Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Winner of the 2007 "Best Film Not Playing At A Theater Near You" award at the Gotham Awards, Ronald Bronstein's Frownland has been a favorite of ours since we saw it at last year's SXSW. Now it will finally be in theaters as it's currently playing at the IFC Center in New York. Here's an interview we ran last summer with Bronstein by David Lowery.
Traveling on the festival circuit and spending days in darkened theaters, one grows accustomed to the ebb and flow of certain trends in independent film. Talkative, shakily digital twentysomething dramedies; sensitive tone poems; documentaries both edgy and lyrical. Then a film like Ronald Bronstein’s Frownland comes out of nowhere and reminds us why we go to festivals in the first place: to see things we’ve never seen before.
Frownland premiered at the SXSW Film Festival this past March, after which those who loved it and those who hated it found they had one thing in common: they couldn’t stop talking about it. In fact, the only thing more galvanizing than watching the film itself was hearing that it was awarded a Special Jury Prize. “That's kind of the beauty of SXSW,” notes festival programmer Matt Dentler. “A film like Frownland was not going to go unnoticed.”
The jury didn’t play it safe, but then again neither did Bronstein, who spent several years crafting a directorial debut that is at times almost unbearably abrasive – a grimy, manic masterpiece of black comedy that buries its humor beneath layers of egregious discomfort. Shot on 16mm and blown up to a feverishly grainy 35mm print, Frownland follows Keith, a stuttering door-to-door coupon salesman, as he negotiates the highs and lows of life on the fringes of New York City. The film begins as a kitchen-sink drama, narrows itself into a character study and then, through several structural permutations, gradually worms its way right into the unstable psyche of its protagonist. Keith, as played by Dore Mann, is a raw nerve of a human being, incapable of coherent communication, as exasperating as he is compelling.
Likewise, Frownland is one of the most confrontational and uncompromising visions to emerge from the American independent scene in recent memory. Since its bow in Austin, Bronstein has shown Frownland at the Maryland Film Festival, CineVegas and Harvard Independent Series, and was recently named one of Filmmaker’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” We spoke to Bronstein about the film just as he was finalizing the deal for French theatrical distribution (currently the film does not have U.S. distribution) – proving that Europe is still a far safer haven for challenging cinema than our own shores.
Filmmaker: You claim story credit on the film, but there’s no “written by” credit. Did you have a script?
Bronstein: I started by writing a pretty detailed script, which in hindsight was a big fat waste of my time. A pinheaded endeavor really. ’Cause the film, as you know, it didn’t actually come into being until it was cast. And from that point on I was grossly adjusting the scenes and the dialogue from day to day, depending on how the dynamics between the actors shifted and deepened during rehearsals. In general, I’m pretty disenchanted with the standard industry approach to scriptwriting. I mean, I do find it helpful in terms of mapping out a structure and overarching themes and stuff, but the act of sitting alone in your room and trying to nail on the page the sort of ineffable dimensionality of human inflection just seems so completely backwards to me. ’Cause as soon as you try and pass that set text through an actor’s mouth, ugh, it’s like knocking a square peg through a round hole. All the immediacy and emotionality gets lost. Like a dubbed voice. Maybe this approach can work if you’re making something grounded in heavy plotting, where the characters and the dialogue exist chiefly to move the narrative from A to B. But I want to work in the reverse. I want the progression of the story to form organically out of the characters themselves. So in my case, capturing realistic dialogue, and all of its roundabout clumsiness, is absolutely essential. I mean every person on the planet has their own singular relationship with syntax and grammar. And that relationship sort of calcifies over time in super complex ways. How can one brain possibly hope to simulate that insane level of detail over several distinct voices? For my purposes it’s much more effective to cast extremely interesting people and then rely on the freshness of their interpretations to generate dialogue. ‘Cause when you tap into someone’s natural speech rhythms, you not only capture nuanced inflection but you get all of the weird muscular gestures and unconscious facial tics that go along with it. And these kinds of elements are extremely important to me. They carry a work. So, yeah, in the end, I felt the term “screenwriter” wasn’t all that applicable. It suggests something absolute.
Filmmaker: What was the production of the film like? Again, judging from the credits, it looks like you had a tiny crew. The entire picture seems quite handmade.
Bronstein: Yeah, I wanted to make something that felt really intimate and it’s funny how a sort of crummy, slipshod aesthetic can do that. Sort of like the feeling you get from reading some hand-scrawled Xeroxed fanzine, where the sloppiness of the presentation becomes a kind of expressive asset to the work, rather than something you have to excuse. I don’t know. I mean if you run across a typo in The New York Times, it’s just flat-out distracting. It doesn’t bring you closer to the writer or the ideas or anything. It merely outs some birdbrain who didn’t do his job correctly. But in the case of something loudly handmade, an error can actually reel you in closer. It points to a total lack of pasteurization and makes a beeline between you and the person that created it. You get this feeling from Syd Barrett records and you get it from Robert Crumb comics and it’s something I want to give off in the work I make. But, yeesh, to actually answer your question, we were a small group of 6 or 7, cast and crew included. Petty quarrels, bad moods and various levels of insidious coaxing were common occurrences I guess, but that’s only because we lived together like a family for several years and everybody was super emotionally invested in the project, which is the only way I can imagine working really. The thought of surrounding myself with technicians who don’t personally identify with the work is sort of scary to me. I think it would constipate me creatively.
Filmmaker: Where did you meet Dore Mann? I assume that there is some level of acting there, but Keith is such a precise bundle of tics and neuroses that it’s easy to assume that’s just the way he is. It's an amazing performance.
Bronstein: Well, I first met Dore at a family funeral. He introduced himself to me as my cousin, which wasn’t quite true. We’re actually what’s called “cousins in common.” Which means his third cousin is cousins with my third cousin or something equally abstract. And yeah, it seems the first thing people want to know after seeing the movie is whether he’s like Keith in real life. Good grief! I mean, personally, I think that’s like the ultimate complement; to embody a role with such crude intensity that people just presume it’s not even acting. But understandably, given Keith’s sorry state of being, this is something that makes Dore a little self-conscious. ’Cause the creation of the role was a very personal thing for him. This process involved isolating and magnifying certain traits of his personality that fit the wretched scope of the project, and bleaching away others that didn’t. What resulted was a character that only he could play, but needless to say, he’s a lot more dynamic when not constrained by the role.
Filmmaker: During his climactic attempt to communicate with his friend Sandy, there are so many little bits and pieces of character information flying out of his mouth - it's as if an entire stream of consciousness portrait of his character is pouring out at once.
Bronstein: Yeah, he’s a complete maniac in it. The rehearsals for that particular scene involved making him prepare enough dialogue for like 10 scenes, then loading him up with a disgusting amount of caffeine, spinning him around, making him sprint down the block until he was dizzy and hyperventilating, and then sort of letting him go so that he was totally incapable of relaying this prepared information linearly or coherently. What came out was this berserk jumble of disparate sentiments that rendered him absolutely senseless. Hopefully though you’re left with the impression that were he to calm down and relax for a second he’d be able to elaborate on each and every word in a completely rational way. That what you’re hearing is not just random babble but rather the tip of some enormous iceberg. Personally, I think it’s his strongest moment in the whole movie.
Filmmaker: Can someone actually make a living in NYC distributing coupon packets?
Bronstein: Well, I don’t know. I mean it’s a ludicrously crummy job. But then again it was based on something Dore actually did for a living when he was younger so I guess it’s not all that unrealistic. There’s something in the nature of the reverse-commute - heading out to the island while the rest of the functioning working world is fighting their way into Manhattan - that struck me as being suitably backwards and maybe a little bit shameful too.
Filmmaker: Both the positive and negative notices for the film use many of the same adjectives – “unpleasant” probably being the most common. Did these responses to the film surprise you in any way, or did you initially set out to create a tough pill to swallow?
Bronstein: The film asks its audience to spend a lot time with a person they’d probably instantly write-off in real life, which I suppose could be viewed as a kind of punishment. But I think the “unpleasantness” in Frownland has more to do with its decided lack of orientation. Is Keith a victim or victimizer? Is the film inviting you to laugh at him? Look down on him? Sympathize with him? Well, it’s kept unclear. Or rather, it spastically jerks you in and out of these various viewpoints and makes it hard to settle on any one of them. Which can be frustrating. Especially when you consider how over-orienting most movies are. But it’s not like it was my intention to harass people here. I mean, I genuinely think there’s value in getting an audience to chew a person over and swallow them and regurgitate them and maybe chew them over some more before arriving at some kind of assessment. I don’t know.
Filmmaker: Incidentally, after seeing the film a second time, I was a bit surprised at my own vehemence of my initial reaction; it went down much more easily, and the humor was far more pronounced.
Bronstein: I’m glad you bring this up ’cause it’s a big part of the work for me and something we were super conscious of while making it. But maybe “funny” isn’t quite the right term. ’Cause it’s funny more in the way an extremely awkward or embarrassing situation can wind up making you laugh out loud at exactly the wrong moment. There’s an exquisite kind of comedy embedded in excruciating moments like this. Though maybe only in hindsight.
Filmmaker: On a related note, what are some of the best reactions you've had, both positive and negative?
Bronstein: Well, yikes, a fight nearly broke out after this one screening in Las Vegas. Some guy in the back of the theatre was booing throughout the closing credits. When they ended, this other guy stood up, turned to face the booer, and screamed, “You! You’re a fucking asshole!” I mean he really screamed. He was absolutely enraged. Red as a beet. Shaking. That’s when a third guy stood up and started defending the booer. The second guy turned on the third. Everyone was arguing. It was sort of a melee. Turns out that last guy was the attending critic for Variety and he wound up writing us a killer review. Which leads me to think that that kind of raw caustic energy is real good for the project. It forces people to quickly choose a position and defend it. I should probably start hiring shills to run up and punch me in the face after each screening.
Filmmaker: This is your debut film. How long did it take you to get it off the ground? And how did you put together financing for a film that's about as far from commercial as one might get?
Bronstein: Ugh. I stopped counting after the third year. But it just took so damn long to get the money together. First, my apartment burned down and I got a small insurance settlement. Then I weaseled my way into a well-paying copywriting job in Sweden, where I lived for a year. Once I had accumulated what I thought would be a suitable shooting budget, I instantly quit, came back to Brooklyn and started making the movie. That money was gone within three months and I spent the next year working six days a week as a projectionist, earning enough to shoot one scene every five weeks and rehearsing non-stop in between. Marc Raybin - who produced the movie - kicked in some money. And so did my family. But deep down I guess I didn’t feel like I’d earned the right to experiment with other people’s money. Thankfully, I don’t have that confidence problem anymore. Which is good ’cause I don’t have any money anymore either.
Filmmaker: Did you submit to many festivals prior to SXSW?
Bronstein: Hmmm. I can't remember exactly, but SXSW was one of the first I applied to, and the one I was most anxious to attend. So I got lucky. I didn’t even apply to Sundance. Mostly because I haven’t had a relationship with anything that's come out of Sundance in so long. I don't know. I think Matt Dentler really distinguishes himself from other big league programmers in that he's so totally committed to discovering and promoting totally under-the-radar projects, and he doesn’t care if there isn’t any cachet behind your name or critical consensus behind your work. I mean, it would be pretty easy to confuse the sort of disheveled quality of Frownland with flat-out ineptitude. Heh. He didn’t and I feel super indebted to him.
Filmmaker: The structure of the film is as precise as it is unpredictable. You follow Keith for approximately an hour, and then spin off into this tangent with his roommate Charles, who then leads back to him. There's a precedent in this, in that the characters of Laura and Sandy each have their own little moments to themselves, but in the extended sequence with Charles, you really subvert expectations about where the film is going. By temporarily removing Keith from the plot, you also set up his climax. Was this something that came about in the editing process, or was the film's structure premeditated?
Bronstein: Yeah, the idea of having this unwieldy narrative departure was premeditated, but like most everything else, it was revised in all sorts of ways while we were shooting. But in general, my goal with the structure was to find some kind of narrative framework that could incorporate the haphazard rhythms of Keith’s emotional life into a fluid network of events. I mean the guy is super unbalanced. All of his relationships are unbalanced. And so the structure of the film wound up being unbalanced too. Some characters exit the film prematurely without any fanfare whatsoever (like Laura). Others grossly outstay their welcome, to almost untenable degrees (like Charles). But in the end, it’s not really an ensemble piece at all and it wasn’t necessary that each character be weighed out equally. These digressions are more like little narrative pivots around Keith. They exist solely to offer new vantage points on the same subject. So even when he’s not onscreen, he’s still the focal point. And the narrative is still careening in accordance with his spastic neediness.
Filmmaker: The film was shot on 16mm, which is a rarity in and of itself these days, and it's being exhibited on a 35mm blow-up. Your MySpace profile name is Frownland16mm. Clearly, film is very important to you. Can you talk about what it represents to you, and why you’re so committed to it? And was the film ever transferred to digital medium throughout the filmmaking process – i.e. did you cut on flatbed?
Bronstein: Yeah, I cut the movie on my flatbed, which in 2007 sounds more like the over-rationalized conceit of a crazy person than any kind of sound methodology. I don’t know. This topic makes me upset. The way a molecule gets “upset.”
Filmmaker: There seems to be an immediate instinct to note that anything shot on 16mm with a zoom lens harkens back to a ’70s style of filmmaking, and I saw some press at the time of the premiere that bandied about names like Cassavetes; but Frownland is quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. Maybe early Mike Leigh films, but other than that, it's a strikingly original piece of work – something that's very rare in independent cinema. Would you actually cite any influences that might have affected you?
Bronstein: Mike Leigh is probably the single biggest influence on the work. And there’s a scene in Nuts in May [from the U.K. TV series Play for Today] that pretty much sets the bar for excruciating comedy. But I’m not really a cinephile and I don’t watch movies all that often. Let’s see. I love most of the kitchen-sink Brits - Tony Richardson, Alan Clarke, Lindsay Anderson. I love Frederick Wiseman. I love Robert Altman. And while I’ve no doubt absorbed a lot of their vocabulary, Frownland was whipped up in a pretty airtight vacuum I think.
Filmmaker: I talked to Charles Burnett about Killer Of Sheep not too long ago and he said that one of the things that freed him to make such a strong film was that he had no expectations for it, commercial or otherwise. He simply wanted to make it. Did you have any preconceived notions of what the film would be like, who it would be for, when you were making it? Did you make it for an audience?
Bronstein: Well, I certainly wasn’t c-c-c-careerist about it, that’s for sure. But I do secretly nurse this harebrained, solipsistic assumption that there are tons of other people just like me who are feeling disenfranchised from the current trends and looking for a return to more personal work.
Filmmaker: Any developments on a sophomore feature?
Bronstein: My wife Mary, who plays Laura in Frownland, has written this really abrasive script that she’s going to direct and act in this fall. And me and my friends are gonna shoot it. In the meanwhile, I’m sketching out ideas for my next feature. The working title is Tapioca Tundra and it focuses on this sort of bedraggled yippee collective’s attempts to bring this careening mess of a psychedelic play to life. Sounds horrible, eh? I know. So far it’s shaping up to be a lot angrier than Frownland, but also funnier too. We’ll see.
originally posted: August 29, 2007
Labels: Web Exclusives
Friday, August 24, 2007
September Dawn has been attracting controversy ever since it began shooting last year. The film, directed and co-written by Christopher Cain (Young Guns), tells the story of the events surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre when, on the morning of September 11, 1857, a wagon train of over 100 Westward-bound Christian settlers were brutally slain by Mormon militia. The incident has continued to be a historical talking point as the Mormons accused of the murders were disguised as Native Americans and have always denied any culpability in the matter. However a wealth of documentation backs up the claims against the Mormons, and Cain used this information as a background for a dramatic narrative about the massacre which features both real-life characters such as Brigham Young, here played by Terence Stamp, and composite creations like Mormon patriarch Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight).
As is often the case with the films he appears in, Jon Voight's performance is arguably the highlight of September Dawn. Voight began his career as one of the most compelling leading men in Hollywood, and was propelled to instant star status with his Oscar-nominated turn as Joe Buck in John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969). In the 1970s, Voight was famously cautious about which projects to take on, but despite him being far from prolific during this period, he gave unforgettable performances in Deliverance (1972), The Champ (1979) and Hal Ashby's Coming Home, for which Voight received the Best Actor Academy Award. In contrast with earlier in his career, for the past decade Voight has been working non-stop as he has transformed himself into a ubiquitous character actor, appearing both in Hollywood studio fare and lower profile, more personal projects. In 2001, he was once again Oscar-nominated for his role as TV sportscaster Howard Cosell in Michael Mann's biopic, Ali.
A few months ago, during a break from filming National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Voight came to New York to talk to Filmmaker about September Dawn and his thoughts looking back over an illustrious, and ongoing, career.
Voight: Now let me say this: you know me very well and we've talked before, so you can be free to ask me whatever you want.
Filmmaker: OK, great.
Voight: There are quotes you get along the beaten path, and some of them are real, some of them are not. Some of them are real but come from a time of a very specific viewpoint that changes. There are moments from the past that are just moments in response to a certain role or activity in one's life, and are marked by those things. So it's good to be able to be relaxed and thorough, and also be in a situation where you're not trying to sell something, whatever it is. You want to unburden yourself of all the other things, and get the real stuff.
Filmmaker: To start off with, how did you get involved with September Dawn, and what were your reasons for doing it?
Voight: Firstly, Chris Cain and I had had a friendly relationship. Whenever I was with him, I always felt he was a good fellow: we had a few laughs and I was intrigued by his personality. I saw and liked a couple of his movies. I liked his way of approaching things, very simple, clear. He's a no-nonsense kinda guy, with a nice sense of humor. I said at one point, “I think we should work together.” You don't think when you make that statement that anything would bring you together, but you're putting yourself out there. Then I got a call from Chris, saying “Jon, I want you to take a look at this.” I said, “OK,” so I took a look at the piece. It was very shocking, it was a page-turner — I couldn't really put it down. But the question at the end of it was, “Was this real?” Well, it's a very documented piece of history, a true event, so I looked it up on the web. I read a lot of things because I didn't want to be irresponsible here, I wanted to be sure I knew what I was talking about and that this piece was representative.
Filmmaker: Did the character you play actually exist?
Voight: He's an amalgam. The character is an interesting invention that allows you to see some of the history and the psychology that was involved in creating this massacre. So I thought it was a very good artistic invention. Another invention is the love story, which I think is important too because it allows us to care about the characters and see another perspective.
Filmmaker: How much did you personally contribute to the character? What did your research add to the part?
Voight: It was just a sense of confidence that what I was going to do was appropriate. You have to do research with films like this. Then, for me, it was finding that mark within the character, the insecurity and self-doubt of the character, the need for acceptance and importance – the weaknesses of his personality, and his ability because of those weaknesses to do the unthinkable. I think it's a portrait of the psychology of the Mormon people who were involved in this tragedy.
Filmmaker: A few years ago I interviewed Steve Burum, the D.P. on Mission: Impossible, who said you regularly had suggestions for Brian De Palma.
Voight: Nic [Cage] made a joke about this. I made a suggestion to Nic when we were shooting a scene [in National Treasure 2]. Nic is a very good actor, he's very smart at telling the story through the character. We don't say too much to each other, because we're very delicate about suggesting or asking things of each other, sometimes a little too delicate. We did a couple of takes, and it looked like we were going to take that, but there was a little moment that I thought he could correct. So I suggested it to Nic, and he immediately thought it was the right thing to do. Then he said to the crew, “Wait a minute, Jon Voight has a suggestion to make, which is of course a very unusual occurrence!” and everybody laughed. But the little laugh was interesting to me, because obviously they get the idea that I am making suggestions [laughs], and apparently everybody knows that it's my m.o. that I'll participate. My ego is not involved, my thought is, “Is there something that can be improved in this sequence?”
Filmmaker: So you're there to contribute.
Voight: Yeah, that's exactly right. I'm always working on the scene right until the last take, and may make an adjustment that, when I look back, I say, “Wow! Thank God I made that adjustment, because that was the whole answer.” When there's a discomfort, if you address it you can usually come up with something that will illuminate the scene. Sometime it's just a line that needs to be fixed. Recently it happened: I was working on a scene and I had a line to say that didn't quite fit. I kept chewing on it until the words just fell right; we're always working just to make the piece flow. It wasn't a big thing, but the moment allowed me to enter the doorway of the scene in a graceful and easy way. I keep chewing on things — I'm a worrier. I'll get an idea, and write it down in the middle of the night and then come back and give it a try and see if some part of it has a value.
Filmmaker: I remember when I saw Ali, I didn't recognize you when you were playing Howard Cosell. How do you transform yourself like that?
Voight: Well, I'm a character actor: Joe Buck [in Midnight Cowboy] was not me, of course, and yet the character has to be animated by you. Finally, it can't be acting — that's the thing. When people ask, “How do you act in a movie?”, I say “Just don't get caught acting.” Even if you have extreme characters, they have to come right down to being you, you have to be able to converse through that character until there is no difference. I had done Heat with Michael [Mann], and then he comes to Ali, and I thought he would b a good person to do that because of his almost documentary realism that he insists on, and his virility, which I thought would be good for this piece.
Filmmaker: What background knowledge did you have of the film?
Voight: Well, I knew Ali. I had a couple of wonderful experiences just meeting him, we kept in touch and I called his house just before the [George] Foreman fight in Zaire. I called, hoping to get his wife, Belinda, but he answered. I didn't want to speak to him before the fight, because I didn't want to give him any of my fear, because I was afraid for him. I said, “Mohammad, it's Jon Voight.” “Oh Jon, how you doing?” I said, “Good, good. So what about this fight?” I didn't want to say it, but it came out of my mouth. He said, “Well, I have to win it, don't I?” To me, it was an amazing statement. What that meant was, for so many reasons, not just for his career but for all the people who were counting on him, he felt the responsibility to fight. It was more than just a fight. He had to win this battle. By the way, Mohammad Ali never wanted to be called “the greatest” — he's much more humble than that. He's not a braggart, he's something else: a showman, who's playful, trying to do things with his personality. He's another thing.
Filmmaker: So how did you get the role of Howard Cosell?
Voight: Well, I didn't see anything for me to do in the film, but I was talking to Michael about the film in a spirit of artistic camaraderie. Then he called me and said, “What do you think about playing Howard Cosell?” I said, “Wow, that's interesting! Let me think about that one.” The first thing that came into my mind was that it was a very brave choice. It seemed quite far from my own personality, but because there was no fanfare about my playing that role, people went and saw the movie and then they got the role. So as a character actor who changed physically and psychologically with every role — which is what I've become known for — it didn't seem so crazy. When I read the script, the role was not in great depth, but I could see the structure of it. I had been interviewed by Howard Cosell when I was a young actor and I remembered the interview and his sensibilities vividly. He was capable of being hurt; he had some injuries that had left him vulnerable. And I had read his first book, and he was an advocate for many things and very admirable. He was a civil rights guy, and even used his legal training in defense of Ali. He and Ali had a great affection for each other, a genuine friendship, and they were both characters and they were both funny. They came alive when they were with each other: they looked forward to these little verbal battles and challenges, and they both grew in it. So I wanted to portray that aspect, and felt I had a reason to play the role. Then I knew I was as tall as Howard and I could use my height to my advantage, and the leanness of Howard. And I liked his pot belly and round shoulders and his way of talking. I thought it would be a fun character to play, so I said, “Let's go.” I knew there would be some people who would say it was bad casting, but that also tickled me.
Filmmaker: And you were then Oscar-nominated for that role, which was a great vindication.
Voight: An Oscar nomination is always to be appreciated. If you're fortunate enough to be one of those five, you should be grateful, and I was.
Filmmaker: During the seventies you were very cautious about taking on the right roles, and were not prolific then as a result.
Voight: Yes, I was very concerned that I do the right thing with my career, and I'm a worrier so I go through the process of going over and over things in my mind. But I know once I've made a decision, I'm fully committed. I do a lot of research, and really give myself over to the project.
Filmmaker: One of the films you did during that period was All-American Boy, which was supposed to be a big film for you but had a lot of problems.
Voight: Well, that was a tough one. We all worked hard on that. Charles [Eastman] was a first-time director, but he had a perfectionist mentality. It was not commercially successful, but still has very great literary qualities. I felt responsible, because it was a vehicle for me, and I felt bad that I couldn't pull it off.
Filmmaker: You felt it was your fault?
Voight: I feel responsible for every film I do, especially if I have the lead role. I want to do my best for me.
Filmmaker: How did you feel before you made Coming Home, for which you won an Oscar, because none of the films you did in the five-year period prior to that had really taken off?
Voight: Conrack and The Odessa File were the two films that were made in between Deliverance and Coming Home. They were both films that I cared about, and both by directors of some note, Marty Ritt and Ronnie Neame. Those films remain films that I care about now, they're responsible and decent films, good films. They have touched many hearts, so they have done their work, but Hollywood lives by the commercial value of the pieces. If you don't make money on the initial release, it becomes difficult to get your next piece made.
Filmmaker: What emotional or psychological effect did that lack of success have on you?
Voight: To go over this, it distorts. When I look over my career, I've been tremendously blessed and I don't want to dwell on the difficulties. You're always looking for that good piece and the expectations run very high always. In every film, there's something that I cared about, so that's a big thing to say. When I look back, I haven't done too badly, and I have nothing that I have to be ashamed of. They're all my children, and I like them all. Each one of them has a value, and the value that I perceived going into them still remains. And they still have an effect on people too. For instance, my daughter says Conrack is her favorite film of mine. That's an interesting thing that makes it valuable right there. And my mother loved that film.
Filmmaker: Which film are you most proud of?
Voight: I'd have to say the body of work is what I'm proud of. Each individual film that I've made, I can look back and see why I enlisted. I can't say one above the others, but if I had to choose one, I'd have to say Midnight Cowboy. First of all, it had very important themes, but the atmosphere of work was really focused on the piece, because of [the producer] Jerry Hellman, who protected the piece, because of John Schlesinger's energy. John was like Kazan was on A Streetcar Named Desire — he invested himself in the acting. And I had a great role and a great cast, you know, Dusty [Hoffman]. Dusty and I just hit this magic: we were both young actors who wanted to express ourselves to the detail of the work as we saw it. We were filled with enthusiasm for doing the work, and helping each other. It was a rare occurrence — we weren't in the commercial [mindset] at all, it was a time when we were protected from it. It was the first piece that I could identify with, but there are many others, and there still are that I really care about. I'm still goin'.
Labels: Web Exclusives
Monday, August 6, 2007
Currently in its fifth year, Fast Track, a joint program of the Los Angeles Film Festival and Filmmaker magazine, was created to promote the careers of talented filmmakers over the course of a year, while spreading the word about their newest projects. The filmmakers chosen are alumni of the LAFF as well as alumni of Film Independent's Talent Development Programs: the Filmmaker Labs, Project: Involve, and the grants awarded at the Spirit Awards. Here are the Fast Track filmmakers of 2007 and their upcoming projects.
Labels: Web Exclusives