Thursday, November 15, 2012

Interview: Envelope Screening Series Q&A

Transcription by Nikhil Venkatesa

Interviewer: Okay, let me ask you about a particular scene, let me talk to you about the jail scene. You kind of know what you’ve written, I suspect. It’s relatively close to what you’re gonna end up shooting. But I suspect on a day like, I don’t know, how many days did you shoot the jail scene?
Paul Thomas Anderson: Just one.
I: One day. You come expecting a certain thing. Do you get it? Do you, I mean, does Joaquin surprise you? And that scene is so riveting. I’m just curious what it was like as a filmmaker to make it? And what your experience was like just shooting that particular scene.
PTA: Well I’ll give you, okay, I’ll give you my honest memory of doing that. It was, I’d written lots of different versions of what might happen. I think we went into the scene and none of us exactly knew what we would do, but, because there’s no staging to it, because it’s a contained cell, and you can light it very simply and you can put the camera - we had two cameras - you can put one here, and you can put one there. (takes deep breath) In some ways, in that way, it’s very simple.
(another clip of The Master plays)
PTA: The first take that we did is the take that’s in the movie, and I can remember seeing it thinking “I think this is okay, I think that’s good.” But that kind of panic strickens you because it’s not what you expected, you know, and sometimes as a director you can have the confidence to say that’s not what I expected and its fucking great and let’s go to lunch or let’s go home or let’s do another scene. On your worst days as a director, you can say that was amazing. Let’s do it again, you know…and then you say, why don’t we do it again? And you keep doing it again because you’re sort of, you are unsure, you’re all unsure, maybe collectively all three of us knew we were after something. Or desperately you think well we’ve got the location for the day, why don’t we do some more, you know? Um, and inevitably, it all kind of goes by the wayside. You might be exhausted by the end of the day or you might think, or somebody might think, why are we continuing to do this? But, you laugh about it now and you look back at it and go yeah, it was the first one.
I: This is, obviously, an incredibly ambitious movie you made. Was there a best day you had making it?
PTA: We had a day, the last day. We shot up to Northern California, and we needed to get out of there. It was like, we had been there too long and we needed to get out of there. The first scene of the day that we shot was Joaquin swimming in San Francisco Bay. We cut that out of the film. He got hypothermia. He was with a stuntman, they both got hypothermia. They were throwing up, they almost passed out. Fine, great, but we still need to keep shooting. (interviewer laughs)
Ran down to Woodside and shot a shot of Joaquin walking through a forest. We used that. But um, went home…my girlfriend was 9 months pregnant at the time and after staying up for 24 hours, came home, saw her, got in bed. She said, “I think its time to go to the hospital.” Went to the hospital and had our third child, Jack.
I: Did this movie, I mean, this is coming off There Will Be Blood which was probably, I mean, I don’t want to rank it, it was a successful film. Did this movie come together more easily because of that film or is everything just a grind and is it just you’re starting at zero every time?
PTA: It feels that way, definitely feels like you’re in the freshman class every single time you start. It just feels um…but that’s okay, that’s cool, you know. I would hate to actually think that you make a film that people like and does well and suddenly they’re going to go, “Okay, now you can do whatever you want.” You need something to push back against I think, I suppose, or I do at least and it’s a horrible habit in me but, its nice to feel that you have something to prove.  
I: Joaquin and Phillip have a very distinct physicality that they bring to the roles. Joaquin almost looks like he’s, you know, assembled from a bunch of broken pieces. Phillip is large but he seemed to have a kind of levity to him in terms of how he walks about the set. I’m curious if that’s something the actors brought, if that’s something you discussed, that you felt it was important to have such dramatic physical differences between the two leads.
PTA: That’s them, I mean, some of that might have been there just in the basics. They obviously took their cue from the script and kind of created something bigger and better than I ever could have written out, you know. I mean, imagine if I was, you know, if I’d written Freddie puts his hands like that (impersonates Freddie’s body language) I mean, I would be a great writer, and I’m not, you know.
(clip from The Master plays)
I: Do you end up making the movie that you think you’re going to make, and if you look back at The Master, was that the movie you thought you were going to make? Is it, if it’s different, how would it be different?
PTA: I certainly never thought I’d look at Joaquin standing like that. That, that like I said before, that was never in my mind’s eye, and, that’s such a predominant part of the film, you know. I wrote…the first scene of the movie was written as like Exterior Beach, Guam, you know, Freddie Quell is on the beach after VJ Day. That’s all I wrote, because we just wanted to go to a beach and start doing things.
I: So, explain the coconuts, the humping in the sand castle, all that…
PTA: All that, we just came up with that. Yeah we just did that on the day we were doing it.
(clip of The Master plays)
I: So you have this drifter and at what point does he have this encounter, in your own writing, where there’s a catalyst, or there’s a character of change that he is going to run into somebody, and is that kind of more energy for his story or something you want to push him up against?
PTA: No, well, both! It’s both of those things. It’s energy for his story because you’re forcing somebody who…would probably be happy just to continue to be on his own. Not happy at all, no, I mean, he would probably be miserable being on his own as he was. But, throw him in a situation with somebody who has a huge appetite for life and is asking him questions, questions that he probably is not asking himself. And you, I suppose, I guess that’s the basics of a story. It should be a little bit like any, you know, some relationships you’ve seen maybe. Somebody comes over to your house and there’s a couple and you think “What do they see in each other?” And yet they are, they are in love; they are so deeply in love. And maybe they’re an odd couple, but they just feel something. They have a connection like that…in addition to, they like to drink together. In addition to, there is something each can get from the other. You know, Master feels, here’s my soulmate, who runs wild just as I wish I could.
I: Do you end up making the movie that you think you’re going to make, and if you look back at The Master, was that the movie you thought you were going to make? Is it, if it’s different, how would it be different?
PTA: That’s a great question. I don’t know, I mean, I don’t know, I don’t remember. I don’t remember what I thought it might be. I think it is pretty damn close to what I thought. But, that said, there’s so many things that I didn’t imagine about it that came together, that rose to the top. But the beginning was always the beginning, the middle was the middle and the end was always the end. All these details in between are definitely different and there’s all kinds of nuances and things that I never could’ve imagined and never wanted to imagine. I wanted to set up situations to find those things. All in all, I mean, it’s what we wanted to do…

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