The Oscars are only a few days away and for “Blue Valentine” director Derek Cianfrance, he’s had the kind of experience over the past year that most filmmakers could only dream of. “Blue Valentine” was picked up at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and made its way around the festival circuit throughout 2010, picking up accolade after accolade. It found a champion in Harvey Weinstein, who not only acquired the film, but protected it during the highly publicized battle with the MPAA over their initial NC-17 rating for the film, and now it heads into the weekend vying for an Oscar for Michelle Williams for Best Actress. It’s been a long, crazy journey for Derek Cianfrance. We spoke to him recently about the making of the film, and he shared with us some of the battles he faced in getting the film made and his thoughts on the past year for him.
1. The 12-year wait between his first draft of the script and getting the film in front of cameras turned out be a benefit for the movie.
“It was a blessing in disguise. It felt like a curse, and it turned into a blessing. The reason I knew [it was] a blessing was that on the first day of shooting, there was a bulldog riding down the street on a skateboard. How many times in your life do you see that? We had a camera in our hand and that bulldog came down the street and I was like, ‘God it smiling upon us right now.’” Other than dogs riding skateboards, the length of time allowed Cianfrance to grow as a person and filmmaker, allowing him to better inform the script. “Twelve years ago I wasn’t married. Twelve years ago I didn’t have children. I couldn’t have told an honest story about what it’s like to be in a long term relationship or a deep committed marriage with children without having that experience myself. And plus as a filmmaker, I transformed over those twelve years. I made documentaries for the last twelve years and I learnt how to listen making [those films]…..And I think over those twelve years the artifice was stripped off of the film and I think the film I would have made when I was twenty four years old would have been a film that was very much inspired by other movies. I think the film that’s in theaters now is inspired by life.”
2. Harvey Weinstein’s persona as Harvey Scissorhands never once appeared during the ratings battle with the MPAA.
“The whole situation with Harvey, I feel like I’m having a legendary film experience right now. I feel like I’m working with David O. Selznick. I’m having that experience I’ve always heard of,” Cianfrance said. “The whole thing…when the NC-17 battle went down, he never once talked to me about cutting the film. There’s a lot of stories written about Harvey I’ve heard my whole life. Some people villainize him and I could see why, but I think in every person there’s a hero and a villain. But what I saw with Harvey was a guy who got behind a film he really believed in and it brought out the best in him. And I remember Ryan said, ‘Thank God Harvey is using his superpowers for good instead of evil.’ And he used his superpowers on my movie. And that’s the beautiful thing about being a filmmaker and the thing that’s amazing to me; I started this in a room alone. Then I worked with a couple of different co-writers. Then slowly over the years actors became involved, and then producers became involved, and then pretty soon there was an army of people fighting for it and Harvey Weinstein is one of them. And the next thing I know it’s in the movie theaters and….hundreds of thousands of people have seen the film.”
3. Derek Cianfrance gave up a lighting truck in order to get more time between shooting the past and present sections of the film.
“I wanted to wait six years [between shooting the past and present]. I wanted to have a six year hiatus. And the financier I had a weekend where I could jump between the past and the present. And I said, ‘No way.’ I had to give up a lighting truck to be able…to buy that time to have in that house.”
4. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were actually filmed waking up for real.
“For the twelve years to get ‘Blue Valentine’ made I had a lot of time to think about it and to plan it and to prepare it. And in that time I wrote a manifesto and I just dreamed about, ‘If I ever get a chance to do this movie I’m gonna film Dean and Cindy really waking up on camera’ because I hated movies where people waked up fake….And here we are shooting the first day, and [I said] ‘I’m going to shoot them really waking up.’ And I asked Ryan and Michelle if they would go to sleep in that house and I set cameras up around them and I filmed them really waking up. I just did the way I wanted to do it. Bond companies and unions and stuff like that they don’t see that. I had a lot of fights throughout. The lady who finally greenlit us a week before the shoot from the bond company told me to my face that this movie was living on a wing and a prayer. I just used that as vengeance inside me to prove her wrong and to do it the way I wanted to do it.”
5. Derek Cianfrance thinks Ryan Gosling should have gotten an Oscar nomination.
“….it’s nice that the actors have gotten a lot of the attention they deserve although I wish Ryan would have [gotten an Oscar nomination]. The fact that he didn’t get an Academy Award nomination doesn’t take anything away from what he did in the film. And I think his performance will stand the test of time [along with Michelle’s]…I have so much respect for Ryan and Michelle. They really put themselves on the screen, and put themselves in very vulnerable places and they were naked up there on the screen – not just physically but emotionally – and I have nothing but the greatest respect for them as people and as actors for being so brave.”
“Blue Valentine” is now playing in cinemas and you should seek it out if you haven’t seen it already. Michelle Williams will keep her fingers crossed on Sunday, where she will be vying for a Best Actress statue. And in case you missed it, here’s more from our interview with Derek Cianfrance where he talks about the doo-wop Christmas soundtrack for his first feature “Brother Tied” and what he’s brewing for his next collaboration with Ryan Gosling, “The Place Beyond the Pines.”