The DGA held its 21st annual "Meet The Nominees: Feature Film" symposium on Saturday morning, January 28. Directors David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descedants), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo) joined moderator/DGA Special Projects Committee Chair Jeremy Kagan onstage before a standing room only crowd in the Guild's Los Angeles Theatre. The event was also viewed by DGA members in New York via a simulcast held at DGA Headquarters.
DGA President Taylor Hackford welcomed members and their guests to one of the Guild’s most prestigious events. “Each of these wonderful directors joins an illustrious line of filmmakers throughout Guild history, who have represented the best in directorial achievement,” said Hackford. “I want to congratulate all of you.”
After a viewing of clips from each film, the directors joined Kagan onstage. "Even though there’s an incredible difference in the kind of films that you all have made, all of these films in one way reflect one truth about how the past affects the present," noted Kagan. “So let’s start the discussion with endings, the last thing we leave the audience with.”
Payne admitted that his ending for The Descendants wasn’t from the novel. “The book had wanted the literary ending and I was just thinking a movie always needs a kind of landing strip. We brought the plane the whole way and what kind of landing strip it’s going to have and this is not a movie where they live happily ever after or the killer is caught or something like that. It’s just one of those films where you have to suggest somehow life goes on, so that was just what I somehow came up with to suggest that life goes on”
Scorsese spoke about the months of preparation that went into creating the elaborate shot at the end of Hugo. “Everybody is brought together by the end of the story and so it just seems it has to be one shot. If you look at it, it just seems to be going past people, but technically, the guys who did it were really quite challenged by what was happening there. The big problem was ultimately lighting the automaton throughout the entire movie because every time you switched the light or put a candle by it, it had a different expression.”
Hazanavicius revealed there was deeper meaning to the tap dance routine at the end of The Artist. “It’s a very kind movie. There’s no bad guy. The antagonist of the character is the sound. I didn’t make difference between silent acting and talking acting. To me, the goals are the same and you want to make a story with characters you care about. I knew how the story could be told, so even if I could change things, and I doubted myself, but I knew that I could tell the story.”
Fincher spoke about finding a way to map the audience through the complexity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. “The thing I always loved about the script, and the thing that I felt we were always building to, was this emotional cliffhanger between a 40-something man and a 20-something girl, and to me, the thing that was nice was just falling off the cliff at the end of where does she go from here? So it was actually very simple to shoot. We shot it in one night and thought the biggest problem was motorcycles on cobblestones on hills that were wet.”
With that start, the panel was off into a morning that offered insights into each of these motion pictures as individual works of art, and behind-the-scenes views of directors at the height of their craft. In a matter of hours, one of them would win the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film Award, but the morning was one of camaraderie and exploration into the elements involved in creating a film worthy of one of the Guild’s highest honors.
Nominee Woody Allen was unable to attend.