Oscar Hopeful Filmmakers Talk Shop
The filmmakers behind some of this year's top Oscar contenders discuss directing, the MPAA and making grown men cry.
The King’s Speech
How his own struggles as a child gave him an intimate knowledge of the frustrations of stuttering: "This was a process that I had gone through at about age 16, and basically what I was saying internally was the f-bomb word to everyone. “Why have the Gods visited this awful affliction upon me? It’s just not fair. So, if it’s not fair, then ‘f-word’ to the whole world.” And once I made that internal turn, my stuttering melted away within two weeks."
On working on the project for three years before David O. Russell signed on as director: "When David came along, the budget was drastically slashed, and we had to rewrite the script in like two months. Initially the first draft of the movie took place in the ’70s, but realizing that our budget was not going to allow us to have any sort of real time period, we knew early on that we had to cut out that first act. So we basically started the movie with the second act and had to come up with ways to still get what that fight meant into the movie."
On how two New York-based filmmakers make a movie in the Missouri Ozarks: "Debra [Granik, co-writer and director] and I visited over a period of three years, researching and getting to know people so we could really make this film with the community. There are often many miles between one neighbor and the next, so when strangers show up, people notice. We relied on a man we met from the area, Richard Michael, who became our guide. We shot most of the film within a five-mile radius of his home, on his neighbors’ land and in their homes."
"The snow scenes in Calgary were the most difficult to shoot. We built this enormous set on the side of a mountain. A week before filming, we went up there, and it hadn’t snowed. We thought maybe we’d have to use snow blankets and some visual effects. It became that old saying of, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ We got up there, and there were blizzards! It was incredibly difficult. We were all staying at a hotel not too far away, and we’d gather at the bar in the evenings, and everyone would still be in all their gear because it was so cold."
On director Derek Cianfrance insistence that his actors surprise him — and themselves — with improvised performances: "In the Manhattan Bridge scene, Derek instructed the actors to throw out the script and instead told Michelle [Williams] that she had a secret but to not tell Ryan [Gosling]. He also told Ryan to do whatever it took to figure it out. After an hour of shooting with Michelle not budging, Ryan scaled the fence of the bridge [with] no safety net. Fortunately, as he began to fully cross over the fence, Michelle gave in and divulged. No one, including Ryan, who is afraid of heights, had any idea that this would be what it took."
On the detail of director Danny Boyle’s initial script treatment: "He had written into this short pitch the use of the camera and how the editing was embedded in the story. Normally, when we cut in a film, we go from one location to another or one character to another character. But we were going to have to use the jump-cut in a completely new way: to convey passage of time and to give the film energy and dynamism. The document had an obsession with detail … like the dropping of a knife and the passing over of a raven. They would be tiny things that take on a monumental impact."
On how directing informs acting: "The research you do as a director and a writer in effect prepares you for the role for about nine months ahead of time. To be that deeply immersed in the soup of the world — to know exactly where your character lives and who lives next door, what all the streets are like, what the stores are like, what their parents are like — all that stuff is what they teach you as an actor to do when you prepare something. Directing forces you to do it in excruciating detail because it’s a necessity."
On sex, violence and the “backward” rating system: "The violence/sex thing is all backwards in America. But violence and the rules of violence with the MPAA is flipped, too. With a PG-13 film, you can show violence that has no consequences. So you can do the whole A-Team violence that we saw on TV with bullets flying everywhere but not see what a bullet actually does. Personally, I would like to show a child what a bullet actually does to someone. What a bullet actually sounds like when it’s ejected from a gun because I think that’s what’s going to teach people what’s actually going on with weaponry. But as soon as you show blood flying that’s when it becomes rated R, so it’s all flipped even with violence."
Toy Story 3
Why his acclaimed family film made grown men cry: "There was a lot of press about men crying in the movie. We never set out to make people cry! That wasn’t a goal, but I’ve thought a lot that the scene in the incinerator is so affecting and powerful that I think it kind of primes people, that it kind of opens them up emotionally so that when we hit the later scenes in the film, they’re kind of ready to just give themselves over and feel the emotion. The toys are all in this position where they’re at the end of their useful lives, and they are all feeling pretty unappreciated and unloved. We knew all of that, but we weren’t really thinking about the fact that a lot of people in their lives feel that way. That universal feeling about wanting to be appreciated is a big part of the film, and we kind of weren’t expecting that."