But whether it’s a drama or an action film, the story content is everything to me. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes not, and that is in the eye of the beholder. You definitely have to step up to the bat and try to hit the ball out of the park. If you don’t, you should at least try to be innovative, and hopefully the audience will respond to that.
I always think about the audience. When you are thinking about telling the story, you are thinking about how you want the story to be as interesting as it possibly can be for the audience—otherwise it will never take on the life it’s supposed to have out there with the audience.
It’s hard to be a judge of that. You can’t start thinking about it too much because a lot of wonderful movies haven’t done any business and a lot of not-so-wonderful movies have done tremendous business. All you can do is use yourself as the audience, ask yourself if you were going to the theater how would you like to see this. What about this actor in that part? In every element of the film, there’s always that thing an audience is going to see and judge, like or dislike. Of course, once you have committed yourself to doing it on a film, that’s it. If the audience likes it, that’s great; if it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board for the next feature.
I can work quite fast. If the next project is there and it’s good and it’s something that’s been brewing for a while, I can move onto it. If it’s not there, then I won’t. For example, when I was doing post-production and editing on “Mystic River,” I read “Million Dollar Baby.” I had read the book it came from some years earlier and liked the script and I thought “Well, I’ll do this.” And they asked when I wanted to do it and I said “well, right away.” We ended up getting Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank, and we just went ahead and started doing it. One went right behind the other, but it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes you have to wait for a while for a very good script to come and I don’t make films just to be working. I might have done that when I was younger, but now it has to be something that I have a certain feeling for.
I am never looking for anything specific. With “J. Edgar,” I read the script and found it interesting and said I would like to do it. It’s not like I was longing to do something on J. Edgar Hoover, although I had grown up on J. Edgar Hoover as a little boy. Everyone knew about him as the head of the FBI and I was always kind of curious about it. And, of course, he was an odd character who people were curious about, so it was interesting to explore a little bit.
I don’t always shoot a lot of coverage. I try to shoot just what I want to see and sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, because when you get into editing, you realize maybe there’s something wrong or there’s a redundancy to one scene as it fits in the puzzle and you forego it. It’s the final molding process, like working with a piece of clay and you can break a film in editing by doing it improperly or enhance it with good editing.
My relationship with Warner Bros. helps me. As long as somebody finances you, can make a film and get it seen any place and in any language, then hopefully it’s a success. You can always look at it like it’s a crapshoot. Either way, it’s a lot of good people working hard to tell a story and there are so many people involved. It’s really a little army, or a small platoon, and you’re going out into the field and trying to make something. You’re only as good as your weakest link and I try to get everybody to contribute imaginatively. If somebody has an idea, I don’t care what department they are in, I listen to it because people come up with good ideas. And because directors have so much to do, you can stymie yourself by not paying attention to what’s around you.