Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Questions and answers, part of 2010 SBIFF Directors' Panel: On Directing.
(Music playing.) Quentin Tarantino: That was the first thing I wrote on the film. I started writing this about in 1998, is when I first started coming-- when I came up with the idea for the script, and that was like the first idea for this scene, and literally the way I write those kind of big dialogue scenes is I just get the characters talking, get them talking to each other.
And then at a certain point, I check out. It is them talking to each other. They are doing it. I can't describe it anymore than that, because that is the process and I don't want to know anymore than that. But if it works, when it actually works, it's more like you are a court reporter, just jotting it down as they talk to each other. I had no idea they were going to talk that long and I had no idea exactly where it was going to go except I did kind of have an end. I knew the family will get murdered at the end of it. But then I don't always know, all right, that's what I think is going to happen, but the characters will keep me honest. But one of the things-- there was like two things that I had in my mind.
One is, when it comes to like, if you think about-- and I kind of think about my career a little bit, at least as far as my filmography, like sometimes as if they were albums and then you have your greatest hits inside of the albums. That is one of the things when people say they liked my movie, I often times, oh! What was your favorite scene? I am always curious about that. And up until Inglourious Basterds if I had a greatest hit, if I had a thing that I had never topped, it would be the Sicilian scene in True Romance, between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken and that was the first script that I ever wrote.
(Applause.) And I had come close to it, but I had never topped it and I knew I had never topped it, but that was my greatest hit. And when I wrote that scene, I go "I finally topped it." (Laughter.) It took me 25 years, but I finally topped it. Quentin Tarantino: Thankfully, our trajectory is every other year, all right. We've never had a movie come out, well except for 1997. He came out with Boogie Nights and I came out with Jackie Brown, but luckily it is a situation where, as I am getting ready to write the next thing is when his new thing comes out and versa-vice. He is writing this thing and then Inglourious Basterds came out.
But it's kind of our position to just keep raising the bar, on each other. I remember I met Brian De Palma early in my career. It was a dream meeting because he was always my favorite of the movie brats. He was a real, true, true hero. And I remember talking to him in his office and he said, he goes, yeah, he remembers he was making Scarface and he was feeling really good about it.
He was feeling really, really good about Scarface. No, it's Blow Out, sorry, it's Blow Out. Okay, he was doing Blow Out and he was feeling really great about. "I think this is my best work." "This is the one." And I actually agree. That is his best work. Alright. But he was like, "this is the one, this is the one," and then he goes to the theater to see Raging Bull and he was sitting there in the theater and that opening credit shot with the classical music and then just De Niro, just bouncing on the left side of the frame and he was like "there is always Scorsese." "No matter how good you think you are, there is always Scorsese." (Laughter and applause.) Pete Docter: It's tricky. I mean in our case, we record the voices before we do any of the animation, and so the actors are standing in a room, a gray room was nothing but the microphone, the script and me.
And so my job primarily is to explain to them, okay here, you're yelling across a massive auditorium, or whatever the scene is, and then we work line-by-line. Most of the time it's seven or eight takes, sometimes 30, whatever it takes to get exactly what it is that I am after. The other thing that's really odd, just given our process, is that very, very seldomly are there more than one actor in the room. So, all the discussions, their dialogue or arguments between say Woody and Buzz or in our case, Carl Fredricksen and the kid, those were recorded on separate days in separate cities and it's all artificial.
So I just have to have in my head, okay, I know what take I am using from Asner, and this is what I am after with Jordon, the kid, and I think it will work and of course we rely on the editors a lot. But it's very probably-- I have never directed a live action film, so, I imagine that it's fairly similar but maybe more kind of anal- retentive or something, I don't know. (Laughter.) Pete Docter: I guess I am thinking visually. What am I going to get on the screen, how do I communicate it, and if I can do it without a line of dialogue then I will get rid of the dialogue.
It's all about the imagery and the action, and that's what's interesting. And you are right, there are some things that probably if you tried to make "Up" in live action I think you would have a difficult time getting the audience to believe that a house could actually lift off with the balloons. And we have sort of some leeway because of the design, because of the world that we are creating. But that in itself can be a challenge too, because it doesn't exist out there in the real world. So you have to kind of adjust your brain a little to fit where the idea is going.
But it's mainly a visual thing. Quentin Tarantino: There is something that I was thinking about a lot when I saw "Up," about being a writer and coming up with stuff that on one hand, I was like, well, maybe, I'd like to do one animated film for this simple fact of just being able to let my imagination go and write whatever I came up with and not having to qualify it in any kind of way. But then the minute I said that, I was also like damn it, it's also seemed stymying too. I got the idea, well, if you can do anything, what the hell do you do? It actually made me realize, not that I couldn't do it, but what it made me realize is, oh! I've actually been comfortable with my limitations. The idea to throw them all away, actually like oh, well now -- what's worth that? If you can do anything, what do you do? James Cameron: But you know-- oh, sorry.
Pete Docter: But you end up creating these kind of parameters for yourself and I think the audience needs that too. If you do anything while guns ablazing, then there are no real rules and there is no consistency for people to believe at least what we're after. It's this sense of investment and belief in these characters that they are real. So, like on "Up," when we had the floating house, we realized we needed to set that up in very subtle way so that, okay, people, this is a world, see he is leaning on his balloon cart, and the balloon cart starts going up, which is preposterous in itself.
But this is kind of a little subtle tickle for the house. You know what I mean? You have to kind of create this consistency. James Cameron: I think it's a really interesting area, because on Avatar for the first time I was doing a lot of animation, and I'd done live action before that. And what you find is that - you know that Devo song, where they say, "Freedom of choice is what you've got, and freedom from choice is what you want?" Pete Docter: Yeah. James Cameron: You want freedom from choice, because as a director you pick a location and then that location defines where you can put the camera.
You have to have something to hang your hat on in the real world, and in the animation world, in the virtual world, you have nothing. You have an infinity of choices, and you have to start making choices right from day one, or you'll be trapped by an infinity of possibility at every turn. It's not a luxury like people imagine it to be. It's actually quite-- I won't say paralyzing but it becomes burdensome. So you have to make these choices as early and often as possible. And that was the big shocking discovery for me about working in that virtual world.
Kathryn Bigelow: And Quentin, Andre Gide said -- James Cameron: She is quoting Gide, I quote Devo. (Laughter.) Kathryn Bigelow: Art is born of restraint and dies of freedom. I often hang on to those words when I am looking at a really huge movie, I think really modest budget. It's like I've got a lot of restraint here. This is great. James Cameron: Probably the biggest task of the director is leadership of a group. And that group will consist of artists. And so it's letting those artists have a voice and feel empowered within the process and not dominated by-- In my case, I've got a lot of ideas, I can draw, I can paint.
I've got a lot -- but I want to challenge these guys to step up and have us be all one team. And I think every director up here is up here because of the artists on their team that contributed, whether it's the acting artists, whether it's the visual artists, the DP or whatever. So there is this aspect of having to kind of herd cats, because people will go off in different directions. And keep them kind of on message or all telling the same story and doing that diplomatically when possible, or sometimes by challenge. You challenge people and I know that you've talked about challenging your actors.
And I think one does challenge actors, you create a safe place for them, and challenge them at the same time. And I think that's the best combination where they feel safe to do anything to try stuff, even if it's stupid. Because sometimes those things that they think are stupid are the moments that you pray for, moments of discovery that you pray for. [00:10:51.33. I can prattle on but I mean I think that's the essence of it. Lee Daniels: For me, it's life continuing on.
In the movies that I've produced or the movies I have directed, there is always a question mark at the end, because that's life. The end of the film should represent life, that there is no answer. Kathryn Bigelow: Oh well, specifically in Hurt Locker and this was I found beautifully crafted in the screenplay that it was both the combination of triumph and futility, and that was sort of the kind of metronomic, thematic, underlying threat of the piece and the conflict and then trying to trying to distill that to a single shot, a single image, single moment and so that was the challenge.
James Cameron: I think a happy ending is the culmination of character's journey. Whatever that means, if the character dies, they die, if they live, they live. But it's -- you've set out certain ground rules for understanding the story what the character's goals are, or maybe their goals become defined during the film. And at the end that needs to be resolved for the audience in some satisfying way. And it doesn't necessarily have to be in that everybody, that there is a big kiss and a wedding or whatever it is.
James Cameron: I think this is the mistake that's been made in the past is trying to impose a kind of one-size-fits-all solution. In the coarse body motion that their marker based system captures so beautifully doesn't work at all if you try to glue 200 markers on the person's face. You're still not getting the eyes, you're not getting the tongue, the interaction of the tongue and the teeth and the lips that form phonemes and speech and so on. There is so much of it that that process simply can't get. So we came up with a completely different approach, which is image based.
Literally mounting a camera on a little boom, that looks like a mike boom in front of the face, and shooting a close-up of the actor 100% of the time, while they are working. And creating essentially a separate channel or a separate stream of data for the face from the body, and then all that goes to create the finished CG character, through a process that involves the world's best animators, but is not truly animation in the sense that it's an actor-driven process. That's trying to sum it up in a nutshell. It's very hard to describe what we're doing, but if you saw an image of it side-by-side between let's say what Zoe or Sam was doing and what their finished character was doing, you'd get it instantly.
Todd Phillips: I actually say I think that your best way in is through writing. Quite honestly. I think no one is going to unnecessarily hire an aspiring director to direct something. I think when you control a piece of material or write something that comes from you and it's unique in its own way. I always feel like, because I get asked that a lot as I am sure everyone here does, it seems to me like the writing is where you can really set yourself apart and the idea. So once you have that idea. It's just too hard I think to say, I am a director, let me direct something. That's my answer that I give.
Lee Daniels: Yeah, well, I'm border-lining on the illiterate. So I am not that-- I don't know how to write that well. I take other people's work and I blow my breath into it. Todd Phillips: Right. But how -- he is asking so in the beginning, how do you do that? How did you start? Who gave you the opportunity to direct first? Lee Daniels: Well, because I started with the actors in theater. Todd Phillips: Okay. Lee Daniels: Theater, that's for me. Quentin Tarantino: That would be the answer to that, yeah. Yeah, I mean the thing about it was.. I never expected anybody to give me a job.
I don't know if I'd give me a job, all right! When I was finally allowed to direct Reservoir Dogs, I did it for like $1.3 million. I only made $10,000 a year. It's a pretty much like my 20's. So the only thing that would have let anyone think that maybe this kid can be responsible enough to do this is because I had written the script and it was just a calculated risk. Well, if he is aware enough to write this piece of material he may be aware enough to pull this off.
However, I could have- this is like Kathryn's situation. They could have taken me off after the first week. I had a situation where I had to prove myself in the first week, or else I could have been replaced, or at least replaced by a second unit director or something, which I have never used a second unit director. Anything not shot by me is unsatisfactory by its very definition. (Laughter.) James Cameron: Oh man, they call me an egotist.
(Laughter.) Quentin Tarantino: So the thing was, I kind of-- Kathryn played it straight up. I kind of, me and my partner Lawrence, we rigged the deck a little bit and so we did all this. Because I was back then, I was really into Goddard, so I wanted to do weird long takes from the wrong angle and the back of somebody's head, that go on an unblinking ten minutes. All right, and I know that would get my a** tossed out tout suite, so we did all the coverage oriented stuff.
And I don't normally shoot coverage, but when I do stuff, I don't ever do pickups with actors. I always-- no matter what-- I just feel like I am betraying them if I ask them to pick up the scene from here or pick it from there, even if it just takes forever, I always start that my big-a** long scenes always from the beginning. So the thing about it is, at a certain point we had so much footage. At the end of that first week, they go, "I guess he knows what he is doing, we've got a ton of footage." (Laughter.) James Cameron: I don't know.
I know how you got started. I know how I got started. I've heard a lot of Lee's story in the last few weeks as we've been on these things together, and Quentin. I think every single person here would answer that question somewhat differently in terms of how they got started. I think what your take-away is, don't waste a lot of time studying the problem by looking at how other directors did it. You've got to get out there and get busy. It's that simple. This is not theory, it's not abstract, it's not film class, you're not writing a paper here. You're trying to inject yourself into a process that's ongoing, with or without you.
So grab a camera. If you don't write, get one of your friends to write something. If you don't act yourself, get some actor friends to teach you what acting is about, get involved in theater, make some stuff, make a film. Make a film, cut it together, the tools are readily available now, much more so than they were when we started out. I mean if you knew somebody with a wind up Bolex, you were hot. Now anybody can get an HD prosumer camcorder and they can get some kind of editing program on their laptop.
Quentin Tarantino: I would have made my first movie at 23 if they had this technology that they have, 22, 21. James Cameron: Yeah. Quentin Tarantino: It might not have been any good, but I would have done it. James Cameron: But that's not the point. The point is, make the picture, cut it, put your name on it as director. Now you are a director. Everything after that you're just negotiating your price. (Laughter.) James Cameron: Yeah, vicarious experience. Actually, I think we did. You shot that in the summer of 94 as I recall. Kathryn Bigelow: Yeah, but you had the treatment years -- James Cameron: But we worked like a couple of years earlier than that, yeah.
No, look I mean I think there is thematic consistency and the stuff that all of us are going to do in the ideas that appeal to us. And there was something very interesting about this idea of vicarious experience that I think appealed to both of us about that story. Avatar in my mind was actually kind of the opposite of that in the sense that here was a guy who was putting himself into a biological body, and he was-- Well, actually, it's very similar in the sense that Lenny is being torn down by the process of too much squid, too much playback, and Jake is actually getting trash by that.
Yeah, so maybe I was reacting to the zeitgeist nod everybody getting more into video games and more online and all that stuff, that's kind of what we were both reacting to, with Strange Days. Peter Bart: Folks, I think we have all learned today that the filmmakers are as expressive and idiosyncratic as their work. You've been a wonderful audience. Thank you all and thank you guys.