Magazine article Variety

Nerve with Verve

Magazine article Variety

Nerve with Verve

Article excerpt

J.C. Chandor ("All Is Lost"), Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station"), Scott Cooper ("Out of the Furnace"), Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave") and John Wells ("August: Osage County") joined in a Focus on Directors panel that Variety sponsored at the Mill Valley Film Festival on Oct. 12. What follows are excerpts of the session, moderated by Variety deputy features editor Peter Caranicas.

What attracted each of you to the story behind your film?

CHANDOR: There's a letter that opens "All Is Lost." It's a kind of death letter, which is the base of any survival film. I wrote that, and it sat around for probably five or six months, and then I slowly started to collect a narrative around it. It was an idea that wouldn't go away. I was doing some other jobs at the time, and I was editing "Margin Call" but just built from that one little kernel.

COOGLER: I saw the handheld footage of an unarmed guy being shot and killed for pretty much no reason. And the guy looked like me, he wore clothes like mine, his friends are like my friends. I went through a whole range of emotions. Out of those feelings I got the idea to work on ("Fruitvale Station").

COOPER: After "Crazy Heart" was released and met with some acclaim, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to tell next. I felt this responsibility to shine a light on some of the things that were occurring in the American narrative - a crumbling Rust Belt economy, soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with no way to assimilate back into American society. And also a man, played by Christian Bale, who was beset on all sides by a relentless fate. I read about this small dying steel town in Pennsylvania called Braddock. I felt I could set a narrative there.

WELLS: I saw Tracy Letts' play before I knew I'd have anything to do with it. Then I met with Harvey Weinstein and he said, "Oh, you ought to direct August: Osage County.' " And I said, "Sure." Harvey tends to say things like that sometimes, and you don't really ever hear anything about it. But I got back to my office and they said, "Well, I guess you're doing August: Osage County.'" So I spent a couple of wonderful years back and forth with Tracy Letts working on a screenplay.

MCQUEEN: I wanted to make a comment about slavery. For me it hadn't been given a cinematic treatment, which I wanted to investigate. I liked the idea that someone was free and has been kidnapped and taken to this maze of slavery. My wife said to me, "Why don't you look into true accounts of slavery?" We came across the book "12 Years a Slave." It's very strange to have an idea and then see it in a book within weeks from starting a project. I was upset with myself that I didn't know this book, but then I found out no one knew it. It was a mesmerizing book. I live in Amsterdam; it was like reading Anne Frank's diary for the first time. A first-hand account of slavery. That was my passion, that's the film I wanted to make.

All of your films are independent dramatic features, the kinds of movies the major studios are shying away from these days. ... How do you manage to get them financed and made?

CHANDOR: My original script is only 31 pages long, so it goes against the grain. But we found the right budget that made sense, and Lionsgate came on board along with Roadside Attractions, who had produced my first film. It was based on the script and the actor. And then Universal Pictures Inti, bought about 95% of the world in a two-day period. The business model made sense to them. They never felt overexposed financially and let us deliver the exact movie that was in that first 31 pages. …

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