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The DGA held its 23rd annual Meet The Nominees: Feature Film Symposium on Saturday morning, January 25, 2014. Directors Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave), David O. Russell (American Hustle), and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) joined moderator Jeremy Kagan onstage before a standing room only crowd in the Guild’s Los Angeles Theatre. Alfonso Cuarón, nominated for Gravity, was unable to attend.
“This symposium is one of our most popular events of the year – a rare and exceptional opportunity to enjoy the company of our outstanding feature film director nominees as they share the inside stories of their individual journeys in bringing their nominated films to life,” said DGA President Paris Barclay in his welcome. “I’ve been coming for twenty years and taking notes – nuggets I want to remember, great quotes to use on set. It’s been my post-graduate education in direction.”
After screening clips from each film, the directors headed to the stage where Kagan began the discussion into the creative processes to “see how you do what you do.” Kagan fittingly opened the conversation by asking each director how they first begin their day on set.
Steve McQueen said the first person he talks to is his D.P. Sean Bobbitt. “It’s usually, ‘Morning, how did you sleep?’ ‘I didn’t.’ Sometimes I don’t even know what we’re going to shoot because we’ve planned it months in advance, so it’s nice to be fresh so I can be in the moment of shooting. So it’s really sort of like waking up slowly and revving up and going for it.”
The first person Scorsese sees on set is his producer, Emma Koskoff. “She’s the only one who would come near me. She takes me in the trailer, gives me a little bit of a filler and then she allows the Assistant Director to come in and he was very good because it was really a no nonsense approach. I’m really only concerned about the first two or three hours because there are certain things I can do with the actors and certain connective tissue that deal with camera movement that I know we could get at a certain time or even with a second camera at the same time and I’m interested in all that. We were on schedule so whatever happened in that first 40 minutes in that trailer seemed to work, but it’s a very slow, gradual beginning of the morning. I’m not very good with mornings.”
David O. Russell admitted to not focusing on any one person when he first gets to set. “I like listening to everyone. I like to have a huddle in the van right away because these movies are done on a shorter schedule because it helps me from the ADD of the overwhelming-ness of it all, and it helps everybody because everybody is overwhelmed. I think every day on a movie is like you’re on the ropes in Raging Bull. You’re getting your ass beat the first half of the day, then you start to land some punches. By the end of the day, sometimes you’re like, ‘Yeah, I beat that day. I did it.” Every day is like that. It’s a grand life of adventure or otherwise we should have gone to dentistry school like my mother wanted.”
“I definitely hit the coffee first,” revealed Paul Greengrass. “I will go and get some coffee, then I’ll go and get some more coffee, and you’re right in the middle of everybody. I’ll do a trip around all the actors who are on that day. I’ll have spoken to everybody individually as soon as I come in so I can take everybody’s temperature and make everyone feel involved. It’s not just a group thing. It’s all designed to bring us together at that moment on set. If you can get the first shot away early you make a strong start. If you don’t, you’re always chasing the day.”
With that start, the symposium continued into the morning where each Director offered further insight to their creative process, the struggles they faced getting their films made, and the advice they would give an aspiring director. Just a few hours after everyone had left the stage, one of the nominees would be walking on to a different one—accepting the DGA’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film Award—but for a few hours each nominee displayed through their camaraderie and love of the craft why each one of them, and their films, were equally as outstanding and deserving of the award.
Article written by Kent Ochse
Meet the Nominees: Feature Film Symposium:
- Directed by: Jim Tanker
- Stage Manager: Tracey Smith Baumert