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Interview - Joel Edgerton Offers 'The Gift'

Joel Edgerton

Not only does Joel Edgerton star in The Gift, it also marks his feature directorial debut.  I spoke with Joel about the whole experience.  You can listen to the full audio by clicking here.

Matt:  Many of us will have had friends pop up unexpectedly from the past who we’re not really interested in associating with.  Where did the idea for this story come from?

Joel:  My brain works in mysterious ways and a lot of times I’m thinking about stories that are going to make good fictional stories.  Given that I’m twenty-something years out of high school, what would it be like if someone from your past tapped you on the shoulder and you vaguely remembered them?  What if you hadn’t of been such a good person?  The possibilities of a story like that were very exciting for me. 

Nowadays with social media, it’s a lot easier for people to pop out of their hidy-holes and go “hey”.  You often don’t need to rekindle those relationships but what if someone has a psychology where they feel they need to.  You’re forced to deal with it.  It’s a social etiquette responsibility.

Matt:  You’ve written several screenplays such as The Square and Felony but you’ve handed them over to other directors.  Was the intention always to direct The Gift?

Joel:  The intention at first was just to write the story.  I was all excited about playing a creepy, overbearing character that became Gordo in the movie.  It wasn’t until I was in the experience of writing it that I realised it would set me up perfectly as a first time director because it wasn’t going to cost a tonne of money and it was quite contained in terms of its scale of set and character. 

Matt:  Did you find the process easier or harder than you anticipated?

Joel:  There were days when I found it incredibly hard but other days I found incredibly smooth and rewarding.  I actually called and texted some other directors I’d worked for to jokingly tell them sorry for anything I did that slowed down the process.  The second thing I said was that you had the best job in the world. 

Matt:  You’ve been working in the industry for about 20 years and have worked under a number of different directors.  Are there some in particular who have had an influence on you?  Those that have shaped the way you direct now?

Joel:  I feel lucky to have worked with directors who were loved by their cast and crew.  The reason was because they loved their cast and crew in return.  I learned that from Gavin O’Connor, Ridley Scott, Scott Cooper and a lot of the Blue Tongue guys.  I believe that filmmaking is such a collaborative art.  You hire great people and you get out of their way.  It should be a fun experience that is shared by all and contributed to by all.

I’ve learned that lesson from a lot of directors and it’s a simple “path of least resistance” thing that makes the job a whole lot easier.  I’ve had a front row seat to watch so many great people make movies and that’s the privilege of being an actor.

Matt:  Hollywood has a tendency to make people either good or evil.  There’s not a lot of room in between.  Without giving too much away, there’s a lot of greyness to all of these characters.  Was that always your intention when writing the screenplay?

Joel:  Yeah, suspense movies are intended to be a journey around a series of corners and the audience is not meant to know what happens next.  That extended to the characters themselves in this case and whether they were good or bad people.  It’s always been an interest of mine as an actor through movies like Felony where you get a good character and you give them a lot of “grey” space.  You then take a bad character and you give them a lot of “grey” space.  That has always interested me as an actor and it’s now filtering into my work as a writer and director.

Matt:  There are some intense scenes in the film where characters are walking around and you get the sense that something is about to happen.  How much post-production work goes into the editing and the music right in those moments?  How do you know you’ve got it just right?

Joel:  That work can’t be done alone with a director and an actor.  If you were there on the set on the day that Rebecca Hall was walking down corridors in the movie, it doesn’t feel half as suspenseful as what it does in the movie.  I was proud of the music of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, the sound design of Julian Slater, and the cinematography of Eduard Grau. 

Performance plus music plus sound creates something where the tension starts to build.  You can intensify that in the editing suite.  I need to drop the name of Luke Doolan, my editor, who cut Animal Kingdom and is a master of tension.   Together, we try to freak the audience out.

Matt:  Do you get to show the film to test audiences to see how they react?  Or do you just talk about it yourself in the editing room?

Joel:  The testing process in America is interesting and unique.  It’s frustrating, it’s wonderful and it’s everything in between.  You have to make use of it when making a movie that will be released widely.  My budget was very low so there wasn’t a lot of pressure but when the decision was made to release it on 2,500 screens, suddenly I was in the game of having to test.

I’m a big believer that if you’re told you have to do something, rather than resist you should lean into the experience and mine it for the benefits that it throws up.  We learned a lot about how to adjust the movie accordingly.  What I really fought for was sticking to my artistic vision that I wanted.

Matt:  The house you’ve used in the movie really does add to the tension with its spacious rooms, high ceilings of course, big glass windows.  Was it easy to find?

Joel:  Strangely enough, I’d written the film to be set in a more typical house rather than the mid-century modern house that we settled on.  My designer really loved the house.  The idea of a movie in a house predominantly made of glass was important to my cinematographer and I because we were talking a lot about reflection. 

Also, I remember as a kid growing up in a house with a lot of glass.  At night time, you get this feeling that anyone out there can see me but I can’t see them.  We start the movie going “wouldn’t you love to live in this house?” and by the end of the movie it’s like “get me out of this place.”   

Matt:  Did you always picture yourself in the role of Gordo?  Did you think about playing Simon instead?

Joel:  There were a number of incarnations.  At one point, I floated the idea of playing Simon to help get finance in the early stages.  I’d written the script with the intention of creating a weird character to play and then someone else would direct the movie.  Once I realised I was directing, I thought maybe I should let go of the idea of being in it as well.  I had such a clear vision of how the character was going to look and sound that it was hard to let go.  I ended up crossing my fingers and doing both.

Matt:  How did you get Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall involved?  As the director, are you also out there trying to find the right actors or do you have other people who help out?

Joel:  You have people throwing names in a hat and discussing concepts.  When you’re talking about a married couple in a movie, you have to find the “perfect storm” of two actors who are compatible.  Jason seemed like a really exciting idea to me as he wasn’t the typical choice.  As an actor, I’m always looking for people to cast me in roles that I’m not the typical choice for.  There was a bit of my own ego in the casting of Jason.  I wanted someone who would love the challenge of doing something they’re not used to doing.  Plus, he’s a comic actor doing a serious part when I think creates a surprising and exciting situation. 

It’s tough.  As a first time director, I was worried that people would be “I dunno if I can trust this guy.”  I’m an actor.  I get first time directors sniffing around and I’m like “I like the script but where’s the proof that you’re going to do a good job?”  What you need are actors who will trust you and have faith.  Jason and Rebecca were two who were willing to take the gamble .

Matt:  Can you tell us when we’re going to see you on screen next?  What’s coming up?

Joel:  Black Mass will be the next one in September.  It stars Johnny Depp and is set in Boston.  It’s about the Boston Irish Mafia figure Whitey Bulger and his relationship with the FBI agent John Connolly who I play.  It’s like a Goodfellas-type gangster story.  The movie is amazing.  Very rarely do you watch a movie that you’re in where it meets your expectations and goes beyond that.  I’m excited for people to see it.

Making The Most Of Q&A Opportunities

One of the nice perks of being a film critic is getting to host the occassional public Q&A when talent comes to Brisbane.  Below I've shared a few photos from some of the folk I've been fortunate enough to speak with this year.  Gillian Armstrong was in town last Friday night and she was wonderfully open about her experiences in bringing Women He's Undressed to the screen.

My next Q&A will be in August when author Bill Bryson will be speaking about A Walk In The Woods, based on his novel.  You can find out more and book tickets on the Palace Cinemas website.  I might see you there!

 

2015 Australian Men's Amateur
With director Gillian Armstrong for Women He's Undressed.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
With director Damon Gameau for That Sugar Film.

 

2015 Australian Men's Amateur
With director Kim Farrant for Strangerland.

 

 

RIP James Horner & Thanks For The Music

It was around lunchtime today that I learned about the tragic death of 61-year-old composer James Horner.  Horner was an aviation enthusiast who died after the small aircraft he was piloting crashed 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, California.

Since I was 16 years old, I’ve had a love for movie music.  I’ve got a large soundtrack collection featuring some of my favourite composers – Thomas Newman, Randy Edelman, Michael Nyman, John Williams, Jon Brion and Jerry Goldsmith.

The very first soundtrack I ever bought was for Legends Of The Fall, composed by James Horner.  It was a wonderful score that I’ve listened to many times.  Since then, I’ve adored many of Horner’s works.  I was particularly pleased when he won an Academy Award in 1998 for his score of Titanic.  To this day, I still can’t believe that an orchestral film score was the highest selling album of 1998 (ahead of the Backstreet Boys, Shania Twain, ‘N Sync and Garth Brooks).

For this week’s blog, I thought I’d share my 10 favourite James Horner scores with a link to Youtube so that you can listen to them for yourself. 

Legends Of The Fall - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaxZeisCHv8.

A Beautiful Mind - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWpwZf3jebw

Casper - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8zYrt0c8O4

Braveheart - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkLrnI7SsVY

Apollo 13 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTSmtKDvnWQ

Titanic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wz1xA5kxVI

Avatar - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gayblm2aZdc

The Mask Of Zorro - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Weep71ay4Bc

Field Of Dreams - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y4hIU_ebnE

Glory - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR09OclTLNk

 

Thanks James for all the music and may you rest in peace.

 

Interview - Going 'Inside Out' With Director Pete Docter

Pete Docter

Pete Docter can seemingly do no wrong.  He played a big part in writing Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, WALL-E, and Up – which won him an Academy Award.  His latest film is the amazing Inside Out and I was thrilled to chat to him about it…

Matt:  The animated feature industry is so competitive these days.  Twenty years ago, you’d get an annual Disney film and that’s about it.  Now, you’ve seemingly got one coming out every few weeks.  Is it tougher to be creative in such a competitive environment?

Pete:  It is but our hope is that every film is original and new.  You don’t want to repeat yourself and that’s harder and harder to do with more product out there.  It gets tricky but we’re having a great time and we’re trying to bring that fun and energy to the screen.

Matt:  I look back at animated features from 20 years ago and you’ve got Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty & The Beast and your first film, Toy Story.  They had a budget of around $30-$40m.  Today’s animated features have budgets around $200m.  Where is all this extra money going?

Pete:  I don’t know if those numbers are totally accurate but we don’t talk too much about the budget.  I don’t think it’s quite gone up that much.  Some of it is how you count the cash in terms of overheads and publicity costs.  It’s funny though as it still takes about the same amount of time as it did to make a film 20 years ago.  Computers haven’t saved any time unfortunately but it has allowed us to bring a richer look to the screen with more texture.  It’s also offered a lot more possibility in terms of story opportunities.

Matt:  Let’s talk about Inside Out.  This is such an amazing concept which is rich in detail.  Where did the idea come from?

Pete:  It came from thinking about what was going on with my 11-year-old daughter.  She was a goofy, funny, little kid but when she turned 11, she became much more serious and sombre and quiet.  It was a big change and I was wondering what was inside her head.  To some degree, it reminded me of myself as I went through a similar kind of change.  It was an opportunity to explore a world that we’re all at once familiar with but which none of us have ever seen before – the world inside our mind.

Matt:  I know it can take a long time to develop these ideas.  How long did it take from developing the idea through to today’s cinematic release?

Pete:  It was right after Up.  Jonas Rivera and I were exploring ideas and this one came to mind.  We then got distracted with other elements of films like Monsters University.  In the end I think it was about a 5 year process.

Matt:  How did you settle on the 5 emotions of joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust?

Pete:  We did a lot of research because we knew very little about how the mind works.  It turns out that even science is still struggling to figure this out.  There’s still no consensus on how many emotions there are.  Depending on who you speak with, you’ll get very different answers ranging from 4 to 27 different emotions.  We knew 27 would be too crowded so we ended up with 5 due to the work of Paul Ekman who is a scientist who worked in San Francisco.  He had initially suggested there were 6 basic emotions – the 5 we have plus surprise who seemed redundant with fear so we cut him out.

Matt:  I was curious about the gender of these emotion characters.  In the mother, they’re all female.  In the father, they’re all male but in Riley, they’re a mix.  Any reason behind that?

Pete:  Yeah, I wanted the emotions in Riley to be as wide and varied as possible so as to create the most amount of contrast and entertainment.  They’re different sizes, different colours, and we felt having both male and female casting would be really fun.  When it came to mum and dad, that got confusing.  There’s a scene over dinner where we go inside of mum and dad’s head and if you mixed that up with male and female characters, you end up getting confused where you are.  So we gave all of the dad’s emotions a moustache just like he had and we have all of the mum’s emotions glasses and a wig like she had. 

Matt:  The dialogue in this film is amazing and there are so many great one-liners.  How much work goes into it?  Is there a worry you might over-think some of the material?

Pete:  Oh yeah, and I’m sure we do (laughs).  We had the chance to work with some very funny people like Josh Cooley who was one of the writers.  He provided an endless number of funny lines.  We tapped on the voice cast too to help us improve the comedy throughout the whole thing.

Matt:  What’s interesting about the cast is that unlike so many other animated features, there isn’t a big Hollywood star.  In fact, Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Mindy Kaling are more known for their work on TV than in cinema.  How easy was it finding this group of actors?

Pete:  In the case of this film, and I think it’s true of all the other films we’ve done, we designed the characters thinking independently of any actor.  We just tried to design a character we really like.  Once we have that design, we start listening to voices by stripping just the audio track away from a film or TV show that they’ve been in.  The actors we picked seemed so perfect for their roles.  Lewis Black played Anger and I don’t know if you could do any better in terms of casting.  Once you get the actors in and record with them, they end up changing the roles because you adjust as a writer to try to capitalise on what they do.

Matt:  I’m getting a little tired of sequels and reboots but I was excited by the way this film wrapped up.  It feels like the door is open for sequels if you wish to go down that path.  Any plans to do so?

Pete:  It wasn’t deliberate.  We were trying to wrap it up with a slight ambiguity because she’s only 12 so there’s a lot of life left to live.  You never know.  I’ve worked on this film for 5 years and I’m excited to open the door to something new so we’ll see what happens.

Matt:  What projects have you got coming up next?  Given how long it takes to get these films made, are there ideas you have at the moment that we’re going to see from you in 2-3 years’ time?

Pete:  Oh, yeah.  Even this fall we have The Good Dinosaur.  It’s the first time we’ve ever had 2 Pixar films in one year which is exciting.  The premise is around if the asteroid had of missed and not wiped out the dinosaurs, what would the world be like today?  It’s charming and funny and directed by Pete Sohn.  Next summer, we have a sequel to Finding Nemo called Finding Dory.  All of your favourite characters will be back plus some new ones.  Past that, we have a lot of other stuff like Toy Story 4 that John Lassiter is directing and a bunch of stuff we haven’t even announced yet.  It’s an exciting time at Pixar.

Matt:  You’ve made so many great animated featured.  Would you ever consider making a live action movie?

Pete:  Why, do you have something in mind (laughs)?

Matt:  Haha, I don’t have a script handy but I’m sure you’ve got people throwing stuff your way?

Pete:  You never know.  Storytelling is storytelling and there are a lot of things we do that are exactly the same as live action so yeah, who knows.