106. FOUR QUESTIONS

This comment came in last week. I liked the questions so I thought I’d post them here.

“Hello, Tom. My name is Nicolò, I’m an Italian student from the University of Turin. The thesis for my academic degree is about the cinema of Steve Buscemi, as an actor and a director. For this reason I watched for the first time your “Living in the Oblivion”. I think that it is amazing…!! one of the most beautiful American pictures that I’ve ever seen. Your film has an atmosphere that reminds me something of Federico Fellini, but at the same time it has something so original and pure that, I swear, is so rare to find… especially here in Italy. For me “Living in the Oblivion” is a sort of “8 e mezzo” (8 1/2) of the independent American cinema, and it deserves to be even more known in my country, where it is so hard to get your and other independent movies.

Delirious Shoot

DiCillo & Buscemi on “Delirious” set.

If you don’t mind I’d like to ask you  some questions about your own work and your opinion about Steve as an actor and director. Thanks anyway for your time and your patience… the most important thing is that I found another great director in you which I hadn’t known… it’s a pleasure and a fortune for me.
Grazie mille!”

1. In your opinion in which way can a film be considered independent today?

TD: It has only been in the last few months that I’ve come to realize how vastly different independent film is today from when it started. In fact, I’m not sure I recognize it any more. All I can say is what originally inspired me about independent film, and about being an independent director, was the freedom. There was a joyous, sexy thrill about breaking completely away from the Hollywood penitentiary. The whole point of being independent was to cut loose, to break the chains, to create a cinema that was more real, more courageous, more creative and more honest than the Hollywood crap cycle.

Today, it has become almost impossible to tell the difference between a Hollywood film and an independent one. Both are now controlled by the same value system; Box Office and Opening Weekend. For both, success is measured in dollars. Independent filmmakers have had to become skilled at the Hollywood game. To get a film financed they have to cast Stars. They have to write scripts that still somehow will guarantee to the distributor that the seats in the theater will be filled. So, for me, the independent films that somehow do miraculously end up on screen now look and feel just like Hollywood films. They feel thin, tired and laced with artificial ingredients.

There are a few that make it through but they are very rare. What I look for in an independent film is a passionate, personal vision. I look for the directors whose main interest was in making the film, not in selling it.

2. How have your Italian roots influenced your work, if they did?

TD: I’m half Italian. I’m proud of that half but I don’t really consider myself Italian. Ironically, the film that lit my brain on fire and inspired me to become a filmmaker was La Strada, by Fellini. Perhaps there is a cultural connection, I don’t know. I mean Stallone is also Italian and I was never inspired to make a film like  Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII.

3. What do you think of Steve as an actor, and also what do you think about him as a director?

TD: I think Steve is one of the greatest American actors. This is mainly due to his talent and to who he is as a human being. For me, he brings the rarest of combinations to his performances; which is an amazing blend of pathos, spontaneity and humor. These are key elements in my own sensibility. I don’t think any of the characters I have written have been brought to life on screen more fully than the ones Steve has played. What he did in Living In Oblivion was amazing. What he did with Les Galantine in Delirious was miraculous. No matter how far gone the character is Steve always finds a way to make him sympathetic. And he does it without cheating.

When we work together I actually say very little to him. The most enjoyable thing for me is  to whisper something to him right before a take, not telling the other actor, and even surprising Steve with the suggestion. Every single time I’ve done this Steve simply smiles quietly and then leaps into the take with complete abandon and joy. There is nothing more exhilarating for a director.

Many people assume Living In Oblivion was mostly improvised. It was not; in fact 99% of the action and dialogue was in the script. One scene however was completely improvised by Steve. I needed him to yell at the crew members so I could shoot their reaction shots. He did it so incredibly, making up specific insults for each member of the crew, that I instantly turned the camera on him and asked him to do it again, this time on film. He did it even better.

nick-myself-here.jpg

Nick Reve (Buscemi) loses it in “Living In Oblivion”.

Fellini described this as a “willingness”. I think he was talking about an actor being completely open to doing whatever it takes to get the scene. I would have to say that Steve is the most willing actor I’ve ever worked with.

I think that same quality extends to the films Steve has directed. Each one deals with people on a very human and intimate level. In each one Steve allows the actors to live and breathe, thereby creating characters on the screen that touch us deeply. I love Trees Lounge but Lonesome Jim and Animal Factory struck me with more resonance. In both those films I see the eye of a director who is excited about the absurd realities of people, where tragedy and humor are intricately intertwined.

I also see a director who trusts and respects his audience. He lets his films take the time they need. He doesn’t rush them; he doesn’t force them. He trusts the audience will follow. And this trust ultimately allows the audience to trust him.

4. Today I watched When You’re Strange and it deeply touched me because I am also a musician. How important is the music in your movies?

TD: Music and film are like lovers; in the best circumstances their interaction creates something warm, breathing, sexy and completely unpredictable. There is a powerful flash of life when image and music come together. There is the potential for the creation of something profound, emotional and unexplained.

I’m not talking about sad violins playing at the death of a puppy. I’m talking about a sound, any sound, that connects mysteriously to an image and sparks some kind of emotional connection. This connection is best when it is unexplained.

Unfortunately most music in films simply explains what is already explained in the image; happy scene, happy music; scary scene, scary music. In essence music like this treats the audience as if they are morons. But if you look at Ennio Morricone’s scores even as far back as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, you see a composer and director (Sergio Leone) working together in a way that still has not been equaled in terms of creative freedom. Morricone brought whistling, chanting, bullwhips cracking to the western as well as such odd modern elements as twangy, whammy barred surf chords.

As a result Morricone’s score created a strange emotional connection that is original and unforgettable. I am openly inspired by Morricone. I feel each film should have a sound or musical world that is completely unique to the film. I love the period during editing where music starts to come in. First you create the bones of the film by cutting the scenes together as clearly and powerfully as possible then you add the flesh; the music. Sometimes the truth is you need music to help a scene that was only partially realized. But, mostly the joy is using the music like a gift. It caresses the film, bringing it blood, mystery and life.

For me, making a film is an attempt at some emotional connection. Music makes that connection even richer.

17 thoughts on “106. FOUR QUESTIONS”

  1. Hey Tom,

    Great interview questions – thanks for posting them here. Been missing your blog updates and wondering how life was treating you.

    I’ve always admired Buscemi and how he brings every character to life. “Living in Oblivion” was amazing. “Delirious” he made the character sympathetic, as you said. Another favorite of mine is “Ghost World”, though that was Terry Zwigoff directing. I think another actor would have portrayed that role as pathetic and sad, but Steve made the character charming in his own way.

    As far as music, I still enjoy my “Box of Moonlight” CD and hope you are continuing to make more music w/the Black & Blue Orkestre :)

    Happy holidays to you & hope you are well,
    Elaine

    1. Thanks Elaine,
      I feel a connection with Steve that verges on something psychically fraternal.
      I am continuing to fight the fight. Hopefully will get something going this year.
      The music is going well. We are close to finishing a real collection of original songs and will begin the process of getting them out there in a month or so.
      My best to you for the New Year. There’s an old sign someone painted on the side of a barn on the way up to Vermont. It says; Think Good, Feel Good, Do Good. I would only add Eat Good and Look Good. Maybe Smell Good.
      best,
      Tom

  2. Hey Tom,

    Good to have you back & love the Q&A. Especially the Rocky I-VIII comment.

    Steve is so incredibly talented & I eat up every scene he’s in on Boardwalk Empire these days, but with every scene I watch, I think of your vehicles for him like Living in Oblivion and most especially my favorite favorite favorite – did I say favorite? Delirious.

    Me want more!!

    xx Rai

    1. Thanks, Rai. Great to hear from you. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get the time to nurture this child. I’m glad you stumbled upon this rare post. I’ll get back to it, but just too busy right now. Writing a new screenplay and trying the get all the Black & Blue tracks finished. Just about there on the tracks.
      I hope you’re well. And I really appreciate your comments.
      best,
      Tom

  3. Rai isn’t the only one who wants more, Tom :) I do hope your music is going well and that you will have an album out sometime? Or another youtube video?

    Like the new banner/look of your site, by the way!

    Elaine

    1. Hey Elaine,
      You’ll see in my note to Rai what’s been going on. Getting close to finishing the Black & Blue album and pounding together another script.
      But, I see you have some great news about your book. I’m thrilled for you.
      best,
      Tom

      1. Hey Tom,

        Great to hear you’ve been working on a new script. I hope that makes its way into celluloid soon :)

        Thanks for the kudos on the book. Yes, things are finally progressing. This first one out is a paranormal/fantasy – based on your taste in films I’m not sure it would be your style, but I do plan on having more “real” books out later in the year. One which will be a story of sister siblings, rather than Maupassant’s brother sibling tale. I do think you’ll enjoy that one, and there’s even a filmmaker character in it!

        Keep on creating – it’s what keeps our souls intact, no?

        Elaine

  4. Hey Tom,
    You’re one of my favorite film-makers.
    I love your work since 1994 (LiO). Box of Moonlight is my favorite movie of all time.
    Any chance of you and Jim Farmer working together again, the guy’s amazing! I know you have another great movie in you.

    NEVER GIVE UP

    Sincerely,

    Your no.2 fan

    1. Hey Stanislav,
      Good to hear from you. Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you responded to the films.
      I don’t think I will work with Jim Farmer again but I agree with you, he is a very talented musician–as well as a writer and artist.
      I’m working on several scripts at the moment. I will never give up. And if you see my no. 1 fan please tell them hello.

      best,
      Tom

  5. Hello Stanislav :)

    Box of Moonlight is also my fave film of all time. Have you read the diary of Tom’s experience in making the movie? It’s wonderful. A real insight into all the great and frustrating moments that produced such a wonderful film.

    I call Box of Moonlight my “comfort” film because that’s what it brings me – - comfort. Unless it is super warm weather, I always curl up in a blanket and watch that movie. Comfort.

    Many thanks for all the horror you went through, Tom, to get BOM made :)

    Elaine

  6. Hello!
    Yes, I bought the diary, read it, loved it! Getting Jim Farmer to do the score at the eleventh hour was really a stroke of luck!
    Box of Moon Light is one great movie. Underrated, beautiful!

  7. Tom:

    I love your Blog. Much fun, story enlightenment and story education. I’m one of those folks who enjoy blogs like yours and rarely every post my appreciation. Please consider this a small note of my of my extreme appreciation of your work. (Sorry for the disjointed syntax… after all, I’m a Writer – or something like that).

    I noticed you haven’t posted in a while. I hope that’s because you are busy creating.

    I just have one question for you: I’m curious if any of your Films are anywhere to be seen in HD? I’d love to watch Mr. Buscemi’s nose flare in Living In Oblivion in detail… Same goes for Ms. Keener’s gorgeous close-ups… etc..

    Thanx again for all your creative effort that so many of us (obviously) enjoy.

    1. Hey Al,
      Thanks very much for writing. Yeah, I used to put a lot more time and energy into the blog. I really enjoyed it, and particularly enjoyed interacting with people who responded. I guess I’ve just found the independent film world to be completely baffling to me right now. And, as you know, unless you’re the pope it is hard to write about something that is incomprehensible. But, your words are encouraging and I’m feeling the urge to plunge in again–well, maybe a toe or two.
      No, the films are on standard DVD only. Maybe one day someone will come up with the cash and the inclination to release them on HD. Just be thankful they’re on DVD. I had to fight like crazy to get the distributor to put Oblivion on disc.
      I’ve been busy on a small personal film that I’m doing entirely by myself. Also, I’m compiling new tracks by The Black & Blue Orkestre to complete our collection. I’m really hoping to have something released (online) in a month.
      Good luck with your writing.
      best,
      Tom

  8. Hey Tom,

    I don’t think I’m the only one to say that YAY! I’m glad to hear you are doing a smaller film by yourself. I have longed for more art from you to be put into the world and I think it’s great you are taking that plunge.

    Please keep us all posted. We miss you, and the blog :)

    1. Thanks Elaine. Great to hear from you. Yeah, this is a project that has been building for a few years. I’ve been carrying a small video camera around with me for 5 years and I’m attempting to find a form and structure for some of the strange, beautiful stuff I’ve managed to see. I have no idea where I could go with it because many of the shots involve people whose permission to shoot them I evaded. Perhaps a festival.
      Hope all is well with you.
      best,
      T

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