Capone's Long-But-Fascinating Interview With THE FALL Director Tarsem Concludes!!
Published at: May 29, 2008, 8:36 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here with the second part of my interview with THE FALL director and co-writer Tarsem.
For a proper introduction to this conversation and background are Tarsem, go to the first part of the interview HERE. This discussion took place about two weeks after our first frenzied and fun talk. In the interim, I also managed to squeeze in an interview with the film's star Lee Pace [HERE]. Anyway, enjoy Tarsem and for heaven's sake, enjoy THE FALL, which opens wider this weekend.
As an added bonus for those of you in the Chicago area on Sunday, June 1: Tarsem will be doing a post-screening Q&A that I'll be moderating after the 7:30 showing of THE FALL at the Landmark Century Center Cinema. This isn't a free screening, but the only thing more wonderful than seeing THE FALL is getting the chance to talk to Tarsem about it after you've seen it. On this point, you must trust me. Anyway, here is the rest of our conversation.
Tarsem: I don't remember where we left off, but if you ask me one question, I'll speak for another hour.
Capone: So it probably doesn't matter where we left off. Are you in Chicago now?
Tarsem: I am; I was hoping to meet you, but they say that Champaign is quite far. [Tarsem was in Champaign, Ill., for an Ebertfest screening of THE CELL at the University of Illinois.]
Capone: It is. So you're in Champaign now?
Tarsem: I am because a long time ago they asked be to come in for the Ebert thing and talk on THE CELL, which I said, "Uh, okay." I tried to see if they could screen THE FALL, but they said this was kind of a festival that was already set and that was the film they had. So I got on a plane and came here before I go to see my girl in London.
Capone: I believe the thing I was going to ask you about when we had to break before was that, I'd noticed some people have referred to THE FALL as a coming-of-age film. I don't agree with that, if for no other reason, "coming of age" seems to imply…
Tarsem: …the person who made you grow up. [laughs]
Capone: Right, that person who took you from childhood to being an adult. But in real life, that happens in many, many stages.
Tarsem. Stages, exactly. This is not even one of those stages. For me, it isn't a coming-of-age film at all. If it's anything, it's the two-way street of storytelling. When you tell a story, it's about taking the other person into consideration. If it's a child, you don't say the F word. At every particular level, you use the other person's body language to play the music that you want to play and, at the same time, find a ground so that they don't walk out. Unfortunately, see how easy it is for someone to write "a coming-of-age film": everybody shows up. And then people ask, "What did he just fucking say?" I think I've seen enough bad ones like that, and some good ones to know that.
Capone: By setting in the film in a hospital, you invite the metaphor that these characters are damaged people, both physically and emotionally.
Tarsem: I found the ticket to make the person telling this story in an impotent situation, to tell the story to somebody else who he needs something from. And that worked in a hospital. There was an early draft of the script that someone else wrote for me that was about a guy who was traveling to India for an assassination, but he gets hurt and has to use a child to go an buy things for him that he can use for the assassination. And I said, "Oh my god. Okay, bye." So I had to ask myself how far did I want to play. I didn't want the drama in the real life to be too big. Some people argue that to make a film about boredom, you don't have to make a boring film. The girl only has a broken collarbone, so she's not physically sick. Her mind is wandering, but it's fine. She's just bored because she's got nothing and no one to relate with.
Capone: Through your commercials and music videos, your imagery has always taken my breath away. So much of the time, it's not natural beauty but it looks so lifelike.
Tarsem: If you go to that area behind the Taj, it smells of shit. But like they say, no matter how bad the pollution, it makes great sunsets. [laughs] In some ways, I'm glad my films aren't Smell-O-Rama because we'd have a completely different experience. Where does that come from? For the last two weeks, I've been doing a lot of soul searching because I have been talking about the film--and as you can tell there isn't a check between my tongue and head--and after some time, I've been thinking, "This makes better sense." And last time I was telling you about my schoolteacher who mixes up Watergate and James Bond, and it was the most profound thing because we were so starved for film. We saw one film per week, and if nothing showed up, they'd just show us GET CARTER. Waiting for imagery was one thing, and on the other hand, I don't think there's anything special about me or anybody.
My genes aren't special; there are a billion of me in India, okay? The only thing that was special about me was my upbringing. The idea of having a dad who worked for the airlines meant we traveled a lot; we got free tickets, in Iran. At the same time, he said, "This country is going to burn in hell because the Muslims are going to come to power and fuck everything up. You can't have your education here; you need to learn in English." And he put us in a boarding school in the Himalayas. In Iran, we saw a lot of television. And very different television than everybody else that I spent nine months with in India, where we used to have one channel for two hours in the evening. And it just showed crap basically. There was a lot of cinema that we didn't have too much access to, maybe one movie per month. At the same time, when we went for holidays, we had access to a television that spoke a language that I couldn't understand. There was so much stuff that came to me this way, though misinformation, that I would see all these shows in Iran. And we didn't know what was being played for humor and what was not.
A friend of mine showed up the other day and said how bizarre it was that I used to tell these stories and one of them was for GET CARTER…no wait, not GET CARTER, "Get Smart," which we thought was a serious series. For our bag, it was not over the top to have a guy who was so cool that he had a phone in his shoe, because the problem was in Iran, they took out the laugh track and the guy spoke in Persian. So we didn't know it was supposed to be funny. Coming from a background where a dog could have a flashback in the middle of a serious plot and you're not supposed to laugh, this was not over the top at all. So seeing all this stuff like "Batman," they were never kitsch enough for us. To parody something to someone who grew up on Hindi movies, it would be like trying to parody professional wrestling. It's not possible. Think of the bizarre-ist fucking situation; they've done it. For me, it just wasn't there. I think the visual background was so important. My mom has the best sixth sense in the world because she's traveled with five kids all around the world and has the best body language sixth sense in the world. She's look around an airport and say, "Uh, go ask that person what we're supposed to do." Always, me and my brother always said she could tell who was going to be good to us and who doesn't have time. For children, that's hard for us to figure out anyway, but even as an adult that thing goes away. But she had such a different awareness of the world around her. And I'm trying to put that into context, and I think that all of that came out in this film.
When I came out of film school, as much as I like talking about films, I loved trailers more than anything. But the visual candy was very much a part of how I related to any cinema. And then what happened is the first time I came out of film school, there was a guy I really used to hero worship, and he went and I saw his work from Europe, and I realized "They do advertising this interesting there?" It hasn't really existed there for the last seven or eight years at all, but I hit it at a very critical point, and I only later on realized in retrospect why the set up was more correct in Europe than anywhere else. They had exactly the definition that I wanted for the work, which is, you have a 60-second story to tell. You cannot rely at all on dialogue. In America, you can tell any funny joke. There, you were making an ad for Levi's in London that had to air in Germany, France, Italy. And no plot point could come out through dialogue. You had to tell the whole story completely visually. So me gravitating toward that was kind of like a panda being hungry and gravitating toward the bamboo. And now with all the local marketing, it's become very much like America; it's much more dependent on dialogue. I was in a fortunate position at the time.
I've never been a person who knew what to do with money; I never had it all my life, and suddenly there was money in it. It made absolutely no difference to me. Even when I was winning the Grand Prix at Cannes for advertising, I was probably making less money than anyone else on set, except for maybe the PAs, because I would do three jobs in a year. And those were after I would tell everyone, "I want this song, this kind of cutting." I was that specific. And as I was doing that, I was making a portfolio of places around the world, and if anybody is looking for a particular thing or sensibility, they can come to me, not with a storyboard, because I don't do storyboards. So I ended up with enough of a niche to have enough of an input in a genre that is known for prostitution, to go in there and make money. And me, I'll fuck 'em for free; I just love the job. But they pay me, and I'm happy. [laughs]
Capone: Does it go without saying that whatever your next film will be, it will be done on a smaller scale?
Tarsem: [laughs] You know what happened? As of three days ago, if you'd asked me that, I would have said I had no idea. And then, a thing clicked in my head. And right now, I mean, you've been a champion right from the beginning, but when Variety and Hollywood Reporter decided THE FALL was the biggest turd since King Kong did a poo or whatever, I didn't have a champion. And thank God Ebert came out and saw it about eight or nine months ago and wrote all this stuff together. And the studios didn't seem to react to the bad stuff because there were seven guys coming to the table the next day ready to make a deal at Toronto when the Variety review came. Some were saying it was the best thing since sliced bread, but when those guys killed it, they kind of walked away. So we've had three people come to us after seeing THE FALL saying, we want to do your next film. And the reaction seems to be, "Okay, you've done your personal wank. Now would you like to make some money?" [laughs] But I'm waiting for the right reaction, which is now turning into, "We liked that film. Would you like to do something similar or something different? Talk to us, because we believe you're a filmmaker not a shooter." And I've been dying to hear that; it's music to my ears. But it's only happened in the last 10 days. And I don't know what I want to do; I hadn't really thought about it. My schedule is booked up over the next two-and-a-half months shooting [commercials] over three continents, and I turned around and said, "I don't know."
But then something fell in, a story that I wanted to do so long ago that is so simple. And I called Nico [Soultanakis], who I wrote THE FALL with and he's a classmate, and I just called him. He's here in Chicago. And I said to him, let's sit down, we'll write the script in two weeks and I could shoot it in about two months. It's basically RAMBO meets PANIC ROOM on GOLDEN POND. It's a hardcore, old-man revenge movie in a claustrophobic space. And I thought, Oh, I could do that. And a lot of people are saying, for the kind of money you're talking about, take it from us. And I thought, that would be good, let me see what the strings are, but let me first talk to Nico. The moment I hang up with you, I'm going to have a seven-hour coffee break with him, and if the structure pulls itself out, we'll work on an indie check. Hopefully, he'll go away for two weeks to write. And there's absolutely no visual to this. It's a reaction against the things that are thoroughly enjoyable like the worst kind of porn. I just want to take it back to '70s-style revenge movie, and add something that you never associate with that kind of violence: old people. It will be great.
Capone: I think it will be great.
Tarsem: [laughs] I know I can make it cheap enough. And I know I will never again do what I did on this film, which was "Here's a tunnel and it's unlimited, I can see a light on the other side; I don't know if it's an oncoming train, but we're fucking entering it." And that's how I took the film on. And now it's done. And now I'm going to sit down, not with a business sense, and just say, "This is how much it takes to make it." And if somebody walks into the room within the week and says, "Here's the money; go do it." It's fine. If not, I'll call my brother and say, "If I work for another year, do we have enough money to make this?" And I'm sure for the amount of money I'm talking about, he'll say, "Go." And it will be one location, quite limited. It won't be MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, but it'll be close. [laughs]
Capone: Tarsem, those all the questions I came armed with. Thank you so much for calling back.
Tarsem: I would much rather have met with you, but they said you wouldn't be in Chicago when I would be. Did you get the book that we sent you [a lovely, oversized, promotion-only coffee table book of images from THE FALL]?
Capone: Yes, I got it yesterday. It's beautiful; I love it.
Tarsem: Thank you. Do you know what size of the negatives is like for those photos? They are massive. I blew one of those up to the size of a wall for my place in L.A., and you cannot see grain. I kind of felt when I was making this that it would be one of those things that nobody would be able to date, like some of the Kubrick stuff, when it comes out, it looks dated. It kind of started out dated, but some of those locations, I don't think there's another person idiotic enough to go out and do this sort of thing for another 24 years in the future and make this kind of film, so I think it's a one-off. I'm glad I did it; I wouldn't have been able to do it later in life.
Capone: I was trying to figure out where I was going to put this book in my home last night.
Tarsem: It's called "coffee table." [laughs]
Capone: It is really beautiful, and I was flipping through every photo yesterday just remembering how great the costumes were and how beautiful the colors were.
Tarsem: Thank you. And people have been coming out of the woodwork and saying they don't agree with the polarization of some of the early reviews. When we screened it in L.A., suddenly the UCLA crowd was so behind it, that I kind of felt that people really do need to be told something can be good. Somebody sent me a review from another site, I believe. The person had said he didn't come to the L.A. screening, but I guess--it's like the Monty Python line, "He couldn't come, but he sent his refrigerator"--so apparently his friend went and saw it. The critic said he had no interest in seeing a movie that a year and a half ago came out and was so killed by these early reviews, but here's what this person said. And the other person went on and gave it just about the best review I could imagine, going from Chaplin to Hawks, saying "I don't know what the fuck the other guys are talking about." I just hope there are enough of these folks around for the film to find it's little baby legs. And if there are, I'll burn some more money and try to send it around America.
Capone: When I went into the screening where I first saw it, I deliberately read nothing about it. I didn't want to know anything going in. I know that your films polarize people, just as THE CELL did.
Tarsem: Oh good. Where did you see it?
Capone: Here in Chicago.
Tarsem: I hope the screening was good.
Capone: It was, and it was well attended. I have not posted my review; I'm holding it until closer to release in Chicago.
Tarsem: Thank you, my friend. I'm quite computer illiterate, but somebody will show it to me. It's nice to know there are a few kindred spirits out there. When I saw the audience at UCLA, they seemed so aware of all of the things being said about it on the net. All I want is for each person that likes it to get 10 more people to see it. I'm glad I did it, and hopefully in a couple of months, I'll have kicked around enough to where I'll feel like I can start something else.
Capone: Well good luck with that, and good luck with THE FALL.
Tarsem: Thank you so much, my friend. And thank you for saying all of the wonderful stuff.