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DGA Director Nominees, from Wes Anderson to Clint Eastwood, on Stress, Laughter and Wisdom

DGA Director Nominees, from Wes Anderson to Clint Eastwood, on Stress, Laughter and Wisdom

The annual Directors Guild Symposium with the five feature-nominated directors every year is always a treat. As moderator Jeremy Kagan digs into their process, gems are revealed. In this case, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Morten Tyldum both admitted that they dramatically changed their film’s endings.

The original “The Imitation Game” bookends were supposed to start with the police interrogation and end with Alan Turing having committed suicide, said Tyldum, which simply didn’t work. So he cut it out. 

While Gonzalez Inarritu was going “150 kilometers per hour” two weeks into production on “Birdman,” the filmmaker realized his ending was terrible and needed to be changed–even with a 28-day shoot and anxious financiers. The hospital room set was added, was all he was willing to say.

The pivotal scene where Michael Keaton’s character shoots himself onstage was always a challenge, the director said–at the beginning in extensive rehearsals Keaton struggled and then nailed it, and again, on the final day of two weeks of shooting at the St. James Theatre, full of 1000 watching extras, with a musical setting up shop the next day, they went through a similar process. Remember when you found it on that day? the director reminded Keaton. Give me five minutes, Keaton said, came back and did something brand new. Wow! 

Tyldum admitted that saving the crucial final scene between Turing and Joan Clarke to the last day of shooting was a mistake, as Benedict Cumberbatch had stored up reservoirs of accumulated feelings over the course of the shoot and was unable to stop weeping. The emotion was more Cumberbatch than the character, Tyldum said.

Talk about stress! Kagan asked the five directors how they deal with it. Clearly, Gonzalez Inarritu and Tyldum seem similarly high-strung and demanding of themselves–if things are going smoothly something must be wrong–while Anderson admitted that ever since one of his films, shot in Italy, went over-schedule by 20 days, he has been meticulous about trying to be as efficient and controlled as possible. He tries to find sets that are six minutes away from his hotel by golf cart.

Perhaps that’s why he fawned a bit over Clint Eastwood, saying, “I’m sitting between the two least stressed directors of all time”–the other being “Boyhood”‘s Richard Linklater. All the directors except sober outsider Tyldum, making his first English-language film, played the room for laughs of recognition from the packed DGA theatre. 

After Linklater figured out that he could lose the transition that he never liked between the first and second year–ten years in–Gonzalez Inarritu cracked, “I’d be less stressed too if I had ten years to think about it!” He uses meditation to keep on track, even when actors like Keaton argued with him for weeks about wearing those tighty whities. Eastwood keeps his sets quiet and never uses the words “action” and “cut.” Tyldum said in Scandinavia they use the word “please,” instead of “action,” while in Germany they also say “bitte.” 

Anderson ran into Ralph Fiennes interference on costume designer Milena Canonero’s purple concierge costume –which had to be reconstructed with thinner wool fabric. When Anderson asked Eastwood, 84, if he ever took naps on the set, Eastwood said, “Nah. I’m not THAT loose!” Eastwood walked the audience through the ways he cut from sets in Morocco to dusty wind-swept El Centro to construct his Iraq desert battles, as though setting up the shots was easy peasy.

Anderson constructed many miniatures inspired by location scouts throughout Europe. He wanted “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to look like one of those 30s European comedies by Ernst Lubitsch that were set in Poland but shot in Burbank. “Oddly,” he added, “we wound up shooting in Germany.” 

Linklater used practical locations–“we didn’t build anything”– and since many people didn’t want crews returning to their homes, his characters end up moving around a lot, as he shot three days every summer for 12 years. He made the kids dress dorkier than they would in real life, aware that he was in effect shooting a period film in the present, and figured they would grow into something closer to their real selves. Which they did.

Here’s my report from the DGA awards, always a key signpost on the road to the Oscars. 

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