Sunday, September 16, 2012

Commentary Tracks - Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights (1997) with director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson

Comments on the Film

On the film's length
There was never any concern from New Line originally about the length of the movie. When I sat down with Mike de Luca, I had just come from a situation making my first movie where I had gotten so royally fucked over that my back was up and I was so paranoid. I felt that what I had to do with my next movie was to sit down with the guy paying for it and go through every single word and say, "Are you reading this? Have you really read the script?" I sat down with de Luca and came at him, because he was instantly the enemy and I was just this paranoid freak saying, "Let me tell you something right now, buddy. It's going to be three hours long. Have you read this? See where it says the camera follows him? It's going to be a three-minute shot and I'm not going to cut it." I went at him and he just said, "Calm down, what the fuck is your problem? Relax. What you went through is not the normal thing." I did calm down and trust him enough but I wanted to really map the movie out for him because I didn't want a surprise in the editing room. If you like this script you'll love the movie, but if you have problems with the script now they'll only get worse. So there was a real clarity between de Luca and I about what the movie was, and the one concession he asked me to make was to not make it NC-17, because they can't stock it in Blockbuster and they lose a lot of money in video returns. So I took the challenge to make an R-rated movie, and they're just happy that it's 20 minutes shorter than I said it would be.

On Jack Horner meeting Eddie Adams
We shot this twice actually. We shot it once very early in the schedule and it always gnawed at me that it was not right. It didn't feel right in the writing, the acting, the shooting, in everything, and I think everybody felt that way but for the longest time nobody said anything. Then Joanne Sellar my producer came to me with two weeks left and said, "We're about to wrap up, we're doing OK, we've got enough money. Is there anything else that you want to get?" and I said, "I want to reshoot scene two." I went to Burt and Mark and they felt the same way, and Dylan my editor certainly felt the same way, because he had seen the massive amount of bad footage that I shot trying to get it right. I was really happy to rewrite it and make it shorter, better, more direct. I'm not sure I'm happy with the scene yet, but it's fine.

On dialogue scenes
It's really hard to get people to fucking pay attention to people talking. I don't blame it on the audience, I think a lot of people blame it on MTV-style audiences, but I blame it on the storytelling and filmmakers who are getting lazy and buying into condescending to an audience. They're structuring their movie in a way that if they want to have two people stop and talk it's not going to flow within the movie. It's all about how you tell the story, and there just aren't enough good storytellers these days. LA Confidential is so fucking great and that's all talk, the structure of it is just well told and it's set up to be that. But (a) you don't see much talking and (b) you don't see much silence, which is probably even harder than just having people talking.

On John C. Reilly
I've known Reilly a long time. John C. Reilly is definitely one of my favourite actors but he's certainly no.1 on the scale of making me fucking laugh. There's no one that makes me break down crying, falling on the floor, thinking I'm going to throw up laughing, and every single thing he does makes me laugh. It's kind of criminal and it drives Dylan my editor nuts, even though Dylan loves him. I just can't see the forest for the trees with John Reilly, and maybe he sucks in this movie and maybe he'll suck in the next movie, I don't know, but it's all good to me and I can't get enough of him. I can stare at that fucking face all day long. God, he is so good. It's so great to be around him and have him as a friend because so much stuff that we do when we joke around ends up in the movie. This whole conversation while making the margaritas is just me and Reilly fucking around one summer, and the stuff in the pool, it's all just me and him. I saw him in Casualties of War when I was 17 years old, it was his first movie and I thought "That's the fucking guy." I wrote Sydney for him before I knew him personally and I was able to get the script to him through his agent at the Sundance lab. Maybe someone else would want to meet Robert de Niro or Tom Hanks or something, I wanted to meet John C. fucking Reilly and have him be my best friend and in every one of my movies, and now I have him.

On the ensemble cast
First of all, the reality of pornography is that there are so many great stories, you know, there really is a million great stories. It really came from wanting to write parts for a lot of great actors, either actors who were my friends or that I'm a fan of. My first movie really only has four characters in it, and this one has got 80 speaking parts, with probably 10 or 12 main characters. It was about wanting to work with a lot of actors and knowing that this is a story and a world that can accommodate a lot of different stories and characters, and we can just keep adding on top. I'd keep adding characters because I'd think of Macy, I'd think of Julianne, I'd think of Reilly, I'd think of Phil Hoffman. And I think everyone gets covered pretty well because I have a lot of actors who are my friends and I want to write them moments. They all have to participate in the ensemble but they are all going to get their moment too, and that may not be the best for the storytelling, but it's certainly a kick for me and it's a kick for that actor. In a selfish way that's what comes first.

On his influences
As far as influences go, I'm pretty aware of all that stuff. I mean do watch a lot of movies and I'm pretty film-literate. It's funny, because people talk about Scorsese and certainly I've learned a lot from him and riffed off his style, and I've seen where he's taken it from, guys like Truffaut and Ophüls and people like that. But my greatest influence style-wise is Jonathan Demme, and I remember talking to him on the phone, telling him he's my idol, and I asked him if he's seen all those shots I ripped off from him, and he said no. Nobody else does either, but somehow I interpret these shots he's done and they affect me in such a way that it's really the most profound influence, and when it vomits out of me I'm hopefully adding on top of what he's done in an interesting way. As far as that topic goes, it's like, every song we hear now is basically a Beatles song, you know? Verse/chorus/verse/chorus, and now the job is just building on top of that. I think a lot of people are ashamed to feel free or to do stuff with the camera because they don't want to feel self-conscious or feel good about making a movie, to celebrate making a movie, and I think that's bullshit. But I also think that it depends on the story, and this is a good story for a lot of good show-off moments, and I hope I took advantage of every single one of them.

On piracy
It's ironic that we're talking about this on a DVD, but when you make a movie you want people to see it in a movie theatre, that's what you plan to happen. A big cinemascope production in stereo at the Mann Chinese, hopefully, and it's a criminal thing when you hear about people seeing the movie on videotape – (a) on videotape and (b) on videotape before the movie is even finished. Over the summer that we were cutting the movie we heard stories of bootleg videotapes that had gotten out, and it's just like a needle in your eye. You think "Fuck, how did this happen?" We traced some of the tapes and I found out who had the tapes on the grapevine, and I'd call them on the phone and say "Hi, this is Paul Thomas Anderson, director of Boogie Nights." They'd say, "Oh hi, how are you doing?" and I'd say, "I'm fucking terrible, you have my movie on videotape. Where did you get it?" A couple of people would say "I'm not going to tell you, I can't tell you, please don't make me" but some people did tell me and we were able to trace it back to a commercial production house that was assigned to cut trailers and commercials. They were dealt with accordingly...well not really, to tell you the truth. The funny thing is that in the middle of the summer, here we are dealing with the MPAA about the rating, and the bootleg tape thing falls under the category of the MPAA, who are supposed to deal with that. They are supposed to call people up and say "This is against the law, you're going to get fined, or the FBI is going to come to your door" because it's a serious thing, you know? I guess a portion of it is flattering because there's such an excitement about the movie that people were paying $100 for a bootleg tape, but this is a movie not a TV show, please don't do this. It's like if I broke into your house and looked at work on your computer. It's not done, and it was really hard for me to deal with."

On the changing porn industry
This scene, where Floyd Gondolli comes in and talks about the introduction of video, this was the major hook that once I had latched into it really freed me up to write the movie. My sort of romantic notion is that back in the old days of the 70s, when porn movies were shot on film, there was a major difference. First and foremost there's just a technical difference. When you're shooting on film it's more expensive and you really have to concentrate, you have to focus and you have to think about where is the best place to put the camera in order to tell this story well. That's not even getting into the emotional factor, which to me is that I look at the porno stars of the 70s and I think they can draw a straighter line between themselves and legitimate movie stars. They were both being shot on film and they were both running at 24 frames per second and being thrown up through light onto a big white screen, and it was easier to think "I'm a movie star." In this business that was so degrading so quickly, they could hold onto a shred of their dignity and think 'I'm a movie star.' But when video came along it ruined that and created this assembly line mentality, which was "It's $5 a take, keep shooting and we'll figure it out later." The quality of work went down and they're not movie stars anymore, they're video stars. Not to mention that if you're a director you're making your movie for an audience and the market is...what? The market is a guy at home with a fast-forward button. You do not have time for a plot because he has a fast-forward button. So it really stripped away any version of dignity that might have been in the business at that time.

Bits and Pieces

You're listening to a guy who learned a lot about ripping off movies from listening to laserdisc audio commentaries. My favourite one is John Sturges talking about Bad Day at Black Rock. It was the first one I ever listened to, so maybe that has something to do with it, but it is wonderful, really wonderful.

I'm really proud of the score that Michael Penn put to this movie, because there's so much disco music, funk stuff and soul stuff, and I think the score was somewhat underappreciated. People were so busy being excited about the pop songs they forgot about the score.

Macy comes from that Mamet school of acting and dialogue, and he's so wonderful at talking. Macy's voice is his greatest tool and most actors forget their speaking voice, but Macy doesn't, he enunciates in a wonderful way. And everything you write, you'd better know what you've written because he is going to say every single word exactly as written. He'll look at the punctuation and find out what it means – a dash means this, an ellipsis means that, this is in quotes, this has been underlined, this has been italicised. He's all about finding out what the writer means, and he studies the script so well that as a director you don't have to do shit, you just have to watch him. I feel like I did my job as a writer so being a director was just being a fan.

The thing about this first sex scene where Julianne Moore and Mark Wahlberg do this bad porno dialogue – she is unbelievable. I don't know how she did it. I remember asking her about it and she said it was all about being uncomfortable with her hands, trying to find something to do with her hands, and if she just thought about her hands and got through the scene then she would do good, and she did. God, she's incredible. I remember telling the actors, "You're all fucking good, but if you think you're good just wait until you have to act bad, then we'll see who the real man is." I think Julianne won.

When I was 17 I saw Exhausted, a documentary which is just this love letter to John Holmes, it's not really a documentary. It's two hours about how great John Holmes is, what his cum tastes like, how big his cock is and how many women he's fucked. And there's something wonderfully natural about his acting and something wonderfully goofy about his karate, and karate and porno together... that's how I want to live my life.

This is a song I wrote, by the way. I just wanted to point that out to everyone. Feel the Heat was written by me. I wrote this. No, I can't sing it, Mark Wahlberg is the only one who can sing it, and I would never desecrate this beautiful, rocking song called Feel the Heat by trying to sing it. And John Reilly with the music, boy I'm proud of this. I'm sure the suspicion is that Mark really can't sing, but the truth is that I'm not going to give away if this is really good acting or really bad singing, because that's part of the wonderful mystery that is Dirk Diggler.

I guess this is giving it away, isn't it, which I've never done but I guess I'll do. Yeah, that's a big old fake dick there on Mark Wahlberg. But boy, we like it.

Final Thoughts

You know, there are people who say this movie is too long, and it might be, but the bottom line is that nobody has to watch this movie more than me. In editing it, mixing it, going to previews and screenings, that sort of stuff, and the second you realise that you just go, well fuck, I've got to entertain myself first, and maybe accidentally some other people will be entertained. I think that's the way to approach it. I mean, I've only made two of these fucking things, but I think that's the way to do it.