When you do a film with six or eight characters, you can have three people leave the scene, two people come back. This film has two people. Basically, you're watching two people talk, and you have to make that visually interesting in terms of the selection of shots that Johnny Simmons, who is a wonderful cinematographer, used -- trying to move the camera without making you aware of the fact that you are just watching two people talk. That was ultimately the hardest part of directing the film.
The biggest challenge in this production was to do it for the money and in the time it had to be done -- 12 shooting days. I usually use a parallel of designing an airplane and you're dealing with cutting and you say, Well can you make the engine a little smaller... can you take a little off the wings... can you make the wheels a little smaller... and the issue is at what point won't it fly?
October Schedule for Collected Stories
Linda Lavin has an extraordinary connection to Ruth. It's an amazing part and needs an actress of considerable experience, wit and intelligence. Those three qualities are not often found together. If you think of Linda's history as an actress -- from Alice on television to a series of Tony nominated roles in the theater, she has wit, intelligence and extraordinary experience. That's shown beautifully in her performance.
Linda is a big behaviorist. She believes that acting is behavior. Behavior is getting tissues to clean your classes or Samantha putting lipgloss on in a scene. Some actors start a role in terms of what the behavior is, kind of like the outside. And some start internally and then develop the behavior out from that. But as long as it's real, it's interesting to watch.
Samantha has an interesting history with Collected Stories. She was originally going to play it four years ago, when the play was first being developed. Then her mom passed away and she elected not to do it, so Donald and the play's original director went another way. But when we did it at the Geffen, Donald suggested Samantha. I'd never met her before and when she came to a reading she was absolutely perfect. She has innocence and ambition, filtered through intelligence. Both characters are intelligent and verbal. Without intelligence, this entire play would not work.
The relationship between Linda and Sam is quite remarkable. They respect each other a great deal. Samantha was trained in movies, while Linda was trained on stage. I think it's fair to say that Sam regards Linda as a mentor. She loves watching her work. I think Linda took that position in equal measure with Sam. Right now I'm looking at them every day in the editing room and I'm not tired of looking into their eyes and seeing their souls.
At the end of the day, the director's job is to get the job done. Obviously, what needs to get done depends upon the elements... the actors, the script. You have to find out how the actor is approaching the role. But essentially, all of us in this business are the balladeers of the 21st century, storytellers. Whether it's the selection of the actor, the material, the shot, a sound effect, it's all in service to the story. That's how a director should be judged: Did you believe the story? Were you engrossed? Did the conclusion satisfy you?
Someone once said that movies are real life with the boring parts cut out. That's what we do. We try to tell the story so it's honest and real, and leave out the parts that don't have a specific purpose. It's not necessary to have a moment duplicated. What is necessary is to tell the story as efficiently as possible.
Everyone has their own sense of syncopation and time, and when you're dealing with four or five or six people it's much like dealing with an orchestra. With two people, the rhythm has to be internal between the two of them, and it also has to be story associated. There are five pieces to this story and each has a different rhythm. In the last piece, which obviously is what everything has been building to, the rhythm is one of panic, terror and anxiety.