NYFF: Brian DePalma & Noah Baumbach Discuss Friendship, Fraternity & Filmmaking In A Career-Spanning Conversation

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by Cory Everett
October 10, 2012 10:02 AM
3 Comments
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Another pair of clips were shown from “Dressed To Kill” and “The Squid & The Whale,” which supposedly showed autobiographical sides to each director. De Palma had been a shy nerdy kid just like Keith Gordon’s character Peter (he even built a circuit board just like the one in the film). Baumbach’s autobiographical elements in ‘Squid’ have already been much discussed so he seemed slightly weary of dredging up the topic again, saying that sometimes the most personal elements in the films are not the obvious story beats but sometimes smaller details that make their way into the film. De Palma agreed, saying “most of the film [sequences] that people think I dream up usually come from some direct experience I’ve had.”

When DePalma was a student at Columbia he and a friend that used to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to pick up girls, so for “Dressed To Kill,” when he was looking for some place to stage a set piece, he thought back to these experiences. “[Always] walk the location,” he advised to other filmmakers. The elder auteur also warned that sometimes setting out to make an autobiographical film can have the adverse effect. “What happens when people make autobiographical films, the problem is that they have the least insight into themselves sometimes. And they usually miscast themselves.”

Turning the focus back to De Palma, Baumbach praised his idol’s elaborate choreography as well as his innate understanding of onscreen geography. “The more I make movies I feel like -- and this is something that nobody’s better at than Brian -- is figuring out really simple things like geography and taking advantage of the space and making it clear. It sounds kinda simple and maybe not even that interesting, but there’s a clarity [in his filmmaking that allows him] to do all these other things.” De Palma added, “Coverage is like the worst thing in the world for me because you’re just recording what the actors are doing. I’m always trying to maximize what the actors are doing. And you have to watch the actors very carefully.”

He also had some quibbles with most modern action sequences. “In shootouts you never know where things are,” De Palma said. “People are shooting and people are fall. You’re going, ‘Are they close? Or are they far? Am I in danger?’ And it drives me crazy to watch things like that." DePalma cited his famous Odessa steps sequence in “The Untouchables” (itself a nod to a sequence in “Battleship Potemkin”) as an example of the kind of shootouts he prefers. But executing action sequences that give the audience a sense of the space “require a lot of thought.” Baumbach said that he makes shot lists with the DP for pre-production but then allows himself the opportunity to change everything once he gets the actors on the set. Making sure the actors are being taken care of was something both directors agreed on the importance of.

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3 Comments

  • steven | October 20, 2012 3:43 PMReply

    Someone once said that Brian De Palma would sell his Grandmother to get a film made. Update that to Brian De Palma has stood on the souls of his children to make films. He is a horrible insensitive excuse for a human being. The void that is his soul gives you what you don't see or feel on screen, ultimatley amounting to nothing.

  • Tom | October 10, 2012 3:53 PMReply

    Great article. If you dig these guys, checkout Baumbach interviewing DePalma on the Criterion release of Blow Out.

  • G.T.O. | October 10, 2012 3:47 PMReply

    Nice!

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