Getting Direct With Directors...
A scene from Todd Haynes' 2003 melodrama, Far From Heaven
No.1: Todd Haynes

Shooting People focuses on the people behind the camera - the directors. Far From Heaven helmer Todd Haynes tells you how he got into the business, his favourite films, and why he can't remember film quotes....

Why did you become a director?

From the first movie I saw, Mary Poppins when I was three, I was obsessed. I was hooked on movies, they had a real deep impact on me, and they made me want to create things. At a certain point in my college years, I wasn't sure I would be a feature filmmaker at all. I thought I would make films that were too weird or too personal, or too experimental to live on, so I was going to teach and make films on the side. It was sort of accidental the way it became a full-fledged career.

What would you be if you weren't a filmmaker?

I would always have to do something with my hands. Whether that was ever my career or not, I don't know, but I would need to do that just to survive life. I would love to teach - not even film, teach something like Elementary School. I get cravings to do something much more direct than being a filmmaker.

What other director would you most like to see work?

Watching them actually making a film? Hmm... that's interesting. Well, probably [Jean-Luc] Godard or [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder. You want to go for a good party, or at least a sadomasochistic ritual, so Fassbinder would be a good bet there. And just to imagine how Godard was working through his intellectual and political interests on a set, with actors and camera people, would be fascinating. Of course, you'd want to go to the most amazing moments in their careers, go back in time a little bit.

Renée Zellweger in Chicago

What was the last movie you paid to see?

Chicago.

Did you like it?

Um. I think it's a really well-made movie with a really great performance by Renée Zellweger carrying it.

What was the last movie you walked out of?

Oh God. See the thing that's hard is, I like to be honest with these things, but I'm just getting used to myself as somebody where what I say is actually quoted or whatever. It's weird, because I just don't think in those terms naturally, so I have to watch myself. Sometimes I say things I wish I didn't say, because I don't want to hurt people's feelings. I know so many directors now, and stuff gets out, you know? So, I won't answer it, but it was... [off the record response].

Do you believe in God?

No.

Who's the most famous person you have in your contacts book?

Most famous? Erm, I don't know. I guess it's like, I've met a lot of stars and all that - Clooney and Spielberg, people like that... Scorsese. Depends how much of a film buff site this is, depending on who's famous. Also people who are really famous in England is a little different to people who are really famous in America.

You're pretty safe with Clooney or Scorsese.

I guess so.

What's your favourite movie quote?

No, I can't think of one, but one of the most quotable movies ever is All About Eve. It's so beautifully written, so witty and funny. Oh God, I'll botch it up, I smoke too much pot... What's that great Celeste Home quote she says to Bette Davis in the car? Oh no, she says it too her husband: "That tone you referred to is the thing I acquired the day I realised I was different from little boys." It's something like that. It's so good, it just has this great feminist genius, but in the context of a movie like that... Sorry, I told you I'm bad at these things.

Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?

I'm going to think of somebody perfect for that answer later, I know. I like Oliver Stone. Most people laugh at me for liking Oliver Stone. He's easily dismissed by a sort of smart set who feel manipulated by his movies, but I love Nixon and JFK. Nixon is my favourite of his films. I think he's a very interesting filmmaker, or he's become a very interesting filmmaker.

Which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?

Oliver Stone. Heh heh! I think that's the best answer. Both.

What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?

Um. Oh you know, like how much someone liked my film Happiness. Heh heh.

Do you believe in test screenings?

No I don't. We did them for Far From Heaven. The financiers will say, "Don't worry. It's not going to affect us, it's not going to make us tell you to do things to the movie. It's just for marketing purposes, it'll help us with marketing. And, of course, you hand anybody a graded sheet of numbers and letters and they just revert to their grade school days when those things had such meaning. It's the most artificial context to present an audience with a movie wholly unindoctrinated, knowing nothing about the film. When do we ever see a film with no information whatever about it?

Ewan McGregor plays glam rocker Curt Wild in Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine

How seriously do you take reviews?

They affect you, and I've been lucky because I've had a lot of really smart critics writing about my films. [LA Weekly writer] John Powers, for instance, wrote a very mixed review about Velvet Goldmine, that I found really, really interesting. It wasn't something that hurt me or hurt my feelings, because I respect what he has to say. Even if I disagreed with some of it, I still found it really interesting. So I can take criticism for sure, except really stupid stuff, and I got a lot of that on Velvet Goldmine too. I've got so much good press from the beginning that I'm probably in a pretty secure position to take bad stuff too.

What's your biggest regret?

Er... do most people just rattle off answers? If I was John Waters I'd be so good at this.

This is the first one that we've done.

Really? I'm the test case? What do I regret? I don't know. Not much.

There are five minutes left till the end of the world. What do you do?

Five minutes? Oh, what a sad question. God! I just want to be with my best friends. Hugging, kissing, you know... have a nice spliff.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

God. I know there's good answers to these questions! Um. I'm sorry, I'm just not so good at this kind of thing.

And the worst?

The worst piece of advice, that's easier. It's always stuff that you thankfully don't do, that you see the other people doing - like worrying too much about being in vogue or striking while the iron is hot, or basically responding to power in any obedient way. I think responding to the lure of Hollywood or those realms... for me, rejecting that stuff has not only protected my work and my integrity, but actually it goes against what people tell you. They actually want you more when you don't play their game. Not that that was my intention, but I felt like the interest in me as a filmmaker who has stayed pretty much outside of the Hollywood world has been sustained for an incredibly long time - with no box office to show for myself - based largely on my indifference.

Which performer would you love to work with?

Madonna. Heh hey! No. Gypsy Rose Lee.

What film makes you want to spit?

Forrest Gump.

What do you think of Norman Wisdom?

What do I think of?

Norman Wisdom. Do you know who he is?

No.

He's a British comedian from the 50s...

No. I don't think most Americans will know.

What are your three favourite films, and why?

At this moment in time, let's say, 2001, for being the longest and most exquisite experimental film ever committed to the mainstream market - or foisted on the mainstream market. Vertigo for being the most complex and brilliant film by one of the most complex and brilliant filmmakers. And Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats The Soul/Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, for that beautiful lineage that I now seem to have entered, with the Sirk du Fassbinder family.

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