Director Derek Cianfrance dishes on "Blue Valentine
Published: Monday, January 24, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
DePaulia (DP): It's rumored that you only did one take for a lot of the scenes in this movie. How did the actors go about finding their characters?Derek Cianfrance (DC): I met Michelle [Williams] in 2003, and she had read, like, the 42nd draft of the script, and she came in with a book of poetry and a CD for me and she was just so immediately passionate about the film. But this was pre-"Brokeback Mountain" days, so you can't get a film financed on Michelle Williams back in 2003, so I had to wait. And then I met Ryan [Gosling] in 2005 and kind of a similar thing happened with him.
I felt like the movie was cursed for so long. But what ended up happening was, I kept in touch with Ryan and Michelle, and I would have, you know, a nine-hour dinner with Ryan and Michelle, every six months or so, over those six years, and we would always talk about "Blue Valentine." It never got old to us, it just continued, you know? So much so that I would consider them to be kind of, co-writers on the film with me, because I would go home from these meetings with them, so inspired, and I would write the script based on what we talked about.
What that did was, by the time we started shooting, they knew who they were, as characters. They had so much information, they knew where they went to elementary school, they knew what their best friend's first name was, they had stories about their first driving test. And when I started rolling the cameras, I felt like I was making a documentary about two people falling in love, because Ryan as Dean, was getting to know Michelle as Cindy in front of the cameras. Not to say we had single takes of everything. we shot all day. If we had twelve hours on set, we would shoot eleven hours. The scene where he plays the ukulele, and she tap-dances. well that scene came about because we had all night for Ryan and Michelle to get to know each other. and we just filmed Ryan and Michelle walking up and down the street all night long. getting to know each other. It was really the characters meeting on screen for the first time.
DP: How do you build a level of trust with your actors which allowed them to give such raw, realistic performances?
DC: I think that the intangible of moviemaking is trust. That's what everything is based upon. Because filmmaking is such a collaboration of artists. It's not just trust between a director and his actors, it's trust between a director and his producers, and between the production designer, and the composer, and the editors. Everyone had to trust each other. With Michelle and Ryan, we all just believed in each other, and trusted each other.
DP: What was the most difficult scene to film?
DC: I think the shower scene. they had to be literally and emotionally naked for such a long time. the scene where they have failed sex on the floor was like an 18-hour shoot. It was also the last stuff we shot, and I think at the end we felt like we'd really done something. At the end we felt like we'd confronted a lot of fear and a lot of darkness.
DP: How did you keep the mood on the set light, after working with such heavy material?
DC: You know, it was like a vacation shooting this movie. It was probably the best time of my life, and, you know, Ryan and Michelle, I think they'd probably say the same. Even though you're going to these dark places, there's catharsis involved in that, and we were all just so engaged. To me, shooting a movie is the only time in life when I can really be awake, you know?
The rest of the time I could be daydreaming, or be in a hundred other places. Thinking about my e-mail, or, you know, thinking about what I'm going to eat, thinking about what's on TV. But in the middle of making a movie, there's nothing. Except for that present moment that you're working on, and, to me, that's what I waited 12 years for was to get in that moment with them, and to live it with them (Michelle and Ryan).
DP: Having done both documentaries and narrative features now, where would you like to see your career go in the future?
DC: Well, you know, the next things are set up right now. I have a film called "The Place Beyond the Pines," which we're putting the financing in place for now, to shoot this summer. It's a film that's all about fathers and sons, and kind of a crime story that takes place in upstate New York, and Ryan Gosling's going to be in it. I love making films about families, because I think when you deal with families you really get to know the essence of a person through their family. You get to know the contrasts of a person, their lightness and their darkness.
And then I just sold this series to HBO called "Muscle," which is an adaptation of a book called "Muscle" by Sam Fussell, which is kind of like, the urban retelling of the boy who gets sand kicked in his face, and then becomes a body-builder. I'm interested in that series, in blurring the line between documentary and fiction. I'm actually going to find an actor who's willing to become huge, and that's why we're doing it on TV, because over five seasons we can actually have a guy get big. And that's what I'm interested in, at least now in my life, is telling honest stories, and working with actors to find that place where the acting stops and the being begins.