DGA Awards: Nominees Talk Craft in Morning Panel

DGA Theater - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of DGA

A "horse box," Hitler and an on-set editor were featured subjects Saturday morning at the DGA Theater Complex.

The five DGA Award-nominated feature film directors held forth Saturday morning on aspects of their craft in advance of the evening’s gala ceremony that will tap one of the five with the union’s highest honor. This year’s nominees shared subject matter — their films focused on violence and conflict, as befits our troubled times, and the all-male group didn’t score high on gender diversity.

But what Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood) and Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) also shared was an intense passion for directing and a deep knowledge of craft that came through to the full house at the DGA Theater Complex in Los Angeles.

"There is no end to the language of the camera," declared Mendes, whose creation of a World War I-set film without apparent cuts results in a propulsive journey through trenches and a blasted hell of no man’s lands, bombed out farmhouses and burning villages. The filmmaker also disclosed that he, DP Roger Deakins and four actors spent six months pacing out the fields to determine the pattern of the trenches and structures before a single trench was dug or set built. And, during filming, Mendes was carted about in an animal trailer as the action ranged across the built environment.

"I was in a horse box," he said. "It was a video village on wheels."

In contrast, Waititi’s viewport to the Second World War that came 30 years later was a somewhat more peaceful domestic drama featuring the breakup (spoiler alert) of a young boy and his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi).

"It was very strange to be dressed up like that while directing," noted Waititi.

Meanwhile, Tarantino eschewed monitors in the making of his Hollywood period piece. "There was no video village," he said. But there was "a chair town" where actors and crew could grab a seat.

Bong, speaking through an interpreter, revealed that he not only used monitors while shooting his class warfare drama, but that the production had an on-set editor who was constantly cutting while he was shooting.

"I think it’s because Koreans are impatient," he added.

That arrangement wouldn’t have sat well with Scorsese, who appeared at the panel remotely, in the form of a monitor parked next to Bong’s interpreter.

"I don’t like too many people in the video village," he said, in order to maintain the privacy of his artistic process while his Mafia movie was taking shape. He added that his thoughts would run to, "'These people are looking at my film. Who are they?'"

Indeed, anxiety was a theme for several of the nominees. In shooting big set pieces, Tarantino said he was "nervous I’ll find the limit of my talent," while for Waititi, the very concept of his movie led to fear that "this film, in particular, could be a career-ender."

Said Mendes in response, "I thought my movie was a high-wire act, but at least I wasn’t dressed as fuckin’ Hitler."