Q&A with Director and Co-Writer Derek Cianfrance
What was your inspiration for the film?
When I was a child I had two nightmares—nuclear war and my parent's divorce.
This film confronts the second fear.
How did the film get off the ground? What was the process of getting the film
11 years of starts and stops. I distinctly remember printing out the first
draft of the script in the summer of 1998, and believing we would be shooting by
the fall of that year.
I met Michelle Williams in the spring of 2003, and I tried, in vain, to get
the film off the ground with her. Then I met Ryan in 2005, and we tried to get
the film going in a couple of different scenarios and we just kept running into
red lights. Bankruptcy, firings, death, etc., kept the film in a constant state
of limbo. For a long time, the film felt cursed.
I met my producers Jamie Patricof and Alex Orlovsky (Hunting Lane Films) and
Lynette Howell (Silverwood Films) during this time, and I felt very lucky to
have them show such commitment to the film. They tried as hard as I tried; they
got heartbroken as much as I did. We suffered together.
We just kept believing in it. Kept focusing on it. I kept watching the movie
in my head over and over and over again. Kept preparing. Kept planning. Stayed
inspired. Practiced. Kept working with the actors to make it better.
Once the opportunity came, when the light turned green, we just went straight
into it and somehow we managed to turn our curse into a blessing.
I implemented a rigorous process which I had been preparing for those 11
years. And I was thankful for the time that I was forced to wait. The film is
better for it.
I built the process around the need to be surprised and the need to make a
living, breathing, adult film.
We made the film we wanted to make.
How long was the shoot? Where did you shoot?
30 days, give or take. We shot in Pennsylvania—Scranton and King of
Prussia—and in Brooklyn.
What is your favorite scene in the film?
So many. I can't pick one.
However, I will talk about how my favorite moments in the film are
illuminated by the invisible, yet tangible connection between Ryan and Michelle.
I distinctly remember the first scene we shot with them together on
camera—when Dean comes over with flowers to dinner at Cindy's parent's house. I
was super nervous, because in making a portrait of an intimate relationship,
everything depends on chemistry. If it is not there, then you have to resort to
gimmicks and tricks to create a screen bond. Needless to say, I exhaled deeply
when I saw them together for the first time. There was a magic spell between
them. I embraced it, and we all were witnesses.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
Shooting the movie was like a vacation. All the hard work went into prepping
the film and then the marathon edit. Shooting the film was the best time of my
life. If I had to choose one, I'd say all the scenes in the future room because
the scenes were relentlessly intimate and the space was cramped and
claustrophobic. The shower scene, which we shot over two days, was particularly
challenging. First off, we had two naked actors completely exposed in a slippery
shower and two cameras, two operators, a boom operator, an A.D., and myself, all
in a little bathroom. We were shooting long takes and the cameras kept steaming
up and after 20 minutes they would shut down because of the heat. On top of
that, the particular soap, provided by the hotel, was very harsh to the actor's
skin. Both Ryan and Michelle were covered in body rashes from continually having
to wash themselves over and over. They never complained though and were champs
the whole way through. However, by the 8th hour of shooting, on the second day,
they were definitely ready to get the hell out of the bathroom. These, as
planned, were the takes we used in the film.
The film is told in past and present moments with the past moments chronicled
over a number of months and the present over just 24 hours. Why did you decide
to tell the story this way?
The film deals in contrast: man/woman; love/hate; light/darkness; film/video,
This same duality lives in the film's temporal structure. I wanted the film
to play like a memory, with the past being long-term memory and the present
being short-term memory. I've always been fascinated by what time does to
experience. It seems to amplify it and embellish it. A simple moment can be
remembered as something momentous. At the same time, I am amazed when time and
moments fall through my grasp in my present existence. For instance, when I'm
driving, 20 minutes feel like 20 seconds. Where does the time go?
I wanted to deal with these amplifications of time, and ellipses of time, in
a cinematic way.
Describe the casting process and why location played such an important role
in the film?
From the beginning I had always said that I wanted this film to be honest and
to feature real people and real situations, rather than actors, whenever
Location scouting and casting became part of the same process.
To cast the movers, we visited a number of moving companies in the New York
area, not only looking for the ideal location, but also for the ideal movers. We
auditioned the folks who worked at each of them. Jamie Benatti, whose family has
owned Steinway movers for over 50 years, turned out to be the perfect boss, and
one of his employees, Marshall Johnson, fit the role of Charlie (now Marshall).
We scheduled the moving scenes on May 1st, when our cinematographer Andrij
Parekh was moving from his one-bedroom apt. in the East Village to Park Slope.
We hired Steinway to do the move. Ryan reported to Steinway that morning, and
worked with Jamie and Marshall all day moving Andrij's possessions into his new
Similarly, we filmed all of the retirement home scenes at Wayne Delaware
Manor, an assisted-living facility in Pennsylvania. All of the background lived
there, and we kept a low profile, taking over an empty room to film our scenes.
In the same way, we filmed the abortion scenes in a real Planned Parenthood
clinic, using real personnel. Michelle went through the entire process in
character, as though she was a regular person undergoing the procedure. In order
to heighten the sense of intimacy, the crew was limited to me, as camera
operator, and Mariela Comitini, our 1st A.D. as boom operator.
On that day we shot 5000' of super 16mm film before lunch.
What format did you shoot the film on?
Back in 2002, I wrote a manifesto, outlining the "rules of engagementâ€ť for
making the film. In production, I adhered to those rules.
We shot the past on super 16mm film. 100% handheld. Using one 25mm lens. The
idea was to create a visceral film that mirrored the physicality and
youthfulness of our characters. Freedom. Opportunity.
We shot the present on two red cameras. The cameras were always affixed to
tripods and placed as far away from the actors at all times. We affixed long
lenses to achieve the suffocating close-ups. The idea was to create a
claustrophobic world of close-ups and gestures, faces and feelings, which would
mirror the entrapment our characters faced in their own lives. Consequence.
As one of the film's screenwriters, what do you think the essence of the film
and its characters are about?
Honesty. Beautiful ugliness. Terrible beauty. Love.