J.J. Abrams, “Star Trek”
We were shooting on the set of the enemy ship Narada and I was in a quiet, private panic that this production could end up being an utter disaster. The day was hurt enormously by the visit of (actress) Ashley Jensen, who was on the TV show “Extras” and who is good friends with first AD Tommy Gormley. When she showed up, it made me feel like the backdrop of an episode of her show where she and Ricky Gervais are always playing extras. Their show mocks films, so here I am on a big-budget Hollywood science fiction movie feeling like, “Oh, look at the little Jewish director who’s doing this big Hollywood movie!” It felt like I was working on the very movie being parodied on an episode of “Extras”! It hit every insecure button that I had — that this was the big, dumb Hollywood production. That was the epitome of the experience of this movie, because there were so many ways in which it might not have worked and then be compared badly to the original “Star Trek.”
Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
In May of 2007 I scouted the military base in northwestern Kuwait, Camp Buehring. For U.S. troops, this is the last staging area before you enter Iraq. I arrived midmorning, temperature 135 degrees, which feels pretty much like a car engine overheating directly in your face. Heavy-equipment transporters loaded with Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles sat in single-file lines on sandy roads. In front of
Lee Daniels, left, with Gabourey Sidibe on the set of “Precious”
the equipment transporters was a long convoy of buses idling. Through heat vapors rising off the desert floor, the troops arrived. They were in full battle rattle with M4’s over their shoulders. They were hot off the field and tactically switched very much on. One by one they loaded up onto the waiting buses. The sergeant major who was escorting us on the scout glanced over to the buses, shook his head and said: “These buses are on their way into Iraq — once a week they leave here full.” He paused, wiped rivers of sweat off his brow, and then added: “They never come back that way.”
Lee Daniels, “Precious”
At the very end of the film, there’s a shot of Gabby (Sidibe) holding her head up high, smiling. I wish I could take credit for directing her, just smiling looking up to the sky that way. I cannot. That’s the look of someone picked from obscurity, surrounded by a crew of a 100 people loving her and treating her like a movie star. It was beautiful.
Pete Docter, “Up”
We wanted to depict Carl’s history in his house because it was so emblematic of his relationship with his wife. (So) we went
Ed Asner, left, and Pete Docter
to a bunch of people’s houses who had been in them for a long time. I got to visit (late animator) Joe Grant’s house and the one thing I remembered was the light switch in his studio. It had been there so long you could see layers of dirt from graphite pencils as he was using them. The indications of “off” and “on” were worn away. That was the level of history we wanted to capture in our film.
Tom Ford, “A Single Man”
Colin Firth was my first choice to play George. We had the same agent and when I went to them, they said: “No, he’s got this, he’s got that and then he’s shooting this.” I moved on to another actor who was also terrific, but he wasn’t Colin. Months later I was at the “Mamma Mia!” premiere in London. I was chatting with Colin, listening to his every word, thinking, “He is exactly right for this part. He is George.” That was the light. I got in the car, turned to Richard, my boyfriend with whom I’ve lived for 23 years, and said: “Dammit!” I was kicking myself. It really upset me. But then our film was delayed. Our production schedule was moving a few months into the future and the other actor had to drop out. I got Colin’s e-mail address from a mutual friend and e-mailed him instantly. I Fed Ex-ed him the script, had a phone conversation with him the next day and jumped on a plane to London. I had dinner with him and we made a handshake deal. A month later he was in Los Angeles and we were rehearsing.
Sacha Gervasi, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”
At the L.A. Film Festival last summer, the idea was to screen the film outdoors at the Ford Amphitheater and immediately following, the band would come out onstage and play. The place
Sacha Gervasi performing with Anvil.
was sold out. We played the film and it was one of the most incredible reactions that we’d ever had. Then all of a sudden, (Anvil singer-guitarist) Lips appears on a column about 25 feet in the air in a red spotlight with a Flying V guitar and I realized right then and there the audience was participating in the happy ending of the film. It was a huge moment because suddenly it all became very real.
Nancy Meyers, “It’s Complicated”
Meryl (Streep)’s wardrobe fitting was very exciting. We had a room full of clothes. She came in and was wearing a wig she was trying out. The next wardrobe fitting she had on a different wig. The third wardrobe fitting, she wore her own hair. She was finding her character and it was wonderful watching her process: putting on clothes and feeling them. Moving them around. Putting on a scarf or earrings or bracelets. It was wonderful to watch possibly the most famous actress ever building her tool kit, so to speak. As a writer, I build the character my way and pass the baton at that point and let the actor contribute to it. I like that. I remember the first wardrobe fitting of almost all my movies.
Michael Moore, “Capitalism: A Love Story”
One night I’m in the edit room and the phone rings. It’s a producer from the Bill Moyers show. She says I might want to turn on the TV. I do. And there was Moyers with the vice president of one of the health insurance companies I went after in “Sicko.” The man has documents in his hand — documents that prove that he and the other major health insurance companies secretly got together and mapped out a plan to smear me and my film. He said they spent a ton of money on a disinformation campaign against “Sicko.” But the vp said he regretted it because “everything in ‘Sicko’ was true.” Well, I was stunned to hear this admission. I had wondered if someday, someone from the inside of GM/the NRA/the Bush White House/Big Insurance would come forward and reveal how much effort they’ve spent trying to stop me. But I never thought it would be this soon. I just sat there and, after all I’ve been through for 20 years — the threats, the attacks — I just started to cry. It felt good.
Kenny Ortega, “This Is It”
I was reticent in the beginning. But I was there, I knew the story. And after realizing that I didn’t have anything to be afriad of, I felt guided. I remember playing back about 20 minutes of an early assemblage (of Michael Jackson footage) and I realized, my God, there’s so much more here than I ever thought possible.
Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”
Every wedding scene has been done. So I was trying to come up with an original way into this wedding sequence, which is a big moment because we see George (Clooney) fall in love with Vera (Farmiga). So I thought, “Why don’t we just hold a real wedding?” We hired a local St. Louis wedding coordinator, a priest, a wedding band, we found a church. We had a wedding rehearsal where the coordinator put everyone in their right place. And we hired three camera operators to be wedding videographers. On the day of the shoot, the crew, including myself, hid in the other room and we threw a wedding. I would tell my operators what to do but in general there was a wedding happening. And because of that we captured something authentic and unique. The way George and Vera danced was because they were in the middle of a real wedding.
Jim Sheridan, “Brothers”
We were shooting in New Mexico in a distant place where we couldn’t bring any trucks, so we had to walk half a mile carrying the equipment. In the morning it was freezing cold but we had to get dawn shots for a scene where Tobey Maguire was being interrogated and tortured. It was a wide shot and we had to throw freezing water over him. We could have put in a stunt man, but Tobey wanted to do it himself. When we went to shoot his close-up, I realized how cold it was because when we threw the water on him, cold steam came off his body. He’d lost about 15 pounds by then for the role and I was worried he’d get pneumonia.
Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”
The fire at the end was a huge action scene that required a ton of people. This had to be a jaw-dropper, because if it wasn’t, the whole movie would fizzle out. I haven’t liked fire sequences that much in movies, so there was nothing I could point to and say: “I want something like that.” I couldn’t even create storyboards because I needed to see it in my head before I could decide how to shoot it. It took us the entire length of the shoot to figure out how to do it. The first time I went to the stunt rehearsal, I went up into the balcony where Hitler would be sitting and watched it. It looked so awesome, right then and there I knew it would be easier than I thought. We initially thought we’d need two weeks to shoot it, but we were done in four days. When you have this hard sequence you’re having meetings about (during) the entire length of preproduction and shoot, it can’t help but become this big, anxiety-inducing thing. But because we did all that work and talked about it so much, it actually played like a dream.