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Balancing life and work has been a constant struggle for cinematographer and five-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel.
In between lensing such blockbusters as The Right Stuff, The Natural and The Passion of the Christ, Deschanel managed to maintain his Hollywood marriage – 42 years and counting – to actress Mary Jo Deschanel and to raise two overachieving children: Emily Deschanel, star of Fox’s long-running procedural Bones, and Zooey Deschanel, the face of New Girl, another Fox primetime hit.
Deschanel received a lifetime achievement award at the Camerimage Festival in Poland this month and sat down with THR to talk about the perils of constant travel, his new film with Warren Beatty and why he’s grateful to finally be shooting again in L.A..
Both of your daughters are very successful actresses. Did you encourage or discourage them from working in the business?
Well, my wife is also an actress. But from a very early age, our daughter Zooey wanted to crawl into The Wizard of Oz and be in that movie. She’s always been that way. Emily was interested in architecture and various other things along the way, but then she went to Boston University in a theater program. She studied for four years, then became an actress.
Was their talent apparent from the start?
They went to a high school that did a fundraiser every year, a cabaret show, where they would do skits and sing and do funny little bits. And some of the other kids’ parents were famous people who’d come in and be part of it. And both kids, since they were 12 or 13, would get up in front of 2,000 people and not feel nervous. If I got up in front of so many people, I’d just melt. But both of them really love doing it – and not necessarily for all the [trappings of] success, even though that helps them do the things that they want to do. But for the process of pretending to do things. Which I don’t understand.
It worked out quite well for both of them.
It’s funny, because along the way, people would be sort of snarky and say, “So what are your kids doing?” “They’re actresses.” “Ooh, how’s that working out for them?” “Well, it’s working out pretty well. Next question?”
Was it difficult for you to stay close to them, given that you traveled a lot?
It was tough when they were growing up. I literally stopped shooting feature films for eight years and just directed television commercials so that I would not have to be away so long. When they got older, at the end of high school, they had their friends and they didn’t need their dad as much anymore.
But for that period of time when they were younger, we would either take them with us and they’d go to school wherever we were, or my wife would teach them. In the summer it was easy, but toward the end of the school year they would do their work and then they’d come visit. We were always aware of that and always made an effort to keep our family close. And we’re still very close, which is nice.
Your next film, which you’re shooting for Warren Beatty, will be in Los Angeles.
It’s the first film I’ve shot in Hollywood since 2009. I’m really glad that they finally passed a bill trying to bring more films back to L.A. It’s really kind of outrageous, with Hollywood being the center of film but nobody making films in Hollywood. It’s all TV. Both my girls work in television and they get to stay home all the time. It’s been really terrible. Not so much for me – I can pretty much go anywhere and my wife can go with me. I’d miss being with my kids, but they’re adults and they have their own lives. But a lot of my crew have families and young kids. It’s really not fair. They manage to make it work, but I suspect it’s really hard on everybody. The average feature film for an assistant got to be at least two months of work or so. That’s a long time to be away from your family.
Even if they’re being filmed in the U,S.?
It depends on where they are being shot. If you’re shooting in San Francisco and you’re based in L.A., it’s easy to get away on the weekend. And you can get from New Orleans to L.A. But New York is pretty hard, and so is Pittsburgh. At least New York has lots of flights, so if you have a long weekend, it’s easier to get home and back. But it’s a six-hour flight, so it’s basically a whole day going back and forth.
The other thing you have to worry about is the flight being canceled. If it’s the last flight of the night, you have to take the red-eye and go straight to the set. It’s complicated.
Your next film was still called “Untitled Warren Beatty Project” the last time I checked. Does it have a title now?
No, it doesn’t. I saw Warren last week, and he and his editor were trying out a couple of names on me to see if I liked them. I think they’re going to come up with a name pretty soon. Warren likes to hold off on making a decision for as long as he can. I finally figured out his attitude while we were doing the movie. He questions everything, constantly puts everybody on the spot. “Why are we doing this? Why are we doing that? Wouldn’t it be better to do it this way?” I think it’s because he’s got this determination never to fail.
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