We sat down this week with talented filmmaker Cary Fukunaga to talk about Jane Eyre, his captivating movie based on Charlotte Bronte’s classic romantic novel, which he brought to the big screen this past year. The visually stunning period piece was shot on location in the English Midlands and has a darker Gothic tone to it than previous adaptations. Jane Eyre is set to release on DVD and Blu-ray on August 16th and was the opening film at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival.
Cary talked with us via Skype from Berlin about what inspired him to do his own fiery adaptation, why he enjoyed working with the film’s impressive cast, and how he collaborated with DP Adriano Goldman on the film’s gorgeous cinematography and with composer Dario Marianelli on its passionate score. He also discussed how the Sundance Institute and his multicultural background and experience have contributed to his success as a global filmmaker, and updated us on his upcoming projects including the Beirut musical he’s hoping to collaborate on with Zach Condon, two untitled sci-fi flicks – one of which is rumored to be in development with producer Gore Verbinski for Universal, and his Civil War heist film, No Blood, No Guts, No Glory, that he’s currently co-writing with Chase Palmer and plans to direct. It’s hard to predict what the eclectic writer/director will do next, but Cary revealed he might even consider an all out comedy in the future. Hit the jump for the full interview.
Cary Fukunaga: Yeah! But I don’t even have a Blu-ray machine so I won’t be able to watch it.
Can you tell us what we can expect to see?
Fukunaga: It’s so funny. I have no idea what they put on the DVD. No one has told me. I have no idea what deleted scenes are on there. I hope not too many because they’re usually deleted for a reason. I’ve heard there are some featurettes on there that a friend of mine shot so I’m hoping you’ll see some of those. There will be a commentary with me by myself and there’ll also be an Easter Egg commentary.
There have been a lot of different adaptations of Jane Eyre that have come to the big screen. What inspired you to do your own adaptation?
Fukunaga: I hadn’t really considered the other versions. I grew up only seeing one of them which was the Bob Stevenson version. It didn’t really affect me that so many versions had been made. It didn’t cause me to pause or to second guess it. Jane Eyre was one of those films that I was familiar with as a kid and I always enjoyed the story. I suppose if I were to say why these kinds of stories interest me, I’d say even with my first film, Sin Nombre, they’re about companionship and looking for love.
The look and tone of Jane Eyre is amazing. What inspires your extraordinary attention to detail and accuracy?
Fukunaga: I definitely pay attention to details. I think one of the hardest things about making a movie is that it can be scrutinized over and over again. If anything just isn’t right, it’s going to take you out of the film. As a director, your job is to make sure no one for any reason is taken out of the film. Sometimes it’s impossible and sometimes things don’t come out the way you want them to, but I think you have to work really hard at making the world engrossing and details are a major part of that.
Fukunaga: Adriano and I have worked together since my first film and we have a really nice sort of shorthand. I was a cinematographer myself before so we have a strong mutual respect for each others’ lighting and camera positioning and stuff. We just see eye-to-eye and we have our little arguments on set and figure out how we’re going to shoot the film. It’s always like continual discovery. I don’t storyboard and I don’t really shot list. I let the shots be determined by how the actors and I figure out the blocking in a scene and then from there we cover it. And then, Adriano’s lighting, there’s a general theme that we speak about beforehand. We talk about naturalism and about trying to make the interiors feel as dark as they do touring these sites and the nighttimes feel as dark as they would be with candles and make sure it can be as rugged and unforgiving as possible and that’s being looked for in terms of locations. And with Dario, similarly, the score is very much determined by the landscape. I was looking for a jagged, raw sounding, passionate score, something that has to do with Jane and her inner fire and her sort of blossoming discovery of her sexuality and her intellect.
Fukunaga: It’s kind of overwhelming when you name them all at once. They were fantastic. They really were. It was such a pleasure working with all of them and some of them just really stood out to be jewels. Sally Hawkins only spent two or three days. I just loved working with her. She really gave it her all. She’s a really fantastic actress and also a giving soul. And every time Judi was on set, it was like having royalty around. She is just so inspiring and there’s nothing about her that isn’t still excited about making movies. There’s no jadedness or fatigue with having done this for decades. She treats every prop and every day on set as another exciting adventure, and I think for the young actors, like Mia and even Michael, to see that sort of dedication and that positive attitude is an amazing inspiration.
Both Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre have strong female protagonists. Are you attracted to stories with strong female characters?
Fukunaga: Yes, I think it’s more interesting. In Sin Nombre, the girl makes the decisions but in a lot of ways she didn’t have a lot of choices or places to make choices. So, when I could give her something that defined her more, I tried to do that. Jane is obviously the protagonist of this film and she’s an extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive woman. And I think, whatever I do for my next film, I’ll definitely have a woman in there that is driving her own destiny. I think that’s far more interesting than female characters that are just used as devices in films.
You won the Directing Award for Sin Nombre at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Can you talk about the Sundance experience and what that was like for you?
Fukunaga: Sundance took me on my first film and from there sort of launched my career. Through the deadlines that Sundance had for the Lab, it kept me on point writing my first script. Right out of Sundance Lab, Focus Features optioned my script and I made the film a year later. I’m pretty much indebted to them as a group and as an institute. I was just in L.A. in June for their 30th anniversary. I got to say a few words about what it was like to be a filmmaker there. Michelle Satter, who runs the Institute, is like the fairy godmother to many directors including Quentin Tarantino and Paul T. Anderson and Darren Aronofsky. That list goes on and on. She’s sort of the unsung hero and I think you can always call them still. If I needed to screen my film with people I trusted and opinions that I respected, she’d always assemble a group of people to screen your film and have a real interesting dialogue before anyone else gets to see it or has to see it. It’s just the ongoing support. I mean, some of my best friends coming out of the lab are people I spent weeks with sort of sweating and crying and figuring out who we were and what kind of the films we were going to make. I mean, here in Berlin, I’m writing in the morning with one of my friends, So Yung Kim, from the Writing and Director Lab. She’s out here working on her third feature. It creates these friends groups and these networks that sort of extend around the world.
Fukunaga: Shooting on location was amazing. The house we used for Thornfield Hall was, I think, a thousand years old or possibly eleven hundred years old. It predates the Doomsday Book and it’s gone through many transitions. You just walk in that space and it immediately transports you to a different time with all the period costumes. It’s pretty awesome to see people dressed up in period clothing and running around on horses and in carriages and all that kind of thing. Part of the fun of making a period film is just that playfulness. It’s just like make believe when you’re a child except you get to do it for a real job.
You mentioned you were just at Karlovy Vary and you’ll be attending the Sarajevo Film Festival shortly.
Fukunaga: Jane Eyre opened up Karlovy Vary at the beginning of July and then I’m going to Sarajevo next. These are mostly film festivals that I have relationships with. It’s really celebrating film but also celebrating places that mean something to me. I went to Karlovy Vary for my first film, and I went to Sarajevo with my short film (Victoria para chino) about four years ago before I made Sin Nombre, and I’ve been back three times. It’s just places that I have a lot of heart for.
Fukunaga: More than anything it’s just nice to be able to communicate and be able to identify with a lot of different cultures. I have no idea what it would be like to be just one thing and speak one language. I feel enormously privileged to travel and be able to mingle and speak to people that, had I only known English, I wouldn’t have been able to meet. I think that one of the most exciting things about making films as well is the sort of reaching out to the world. It’s also as an ambassador. You realize the more you travel that you are a cultural ambassador for your own country. You never become more patriotic than you do living abroad. It’s nice to represent to other people in the world that Americans actually do know what’s happening in the world, can speak other languages and are conscientious. The perception quite often is that we don’t know what’s beyond our county line.
What do you have coming up next?
Fukunaga: I’m not quite sure yet what it’s going to be.
Fukunaga: Yes, I’m still working on the musical. I’m not sure if Beirut’s going to do it. I think Beirut, or at least Zach Condon, might be doing a musical with somebody else. I was just too slow. (laughs) Jane Eyre took up a lot of time. I never really said I was going to work with Beirut. It was just a guy whose music I respect a lot and I was interested in it. But we never sat down and said we were going to make a musical together. It just kind of got printed out there on a Playlist or somewhere on Pitchfork, but actually we hadn’t really discussed fully that we were going to make a musical together because I had to write the story first. And then, once I wrote the story, I was going to figure out who musically would be the best choice to work with. So, since I’m not done writing it, I can’t do that yet.
Are you working on a sci-fi time travel film project that you’re going to helm?
Fukunaga: I am working on a couple sci-fi projects at the moment. One of them, my own, has to do not necessarily with time travel but time does play a role in it.
Fukunaga: No. I’m terrible at making titles. I never like the titles of my films.
Are you writing and directing both of them?
Fukunaga: Yes, I am. I don’t think I’d ever write anything that I don’t also direct just because it’s so hard and painful to write as it is. There are moments of the process that I like but there’s nothing better than finishing something and looking at it. Whether it be a script or a movie, it’s this complete little thing that now exists and is hopefully immortal.
Can you update us on your Civil War tale, No Blood, No Guts, No Glory that you’re directing and co-writing with Chase Palmer?
Fukunaga: Chase and I are in the midst of doing a re-write right now.
How’s that coming along?
Fukunaga: I think the script is on the right track but it’s hard to say when I’ll want to shoot it until I’ve read the script. It’s the same thing with titles for films. It’s like bands, they spend all this time figuring out the name of their band and then they have no good songs. I’d rather have a bunch of good scripts and then figure out which ones make sense to make next and then figure out what to call them.
Fukunaga: No. That’s the other thing. People ask me that a lot when I’m writing and very rarely do I think about the perfect cast for something like this because it’s so disappointing if you don’t get that person. I’d just rather not set myself up for disappointment. That’s all.
Is there a genre you haven’t work in yet that you’d like to?
Fukunaga: If I do that musical and I do that sci-fi, I feel like I’ve covered a lot of bases (laughs) or genres, I mean, besides an all out comedy. I’d rather do a dramedy than an all out comedy. I don’t know, maybe a comedy. Comedies are hard and comedy is often times a young racket so I don’t know.
Is there anything else?
Fukunaga: Don’t forget to mention that there is an Easter Egg commentary on the DVD somewhere.
Can you tell us anything about that?
Fukunaga: (laughs) They’ll have to find it.
Jane Eyre will be available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Download and On-Demand from Universal Studios Home Entertainment on August 16th.