DGA 62nd Annual Awards Meet the Nominees

Meet the Nominees: Feature Film

62nd Annual DGA Awards / Jan. 30, 2010

The DGA held its nineteenth annual "Meet The Nominees: Feature Film" symposium on Saturday morning, January 30, 2010. Directors Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), James Cameron (Avatar), Lee Daniels (Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) joined moderator/DGA Special Projects Committee Chair Jeremy Kagan onstage before a standing room only crowd in the Guild’s Los Angeles Theatre.

DGA President Taylor Hackford welcomed members and their guests to one of the Guild’s most prestigious events. "This is a wonderful and rare opportunity to be in the presence of five extraordinary directors, and hear them compare and contrast their individual journeys in bringing a film to life," said Hackford. "In this season of awards, this is a high point because the people who voted are the ones in the trenches, the professionals who know what goes into making a great film."

After a screening of clips from each film, the directors joined Kagan onstage, for an expedition of discovery into their individual processes. Kagan kicked off the discussion by asking each director what was the best advice he or she had ever received from another director.

Jason Reitman referenced his father, veteran director Ivan Reitman. "Growing up I was on my father's sets and there wasn't a room I wasn't allowed to be in. I was in the editing room and even in the writing room sometimes. The access I got was unbelievable. But the best advice I got from my father on directing was when he said, 'Your job is to capture authenticity.' It's very easy to lose sight of that because your barometer for comedy or drama is nowhere as good as your barometer for honesty. So while you’re on the set you shouldn't be worried about what's funny or not because you won't know until you’re sitting in the audience and you’re feeling it through them. But you do know what’s true. I use that all the time. It’s so simple that it’s easy to forget, but it speaks very truthfully to what directing is."

Lee Daniels spoke of being a newcomer to the inner sanctum of celebrated directors and said that he’d received invaluable advice on how to cope with it all from fellow nominee Reitman. “When you’re in the work, you’re in the moment and God and truth speaks to you. But this whole process has been very unique and terrifying for me. I was a wreck at the beginning and Jason said, ‘Lee, embrace it. Enjoy it and don’t be frightened by it.’ Daniels also talked about of one of his mentors, Julian Schnabel. “Julian is a hero. He’s from New York, he appreciates truth and he’s not afraid to be himself and I love him. I saw a film he’d done, Basquiat, and he hadn’t directed before. So I wanted to know how it was done, and he said, ‘You just stay in the truth. You know what’s honest and if the actor can’t give it to you, you cut it in the editing room to make it honest.”

Cameron jokingly recalled his early days under the umbrella of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and recalled a tidbit he’d received from Corman himself. “He once told me, ‘You should sit down more while you’re directing,’ which I guess is good advice. He also said ‘Make your day,’ which I’ve seldom been able to apply. Cameron also spoke of the mentorship he received from director Walter Hill. “I was actually writing Aliens before I directed Terminator, and I was trying to emulate his very cursory kind of haiku style. Walter’s big advice to me when I started directing Aliens was ‘Don’t fuck this up.’ I thought that was very good advice because it was implicit that if I fucked it up, I was never going to get the opportunity to do it again. But I think the best piece of advice I got from him was about casting, which can apply to everything. He said, ‘Don’t go to the center, push away from it.’ At the time my tastes were very mainstream because my film school was the drive-ins of Orange County. But I think it was great advice to not do the obvious.

Kathryn Bigelow spoke of drawing inspiration for directing from watching film after film from directors she loved. “Everything from Peckinpah. Everything from Fuller, Sergio Leone, Robert Aldrich, Anthony Mann… The list is infinite. Watching those films you kind of internalize information that hopefully you can apply later on when making your own film.” Bigelow also recalled getting direct advice from Walter Hill. “He said, ‘Spend time with people who are doing what you want to do.” He would invite me to come to the set and sit there and watch him which was incredible.” She also nodded towards Cameron recalling, “Back in my Near Dark days, Jim told me, ‘Be careful in your casting choices because those are irrevocable decisions.’ No matter how great your script is, no matter how great you shoot the film, edit it, score it, mix it, etc, if you’ve made a mistake in your casting that’s it. I’ve held onto that ever since.”

Quentin Tarantino remembered getting advice from a different source. “When I did Reservoir Dogs, I really didn’t know any directors. But when was about 22, I got a fantastic book where they interviewed a vast array of directors about the process. It was a really wild group: Sidney Lumet, Emile de Antonio, George Romero, it was really all over the map. They talked about editing, casting shooting and everything. It wasn’t like there was one piece of advice that I followed, but it was wonderful to hear so many different aesthetics and people talking about how to approach it from different ways. It just showed me there was no one way to do things.”

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.

Photo above: DGA Feature Film Nominees Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman onstage with moderator Jeremy Kagan during the 2010 Meet the Nominees: Feature Film Symposium

DGA Awards Credits:
Meet the Nominees: Feature Film Symposium:
Directed by: Don Barnhart
Stage Manager: Tracey Smith Baumert
DGA Awards Section Photos by:
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images, Howard Wise, Tonya Wise, and Joe Coomber.