Michael Mann, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro Reunite for Special 'Heat' Evening

Michael Mann, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Christopher Nolan - Publicity - H 2016
Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Christopher Nolan hosted the Q&A after a screening of the iconic 1995 heist film and sparred with the movie's cinematographer over film versus digital supremacy.

Al Pacino revealed a two-decade secret about a character, host Christopher Nolan sparred with a cinematographer over film versus digital and Val Kilmer knocked his Batman movie.

Those were just a few of the things that unfolded at the special screening of Michael Mann's seminal Los Angeles-set crime saga Heat, held at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater Wednesday night.

Mann and stars Pacino and Robert De Niro hit the stage for a post-screening Q&A hosted by Nolan. They were later joined by Kilmer and actress Amy Brenneman, producer Art Linson, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, and editor William Goldenberg, among others, all of whom worked on the movie that was released in 1995.

Heat tells the story of a gang of criminals led by De Niro who are pursued all over the city by a police squad headed by Pacino. The sprawling movie, almost three hours in length, focuses on a slew of memorable characters, offering a visually stunning tour of Los Angeles while also serving up some of the most thrilling heist sequences in film. It was also the first time that Pacino and De Niro were onscreen together, after appearing separately in 1974's The Godfather: Part II.

Nolan brought a cerebral quality to the proceedings, with one of his first questions to Pacino and De Niro asking for insight into their acting processes and how they balanced the iconic nature of their characters with the interior motivations and characterizations.

The screen legends took the question in, letting it hang in silence for a moment. Then De Niro looked at Pacino and said, "You first."

The audience laughed.

Pacino took up the challenge, talking about the introverted and extroverted nature of the two leads before making his revelation: his detective sniffs cocaine, giving him his exuberance.

"I've waited to say this for a long time," he said, "just so you know where some of his behavior comes from."

Mann, meanwhile, talked about shooting the long-awaited meeting between the two actors at restaurant Kate Mantilini, the L.A. institution that closed in 2014 and was located only a block away from the Academy. He said he used a two-camera, over-the-shoulder setup with a third camera shooting profiles that were never used for the final film. He revealed that unlike other scenes in the movie, it wasn't rehearsed and that almost the entire scene came from take 11.

Mann's deep dive into character back-stories was discussed, with both the filmmaker and the actors serving up tales of how Mann knew intricate details of his characters' lives off the screen.

Brenneman showed up on set with her own ideas of why her character would fall for De Niro's, ideas that included having daddy issues and even incest. But she recounted that Mann simply told her, "No. She just falls in love with him."

"It was a surrender and letting go into a romanticism," she explained, saying her character was meant to be an aspirational hope for him.

Kilmer's voice was high-pitched and squeaky when it was his turn to speak. Although there have been reports that he is battling health issues, the actor told the crowd it was due to a "swollen tongue." He recalled signing on to the movie while shooting his ill-fated Batman movie, Batman Forever.

"The best time I had on Batman was preparing for Heat," he said.

The evening got an unexpected jolt when the long-standing rivalry between film and digital reared its head, as Nolan, a well-known film supporter, turned to DP Spinotti, praising his work in Heat as "effectively beautiful" and "adventurous."

Spinotti, in turn, decided to take time out to praise this newly restored version of the film, which was originally shot on film stock but now is presented digitally. "The movie is better because of the transition to digital 4K technology," he said.

"For the record," Nolan countered, "film made a great film great."

Spinotti gave examples such as the shootout at the airport grounds as something that looks better, to which Nolan responded, "I'm respectfully going to ignore that!"

Before things went too far, Mann interjected, switching the topic to sound and locations. (The director said the production shot at 95 locations in 107 days.)

The evening closed with an anecdote that showed Mann's hard-driving ethics, with several actors and crew recalling the many lengthy night shoots, where not even the sun would stop the filmmaker.

So consumed was Mann that in one instance, a light was breaking his vision for a shot. He turned to Spinotti and demanded, "Where is that light coming from? Turn it off!"

"Michael, that's the sun," Spinotti told him.

The Academy event was not only a highly sought-after ticket, but it brought out a bevy of industry notables, among them Sean Penn, producer Jon Jashni, director Joseph Kosinski, screenwriter Timothy Dowling, actors Daphne Zuniga and Simon Helberg.