Thursday, October 25, 2012
Interview: Astor Theatre Q&A
Transcription by Nikhil Venkatesa
Introduction of the event with ‘Get Thee Behind Me, Satan’, after which Paul Thomas Anderson and The Moderator take the stage amidst thunderous applause.
Moderator: So I guess the big and obvious question is, why 70mm? Why did that matter to The Master and to you?
PTA: It didn’t, and it shouldn’t. It was kind of like, if you took a blind taste test, you know, and just somebody said what looks right for your film, you know, whether it was shot on your phone or whether it was shot with a 45 year old camera or whatever, it didn’t matter! It was just sort of figuring out what scene to write to this story that you were doing. And you have to kind of say to yourself at the exclusion of what might be easy or what might be financially the smartest thing to do, you just have to kind of throw it away and say what feels right and figure out a way to make it work. So, it was not like some intention, some like great goal like “We’re going to shoot 70mm!” It’s just, it’s undeniable how it felt and what it looked like and how it could evoke the period and make you, you know, time travel back to that era as best you could. You know like going down the timehole, like Master says. Felt like that was the best way to do that.
M: You talk about making it easy, and watching this film, thinking about 70 millimeter, all of the incredibly long, single takes. At some point, something in my brain just went…well, why don’t you make things easier on yourself? Why?
PTA: Where’s the fun in that? (Laughter)
I guess… But that is fun…when it’s not easy, it is fun, you know, for us. That said, you get to a scene like that dinner table scene when they’re talking, when Amy says, “Why is he here?” I remember shooting that and I remember feeling like this is really easy. And it was, it was easy in the best possible way. It was actually like, finally to get to a scene in this movie where it’s well written and it wasn’t complicated. It was so fun to go and do. We shot it in like three or four hours, really easy to do. Those were fun to do, but only after you’ve done something that’s driven you round the bend, made you crazy.
M: So when you get to those easy scenes are you like, “Why don’t I write more of these?”
PTA: Yeah, absolutely, yes, completely.
M: I wanted to ask about Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in this film, which is kind of astonishing. He plays almost a caveman for stretches of the movie. How much of that was in your head or on the page and how much of that was his performance that you discovered during the filming?
PTA: All of it was his, I mean, not all of it. I wrote something that was pretty good, but he made it something that was amazing, you know. Really, that’s not just being humble as a writer or kind of being cute, or anything like that. The distance between writing something in your room and thinking that it can be a good character and somebody doing what he did is vast.
(Guy ominously places a piece of paper on the stage that PTA reads: “Please raise your mike Paul, thanks.” Laughter follows. PTA reminds himself about why he’s here by getting some more applause.)
M: When you’re shooting someone like Joaquin Phoenix and he’s bringing all of that to the role, are there moments where you worry it’s being stretched outside its original conception? That you’re going to get into editing and not have what you wanted or needed?
PTA: No, not that! Yes to the first part, like yeah, sometimes you can feel like whoa what’s going on? This is different than I’d imagined, and that’s your own shit that you’re bringing to it. Like, you kind of have to let go, you have to let this thing become a real human being and when someone’s doing stuff that’s really magnificent, but it’s hard to recognize maybe, at first, if you’re kind of a control freak and you’re sort of recognizing like “Well, you know, God, what is this?” And so it can be distracting, you know, you have to reconcile yourself with handing it over to somebody who’s making it flesh and blood. But you don’t ever get to the place where you think “Oh, I’m not going to be able to edit this together.” If anything, it’s the opposite. You’re recognizing what’s going on and you’re enjoying it and you kind of want to make sure that…no, I guess you’re right, you can edit it together, but through no shortage of material. Through, just sort of making sure there’s not an overabundance of material. Yeah, I hope that makes sense.
M: The other thing in the film is the astonishing amount of close-ups, crazy close-ups of actors’ faces. Are actors daunted by that? Do they love that opportunity? What kind of direction do you need to give when the camera is just here (makes gesture to indicate where) for so long?
PTA: Well, my experience is that they don’t like to know exactly where the camera is and I s’pose if the camera is right here (makes a similar gesture), they know it’s a close-up. But hopefully, you can kind of find a way how to do a nice close-up when the camera is a little bit of the distance away without being too far away that you’re kind of seeing what they’re doing. But, for the most part, the actors that I’ve worked with don’t really have that much of an interest in how close the camera is or not is, you know. I think its kind of a vanity of an actor to say like “Where are we here?” you know. As if to say “If we’re here, I’m really gonna give you the good stuff. If you’re back there, I’m not gonna give you anything. But that said, there is some kind of practicality to that.
You do want to say to an actor like, the camera is halfway across the room and I just have to get a shot that kind of establishes where we are. Don’t start acting your heart out because I won’t be able to see it. And that’s more about sort of a management of their energy and their time, you know, because imagine if you have to do this stuff. It takes a lot out of you and you don’t wanna sort of pretend like its an Olympic event but it does spend energy and if you’re asking somebody to spend a lot of energy where you’re not in a position to film it properly, they should know it, you know. Joaquin’s been acting for almost thirty years, he’s acted since he was a child. Phil’s been doing it for about twenty years and Amy’s kind of the same, so everybody kind of knows the measure of what it is to make a film and hopefully you don’t waste their energy or waste their time.
M: This movie convinced me that there mustn’t have been second takes in some scenes. Watching some of Joaquin’s was like watching a Jackie Chan movie and knowing he did all of his own stunts. I was exhausted.
PTA (chuckling): That’s good, I never heard that before. Jackie Chan, yeah. There should be outtakes of him just, like, splitting his soul open, you know, like when Jackie Chan’s pants would break and he’d, you know…
M: He could give the thumbs up at the end credits like Jackie.
PTA: Right, yeah, don’t worry, my soul is still intact. (laughs all around)
M: One of things that’s most surprising about ‘The Master’ I thought was how kind it is to Lancaster Dodd and to his beliefs. Do you think that would disappoint some people? Was there ever a version in your head which was more about false prophet on tirade like the end of There Will Be Blood?
PTA: No…I mean that you’re making the assumption that there’s something disingenuous about him, I suppose, and I don’t think that there is, so...
M: It’s not like your films are known for necessarily being kind to their characters…though…I felt like there was a kindness here, there was a gentleness to the depictions here, that I haven’t necessarily seen in some of your other movies.
M: Yeah! There was a sweetness to this film that I wasn’t expecting.
PTA: Well that’s different, that’s fine. I s’pose it’s probably a movie that’s more minor key than major key. I guess what I mean by that is there’s no, kind of, big moment where somebody kind of either realizes something or kills someone or something…nothing big happens. And…I s’pose at one point there was probably a discussion about how you kind of, wedge something like that into this story. But, ultimately, you have to kind of accept that if you can’t, you can’t. You have to try to make something that’s hopefully satisfying and engaging to an audience that doesn’t have that, because if it doesn’t have that then hopefully you invest in who these people are and these minor choices that they make, which maybe minor at the moment but ultimately maybe major in their life or something like that. I don’t know, yeah.
M: I think that Dodd singing to Freddie at the end’s one of the most romantic things I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. Is this a romance? Are you happy to call it a romance?
PTA: Yeah, for sure, absolutely. I look at it that way. But it’s a way to kind of look at a story that you can understand. I mean I don’t think anybody doesn’t understand heartache or romance or love or lost love. Those are the kinds of things that you can figure out through your own experiences. It’s very hard to kind of figure out anything bigger than that, for me at least. I mean I can’t hold that much inside my head. No, really, you kind of hold inside your head the experiences that you’ve had, the things that you latch on to when you’re trying to figure out when you’re making a film. You relate it to personal experiences that you had, you know. Those are the things that make sense to you. Anything bigger than that is just too hard.
Yeah, you think about that desperation that you feel about somebody that you may have been in love with that you know it’s just not gonna work out. We’ve all had that, I’m sure, or if we haven’t, we’re gonna. It’s not a new story; it’s kind of an old story actually. It’s just about how we deal with it, how we manage that kind of thing that happens to us. So, yeah…it’s getting fucking maudlin in here. (audience laughs)
M: So let’s lighten things up here. I read a quote from you. It was something about, you know, that directing a film’s only half of it and the other half’s protecting your film, protecting the film you’ve made from these outside influences. Your film seems so uncompromising, but obviously there must have been compromises. Do you see the scars in your old films when you look back, at that old fort and won or loss?
PTA: Yeah, sure, but that’s very sweet of you to feel that there’s no compromises. But everything is a compromise. I mean, it’s just not, and what I mean by that is, you write a scene and you have this kind of idea in your mind about what it might look like. You get there, and its three dimensions and there’s flesh and blood and there’s a great actor who has a great costume on and somehow you had some kind of ridiculous preconceived notion in your mind. Does that disappoint you that it doesn’t look like that? Well that’s ridiculous, because that’s just some kind of fantasy. You might as well play video games or something like that and be happy.
The point is…and the compromises are good, you know. The sun’s going down, you have to get this scene and well, it’s not exactly how you thought it was going to be. Well, you know what? Fuck it, it’s usually better. It’s always better, honestly. When something erupts whatever preconceived thing you had of what it should be, when the day kind of attacks you, the sun’s going down and forces you into something. Honestly, I feel like those are the best times we’ve had making films and the best scenes we’ve had are usually based on that. That kind of film that happens, that takes you out of, you know. Otherwise, you draw it, you make a cartoon. And those are great, but that’s not what we’re doing.
M: At the moment it seems like you’ve changed tactics slightly in filmmaking. You’re uploading your own film teaser trailers for The Master, you’re taking it on the road. Was it a conscious decision to become more involved in the reception as much as the making?
PTA: No, it wasn’t conscious, it was something we always wanted to do, but we just never could, because…when I started out, there was no such thing as YouTube. As funny as that sounds, you kind of had to beg, borrow, and steal to get your trailer into theatres, to get people to think about that you had a film coming out. You’re kind of at the mercy of how much dollars they would spend and to think that there was a situation that you could put material out there, let people know you had a film. It’s like fantasy land, you know. Now, it’s as it should be, it’s great.
M: Another great quote I read of yours is “Film school is a con, and you can learn more from listening to the commentary track on Bad Day at Black Rock than you can from 20 years of film school.” Is this an accurate quote?
M: I feel like a lawyer and I’m like, “Did you say this, sir?!”
PTA: The only problem with giving an interview, ever, is not being misquoted, but being quoted exactly.
(audience laughter and claps)
M: Okay, well, if you’re the professor and this is your class of people…
PTA: What did you say when you were 24 years old?
M: I dread to think…what are three films that would be on your curriculum of your film school? Commentary tracks or movies that would be educational.
PTA: Aw, great question. Let’s think…I’ll tell you something I watched. The first film I would show right now, if we could watch another movie right now, I would show Ted. We were just talking about this…That is the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s just sort of like, you know, no joke, just how enjoyable movies can be to watch and it’s so well written and so funny and so well performed and so great and just like, just to look at that reminded me like, you can kind of get into weird stuff and serious stuff and 70 mil stuff and all that kind of stuff. But to see something that just sort of snaps you back to that excitement, you know, when you saw Airplane! the first time. I remember when I saw Airplane! the first time, I was watching Ted tonight and like, this has so much energy and so much enthusiasm behind it and I loved that film. I would start with that just because that’s what’s on my mind right now.
M: I think you may have some surprised students at your film school on that first day.
PTA: Well, the first thing when I went to film school was they started showing you this really dull stuff like…Citizen Kane’s not dull at all, but like they’d start with these like really kind of, chore inducing…kind of felt like homework. Black and white silent films, which, I love, but…the first day of film school, film class, it’s like, you don’t want to watch that. It’s either too intimidating or you’re not in a place where you feel like you’re ready to watch it or whatever it is. It just doesn’t feel like…it feels like it’s turned the whole thing into homework and a kind of chore, more than the reason we’re all like, feeling like we’re here right now it’s nice. You know, like, fucking you wanna have some fun, you know, you wanna watch a movie. Yeah, that’s what I think.
M: Well, I have like a million more questions, mostly about Punch-Drunk Love, which is my personal favorite of your films. But, I’m not gonna ask them, because I know that we have a gazillion people in the audience who are keen for questions…but while you’re lining up I guess there’s time to ask one question about Punch-Drunk Love! Does Punch-Drunk Love feel like it’s far outside your other films or do all your films feel as distinct from each other as that one does? Because to a lot of people it does seem like it’s outside a lot of your movies.
PTA: No, I think if you ask and you’re sort of asking me to think like that about it, I could say, yeah sure, because it was kind of regarded in a particular way when it came out and I can realize all that stuff but in the scheme of things, I don’t feel that way. I feel that way when I’m forced to think of it that way but…you think of films, if you’re lucky enough to be in the position to make them you think about them as milestones in your actual life. When did I have kids, where did I live, what was going on in my life at that time. Really, you think about them that way. I remember writing that movie and September 11th happened. I remember certain personal things that happened in my life, but they’re more important to me than the films are honestly. I think of them that way.
M: So, they’re like tattoos…
PTA: YEAH! You know, fuck, that’s great, exactly. (audience laughs) No yeah, that’s really kind of beautiful.
M: My work here is done. Shall we open it up to questions from the floor?
Audience: I just wanted to congratulate you first of all on a fantastic film, but also on not missing the opportunity to present full frontal nudity in 70 mil.
PTA: YOU’RE WELCOME! (laughter)
Audi: I think, many of us here would think you’re one of the most important filmmakers of the last maybe, 20 to 50 years, and so I want to ask, what’s your process of writing and making choices? So, choosing projects and choices within that.
PTA: I’ve just been thinking about it a lot lately because we’re sort of promoting the film and people asking stuff and…it’s just like honestly, it’s like a great mystery…don’t really have a good answer about how these things come about. Except I realized a couple of weeks ago somebody kept asking about writing processes and stuff. I was like, you know, I remember feeling like, I had a lot of stuff that I’d written…you write something on a napkin in a hotel room or whatever, but at a certain point you have to get serious about it.
One of the most serious things that I can remember for this film was kind of like, you know I really wanted to make a film with Phil, because we’d worked together for a couple of weeks here and there and everything else, but it was enough of a reason to say, “I want to get serious about, figuring out what my thoughts are about things that I have and…” It’s as good a reason as any to kind of keep moving forward with something and that’s sort of the writing process. Sorry, I fucked it, was an unsatisfying answer. (audience laughter)
But, the other thing that I would say I guess…maybe I’ve read it somewhere, I think I’ve read it about Ernest Hemingway, who I like. I mean he’s not one of my favorite writers, but what I remember, reading about writers. That he had a regimen of writing every morning and things like that. I remember reading that and feeling like aw, I should try that. And it worked for me. It worked to have a discipline, to wake up every morning. You know, some people have different things; they write before they eat or they eat and then they write. Whatever it was, whatever that thing was, it was just discovering what worked for you.
I know people that are great writers and they work exclusively at night and that would not work for me, I just couldn’t do it. I know people that sleep till two o’ clock in the afternoon and they wake up and they have a little bit of a life and then when everybody goes to sleep, that’s when they write. And that’s what works for them. That wouldn’t work for me, but I’ve found that the things that’ve worked for me, I’ve stuck with me. I mean I don’t do them every day, but when I do them every day, that’s when it feels like I’m at work and that’s when it feels good.
Audi: Hi, my name’s Ashley and I think you’re probably one of my favorite directors of all time and I think you’re wonderful. I was wondering, you’ve cycled through three or four editors through your feature filmmaking career and I was wondering what qualities you value in an editor.
PTA: I think that’s a great question, and the memories that I have…I worked on this film with Leslie Jones, we also did Punch-Drunk Love together. It’s just amazing the kind of gulf of time…the times when you’re just sitting in the same room, not editing the movie and you’re just bullshitting about what’s going on with you, talking about other things and the time you’re spending actually at the computer editing. Just want somebody you can be with, that you’re comfortable being around and sharing your life with. That’s what I look for.
M: So, do you look for friendship, as in, people you’re really…
PTA: Yeah, for sure…
M: I think that’s admirable. I don’t think they’re enough people…
PTA: I don’t want to make a movie with somebody I don’t like! Nobody wants that, right?
M: What if they’re a supremely talented dick?
PTA: Fuck ‘em. (audience laughter). There’s no such thing, anyway. If they’re THAT good, they’re not dicks. Don’t you think?
M: I’d like to think so.
Audi: Thanks for coming down to Melbourne and this is a question I’ve had in my mind for a long time. Do you often get approached by big studios to do tentpole movies, blockbusters, superheroes, explosions, and if so, could you go into much detail about that?
PTA: No, I’ve never really been asked to do that kind of thing, and…I understand your question and I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s hard to kind of accept that…you look at what Christopher Nolan did with Batman. It’s like, that’s like the meeting of the highest-level of artistic skill and a kind of commerciality, sort of appeal to a wide range of people, which is what anybody would want. It’s amazing what he did with those films and kind of unparalleled actually. They don’t come to me for those and that’s all right, you know. (audience laughs) I didn’t mean for that to be a joke, but I’d be thrilled to do something like that, it’d be great.
Audi: Thank you for coming down. I first wanted to strongly disagree with the interviewer. I think you write some of the kindest impressions of people like, ever…
PTA: See, thank you!!! (audience claps)
Audi: …across all your films and I just wanted to ask, I feel like there’s a very strong intensity but also a kindness to the characters in the films that you write and I wonder how…I don’t know, I’m just assuming because I have to because I don’t know who you really are. But like, if you had to have that kind of intensity in your everyday life, how would you deal with that or how do you leave a project that takes up so much of your time, which seems to be like dealing with these really intense and you know, scary things…
PTA: That’s a great question, fuck that’s a great question.
PTA: No, no, it’s great.
Audi: I mean, you work with some of the most intense seeming actors as well, and you seem to draw out the best performances of them. But it seems so temporary, for someone who just watches the movies…(tapers away with half formed sentences)
PTA: Yeah, it’s funny, I know your question. Like those days when you feel like maybe you’ve done an intense scene or something like that, they probably don’t feel half as intense as they do in the final film. But you just made me think of sometimes when you write something and you really are happy with it, which rarely happens. You’re sort of writing a film and maybe once for every sixty days, you get something that really excites you and makes you feel good and you can’t sleep at night, you’re just wired. You’re like, you’re completely high and you are just thrilled by something that happened. And then it goes away, and you’re just sort of right back down to kind of feeling insecure or confused and you’re sort of clawing back up to try and get something which might make you feel that way again.
That happens a lot in writing. It happens in this sort of slightly different way when you’re making a film in my experience because it’s just more practical because there’s a lot of people around and you have to kind of keep moving forward. You can’t indulge in emotions and feelings in the way that you might normally do if it’s just you. There’s a practicality to making a film that doesn’t really allow to an overindulgence of emotion. But sometimes that can happen. You get sad when you end a film, just because the experience of being with everybody is gonna be over…
Audi: D’you ever get exhausted by the really kind of crappy aspects of filmmaking, the harder aspects of filmmaking? The repetitiveness of having to like…you have this idea and then it ends and then it’s sad but during the time when it could be stressful or whatever. Is that ever like, you don’t want to deal with that or you just have some extreme drive to do it?
PTA: Yeah, all the time.
Audi: All the time? Okay.
Audi: My question for you Paul is, throughout your films, mantras and repetitions of dialog happen as a recurring theme. Especially in Boogie Nights, you have a big, bright shining star. Especially in this film I noticed with Quell going back and forth from the wall to the window and so on. Could you comment on why this is such a prevalent theme?
PTA: Hopefully you don’t do things that you know are a theme or hopefully you’re doing things that you don’t even know you’re doing. One of the most amazing and fun things that can happen is when you write something. If you’re writing really fast and you’re typing and some weird thing comes out of you, like a typo or a turn of phrase, you just don’t correct it. Don’t fix it. Don’t do spell check. Don’t do grammar check or whatever they have. Let them be, make sure that they exist, because there’s a reason why they’re there. They’re not typos…yeah.
M: So is that trying to find the balance between precision and instinct?
PTA: Yeah, for sure, for sure, always. Nobody wants to see a movie that’s perfect, do they? It’s like all clean and polished and everything like that, and sometimes, you know, I’m a victim of cut and paste and it’s fun to mess with stuff but it’s also fun to mess it up.
Audi: Watching There Will Be Blood was an incredibly meaningful and powerful experience for me and I just wanted to thank you for that. And it’s not just because my first name’s Daniel and my last initial is P. But one of the things I love about that film and especially about The Master was how real and authentic everything feels from the performances to the sets to the costumes, just every element. And I was just wondering with an increasing use of computer generated images and computers in general being used in films, how do you feel about that when it comes to making things look and feel real when it can just be generated on the computer?
PTA: Well, I don’t know, I mean…(audience laughter)
M: He’s leading you back to your superhero blockbuster, isn’t he?
PTA: Who uses instagram here? (audience members raise their hands, PTA points at them) Right, right, right, I don’t know.
Audi: I’m sorry.
PTA: It’s like…
M: Because it’s inauthentic? Is it that?
PTA: No, it is authentic, because it exists, but it’s not…it’s just amazing, it’s hilarious. It’s like creating something that can make it look old and it looks amazing, it looks great, it really does. But something’s not right. (audience laughs) I can’t figure it out. What I like is that everybody can see it. I love that part of it. I love how easy it is. And that is fucking great. But there’s something else that doesn’t quite fit, I’m not sure what it is. That’s not to say that using it’s bad, but it’s just so funny. It’s like we use this thing and we want to find a way to mess it up. It’s the same thing, isn’t it?
M: So, not wanting things to be too perfect again…
PTA: Yeah, we wanted it to be perfect and now oh no no no, we don’t want it to be perfect, we want it to look like it used to look. And like, I don’t know. This is like a complicated conversation (audience laughs).
Audi: Hi Paul, I’d like to know more about your encounter with Stanley Kubrick on the set of Eyes Wide Shut, because your last couple of films seem to be heavily influenced by Kubrick.
PTA: Well, let me just say I don’t think there’s anybody who hasn’t been influenced by Stanley Kubrick. I can’t speak for other directors, but it feels like what he did was kind of like a watermark for all of us. Just to say like this is how you should sort of treat what you do and this is how you should address it with a kind of attention, compassion and…yeah, I was lucky enough to meet him and it was a great privilege, great honor and everything else. I think I’ve said this before, it’s like no big mystery, but he was like nice to me when he knew that I directed Boogie Nights but he was much nicer to me when he knew that I wrote it. There was a difference between being a person who directed something and somebody who wrote and directed something, which is pretty cool. That kind of stuck around. Yeah, I count myself as pretty lucky to have been there and that really resulted in going to meet Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman when they were making that film.
Audi: Hey Paul, this is the first feature film that you’ve shot without Robert Elswit. I really loved the aesthetic of The Master, but there were no hyper-fast track-ins, no whip pans. There were long takes, but they weren’t as like, tightly choreographed or as movement heavy as any of your other films, so I guess I’m just wondering if the shift had anything to with it and how it might have affected your approach to cinematography?
PTA: No, that didn’t have anything to do with Robert not being there or Mihai or anything like that.That’s just what you’re doing mainly because of the story, you know, I just don’t know where we would have done that stuff in this movie. Anytime there was kind of an opportunity to do something that was a little energetic we were like so happy, like Freddie getting on the boat, we were like throwing down hundreds of feet of dolly track and we were jazzed up because most of the time it’s so straightforward. It’s weird when you’re writing a movie that some part of you wants to be unleashed and kind of do something like whip pans and crazy stuff like that but what’s coming out of you as a writer is not that. It don’t add up, I think the writer wins every time, that’s kind of what you’re doing. So yeah, good question, but it has nothing to do with Robert or Mihai, it’s more about what the story is, you know.
Audi: Hi Paul, my name’s Ebb. I just wanted to ask you, how do you respond to negative criticism? I mean, if someone really gives the business to something you’ve made, do you take stock in it or do you stick to your own guns?
PTA: Well, yeah, I mean, it’s weird when you get negative criticism but it’s okay, it’s good, it’s fine.
M: Do you read reviews, do you keep track of…
PTA: Yeah I try to, especially when it comes out. When a film comes out, you’re sort of excited to find out what people think and you get some really good ones and then you get some negative ones and you’re sort of scratching your head and everyone’s talking and then you’ve kind of gauged the temperature of what might happen and then you’re not really sure what to do. It just is what it is, it doesn’t change anything at all, because it’s all kind of like a fucking fart in the wind. It doesn’t mean anything.
M: Are there good bad reviews and bad bad reviews? Bad reviews that you feel are accurate or truthful in some way other than just not getting it?
PTA: Yeah sure, sometimes you sort of read something and think well wait a minute…ah, I know what you mean, okay. You kind of get defensive, but you can understand what they’re saying and you kind of recognize your own weaknesses in what they’re saying. And perhaps they’re right, but then you find a way to justify that.
Audi: Hi Paul, did you have any trepidation going into The Master without Robert Elswit and do you think you’ll reunite for Inherent Vice?
PTA: Of course, it was very difficult to do just because I’ve worked with him but I hope to shoot Inherent Vice with him. That’ll be great.
M: And this is the first time Pynchon’s allowed a book to be adapted. That’s right, isn’t it?
M: So, no pressure or anything…?
PTA: Has anybody read the book? No one’s read the book, that’s great.
Audi: Hey Paul, I was just wondering whether you’re going to be doing any more film commentaries for your films in the future? I know you want your films to speak for themselves, but I was just wondering if you could at least do a technical commentary where you would be with your cinematographer and you could explain the technical issues of the movie.
PTA: Sure, that would be great, do a commentary. (audience laughs)
M: Is that stuff you enjoy?
PTA: Well no, not really, but that’s all right…
Audi: Hello Paul, my name’s Scott and welcome to Melbourne and thanks for making this wonderful film for us to see. My question is because you’re such a prolific writer, obviously if you were to take some of the screenplays you’ve made and turn them into books, you’d probably be a well-regarded author. My question is, how and when did you know that film would be your medium and not any other?
PTA: You know, listen, if I could have made a living being like a real writer, like a novelist I probably would have done that. That would’ve been great because…that would be amazing. I never felt like I was that, I didn’t practice to do that. I always thought like, like ten years ago that would be a really good idea. Writing was screenwriting, which is pretend writing. I don’t mean that as a demeaning thing, it’s only half of what you’re doing. I wish I was a good enough writer, that that’s what I had practiced to be because that’s hard. That’s something else.
M: Is it, just what you fall in love with first? Did you fall in love with movies before…
PTA: Yeah, exactly, that’s exactly what it was. I didn’t know what writing books was really. I thought you just wrote because you made a movie and the other thing came afterwards, but great question.
Audi: My question’s about Jonny Greenwood doing the music for your last two movies. Just wondering how you ended up working with him and if you’ll work with him again in the future.
PTA: I’d love to work with Jonny Greenwood for as long as he’d love to work with me. I feel privileged to know him and to work with him. Amazing composer who looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing but actually does. It’s my honor to have him make music for what we’re doing, it’s great, amazing. When I saw movies, when I grew up, watching Steven Spielberg’s movies with John Williams, I was like fuck, that’s how you do it. Music and what the movie is, they bash together like, there’s no, not that I’m comparing us at all. That’s what influenced me, that’s how it should be. These two things smash together and you’re supposed to smash and audience with that stuff. Then I saw what Bernard Hermann did and Alfred Hitchcock and stuff like that and I was like, that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s been my feeling about how music should be in movies. Working with Jonny makes me feel like I have a great collaborator who just makes sense, that feels, you know, expands my mind or my ears might hear something.
Audi: A lot of your films are about transformation, especially this one, and I’m just interested in your emotional experience with process and whether you’ve actually done any of that stuff and how you’re moving towards freedom through that, because it seems to be a theme or whether Tom’s got any secrets for you.
PTA: Thank you for your question. When you look into something you’re going to do as a story, it just can’t help but affect your life. It would be foolish to spend a couple of years on something that doesn’t affect you. You hope it affects you, you hope it opens your eyes to something. It makes you smarter and better and cooler and happier and all that stuff. Otherwise, fuck, why do it?
Audi: So, do you?
PTA: For sure, I feel like, if you’re into something and you’re kind of looking into it and the point of siding by something is that it has value not that it doesn’t have value. That’s like a dead end. Why would you spend your time doing that, just to make fun of something? Doesn’t seem right to me.
Audi: I feel like you needed some really tough question. Your films tend to have some really flawed men, in particular. What are your biggest flaws? (audience laughs)
M: Is it that you care too much?
PTA: See, no. I’m too polite (audience laughs).
Audi: What I’ve always wanted to know was regarding Boogie Nights. Apparently you watched hundreds and hundreds of hours of pornography. How did this influence you as a filmmaker? (audience laughs)
PTA: Probably not enough, you know. Great question, because, good pornography knows what they can stretch in terms of your patience and I don’t think we’ve learned that lesson. It really feels like, sometimes you sort of sneak in the back of the audience and you can just feel the back of their heads going “Enough already! Give us a fucking cumshot, give us a boner…” But honestly, yeah, there’s a structure, like they’re supposed to teach you in a screenwriting book. Like, they can seduce them for this long, and then they should start fucking right here and then he’s going to cum by here and there should be another seduction and that’s not to be trifled with. And there’s a reason why not, boners only last so long, you know. And after you cum, it takes that long to get another boner.
M: This will be another screening in your film school, obviously. Ted, pornography, Bad Day at Black Rock.
PTA: But if we started to watch this film again right now, it might be exciting for five minutes, but then it would be kind of dull probably.
M: I wish we had some more time to discuss this filmic boner metaphor a little longer. Do we have more questions?
Astor Staff: I have a few people in line who have pretty much the same question, which is about how you got started and what motivated you to be making films.
PTA: Well, as a blanket thing, just to be talking about that stuff…I never felt like there was something that motivated me to get into films. I felt it was something I’d wanted to do since I was like a little kid. I just had nothing else I wanted to do and at least that’s the way my mom tells it. That’s the way I remember it. They always felt like they didn’t know how to support their son, who expressed no interest in anything else, which I probably guess was quite a risk. For them to feel like, well what happens if you don’t…you know, if you’re not good at that or what happens…and which I completely can see now as a parent. It’s a wild thing to have a son who says, “No, I’m gonna be a movie director and I’m gonna do this and that’s exclusively it.” Fucking nuts, you know. I was lucky enough to just kind of like, I think more than anything, somehow, writing was the most important thing to me.
Because I remember like peers that I started out with that weren’t as interested in writing as I was and maybe it was harder for them just because that was so much more elusive. Everybody was talking about, if we could just have a script. Just like, that was the thing that people were talking about, and still talk about, at the highest levels of production and skill level. People talking about, “If the script was right.” It never goes away, whether you’re starting out or whether you’re like Martin Scorsese. You’re like, “Where’s the script?” It was through no kind of design of my own that that was attracted me but it just was and it’s probably through that kind of dumb luck that that was something that appealed to me. That kind of thing that happens that you do alone in the room that’s so fun, that’s so elusive and so fucking maddening.
M: Were you ever tempted to just write screenplays and not direct them?
PTA: Sure, yeah. But not to do it for that reason, but more the reason of having material that did not have a home and you wanted it to have a home. There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t write. I love writing, writing is like breathing or exercise, it’s a privilege and a joy to do. And anybody can do it, you know. It’s like playing the piano, it’s not that fucking hard. Just fucking keys on a keyboard, how hard could it be? Yeah, it’s great. That’s it, come on, that’s fucking it.