The Envelope's directors roundtable transcript: James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Lee Daniels, Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino
On Jan. 16, the five filmmakers now nominated for the Academy Award directing prize sat down to discuss their craft. For nearly two hours, the directors discussed how their current and past movies came together — and, in some cases, nearly fell apart — among countless other topics, including casting, marketing and the push to turn board games into movies. What follows is a complete (save for the occasional deleted expletive) transcript of the conversation with James Cameron (“Avatar”), Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds”), Lee Daniels (“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”) and Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), as moderated by John Horn and transcribed by Stephen Saito:
HORN: First of all, thank you all for coming. I’m honored and flattered and touched that you all made it down here. I know it’s a busy time of the year, and I think this is going to be a great conversation. Quentin, watch your language. Jason, watch your language.
HORN: I’m just kidding.
REITMAN: Oh, OK.
HORN: If you want to argue, if you want to contradict, all the better.
CAMERON: You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Stir it up.
HORN: I do. I do.
TARANTINO: We can argue and contradict with you.
HORN: Exactly. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me things like that. We’ll move it along really quickly. I know you guys have things to do, but the shorter, the glibber, the better. Are we all set?
More after the break.
CAMERON: I’m all about glib.
TARANTINO: I’m, like, did I just even hear that? 'The shorter, the glibber, the better!' [laughs] And deep think. Boom!
DANIELS: That will not happen [watching REITMAN get makeup]. He doesn’t wear makeup.
REITMAN: Who, me?
DANIELS: I was informed.
HORN: That’s Clooney.
REITMAN: No, that’s Clooney. I wear plenty. I … [all laugh]. Do me up [to makeup artist]. Thanks.
HORN: OK, tech guys, are we good to go? [Female: No.] [All laugh: Oh, no …] Final touchup? Final look? What’s it called?
BIGELOW: Last looks.
REITMAN: Yeah, last looks. It’s the most annoying … it’s like, can we just roll …
CAMERON: That’s what you don’t have with performance capture. [REITMAN laughs hard]
DANIELS: All this should be rolled … this thing [about the pre-interview]? Like, it would be more interesting to have all this, your instructions, all that … are you rolling? Are you rolling all this?
CAMERON: No last looks, no hair, no makeup, no …
REITMAN: I tried the virtual cam. I went up to ILM and tried the …
HORN: [to DANIELS] Yeah, sure, that’s part of the conversation.
REITMAN: [referring to ILM camera] It was amazing. That was amazing.
CAMERON: A window into an immaterial world.
REITMAN: That was really … that was spectacular. How different does yours compare?
CAMERON: I actually haven’t seen theirs.
DANIELS: [to BIGELOW] Look at that. You look as good as that girl right there [pointing at magazines on table].
BIGELOW: Oh, you’re out of your mind. You’re out of your mind.
DANIELS: You do. Ain’t she pretty?
TARANTINO: Oh no, come on, cover girl, all right, you’re …
HORN: [to BIGELOW, referring to her Envelope cover photo] Was there a fan? Like the hair?
BIGELOW: No, it was in a desert. There was like 60 mile an hour winds.
HORN: You get to reshoot it?
BIGELOW: You [The Times] shot it, some girl you had … a really sweet woman. She’s on staff. [QUESTION inaudible] Yeah, now you should fire her immediately.
REITMAN: … (still talking about cameras) A flat panel with an antenna coming out with little balls on it. It looked like antennae you put on your roof, coming out of the back.
CAMERON: Did the monitor swivel relative to the hand grip?
CAMERON: Oh, then that’s a piece of crap. Because you can’t go (motions up) when you go up …. You go low, you’ve got to tilt … so it has to have at least 90 degrees of compliance.
REITMAN: How do you get the monitor to tilt …
HORN: We are rolling.
REITMAN: We are talking about directorial things …
CAMERON: This is some directors’ stuff, OK?
REITMAN: This is probably the most interesting thing we could actually talk about.
HORN: We will talk about directorial things.
CAMERON: This is the straight poop.
REITMAN: But let’s cover the questions we’ve been asked before, though, really.
DANIELS: Action! [BIGELOW laughs]
HORN: OK. Again, we’ll have a free conversation, so if you don’t like my questions …
CAMERON: As long as we don’t talk about directors’ stuff.
REITMAN: Yeah, let’s not … definitely not.
HORN: We’re going to talk about directors’ stuff.
BIGELOW: [laughs] No. [pointing at DANIELS]
HORN: And none of these questions are really directed at any specific person, so feel free to jump in whenever you want to. We live in a world where there’s hundreds of film critics whose scores are averaged on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s a film festival, awards from film critics organizations every other week. Every newspaper, media outlet does box office reporting. They might even write about budgets. We have all this information out there. As filmmakers, with all that noise, how do you assess whether or not you’ve succeeded as a filmmaker? What are your measures of if you’ve made a movie that you think is satisfying?
CAMERON: I think I know I’ve succeeded before the film’s released, before anybody’s seen it. If I’m satisfied with the movie, then I’ve succeeded. You know, everything else is gravy after that. I mean, it can be very good gravy, but it’s gravy.
REITMAN: I’m the opposite …
BIGELOW: I was just going to say it has to succeed on your own terms. Period, so you know, exactly.
DANIELS: I thought I succeeded with my last film, "Shadowboxer," and it tanked. It tanked. So if I’m happy, that’s all that matters.
REITMAN: It takes me a few years. What I found is that I have an instinct to tell a story. I have something that I feel I want an audience to feel, and then you end up in the middle of the process of actually making it, where you can often lose touch with that. You’re so intent on capturing the ideas that are in your head that it’s almost a managerial occupation where you’re just trying to get this thing done, and once it’s done, you’re so close to it that it’s hard to actually feel it. And it’s only a couple years later after watching “Thank You for Smoking” and a couple years later after watching “Juno” that I was actually able to kind of watch it for the first time as an audience and say, Oh, I’m actually identifying the feelings that I first wanted to convey onscreen. And I suppose I don’t know yet on “Up in the Air,” and I hope that I did.
HORN: Are you able to look back at your other movies objectively and say I can understand why this works or I understand why this movie didn’t? I mean, if it’s something like you said (pointing to DANIELS) that an audience didn’t go see a film, can you figure out why that is? Or do you not even dwell on that?
DANIELS: Absolutely. I think that with my films, they’re all over the place. You never know what you’re going to expect. You have Helen Mirren with “Shadowboxer” having sex with Cuba Gooding Jr., who was her stepson, and she’s dying of cancer and you’re all over the place, so I think that … and how do you market that? So I think that the marketing is really what …
CAMERON: It’s really hard to parse out the marketing from the film in terms of its success. That’s why I think you’ve got to have a strong opinion about your own movie and be able to separate out …
DANIELS: In the marketing ... ?
CAMERON: Well, because the marketing is a very capricious thing. It has to do with the timing of the film coming out, what’s come before it, what the audience … what the general kind of zeitgeist is ready for at any given moment, and your film may have been conceived long before that zeitgeist changed, at least in the case of films that take a year or more to make. And then the marketing itself – did the marketing team actually crack the code of getting people into the theater to see your movie? And all those things are external to the quality of the film.
BIGELOW: Yeah, they’re two kind of completely bifurcated arenas, I think. There’s the film and does it succeed on your own terms, and then there’s how it’s handled in the marketplace, and that’s kind of a separate … that’s separate, you know?
HORN: But what Jim’s suggesting is that you’re at some point kind of mindful of marketing as you’re making the movie. Are you able to separate those two jobs or not constantly think what does the one-sheet look like? What does the trailer look like? How am I going to reach an audience?
REITMAN: Well, there’s a lot of things going on. I mean, one, you want to control the perception of your film. That if you are not cognizant of what your trailer looks like…
DANIELS: I’m sorry, while you’re making the film?
REITMAN: Yeah. Whenever, really, because that is going to be the first access point to your film. And if you want someone to feel something when they watch your movie, you have to know what materials they’re going to be seeing first because that’s going to affect that. But in addition to that … you know what? I forgot my additional point (all laugh).
HORN: About marketing. About how movies are marketed.
DANIELS: Quentin … I know Quentin (pointing at TARANTINO).
TARANTINO: Well, I mean it’s funny because as I’m sitting here looking at y’all, I’m looking at the “Precious” poster right here and I’m looking at the “Up in the Air” poster and, in particular, those two have a very great design element going on in them, and I really like that. What I can’t stand is these Vanity Fair photo shoots that are just the actors and it has completely no connection to the movie, and the actors don’t look like they do in the movie and … but to me, marketing is always the most frustrating, not so much about the selling of the movie for me, but, you know, I have a huge film poster collection. I love film posters. I love all that stuff. I love the old trailers from the ‘70s, and so I always want my poster, when I’m writing it, I’m seeing like some spaghetti western kind of poster or some hand-drawn really groovy thing, and I know I’m never going to have that.
BIGELOW: No, but you get it. I can see it completely in your posters, totally.
TARANTINO: Well, I’m kind of happy with this one. That’s …
BIGELOW: Yeah, it’s magnificent.
TARANTINO: I thought we did an OK job. It was graphic. It actually looks like a drawn poster even though it’s photos.
CAMERON: It has a real ‘60s … it looks like a ‘60s feel. It’s got that kind of…
TARANTINO: Yeah, I was going for that, but my original … like my original version of “Jackie Brown” is … I literally wanted like the “Coffy” poster, all hand-drawn with all kinds of wild crap going on in the corners. Her with a shotgun in a stewardess uniform. Of course, I didn’t get that. But I’m actually thinking about stuff like that. That’s actually inspirational to me.
REITMAN: That was my additional point is that you also want people to see the movie. That I want people to see my movie, I want them to be entertained by it, I want them to be moved by it. I don’t want my film to live in a vacuum, so it is this balance of wanting materials that represent what I think the film means and at the same time knowing that I want something that is going to get people in there because it would break my heart if I felt like I had made something that was worth seeing and people didn’t.
CAMERON: Here’s the big deal with the devil, though, that you make when you’re marketing the movie – if they have some kind of “scientific proof,” which is usually they asked five people usually who worked for them that…
REITMAN: Or their children.
CAMERON:…that the thing that represents the movie most accurately is not the thing that’s going to sell the movie the best, do you make the deal with the devil and put out marketing that you don’t feel as the filmmaker accurately represents the movie but knowing that the best choice is to get people in to see it so that then they could form their own opinion?
DANIELS: I absolutely agree with you. Absolutely…
HORN: (to CAMERON) Well, have you? I want to … have you made that deal?
CAMERON: I think in small concessions at certain times within a campaign, not as the overall sort of boldest statement of the campaign, but yeah, probably.
TARANTINO: Well, the thing that really like kind of…
CAMERON: I don’t like to do it. But you know…
DANIELS: I have. I have done it and I hate it. With “Precious,” I…
HORN: In what ways? What happened?
DANIELS: Music. You know, I chose … they chose specific music that I didn’t want.
HORN: For “Precious”?
DANIELS: Yes, for the trailer, and it wasn’t indicative, I felt, of the time, of the era, of the ‘80s, and it was very today, it was very R&B today. It didn’t fit ‘80s. And so it was disturbing to me, but you gotta go with it because you know that that’s the hook to bring in that audience, you know?
CAMERON: You own the real estate from the time the studio logo ends to the IATSE bug.
DANIELS: What does that mean?
CAMERON: You can do anything you want in between there. From the moment the studio…
BIGELOW: But not the marketing real estate, right.
CAMERON: …the studio logo ends at the beginning of your movie to the IA bug at the end, you’ve got that real estate right there. You don’t have the whole … I mean, that’s the way I look at it. You don’t have the whole marketing. That’s…
TARANTINO: Well, the most depressing thing to me about, like, trailers and stuff is … and you know, like I say, we say it’s the most depressing, but mostly we get it worked out so we’re happy with it by the time it comes out, but having said that, aside from the fact they want to use all your money shots, all right, which always disturbed me about your movie in particular (turns to BIGELOW), all right, because I didn’t want to see that big shot, that money shot (pointing at “The Hurt Locker” poster) until I saw the movie and I saw it in the trailer. I had my ooooh moment in the trailer.
BIGELOW: Right, ooh.
TARANTINO: But the thing about it is what you want to do is you want to gear your film to your audience, and then in my case, I have Harvey Weinstein coming back at me, “No, we’re not gearing this trailer to your audience because your audience is coming. They’re already coming. They bought a ticket already. We need to gear it to the people that aren’t your audience, the people who wouldn’t see your normal movie.” And now how the hell do you sell that?
CAMERON: Hmmhmm. Exactly. Exactly.
REITMAN: A big conversation on my poster was you can’t see George Clooney’s face. He’s got his back to the camera. And that was the big conversation, and I remember we shot this (pointing at an “Up in the Air” poster) on Day Two, and I took a photo of it and I e-mailed it to everyone at the studio and I said, look, we have our poster. And it just started from Day Two of the shoot, I just kept on pushing this idea, this is the image. This is the image. And I really don’t know how we wound up with it, honestly.
TARANTINO: But it’s genuinely cool. It’s actually designed. It has a Bass-ish element to it.
BIGELOW: Oh, it’s perfect.
CAMERON: I love it.
REITMAN: Right. Now, the question is if someone came to me now and said your film could’ve reached twice as many people if it was a close-up of George Clooney on the poster, would you switch it?
TARANTINO: Would you?
DANIELS: Just answer the question.
CAMERON: There’s no way to prove it. There’s no way to prove that.
TARANTINO: Yeah, there’s no way to prove that, but the genie promises…
DANIELS: But you asked the question — what is the answer?
REITMAN: If twice as many people would’ve seen it with a different poster — oh, God, that’s a really tough one, and it was that horrible one they just kind of like it was just a big close-up with George with a big smile looking up into the sky, oh man…
CAMERON: But you can never prove that.
HORN: But it’s a hypothetical.
CAMERON: You can never prove that stuff. There’s no sort of alternate Earth where you can run that experiment. Although some day in the future, they’ll…
HORN: Twice as many people, Jason…
BIGELOW: Unless in a parallel universe…
REITMAN: I like that he’s helping me out (pointing at CAMERON). No, I mean I asked it myself. You know what? I think if twice as many people saw it, I probably would’ve switched it. I know that sounds like I’m cutting my own balls off here, but I think to get twice as many people to see the movie, at the end of the day, I didn’t make a movie for a poster. I made a movie so people could see it, and I think I would make that sacrifice.
HORN: I’m going to rewind the clock a little bit because we have writer/directors here who spent years and years working on your scripts. As a writer/director, how do you know when your movie’s ready to go? At what point does it become obvious that you have something that’s ready to be filmed? Quentin?
TARANTINO: That’s really easy for me. When I get to the last page, I’m ready to go. All right, you know?
REITMAN: Lucky for you.
TARANTINO: I don’t do other drafts. I mean I might do a draft, all right, do a little dialogue polish after I’ve done some auditions so I’ve actually heard the dialogue out loud, but no, I’m writing towards the end, and when I get to the end, that’s it. I write "last draft" and here we go and I send it away. But I’ve been working on it all the way along the line, but I’m just like Ms. Pac-Man. I’m just trying to eat my way through it, and when I get to the end, I’m either prepared to make this movie or I’m not.
REITMAN: I am very envious of you (looking at TARANTINO). I think that sounds amazing to simply type your last page and be done. It takes me a while, and I get lost often. You know, I just start writing. I’ve tried to outline, but it never seems to do me any good. For whatever reason, I need to start writing to figure out where I need to go. I need to try ideas out, and I wander and I write, you know, hundreds of pages that I don’t end up using, but I…
TARANTINO: Well, I do that too. That’s not the same thing … that works in it, but by the time I write that last page…
REITMAN: I see.
CAMERON: He waits four drafts to write the last page.
REITMAN: I see. Exactly. I see your technique. No…
TARANTINO: Not so much four drafts, but those Candy Land trails that you go on.
REITMAN: One of these unanswerable questions that relates to directing and storytelling in general, which is why do you have the gut instinct to do anything? And it seems that your success is based on your ability to make those decisions right, all along the way, whether it’s writing the screenplay, knowing when you’re done, casting the right people, choosing the right location, choosing the right song, how to do a shot, every cut — everything that you decide as a director comes from some sort of gut instinct that you can later on intellectualize, and maybe you’re good at that and maybe you’re bad at that, but there’s no real way to answer why you know what is the right decision, what is the wrong decision.
HORN: Jim, what about writing? When you’re writing “Avatar,” at what point did you say I’m ready to go, or is it really part of a longer conversation?
CAMERON: Well, I actually start the movie and then write the script. I write an outline, you know, which is in the case of “Avatar,” it was a treatment that was a hundred pages long and written in single-spaced novelistic style, so I actually had to cut it down to convert it into a script. But on most of my projects, I’ve written three drafts. The first draft is whatever…however many drafts it is to get to the shooting script, which is usually one to two. Then there’s the shooting, during which I’ll make up dialogue the night before, I write stuff at lunch, I give it to the actors in the moment and it all changes. Everything changes from rehearsal through…from rehearsals ahead of time to rehearsal of the day and then the actual shooting, it’s constantly shifting. And then the last draft is the cut, and because I cut my own stuff, you’re usually with a…as part of a team, but that…it changes all again. So it’s a constant evolution. I tell the studio that. They don’t listen ever. Like…it’s like, you know, the glazed look of offering tofu to your dog (pointing to BIGELOW), which I thought was a very good line. I tell them it’s a work in progress, it will change. They don’t like to hear that because they like to (makes rubber stamp motion) sign off on the thing. And then they say, but this sorta doesn’t work and that sorta … I say, I know. I just told you it’s a work in progress. It’s going to get there; you’re just going to have to trust me.
REITMAN: Wait, do you keep your motion-capture studio basically up and running through editing? Like are you bringing them back in and doing scenes while you’re cutting?
CAMERON: Occasionally. Occasionally. I mean, not a lot, but a little bit. I mean, as we were cutting the picture. I mean, up to a certain threshold because from the time we give Weta the very last shot of one of the main characters, it’s nine months before they can deliver it. So there’s a certain point where you’ve got to end that process. But yeah, we kept it active. We kept it active because there was…the virtual cameras were all done after I was done with the actors. So I was working, doing virtual camera for six months or eight months after I was done with that...
REITMAN: Oh, that’s right. So Weta can actually be still creating the action of the actors and you’re still deciding what the shot’s going to be?
CAMERON: No…well, yes, but Weta’s not working on that part of it. We…it was a contained process. We did all the capture, all the…
REITMAN: But it happened simultaneous? It’s not as if you have to decide the shots in advance?
CAMERON: I do. Before I give anything to Weta, the shot is locked in.
BIGELOW: Then it’s nine months.
REITMAN: Oh, Ok.
CAMERON: But I’m talking about any movie. I’m not talking about…
REITMAN: I made my whole movie in nine months!
BIGELOW: I know! Nine months.
DANIELS: Nine months is the movie. Eight months is the movie.
CAMERON: The comment that I just made, though, about the three drafts…
TARANTINO: Nine months is a long time to shoot.
DANIELS: (looking at TARANTINO) Right?
CAMERON: … applies to any film that I’ve made. Not … the only film I’ve made in performance capture is “Avatar.” But that applies to any film that I’ve made. You know, there is definitely the draft of the movie where it changes a lot, whether it’s in voice-over or restructuring the scenes. I don’t usually do reshoots, but I’m not afraid to do reshoots if I think it unlocks some new pattern that is very powerful.
REITMAN: But I read somewhere that you…
BIGELOW: But you have to be so precise, I mean, to have that kind of, you know, process.
CAMERON: (pointing to BIGELOW) Well, you saw how much the film evolved.
BIGELOW: No, I know.
CAMERON: Kathryn was at all the screenings along the way of “Avatar” and gave me some great notes.
TARANTINO: Well, that’s why he can do it, is because he actually is so damn precise.
BIGELOW: Precise, exactly. It’s that kind of precision…
TARANTINO: (pointing to CAMERON) Like we were talking about it yesterday, it’s like I felt that…I mean, you know, this is not… your…that type of filmmaking is not my type of filmmaking and…but when I was sitting there and I was watching that movie, that’s not like, oh, OK, you hired a bunch of asses to show you how to…to deliver you a bunch of stuff. No, you told those asses what you wanted – all right, I want this leaf. I want this foliage.
CAMERON: Yeah, but like you’re not precise? You have a slow-motion shot of the cigarette going toward the nitrate film. I guarantee you it said cigarette tumbles slowly… (TARANTINO makes slow, rotating motion with his hands). You know, I’m not wrong. I haven’t read the script, but I know I’m not wrong on that.
TARANTINO: No, no, that’s exactly it. That line and that slug is in there.
DANIELS: Was the line in there?
TARANTINO: Oh, yeah, of course!
REITMAN: I like that in every version of events, the people that work for Jim are asses. That’s just not fair.
HORN: Not fair to asses?
REITMAN: Not fair to asses.
HORN: You finish your script, I’m wondering, Lee and Kathryn, your conversation with the people who are financing your movie, (to DANIELS) with the Magnesses…(to BIGELOW) I don’t know who financed your film. Who financed your film?
BIGELOW: Foreign sales.
HORN: Is that conversation fundamentally different than Jason, what you’re having with Montecito, Jim, what you’re having with Fox, Quentin, what you’re having with Harvey? Is there a different kind of conversation based on the scale and the source of the money as you’re ready to make that movie? (To DANIELS) And what is the conversation you’re having with the Magnesses?
DANIELS: They just…they said, Lee, what do you want to do? What is it that you want to do? I said, I want to do a movie about a 400-pound black girl who’s learning how to read, who’s raped by her father and raped by her mother, and they signed a check. And I went over budget.
HORN: And this is after your first movie with them, which was how much?
DANIELS: …with them, which… $2, $2 and some spearmint gum…
BIGELOW: Oh, that’s great.
DANIELS: And they believed in me and it’s…they were like angels. But I think that they came in strong when I went over budget this…when I asked for some…we had to…I had to fire a lot of people halfway through the shoot. I had to shut down.
DANIELS: Because they weren’t listening to me, and it was very frustrating and … it was very frustrating. I didn’t get … you know, they told me they’d get … they told me, they said, "Lee, here’s your money. Here’s your little bit of money to make the movie." And so I was scrambling for crew that I ordinarily don’t work with, and this crew from New York, they didn’t … who was I? You know? I ain’t him (pointing to CAMERON). I ain’t him (pointing to REITMAN). I ain’t him (pointing to TARANTINO). I ain’t her (pointing to BIGELOW).
HORN: So you’re getting rid of department heads in the middle of the shoot?
DANIELS: Yeah, yeah, and it was pretty intense.
TARANTINO: But that took a lot of balls for you to do that, and it took a lot of balls for them to double down on you…to triple down on you, actually.
DANIELS: It was so…it was so…it was beautiful. It was a testament to them.
TARANTINO: Yeah, I mean that’s a really lovely story.
CAMERON: That’s a testament to you too to have the courage to go to them.
TARANTINO: Yeah, exactly.
REITMAN: Yeah, that’s the moment you become a director.
BIGELOW: How long did you shut down?
DANIELS: Two weeks. (To REITMAN) What?
REITMAN: I said that’s the moment you become a director. I remember we all sat and did a luncheon a couple months ago, and I remember you telling this story to all of us and there was…I remember this kind of (making circling motion) this energy bolt that went through all of us because we all know that moment when we’re supposed to do something and we know it seems impossible, but we know it’s the right thing for the film. And that’s one of those director-making moments when you decide, I know how painful this is going to be, I know how humiliating it might be, but…and how much work it’ll be, but this is the right thing and this is the moment I become a director and make a good film versus being a mediocre director and…
HORN: What was your moment?
DANIELS: I didn’t…
BIGELOW: It’s the moment you take ownership.
HORN: I want to hear your moment (to REITMAN). What was your moment? Do you recall it?
REITMAN: I think my moment on my film was to shoot my film in five cities and in four international airports, where there was this kind of clamp-down of, look, you could make this movie … look, Jason, you make talking movies. They’re about people who just talk to each other. You could really put them anywhere and I know you want to shoot a lot of airports and that’s important to you, but why don’t we just shoot this in one city? Why are you making such a big deal about this? And I thought about it. I thought, you know, yeah, I could make this movie in one city and I could probably get a lot of airports to look… one airport to look like a few and I … but I finally held my ground. I decided…
HORN: You said, Dad, I’m not…
REITMAN: I said, Paramount, you ... (all laugh), I said Paramount …
CAMERON: First round to John.
REITMAN: This is… Jim, come on!
DANIELS: (sings) It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes. Woo!
REITMAN: I said, this is right for the film. And it’s going to be some more money, but it’s…this is the whole world for this film. This is what this character loves. He loves traveling, and we need to see America. And they went for it, and they backed me and it was worthwhile.
HORN: Jim, I’m wondering, and Kathryn and Quentin, if there’s a moment on the making of your current movies where you had a similar kind of crisis or the big decision where you had to become a director on that movie?
TARANTINO: Well, not so much on this movie. I think the moment he’s talking about (pointing to Reitman) is more like something that happens, more like Lee, earlier on in your career, where you separate the men from the boys. (To BIGELOW) Excuse me. And you realize…
DANIELS: (to BIGELOW) What does that make you, mami? What does that make you?
BIGELOW: (laughs) I’m not sure. I’m not sure.
TARANTINO: …You know, where you’re not going to be a hack director. You’re going to be an artist and you can fail, and this could not work and this could all fall apart, but you’re going to do your thing. And at the end of the day, to me, it actually wasn’t about filming “Reservoir Dogs,” it was Harvey Weinstein has bought “Reservoir Dogs” now and they have a market research screening, just for marketing purposes, how they’re going to sell the film. And I don’t even want to go to this darn thing. And he goes, "No, come on, Quentin, just help me help you."
BIGELOW: For “marketing” purposes.
TARANTINO: Exactly. "Let me…help me help you."
HORN: We’re going to recut your film, in other words.
TARANTINO: Exactly. So we’re watching it and it’s all…goes on and they had…the only time I’ve ever put myself through any of this was this one time. So it’s all done, Harvey goes, “OK, so here’s the thing, Quentin, I think that you’ve got a mainstream hit here, but you’ve got this torture scene, and it just cuts everybody’s head off. It’s the thing that takes the movie and takes it out of … it takes it from a popular entertainment that anyone could enjoy and makes it this niche thing that nobody’s going to see. All the women in America will walk out when that scene happens. So I want you to cut that scene.” Now, that’s a sequence where … I’m here and the thing about it is, you know, when the devil comes to you, he doesn’t come to you with horns. You like the devil. You want the devil to like you. You want the devil to think you’re reasonable. So the thing is Harvey’s coming as this wonderful papa who is offering me the world. All I have to do is get along. And that…the day I became the director that I am now is when I said. “I’m sorry, Harvey, but that’s not the movie I made, that’s not the movie I want to make. We’re keeping in the torture scene, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
TARANTINO: And there was like a beat, and he goes, well, “OK, then we’re going to leave in the torture scene, and I just want you to remember it was Miramax who said yes.” But that was…
CAMERON: And you did.
TARANTINO: …that was the difference between me being somebody else and me being who I am now.
HORN: And is that why you’re still loyal to Harvey?
TARANTINO: Very much so. Very much so. There’s a lot of reasons why I’m loyal to Harvey, and that’s one of them.
BIGELOW: That’s great.
HORN: Kathryn, can you top that?
BIGELOW: I…I can’t top that, no, but “Near Dark” was a film that I wrote together with Eric Red and I wrote it to direct, so I owned it. Wrote it on spec. And I gave it to a producer who shall remain nameless, who said…and this was at a time, I mean I had…I was rubbing two pennies together. I had like half a can of tuna fish and a bottle of stale water in the refrigerator and that was it. Couldn’t pay rent, you know, I was in a condemned building, and he said, “I’ll give you a lot of money for the script. I want to buy the script.” I said, “No, no, no, I don’t want to sell it. I want to direct it.” “No, no, no, that’ll never happen – bad career move.” So fine, I hung up the phone. Three days later, he called back, he said. “All right, I’ll let you direct it if I can fire you after the first day of dailies, and the first day of dailies has to be a really difficult…you know, I can’t just have two people talking in a coffee shop.” So I put together the scene where…I don’t know how much…how well you know the movie, but where they trap the guys in the abandoned motel and you know, you shoot through the walls and the light…
CAMERON: The five pages in one day scene.
BIGELOW: Yeah, like the five pages in one day, and Severen gets hit by the bolt of light and, you know, anyway, so I kept my job. But that was one of those moments where I thought, all right, that’s kind of a fair deal. You know, it’s basically my first kind of…I had made one other film, but tiny, small, small. “Loveless” was very small. And I thought that was a bet with the devil I could make.
HORN: Right, and you won it.
BIGELOW: And I won. And that was it. I never had another moment like that.
HORN: That’s great. Jim, did you have one early in your career?
CAMERON: This was right at the beginning. This is before I directed “Terminator,” which is really my first film. I had gotten fired off of “Piranha II” after a few days, so I kind of don’t count that. So, John Daly of Hemdale is financing the film and we were…
QUESTION: Financing “Terminator”?
CAMERON: “Terminator,” yeah. And we were literally a few days from starting, and I was very prepared. I had everything storyboarded. I was ready to go. And I mean literally every shot was storyboarded because there had been a hold on Arnold [Schwarzenegger] for six months to go do another “Conan” film, and we just were in limbo for six months, so I literally storyboarded the entire picture myself, so I was fully prepared. Daly sort of reads the script a few days before we start shooting and he wants to have a “story conference.” Now, the script didn’t change…you know, that’s the one film that didn’t evolve during the process because there was no time. There was just bare-bones, 42 days, and everything was exactly the way I had sort of drawn it out ahead of time. It was the most prepared of any film I’d ever gone into. And he wants to have a story conference, and Gale Hurd just went off the hook and said you can’t have a story conference! He said, "No, no, I want to talk about this guy who comes from this other planet and…" We said, what other planet? He comes from the future. Gale just blew up. She stormed out of the room. And so I said, "All right, I’ll come in, I’ll meet with Daly." And I didn’t … I hadn’t sort of put this together like a plan, but I had been with the prop guy and we’re getting ready to shoot. I had been with the prop guy earlier in the day, and I had been looking at the props and I liked this .45 automatic, and I took it with me — empty, empty gun — in fact, it wouldn’t even fire, it was a prop gun. But it looked real. It was a real weapon; it just had the barrel stoppered. And I was going to do a sketch for the poster, you know, the poster with the gun, because I always believed in doing the poster ahead of time (looking at TARANTINO) and imagining how the movie would be sold. So I had it in my briefcase. I mean, it wasn’t part of a plan. So I go in and I sit down in front of Daly’s desk, and he says, “Yes, I want to talk about this man that comes from the future, and I don’t really understand this and that about the story,” and I … it just was like a flash. I just opened the briefcase, I took the script out, set it on his desk. I took the .45 out, I set it on top of the script. I said, “I am prepared to discuss anything.” He got up. He left the room. He said, “You can’t do that! I’m the producer!” I said, “I’m not doing anything.” And he fled the room, and we shot the movie exactly as it was written. Now, I probably couldn’t get …
DANIELS: Is that a true story? That’s amazing.
CAMERON: That’s a true story. I don’t think I could get away with that these days.
HORN: In the NBA, maybe, but maybe not in Hollywood.
REITMAN: That’s funny.
HORN: When you’re making your movies, some of you are writer/directors, some of you are writer/director/producers, some of you are writer/director/editor/camera operators/camera inventors, not naming names, Jim – of the jobs that you’re trying to juggle in the making of a movie, what is the hardest one to do simultaneously.
DANIELS: Because I’m directing as I’m signing checks. And I don’t think I can…I won’t do it again.
HORN: Meaning, "I want an extra day, you can’t have an extra day"?
DANIELS: Not just that, but just that I’m focused… I’m trying to focus on…I produced prior to directing, so with this film I produced and directed it, and I’m literally signing checks as I’m telling … giving Mo’Nique direction and it’s … we had limited time. So I don’t think I can do it. It takes too much…I’m not that talented, so I have to focus on one or the other.
HORN: It’s Hollywood, You’ve got to say you’re talented.
DANIELS: OK, I’m talented.
HORN: Jason, what’s the hardest job to juggle simultaneously?
REITMAN: I’d have to agree, producing and directing simultaneously is difficult because…well, it’s two things. They basically work against each other. That to be a producer, you often have to be very practical, and to be a director, often you have to be very impractical. And I’ve found that it’s important if I produce my films, but it is also important to have the protection of a producer that I trust, the one person who I can go to about anything. So I respect what producers do too much to do it alone and pretend that I could do it solely while directing.
DANIELS: Let me ask you, could you…would you direct and produce again yourself?
REITMAN: Yeah, because I want a certain…look, like any director, I want control over the entire universe, and I think that being your own producer certainly helps.
BIGELOW: I think it’s imperative.
HORN: Of being your own producer? Why?
BIGELOW: Absolutely. I mean, I also agree that you need somebody there you can trust and kind of download to and get…and use as a sounding board and also get advice from, but it’s imperative to have the cost reports in front of you and know exactly what allocations you have. There…I’m always working on such tight schedules, such tight budgets that I don’t think I could do it without that information.
HORN: Although this is exactly what Lee, you find incredibly distracting.
DANIELS: Really hard. It’s very distracting, but I think…
CAMERON: But you were a solo producer.
DANIELS: That’s correct.
CAMERON: You need a producing partner.
BIGELOW: Yeah, you need a producing partner. Like what Jason’s talking about.
DANIELS: (Pointing to BIGELOW) Did you have a producing partner?
BIGELOW: I did. I did.
DANIELS: And you did too (Pointing to REITMAN)?
CAMERON: Yeah. I would always produce my own films because I found that in the earlier films that I wasn’t producing, I was essentially…part of my mind was…
DANIELS: I’m going to renegotiate. I’m letting you guys know now, I’m in the middle of something. I’m going to renegotiate.
CAMERON: It’s all our fault.
BIGELOW: You have to. You have to. Because otherwise, you’re going to get hijacked. You know, like, oh, you don’t have X amount of money in whatever department.
CAMERON: You have to think like a producer anyway, or you just become a petulant child pouting because you’re not getting what you want.
BIGELOW: Absolutely. Exactly. Full disclosure and full transparency. I think transparency is really…
DANIELS: No, no, I’m having a big epiphany. And they’re going to see it. (To TARANTINO) Let me ask you something: Do you agree with everybody here?
TARANTINO: Well, it’s funny because you’re talking about … worrying about control. I don’t get a producer credit on “Basterds” because I really didn’t produce the movie, but I hired everybody. All right, I hired the producer, I hired everybody. They all are working for me. So I don’t have to do the job of a producer and worry about all that stuff I don’t want to have to worry about. I just want to be the artist. But I actually do trust Lawrence [Bender], who is doing it.
BIGELOW: But you have a shorthand with Lawrence, you’ve worked together so many times, so that…
TARANTINO: No, that’s true. No, no, if I was just hiring some jamoke or hiring some production manager to do the whole darn thing …which is what most people do, and I don’t understand that at all.
BIGELOW: …you change from movie to movie to movie. Right.
TARANTINO: When you just hire this production manager and that guy wouldn’t have gotten me to the Cannes steps. Lawrence got me to the steps of Cannes.
BIGELOW: That continuity is what’s really critical.
TARANTINO: I agree.
HORN: Jim, I know you initially intended to be the editor on “Avatar” and realized it was beyond your doing.
CAMERON: Well, it looked like it was going to be practical because of the long post on the film, but we quickly just hit a wall. We hit an insurmountable headwind early on where…because I was inexperienced with the performance capture and you have to edit everything twice. You have to edit the performance first and select your takes and your portions of takes and imagine what the shots will be. I call it zen editing. You have to edit without shots because you have the performance, but you…it could be a two-shot, it could be a closeup, it could be a shot from a helicopter from a quarter of a mile away. You have the performance. So you have to imagine what the shots will be, you have to select the performances and sometimes combo them together. If you like Zoe [Saldana] from take three and Sam [Worthington] from take five or whatever, and that’s a huge process. And it involves all 22 available…the 24 available video tracks in the Avid to create this complex Rubik’s Cube of the performance edit. Then you give it to the digital guys to prepare so you can go in and do your virtual camera. Then you do your virtual camera. You actually make the shots. Now you edit it again. Because that’s the first moment when you have the equivalent of dailies and now you’re actually editing picture. You see what I mean? So it was…
HORN: And this is how far into production?
CAMERON: Well, we were…
HORN: A couple years?
CAMERON: Yeah, probably 18 months in. We had done our early testing, but that was with a two-character scene. Now we’re actually starting to make scenes, and they’re scenes with multiple characters, and that complicates everything, because it’s like multitracking. It’s like the background crowd is the…that goes in as a separate track from the foreground…foreground action because you can only capture 10 people at the same time, something like that. So, anyway, to make a long story short, I quickly found that I was going to need some help in the editing, so I brought in John Refoua and Steve Rivkin, and they had no clue what this was. And you know, three months earlier, I had had no clue, but I had three months of experience to share with them. It took them about three or four months to come up to speed where they really mastered the technique of how to do this kind of two-stage editing process, and we barely got the damn thing done with three guys.
HORN: I’m curious, as the other filmmakers are listening to Jim describe how he makes his movie and having seen it, does it feel like he’s working in a slightly different medium?
DANIELS: Yes, he is! Yes, he is. That’s 12 movies he just made. (Pointing at CAMERON) He’s made one movie to my 12.
HORN: Jason, I mean, does it feel like it’s a different art form, or is it just kind of different tools?
REITMAN: No, it does feel like different tools. I find it fascinating. You know, right before we started, I was talking to Jim about trying out the virtual camera, which I did for the first time just a few weeks ago, and it just opens up your brain. I mean, even the fact that you just said (pointing at CAMERON), well, sometimes you want the performance from one take of one person and the performance from another take of another, and you could basically just put them into the same take and then choose your shots after…I mean, what happens is I just have a thousand questions where … and really, I don’t want to use up your guys’ time to ask him, like really while you were talking (pointing at CAMERON), I was going, I need to find a way to get a hold of you so we could sit down and talk about this. I have about four hours of questions…
CAMERON: No problem. I’m unemployed.
HORN: Not for long.
REITMAN: Starting with what do you look at in the Avid when you’re watching performances that are not the shots. I mean, it’s just … there’s so much. But it seems like a lot of opportunity.
HORN: Quentin, Kathryn … I mean, you … thinking about “Avatar” specifically…
TARANTINO: (To CAMERON) What he’s describing to me seems unfathomable. I just…I really don’t…
CAMERON: You know what? If you looked at it, if you watch, if I showed you in the Avid, you would get it in 45 seconds.
CAMERON: I could describe it for 45 minutes and you wouldn’t have a clue. I mean, that’s what I’ve experienced. People get it intuitively when they see it.
TARANTINO: Yeah, yeah, yeah …
HORN: But, Kathryn, you were able to see it.
BIGELOW: But I’ve seen the whole process evolve, so I have a better understanding. Not that I have his understanding (pointing at CAMERON), but I’ve seen the process evolve. But I think it’s also a question of vocabulary because it’s not really editing like we consider editing (points to everyone but CAMERON). I mean, in a way, that’s actually some of the most critical directorial moves is what he’s doing in that post…what we would call post process, it’s not. It’s always in post or it’s always in present tense, you see, so that’s where it’s a completely different …
CAMERON: It’s always in post, yeah.
DANIELS: So it’s always in post?
BIGELOW: Always. From Day One.
CAMERON: Post started before the actors came in.
BIGELOW: Before shooting started.
HORN: Did you hear that, Lee? Post started before the actors came in.
DANIELS: Yeah, it’s fascinating. It’s absolutely fascinating.
REITMAN: Because editing is my favorite part.
BIGELOW: But you’re talking about those kind of quantum frames. You’re talking about composites that are… it’s very complicated, but anyway, you get it the second you see the process.
HORN: (To REITMAN) But editing’s your favorite part?
REITMAN: Editing’s my favorite part, so the idea that I could be in editing the whole time is exhilarating to me.
BIGELOW: There you go.
REITMAN: And I also think of writing/directing/editing as one thing…
REITMAN: And that’s one thing that really makes sense to me is…
BIGELOW: Right, you’re constantly writing.
REITMAN: …look, you have an idea you want to get to the screen, and there are steps you have to take to get there. To take those steps and make them more into one thing really interests me. The idea that I don’t have to stop one process to begin the next and I have to … normally, you have to stop writing to shoot, you have to stop shooting to cut …
BIGELOW: No, it’s completely fluid.
REITMAN: The idea that it’s fluid and that you are constantly working and creating and articulating the idea that you have in your head, that, of course, sounds freeing.
CAMERON: But even on a purely photographic film, there’s still a cognitive through-line between the writing, directing and editing process, that it really is all one thing going toward putting something on the screen and whether you actually physically make the cuts yourself or you sit with an editor and do it, I think it’s part of the purview of the directing job.
HORN: Well, let’s talk about the directing job…
DANIELS: Well, still…I mean, you’re still dealing with…I’m still thinking that there’s 12 movies in that one, and it’s fascinating. I wish I had that luxury.
BIGELOW: Well, I mean what we do has more discrete delineations, but nonetheless what you were saying (pointing at CAMERON) is absolutely right, you’re directing from beginning to end.
CAMERON: And you should be thinking about the editing while you’re shooting and what your bailouts are and what piece you need and what pickup you need.
BIGELOW: Yeah, well, of course you are. You can’t set a camera up without thinking about how you’re going to cut it.
TARANTINO: Yeah, but actually, you know, a difference with me, though, is actually part of my process is I make the film on the page, all right. That’s one of the reasons I can just like…this is it. All right, I show it to anybody, if you like the script, you’re going to like the movie. If you don’t like the script, you’re never going to like the movie.
CAMERON: So you’re in post during the writing.
TARANTINO: Yeah, I actually…I kind of feel that way too. But here’s my point, though, and this is the thing that I’ve always … that’s always … seems like it would monkey with my system, the whole kind of heavy CGI movie, you’ve got to wait for everything for a while later is when I show up on the set, it’s kind of an X-ing off thing. All right, OK, I’ve done this scene and when I’ve done that scene, it’s done. It is done. I know I got it, I know I did it or I’d still be there shooting it. And it’s done. It’s just waiting to be edited and sound mixed and all the way down the line, and that’s actually part of my gratification process is just climbing a little higher on Mt. Everest, all right? But there is the top up there.
CAMERON: Do you use like a really wide magic marker to… (makes cross out motions) Because I do.
CAMERON: There’s nothing I like more than X-ing stuff out.
TARANTINO: I do that on my shot list. I don’t have storyboards. I write shot lists and, boy, I just X out those shots and get a new one and (makes cross-out motion).
CAMERON: It’s the same on a capture film. When you finish … when you finish the capture scene that day, you have to know it’s done. You have to know in your heart that it’s done. And like anything, you can come back and reshoot and maybe 5, 10% of the film gets reworked later for various reasons and down the stream, but you know, for me, I love to know I’m done with it that day, whether it’s a photographic scene or a capture scene. You know, and that’s why it’s so critical to know that the process exactly sort of Xeroxes what the actors did and every nuance to the CG character because I’m going to work just as hard or even harder on their performance that day and they’re going to work just as hard as they would if they were in front of a lens because when we walk away, it’s done. A bunch of animators aren’t going to monkey with it downstream to try and make it “better,” you know.
BIGELOW: Yeah, no, it’s done in the same sense…
TARANTINO: No, I get that. I get that. I’m just saying about the physical aspect of…since I really don’t sweeten my movies up later down the line, it’s like literally it is what you see is what you get. When you look at the dailies, that’s it. Now, I just have to edit it together, but that’s it.
BIGELOW: See, I love working within the physicality of the frame and the set and the actor and just kind of … probably because I come from an art background, that I just, you know, the set is just a very malleable environment in which you can constantly be kind of working it with various cameras and various choreographies and various blockings. And so that…to take that away, to kind of be in a hypothetical … in a kind of parallel universe where I’ve got the plastic part where I’m actually physically working with the motion capture characters and keep imagining that hypothetical dual universe, that would be hard for me. I like…
CAMERON: It’s a little tricky.
BIGELOW: Yeah, I like the physicality of like…
CAMERON: It’s a little tricky because you’re not doing photography.
CAMERON: But you know, you compose so much, especially working with the longer lenses, and you’re stacking the frame and you’re working graphically. I mean, you can do all that stuff, but you have to kind of imagine…
BIGELOW: The focal lengths.
CAMERON: …how it’s going to work ahead of time.
REITMAN: That’s true. That would be a problem for me.
HORN: Why is that?
REITMAN: I don’t like shooting on soundstages, for example.
HORN: Well, you like depth.
REITMAN: I shoot on 100% location. You know, my production designer always says, “You know, I can build this same house on a soundstage.” I don’t want that.
DANIELS: You have Steve Saklad, who can do anything.
REITMAN: Yeah, but I want a certain amount of restriction that tells me where to put the camera.
BIGELOW: Exactly. Exactly. I love it.
REITMAN: And I want to know, OK, I’m pushing up against this sink now. I can’t go through this wall, so I have to figure out my way around this and how is this going to play it. I’m about to start writing a movie that takes place in a house, and I’ve had a conversation already with my production designer about the fact that…(To CAMERON) I know, you would do it on a virtual set.
CAMERON: You will blow your … No, no, I would do it on a set. You’ll blow your brains out if you don’t shoot it on a set.
BIGELOW: No, Jason, you build moveable walls and you never move them. I promise you … I promise you, they’ll spend all the money…
REITMAN: Right, exactly. I never want to move the wall.
BIGELOW: Me too.
DANIELS: Jason, I disagree. I love working on the set. I love building…
BIGELOW: No. Not me.
DANIELS: (To BIGELOW) You don’t?
BIGELOW: No, no, all practical.
REITMAN: I can’t go in that same building every single day.
HORN: (To BIGELOW) Why not?
BIGELOW: Don’t at all. No, I like the surprise, I like the nuance of something that’s lived there for more than five minutes.
REITMAN: You get all the grime, you get all the detail, all the real stuff that comes from being inside a real location.
DANIELS: What you do is you find yourself…you find yourself…when we shot Mary’s apartment, that was a set. We built that. I brought in the linoleum from my grandmother’s floor, we replicated it…
BIGELOW: Great set.
DANIELS: …the wall, everything. It was a set completely…it was a set. So I loved working it.
HORN: Why did you feel you needed to build it rather than use a practical location?
DANIELS: Because I didn’t think we could find the truth, and the truth was in my head.
CAMERON: The truth is in your head. That’s the most, I think, important thing that’s been said all day. The truth’s in your head. It doesn’t matter whether you use a set or a location. It doesn’t matter all the different ways…(pointing around room) you’re going to get to it a different way, you’re going to get to it a different…we’re all going to get to it in different ways, but the truth’s got to be in your head before the fact to make all those little decisions — set versus location, green versus red, whatever it is. There’s a million decisions that are made every day, made by a director, but it’s all about some truth.
BIGELOW: No, it goes back to instinct.
CAMERON: And you may not even be able to articulate the truth in a given moment.
REITMAN: You often can’t.
CAMERON: You often can’t. Right.
DANIELS: It is all about instinct. I think that what we do is instinct.
HORN: Is what you do misunderstood even within town? Do people have certain preconceptions or notions of what a director’s job is?
REITMAN: Wait, when you say what you do, do you mean the result or in the process?
HORN: The process. The process of directing a movie. Do people in town even misunderstand what the director’s job is?
REITMAN: I mean, less than 50 people on Earth actually understand what directing is.
HORN: What is the mistake they make?
DANIELS: I mean, like…I think for example, I remember we were in a classroom scene, and I had a production designer’s assistant or something come up and change the plant. And I go, no, this is…no, I like the plants like this. And she said, no, I think the plant should be like this. And I…I was quiet. I was like, "Put the plant … can you just sorta like … [motioning to the other side]." Just knowing that she was, “But I really think it should be like this.” Get her off the set. She’s outta here. She’s outta here.
HORN: That was your first fire.
DANIELS: But the thing is then you become difficult. You become like…and you hear the whispers, you hear the whispers. And you want to make people happy. You want to make people happy, but you can’t make people happy because your vision is most important. I’m the kind of guy that wants everybody in this room to be happy. What can I do to make you happy? But you can’t.
REITMAN: See, that’s the beauty of being James Cameron. He doesn’t care if you’re happy. And that’s the real gift.
CAMERON: I think that’s a real…you know, this is like my version of your dad thing.
TARANTINO: I think…I think it’s a double…
CAMERON: I think that originally, early on, I had to move fast and take no prisoners, and you’re right, I didn’t give a …. You know, oops. I’d cut that part out. I’ll give you another take. You’re right. I didn’t care.
DANIELS: He didn’t give a…. That’s what he said. He said it. James Cameron said he don’t give a ….
TARANTINO: Hey, but, you know, here’s the thing…
CAMERON: Yeah, 25 years ago. In the meantime, I’ve made a lot of films and I’ve done a bunch of deep ocean expedition projects where I’ve been at sea with a small group of people and I’m not there to make money, because if we’re really lucky on one of those projects, we break even. It’s not about the money. It’s about the endeavor; it’s about the thing that we’re there to do. So if I don’t respect those people and they don’t respect me, there’s sort of no real point to it. And I liked that exercise. It wasn’t about fame, it wasn’t about money. It was about doing the thing, doing the task. And I tried to take the lesson of that and bring it into the filmmaking…you know, “Avatar” is the only movie I’ve done since I did all my expedition projects. I tried to bring it into the process of making “Avatar,” and I worked with a very small group of people. The one thing that’s very nice about the virtual production is you do it with 15 people. You do it with 15 people for a year and a half…
REITMAN: That’s nice.
CAMERON: …but you become a family. And you know, they respect me, I respect them, I treat them with respect, we have a lot of laughs, and everybody believes so passionately in what they were doing, and it did mean something to me that they were happy. I remember there was one guy that just … he couldn’t stand the hours, he said … you know, he said, "I just sit at a computer all day long, and, you know, we work 18 hours a day, and I’m never going to have a girlfriend, I’m never going to get laid, because I’m just here all the time." I said, "Hey, welcome to working on 'Avatar.' " And he wanted to quit, and I … I said, "Look, let’s … don’t quit. You like what you’re doing, but you just … you can’t stand the kind of … part of the reality of that, so let’s change that reality, you know? Let’s figure out a way where you can maybe …maybe you can go over on the second unit stage for a while and do that, and we’ll control your hours, we’ll give you…" You know, so it was like listening to what people were saying.
DANIELS: No, I hear you, but see, I’m not James Cameron. I am Lee Daniels, and I’ve only directed two films, so I don’t have the … I don’t have that experience.
CAMERON: (Points to DANIELS) You can’t take prisoners right now.
DANIELS: Right, and I’m not taking prisoners.
CAMERON: That’s right, and that’s my point.
DANIELS: But it’s hard when you’re 50 years … you want … I want people to be happy. I don’t like making people unhappy, but when you are… they’re not giving you what it is that you know that you want…
TARANTINO: Well, that’s a different story. Look, I think you know…I think the big principle of filmmaking that I think where you get the best thing for the film is it is constantly a situation where you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. Everyone likes robbing Peter, but nobody likes to pay Paul. But it just is…it’s a situation that you need to do a few…you need to know when to do this and when to do that and, like, for instance, on one hand, what’s most important is your vision. You have to get that on the screen and sometimes that’s tough, and sometimes you have to be the bad guy. Sometimes you have to be difficult to get it done. All right, at the same time, you have to inspire people. You have to lead people. You’re kind of like a general…
CAMERON: That’s right.
TARANTINO: But you want a happy army. You want them to follow…you want to be like Alexander. You want them to follow you to where you’re going to go. And you want them…I, personally, I want the crew to have a fantastic time. I want everyone to think the next movie’s going to suck because they’re not on my movie set. And you get fantastic work out of them, but the thing about it is you have to know when to put your foot down, you have to know when to go over, you have to know when you’re being indulgent by going over. You have to know when, OK, you’ve got three days to do this scene, you’ve got to do this scene in three days, but you know what? This is the time that I need four days. All right and you just…that constant (using hands like a balance) making those decisions, even when it comes down to the editing. At the end of the day, usually, unless you’re dealing with some gigantic, massive length problem, when you’re sitting there talking to the powers that be, you’re arguing about three scenes.
BIGELOW: Yeah, that’s true.
TARANTINO: Can we get rid of these three scenes? You’re going back and forth on these three scenes, and to know when…to know when you’re right and when they’re right is part of the trick.
HORN: Were there scenes in all of your movies this year that you desperately wanted that at a certain point you realized just didn’t work?
DANIELS: Yes. I had a scene with Precious when she was in the incest survivors meeting. And in the incest survivors meeting, she says to this group of people that have been sexually abused by their parents, she says that she liked it. She says, “I don’t know when it began. I think it was 12 or 13, but I started having orgasms when my dad was raping me, and I’m embarrassed about it.” And it’s magnificent. She’s crying and she’s … but I thought it was simply too much…. And she’s crying, and I thought it was really powerful, really powerful, and honest, but I thought it was simply too much, and it would just turn the audience off, so I didn’t. I cut it.
HORN: Was that your own decision or did you show it to an audience and gauge their reaction?
DANIELS: No, it was my own decision.
HORN: Or did you know instinctively?
DANIELS: Yeah. I thought it was like, enough already.
CAMERON: Plus, it’s such a great breakdown moment for her, you know…
DANIELS: Yeah, and that was the breakdown.
REITMAN: You couldn’t step on it.
CAMERON: And the sanctity of that moment worked because you…because she never broke down anywhere else, I felt. In my perception of the film, that’s where I cried in the movie, was when she finally broke and you saw, you know, her heart.
HORN: Jason, was there a scene you…
REITMAN: Yeah, it’s two lines. Two lines. They’re just two of my favorite lines I’ve written, and I cut them for rhythm. It was at the end of this kind of exhaustive wedding sequence that was 17 pages in the script that I wrote in one day. I dreaded…
HORN: The whole wedding sequence.
REITMAN: Yeah, I dreaded writing this wedding sequence where he goes back to meet his family. I dreaded for, literally, for over a year writing it and then finally sat down one day, wrote the whole thing. And there was this line right at the end of the wedding, and it was George talking to his sister, to the sister that didn’t get married, and he said, “God, can you believe she’s married? She’s just a kid.” And his sister goes, “Actually, she’s 37, she’s just squeaking by.” And I just loved those lines. And it was just a rhythm thing. It was just knowing at the end of the day, all right …
HORN: And you knew in the editing it just didn’t work.
REITMAN: Yeah … no, I watched the movie. I watched the movie with an audience. No one had to tell me. I just kind of felt … yeah, we need to get …
TARANTINO: It’d be too long.
REITMAN: We need to get to the next morning. And it broke my heart, because I just loved those lines. And there’s…look, there’s a big dream…it’s funny, there’s a big dream sequence that we cut out where George imagines himself as an astronaut, and he’s like floating around Omaha in this astronaut outfit with his rollaway bag, and we shot the whole thing, it was a pain in the ass.
CAMERON: Looked like “Solaris” outtakes, didn’t it?
REITMAN: Yeah, it did. But at the end of the day, that was an easy cut. The harder cut was these two lines that I was really proud of.
HORN: Jim, anything in “Avatar” you lost?
CAMERON: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting because it was an epiphanal scene for me when I was writing the script and when I wrote it, I actually kind of welled up myself. It’s a scene at the end where the warrior that Jake has had to prove himself to, Tsu'tey, the guy that’s been so down on him and kind of the whole gatekeeper keeping him out of the clan and the whole Na’vi experience, is dying after the battle, after they’ve survived…is dying and Jake goes to him, and he hands him the baton of leadership and says, "You have to lead the people" as he’s dying. Very, very powerful, emotional scene, and again, the rhythm – it just messed with the rhythm of the ending. It just felt like there was one dramatic beat too many, and when you were done with the battle and she held his human form in her arms, it’s…you don’t…you sometimes underestimate the power of an image or of a moment, and when you see it and you realize how it’s playing, you have to carve out around it and make room for the spotlighting of that moment. And that scene followed, and it felt like a lesser beat to that one and you didn’t want to … it either was the epiphanal peak or it wasn’t, and if it wasn’t, it had to come out completely, and that was the one scene that we finished all the way through the Weta process because nobody could imagine the scene not being in the movie. Nobody. I mean, all the effects people came to me and said, "I can’t believe you’re cutting Tsu'tey’s death." You know, they were all invested in the scene. So I actually had it out, and I put it back in. I thought, well, OK. There was this groundswell on the production. So … and then it got right down to the end where the final decision had to be made, and I said, no, it’s coming out.
BIGELOW: Director’s cut.
CAMERON: No, it wouldn’t be the director’s cut. The release cut is the director’s cut. The fan cut … the fan cut is the longer version.
TARANTINO: There you go. That’s my thing too.
BIGELOW: The fan cut, sorry.
HORN: Kathryn, is there a scene you lost?
DANIELS: Come on!
QUESTION: That’s amazing.
CAMERON: You didn’t have the budget to shoot more than what you had.
REITMAN: That’s actually every frame shot you’re seeing.
HORN: Quentin, what about … ?
TARANTINO: Yeah, I had a piece of dialogue I was extremely proud of when Brad’s character, Aldo, and the Little Man are brought in there to deal with Landa. The way the scene originally started after the Nazis leave, Landa goes, “Italian? Reallllly? What were you thinking? And he goes, well, I speak… Brad goes, I speak a little Italian. He goes, I speak a littleTagalog, but I wouldn’t begin to presume I could pass for Filipino. Chico Marx is more convincing. If you had shown up in women’s attire, it would’ve been more convincing.” When I wrote that, I thought that was the funniest … and I was so proud of myself, and I dropped it.
TARANTINO: Well, it was just … the scene just kind of worked better without it.
HORN: Kathryn, you brought up … or Jim, you brought up money. I mean, Jim’s working with God knows how much more money than you have and probably more people saw “Avatar” in the last hour than saw “Hurt Locker.” Is that something …
CAMERON: That’s all going to get fixed when she wins best director.
HORN: But I wonder if those kinds of things…
BIGELOW: That goes back into the “Dad” category, I think.
HORN: But are those things you’re conscious of…
REITMAN: Yeah, but that’s the heartbreaking one. I mean…
HORN: Why? I’m not saying it’s good. I’m just saying…
REITMAN: No, no, no, but that’s kind of the interesting thing about it, when you look at “The Hurt Locker” that came out a year ago and there wasn’t the amount of awareness yet and the difference in the perception of this film now, of its greatness, of its true greatness and…
BIGELOW: Aw, thank you.
REITMAN: I saw it a year ago and fell in love with it, and I saw it with my wife and we had sweaty hands the entire movie from start to finish. We walked out just kind of shaken, and it’s been a strange experience actually to see people slowly kind of wake up to the brilliance of it.
DANIELS: It rocked me to my core, Kathryn.
BIGELOW: Thank you.
CAMERON: They’re going to have to re-release it.
BIGELOW: Thank you.
HORN: I think so. But I’m just wondering if, as you’re watching the movie, hoping that more and more people could see it and knowing that you’ve got a limited amount of money to make the film, are you aware that…or do you even think about how it’s an unfair universe that other movies are going to be more popular, other filmmakers are going to have more money, you just have to focus on what you have to do and hope for the best? Or are you able to separate out those other things?
BIGELOW: Well, it’s a process. I mean, the thing that’s so extraordinary, I think, to all of us who made this film, that it came out in June and that it has just kept alive on its own, I mean, with a very small platform release. It opened up against “Transformers 2” in, I don’t know, four theaters, and yet we had a better per-screen average, you know, so it was just all these kind of weird, inexplicable situations that happened that I don’t think anybody had anticipated. And then the fact that it has kept alive, and I think it’s really been the critical community that has kept it alive in a very, very competitive and commercial marketplace. And then, you know, the world of VOD that has actually kind of really supported the movie as well, and it’s been very gratifying that it seems to work for an audience …
HORN: Video on demand?
BIGELOW: … No, but I mean, they see it in theaters as well, so in other words, getting feedback that it’s working in that environment and in…it’s a slow burn, I think, so …
HORN: You’re all here obviously because you’re great filmmakers, but one of the things that you did incredibly well in every movie is cast, and we haven’t really talked about actors at all. Let’s talk about Jeremy and how you go about finding the actors that are going to anchor your movies. Lee with Gabby … I mean everybody has incredible performers at the center of their films. How do you like to…first of all, how do you go out and find your actors? Do you have specific people in mind? Jason, I know you saw Anna [Kendrick] in a movie, saw Vera [Farmiga] in a movie. You have specific voices you’re hearing as you’re writing, but (to BIGELOW) how about Jeremy? How did that come about?
BIGELOW: Well, I knew I wanted to work with somebody that wasn’t very familiar. On the other hand, within the industry, I mean, we all know of him and he’s got a really pretty large body of work. But I knew I wanted to work with somebody fairly unfamiliar so that he would look … he was just salt of the earth. He wasn’t like someone who would bring any baggage too. It was simply, this is Sgt. James. And so you just set about looking at more independent movies than I think the Sundance Film Festival looks at. You just are combing through a lot, and I found “Dahmer,” which was just an extraordinary performance where he played an impossible character, which you would have compassion for, and yet you have compassion for him and I met with him and that was it. So, you know, that was kind of the anchor, and, you know, then finding the ensemble, finding the rest of the cast, etc.
HORN: Right. And when you go to your foreign pre-sales investors and you say, here’s my actor, they’re OK with it?
BIGELOW: They have a heart attack.
HORN: So how do you persuade them that he’s the right person?
BIGELOW: You … well, there was no persuasion in the sense that Mark [Boal] wrote on spec, he and I were producers, this was the script. There was kind of no sort of creative conversation. It was simply a question of, well, there’s this budget with this cast, or there’s this budget with this cast. Fine, that’s the decision. I want this cast, therefore I will take this budget and I will make it work, so … that was the process.
HORN: Well, congratulations.
BIGELOW: And then I met with the King of Jordan, and he was very helpful.
HORN: In terms of locations?
BIGELOW: Military equipment. Right.
CAMERON: But he wanted a part.
BIGELOW: But he wanted a part. Exactly.
HORN: The King of Jordan did? What part did he want?
DANIELS: I just am so mesmerized by Kathryn.
HORN: By the way, if you’re not all voting for yourselves, are you voting for Kathryn for best director?
BIGELOW: Oh, no, stop it.
DANIELS: I … that’s not fair to everybody, no. But for me, Mo’Nique was the first person that I cast. We worked together on a film called “Shadowboxer.” She’s my very good friend, and she doesn’t … and for the most part, nor do any of the other actors, just question me. They don’t question me. If I ask you to throw the baby, she throws the baby, and she says, "Get this [thing] off of me. It makes me itch." I ask her don’t shave her arms, she doesn’t shave her arms. There are no questions. There are no, like, "What’s my motivation?" And that excites me about working with Mo’Nique. She just gives me her soul, and I tell her "Jump off the roof," she jumps off the roof. With Gabby [Sidibe], I interviewed 400 girls, over 400 girls.
CAMERON: Call me a control freak.
DANIELS: With Gabby, I interviewed 400 girls and I looked for the truth. I was looking for, you know, girls that were Precious, because certainly Hollywood didn’t offer them, so I was at the 7-Eleven, on the train station stops, inside of the KFC, off the streets, and I narrowed it down to 10 girls, and they were phenomenal. They were … a lot of them … of the 400, eight had HIV. A lot of them couldn’t read. A lot of them were sexually abused, and I learned so much about my … about Precious through those 400 girls.
HORN: So the casting of the film actually influenced the movie?
DANIELS: Without question. Without question, because they’re all invisible. No one wants to look at these girls. Gabby came in at the end, and she was as good as the rest of the girls, but Gabby is not that girl. She talked like this white girl from the Valley. She’s like, “Oh, my gaaaawd, I love ‘Shadowboxer.’” And I said this … she’s trying to get the job. And it was clear to me that she came from a really great background and she had gone to college and she was not this girl, and if I had used those girls, one of those girls that had made it to the final 10, I would’ve been exploiting them because they were the truth.
HORN: So you … I mean, it’s a really interesting answer you’ve offered. So everything about what you’ve said earlier is about discovering the truth, but you felt that that was too close to the truth …?
DANIELS: Too close. It wasn’t …
HORN: … or that Gabby was a different version of the truth?
DANIELS: She gave me exactly what the other girls gave me because she hadn’t acted before, but the difference is that Gabby really was acting. These girls were not acting. They were the real. And with Mariah and with Lenny, these are friends, and with Mariah, it was really about … Helen Mirren was going to play the role, and she backed out at the last minute, and Mariah called to invite me over to her house for Champagne, and I was like hunh. So I called Helen. I said Helen, what do you think of Mariah Carey playing … stepping in for you? She says, if I do it, it’s expected, but if you can pull a performance out of Mariah … and with Mariah, it became … I love her so much, you know?
HORN: Then it becomes almost a totally different movie with that change of actor. I mean, Helen’s going to be much more matriarchal, you’re going to maybe feel her … the judgment of her experience, whereas Mariah as a performer, you think maybe she’s been there, maybe she’s shared part of that life.
BIGELOW: Just a magnificent performance.
DANIELS: Thank you.
REITMAN: I didn’t know. I walked out and my wife said, "What did you think of Mariah Carey?" And I said, "Did she have a song in the movie?"
HORN: You’ve worked with actors ... familiar actors before. You’ve cast Jason [Bateman] in a lot of your movies.
HORN: I mean, Quentin, you’ve worked with some of the actors – is that something that you do because you enjoy their work, because you like to have familiar faces around? Even department heads, what is the idea of repetition in terms of who you surround yourself with – cinematographers, editors, actors?
REITMAN: I want a family that I make movies with.
REITMAN: I want a shorthand. I believe in relationship over résumé. I think, you know, things are going to get tough, and you have to really question who you want to be standing next to when they do. And with actors, and I suppose this is one difference between you and I (looking at DANIELS), I don’t like acting. I like people being as real as humanly possible. And that’s kind of it. And as I cast, I want my … I want to cast people who are as close to the character as possible, that are going through some process of self-examination while they’re playing it, and the reason I enjoy working with people I know is just I know what they do. I know how to get them to do things. The faster I can get there with somebody, the better, and there’s just people I enjoy being in the company of. So J.K. Simmons? Yeah, yeah, I’d love to work with him every movie. Same with Bateman, same with Sam Elliott and, by the way, everyone else I’ve worked with.
HORN: Do you find yourself writing parts for them to play as opposed to writing parts and say maybe …
REITMAN: No, no … I think you’ve got to write the movie and then … but early on, while I’m writing, it just starts kind of clicking as I go that’s who this person is. And then that informs the writing. That … because I understand how they talk, I can understand how the character would talk, and they start to become one in the same. The dangerous part of that, of course, is that if they are unavailable or don’t want to do your movie, now you have a character that was so tailored for this one person … you know, if you write something for George Clooney, and what are the chances that George Clooney is going to say yes? They’re not very good. I wrote this part for Vera Farmiga and then I found out she was about to have a baby. And I just did not know … I really didn’t know what to do, I thought. And I met with her and she was there, she was like seven months pregnant. You know, we were about to shoot. I just didn’t think it was possible. And it was funny because that was actually the moment that I suddenly realized how perfect she was for the role, because there she was seven months pregnant going, “Oh, no, this is not going to be a problem.” She was so Alex, even in terms … and that’s not to say she was not a great mother. She was an incredible mother, but at the same time, it was very like, “Ohhh, shhhh, don’t worry.”
CAMERON: And you bought that?
REITMAN: Yeah, I was so … she was so convincing, I was like, all right, I guess we’re going there. And she was. She showed up and started shooting three weeks after she had a baby. It was just astonishing.
HORN: Quentin, do you find yourself trying to work with the same people? I mean, Kathryn talks about not having actors who bring baggage and yet you cast Brad Pitt in your lead role. Is that a different way of thinking, or is there a different idea about how you put together your cast?
TARANTINO: Well, you know, it’s…I’ve always liked the idea of…nothing…I didn’t really have hardly any carry-over actors on this movie because most of the characters in my movie are German…German or French and I had…you know, it’s a mixed bag. The thing is sometimes…like I can’t imagine “Kill Bill” without Uma Thurman. I wrote it for her. That was the only reason to do it. If she couldn’t…in fact, she got pregnant, all right, just when I thought we were going to get ready to do it, and I waited for her. I mean, if you’re doing “Fistful of Dollars” and you’ve got Eastwood, he gets pregnant, you wait for Eastwood. So…but…and that has been…that was fantastic. And the same thing for some other…you know, when I write for Sam Jackson in “Jackie Brown,” write for Pam Grier in “Jackie Brown,” the wonderful results. However, I’ve got to say there is something very, very special in the writer in me when it came to this movie of writing characters that I didn’t have a clue who I was going to cast and just letting the characters become the characters. And not second-guessing the characters because of the actor who might be playing them. Just to give you an example, in the case of Landa, who I had no idea who was going to play the role, if I was writing for another actor that I thought maybe spoke German pretty well, then maybe he wouldn’t be able to speak all those other different languages because I would know that, oh, it’s going to be hard enough for blah blah blah to learn German. He can’t learn French too at the same time. But by not thinking about stuff like that, I didn’t know when I first… in writing the first thing that Landa spoke all those languages. But in the course of writing the movie, all of a sudden, he did. Like I said, he could’ve spoken Tagalog, if a Filipino walked in the room. And that was something from just finding the character, and so I’m…and you know, it’s not my job to take an actor that I think is sexy and bring them up there and show them off to the world. It’s my job to have my characters come to life. And I really kind of love that thing now, like again, if I do “Kill Bill 3,” I’m going to write it for Uma, naturally, and I can’t even imagine that. But I really do like the idea of just letting the characters now just be who they are and then find the perfect person to make that character come alive.
HORN: Do you think you guys exist … you guys exist in something of a bubble in terms of what you’re able to do …
CAMERON: I have something to say about casting.
HORN: I’m sorry, Jim. Go ahead.
CAMERON: Just simply that I think it’s the most important decision … set of decisions you’re going to make on your movie. And if you botch it, if you botch that combination, then you can work on the film for another, you know, nine months, a year, in my case, four-and-a-half years on “Avatar” and you’re wasting your time. So it’s the most critical set of decisions, and it’s a very alchemical formula for how you wind up with a great cast.
HORN: And when you’re meeting with Sam, what do you need to hear in casting that part?
CAMERON: Sam was an easy choice for me, a hard choice for the studio. But you know, I mean, just in broad strokes, I’ll work with actors again that I know, and I’ll also cherish that idea of creating a character and having no idea who’s going to play that character. The one thing that I have a big dilemma about and people ask me how come you don’t use stars all the time is because I won’t work with anybody who won’t read for me. Period. It is a rule. Unless I’ve worked with that actor specifically before and I believe I know what they can do and what they’re like, because I need to see the character live in front of me, at least in some crude form, some approximation of what it’ll be, and I think that’s being responsible to the movie.
TARANTINO: I do that too.
HORN: But we live in an era in which actors want offers, they don’t want to come in and read.
CAMERON: I won’t do it.
HORN: So how do you deal with that? You say …
DANIELS: I don’t necessarily … I don’t like auditioning. I used to … I don’t like the auditioning process. I can sort of feel just in a conversation whether or not that person is or isn’t the person that I want to work with. I mean I had to audition Precious …
HORN: But you want to meet them. You don’t just want to say …
TARANTINO: No, you’ve got to meet them. You’ve got to meet them.
DANIELS: No, of course, you’ve got to meet. You have to meet, but I don’t…
CAMERON: No, I’ve got to have them read. I’ve got to have them show me that character.
DANIELS: The concept of that … if I know their body of work and I know what’s on the page and I know what’s in my head, I think that marries and warrants … I don’t want to meet them if I don’t want to hire them.
TARANTINO: Now, you know, here’s the thing …
HORN: So did you have Brad read?
TARANTINO: Yeah, no, I did, but …
DANIELS: You had Brad read?
BIGELOW: Yes and no.
TARANTINO: No, I did. Yeah, yeah, I did. No, I did.
DANIELS: Brad Pitt? Brad Pitt read for you? That is genius.
TARANTINO: But not like, OK, come up here and do an audition, all right? And same thing when I cast, you know … and Brad’s a different story. Getting Bruce [Willis] in “Pulp Fiction” and getting him to read before I gave it to him, that was something else. But that wasn’t like … again, it’s as nice and as friendly as possible, all right. I mean in the case of … even with Uma Thurman on “Pulp Fiction,” you know, we might … I just need to hear … I’m about my dialogue. I need to hear their voice say my dialogue. It’s just that simple. So it doesn’t even … they don’t need to show me the character per se. We can just muck around with the script, but I have to hear it. We can just take a bunch of tequila shots and that’s OK, but I need to get them comfortable and take all the onus off of it, so they’re not feeling like they’re auditioning, but I need to hear them say my dialogue.
HORN: If Brad doesn’t sound right to your ears, you’re willing to say …
TARANTINO: Well, I’m not going to do it.
TARANTINO: Of course not.
REITMAN: I think that … my way around it, instead of doing an audition, which feels uncomfortable to just put someone in a chair, you put them on a camera, is invite two actors down, do some blocking and actually just work on the scene with them. I agree with …
DANIELS: But that’s auditioning. That’s auditioning, right?
CAMERON: It’s just a different format.
TARANTINO: No, that’s like a quasi-rehearsal.
CAMERON: I’ve never done one shorter than two hours.
DANIELS: I’m sorry. What did you say there James?
CAMERON: I’ve never done an audition shorter than two hours.
REITMAN: Whoa! Really?
CAMERON: No, I’ll read all the scenes. I don’t care. I’ll do … I’ll get up, I’ll act with them, I’ll bring in other actors …
TARANTINO: Oh, if I’m into somebody, they’re not leaving until I’ve crossed every …
CAMERON: That’s an audition for me, is, if you’re not willing to put two hours into this process to decide if you’re going to tank or not tank my couple-hundred-million-dollar project, then that’s a nonstarter conversation.
DANIELS: Excuse me, Mr. Cameron. Of course. Of course.
TARANTINO: That is actually my favorite thing that’s been said right now.
BIGELOW: That’s a two-hour process.
DANIELS: That is a two-hour process.
REITMAN: I know you don’t see …
CAMERON: I go through endless hours of videotape to …
HORN: But you know five minutes in if somebody is in or out, even if you know somebody …
CAMERON: We haven’t gotten out in less than five minutes?
DANIELS: Wait, James, if you see … I mean, with this … Billy Hopkins casts for me, and so when he gives me these things on the computer, I push a button and out comes the audition. To me, that’s the work right there. I don’t need to have them re-audition for me. They’ve done the work. I’ve seen the character.
CAMERON: I use that to narrow it down from 400 or 300 to three or four or five that I’m interested in, and I’ll spend the time with them, because if I’m going to spend years on a movie, why wouldn’t I spend a few hours making the most important decision …
REITMAN: Don’t you want to see how they react to your direction, though? That’s the other thing, because I want to see how they change …
DANIELS: The reaction, no, I want to see how they react to me.
TARANTINO: No, I’ve really got to see how we correspond to each other
DANIELS: It’s not about … yeah, it’s not about direction. It’s about how do you … can you understand me? Can you play with me?
DANIELS: So it’s not about the audition, but it’s about do we connect.
BIGELOW: It’s about the dialogue.
CAMERON: It’s about a creative dialogue.
BIGELOW: It’s about a creative dialogue. Exactly.
HORN: Not the dialogue they’re repeating, but how you are having the conversation with the actor.
BIGELOW: No, just how you communicate with the actor and how he or she communicates with you.
DANIELS: Have you made mistakes ever by casting someone? I’m sorry, I have a question …
HORN: It’s a good question.
DANIELS: I have made a radical mistake, and I won’t say who, but I made a big mistake once.
HORN: By casting the wrong person?
HORN: For the wrong reasons?
DANIELS: Just I … my instincts were wrong, and I was wondering whether I was the only one that had that experience here.
CAMERON: I don’t, because I work with them for two hours at a time.
REITMAN: You see?
CAMERON: It makes it hard to defend your method.
DANIELS: Yeah, but I only have the one time.
REITMAN: I’ve cast … I’ve worked with people I don’t jibe with. I feel like at the end of the day, I’m proud of all the performances in my films. I feel like I’ve always had actually the right actor and that their performance I’m very proud of and tonally is consistent with the work I’ve done, but there are people I’ve worked with that I’m not proud of the work experience I had with them, and I would not work with a similar actor just because I think that the process isn’t right, and I get better work when the process is right.
TARANTINO: I cast a couple actors once in a film and it just made me realize that I needed a … I thought they were interesting enough at the time, and I thought they passed the audition process. I thought they were the best, but then I realized they were just not the level of actor that I need and require. I mean, my feeling is if you show up on my set, there’s none of that BS you learn your lines on the day. You need to know my dialogue as if it’s the sixth week of your Broadway run and you already had a Boston tryout. All right, you need to know it beyond it. And unless you’re prepared to do that, you’re not prepared to be on my movie.
HORN: Kathryn, is this how you’re going to work going forward, or are you already that way?
BIGELOW: I’ve been very lucky, and you know …
CAMERON: It’s not luck. You have an uncanny knack. I mean, I will never forget when we went into Columbia with Keanu Reeves to star in “Point Break,” and the only thing he’d done was Ted in “Bill and Ted’s”…
BIGELOW: “Bill and Ted,” right.
CAMERON: … that anybody knew, and she said no, no, no, I’m going to cut his hair, he’s going to work out, I’m going to dress him, I’m going to teach him how to be an action star. And this was before “Speed.” And my role as the producer was to defend her creative choices. And, you know, before it, I was thinking, based on what?!? Based on Ted? How is this going to work? So we go into the meeting and they say, based on what?!? Based on Ted? I said, no, I think she’s onto something. And meanwhile, I’m thinking, this better work. But full kudos … he’s got a career because of her.
BIGELOW: Thank you.
CAMERON: It’s true!
BIGELOW: But it goes back to instinct, you know, what Jason was saying, and it is … I can kind of just see the person, and we communicate well together, I think they perhaps will trust me, I will trust them implicitly and I know it’s going to be a good situation. So it’s really just an instinctual process.
HORN: As filmmakers, do you learn more from the things you’ve done wrong, the things you’ve done right? In other words, are your mistakes as influential as your successes or your right choices?
DANIELS: What I’ve done wrong.
HORN: Right. Why so?
DANIELS: Just that casting choice, knowing that I will never begin a film again without intimately knowing and working with and knowing, having had worked with my crew before … just from my mistakes, I learn. Like I learned something today here that’s very valuable that it’s going to air, and it’s going to hit the fan, but I’m not …
HORN: You’re going to get your producer and you’re going to have your two-hour casting sessions …
BIGELOW: You’re going to produce and direct.
DANIELS: Yeah, but I’m not signing checks, though, you know what I mean? I can’t do that number, but yeah.
BIGELOW: But it’s hard to empirically work with a crew until you’re working with the crew. You know, get all the problems and the situations and the logistics and the … so that is a little tricky. I don’t think you could do that hypothetically.
BIGELOW: You know, like an audition process. You can get to know everybody, but …
DANIELS: And they change on you. Because … right? This one AD I was working with, he was beautiful until we got into production. I go to the … I go to get a cup of coffee and I hear, “Action!”
REITMAN: Come on!
DANIELS: Swear to God!
REITMAN: You did not hear that.
DANIELS: Oh, we shut … I shut that [person] down. It was a wrap. It was over.
REITMAN and BIGELOW: I can’t believe that.
DANIELS: Anyway …
HORN: That was your second fire. The person moving the plant, your AD …
DANIELS: No, that’s when I shut the production down.
HORN: Oh, that’s when you shut the production down.
CAMERON: We’re going to get them all out on the table by the end of this.
REITMAN: Yeah, exactly.
HORN: I was going to say this. I was asking this question a couple minutes ago. You guys, I think, are in some ways a slightly insulated world from what’s happening in Hollywood, where big-name directors are making movies based on board games and there’s sequels and franchises. Do you feel that …
REITMAN: I’m making Boggle. I should put that out there now.
CAMERON: Battleship was taken.
REITMAN: Battleship was taken and …
HORN: Battleship was taken, it went right after View-Master. But do you see that as something that’s happening parallel and independent of what you’re doing as filmmakers, or is that pressure of the pre-awareness title, you know, the board game, the franchise, is that increasingly encroaching on what you want to do as a filmmaker?
CAMERON: I just think it’s not a coincidence that the people who make those movies are not being honored. I mean, we’re here because we’re being honored for various nominations and so on. That’s the only reason we’re sitting in this room, and it’s because everybody in here is doing distinctive, original stuff. Iconoclastic stuff, whatever it is, and not some stupid No. 6 in a series.
HORN: But do studios care about distinction? Don’t they just care about revenue?
REITMAN: They need the money to make these movies. Look, frankly …
HORN: I know there’s a relationship, but …
REITMAN: I respect the fact that they have a business and they need to make movies that people want to see, and, look, I think if it weren’t for the Boggles and Candy Lands and Battleships of the world, I might not have the financing to make my movies. And look, I’m fortunate so far my movies have made money, but some of them aren’t, and they are trickier movies and definitely more difficult films to greenlight than …look, the same respect I want the studio to give me, I have to give back to them and say, look, I know you need to make some money to keep this company running.
DANIELS: Jason, you sound like a politician. Answer the question. What was the … what was the answer?
REITMAN: No, that’s my answer, is I think it’s necessary. I think that you need movies that are definitely going to make money.
CAMERON: They don’t have to do board games, though. They should have a little pride. I mean, I understand … look, the problem is that most of these executives …
TARANTINO: The analog in me likes the board game.
REITMAN: The studio system isn’t based on pride, you know? They … a lot of people who went into that, they went into that just because they wanted to be in Hollywood and make money. However, it is those companies that finance our films.
CAMERON: I get that. But most of these companies are run by people who have been in the job less than five years. They have no sense of history. They don’t understand … when I started 25 years ago, everybody was crying about VHS and how it was wrecking the movie business. There’s always something wrecking the movie business every two or three years. The movie business has been wrecked since the ‘50s, since, you know, television came in. But it always seems to survive just fine, and this is not an excuse for people to just constantly be whining about how the business is failing and we have to do all this commercial stuff in order to just pay the rent on our … or pay the payments on our corporate jets.
TARANTINO: Well, you know, I had a situation a couple years ago where I did a film called “Grindhouse,” and it was a big flop. It was my only flop I’ve ever had, and you know had that … I’d never had that before. And I was really shaken up by it, all right. I felt like … I truly felt like I broke up with my girlfriend, except my girlfriend was …
TARANTINO: The public. No, no, no. It was the audience … the audience of earth.
BIGELOW: You had many girlfriends.
TARANTINO: Yeah. And, but you know, it was one of those things that you actually sit down and look at the landscape around you and look at the movies being made and, do I have a place? Is there a place for what I do? And there was kind of a question mark in my mind, especially in a shaky moment, there was a question mark in my mind about that. Well, I guess I do have a place, all right. You know, and so … and actually, if anything, in the last couple years, that environment’s gotten even worse, but there was a place for “Basterds.” And it did really well, and so I just …
CAMERON: There’s always a place for “Basterds.”
TARANTINO: Always a place for “Basterds.”
REITMAN: You see? And then?
HORN: But the fact that your movies have succeeded commercially and critically, I suspect, helps the cause in some ways.
TARANTINO: Well, actually, it does prove that there is … it’s easy to … look, it’s easy to always be the oldest guy on the block when it comes to Hollywood and everyone always wants to crap on Hollywood about what’s going on at any given season. They’ve been doing it forever. And … but you know, there’s always to me a lot of good movies at the end of the year. It always is like … when I go make my top 10 list, if I go see a lot of movies that year, if I go to make my top 10 list, it’s tough. I want it to be a top 15 list. And that’s pretty good. That’s a pretty good track record.
CAMERON: But Jason’s argument is about commerciality and about keeping the studios afloat and letting them pay their bills and keep all their employees, not have to lay off a bunch of people. So setting aside sort of artistic merit for a moment, let’s look at two of the three highest-grossing films of the year were not based on any prior art. “Avatar” and “2012.” “Transformers 2” you can discount because it’s based on a toy line, so it falls into the other category. But you can make money on stuff that’s not based on something else. It’s the … and it gets proven every year, but yet people just …
TARANTINO: But at the same time, we don’t want to be snobby about this, because I think “Star Trek” was one of the best movies of the year, and that’s definitely based on something else that’s a flagship and a tentpole.
CAMERON: I love … that was a reinvention.
TARANTINO: Yes, it was.
CAMERON: That was a singular vision of a director who understood how to reinvent something that was so old it had been discounted.
REITMAN: Yeah, but you know what? Wasn’t “Transformers” a reinvention too?
CAMERON: Uh, yeah …
REITMAN: I mean, to be fair. I mean, it was a toy. I think, you know … I think …
TARANTINO: Well, no, no, no, what he means (pointing at CAMERON) is different, though. No, it’s different because “Transformers,” they took a toy and they made a movie. I wouldn’t say that’s a reinvention, that’s an adaptation. OK, but “Star Trek,” what’s so great about it is they truly reinvented a mythology.
REITMAN and CAMERON: Yes.
HORN: (to CAMERON) But you’re talking about revising a new thing as opposed to … ?
TARANTINO: (to REITMAN) You can still use the mythology idea for your thing too, but you know what I’m trying to say.
REITMAN: No, no, I understand.
HORN: Let me ask the last couple of questions. Do you think your movies are reflective of what was going on in the country when you made them, what was going on in your lives personally, politically? Individually, do you think there’s something you could look back at these movies 10 years from now and say that was reflective of something I was thinking about and worrying about and trying to deal with as an artist?
BIGELOW: Well, I think … I mean … I didn’t mean to jump in.
HORN: No, I want you to go first. I’m looking at you.
BIGELOW: I know. You were. I mean for “Hurt Locker,” very much so. I mean, this is a movie about an incredibly unpopular war. It’s the longest engagement, longest military engagement in United States history, and I felt the invasion of Iraq was a deplorable act, and I wanted to do something. I didn’t know what, you know, either go into Baghdad and be a human shield or make a movie. So that was kind of the two options available to me.
REITMAN: I’m glad you chose the one you did.
BIGELOW: But I was thinking kind of getting down and … anyway, so …
REITMAN: You’re tall. I mean, they would …
CAMERON: Easy target. Don’t do it.
BIGELOW: Yeah, exactly. Too easy. But … and then, fortunately enough, at that time, knowing Mark Boal, knowing that he had just come back from Baghdad, he too wanted to do something that was in response to this conflict. And so that was kind of an extraordinarily … extraordinary situation, so it was really in response to a very specific situation.
TARANTINO: Well, any movie … any film that I write is going to be dealing with whatever I’m going on with at that time. I mean, if I was writing a Louis Hayward-type swashbuckler and I was breaking up with my girlfriend, that would find its way into the piece, or else what the hell am I doing? You know, that’s actually part of the fun of actually working in both genre cinema and just writing the way I do is I don’t really know how … what’s going on with me personally, how that’s going to affect the genre, how that’s going to affect the story. And I’m going to … I’m hiding in plain sight because I want it to be painfully personal, but I don’t want everyone to know my story, all right? So I’m hiding it inside a genre. But whatever’s going on with me during that entire writing process is all, all in the script.
DANIELS: I think as African Americans, we all want to aspire to be Obama, and I think that in that aspiration, we forget the Preciouses of the world. We don’t want to look at her because she represents what we don’t want to be. And so I think that, yeah, it was time for me, and it was about the timing of Obama combined with me really looking at my own prejudices, at obesity and people that were darker than me, and I had some issues. So yeah.
REITMAN: Well, I had a very unique situation, and I hope this happens to me again in my career, but it may not, which is I felt as though I was making a movie that was very personal, that had to do with my fears in life, and I was making a movie about a man who was trying to figure out who and what he wanted in his life. And I wrote it over the course of getting married and becoming a father and becoming successful in my work, a job that puts me in planes all the time, takes me around the world and makes it very tricky to figure out how to have a family, how to feel connected to a community, and I felt as though I was making a movie about that. The job of the character in the film happened to be a guy who fired people for a living, something that I thought was politically incorrect and interesting and fun, and at the beginning of which … at the beginning of the process, was very similar to kind of the tone of “Thank You for Smoking.” However, by the time I was directing this movie, we were in one of the worst recessions on record, and all of a sudden this whole other element of the film became a mirror. It was reflecting so much of what was happening that simultaneously I was making a film that had to do with me and was just as oddly personal to my lead actor, who has chosen to live his life free of …
REITMAN: Yeah, accouterment. Thank you. And then all of a sudden, it was … you know, I’ve heard the word "zeitgeist" about 3,000 times doing press in the last few months, and it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful to feel as though my film is a mirror reflecting me as much as it’s a mirror reflecting the audience, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have that again, but I just hope I do.
CAMERON: It’s interesting. I think any film worthy of comment is a personal film. And I think what everybody here does in common, myself included, is we make personal films. And it’s hard to visualize “Avatar” maybe from the outside as a personal film, but to me, in a funny way, from my perspective, it’s my most personal film because it so accurately reflects my childhood as a kid who was both an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy and comic books and constantly conjuring all these images in my head before there were VCRs and I could just watch any movie any time I wanted. You know, I only saw these fantasy films very occasionally, either in a theater or maybe years later, they’d get to television. But you know, “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” or any of the Harryhausen films, then ultimately “2001,” these are the things that ignited my imagination. But there was very little imagery out there at the time. You had to make it up yourself, and as an artist I was always drawing all these things, so all the stuff in “Avatar” was stuff I had been drawing for years as a teenager and even into my, you know, kind of young adulthood, thinking that I was going to be an artist or an illustrator or whatever. On the other hand, like loving nature and spending all my free time out hiking around and catching snakes and frogs and, you know, looking at things under the microscope and being president of the science club and all that, and just … I mean, just absolutely fascinated by it. And by the way, being like a typical isolated … like a completely isolated teenager, which these days I’d be sitting in a room playing video games to be that isolated, but then it found its expression in being out in that natural world. And then as a scuba diver sort of discovering the endless bounty of nature’s imagination underwater, which is really, you know, ultimately almost unfathomable. You could spend your entire life just floating around a coral reef and still not see everything and appreciate everything. So you know, “Avatar” is all of that, all sort of distilled down into one movie. And the story was written 15 years ago. Now, certainly there was a strong environmental consciousness then. I mean, the environmental movement started at the end of the ‘60s or maybe in 1970 with the big Santa Barbara oil spill or whatever you want to put as a stake in the ground, but it’s obviously on our minds a lot more now as this sense of a coming day of reckoning that we really have to now … like, no bull, guys. We really have to deal with this. And the film … you know, we were doing our press tour in Europe during the Copenhagen … the ill-fated Copenhagen summit, and everybody was saying, you know, what does it feel like to have your film be about this? I said I wrote it 15 years ago, guys. You know, this is not a new problem. But I think again, it’s … the zeitgeist connection is the big kind of lottery portion of this, you know? If you’re doing something that’s personal, in a way, you’re kind of not aware of how it fits in. It’s almost other people have to bring that to you, maybe the people putting up the money realize it and think it’ll work, or maybe the critics realize it after the fact. But it’s got to be coming from the inside. And then whether it resonates or doesn’t resonate, whether it aligns with public consciousness or not sort of is an accident in a way. I would say not in the case of “Hurt Locker” — [looking at BIGELOW] you knew this was something happening right now, and you were commenting on it, and I think that’s … that’s absolutely the province of the filmmaker as well — to make a comment right now on what’s going on. But I don’t think that’s necessary. I think you can have a personal statement that’s outside of time, you know, and have it connect almost accidentally in a way.
BIGELOW: Timeless and timely, simultaneously.
TARANTINO: Well, you know, I had this situation on “Basterds” where it’s like dealing with World War II, and I can honestly say if the war in Iraq wasn’t going on, I never would’ve thought about this, because I’m sure I would’ve had the characters do this regardless, but how do they go and fight the Nazis? They attach bombs to themselves and go into the theater prepared to blow themselves up. Now, I think if the Iraq war never happened, I would’ve exactly come up with that entire thing, but the fact that they’re actually fighting it as terrorists was not lost on me once I came up with the idea. People don’t bring that up that much, but I actually think that’s an interesting thing.
HORN: We’ve talked so much about artistry, I have one incredibly cold and calculated business question. Jim, can “Avatar” beat “Titanic,” and does that mean anything to you?
CAMERON: I think it’s interesting, I mean from my perspective, it’s kind of cool, one way or the other.
TARANTINO: It’s got to be a fun goal to go for.
CAMERON: I mean, it’s nice to be in a … have a no-lose situation. I either get to keep the record or I get to beat the record. You know, it’s bizarre. It’s just a bizarre scenario. You know, it’s certainly not one we imagined. I mean, seriously. How do you set out … how do you set out … people think I’m arrogant, but I don’t have that kind of hubris that I … you know, I thought that, you know, “Avatar’s” got a lot of deficits, if you want to look at it from the negative in the same way that if you wanted to look at “Titanic” from the negative before the fact — you know, everybody wears corsets and funny hats and they all die at the end, it’s a chick flick that’s three hours long. How is that going to make any money? And we actually thought it wouldn’t. You know, “Avatar” we thought would make money, but we thought it would make money at a certain threshold. We didn’t think that it would necessarily, you know, align with people’s kind of emotional, spiritual, political, whatever the hell it is that’s … the alchemy that’s causing it to work so well in so many markets. You know, you can’t predict those things. So I think it’s … I’m just sitting back with amazement, going, "Whoa."
HORN: Well, as is everybody else. I know you guys have lots of things to do on a Saturday, especially in awards season. This has been a great honor and privilege for me and for the paper, so thank you all for coming in and for participating in a great conversation.
ALL: Thank you.
CAMERON: I think it’s cool. It was good to hang out with you guys.
REITMAN: Yeah, seriously.
DANIELS: Come on, me too.
REITMAN: It’s tomorrow at my place.
— John Horn
Photo: Quentin Tarantino, Jason Reitman, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron and Lee Daniels.
Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
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