Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interview : Danny Boyle

Initially Published Here

Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) loves extremes. His films are filled with people doing extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances. And his is a case of style following content -- breathless movement, jarring close-ups, split screens, rapid cutting. Affectations in the hands of a lesser artist, for Boyle, the go-for-broke imagery is perfectly in keeping with the stories he’s telling. On the surface, that wouldn’t seem to be the case with his new film, 127 Hours, essentially, the true life single protagonist survival story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who amputated his own arm after being pinned by a boulder in a secluded canyon in the Utah desert. But Boyle manages to jam as much action into the piece as your typical Hollywood blockbuster, aided by a bravura performance by James Franco who’s on screen by himself for most of the film’s taut 90 minutes. We had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Boyle briefly while he was in town promoting the film’s appearance at the Philadelphia Film Festival. Here, he discusses his efforts to remain truthful to Aron’s story and the difficulties of getting the film made, even for an Academy Award winning director.

At what point in the process did you have a vision of how you were going to depict the big moment?

Well, it’s in the book. The writing of that sequence where he describes doing it, I remember thinking that whatever I do, I’m gonna be honest to that and if they cut it, I’ll walk away from the film because you have to do that honestly. It took him 44 minutes. I don’t think Aron was a natural writer before this happened but there certainly are other people. He’s one. Joe Simpson [author of Touching the Void] is another. Primo Levy is another. Where writers are made by experience and the gift is bestowed upon them by the extreme experience they go through.

Was there any concern on your part or on the producers’ part about turning off potential viewers?
Yes. The studio was terrified of that, still, even though its getting good buzz, they’re still obviously scared.

But ultimately, what’s there is what you wanted?
Sure. It’s very honest and truthful. And then, to be fair to them, they haven’t suggested changing it. They realize that what we presented to them with the first cut, that sequence was accurate and it wasn’t exploitative. It was troubling, but faithful to the experience because, of course, you can’t change the ending.

Certain filmmakers in the position of critical and financial success such as what you had with your last movie, use that opportunity to make a difficult project or something extremely personal that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. Is this film something that couldn’t have been done without the success that you had?
It would never have been made.

I mean, Spielberg could have made it, but most filmmakers would never be allowed to in the current climate. They’re so nervous about the market, you know, just what people want to go and see and stuff like that. So yes, we did take advantage of the success we had with Slumdog.

Is this something you had in mind while doing promotion for Slumdog?

Well, funny enough, I approached Aron about it, [but] he wanted to make it as more of a documentary then and it was his story, you know, so you back away and then when it came back again, it was sort of after the promotional tour, sort of obvious that we could take advantage of the hullabaloo and the financial climate that Slumdoghad had. You know, we have a few credits in the bank with the studio so we used the same studio. We morally embarrassed them into agreeing to let us make the film. No, I’m kidding.

I understand the actual video that Aron makes where he’s saying goodbye is something only certain family and friends had seen but you and James Franco had been granted access. Was Aron involved in that discussion of how to use it for the film? Is it closer to the spirit of what was on the tapes?

Aron was involved in a lot of this. A lot of it’s in the book, so he did reveal that. What he doesn’t like is showing the tape but he did show it to us eventually. And we made departures. One was the girls in the beginning with the swimming and the second one was actually his talk show host – James’ talk show host, you know, when he does the multiple characters. That isn’t on the tape but the bit that follows is when he gives up trying to entertain everyone and says, “Mom, Dad, I don’t appreciate you half as much as I know I could” – that’s all verbatim. The reason for the talk show host thing and what was extraordinary about the tapes, was that he is very composed, very controlled. And of course, you realize that what he was trying to do was leave a dignified impression of himself for his parents to see after he died because he did think he was going to die and he thought “I don’t want them to see me going ‘Please help me somebody.’” He wanted to look noble and dignified like he was trying his best and he loved them all. He said if he did crack and feel sorry for himself, he went back over the message [and] erased [it] in the place and rerecorded a dignified message. That gave us the idea of him performing in order to cheer himself up, to kind of persuade himself and others who might watch them that he’s coping with this, you know, and so that led to the talk show host. Those are the two major changes we made to the story. The rest of it is verbatim.

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