarantine of Chinese-Americans during a bubonic-plague epidemic. The first couple of new episodes maneuver them back into the Knickerbocker Hospital and set the season’s plot in motion, mixing in more signifiers of the city’s ongoing evolution toward modernity, such as the replacement of the hospital’s horse-drawn carriage with “horseless” ones and the increased prominence of electric lightbulbs.

The show’s style is different, too. More so than in season one, scenes in season two often consist of long, sinuous camera moves and a few tight close-ups. Sometimes, during a scene with long monologues, Soderbergh will focus on the face of a single listening character and not cut away. “There are moments when you don’t think it’s your scene, but it is,” says Eve Hewson, who plays ER nurse Lucy Elkins, Thackery’s lover. The Knick can look more like a John Ford or William Wyler or Orson Welles movie, in which every image is carefully considered, than most modern scripted TV, where the goal is mainly to capture performances and push the story along. Soderbergh mentions Welles’s The Trial and Chimes at Midnight, in particular, as influences on the look of season two, with their “sustained shots that go on forever.” “It’s kind of like the arcade game with the water-filled tube and the ball,” he says during a lunch that lasts exactly 18 and a half minutes. “How long can I keep this shot interesting, dynamic, and narratively appropriate to what’s going on, given the elements that I want to emphasize?”

Soderbergh shoots with a handheld camera, sometimes while being pushed by grips on a small, wheeled platform that he calls a “dolly du derrière.” This allows him to participate in scenes as an equal with his actors, rather than being “50 feet away, behind the monitor,” he says. “I like the intimacy of that, and I think the actors like knowing how close I am.” Watching him direct is akin to witnessing an athletic performance. Soderbergh walks, jogs, runs, sits, lies on the floor, and hangs half off dollies while PAs grip his ankles. “When I tell other cameramen what goes on with Steven, they’re flabbergasted,” says Soderbergh’s longtime second cameraman, Patrick O’Brien, who works on only about 30 percent of The Knick — usually when Soderbergh needs him to gather extra close-ups in a scene with a lot of characters, operate a crane that he’s sitting on, or shoot the other side of a two-person conversation. “He’s like a dancer,” says Holland. “One time, on the first season, it was bitter winter and we were shooting outside, and he was in this awkward, crouched-down position, holding the camera and moving at the same time, and midway through the take, his knee gave out and he jumped up and winced in pain. You could hear a pin drop, because you know that his physicality is such a huge part of the show.”

Everything and everyone on set is enabling Soderbergh’s endurance test. An assistant cameraperson shifts focus via remote control from another room, freeing Soderbergh to concentrate on movement and framing. The Knick’s standing sets are lit with visible (or “practical”) lights — desk lamps, chandeliers, and so forth — to let Soderbergh and his actors move anywhere they want and still get a lovely image. Everyone knows that they have to be as politely relentless and focused as their boss. There are no stand-ins on the set of The Knick, no Gulfstream trailers for producers and cast, and no canvas chairs, because no one sits still long enough to require them. A workday here is a nine-to-six sprint, with an hour off for lunch. “Actors love working with this guy,” O’Brien says, “because they’re not sitting around all day waiting for the set to be lit.” Soderbergh tells me: “It keeps the actors on the boil, nobody leaves, and — like we just did — you can power through the whole scene and it’s done.”

Scenes from inside the Knickerbocker Hospital. Here, costume storage next door to The Knick’s main set. Photo: Mary Cybulski/Courtesy of Cinemax

Costumed actors break for lunch. Photo: Mary Cybulski/Courtesy of Cinemax

Soderbergh’s preferred digital camera, the Red Epic Dragon, also helps. Its low-light capacity has let him shoot handsomely composed scenes, starkly illuminated by a naked lightbulb, a gas lamp, even a match — cinematographic flourishes in the spirit of one of his favorite movies, Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 drama Barry Lyndon, the first feature to shoot scenes by candlelight. At one point during our conversation, Soderbergh digs his cell phone out of his pocket and calls up a two-minute tracking shot from season two in which Cornelia Robertson moves “through a house with a candle and we follow her, and that’s it. Just one candle, and you can see everything!” he says, marveling at the flickering image on his phone.

Most directors would not get handed a handsome period drama to treat as their own personal train set, but that’s because they don’t have Soderbergh’s track record of making stylish, innovative, occasionally commercial art cheap and fast and without much fuss. Since his 1989 debut, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner sex, lies and videotape, he has directed 25 features (including the four-and-a-half-hour, two-part biopic Che) plus nearly 30 hours of TV (including the 2003 HBO political satire K Street, each episode of which was plotted, scripted, shot, cut, and broadcast in five days). He is one of the few American directors to claim two Oscar nominations for Best Picture during a single calendar year, for 2000’s Erin Brockovich and Traffic; he won Best Director for the latter. Every one of his movies — including the comparatively glossy heist thrillers Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen — was produced for what is, by contemporary American studio standards, chump change.

And he is endlessly, perhaps helplessly, prolific. In 2010, he told his friend Matt Damon that he was “retiring” from making theatrical features because he felt he’d exhausted the medium — a statement that was widely misinterpreted to mean that Soderbergh was quitting the business entirely and that launched a thousand jokes along the lines of “In the time it took you to read this tweet about Soderbergh’s retirement, he directed a remake of Berlin Alexanderplatz.” Right now he’s got The Knick; a show in the works at HBO with Sharon Stone; and an executive-producer credit on Amazon’s new Red Oaks, a circa-1985 period drama directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express). He’s fascinated by long-form storytelling, which he says is “very different” from features and offers more possibilities for experimentation, because TV’s aesthetic hasn’t been developed as deeply as cinema’s. Whole seasons of The Knick are written before a frame is shot, and any subsequent revisions are about in-the-moment problem solving. “Having all ten scripts beforehand allows me to sort of think on a macro level for longer, and that’s good for me,” he says.

Handmade, period-accurate women’s hats. Photo: Mary Cybulski/Courtesy of Cinemax

In the wardrobe trailer where main characters’ costumes are stored. Photo: Mary Cybulski/Courtesy of Cinemax

Soderbergh thinks like an editor while he’s shooting, never wasting anyone’s time on anything he thinks he might not use. “Steven doesn’t cover the same thing 19 times,” says Amiel. “He’s going to do it once and know that’ll be his first half of the scene and we’re not going to shoot it again. [For] the second half of the scene, he may shoot three or four pieces of coverage, but it’s because he’s already cut the whole scene in his head. He already knows.” “Often the shot that ends up in the show is the first one that we got,” says Holland. “Early on he said to me, ‘I don’t see any reason why we need to make things any more complicated than they have to be.’ ”

At 6 p.m. each day, Soderbergh climbs into the backseat of a van and starts cutting the day’s footage on a laptop on the way home from the set. He finishes by eight, posts the results on a password-protected website, and goes to dinner, a play, or a movie with his wife, Jules Asner. “People on the crew will say, ‘I can’t wait to see what we did today,’ ” says production designer Howard Cummings. Changes in technology have allowed Soderbergh to become imaginatively fused to his digital cameras, laptop, smartphone, and the internet. “I have to show this to you; I can probably pull it up on my phone,” Soderbergh says, hunting through footage folders on The Knick’s postproduction website and calling up an acrobatic long take that follows actors through a fund-raising ball. “If I had this shit at the beginning of my career,” he says as the phone screen fills up with costumed extras, “the movies would’ve been a lot better.”

The Lost Ending of 'The Shining' Explained

by Gwynne Watkins

In the final shots of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the audience sees the corpse of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) frozen to death in the hedge maze where he tried to kill his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Then the camera moves to a vintage photograph on the wall of The Overlook Hotel, which inexplicably includes Jack among the 1920s revelers. It’s an indelible set of images – but it wasn’t the ending that director Kubrick first envisioned. When The Shining premiered in theaters in 1980, those two iconic shots bookended an additional scene, of Wendy and Danny recuperating in the hospital. This week, on a Reddit thread titled “Frames from the hospital scene from the original ending of The Shining,” a fan unearthed three continuity Polaroids that show scenes from the film’s deleted epilogue. Read on to find out what happened in The Shining’s original ending, and why Kubrick made the last-minute decision to axe it.

The two-minute hospital scene, according to co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, was Kubrick’s way of reassuring the audience that Jack’s wife and son were okay after his murderous rampage. “He had a soft spot for Wendy and Danny,” Johnson explained in an interview in Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. However, the scene – as it reads on paper, anyhow – isn’t exactly a reassuring hug. The script pages from the deleted epilogue were published two years ago on The Overlook Hotel, an exhaustive fan site run by Pixar director Lee Unkrich (who peppered his film Toy Story 3 with subtle Shining references).


A Polaroid of Shelley Duvall recuperating in the hospital in a deleted scene from ‘The Shining.’

The scene opens with Stuart Ullman, the manager of the Overlook Hotel (played by Barry Nelson), arriving at the hospital with flowers for Wendy. On his way in, he greets a nurse, who is playing a game with Danny. When Ullman enters Wendy’s room, he tells her that the police have completed an investigation of the hotel, and “they didn’t find the slightest evidence of anything at all out of the ordinary.” He adds that “it’s perfectly understandable for someone to imagine such things when they’ve been through something like you have.” Then Ullman offers to put the Torrances up in his beach house while they recuperate. On his way out, Ullman tosses Danny a yellow ball – a reference to the tennis ball that mysteriously rolls up to Danny earlier in the film, leading him to the hotel’s haunted Room 237.

In short, the epilogue suggests that Ullman is a participant in the hotel’s supernatural evil, and that he is a conspirator in keeping its deadly secrets. Shelley Duvall said in Kubrick: The Definitive Edition that she believed the cut scene was crucial in explaining “some things that are obscure for the public, like the importance of the yellow ball and the role of the hotel manager in the plot.”


Barry Nelson re-appeared as hotel manager Stuart Ullman in the deleted ending. Here he’s seen with child actor Danny Lloyd and actress Robin Pappas.

There was one more element to the deleted ending. After the camera zoomed in on the photograph of Jack, a title card was to appear, reading: “The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.” Once again, this reinforces that the hotel itself is evil. But what are those “many other” tragedies? At the beginning of the film, Ullman informs Jack that a previous caretaker went stir crazy and killed his family and himself. That’s one. But In the original script, Jack also discovers a large scrapbook in the boiler room with news clippings of all the murders and suicides throughout the Overlook Hotel’s history. Kubrick shot scenes with the scrapbook, but didn’t include them in the final cut. (You can read one of them here.)

When The Shining premiered in limited release in May 1980, the hospital scene was still there. Just days after the film opened, however, Kubrick decided the epilogue needed to be excised. He explained his rationale to the press in a telephone statement, saying, “when I was able to see for the first time the fantastic pitch of excitement which the audience reached during the climax of the film, I decided the scene was unnecessary.” Since the movie was already playing in New York and Los Angeles, Kubrick issued an unusual order: He instructed projectionists to cut the scene from the film by hand, and mail the deleted film strips back to Warner Bros.


Robin Pappas (who played the nurse) and Danny Lloyd (who played Danny Torrance) shoot the deleted hospital scene. Though Pappas was ultimately cut from the film, her name appears in the credits.

Whether the deleted ending made the film better or worse is a matter of debate among the few who have seen it. New York Times critic Janet Maslin advocated for the hospital scene, saying that it “helped maintain the film’s languid, eerie rhythm” and saved the ending from being too “abrupt.” Roger Ebert wrote in his Great Movies review of The Shining that the excised epilogue “pulled one rug too many out from under the story,” though it’s unclear whether Ebert himself saw the original cut. (He’s under the impression that the deleted scene revealed that police never found Jack’s body. In the script pages – which, in fairness, Kubrick might have changed while filming – the body is not explicitly mentioned.) More discussion on the scene can be found in this archived page from the alt.movies.kubrick newsgroup, where fans who saw the original cut have shared their recollections.

The million-dollar question is whether the deleted ending from The Shining will ever see the light of day again. There’s a good chance that it still exists somewhere; Unkrich indicates on his website that the Stanley Kubrick Archive in London has “35mm film trims.” However, Kubrick obviously didn’t want anyone to see the footage, or he wouldn’t have been so adamant about cutting it before the film went into wider release. As long as film historians respect his wishes, the alternate ending of The Shining – like the epic deleted pie fight from Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – will exist only in photos and memories.

WWJD: What Would Joss Do? or Part 2 of JJ’s Job

By Christopher Pratt

The secret ingredient to a successful career as a screenwriter, storyteller, filmmaker, TV writer. The recipe to super stardom.

As a literary manager and Hollywood producer, my writers are on a quest to find the formula, lucky for you, they found it. Well, Joss found it, we’re listening to his advice (in direct violation of his advice.)

You may recall, part one of JJ’s Job introduced the idea that a working writer needs to be as good at writing/directing/showrunning/team building as JJ Abrams. In the opening paragraph, I mentioned the article could have been titled Joss’ Job, well, one of my readers requested I spin a little Whedon.

So… thank you Catherine Bray @catherinebray for this excellent interview.

Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips - Aerogramme Writers’ Studio


Let’s look at Joss’ advice and I’ll add my little bullshit commentary, like a no-talent hype man.

1. FINISH IT Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

Ten Percenter Thoughts:

No client sells a first script. Or a second. As a rep, we get meetings off a great spec but real work, real sales, a staff job comes from the ability to consistantly deliver. A professional writer shows proficiency. This usually comes around the 12th script. Yes, finish, then finish 11 more. Don’t approach a rep about number 3 or number 7, finish 12. The goal is not only representation, the goal is mastery.

2. STRUCTURE Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, colored pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

Rep-pov:

If you’re sitting in a theater, watching a film, and you’re not mentally checking off structure beats, you have work to do. Better yet, write ahead of the characters, check your work against the filmmakers. I had a client who would hear they were making an adaptation or an original film, then he’d write the entire treatment for that movie and put it in a file. When the film came out, he’d go see it, then open his file and compare his to the finished film. At first, he was terrible, but as he progressed, his treatments grew strong, showing his understanding of story structure until his ‘takes’ were often stronger than the finished film.

3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys?’

Manager Talk:

How is this your story? How are you the only person in the world to write it? What special thing is this script saying about who you are? A lot of great writing starts with understanding. What do you uniquely understand well enough to share universal human truths. If you don’t know, get yourself some therapy or classic literature. Good place to start.

4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

Gatekeeper:

Write bios. Who are they? Where are these characters at on the Maslow Pyramid? Don’t know Maslow? You got work to do.

5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

Realtalk:

As a rep I couldn’t imagine the pain of killing your own babies. But Joss says to do it…

6. LISTEN When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.

Rep Peeve:

Digging in is good. Have principles. Defend ideas. You often know what you’re trying to do better than anyone in the process. If they’re complaining, confused, noting you, there is probably a reason. Only the master can diagnose ‘why’ the notes.

7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.

The guy who gets paid only when you work:

Joss knows a lot of tricks to keep audiences engaged. How can you learn more of his tricks? Learn from his people.

Mutant Enemy writers room reunion from Nerdist Writers Panel


8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet?’

I’m not saying we’re lazy:

Reps are busy. We have a hundred scripts in the inbox. Stuidio drafts. Open assignments. Client submissions. Secret confession: when we read, we skip blocks of bullshit. Don’t write blocks of bullshit. White space, on the page, looks professional.

9. DON’T LISTEN Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.

Listen:

If advice feels right, go with it. If it feels off, don’t. Keep making shit. There is no gatekeeper. You don’t need me, or any rep. Write hot shit, keep writing hot shit. Make cool videos. Hollywood is catching up to you. You got a film/TV studio in your pocket, use it.

10. DON’T SELL OUT The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are: that’s called whoring.

Wow:

Last Action Hero? Kinda makes me wanna crack that idea. He’s like, super right, bout all of it. These are successful people problems, by the time you’re taking this advice you’re already a master. Getting to master is ninety percent of it, this advice is icing.

Mastery by Robert Greene


I got some great advice from a showrunner friend. Mastery by Robert Greene. Read it, learn it, live it. Let’s get started people. “We got some splainin’ to do.”

@futurePratt on Twittah.

“MAD MEN” CREATOR MATTHEW WEINER’S REASSURING LIFE ADVICE FOR STRUGGLING ARTISTS    IN GETTING THERE: A BOOK OF MENTORS, THE LAUDED CREATOR CANDIDLY REVEALS HIS YEARS OF STRUGGLE—AND HIS EVENTUAL PATH TO SUCCESS.      BY  MATTHEW WEINER      I remember studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” in high school. According to Coleridge, upon waking from a deep, opium-induced reverie, he recalled a vision and immediately wrote the 54 famous lines. But when we started doing the poetic analysis, it became clear that there was no way this poem came out all at once. It has this amazing structure. We learned from letters and notes that had been discovered that it was likely Coleridge had not only worked on “Kubla Khan” for several months, but that he also sent it to friends for feedback.  Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.  Writers were revered in my home and I wanted to be one since I was a kid, but when I went to college, I could not get into a writing class. I went to Wesleyan, a very small liberal arts school. The classes had only 12 to 15 people, and you had to submit writing samples to get in. Mine, apparently, were just not good enough. I was rejected from every writing class. I ended up convincing an English teacher to do a one-on-one independent poetry study with me. When I finished my thesis, I was extremely proud and wanted others to see it. I gave it to a humanities professor and he invited me to his house to read the work out loud. After the first poem, he told me to get out a pen and take notes. He began, “The infantile use of … The puerile … The childish use of … The cliché awkwardness … ” It was one humiliating cruelty after the next. And I had to write these insults down myself. I literally went through hours of this, poem after poem. He finally leaned over to me and said, “I think you know that you are not a poet.” I said, “I was not aware of that.”  While being battered always hurts, an important survival mechanism I’ve acquired over the years is to both thrive on rejection and hold on to compliments. Rejection enrages me, but that “I’ll show you!” feeling is an extremely powerful motivator. I’m at a point now where I’m afraid that if I lose it I’ll stop working. On the flip side, there’s nothing like a meaningful compliment from someone you respect. In my youth I was a miserable student and rarely did my homework. My fourth grade teacher once pulled me aside and let me have it. She said, “Talking to you is like talking down the drain; you don’t hear anything. You think you are going to make it through the rest of your life because you are charming. You think you don’t have to do all the work—but you do.” I remember looking up at her after this tirade and saying, “You think I’m charming?”  After college, I attended film school at the University of Southern California, where I finally started doing some narrative writing. There were contests for the films that the school would actually make, and my material was never selected. I finally said, “I am going to make a documentary,” and made one about the paparazzi. It stood out, and I became known for my editing skills and sense of humor. Upon graduation, I set up meetings everywhere in the hopes of getting a job. In three months I got nothing. I couldn’t even get a meeting with an agent.  So for the next three years I stayed home and wrote spec scripts. My friends had day jobs, but I didn’t. My wife, Linda, worked hard as an architect and supported us. I attempted to shop my material around, but nothing sold. I got very bitter, seeing people I didn’t think deserved it succeed. It was a dark time. Show business looked so impenetrable that I eventually stopped writing. I began watching TV all day and lying about it. My mother would call me to drive my brother-in-law to the airport. That’s the kind of crap I was doing instead of being a writer. I felt like the most useless, worthless person in the world.  Then one day I saw the low-budget movie Clerks. It inspired me to get off my ass and make my own independent film: a small, quirky comedy where I played myself—a failing screenwriter. I used my wife, my apartment, my car—basically everything I could to finish the film. Making that movie was a transformational experience. It had trouble getting into festivals and never sold, but I had set out to do something and had gotten it done.  A friend of mine from college had a pilot in the works that needed punch-up. Punch-up is a bunch of comedy writers sitting around the room making a script funnier. I didn’t even know there was such a job, but I got to drive onto the Warner Bros. lot and sit in this room with all these professional writers. It turned out that I was pretty good at it. Everything I said was included in the script, and that felt great. The showrunner came up to me afterwards and offered me $600 if I could stay through the end of the pilot. I was like, “Oh, my God. Yes. I’ll be here.” I would’ve done it for free just to be able to drive onto the lot again. That show quickly went off the air, but word had gotten out that I was funny. Another showrunner took me to lunch and hired me for his show. One job leads to another, but you have to start somewhere. It was my first paying job in show business and I was 30.  Comedy hours are long—literally 14-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. But I always wanted to create my own show, so I started researching my “advertising project” (Mad Men) in my spare time. It was like having a mistress. I worked on it at night or during my off-hours when I was not with my family. I paid people to do research, inundated myself with material, and even hired a writer’s assistant to dictate to because I was too tired to type (it also freed my imagination). When I finished the script, I felt like it was something special.  I sent it off to my agent and pitched it to everyone I could. I literally carried it in my bag wherever I went in case I ran into someone who might be useful. I wasn’t able to get meetings at the big networks, but I pitched it to small production companies. From them, I heard things like, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” “Are you aware of how uncommercial this is?” “Are you pulling our leg?” But, honestly, the most stinging responses I heard were along the lines of, “This is one of the most beautiful, well-executed, exciting things I’ve ever read, but I’m afraid that we just don’t do this kind of show.” Those comments made me feel as if I were alone in the universe.  One person my agent sent Mad Men to was David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos. All I wanted was for him to read it and maybe godfather it into HBO, but he liked it so much he decided to hire me. He said, “Even if I fire you, I’m going to help you make this.” And he actually gave it to HBO, but they passed because they didn’t want to do a period piece.  Obviously, I continued to pitch Mad Men everywhere. Showtime, Lionsgate, Sony, FX—all of them passed. Mad Men had been bouncing around town for about four years and nobody wants something that has been rejected by everybody.  But then along came AMC. They were trying to make a splash and wanted to do something new. They were also interested in making a show they wanted to watch, which is really the secret of success in everything artistic. They basically said, “We love this thing and want to do it.” I was so excited—but at that time no one thought AMC was, in showbiz terms, a “somebody.” Everybody felt sorry for me. I can’t even tell you the pity I got. It was as if I were taking my project and screening it in someone’s basement. No one even knew that channel. But AMC gave me complete creative control and all I remember thinking was, I’m going to live my dream.  It took seven years from the time I wrote Mad Men until it finally got on the screen. I lived every day with that script as if it were going to happen tomorrow. That’s the faith you have to have.  Hollywood is tough, but I do believe that if you are truly talented, get your material out there, put up with the rejection, and don’t set a time limit for yourself, someone will notice you.  The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing.  The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant. I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt. Many years later I realized that if I had written only a couple of pages a day, I would’ve written 500 pages at the end of a year (and that’s not even working weekends). Any contribution you make on a daily basis is fantastic. I still happen to write almost everything at once, but I now cut myself slack on all of the thinking and procrastination time I use. I know that it’s all part of my creative process.

“MAD MEN” CREATOR MATTHEW WEINER’S REASSURING LIFE ADVICE FOR STRUGGLING ARTISTS

IN GETTING THERE: A BOOK OF MENTORS, THE LAUDED CREATOR CANDIDLY REVEALS HIS YEARS OF STRUGGLE—AND HIS EVENTUAL PATH TO SUCCESS.


BY MATTHEW WEINER


I remember studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” in high school. According to Coleridge, upon waking from a deep, opium-induced reverie, he recalled a vision and immediately wrote the 54 famous lines. But when we started doing the poetic analysis, it became clear that there was no way this poem came out all at once. It has this amazing structure. We learned from letters and notes that had been discovered that it was likely Coleridge had not only worked on “Kubla Khan” for several months, but that he also sent it to friends for feedback.

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.

Writers were revered in my home and I wanted to be one since I was a kid, but when I went to college, I could not get into a writing class. I went to Wesleyan, a very small liberal arts school. The classes had only 12 to 15 people, and you had to submit writing samples to get in. Mine, apparently, were just not good enough. I was rejected from every writing class. I ended up convincing an English teacher to do a one-on-one independent poetry study with me. When I finished my thesis, I was extremely proud and wanted others to see it. I gave it to a humanities professor and he invited me to his house to read the work out loud. After the first poem, he told me to get out a pen and take notes. He began, “The infantile use of … The puerile … The childish use of … The cliché awkwardness … ” It was one humiliating cruelty after the next. And I had to write these insults down myself. I literally went through hours of this, poem after poem. He finally leaned over to me and said, “I think you know that you are not a poet.” I said, “I was not aware of that.”

While being battered always hurts, an important survival mechanism I’ve acquired over the years is to both thrive on rejection and hold on to compliments. Rejection enrages me, but that “I’ll show you!” feeling is an extremely powerful motivator. I’m at a point now where I’m afraid that if I lose it I’ll stop working. On the flip side, there’s nothing like a meaningful compliment from someone you respect. In my youth I was a miserable student and rarely did my homework. My fourth grade teacher once pulled me aside and let me have it. She said, “Talking to you is like talking down the drain; you don’t hear anything. You think you are going to make it through the rest of your life because you are charming. You think you don’t have to do all the work—but you do.” I remember looking up at her after this tirade and saying, “You think I’m charming?”

After college, I attended film school at the University of Southern California, where I finally started doing some narrative writing. There were contests for the films that the school would actually make, and my material was never selected. I finally said, “I am going to make a documentary,” and made one about the paparazzi. It stood out, and I became known for my editing skills and sense of humor. Upon graduation, I set up meetings everywhere in the hopes of getting a job. In three months I got nothing. I couldn’t even get a meeting with an agent.

So for the next three years I stayed home and wrote spec scripts. My friends had day jobs, but I didn’t. My wife, Linda, worked hard as an architect and supported us. I attempted to shop my material around, but nothing sold. I got very bitter, seeing people I didn’t think deserved it succeed. It was a dark time. Show business looked so impenetrable that I eventually stopped writing. I began watching TV all day and lying about it. My mother would call me to drive my brother-in-law to the airport. That’s the kind of crap I was doing instead of being a writer. I felt like the most useless, worthless person in the world.

Then one day I saw the low-budget movie Clerks. It inspired me to get off my ass and make my own independent film: a small, quirky comedy where I played myself—a failing screenwriter. I used my wife, my apartment, my car—basically everything I could to finish the film. Making that movie was a transformational experience. It had trouble getting into festivals and never sold, but I had set out to do something and had gotten it done.

A friend of mine from college had a pilot in the works that needed punch-up. Punch-up is a bunch of comedy writers sitting around the room making a script funnier. I didn’t even know there was such a job, but I got to drive onto the Warner Bros. lot and sit in this room with all these professional writers. It turned out that I was pretty good at it. Everything I said was included in the script, and that felt great. The showrunner came up to me afterwards and offered me $600 if I could stay through the end of the pilot. I was like, “Oh, my God. Yes. I’ll be here.” I would’ve done it for free just to be able to drive onto the lot again. That show quickly went off the air, but word had gotten out that I was funny. Another showrunner took me to lunch and hired me for his show. One job leads to another, but you have to start somewhere. It was my first paying job in show business and I was 30.

Comedy hours are long—literally 14-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. But I always wanted to create my own show, so I started researching my “advertising project” (Mad Men) in my spare time. It was like having a mistress. I worked on it at night or during my off-hours when I was not with my family. I paid people to do research, inundated myself with material, and even hired a writer’s assistant to dictate to because I was too tired to type (it also freed my imagination). When I finished the script, I felt like it was something special.

I sent it off to my agent and pitched it to everyone I could. I literally carried it in my bag wherever I went in case I ran into someone who might be useful. I wasn’t able to get meetings at the big networks, but I pitched it to small production companies. From them, I heard things like, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” “Are you aware of how uncommercial this is?” “Are you pulling our leg?” But, honestly, the most stinging responses I heard were along the lines of, “This is one of the most beautiful, well-executed, exciting things I’ve ever read, but I’m afraid that we just don’t do this kind of show.” Those comments made me feel as if I were alone in the universe.

One person my agent sent Mad Men to was David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos. All I wanted was for him to read it and maybe godfather it into HBO, but he liked it so much he decided to hire me. He said, “Even if I fire you, I’m going to help you make this.” And he actually gave it to HBO, but they passed because they didn’t want to do a period piece.

Obviously, I continued to pitch Mad Men everywhere. Showtime, Lionsgate, Sony, FX—all of them passed. Mad Men had been bouncing around town for about four years and nobody wants something that has been rejected by everybody.

But then along came AMC. They were trying to make a splash and wanted to do something new. They were also interested in making a show they wanted to watch, which is really the secret of success in everything artistic. They basically said, “We love this thing and want to do it.” I was so excited—but at that time no one thought AMC was, in showbiz terms, a “somebody.” Everybody felt sorry for me. I can’t even tell you the pity I got. It was as if I were taking my project and screening it in someone’s basement. No one even knew that channel. But AMC gave me complete creative control and all I remember thinking was, I’m going to live my dream.

It took seven years from the time I wrote Mad Men until it finally got on the screen. I lived every day with that script as if it were going to happen tomorrow. That’s the faith you have to have.

Hollywood is tough, but I do believe that if you are truly talented, get your material out there, put up with the rejection, and don’t set a time limit for yourself, someone will notice you.

The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing.

The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant. I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt. Many years later I realized that if I had written only a couple of pages a day, I would’ve written 500 pages at the end of a year (and that’s not even working weekends). Any contribution you make on a daily basis is fantastic. I still happen to write almost everything at once, but I now cut myself slack on all of the thinking and procrastination time I use. I know that it’s all part of my creative process.

Director Drake Doremus Talks BREATHE IN, Having His Actors Improvise the Dialogue, Exploring the Gray Areas of Love, His Sci-Fi Romance Movie, and More     Collider Article  by  ADAM CHITWOOD     I’ve seen quite a few movies at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival over the past week, but one of the few that has stuck with me most is writer/director Drake Doremus’ devastating family drama Breathe In.  Doremus made a splash here at Sundance a couple of years ago with the debut of his young love story Like Crazy, and Breathe In marks a major leap forward for the filmmaker in every way.  The story centers on a New England couple with a high school senior daughter that decides to take in a foreign exchange student from the U.K. for the semester.  As the story progresses, the young girl (Felicity Jones) and the father (Guy Pearce, playing a music teacher) are drawn to each other, creating a rift that builds throughout the film with the kind of tense slow burn that you expect from a well-made thriller.  It’s a heartbreaking story with incredible performances (read my full review right here), and it’s definitely one you need to take the time to see once it hits theaters.  A few days ago, I had the chance to sit down with Doremus in Park City for an extended interview about Breathe In.  He talked about his goal of making something really different from Like Crazy, his atypical directorial process of having his actors improvise all the dialogue, landing Guy Pearce as his lead, his next project (a futuristic sci-fi romance story), and more.  Read on after the jump.   Adam:   I just want to start off by saying congratulations, I really loved this movie.    DRAKE DOREMUS:   Thanks, man.   Since our readers probably don’t know too much about it yet, I wondering if you could talk about the inception of it and how the scripting process developed?    DOREMUS:   I really wanted to try something different.  I felt like I had two choices after Like Crazy.  One would be just kind of go the mainstream route, which most people really expected me to do, and I kind of wanted to go in the opposite direction.  I wanted to try something really restrained and try something much more mature, and I wanted to work with Felicity again so basically the whole story was written for her.  I wanted her to play a character that was totally different than Anna as well, so it really started around that.  As far as the actual love story itself, it just- in my life thinking about relationships and love and the greatness of it, just wanting to keep exploring that idea.   We know that you like to improvise with your actors, but I was curious as to how drastic the changes can be on set?  I know you work on an outline beforehand, but can you talk a little bit about whether there were any big story changes that happened during production?    DOREMUS:   Not like big story changes, more like character things.  It’s really important to me that the actors bring a lot of elements of the characters to the process so they own it, so it’s personal to them, so it’s not just me saying, “You stand here, you say this, you do this, you feel this.” No, you bring it up from in here and then let’s work with that.  So once the outline was done the actors had so much input and we just had so many discussions about developing the characters as far as we could, even if it didn’t end up on screen.  Certain scenes would totally change sometimes, we’ll go, “This is the beat of the scene, this is how we’re going to do it,” and then we’ll do it and it doesn’t work at all and we have to completely trash it, re-think it, re-write it and shoot it on a different day or re-work it in the moment.  It’s just constantly evolving.  That’s a fun way to work.   So you lay out the story beforehand, but there wasn’t any like, “Oh, we should make a giant change here, and what if this happened?”   DOREMUS:  Not necessarily, not necessarily actually.    It’s more character based?   DOREMUS:  Yeah, the story itself was pretty conceived, it was more just like the execution of how it was conceived totally evolved and changed a lot.   One of the things that surprised me in a good way was that Felicity and Guy are obviously the focus of the conflict in the story, but you really fleshed out the rest of the characters, it’s very, very much a family drama.  Was that important to you to have the other characters as fully formed as the leads?   DOREMUS: Yeah, definitely, with the last movie it felt so much like we were just following two people in a bubble and then all the supporting characters were just on the edge of that, whereas with this I wanted to try working with more of an ensemble.  So that was definitely a conscious effort, for sure.   You mentioned wanting to move to an ensemble. I really liked Like Crazy, but I feel like this is a huge leap forward in maturity for you.  Other than the ensemble idea, was there anything you learned from the Like Crazy process, whether it was making it, post production, or the reception that you wanted to apply here?   DOREMUS:  Yeah, I think that I wanted to make a restrained movie.  I wanted to make a more epically classic love story as opposed to continuing to explore a teenage, young love kind of vibe.  I wanted to try to make my version of Out of Africa.  [Laughs] I know that’s kind of a bizarre statement, but something that was very classic in a sense and I wanted to try that avenue essentially.   Music is a major part of the film; do you come from a music family?  How did you decide upon that as a big motif for the film?   DOREMUS:  Yeah, my grandfather is an amazing jazz bassist and I was always around music growing up.  But Dustin O’Halloran really inspired me to take the movie on the music route, to have these characters be musicians.  His music just—in listening to it while we were writing they just become musicians because of Dustin.  He influenced the tone so much in the writing process and he was involved at the beginning of the writing process, picking the pieces they would play, writing the pieces they would play, the score and all that stuff so he was just like another character in the movie almost.   So your score was written before you guys started filming?   DOREMUS:  Some of it was, some of the pieces were.  Like the piece in the symphony when they have that look, that was.  When they’re at the reservoir together, that little section was.  The piece that that she plays for him at the piano when he’s sitting next to her, Dustin wrote that beforehand; we had to do that because she had to play it; so many of the little things like that.  But then a lot of it was written after the scenes were done too and custom tailored to the scenes.    That’s interesting because, I don’t know if you saw Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer, the Wachowskis said that they’ll never make another movie again without making the score beforehand.  Did that kind of help you as you were finding the characters?   DOREMUS:  Absolutely.  Dustin was such a big part of the movie.  I think it just informed a really specific tonality to everything we were doing, and that’s what’s really helpful about it, is you can get a full picture of the moment.  This essentially, to me, is in many ways a musical or maybe an opera, so it’s like so much of it informs everything that we really had to be careful and think about it all along the way of the process.   Did Guy and Felicity know how to play piano beforehand?  Did they learn it?   DOREMUS:  Originally it was the violin and Guy couldn’t quite learn it, he took a couple lessons and it really frustrated him, so we switched it to the cello, which turned out to be much better anyways, it turned out to be a much more physical thing for him, which I loved.  But, he took lessons and he understood where the hands go and what the movements were for the songs, but he didn’t actually exactly play it, we had a double.  But it was just so incredible that he- I mean, I wanted to shoot wide shots, I wanted it to be real and he was able to do it enough to make it look real; Felicity as well.   You said you wrote the part for Felicity, how did you decide upon Guy?  Did you write it for him as well?   DOREMUS:  No, she was the beginning of it and then I interviewed like 10 or 15 guys.  I had lunch with a lot of different actors, a lot of really exciting actors.  But after having coffee with Guy after about 10 minutes I was just like, “this is it.” I’m just a very instinctual person, a very instinctual director and I knew immediately he had it in him, the character I had in mind.  It took some convincing though because improvising, let alone in a foreign dialect, was something he’d never done before.  I think he was really hesitant about it and it kind of took some convincing on my part that he could learn the instrument and improvise in a foreign dialect.  Because of those things and what he does in the movie I just, I’m so grateful to him and proud of him because of all the things he had to overcome to do what he did.   I really think it’s one of his best performances    DOREMUS :  Oh, great, man.    Was Felicity kind of showing everybody the ropes because she had been through it before?    DOREMUS :  Definitely, I think it took everyone a few days and a lot of coaching from Felicity to just understand that sometimes we’re just going to hit walls and things aren’t going to work, but we’re going to work it out, and arguments are good and arguments are healthy, and were always just working towards the best thing possible.  But I think as far as the improvisation itself I think that she definitely set the tone for everybody and that really helped.   I wanted to talk a little bit about Mackenzie Davis because she just comes out of nowhere and she’s really, really fantastic, how did you come about casting her?    DOREMUS :  That was by very lucky chance.  We had seen so many young actresses in LA and in New York; we had done casting session in both.  I want to say my casting director and I went through about 300 young ladies and she was by far the least experienced of anybody that came in.  She had never done a movie before, she had just graduated college.  So she was just totally fresh and new and didn’t even know what a mark was or anything like that, so it was like she just had this naive nature to her that we needed for Lauren, which was really exciting, that I hadn’t seen from anyone that came in to audition.  So I had her come in a couple times and offered her the part.   If I’m not mistaken you shot this in 2011?    DOREMUS :  We shot this last summer, summer of 2011.  Or no, the fall, like September, then we finished it this last summer and then we waited to bring it to Sundance.   That’s what I was going to ask, was Sundance 2013 always the plan?    DOREMUS :  Absolutely, absolutely, I mean it’s tough, there are some great festivals out there between summer and the end of the year, but given my history here and what a special place this is to premiere a movie I just really felt like waiting for six months was the right play.    When you’re in the post-production process, since there’s a lot of improvisation of the dialogue and everything—we know in the comedy world it’s more straightforward like, “this line’s getting laughs, this lines not”—how do you go through all the takes or do you find exactly what you want on the day?  Do you film a bunch of different versions of each scene?    DOREMUS :  Yeah, there are so many different versions of pieces of things, so the post-production process is simply me watching every piece of footage fresh as if I wasn’t there and then just picking, “That’s honest.  That’s honest.  That’s honest.” And then I’ve got like six minutes of moments that I feel are honest, and then from those six minutes I just distill it down and down and down and before you know it I end up with a two minute scene.  So really, that’s the only rule, is just does that feel honest?    Another thing that struck me about this film is that the cinematography is gorgeous; it’s very tight on the actors so you can get that closeness and intimacy. How did you approach the cinematography this time around?  This is the same cinematographer-    DOREMUS :  Same cinematographer, yeah, we’ve worked together, we have such great shorthand now.  We went to film school together; we’ve been working together for a while.  I think we just approached it the way we always approach it, which is how can we interestingly capture this scene in a voyeuristic way that still feels intimate?  We’re just trying to push the boundaries, trying to stay away from convention, trying to find how we can narratively tell the story with the camera that feels right.  But John [Guleserian] is unbelievable, the way he lights scenes so minimalistically but gets so much elegance out of it is unbelievable.  I mean he’s barely using anything, he’s just picking the right time of day to be in the right place with the right shot.    What kind of cameras did you use?    DOREMUS :  We used the Alexa.   OK, yeah, because it looked very crisp and you felt like you were in the same room as these characters.    DOREMUS :  I think that would be the Hawk V-lite lenses that we used from Germany, there’s only three sets of them.  I guess probably the most well-known movie that used them was The Lives of Others and there was just such clarity to them, yeah, like you said they’re just so clean, but they’re so elegant.  I mean we love flare and things, but with those lenses you just have to put a shitload of light into those things to flare them because they’re so tight.    It got me wondering, everyone’s using the 4K, like Joseph Kosinski used it on Oblivion and it seems to be popular with these big tentpole movies, would you ever be interested in using that on one of these smaller, intimate pieces?    DOREMUS :  I think it would be fascinating.   Yeah.    DOREMUS :  Yeah, I think it would be really interesting.  Totally, man, that’s a really interesting thought.    Just the clarity brought something even more to the film.    DOREMUS :  Yeah, it’s a very specific tone.   Are you one of these guys that has a bunch of scripts and outlines in a drawer and you decide on which one?  Or do you take each project one by one?    DOREMUS :  I wish.  I’m pretty much a movie-to-movie guy.  It’s hard for me to multitask so I feel very one-thing-at-a-time oriented and I usually just wait until a movie’s done and it’s premiered, then just kind of reflect on what I’m interested in my own life and let the movies come to me rather than force them.    So have you decided what you’re doing next or are you waiting?    DOREMUS :  Pretty much, yeah, I think I’m going to venture into the futuristic, semi sci-fi love story land, but still in my style of improvisation.   How far along is that?  Is that in the script stage?    DOREMUS :  Just in the idea stage at this point.   That’s really cool.  I also wanted to ask about influences on this movie, I know you said you were going for a family drama, but most family dramas come off as melodramatic and sappy. You found a really nice way of telling the story that felt honest and true.  Were you looking at any filmmakers or specific works on this?    DOREMUS :  Definitely, I have to say A Place in the Sun, the Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor film that George Stevens was the filmmaker on, really inspired me.  What’s so amazing about that film is that it melded so many different genres.  It was a romantically beautiful film, but the romance sort of blossomed in this very dangerous context and that to me was something that I wanted to do with this film.   I’ve seen quite a few different responses to how the film wraps up. I felt it was very honest and if you’ve been following this story it’s not too surprising. Did you ever have any other ideas of how to end the film, or was it always pretty solid?    DOREMUS :  No, really to be honest I always wanted to bookend it.  I always knew that I wanted to show the family in the exact same place doing the exact same activity, but everything in between those two bookends has completely changed that family, but they are still going through the same thing.  So nothing’s changed, but everything has and I thought that was such an interesting dynamic to show.  So that bookend was always, from the very beginning, in the movie. [END MINOR SPOILERS]   Felicity’s character, going into it I read the synopsis and I was getting ready to hate this girl. It’s a very tough thing to make the audience feel sympathy for this kind of person. How did you approach writing that kind of character?  It’s not just a plot device where she drives a wedge through the family; it very much feels like something that’s true to life.    DOREMUS :  Yeah, I never wanted her to be a predator by any means, I wanted her to be a character, and wanted him as well, I wanted them to be characters that were fighting the feelings they were having as opposed to giving in to them.  I want the audience to feel bad because it’s hard for them, it’s hard and they are fighting and they’re trying not to give into it, but it comes to a certain point where they can’t help it and she’s not an evil person she just let something get the best of her maybe.   I was also struck by how the high school kids don’t come off as—like at the beginning it’s kind of set up as, “oh she’s the popular girl,” but then you quickly realize she feels like a real person and not a stereotype.  It’s like you said the grey areas, you’re exploring the grey areas of love, it seems like you’re also exploring the grey areas of high school that aren’t really talked about much in film.    DOREMUS :  Absolutely.   I mean, it’s usually the jock, there’s the cheerleader and she’s kind of slutty but she has a heart.    DOREMUS : [Laughs] Yeah, that’s essentially what they kind of boil down to.   So what was your inspiration for crafting those characters?    DOREMUS : I think it was just thinking about my own high school experiences and how grey and weird it is.  It’s like one day you’re popular, one day you’re not.  One day you’re friends with this person, one day you’re not.  One day you’re boyfriend and girlfriend, then it’s kind of grey, then you’re just kind of dating, then he’s seeing this person.  It’s this very strange hormonally imbalanced time in your life, it feels like.  With those kids I just really wanted it to feel like how I felt when I was in high school.    Is Felicity going to be a part of your futuristic sci-fi romance movie, have you decided yet?    DOREMUS : [Laughs] I don’t know, possibly, she’s really busy and doing great and I’m really excited for her, and hopefully one day in the future we’ll do something else together.

Director Drake Doremus Talks BREATHE IN, Having His Actors Improvise the Dialogue, Exploring the Gray Areas of Love, His Sci-Fi Romance Movie, and More

Collider Article by ADAM CHITWOOD 

I’ve seen quite a few movies at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival over the past week, but one of the few that has stuck with me most is writer/director Drake Doremus’ devastating family drama Breathe In.  Doremus made a splash here at Sundance a couple of years ago with the debut of his young love story Like Crazy, and Breathe In marks a major leap forward for the filmmaker in every way.  The story centers on a New England couple with a high school senior daughter that decides to take in a foreign exchange student from the U.K. for the semester.  As the story progresses, the young girl (Felicity Jones) and the father (Guy Pearce, playing a music teacher) are drawn to each other, creating a rift that builds throughout the film with the kind of tense slow burn that you expect from a well-made thriller.  It’s a heartbreaking story with incredible performances (read my full review right here), and it’s definitely one you need to take the time to see once it hits theaters.

A few days ago, I had the chance to sit down with Doremus in Park City for an extended interview about Breathe In.  He talked about his goal of making something really different from Like Crazy, his atypical directorial process of having his actors improvise all the dialogue, landing Guy Pearce as his lead, his next project (a futuristic sci-fi romance story), and more.  Read on after the jump.

Adam: I just want to start off by saying congratulations, I really loved this movie.

DRAKE DOREMUS:  Thanks, man.

Since our readers probably don’t know too much about it yet, I wondering if you could talk about the inception of it and how the scripting process developed?

DOREMUS:  I really wanted to try something different.  I felt like I had two choices after Like Crazy.  One would be just kind of go the mainstream route, which most people really expected me to do, and I kind of wanted to go in the opposite direction.  I wanted to try something really restrained and try something much more mature, and I wanted to work with Felicity again so basically the whole story was written for her.  I wanted her to play a character that was totally different than Anna as well, so it really started around that.  As far as the actual love story itself, it just- in my life thinking about relationships and love and the greatness of it, just wanting to keep exploring that idea.

We know that you like to improvise with your actors, but I was curious as to how drastic the changes can be on set?  I know you work on an outline beforehand, but can you talk a little bit about whether there were any big story changes that happened during production?

DOREMUS:  Not like big story changes, more like character things.  It’s really important to me that the actors bring a lot of elements of the characters to the process so they own it, so it’s personal to them, so it’s not just me saying, “You stand here, you say this, you do this, you feel this.” No, you bring it up from in here and then let’s work with that.  So once the outline was done the actors had so much input and we just had so many discussions about developing the characters as far as we could, even if it didn’t end up on screen.  Certain scenes would totally change sometimes, we’ll go, “This is the beat of the scene, this is how we’re going to do it,” and then we’ll do it and it doesn’t work at all and we have to completely trash it, re-think it, re-write it and shoot it on a different day or re-work it in the moment.  It’s just constantly evolving.  That’s a fun way to work.

So you lay out the story beforehand, but there wasn’t any like, “Oh, we should make a giant change here, and what if this happened?”

DOREMUS:  Not necessarily, not necessarily actually.

It’s more character based?

DOREMUS:  Yeah, the story itself was pretty conceived, it was more just like the execution of how it was conceived totally evolved and changed a lot.

One of the things that surprised me in a good way was that Felicity and Guy are obviously the focus of the conflict in the story, but you really fleshed out the rest of the characters, it’s very, very much a family drama.  Was that important to you to have the other characters as fully formed as the leads?

DOREMUS: Yeah, definitely, with the last movie it felt so much like we were just following two people in a bubble and then all the supporting characters were just on the edge of that, whereas with this I wanted to try working with more of an ensemble.  So that was definitely a conscious effort, for sure.

You mentioned wanting to move to an ensemble. I really liked Like Crazy, but I feel like this is a huge leap forward in maturity for you.  Other than the ensemble idea, was there anything you learned from the Like Crazy process, whether it was making it, post production, or the reception that you wanted to apply here?

DOREMUS:  Yeah, I think that I wanted to make a restrained movie.  I wanted to make a more epically classic love story as opposed to continuing to explore a teenage, young love kind of vibe.  I wanted to try to make my version of Out of Africa.  [Laughs] I know that’s kind of a bizarre statement, but something that was very classic in a sense and I wanted to try that avenue essentially.

Music is a major part of the film; do you come from a music family?  How did you decide upon that as a big motif for the film?

DOREMUS:  Yeah, my grandfather is an amazing jazz bassist and I was always around music growing up.  But Dustin O’Halloran really inspired me to take the movie on the music route, to have these characters be musicians.  His music just—in listening to it while we were writing they just become musicians because of Dustin.  He influenced the tone so much in the writing process and he was involved at the beginning of the writing process, picking the pieces they would play, writing the pieces they would play, the score and all that stuff so he was just like another character in the movie almost.

So your score was written before you guys started filming?

DOREMUS:  Some of it was, some of the pieces were.  Like the piece in the symphony when they have that look, that was.  When they’re at the reservoir together, that little section was.  The piece that that she plays for him at the piano when he’s sitting next to her, Dustin wrote that beforehand; we had to do that because she had to play it; so many of the little things like that.  But then a lot of it was written after the scenes were done too and custom tailored to the scenes.

That’s interesting because, I don’t know if you saw Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer, the Wachowskis said that they’ll never make another movie again without making the score beforehand.  Did that kind of help you as you were finding the characters?

DOREMUS:  Absolutely.  Dustin was such a big part of the movie.  I think it just informed a really specific tonality to everything we were doing, and that’s what’s really helpful about it, is you can get a full picture of the moment.  This essentially, to me, is in many ways a musical or maybe an opera, so it’s like so much of it informs everything that we really had to be careful and think about it all along the way of the process.

Did Guy and Felicity know how to play piano beforehand?  Did they learn it?

DOREMUS:  Originally it was the violin and Guy couldn’t quite learn it, he took a couple lessons and it really frustrated him, so we switched it to the cello, which turned out to be much better anyways, it turned out to be a much more physical thing for him, which I loved.  But, he took lessons and he understood where the hands go and what the movements were for the songs, but he didn’t actually exactly play it, we had a double.  But it was just so incredible that he- I mean, I wanted to shoot wide shots, I wanted it to be real and he was able to do it enough to make it look real; Felicity as well.

You said you wrote the part for Felicity, how did you decide upon Guy?  Did you write it for him as well?

DOREMUS:  No, she was the beginning of it and then I interviewed like 10 or 15 guys.  I had lunch with a lot of different actors, a lot of really exciting actors.  But after having coffee with Guy after about 10 minutes I was just like, “this is it.” I’m just a very instinctual person, a very instinctual director and I knew immediately he had it in him, the character I had in mind.  It took some convincing though because improvising, let alone in a foreign dialect, was something he’d never done before.  I think he was really hesitant about it and it kind of took some convincing on my part that he could learn the instrument and improvise in a foreign dialect.  Because of those things and what he does in the movie I just, I’m so grateful to him and proud of him because of all the things he had to overcome to do what he did.

I really think it’s one of his best performances

DOREMUS:  Oh, great, man.

Was Felicity kind of showing everybody the ropes because she had been through it before?

DOREMUS:  Definitely, I think it took everyone a few days and a lot of coaching from Felicity to just understand that sometimes we’re just going to hit walls and things aren’t going to work, but we’re going to work it out, and arguments are good and arguments are healthy, and were always just working towards the best thing possible.  But I think as far as the improvisation itself I think that she definitely set the tone for everybody and that really helped.

I wanted to talk a little bit about Mackenzie Davis because she just comes out of nowhere and she’s really, really fantastic, how did you come about casting her?

DOREMUS:  That was by very lucky chance.  We had seen so many young actresses in LA and in New York; we had done casting session in both.  I want to say my casting director and I went through about 300 young ladies and she was by far the least experienced of anybody that came in.  She had never done a movie before, she had just graduated college.  So she was just totally fresh and new and didn’t even know what a mark was or anything like that, so it was like she just had this naive nature to her that we needed for Lauren, which was really exciting, that I hadn’t seen from anyone that came in to audition.  So I had her come in a couple times and offered her the part.

If I’m not mistaken you shot this in 2011?

DOREMUS:  We shot this last summer, summer of 2011.  Or no, the fall, like September, then we finished it this last summer and then we waited to bring it to Sundance.

That’s what I was going to ask, was Sundance 2013 always the plan?

DOREMUS:  Absolutely, absolutely, I mean it’s tough, there are some great festivals out there between summer and the end of the year, but given my history here and what a special place this is to premiere a movie I just really felt like waiting for six months was the right play.

When you’re in the post-production process, since there’s a lot of improvisation of the dialogue and everything—we know in the comedy world it’s more straightforward like, “this line’s getting laughs, this lines not”—how do you go through all the takes or do you find exactly what you want on the day?  Do you film a bunch of different versions of each scene?

DOREMUS:  Yeah, there are so many different versions of pieces of things, so the post-production process is simply me watching every piece of footage fresh as if I wasn’t there and then just picking, “That’s honest.  That’s honest.  That’s honest.” And then I’ve got like six minutes of moments that I feel are honest, and then from those six minutes I just distill it down and down and down and before you know it I end up with a two minute scene.  So really, that’s the only rule, is just does that feel honest?

Another thing that struck me about this film is that the cinematography is gorgeous; it’s very tight on the actors so you can get that closeness and intimacy. How did you approach the cinematography this time around?  This is the same cinematographer-

DOREMUS:  Same cinematographer, yeah, we’ve worked together, we have such great shorthand now.  We went to film school together; we’ve been working together for a while.  I think we just approached it the way we always approach it, which is how can we interestingly capture this scene in a voyeuristic way that still feels intimate?  We’re just trying to push the boundaries, trying to stay away from convention, trying to find how we can narratively tell the story with the camera that feels right.  But John [Guleserian] is unbelievable, the way he lights scenes so minimalistically but gets so much elegance out of it is unbelievable.  I mean he’s barely using anything, he’s just picking the right time of day to be in the right place with the right shot.

What kind of cameras did you use?

DOREMUS:  We used the Alexa.

OK, yeah, because it looked very crisp and you felt like you were in the same room as these characters.

DOREMUS:  I think that would be the Hawk V-lite lenses that we used from Germany, there’s only three sets of them.  I guess probably the most well-known movie that used them was The Lives of Others and there was just such clarity to them, yeah, like you said they’re just so clean, but they’re so elegant.  I mean we love flare and things, but with those lenses you just have to put a shitload of light into those things to flare them because they’re so tight.

It got me wondering, everyone’s using the 4K, like Joseph Kosinski used it on Oblivion and it seems to be popular with these big tentpole movies, would you ever be interested in using that on one of these smaller, intimate pieces?

DOREMUS:  I think it would be fascinating.

Yeah.

DOREMUS:  Yeah, I think it would be really interesting.  Totally, man, that’s a really interesting thought.

Just the clarity brought something even more to the film.

DOREMUS:  Yeah, it’s a very specific tone.

Are you one of these guys that has a bunch of scripts and outlines in a drawer and you decide on which one?  Or do you take each project one by one?

DOREMUS:  I wish.  I’m pretty much a movie-to-movie guy.  It’s hard for me to multitask so I feel very one-thing-at-a-time oriented and I usually just wait until a movie’s done and it’s premiered, then just kind of reflect on what I’m interested in my own life and let the movies come to me rather than force them.

So have you decided what you’re doing next or are you waiting?

DOREMUS:  Pretty much, yeah, I think I’m going to venture into the futuristic, semi sci-fi love story land, but still in my style of improvisation.

How far along is that?  Is that in the script stage?

DOREMUS:  Just in the idea stage at this point.

That’s really cool.  I also wanted to ask about influences on this movie, I know you said you were going for a family drama, but most family dramas come off as melodramatic and sappy. You found a really nice way of telling the story that felt honest and true.  Were you looking at any filmmakers or specific works on this?

DOREMUS:  Definitely, I have to say A Place in the Sun, the Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor film that George Stevens was the filmmaker on, really inspired me.  What’s so amazing about that film is that it melded so many different genres.  It was a romantically beautiful film, but the romance sort of blossomed in this very dangerous context and that to me was something that I wanted to do with this film.

I’ve seen quite a few different responses to how the film wraps up. I felt it was very honest and if you’ve been following this story it’s not too surprising. Did you ever have any other ideas of how to end the film, or was it always pretty solid?

DOREMUS:  No, really to be honest I always wanted to bookend it.  I always knew that I wanted to show the family in the exact same place doing the exact same activity, but everything in between those two bookends has completely changed that family, but they are still going through the same thing.  So nothing’s changed, but everything has and I thought that was such an interesting dynamic to show.  So that bookend was always, from the very beginning, in the movie. [END MINOR SPOILERS]

Felicity’s character, going into it I read the synopsis and I was getting ready to hate this girl. It’s a very tough thing to make the audience feel sympathy for this kind of person. How did you approach writing that kind of character?  It’s not just a plot device where she drives a wedge through the family; it very much feels like something that’s true to life.

DOREMUS:  Yeah, I never wanted her to be a predator by any means, I wanted her to be a character, and wanted him as well, I wanted them to be characters that were fighting the feelings they were having as opposed to giving in to them.  I want the audience to feel bad because it’s hard for them, it’s hard and they are fighting and they’re trying not to give into it, but it comes to a certain point where they can’t help it and she’s not an evil person she just let something get the best of her maybe.

I was also struck by how the high school kids don’t come off as—like at the beginning it’s kind of set up as, “oh she’s the popular girl,” but then you quickly realize she feels like a real person and not a stereotype.  It’s like you said the grey areas, you’re exploring the grey areas of love, it seems like you’re also exploring the grey areas of high school that aren’t really talked about much in film.

DOREMUS:  Absolutely.

I mean, it’s usually the jock, there’s the cheerleader and she’s kind of slutty but she has a heart.

DOREMUS: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s essentially what they kind of boil down to.

So what was your inspiration for crafting those characters?

DOREMUS: I think it was just thinking about my own high school experiences and how grey and weird it is.  It’s like one day you’re popular, one day you’re not.  One day you’re friends with this person, one day you’re not.  One day you’re boyfriend and girlfriend, then it’s kind of grey, then you’re just kind of dating, then he’s seeing this person.  It’s this very strange hormonally imbalanced time in your life, it feels like.  With those kids I just really wanted it to feel like how I felt when I was in high school.

Is Felicity going to be a part of your futuristic sci-fi romance movie, have you decided yet?

DOREMUS: [Laughs] I don’t know, possibly, she’s really busy and doing great and I’m really excited for her, and hopefully one day in the future we’ll do something else together.

Notes on watching “Aliens” for the first time again, with a bunch of kids   For his 11th birthday, my son asked if he could have a slumber party. He invited seven other fifth-grade boys. They played video games for a 
couple of hours, ate pizza, then said they wanted to watch a movie. 
They’d seen every comic book movie multiple times. Seen all the Indiana 
Jones films. Star Wars. Anything with a hobbit in it. The usual 11-year 
old boy options, circa 2015, weren’t going to work.   So I suggested “ Aliens ,”
 thinking, “Well, it’s exciting, and even if they haven’t see the first 
one, the movie tells the story well enough that you won’t be confused 
about who Ripley is and what’s at stake for her.”   They agreed 
(some of them had seen the first one anyway, and nearly all had seen at 
least one film with a xenomorph in it) and so we watched it together. 
And as we watched, I realized again that while unfortunately you can’t 
see a great movie again for the first time, the next-best thing is to 
show it to people who’ve never seen it.  My first time with James 
Cameron’s sci-fi war movie was a great filmgoing experience. I saw 
“Aliens” at the NorthPark 1 and 2 theater at NorthPark Mall in my 
hometown of Dallas, with a high school classmate who was, at that time, 
my regular action movie-watching buddy: Gabe Michaels. We drove to 
NorthPark to catch the 11 a.m. show on opening day and got in line a 
couple of hours early. We’d already drunk a bit of soda beforehand and I
 think we might have downed some more while standing in line. When we 
got into the theater, they seated us immediately and there was only one 
preview, for “The Fly,” and then wham, they started the movie. Neither 
Gabe nor I nor anyone else who’d been standing in that line wanted to 
get up from our seats and answer nature’s call, even though we all 
pretty desperately had to; there was a lot of muttering and shifting in 
seats, quite a few “grin and bear it” expressions.   If you’ve seen
 the film, you know there are no aliens to speak of for the first hour, 
then suddenly there are aliens all over the place, coming out of the 
walls and ceiling, drooling and shrieking and dragging Marines off into 
the darkness to be cocooned. It’s one of the greatest releases of 
built-up tension in action film history. Throughout
 this sequence the audience was enthralled, screaming as the xenomorphs 
attacked, cheering as Ripley took control of the all-terrain vehicle to 
rescue the imperiled Colonial Marines. Then when the ATV crashed through
 the wall, the music stopped, and Hicks told her she’d blown the 
trans-axle and need to “ease down, Ripley, ease down,” everyone 
collectively seemed to realize they were being given a breather, so at 
that point Gabe and I and probably a fifth of the audience rose from our
 seats and headed for the bathrooms: fast-walking, some running.  Guys
 at the urinals were peeing as fast as they could because they didn’t 
want to miss another minute of “Aliens.” You’d have thought somebody was
 timing them. Like this was the Olympic qualifying round for the bladder
 evacuation team. But they weren’t going fast enough to suit a guy 
standing near the front door of men’s room. He yelled,  "Goddammit! All of you, piss faster!“   And that’s when I knew "Aliens” was going to be a hit.  Anyway, the slumber party…

Notes on watching “Aliens” for the first time again, with a bunch of kids

For his 11th birthday, my son asked if he could have a slumber party. He invited seven other fifth-grade boys. They played video games for a couple of hours, ate pizza, then said they wanted to watch a movie. They’d seen every comic book movie multiple times. Seen all the Indiana Jones films. Star Wars. Anything with a hobbit in it. The usual 11-year old boy options, circa 2015, weren’t going to work.

So I suggested “Aliens,” thinking, “Well, it’s exciting, and even if they haven’t see the first one, the movie tells the story well enough that you won’t be confused about who Ripley is and what’s at stake for her.”

They agreed (some of them had seen the first one anyway, and nearly all had seen at least one film with a xenomorph in it) and so we watched it together. And as we watched, I realized again that while unfortunately you can’t see a great movie again for the first time, the next-best thing is to show it to people who’ve never seen it.

My first time with James Cameron’s sci-fi war movie was a great filmgoing experience. I saw “Aliens” at the NorthPark 1 and 2 theater at NorthPark Mall in my hometown of Dallas, with a high school classmate who was, at that time, my regular action movie-watching buddy: Gabe Michaels. We drove to NorthPark to catch the 11 a.m. show on opening day and got in line a couple of hours early. We’d already drunk a bit of soda beforehand and I think we might have downed some more while standing in line. When we got into the theater, they seated us immediately and there was only one preview, for “The Fly,” and then wham, they started the movie. Neither Gabe nor I nor anyone else who’d been standing in that line wanted to get up from our seats and answer nature’s call, even though we all pretty desperately had to; there was a lot of muttering and shifting in seats, quite a few “grin and bear it” expressions.

If you’ve seen the film, you know there are no aliens to speak of for the first hour, then suddenly there are aliens all over the place, coming out of the walls and ceiling, drooling and shrieking and dragging Marines off into the darkness to be cocooned. It’s one of the greatest releases of built-up tension in action film history. Throughout this sequence the audience was enthralled, screaming as the xenomorphs attacked, cheering as Ripley took control of the all-terrain vehicle to rescue the imperiled Colonial Marines. Then when the ATV crashed through the wall, the music stopped, and Hicks told her she’d blown the trans-axle and need to “ease down, Ripley, ease down,” everyone collectively seemed to realize they were being given a breather, so at that point Gabe and I and probably a fifth of the audience rose from our seats and headed for the bathrooms: fast-walking, some running.

Guys at the urinals were peeing as fast as they could because they didn’t want to miss another minute of “Aliens.” You’d have thought somebody was timing them. Like this was the Olympic qualifying round for the bladder evacuation team. But they weren’t going fast enough to suit a guy standing near the front door of men’s room. He yelled,  "Goddammit! All of you, piss faster!“

And that’s when I knew "Aliens” was going to be a hit.

Anyway, the slumber party…

Damien Chazelle on what is and isn’t ambiguous about Whiplash     The Dissolve:  The film seems more ambiguous as it’s in progress—it feels like it could become a Full Metal Jacket situation, with revenge on a destructive bully, or an inspirational-teacher movie, or something else entirely. Were you thinking in terms of keeping people guessing about the ending?    Chazelle:  Yeah, one thing I definitely wanted people to wonder is whether Andrew is going to basically kill himself drumming, like the old fairy tale of the dancer who dances herself to death, or [Edgar Allan Poe’s] “The Oval Portrait,” where the painter kills his subject by painting her. The idea of art being something that kills is weirdly fascinating to me. Especially toward the end, I definitely wanted to film Andrew in a way that looks like he’s this close to literally having a heart attack and keeling over. I wanted people to worry not just for his sanity, but for his physical well-being. There’s a physical side to this instrument, and a brutality that’s not just emotional, but corporeal.  At the same time, I like genre movies, and this fits pretty squarely into the sports-film genre. You’re building up to the big fight, or the big game. In this case, it’s the big performance. There are certain kinds of narrative rules in terms of how you do that, where you have to bring the character really low before you bring them high, and you have to do another microcosm of that within the big fight. Even if they’ve had their low point, you can’t just have them show up to the climax and immediately knock the guy out. You still need to have another mini low point. There are narrative rules that you don’t have to follow, but I actually thought since this is not a sports movie, they would be fun to follow. It gave me the leverage to wholeheartedly embrace some of those tropes.

Damien Chazelle on what is and isn’t ambiguous about Whiplash

The Dissolve: The film seems more ambiguous as it’s in progress—it feels like it could become a Full Metal Jacket situation, with revenge on a destructive bully, or an inspirational-teacher movie, or something else entirely. Were you thinking in terms of keeping people guessing about the ending?

Chazelle: Yeah, one thing I definitely wanted people to wonder is whether Andrew is going to basically kill himself drumming, like the old fairy tale of the dancer who dances herself to death, or [Edgar Allan Poe’s] “The Oval Portrait,” where the painter kills his subject by painting her. The idea of art being something that kills is weirdly fascinating to me. Especially toward the end, I definitely wanted to film Andrew in a way that looks like he’s this close to literally having a heart attack and keeling over. I wanted people to worry not just for his sanity, but for his physical well-being. There’s a physical side to this instrument, and a brutality that’s not just emotional, but corporeal.

At the same time, I like genre movies, and this fits pretty squarely into the sports-film genre. You’re building up to the big fight, or the big game. In this case, it’s the big performance. There are certain kinds of narrative rules in terms of how you do that, where you have to bring the character really low before you bring them high, and you have to do another microcosm of that within the big fight. Even if they’ve had their low point, you can’t just have them show up to the climax and immediately knock the guy out. You still need to have another mini low point. There are narrative rules that you don’t have to follow, but I actually thought since this is not a sports movie, they would be fun to follow. It gave me the leverage to wholeheartedly embrace some of those tropes.

How STAR WARS can get back to it’s indie roots, or a boy can dream, can’t he?    Quick poll: Who else wants to see an indie Star Wars film?    Do you hear that? It’s the sound of all the air being sucked out of the room, more specifically, 
it’s the sound a Star Wars film makes when released. Since May of 1977, 
Star Wars has held a rare place in cinema; each time a film is released,
 it assumes total market dominance. The addition of solid leadership by 
superstar producer, Kathleen Kennedy, and the backing of Disney’s 
marketing machine means there is no end in sight for the franchise. This
 gives them great power, but as Luke’s new bunkmate Spiderman will tell 
you;   ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’   There are sequels and prequels and ‘stand alone’ plans, Han Solo origin story anyone? Certainly, we will have Star Wars films for years to come. That’s the good news.   The bad news?   Well, they’re all going to be giant tent pole films. Don’t get me wrong; I 
love a good CGI extravaganza as much as the next guy but isn’t it 
possible the fans could burn out on event after event? It seems to be 
working fine for Marvel (also acquired by Disney) and for Transformers, 
though the latter has a multi-year break between pictures.  Now,
 I could be totally wrong about this, but in celebration of Star Wars 
creator George Lucas, an indie filmmaker more interested in 
documentaries and tone poems (early music videos without the band, or 
the group, or sometimes the music) I’ve compiled a list of nine indie 
Star Wars films. They’re cheap to make and easy to sell. Why open one 
Star Wars film every year when you can open two?…   https://medium.com/@futurePratt/how-star-wars-can-get-back-to-its-indie-roots-or-a-boy-can-dream-cant-he-5b69a5f876d3

How STAR WARS can get back to it’s indie roots, or a boy can dream, can’t he?

Quick poll: Who else wants to see an indie Star Wars film?

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of all the air being sucked out of the room, more specifically, it’s the sound a Star Wars film makes when released. Since May of 1977, Star Wars has held a rare place in cinema; each time a film is released, it assumes total market dominance. The addition of solid leadership by superstar producer, Kathleen Kennedy, and the backing of Disney’s marketing machine means there is no end in sight for the franchise. This gives them great power, but as Luke’s new bunkmate Spiderman will tell you;

‘With great power comes great responsibility.’

There are sequels and prequels and ‘stand alone’ plans, Han Solo origin story anyone? Certainly, we will have Star Wars films for years to come. That’s the good news.

The bad news?

Well, they’re all going to be giant tent pole films. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good CGI extravaganza as much as the next guy but isn’t it possible the fans could burn out on event after event? It seems to be working fine for Marvel (also acquired by Disney) and for Transformers, though the latter has a multi-year break between pictures.

Now, I could be totally wrong about this, but in celebration of Star Wars creator George Lucas, an indie filmmaker more interested in documentaries and tone poems (early music videos without the band, or the group, or sometimes the music) I’ve compiled a list of nine indie Star Wars films. They’re cheap to make and easy to sell. Why open one Star Wars film every year when you can open two?…

https://medium.com/@futurePratt/how-star-wars-can-get-back-to-its-indie-roots-or-a-boy-can-dream-cant-he-5b69a5f876d3

How They Made the Emergency Docking Scene in ‘Interstellar’   There is no greater showcase of  “Interstellar’s” VFX and sonic excellence than in the “emergency docking” scene. The Oscar-nominated VFX involves both full CG and practical, as well as a combination of the two, while the Oscar-contending sound editing and mixing immerse us in the action in a most visceral way…   http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/how-they-made-the-emergency-docking-scene-in-interstellar-exclusive-clip-20150204

How They Made the Emergency Docking Scene in ‘Interstellar’

There is no greater showcase of “Interstellar’s” VFX and sonic excellence than in the “emergency docking” scene. The Oscar-nominated VFX involves both full CG and practical, as well as a combination of the two, while the Oscar-contending sound editing and mixing immerse us in the action in a most visceral way…

http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/how-they-made-the-emergency-docking-scene-in-interstellar-exclusive-clip-20150204

“What Happens to All These Women After They Direct Their First Film?” 
  “ If someone had said to me when I started directing 20 years ago that in 2014 we would still be talking about the lack of employment of women directors, I would have said that’s impossible. Sadly, the stats are essentially the same as they were in 1994: In TV, women directors represent 14% and in film a meager 9%. Films schools are now nearly 50-50 male-female, and women are also well represented at festivals and in indie film. But what happens to them after they direct their first film or short? Where do they go? They certainly aren’t being given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. 
 Directing isn’t an easy road for anyone. But it’s also not an equal playing field. We often hear of a male director directing a great indie and immediately being offered the next huge comic book movie. Rarely, if ever, does this happen to a woman. Here are a few common excuses: “We hired a woman director once and it didn’t work out, so we won’t hire another one.” Can you imagine someone saying: “We hired a male director once and it didn’t work out, so no more men”? If a woman succeeds, another will be allowed into the club. If not, the whole gender is somehow held responsible. And there’s this one: “Women can’t direct action.” What? Gender has nothing to do with the ability to blow up a truck or stage a fight or a car chase! That’s as ridiculous as saying men can’t direct scenes with character or emotion. And this one: “We wanted to hire a woman director, but you and a handful of constantly working women directors weren’t available and there aren’t any others.” That might be the lamest excuse of all and a great way to look like you tried when you actually didn’t.“  
 —  
 Lesli Linka Glatter,

“What Happens to All These Women After They Direct Their First Film?”

If someone had said to me when I started directing 20 years ago that in 2014 we would still be talking about the lack of employment of women directors, I would have said that’s impossible. Sadly, the stats are essentially the same as they were in 1994: In TV, women directors represent 14% and in film a meager 9%. Films schools are now nearly 50-50 male-female, and women are also well represented at festivals and in indie film. But what happens to them after they direct their first film or short? Where do they go? They certainly aren’t being given the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

Directing isn’t an easy road for anyone. But it’s also not an equal playing field. We often hear of a male director directing a great indie and immediately being offered the next huge comic book movie. Rarely, if ever, does this happen to a woman. Here are a few common excuses: “We hired a woman director once and it didn’t work out, so we won’t hire another one.” Can you imagine someone saying: “We hired a male director once and it didn’t work out, so no more men”? If a woman succeeds, another will be allowed into the club. If not, the whole gender is somehow held responsible. And there’s this one: “Women can’t direct action.” What? Gender has nothing to do with the ability to blow up a truck or stage a fight or a car chase! That’s as ridiculous as saying men can’t direct scenes with character or emotion. And this one: “We wanted to hire a woman director, but you and a handful of constantly working women directors weren’t available and there aren’t any others.” That might be the lamest excuse of all and a great way to look like you tried when you actually didn’t.“ 

— 

Lesli Linka Glatter,

J.K. Simmons on His ‘Whiplash’ Oscar Buzz and Abusing Miles Teller

J.K. Simmons on His ‘Whiplash’ Oscar Buzz and Abusing Miles Teller

Indiewire: Here Are the Secrets to the ‘Serial’ Podcast’s Storytelling Success

Indiewire: Here Are the Secrets to the ‘Serial’ Podcast’s Storytelling Success

10 Podcasts for Filmmakers, Film Fans and Industry Folks

10 Podcasts for Filmmakers, Film Fans and Industry Folks

5 Surprising Things You Learn Designing Movie Monsters

5 Surprising Things You Learn Designing Movie Monsters

Saga : Like  Star Wars , but Unfilmable and Brilliantly Bonkers

Saga: Like Star Wars, but Unfilmable and Brilliantly Bonkers