James Ponsoldt Made The Summer's Best Romance, But What He Does Next Will Surprise You
You're transitioning into directing scripts by other people, like with Pure and Rodham? Is it inevitability because just when you want to make a lot of movies, youíre going to have to make other peopleís stuff or is it something you really want to move into?
I think I want to do all of it. I want to tell really great stories. Itís funny, my buddy Craig Zobel, did an interview with me for Filmmaker, for the new issue. We were talking about that as well, like if you get someone elseís script, that someone else wrote, thatís great, do you feel a compulsion that you have to rewrite it just to put your name on it or something? Itís like, why would I? As long as theyíre willing to put in the time when things need to change, why would I rewrite it? Itís just my ego wanting to put my name there. Iím a slow writer, is the thing. I hope that directing or kind of overseeing a rewrite or whatever, on someone elseís script, that it doesnít impede me from doing my own writing. I havenít crossed that bridge yet.
So, are you writing anything new of your own while youíre doing all of these other projects
I am slowly working on an original thing now, although most of my writing has beenÖ
Youíre doing Pippin and thatís writing. Thatís writing only, right?
Pippin is writing only.
And then Rodham is writing and directing.
No, no. Itís just overseeing kind of Youngís rewrite of it.
Oh, thatís right. It was a Black List script. So thatís the same situation then.
Yeah, and then Pure is writing and then yeah, thereís this original thing set in the early Ď90s that Iíve been working on very ploddingly.
Kind of. But itís something thatís kind of a passion project. It's sort of almost like, not Ice Storm in terms of tone, but as far as a constellation of characters in relation to a very specific place and time.
In the early 90s?
Early 90s. 1991, yeah.
Whatís the place?
Oh, ok. That makes sense.
Yeah, yeah, yeah and kind of a family.
But you donít know whatís going first?
I have no idea...thats the thing, itís like I made a feature Off the Black and then went to Sundance lab with another thing and tried to get it made for four years and it was really hard. It was a tough drama about kids and violence and unless you have a trust fund, which I donít, I canít pull the trigger and say this is what Iím going to do next. Know what I mean? And you never know whatís going to, sometimes itís just an actor saying, ďI want to do it,Ē and thatís what makes it go.
But now youíve got, like the Weinsteins, they have Pippin. They can always be like, ďNo, next week, youíre going to go make this thing happen.Ē Thatís so different.
Itís so different and after that, and maybe even before that, I had already been in conversations for this other thing Iím doing with them, which is called Forgive Me Leonard Peacock, which is this awesome book. Itís Matthew Quick, who did Silver Linings Playbook and it just is coming out now, which again is a kid in high school, a kid who is going to school with a gun to kill his ex best friend, is how it starts, but itís really emotional. It reminds me of those Lindsay Anderson movies, like If and I donít know, like angry young man, and that Iíll be writing and directing.
I thought of Smashed and Spectacular Now as being really different than watching them again back to back just now, I kind of realized that the style is not that dissimilar. Theyíre both really beautiful, really like small scale. Is the thing that you want to do next, whatever it winds up being, is it a style expansion? Is it a story expansions? Is there some specific kind of, whatís the next challenge thing in your mind?
I think the idea of working within genre and just making things. Itís interesting how I just think of things, I mean, I love genre filmmaking but itís crazy how when I think of specific genres, like musical, sci-fi, like the ones within those genres that actually make me feel something are very few and far between.
In any genre, really.
Yeah, and thatís a bummer. I think of late, when we talk about sci-fi, we talk about Children of Men, because itís like actually kind of makes you feel something, and whyís that so hard? When we talk about musicals, everyone is like Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Singing Detective or Singin' in the Rain, because you feel something, or Wizard of Oz, where you feel something. My goal would always be to ground it in characters like with performance that just knock you on your ass. I love the idea of creating, of world-building, I guess, and thatís the fun thing.
To build, like not make it in the real world and build a fake world.
Yeah, or just a distorted version of our world. Itís like you canít do that a lot.
Because you havenít really done that yet.
No, you canít really. I mean, the little kid in me that watched Wizard of Oz and was like, how amazing would it be to create that fucking world or just to like do New York in 1905. You know what I mean? Or whatever, like when I see, when I watch movies like Age of Innocence or something, itís like man!
Or Washington in the Watergate era for Rodham.
Yeah, well, exactly. Itís a world we know, but weíve kind of seen it even in films in like All the Presidentís Men. The movies that Iíve rewatched have been, I have rewatched Milk and Good Night, and Good Luck, but then movies like Patton and Goodfellas and The Fighter. Those are biopics, but theyíre so cinematic and visceral that you donít really think of them as like TV films.
Your movies are really beautiful, but there are a lot of spaces that are not that impressive. And you seem to really put in the effort to make them all look beautiful or to do something interesting with the spaces that arenít that striking. Why?
Picking your locations is like casting your lead actor, like I put a ton of thought into casting, say, Miles Teller. I do the exact thing in every location. Itís what youíre going to see. The movies that I love the most, locations are one of the main characters, if not the defining character. When people do regional filmmaking, like the Midwest or the South, or depict like a socioeconomic thing, of like lower middle class or white poverty, or things like that, itís something Iím very acutely sensitive to, because itís a world that I guess, I know. Nine times out of ten, certainly big Hollywood gets it so wrong in a patently offensive and reductive way. Not everyone wants to see aspirational stories of like bourgie white people in Santa Barbara, you know what I mean, or Manhattan and I donít know. For the exact same reason I would want to cast actors who look and feel real and not cover up the blemishes, lines in their face with makeup, but actually show, if thatís the map of their life on their face, I really want to underline it and allow them to be them.
Of course, thatís what I want with the locations as well. I bemoan the idea that like, everything is just gonna look generic and, thereís beauty in a strip mall, but if youíre gonna, you should really embrace thatís itís a really surreal space. Itís a product of where I grew up. I I find I love every city that Iíve ever been to and I just love understanding the soul of a city or a town or a place, and thatís as much as I would want to understand like Aimee Finicky or Sutter, I really want to understand the place and just have a very specific idea of the way the characters relate to that place and the way that it defines them. I grew up with crickets. I grew up in the woods. It would take a car ten minutes to get to school. It was space and sound and itís like itís what the internal monologue of my childhood is very different than someone who would grow up here. You either embrace that or you think that movies are story and character, but I think they are story, character, and place.
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