David Chase Talks ‘Sopranos’ and ‘Pine Barrens’ With Steve Buscemi, Terence Winter

There are two topics regarding “The Sopranos” that David Chase, creator and executive producer of the HBO drama, is asked the most: the ending and the Russian.

Both subjects naturally came up Monday night at IFC Center’s Split Screens Festival screening and conversation about the much-lauded episode titled “Pine Barrens.”

Prior to the panel discussion, Chase was awarded the festival’s inaugural Vanguard Award, presented by co-executive producer and co-writer Terence Winter and the episode’s director (and series guest star) Steve Buscemi.

“The Vanguard award is specifically for people who have created significantly evolutionary advances in the way we tell stories, and I can think of no better person to be given the better first one of these awards than David Chase,” said Split Screens Artistic Director and film/television critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who moderated the hourlong conversation.

All three guests had never seen the episode on the big screen or with an audience.

“I think we need to talk about the Russian,” said Seitz. “Have people ever stopped asking you about the Russian?”

“No,” Chase replied.

“Why is it not important to know what happened to the Russian?” Seitz asked.

“I don’t know. I always felt this episode was kind of like a folktale. It’s just the feeling I got from it,” Chase answered.

Several little known facts about the making of the episode did come to light: shot between December 2000 and January 2001, it wasn’t cold enough to see the actors’ breath in the woods, so a little new (and expensive) technology called CGI was utilized; as funny as the episode is, not a single line was improvised; Buscemi was the only one who could aim a steak at James Gandolfini’s head; and the episode was originally slated for season two, but the stars aligned and it found a home as the 11th episode of season three.

“[Buscemi] came to be a part of the show as a director because he had done the movie — I think it’s a great movie — called “Trees Lounge.” And I love that movie. I thought it was so well-directed and so clear and not baroque or anything like that,” said Chase. “And from that movie we got our casting people: Georgianne Walken and Sheila Jaffe. They were the casting directors at that time on his movie.”

Seitz then asked the audience if anyone had not seen the movie and after a few raised hands said, “You should go see this movie immediately. All you need to know is there’s a rather long sequence where an irate Steve Buscemi drives an ice cream truck. If that doesn’t sell you on that, I don’t know what will.”

Buscemi was asked by an audience member later if he got more satisfaction from acting or directing on “The Sopranos.”

“When I acted on the show I was very nervous and intimidated, but they just made me feel so welcomed. I loved acting on the show. Directing always makes me a little more anxious. There’s so much that you have to sort of keep in your head. But as a director, I also get to act every part in my head,” said Buscemi.

Seitz even brought up the final scene of the final episode. “I feel I should mention, and not that I want to encourage this debate, but we’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of the final episode and what I wanted to do for a ‘Sopranos’ panel was show the finale and we’ll talk about the finale but thought, ‘We can’t do that because David will never come out for that.’”

He continued, “You’ve explained what you were trying to do generally, not specifically. To me, this is the first blatant example to me of that kind of thing that people will fixate on, the obvious sort of linger narrative.”

To conclude the panel, Seitz gifted Chase, Winter and Buscemi with black T-shirts that read: “Stop asking me about the Russian.”

More Scene

  • The Old Beverly Hills Post Office'Wallis

    The Wallis Cancels April and May Programming in Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

    The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has cancelled its upcoming programming for the months of April and May in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The performing arts center located in Beverly Hills had already wiped its calendar and closed its premises from public access for the remainder of March, but the center made [...]

  • Watch Rosie O'Donnell and Elton John

    Watch Rosie O'Donnell, Elton John Accept Their GLAAD Media Awards

    The GLAAD Media Awards were supposed to happen Thursday night in New York City, but the LGBTQ media watchdog group canceled the 31st annual festivities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. However, GLAAD doesn’t want the day to go unnoticed, so the organization has released exclusive video to Variety of Elton John accepting the [...]

  • Tyra Banks Postpones ModelLand Theme Park

    Tyra Banks Postpones ModelLand Theme Park Opening

    Tyra Banks has put smizing on hold. The “America’s Next Top Model” host is postponing the opening of ModelLand, a theme park opening in Santa Monica, Calif. A new launch date has not been announced. “In light of the recommendations of the CDC, WHO, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, we have decided to postpone the [...]

  • AIDS/LifeCycle Canceled Due to Coronavirus Concerns

    AIDS/LifeCycle Canceled Due to Coronavirus Concerns

    This year’s AIDS/LifeCycle has been canceled. The annual bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles is considered the largest single HIV/AIDS fundraising event in the world and benefits the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF). Last year’s ride raised more than $16 million. Past participants have included Rep. Adam [...]

  • Variety's Power of Women gift bag

    Variety's Power of Women Event Postponed

    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Variety, the iconic entertainment business news media company, will postpone its high-profile Variety Power of Women: New York from April 3 to July 9. The accompanying magazine that includes the New York Women’s Impact Report will publish on July 7. Variety’s Power of Women events in Los Angeles and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content