Transcript of the TIFF Press Conference Q&A by Martin Cohen
On dealing with the development of a cult and what it means in a society.
Paul Thomas Anderson: Well, I just want to tell you that I don’t consider that we’re “dealing with a cult.” The area of the story (after the war) is like food and drink to me in terms of the opportunity for a lot of good stuff to tell a story. We talked before about there being a mix of a tremendous amount of optimism but an incredibly large body count behind you. How can you feel really great about being victorious with so much death around? It gets you to a spot where you’ve got to figure out where all of the bodies are going. And I guess that creates a situation where people want to talk about past lives, what happens after you die. Those kinds of ideas that ‘The Master’ is putting forward is that time travel is possible, accessing things that happened to you in another life is possible. And those are great ideas, they’re hopeful ideas, and it was the kind of stuff that was fascinating to me to write a story around.
On cinematic references.
Paul Thomas Anderson: I don’t know if anybody knows John Huston’s “Let There Be Light,” but a lot of Hollywood directors were commissioned by the War Department to make films about the war. Frank Capra did films out in the field, John Ford obviously did a lot, and John Huston decided to make one about the VA hospitals, when soldiers were coming back. And the War Department took one look at this film and they said “absolutely no way we’re showing this to anybody” because they had this amazingly graphic footage that showed you what these fellows were coming back with. There’s stuff that we kind of ripped off, line for line, from that film and it was really just a way to talk about time travel. It was the best source of material that we found to show what these VA hospitals were like at that time. It tells that story in a very different way. As for other films? I keep TCM on at my house, like 24 hours a day. Even if I’m not watching anything, it’s just kind of soaking into your veins and hopefully wash over you and do something good.
Amy Adams: I had “Sprout” on 24 hours a day.
JoAnne Sellar: “Let There Be Light” was also a great reference material for the production design, the costume design.
On playing opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Amy Adams: I had worked with Philip before and I adore/worship/love Philip. So to get to play someone who adores/worships/loves Philip was not a big stretch for me. It was fun to get to go toe-to-toe with him as a person of power, in the past roles I’ve been in I’ve been a bit more submissive. So it was great to overpower him because that’s the only time that’s ever going to happen in my life. I just have a great respect and reverence for what Philip does and his work and I’m always honored to be on screen with him.
On finding the right balance between two very intense, uniquely defined characters.
Paul Thomas Anderson: To give both Joaquin and Philip a complement: they are both heavy hitters but they are also both great team players. And I think the sweet spot of a maturing actor is really giving over and knowing when to squeeze in versus when to slow down. I think that’s more fun for everybody when you find a way to play together and it services something else as opposed to, you know, a dick measuring contest. I think maybe initially, especially since Phil and I had worked together many times before, Joaquin was coming into a situation where we needed a sort of “getting to know you” period. But once it started to take hold I think we all were very comfortable with each other.
On why the film is resonating so much with audiences.
Paul Thomas Anderson: God, I don’t know. It’s kind of amazing the way people are responding to it. I mean we were proud of it and we were excited to show it, but to have it feel like people were grabbing it and talking about it in such a way, that feels so satisfying.
JoAnne Sellar: Maybe it’s the climate that we’re in at the moment. Some people are looking for, I don’t know. It’s a film that you really have to think about, and you leave and you want to see it again. I think people want to see films like that, and I don’t think there’s a lot of them around at the moment.
Amy Adams: Also, I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to a lot of people that have seen the film so it’s hard to comment without hearing people’s reaction. I know how I felt when I watched it. I was able to completely remove the ego, it was such a visceral experience. It really does make you feel on a lot of different levels.
On working with Paul Thomas Anderson.
Amy Adams: There’s a line in the film where Phil says “it’s going to be very very serious.” And that’s what I thought this experience was going to be, like “I’m working with Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.” But it was actually a lot of fun. We laughed a lot, there was a lot of exploration. So just the freedom to experiment and to fail, it was unexpected.
On research into organizations, the climate of the time, and the roles of women.
Amy Adams: I’ve always been interested in the roles of women in the 20th century because it was such a quick growing time and our roles changed so quickly. One of the things I had read a long time ago was “The Feminine Mystique,” which was talking about women’s roles right after WWII and the climate for women and how we were just beginning to be empowered when the men went off to war.
On the music.
Paul Thomas Anderson: It all sort of started a couple of years ago we were talking about clarinets and how we like the sound of them, so we wanted to mess around with that. Jonny did some demos with some woods and flutes and stuff, so we started just trying things on for size to see how they’d feel with the film. We went back and forth for a year and got it to the place where it is now.
On a new DP and new filming format.
Paul Thomas Anderson: Yeah, it was my first time making a film without Robert and there was something very terrifying about that. I sort of started with Robert, he held my hand and taught me how to make films, really. So it was bittersweet, but also a good thing to be able to know that I could do it without him. We found somebody great in Mihai. He’s a young, Romanian cinematographer that Coppola really found and brought out. And we didn’t know what we were getting into with the 70mm, it wasn’t like a grand scheme of “this movie should be in 70mm.” It was just messing around with cameras and trying to find something that looked right. It’s always fun to use a piece of equipment in a way that it’s not supposed to be used. You’re supposed to film epics and battle scenes and stuff like that, and we knew that we were making something that was just in a bunch of small rooms, people talking around dinner tables. But it just seemed to make sense, it looked right and it felt good. I was doing an interview with somebody and they said “what should an audience look for in 70mm” and I thought “oh fuck!” If somebody’s looking for something they’re going to say to themselves “what am I missing?” And ideally you’re just looking for something that gives you your best shot at make believe or time travel, that gives you the best opportunity to charm somebody into thinking they’re watching something that happened. And everything we were seeing and shooting with this camera had us feeling like that. There was a sense of trying to do something classical.
On the challenges of producing a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.
JoAnne Sellar: Over the years, Paul’s become a much freer director. When he started with Boogie Nights and Magnolia, he had such rigid shot lists. So from a producing point of view, it was kind of easier to know what was going on in his brain. Since Punch Drunk, he’s become much more organic and free, working stuff out as he goes along, reshooting stuff. Like in There Will Be Blood we built a lot of the stuff on backlot in Martha, Texas. So we were able to go and shoot scenes and then Paul would look at them and say “oh, I want to change this, this, and this” and he’d go back and reshoot it. It was just a very organic process, and for me just knowing how Paul works it’s about budgeting it that way so we have the freedom to add more days, to make changes on the fly and really go with it, support his decisions and give him what he wants (laughs).
On concern for Joaquin’s safety during the jail scene.
Paul Thomas Anderson: I’d written many different version of what that scene should be, and the three of us had discussions. And we ended up shooting the scene with three completely different ideas about what was going to happen. We knew that Freddie would not want to be in a jail cell, and it was the first take and we started rolling and Joaquin went crazy. I think you have to be concerned for your actors’ safety and you have to make sure that you’ve lit it properly and there’s film in the camera so that if anything happens…
JoAnne Sellar: You weren’t expecting him to break the toilet! That was a museum, and they hadn’t been expecting it.
On how the film resonates in the current political environment.
Amy Adams: I’m more concerned that the ratings were higher for “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” than either of the political conventions. That makes me more concerned about where our cultive personality is headed.
Paul Thomas Anderson: I was watching something on the internet that night…I couldn’t watch them. It feels like the same thing every four years. You expect something different and it all feels the same, to me.
On Megan Ellison’s role.
JoAnne Sellar: She came and saved us and fully financed this movie and she’s amazing. She was on set quite a bit of the time, and she was the most supportive, filmmaker-friendly producer you could ever ask for.
Paul Thomas Anderson: Yeah, I feel the same way. I showed her a cut of the film early on, and she kinda whispered something in my ear that was really helpful about something I’d taken out. And she was very sweet about the way she put it, which is the sign of a great producer, so it was kinda like it was my idea. I realized it days later that it wasn’t. She always does that to me, I didn’t even know what was happening.
On whether he makes movies about observing society or specific characters.
Paul Thomas Anderson: Oh, individual for sure. If you start with the big thing it’s like trying to throw your arms around the world. For me, the goal should be to create these people, get them talking to each other, and get to the point where you’re not in charge of them, they’re in charge of you. You’re just sort of servicing whatever their needs are. As a writer, you’re forcing them to go some way, for maybe a car chase or something. And if they don’t want to go that way they don’t go that way. At it’s best, you’re letting these characters start to speak and guide a story. Whatever falls off from there is the story.
On the Oscar Buzz.
Paul Thomas Anderson: Great, fucking great.
Paul Thomas Anderson: Yeah I’ve wanted to work with Joaquin for many years. We’ve talked about the possibility but it never really worked out. And when I was writing the film I was sharing that stuff with Phil, and we both talked about wanting to work with Joaquin. He was making “I’m Not Here” at that time, so he was so busy doing that. And the timing just sort of worked out, he had just finished making that film. He was ready to start something else, we were ready to start. It’s just amazing how these things take on a life of their own and work out in the right way. It’s kind of a miracle when things just fall into place. You look back and any plans you try to make, it just ends up being what it should be and we ended up with the right person to play this part, and thank heavens. I knew he was great but this is something else, what he did.