INT: James Mangold
A few weeks back I mentioned the official IDENTITY website and how it was one of the few websites up and running that was doing something cool and different. Shortly thereafter I got a call from director James Mangold's office, wondering if I'd be interesting in talking with him further about the site. Seems he really digs it, was glad that I dug it and wanted to get the word out so more people would dig it.
Now normally in studio set-up one-on-one phone interviews you get about 15-minutes to a half-hour to talk with the talent. But here I was told by Mangold's assistant that I could have as much time as I wanted. And he assured me, once Mr. Mangold gets talking, I'd have a hard time slowing him down. Sure enough he called JoBlo US Headquarters sometime later that week and we chatted for about 10 minutes before I even had my tape recorder on. And after the formal interview was over and the recorder was shut off, we talked for another 5-10 minutes. All kinds of cool, off-the-record stuff that I couldn't possibly print here (tee-hee!). He was disappointed I hadn't seen the movie yet and was going to talk to Sony about making sure I could see the finished print (I'll be checking it out this Friday). So forgive me if some of the questions aren't very specific to the film. Anyway, read on and make sure you check the the official IDENTITY website.
Alright I guess we should get started. So did you see another site that inspired you for the IDENTITY website?
Every time I see another movie I have this moment where the marketing people at the studio will say, "Oh we're opening up a website," and I always anxiously logon to see what the website is and it's effectively a poster of the movie, a trailer and some of the kind of bio material from the press kit. Just turned into an electronic form. And I just really thought there was something that could be done - and I saw sites for a bunch of other movies that inspired me - more exciting and more expansive using the hotel as a metaphor. Cause its such a natural extension into the internet. Meaning you have a singular closed location so that it's not like you're gonna roam everywhere. And you have branches just like the internet, a motel does. You have ten doors. And within those ten doors you have two people in each room with a back-story and blah, blah, blah. So in a way, pages become doors and doors become pages. And the consistent atmosphere in the movie. The sense of the rain and the sense of the night and the storm and the water and neon, all seem to combine a singular look, which a site could also just as well as a movie, hold together. That was the limit of what I did. Just hope for this thing. Dwight Caines here at Sony really took it over, along with the people at Big Spaceship. The other thing we did in the cutting room, myself and Mark Friedberg the Production Designer, was shoveling more material to them. The designs we had done for the motel, props, pieces of props...we had JP, our prop man, pull out boxed and we just gave them all pieces of IDs, props and documents that we had. All play for a fraction of a second in the movie but they contain clues. What they did with it, I never anticipated it would be as great as it turned out.
How do you think they kept up with the plot of a movie that's supposedly top-secret?
Well they watched the movie.
So that was available to them?
Yeah, cause the movie has effectively been complete, except for the score being finished, since October. They had a good amount of time to work on it and devise things. I think they also had a chance to...because the site continues to expand but really expanded in two phases, I think they found their stride in the first phase and then realized what they could take advantage of and what they learned from that with the expansion of the site in February.
It looks great now. When I first saw it there wasn't a whole lot you could do but then I got the call from Sony saying to go back now and revisit.
The great thing about it is - the movie is a very handsome film. It's really fun to make a single-location horror film or thriller. There's a kind of great tradition of horror movies that take place in one place. As disparate as movies like THE OTHERS or THE INNOCENCE, a Jack Clayton film, which kind of really laid the groundwork for THE OTHERS or ALIEN or JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING or even Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW. It's a great tradition. One of the great things it does and lends itself to in terms of making a website is that you're not jumping all over the place. You're very focused in this setting and sense of style that the movie inhabits. I wanted to make very much a film noir horror film which kind of combined the elements of mercury lights and the rain and the lightning and the glistening blacktop in this low-slung motel and men in raincoats and convicts and hookers and limo drivers and actresses and this is all a kind of very hard-boiled 1940s world in the same context of this TEN LITTLE INDIANS, something's-killing-them way. What's wonderful about it in relation to the website is that it produced a style of shooting that the DP and I used that lends itself a lot cause it's very dramatic. A lot of low angles and very dramatic lighting. The air of mystery that's in the visuals of the film seem to translate very well to the site.
When you went into this film did you go in wanting to specifically make a horror film, something 180 degrees different that your last project (KATE AND LEOPOLD)?
I didn't. I never process things in forward motion that way. I know when something lands in front of me or an idea occurs and then it begins to gel, it can figure out why I'm attracted to it. What happened with IDENTITY, my wife, Cathy Konrad, is a producer, read the script and bought it. She brought it home and said, "You should read this over the weekend." Not even so much thinking I would want to direct it cause I was still knee-deep in KATE AND LEOPOLD, but just wanting to see what I thought about it. But what turned me on about it was all the things I was telling you about it, this great tradition of single location thrillers. And it also had a great conceit underneath it, a great twist and a kind of horrifying conceit. But the other thing was I had just finished making a very loving and gentle, almost kind of a 50s film, like a Doris Day movie. And there's always something appealing about that opposite energy. And for me that kind of muscularity of this material and the darkness of the material seemed particularly attractive. As we're completing our Henry Mancini score on our New York love story, the idea of murdering a good dozen people in the desert seemed to be exciting.
Was it hard to direct a script that wasn't yours? Is this the first time you've done that?
I certainly had a good amount of input on it. I'm not the credited writer but I did some work on the script. But the fact is, it is the first in terms of it's not something that came from me first. It's Michael's and it's a brilliant idea by Michael Cooney. In that sense it was also very freeing. There's sometimes you can put your head and focus on because the script was set in places. Then there were things, not unlike the scripts I've written myself, where we kept writing all the way through production, tinkering and kind of expanding and getting new ideas.
Do you plan on going back to writing again for your next project?
No, it's not all about that. The Johnny Cash movie (WALK THE LINE) I'm working on, I wrote. And I hope to write other things I'm working on. But it's a great experience also working with other writers. There's a lot of voices to be heard when making a film and one of the hardest things to do as a director is find that space and you have to clear a great deal of space out to write an original script on your own. I've loved doing that and will do that and will always do that.
To get off IDENTITY for just one second, you brought up Johnny Cash, a movie I couldn't be more excited about. And with such a great cast (Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as wife June Carter).
Oh they're perfect. And to be honest, I think that - I've spent a lot of time with John and June, studying and reading and looking at footage of old stuff - many people's images of John is the image of the man right now. But the fact is that there's other world, that moment of Sun Records in the 50s, just 20 years old. With Elvis and Jerry Lee and Roy Orbison and all these people...it's a magical moment of the invention of rock-and-roll and this wonderful character, this enigmatic character, kind of wandering into Memphis and finding himself in the birth of rock-and-roll.
Did you see the new video for "Hurt" that Mark Romanek directed?
Oh yeah. And you know he's still, in a way, hugely intense and charismatic feature. That was the first leg of the trip I just came back from, visiting with John and June and then spending time in New York. But John is incredibly powerful and charismatic even now. But that's not the way we image him anymore. But anyway it's really exciting and both of these people are dead-on right. You know Reese is from Nashville.
But back to IDENTITY...this site is part of the new breed of filmmaking where you think about digital media during pre-production and principal photography on a project. With websites and also for DVDs. Have you made any plans for the special edition IDENTITY DVD already?
There will be extra material on the DVD. As we're wrapping up we're going to have in there some extras like expository scenes that didn't make the final cut. Which I'm glad in a way but for the people who are so anxious to find information and learn more about these characters and dig deeper it will all be there on the DVD. It's a great opportunity because so much work goes into these things, even the ones that don't necessarily get to make it in the movie. And in a way it's an opportunity to kind of preserve all this creative effort that went in to something. While it may not be part of making the best movie you can make, there's still a lot of art that went into these things.
How do you feel about director's commentaries? I know some directors love that forum and some like to let the film speak for itself.
I never consider it "that's what they are." I've heard that argument but I've enjoyed doing them for the main degree because it's a chance for me to talk about it while it's still alive for me, the memories of making the film and trying to do it. TO a degree, I've heard some commentaries that become defensive, like trying to tell you what the movie is when it's not saying that. That's not effective. But the great thing about them is that you can turn them on and off. I don't necessarily think ...I guess for me the quick answer is is that we live in a time when people are very interested in films and how they are made. I find very often what the commentaries mean is that there's someone who really gave a shit behind this. Sometimes the commentary on a not-so-great movie is interesting to listen to because you sense where they felt betrayed or where they felt their own ideas failed them. I'm learning from them. In a way the work does speak for itself. The argument about letting the film's speak for themselves, I always say, then why do they do junkets? Why do they go on Jay Leno and why would they be in a phone conversation with someone like you where they're talking about the movie? Clearly they're lost in some kind of spiral of framing their movie to market. The one thing great for me about commentaries is that they're no longer about marketing. The movie's out. It's one of the most truthful interviews you'll get with a director.
It seems to me the big draw of a movie like IDENTITY is that "twist ending." Is it hard to keep it a secret? Talking about but not talking about it and making sure no one else talks about it?
That's interesting, you know, it's kind of old time contract between everyone, even on internet sites, that the part of the fun of the movie like this is that they're questions and mysteries about the film. It's not really in anyone's interest to reveal them. Because it's just kind of stupid. It's like, you saw the movie and you know what happens. Now you wrote it down. Now do you feel really big? It's like there's an odd sense of power. To me, it's like why doesn't everyone go see every movie on the first day it opens and print what happens. It doesn't happen that often anymore. It's kind of a fine-line thing. I think the audiences protect the film. I mean how often have you been talking to a friend about a movie and you go, "Stop stop! I want to see it!" I love that instinct in people. That's the great control there to keep things from running away on itself when some people can't stop talking. People don't want to hear everything. They want the experience of watching the film and experiencing it fresh. Those are the best experiences you could have. I just recently watched Almodovar's TALK TO HER. I had no idea what it was about AT ALL. And it was such a joy. I was watching a movie and had no idea where it was going. I hadn't seen a trailer, I hadn't read a blurb and I hadn't read a review. It's just incredibly enjoyable.
It's kinda hard these days...
(laughs) Yeah with the level of saturation.
Luckily with IDENTITY, here we are a few weeks before itís opening and I still don't know anything...
You don't know the ending.
I have no idea.
It is and the fact that I know there's a twist ending
Absolutely, I know what you mean. But you know what, that's almost unavoidable because that's out of the bag already. But the fact is that what I wanted, what works best with these films, is when you get to the end and it goes black and the credits roll, that you feel as though, "this is how it had to be." Not just for a twist's sake. Where it was going, you realize it was going here from the very, very beginning. And one of the things we tried to do with the site and movie itself, is that after you've seen the movie and seen everything you'll go back and look at the site or watch the movie a second time, it's all right there for you. And that's when they work best. Once you learn everything and look back, it's all lying there on a platter. That is the fine line to play with these pictures and it's really fun.
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk today.
No problem. I can't wait to hear what you think of the movie.
I should call Sony and ask them...
Yeah do that cause I know they're gearing up for screenings. It's not like they're gonna keep it under wraps for the last minute.
IDENTITY hits theaters on April 25th