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Interview: Cary Fukunaga Talks HBO's 'True Detective,' Says Child Soldier Film 'Beasts Of No Nation' Coming Next

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist July 12, 2013 at 2:02PM

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.
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Beasts Of No Nation
Is it true that “Beasts of No Nation,” the child soldier film you wrote before “Sin Nombre” came out, is actually going to be your next project?
Yes, yes it is. I wrote it in… 2007? I think? And worked on it in 2008, while I was waiting for “Sin Nombre” to go into production—it was gonna be my next movie. But after [similarly themed film] “Johnny Mad Dog” came out and no one bought it, Focus got cold feet. So I went on and did “Jane Eyre” instead. But I didn’t give up on it, we were looking for the right time to do it, and I almost did it the summer before last…I had financing two summers ago, but I was just, like “I can’t do it. I can’t go to Africa now for 6 months.” It didn’t feel right, it wasn’t the right time. Now we’re gearing up to do it.

It’s such a difficult film to shoot and because we’ve to do it for so little money that I kinda had to figure out a place to put it, between two films I could survive financially on, because I will lose money doing this film. But I still wanted to make it and we’re finally doing it.

And you’ll be shooting where?
On location in Africa. I’ve got to location scout in a month so we have to pick a country as soon as possible to get a budget, but I think we’re going to start shooting in March.

Was going to Africa for the Maiyet project part of that process? [Fukunaga was actually in town to present “Sleepwalking in the Rift” a series of vignettes he shot in Africa for fashion label Maiyet.]
Yeah, it was kind of more a reinvigoration.

And after “Beasts of No Nation”?
I have a couple of other projects but I don’t know which one will go first. I obviously have [the Stephen King adaptation] “It” with Warner, which Chase [Palmer, co-writer] and I have been actively working on the script. So that look like it’s most likely to happen right after. Then there’s a sci-fi I’ve written as well for Universal.

The project formerly known as “Spaceless”? 
Yeah, it’s not “Spaceless” any more, it’s its own thing, I’ve separated it, and right now I call it “The Foldlings.”

"I kinda had to figure out a place to put it, between two films I could survive financially on, because I will lose money doing this film."

Is there still a Gore Verbinski connection?
Gore’s company is still involved. But because I kept rewriting it and it kept changing and changing, the story is so different from the original, that it metamorphosed. It’s its own thing.

Does it still deal with time travel?
It’s a mixture of, um not so much time travel, as it’s a question about immortality.

And the third upcoming project is the musical?
And then I have the musical. With Owen Pallet who works with Arcade Fire and Beirut.

How do you see that being staged? You mentioned a while ago it would be pretty low budget, maybe on a sound stage.
Not necessarily on a sound stage, but in my mind the way I see it, it’s a mixture of “The Science of Sleep” and a Beirut music video—the players being there all time almost like a Greek chorus, the commentators. So when they break into song, the players are already there, it’s contextual: rather than the music coming from some invisible universe the music comes from the screen.

I wrote the script for that, 2 years ago as well… I went to Berlin and I wrote the script there. Since I’ve been working this last year on this show [“True Detective” for HBO], kinda everything has been on hold. But Owen and I haven’t given up yet, I’m doing it. It’s more just a question of timing. The problem with being a writer/director, unless you’re really disciplined you start adding projects and you have to make time to make them. Because you have to write them… no one else is writing them for me.

Would you consider directing another writer’s stuff or writing something and giving it to someone else to direct?
Harder for me to write and give to somebody else, easier for me to direct somebody else’s stuff. I didn’t write the screenplay to “True Detective,” for example.

Maybe with Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger” not doing so well, that era of history may be even further off-limits for a while.
And Gore is such a lovely creative dude, I was really hoping that movie would do well.

Already relatively early in your career, we have you filed under the category of “polyglot filmmakers” like Soderbergh, Ang Lee, Michael Winterbottom…
All people I love!

"Sin Nombre."
"Sin Nombre."
Is there any genre you wouldn’t tackle?
[Thinks a moment] Porn. Although I have been accused of creating poverty porn. When I hear that I really want to shake the person. Some critic I met in LA called “Sin Nombre” poverty porn and questioned whether I rode the trains or not…

But in terms of tackling different subjects, I can’t really think of anything I wouldn’t want to try, that’s the fun of it right? Each new style brings new challenges—not that you shouldn’t focus on one and master it, but it takes so long to make a film, you just want to have some variety.


Do you find ever yourself getting too involved in projects because you write and direct? I mean, Latin American illegal immigration, and child soldiers must take their toll?
Definitely. Living in those worlds for a while, and I haven’t had to for a long time, but while you’re writing it you’re there, you hear it, you smell it, you see it. And I’m going back into it. After “Sin Nombre,” I just needed to take a break to go to completely different worlds. But “True Detective” has a lot of relatively dark places that you have to go. I had to shoot a video… no I can’t give it away…

Damn, you can’t?
Well, I had to shoot something really dark last week, but I had to kind of separate myself from what I was doing. But I remember, I could see the people who were watching at the video village being horrified and I just had to keep on shooting but it involved a little girl. Dark.

Are you sure you don’t want to do the musical next?
I really wish I could! But I’m glad I could do this child soldier movie because I got into NYU with a child soldier story. So it’s been long time trying to do it, more than 14 years, and I finally have enough freedom than I can actually do it. It’s very hard to get those things financed, because who wants to see them? These stories are important and real but you have to find a way to construct the story so people don’t find it a chore or an obligation.

Which is where genre comes in handy—“Sin Nombre” could be classed more as a drama or thriller than a social issues movie... So if you were to put a generic tag on your child soldier movie?
Hmm. [Laughs] A coming of age film?

"True Detective" airs early next year on HBO.

This article is related to: Cary Fukunaga, Television, TV News, Beasts Of No Nation, The Foldlings, True Detective, Interviews, Interviews, It (Stephen King)


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