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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Danny Boyle, from a standing start

dannyboylezughofslumdog.jpgWHAT CAN A DIRECTOR TELL YOU IN THREE MINUTES, 38 SECONDS? In the case of Danny Boyle, quite a bit. This interview began with both of us on our feet at a headlong rush, sitting only a few minutes into our conversation. [The other 41 minutes of this Q&A will be on MCN after Thanksgiving.]
The last time I talked to Boyle on his press tour for Sunshine, I’d only just read about the Slumdog project the night before, and it was only weeks before he began shooting. The idea of his working from a Beaufoy script with digital cameras hurtling through the back-alleys of Mumbai sounded propulsive with potential, and I’d told him so. “It’s funny, innit?” he says in his rapid Scots burr, laughing on the morning of his 52nd birthday. “I’d love to replay that now, if I could see myself talking about it. ‘Cos it’s weird, you go off and make these things. You’ve talked about them before. Luckily, this weird amnesia sets in about things. You do all these interviews and it does make you very self-conscious about stuff, about why you’re doing stuff, in a way that you never think about normally. And yet clearly, you forget it. Because when you come to make a film? I never think about what I’ve said to anybody about it. Some amnesiac drug sets in whereby you forget the self-consciousness and you go off on this trip of making a film.”
We still haven’t sat down. “Often when I talk to journalists, I sound coherent! You don’t think in that coherent way when you’re doing things; you make sense of them afterwards, don’t you? Patterns emerge about what sounds interesting and attractive. Some of it’s true and some of it is a bit of a fabrication, but basically you work out this way of talking about it, but it isn’t necessarily the way you’ve made the film at all. But fortunately the two are separate in a way. They don’t… My biggest worry, I’ve just been in Austin, where they gave me this award. I’m terrified of things like that, people start talking—”
Is it over, is that what youre thinking? “The start talking about the ooov-rah, y’know, about the connective tissue of the films.” Boyle cuts a huge grin. “Fuck! It’s like… ahhhh! But fortunately, it all seems to kind of blur away. You have amnesia when you read a script as well. People have been asking about ht script and my line on it, which is true, after about ten or fifteen pages, I knew I was going to make it, even though the prospect of reading it hadn’t been particularly attractive. I’ve been saying, the best way to make the decisions is in the middle not by the time you get to the end. It’s because you have amnesia when you’re reading a script, of actually what problems you’re going to ace making it. You forget the realities of filmmaking, money and stars and studios and distribution and locations.” He lets out his boisterous laugh. “You just forget all that, you just think, ‘Awww, this is fantastic! Wouldn’t this be great?’ And then you get on with it. That’s the amnesia thing that helps you. It’s like they say about women having children. They say hormones are released in women that makes them forget the pain. Otherwise women would only ever have one child! Otherwise no one would be insane enough to go back to that level of suffering!”
Now we sit on adjoining couches. He remembers I’d asked about the shooting. “Gather round, gather round. So we’re in the slums. We get a couple of little shacks to have the equipment in and it’s full, these rooms would be full of dry ice. This weird image! The hard drive, the Apple notebook that’s on the cameraman’s back was a MacBook Pro. It’s in a suitcase surrounded with dry ice to keep it cool. Not just because of the temperature of India, which, y’know, adds to it. But because they overheat. That’s one of the biggest technical problems we had with it. So you’d have this weird image full of dry ice, like some kind of rock concert! All these assistants handling dry ice with these gloves or with tweezers. We’d have three or four of these cameras, and they’d be resupplying them with dry ice. So that’s high-definition filming in the streets of Mumbai!” [To be continued.]

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“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster