Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Sundance Interview: 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' Director David Lowery Explains Making More Accessible Movies and Why He Can't Stop Editing Them

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire January 20, 2013 at 1:12PM

Unless you've been traveling the U.S. film festival circuit in recent years, chances are strong you haven't heard of David Lowery. The Dallas-based filmmaker's 2009 feature-length debut "St. Nick," a nearly dialogue-free story of two young children in adventuring across an empty landscape, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival but never received a wide release. But Lowery's credits extend much deeper into the fabric of the American independent film community: As an editor, his credits include recent festival hits "Bad Fever" and "Sun Don't Shine" in addition to Shane Carruth's highly anticipated "Upstream Color," premiering this week at the Sundance Film Festival.
2

Ain't Them Bodies Saints
You used "There Will Be Blood" as a reference point?

It was a reference point in multiple ways. That film was shot on 35mm with anamorphic lenses that were virtually antiques. They processed it photochemically in an old-fashioned manner. It was done entirely photochemically from the production to the exhibition process. We lit our film in the same way. "There Will Be Blood" was dedicated to Robert Altman, and Paul Thomas Anderson was clearly influenced by working on "Prairie Home Companion." By the same token, Altman was a huge influence on me as a filmmaker, especially "McCabe and Mrs. Miller." We cast Keith Carradine partly because he's an amazing actor, but it was a nice bonus that his first role was in "McCabe." He plays a similar character in this film. We really wanted it to feel old-fashioned and cast actors who in spite of their modernity could disappear into the texture of the movie. When we looked at "There Will Be Blood," it was because we wanted it to feel old-fashioned and modern. Also, PTA grows as an artist in such amazing ways. I was 16 or 17 when "Boogie Nights" came out and I've really felt like every film he makes urges me on to the next one.

Amy Seimetz in 'Upstream Color'
Amy Seimetz in 'Upstream Color'
How did your experience as an editor impact the filmmaking process?

From the very beginning, I intended to edit the film. I had just come off editing "Upstream Color," which was an incredibly satisfying experience that I wanted to have on my picture. I wanted to have someone make my movie better. I don't want to go so far as to say I made Shane's movie better; Shane's an amazing editor in his own right. But I feel that I contributed something. I was really excited about the prospect of having someone contribute something. That being said, we were in such a tight post-production schedule that we didn't have time to find the collaborative rhythms with my editors. I worked with some amazingly talented people, but I was never able to turn my back from it. That's partially my own overestimation of what I can expect from people, but nonetheless it never happened. So at a certain point I had to take the movie myself and go cut for awhile. I spent a little over a month working on it and it just got to the point where I felt comfortable with it. Then I joined forces with another editor and we completed the picture together. I'm so used to just doing it myself and not having to verbalize the changes I make. In this case, I was telling someone to hit a key and make something happen. It was slower and sometimes frustrating for me. It was a tug-of-war in the best way possible.

But ultimately you took a pseudonym in the editing credits.

Yes. Patrick M. Nickelbime, which is my, James' and Toby's middle names. I went back to Texas for a month to cut my film and they stood by me to let me shape it into the form I needed. I wanted to subtly acknowledge everybody's participation in that. It was a joint effort in every possible way. I'm blowing my cover by telling you this but I feel like that's OK. Everybody knows that "Roderick Jaynes" [the editing credit on most Coen brothers movies] is the Coen brothers. Certain directors know what they're doing going into a project and shape that into a final form on their own. Working as an editor, I've contributed to the projects I've cut, but there are filmmakers who wouldn't hire me because they know what they want. If someone wants to hire me in the future, I hope I can help them.

Are you moving away from editing gigs now to focus on directing?

It's funny. I'm reading a lot of scripts these days that get sent to me and sometimes I'll think that I don't want to direct them but I would edit them. If I want to ask an audience to take two hours to engage with something I make, I want it to come directly from me. As an editor, I can indulge in things that might not necessarily be straight from my heart but definitely interest me. I can both dabble in those worlds and learn things from different directors. It's even as basic as just seeing a scene that was shot poorly -- every movie has one. Learning those mistakes in advance is helpful. It doesn't prevent you from making your own mistakes, but hopefully you learn from it. It's hard to quantify the amount of knowledge you gain working in that capacity.
 

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery, Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck