interview

David Lynch on Where Great Ideas Come From

In 2008, The Atlantic sat down with the filmmaker David Lynch as he mused about inspiration and how to capture the flow of creativity. Now, we’ve animated his words of advice. “A lot of artists think that suffering is necessary,” he says. “But in reality, any kind of suffering cramps the flow of creativity.”

David Bowie’s Advice to Artists

“Never work for other people at what you do. Always… always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt, that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. And I – I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations; I think they produce – they generally produce their worst work when they do that. And if – the other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in, go a little out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.“

SXSW 2016: Joe Swanberg Gets Honest About Making a Living in Indie Film

By Chris O'Falt | Indiewire

“When shooting a movie, it’s better to have no money, than some money.”

Joe Swanberg

Joe Swanberg’s keynote today at SXSW was not unlike one of his movies: Unscripted, personally revealing and brutally honest. As Swanberg worked his way chronologically through his career, he kept pointing out how he wasn’t some trailblazer, but rather that his career had just intersected with tremendous advances in technology that changed how films were made and distributed. The reality, however, is that Swanberg has consistently been at the forefront of experimenting with how to be an uncompromised filmmaker, while still carving out a career and living for himself.  

Using examples from his career, the director provided plenty of filmmaking principles and advice with the many aspiring DYI filmmakers in the audience.

“We Need To Share Information”

“If we just talked to each other we’d fuck shit up,” explained Swanberg. Using an example from when he was making a the web series “Young Hard Bodies” for IFC and Nerve, Swanberg said that he was happy to just get paid anything to make the series. That was until his good friend Ti West (who is at SXWS this year with “In a Valley of Violence”) told him he was getting paid $5,000 a episode. Swanberg had started making his series for $500 to $1,000 an episode.

“If I didn’t know Ti, I would have been happy with [getting a raise] to $3,000,” but instead IFC, didn’t blink when he asked for $5,000.  

Joe Swanberg at a Nitehawk, Brooklyn screening of Magnolia Pictures’ “Drinking Buddies.”

“Marriage is Also a Business Partnership”

Swanberg credits his marriage to fellow filmmaker Kris Swanberg (“Unexpected”) as being vital to allowing them both filmmakers ability to experiment and create. Although he was honest about how the couple spent a decade barely making ends meet, that having two potential income earners — and as long as one of them was working and able to pay the bills — has allowed them to both continue to make art and start a family.

“No One Reads Anything”

“No press is bad press,” Swanberg joked. His larger point here was that simply being written about in major publications, especially The New York Times, gave Swanberg’s early ventures into micro budget filmmaking and VOD the credibility he needed. He said that biggest lesson came when a number of people would congratulate him on reviews he knew said “god awful” things about his films. It was at this point he realized that being important enough to be written about was what would be vital to him being able to make films for $10,000 to $15,000.     

“Digging for Fire”

“You Can Shoot A Good Movie in Four Days”

Swanberg spent a great deal of time during his keynote highlighting the key role that his friend and collaborator Adam Wingard (also at SXSW with the TV show “Outcast”) has played in his career. When the two directors first met each other in Birmingham, where Wingard lived, Swanberg thought he was “the weirdest and most memorable dude ever,” but he didn’t take him seriously. When Wingard asked Swanberg to come to Alabama to act in two segments of his four-segment feature about date rape, Swanberg joked, “that was literally the last thing I ever wanted to do.”

After watching the first two segments, however, Swanberg was impressed, but when he learned that Wingard had shot each segment in a day, his mind was blown. He went to Alabama to see how Wingard could possibly shoot a quarter of a movie in a day and for it to still be good. He was so impressed by Wingard, he hired him to be his cinematographer and mirrored his process in shooting “Autoerotic.” The film went on to be Swanberg’s first project to make a major profit (it sold for $70,000 and cost only $15,000) and set into motion Swanberg making seven films in one year.  

Swanberg encouraged the young filmmakers in the audience to attempt to making a four-day feature themselves, highlighting that it’s great for performances and it really sharpens and focuses you as a director.  

Movie Stars Are Important

In discussing “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg insists he did nothing different in the way he made the film, except that he worked with stars like Anna Kendrick and Jake Johnson, and that results were career- and life-changing.

“It’s this weird thing that when we see famous people do things it feels real [to us],” explained Swanberg. He admitted that while he dreams of going back to the days of living with his cast and crew for a month while improvising a movie like “Hannah Takes The Stairs,” the reality is he’s fallen in love with working with Hollywood stars. This has meant that he now needs to write a script, so that he can have a real plan to accommodate busy actors’ schedules.

“Invest in Your Own Movies”

Swanberg revealed today that since “Drinking Buddies,” he has rolled his income from one movie right into his next one, owning an increasing larger percentage of his work with each new project. He realizes this is counter to every piece of advice filmmakers are told, but he insists that gambling on yourself is the only way you will ever make any real money in this business.

“Drinking Buddies”

“Three Truths About Money”

1.  According Swanberg, when making a movie, “it is better to have no money, than some money.” He insists having some money causes major headaches because everybody is going to want a piece of it and there’s not enough to go around. He stated that he’s had much better success paying people more money after the film has been sold.

2.  The less you need money, the more they want to give you money, but when you are struggling, the smell of desperation means no one will give you a dime. Swanberg discussed how this truth is infuriating, but that advices filmmakers to take meetings like you don’t need funds.

3.  Time and happiness are money. If you don’t factor your happiness into what it is you do for money as filmmaker you will not succeed. He added, “People don’t like bad movies and never have I seen a filmmaker hate something they made, that makes money.”

“You want to study human beings and tell stories that are 
relevant… We were always encouraged in drama school back when—and I 
got thrown out of drama school—we were always told that if you step on 
stage, you have to step on stage with a minimum of seven different 
characteristics. In order to
 transform, you had to have a physical silhouette and a vocal 
silhouette, and of course your inner tempo so you could really disguise 
yourself. From where I’m standing, there are two sides to acting. 
There’s camouflage, and there’s the hustle. The hustle is basically: 
“How am I going to get whatever it is I need, and what am I prepared to 
do in order to get it?”   Now, you can do that in your own accent 
and have a healthy career, just changing different hats, having a nice 
haircut, a nice suntan, a six-pack, and a set of great teeth. You can go
 a long way with that style of acting. Then there’s the other side, 
which is camouflage and says, “I put on a hat, a rubber nose, a cloak, 
put false teeth in, and I change my accent and walk with a limp.” You 
can take it all the way to Vaudevillian or surrealism or like Pixar to 
the green, motion-capture guys. I’ve always tried to hybrid the two 
together with the ability to have a foot in both camps, leaning on the 
strengths on one or the other at times, and I think if you only use your
 own voice, you can only have one shot at doing that, and then you’re 
done unless you make a career out of being you…   The paradox or 
irony here is that now I’m going to become Tom Hardy, the bloke who 
always does the silly voice. Someone will always want to put you in a 
box, and then you become the parody of yourself. The constant is, 
though, that I just want to make the effort to try and transform as much
 as possible from one character to another, so that people can immerse 
themselves into the story and not in my performance. That’s my job, 
isn’t it?“ -  Tom Hardy

“You want to study human beings and tell stories that are relevant… We were always encouraged in drama school back when—and I got thrown out of drama school—we were always told that if you step on stage, you have to step on stage with a minimum of seven different characteristics. In order to transform, you had to have a physical silhouette and a vocal silhouette, and of course your inner tempo so you could really disguise yourself. From where I’m standing, there are two sides to acting. There’s camouflage, and there’s the hustle. The hustle is basically: “How am I going to get whatever it is I need, and what am I prepared to do in order to get it?”

Now, you can do that in your own accent and have a healthy career, just changing different hats, having a nice haircut, a nice suntan, a six-pack, and a set of great teeth. You can go a long way with that style of acting. Then there’s the other side, which is camouflage and says, “I put on a hat, a rubber nose, a cloak, put false teeth in, and I change my accent and walk with a limp.” You can take it all the way to Vaudevillian or surrealism or like Pixar to the green, motion-capture guys. I’ve always tried to hybrid the two together with the ability to have a foot in both camps, leaning on the strengths on one or the other at times, and I think if you only use your own voice, you can only have one shot at doing that, and then you’re done unless you make a career out of being you…

The paradox or irony here is that now I’m going to become Tom Hardy, the bloke who always does the silly voice. Someone will always want to put you in a box, and then you become the parody of yourself. The constant is, though, that I just want to make the effort to try and transform as much as possible from one character to another, so that people can immerse themselves into the story and not in my performance. That’s my job, isn’t it?“ - Tom Hardy

WTF with Marc Maron Podcast

Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast: Episode 655 - Daniel Radcliffe

‘Marc Maron interviewed actor Daniel Radcliffe on Monday, and starting soon after the one hour mark (like 1:01), Radcliffe talks about how his director for the film “Kill Your Darlings,” John Krokidas, gave him “this book Directing Actors.” And Radcliffe then proceeds to give a concise and truly killer explanation of exactly why and how verbs and objectives work so well for actors!’ - Judith Weston

Jon Hamm’s Mad Men Audition: “I Don’t Know How Much More I Can Take”

Hyperrealism, Mumblecore, & “Togetherness” - VICE Meets the Duplass Brothers  

‘When you make a movie, when you make a television show, you kind of create a Frankenstein.  It’s way bigger than you and it is terrifying.  And that movie or that TV show is threatening to destroy your life and your happiness at all times.’ - Jay Duplass

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.

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.

Ethan Hawke Remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams (February 6, 2015) | Charlie Rose

“Depression is a real demon in the woods for a lot of creative people, you know? It’s part of what the documentary is trying to be about for me, finding balance, where the beauty that is attainable in the creative arts can be matched with the scratchy roughness of regular life." 

- Ethan Hawke remembers Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

About the only law that I think relates to the genre [of horror] is that you should not try to explain, to find neat explanations for what happens, and that the object of the thing is to produce a sense of the uncanny. Freud in his essay on the uncanny wrote that the sense of the uncanny is the only emotion which is more powerfully expressed in art than in life, which I found very illuminating; it didn’t help writing the screen-play, but I think it’s an interesting insight into the genre. And I read an essay by the great master H.P. Lovecraft where he said that you should never attempt to explain what happens, as long as what happens stimulates people’s imagination, their sense of the uncanny, their sense of anxiety and fear. And as long as it doesn’t, within itself, have any obvious inner contradictions, it is just a matter of, as it were, building on the imagination (imaginary ideas, surprises, etc.), working in this area of feeling. I think also that the ingeniousness of a story like this is something which the audience ultimately enjoys; they obviously wonder as the story goes on what’s going to happen, and there’s a great satisfaction when it’s all over not having been able to have anticipated the major development of the story, and yet at the end not to feel that you have been fooled or swindled.   
    
  - Stanley Kubrick  
  cinephiliabeyond

About the only law that I think relates to the genre [of horror] is that you should not try to explain, to find neat explanations for what happens, and that the object of the thing is to produce a sense of the uncanny. Freud in his essay on the uncanny wrote that the sense of the uncanny is the only emotion which is more powerfully expressed in art than in life, which I found very illuminating; it didn’t help writing the screen-play, but I think it’s an interesting insight into the genre. And I read an essay by the great master H.P. Lovecraft where he said that you should never attempt to explain what happens, as long as what happens stimulates people’s imagination, their sense of the uncanny, their sense of anxiety and fear. And as long as it doesn’t, within itself, have any obvious inner contradictions, it is just a matter of, as it were, building on the imagination (imaginary ideas, surprises, etc.), working in this area of feeling. I think also that the ingeniousness of a story like this is something which the audience ultimately enjoys; they obviously wonder as the story goes on what’s going to happen, and there’s a great satisfaction when it’s all over not having been able to have anticipated the major development of the story, and yet at the end not to feel that you have been fooled or swindled.

- Stanley Kubrick

cinephiliabeyond

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

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