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6 Auteurs: THR’s Director Roundtable

Ben Affleck, Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Gus Van Sant,  Tom Hooper, David O. Russell gather for the director’s edition of THR‘s roundtable series. Some choice quotes after the cut.

THR: How do you deal with executive interference? When Django was running three hours and Harvey Weinstein was pressuring you to bring it lower, how did you handle that?

Tarantino: It’s not a big deal. I didn’t want a three-hour movie, either. It’s a big epic and everything, so I figured it would be around 2:45, and that’s what it is. When you’re cutting it down, at that moment in time, before you watch it with an audience, you know it’s too long, but you can’t imagine taking anything out. So then you watch it with an audience, and then all of a sudden — “Oh, wow, that is kind of boring now!” or “No, this is not as suspenseful by the time we got to it as it needs to be.” But you can only go so far in the Avid room on your own. At some point, you have to watch it with an audience. And then literally 15 minutes just come flying out, where before you couldn’t imagine a minute leaving. (Laughter.)

Russell: You sit through one of those screenings where all of a sudden everyone’s bored, and then you come back and just like …

Tarantino: “I mean, guys, the story could never make sense if you take one more minute out of it!” And then you watch the movie and 15 minutes are gone by noon the next day! (Laughter.)

THR: Harvey’s known for that, scissor-hands.

Tarantino: Well, if he treated me that way, I wouldn’t be working with him for 20 years.

Russell: I welcome them into the edit room, and I will go toe-to-toe with anybody on any note, and I welcome all collaboration because I’m not precious about it. I’m not gonna have you drain the energy out of something, but let’s try it, or I’ll just disagree honestly about it. But it always ends up making the movie better. Bradley Cooper was in our editing room. Harvey came in. Jay Cassidy, who’s a fantastic editor.

Affleck:  Actually, being an actor was a real advantage for me in having that discipline. I’ve been through so many experiences where I’d go and watch some cut that was very long, and I would go to the director and say, “Man, I’m in the movie, and I’m bored. So surely the audience is gonna be.”

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THR: For many directors, there’s a period when they do great work and then they don’t, and it’s often brief. Are you afraid that you might have talent for a moment and then it’s gone?

Hooper: I think you have to keep people around you who are going to be absolutely brutally honest to you, and I wonder whether what happens to some people is, they get to a place where they don’t want to hear brutal truths anymore about their work. My family are my most important first critics, and they are totally harsh. A couple of them came to my [Les Miserables] mix review last week, and they were like, “You’ve got pacing problems.” I said, “How can I have pacing problems?” And as a result, I then found a solution.

Affleck:  A really big-time studio executive, when I first got out here as an actor, told me in a sort of cavalier and slightly dismissive way that directors are like tuning forks. First we go “Bing!” — we hit the fork. And for a while it stays in tune. And then at a certain point, it just goes out of tune, and it never comes back. At the time, I was like, “Well, I don’t care about that. I’m an actor.” (Laughter.) But I think that view exists about directing.

THR: Ang, did you feel added pressure on this film because the budget was higher than you’ve worked with?

Lee: It’s crazy. But when you’re working, that’s when you’re sane. It’s the in-between that’s crazy.

THR: How do you go insane? You look like the most sane person I’ve ever met.

Lee: That’s just the surface. But that’s not the real reason I feel insane. It’s the next movie I want to do that is a drive. There’s focus, fear. Those visceral feelings keep you alert and alive.

Van Sant: Dennis Hopper said that something harder than making a movie is not making a movie.

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THR: You’ve all had a lot of success. Are you afraid it will end?

Tarantino: No, not at all. But I don’t intend to be a director deep into my old age.

Russell: Wait a minute. That’s bad news for everybody.

Tarantino: I’ll probably just be a writer, or I’ll just write novels, and I’ll write film literature and film books and subtextual film criticism, things like that.

THR: In how long do you plan to make that change?

Tarantino: Well, part of the reason I’m feeling this way is, I can’t stand all this digital stuff. This is not what I signed up for. Even the fact that digital presentation is the way it is right now — I mean, it’s television in public, it’s just television in public. That’s how I feel about it. I came into this for film.

Affleck:  Digital projection as well? ‘Cause film’s over. I mean, there are no film projectors in the country.

Tarantino: Yeah, and that’s why —

Russell: I won’t shoot digital.

Tarantino: No, I’m not talking about shooting digital.

Russell: Do you shoot digital?

Tarantino: No, I hate that stuff. I shoot film. But to me, even digital projection is — it’s over, as far as I’m concerned. It’s over. So if I’m gonna do TV in public, I’d rather just write one of my big scripts and do it as a miniseries for HBO, and then I don’t have the time pressure that I’m always under, and I get to actually use all the script. I always write these huge scripts that I have to kind of — my scripts aren’t like blueprints. They’re not novels, but they’re novels written with script format. And so I’m adapting the script into a movie every day. The one movie that I was actually able to use everything — where you actually have the entire breadth of what I spent a year writing — was the two Kill Bill movies ’cause it’s two movies. So if I’m gonna do another big epic thing again, it’ll probably be like a six-hour miniseries or something.

THR: How is the final cut of Django different from what you initially wrote or envisioned?

Tarantino: It’s shorter. (Laughter.)

21 Comments on this Post

  1. John Parker

    Excellent! Been waiting for this. Great lineup. Too bad Spielberg is not there, but this is liveable :)

  2. The Great Dane

    I don’t know what the F the interviewer’s name is, but I really HATE this guy! Every year this guy seems more interested in having stars and directors outing which famous people they’ve hated working with. Every effing time!!!
    But worst of all, he KEEPS cutting everyone off. Every time he asks a question, the person starts answering and then he just starts asking someone else a question in the MIDDLE of the first person’s sentence. His questions are stupid and much more gossip oriented than about the art of filmmaking. I wanna punch him through the screen! Even the directors in this roundtable get annoyed by his interruptions in the second half. Just watch their faces as they’re all unable to get to the end of their stories and answers. Shut up, you incompetent asshole!!

  3. Is it fair to call Affleck and Hooper Auteurs? I mean they really don’t have a sense of style that is distinct, or themes that are apparent in all their work. Van Sant, Tarantino, and Lee are auteurs by definition for sure, Russell can be arguable, but I don’t think Affleck and Hooper have reached that yet.

  4. That was a rather interesting video. Absence of Bigelow and Spielberg was unfortunate (Just like absence of Jessica Chastain during the Actresses roundtable). Also, the interactions between Van Sant and Affleck were really awesome.

    Also, is it just me or did Tom Hooper look rather uncomfortable every time Tarantino opened his mouth?

  5. I am so sick of the word auteur and its use in the first place. Much in the same way as the use of the word “Sir”, especially by non-UK press.

    Enough of that fawning. Let the work speak for itself. The title Director is enough. It’s a big and powerful title and it’s a shame that the word auteur, the one that was meant to empower directors has proven to be so counter-productive.

    And Rich, technically speaking the word auteur doesn’t imply anything about quality, just authorship (which, in itself is a hugely questionable thing). That authorship need not even be distinct – if something flows out of a director and happens to be less apparent then so be it.

    I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that it’s possible to be a director and not leave an inprint in some way. That’s the starting point. I’m sure many will disagree.

    Which is why I’d much rather see someone say, Great Director – that’s descriptive enough.

  6. I just want to say that I absolutely adore Tarantino. He’s one of my favorite writer/directors, and I respect not only his considerable talent but also his passion for all things cinema. He’s an inspiration to me.

    It saddens me somewhat that he’s already thinking ahead to retirement, but I’m glad that he’s still willing to write screenplays, novels, etc.

    Anyway, great interview with a wonderful group of directors. And I agree with The Great Dane regarding the interviewer. He sucks.

  7. Bryce Forestieri

    @The Great Dane:

    100% Agreed. Interviewer is a piece of shit.

  8. Poor Ang Lee!!! They asked him like one question and that was it. He seemed like the shy kid at the lunch table. Would’ve loved to hear more from him and van Sant.

  9. I loved the roundtable this year, but they barely asked Ang Lee and van Sant any questions. They were great when they had their chance though. The interviewer is terrible and has been for years. They need to insist on getting someone new or something, or better yet, no interviewer at all. I’d love to just hear those six guys talk amongst themselves. My favorite was hearing Gus and Ben Affleck talking about each other and then the back-and-forth between QT and David O Russell towards the end. That was great.

  10. This interviewer always disappoints every year. I wonder what he has on the CEO of THR?

  11. The composer Ang Lee’s talking about is Danny Elfman, right?

  12. CoolPillow

    God I almost want to stop watching these roundtables altogether because of that overly obnoxious interviewer. His questions are not only terrible, he just constantly PESTERS everyone to answer them directly if they avoid it or give an answer he doesn’t like. WHY do you keep ANNOYING Ang Lee to literally describe how he manifests his own insanity? It’s not only rude and wasteful, but it completely stifles any sort of collective discussion between the directors. This guy should be facilitating discussion between these guys and instead he isolates them individually with his inane, uninteresting questions that he imposes on them to answer. He even tries to insert himself in the discussion by giving his own comments. The man is absolutely insufferable. Such a shame too, they really grabbed a great set of directors to interview. Still worth the watch, but can they please get rid of this guy?

  13. Every time Tom Hooper answered a question, I was like “Who asked you?” lol He’s obviously wonderful since he was able to enrich Les Mis. *rolls eyes* What a snot.

    What Quentin said about quitting movies is super sad. :( Can’t he just like take over film? Let everyone else do digital and buy some theaters to show movies on film? One in NYC, one in L.A. Make everyone go to him. They would. Frenzy is my favorite Hitchcock, ftr, then Rope.

    I think if you just had a conversation with Affleck and Tarantino it would be like they were Kung Fu fighting.

    And is it me or are they seated according to the formality of their outfits, left to right?

  14. I wondered about the composer Ang Lee was referring to as well. Looks like it’s either Danny Elfman or Mychael Danna.

    To think that the only director there to have directed a Best Picture Oscar winner is Tom Hooper… Poor guy, actually. He’s gonna spend the rest of his career having to prove himself, especially if Les Mis hits even half as big. We may have to wait until he’s had a chance to take on some less well-known material, and craft a film from nothing more than just a good script again, rather than something with as much baggage as Les Mis. That being said, he comes across rather inexperienced here. The atmosphere in the room turns to ice every time he talks, unlike when Ang Lee talks, and you can sense the reverence.

  15. twodollars

    Bigelow should have been there over Tarantino. I certainly hope THR invited her and she couldn’t make it, but THR has a long history of ignoring women for these things.

  16. I enjoyed watching it – Affleck came off as smart/charming and quite easily held his own.

    I agree though, the questions were not great. Why is the interviewer always pushing the negative side of film-making?

  17. The interviewer wasn’t so bad compared to the usual questions entertainment journalists ask. Re-visit the press junket for Argo and listen to some of the questions some of these journalists were asking Arkin and Goodman.

    These gatherings need to be a bit longer, ask Ang Lee more about stuff, and let the conversation flow when they see that the people there are playing of each other.

    And Tarantino needs to stop f**** around with this retirement threat. It’d be a great loss to cinema and movie-fans all over the world.

  18. Where the fuck is Peter Jackson???

  19. The Great Dane

    @Diana: Exactly?

    WHY wasn’t there a single question like “What made you want to be a director?” or “What is the best experience you’ve had making a film?”. It’s always like “What’s been your worst experience and PLEASE name a name in the business so we can have some serious gossip”.

    Same with the actors roundtable. I swear, EVERY SINGLE QUESTION is to make people at these roundtables name names. I must vomit. Now.

  20. The Japanese Viewer

    (Thanks for embedding.)

    The questions, no offense to THR, could have been a bit more fruitful methinks. And next time round the main interviewer if he likes may want to re-consider the timing as to when to interrupt or not; I appreciate time constraints if any and all that but, in my opinion, at the end of the day a good one may be able to know when to cut off someone’s part *real-time* and when not to do so. Just saying.

    Tarantino was so cool here. He was laid-back, down to earth and quite frank about it. So was Affleck. [Not saying others were not.] Tarantino’s old-school take for the so-called digital projection as, for him, “TV in public(?),” which apparently is not a cup of tea for him, is also interesting.

    I wish Spielberg and Bigelow could have made it though. . . . ( :

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