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Kenneth Lonergan

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on: August 24, 2005, 05:34:25 PM
Gang Up for MARGARET
Anna Paquin set to star and Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo among those in negotiations to join the cast of Kenneth Lonergan drama. By Mark Umbach, FilmStew.com

Kenneth Lonergan is in the process of building an all-star ensemble cast for his next project, Margaret, which will begin shooting in September in New York. Oscar winner Anna Paquin is set to star and Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, J. Smith-Cameron and Jeannie Berlin are all in negotiations to join the project that is being co-financed by Fox Searchlight and Camelot Pictures.

Lonergan's script revolves around a girl who witnesses a bus accident and gets caught up in the aftermath and trying to answer the question as to whether or not the accident was intentional...and the effect that would have on various people's lives. Lonergan penned the script over two years ago, according to a report in Daily Variety, and has been working with the producers to bring the project together.

Scott Rudin, Gary Gilbert and Sydney Pollack are set to produce, while Anthony Minghella and Dan Halsted will be the executive producers. At Searchlight, executive vice president Claudia Lewis will be overseeing.

The Margaret project would reteam both Ruffalo and Smith-Cameron with Lonergan, as they both starred in the filmmaker's You Can Count on Me.
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Reply #1 on: August 24, 2005, 06:04:40 PM
It'd be funnier if it was about Margaret Cho.  Either with the idea of Anna Paquin playing Margaret Cho, or with the idea of Margaret Cho having to decide whether or not a bus crash she witnessed was intentional or not, or both.


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Reply #2 on: August 14, 2008, 11:17:18 PM
Ashton Kutcher to star in 'Father'
Kenneth Lonergan re-writing comedy
Source: Variety

Ashton Kutcher will star in and produce the multigenerational fatherhood comedy "Like Father" at Columbia Pictures.

"You Can Count on Me" helmer Kenneth Lonergan has been tapped to rewrite the project, which is based on a pitch by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson.

Story revolves around a father and son who never got along but coincidentally have baby sons at the same time and are forced to go through the fatherhood experience together.

Kutcher and Jason Goldberg will produce via their Sony-based Katalyst Films banner.

Katalyst has a number of projects set up at the studio, including an untitled romantic comedy about a matchmaker florist.

Kutcher, who recently starred in the romantic comedy "What Happens in Vegas," next appears in the indie projects "Spread," which Katalyst produced, and "Personal Effects," opposite Michelle Pfeiffer.

Lonergan's writing credits include "Gangs of New York" and "Margaret"; he also directed the latter.
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Reply #3 on: April 27, 2009, 12:06:03 PM
Kenneth Lonergan's 'Margaret': post-production in a courtroom
The film took three months to film and has run aground in the editing room -- for three years.
By John Horn; Los Angeles Times

"You Can Count on Me" was the kind of Hollywood arrival that every aspiring filmmaker dreams about.

Kenneth Lonergan's 2000 directorial debut about two siblings' splintered relationship was a solid art-house hit, the film helped launch the career of costar Mark Ruffalo and was nominated for two Academy Awards -- lead actress for Laura Linney and original screenplay for Lonergan.

It was hardly surprising, then, that in early 2005 Fox Searchlight and financier Gary Gilbert ("Garden State") were eager to back Lonergan's second turn behind the camera, deciding to co-finance his complex account of a young girl's grappling with guilt and adolescence, "Margaret."

But although "You Can Count on Me" seemed blessed at almost every turn, "Margaret" has turned into a nightmarish production that has devolved into a bitter court fight. Despite "Margaret's" initial promise, it is now uncertain when Lonergan's movie, which was filmed more than three years ago, will ever make it to theaters.

Movie studio shelves are filled with troubled projects that have been put on hold for any number of reasons, but rarely do they involve someone of Lonergan's standing working with such quality actors ("Margaret's" cast includes Ruffalo, Matt Damon and Anna Paquin) and an all-star producing team of Oscar winners -- Scott Rudin ( "No Country for Old Men") and the late Sydney Pollack ("Out of Africa").

More unusual still is why, according to one of the film's two lawsuits, "Margaret" hasn't come out: Lonergan can't finish the film.

Because of the litigation and a confidentiality agreement among the lawyers, all of the principals central to the film declined to be interviewed for this story. But conversations with a dozen people close to or familiar with the production, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, painted a picture of an endless post-production cycle that left Lonergan and Gilbert clashing and Fox Searchlight sitting on what might be an unreleasable movie.

A number of producers and editors -- including Rudin, Pollack and Martin Scorsese's legendary editor, Thelma Schoonmaker -- have tried but failed to help Lonergan complete his movie, court documents and interviews show. With his financing from Gilbert and Fox Searchlight cut off, Lonergan borrowed more than $1 million from actor and close friend Matthew Broderick (who has a small part in "Margaret") in an attempt to complete the editing of the movie, according to a person close to the production. (A Broderick spokesman said the loan was a private matter and disputed the dollar amount but did not provide another figure.)

The film's lengthy post-production sparked two lawsuits, which are scheduled to be tried in June and September. Last July, Fox Searchlight sued Gilbert and his production company, claiming he failed to pay the studio half of the film's production costs. Two months later, Gilbert's Camelot Pictures sued Fox Searchlight and Lonergan, alleging that the studio and Lonergan thwarted Gilbert's many attempts to finish the movie, forcing Camelot to pay for "a clearly inferior and unmarketable film" that Lonergan, several people say, will not support.

The quandary surrounding the $12.6-million "Margaret" comes at an awkward time for Fox Searchlight. The studio is riding high from the success of the global smash "Slumdog Millionaire," a best picture Oscar winner that the studio acquired as a largely completed film from the defunct Warner Independent Pictures. But Fox Searchlight, whose president, Peter Rice, just left to run Fox's television network, has a spottier record when it comes to movies it develops and finances, such as "Margaret."

Several people who have seen versions of "Margaret" say that, while the lengthy movie is not necessarily commercial, it does contain several great performances. Anne McCabe, who cut "You Can Count on Me" and was one of "Margaret's" editors, said Scorsese told her a 2006 version of the film was "brilliant, a masterpiece."

Fox Searchlight hopes the legal fighting can be resolved soon, so that it can submit the movie to film festivals. But one Fox executive says that, given all the problems with the film, the studio likes to pretend "Margaret" never happened.

Creative differences

By some comparisons, the making -- and unmaking -- of a creative endeavor like "Margaret" has been told before. Filmmaker Elaine May and a small squadron of editors spent a year cutting 1976's "Mikey and Nicky." May's Peter Falk- John Cassavetes film came out surrounded by lawsuits, more than a year late and more than double its budget.

"Mikey and Nicky" was eventually released. "Margaret," on the other hand, remains in legal limbo, and even if the lawsuits are settled or tried, Lonergan still hasn't finished the movie to his liking, according to several people close to the production. If more time passes, what was once a contemporary drama could soon become a period piece.

The script by Lonergan, a playwright who has screenwriting credits on "Analyze This" and Scorsese's Oscar-nominated "Gangs of New York," is dramatically ambitious and clearly would yield an R-rated movie. Running a sizable 168 pages, Lonergan's "Margaret" script reaches in many directions -- including the political and cultural mood of post- 9/11 New York.

The story revolves around 17-year-old Lisa (Paquin), who may have contributed to a bus accident in Manhattan's Upper West Side. Lisa's mother, Joan (played by Lonergan's wife, J. Smith-Cameron), is a single mom grappling with parenting and her acting career. A sexually active teen, Lisa inappropriately flirts with one of her teachers (Damon) while arguing with her classmates about the Middle East. Lisa ultimately becomes involved in a legal action against the bus operator(Ruffalo). The film's title comes from the Margaret in the poem “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” by 19th century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, briefly alluded to in one of Lisa's classrooms.

Gilbert, who made his fortune in the mortgage business and is part-owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, had financed 2004's "Garden State," which Searchlight and Miramax Films acquired at the Sundance Film Festival and released to commercial and critical acclaim. Fox Searchlight and Camelot Pictures, Gilbert's production company, agreed to split "Margaret's" costs.

"Margaret" started filming in New York in September 2005 and wrapped photography about three months later, court documents show. It was in the editing room, interviews and court records show, that "Margaret" fell apart.

Even though he had made only one movie, Lonergan enjoyed "final cut" status as a director, a level of creative autonomy typically enjoyed by A-listers such as Steven Spielberg. That status meant that as long as certain conditions were met (including a running time not to exceed 150 minutes, court records show), Lonergan could personally dictate the film's final form -- neither the studio nor Gilbert could take it away from him.

Why Lonergan couldn't finish a version of the film he liked is central to the dispute. Even Lonergan's supporters say he is an exacting perfectionist who struggled to find the movie within the footage he had shot. Gilbert's advocates say (and his lawsuit alleges) that the producer gave Lonergan countless chances to finish the movie but that Lonergan failed to take anyone's counsel.

"Previews and screenings were scheduled throughout 2006, yet they had to be canceled time and again due to Lonergan's refusal or inability to produce a cut of the picture," Gilbert argued in his suit against Lonergan and Fox Searchlight.

Gilbert in his legal papers also says that Lonergan "failed to keep regular hours," that producer Pollack cut short an editing session "having become disgusted by, and frustrated with, Lonergan's unprofessional and irrational behavior" and that Lonergan "did not listen to, or implement" editor Schoonmaker's suggestions. Gilbert said that when Fox Searchlight refused to pay for additional post-production costs, he footed the bill. At some point around that time, Lonergan turned to Broderick for a loan, according to a person close to the film.

Film work has stopped

After a year and a half of editing, the situation imploded in the summer of 2007. Gilbert brought back the film's original editors, McCabe and Mike Fay, to recut the film while Lonergan was on vacation, but when Lonergan returned he "forbade" them to work on the film, Gilbert's lawsuit says.

Gilbert also hired editor Dylan Tichenor ("Brokeback Mountain") to recut the film, but Gilbert says that Fox Searchlight "refused even to screen it" in part because it didn't want to "damage . . . its reputation among the 'director community,' " his lawsuit says.

The financier argues his hands were tied: Lonergan wouldn't finish the movie to his or Gilbert's satisfaction, and no one -- including Fox Searchlight or producer Rudin (Pollack, who died in 2008, was in declining health) -- was willing to show a final-cut director the door.

Not long after, "Margaret's" completion bond company, International Film Guarantors, which insures that the film will be finished and delivered in a timely manner, stepped in. Lonergan gave IFG an earlier cut of the film (which Gilbert says was "randomly selected" and "incoherent"), which was then delivered to Fox Searchlight last June. With the film in hand, Fox Searchlight demanded that Gilbert and Camelot pay its contractually obligated share of the film's budget, $6.2 million, which they haven't paid.

Fox Searchlight said in its lawsuit that Gilbert and Camelot "invented a number of flimsy excuses." The studio believes Gilbert and Camelot's lawsuit against Lonergan and Fox Searchlight is essentially an attempt by Gilbert to delay payment and exercise creative rights he doesn't possess.

Gilbert's lawyer, Michael Plonsker, said that suggestion is "absurd. Without Camelot's financial support, Mr. Lonergan would not have been given the luxury to continue working on the film for over 2 1/2 years, which still was not enough time for him to complete his cut."

Lonergan's lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, said in a statement: "Mr. Lonergan has complied with and will continue to comply with his agreements."

Until the litigation is resolved, work on "Margaret" has stopped. Fox Searchlight probably won't have any problem putting the film behind it, but the same might not be true for Gilbert and Lonergan. For them, the film's dilemma mirrors a line from Hopkins' poem: "It is Margaret you mourn for."
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Reply #4 on: May 09, 2011, 06:13:58 PM
Martin Scorsese To Edit Kenneth Lonergan’s ‘Margaret’ In Hopes Of Creating A Releasable Cut
via The Playlist

Where do we start with Kenneth Lonergan‘s “Margaret,” his followup to the critically acclaimed “You Can Count On Me.” Well, here goes. The film has been sitting in limbo for the past few years—it wrapped way back in 2005—for a variety of reasons. Foremost, a legal battle erupted between Fox Searchlight and the film’s producer Dan Gilbert, with suits and countersuits filed, as Lonergan simply could not find the picture in the editing bay. Lonergan apparently requested further time in the editing room, while multiple editors apparently also took control of the film at various points both with and without Lonergan’s ok. Even late producer Sydney Pollack become infuriated with Lonergan’s “unprofessional and irrational behavior,” and we pretty much had figured the movie would end up as an historical curiosity rather than an actual finished film. At one point, it was rumored that 300 pages of script were shot, so no wonder he had trouble wrangling this thing into a manageable size.

Then, last year, a ray of light appeared on the horizon. Anne Thompson received word from Fox Searchlight that “we do have a finished cut by Lonergan and we plan to release the film sometime in 2011.” Well, we’re nearly halfway through the year and there’s been nothing from the studio about the film and it doesn’t even appear on their calendar for the year and as it turns out, the film still needs more work.

Doing press rounds for “Sympathy For Delicious,” Mark Ruffalo told Film School Rejects that as it stands, the film is running about three hours long but the studio wants Lonergan—who now has control of the movie again—to hack out a third before they release it. Here’s what he had to say:

   [Sighs] Oh, it’s so… I don’t know. Marty Scorsese has come on now to do a pass on it with Kenneth. It was a movie that started at 186 pages. It was just a very, very finely interwoven piece of material and it’s so beautiful. When he triedels. It was beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and the writing is incredible. It’s a love story to a post-9/11 America and New York City. to cut it down, he had a very hard time. The studio was saying they wanted no more than two hours, and the rough cut I saw was a little bit over three hours long. It was absolutely incredible. It was beautiful, moving, and such a fine piece of work on so many levels. It was beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and the writing is incredible. It’s a love story to a post-9/11 America and New York City.

    He couldn’t get it cut down. He had a really hard time. The studio, basically, said they weren’t going to release it. That’s where it’s been. It got tied up in lawsuits with Gary Gilbert, who tried to take the movie away and have someone else edit it behind Kenny’s back. It was a surreal, big, ugly thing. Now Kenny has got it and Marty is kinda arbitrating his cut. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing it soon.

As Scorsese heads will know, Lonergan was one of the co-writers on “Gangs Of New York” and it looks like Scorsese is trying to rescue the film from never being released. But we have to ask: can they just release the three hour version? We understand that it pretty much means box office poison but this film was never going to be a box office hit anyway and it’s certainly not lacking in star power to get people into the theater. Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno and Olivia Thirlby feature in the film which, as Ruffalo alludes, has echoes of 9/11 survivor’s guilt, and follows the ramifications of a tragic bus accident as seen through the eyes of a high school student desperate to parse the tragedy for a deeper spiritual meaning.

With Scorsese now at work finishing up his “Hugo Cabret” we’d guess “Margaret” will get pushed yet again, this time to 2012. Scorese is no stranger to multitasking but it certainly doesn’t sound as if this will be an easy edit. Removing an hour from a film already broke Lonergan and we’re sure Scorsese will want to make sure his cuts are something the director is on board with. So another chapter in the long, ongoing saga for “Margaret.” We just hope it sees the light of day soon.


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Reply #5 on: September 24, 2011, 02:34:16 PM
September 19, 2011

Five Playwrights Named in Signature Theater Initiative to Stage New Works

In a considerable expansion of its Off Broadway profile Signature Theater Company announced on Monday that five respected playwrights – Annie Baker, Will Eno, Katori Hall, Kenneth Lonergan, and Regina Taylor – would be charter members of a program to develop and stage their new works.

The program, called Residency Five, guarantees three full productions of new plays by each writer over the next five years. Each will also receive a $50,000 cash award, stipends to attend theater, and health insurance benefits. Additional playwrights will be added to the mix in the coming years as writers rotate out of the program.

James Houghton, artistic director of Signature, said in an interview that the goal of the residencies was to provide an “artistic home” to young and mid-career playwrights that would complement the 20-year-old theater company’s mission of producing several works over an entire season by one established writer (Athol Fugard in 2012).

“These are five writers that we really love and think are worth the investment, and we want to see them build bodies of work,” Mr. Houghton said. “Building bodies of work requires care and attention and flexibility, and we’ll follow the lead of working whatever way each writer wants to work. Some like readings and workshops; some work differently. Our approach is to provide a home to support them.”

Asked whether Signature was favoring five writers who already receive plenty of commissions and writing offers, Mr. Houghton replied that he had given thought to selecting playwrights who had yet to establish themselves. Doing so, he said, had led him to talk to Ms. Hall about the program a year and a half ago – before plans were completed to bring her play “The Mountaintop” to Broadway, where it begins performances on Thursday.

“I was first introduced to Katori’s work when she was a student, and we began talking about her joining this new Signature program well before the current success she’s rightfully having,” Mr. Houghton said.

Signature is also expanding its so-called legacy productions of plays by writers whose work was previously featured during a whole season. Such legacy productions occurred sporadically in the past; now one will be performed each season. The legacy playwright for 2012 has yet to be announced.

Taken together, Signature will mount up to nine productions a year starting in 2012 compared to the usual four or five annual productions in previous years. The theater company is undertaking the expansion to fill Signature Center, its new home on West 42nd Street, which opens in February. Designed by Frank Gehry, the center includes three theaters for full productions and a smaller studio theater; previously Signature had one mainstage theater on the far west end of 42nd Street.

Ms. Baker has drawn critical acclaim for her plays “Circle Mirror Transformation” and “The Aliens,” which both ran Off Broadway. Mr. Eno is the author of “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” and, most recently, “Middletown.” “The Mountaintop” is Ms. Hall’s Broadway debut. Mr. Lonergan is a playwright (“This is Our Youth,” “The Starry Messenger”) as well as a filmmaker (“You Can Count on Me”). And Ms. Taylor is an actress (“The Unit”) as well as a playwright (“Drowning Crow”).

Source - http://tinyurl.com/4yy3v6d


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Reply #6 on: November 22, 2011, 12:57:54 PM
Some details and images from his new play, Lobby Hero.


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Reply #7 on: February 09, 2012, 05:23:17 PM
Medieval Play Is Kenneth Lonergan's Next Work, Under His Own Direction
By Kenneth Jones
09 Feb 2012

Kenneth Lonergan's new work this spring for Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company is called Medieval Play, "set against the classic comic background of late 14th century ecclesiastical politics," the company announced on Feb. 9.

The American playwright and filmmaker known for the delicate and halting interactions between losers and winners, lovers and family members, in such plays as The Waverly Gallery, The Starry Messenger, This Is Our Youth and Lobby Hero (and the films "Margaret" and the Oscar-nominated "You Can Count On Me") will also direct the world premiere. It will begin performances May 15 and open June 7 at The End Stage Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street.

Here's how Signature bills Medieval Play: "Two French mercenary knights set out on a quest for relative moral redemption against the classic comic background of late 14th century ecclesiastical politics. A story of friendship, love, noble feats of arms, indiscriminate brutality, the progressive refinement of medieval table manners and the general decline of the chivalric ideal at the onset of the Great Papal Schism of 1378. A new and meandering comedy with no contemporary parallels worth noting by Kenneth Lonergan."

Performances will play to June 24. Casting will be announced.

The production is part of Signature's new Residency Five program that supports world premieres by five playwrights over the five years. Katori Hall's current Hurt Village is the first play in the program.



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Reply #8 on: February 28, 2012, 09:14:57 PM
Kenneth Lonergan interview for MARGARET
29 Feb 2012

It’s taken six years for Kenneth Lonergan’s second movie to come out of the editing suite. Paul Byrne talks to the native New Yorker about his long, strained trip.

First up, gotta say that Kenneth Lonergan's new movie, Margaret, p***ed me off no end.
Overly long, convoluted, confused, aimless, airless, achingly self-conscious, and it's led by Anna Paquin. Who hails from the Ewan ‘Jim Fixed It For Me' McGregor School of Smirky Acting.
The reviews from the serious critics have all been very positive though, so, I'm probably wrong.

Part of the reason for the praise though is no doubt connected to the fact that, having shot the film in 2005, its writer/director spent the next six years battling with the studio over the edit. Martin Scorsese was called in, apparently, along with his long-time editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, and that's the 150-minute edit that's opening in Ireland this weekend.
When I met up with Lonergan - in Dublin for the film festival - he looked unwashed, and somewhat slightly dazed. I was told just before sitting down with him that our Ken was tired of talking about the six years in editing hell. Besides, there was a court case looming about said post-production troubles.

First, a little history on the man himself. A noted playwright, Lonergan's first play, The Rennings Children, hit the stage in 1982, when he was still an undergraduate. Later work, such as This Is Our Youth and the more recent Lobby Hero, have seen him pick up awards, and generally glowing reviews, along with all-star casts. His debut film, 2000's You Can Count On Me, was similarly lauded, and awarded.

Margaret is only Lonergan's second film, and in this ambitious Altman-esque drama, Paquin plays bohemian brownstone brat Lisa, dealing with all the glorious, self-righteous confusion of adolescence when she witnesses a fatal accident. A fatal accident this crazy kook may have actually caused. Lying at the scene to save the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), Lisa is later racked with guilt, and decides she must do the right thing.

I began by asking Lonergan if the Gerard Manley Hopkins' 1880 poem Spring And Fall: To A Young Child - quoted by Matthew Broderick's teacher in the film, and the source of the film's title - was the inspiration here.

The poem came later on," replies Lonergan. "It was fairly on, when I was writing. It's a story that I had wanted to write for quite a long time, actually. I had the general idea ten years before I started working on it, but I had ten other projects that I was already working on, so, it had to wait."

It's a story that touches on many things - the Middle East, the insecurity of actors, teenage lust, self-confessed "over-privileged liberal Jews", New York's finest, morality, sexuality... did you have a clear road map from the beginning?

Yeah, there was a map. I wanted to try and do a film where the character's life continued on in full while the main story was going on. It just struck me as an interesting thing to do; I hadn't seen it done before. Usually, in a film, you see someone who works in a bank, and they get involved in a romance or a robbery, or a murder, and then you just see them dealing with that. And I always wondered, well, what do they do all day at the bank? Or if it's a movie about a child or an adolescent, they still have to go to school. So, I wanted her whole life to go forward while this was going on. That meant trying to show every aspect of her life as it went on, and that means showing her father, and the boy that likes her but she doesn't like, and then the boy that she does like, and her girl friend, and her teachers, the whole thing. And that naturally folded into the idea of her discovering the world is a much bigger place than you think it is when you grow up on the upper east side of New York.

Did you feel the need to make Lisa sympathetic? She's pretty confused, and contradictory, and very, very teenage...

The audience has to like her enough to care about what happens to her. But, beyond that, I don't think it's necessary. I just want her to be a real person. But, if you don't care about her, it's impossible to follow the story. I've heard a lot of people say that she isn't a very likeable character. She's quite belligerent, and she's very cruel to her mother - which is something most teenagers do, at some point - and it comes at a particularly bad time for both of them. On the other hand, she tries extremely hard to rectify a situation that she feels she's responsible for, and whether she does a good job or not, she wades her way through policemen and lawyers, and meanwhile, is unaware that she is looking for this sexual punishment for what she's done by sleeping with these different people. She's way too young for that. So, although her approach is akin to a bull in a china shop, I actually admire her for what she's trying to do. I like her, and I don't mind that she's a bit of a bully to her mother, but then, who hasn't been?

Partly because of the six-year struggle to get this film out of the editing suite, Margaret has become something of a cause celebre. Are you actually happy with it?

I do like the way the film came out, very much. And yeah, when it opened in the UK, and simultaneously, there was this internet campaign, just lobbying for it, I was just bowled over. I mean, I don't want to sound phony-humble, but honestly, it was very, very much moving, and touching, and encouraging, and wonderful. How else could one respond? Delighted, that people were that interested to see it.

Has your relationship to the film changed over those years?

Everything I've ever worked on changes, you work on it for so long. It's the same in the theatre; takes two years to write it, then after the first rehearsal, the first production, the second production, and by that time, it's out of your system. With a film, you have to watch it so many times, not just in the editing, but technically, doing the colour timing on it, the sound mix, and so on, so, I have seen these scenes not hundreds of times but thousands of times. I still enjoy watching it, but it's more from an outsider's point of view than an insider's point of view. I'm not the same person I was when I wrote it, or shot it, or edited it. It's interesting. It's why you can't go back and rewrite your old plays and make them better, because you don't know anything about them anymore. You can't get inside them again, because you're not 25 anymore, and you don't see the world in the same way. And the same thing happens with film.

Given your success in the theatre, would you have a preference for that smaller, generally warmer world?

I've been working as a screenwriter for nineteen years, and I've been doing theatre of one form or another since I was in high school, and so, I've had a lot of experience in the theatre world, but not a lot in the film world. Two films is not a lot when it comes to directing. Personally, I love movies, but theatre is a somewhat gentler place. There are fewer people involved, there's less panic about money, the general atmosphere is less frantic, or pressured. And there aren't millions of dollars at stake; at least, not with my plays [laughs].
And there's foolishness and people you don't want to deal with in the theatre, just as in the film world, but let me put it this way, if I see a rehearsal room, I get a warm feeling. If I go past a film set on a street, I get a cold shiver down my spine. And I think, my God, 14 hours, and no sleep, and everyone's tired, cold, hungry...

How is your ego after this recent experience?

Well, I also wrote and directed a play, two years ago, called Starry Messenger, with Matthew Broderick, in New York, which I enjoyed. It was a very short run, but I really enjoyed that, quite a lot. And I've been writing quite a bit during all that time. My ego is well-fed and nourished, just like everyone else's. It's sort of at par with everyone else's.

Do you feel slightly wary now of the film world. I saw Father's Day, with Ashton Kutcher, listed for 2008, but that never materialized...

That was just a rewrite job that I had. I did some work on that script, and that was just a money gig. Which I do, but I try my best. I enjoy doing that kind of work; I can try and help someone else with their movie, and then I can walk away from it, and feel like I've done a good job. And if they want to change it, that's fine. It's a little less of an emotional commitment, and a little more of a craftsperson job.

When it comes to your own work, are you keen to work in film again any time soon?

Well, I'm finishing a play at the moment, that I'll be directing in April, at the Signature Theatre in New York, and I have another play that we'll be doing next season, Phil Hoffman directing, and Mark Ruffalo is going to be in it. And I'd also like to do another film, I'm just not sure what. There are a couple of different prospects, but I'm just not sure which one, and how it will fit in with my theatre schedule. But I would certainly like to do another movie. I might do a movie of The Starry Messenger, and I'm thinking about Lobby Hero too. There are two other scripts I've started on, and I'll see if they'll come to fruition.

Talking with the very lovely Lynn Shelton a few days ago, for her new film, Your Sister's Sister, she said that she was happy to stay in Seattle and make her small films, rather than sell her soul to Jerry Bruckheimer. Has your position on working with Hollywood changed now?

I don't know. Truthfully, every time I need a job, or I'm trying to get something made, everyone tells me, ‘Well, it's not the way it was five years ago - everything's changed', and I'm sure that's true, but I don't know in what way, or what they're talking about. I've tried to keep my three sides of my career separate. I make a living re-writing other people's screenplays, when I'm asked to by the producers - I don't do it to the writers, I've nothing against them; they'd do it to me, and I do it to them, so, that's just the way it works. The theatre is the theatre, and with the two films that I've done, I try to keep them completely independent and separate from the other work that I do for other people. It's worked out fairly well - not always - but I've been so entrenched making this film, I haven't been out in the marketplace for a while.

You seem quite content - are you just glad Margaret is now out? It's been a hard day's night...

I feel very happy that the film has gotten the response that it has gotten - it's been very gratifying. And I'm also, you know... I try, try, to feel that if I've done a good job. I'm happy, and I hope that other people like it. That's my moral goal. My ego doesn't always permit that, but the people who like the movie like it in a way that's very pleasing to me, and when you write something and you're then gifted with these kind of performances, the wonderful work that these actors have done, and it's all from something that I thought of in my room, in 2001, 2002, it's impossible not to feel gratitude about that. Naturally, it would be nice if millions and millions of people enjoy it, but it'll be more like thousands and thousands. But, I'll take that.

So, you don't need a hug?

I feel very lucky. I don't want to sound like a baseball player, but I do feel lucky. Besides, I've still got another interview, and I don't want to end up sobbing all over your shoulder...



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Reply #9 on: February 28, 2012, 10:41:21 PM
cool interview/conversation.

questions weren't too stupid or over-analytical, they sounded insightful, so he gave good answers.

i like to check in every now and then on this dude cos of his unusual career trajectory. i like to know he's alright. and he is, by the sounds of it.
under the paving stones.


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Reply #10 on: March 16, 2012, 06:31:31 AM
The Front Row: Kenneth Lonergan Discusses "Margaret"
by Richard Brody
via The New Yorker

The appearance of the long-awaited “Margaret” was one of the best things to happen in the world of movies last year. Though the release was not wide enough, long enough, or adequately promoted, just getting to see the movie is what matters, and the film aroused so much passion from critics that exhibitors (such as Cinema Village and Film Society of Lincoln Center) brought it back and back again.

The movie is nothing short of a masterwork. It’s Kenneth Lonergan’s second film; though his first, “You Can Count on Me,” is wonderful, it’s in “Margaret” that he conjures a world, both dramatically and visually. The word is that it will be coming out on DVD in the foreseeable future, which will be the way that most of its eventual viewers will get to see it. I had the pleasure of speaking with Lonergan about the movie last Tuesday. A little background: in my capsule review of the film, I wrote that the extraordinary practical and material focus of “Margaret” threatened “death by naturalism.” I didn’t mean to insult a film I love, but to suggest that the danger of a film that displays total plausibility lies in crossing the line, suddenly and irretrievably, into utter implausibility. It’s a danger that Lonergan dared to face in pursuit of a grand artistic ideal.

So that’s the subject with which the interview begins. It’s worth noting the resonance of a few words that Lonergan uses often: “natural” and “naturally,” “enormity,” “world.” In the word “naturalism” there’s “nature.” In “Margaret,” Lonergan wants to see the very nature of society, to observe the doings in one place as in a documentary, evoking, through local, limited, and intimate views, the very vastness of human existence. “Margaret” may be set in a particular and rather narrow milieu (it’s a New York story, and one for the ages), but it’s a big, grand, and great movie.

BRODY: The one thing that kind of jolted me when I saw “Margaret” is how you stay resolutely outside of your rich array of characters. What I mean by that is not that you don’t get to their inner life, but that they talk and they act. There are no voice-overs, flashbacks, or interior monologues, which surprised me at first. Then it came to seem almost like an act of principle. Did you ever consider structuring it otherwise? Does this result from your work as a playwright? How did you construct the scheme of the storytelling?

LONERGAN: Well, the schematic of the storytelling—which is nicely put by you—started from the idea of trying to tell the story of what happens to Lisa while not dropping the rest of her life out of the film. That led naturally to the idea that you don’t usually see the character in their life. You meet them, and you get to know their life a little bit, and then the big event happens, and that’s what you follow. I always wonder what happens to the guy who gets drawn into a smuggling ring. You know, he’s a regular guy, and he gets drawn into some situation. You always see him getting back into the situation after he’s leaving work, and I wonder what he did all day, while the plot was going on. Or the story focusses on a certain relationship, but you don’t see the person during work, dealing with other people, or during the school day, dealing with other people. By their nature, the stories naturally tend to parse away the things in the character’s life that aren’t relevant to the story.

So I thought that it would be fun and interesting to try to keep Lisa’s entire life afloat as it went along while she was going through all this. That naturally expanded into keeping everybody else’s lives alive as well, and the fact is, I think it was an internal connection I wasn’t aware of. One of the main ideas of the story is that she finds out that she’s not the only person in the world, which she knew in theory, but it’s really proven to her by experiences. She goes to places in the city where she’s never been, she meets groups of people that she’s never met before—she’s never been inside a police station, she’s never talked to a lawyer, she’s never been to Bay Ridge, she’s never been inside the house of a bus driver, she’s never held a dying woman in her arms, and what she’s up against is the enormity of the city she’s in and the enormity of the world she lives in and the fact that everybody else is going about their own lives all the time as she’s going about living her life.

That kind of naturally led me to the structure. In a way, the movie tries to prove what is proven to Lisa, just by the way the story’s told. If it stayed with her and her point of view exclusively, then it would be just another story about one person learning a lesson that’s important only to them, which is fine, but that’s not what this story was about. It was about somebody who’s not up against evil or injustice particularly, but who’s just, you know… The world is too big to have it improved or affected by you—that’s something that most of us find. Some of us, the remarkable people in the world, find that they can do something to change things, but the rest of us tend to make the opposite discovery.

BRODY: When you talk about the enormity of the city, it’s really a city symphony. It’s so much a movie about the city, and one of the things that really impressed me is its geographical accuracy, which is very rare. It feels physically lived in.

LONERGAN: I’m pleased you noticed, because I’m very proud of that. The locations manager and I tried very, very hard to be geographically accurate, and not have characters walking down on the street on Seventy-fifth Street and turn the corner onto West Twelfth Street, and we had to fudge it in a couple of cases where we simply couldn’t find the location where we wanted it. There are a lot of wonderful movies about New York that do the same thing, and I wanted it to be one of those, not one that picks and chooses the city as though it has no geography. It was an aesthetic choice, and, as so often happens, it turned out to link up nicely with the story, which is about someone from a particular neighborhood who is pushed by circumstances into—or drives herself into—other parts of the city and the world. So I thought it would come through when we moved from neighborhood to neighborhood if we were very scrupulous about making sure that we stuck to the right neighborhoods at the right times. The school we chose to have Lisa go to is only three and a half blocks from her apartment, from the building where she lived—from the exterior of the apartment, etc.

BRODY: Did you have particular movies in mind when you were conceiving “Margaret”?

LONERGAN: No, I had my own experience of the city in mind. You know, you live in Manhattan, and it’s so big and busy, and you think there’s nothing else. Then you suddenly go to Brooklyn or Staten Island and realize how provincial you’ve been all the time you thought you were being urbane. I’m always struck when I go somewhere I’ve never been before, especially if it’s in my home town, by just how different the atmosphere can be, and how disorienting it can be—especially if there’s any kind of trouble.

BRODY: The cast is magnificent. Did you have this cast in mind when you conceived the film?

LONERGAN: Well, I wrote the part of Joan for J. Smith-Cameron, my wife, and Anna Paquin very quickly came to sort of dominate my image of Lisa. She did my play “This Is Our Youth” in London when she was nineteen, right when I was writing the film, and when I saw her in the play I thought, “Oh, gosh, she’s perfect for it.” I had just started writing the movie, but I had the idea for it, it was in my notebook for the previous ten years—I just hadn’t gotten to it till then. So even though I did a lot of auditions later on, just to make sure, because I’m cautious by nature, Anna was always sort of the one to beat. And I knew I wanted to use Matthew [Broderick] and Mark Ruffalo—I wasn’t sure where, exactly—and Doug Aibel, who is our casting director, is just wonderful… I’m really pleased with the cast, and we used a lot of New York theatre actors—many of whom I’m friendly with or friends with—but those were the people that I knew from the beginning that I wanted to use.

BRODY: Was Lisa Jewish from the start of the project?

LONERGAN: Well, it’s just one of those things, you know, my mother is Jewish, my father is Irish, and I have written several characters with that particular background. Lisa is the reverse: her father is Jewish and her mother is not. But, you know, when you grow up on the Upper West Side there’s just lots of Jews. (Laughter.) I was nearly a teen-ager before I stopped assuming that everyone I met was Jewish. And religious Jews would call us ersatz Jews because we’re not religious, and we’re not… Jewish. It’s hard to explain exactly in what way we are Jewish, but, you know, that’s my world—the secularized, intellectual, liberal caste, whatever that means. I’ve written a couple of other characters with similar backgrounds, but it’s easier to use real life, because you don’t have to make as much stuff up.

BRODY: Was the story changed by 9/11?

LONERGAN: I think the story was infused with the atmosphere and confusion and general reverberations of 9/11 sort of naturally, because it happened while I was working on the movie. It took about three years to write, and I believe it started somewhere around late 2000, so naturally [9/11] made its way into the story. There are a lot of elements when you’re writing, or when I’m writing, that are sitting in the back of your mind. I try to let them stay there, because they find their way in more naturally that way. It seemed natural that they would discuss the Iraqi war and all these sorts of things in the kind of history class that they were taking. I don’t recall doing it on purpose or avoiding it on purpose. It was just such a big part of living in the city at the time, it was impossible not to have it saturate the story and then, I suppose, become an integral part of the story, although I couldn’t exactly say how.

BRODY: One of the amazing things about the film is that it doesn’t hit it on the head, it’s just part of the atmosphere, as you say.

LONERGAN: Well, thank you. I try very hard not to hit things on the head. I feel like if you can describe something fully and accurately, then people will be able to see it themselves—they don’t need be told what to. The personal selection of things you’re interested in—that’s how I like to convey ideas through movies and plays. If you’re going to make a statement, I think you should write it in prose and make a statement. If you have characters who are mouthpieces for a point of view then you have to be very clever about disguising it. And in terms of being a dramatist, it turns them from characters into, you know, mouthpieces, and I have always tried to avoid that as scrupulously as possible. I have lots of opinions that have nothing to do with the movie, and I try to keep them out of it. I feel like everyone sees a different pattern of life, and if you can describe the pattern that you see, then that’s the job. And if along with that comes some sort of—I don’t know, a message, or lesson—that’s fine. But the main thing is that if you can say it in a sentence, why spend two and a half, three hours putting it into a film or a play.

BRODY: One of the things that amazes me about the movie is how abstract forces are brought to life. There is the sense that law is sort of in the air—the police are doing their work, lawyers are doing their work, courts are doing their work, and suddenly not only is Lisa involved in it, but you feel the vectors of these authorities.

LONERGAN: That’s been my experience with them, and the experience of a lot of people I know. I mean, I don’t have anything to do with the law or the police, but on those occasions when I do, there is this huge moving train that you step onto. It’s got a long history of its own and a huge existence of its own. It’s the same thing if you get sick and you go to a hospital, unless you’re a very special person. You can’t keep your eyes wide open to the enormity of what’s going on all around you every minute, and that’s part of what the story—all the shots of the city are not there just because they look cool, which they do—they’re literal reminders of the fact that while this is happening to [Lisa], there are five or ten thousand other people within a walking distance of her, all doing something equally important, less important, much more important; going through things far more tragic, going through things completely frivolous. I mean, there are as many different situations as there are people, and that’s something you get struck by when you go into a new situation—a legal situation or a medical situation. They start speaking this language you don’t understand, and then you try to catch up and follow along, but it’s one of the reasons why it feels like it’s difficult to anything done when something goes wrong.

The inertia of what you’re up against is so huge, and [Lisa] does pretty well for a seventeen-year-old girl. I mean, she does very, very well—she does very well for anybody, but particularly for a kid. She really wants to do something about this, and she tries really, really hard and she gets quite far, but at some point she runs up against other people’s interests, which are not necessarily better or worse than hers—they are just not hers. That’s something I suppose I have always found interesting and frustrating, and that’s why that element comes into the story in that particular way.

BRODY: Had you planned those shots? Do you plan a film out before you get to the location or sets? Or do you compose while you’re shooting?

LONERGAN: A little of everything. If you read the screenplay, there are a number of shots written out that I thought of while I was writing it—I would say about a fifth of the scenes—I had an idea of what I thought they should look like. Once you start talking to the cinematographer and get closer to shooting you really start thinking about how it should look; how you want to express the ideas visually or how you want to tell the story visually. When I was making “You Can Count on Me” and I was interviewing D.P.s [directors of photography], and I had no idea how to shoot anything, I don’t remember who, but someone advised me to have a plan for each scene. You can depart from it when you get there if you want to, but you at least have an idea for what you’re going to do.

With this [movie] more than the previous one, I had a clear idea about how I wanted it to look. Having been told that the first time, I started thinking that way much earlier in the process. One of the main visual ideas, without knowing exactly what the look would be, was that I wanted it took look as natural as possible. Anna Paquin and I had an ongoing gag that we would throw around—we used to refer to the “bone-crushing reality” of the film. “Bone-crushing reality” was a phrase that we used constantly when we were describing how to play the scenes or how to do this or that, so that was our joke.

But I did really want it to look like the real city. The main image that I kept having, which I communicated to the cinematographer, is that I wanted the camera not to care about Lisa any more than it did about any of the other characters, which of course goes along with everything else that I have been saying about the story. Rather than following her—and obviously I broke this rule hundreds of times in hundreds of shots—the image that I had was of a very wide shot of a crowded street, and she just passes through the frame. Naturally, there are some scenes where we would literally do the opposite, but that was the general idea, and I thought it was an exciting idea to try to play around with.

BRODY: The actors are uniformly extraordinary, and their inflections and their diction bring the script very much to life. Did you work with them for a long time? Were they given a great deal of freedom on the set? How do you achieve these performances?

LONERGAN: First of all, once you cast somebody who’s really good, then nearly most of your work is done as far as the acting goes. But, having said that… I made sure we rehearsed for four weeks, several hours a day. We went through the entire film in a rehearsal room with as many people as were available to come in for that, because when you’re on the set you don’t have that much time to stop and figure things out in terms of the performances.

Sometimes films have no rehearsals—you don’t have real rehearsals on the set because the day is so dominated by the schedule. We just sort of went through it in a reduced version of how you’d rehearse a play. It’s a little peculiar to be rehearsing a scene in minute detail that you’re not going to be shooting for a month, so you don’t get too detailed about it, but you try to get the basic dynamics of what’s going on understood by everybody. Those rehearsals really pay off, because when you’re on the set you have a common understanding from which to proceed, and the actors can, from that point on, really take off. Because if you don’t do that, they’ll do that on their own anyway if they’re any good and they’ll come to the set expecting no rehearsal and ready to go. Sometimes that can work really well, but I have a theatre background, and it just works better for me to rehearse.

As I say, the movie is very thickly populated by these wonderful New York theatre actors like Jonathan Hadary, who plays Deutsch the lawyer; Betsy Aidem, who plays the cousin; and Adam LeFevre, who’s the husband on the phone. He’s a wonderful actor whom I’ve worked with before. These people all do TV and movies and stuff, but I know them mostly from theatre, and most of the time you just sit back and marvel at how good they are, and then every once in a while you make a suggestion.

I’m just getting used to directing for movies. It’s difficult and complicated—all the actors are different, and I’m trying to learn how to do it with a crew around and camera angles and retakes and all that sort of thing. I’d like to make sure that [the actors] are happy and that they are comfortable and that they’re able to do their job. Since it’s not me, I can say, without immodesty, I think that the performances are really spectacular, I think they’re an amazing group of people. Sometimes it’s there in the first take and you do four or five takes more just because you’re nervous. Sometimes I’m happy after the first or second take and they want to do more takes—it really just depends on which scene it is and who’s doing it.

BRODY: Do you write differently when you write a movie and when you write a play?

LONERGAN: Well, the format is so different, but other than that, not particularly, no. It’s still hard for me—there are movies that I really, really like, where I still can’t quite understand how they know to write these silent sequences. I still haven’t quite caught on to the idea of writing without dialogue. I like writing dialogue, and there’s nothing wrong with dialogue in movies. There are hundreds of great movies that are very dialogue heavy, but it’s still a little tricky for me, when I’m writing, to say “he walks into the bar and sits down.” That can be a very key, important scene—it could be a five-minute-long scene—but the writer/director has thought out exactly what’s going to happen. I try to—it’s still a little tricky for me.

The bus accident and the very last scene are all written out in the script. There’s no dialogue in them—except for when she’s shouting at the bus driver and vice versa, but I tried very hard to picture that in my mind and then just write it down in very simple sentences on the page so I’d have a guide when I came to shoot it. In the theatre you tend to figure that someone else is going to have to worry about how to stage it, I mean, I do direct—I’m now starting to direct a little bit of my own work, I directed a play of my own two years ago and I’m doing one this year—but I usually just write the scene and imagine it in my head and then I let someone else worry about how it’s going to look, how it’s going to be staged, because I know that I’ll be there to make sure it’s more or less what I had in mind while trying to remain receptive to other people’s ideas. Otherwise you’d just be a novelist.

BRODY: Do you have a sense of what your next movie will be?

LONERGAN: I don’t know. I have a few different things that I would like to do. At the moment, I am getting ready to do this play at the Signature Theatre, so that’s been dominating both my imagination and my schedule. There are a couple of plays that I would like to turn into movie, and I have a couple of film ideas that are just film ideas that I have started working on, but I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly. Something hopefully next year.


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Reply #11 on: April 10, 2012, 10:20:31 PM
Kenneth Lonergan's Medieval Play Lands Josh Hamilton, David Pittu, Tate Donovan, Heather Burns
By Kenneth Jones
10 Apr 2012

The Signature Theatre world premiere of Kenneth Lonergan's Medieval Play will star Anthony Arkin, Heather Burns, Tate Donovan, Kevin Geer, Josh Hamilton, David Pittu and others to be announced.

The Off-Broadway comedy by the author of This Is Our Youth, Lobby Hero, The Waverly Gallery, The Starry Messenger and the films "You Can Count On Me" and "Margaret" tells of two French mercenary knights who "set out on a quest for relative moral redemption against the classic comic background of late 14th century ecclesiastical politics," according to Signature. "A story of friendship, love, noble feats of arms, indiscriminate brutality, the progressive refinement of medieval table manners and the general decline of the chivalric ideal at the onset of the Great Papal Schism of 1378."

Lonergan will direct the production, to run May 15-June 24. Opening night is June 7 at The Irene Diamond Stage (currently home to The Lady From Dubuque, to April 15) at the Signature's new Frank Gehry-designed home, The Pershing Square Signature Center at 480 W. 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Medieval Play is the second work in Signature's new Residency Five program that premieres new plays by members of a resident ensemble of playwrights (part of a three-pronged mission at Signature). Katori Hall's Hurt Village was the inaugural Residency Five work earlier this year.

The design team for Medieval Play includes Walt Spangler (scenic design), Michael Krass (costume design), Jason Lyons (lighting design), David Van Tiegham (sound design) and J. David Brimmer (fight direction). The production stage manager is David H. Lurie.

Arkin is known for Broadway's I'm Not Rappaport and Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery, Burns appeared in Middletown and Lobby Hero Off-Broadway, Donovan starred in Broadway's Good People and Off-Broadway's Lobby Hero, Geer was in Broadway's Side Man and Twelve Angry Men, Hamilton credits include The Coast of Utopia for Lincoln Center Theater and CSC's The Cherry Orchard, and Pittu is a Tony noninee for LoveMusik, and recently appeared in Atlantic Theater Company's CQ/CX.

Additional casting for Medieval Play will be announced soon.

Single tickets are now on sale in person, by phone at (212) 244-7529 and at signaturetheatre.org.


Tickets to the initial runs of all productions of Signature's Inaugural Season at The Pershing Square Signature Center are $25, part of Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access, a program that guarantees affordable and accessible tickets to every Signature production for the next 20 years. Serving as a model for theatres and performing arts organizations across the country, the Initiative was founded in 2005 and is made possible by lead partner The Pershing Square Foundation and founding sponsor Time Warner, Inc., with additional seed support provided by the Ford Foundation, Margot Adams, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

If a run is extended, the ticket price for the extension is higher.



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Reply #12 on: July 10, 2012, 05:52:51 PM
Kenneth Lonergan Discusses The Changes In The New Cut Of 'Margaret,' Digital Vs. Film, 3D & More
via The Playlist

So what is the nature of the new version out on July 10th?

“It’s not a director's cut,” says Lonergan. “We’re calling it an extended cut. It’s a different version. A director’s cut is where they take the movie away from you and chop it to pieces and send it out without your permission...This is just another version with a little bit more of everything in it.”

In fact, Lonergan isn’t certain it’s anything like his "definitive" version. “Whether it’s better or worse, I don’t know. It’s longer, but it’s a DVD so you can turn it off or fast forward,” he quips. “But no I don’t think I prefer it. It’s different, it’s nice to be able to take your time. I know 2 1/2 hours seems like I’m already taking my time but there are so many characters, there is so much that happens to her that it was nice to have another opportunity to look at it.”

One of the criticisms of the theatrical release was a certain unevenness in terms of pacing, does the new cut make a difference there?

“It’s hard for me to judge, I’m sure it does. In the theatrical release there are many things suggested, which I hope is interesting, and this version I hope draws you in in a different way...In both versions I tried to pace it more like normal life and less like a film.”

And, as though aware that he has now earned something of a reputation for a “longer is better” approach, he goes on to say “I saw the second version of ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ [recently]. I love ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ I’ve seen it dozens of time (I don’t watch many films, I see a few films many times) and I’m just like, why in the world did he add 15 minutes more of horses and camels charging through the desert? Why? There’s only a few extra scenes, just many more camels and horses. There were enough camels and horses before - they were great. So maybe the extended version [of “Margaret”] will be like that but... maybe not.”

How do you feel the prolonged process of getting “Margaret” to this stage will affect your approach to future projects?

"That’s a good question. I've been thinking about that quite a lot myself... I don't know the answer. I'm at the point where nobody bothers me when I'm writing, but it's very hard to edit, because everyone gets very nervous.”

His personality, he suggests, is not best suited to that situation. “Nobody really did anything wrong, exactly, it's just everyone was very frightened and nervous. Some people can have fights and then go back to work; I have a big fight and I shake for the rest of the day. Or even if it's not a fight, it's just a conversation, and a problem comes up I think about that [constantly], so I very much need to be left alone completely and that's the one thing that's very difficult for people. Understandably. I mean, write a cheque for $12 million dollars and you wanna make sure it's going to come out all right, it's reasonable. But I need to find a way to separate the two things... Not that it was all bad, the film came out very well, I'm happy with the result and I'm happy that people seem to like it. So I don't know what more I can ask for. Except to be younger.”

In some ways, Lonergan seems to feel the perceived success of his first film, “You Can Count On Me,” fed into the difficulties of the “Margaret” process: “[Filmmaking is] the most collaborative art form in the history of the world. As a director, if you write the film, you're the only one there from the very beginning to the very end...And everybody comes in and, this is not false modesty, but I really don't know very much. To go from never having directed a film before to directing one film is a perpendicular learning curve but at the end of it you still don't know that much,“ he insists. “With the first film everyone helps you because they know you don't know anything but with the second film, I'd had a little bit of success so everyone thought that I knew something when I came back. So...I knew a little bit more the second time, but when I would say ‘You have to explain this to me,’ I got this ‘Oh, he’s being funny, he’s full of shit, his movie was at Sundance’ bullshit, so it was very hard to explain how stupid I was sometimes.”

An interesting aspect of the film’s protracted birth was the Greek chorus of opinions voiced about it, positive and negative. Do you read reviews?

“Some of them. Maybe about a dozen. I shouldn’t read any of them, but if they’re complimentary I can’t help it.” We suggest that he must have read quite a lot from us, in that case. “Yes, Indiewire has been very supportive. [And when] you read things... and you agree with them and didn’t think of them it’s fun and interesting.” Of course, the converse also holds, and Lonergan responds to some of the opinions he disagreed with definitively. “I don’t agree that [Lisa is] unsympathetic. Some people find her repellent, dislikable, horrible, awful, but I don’t find her any of those things. And I don’t find the mother self-centered. That reading I find very interesting because everyone who writes that [review] cares very much about their job and how they’re received and whether it’s going well, as in ‘I liked your article very much/I hated your article...’ But the mother, because she is concerned about her play is perceived to be self-centered... I think the mother is just a woman in her 40s trying to live her own life and trying to help her daughter but getting shut out completely. I think in the extended version that element comes out a bit more, and some of the more sympathetic side of what happens with Lisa comes out a bit more.”

Looking to the future, have you any new film projects lined up as yet?

“I have couple of different films that I'd like to do and I don't know which to do. I did a play 2 years ago called ‘The Starry Messenger’ with Matthew [Broderick] and J. [Smith-Cameron] and Catalina Sandino Moreno which I really thought was very good and I'd like to make a film of that. And I have two scripts that I'm writing and I've about 25 pages apiece and I'm stuck on both of them. And all of the plays I've written -- I'd like to make movies of all of them. But I'm concerned that my wife [Lonergan is married to 'Margaret' star J. Smith Cameron] just got a job on a TV show that shoots in Georgia, a Sundance Channel show, and she's going to be away, so I'm concerned about our daughter, and making a film because it really is all-consuming. Unless I can get European work hours. Clint Eastwood work hours, Woody Allen work hours -- if I could get that I'd do another film right away.”

Would you consider directing someone else script?

“No, I don't like directing. I only direct my own screenplays because there's no other way to protect them. Along the way I've become interested in directing, but I started out doing it to protect the work.”

What do you think of recent developments in filmmaking technology, like digital and 3D?

“I think it’s appalling. Except for ‘Hugo’ which is the only time I’ve seen 3D used right...and it’s incredible. [But] I’ve seen children’s movies in 3D and it’s horrible, only occasionally good. I mean, it’s very good that they can make dragons and dinosaurs and I like that kind of movie and I like science fiction movies very much, but I’m very much afraid that digital technology is going to destroy film completely and it just doesn’t look as good. I sat in a color timing session for the DVD and I was frightened by what you can do. Because it’s ‘Oh his face is a little dim, can you make it brighter?’ and then the light is wrong and now his shirt is wrong, and it’s like filling in a coloring book, and then the ambient light for the whole room is different, it’s gone, it’s not there… I also think this is one reason that now so many films have a stylized look, because in a computer it’s much easier to color time something if everything is blue or everything’s red, or everything’s saturated. But to capture real light, film does it still much better, and there’s a lot of people working very hard to destroy it forever so it will be a very short-lived thing. And perhaps I’m wrong and digital technology will be able to be as good as film some day, and I certainly enjoy watching the ships crashing into each other in the ocean and the fake CG, and the dragons in ‘Harry Potter,’ I love them, but I’m afraid film is like black and white - no one’s going to know how to do it in 20 years.”

Perhaps part of this fear springs from Lonergan’s own love for classical Hollywood filmmaking. “I like older movies, I prefer them generally to contemporary films. But contemporary directors - Almodovar, I think he’s wonderful, of course Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, (who’s not contemporary anymore but nearly so). I think Paul Thomas Anderson is wonderful. Werner Herzog, I’m crazy about him as well. [But really] William Wyler, Carol Reed, Howard Hawks, John Huston... William Wyler I think is my favorite director probably - there’s so many. Francois Truffaut. I always leave people out. I’ll go home and be like ‘Oh! I forgot! Joseph Mankiewicz!’”

Of course, Scorsese famously helped you with the edit of “Margaret.” What is your relationship with him like?

“He was very helpful just with advice on how to proceed and he also worked on the film with me for a few months -- the spring before the release, in May/June/July. He's been wonderful to me for a long time now. I love him.

Part 2 of our interview, including a closer look at “Margaret,” will post tomorrow.


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Reply #13 on: July 11, 2012, 05:28:24 PM
Kenneth Lonergan On The Inspirations, Performances, Resonances & Structure Of 'Margaret'
via The Playlist

This is part 2 of our “extended cut” of the Kenneth Lonergan interview we conducted at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival last week. “Margaret” was released on DVD and Blu-ray this week in a set that includes both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film. You can read about the differences between the two right here.

Your lead character in “Margaret” is a teenaged girl. You are not now, nor have ever been, a teenaged girl. How did you find your way in to that character, and what do you say to those who find her irritating?

“There are some characters you think of and they’re really vivid to you and they’re easy to write and it doesn’t really matter who or what they are," replies Lonergan. "I don’t know why whatever this is fed itself into the life of a teenage girl. But I had been very interested in teenagers and that combination of sensitivity and dramatisation that they have. And very, very strong reactions to things that adults are more accustomed to, and not necessarily in a good way. They somewhat enjoy the drama which adults also don’t do because we understand it’s all very serious and nothing to enjoy. [But] the energy and wish to correct things that many teenagers have, well, I don’t find that irritating at all. She’s very belligerent and pugnacious but she didn’t just cry and go home and write in her diary, she really tried to do something about what happened, which I think is to her credit.”

Once the character occurs to him, very little changes on that level in the rewrites. “Only if they’re poorly written in the first place,” says Lonergan. “If I have a vivid idea for a character then I’m very happy and I just listen. When it’s going poorly I have to think, I have to make things up. The trick is to think of something that comes alive to me and then it’s alive…”

What inspired the story?

“I don’t know if it was the inspiration but it started with an incident that happened to this girl that I knew in high school. I was 17, I didn’t know her very well but I had lunch with her and she told me this story that had happened to her, exactly as it is in the film and I always thought it was interesting and so many years later I wrote the film.”

“She actually turned up at a screening in New York, and I said, well there’s this girl, Jill B., who told me this story about going to buy a cowboy hat on Broadway and waving at a driver... and then, sitting in the audience, this 49-year-old woman waved at me, and it was her. I hadn’t seen her since high school, and we were not very close friends either, we just had lunch once. I was embarrassed, but she loved it. She said she did, she was cheerful, she said hello. I’d always wondered if she was out there somewhere.”

Did you find personal experience informed the story in other ways?

“Yes. A lot of the material of the school comes from my experience in school as a pupil. The English classroom scenes…there was an argument about 'King Lear,' the exact same argument when I was in 11th grade. And the history class that I took, my American History class had two teachers and they were both very liberal progressive, one of them had worked in the labour movement and our first American History class was about what a rat Abraham Lincoln was...The girls smoking marijuana in the park that was me and my friend Matthew smoking on the exact same rock and our English teacher caught us and said ‘you can’t smoke a jay’ and we made fun of him. And Matthew Broderick [who is still Lonergan’s best friend], he went to that school too and Matthew remembered that, you remember [Broderick's character] the teacher drinks the orange juice and eats the sandwich during the argument? Matthew remembered that our teacher was a diabetic, I’d forgotten and he said ‘Don’t you remember? He had a sandwich and a glass of orange juice in class… can I have orange juice?’ ”

Other characters too, were drawn from life, including one of this writer’s favorites, Emily, Monica’s bereaved best friend. “She was based on a friend of mine who has passed away now, one of my best friends. Emily…has one or two facets of this very multi-faceted woman who was much more positive and had an enthusiastic, brilliant side to her. Emily I think is very intelligent and a good person and moral so most of her character was taken from that friend and then transformed. When you use a real person as a model it always gets transformed a bit by the circumstances and by the act of writing it.”

Other works of art feature largely, from opera to Shakespeare to the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem from which the film draws its name. How did you come across these various pieces?

“I have only ever memorized three poems...I happened to know that poem, and it appeared somewhere in the middle of my writing and as soon as it did I knew what the film should be called -- it didn’t have a title for a while. And then when the poem appeared in the classroom and I saw it was very much the topic...it’s funny when you write. I had a very good time writing this script because I did this experiment where I knew what the structure was and what was going to happen, so I tried not to think at all. I tried to turn off my conscious mind and that’s why the first draft of the script, it was never meant to be shot, but it was 306 pages, because I let scenes go on. I knew where it was going and I knew where the beats were and I just kind of closed my eyes, and it’s amazing what happens when you do that. I had a wonderful time writing it and it was very easy to cut a hundred pages out of it in two weeks -- you know when she goes to see the bus driver in Brooklyn, that scene is probably six pages long and it was sixteen pages long when I wrote it. And the poem just appeared and I felt it was right.”

And as for the segment used in the climactic opera scene? “I had never heard it before. I knew that the end of the film was going to be the two of them at the opera listening to something beautiful. I have a CD called 'Great Duets from Opera' and I heard the piece and thought, well that’s it. And like so many things it turned out to be perfect because it’s two women singing -- one goes, then the other goes, then they sing in unison and then they start to separate, which is what happens after the film is over, she’s gonna grow up and go away. I was very pleased, and that happens all the time: you pick something by accident and it turns out to go along with everything that’s been happening in your mind."

Tell us a little about the time (2003ish) and place (New York City) setting of the film.

“One thing about if you grow up in New York City, or I suppose Prague or Paris or London, you don’t know that that’s not the whole world. If you grow up in Kansas you know you’re in a small town and there’s a big world out there. You grow up in New York City on the Upper West Side and you think that’s it, everywhere else is the country, the sticks. It’s not snobbery it’s just a different kind of provincialism. The politics are very uniform, it’s all very liberal you can’t find a Republican anywhere in the entire neighbourhood; it’s largely Jewish secular intellectual -- lawyers, doctors, not very rich but in those days it was upper middle class. It’s a very particular segment of New York. The Upper East Side, for instance, is very wealthy and more snobby, the Upper West Side was more working professional. When I was there -- well, we’re all very wealthy by world standards but by Manhattan standards…Also you are taught to have some sort of social awareness of other people and problems, but I don’t know if it is the most effective political background to come from. You know the phrase ‘kneejerk liberal’? It’s different now.”

And what about the difference between the New York City of 2003, when it is set, and that of today? “In 2003, every time an airplane went by you went ‘Oof,’ felt nervous. That’s not the case any more. That lasted for about 5 years… so [back then] everyone was a bit nervous and on edge. It was a bit different for a few years and unfortunately I don’t think the difference has sunk in in quite the way that I wish it had. For a moment it felt like, I felt like, the U.S. had joined the rest of the world, and then two weeks later all the TV commercials were back and it was all the same again. And I don’t think it’s very different now from how it was in 2000."

How much did you consciously create “Margaret” in opposition to prevailing trends in mainstream filmmaking?

“I try not to work in reaction to other works of art because then I’m having a conversation with something that’s going to disappear eventually. It wasn’t a deliberate reaction to the conventions of film so much as it was an interest in trying to write and shoot the film in a particular way that seemed right for the story. Particularly the two elements of her becoming aware that she is not the only person and there are literally millions of people around...all living lives and doing things just as important to them as her life is to her. And then the other thing was the nature of an adolescent’s point of view is they tend to do things with a soundtrack behind them in their minds … I tried to make it so that there would be nothing in the film that wouldn’t really be there in real life. I wanted to try to show everything, and keep her relationship with her mother and her school and her teachers and her friends and her father amd everything going. I didn’t want to take out my part, or there’s this one scene with her girlfriend that I could have taken out but then she would have had only boys to talk to so I wanted to try to show her whole life. And that dictated a different structure.”

How did it feel to have the film take so long to come out?

“When I thought the movie would vanish from screens I was very disappointed and very upset naturally and when it came back to life I was extremely pleased. It was only a few months -- September and October were bleak and then in December, I think, is when we opened in the U.K. and the Twitter campaign started (I don't know what Twitter is, I can almost send an email). I was shocked. It was wonderful...I was very happy for the actors, especially Anna [Paquin] because she's so wonderful and she worked so hard...She knew the script comma by comma, every sentence...Within ten, fifteen seconds of missing some little thing she would want to go back and start over again. And she shot every day, for 48 days out of 50."

Are you bitter on her behalf that she didn’t get an Oscar nomination?

Lonergan shrugs dismissively. “That's all show business. All that's very nice when it happens but you have to tell yourself that it doesn't matter. It’s especially hard to do that when it's going your way, but I was taught it's more important to do good work.”

Speaking of actors, here you reteam with many people you’ve cast before. Are you forming a troupe?

“Only out of cowardice. They’re all very good actors and I’m conservative, so I prefer to work with people that I know are going to do well. But it slowly grows because you can’t always find everyone. But yes, most of the people on the film I had worked with before... Actors who are that good are rare so try to find them and work with them again if you can.

Do you improvise and/or rehearse?

“We don’t do improv but we did rehearse for 4 weeks about 4 hours a day which was very valuable because there’s no time to rehearse on a movie set in any meaningful way... And then, yes, within the boundaries of the story if you don’t give [actors] freedom to do what they know how to do there’s no point, you should be a novelist...And some actors like to work alone -- Matthew and J, my best friend and my wife, don't like me to speak to them. And Anna Paquin likes to have a lot of direction."

You yourself have taken roles in both your films. Is acting something you’d do again?

“When I lose some weight,” says Lonergan sheepishly. “I liked to act in high school, though I never wanted to be an actor -- I have very limited range --- but I like to do it and no one else will cast me...In fact, my three most enjoyable days on the film were the two days where we did the opera and the day when I was acting because Matthew Broderick came in and was the director for the day. I didn’t have to do anything but do my scenes so it was wonderful.

It’s been a long haul. Was it hard to let go of “Margaret” after all these years?

Lonergan smiles ruefully and shakes his head. There is definite relief in his voice. “Easy. It was easy.”


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Reply #14 on: March 03, 2013, 01:38:51 PM