Director: Philippe Audi-Dor
Cast: Simon Haycock, Hugo Bolton, Elly Condron
Released: 27 September 2015
Reviewed By: Stu Greenfield
Love. Friendship. Lust. Relationships. Sexuality. They can all get so complicated and questionable at times. One minute you feel besotted with somebody, as if you never want them to leave your side. The next you are questioning everything you once believed to be true, everything you felt. This is not news for short film director Philippe Audi-Dor who has used the complexity of human nature and relationships as a focus of a number of his short films. 2014’s Bis and But We Love Each Other spring to mind as good examples. Audi-Dor returns this year with another tricky relationship with Raindance Film Festival contender, Wasp.
Wasp focuses on three individuals. The term ‘friends’ seems a little fake in this instance. Olivier (Haycock) and his boyfriend James (Bolton) visit Olivier’s family home in Province in the South of France. A romantic weekend break for the two of them a year into their relationship. A private home with a pool in a stunningly isolated location in the French countryside. It sounds perfect doesn’t it? And it would be, had James not invited an old University friend Caroline (Condron) to join them after she breaks up with her long term boyfriend. James’ sweet intentions turn sour as Caroline’s presence turns a beautiful trip into something ugly. Emotions turn raw and relationships are not the only thing that gets questioned in this subtle yet honest drama.
What is striking about Wasp is the simplicity in which it is presented. The setting is simple, the house feels like people have lived in it and there are few locations that are not in or around the house itself. The music is understated yet atmospheric and the cast consists solely of the three houseguests. This fits in well with director Pilippe Audi-Dor’s production ethic. He has been quoted as saying that the importance of his work lies in the silences, simplicity and subtlety. Talking to Movie Marker, Audi-Dor explains this style that shines through in Wasp.
P A-D – ‘My style will always be influenced by the story I am trying to tell. That said, I believe that overly complicated or ‘showing off’ shots often distract the audience from the story.
What I want to do is force my audience to truly pay attention to what is happening on their screen. If you spoon-feed them every single bit of information, they don’t need to properly focus on your film and will soon forget it.
If you’re courageous enough to treat them like the mature spectators they actually are, you’ll see that audiences do like to engage with a subtle piece. We live in an age where we are constantly surrounded by (on demand) movies and TV series, so the general public is very well trained in ‘movie-literacy’ so to speak. As a result, I really don’t think we should be scared to create multi-layered characters and films.
This is done very well within Wasp and the lack of adornment in terms of cinematography and production mean that the audiences focus is purely on the three characters and their individual journeys and combined suffering. The audience are given little back story to the characters other than what crops up in their own conversations so there is a distinct feel of being ‘in the moment’ much as the characters are. Both viewer and character are dealing with what is happening then and there without concern for excess erroneous information or over-complication. This encourages the audience to focus on the nuances in relationships between the three and how those relationships transform and grow. Or disintegrate, as the case may be.
The relationships in Wasp are tangible and the actors display a bond that drives the film forwards. This may be in no small part due to the actors living together in the same house used in the film and sleeping in the same films as lead actor Simon Haycock explains when talking to Movie Marker.
SH – ‘We got to spend a lot of time together during the shoot. Hugo and I were sharing a room upstairs, and Elly was downstairs – as in the film. We shared every meal together too, so with the great French food and beautiful sunsets there was lots of time to bond’
This unique way of preparing not only helped the cast develop the bond that is so obvious during the film, but also aided Simon in developing the character of Olivier.
SH – ‘The location was where the character spent a lot of time growing up. He had never taken a boyfriend there before, so that was a whole new thing for him. It was really useful investigating how Olivier might feel about that – and then how did he feel about a near stranger invading his family’s holiday home, his first holiday with James’
Given the honest portrayals and the insight into the emotional turmoil and confusion that is so often the ugly part of such situations, the audience may be forgiven for assuming this is written from the perspective of somebody who has been through a similar situation. In turn the portrayal of Olivier, that is played with such charm and conceited intrigue, must come from some sort of inspiration. Both the director and the lead actor explain:
P A-D – ‘Wasp definitely stems from the frustrations I went through as a sexually confused young man. I knew I wasn’t straight, but defining myself gay didn’t feel quite right either. During my studies in Cultural Sociology I discovered the Klein Sexual Orientation grid (mentioned in the film), which explores the complexity of sexuality in an in-depth but approachable way. It helped me understand who I was, while simultaneously planting the seed for Wasp in my mind. I felt as though sexually complex characters were too rarely portrayed on screen (unless they were unbalanced psychopaths…) and wanted to contribute to changing that.
Years later, Wasp was based on questions and feelings I was going through at the time of writing (a first relationship simultaneous to enrolling in art school and moving to three cities in the space of 6 months has a funny way of playing with your mind!), but is in no way a portrayal of real events. Let’s not forget we were dealing with cinema here – though it tries to stay realistic, it’s definitely more eventful than my daily life!
Overall I’d say Wasp is an emotional autobiography, but not in the facts it portrays’
SH – ‘I have been in a situation where I was in a relationship but then became attracted to someone else at the same time, something I think a lot of people can relate to. I definitely felt torn in the same way that Olivier does; do you act on that attraction? Although the situation I was in did not cause me to question my sexuality, it definitely caused me to question my values and existing relationship’
Audi-Dor has previously explained his fondness for allowing the audience to work aspects of the story out for themselves and for not spoon feeding them detail of the story. One of the aspects of Wasp that raises questions and encourages the audiences to think is its title, and the relevance of the wasp that is shown at certain points throughout the film. The innovative director explains his reasoning for using this imagery to Movie Marker.
P A-D – ‘To me, wasps evoke both a sense of summer (with its sunshine, swimming pools, etc.) as well as danger, which corresponds perfectly to what our story is all about. For this reason, I couldn’t imagine any other title for the film.
The way these insects behave is fascinating. Contrary to a bee, a wasp can sting repeatedly without fear of putting its life in danger. I felt the slightly reckless way in which the characters behave reflects this quite accurately. I also recently learned that the venom in wasps contains a pheromone that causes nearby wasps to become more aggressive. Who is the ‘wasp’ in the film is up for the audience to decide, but personally I believe that all characters become the wasp at one point or another, as they all end up ‘stinging’ each other – as if one’s venom had triggered aggressively in all the others.
The use of the wasp in the film is fairly straightforward. The opening sequence is my way of saying that even amongst the beautiful Provencal nature hides something dangerous – symbolised by the wasp. It will find its way into the house, and will do everything in its power to survive there. The final shot of the wasp is open to interpretation: Either negative (the death of the characters’ relationship), or positive (leaving behind what caused their disarray), or even as a bad omen – the danger that threatened them, though weakened, isn’t dead.
As you can guess I do love ambiguity, as I feel it forces the audience to discuss the film after watching it.
Last note on this insect, know that after a male wasp mates with the Queen, it dies shortly afterwards…’
Aside from the imagery within the film, the use of music is simple yet meaningful. With a variety of pieces used in the film including native French songs and operatic pieces there does appear to be a purpose in the music that is used within Wasp. In many films music is used to build up an emotion, such as tension on a horror film or sadness in a drama. In Wasp the film and music work together to communicate to the audience what is happening within the narrative. The musical choices mirror the internal struggles of each of the three individuals and eventually culminates in bringing them all together. Audi-Dor explains the importance of the careful use of music within his work.
P A-D – I like it when music has a particular meaning, so I was very careful as to how and when we used it. I was determined to use the French song ‘Tous les garçons et les filles’ by Françoise Hardy in the scene where Caroline and Olivier dance together. Though fairly upbeat, it’s actually a very sad song about someone telling us how unlucky in love they are. I saw it as an indirect way of expressing how Caroline feels (or even more interestingly how Olivier might feel). The song is again used when James, alone, starts to suspect something…
In regards to the score, brilliantly composed by Quentin Lachapele, we were very specific as to when we introduced the songs. If you pay attention, you’ll realize we first introduce an accapela version of the operatic piece when the camera is on Caroline, her attention turned towards Olivier. Later on, we introduce an instrumental piece during the solo car shot of Olivier who is searching for Caroline. In the finale we actually combined ‘her’ singing with ‘his’ instrumental, and introduced the last song when James finally confronts the other two characters. It’s both a culmination of the film and the music’
The beautiful location of Wasp adds more than majestic vistas. It is in itself a representation of the isolation the characters feel at certain points within the plot. It highlights the claustrophobia Olivier’s character may be feeling in a relationship where he cannot explore his full spectrum of feelings and desires. But why did Audi-Dor pick this particular area?
P A-D – ‘I go to the village where we shot the film (Gordes) every single year, so it’s definitely close to my heart. From the point of view of the plot, it was very important for the characters to be on holiday. I feel you allow yourself certain liberties and indulgences you wouldn’t normally do when stuck in your daily routine. The sun, the swimming pool, and the cocktails… all these elements also add to the film’s sensual atmosphere, which was crucial. Then the added fact of having it take place in an isolated village was also a way of making sure the characters only had each other to interact with, adding to the overall claustrophobic atmosphere’
On the surface Wasp appears to be a simple story of a love triangle, but when you delve into it there are a number of subtexts and nuances that culminate in a story that is well paced and intriguing. Although the low budget is a factor, this does not affect the flow of the film or the effectiveness of how the story is told is any way and in fact offers a subtlety that adds to the film. The performances are strong and well developed, which is no small part due to the preparation for the film and the fact that the actors and director all attended the same university so there was a previous bond to build on. Simon Haycock can next be seen in Kaleidoscope Man which is currently filming in Lanzarote, worlds away from Wasp.
SH – ‘It is a very different film from Wasp – lots of green screen, loads of locations and a much bigger cast’
Wasp will be released on the 27th September at the Raindance Film Festival and it is sure to cause a buzz. The film is clever in its simplicity and honest in its portrayal. Well written and well executed, dare to look beyond the surface and unwrap the layers underneath.
Behind Closed Doors with Harley Di Nardo
Movie Marker Magazine went behind closed doors with actor-musician Harley Di Nardo to talk about his latest movie ‘Dead Envy’.
Can you tell us about your early beginnings growing up, and how you transitioned to life in Los Angeles?
I am a New Yorker, born and bred. I got into hairdressing at a very young age, and it came in handy when it was time to style my bands hair. Their image was in my hands… literally. I always cut hair to make a living in between touring. Now I own a salon in Malibu, and I used to own salons in New York. All this added up. Movies, Hair Industry meets Music World. I had to come to Los Angeles, before it was too late. So about three years ago, I sold that salon in New York and drove West alone. It took me four days, and I documented the trip on Facebook. I just hit the ground running. I scraped together all the funds that I could, and we made a movie. Now it’s about to come out and here we are. I’m very excited… I now live in Silver Strand Beach, Oxnard. I love it… I just go into Hollywood for meetings and if I have an event there, it’s a reason to make a night of it and stay in town.
You have had a successful music career so far, what inspired you to take the writing-acting-directing journey?
Since I was a kid I always had my mom film me doing like Karate moves etc… hehe. Then I wrote a script when I was about ten years old. It was called the Golden Glove, a story about an Italian boxer who fights for his girlfriend’s honor. I still have it. Anyways, I loved making stories… until I got into high school and met a friend that was in a band. Rock and Roll took over. I forgot all about movies. That turned into an obsession that saw me moving to New York City and making two albums for major labels. It was quite a ride. I wrote music every day for about five years. I knew that I would want to take a shot at filmmaking. I’ve always had a passion for it. Everyone tells me I’m a walking movie quote. When someone says, or does anything, I’ll relate it to a movie. It’s just the way I see the world. Through movies. It’s always had such an effect on me. About ten years ago I enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Institute. I studied Method Acting and Script Development. From there I started making short films, music videos, anything just to get some experience.
Your latest feature, ‘Dead Envy’, is set to release next month. Can you tell us about the movie?
Sure. It’s an independent film filled with psycho stalker moments and some dark humor. It’s the tail of a musician/hairdresser (just like me) who enlists the help of a strange drifter to help stage a comeback… and then it all goes horribly wrong. I wrote what I knew. For one, I already knew how to look and behave like a hairdresser/rock n’ roller. I think that really comes across in the film. It’s all very natural. The script has been with me for some time. I had to get it all out. I had to get this hair and rock movie out of my system. The next one I’ll play a doctor or something…
Can you tell us about the music in the movie?
Yeah… There really isn’t any score exactly. I just used a few of my songs that fit into certain parts of the film and also used friends’ songs. Great songs that never got the proper push that they deserved. We just signed a soundtrack deal with Artisan Fire Records. They are excited, and I am excited. It’s been a while since I’ve released music. The soundtrack will be released the same day as the theater release, August 24th. Available on all digital outlets.
As the director and lead actor in the movie, how did you approach one over the other?
Well, it was a learning experience, that’s for sure. It’s hard to see the frame when you are in it. So, I think the next one I’ll take a much smaller role and direct the hell out of it! I always want to stick myself somewhere in the film. I want to be there like Woody Allen or Lena Dunham, but I think a smaller supporting role will be enough. I’m making the film… I just wanna be in it. I love acting.
How close is your character, David Tangiers in the movie to your own personality?
Well, it’s pretty much me. I am him, he is me.
What else can we expect from you over the next few months?
I am writing a paranormal thriller about a young, widowed mother of two, who is repeatedly sexually assaulted by an incubus. She takes matters into her own hands by hiring a YouTube ghost hunter that is pitching a show for Bravo. I might be playing some gigs to promote the film and the soundtrack.
Thank you, Harley for taking the time to chat to us at Movie Marker. We look forward to seeing more of you on the big screen!
To learn more about Harley Di Nardo visit: www.cine-museproductions.com
Follow Dead Envy: www.deadenvythemovie.com
An Interview With… Kyle Cooper #Locarno71
In his speech on the Piazza Grande at Locarno Film Festival, Kyle Cooper said that he ‘had been giving credit to everyone else for 30 years and now it was time for him to enjoy it’.
Kyle Cooper was the recipient of the Vision Award Ticinimoda awarded to those whose creative work behind the scenes, as well as in their own right, has contributed to opening up new perspectives in film.
As one of the most respected title credit designers and directors, Kyle Cooper has worked on over 300 movies, including the likes of Goodfellas, Se7en, Spider-Man and TV Series such as The Walking Dead and American Horror Story.
It started again with Se7en and it’s like people had forgotten main titles could be something, and then you came up and broke that wall open. So are you in any way regretting what you did because suddenly you kind of opened the door and everybody came barging in.
No, I think that it’s interesting, you see Saul Bass talk about these “studio trends” where people get tired of main titles and they say let’s just do Woody Allen main titles, we don’t need to spend the money and they can’t do anything for the film and then they forget that it’s the beginning of the movie. I mean sure we could put them all at the end- which is another trend- but it can become the perfect beginning to the film. It can dovetail whatever the live action is, whatever the director’s already intended to do, and the title designer, if they do a good job, for example, I was working on Goodfellas when I was a kid and I wasn’t solving Martin Scorsese’s problem and he said ‘I want something like Saul Bass, remember Saul Bass?’ and I said well, Saul Bass he’s still around, they’ve got an office around the corner! And then Saul Bass did Goodfellas and then the lesson I learned was, Martin Scorsese knew he wanted Ray Liotta to open the trunk and say “I always wanted a gangster” and he wanted the music to kick in, and that was all still there because Saul Bass saw what Scorsese had and looked at the beginning and thought well they’re in a car, so I’ll have this type come by like passing cars and I was thinking as a young person, I need to think of a metaphor for the gangsters of Italy, I don’t know, the Italian flag? And no, he looked at the beginning and figured out how to integrate these nasty credits into the beginning that Martin Scorsese had, and the beginning wouldn’t be the same without the typography integrated and I would maintain that the movie ‘Se7en’ wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t begin the way that it began and so, again about Saul Bass- when he did ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ people had gotten kind of complacent about main titles and everybody sat up and said gosh, here’s an opportunity, here’s a bit of real estate, where we can do something creatively interesting, so you know, a lot of good work came out of that- it sounds a bit arrogant if I say that Se7en did that but since you said it… it kind of woke people up to the potentialities of what a main title sequence could to for a movie and the best thing that it can do is set the tone and become the first scene of the movie and the last people that were here just asked me what I thought about the Netflix ‘skip title’ button, and I think you have to make the distinction of a film title sequence and a broadcast title sequence and the reason I say that is, if it’s a full feature, many times the main title is setting up something expositional that’s crucial to that particular film. Whereas the Netflix button- the title sequence isn’t intrinsically linked to the first scene of the episode.
What would be the different functions and different uses of those titles – opening the movie, setting the tone are there other purposes in some way?
Yeah- for a film title, a lot of times the studio will stream the movie and realise people don’t understand a certain thing, or they’re missing a point and they say how do we fix this? What shall we do? Oh, let’s talk about the serial killer in the main titles. I shot this thing for a movie called Identity and people didn’t understand the pathology of the plot and so we tried to make sense of that in the main title. So the other things that it can do- it can set the tone – I mean the titles that influenced me and the titles sequences that made me want to be a main title designer when I got out of graduate school were Altered States, Alien and The Dead Zone, and I think that those perfectly set the tone for those movies. They are minimalist and simple, but the music is impeccable and wonderful and it just makes you feel the way you’re supposed to feel at the beginning of that movie. You want to set the emotional tone for that film, you want to elicit an emotional response from the audience.
How did you get into title design in the first place?
I was a graphic designer and where I was working at the time, this man brought in a reel of movie titles and I saw some of Richard Greenberg’s work – Altered States and The Dead Zone – and that’s when I realised main titles combined both my interest in film and in graphic design and that was in 1985.
Increasingly we are seeing almost little films at the beginning of the movie where the title sequence is- even animated when the film is live action or whatever – I wonder if the internet has been an influence on that where you can see on YouTube, particular segments of a film- whether that’s changed the status of the title sequence? Like trailers for example, they’ve become an art form and people review trailers and I’m wondering if title sequences, in a similar way, have they become a discreet theme?
I agree with you yes, and people talk about them and review them independently and I think it’s good but it shouldn’t be separate from the movie somehow I think they work better if they are the actual beginning rather than this disembodies music video – I could be wrong. Elvis Mitchell said in the New York Times, that the Dawn of the Dead title sequence was better than the movie and I felt bad, I felt because I’d never got to work with Zack Snyder, one of his associates said that was insensitive to him , but I would never set out to do that. The trailer is different because the trailer is made up of parts of the movie.
What is your take on the current main-on-end, because I know you’ve done a lot of them yourself, but the whole thing of the main title is to set the movie up, even if they come a little later than the beginning but the tendency now is to have a small sequence at the beginning and let everything role at the end of the movie to an emptying room, Is that demeaning to your work, is it another challenge you have to overcome? What is your take on that?
I don’t think it’s demeaning, to work on a main-on-end, I think a lot of times I have worked on them, they want the audience to leave with a spring in their step, they want the audience to dance out of the theatre –like in Iron Man or in both Sherlock Holmes movies – let’s remind them what they’ve seen, and have them leave with a good feeling, so in that sense there is a necessity to them. The first Sherlock Holmes movie felt like that, it was kind of a celebration of what you had just seen and it worked visually and it was okay. Marvel does it all the time, I don’t feel like it’s a lesser job but you’re not really setting a tone, if the movie ends on a dark tone, they usually decide to have white-type over black. You could have a dark movie and you could set a dark tone at the beginning, but you can’t do that as much with a main-on-end. Maybe your options of what you could do in a main-on-end would be limited.
So in regards to your creative influence at the start, does a director give you a strict brief, as you said, Martin Scorsese guided you to the idea of what he wanted for Goodfellas, so how much freedom do you have in creating these titles?
I’m so interested in getting information, and finding out about what the movie is and what everybody’s intention is, and if the director gives me something to go on, I don’t mind having the box I have to work within be smaller because specific perimeters have been provided because I feel like an idea is only as good as its execution, for example, I shot money burning for the Hughes’ brothers for ‘Dead Presidents’ a long time ago and they had that idea. I don’t mind if the idea comes from the director and I’m just executing it, but I still try to execute it in a way that I think is visually sophisticated myself. I’ve been in situations where it’s completely my idea, and I’ve presented boards and they’ve been approved and I get the director telling me, or giving in notes on what I created. The director always has to approve what I do, I am a graphic designer so I have a client but they have to like what I’m doing.
Is there a director you look forward to working with again? I know you’ve done a lot of work with Terence Malick, there have been directors who have come to you more than once- but is there anyone that you really feel- wow, I’m really looking forward to working with them again!
People ask me if I have to make choices on what to work on, and if I’d choose to work on a movie that wasn’t a good movie or work on higher profile things- the truth is my choices right now are more about the people that come back and I like to work. Is there someone I’m hoping comes back again? I had a nice experience working with Scott Cooper on Black Mass and on Hostiles. Ben Stiller is my friend, he wanted me to some work for him, the last thing I worked on with him was Zoolander 2 and that had a bit of trouble so I don’t know if I’ll work with him again- I’d like to. I liked working a bit with Ridley Scott on Exodus and Prometheus and I think not really. I like Gareth Edwards, the first Godzilla director and I usually have a pretty good relationship with who the director is and if the come back, I try to help them. There isn’t anybody that I’m desperate to have give me a job that I can think of. But rather than pitch on new business and compete against other companies to get new business, I’d prefer to work with someone who knows who I am and knows what I bring to the table.
What is your favourite Saul Bass title sequence?
My favourite Saul Bass titles are- The Man with the Golden Arm, Take a Walk on the Wild Side when the two cats fight and I kind of like Casino – like the idea behind it.
Some people have started to remake old movie posters- is there a title you would like to remake a title sequence to? A classic movie maybe?
The Thing by John Carpenter I would like to remake. That does have a nice title sequence but that is just the first thing that came into mind.
An Interview With… Ethan Hawke #Locarno71
Ethan Hawke, despite being only 47, has been acting for well over 30 years. After his breakout role in 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society he has had iconic roles in Reality Bites, Gattaca, Training Day and Boyhood.
His work with Director Richard Linklater has resulted in one of the most beloved film series of recent times in the ‘Before’ trilogy and this year looks set to be one of his best yet.
We spoke him at the 2018 Locarno Film Festival where he is receiving this years Excellence Award, given to those who through their work and talent, have enriched the cinema with their unique contribution. It’s past winners include Isabella Huppert, Christopher Lee and Susan Sarandon.
How does it feel at this stage of your career to be given a lifetime achievement award?
On one level, I feel completely undeserving but on another level I feel well… Richard Linklater told me ‘don’t get too high on yourself, these are what you call “mid-career check ins” and it means you’ve made it to this one stage and in the next round everybody will hate you again and then you have to survive long enough to get to the next round and then you can be the head of the Jury’- so I’m in the front tier of the second row.
At the beginning of ‘Seymour’ (showing at Locarno), you said you were struggling for a long time with why you do what you do, has that changed since you made the documentary and since you had the encounter with Seymour Bernstein?
I think so. Part of why I think I made that movie was to spend more time with him. Some people have a mid-life crisis and buy a Porsche – I had a mid-life crisis and made a documentary about an Oxygenarian piano player. One of the messages he has to offer people is ‘you are enough’. I think my take-away from this was just to accept myself, and it’s not something that’s just done. It’s something you have to keep doing.
You were saying about “mid-career check-ins”, but looking back on your career, you seem to have had a charmed career and you’ve never really had the troubles everyone else has had. You’re always visible, people always know what you are doing – and it’s always something only you would be doing and nobody else.
Well thank you for saying that! I hope that that’s true. There was a magazine article back home that was talking about the success of ‘First Reformed’ and the reception of ‘Blaze’ that I was poised to have the best year of my life and I may be having my “Matthew McConaughey Moment”. My friend Richard Linklater phoned me up and said – ‘for you to have a “Matthew McConaughey Moment” you would have had to of been washed up! What they can’t write is you’ve done the same thing consistently through your entire life’- and I’ve been lucky that way and the reasons why luck has given me that charm is because really early on, I’ve tried to solve all of my problems with working and that’s when my first marriage fell apart but I just worked harder than ever, and that’s why I went back to the theatre-which is a great healer for actors because it’s incredibly hard and I think that when you really apply yourself, humility naturally rises, you meet your own walls. It’s also strange to be 47 and have been making movies for almost 30 years; it’s a little rare actually.
You recently published a wonderful little book called ‘Rules for a Knight’, which is all about decency. What is the biggest misconception of you, now you have the chance to correct it?
Being proud of being good, doesn’t really make any sense, because if you’re good, pride would be an obstacle. There’s so many ways I’m not good and the truth is, you don’t want to be perceived as good because you feel that you won’t have an edge or be cool, the way young actors want to be. I was very lucky as a young person to have parents with very strong spiritual beliefs and the only thing that was really important to them was their spiritual life. As soon as you depart from spiritual success, that determines your worth- they really wouldn’t love me any better or less if I won Best Actor at Venice or didn’t. That’s not how they grade. They love me for how I’m doing in my own inner-journey- and as a young person you think that’s corny, but as you get older you think that’s actually not corny at all, that’s actually reality. As you start to live long enough to see people’s ego’s really hurt themselves, we end up hurting ourselves with our own self-importance. Finding a balance between believing in yourself and trying to have an inner life that matches something you can be proud of, or that you would want the people that love you to be proud of. I’m aware of what a wonderful seat this is to be in, and an instant gratitude takes place. It’s your work inside that makes you prepared to handle all the different vicissitudes that are going to come.
You were saying before about the spiritual background that you have and that sense of what it means to be good, how much did those thoughts feed into ‘First Reformed’?
When I started the script for First Reformed, on one of the first pages, it talks about all of the books that are on Reverend Toller’s desk and they were almost all books my mother had given me. There was a list of them, Thomas Merton being one of them. I felt like at been prepared for this role. One of the things Merton himself writes about, he was already starting to see an obsession with “celebrity” happen and having a “public self”. I think it helped me deal with celebrities- what I mean is, one of the last times I spoke to River Phoenix, he was talking a lot about how people perceived him and how hard it was to constantly trying to figure out who you are and tell people what you’re not, like when people label you. I wasn’t having that problem because I knew that all of that was fake. And River had just been to the Oscars and he couldn’t believe how fake the Oscar’s were. He said ‘ the statues aren’t gold, they’re like paper! It’s so fake you wouldn’t believe it!’ and I remember thinking, ‘if you’re trying to make me feel bad for you going to the Oscar’s then fuck you!’. I realise now, understanding and accepting the phoniness of the world, you’ve just got to take it as a truth and not be hurt by it every time, it happens.
Were you disappointed when Boyhood didn’t win anything?
That’s my point- not at all, because I never saw that as -you want the work to be worthy, but if you get caught up in seeing other people’s definitions of what is the authentic way for you to live your life- it wouldn’t make the movie better or worse and it wouldn’t affect the final cut of that film one bit. I always tell people it’s a little better if you don’t. I hate it when life always moves the goal line, we made a movie with our closest friends for nothing, over 12 years- about the subtle movements of growing up- and it found it’s way in the commercial markets. That’s a miracle. You don’t give up with your heart so easily. I wasn’t disappointed, I was so proud. I’ve spent my life making little indie movies that no-one even hears of and so to turn that victory into a defeat, would be a waste of time.
What’s the challenge in doing movies like ‘The Purge’ and ‘Predestination’?
Well, by the time I was 20 years old, I’d had two great mentors – Joe Dante and Peter Weir. Dante and I sat down and watched ‘The Howling’ and he said – drive-in movies, if done with art and love can be amazing. It’s like the Trojan horse of Troy- if I said let’s watch werewolf movie and instead secretly, it’s a PTSD movie about the Vietnam War. Get Out is a great example. Another example of these “Trojan horse” movies. If I told you I was making an important film about race relations in America, you wouldn’t want to come, you’d feel like you’re being preached to. If I tell you it’s a scary movie, he comes into the house…. etc… and ‘The Purge’ is the same way- set in ‘the future’ when rich people don’t care about poor people- and I love that because there’s something punk rock about it, it’s not what it seems. Movies are different ways of people trying to express themselves.
Austin, Texas is a huge part of your career, ‘Blaze’ is also a tale about Austin, do you think that there are other stories to tell about Austin- a town that is probably so unique- that the world should know more about it?
The short answer is yes, but the long answer is- the whole world is like that and all these stories need to be told and one of the great things is that we are at this weird in-between place in time right now where it’s very possible for anybody in the world to make a good movie, you can shoot it on your phone and edit it. If you have something to say, it’s like a novel. If you’ve been taught to read and write and you have some paper and a pen, you can write a great novel. You can do it from jail, you can do it on a boat, and now the same is true with a movie. And it’s changed the game. That’s why film-festivals have become so important because you guys are curators. You address what the world should be paying attention to, what should be seen and if we didn’t have these festivals, big business would crush all of the smaller ones.
You’ve just made two movies about obscure musicians, how does that all tie in with those themes and what drew you to those characters?
I think just a natural love of music. A celebration of the people I’ve spent my life with. You’re teachers will all tell you, write what you know and I know people like Blaze- I didn’t know him, but I knew people like him and I felt qualified to write that story, because I’ve had to swim in that water. I’m just trying to follow my gut and I feel that you need to find what you enjoy, and let the love grow.
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