Next up in the Hollywood Reporter’s roundtable discussions is the Directors panel. THR assembled Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Paul Greengrass (“Captain Phillips”), David O. Russell (“American Hustle”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Ben Stiller (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) and Lee Daniels (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”) to talk the craft. Interview highlights below.
As has been the case in previous years, no women make it on to this year’s panel. Yes, this is often partly due to scheduling–Kathryn Bigelow couldn’t make the session last year. But it would have been nice to see, say, writer-director Nicole Holofcener — part of the Writers round table — also weighing in for this one.
On the hardest thing about being a director:
David O. Russell: To not know what your inspiration is. And
that was hardest for me about 10 years ago. I was very humbled to sort of lose
my way after Three Kings, in my personal life and in my professional life, and
it really made me a better filmmaker and, I think, a better person. I feel I
found a kind of story with a kind of character that’s been three movies deep
now — The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
Paul Greengrass: That kind of crisis, directors don’t talk
about enough. I had the same. I had a real problem trying to marry up where I
began, which was in documentaries, with features. When I got into my 40s, I had
a real crisis, ’cause I felt I’d lost touch with what had got me shooting in
the first place. I’d spent 10 years making films and getting further and
further away from my point of view. And the funny thing is, it felt like I was
getting worse. And it was only when I had to go through that struggle, that
crisis, over a number of films [that I found] what was truly inside. You
suddenly feel free.
Alfonso Cuaron: Your process, it’s very similar to what
happened to me. You do your first films with a lot of enthusiasm. I was lucky
that my second film [1995’s A Little Princess] was a blissful experience. And
then I got a bit engaged in the machinery. I forgot that I used to do my own
stuff, and I became this reader of screenplays that they were sending to me.
And I started forgetting that I had a voice. It started to become more about
the industry. And then I did a film that was a horrible experience, Great
Expectations (1998). That is a film that I should have not done. I passed many
times, and then I ended up saying yes for the wrong reasons.
Daniels: I’m disconnected with my kids during that time,
which I regret, and with my health. I’m in a bubble with my boyfriend,
disconnected, too. So when you come up for air and you’re out of the edit room,
you got issues to deal with. It takes its toll for me. I give it my all… I made
the mistake of doing two movies back-to-back, and it was a very big mistake,
because when I came up for air, it was [for] a very brief time to catch my kids,
who are getting ready to go to college, and they were in need of me.
Stiller: I literally just went through that with my son. And
it’s hard because you can’t rationalize it. You can’t explain it to them
because show business, acting, these things don’t have regular hours, and
sometimes you have to go away. [When] I grew up, my parents were actors, and I
grew up experiencing them going away to work, and there is no way that you can
explain that to a kid. It’s very hard to do it.
On the difference between a good director and a great director:
McQueen: The other day I was watching [John Ford’s] The
Searchers, and there is that bit where John Wayne has this thing with his
brother’s wife — within this [male-oriented] story of his adventure to get his
niece back. To have that worldview but at the same time have the glimpses of
intimacy? That’s just a great director. ‘Cause he’s not afraid of his feminine
side as much as his masculine side.