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Directors Round Table: McQueen, Greengrass, Holofcener and Jonze Talk Success, Failure, Casting, and Unlearning Film School Wisdom

Directors Round Table: McQueen, Greengrass, Holofcener and Jonze Talk Success, Failure, Casting, and Unlearning Film School Wisdom

The LA Times Directors round table, as part of the Envelope Screening Series, assembled Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Paul Greengrass (“Captain Phillips”), Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”), Spike Jonze (“Her”), JC Chandor (“All Is Lost”) and John Lee Hancock (“Saving Mr. Banks”). Highlights from their conversation, below.

The video isn’t embeddable, but can be viewed here.

Jonze on success and failure:

“The worst failures are when you fail yourself, you
fail your [original] intention. I’ve come to realize
success to me is, ‘How close did I get to that original feeling that I started
with?’ The initial feeling that set me in motion that makes you have to do

Greengrass on the final scene in “Captain Phillips”:

“We spent most of the day shooting that and it was
fine, but you know when you know it’s just not it. And the clock ticks on, and
we had a hard out — we had to be off that ship at 7, I think. So it was about
half past 5, we were talking to the captain [of the rescue ship, who consulted
on the film], and we said, ‘Well, where else?’ And he said, ‘Well, when [the
captain] first came on, he would have gone to the infirmary,’ which is down the
other side of the ship. And I said, ‘Well, can we go down there and just try
something there?’ It’s kind of like a last throw of the dice, really. And he
said, ‘Yeah, sure. There’ll be a medic on duty, you can use her.

Blind panic sets in, which actually is a very good place
from which to make films, in my experience, because nobody knows what they’re doing,
least of all me — but what happens is you stop thinking about it and you start
being entirely instinctive.'”

Holofcener on unlearning things from film school:

“When I was in film school, I was taught to know why every character was there, and what every character wants, and that killed the process for me. By the time I got to 60 cards up, with everything nailed down like that, I was so bored. I would never finish a script that way. I’d either written it or created it, and so I stopped outlining, and just started writing. And it was a messier process, and a scarier process, but it’s my process… Ultimately you’re going to hear a million voices [telling you what to do, in film school and beyond], but you have to still listen to your own, and listen to your gut.”

McQueen on the auditioning process, and finding Lupita Nyong’o:

“The key to great auditions is a great casting director. Unfortunately a lot of black actresses don’t get the opportunity because there’s not a lot of roles [for black women]. Looking for Lupita was like looking for Scarlett O’Hara. There were over a thousand actresses.She was a diamond in the rough. As soon as she appeared, it was just like something else. But [casting director] Francine Maisler deserves a lot of credit. She was amazing.”

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