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AT LACMA Fri 9.25.2015

Ramin Bahrani Shares Stories from Making of 99 Homes


Recently, writer-director Ramin Bahrani graced the Film Independent at LACMA stage for a conversation with Elvis Mitchell following a screening of his new film 99 Homes. Bahrani’s taut thriller about a man’s desperate attempt to save his family home during the subprime mortgage crisis features memorable performances from Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield.

Bahrani was in top form on the evening and shared a number of stories about the making of his latest opus.

On his first encounter with Michael Shannon:
“I saw him in a lobby at the Venice Film Festival. He was there for My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, and I grabbed him by the shoulders and said ‘I have to work with you!’ I sent him the script and he liked it.”

On combining the talents of two actors with very different styles:
“Michael has a very different acting style than Andrew. I saw Andrew onstage with Death of A Salesman. Andrew’s loose and he changes from take to take; Michael comes in like a bulldog. It was great watching them play off of each other. They both had a deep respect for each other.”

On the three-minute Steadicam shot that opens the film:
“I’d never used a Steadicam before. I knew from the script stage that it had to be one long shot. It’s Michael Shannon and he’s one of the greatest actors in the world and he needed to be let loose like bull.”

On keeping Garfield guessing:
Bahrani is known for casting non-actors. For a montage of Garfield knocking on the doors of homes served with eviction notices, Bahrani knew the sequence needed something extra. “It’s got to have the weight of the country behind what they’re doing. So when Andrew is knocking on doors, those were a mix of actors and real people, non-actors in real homes. Andrew didn’t know who was an actor and who was real.”

On the research he did for the story:
“I like to learn about worlds I don’t know about. I read 400 to 500 articles about the housing crisis. I went to Florida, which was one of the top four epicenters of the housing crisis.” Bahrani said he sat in on eviction court cases in Florida and quickly realized the majority of cases were only given 60 seconds before the judge made a decision. The judge was ruling against case after case until he noticed Bahrani in the courtroom. “All of a sudden, cases started winning and I was told it was because the judge thought I was a reporter from the New York Times because I was taking notes,” said Bahrani. “All of the things you’re seeing in the film are based on things I witnessed.”

On his references for 99 Homes:
The Grapes of Wrath, On the Waterfront, Death of A Salesman, and Rocco and His Brothers, were among Bahrani’s sources of inspiration for 99 Homes.

On who he empathizes with in the film:
Bahrani said Garfield’s character, Dennis Nash, is forced to “walk a moral tightrope in the film,” whereas Shannon’s Rick Carver is the embodiment of greed. “I actually really empathize with Michael’s character,” said Bahrani. “I guarantee that no one in kindergarten says ‘I want to give out eviction notices.’”

On which presidential candidate he’d most like to see the film:
“I hope to god Donald Trump sees the film,” said Bahrani.

99 Homes is now playing in select theaters.

Lee Jameson / Film Education Manager

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