As was the same with the Sam Mendes talk: I was able to get a last minute ticket for the Darren Aronofsky event that had been sold out. I secured a front seat and the following video footage below. I did not have enough memory on my camera to cover the entire talk, so the rest is dictated word for word from my old school tape recorder (I really need to buy a digital one…).
Worth highlighting are his thoughts on 3D, music from his films cropping up in shitty trailers and sports events, and why some people hate The Fountain towards the end of Part 6. Please leave your thoughts at the bottom.
Aronofsky: [on a John Waters film in 3D] I think it has that kitsch value. That’d be great to see what he’d do with that; see Pink Flamingos in 3D, that’s what I’d want to see, not Star Wars.
Interviewer: It was interesting, yesterday… [audio indecipherable] was looking at 3D sports, and seemed to think that’s where the technology might be revolutionary.
Aronofsky: I saw that reel, with that same 3D stuff. You see the players in the foreground, totally sharp, and then the people in the crowd all the way in the back are the sharp. So the whole time I was staring at the different people watching it, so I don’t know, maybe I’m just not used to it. I just thought when you’re watching the guy on the field, or a woman on the field, your focus is there, so it might just be about training yourself to do it. I’m not sold on it.
Audience Question: Two questions: One is all of your films seem to deal with obsession, that seems to be the key theme, the personal theme to everyone. Are you as obsessed with the filmmaking process or that film at that moment as your characters seem to embody? And my second question is a rather cheeky one, what did you think of the Watchmen movie?
Aronofsky: Well the first one, I never realized they were about obsession, you think that’s what they were about?
The second question, I loved the Watchmen film. I thought it was great. I mean I’m a big fan of the graphic novel and for me I had a huge smile on my face the whole time and thought as a fan and a geek of the comic, I thought what could be better? He just brought it to life. To have that type of freedom to make it rated R, I really enjoyed it. I know everyone else kind of disagrees with me or a lot of people have problems with it, but I thought it was great.
Audience Question re-stated: In your films are you as obsessed with them as your characters are?
Aronofsky: Uuum, I don’t know. I can’t remember. I don’t know. I got to pay you to answer that question, like a therapy question.
Interviewer: Are you exploring the same themes, then?
Aronofsky: Unfortunately, yes.
Interviewer: Do you think you’ll get out of that?
Aronofsky: I’m waiting, I’m dying, if anyone’s got a script with something else besides obsession, I’m all for it.
Interviewer: Are you interested in other people’s screenplays? I mean The Wrestler, obviously…
Aronofsky: Yeah, I am. I’m reading other people’s screenplays all the time and always looking for material. It’s really hard to make a film and to really put your heart into; it’s got to be made a certain way. There’s been a few scripts that have come my way that I thought were amazing, that I wanted to do, but they went better – more successful directors.
Audience Question: What was your experience like working on the Batman script and what was it like to work with Frank Miller on that script?
Aronofsky: I never really wanted the Batman film, but it was kind of a bait and switch. I got the phone call while I was working on Requiem for a Dream that Warner Bros. wanted to talk about Batman. At the time I had this idea for this film The Fountain, which I knew it was going to be this big movie and I was thinking, “You know, is Warner really going to give me 80 million dollars to make a film about love and death after I come off a heroin movie?”
So my theory was, if I can write this Batman film and they perceive me as a writer for it, then maybe they would let me go ahead, which worked out okay, until Brad Pitt quit. I didn’t really ever get to the place where I was trying to make it, I only wrote the script, and when I went in, I said, “I’ll do this, but I want to work with Frank Miller on it.” They were really against it. This was before Sin City and all of Frank’s later success, but I told them that Frank is the expert, he’s re-invented Batman, twice, I’d like to work with him.
They said okay and we had a pretty good time writing it. It was fun; we’d walk around the city, geek out, talkin’ about Batman, and how to make it cool. We just really wanted to re-invent it and it was very different, it was really in response to the Joel Schumacher Batman, because that was what was fresh in people’s mind. So it was even more realistic than what Chris Nolan did, it was, no super powers, the Batmobile was a Lincoln Continental with a bus engine dropped in. That was the whole concept, like total duct tape version of it and they were like, “Lincoln Continental? You’ve got to sell toys.” I was on The Fountain, I wrote it, but it was kind of a half – spirited thing to try and get The Fountain made.
Audience Question: The film’s you’ve made previously have involved subject matter you’ve really cared about and that probably shows in the films, just the effort you’ve put into and the rest of the crew. What kind of concept or subject matter would you really, really like to do regardless of what the budget would be or who else would support it?
Aronofsky: I hope I can find material that’s as similarly inspiring and it’s hard to know what that is. You read it and it kind of just… it just gets you, for me, it’s somewhere north of my stomach. When you make a film, basically, people say no to you for two years and so you’ve really got to love the characters and love the story. To wake up every day is pretty hard when you know you’re going to be beaten down and have to make compromises. So it’s got to be something that connects deeply, for me.
Audience Question: You were just saying about problems of filmmaking and the pitfalls and things like that, I was just wondering what keeps you inspired? Is it other people’s films, scripts you read, what keeps you going on a day to day basis deep down?
Aronofsky: Good question. It’s a lot of different things. I get really inspired by music because you find a lot of musicians who are just doing their thing and don’t give a fuck that much, because they’re able to do that album a lot cheaper and easier to put together than movies. So I think whenever I get to see demonstrations of artistic independence and integrity, true voices being expressed passionately, whatever form that is, a book, even good news reporting, to a dance piece, to a performance arts piece, to painting, that’s what gets me going.
Interviewer: You immerse yourself in a lot of…
Aronofsky: I try to see as much art and other stuff as I can. Music’s hard. Any tips, anything great coming out of Scotland?
Audience: Withered Hand
Aronofsky: Does that get seconded by anyone?
[no one responds]
Aronofsky: Well then –
Audience: Frightened Rabbit
-The Phantom Band
-I second that!
Aronofsky: I like Frightened Rabbit, that’s a better name.
Remington Smith’s Question: I just wanted to ask: In all of your films, there’s a very clear voice and I think that you have gathered a cult following because of that; regardless of what you’re going for, you’re going to go for it. I think because of that distinct voice, I was wondering if you’ve been courted by studios who want you to do a film to give it some cred, or, if you’ve gotten some popularity and they offer you ridiculous films. What’s it like behind the scenes?
Aronofsky: The sellout question?
Remington: I wonder if people have tried to make you offers to try and do that.
Aronofsky: I’m always looking for material. It’s hard to continue to generate material on a speed… If I decided to take off 2-3 years I imagine I could refuel… I really want to work a little bit faster than I have the last few films if I can find material, so I keep looking for stuff. I’m curious to do a piece that I didn’t author just to see what that experience is like. Hopefully it won’t be miserable. It would be fun just to take something that is well crafted by a screenwriter and cast it, shoot it, and see what happens.
The Wrestler we developed, my company, it was my idea; we developed it through many, many, many drafts over years and years. Ultimately it was an outside writer who brought a whole different type of aesthetic to it and I went into it really relaxed and tried to be very present in the moment, like how Mickey [Rourke] approaches his acting.
I actually went to set pretty unprepared for how I usually go to set. I just went by instinct: I saw what Mickey was doing and I saw the limitations of what the crew was and tried to make the best decision in the moment and I had a great time doing it. It was kind of like the first time I was improvising as opposed to really constructing. I really like that way of working, so if I can find other material that I can create like that, I’d be excited to approach it. I don’t know where the road’s going to go.
Interviewer: When you started drafting, and as you said it was your idea and it was your company, was there a conscious decision to try and work in that way?
Aronofsky: The original idea: I just always thought it was really curious that no one had ever made a film about professional wrestling. The more I looked into wrestling the more interesting the characters were.
It came out, probably, because no one wanted to give it money with Mickey Rourke. I had six million dollars, which I know sounds like a lot of money, but it just somehow disappears. All of my films have been made with limited resources. The whole style of Pi came out of the fact that we couldn’t afford to make the color look good. Black and white actually costs more money than color, but we saved money in so many other ways, or I should say we saved the film by being able to stylize it that way. I’ve never had the type of money I’d wanted and I have to create boundaries and rules within it to work.
Audience Question: [audio not discernable; recall the guy telling Aronofsky that he only shows The Fountain to certain people because there are a select few who will get it. Overall he gave Aronofsky props for the film, eliciting the following reply]
Aronofsky: There’s a lot [sic] of Fountain haters out there, so keep spreading the word.
Interviewer: Do you understand why?
Aronofsky: Yeah, because the film’s about, “Hey, its okay that we die and we should come to terms with it.” Of course people are like, “I don’t even want to think about that!” so why would people want to pay money to sit for 90 minutes and have a meditation on losing someone they love, and coming to terms with it, as well as coming to terms with their own death?
Everything is about denying that in Western Culture. There are some people who are open to experiencing that and there are many, many people who don’t want to approach it. I think that’s the reason.
I also think because it’s dealing with death it’s [an] incredibly earnest film. At the time it came out it was smack in the middle of Paris Hilton time. There hasn’t been this serious turn on what’s…people starting to realize the party’s over, finally, so we can stop thinking about the culture of superficiality; start [to] remember there are other things going on.
Although here in England, you guys –
Aronofsky: I don’t know what it’s like here, but watching TV in England its like, “Oh wow, in America we still have a lot to learn about how superficial you can get.” Sorry, it’s just the TV, I don’t know about the people.
You did have that reality TV star who died. Did she die on camera? We read about it in America.
Interviewer: She lived and died on camera.
Aronofsky: Did she actually die on camera, did they capture the moment?
[audience laughs in a horrified manner]
Aronofsky: That’s why I didn’t direct it.
[more horrified laughing]
Audience Question: I was fascinated by the guy who played the steroid dealer in The Wrestler [whom] was subsequently arrested for steroid dealing.
Aronofsky: Facing 25 to life right now.
Audience Question continued: Did it not occur to him that playing himself in film would be probably a bad idea?
Aronofsky: It’s a funny story: I was down in Miami with Mickey, “night clubbing” with Mickey, and I saw that guy across the way. I was like, “That guys awesome, let’s get that guy,” and Mickey just went up to him and basically picked him up. He became good friends with him.
I never really knew what he did, but it was clear he did steroids, but I didn’t know he was also in the dealing end of it. He came in and we actually wrote that scene the morning of. We sat there and I showed him what the production designer had created as far as steroids and we kind of put a package together. We kind of just scripted it and wrote it right there, it was great.
He actually comes off really well in the film, and not to speak ill of people facing 25 to life, but he was terrible. It was all editing that stitched it together and made everything great. Mickey saw that scene and said, “You know, that’s the first time that anyone has stolen a scene from me.”
Audience Question: I was just curious why you and Matthew Libatique [director of photography on his previous films] didn’t work together on The Wrestler? Was that a timing issue or a stylistic choice?
Aronofsky: Uuuuuuh…he was busy. At the time.
Audience Questioner’s Reply: Okay, cool. Thanks.
Audience Question: Will you continue to do anti-Hollywood endings?
Aronofsky: Sure, why not. I mean, I don’t know, we’ll see what comes. I actually want to do a Hollywood ending now…
Audience Question Continued: Do you deliberately… [audio indecipherable; question about the ending to Requiem for a Dream]
Aronofsky: I don’t think that was the intention. When I read the novel, when Harry gets his arm cut off in the novel, he had this weird vision. I wasn’t sure if he died or not.
I went to Harry Hubert Selby, Jr. [author of the book Requiem for a Dream] and I said, “Does Harry die at the end of the book?”
And he went, “No!”
And I was like, “Well why are you so emphatic?”
And he said, “Because has so much more to suffer.”
That I understood was the intention of the book, to show the suffering. After the screening at the Cannes Film Festival, the head of the studio, Bill, who was also the guy at the screening for Pi who offered me the Polanski job, said, “Well you’re not going to release the film this way.”
I said, “Why?”
and he said, “You can’t put this film out this way, you’re going to have to cut it back.”
I said, “The entire purpose of the film is to go as far as we can. To do any less is undermining the whole purpose of the project.” So it was an aggressive portrayal of addiction versus the human spirit and there couldn’t have been any panels.
Interviewer: Thank you all, Darren, for that. Thank you very much.
Aronofsky: Thank you very much gentlemen.