DAVID O. RUSSELL
In 1995, you won two Spirit Awards for “Spanking the Monkey.” How does it feel to win be a double Spirit Award winner this time around?
I feel very blessed to make a film in the first place. And I feel very blessed when I get a cast that embraces and puts their hearts into the film. And then to have an audience see the film — that’s everything. So these things, which help audiences see the film and gives a film a life in this Internet age, where everything seems fleeting, all of this serves to give a film a life, that tells people, “This is a special thing. You should pay attention to it,” for any of these films that were nominated.
So just to be nominated, for me, is a great honor. To win is just overwhelming to me. I never expect it. I don’t really prepare for it. When I was here 19 years ago, I just went up and said, “Thank you.” I didn’t know what to say.
I’m glad that today I was at least able to say things about the cast and my son and all the families who faced any of these struggles, because many of them have come forward to me. So many families. Families of professional athletes, of stars, of regular people. Veterans who come home. And I never anticipated that.
Veterans have said, “That’s me when I come home from Iraq, and my family doesn’t know what to do with me. And I don’t know what to do with me. Thank you for making this a dialogue.”
And some of these stories end tragically. I’ve had people come up to me and say that their stories ended tragically, but they still come up to me and say, “Thank you for showing people what we go through and not keeping it in the shadows.” So I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of about the film.
How do you feel about the Oscars this year?
Monday [after the Oscars] I’m going back to work. That’s how you avoid the post-partum depression. I’m already at work. I’m going right to work. They’re flying me out to Boston, where we’re making the next film. And that’s the best way.
You just don’t focus on yourself very much. You focus on your work. That’s been my recipe for happiness. When I did it the other way? Not so good.
I’m just happy to be going to the World Series [of movie]. What’s not to like about going to the World Series? What’s not to like about having a team that you love and gave their hearts to you and to your movie? That’s all a blessing. That’s how I feel.
How was it having the city of Philadelphia infused into “Silver Linings Playbook”?
Neighborhood and community is as important as the story. So because you face challenges, but I’ve come to feel at my age that the music you listen to, the people you love, the food you eat, the rituals you have, that’s what gets you through the night.
And the laughter. People say, “How can you make this movie and still have the laughter?” Well, I wouldn’t survive if I went down those challenges. So all of those things are as important to me as the story. Does that make sense? And that’s what I’m in love with as a filmmaker right now, in “The Fighter” and in this film is n that world. And in my favorite cinema, that’s what I’m in love with.
Upper Darby, Lower Marion, it’s a very specific place, And the houses are very specific and the language is very specific. And they don’t care when you’re in someone’s world, they’re in they’re world. And they’re over in their world, and you’re a visitor. And I get so much from that because I get their language and their recipes and their whole vibe.
So the cast comes in and they feel like they’re part of it. And Bradley Cooper is from that neighborhood, and he makes his Uncle Ernie, who has an air-conditioning businesss, read De Niro’s dialogue, so De Niro can hear how Uncle Ernie’s accent would feel.
And that’s just a wonderful thing that Bradley was from there. And his grandmother was actually a waitress in that diner. That feeling of vocality is a very specific thing. You’re not faking it then.
What inspires you when you’re writing? Do you have a cast and crew in mind when you’re writing a movie?
I listen to music when I’m writing, but the music is very inspirational when you’re writing. And sometimes I have actors in mind. And sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t work out. I like knowing that there is a crew that likes to work together.
That’s very important to me. We have [first assistant director] Shelley Ziegler. Half of our crew is from Baltimore, so I became a Ravens fan. And I just love them
[Second assistant director] Xan Valan, [unit production manager] Mark Kamine. We’re a family.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is a Weinstein Company movie. Can you talk about how Harvey Weinstein made a difference to this film, in terms of marketing strategy?
Harvey Weinstein, as Quentin Tarantino so eloquently said at the Producers Guild [Awards, it’s not a job to Harvey Weinstein. It’s his life. And you feel that when you’re filmmaker.
I came here 19 years ago when I was working for him. He’s the boss. I was working with him on “Flirting With Disaster.” It’s a blessing to me to be here now. There’s a beautiful symmetry about it. He’s a very passionate man.
And he’s a great person to have in your corner with his passion. He truly loves characters and cinema, I think as much as I do and as much as any actor does. And he puts his heart into it, as Robert De Niro did or Bradley Cooper did.
And so I didn’t know what was going to happen this year. He has a lot of great films this year. And I didn’t know if we were going to be the one that he chose. We didn’t really know what was going to happen. And he was basing the strategy on word of mouth, really.
We took the slow route. We didn’t spend a lot of money. We didn’t blow it out to a lot of theaters. That’s always a spine-tingler. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Will the word of mouth catch on? Will it keep going as Harvey wants it to? You don’t know.
So you just have to say a prayer and let it go and just hope for the best. And it did happen. He did believe in word of mouth. He trusted the audience. He said, “I’ve seen how audiences feel about this film.” And it’s still going, which is a blessing. I always want to work with him, and I would say that to anybody.
When do think about when films that aren’t considered “independent enough” for the Spirit Awards?
Independent enough? When I came here with “Spanking the Monkey” that was made for $80,000 to shoot it, and then to get it all done was $250,000, yeah, I could see me standing next to Quentin Tarantino, who’s there for whatever he spent on “Pulp Fiction,” but we’re all part of the same family. We had 33 days, 152 pages. So the below-the-line was very low.
So we never left the set. I didn’t have a trailer. I don’t believe in having a trailer. I prefer setting that tone on a set. I didn’t have a trailer on my first two films. So it is truly independent in that regard. You compare it to Benh Zeitlin’s film [“Beasts of the Southern Wild”], he made it for toothpicks and glue in the bayou.
It’s a very different endeavor. He wins, I think, for the audience’s found and for being here. And, as I said [in my acceptance speech], he’s a very young man. He’ll be back here. I’m not worried about old Benh Zeitlin.
How important is it for you meet audiences when you’re at one of your movie’s screenings?
I love meeting audiences. We’ve created this story that is everything to you. And then the story lives, not in your editing room or your house. It lives in the theater with the audience. So you want to be in the theater with your child with the people.
It only lives with the audience. That means everything to me. When we went to Toronto, and debuted the film with 2,600 people, you could feel them with the film. And that’s the heartbeat of the film.
For more info: Spirit Awards website
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