Thursday, June 25, 2009

Adam Lefevre on “Tadpole”

How did you get involved in Tadpole?

ADAM LEFEVRE: I worked on Tadpole for two days.

This was not one that you do for the paycheck. I think I got paid for Tadpole about what I got paid for Secaucus Seven. But I was very drawn to the script; I liked Gary Winick very much when we met. And with that cast, it was hard to say no, and I didn't want to say no.

The scenes that I was in were shot in Gary's mother's apartment in the city -- and I guess it's safe to say this now, because they can't come after here -- the day before my first day of shooting I got a call from an AD saying, 'Don't come to the apartment. There's a Starbucks across the street, and someone will come meet you, because you have to be snuck up the service elevator,' because the Condo board would not give them permission to shoot in her apartment.

It was sort of like a CIA operation; I waited at the Starbucks and an AD came over and said, 'Are you Adam?" I said, 'Yeah.' He said, "Then come with me,' and we went up to the room.

How was the experience, shooting this as a digital movie?

ADAM LEFEVRE: This was the first digital movie I'd worked on, and it had very much the same kind of feeling as working Secaucus Seven. The budget was very limited and the script was tightly written. And it was great fun.

There were no trailers to go into between shot. When I was waiting, I sat on the couch in Gary's mother's apartment and chatted with Bebe Neuwirth. There were no frills; hair and make-up were done in one of the bathrooms.

When everyone is doing that, it's clear that they're there for some reason other than the paycheck, and sometimes that can be very helpful. There's less of a hierarchy that you feel on a big-budget movie with big stars.

In this case, everybody is basically working for peanuts and suffering the same kinds of lack of frills. You're doing it because you believe in the project, and, quite frankly, because it's fun.

What are the advantages of working in the digital realm?

ADAM LEFEVRE: One of the advantages of digital is that you don't have to wait for it to be developed. You look at it and see what you've got, right then.

The pressure that you have to get it right the first time is a terrible, paralyzing thing to foist on oneself or have anyone else foist on you. As an actor, what we learn to do -- both on stage and screen -- is to be as prepared as you can be, in terms of knowing who this person is that you're playing. I don't exactly know what 'getting it right' means. You don't want to fuck up your lines, but if you are honestly in the moment and just go with that, trust your own instincts as an actor and be just as authentic and present in the moment, you can't really fuck up.

Even if you're working on a film where you may get only one take, if you are playing it honestly and comfortably in the moment, that's maybe all you need.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lesli Linka Glatter on "The West Wing"

You've directed a lot of great TV shows. I tried to narrow down just one of the shows you've worked on. And since I'm such an Aaron Sorkin fan --

LESLI: Oh my God, so am I.

Then I hope you'll indulge me and talk about your experiences on The West Wing.

LESLI: I think the reason The West Wing was amazing to do, on a directorial level, was because the producing director on the show -- Tommy Schlamme, a fantastic director and a wonderful person -- encouraged directors to come in and make it their movie.

There are many people who work in TV who want it to look like everybody else's show. But I really think the best shows do what Tommy did. To say to filmmakers, "Come in and make it your movie." And that's what he did.

That's very evident on that show. They're all different.

LESLI: They're all different. As a director, you were encouraged to do what you wanted to do. If you wanted to put five scenes together and do it as one shot, you could. It was great.

It was very intimidating the first time I got Aaron's script and I looked at the first scene I was going to be directing on my first day. It was a seven-page scene, with about ten or eleven characters, and the only stage direction was "He enters."

I just thought, "Oh my God." I had to read it about ten times to figure out what the scene was about: What's the subtext, what's the text, what's really going on underneath here.

It was thrilling and terrifying and exhilarating and amazing.

What is your preparation process like in a case like that? You get the script and then what?

LESLI: The first thing I do in any prep process is I start breaking the script down in terms of what is the theme? What is this really about? Once I figure out the theme, I start to figure out how I'm going to deal with it visually. But until I really know what it's about in a deep way, I can't even begin to figure that out.

How long does that take?

LESLI: That's ongoing. The first couple of days I focus on the script as much as I can. You're going to have to deal with production stuff no matter what. You have to start the casting process and have a concept meeting about if there have to be huge sets built. A lot of The West Wing episodes I did were really big, so there were tons of locations, so there was a lot of scouting. Plus half of the show shoots in Washington, DC, so there were all sorts of production issues and decisions.

Usually what I would do in terms of actual shot lists is that I would come in on the weekend. And I still do that, even though I'd love to have my weekends to myself. I find that during the week, with a TV pre-production schedule, I don't have time to do that. So the weekends are my creative time.

If it takes place on a set, I'll go to the set. I'll walk around, I'll imagine the scene, I'll figure out the angles, I'll see the scene.

For me, it's completely about standing in the space. That's what I do.

I have a lot of director friends who wouldn't even consider going in like that. They think I'm insane. But for me, that's my process. For other TV shows, they just want you to come in and fulfill what they've set up. That doesn't seem too interesting to me.

In the case of The West Wing, how much rehearsal time did you get with the actors?

LESLI: You only get it on the set. That was a show where they would rehearse a lot. This is unusual in TV. You'd get probably an hour. That is considered a long rehearsal. It's not like doing a film.

But then, these actors know the characters. So you have to direct them in the scene, but they're not figuring out who their characters are. They're figuring what their behavior is. So that is a different process.

During post, how involved were you in the editing?

LESLI: Very involved. You have a certain amount of time, per the contract with the Directors Guild, to go in and edit. I didn't have my cuts changed very much. Ultimately, the final cut is Aaron's and Tommy's. When the buck stopped, it stopped with them. But they were respectful. I think they want you to come in having done it well, so that they don't have to re-do it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stephen Belber on "Tape"

Where were you in your career before you wrote Tape?

I was not highly far along. I had just quit my day-job to work on The Laramie Project. It was the year that we were researching the murder of Matthew Shepard. I was going out to Laramie every couple of months and then coming home. So I was just starting to get paid. I had been writing plays for a long time, I'd come out of the Playwright Fellowship program at Julliard, but I was sort of adrift and not sure.

And then Tape came along. It was not one of the big plays I was planning on writing or was working on. It was something were two old friends of mine came along and they wanted to showcase themselves as actors in the New York theater world, and they said, 'Can you write us something that can really show what we can do?"

So I really wrote it for them and then one of the actors was dating this girl, so I added her because it got boring with two guys after awhile. So it wasn't like, "I'm going to write this big play." I was just doing it because I liked these guys and I liked their work and it was fun.

What was your day-to-day writing process?

I guess I'm pretty intense when I come across an idea and I don't sort of do an hour a day. My wife is French and we were living over in France, in these guys' apartment while they were out of town. She was working on a job, and I was transcribing tapes for Laramie. And as soon as I got done with my current load, I dove into this.

I remember trying to describe this idea: A comedy about date rape was how I was forming it at the time. And she sort of laughed me off and said I should come up with a different idea. But I was able to keep writing; I remember starting over at one point, fairly early on and scraping what I had when I came up with the idea that she might show up. I was writing by hand at that time. I like to get really into it when I'm writing and get a first draft done as soon as possible, and then go back in and work on it.

And you're able to do that even if you don't know exactly where you're going?

Yeah. I had, at the time, a philosophy that when you're dealing with those types of tight friendships, where you don't know yourself where the conversation is going, that it would be truer and more genuine to write within that vein and to have a general goalpost that you were headed for, but to let the turns happen.

If you're writing quickly enough in your mind, and keeping up with your pen, let those twists and turns come at you, almost as quickly as they're coming at the characters. At least for this type of play, where it's sort of down and dirty.

When you were adapting it into a film script, was there ever any talk of "opening it up"?

There was briefly talk about it. That would be the first instinct for any filmmaker. That's the great thing about Linklater. We talked a little bit about opening it up, but his inclination was definitely not to, that it was going to be more interesting to keep it enclosed.

The problem was how do you not repeat the theatrically that comes when you try to film a play, because so often it doesn't work. Because of the DV cameras that were sort of new at the time, which allowed you to go into a motel room or a soundstage that really felt like a motel room, that he was going to be able to capture a cinematic way of telling the story. So, very briefly only did we talk about doing some exterior stuff, which made me delighted, because I was worried that they were going to ask me to write stuff that didn't fit this play.

What I love about the movie is that it raises more questions than it answers, and most movies aren't willing to do that.

Well, that's the golden rule is to tie it up and provide those answers. And even in playwriting, I think, it's a very fine line. Audiences will feel ripped off if you're intentionally ambiguous for the sake of it. If ambiguity serves a purpose, at the risk of sounding pretentious, it's to turn it around and challenge them to ask themselves, 'What would I do in that situation? What have I done in past situations? And what have I done about those things?' That does seem to serve a purpose, and if nothing else the movie does poke it back at you, and it's so pointed at a particular generation were the words date rape just became a phrase.

My wife translated it into French and there is no expression for date rape there in that country yet. And it's relatively new to America. So I think the people who respond to this movie are people who have grown up with those words.

So, in terms of adaptation, it sounds like you basically handed Linklater the script to the play and said 'Have at it.'

Yeah, he was great that way. It was the opposite of what you expect the Hollywood machine to do to your work. Basically, the put it in Final Draft form. Robert Sean Leonard's character was originally Jewish; he makes a crack about himself being Jewish, but we didn't think we could pass off him as that. We also changed his name. There were also one or two cultural references which we thought would potentially date the film, so we cut a couple lines, one about David Hasselhoff.

Do you ever put a script in a drawer for a while?

Oh, absolutely. I have about twenty-five things in a drawer right now.

I think if I had put Tape in a drawer at that point I would never have gone back, because it's not the heftiest play. But I know that it hit a chord with people, because it was compact. I always complain when I see plays that are successful that they aren't as deep and profound as they should be, but that's not what audiences necessarily want or connect to. It has a tightness that is very satisfying and a compactness, and at an hour twenty, it definitely had that.

Did you learn anything from this process that you've taken to other projects?

Yes. I think letting a degree of spontaneity into my writing, which was something that I had excised at Julliard. Learning to let that back in. And knowing that that makes for better writing.

I learned that there is a market and an audience out there for dialogue-heavy films and character-driven films, and that this fast give-and-take actually can work. Everyone says it's so theatrical that it doesn't work, but if you put it out there, an audience will follow it. It's not particularly complex, it's not Tom Stoppard. But we're used to it and we can be conditioned, as filmgoers, to follow and like it.

And that drama doesn't come from just visuals. Drama comes from classic dramatic structure and shifts in emotions.

Dialogue that's fun and appropriate to the contemporary world is something that audiences will respond to.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Roger Corman on "Targets"

How did you come to produce Targets?

ROGER CORMAN: As a result of various complications in a contract, Boris Karloff owed me several days' work. So I wanted to do a horror film, starring Boris Karloff, in which he would only work for those days.

Peter Bogdanovich had been my assistant. (My assistant before that was Francis Coppola and after Francis had worked for me on a few films, I gave him a chance to direct.) I did the same thing with Peter. I said, 'Here's the problem: The picture must star Boris Karloff, but he can only work for these days.'

And Peter came up with the idea of Boris as an actor doing a traditional horror film, and in that way we could take some footage out of some of the horror films that Boris had done for me before, and also cut away to the boy and tell a parallel story.

The film has a couple of really long, continuous takes, which seem to go against your rule of getting proper coverage.

ROGER CORMAN: It goes a little bit against my rules, but on the other hand, all rules are made to be broken. I do like to get coverage, to get as much coverage as possible. Yet, at the same time, when you're on a very tight schedule, sometimes you have to sacrifice coverage. And when you do that, sometimes you can make a virtue out of necessity.

What was it that made you feel Bogdanovich could pull off this directing debut?

ROGER CORMAN: Peter is highly intelligent, and he had a great knowledge of film. He had written some added scenes for me on previous pictures, and had directed some second unit, so I was aware of his ability as a second unit director and his ability as a writer.

I had the feeling that he had the talent.