Wednesday, December 24, 2014

At the New York City press day I participated in a press conference with Angelina Jolie, Jack O’Connell, Garret Hedlund, Miyavi, and Finn Wittrock. They talked about what it was like making the film, if it was tough getting a PG-13 rating, what it was like playing real people, how Jolie decided what pieces of the book to include, how the first cut was three and a half hours, the editing process, what the Coen Brothers contributed to the film, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for what they had to say.

What was it specifically about this book that made you feel so passionate?  Was there one specific thing when you were reading it that you said, “This is it, this is my next movie?”  And was the movie you just did with Brad, By the Sea, sort of an antidote to this epic that you spent years on?

JOLIE:  By the Sea was emotionally difficult because it was acting but it was logistically a walk in the park in comparison to Unbroken.  It was a nice break.  I think what it was, like everybody, we wake up, we read the news, we see the events that are around the world and we live in our communities, which is heartened by so much and we feel overwhelmed.  We don’t know what’s possible and we want something to hold on to, something to believe in, something to give us strength. 
And I was halfway through his book, and I found myself inspired and on fire, and feeling better, and being reminded of the strength of the human spirit.  And the strength of having a brother like Pete to remind us to be that for each other and how important that is to have that in your life, so many things.  I realized if this was having this effect on me and I knew it was having this effect on so many people, isn’t this what we needed to put forward into the world at this time?  I believe it is and I’m very happy it’s coming out also during the holidays.  It’s an important time.  It’s the right time.

With so much interesting story content, how did you decide what pieces of the book would be compelling enough to include in the length of the film from what could be abandoned?

JOLIE:  That was the hardest thing.  That was I think why it took since 1957 when Universal first got the rights to do it.  What we did at the end was, we looked at the themes of his life.  The Coen brothers said something to me that helped me with it completely and they said, “When you put the book down, you have a certain feeling, a certain understanding.  That’s what they need to feel when they walk out of the theater.  That’s your job, to literally put this book on film, you won’t make a good movie, you’ll do no service to anyone.  So, know the themes.”  Then we would go back through the film.  For example, faith, faith is so important to him, and instead of being a specific chapter, I had to put it all in, in all the experiences of his life.  Faith was represented from the beginning, from the little boy and represented all through the film in other characters but also the sunrise and the darkness, the light and the struggle between them, and him coming into the light.  But it wasn’t literally, technically as it was in the book but the themes are the same.  That’s what we tried to do.  I think a lot of our favorite stories aren’t on the film, I know for Fitzgerald there’s so much of his life.  You can do a whole story on Fitzgerald.  I think that’s for all of them.  These men were so complete and so interesting themselves.  You can do a story on the raft.

JOLIE:  It was tough.  It’d be tough too because I’d be carrying the book—I’m sure this happened to all of you.  I don’t know if it did but before we were doing the film, I would carry the book around, read it on the plane and do something.  Everyone would see it and a lot of people would say, “Oh that’s my favorite book.  You know what my favorite scene is?”  And I’d start to say, “Don’t tell me.”  Imagine it was when he stole the Nazi flag or something, but I just can’t recreate the streets of Berlin.

 How long was the first cut of the film and what was the most challenging part of the editing?

JOLIE:  It was three and a half hours and what was dangerous about it is I liked it.  And when you see that version you think, “That’s too long, that’s too long.”  But I thought “that feels good to me.”

O’CONNELL:  Will there be a director’s cut, Angie?

JOLIE:  There’s only about four of five scenes that didn’t make it, everything’s trimmed.  They’re DVD scenes but I was very worried at first because one of the obvious things to lose was Quajling.  Not for me, I was going to go to the mat for it, but plotwise you could bring right to the camp.  I thought that was the heart of the film, that was a good 15 minutes, 20 minutes originally, and eventually it came down to 9 minutes.  It was things like that, so I was scared for a long time.  To trim it down without losing anything that you love—there are a few things you have to sacrifice that I’m sad aren’t there but you have to listen to the audience as well, what they’re feeling.  Even if they say I like that scene but the raft still feels long, you got to listen to it.  We made this for an audience.  Sometimes you make a film and it’s very much your artistic creation and you’re putting something in for an actor but this one is for the audience and so, we adjusted it so they could absorb it the best that we feel they could.

Louis dedicated his life to God, you mentioned how it was tough to include everything, including parts about his faith.  However there’s nothing about Jesus, nothing about Billy Graham, arguably one of the most crucial moments of his life.  Why did you choose to make the faith so generic?

JOLIE:  I don’t think it’s generic at all, I think it’s universal.  We made it universal, not specific to one faith and that was something that was agreed upon with Louis.

What did he say?

JOLIE:  He said he wanted the message to reach everyone. 

Did he say to make his faith universal?

JOLIE:  He said to make faith and forgiveness universal.  He said, “This is about reaching everyone, this is to speak to everyone.”  And we were very clear on his parents’ faith, on them being Catholic, we were very clear on Phil’s faith, very clear on him praying.  Any opportunity, if you were looking for symbolism and miracles in the film, you will see them.

I’m curious about your collaboration with the Coen brothers.  Can you talk about what they brought to the project and how long you worked with them on it?

JOLIE:  I don’t remember how long.  It wasn’t extremely long—like a couple months at the start and then it carried on.  As I had said before about them helping with the structure, I think one of the great things about the Coen brothers—and I think it was important for this film—is this film could’ve easily gone sentimental.  It could be too earnest about this and so beautiful and well-meaning and the epic adventure of it all, but would we understand that we had to keep it sharp and keep it open, and keep it entertaining for an audience.  

And they’re so smart, they’re so witty, they have such an extraordinary way of communicating with an audience in a such a clean way—with just a few lines or just a gesture from a character, they say so much.  So, they were really helpful to help with the personalities and of course, with the structure.  A big part of it was, how do we structure this?  Where do we go back and forth?  How do we keep the audience and when do we stop using flashbacks?  Being directors, obviously, and being the Coen brothers, they were just so brilliant and they had those—especially the last hour—one thing here or there that would just help it all come together.

Could you talk about the challenges of directing considering is essentially three different kinds of movies, including a lifeboat movie which is always a lot of fun to do?

JOLIE:  It was, I came into this because I felt like it was an important story,  I was drawn to the message of the story.  If you had asked me a few years ago, “What kind of a film do you want to make?”  I would never have assumed to make a film that included shark attacks and plane crashes.  I would never have thought of myself as handling that kind of cinematic filmmaking.  I wouldn’t think I could do that or should do that.  But this, I cared about the story and so I had to suddenly learn how to do all those things. 

 It was, to be honest, such an exciting challenge with the team that we had.  We had such a great cinematographer in Roger Deakins and our team of visual effects people were just amazing.  The thing is, everybody came to this film because they either read the book or knew about Louis, so we were kind of all there with a higher purpose and everybody worked really hard.  It was hard work but somehow we got through it.  But we did, it confused us many days they would say, “Did you watch Papillon?”  And I’d say, “I watched Papillon and Chariots of Fire, and a little bit of The Godfather.”  It was, it was many references.

Read the rest at collider

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