COFFEE TALK: DIRECTORS SHARE STORIES FROM THE FRONT
Last week we caught up on all the Festival movies our guest bloggers blogged about. This week, we catch up on all the great panels and talks from the 2012 LA Film Fest, giving you an inside look at what directors Lawrence Kasdan and Catherine Hardwicke had to say about movie-making firsthand.
So you wanna be a director…
“You have to sell the studio on your movie,” Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen) told a packed house during the Los Angeles Film Festival’s annual Directors Coffee Talk. “I’ve made marketing trailers for every movie I’ve made.”
“You’re always convincing the studio to make the movie,” added Lawrence Kasdan (Darling Companion, Body Heat, The Big Chill). “Even when you’re making it.”
“And you have to keep doing it every week,” said Hardwicke. “Here’s another audience, here’s how we can make money with the music, or let me shoot a webisode.”
Hardwicke, Kasdan and moderator/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) recounted stories from throughout their careers — from the beginning to what they’re working on now.
“I knew I had to do everything myself,” Hardwicke said about getting started as a director after a career as a production designer. “So I was taking acting classes for five years, and learning Final Cut Pro, and shooting these little things in my house.”
“Every one has a different story,” said Kasdan. “You can spend your whole life trying to get one screenplay made.”
That’s why an aspiring filmmaker should “make a movie with what you have to work with,” said Johnson. Changes in technology have dropped the floor down to make that possible.
In case any of this sounds discouraging, Kasdan added, “I’ve had great fun on all 11 movies I’ve directed. Basically, I’ve been ecstatic to be on the set – it’s a dream come true.”
And that’s true for Kasdan despite the down times. “Darling Companion was considered a failure by Warner Bros., and I went through self-recrimination. You never remember a good review, but you always remember a bad review.”
Kasdan also said it’s the natural trajectory of critical response that the new, fresh voice is well received, but once a director has been around awhile, critics can be harsh. “Having a long career in Hollywood is a bitch.”
What about those critics and test screenings?
Hardwicke depends on small, private screenings and anonymous, written questionnaires. Sometimes, these questionnaires help her make decisions for the final cut. “Have at least 10-12 people write their honest thoughts. Don’t have a conversation with them.”
Hardwicke used this approach for Twilight. “I was always looking online and I saw how sensitive the fan base was to every photograph.” So Hardwicke organized a small screening for teenagers she recruited and swore to secrecy. “But Twilight wasn’t Twilight then. Every studio had turned it down. An indie company believed in it.”
“It takes a lot of courage to be really open to the process,” said Kasdan. “I had a bad experience where I recut a movie based on the research. The Accidental Tourist never tested well, but went on to win Best Picture from the New York Film Critics.”
There were questions about working with composers, about combining popular music with a score, about acting coaches, and even about Cahiers du cinema film criticism. “There’s a big difference between film criticism and the movie reviews of today,” answered Kasdan.
Another audience member asked about the difference between directing a script they’d written vs. directing someone else’s work. “You never have to ask yourself, ‘How are we supposed to do this?’ on your own script, because you’ve made the movie in your head a hundred times,” said Kasdan. But every time he makes a movie based on another writer’s work, he’ll have that writer on set so he can ask this exact question.
Parting words of wisdom
One of the final questions was addressed to Hardwicke: Did she have any words of advice for aspiring women directors? “Sex change. Even after Twilight, when I’d want to meet someone to pitch myself, I’ve been told ‘they really want a guy to direct.’ There is a barrier, and I don’t know what to do about it,” she said.
The filmmakers agreed that being a director takes courage and persistence at every level, even after incredible success. “It took a year and a half for me to get my next movie after Twilight,” Hardwicke noted.
“It takes the same amount of persistence every time,” Kasdan concluded. “It’s a hard path, but it’s heaven.”
—by Pamela Ezell for Film Independent
July 3rd, 2012 • No Comments