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Derek Cianfrance Talks Cinematic Violence, Face Tattoos, Falling In Love With Eva Mendes & More From ‘Place Beyond The Pines’

The Playlist By Diana Drumm | The Playlist April 6, 2013 at 12:17PM

After “Blue Valentine” tackled the issues of marriage and gender relations, it seemed like a natural progression that filmmaker Derek Cianfrance decided to take on parenthood and legacy in his next film. Taking six years to make, "The Place Beyond The Pines” deals with the issue of legacy in America. Set in working class Schenectady, New York, it tells the story of families on both sides of the law and deals with what fathers intentionally and unintentionally leave their sons (inspiring our list of 22 Great Father & Son Movies). A hit at this year’s TIFF (read our review here), the film stars Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle stunt rider who turns to bank robbery to provide for his young son, and Bradley Cooper as a police officer caught in the crosshairs, a role the actor nearly gave up on. The stellar cast also includes Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Ray Liotta, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn and Rose Byrne.
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Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance
"To me, the bravest thing we could do with this movie was to do it chronologically and not cut away."
It’s been said you create a special environment, a special atmosphere on set. Do you know the secret? Can you give it away?

Well, like I said, I ask my actors to surprise me and I ask them to fail. I create a democracy of ideas on set, so there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Anything that an actor wants to do, I will let them do it and, conversely, anything I want them to do, they’ll do it. So there’s no conversation about it. You wanna do something? Let’s try it, cause how am I going to know? I remember on “Blue Valentine,” there was a scene after the abortion clinic, they’re on a bus and they’re headed home and I remember Ryan and Michelle thought she should be sitting on his lap and I was like, “I don’t think so, let’s just have her sit next to him.” They’re like, “Nah, I think we should.” I was like, “Okay.” Here’s the perfect example, democracy of ideas, we’ll shoot it your way and we’ll shoot it my way and we’ll be in the editing room and see which one wins. Well, their way won, in the editing room. They were right. I’m thankful, so thankful, it wasn’t all about my ego. You know I made documentaries for twelve years before making “Blue Valentine” and I learned to humble myself as a filmmaker. It was no longer about my control of things. It was about my involvement, my engagement in things, my relationship to things and people, but it wasn’t about me pointing and telling everyone where to go and what to do. So when I make narratives, I have this script, which is a blueprint. It shows us our direction, where we’re supposed to go, but how we get there… I’m interested in making discoveries.

It's a very powerful story, but there is a complex and multi-layered structure with three distinctive segments falling on each other. What made you think that it’s the best way to present this story?
To me, the bravest thing we could do with this movie was to do it chronologically and not cut away. First off, twenty years ago, I saw “Napoleon” by Abel Gance, I always wanted to make a triptych movie. I always had these notes of this triptych movie. Also about twenty years ago, I saw “Psycho” for the first time and I’d always known there was the shower scene in “Psycho,” I just didn’t know you had to spend 45 minutes with Janet Leigh before she went into the shower and that kind of baton passed down from Janet Leigh to Tony Perkins, just blew my mind. So I always had that structure and then when my wife was pregnant with our second son in 2007 I was thinking a lot about becoming a father again and I was thinking about legacy, I was thinking about all of the things that have been passed on to me and thinking about everything that I was going to pass on to my kid and I was thinking that I just want him to be born into this world clean. I didn’t want to give him any of my old sins, you know what I mean, any of my wrongdoings. So all of a sudden, I had a story of legacy, which was about like a baton pass too. It was like passing the torch, passing the fire from one generation to the next, and all of a sudden, I had a movie. I had something to tell.

I think in America, people are born into tribes. You have no choice where you’re born or what family you’re born into to or what social class you’re born into, you’re just born into it, and sometimes hard to get out of that. It takes generations and generations to change your destiny and so I wanted to tell a story about these two tribes that collided and I also wanted to tell a movie with gun violence in it that treated gun violence in a way that I thought was respectful.

The Place Beyond The Pines

I have kids. I’m so like over this overtly violent fetishized violence in movies. I think it must have started with Peckinpah, with “The Wild Bunch.” This kind of ballet of violence, but at least in Peckinpah’s movie you can feel him suffering and kind of writhing in the flames of his characters. I feel like nowadays I see so much violence that’s just cool and I have to say if I see another like slow-motion bullet come out of a gun and like pierce someone in the brain and slowly splatter their brains on the wall, I’m gonna puke. To me violence is not cool, it’s not beautiful, there’s nothing cinematic about it. I wanted to tell the story, the story of violence. This movie, I didn’t want the viewer to have a moment where they could flashback. Do you know what I mean? Cause if you’ve ever experienced any kind of violence like that in your life, you know there’s no going back. There’s no sanctity of a flashback. And so I wanted to tell this movie about all these events and this adrenaline and these choices that lead up to this one violent act and then how that violence never goes away, how that violence reverberates.

Why did you select Schenectady as a symbol of all of this? Also, I know Dane was talking about how he got stitches and he got into a motorcycle accident, what other kinds of problems were there?
Anytime you make a movie there’s like so many problems. When the hurricane came, I have to say that was like a blessing because we got a day off. This was like a 47-day relentless, brutal schedule [and] the only way I could make the movie was to shoot it in a place like Schenectady because, the people, the town embraced us so much. The police station allowed us to shoot in an active police station, we were shooting in active high schools, active hospitals. The reason I wanted to shoot up there is because my wife is from there and my co-writer Ben [Coccio] is from there and for ten years I had been going to Schenectady and I felt it was a place of, so cinematic. It was like the perfect American town. It’s like a place that had had maybe a brighter, more lucrative past and now it was like really fighting to stay alive. I just think of the police badge of Schenectady as a burning building with a bunch of Indians chasing Dutch people out with spears. There was like massacres in Schenectady in the 1600s and it’s all a part of the history in Schenectady. You know that if you grow up there and to me when I’m in Schenectady I feel, when you talk about legacy and American legacy, it’s all very palpable right there. You can feel those old massacres are still very present there. I mean they don’t go away and I believe in  the eternity of every moment. I don’t think violent acts or things like that ever, ever leave.

"The Place Beyond The Pines" is in limited release right and goes wide on April 12th.

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


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