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Director Series-Todd Field

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It’s not every actor that can move adeptly into the director’s chair, but Todd Field was able to go from the pianist’s bench—the character he played in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut—into the helmer’s seat with aplomb, directing (and co-writing) In the Bedroom to much acclaim and a slew of nominations, including a Best Picture Oscar nom.After a little chop-strengthening directing an episode of HBO’s Carnivale, and a little fun time thesping it up as a character voice in Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Field’s next highly anticipated feature is here, Little Children.Like In the Bedroom, it examines the bonds—both tenuous and absolute—between parents and children, and between spouses, and within communities as well. It looks at the usual conflicts between collective protection and individual fulfillment.The film is extraordinarily well-observed and inhabited by its actors, Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and former kid star bad boy Jackie Earle Haley in an astonishing, “second chapter in an American life”-type turn as a convicted sex offender.Below the Line caught up with Field to ask him about his working process, and how he gets the necessary “conversations” going with the crew heads that collaborate on such rich tapestries.Below the Line: How are your relations with your keys and where does the process of talking about the look of the film begin for you?Todd Field: I don’t really talk about that with anyone, to be honest with you.BTL: Really? So what is the process at arriving at a look or set design?Field: It’s a matter of building these ideas up and dropping away initial impressions based on a lot of scouting. You know, scouting is really the most important time because you start to get a feel about where someone lives based on someone you’ve met in a home that you’re looking at. And you say well, look at this person and look at how they’re living. And that was different than where we thought, and the way we’re thinking may not be the way to go. And you start to build composites. And that’s a conversation with your production designer; the first person I spoke to was my production designer, David Gropman. I sent him a very early draft of the script and he drove up to meet me in Maine in the middle of a blizzard. And I thought well, gee, I’d like to work with someone like that who’s willing to come up here and risk their neck, you know.And David and I scouted everywhere. We scouted in Pittsburgh and we scouted all through New York. We scouted for many, many months together. So those are the first conversations I had with anyone about how the look of the film would be in terms of environments.BTL: Then you settled on New York?Field: We settled on New York for some very practical reasons. One is, they have the best actors in the world there, and you don’t have to house and feed them. I had access to people that could work for a few days that otherwise may not be interested even in doing that. I mean really terrific actors. And the other thing was after scouting, I figured out that I could create a setting for this film to take place in that actually might be much more interesting than putting it into any kind of real town. Because this film is very dreamy, (the setting is) sort of collected snippets from memories of my own childhood, the parks that I played in. There’s something very idyllic about it and the homes that these people reside in. David and I got very excited by what we found with Mike Kriaris, who was our location manager and knows his way in and out of the five boroughs like nobody’s business.BTL: After the production designer and location manager, who comes next?Field: Well, Antonio (Calvache, cinematographer) and I started much earlier on In the Bedroom. We’ve had a very long conversation that began in 1992. So we have a kind of shorthand with each other. Antonio has an incredible modesty and a feeling for the way he lights, which is why I’m excited about working with him and always have been, and why I admired his work at school. Antonio came in much later than he did on Bedroom, much later than I would have ever wanted him to come in, so he was really playing catch-up. Some of these locations he wasn’t seeing until days before we went in there. I just think he did an extraordinary job and I think his lighting is absolutely exquisite.BTL: It looks great. The town looked and sounded seamless.Field: I didn’t do one line of ADR on this movie and I didn’t do one line of ADR on In the Bedroom and Stanley Kubrick didn’t do one line of ADR on Eyes Wide Shut or Full Metal Jacket. And, and that’s a testament to (sound mixer) Edward Tise. He is a great, meaningful, engaged, excited, enthusiastic collaborator. I’m covering the union’s eyes while I say this, [but he] will go out with me on a Saturday afternoon when not shooting and collect sounds and be happy to spend the afternoon doing that. I would never make a film without Eddie Tise.BTL: And you collaborate well with associate producer Leon Vitali too?Field: Leon’s involved with everything. He read it first and he called me and said you have to read it. I wouldn’t have probably read the book if it hadn’t been for Leon. Leon is involved with casting, with production and with all postproduction, all the international releases. He’s a very rare individual with extensive knowledge and absolutely capable of doing anything that could possible required on a film production.BTL: You must have great trust at this point.Field: Oh sure. Leon and I started a very long conversation about 10 years ago and it hasn’t ended. We talk about 10 times a day.BTL: Tell me about your editor, Leo Trombetta.Field: I had never worked with Leo prior to about a year before and I got a call from a guy I knew who was producing a [television] show. He said, “Look a director just got sick, he’s on his way to the hospital. I need you to come in and pinch hit for me on this show.” And I said, “Oh god, I don’t really want to do that, I don’t think so.” And my wife said, “No, go do it. You know, just go stretch a little bit. Just go shoot something before you make this other film.”So I did. And I had four days to edit that show; it was an hour-long show with no commercials, so it was like making a half of a feature in about eight days. And Leo was the editor. I had a very good time editing with him and he was very excited and enthusiastic. So when I was doing this and thinking about an editor, Leo had expressed an interest to work together and so we did. We really had very little contact until we started the editing. And then once we began the editing, I didn’t look at an assembly. I know that’ll put me back about two or three weeks and just depress me. So I make a point to never look at a first assembly.I was fortunate in that Leo and Ken Terry, his assistant, both came to Maine and we rented a house down on the water where, where Leo lived and where we would cut every day. And we started cutting only a few days after production. Those two guys put in very, very long hours and it was tough because I shot a lot of footage; I was slapped on the wrist for how much footage I shot. So we had a lot to weed. But I had a very good time with those two men. And I think Leo is an extraordinarily talented artist. And a very good sounding board and I’m really, really glad that we were able to collaborate on this.BTL: I could see why you would work with a team of collaborators over and over.Field: Well if something’s working it’s probably a good idea to keep working together. The tough thing is that unless you make a film a year you end up losing a lot of your crew. You can’t keep them and that’s really frustrating. Which leads me to [costume designer] Melissa Economy. Melissa is somebody who came and worked on my graduate
project in film school. She had about a $200 budget and just did the most extraordinary job. And I wanted her to come and do In the Bedroom. She took a hiatus [and became a] lawyer and worked on Little Children, too.BTL: Maybe the first lawyer/costume designer?Field: Yeah, a very successful lawyer, I might add.

Written by Mark London Williams

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