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Todd Field may be a man of few films, but he doesn’t lack for accolades. All three of the features he’s directed — In the Bedroom (2001), Little Children (2006) and Tár (2022) — have been bestowed multiple Oscar nominations, including best picture. Tár, which was also written by Field, stars Cate Blanchett as a renowned conductor brought down by allegations of personal transgressions. Like other films of the current era, the making of Tár was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Field — who had worked in commercials in the intervening years since his last feature — also had to assemble a European crew, since much of the movie was shot in Germany, including Berlin and Dresden. Working in these settings, as well as with a real-life orchestra, brought its own challenges. Field has been a hands-on producer on the trio of movies he’s directed and shares a PGA credit for Tár with Scott Lambert and Alexandra Milchan.
Were you more involved as a producer on this movie than you’ve been on other movies?
Yes and no. Like Little Children, I was very fortunate to lock arms with a formidable line producer. On Little Children, it was Patrick J. Palmer, who had worked with everyone. I had someone who has the most incredible experience on this film, Nigel Wooll. It’s funny: I’m at an age now where I’m the old man and there’s some comfort sometimes working with someone who’s older than you, and certainly has more experience than you. His first movie credit was the year I was born, 1964; Nigel was 80 when we were shooting Tár. There was nothing you could throw at him that he didn’t have an example of how he’d accomplished it before. He wasn’t afraid of anything. There was nothing that seemed strange or weird to him. I also had Sebastian Fahr-Brix, who was a co-producer on the film. I had worked with him in advertising for many years. I had a great support team. I think that’s the art of producing, as it is the art of directing — hire people with more experience and who are smarter than you and have the same idea of what you want to accomplish and work toward that end.
Is there anything you did as a producer that you hadn’t done before?
I think the method in which I’m accustomed to working is pretty much the same. I’m involved in every aspect, from casting to the writing, to the prep, to the budget, to the vendors, to the hiring, to the firing, to postproduction, all the way through marketing. I wish that I weren’t. Because when you work that way, everybody feels free to contact me, and they should. I have an open door, so I’ll get email from the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the dresser. I get emails even today from people in Germany asking me for tickets to the Berlin Film Festival. I handle it all. I get a thousand emails a day and I respond to all of them, and it’s probably why I don’t make films very often. I’m a Calvinist, and a completion junkie.
What new things did you learn as a producer?
I’ve learned about prioritizing from working in advertising. Where do you spend your time? What’s the best use of the finances on something? And when do you gamble everything, because it matters, and when do you forget about something else? And that’s something that is hard to know, especially if you’re not prolific and you only make one film every hundred million years, which is what I do. When you work in advertising, you share in the profit if it doesn’t go over a budget. You’re much more conscious of prioritizing things and delivering something you’re proud of and that you can stand behind and be responsible to the people who are paying you. You are very conscious of your bottom line, and I think that’s the difference.
You didn’t know many of the people on the Tár set. How was that experience?
You always find a way to build trust with each other, but that’s easier said than done. Sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes it comes later in a process, sometimes it never comes. That’s a challenge for any producer, but in this case, again, really, my one saving grace was I had a collaboration with Sebastian, and he’s Berlin-based. Sebastian and I have done impossible things in far-flung places of the Earth very quickly and pulled them off together and survived to tell the tales. I placed a lot of trust in Sebastian in terms of hires, and trusting him to manage those hires. I met Sebastian on a very challenging commercial where I was dropped in the middle of Cairo in total chaos. And Sebastian came in and made order out of that chaos. We shot in four or five countries on that campaign. We’ve shot in all kinds of other places together.
What in particular was the most challenging aspect of this movie?
There were many. First of all, how do you get a world-class orchestra to agree to give you two weeks of their time? And how do you get them to allow you into their home [venue]? How do you get them to perform and act in your film? And how do you take that very limited time and somehow execute hundreds of camera setups in a very short period of time that are all timed to very specific points in this case, in this music? That was a gigantic challenge for the production team, for cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister and for everyone else. Not to mention what Cate had to do; she’s walking onstage after two short rehearsals and commanding an orchestra for hours, for days.
The Dresden Philharmonic stood in for the Berlin Philharmonic. All orchestras in Germany are operated as a democracy. What did that entail?
A week before we were supposed to show up, they were voting on whether they were going to allow us to come to shoot there a week. We really were on the knife’s edge with this production. There were so many things where things could have gone wrong for us. Uwe Schott, who’s an executive producer on the film, made tremendous inroads with the orchestra, or he and Sebastian. It was no small miracle they were able to get us in there. It was a long process. We’d drive down and I would sit in meetings with the head of the orchestra, Frauke Roth, and talk through every possible thing because it is a democratic orchestra. They’re also very protective of their organization, for very good reason. And that was a long amount of time spent to try to make everybody comfortable and to explain how everything was going to work. And Dresden — it’s a couple hours to drive down there from Berlin, so every time you would do that, basically your whole day is gone in a very short prep time when you’re trying to organize a production. That’s how we started the production. We were patting ourselves on the back, but because we’d spent so much time with the orchestra, it was at the expense of a lot of the rest of our prep. We were playing catch-up. Part of the producing challenge was trying to get people to come in on their own time and work — if not seven-day weeks, then certainly six-day weeks.
Any other challenges come to mind?
Nothing was easy. Securing the main locations for the film didn’t happen until the very last moment. Berlin is a very tough city to get around because it’s a very alive city in the way that Paris can be, which is the gong goes off and there are protests in the street every week, and you never know when the police are going to [cordon] stuff off. You and your crew can get stranded on the other side of the protest.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a Feb. stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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