DGA Nominees Reveal the "Inside Stories" Behind Their Films

DGA - H 2016
Jonathan Handel

Five helmers shared thoughts as the DGA Awards approach.

Five directors, and five distinctly different feature films, were on display Saturday morning at the Directors Guild of America’s annual Meet the Nominees panel, where DGA president Paris Barclay promised an overflow crowd they would hear "the inside stories, some of which are actually true” in advance of the evening’s DGA Awards, at which the five nominees will be winnowed down to one winner.

Truth was certainly a theme for the two nominated helmers whose films are based on recent events. Tom McCarthy, whose Spotlight tells the tale of Boston Globe reporters who worked doggedly to expose the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child-abusing priests, said that “the challenge was how to make information cinematic but remain true to what [reporting] is — to capture the tedium but make it something you could watch [and] not blow your head off.”

McCarthy cited, too, the importance of casting even small parts in a way that reflected the story’s atmosphere and setting. Adam McKay, who profiled the financial crisis in The Big Short, discussed casting, production (“controlled chaos”) and the editing room, where he adopted two personas: “I started like a hippie teacher from the '70s who refused to give out grades and said ‘everyone’s cool,’" he related. "But then I turned into Otto Preminger,” scrutinizing the editor’s assembly frame by frame.

Attention to detail was a hallmark for George Miller as well, who said he prepared 3,500 storyboards for his sci-fi actioner Mad Max: Fury Road. Still, he said, a movie is “like a big dog — you want to take it for a walk one way and it drags you off the other way.”

In contrast, Ridley Scott visualizes his films in his head. “I function by intuition,” he remarked. But evoking emotion for his sci-fi adventure The Martian was a challenge, he noted, because “Astronauts don’t cry. Big men don’t cry.”

That was less of a problem, it appears, with the fifth represented film, The Revenant, as the frontier revenge drama is a well of emotion. “I’m terrified to shoot violence, because it looks so cool on screen,” said director Alejandro G. Inarritu, who also struggled with the harsh landscape that is as much a character in his movie as the actors. “I hate green,” he said. “I hate trees. It’s so difficult to shoot trees, and horses.”

Agreeing that directing can be a tough job, Scott said, “If I’d realized [then] what I know now, I’d be a hedge-fund trader.” The panel — the Guild’s 25th — was moderated by Jeremy Kagan, himself a helmer and DGA member.

Email: jh@jhandel.com