Although director Derek Cianfrance’s first movie Brother Tied did the festival circuit in 1998, it wasn’t until 12 years later when he started getting attention as a director with Blue Valentine, a relationship drama starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams that got the latter nominated for an Oscar.
Fans of that movie don’t have to wait nearly as long for The Place Beyond the Pines, the title being the literal translation for Schenectady, New York where Cianfrance’s latest film is set. It’s a film that’s far more complex than Blue Valentine‘s two-person character drama literally taking place over the course of years, plus there’s also a good deal of action as it delves into genre territory.
It also reteams the filmmaker with Ryan Gosling, playing Handsome Luke, a circus stunt cyclist who’s convinced to use his skills to rob banks. The film then switches focus to Bradley Cooper’s Avery, the police officer who stops Luke’s crime spree only to get injured in the line of duty and get caught up in the corruption within the local police force. The movie’s last act takes place 15 years later where two very different high school students, Jason and AJ (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen), become friends only to discover their shared legacy.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Cianfrance a few weeks ago to talk about his latest piece of filmmaking, which may be even more divisive than Blue Valentine.
ComingSoon.net: It’s been a while since we’ve talked I guess, a little over a year?
CS: I was really bummed that I missed this at Toronto which was literally the one movie I really wanted to see and was disappointed to have missed.
CS: Yeah, I saw it a couple of weeks ago, but when it got bought at Toronto, I thought, “Oh, great, now I have to wait until Focus gets around to screen it.” But I’m glad I got to see it finally. Now I remember you mentioned the movie back when we spoke, and I’m not sure, but this is something you originated, right? I know there’s a bunch of co-writers on it, but this was something you were already working on “Blue Valentine” came out?
Then in 2007, my wife was pregnant with our second son and I was speaking a lot about legacy. I was thinking about all the things that I was born with and all the things that I was going to pass onto my children, and thinking about all the sins that I had committed in my life and all the wrongdoings, and thinking about how I just didn’t want my son to be born with that. I was also reading a bunch of Jack London books at the time and thinking about the calling back of ancestors. I started just thinking about, “Wow, my ancestors had to have led such brutal, ruthless lives to just survive, and here I am today eating with a knife and a fork and I’m saying please and thank you and I’m domesticated.” But my history, all of our history, is brutal, brutality, you know? It makes me think like, my kids are obsessed now with dinosaurs and they ask me, “Why are dinosaurs so scary?” It’s because if they weren’t so scary they would get eaten. They had to be ruthless and brutal and ferocious and the meanest monsters they could be to survive. Human beings are like that too, you know what I mean? That’s why were here is because we could survive, so yeah, this movie kind of played on that guilt of being a human.
CS: I didn’t really read anything about the movie even after it played at Toronto, so it was still very fresh, and I didn’t know about the triptych format and the shifting narrative. It was an interesting surprise to me because I was not expecting that at all.
CS: It’s really daring because some people going into it who saw “Blue Valentine” will be expecting another movie with Ryan Gosling, but then you have a whole other movie that features Bradley and with the two younger guys. Was it hard planning this story as a triptych either in the writing or while shooting it how you were going to do it?
You know, that really resonated with me. It’s how I’ve always felt, so with “Pines,” it’s a movie about evolution, about Darwinism, that’s how you get better. To me, it was clear that’s what I had to do. I had to really challenge myself with it, and at the same time, make something that was still cut from the same cloth as “Blue Valentine,” which is making a film about family. I think family is places where there’s great secrets and great intimacies, and I think cinema is also a place for secrets and intimacies. This is a much larger scale and scope than “Blue Valentine” was. “Blue Valentine” was two people under a microscope. This is 56 actors told over two generations, but even with the epic scale of it, I still felt like it needed to be about human beings and it needed to be intimate. I just approached it like I was telling the story of people, and I just did a ton of research, wrote 37 drafts, just worked with every actor in the same way I worked on “Blue,” and worked on every detail, just cared about the people and decided that in terms of the style of the film, that I needed to keep it consistent. There needed to be a consistency between the three stories because ultimately, it adds up to one, you know? Any triptych still adds up to one, even if you look at triptychs in paintings, they all still are one piece at the end. So I wanted it to be consistent that way.
CS: I remember you talking about how you worked with Ryan and Michelle for “Blue,” but with Bradley, who’s obviously very busy, he’s making a lot of movies, did you have the same amount of time with him and the other actors who worked on their sections?
CS: I imagine you and Ryan have a really great understanding having done two movies together and he gives great performances in both, but in this one, he has to ride a motorcycle and do a lot more stuff. So you pushed yourself to do more with this movie and I imagine he was pushing himself as well. Did he want to do as much of the riding himself as possible?
Anyway, Rick was training Ryan on the first day. After it was over, I asked Rick, I said, “What do you think, Rick, on a scale of one to 10, where do you put Ryan?” He said, “He’s about a three.” I was like, “Oh sh*t.” I said, “Okay, you got eight weeks with him. How far, best case scenario, can you get?” He said, “Maybe three and a half or four.” He’s like, “Look, Derek, it just takes a long time to do this stuff.” I was like, “Okay. Well, just keep working with him. Let’s see where he gets.” The day before production, I pull Rick aside. I said, “You’ve had eight weeks with Ryan. Where is he now on a scale of one to 10?” He said, “He’s about a seven.” So that speaks to Gosling and his magic and his ability to do the impossible. So he did a lot of those scenes, then a lot of the scenes that had to be done by Rick. For instance, Rick Miller had to crash. He had to lay down his motorcycle at 70 miles an hour. That’s done for real. That’s at the culmination of a two-minute shot where we introduce Bradley Cooper for the first time. SoI liked living in that dangerous space, but at the same time, I’m very conscious of movie history and I don’t want to repeat Vic Morrow*, you know what I mean? (*Actor Vic Morrow famously died during the shooting of John Landis’ segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie.)
CS: Oh, absolutely.
CS: I remember with “Blue Valentine” you had Grizzly Bear kind of really before they exploded, and for this one you’ve got Mike Patton, who doesn’t do a lot of score work. I actually loved his score for “Crank 2” and he does amazing filmwork. How did you approach him, knowing that he doesn’t really do a lot of that kind of thing?
So, I was at a meeting at WME some years ago and this guy came up to me and said, “Hey, I just started representing this new composer that I think you should really know about.” I said, “Yeah, who is it?” He said, “His name is Mike Patton.” I was like, “Stop. Just stop. Stop talking. There is nothing you can tell me about Mike Patton that I don’t know. Let me just interrupt you by saying can I meet with him, please?” You know, I had reached out to him. I used to go to his shows as a teenager with VHS tapes in my army pants waiting at the base of the stage after the show, hoping he would come out so I could give him my student movies in the hopes that some day that we would be able to work together.
CS: At what point did this happen that Mike Patton’s rep approached you? Had you already shot the movie or was it before you shot the movie?
CS: Yeah, that was great casting, so what are you doing now? I understand you have a couple of other projects you’ve been developing?
CS: What’s this “Metalhead” thing I was reading about?
CS: As far as doing the HBO show, how far in advance have you planned while waiting for the greenlight? Do you have a bible for where to take the show beyond a pilot?
CS: You really are the poster child for patience. Every time I talk to a filmmaker and they talk about how it took them so long to get their movie made, and usually “long” for them is like three or four years, I respond “That’s nothing.” But these days, getting a movie made at all is amazing.
The Place Beyond the Pines opens in select cities on Friday, March 29.