The Collider Interview: Marc Forster

     October 19, 2005

Posted by Mr. Beaks

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If Marc Forster’s been frustratingly difficult to pin down as an artist four films into his career, at least he’s been successful in his elusiveness.; He won an Independent Spirit Award for his first feature, Everything Put Together, a downbeat depiction of SIDS long on stylization and paranoia, and then went spare for his highly acclaimed follow-up, Monster’s Ball, which derived its power from the searing intensity of its performances.; His third film, the 2004 Best Picture nominee Finding Neverland, was truly confounding if only because it felt as if Forster had capitulated to the Harvey homogenization that has rendered many a year-end Miramax release wholly unmemorable.

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As if in reaction to that, Stay, opening this Friday, is Forster’s most aggressively stylized piece yet.; The story of a well meaning psychiatrist’s (Ewan McGregor) anguished attempt to unravel the mystery of a troubled young patient (Ryan Gosling) who has made very definite plans to kill himself, it’s both a psychological thriller and a doomed romance pumped up with lots of philosophizing on the nature of human existence that would like nothing more than to fuck with the viewer’s head.; It’s the kind of film that means to send you staggering out of the theater in much the same manner Fight Club did, which is no coincidence as David Fincher spent a year developing this project with screenwriter David Benioff.

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That said, this is definitely Forster’s film.; While he does e;xe;cute; several very jarring sequences (including the bravura car wreck that opens the picture), he’s less interested in assaulting the audience than guiding them through a sometimes intense, sometimes gentle, sometimes disconcerting acid trip that darkens but never really threatens to go bad.; Going heavy on location shooting, Forster has created a New York City that may befuddle even the most observant Gothamites.;

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After seeing the film Monday morning, I rushed home through rain-slowed traffic to chat on the phone with Forster about Stay, which, once again, redefines him as a filmmaker.; Just don’t expect this to aesthetic to stick; he’s already shifting gears with his next movie, the Will Ferrell/Emma Thompson romantic comedy Stranger Than Fiction.;


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When did you finish Stay?

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We shot it late fall 2003, and then I was editing from January to Summer 2004, and then I took a while off to do the promotion for [Finding Neverland].; And we decided that we’re not going to release it with Neverland together because that would be counterproductive for me. Basically, I picked it up again and did the sound mix, and finished it in January of 2005.;

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I actually interviewed David Benioff a few months ago, and we discussed David Fincher, who was on this project initially.

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Yes, that’s correct.

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And worked on it for a year.; When you came on, did you just discard everything and start from scratch, or were there some ideas that were too good to be left out?

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No, I loved the two Davids’ draft.; (Laughs); I thought they definitely improved his initial first draft.; I basically took that over and did a few little changes and adjustments myself.; But I pretty much kept it in that sort of realm.

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Well, the film, right from the beginning, operates on dream logic.

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I’m glad you say that, because I really tried to make that very clear that it operates not in reality.

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You employ such disorienting angles, and I liked how you’d make cuts from over the shoulder angles to huge overhead angles.; You definitely keep the audience off-balance.; When you were designing this, though, were you ever worried about the viewers being able to follow the story?

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I thought that there would be some viewers that will be turned off by it, thinking “I don’t really want to follow this.”; I think that some viewers will be intrigued by it because we’re not really making any films like this these days.; I was always inspired by those thrillers made in the late 60’s and 70’s, which often at the end you never really understood what happened.; There was always some sort of unclarity about them, but, still, the experience itself was always so fascinating and interesting, and the characters and the images and the tone… I loved those movies.

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Kind of like The Parallax View, and movies like that?

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Exactly, yeah.

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That’s cool.; But this is really interesting because you’ve got a protagonist who’s questioning everything – not just a conspiracy, but his very existence, the nature of his existence, which plays very much into that solipsism which is very in vogue right now, especially in literature with folks like Dave Eggers.

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I think we just in general live in a very disorienting time at the moment.; We’re getting so over-flooded from media and images constantly.; But I think what the world is going through is a shift of perception.; There are so many things happening, and it’s interesting how people’s perception constantly shift and one doesn’t even know anymore what’s the truth and what’s not the truth.; The line of the truth has been readjusted and shifted so many times.; It’s fascinating, and I think that’s probably why storytelling has become shifted in a sense as well; linear thinking has sort of… it’s not dissolving, but it’s definitely going through an evolution.

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And the films have been reflecting that.; Most notably, I think Memento really hopped on that, and I think it’s become very popular to do non-linear narratives.;

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For me, the challenging thing is not being able to fall back on a rational explanation while directing.; It was a real challenge, because, ultimately, you come to directing from an intuitive point, and you have to instinctively decide what’s right and wrong.; Stories set in reality, like Monster’s Ball, that’s very clear where the actors are at, what your objective is in the scene, what the motivation is… I think it’s pretty much in an obvious sense when one has a sensitivity, one knows how to shoot it as well.; If that would have been me directing it or someone else, I think those types of movies… there’s a certain sensitivity and a certain idea of how to approach it subtly with an obvious understanding of characters and an understanding of emotions – locked up emotions or whatever.; I think that something like Stay is, for me personally, much more tricky because I can’t fall back on my rationality; I can’t fall back on the obvious.; I constantly have to intuitively decide what’s right or wrong, and figure things out as I’m shooting because one is in a sort of flux world, and one never knows what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.; It’s really challenging, and that was really interesting for me to go through.; To be honest, I don’t have to go through it again (laughs), because it was something that was trick.; It’s a tricky world to create and be in.

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There is this great barrage of imagery, which is more in line with what you were doing in your first film [Everything Put Together], or more stylistically associated with that than what you’ve been doing lately.

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I think the straightforward films ultimately are more for the wider audiences, or… are a safer bet, a safer journey.; Doing a film like this, you make yourself vulnerable to a lot of people saying, “Okay, what’s this.; This is, like, a nothing”.; I think it’s about so much, but, at the same time, you don’t show any answers or give any answers.; It’s all open to interpretation; everybody who watches the movie has their own private film and can make their own personal interpretation of they have just experienced.

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Is there a preference in making a film like Finding Neverland or Stay?;

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There’s no preference.; Finding Neverland was pretty tricky, too, because when I read the script it had a certain sentimental edge to it to say the least.; So, to figure out that you’re constantly trying to hold everybody back and try to fight against any kind of manipulation… ultimately, you can’t get away with it because you’re still manipulating.; You just try to do everything you can to fight against it at all costs.; On Stay, it’s a whole different set of problems, but it seems that ultimately the message and the storytelling of Neverland are very clear.; Everybody walks away with a similar [interpretation]; it’s all spelled out for you.; On Stay, a lot of people – not all of them – walk away confused.; Or they start to interpret it [differently].; It’s just a different set of problems.

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It’s just one of those films that will shake you up a bit.; You talk a bit about not having a clear explanation; how did your actors – Ewan, Naomi and Ryan – take to that?

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(Laughing); At the beginning, we started trying to break it down and find our own reality, and then we realized this is not going to work.; We can’t approach it like we would any other movie.; We just have to get into the scene, block the scene, feel it out, and make decisions and adjustments as we were shooting it.; Sometimes, it was very emotional and very challenging because we all were on the precipice; we thought, “Okay, we might fail.; And it might not work because we all are in the dark.”; I know visually and tonally where I want to go, but, at the same time, I just made a decision on the spot.;

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Your location shooting in New York… you use the exteriors of housing projects very well.; There is something otherworldly in the way all of those units are lumped together and are so symmetrical.; When you were looking for locations, were you trying to find a New York that hadn’t been shot before?

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Yes, that’s what we did try to do.; We were just looking for a different approach to New York.; I think most of that apartments we shot, people do live in them.; They’re not used for social housing.; The one building where Ewan lived used to be a hospital, and they converted it into a condo.; The building at one point maybe used to be a project, but they converted it.; [ed. note:; I never clarified this, but I meant the apartment where Gosling’s character resides.]; In New York, especially in Manhattan, anything that can make money will be converted.;

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(Laughing) Pretty much.

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I just tried to find locations that I hadn’t seen in films and didn’t feel reminiscent.; Also, they feel slightly removed, slightly cold.; I did this on purpose because I felt that that kind of architecture ultimately will… become part of the story.

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This film seems to have been held for awhile, as was the case with Finding Neverland.; Are you getting tired of waiting for these movies to get their eventual release?

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I was glad this one wasn’t released together with Finding Neverland.; I think that would have been really confusing.; Now, I hope that time is over because Stranger Than Fiction, the film I just shot in Chicago, is supposed to come out next fall, so that’s a good thing.

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That sounds like it’s more straightforward, but working with Will Ferrell I suppose anything’s possible.;

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(Laughing); Exactly.; It’s a romantic comedy.

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How is that going?; How was working with Will?

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It was a fantastic experience.; I loved it.; It was very refreshing because nothing was taken too seriously, and I was just very open and easy.;

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It’s interesting because, once again, you have a character who’s questioning his reality… I guess in a very different sense.

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In a very humorous sense.;

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If Stay was a difficult thing, was this a way of working out some demons?

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Stranger Than Fiction is a counter-piece to it.; One gets all its answers through that.

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Beyond Stranger Than Fiction, do you have anything else lined up or any direction in which you’re looking to head with your career?

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No, I’m just trying to always do different stories that challenge me, and as long as I enjoy telling them.; And once I don’t enjoy it anymore, I’ll stop.

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That’s a sensible way of doing it.

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I feel one should only do in life what one really is passionate about and enjoys.; And the moment that wouldn’t exist anymore, I would have to figure something else out.

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Before that happens, I fully expect the guy to try out every genre imaginable.; Perhaps he’ll quit when he finally repeats himself.; Until then, you’ve got Stay to add to the Forster enigma opening all over the country this Friday, October 21st.

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