Meeting Avid Filmmakers: Four Years of Best Director Interviews
by Alex Billington
February 24, 2015
Congratulations Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu, winner of the Oscar for Best Director! This is now four years in a row that I've interviewed the Best Director winner. Though at the time, I wasn't thinking about awards or anything else besides what to ask about the film and their process as a filmmaker. In an industry that loves data and obsessing over success, I can't help but notice a bit of a pattern here. Not that I am any indicator or predictor or grand wizard of the Oscars, but if anything I have my eye trained on very talented filmmakers and outstanding films. With Iñárritu winning this year, that makes four years in a row of winners interviewed, including Alfonso Cuarón, Ang Lee, even Michel Hazanavicius (of The Artist).
Now here's the thing, behind-the-scenes there's a lot going on. Within my own realm, getting interviews is not as easy as it seems. I actually tried to speak with Richard Linklater of Boyhood for months, but never got time with him. On the flipside, I've been offered interviews with the Dardenne Brothers and Steve McQueen (of 12 Years a Slave), and turned them down because I just wasn't ready. On a bigger scale of interviews, the studios and publicists have their own strategies that involve getting interviews placed on sites like mine throughout the awards season. So while I may notice a pattern, it probably doesn't mean much, even though I like to think that it means something that I could speak with Iñárritu but not Linklater. But whatever, it doesn't matter. What matters is that I host unique interviews with talented filmmakers, like the ones below.
Personally, I'm very selective about who I interview and who I go after for interviews I really want. I'm often aiming for the very best of the best, and I usually don't get time with them. I've always wanted to interview Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, P.T. Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, but have never been able to get an interview with any of them. That said, I am very proud of the interviews I have conducted and I'm quite excited to look back at these talks with filmmakers that have gone on to earn incredible accolades. I'm glad I was able to spend time with each discussing films.
This year's Best Director win for Iñárritu was a big surprise for everyone. I was actually expecting Richard Linklater to end up winning, as was everyone else, but even the Director's Guild went with Iñárritu and that was that. I love Birdman and I'm fine it won, as there is some intricate choreography going on and amazing performances mean amazing direction. I also wanted to speak with Linklater about Boyhood and I kept asking IFC throughout the year for time, but never got a chance to interview him despite first seeing the film at Sundance in January (my review). I discovered Birdman at Telluride (my review) and followed up with an interview with Iñárritu there, arranged by Fox Searchlight. Little did I know he'd win an Oscar months later.
When I'm speaking with these filmmakers after the premiere at a festival, the awards buzz has barely started and the only thing on everyone's mind is the film itself. I prefer talking with them this early on because you get more honest and interesting answers that aren't affected by publicity campaigns or any awards season mayhem. I was also lucky to interview director Wes Anderson of Oscar winner The Grand Budapest Hotel in March of last year. For a recap seven years of interviews with Best Director winners, here's a look at who they were and their latest film with interview attached. Up first – chats with the last four years of winners.
Alejandro González Iñárritu - Won for Birdman (2015) - Recorded at Telluride 2014
Alfonso Cuarón - Won for Gravity (2014) - Recorded in New York City 2013
Ang Lee - Won for Life of Pi (2013) - Recorded in New York City 2012 (Text Only)
Michel Hazanavicius - Won for The Artist (2012) - Recorded at Telluride 2011
This (2011/2012) is when my recent streak starts, but after two years of near misses. Including these misses isn't saying anything so much as referring to a few directors I interviewed that should've/could've won the Oscar as well. In the other years, Tom Hooper won for The King's Speech (which I loved, really wanted to talk with him) and Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker, over James Cameron and Tarantino, so crazy. I'm posting these because both directors were nominated for the Oscar, plus they're great interviews.
Darren Aronofsky - Should've ; ) Won for Black Swan (2011) - Recorded at Toronto 2010
Jason Reitman - Should've ; ) Won for Up in the Air (2010) - Recorded at Telluride 2009
--I also spoke with Danny Boyle at Telluride the year he went on to win the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire.
Danny Boyle - Won for Slumdog Millionaire (2009) - Recorded at Telluride 2008
Thank you for taking another look at these interviews. I'm honestly totally honored and lucky that I've been able to speak with such talented artists and storytellers, and I'm glad they've been willing to open up and talk with me. Whether you're a filmmaker or a cinephile, there's valuable lessons and vibrant discussions to discover in these interviews. And that's my favorite part, discussing some thought-provoking topics that can inspire more filmmakers. I like this passionate response from Ang Lee from our interview about Life of Pi:
"After Sense and Sensibility, the first four movies were about same tone, that was just scary if I kept doing that. I'd reach the end pretty soon… Plus, I think I'm an avid filmmaker. I'm just curious to explore all kinds of filmmaking, all kinds of genres and types of people. Like in Sense and Sensibility, the English has certain ways of doing things. A Hong Kong martial arts choreographer, the most brilliant filmmaker, there's always something you'll learn. And when you do Western where it's about boys with guns and horseback. There's always something that made me fascinated." -Ang Lee, 2012
For more interviews we've conducted over many years, visit this category. Some of my favorite interviews include chats with: Dragon Tattoo director David Fincher, Super 8 director J.J. Abrams, Prometheus director Ridley Scott, Skyfall director Sam Mendes, Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro, The Place Beyond the Pines director Derek Cianfrance, Marvel's Thor director/star Kenneth Branagh, The Spectacular Now director James Ponsoldt, The Raid 2 director Gareth Evans, Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho, The Overnighters director Jesse Moss, plus Force Majeure director Ruben Ostlund.
From Iñárritu's speech at the Oscars: "Ego loves competition, right? Because for someone to win, someone has to lose. But the paradox is that, you know, true art, true individual expression – as all the work of these incredible fellow filmmakers – can’t be compared, can’t be labeled, can’t be defeat[ed], because they exist and our work only will be judged, as always, by time. So, I am very thankful, grateful, humbly honored by the Academy, which I thank for this incredible recognition." It is a big accomplishment, but he also nicely explains how impossible it is to compare films/filmmakers, as each should still be appreciated on their own.