Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Showing the movie for the first time, part of 2011 SBIFF Directors' Panel: Directors On Directing.
Peter Bart: I would think in some ways the most painful moment as a filmmaker is when you take your picture and you show it to an audience for the first time. And I know Darren, I read somewhere that there was nervous laughter. Audiences were uneasy a bit at some, a couple of the scenes, and you were pleased by that nervous laughter in a way, because it you are obviously making the audience uncomfortable which was part of your ambition.
But that first--I wonder if--I would love to hear from each of you about what that first screening is like for the public. You never had a bad screening, did you? Darren Aronofsky: Well, our first screening was, we opened the Venice Film Festival this year, which was an amazing honor. On one side was Natalie who hadn't seen the movie, and on my other side was the 82-year-old President of Italy and his 84-year-old wife.
It was very--I started to feel the sweat pool in much jacket. And I turned to the--it wasn't the Prime Minister of Italy, but the highly respected President of Italy when he walked in there was like a 20-minute round of applause for him. He was, like, deeply, deeply respected guy, and I just bent over to him and his wife and I said, "I'm really sorry about what's about to happen." (laughter) I didn't know what to do.
It was just--and I looked at Marco who runs the Italian festival and he had this mischievous smile on his face, and Natalie said something really just--she said something about smelling like her dogs #$%#$% or something to me. That's how she felt. It was really disgusting, and I was like, sh! The President is right there. So the movie started, and it's a very hard audience that first film festival audience, but afterwards he said to me, he said, "I tried to be Italian and not to feel, but I felt it," and it was very--it was nice and his wife was all full of smiles, so it turned out okay.
Peter: It would have been much more fun to show it to Berlusconi and a room full of his girlfriends. Darren: Actually, I wouldn't have been sitting next to Natalie then, so I would have been everyone. But it was--the first real screening I had was at the Philadelphia Film Festival. I happened to be there. And that's when I sort of saw what an American crowd would react to it, and that's really always exciting. But I don't think you really ever know what you have. I mean, every time, you know, there was no way we thought we would be heading towards $100 million with this movie. I would have been happy with 20.
And so you don't know, and the same thing with The Wrestler. We finished it the day before we showed it at Venice that year. We have no idea that people would react to Micky that way. So you are pretty blind until you really start to show it. Peter: Charles, to whom did you show the picture first? I hope it wasn't Goldman Sachs. Charles Ferguson: Well, that was interesting, actually. So before the--until the film was done, I would say, less than 20 people in the entire world, including the people who worked on it, had seen the film--a very small number of people.
And so first, we showed it to the people who run Sony Pictures Classics, and they were nervous but happy. Then we invited everybody who was in the film to come see it. And Frederick Mishkin, for those of you've seen the film, sent in his place a public relations executive, which he needs. But the people who were in the film liked it.
Of course, some of them didn't attend, but the rest of them liked it. Then the next time the film was shown was in front of 2,000 people at the Cannes Film Festival two days after Wall Street 2 had premiered there, and five seconds before the lights went down, Oliver Stone walked into the screening. I was nervous, but it worked out. It worked out. Peter: Debra, what was your first screening? Debra Granik: Ours was Sundance.
That was the first time it was shown publicly, and very similar. There is no estimate, there is no calculation about how an audience is going to respond. And I think, people say, don't you know something is going in to it. Do you feel confident about some things? And some things you do feel confident about. You know that you have responded for a year in the editing room to your DP's photography. You know that the editor has been stimulated by a performance the whole time.
He or she's never gotten tired of it. So those things are excellent litmus tests to know that something about the film has like a tenacity and a verve, but again, will it hold together, with the decisions you made that you sweated out about the ending, about choices that both seemed really appealing, but you had to pick one, did you make the right one? Those things all get, so they just hang there. They hang there. They are so heavy that first screening, and it's very hard to breathe, very hard to--you are ice cold.
It's not--physiologically, it's not a positive experience. (laughter) And so then, and then if it does take light and if members of the audience do respond, then you are willing to take the rest of the journey. That first night gives you this light about whether you are strong enough and can go ahead and sort of follow, be a companion to the film and follow it and take the leap with it. Peter: I agree, except the first night can be totally wrong, in that you may just have the wrong audience at the wrong time.
I will never forget as a young executive at Paramount, the first time I showed the Godfather publicly, the first person at the end of the screening who came up to me was the head of distribution of Paramount Pictures, and he said, "Kid, nothing happens in this picture. There is no action, and ain't no one going to see it," so you've got to be prepared for anything. Tom. Tom Hooper: The first--I mean apart from my editor, the people I always show my work to is my brother Ben, my sister Rachel, my mom and dad who always watched my film first since I was a kid, and they're just great, because they are incredibly tough.
And whatever happens to me, they don't #&^$% me. If they kind of like it, then I know I am probably haven't &^#$ up. So that's probably the most nerve- racking first time I screen, and I should say, I show the first screening to them, before I even screen it to my producers. And then I suppose on The King's Speech we had a proper school-carded test in New York in April. It was the first I had ever done it, and I had heard terribly bad things about the process from a lot filmmakers, and how the information might be used to manipulate what you are meant to do in the edit. And we screened it around 21st 22nd street in this basement cinema where I heard, you could hear the irritable subway going through every three minutes, and the air-conditioning was so noisy and I tried to kind of pull out of the screening and say can we not do it somewhere else, and it just felt like the most depressing place to screen my film, and it got 93%.
And 93%, I mean Tariq Anwar, who cut my film, has cut many films like American Beauty and said, in his life he'd only got one film in the 90s, and I was, of course, was immediately suspicious and thought maybe this is a New York thing. Maybe this is the audience. So I said, "Can't we test it somewhat different?" So we tested it in Kansas City, and we got 93%. Still, I wasn't sure quite what to make of it, but it did obviously-- The good thing was it meant that I could proceed with editing it as I was wanting to, and so it seem to be supporting the way I was cutting it overall.
So probably the most precious thing was it didn't dismantle what I had done. But in the end, for me, the true highlight of the process was the very first public screening in Telluride on the first Saturday of September at 11:00 in the morning, ten-and-half thousand feet in the Chuck Jones Cinema, and I sat between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. And that's the screen that was particularly special, because I think the surprise to all of us was the humor and how the humor played, and I don't think any of us realized that the humor would play like that, because we weren't really--we didn't sit around rehearsal going, "How do we make this funnier?" I mean, it was really just not a conversation we were having, and to get that response from that audience, that was-- And also, I had Laura Linney in the audience who is a good friend of mine since John Adams, and she took me down the mountain, sat me down for coffee and said, "You do know what's going to happen to you now." Then I said, "Laura, what are you talking about?" And she just looked at me, and now I know what she was talking about.
Peter: David, I'd love to hear from you on that subject. David O. Russell: Our first screening was in Woodland Hills. It was a test screening, and it was about 300 or 400 people, and my dad and my stepmom who I am very close to were there, and my son who is the toughest critic of all who is 16, with his best friend. And he doesn't mince his words, and he lets me know when he thinks I suck.
It was these 400, 500 strangers, and then you have Mark come in with kind of his family, like his brother and his entourage. And we just kind of hung out in the back, and I remember looking at the audience and thinking, "God! What is going to happen? This is so interesting." And my editors were there, and the executives were there, and within the first three minutes I could feel that they were in with both feet.
When Dicky's fists were coming into the frame at Mark, when he is raking, they were laughing with like recognition and pleasure, and I said, "Oh my God, it's so early in the movie and they already know and love Dicky, and they get the whole dynamic," and afterwards we had--the shocking thing. I kept telling the studio not to market it as a fight film, because I see it as a family story and an emotional story that has fighting in it, and the test results showed that.
The women were at 96, which I'd never been in the 90s period, and the men were at 90, so the women were at higher than the men. That did not stop them from doing their male-oriented boxing campaign. My son, it's the movie that he has been most proud of, which meant the world to me, my dad, and my stepmom. So that was a beautiful thing. So that was my first experience.
Lee Unkrich: We have a luxury at Pixar in that we regularly screen our films while we are making them over the course of the years. It's just part of our process, but it's very internal and sometimes the screenings are complete disasters and we have to rip the films apart and start over. But, in Toy Story 3 we somehow were--we were very lucky. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but from screening to screening, they were all going well internally. But, there is always that day where it comes time to show it to the outside world. And Disney was feeling very good about the movie, and they decided that they wanted to reveal the film and show it in its entirety at Show West in Las Vegas, which is a big convention of theater owners.
I was kind of against it initially because the film wasn't done yet. We still had some animation to do. The film hadn't been scored. There was just a lot not done, and I hated the idea of the film being judged by that huge audience in that unfinished state. But, they finally convinced me that they felt the film was strong enough and good enough that it would play great there. So we went and showed the film, and I spent the entire film with my hands like this, like blinders, literally because I couldn't bear to see even the slightest bit of physicality of the people around me, because I read so much into it.
I was like, "Oh my God, they hate it. They hate it. They're not getting this. They are not laughing at this," and, like, Debra, like you said, it can be absolutely excruciating. It was just, I felt wrung out and terrible at the end, except for the fact that it was huge, and it played great really when all of a sudden done, and the audience really loved it. The thing that was best about that screening was at the end we had a reception afterwards, and I had so many people come up to me and tell me that it was their favorite of the three films, which meant the world to me because that's all I ever wanted was not to be better than, but to make a film worthy to be sitting alongside the first two.
Then also that so many people were crying. I had people crying, talking to me about the experience of seeing the film, and we would often cry as we were making it, when we watch-- We did. But just by watching the film as well, I mean there were scenes that they were emotional to us for lots of different reasons. Part of it was that we'd been on this journey with these characters, and at the studio for a long time, and they meant a lot to us, and for us it was kind of a saying goodbye to them as well at the end of the film. But we knew that that was us, and that didn't necessarily mean that the people out in the world were going to find it emotional.
So there has been so much written about how emotional the film is, but that was, we wanted the film to be emotional, but we never expected the kind of outpouring of love for how it made people feel that we got. That first screening at Show West was the one that I really felt like we had something good on our hands. But, of course, I immediately flipped over to being paranoid that I was going to somehow screw it up as we came around third base and were coming towards home, because we have so much left to do, so much really important stuff. Peter: Can I close by quoting my crazy friend, Quentin Tarantino, who once said to filmmakers, "Do your best work when you're young because no one over the age of 60 should be allowed to direct." Now, I don't agree with his thesis, but to everyone on this stage, you have done great work, and thank you for participating. (applause) Darren: Thank you. That was great. Always great, Peter. Peter: Thank you!
Moderated by the vice president and editorial director of Variety Peter Bart, these six directors speak to the pressures of being on the Oscar circuit and the need to get back to work as soon as possible. Unusual for a group of nominated films—with the exception of Toy Story 3 at an estimated $200 million—these are all relatively low-budget films, ranging from $1 million to a high of $14 million. The directors discussed how not having a big budget to work with forced them to be more creative and focused on the story.
This panel includes Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Charles Ferguson (Inside Job), Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter), and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3).