The Chumscrubber Interview (Part 2)
Distributor: Newmarket Films
Released: Aug 5, 2005
Sara M. Fetters
[Interview continued from Part 1]
The Bonnie & Arie Show
Talented Producer and Director Talk About Making The Chumscrubber
SM: Which brings me to the cast. (silence – lots of it – this has to be a question they get a LOT)
SM: Okay, I guess I’m not even sure where I’m going with this but, when you are sitting there casting and you think to yourself the perfect people for a part, did you ever in your wildest dreams think you’d end up with a cast filled with the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Glenn Close and Rita Wilson and Jamie Belle and John Heard and Jason Isaacs and Allison Janney and Carrie-Anne Moss and…
AP: No, of course not.
Actually, when we were working on the script we were actually thinking of Ralph Fiennes for the part of the Mayor, but in that way where you say to yourself, “Ralph Fiennes would be perfect for that role,” but you never expect him to actually take the part. It’s like, “Glenn Close would be perfect for that!”
And then someone says, “Yeah, good luck with that.”
You know what I mean?
BC. Exactly. That’s exactly the way it is.
AP: So, we certainly imagined those people but, rationally, I was terrified thinking where are we going to find [the right actors] for these complex roles. Especially the kids. Where were we going to find them? I mean, they’re playing so many contradictory complex roles most of the time. All of them. In most of the scenes having to play two different things at the same time which is really the hardest thing to do. Again, though, for me in the movies I love the most interesting thing to see an actor do to see them not play just one thing, that there is a lot going on. But that’s hard for a seasoned actor, and they’ve been doing it for decades. So where do you find an 18-year-old who can show no emotion because he’s holding everything in because he just found his friend dead, and yet at the same time he’s showing you everything. You can’t teach that. It has to be there, it has to be in the person’s soul, so we just got very lucky to find the actor’s we did.
And I met with hundreds of actors over the course of this thing, and a lot of good ones, but the cast we have – particularly the kids – was really handpicked. Not only because they were great actors but because of what they brought to each of these roles. With the adults it was Bonnie and Lawrence providing the most incredible access, their being able to call some of these people and say, “Here’s a script, just read it.”
BC: We were talking about this a little earlier, but these were really exciting calls for me to make. It put me in a place of like just calling Ralph, or we had Ben Kingsley attached for some time (the schedule just wasn’t able to work out) that by the time of shooting it was literally who could come and shoot their scenes during those thirty days. SO we had to shoot out Ralph during the first nine, or another actor for the middle three, or this, or that, that it finally becomes a giant jigsaw puzzle of what you can do when.
But, to be able to call Ralph and say I’ve gotten my own deal now and I’ve got this project and I’m going to do it with Lawrence Bender and I want you to read it. If you see in this what I see, I want you to meet Arie. Sometimes as a producer I’ve done things [for a picture] I wasn’t completely comfortable doing but I felt I had to, these were all extremely comfortable calls for me because it was such a unique situation and this script was so special and it was empowering to know we were not the only ones who thought that. It proved that – I got to tell you – it’s all about the material because the actors really flocked to us. They don’t see a lot of great material, and once they read [it], once they met Arie it really became all about putting the puzzle together.
Then, dealing with financiers and trying to explain to them that this combination of actors will do well. You know, because they want and are always pushing you to overload a cast and not ground the film in reality. There is nothing more that I hate in independent films right now than seeing every single face that pops up is a – and I don’t want to name names – star and you just want to say stop.
AP: It does get a little old.
SM: But, you do get a cast like this, one of the better ones assembled this year, how hamstrung are you then to now have to shoot things according to their schedules and not your own? How much does that shake things up?
AP: It changed things on a very practical level.
BC: That is so absolutely correct… ooops… that’s a really great way to say it. Sorry. You answer. (LOTS OF LAUGHING) I’m really glad that’s how you feel about that because that is how I feel, too.
AP: Thank you. I hope you comment on all my answers, too. “Oh my god. That was so wrong! Wrong!”
(they’ve suddenly turned into brother and sister; laughing and carrying on like loving siblings ready to mercilessly rib the other into unintelligible giggles)
SM: Do you want me to go and you two continue on your own…
BC: Okay, sorry, go ahead. (things settle down)
AP: It changed things on a very practical level, because I have the way I want to shoot it or the way I see it in my head, the vision of it I guess, and then that suddenly becomes very impractical. It’s like, you have to get down to nuts and bolts and the second hand is going figuring out what the next step is and the minutes are ticking by and you have to work it out.
I mean, there are some scenes, like the ones between John Heard and Ralph Fiennes, Heard was cast quite late in the process and he has three major dialogue scenes with Fiennes and they never met. Ever. So we had to shoot still within in the plan of the movie but shoot out without a major character for the scene but make it look like he’s there the whole time. But then, you’re shooting scenes twice, once in this on direction for Ralph and then later in the production in the other direction for John.
BC: And, really, we had Robin Williams at one point for Officer Bratley. We had many different combinations of actors. And, these guys aren’t doing it for money they’re doing it for the love of the work and the love of the project and the material. So, there were more than a couple of times where I had to say I’d done everything I could do and just say no, to say I just can’t make it work, and everybody is very understanding when that happens because with an independent movie when you get your window to shoot it you have to get it shot.
That action, though, Arie being able to deal with those kinds of last-second challenger and not be hamstrung – is that the word you would use?
SM: Works for me.
AP: I think it would be
BC: …and not be hampered by them, was another proof to me where I could say, “Yup, this is a filmmaker.” Because, I’ve been in situations where you have to tell someone you can’t have this particular actor on this so-and-so day and Steven can handle those situations very well and say, “Well, then I’ll shoot it this way.” But there are some people something like that can just derail them and you know, you just know, they are not the bet people to have by your side. As my mother would say, “You just don’t want to have them in the foxhole with you.”
SM How important was the combination of working in the Russian film industry as a child, spending time with Billy Wilder as a teen and then running your own little mini first film festival, watching the first movies of Spielberg, Lucas, Lee, Wilder and others, before starting production here?
AP: That’s in the notes? (looking incredulous)
SM: Yes, it is.
AP: Dang. I didn’t know that.
BC: It’s been a while since we ready the notes, hasn’t it? (winking at Arie and smiling)
AP: (smirking back at her before answering – all that’s missing is his sticking his tongue out at her) Well, I guess I just wanted to know where the bar way, to see how high it was going to be, looking at Sugarland Express and Duel and THX 1138 and The Wedding Banquet.
SM: I swear THX 1138 is still Lucas’ most unusual and interesting, not his best but his most interesting, film.
AP: That’s right. I know what you mean.
No, really, I just wanted to know where the bar was at, what it would take to get there.
Wait, so what’s the question again?
SM: It’s just this wild combination of backgrounds from the mainstream, to the innovative, to the completely foreign. I just wonder how all that effected your work on this?
AP: All of this is hugely influential for me. I feel like I have this split personality, almost these two creative streams I’m always trying to reconcile. On the one hand, there are all these mainstream movies. Not just the first films, but like all of us I grew up on all the same movies, I grew up here [in the U.S.] so I saw Jurassic Park and Star Wars and Indiana Jones and all the rest. Those were the movies I grew up on. And then, at the same time, to be a part of, not only the Russian, but the Italian film industry and witness the French New Wave and to experience just the love of world cinema that my parents both had and the knowledge of cinema that particularly my dad had really gave me something to explore and talk about.
It’s hugely influential, and I know it finds its way into the work. Where, exactly, would be hard for me to say, but it is there and I feel it, and I feel there are things that European cinema does that aren’t in American movies, and vice-versa. There is stuff in American movies would use in more European movie, but neither of these happens all that often.
SM: How hard was it to get everything done with the budget that you had?
A: Hard. (matter-of-fact – no laughing, no smirking, this is just the way it is)
BC: It could not have been done without the help of a lot of really wonderful people. I think something that the people I have worked with provided me was access to vendors and materials and so on. People gave us low budget rates on a lot of high priced stuff, and after we premiered at Sundance I went and called the production coordinator and I told him I just could not believe how good all those sets really looked. He went way above and beyond for our production designer Patti Podesta. That just makes the movie gold for me.
SM: I have to say this is one of the most high budget looking low budget movies, at least American movie, I’ve ever seen. I mean, the French seems to get away with that on a regular basis, you look at something like A Very Long Engagement and the fact it was made for $10 million dollars blows your mind.
AP: Isn’t that amazing?
SM: But, for some reason, this is something that doesn’t happen here. The majority of American independent films look like independent films. Your film doesn’t. It never looks done on the cheap, not for one single moment.
BC: Well, like Mary Claire Hannan, our costume designer, who has worked with Quentin so many times, I swear that woman I could tell her at midnight some actress that was going to show up at six the next morning and she would have this astonishing selection of outfits for her. “I’m hitting the racks I’ll be there at six!” she’s yell and it was just phenomenal.
AP: But, it’s also the fact we got really lucky because nobody got paid what they are worth on this movie. Nobody.
BC: Right. That’s really right.
AP: Everyone either worked for way below their price, or for scale, or for free.
BC: Including our composer James Horner
AP: Yeah. I mean top to bottom everybody. And that is the only way any of this could have gotten done. And, even then and with all of that it was still a challenge with many dark days where we couldn’t help asking what the heck we were doing, especially at this budget. There was a feeling we could never get this done.
And that goes all the way back. We’d have meetings with financiers where they would say, “You know, you’re never going to make this. You can’t get it done. It’s never going to happen. You know this is not going to happen, right?” Literally we had that meeting a good six times.”
BC: In a row.
AP: In a row.
Publicist: It’s time; I need you to finish up.
SM: You need me to finish up? Okay, then.
Well, I’m being asked to finish up, so I guess I have to go to the boring well and ask, “What are you doing next?”
(lots and lots of constant laughter throughout the next few minutes)
SM: Come on. We’re all done with this one now. Party’s over. What are we doing next?
AP: how quickly it all comes to an end.
SM: When’s this open? August 5th? It’s now August 6th and we’re tired of this one, where we go from here?
BC: Oh, you make me laugh.
SM: Gosh I hope that’s a good thing or I’ll never get another interview.
BC: It’s a good thing.
AP: (doing his best now to put the interview back on track) So, Zac and I have written a new script and it’s called The White Lion and it’s about an absurdist surreal look at a very prescient unnamed present-day war happening somewhere in the Middle East…
AP: …which I’m really excited about. Bonnie and Lawrence are going to produce it and we’re just starting to figure out the cast right about now.
BC: And I will tell you, reading it for the first time, I felt many of those same feelings that I had when I read Chumscrubber for the first time. I think Arie and Zac’s point of view is so unique, it is a very different experience to now that I know them as well as I know them, and this one is going to hold my interest for a couple of years, too.
AP: That’s good to know.
BC: But only for a couple!
(lots and lots of laughter one more time as the interview comes to an end, we shake hands and I make my way to the door)