Where were you educated?
Well, its funny you should ask that because I grew up in New York but I didn't want to spend my whole life there so I wound up going to the University of Southern California They had such a prestigious film school - the USC - that I decided to go there. It was very weird because I learned after I got there that it was so much about Lucas and Spielberg, not that I don't admire them, but it was not at all where I was coming from.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a film director?
It was pretty early on. When I was a kid I was very interested in painting but that worried me after a certain time because I started to sense the limits of it. That is to say, once somebody makes a slit in the middle of the canvas - I didn't know what else I could do with that or take that and I started to see cinema as a way to combine all of these art forms. So I would say that it was probably when I was about 12 that I got the bug. I started making short films on my own and it became an obsession.
What was the genesis of The Yards?
It was a weird combination of all sorts of biographical things with a really strong obsession with opera. You take a very archetypal story about working class individuals and you elevate it. I was listening to a great deal of Puccini and I thought it would be great to make an operatic movie that combined elements of my own life - it was a muddled combination of all these different disciplines.
There seemed to be similarities with Edward Hopper's paintings in many scenes. Is that accurate?
Yeah that's very accurate, we were very interested in Edward Hopper. I took the cinematographer and the production designer to the museum of American Art and we also went to the Metropolitan and we looked at some stuff by Georges de la Tour who's older, 17th century but also Hopper's work from the 20th century. All those painters had an obsession with a certain colour scheme - no blues but a series of browns, yellow ochre's and buttery yellows but also the way that they used light. We looked at their paintings very seriously, Hopper was a major influence but its not just me, many filmmakers love Hopper because they think he's cinematic. I don't know why that is but I suppose it's that his paintings are so moody, they are almost nothing but mood and maybe they want to steal some of his moodiness.
How do you think you've matured since Little Odessa at 26?
Its a great question but I think that would be easier to answer for someone who has seen the work rather than me. I think I've become much more interested in people and human behaviour, radiating a certain tenderness and gentleness - a desire for the characters to do the right thing. I'm more interested in emotional cinema - not sentimental - I don't know whether that's maturation but I'm more concerned with the people now than just creating an overall mood. In a way Little Odessa is just an extensive tome poem and at first I had wanted some of that for The Yards but then I decided I wanted to make it about people with good intentions that have gone array. In that sense I've changed.
Are you planning anything else with Paul Webster?
I would love to make all my films with Paul Webster, he's one of the great people in my life and he plucked me out of film school really. Hopefully I'll make my next movie with Paul and there's an awful lot of things that get in the way of that but right now I need to take a vacation - its been 5 years and I'm very tired. There's a great trust I have in both his tastes and his instincts and so I know I can listen to him when he tells me that there's a problem, I have great faith in him. I joke with him, I say "please be my Medici!"
How was the relationship between Harvey and Bob and Paul?
That's a good question too. (long pause) Well I had worked with Paul before so I suppose he had great faith, or great insanity, in what it was that I had in mind but Harvey wanted me to justify my creative choices. Its not necessarily a bad thing, Harvey's spending all this money on you so he wants to know whether you've got a design in mind, they both let me do what I wanted but Harvey just wanted me to explain to him what it is I was trying to do.
Did they ever have any reservations about the dark pallor of the film?
Yeah because the movie could be bad or good but it runs so contrary to how American movies generally look and feel, of course there will be hesitation. And there again, once you've embarked on it, when the daily's come back and they look like that, of course - you can't see the actors faces blah blah blah. This is what I tried to explain, once you've committed to the look of the movie you can't change mid stream, you can't start shooting and change your strategy because you don't think it will work. The best movies, I'm not saying I pulled this off, tend to be the ones that are very consistent, they have a kind of unity of vision so you have to be very bold about what you are trying to do. I tried to explain that to them and they were naturally hesitant but once they started to see the film coming together they relaxed a little.