Magazine article Filmmaker

Real Talk

Magazine article Filmmaker

Real Talk

Article excerpt

One day in the early '90s, I decided to be a filmmaker. So I did what any narcissistic 20-year-old would do, and walked into the offices of Good Machine to alert them. I didn't know James Schamus or Ted Hope. I hadn't heard of Ang Lee or Hal Hartley. I had only heard of myself and myself wanted to be a filmmaker. The ignorance was mutual - they hadn't heard of me either, but they took me in and patiently explained the art of paying dues. For the remainder of college, I worked there at every opportunity. The week before I graduated, Hope asked if I wanted to PA on a film (the main objective I thought) so naturally I accepted. Triumph! But set wasn't the prize. It was working with Hal Hartley, or rather, it was watching Hal Hartley work that was my trophy.

During preproduction, I was asked to run rehearsals. This coveted role won me few friends since it gave me complete access to the actors and the director. Sort of. My job was to stay down the hall, answer the phone, man the coffee machine and welcome arriving and departing actors. Sometimes no one called. Sometimes no one wanted coffee. Sometimes no one came. Those were the times I crept down the hall to learn how to be a filmmaker. I hadn't yet been on set, but I already knew this was better. Actors were spread out on chairs, some were pacing, most were smoking. Hartley sat in the center. That's where I want to be. As an exercise, he had the actors say their lines without inflection, to hurry through, bury the punctuation and continue between pauses. This flattening gave everything equal meaning. One word sounded the same as the last and the actors relied on their gestures for content like silent movie stars. They continued, alone, in unison, on and on until the droning monophonic repetition sounded like a chant I didn't get it There are countless ways to interpret one line, a variety of ways to deliver dialogue - why was he making everyone sound the same?

I walked down that hall nearly every day for three weeks watching Hartley work, trying to make sense of him. He choreographed gestures, silences, dialogue, building his story one movement at a time. His signature style, his specific voice - a spare, open anxiety - permeated that room, took root in the actors, and in me. …

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