Dialogue: Ang Lee, James Schamus

The two filmmakers discuss the film that has garnered them ShoWest's Freedom of
Expression Award.

Director Ang Lee and writer-producer James Schamus will receive the first-ever Freedom of Expression Award at ShoWest, an acknowledgment of their boldness in making last year's "Lust, Caution" as an NC-17-rated movie. The filmmakers behind such pictures as "The Ice Storm" (1997), "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) and "Brokeback Mountain" (2005) spoke to The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway about "Lust" and caution.

The Hollywood Reporter: The short story on which "Lust, Caution" is based doesn't mention nudity. How cautious were you in taking that direction?
Ang Lee: At the screenplay stage, we weren't really thinking about that. In the back of my head, I was interested in going there, but there isn't a whole lot in the screenplay. ... But it's absolutely pivotal to the movie: It anchors the emotion and the spirit in a very artistic and spiritual way.

THR: How did the screenplay present those scenes?
James Schamus: It's kind of like "Atlanta burns" -- you don't have to describe every timber. The screenplay doesn't say, "They take off every piece of clothing to make love." It says, "They make love." When it was shot, it was a closed set, and we knew it was going to be intense; that said, Ang didn't know just what the choreography and imagery would entail.

THR: At what point did you know?
Lee: After the first cut. Then James explained to me (the consequences of) having an NC-17 (rating). And after the second cut, he never said a word again.

THR: But, as CEO of Focus Features, you also knew you'd have to deal with a very different kind of release if you got an NC-17. How did you handle that?
Schamus: We did a lot of research on the dos and don'ts and then reached out to people like John Fithian (CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners) and said, "Here's what we are up to." And we got an enormous response from NATO, saying, "This is a legitimate movie. It's time to get over this stigma."

THR: Did newspapers get over the stigma when it came to advertising?
Schamus: Everywhere except a couple of places -- Salt Lake City was one. And one
theater chain put up resistance to buying the film. But in 99% of cases, we got every screen we thought was right.

THR: You had to cut the film for Asian audiences, though.
Lee: In China, I cut around 10 minutes; in Taiwan and Hong Kong, we left it uncut. In China, they don't have a ratings system, and (a release) has to be for a general audience. But most people there are seeing (the uncut version) through the DVD.

THR: Would that be the official DVD or a pirated version?
Lee: The (official) DVD was the G version. It didn't have the nudity, and it didn't have half of the stabbing scenes, the gruesome part. But people (in China) are also flying to Hong Kong to see it.
Schamus: In fact, so many people were going there that the government in southern China issued a public health alert: "Unless you do yoga, please don't try the positions in the movie."

You're joking, right?
Schamus: I swear to you! One of my favorite moments of glory this year was on the NPR show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" They had us as one of their "fake" news stories. I got more calls after that!