Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Filmmaking and anxiety, part of 2012 SBIFF Directors' Panel: Directors on Directing.
Peter Bart: In the filmmaking process, which element, which decision in the process do you find most anxiety producing? And tangential to that is a related question: How the hell do you know when a movie is really done, I mean when you stop shooting, when you stop editing, when you finally say, okay, I am at the mercy of the idiots in marketing? So Gore, could you start with either of those two questions, and then we would go down? Gore Verbinski: Well, it's been very bizarre to make an animated movie, so a completely different experience than a live action movie.
I think the anxiety in Rango was when people said, you have to put actors in a room in front of a microphone one at a time. I think there was tremendous fear. And then there was sort of, wait, we don't need--why is that a rule? Why do we give up a process that we use all the time, we are comfortable with? So we had twenty days, put everybody together in one room. Everybody comes to set with a plan, with an agenda.
I mean, as a director you come with your shots and you have how you see the film exactly, and then every actor comes in and kind of has drawn notes in their script and has a line reading that they think they're going to do on that day. But when you collide all that stuff together, you say something that I didn't think you were going to say, and then I don't say exactly what my intention was in response to that. So I think the anxiety on Rango was with this animation process that we just sort of said, we are not going to do. We are not going to play by those rules.
Then I think the reward was having the actors kind of do this bizarre Montessori school play, where they showed up and they put on rubber guns and a hat, but you're basically in street clothes and the boom man is in every shot because it's just about the audio track. So they were running around, and it's very childish, and they were doing ten pages of dialog a day instead of two. So there was a journey there. Peter Bart: I've got to ask, was Johnny Depp, whose persona is somewhat opaque anyway, was he comfortable with the process of being a voice? Gore Verbinski: I think what was uncomfortable for Johnny in this process is that he is part lizard.
I mean, he is really--and we kind of caged and plucked and prodded and extracted this kind of reptilian juice that we use then and is the lifeblood of this entire endeavor. But there's no place to hide when you're in street clothes. You're not going to have lizard eyes. You don't have any of the stuff. So I think there was a little bit of extra bravery required on his part. Also, actors, when we do these larger movies, they're going to their trailer, there's forty-five minutes, they come out, they do two lines, you're re-rigging something, they come back.
It's so bitty and piecemeal, because there's usually some boat blowing up in the background or something. So to come and do ten pages, and as many times as you say you have to be off-book, this is going to be differently, I think everybody--the first day everybody has got their sides crumbled up and like, whoa, ten pages. By the end I think they were sort of, oh yeah, acting, and that feels good. We get to, like, do whole scenes. So there was a transformation. I think by the end everybody had a great time, but certainly the first couple of days were a bit rocky.
Peter Bart: So I would love to be at the meeting when Gore explained to Johnny Depp who Tonto is, but that's a later discussion, with the next movie. Michel, in the end process, which decisions were the most anxiety producing for you? Michel Hazanavicius: Anxiety is not really a motivation for me. Peter Bart: How about fear and loathing? Michel Hazanavicius: No, I mean, what's really scary with that movie was financing it.
And actually what I did, I said to the first AD, we've got to go to the office every day, even if they don't say yes, if they don't say a no, it's like a yes. So we'd go the office every day. So we went here in Los Angeles to scout for location and everything, so we started the preparation, and we got some money, but we didn't have enough money. So every morning, because of the jet lag, every morning I had like three message from my producer.
This was really scary, because I thought, okay, this is--we have to go back to France, and it's done. Actually, we found a way. I mean, he found a way. He put his own personal money to fill the gap of the budget, and I agreed. Gore Verbinski: Informatiche. Michel Hazanavicius: Yeah, exactly Informatiche, it's exactly what it is like. And I agreed to make the film in thirty-five days.
So we found the combination to make it. But to me, I don't know if it's about anxiety, but the most important thing is what you said just before. When you choose a movie, I think it's the most important, because you have a hunch of what could be the movie, but nobody worked on it really. So you have to, maybe because I write it and direct it, there is nothing at the beginning, so you have to--you take a decision without knowing exactly what will be the movie.
That could be scary. Peter Bart: Well said! Paul. Paul Feig: For me, the biggest anxiety is the script, is getting the script right. And I find--because I always feel that in any movie, especially the one that doesn't work, well, mostly ones that don't work, there is what I like to call the fatal flaw, which is, there is something that we overlooked, and it can be something as silly as the monster is designed wrong, or in Hook, Robin Williams' hair is crazy, when he is Peter Pan, but that then just obliterates all the rest of the hard work that everybody puts in, because an audience just goes to the one thing they don't buy or they don't believe.
For me, it's all about the script, because if that story is not right and it doesn't have the bones-- like for us, we do a lot of improv, but we don't go in without a script that we could shoot verbatim. I think it would be pretty good, because you have to lay this emotional base. So it's getting all those emotions and all those moves that the characters do correct and real and then you build the comedy up from that. But that's where I think a lot of comedies fall apart is they go for, "this would be funny, this would be funny, this would be funny," and then they go, okay, well, now we have got to get the dramatic story in.
So that's why you see a lot of comedies kind of, they're going up here and then maudlin scene and maudlin third act, and it all kind of goes down. So it's just really being hard, hard, hard on that script and developing the script for so long and not settling for anything and just beating it up. So once you kind of go I think we have it, but then you never know, so that anxiety goes all through production, because you're like, I hope this is working. Peter Bart: But you had such a sensational cast though. I know when you talk to Marty Scorsese about the process, he says, "I won't go until I'm in love with the cast." And it seemed to me, you had this amazing cast.
Did you know Melissa McCarthy would become this character? Paul Feig: We knew pretty soon. The process that we like to do for the writing is to cast very early and then get the script right so that the basic bones of it work, and you write in the archetypes of what the characters are. But then when you cast, we do a lot of improv in the casting session so that we can start to feel the actor's personality or the personality of the character they have brought to us coming out. So then we get them together and we mix and match and do a lot of chemistry reads, where we make sure-- kind of see who works together.
Once we get that group, then we bring them in to do rehearsals very early, like months before we go, that then has them reading through the script and then like, well, let's just improv a version of that scene. And they'll start playing around, and we'll just kind of give them different things, and they will start talking in the voices of their character, and that's where we start the second part of the writing process. And that was with us, with Melissa, in the rehearsals, she just started just-- everything she was doing was so funny that we started adjusting the script to give her more to do. Like the scene where she comes over to Annie and beats her up on the couch to get her to wake up, great scene, that was originally supposed to be for some call-center woman at a collection agency in Mumbai who kept calling Annie because she was behind on her payments and then finally got her on the phone and read her the riot act.
But very early on it was like, we have this hilarious woman, why would we give that to some third-party character, and so rewrote it for her. So you can't do anything without a great cast, but you have to let that cast be a part of the process so that they start to bring it to life. Peter Bart: So actors out there, bear in mind the lesson, and that is, be great. If you want to get bigger role, be great in rehearsal, right? Paul Feig: Yeah, exactly, that's right. It falls apart there. Peter Bart: Mr. George, sir. Terry George: Yes. The whole thing is just one long train of anxiety for me.
Because I write most of what I do, it starts on a blank screen. I will literally wallpaper the ceiling. I will do anything. I will dig the garden three times, rather than write. I hate it. It's the thing I am best at and it's the thing I hate most. So that starts the process off with anxiety. Then the directing side of it is, for me, is a mixture of joy and fear.
Fear because you don't--the only other director I've really had an experience of watching and working with and interacting with is Jim Sheridan, and you might as well be copying a madman, because he's truly insane on set. So I have no blueprint. And I remember the first film I directed Some Mother's Son, I get over there, they're all waiting, they're looking at me, and I go over to the monitor, and I put my head on it, and I am like, Jesus, God, please beam me out of here. And that anxiety hasn't gone away.
I just directed an episode of Luck, and I walk on the set and there is Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte is over there, and I am like, Jesus, God, get me out of here. Because everyone is looking at you, and okay, you've got your notes and your storyboard and all that there, but you know it's all going out the window, and suddenly you're hoping that some inspiration will come, and that there is a good script there. And I do agree with Paul. It's all about the script at the end of the day.
Within that script, a good script, it's the moments where you throw that out, where something sparks within the scene and you have the bravery and the latitude to go with it and go off-page, and then the whole crew goes into a panic, because everything they've planned for is out the window, and then that's, "Oh, he has gone mad." We don't know what we are shooting. I only get to speak a third of the time here, I am not sure, because I have a short film.
So anxiety, that's what drives me. I am looking for a different job now, fishing. Peter Bart: Well, directing Dustin Hoffman is instantly anxiety producing, because usually at the end of a take he will say, I can do it better, and then he will look at you and say, and you can do better. Terry George: And then he will crack a joke. You just have to multiply the time and the day, because he is fantastic. He will do it better and keep going and he is so funny on set, and the poor ADs are looking at their watches like, shut this guy up.
Peter Bart: Jennifer, I wanted to get back to you, in terms of angst. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Angst is a-- Peter Bart: I should say Jennifer has directed--there is no movie in history that's ever done more box office and directed by a woman than Jennifer's movie, and that's-- (applause) Jennifer Yuh Nelson: It's a peculiar statistic actually. I am kind of shocked about like, really, seriously? Terry George: You should phone your accountant. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: I need a raise, now.
As far as anxiety, I mean, it is the middle of the process. These movies take, I mean, as you guys know, animation can take three or four years, and halfway through you have nothing to show for it except you word. You have to just promise people, it will be good. I promise it will be good. You just have to trust me. There is nothing to look at. All the footage we have sucks, and it will be good, I promise you. And that's when everybody jumps in to help, in a very well-meaning way. And you just have to have everybody trust you and look them square in the face and tell them everything will be fine.
Chris Miller: I swear I am not lying. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Huh? Chris Miller: I swear I am not lying. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Yeah, I swear I am not lying. I am not pulling something over on you. You have 300 people staring at you. You have great actors, really, really great actors, Dustin Hoffman, everybody staring at you, and you want to reassure them that everything will be fine, and you have nothing to show for it. Peter Bart: Wow! Jennifer Yuh Nelson: That is anxiety producing. But it's kind of funny, because even the guy cleaning the kitchen will tell you something along the way. By the way, you could fix that story point by doing this, you know that you're kind of in that miserable middle of the movie.
What was really cool on our miserable middle was Guillermo del Toro came in and he looked at our footage and said, you have a great movie. He gave me the man's speech. That's funny, because I'm the chick here. But he gave me the man's speech where basically he said, "Being a director is a horrible, miserable experience, that it's a terribly lonely job, because you're blamed for everything bad and everything, good someone else will take the credit ultimately." But the reason why you do it is because somewhere at the end of this process you will see something beautiful that came straight out of here and will end up on the screen. That's why you do it.
So he basically said, "Man up, take the pain, and do it." I said, "Okay!" I am not an angry person, but basically at that point I had to throw a chair and just tell everyone it will be fine and just be quiet. And we made it to the end of the movie that way, and it was good. (applause) Peter Bart: Chris, I would love you to answer, but I would love to have both of you-- the whole issue about Tintin and what is it. I'd love to have your thoughts on that as well.
Chris Miller: Right. I really like Tintin. I think I watched that movie, and in terms of process, you mean? Just in terms of the mocap process, it seemed utterly appropriate for that movie, and therefore it's legitimate. In terms of the nominees, and Gore is one of them, and Jennifer, and myself as well, and I look at the list of nominees and I can't argue against the list of that collection of films. They are all completely deserving, and actually it's a pretty great group to be a part of.
It's so diverse, and I find that really exciting about animation in particular, that you've got an international, you've got a film from Spain and France, and we've got two CG 3D films, another CG 2D film by choice, and a really good one. I think it just speaks to the places animation can go, and it's just, you're only limited by your imagination with the form and the format. So did I just completely sidestep that question? I mean, Gore can pick up on it.
Can I move on to anxiety? (anxiety) I love it. I live for it. Actually, I do. I actually--I always found when going to that horribly dark place, and you know it's coming, you just don't know when, it's actually a good sign, that something will inevitably--well, not necessarily a good thing will come out of it, but something is going to change. You knuckle down, you have the faith that, okay, we're in the dark place. It can create some extraordinary events, and usually, creatively, for the better.
It's so interesting listening to you, Paul, like describe your process, and it's actually not that different from my experience, in terms of, we weren't recording people in twenty days, and taking it on a different way that you did. We do it over the course of two and a half years, and the animation process is one long writing process. With Puss in Boots, six weeks before the film came out we were still changing dialogue and tweaking it and looking for, frankly, the way to improv an animation, you're constantly trying to come up with something fresh.
It's the most contrived form you can imagine, because you don't go outside. You don't get the trees for free when you shoot. You have to design every leaf, so it's all planned. Anytime you can find a way to keep it fresh, extemporaneous, stumble upon a happy accent that you can then animate, it really makes a huge difference. So I don't know. I think I am done talking now. I don't even know what I am talking about anymore. I love it! Peter Bart: You're expressing anxiety.
Chris Miller: Oh! I have a horrible anxiety, horrible. Peter Bart: So Chris, if you want to visit a dark place, try doing what I did, and that's become a studio executive; that's a dark place. Chris Miller: Oh my God!
Moderated by Peter Bart (vice president and editorial director from Variety) the Directors on Directing panel features a who's who of Oscar®-nominated directors on their way to the Kodak Theatre on February 26, 2012. With a dynamic range of films, from feature animation to comedy to silent films, this panel offers a diverse group of opinions and stories from the set. Gore Verbinski (Rango) was shocked that voice actors were recorded one at time, so he arranged for his ensemble cast to be recorded at the same time to take full advantage of the actors' comedic interactions. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) talks about the challenge of getting a black-and-white silent film made in the 21st century. Terry George (The Shore) tells how he found humor in the serious subject of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Chris Miller (Puss in Boots) leaves room for improvisation in his script with his three main characters, two cats and an egg. Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2) shares her darker moments during production, assuring a nervous studio (a year into production) that everything will work out—despite having nothing to show them. Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), discovering the brilliant performance of actress Melissa McCarthy in rehearsals, rewrote parts of the script to take better advantage of her comedic genius.
All of the directors speak candidly about the importance of great casting, a strong story, and the ability to listen to their audience through prerelease testing.