Marrakech Fest: Director Saar Klein Talks First Film Frustrations, Learning From Terrence Malick
"The second you start in the morning you're already two hours behind," he says
Oscar-nominated editor Saar Klein took a nearly seven-year break to make his first film, the cautionary economic tale After the Fall, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
The Wes Bentley-Jason Isaacs starrer premiered to strong reviews in Berlin as Things People Do before going on to win a special jury prize in Deauville. It's in competition in Marrakech, where Klein speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about switching from editing to directing and the best lessons from working with Terrence Malick.
Why did you make the jump from editing — where you had a pretty good track record and a couple of Oscar nominations under your belt — to directing?
I wanted to do it for many years. Because the process is so long, I always got sucked into another editing job, another opportunity to work with a great director. At one point, I just said to myself the only way it's going to happen is if there is a level of desperation. And you have to create that desperation yourself sometimes, so I just said I'm not working anymore.
How was the jump from editing to directing?
The directing part came very naturally. It's not easy but exciting. Of course there's a lot to learn, like managing time and realizing the second you start in the morning you are already two hours behind. But I'd already made some short films and learned a bit.
What are the main differences between the two worlds?
In editing, it's all about control. You can control every frame, every decibel and the color — just everything. I learned from making a short film that you don't really want to do that. The directors I've worked with don't actually work that way — whether it's Terrence Malick or Doug Lyman — there's a level of looseness. Once you're in the editing room, the script can get thrown out and you find the best story that you can. That has always been my philosophy as an editor, so I learned to let things happen and didn't stick to one idea if something wasn't working. If you're shooting a scene in the pool and it's supposed to be idyllic but it's raining, what are you supposed to do? You can pull your hair and yell at someone, but that's not me, and it's not going to change anything.
How did your experience as an editor color your director point of view?
[My history] as an editor really helped me to just think "What is this scene about?" Sometimes these unexpected things can help if you think about it in a clever way. You have to think about what's essential because you get to the editing room and you end up cutting things anyway. I had that understanding in mind.
I've worked in editing rooms where the script was just thrown out, from the artier fare like The Thin Red Line to The Bourne Identity, where we just created things out of nothing. So the movies that I liked working on and that I excelled as an editor on were very unstructured in a way. There's a lot of beautiful chaos, and that is what I have always loved. That is what Malick has always loved, and it's not what Lyman has always said he's loved, but really he does. He loves a level of chaos because it allows things to be real. When everything is too staged and too precise, you lose a certain element that makes film great.
How did you make the casting choice of Wes Bentley?
We had coffee for a couple of hours, and I knew he was the guy. He is open about it, but he had a period of drugs in his life, and he said, "I understand this guy because I used to roll with guys who were criminals, basically. But I thought I was different from them, even if I was doing illegal things. I separated myself. I was the good guy in the situation." He had an understanding of it. And there's something about Wes I noticed the first time I meant him: He is a very gentle soul, but facially, there's a certain intensity to him, a darkness almost that I think really fit the character for me. … Some people pick up a gun and commit crimes and some don't. I wanted to realistically explore what it is about someone that will make him pick up a gun and do that. Wes had the capacity to juggle this gentleness with a certain level of violence.
What lessons did you learn working with these directors?
Time is the enemy of the director. Someone said that to me once. It might have been Malick.
What lesson did you learn from directing?
It's been frustrating in some ways. If you're a DP or an AD — since we finished my AD has done four films, Rosewater — but as a director, you really don't get to do a lot because development takes so long and raising money takes so long. I didn't think about it strategically. I just wanted to make a film.
And I'm new to the world of distribution. It's been educational, exhausting and keeping me away from filmmaking. That's the truth of it. It doesn't allow you to be creative. It doesn't allow you time to write and requires a skill set that is completely different than directing. When I made this, my attitude was a little bit different. My attitude as an editor was always, "I don't care about what anybody thinks; if it's a good story, it's a good story, and if it's honest, people will want to go see it." But how do you get it to them? Making this film opened my eyes that there is a whole world out there outside of just the making of the film. I'd like, if it's possible, to return to my bubble of just making films.
If a great editing gig comes along, would you return to editing, or do you want to continue as a director after this experience?
My attitude has always been I don't know why people define themselves by one thing. I edit commercials too. If Marty [Scorsese] came to me and said, "Cut it" — he's got an editor, so I don't think that's going to happen — but if he came to me, or I had an opportunity to work with another great director, why not? It's hard because I really want to focus on directing, but if I had the opportunity to work with a great director I would.
Will it be another seven years before your next project, or do you have something lined up?
I'm looking for stuff. I know I don't want to do everything like last time. I want more help, and I want to work with great writers and come into the process a little bit later so that my focus is really on directing. I'm looking and I'm reading, so if anybody out there has a great script, my number is …