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James Franco Talks to Indiewire: 'I want to make the movies that nobody else is making.'

By Ramzi De Coster | Indiewire October 15, 2013 at 11:10AM

James Franco has self-branded himself as an experimental writer-director with an artistic knack for adapting the great works of the American literary tradition, thanks to his directorial efforts "The Broken Tower," "As I Lay Dying" and "Child of God," all films based on classic novels or works of poetry.
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As I Lay Dying

So it was a way to really explore how dense poetic text could be included in a visual medium and to jump from there to Faulkner. The reasons I like "As I Lay Dying" or Faulkner was because it's almost poetry and he was a failed poet, he wanted to be a poet and came out with one book of poetry and then kind of gave it up. But you can see the poetic impulse in his prose and so it's very dense. So I guess the challenge was, how do I translate that into a visual medium? How can I use Faulkner's text as much as possible, and then how can I find the visual and cinematic equivalence to Faulkner's prose style? (For example) in the book each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character and so you get a sense of multiple perspectives in the book. So I felt like if I did it exactly like the book where one chapter is told from one person another chapter is told from another person and if I did that for the movie it would have been a little clunky, it wouldn't work in the same way as the book works it would feel a little rigid. But I still wanted the multiple perspectives, so we came up with the split screen idea and sometimes you get different views of the same scene, sometimes the split screen is showing characters in one location and then characters in a completely different location. So for example, Dewey Dell is at the pharmacy trying to get an abortion and then the family is at the cemetery digging the grave and they're happening simultaneously. I guess that's my contribution, interpreting the multiple perspectives through split screen.

As I Lay Dying

And in another way sort of in line with "The Broken Tower," I'm trying to get Faulkner's prose in there. What he does in the book is he has two levels of consciousness or two levels of diction, the characters speak one way on the surface when they're speaking to each other in quotation marks, but underneath they have these interior monologues that are incredibly dense and the monologues use diction that these characters would never be able to use. They are articulating ideals that these characters would literally not be able to do. But I think what Faulkner is doing is he's kind of giving voice to their inner lives so (while) maybe they couldn't think as deep as the characters do in their interior monologues, they maybe could feel as deeply as their inner monologues suggest. So it's as if he's giving voice to them (and) I felt like I couldn't just do straight voice-over, we needed to make the voice-over strange as well and so we have the characters looking directly at the camera or speaking directly to the camera and it's an effort to make it strange, to make the familiar unfamiliar. It's almost like the confessionals that we find in reality television now but now it's in a period piece. And so all of these different techniques coming together both high and low or contemporary and old-fashioned give us a sense of Faulkner's book that is cutting edge but also about people at the turn of the century.

Where would you say you derive a lot of your cinematic influence in relation to the aesthetic and style present in "As I Lay Dying" and more generally as a filmmaker?

As I Lay Dying, Danny McBride

At least on this movie and some of the ones that came before, definitely the Dardenne Brothers, they’re masters of the handheld, masters of long takes, and masters of capturing life so that it feels ultra-realistic. So up through "As I Lay Dying" they were filmmakers that my DP and I would reference, especially "The Son" and "The Child."

Also I'm very influenced by Gus Van Sant, I don't know if this movie in particular was influenced by him but I'm sure that the way I worked with the actors was, you know I try to stay hands-off and say as little as I need to and only step in when I need to, which is a very Van Sant approach. I have to say the split screen, people have referenced (Brian) De Palma, but I have to say that really just came from the book, I can't say that was really influenced by any film or filmmaker as much as it was just influenced by Faulkner or by trying to interpret Faulkner. Strangely enough, the voice-over and the direct address to the camera were really kind of influenced by reality TV. I remember having that idea one day thinking, letting the voice-over idea kind of percolate my mind and then having that epiphany like, "what if we did it like a reality TV show, put them in period wardrobe and shoot it like a Wyatt painting kind of tone but have them actually talk to the camera like a reality TV show, wouldn’t that be perfect."

James Franco's "As I Lay Dying" is scheduled for iTunes release on October 22 followed by a DVD and VOD/iVOD release November 5.

This article is related to: James Franco , As I Lay Dying, Interviews, The Broken Tower, VOD, ITunes







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