Grand Piano is hands-down one of my favorite thrillers of the year so far (you can read my interview here). The film is available on VOD and it hits select theaters this week. To talk to director Eugenio Mira, who I first met at Fantastic Fest last year, is a real delight. His enthusiasm is infectious and to hear how much preparation he put into the film made me appreciate the film so much more.
The film stars Elijah Wood, John Cusack and Alex Winter. Wood plays Tom Selznick, the most talented pianist of his generation, who stopped performing in public because of his stage fright. Years after a catastrophic performance, he reappears in public in a long-awaited concert in Chicago. In a packed theater, in front of the expectant audience, Tom finds a message written on the score: “Play one wrong note and you die.” Without leaving the piano, Tom must discover the anonymous sniper’s motives and look for help without anyone realizing.
Read on for our brief chat with Mira who gave us some insight into his process.
Ryan Turek: On the page, I imagine this film screamed that it had potential…
Eugenio Mira: Damien Chazelle wrote the script and when he did it was going to be something for him to direct. The script came my way, however, and I read [the script] as a love letter to cinema. And when I got the directing job, I knew that I had to go in for the homage, the tribute, while adding something new layers. It’s a strange, crazy concept, but it worked on paper so well. I knew that I had to put all of my efforts in to make it work as well on screen as it does on paper.
Turek: You had Rodrigo Cortes on board as a producer. Was he instrumental in getting some of the cast that you have here?
Mira: I met Elijah back in 2010 at Fantastic Fest when I was showing my second movie. And, of course, I knew who he was and we got along. He also knew Nacho Vigalondo and Alex de Iglesia. There we were – these three Spanish directors hanging with Elijah. Back in 2011 at Fantastic Fest, I had read the the script. Later, we had sent him the script and within 48 hours he had said yes. It was one of the biggest compliments I ever had. John Cusack, we thought it was a good idea and he said yes. Hopefully, this is the easiest way a movie could come together for me.
Turek: Talk about the prep work that went in to pulling this film off?
Mira: I started working on the movie well before it was green lit. And the reason I did that is because if I didn’t figure out the whole movie, technically, and develop a workflow, we were fucked. So, for two months or three, it was all about breaking down the script to see the points of perception – whether music or anything. What was going to what or what were going to be the consequences of everything else? I had a process, but that’s a completely different story, but I was sending reports to Rodrigo and keeping him updated. The script itself was like a musical and I had to break it down like in animation, an animatic. I had to a break it down, then time out the whole movie literally and once I had that, I had the musician write the music. Basically, I was a reverse-engineering everything and once I had that, then we could shoot the movie. And Rodrigo was very respectful and he told me he did exactly the same with Buried. He had to figure out how to make the movie first because it was an unorthodox approach. For me, having a producer who is also a director, he really wants to protect my vision and it was an amazing experience.
Turek: And was Elijah reacting to Cusack actually feeding him lines in his earpiece or did you have a crew member?
Mira: Yeah, we literally had the privilege of great timing. John Cusack came to Barcelona for everything involving the physical confrontation. He had a couple of days to stay there and he was kind enough to record the dialogue for a reference track for Elijah. It was really useful. We could cut all of those clips of sound and adding them to the shots of the animatic we created and we had prearranged the clips so Elijah could react to Cusack’s voice. We could edit it in real time and get a new take if we needed it. It was highly technical.
Turek: As technical and challenging as it all sounds, did you have fun with the project?
Mira: When it came to the shoot? The shoot was a celebration. We were able to render something. We were replacing the animatic we had been watching for weeks and turning them into beautiful shots. It was a beautiful experience to go day by day and remove the animatic. To be able to react to something like that and edit while we were shooting, it was amazing.