Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Robert Elswit Talks PTA & How He Almost Didn't Do ‘Boogie Nights'

A bit of new old news here while we wait for new news. Robert Elswit, cinematographer on all of PTA's films (who won the Academy Award for "There Will Be Blood") and his wife Helen (a visual effects person) gave a talk in 2009 at Principia College and thanks to Youtube that hourlong talk has now surfaced. (It was actually put up about a year ago but just now made it's way to our site.) The interview ranges from topics like exactly what a Director of Photography does to how to break into the business ("write a screenplay") and naturally Elswit brings up Paul several times during the talk. He calls Paul a "luddite" when it comes to technology and says that even though he's a young guy he likes to work with very old fashioned methods. He also says Paul is "a director who hopes that movies will come to life if accidents occur. There's a certain amount of planning, but some of it, he hopes will be serendipitous." He goes on to say that even though he liked Paul, he almost passed on "Boogie Nights".

“Helen [Elswit, his wife] read the script to Boogie Nights and really thought that I should not do it. I had done a movie with Paul before and I like Paul a lot. And because I knew him I understood what he was really trying to do. The script was really graphic and strange but Paul’s films are always grounded in something that I think is really fascinating. He makes movies about families All his movies are essentially about the relationships with the people within the family group. It’s either they create or they find or they look for or they throw what they have away and they find another one. But every one of his movies is essentially that. It’s about a family in crisis or a family coming together or falling apart and the nature of all those relationships in complicated ways. It’s not husbands and wives as much as fathers and sons mothers and daughters, all of that. And thats what I saw in Boogie Nights cause I knew him. so I could read that script and say it isn’t about naked people and it isn’t about pornography and it isnt an exploitative movie. What Boogie Nights was, was an American backstage musical. It was 42nd St, it was Gold Diggers Of 1933, it was about a bunch of people who get together and put on a show.”
After "Boogie Nights", Helen says she decided she would not give Robert career advice anymore. He ends the conversation with another good quote about working with Paul on "There Will Be Blood".
"There is a whole approach to filmmaking that Paul embraces which is very different from most people. He doesn't want to control what happens on set, he wants accidents to happen, he wants things to go wrong, he wants the wall to fall down, he wants life to break out. And you can't always control that and so he tends towards pushing things too far. And he has a great relationship with actors so they're willing to trust him and let things go on and on shooting endlessly. He knows that even if he has a preconceived idea of what he wants things to be that it's going to get better. That he's going to end up trading up. And there are a ton of directors who can't do that. They won't embrace that. They want a controlled environment and they don't want to be surprised and they don't want something to happen that they're not expecting. And nobody I know would ever set that thing on fire knowing that they couldn't put it out, ever. And he just did. And nobody can control him really...I found Paul frustrating for about 2-3 years and what I learned from Paul is that it's about not controlling things. It's about haven't things come to life in ways that you don't expect and if you try to manicure everything and if you try to make it, gourmet it up, you end up with still life. You end up with things that don't interest me. Lots of people think of them as well made movies, Paul isn't interested in that world and it's kind of refreshing and it's wonderful to be around. And I'm very lucky to be a part of that. Very few other directors are comfortable with that because there are too many unknowns."
You can watch the full video at Youtube. (thanks Xixax!)

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