Released on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 riots, Kathryn Bigelow’s latest psychological thriller, Detroit, tells the true story of what happened when the riots began and how a few bad cops turned a questioning of an unconfirmed shooter into the murder scene of three kids. And shockingly, were ultimately acquitted. Below the Line News hosted a special screening of the film at the Directors Guild of America on October 26th that included a Q&A with Bigelow (Director/Producer), William Goldenberg (Editor), Jeremy Hindle (Production Designer), Paul Ottosson (Sound Designer and Re-Recording Mixer) and Vickie Thomas (Casting Director).
A few reoccurring themes were mentioned during the panel discussion, all of which allowed the film to gain an entirely new dimension. Both Bigelow and Vickie Thomas agreed how crucial casting was to this film, and that having the right actors in the right parts was what gave the film it’s edge and intensity and emotion. Thomas explained that much of the audition process was improvisation, and due to the nature of this film, it was a challenge to cast because many actors were not willing to go to such a dark place. The ones who managed to go deeper, would then be extremely apologetic out of guilt for having embraced such blatant racism. Bigelow added that Will Poulter, who played one of the rouge police offers, Krauss, did not apologize, and that having an attitude like that when making a film of this nature doesn’t mean that you condone the behavior, but rather you’re trying to show an audience how bad the situation became. Many of the actors and crew were impacted to some extent by the grittiness and wickedness of the themes in the film after shooting many of the more atrocious scenes; Bigelow stated many times after shooting, she would see Poulter sitting with his head in his hands, trying to clear his mind of the acts he had just committed on screen.
Bigelow noted that a big reason why she decided to make this film was because the story felt very current and close to home today, although the events obviously happened 50 years ago. By bringing attention to what happened in Detroit and cities all over the country in the late 1960s, Bigelow hoped to shed light on the horrific acts of racism that still exist and are acted upon in society today. Interestingly, while police brutality is ingrained in the DNA of the film, the majority of police officers don’t partake in heinous acts, which brought an element of authenticity to the film and pointed out that the police force as a whole is not “the bad guy,” but rather a few evil people who ruin the perception of the badge and uniform for everyone else.
Expanding further on why casting became so critical to the film, Bigelow explained that blocking is not something she regularly, if ever, does on set. Editor, William Goldenberg joked that because of this he had way too much footage to look at and then added that this is something he really appreciates about working with Bigelow, because he knows he will always have the footage he needs to cut the scene perfectly. Bigelow believes that when you cast the right people in the right roles, you don’t need blocking, and that it can actually remove some of the raw emotion from the actors. She said she will typically run through what she wants to happen with the actors and crew, and then just shoot. She and Goldenberg both agreed that typically the first take tends to be the grittiest and is indeed often the take that makes it to the final edit.
Detroit is the kind of film you can’t walk away from without wanting to do something to change the current state of our world. Bigelow said that she is just once voice, but sometimes it just takes one voice to start an avalanche of change.
Detroit will be available on DVD and Video on Demand on December 12, 2017.