THR's Directors Roundtable: How to Fire People, Who to Steal From, and Amy Pascal's Secret Advice
Six auteurs reveal personal war stories and what makes a great movie in the second of THR's annual awards season series discussions.
THR: What's the best and the worst moment you've had as directors?
Payne: I was shooting a rear-screen projection moment for Election where Matthew Broderick is pretending he's Marcello Mastroianni in a Ferrari on the Italian coast and I laughed very hard. It was fun making myself laugh.
Mills: Premiering your movie -- I don't know if it's the worst moment, [but] it's the most uncomfortable. My film premiered at Toronto and the Elgin Theater is this gorgeous, three-story theater. I was just walking up to the top, back down to the bottom, and then finally I just left because I really couldn't stand it anymore.
Reitman: As someone that was in the Elgin that night, that was a pretty spectacular screening.
Mills: You're very nice.
McQueen: My worst moment was firing a crewmember. It was one of those situations where that person was there for all of the wrong reasons.
Reitman: I had to fire an 8-year-old girl once on a Wal-Mart commercial. She was kind of a bad influence on the other kids.
Payne: I fired an actor, just once. This actor was being disobedient in rehearsal the week before shooting, and so the day before shooting we made this actor go away and I hired someone off a tape who was wonderful.
THR: How was he or she being disobedient?
Payne: Arguing with me. It was a young person arguing over the stupidest things. I'm not there to argue with people and I'm not there to be a psychiatrist or a father figure. I'm there to make a film, and I invite collaboration but not argument.
Reitman: I actually think psychiatrist is a bit of the job.
THR: Many of you have remained in the independent film world by choice. Steve, would you ever take a big studio movie?
McQueen: If I get final cut, yeah, why not? I want to work with people, I don't necessarily want to work for people. But final cut is not a sort of dictatorial position, it's actually a conversation, being collaborative with the people who are providing the money to make the movie.
Payne: I would not give up final cut, but my next film will be in black and white for theatrical, DVD and streaming, and I am taking DGA scale plus 15 [percent] for this film. It's tentatively called Nebraska. It's just a little comedy.
THR: Why black and white?
Payne: Because it would be so cool.
THR: Did you go to film school?
McQueen: Went there for three months and hated it at NYU. Film school was like work; it wasn't like art.
Miller: I was at NYU for a bit. I found myself contracting.
McQueen: For some people, it works. But I get the impression for us, you need freedom and you're put in this space where you can't fit.
Payne: I loved film school [at UCLA]. I had a great time. I had one of those dream scenarios where I showed my [student] film and the next day I had 40 calls from agents and producers and studio people, and within a month, I had an agent and a writing-directing deal at a studio.
THR: You're all men, and only one of you, Steve, is a minority -- why is that?
McQueen: I must be in America.
Mills: Yeah, why isn't there a woman here? My wife could be sitting here.
THR: Name a female director who made a major film this year.
Mills: Miranda July [The Future].
Payne: Lynne Ramsay [We Need to Talk About Kevin], Andrea Arnold [Wuthering Heights].
THR: OK, but you're talking about small films that have been little seen in America.
McQueen: I mean, the question could be different. The question could be, "Why aren't there more black directors?" because there are obviously more women directors than black directors.
THR: So what's the answer?
McQueen: I have no idea. I mean, it's opportunity, isn't it? That's what it's about -- opportunity. And access, because some people just give up. I'm always astonished by American filmmakers, particularly living in certain areas, when they never cast one black person, or have never put them in a lead in the movie. I'm astonished. It's shameful. How do you live in New York and not cast a black actor or a Latino actor? It's shameful. It's unbelievable.
Reitman: Not stepping into that.
Miller: I don't know.
THR: We look back at the late '30s, the '70s in America, New Wave in France, those were great eras in film. What about now?
Payne If you look at certain countries, you can say, "Well, they're having a good era." Like, Romania has been having a good era for the last six or seven years. Maybe it's starting to wind down, I don't know. Korea, Taiwan, Iran comes and goes, and they have a spectacular film this year in A Separation. So if you look by country, I don't think U.S. commercial filmmaking is having a great period, and hasn't had a truly great period since about 1980. That's my opinion.
The Hollywood Reporter continues its annual series of exclusive discussions among the year's most compelling film talents. As awards season unfolds, look for upcoming roundtables with actors, writers, producers and animation filmmakers, and go to The Reporter's awards-season blog The Race at THR.com to watch videos of the full discussions.