Friday, June 24, 2011

It's Never Too Late for Love


     In Beginners, the emotionally safe world of an introverted artist comes crashing down when his elderly father announces that he's gay and has terminal cancer.  In this funny, moving, partly autobiographical film, writer-director Mike Mills shows in heart-warming and entertaining fashion the beautiful life we can have when we stop lying to others out of fear and open up to the real possibilities of love.
     Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor in one of his most charismatic performances, is a working artist who endures a lonely but emotionally safe existence after a lifetime of self-sabotaging every chance for love.  His art is his only outlet for emotional expression. 
     Oliver's father, Hal, played by veteran actor Christopher Plummer, knocks Oliver out of his safe zone one day by informing him that he has terminal cancer.  Not only that, but he is gay, has had a secret male lover for some time, and he has always been gay.  This is shocking news to Oliver, who until now has never questioned his father's long years of marriage with his deceased mother. 
     In flashbacks to childhood moments with his mother (Mary Page Keller), Oliver begins to really see her for the first time and gradually begins to understand that he has become his mother's son, trapped by his own choices in an emotional cocoon devoid of true intimacy. 
     As heavy as all of this sounds, I can assure you that I did not shed a tear the entire film.  This movie is anything but a downer.  It is a bittersweet celebration of life that will make you laugh often and entertain you in ways that you have never seen before.  Moments of heavy emotional revelation are intertwined with humor as if Mills is telling us, "see, life's not so bad after all." 
     During one humorous sequence, Oliver's friend pries him out of his home to attend a costume party.  Oliver puts together a costume from things on hand and arrives at the character of Sigmund Freud.  During the party, Oliver, who is not one to talk much anyway, finds himself besieged by people intent on divulging their fears and insecurities as if he were a real psychoanalyst.  On the up side this allows him to meet Anna, played by French actress Melanie Laurent, who is determined to capture his heart. 

Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent

     People seem to hit rock bottom before they will change the things that give them so much pain, and Hal's shocking revelations do that for Oliver.  He pushes himself out of his comfort zone to achieve real love with Anna, even though the path is rocky for both of them.
     Oliver is not the type of person who shares much with others, which can be an insurmountable obstacle for filmmakers seeking to develop audience connection with the character.  Those who struggle with that challenge most often use external conflict, artificially creating scenes that force action from the character based on overcoming obstacles.  That contrived approach by itself would surely have failed here. 
     Instead Mills takes us into Oliver's world in two novel ways.  First, Oliver's art comes to life in quick animated sequences, giving us a window into what's going on inside his heart and mind.  Second, Oliver talks to his dog, Arthur, with Arthur's thoughts expressed in subtitle.  This latter device works spectacularly well.  It allows Oliver to express his innermost feelings without excessive reliance on voice-over, and to do so in a way that infuses the scenes with a terrific dose of humor. 

Ewan McGregor with Cosmo

     By the way, Cosmo, the canine actor who plays Arthur in the film, does such a fantastic job of it that he is already achieving rock star status. Initial audience response to Cosmo has been so great that much of the film's promotion is now centered on him.   Mills and the actors talk about working with Cosmo in this video on the film's official site. 
     This is only Mills' second feature film, but it is such a masterpiece of entertainment and effective storytelling, that I hope we will see his work again soon.  Beginners tells us that sure, life is hard, but it all works out for the best if we stay true to ourselves and handle life's obstacles with a healthy dose of humor. 


Friday, June 17, 2011

A Chick Flick with Chutzpah

Bride Flight

     Bride Flight debuted at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2010 and swept most of the major awards at the Newport Beach Film Festival a few months later.  After well over a year plying the festival circuit, including a strong Jewish festival niche (more about that later), this unique 2008 Dutch film finally received North American theatrical distribution this summer. 
     The story revolves around three young women who meet on the KLM flight that won a historic air race in 1953 between London and Christchurch.  The three are economic refugees fleeing the Netherlands for a better life with their fiancees, who are waiting for them in New Zealand.  During that fateful journey they encounter a man named Frank, who will change all of their lives forever.
     A complex web of relationships develops among the characters that one would think better suited to the longer dramatic form of series television.  However, a terrific ensemble cast and a tight script bring all of the disparate elements together so that they ultimately arrive at a satisfying conclusion. 
     Bride Flight was directed by Ben Sombogaart from a script by actress-writer, Marieke van der Pol.  In many ways it's a standard chick flick with strong female leads and a one-dimensional male named Frank, who has little more to do than be hunky for the girls.  Through most of the film Frank is played in his younger incarnation by Waldemar Torenstra, who somehow manages to imbue an otherwise weakly developed character with charisma.  "Old Frank" is played by the always great Rutger Hauer, returning to his Dutch film roots for the first time in 18 years. 
     In a male-dominated movie world where female characters are too often "the girl," with little more to do than look hot and get upset only as a prelude to great make-up sex, it was more than mildly amusing to see the shoe on the other foot.  The genetically gifted Frank manages to make all the girls swoon, but then apparently spends all of his life alone and pining after the beautiful, hapless Ada (Karin Smulders), who is relegated to spending the rest of her own joyless life with the religious fanatic she married, all for the sake of her children.  Obviously some suspension of disbelief is required.

Waldemar Torenstra and Anna Drijver

      What makes this film rise above the flaws in the storyline, other than wonderful period production values and superb acting, is the character of Esther, played with depth and believability by Anna Drijver.  While Ada and Marjorie (Elise Schaap), the other members of the trio, choose more-or-less conventional paths for women of their time, Esther is fiercely independent, remaining childless and unattached, except for the occasional fling with lovers like Frank. 
     But there is a darkness that torments Esther's soul.  She is a Holocaust survivor (the aforementioned Jewish connection).  As a young girl she was witness to the butchery of her family in Nazi death camps, and in her little girl's mind, she has been traumatized into believing that being Jewish is an automatic death sentence, and she will not bring another Jewish child into the world. 
     Esther is a truly compelling character.  With all of the Holocaust-themed films released every year, one would think every angle has been covered.  This is a unique twist.  While we have witnessed the events of the genocide through the eyes of all kinds of characters, either at the time they happened or by flashback later in life, I cannot recall a previous film that dealt with what it must have been like for a survivor, especially one who experienced the horror at such a young age, to attempt to adjust to a normal life after that kind of trauma. 
     Filmmakers tend to view film festival review committee members like me as gatekeepers they hope they get past, but I can assure you that we want nothing more than to find the next truly great cinematic experience.  There is nothing more frustrating to me than finding a filmmaker who came within arm's reach of the summit, only to slide back down the mountain.
     Romance fans may disagree with me, but I wish van der Pol had made a different choice.  Her story should have been entirely about Esther.  Instead of an entertaining romance genre film with aspirations, it could have been a magnificent film with awards buzz. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Follow the Money

The Big Uneasy

     The Big Uneasy is both an expose of government dysfunction and a warning that the Katrina disaster in New Orleans may soon be repeated in places as disparate as the upper Mississippi River and the Sacramento River delta in California. 
     Regular readers know that I rarely discuss documentaries on this blog, making exceptions only for those that break new ground and provide compelling insight into the most important issues of our time.  This is one such film.  Filmmakers from Spike Lee to the Academy Award-nominated team of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal have made excellent documentaries about the levee failures that led to the catastrophic flooding in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As good as those films are, none of them have exposed the root cause of the disaster as effectively as Harry Shearer.
     Although the spine of the film is based on technical evidence, Shearer has produced a film that is very accessible to the average viewer.  Fascinating computer graphics recreate each hour of the sequence of levee failures that flooded New Orleans neighborhoods.  Treme actor and New Orleans resident, John Goodman, breaks up the technical sequences by conducting entertaining interviews with locals. 
     Shearer uncovers a legacy of mismanagement going back decades within the US Army Corps of Engineers, the principle US Government agency responsible for the construction and management of our nation's flood control infrastructure.  Interviews with a Corps whistleblower and two post-Katrina principle investigators yield damning evidence of the negligence and flawed engineering that went into the original construction of the Mississippi River--Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) waterway and its peripheral systems during the 1950s and continues to plague the repair and rebuilding of that infrastructure to this day.

     Maria Garzino, a veteran engineer with the Corps, provides testimony that the hydraulic pumps that were installed post-Katrina are woefully inadequate to the task and will fail again the next time a storm of similar magnitude strikes the area.  Although protected by federal whistleblower laws, she has faced backlash from her superiors and been assigned to subpar jobs that effectively sideline her within the organization.  See public radio journalist Molly Peterson's 4-part series about Garzino's claims on KPCC
      Similarly Robert Bea, a civil engineer affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley, has been vilified by colleagues for an investigation that concluded the Corps was chiefly responsible for the disaster that befell New Orleans, stating in his report that the levee failures were "the greatest man-made engineering catastrophe since Chernobyl." 
     Dr. Ivor van Heerden, former head of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center, lost his job after coming to the same conclusion in his own investigation.  LSU, a university that is heavily dependent on federal funding, decided to axe van Heerden and the other researchers who staffed the Center after they continued to speak out about the Katrina engineering fiasco.  Strangely, after all of the experts there had been fired, LSU received a multi-million dollar grant from the federal government to establish a similar center. 
     Obviously there's a powerful reason for such an astounding pattern of engineering project mismanagement and cover-up, and it can be summed up in two words familiar to those who regularly follow politics and government in the USA today:  political patronage.
     Shearer uncovers evidence that billions of dollars were spent on unnecessary or inadequate flood control projects going back decades and in multiple administrations.  He calls it "a disaster of bipartisan magnitude."  Little is left over to achieve real flood control after politicians bring home the bacon to the tune of billions of dollars and promote ill-conceived projects that benefit their key contributors but achieve no real solutions.  One contractor was discovered to have purchased millions of dollars in new equipment for a job that the government had not even put out to bid yet. The fix was in. 
     What is most troubling is the Corps mismanagement that undercuts the New Orleans flood control system is not unique to that locale.  The same people oversee every major flood control system in the USA, including the Sacramento River Delta in California. 
     Where will the next catastrophe occur?  Follow the money.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Teen Romance for Adults


     Submarine is a clever coming-of-age film that uses humor and teen romance to explore adult themes about sustaining love in difficult times.  It was adapted for the screen by writer/director Richard Ayoade from the novel by Joe Dunthorne.
     As the story opens, 15-year-old Oliver (Craig Roberts) sets out to achieve two primary objectives--lose his virginity before his next birthday and stop his mother from dumping his father for the new age guru who was her first love.  The latter, effectively played for laughs by Paddy Considine, has recently come back into their lives on the rebound from a tumultuous failed relationship. 
     The object of Oliver's scheming affection is Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a socially awkward and outspoken pyromaniac who is as unpopular in school as he is.  By that measure he expects that she will be his easiest target.  What starts out as a quest to satisfy teen lust gets complicated when Oliver finds himself falling in love with her.

     Oliver has to juggle romance with espionage as he snoops into the lives of his parents, whose relationship is heading downhill fast.  His mother (Sally Hawkins) is unhappy and tries to fill the void by seeking new age wisdom from her former lover.  Oliver is convinced they are having an affair, and he is determined to stop it at all costs.  He gets little help from his father (Noah Taylor), who is mired in depression and unmotivated to do much of anything, let alone save his marriage.  Not to worry, as Oliver is bound and determined to do it for him. 
     This is a funny film with a wonderful dramatic storyline.  It shows that love is not as hard as we sometimes make it.  All the effort we put into being witty, romantic and sexy is not nearly as important as just being there for the ones we love.  I absolutely loved the ending.  It is subtle, witty and right on the mark, but I won't spoil it for you here.  You'll have to see the film.  It's worth it.
     Submarine released in the USA under the Weinstein Company banner on June 3. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nobody's Figured That Out Yet

Part 3: The Future of Independent Film

     I concluded my interview with John Sayles with a discussion about the future of independent filmmaking.  Big screen releases are becoming rare for indies in a world dominated by the push for big opening weekend grosses. 
     In the late '80s early '90s indies got a major boost from the success of Sex, Lies, and Videotape.   That film grossed an estimated 20 times its production budget and sparked the hunt for the next big thing in small dramatic films.  Sayles benefited from the hype by teaming up with Larry Estes, the producer who successfully backed the distribution of Sex, Lies, and Videotape.  Estes ultimately put together financing and distribution deals for two of Sayles' most successful films--City of Hope and Passion Fish, the latter of which earned two Oscar nominations and a Writers Guild of America (WGA) nomination for best screenplay.  
     These days traditional sources of film financing and distribution are not satisfied with the comparatively small earnings from indie films.  That market has all but dried up, and even the direct-to-cable market has downsized considerably.  Direct-to-DVD appears poised to follow with the growing primacy of Internet downloads.  
     Film festivals have increased in number and emerged as top venues for indie filmmakers who want their work to be seen on the big screen, but competition is fierce in first and even second tier festivals that currently receive well over 2,000 submissions per year for no more than 200 slots on average.  A lot of very good films are turned away.  
     Even Sayles is feeling the pain.  He self-financed his last three films, and he professed to me that he does not know how long he'll be able to keep it up.  As bleak as he made it sound, he couldn't bring himself to sound the death knell for the industry.  He recognizes that it's changing, and tomorrow's indie film industry will look very different from what we know today, but he was certain that the independent spirit will remain alive for a long time to come.  
     Although at times Sayles sounded like a tired, overworked filmmaker ready to pass the torch to the next generation, that spark in his eyes never died.  If I were a betting man, I'd lay big odds that Sayles has a few more master strokes left to contribute, and the indie film world will be that much better off when he does.  

  Mary McDonnell and Chris Cooper in Matewan

MD:  What's the future look like for indie filmmakers? 

JS:  There used to be an independent movie business, and money came back in, but that’s kind of dissolved into the ether. Almost nobody’s getting other people’s money to make those little movies any more. Maybe if it’s a horror movie or a vampire movie, and you get the right actors in it, somebody will take a chance on you. There’s not really a straight-to-cable market any more, and I think Sundance got over 2,000 submissions last year.  That’s a lot of people trying to get through a very narrow doorway.  
     If they make two movies, whether it’s as a financier or a producer or a director, and they don’t get a release, it’s really tough to go and try to make that third one, and talk to all of your friends and say “I’m going to do it again. You want to carry all the stuff, and be called the co-producer and get paid nothing?” People still try to do it, but on your second movie you either have to pay people something or get new friends. 
     A very tiny minority will actually get somebody to distribute their film and spend money and time on them, and the rest of the people are going to be like garage bands. If you go on their blog, you can download the movie from them, and they’ll make very little money back from it. With a garage band, you can build up a following that way, tour and sell some t-shirts, and make sort of a living as a musician. I think movies will continue to be made, and people will continue to try to make movies, but I think that the hardest thing is that so many of the professionals that I know are not going to be able to make a living doing it. I wonder how many young people who are starting in the business, working now for free or very little, are going to be able to do it for very long. Remember when there were ski bums? I think in the future there are going to be film bums. Until their knees go, or whatever the film equivalent is, they’ll be able to sleep on friends’ floors and every once in a while make a movie, and support themselves doing other things. 
MD:  You've been able to get top talent to work on your films for SAG (Screen Actors Guild) scale. If you have the right backing and an outstanding script, is that something you can continue to pull off?

JS:  Scale keeps going down if the budget of your movie is down. Recognizing how hard it is, the Guild (SAG) is doing a lot more of these contingency kind of things.  I talked to an actor the other day who is making $100 a day, and that’s a union contract, but the budget is low enough that that’s what the actors are getting paid. You’ve got to be in an awful lot of those to make a living.
     The other thing to be said is that more and more, the kind of medium-level crew people—the PAs (production assistants) and the first ADs (assistant directors)—are all rich kids because they can afford to do it for very little money. Anybody that’s got to pay back their college loan, they’re not getting a paying job—maybe not for 5 years. Then you’re going deeper into debt and not paying off your college loan. 

Angela Bassett and Mary McDonnell in Passion Fish
MD:  Where is distribution headed for indie films? 
JS:  I really don’t think it’s going to sort out into something very consistent soon, because the Internet, which is the future of all entertainment transactions that aren’t live, is just a wild west right now. It’s changing so fast that nobody really knows where it’s going. 
     David Lynch was one of the first guys to do that. He had a movie, and he didn’t think the distributors were going to do much with it. He bought it back from them, and put it on his website. This was several years ago. I don’t know how he did with it, but I think that’s going to be the model more and more. If you’ve got some following, that’ll help, but the part where you get money back for it… nobody’s figured that out yet. 
     Larry's (Estes) first choice was Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and that gave him his mandate for about three years. We made two movies with him, and they were good movies (City of Hope and Passion Fish). It’s just that not one of them made the kind of money that Sex, Lies, and Videotape did. The corporation that owns Larry’s company finally said, “We want another Sex, Lies, and Videotape.  We don’t want you to make a lot of nice, little movies with the profits from that. We want another rainmaker.” And those happen almost accidentally. They were certainly movies as good as Sex, Lies, and VideotapeWhen you finish a movie, almost nobody knows if they’re going to get to make another one.   

MD:  You make it sound pretty bleak.     

JS:  I think if you’re young, I wouldn’t be daunted.  In some ways our track record hurts us, because people say, “I’ve heard of this guy, but who’s ever made a mint on any of his movies.  He’s had 17 tries and he never went platinum.  Why would we gamble our money on this guy? Why not take somebody who’s totally new or who has made one interesting film and gamble on him instead?” 
     We’re talking about the impossibility of making independent films, and the fact is that people still do it.

Part 1:  The Making of Amigo
Part 2:  The Craft of the Storyteller

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Develop the Muscles

Part 2: The Craft of the Storyteller

     During our interview John Sayles provided answers to questions I had waited years to ask him. His films provide an overview of ordinary people caught up in the events that shape our times.  As their lives intersect in ways that they may not understand, we as the audience are provided with new insight about the people and places we think we already know. 
     I was first introduced to his films when I saw City of Hope on the big screen during its 1991 release. I drove over 40 miles to an art house theater in Los Angeles based on positive reviews and the subject matter of the film. Political activism runs in my family, and the subject matter had aroused my curiosity. The machinery of political decision-making is more complex than most of the public understands, and like many things in life, the final outcome tends to be more about the individual personalities involved than it is about effective governance.  The other thing I've learned is that it is possible for an idealistic individual to prevail, but the chances are slim without our active engagement as citizens in a democracy. 
     "We’re so often disappointed in our politicians, but you know what, sometimes our politicians are disappointed in us," Sayles told me. 
     City of Hope grabbed me and held me from start to finish.  It was the first time I saw a film that got it right.  It featured an ensemble cast representing the types of individuals you find at every level of urban politics in America, from the construction worker on an urban renewal project and the poor resident he will help to displace to the wealthy developer and the city council people trying to sort it all out, for better or worse. 
     What was most striking about this film was that Sayles was able to present so many points of view effectively in less than two hours running time.  The characters in the film were not caricatures.  They were human beings with their own outlook based on their respective life experiences. Sayles is able to pull this off with exquisite mastery of subtext in both dialogue and visuals. 
     As we get to know and understand the diverse cast during the course of the story, there is invariably a scene later in the film in which characters from completely different backgrounds converse directly with each other but are unable to actually communicate in any meaningful way.  In Casa de los Babys, a young maid speaks to a prospective mother from the States in Spanish about her hopes and dreams for the child she was forced to give up while the adopting mother speaks in English about her dreams for the child she hopes to adopt in Mexico.  Neither understands what the other is saying, but for the audience, who understands both, it is an emotionally powerful scene.  As Sayles said in Part 1 of this interview, the audience gets an overview of the story that the individual characters are unable to see.  

MD:  Your films follow multiple characters, and you seem to pull that off in a way that other filmmakers can't.  

JSSome people say we have too many characters.  Who’s the hero?  Ken Berry (former pro baseball player), a guy we worked with on Eight Men Out, said "I like movies where the good guys prevail over the bad guys, and you know which is which."  We’re just making a different kind of movie.  If that’s why you go to the movies--to feel great about the outcome at the end of it--you’re going to feel disappointed in our movies.  We often have some people say "what was that?"  It’s because we had an ambiguous ending or the characters weren’t heroic or whatever.  They were likable but not heroic.  It’s a tough thing to do.  
     My favorite thing about that (good and bad characters) is thinking about the corrupt guys.  It’s complicated.  Sometimes they’re just greedy fucks, but on the local level (in City of Hope) it’s often about a no-show job, and (they say) "I know I shouldn’t have it under my administration, but it’s my wife Lucille’s little brother, and when is he going to get a real job?  He’s had the drug problem, and if we can just get him an income, he can take care of my nephew and my niece, and maybe it’ll straighten him up.  So what am I going to do?  Fire Lucille’s idiot brother for some abstract thing where everybody expects me to have some no-show job anyway?" 

MD:  In Honeydripper a wealthy woman who originated from a lower class background talks to her black maid about the challenges she faced trying to fit into her husband’s high society world.  It's an impactful scene on many levels.  I'm amazed by the way you create a bridge between different worlds.  

JS:  That’s not even a bridge. That’s her talking and thinking she’s got this incredible rapport, and her maid, understanding what she’s talking about, but knowing that her employer has missed the last 12 years of her daughter’s life, so she’s kind of surprised when she sees her (the maid's daughter). Oh my God, you’re a teenager already.  

John Sayles directs Danny Glover in Honeydripper

MD:  As you said, it's not a bridge between characters, but a bridge from the characters to the audience.  How do you pull that off? 

JSThere are a couple of brilliant things that James Cameron did in Titanic. This is the Titanic. The boat’s going to sink—no surprise, but he puts in this... kind of a PBS wraparound thing at the beginning of it where you’re looking at a computer screen, and it shows you how the thing sank and everything. You’re getting all this exposition. I thought, why is James doing this? And then I realize now I know exactly where the kids shouldn’t go. Oh no, don’t go to that side. He’s actually providing you more information, so you’re more worried about these two kids. Are they going to survive what we know is in front of them? We know there’s a monster behind that door. Don’t open that door. And that’s a lot of what you try to do with characters' points of view. Most of our movies are kind of multiples. You try to get at least a couple of characters that the audience wants it to turn out well for them. But you give them enough information that the audience knows a little bit more than the characters.   

MD:  How did you learn to be a screenwriter?  Did you have a mentor? 

JS:   I watched a lot of movies. I didn’t go to film school. I didn’t take many writing courses.  Quentin Tarantino said his film school was working in a video store. When it got slow he’d run movies. The second thing you do is you learn by doing it and develop the muscles. I’ve been writing for 30 or 40 years. I sold my first novel when I was 25. I think I started writing screenplays professionally when I was 28. You write a lot of stuff. Some of it’s not very good, but you rewrite it and you keep writing.      
    It’s kind of like an athlete who cross-trains. You keep the muscles working and you solve problems. Even without remembering where you solved it before, when you come up with another problem, you say “I know how to do this.” And the same thing with listening to dialogue or working with actors. You hope you get better. If you don’t get bored and lazy, you probably will get better. You look at professional athletes, and the smart ones last a long time because about halfway through their career, they realized I’m not going to always have this, and they start to say, “I better develop a screw ball, or I better start taking better care of my knees and ankles."  Michael Jordan hired a trainer to do nothing but tell him about the injuries that most athletes will get in two years.   (The trainer said) "here’s some exercises so you don’t end up with those injuries."  

Tony Lo Bianco & Vincent Spano in City of Hope

MD:  What advice do you have for novice filmmakers? 

JS:  I occasionally speak to film students. I tell them the best thing you can do if you want to be a director is rent three of your favorite movies, turn the sound off, and watch each one of them twice. Stop the thing in the middle of a scene and ask, where is the camera?   What lens is in it?  --not the actual type of lens, so much as the type of shot.  Is the camera moving or not? Why is the camera where it is? How is that telling the story? If you can figure that out, you’re starting on the thing that a director has to go through to make a movie. 
     The rest of it is writer’s stuff, and the rest of it is director’s stuff with actors. There is that part where people come up to you with a blank look on their face and ask “what are we doing?” You have to say, “the camera goes over here… it’s going to be low and then we’re moving here, and then we’re moving there, and that’s all the coverage we’re doing for the scene,” and there should be a reason for each of those things, and the reason should be a storytelling reason.  And I think you learn that stuff from paying attention to other people’s movies.  

MD:  With 17 films under your belt, you're uniquely successful in the low budget world of indie filmmaking.  How have you pulled that off so consistently? 

JS:  You kind of learn an innate sense of what costs time and money and what doesn’t.   When I’m writing something, like in Amigo, I’m thinking I’m going to have five or six weeks to shoot this. What screenplay can I write where I can do it in five or six weeks? What scale can I put this on where I can do it well in five or six weeks?  (For Amigo) how many Americans can I bring over who have lines that we can afford for five or six weeks? Every once in a while you combine a couple of characters, and say "wow, I eliminated an American and a plane ticket to and from... and that’s a hotel room."    
     It’s a pain in the ass to have to think that way, but it’s just part of the job. Even filmmakers who make big movies have to make those decisions. It’s usually not on that scale, but it may be that we can’t afford the insurance to shoot on a train. Let’s stage the shoot-out in the train station. I think that was in the Untouchables. It (the train station shootout) was written for a train. It would have been great on a train. They got the insurance bill for a moving train and saw what even a slow-moving train was going to cost, and (decided) maybe we can shoot this in the train station. Let’s find a great train station, and it worked. 
Part 3:  The Future of Independent Film