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

Interviews
by Jessica Kiang
July 12, 2013 2:02 PM
12 Comments
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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!

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.

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12 Comments

  • Tonynogales | February 26, 2014 1:36 AMReply

    He seems like really arrogant dilettante. Plus, he calls himself the show runner and says he was responsible for woody and matthew & hbo. Uccchhh. Obnoxious wanker. Glad to see him go.

  • jodie | March 13, 2014 12:06 PM

    Well, since he served as executive producer of the show technically he is a show runner. Also, read an interview with Woody where he stated he had lunch with Fukunaga in NYC and he convinced him to join the show since Matthew was already involved. I don't really think he is being arrogant or a wanker, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

  • Dirk | February 25, 2014 12:36 PMReply

    What director do people think would be best suited for season 2? I'd love to see Kim Nguyen (Rebelle) tackle it...his style would seem to mesh very well with that of Fukunaga.

  • Rocco | January 23, 2014 8:03 PMReply

    Is your movie based on magazine true detective? I have some with story about murder of my father in 1967, the case took over year to solve and ended up my mother hired someone to kill him. F lee bailey was my mothers lawyer very interesting story, I was only 4 yrs old when it happened

  • jacobtrailor | September 6, 2013 2:15 AMReply

    In a powerful, strikingly original voice that vividly captures Agu's youth and confusion, Uzodinma Iweala has produced a harrowing, inventive, and deeply affecting novel. http://kontakt.detectivfrei.ch/

  • Alan B | July 13, 2013 9:37 AMReply

    There aren't many films that NEED to be made, but 'Beasts of No Nation' sounds like one of them. I can't think of many things as cruel, unjust and generally repugnant as putting a gun into a child's hand and conditioning him to kill. This isn't a vanity project about a 30-something actor whose daddy no longer funds his privileged lifestyle. It's a genuinely disturbing sub-culture that the media ignores (with the exception of gimmick internet campaigns) and needs further examination. The film will probably have no stars, it will not make money and he isn't a big enough name to guarantee an awards launch, but I respect that Fukunaga is willing to lose money on a story he believes in.

  • Annika | December 3, 2013 8:20 AM

    Cary Fukunaga has shown repeatedly from his first short that he has a deep belief in social justice. That is why he tackled issues in Mexico and Central America and is now headed to Africa. And whoever called the screenplay for "Sin Nombre" trite does not understand the limitations of subtitling for foreign films nor how much the original screenplay was edited by Focus.

  • Bnala | July 14, 2013 7:00 AM

    The movie you're referring to does need to be made but it also needs to be made well. I hope Mr Fukunaga's scriptwriting skills have improved since "Sin Nombre"... which was a beautifully shot movie with a trite script. Given some of Fukunaga's answers in this interview I'm a little doubtful about the quality of the script.

    @Frimble... have you read the script?

  • Alan B | July 13, 2013 7:43 PM

    Really, what you read it? Why is it so good? And could he cast any stars or names in a supporting role (ala 'Good Will Hunting') or would it completely ruin the authenticity of the film?

  • frimble | July 13, 2013 11:58 AM

    Plus its one of the greatest screenplays ever written.

  • Laurence | July 12, 2013 2:45 PMReply

    Owen Pallett musical?!? Holy shit, yes please. I want to watch every single one of these.

  • HairyFairy | July 13, 2013 4:19 AM

    Fukunaga still has to prove himself, his first two movies were overrated and to be honest a little tedious.

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