Free-ads - Forum News and columns Features & Interviews Film links Calendar dates for festivals Contact details Statistical Info Funding Info
site web
About Netribution Contact Netribution Search Netribution


interviews / reviews / how to / short shout / carnal cinema / film theory / whining & dining

netribution > features > interview with james gray > page two
Why did you choose Harris Savides as your DP against someone of such similar style like Darius Khondji?
Darius Khondji is fantastic. The short answer is that Harris wanted to work with me. I'd never seen anything that he'd had done but I got a number of calls from mutual friends saying that he wanted to work on this film because he'd liked Little Odessa so much. I met with him and he seemed like a wonderful artist, a very sensitive person and after seeing all of his work I found out that he was a bit of a legend in music video and commercial circles. He did the Michael Jordan commercials, he's just a fantastic cinematographer and it came about through him wanting to work with me and me with him. I wound up having a glorious relationship with him where he would just complete my sentences - which is what you want.

I got the impression that the relationship between the mother and the son was a lot more implicit in the script. Do you think it is more explicit in the film?
Very good question. I think the answer is 'yes' in the same way with my first film because, to a certain degree, the movie becomes an expression of your unconscious. The creative choices that you make on set are largely based on instinct and instinct is nothing if not unconscious. So if I look at my first film as an example, the relationship between Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Furlong and Tim Roth became so strong, Vanessa Redgrave only worked for 4 days and she became the central character. It was only meant to be one part of The Yards but when I cut the film together I realised that it was the emotional centre of the film, that it was the reason that Wahlberg had made all the choices that he had. So, to a certain extent the movie kind of makes itself and you are absolutely right, it became very explicit, and Wahlberg's reason for being. I don't know the reason for that, maybe I have some weird issues that I have to resolve. It's something for the couch I think but it was only really implied in the script.(of the stills camera) Oh you have a Nikomat! I have one too.

It’s a great camera but before this I had an EOS 620 that did its best to confuse and frustrate me with malfunctions.
Well Nikomat's are great, mines a 1971 but they don't make them anymore. Nikons used to be really great, they used to use brass screws. Very heavy but indestructible. I have a Nikon F as well from 1968.

How much did you pay for it?
I don't know actually because my father bought it back in the day and he's given them all to me, I don't know how much he paid for it.

I still have my grandfather's Minolta that has served me just as well but I try to take more care of it than this one.
I make dumb choices with them. I brought my dad's Nikon F with me on teenage trip to Europe with about 4 different lenses, and not being the lightest camera in the world I had a terrible time just perpetually changes lenses. What lens have you got there?

That's my semi indestructible 35mm that my brother dropped in New York.
I have a 28mm, a 35mm, a 28 -150mm zoom but it’s a 4 so its too slow to really use. I even have a fish eye that I never use. I think I use that 35mm exclusively, sometimes 50mm and rarely my 75mm.

The 35mm is superb for portraits, it's all I ever use for the interviews.
Is it? Its what they call the normal lens which is different for anamorphic. The normal tends to be a 75mm, to get an approximate focal length you have to divide it in half - it’s a very strange format and nothing works the way you think it will from still photography.

You have to work from precedent?
Yeah, you have to know the way the anamorphic lens is going to look before you use it. I used a Super 35mm for Little Odessa which used standard spherical lenses that corresponded quite closely to stills but when you get to anamorphic its not that way at all.

Anamorphic's all Greek to me.
Oh I'm sorry! Am I sounding all geeky?

Not at all, we just didn't get that far at film school!
Well film school is a waste of time.

We found that too.
What you do is make films but it doesn't teach you anything. Learning how stocks respond etc that's from doing - it almost becomes a technical art.

I've still got it all written down but I'm glad you said that.
If it's just technique you lose what made movies wonderful to begin with.

Anyway, back to your film. It had the marked appearance of a period piece.
There's a variety of reasons for that. I was after a very painterly look and so with the stocks today feeling like they are in constant combat with video, they've done everything they can to make the stocks look better - the blackest blacks, the deepest colours etc. They are trying to differentiate stock from video - which is fine but what I learnt as a painter is that you never squeeze black paint out of the tube and brush it straight onto the canvas. You don't do that because that doesn't exist in real life, you always have to mix it with a brown or a blue because black absorbs light. It doesn't exist in real life unless you are sitting in a dark room with the door closed, that isn't a painting. So, in order to get that painterly look we had to break the back of the film. We did a lot of screwy things, we baked the film at 110 degrees for 15 minutes which broke down the film's ability to form the sharpest picture. It gave it almost a period look because the stock looks more like it used to look, it looks older.

Who's idea was that?
That was Harris' idea from music video, it's a very iffy thing to do but we did loads of tests and we wound up with a look that I was very happy with, we'd beaten up the film so much that it has a painterly quality. It looks period but what you don't realise is that there are whole colour schemes that become dated. You don't think of colours as having a certain period value but when you eliminate blue from the palette you get a colour scheme that looks as period as when Gordon Willis and Vittorio Storara were doing it in the early 1970's. If you look at The Conformist that's clearly the strategy they use so all of a sudden it started to look like an early 70's movie.

It looks Godfather.
Of course, it was partially intentional and partially unintentional. When you've got James Caan sitting in a dark brown room with top light it's an unbelievable resemblance to The Godfather. Really, The Godfathers predecessors, in terms of that look, were the conformists, I'm certain they used that look so we watched The Godfather, particularly Part II which I think is one of the best looking films ever made, and we studied the conformists. Gordon Willis freely admits to ripping off Hopper left and right, so it’s really the same series of influences.

Why did you omit all references to the characters' cultural backgrounds?
That's a wonderful question. (long pause)
One of the central tenets that I tried to employ was an almost mythic quality to the story. I didn't want people to know what time period this was taking place and the basic premise of the ex-con who tries to go straight is such an archetype, it's almost a cliché. I wanted it to be uncontaminated by ethnicity, that it would almost take on a mythic quality so that this could be any time, anywhere and that this could be any set of people. I thought that a lack of specificity would work for this picture, I don't know whether it did or not but we did it to give it a heightened reality, an operatic quality.

Well, I had many more questions for you, particularly about Howard Shore. But never mind. Thank you very much.
I'm sorry and it was my pleasure. (goes to leave) Howard Shore's great though! A lot of the score was Holst you know? The end of Saturn from The Planets plays about 6 times in the movie, particularly during the blackout at the beginning but no one recognises it. All of Howard's stuff was inspired by Holst, and a piece by Puccini, and he said straight out that he couldn't improve on it so we used it exactly as Holst intended. It became the theme for the movie. I'd play Holst, Puccini, Debussy and Ravel for the actors on the set to inspire them and we'd shoot particular scenes to a certain piece of music but let me ask you a question. Be honest with me, did you get any sense of how the picture played when you watched it?

I will be honest. It was very well received over drinks afterwards but there was much confusion. Audiences seem to demand cultural backgrounds or a cultural connection in characters but people were generally very impressed, with the look and the score especially.
Well I'm pleased about the cultural background point because that was my intention!

Thanks again.
Thank you.


Copyright © Netribution Ltd 1999-2002
searchhomeabout usprivacy policy