And where do you come down on this digital/film divide?
You know, I don't know if I want to be able to see the movie instantly. There's something about having to shoot the thing and then look at dailies the next day that is appealing to me. I don't know where I stand, to be in honest. Is Kodak still making film? I don't think Fuji is making film anymore. We would go into the lab at the end of the day with this movie and they were all looking pretty grim. They were wondering what they're going to do for a living when this thing goes out.
I thought that maybe you would have used the Phantom [a digital camera that shoots 1,000 frames per second and was used famously for the prologue to "Antichrist"].
Yes, you're right, we did use the Phantom for the car crash stuff. But we also used a camera that's a film camera that shoots 10,000 frames per second to shoot bullets and guns going off. So some of it was very old school.
What were your main influences when making "Killing Them Softly?"
There was a couple of things. I was looking at a lot of studio screwball comedies from the forties. Because I decided I liked the coverage to be very simple, with each person just having their shot in the scene. The movie is just wall-to-wall dialogue and I thought, 'The only thing that's going to make this work are the performances so I might as well not even try to dress it up. Just have the shot and let the actor do all the work.' Which is what I did. And the other thing was the Maysles documentary "Salesman." You know that one?
Of course. What did you take from that?
The whole tone of it, really, it's so grim and it's the Midwest and it's winter and they're trying to sell bibles but no one's buying. It's that life of quiet desperation. That feel to it.
Did you feel any of that desperation coming off of 'Jesse James' because it flopped?
Yes, sure. I was worried about money at the time. At that time, everyone was. It was like I've gotten a lot of shit for all the political stuff in the background of this film, but as I remember that time you couldn't turn on the TV or turn on the radio and not hear about the bailout.
Speaking of your last movie -- are there any plans to put out the longer cut of "Jesse James?"
Well, this mythological four-hour cut was just an assembly and it was never a good film. It was kind of like torture to sift through. But there are two other cuts. One was just a little bit longer, which I really like, and another one that's about a half hour longer, which is really good too. Are there any plans to put it out? No.
Has Criterion ever approached you? There's practically been a campaign online to get them to do a new 'Jesse James' disc, people talk about it so much.
How many signatures have they got? Like 23?
Listen, I think it's a great film and I'd love to see other versions come to life. But no, I've gotten no love from Criterion.
Tony and Ridley Scott produced 'Jesse James' and there was talk at one point that they had helped out in a cut. What was it like working with them?
Well those guys were really just cheerleaders. Ridley really liked the picture. He was a big supporter of it early on. When the studio was having reservations, Ridley didn't really tell us what we needed to cut, even. He didn't have his heart in playing that role. Whenever I would say, 'Well maybe it should be like this,' he would just say, 'Yeah I agree with you.' It's like fucking ten years ago. It was great more from an emotional point of view than a practical point of view. Those guys have seen it all and they really understand what directors go through as directors. They say directors make the worst producers because they're like children of abusive parents. But Ridley and Tony were never like that.
Were you worried about the political stuff in this movie alienating people?
Not really. It's kind of the idea of the movie.
Was there any kind of burden personally or professionally to make a more commercially minded movie after 'Jesse James?'
Well, I was trying to. I don't know if that succeeded at all. That was kind of the idea. It's a little bit more bubblegum.
"Killing Them Softly" opens in wide release this Friday, November 30th.