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Domino is
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and their consumption,
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De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
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De Palma/Lehman
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in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
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"a horror movie
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in the news"

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Washington Post
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Sunday, July 4, 2021

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, July 3, 2021

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, July 2, 2021

"We are once again joined by the legendary filmmaker, Are Snakes Necessary? author and director of the first Mission: Impossible film Brian De Palma and his co-author Susan Lehman," begins the description of the new episode of the podcast Light The Fuse, which is hosted by Charles Hood and Drew Taylor. "In this episode we discuss the unmade prequel films to some of his earlier projects, why he isn’t interested in Mission: Impossible sequels, and what happened with the musical score (with Alan Silvestri replaced by Danny Elfman). We also get into some potential future projects, which is really exciting."

As you can imagine, there is a lot to digest from this episode (the YouTube version is embedded below). For now, let's look at the episode's discussion of Elfman/Silvestri:

Charles: So the music -- obviously, Alan Silvestri was on, and then was taken off. And then Danny Elfman came on. And you've worked with so many incredible composers in your career. I would love to hear how that whole process went down, and then also would love to know why never again with Elfman? because the two of you seemed like a match made in Heaven.

De Palma: Well, you know, the great composers, the problem is, you know, they're not always available. Because they're working all the time. With Alan, it was just, we were recording, and it just didn't work. And Tom was very unhappy with it. And I'm used to working with composers and going in and changing this, and moving this around, and it just... there was no sort of chemistry between Alan and I. And when we saw that Danny was available, we immediately snapped him up. And I, as Paul, I know, has detailed, explained to you, I mean, I literally spent four weeks sitting next to him, going over every cue in Mission: Impossible. In order to get us ready to record in four weeks. And he did an amazing job.

Drew: So you wanted to work with him again?

De Palma: Who?

Drew: Danny.

De Palma: Oh, of course! I mean, I've worked with all the great composers. I've missed a few, but, you know, I started with Bernard Herrmann, so...

Charles: Ha ha ha, not too shabby.

De Palma: Yeah, you can't start any better, basically.

Here's how Paul Hirsch describes the Silvestri/Elfman switch in his book, A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away:
The first day of recording the music was exciting, as always. This day, however, was special, because the famous theme of the Mission: Impossible TV series, originally composed by Lalo Schifrin, was the star, more so than any other element. The orchestra performing the theme was being videotaped for the press kit. After the hoopla of laying down a good take of the main title, Alan began recording the first cue for the Prague sequence. After just a few notes, Brian turned to Cruise, who was sitting next to him, and said derisively, "It sounds like the 'Song of the Volga Boatmen.'"

I knew then that we were in trouble. Tom picked up on Brian's unhappiness and seemed to share it. Once a negative comment like that is made, it can poison everything,

As hard as it is to believe, not once since Brian and Alan first met had they spoken again. Brian never called up and said, "Hey, Alan, I was wondering if you could play me some of what you are writing, just to make sure we are on the same page." And not once had Alan called Brian to say, "Hey, Brian, I'd like you to hear some of what I have in mind for the film, just in case you want to make any changes."

So here we were on the day, and Brian was unhappy. He huddled with Cruise and the head of music from the studio. The next thing I knew, the rest of the recording session was canceled and Alan was being replaced. We had used a track from Dead Presidents for temping the CIA scene, and as is often the case, the temp led to hiring the composer. It had happened on Sisters and again on Steel Magnolias, and now it happened again. Danny Elfman, a brilliant composer, had written that track and was available. All of a sudden, Danny was in.
Once the deal was in place, Brian asked me to go with him to Elfman's house in Topanga Canyon. We waited while Danny was finishing up a phone call in another pat of the house. The room was decorated with strange, creepy objects, of which I remember two. One was a foot-high human skeleton in a jar. The other was a cat lying on the sofa, seemingly asleep, but when I stroked it, I realized that it was dead and stuffed.

In his studio, Danny had a large monitor in front of a keyboard, and he and Brian settled in to look at a scene together. We didn't stay long, and the next day Brian told me that Elfman had asked him not to have me accompany him to the house anymore. Brian went back and worked with him every day for weeks. He confided to me that he had never worked so hard with a composer in his life.

I couldn't resist pointing out, "If you had worked like this with Alan, he would have written you a great score."

Posted by Geoff at 5:05 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 1, 2021

At the Instituto Moreira Salles Cinema Blog, José Geraldo Couto writes a few words about Brian De Palma's Redacted. Here's a Google-assisted English translation, including a brief introduction from a version posted at Outras Palavras:
Cinema: a dizzying leap into the horror of war

In Redacted (2007), Brian De Palma portrays real crime by US troops in Iraq. But instead of elegant fiction, the filmmaker bets on the shattering of the real — and on the aesthetics of precariousness as a narrative power in the era of YouTube

By José Geraldo Couto, at the Instituto Moreira Salles Cinema Blog

Winner of the Silver Bear for direction in Berlin, elected by Cahiers du cinéma the best film of 2008, Redacted, by Brian De Palma, never commercially released in Brazil (only shown at the Rio Film Festival, with the title Guerra without cuts), arrives now to streaming, on the Mubi platform. It was worth the wait: it's an extraordinary job.

The dramatic core is inspired by a real fact: during the occupation of Iraq by US troops, a group of soldiers rapes a 15-year-old girl and kills her family (including the teenager herself).

But unlike Kathryn Bigelow's films on analogous themes (Zero Dark Thirty, The Darkest Hour), Redacted does not offer a fictional reenactment of events to create the illusion of a given, univocal, and unambiguous reality. Instead, it scrambles partial and fragmented views, presenting a “real” that is much more problematic, unstable, full of edges. Instead of catharsis, it delivers the annoyance, the perplexity. It's up to the viewer to deal with that later.

Precarious construction

Anyone who is used to the exuberance, precision and elegance (even in the heart of violence and horror) of De Palma's cinema will find strange the collage of rushed images, rough framing, poor lighting, visual and sound “noises” and disparate textures that compose Redacted. What was sought there was to simulate, as if they were documentary records, a series of sources: an “image diary” produced by a soldier, newscast scenes, a French documentary, videos produced by Al-Qaeda, etc.

This method of construction virtually abolishes all “objective” narration in third person. Everything is mediated by some interested gaze, partial in both senses of the term, that is, incomplete and biased. The spectator is asked to fill in the gaps, the “outside the frame”, and to confront different perspectives.

As a result, the dramatic density is built not through the usual narrative artifices, but through a skillful orchestration of the fragments, in addition to the shrewd use of the musical score (Handel, Puccini), a terrain in which the music lover De Palma has always been a master. The emotional climax takes place on the only actual documentary images (I won't say which ones they are), soaked with the ravishing music of Tosca's third act.

To Godard's famous formulation, according to which “cinema is the truth at 24 frames per second”, De Palma usually responds with a joke: “No, cinema is the lie at 24 frames per second”. And he himself was always a great conjurer, who played with the status of the image and problematized the reality of what we think we see and hear, in films like Body Double, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.

Impotence of speech

In Redacted, it is as if De Palma took this game to another level, making a film that is a serious reflection on his craft (narrating with images and sounds) and the denunciation of a reality that does not fit in any audiovisual discourse: the horror of war and the dehumanization it produces in executioners and victims. Once in a lifetime, the advertising slogan doesn't lie: "In a war, the first casualty is the truth."

It is, in a way, a film that (re)revolts against its own impotence, its own impossibility. Hence the anguish it produces. Hence, perhaps, its difficulty in being marketed and consumed. Mortal sin for an industry increasingly powerful materially and dwarfed morally.

Also a brief recommendation for Redacted on Mubi from Tymon Smith at The Sunday Times:
Critically panned and hugely divisive when it was released in 2007, maverick director Brian De Palma's docudrama about the injustices of the Iraq war and its manipulative representation in the media holds up to be more interesting and inventive than many gave it credit for at the time.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, July 4, 2021 1:57 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

John Soltes at Hollywood Soapbox posted an edited version of a recent press conference in which Julie Salamon and Ben Mankiewicz discussed the new season of the podcast The Plot Thickens, which is based on Salamon's book, The Devil's Candy:
On how Salamon got invited to the set …

JULIE SALAMON: I was working as a film critic back then. [Brian De Palma and I] met. We’d meet from time to time when he was in New York to talk about movies, and I had told him that I was interested in doing this kind of a book, similar to what Lillian Ross had done with Picture many years before in the ‘50s, following John Huston around. And when he signed on to do Bonfire, he thought that might be a good movie to do it on, and you know he was a little bit of a bomb thrower. He kind of like to rustle feathers in Hollywood, and I guess he thought I would be the person to do it. You know, obviously I think he might have thought differently if he would have known how the movie was going to end up, but without him, it wouldn’t have happened.

On what Salamon’s access ultimately inspired …

BEN MANKIEWICZ: She didn’t just have access. It’s what she did with the access. Like, other people have had access and bungled it or created something ordinary, so I mean part of the reason that we talk about this movie is because of what Julie did with it. And I’m not just trying… She already likes me, I think.

SALAMON: It’s true.

MANKIEWICZ: But I think that’s really critically important. … If [all] Hollywood directors and producers take away from The Devil’s Candy is that, oh, we can’t grant access like that, they’re missing the point. Then this would just be a blockbuster movie that disappointed. Now there’s an interesting story around it. … I think the lesson ought to be that it ought to happen more. …

SALAMON: Obviously there are gossipy elements to it, but for me I love seeing how things work and the organism. And making a movie is just such a huge, complicated enterprise — and to have access to all of it. And the truth is I was as interested in the sound guy that used coconuts to make the sound of horses’ hooves going as the movie stars. It was just riveting for me.

On whether Bonfire could ever be adapted into a successful movie …

SALAMON: Tom Wolfe said it right from the get-go. He always described his books as this series of slices of life, and interestingly enough, I’m sure that if somebody had been wanting to adapt it today, they would have done it as a limited series for television, which it’s probably more suited to because then you can really delve into all those individual characters. … I was actually on some kind of panel a few weeks ago, a podcast, where they were talking about The Bonfire of the Vanities, and that book itself has become a hot potato in a different way now because of all of the racial stuff in it that just today would be much harder to adapt for all kinds of sensitivities. Even though I think Tom Wolfe was doing a satire, I think it would be extremely difficult to adapt today for probably the same reasons that it was difficult to adapt 30 years ago, but with a 2021 variation on it. So, yeah, I think the book itself was really tough. On the other hand, I think it would make a terrific miniseries with all these great character actors playing those roles.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Posted by Geoff at 7:16 PM CDT
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Monday, June 28, 2021

An Instagram account called "Kevin Costner's Legacy", which bills itself as an "Expert in Costnerology," recently posted the pic above of Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, along with this interesting bit about The Ghost And The Darkness:
While Prince of Thieves was shooting, producer Art Linson (The Untouchables) brought the script for The Ghost and the Darkness to Paramount with Costner as Col. John Henry Patterson on board, to star opposite Connery who agreed on playing Charles Remington, Brian De Palma was set to direct. however the flop of The Bonfire of the Vanities made Paramount febrile and consequently shelved the project.

Julie Salamon does mention this project in her book, The Devil's Candy, within the context of a section about De Palma's agent, Marty Bauer, who passed away this past April at the age of 74. Salamon writes that Bauer "made a point of visiting De Palma on every set." as he usually did while in production, De Palma had already been attempting to line up his next film:
Bauer found "Bonfire"'s production problems plaguing his negotiations for De Palma's next project. He'd been talking to Paramount Pictures for more than a month to sign De Palma for "Ghost in the Darkness," and African adventure story De Palma nicknamed "Jaws in the Veldt." Kevin Costner, who had become a star in "The Untouchables," had indicated he was eager to make the picture with De Palma.

Paramount's initial enthusiasm had been damaged by the publicity out of New York. The studio was already contending with several big budget pictures that seemed unlikely to recoup their costs: "Days of Thunder," the Tom Cruise picture about a race car driver; "Another 48 Hours," the sequel to the Nick Nolte-Eddie Murphy buddy picture; "The Godfather, Part III," which was plagued with its own production problems. The last thing the Paramount executives wanted to commit themselves to now was sending Brian De Palma -- a director with big budget problems -- to a remote continent with Kevin Costner to make a brutally difficult film.

As the release date for Bonfire neared and the Los Angeles Times reported that the film was "getting a chilly reception at test screenings," Paramount had passed on signing De Palma for The Ghost And The Darkness, and was then looking to hire Kenneth Branagh, relatively unknown at that time, to direct the film. It would eventually be directed by Stephen Hopkins.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Sunday, June 27, 2021

It's all so silly, but as this article in Entertainment Weekly details, a few days ago Courtney Love used social media to passively-aggressively accuse singer/songwriter Olivia Rodrigo of supposedly "copying" the cover photo of Hole's 1994 album Live Through This. The Rodrigo photo in question is a promo for a film titled Sour Prom, which will premiere on Rodrigo's YouTube channel this Tuesday (June 29). In the fallout of comments that followed, Love vehemently denied that her own initial inspiration for the 1994 photo was the famous prom scene in Brian De Palma's Carrie, but Entertainment Weekly's Rosy Cordero pulls a quote from a 2019 oral history about the album cover in Another Magazine in which photographer Ellen von unwerth states flat out that "Courtney had the idea of re-enacting the scene of the movie Carrie, which I loved, too."

Posted by Geoff at 5:00 PM CDT
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Saturday, June 26, 2021

The set of images above comes from a set of motion gifs posted at the Light The Fuse page for episode 158. The episode features part one of the podcast's interview with Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman. After talking about De Palma and Lehman's novel Are Snakes Necessary?, hosts Charles Hood and Drew Taylor steer the discussion toward Mission: Impossible:
Drew: Did you send any early drafts or run any of the ideas by your buddy and neighbor David Koepp?

De Palma: No, not really. I think we sent... yeah, because he read the book and gave us a quote. Yes, only when we were finished.

Drew: Okay.

De Palma: Basically.

Lehman: Here's a trade secret: Brian is very big on don't show your work to anybody until it's finished.

Drew: Oh, really. But you famously have chimed in on other people's work in progresses, like, correct me if I'm wrong, but you really, uh, heckled Lucas on using [begins to laugh while talking] "The Force" in that early Star Wars screening.

De Palma: Will we never live down this meeting over the first screening of Star Wars. Everybody's.. I mean, when I talk to everybody that was involved in that movie, everyone has a different version of what happened.

Lehman: Well, give your version.

Drew: Yeah.

De Palma: But my version-- I mean, my version is pretty close to... I was just watching Steven's, um, the biography they did of Steven. And he related how he saw it. Everybody, you know, they always portray me as the guy that says the worst thing that drives everybody crazy. But if you're gonna to show me something, I'm gonna tell you what I think about it. Why am I there unless I'm gonna give an honest appraisal of what I've seen? And in this case, you know, the fact that Steven says that only he saw the possibilities of Star Wars, that's not really true. We all saw it as a terrific thing that George had done. And you know, we were well aware of where the special effects weren't there, and how they had cut in all these planes from other movies to be things they were supposed to be-- you know, the ships and stuff like that. But I did make a joke about The Force. That's true. [everybody laughs]

Lehman: Tell us what your opinion of The Force was.

De Palma: I just thought the idea of The Force was like, you know, "THE FORCE!" I would say, but I kept repeating it, you know. But, it doesn't seem like a great name for this kind of spiritual guidance. So, "The Force." So, needless to say, I had a lot to say about The Force, which obviously I was terribly wrong about. But the other thing was that no one knew what was, you know, the movie starts in chapter 3, we're in a world nobody's ever... knows anything about, he's got all these funny names for people, and I said, "George, you've gotta set this up somehow. Like those scrolls in the Flash Gordon movies." You know, George had that idea, but it was all gobbledygook, basically. So I and Jay Cocks went over the crawl and basically rewrote it. So it made some sense. And that was our contribution.

But, I mean, I said some things very direct to my director friends about their movies that went on to be extremely successful. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong, but they did the same for my movies. I mean, I think when George saw Mission: Impossible, he said, you know, "There's no set-up for this thing. You've gotta set this thing up. 'You're gonna do this. You're gonna do that.You're gonna do that.' You gotta have that scene where they're all sitting around the table and everybody gets their instructions about what's gonna happen." In the beginning, we had this very strange scene. It's hard for me to remember now. But with Voight, and somehow the jealous thing with the wife and Tom and then we got into the first mission and when George saw the movie, it's the first thing he said: "What are these people doing? You know, this is Mission: Impossible, a group of guys going to do stuff. So you've gotta get 'em all around a table and tell the audience what they're supposed to do." And that's what we did. We went back and re-shot it. So that was an example of us helping each other.

Drew: Wow.

Charles: And so is that scene with Jon Voight at the head of the table and Kristin Scott Thomas is off to the side, was she not able to come back for scheduling? It kind of seems like she was sort of isolated in a corner?

De Palma: Correct. An astute student of cinema. In fact, Kristin could not come, so I had to shoot her over to the side, and we doubled her in the master shot with her back to the window.

Drew: Wow.

Charles: I don't think I can take credit, I think someone else pointed that out for me, but...

Lehman: Go ahead, take credit.


Drew: I don't know if you know this, Brian, but we have done, like, over 150 episodes on the Mission: Impossible franchise, and talked to many of your collaborators on the first movie. And they told us everything. No, I'm kidding. So we were wondering, you know it's the 25th anniversary now, and you had an interesting sort of history with writers on this one, too, which is why I'm glad Susan's here to hear about your relationship with other writers.

Lehman: No, I've heard this before.


Drew: Did you use anything from that original Katz and Huyck draft of the movie, or was that just...

De Palma: Which draft are you talking about?

Charles: Supposedly there was a draft that Willard and Gloria Katz did...

De Palma: Correct.

Charles: And did you end up using anything from that?

De Palma: No. What happened was Sydney Pollack worked with them originally. He worked for a year on a draft that was set in the midwest. There was a storm. I don't even remember what it was. But Tom was unhappy with it. And when the head of CAA said to me, "Would you be interested in doing Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise," and I said, "You bet," and they sent me off to... because Sydney wanted to do Sabrina. He wanted to get out of the Mission: Impossible situation. Because it wasn't going well. So Sydney went on to Sabrina, and they plugged me into Mission: Impossible. So I proceeded to work with the Huycks, who I knew way back from working with, you know, George many years ago. And we worked on a version still all set in the United States. I think the... and I don't even quite remember what the mission was, but it had something to do with a storm. And I knew Tom was not gonna like this. I was forced to go through with another draft of this thing where everybody was looking around for new writers to start all over again. And then Paramount had a commitment to Zaillion, and Zaillion and I went off to his office, we smoked a lot of cigarettes, I think we ate a lot of, well, I ate a lot of popcorn, and we worked for a couple of weeks, and we worked out this ten-page treatment of what ultimately became the basis for Mission: Impossible. But then Zaillion had other things he wanted to do so he bailed out. And then I ran into David, who was about to do a remake of something. And I said, "Don't do that! Come over and let's do Mission: Impossible." So he said, "Great." So I handed David this ten-page treatment, and he and I worked out the initial script for Mission: Impossible. That's act number one.

Act number two is, I'm trying to convince Jon... all Paramount wanted to do was make Mission: Impossible. To get Tom Cruise into Mission: Impossible was all they cared about. What the script was, who cares, as long as Tom is in Mission: Impossible. Tom was always having problems with characters or something. And I said, "Tom, you gotta go in and tell Sherry that you're gonna make this movie or we're going nowhere." So ultimately, Tom said okay, we're gonna make this script. And everybody said good, we have a go picture, we're going to London, we're starting to build all the sets. But I got a call the next day, and it was from Paula Wagner. And she said, "The good news is we're all go. The bad news is you have to fire David Koepp." I said, "What?!?" "Because Tom wans to bring on Bob Towne." "Fire David Koepp??" David's never been fired in his life. He's an old friend of mine, and I said, "You've gotta be kidding." "No. That's what Tom wants to do." So I had to call up Dave, I said, "Dave, the good news is, it's a go, the bad news is, you're fired." So what I did was keep David in the loop, let him know what we were doing, when we were starting to go into production, and Towne was up in the hotel for about six weeks, writing God-knows-what. Tom and I used to come in from rehearsals and act out these scenes in front of him. And he would work some more and smoke a few more cigars, and...

Lehman: Are there any tapes of that? Of you and Tom acting out the scenes?

De Palma: I don't think so. Finally, when he had to submit a script, the new script, Paula was appalled. I mean it just didn't work at all. So I said, "We've gotta bring David Koepp back on. And we've gotta take some of the good stuff, the good scenes that Towne had done..." See, what Towne did, he re-wrote the whole script. That's not what needed to be done. The characters had to be fleshed out a little bit. There have to be some clever lines. That's what he did. And then I brought David back on, I made them pay him a lot of money for two weeks. He took what Towne had done and integrated it into his script, and that became the script we shot. Of course, until the famous story about pulling off masks in the boxcar. Which we had a big fight over that. I said, "I've got this big helicopter chase in the tunnel! Him on the train, Voight on the helicopter..." And then Towne looks at me and says, "Oh, one of those, you know, helicopter-going-into-a-tunnel sequences." I said, [sarcastic] "Oh, okay, maybe you're right. Let's do pulling off masks in the boxcar. That's how we'll wrap it up. Great!" And I left it at that. I walked out of the room. And Tom came around and thought that maybe the helicopter thing would be better than pulling the masks off in the boxcar as a finale.

Drew: So how much of the Towne stuff ultimately made it in, would you say? Not much?

De Palma: There were some good Towne lines in there, but basically it's David's script. And I was very disappointed with Towne. But, you know, he has such a great reputation. I was very disappointed in what he did, and then look what he did to the next Mission: Impossible. It's a mess!


Drew: That's true.

De Palma: That is the... no good.

Drew: He was riffing on Hitchcock, though. I mean, did you have any sympathy in that?

De Palma: You mean in the one he did after mine?

Drew: Yeah. It's Notorious.

Charles: Basically, it's Notorious.

De Palma: Yeah, you know, I heard that idea so many times, "Let's do Notorious," blah-di-blah-di-blah. That's what he did, and it was not good.

Charles: When you say you heard that idea so many times, do you mean Tom Cruise was saying to you, "Let's do Notorious"?

De Palma: No, no, this was an idea that Towne had about doing a kind of Notorious element.

Charles: Oh, okay.

De Palma: We all love Notorious, but it didn't work for Mission: Impossible. As you've probably heard.


Charles: You know the sequence in the diner with Jon Voight, when he's revealed to be alive, and Tom Cruise is seeing the truth while Jon Voight lies. I think that Paul Hirsch had some hilarious comments about how critics were dumbed-down from Twister coming out a couple of weeks before [laughing]. He told us about that. But I'm wondering where that... that sequence is so brilliant, and I just love it so much. I'm wondering when did that come about? Was that with Koepp, or was that, you know, when in the process?

De Palma: Now you're getting into an area that I don't quite remember. I remember the way I shot it. And the idea of... I think it must have come from me and David. Because I had this idea that Voight should be saying one thing and Tom should be thinking what the truth was. And then, you know, I had laid out the sequence like that. But I think that's something we had right in the beginning of the script. I guess you can check in the versions David has on his website.

Charles: Yes.

De Palma: In the initial script, and how it changed in the final version.

Lehman: I think those are all included in the De Palma archives, by the way.

De Palma: [laughs] No, they're in the David Koepp archives.

Charles: In one of his earlier scripts, there was a great set piece with a military wedding. Where, you know, Ethan is tricking Kittridge by showing up, and he does a quick change of his outfit to, like, fit in with this whole military wedding that comes out of the church. Do you recall that?

De Palma: No.


De Palma: We had a great sequence where they got one of the members. I think it was...

Charles: Ving Rhames?

De Palma: Ving? I think it was Ving, where he was in prison, and they break him out of prison. We had a great sequence with a, breaking him out of prison, in which they give him a shot so he looks like he's dead, and they bring him up to the roof, and they're gonna incinerate him. And then the helicopter arrives and it saves Ving, you know, from being incinerated, and he becomes... Otherwise, we had the, you know, this, The Seven Samurai recruiting the group.

Charles: Right.

De Palma: We kind of lost all that. We just stuck 'em all on the train, and they were all there. But we had sequences for each one where they're recruited.

Charles: That was never filmed, was it?

De Palma: No. Though, I laid out that sequence at the escape from prison. We were even starting to build a set for that. Which was, it was too much, too expensive. You know, we gotta cut this thing out.

Drew: Wow. But you seem to have had a relatively good time on this movie, all things considered. Correct?

De Palma: [sarcastic] A good time?


Drew: [lughing] Maybe hindsight is making it... yeah, I've heard you talking very warmly about the move recently. I don't know if maybe time has colored your perception of it, but...

De Palma: [ponderous] A good time...

Charles: You made a comment recently about how Carlito's Way and Mission: Impossible might be... I forget the exact phrase that you said, but it was something about you being at the top of your game, you had the biggest, you know, sandbox to play in, and...

De Palma: I had all the, you know, all the great things that you [want to have] when you make a big studio movie. You know, all the great technicians, all the great...all the money, you know, big stars. Yeah! you know, you can make something extraordinary. But it was like, after it was over, I said, get me outta here. Talk about stress in order to get the thing done.

Posted by Geoff at 3:55 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, June 26, 2021 4:11 PM CDT
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Friday, June 25, 2021

With the paperback edition of Are Snakes Necessary? coming July 13th, Hard Case Crime set up an interview with co-authors Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman for the Light The Fuse podcast. Part one of that interview was posted Friday (YouTube version embedded below). The original discussion about Are Snakes Necessary? included spoilers, but at the request of Lehman, podcast hosts Charles Hood and Drew Taylor cut out the spoiler portions. Here's a partial transcript of the episode's discussion around the novel:
Drew: Well, I was going to ask if this was ever conceived as a movie, but it sounds like it was always a book.

De Palma: Well, you write a lot of scripts that never get done. Then you've got a lot of ideas that are sitting on a shelf somewhere, or in a computer. And you say, well, this movie never got made, but maybe we can use this idea in a book. And that's sort of how it evolved.

Drew: Okay. And what was the collaborative process like?

Lehman: A lot of fun.

Drew [laughter from Charles]: Really? Okay.

De Palma: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. I would basically write some stuff and send it off to Susan, and she would rewrite it and then send it back to me.

Lehman: Brian, as you can imagine, has a very visual imagination and a great eye for story structure. And so he put down the tent poles, and then we sent it back-and-forth. And we kind of played a game, which was send it back-and-forth and see if you can amuse the other person more than you were amused.

Charles: Did you have an ending from the start?

Lehman: No, we were a couple of pages short, so... [she laughs]

[some other laughter]

De Palma: What do you mean a couple of pages short?

Lehman: As I recall, [we were at this some time?]...

De Palma: And?

Lehman: I think there was a whole section that we just decided to add on after we'd sort of mapped everything out.

De Palma: Sounds good to me.

Charles: Was it the whole Paris section or something? Or was it one of the characters that you were following?

De Palma: Well, we had some broad ideas...

Lehman: It's that kind of attention to detail that makes Brian remiss.


De Palma: You know, we had the political story, and then when we got the deCarlo character involved, then we got into her doing the column.

Lehman: And I think the final revenge, I think we took the revenge up a notch there at the end.

Charles: What was the biggest challenge of writing together? Or I guess, in writing your first novel, in general?

De Palma: Well, as you can imagine, we had a lot of time together, and it sort of fills out the day. Because, I sort of wake up very early in the morning, I have all kinds of ideas, and I sort of go to the computer and write them down, and then I sort of confer with Susan, and... sometimes I'm either developing a screenplay, but then, I have all these other ideas from the other screenplays, and it's a kind of unique collaboration, because Susan kind of fits it to the things I don't have. You know, I'm a visual storyteller, and blah-di-blah-di-blah. And she's able to get the characters' meat on the bone. You know, in movies, you just say, "He...", "She...", "The reporter...", you know, and you're very... sketching things in, because when the actors come in, they give the body to the character. But Susan did a lot of this, filling in the characters and their backstories.

Drew: The book came out a year ago, and we're nearing the paperback release. Is there going to be a followup? Are there going to be more of these books?

Lehman: Many many more.

De Palma: Yes. We, in our confinement, came up with another idea for a book, and we've been working on that for quite a while. So...

Lehman: It's finished.

De Palma: Yes, it's finished.

Charles: That's great!

De Palma: When our public calls out to us, we will release it.


Charles: Well, we'd love to see this, for sure, I hope that happens.

Drew: Yeah, we're calling out for it.

Charles: I'm interested to know: the book feels so much like a Brian De Palma movie, but also has more... it feels like a lot of your movies are so laser-focused on the narrative of a singular character or a couple of characters. This is much more of an ensemble. It's almost like a Brian De Palma movie by way of, like, Robert Altman, almost, with all these different characters. Was that always...

Lehman: Who gets to be the Robert Altman character in this portrayal?


Charles: Was that always the idea? Or did it start... I know a lot of your movies are like sequences that you start from and then build around. Was it more like that? Or how did the whole thing begin?

De Palma: What happens when you can't answer these questions?


Lehman: You ask me for help.

De Palma: Okay.

Lehman: So Brian had a number of ideas. The book is built around set pieces that are easily recognizable as trademark De Palma moments. The Eiffel Tower is one, and there are others. And so, I think... Brian plots things... he's a really good plotter. Like, he knows exactly how things are going to be structured, and how different scenes are going to speak to other ones. So I think we started with his basic idea. Structural idea. And then we played around with it a lot. Is that accurate?

De Palma: Yeah. You have to explain "played around."

Lehman: Well, we made up new characters, and we complicated their stories, and we, you know, twisted...

De Palma: Washed them out...

Lehman: Twisted their pathways to one another.

De Palma: And had many laughs doing it.

Drew: Susan, would you agree with the laughs part?

Lehman: Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. I mean, writing with somebody is, especially if the somebody is Brian, takes all the loneliness of writing alone, and removes that, and replaces it with, you know, a sense of mischief and play.

Charles: Right.

Lehman: I really recommend it.

De Palma: If you have the right partner.

Drew: Were any of these set pieces left over from projects that you either couldn't fit into projects that were already completed, or, you know, from abandoned projects as well?

De Palma: Well, that's hard to answer-- I'm trying to think...

Lehman: I think Brian operates with a ragtag bag of tricks and ideas. I mean, he's always working. He has a million ideas, a treasure trove of unproduced scripts, and some are filled with good ideas, and some probably are filled with less-good ideas.

De Palma: They're all filled with great ideas. [Susan laughs, then the others laugh, too]

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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