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August 12, 2013 9:30 AM
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'Clear History' Director Greg Mottola Talks Working With Larry David, Directing 'The Newsroom' and Why He Still Wants to Make Big Screen Features

'The Newsroom' HBO

You've been working on "The Newsroom" since you directed the pilot. How do you feel about transitioning into that medium for the first time in several years?

My heart will always mostly be in features but the truth is, the more adult stuff I wanted to do isn't getting made. I'm hitting dead walls with certain kinds of projects I really wanted to make. I was sent "The Newsroom" script, and I thought, "This is political and relevant and about adults working in an adult world and really challenging. I should do this." I don’t think I’m abandoning features. I’ve got stuff that I’m writing. But I’ll probably go back and forth a lot more than I expected to. I’m still trying to write stuff that can be done more on a "Frances Ha" scale, so I can have as much creative control as possible and just accept the fact that it’s going get a smaller release.

As I recall, at one point you said you wanted to try out micro-budget filmmaking akin to Soderbergh when he made "Bubble."

To be frank, the only reason I haven't done that is because I have three kids, and New York City is so fucking expensive. Until I have a little more financial security I think I have to stay in the Hollywood game.

But "Clear History" isn't exactly a Hollywood movie. 

"I couldn't convince them to do my idea of promoting it by having Larry and Danny recreate all the publicity stills from 'Behind the Candelabra.'"

Yeah. It's a strange animal because really this is the first out and out comedy that HBO has ever done. They’ve done satiric movies before, movie that are very funny, but this is the first real comedy they've done. It’s obviously Larry and his particular brand of comedy. So it makes sense for them as a company to do it but it’s not what we're used to seeing in HBO films. I couldn't convince them to do my idea of promoting it by having Larry and Danny recreate all the publicity stills from "Behind the Candelabra."  I tried really hard. [laughs]

Larry's character initially works for this electric car company but the politics of the world don't really figure into the plot. It's sort of a red herring.

It doesn’t really aspire to anything that profound, but I would say that in the middle of it, we talked often about what Jon Hamm's character should be and I think it starts to become a real comedy about this golden boy who is handsome and smart and successful, but deep down an ethical, good person. Then Larry represents the rest of us. Many comedies are like that. It just ties into the sort of classic silent comedy archetypes. I agree that the start-up humor is kind of a red herring; the sort of classic comedy structure became the thing that was the most interesting to me.

Could you ever make something that wasn't predominantly funny? 

Yeah, I can’t seem to escape comedy. Whenever I sit down and try to to write something serious it just doesn’t work. I wouldn't call "Adventureland" an out and out comedy, but is sort of is. It's just of a certain stripe, like a short story comedy or something.

So what's next? 

I've got gigs for hire. I'm writing a script I’ve been doing for a long time for Paramount, which is a very hard adaptation that I’m slowly getting somewhere with. It's not a typical movie for them to make. They seem to be sticking with me and being patient with me as I keep dropping it to go do other things and coming back. And then I’m adapting "The Marriage Plot," the Jeffrey Eugenides novel. I’m adapting it with Jeff for Scott Rudin for Sony Pictures. It’s not the kind of movie getting made a lot these days so I hope they let us make it.

And you hope to direct it?

'Clear History' HBO

Yeah, it's just taking a while. It’s not the easiest book to take a crack but, it’s certainly a lot easier than trying to adapt "Middlesex." Then I’ve got my own stuff. I’m writing one sort of more mainstream movie and one indie movie. I don’t know if it would be a micro-budget movie. It's a New York character ensemble thing.

Any plans to direct more of "The Newsroom"?

I didn’t go back this season because Larry's movie overlapped with the season. I could see myself going back next season. It's definitely a challenging job I got to try. But it’s just a question of what my availability is going to be. I would love to be directing something I’ve written, which is why I’m writing four different things and hoping one of them will end up being that.

So you aren't entirely committed to any work that comes your way. 

I have turned down things which would solve my financial problems with some certain degree of regret, that will certainly make more money than what I’m trying to do. If it's work for hire I know I’ll never be engaged the same way, I’ll never care about it the same way. I worry that I would actually hurt my career doing something I didn’t enjoy. Because with some things I’ve been offered I know deep down inside I'm not going to love it.

Doing these things with Larry, I loved the process and it was new to me and although I’d done a lot of improv stuff in Judd Apatow's world, nothing was like this. There's nothing like doing an all improv movie. Our first cut was three hours long. Larry's nothing but a pleasure to work with and I really enjoyed getting inside his head and trying to understand how he works intuitively. He's not one to sit there and intellectualize the process all that much and he has a very strong sense of what his thing is. I really admire that. It definitely gives my ideas for comedy, things I would do differently now that I've had this experience.

So you're open to letting projects influence your goals.

Being friends with Steven [Soderbergh] for so long, he said, just keep trying new stuff. I definitely feel like I'm trying new stuff. I’ve stumbled and it wasn't always the safest choice but it's definitely kept things interesting. Hopefully it’ll all payoff in the next one -- or the one after that.

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