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

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage October 10, 2012 at 10:02AM

At first glance, the idea of pairing filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Brian De Palma together for an onstage conversation doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. After all, what would the filmmaker behind intimate character pieces like “The Squid & The Whale” and “Greenberg” have to say to the master stylist responsible for “Scarface” and “Carrie,” whose career has been built on swooning, impossible camera moves and nail-biting suspense? This idea only appears unconventional until you see Baumbach (accompanied by girlfriend/actress Greta Gerwig) at two showings of DePalma’s latest, “Passion,” which is now screening at the New York Film Festival. As it turns out, the filmmakers are friends and mutual admirers, and organizers have been trying to coordinate an onstage pairing for years.
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Depalma scar

De Palma told a story about how Al Pacino was feeling “very uncomfortable” filming the climactic shootout at the end of “Scarface” and asked for a rehearsal while the film was already over schedule and over budget. “I went back and I was watching what was going on with the rehearsals and then I figured out by watching Al move around, I could see the room was too small. It was something as simple as that. He wanted to have that big table so he could move around it,” so the production rebuilt the table 4 times bigger and reshot the scene 3 weeks later. “It seems so simple when I tell you now, but unless you actually witness this stuff happening, it’s quite something.”

Sometimes it takes more than one person to come up with creative solutions, and that’s why both directors are happy to have someone they can show their work to for advice. De Palma’s new group of cinematic confidantes includes Baumbach, director Wes Anderson and director Jake Paltrow. He said his friendship with this new group reminds him of his time with the Movie Brats of the '70s. “When I was starting to make films in the '60s and went out to Hollywood, there were a group of directors known as the Movie Brats: Marty [Scorsese], Steven [Spielberg], Frances [Ford Coppola] and George [Lucas]. We all hung out together and we were all making movies, movies that all bombed of course, but we were all making movies. And we forged an alliance where we would look at each other's rough cuts, help each other with editing, suggest scripts, and we did that for quite a while until we all went off in our different places. And I kinda miss that fraternity of directors.”

He said he was fortunate to be in a new group of directors, but “it’s a small group and it’s not going to get any bigger.” For “Passion,” DePalma had passed the script to his fellow directors and originally included a convoluted dream-within-a-dream structure that they eventually convinced him to discard. “They read it and they liked the script very much but I’d done this dream sequence and done a take off on ‘Inception,’ a movie I quite liked. And the whole idea was the phone was in the safe in the third level dream and my fellow directors looked at me and said, ‘Get rid of that.’”

“It took three of us, too.” Baumbach added.

“It was unanimous, when you have unanimous consent [that’s what you do]. So it’s very helpful,” DePalma said.

“There is an isolated experience to being a director,” Baumbach said. “It’s very communal because there’s a crew, but it’s only you. You’re the one on the hook. And seeing it in the tradition of Brian and the people he came up with and hearing stories of how they worked on each other's movies. And Steven [Spielberg] came in on the set of ‘Scarface’ and directed a few shootouts in the final big battle. Both it’s cool to hear those things and it opened us up. It made it less precious in a way, all of us, we can talk about it and help each other.” When Wes was having trouble coming up with how to visualize shooting wind for the climax of his latest “Moonrise Kingdom” he turned to De Palma who offered up a solution: make sure you have things in the air. Simple, but it works.

“Essentially we feel the same about movies and moviemaking but we come at it in entirely different ways,” said Baumbach.

"Passion" will be released by EntertainmentOne in 2013. "Frances Ha" will be distributed via IFC Films.

This article is related to: New York Film Festival , Brian De Palma, Noah Baumbach


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