“Stay True to Your Vision” — an interview with director Marc Forster.
Gina (Blake Lively) and husband James (Jason Clarke) have an almost perfect marriage. After being blinded as a child in a nearly fatal car crash that claimed her parent’s lives, Gina depends on James to be her eyes — a dependence that appears to solidify their passionate relationship. She sees her world in her own vivid imagination with help from James’ descriptions. Despite her disability, the two enjoy a colorful existence in Bangkok, Thailand where James works in insurance and Gina explores life in a foreign country. It seems the only real hardship this loving couple faces is difficulty conceiving a child but when Gina is given the opportunity to have a corneal transplant and regains her vision, their life and relationship are upended. Gina now sees the world with a new sense of wonder and independence which James finds threatening. It is only when Gina suddenly begins to lose her sight again that she finally realizes the disturbing reality of their marriage and their lives.
We welcome Marc to The 405 as we chat surrealism, his work and influences, cinema, and what it takes to be a great director.
You have worked on some very big budget films and in a number of genres. Do you have a favorite genre to work in? Are certain genres more challenging to work in than others?
I think they’re all very different and that’s what I love about them. If you do the same genre over and over, you get very bored: I would know.
I like a challenge, but when I set out to make a movie, I say, “how am I gonna make this?” Those challenges excite me. There’s always something new to discover for me as a film-maker and as a story-teller.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite one, because that’s almost like saying, “who’s your favorite child?”
They all have their own character, their own challenges.
I must say: I love story-telling, I love film-making, I love actors — I love working with actors, in dramas or in more comedic ways, in action — just, across the board it’s something that I love. I get to see myself being so lucky as to go to work in the morning doing something I love.
Favorite films and directors? Biggest influences on you as an artist and story-teller?
I would say Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder are two directors I love. Actually, Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder were directors who made so many genres — you also couldn’t peg them, whereas with like Alfred Hitchcock, it was very clear what kind of genres he loved, what kind of brand he is — both of them were so across the field.
That’s what excites me: always doing different genres, different things which I mentioned before, with different challenges. I think that all their movies — and in mine as well — they all have an emotional depth to their characters, which I feel if you start looking at them — really pursuing them — you will find that they are all about characters, for characters — which is the, sort of, common denominator in them.
That is a great one too.
Greatest challenges as a director? Greatest accomplishments?
Challenges would definitely be to stay true to your vision, because you always have to compromise, one way or another — you never have enough money, you never have enough time. It is a challenge to always stay true to your instincts. I’ve done this enough years now, as a director, to really realize that when things are not going exactly as planned, or people are not listening to what you said in the beginning, that the reason is that you did not communicate your vision very clearly or in a concrete way to everyone you work with.
Never give up about that: people want to be the best, and you hired them to be the best. You have to make sure that you hold that vision very, very clearly from the beginning.
Sometimes — early on — I said, “oh! People get it!” But I later realized that people had their own conception of things — you can’t be sure they got it unless you really communicate what you think and feel.
Getting into All I See is You, what jumped out at me most about the film was undoubtedly the visual language you used to communicate her blindness and gradual recovery of her sight using the very fluid, painterly POV shots (a very innovative way of showing that). Much of it –especially the early sex scenes — I found very kaleidoscopic and surrealistic (I definitely dig the aesthetic). I was wondering if you could give us a greater understanding of your and Matthias Koenigswieser’s decision-making process in creating what you did there? That is, choosing the particular visual language that you did? It is fascinating how memory plays into that.
I always love surrealism in paintings…
I wanted to bring paintings into the point of view of a character. I wanted to show the world what it is like to be blind. When I started to research that, I came across so many accounts and met so many people in my research who described to me how they see the world and I started putting a notebook together of their experiences, and paintings and I started to combine all that, going through their experiences, talking to doctors, this and that, ultimately presenting it to my DP, saying “this is sort of the look of the movie I am looking for”.
At the same time, we would test different cameras. The camera we worked for this movie simulated Blake Lively’s head movement. So, Jason Clarke and Danny Huston had to work with that limelight, because that’s the head of her. At the same time, we experimented with different sound, different texture, not just the mic under the actor, the mic that would just capture sounds from around it.
Basically, we filmed them like that and then we did a lot in post-production as well. Where I restored the images or built these ancillary images in post-production, and took images, took them apart and reconstructed them again. We did a lot in post-production working with different artists on different images and told them how I saw it, and filmed them and took them apart.
What (or who) were your influences while directing and writing the film? It’s a fascinating story and I couldn’t help but think of Gaslight when reading initial news about it. The sort of a “domestic pot boiler” when a spouse discovers some profound truth about themselves, the world, or their significant other that propels a narrative forward.
I definitely always loved Gaslight, it’s a great film. Now that you mention it, maybe it was an influence in the back of my mind.
I think, in general in relationships — especially obsessive, co-dependent relationships — a lot of things stay unanswered. It’s only often in movies where you get to see how they answered things. I find that fascinating because, you know, I grew up in Bavaria (a sort of “emotionally repressed” country), my parents were not the most talkative people.
I think people often realize far too late in a relationship that it’s far too late to rescue it — that the relationship is really over. Often people stay in relationships — very co-dependent, sometimes abusive relationships — and wonder why. I think it is often because they are too fearful to leave. They don’t know what they don’t know — they are too scared — and so many things come together and it’s always so complex.
Examining that was just fascinating and something I wanted to dive into.
Life is always sort of like a great metaphor…
Indeed it is.
Was Blake Lively first choice for Gina? She was tremendous as that character: fragile, but with a certain gravitas about her. I cannot wait to see what she’ll be doing next.
In casting Gina, I was looking for a woman who was beautiful and would be able to play that — specifically at the beginning — and then go through a change.
So, I reached out to Blake’s agent, and her agent said, “eh, I don’t know if she would be interested, but you can send her a script.” So, we sent her a script, and her agent said, “she would be open to a meeting, you guys can talk.”
So, I went to see her, we met, and we clicked. I thought, this woman is perfect for the movie we want to make — she is so smart, and so sensitive, and she has the same sensitivities about the character, and we just need to make the movie together.
What was the initial spark of inspiration for the project? Did the “longing to tell a story with visual freedom” come before the actual idea for the story arc of the film?
No, the idea for the story and the characters came first. My interest was always that painterly aspect but once I found the characters, we really started working on the story. Writing the characters first, and once we had that, we went to the question of, “how does this visually all connect?”
Monster’s Ball, wow what a film. What was your main influence and spark of inspiration on that project?
One of those movies that I loved was Five Easy the Pieces, from Bob Rafelson, the early ‘70’s. When I went back to Monster’s Ball, I always thought it was a father-son story — obviously, Monster’s Ball was three generations — but, not just father-son, it’s also a relationship story and a love story.
It’s interesting, it was my second movie really. I just wanted to tell the story very simple — be an observer of the culture and the characters, a fly-on-the-wall. I spent time in Louisiana, observing people who lived there, just taking it all in, as an observer. I decided to not do this in a documentary style, but just to take a step back and just let the characters breathe and act and tell the story.
That is what made for great story-telling.
What is next for you?
I am shooting right now for Disney the live-action movie Christopher Robin, we have two more weeks to shoot and I’m wrapping it early because we’re done.