This story first appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It took writer-director Derek Cianfrance 13 years to find financing for 2010’s Blue Valentine. That movie, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a young married couple whose relationship hits the rocks, had to appeal its initial NC-17 rating in favor of a less-restrictive R. But The Weinstein Co. release ultimately earned Williams a best actress Oscar nomination and helped establish Cianfrance’s reputation as an uncompromising filmmaker. His new film, The Place Beyond the Pines, a crime drama starring Bradley Cooper and Gosling that was shot in Schenectady, N.Y., will have its world premiere Sept. 7 in Toronto.
The Hollywood Reporter: What does The Place Beyond the Pines refer to?
Derek Cianfrance: That’s what Schenectady means in the Iroquois language, and that is where the movie is set. It’s a bit of a mythical tale about the events that happen in this one place and the people who are trapped there.
THR: You were trapped yourself when Hurricane Irene hit. What happened?
Cianfrance: The town experienced the biggest flooding in 500 years. The rivers completely overflowed; the house I was staying in with my family was buried up to the second floor. My wife and two boys had to evacuate, and our trucks were buried underwater — and a couple days of film were trapped in this truck. So our camera guys took a canoe out there and saved our film.
THR: What else went wrong?
Cianfrance: When we did the opening, we felt we needed this epic single tracking shot where we follow Ryan Gosling into this “Globe of Death,” a steel cage where motorcycles go round and round. [Cinematographer] Sean Bobbitt decided to go in there with them, suited up like RoboCop — and I’m there watching, and all of a sudden the camera goes static and the crowd gasps, and I see Sean at the bottom of the motorcycles. We rushed in and pulled the bikes off him, and he insisted on doing it again. And the same thing happened. He had been run over by three motorcycles, and that night at 3 in the morning, he woke and didn’t know what country he was in.
THR: This is your first film since Blue Valentine. How did the success of that movie change your life?
Cianfrance: I was starving for the first five years of trying to make Blue Valentine; I was eating two avocados a day. Then I had my first son, Walker [with his wife, filmmaker-performer Shannon Plumb], and we were buying diapers with change! I’d turned down opportunities to direct because I was trying to keep myself pure as an artist. Then I started directing commercials because I had a family to feed, and I had enough saved to make Blue Valentine. But even when the residual checks came in, I made about $10,000 for 13 years of work. So when I got my first check for Pines and I could feed my family with that, I didn’t take it lightly.