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Derek Cianfrance Talks About His Epic Drama 'The Place Beyond The Pines' & Almost Making Two Movies Out Of 'Blue Valentine'

The Playlist By Edward Davis | The Playlist April 1, 2013 at 3:20PM

Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance took twelve years to make his sophomore effort, "Blue Valentine." A searing relationship drama about husbands and wives starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, it quickly put the almost-forgotten director – who made his feature debut with 1998's still unreleased "Brother Tied" and had turned to documentaries in that time – firmly back on the cinematic map. His follow-up, "The Place Beyond The Pines" arrived a relatively quick two years later, but was six years in the making and Cianfrance actually had Gosling on board before 'Valentine' had even begun shooting.
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Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper

Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance took twelve years to make his sophomore effort, "Blue Valentine." A searing relationship drama about husbands and wives starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, it quickly put the almost-forgotten director – who made his feature debut with 1998's still unreleased "Brother Tied" and had turned to documentaries in that time – firmly back on the cinematic map. His follow-up, "The Place Beyond The Pines" arrived a relatively quick two years later, but was six years in the making and Cianfrance actually had Gosling on board before 'Valentine' had even begun shooting.

Cianfrance presents a triptych of stories in “The Place Beyond The Pines,” exploring themes of fatherhood, legacy and the sins we pass down to our children. A sprawling and engrossing drama that spans two generations (read our review here), 'Pines' stars the outstanding cast of Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Ray Liotta, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn and Rose Byrne. About a motorcycle stunt rider (Gosling) who turns to crime to provide for his family and the cop that he's on a collision course with (Cooper), 'Pines' also centers on the tragic consequences of misguided decisions and how they stain our families. We sat down with the director last month and he told us how Bradley Cooper got cold feet and almost left the project, how a conversation about bank robbery during the making of “Blue Valentine” lead Gosling to star in ‘Pines,' how he fooled and tested his financiers and studio often (which seems to be a theme) and much more.

Cianfrance, Mendes, Place Beyond The Pines
The opening shot of the movie is fantastic [a long, epic and unbroken tracking shot where Ryan Gosling’s character eventually gets into a globe of death and rides around in a motorcycle] and it looks as if Ryan actually pulls off the stunt.
I'll say there's 22 people in America that can do the globe of death and Ryan's not one of them. There’s not a cut. We use something called the Texas switch. I can't tell you what it is but it's a stunt terminology. They say a magician doesn't give away his tricks, but if you watch the film again, or just look at it you might be able to see.

I wanted to instantly rewatch that scene and examine it, but then I thought, just let it retain the magic.

You know [cinematographer] Sean Bobbit and I were talking about the scope and the scale of the film and we quickly understood that we needed to open the film up with an epic shot like so many of our favorite films. From “Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days,” “Touch of Evil” and onward, just great shots. In the first ten minutes of any movie you kind of teach the audience how you want them to watch the movie and for this I wanted people to be active participants.

I want the viewers to actually be active and be looking and not know what's going to happen. “What's he doing with his shirt off with the knife? Is he going to go kill someone?” No. He's in a carnival, “Where's he going? Oh he's a performer. There are three blonde guys with their hair bleached blonde. Is he part of a boy band? Oh, look he's in globe of death.” It all implies that he’s dangerous; he's like an animal in a cage.

Linearity is important in this picture.
Yeah, trying to set up everything because the movie is definitely – it unfolds in this chronology which was very important to me. To me that was one of the crucial courageous choices of the film was to do it in chronological order and not intercut and not flash back, you know not cross cut it like [Alejandro González] Iñárritu who I love, but I feel like I had done that before with “Blue Valentine” so I wanted this one to be linear.

Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance, Gosling

The story just sprawls and feels like it could just keep on going. I've got to imagine there's a longer cut of this movie.

My shooting script is 158 pages, draft 37. Sidney Kimball Entertainment, the financier, told me, “You get it down to 120 you can have the money.” So I found the shrink font button and extended the margins and no one knew, no one caught it.

But I’m in the edit, six months into the edit and I had a 3 and a half hour cut on my hands and you know we weren't going to make our can deadline. Plus when I shoot it's “throw the script away and find living moments.” I had these scenes with Ben and Ryan are arguing about their cut of the loot. We have hours of footage of those two. It's great to me, it's hilarious to watch it but it also doesn't get anywhere and you know you need to remove some of these things to see the sculpture underneath. 

My contract said I had to be under 2:20, and this final version is one frame under 2:20. It is the director’s cut -- it is my cut of the film. The longer cuts, you get lost in different things you get side tracked by all of these moments that I loved. When we sold it to Focus I remember we were in the Presidential suite of some fancy hotel and Lynette Howell, my producer, asked James Schamus if he was happy with the cut and he said “What do you mean? We love the movie.” She says, “But you're happy with the running time?” and he's like “We want to buy the movie." He's like, "Look in the history of Focus Features we've never released a director’s cut and he said that's because every release is a director’s cut” and he said if there's things you want to do to the film that's fine but we love this movie. I actually did go back to it and try to recut, trim up a couple of minutes from it and I showed it to him and he said, “Look I'll release this if you want to, but he said I preferred the longer version,” which to me, I was just testing him, to see if he really meant what he said.

This article is related to: Derek Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond The Pines, Blue Valentine, Interviews, Interview


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