POLITICS IN A REALITY TV WORLD, WORKING WITH ACTORS, RECENT FILMS HE LIKED, ETC.
Two terrific interviews with Brian De Palma popped up yesterday. One is yet another conducted by Jim Hemphill, this time focusing on De Palma's work with actors, for Filmmaker Magazine (see yesterday's post linking to Hemphill's joint interview with De Palma, Noah Baumbach, and Jake Paltrow). In this Filmmaker article, Hemphill calls De Palma "quite simply the greatest film about filmmaking that I’ve ever seen." Hemphill adds that the documentary "led me to reflect on how underrated De Palma is as an actor’s director; he’s been so heavily praised, critiqued, and analyzed as a visual stylist that people seem to overlook the consistent excellence of the performances in his films."
And so Hemphill begins by asking De Palma about his background in terms of performance and acting. "Well, I did some acting myself in college," De Palma replies. "When I went to graduate school at Sarah Lawrence, I studied with a very influential theater director, Wilford Leach, who went on to win a couple of Tonys. I acted in some of the plays that he directed and attended a couple of classes where I observed things that I later used in the acting class scenes in Body Double. I saw how the teacher worked with the actors, and I’m talking about people who went on to have great careers – Diane Keaton was in the class, Betty Buckley was in the class. Acting myself, being directed, and taking those classes really gave me a lot of direct experience and taught me that actors will either save your movie or ruin it."
Meanwhile, IndieWire's Eric Kohn posted an interview with the headline, "Brian De Palma: Why He’ll Never Work in Hollywood Or on Television Again." When Kohn asks De Palma is he's done with the Hollywood system for good, De Palma replies, "I can’t imagine making a studio movie now. The whole system’s changed so much because of the effect of cable television and all the cable stations making their own series. They’re really into writers and producers, which is like the old studio system. The directors came in, directed, and were sent off. That’s what you’re getting with all these television projects."
Kohn follows up by asking about the Joe Paterno movie:
We couldn’t get it set up as a movie and it was finally set up at HBO. But I’ve never seen such studio interference. I mean, I would get stacks of notes, over and over again, from multiple sources. It’s changed. They want to be included on everything. I remember throwing executives out of the room during a reading for “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Are you kidding? I can’t have these actors performing in front of studio executives during the first reading! They claimed they wouldn’t say anything, which was nonsense. I had the same thing with the Paterno project. I said, “This is the first time Al has heard this material. I can’t have executives sitting here.” They were offended beyond belief — sulking, tense. I finally walked away from it.
If you’ve seen HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” the HBO executive on that show, Len Amato — that was the guy I was dealing with. On the show, there’s Len in the editing room, making suggestions. That’s like my worst nightmare. I have never dealt with a producer in the editing room. And you can’t get final cut on television. Can you believe that Martin Scorsese doesn’t have final cut on television? I’m going to ask Marty if he does.
Later in the interview, De Palma discusses how the actors that are wanted for serious movies are all flocking to television, making such films difficult to cast. "I’d like to make Retribution with Pacino," he tells Kohn, "but it depends on whether we can get it cast. Everybody’s out there trying to get those four financeable actors to get their movies made. When you don’t get them, it can go on for years."
Go read the entire interview (it's great), but here's one more excerpt:
[Kohn:] Who’s going to make the great movie in response to this year’s election?
[De Palma:] It’s crazy. I was watching George Clooney’s movie “Ides of March,” and it got me thinking. You have all these political people on television interviewing actors. When is George going to run for president? Is there anyone to stop him now?
He’s obviously very politically oriented, and he’s got this great wife. When you look at these movies, and the way they get George interviewed by Charlie Rose, or Chris Matthews — well, we can’t tell the difference anymore. That’s the situation with Trump. There is no difference between the theatrics of media and the movies. People ask how Trump could exist. Well, we live in a reality TV world, where if you can show juxtapositions of the guy saying opposite things right next to each other, nobody cares! He lied, so what? I remember when that was a bad thing.