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Interview: Mark Romanek Talks Making 'One Hour Photo,' What Happened With 'Cinderella' & What Might Be Up Next

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist May 7, 2013 at 1:01PM

Even before Mark Romanek yelled action on "One Hour Photo," his debut feature film, he was already a trailblazer behind the camera. The filmmaker had made a name for himself as a music video director, helming iconic spots for Lenny Kravitz ("Are You Gonna Go My Way"), Nine Inch Nails ("Closer"), Madonna ("Bedtime Stories"), Michael Jackson ("Scream"), Fiona Apple ("Criminal"), Johnny Cash ("Hurt") and much, much more. His videos were bold and found Romanek easily able to switch genres musically and stylistically without batting an eye, delivering evocative spots that both defined Romanek and the artists he worked with. But when it came to his feature film, he largely kept the flashy stylization at bay.
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Romanek
There was another film "A Cold Case," which sounds amazing. Is that something that you’re still hoping to make?
That’s a film I’d love to make someday and I talk to Tom Hanks about it from time to time. The character in the film is a bit older and I think someday, in the next eight years or something, maybe it’ll be the right time to do, but it’s just sitting there. It’s a great script by Eric Roth; it’s based on this brilliant non-fiction book by Phillip DeRevich. It’s a beautiful project, but it came at a time when, to make a big-budget R-rated original drama, studios were just shifting to this other mode where they felt uncomfortable. They still aren’t really comfortable making films like that, so if it doesn’t have someone with tights, a mask, and a cape... I mean that’s one I do hope to resurrect.

Would you do a tights and a man in a cape type of movie if the right thing were to walk in front of you?
Yeah, I mean I would. I would never say no to that if there were something that I could hook myself into and get passionate about enough to make that life commitment to making it. I just heard that great talk that [Steven] Soderbergh gave at the San Francisco Film Festival. And he talks about the difference between cinema and movies, and I feel like I’ve engaged on making movies [big-budget movies] with studios, and I tried to infuse a quality of cinema into it in the way that Soderbergh defines it, and that’s made them uncomfortable, I guess. And, of course, those are the big movies that I like, that manage to do that. If I ever work with a studio or a producer that isn’t afraid to strike that balance, then I’d love to do that. I think Chris Nolan does that, Fincher does that, Spielberg does that.

"The business is shifting so dramatically every week, I seem to be unable to find my momentum in it."
With things like "The Wolfman" and "Cinderella," do you have a guard up or do you just sort of wait and see where that process takes you?
I did have my guard up enough on "The Wolfman." On "Cinderella," they knew that I had this unpleasant, unproductive experience on 'Wolfman' and we all agreed to not let it go like that. It was very genial for quite a long time and the head of the studio changed and it’s not that it became ungenial, it's just he had a different idea for the kind of film he wanted it to be after fifteen long months of development, which was unfortunate. He wanted to take it in a different direction and I tried to accommodate that as best as I could and ultimately just decided that they should maybe find another filmmaker that could fulfill that new vision of it. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t become aware of this shift in direction for so long because a lot of work I had put into it for naught, so that was very disappointing.

There’s filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Shane Carruth, who just went off on their own and quietly made their new movies outside the system. Have you thought about doing something like that?
The one we talked about earlier, the man defined by his job, that could be done that way, and we're discussing doing it that way. You have to have a script that has that intimacy and smallness that lends itself to that kind of approach. It has to be just right. I kind of have one foot in the boat and one foot on the pier in the sense that I like big spectacle films and I like doing things that are on a grander canvas, but yet I also really love small, intimate films. "Never Let Me Go" is a pretty small, intimate film, but I love to work on a grander canvas; the nature of the business changed and it’s a little hard for me to find my place these days. And I don’t want to be a Luddite or a romantic, and only make films that are nostalgic for the '70s. I’d like to make films that contemporary audiences will be excited by, it’s just the business is shifting so dramatically every week, I seem to be unable to find my momentum in it.

Would you say that there are more avenues to get films made circa-"One Hour Photo" than now?
Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of money out there, frankly. There’s only a few studios and they’re pretty much focused, 90% or more, on making big, comic-book type, broad appeal films. But there’s tons of independent money floating around because the digital world is shifting so much and the global market is shifting so much, that there’s ways to independently finance films. It’s just the areas of how it gets seen, how and where it gets seen and marketed, is a little problematic, but there seems to be money to make films out there. The trick is falling in love with something enough, and being excited enough by something, to want to make that year and a half or two year commitment and wake up every morning at 5 to go deal with a whole day full of problems to get it up on the screen. You really need passion.

So is that “man with a job” project, is that sort of what you’re focused on now and hoping to get made next?
It’s one of a couple. There’s an actor that's very exciting, wants to do it, but he’s very busy so it’s a matter of trying to figure out when we can fit it into his schedule.

Coldplay Speed Of Sound
And I know you’ve taken a hiatus from doing music videos. Would you ever return to that world?
It’s a matter of: is there a great idea? Does the budget fit that idea? It’s not my priority, but I wouldn’t say no. There’s an artist we’re talking about doing something [with], but I don’t think I’ve made a video for [since] 2005, so it’s been quite a while [ed. it was "Speed Of Sound" for Coldplay]. It’s more lucrative and enjoyable to make interesting commercials to pay the bills in between these struggles to make films.

Why are commercials more appealing than the music videos?
It’s not as artistically appealing [but] I get to work [with] a high level of interesting scripts and clever concepts and I have a certain amount of freedom. You have nice budgets to make this 30 or 60 second thing, you’re not struggling to generate enough footage to make four minutes interesting, and you're paid more frankly, to be honest. I feel very lucky that I have that other avenue to keep busy.

That’s interesting because I think from the outside; people always meld commercials and music videos together as one thing. It didn’t occur to me that a budget for a commercial may be greater than what you get for a music video.
Especially now. It’s routine for me to get a million dollar budget to make a thirty second film. And the largest music video budget these days is $150,000 and you have to try and generate enough interesting footage for four minutes. Plus, I’m kind of over it. I think I made about 100 music videos or more and that was a young man’s challenge. I’m still a rabid music fan and I have ideas for music videos once in a while, but it’s just not my focus. I have two children and a wife and a mortgage, if you want to be a filmmaker you need to be paying for your life someway. I can’t make a film every five years and send my kids to a nice school.

"One Hour Photo" is on DVD and Blu-ray now.

One Hour Photo Bluray Box (Skip)

This article is related to: Mark Romanek, Cinderella, Interviews, Interviews, One Hour Photo


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