Listening to the Needs of Your Characters: Director Antonio Campos on 'Christine'
Christine is Antonio Campos' sensitive narrative rendering of Christine Chubbuck, the Florida news anchor who shot herself live on air in 1974.
Antonio Campos might not be a household name yet, but we certainly write about him as if he is. For the uninitiated: Campos is notably part of the Borderline trio responsible for Afterschool, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Simon Killer and James White. Christine is Campos' third feature and first film outside the established Borderline system. The film gracefully depicts a sunny and hopeless mid-70's America and pushes Campos into new territory as a filmmaker. We chatted with Antonio at Sundance 2016 about finding his way into this story, his use of patterns and colors to heighten the narrative, and lessons he learned along the way. (Part 1 of 2)
"As a filmmaker I don’t think that being dogmatic is fun or the right way to grow."
NFS: This film is something very different for you — how did you adapt yourself to the material?
Antonio: The script called for a certain approach in order for the film to work. I wasn’t interested in covering things in longs takes unless it was a specific moment that called for it. You have to listen to what the character in the story you’re telling needs. What this needed was a rhythm that would match the rhythm of the character, which is sometimes very frantic, morose, melancholic. I was more interested in exploring how to create those feelings using editing and montage. I’ve been very interested in very quick cuts and seeing how I can incorporate quick images within longer more restrained sequences to jolt the viewer. As a filmmaker I don’t think that being dogmatic is fun or the right way to grow.
NFS: When you're directing something based off a real life character, how does your approach change?
Antonio: My philosophy to movies is to follow the energy of the main character. These are character portraits — Simon, Robert in Afterschool and Christine — and the film has to be a reflection of that person. I think there is a philosophy and threads that runs through all three films, even though I didn’t write this. The reason I was attracted to the material is because I understood [Christine's] psychology. She was a continuation of an impenetrable character and those are the ones I am fascinated by.
"It’s not about what red means to you or what you think it means in every movie. It’s how you’re using red, or blue, or what you associate the color with in the language of your film."
NFS: "If it bleeds it leads." We pretend that this violent rubbernecking in our culture isn’t there. How did you decide to handle this?
Antonio: If you look at the gun conversation in the film, the different conditions: white, yellow, orange, red. He says, "Follow your gut," he says, "When you see red, you see the threat and you're ready to take action." All along the way Christine is getting little bits of information that she processes in a certain way. After it goes through her filter she thinks, "Oh, I should kill myself," because Christine sees that the threat is herself. So in terms of a person with mental illness owning a gun, it's one of the scariest things. Even if you know the story of Christine there's a part of you that thinks, "She's bringing a gun into the workplace where she's having problems," and our association with that is so specific today. So the discussion of guns in our culture is definitely touched on in this story.
NFS: How much did you code the colors in this film? I notice her yellow car as a way to say she's always a threat to herself.
Antonio: The one color that is not in any frame until the end is red and that was a very specific choice. In the costume/production design there’s a lot of play with outer and inner turmoil represented by what she has on and what is around her. Her pink room is very calm and soothing. In the dining room area there’s a lot of intense wild patterns on the couch. The beginning starts off with a lot of jewelry and patterns on her clothes and as she progresses the outfits start getting starker and starker and there’s barely any jewelry left. I think patterns and shapes have an immediate subconscious effect on a viewer. I think Storaro was the one that said it’s not about what red means to you or what you think it means in every movie. It’s how you’re using red, or blue, or what you associate the color with in the language of your film.
NFS: What's something you learned making this movie?
Antonio: So much. It felt like a test. I learned how to move the camera. There was stuff I had never done before and I didn’t know if I could pull it off. I like that the worlds of the films that I’m in are getting bigger and bigger, and I’m excited to work with bigger budgets and bigger palettes.
Huge thanks to Antonio for chatting with us. Look out for Part 2 of this interview where we go in depth about directing actors.
For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.