O S C A R S E AS O N 2 0 1 2 â€” 2 0 1 3
WRITER/ DIRECTOR ISSUE
THE RACE HEATS UP Writers and Directors Who Are Rising to the Top
Shared Themes in the Foreign-Language Category Behind the Scenes on Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook
BE ST DIRECTOR BEN AFFLECK
“BEN AFFLECK HAS EMERGED AS A FILMMAKER OF ASTONISHING ASSURANCE AND DEPTH. HE THREADS VIEWERS THROUGH THE DAUNTINGLY TRICKY GEOPOLITICS AND TONAL SHIFTS OF ARGO WITH AN
UTTERLY FLAWLESS SENSE OF CONTROL.” ANN HORNADAY,
“WHILE STEEPED IN THE FILMMAKING STYLE OF THE ‘70s, ARGO STILL FEELS IMMEDIATE AND RELEVANT. A SEAMLESS BLEND OF DRAMA AND BREATHTAKING SUSPENSE.
ARGO REVEALS AFFLECK’S MASTERY OF PACING AND STORYTELLING.” CHRISTY LEMIRE,
DECEMBER 12, 2012
OSCAR SEASON 2012—2013
DECEMBER 12, 2012
E d i t or i a l Tea m
AWARDS | LINE EDITOR
AWARDS | LINE MANAGING EDITOR & CONTRIBUTOR
DEADLINE AWARDS COLUMNIST
Pete Hammond DEADLINE FILM EDITOR
Mike Fleming Jr. DEADLINE TV EDITOR
Nellie Andreeva DEADLINE EDITORS
Patrick Hipes Denise Petski Kinsey Lowe AWARDS| LINE CONTRIBUTORS
Paul Brownfield Diane Haithman Monica Corcoran Harel Ari Karpel Cari Lynn Thomas J. McLean David Mermelstein Craig Modderno Ray Richmond Des i g n , P ro d u c t i on & Mar k e t i n g
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24) T a b l e of C o n te n ts
04) Write Turns
28) At the Helm
06) Getting the Details Right
32) War at Home
08) Up for Adaptation
34) Place at the Table
10) Following the Story
36) Song in His Heart
The adapted screenplay race is the most contentious in years.
Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio immersed himself in 1970s Iran and the Hostage Crisis to craft his script.
Anna Karenina scribe Tom Stoppard considers his work a “collaboration” with Leo Tolstoy. FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN & CEO
Jay Penske EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
Paul Woolnough SVP ENTERTAINMENT SALES
Mark Boal saw the ending of his Zero Dark Thirty change midstream when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed.
Nic Paul VP PARTNERSHIPS & PRODUCT
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12) Six-Year Term
It took Tony Kushner six years to figure out the best way to detail the last three months of Lincoln’s presidency.
14) Comedy Team
Writer/ Director Issue
Oscar heavyweights make up this year’s list of director contenders.
Steven Spielberg discusses how Abraham Lincoln dealt with the internal strife of the country while he dealt with the same within his own family.
Ben Affleck proves himself a formidable directing force with Argo.
Tom Hooper follows up his Oscar win with Les Misérables.
38) Soldier’s Story
Paul Thomas Anderson weaved together bits and pieces of inspiration he’d had for years to create the story of The Master.
39) Romantic Notion
Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann found the material for This Is 40 in the most obvious place—at home.
Wes Anderson found inspiration for Moonrise Kingdom in childhood notions of the nature of love.
16) Sea Sell
40) Language of Cinema
20) Emotion Capture
42) What’s Up With Docs?
24) Funny Business
43) Back in Black
SR. ENTERTAINMENT SALES DIRECTOR
Cathy Goepfert CONSUMER SALES DIRECTORS
After a turbulent production path, Life of Pi found its sea legs as a 3D digital epic.
A common theme uniting the season’s foreign-language films is struggle.
Carra Fenton ACCOUNT MANAGER
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David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is something of a companion to his previous effort, The Fighter.
The Intouchables connects with audiences by recalling classic American buddy comedies. IS THE PARENT COMPANY AND OWNER OF:
Cautious optimism is the best way to describe the results of the rule changes implemented by the documentary branch of the Academy.
Jack Black says music is always a part of his best roles.
Above: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel screenwriter Ol Parker (left). Inset: The Perks of Being a Wallflower writer/director Stephen Chbosky Below: Quartet writer Ronald Harwood
By Pete Hammond
The Adapted Screenplay Category Is Packed With Potential Best Picture Nominees When it comes to the written word in this year’s Oscar race, it helps to have sources. While the original screenplay category has a few serious best picture contenders in Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, The Impossible, Flight, The Master, and Amour, it is the adapted category where the action really is. The five top best picture contenders on most pundits’ list of predictions —Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell), Les Misérables (William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer), Argo (Chris Terrio), Life of Pi (David Magee), and Lincoln (Tony Kushner)—are all competing against each other, making it one of the hottest races for adapted screenplay in years. It is proof positive that either Hollywood is lacking in great original ideas or the most promising material in terms of best picture candidates has come from another medium. It is actually a bit of a reversal of a recent trend where the best picture winner came from original screenplays. In fact, the last three films to take Oscar’s most prestigious prize—The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, and The Artist—were all original, reversing a previous eight-year trend in which the best picture winners were adapted in seven of those years (Crash’s 2005 shocker of an upset over Brokeback Mountain being the only exception). That, in turn, had reversed a trend in favor of original best picture winners when five of six at the end of the last century had triumphed over adaptations.
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But from the looks of things, the pendulum could be swinging back, which is why writers are seeking out those hot properties to turn into movies. Bubbling under the top list of contenders for best adapted screenplay is an impressive group that includes Tom Stoppard’s take on Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own 1999 coming-of-age tale The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Ol Parker’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Ronald Harwood’s Quartet; French import Rust and Bone from Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain; Richard Linklater’s indie hit Bernie; Ben Lewin’s The Sessions; Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s Beasts of the Southern Wild; John McLaughlin’s Hitchcock; and a couple of studio tentpoles from big names, The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro). There is also Judd Apatow’s very personal original This Is 40, which is an adaptation only in the sense that it covers the further adventures of two characters from Knocked Up, so even Universal is advertising it as the “sort-of sequel.” It really should be in original where it would have a better shot. Adaptation should be only about just that, adaptations. Leading the parade of originals are likely nominees Zero Dark Thirty, with a script shrouded in controversy from Hurt Locker Oscar winner Mark Boal; Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly ambitious The Master; Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s Moonrise Kingdom; Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained; John Gatins for Flight; Cannes Palme d’Or winner Amour from Michael Haneke; the emotional and gripping The Impossible by Sergio G. Sanchez; and the French boxoffice sensation The Intouchables from writer/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. Under that top tier of contenders are such disparate films as Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki), End of Watch (David Ayer), Promised Land (Matt Damon and John Krasinski), and Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, and there might even
be a shout-out from the writing branch for Oscar show host Seth MacFarlane’s smash hit comedy, Ted (cowritten with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild). Sometimes there is room for an animated movie to sneak in here, too, and this year’s most likely contender for that slot would be Disney’s clever Wreck-It Ralph from Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee. If you’re looking for clues for the likelihood of a nomination for Wreck-It Ralph or even many of the other contenders listed above don’t count on the nominees list from the Writers Guild of America, which will be announced on Jan. 3, a full week before the Oscar nominees are named. The WGA regularly bans animation scripts and a lot of indie projects not produced under guild jurisdiction. In recent years, this has led to a wide divide between the WGA nominees for original and adaptation than what the far more inclusive Academy comes up with. In 2009, only one WGA-nominated original screenplay, Milk, was also on Oscar’s list (it won, though). In 2010, though the two groups agreed on six of the 10 writing nominees in both categories, the eventual Oscar winner for original screenplay, David Seidler’s The King’s Speech, wasn’t even nominated for a WGA honor because it wasn’t made under the guild’s guidelines. Last year, a paltry four out of 10 nominees were on both Oscar and WGA lists. This chasm between the two organizations, despite shared membership, makes it increasingly difficult to predict Oscar nominees based on the preference of the guild, which is quite unlike the strong correlation between Oscar and other guilds like the PGA, DGA, and SAG.
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BEST DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER NOLAN
“‘THE DARK KNIGHT RISES’ IS CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S
MESMERIZING CLIMAX TO HIS TRILOGY. A MEDITATION ON MORTAL LOSS AND HEROIC FRAILTY.
GRAND AMBITIONS AND EPIC ACHIEVEMENT.”
THIS IS A FILM OF
R I C H A R D C O R L I SS ,
ONE OF THE YEAR’S TEN BEST FILMS NOMINEE
BEST SCORE SOUNDTRACK FOR VISUAL MEDIA GRAMMY ® AWARDS
History Lesson Chris Terrio (right) with Ben Affleck
Chris Terrio Spent More Time Researching the Intricacies of the CIA and 1970s Iran Than He Did Writing Argo Hearing that an Oscar-winning screenwriter has just signed on to direct the highest-profile script of your career could be somewhat nervewracking. But for Argo’s Chris Terrio, working with director Ben Affleck was made easier because of Affleck’s writing background. “At the beginning, you’re slightly defensive, thinking, ‘The director’s going to come kidnap the baby and carry it away,’ but there was zero of that. From our first conversation, it was just us geeking out about how we could make every scene better,” Terrio recalls about working on the film. Terrio is enjoying the experience of watching audiences see his first major-studio project, all while learning the ropes of awards season as a serious writing contender. Terrio recently spoke with AwardsLine about the complexities of researching the script and what he learned from working with Affleck.
By Christy Grosz
DECEMBER 12, 2012
AWARDSLINE: Were you familiar at all with the Argo story when Smoke House’s Nina Wolarsky first called you about writing the script? CHRIS TERRIO: Of course I knew something about the Iran hostage situation, and I had always been curious about it and had read various books, but no, I didn’t know anything about Argo. I had read Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, and that book briefly mentions it, but I think I read it without ever thinking too much about it. One of the few people in that book that comes off well is (Argo plot architect and CIA agent) Tony Mendez because that book is (about) a litany of mistakes that the CIA made; in fact that New York Times writer is not very popular at the CIA. AWARDSLINE: You obviously started your research with Joshuah Bearman’s April 2007 Wired article, “The Great Escape,” but what other material did you consult for the script? TERRIO: The Wired article, it’s short, and I credit Josh completely with the clash of worlds depicted in the movie, which is to say Hollywood and the CIA. But if you’re going to write a two-hour movie, there’s tons of research that you have to do that isn’t in the article. I spent probably the whole spring, and even longer, just circling and circling: Read every book that I could find on the 444 days, anything I could about Iran; looked at some Iranian movies from that period, ones made by expatriates. The Iran Hostage Crisis is the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle, so there’s an enormous amount of video footage that you can see at places like the Carter Center and the National Archives and the Paley Center in New York. AWARDSLINE: How did you go about boiling it down and making sense of the multiple narratives and still feel like you were being true to the story? TERRIO: Some of it is just instinct and trial and error. There were definitely moments where I worried that I wasn’t giving a comprehensive enough version of this moment in history. As American filmmakers, we can never tell a comprehensive story about the plight of people in Iran at that moment, but the film—without ever losing the forward momentum—lingers a bit to remind you that there are all these unresolved stories. I have to credit Ben with all that. Those stories could
be scripted, like the Iranian housekeeper plot, or could just be a closeup of people waiting for their visas at the beginning of the film. Those closeups tell all kinds of stories: There’s a woman who’s wearing a mink stole and has put on makeup and is just sitting waiting for a visa. I look at that closeup, and I imagine her whole history—it’s just a two-second shot but I think at every margin of the story there are these little hints of stories that we’re not telling. AWARDSLINE: How long did it take you to write the script? TERRIO: The script was written in a matter of a few weeks after months and months of research, but I think that’s always the way with me. I need to circle something for a long time, and the characters are gradually showing up and taking their places. Finally, by the time I was ready to write, I knew. They had told me what they wanted to say, and I could sort of take dictation, which I know sounds a little crazy, but I’d imagine most writers would say that. You’re afraid every morning when you sit down that the characters aren’t going to show up for work, and sometimes they don’t, but when they do, you’re happy and you write fast. AWARDSLINE: You’ve directed film and TV—did you pick up anything from Affleck while you were on the set of Argo? TERRIO: The mood that Ben created. Ben is very easygoing, but that belies somebody who knows what he wants and knows how to get it. Ben’s ability to work with (cinematographer) Rodrigo (Prieto) and quickly get what he wants, know what he needs, and give himself options is a great thing that I picked up. He already is cutting the movie in his head when he’s making it. He immediately has an instinct about when it’s in the can and when it’s not. AWARDSLINE: What’s it been like being a part of the awardsseason machine so far? TERRIO: I live in New York, so I’ve been at the margins of it, and I haven’t necessarily been in the belly of the beast yet, if it is a beast. It’s just been a rush for me to see people watching the movie and responding to it, but also to capture a little bit of that film-school excitement about movies.
B E S T
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BEST DIRECTOR PETER JAC KSO N
W W W . WA R N E R B R O S 2 0 1 2 . C O M
By Pete Hammond
Tom Stoppard Calls the Prospect of Crafting Screenplays From Other Writers’ Work Collaboration—of a Sort At age 75, Tom Stoppard is still at the top of his game, and still seeking new challenges in film, television, and stage. The legendary writer responsible for such original theatrical experiences as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Real Thing, and Coast of Utopia has also made his mark with a slew of memorable movies including Brazil, Empire of the Sun, Billy Bathgate, and his Oscar-winning script for Shakespeare in Love (cowritten with Marc Norman). Now he is partnering, so to speak, with Leo Tolstoy on a risky but thrilling new version of the Russian classic Anna Karenina. Though there are many film and TV versions already in existence, Stoppard was frightened by the prospect of following in their footsteps yet he embraced it. AWARDSLINE: Why did you want to take on Anna Karenina? It’s a very ambitious project. TOM STOPPARD: I had no thought about it until I was asked whether I would be interested in doing it with Joe Wright, and I was immediately interested in it. You don’t often get a proposal to do Tolstoy for a really interesting director—that’s easy to say yes to. AWARDSLINE: Did you have any trepidation about adapting something that had been done so many times before? STOPPARD: I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but the first thing I did was to watch all the other ones. (Laughs.) And I suspect in screenwriting class, they tell you not to do that, but I was tempted, and I fell. I watched Greta Garbo, and I watched Vivien Leigh, and I watched Sophie Marceau, and about three others. It was immediately clear that, in a sense, the best one was the BBC—it was hours and hours. So
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that made one think about what does one do (with) two hours? And I got to the thought that one should deal with the subject of love and not worry too much about local government, agriculture, or (Leo) Tolstoy’s other preoccupations with Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). Levin is the character who represents Tolstoy in many ways, and Joe and I talked about this a lot. And I said, “We should just try to make a movie where the word love just keeps dropping in, like a pebble into a pond, and deal with the way that love works.” I don’t mean love between lovers only; I’m talking about Anna’s love for her family—intense love in the novel. That was the guiding track for me. AWARDSLINE: I talked to Joe Wright after I saw the film in Toronto, and he said he absolutely shot your script. But he also said that he came up with this theatrical device. Were you in on that decision initially? STOPPARD: He called me up and said, “I’ve got to see you urgently.” This was a few weeks before we went into production, and he came to my flat with this big file, which turned out to contain the storyboards of a lot of the movie. There was a terrifying moment where he said, “I hope you like it, because if you don’t, we can’t do it.” So I felt I had to like it before I saw it, and I was just staggered by it. I was also worried by it, for obvious reasons. But as I turned the pages, I began to understand that it could be an extremely exciting piece of storytelling. When we got to the horse race, for example, I thought, “This is insane, but insanely brilliant!” AWARDSLINE: In a play, you are going to have interaction with the actors—did you go on set or interact with the actors to talk about your point of view for the film? STOPPARD: That all happened before there was a set. I was at rehearsals, but once we had done rehearsals, frankly, the writer really doesn’t have a function on the set. If the script is stabilized, then the writer becomes a celebrity tourist visiting the set, trying not to get in the way. It’s very good for the ego, to go visit
a film set if you are the writer, because they give you a special chair, and tell you where you can sit to watch the monitor. They make you feel special, but at the same time, they make it perfectly plain that you are irrelevant! (Laughs.) I think that the one time you’re not needed is during production. You are needed again in post—I love to do postproduction. I am good at being shown something and counterpunching. I am in no way a director, but I’m a quite good critic. AWARDSLINE: Once you got into postproduction, what kind of changes did you see? STOPPARD: You always end up with too much, so it’s good to be part of the conversation about not just what you can omit, but how you are going to do the grammar of the omission, how you make things continue to work when there’s something missing. It’s your last chance to rewrite. Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue, it’s the order of the scenes, how you finish a scene, how you get into a scene. All these final decisions are best made when you’re there, watching. It’s really enjoyable, but you’ve got to be there at the director’s invitation. You can’t just barge in and say, “I’m the writer.” (Laughs.) AWARDSLINE: Would you want to work with a director that did not allow you into that process? STOPPARD: I don’t think I would, actually. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. AWARDSLINE: Do you have a preference for movies or theater? STOPPARD: I’ve never actually written an original (screenplay), so the theater is my only original work. I really enjoy great (film) adaptations—you’re given the story and the characters by somebody else. So it’s more like a collaborator, even if your collaborator is dead. The first job always is to deconstruct the piece that you’re working from, the novel, and I find that it’s really enjoyable because it’s a manageable job, it’s not actually a creative job. You can see what you really need and what you don’t.
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BEST DIRECTOR TOM HOOPER
“NO ONE EXPECTS GUTSY FILMMAKING IN A MUSICAL. BUT THAT ’ S JUST WHAT TOM HOOPER DELIVERS IN ‘ LES MISÉRABLES.’” PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE
© 2012 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
Fo r Yo u r C o n s i d e ra t i o n • B e s t Fo r e i g n L a n g u a g e Fi l m
OFFICIAL ENTRY FOR THE 85 TH ACADEMY AWARDS
and sumptuously produced. Mads Mikkelsen gives a mar velous performance.” – Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
“A SLAM DUNK IN THE GENRE,
satisfying every period piece craving. enthralls where many historical dramas start to sag. Nothing beats a well told tale of scandals past that you’ve never heard before.” – Mary Pols, Time
Ever so much more than a historical romance.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago SunTimes
This absorbing drama epitomizes what it takes to make histor y come alive on screen. ” -Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
Best Actor Best Screenplay
AFFAIR Directed By Nikolaj Arcel
DECEMBER 12, 2012
A Royal Affair For Your Consideration
Mark Boal (right) with Kathryn Bigelow
Mark Boal Relied on First-Hand Accounts to Put Together the Script for Zero Dark Thirty As both a journalist and a screenwriter, Mark Boal is no stranger to writing about modern soldiers and the wars they fight. Zero Dark Thirty reunites Boal with director Kathryn Bigelow—both won Oscars for The Hurt Locker—to chronicle the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s a subject that made the movie infamous long before its release as pols and pundits accused the White House of trying to bolster its image by granting Boal and Bigelow improper access to classified information about the May 2011 raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader. While Boal denies the charges—the released documents fail to prove improper access— the movie itself has at last emerged to defy political pigeonholing and throw a surprise shock into awards season. Eschewing policymakers and presidents, Zero Dark Thirty relies on first-hand accounts of events and focuses on CIA analyst Maya, who spends a decade obsessively hunting bin Laden. Like all the characters in the movie, Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, is based on a real person—though not so much so that anyone can identify the real agent. Speaking with AwardsLine less than a day after Zero Dark Thirty first screened, Boal reflected on the intense process of putting together a complex film under such unusual pressures.
By Thomas J. McLean
AWARDSLINE: You’ve been telling stories about today’s soldiers and modern wars. What do you find so attractive about these subjects? MARK BOAL: Ever since 9/11, I found myself interested in chronicling the war and the war on terror and the way that this giant machinery was affecting individuals. As a screenwriter, I’m fascinated by people that put themselves at such great risk. And there’s so many inherently dramatic components—for example, the intelligence community—that make fertile ground for a dramatist. AWARDSLINE: You were working on a movie about bin Laden’s 2001 escape into the caves of Afghanistan. How far had you gotten on that project and what kind of state was it in when bin Laden was reported killed? BOAL: We were planning to shoot late that summer. AWARDSLINE: What was your first thought about the movie when you heard he had been killed? BOAL: I was thinking about friends I had lost on 9/11, to be honest with you. But eventually I came around and started thinking about it narratively, as a screenwriter, and it occurred to me that I had a lot of work to do and that I’d probably have to throw out years of work. AWARDSLINE: How did you gather your first-hand accounts? Were you going through official channels or were you tracking down people on your own and using your own contacts? BOAL: It was a combination of all three of those methods. I certainly went through official channels, the public-affairs offices of the relevant agencies, as any reporter would do. I also did independent reporting, and you just kind of follow your nose and you build what you know one interview at a time. AWARDSLINE: How quickly did the script come together? BOAL: I felt like I was working with a gun to my head because I felt a lot of competitive pressure to do it quickly. It was a couple or three months of writing, and another three months of research. I was researching while I was writing.
AWARDSLINE: How much did the script change through production? BOAL: We shot the first draft, more or less, but I was always tweaking scenes on set. There were no conceptual revisions, really, but once I get a sense for an actor and how the dialogue sounds coming out of his or her mouth, I like to craft the character to what I perceive to be their strengths. Probably not a day went by when I didn’t churn out revisions of existing pages.
AWARDSLINE: A lot has been made in the media of the production getting assistance from the government in researching the movie. How did you approach the government and what kind of assistance did they provide? BOAL: If you’re trying to do your homework, as I was, the first thing you do is you go directly to the offices that are set up and designed to work with reporters or book authors or screenwriters. That’s what their job is: Communicate the facts and the goals of whatever agency they work for. That relationship between people seeking information and government agencies sharing the information is one of the foundations of this system that we have. What was unusual in this case was we got caught up in an election year and our movie became a chew toy, a talking point in a presidential election campaign. There were all sorts of things that were said about the film that were just not true.
AWARDSLINE: How fictionalized is the Maya character and what are some of the challenges of writing this kind of character? BOAL: It’s what screenwriters do all the time when they work from life. Part of what astonished me in my research is there were a lot of women involved in this hunt that played a big role, and I just wasn’t aware of that side of the CIA. I chose to tell the story through her eyes because that seemed to be to me the most dynamic and interesting way to do it. You’re also trying to dramatize events to tell a story most effectively. That doesn’t mean the events aren’t true, it just means you’re making them as dramatic as you possibly can. Then there were also things that I did to the character that I’m not going to discuss for obvious reasons to make sure that nobody would be able to watch the movie and draw a dotted line between a character in the film and somebody in real life. AWARDSLINE: Was it a conscious choice to steer clear of putting politicians in the film except for brief glimpses of TV news reports? BOAL: That was a creative choice. For better or worse, most of my writing life has been about people that work behind the scenes. I’m interested in finding extraordinary moments in otherwise normal people. Not to say there couldn’t be a great movie about the White House—I’m sure there will be some day, and somebody should write that movie. It just won’t be me.
Tony Kushner Worked for Six Years on Dramatizing the Last Three Months of Lincoln’s Presidency Accurately—and Succinctly
Story OF A
Life By Mike Fleming Jr.
Whittling down the 56-year life of a landmark U.S. president to a feature-length screenplay is a daunting task, and playwright Tony Kushner initially turned down the offer to adapt Abraham Lincoln’s story for the big screen for Steven Spielberg, even after their Oscar-lauded collaboration on 2005’s Munich. But if there’s one writer who can effectively generate emotional drama against a political venue, it’s Kushner, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning seven-hour-long Angels in America play dramatized the AIDS crisis amidst the complex attitudes of Reagan-era times. While length worked in Kushner’s favor during Angels, on Lincoln it was the rock that he pushed up a hill. But after conferring with Spielberg, Kushner soon found the cornerstone that would condense his first 500-page draft down to a 150-minute film: Lincoln’s political fight to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution pushed through Congress while the Civil War lingered.
AWARDSLINE: What was the biggest challenge you had in terms of focusing on a part of Lincoln’s life and keeping this feature length? TONY KUSHNER: It very easily could have been a miniseries. There were a lot of challenges in that regard. It was just an astonishing amount of really incredibly dramatic historical material. By the time I finished doing my research, I could pretty much make a miniseries out of any weekend Lincoln was in the White House. And I know that is not in any way an exaggeration. More than any other moment in American history, (the Civil War) is a gathering of all our country’s central themes. My goal from the beginning was to not make a bare-bones outline of life in his administration. I wanted it to be a drama dictated by the working out of contradictions and conflict rather than a faithful recounting of all the high points in Lincoln’s life. It was very important that we not try to cover too much terrain, rather dramatize it in a small moment. The expanse of time itself defuses a certain amount of dramatic tension. AWARDSLINE: Why didn’t you say yes to Lincoln right away? Was Munich a tough one to crack as well? KUSHNER: Not at all. I really loved working with Steven on Munich, and it was hard in certain ways, but I just thought, “How do you write a character named Abraham Lincoln with anything other than
DECEMBER 12, 2012
an immortalization that you know? And who’s going to play him? And is Daniel Day-Lewis available?” I was told that he wasn’t interested in playing Abraham Lincoln at that point, and it just seemed like it was fraught with sandtraps and pitfalls and improbabilities. I feel even more strongly now than I did six years ago that Lincoln is one of the personalities like Mozart or Shakespeare—real genius is a word that I don’t use loosely or lightly—somebody who is capable of things that are actually beyond great. If you set your goal as explaining what they did and how they did it, the minute you’ve succeeded in doing that you’ve failed because you couldn’t possibly have gotten it right. You can’t explain how Mozart wrote Don Giovanni or how Keats wrote To a Nightingale or how Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity. If we could figure it out, we could do it. Lincoln is, without any question, the greatest political leader this country has ever had but also one of its greatest writers. And, according to pretty much all accounts, a rather astonishing human being. AWARDSLINE: What was the most frustrating part of the six years you worked on the Lincoln script? KUSHNER: The first two years were spent around the fall of 1863, which is when Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, began to really openly
campaign for the Republican nomination again with Lincoln. I was going to start there and go through the end of April of ’65. I wrote about 100 pages and got as far as Dec. 25, 1863. I thought, “OK, there has to be some way to condense this material.” Every time I tried, I wound up pretty much around the same thing. I don’t think I ever got into 1864. And there’s a vast amount of stuff that happened in 1864 that you just couldn’t skip over. Steven was waiting and I said to him, “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t how to make this a feature-length film.” I was hoping he would say “Well, let’s do it as a miniseries,” but he wanted to do it as a feature-length film. So during the writers’ strike when I wasn’t writing, I put it away, and I had my suspicion that something happened because as soon as our strike was over, I called Steven and asked, “What are we going to do? Shall we just drop this?” And he said, “Why don’t you come up and talk about it? We’ll talk through all of the material and see if we can figure something out.” Two days before I was to go see him, I had a little eureka moment and thought in the last four months of Lincoln’s life there were several immensely dramatic incidents. I went to L.A. with the outline, which Steven thought was still long. I started condensing it and didn’t get very far, so I just took a deep breath and started writing in May of that year, then worked for about eight weeks
and produced a 500-page first draft. At some point we eliminated a couple of months and started focusing on the beginning of the end. What Steven was caught up in from the very beginning was the battle behind the scenes for the 13th Amendment. And the more I worked on it, the more I realized that in a way, without any stretching of history, it is a kind of perfect microcosm of what Lincoln contended with during the entirety of the war. AWARDSLINE: When you turned Angels in America into this big HBO project, was that 500 pages, more or less? KUSHNER: Angels was probably less than that because it’s seven or eight 60-page scripts. I don’t remember. But I think that we figured out that if Lincoln was a miniseries, it would have been about 10 hours. AWARDSLINE: What quality allows you to spend six years on a project like this? KUSHNER: It takes me a very long time to get ready to write and feel ready to write, after which I’m pretty fast. One of the things I love about my job as a playwright or as a screenwriter is that I get to do a lot of research and a lot of thinking and taking a lot of notes before I turn it in. It is a long time to spend on a screenplay. I certainly spent at least that much time on Angels. Most of my plays have taken two or three or four years. But it sort of takes the time it takes. I had never intended to write anything about Abraham Lincoln, so this kind of came out of nowhere for me. I knew that I was going to be handing over a good portion of my adult life to this and that it was going to be tricky.
AWARDSLINE: Was there anything you learned from working with Spielberg on Munich that prepared you to take on something like this? KUSHNER: Certainly. When I did Angels in America with Mike Nichols, I’d never written a screenplay, I’d never been on a film set before. Mike gave me some incredibly valuable lessons in how to work on a screenplay, and I learned an enormous amount from Steven in terms of screenwriting. I sat behind him the entire time we did Munich, so by the time we were done, I felt I had really learned a lot. I think there’s a certain way in which Munich and Lincoln are connected in that both are sort of about due process and legal versus nonlegal means of getting what you want. Munich asks some questions that needed to be asked and always need to
be asked about a policy of targeted assassination for the national and international context. And Lincoln is an investigation. It seemed to me that in a couple of ways the story of his battle for the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, there was a story about legal and quasi-legal manipulations that he felt were necessary to get what he needed. I see no evidence that Lincoln really strayed over the line into illegality. There are a lot of people who criticize him for martial law and for suspending habeus corpus and closing down newspapers. He made some tough decisions, and there was certainly no question that had he lived, the courts would have had a field day. But he struggled a lot because the Constitution doesn’t define war powers: You have them but (it) doesn’t say what they are.
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Bond Leslie Mann (left) with Judd Apatow
By Paul Brownfield
Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann Discuss Their Most Personal Film Yet, This Is 40
The first scene in Judd Apatow’s dramatic comedy about marriage, This Is 40, is the only love scene. Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are having birthday sex in the shower, but what Debbie doesn’t know is that Pete has popped a Viagra. Thrusting is soon followed by tumult. First seen in Knocked Up, Pete and Debbie functioned in that film as “the ghosts of Christmas future” for the two main characters, played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. But This Is 40 doesn’t pick up where Knocked Up left off, it starts afresh.
DECEMBER 0 1 25, , 22001122
Let us assume the Viagra shower episode hasn’t happened in the real-life marriage of Apatow and Mann. But both the writer/director, edging into more mature terrain, and his actress wife, truly starring in a major Hollywood film for the first time, are aware that they’ve made something that feels, anyway, like an autobiographical film. In the time before making This Is 40, Apatow went back and watched, among others, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage, “which had more humor in it than one would expect,” he says.
Original photography by Emily Shur
AWARDSLINE: Early in the movie, Pete and Debbie go away for a romantic weekend to get away from domestic and work stresses and reconnect as a couple. I think they have sex but they mostly do platonic things, like get stoned and order off the room-service menu. I’m curious what each of you thinks that says about marriage and long-term relationships. JUDD APATOW: Well, I intended it to look like they had sex. If Paul Rudd had agreed to show me his behind, maybe that would have been clearer. The intention of it is to show that everybody has too many things they’re juggling. Between their marriages, work, all the kid stuff, it is very stressful and timeconsuming, in addition to their extended families and health issues. Sometimes you need to get away for a few weeks just to figure out who you are again. LESLIE MANN: But originally we had (Pete) taking Viagra. APATOW: There was a funny shot where she sees him try to sneak the Viagra, and she just gives a look like, “Oh, God.” AWARDSLINE: There’s another scene where Debbie catches Pete in the bathroom at home, playing Scrabble on his iPad, and says to him, “Why are you always trying to escape?” That seemed like a crucial line in the film. APATOW: I’m a big fan of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. They talk about how men like to go to their caves, and women are always trying to get men out of their caves. That’s always my excuse for my escape. And it probably is just that I’m exhausted, and it’s fun to read the Huffington Post for 12 minutes on the toilet. Leslie will track how long I’ve been in the bathroom based on my Tweets. She’ll say, “I know you’re not going to the bathroom, you’re Tweeting.” She never opens the door. I think the second I hit the toilet, she signs on to Twitter to see if I’m really doing what I’m saying I’m doing. But I think everybody does that. There’s no guy who’s seen this movie that doesn’t say that they escape into the bathroom. I just think it’s a natural thing. Do you think women don’t do that, honey? They don’t feel the bathroom is a place to escape? MANN: Um. APATOW: To catch a breath? MANN: I don’t think so. APATOW: Where do you catch your breath? MANN: We don’t. We’re women. We’re stronger than you are. AWARDSLINE: Judd, The New Yorker once described your process for scriptwriting as involving a mostly male “Bucket Brigade of actors, writers, and directors” punching up each other’s scripts. Did that happen here? APATOW: Not really on this one. Some movies are more of a joke fest, so it’s helpful to have a lot of input. Some movies survive just based on how funny each individual joke is, but because this is a more intimate movie, it really started with this idea and a year of Leslie and I talking about it and what our feelings were at this time of our lives. So I would tell Leslie some of the story I was thinking about, and then she would comment on that and pitch me ideas for scenes based on what she was going through. That’s how I outline. I just list hundreds of scene ideas, and then slowly the actual plot starts revealing itself. AWARDSLINE: Did you workshop the script or show it around? APATOW: The first person to read it is Leslie because we talk a lot about it. Leslie doesn’t like reading the early, really crappy drafts, so I tell her how it’s going and talk through the scenes with her. Then when I feel like it’s pretty decent, I give her the script. I’m also well aware that if she doesn’t like it, we’re not making the movie. So that’s actually the only scary read for me. Then I’ll get her notes and do a pass, and I do give it to a ton of people, which makes Leslie very nervous. I’m always just sending the script to people, and a lot of friends who are the writers I most admire read it. James Brooks read it, and Eric Roth, and Jake Kasdan, and Adam McKay. I send it around and say, “Am I crazy? Does this make sense at all, what we’re trying to do here?” And they’re very, very supportive and insightful and helpful.
AWARDSLINE: How long did it take to get from first draft to a shooting draft? APATOW: Very short. I only finished the script because we were about to start shooting. So I drafted the script in December of 2010, and we shot in the summer of 2011. But we started doing rehearsals and table reads about five weeks after I finished the rough, vomit pass. Very early Leslie and Paul’ll come in, and we all talk and play and see how we feel and what’s missing. AWARDSLINE: Since this film is somewhat close to your personal lives and is such a family affair, did it feel different when you started shooting? MANN: I feel like Judd always protects me from anything that would stress me out in that way, so it’s only about being creative, which is stressful enough. But he kind of shields me from all of the little things, the business things. He creates a really safe place for us to be just creative. So I didn’t think about, “Oh, wow, this is however much money the budget was.” (To Apatow) How much was the budget? See, I don’t even know. So I didn’t worry about that. I think he may have been worrying about that but didn’t say anything about it. He’s just really snotty and having stress allergies. AWARDSLINE: Did you feel as though you were crossing a line, putting your own family life on film? MANN: I don’t see it that way. I know that there are certain things that are kind of pulled directly from our lives. Like, we don’t have wifi in the house. AWARDSLINE: Really? MANN: We have it in my bedroom, but don’t write that because (our daughter) Maude doesn’t know. But most of it, emotionally, I feel like it’s true, and what a woman goes through and what a man goes through at that stage of life feels really honest. But I think that’s pretty universal. So I didn’t feel like I was exposing this really personal thing about myself. I just felt like I’m playing a character and this is different from my life, but the same emotionally, you know? Does that make sense? AWARDSLINE: You mentioned your daughter Maude. Both your kids act in your movies. Did that feel risky this time, to expose them to more scrutiny? I guess in this era of social media that isn’t the big deal it once was. MANN: It’s weird because they haven’t been able to see the movies. I mean, Maude just recently saw some of Knocked Up, right? APATOW: She fell asleep at the halfway point, which was very insulting to us. MANN: Their friends don’t see the movies, and they just go to school every day, so they don’t really know what they’ve done. It kind of doesn’t affect them in their lives at all. But now that Maude is almost 15, it’s probably a little bit different. AWARDSLINE: And she has a big part in the film. MANN: And she’s really good in it. And I think that can’t hurt her. I don’t know, we’re very protective of them, and we’re just going to do our best. I hope that it doesn’t hurt them in some way. APATOW: We think of it more like a singer-songwriter. You write about what you care about, and you share that with people. And hopefully that makes it OK because you are doing it with a positive intention. When people do that in their music and in movies, I always really appreciate it. I think it is what we liked about Annie Hall. We all knew that they dated. We didn’t think it was like that exactly, but we knew that something had inspired it.
Charting A Course for ‘Pi’ 16
DECEMBER 12, 2012
Even After Completing His 3D Epic, Director Ang Lee Admits It’s Tough to Articulate What the Film Is Really About The
tank could hold some 1.7 million gallons of water, and it made waves you could surf on, says Suraj Sharma, the 17-year-old star who spent long hours in this fabricated ocean. The motion of the water could be programmed to affect the turbulence of troubled seas or a sudden calm, the swells only lapping at the makeshift raft on which sits a boy adrift in the middle of the Atlantic. He is alone with his thoughts—but not strictly alone, because the lifeboat to which his raft is attached is occupied by a Bengal tiger. “I’ve never seen water done well in a movie, and I’m doing 3D. Water is the main show,” says director Ang Lee, discussing the challenges of adapting Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi on open waters. To hear Lee talk about the torque machines and energydissolving technology that enabled him to choreograph the motion and shape of the waves is to begin to understand what he means when he says the ocean, in the story, represents “the visualization of Pi’s internal feelings.” “To shoot in water,” Lee says, “either you go through suffering the ocean, and not much gets done, or you create something like a bathtub,” with the water bouncing back and forth through the frame. Lee, an Academy Award winner for Brokeback Mountain, wanted neither of these things. He wanted an actual physical environment in which to portray an experience that ventures into magical realism. Thematically, Life of Pi is a story that asks its readers to consider what is illusory and what is real—and whether a fine distinction matters. It is part picaresque narrative, part allegory. “We view the whole thing as a film about stories and storytelling. How stories get us through life,” says screenwriter David Magee. But movie magic had to do some evolving before Life of Pi could hit theaters. Lee’s film follows a curious and adventuresome teenage boy, nicknamed Pi, whose family owns a zoo in Pondicherry, India, where the many exotic creatures include a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. From these idyllic beginnings, the story soon turns apocryphal if not Biblical: When the family decides to leave India and relocate the zoo to Canada, they all set sail on a cargo ship that capsizes in the middle of the Atlantic. The sole survivors are Pi and four animals, huddled on a lifeboat—a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and the tiger. Soon enough (see under: Darwin, Charles) the allegorical framework is made apparent: Man and beast must learn to coexist in a horizonless expanse otherwise known as the middle of the ocean. In the book, as in the film, the story is told from the point of view of the adult Pi, now living in Canada. As played by Irrfan Khan, the adult Pi retells his spiritual, emotional, and physical coming-of-age quest to a writer who while traveling in India has heard of the story secondhand.
Lee, even after completing the film, concedes that “it’s very hard to articulate what it’s about.” He calls it a “provocation for your imagination,” which is necessarily elliptical, given that the essential logline is that the story revolves around a tiger and a boy learning to coexist in the middle of the Atlantic. Producer Gil Netter says the novel had already been passed on by every major studio, including Fox, when Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler signed on to the project in 2002. The consensus had been that it was too difficult to realize as a movie. Netter optioned the book with screenwriter Dean Georgaris (the idea being that Georgaris might adapt it)). Netter says he and Georgaris pitched Gabler on Pi’s transcendent themes. The book was already selling itself as a literary sensation, winner of the Mann Booker Prize, which didn’t much solve the problem of just how to make it into a movie. The challenge perennially boiled down to three words: Boy. Tiger. Ocean. Along the way, other words and phrases would arise, like “recession” and “no star potential,” neither of which dissuaded Netter, the producer of such films as The Blind Side, Marley & Me, and Water for Elephants. All of those movies are often called “heartwarming” or “uplifting” or “family-oriented.” Netter saw the same potential for Life of Pi. In the end, he also credited “the dogged enthusiasm and determination” of Gabler and 20th Century Fox executive vp Victoria Rossellini.
Some of the directors who attached themselves to the project went further than others. M. Night Shyamalan signed on initially to write and direct, and years later Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) circled the film, but no one before Lee got as far as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the distinctive French director of such films as Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. Jeunet completed a script, which Netter says was more of a fairytale interpretation. “He wanted to shoot on the ocean, with live animals,” Netter explains, speaking with a wry delight. “To say that the studio was a little nervous is an understatement.” By 2008, seven years after the book’s film rights had first been optioned, Lee was immersed in flower power and hippiedom as he readied his 2009 film Taking Woodstock. Around that time, Lee says, he got a call about Life of Pi from Tom Rothman, then cochairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment. “He said, ‘It’s a family movie,’ ” Lee recalls of their initial conversation. “I said, ‘What do you mean, family movie?’ “In a strange way, it’s like the book,” Lee continues. “Yann Martel told me he thought he wrote a philosophical book for adults. He didn’t know why teenagers connect to it. It looks like they might with the movie, too.”
By Paul Brownfield Continued on next page...
‘‘ ’’ You cannot trust anything people tell you, because it could be wrong, because it’s so new.
Above: Shooting in the specially-built set.
Charting A Course for ‘Pi’ Lee was in postproduction on Taking Woodstock, when Fox came back to him to direct Life of Pi. Admittedly, Lee says, the book haunted him, and the question of “how do you crack this thing?” began to take hold of his imagination, particularly the prospect of telling a story as a 3D experience. As Lee puts it, the question was, “How do you examine illusion within illusion? We all know movies are based on illusions—the image, this emotional ride. How do you do that while you’re examining the power of storytelling? “I thought of 3D maybe adding another dimension,” Lee continues. “What doesn’t make sense could make sense. And I thought of the older Pi telling stories and having the first person going through the story while the third person (is) examining it, but they’re the same person.” This was months before James Cameron’s Avatar hit the theaters and promptly advanced the cause of 3D
Below: Lee with Pi actor Suraj Sharma
DECEMBER 12, 2012
beyond movie gimmickry and into the realm of storytelling art. “It’s very daunting,” Lee says of shooting 3D. “You cannot trust anything people tell you, because it could be wrong, because it’s so new. And the audience hasn’t had a relationship with it yet.” According to producer Netter, “Fox was challenging us all to figure out how to make this a four-quadrant international family movie. In order for that to have a chance at working, it’s got to feel like an event. So in the discussions to figure out how to event-ize it came the 3D discussion, and then Ang was smart enough to come up with a philosophy of how he could approach doing that.” Netter jokes that he referred to one particular room on the set of Life of Pi as the Beautiful Mind room— it was where Lee had meticulously diagrammed “completely from top to bottom, all the way around the room every single detail of fact that needed to be
known,” Netter says, down to the changing pallor of Pi’s skin as he endures a life at sea and the gradual aging of the oars. The Taiwanese-born Lee had not shot in his home country since making his 1994 film Eat Drink Man Woman. The Life of Pi production was based in an abandoned regional airport in Taichung, which was converted into soundstages with an international crew of 150, some of whom enrolled their kids in schools in Taiwan during the year they were making the movie. “Last time I tried to bring the American independent way, like New York independent filmmaking, back to Taiwan,” says Lee, juxtaposing his location shoots 20 years ago for Eat Drink Man Woman with the ministudio he created for Life of Pi. “I was there alone. I just tried to bring the method there. This time I brought Hollywood.”
HeavyMETTLE Silver Linings Playbook Dives Into the Messy Emotions That Make Up the Canon of Director David O. Russell By Paul Brownfield
DECEMBER 12, 2012
The least saleable aspect of David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is also one of its central themes: obsession. Pat Solitano, the lead character played by Bradley Cooper, is bipolar and manically fixated on getting his estranged wife back. Pat’s father, played by Robert De Niro, is a would-be bookmaker whose OCD behaviors (and his love) get projected onto his gambling and his diehard devotion to the hometown Philadelphia Eagles. As the film begins, Pat is being released from a psychiatric hospital and moving back into a kind of halfway house—his childhood bedroom. De Niro spends much of the film in Eagles green, trying not to notice his son’s psychosis, which involves long runs through his neighborhood wearing sweats and a trash bag, while Pat’s mother, played by Jacki Weaver, tiptoes through the minefield created by her husband and son. This is, in other words, prime Russell territory. The setting of Silver Linings Playbook, a no-frills, middle-class
neighborhood in Philadelphia, has echoes of Russell’s last film, The Fighter, which evoked working-class Lowell, MA. Russell calls Silver Linings a cousin to the world of The Fighter. He shot both films on similar 33-day schedules. His budget on Silver Linings was a reported $21 million. Jon Gordon, one of the film’s producers, noted that Russell can even be heard in a few scenes.
Lawrence), the widow of a cop with whom Pat forges a connection. What resonated for Russell when he was adapting the novel by Matthew Quick, he says, was a personal connection to the relationship between a father with OCD and his bipolar son.
“We got most of it out in the post process, but if you listen very, very closely, there’s still a couple places in the movie where you can hear David’s voice in the background,” Gordon says.
“I liked that it was a very specific world, and part of what makes it specific is that there’s a father-son and a mother-son relationship that I have personally experienced with my own son,” Russell says. “Mr. De Niro doesn’t like to talk about his personal motivation so much, but it was also personal to him.”
This fits Russell’s image as a director who himself wades into the emotional muck he means to bring out onscreen. The world of Silver Linings Playbook is not as hardened or volcanic as the world of The Fighter, though there are still verbal—and a few physical—punches thrown, including by Tiffany (Jennifer
Not so long ago, the director of Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings was in a self-described “wilderness period.” He hadn’t completed a film since 2004’s existential comedy I Heart Huckabees. The film that changed Russell’s course, and made Silver Linings Playbook possible, was The Fighter. Russell was only a
Continued on next page...
From left: actor Bradley Cooper, director David O. Russell, and actress Jennifer Lawrence
few months removed from the awards-season fanfare for that film when he began preproduction on Silver Linings, and he attacked the production in the way he made The Fighter: Lean below the line; lots of steady cam and hand-held camera; and “show up and do the best you can.” The film’s pathway to the screen, in the words of the Weinstein Co.’s Donna Gigliotti, had “luck and serendipity on its side.” The novel had been optioned by Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, producing partners who had a first-look deal with Weinstein. They in turn gave the book to Russell to adapt. At the time, his son was 13, and he had recently divorced. “I needed to work, I needed to write something, and I needed to make a living. And I also really responded to the material, so it was a matter of having the tone right,” Russell says. “You had to not stop working on the tone all the way through the editing process. The key to the whole thing is to keep it real, is to keep the people’s emotions committed and real.” Early in 2008, Pollack and Minghella passed away within a few months of each other. Michelle Raimo, another producer attached to Silver Linings, was named president of Sony Pictures Animation. The script was languishing, Gigliotti explains, until Raimo urged her not to let Silver Linings fall by the wayside. At the time, Gigliotti was in the midst of an Oscar campaign for the Weinstein Co.’s The Reader. By then, Russell had gone on to make The Fighter, after which the writer/director was suddenly a hot commodity again. “And thus,” Gigliotti explains, “there was new life in the project.” It is the kind of movie—part family drama, part romantic comedy, not easily reduced in a trailer— that doesn’t come out of Hollywood with regularity. “Studios used to make movies like this, and they don’t
DECEMBER 12, 2012
anymore,” Gigliotti says. “They’ve simply ignored the films that are adult-oriented and in that wheelhouse of $20 million to $40 million.” Asked about reports that Silver Linings was originally to have starred Mark Wahlberg and Anne Hathaway, Gigliotti says that by the time the film got off the ground, Wahlberg had a scheduling conflict with the action-thriller Contraband, and Hathaway had a commitment to the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises. In their stead came Bradley Cooper, best known for The Hangover franchise, and Jennifer Lawrence, Oscarnominated for her performance in Winter’s Bone but not yet the Hunger Games star. “It’s funny,” Lawrence says. “I had just worked with Gary (Ross) on Hunger Games, who worked in a completely different way from David, no better, no worse. I’m always slightly embarrassed, as I don’t have any kind of acting background. It’s a silly thing to say, but you work with actors who talk about different methods, and I never had that and it’s a worry of mine because I don’t know technically what I’m doing. Any moment I could show up on set and blow it. That was the first movie that I felt like it was an advantage, because I felt so open to working with—not so much an advantage, but a blessing—any kind of director. But it was so easy with him, I understood him.” Particularly for Cooper, the film would require that he stretch himself as an actor. “When I read the script—I think it was probably sort of my defense mechanism—I just sort of thought, ‘Ah, I’m not really right for this,’ which is kind of counterintuitive because I’m from Philly,” Cooper says. “I’m obsessed with the Eagles, I’m Italian-Irish, my parents grew up in households very similar to (Pat’s family), my grandparents lived like that. I grew up basically with my grandparents.”
The key to the whole thing is ...to keep the people’s emotions committed and real. Watching Cooper play the conceded groom in one of the actor’s early Hollywood roles, 2005’s Wedding Crashers, Russell saw a “palpably angry individual” otherwise being used to play a comedic heavy.
Sure enough, Russell says, Cooper told him he had been an angrier person then. “There were substances and a lot of vulnerable emotions that he was hiding behind anger,” Russell recounts. Inside of five minutes of their meeting, Russell thought Cooper was a “much more vulnerable and interesting person than I’ve seen him be in cinema.” Russell drew other parallels between Cooper and the character he plays: Both lost weight by way of remaking themselves, and both were hungry to be reintroduced to their respective communities.
“The hunger of Bradley to do this role, the hunger to step up as an actor and to do whatever it took is a wonderful thing for a director, and it mirrors the character’s hunger to be reintroduced to his community. They’re both in a way being reintroduced. “That’s why I was conscious of starting the film on Bradley’s back,” Russell continues, referring to the movie’s opening scene, in which the camera is trained on Cooper as he is about to leave the hospital. “It’s not the first time I feel I’ve been down that road, in the sense that I feel like people thought they had a reductive idea of Amy Adams. When I told them she was playing a very tough, strong, sexy bitch in The Fighter, people were extremely skeptical. And I said, ‘Well, see the movie.’ ”
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Unlikely How a Small French-Language Comedy, The
DECEMBER 12, 2012
By Diane Haithman
a Saturday morning in early December, Weinstein Co. chief operating officer David Glasser was facing a very busy day: A noon screening of his company’s critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, followed by a 3 p.m. screening of Weinstein’s Christmas Day release Django Unchained, then an evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ fourth annual Governors Awards. Until the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony, “Saturdays and Sundays are not my own,” the executive jokes.
But in between such big events involving big movies, it somehow seemed fitting that Glasser would carve out a little chunk of time to talk about a small but equally important film executive-produced by the Weinstein Co.: The Intouchables. This $2 million French film, based on the true story about the bond between a wealthy quadriplegic (played by François Cluzet) and the fun-loving younger man from a housing project (Omar Sy) he hires to take care of him, has earned more than $400 million at the boxoffice worldwide and is the official French entry for the foreign-language film Oscar. In fact, Harvey Weinstein and his team like The Intouchables so much that they are producing an English-language remake with a different cast in the United States. Glasser predicts the script will be completed within the next two or three months, and the film will be produced in 2013 for planned release in 2014. Because The Intouchables (that’s French for “untouchables”) is being entered in the foreign-language category, it is not in the running to repeat the Weinstein Co.’s 2012 best picture win for another French film, The Artist. Still, the company seems to have high hopes: The Intouchables was among the first DVD screeners to be shipped out to Academy members in early October.
Found Its Way to the U.S. Market
Glasser says the foreign-language category was more appropriate than a best picture entry for this film. “Look, with The Artist we were much more involved. This was their movie,” Glasser says, referring to writer/directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache and the producing team of Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Yann Zenou, and Laurent Zeitoun. “And it wasn’t like (the Weinstein Co.’s 2011 winner) The King’s Speech, where we had made it. When they put it in as France’s foreign-language film, we were fine with that. It felt like a natural fit for the movie.” While the submission category is different, The Intouchables, like The Artist, was discovered by Harvey Weinstein in unfinished form. In the case of The Artist, Weinstein flew to France to see a rough cut of the film before it was presented at the Cannes Film Festival. In the case of The Intouchables, as codirector Toledano describes it, a Weinstein Co. representative was in the crowd of potential film distributors in Cannes who saw an eight-minute trailer for the unfinished film about six months before its release in France. “(The Weinstein representative) asked us to show it to Harvey Weinstein, and we were so excited, obviously,” Toledano says. “When Harvey saw the trailer, he said, ‘I want to see the movie.’ The movie was not finished. One month later, (when) we had the first edit of two hours, he decided to come to London, where we showed him the movie. And he decided to buy it, which was wonderful for us.”
Inset from left: Actor François Cluzet with writer/directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache Continued on next page...
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This process is typical for Weinstein, Glasser says. “A lot of times we buy something at script phase, or we’ll see a little footage and buy it,” he says. “We bought Iron Lady that way,” Glasser adds, referring to the film that netted Meryl Streep a best actress Oscar in 2012 for her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“Kormákur’s masterful blend of sound and fury... The film’s gorgeous, nearly monochromatic visuals, haunting sounds of nature at its cruellest.” – Howard Feinstein, Screen International
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And what did the Weinstein Co. see that made them want to bet on The Intouchables? “We love French movies, as I guess you know—we bought four this year alone (including) Haute Cuisine, “ Glasser says. “In eight minutes you felt that kind of magical, warm, very honest relationship between these two guys.” Adds Glasser, “I think in a marketplace of $100 million, big picture, big studio movies, we’re in that nice, perfect place for great cinema, great stories. They could be a $2 million movie or a $40 million movie. You bring something nice to the marketplace. And there’s a little less competition.” The filmmakers were inspired by the documentary A la Vie, a la Mort, about the close relationship of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, who became a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident, and his assistant Abdel, who hails from a housing project. In the movie, the Algerian-born Abdel is re-created as the Senegal-born Oriss to make the role appropriate for actor Sy, 34, who has played roles in other films for the two directors. Cluzet met and studied the behavior of the real Philippe, but Sy did not meet the real Abdel until after the film was completed. Toledano says the real Philippe was willing to speak about his situation, but the reallife Abdel was less trusting. “He was so suspicious that we wanted to do a movie about his life,” Toledano says. “At first, he wanted to stay far away from everything. He expected to see the movie, but that’s all he wanted to do.” Plus, Toledano adds, while he admires the real Abdel, he’s just not as funny as Omar Sy. “I don’t think the public could love him as they do Omar.”
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When Harvey saw the trailer, he said, ‘I want to see the movie.’
Sy, who honed his performing chops as a comedian, also preferred not to meet Abdel, whom he finally encountered on the night of the film’s premiere. “It was important for me to keep space for me to create,” Sy says. He adds that, because he is a comedian and does impressions, it would have been all to too easy for him to fall into doing an impression of Abdel rather than creating his own character. The opposite is true of Philippe, Toledano observes. “Philippe Borgo, he is a very smart guy, very highbrow. It was really important for the actor to make a meeting, because Philippe has a special look. When Omar came with us to the meeting, he said something very interesting: ‘He can catch you with his eyes.’ ” That was also Toledano and Nakache’s first direction to Cluzet: “He has nothing but his brain, nothing to express his feelings but his eyes. You have to act this movie with your eyes,” Toledano says. The directors and Sy acknowledge there are currently several movies getting Oscar buzz that deal with characters with severe physical handicaps, including The Sessions and the French-Belgian film Rust and Bone, starring Marion Cotillard as an aquatic animal trainer who loses her legs in an accident. All three believe that there’s something in the global zeitgeist of bad news and a struggling economy that makes today’s audience want to cheer for the underdog. Nevertheless, Toledano and Nakache believe the key to The Intouchables’ success is that it’s a comedy, more inspired by American buddy movies than tales of overcoming disability. “We made this movie because of the story between two men,” Nakache says. “For us it’s an amazing story, we never expected such a huge tsunami. The thing is, if this movie changes one person, inspires the life of one person, we have achieved our goal.”
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Ben Affleck (right)
Steven Spielberg (right)
MenofAction By Pete Hammond
A Look at the Leading Contenders For This Year’s Director Oscar
DECEMBER 12, 2012
If you are getting a sense of déjà vu from this year’s director race, you aren’t far off. Several past Oscar winners in the category are back competing for another go at the gold. Even one of the frontrunner-newcomers, Argo’s Ben Affleck, is a past winner in the original screenplay category (Good Will Hunting), as is two-time directing nominee Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) going for a third try with Django Unchained. Two of the best director winners in the past three years, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), are already back in the thick of the race trying for a matching Oscar for their followup film, a rare feat if either one can pull it off. Then there are the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis, and Sam Mendes—all past winners attempting to make room for another Oscar on their mantel. Some prominent past nominees are also back trying for a first win including Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, and Gus Van Sant. And could this be the year Christopher Nolan finally gets some love from his peers in the small Academy directing branch with his final Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises? Here’s a rundown of the top contenders for best director.
Michael Haneke (left)
Sacha Gervasi (left)
BEN AFFLECK | ARGO Early in his career, Affleck took home an Oscar with cowriter and star Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting in the original screenplay category. But after an up-and-down career as a leading man, he found new respect behind the camera with his first two directorial efforts—Gone Baby Gone and The Town—winning critical acclaim and comparisions to Clint Eastwood. With Argo, in which he also plays the lead role, he has cemented his reputation as a directing force and has been a frontrunner in the category since the film’s debut at the Telluride Film Festival. But can he keep up the momentum all the way to February? STEVEN SPIELBERG | LINCOLN A two-time winner (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) and six-time nominee in this category, Spielberg has an Oscar track record that seems almost modest considering his remarkable career. Many think he is still deserving of more. His long-gestating and critically acclaimed Lincoln, a film that almost didn’t happen and one he told me recently he felt “might not have been in the stars for me,” has come triumphantly to the screen and made him another formidable contender for the big prize. TOM HOOPER | LES MISÉRABLES Although he already had an Emmy win for Elizabeth I and another nomination for John Adams, British director Hooper was not well-known outside of England when it came to feature films. After a little success with The Damned United, he hit paydirt and won the
David O. Russell (right)
J.A. Bayona (right)
director Oscar on his first nomination for The King’s Speech just two years ago. With numerous projects to choose from, he has now followed it up with the movie version of the smash musical Les Misérables and instantly stakes a claim for another nomination and possible second win in just two years. But will voters think it is too much, too fast? ANG LEE | LIFE OF PI A previous winner in this category for Brokeback Mountain (2005), Lee has another statuette for his foreign-language film winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The virtually unfilmable bestselling book Life of Pi took its toll on a number of directors who attempted to bring it to screen until Lee finally cracked a way to do it and moved the art and science of film one step forward with his dazzling visuals. Fellow directors seem to be awestruck by what he has accomplished, and that should assure him yet another nomination if the movie gods are smiling on him this season. KATHRYN BIGELOW | ZERO DARK THIRTY Just three years after becoming the first woman ever to win the best director Oscar for her Iraq war film, The Hurt Locker, Bigelow, an action-movie veteran, proved she still had the stuff to make provocative, controversial cinema with this film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal started working on the film when bin Laden was still alive and eluding capture, reversing course and turning it into a look at how the world’s numberone fugitive was captured when the news broke. It’s
a towering achievement, but considering it took 80 years for Bigelow to become the first woman to win the director Oscar, could it only take three for her to become the second? DAVID O. RUSSELL | SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK A director who always seems more comfortable working in the indie world, David O. Russell encountered some tough times in recent years before finding The Fighter and scoring a knockout punch that landed him in this category for the first time in 2010. Now, just two years later, he is in a strong position to go for the win with this quirky, touching comedy-drama that was the sensation of the Toronto Film Festival and winner of the audience award over Argo. But against epic competition, can Russell be driving the little engine that could or is the Oscar just not in his own playbook this time around? ROBERT ZEMECKIS | FLIGHT After 12 years of trying to convince the industry that motion-capture animation was the future, Zemeckis, a past winner for Forrest Gump (1994), returned to his roots and delivers a winning human drama about a pilot battling his own demons even as he accomplished a heroic act in crash-landing a plane and saving most of the passengers. Deferring his own salary and bringing this ambitious adult drama in for just $30 million, Zemeckis could find himself back in the race.
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Christopher Nolan Quentin Tarantino
Peter Jackson (right)
MICHAEL HANEKE | AMOUR Although Haneke is likely to be a frontrunner in the foreign-language race for his Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner, the film itself is eliciting such powerful response that he could also find himself with nominations for his original screenplay and directing. Certainly nominations for directors of foreignlanguage films are not unprecedented, and Haneke could be the latest if the film’s subject matter about the problems of an aging couple isn’t just too hard for voters to watch. J.A. BAYONA | THE IMPOSSIBLE In only his second film, this Spanish director skillfully navigates the big-scale effects of re-creating the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami along with the powerful human drama of a family separated by tragedy and trying to survive in almost unthinkable circumstances. It’s an impressive balancing act, marking the arrival of a major new talent. But will this smaller release get swamped by higher-profile titles? PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON | THE MASTER Although opinion on the film is wildly mixed, with filmgoers in and out of the industry either loving it or hating it, this is a category where the ambitious film, shot in 65mm at a time when no one is using the classic format, could impress Anderson’s colleagues for sheer audacity and filmmaking skill alone. And with only a single previous nomination in this category (2007’s There Will Be Blood) Anderson seems underappreciated.
DECEMBER 12, 2012
QUENTIN TARANTINO | DJANGO UNCHAINED Tarantino is a directorial maverick who always seems to deliver the goods, but will the ultraviolent western throwback just be too much of a good thing at nearly three hours? Early word is he knocks it out of the park again.
Also in the mix PETER JACKSON | THE HOBBIT The Academy honored Jackson for his triumphant Lord of the Rings trilogy with Return of the King in 2003, so it’s unlikely they will go there again so soon, and especially for what is the first of another three films. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN | THE DARK KNIGHT RISES The Aurora tragedy seemed to unfairly taint this film’s awards chances from the beginning, and the directors’ branch has never embraced the great Nolan, so should we expect them to start now? WES ANDERSON | MOONRISE KINGDOM This Cannes Film Festival opener became Anderson’s second biggest hit and an indie breakout, but Oscar recognition seems more likely for Anderson in original screenplay. SAM MENDES | SKYFALL This Oscar winner (American Beauty) is the most important director ever to take on the 50-year-old James Bond franchise, and the critics and audiences loved it. It’s the most successful and acclaimed Bond film of all and long overdue for a win, but Oscar voters just don’t seem to get it, do they?
JOE WRIGHT | ANNA KARENINA Using a bold theatrical framing device, Wright took a big chance in making this Leo Tolstoy classic seem fresh again, but opinion on whether he succeeded was divided and likely will hurt his chances to gain his first director nomination. BENH ZEITLIN | BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD The darling of the Sundance Film Festival, this daringly original indie sensation has plenty of admirers, but competition is just as fierce as those beasts. GUS VAN SANT | THE PROMISED LAND Directors love Van Sant, who has been nominated twice before (Good Will Hunting, Milk), but his film is the last to be released in 2012 and might not be seen widely enough to break through. DUSTIN HOFFMAN | QUARTET Can a two-time Oscar-winning actor break through as a director with a behind-the-camera debut at the young age of 75? The film is right up Oscar’s alley, but unlikely to be a contender here even though Hoffman did a terrific job. SACHA GERVASI | HITCHCOCK The great Hitchcock himself had trouble in this category and never won despite five nominations— including a final one for Psycho, the subject of this film within a film—so wouldn’t it be ironic if Gervasi were able to pull off a win? Despite Gervasi doing a fine job in his narrative directorial debut, don’t count on it.
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Character study DECEMBER 12, 2012
Steven Spielberg Used a Tightly Focused Plot to Tell the Sweeping Story of the 16th President
AWARDSLINE: It seems unusual that the most successful director in Hollywood would require as long a courtship as you waged to get Daniel Day-Lewis to play Lincoln. How did you finally convince him? STEVEN SPIELBERG: Daniel had about six years to think about it from the first time I offered him not this Lincoln, not the Tony Kushner-written Lincoln, and not the Lincoln written from Doris (Kearns Goodwin’s) book, but an original Lincoln script that I developed. After turning me down to play the character, I don’t think he ever forgot our encounter. What really did the trick was when he read the Tony Kushner script, and I was able to get a take two, because my good buddy Leo DiCaprio simply called him up one day and said, “You need to reconsider this. Steven really wants you for this, and he’s not willing to make the movie without you.” So Daniel, based on Leo’s phone call to him, offered to read the Tony Kushner script, which he had never read, and also the Doris Kearns Goodwin script, which he had never read. That was the beginning, and I think that’s when the courtship was over. Once he read the script, then he really had to come to terms with the big decision he would eventually have to make, which was, “Can I, with honor, equip this character in a way I’ll be able to live with the rest of my life?” AWARDSLINE: Have you ever put in as much time convincing an actor to make one of your movies? SPIELBERG: Never. I’ve never gone on a campaign to get (an actor). I pretty much took no for an answer. It’s one of the few times in my entire life where I was not willing to accept that answer. When he eventually said he would play Abraham Lincoln, the only caveat was he asked me to wait a year. Some of that was because he was sorting out his physical location, where he was living, between Ireland and then eventually he was going to move back to New York, but a lot of it was I think he wanted to really go deep into his own research. And I needed that year too, even though I was ambitious enough to jump into the picture four months after he said yes. We spent a lot of time on the script, and it gave me a year to cast the picture, which means I got all of my first choices. No filmmaker ever gets their first choices consistently, but by waiting a year, I was able to wait for actors to free themselves up for this one.
AWARDSLINE: Describe that eureka moment, if you remember it, where you found that kernel that became this terrific movie? SPIELBERG: We were trying to tackle the last three years of the president’s life, which is the experience that the senators and representatives had, and that the president and his cabinet had. They didn’t see the action; they weren’t in the battlefields. Lincoln visited the troops, but he didn’t do it with the frontline, except once, and we depict that at the end of our picture. This was going to be a story of his last three years, but the script was 550 pages long. For me, the most compelling part of that screenplay was a 65-page section, which was the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. That section is where I stood up and said, “That’s it, that’s our story, that’s our film.” There were so many bullet points in Lincoln’s life that actually the more we spread that out over 550 pages, the (more) superficial his character seemed to feel. Once we focused everything on two great issues—the passage of the 13th Amendment and the Civil War—everything got a lot more concentrated and a lot more focused. AWARDSLINE: When you have a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis, how hands-on do you get? SPIELBERG: Very hands-on, which is what I do, and it’s also what Daniel requires. He is very collaborative. You talk to the directors who have directed him before, from Scorsese to P.T. Anderson—he is an extremely collaborative actor, and the director is his only point of contact on an entire production. We were there for each other from the very beginning, and we spent three and a half months in active conversation, from the smallest moments to large pieces of history. AWARDSLINE: What was most important to you and Sally Field about the way Mary Todd Lincoln was conveyed? SPIELBERG: We wanted to be fair. We’ve all read different accounts of Mary and what her condition might be defined as in modern medicine. We knew one thing that everyone could agree to, and that is that Mary was the engine of Lincoln’s ambition. Without Mary, Lincoln would have probably taken his losses. When he lost the senate to Stephen Douglas, he probably would never have imagined that he could go for the highest office in the land. It was Mary that supplied the motor that put Lincoln in a direction
with his own destiny. He looked to her as a guiding force, a light, also as damaged goods. He knew when she was being rational and politically savvy, and when she was being emotionally irrational. He would just sit with her for hours and let her vent until she came out of a fog. In that sense, he had so many burdens during his presidency. AWARDSLINE: I read that you addressed your actors by their character names throughout and retained a feeling of period all the way through. It almost sounds like a Method set. How and who did this help? SPIELBERG: It helped me, principally, because I took this very seriously. We were playing with one of the most beloved—and mysterious—characters in American history. It doesn’t have anything to do with Method, it has to do with authenticity and having the actors come to work in the morning and feeling a bit like stepping back into time. AWARDSLINE: You worked on this film for so long—have you ever had a project that’s taken this long for the pieces to fall into place the way they have here? SPIELBERG: Schindler’s List took 12 years between the time Sid Sheinberg purchased the film rights to the book by Thomas Keneally in 1982, and I began shooting the film ’93, so that was 11 years. I bought the film rights to Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 1999, which Doris was just beginning to write. So to answer your question, you’re right. This is the longest. AWARDSLINE: You skipped releasing this movie during the election because you said you didn’t want this to be a political football. Now it comes out amidst these contentious partisan battles to stave off the debt cliff. What qualities about Lincoln would you most hope to convey to these folks who find it so hard to agree on anything? SPIELBERG: Lincoln’s leadership is based on a number of precepts, but my favorite one is that he acted in the name—and for the good—of the people. In that sense, the two great things he did at the end of his life—to end slavery, peace for the Civil War—was for the good and in the name of the people. And he put people ahead of politics, although he was artful in using politics to be able to accomplish his task.
By Mike Fleming JR.
Steven Spielberg would like to dispel a few rumors about the kind of set he ran for his latest film, Lincoln. Yes, it’s true that star Daniel Day-Lewis remained in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and his sole contact on the set was the director. However, Spielberg himself did not have his costume designer dress him in period-appropriate attire every day—he simply wore a jacket and tie. And although the director admits that there weren’t many visitors to the set, perhaps helping to create the perceived mystique, the intimate nature of the production stemmed more from a sense of pride and respect over its main character than anything else. “Lincoln has not been honored in a dramatic Steven Spielberg motion picture for 72 years,” says Spielberg, adding that Raymond Massey was the last actor to play the 16th president on the big screen. That attention to detail and reverence for his subject matter has paid off in boxoffice, earning more than $86 million domestically at press time, as well as plenty of Oscar talk. Spielberg recently took time to discuss how he got his first choice of actor for every part and how he and screenwriter Tony Kushner found the right angle to tell the story properly.
Third Timeâ€™s the Charm DECEMBER 0 1 25, , 22001122
With Argo, Ben Affleck Cements His Status as a Serious Feature-Film Director
By Christy Grosz
After directing two successful features, Gone Baby Gone in 2007 and The Town in 2010, Ben Affleck has come into his own, perhaps finding greater creative success behind the camera than he ever has as an actor performing in front of it. In fact, the Oscar-winning screenwriter stands a good chance of earning another nom, this time for helming Argo, an almost unbelievable real-life story about how the CIA teamed up with Hollywood to rescue six diplomats stranded in Iran after the Shah’s fall. Affleck also stars in the film, and he’s clearly still passionate about acting. “The director part of me thought it would be too much trouble not to give the actor the part. I’d never hear the end of it,” he says about taking on the role of agent Tony Mendez. He recently spoke with AwardsLine about directing himself and the challenges of shooting the film’s pivotal embassy-takeover scenes. AWARDSLINE: At the film’s DGA screening, you talked about how it was important for you to foster a bond among the six actors playing the houseguests in Argo. Can you talk a bit more about what that rehearsal process was like? BEN AFFLECK: I wanted them to get to know one another better and just be more familiar and at ease around one another, and that could only be accomplished really with time exposure. I wanted them to know what it was like on a subconscious level to feel trapped and holed up in a place. So this idea that I came up with was to put them up someplace for a week inside the set. We dressed it and had everything that they would have when we shot: There were newspapers from the period, magazines from the period, and I put in movies from that period that I wanted them to watch, records and a record player—all kinds of things. I didn’t give them much instruction and said, “This is where you have to be,” because that was the circumstance under which the people were (living). They didn’t have any goals other than to sort of stay there and stay hidden. I didn’t know (what) would develop in the rehearsal process, but whatever happened, it was genuine, it was good. Ultimately, I don’t know what happened. It was part social experiment, part reality show with no cameras. (Then) we came, and we set them free. (Laughs.) I knew it was good because they didn’t seem to want to talk about what happened. AWARDSLINE: Did they leave at night? AFFLECK: No, they lived there! They slept there. It takes time to develop a sense of humor, shared world views. I just felt like putting them in the bag and shaking (it) up—you don’t know what the pattern of flour and chicken is going to be, but you know you’re going to get some good fried chicken. AWARDSLINE: The script was completed before you signed on, but you ended up extending the opening sequence before production started. Were there other tweaks that you and screenwriter Chris Terrio worked on? AFFLECK: There were all kinds of adjustments and back and forth, just work that goes on between a director and a writer. (As) a director who is a writer, I have respect for writers, so I’m less likely to step on an idea or a line. We were both really comfortable telling each other that things didn’t work if we didn’t think they worked. AWARDSLINE: And Terrio was on set for a lot of the shoot, too, right? AFFLECK: Yes. Initially I thought, I’m going to get this script and run with it, and do my thing, like I did with the other two movies I made. Then I talked to Chris, and he was so smart and insightful and had done all this research, and so I was like, “This guy would be a huge asset and a great writer, so let’s keep him on.” On my other two movies, stuff had to be rewritten, and I would go off into a corner and puzzle over it. It would take me forever, and I would stay up all weekend. It was so nice to be able to say, “Exactly what the agenda is of the State Department in this scene? Could you rewrite that scene?” and have him come back later with the answer. I felt like I was looking at the back of a test. AWARDSLINE: How does it work when you’re directing yourself ? AFFLECK: Everyone has a different approach, but I like to shoot a lot of film anyway. I like to shoot until we have a relaxed environment on the set, and I try to schedule that. And I do
Original photography by Jeff Vespa
the same thing for myself (as an actor) that I do for others. I get to the point where I feel relaxed, and then I just shoot a ton of material and make a lot of different choices. (I) try new things and give myself permission to fail and experiment because only that way can you get really successful. I don’t go back and look at the monitor between every take; I wait until I feel like we finally got it right: “Let me stop and look at that last one on the monitor.” AWARDSLINE: In terms of the location shoots, were there other Middle Eastern locations that you considered? AFFLECK: We scouted all over the place. There’s the competing concerns of creativity and budget, and that was a pretty close race with this movie. We scouted Jordan, we scouted a couple of countries in North Africa—this was before the Arab Spring. Jordan we would have been OK, but the truth is, it looked very Arab. Persia is very different from the Arab Middle East in terms of architecture and language. Even though we think of them as one big Middle Eastern area, in truth, Persia’s quite distinct. So we looked at Bulgaria, which also happens to be profoundly inexpensive, and then we looked at Turkey. That was the last place we went, and it was also the nicest place. AWARDSLINE: What was the most difficult scene to pull off in terms of scheduling and budget constraints? AFFLECK: The (embassy) takeover stuff in the beginning, where we had 2,500 extras, that was really hard to do in Istanbul. We could only afford so much, so it was hard to pay people enough so that they would come out there and work all day. Turkey’s growth rate was 8% last year—it’s not a developing country. You have to pay people real money. And we had to pick people up in buses at one in the morning, get there, get everyone in wardrobe, get them out in the street, give them signs, and teach them how to chant their slogans. In the extras’ holding area, I put our research on a loop, which is images of the actual revolution, so people could get a sense of the anger and the power of the whole thing. They were psyched; the extras got into it. So that was Ben Affleck (right) with Alan Arkin really fun. (But) it was cold, it was raining, (and) it was very hard to keep people around. Of course, it turned out somehow we didn’t have enough food, or we didn’t have as much food as we thought—there were all sorts of problems like that. Meanwhile, I’m worrying about the big shots with the cranes, and as we lose people, I keep making the big shots tighter and tighter. The other issue was that the people who were available to be around all day are the elderly; the younger people are working. So basically, we had a lot of folks who were over 65 in a student revolution. So they made up for it with passion. They were chanting, going nuts. It was ultimately exhilarating, fun, and thrilling and felt like we had a real partnership. I’ve been an extra in, I don’t know, 20 movies, so I feel like I know how it is. I’m trying to make people feel welcome and feel valued.
Sophomor Tom Hooper Is on the Best Director Contender List for the Second Time With Les MisĂŠrables
This page: Tom Hooper (center) on set
Opposite inset: Hooper with Hugh Jackman
DECEMBER 12, 2012
Tom Hooper has had a distinguished career in television for more than a decade, earning an Emmy in 2006 for Elizabeth I and nominations for Prime Suspect 6 (2003) and John Adams (2008). But his feature-film career consisted of only two small films—Red Dust (2004) and the critically acclaimed but little-seen The Damned United (2009)—before he hit the mother lode with The King’s Speech in 2010, winning both the DGA Award and the Academy Award for best director on his very first time out. Now, defying the odds again, Hooper is back with the movie version of the worldwide musical smash, Les Misérables. This overnight film-business success at age 40 is among those top-tier contenders who could take it all again for finding a way—after producers have spent a quarter-century trying—to make Les Mis sing on screen as powerfully as it did on the stage. AWARDSLINE: I was talking to Hugh Jackman about the audition process, and he said at that point you weren’t even involved. When did you get involved? TOM HOOPER: I was involved. I didn’t want everyone to think the film was going to happen until I worked out how I was going to cast it. People always wanted to make the film regardless, but I needed to have the right cast. We needed actors that could sing at this level. The audition back in May of last year was huge—it was an extraordinary moment. That’s when I knew I had a movie. I’d go so far to say, the movie wouldn’t exist without Hugh Jackman. There was no second choice; I still don’t have a second choice. (He’s) an extraordinary actor and singer, with extraordinary musical-theater training. He had a great moral compass, very fitting for this very spiritual man. When he sang, he accessed an acting I had never seen in film. The singing really opens up new possibilities for these actors—possibilities you can’t do with normal dialogue. The sheer power of singing AWARDSLINE: I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a musical film with the singing done live, which Jackman said is 99.9% live. It gives it so much more power. I imagine that was still a risk on your part. HOOPER: There were a lot of people telling me it wasn’t a good idea, that less of it should be done live. But I said the film wouldn’t have happened without Hugh Jackman, and I thought the film wouldn’t have happened if it were not done live. I love the movie musical, (but) there’s something slightly distancing about it. There’s a lack of fundamental realism or naturalism. It’s one thing for the musical to be light or comedic, but this is all about emotion. I thought if we did it live, it would make it much more real. Once you do it live, it becomes a completely different medium. AWARDSLINE: You used the original book in helping you craft this. HOOPER: It’s what I used for inspiration—it’s a truly brilliant work. One of the things I got from it was a great line: “It was the second white apparition which he had encountered.” The first taught him virtue, the second taught about love.
AWARDSLINE: What was the biggest challenge of doing a film of this scale? HOOPER: I think one of the challenges that’s less obvious is doing it with the live piano, not a pre-recorded track. Each scene was a one-off event. You couldn’t cut the scene because of the tempo of the piano or the singing of the actor. I had to preserve the integrity of each scene and make sure I had all the camera coverage I needed to cut shots from each scene. Each time I shot with at least three cameras, up to six cameras. Each scene was a unique event. AWARDSLINE: I didn’t know Russell Crowe could sing. HOOPER: He actually started in musical theater; that was his original passion. He’s so passionate about singing, he said, “Tom, the rest of my life, whenever I am starting on a movie, I’m going to be wishing I was starting Les Misérables all over again.” He trained for six months for the demands of live singing. AWARDSLINE: What was it like having the original creators of the musical available? HOOPER: So exciting! Every change I made was with them, like the new song (“Suddenly”) was with them. The fans will recognize the original DNA. AWARDSLINE: I know you had the world offered to you after The King’s Speech won best picture. Was this the obvious followup for you? HOOPER: The secret thing I was doing during The King’s Speech was reading the (Victor Hugo) book on the planes back and forth. I explored it very thoroughly. For me, to choose a movie, you have to fall in love with it. It’s not an easy musical to adapt, but I got very addicted to the music. The brilliant thing about The King’s Speech was how it made people feel; the best reward was how it touched people. I want to work in an emotional place, a story with song, music. I also thought I should use some of that success to take a little risk and take myself somewhere new.
By Pete Hammond
Auteur Theory Paul Thomas Anderson (left) with Joaquin Phoenix
By Pete Hammond
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master Has Polarized Audiences, Something That Doesn’t Necessarily Disappoint Its Director Paul Thomas Anderson is a genuine auteur, a writer/director who works when he wants, makes what he wants, and is considered now to be one of the film industry’s true talents. His list of films is small but significant: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia to Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and now The Master, just six films in 16 years but all winning wide critical acclaim. He has five Oscar nominations, mostly for screenplay, but he did score his first directing nod for There Will Be Blood. He hopes to continue the trend with The Master, though the film has polarized audiences, something that surprised Anderson but doesn’t necessarily disappoint him. How that translates into awards is anyone’s guess, but don’t say Paul Thomas Anderson is making movies you can easily dismiss. AWARDSLINE: There have wildly different reactions to the movie. Is that something that you wanted? PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: It’s really interesting; it’s not something I expected. The final stretch of finishing a film, you find yourself in a kind of hypnosis that you made something that you understand and therefore everyone else will understand. And it’s an insane assumption, but it happens. And it’s temporary. I’m always surprised by the reactions, but this one in particular seems to have a real interesting messiness about people’s responses. I suppose the worst thing in the world would be pure ambivalence, and to have any attention paid to you is nice. Even if it’s negative. AWARDSLINE: There are so many different themes in the film, but a lot of attention has been on the Scientology aspect. If anything, it’s the beginnings of that, but it’s not really Scientology as it is now. Was part of the attraction to the story the notion of people looking for some kind of connection? ANDERSON: A lot of it, but those are the kinds of things that you discover after you’ve started writing. In many ways, it’s about trying to find ways to justify what I’m writing. Maybe you read something that got into your head a long time ago, and you find it coming back out of you. My dad came back from World War II, so there was an attraction to that era on a surface level in terms of cars and music. Anything that I was reading or learned about L. Ron Hubbard kind of tied into this era. It was very clear that (Scientology) was a result of a postwar hangover. And I read a line somewhere—I wish I could remember so I could give them credit—and it said something like, “Anytime is
DECEMBER 12, 2012
a good time for a spiritual movement to begin, but a particularly strong time is after a war.” It felt like a particularly good hook. It’s good for you as a writer when you get something like that to hang your hat on, to help guide you with what you’re doing. AWARDSLINE: Are you still discovering things about this movie as you talk about it? ANDERSON: I would like to think that there’s something in the human personality that resents things that are too clear. It’s impossible to walk into a movie and not have a plan, but it’s best when you’re executing a plan and your eyes open to a lot of other things that are there. It makes it interesting; it makes it fun to go to work every day. That’s why we didn’t do too much talking about what we were doing, except to really focus on the intense love affair and friendship between these two guys. On that note, I remember reading a great book called the Pacific War Diary by James J. Fahey. He talked about his absolute admiration for his masters and commanders, and when he would switch over to a different ship, how disappointed he was when he didn’t get a good master. It was hard for some fellows coming back from the war because they missed having someone telling them what to do. To suddenly be let loose and be of your own devices was incredibly difficult for a lot of guys. They really missed the comraderie and the kind of focus their lives had at sea. AWARDSLINE: The symbolism of the ocean and the water is a big part of what you have in this film.
ANDERSON: That (opening) shot is never anything I could have imagined as a writer. I just want to know: Is it inside or outside and what are they saying to each other? Anything like that is a product of being on a boat and seeing that water, so beautiful and blue, and turning the camera on. Months and weeks later in the editing room, it just feels right to put it in there. Now in terms of it working for the story, it’s kind of selfexplanatory. Freddie is so clearly more comfortable at sea than he is anywhere else and to use them as little chapter dividers or kind of transitional devices (makes sense). So much of our film is so claustrophobic and interior that having a breath of fresh air is nice, even as a palette cleanser. AWARDSLINE: When you cast Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, did you get exactly what you thought you’d get or did you get more? ANDERSON: The expectation is that any actor will give you everything, and even if they give you everything, perhaps that isn’t right for the film, no matter how hard they’re trying or their commitment is. But what he did was way beyond what I expected. The gulf between little black words on a white piece of paper and being on set in costume is huge! It’s this vast gulf, and he just filled it. I don’t even remember what I thought of Freddie Quell way back when I was writing him. I just know what he’s done now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a pretty great performance; I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I love it! AWARDSLINE: People are also pointing to Phoenix’s comments about awards season. ANDERSON: I don’t think there’s an actor out there— and I know lots of them—that feels comfortable when performances get turned into sport. But that doesn’t take away from the excitement or privilege of winning an Academy Award. Actors can be competitive, they have that gene for sure, but my experience with actors is that they are actually incredibly generous people who have a skill and a job that they really like to do, which is playing make believe. They’re more comfortable when they get to be somebody else, and having to appear as themselves can be very uncomfortable.
Absurdist Anderson’s Hopeless Romantic Comedy Moonrise Kingdom Shifts Awards Season Tides The deadpan, rhythmic pop-and-snap banter. The dysfunctional parents and rebellious teens. And that classical-funk soundtrack played against those doll-house sets. These are some of director Wes Anderson’s stylistic hallmarks, idiosyncrasies that point to the cinematic evolution of absurdist theater. “I certainly have often thought of Harold Pinter,” says the Houston, TX, native about his muses, which have also included J.D. Salinger and François Truffaut. “(Pinter’s) a writer who has always inspired me. Samuel Beckett maybe in a more distant way, but Beckett through Pinter is one. The sparseness and abstractness of Pinter has always been a real inspiration for me.”
By Anthony D’Alessandro
But while a number of absurdists maintained cynical views toward humanity, Anderson couldn’t be more optimistic. No more is this apparent in his Cannes Film Festival-launched summer arthouse hit Moonrise Kingdom, which has earned $65 million worldwide. The tale about two lost, romantic adolescent souls whose lives are more together than their parents has charmed critics since its bow, and its momentum has continued to a Gotham Award best film win and five Indie Spirit nominations including feature, director, and screenplay.
AWARDSLINE: What was the genesis of this project? WES ANDERSON: It was some years ago, and I wanted to make a story about my memory of falling in love at age 11, but also my memory of the fantasy that went with it: The desire for something bigger to happen and the desire to be living a fantasy life, which was a strong feeling for me at that age. Moonrise Kingdom is autobiographical in the sense that it’s very close to the experience that I envisioned for myself when I was the age of those characters. All of my films are filled with personal details, and a lot of those personal details are where the emotional connection comes into it. AWARDSLINE: Is it easier for you to launch a production nowadays? Do you simply make a phone call to producers Scott Rudin and Steven Rales? ANDERSON: Even if you have people like Steven and Scott supporting you, one still has to figure out the foreign-sales numbers and other factors, like who is in your cast and how much are we getting for various territories, which helps you figure out a reasonable budget number. While that’s happening, there’s another kind of preparation that needs to be done and that I like to do: There’s a thorough, rigid preparation for my movies. Plus, the biggest thing with Moonrise Kingdom, once there was a script: Who are the actors for these two kids? Because if we can’t find them, we don’t have a movie. So we set aside time to search. AWARDSLINE: Expound on your filmmaking relationship with Scott Rudin. ANDERSON: My hunch is that Scott does something different on every movie he works on, and he has very different relationships with moviemakers. On some movies he’s saying (to a director), “Here’s a book you have to do” and bringing the material. And on some movies, he is on the set every day giving feedback. On my movies, his role has been very consistent over the years. He’s my producer-ial adviser—he’s my key adviser along with Steven Rales—and Scott is a great script reader and analyst. He has a very good feeling for storytelling. The main thing he gives me
is a bunch of criticism that I may or may not use and that may aggravate me, but always leaves me with something to do next. The best thing you can ask for is that your conversation with your collaborator continually results in making a project better. He’s also important when it comes to releasing a movie and how we’re going to handle it. AWARDSLINE: Every awards season, you seem to be in the conversation. What’s your takeaway on the season? ANDERSON: It’s great to get (Oscar) nominations; I have not gotten many. I’m not one of those guys (that) if you go to my office, you find a staggering number of trophies on the shelf. We got one for Darjeeling Limited at the Venice Film Festival called the Leoncino d’Oro. At first we thought we won the Golden Lion, but slowly realized, “Wait a second, this means the Lion Cub.” It turned out it’s an award given by school children in Venice. We took that home, and it was really small. That same year, we also got an award from the American Association of Retired Persons as their favorite film of the year, which was strange. We were honored by the youngest Italians and older Americans. I always find something like this very moving and a surprise. AWARDSLINE: It goes without saying that your filmmaking style stands out. Would you ever change it up? ANDERSON: What makes my movies like my other movies—all those different things I do that prompt someone to say, “Well, I think we know who did this one”—those things are like my handwriting to me. What I’m focusing on (in each movie) are those things that are different and that I’ve never tried before. I’m always directing a movie where I wrote a script with a collaborator. It’s something that I invented and feels automatic and natural to do in my handwriting. If I was adapting Dashiell Hammett, I might find myself working in ways that are less recognizable as my thing. I’m not positive about that. But at some point along the way, I don’t want to force myself to make my movies unlike my other ones. Instead, I want to force myself to make them as entertaining, personal, and moving as I can make them.
Beyond the Hills
Caught in the Web
Struggle—Personal and External— Fairly
or not, European films are widely considered more serious than their American counterparts. Certainly the movies eligible for the best foreign film Oscar this year fit the mold. Several make struggle a central theme, doing so in varied but consistently engaging ways.
By David Mermelstein
A Royal Affair
DECEMBER 12, 2012
Pablo Larrain’s No, from Chile, examines the 1988 plebiscite forced on General Augusto Pinochet, the result of which marked the beginning of the end of his dictatorship. In the film, a gifted marketing executive, Rene (Gael Garcia Bernal), must choose between middle-class comforts and his conscience—a choice complicated by his family’s ties to leftist politics. His boss (Alfredo Castro), who is firmly in league with the pro-Pinochet forces, plays Mephistopheles in this situation, reminding Rene, in no uncertain terms, that the creature comforts he enjoys are by no means guaranteed. Complicating matters are Rene’s shaky relationship with his politically engaged wife, Veronica (Antonia Zegers), from whom he is already separated. All of which leads to the film’s central question: What price bravery? Chen Kaige’s Caught in the Web, China’s contender this year, essentially flips the individual-versus-society question as it examines the struggles faced by Ye Lanqiu (Gao Yuanyuan), a mild and attractive executive assistant who is given a grim prognosis of advanced lymphatic cancer. That dire news triggers a chain of events in which the stunned secretary acts rudely on a public bus, and her behavior, captured on a young reporter’s cell phone, creates a cause célèbre, catapulting her to national vilification as “Miss Sunglasses.” This double blow of fate and ostracism is compelling, but Chen is more concerned with turning the lens around, from the individual onto Chinese society. There, he suggests, obsession with technology has reduced public empathy to everyone’s detriment. Based on real incident, The Deep, from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, relates the incredible story of a simple but happy fisherman named Gulli (Olafur Darri Olafsson) who finds himself the sole survivor of a sinking ship. Battling nature and the guilt he feels at being unable to save his crewmates, he makes an improbable bid for survival, defying long odds and swimming to safety. Yet doubts confront him once he does, with people—especially those in authority—refusing to believe his death-defying accomplishment. Then, after confirmation of his experience, he is subjected to medical tests, in hopes of finding a scientific basis for his fortitude and good fortune, so unwilling is the establishment to accept extraordinary actions from such an ordinary man. Struggles of a strictly private nature lie at the heart of Michael Haneke’s Amour, a French-language film flying the Austrian flag. Centering almost entirely on an aged couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) who must suddenly come to grips with infirmity and—by implication—mortality. Though the much-lauded and singular Haneke would not seem an obvious choice for such a picture, his utter lack of sentimentality pierces the essence of what it means to grow old. Here, Riva must
— Is a Recurring Theme Among This Year’s Foreign-Language Film Contenders contend with the ravages of a stroke while Trintignant watches his life partner disintegrate before him, powerless to do much more than offer limp comforts. Transporting viewers to 18th-century Denmark, Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair uses a historical romance between King Christian VII’s wife, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), and the king’s physician-cum-chancellor, Johann Streunsee (Mads Mikkelsen), to explore the challenges facing enlightened nobles attempting to improve a backward nation. Beneath the rustle of damask and flickering candlelight, Arcel asks eternal questions regarding a nation’s leaders and their responsibilities—questions made all the more pointed when the populace is too ignorant to embrace its
own interests. This particular tale did not end well for those involved, their struggles and sacrifices made apparently in vain. But history takes the long view, which Arcel clearly appreciates in his touching coda. Said Ould Khelifa’s Zabana! also takes a page from history to appreciate the short life of the Algerian freedom fighter Ahmed Zabana, whose execution helped bring about Algeria’s war of independence from France. And though Australia’s entry for an Oscar this year, Lore, is fictional, its German-language story is grounded in a historical subject that film lovers never seem to tire of: World War II and its consequences. In this case, the protagonist is teenage girl whose parents were ardent Nazis.
Such films as these aren’t are always shortlisted, let alone award winners, of course. Last year’s outstanding A Separation, from Iran, delved deeply into matters of perception and truth, but on an intimate scale. Still, the Academy clearly has a soft spot for foreign films that tackle big issues in which struggle figures prominently. Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009), from Germany, is a perfect example, with its implicit societal indictment. And so is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others (2006), also from Germany. Both contend with man’s eternal battle to come to terms with both himself and the society in which he lives. And these are struggles to which we can all relate.
C N, E T, C R W P
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Searching for Sugar Man
By Pete Hammond
Doc Branch Rule Changes Leave Members a Little More Optimistic About This Year’s Short List The release of the documentary short list of 15 finalists on Dec. 3 was seen as a litmus test for new rules that opened up the process to the entire peer group and, in theory, would make it easier for more popular docs to make the cut. It was thought these basic rule changes would discourage the proliferation of faux docs (TV docs trying to pass themselves off as features) that started taking over the category and lessen the number of entries. But, in fact, this year saw those TV docs finding ways to skirt the new rules, so the number of overall entries increased. This put a tremendous burden on the already overworked branch members who now found they had as many as 80 docs at one time dropped in their mailboxes. The result? Mixed. Although a number of betterknown and critically acclaimed docs made the top 15, there were still those HBO docs like Ethel that made the cut even though its TV airdate has come and gone. Yet high-profile, acclaimed theatrical docs like West of Memphis (which had Hobbit heavyweights Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh backing it), The Central Park Five (from awards magnate Ken Burns), and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel were snubbed. Nevertheless, prominent members of the doc branch seem to think the experiment, though not perfect, is starting to work. Academy governor Michael Moore spearheaded many of the changes because he thought a major overhaul was necessary to bring credibility back to the documentary process of the Academy. “(It) seems to be turning out to be a really good thing. I’m now very optimistic about it,” Moore told me at the Governors Awards. Here is a brief snapshot of the contenders. 42
DECEMBER 12, 2012
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY A look at Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei as he works on new projects and exhibitions, despite interference from the government. It’s a definite contender. BULLY The Weinstein Co.’s doc covers a compelling subject in a personal way: Teens being bullied. It made its point effectively, leapfrogging it to frontrunner status for much of the year. Its timely themes could take it to the winner’s circle. CHASING ICE A National Geographic photographer chronicles the changing condition of the Arctic glaciers. At 74 minutes, it’s quick and beautiful, but it might not be complex enough. DETROPIA Using Detroit as a metaphor, this intriguing doc explores the loss of U.S. manufacturing. As timely as it gets, this one could strike a chord with voters, but its relatively low profile might hold it back. ETHEL A look at the life and times of Ethel Kennedy, who had to raise 11 kids on her own after the 1968 assassination of her husband, Robert F. Kennedy. The TV imprimatur (it’s already aired) could diminish its chances as the Academy tries to move exclusively toward theatrical docs. 5 BROKEN CAMERAS Over the course of five years, a quiet Palestinian farmer uses several cameras to record his peaceful protests against the aggression of the Israeli army. THE GATEKEEPERS This eye-opening doc about six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s Secret Service agency, and the men charged with the fight on terror has been a major contender since its debut at the Telluride Film Festival, despite being a series of talking-head segments. But what talk! THE HOUSE I LIVE IN Executive producer Brad Pitt got behind this one early, and it raises the question about the effectiveness of the war on drugs in the U.S. A strong contender to make the final five despite limited theatrical play.
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE Winner of the New York Film Critics Circle’s best first film, this film is a story of two groups who managed to turn things around for AIDS victims, offering hope, humanity, and street smarts in dealing with the deadly disease. THE IMPOSTER This absolutely riveting story revolves around a young Frenchman who knocks on the door of a Texas family and says he is their long-lost son, missing for three years. One of 2012’s higher profile entries, this one could gain traction, particularly if it gets some love from critics’ groups. THE INVISIBLE WAR A look into the rape of soldiers in the U.S. military, a situation that is rampant according to this compelling doc from Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated). This one has a lot of support with the Academy actors/activists branch. MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD The subject of pedophilia in the Catholic Church is given first-rate treatment by prolific Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side). Gibney is always a contender when he is on his game, and he is definitely on it here. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN Chronicles the fall and rise of a musician who never quite made the big leagues, but manages to make up for it 30 years later when he is suddenly “rediscovered” by a film crew. THIS IS NOT A FILM Jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi shows a day in his life in prison as he tries to find freedom again. The Iranians, who won best foreign film last year for A Separation, refused to enter a film this year for political reasons. A nomination for this penetrating doc could make up for that loss. THE WAITING ROOM A look inside at what goes on in a typical American hospital. Paddy Chayefsky wasn’t far off in his fictional 1971 classic, The Hospital, but this one could be long shot as it doesn’t offer a whole lot of originality but is highly watchable anyway.
BLACK GOES DARK
Jack Black Walks the Line Between Reality and Drama in Bernie It’s a stiff actors race this awards season. However, voters should make time to see funny guy Jack Black’s turn as the effeminate Carthage, TX, mortician-turned- murderer Bernie Tiede in Richard Linklater’s docudrama Bernie. Based on Skip Hollandsworth’s Texas Monthly article, Bernie reenacts how the Carthage citizen cracked then offed wealthy curmudgeon Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), much to the town’s glee. Black brings all his underpinnings to the part, from his playful peppiness to his wonderful billowing singing voice, which trades in its hard rock Tenacious D tones here for gospel choruses. But it’s Black’s grace in making a borderline personality completely sympathetic that has sparked an Indie Spirit best actor nomination for him (as well as best feature) and a Gotham Award for best ensemble cast.
By Anthony D’Alessandro Original photography by Jeff Vespa
AWARDSLINE: Did you ever find out why Bernie Tiede murdered Marjorie Nugent? BLACK: My theory: It was temporary insanity. And I think the reason why was because he was such a sweet guy. He’s one of these guys that no matter how mean you are to him, he’ll never defend himself. He just wants to be liked to a fault. He was best friends with Marjorie and her assistant/man servant. They had great times together, but then ultimately the relationship soured. Instead of him saying, “Fuck you, I’m leaving! This is a horrible job now,” he just stayed and took the punishment until the resentment built. The main thing I wanted to ask him in prison was the same thing that the audience would be asking: “Why didn’t you leave?” Basically the answer is the same reason why anybody doesn’t leave from these abusive relationships. And it’s because there’s a codependency there. Also, the life it afforded him: Marjorie Nugent was the richest woman in town. He was able to make a lot of people happy, helping them with their financial needs. He was a little bit of Robin Hood in that way and loved doing that for other people. He didn’t keep anything for himself. AWARDSLINE: What was key in your career in terms of transcending the character parts for leading roles? BLACK: My first film was Tim Robbins’ Bob Roberts; I was in his theater company. That was the first time I got a career going. I got an agent and got some work. But that led to 10 years of bumbling around in the dark. It wasn’t until I started Tenacious D with Kyle Gass that I found my voice. The combination of music and acting, that’s what Tenacious D was and that’s what led to my whole career. After that, I got High Fidelity, which combined my music and acting, which led to School of Rock. All of my good roles, you see that there’s music involved.
AWARDSLINE: I once heard you tell a funny story that Peter Jackson’s backyard is actually the Shire from Lord of the Rings. Is that true? BLACK: It’s not a joke. If you go to his place out in the country, and you go to the wine cellar, you pull one of the bottles, and it opens to a secret passage way. You go down a long tunnel and ultimately come to a big round door, and then you’re in Bilbo Baggins’ bachelor pad. That’s where I slept! If you go out the front door of his house, you’re then at the foot of a beautiful lake. Just like Hobbit-town. There’s a castle in the middle of the lake and a choo-choo train. He just might be related to Michael Jackson. They are Jacksons! Peter is the never-talked-about (Jackson) in the Jackson Six. AWARDSLINE: Given that you’re a marquee star now, do you ever feel torn between doing indie and studio projects? BLACK: I don’t have a problem going back and forth between indie and mainstream fare. Doing the stuff that’s family-friendly and then doing the stuff that’s hard R, sometimes I think, “Uh oh, if I do this, is that going to hurt that?” It doesn’t seem to be a problem. I go from Kung Fu Panda to Tropic Thunder to Yo Gabba Gabba! to Tenacious D. People seem to separate it easily. AWARDSLINE: And it’s not like you’re mixing the two in Pee-Wee Herman fashion, which segued from being a late-night show into a Saturday morning program. BLACK: Exactly! That’s when you get in trouble. Pee-Wee Herman was pretty brilliant, and they were able to get two audiences watching at the same time, something that’s very difficult to do and not many can replicate.
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