Charlie Rose: At age 17, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson made a mock documentary about the life of a porn film star. Ten years and $15 million later, Anderson's project has become Boogie Nights.
CR: Boogie Nights is being compared to films by Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Quentin Tarantino, and was called "the most seductive cautionary tale ever made" by the New Yorker. Joining me now, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, and I am pleased to have him here to talk about this film and the extraordinary attention being devoted to an independent film. Welcome.
PTA: Thank you.
CR: Great to have you here. Why 10 years between the time that you made that little documentary, which was about 30 minutes, as I remember -
PTA: Yeah. And -
CR: - and this completion?
PTA: You know, I don't know - I don't know. I just - I kept playing with it, you know, and - I wrote it - after doing the short film, I wrote it as a full-length sort of documentary, taking that kind of Spinal Tap approach -
PTA: - you know?
PTA: But by the time I sort-of finished that, that format had kind of been worn out and done many times and I kind of realized I was really just blatantly ripping off this Spinal Tap thing and I got to sort of find a new way to do this. And in the meantime, I'd written my first movie, which was called Hard Eight and -
PTA: - and then just kind of -
CR: Was finally called Hard Eight.
PTA: Was finally called Hard Eight. Thank you.
CR: Those of us who love it called it Sydney.
PTA: That's right. Thank you. God, it's good to be here! I feel comfortable. You know, and I don't know. Somewhere in 10 years, two hours was added, you know, on top of the half hour.
PTA: And I just kind of figured well, the way to do this is just kind of go nuts and just make it straight narrative, but really kind of just start writing, and wrote 300 pages of stuff and eventually had a shooting script of 186 pages.
CR: Yeah. Casting.
PTA: Yeah. The best - the best part - casting and writing are kind of the same thing to me, you know, because I write parts for actors that are my friends or actors that I don't know that I really want to work with, like Julianne Moore is someone whose work I just loved. You know, and I wrote this part for her, but I didn't know her, but it was great to give it to her and say, "I wrote this for you," you know.
And she said, "Yes." And John Reilly and Phil Hoffman and Philip Baker Hall and Bob Ridgely and a lot of the actors in the movie are real good friends of mine. And it's great to - to write parts for them because, you know, they're my friends and I watched them kind of suffer in Hollywood, you know, not be able to play parts that they should, you know? If they - if they're good at playing the white trash hillbilly, they get the white trash hillbilly parts, you know, forever.
PTA: And I can go to them and say, "So, what do you - what kind of part do you want to play," you know? And say, Well, I want to do something other than this stuff they're offering me," you know? So it's nice to do that, you know?
CR: What about the lead?
CR: Yeah. Not the first choice.
PTA: No, he wasn't. Well, he is now.
CR: Of course, he is. You'd like to look back and say -
PTA: That's right.
CR: "I knew this all along."
PTA: "I knew this all along", yeah.
CR: "I knew this - I wrote it for him. I knew it would be" -
PTA: That's right.
CR: "he'd own the part."
PTA: That's right. "I knew all this would happen for him."
CR: He's an interesting guy. He came by and we did a conversation.
CR: He's a very interesting guy.
PTA: He's smart and smooth and - and - and - and -
CR: Not at all like you imagine.
PTA: No. No.
CR: Because of all the -
PTA: Because of all that stuff there before, you know? And it was funny, because when I sat down with him - well, he wasn't the first choice. I had thought of him a couple of times 'cause I liked him in The Basketball Diaries.
PTA: And the first choice was Leonardo DiCaprio.
PTA: Leonardo eventually decided to do the Titanic and so I went to Mark, you now, and sat down with him -
CR: But didn't Leonardo recommend Mark?
PTA: He did, actually.
CR: That's what I thought.
PTA: I mean, I had Mark in the back of my head. My casting director was really saying, "Marky - great," you know.
And my - and my producer was saying, "Mark's great," And Leo said, "Meet Mark," you know? Not that I had to be convinced, but - but I actually really wanted Leo, you know, and Leo said, "I'm going to do the Titanic. Meet Mark," So I sat down to meet Mark - and you talk about this early stuff -
It was kind of funny because we sat down and I said, "So," you know, "have you read the script?"
And he said, "Well, to be honest, I've only - I've only read 30 pages."
And I thought, "Who is this jerk," you know, "hotshot guy" -
PTA: -"who's only read 30 pages?" And he said, "Listen, I love these 30 pages, and I know I'm going to love the rest of it, but I just want to make sure before I really fall in love with this and want to do it, I want to make sure you don't want me because I'm the guy who will get in his underwear," you know?
PTA: Because I - you know, people were offering him stuff like that, like, "Come rap in a movie." "Come be the underwear guy in a movie," you know?
And I said, "I don't know anything about that. I want you because I saw you in The Basketball Diaries," you know, "and I want to hear what you have to say about the script."
CR: You saw some acting ability in The Basketball Diaries.
PTA: Yeah. He was great, you know? And nothing against Leo, but he stole the movie from Leo, you know? He was so great. He was -
CR: Then why didn't you go to him first?
PTA: Yeah, I know.
CR: I might ask.
PTA: I just - I don't know. Stuck on the big star, you know?
PTA: He's - he's not - he's not, you know, unlike most of the other actors in the movies, not a trained actor, you know? He's just this - this thing of talent, just this raw, big ball, glowing ball of talent and he's - his instincts are always -
CR: Does that present a different challenge than, say, working with someone who comes in more than just raw talent, who comes in with some acting craft that they have incorporated into their experience? Do you do it differently?
CR: Do you work differently?
PTA: No. No. To tell you the truth, no, because, you know, a good actor's a good actor and - and, you know, back to your question of casting, that's - and it's the old cliché. That's 99 percent of -
CR: Yeah. Right.
PTA: It really is.
CR: It really is?
PTA: Yeah, I mean, I don't have a job as a director to the actors. That's my theory, is that my job to them is as a writer. It's, like, write them a good part, do my job there, and then as a dir -
CR: Write a good part, choose the right person to play it.
PTA: Exactly. And that's - then I will - I will have done my job. As a director, it's just, like, keeping your sense of humor and everyone once in a while reminding me to keep it simple, you know? But it's just being a fan, as a director.
CR: Burt Reynolds.
PTA: Yeah. Burt Reynolds. He's great. You know, he's - he's Burt and -
CR: Again, not the first choice.
PTA: No, not - well, you know what? He was the first person that I had thought of when I was writing it. I don't think you can write a movie about, you know, '70s porn and a character named Jack Horner , who's this sort of father figure, without thinking of Burt Reynolds.
PTA: You know?
CR: But you thought about Warren Beatty.
PTA: I did. Warren - Warren called me up and - and - I think what I - eventually, I started to figure out was that Warren really wanted to play Dirk Diggler, you know? "You don't really want to play Jack Horner. You want to be the kid in this movie." He said, "Yeah." I said, "Well - so, yeah, I talked with him for a little while about it, but -
CR: Now, do you think he seriously thought about making this?
PTA: Yeah, I do. I do. I think he really liked the script, you know, and -
CR: And why didn't he do it, then?
PTA: You know, you'd have to ask him. I think - it's funny because when he saw the movie, and he called me and said, you know, that he really loved it and he said - he said that it fulfilled all of his concerns, that all of his concerns in why he didn't do the movie, which was his concerns about the morality and the sort of - the sort of moral center of the movie - that he - he just said he admitted that he wasn't able to really see in the script, and I guess I wasn't able to communicate to him through talking with him.
CR: What was that issue for you, as a director, the morality of the film? Because a lot of other people would have thought the same things that he was bothered by.
CR: How did you address that? I mean, what did you, as a filmmaker, do to have this be considered not just some movie about pornography -
CR: - but something more, something that had the same kind of buzz that Pulp Fiction does?
PTA: Right. You mean, in - in -
CR: Well, whatever -
PTA: - convincing every actor -
CR: - it was that bothered - what was it that bothered Warren -
CR: - in the end?
PTA: I think - I think what he might have been looking for, which maybe some other people were looking for, was a clear kind of moment or a clear moment when someone stands up and says, "What we are doing is wrong," you know?
CR: Yeah. Exactly. Some much more blatant -
CR: - much more dramatic, clear, precise -
PTA: Yeah. Exactly.
CR: - "Making porn films this way is not" -
CR: - "right."
PTA: Yeah. I mean, I think there was something that I was up front with the actors about and maybe - you know, was my confusion about the issue and saying that there's "There's a version of this movie that is confused and that has to be okay and that I don't" - you know, "I support this as much as it really kind of turns me off and I'm confused about it and - and we have points to make," you know, "within the movie that we can put a period at the end of, but it's okay to be elliptical about something, if we are confused," you know?
CR: When you put it together, is there a sense you had something special when you - when did you first know that was - had a chance?
PTA: It felt so good when we were making it, you know? Like, we were having so much fun, and it really felt nice. It really did and - but I think that - that kind of - the excitement that we had probably cautioned us in thinking that "It's too good a time and we're excited about this. This is probably, like, the most expensive home movies ever made, for us, you know what I mean? And we'll really like it -"
PTA: - you know, "when we watch our own videos of it."
PTA: But certainly, something happened. Something started to swell. I think that - there was a sort of buzz within kind of Hollywood, you know, people that read the script, that were either really excited about it or really had a big question mark about it, like "Will they pull that off?"
CR: Exactly right, "Will they pull it off? Because they've got a good script."
CR: "But we've seen good scripts go down the tubes before."
PTA: Right. Right.
CR: You know, "We've seen directors not be able to take the material they have and do something with it."
CR: You know, and you hadn't been tested that much.
CR: And you put these actors together and Reynolds was not coming off a brilliant -
CR: - time.
CR: And many believed this might do something for his career in a significant way.
PTA: Right. And same with Mark, though, too. I mean, I think there -
CR: First big step for him.
PTA: Yeah, exactly.
CR: For those who are watching this and have not seen the movie, what's the story? What are we looking - what's this movie about? The people who make porn movies and what happens to them in the '70s?
PTA: Yeah. It's funny because you say that, you know, and some people will sort of run for the hills.
PTA: You know, they hear "porn" they run for the hills and you want to kind of stop and say, "Well, no, it's sort of about this sort of - the need to kind of create the surrogate family within the" - and then they really roll their eyes and they go, "Well," you know, "you're pulling my" - you know?
CR: Yeah. Right.
PTA: "Screw you," you know? You know?
CR: I don't want to hear about surrogate families."
PTA: Yeah. And then - and then you sort of - you know, you just get in this kind of tangled web. You know, it's kind of like the rock star who introduces the song before he sings it, like, "This is a song about love and redemption" and I'm usually just, like, "Sing the song. Just sing the song."
[Clip from the Boogie Nights (Dirk over at Jack's for the first time)
PTA: All those who need love -
CR: All those what?
PTA: "All those who need love."
CR: Who idea to put this - the roller blades on the -
PTA: The roller skates?
PTA: There on Rollergirl?
CR: Right. You going to take credit for that or -
PTA: No, I'm not going to take credit for it. I'm just - I'm just wondering if I should tell the truth on how I -
CR: Oh, come on. Tell us.
PTA: There's - there's - I went to the Sundance lab, actually, and - you know, to work on my first movie.
PTA: And it's really kind of great up there and you go and you screen movies and stuff and there's a wonderful guy up there who's a projectionist that I kind-of befriended. And I found out that Robert Redford sort of had a stash of movies, you know? Like, he had a sort of pristine print of The Chase and a - of The Hit -
PTA: - the Stephen Frears movie. And it turned out the projectionist had a - had a porno movie. So I would sort of have these late-night screenings up at the lab, you know? Like, after everybody went to sleep, you know, we'd all come down and go to the - and we -
CR: And you'd invite all your friends over -
CR: - in the middle of the night and watch -
PTA: And we'd go down there in the middle of the night and he was -
CR: Go into Redford's vault and watch his films.
PTA: Go into Redford's vault, you know, break in. I - I - you know, he's going to kill me, but -
CR: I hope he's watching.
PTA: Break in, you know, and kind of screen these movies and, you know, went through all the good stuff, The Wizard of Oz, you know, the last reel of The Wizard of Oz and The Chase and got this porno movie, where it was this - just this girl roller-skating around and stopping and looking in windows. You know, and she'd watch a couple have sex and then roller-skate to the next and - and I just said, "Well" -
CR: Rollergirl is born.
PTA: Rollergirl is born. You know, what it also, to - it's - I think the name - when you - write - you know, like, the guy that - the - the hot dog vendor is "Hot Dog Vendor."
PTA: Do you know what I mean?
PTA: You just write "Hot Dog Vendor." I think - I don't think - I didn't have a name, you know? It was just "Rollergirl."
PTA: You know? And maybe I'll figure a name out later and it just became -
CR: All right. Roll tape. Here is Rollergirl in action.
[Clip from Boogie Nights. Amber and Rollergirl doing coke.]
CR: A couple of things about this - the - what happens to Dirk.
CR: I mean -
PTA: Dirk - you know, cocaine and - you know?
CR: Just loses it.
PTA: Loses it, you know? The - you know, his ego happens, you know, and cocaine and, you know, he becomes a big-time movie star, you know?
CR: How much of this is - what was the name of the John Holmes bio? Was it - who was the guy that - there was a - there was a book written about -
PTA: I don't know.
CR: There was a -
PTA: I don't know. I mean, there's a - there's a - there's a great Rolling Stone article written and I don't - but I don't know -
CR: Okay, what -
PTA: It was something about wonderland because it was the Wonderland murders that-
CR: Did you base this on any original material?
PTA: Some stuff was taken, plucked from his life, you know? "Original Material" meaning -
CR: Yeah. Right. Something you - in other words - Did the script that you wrote -
CR: - you know, come from, in a sense - were you informed by, you know, sort of stories of porn stars who -
CR: - sort of had gone to the top -
CR: - and then had lost it because of addiction, because of ego, because of -
PTA: Yeah. I mean, certainly, John Holmes, and there was the story of Shauna Grant -
PTA: - and, you know, pieces of real porn stars' lives, like Seka, you know, Veronica Hart, maybe to the - to the Amber character. And sure it plucked pieces, but - but I also think I just - I plucked as many pieces from many, you know, so-called legitimate celebrities, you know, movie stars, you know, who you've seen rise and fall go through that. You know, essentially, they're sort of stories - any - any of the Busby Berkeley backstage musicals.
PTA: You know, the kid with the dream and the rise and the fall and all of that, so - but yeah, we certainly did pluck pieces from -
CR: Yeah. A couple of things that people notice about this film. First of all, was the opening shot.
PTA: Yeah. Yeah. The opening shot is one of those big, fun, show-off moments where you get to - you know?
CR: The director struts his stuff.
PTA: Exactly. Where you get to go, "I'm directing," you know?
CR: Yes. "This is my baby."
PTA: And there - I think those are OK, you know, if they're well-earned, you know? That one isn't earned because it's the first shot of the movie, but in some way, to me, it kind of frees the movie up, you know, and kind of goes -
PTA: - "Have fun," you know, and "This is going to be a long winding ride," you know? And they're really fun to do. These long, complicated tracking shots are really fun to do.
There's something great - I think the actors love them. You know, there's some - movie acting is so sort of pieced up and chopped up, you know, that they don't really get a chance - very rarely is "action" called, like - kind of like being on stage, action is called. You know, the curtain comes up and, like, three or four minutes later, their scene happens, you know, which is kind of fun for them, you know, to really act something through, and let it breathe, and let it happen.
CR: I'd read somewhere that the films you love - Nashville -
CR: - Robert Altman -
CR: - GoodFellas -
CR: - Martin Scorsese -
CR: - Jonathan Demme -
PTA: Yeah. He's the best.
CR: - and David Mamet -
CR: Now, Quentin Tarantino's not in there, but might as well be included in that group? Or not?
PTA: No, I think he's a wonderful filmmaker. I mean, I don't -
CR: He just didn't inform your life or your - your ambition, your desires?
PTA: Not really, but certainly, you know, the success of Pulp Fiction helped a lot of people get movies made - a lot of people, you know? So, in that regard, certainly.
CR: It said something new, something different, something that feels -
PTA: Something that -
CR: - special.
PTA: - made a lot of money that didn't cost much and was different and -
PTA: You know, that's a big deal, you know? And that's great.
CR: I'm fascinated by you and the way you - I mean, you seem like a kid. How old are you?
PTA: I'm 27 now.
CR: And here you are, 27 years old, and you've got a big movie.
CR: A movie that everybody's talking about. You have wanted to do this since you were how old?
PTA: Born. I can't remember. There's only one other thing that I wanted to do, and I thought I wanted to be a boxer, but that because I saw Rocky -
PTA: - and my dad said, "I don't think you want to be a boxer."
PTA: "You want to be like Rocky?" I said, "I want to be like Rocky." He said, "Maybe you want to be an actor or a writer or a director or something like that." I said, "Yeah, that's right. That what I want to do."
CR: Yeah. But you didn't really want to act at all, did you.
CR: You've never wanted to act?
PTA: It's too hard.
CR: And you respect it.
PTA: Yeah. I just - it's the hardest job in the whole world, I think, you know, and I don't know how they do it. I really don't, you know? That's why I just sit back and let them do it and -
I have to many friends who are actors who would really kill me if I ever tried, you know? I would really be killed.
CR: You dropped out of school because all you wanted to do was to learn how to make movies.
PTA: Yeah. It seems to me the only way to go, you know? I mean, film school was never an option. It just - it seems to me to be a waste of time and a waste of money, in all honesty, really. I mean, certainly, I had a leg up in that I was born and bred in Los Angeles, where, you know, to get a job on a film set is - you know, is just as easy as, you know - I don't know.
CR: Yeah. And in Detroit, getting a job working for an auto company.
PTA:. Exactly. Exactly.
So, I did have a leg up there, you know? It's just it's always - it surrounds you. But you know, my - my film education really came from watching other movies, you know, and - and I think there's - there's a scary mentality, I think, in film schools.
My small sort of dealing with them is - is something that's really terrifying. I walked into a film class, and it was about screenwriting and this guy, the first - the opening line was, you know, "If you're here to write Terminator 2, just leave now."
And I thought, "Well, that's terrible. There could be a kid in a corner there that wants to write Terminator 2. That's his vision. That's his movie. That's what he likes.
CR: Let him do it.
PTA: Let him do it, you know?
PTA: And the - and the mentality of film schools is we'll start with, you know, Potemkin. You know, first day in class, here's Potemkin. You know, every kid in the class is going to just fall down. You know, what do you do? It's like -
They should do it backwards, you know? Start with Terminator 2 and work backwards and sort of - and ease into this and sort of, you know, trace the sort of - trace the heritage. You know, trace it back. Watch a Scorsese movie which everyone sort of loves in the class and is very excited by and track back and go, "Okay. Here's who he was riffing off of. Here's these patents that he has kind of built upon," you know, and study it that way.
CR: One of the great moments of this program in its six or seven year existence is Scorsese talking about Fellini.
CR: You know? And he wanted to and he came here when Fellini died just to pay homage -
CR: - to Fellini because he was informed by Fellini the way you're informed by Scorsese.
CR: - in the way somebody who's 10 years old wanting to be you is informed by this and by other movies.
CR: What do you think Scorsese and Altman and Mamet and Demme have in common? What do good filmmakers have?
PTA: Just a persistence of vision. I think they all - they all have kept their attitudes, you know?
PTA: It doesn't seem like any of them are lazy. They just don't stop, you know, and they - they - they just don't stop. I mean, there's something about, I think, all four of them that is the biggest trick I think is that they're incredibly selfish filmmakers, you know, in the best possible way. You know, they're really making themselves happy first and it's just wonderful that it happens to also communicate to all of us and make it enjoyable to all of us. But there's a sort of - you just see them sort of - I see each of them, you know, they're sort of raising their water mark each time and really trying to do different things and new things while keeping their patent. You know, I don't - you can watch any of their movies and you know - you know you're watching -
CR: It has a stamp, a signature, a watermark.
PTA: But also - but also that frees them up to kind of make different movies, you know, for Scorsese to go make Age of Innocence or Demme to kind of branch out and do something like Beloved, which he's doing now.
PTA: Thank you very much.
CR: It's a terrific film, and you're a fascinating guy. Thank you.
PTA: Thank you, Charlie.
CR: Thank you for joining us. We'll see you next time.