Monday, November 12, 2012

Interview: Sunday Night Safran

Transcription by Megan Leddy

JOHN SAFRAN: This is Sunday Night Safran John Safran this is a pre-record and [to PTA] how are you?

PTA: Very good thank you.

JOHN SAFRAN: Director of The Master, and people might also know you as director of Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, Boogie Nights – so pretty famous.

PTA: Laughs

JOHN SAFRAN: The first disappointing thing is that usually there’s a priest for these interviews, Father Bob McGuire, not here, but you told me that doesn’t matter because you actually are a minister yourself.

 PTA: I’m an ordained minister.

JOHN SAFRAN: Really?!?

PTA: Yeah.

JOHN SAFRAN: How does that work?

PTA: You can do it online, where I come from at least, you can do it online. I have to admit my sister did it for me because she was getting married and she wanted me to marry her, so, she signed me up. I’m part of Rose Ministries out of Las Vegas, NV.

JOHN SAFRAN: And is that a particular denomination? Is that like Christian, or is that ecumenical? Or what is it?

PTA: It’s… Vegas. [Laughs]

JOHN SAFRAN: [Laughs] I’m not sure how easy it is to be a minister in Australia. I think you can get anything off the internet. I actually interviewed last year an Insane Clown Posse Juggalo Priest – cause there’s a church of juggalos – and they’re that rap group. And the people that join that as ministers are serious, they’re not like taking the mickey or whatever. It’s like we are gonna meld up Christianity or spirituality with that rap band the Insane Clown Posse and the teachings they have. So you know…

PTA: That’s cool, that’s cool.

JOHN SAFRAN: I guess this kind of feeds into The Master, because I saw it last night in 70 millimeters, apparently there is only one 70mm cinema in Melbourne.

PTA: Unfortunately, I think that’s the case. There’s one in Sydney.

JOHN SAFRAN: And that’s it.

PTA: Yeah, I know, it’s sad. Unfortunately you know places get encouraged to throw stuff away. Which I’m terrible at throwing things away. I’m a pack rat. I collect everything. And it doesn’t make any sense you know if you go into these projection booths at these movie theaters, they’re small but they don’t have to throw them away, but they did. It’s a drag but the good places hold on to them and we made a film that was shot and meant to be seen that way. But then again it’s not the end of the world if you don’t see it that way either. It’s just a little extra.

JOHN SAFRAN: What about all of this new stuff like this creep of digital which apparently regular people like me we don’t even know about but sort of like under our very noses over the last decade things are getting replaced.

PTA: They are, you know, and it shouldn’t, and yeah you know, as you say for regular people like yourself, it shouldn’t matter. It’s kind of like a good movie is a good movie whether you see it on your phone or a TV like that or in 70mm – it doesn’t much matter at the end of the day. But, if you’re into this kind of stuff and you get real nerdy like I do, there’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff underfoot and that’s okay. It’s like anything – it has to move and stay alive, and yeah, that’s okay.

JOHN SAFRAN:  Whenever you hear about the entrepreneurs in the past in the olden days they are always like mad people trying to advance the technology, so I guess there are still mad people trying to advance the technology.

PTA: Yeah, they’re trying to advance the technology and that’s okay – sometimes things are just fine how they were – you know, how much better than best can something get? But I guess there’s always better, somehow.

JOHN SAFRAN: Now you’d know this obviously being a director, but my friend told me the sound equipment that people use in major Hollywood films, like some the recording is no different than what it was decades and decades and decades and decades ago, from how they actually capture it.

PTA: Uhhh

JOHN SAFRAN: Well thanks a lot Craig Melville for making me look like a jerk in front of Paul Thomas Anderson.

PTA: Yeah, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Here’s what’s the same is there’s a microphone, sound goes in, sound gets put onto something, sound comes back out again. It hasn’t changed that much. But, it’s harder and harder I know bands and people who can’t record on tape anymore – they don’t make it anymore. They’re still making film so we can still do it that way. You know it’s funny like in this day and age you know everybody’s takes a picture with their digital camera and they press a button to make it look like it was film, you know?

JOHN SAFRAN:  Well I’ve noticed with that Instagram thing where you put a filter on it, when I’ve been overseas and there’s been something amazing, I’m doing everything I can to take all the filters off because I don’t want to effect it in any way, and it’s usually if something’s a bit sort of, not as magical that I’m trying to trick it up with the filters.

PTA: Right – but I think you’re in the minority. What I see lately is people really trying to mess it up and make it look more like film and less perfect which is so funny. When those cameras first came out everyone was like “look how clear it is, oh my god”, they were so excited. Now they’ve kind of grown tired of that and they’re trying to find a way to mess it up and make it look like their old photographs of them as children, because you get nostalgic for that thing we can hold in our hand and the way a photograph fades and they feel good that way. I think they feel good because it means they’re alive and they’re aging and some of these photographs that we take with these digital cameras sometimes they just feel kind of dull, kind of boring. 

JOHN SAFRAN: Now in The Master Freddie Quell, the main character or one of the two main characters, he leaves the war and you don’t exactly spell out what happened in the war to him, but he seems to have been drawn to this spiritual quest or this cult, if you want to be negative, that seems to be a proxy for Scientology, because of bad experiences that happened in the war. Is that story a bigger story, in that a lot of people in your reading you saw that because they went through World War II they were drawn to these things afterwards?

PTA: It wasn’t a big thing, I mean I definitely have stories I could point to that I read of fellas that were in the war who were hungry for some spiritual question and spiritual answers and would get involved in movements – but they’re in the minority, I think. I don’t think this character, Freddie, unless he hadn’t stumbled – literally stumbled across this boat and ended up where he ended up – he wouldn’t have spent two seconds with it. He’s just not that kind of fella. So, through a series of events, here he is sort of somebody who seemingly has no interest in spirituality turns out he probably does if asked the right questions or is wrestling with enough stuff whether it’s from the war or before the war it doesn’t quite matter - he’s definitely hungry for some answers. Probably just lead a life where he’s not willing to deal with it, just rather get drunk – booze, black out.

JOHN SAFRAN:  And obviously, all the things in the film, because so much is universal, you could have told a different way, why did you choose to do something that is so strikingly is a character that everyone is going to think he is L. Ron Hubbard from the Church of Scientology, is the one this guy from the war bumps into? 

PTA: Well, I don’t know, I don’t think it’s so well known that everybody’s going to feel that way. I think people who are kind of in the know or have some awareness of Hubbard will see a lot of the parallels and similarities – ultimately you’ve just got to kind of throw that stuff out the window and sort of be inspired by stuff and tell your own story and make something that’s its own free-standing thing. 

JOHN SAFRAN: Did you feel like when you were putting that in the film it was a bit playing with fire? Either in an exciting way or not necessarily in a negative way, because there is sort of like no way you can put someone a lot of people are going to think is based on L. Ron Hubbard and not have blowback.

PTA: No, not really. No.

JOHN SAFRAN: I’m trying to figure out if you’re going to say something…

PTA: I think I was going to say something but my mind just farted, so [laughs]. I know where you’re coming from though – I’m not trying to dodge it – I get you, I hear you, but it just never really felt that way. It’s kind of like I was hearing somebody talk – where was this? – somebody was talking about these Rothko paintings and how people of a certain age would walk through and all they could see was how he’d killed himself and it affected what they were looking at. And he was saying that he would see these school kids walk through and they were just saying “Wow! Look at these colors – this is amazing!” They weren’t bringing that to it. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s kind of like that feeling that all that stuff kind of has to go away. – sort of take a long view I guess.

JOHN SAFRAN: In the film I felt you hint a lot at Freddie’s past and again we don’t exactly know what screwed him up… but with the Lancaster character you don’t. He’s kind of the proxy spiritual leader, cult leader character, we don’t really understand why he’s arrived there.

PTA: Why Dodd is who he is, how he got there?


PTA: Well you can’t in a two hour film do so much of that, and you have to kind of rely on the fact that you can take one look at Phil Hoffman playing this part and you either get it and go with it or if you are unfortunately hungering to wonder “How did he get here?” hopefully it’s not too distracting. Hopefully that’s not hanging you up from enjoying the film. It’s like with Freddie, Joaquin, one look at his face and I think it says it all. You can kind of see something has gone on here. Whether you get all the answers or not, it shouldn’t quite matter. What are the details of how this happened? Don’t really matter, but here we are. He mentions some stuff that’s gone on with him and I think gives you enough understanding to sort of see that he’s troubled – he’s seen things that most people haven’t. Got himself in a position most people aren’t in.

JOHN SAFRAN: You said last night at the Q&A that you felt that the Lancaster character was sincere to himself – so regardless of whether his beliefs were true or not true he actually sincerely believed them himself?

PTA: Yeah, yeah. Did you feel that way? [PART 2] Cause I’ve had people say “Oh, he’s a like huckster” or all that kind of stuff – I never looked at it that way, ever.

JOHN SAFRAN: I find that interesting because people always think these people – even if they are in effect – ripping off people and hucksters, sometimes they can be that but also sincerely believe it themselves. And there is a slightly separate issue of “are you taking money off people?” is slightly different to “Well do you believe it?” You can conceivably sincerely believe this thing plus, as an extra, be sort of taking advantage of people.

PTA: Right. Well you can get yourself into a situation – I can see with this character – that perhaps more than anything he just liked having people around him and he did like the investigation of the human mind and this life and all these kind of large philosophical questions. He’s a guy who’s definitely hungry for that kind of stuff and if anything his downfall just becomes having a group of people following you and wanting to know answers. And getting to the place where you are not just curious about the questions, you feel you have to provide the answers. That’s when it starts to get more complicated and peculiar when that kind of can overtake you and you probably get further and further away from shore and feeling like an amateur archeologist of the mind and that kind of stuff. I mean he’s not without a lot of ego and a lot of hubris – he says kind of grandiose things that are, you know, I find them kind of charming and funny - so full of himself. But you’re right, it doesn’t exclude that you can care about somebody just because you’ve got a big flashy signature doesn’t mean that you’re not a compassionate person. I think he wants nothing more than to fix Freddie. He would love it. And not just to put on his mantelpiece as a kind of notch in his belt, look what I can do, but for his own humanity, for Freddie’s humanity.

JOHN SAFRAN: And you said last night at the Q&A that this was ghost stories, it was almost, yeah – what do you mean by that?

PTA: I just mean that - it just comes up in that era, it just gets you thinking about ghosts. It really does. I never have spent so much time thinking about ghosts and what that stuff is until I started getting into this movie. It just feels so – I understand it. I understand this idea of linking to another time another world sort of…


PTA: Oh God, I’m not articulating this well. It’s more of a feeling than anything else. You know Casper the Friendly Ghost we have playing in the movie theater in the film and that’s a kind of creation of the 50s. That’s like early 1950s – who says ghosts have to be spooky and scary? Why can’t they be nice, why can’t they try – they’re just trying to be our friends.  You get into this stuff when you talk about time travel and all that kind of stuff that The Master is talking about – The Master is going on about linking yourself to the past, and it all feels really good until that kind of moment when you really want to say “Okay, I want to travel back in time. I want to go get that lost love. I want to go hold her hand.”  And that’s when you hit a wall when you can’t. It makes it something wonderful that you can do in your mind when you close your eyes, but when you really want to go back and grab that thing, it’s not there. You can’t do it.

JOHN SAFRAN: Wow – that’s a melancholy way to end the interview. [Laughs]

PTA: There he goes again: melancholy. Yeah, is it though? I guess it is.

JOHN SAFRAN: Thank you very much for joining us PT Anderson and for bringing us this great film The Master.

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