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I recently sat down in Hollywood with a big chunk of the team that is most responsible for Silver Linings Playbook — writer-director David O. Russell, actor Bradley Cooper, producers Bruce Cohen and Jonathan Gordon, production designer Judy Becker, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, film editor Jay Cassidy and composer Danny Elfman — to discuss the making of the dramedy, which has become one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2012 and The Weinstein Co.’s strongest Oscar contender of the season.
As you can see by checking out the video of our conversation at the top of this post, each individual talked about the challenges and rewards of working on this project:
Russell says that it has been a five-year journey for him, dating back to when Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella — both of whom have since passed away — sent him a copy of Matthew Quick‘s novel to check out. He made some significant changes to the story in adapting it for the screen, but retained its heart and soul, as well as Quick’s blessing. As the father of a son who has struggled with bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders, Russell explains, “We’ve lived many scenes [like] the ones in the movie.” Like his last film The Fighter, this one is about a big and complicated family, and also required actors who displayed great chemistry as well as certain special skills — in this case, stars Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence had to learn how to dance and, as he emphasizes, “They had to learn it before we started shooting because there was no time to rehearse during the shoot. It’s like the boxing for The Fighter.”
Cooper says it was “a dream to be able to work with a guy like David O. Russell,” but confesses, “The truth is I was so scared to do this movie and I felt that I wasn’t right for it — which is ridiculous because I’m from Philadelphia, I’m half Italian-Irish, I love the Eagles — I mean, there’s more similarities than differences.” He had already realized his dream of working with Robert De Niro a year earlier in Limitless, but says it was a great thrill to work with him again on this film, and that their existing relationship made it easier for him to lose himself in the part of De Niro’s son. “He surpasses any expectation I ever had of him, and I had huge ones,” Cooper says. He effusively praises the talents of Lawrence, whom he first met and got to know before shooting commenced, when they started taking lessons together at a Chestnut St. dance studio in order to learn the choreographed dance for the film. (“What a great way to get to know somebody,” he remarks.) And he describes Russell’s unpredictable directing style “daunting and exhilarating at the same time.”
Becker talks about shooting in Philadelphia, which is like a character unto itself in the film, and specifically in real locations, which Russell has always preferred to manufactured sets. “It was shot almost entirely on locations,” she explains, in real homes. She says that she saw as one of her greatest challenges the task of making the look and feel of Silver Linings distinct from The Fighter, since both are films about working-class and somewhat eccentric people. She devoted considerable effort to giving authentic Philadelphia character to the Soledano home, which is the backdrop for much of the film, right down to the smallest details, like the family photos on the walls and the gratings outside of the homes.
Takayanagi recalls working with Russell and camera operator David Thompson to make it possible to shoot 360 degrees around the actors during scenes, and in so doing capturing the performances, establishing the space, and making the camera every bit as much of a hyperactive and curious character as the film’s leads. He says that he does not believe that this could be precisely recreated on another film.
Cassidy says that he never even met Russell in-person before they started working on the dailies, but learned about his vision and process through numerous earlier phone conversations. He says that Russell’s style of directing and the resulting variety of takes “offered a tool for me I’ve never had,” and enabled him — with the participation of Russell, Cooper, and the producers, all of whom were invited into the editing room to make suggestions — to develop each of the film’s three major storylines and then collide them together at the climactic dance competition.
Elfman, meanwhile, notes that he was “already fully booked for the year” — he ended up scoring six 2012 films, five of which are now on the best original score Oscar long-list — when he was first approached about scoring Silver Linings. He says that because he is a fan of Russell, and in spite of the advance knowledge that the film is a romantic-comedy, he went to meet Russell and watch a rough-cut of the film anyway. “I generally don’t know what to do with that genre,” he says, “but I saw this film and I was just blown away… I said, ‘I don’t know how, but I have to work on this film,'” and he ended up taking on the extra work. He explains, “In the end it was a very simple score, but there was a lot of math getting there.” Russell would come over every other day to check out the score, and each visit stirred up conflicting emotions for Elfman: “I was terrified of his reaction to that day’s music, but I was really happy to have him coming over and hanging out.”
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