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Derek Cianfrance Talks The Pain Of Editing, The Influence Of 'Napoleon' & 'Psycho' & More In 'Place Beyond The Pines'

The Playlist By Edward Davis | The Playlist September 14, 2012 at 2:57PM

“I'm interested in telling stories about families,” Derek Cianfrance, the director of “The Place Beyond The Pines,” said this week during the Toronto International Film Festival, where his hotly anticipated drama finally premiered to much acclaim. Cianfrance stormed Sundance in 1998 with “Brother Tied,” a picture that was critically acclaimed at the festival, but then vanished afterwards. It wasn’t until twelve years later that he returned with his sophomore feature effort, “Blue Valentine,” a searing family drama about a marriage in irreparable decay, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, which put him squarely back on the map.
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It's just a smaller part of a bigger story.
Yeah, but to deal with death in a real way in a movie and not to have the security of a flashback or a cut to go back. Because death is permanent and there's a great absence and a great void afterward. Thankfully with an actor like Ryan Gosling he has a presence that emanates beyond his time on screen and he can haunt and I think he does haunt. 

So as a filmmaker then, what is the challenge? Trying to sustain characters beyond their time on screen?
First off, on an actor level, I have to find an actor that has the kind of charisma and chops that Ryan has and who on an artistic level is a collaborator with me. Someone who can help build a character and delve into a human who is riddled with flaws and understand the story of a guy --- which is a very true story, and many police officers that I talk to or that Bradley and I talked to before, and who, one guy in particular that had gotten shot ten years ago and ten years later he was involved in a shooting. He said killing somebody was -- he'll never recover from those wounds.

Beyond family and lineage, what else drove you to make this movie?
You know after making “Blue Valentine” -- that was a movie that I just wanted to go on forever and there was a lot of risk in that movie, and then I had the opportunity to do something else and ‘Pines’ seemed like the next risk, you know what I mean?

It seemed nearly impossible. Even up to six weeks before shooting I had no idea who was going to play [Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen’s roles] because I saw 500 kids and I couldn't find anyone who could take the flame from Ryan Gosling to Bradley Cooper. I was watching “Fish Tank” and I was like, "I've got to find someone like that," someone raw, but I couldn't find anyone raw because all of a sudden it becomes a different movie. Raw talent doesn't work, you need to find another actor, finally I found Emory and Dane and they could do that, but that's almost on a technical level of how to make it work and how to make it compelling. But the challenge in the film was to have three stories, but not make it three different movies. It was about how to make it one movie.

"I hate editing, it's the worst part of filmmaking. I like dreaming, which is writing a script, I like living which is shooting and I hate editing, because it's like death because you're killing things. It's murdering moments."
I read in the notes for the film that you had like 30 drafts of the script and the rough cut was long. What was the editing process like? Were there things that you were disappointed to lose?
I hate editing, it's the worst part of filmmaking. I like dreaming, which is writing a script, I like living which is shooting and I hate editing, because it's like death because you're killing things. It's murdering moments and you know I always get bored on set when we're doing the script, I’m always trying to find new things or a great moment when Ryan and Ben are listening to “Dancing in the Dark” and just Ryan setting the stage for a three minute dialogue scene where they're counting money and that was the magical moment.

Editing -- it's tricky because you can get lost in the details in the editing room. You can get lost in all of these moments that are great but the sum is not greater than their parts, and so the edit of the film was nine months. A full term pregnancy, seven days a week, 16 hours a day, [it] had a way of putting that puzzle together and making it one. Making it one movie, not three movies, The only thing that makes editing tolerable is that I'm working with two of my best friends, Jim Helton who also studied with me and my friend Ron Patane, and at least we can be together.

How did you get Mike Patton involved with writing the score?
When I was a teenager I saw Mr. Bungle play at the Ogden theater in Denver. And Mike Patton was on stage and he was wearing a bondage mask with horse blinders and there was a moment where I saw him licking a bald mans head in the front row. At that point forward he became my hero and when I was in highschool I would always put Mr. Bungle songs as the soundtrack for my high school films. I just always dreamed that I would work with Mike Patton, and when I was like 18 I went to a Mr. Bungle concert, and I was wearing these big Army pants at the time, they were so big that I could keep a VHS cassette in one of the pockets. I brought my VHS cassette to the Bungle show to try to meet Mike Patton to give him my movies to see if we could work together, and of course I could never meet him there. It just took another 25 years to meet him. I always thought his music was incredibly cinematic, and you know we talked a lot about Bernard Herrmann.

He's a big Ennio Morricone's fan too.
Yeah, we use one more Morricone track in ‘Pines.’ We use “Ninna, Nanna,” which I heard for the first time by listening to the Crime and Dissonance album, on [Patton’s] Ipecac label, and Patton is just a dream come true. The same thing as to work with Ray Liotta, because for me and Ben Coccio, the co-writer, “Goodfellas” was our favorite movie. It's just nice. If you have the opportunity to make your dreams come true you should, that's the way I feel about it.

Speaking of the music, I know your first film had a super R&B heavy soundtrack and “Blue Valentine” you had Grizzly Bear do the score and it seems to me a musical would be something you'd be interested in doing.
I’m dying to do a new musical. You read my mind. Last night I was riding over to a midnight meeting with Ryan and I was just dreaming of it, I was just dreaming of the musical. But I've been thinking about it for a long time, a musical. Did you ever read the David Lynch book, “Catching the Big Fish”? It's nice. You never know when the fish is going to come, you've just got to keep your pole in the water and so I have the pole out in the musical ocean right now and I'm waiting to catch a big fish.

This article is related to: The Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Interviews, Interviews, Features


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