Frosty Interviews Steven Shainberg and Erin Cressida Wilson

     November 9, 2006

Steven Shainberg never intended to make a true biography of Diane Arbus. When I was speaking to him at the Fur junket he said that a real biography is boring and anti-climatic since you already know what is going to happen. What he wanted to do was make a film that felt like you were looking at a Diane Arbus picture come to life.

But let’s back up for a second.

Opening tomorrow, in limited release, is Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. The film stars Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus and Robert Downey Jr. as Lionel, the strange upstairs neighbor who is the key to opening Diane up as an artist. While in real life how Diane discovered her fascination with unorthodox subjects is a mystery, in the film it is Lionel who helps Diane escape from her normal world, as a mother and a wife, as he exposes her to the underground environmentwhere he lives. He does this due to his hair problem. Think Chewbacca, but instead of being a Wookie, he is a man who has to live with looking like that all the time.

If you are not familiar with Diane Arbus, she was a photographer during the 60’s who took pictures that most artists at the time wouldn’t dream of taking. From prostitutes to transvestites, she went after the fringe of society and took their picture. But what is most interesting about Diane is that she did all this very late in her life. She was married and had a family and then after her separation from her husband, around the age of 36, she discovered her voice as an artist. In her twelve year remaining years she was able to start an entire movement as well as influence many other artists. She might have done more, but in 1971 she took her own life.

While the film attempts to imagine how she took her first steps as an artist, you can read a great biography by Patricia Bosworth titled “Diane Arbus: A Biography” if you want to learn more.

I guess the best way to understand what the film is trying to do is to post what comes up before the film begins:

This is a film about Diane Arbus, but it is not a historical biography. Arbus, who lived from 1923 to 1971, is considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. Certainly, her pictures changed the face of American photography forever.

What you are about to see is a tribute to Diane: a film that invents characters and situations that reach beyond reality to express what might have been Arbus’s inner experience on her extraordinary path.

Steven Shainberg set out to create a film that would make you think of a Diane Arbus painting. It is only fitting that the film is getting mixed reviews from critics, just like Diane’s work did when it first came out.

The interviews that you can listen to below were done in small roundtable form. There were three of us in the room asking questions and unlike a lot of roundtables, all the questions are really good. Also unlike some audio interviews these came out great and with very clear audio. If you are interested in listening to the creators of Fur talk about the film you can either click on the link below to listen now, or right click it and save it to your computer for listening later. The interviews are in MP3 form.

Steven Shainberg


He talks about what he is like as a director on set to his creative process. He also mentions that they all watched Beauty and the Beast and tried to follow the lead set by that film where the beast was played like a man.

Something also to listen for is at 5:30 when I ask about Bill Pope being the DP of this film and how he landed him after doing so much Hollywood big budget movies. In case you forget who Mr. Pope is, think Spiderman and The Matrix films.

Erin Cressida Wilson


Erin Wilson also wrote Secretary and this audio interview provides a great window into her mindset for how she creates and writes a script. She talks a lot about the creative process and how writing alone, and at home, can influence what comes out. She wrote the script while pregnant and describes how that influenced her as well.

look for a lot of upcoming audio interviews in the weeks ahead

one of Diane’s famous pictures

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