Friday, 22 June 2012

Terrence Malick on Badlands

Badlands (Directed by Terrence Malick)
The son of an oil company executive, Terrence Malick grew up in Texas and Oklahoma. He went to Harvard and later to Magdalen College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to study Philosophy but failed to complete his thesis – his topic proving unacceptable to his tutor, Gilbert Ryle. Summer jobs took him from the wheat harvests in America and Canada, to working in oilfields and driving a cement mixer in a railyard, to journalistic endeavours for Life, Newsweek and The New Yorker. In 1967 he was sent on assignment to Bolivia to observe the trial of French intellectual Regis Debray who had fought alongside Che Guevera. Guevara was himself killed the day after Malick’s arrival. In 1968 Malick was appointed a lecturer in philosophy at MIT but abandoned teaching within a year. He explained: ‘I was not a good teacher; I didn’t have the sort of edge one should have on the students, so I decided to do something else’. In a rare interview in 1975 for Sight and Sound magazine, Malick explained how he turned to making movies and the influences behind his first feature film, the semi-factual Badlands, which starred Martin Sheen as the serial-killer Kit Carruthers and Sissy Spacek as his girlfriend, Holly.

‘I’d always liked movies in a kind of naive way. They seemed no less improbable a career than anything else. I came to Los Angeles in the fall of 1969 to study at the AFI; I made a short called Lanton Mills. I found the AFI very helpful; it’s a marvellous place. My wife was going to law school and I was working for a time as a rewrite man – two days on Drive, He Said, five weeks on the predecessor to Dirty Harry at a time when Brando was going to do it with Irving Kershner directing. Then we all got fired by Warners; the project went to Clint Eastwood. I rewrote Pocket Money and Deadhead Miles. I got this work because of a phenomenal agent, Mike Medavoy.

‘At the end of my second year here, I began work on Badlands. I wrote and, at the same time, developed a kind of sales kit with slides and video tape of actors, all with a view to presenting investors with something that would look ready to shoot. To my surprise, they didn’t pay too much attention to it; they invested on faith. I raised about half the money and Edward Pressman (the executive producer) the other half. We started in July of 1972. 



‘The critics talked about influences on the picture and in most cases referred to films I had never seen. My influences were books like The Hardy Boys, Swiss Family Robinson, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn – all involving an innocent in a drama over his or her head. I didn’t actually think about those books before I did the script, but it’s obvious to me now. Nancy Drew, the children’s story child detective – I did think about her. 


‘There is some humour in the picture, I believe. Not jokes. It lies in Holly’s mis-estimation of her audience, of what they will be interested in or ready to believe. (She seems at time to think of her narration as like what you get in audio-visual courses in high school.) When they’re crossing the badlands, instead of telling us what’s going on between Kit and herself, or anything of what we’d like and have to know, she describes what they ate and what it tasted like, as though we might be planning a similar trip and appreciate her experience, this way. 


‘She’s a typical Southern girl in her desire to help, to give hard fact; not to dwell upon herself, which to her would be unseemly, but always to keep in mind the needs of others. She wants to come off in the best possible light, but she’s scrupulous enough to take responsibility where in any way she might have contributed.’


(Interviewer) 
I suggest to Malick that the film has been criticised for patronising Holly and her milieu.

‘That’s foolishness. I grew up around people like Kit and Holly. I see no gulf between them and myself. One of the things the actors and I used to talk about was never stepping outside the characters and winking at the audience, never getting off the hook. If you keep your hands off the characters you open yourself to charges like that; at least you have no defence against them. What I find patronising is people not leaving the characters alone, stacking the deck for them, not respecting their integrity, their difference. 


‘Holly’s Southernness is essential to taking her right. She isn’t indifferent about her father’s death...
You should always feel there are large parts of her experience she’s not including because she has a strong, if misplaced, sense of propriety. You might well wonder how anyone going through what she does could be at all concerned with proprieties. But she is. And her kind of cliché didn’t begin with pulp magazines, as some critics have suggested. It exists in Nancy Drew and Tom Sawyer. It’s not the mark of a diminished, pulp-fed mind, I’m trying to say, but of the ‘innocent abroad.’ When people express what is most important to them, it often comes out in clichés. That doesn’t make them laughable; it’s something tender about them. As though in struggling to reach what’s most personal about them they could only come up with what’s most public. 



‘Holly is in a way the more important character; at least you get a glimpse of what she’s like. And I liked women characters better than men; they’re more open to things around them, more demonstrative. Kit, on the other hand, is a closed book, not a rare trait in people who have tasted more than their share of bitterness in life. The movies have kept up a myth that suffering makes you deep. It inclines you to say deep things. It builds character and is generally healthful. It teaches you lessons you never forget. People who’ve suffered go around in movies with long, thoughtful faces, as though everything had caved in just yesterday. It’s not that way in real life, though, not always. Suffering can make you shallow and just the opposite of vulnerable, dense. It’s had this kind of effect on Kit.

‘Kit doesn’t see himself as anything sad or pitiable, but as a subject of incredible interest, to himself and to future generations. Like Holly, like a child, he can only really believe in what’s going on inside him. Death, other people’s feelings, the consequences of his actions – they’re all sort of abstract for him. He thinks of himself as a successor to James Dean – a Rebel without a Cause – when in reality he’s more like an Eisenhower conservative. ‘Consider the minority opinion,’ he says into the rich man’s tape recorder, ‘but try to get along with the majority opinion once it’s accepted.’ He doesn’t really believe any of this, but he envies the people who do, who can. He wants to be like them, like the rich man he locks in the closet, the only man he doesn’t kill, the only man he sympathises with, and the one least in need of sympathy. It’s not infrequently the people at the bottom who most vigorously defend the very rules that put and keep them there. 



‘And there’s something about growing up in the Midwest. There’s no check on you. People imagine it’s the kind of place where your behaviour is under constant observation, where you really have to toe the line. They got that idea from Sinclair Lewis. But people can really get ignored there and fall into bad soil. Kit did, and he grew up like a big poisonous weed.

‘I don’t think he’s a character peculiar to his time. I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time, like Treasure Island. I hoped this would, among other things, take a little of the sharpness out of the violence but still keep its dreamy quality. Children’s books are full of violence. Long John Silver slits the throats of the faithful crew. Kit and Holly even think of themselves as living in a fairy tale. Holly says, ‘Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened.’ But she enough believes there is such a place that she must confess to you she never got there.’ 


- ‘Beverly Walker: Malick on Badlands’. Sight and Sound, Spring 1975. Copyright Sight and Sound.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Woody Allen: The Art of Humor



Woody Allen’s career in comedy began in 1953 when he left college to write jokes for Garry Moore and Sid Caesar. In the early 1960s his stand-up routines in the comedy clubs of Greenwich Village brought him widespread recognition leading to several successful television appearances. In 1965 Allen wrote and made his acting debut in What’s New, Pussycat? Allen directed his first feature film Take the Money and Run in 1969 which he also wrote and starred in. The films which followed (Bananas, Sleeper, Love and Death) were commercially successful and critically acclaimed. In 1977 Allen wrote, directed and starred in Annie Hall alongside Diane Keaton. The film went on to win four Academy Awards, establishing Allen’s breakthrough style and themes which he went on to develop in Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanours. The following extract is from an interview with Woody Allen conducted by Michiko Kakutani in 1995 in which Allen discusses his writing career.

INTERVIEWER

When did you start writing?

ALLEN

Before I could read. I’d always wanted to write. Before that – I made up tales. I was always creating stories for class. For the most part, I was never as much a fan of comic writers as serious writers. But I found myself able to write in a comic mode, at first directly imitative of [Max] Shulman or sometimes of [S.J.] Perelman. In my brief abortive year in college I’d hand in my papers, all of them written in a bad (or good) derivation of Shulman. I had no sense of myself at all.

INTERVIEWER

How did you discover your own voice? Did it happen gradually?

ALLEN

No, it was quite accidental. I had given up writing prose completely and gone into television writing. I wanted to write for the theater and at the same time I was doing a cabaret act as a comedian. One day Playboy magazine asked me to write something for them, because I was an emerging comedian and I wrote this piece on chess. At that time I was almost married – but not quite yet – to Louise Lasser; she read it and said, Gee, I think this is good. You should really send this over to The New Yorker. To me, as to everyone else of my generation, The New Yorker was hallowed ground. Anyhow, on a lark I did. I was shocked when I got this phone call back saying that if I’d make a few changes, they’d print it. So I went over there and made the few changes, and they ran it. It was a big boost to my confidence. So I figured, Well, I think I’ll write something else for them. The second or third thing I sent to The New Yorker was very Perelmanesque in style. They printed it but comments were that it was dangerously derivative and I agreed. So both The New Yorker and I looked out for that in subsequent pieces that I sent over there. I did finally get further and further away from him. Perelman, of course, was as complex as could be – a very rich kind of humor. As I went on I tried to simplify.

Love and Death (Directed by Woody Allen)
INTERVIEWER

Was this a parallel development to what you were trying to do in your films?

ALLEN

I don’t think of them as parallel. My experience has been that writing for the different mediums are very separate undertakings. Writing for the stage is completely different from writing for film and both are completely different from writing prose. The most demanding is writing prose, I think, because when you’re finished, it’s the end product. You can’t change it. In a play, it’s far from the end product. The script serves as a vehicle for the actors and director to develop characters. With films, I just scribble a couple of notes for a scene. You don’t have to do any writing at all, you just have your notes for the scene, which are written with the actors and the camera in mind. The actual script is a necessity for casting and budgeting, but the end product often doesn’t bear much resemblance to the script – at least in my case.

INTERVIEWER

So you would have much more control over something like a novel.

ALLEN

That’s one of its appeals – that you have the control over it. Another great appeal is that when you’re finished you can tear it up and throw it away. Whereas, when you make a movie, you can’t do that. You have to put it out there even if you don’t like it. I might add, the hours are better if you’re a prose writer. It’s much more fun to wake up in the morning, just drift into the next room and be alone and write, than it is to wake up in the morning and have to go shoot a film. Movies are a big demand. It’s a physical job. You’ve got to be someplace, on schedule, on time. And you are dependent on people. I know Norman Mailer said that if he had started his career today he might be in film rather than a novelist. I think films are a younger man’s enterprise. For the most part it’s strenuous. Beyond a certain point, I don’t think I want that exertion; I mean I don’t want to feel that my whole life I’m going to have to wake up at six in the morning, be out of the house at seven so I can be out on some freezing street or some dull meadow shooting. That’s not all that thrilling. It’s fun to putter around the house, stay home. Tennessee Williams said the annoying thing about plays is that you have to produce them – you can’t just write them and throw them in the drawer. That’s because when you finish writing a script, you’ve transcended it and you want to move on. With a book, you can. So the impulse seems always to be a novelist. It’s a very desirable thing. One thinks about Colette sitting in her Parisian apartment, looking out the window and writing. It’s a very seductive life...

Manhattan (Directed by Woody Allen)
INTERVIEWER

A lot of writers find it very hard to get started on the next project, to find an idea they really want to work on...

ALLEN

Probably they are casting aside ideas that are as good as the ideas I choose to work on. I’ll think of an idea walking down the street, and I’ll mark it down immediately. And I always want to make it into something. I’ve never had a block. I’m talking within the limits of my abilities. But in my own small way, I’ve had an embarrassment of riches. I’ll have five ideas and I’m dying to do them all. It takes weeks or months where I agonize and obsess over which to do next. I wish sometimes someone would choose for me. If someone said, Do idea number three next, that would be fine. But I have never had any sense of running dry. People always ask me, Do you ever think you’ll wake up one morning and not be funny? That thought would never occur to me – it’s an odd thought and not realistic. Because funny and me are not separate. We’re one. The best time to me is when I’m through with a project and deciding about a new one. That’s because it’s at a period when reality has not yet set in. The idea in your mind’s eye is so wonderful, and you fantasize it in the perfect flash of a second – just beautifully conceived. But then when you have to execute it, it doesn’t come out as you’d fantasized. Production is where the problems begin, where reality starts to set in. As I was saying before, the closest I ever come to realizing the concept is in prose. Most of the things that I’ve written and published, I’ve felt that I executed my original idea pretty much to my satisfaction. But I’ve never, ever felt that, not even close, about anything I’ve written for film or the stage. I always felt I had such a dazzling idea – where did I go wrong? You go wrong from the first day. Everything’s a compromise. For instance, you’re not going to get Marlon Brando to do your script, you’re going to get someone lesser. The room you see in your mind’s eye is not the room you’re filming in. It’s always a question of high aims, grandiose dreams, great bravado and confidence, and great courage at the typewriter; and then, when I’m in the midst of finishing a picture and everything’s gone horribly wrong and I’ve reedited it and reshot it and tried to fix it, then it’s merely a struggle for survival. You’re happy only to be alive. Gone are all the exalted goals and aims, all the uncompromising notions of a perfect work of art, and you’re just fighting so people won’t storm up the aisles with tar and feathers. With many of my films – almost all – if I’d been able to get on screen what I conceived, they would have been much better pictures. Fortunately, the public doesn’t know about how great the picture played in my head was, so I get away with it.

INTERVIEWER

How do you actually work? What are your tools?

ALLEN

I’ve written on legal pads, hotel stationery, anything I can get my hands on. I have no finickiness about anything like that. I write in hotel rooms, in my house, with other people around, on matchbooks. I have no problems with it – to the meager limits that I can do it. There have been stories where I’ve just sat down at the typewriter and typed straight through beginning to end. There are some New Yorker pieces I’ve written out in forty minutes time. And there are other things I’ve just struggled and agonized over for weeks and weeks. It’s very haphazard. Take two movies – one movie that was not critically successful was A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. I wrote that thing in no time. It just came out in six days – everything in perfect shape. I did it, and it was not well received. Whereas Annie Hall was just endless – totally changing things. There was as much material on the cutting-room floor as there was in the picture – I went back five times to reshoot. And it was well received. On the other hand, the exact opposite has happened to me where I’ve done things that just flowed easily and were very well received. And things I agonized over were not. I’ve found no correlation at all...

Crimes and Misdemeanours (Directed by Woody Allen)
INTERVIEWER

Why did you start out writing comedy?

ALLEN

I always enjoyed comedians when I was young. But when I started to read more seriously, I enjoyed more serious writers. I became less interested in comedy then, although I found I could write it. These days I’m not terribly interested in comedy. If I were to list my fifteen favorite films, there would probably be no comedies in there. True, there are some comic films that I think are wonderful. I certainly think that City Lights is great, a number of the Buster Keatons, several Marx Brothers movies. But those are a different kind of comedy – the comedy of comedians in film stands more as a record of the comedians’ work. The films may be weak or silly but the comics were geniuses. I like Keaton’s films better than Keaton and enjoy Chaplin and The Marx Brothers usually more than the films. But I’m an easy audience. I laugh easily.

INTERVIEWER

How about Bringing Up Baby?

ALLEN

No, I never liked that. I never found that funny.

INTERVIEWER

Really?

ALLEN

No, I liked Born Yesterday, even though it’s a play made into a film. Both The Shop Around the Corner and Trouble in Paradise are terrific. A wonderful talking comedy is The White Sheik by Fellini.

Stardust Memories (Directed by Woody Allen)
INTERVIEWER

What is it that keeps a lighthearted or comic film from being on your list of ten?

ALLEN

Nothing other than personal taste. Someone else might list ten comedies. It’s simply that I enjoy more serious films. When I have the option to see films, I’ll go and see Citizen Kane, The Bicycle Thief, The Grand Illusion, The Seventh Seal, and those kind of pictures.

INTERVIEWER

When you go to see the great classics over again, do you go to see how they’re made, or do you go for the impact that they have on you emotionally?

ALLEN

Usually, I go for enjoyment. Other people who work on my films see all the technical things happening, and I can’t see them. I still can’t notice the microphone shadow, or the cut that wasn’t good or something. I’m too engrossed in the film itself.

INTERVIEWER

Who have had the greatest influence on your film work?

ALLEN

The biggest influences on me, I guess, have been Bergman and the Marx Brothers. I also have no compunction stealing from Strindberg, Chekhov, Perelman, Moss Hart, Jimmy Cannon, Fellini, and Bob Hope’s writers.

Annie Hall (Directed by Woody Allen)
INTERVIEWER

Why do you think you started writing as a kid?

ALLEN

I think it was just the sheer pleasure of it. It’s like playing with my band now. It’s fun to make music, and it’s fun to write. It’s fun to make stuff up. I would say that if I’d lived in the era before motion pictures, I would have been a writer. I saw Alfred Kazin on television. He was extolling the novel at the expense of film. But I didn’t agree. One is not comparable with the other. He had too much respect for the printed word. Good films are better than bad books, and when they’re both great, they’re great and worthwhile in different ways.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think the pleasures of writing are related to the sense of control art provides?

ALLEN

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to create your own world whenever you want to. Writing is very pleasurable, very seductive, and very therapeutic. Time passes very fast when I’m writing – really fast. I’m puzzling over something, and time just flies by. It’s an exhilarating feeling. How bad can it be? It’s sitting alone with fictional characters. You’re escaping from the world in your own way and that’s fine. Why not?

INTERVIEWER

When you’re writing, do you think about your audience? Updike, for instance, once said that he liked to think of a young kid in a small Midwestern town finding one of his books on a shelf at a public library.

ALLEN

I’ve always felt that I try to aim as high as I can at the time, not to reach everybody, because I know that I can’t do that, but always to try to stretch myself. I’d like to feel, when I’ve finished a film, that intelligent adults, whether they’re scientists or philosophers, could go in and see it and not come out and feel that it was a total waste of time. That they wouldn’t say, Jesus, what did you get me into? If I went in to see Rambo, I’d say, Oh, God, and then after a few minutes I’d leave. Size of audience is irrelevant to me. The more the better, but not if I have to change my ideas to seduce them.

INTERVIEWER

What sort of development do you see in your own work over the years?

ALLEN

I hope for growth, of course. If you look at my first films, they were very broad and sometimes funny. I’ve gotten more human with the stories and sacrificed a tremendous amount of humor, of laughter, for other values that I personally feel are worth making that sacrifice for. So, a film like The Purple Rose of Cairo or Manhattan will not have as many laughs. But I think they’re more enjoyable. At least to me they are. I would love to continue that – and still try to make some serious things.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (Directed by Woody Allen)
INTERVIEWER

It seems as though when an artist becomes established, other people – critics, their followers – expect them to keep on doing the same thing, instead of evolving in their own way.

ALLEN

That’s why you must never take what’s written about you seriously. I’ve never written anything in my life or done any project that wasn’t what I wanted to do at the time. You really have to forget about what they call ‘career moves.’ You just do what you want to do for your own sense of your creative life. If no one else wants to see it, that’s fine. Otherwise, you’re in the business to please other people. When we did Stardust Memories, all of us knew there would be a lot of flack. But it wouldn’t for a second stop me. I never thought, I better not do this because people will be upset. It’d be sheer death not to go through with a project you feel like going through with at the time...

INTERVIEWER

Don’t you think that as serious writers mature they simply continue to develop and expand the themes already established?

ALLEN

Each person has his own obsessions. In Bergman films you find the same things over and over, but they’re usually presented with great freshness.

– Extract from ‘Woody Allen, The Art of Humor No. 1. Interviewed by Michiko Kakutani. The Paris Review. Fall 1995, No. 136.’


Friday, 8 June 2012

Clint Eastwood: Straight Shooter

Unforgiven (Directed by Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood has directed over 35 feature films in 35 years, frequently starring in them and composing original music for nearly a dozen, amassing in the process several Oscar nominations, two Oscar wins and two DGA Awards for Outstanding Directorial Achievement. Revered as the last ‘classical’ director working in Hollywood – a tribute to the restraint of his storytelling and the effectiveness of his working method – Eastwood has never been afraid of taking risks, balancing accessible mainstream success with darker edgier projects. The following extract is from an interview with Scott Foundas in which Eastwood discusses his approach to directing, his attitude to commercialism and the significance of the script:

Q: You have a reputation for working fast on the set, and [Don] Siegel had a similar reputation. Was that something you picked up from him?

A: Speed is just up to the individual. Some people think things over more; others work more instinctively. I’ve worked with some other fast directors – Bill Wellman wasn’t slow. He knew what he wanted, shot it and moved on. I came up through television, and in television you had to move fast. The important thing, of course, is what comes out on the screen. I like to move fast only because I think it works well for the actors and the crew to feel like we’re progressing forward. But I think the reputation that I have for speed is not necessarily a good one – you don’t want to do Plan 9 from Outer Space, where the gravestones fall over and you say, ‘I can’t do another take. We’re too busy. Move on.’ You’re still making a film that you want to be right. But I find, as an actor, that I worked better when the directors were working fast. That’s why I guess Don and I got along so well. You sustain the character for shorter periods. You’re not having to ask yourself, ‘Now where was I three days ago? What the hell is this scene all about? What are we doing here?’

Q: Is the filmmaking process significantly different for you when you’re acting in and directing a picture as opposed to just directing?

A: It is. You definitely split your concentration. Most actors who’ve turned to directing – William S. Hart, Stan Laurel, Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier – have had to be in the picture in order to get the directing job, and that’s what happened with me. Once in a while an actor comes along and gets a project going that he’s not also starring in – Redford with Ordinary People, for example – and that’s certainly the more ideal thing, to do one job and concentrate on that one job. I always expected to withdraw from acting at some point and just stay behind the camera, and in recent years, I’ve done that. Even when I think back on Unforgiven – I had a major role in it, but there’s also a lot of the picture that I’m not in. Being out of Mystic River was great. But then Million Dollar Baby comes along and there’s a great role in there for an older guy. Well, I’m an older guy. So, there you go. Never say never.


Q: Did directing your own pictures then make it harder to go back and act for other directors?

A: I don’t think so. I actually think every actor should direct at some point to learn the hurdles and the obstacles the director faces and the concentration it takes – a concentration equal to that of the actor, just in a different way. I felt that directing made me much more sympathetic to what directors have to do. I think I was easier to work with as an actor after I’d directed a few times. When the director wanted another take for reasons other than performance, I didn’t bog down and say, ‘Come on, what do you need that for?’

Q: When you start a film do you always have a sense of what you want, what it’s going to look like?

A: I always wanted to try something different. A lot goes into a film. But first you have to have a great story, a foundation; then you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to frame that story, how’s it going to look, how’s it going to sound. It’s hard to express it, because I don’t sit around and intellectualize it. A lot of times when I go to work, I have a picture in my mind of how things should be, but I don’t know why I have that picture. I just know that I want to get there and I’ve got to explain to people how we’re going to get there, or have people explain that to me.

Q: Unforgiven is frequently cited as the film that caused American critics and audiences to finally accept you as a serious artist, whereas that recognition had come considerably earlier from some foreign circles, notably France.

A: I’ve never thought about what other people think. I’ve always just thought – and I still think this way – that you make a film, you present it to the public and then it’s out there and it’s up to them to judge it. I just kept grinding them out, like a machinist, and I guess some people might go back and, in hindsight, say, ‘Well, this wasn’t so bad.’ The Outlaw Josey Wales, for example – I would say that, judging from the man on the street, that’s the most popular Western I’ve ever done. But Unforgiven did break through in a way.


Q: You’ve been directing films for thirty-five years, does it feel like you’re doing anything different now than when you started out?

A: A lot of people say, ‘Well, how come you’re doing better now than when you were 45 or 50?’ The answer is I don’t know. Maybe I’m not. Maybe 45 or 50 just wasn’t looked at in the same way. Or maybe I know more and I’m thinking more, doing better things, being more selective. Probably because I’m older now, I don’t feel compelled to do a lot of work. I’ll do a lot of work if it’s there, like in the last two years I’ve done two pictures back-to-back – Million Dollar Baby and Flags of Our Fathers. But these things just all came about. If they hadn’t come about, I’d probably be a much better golfer. Whereas back in the 1970s and ’80s, I was doing more stuff. Some things you read and you say, ‘I love this script!’ Others you read and you go, ‘I like the script and I’ll do it.’ Now, I’m inclined to wait until I love the script.

Q: So many filmmakers complain about the time it takes to raise money and set projects up. But you’ve been fortunate in having a major studio–first Universal and then Warner Bros. – that was more or less willing to support whatever you wanted to do over the years.

A: Sure. A project like Bird (1988) was going nowhere when I grabbed it. It had been hanging around for a long time. It was owned by another studio and I talked Warner Bros. into trading something for it. Now, Warners might not have done that for someone else. So I’ve gotten a few films made that probably wouldn’t have been made otherwise. That goes for the last two, especially. They ended up successful despite the apprehension of the studio – so sometimes that studio thing works for you and sometimes against you. Warner Bros. wasn’t excited about doing Mystic River – they thought it was too dark. And they weren’t excited about doing Million Dollar Baby, because it was a woman’s boxing movie. But I didn’t see it like that; I saw it as a great love story. So it’s all about the way you look at it. But we got it made; that’s the main thing.

Q: Is the difficulty you had making those two films representative of any larger changes you’ve observed in the industry over the last four decades?

A: We live right now in an era where the fad is to remake a television show or a movie that’s already been remade five other times. It’s tough for a lot of studios to say, ‘Let’s start from scratch.’ In the 1940s, they had writers on tap all the time who would pitch ideas to the studio personnel. But can you imagine pitching Sunset Boulevard or some of these classic films now? A picture like that would have to be done as an independent, just as Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby had to be done semi-independently. The good thing is that it’s come full circle in a way, with the studios forming independent divisions to finance smaller films, to take on projects that wouldn’t get made otherwise. George Clooney’s film, Good Night, and Good Luck, is another example of a film that probably wouldn’t be high on a studio’s list of things to do. I’ve always tried to influence the studio to not be afraid to do things that might not make a lot of money, but which they’ll be proud of thirty or forty years from now. That’s what I told [former Warner Bros. chairman and CEO] Bob Daly when I was doing Bird. I said, ‘I don’t know if this thing will make any money – it’s about jazz, it’s not very commercial, it’s a tragic story. But I can guarantee you that I’ll try to make a film you’ll be proud to have your logo on.’ That’s about all I can offer. That’s about all I can offer on any of these films.


Q: The writer of Unforgiven, David Webb Peoples, has said that you filmed what was basically the first draft of his script, which is certainly a departure from the Hollywood norm of ‘developing’ and rewriting things ad infinitum and calling in four or five writers. You seem to have enormous respect for the written word.

A: Some scripts come in and they’re just great to start with; I’ll use Unforgiven as the example. It was a good script. I got it in the early 1980s and waited until ’92 to make it. I called up the writer, David Peoples, and said, ‘I’m going to make your movie, but I want to change a few things. Can I run these ideas by you as I get them?’ He said, ‘Go ahead.’ But the more I fiddled with it, the more I realized I was screwing it up. It goes back to something Don Siegel used to say: So many times you get a great project and people want to kill it with improvements. And that’s exactly what I was doing with Unforgiven. So finally, I called David back and said, ‘Forget what I said about making those changes. I’m not doing anything except changing the title.’ It was originally called The William Munny Killings. Of course, once you get into a project, there are always some things that live up to or exceed your expectations, and certain other things that will be disappointing. So you have to be able to re-write on your feet as you’re working. But once in a while projects come along where everything fits together like a jigsaw puzzle – as it went together in your mind, it comes together on film.

- Interview extract from ‘Scott Foundas: The Straight Shooter’. DGA Quarterly, Spring 2006.