Whit Stillman Interviewtastical

Not so long ago, a single Whit Stillman interview would have made for an exciting blog post. But now, with Damsels in Distress in cinemas, we’re cramming plenty of the things together as if they’re nothing special.

Whit Stillman
Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman on set

We start off with Daniel Anderson at Click who, first, has a look back at Stillman’s earlier films, moving on to some background about the current release:

During the making of Damsels, Stillman put himself under more pressure by taking on extra writing – something he regrets. “I made a huge mistake in this film where, to make money, I also had an HBO writing assignment. I did a draft before we shot the film and right after. That was a mistake – particularly the draft beforehand. Afterwards maybe it’s a good to take off from the film for a few weeks but both were very bad ideas and I think we recovered from it but it took me a while.”

Anderson has also posted the full transcript of his (February) interview with Stillman at Click, which is a nice touch and gives us plenty more interesting material to read:

WS: Everything [about making a film] can be bad! I think there is… I used to find the editing phase the best. But even that can be bad if things aren’t quite working. I find starting out… the idea of the script is normally a happy thing then getting started is very difficult. Then there’s a point when things are going well with the script and everything’s exciting. I think probably everything has its downsides. So yes the casting thing is great because you’ve finished the script and people want to make it – that’s kind of cool. But then there’s also the terror that you won’t find anyone to play some parts. We had a very hard time finding the males for Damsels. The French actor Hugo Becker we didn’t get his visa until the last three days of the shoot. And everyone thought I was crazy hanging on for this actor, they wanted me to recast.

DA: So you had to do all of his stuff in the last three days?

WS: The last three days of the shoot.

Next, Ellin Stein interviews Stillman at the Arts Desk (don’t miss the easy-to-miss “next page” link at the bottom of the article):

Even Stillman’s ability to keep costs down didn’t help. “I remember talking to a producer about how inexpensively I could make a movie and logically that should be good,” he recalls. “If you can make a movie for 1.5 million that will return 3 million, that’s fantastic. But that’s not the psychology people have. They say, ‘The film has to cost five million so I can charge my $250,000 producer fee.’ My best friend, who was also an investor in Metropolitan, said, ‘People talk in the film business the way the gang about to knock over a bank talk, except in the film business they divide up the loot before they do the job.’”

I didn’t even know at the time that Whit Stillman was in London (where I live) recently, but Michael Leader interviewed him here for Den of Geek. Stillman tells us about film-making on a tight budget:

Leader: As the director and producer, how did you keep costs down?

Stillman: You don’t do things the industry way. I was a little too maniacal about it, because I am such a cheapskate emotionally that I would get out of control where any expenditure upset me. But I felt we were a very comfortable production, because we could have a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee run twice a day. There’s one in the afternoon, too. So I felt that was quite luxurious. Having good coffee on set was quite a treat.

He also discusses shooting the film on digital RED cameras, which I don’t think I’ve seen him talk about before:

Leader: The film does have a very striking look. Those backlit shots, with the sunlight cutting through the frame, are beautiful. And I don’t think many cinematographers would do that.

Stillman: It’s amazing. Some people really criticise that. I think it’s fantastic. It’s transformative. I think that digital photography, by people who know how to use it, has gotten far superior to film. Far superior. I love it. I mean, I saw a famous RED film last night on TV. It was one of the first big-budget films made on a RED. I don’t know what they did wrong, but it looks so god-awful. And I think the RED wasn’t very good when it started. And, also, I think on post-production, if people don’t colour time it properly… You have to have proper people working at every stage.

Interesting that for such a film-maker who many think of as somehow old-fashioned, he’s so keen on the latest shooting technology, when plenty of directors are stubbornly holding on to celluloid for as long as possible.

And that’s all the interview action for the time being.

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