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‘Magnolia’ Behind-the-Scenes Doc: Watch PTA’s Magnum Opus Come to Life

From the Indiewire Vault: "Final cut. Scary thing to give to a guy like me."


In 2003, Paul Thomas Anderson said to The Guardian that his 1999 drama “Magnolia” would be “the best movie [he’d] ever make.” In a January 2015 interview on “WTF with Marc Maron,” when asked if he would change anything about the film today, Anderson said: “Oh, I’d slice that thing down. It’s way too f**king long. It’s unmerciful, how long it is.”

Today’s look back at the past is the 72-minute documentary “That Moment,” Mark Rance’s behind-the-scenes odyssey through the making of “Magnolia” from pre-production through publicity tour. We get to see Anderson at the tender age 28, just a year after “Boogie Nights” made him one of the hottest directors working in Hollywood, embark on what could seem like the filmmaking equivalent of war: A three-hour drama with nine sprawling narratives, grandiose themes and frogs raining from the sky.

READ MORE: Retrospective: The Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

PTA first addresses the camera in October 1998, discussing fears about his upcoming project: “I can feel the precarious balancing of scenes and how long they are. I’m very nervous as a director.” During pre-production, he shows his production team Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network,” which Anderson argues a good model for “old classic TV guys losing a grip on their shit.”

Rance titles this section of the doc “Shipbuilding,” still an understatement of what it looks like for Anderson to convince his collaborators of what his massively ambitious story had to look like. When one of his production designers asks if anybody had demanded a rewrite from Anderson, he shakes his head. “Nope. You know why? Final cut. [Laughs.] Scary thing to give to a guy like me.”

READ MORE: Watch: The Inherent Vice in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Films: A Video Essay

From there, “That Moment” highlights interviews with William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards,and various crew members. “There aren’t many people who have the desire or the bravery you need to be that emotional,” says Moore early in production. “Paul does that. He really goes there.” We watch snippets of the director teaching Julianne Moore Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up,” joyfully imitating Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character walk, and improvising with his crew at Hall’s quiz show podium on self-effacing “Magnolia” trivia.

“How long is this motion picture going to be? 88 minutes for the prologue… how much money will it make? A dollar.”

Perhaps the greatest joy in the doc is watching Anderson and his crew tackle the age-old question in filmmaking: How to rig frogs to shoot at moving cars and explode on target. We see b-roll of the various sequences of frogs raining over the San Fernando Valley, often running long enough to hear the crew pausing to laugh at the sight of hundreds of bloody frogs (referred to as “Steve Johnson frogs” by the crew) hitting a windshield.

Watch the full 72-minute documentary below:

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