In a rare event, Oscar-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood sat down for a Q&A conducted by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Here is what they said.
You make filmmaking look so easy. How do you do it? Do you feel any pain?
I don’t know if I feel pain. If it was that painful, I would consider myself somewhat of a masochist. I just think it’s enjoyable. I started out as an actor years ago doing bits, a few of them in New York. Then I became successful on a series for a while. And you start thinking about the broader part of directing a film or writing or something to do with the origin of it all other than just to coming in and portraying a character.
Does it ever feel like a struggle to you?
There’s always a struggle. You have to think a lot. It doesn’t have to be a struggle. It probably is. It probably is a certain thing you have to overcome within yourself in taking on this project in the first place. It would be so much easier to be a painter in the background and do a wall.
That’s all important too, but directing is having your hands on everything. I think it’s the ultimate power trip in the sense that you get to make it, but you also have to take the losses if you fail on the job or it doesn’t come up to you’re your expectations are. You have to go, “Well, that didn’t work,” so you have to go back to the post and try again.
Do you run into people who don’t give you what you want? Or is it that people see Clint Eastwood coming and they get the hell out of the way?
It’s not quite that easy. In the early days, it was more of a fight. Now they go, “Well, we’ve got to appease the old guy.” But you have to fight for what you want, what you believe in. A lot of times, the studio will not want to do a project. The best work I’ve ever done, the studio wasn’t particularly fond of.
What were the movies?
“Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby” right in a row. I did those back-to-back, and neither one the studio wanted to do. They thought “Mystic River” was too dark. They said they didn’t want to do that. One studio said, “We don’t do dramas.” But they finally acquiesced and they came around.
And with “Million Dollar Baby,” they said, “No one wants to see a [boxer] woman’s fight picture.” I think there had been a movie about a woman’s fight six or eight months before, and it didn’t do that well. I thought it [“Million Dollar Baby”] was a pretty good picture. I thought, “Who the hell wants to see anything?” You just never know until you get into it.
To me, it wasn’t a fight picture it all. It was a father/daughter love story, searching for the daughter he never had, searching for the father she never had. That was the whole relationship. Among that is what they did. If you look deeper into what a story really tells, you can get it, but a lot of times the people who put up the money don’t want to look that deep. They say, “What are we going to get back on this deal?”
So the studio said no at first?
They said no, and I said, “Well, I’ll go elsewhere.” And they finally said, “Oh, OK. Can you make it for this amount?” And I said, “Possibly, yeah. I think so.”
How do you adjust your vision when you have a different budget to work from than what you originally wanted?
You can always build a cushion in your mind. When you say you can do it for a certain number, you have to be pretty well-assured that you can do it for that number. Otherwise, you’re faking it along. And that happens. A lot of times, people will go to a studio and say, “I can make this picture for $20 million,” just to pick a figure, and they know they can’t make it for that. Once you’re two weeks into it, it’s tough.
Have you ever run into a difficult actor?
Not really. I love actors. I think actors love to work for guys who have been actors before, because there’s a certain understanding of what it’s going to take for the role. I think directors who have been actors , there is a certain advantage in some departments. I had one actor I wanted to punch out one time. The guys turned out to be very good in the picture.
How did you deal with the conflict with that actor? Did you butt heads or did you move his force around?
I moved his force around. He wanted to go into a little corner and said, “This is where I see playing it.” I said, “The trouble is there’s no light in that corner. Come over and look at this. Feel where the light’s hitting my face.”
I appealed to his ego. I said, “I just want to see your face glowing.” And so the guy said, “OK, I’ll try that.” So you just have to figure some ways to do it. Sometimes you have to be an amateur psychologist.
Most actors, I found, are very understanding. If you give them the reasons why and everything It’s like that old saying in the military. They always want to know why. American soldiers always want to know why, whereas soldiers in other countries are always told to just do it and shut up. So you just tell them why. Give them a reason and they’ll understand. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there in the first place.