Jim Helton is the co-editor of the acclaimed films BLUE VALENTINE (2010), THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2012) and THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (2016), all directed by Derek Cianfrance. Helton also designed the memorable title sequence for BLUE VALENTINE, composed some of the music for THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, designed the sound for Cianfrance's debut feature, BROTHER TIED (1998), and continues to collaborate with the director on other projects. Helton is also a director in his own right, with the short film projects LOVE KILLS DEMONS (2010, a collaboration with Chris Rubino) and A STUDY IN LEGS (2009, a collaboration with Atsushi Nishijima) amongst his credits. In the first part of a three-part interview I spoke with Helton about the early days, meeting Derek Cianfrance and their early collaborations, and the making and editing of the masterpiece BLUE VALENTINE. 

Growing up what were some of the most important films for you? 
STAR WARS (1977), and a lot of Spielberg films like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and E.T. (1982).  Later in high school I got into David Lynch, and I thought ''Who is THIS guy?'' In college I ended up working in this huge video store called The Video Station, which was owned by a guy called Scott Woodland and had about 60, 000 titles. It was the third biggest video store in the world. I would watch a director's entire work. I loved Scorsese and revisited a lot of the older films like GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), THE SWIMMER (1968), Kurosawa, Ozu. I got a really great education at school but working at that video store was an amazing education too.

When did you first entertain the idea of working in film? 
I think I was probably always thinking of it subconsciously. When I went to college, I applied to business school, which I thought I was supposed to do. I was driving back from the Freshman Orientation with my Dad and I said to him ''I don't know why I'm going to Business School. '' And he said ''I don't know why either. '' He was the one who actually planted the seed because he said ''Did you ever think about film?'' I said ''Is that something that I can actually do?'' And he said ''I think so. '' And that was all she wrote. 

When did you first specifically start thinking about editing? 
Editing is just something I fell into. When I was at Film School at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Phil Solomon, who was an associate of Stan Brakhage, was my teacher and he was more of an experimental filmmaker. The filmmaking process there was that everybody did everything on their own films, and editing really attracted me, but I never thought of myself as an editor – I just thought of myself as a filmmaker. Derek Cianfrance and I went to Film School together, and actually lived with each other for a little while. We've been close friends for a very long time. He had me come work with him on his first film, which was called BROTHER TIED. I said I'd do the title sequence, and then the only other major role that was available was sound designer. I didn't know how to use Pro-Tools so I had to teach myself. I recorded a bunch of sound effects and the film ended up being about 70% MOS. It was a pretty big job. I sat in the editing room and really enjoyed it, but we already had three editors really involved with the edit, and it was too crowded. 

When did you meet Derek for the first time? 
He came into my Super 8 class at Film School. He was one year ahead of us and he showed us his film. The way he tells it, I was boondogging him, and staring at him with my arms folded, but I was just really impressed. It was a great film. Soon after that, I had written a short story and I cornered him at the Dalton Trumbo Fountain, and read it to him. We became friends after that. When we both left the dorms, we got an apartment with two other guys. 

Did you have an inkling you would be working together on projects? 
He acted in one of my video films, and shot another. I also had a small role in BROTHER TIED later on. It was just the environment of Film School for everybody to do stuff together. 

What did you admire about him from the beginning? 
Derek is one of those guys who always really knew what he wanted to do. He is constantly studying his craft, and when I first met him, he already knew a lot. I had seen a lot of films, and one of my strengths has always been that I know how films are supposed to feel, but Derek knows a lot about the craft of filmmaking. BROTHER TIED won a lot of awards, and he was the first guy to win a Cinematography Award at Sundance for a digital feature (QUATTRO NOZA). We've worked with some great DPs on the films we've done together, so it's hard to say this, but I still think he's one of my favorite DPs. He's such a visual guy. I've always admired his work.
How did you end up working together after Derek moved to New York? 
Back then the only jobs you could get where I was living in my parents' basement in Aurora, Colorado, were either editing ski videos or editing pornos. I had no connection with anyone making ski videos. My connection was with the porno company, so I ended up editing porno trailers. Derek had just moved out to New York from Boulder, Colorado, and he called me and said ''You gotta get out of there, man. '' I had saved about $8, 000 and I drove all the way there. He was already shooting and editing his own work and I just helped him as a friend because we always enjoyed working together. 

When did you first hear about BLUE VALENTINE? 
I believe BLUE VALENTINE took about twelve years to get produced. For a long time I was not even on anyone's mind as the editor of that film. The first time he described the project he said ''We are going to have them get married and divorced at the same time at the end. It's going to be a cross-cut. '' The story took a lot of twists and turns over the years. Early iterations had Dean named David, and he worked at a factory, shovelling dog food. At first, the story was set in Hawaii, but that would have been too expensive so it got changed to Northern California. I believe Florida was scouted too. The 'blue' in the title related to the color of the ocean. 

What kind of actors were considered over the years? 
They first envisaged Benicio Del Toro as the male lead back then. The person who was attached to it the longest was Michelle Williams. She read early versions of the script and has always been part of it. And thank God, because she's awesome in the movie. Seymour Cassel was the first idea to play Michelle's father. They also had talks with Mark Ruffalo for the male lead, but in the end it was Ryan Gosling who committed. He unfortunately had to step away at some point, but we got him back and just as we were going to shoot the film,  Heath Ledger, who was Michelle's ex-boyfriend and the father of her daughter, passed away. Michelle was obviously heartbroken, so we waited a year to allow her to grieve. 

Was Heath Ledger ever considered for the role of Dean? 
He was never considered to my knowledge. 

Some of the film was shot in New York, but why did you eventually shoot mostly in Scranton, Pennsylvania? 
We needed a tax credit so we could stay on budget. Derek had to pony up a substantial amount of money himself to get the film started. It was a real labor of love. Pennsylvania was also close enough for Michelle to get home after work and be with her daughter. It ended up being a perfect location that gave us that magical rainbow bus ride, a stage for the night walk where Ryan sings and plays the ukelele and Michelle dances, as well as other scenes. The Future Room was on top of the Ramada Inn in King of Prussia.

Did the content of the film evolve over the years? 
Derek got the structure stuff down early, but with his experiences working on documentaries, the content really changed over the years, and he learned a lot about performances, and listening to actors instead of demanding certain things from them and over-directing. 

I think Derek doesn't get enough credit for the effect his meticulous planning had on the movie eg. having Ryan and Michelle live as a couple for a month before filming the scenes where their marriage broke up. 
I agree. The point was to give them points of reference to help them generate emotion, so that when they were breaking up, they were really breaking up. They could draw on all the fun times they had because they lived together in that house for a month. Ryan and Michelle shot an hour or two of footage on a High 9 camera during this time. The footage was meant to be like 'home movies' and give a sense of them being a couple. I edited it because Derek thought it might be useful for promotional purposes, but none of it was used in the movie. We were always trying to get these caught moments, but they were in a net that he had created with the conspiracy of the cast and crew. The break-up scene was very indepth and involved. They had so many great takes. Ryan and Michelle were so good and so devastating that I would have to take naps between takes. If you just watched all the takes back to back, you would just get numb. 

What was the idea behind the opening scene? The sound design is brilliantly oppressive and draws you in. 
The idea was that the main character was going to wake up with the film. Andrj Parekh's use of light in that scene is just fantastic. He found that the RED camera wasn't as good with direct sunlight, so you'll notice that in most of the film, the weather is overcast but the light is still real nice. The sound designer Dan Flosdorf went out into the woods of Pennsylvania to record 360 degree ambience. He also recorded a lot of crazy insects and birds in upstate New York for THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, and would go out and record bike noises for Ryan's bike. 

The jumps in time are emotionally devastating, and the juxtapositions are perfectly placed. 
A lot of the credit I would give to the writers (Derek and Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne). The jumps in time were there in the script. We did juggle the ends a little bit. It was supposed to end with the break-up and then the wedding. Everyone was wowed by the shot of Ryan leaving, and his daughter trying to get him to come back, with all these fireworks that are going off. It looked like a war zone, something out of APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). Everybody said ''This has got to be the last shot. '' That slightly changed the rhythm of the ending in a very good way. 

Were the fireworks always in the script? 
The original script actually ended on Halloween. When it was decided they had to shoot in summer, they found they didn't know how to turn the leaves brown so it got changed to 4th July. In the original script, they were near the ocean, and we had a scene where he goes on stage and performs for her. It's so much more intimate and right the way it is now. 

What inspired the magnificent end titles? 
Derek set the boundaries. He said ''We're using Grizzly Bear. Don't look at anybody else.'' Those limitations actually made the work better. I went out on the last day of the shoot and drove back with Derek, Andrj and Davi Russo, the stills photographer, and they played this really upbeat song, saying ''This is the song for the end credits. '' I was sitting there with my arms crossed, saying ''Mmmm. Sure. '' I edited the first version of the end titles and I just had the fireworks, with the titles playing over them. Davi had shot all these beautiful stills from the movie, and we had tried to incorporate some of these stills into the film as little photo essays, but it came across as gimmicky. Davi is more than just an on-set photographer, he's a bullshit detector for Derek and a major collaborator. He doesn't get near enough the credit he deserves. We watched a cut of the film and it was clear that the stills needed to appear over the end credits with the fireworks. I cut a version of the end titles that way, and one day when I wasn't in the editing room, Derek came in and watched it and flipped out over it. He loved it. I had the basis and the rhythm of it there. I had edited it without music as usual, but once I added the music, that was it. 

I felt your titles were pivotal in that it was a way to celebrate the love that had died. 
It kind of fulfils the intention of the original script, to end on the wedding and not the divorce. Our Film Professor thought we should end the film leaving the audience with a sense of loss, but we felt the title sequence reminded the audience that there was once a love between these two characters. 

Part 2 of the interview.  

Extract from BLACK AND WHITE - A PORTRAIT OF SEAN COMBS, directed by Derek Cianfrance and co-edited by Jim Helton. 

LOVE KILLS DEMONS - 12 short films directed by Jim Helton. A STUDY IN LEGS, 11 short films by Jim. EPHEMERAL NEW YORK NO. 1, a short film by Jim.

The title sequence for BLUE VALENTINE. 

Derek Cianfrance's short film LATELY THERE HAVE BEEN MANY UNDERSTANDINGS (2006), edited by Helton, and the winner of the 2006 Chrysler Film Project.

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


Daniel Kremer is a prolific, accomplished filmmaker, writer and biographer. His seven feature films include THE IDIOTMAKER'S GRAVITY TOUR (2011), A SIMPLE GAME OF CATCH (2012), RAISE YOUR KIDS ON SELTZER (2015), and the upcoming EZER KENEGDO (2017). As an author he has published articles in Filmmaker Magazine, Keyframe, and other publications, and is currently finishing the first book to cover director Joan Micklin Silver. He is also working with Tom Luddy and David  Thomson on a collection of Susan Sontag's writings on cinema for Picador. In the last part of a two-part interview, I spoke with Daniel about one of his favorite filmmakers, Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, THE ENTITY, THE BOYS IN COMPANY C), the subject of his excellent book Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films (2016) and his upcoming documentary FIRE UP THE CAROUSEL! (2017).    

Part one of the interview.  

Furie, like many filmmakers, has had his share of friction with colleagues over the years. Do you think he needs this friction in some way? 
I think there's a little bit of thriving on it, a chemical reaction, at least with actors. He told me on the first day of our recording for the book ''If you hold it inside, you grow to hate. It's better just to let it out. '' He told me that he had a problem with Roy Scheider on SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975). There was so much tension because of Jeannie Berlin and Roy was being a little bitchy and not nice. Sidney said to him ''OK, let's go outside and fight. '' They got outside and Roy said ''Sidney, this is stupid. '' Sidney said ''Of course it is stupid! '' And they made up and got on swimmingly after that. Same thing with Brando, when they were shooting THE APPALOOSA (1968) up in the mountains in Utah. Sid had it out with Brando; granted, like a lot of other directors before and after him. But getting the frustration out there in the open was therapeutic for both parties, and enabled them to communicate better and make the movie.

He usually got along well with producers. Albert Ruddy, who produced LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSY (1970) and LADYBUGS (1992), loved Sidney and said he had never seen anyone so quick on the uptake. He saw him as a maestro. Most producers admire directors who really take charge. Sidney doesn't get along so well with those producers that meddle, like on NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER (1980), which he ended up leaving, or on THE JAZZ SINGER (1980), a nightmare production from which he was gratefully fired. Sidney also had good relationships with the producer Andre Morgan on THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (1978), and Harry Korshak, the son of Sidney Korshak, the famous or 'infamous' lawyer. Brad Dexter, Frank Sinatra's rescuer, became a longtime friend and associate after THE NAKED RUNNER (1967).

Has it been hard to convince people that Furie is far from the 'hack' some would have us believe him to be?
I have had to do a lot of evangelising to try and change the tide on that. In many cases people are making assumptions, based on SUPERMAN IV (1987) or LADYBUGS or any of the later films. Some of these films have hurt his reputation, or his 'grade point average' as Tarantino describes it, even though films like HOLLOW POINT (1996) and GLOBAL HERESY (2002) have some wonderful things in them. I have to mention that I think his 2001 Vietnam epic GOING BACK (released in the U.S. as UNDER HEAVY FIRE on a mangled, pan-and-scan DVD that hacks off forty minutes from the runtime) is a masterpiece that I'm looking to get restored to its original 150 minute length.

I personally have a soft spot for SUPERMAN IV. 
Yes, I grew up with SUPERMAN IV, and I loved it when I was a little pisher. Sidney doesn't like to talk about the film. He gave me an early warning when we started the book. We discussed each of his films in chronological order. We would get to a particular film and then he would then go off on free association. But when we got to SUPERMAN IV, he said ''OK, you got 5 minutes. Go. '' He has never actually seen the final cut that wound up releasing, and has no interest in doing so. When I told him about the mountain of criticisms regarding the special effects, he had no idea because he had left once Cannon cut the film down. At that point, the effects were unfinished. In fact, by the look of things, they were permanently left unfinished. Sidney shares the least blame on that production, but people like to pile the blame on him. 

At the very least Furie managed to bring back the tone of the first film to some extent.
On that, I agree. There really was an attempt to harken back to the original Donner film. There are very well meaning aspects to that film that are quite endearing, and there are a number of scenes that are affecting in some ways. Unfortunately, in the final edit, of which he had no part of, the movie doesn't really coalesce and falls apart, and the special effects do deserve the ignominious reputation they have gotten over the years. People ask why Furie even agreed to make the film, but Richard Lester made SUPERMAN III (1983), and that didn't hurt his status as an auteur, which doesn't seem fair. Why does Lester get a pass and Furie get the shaft? Both have made masterpieces and both have made flops, and both have recognisable styles.

Roger Ebert was famously tough on Scorsese, for example, for making THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986). Do you think critics are too tough on the idea of 'paycheck' movies? All directors need to maintain their careers and earn money, and some great work has been the result of a director accepting a paycheck assignment.
Every great director, at at least one time in their life, has done a paycheck movie. And some of them have managed to make them into artistic testaments, whilst others have not been so fortunate, often because producers or studios have interfered. You cannot judge a director's entire career on the basis of one or two films that didn't work. That, to me, is silly and wildly unfair. Sidney also has a great quote in the book: ''Most people work, right? So let's say they work at making deals. They don't get reviewed on every deal. ''Oh, he picked the wrong stock there. '' Or a teacher. ''Boy, that one student became a juvenile delinquent! The teacher bombed on that one. '' But someone who supported their family, lived decently, did respectable work, they say ''He's successful! '' So why can't an artist have the same thing?'' Summary: people make swift judgments because it's easy.

It seems some critics are suspicious of filmmakers who crisscross genres. They prefer filmmakers who stick to the type of material that made them a success. 
It was easy for Hitchcock, for example, to be deified because he remained in one genre for his whole career. I don't think the critics needed to do any heavy lifting to find the threads that run throughout his work. With a lot of my favorite directors, a lot of them, such as Frank Perry, genre-hop. I'm interested in writing film books on directors who are under-covered or who have not been covered at all, and have been shafted by critics who often just toe the party line. There are a lot of talented directors who are worthy of examination who are awaiting that kind of treatment.

I'm a big fan of Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (1998), but I think a side effect of the book's success was that the directors included in it then came to be considered as the only interesting filmmakers of the 70s.
All of the directors included in that book were the Movie Brats and New Hollywood people like Friedkin, Coppola and others. But beyond those, it seems people don't have much of a palate for anything beyond. I'd love to write books on any number of other filmmakers from the period.

David Thomson, Kremer, Tom Luddy
What did you hope would be the result of this book? 
That this is an artist, not a journeyman or a hack. This man made films that he really cared about, films that have a very strong thematic and visual consistency that any filmmaker held on a pedestal as an auteur would have. If you look closely at the work it is very clear the leaps he made as a filmmaker and the recurring themes. Quite a few people have watched a lot of the films and come to the conclusion that he is a talented, brilliant and important filmmaker.

Have you felt a knock-on effect regarding how Furie is viewed following the publication of the book? 
There may be some of his films coming out on Blu-ray. Cinefamily is showing THE LEATHER BOYS (1964). The screening of A COOL SOUND IN HELL (1959) at the Toronto International Film Festival went a long way to getting the word out that here is a director you may have missed.

How is the documentary FIRE UP THE CAROUSEL coming along?
It's in the works. I've been filming for a few years. Sidney is going to start shooting a new film in March that is very personal to him, and is set in Israel. It will see his lifelong obsession with the Holocaust coming to a head. His previous film DRIVE ME TO VEGAS AND MARS (2017), and now this new film in Israel are the first scripts he has written solo in over fifty years. I'm going to go with him and film some footage for FIRE UP THE CAROUSEL. I shot some footage for the documentary on his last movie too. You want the years and the passing of time to be reflected in the type of documentary I'm doing. Sidney didn't want it to be, to quote him, ''some old fart in a chair talking about the past. '' He told me ''If you film me for any documentary, you film me working and not sitting on my ass.'' Hopefully the film will get the word out even more. That's what evangelism is all about! 

Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films can be bought here

Kremer's websiteSome of his film work can be seen here. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


Daniel Kremer is a prolific, accomplished filmmaker, writer and biographer. His seven feature films include THE IDIOTMAKER'S GRAVITY TOUR (2011), A SIMPLE GAME OF CATCH (2012), RAISE YOUR KIDS ON SELTZER (2015), and the upcoming EZER KENEGDO (2017). As an author he has published articles in Filmmaker Magazine, Keyframe, and other publications, and is currently finishing the first book to cover director Joan Micklin Silver. He is also working with Tom Luddy and David  Thomson on a collection of Susan Sontag's writings on cinema for Picador. In a two-part interview, I spoke with Daniel about one of his favorite filmmakers, Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, THE ENTITY, THE BOYS IN COMPANY C), the subject of his excellent book Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films (2016) and his upcoming documentary FIRE UP THE CAROUSEL! (2017).   

How did you become familiar with Furie's films? 
I could work the VCR at age two, and I was always watching films as a kid. I saw THE IPCRESS FILE (1965) when I was around eleven years old. It was really eye-opening in many ways, especially how he was staging the scenes, and I began to make my own amateur films with my cousins as actors, framing everything through objects and doing all these wild angles that he used in that trilogy of IPCRESS, THE APPALOOSA (1966) and THE NAKED RUNNER (1967). As I watched more of his films I began to piece together an auteurist thread in all his work and began to see a voice emerge in terms of choice of content and themes that correlated to form a singular vision. This led up to me writing a full career retrospective piece on my blog in 2012, and Sidney and I got in touch that way and began a relationship.

How did he get to know about your article? 
He was working on a film called PRIDE OF LIONS (2014) at that time, and one of its stars, Margot Kidder found my article online, which was hot off the press. She told Sidney ''You really should read it. It's a great piece. '' He read it at a truck stop on the way to set one day. I told him I wanted to a write a book on him but he said ''I enjoyed the article, and you can clearly write, but I'm not ready for a book. '' He had people tell him he should do it, and we shared some mutual friends and contacts, and after talking, he finally agreed. On his way to Toronto to do the mix on PRIDE OF LIONS, he flew to New York to meet me and get the project going. 

Why was he initially resistant to do a book? 
He would tell me ''My mind is always on the future. If I gotta look into the past, it depresses me. I like to look ahead. '' But once you get him talking about the past, he has a great time. It was the fact I made my own films that sealed the deal. He said ''You know films, you know how they're made and you know what goes into them. You're not a critic or a journalist. '' I think to his mind a lot of critics don't know or respect the process of filmmaking. Sidney is not a schmoozer. He doesn't like to go to parties, and never went to many Hollywood parties when he was at the height of his career. He never promoted himself, which I think is one of the reasons he is not the big name he deserves to be. Even when LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972) was up for Oscars, he said ''I couldn't care less about all that. I was all about the work. I was off making HIT!, and wasn't even at the Oscars. '' 

Furie, producer Albert S. Ruddy, and Kremer
Does being respected by other filmmakers please him? 
I think he finds that amusing, but there is a large part of him that loves that and is proud of that. We went to the Toronto Film Festival back in September to screen his early film A COOL SOUND FROM HELL (1959), which was a lost movie that I helped to dig up and get restored. It had never played in North America before. He said ''Why are they showing that? It's an old movie. '' And I would tell him ''Sidney, it's a really lovely little movie and it's not been seen in a long time. '' He really doesn't think in those terms. He's the most selfless by far of any filmmaker or film person I have ever gotten to know. How people think of him or how he is being regarded or how he will be remembered is not on his radar at all. The act of working is the most important thing to him. Now he has read my book, he can see all these things that run through all his movies, but if you had asked him before the book about whether his work had any themes or motifs or trademarks he would have said ''No, there's nothing. '' 

What kind of brief did you present to Furie about your approach to the book? 
What I wanted to do was map out, and trace a trajectory, and also make the argument that he is a real auteur who works with certain themes and types of stories and invests serious creative input into his films. I am surprised nobody has ever made this claim before. I think he is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in the English language who is alive today. I find his career so fascinating, with the leaps he has taken from movement to movement and from genre to genre. Making the two independent Canadian features, then crossing the pond to England and making a couple of New Wave kitchen sink films, the Cliff Richard films and THE IPCRESS FILE, and after that moving to Hollywood and making larger-scale films. And now he is making direct-to-video films, which he calls his 'retirement films'. He says ''I don't have to worry about them getting seriously reviewed and there is no pressure. It's just a chance to work. '' I told him that he had maintained a career that was very curious and intriguing, and very rich. The work is this tapestry that went in every direction. 

How does Furie react when you refer to him as an 'auteur'? 
He got used to it! He hadn't seen HIT! (1973) since it came out, and I showed him, on Blu-ray, a couple of scenes from the Marseilles section of the film, and he said ''This is really good. Put some subtitles on it and it'd be an arthouse masterpiece. '' The more I made him watch these films that he hadn't seen in a while he began to see the themes he was exploring and that A DANGEROUS AGE (1957), A COOL SOUND FROM HELL, and DURING ONE NIGHT (1960), was a trilogy about wounded masculinity and male anxiety, which is so obvious if you watch them back to back. His subsequent films developed the theme (THE IPCRESS FILE has a bespectacled man who cooks, with the woman doing the heavy lifting in the seduction, removing his glasses when going in for 'the kill') but the theme is front and center in those early works. DURING ONE NIGHT is a WWII era drama about male impotency! I don't think artists can look at their own work in any objective way, and often it's up to other people to interpret it.

Why do you think Furie, like Ted Kotcheff, was one of the few Canadian filmmakers who managed to make films internationally? 
Sidney made not one but two Canadian films before leaving the country, at a time when there was no Canadian film industry to speak of. Ted arrived in England shortly after Sidney and began working in television. Because he had two features under his belt, Sidney was able to go directly into making features in England. The British felt that films from North American directors were more in line with what British people wanted to see. He got to make DOCTOR BLOOD'S COFFIN (1961) almost by a happy accident. Sidney was able to make films quickly in England because he had proved he could get money together and direct well. It all led to THE IPCRESS FILE, which took him to Hollywood and changed his career. I've developed a small audience with my own films but I'm still trying to break through and Sidney agrees that in his time, all a director needed to do was prove that they could make one movie. As he says, ''Nowadays, six year old kids are making movies on their phones. ''

Kremer, Furie, and Ted Kotcheff
Where do you think Furie's ability to make his films feel of the country they're made in comes from? 
With the kitchen sink dramas, THE BOYS (1962) and THE LEATHER BOYS (1964), and THE IPCRESS FILE, which is an Angry Young Man drama set in the espionage world, there's a grimy feel prominent in all of the films. He has the ability to immerse himself in the world he's creating. With THE LEATHER BOYS, he had a script that wasn't really working for him so he got the actors in a space and said ''How would you improvise this?'' They came up with a new script based on their improvisations. I spoke to Rita Tushingham and Dudley Sutton about the dynamic process on that film, and how Sidney let himself be open to the youthful energy of the cast. Dudley said he was the best director he ever worked with, and Rita loved working with him and noted how he was the only director who dressed like an average guy. The likes of Desmond Davis and Tony Richardson would wear a suit and tie. Rita said Sidney was this cool guy to the actors who would really listen to them in a different way. The films I've mentioned are so of their time and place and feel so British because he really allowed the actors to fulfill the visions they had of their characters by letting them feel safe, which he saw as his role as the director. They could experiment and go out on a limb, and trust that he would catch them if they fell. 

One of my favorite anecdotes from the book is Furie closing his eyes and listening to the actors perform during takes on THE LEATHER BOYS. 
Yes, Dudley Sutton told me that. He would watch the first take to make sure the staging was correct and then turn around and listen. The idea was to put himself in another mental zone and make sure that he would believe what they were saying if he was eavesdropping. He would look at Chick Waterson to confirm there'd been no flubs in the staging, and then he'd know he had a good take.
Do you think one of Furie's talents is to quickly isolate which components of a particular film were the most important? I'm thinking of not only the dialogue in THE LEATHER BOYS, but also the sound effects in THE ENTITY (1982). 
Absolutely. He also respected his technicians in an uncommon way. He has worked with a number of great cinematographers throughout his career: Russell Metty, Stephen Burum, Douglas Slocombe, Otto Heller, Jordan Cronenweth, Donald Morgan, and Ralph Wolsey. He speaks about people like these in glowing terms. He loved really dark lighting patterns, and trusted them before Gordon Willis's work made filmmakers more comfortable using them. If you look at Sidney's Canadian films, A COOL SOUND IN HELL, for example, has some of the best night photography of any film. 

I've always been struck by his empathy with women, and the performances from his actresses in his films. Another great one is Gwen Welles in HIT! A character in the film tells Billy Dee Williams that he has to speak to her differently. I wondered if that was a skill Furie had – knowing how to talk to actresses and help them give naturalistic performances. 
I think so. It also comes through in SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975). Even though Jeannie Berlin was like the pariah on set, fighting with absolutely everybody, and even walking off the set and never coming back, leaving some of her scenes unfilmed, Sidney was still able to get a terrific performance from her. Pauline Kael and Vincent Canby gave the film negative write-ups but there were a handful of critics like Gene Siskel and John Dorr who said that this was an uncommon lead female performance and that what we were seeing in the scene where she is in the booth listening to Roy Scheider deliver the lengthy monologue (Molly Haskell called it some of the best ever romantic acting) was a long-form reaction in real time. Most directors would have kept cutting to Scheider, but Sidney focusses on Berlin's face, which is where all the power in the scene came from.

I also have to single out Barbara Hershey, who was fantastic in THE ENTITY. As Sidney said, ''She was putty in my hands. '' She gave herself to that role, and it was not an easy role. If I were a woman, I'd be skittish about being the lead in a film about a woman who is continually raped and ravaged by an invisible demon. But she trusted Sidney. It's a very complex, strong but fragile performance. I think another director may have made the whole film more mechanical. 

As you have continually rewatched the films for the book, how has your relationship changed to certain films? 
I have seen PURPLE HEARTS  (1984), which is the last of his art film cycle, about eight times. When I first saw the film I thought Ken Wahl was bland and Cheryl Ladd was soso but that there were some interesting things in it. But the more I watched it, the more I started to realise that it was a pretty good film, and that I had underrated it. Films like PURPLE HEARTS require repeated viewings, and if I were writing the book today, I would be a lot kinder to it. I told Sidney it was his MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947). In both cases what were originally deemed as weaknesses in the films were actually contributing to something larger.

What were some of the highlights of the new information you got from Furie in your interviews? 
I had always loved SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK, but I did not know Jeannie Berlin had walked off the set and never came back. I loved hearing about the improv done on THE LEATHER BOYS, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, HIT! and a couple of other films. It intrigued me that he would do that at such a fever pitch as he did on a Hollywood film like LADY SINGS THE BLUES. 

Part two of the interview.  

Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films can be bought here

Kremer's websiteSome of his film work can be seen here. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


With films like THE CROW (1994), DARK CITY (1998), I, ROBOT (2004), and his latest film GODS OF EGYPT (2016) to his credit, Alex Proyas has established himself as one of modern cinema's most exciting visionaries. In the final part of our three-part interview, I spoke with Alex about making the sci-fi thriller KNOWING (2009) with Nicolas Cage, and his latest fantasy entertainment GODS OF EGYPT (2016), working digitally and with greenscreen, how his work reflects his worldview, originality in modern film, and fellow Aussie visionary George Miller. 

Parts one and two. 

How much of your experience on I, ROBOT influenced your choice to make KNOWING? 
Because I, ROBOT had done so well, I was offered a whole bunch of stuff in its wake, but I turned everything down because I didn't want a big studio experience again. One is enough in my lifetime. KNOWING was a knee-jerk away from the experience I'd had on I, ROBOT. It was not only made in a short amount of time but also with a small budget, although it was still a $50 million movie. The lower budget brought me some freedom, and I very much wanted to be left alone again to do my thing. KNOWING was a great experience in terms of me getting to do exactly what I wanted.

Why did you decide to shoot the film digitally? 
I like to take stills, and at the time of KNOWING I was doing a lot of digital photography, so I embraced the opportunity to shoot digitally for the first time on KNOWING. I had considered shooting GARAGE DAYS and I, ROBOT digitally, but I wasn't happy with the look I was getting back then. By the time it came to KNOWING, with the RED camera. digital cameras had gotten pretty damn good. The RED camera doesn't look like film but I think it looks even better. I certainly like the way you can work with it. KNOWING was an attempt to approach everything in a very naturalistic style. GODS OF EGYPT was very much a departure in terms of style, but I am heading back to the naturalistic style for my next movie. Digital offers the opportunity to light less, or if at all. I'm heading towards working with as much available light as I can. 

What attracted you to KNOWING? 
I was reading the script and I started thinking ''Maybe they will actually end the world in the story. Wouldn't it be cool if someone did that? But this is a Hollywood movie, so they'll never do that. '' And they did end the world in the script! I thought that was a very brave thing to do, and that's why I made the film. When we got the studio involved I told them ''Whatever happens, no matter how the movie tests, you have to understand that the movie is going to end this way. Otherwise I will walk off the project. '' They said ''OK, we get it. '' After that, everything was icing on the cake. 

What was it like working with Nicolas Cage? 
Nic is great. He's a wonderfully eccentric guy in the most lovely and charming sense. We got along really well, and I hope I can work with him again. 

Was it your intent to pay homage to films such as those made by Ray Harryhausen with GODS OF EGYPT? 
It was really inspired by movies I saw as a kid at the drive-in and on TV, like the Harryhausen movies yes, and also later on, larger than life adventure stories like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Egyptian mythology is not something you can easily translate to a completely serious movie. It's pretty out there. We roped it in quite a bit. I think some people didn't know what to make of GODS OF EGYPT, but believe me, we were being conservative! I very much wanted it to have a tongue-in-cheek spirit and to be a lot of fun. I'm not quite sure what some people thought they were going to be seeing, but that's the film that I made. 

With all the greenscreen work on the film, was it a challenge to control the performances of the actors? 
No, not really. I'd done a fair bit of it already, and most actors have had the experience of working with greenscreen already. Will Smith was particularly brilliant at it. It was a little bit unusual back around I, ROBOT, but he had already had that experience on multiple movies. Kids don't have a problem imagining things, and most actors are kind of big kids anyway. If I say ''Right, run because there's a big monster chasing you '', they get it. Actors are used to using their imagination. Visual effects and acting work well together.
How long did you spend in creating the world of the film? 
That was a huge undertaking. It was probably three years from start to finish. I didn't want it to be an historic world, I wanted it to be a fantasy world. There was some research done in terms of Egyptian style, but beyond that it was more about imagination. Whenever someone would show me something from Egyptian mythology I would often discount it as not interesting or original enough. The shoot was one thing, but post-production took forever. Resources were not what they should have been. It was an expensive movie but the budget was no way near enough what was needed to do justice to everything. I was a little disappointed with some of the final visual effects, although some of them were great. Once again I had the experience of a micro-managing studio. This was the studio I had done KNOWING with, so going into a $100 million plus movie, I convinced myself it was going to be okay, but unfortunately, the scale of the movie frightened them to the point where they were second-guessing every decision, every nuance, every subtlety, every moment and every detail. It was an experience I was very glad to see the back of once we wrapped the film, as my relationship with the studio had become so acrimonious and unpleasant. 

Did the film bring you closer to your own Egyptian heritage? 
Yes, it did. One of the reasons I wanted to make the film originally was because I am Greek-Egyptian and my Egyptian ancestry goes way back. My father used to tell me I was related to Alexander the Great, which I don't think is true! My Granddad was a great artist and he used to do these drawings of these super-heroic Egyptian gods that really inspired me about Egyptian myth as a kid. I wish I knew what had happened to these pictures, but I bet he drew Horas similar to the way we presented him in the movie. I always felt Egyptian mythology was really intriguing and that it would be cool to make a film inspired by it. The Greek myths and the Roman myths seem to have a lot of movies made about them, but Egyptian mythology has not had much screen time.

Quite a few crew members on GODS OF EGYPT also worked on MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015). Being both Australian, sharing some Greek heritage, and both of you being interested in creating new worlds, do you share a sense of kinship with George Miller? 
I know George very well, and he's a good friend. There were a lot of FURY ROAD crew members on GODS OF EGYPT, but there aren't that many crew members in Sydney, and as both of our films were two of the biggest Australian films of recent years, it was inevitable we were going to use a lot of the same people! The Aussie film industry is its own worst enemy. We have this thing called the Tall Poppy Syndrome here, and George and I and other Australian filmmakers like to help and support each other because we are a small industry. George has always been very encouraging to me. I have the greatest respect for him. He's a wonderful guy and I'm so happy FURY ROAD was appreciated so much. 

To what extent do you feel your films reflect your worldview? 
I believe that the best movies are very personal movies. I believe that you are always telling the same story, although you might dress it up differently with different idioms or genres or periods. As a filmmaker you are obsessed with certain things that you are re-examining from every viewpoint in order to understand them. Some movies might reflect your obsessions more than others. I can't pick a project unless I have some personal connection to it, or the story being told has some resonance to me. With my next movie I am going to embrace that approach and tell a very personal story. It's a science fiction movie but it is visibly very inspired by my own history. With the lack of originality in films these days, I encourage filmmakers to tell stories that only they can tell, or find writers who have a unique story to tell, and make that story. In a landscape of franchises and sequels and remakes I'm personally focussing on more original stories that come from who I am as a person and as an artist.

It's also the original films that seem to have more of a long-term impact. For example, people are still talking about films like MAD MAX 2 (1982) and your own THE CROW and DARK CITY. 
George was hugely passionate about the Mad Max films when he made them. I remember seeing the first film in the theater as a kid and it was refreshing in terms of it being an Australian movie because nobody was doing that kind of genre movie. It felt completely original to me because of the way he made it. 

It seems to me that the unique, rough edges of films are some of the qualities that keep certain films alive, but it's those very qualities that studios want to eradicate from them when they are being made. 
I equate it to a guy playing a guitar. You can hear someone's soul through a performance on a musical instrument. I think great movies should be the same. You should feel the spirit and the soul of the individual artist. That has to be the director. Sometimes it's the writer and the director but generally speaking it's the director. They're the movies that I usually like. If you don't have those rough edges or feel that soul or spirit, it takes on a very bland and generic quality. I don't like the idea of watching a movie and feeling it could have been directed by anyone. I want to see the filmmaker's soul on screen. That is what excites me. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.