DGA Awards film contenders

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Top DGA Awards film contenders reveal the nuances of getting the scene just right.

Stephen Daldry

On visualizing Bernhard Schlink's decade-spanning German-language novel "The Reader" (The Weinstein Co.):

"We spent a long time on the aging process and getting that makeup plausible and believable in its different stages. We had to take Kate Winslet from age 36 to 68 and age the young German actor David Kross, who had to be plausibly 15 and in his early 20s because he spans two different periods. There were huge amounts of camera tests. We had Germans speaking English and English people speaking with German accents, and everybody needed to be in the same world -- in other words, they had to speak with the same German accent. So we had to establish a dialect palette, which we did with William Conacher, who's my accent and voice coordinator. Basically, we tried to match people as much as we could to David. Interestingly enough, it was easier with the English people in the film than it was with the Germans, who spoke English with a variety of different accents."

Jonathan Demme

On how he came to direct "Rachel Getting Married" (Sony Pictures Classics):

"Sidney Lumet called me and said his daughter has written a wonderful screenplay, and he said, 'You should direct it.' I read it. I loved it. I saw in it the opportunity to hopefully make a really terrific movie in an aggressively independent spirit. I'd had a bee in my bonnet about Anne Hathaway for a couple of years, and this struck me as a chance to work with her. Anne is going to continue to astonish us as the years unfold. I think she's going to wind up being one of the greats. Certainly this is different than anything she has done before. But what amuses me is she hasn't even scratched the surface yet in terms of what she's capable of."

Ron Howard

On heightening the tension of Peter Morgan's stage play "Frost/Nixon" (Universal):

"I actually had a very clear point of view about how to breathe real life and spontaneity into the play. My idea didn't involve epic shots of Hollywood in 1977 and massive crowds. It actually was more about moving in on the subject and really exploring it in the most nuanced way. I wanted, as much as possible, to put the viewer into those rooms with those people and make it feel like they were experiencing that fascinating moment. The thing I really wanted to develop -- besides the power (and) danger of Nixon, his intellect and his personality -- was also the remarkable ballsy-ness of Frost's entrepreneurial undertaking. I thought it would bring more tension to the story if we played out some of those moments where you saw him scrambling to try to get this enterprise afloat and keep it afloat and facing the challenge of Nixon."

Baz Luhrmann

On addressing one of his home country's darkest chapters in "Australia" (Fox):

"I wrote the script with indigenous writers (in addition to screenwriters) because the film has a very central indigenous issue of the Stolen Generation. The government took the (Aboriginal) children away, lied to the children -- in fact they changed the children's names, put them in compounds and lied about where their parents were. It devastated the indigenous peoples of the country. For many, many years, this has been a psychological wound, and what was so incredibly moving was we had on the film many Stolen Generation Aboriginals. David Gulpilil is an Aboriginal acting legend. He lives in the bush. When we were making the film, the Australian prime minister brought all the tribes to Parliament House and apologized for this act. This happened at the same time that we had just finished making the movie. And this country has begun to move on spiritually in a way in which you can't imagine."

John Patrick Shanley

On intensifying the conflict between his actors in "Doubt" (Miramax):

"(During rehearsals), I asked (Philip Seymour Hoffman), 'Do you want to know the backstory on the priest,' and he said, 'Yeah.' I took him out in the hall and I told him the backstory, and I said, 'Is that good for you?' He said: 'Yeah, it is. But next time you don't have to take me out in the hall.' And I said, 'Actually, I think I do.' We went back in and Meryl (Streep) looked at us suspiciously, and that's what I wanted. She harassed Phil all through the shoot, basically saying: 'I know you did it. Why do you keep lying about it?' And she wasn't kidding! Meryl was so confident that she knew something -- I was never sure what -- and she used it to play the part. Before takes, Meryl would literally be muttering, 'I'm going to kick his ass.' She was psyching herself up, which was kind of exciting."

Steven Soderbergh

On shooting backward for his two-part "Che" (IFC Films):

"We were definitely in a trench. Or at least a ravine or two. Once you went down there in the morning, you stayed there all day. I've never had to rely as much on my team as I have on this one. We shot the second part first, and we shot it backward because everyone lost weight and grew their hair. It's scary to be shooting the climax of the entire project in the first five days. You're making commitments that you're going to have to live with. But then, two weeks later I looked at the end of Part 2 and felt we were going to be OK. In a weird way that had a calming effect."

Oliver Stone

On finishing in time for a pre-election release of "W." (Lionsgate):

"We did something amazing. Look at the size of the movie, the number of actors in it. I think we were in 26 locations over 46 days. If you play chess, I think there's no reason you cannot play speed chess. We did 11-12 pages in two days. But just because it was quickly done, it doesn't mean it wasn't done with perspective. We spent all year on the script, and it was (shot) fast because we had a script we liked. Above all, we edited it. We made many changes in the editing room. Many. With (2004's) 'Alexander,' I went back twice (and recut). I didn't go back on (2006's) 'World Trade Center.' I let it stand. And I'll let this stand. I had a contract that allowed me to delay, and we had the money to go to December on the edit, so I had a choice (whether to release it) before the election. I like the movie the way it is."

Gus Van Sant

On shooting within his $20 million budget on "Milk" (Focus Features):

"When you work within that budget, limitations start to create their own answers. If you have an unlimited palette, like a billion dollars to spend, it's pretty confusing because then you realize you can do absolutely anything, and it just slows everything down. I would've liked to have the money that we needed for extras, and the film probably would've been different. But there's also a point where it gets a little soggy and complicated if there's a lot of money. But I haven't really done a movie with a lot of money. And $20 million is really a lot, so I was happy with that. We didn't really do it the way you could have if you wanted to save a lot of money. We probably could've made $20 million go farther if we hadn't done it in a traditional Hollywood way."

Compiled by Matthew Belloni, Alex Ben Block, Shannon L. Bowen, Todd Longwell and Ray Richmond.
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