A Few Minutes with Jake Paltrow as we discuss the man that is ‘DePalma’

Posted in Interviews, Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - June 16, 2016
A Few Minutes with Jake Paltrow as we discuss the man that is ‘DePalma’

When a master is talking about his work, the first instinct is to just shut up and listen, thankfully two quality working directors in Hollywood today did exactly that and they turned it into a movie.

In advance of the release of DePalma at the TIFF Bell Lightbox tomorrow and as it rolls out across the country, DePalma is simply a look back at the total works of one of the more innovative working directors in the history of cinema.

We sat down with co-director Jake Paltrow about his friendship with the man himself, what inspired the film and why even if you aren’t a fan of his movies (or even movies in general) Brian DePalma still makes for one hell of a documentary subject as a man who has lived his life and pursued his art for the most part on his own terms.

Dave Voigt: Was Brian (DePalma) a hard sell to get to participate in this?  I know he has been hesitant in the past about participating in these kinds of things.

Jake Paltrow: It ultimately wasn’t because this project really grew out of us just being really close friends.  Noah and I both were friends with Brian independently of each other but we eventually just started to spend a lot of time together and after a couple of years and countless dinners together where we were just asking him questions about the movies that he made and movies in general, the shift in the structures of how everything works, basically anything we could think of and the way that he replies is not only so articulate, but so rich at the same time.  One day Noah and I were just walking home from one of our dinners with him and we just looked at each other and we knew that we had to ask him because if he said yes, even selfishly just for us it would be amazing and he actually agreed right away to participate.  My recollection of it is that we did it very quickly, he agreed and basically a week later we were over there with a camera, if only so he wouldn’t change his mind and we did it for about a week straight.  It started off us not really knowing what it would be other than some kind of archive but when you hear him just talk, everything that comes out of his mouth is just so electric that it already felt like a movie and not a typical documentary.DePalmaSnakeEyes

DV: He has a reputation for being quite verbose, is there anything that he didn’t want to talk about?

JP: No, not really because the way we had pitched it to him is that this is an extension of two directors just drilling another director about his movies.  Granted there are these intersecting moments about stuff in his life, but the drive of the movie was never that, it was always about the work and what was going on his movies, we never got close to any areas where he didn’t want to go to.

DV: How much ‘actual’ direction did you and Noah have to give him?  I can imagine some of these stories that he can tell would be pretty epic, did you have to steer him in any given direction or was it just a case of unleashing him and letting him go?

JP: That’s a great question because a lot of the stuff that is in the movie is just things that he’d tell us over dinner and for us it was just a case “Oh god, we have to get him to tell the story about this or about so and so”.  He was always very good about just talking about it all and because we were so comfortable with one another that it allowed the film to have a really natural flow to it all.  Really some of the surprises were when we had run out of things to get him to retell were some of the stories we didn’t know but really the only direction we had to do was with the questions that we asked him and then in the edit but ultimately beyond that and all the great films the only reason this movie really works; is the sound of his voice.  He has this quality of communication that is rare and incredibly electric.

DV: And his candor was really refreshing and even surprising at times especially when it comes to the studio system, and there genuinely wasn’t anything that he really didn’t want in the film?

JP: No…no.  I think Brian’s point of view is that he is going to tell it like he experienced it.  So if he is telling a story that seems like “Oh, that person was a pain in the ass” but if you listen closely he never really disparages anyone, only the parts about Cliff Robertson come close to that, but again it’s how he experienced it.  Talking about an actor that is throwing off eye lines, or being insecure about something…and that’s really it.  It’s a relationship with perspective because we want the subjective experience of this man while he made his movies.  If it was just a testimonial, we’d be affecting with opinions of other people who were there.  We want what he has to tell us from his perspective which is great and entertaining.

DePalmaUntouchables

DV: His back catalog is a lot bigger than most people initially expect.  Do you have a personal favourite or one that you feel is underappreciated of his works?

JP: Oh totally, I think Phantom of the Paradise would have to be one but also it does have enough of a cult following in enough circles but a lot of people just don’t have a clue about that movie.  I mean I’m not all that sure how many people outside of the hardcore movie fans know about Sisters which is just a brilliant masterpiece.  It really is the beginning of someone taking a film technique and applying it in the best way possible.  I love them all really; I’d say Blow Out is THE masterpiece out of all of his works.  Off top five endings all time, there is Casablanca and really just four others, one of which is Blow Out.  It’s just one of the greatest endings…ever.

DV: And it really is that “DePalmaesque” movie as well.

JP: It really is and while I do tend to shy away from this question a lot the other movie that has been on my mind quite a bit is Carlito’s Way because it really is this great expression of DePalma as the elder statesman and the master artist who now uses all the tools and constructs all of these sequences in a very emotional tragedy of a film.DePalmaCarlito

DV: Did this border on a meta experience for you as you are making a movie about a man and his work while he is right there with you?

JP: (Laughs) It probably would have been a meta experience if we hadn’t of approached in the warm way that we did as just an extension of the friendship that we all had.  If it had been a situation where we had strong armed him into this and been very serious about it all then it probably would have felt pretty weird to do.  However towards the end of the entire process I think we were just hopeful that Brian would like it.  We were really excited about it and Noah and I joke about it a lot that this is one of the few things that either of us have ever made that we felt like we could just sit down and watch.  We weren’t obsessing over anything and when I rewatch it, I still get to laugh at stuff.  I just really like watching and listening to Brian.

DV: Do you think that he is sincere when he says that he doesn’t want to make movies anymore?

JP: Oh no!  He wants to make movies…he didn’t say that did he?

DV: Well kind of towards the end when he was talking about…

JP: Oh, no no no, he’s talking about being able to make your BEST movies.  His big thing there is just about making your best movies in your thirties, your forties and your fifties and he uses Hitchcock as an example.  I’ll admit that it is a strong opinion and he is just talking about how he is still making them but knows that his best stuff now in his seventies might be behind him and that’s a really interesting position to take because he does have the empirical evidence to back it up.  I also think that is why this friendship that we sought out and cultivated is so special because he talks in the way that you hope that everyone who has ever done anything meaningful will ever talk about stuff.  It’s really cool.

DePalmaPhantomDV: Even for someone who may not be all that familiar with his films there is still such rich material about filmmaking in the 70’s.  Was that an intentionial slant you decided to take or did happen more organically?

JP: It was definitely something we recognized when we were talking to Brian because this isn’t just a movie about a director but it is also about the shifting economics on how films are made.  Why some get made, why some don’t.  What happens when things go exceptionally well, what happens when they don’t.  When the bottom line comes into play and notes from the studio become a real thing, something that just didn’t exist back when he started.  It’s in degrees; if you like the films of DePalma, you’ll LOVE DePalma but if you don’t about his films there still should be enough there in the film that will spark some people to seek out his films and if you don’t like movies at all…you just might like Brian DePalma himself!  As a super interesting, non political type of character.   Is enough to get people to see the movie?  Really; who knows, but I hope that they do because he is just such a compelling guy.

DV: In many ways the film really does feel like an extension of that Hitchcock/Truffaut moment which he now gets to share, in his own way.  Is that something he appreciates now looking back at this process with you?

JP: Yeah, totally.  I mean when Noah and I began to talk about this and we knew we were going to do it we both picked up the book again.  The Hitchcock/Truffaut book is so great, because they weren’t friends and not necessarily interested in each other’s works before that, but what comes out of it such a volcano.  There were these pockets of appreciation in some urban centers but no one really knew who he was and here he was this master filmmaker before he was even 30 saying these things to Hitchcock that must have been amazed by because there were no DVD’s or even VHS nothing that he could rewind and make reference to and being so plugged into was so key.  That was the flipside of DePalma now it feels like you need the friendship and the second hand along with the reference materials that you can pull from at a moment’s notice to make this happen.  We’d love to do more, and I mean we have some ideas but I think the friendship between the three of this is really what made this work.  There really is no sort of undiscovered wunderkind filmmaker that could really recreate that moment right now…not that this would need it of course because there are people who could pull off something amazing and it really comes down to who would submit to something like this and trust us.  I really think that this is the calling card for something like that because we can say “Look we’re only going to ask you about the movies”.

DV: Was it tough not to do a lot of split screens in this?

JP: (Laughs) But like Brian says, it just isn’t good for action (Smiles)

DePalma is at the TIFF Bell Lightbox tomorrow and expands across the country over the summer.

Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian DePalma retrospective is on at the TIFF Bell Lightbox now and runs throughout the summer.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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