Monday, January 28, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Making ‘The Master' with Paul Thomas Anderson

Cigarettes & Red Vines is proud to present the very first installment of "Making The Master," our brand new series of in-depth interviews with some of the minds behind "The Master." Between now and February 26th (the day of the film's Blu-ray release), we'll be talking to many of the production's principal players and today we're kicking things off with an exclusive interview with the man himself, Paul Thomas Anderson. It's been quite some time since C&RV had the chance to virtually sit down with Paul for a Q&A (the last one was way back in November 2003) and as always, it was great catching up with him. As usual our interview was conducted via email and his answers are candid, completely stream-of-consciousness and have not been edited (though we've added links and images where applicable). Paul spoke about his influences for "The Master," whether he's ever thought about revisiting any of his characters and if he'd consider working in television among many other topics. Enjoy.

The film was first announced back in December of 2009 by Variety but things didn’t get moving again until February 2011. It was reported that during this time you kept ‘coming up against a wall’ so can you talk a little about 2010 and what was going on behind-the-scenes with the film creatively/financially/etc.?

My sewer dump of a memory cannot recall. In the vaguest terms, I just remember saying, "this isn't ready yet." Possible combination of elements at work: not enough research done, not enough writing or sitting with it done. The code hadn't been cracked on exactly how,when & where to do it. We were looking for a location that had water for a boat. A boat. A city. A desert. We looked at shooting in Philadelphia, New York....possibly all of them and then moving to Arizona, just following the movements in the film. None of these worked to our advantage. Things came together as they always do on films; as they're meant to be. We found Mare Island, the Potomac (boat), writing had been done, research felt researched. The emergence of Joaquin being available certainly brought momentum to the film.

You’ve talked about the doc “Let There Be Light” and book “At Ease: Navy Men Of WWII” as being great reference points but can you talk about any other books/films/art that inspired “The Master”?

It's always such a long list.....sometimes it's whatever was on TV that morning. Other times, it's something i'm really into. tons of old film noir's. Out of the Past, dark Corner, Mr. Arkadin, Lady from Shanghai, etc. Nightmare Alley! Val Lewton stuff like Seventh Victim and Ghost Ship. Dianetics in Limbo by Helen O'Brien. Helen Forrest/Kitty Kallen and anything by Jo Stafford music wise. also listened over and over to Stravinsky piece "Ebony Concerto." Duke Ellington - Peer Gynt Suite. list goes on.....oh! how about John O'Hara short stories. earlier drafts have a slight adaption of one of his stories, "Bucket of Blood" I think. great short story.

The opening of the film is very funny. The first words of spoken dialogue in the film are Freddie talking about his pubes and then he fucks the sand woman and masturbates into the ocean. The last line of the film is him telling Winn to put him back in during sex (right after the last scripted lines about the “next life”). Was this a conscious decision to kinda take the piss out of expectations that this film was going to be something “very, very serious”?

HA! sure. i guess. probably not very conscious -- except we were always looking for laughs. lots of serious laughs making this film. The "put it back in" was just one of many dirty little things Freddie said to end the scene....always nice to open a scene up in ways you never could have imagined sitting alone in a room. "stick it back in it fell out," belongs to Joaquin. it's a very nice line I owe him for.

You’ve talked about how your filmmaking process has evolved since “Punch-Drunk Love.” Is it daunting to be making a film when you’re not quite sure what that film is going to be yet? Or is it more exciting to you now than working in the more structured style of your 90’s films?

They're all daunting. They're all exciting. They all, at the end of it all, turn out how you want it -- it's just hilarious the hoops I put myself and others through to get there. One of these days, we'll just start without all the floundering 90s films? what is this? that has a funny ring to it. glad it's not my 80s films.

From all the footage in the teasers that wasn’t in the film, it looks like you had a ton of material to work with. How much did the film change in the editing room? Were there earlier cuts of the film that were drastically different? (For instance, did you know when you released the first teaser that the Joaquin interview footage would not be in the film?)

We have some good stuff that'll come out with the BluRay. NOthing massively shifted in the editing room. No large structural shift or anything like was more asking questions about what's in and what's out....playing with versions of the film that elminated scenes to see it's effect on the whole thing -- The interview with Freddie was one of three that we shot. Questions arise, like: how many more interviews are we going to see with him and a VA Doctor.......zzzzzzzz.......this leads to a cut.

There seems to be some confusion over certain scenes in “The Master.” Several critics totally missed that the naked dancing sequence is imagined and that the phone call in the movie theatre is a dream. How do decide on how much is enough information for an audience and how much keeping certain things a little fuzzy can be helpful for the film?

Flip a coin?

Sometimes removing a scene can change the way the characters/story is perceived (example: Becky now has a happy ending in “Boogie Nights” because the scenes of her marriage’s violent turns were excised.) Do you think that by removing these scenes from “The Master” should mean those events “don’t happen” in the universe of the characters or should we think of these extra bits as “the further adventures” of the characters that simply aren’t glimpsed in the film?

hmmmmmm. Now we're talking philosophy! Best not to think too much about stuff that isn't there - the film must stand on it's own.

The earlier draft of the script took some different turns (Freddie visiting cousin Bob, meeting Ellen in the Burlesque club, Freddie daydreaming about cutting off The Master’s head, waking up in the hospital). Were any of these scenes filmed and cut out? And will any of these (or other sequences from the trailers) will appear in longer form on the Blu/DVD?

COUSIN BOB!!!! I hadn't thought of him in a while till I saw this question. Oh that stuff was long ago. I still hope Cousin Bob will show up in a story I write someday. All that stuff with Alligators in sewers was stolen from Pynchon's V. We looked around some sewers in upstate New York...... eventually decided to ditch the whole story line in writing before spending money and time on something unnecessary to the Main Event. Freddie daydreaming about cutting Master's head was an OK idea....not worth pursuing. the kind of thing you get excited about for a while, then leave. never to be shot. and that's fine by me.

We know it was always a semi-regular sing along at the old Largo but how did “Slow Boat To China” come to you as the climax of the film?

Can't remember the moment of decision for sure....but i think i was influenced by a tapestry on a bathroom wall i saw at a house i was staying at in Gloucster, Mass. great fishing/sailing town and the tapestry was about Sailors and Lighthouses lighting up the was a little poem with a lighthouse on it....reminded me of Slow Boat to China the way it rhymed......that's probably the connection. kept going back to that bathroom while writing and then presto -chango - you've got Master's serenade.

If you could plan a perfect triple-feature with “The Master” headlining, which films would you pair it with and why?

Destination Tokyo, Best Years of Our Lives, Men Without Women - other war films and post war films. or maybe a double bill with I'm Still Here. I love the film and joaquin's performance. be nice to see it play with something totally different too, like The Master and then it's porno-version, if they have one....

At what point during “The Master” did you start adapting “Inherent Vice” and how far along are you now in that process? Was there ever a point when you considered making that film first?

It was talked about making Inherent Vice first, but it was just talk.....really glad we decided to see through what we started. I started work on Inherent Vice sometime shortly after the book came out. It's been something to go to while clearing out my head on Master.

Have there been any characters from your films that you’ve continued to think about from time to time? Not necessarily for a sequel per se but just someone who you’ve thought of images/scenes or further adventures for?

Not really, no. I like looking forward more than reflecting.

Television has had a creative renaissance in the last decade with a lot of other filmmakers of your generation working in the medium. Do you have any favorite TV shows? And do you have any interest in working in other formats (television or mini-series perhaps)?

I've day-dreamed a lot about making something long form, sure. It would be a thrill and challenge to tackle something so spread out. It's usually at some point in writing when you think, "what if i just didn't try and contain this story and really let it loose....." thoughts drift to mini-series, long form HBO stuff, etc.......but it's usually followed by a brain-freeze and "naaaah." Maybe someday. TV shows? old Larry Sanders, Curb Your Enthusiasm. anything on TCM. I miss Twin Peaks. I still need to watch The Wire, which (i know, i know) everyone says is the greatest thing ever.

You recently said that you’re working on the “Punch-Drunk Love” Blu-ray this year. Any plans for “Hard Eight” to follow (or precede) it and is there any chance of a Criterion release for either title?

We are trying to track down lots of elements regarding Hard Eight/Sydney. It would be ideal to get a tune up/re-transfer, etc on that sooner than later. Be great if Criterion would put it out but they haven't said anything to me about it.

After the learning curve you went through on this film, do you see yourself working in 70mm again? Do you think you’ll always want to have it as part of your arsenal even if you don’t shoot in it quite as extensively next time?

I would love to shoot 70mm again. There's still much more we could do with it. Be nice to try and shoot it's intended aspect ratio as well. it would have to be the right story. that's the deciding factor for sure. I really hope we see more and more of it in use. Not just using it's original negative -- but 70mm prints being made and projected -- this may be a fantasy -- but it's a lovely fantasy to have in my head.

I can't thank you all enough for your support and attention to the details of what we do. It's a thrill to make films and share them and having people care for them once they're out in the world is a perk I'd never imagined.

Happy New Year.


  1. Terrific. Thanks, guys (CJ, Cory, Paul).

  2. Incredible job guys. Very personal interview.

  3. Wow, what a great interview. Looking forward to seeing it when it comes out in Finland.

  4. Thank you so much, great job/great interview!

  5. This is the perfect birthday gift. How did PTA know? I love this site.

  6. AWESOME content, love this site!

    Suggestion (take it or leave it): When you do e-mail interviews, try to keep the questions way more succinct than whole paragaraphs like that. I know text is tough for asking nuanced questions or showing them that you know your stuff, but it gets really exhausting for an interviewee to follow all of those details being thrown at them (leading to hilarious responses like "flip a coin?")

  7. Terrific interview, happy Cigs landed this one exclusively, you guys asked what fans would :)

  8. Thank you so much guys. Paul, you'r the best!

  9. A very personal read. Loved reading about his inspirations.

    But the movie still hasn't premiered here in Norway, sadly.. I've just given up on not reading spoilers by now after reading news and stories for what seems like a year.

  10. A few months ago, over at The AV Club, they voted the first "Processing" scene from "The Master" as the best film scene of 2012. This is from an exchange in the comments section of that article --cut & pasted. I'd like to know what others, or maybe PTA himself, has to say on these points.)

    ZorroMeansFox (author)

    Please forgive the ridiculous length of what follows; but I thought this was the best time and place to finally think-things-through and offload these ideas, which hopefully won’t prove to be too boring.

    I think the above analysis of the “first processing scene” in “The Master” might have missed its true purpose; and that a different reading might unlock more of this film’s rewarding mysteries. (SPOILERS, perhaps, below):


  11. I believe Paul is being deliberately evasive with his response to the Sydney/Criterion release possibility, or at least I hope he is. He says he doesn't know anything, but he did shoot-the-shit with Robert Downey Sr. over at Criterion headquarters for RD's Up All Night Q&A. Let's hope someone in that palatial office had to be thinking that Paul's film would be ideal as Criterion releases, and they subsequently made it happen for the captain.

  12. I checked out Ebony Concerto immediately as I PTA mentioned it in his interview and man, you can hear Greenwood's inspiration right there! Amazing interview. Cannot wait for subsequent installments.

  13. great work, fellas!
    keep it up!!

    we need more INHERENT VICE news!

  14. Regarding PTA's sources cited, interested fans can read Helen O'Brien's (one of many inspirations for Laura Dern's character in the finished film) DIANETICS IN LIMBO here:

    John O'Hara's BUCKET OF BLOOD was first published in The New Yorker in 1962. Subscribers can access it online here:

  15. I noticed Paul answered the Criterion question when it came to Hard Eight/Sydney ...but said nothing about PDL.

  16. (The Wire really is the best show of all time.)

  17. This is the best and most insightful interview I've read with PTA regarding The Master, many thanks!

  18. PTA would be a Twin Peaks and Curb Your Enthusiasm fan.

  19. The "love" for 70mm is widespread all over the world!
    We have tried to make directors enthousiast for this medium since 1996 with our 70mm and Cinerama promotional publications. But it is difficult. Hurray for Paul Thomas Anderson! see our website

  20. Great interview with Mr. Anderson! Thanks!

    The Master was a very fascinating movie. I really didn't understand all of it's allegories and I had hoped to find some answers in this interview. Unfortunately, I didn't. However, it was indeed very interesting to read about the making of the film.

    Can you point me in any direction where I can find information about the deeper thoughts of the story and the script?

  21. Anyone know where I can get the script that was on the WC 'for your consideration' website? I'd love to read it.

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  23. Great PTA interview. I was fortunate to have landed a small role as one of the VA doctors in The Master. I will never forget the respect given me by everyone working on this film...Truly the best film experience of my career. RIP Mr. Hoffman, you will always inspire us and thank you Paul Thomas Anderson for your incredible collaborations with this Huge Talent.
    Bruce Goodchild

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