Friday, October 26, 2012

Interview: Bish's Biz

(Interview Begins around 8:00)

Q: Why was this something you wanted to make a film about? What was the kernel of the idea of writing it? Where did it come from in your mind?

PTA: Oh, it’s so foggy looking back, I’m trying to figure it out. I couldn’t say for sure, I had a lot of pieces to the story for a while. When it came time to kind of get them all together I think the main thing that was driving me was working with Phil Hoffman again. We’d worked together before, made some films, but he was more of a supporting actor. I wanted to find something that we could kind of do together and build from the ground up. And that’s as good a reason as any to get into something, as good a reason as the story is or what the themes are or that kind of stuff. Starting something from a personal place, wanting to work with somebody.

Q: So Lancaster Dodd was created for Phil. Where does that character come from?

PTA: Well that character’s a creation of mine for him. Sort of equal parts Charles Laughton, L. Ron Hubbard, Orson Welles, WC Fields, it’s a sort of a creation of ours. It’s hard, when you have an actor as a friend, unless you can kind of grab hold of them and work with them they’re going to be in your life too infrequently because they go off to make films. And the only time you can have with them one on one is when you’re working together, so maybe it was secretly just a way to hold onto him.

Q: You found another good one in Joaquin Phoenix. You didn’t go around developing that character the same way, I guess, you had the character and then you cast it.

PTA: Yeah, but that’s not to say that Joaquin wasn’t sort of nagging away in my mind. When you write a film, hopefully you’re – at it’s best, you’re writing this sort of creation but you know it’s a film. And you think “well sooner or later you’re gonna have to find somebody to do it,” and he kept coming to mind. He’s so dynamic and electric, one of the great young actors of my generation. I always wonder, if you were an actor (even if you’re not an actor) and somebody said “you can pretend to be somebody else for 3 months, would you do it? Morning, noon, and night you can just pretend, like have a completely alternate life.” And that’s what he did, that’s when it’s fun for actors. They can just completely shed their skin and play make believe for 3 months. Even if it appears to be uncomfortable, it’s probably a lot of fun.

Q: It’s been reported that at the Venice Film Festival “The Master” was to take the top award, but they decided you’d already won enough. That’s pretty rough!

PTA: Yeah, I know, like this counts against you for being “too good” or something. (Laughs)

Q: Anderson isn’t ashamed to admit that he’s on the hunt for some Oscars for this movie.

PTA: When you have a film like ours that’s not going to set the box office on fire and maybe is slightly more peculiar, you have a limited kind of life in terms of people going to see it until you’ve get these things that they give out that can kind of translate to extra cash at the box office. Which then translates to the ability to do it again. So they factor into my life right now in a very practical way.

Q: He’s been nominated before for his films “Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Magnolia,” which starred prominent Scientologist Tom Cruise. There’s been lots of discussion that this film is based on Scientology, is it?

PTA: I mean, Scientology at this point is an incredibly large spiritual movement, a very large religion. We don’t do that, what we’re doing is sort of inspired by “Dianetics,” which is a sort of pre-cursor to Scientology. So if you’re going to get technical about it, specific about it, there are a lot of parallels between that story and our story. Tons, you can make a list and show all of them. And you can make just as big a list of differences. That’s what happens when you make a film, when you’re sort of dramatizing something you have to be free. Unless you’re making a biopic, as they call them, as a screenwriter you get to sort of steal pieces that you need and you cheat and you lie, and you kind of fabric your own thing together.

Q: Does it help that Scientology has been in the news of late?

PTA: You know, I don’t really know if it helps or hurts. I don’t know if people want to see a film that has to do with Scientology or not. I think if they’re into Scientology they’d be a part of Scientology. I think people are more curious about it.

Q: You directed Tom Cruise in Magnolia, one of your previous films. He’s of course a very famous Scientologist, have you shown him this film?

PTA: Do you know the answer to this?

Q: You know I do.

PTA: Alright, then don’t ask.

Q: Okay, fair enough. It is interesting, that’s all, that you would show it to him given the subject matter.

PTA: Alright, but you also know the answer, so…

Q: Well, my viewers don’t. The director and the actor remain friends and he says while he has shown him the film, he won’t discuss his reaction.

PTA: It’s between us.

Q: When I look back over your roster of movies, they are eclectic, they’re a very broad church of subject matter. Do you yourself see a common thread through the films that you’ve made? Is there one thing they all have in common?

PTA: I mean, I don’t know, just good memories. Each one, besides being just films that exist and there they are, when I look at them they are just great memories of making them. Usually, if it’s what you do for a living, you sort measure where you are in life. Like how many kids you had when you made it, or did you have no kids, or where you were living at the time, where it took you, where you filmed it, who was around. I think so little about the actual films and what they’re about, what their stories are. A lot of the thinking is about the personal attachments to making them.

Q: You shot this on film while the rest of the world seems to be steering towards digital. Why?

PTA: I have no axe to grind against new things at all, I mean I use them as well. We use computers to edit our films, if there was a need to shoot something digitally we would do it. But this film, it didn’t want to be shot that way. I suppose I’m an old fogie, I learned that way. I learned on film and I know how to do it. I like doing it that way. I just hope that nothing goes away. We’ve used cameras from 1910, we’ve used lenses from 1911, they don’t break. They don’t just go away and disappear, you want to be able to use whatever you need to do the story that you’re doing.

Q: Your wife is also in the biz, you have kids too. How do you juggle all that? Do you want to collaborate at some stage? How do you manage it?

PTA: It’s like trying to write “War and Peace” in bumper cars, as somebody once said. I stole that from somebody, I don’t remember who. Anyway, it feels like we’re doing an okay job. There was kind of a perfect storm of things happening in both our lives, in terms of work, that I don’t think will happen again. But the kids seem to be surviving alright, they’re not orphans. They’re fed and they have attention.

Q: If you had to tell a potential movie-goer to see “The Master” what would you tell them?

PTA: Oh god. I think what this film has is Phillip, Joaquin, and Amy working at a kind of level that’s really really strong, that’s really high. Very focused, filled with a lot of humor and compassion. That would be our…we should put that on the poster, that’s kind of all I’ve got, really.

Transcription by Martin Cohen


  1. I'm pretty sure the "War and Peace in bumper cars" thing was originally said by Terry Gilliam... unless he was also quoting someone.

  2. It was Stanley Kubrick.

  3. Man, he's getting sick of the Tom Cruise question.