“I’m full of epic stories,” the loquacious Derek Cianfrance told Vanity Fair recently. And it’s true. We sat down with the director and co-writer behind “The Place Beyond The Pines,” and Cianfrance was indeed full of amazing stories. He told us in the part of our interview we ran yesterday that he had to pare down a 158 page script to 120 pages to earn his financing. So, did the filmmaker do a rewrite? Nope. He increased the margins as far as they would go and then selected the smallest font possible and got down to 120 pages. The financiers didn’t notice and he got his green light. Crafty, right?
But that’s just one small story. ‘Pines’ stars Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes Dane DeHaan, Ray Liotta, and Bradley Cooper in particular puts in another powerful performance that reveals him to be much more than just one of the boobs from “The Hangover” movies. In fact, shot before his Oscar-nominated turn in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Cooper desperately wanted the role and had to convince Cianfrance who didn’t think much of him at the time. But then later on, getting cold feet, Cooper actually dropped out of the film shortly before shooting began and then Cianfrance, now firmly believing he was perfect to play the part, had to convince him otherwise.
“I met [Bradley] before he had done ‘Silver Linings,’” Cianfrance told us, gearing up for his own epic story. “I knew Ryan was the [bankrobber] for so long, for forever, he helped me with it and I was meeting all of these actors to play [the policeman] Avery. I met with a lot of great actors and someone that I was going to meet with was Bradley Cooper, I was like ‘Who? The guy from ‘The Hangover’?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s actually a very good actor.’ I was like ‘Well maybe he is but I doubt he’s going to be in this movie,’ but I said, ‘I’ll meet with him, I’ll meet with anyone.’ ”
“So I went and met with Bradley and immediately upon seeing him, I’d say the visual I had, the thing that came to mind when I first saw him was a pot of boiling water with a lid on it,” Cianfrance continued. “There was something unhinged, there was something inside of him that was wild and stormy, wrestling. As I talked to him I realized that he was my brother, that he was dealing with a lot of the things that I was dealing with as a man and I thought: ‘Wow, couldn’t I make a movie with this guy? Why don’t I rewrite the character for him and really make it about the misperception of someone that on the outside he’s the hero?’ On the outside he’s the Sexiest Man Alive but on the inside there’s a corruption happening, there’s a toxic shame that’s rotting his soul and let’s see where he can play there. Maybe the audience can see him in the movie and have the same thing; here’s the hero, but conflicted.”
“In my life I don’t know any heroes, I don’t know any villains in my life. I know a lot of people in the gray area, people that are both, duplicitous and that’s the kind of people I relate to,“ Cianfrance continued. “So I rewrote it and gave it to him and there was resistance from him, he was a little scared of it I think. But I related to that in an actor too. I don’t relate to the idea of no fear. I relate to being scared shitless and being courageous, that’s courage to confront fear.”
“But he tried to get out of it actually and I said, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I’m up in Montreal shooting ‘The Words,’ I said, ‘Okay it takes me about 5 hours to drive there from Brooklyn, I’ll see you tonight, be there about 11.’ I came and saw him about 11 pm and we had a dinner from midnight until 4 in the morning and for 3 hours and 45 minutes he was out,” Cianfrance elaborates. “It wasn’t until the last 15 minutes, maybe I just exhausted him, but I told him I wasn’t going to make the movie without him because I believed so strongly that no one but him could do it. You know? I’m so thankful that he agreed.”
Cianfrance’s second epic story comes from the aforementioned Vanity Fair piece. The short version: Andrij Parekh, who shot “Blue Valentine,” dropped out eight weeks before shooting was supposed to start. Cianfrance then replaced him with “Shame” DP Sean Bobbitt. It gets bonkers…
Cianfrance’s long version is pretty awesome and a must-read. He’s a good racounteur, and this is what he told VF:
So Andrij Parekh, who shot Blue Valentine, was supposed to shoot this movie,” he said. “I got a call from Andrij about eight weeks before we started shooting, and he was crying. I was like, “What’s wrong?” He said that he had a dream that he died while making the movie the night before and did not think he could do our movie. I said, “It was a dream! It’s not real.” He said, “No, I have a kid, and I can’t do it.” So we were stuck eight weeks out without a D.P. [director of photography]. So I met a bunch of people, including Sean Bobbitt, and I loved his work on Hunger. Sean very quickly, very directly asked me, “What is wrong with your movie? Why did your D.P. drop out eight weeks out?” I said, “He dreamed he was going to die making it. Do you think you’re going to die making it?” He said, “Silly boy, I was a war photographer for eight years. I’m not going to die making your movie.” So great, he agreed to make my movie with me.
We started coming up with this visual style. Sean quickly decided that we needed to start the movie off with an epic opening shot, like so many of our favorite films, whether it be a Béla Tarr film or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or The Player or A Touch of Evil. A shot that will kind of teach you as an audience how to watch the movie. At the end of this shot, Ryan Gosling goes inside this circus tent and he goes inside this cage where he is going to perform the Globe of Death.
Now at the end of the shot, Sean Bobbitt insisted that he go into the globe for the end of the shot. I said, “Well, Sean, that’s crazy. There are going to be three motorcycles around you.” But he was determined that we end the shot in the center. I said, “O.K.” So he put on a helmet. He put on all of this body armor. He kind of looked like Robocop with the camera. He did this beautiful opening take. And the cage closes behind him at the end. He’s at the center of the cage, and the motorcycles start spinning around him. I was watching on my monitor, kind of hiding behind the bleachers, and it was beautiful. He had nailed the shot. All of a sudden my monitor went static and I heard a gasp from the audience.
I looked up and there was a pile of motorcycles with Sean Bobbitt on the bottom. We pulled the motorcycles off to see if Sean was O.K., and my initial thought was, “Oh my God. Andrij’s dream had come true. The D.P. of this film did die while making it.” But Sean didn’t die while making it. He was alive and angry. He was angry at himself for not getting the shot. I said, “Look at the bright side: you are still alive.” Even though I tried to convince him to get the shot from the outside, he insisted on going back in the center of the cage. He got the shot, and it was even better the second time. I don’t even know how he improved it. I was watching ,and then the screen went static at the exact same moment and heard a gasp from the audience. I looked up and I watched as a motorcycle dropped from the top of the cage onto Sean’s head and it knocked him out. We had to send him to the hospital. He had a concussion and then we had to cancel the shoot so that we could come back the next night. Sean was so grumpy and in such a bad mood, mostly because I would not let him go back into the center of the cage again.
Amazing, right? What’s next for Cianfrance? He hasn’t decided yet, but he is working on a few screenplays he decided to not reveal too many details about.
“I’m reading a ton of scripts,” he said. “And there’s some stuff out there that — maybe it’s too early to talk about — but you know but there’ll be the next one I’m writing. I’m writing something with my wife right now and I’m writing another script with Darius Marder who was the third writer to come on board ‘Pines.’ We have kids in the same school so basically we drop our kids off every day and go dream about movies together so there’s stuff brewing right now.”
“The Place Beyond The Pines” is in limited release right now and opens wide on April 12th.