Achieving and maintaining believability in their films represents the biggest challenge for directors, according to the five finalists for the Directors Guild of America feature award.
“Authenticity is a moral imperative,” declared “Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow during the DGA’s annual panel discussion Saturday at the DGA headquarters before more than 500 guild members. During the three-hour event, moderated by Jeremy Kagan, the overarching importance of capturing realism emerged as a constant touchstone for the quintet.
Jason Reitman of “Up in the Air” said the best advice he’s received in his career came from his father Ivan Reitman “My father told me ‘Your job is to capture authenticity, so just ask yourself all the time if you’re doing that,” he said.
Quentin Tarantino said the opening scene in “Inglourious Basterds,” in which Christoph Waltz’s Col. Landa character eats strudel while refugees are hiding underneath the floor, contained an easy way to measure how well the scene worked.
“If the audience isn’t hungry for strudel, you haven’t done your job,” Tarantino said.
James Cameron focused much of his remarks on the importance of casting “Avatar,” stressing that he’s seeking actors who are “eager for the hunt” of portraying characters in a believable fashion — even if they’re blue.
“For actors, the words are easy,” he added. “Finding the character is the hard part.”
Lee Daniels of “Precious” and Cameron offered differing views on the casting process with Daniels insisting that he simply talks to the actors to find out if they can portray characters truthfully rather than ask them to audition. Cameron said that won’t work for him.
“I don’t want to be someone’s friend,” he added. “I want to break through the bullshit they brought in. I can’t do that in 15 minutes. They’re actors so they can be your best friend, zero to 60, in four seconds.”
Bigelow noted that key cast in the gritty drama — set in Iraq and shot in Jordan — had prepped by working with training crews at Fort Irwin on detonations. Lead actor Jeremy Renner was able to carry a pile of paper clips 20 feet in a detonation suit.
“Ninety percent of people fail at that,” she added.
Tarantino said he was particularly pleased with the choice of Christoph Waltz, noting that he had written the part a dozen years ago.
“Landa was the greatest role I”ve ever written,” he added. “Not every actor can pull my stuff off. There’s a poetic quality, there’s some rap and some standup comedy. It ain’t for sissies.”
Cameron said he had come up with the last scene in “Avatar,” focused on the eyes of Sam Worthington’s character, in 1995.
“Opening your eyes is what the movie’s about,” he added. “We’re going to root against ourselves so if you’ve got the audience cheering against itself, then you’ve succeeded.”
Daniels recounted that the worst part of his experience came from his mother.
“The worst is your mother telling you she hates your movie,” he said. “She asked, ‘Why can’t you make movies like Tyler Perry?'”
Daniels said the best part is people admitting to him after seeing “Precious” that they’re going to seek help for abusing their children.”
“The worst is explaining the movie,” Cameron said. “The world will never understand. the best is getting the respect of my team and my respect for them. And if we can make a lot of money, that’s cool.”