Friday, May 24, 2013

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)—SFIFF56 Closing Night Q&A With Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy

Photo courtesy of Pamela Gentile, San Francisco Film Society.
With Richard Linklater's Before Midnight (2013) opening theatrically this weekend, here at The Evening Class we offer a triple toast. First, Ryan Lattanzio's interview with Richard Linklater and Julie Delpy; second, a transcript of their on-stage conversation with Mike Jones at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF); and following, a transcript of the Q&A after the SFIFF Closing Night screening of Before Midnight.  Naturally, all three entries are not for the spoiler-wary!!

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Introducing Before Midnight—the third in a series of films preceded by Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2009)—Richard Linklater expressed thanks to San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Ted Hope and programmer Rachel Rosen for choosing Before Midnight as the festival's closing night film, and added how special it was to take part in Ted Hope's first festival for the Film Society. "San Francisco, you're lucky to have him," Linklater declared, wishing Hope many more festivals. He apologized that Ethan Hawke couldn't make the screening (busy finishing up a film in Australia), but he was happy that Julie Delpy could join in the evening's festivities. Delpy thanked the crowd for their warm, enthusiastic reception and invited them to stick around for a Q&A session afterwards. She promised to answer almost every question.

After the film, Rosen started off the questioning by noting that nine years ago Linklater pulled off the incredible feat of making a sequel that lived up in every way to its predecessor and asked if Linklater could speak to the risk of making the third movie?

Linklater reiterated his remarks from the evening before at his on-stage conversation with Mike Jones, that making Before Sunset was much scarier and felt much more of a risk than making Before Midnight, which was a difficult film to make but less scary in a way; but, that being said, making Before Midnight happened in the same way as making Before Sunset. As with Before Sunset, there was a six-year period of no serious ideas and no serious consideration about making a third film, merely joking about it, and then somewhere along the way they realized that Celine and Jesse were still living characters who had something to say about their current situation in life. Jokingly, Linklater remarked, "We're currently on hiatus for six years."

Photo courtesy of Tommy Lau, San Francisco Film Society
Delpy offered that it was the writing that made Before Midnight more difficult than Before Sunrise in choosing to depict a more domestic side of Celine and Jesse's relationship and the very real issues arising between them, which were no longer "cute and flirty, as you might have noticed." Notwithstanding, Linklater asserted that they still wanted the narrative to be romantic. It's not that Before Midnight is anti-romantic. It just hedges the definition of "romantic" and shifts it around a bit. Celine and Jesse are still talking, still communicating and making each other laugh, and they're still sleeping together, which is pretty good for being over 40.

When they became serious about writing Before Midnight, Rosen asked if there were narrative elements that they instantly knew would carry over from the previous films? In particular, she was thinking of Celine's line in Before Sunset where she said, "Maybe we only get along because we walk around in cities in the same season." Did they know automatically that they wouldn't be setting the third film in a city with a warm climate? Or was the narrative up for grabs?

Delpy answered that early on, though not right away, they decided not to set the story in a city and instead to show them on holiday. Once they "found Greece", it took the story to a different level. Linklater added that they had outlined the story and were pretty far down the road in their conception of what the film would be, but the last little bit was finding the location, which ended up being Greece. The location helped define the film.

Rosen asked them to talk about the big dinner scene in Before Midnight, which she considered a significant departure from the first two films for being more populated with multiple conversational perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Tommy Lau, San Francisco Film Society
Linklater explained that they decided early on that they couldn't do the same thing with Before Midnight that they'd done with the previous films in the sense of structuring the story around a chance encounter. They knew the narrative had to be age-appropriate, as that quality of chance encounters happens less and less as one grows older. To see them in their lives meant placing them among all these other people. Delpy added that it was important to show Celine and Jesse at this stage in life compared to the younger couple at the dinner table to consider the possibilities of what it might have been like for them to meet each other today with all the new technologies available. Similarly, it was important to contrast their relationship against the older couple who had both lost their spouses. Linklater stated it was fun to show how your feelings about your own relationship in your social self is very different than your private self and how you can say things in a social setting that comment upon the private sphere through passive-aggressive jokes; jokes that aren't really jokes.

Admitting that acting is mysterious to her, Rosen enquired how difficult it was to achieve the natural, "non-acting" style adopted by Delpy and Hawke?

The goal of the films, Delpy answered, the bridge across the films, was to purposely give the acting in the films the feel of not acting, to elicit the sense of listening to two people actually talking. That was the acting style appropriate to the films. There are many different types of acting, from basically wearing old age make-up, to imitating historical characters, but the goal in the Before films was distinct. They achieved that first through the lengthy process of writing and coming up with words that they knew they would eventually have to say as actors, and then they rehearsed and rehearsed until the words sounded natural. Coming from a musical background, Delpy remembered and used her training as a child playing clarinet or bleeding from her fingers playing violin. Basically, she expressed, acting is like learning a musical instrument in that it requires repetition and tons of rehearsal so that you can finally just step up and do it without thinking. Nonetheless, the shoot was painful and both she and Hawke were filled with constant anxiety.

"She's still traumatized by it," Linklater apologized, but he knew their abilities and pushed them to do long, extended takes. Eventually, Delpy joked, Linklater would want them to do an entire movie in one take. But she was aware of the opportunity he had given them as actors to challenge themselves. He directed them in such a way that it allowed them to meet the challenge, giving them the freedom to go for it, but providing a safety net for them at the same time. In other words, as a director Linklater trusted his actors, which can't always be said about other directors, and the trust was there from the very first film, which was amazing and unusual.

Photo courtesy of Tommy Lau, San Francisco Film Society
All those degrees of difficulty—acting natural, long takes—reminded Rosen of The Five Obstructions (2003) and how placing constraints can help artists open up creatively. She asked if they were conscious of doing that?

Linklater admitted that it did seem like every film of his, not only the Before series, had some kind of insurmountable challenge to overcome. If a film doesn't naturally have a cross to bear, he creates it, because it makes everyone work really hard.

At that juncture, Rosen opened up the questioning to the audience. A fellow in the front row was struck by the hotel scene in Before Midnight, which—up to then in the series—was the most physically intimate Celine and Jesse had been and brought their relationship to a whole new level. He wanted to know how Linklater accomplished that?

"Are you talking about Julie's breasts?!" Linklater retorted. He joked they had been trying to get them in all of the films and that he told her it was now or never. In order to get to that new level, Delpy explained, the nudity served a certain realism they were striving to capture. Primarily it was to depict a moment that could have happened that doesn't happen. She exposes her breasts but then she hides them. The intensity of that moment wouldn't have been communicated had she been wearing a bra. "Could we have gotten a PG-13 rating if you'd been wearing a bra?" Linklater wondered. "We blew it," Delpy laughed. The hotel scene, Linklater finessed, was actually a lot of scenes. It was a love scene that lasted nearly 30 minutes and was its own mini-movie. It was a fun scene to face and they accepted the challenge of depicting how arguments actually build between people who love each other but harbor glossed-over resentments.

Photo courtesy of Tommy Lau, San Francisco Film Society
The Before series, Linklater added, offer great areas for declaration because this is the way people really speak. The dinner scene, especially, was a great place to share opinions, and to change subjects, and these films open themselves up to demonstrate that and contain a lot of different concerns at once that a more traditional film can't. Most films are tightly-structured short stories where everything advances the plot, such that the characters have no chance to drift away. But this is what they allowed themselves in these films and it opened up the opportunity to explore what was on their minds. Their working process is such that they're often approaching the film from where they're at in that moment in their real lives and trying to get things into the movie that reflect their own lives.

But all ideas are fully vetted between the three of them. If he has something he's trying to get into the movie but he gets two blank stares from Delpy and Hawke, then it's out. Which happens more often than not, Delpy confirmed. The film as a final creative product is the distilled version of the work process they have endeavored for years where they've discarded many ideas and pushed each other to make the narrative more interesting and deep. They give as much as they can and the movies are fun to return to as testaments of their process.

Aware that they had talked at length about their work process, I nonetheless wanted to know how they arrived at the narrative element of the twin girls, which was something I was not expecting out of the story; but, which delighted me.

Linklater answered that—with eight kids between he, Delpy and Hawke at this point—they talked a lot about what kind of children Celine and Jesse would have in their forties. They settled upon twins early in the process and that might have come from the fact that Linklater himself has identical twin girls (who were pissed at him for not casting them). They were lovely to watch running around. They were like miniature Julie Delpys. They also enhanced the paradisical fantasy of being on holiday in Greece. Celine and Jesse have gotten so much of what they probably wanted from the world. If they could have gone back nine years, they would have gladly signed on for this life, easily—this is a good scenario for them—and yet, they're still negotiating the world as humans always do. There's trouble in paradise.

A young woman asked how Linklater achieved emotional violence within words and if he could address the gendered conflict between Celine and Jesse? She felt that Jesse was not such a bad guy.

Linklater liked the idea of violence within words and jokingly compared it to his interaction with Delpy. What struck him was how, after an argument, you always think about what you could have said better. Delpy agreed that it was fun to write the argument because who hasn't had an argument with someone they live with? You go places in an argument that you sometimes later regret an hour later but you're speaking out of anger. No one can exasperate you and take you to that place more than a person you love.

But as for Jesse not being such a bad guy, Delpy defended her character Celine by saying how offended she was by Jesse's comment early in the film regarding his son. She knows what he's actually getting at. She's manipulative, yes, but so is he in his own way. They're two master manipulators going at each other.

Following up on that, another young woman asked about Celine's emotional resistance to Jesse? It seemed to her that Celine's reaction was out of proportion to what Jesse was trying to offer. It seemed he was really trying and she was resisting all his efforts. Why was she so angry at him?

Delpy again defended her character. Celine said it straightforward to Jesse: if she didn't fight back, she was going to end up being a subservient wife and mother living in a suburb of Chicago. Celine is an argumentative and strong person who won't let anyone else destroy—not only her life—but their lives together. She's aware that moving to Chicago would destroy their relationship. It's probably not the first time that she and Jesse have fought over this issue of Jesse's decision to stay with her in Paris. Delpy affirmed: "She didn't force him to. It was his decision." That got a noticeable rise out of her audience (and, for me, provided the evening's most telling moment of the audience's reaction to the storyline; they were clearly on Jesse's side).

Photo courtesy of Tommy Lau, San Francisco Film Society
The final question came from a man who admitted that—after watching all three films—he no longer considered My Dinner With Andre the talkiest film in the world. But he wondered if Linklater had any reservations about deciding to be so conversational? If he worried about his audience accepting it?

Linklater responded, "When you're making a construct, like a film, there is an audience in the back of your mind. That's a director's job to a large degree to see it from an audience's perspective. That's what we're doing." The audience that he has imagined for the film is abstracted through his hope that they will appreciate the film's heightened honesty. Delpy was bemused by the notion that it's a taboo area of representation to show couples who have been together more than 10 years working through their problems. Which was not only what they wanted to show, Linklater furthered, they also wanted to show the triumph of Celine and Jesse sticking it out, of trying to find each other in their current situation, not being satisfied with the past but trying to find ways to communicate into the future.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)—An Onstage Conversation With Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Mike Jones

Noting that the 15-day length of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) is longer than the average film festival, programmer Rachel Rosen posed that ordinarily she would be feeling a little sad about the festival coming to an end if it weren't for her being so excited about the festival's closing night entry: Richard Linklater's Before Midnight (2013) [official site], with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reprising their roles from the two earlier entries in Linklater's trilogy (Before Sunrise, 1995; Before Sunset, 2009).

Asserting that Before Midnight would prove to "still be a terrific experience to see" even without benefit of watching the two previous films, Rosen embraced the opportunity to introduce an onstage conversation with director Linklater and co-writer and star Julie Delpy on the evening before their closing night screening, so as to endeavor a more in-depth look at the Before series.

Previous documentaries like Michael Apted's Up series have shown how film captures the passage of time. Another notable example might be François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel cycle, whereby a character (and actor fetiche Jean-Pierre Léaud) mature before our eyes; a fetish Truffaut shared with Tsai Ming-liang (whose cinematic fondling of Lee Kang-sheng likewise measured the passage of time over a familiar body). "And, of course," Rosen added, "there have been Hollywood franchises with multiple parts that may or may not show character development and may or may not have the same actors playing those characters." But for Rosen, Linklater's Before trilogy remains unprecedented in its portrayal of fictional characters over time.

Rosen then introduced moderator Mike Jones, former editor for Indiewire and Variety, and currently a screenwriter with Pixar. Jones decided to frame his on-stage conversation with Linklater and Delpy by screening a series of clips from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, which he offered as anticipatory gifts to prepare ourselves for viewing Before Midnight on closing night. Linklater confirmed the clips would be useful since—without really giving anything away—there are no flashback sequences in Before Midnight that revisit the earlier films.

The first clip showed Jesse inviting Celine off the train to spend the night with him wandering Vienna. Linklater recalled he had been inspired by meeting a young woman in the '80s with whom he spent a selfsame night, walking and talking, undeniably attracted. He had already made a couple of films but knew he wanted to make a film about what "that thing in the air" was between him and this young woman on that night back in 1989. The idea gestated for five years until production began on Before Sunrise.

"What was the thing in the air?" Jones asked.

"You know," Linklater grinned sheepishly. "We're lucky to have that in our lives and it happens more when you're young, unattached and able." Add to fleeting desire the element of youthful travel—Linklater was visiting his sister in Philadelphia—and being on the road with nothing he had to do. He was in a toy store and this girl began flirting with him and—because he wasn't in his home town—he felt emboldened to approach her and invite her to hang out with him once she got off work. She agreed and they spent the whole night together until he had to leave the following morning. He recalled Philly as being a good walking city.

From there, he took a trip to Berlin with his first film. He had never left the U.S. before and it was his first time to experience a city in another country, which is where the idea for Before Sunrise fully took hold with the addition of this international element. Admittedly, his experience was not so unique, many people have experienced the same thing when encountering their first European cities, but the idea for the movie was to make it minimal, about two people falling in love with each other, or however one might define whatever is going on between two people when there's such a strong attraction.

Before Sunrise arrived to Julie Delpy as a screenplay, for which she auditioned. Linklater drafted the script in 11 days with a female friend who had been in a couple of movies and whose opinion he trusted. The goal was to keep the collaboration balanced between gendered perpsectives. He felt his previous film Dazed and Confused had been overrun with testosterone. Despite there being a script, Linklater's endgame was to find a strong actress to help maintain a feminine presence and a strong actor to work alongside her and to have the two of them help him flesh out the script by bringing themselves fully to it. Looking back, casting these two roles and hooking up with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy was an important moment in his creative life.

Delpy recalled liking Linklater's audition script. It was intellectual with characters talking a lot and expressing their thoughts. Even though she didn't agree 100% with what they were thinking, she liked the idea of two people expressing themselves over the course of one night. Once they began working together, her frustrations as a writer surfaced to help shape the script. Each of them took some part of the original script and either threw it out or workshopped it over the course of their three weeks in Vienna. "I fired the writer," Linklater joked, "even though I was the writer." The script was a jumping off point for the three of them to get to know each other well.  For example, with the scene on the train, Ethan asked Julie what kind of guy she would go for that could entice her off a train? Ethan had to work really hard because Julie admitted it would be hard for a guy to pick her up on a train, particularly because she's naturally freaked out by men in general.

The second clip from Before Sunrise was of Celine and Jesse pretending they're talking to each other on the phone. Although Before Sunrise appears improvised, it's actually a tight script that they all worked on as writers, cognizant of the architecture of the storytelling. They had a placeholder for a scene where the relationship between Celine and Jesse was meant to go to a whole new level and where each would express something personal about what they were feeling. So what would that be? That's where working in chronological sequence served a purpose. How could they know what that would be in the first week of working together? But by the time they got to that placeholder, Julie recalled a phone game she used to play with a guy who—though not necessarily her boyfriend—was a guy she was aiming to keep, impress and seduce. She suggested that they play the scene with Celine pretending to be on the phone with a girl friend talking about Jesse. It would be a good way to say what she felt indirectly, which was perfect and appropriate for them at that moment, expressed through a touch of shyness. "It doesn't always work," Delpy quipped, "but it worked in the film."

For something to end up in the film, it needed to be vetted by all three of them. By the time the idea reached the screen, it had been through all of their systems. Each of them could provide lots of suggested material that didn't make it into the film because the other two—or even one—didn't get it. As a director, Linklater explained, if the actors don't understand the scene, it's not going to work. As an actor, if the director doesn't get it or understand or think it's important to the film, again the performance won't work. They fell into the rhythm of that workshop process early on. So often in collaboration, people try not to hurt each other's feelings and remain polite, but they had a shorthand that worked between the three of them.

The flip side, Linklater furthered, is that they were just talking, free associating, digressing into crazy stories, which every now and then the other two found interesting. Sometimes Delpy would be joking around, trying to entertain them, and she would say something that the other two would like and they'd say, "That should be in the movie!" and she'd be, "Really? No way!" A lot of the workshop process involved supporting each other while pushing each other at the same time. Delpy likened it to digging in a coal mine and finding diamonds "or something that looked like diamonds."

Linklater noted that the workshop process had also evolved over the making of the three films. With the first film, Hawke and Delpy were on the page and taking the script as actors and whatever reworking or rewriting that took place was, in essence, melding with what was on the page and how they were trying to make it work. With the subsequent two films, Hawke and Delpy were involved as writers from the beginning of each project. It was never as simple as Delpy contributing only to Celine's character, or Hawke to Jesse's. They all three wrote for all the characters, even with their contributions to the first film.

Delpy recalled a scene in Before Sunset where Jesse tells Celine she will become a great mother. A friend of Delpy's found the line condescending and wondered how Delpy allowed the line to remain in the film? She had to tell her friend, "I wrote it for him. What are you talking about?" Often, the rudest lines levied against a character were written by the actor playing the character, so it wasn't like they were exacting insults at each other; rather, they were acknowledging the worst things others had been said about them. Delpy admitted it was weird but fun to write insults against her character Celine through Jesse's mouth. Linklater advised that Hawke was good at that himself, being a brutally honest writer who goes all the way with an idea, irregardless of how he comes off. He has no vanity with that.

The third clip from Before Sunrise involved Celine and Jesse discussing commitment and the fleeting divinity that exists between individuals. Having recently rewatched the clip, Mike Jones felt that Celine and Jesse are characters who continually fight against romance, even when it arrives in front of them. Characterizing Jesse as "a cynical 23-year-old boy, whose parents have divorced, and who's just broken up with a girl in Madrid", Jones queried whether Linklater and Delpy purposely configured romance as an obstacle for their characters to overcome?

Linklater qualified that their's was a self-conscious, self-aware romance. They're just old enough and aware enough to have had significant life experience by the age of 23. When you get to be too old, you look back and think of Celine and Jesse as just kids; but, that's yes and no. What age are you when you first get your heart broken? Pretty young. At 23, they've already been through enough. Even as actors, Delpy and Hawke had been through a lot by that time. All three of them were, in fact, both romantic, realistic and cynical at the same time.

Jones asked if romanticism and realism were meant to go together? Especially in the third film Before Midnight, they seemed to conflict, especially when discussed during the dinner scene. It's a conflicted subject, Linklater assessed, in everyone's life. It has historical precedent going back hundreds of years. Writers have written for centuries about the unhappiness of love and have warned against putting too much into something as unstable as passion or romance. It's impossible to possess another person.

Delpy suggested that—until Walt Disney showed up—most people associated romance with falling in love with someone and then killing yourself. After Disney, romance became thought of as something that ended up happy everafter; but, she argued, that's a relatively new conception of romance. Romance is a weak genre overall, Linklater rationalized, but they found themselves in it and decided to at least be as realistic about it as possible.

The romance as genre is further complicated, Delpy insisted, by being primarily anti-feminist. It depresses her that most narrative arcs for women in romances involve meeting a guy, struggling with him, and then marrying him as the main goal of the relationship. Romances were better in the '40s, she offered, with actresses like Katherine Hepburn, and they deteriorated in the '80s. Jones pursued Delpy's opinion on the romances of Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, which he considered written from the female point of view? "But don't women always want to get married at the end of those movies?" Delpy countered. "Not that I'm against marriage—I am for it, but for the gays only."

The fourth (and final) clip from Before Sunrise depicted Celine's decision that she and Jesse should not have sex, particularly since they would be parting in the morning and might never see each other again, which prompts Jesse to suggest that they should meet each other again in six months. Jones noted how Jesse would say something and then Celine would dig it out a little bit more. In both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Jesse is always trying to say the right thing, which Celine always tries to dig out. Delpy sees Celine as playful and probably smarter than Jesse. Women might be discrete in how they flirt but they know what they want as much as men, which she felt the clip aptly illustrated. In Before Midnight particularly, Jones observed, Jesse says something inadvertent that Celine digs at until it reveals a truth about his personality. He wondered how that developed from the earlier films?

"When we write," Delpy responded, "we analyze every word we write, and why we're saying them, and what's the motive behind them. There's not a word in the films that is an accident because the way we work is that we will pick at it until we drive ourselves crazy with the writing and the workshop and the rehearsal afterwards. Of course we watched the first two films before writing the third one, just as we watched the first film before writing the second one. We brainstorm on every detail of what the characters say and why they say it and what we can take from it."

Jones asked Linklater about the cinematography for the trilogy, the look of the films, and if there was any source material he had looked at beforehand? Linklater admitted that looking at the films of others is something a filmmaker does early on as he's developing his style; but, at this juncture, he doesn't do that anymore. Though they did watch Vincente Minnelli's The Clock (1945) with Judy Garland and Robert Walker when they were in Vienna shooting the first film. It was a difficult film to track down, he had never seen it though he knew what it was about—Robert Walker meets Judy Garland on leave in 1945 New York and they have a night together—so he wanted to see it, but not so much to guide the look of Before Sunrise. He just wanted to check out "the vibe" of the film. The three of them sat down to watch a 16mm print of the film that he rented and the film stayed with them that entire summer while they were shooting. He kept wondering what it was about The Clock that made it eternal and made it relevant to the present day? That motivated them to keep their eye on the eternal and not be tethered to a specific moment or time. They asked themselves: what will last? What goes on between people that is eternal? Even though aspects of The Clock—the listening booths for example—were anachronistic, long vanished by the mid-'90s.

Jones asked if it was a struggle to maintain the sense of timelessness throughout the arc of the three films? Linklater didn't feel so. It was part of what they were aiming to do. And as for the look of the film, he approached each film as he does all his films, wanting it to be realistic, naturalistic, "almost an elegant documentary." Nothing too fancy, with long shots, and extended takes that prompt the audience to feel the film is real. In the clip of the scene on the tram, for example, that was a seven-minute sequence as they went around Vienna and that helped set up the stylistic element of uninterrupted sequences, which accounts for why audiences probably felt the films were improvised. But technically it's nearly impossible to improvise such an extended take, it has to be thoughtfully scripted out and planned, but it's a testament to Delpy's and Hawke's talent that they made it seem so naturalistic.

In the first clip from Before Sunset Celine and Jesse discuss how they've changed since first meeting nine years past. Celine "digs" out of Jesse that he considered her "a fatty." Jones wanted to know what inspired Linklater to return to this material after nine years?

It was scary, Linklater admitted. To make the second film required a big leap of faith. The way Before Sunrise ended begged the question of whether Celine and Jesse ever saw each other again and if they actually met up six months later; but, no one was clamoring for a sequel. There was no pressure for a second film, no one wanted it, except the three of them. The joke between them was that it was the lowest-grossing film to ever spawn a sequel. What made the prospect of a second film scary was that making Before Sunrise was a special time creatively for all three of them and they risked screwing up what was special about that time and the first film if they messed up the second.

But in 1999 Linklater got Delpy and Hawke together again for a few days to work on a scene for Waking Life (2001). That's when, arguably, being in character from Before Sunrise —or at least some version of the character—prompted them to consider making a sequel. That's when they realized that Celine and Jesse were still alive. Working on the scene for Waking Life made Delpy remember how great it had been to work with Linklater and Hawke and how much fun they had filming Before Sunrise. They realized that it wasn't just a one-time thing and that they could create together again. The scene from Waking Life gave them the taste of that.

When you're young, Delpy added, you think you're going to encounter other creative opportunities like what they experienced working together on Before Sunrise, you expect them, and then you come to realize that you don't have great collaborative experiences with everyone you work with and that it's probably something that happens with very few people in your life. Getting older provided the perspective of how rare the relationship between the three of them actually was and how enjoyable it continued to be whenever they worked together.

Part of their collaboration was to purposely set obstacles for themselves creatively. They decided to do Before Sunset in real time, like a play, so nothing could be cut out. By contrast, Before Sunrise was a more conventional film that—though transpiring over one night—allowed for a lot of time. There was a scene or two they were able to cut out. Fairly early on as they conceived of the films, they elected to shoot chronologically, partly because of a joke Delpy had made about making a sex film in real time.  Hawke and Linklater had already made another film in real time (Tape, 2001) and found the challenge stimulating. In fact, Tape originated as an unproduced play that they read and wondered if they could adapt to a film. In a certain sense they had to paint themselves into a corner in order to make the sense of real time work.

Delpy and Hawke came on early to Before Sunset, first as writers working on the script. Linklater recalled the three of them sitting around Delpy's apartment in Paris writing the script. But then came that huge moment when they started to film and Delpy and Hawke had to actually enact all the lines they'd written. Exclaimed Linklater: "I never saw two actors work that hard. What they had to do was really tough. I was making the movie, but they were having to perform it."

Another challenge they gave themselves was limited time because they shot it in the late afternoon. So much of it they would rehearse first and then they would have a two-hour window to shoot maybe seven pages. They would do seven takes and that would be the movie. "The pressure was on. It was kind of like a sprint." But their creative process on working with real time in Before Sunset emboldened them stylistically for Before Midnight. The texts became longer and they could push themselves even further. Linklater concluded that in every film he sets goals for himself that are nearly impossible to pull off and seem endlessly insurmountable.

The second clip from Before Sunset staged Jesse's regret that Celine had not returned to Vienna after six months, wondering how different their lives might have been had she done so. Jones asked how different it had been for Delpy to approach Before Sunset as a writer, not just an actor, and how she went about creating the back story for what had happened to Celine over nine years?

That was her work with the second and third films, Delpy asserted, to think about what had happened to Celine over nine years: what she'd been through, what she achieved, what she did, what her relationships were like, how she broke up with her last boyfriend, everything. "Even if it doesn't end up on screen," Linklater explained, "they have to know it as characters."

Jones asked if Delpy had domain over her character, could she come into the writing process and say, "This is what my character has done over the past nine years" and have it be accepted? No, she answered, everything was discussed, everything was agreed upon. She never imposed anything. If they didn't like an idea, it wouldn't stick. This was the work they undertook for a couple of years before they actually began filming so that everything would be in place by the time they reached the set. That lengthy gestation period is what remains unique in their creative collaboration.

For example, with Before Midnight they had a big idea they worked with for nearly six months before finally dropping it from the film. But having worked with it helped them in a certain way. They learned a lot from working with that big idea and lived a back story, even if it wasn't what they ended up using in the movie. Jones asked Linklater if he could be specific about that big idea and Linklater said that, though Before Midnight ended up being set on holiday, originally they had considered choosing one day in the domestic life of Celine and Jesse. That was good for figuring out many of the domestic details between them that they could then carry into their holiday, wearing them so to speak. They ultimately decided that domestic life in real time would be boring and depressing. Who would want to watch them standing in line for 20 minutes waiting to pick up their kids?

Their workshop process likewise helped them decide whether or not they wanted to show unattractive or unlikeable qualities in Celine and Jesse that might upset audiences familiar with their characters; but, they wanted to express what they found honest and real in their own lives that isn't often seen on the big screen. Over the 19 years that the three of them have worked on this trilogy, they now have eight kids between them, which serves as fodder for the writing. So much of their time together is spent discussing how their personal lives are going for them and, naturally, this carries over into the writing.

The third clip from Before Sunset reveals how Celine's conflicted love for Jesse has kept her from committing to any other man in her life and how angry she has been at not being able to forget him. They argue in a taxi, which prefigures the arguments in store in Before Midnight. Jones asked how they built up to that argument?

Linklater answered that it started with the outline of the movie. As with Before Sunrise where the relationship between Celine and Jesse reaches a new level, in Before Sunset their relationship is "popping". They've come together, they've learned a lot about each other, and—because of what they've learned and now know—their relationship has to, again, achieve another level. The argument in the taxi, which is the second to last scene in the movie, is a make or break moment for both of them.

Delpy remembered the construction of the arc of that scene. Since Before Sunset was set over an hour and a half, it didn't quite have the three-act structure of most ordinary narratives; but, it did have structure. "Structures are universal," Delpy emphasized. Up to that point Celine has been playing and pretending that it wasn't a big deal that she hadn't shown up to meet Jesse in Vienna. She was pretending that she wasn't quite as hurt as him, that she was not as emotionally attached as him, but then she reveals her true feelings, which was essential to the arc of the scene. He's making steps towards her, she's playful, and a moment has to come when the energy bursts, and that moment for them was in the cab. But it was important to also include a sense of humor so that she wouldn't come off as a raving maniac. "It's become my specialty to flip out in cars," Delpy quipped.

After that moment they both know that Celine is in love with Jesse and has been for years; but, it angers Celine to admit this to herself. She's angry because it didn't work out between them the way it should have. Jesse's been expressing his regret all along but Celine has resisted him, imposing rationality over her feelings. She's the rational one between them. Her job requires her to be rational. She's not creative like Jesse. She's not a writer and can't romanticize the past like Jesse has. She's shut down that part of herself, which surfaces when she sees him again and he expresses his love for her over the years. It's a messy situation for both of them, Linklater added, Celine's in a relationship with someone, Jesse has a kid, is married, and lives on another continent, so nothing is easy between them.

Jones pointed out that Jesse implied to Celine that he wrote his book about their encounter in order to be in a French book store where she might show up. Yes, he implied that, Linklater agreed, but qualified that this was a time before texting, before all the many ways to communicate available now. It's almost laughable in Before Sunrise how they don't exchange information as people would easily do today. Instead, he has to throw the book out as a signal to her. Jesse's book, however, was of course his romanticized perspective of events from his point of view; but, from Celine's point of view, Jesse's book is problematic and raises issues between them. In Celine's defense, Delpy proposed that being involved with someone who writes is not necessarily a fun thing in general (which she could swear on, being a writer herself). Things that are said to a writer can end up in a story so you have to watch everything you say. To be involved with a writer, you have to make your peace with that, or not.

The final clip from Before Sunset was the film's closing sequence where Celine sings along with Nina Simone's recording of "Just In Time." Jones admitted that this was a scene he watched again and again, amazed at how they pulled it off. Linklater distinguished that—in contrast to the way Before Sunrise ends—the ending of Before Sunset begs the question of what happens after that fadeout, so much so that audiences repeatedly asked him about when he would make the third film. He considered the scene a perfect example of their collaborative workshop process. Very early in the outlining stage for Before Sunset, Nina Simone had died and they were hanging out, not even working on the script actually, and Delpy started talking about how she had seen Simone twice in concert, whereas Linklater never had. She basically did for Linklater what Celine did for Jesse and—as she was doing it—Linklater knew it would be the end to the second movie.

There's a beautiful ambiguity to that final scene, but one which Linklater insisted they had to earn, and which they earned when Celine says to Jesse: "Baby, you're going to miss that plane." The vibe for that line to work had to be appropriate. It was structured as ambiguous—which would have worked—but, in order for Celine to say that, a lot had to happen before then, not the least of which was Jesse's slow, silent ascent up the staircase to Celine's apartment, knowing something was going to happen with her even though he was a married man.

Jones pointed out that the silent ascent that opens the final scene of Before Sunset paralleled the silent scene in the record booth from Before Sunrise. He wanted to know how Linklater paced those silences against the wall of dialogue between these two characters? Again, Linklater explained that the pacing aimed to be emotionally authentic. It wasn't something that was overthought.

Jones asked Delpy what she carried over from the Before trilogy into her own directing? The two processes are quite different, she explained, because on her own films she writes alone or—when she has written with others—she's been more the boss. She wants her films to be distinct from Linklater's Before series, which falls into more of a romantic vein than she would ordinarily pursue. What she has learned from working with Linklater, however, is to be more open to collaboration, to listen to others, and to not be dictatorial on set. She's also learned to adjust expectations on her work. Originally, she never wrote romantic comedies and her scripts went nowhere, no one wanted to finance them, so it felt like she was banging her head against a wall. She had to learn to be trickier about securing financing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)—Ryan Lattanzio Interviews Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy

In 1995, gen Xers Jesse and Celine met on a train in Vienna and spent 24 hours falling in love and getting to know each other. But then, the sun rose and they went their separate ways until 2005, when they met again by chance after failing to realize their mutual promise that they would meet back in Vienna six months after their initial encounter. These films, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) respectively, glowingly capture what happens to a chance romance when it goes from ideal to dissolute, as people grow old and their expectations—and their selves—continue to change. Before Midnight (2013), in theaters this Friday, makes it a trilogy for the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy).

With Before Midnight, these three films join the ranks of Kieslowski's Three Colors and Ozu's Noriko series as one of cinema's finest trilogies. And yet the Before set is also a kind of time lapse experiment in which we actively engage with Jesse and Celine, aging alongside and checking in on them every nine years to see how their shared lives, like ours, have evolved along time's arrow.

It was, as to be expected in the company of Julie Delpy, a scene of chaos in a hotel room high up in the Fairmont when I met with her and the always casually unflappable director Richard Linklater to discuss Before Midnight. Their appearance came on the heels of the final stretch of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where Midnight was the closing night selection. When I entered the room, phones were buzzing madly. Delpy was on her cell trying to "order gravel" while demanding more tea. But when we finally settled down to talk, what happened was less an interview and more an intimate, familiar conversation between Delpy and Linklater that I had happened upon. Though Ethan Hawke was unfortunately not in attendance, Delpy and Linklater have a rapport as comfortable and jokey as that of Jesse and Celine.

Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
 I first saw Before Sunrise as a young teenager and was over the moon for these two lovers for whom time was, for better and for worse, all they had. Then came Before Sunset, in which we meet Jesse and Celine yet again, this time in Paris when they have another encounter while Jesse is on a book tour and both of them are in committed relationships (Jesse, unhappily married with a young son).

Anticipating, by coincidence—as they insist, and isn't coincidence the foundation of these films anyway?—another nine-year gap, Delpy, Hawke and Linklater gathered in Greece last summer to write and shoot Before Midnight over a period of ten weeks. Like Jesse and Celine in Sunset, they had a deadline. Linklater directed, and co-wrote the script with Delpy and Hawke.

Midnight finds Jesse and Celine in their 40s, not married but together, with two little girls. They live in Paris but are on summer holiday in Greece where Jesse is hoping to finish his next book. Celine, always a crusader, has put her own professional life as an activist on hold to be with him. But the romantic bond we once thought was so infallible in the span between Sunrise and Sunset is now a troubled paradise in Midnight, as the two must decide where they will go from here and if they will go there together.

* * *

Ryan Lattanzio: First of all, congratulations on a wonderful new film. Describe the moment when you decided you wanted to make a third film.

Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Richard Linklater: The third film is very different from the second. The scary leap was to jump into the second. Once we did, it begged the question, well you can do it again because you already did, it's just whether you're going to or not. That said, it was the same six-year blank spot (between Before Sunset and Before Midnight). And then we realized Celine and Jesse were maybe still alive in us and they had something to say about a new place they were in in life.

Julie Delpy: And then the work three years prior to actually writing is the backstory.

Linklater: It's great to take that time and follow ideas and think about the story you're trying to tell. The third one is more difficult. We knew what we couldn't do again.

Delpy: Which is meet again by accident.

Linklater: In your 40s that would be ridiculous. We had to go into a domestic world and we had to decide what that would be.

Delpy: They didn't see each other for nine years and then they meet again by accident. It would be totally silly, not real.

Left to Right: Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: You can very much feel those nine years between films. How did you go about recreating those details, and that lived-in feeling?

Linklater: We go nine years and we don't see each other that much even though we're friends. But they have to act like they've lived with each other all that time, so that's an acting thing and I think it's a comfort thing. We do extensive workshop.

Delpy: People tell me, oh you and Ethan are so comfortable together.

Linklater: But not at first! I was there the first time he put his hands on her and Julie was like, ah!

Delpy: People assume it's a natural thing, our dynamic. Ethan and I, we're very different obviously. Naturally people that have been together for a long time, they don't even notice that they're touching. It's like you're so used to it that you don't notice it so we have to go into that natural state. I mean Ethan doesn't grab my ass every ten minutes even though he'd like to.

Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Early in the film, there is an extremely long single take in a car when Jesse and Celine are driving back from the airport, where Jesse has just dropped off his son who lives in the US, to their vacation spot in Greece. How did you go about mounting that scene? It certainly looked like a challenge and I was relieved for you all when you finally cut to a shot of Grecian ruins halfway between.

Linklater: But we cut back to the same take!

Delpy: We did suffer for 13 minutes. Many times.

Linklater: We shot that in two days but I didn't use anything from the first day. I knew that day would be kind of a warm up as much as we had rehearsed that scene for weeks and weeks. Still, once the technical apparatus is around, it's a hard thing to pull off. But it was worth the effort because I felt that would be a good way to reacquaint ourselves with Jesse and Celine in real time. These are real people we are hanging out with. Not all actors can pull that off.

Delpy: I think we ended up with only one good take. It was all a fine balance. I couldn't believe we were able to do it because it's not like a play. It's so scripted. We didn't change one word. Even the overlaps are written. We don't overlap each other when we want to. We know when we are going to overlap each other. Everything is timed down to, like, half a second.

Left to Right: Charlotte Prior as Nina, Jennifer Prior as Ella and Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Even though it feels like improv because of the naturalistic dialogue and the timing, I understand that each of the films has been heavily scripted. Was there ever a moment where you changed a line or added something in while shooting?

Delpy: Sometimes we realize one line is one too many.

Linklater: We are always working on it. Even in that car scene there was a line I dropped. That keeps it fresh, that it's never so finished.

Delpy: Let's say that 99% of the script when we lock it stays. Basically there are two lines in this film that Richard decided, okay, don't say that line. Let's see how the rhythm changes. In Before Sunset he cut out one line, that's it.

Linklater: It was a joke, which ultimately would not have aged well.

Delpy: You don't want to say the joke. Don't say it.

Left to Right: Walter Lassally as Patrick, Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Panos Koronis as Stefanos
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Why did you choose Greece as the setting?

Linklater: It presented itself to us.

Delpy: Food. (laughs)

Linklater: Let's be honest. The food.

Delpy: We had decided to do it last year, and we were going to Spain, Italy, but he called us from Greece and said, that's it.

Linklater: There was a producer in Greece who was going to work on the film and help us get it made, he had a lot of access. The shoot was a blur, it was like a ten-week thing but we only shot those last three weeks.

Delpy: We were writing entirely for those seven weeks before, like 18 hours a day. We would start at nine, finish at six, take a jump in the sea for half an hour, go back to work until midnight every day. We had no screenplay when we got to Greece, but we had an outline.

Linklater: It was important for us to all just go there and start. We weren't in the room together as much on the second one.

Delpy: We had to take ourselves and lock ourselves in a room to really focus.

Linklater: With Before Sunset I was getting stuff from you guys [via email and phone] and that wasn't happening so much this time. It was scarier.

Delpy: It's scarier because you're there and you have to finish. The producers had no screenplay when we got to Greece. They were so trusting.

Linklater: The producers took a huge leap of faith with us. We had locations and we knew how many days we would need for certain scenes. It was a practical approach to a production but there wasn't actually a screenplay.

Delpy: I was amazed. We knew it wasn't there yet but they weren't even giving notes to censor us. It was a great creative environment.

Left to Right: Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Were you at all worried that you might shatter some audiences' illusions about the romance between Jesse and Celine? With this film, the relationship has grown a little sour, perhaps, and is more real and raw.

Linklater: It's the difference between 22, 33 and 41. You're one more step into the real world. Sunset was that, too. We were catching them at a different place. Jesse and Celine were both busy.

Delpy: He has a kid. Things are not going to be easy no matter what decision they make.

Linklater: This had to cover a different aspect of their lives. You're in Paradise and you've gotten what you want in the world, and that's tough. It's not free. Everything is still a tough negotiation in the world. Celine is more restless in a way, conflicted.

Delpy: Aren't women a little more like that?

Linklater: To make a gendered generalization perhaps, yes, it's ancient.

Delpy: It's Eve eating the apple. "I want this apple NOW! Give me that fucking apple. I want that apple."

Linklater: We're here, we've got everything we want, we've got food but, yeah, it's just not good enough. As much as we strive for balance between the sexes, the film maybe is seen through him a little more.

Delpy: To me it's essential that the character is real and multidimensional and so many female characters in history, even theater until you go through Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler where it gets more complex, a lot of female characters are one dimensional and it's essential to me to go towards writing something, altogether, that's not a one-dimensional female. Some men might find Celine unbearable because they want her to be a girl that will say yes. Often the male is a conflicted character with the questioning and the fucking up but Celine might be the one who is here. To me it's quite modern and realistic to every woman around me. They're not one-dimensional individuals.

Linklater: We all contribute to that. Ethan and I kind of have female sides to ourselves and I think Julie has a strong masculine voice in there.

Delpy: I can actually see what the burden for men would be to be with that multidimensional woman. It's not easy. I think that's why a lot of men go for younger women because they want less of the crazy. A fantasy.

Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Was it a coincidence that, I understand you had six years of blankness and then three years of talking about it before going into production, but did you intend the nine-year span between films again?

Linklater: Not really but it motivated us. We had in that outline and I said, let's step up and do it last summer. And by the way it would be the same nine-year gap, whatever that's worth.

Lattanzio: Julie, I understand that production on Before Midnight coincided with the release of 2 Days in New York in France and in the US. I loved that film and the one before it, 2 Days in Paris, in which you write, direct and star as perhaps a version of Celine as unleashed id. Will you make another 2 Days?

Delpy: I think I'm done. The second one was so hard to make. There were so many conflicting issues with financing. Right now I'm working on three projects, two developing and one I have to finish writing. But it's much easier now than it was before [Before Sunrise].

Lattanzio: Do European financiers always want you to do the character of Celine?

Delpy: 2 Days in Paris was a little bit tricking people into thinking I was going to do Before Sunset 2. [European financers] always want to finance the same thing. They want to finance things that already happened. If I come up with something original, they're like, "Oh, can you do this instead?" Marion in those films is much crazier than Celine, much more neurotic, she has serious anger issues. Marion is closer to me [than Celine] yet even further from me. Sometimes I wish I was Marion, insulting people in public. Imagine if you didn’t censor yourself. In France, financiers want me to do that Marion again. In France, [2 Days in Paris] was extremely successful. Before Sunrise didn't do so well at the time. They hated me. But Sunset was successful. Maybe Elizabeth Bathory in [my film] The Countess is very much like me.