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Spirit Awards 2010 | "Crazy Heart""s Scott Cooper: "Truly independent in spirit."

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire February 22, 2010 at 10:28AM

First time writer, director and producer Scott Cooper has been recognized with Spirit Award Nominations for Best First Feature and Screenplay for his critically acclaimed, "Crazy Heart," which stars Jeff Bridges (nominated for both a Spirit Award and an Oscar) as a hard-living country music singer struggling to get his life back on track. Cooper speaks about the his inspirations for the film and what it means to be a Spirit Award nominee.
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First time writer, director and producer Scott Cooper has been recognized with Spirit Award Nominations for Best First Feature and Screenplay for his critically acclaimed, "Crazy Heart," which stars Jeff Bridges (nominated for both a Spirit Award and an Oscar) as a hard-living country music singer struggling to get his life back on track. Cooper speaks about the his inspirations for the film and what it means to be a Spirit Award nominee.

Scott Cooper on his background and Spirit-nominated film, "Crazy Heart"...

I have no background in filmmaking (never having directed a short, attended film school or directed a music video or commercial) other than being a student of film. I was primarily an actor but wanted to further express myself creatively and try and become a complete filmmaker such as my artistic mentor, Robert Duvall. Others that act, write and direct that I greatly admire are Sean Penn, Ed Harris, and Billy Bob Thornton. All inspirations of mine.

Initially, I set out to tell the life story of Merle Haggard, a poet laureate in my opinion. But with many ex-wives, it became nearly impossible. I then turned to the obscure, out-of-print novel "Crazy Heart" and was able to personalize that with all of my radio heroes - Townes Van Zandt, Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver.

My approach to the film was guided by some direction Robert Duvall had given me as an actor: "Just tell the truth." That allowed me to personalize the story as best I could and allow me to emphasize characterization and behavior over plot. I then steeped myself in 1970's filmmaking. Hal Ashby, Malick, Bogdonavich, Coppola, Rafelson and watched their films without sound. It taught me how to move the camera, use the lens and the performer to tell the story. I wanted the film to feel invisibly directed and edited. So that all the audience is conscious of are the performers and their world. Not my ability to move the camera in a clever fashion.

The biggest challenge was raising the financing. Actors were interested from the beginning, though it did take a while to attach Jeff Bridges, but because it's an actor's piece, there were no shortage of actors willing to take the risk. Character-based dramas are very difficult to get made. More now than ever, sadly.

Cooper on being nominated for a Spirit Award...

Being recognized by the Spirit Awards is, in my estimation, the highest honor a filmmaker could achieve. Having one's peers recognize one's work is a true highlight and because the filmmakers I most admire make up Film Independent, it was extremely gratifying. These filmmakers are risky, courageous and bold and those are the ones I most admire. Truly independent in spirit.

On his personal favorite indies of 2009...

I really admired "A Serious Man" and "The Hurt Locker." I admire Tom Ford for personally funding his own picture. That's as independent as one can get.

...and future projects...

All projects are future projects until they receive the ever-elusive greenlight.

This is part of a series of profiles and interviews that indieWIRE will be publishing in the days leading up to the 2010 Film Independent Spirit Awards that profiles nominees in the Best First Feature and John Cassavetes Award categories.

This article is related to: Features, Spirit Awards, Interviews, Crazy Heart