Magazine article American Cinematographer

Interview with JOHN SAYLES

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Interview with JOHN SAYLES

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: John Sayles recently chatted with us about the production of LIANNA. What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation. It may be of interest to know that LIANNA, which deals with a woman who realizes that she is a lesbian at the same time as her marriage is breaking up, was written by Sayles four years before he wrote THE RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN. At the time he realized that he could not raise enough money to do LIANNA so he concocted the story for SECAUCUSSEVEN in order to have a script which he could do for the amount of money he had available.

On LIANNA, we shot thirty-six days - six consecutive six-day weeks. We shot in Hoboken, and the crew, except for three or four people from Boston, were coming from nearby Manhattan or New Jersey or Brooklyn. They would come across the river every morning, and then go home at night. It's nice, for people to get to go home and forget about the movie.

I shot in Hoboken because we live there and that's where we could ask for the most favors. Hoboken is where ON THE WATERFRONT was shot, but we never, until the very last shot, pointed the camera toward the river and the city skyline and even then we didn't make a big deal of it. So it's just supposed to be an Eastern liberal arts college, vaguely urban but not New York City.

There were probably 20 different locations. One of the problems with the way that I write and the budgets I work with is that I write with a lot of characters and a lot of small scenes and they tend to happen in a lot of different locations. With LIANNA, I did some re-writing to accommodate the budget. Originally, I had written it for the West Coast when I was living there so the scene in the pool was at the beach.

We live in a house in Hoboken and during the shooting our ground floor was Ruth's bedroom. Another bedroom in the house was Frieda's. The second floor was the production office with all the phones and the mimeo machine and then the editing room was the third floor.

LIANNA doesn't have the home movie feeling that SECAUCUS SEVEN did. With SECAUCUS we weren't going to make it look great with the kind of money we had so we went for a rougher edge, whereas with LIANNA, we wanted to take some of that edge off. The movie's depressing enough in some places that we didn't want to go with the real hard-edge film noir look, so we kept it a little softer. It's not a heavy melodramatic film and I don't think that look would have been right for it.

There is very little camera movement in LIANNA. There's some in the dance scene but generally the dancer moves and the camera doesn't. There's one scene that we tried to do hand-held, but some of it works and some of it doesn't. The big argument scene between Lianna and Dick moves around but it moves with the characters. When it works, you're not aware of the camera and this was my intention-to give the feeling of a little space around them and them moving around each other. Now and then there are simple tracking shots if people are walking and there's a little movement in the love-making scenes. Generally, it was not a priority to do a whole lot with the depth. These are very articulate people, both in SECAUCUS SEVEN and LIANNA, so they can do a lot of expressing of their own. Sometimes they're not saying what they mean, and sometimes they're trying to get off the hook by being articulate when really they're emotional; but still they're very articulate. With BABY, IT'S YOU, the picture I directed after LIANNA, the characters are high school kids who are not that articulate and the film depends a great deal more on the visuals. Fortunately for that one I had more money.

My first priority is always with the acting and the believability of the characters. The second priority is visuals and sound. I'm always telling the actors if you feel like you've got another one, tell me about it and we'll do it again or if you want to try something different, try it. …

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