Tribeca: Director Cary Fukunaga Says Movie Fans Are "As Responsible for the Death of Cinema as the People Who Make It"

Cary Fukunaga and James Schamus - H 2015
AP Images

Cary Fukunaga and James Schamus - H 2015

The Emmy-winning 'True Detective' helmer talked about his work on the first season of the HBO series and his upcoming Idris Elba-starring African war drama 'Beasts of No Nation,' which will be released on Netflix.

True Detective director Cary Fukunaga's upcoming movie Beasts of No Nation will be released on Netflix, but Fukunaga told a Tribeca Film Festival audience that he hoped people would still see it in and other movies like it in theaters.

The writer-director told former Focus CEO James Schamus that he's excited that the Netflix release will allow more people to see the difficult, dramatic film than if the movie was given a traditional platform release.

"There's not one white person in it. It's not [Leonardo] DiCaprio saving Africa. It's mainly an African cast. The movie is a very difficult subject," he said of the Ghana-filmed war drama starring Idris Elba and local children. "It could easily become one of those films where someone's like, 'That seems too serious, I don't want to watch that again. But I think by nature of the force of Netflix being behind it, it will be in people's faces enough that they'll be like, 'Ok, I'll give it a try.' Hopefully once they start watching it, they'll be consumed by it."

But he was concerned by the concept of being a filmmaker with a movie released online and stressed that consumers play a role in determining which types of movies play in theaters.

The difficult part of defining yourself as a filmmaker is the concept of releasing a film on a digital platform at the same time its released in cinema really strikes the fear of God in your heart that people are actually still going to go to the cinema to watch the film when if they spend $6 a month they could watch it for free on their laptops," he said. "[Beasts of No Nation] was designed to be a film experienced in a group, collectively like this, with strangers in the dark and see this story…Netflix's big thing is consumer choice. So as the audiences start to make that choice and continue to make the choice to only watch online, the cinema experience will only be reserved for comic-book movies. That's the biggest democratic challenge for an art form that you have to ask the audience to be aware of the fact that they are just as responsible for the death of cinema as the people who make it."

The hour-long talk included more discussion of the trends towards binge-watching and watching movies online as well as Fukunaga's background and approach to preproduction, rehearsal and filming, including the technical aspects of the latter.

Specifically, Fukunaga offered more insight into the process of casting and filming Beasts, revealing that the main boy they cast in the film, 14-year-old Abraham Attah, was essentially a street vendor before. Attah was one of several local kids that they recruited as they cast the film, gathering kids they thought had charisma in the basement of the hotel the crew was staying in to try out scenes that were close to the script.

Fukunaga marveled at how Attah, who also had little education experience before filming and is now getting up to speed at a boarding school in Ghana, went from knowing nothing about acting to in a couple of months being able to do an intense scene with several other kids in which Fukunaga didn't have to offer any direction.

He also revealed that he's eight weeks away from starting to film a new version of Stephen King's It, which he's shooting in New York, making a movie in the city for the first time since film school.

While he couldn't give too much away, Fukunaga did say that the movie will end his series of movies in which child characters die onscreen.

"Hopefully after that, I’ll move into much more pleasant fare," he said, adding that he remains fixed on the "white face in the sewer" image from when he saw the miniseries.

Fukunaga won an Emmy for his work directing the first season of HBO's True Detective, but he isn't helming any of the episodes in season two following rumors that he clashed with creator Nic Pizzolatto. While he didn't delve into his working relationship with Pizzolatto, Fukunaga's anecdotes about filming the series, most of which focused on the technical aspects of directing and making a TV show, indicated it was a challenging experience.

In particular, he talked about the "little bit insane" process of starting to film a TV show without knowing what the last three episodes will be.

“It’s actually frightening because you’re starting shooting and you haven’t had the chance to plan anything yet [for the end of the series]. And so we basically planned in pre-production for True Detective… the first five episodes, really. But 6, 7 and 8 had to be planned while we were shooting; there was no hiatus," he said. So it just meant we had to double up our work: Before a shooting day, we’d go scouting, tech scouting. At lunch, we’d have production meetings. After shooting, we’d go see new locations. [This is on top of] a 12- to 14-hour day. At night, I’d go meet with the editors, try to get the first couple episodes locked up. Saturdays, more scouting. It just meant you did what you would have done normally in 8 weeks on the tops and ends and bottoms of days.”

And when Schamus joked about how much of a nightmare it must have been to maintain "cigarette and aluminum can continuity," Fukunaga said, "Whenever I see that again in the future I'm immediately cutting that out."