Joanna Hogg is one of the few filmmakers lucky enough to call Martin Scorsese a mentor.
He’s also an executive producer on Joanna's latest film The Souvenir, a stunning cinematic self-portrait of the director as a young artist, starring Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton-Byrne. (Catch it in New York and Los Angeles this weekend.)
They recently sat down together and opened up about their shared love of Hollywood musicals and Italian neorealism, the anxiety that comes with making art on a bigger canvas, Joanna’s plans for The Souvenir: Part Two, and the piece of advice from Arthur Penn that Marty will never forget: “Don't lose that amateur status.”
Martin Scorsese: This is Martin Scorsese.
Joanna Hogg: This is Joanna Hogg.
Martin: We're here talking about your films. You have a new film,The Souvenir: Part One, that's opening. You've made four features, right?
Joanna: Yes.The Souvenir is the fourth. It feels like I've made a lot more since I've been around for a long time.
Martin: I guess one thing I could talk about a little is how I first came upon your work. I was shooting Hugo Cabret in London in 2010, I think it was. A long time ago now. It was in 3D, it was taking a very long time, and I was living there. I would have DVDs. People would send me things. I think the BFI sent Archipelago. Could that be?
Joanna: Yes, or was it one of your actors had seen it? I'm not sure.
Martin: I received a letter saying, "Please, look at this." It was a weekend and I was alone, so I put on this film called Archipelago. It said you were the director, but I didn't read that part. I said, "The BFI. Well, I should look at it because I'm very much appreciative of English cinema, British cinema." I put in Archipelago. I must say that Hugo was a very complicated picture. It was fun at times, but it was extremely complicated in 3D with trains, kids, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Dobermans, and all kinds of things going on. I was distracted, so I put it on. This beautiful image comes up, widescreen color and a helicopter lands on an island in the North, which later, I find out is Scilly.
Joanna: In the Isles of Scilly in South West. The South West, so off Cornwall. They're a little group of islands just off Cornwall.
Martin: Really? I imagined it up in the-
Joanna: Western Isles.
Martin: The edge of the world, you know?
Joanna: I Know Where I'm Going! — in that territory.
Martin: I Know Where I'm Going!. Yes, very romantic.
Joanna: It's the polar opposite, but there's a similarity between the islands actually.
Martin: In any event, I was watching it. I watched the first 15 minutes, this family is together, and they're apparently visiting. A brother has come to visit his family, a mother and his daughter, his sister I should say, in a rented house. It didn't affect me. I couldn't bring myself to really be connected to it. I said, "I don't know what this is." I turned it off. I said, "I can't do it. I can't be watching this now. Tomorrow, there's going to be all these problems with all these technical problems." Then, that night, I thought about it for some reason. I think the reason was when the brother ... Is it Tom?
Joanna: Yes. Tom Hiddleston.
Martin: I didn't know any of the actors too. His sister gives him the room, she said, "This is your room." When he moved into the house and he says, "That's fine." She goes, "Oh, you're being so cooperative." I said, "Why is she like that? What is going on here between these people?" I suddenly became very interested in the, if you want to call it, subtext. I hate that. The emotional underpinnings of it. That was a Saturday. The next night was Sunday, I ran the whole thing. That was the one I ... This is an extraordinary film. I was telling everyone about it. I was so moved by it. It's interesting because the restraint of course created this extraordinary tension and emotional impact. Something very sweet and also the look of the picture, the eye of the filmmaker, the compositions, the confidence in where to show us, and how to look. For me too, there were interesting things about it. Elements of what I guess is pastoral painting in England, France. This film has that. I think I really picked up on it when there's a scene where I think he's on a bicycle and he comes-
Joanna: I don't recall this scene. Go on.
Martin: He puts the bicycle on the exterior of the house, he puts the bicycle I think on the left. I forget.
Joanna: He puts the bicycle against another bicycle. There's no sex in the film, but I always saw that as his sexual frustration.
Martin: Maybe that's why. Well, there I was alone in London watching it. Yes. It's so beautiful, the house.
Joanna: It's very subtle.
Martin: It's very subtle. I see. He goes and he starts talking to the cook, right? The woman.
Joanna: Who was a real cook, she had never acted in anything before.
Martin: She's wonderful. That lobster scene.
Joanna: She's from a cooking agency.
Martin: And, particularly, the beaters.
Joanna: Yes, they were real beaters.
Martin: Suddenly, I'm transported back a few thousand years watching it. It reminds me of Rossellini and the killing of the ... In this case, the Stromboli.
Joanna: The tuna. It's devastating.
Martin: I saw that at the age of seven, my brother took me. It was so vivid. That extraordinary moment of sequence with the tuna.
Joanna: Which they only stopped relatively recently.
Martin: What's incredible about the Rossellini is that when they make the catch, they all pray. They have respect. It is the bounty of the earth. It's something very primal and necessary.
Joanna: That film was in my mind because I love Rossellini.
Martin: That scene with the beaters, suddenly, I began to realize the landscape. The people are the landscape. Maybe I'd come to that thought, realization too late. In the Mediterranean, it's different from Norway. I know that being Mediterranean. But it’s beautiful. Also, I must say the tones, the color, the flavors of the colors are quite beautiful and subtle.
Joanna: You gave the film that time. It concerns me that I do like subtlety, so I tend not to do first scenes that maybe grab the attention straight away. I don't know. I find I have my own rhythm for things. I always think, "If people could just see my films more than once, there's more to discover." Incredible that you revisited it having not responded to it the first time.
Martin: It stayed with me. I started to like it after I turned it off. I said, "All right, let's do it."
Joanna: Then, I heard that you'd seen it because I wasn't aware you were watching it at the time. I think I was contacted by Artificial Eye who were distributing it. Then, they put us in contact. Then, you came over to get an award from BAFTA, a fellowship. You had a party and we met.
Martin: We met there for the first time. I forget after that.
Joanna: Then, I think I came to New York on and off. Then, made Exhibition.
Martin: That's it. Then, you showed me that.
Joanna: Then, I showed you a cut of Exhibition before I'd finished it. I remember very clearly, we had a conversation when I happened to be on the island from Archipelago in the Scilly Isles.
Martin: That's right. That's when you were in Scilly.
Joanna: I was in an attic room, not exactly the attic room that Edward, the character, was in, but another attic room and I couldn't hear anything.
Martin: That's right. We spoke on the phone.
Joanna: We spoke on the phone and the signal was so bad.
I think the first film I saw of yours, curious in a way because I don't think it's what you're most known for, was New York, New York. I can't remember exactly what took me to it, but probably my love of Hollywood musicals and that you were doing something, your own version of that. I remember when I went to see it, I didn't know that it was going to be so much about relationships and a relationship between two artistic people. I think that had a really profound effect on me because I, in some ways, identified with that struggle. That was one of the things that inspired me when I made Exhibition. This idea of a film about two artists and how creative people, it's so hard to live together.
Martin: When we made that film in '76, we were all trying to work it out. Trying to see if it could be possible. It doesn't work out too well for our characters in the picture. Also, I thought at that time, I'd be a film director. Meaning I was so obsessed with the Hollywood films, but also luckily, I had been exposed to neorealism when I was five years old in New York. Television, Rossellini, De Sica, and that sort of thing.
Joanna: That seeped into it.
Martin: Yes, it really did. How could you do a serious attempt, let's say, of the Viaggio in Italia.
Joanna: One of my favorite films.
Martin: Yes, exactly. In a Hollywood musical.
Joanna: It's brilliant. It's brilliant.
Martin: We all laughed at it. People said, "The styles clash." Yes, that's right. They clash. I said I was always interested in the Hollywood musicals because certain Hollywood musicals like Blue Skies and My Dream is Yours, they always hinted that there was some emotional and psychological disturbance going on with these characters, especially in the relationships in the men and the women. I was interested when the end came up, the music hit, and it was beautiful technicolor, what happened after the end? What happened to these people? You get a bit in A Star is Born, the Judy Garland, James Mason one.
Joanna: It never quite gets to the heart of it.
Martin: No, it doesn't get to the heart of it. They were trying to tell us something in those musicals. You'd be surprised. There's a lot of darkness in some of these Hollywood films at the time.
Joanna: I agree. For some reason, Lady in the Dark came to mind. Lady in the Dark, I was obsessed with at film school. Lady in the Dark, if you watch my graduation film, Caprice, after watching Lady in the Dark, I took a lot from that film into my little graduation film. I watched Lady in the Dark again recently, that film I've watched so many times.
Martin: They made me a beautiful 35mm print about 10, 15 years ago when I was at Universal. It's gorgeous.
Joanna: Can I please see it because you can't get it? It's not on DVD.
Martin: No, it's not on DVD.
Joanna: In fact, I was going to ask you.
Martin: This is a killer in color of it. I love that picture.
Joanna: I love the psychology of it, that character. There's those sessions she's having on the couch.
Martin: With that lighting on her face.
Joanna: Then, getting into the extraordinary dream sequences in that big window.
Martin: In her fur-lined costume.
Joanna: I showed that to my costume designer the other day with the sequences.
Martin: And in Technicolor, my God. That's great. Mischa Auer and all of them. Of course, at the end, she gives it all up to go with the man.
Joanna: There's a lot before that, that's as you say, very dark. She's really questioning her mind.
Martin: I showed it to my daughter when she was about 10. She said, "I feel like that lady." I said, "Oh, my." You're only 10. You have a ways to go.
Joanna: It's not very known, is it?
Joanna: I found a dubbed Spanish version, which I bought recently. That's all I could find.
Martin: Dubbed in Spanish?
Joanna: Dubbed in Spanish.
Martin: No, it's not known. We have a copy of the DVD. I'm sure we have a copy. The thing is that's a mighty long story. Tangent here. Those films, actually Lady in the Dark, we have them lined up. Steve Spielberg and I try to do restorations up at Universal. They own it. I think that's coming up soon and we're going to try that.
There was a long period of time where you really couldn't see the Paramount pictures they owned pre-'48. They owned those films from 1948 and before 1948 at Paramount. They're just hard to get. They didn't really have that much distribution of them. Now, they're going back. We've done some. We've done Winchester '73, My Little Chickadee. We've done a number of films.
Joanna: Thank goodness you are because otherwise, those films would just disappear. I'm obsessed with musicals at the moment. I'm curious because New York, New York, I think I saw it in '79. Did you make it-
Martin: It came out in '77.
Joanna: Right. I think I saw it in '79. Then, it was also All That Jazz, which I love. That, I think I saw around the same time. I just wonder what you thought of ...
Martin: Bob Fosse, the editing of the dance was just extraordinary. The angles. I was lucky enough to see the original version of Chicago on stage. There's a version that's out that apparently is playing all around the world every day on stage somewhere. It's lighter in a way. The original version that he put together and Liza Minnelli. Oh my God, it was strong. Jerry Orbach. This thing was powerful and crazy. That's what you have in All That Jazz. You've got that.
I never really went to theater that much because we worked with lower working class. We never had the money to go to theater. We had an uncle who was able to get some tickets for something. The first thing I saw was Damn Yankees back in mid-50's or late 50's with Gwen Verdon dancing on stage. It was extraordinary. He [Bob Fosse] choreographed it.
Joanna: His choreography and his own dancing was amazing. I'm a little bit obsessed by him at the moment. It's an extraordinary film. It's a musical, but it's autobiography. As you say, the edits the rhythm of it that's incredible.
Martin: Showtime with the Alka-Seltzer and whatever he's taking in the morning, get going. For me, musicals were so important. Yes, as far as pure entertainment. I'll never forget I think I was 10 years old seeing Singing in the Rain. Then, a crowded theater on a Saturday afternoon. Then, of course The Band Wagon was my favorite.
Joanna: With the “Girl Hunt Ballet.”
Martin: Yes, can you talk a little about that?
Joanna: It's a film within a film. It's a piece that's performed. It's Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. It's episodic, isn't it? It's a gangster story. It's a kind of film noir.
Martin: It's Mickey Spillane.
Joanna: I can't remember how it exactly relates to the The Band Wagon as a whole, but it's a stage production that you see from beginning to end. It's just so interesting that it's its own thing. We were saying that earlier. It's got its own universe, and it's incredible stylized. I was desperately inspired by that. Again, when I was making Caprice, all these films like Lady in the Dark, I was eating up like anything. Then, I'm looking at it again. I was going to say that Singing in the Rain, I also looked at recently because being about filmmaking. The location we found for The Souvenir, my recent film, the choice of the location was entirely inspired by Singing in the Rain. It's that scene with the big studio door that opens.
Martin: Yes, exactly. That's what came to mind.
Joanna: I wanted to find a studio, a warehouse, or something that had the big door like that. Something about that big door into that space ...
Martin: I think that's part of the seduction I had to do Aviator because of that. There's something about those.
Joanna: What is it? That's interesting.
Martin: It's right on the verge of some wild adventure, whether it's flying, dancing, or something. It's extraordinary.
Joanna: A giant doorway into something.
Martin: The things about those moments, more than moments, the sections of those musicals where ... For me, the quintessential one too is “Born in the Trunk” in A Star is Born. When I did New York, New York, I wanted to do that basically with “Happy Endings,” it was called.
Joanna: “Happy Endings” is exactly that. It's its own film. I mean, it's its own piece inside a film. It got released. Sometimes, there's a longer version with it. Didn't it get released as well with-
Martin: It got released originally because it was lot of different problems, the cutting of the picture, and my own life at that time. I thought to make a sacrifice to show that I wasn't being self-indulgent, I cut it out.
Joanna: That's a terrible sacrifice.
Martin: I know. I was in bad shape. Then, in 1981, UA Classics had just been formed, put it back in. We did it together, re-released it, and people accepted it. You see in '77 when it came out that same month or two with Star Wars, the world changed as they say. No one would go for it.
By '81, it was reviewed again in a way. I think what happened with the “Happy Endings” was that the unhappy ending was more palatable to an audience because this is a film that had a lot of flash and color to it too, so it's pretending in a sense to be entertainment. I think it was very hard for them to accept the fact that the two characters don't wind up together at the end. In “Happy Endings,” in a sense, they do, and they have a happy ending. That helped it. It was just a bad call.
Joanna: But it came good.
Martin: Yes, exactly.
Joanna: I'm doing my own version, not exactly of “Happy Endings,” but doing a film within a film. I already have a dread that someone along the line will say, "You got to take that out."
Martin: No, don't. Remember what I just told you.
Joanna: I am.
Martin: In my case, the picture was two hours and forty minutes. It's a different thing. It was a crazy time.
Joanna: We don't know how long mine's going to be.
Martin: That's true. I don't want to say anything. Yes, I'm very excited about the new Souvenir: Part Two, the sequel.
Joanna: Yes, which makes the first one, the current one, in a way very hard to talk about because I feel like I've got to still stay in a bubble.
Martin: I totally agree. Don't get too hung up with this. Go on to the next one right away.
Joanna: We're shooting in less than four weeks. While I'm here, I'm having to talk about the first one.
Martin: It's hard.
Joanna: It's really hard. It's really hard because I feel I say things, then I don't like what I say, but it's connected to what I'm about to do. I'm terrified of putting myself off.
Martin: It's almost as if you're on set or something, you're working with actors, and people are asking you questions.
Joanna: Well, I'm trying to take inspiration from that in a way. I'm trying to think as I'm in an interview situation, I'm trying to think of it creatively and get something out of it.
Martin: Right, exactly. That's true, use it.
Joanna: I'm thinking while I'm in this situation and I'm about to do this film, it's about filmmaking.
Martin: I think one thing though that is important that we haven't mentioned really is that I was always interested in the use of moving images. That includes music, words too, but in story telling narrative. Whether it's Stan Brakhage or biggest Hollywood epic, I'm fascinated by how you tell a story with pictures. I think one of the things that Archipelago got me with, and particularly Souvenir, is that it is a different language. Especially in Souvenir, you're hitting on something else. I don't know where it's coming from, but it's real. You told me you used to do still photography, right?
Joanna: I did. It's interesting that you say that because I think I'm still not doing it enough or something. It's not like I'm beating myself up, but I'm thinking with the second film, I just interested in a silent film in a way. A silent film with a soundtrack, but not based on dialogue. There's actually quite a lot of dialogue in the first on in a way.
Martin: In Archipelago? Oh, you mean-
Joanna: Not in Archipelago ... Yes.
Martin: Because in Archipelago, there's tons of it. But no, here though, go further.
Joanna: Yes, I'm really interested in doing that. In fact, the film within the film, there's a film that Julie, the character, makes at film school. I'm thinking her film unlike Caprice, which was my film school graduation film, should have no words at all. It should just be, actually have some dance and movement in it. It should be like a musical piece, but no dialogue and not even singing. Just sound, music, and movement.
Martin: It's something to really pursue and don't get distracted from that. It's a way that you have of telling stories. I should say, not even stories, they're emotional stories. I mean, stories of people's emotion that is very unique.
Joanna: So much is instinctive. I suppose that's the worry I have when you talk to a journalist, they're asking you questions, and somehow the instinct you're going to get rubbed away because you're thinking too much about what you're doing and how you're doing it. I don't think it's good to talk about the creative process too much.
Martin: I agree. There was a Philip Roth article in The Guardian some years ago where they were asking him about his new books and describing them. He said, "I'm not going to." They said, "Well, you used to do that." He goes, "Well, that's before I wised up." He was in his eighties.
Martin: Be careful, protect it.
Joanna: I don't know in the world we live in, how is that possible?
Martin: Answer another question. What I mean by that is, I'm not saying you answer, "Why is the sky blue?" I'm talking about something that has to do with creativity that doesn't chip away what you're ... Bob De Niro and I used to years ago, people would say, "What's your new film?" We'd say, "I don't want to talk about it. It would talk it away." A move I made, Silence for example, for years I talked about it and talked about it. It took twenty years to make because of that, I think.
Joanna: You made an amazing film at the end of it. I know what you mean. You talk yourself out of it, or you become too self-conscious about what you're doing.
Martin: Self-conscious and also you chip away a little at the freshness of it. You got to go find it yourself. You're there.
Joanna: The motor that is making you want to make the work, it's a mysterious thing.
Martin: That's right. I tried to explain, but people don't get it. Maybe I wasn't explaining over the years that much, but I liked to talk a lot. I realized don't explain anymore, just have a nice conversation. Maybe one or two journalists are nice, who knows?
Joanna: I don't think there's an understanding. I think it does strip something away if you're not careful.
Martin: Yes. You have to learn how to, I think, protect that creative aspect of what you're doing because you need to go out and talk about it. There's so much information now, it's all out there. What are you going to do?
Joanna: Exactly. Because I did a certain amount of therapy in my time, I always remember in therapy sessions talking about it and saying, "I don't want to discover too much about why I want to create." I don't want to know whether it's because someone shouted at me, whatever it is. That thing in the past, I don't want to uncover it.
Martin: Interesting because you want to pull from that. You still want to.
Joanna: You want that. Yes, you don't want to solve-
Martin: If you solve it, it's over, finished. Everybody goes home, the end comes up, and that's it. What happens after the end?
Joanna: You're healthy, happy, but you're not making films anymore.
Martin: Who wants to be healthy and happy? That's that ... How should I put it? The strange state, being creative. Always, people say, "How you doing? What's happening?" Don't ask me. When you finish work, I never finish work. I don't, you don't because you're always in it. You're always in it, the relationships suffer. Things like that. It's protecting that instinct that is never completely satiated. It's never really completely done.
Joanna: You don't want it to be.
Martin: No, exactly. There's a basis of still photography, film school, so how do you at least communicate the interpretation? What atmosphere do you create?
Joanna: It's a strange thing. I forget so easily from film to film how I did the previous one, how it all worked because it's such an intense process, isn't it? It's such a commitment and so exhausting, but in a satisfying way. I find that I shed the past experience, then move onto the next one. I almost don't remember what happened. The way I find I'm working now has very much evolved over time. It's been shaped through those positive experiences and not such positive ones. I had 13 years in working in television where I was a jobbing director.
Martin: What's that?
Joanna: I was working on other people's scripts on other people's TV series. I was doing episodes of TV series. Maybe we've never talked about it. I wouldn't say I'm exactly ashamed of it, but I don't feel particularly proud of it.
Martin: It's formative though. It teaches.
Joanna: You get paid for it.
Martin: That's the problem.
Joanna: You get the pat on the back. It's terrible. Every now and again, I'd do a TV thing and think, "Really, this is the worst." Then, I'd have five minutes writing notes on something, personal what I wanted to do. Then, I'd be swept. Then, I'd get the next offer and then go.
Martin: Sorry to say, but it's one of those things that people always think, "You're so irresponsible." It is like having a job. I always point it out that I don't think I've ever worked in my life. I mean, I have meaning I had to have jobs sometimes. When I was a kid, it was a different thing. Everything has been some sort of blessing in a way even if it's getting involved with what I thought would be a commercial film and I was going to try something. Then, I realized within 35 minutes into the first meeting, I'm in a lot of trouble. You really have to do this, meaning your heart has to be there. It's a challenge that way as I say now. One has to be careful. If you get comfortable with a paycheck, you're not going to make and it's going to be an uprooting when you finally do it.
Joanna: I can actually remember the thought that I was maybe not going to be able to get myself out of that and not actually make the films that I wanted to make, that I wouldn't fulfill my ambition of making feature films. I really thought that wasn't going to happen. That's where Unrelated started to materialize.
Martin: Did it disrupt your life in that way in terms of ... the point is you had enough in the sense to take care of yourself, pay bills. Stuff like that.
Joanna: I see from that sense.
Martin: To go off and do this thing.
Joanna: At that point, I had. We had to beg, borrow, and steal to make the film. We made the film on a Sony Z1, which is not even a professional camera. I don't know if you remember the Sony Z1. It was like a tiny little video camera.
Martin: No, but it looked great. Again, I saw it on a big screen.
Joanna: It's very noisy in a digital way. In a funny way, it's so noisy that it almost becomes like a digital, not even 16-mil, Super 8. A digital Super 8. We made a film print of that too. Actually, that was quite interesting.
Martin: Maybe that's what it is. That's why it looked pretty interesting to me.
Joanna: That was the other thing that was tripping me up about making a feature film was I was convinced that it would have to be shot in 35mm, nothing else.
Martin: No, it does not.
Joanna: It was my husband who very helpfully said, "For goodness sake, just make the film on anything."
Martin: Just make the picture. Anything. You'll use any excuse not to make the picture in a way. We have to be 35mm ... No, especially now. The little Canon cameras are fantastic. I love 35mm. Even this new one I'm doing, The Irishman, or the actual title should be I Heard You Paint Houses, we shot as much 35 as possible. However, there's a great deal of CGI because we're doing this youthification of De Niro, Pesci, and Al Pacino. They had to be CGI. They had to be a camera with three lenses. I was just crazy.
Why I'm concerned, we're all concerned is that we're so used to watching them as the older faces. When we put them all together, it cuts back and forth. The thing I talked about before in New York to you. Now, it's real. Now, I'm seeing it. Now, certain shots need more work on the eyes, need more work on why these exactly the same eyes from the plate shot, but the wrinkles and things have changed. Does it change the eyes at all? If that's the case, what was in the eyes that I liked? Was it intensity? Was it gravitas? Was it threat?
Joanna: It's quite complicated.
Martin: How do we get that? I don't know.
Joanna: Age is lots of things. It isn't just a physical thing. It's a movement.
Martin: Everything. The 35mm is still the best. It really is. Look, I'm 76 years old. It's different. I always said ... What was that thing? In 1959 when I saw Shadows, John Cassavetes's Shadows, I realized there are no more excuses. If he can do this, you can do anything. The equipment was light, the Eclair. This sort of thing. Here now, there really is no excuse. Anybody can do anything.
Joanna: In a way, that makes it harder, I think. There's too much choice and anyone can do it. They can pick up their iPhone.
Martin: There'll be a lot of people picking up their iPhones doing things that won't be very good. There might be one that comes out of it. It's new technology and that sort of thing.
Joanna: II made Unrelated, Archipelago, and Exhibition all digitally having my ambition stem from film school where you have these grand ideas. I thought, "I'm only ever working 35 and maybe 70-mil." None of that happened obviously. I set my sights too high. When it came to The Souvenir, and because one of the settings is film school, I thought, "It's got to be 16-millimeter." That's what I shot on at film school. Some of it's 16-millimeter. I like my long takes and letting the camera run, so it was a real challenge for me. A very exciting challenge that I loved actually.
Martin: I can tell you there's more tension because are we going to run out? Damn it, we ran out. I always yell at the assistant cameramen, "How many times did I tell you keep the film in the camera for God's sakes. Another magazine, we just had one. What did you do?"
Joanna: That's the excitement.
Martin: Yes, it is. You were saying the time element. You're talking about how long and digital.
Joanna: How long the roll is. Then, digital, you can go on forever. That's really boring.
Martin: Yes, it is. I must say for me, I found that every now and then, they say, "Changing the card." I said, "What? This is digital. You can go for two years. We have old men here working. What are we talking ... " "We got to do this, Marty." I said, "Okay." There's always a catch.
Joanna: There's no urgency. I do think everyone on the crew and the cast feel it when film is running through the camera.
Martin: They really do. The tension of it. The amazing thing the moment you know you got something, an actor does something, it's wonderful.
Joanna: The sounds associated with it as well. It's a tactile sensual thing.
Martin: At the end of The Last Temptation of Christ, we were shooting the crucifixion, midway through the shoot ... Quick story. I don't want to be too distracting but shooting film of course. Michael Ballhaus and we are on some mountain in Morocco and the last shot is one of Willem Dafoe as Jesus saying, "It is accomplished." He's on the cross, he looks up, and said, "It is accomplished." I wanted this moment, just head on shot. We had been shooting ... It was the worst experience and the best experience shooting this picture. We got three takes. The second take was the best I though, just the best. He hit it. Willem hit it. We go around to the next shot. We're moving around. The assistant camera man came up to me and said, "We had a problem." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I opened the magazine." I said, "You opened the magazine?" "Yes, by accident." The kid did it by accident. "It's the shot that you really liked."
Joanna: I feel for the guy. He will remember that for the rest of his life.
Martin: It was a good kid. He's a good kid. I said, "Oh, God. Nothing to do about it now. Let's move on. We can't re-shoot. We got to go." When I looked at it back in New York, there was edge fog. The edge fog became the resurrection.
Joanna: That's fantastic.
Joanna: I've got to watch it again for that.
Martin: I said, "That's the take."
Joanna: That's incredible.
Martin: We wouldn't have had that with digital.
Joanna: No. You would've had some dead pixel or something.
Martin: The films you make or the work you do has to come out of your own experience. It has to be you. How should I put it? It's extremely personal and subjective, I think. Having said that, it's also very difficult.
Joanna: Hearing you say that, I'm thinking. I think it to myself. How much work can one do that's that kind of blatant in a way?
Martin: You can. In effect, you're stuck there. You have to do it that way. I went through one phase, then collapse thinking that I'd never be able to get the love of wanting to say something again about people and myself on a set, and I just collapsed.
Joanna: I'm not understanding. How do you mean?
Martin: I was concerned. Really, after New York, New York, I thought that I could never again make a film that I cared about. I said, "Why do I want to go on a set and fight with the studio?" That's what we did. You have to fight. It's one thing, you get finance years. You also owe them. There's a budget. We were young at the time, a little crazy. It's a process you have to go through.
Joanna: The personal in that bigger frame.
Martin: I couldn't do it anymore. I don't want to want to work for anybody. Actors coming up to me saying, "Do this for me, do that for me." They were big time. I said, "Now, I got to work for you?" The one I did connect with was Robert De Niro because we knew each other when we were 16. It's a very, very big difference. He also knew where I came from.
Joanna: You've got to work with people who understand.
Martin: Yes. Even though I resisted him, we had arguments, we had this, that, then, "All right, I'll do it." Then, sure enough he knew me. Damn it. I did find that to pull it from yourself, I didn't know if I could ever do it again. I said, "What? Two films." Mean Streets, Taxi, New York, New York. Three films. Is that it? Then, what? I had to go to work. I didn't quite understand it. I just couldn't face it. Then, collapsed. Then, it worked itself out through Raging Bull.
Joanna: It's so passionate. It may not be autobiography, but it's also personal, isn't it?
Martin: Yes, very much so.
Joanna: In what way were you working that out? Just approaching it in a different way or that you were facing it?
Martin: I was facing it because I couldn't face it. I couldn't face it. The reason why De Niro wanted to do it, he was facing it too. He also wanted to do it because he was in great shape. "We're 36 years old. Come on man, I'm going to gain 60 pounds. We got to go. I know you can do it." I said, "All right. Let me get out of this hospital bed." Then, I realized, "Oh, God. He's right."
Joanna: Then, that sort of energized you beyond that.
Joanna: Then, did you ever think again, "Can I go to the next one?"
Martin: One more time. One more time after that. Then, I realized that's The King of Comedy. After that, I realized, "Wait a minute, got to be really careful." I said, "What are you doing here?" The film is fine, but after that, where am I going to go? I wanted to go right to the Last Temptation of Christ, but it didn't work.
Joanna: When you say, "I must be careful ... " I'm asking because I'm trying to learn something for myself in terms of where I go beyond this. You're realizing what? It's just too painful or it's just too difficult to face that each time.
Martin: It's difficult and painful, but that's what you have to do. Now, can you get that despite how unpleasant it may be? Despite you might only reach ultimately a mediocre level, you still got to do it. Can you do that in this system? I'm American, I'm here. That's where the financing was and that's it.
Joanna: And working on big budgets.
Martin: Working on big budgets, I can't do it. Working with people who saw things the same way. You do have an obligation. It's a big budget. It's like, do you care enough?
Joanna: Because you have to fight so much when you're doing something personal and a big budget. I couldn't do. Souvenir is a little bit more than usual. It's minuscule compared to what's called a big budget.
Martin: The key there is always the personal issue. In other words, despite all the madness, all the craziness, all the difficulties, the thing you rely back upon really is that spark and that personal intent, that personal need. If you protect that, you can fight them off until they pull the plug out. Then, you got as far as you got.
Joanna: The film I've just done has a second part. Actually, I found evidence that I wanted to make this story that's based on something that happened to me in the early 1980s. When I first started noting ideas to make a story or a film out of experience, I noted down that it should be in two parts. There was something about the first part being just this relationship. You're in the bubble of this relationship. The second part, this student filmmaker breaking beyond that. Then, starting to, a little bit like I'm doing, use her own experience in her work, but still at film school. The experience becomes a mirror for her in the work that she makes. I'm not interested in sequels exactly per se. I always think feature films are traditionally on the whole, a particular length. They're one piece. I like the idea of just thinking of cinema as not having to be one object. It can be different shapes. Why not?
Martin: Exactly. First of all, “sequel” may be the wrong word.
Joanna: “Sequel” suggests something.
Martin: It's something else. This is part two. It's very different. This is one story to be told as fully as possible in one expression. Now, the next part. Like a piece of music.
Joanna: I see it like that actually. That's a very good analogy. Music comes in so many forms and shapes. I just think it's limiting to think of cinema always as this one entity that people go, see, and that's it.
Martin: Exactly. I do think that because of the work you do, it doesn't really have anything to do with what conventional cinema is particularly now since it's very, very different from even when I was growing up. It's no reason why not to do part two or part three.
Joanna: You never know. Maybe a part three. I guess there are constraints, I'd rather have people see cinema or have commercially things released. I have to say your examples are a warning tale. I am creeping out of myself a bit and interested in slightly bigger scale. I've had the warning.
Martin: In terms of?
Joanna: In terms of the personal on a bigger canvas when you've got a lot of finances.
Martin: Yes, but you can do that. You can do it. It's always a struggle, but that's what makes it. That's why you go there in the set. That's why you go there in the location. That's why you work with the actors. It's what you do. You might get as far as possible with one. You go and you find another way on another. I've always found that balance of personal and I think what they're called commercial in a sense. It's a big problem.
Joanna: It's really interesting. I still will just continue doing that thought. I am weary of the big budget because it's what you've done and it's really brave. I have to keep a certain scale of production and crew, I almost want to pretend that it's not a real film, we're amateurs, or something. When it becomes the 70-man crew, then you've got so many people, you've got a weight behind you.
Martin: You can still, like a lightning rod, go in and stay in and stay in the hard of it. Try as best you can. It's even beyond me to say, "Do we really need that? Do we need this?" Try to get a smaller sense of how to make the picture. I remember back in the late sixties, I met Arthur Penn. He'd done Bonnie and Clyde, Left Handed Gun, and Mickey One. He was great, a great filmmaker and director. The one piece of advice he gave me, he said, "Don't lose that amateur status." Now, can you keep the amateur status in the professional?
Joanna: I think you can. I think it's important to do it.
Martin: How's that? Did I discourage you?
Joanna: No, I don't think so. No. Ultimately, encourage me actually. I think I've got to try and do it now. It's going to be a huge musical.
Martin: That's great. Well, really great talking to you right here in ... Where are we? Hollywood.
Joanna: In West Hollywood. I'd forgotten for a moment. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you very much.
Martin: Thank you.