Chloé Zhao and George Clooney Discuss 'Happy Accidents' on Set

'Nomadland'Credit: Searchlight Pictures
Things don't always go your way on set. Embrace the chaos! 

Movies like Nomadland and Midnight Sky look very different on paper. One is a minimalistic look at life in the Midwest, the other is an expensive science fiction movie about life dying on earth. 

But when push comes to shove, each movie was made by a director who was given something unexpected and worked with it. 

The directors are Chloé Zhao and George Clooney. In their THR Roundtable, both talked about what it was like embracing the "happy accidents" on set, and what these twists gave them in terms of storytelling and experience. 

In the discussion, Clooney reveals to Zhao that he was shooting Felicity Jones when she tells him, "Well, I'm pregnant.''

Clooney said, "I knew how to answer that, which is: 'Congratulations!' But if you saw my face, I'm like, 'Oh, shit.'"

That was a bit of a complication because it was not written into the character, and he was not sure when she would begin to show. Or if that would change the story since it was being told through dual perspectives. 

He had a decision to make. Clooney embraced the situation. "You know, women every single day are pregnant, going to work and doing their job."

Clooney paused to give praise to Nomadland star Frances McDormand, whose Oscar-winning portrayal of a pregnant police officer in Fargo was a landmark role for her. "Why not in space?" he decided.

This happy accident gave some depth to the character, and inadvertently gives a ton of hope to the future of the mission as the movie ends. 

For Zhao, she had to find a way to deal with a ton of real people, most with no acting experience, working across from one of the greatest actors of a generation. So every day was both a challenge and a series of these accidental moments that made it into the movie. 

"We didn’t get to meet the folks until a couple of days before shooting," Zhao said. Most were not used to the cameras or hitting marks or any of the other things that go along with making movies. 

So Zhao had to plan and maneuver, with adept precision.

"You have to quickly adjust something for Fran to do, so that scene could be made into the film," she said. "A lot of times a very personal story [would come up at] the last minute, where they [decided] they wanted to share or not. Those were really the heart and soul of the film. I was very lucky to have them."

I love hearing how these two high-profile directors dealt with issues that arose on their films. There is no such thing as a perfect movie. We run into lots of problems on set that have to be solved as things happen. Every director goes through this, so you're not alone. Just pivot and use it for inspiration. 

Do you have a story of rolling with the punches? Leave it in the comments.     

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