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An Interview with Lynn Shelton, Director of “Humpday”

August 7, 2009

Tonight (Friday, August 7th) and tomorrow (Saturday, August 8th) at midnight, The Coolidge Corner Theater screens Humpday – Director Lynn Shelton’s Sundance Award winning film about two regulars guys who want to make an irregular artistic statement: a porn film unlike any other.

Beanywood recently spoke with Lynn about the making of her film…


Joshua Lenoard as "Andrew" and Mark Duplass as "Ben."

Joshua Lenoard as "Andrew" and Mark Duplass as "Ben."

BEANYWOOD: Can you tell us about the inception of the film, how did you begin putting things in motion?

LYNN SHELTON: I started with Mark Duplass, who I really wanted to work with. I pitched him the premise of the project. It was really loose. I actually saw him in the Andrew role, originally, and he immediately said he wanted to play the domesticated guy, because that’s the sort of how he’s living. He was sharing sort of a kinship with that guy because he was newly married and about to give birth to a baby, their first kid. And as soon as he said that, I knew it. I initially saw him in the adventurer role, and so he’d be like the charismatic one. So I said to him, “Now I need to find someone as charismatic as you, because that changes the whole power dynamic I had in my head between the two characters. And he thought of Joshua, and introduced us. And I thought that they were just such a great match. There were just always sort of dead even, you know?

BEANYWOOD: Do you prefer to work with your actors very early in the process?

SHELTON: Yes, always. I invited them in very early into the process, very similar to my film [My] Effortless Brilliance, in the way that I involved the actors in the development of their own characters, so that they could bring even more naturalism. And then as I get to know who the characters are, then I can cement what’s going to be happening in the movie, in the plot, in each scene; the arc of each scene and how each scene will feed into the next and so on. So when we show up on set we have this very structured outline. I want the naturalism of the improvisation, but I don’t want … I also wanted to make a very movie-going experience.

BEANYWOOD: Mark, he is all about the naturalization of it. That’s what he brings. I think that’s his special thing. I don’t know how else to describe it. But that’s what he’s done in his other stuff. It would be interesting to see the other stuff he came up with that you had to cut, either because it was really good and it didn’t work, or it didn’t simply tie in to where the movie was going. But he comes up with terrific, character-defining things.

SHELTON: There’s plenty of it, yes. But I wanted it to be a tight film. I wanted it to have a strong narrative drive. I wanted it to have that sense that a scene ends when it should end, and then it leaves you really curious to see what’s going to happen next. That whole kind of movie going experience and sensation, you know? At the same time that it feels like it’s actually unfolding right in front of you.

BEANYWOOD: You know, the funny thing you just said, that it’s a tight film, because when I think of something – as much as I don’t want to describe it as mumblecore, since you’re working with some of the guys who are fortunately or unfortunately (I know Joe Swanburg hates the term) – but mumblecore is typically sort of aimless.

SHELTON: Nobody embraces that term. Everybody hates the term [She laughs].

BEANYWOOD: I know. I’m averse to using it, and if I could come up with another way to describe this movie, I would.

SHELTON: Basically you can say, well, you could just call it something else. You could call it New Generation DIY Filmmakers. There are all kinds of other ways, New American Independent Cinema. But yes, I know what you’re saying.

BEANYWOOD: How do you tighten something like that up? Are you looking for beats in the conversation?

SHELTON: You give them a lot of guidance. When Joe works – and I love Joe’s movies, too – but for me, his method is a lot looser than mine. He goes in and he sort of says, “Let’s find this. Let’s just figure this scene out together today and see what unfolds.” It’s very, very on-your-feet, in-the-moment. It’s extremely sort of experiential.

BEANYWOOD: This is close to the way some of the other directors have said that they set it up, with just like an outline. When I interviewed Mark for Baghead, he said they went into it with an outline and they just sort of made it up as they go. But you were very specific as to what the beats and the changes would be?

SHELTON: I go in with a very clear objective. I have every component of a script, except the actual words. So I know exactly what the emotional map is going to be. I know the arc of every scene. It’s the only way a movie like this can be done. I mean, if you think about what unfolds in each scene and how everything has a very specific point that leads to the next one, it’s very planned. I had to have that all planned out. So, it was all planed out beforehand.

BEANYWOOD: It’s important not to give anything away here, but your one exception was the ending.

SHELTON: Yes, the exception was the end. I didn’t want to know what was going to happen in that last scene, because we wanted to keep that open so that we wouldn’t be kind of heading towards it, like heading towards a pre-determined ending for the rest of the film. But also just to keep it super, super dynamic. And from the very beginning I was not interested in making a broad, farcical comedy. I wanted to make something very authentic. We only wanted to make this movie if we could. It seemed like an impossible challenge, but we were really excited to see if we could somehow accomplish the impossible feat of making a movie that, when you got out of it at the end of it, you realized: I could totally see how two guys like that could actually have a weekend like that; that it would be totally believable every step of the way. We were all on high alert for any false notes. That was our primary goal. And getting to the end, we shot the whole thing in sequence.

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Ben and Andrew consider their "Humpday" plans.

BEANYWOOD: Approaching the movie this way must have given Mark and Josh’s characters a lot of fear and apprehension, and perhaps boosted their egos.

SHELTON: It wasn’t that they knew they were going to “do it,” we wanted to keep it very vital and dynamic, so the possibility that they could be doing it – they did realize it might not work out – but that we dropped away all of our individual desire for what we wanted to see happen at the end of the film and just really, really kept it as honest as possible.

BEANYWOOD: Did you learn anything from the shoot of My Effortless Brilliance that you were excited and proud to be able to apply to Humpday.

SHELTON: Oh yeah! The main thing I learned was that I could actually make a movie this way. So I was much more sure handed. I had much more confidence. With Brilliance, my goal, my chief objective was to create a documentary-like feel. To really make it seem like you were sitting in a room with these people who were actually living out these scenes; once I figured out how to accomplish that, I was able to move on to other goal with Humpday, such as: the strong narrative drive, the on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling, and upping the visuals. My Effortless Brilliance was my second feature film, and I really liked a lot of the way it looked, but parts of it were super shaky. I still wanted there to be an organic feeling, but I didn’t want you to be sea-sick. We stabilized the camera a little bit more. We got better eye lines, so, instead of having speaking to each other across the room for points of view, we were always making sure we had better eye lines. And we added a little bit of lighting, because Brilliance literally had no lighting, so for the indoor, evening scenes, it was really a struggle in the color-correction suite; so we added a little bit of lighting just to make it nicer and easier. We just tried to up the visual quality just a little bit.

BEANYWOOD: When you’re talking about a better eye line, can you clarify the difference?

SHELTON: What I mean by a line is, is where you‘re facing the camera. So, if you guys are having conversations, a lot of time, as with Brilliance, I would be across the room with the camera, and so you’d be in profile to the camera, which just isn’t very interesting. But with Humpday, I would actually get over the shoulder. But you have to be really careful because you’ll get the other camera in each other’s viewfinder.

BEANYWOOD: So you were covering the action with two cameras?

SHELTON: Always, so they never had to repeat with they were doing. So, what we would get is, if you think about the hangover scene for instance, which is one of the scenes I just love visually, when the two of them are in the morning light and they’re both looking super hungover, and yet kind of beautifully lit and angelic, that was a scene that had to work in a house that was really small, and the room was really tiny, so I had to put my DP out the window to get Mark. And then I was in the living room looking through the doorway at Joshua, because he also – if you’re using these Panasonic HD cameras, and you’re at the long end of the lens it just looks better; so if you’re all the way zoomed in, it looks more cinematic. But that was the main stuff. I really felt confident with this process, as kind of scary as it can be on set, and sometimes it’s really messy, the actors can look at me and say, “Okay, I think we got it.” And I’d be like, “Really?” I mean, sometimes. Not always. But sometimes I would be like, “Are you sure?” Because they would have gone on for like thirty minutes, with long, messy, meandering takes. But I’m watching it as an editor, and I’m just checking to make sure that all the ingredients are going to be in there, because the editing room is really where it gets written; very much like a documentary. It’s very much like you’re setting up a fly-on-the-wall documentary situation on a fake documentary. And just the way a documentary like that is written in the editing room, because there’s no script, you’re just following the story as it’s happening. That’s how this is written. So this movie easily could have been a very, very, very mediocre movie, or a really terrible movie with less skill in the editing room.

BEANYWOOD: In maintaining the believability of these situations, were there any moments where, in the improvisational points, the believability suddenly cracked? It’s a fragile thing.

SHELTON: I know. It’s hard, but everybody was on the same page and that never happened. Of all the things we had to fix or construct or deal with in the edit room, I don’t know, I can’t think of a single thing that was trying to Band-Aid a performance. Everybody was so in that world. And not everybody can act like this. I think a small percentage of actors can actually work this way, because you’re… many, many, fine, fine actors really need the text as their buttress. That’s what they’re clinging to, you know? And then they build the whole performance on it. And if you take that away from them, then they just have nothing.

BEANYWOOD: It’s funny, because it looks like anybody could pick up this style of acting. So it’s actually like, something that looks easy is, in reality, complicated.

SHELTON: It seems effortless because those guys are so good at it and it seems like they’re just “being.” The problem is, you have to not only be naturalistic in the moment and be in your character, but you also have to kind of always have this eye looking ahead, and you have to be thinking about scaffolding that them. Like, I need to be able to set this up so that they can react in this way. And this piece of information has to be revealed in a very careful way, you know? They sort of always have to be thinking about that. And a lot of it is just sort of basic action 101, where everybody just sort of has a clear objective and a very clear action. But you also have to kind of be thinking about the scaffolding of the scene as well. Some people are such good actors, and they can really get lost in the character, but they just lose sight of where the scene is supposed to go. And then other people with bring something to the surface too quickly. Like, you were mentioning, like presenting a false note without really realizing that’s now how it would happen in real life. But everyone on this set, they really seemed to get it. They really seemed to have the right balance. And it wasn’t that we didn’t have to work to get there sometimes, you know? But it tended to be typically in only two or three or four takes at the most. It wasn’t like we were doing it sixty times. It was kind of cool.

BEANYWOOD: You’ve done a lot of interviews, has anyone brought to your attention a criticism of the film where you were like, “Wow, I didn’t realize that.” Was there anything that sticks out, negatively or positively?

SHELTON: No, but someone did point out to me recently that my character I play in the movie is kind of like this instigator. She’s kind of playing this similar role that I’m playing as the director. That I’m making these guys do this thing. And I was like, “Oh! That never even occurred to me.”

An Interview with Judith Jones, Publisher of “Mastering The Art of French Cooking”

August 6, 2009

In 1962, Julia Child wrote Mastering The Art of French Cooking. The cookbook not only brought French style to America’s kitchens, it inspired women to “emerge from the culinary dark ages,” says Judith Jones, Julia Child’s editor, and close friend for nearly fifty years.

“I think it was surprising to the boys up in Boston,” Jones says of the cookbook’s success. “They thought they had the last word when they said the ‘American woman does not want to know this much about French cooking.’ But, fortunately, I did.”

Mastering The Art of French Cooking so inspired blogger Julie Powell, that she committed to preparing and writing about 1 recipe, every day, for 365 days. Ms. Powell’s personal commitment led to a devoted readership, and far more that that, a new movie.

With the release of Julia & Julia, Beanywood recently spoke with Mrs. Jones about Julia Child’s influence, determination, and limitless love of cooking.


BEANYWOOD: Director Nora Ephron has put together a terrific film. There’s a certain pleasantness about it that really comes through, particularly with the scenes that take place in Paris.

JUDITH JONES: The scenes in Paris, they were so beautiful. I thought that Nora used them very well to show the whole development of Julia’s character, and her very special relationship with Paul, who really helped her, enabled her to just go with it, believe in it. You know, he could have easily said, “What?! You’re at cooking school and you don’t even know how to do this?” Or that she didn’t know any French. But he was always with her. And that’s a wonderful scene when he comes home and she’s chopped up the onions. [She laughs] And he’s almost overwhelmed.

Julie Powell (Amy Adams) admires Julia Child's (Meryl Streep) photo at the Smithsonian.

Julie Powell (Amy Adams) admires Julia Child's (Meryl Streep) photo at the Smithsonian.

BEANYWOOD: Was that for comedic effect, or was Julia this obsessed about cooking? Or was it simply a real love of cooking.

JONES: I think it was a real love of it. I understand this very well because it’s very similar to my background, where cooking was just: You had good, healthy food; the kids didn’t talk about it because it was sort of demeaning to do that; and the idea that a woman go to college and might become a cook was just unthinkable. But to her, and certainly to me when we went to Paris, something in us just responded to a whole way of life about food. I mean, the French have such a good time with food, morning, noon and night; Maybe not so much today, but certainly in that post-War period when all the goods were coming back. I was once in a little boulangerie and a man opened a baguette and shouted with joy and passed it around and the whole place went up in applause. I says, “What is this about?” And he said, “The flour is white again!” All during the War and the occupation they’d had inferior flour. And suddenly this baguette represented kind of a new beginning. To me, in a way, the money they spent on food and going to three or four different shops in the evening. And you might see an old man with toes sticking out of his carpet slippers spending his last franc on a nice piece of pate.

BEANYWOOD: Do you think it was surprising to editors, after the publication of Julia’s book, that it proved Americans cared about cooking like this?

JONES: I think it was surprising to the boys up in Boston. They thought they had the last word when they said the American woman does not want to know this much about French cooking. But, fortunately, I did. And I just felt if I feel this strongly, and this impressed, there just might be other people who feel this way. And I really felt it would change the way cookbooks were written.

BEANYWOOD: That’s very interesting to me, because I have no real knowledge of cookbooks, but what I know is: people, when they love something, they want to share it. And I’d heard somebody say that Julia Child wasn’t a great cook, but she loved it so much that it didn’t matter that she wasn’t great.

JONES: I don’t agree with that because I think she was a very, very careful cook. She respected the rules. In a big auditorium where we were doing a conversation up in Vermont, somebody once asked her, What makes French cooking special? And she went through this description of cooking green beans, then plunging them into cold water, and then bathing in butter. And she said, “That’s soin.” It was a poem, you know? And those beans would be absolutely first rate. She wasn’t the creative cook that a chef is, but that’s a whole different world. I never had bad dinner in her house, I can tell you that.

BEANYWOOD: Do you think Julia had a sense of humor in that she was able to laugh at the image of herself? Or, the way some people interpreted it?

JONES: I think so. Yes. I think she did. And she had a very earthy kind of humor. Another time when [I was at Julia’s] for Christmas, when they had their house in Provence, she was pulling the tendons out of the legs of the goose, because the tendons are very tough. I’ll never forget this, and they way I described it in my little memoir that I wrote, the way she threw it onto the ground and got her fingers up under the tendons and yanked [she laughs]. That was all so that the leg would be tender. I think that her passion for doing it correctly was what made her a really fine cook.

BEANYWOOD: On TV, when she was going through the process of a recipe, would you consider her also a teacher?

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Meryl Streep as "Julia Child."

JONES: She was a very good teacher; a teacher in her books and in class. She never did have big classes. She intended to, but when television took off she was teaching that way and reaching more people.

BEANYWOOD: Would you say that Julia was understanding of people? Was teaching part of the fun?

JONES: It was part of the fun if the students were serious. She had no patience for what she called “The Flimsies.”

BEANYWOOD: Really.

JONES: Oh, yes. She would say of a student, “Oh, she’s just a filmsy. She doesn’t care about it.” Because she didn’t think they were serious. That’s why she didn’t want to meet Julie. She didn’t think she was a serious cook.

BEANYWOOD: What would it have taken for Julia to consider someone a serious cook?

JONES: Well, she took me seriously. It was anybody who paid attention and did it for the love of good cooking, not for show-off, or praise, or me, me, me!, you know, but someone who really enjoyed cooking. I think that was the message that she got across, and Americans for so long suppressed that feeling of fun in the kitchen.

BEANYWOOD: It makes me wonder, what was fun for her in the kitchen? What was fun to watch her create? When she was sharing her ideas with you, what was fun for her? I imagine cooking for her was like Baseball to some guys.

JONES: [She laughs] Yes!

BEANYWOOD: Was there particular things that she liked to cook?

JONES: Well, she’d often, for instance, at the end of a long day of working, maybe ten o’clock at night, she’d say, “Oh, let’s stop now and have a little dinner.” And she might say to me, “We should tell Paul to make some little cocktails and set the table.” Then she said to me, “Why don’t you make that little potato dish?” And I’d watch her often do this. She’d go to the stove and maybe just put on some nice little rounds of fillet of beaf, since they’re quick cooking. But it was… she would judge by the eye and the feel, not that she wouldn’t have ten minutes and it wouldn’t be done because there’s too many variables. I’d watch her press with her finger until the meat sprang back, and I’d asks questions, and I’d watch her be sure to let the meat rest because all the juices retreat, and while it was resting make just a little pan sauce. I do this all the time. I’ll throw in some scallions or sometimes garlic or a splash of wine. It cooks down. You pour it over the steak and it’s done in ten minutes. But it’s the soin. It’s that soin thing. soin, it means to care.

BEANYWOOD: I was thinking, as you may have been thinking when you were watching the film, did it occur to you that, oh, Julia would like this. Julia wouldn’t like that. Were you seeing it through her eyes?

JONES: I suspended that part of judgment entirely, because it’s all fete. You’re not terribly comfortable seeing somebody do you anyway.

BEANYWOOD: How did it feel to have someone so close as a family member to be portrayed on TV, and watch that and thing, Wow, I don’t know if that’s really working.

JONES: [She laughs] Yes, well. I think I don’t think Julia was really all that comfortable with the Saturday Night Live satire.

BEANYWOOD: As a kid, I thought it was so funny.

JONES: I know. And I don’t know this, but I just think that she felt it’s not easy to see yourself sort of parodied. [She laughs] And then it can make you self conscious, too. I have writers, some creative novelists, who don’t want to see reviews because they feel that it could influence how they write. Ann Tyler, for instance, who wrote such wonderful novels, she never looks at a review. She never gives an interview either. [She laughs]

BEANYWOOD: That’s very interesting.

JONES: It is, in today’s world, because we’re just so connected.

BEANYWOOD: With social media we’re just tapped in to what everybody’s thinking. It’s constant commentary.

JONES: I do think, without question, Julia would have been pleased that in the audience people would respond so positively that they all want to go home and cook. I mean, I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve seen this movie. That she’d like.

BEANYWOOD: I can definitely see that. And I can definitely see Meryl Streep getting some awards for this. It’s definitely a transformation in a way.

JONES: It shows you what an actor can do when they really live the part.

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Amy Adams as "Julie Powell" and Chris Messina as "Eric Powell."

BEANYWOOD: Did Julia live in Cambridge all her life?

JONES: No, she grew up in Santa Barbara, California. And then she and Paul lived in Europe for… I think it was probably about six years. And then they came home. They were trying to decide where they wanted to live and they picked Cambridge for many reasons.

BEANYWOOD: Julia does a TV show, but one can’t assume that it’s automatically going to be successful in the way it was. Did she realise her audience was going to be as big as it was?

JONES: Oh, no. I fact, there’s a moment; I think it’s in the film, when Paul says, “And maybe you can be on television.” And Julia just scoffs at the idea. And that was genuine. I don’t think she thought for a moment that big, awkward Julia could teach French cooking on television. And it happened purely by accident because they were living in Cambridge, and Julia began to know a lot of people, and there was sort of a literary program where I had been reading. And they asked – because I guess they’d met some of these people at a cocktail party or something – and they asked Julia if she would come on and talk to them. So she agreed. And then she said to Paul, “I can’t do it without taking my omelet pan, and a little burner and some eggs, and some butter! [She laughs] And the next thing you know, she was making, sort of over a Bunsen burner, flipping omelets and talking all the time. In those days, WGBH got such a deluge of letters saying, Get that woman back on television!  So they planned The French Chef series, and that’s how it happened.

BEANYWOOD: What do you look for in writer, someone you can have a relationship with?

JONES: First of all, I think just because it’s a food book or a cook book, the writing is as important as any other kind of book. I think there should be a voice. And with the cookbooks I work with, I don’t allow this truncated kind of recipe writing -“In a bowl combine the first mixture with the second mixture” – that’s my bugaboo. I knew immediately that Julia had that gift of observation and being able to translate in good, visceral words, what she wanted to convey. And it actually grew, too, over the years, because she was writing that first book in the void. It was three voices, although it all filtered through her. I think I tried to encourage her to get a little more personal in the later books, From Julia’s Kitchen and so on.

BEANYWOOD: I remember that one. My mother had it in our kitchen. I wonder if good advice today to any writer trying to find a voice is: don’t worry about being personal about yourself. Do you think it’s a problem, or do you think it’s a good thing?

JONES: I think you have to be, but it also has to be relevant. It isn’t just for the sake of me, me, me. But when you’re writing about food, it enriches the experience if you maybe tell about the origin of when you first had it at your Auntie Marion’s, and the reaction to it. I think people want that, and that’s the reaction I’ve gotten over the years. People will say, “I love the stories.”

BEANYWOOD: Were there any reactions that you remember that Julia loved. Were there any reactions to her books that she loved?

JONES: Today there’s so much immediacy, and there wasn’t that. You’d wait for the reviews and little by little Julia got to know the whole food community. They all respected her. When I sent the book to Jim Beard, he immediately said this is one of a kind.

BEANYWOOD: Jim Beard?

JONES: Oh, Jim Beard doesn’t mean anything to you? Well, Jim Beard… he came before Julia. He touted things like how to food things in scotch buckets. And he did demonstrations in restaurant kitchens, before it was a big thing. So, he was really kind of a forerunner. And he was a huge man. He wrote a delightful memoir called “Delights and Prejudices.” So when I sent it to him, he immediately said to [his people], “We’ve got to get them to know the food community, let’s give them a party. I’ll sponsor it.” And at the end he said, “I certainly wish I’d written that book.” That was a great concession, and it came from the heart. Not that he could have written it, because he didn’t have that kind of analytical mind, but that was the reaction it got. [Restaurant critic] Craig Claiborne felt that way.

BEANYWOOD: I can tell you this, cooking isn’t my thing, but boy my girlfriend loves it. She really enjoyed the movie, and she did want to go home and cook afterward.

JONES: And the time is right, too, for a resurgence of feeling about her, because I think we’ve gone too far the other way with those dreadful Food Network shows. [She laughs]

BEANYWOOD: It did inspire her to want to cook more with butter. She loved butter. And me, I’m always thinking too much butter might be harmful.

JONES: Well, Julia lived to a ripe old age of ninety-two. I’m eighty-five. I eat lots of butter. [She laughs]


Julie & Julia is now playing at Lowe’s Boston Common, the AMC Regal Fenway 13, The Somerville Theater and Lowe’s Harvard Square Cinema.

‘Whip It’ Trailer

July 24, 2009

Check out the trailer for Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, starring Ellen Page.

An Interview with ‘Orphan’ Director Jaume Collet-Serra and Screenwriter David Leslie Johnson

July 21, 2009

In the horror flick Orphan, parents Kate and John (played by Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) adopt a third child in the months after Kate’s miscarriage. The new girl, Esther (played by Isabelle Fuhrman), is a charmer and more. And when Orphan opens in theaters this Friday, film-goers will find out exactly what’s wrong with Esther.

Having seen the movie, I’ll say director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax) and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson (the forthcoming film Lake Mungo) accomplished their mission: It’s berserko.

Collet-Serra and Johnson recently spoke with journalists about the making of Orphan.

Now don’t worry. There are no spoilers here; mostly background information on how they enabled young Ms Fuhrman to deliver the year’s most frighteningly good performance.


BEANYWOOD: Vera [Farmiga] was talking about how much she loved the script because it kind of reminded her of having the feel of a Polanski film; his early stuff like The Tenant, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. Are you fan of the [Roman] Polanski stuff? When you were writing this, what kind of tone were you going for?

DAVID LESLIE JOHNSON: It’s really interesting to me. First of all, I’m blown away that she made that comparison. Definitely I had in mind this sort of feel of a ’70s horror and ’70s drama and things like that. I think it’s one of the things that Jaume really [wanted].

JAUME COLLET-SERRA: I’m a big Polanski fan. I was drawn to the script for similar reasons. It’s a movie that characters that are very well developed. Their back-story is important to the movie, and it comes back to haunt them later. I’m a big fan of Polanski in the way that he explores the psychology and the fears that we all have in our daily lives. That’s what makes it really scary. I think people can relate to the characters and the story.

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‘Orphan’ Director Jaume Collet-Serra

BEANYWOOD: That’s one of the things that I appreciated most about the movie, that it doesn’t relay on something necessarily supernatural. There aren’t ghosts in the attic. But I wonder if that’s more of a challenge to create the suspense, because you’re dealing with real life situations.

COLLET-SERRA: Yes, it is. It’s my personal preference to do movies that don’t have supernatural elements. That doesn’t mean that one day if I find one that, you know, is interesting that I won’t do it. But, like in House of Wax, we didn’t have supernatural elements either, and I just feel that movies are grounded in something. Again, for me [a supernatural story] is easier to tell. It’s challenging, but it’s challenging more for the writer probably.

JOHNSON: It is more of a challenge, I think, but I like those movies myself. Even though it’s a little more difficult, it’s definitely what I like to do. It’s what scares me. I like a horror movie that when I leave the theater I’m not necessarily thinking ‘Where do you want to go to eat?’ I like something that sticks with you and something that’s more grounded; it’s sort of the stuff that I respond to.

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Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman)

BEANYWOOD: How does it feel to write a screenplay, and, usually to get it sold is one thing, and usually scripts are turned into really bad movies, but your screenplay was turned into a good movie. How did that feel just watching this process happen?

JOHNSON:
It’s almost ridiculously exciting every step of the way, because I feel like I’ve been really spoiled and very lucky. Everyone at Appian [Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way Productions] was very supportive of my kind of radical take on the story. And Jaume came on board and really got it. And everything changed when he came on board. It was an improvement. And the cast. I couldn’t ask for a better cast. So, I’ve been sort of tremendously [lucky], down to the soundtrack. I was listening to John Ottman soundtracks when I was writing the screenplay, and by coincidence, he wound up doing the score for this. I know it doesn’t happen that way every time. And I’m not going to get used to it [he laughs], but

COLLET-SERRA:
It doesn’t happen that way for a director either. I think that to come across a great script, and to get full support from Joel – he’s a great producer and he gives me the freedom to do my vision of the movie. So I’m lucky to work with him. He gives me the tools necessary to make a great movie.

BEANYWOOD: Having an excellent cast such as this, I think it really elevates the genre because of the quality of acting they give. But finding the kids that you found. That must have been a challenge. Starting with the character Max, played by Aryana [Engieer]. And of course Isabelle [Fuhrman]. Can you talk about that process of finding them?

SERRA: The usual casting for kids is difficult because they grow up so quickly. Whoever was a great kid in the last movie, now they’re like 15 by the time that you’re making their next movie. So you always have the time to find new and fresh people. Isabelle had done a couple of things, and she just came in and read and I was blown away by her performance. She just owned the character. She would say every line and she would make actual choices in delivering the line, which is something rare in a kid – they usually just deliver the line in the way that her mom told her to do it, basically, that’s what you get in a casting session.  I really felt that she was thinking about what she was saying and she was believing it. And that’s what we wanted, you know?

With Aryana, it was a very specific character. It was a young 5 or 6 year old little girl who has to play deaf/mute. There were two options. The obvious one was to hire a kid and to teach the kid sign language. But, you know, I wanted to keep it real. And we found her in Vancouver. Some neighbor suggested that she go to this audition. And she did it. And we brought her to LA and we met her. And she was so natural. And she was just a kid and she was so innocent that I think it really paid of. Because it’s that innocence that we’re really trying to protect in this movie. Because every time that she would step in front of the camera, even though we rehearsed it, I didn’t know what was going to happen. Because she didn’t really know what she was doing. She was reacting for real to what was happening. And that’s priceless when you get that. That’s like priceless.

BEANYWOOD: As a director, just to film those scenes with the kids, and they had to go through some really dark places. What is your job in just communicating and making sure they feel comfortable?

COLLET-SERRA:
You have to obviously explain what they’re doing, mostly with Isabelle. Obviously she understood what she was doing, in most levels. You have to be careful in how you say things. And then you have to rehearse it over and over again; not so much that it becomes over-rehearsed. But then keep a playful sort of set, you know, so you can really disconnect from that right away. With Aryana it was different because she obviously didn’t understand what was happening. For her, everything was a game. She was going to school most of the time on set, and she would come to set and do her thing. She didn’t really know. I would ask her like, “Do you remember what we did yesterday?” And she would say, “No.” It was just a game. She didn’t really register anything.

BEANYWOOD: David, I was noticing in your background some work with Frank Darabont over several different projects. Was that sort of part of the plan? I can just imagine, your goal is to be a writer, attaching yourself to an excellent writer/director like Frank Darabont would be like having a workshop, a brilliant master class every day.

JOHNSON: It really, really was. I would like to take credit for being smart enough to have thought that ahead of time. But, I came out to LA. I met him on the set of Shawshank Redemption, just very casually. but I came out to LA and was looking for work and my bank account was dwindling and he happened to call up and needed an assistant. And it was just sort this phone call that change my life. He just sort of took me under his wing. And from our very first interview he said, I know you don’t want to do this for the rest of your life. And maybe sort of the plus side for you here is maybe I can help you. He was very encouraging. He looked at every script that I wrote, and vice-versa, which was amazing, like you said about being a masters class, about his Green Mile pages are coming out of the printer hot and he’s asking me my opinion. It’s like, who gets to do that? It was a really, really great experience and I felt really fortunate to have it.

BEANYWOOD: It sort of flies in the face of the image we have of everybody being so protective of, not only of their creative process but also their turf, saying ‘I don’t want these new, young upstarts coming in and getting the jobs that I could get.’ Is it more collaborative than we’re led to believe, or are there unique individuals like Frank?

JOHNSON: My experience is pretty much with Frank and I can say he’s very open, even pretty much on set as he’s directing, he’s a very open, collaborative person. He was always. He took it as my mentor in a way, and was really never guarded or protective at all.

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(L to R) Parents John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate (Vera Farmiga) meet Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman)

BEANYWOOD: : You have your next project lined up. Do you think it’s hard to find really excellent material out there?

COLLET-SERRA: No. I have another movie with Joel. It’s called Unknown White Male. It shoots in January in Berlin. It’s another great script. But yes good scripts are had to come by. But you now, I’m spoiled by having worked with such great actors. Now I understand that you need a good script to attract good actors, and good actors make you life easy.  So, that’s what I’m looking for.

JOHNSON: And snow. You have to be in Canada in February.

COLLET-SERRA: And Berlin in January. [He laughs]


Orphan opens Friday, July 4th, in the Boston area at AMC Loews Boston Common, Regal Fenway, Fresh Pond, Showcase Cinemas Revere, and AMC Loews Liberty Tree Mall.

Deciphering ‘All The Bulbous Accidents’

July 8, 2009

I’ve watched thousands of movies and written about a few of them. I’ve wondered, is there perhaps a link, a connection, between every film; no matter how long or short, expensive or bargain basement-priced, or high profile or below the radar they may be? Could this link be interpretation? Almost always, one film means something different to someone else. Everyone can see film differently.

Take All The Bulbous Accidents, a 3-minute animated poem written by my girlfriend,  Sarah Pearlstein, and animated by our friend Juliet Schneider (Ova). I’ve seen it a half dozen times, and each viewing brought new meaning.

I asked Sarah and Juliet what All The Bulbous Accidents really means. Still, you can draw your own conclusions Thursday, July 9th, at 7 PM at the Somerville Theater, when it screens before Rod Webber’s documentary A Man Among Giants.

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BEANYWOOD: What was your inspiration for the poem?

SARAH PEARLSTEIN: It was motivated into being written by the process of waking up, basically. That space between being asleep and being awake; and being in this really tiny basement apartment with two little windows.

BEANYWOOD: As the animator, what do you believe is the visual message of “All The Bulbous Accidents”?

JULIET SCHNEIDER: A reflection of inner darkness and distortion of self, coupled with a sense of suffocating angst.  However, there is hope and beauty to counteract all of that.

BEANYWOOD: Obviously you both didn’t always agree on everything. What was your method of give-and-take in creating ATBA?

SCHNEIDER: Sarah allowed me ample freedom to work with her words and gave me the time and space I needed to get to know the piece. First, I shot some test footage of Sarah as Ingrid and used that as a base layer for other video and animated drawings.  I had Sarah highlight words in her poem that she most wanted to see illustrated.  We recorded audio of Sarah reading the poem. Then began a process of creating and reviewing rough cuts – adjusting images and audio until we were both satisfied with the results.

PEARLSTEIN: Juliet knew how to serve the animation in such a way that it felt right. She knew how to choreograph the images in a way that felt right. I felt like she was choreographing my thoughts by marrying animation to it. Now I can’t see the people without the animation at all. The poem felt unfinished. The movie allowed me to have a second chance at the poem and Juliet completed it. It was mostly based on the time we spent together in the studio. We’d discuss it and Juliet would go and freely animate it. From time to time we’d meet to discuss its progress. We used the poem as the structure. And we found that the poem divided itself into quatrains. Not neat quatrains, but four different elements. I didn’t re-write it at all. I just started to hear the poem differently after I read it to [Juliet] so many times.

ABTA2

BEANYWOOD: And what elements did you feel had to be changed?

PEARLSTEIN: The pacing. To me, the music was the thing that brought the piece together in the end  When we added the music, the music changed the pacing. The movie wasn’t based on a piece of music. But I felt like the poem contained the possibility of being lyrical but it needed the music to bring it out.

BEANYWOOD: The music, is it an original piece? How do you go about choosing it?

SCHNEIDER: The music is called “Sensitive Data” by Chris Korda.  Sarah suggested we use his music, and Chris generously gave us permission to use any of his compositions, so we chose an ethereal instrumental track which fit perfectly with the tone of Sarah’s words.

BEANYWOOD: Do you see ATBA film as the first in a series of animated poems?

SCHNEIDER: I hope so.  I really enjoyed this collaboration.  I’m looking forward to collaborating with other poets/writers, and musicians.

Win Tickets to “The Wizard of Oz” Film and Book Celebration

June 10, 2009

On Monday, June 15th, The Coolidge Corner Theater celebrates the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz with a screening of the film and a presentation by “Oz” historian/author Evan L. Schwartz.

This one-time only, special screening is presented in conjunction with the first ever release of The Wizard of Oz on Hi-Def, Blu Ray DVD and the publication of Finding Oz by Evan L. Schwartz.

The Coolidge will screen The Wizard of Oz in their main theater, which promises a viewing experience of this 1939 classic like you’ve never seen before.

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And good news for you: Beanywood and The Coolidge would like to offer you a chance to win a pair of tickets to this special event.

For your chance to win, sign-up for our email newsletter (located on the main page). When “The Wizard of Oz” email arrives on Friday (6/12), be one of the first 6 readers to answer the Oz-related trivia question, and you’ll win a pair of tickets.

Good luck!

“A Man Among Giants” Returns to The Somerville Theater for a 1-Week Run

June 9, 2009

Director Rod Webber’s A Man Among Giants is slated for 1-week run at the Somerville Theater beginning.

The documentary chronicles the 2006 campaign of Doug “Tiny” Tunstall – a four-foot, seven-inch former wrestler, and toy store elf, who ran as a Republican against Democratic incumbent James Doyle for the office the Mayor of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

After winning “The Choice Award” at the 2007 Ruff Cutz Festival, the completed version of A Man Among Giants premiered the 2008 Hoboken Film Festival. The doc had its New England premiere last March at the Somerville Theater.

A Man Among Giants is presented at the Somerville Theater as the featured entry in ReelMovement‘s quartly film showcase.

Doug "Tiny" Tunstall