Director’s starry visual aids

Gus Van Sant goes off pictures he takes of actors

For Gus Van Sant, putting a movie together is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

The puzzle pieces the helmer has used for years are photographs that he quickly snaps of actors during casting meetings. He pins the photos up on a wall and tries to imagine the characters coming to life and how the thesps would relate to one another in a visual sense.

Van Sant now has 20 year’s worth of candid actor photos, many of them Polaroids, stashed away in boxes. The director of such films as “Milk,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Drugstore Cowboy” and “My Own Private Idaho” never thought much about them until the curator of an art gallery at the U. of Oregon approached the longtime Portland resident about an exhibition.

“It was a way to remember people,” Van Sant says of his thesp photos. “You would meet them (but) unless you took a picture, you wouldn’t really have a good reference point from the meeting.”

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Ore., is showcasing nearly 200 pics from Van Sant’s collection alongside similar snaps taken by Andy Warhol. Also incorporated in the “One Step Big Shot: Portraits by Andy Warhol and Gus Van Sant” exhibit, which runs through Sept. 5, are short films by both artists, including Van Sant’s “Discipline of DE,” “Thanksgiving Prayer” and “Ballad of the Skeletons.”

“One Step Big Shot” opened at the same time that Van Sant also has an exhibit of “photographic constructions” — pics that have been taken apart and combined with other art elements — showing at Portland’s PDX Contemporary Art Gallery. “Cut-Ups” runs through Saturday.