Oren Moverman doesn’t suffer fools. And he doesn’t kowtow to Hollywood suits. So he has managed by sheer stubbornness to fashion a rather remarkable body of work. His films are lean, organic, and anchored in the real world. They embrace both its ugliness and beauty, from the films he has written (“I’m Not There,” co-written with Todd Haynes, “Married Life” with Ira Sachs, and Alison Maclean’s “Jesus’s Son”) to the ones he directed starring Woody Harrelson, military drama “The Messenger,” for which he earned an original Screenplay Oscar nomination, and hardboiled Los Angeles police story “Rampart.” This year he wrote Bill Pohlad’s Brian Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy” and wrote and directed “Time Out of Mind,” starring Richard Gere as a homeless New Yorker, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.
And he’s helping to foster Israeli talent as well. He produced a movie with Joseph Cedar (“Footnote”), as well as “The Ticket,” the second feature by Israeli born, Brooklyn-based Ido Fluk starring Dan Stevens (they’re in post-production), and the first American feature for Guy Nattiv (“The Flood,” “Magic Man”).
I sat down with Moverman at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. Read our full conversation on “Love & Mercy” here.
“Time Out of Mind” is a very different project from “Love & Mercy.”
Or is it? [Laughs]
Well, mental illness again.
And a piano player. But, yeah, it is different.
Where did that project come from? How long have you been dwelling on that?
A very short time. A few years ago, I ran into Richard Gere at a party. I hadn’t seen him since “I’m Not There.”
I forgot he was in that!
Harvey [Weinstein] would like to forget he was in that. Harvey hated his part in that. By the way: that was Bob Dylan’s favorite part of the movie, Richard Gere. Because it was an interpretation of the music, not of him. Anyway, I ran into him on “I’m Not There,” and he said to me at the party, “I have this script, and I can’t figure it out. I’ve had it for years.” I asked, “What’s it about?” And he said, “Homelessness.” I asked him to send it to me.
I read it. I could see why it wasn’t working. It was a very old script by Jeffrey Cain, who wrote “The Constant Gardener.” It was one of his first scripts. By the time Richard bought it, it was already fifteen years old, so it’s been around for about 20 years. It belonged to a different era. I said to him, “I really like that world. Can we start going to homeless shelters and start figuring it out?”
So that’s how we started. I wrote it very quickly and visited homeless shelters, talking to people on all sides.
The way you shot it really worked. What was the strategy? A long lens?
We shot the movie on three lenses that we had to import from Germany. They’re basically anamorphic zoom lenses that are hardly ever used. The whole idea was for us to be removed from the process of throwing Richard into the real world and capturing it from far away. A lot of those zoom lenses took us far.
It had a cool effect. There’s a blurriness and strange warping. And you’re playing around with windows a lot.
Yeah, because what I was saying was, “This is a story that we have to work in our real lives, to kind of work to pay attention to.” Because it’s a story that’s happening outside. It’s all out there. We put our shutters on. For legitimate reasons. I kept saying, “This is a movie where you look up from your phone.” So how do we do that? We do that by being inside stores or inside apartments. We also wanted it to be… “authentic” is a weird word for movies, but as organic as possible. When you shoot a movie on a New York street, if you have a camera, you create a set. When you create a set, everybody pays attention. If you hide the camera, nobody gives a shit. And to put Richard Gere, on the first day of shooting, in Astor Place, with no one paying attention to him for 45 minutes…
I love the way you made him look. I love the idea that he’s shut down, but still has that flicker of the old attractiveness.
And that was really important, because you can’t ignore it.
You can see who he was. He lived off of people’s assets, he charmed his way through, and then he ran out of time.
Yeah, exactly. That was the idea behind that. The movie starts with him becoming homeless. He’s not a guy who’s been homeless on the street for years. But he’s also experiencing the stuff that homeless people are experiencing, which is some sort of mental illness, some sort of substance abuse, some sort of tragic background. You kind of put it all on him.
And then the daughter.
I’m just a sucker for any father-child relationship.
I found it very moving, and for a lot of personal reasons. We all know somebody in our lives, there’s a black sheep somewhere; I’ve got one.
It’s so hard to pave the way to have access to your compassion. For all the right reasons, being human means judging every situation. You have your perspective on things, and to let go of that perspective is such a difficult exercise, and almost like a spiritual process.
You made an interesting decision to mix the real population with actors. And you went into real shelters.
Yeah. We shot in Bellevue, and we’re the first movie to shoot at the intake center. It’s so interesting. Ben Vereen’s son was in the shelter while we were shooting the movie. He kept saying in advance, “I apologize in advance if he shows up and disrupts us. I don’t know where he is.”
There were people who worked on the film who, in a quiet moment, would say, “I was in a shelter for a while. I was on the streets.” Richard told me a story that, when he was a young actor in Seattle — just starting out — he was living in his car. It just touched everyone in different ways.
No matter who you are, no matter how wealthy, somewhere you’re afraid that it could happen to you.
But that’s the thing: when I tell people, “I want to make a movie about a homeless guy with Richard Gere,” everybody’s like, “What? No. That’s the last person who should play a homeless guy.” But that’s the thing.
You’re stripping it all away.
You’re stripping it all away, and, almost subconsciously, you’re thinking, “If this could happen to Richard Gere, there but for the grace of God, it could happen to all of us.”
There is a weird safety net. The guy’s not starving, but it’s also not ideal, obviously.
Well, that’s the thing about New York: it’s the only right-to-shelter state in the union. You have to get a bed. If you ask for a bed, they have to give it to you. That’s the law since 1981. That’s kind of an interesting thing.
But there are a lot of people there who won’t go, who don’t want it.
Because it’s worse than prison to some people. I met contract killers staying at shelters, who were reformed. 30 years in prison, they were reformed, and they have to be in Bellevue. You talk to them, and they’re talking about, “Yeah, I cut vegetables.” You go, “That’s a pretty good life.” And they go, “Yeah. I worked for Gotti.” Beautiful stories. And I think what happened to some people, they see the movie and say it changed their perspective of the people they walk by, and now they talk to them.
Sometimes you just want to talk. “Hey, go to that place!” And, actually, that was sort of the built-in joke of the movie: we actually tried to make a public service announcement. We give the address for Bellevue in the movie. We tell them where there’s a food pantry. We put it in the movie: “If you need food, go over there. If you need a coat, go there.” I don’t blame anyone for whatever their reaction is, but acknowledging that there’s a human being over there, or talking to them? That’s such a huge step forward.
What is your next move?
“Time Out of Mind” comes out in September. There’s a lot going on with that. We’re screening it for Congress. Richard is doing this keynote address for a big convention in July, for homeless organizations. The AMC Corporation, which owns IFC, actually is getting behind the film on an activist level. We can use it as a tool, and show it in high schools and colleges.
Are you donating money to homeless organizations?
We’re directing people where to go, but we just want to have people pay attention. Clearly, it’s such a huge thing that’s going on. There are really interesting programs. I don’t know if you know about the Housing First program. They’ve tried it in different places. The whole idea is very simple —
If they have a place to stay, then they can function?
And it worked. There’s no homelessness in Utah. There’s a new program called Zero Veterans Homelessness. They have it in New Orleans, they have it in Utah, they have it in San Francisco, and now it’s coming to New York. It’s worked. No veteran is going to be on the street. They’re getting housing first, then services, then treatment. 95% of the people in Utah who received housing first and then started getting treatment held on to their apartments. There are all these exciting ideas. We’re trying to tap into it, and it’s an amazing privilege.
Do you know what your next directing gig is? You must be in great demand, especially as a writer.
I’m not sure. I have different things. I’m kind of a weird thing, because I’ve always been uncomfortable being associated with anything.
You’re an independent, and you’ll do better work that way. Studios are risky.
They are. And I like socially conscious movies. I’ve directed three movies in six years, which is insane. After many years of trying — so it’s not overnight. A movie about bereavement in the military, a movie about corrupt police policies, and a movie about homelessness. So I can’t start making movies about, I don’t know, tap-dancing.
Are you saying that what you like to do is harder to finance and get out?
Yeah. But there are good people out there. And I’ve started producing, which is a part that I didn’t have much experience in. Three films in the last year, which is insane. The last one was with Richard Gere, which is called “Oppenheimer Strategies,” with Joseph Seder. He’s an Israeli filmmaker who made “Footnote.” This is his first American film. We’re friends, and I don’t know how I ended up being producer on that movie. We’re just editing it now.