It’s been a while since we spoke to Cary Fukunaga, but last week at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival we had the pleasure of catching up with the “Jane Eyre” and “Sin Nombre” director, and he filled us in on his many upcoming projects. Some of these projects had gone so quiet we feared they had fallen off the radar entirely but we can happily report that he has a good many diverse irons in a whole bunch of fires right now. In fact his next few years look, from this vantage point, to be highly promising, especially as it would appear he’s making good on his early intention to become an inveterate genre-hopper.
In addition to explaining why the the intriguing-sounding “No Blood No Guts No Glory” is no longer on his upcoming slate, and digressing a little around his mistrust of Tarantino-esque reinterpretations of history, Fukunaga spoke at length about the unusual process behind his HBO series “True Detective,” of which he is directing the whole first season and which they shot entirely back-to-back. Between that and plentiful details on his other upcoming projects, and his response to the critic who labelled “Sin Nombre” “poverty porn," we’ve a lot to get through—why are we still hanging out here in the intro?
It very easily could have gone noir, I just didn’t want to do that, especially with a title like “True Detective”—it sounds so pulpy. [Grimaces] Not my choice.
And what was your choice?
Not that! But the material is probably the best material I’ve read in a long time and is the reason I did it. Nic Pizzolatto is the writer and we’ve the same management company and I read the script, really liked it, we got together and then I got Matthew [McConaughey] and Woody [Harrelson] to join the cast and then we sold it to HBO.
I only had two episodes to start off with in terms of envisioning it, but what I saw was a stark bland American landscape, and two really strong male voices which I haven’t done yet, and that for me was kinda the drive, to get into the psychology of two men—one more of a philosopher and the other a non-critical-thinking man, and just to play with that world and observe. It’s heightened reality in the sense that it’s not like docu-reality, it’s not hand-held, not immediate, the camera is very smooth and usually just locked off and you’re just watching guys talk and argue and deal with points in their life.
It’s actually pretty formal, I think in its construction, that actually became pretty difficult because you’re shooting so much, and when you’re shooting formalism it has to be so well constructed, otherwise it all falls apart. We started having to move a little faster and it was real mental acrobatics trying to cover a scene and cover them nicely without sacrificing the filmmaking… But in terms of genre and tone it was heightened also because of the way Matthew and Woody act, so everything else has to fall into that.
Right, and Woody is the more… instinctive? Or just less in touch with who he is.
How did you adapt your shooting style to TV?
The hardest part was making sure that we didn’t leave anything behind. You have 8 hours of story sitting in your head, and moving pieces around so that when we get to here, will this be clear enough? Do I need to heighten this moment or stretch this one? Thankfully I had a whole team I could discuss things with, especially Matthew, who was a pretty incredible collaborator, a leader in his own way. Someone I could definitely depend on, he knew his character inside and out, and because there are a lot of changes his character has to go through, the mental mapping was the biggest challenge.
How you’ve shot it is kind of a new model. We usually hear about “TV being a writer's medium” but you’re heavily involved in the entire season?
I always ask, how did David Lynch do “Twin Peaks”? Did they do it episodically, did they take breaks? [Nic Pizzolatto] the writer had never done anything before, he’s written a couple of episodes of “The Killing” and that’s it. So as a foray into actual production this was his first one. Showrunners like David Milch, David Simon, those guys who have a long history of creating things and much more of control of the craft and what they’re doing and the directors they bring on. [There’s like a] HBO stock of directors, who are amazing directors that actually have a different kinda symbiotic relationship there.
I’ve never done television before so I was like, [mock outrage] “What do you mean, the writer is the boss?” So even for HBO the question was “How do we handle this?” We made it work, I think, but, especially not shooting episodically, it was definitely new ground worked out. There’s a reason TV works the way it does, and has for the last 60 years.
So you didn't revolutionize the medium in one go?
[laughs] Well, we did it, but I don’t know if it’s going to continue as a pattern to follow. I don’t think so, it’s very difficult to do it that way. I think TV works very well based on a timeline that things have to get done in, and I understand [now] why it works that way.
Is there a possibility of a second season, and would you be involved?
Yeah, I don’t think HBO would have done it, if not for the possibility of a second season, but I’m not part of it. I’ll continue as an executive producer, but I don’t want to continue in the daily showrunner kinda way—it’s too much. When you shoot episodically you stop and you prep the next episode, but we didn't have scripts for the last 2 episodes when we started and we didn’t have schedules or anything, we knew basically when we would have it finished by, but that was it.
So there’s 300-and-something locations in the film and hundreds of speaking roles. Each location has to be vetted multiple times, then you need to bring department heads there to tech scout it. So we were basically shooting and prepping at the same time the last two months of the shoot which meant we had full shooting days—12 to 14 hours—plus four more at lunch or during shooting, scouting with the crew or doing castings or doing something related to the post-production that was happening at the same time… editing during weekends…
I was lucky I had a really great team, a tireless AD, tireless department heads. Actually not tireless, everyone was exhausted, but people had great endurance. Still, I don’t think anyone got to end and was like, "I can’t wait to start the next one!” I think everyone was proud of the work we did and the show is going to be great but it definitely took its toll on everyone involved. It’s an impossible amount. We just finished [shooting] on Saturday morning. Then we have 6 months of post. I think it comes out somewhere between January and March 2014.
How has it been, working with HBO?
They’re really great, they’re pretty hands off—I’m still waiting for that hands-on experience. Focus and HBO have been really… well, what’s nice between both those places is basically you just have conversations and usually we just all agree, it’s question about how to apply [any changes].