AN INTERVIEW WITH SEAN ELLIS (PART 1 OF 2)

Sean Ellis is the British director behind CASHBACK (2006), which he expanded from his Oscar-nominated 2004 short film with the same title; THE BROKEN (2008), a haunting, compelling horror mystery in the vein of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956/ 1978); METRO MANILA (2013), a crime thriller/ drama set in The Philippines and filmed in the native Tagalog language; and his latest film, ANTHROPOID (2016), based on the true story of the assassination of Hitler's third in command, Reinhard Heydrich, during WW2. In the first part of a two-part interview, I spoke with Ellis about his love of ALIEN (1979), his early background as a stills photographer and fashion photographer, his approaches towards his craft and the themes of his work, and the making of CASHBACK and ANTHROPOID.          

Growing up, what was the most important movie for you? 
Movies were important for me from about the age of 12. I was quite aware of the power of them from an early age and became obsessed, watching pretty much a movie a day, as I do now. My mom loved movies too and she would allow me to go to the video shop every day. New films were about £2, older films were a £1 and then the old films were 50p. I would rent the old films because I realised I could get quite a few for the price of a newer one, and I'd wait for the new releases to drop in price. As a teenager in the 80s, I became a real connoisseur of the movies released in that decade. The most influentual film I saw during this time was ALIEN, which I saw when I was 13. It was a real game-changer for me. Having a year or two of watching close to 800 horror genre B-movies and then seeing ALIEN was crazy. It was more than just the film itself. It was the impact of the art direction, the violence, the complete package of it, the imagination. It was something I had never seen. It instantly became my favorite film, and it still is. It's a seminal piece of cinema. With that film and BLADE RUNNER (1982), Ridley Scott was just playing on another level.

How did your interest in stills photography as a teenager take hold? 
Nowadays a fourteen year old can get his hands on a digital camera and make a little film, but when I was younger, we didn't have that access, and Super 8 wouldn't have been an option because my family wouldn't have been able to afford the processing costs, let alone figure out how to do the sound. Photography seemed like a thing I could do on my own and without too much cost. I used to borrow my dad's camera and take pictures, and a lot of the pictures I took were film-related in some respect. I would spend time lighting my Action Man figures and setting them on fire as if it was a scene from a movie. I was definitely using it as a tool in the same way I use a film camera now as a filmmaker. This was how I learned photography, about exposure and composition, and about what sort of photography I liked. I moved more into fashion photography because it seemed you could create more elaborate images. Through my 20s I was either assisting fashion photographers or going out on my own and doing stuff. Towards the end of my 20s I started getting published in magazines like I.D., The Face and Dazed and Confused. 

How much of your experience with photography bled into the short film Cashback? 
I think it's very much about photography and having a machine that can freeze a moment, and that's basically what a camera does. There was that element to the film that was fantastical, but on the other hand, if you swap Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) being able to freeze time with him taking a picture, it's kind of the same thing. 

All of your films, starting with Cashback, have had a look that is for want of a better word, 'international'. Was that a look you were going after specifically? Did you want to avoid making the film look specifically British? 
I think it's just the way the film came out. My style just evolves and changes as I get older. A lot of ANTHROPOID is hand-held, and someone was asking me if that was my new style. But it just felt like the style the film needed. The style has to serve the story, otherwise you're just imposing your style on everything you do. There are directors that do that, and it's fine. All their movies look and sound the same, and the audience knows what it's getting. I've always wanted to have a style that was more invisible than that. I always had this fantasy that I would make films and people would say ''Wow! He directed that? I didn't know that!'' I wanted the films to be more important than who directed it. I'd rather be known for the films I've made than as a personality who made films. 

Your films tackle dark subjects but are usually curiously hopeful at the end of the film. Would you agree with that? 
I would actually, especially the last two, which have ironic, double-edged endings. They are 'down' endings but in the great scheme of things the characters had the last say and were in one way successful. I'm interested in characters winning but paying the ultimate price.
Those endings are hopeful too in that those characters, unlike many people, get to learn what they are capable of and who they truly are before they sacrifice themselves. 
Yes, and I think that's why we go to the movies – to get the cause and effect of life's actions simultaneously. In real life you often have cause without the effect or effect without a cause. But in cinema, life and the cause and effect and its answers are there on the big screen. 

I also get from your films that when people are in stressful or extraordinary situations, morality becomes less flexible. 
Morality is not black and white. Ultimately, under pressure we make decisions that reveal our true identities. We are not all good or bad. Under pressure, we all react differently emotionally. I'm trying to be honest in the films in presenting that. 

Your four films are all distinct from each other, and the themes that link them are not immediately apparent. One feels there's a fascinating history to each film as to how you came to make them. 
I think the only thing apparent between them is that they're completely different from each other! People ask me if I purposely choose projects that are a 160 degree turn from the last film, but it's not really that. It's more like ''trying to find something interesting to say''. I just don't want to say the same thing for the rest of my life. I want to find other interesting things to talk about, things that reflect what it is to live this life. 

Does that approach make it harder to get your films financed, if people cannot fix you to a certain style or genre of film? 
It's definitely not getting easier. The canvas has changed. Cinema is shrinking, but the need to consume great stories has not diminished. I wonder what directors like David Lean and Stanley Kubrick would be working on today if they were still alive. How would they use the internet or technology? What would still inspiret hem to make films? I am a big fan of David Lean, and he was not making the same film each time. There was a very grandiose canvas that was very Lean-esque but ultimately all his films were very different. Spielberg's films are always very different too. He's one of the greatest living directors we have, a master of the craft. He's the closest thing we have to a Mozart.

Your films are also refreshingly adult. They always go as far as they need to go in terms of their content. Is it important to you to not hold back? 
I think so. Every film is a learning curve though. I almost look at them as a catalogue of mistakes. I always see what I was trying to do and what I ended up with. You try to learn to love them for their flaws or despite them. You're always trying to make each film it's own thing. 

How much attention do you pay to critics? 
I think nowadays audiences are more unforgiving. My theory is that we have become more savvy with technology and more insular. It's become important to state to the world what kind of person we are by sharing what kind of things you like – the things that define you like your taste in music or fashion or film etc. People who define themselves this way are quicker to feel insulted if you don't like what they like – they see it as a personal attack on the things that they have chosen to define their personality. It's all about 'pseudo friends' and how many people follow you. I don't find it healthy. In a weird way critics have started answering to this. They've become just as harsh and personal to the filmmakers about their work in order to define who they are and what sort of things define them. Theodore Roosevelt said:

''It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat. ''

Look at what happened with David Lean and RYAN'S DAUGHTER (1970). The critics were so harsh that he lost his confidence. It took him fourteen years to make another film. And you think ''Shame on you. Because of what you said, we were deprived of a great director's films for fourteen years. '' I don't really read reviews anymore. I just kind of get the jist of them. You can't let critical opinion sway what you are doing because it's hard enough making movies. I think people are relying on critics more nowadays and not discovering films for themselves. I remember choosing movies based on the poster. I discovered films nobody I knew had seen.
You co-wrote ANTHROPOID with Stanley Kubrick's long-term assistant, Anthony Frewin. Was the story ever a Kubrick project?
No, it wasn't, but Kubrick did tell Anthony it was a great story. He was himself looking to do a WW2 film himself, Aryan Papers, but it never got off the ground because SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993) beat him to it. Peter Weir was going to do the Anthropoid story at one point and even went to Prague to location scout. 

What was it that excited you the most about the true-life story of ANTHROPOID? 
It was a great story of sacrifice. Coming off METRO MANILA, which dealt with a man sacrificing himself for his family, I guess ANTHROPOID was quite similar in that it was two men sacrificing themselves for their country. It was a story that I had been researching for a number of years. I had a lot of material on it before I decided it should be my next film. 

METRO MANILA had some great action work. Was part of the attraction in doing ANTHROPOID the chance to further improve your action directing chops? The climax to the film is incredibly done. 
I don't really look at it in those terms. On every film you do, you're learning new skills on set and constantly improving your craft. Hopefully it never gets to the point where it's always ''I know how this gets done. '' As far as the climax went, I knew it was going to be a massive setpiece so it became a question of getting as prepared as we could get so it would all go smoothly and we'd be able to adapt to any issues or problems we would encounter along the way. 

Were you consciously trying to bring something different to the wartime men on a mission genre kind of film, or did you feel that focusing on the real-life story was paramount? 
I had great passion for the story and I was pretty faithful to it. You couldn't really deviate too much from it. I wanted to re-tell the story for a new generation of people because there are a lot of people who don't know about this part of history. There have been movies done before on the story and some of them have become quite beloved in the memories of people. That was interesting, because it was something I hadn't come up against before, my other films being original stories. I guess if you break the film down into genres it's kind of like a heist movie where the heist goes wrong, and it all ends with a massive home invasion sequence.

Part two of the interview. 

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

AN INTERVIEW WITH SIDNEY J. FURIE (PART 2 OF 2)

Sidney J. Furie is one of the most versatile, prolific and accomplished filmmakers working today. At the age of 83, he shows no signs of stopping. His work, beginning in the late 50s, has encompassed early, vivid, personal films in his native Canada (at a time when there was no Canadian film industry to speak of) (A DANGEROUS AGE, A COOL SOUND FROM HELL); British films examining, with poignancy and authenticity, the lives of working class people (THE BOYS, THE LEATHER BOYS); the groundbreaking, influential THE IPCRESS FILE (1965); success in Hollywood directing pictures with Marlon Brando (THE APPALOOSA), Robert Redford (LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSY),  Frank Sinatra (THE NAKED RUNNER), and Diana Ross (the Oscar-nominated Billie Holliday biopic LADY SINGS THE BLUES); the brilliant Vietnam War drama THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (1978), which Kubrick acknowledged as an influence on his FULL METAL JACKET (1987); the unforgettable possession drama THE ENTITY (1982), which is one of Scorsese's favorite horror movies; the ill-fated SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987); and the hugely popular IRON EAGLE (1986) and two of its sequels. Not to mention under-rated films such as THE LAWYER (1970), HIT! (1973), SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975) and GOING BACK (2001). The subject of a superb new biography by Daniel Kremer (Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films), in the final part of a two-part interview, I spoke with Furie about some of the themes of his films and his approach to material. 

Part one of the interview. 

The attention to detail and authenticity in THE LEATHER BOYS is extraordinary. 
Gillian Freeman wrote the book and also wrote the screenplay, and I worked with her on it. We structured it together and she wrote the dialogue. When I got with the actors on the first day, I thought ''You know, I've got a feeling we can improvise better dialogue. '' So we did. We knew what we had to get out of each scene from the script, but the actors would make up dialogue in the rehearsals, and the dialogue they came up with was written down by the script girl. We would then shoot the scene later the same day and use the dialogue they had come up with. We rarely made anything up while the cameras were rolling. Dudley Sutton could make up anything at any time. Rita Tushingham was pretty good too, and everybody else got into the act. If they couldn't think of anything I would just ask them ''Well, what would you say in this situation?'' We would have a scene ready to shoot in an hour. We did the whole movie this way. THE LEATHER BOYS is one of my favorites for this reason. It had an authenticity – it looked real, it felt real. I remember when they were leaving the church after the wedding I said to the actors ''Get on the bus!'' The bus was just a bus that was coming around the corner. It was the loosey-goosey way we made the film.

I tried this kind of approach again on other films, but apart from LADY SINGS THE BLUES, where we also improvised on camera, it never worked. On that film, we would always have it by the third take. We did a lot of the scenes between Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams that way because those scenes weren't written down in a way we knew we could do them. I think you have to be young and reckless to work this way. I don't think they'd let you do it much today. It's too much pressure. Some independent filmmakers do it, but I do think it's important to have a script to work from, which isn't always the case. 

I am also a big fan of the camera angles you used, especially in the 60s films. 
That was a period I had. Everybody started criticising what I was doing. It was fun to see the the TV mini-series Red Riding (2009), the episode with Andrew Garfield in it. The director (Julian Jarrold) definitely studied THE IPCRESS FILE. There were scenes where you had someone's shoulder blocking the screen and you could only see three quarters of the screen, and other signature shots from THE IPCRESS FILE. It had that mood and a score something like ours too. It was a good series.

If you have a great story and you try to do all these different camera angles, you'll get away with it. But if you don't have a great story, they'll hit you hard. If you try to use the screen the way a painter uses a canvas, somehow it's not considered acceptable. The reason I did it for the first time on THE IPCRESS FILE was because we had a script and we hated it. What we did was we shot from the beginning and we rewrote as we went. All day there were two writers writing our scenes for the next day. We had meetings every night after shooting. We knew where we had to get to because Harry Saltzman, the producer, had ordered the set for the climax built, so we were stuck with it. It ended up being a creative way to work but it took a very long time. I remember that one day, in the morning, when the pages weren't there, I told the cameraman (Otto Heller) ''See that staircase there? Take an hour and a half to light it. '' Then the script arrived for the actors. Another thing I would do is sip Scotch in my coffee all day. I was never inebriated, but it would help me go with my gut. I wanted to make the film visual and to look like something I had never seen before. I was introduced to Vittorio Storaro, the Italian cameraman, on a set one day, and when I told him my name he said ''I know who you are. I have stolen from you. We studied THE IPCRESS FILE on THE CONFORMIST. '' When I see THE CONFORMIST (1970), I don't see THE IPCRESS FILE. But, like I said, what happens is that people get inspired and do their own art. I personally never saw an obscure film and said ''I'm going to do that. '' I am not that kind of person. If I was, I'd have a much better career! 

Are you happy with THE IPCRESS FILE and the style you directed it? 
Very much so. I love it. It was important to get that third act. I believe in a strong third act, which filmmakers today don't even know about. My next film concerns Holocaust survivors, and is character driven with a strong third act. It's the best thing I have ever done, I think. But in every film, including comedies, the leading character has to have a problem. The solving of that problem is what occurs. The character moves around for the first two acts, trying to solve the problem, but gets nowhere. In the third act, he solves it. That's what a movie is, and that's what a story is. Movies that don't have a third act don't solve any problem, so there's no great feeling at the end, no catharsis. The catharsis comes from being through an experience, sweating it out and then feeling like you've been through something. The brilliance of LA LA LAND, for example, is that you know the boy and girl aren't going to stay together. When the director shows you in the last ten minutes of the movie the fantasy of them staying together, you're satisfied, because each of the characters is satisfied in their lives. It's message is ''Be happy with what you have. '' Why would Ryan Gosling's character have wanted to have been married to a goddamn actress? He wouldn't have had much of a life! He was too independent. She would have been a lot of trouble. And audiences know that. 

Do you look back on working with Brando on THE APPALOOSA as an extraordinary experience? 
Yes. He was a tortured artist but with a good heart. 

Is truthful behavior important to you in your films? 
Truth is the name of the game. There are human truths and audiences know when something isn't truthful. It doesn't matter what genre it is. Audiences need to recognise the way characters behave. There isn't one person married who doesn't miss somebody, or sometimes think ''Well, what if I hadn't broken up with this person? What if I had met this or that person instead?'' So when they watch a drama like LA LA LAND, they can easily relate to it. This is something that financiers and producers don't get. They still think it's all about stars. One producer told me ''I don't read scripts. But if you get me Steve McQueen, I'll do it. '' Which is fucking stupid. They just go for the package, instead of responding to stories on a human level. This is why we have so many crappy movies. In the older days, financing didn't come from financing companies. It came from people at studios who loved movies and actually read scripts. They had contracts with stars, so there was none of this ''If he does it, I'll do it. '' Actors are just people, but now it's like they are gurus. And they are cost too much because the people on top don't even know how you make a movie. I mean Daniel Kremer and his friend are a crew of two shooting a movie every Sunday! On a bigger movie, a crew of 25 is more than enough, instead of everyone having an assistant. You see this when they shoot in Beverly Hills. The trailers are half a mile away, but by contract, the stars need trailers. They never go to the trailers! They start in the morning, dress, go to the set, and they never come back. It's all a joke. 

Are you especially interested in exploring male friendships? 
I think all movies have male friendships. You tell a story, and the lead character has to be able to open his heart to someone. The movie I am making now has a friendship between a father and a grown-up son, but I don't start a project thinking ''Here are the ingredients. '' Afterwards it can be analysed a certain way. 

Would you say you're attracted to strong female characters in your films? 
I love strong women, that is true. I have two strong female characters in my next film. I am married to a very strong woman. I think they are more interesting because they are more moral, and they expect men to be strong. My father taught me that men and women were equal, which sums up my approach to gender in storytelling. I also think strong women on the screen are always exciting. 

Which films are you the most proudest of? 
THE LEATHER BOYS, THE IPCRESS FILE, THE BOYS IN COMPANY C, HIT!, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, GOING BACK, THE ENTITY. 

Has the opportunity given you by Daniel Kremer's book changed the way you look back on your career or specific films? 
It made me look at HIT! and see in it what he did. I am also now less judgmental on my career. 

What would constitute a perfect working day for you? 
Any day I can write or shoot is perfect. Other days are the price one pays to have perfect days. 

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

Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films by Daniel Kremer can be ordered here

Kremer on Furie, parts one and two.

AN INTERVIEW WITH SIDNEY J. FURIE (PART 1 OF 2)

Sidney J. Furie is one of the most versatile, prolific and accomplished filmmakers working today. At the age of 83, he shows no signs of stopping. His work, beginning in the late 50s, has encompassed early, vivid, personal films in his native Canada (at a time when there was no Canadian film industry to speak of) (A DANGEROUS AGE, A COOL SOUND FROM HELL); British films examining, with poignancy and authenticity, the lives of working class people (THE BOYS, THE LEATHER BOYS); the groundbreaking, influential THE IPCRESS FILE (1965); success in Hollywood directing pictures with Marlon Brando (THE APPALOOSA), Robert Redford (LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSY),  Frank Sinatra (THE NAKED RUNNER), and Diana Ross (the Oscar-nominated Billie Holliday biopic LADY SINGS THE BLUES); the brilliant Vietnam War drama THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (1978), which Kubrick acknowledged as an influence on his FULL METAL JACKET (1987); the unforgettable possession drama THE ENTITY (1982), which is one of Scorsese's favorite horror movies; the ill-fated SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987); and the hugely popular IRON EAGLE (1986) and two of its sequels. Not to mention under-rated films such as THE LAWYER (1970), HIT! (1973), SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975) and GOING BACK (2001). The subject of a superb new biography by Daniel Kremer (Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films), in the first part of a two-part interview, I spoke with Furie about the early stages of his career.         

Growing up, what were some of the most important movie going experiences for you? 
The first movie I ever saw was a picture called CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (1937) in 1939, with Spencer Tracy. I was 6 at the time. When the picture was over, I told my mother I wanted to be a director. How the hell at 6 I knew there was even a director I don't know, but I guess I did. The George Stevens picture A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951) with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift was great. I have always had a thing for military films. TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949) was incredible. I felt the same way about PATTON (1970), which came much later. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) is also great.

CITIZEN KANE (1941) was very important to me but I didn't see it until many years later. It hardly played in Toronto, where I grew up. Once I saw it, that was it for me. Nothing can equal it in terms of style, acting and the whole thing. I also loved AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). There were so many great films. THE APARTMENT (1960) and SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), both by Billy Wilder, and ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) were other films that influenced me. 

What are some favorites from later years? 
Whenever GANDHI (1982) is on TV I am always happy to pretend that I never saw it before so I can see it again. What an epic! Extras probably cost ten cents an hour! OUT OF AFRICA (1985) is also my idea of a movie. They have made very few films like it since. THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996) is the only one I can recall, which was a bit more complex. It's terrible that most of these movies are from so long ago, and not more recently. These days the pickings are usually lean. Everyone can get a camera or an I-Phone and make a movie – they just don't have any stories to tell. Ten year olds can understand how to use the technology but that doesn't give you a licence to make a movie. But tell that to all the film school graduates! 

Were there any particular films in the back of your mind when you made your first film A DANGEROUS AGE? 
I made that film in 1957, and I had pretty much seen everything at that point. I don't think anyone is that influenced by other films. I think you admire certain films but then when you do it yourself you do it your own way. Artistic people just feel it. Obviously you're a product of everything you've ever seen but you're telling a story. My first two films I happened to write and direct, and I told my own stories. A DANGEROUS AGE was based on an elopement when I was twenty years old. We got caught by friends of her parents. I just made a movie about it. My second film, A COOL SOUND FROM HELL (1959), was about the Beat Generation and marijuana and all that kind of stuff. The hero was a square guy like me who was shocked by everything.

When I watch something like LA LA LAND (2016) I can tell that parts of the film are homages to certain MGM musicals and something like THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964), but it's its own thing. That's why it will win the Best Picture Oscar this year. It's original to itself. My thing about a movie is that I can accept any genre but it's got to work for the genre. And LA LA LAND really did. I also thought BIRDMAN (2014) was a hell of a movie. 

Some would say the debut film of any director is always the purest and most revealing of any filmmaker. Would you agree with that? 
I don't think so. Unless he wrote it himself, and it came from a personal experience, or he had an idea of the story and worked with a writer, it doesn't reveal anything. If he is handed a script, then the film will reveal things about the guy who wrote it. Remember the writer is always the guy who has been shoved aside in this town or anywhere. The producer, being an egomaniac, doesn't want him around. It was bad enough he needed a director.When THE IPCRESS FILE won a BAFTA for Best Film, it was handed to me. Hollywood invented the idea of giving the Best Picture award to the producers, so they could give awards to the people who tried to wreck the movie!

So many times here in Hollywood and everywhere, scripts are worked on by a committee. And then they get stars attached and they need somebody on the set. Directors are not always 'filmmakers'. A lot of the films we do because we have to work, and you do the best you can with what you're given. A lot of the times it was you that came up with the idea and it didn't work out well, but at least it was your failure and not somebody else's. I don't think in terms of success or failure. I don't want to think about that. People who write about movies want to think about that. It takes a lot of courage to go out and make any film, regardless of how it turns out. A lot of things might not be appealing to an audience, but if you can accept it on its own terms, it might be good. 

Charlie in A COOL SOUND FROM HELL suffers because he doesn't know what he wants or who he is. Do you attribute your success to knowing who you are and what you wanted? 
Yes, I try to follow my passions and if I don't there is no rest in my soul! 

Did you feel it was important to explore topics in your early films that were taboo at the time, like homosexuality, drug use, male impotence etc? Why? 
It was not pre-planned. It was what was all around me and it just seemed to be true to life. 

Given your success at getting your early films shown, and then later made, in England, do you feel British audiences are especially in tune with the filmmaking you are interested in? 
I think generally all people react to films the same way. The problem today is marketing. It's so expensive, so small films for niche audiences are doomed. 

Do you miss shooting in black and white? 
Oh, very much so. Black and white seems more realistic somehow. 

When did you fall in love with the possibilities of the widescreen frame? 
From the moment I knew what you could do with it, and I have loved it ever since. I haven't always been able to talk producers or companies into going that way. But the bigger and the wider the better as far as I am concerned. I love what you can do with a big screen but you don't see much of it anymore. It's like television has taken over movies. It's fair enough because the audience wants stories. I am an audience member too and I want stories too, but I think if you can get a story and ten thousand Indians and a railroad ... Wow! 

One of the great things about your films is your ability to immerse yourself in a subculture and make it very real and recognisable onscreen. Where do you think that talent comes from? 
I think it's just the ability to pretend, and having that imagination and passion and being consumed about what I do. I always want to get it right. I was just talking to an actor who will hopefully be in my next film, which will have a very tiny budget. We need to find a European actress who can come off as someone in her 80s, but its very tough. Not many people live to be 80 these days. You can cheat and cast someone in their late sixties, but there's a world of difference. The actor I spoke to is 86, but he seems 76. I wrote the script very fast, polished it for three months, and I finished it last week. What I am doing with the casting is what I do with my movies – I immerse myself in it and every single detail is important. Frankly, that's the fun part, the fact that you're able to do that.

In the past, I have gotten bread and butter jobs, and realised they weren't going to work but I needed a fee. I still pulled myself in as much as something I loved. I have never met a director who didn't do that. You pour yourself into it and try with all your might to make something out of it. Half the time you're thinking ''Why are they even making this film?'' Sometimes your efforts result in a successful movie but that's rare. You think ''If I wish it, I can make it work. '' But it's not true. It has to be something that appeals to an audience and we don't always know what that is in advance. When I first heard about LA LA LAND, I knew it was going to be a hit. My director friends would ask me ''Why?'' I said ''The guy is talking about old musicals like THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, he did WHIPLASH (2014), he's creative ... I just have a feeling this is going to be a very special movie. '' The passion is why you make films. If I had gone into construction, which I was interested in, I don't think I'd still be doing it now and dealing with plumbers and electricians. But filmmaking or writing is something you can do until your dying day. I am writing the screenplay to my next film, which is something I could never do at the height of my career. When I was supporting a family, who had the time to work on a spec screenplay? What if it didn't sell? Now, at this point in my life, that's not so important. I've basically retired in terms of having to make a living. I can write now and writing is the greatest thing there is. It's just you, your imagination, and a computer. 

Part two of the interview. 

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

Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films by Daniel Kremer can be ordered here

Kremer on Furie, parts one and two.  

AN INTERVIEW WITH JIM HELTON (PART 3 OF 3)

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 final part of a three-part interview, I spoke with Helton about his experiences co-editing THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES and THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. 

Parts one and two of the interview. 

With being so close to Derek, and the emotional nature of his stories, do you feel yourself completely empathising with the material? 
I think I do with everything that I edit. I am always trying to get into the mind of the character or the person on the screen and feel it so I can help convey it. Sometimes you just know, but sometimes I have to rely on Derek to tell me what we are supposed to be feeling. On THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, the first time I saw the car chase after the final robbery I composed some music for the first part, and Derek said ''That's it!'' That was a case where we never had Mike Patton take a crack at it because I just got the mood that Derek also wanted. 

Was choosing the moment Bradley Cooper first appears a difficult choice in the edit? 
In the original script they were always going to meet the way they did, and we were always going to met Bradley the way we did. It was actually the transition from one story to the next that changed. It became a cut to Bradley waking up in the hospital rather than an emergency room scene with Ryan dying nearby. The way it is now is just simple and right. It's like the difference between literature and cinema. It's a hard cut to write in a script. Cutting to the 15 Years Later card was a tough cut to figure out in the edit, but it seemed natural in the script. 

How did you divide the editing with Ron Patane? 
I edited the first act, Ron edited the second act, and we split the third act - he cut the scenes focused on Bradley/Avery family and I cut the scenes focused on Ryan/Luke family. We all ended up working on each other's scenes though, as we were a team. 

What was it like watching the footage of Ryan's scenes with Ben Mendelsohn?
They were like two fencers or something. When they were arguing about how they were going to split the take from the bank robberies, they were doing it for real. When they did another take, it wasn't like ''Let's do the same thing again'', it was like ''You can't win using the same argument from the other takes. '' And they would watch each other, and if one of them tried to use the same argument, they would pounce. There were so many fresh moments in each take. 

What were some significant changes that got made in the edit? 
We cut some of Ray Liotta's scenes, and it was a hard thing to do, but the scene that matters is the scene where he follows Bradley and threatens him. That was really Ron's section but we all watched the dailies and watching Ray's work was great. I was also impressed by the way Derek dealt with people and big personalities. He has a great way with people. 

How did your experience on THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES help inform your approach to editing THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS? 
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES was a long and difficult process, with a lot of pressure, and things got a little tense at times. Coming on to THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, I think we had learned a thing or two about how to approach a big project in a better way. It was a great experience. 

How long did THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS take to edit? 
I think it took about seven months and then Ron went on to another film, and we tinkered with it for a little bit longer. I don't think Disney thought we were going to be finished editing as fast as we did. It took a while to come out because the studio was worried about over-saturation – the year we were going to put it out, both Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander had three or four films in cinemas. We were lucky in that we were in New York editing the film and we were pretty much left alone. The producers, David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford, would come out and they were great. I don't feel like we were interfered with or anything like that. We worked our butts off. It's more difficult to split up the editing on a film like THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS because it's not as clear cut. We would piggy back. Ron had the first twenty pages, I had the next and when he got done he would jump to the next section. He did Tom alone, I did Tom falling in love with Isabel. He did the first miscarriage and I did the second. I had all the infant Lucy stuff and Ron did most of the stuff with four year old Lucy. In the end we all worked on it together but we divide and conquer! 

Did you feel any added pressure because this was a studio movie and Spielberg was an executive producer? 
Not really. The vibe was that we had a big job to do and we were just going to do it. And we proved ourselves. We made some cuts, and David and Jeffrey liked them. They gave us great notes and we also found out what we needed to do because we did a lot of screenings of the film. I think we really listened to others a lot on this film, and learned a great deal. We also got to make the film we wanted to make. 

How do you think Derek has developed as a filmmaker? 
I think he's getting better. Derek listens to a lot of people and there are a lot of collaborators on the films. That's one of his strengths. When you're on set, no idea is a bad idea, bring it. We have really taken a lot of chances on each film. There were so many different versions of each scene in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, and Derek would say ''It's my fault the level of difficulty is so high. '' I think he'll always keep pushing. THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is like a David Lean film with moments of Cassavetes. It's an accomplishment to be able to merge those two styles of filmmaking. It's also a genre film, a romance that plays with those conventions. It's also based on a book, and it was a challenge to try and be faithful to it. It was very flattering that the writer, M.L. Stedman, felt it was a good adaptation. We came from a film school where we did everything ourselves, so it was interesting to collaborate with great people like Alexander Desplat, the composer. Suzanna Peric, the music editor, was unbelievable. She became our interface with Alexander and a thermometer and soothsayer for our film. We would take stuff out of the film, and she would interject and say ''You can't lose that!'' Tony Volante, our sound mixer, was also integral to the team. He also worked on THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, and I just love his ear. He respects what we are doing in the edit from a sound perspective and helped us make it better. 

Was finding the pace of the film a challenge? 
I believe that if the audience doesn't know what kind of movie they are watching after thirty minutes, you run the risk of losing them. We never really had to think about this before because the structure of Derek's previous films was so interesting that they kept the audience with it. This film is more traditional. We had to find that balance of moving the story along but not having the audience feel Michael and Alicia were falling in love too fast. But you have to get the love story across quickly so that the audience doesn't think they are watching a ghost story about a haunted island or something. I think our audience was right on that precipice, which is fine. 

Was there less improvisation on THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS? 
The improvisation on this movie came more in the actions. Michael is such a great physical actor. He has such great presence and is Tom, his character, to his bones. If you watch the montage of his lonely life on the island, he is doing so many little things. He's like a Robert Duvall or something. He completely blew me away with his performance. 

What are some of the projects that might be your next collaboration with Derek? 
He's been doing quite a few commercials lately. I just acted in one he did for the Lottery. There's a TV series called Muscle that might re-emerge. It's based on a book by Sam Fussell about bodybuilding. He has a Western that he has written with Darius Marder, Empire of the Summer Moon. I think that will be absolutely fantastic. I hope he does that one next. 

What's the status on Metalhead? 
We worked on that project a few years ago. Derek went out and shot 16mm following the band Jucifer around. It's a faux-documentary. We actually started that before BLUE VALENTINE. We did some really cool stuff but the project just kind of petered out. He gave it to Darius Marder, who renamed the project, and is still developing it under the title The Sound of Metal. 

Cianfrance, Ron Patane, Helton
How do you feel you have evolved as an editor? 
There is always a ripple effect when editing that you have to be aware of and look out for, but I find it less rigid and fragile and more malleable and resilient than I once did. I know now that if we go too far in one direction I have the ability to recreate what we had. I have that confidence. I feel I am better at listening to criticism and notes and taking the best out of them. Sometimes as an editor others will defend decisions or ideas I have gone soft on. I don't fight so much to defend my ideas anymore. I feel that if they're good ideas, they'll come back.


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

AN INTERVIEW WITH EDITOR JIM HELTON (PART 2 OF 3)

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 second part of a three-part interview I spoke with Helton about his experiences editing BLUE VALENTINE, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES and THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. 

Part one of the interview.
Given that the pre-marriage scenes and the post-marriage scenes were shot separately, and on different formats, how did you and Ron Patane divide up the editing work? 
Initially I was the only editor. The first thing I edited was the opening scene, up until when Michelle drives the daughter to school and Ryan gets pissed at the other guy who is driving too fast on the road. Then we brought in Ron, who is great and is a long time partner, and he had to edit from Philadelphia for tax purposes. So, he's in Philadelphia, I'm in New York, and Derek is living in Brooklyn. Derek would spend half of the week in Philadelphia, and the other half with me in New York. Once Ron came on, we split it up so that he was pretty much doing all the scenes set in the present and I was doing everything that was in the past. It was helpful to have those pods because they allowed you to focus. They shot in a very documentary style on Super 16mm film for the scenes set in the past, and on digital video for the scenes set in the present. There was a lot less footage shot on the 16mm. A big part of the moving scenes, by the way, is actual footage of Ryan just moving the DP's stuff from one apartment to another. Andrj had worked with Ryan on HALF NELSON and is filming him move his stuff! The moving guys are real workers. Ryan's back was really hurting by the end of the day. 

Were there a lot of deleted scenes? 
Derek shot about 200 hours of footage. His favorite thing to say was ''We're going to break the record!''At one point, everybody was so excited that we said ''We're going to release one movie called Blue, and one movie called Valentine. '' But there weren't a lot of deleted scenes, just many different versions of scenes that we didn't use. With the RED camera, sometimes there'd be fourteen different versions, but mostly we just pared down a lot of stuff. It's interesting that you have all these things that you fall in love with; all these moments of bravery and courage from the actors, where they're improvising and really connecting, but you have to let the stuff go to make a 2 hour movie. 3 hours is really stretching it. What we learned from making documentaries was that you had only one take but with 'cinema writing' you could create the illusion of there being more footage. We didn't put everything we shot into the film but you can kind of feel it's in there somehow. 

Can you give examples of some of the scenes that were trimmed or deleted? 
There was a scene where they painted each other's faces in the rain. There was an extension to the night walk where they ended up at a playground in the early morning and twirled on a merry-go round until they were almost sick. There were more moments of them in love on the streets of New York and a scene underneath the bed covers at Ryan's apartment where his roommate walks in. We chose different scenes to be in the film because they were simply better for the story. Often times it is a choice between this scene and that scene because they do similar things. When you tell a story there is a balance and we try not to hit the same beat twice. It is the essence of editing. 

How long did some of these takes go? 
For the spaghetti dinner scene in the Future Room, the first take was 25 minutes, the second take was about 30 minutes, and the third take was 40 minutes. You can shoot more with digital and Derek exploits that but he likes to give the actors a context so that they have real things that they can draw from. When Michael Fassbender dug the grave in THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS, he really dug a grave. I watched 25 minutes of him doing it! Derek doesn't call 'Cut!' While Michael was digging the grave in character, he became exhausted, and started thinking about mortality and became desperate. You can feel all this in his performance in the scene. It's palpable. A similar thing happened in BLUE VALENTINE when Dean/ Ryan buried the dog. Ryan really did dig a grave and that experience opened up the emotion that you see with him and Michelle/ Cindy in the kitchen when he broke down.

The film evolved as it was shot, though. The actors would bring stuff and say things differently. Ryan came up with the stuff he did with the cereal with the daughter at the breakfast table, which was great because the point of the scene is not the dialogue, it's to show that Ryan and Michelle have two different parenting styles. You could write the dialogue in the script, I guess, but seeing it the way Ryan did it was something different. 

In general, what kind of takes were favored over others? 
Any time I am watching stuff I am looking for things I believe. That's where I start, and I kind of fill it in from there. The 16mm stuff, interestingly, was all about the 'in points', the ins and outs of things. There were longer takes. A lot of the stuff on the film was improvised – where they are walking down the street, the scene with the cab driver, the scene when Ryan's character goes down on her. To me it's just what feels the most honest. And I listen to Derek, because he is the best editor I know. I have things I am sensitive to, and he has things he is sensitive to, and we try to find a middle ground. It's just a big collaboration between Derek, Ron Patane and myself.

You have psychological things that are written that you're trying to bring out and then you find different shades that the actors are bringing, and sometimes the combination creates something different. When Ryan is waiting outside his father-in-law's house because he doesn't like him and he can't smoke inside, and the daughter is running after him trying to get him to come inside, Ryan was shaking, and we thought was really on the edge and that we had to use it. You could feel how much his character didn't like the guy. They shot many versions of that scene to see how they could bring that out more. All the stuff set in the present was shot with two cameras with long lenses, so they were pretty far away from the actors. It's almost like a surveillance point of view.

I remember I asked Derek about the scenes shot from the back of the car and why we couldn't see their faces. And he said ''Well, I feel that would be a privileged position, and that's not how I would see it if I was observing it. '' That is something that really adds to the way that actors act, because it makes them less self-conscious in some way. On BROTHER TIED, Derek was much more about privileged positions, but when we were shooting documentaries and we were in the back of a car with basketball players or whatever, we weren't in a privileged position and it worked better. We did a documentary called ROLLING THUNDER: RIDE TO FREEDOM about these veterans who meet at the Pentagon parking lot and ride up to the Lincoln memorial to protest about POWs. In shooting that film we realised that you didn't have to be in front of them and in their face. You would get a better 'performance' if you hung back, and when we did interviews, we wouldn't feed them lines, we would just have conversations with them, and what you'd get were real 'performances'. All this helped with his approach to BLUE VALENTINE. He didn't want to duplicate the world of documentaries that we knew, he wanted to learn from it. 

Do you think the documentary style of the film made the MPAA feel the abortion scene and the sex scene were more explicit than they actually were? 
I always felt the reason they had problems with the film was because of the abortion scene. That scene is so intense and it is all about her face and what is going on with her. In the sex scene all you see is Ryan's face, her dress, and Michelle's reaction. That scene was a lot about the 'in point' too I felt. That kind of crazy camera move in. And the scene when they run down the street too. Earlier in the film there's the scene where she's woken up and then there's that sharp cut. These edits throw you in and out of things and almost feel planned but they're not. 

Were the jokes (the child molester joke Michelle tells Ryan on the bus, ''It looks like a robot's vagina'') ad-libbed? They feel that way.
If my memory serves me right, Michelle's joke came from her. Some of the jokes came from the actors, but it would depend on the actor.

Was THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, given its epic scope and three distinct stories over different timelines, a challenge to edit into a 2 hour 20 minute movie? 
We struggled with the whole film once we had it all together. We had all these points of resonance that we wanted to evoke throughout the film but we were also contractually obligated, or at least that is what I was told, to have the run time be at 2 hours 20 minutes or under. The narrative is deliberately inexhaustably going forward. The investors wanted us to break the film up because he wanted to see Ryan again. We were more concerned with making sure Ryan's character cast a shadow over the whole film, which he did. There were cuts where we flashed back to Ryan, but we didn't show them to anybody! 

Were there longer cuts that you and Ron and Derek were happy with? 
As with BLUE VALENTINE, once we got the film down to a certain length, we were happy with it. I remember the version of BLUE VALENTINE that showed at Sundance was 2 hours 25. Harvey Weinstein's big note on the film was ''I love the film. I just want my ass to hurt less. '' We worked on it further, and got it down to a version we were happy with. The challenge was to make sure we preserved the breath and the space of it. 

Part 3 of the interview. 

BLUE VALENTINE trailer.  

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES trailer. 

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS trailer.     

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