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.”
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.
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.)