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Stephen Daldry, D.P. Adriano Goldman on Turning Chaos into ‘Trash’

Director adopted an improvisational approach to his use of non-professional child actors

Stephen Daldry, D.P. Adriano Goldman on

BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — Stephen Daldry, the director of “Trash,” and the film’s director of photography Adriano Goldman explained how they turned chaos into cinema, during a discussion at Camerimage film festival, where Daldry was given the excellence in directing award.

Daldry explained during the presentation on Sunday that the film, which plays at the fest, is based on a novel by Andy Mulligan, who had drawn on his experiences working in Brazil, India and the Philippines.

“He hadn’t set it in any particular country, so when I started thinking about making it into a film the first place I went to — following in his footsteps — was Brazil,” Daldry said.

This was mostly because of his existing relationship with Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, who runs production company O2, which later assisted in the production of “Trash,” and Meirelles’ experience of working with non-professional actors on such productions as “City of God.”

“That started me on a journey of exploration into the different communities that we might find the children in, and then that started a relationship with Brazil,” he said.

One might be forgiven for thinking that Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen are the stars in “Trash,” but in truth the real stars are the three child actors, who were all non-professionals — Rickson Tevis, Eduardo Luis and Gabriel Weinstein.

Daldry first reached out to Goldman in 2010 at the suggestion of a British line producer Mairi Bett, who had worked with Goldman on “Jane Eyre,” but another three years went by before Daldry and Goldman started working together on the film.

At the beginning, Goldman was keen not to repeat the work he had done on other Rio-set productions like “City of Men.”

“I was trying hard to get to a different look from the other projects I had done in Brazil. So my first approach was an artistic approach. I was a little stubborn,” he said. “I was saying: I think this should look different. I don’t want to repeat myself. What about if we try muted colors, and a lower contrast kind of look?”

He added: “But then when you start scouting and when you start reading the script and blocking the scenes — seeing the places where the film will be shot — you realize that Rio and South America and the Tropics have strong colors, they demand contrast, the sweat is always there,” he said.

“Then you realize there is no reason to fight against that, and it’s not just about making a beautiful film. Our work as cinematographers is to serve the story and the director, and help his view and put all those pieces together.”

Goldman pays credit to the work that acting coach Christian Duurvoort did with the child actors, but the fact that Goldman had worked with non-actors and children before helped, as well as the fact that he was Brazilian, and had children himself.

Goldman helped manage the relationship with the child actors. “Because I was operating the camera on ‘Trash,’ there is always this immediate connection with the actors and the kids, and I also have kids myself, so I tried really hard to help (Daldry) to control the place, because sometimes these kids were out of control — absolutely,” he said.

Daldry explained that one of things that was different about the film was that when they were shooting on set they never had any pages to work from, and the child actors had no lines to memorize. Instead they had to improvise.

“We used to get in in the morning and the kids had been through the story a number of times and understood it and given their own version of it, and that was what we were going to do, but that was reinvented each day,” he said.

“So we never knew what we were going to shoot each day, and what the scene was going to be. Nobody was following a script. So it was just improvised on the day and there was a certain amount of total chaos, literal chaos, I mean breakdown chaos, because of the nature of the young people in the film and their own particular genius and chaos.”

Daldry added: “But the crew were amazing and their patience was amazing. They were amazing for allowing the chaos, and trusting the chaos, rather than just saying this is f—ing ridiculous.”

Goldman responded: “First of all we did have an amazing crew — guys I have been working with for 20 years now, and they more or less trust me, and I trust them. But in a way you (Daldry) also got whole crew support because at a certain point after a few days shooting we realized that this is the way things are going to go, but Stephen, more or less, knows how to deal with chaos.”

He continued: “His approach to blocking a scene is always more from his theater background so he always wants to see the scene first and then you develop the choreography, and the whole group can watch that – and they usually do. I mean they don’t just wait outside. They keep watching and trying to learn, and figuring out what comes next.”

All of the crew had worked on “City of Men” before, Goldman said, so were used to this improvisational approach.

“We actually knew more or less that even we could see the takes,” he said. “You knew that in one hour you were going to be shooting something, and at a certain point we all could say, ‘Well, let’s just shoot something.’ Once you start, the kids themselves finally realize ‘Well now it is work. We’re not playing here anymore.’”

He added: “So little by little you find concentration on set and once you have the whole group focused and quiet then you can start to shoot.”

Daldry said that sometimes one or two of the child actors would fall asleep on set, and so he would turn it into a “sleepy scene.”

Goldman continued: “Cinematographers in general have this idea that the more you plan a film the more we can guarantee quality, and the beauty of every shot, so it could be frustrating but we didn’t even try. What is really frustrating is when you try planning a film and then you find on the day that all your plans are useless. But we didn’t even try.”

He added: “Of course we had visited all of the locations many times, so we knew where the action should take place, so it’s not like starting from scratch, but we didn’t even try blocking or story-boarding scenes, and that’s why the level of anxiety and frustration from the crew was low. Let’s just watch the kids. Let’s see what Stephen can do. See what the mood is for today.”