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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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Director's Panel at Santa Barbara Film Festival: Hooper, O. Russell, Zeitlin, Andrews, Bendjelloul, Moore

((photo cred: SBIFF)

The director’s panel at SBIFF this year was quite the line-up! In attendance were: Tom Hooper, Les Miserables; Rich Moore, Wreck-it Ralph; David O Russell, Silver Linings Playbook; Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Malik Bendjelloul, Searching for Sugar Man; and Mark Andrews of Brave.

Tom Hooper talked about his “visceral connection” to the story of Les Miserables like a “moth to a flame.” What really draws him to the story is how it deals with death; how death can be dealt with leaving YOU feeling loved. “Victor Hugo looks death straight in the face… it’s about transcending the pain of death and doing it with love.” Hooper quoted the last lines of the script: “To love or have loved is enough; that is the only pearl in the dark folds of life.”

Rich Moore says he was “voracious for animation as a child"..."When I was following that through my life, I always knew I was on the right course.” Then Moore went to CalArts. “It was almost a kiln for us,” he says, being surrounded by people that had the same passion. “If you take a lot of people with passion and inject them into the system, change will happen"… "If directors are control freaks, animation directors are the ultimate control freaks,” says Moore. “You can control every frame.”

Moderator Peter Bart talked asked David O. Russell about casting Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. Russell has been working on this story for years and thought of different people for the roles at times, but said, “The right people play the right roles at the right time.” The movie is “a personal story for me,” says Russell. He spoke about how his mom was “probably bipolar, a passionate, wonderful woman,” and how he got many things from her: "the rhythm of speaking, and passion for love and life... Now my son reminds me of my mom. I understand my mom more through the rearview mirror of my son,” Russell’s son plays the kid with the camera in Silver Linings Playbook.  “Sports is bipolar, the economy is bipolar, we started it in 2008 when the economy tanked… all that made me put my heart into it for 5 years,” says O. Russell. “It’s heart-breaking and it’s magical…Because you can’t do the heartbreaking stuff, for me, unless I have the magical stuff.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild was made on a budget of a million and a half dollars. Benh Zeitlin has spent the last year (since it premiered in Sundance) promoting the movie, which he says “is probably the longest time I have ever gone without creating something." Zeitlin spoke about how it has created “this weird creative gap on the inside, which sorta hurts. There’s a creative muscle that can potentially atrophy from just talking about and analyzing your own work.”  Zeitlin has had many other projects in mind, but now he wants to use this momentum to work on the hardest one next. "It’s going to be interesting to go back into the kitchen with the idea that this is a meal for the planet, not just for my friends.” 

Mark Andrews spoke about Pixar, and the three rules they generally follow when making movies: A fantastic world that we haven’t seen before; a fantastic character that we haven’t seen before; and a story that’s heartfelt and touching like they’ve never been touched before.  Animation takes so long, that Andrews says “We get this unique opportunity to redo the story umpteen million times.”

“I think one of the best things I’ve learned is to not be precious about the work. I’ll take a note from anybody, and I’ll do anything to make it better…. And that includes audiences, and that includes Harvey Weinstein,” says O. Russell.

Hooper spoke about emotion, music, and filmmaking. “I discovered that what you have to do in a musical is you have to be incredibly savage about the build-up to a song, so that the audience don’t actually have time to have the emotion in advance to the song…the first time they have the emotion is IN the song.”  I felt seeing Les Miserables that I didn’t have time to process the emotion before the song, and so I didn’t feel it the way I should have during the song, which I wish I could have... so it was interesting to hear Hooper talk about this.

“Everybody in this room broke the rules,” said Peter Bart about the panelists.

When an audience member thanked David O. Russell for spending so much time in Philadelphia, he said "We put every detail we could into our movie. The world is as important to me as the story. What they eat, what they wear, the music they listen to.. That's as enchanting to me as the story when I watch... so that was very important to us."

In answering an audience question about the biggest mistake actors make, Zeitlin said, "To make a blanket statement, when an actor is thinking about somebody watching their performance later, they'll do things that they think somebody wants to see, and they're taking themself out of the present moment of the scene. That's why I think the most basic thing is being present, listening to what people said, reacting to the most basic thing....Presence, listening, being in the moment of the scene... is the most consistent thing." 

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Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

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