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Directors Round Table: McQueen, Greengrass, Holofcener and Jonze Talk Success, Failure, Casting, and Unlearning Film School Wisdom

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 9, 2014 at 1:44PM

The LA Times Directors round table, as part of the Envelope Screening Series, assembled Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), Nicole Holofcener ("Enough Said"), Spike Jonze ("Her"), JC Chandor ("All Is Lost") and John Lee Hancock ("Saving Mr. Banks"). Highlights from their conversation, below.
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LAT Directors Round table

The LA Times Directors round table, as part of the Envelope Screening Series, assembled Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), Nicole Holofcener ("Enough Said"), Spike Jonze ("Her"), JC Chandor ("All Is Lost") and John Lee Hancock ("Saving Mr. Banks"). Highlights from their conversation, below.

The video isn't embeddable, but can be viewed here.

Jonze on success and failure:

"The worst failures are when you fail yourself, you fail your [original] intention. I've come to realize success to me is, 'How close did I get to that original feeling that I started with?' The initial feeling that set me in motion that makes you have to do something."

Greengrass on the final scene in "Captain Phillips":

"We spent most of the day shooting that and it was fine, but you know when you know it's just not it. And the clock ticks on, and we had a hard out -- we had to be off that ship at 7, I think. So it was about half past 5, we were talking to the captain [of the rescue ship, who consulted on the film], and we said, 'Well, where else?' And he said, 'Well, when [the captain] first came on, he would have gone to the infirmary,' which is down the other side of the ship. And I said, 'Well, can we go down there and just try something there?' It's kind of like a last throw of the dice, really. And he said, 'Yeah, sure. There'll be a medic on duty, you can use her.

Blind panic sets in, which actually is a very good place from which to make films, in my experience, because nobody knows what they're doing, least of all me -- but what happens is you stop thinking about it and you start being entirely instinctive.'"

Holofcener on unlearning things from film school:

"When I was in film school, I was taught to know why every character was there, and what every character wants, and that killed the process for me. By the time I got to 60 cards up, with everything nailed down like that, I was so bored. I would never finish a script that way. I'd either written it or created it, and so I stopped outlining, and just started writing. And it was a messier process, and a scarier process, but it's my process... Ultimately you're going to hear a million voices [telling you what to do, in film school and beyond], but you have to still listen to your own, and listen to your gut."

McQueen on the auditioning process, and finding Lupita Nyong'o:

"The key to great auditions is a great casting director. Unfortunately a lot of black actresses don't get the opportunity because there's not a lot of roles [for black women]. Looking for Lupita was like looking for Scarlett O'Hara. There were over a thousand actresses.She was a diamond in the rough. As soon as she appeared, it was just like something else. But [casting director] Francine Maisler deserves a lot of credit. She was amazing."

This article is related to: News, Interviews , Interviews , Nicole Holofcener, Paul Greengrass, Spike Jonze, Steve McQueen


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.