Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Casting the right roles, part of 2010 SBIFF Directors' Panel: On Directing.
(Music playing.) Peter Bart: Gentleman, Sigourney Weaver said to me that she was so awaiting nervously to see Avatar and finally she is invited into a screening room and there is the Governor and Steven Spielberg and she saw this picture and she said, "I was just astonished, that I thought to myself, James nailed it. It's amazing." When that kind of screening occurs the first time, were you apprehensive nervous? James Cameron: I don't know about that kind of screening.
It was kind of a unique moment in my life. I happened to be good friends with Arnold and I've got even closer with Steven as a result of him being very curious about the performance capture methods and using them on his Tintin film and he had already shot Tintin at that point. And he sort of wanted to-- he asked me when I finally screen the completed film, could he be there? And I hadn't seen the film from end to end. That was actually the first time I saw it in 3D from start to finish. So, in a way I was trepidatious going into that screening.
But I also had promised both of them that they would be there. So it was a unique screening and I was there with my cast. And within the first two minutes, the cast started to react. Sam especially, who is a huge movie fan. He wants to be an actor or he is an actor because he loves movies, he is a fan of movies, which is why he doesn't mind making action movies and he doesn't sort of create that two tiered thing that actors do. Well I'll do this one for the art and I'll do this one for the money. He does it all for the art and for the money.
I don't think he cares much about the money. But anyway, he is chortling away and cackling away through the whole movie and Sigourney is leaning forward like this the whole time. And I was going more off the energy of the house so to speak, and I actually really enjoyed the film. And I know that sounds strange. But making the movie was with so, so many tiny finite processes, it was like doing a pointillist painting and then stepping back and seeing that it in fact was a painting. So that was a unique screening in my life because it was the first time I actually sort of watched the film.
Peter Bart: Well, I find actors as a group and alone are sort of both thrilled and disturbed by it, because they don't quite seem to know, this is evidenced by its conversation at the SAG or what, they didn't quite know how to judge the performance of actors in the context of your show. James Cameron: Well, there's this sort of conceit that photography is pure and performance capture os an adulterated form of acting. When in fact, I would submit that photography is subject to the administrations of the DP, makeup, hair, wardrobe, editing and all of those things that make it an art-form.
And that there is in fact a purity to the performance capture because you can't lie in performance capture. I actually discovered that my stuntman, my stunt coordinator had a leg injury from watching his motion. I said, what's wrong and why are you limping? It wasn't apparent visually, but it was apparent when you watched the motion. And you can't hide from a close-up that's 100% of the time. So the actors have to bring their A game every time. Every time they're up to bat in a scene. And the focus of the day is 100% performance.
So, if you think about the way that in a live action shoot, the director's time and energy is compromised by setting up dolly track, worrying about where the sun is, worrying about what the background characters are doing and all those things. And maybe only 50%, charitably, of your time can actually be directed at 100%, I mean, directed to performance. On a performance capture day, your time is 100% about performance and the actor's time is a 100% about performance. So, there are things that make it a very pure form of acting. But the community doesn't understand that yet.
There's a learning curve. Peter Bart: Well, it seems to me the opposite end of the spectrum from the way your director, your actors interact with the camera, is Todd Phillips, where I get a feeling that you put these goofy guys in a room and just say "lose it!" (Laughter.) Todd Phillips: I think people think that a lot and to some extent we do. You let people-- I often say I feel like I make movies about mayhem and to make a movie about mayhem, you have to kind of have that feeling on the set.
So, I definitely let them loose and you would be I think a poor comedy director if you're hire Zach or Will Farrell or Vince Vaughn, all these guys I have worked with over the years and said "no, no just read it and do it just like that." We always say, comedy, it's not math, it's jazz and it's something that's kind of a little more free form. Peter Bart: In casting "The Hangover," you did deliberately-- You go with an interesting bunch of guys who aren't big stars and you sort of made them stars. Now did you deliberately steer away from choosing stars for that picture? Todd Phillips: I honestly I did.
I felt like a lot of the comedies that we've been seeing in the last three or four years had a lot of the same kind of 8 faces switched up and put together in different formulas. But I thought there was something about-- Actors I think bring baggage with them of other movies and other performances. And I think oftentimes when an audience comes in and they see Ben Stiller, they almost have their arms crossed and they go all right, Ben, show me what you can do this time. And it almost takes, he has to work harder. It almost takes him the first 8 or 10 minutes of the movie to win them over.
And then they're like okay, I'm on for this ride. And with new guys, I always felt like when we did these screenings they kind of come in with open arms and it's just sort of the right vibe it feels for the comedies that I like and that I was doing. And these guys, Zach is somebody I have known for 10 years and I just wanted to find the right project for him. Peter Bart: But again Kathryn, in choosing you didn't go with stars. You could afford them, but you didn't go. But your casting is amazing. You're just right on the nose every time. Did you go through a long process of auditions and discussions? Kathryn Bigelow: Well, that was kind of the intention going in, which is not to cast known actors.
For very much the same reason, that kind of baggage. In other words you're looking at in this case of drama, a war film, and you don't want to have any preconceptions about who's going to live and who's going to die, who's vulnerable, whose invulnerable, where you can have that even unconsciously with an actor you are very familiar with. It's like, oh, he can't die till the last act, or a noble, heroic death if he does. So that was the intention going in, that they have that unfamiliarity, which I think underscored tension and suspense and then it's a matter of finding the extraordinary breakout talent, which I think we were lucky to do in Jeremy, Anthony and Brian.
Peter Bart: You have made a few careers. James Cameron: But you did something interesting, which is that you also played against our expectations like casting Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes. Those guys aren't going to die. They're the movie stars and boom, you blow up Guy Pearce in the first 45 seconds. So, it's like all bets are off after that. Kathryn Bigelow: That was the intention. James Cameron: Yes, exactly. I know. (Laughter.) Peter Bart: Lee, there was a brief moment-- You're such a good- natured and good spirited guy. But there was a brief moment after your picture was released when some here and there African-American intellectuals decided that your picture depicted blacks in a negative way.
Lee Daniels: Why do you want to start this? (Laughter.) I'm having a good day. (Laughter.) I am with all these pretty white people. (Laughter.) James Cameron: There you go! (Laughter.) Peter Bart: I thought it's the right moment to turn him loose. As I say, a good-natured person, were you in any way disturbed by that initial buzz? Lee Daniels: I was, I was because I think that he missed the point.
There's no way for us to grow as black people if we don't address problems that are at home and I think that Precious's story is not a black story. It's a universal story. It's a story that Jewish people, that Chinese people, that white people. This is a, it's a bigger-- he missed it. But I ain't going to miss him when I see him. (Laughter.) James Cameron: Take it personally. Hell yeah.
(Laughter.) Peter Bart: Well you too, of course, have an amazing cast of characters. I've heard you tell about how you managed to select them. But that is you've made some stars too, man. I'm sure there's a sense of togetherness that your picture has that no other film does. Lee Daniels: Thank you! I'm really proud of Mariah. I'm very proud of her work in it.
I'm very proud of Mo'Nique's work in it. Thank you. (Applause.) I think that she, these actors don't, most actors don't get a chance now. I'm meeting with movie stars now that are unemployed sometimes and it's a bizarre sort of the place to be in. And especially the likes Mo'Nique, who pretty much didn't have a job as an actor prior to Precious.
They give their souls because this is like a one-shot opportunity for African-Americans to work. Paula Patton. We don't have jobs. So, this was a time for everybody to showoff and they did. Peter Bart: Pete, you have a right to look smug because you could be the best-- (Laughter.) You could be the Best Animated Picture, the Best Picture picture. I mean you can't lose this year. Do you really care which of those categories you win, since obviously you win, maybe win both? Pete Docter: Well, I mean, I'm just happy to be here.
(Laughter.) We always look at our films as not in any special category. A lot of people say, oh, my kids love your movies or whatever. I mean, that's great! We certainly try to make it work for kids as well, but we always think of them first and foremost just as films. They have the same responsibility as any other film and that is to reach people and talk to people. So, that nomination was particularly meaningful to us. That and the writing as well, because our films, this one took five years and three of those is focused just on the story, just working and reworking the story.
We do a lot of story reels, which is like a comic book version of the film with temporary music and dialogue and sound effects, and that's an extension of the script process for us. So, it takes a lot of work, a lot of effort and that was very meaningful. Peter Bart: But since you're not working on a limited budget, say like Kathryn, and you can stop anytime and try to make it better. I should think that would be a temptation just to keep dicking around with the picture for years. Pete Docter: Well, actually we're working on a limited budget. Surprising to people, but we have the same constraints as anybody else.
Now, having said that, we can go back to people and say we need a little more time here or whatever. But, yes. I mean there are certain parts of the film that just crystallize right away. We found this sequence that was the first one we storyboarded. It was as Carl goes up, where the nurses knock on the door and he ends up ripping the house and floating through the city. And that seemed to just crystallize what I was after for the feeling of the film and that came out very quickly. Other parts, it took 50 times at least of rewriting for the scene where they meet the Christopher Plummer character.
So you just never know and the part I guess when you know you're done is when it works, when it hits you and the other directors-- That's the other aspect of working at Pixar that's really great is I get to show stuff to Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton and all these are the guys who are on staff. And they are the people I get notes from instead of executives. Lee Daniels: Nice. Pete Docter: Don't hate me. (Laughter.) Peter Bart: Now Todd, I know you're a funny guy who makes funny movies.
Why are comedians and funny guys by and large, manic-depressives? (Laughter.) Todd Phillips: Wait, wait I forgot that. What? No, I don't know that. I think that they get a bad wrap. I know a lot of guys in comedy obviously and I don't think that they're all manic-depressives.
But I do think people always look to them to cheer them up and so when they're on their regular setting and they don't want unnecessarily be the clowns. Maybe that's something that, maybe that speaks to it a little bit. But I don't find them, all of them, as tortured individuals. But it is a rough business, I think comedy and a lot of the guys that I've worked with came up through standup and I know that breeds a whole different kind of comic, and I'm trying. I'm just thinking of the guys and I mean, none of them really feels like manic-depressives to me.