Paul Verhoeven Rome

One of the most enjoyable half hours we spent during the Rome Film Festival was in conversation with director Paul Verhoeven. The filmmaker behind a large number of everyone's favorite popcorn movies from the late '80s/early '90s ("RoboCop," "Total Recall," Basic Instinct," "Starship Troopers") is experiencing something of a resurgence of late, with various films of his getting the subpar-remake treatment, which often has the unintended consequence of making us realize all over again just how much we loved the originals. 

Like so many of his films, the Verhoeven we met has himself been remade -- "rejuvenated" he claims, by the experience of making "Tricked" the 50-minute-long, partially crowdsourced film he presented at the festival. A soapy, silly and very fun melodrama, the film is the end product of a long experimental process of audience participation and interaction, but what struck us most is how very Verhoevian it feels. And so that's where we started:

How did you manage to balance the crowdsourcing aspect of the project with the need to assert a singular point of view, for the good of the finished film?
Hopefully that has been done in as fair a way as possible. It was difficult -- you are fully right -- what comes in, you can’t use [in the form it’s in.] And so you have to intervene, you have to really do things and you have to balance that against the ideas of the people, so that you don’t start to make your own movie. 

In the beginning I was overwhelmed, not only by the amount of scripts -- 700 -- but also by the fact there was never anything in these 700 script that I thought, “Ok, this is a good [chunk].” No, there were many good ideas, lots of different pieces that I put together, so there was, let’s say, enormous hidden influence by me and my Dutch scriptwriter. 

We would look at all the scripts and we would use several colors -- red was “really interesting” green was, “Hmm, could be,” and blue was like for little details, a line of dialogue or this or that. And often these scripts were completely blank, there was no red, no green and no blue at all.

But if you then looked at the stack of scripts and all the colors, you would see there were a lot of those things that were ultimately used, but they were never used as [the contributor] meant it, or if they were used as they meant it, then the next part of the dialogue, the next part of the scene would come from another script. 

I think you can work with the public, I think it is possible, I feel that we proved more or less that it is possible, but you should not think that they do it. They do part of it, but you have to do yourself also a lot of work. You have to accept the idea that you don’t get it as a present, it’s more like here is something, there is something...

So you’re almost like a curator?
Absolutely. And because they are now talking about selling the format to other countries, people are asking “How did you do it?” and I have to warn them that it is not something you get as a present, you really have to work at it. My small writing crew -- just me, my scriptwriter and my assistant who can also write -- during these six months we were constantly working, reworking, rereading, and when we were working on episode 6, we’d have to go back to episode 2, because maybe there was something there we could use.

Did the format of the project influence your directorial style as well as the scripting?
Directing it, you know, I looked at their movies -- there were about 20 groups in Holland that made the same movie I did, with half professionals or no professionals, and I looked through all these movies. And sometimes there were ideas that I thought, just a camera angle or something and I’d make a note, and then when I was shooting it would come to mind and I would use it. 

Some [of the other] versions were, you know, with puppets, or one version transformed everybody to being homosexual, everybody was lesbian or gay. [In fact] I thought that Kim van Kooten, the [primary] writer had [in the original first scene] suggested that there might be a homosexual couple, and then I decided that we would not do that because it’s so fashionable. I’ve seen that now in so many movies that it looks nearly like political correctness to do it. And I thought this movie should not be about political correctness.


In your films you often play with what the audience knows vs what the characters know for maximum effect. Here, in the stabbing scene, we already know the pregnancy is a fake -- did you ever want to play it the other way?
Yes. Because it was presented to me [like that] in one of the earlier versions, in one of the early episodes somebody wrote that scene and at that time you didn’t know, so it seemed like really she was stabbing, killing an [unborn] child. And I felt that it was too early, but it might be an interesting idea. And it came up later. And you understand that pretty well -- we were really discussing it, my scriptwriters and I -- “should we do this when we know that it’s not true or should we do it unexpectedly?" And I thought it was more in style of the movie, which has a certain lightness, not to go in the direction that it would be unknown. 

And it’s interesting, because then I thought, perhaps it’s a bit boring then, if we know the [pregnancy is not real]. And we have shown it is a fake, and he has said ”she is not really pregnant” but then when it happens, the visual power of the scene overrules thinking. You jump when she is stab, stab, stab and then it occurs to you “oh she is not pregnant” and then you have a haha! [moment]. Yesterday [at the screening] that was visible, and I think that’s as perfect as possible because that’s so much the style…I think we made the right decision to tell the audience that it’s not true, and then use it anyhow.