Wait a minute… Didn’t Vanessa just do an interview with
Antoine Fuqua like two weeks ago? Yes she did.
But we were offered a chance to talk
to him again, so why not? Filmmakers love S & A (It’s our readers who
So here’s a brief talk I had with Antoine last week, which
focused more on his career, how he got started, and where he thinks the whole
bloody, ruthless and cutthroat business of movie making is going.
I saw Olympus Has Fallen in a theater with an audience that really got into the
film, They were “oohing” and “aahing” and even talking back to the screen. As a
director is that what you live for?
That’s what you live for.
So when you’re directing a film do you know it’s working or are you always
saying to yourself: “Hmmm, how is this going to play to the audience?”
have it in your gut. What I do is that I put myself in the place of the
audience. Because I love movies and as a collective experience. I sit back when
I’m looking at a script and I can feel it. I mark it. I can feel what I want
out of that moment that I want you to feel and I try to capture that. Normally
I know it. When I’m doing it, when it’s working: “Great! Print it! Let’s move on.”
That’s what I’m looking for.
It’s like reading something in a script like a joke. If
you bust out laughing and everybody in the room busts out laughing too, that’s
what the audience is going to do too. Sometimes we over think that instinct.
Like you see an action happen on the screen and you go: “Ow man that made me jump!” That’s
the same way the audience is going to see it too for the first time because
it’s all part of that collective experience. So when I first read the script I
can feel it and if it stays consistent through the development process, I still
feel it, and when I shoot it, I feel it, and when I get to editing it, if it’s still
there, then my instincts are telling me that it was right.
So what do you look for a script?
me I look for something that I can relate to creatively and find a way in, that
works for me. You read the script as “big idea”. Like Olympus is big bold idea,
a group of terrorists take down the White House and capture the President.
That’s a big, huge, fun idea. So I go, “that’s fun, that’s interesting, but how
can I ground it for me?” The type of filmmaker that I am, when I consider a film, [I’m thinking]
how do I ground it and give it substance? How can I make it a thriller within
the action? How can I give it drama and emotion
within the action? So I look at the script and say. what do I care about? What’s
my message? What’s the hero’s journey?
The essence of it is classic Joseph Campbell. You have a
fallen hero and you have him saying to the universe: “I want back in”. Because
he took an oath in the Secret Service, to God and to country, to serve and
protect and then you pull yourself out of it because of a tragedy. So his
punishment is, to get back in it, he has to go through hell. And if he can come
out when the sun rises and all the dust settles and you’re still standing,
you get another chance at life. And that’s a clear journey. But he has to take
his hits and go through struggle and blood, to the brink of destruction, as
well as the rest of the country, and yet you have to save yourself and be able
to walk away. That’s important to me. I look for these things. I look for that
Which leads to the broader question: why did you choose film directing as opposed
to say writing or painting as your form of artistic expression?
a good question because I love music. I grew up in a musical house, Harvey Fuqua
was my cousin, the Moonglows and all that. But when I was a kid I loved movies.
It was the most powerful feeling in the world to watch movies like Shane…
Yes, but everyone love movies. What made you say: “That’s what I want to do. To
create movies for the screen”?
when I went to college I took a baroque art class and I discovered Caravaggio. I
discovered Rembrandt and Delacroix and their work is very powerful. Caravaggio
paintings had deep light and shadows, It was almost like movement. One of his paintings
is Jesus on the cross and you can see one guy with his spear digging into his
ribs and you can see the vividness of that image. And I remember one Delacroix
painting of Napoleon in battle and you can see the color red and the blood and
the flags waving and that burnt orange sky. And then there was Rembrandt with
his use of lights and shadows and just before that time, I saw Akira Kurosawa’s
film The Seven Samurai for the first time, and was like “WOW!” What a beautiful
black and white movie. I remember thinking that it was amazing with all this
black smoke and stuff in the film, the vivid texture of it. I’d never seen
that before. So when I saw these paintings it reminded me of Kurosawa’s moving
pictures and there was something about that, and I thought to myself “How
I can create that sort of deep pain but as a moving story?”
So how did you go from that to actually directing movies?
I had a cousin who went to college with a guy who had a company making music
videos in New York. So I talked to him and asked him “How do you make movies? I don’t really
know.” He said well come out to New York and I’ll give you a job as a
production assistant and we’ll see how you like it. So I went and watched on
the set, everybody’s job – the assistant directors, the director of photography,
I looked through the camera, sat in the editing room and then I decided where I
felt more comfortable and it was really in the director’s chair.
And why that chair?
as cameraman it was like painting and I loved it, but it wasn’t always my vision.
So that got me to start thinking, I want to able to paint my own pictures and
tell my own stories. I want to be able
to be in control of those elements and those feelings and it was something that
kept coming to me and finally I said: “That’s where I want to be”. It’s a
strange thing when that happens, you know, because in retrospect I can think of
many things in my life that led to it, but I would have never have known it then.
So you’re a fortunate person because so few people actually do what they really
like or were led to do.
is true! But also it’s a matter of testing yourself. Back when I was starting
out in New York, I was going through a pretty tough period and I was living in
Harlem on 125th street, and back then you know Harlem wasn’t exactly
the nicest place back during the late 80’s and all. I had saved up about 5 Grand from working as a P.A. for my rent and food and everything else. But I
had this idea for this 5 minute short film that I wrote called Exit. And a
voice said to me: “Well if you’re going to direct then you better direct something.” So
I got together with some friends used the money I saved and we shot it. Then I
sent it out to all the record labels hoping to get a job directing a music video
out of it. And a woman at Island records saw it with Chris Blackwell and Chris loved
it. He thought I was French! (Laughs)
And then he mentioned it to Bono and U2 and they got
interested, and then from that, Chris showed it to Propaganda Films (the music
video and TV commercial production house), and, at the time, they had guys like David
Fincher working for them, and they said “Hey let’s see if we can get this guy
something”. So they gave me some
little music video to shoot and the video stayed No 1 for two weeks and
everything went off from there. And back then, remember it wasn’t all thongs and
women like they do now. Back then, you could take an artistic approach in music videos.
And from that, I’ve never stopped working, I’ve never stopped working.
So finally, what’s your take on how the film business has changed in the last
few years. If it was hard to make a film back then, it’s almost impossible today
yeah, it’s hard to get the money…
But do you have any clue what the future is going to be like?
what I think. Hollywood is always going to be Hollywood, man. It goes just beyond
business. People will always come together and enjoy storytelling from the
beginning of time with cavemen making shadows on the wall. There’s always going
to be that.
But what do I think of what the future holds is that the technology
has allowed people who truly have a talent to be seen. I think that opportunity
will come out of technology, meaning that if you have $5000 now you can take a
digital camera and go make your movie. You just go do it. And in a way, no one
is judging you on your lighting, they’re not judging on your production values,
but they’re going to judge you on your storytelling ability, and if you can bring
that to life and make them forget the tools you used to get it, and just tell a
good story in a creative way, in unique way.
For example, Beasts of the Southern Wild. The guy pulled
it off, first movie. Down in the swamp, down and dirty. And that little girl
and that guy who is a baker..,.amazing! I remember the first time I saw (Thomas
Vinterberg’s) The Celebration (Note: Danish filmmaking co-operative’s Dogme
95’s first film). All digital, shot in a house, about one family and all their
craziness. See, they found a way. It’s the old saying – nature will find a way.
Filmmakers will find a way. You just have take technology and use it. And
that’s the inspiration. That’s new life that’s shot into you because when look
at great directors like Scorsese and Coppola back when they were making films
in the 70’s, they were making it up, they were creating their own way. Take a camera, put it on a stick and do some amazing things, man. Now we
have technology to do that, which they didn’t have back then, and they are still films
that we reference. So there’s an energy in that, there’s a creativity in that,
there’s a veracity in that. That’s the
future. The future is, find a way.