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Interview: Director David Lowery Discusses His Sundance Sensation 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' & Assembling 'Upstream Color'

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage February 1, 2013 at 10:21AM

David Lowery went from being a relative unknown to having one of the heavily anticipated films of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the outlaw drama, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” Though his most recent short film “Pioneer” picked up acclaim at the festival in 2011, not many saw his previous micro budgeted feature “St. Nick,” a dreamy brother-sister tale which cast only non-professional actors. And yet the anticipation for this film was off the charts thanks in part to the casting of Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine and Nate Parker for this “Bonnie & Clyde”-like tale of criminals determined to reunite with each other at whatever cost.
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Lowery ATBS

To switch gears a little bit, you also co-edited "Upstream Color" which was very narratively fragmented. Was the film built that way on the page or was that something that developed in the editing room?
The script is very similar to the finished film. If you had entered a new scene every time the movie had cut from one location to the other, I think the script would have been about 300 pages long but it was pretty accurate to the running time, probably about 90 pages. But the movie evolves as you shoot it and that was certainly the case with “Upstream Color.” As I was editing it, I was looking back at the script and it’s remarkably close and I think that speaks to Shane’s clarity of vision. He knows from the very beginning what it is he’s after and sometimes that evolved a little bit. One of those instances would be that scene where it’s cutting back and forth, over the course of the conversation, and that was a scene that I cut it that way because Shane was off shooting another scene and I was looking at the footage and saw that they had shot the same conversation multiple times in different locations and was thinking, “Well, this is probably how this was meant to go.” Very often that’s how the whole movie was put together. You ascertain what the director intended and then as it goes it just all starts to fit together.

In this movie in particular, because there’s so much density to it, it developed a musicality and the cutting became a very rhythmic thing. I think that was always intended but it was really fun to figure it out from the footage. For the first month that I was editing, I had very little interaction with Shane because he was still shooting the film. As we got towards the end and things were picking up, we just got faster and faster. At some point we had finished the film and we were looking at the first assembly and realized that the last thirty minutes had no dialogue. It wasn’t something conscious that we were after and it wasn’t something that was scripted, it just worked out that way. It was such a natural and instinctive thing that it took a little while for us to realize that it was indeed a silent movie for the last reel or two and all the dialogue prior to that is all just quotes from “Walden.” That’s something that was a wonderful surprise to realize that the movie had gone in that direction of its own accord almost and that it wasn’t an intentional decision. I’m a big believer in gut instinct and following whatever feels right and that was a very definite case of following that instinct and winding up with a movie that worked that way.

Upstream Color
Do you think you might work with Carruth again in the future?
I would love to. I know what his next film is and when he’s hoping to shoot it, but we’ll see how things go. At the very least I would always hope to be a sounding board and someone he can show a cut to. He was the very first person to see a cut of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” I look forward to working together at the very least in the capacity of friends showing each other movies or just friends hanging out, that’s always the bar by which I set all collaborations. Hopefully we’ll hang out in the future a lot and sometimes that will involve making movies.

Did it change much from that first cut Shane saw to the final cut at Sundance? What was his feedback like?
Yeah, it changed a lot. The first cut was cut for tone more than anything else the first time and it was really different. At the moment that was the best version of it, and I was like “Alright, we got it, here it is. This is the final cut it’s not going to change at all.” I kind of knew that wasn’t true but at the same time I had gotten to that plateau for a moment and just sat back like, “Okay, this is great. I got it to where it needs to be.” Then we would show it to people and you realize, “Oh, wait, it’s not there at all.” Nonetheless, Shane watched that first cut and gave us great notes and at one point, he even recut a scene for me because he had some ideas and he said, “I can just explain it better if I recut it.” So he did that which gave some remarkable clarity on how to put the movie together. That scene that he cut isn’t in the movie in that way, but just the way he did it was the spark that gave me an idea for how the rest of the movie could work and gave me confidence to try some new things.

Do you have any idea what's next?
I’m working on three different screenplays at the moment, just taking a lazy Susan approach and trying to get a little bit done on each one on every day until whichever one catches fire first is magically done which is how all my scripts always seem to finish themselves. I never know exactly how I finish any screenplay because it usually takes about six months for the first twenty pages and then all of a sudden it’ll be done one day and I don’t remember how I wrote it. I’m waiting for that to happen and I would love to be getting something going by the end of the year because it’s really difficult to make a film and while you’re in the midst of it you’re like, “Why did I choose this? Why did I ever sign up for this?” And then as soon as you wrap, on the last day, you’re like “Man, I can’t wait to make another one.” The longer you go without having made one, the more you just want to get back behind the camera. Right now, I’m just really excited about making something new and learning new things and growing as a person and as a filmmaker. I’m always just curious, I want to know more about everything and to accomplish that I make movies. So, I’m ready to learn some more.

This article is related to: Ain't Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery, Interviews, Interviews


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