When it was announced director Danny Boyle would be following up his Oscar-winning India-based epic Slumdog Millionaire with an adaptation of Aron Ralston’s novel “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” it seemed like another drastic departure for the British filmmaker.
And yet, the resulting 127 Hours is another home run for Boyle with James Franco playing Ralston, the daring mountain guide who survived more than five days trapped in a canyon in the middle of nowhere with his hand crushed by a boulder.
Those Colorado canyons where most of the film takes place is another fantastic environment for Boyle to explore after having traversed the globe and flown into the sun, as 127 Hours continues some of the themes of Boyle’s previous work going back to Trainspotting, as well as maintaining a similar kinetic pace. Just as surprising as what an entertaining and emotional movie Boyle made from Ralston’s story is the fact that he used mostly the same crew as “Slumdog” to create a completely different movie.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to chat with Danny Boyle last week while he was in New York to promote the film, and since he’ll probably always be one of our favorite directors to talk with, it was another terrific interview. We can also say that the success of Slumdog Millionaire and having won a much-deserved Oscar has not changed the filmmaker one bit!
ComingSoon.net: You worked with a lot of the same crew here as you did with “Slumdog.” One would probably assume you were trying to recreate the magic by using the same team, and I think you succeeded in recapturing that magic despite this being a very different movie. Can you talk about the decision to work with a lot of the same people again? Danny Boyle: Yeah, the reason you get people together is–I mean, you hope it creates the magic–but that’s not the reason you do it really. It’s because the working relationship you have is very strong and you don’t feel it’s come to an end. You feel it can go further, you can push each other a bit more. It’s particularly true with having had a big success. One of the things you have to be careful of is “yes men,” and it’s not their fault, but they just go, “He knows best. He’s won all these awards. I’ll do whatever he says.” Whereas a collaborator, that’s the last thing you want from them. You want to have a healthy debate, often a vigorous debate by, “What’s the best way to go here? How should we do this?” Of course, it’s the people who know you best also know where you come from, how it all happened and how you weren’t entirely responsible for it. (laughs) It was lots of other people as well, including themselves, so they’re not afraid to tell you that, and that leads to a very healthy energy to have on (a movie). I mean, sometimes you need to change because you’ve exhausted each other or whatever, or it’s not the right film, or there’s a particular quality that you want from a person that they can deliver better than someone else, you know, whatever it is. But yeah, we used a lot of the same people, so Suttirat Larlarb, who did production design and costume design on this. Anthony Dod Mantle, obviously the cameraman. I used a different editor. That was not a choice, though it was a great choice to be forced into because Chris Dickens who’d done “Slumdog Millionaire” wasn’t available, so we used this guy John Harris, who did a wonderful job for us.
CS: He actually worked on “The Descent” which also takes place underground, and you’d think if you used anyone from that movie, it would be the DP, though I guess having him helped. Boyle: Yeah, I don’t know. He never talked about “The Descent” very much. I know why he didn’t talk about “The Descent,” because he directed “The Descent 2,” which had been a bit of a disaster, so he didn’t really want to talk about “The Descent” very much. Anyway, but he did a fantastic job for us editing it, really beautifully actually.
CS: What about Simon? When we spoke two years ago, you mentioned you hadn’t met Simon until you got his script for “Slumdog” and started working together. You’ve worked with writer John Hodge a bunch of times and Frank Boyce and Alex Garland. Is this the same thing where you wanted to continue the flow? Why’d you bring Simon back for this? Boyle: Well, it was a couple of reasons obviously. First, was that we had an amazing time on “Slumdog,” plus Simon’s a terrific writer, but then also, as Christian (the producer) pointed out, he’s a climber too, which he is. He’d done some serious climbing in his time and I thought that’s a shoe-in. I mean, he’ll want to do it like that. (snaps fingers) In fact, he said “no” to begin with which was, again is a good thing. You don’t get “yes men,” and he said “no.” I think the real reason he said “no” was because he knew that it was was in my head initially. He basically challenged me to write it out, because I think he felt – I think he was being disingenuous on the stage there when he said, “I couldn’t see how it would make a film.” I think he knew on some level that whatever he did as a first draft would be disappointing to me, because it was one of those where you have too firm a picture of things. As an experienced screeenwriter himself, he knows, “Get it out of your system, and we’ll see if it’s any good and then we’ll start work,” which is what we did.
CS: I talk to a lot of directors who do adaptations and Aron’s writing was obviously fairly evocative about what was going on in his head, so did you have a lot of the visual ideas for the movie while you were first reading the book and then had to figure out how to do it? Boyle: Yeah, some of it just jumped off the page. For some reason, you feel some connection with it or you have an angle on it that bears fruit. The further you go into it, the more it seems to be true, your kind of angle on it, really. So you follow your nose in that sense. I think Simon was right to say, “You should try it yourself first.” And I did, and I enjoyed it. Oh my gosh, it was agony because writing alone, all that kinda stuff, but it was interesting to do it for me. I was delighted when he did agree to come back in, because I felt from my experience, that my day job is I have a good relationship with writers, and I like working with them very much. I do tend to help them–I’m not writing for them–but I can stimulate them I hope in a way that improve the script and improves the screenplay. That’s what I try and go for really, so I was delighted to get that back again.
CS: Hopefully they’ll include that six-page treatment you wrote when they publish that obligatory scriptbook. Boyle: Oh, yeah, that’s interesting. I never thought of that, yeah.
CS: It would be interesting to see that. Boyle: Yes, it would be, wouldn’t it? Yeah. No, I’ve got that. Have I? I lost my hard drive, but no, I gave it to Christian. Christian’s got it, yeah, yeah.
CS: I’m sure that every time you have a new movie, someone asks you about the throughline with your past work, because from one movie to the next, they always seem so different. I think I’ve figured it out the throughline between all your movies and this one solidified it. The theme that runs through all your movies is “survival” and it’s a little bit more literal in this movie, similar to with “28 Days Later.” In your mind, have you realized that “survival” is recurring theme you’re interested in? Boyle: Yeah, no, I like against the odds, I like that feeling of being against the odds. I connect with that, for sure, and persistence is a big factor in that, and that’s obviously in this story. You persist. You keep going, just keep going, and like you said, this is that in its purest form. I like that, triumphing over the odds. I like that dynamic in cinema, and I like that feeling. Cinema’s very interesting and since I’ve always liked those kinds of films, I don’t think it’s a very reflective medium. I think it’s a momentum medium where you… I met this actor once and I wanted him to play this part of someone who died halfway through, and he turned it down, and it’s a great part. He said, “Nobody remembers anybody who dies in a movie,” and I thought, “Well, that’s just nonsense.” But actually since then I’ve thought, “Well, it’s actually true, very rarely,” and it’s because it’s always based on forward momentum, and everything you see erases everything else. It’s weirdly cumulative like that.
CS: For a long time, people have said that most audiences will decide if they like your movie based on the last five minutes of it. Boyle: Yup, there’s a great saying amongst editors, “There are only two things that matter in a film: the beginning and the end, and the beginning not so much.” (Laughs) It’s great.
CS: That is a great saying, yeah. When you had the idea of how you were going to pursue doing this, what ended up being the biggest challenge from what you wrote to what you actually had to recreate or do either on set or in post-production? Boyle: I think the biggest challenge is obviously James. It’s trying to create the conditions where an actor can sustain it on their own, and not just sustain a mood, but actually deliver this cogent, vibrating film even though he can’t move, you know? That’s gotta be the biggest challenge. That’s partly in the casting, and then partly in the way you can stimulate the actor and keep them motivated. James coped with it very well, but some days, it must be pretty depressing. “I’m going back in there again.” It’s basically like each day you turn up for four weeks, you go in a cupboard, and that’s your day. It’s not like he hasn’t got other offers! (laughs)
CS: I imagine he must think back about Aron’s video and realize, “Okay, it’s not so bad shooting a movie about this because I’m not REALLY trapped in the middle of nowhere.” Boyle: Yeah, yeah. You’ve always got that in mind, which is, Aron went through a lot worse than anybody can come even near as we were trying to recreate it. So that would be the biggest artistic stimulus really, for him to fulfill the mantra that this is an action movie where the hero can’t move. That was always our mantra, and he had to fulfill that more than anyone. Technically, the biggest challenge I think was probably the fall, because although it’s a short fall, it’s a weirdly very, very dangerous thing to do with a moving object when it’s not just the stunt guy falling, and James did a lot of that himself, as well as obviously the stunt guy did some of it as well. So yeah.
CS: I kind of feel like this movie has more in common with “Trainspotting” even than “Slumdog,” some of that has to do with the editing and also the use of the song “Lovely Day” for instance… Boyle: Yeah, it’s very much like “Perfect Day.”
CS: But like that scene in “Trainspotting,” it was one of those perfect movie moments. When the song starts playing and you see Aron’s situation, it’s really just amazing. So did you realize that connection right away? Boyle: That was John Harris, who brought that song in, and I think I brought the song into “Trainspotting,” but it was the editor on that who put it in that spot, because they have a lovely… as soon as I saw it, it’s a given. You think of it as stepping stones, films, and there are certain ones, you step on them and they’re just so solid you feel “Okay, you can forget that one though. That’s fine, that’ll be in,” and you move on.
CS: I think John Harris must be the biggest “Trainspotting” fan in the world, because there some things in this I haven’t seen from you since that movie, and in general, that movie must have been very influential on modern editors. Boyle: It’s certainly a delicious use of (the song) and I think it also reflects on how we are about music, which is that we are so comfortable with music as a culture, as a people, that we are happy to see it used ironically or straight. It’s our tune. Weirdly, my daughters, who are 25 and 21, weren’t born when that song was out, they know the song. I think, “How do they know this song? How do they know Bill Withers? How did they get that?” But it’s this collective memory we seem to have of our own experiences with songs or standards anyway.
CS: You’ve been asked a lot of questions about “28 Months Later” and one of the things you didn’t address was the whole rights thing, which Alex mentioned. Is it true that there are rights issues that are holding it back? Boyle: If a thing’s good enough, a story, an idea, there are no rights problems, not on the kinda level we work at. I mean, basically if you’re talking the rights to “Lord of the Rings,” or whatever it is, and the massive properties, you know, there are no problems if it’s good enough and there won’t be any problem I don’t think, no.
CS: I think the same thing, if you said, “I want to direct ’28 Months Later,'” they will do whatever they can to make it happen. Boyle: I think also if it’s a great idea, because it comes from a pretty cool, two previous movies. If it’s a new idea and it’s pretty good, it’ll get made whether I direct it or not.
(At this point, I suggest a really BAD idea for “28 Months Later” that makes Danny laugh but really, it’s so bad, I won’t even repeat it.)
CS: Also, are you still involved in “Truckers” at all? I remember last I talked to you that was something you were doing. Boyle: No.
CS: I know Simon is still writing it, right? Boyle: Yeah, Simon was still involved in it, but I don’t know whether Simon is still involved with it. Have you spoken to him today about it?
CS: I’m speaking to him right after this. Boyle: Yeah, ask him. I don’t know whether he’s still involved with it, but he was involved with it for a while. I was involved with it. I was working with Frank Cottrell Boyce and then we got nowhere really in the end, so we backed away from it. It’s a shame really, because it’s a lovely idea, and it could be very, very good.
CS: After seeing Wes Anderson do animation I was really curious to see you’d approach it. Also, I’m sure you’ve been approach to do franchise type movies, so have you been trying to stay away from that? Boyle: I’m just no good on that kind of stuff, I know I’m not really. I’m happy to watch it, but I wouldn’t deliver it for them really well, you know? You’ve gotta kind of follow what your nose is, really.
127 Hours opens in limited release on November 5. Look for our interview with Boyle’s writing partner Simon Beaufoy soon.