Winter 2016


80th Anniversary Edition

No two indie directors see things in the same way, but they all have a vision. Excerpts from 10 years of stories capture their passion.

Mira Nair

Culture Clash

“The first thing I do in rehearsals is create an environment in which we can all make fools of ourselves. We must take risks and make jokes and feel comfortable, because that’s our privilege at that moment before we discover what it is we must shoot.

“I’ve never had the luxury of excess time or money, so I’m very well-planned, and usually there’s no scrambling, unless it’s weather-related.

“We do yoga for an hour and 15 minutes before shooting every morning. It’s the first thing on the call sheet. It’s completely voluntary, but there are 15 of us hardcore types who will be there wherever we can find space on a location–whether it’s a back room or a bar. It irons us out, and creates this atmosphere of calm and focus. There are no tantrums on my sets, no raised voices.”

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Mira Nair

Todd Haynes

The Shape-Shifter

Haynes made the decision to shoot the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce on 16 mm film, working again with Ed Lachman, his cinematographer on I’m Not There and Far from Heaven. “Ed was a little nervous about depth of field and getting the best negative information on 16 mm, but he was pretty easily persuaded,” says Haynes. “The financiers were thrilled because it was cheaper. I liked the idea that it’s a classic format that we all studied in the old days, and one that kids don’t use much anymore when they’re learning their craft. But mostly, it was an intervention against how fast and fine-grained lenses and film stocks have become.”

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Todd Haynes

“Television has an impact on our lives and the way we see the world that’s as meaningful, if not more so, than film. So I find it an important place to direct my imagination.”

∼ Todd Haynes

Dee Rees

Not Singing the Blues

“I’m interested in characters and relationships. That was my approach to telling the [Bessie Smith] story—not to fall into the typical biopic tropes. I wanted to understand why Bessie was the way she was. The thematic idea is that what is very beautiful from afar is often very painful from close up.”

Bessie was shot digitally, with the Arri Alexa, but working with film during Pariah was a vital education for Rees. “Shooting on film is great because it imparts discipline: What do you need to see, so you’re not finding it in the camera. When I’m shooting I have the scene in mind, where I’m going to have certain lines. I learned to overlap and to shoot more than I think I need. That was the learning curve.

“I like scripts that have a narrative prose feel. For me, a lot of it is about not letting myself be pigeonholed, put in a box: ‘Oh, you can only do gay films, teenage films, films about women.’ I happen to love women and doing films with women, so that’s true. But I also want to expand.”

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Dee Rees

Steve McQueen

The Grim Truth

“Every single scene we do, we’ve talked about way, way before,” says McQueen. “It’s like getting ready to prepare a meal and having all the ingredients, then changing it around a little bit. It is a discipline but it also gives you tremendous freedom. Also there’s a foundation to pull you back if you get lost, which is good. It’s exciting.

“I like the idea that everybody, from the electrician to the grip to the makeup and costume department, feels they have something at stake with the film—that they are a part of it like anyone else,” he says, adding that even on a film like 12 Years a Slave, in which slave characters are routinely shown being humiliated, horsewhipped, and in one scene, lynched, people would still show up on the set on their days off.

“We’re a community. We are always talking together, discussing [the film]. On hard days, when you’re in an environment that is extraordinarily supportive it feels cathartic.”

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Steve McQueen

Lena Dunham

The It Girl

Dunham doesn’t see directors as all-powerful figures who know everything. “[The filmmaking process is] insanely collaborative. It’s OK to be clear on the set that there are things you don’t know. You have to rely on the expertise of your dolly grip or your focus puller. I interviewed ADs by asking what an AD does.

“I started with the assumption that I wanted to see what was going on [on the set], so I put the camera where I could do that. I just made sure you could see all the characters.

“I try to make a camera choice that will be powerful but won’t dictate. I don’t want my actors to have to do intense choreography. ‘I want you to be more frame left’ is a note I would never give.”

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Lena Dunham

“I try to give notes that are clear. And I just try to give emotional reasons for what’s happening on screen. Great things can come from people having fun.”

∼ Lena Dunham

Alex Gibney

The Real Story

“I think of documentaries more like nonfiction books. They have a great sense of journalistic inquiry but they’re carefully considered aesthetic achievements, which mix both the personal with the breadth of the story you’re telling.

“[With Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,] I think we crafted the narrative so that it draws viewers in, even as you’re getting into very complicated territory. Creating a sense of mystery allows the viewer to start investigating, and once the viewer is investigating, then everything is working.

“There’s a part of the process that inevitably transforms a film from what you thought it was going to be to what it is. You have to embrace what it is or it’s at the film’s peril. There comes a time in the cutting room where you think, ‘Oh my God, we’re never going to get there. We’ll never solve this problem.’ That used to cause me almost paralyzing anxiety. Over time I got used to the idea that it’s okay not to know. You will know, you just don’t know now.”

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Alex Gibney

Lee Daniels

The Next Act

"My roots, my DNA, what I know is what it’s like to live as an African-American and as a gay man. And I think trying to marry myself, and stories that speak to me, to the studio world has been hard. They want Precious, they want another something like that, but they’re afraid.

"I think that African-American cinema, unless it’s buffoonery, is dead in Hollywood. And I think that even though Precious made money here and internationally, they felt that it was a fluke. But that only inspires me to create, because I’ve always been an underdog. ’Really, Lee, you’re making a movie about that?’

"I can’t embrace anything unless I can identify with the world."

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Lee Daniels

“I think what made Precious so true is that, down to the wallpaper, I worked from a snapshot of the room that I grew up in. I knew exactly where the paint was going to chip from the wall.”

∼ Lee Daniels

Lynn Shelton

Let’s Make a Movie

"[On my first film, We Go Way Back], there were all these people standing around, the smoke machines were going and my actors were totally freaking out. I started fantasizing: ’God, what if I could shoot a movie completely in order? What if there’d be no weird lighting equipment? What if I could create a fiction film that felt like a fly-on-the-wall documentary? That’s what I was going for: Pure naturalism.

"Everybody works for very little [on my films]. Then if I make money, or the producer makes money, we all make money. Everyone gets a piece. … One of the things I wanted to explore [on Touchy Feely] was: Could I keep the intimate feeling of my tiny, family-style film sets where everybody is really excited to be there and on the same page, and it’s a really positive experience for everybody? People of all different stripes from all different departments came up to me and said they just had a great time, and it made me really happy to hear that."

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Lynn Shelton

Jim Jarmusch

Street Smart

Stranger Than Paradise won the Caméra d’Or at Cannes [in 1984] and was bought in territories around the world. "And I thought, maybe I could keep doing this, though we were trying to make a film for ourselves that we would like. We were not at all conscious of the world of cinema commerce—and maybe we were naive. I was very lucky, too, partly being at the right place, right time. I think if we tried to make a film like that now, they’d laugh me out of the room. ’What the hell is this? Each scene is a single setup?’ But that got me started.

"The definition of independent for me is having creative control over the film. You have to have a strong backbone and be willing to walk away from things. It’s easy for me."

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Jim Jarmusch

“I don’t have any problem walking away from something very lucrative that won’t let me make the movie as I want. There’s no choice at all, no hesitation.”

∼ Jim Jarmusch

Tom McCarthy

Accidental Director

On films like The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win, the key to McCarthy’s directorial approach is his collaborative work with actors, a generosity born of his own ongoing career in front of the camera. "Being an actor makes me sympathetic and understanding of how much a director can help or get in the way. Writer-directors can sometimes be too precious with their work, cutting off the greatest resource—which is good actors! Most very good actors like to be directed. They want to get lost. Our job [as directors] is helping them maintain their place.

"For me, it’s always about improving, how to get better. That helps determine where I go next, whether it’s playing with a bigger story, or bigger worlds. Look at Ang Lee, he’s made some interesting choices, he’s zigged and zagged. It comes down to what I’m excited about. How do I stay true to what I want to do and stay flexible to great possibilities? It’s a challenging but exciting place to be creatively."

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Tom McCarthy

Kimberly Peirce

War Cries

"It’s my process: I go out into the world and I start a documentary so that I can then make a fiction. My fiction has to be inspired by the truth," says Peirce, who prefers bankrolling the research phase herself. "I’ve found that’s the only way to wake up in the morning and be creative. I find in the initial phases you have to just do it.

And later when it came to selling her story of war veterans coming home, Stop-Loss, to Hollywood, she realized another key use for all her pre-shot material. She recalls thinking, "If I just send them the script, they won’t understand it. I have all this footage. Why not give them the energy of the movie? So we cut together this five-minute trailer and it was great."

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Kimberly Peirce

“For me, being a director is about being so emotionally centered in the material you can throw anything at me and I fundamentally know where I stand because I’m so inside of it.”

∼ Kimberly Peirce

Kevin Smith

Dirty Movies

"You know, I was never class clown, I was never the one in school that everyone said, ’That’s funny, dude.’" And it’s not like Smith ever planned on becoming a director. The do-it-yourself ethos that fueled Clerks suggested that he took on that particular role just because he could, or had to. It was definitely a case of on-the-job training.

"I would just set up the camera and let [stuff] happen in front of it, because that’s what [Jim] Jarmusch did in Stranger Than Paradise. Or at least that’s what I thought Jarmusch was doing in that film. Of course, in his film it’s actually very deliberate; a very specific thing, and very composed. He makes it look effortless."

Smith admits Clerks was a fantastic calling card movie, "but it’s funny, because I look at it now and I’m just like, ’Man, I want to re-shoot that.’ I didn’t know what to do with the camera. There’s no coverage whatsoever."

For Full Article: Independent Voice - Kevin Smith

Photos: (top to bottom) Byron Gamarro, Gareth Gattermole, Marcie Revens, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Jessica Miglio/HBO, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Courtesy Lee Daniels, Brian Smale, Nicholas Guerin/Corbis, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Brian Davis, Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

Independent Voice

Profiles of independent directors sharing their visions and methods of making movies.

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