Frederick News Post, Written By Nick Antosca
March 3, 2000
Film director Paul Thomas Anderson discusses Magnolia
(Editor's note: Nick Antosca, a student at Brunswick High School, was accepted to Yale University at age 16. He plans to graduate early, and then study writing and film at Yale. Recently he was given the opportunity to interview one of his favorite screenwriters and directors, Paul Thomas Anderson. That interview follows.)
"Magnolia," writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's third film after the acclaimed "Boogie Nights" and "Sydney" (studio title "Hard Eight"), opened to nationwide audiences on Jan. 7. It has since earned a Golden Globe for Tom Cruise and Best Film at the Toronto Film Festival among other awards, and three Academy Award nominations including Best Screenplay (Anderson) and Best Supporting Actor (Cruise).
Recently I spoke with Anderson on the phone from Los Angeles.
To start with a pretty general question, where did "Magnolia" come from? It's so dense and complex, what was your process, not just in writing it, but in imagining it?
I think maybe it's like my other two movies, in the sense that it's a combination of real life events, things that you hear about and read about, things that have happened to people I know, that have happened to me, and generally I mixed them up.
What parts are those that are taken from your life?
Well, I don't like to go too deeply into that. I think it's better to keep a sense of mystery about the thing. Many similar things have happened in real life, and that's where part of the movie comes from, with people dying, and with trying to fall in love, and it gets mixed in, and that's a fun kind of storytelling.
Speaking of mysteries, there are some in the movie. Who shoots at Reilly and who kidnaps that kid?
(Laughs) Well, I think it's something for the audience, it's a thing where they can form their own ideas, and there may not be an answer. I know I have an answer in my own mind for what happens.
How much revising and rearranging did you have to do with so many stories?
Well, not that much, really. I'm revising as I write. I wrote maybe three to four drafts of "Magnolia," but just in that first draft, it's maybe a hundred drafts, but then the one thing's changed so much that you just call it the first draft.
Do you plan or outline when you write?
Mostly, it's more that I'm just making it up as I go along. What I'll do is write some, maybe 20 pages, and think of where the story could go, then write it down on a piece of paper on the side, and hope that the story will get there on its own as it naturally develops; but sometimes you surprise yourself. Sometimes a character goes left when you thought it would go right. Sometimes a character goes inside a room, when you thought they wouldn't go inside, and then you find yourself there.
But when you start out, do you know how it's going to end? Did you know about the frog storm in "Magnolia?"
I did know that it would rain frogs, yes. I knew that when it got to the point when everything had built up, and every character had gotten to this point with emotion --
-- then it would rain frogs?
I'm interested, you have this dialogue throughout your movie that's great, but then how do you translate what you've written into something that's so visual?
Well ... I visualize as I'm writing. I know what the scenes are going to look like already, and I put them together as I write them. That's one good thing about being a writer-director.
So you write camera directions in the script?
The big ones, yeah. Other things I write down on another piece of paper, so I remember, and I write with specific locations in mind so then I know I can get that location.
And you also write with specific actors in mind, actors who you know you can get?
Yeah, definitely, most of them are my friends anyway, and it's great because it means I can show the script to the actors as I'm still writing, and I can get what they think about it and their input and maybe make changes so it really works well.
Now, you work with a lot of the same actors on each film. Do you think that fosters richer performances?
Oh, absolutely, definitely. There's really a healthy competition between them. It means they can throw each other curve balls and surprise each other, so it does add to what you have.
And what's the story with Tom Cruise ... He invited you to meet Stanley Kubrick?
Yeah, actually it was really great. I was in England to promote "Boogie Nights," and Tom Cruise loved "Boogie Nights," and of course he's in "Magnolia," but he invited me to the "Eyes Wide Shut" set ... (Me meeting with Kubrick) was only about 10 minutes, and they were filming a scene where Tom was just walking down the street. Kubrick had a really small crew, but I guess that's good, because it's having a small crew that allows you to film for two years.
So now that you're done with "Magnolia," what's next?
I don't know, I really don't know. Right now I'm just relaxing, really. There's not a lot. I'm playing around with some screenplay ideas.
No, actually, that's just a rumor that got started. I talked to somebody about it, but I never said I wanted to do it. I love John Lennon, but I don't want to make a movie about his life; there's no way I could do it justice.
When "Magnolia's" released on DVD, are you going to record a commentary track?
I don't think so. I think that when you've actually made a movie that you're really happy with and really proud of, then you should just shut up.