AFM: 5 Hot Indie Directors on Why Studios Don't Make Their Kinds of Films Anymore
GRAY: Exactly. The best movies are often based on short stories. Rear Window is a Cornell Woolrich short story. … That's to me what always made movies such an incredibly rewarding art form. You could almost hold them in your hand. They say TV is taking it over, but on TV you really don't have the time for something beautiful. You have the time for maybe getting the nuts and bolts of the story. That's why you see very little poetic stuff on TV.
HIRSCHBIEGEL: Jarmusch was the guy that kicked my ass, but of course I saw all these other movies too, [and] as soon as I wrote my first script, I realized I was trying to do just that, this mix of spectacle and truth. It became a natural thing for me to tell the story in an entertaining way but not to cheat the audience. Authenticity and truth were always my main objective. When working in the studio world [on the 2007 Nicole Kidman starrer The Invasion], I realized there are limits to that. And in the studio world, all of a sudden there are deadlines. I had to start shooting with a script that wasn't there yet. So that's not a very nice experience. But I thought, "Well, I've done this before, sort of like an experiment. It might go well." It didn't go well. It was an awful experience.
Would you go back?
HIRSCHBIEGEL: Sure. At the end of the day, as you all know, it's about the script. If you have something you believe in, something you have a vision of, you know how to do, then it doesn't really matter. You have to deal in a different way with the studio executives.
TEPLITZKY: It's interesting what you're saying about truth. Having now just done a film based on true events and with real people, and working with the real people, it is quite a juggling act, that idea of truth. To me, what I focus on is trying to get the emotional truth into it.
HIRSCHBIEGEL: They slaughtered me exactly for that approach in the U.K. Because that's exactly what I'm doing with Diana. There's no irony in it. There's no sarcasm in it. There's nothing that you would consider typically British. But they hate it.
EGOYAN: I'm experiencing that now with Devil's Knot. We premiered in Toronto, and in North America everyone knows about the West Memphis Three, and it has a very specific reaction, which was pretty mixed to negative, which was, "We know about this, we've seen the documentaries." But then you show it in Europe and no one knows about the West Memphis Three, and it becomes a totally different film. We are living in this world where the immediate release becomes so painful. You were talking about the English critics. It goes out and that's it. Just thinking about that nostalgic, wonderful time where there was that platform release.
GRAY: Yeah, but we can't fetishize the old days that much. I went back to a review that one of my director heroes told me I had to look at. It was Vincent Canby's review in The New York Times of The Godfather Part II. It would be very difficult to come up with an American movie that's better than The Godfather Part II. And the review that Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave was that it was worthless. And the reason I bring it up is that in that day, it would have been brutal. Because it came out in New York and L.A., and what Vincent Canby said was everything. So there are bad things about today, but there are also good things. Because there are so many voices out there and it doesn't just rely on Vincent Canby killing your movie or not.
Ryan, you won Sundance with your first film. Do you feel it's all downhill from here?
COOGLER: Oh, man. I think it is kind of human to think about things like that. But mostly I just think of how fortunate I am to be doing this at all. I'm literally not supposed to be here. I mean statistically. Where I'm from? I'm not supposed to be here, in Zurich, having a conversation with people whose movies I've been watching since film school. It's just incredible. So I try to stay as positive as I can. What I hope to do is to keep making films about things that I care about. To continue to find ways of challenging myself as an artist. To keep learning. I've learned so much just listening to these guys talk. If I was to look at the big picture, there's no way it could be all downhill from here.
GRAY: I have a question for you guys. I hope you can answer honestly, because I probably would lie. How much pleasure do you find in the doing?
TEPLITZKY: I find enormous pleasure. The moment I step on that set is to be the calmest, the most relaxed, the best physiologically my body works; emotionally, I feel in a good place. It's relaxing.
GRAY: That's amazing to me. I am so envious of people like you. The car drive to set, on that car ride …
COOGLER: You feel sick.
GRAY: I want to throw up. I never want the car to get to set. I want the car ride to be four hours!
HIRSCHBIEGEL: Same here. I hate it.
COOGLER: I haven't directed as many projects as you guys have, but I feel the same as you guys feel, very nervous and terrified. It was my first time doing it.
GRAY: It doesn't get any easier. What would you all have done if you hadn't become directors?
COOGLER: Well, my dad worked at juvenile hall for pretty much my whole life, and my mom worked for a nonprofit organization. Since I've been 21, I've had my dad's job, being a chancellor working with kids that are incarcerated. I really like that job, and I'm looking at starting a nonprofit for kids in that situation. So I think if I wasn't directing, that's what I'd be doing, working with kids in the Bay Area.
HIRSCHBIEGEL: I know. I would either be a policeman or a criminal. I always knew that. From the very start. Luckily, I went into the art world.
GRAY: It's true, when I think about the people I went to school with. Elementary school. They are either dead, in jail or cops. So it's funny you say that. I don't know. People survive. I would probably be teaching English.
TEPLITZKY: Every day, I think, it is incredible I found this because I never would have normally fallen into it. All of the rest of my family are cooks, so I probably would have fallen into that. I like that world. It's a fascinating world. It's a brutal world. Running a food service is not dissimilar to a day on set. It's the same kind of people management, the same kind of deadlines.
EGOYAN: The best training I ever had in being a director was working as a waiter. Having all these different tables and each one has a different kind of energy. It was great. People ask me, "How do you learn to work on a set?" And I say, "Become a waiter in a busy restaurant."
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