In 2007, Adrien Brody went out to the woods in Upstate New York to find himself— and a partly burned stone barn. Having just come out of filming Rian Johnson’s whimsical caper comedy “The Brothers Bloom,” and feeling his career adrift, the Oscar winner bought this enchanting, decaying early 20th-century structure, built by a Roman, which has been used as a nightclub, a museum and an amusement park.
For seven years, Brody took on the ambitious and soul-churning process of restoring and turning it into what it now is: “Stone Barn Castle,” Brody’s home away from the noisy energy of acting and of New York City, and the title of the SXSW premiere doc he made with filmmaker Kevin Ford.
Cinematographer/editor turned director Ford, whom Brody met when he was shooting behind the scenes on “Brothers Bloom,” documents this herculean, yeoman’s effort with gentle artistry, making room for the rhythms of nature as well as Brody’s existential crisis. We watch the disintegration of his romance with Spanish model and actress Elsa Pataky, the enormous challenges of rebuilding Stone Barn—from schlepping in cement to bailing out basement floods, Brody and Ford get their hands dirty—and how all of this changed Brody’s tune.
He’s still continuing to act, so how will he make time for Stone Barn now that it’s finished? That remains an open question for Brody, who along with Ford spoke to TOH! about the film following its South by Southwest premiere.
You two obviously have a similar approach to seeing the world. How did this mind-meld come to be?
Adrien Brody: Well I’m the really fortunate one because none of this would’ve been possible without Kevin as a friend. I had some other friends who could shoot, but they couldn’t eloquently construct a version of this for us to refine together. This all transpired because of “The Brothers Bloom,” a wonderful movie by Rian Johnson.
I love that movie.
I love that movie, too. But I guess the character was a little too close to home, in a way, and it struck a nerve with me. There was something that had probably been gnawing at me that I had underplayed, which was appreciation for all the trips and journeys I’ve taken, and all that I’ve learned, and the knowledge I’ve gained from the characters I’ve portrayed, and the research that I’ve done and how that enriched my life and my awareness as a man.
But then, how fragmented my life actually was, and to come home to some place, to be so nomadic for so long—I’d lived in so many crappy little apartments all around, and really just spent a lot of time paying dues and waiting for the opportunity to lead my life, to begin my life. It was completely imbalanced. It was further exacerbated by my recent rise to fame, as a result of the success of “The Pianist,” which I am grateful for. And on that project, I realized that I have to go home and I have to follow this other dream of mine, which is to get a cool dramatic country house somewhere, lost in nature, back to New York and back to the countryside. And to work on that sense of home that I felt was missing. So I found it. I found it online, and I kept it under wraps. I didn’t even visit it, then, but I knew that was the place I was gonna get. I went home and I bought it. And then in realizing what an enormous task it was gonna be, I said, “I gotta document this, because it’s fascinating. I’ll see where this journey is gonna lead.”
AB: Kevin was working on “Brothers Bloom” as well, as a behind-the-scenes photographer, and created this wonderful journey, a documentary basically, encompassing our journey, and had both the intimacy that I really liked, a real truthful behind-the-scenes gracefulness, and an artistic touch, and humor. We were already friends and I said, “This will be an ongoing thing, but would you be willing to come experiment?” We knew what we were getting into to a certain extent, but neither of us knew it would span seven years. He devoted an enormous amount of energy and effort into chronicling this, and being by my side throughout this. We linked up, and it’s fortunate that we become friends. Kevin’s had his own kind of awakening through this process, and quit smoking in the process of it. I had quit smoking earlier in life. And you know, we’ve enriched each other’s lives, and he had his own enormous task to whittle away at the thousand hours of what we’d compiled in the years of making this movie.
Kevin, you have a background as a cinematographer and editor. How did you avoid turning this into “Extreme Makeover”?
Kevin Ford: Ironically, to support myself, oftentimes I’ve had to jump in and film network-style renovation shows over the years.
AB: That’s not what we’ve set out to do. We didn’t know quite what it was, but we knew it had to have artistic integrity and be authentic.
When he invited me to do this, I had never filmed a thing about any renovation ever. I’d filmed rock bands, behind-the-scenes, countless documentaries and micro-budget independent films. But I had never done a renovation. What a canvas, if you will, to go out and explore, and so I showed up. Within a couple years after that, what we were doing, in our renovation, was heart and soul. And Adrien’s personal journey and fulfilling of a dream. I would go and do other gigs, and they were so not real, so to answer your question, I don’t think it was ever possible for us to do something not real, because as an artist, he’s always pushing me to show the most honest and beautiful thing. He’d say, “I loved the shots you got of the rain falling that you filmed, that was beautiful, that’s amazing, just keep finding the things that inspire you.” Whether I was shooting or editing, he kept pushing me to fulfill the artistic vision of it, and that’s something I don’t get when I go work for some network somewhere.
So Adrien, you were encouraging him to spread his wings as an artist, rather than steering the direction of things?
AB: He has his voice. It’s clear. It’s just, you know, we all need guidance in remaining true to it. That’s what this whole journey is for me. It’s me pulling back, following my inner voice, and saying, “Okay, you want to do this? You want to take the fucking risk? You’re really dreaming about this? Go do it! But now you’ve got to deal with it.” There are sacrifices in being an artist. There are sacrifices in taking the artistic path, and not the commercial path. On a superficial level, it’s clearly gonna be less lucrative. And it’s gonna be much less clear of a journey. But at the same time, it’s much more fulfilling. Whether it’s flawed or not, to find that, and encourage that in the characters that I portray, as I try to find leading men characters that are flawed, and to integrate flaws into those characters so they’ve not overtly heroic, because nobody is.
I’m the producer, so I get to be the one to remind us of this. I’m the one coming to terms with my own mistakes, and I’m willing to share that. And so, I encouraged us to look for that, look for the flaws and not worry about it. “We’ll rein it in if it’s a catastrophe.” I could’ve lost that house, I could’ve been in a hole economically, I could’ve given up because it was too enormous a project, and that would’ve been another movie.
Were you in the editing bay together?
AB: Kevin compiled most of the rough cut. There were many discussions while I was away, and we’d talk about certain aspects of it, and Kevin really had to rein it into a somehow cohesive thing. We solidified our vision of what the ultimate narrative would be, and then we kind of had to chip away. We did that up at the property. My dad actually was very instrumental in honing in on the three-act structure, and you know. It’s an interesting process. It was collaborative, for sure, but Kevin did a lot.
KF: The very beginning of it was truly like mining for gold, because we had so much footage to sift through.
Do you know how many hours?
AB: Over a thousand hours.
How do you whittle that down to a 90-minute movie?
KF: You take a deep breath, you sit back, and you kind of go through it, and you watch it —
AB: For a year.
KF: —for a year, off and on. As much as possible. You watch it, and I just made notes when something caught my eye that was truthful or beautiful or interesting—
AB: —Scenes that can live in and of themselves, and where they fit, and create bins of those.
Was it painful to go back and look at yourself for a year?
AB: Yes, it’s painful. For seven years!
For both of you, was there a particularly, like the worst crossroads moment of wanting to give up, or were you never going to throw in the towel?
KF: I had moments in the edit where I would just snap out of it, and we’re talking about sifting through it all. How are we ever gonna get this? I remember at one point it was kind of whittled down to about a hundred hours. And I actually thought, “My God. What have we done?” And that was so far from the thousand!
AB: Kevin would call and I would have to talk him off the ledge, because it was like there was no way to make sense of the enormity of this. But at the same time, I was coping with that same thing. I also had to hang onto the enormity of this thing that I embarked on. We had to just keep reining it in.
You’re going to continue to act, but how are you gonna make time to live there?
AB: That’s the best question. I don’t have the answer for that yet. I mean, I can make time by not working. I can make time by cultivating a project that takes place in the surroundings, which is one idea. Kevin will have to be there for sure, in one way or another.
KF: I will say that last time I personally went there, it was filming, and the construction was gone. It was peaceful and magical. And I truly felt like I just wanted to lay on the grass. And I couldn’t believe that this was the place where all this had gone down, because for so long, it was this ongoing renovation. To his credit, and to the folks that are helping him right now with the place, it is magical and it feels like a healing place.
AB: The energy has transformed.
KF: I would like to go back and just take my journal and sit out under a tree.
AB: We should do that this summer.
Stone Barn Castle (Teaser) from Kevin Ford on Vimeo.