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Director Roundtable: Van Sant, Tarantino, Lee, Hooper, Affleck, and Russell Discuss the Craft

11.28.12 @ 4:07PM Tags : , , ,

You may have seen their films in the past, and it’s certainly possible you’ve seen the films they’ve made this year (or will), but it’s a rare sight to have so many great directors together in one room talking about the craft and some of the real things that affect them not only as artists, but as human beings. The Hollywood Reporter got Gus Van Sant (Promised Land), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Tom Hooper (Les Miserables), Ben Affleck (Argo), and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) together to discuss their roles as directors and how it affects their work and the people around them. There is plenty of practical info, so it’s certainly worth checking out the entire hour-long interview below.

First here’s a trailer with a little bit of the discussion. There is a bit of NSFW language in the clip and in the longer roundtable, but it’s few and far between:

Here is the hour-long discussion:

There are a lot of great pieces of practical advice in the video. They are all at the top of their game in one way or another, and if there’s one thing that’s clear to me from listening to them, is that much of their success is about perseverance – simply moving forward and getting done what needs to get done in the face of adversity.


The advice about editing is particularly interesting to me, because it’s something I’ve had to go through as I edit my own films. A few of them talk about not wanting to remove even a minute of footage past a certain point where they feel like the story won’t make sense, and then in the end, the movie actually works a lot better after removing a significant amount. When I’m editing (or very close to the process), the best way I’ve found to get through it on the other side with better material is to remove myself as much as possible from the “artist” inside that wants to make this ideal film. Sometimes things just don’t work, or they are slowing down the movie, or maybe they just aren’t needed, but at the end of the day, in my experience, being precious about anything that’s been shot can really hurt the final product.

Be sure to check out the whole interview if you’ve got the time, Here was one particularly interesting bit about Tarantino and the film/digital debate:

THR: You’ve all had a lot of success. Are you afraid it will end?

Tarantino: No, not at all. But I don’t intend to be a director deep into my old age.

Russell: Wait a minute. That’s bad news for everybody.

Tarantino: I’ll probably just be a writer, or I’ll just write novels, and I’ll write film literature and film books and subtextual film criticism, things like that.

THR: In how long do you plan to make that change?

Tarantino: Well, part of the reason I’m feeling this way is, I can’t stand all this digital stuff. This is not what I signed up for. Even the fact that digital presentation is the way it is right now — I mean, it’s television in public, it’s just television in public. That’s how I feel about it. I came into this for film.

Affleck:  Digital projection as well? ‘Cause film’s over. I mean, there are no film projectors in the country.

Tarantino: Yeah, and that’s why –

Russell: I won’t shoot digital.

Tarantino: No, I’m not talking about shooting digital.

Russell: Do you shoot digital?

Tarantino: No, I hate that stuff. I shoot film. But to me, even digital projection is — it’s over, as far as I’m concerned. It’s over. So if I’m gonna do TV in public, I’d rather just write one of my big scripts and do it as a miniseries for HBO, and then I don’t have the time pressure that I’m always under, and I get to actually use all the script. I always write these huge scripts that I have to kind of — my scripts aren’t like blueprints. They’re not novels, but they’re novels written with script format. And so I’m adapting the script into a movie every day. The one movie that I was actually able to use everything — where you actually have the entire breadth of what I spent a year writing — was the two Kill Bill movies ’cause it’s two movies. So if I’m gonna do another big epic thing again, it’ll probably be like a six-hour miniseries or something.

What do you think about Tarantino’s stance on digital? Do you feel the same way? What did you think about the discussion? What stood out to you and what did you find particularly interesting? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Director Roundtable: 6 Auteurs on Tantrums, Crazy Actors and Quitting While They’re Ahead — THR

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  • Affleck’s tuning fork comment is true for Tarantino.

  • Tarantino can feel that way if he likes.

    But he will be in the minority soon. SkyFall looks stunning on IMAX (exception being the wide angle landscape shots and night time China fly overs – very soft and blurry – lens problems?) and being that it was all digital on the Alexa and a bond movie……the time is up for film.

    • Totally agree James. Not sure what was wrong with those shots. They seemed to stick out like a sore thumb, but the rest looked flawless. The Alexa held up beautifully.

    • Andrew Davidson on 12.1.12 @ 11:35AM

      I saw Skyfall in IMAX and I saw pixels staring me in the face. Huge pixels. It was awful. On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Dark Knight Rises IMAX film projection was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I didn’t even love the movie that much, but the projection has yet to be rivaled. I’m kind of with Tarantino on this one.

    • Daniel Mimura on 12.7.12 @ 4:25AM

      I saw Skyfall in 4k (with the crappy 3d polarizer left on, meaning it was like I was watching with sunglasses on), so I saw it again last night in IMAX (real IMAX, 15perf 70)…and no, I don’t think it’s there yet. It was good. I appreciate the proper brightness level, and the color that comes out of projecting it at the intended brightness…but it really wasn’t always sharp…I don’t think 3k arriraw is up to 15perf 70mm yet (or whatever resolution they used…the American Cinematographer article about Skyfall was non-specific other than saying it was shot with all three versions of the Alexa). Every slight difference in either lens choices or aperture choices affected the sharpness in a way that it was sort of a smorgasbord of different looks. The kind of flaw you don’t see except in such a large format.

      I saw Dark Knight 3 in IMAX and it’s very different. (I actually found that distracting in another way…IMAX format looks really great at hyperfocal distance for establishing shots and wide open shots, but in the middle of action, it’s kind of distracting having such a small area of the frame in focus at a time.)

  • I understand what Tarantino is saying and to an extent I agree. It’s the same that happened to music, you see the masterpieces that used to happen back in the analog days and it just has something extra, it just does. The more effort the more it shows I guess.

    There are many disadvantages to digital and the “democratization” of film etc. But without it I could never dream about making a movie.

  • Re: Tarantino’s stance on digital, It’s him being precious about his attachments, not unlike his attitude you (Ryan) note toward heavy editing ” … The one movie that I was actually able to use everything — where you actually have the entire breadth of what I spent a year writing….”

  • I respect his opinion, but I find Tarantino’s comments are ridiculous. Celluloid film is a means of producing the work, simple as that. Neither the format, the camera or the projector acts as an inhibitor to that objective, only the self-imposed dogmatism of the artist.

  • I`m actually wondering if Tarantino is just talking about film as the “recording format” or the whole way how digital, the internet including, changed film`s preception in our societies? I mean the way how things get produced, streamlined and regarded as purely commercial products rather than works of art.

    • Movies that are seen as a commercial product has nothing to do with digitalization. Hollywood was always about money. He’s talking about the aesthetics and culture of film (with projectionists and everything else that comes with it.

  • I thought the best part of the beginning was Tarantino talking about throwing a temper tantrum and how you can’t because you’d loose respect, then CUT TO: David O. Russell. Great editing by THR team!

    • LOL yeah and you see David saying something to himself! I love David but in the back of my head I always think he is about to snap haha

  • I think Taratino was talking about film in a broader aspect. The effort and care of using film and having to put it all into a shot knowing that its one reel of film instead of numbers that can easily be erased or rewritten. Its like making something easier to do but the end result wouldnt be what it was with out the “hardship” that it took, atleast that what I think it ment.

    To me, I think digital was inevitable and having it more accessible is a fantastic thing. Sure, you’ll get more junk, but that doesnt mean there wont be anything good either. We get closer to to matching the look of film on digital every fer years that soon it wont really matter, unless you want that specific look and feel. Because film does have a feel to it that I dont think digital is at yet.

    • Yeah I have heard Tarantino time and time again saying how he hates digital projection and how the magic is in the 24 frames passing through light to create the illusion of motion. Can’t deny that there is some truth to that. Not that I hate digital by any means.

      • Digital vs Analog is not just an objective discussion. I don’t hate digital either, but in film there is so much more magic. The projectors booth for me used to be a magical and special place. I few years ago i started working as a projectionist, it felt so good working with film, see it run through the projector, hearing the noises, the flicker of the light, it’s just special. I used to show it to people all the time, i was kind of proud of being part of that magic.

        In the beginning of this year they changed to digital projection and you can give factual arguments about the resolution, no scratches anymore, easier to start films, no cumbersome reels and so on… but in the end, the magic is just gone. There’s nothing special about a digital projector, it’s a computer with a lens on it. Starting a film is just clicking on a playlist, i don’t even need to go to the booth. I never felt like showing people the booth anymore.

        I left because it got in the way of my work as a cameraman and the job just lost it’s appeal.

        Unfortunately i haven’t been able to really film on celluloid yet but i have played around with 16mm cams thanks to a very friendly rental place. I put a Aaton 16mm on my shoulder and then it started running.. maybe it’s weird, but hearing and feeling the mechanics running the film through the camera.. i just got a tingle in my stomach and a stupid grin on my face. No digital camera ever did that.

        So yeah, magic.

        • Daniel Mimura on 12.7.12 @ 4:30AM

          Don’t forget the smell of it. I opened my old changing bag awhile ago, and the smell of film hit me in the face and it was wonderful. It’s not even a good smell, but it’s the smell of movies, and all the memories that are related to it. It’s real. I don’t get any feeling with digital.

        • You’re talking about fetish here. And I’ll agree about the magic. But it’s only small part of the magic cinema offers. At the heart of it all is the story and atmosphere, and the style of the visual expression.. each one of those can go million ways, and digital only offers more possibilities.

  • Would love to hear more from Gus Van Sant and Ang Lee. Tarantino and Affleck were hogging the conversation a little, though they did have some interesting things to say.

  • It’s nice to see Tom Hooper speak a little more this time. He seems a lot more confident than the last one of these.

  • The videos are not working. Making me watch a flipin’ commercial over an over again just to get to an error code. NOT a good video embed.

    • That’s strange, I just played both of them and they seem to be working fine. If it was an embedding issue you wouldn’t have even gotten an Ad to play, so something else may be going on.

  • Wow! That was fascinating. Great stuff. The last roundtable I saw with Steve McQueen and co seemed a little dry and charmless, but these guys really seemed to bounce off each other in very positive ways.

  • Takeshi Fukushima on 11.29.12 @ 9:32PM

    Can’t wait to see this home. Can’t watch the videos on the iPhone!

  • Side note: Did anyone else think that these Director where being interviewed by 2 guy that looked like Jeremy Irons and Benedict Cumberbatch? Haha

  • Ben was just playing the middle man the entire time between Tarantino and the others. Kinda funny.

  • I have to say that I really hate digital projection. Maybe If I hadn’t grown up with it? I don’t know. Digital projection cuts out the magic of the cinema for me. I’d rather sit at home and watch a movie in my home theatre than pay to be surrounded by a bunch of inconsiderate people and watch something at less than ideal quality.

    Even things shot digitally look so much better if they get printed to film.

    I’d like to think film is not dead. There will always be people who love the analogue aspect of it. It’s like any art, there’s something special about watching something that has been captured organically and projected that same way.

    But then I guess some people don’t really look at film as so much of an art form, but more a craft? I don’t know. I think some films suit digital, and some suit film, but there really is no right or wrong. To say one is “better” than the other is somewhat pretentious and ignorant. They are different, that’s all.

    H.

  • I love Quentin’s work, but I have to call b.s. on his whole “I didn’t sign up for this. I’m going to stop making movies because I hate digital.” Really? Are the majority of QT fans in awe of his work b/c of the killer dynamic range and texture of the film cinematography? Do people talk about how rich the skin tones look in Tarantino films? No. They talk about his awesome dialog. How the opening scene in Inglorious Bastards had so much talking but held you like a vice. They talk about his bold storytelling decisions and camera placement. His use of music. He’s a quintessential storyteller. I can understand and appreciate his love for analog, but it was disappointing for me to hear him say he wants to give up filmmaking because he can’t stand all this digital stuff.

    What was weird was what he said later on about wanting to go out on a high note. That I can actually get on board for. I don’t agree that directing is a young man’s game (can we say Altman, Hitchcock, Allen, Scott, Ang Lee, and Kurasawa, just to name a few). But I can appreciate wanting to go out at the top of your game.

    Oh, and I’d love to see him have a “tenture” tantrum. ;)

    • He is feeling same thing Lynch is feeling. And anyone over 35 can feel it.
      Films don’t occupy the same importance they used to in the world.
      It’s just another disposable entertainmnet. Video games…500 cable channels..
      and the internet…have taken alot of the thunder out of the film biz.
      So when he calls movies public tv…I think that’s what he’s talking about.
      Remember both he and Lynch had thieir first successes way before the
      internet. They are old timers wishing for the old days.

  • I’m not a ( total) digital hater per say as I quite like what’s going on with it in the stills photography world, but I understand where QT is coming from, and yeah film has an esthetic quality that I haven’t seen yet with digital. Maybe it’s because Film stock is an true uncompressed format where each frame is a tad different then the other do to the many silver halide grains. Either way, anything I see or find out something was filmed digitally, I feel less inclined to go to the theatre knowing it’s probably going to fail my expectations on some level.

  • But Tarantino shot Death Proof digitally… I guess that might account to why he hates that movie so much too

  • Would it have killed them to include a female director in the discussion?

  • death proof was shot on 35m film, planer terror was shot digitally.

  • Tarantino –
    Doesn’t surprise me that someone’s whose films seem to be about nothing by pretending to be about BIG things- is more concerned like this film/digital non-sense.

    You use the best tools available or the newest ones to tell great stories— Do you really think painters in the past would pass up using new techniques, new paints, new canvases?

    Please– all art is an evolution to expression and story telling.

    Tarantino is successful- obviously… not as successful as directors who don’t make a fetish out of their old school paintbrush.
    As sappy as Spielberg has been in the past, I’d rather see one of his movies over and over again, than Pulp Fiction, which is so damned pretentious it’s astonishing, David Lynch has already covered all that territory — waaaay better in the previous 15 years .