Capturing authenticity and dealing with constant pressure represent the biggest challenges for directors, according to the five finalists for the Directors Guild of America feature award.
“I have a sword, anvil and piano hanging over my head,” said David Fincher, director of “The Social Network.” “I try to arrive early on the set and then I throw up.”
Fincher’s admission was part of Saturday’s annual “Meet the Nominees” panel discussion at the DGA headquarters before more than 500 guild members. He was joined by Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David Fincher for “The Social Network,” Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech,” Christopher Nolan for “Inception” and David O. Russell for “The Fighter.”
During the three-hour event, moderated by Jeremy Kagan, the helmers delved into the intricacies of the craft — such as their routine for prepping for each day, finding locations and whether they ever become angry. The challenge of maintaining believability emerged as a constant touchstone for the quintet.
Hooper, for example, detailed how he’d decided to shoot the first encounter between Colin Firth (portraying King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush (playing speech therapist Lionel Logue) on the first day of the 33-day shoot.
“I wanted the nerves of the first day on the set to percolate the scene,” Hooper noted. “Stammering really is the ultimate performance anxiety.”
He also chose the therapist’s office for the scene to reflect the austerity on London during the 1930s. “It was a visual analog to what stammering is all about — so we showed it with a distressed and atenuated quality,” Hooper added.
Russell credited the family of Mickey Ward and the populace of the town of Lowell, Mass., with being enoromously helpful in the making of “The Fighter,” which is set in 1990.
“The people in the town wanted to be a part of this,” he added. “We got the hair and the clothes right of family photo almbums. We love up it there.”
Fincher said Harvard University was resistant to “The Social Network” being shot on campus despite multiple approaches.
“Apparently, two trees died during the filming of ‘Love Story,'” he noted. “Fortunately, Johns Hopkins University could not have been more helpful.”
Aronofsky said he was fortunate to be able to shoot most of “Black Swan” at a pair of New York locations — the State University of New York at Purchase campus near New York City during winter break; and a tiny apartment in Brooklyn served as the Upper West Side home for the characters portrayed by Natalie Portman and Barbara Hershey.
“New York was such a big part of the film,” Aronofsky added. “We literally stepped on each other in the apartment.”
Nolan admitted that he faced a daunting challenge in portraying a real world plus three dream worlds in “Inception” — with many of his choices guided by locations. “What we were trying do is make the dreams feel real,” he added.
The directors also contended that viewing dailies at the end of the day is a painful experience. “It’s horrible — I discover so many oversights on my part,” Nolan said.
Aronofsky also admitted he was throughly uncomfortable during the shooting of the sex scene in “Black Swan” between Portman and Mila Kunis — so much so that it was shot in half a day, rather than the two days that had been planned.
“Actors are more comfortable with sex scenes than the crew,” he added. “The actors were mostly joking about it.”