Filmmaker Alums Shine Brightly
Published: Friday, September 2, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 2, 2011 11:09
You guys have a very on-the-fly-style of film making, and I think that gives what you create a lot of authenticity and it's very intimate. How do you think that affects your end product? Why do you choose that as opposed to a more conventional technique?
Mike Cahill: It allows for a lot of authenticity and a lot of freedom, and you know it's hard with the bigger-budgeted films, it becomes a little bit tighter, I imagine. But with something with such a modest budget, we had a great deal of freedom and, so you can find spontaneity in the performance and in the environment, so we had a very rigorous script. Like everything was very much thought-out and specific, but because we had confidence with the run-and-gun style, we captured the final moment with fog, we weren't planning to shoot it that day.
Tell me a little about the thought process [and] about coming up with the idea. Was there an image, or an idea that popped up into your head?
MC: There were a bunch of different sources and somehow we came together where we started asking each other the question, "What would it be like if you could meet yourself?" and "What if everyone in the world could meet themselves?" "What would be the emotional impact of confronting the internal monologue outside of yourself?" "What does it feel like — like the subconscious, gut-level, primal feeling?" Then from there we came up with the story of Rhoda, this woman, who without self-pity and with strength and courage, tries to seek redemption, and she seemed to be the most interesting person who could meet themselves.
I've heard so much about this professor Glavin, you mentioned him last night, what is it about him, and how does he influence your work?
MC: Professor Glavin is amazing. He really takes students very seriously, as if they are adults, real writers working in the industry. He has a course on character and, of course, on story. You learn the key story structures, and he teaches you the dynamics of how a story works, [and] what creates momentum. He would make us watch films with a stopwatch. There's a great deal of mathematics behind [the] structure in a script.
Did you actually do that?
MC: We didn't use a stopwatch. After a while, you take all these inputs, you put them into your head, and then you make your choices. It's not so literal, I guess. It's more of an artistic stroke. He was amazing — he really inspired a lot of students. And he taught really "out-of-the-box" ways of thinking about story. I remember one class: He had us break the class into two parts — two teams — and it was in this huge auditorium, and he said that everyone had to stand on their chairs and each team had to stand up, touch the walls and come back, and that's the only rule in the game. And so we're all standing on our chairs and he's like, begin. And you can't touch the ground. So, as we're going along and devising ways to get there, I remember taking one of the chairs from the other team and throwing it across the room, and someone was like, "You can't do that." And [Glavin] said, "I never said you can't do that. The only rules are that you have to get to the other side and get back." And you learn that the protagonist in a story always tries to figure out the best way, or the most clever way, to get their goal. And that kind of hands-on learning is so inspiring.
What motivated you to take script writing even though you were an economics major?
MC: I've been obsessed with films my whole life, but I thought it was my hobby. I didn't think it could be my career, but I was making short films. I had a knack for economics, and it was the only class I really didn't have to study for. I'm one of those annoying people. Filmmaking was always my hobby.
How hard is it to get a smart, intellectual film made?
Brit Marling: I think it's harder to make a film that moves people. I think it's easy to sort of retreat to the intellect and make something that's analytical or thought-provoking. I think it's hard to make something that enters people at a visceral level. You're sort of dealing with primal unconscious motivations and they're learning how to get people to drop their defenses and open up and actually let a story in. I think the audience has to really trust you. That's one of the reasons why Mike is such a talented filmmaker. It's because his confidence in filmmaking is very genuine. It's not the sort of cocky confidence of a first time filmmaker. It's like a deep, genuine confidence and when the audience is watching that they sort of gladly surrender to it.
Where is this point where philosophy and science and faith all merge? I see that in your movie.
BM: I love that thought. Science fascinates me because as it moves forward, it disproves itself; so everything that was once science becomes science fiction, and what's weird about all of it is that everyone is trying to get [to] the source of "who are we?" And "what are we doing here?"
Is the accident at the beginning [of the film] chaos? Are people bumping together in the night, like atoms, random and disaster? Or is there something destined in that moment, in what happens and in the relationship that transpires? I am totally preoccupied with this question and we don't know the answers so we try to make movies.
Are you working together again?
MC: Of course, we're going to collaborate forever.
Do you have something particular that you're working on that you're ready to talk about?
MC: Yeah, it's sort of in the works right now.
BM: The juices are just stirring.