RIAN JOHNSON Screen Talk with Mark Kermode | BFI London Film Festival 2019

RIAN JOHNSON Screen Talk with Mark Kermode | BFI London Film Festival 2019


– Right, let’s start. How many people here have seen Knives Out? Okay, so just a handful. So for everybody else,
can you explain pithily, pitch me Knives Out, okay? – (laughs) All right, curtain goes up. Here’s what you got, Mark. No, so Knives Out is a kind of an old school Agatha Christie-style whodunit, but it’s a original story,
it’s original mystery and it’s set in modern day America. That’s kind of the elevator pitch. – At the very beginning
we meet a group of people, what have they been united by? – So in true whodunit fashion, it’s a family of
genuinely terrible people. (audience and Mark laugh) And the patriarch of this family, played by Christopher Plummer, is found, this is not a spoiler, this happens in the first
30 seconds of the movie, he’s found murdered,
or he’s found killed– – There’s already a fan
somewhere who’s cross, you know? – I know, I apologise, sorry. – When I was doing Last Jedi
I said, “Oh yeah, Luke…” “No you can’t say Luke, no!” – (laughing) Well, if you cross the line, I know that you’re watching Breaking Bad and haven’t got to the final season yet, so I’ll spoil Ozymandias for you. If you go over. The sword of Damocles is
hanging over your head, yeah. – I’m at the end season four. – (laughing) So yeah. So they’re all his
family, he is found dead under mysterious circumstances and they’re all kind of
gathered to be questioned by the police and by a gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc, who’s
played by Daniel Craig. – There’s obviously, behind it is the ghost of Agatha Christie. Why particularly that now? – Well I’ve been an Agatha
Christie fan since I was a kid. I’ve been reading her books all my life. And I’m a big fan of all whodunit movies, but particularly for me, the ones where Peter Ustinov played Poirot which were in the kind
of late 70s, early 80s. The sweet spot was Death On The
Nile and Evil Under The Sun. And that kind of all-star cast, and not a comedy, not a parody, like a
straight forward mystery, but with a sense of slightly
cheeky self-aware fun. And then, yeah the notion
of really genuinely taking a whodunit and
trying to plug it into 2019. Not just by giving it
kind of a modern skin and putting cellphones in it, but kind of trying to
do what Agatha Christie did with her characters. Which were, they seem like
kind of dusty old tropes today. All of her character
types, like the, you know gruff old colonel, and the butler, but when she was writing, she was drawing kind of elevated,
caricature-like versions of types who were very present in
her contemporary society. And the idea of doing that today, doing a whodunit where
we do the same thing and kind of draw these big
larger than life characters but for maybe some people that
we’d recognise a little more in 2019, for better and for worse. – Shall we see a clip? This is from fairly early on, in which we see the character, the Daniel Craig character
you talked about. But we also see some of the other, the rest of the family
that you’ve described. I think this is the best
way of describing the tone is to actually watch a bit of it. – All right, cool. (audience clapping) – As we were watching that, cause I looked across at you, you had a smile on your face that was, so it looks like it was a joy to make. – Yeah it was so much fun to make (laughs). And I think, yeah and for me, I don’t wanna seem like an
asshole smiling at my own movie, but what I’m still enjoying
watching is just the actors. Like Toni Collette, I could
just watch her all day long. She’s incredible. And that was for me, so much fun. Just getting this group of
amazing actors together, giving them kind of these
very big characters to play and just letting then go to town. And all of them snapped into it, and they all had a lot of fun. I hope you can kinda tell watching that, how much fun everyone’s having. And Daniel, if you haven’t
seen the movie yet, he goes for it, he has a
lot of fun in this movie. And that’s just a little precursor. – I think it’s definitely a
film that deserves to be seen on the big screen with an audience, because as you heard just then, I mean people respond very well to, the screening I was in,
there was more laughter in it than many of the alleged comedies
that I’ve seen this year. (Rian and audience laughing) But the reason that it works, it’s the spice, it’s the bitterness. And I think in that particular scene, it’s that pushing to Jamie Lee Curtis, reminding you that, you know, we’re just about to bury her father, who committed suicide,
what are you doing here? And that balancing act is, I think, must be the most difficult thing. – Yeah, and that was very crucial. When I was sending the script around, to the actors and
showing it to people, and trying to get the movie going, you know cause I think a big reference, the biggest recent reference
a lot of people go to is the movie Clue, Cluedo. Which is, I love, it’s great. But it is a comedy, and it’s
kind of a straight-up parody. And I wanted to be
really clear to everybody that this was going to be really fun. This was going to have comedy in it, but this is not a send-up
of murder mysteries. We’re doing real murder mystery here. And you’re gonna hopefully
get all the pleasures you get from a real murder mystery, and hopefully laugh quite a bit as well. – And is that crucially to
do with casting it right? Because, it’s a terrific cast. And I know that for you, you said most of the battle is in
getting the right cast and letting them do what they do. – Yeah. Yeah, well you guys can see from there. These characters are on the
edge of caricature, you know. Which is goes back to what I
love about Agatha Christie. She was drawing these kind
of larger than life types. But I also kind of made this thing hoping it would work as a movie. Again, not just about murder
mysteries but a genuine one. And also as a movie that
has an emotional chord to it and that is satisfying
when you get to the end, on a couple of levels,
beyond just the puzzle box, having figured out the trick type level. So that meant that the characters needed at least one foot on the ground. And casting wise, I think, you know my favourite type of performance is the type that’s huge but grounded. And it takes a really good
actor to be able to go as big as some of the
actors go in this movie, and still have them feel like they’re tethered to the planet earth. And still have you believe
that, at the end of the day, at the end of the movie,
that they’re people. And its really fun to watch these guys kind of ride that line
throughout the movie. Toni Collette reminded me, I only just noticed this watching it now. Cause I’ve seen the
film a couple of times, but just watching that clip. Toni Collette’s performance
reminded me slightly of the version of Angie Bowie that she did in Velvet Goldmine. – Oh wow, yeah. – Similar sort of sense of, you know, arch serious, but also that kind of weird new-agey stuff going
on in the background. As far as Daniel Craig is concerned, cause even from that very
small clip you can see. How did you talk to him about
that role, Benoit Blanc? – I mean, we talked a
bit about the accent. – Did you do it? Did you go, I want it to be like this? – He’s doing an accent in this movie. Yeah well I had written that character with an American Southern accent, for a couple of reasons. And this goes back to why Ustinov’s Poirot is my favourite Poirot. Cause I think he got the essential clownishness of the character. – Kenneth Branagh says hi,
incidentally just…(laughs) (audience laughs) – Oh please, tell him hello right back. I loved his Poirot as well. Sir Branagh, I apologise. No, but I loved his as well, but Ustinov, I think, but Branagh got this too,
with the outrageous moustache and the slight self-important
kind of self inflation. And I think that’s not just fun, that’s a really important aspect of a good whodunit detective. And something that Columbo, I don’t know if it’s
very popular out here, but Columbo, in the states, very much has. And Miss Marple, in a
different type of way. She’s not a buffoon, but
she has that kind of like, kindly old spinster who’s
just serving you tea and asking questions, and you don’t really take her seriously until you’re being led
off to the paddy waggon. (Mark laughs) The best of these types of detectives, I think, have that element. And so the accents, was a way of kind of working part of that into it. And I just knew I wanted it to be pleasing as opposed to annoying to listen to. – It’s also an element of performance, because everything about,
even the way he’s sitting, that kind of theatrically
sitting back like he’s… You kind of have the
impression that he’s spent 10 minutes figuring out
how to look like that. I love that idea that like Poirot thing, it’s a performance,
he’s putting on a show. – Absolutely, and he refers to himself in the third person a little to easily. (Mark laughs) Yeah, he’s that type of guy. – (laughing) As far as
the plot’s concerned, one of the things I love, and
this isn’t a plot spoiler, when you get to the end,
you don’t do the thing about producing somebody that
was in the first reel that everyone forgot about, and go “aha!” Did you work backwards? Did you start with knowing what the conclusion was and
then work it backwards? – Well I mean, I kind of started even more zoomed back than that. This might be very boring,
if it is, I apologise. Someone go like this, if
this starts getting boring and I’ll switch topics. I started thinking very broadly
just about the genre itself. You know, I love whodunits,
like I said before, and I also though, kind
of fundamentally agree with Hitchcock who was
not a fan of the whodunit. And his problem with it was, that it’s one big buildup
to one big surprise. And that’s anathema to Hitchcock’s
method of entertainment. That’s why in Vertigo he
tips the whodunit very early, and makes it about suspense. And I feel like the best whodunits and the best of Christie’s books find a way to put another
engine in the car basically. And Then There Were None, which I think is probably her best book, has the engine of a horror movie in it. It’s these people getting
killed off one by one, and this sense of growing dread. So basically I was thinking, okay I still want all the
pleasures of a whodunit. I want the questioning. I want that denouement at the end where the detective kind
of lays the whole thing out in the library, with all the
flashbacks, I wanted that. But I tried to figure
out, okay how do I get kind of the mechanics of a
more Hitchcock-style thriller into the middle of it, and still have all the stuff
I love about a whodunit. So that was kind of just the big picture kind of math that I started out doing. And then you kind of figure out, okay well if it had this shape, and then you start backing
actual plot elements into it. And then you get deeper
and deeper into details, and start losing your mind. – One of the things I love about the film, and I do, I think it’s great, one of the things I love about it, is that you’re a genre fan. You’re an unabashed genre fan. And you’ve worked in Science
Fiction, and in this. You’ve never had any problem
with genre, have you? It’s something that you’re completely… – I have nothing but
problems with genre (laughs). (Mark laughs) And movies are just
problems, yeah (laughs). But yeah, I love that, I love it. Yeah I don’t know. I mean, besides just a
lot of my favourite stuff growing up being genre movies, I feel like it gives you a shared vocabulary with the audience. It gives you a chessboard to play with. When you sit down, it gives
you a shared sense of rules. And automatically opens up
this kind of meta-conversation between you and the audience, because for something like a whodunit which has very set rules,
you have an expectation when you sit down to watch a whodunit. So when you’re watching
one that’s made today, you know when the author
is following those rules, you know when the author
is breaking those rules. And that becomes a very fun give and take. Hopefully towards the ultimate
end of giving you kind of the pleasure you expect from the genre. – In terms of that, and expectation, what the audience expects,
what the audience wants, you came to this having done Star Wars. And that’s the greatest behemoth
of audience expectation. Are there any similarities between making Star Wars: The Last Jedi and making… Now this is a series of people
in a house fundamentally, you’re almost chained to
these kind of setting, Star Wars, the whole of the universe, and yet, is it fundamentally
the same process? – Yeah it absolutely is, and
both in terms of the notion of the role the audience
expectation plays in it. Which is, you know, it’s strikingly similar, it’s something that you deeply love, and you’re trying to kind of do in a way that’s going to essentially honour and fulfil what you deeply love about it. And within that context
you’re trying to tell a story that examines it in different ways and approaches it in different ways. But you’re ultimately trying to get at, what for you, is the heart of the thing. And that’s, you know,
is similar to whether, I was doing with Star Wars or with this time travel
stuff with Looper, or with noir with Brick, or
with whodunits with this, that’s always the heart of
the approach to any genre, I think, is trying to
get to the heart of it. And also then process
wise, it’s weird frankly, how working on the Star Wars
movie is not very different from working on something
with people in rooms talking. – [Mark] Really? – It really is true. Because the truth is, the stuff
that’s actually different, and I mean there are
things that are different, like the effects-based sequences. That’s kind of a different process. But when you’re just shooting scenes, yeah there might be, you know, you might be instead of being
in a room the size of this, you’re in the room the size of that and there’s a green
screen at that end of it and there’s 40 more trucks parked outside and there’s nicer catering. (Mark and audience laugh) The caterers were very good on Knives Out, I don’t know why I dissed the caters. (Mark and audience laughing) They brought doughnuts every Friday. But the truth is, the
actual work is the same, not matter what the scale of the movie is. It’s a camera and a couple of actors, and you’re trying to make a scene that feels like its engaging, and feel like the gears
click together with it. Everything else kind of goes
away when you’re in the middle of the real work that really matters. And that’s what makes the
movie tick or not tick. All the other stuff is
just window dressing. The movie lives or dies by whether or not the scenes work with the actors. – How did it emotionally feel
during the Star Wars film? Because I know that you’ve said
that you were very invested in the franchise and the stories. How did it feel? Did it feel like somebody
was giving you something and saying, don’t break it,
or, take care of it, or? – No, it felt like, I mean it was the happiest
experience of my life. And I think when on my
deathbed it probably still will be one of the
happiest experiences of my life. It was top to bottom, just an absolutely incredible experience. The people I got to work with,
the heroes I got to meet, the stuff that was fun about it, the stuff that was hard about it, everything, the release of it, the interactions with all the fans, all of it has just been
an incredible, wonderful kind of growth machine I guess (laughs). Yeah I don’t know. – Because you experienced
the full eye of the storm with the Star Wars audience. Some massively in favour, some
a bit more on the nerdy side. And due to the miracle of Twitter now, (Rian laughing) you can hear the whole
audience talking all the time. And I thought you conducted
yourself through that. Incidentally, for the record,
I was on the “it’s good” side. – I know I’m gonna get
yelled for your phrasing of those two sides (Laughing) somehow. – It’s okay they’re yelling
at me already, it’s fine. – Well yeah, I don’t know. Again as someone who’s
grown up as a Star Wars fan, I was in my 20s when
the prequels came out. This notion that it was all, that no one was fighting about Star Wars until recently (laughs) (Mark laughs) is totally absurd (laughs) Yeah, when people care this
deeply about something, that’s what happens, is people
care that deeply about it. And that’s what makes it wonderful. And that’s the two sides of it, or two sides of the exact same coin. – But that’s what I thought was remarkable about your response was, there was nothing defensive about it. What you did was, you
engaged with the engagement. And I have heard more people
have more heated discussions about that film than
any science fiction film I can remember in the
last five or 10 years. I mean people who will sit down and argue for an hour about it, and that surely is the ace
card of the film, isn’t it? – Well, I mean, that’s not like the intent when you sit down to make it. It’s not like, “let’s get people
arguing (maniacal laugh)!” No, but I think that’s something that, I mean first of all, that’s
something that, like I said, is in the bones of Stars Wars
fandom, and has always been. I mean honestly, and
then there’s an element of it that has nothing
to do with Star Wars, and is just where the popular
discourse is right now in terms of everything in the world. And you have to take
that into account also. So yeah, that’s an element of it too. I’m coming from and still in the place of just completely loving this and loving, I don’t know, genuinely, the notion of making something
that people engage with on this level is extraordinary. And I feel very incredibly privileged to have just been part of it, yeah. – I wanna show a clip from Last Jedi, because one of the things
I’m very interested in about your films is the use of sound. In Knives Out, there is
this symphony of voices and you hear voices in rooms
which sound differently wherever you are environmentally. There is, probably the
most jaw-dropping sequence in Last Jedi, incidentally this may be a plot spoiler, if you haven’t seen it yet, sorry. (Rian and audience laugh) But it’s a moment in the film in which you take sound out, it’s
a moment of silence. Which in any other sort of register, would be the loudest moment in the film. And it was, I think, the best use of silence I’ve seen in a film in a really long time. Okay, so let’s just have a look at this. (audience clapping) I think that’s one of the best moments in the whole Star Wars series. – Oh, you stop (laughs). – That, you are very careful about the way your
films sound, aren’t you? I know you have a musical band, and you’ve worked time and
again with the same composer, but sound is very
important to you isn’t it? – Yeah, well yeah, and that’s you know, two of my favourite filmmakers
are the Coen brothers. I was obsessed with their
films in film school I still think they’re two of the best filmmakers working today. Watching their movies and tuning in to how the sound was used as a fundamental storytelling device, and not just as a last layer that you put on that is ornamental. That I got quite a bit of from just loving how the Coen brothers use
sound in their movies. – So when you’re mixing a film afterwards, you sit there with the sound designers. I mean, I get the same sense that you do what David Lynch did, which was sit there and anguish about the sound for as long as you would anguish about the picture. – Oh yeah, and Ren Klyce,
who was our sound designer on The Last Jedi, who
he’s done amazing work with Spike Jonze, and David Fincher. He’s a really talented guy. And I remember when we were mixing this. It was funny watching it,
remembering the anguishing over the shape of exactly what we took out when and how silent we went for it. It’s actually, it’s funny, it
doesn’t go completely silent. – No these is a rumble isn’t there? – Is a very low rumble
that then goes away. And so there’s still
another layer to peel away and leave a vacuum right before
that final, beautiful sound Ren designed, for the big wide shot, and we finally do get the blast. So yeah, dialling those things in, I think we probably spent, you know, as much time just on that
one sequence of shots as I’ve spent on entire reels of previous movies, mixing wise. – And does it give you a, do you get a sense of thrill
when you get it right? Because, as you say, I mean I was just noting
that you’re right, that rumble is there, and I thought, oh I thought it was silent,
and then it drops down. When you watch that is it like it’s a magic trick that works? – A bit, yeah. I mean when you’re actually
watching on the day, you inevitably have
watched it so many times that you lose perspective. And you’re like, “Well,
okay let’s leave it there.” And say,(laughing) “I guess that works.” But yeah. – Let’s go back from
that, right back to Brick. I wanna show the opening of Brick, because I know a number
of people felt this, when Brick was first, was it commissioned, was it originally gonna be a DVD release or was it always going to
be a theatrical release? – Well no, we made it
totally independently and took it to Sundance, and Focus Features picked
it up, and theatrical, yeah. – I remember seeing it
in a preview screening. And literally, the first
three minutes of that film I remember watching the
audience do this, going, right. They literally, literally sat up, because everything, it
was announcing somebody who knew what they were doing, knew how filmmaking must work. And it was thrilling,
and it was intriguing, and strange and mysterious. And there’s two things about it, one of them is, and I’ll
show the sequence now, one of them is that the shots
are weirdly kind of misaligned in terms of perspective so
you think you’re looking at something from a
character, but you’re not. And the other thing is the soundtrack. Tell us before we play
it, what are we hearing on the soundtrack at
the beginning of Brick? – So this is, I mean it’s largely scored. It’s Nathan Johnson, who is my cousin, who we’ve been making
movies together since we were 10 years old and
he’s done all of my movies, with the exception of Last Jedi. He did Knives Out. The sound that you hear, it’s a xylophone, but he took the mallets and stuck the rods inside the xylophone
tubes and jangled them. And it created this kind of ghostly sound, and yeah, it’s Nathan’s work. – Okay, let’s see the clip. Cause I think this is such
a great opening, okay. (audience clapping) Okay, so, honestly I could
talk to you for an hour about that opening two minutes. So much to unpack. Firstly, you get the sense
from the angles not matching up that it’s a traumatic memory, cause the angle from which
you’re looking at her isn’t the angle from which
he would be seeing her. – Yeah, yeah it’s fragments. It’s tiny little memory fragments, and it immediately
draws you into his head. That was kinda the idea of it, yeah, yeah. Yeah, in kind of like
a dream to start off, kind of in a dream-like space, yeah. – And then the cut from
The Bangles in the thing, to The Bangles live, so you
know that you’ve jumped back. So you don’t really need
the two days previous. – I know, I know. (Mark and audience laugh) I felt like the two days previous is, we’ve gone back and forth with this a bit. And I have another friend who feels very strongly about this too. Cause when we screened it at Sundance, it did not have that title
two days previous, yeah. – That’s what I heard yeah. – I added it because I felt like the movie is so weird and that any helping hand we can give the audience
in terms of orienting, and I didn’t, I liked it, it wasn’t like somebody
forced me to put it in. I was like, “oh what if we put this in?” Just to give, kind of like a very clean, okay, now we’re hopping
back this amount of time and start the clock ticking to
get back to that part of it. – It also gives it a sense of urgency because otherwise you wouldn’t… – That was a big part of it,
knowing that the first act is largely Brendan gathering clues, and to give at least one
sign posted at the beginning that okay, two days from now,
this girl’s gonna end up dead and we’re gonna have to figure out why. That seemed worth it to me. – And people forget that Dashiell Hammett, who was kind of the
guiding light behind this, wasn’t beyond telling
audiences clear things when they needed to know them. – Oh yeah, I mean Hammett’s
whole style is not, I think Chandler is maybe what most people think of when they think of the prose of detective fiction that noir comes from. Chandler is much more, he’s an
absolutely brilliant writer, but he’s exactly the opposite of Hammett. Chandler is, you know, long monologue descriptions
of the fog in the city. Hammett is much more
Hemingway-like in his style. He is not fat at all, and just
nothing but pure information sentence by sentence, very, very clear. It was Hammett that Brick
came from, you know. – Is the spelling mistake deliberate? – Which one? I guess not.
– It says Rosa and Roso, it’s an
A and an O on the thing. – You can tell from me asking
which one that it was not. (audience and Mark laughing) It makes sense with her, she’s on drugs. – No I just always worried whether that was a clue that I had, because what the film… – Yes, it was a clue, I’m
glad you caught that Mark. (Mark and audience laughing) Took you long enough, but
better late than never. – But that’s what I mean
about the atmosphere of it. It makes you sit up and go, okay, what’s important,
what do I need to know, because I kind of have
the sense that everything is here in this opening sequence. – Well that’s also a part
of the genre contracts. It’s also part of the audience realising, oh this is a mystery we’re
gonna have to figure out what happened to this girl, and so you automatically
start leaning forward. It’s similar with a whodunit, you know. Talking earlier today about red herrings, and whether it’s fun to
plant a bunch of red herrings into a whodunit, and the answer is no. You kind of don’t need to
because the audience knows that this is the type of
movie they’re watching. They’ll read into everything and they’ll read more
interesting red herrings into stuff then you
could ever hope to plant. – Were you surprised by
how successful Brick was? Because it was a kind of
career making step, wasn’t it? – Yeah, actually it did much better here than it did in the States. – We’re a lot smarter. – That’s true. (audience laughs) It’s true, I wasn’t go to say it. Yeah, but it wasn’t like a huge, like Reservoir Dogs
type smash or something. Look I was blown away that
we even got a release. We made it with family money, with a couple hundred thousand dollars, and we took it to Sundance. Which right there, just
getting into Sundance feels like winning the lottery and the Focus picked it
up, my head was spinning. At the time it didn’t feel like
a big, breakout hit at all. I don’t think it really was, but for me, just getting
my foot in the door, felt really like something. – Have you watched it again recently? – Yeah, we’ve just done
a new Blu-ray transfer. There’s been one out
here that’s quite good, but there’s never been a
Blu-ray release in the States. So my cinematographer Steve
Yedlin just supervised a new transfer of it and
we watched through it. – And how did it feel revisiting
it after all this time? – I like it, it’s good. It’s weird watching something, it’s nice because I have
enough distance from it to where my memories of
the day to day of making it have faded enough that I am watching it a little bit more as a movie. But it’s still tough. It’s also because these are all still, like I’m still good friends with Joe, and Noah Segan is still
one of best friends, Nora I’m still close
with, and so in a way, it’s also a bit like flipping back through your high school yearbook. It’s like, oh my god, they
were babies, so it’s odd, yeah. – Do you have equally good
memories about Looper? – Yeah, yeah Looper, cause Brick, the reception was very, very warm. And then I made a movie
called The Brothers Bloom, which was a very personal movie for me, and an amazing experience making it. And it didn’t do much when
it was released and it was… – But very good notices, good reviews. – It got okay, it’s not
how it felt at the time. Yeah the thing was the people
who loved it really connected which was really nice, but it
definitely, to me, felt like, oh god, I need to put my
nose to the grindstone. It felt like, oh no they’re on to me. If I wanna keep doing this, I better get the next one really good. So Looper was a very
intense working experience. And buckling down with Joe, I worked harder on the
writing than I had ever done, and just buckling down with Joe and really trying to get
every element of it right. It was a really good experience,
a really intense one. – And that’s the time travelling thing, so on the outside it looks
like a genre picture. But I had forgotten how dark it was. It’s a really, really dark,
not cynical, but dark movie. – Yeah the whole thing was kind of about using violence as
a problem solving tool and the places that leads. The whole intent of it was,
with Bruce Willis’s character to push his actions beyond the point where an audience would stick with him. And what we learned is
that its really hard to make an audience not
stick with Bruce Willis. (Mark and audience laugh) Even if you have him
shoot a child in the face, the audiences will still give Bruce Willis the
benefit of the doubt. (audience laughs) (laughs) This is very interesting. I hope it comes out the other
side in a hopeful place, but we go to some dark places in there. That idea of working with a star persona, because star personas are such a strange, kinda nuclear thing They’re not entirely understandable
and people who have it, have it in a way which
is kind of intangible. And there is, as you said, the Bruce Willis presence in that movie, it’s almost like a special
effect, that it’s Bruce Willis. – Yeah and you have to, I mean that was a big lesson
in making Looper is that… I mean obviously you want to cast just for the best actor for the part but when especially when you’re dealing with somebody who has the amount of, it’s not just, cause star power, I think about like charisma on the screen, which is a whole different
thing that is a thing that some people just have which is crazy. But in terms of an audience’s
perception of somebody, of having seen them in types
of roles over the years. You have to take that into account, you have to factor that in, and the way that has a very
powerful effect on audiences. In a way that you would be a fool not to work that into the math of how you cast something
and how you stage stuff. Yeah, it’s quite interesting. – And are the lessons that you’ve learned during making all those, are they brought into play in Knives Out? In which you have a
number of terrific actors, but some of whom, you know the fact is, Daniel Craig brings a
certain baggage with him, and Toni Collette, or not
baggage, but heritage with them. You do feel like you understand how to not get trapped in that? – Well, yeah again, it
comes back to them all being terrific actors with great
range who I know can, you know. There’s nothing I love
more than getting an actor who I’m a huge fan of and
giving them something to do that I haven’t quite see them do before. – How was Michael Shannon? – He was amazing man,
he was so cool (laughs). He’s very… – Scary? – No, he’s not scary, he’s intense. – Looks scary to me(laughs). – No, no, no, no he’s a sweet dude, he’s a sweet dude, but
I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side, but he’s a sweet dude. He was funny, there’s not a
lot of improv in Knives Out, but there’s some, just like when they were in the fighting scenes with each other, they would just throw out zingers. And Michael Shannon
always had the funniest shit that he ended up saying. And I think it was funnier
cause you wouldn’t expect it. It’s like when the stern
Sunday School teacher comes out with a fart joke, it’s extra funny, cause,
yeah what just happened. – While we’re on the subject of comedy, I want to show one more
clip, which is a clip from, and you allude to this at the beginning, it’s a clip from Breaking Bad. Now I’m nearly at the end of series four, I haven’t seen series five so you cannot say
anything about Ozymandias. And you haven’t seen El.. You haven’t seen
– I haven’t see it not yet. – Fine, fine. So I wanna show a clip from Fly because this is a very particular episode in which they’re basically
stuck in the lab. And the setup is that
there’s a fly in the lab. And Walter is obsessed with the idea of the fly contaminating the environment. And Jesse isn’t having any of it. (Rian laughs) But it goes frOm being this kind of almost Beckett-like Kafka-esque absurd into something which slips
over into slapstick comedy. So I’ll show the clip and then
we’ll talk about it, okay. (audience clapping) – Moira Walley-Beckett and Sam Catlin were the writers of that episode. Yeah, they’re absolutely brilliant. – I know its the thing about
enjoying your own work, but you were laughing
all the way through that. (Rian laughing) It’s brilliantly funny. – Well again, that’s Moira
and Sam, and those two guys. I just got to sit back and watch it on TV, it was great (laughs). And getting to work with Aaron and Bryan, I felt just really lucky I
got that episode specifically. Just getting that
concentrated amount of time with those two actors
and getting to see them play that range that you talked about from being very, very funny in this scene to the heavier stuff that starts happening
later on in the episode. Yeah, for me, I feel
like I learned so much from getting to work
with these two on this. And yeah, it’s funny man. It’s kind of like your main job when you’re directing to be the audience. It’s not your job to sit
there and be analytical and to dissect the performance. Very much your job to
have just a reaction, to watch it and laugh at it, or not. And then figure out if you didn’t laugh, why you didn’t laugh (laughing) I guess. That comes after. – So is that what happens on set? So you’ll literally sit
and you’ll watch a take? I mean it’s the thing when Jesse (Rian laughs) when he goes “I’ll make it count.” (Rian laughs) Presumably by take five or six of that line, is it still funny? I mean how do you know that that’s? – Yeah, oh yeah, it is. And I’m constantly trying to
not ruin takes by laughing, yeah, and sometimes it’s
inappropriately so (laughs). But I think that’s, taking joy in it, and enjoying what you’re seeing on the screen. I don’t know how you could
make movies if you didn’t. And like I said, that’s
90% of your job on set, is to be the audience for the actors. That means being analytical
and making it work. That also just means
enjoying what they’re doing. That means if what they’re
doing is funny shit, then you’re like biting your fist trying not to laugh at it on set. That itself is incredibly valuable. – And I think, looking at that,
you must be a fan of Keaton, you must be a fan of silent comedy, you must be somebody who finds that stuff, and say, “I’m writing that.” – Oh yeah, absolutely, who doesn’t? Obviously they do a lot
of amazing screenings here but anytime you get a
chance to see a Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton, obviously, any of the great old slapstick comedies with a modern audience, it’s extraordinary because
they play like gangbusters. It’s amazing the roaring
laughter that you’ll see if you see one of those
films with a great audience. It hasn’t aged a day. – Yeah. Before we go to the audience questions, which we’ll do in just
a couple of minutes, of all the stuff we’ve talked about, and bearing in mind that obviously, probably the thing that
you’re most proud of is the thing that you just did. What’s the thing that you have the best memories of,
of your career so far? What’s the thing that you’re fondest of? It’s gonna be Brothers Bloom, isn’t it? – Well, Brothers Bloom was really, so I was really just kind of broke throughout most of my 20s
trying to get Brick made. I didn’t travel much. I kind of wrote Brothers Bloom (laughs) and wrote all these exotic locales in it just to have a big experience sort of. It’s kind of cheeky to say, but. There was a lot more to it than that but that was a really amazing kind of first time experience for a lot of stuff. Every movie is a different
like I said, growth machine, I don’t know how else to put it. Every movie is its own thing. Like I said, I just feel very lucky to have done any of them at all. – And are you still attached
to the Star Wars world? Are there more Star Wars
projects to come from you? – Yeah, I mean Lucasfilm
right now is figuring out what’s gonna happen when, and
I’m still talking to them. But I’m also, I have kind of a few things in the back of my head,
of my own weird things that I want to do also, and not sure what’s gonna
happen quite next, but yeah. – Are you superstitious about talking about anything that hasn’t happened? – Oh, always. It’s not even superstitious,
you just learn from experience(laughs)
don’t say it out loud. – Is that right? – Yeah that’s absolutely
true, yeah absolutely. That’s why you have to just kind of let the river carry you down
stream, kinda take what comes. It was something that was slightly new to me with this movie. I rarely written scenes, or
movies that were ensembles in the sense that this is. And the answer is to some
extent, it self regulates because when they all show up, they all, that’s the cliche, they all got along and were lovely, (Mark laughs) but they did all get along in real life. But also they all kind of now
what they’re signing up for. And once they’re on set,
because everybody is kind of playing their role, and everyone’s
doing their thing in it, there’s this really nice,
positive gravity that happens where you would have to be real asshole to be the asshole, basically. So everybody kind of clicks
in to what they’re doing, is very gracious with everybody
else, which was wonderful. And then directing wise, it
is a matter of making sure that everybody gets the
attention that they need. And it’s the same thing with any film, but a little more so
with ensembles I think. Where you are very much in the role of figuring out what each
individual person needs, and then figuring out how
you can best give it to them. Yeah, yeah. It’s funny I was just talking last night, I was getting drunk with
Nathan, my composer, and we were talking about musicals, and how much fun it
would be to do a musical. That would be really fun, right? A drunk musical. Yeah, and I think it would probably be the cart pulling the horse a bit to make like a list of genres and figure out, let’s do this and this. You kind of go where, and there’s also like, I don’t know, for me personally, there are kind of two ingredients before I can start writing anything. There is kind of like, usually
the genre element of it, but then that can’t start
going just on its own. It needs something that I
actually care about at the moment, or am thinking about, I’m
thinking about in myself, or am angry about or something. And it’s when the gears of the genre and the thing that actually
matters click together. And not just like, okay, let’s stick this
genre over this thing, but when they actually work together and complement themselves, and one can’t run without the other. That combination is sort of what actually gets the engine running for me. So yeah, if that answers it. The language, I mean it very much was drawn from Dashiell Hammett. I mean, all of Brick came from
me seeing Miller’s Crossing and then reading an interview
with the Coen brothers where they said how Dashiell
Hammett was their inspiration. I read Hammett for the first time and felt like I had been
punched in the stomach. It just had such a direct
lightening bolt impact on me. And Brick just completely
came from me wanting to, I love film noir, but sort
of push aside the conventions of film noir and get to my
experience reading those books which was a very immediate one. And so a lot of the language came, is just totally swiped from
Hammett in terms of the style. But then I also mixed in,
I’m from Southern California, and I mixed in some beach slang. I took slang from Steely Dan songs. I just kind of made up some words. The idea was to inform the
audience right off the bat that they were in a
different time and place. They were in a different reality. That this was an elevated
world that they were in and language seemed like
a good way of doing that. And then the actors, the
answer is we rehearsed. We rehearsed a lot. We had months and months
where they would just come over to my apartment,
I would make them lunch and we would just run the lines. It was weird, because it
was very contrary to a lot of more modern acting techniques. What we found is naturalism
did not work at all for the language in the movie. And we had to just drill the lines. We just had to say the words over and over and over and over again
until the weirdness of the words was no longer a barrier. It’s almost like a
pianist learning a piece. You have to get the muscle
memory, your fingers, and then once you have that you can put the emotion into
the actual performance. And so that’s how we ended
up working with the actors. Well I mean, first of all,
I think Martin Scorsese can like and not like whatever
the fuck he wants (laughs). (Mark and audience clap) I think he’s earned that. I think, I always want
to hear what Scorsese has to say about movies and
hear his perspective on it. So, I don’t know. I’m on Twitter too much. Anyone who’s on Twitter is on
Twitter too much, probably. And I will say, I love FilmTwitter, I’m very entertained by it. And I think there is
also a pattern of outrage that is very much just a pattern. It’s just a kind of a
slightly commodified, slightly gamified pattern that happens, of taking a fragment of an interview, putting the craziest
part of it in a headline and getting everybody to tweet fuck you back and forth about it. And the thing is, that
can be entertaining. It also starts to get boring
after a while, I think. But look, like I said, I think anyone, and Scorsese in particular, can think whatever they
like about the movies. I, as someone who loves small stuff, I also love big stuff, I
love franchise stuff too. I don’t know if that answers it. – My tuppence worth, they are movies. (Rian laughs) Well, I mean, Shane would probably bury his head in his hands
hearing you say he was, cause he was kind of a consultant, but I don’t want to blame
Shane for what I’m sure are a lot of the timeline
fuck ups in Looper. Cause Shane made what’s
probably the closest we’ll ever get to an accurate
time travel movie with Primer. Which is a fantastic film
if anyone hasn’t seen it. But my approach to it, with Looper, is very much kind of, and
this is generally my feeling about time travel in movies, I think it’s not a science
element, it’s a fantasy element. You have to treat it the same way that you treat spells
in a Harry Potter movie. Which is, it has to have an internal logic that works for the movie,
and there has to be built in to the narrative of the movie, something that gives
you fences and bumpers so that you kind of keep your
vision on the part that works. And it has to make narrative sense, I guess is the main thing. And so that’s kind of in the
diner where Bruce Willis says “we’re not gonna talk about time travel” that was kind of an open
sort of acknowledgment of, okay here’s what matters about this. Given that context, you
try and do the work, you try and make it right,
you try and figure out, okay in that context this does make sense for this and this, and
this is the logic of it. But containing it to
that, as opposed to trying to actually project it as something that could actually happen and that you could actually track the… Yeah, I could keep talking this (laughs). I won’t. And then, in terms of whodunits, in that way it’s different
from the whodunit because in a whodunit, everything does actually have to track. And in a whodunit, you need
to be able to diagram it out and it all needs to makes sense. And the few places it doesn’t
are, in my mind, actual flaws. I’m sure a few places exist in Knives Out. But you try and actually get everything to line up with a whodunit, I think. Yeah, I mean there are
no happy coincidences. You gotta kind of have to make decisions. But at the same time, it’s also, it’s not something where it’s
like eating your oatmeal. It’s not something where you think, boy I should do this, and
so you sit down and do it. To me, it’s genuinely exciting right now, that you can put people
at the forefront of films who have traditionally not been there. And I think just storytelling wise, it makes for more interesting
stories to have perspectives that we haven’t been watching for the past 80 years of cinema over and over. And that to me, I guess this is part of the idea of representation,
but that to me, just even storytelling
wise is genuinely exciting. Process on Last Jedi was
watching, reading J.J’s script, having long conversations with J.J, going back and forth
about a bunch of stuff, and figuring out kind of the shape of what made sense going forward. But then, ultimately though, you’re still writing a movie
that has to work as a movie. And needs to, you know,
the engine has to run. And that is the bulk of the work. And that is the exact same whether you’re doing a sequel or whether you’re doing
a stand alone, I guess. You know, you can’t
think of it in terms of, or I at least can’t think of movies as if they are episodes in a sitcom or as if they’re
serialised to that degree. And I wanted the Last
Jedi to be a full meal. I wanted it to be something that gave you a full
experience front to back, so you don’t walk out of the theatre feeling like you just had …? You walk out feeling with, you wanna see what happens next, but you have the true feeling of satisfaction at the end of it. Yeah, I typically don’t
because I’ve learned that you get your heart broken if you do. Cause the actors you thought of are never available when you go to shoot. I mean, look it’s not
only different in terms of knowing what actors you’re gonna cast, but in terms of growing
up with those actors being your heroes and your favourite
characters on the screen. But that also brings a level of, I grew up and Luke Skywalker is my hero. He’s the guy who when I was a little kid, I was like the little kid with the broom at the end of the movie. That was me, and I think
that that’s really, I don’t know if you could
make a Star Wars movie if you didn’t have that, you know. That emotional connection is an asset when you go into it, because that means you’re going to approach that character with that love in your heart. I think that’s really important. – That’s a lovely note to end on. Knives Out is playing here
at the London Film Festival, then it opens in the UK in November. Thank you ever so much
everybody for coming. – Yes thank you so much for coming guys. Thank you. (audience clapping)

Only registered users can comment.

  1. I would have clicked faster had the title been RIAN JOHNSON Screentalk with Mark Kermode.

    [Edit] I see from the title that someone had read this. 😲 👊

  2. Did you ever hear the tragedy of Rian Johnson the Foolish?

    I thought not. It's not a story the Disney marketers would tell you. It's a Stupid Legend. Rian Johnson the Foolish was a Director, so powerful and so foolish he could use his authority to create plot holes… He lacked such knowledge of the Source, he could even move characters from one side of the room to another in the blink of an eye.

    The Fool's Side of Directing is a pathway to many stories some would consider… unnatural. He became so powerful… that the only thing he was afraid of was the fans not liking his movie; which eventually, of course, they did not. Unfortunately, he created such a mess that Jar Jar Abrams had to return to make the ninth episode.

    Ironic. He could create a beautiful movie, but not a good one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *