Nominees discuss films at DGA panel

Helmers reveal hardships of filmmaking

The six directors nominated for the DGA’s top feature helming award offer an undeniable consensus on one point — the extreme challenges of their profession.

Sugarcoating was in short supply at the traditional Saturday morning panel, a three-hour session held before a capacity crowd at DGA headquarters.

“The actual process of making the film was extremely difficult for me,” Martin Scorsese said of “The Departed.” “It was like being with your best friend and your worst enemy at the same time.”

Scorsese, who won the DGA award Saturday night, singled out the film’s internal nature as particularly challenging. “It doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying the process, but it was a process that kicked me.”

Editing and post-production were especially arduous, Scorsese said, because of the need to balance the characters in this particular story and to keep the story clear.

“I never did that before — having a film with a plot,” he quipped. “There was a whole process of screening and screening and screening and screening and screening. Constant screening for friends and enemies.”

That led to seemingly endless intercutting and replacing of scenes, particularly those involving Vera Farmiga. Scorsese said the process of making her psychiatrist character “emotionally integral” to the story took more than a year and a half.

“We had to put the whole picture together before deciding what we needed with her to balance her out,” he admitted. “This is something that was really always out of control.”

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu said he almost quit “Babel” in Morocco while planning to shoot in an area where there’s no power and using non-pro locals who had never seen a movie camera. “It was 17 days before we started shooting, and I didn’t have a single actor and was ready to cancel.”

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris noted they had to wait three years after the project was set up at a studio, then dropped, before filming began on “Little Miss Sunshine” as an independently financed movie at $7.5 million — enough for a 30-day shoot. Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin was 6 when first cast and 9 when the pic actually lensed in 2005.

“We tried to develop the relationships between the members of the family, so they each would understand how the others felt about each other, so the family would be sort of up and running by the time we got to the set,” Faris said. “We had worked for three years on the script, so we didn’t need to work a lot of issues out.”

Dayton said the pic’s pageant scene was daunting, partly due to having to switch to Rick James’ “Superfreak” at the last minute. “It was a fuzzy area because it was the climax of the film,” he noted. “It had to be a dance that would upset people at the pageant but not upset our audience.”

Bill Condon said using Jennifer Hudson for Effie in “Dreamgirls” presented a gamble since she had no experience as an actress. “Effie is 90% of casting that movie,” he said.

Stephen Frears, who participated via videoconference from London, noted there was the constant of portraying living members of the British royal family who are often the subject of both admiration and ridicule.

“I should get a medal,” he said at one point.

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