PAUL SCHRADER: SET ON “AUTO FOCUS”

You’ve been involved in some legendary films, what are some of your proudest movie moments?
There’s always a delicious moment in a movie where the character… I always love it when more than one thing is running at the same time and a character is behaving one way, and in fact he wants to behave another way. These are the moments I look forward to in films, more than camera moves, more than production value, just the complexity of human behavior and human motivation.

I want to talk to you about the alteration of classic films – we’ve seen some films of the 70s and 80s, altered using digital technology, for example, changing shot guns to walkie talkies in the special edition of E.T. How do you feel about directors altering their own works?
In principle, I don’t think it’s a good idea. On the other hand, there are some films that were greatly enhanced by that material being put back in. I’m thinking of “Conformist” and the blind’s man ball sequence going back in, or the film Wim Wendors made about Nosferatu – his version was so much better than the American release version. It’s not a simple issue. For the most part I think it’s better if you stay away from it and the film is what it is. In general I’ve worked in lower budget films where you don’t even save the trims, so it doesn’t even come up.

Your films often deal with intensely dark subject matter. Have you ever thought about making a romantic comedy?
Well, I have, I have made some of them before this. I made a film called “Forever Mine” which was a kind of Sirkian melodrama. I did a film called “Touch” that was rather light, but, uh, the things that I guess people like or respond to best are interior dramas.

What attracted you to Auto Focus?
What attracted me to Bob Crane was the character study. This fellow that was saying, “I’m normal. I’m an all American guy and family man. And all the while there’s this tail growing out the back end.” How and why does that happen? And how come he’s so clueless? And how come he doesn’t get it?

In some circles, he might be considered a pioneer because he was doing amateur porn before it was popularized on the internet.
He was there for the birth of home porn with Polaroid and the VTR. The things he was doing would not seem so scandalous today. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Let’s talk about the casting process for the film. How did you come up with the choice of Greg Kinnear for Bob Crane?
Well, someone had suggested his name to me and I thought about it for five seconds and I thought it was a great idea. Y’know, because he has a lot of the same tools that Bob had, a sense of comedy, they both were dj’s, that ironic kind of “in-on-the-joke” guy. Plus I had been watching his work and he’d been getting progressively better. So I thought I could take him out to the deep end of the pool and he’d be able to swim.

How do you take an actor out to the deep end of the pool?
You write the deep end of the pool scenes for them. And you tell them not to be afraid.

Is that what you did on the set?
No it all evolves through the rehearsal process, particularly with a low budget film, you have all those crises of confidence worked out.

What are some of the challenges you face working on a budget where you might have to compromise? Some filmmakers say it forces them to be more creative.
Well it does. But there are pros and cons. Y’know, the con is that it’s not very much money. The pro is that it’s enough.




Posted on October 16, 2002 in Interviews by

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