Wait a minute… Didn’t Vanessa just do an interview with
Antoine Fuqua like two weeks ago? Yes she did.
But we were offered a chance to talk to him again, so why not? Filmmakers love S & A (It’s our readers who don’t...)
So here’s a brief talk I had with Antoine last week, which focused more on his career, how he got started, and where he thinks the whole bloody, ruthless and cutthroat business of movie making is going.
SERGIO: I saw Olympus Has Fallen in a theater with an audience that really got into the film, They were “oohing” and “aahing” and even talking back to the screen. As a director is that what you live for?
FUQUA: (laughs) That’s what you live for.
SERGIO: So when you’re directing a film do you know it’s working or are you always saying to yourself: “Hmmm, how is this going to play to the audience?”
FUQUA: You have it in your gut. What I do is that I put myself in the place of the audience. Because I love movies and as a collective experience. I sit back when I’m looking at a script and I can feel it. I mark it. I can feel what I want out of that moment that I want you to feel and I try to capture that. Normally I know it. When I’m doing it, when it’s working: “Great! Print it! Let’s move on.” That’s what I’m looking for.
It’s like reading something in a script like a joke. If you bust out laughing and everybody in the room busts out laughing too, that’s what the audience is going to do too. Sometimes we over think that instinct. Like you see an action happen on the screen and you go: “Ow man that made me jump!” That’s the same way the audience is going to see it too for the first time because it’s all part of that collective experience. So when I first read the script I can feel it and if it stays consistent through the development process, I still feel it, and when I shoot it, I feel it, and when I get to editing it, if it’s still there, then my instincts are telling me that it was right.
SERGIO: So what do you look for a script?
FUQUA: For me I look for something that I can relate to creatively and find a way in, that works for me. You read the script as “big idea”. Like Olympus is big bold idea, a group of terrorists take down the White House and capture the President. That’s a big, huge, fun idea. So I go, "that’s fun, that’s interesting, but how can I ground it for me?" The type of filmmaker that I am, when I consider a film, [I'm thinking] how do I ground it and give it substance? How can I make it a thriller within the action? How can I give it drama and emotion within the action? So I look at the script and say. what do I care about? What’s my message? What’s the hero’s journey?
The essence of it is classic Joseph Campbell. You have a fallen hero and you have him saying to the universe: “I want back in”. Because he took an oath in the Secret Service, to God and to country, to serve and protect and then you pull yourself out of it because of a tragedy. So his punishment is, to get back in it, he has to go through hell. And if he can come out when the sun rises and all the dust settles and you’re still standing, you get another chance at life. And that’s a clear journey. But he has to take his hits and go through struggle and blood, to the brink of destruction, as well as the rest of the country, and yet you have to save yourself and be able to walk away. That’s important to me. I look for these things. I look for that hero’s journey.
SERGIO: Which leads to the broader question: why did you choose film directing as opposed to say writing or painting as your form of artistic expression?
FUQUA: That’s a good question because I love music. I grew up in a musical house, Harvey Fuqua was my cousin, the Moonglows and all that. But when I was a kid I loved movies. It was the most powerful feeling in the world to watch movies like Shane…
SERGIO: Yes, but everyone love movies. What made you say: “That’s what I want to do. To create movies for the screen”?
FUQUA: Well when I went to college I took a baroque art class and I discovered Caravaggio. I discovered Rembrandt and Delacroix and their work is very powerful. Caravaggio paintings had deep light and shadows, It was almost like movement. One of his paintings is Jesus on the cross and you can see one guy with his spear digging into his ribs and you can see the vividness of that image. And I remember one Delacroix painting of Napoleon in battle and you can see the color red and the blood and the flags waving and that burnt orange sky. And then there was Rembrandt with his use of lights and shadows and just before that time, I saw Akira Kurosawa’s film The Seven Samurai for the first time, and was like “WOW!” What a beautiful black and white movie. I remember thinking that it was amazing with all this black smoke and stuff in the film, the vivid texture of it. I’d never seen that before. So when I saw these paintings it reminded me of Kurosawa’s moving pictures and there was something about that, and I thought to myself “How I can create that sort of deep pain but as a moving story?”
SERGIO: So how did you go from that to actually directing movies?
FUQUA: So I had a cousin who went to college with a guy who had a company making music videos in New York. So I talked to him and asked him “How do you make movies? I don’t really know.” He said well come out to New York and I’ll give you a job as a production assistant and we’ll see how you like it. So I went and watched on the set, everybody’s job - the assistant directors, the director of photography, I looked through the camera, sat in the editing room and then I decided where I felt more comfortable and it was really in the director’s chair.
SERGIO: And why that chair?
FUQUA: Because as cameraman it was like painting and I loved it, but it wasn’t always my vision. So that got me to start thinking, I want to able to paint my own pictures and tell my own stories. I want to be able to be in control of those elements and those feelings and it was something that kept coming to me and finally I said: “That’s where I want to be”. It’s a strange thing when that happens, you know, because in retrospect I can think of many things in my life that led to it, but I would have never have known it then.
SERGIO: So you’re a fortunate person because so few people actually do what they really like or were led to do.
FUQUA: That is true! But also it’s a matter of testing yourself. Back when I was starting out in New York, I was going through a pretty tough period and I was living in Harlem on 125th street, and back then you know Harlem wasn’t exactly the nicest place back during the late 80’s and all. I had saved up about 5 Grand from working as a P.A. for my rent and food and everything else. But I had this idea for this 5 minute short film that I wrote called Exit. And a voice said to me: “Well if you’re going to direct then you better direct something.” So I got together with some friends used the money I saved and we shot it. Then I sent it out to all the record labels hoping to get a job directing a music video out of it. And a woman at Island records saw it with Chris Blackwell and Chris loved it. He thought I was French! (Laughs)
And then he mentioned it to Bono and U2 and they got interested, and then from that, Chris showed it to Propaganda Films (the music video and TV commercial production house), and, at the time, they had guys like David Fincher working for them, and they said “Hey let’s see if we can get this guy something”. So they gave me some little music video to shoot and the video stayed No 1 for two weeks and everything went off from there. And back then, remember it wasn’t all thongs and women like they do now. Back then, you could take an artistic approach in music videos. And from that, I’ve never stopped working, I’ve never stopped working.
SERGIO: So finally, what’s your take on how the film business has changed in the last few years. If it was hard to make a film back then, it’s almost impossible today
FUQUA: Oh yeah, it’s hard to get the money…
SERGIO: But do you have any clue what the future is going to be like?
FUQUA: Here’s what I think. Hollywood is always going to be Hollywood, man. It goes just beyond business. People will always come together and enjoy storytelling from the beginning of time with cavemen making shadows on the wall. There’s always going to be that.
But what do I think of what the future holds is that the technology has allowed people who truly have a talent to be seen. I think that opportunity will come out of technology, meaning that if you have $5000 now you can take a digital camera and go make your movie. You just go do it. And in a way, no one is judging you on your lighting, they’re not judging on your production values, but they’re going to judge you on your storytelling ability, and if you can bring that to life and make them forget the tools you used to get it, and just tell a good story in a creative way, in unique way.
For example, Beasts of the Southern Wild. The guy pulled it off, first movie. Down in the swamp, down and dirty. And that little girl and that guy who is a baker..,.amazing! I remember the first time I saw (Thomas Vinterberg’s) The Celebration (Note: Danish filmmaking co-operative’s Dogme 95’s first film). All digital, shot in a house, about one family and all their craziness. See, they found a way. It's the old saying - nature will find a way. Filmmakers will find a way. You just have take technology and use it. And that’s the inspiration. That’s new life that’s shot into you because when look at great directors like Scorsese and Coppola back when they were making films in the 70’s, they were making it up, they were creating their own way. Take a camera, put it on a stick and do some amazing things, man. Now we have technology to do that, which they didn’t have back then, and they are still films that we reference. So there’s an energy in that, there's a creativity in that, there’s a veracity in that. That’s the future. The future is, find a way.