Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.
It’s been nearly a year since Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. With the latest edition of the Park City fest revving its engines, the film is still in the thick of the awards season discussion, part of a strong crop of Sundance players that remain in the mix this year. For a film with a shooting schedule of 29 days and a budget of $11.5 million, it looks far more polished than that. That’s owed to Rees’ economic prowess as a director, as well as — among other crew members she’s quick to recognize — her cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who made history last week as the first woman to ever receive a nomination from the American Society of Cinematographers.
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“For me inspirations were an artist named Whitfield Lovell, a contemporary artist, and there’s a sculptor named Mary Frank, who does a lot of things that unite bodies and landscapes,” Rees says about what drove the look of the film. “And then Rachel had Dorothea Lange and all these old WPA photos. We really kind of worked from there and wanted the film to feel very candid, very honest, in a way. We wanted the film to have a very moving-at-the-speed-of-life feel, so it doesn’t feel presentational or stagey, which can be the catch with a lot of period pieces.”
Speaking of Sundance, Rees is also quick to correct the record when it comes to any notions of a feeding frenzy over the film there.
“I didn’t really have a number of choices. That’s the mythology of it,” she says. “Nobody made offers on this film. People might have been interested but not a single offer came through. It was Netflix, and they bought us for what we were worth. Because they could have lowballed us. Annapurna, A24, none of that’s true. Annapurna can call me and show me the offer they put out there. No one had put offers on this film before Netflix did.”
Her latest work can be seen on another streaming service, Amazon Prime. She loosely adapted the short story “The Hanging Stranger” for the anthology series “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” a project that afforded her the opportunity to react to Donald Trump and the otherworldly nature of the 2016 presidential election.
“Sci-fi has been a thing I’ve been trying to get into for a while,” Rees, who recently attempted an adaptation of Dick’s “Martian Time-Slip,” says. “You can say more in science-fiction and be more pointed, in a way. You can go further. I wrote ‘Kill All Others’ like a week after the election results. It was a perfect place to put my energies. I wrote it watching this campaign where I felt like this guy was saying unbelievable things and it just felt like, ‘Is no one else hearing this?’ I got to write this in response to a moment where it felt like all is lost.”
For more, including loads of detail on the visual storytelling and adaptation process on “Mudbound,” and thoughts on the “messiness” of feminism Rees hopes to explore with her next project, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.
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