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SHUTTER ISLAND Interview - Part 1

Paramount invited us to attend an interview last week with director Martin Scorsese, star Leonardo DiCaprio, actor Ben Kingsley, writer Dennis Lehane (novel), producer Mike Medavoy, screenplay writer Laeta Kalogridis, and producer Brad Fischer. The only problem was, the interview took place in New York City and GeekTyrant doesn't have any writers in that area. But the cool cats over at Paramount were kind enough to transcribe the entire two-part interview and send it our way, so we're posting it here for your reading pleasure. Yes, it's long, but there's some pretty interesting stuff in here, and I'm definitely excited to see Shutter Island when it finally hits theaters on February 19th. Interview follows.

    BF: Brad Fischer. 

    DL: Dennis Lehane. 

    MM: I’m Mike Medavoy. 

    LK: Laeta Kalogridis. 

    Q: Hi, Dan Persons, Huffington Post Mighty Movie Podcast. Uh, this is for the entire panel. I wanted to know how surprised were you in Martin Scorsese’s use of film past in this film. 

    DL: I don’t think any of us were surprised. I mean Martin, Martin Scorsese has loved film, as he’s told everybody, you know, he’s, he’s out there promoting, you know, preserv… film preservation, so I don’t think any of us were surprised. I mean I’ve known Marty for, you know, from the 70’s on, having worked with him a few times before. So I don’t, I don’t think any of those illusions were surprising. And I think Brad can tell you a little bit about his process and how he went through showing uh… people some of the filmmakers that he was alluding to. 

    BF: Yeah, Marty, you know Marty’s a walking encyclopedia of movies so I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone that he had a lot of references. It was a pleasant surprise to me to hear all the Val Lewton references that he had. I think those were kind of a big influence on him, and he did screen a lot of those films before during pre-production for the actors, and the cinematographer as we were moving forward so I think he was definitely inspired by films of the past for sure. 

    Q: Hi, I’m from OK! Magazine. Can you tell me what surprised you about Leonardo, and what was it like working with Michelle Williams. 

    MM: Uh, you know I wasn’t on the set as much as Brad but I can tell you a little bit about my reaction to the film as I saw it. I’m, as you—some of you may know, I’m Marlon Brando’s trustee and executor of his will, and I saw, as I saw the film, I saw Mar… more of Marlon’s influence on American actors and I just thought that was one great performance. You know I just—I was just floored by the performance the first time I saw it. So you know, as a matter of fact I told Leo, you know, that just watching the performance reminded me a lot of the young Marlon. Uh, as far as Michelle (clears throat), you know, there’s something really interesting about someone who looks as wounded as she does. I thought, you know, I know that she was nervous uh, about her performance, but after I saw the film and I called her up and I said you know, you’re just fantastic in this film. So I would say that both of them—and obviously uh, my cohorts can tell you a lot more because they were, they were involved, you know, more closely to it. 

    BF: Just watching Marty work with actors generally is kind of an amazing thing to behold. Just seeing the way the scene evolves, and the way the performances move in different directions to different levels. You know Michelle and Leo in particular were wonderful I think. Mike’s point about Michelle is correct, and the role that she plays, as you know, you know, kind of lent itself—she was a very wounded character. Leo I’ve always thought Leo was an incredible actor, and I think this film he just takes it to a completely different place. 

    MM: He seems to get better in each role. I think. 

    BF: That’s—you know that’s my, my take, and uh, you know, that’s clear here. 

    Q: I wanted to know the challenged of sticking too close to the book in writing the film, writing the screenplay, how close did you stay to the book, as well as the challenged of putting this out to make it into a film. Can you take us through that. 

    LK: Would you like to talk about me staying very close to the book? 

    DL: You can tell the story. I’ll hang back. 

    LK: Uh, uh, actually I think that the challenge was to recreate, for me, to recreate the emotion that I had while reading the book because the book is this incredible ride, and it’s a very interior story. You’re experiencing Teddy’s very subjective views of what’s going on around him. Uh, the biggest single challenge was to not get lost in how much good material there is in the book because frankly that’s a six, seven hour movie. Uh, and find a say to preserve that sense of discovery and horror, and that sense of—that Teddy feels—of being sort of trapped in these smaller, and smaller, and smaller boxes as the story goes on. Uh, to preserve that using a  slightly different set of tools than what’s obviously available in a novel. There was a point at which I had finished the screenplay and we did show it to Dennis, and he did mention that his only, only criticism, because he was very positive about it and really liked it, but he had only one comment that…. 

    DL: And my only criticism was that it was too faithful. 

    LK: A little too close. 

    DL: Uh, which I think Laeta said that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that from a novelist. But I just felt it was a little too uh—that she’d fallen, really wonderfully fallen for the language which is kind of a book language, and so there were moments where she put lines of dialogue into—a couple of lines, I think it was three… 

    LK: It was prose, I took (overlap) prose and put into… 

    DL: (overlap) She put it in the mouths of the actors, and I was kind of like—even if you have like Ben Kingsley, not knowing he’s be cast, but even if you had Ben Kingsley he couldn’t sell this line so we just had a small little disagreement about that, but that’s a love fest. 

    LK: And you know there are some lines that are like—the part at the beginning where he says “Waking is an almost natal state.” I mean there are some lines that are just—that just break your heart how beautiful they are, but it’s true, you can’t say them. 

    DL: I’m a very internal novelist, and even though I have like, you know, a certain level of external plot in my books, my books are very much always about the character’s minds, it’s always about being locked in there from “Mystic River” straight up through “Shutter Island,” and what great screenwriters can do is they can externalize what’s the internal in the book, and that’s what she did. I think uh, that’s what a good, that’s what a great screenwriter does, and that’s where—that’s why I don’t do my own scripts. 

    Q: Hi, I’m Showbiz Café Media, uh, I wanted to ask you—you wrote the book, and many people would say that the source of the story never comes better than from the person who actually wrote it. Uh, and this is more of a hypothetical question. If you wanted to direct a film and you had to direct “Shutter Island,” would you have directed it differently than Martin Scorsese? 

    DL: Yeah, I would have done a really piss poor job of it, compared to what he did. Uh, I, I have some directing instincts, I directed an independent film that never went anywhere years ago, and so I know very well the difference between what I do in terms of directing and what a genius does in terms of directing. When you’re looking at Scorsese, you’re looking at genius, you’re looking at genius level, you’re looking at what you know, Mozart was like, whether he did a great piece or a lesser piece, it’s filtered through genius. And watching Scorsese you just go… you know that’s really it, it’s kinda—no I don’t, I have no uh, place on that playing field compared to him. I don’t think he should write a novel, I prefer he didn’t anyway, uh… but uh, but no, I’m very comfortable doing what I do, and I think I do it reasonably well, I’m not going to be false and modest about that, but god, directing? No, never. 

    MM: I think every, you know every, every picture with a different director will have a different view. I mean I’ve been involved with three hundred and fourteen movies. I—some of those movies I don’t—I can’t think of anybody else that could have directed it, you know, whether it’s Milos Forman on “Cuckoo’s Nest,” or you know, Marty on “Raging Bull” or (clears throat), you know, Blake Edwards on “Pink Panther.” I mean you know you just—you almost can’t think of anybody doing a better job if it worked, if it does work. I think maybe somebody else should have directed it. I mean thematically—somebody asked me a question which I think is you know, I hope will tickle your own mind—if somebody asked you the question, you know, what are your greatest fears, you know… and they’re embedded in this movie. 

    BF: There is something inherently cinematic though I think in Dennis’s writing. This is what, the third, third one of your novels that’s been turned into a feature? 

    DL: Yeah. 

    BF: I mean for me just reading it you know, you can conjure the images in your own mind really easily. And you know, you get, you get lost in the story, you get lost in the character and the emotion of it, but it’s so rich, the atmosphere is so rich, and I think that’s something that Marty really grasped onto and brought to a really great new level. 

    Q: I had read it before and seen the movie, and as much as I liked the movie, once you kind of know what’s going on it’s hard to, you know, enjoy it in the full thing. I’m wondering for you as someone who’s written it, can you enjoy the movie watching it knowing, not only knowing everything that’s going on, but you know, kind of being nitpicky about what was in, what was not…. 

    DL: Well uh, “A” I’m not nitpicky about what’s in, what’s not. It doesn’t—as long as the spirit of a book is captured, I don’t get in—I don’t get lost in that. I’ve been really lucky right from the beginning to have—kind of weird color blind casting in my films, you know, like characters are very clearly white are cast as black or vise versa, so I don’t get caught up in any of the specifics of that as long as the vision’s there, and the vision’s there. Uh, the cool thing was being so removed from it. I was six years removed from it by the time I saw the film. I forgot a bunch of stuff. At one point I remember going aah, I think Laeta and Marty went a little far there, and then I went back and I checked the book—no, it was me. You know so I, I guess you know, that’s a nice, that’s a nice feeling. And the other day I was watching—two nights ago I was watching Jon Stewart, and then there’s a commercial, and I was like ooh, I wonder what this movie—oh it’s mine. Uh… you know, so no, I get to fall into that—as long as you’re removed. If I had written it in 2008 and it was on the screen now, I’d been telling a very different story. I’d be too close to it. 

    Q: Mr. Lehane again, Jamie Portman, Cannes West Canada. Setting aside the question of money, what factors would dictate your decision to sell a…. 

    DL: Oh, to sell a book? 

    Q: The film rights, and secondly, if you look over your canon, assessing the adaptability of your various books, where would this one rank? I would think it would be fairly tricky. 

    DL: Uh, okay. Putting aside the money which is—I know this is going to sound ridiculously disingenuous, but the truth is I’ve never sold any of the books for the money. Uh, it’s—my first law is the talent level of the people I’m involved with, it’s law number one. And I’m, I’m a walking film encyclopedia, and I used to say only two people know more about film than me, Pauline Kael and Martin, and Martin Scorsese. But—so I know, I’m very aware of who the players are behind-the-scenes in Hollywood and in film world, and that’s who I sell to, that’s who I want to be involved with—the producers, the producer of Mike’s stature, Alan Ladd on “Gone Baby Gone,” for example Clint Eastwood on “Mystic River.” I get involved with very good people right from the back of the production all the way up through the end of it. So that’s been my overriding regard for whether I’ll sell. With uh, “Shutter Island,” yeah, difficult, really difficult. Laeta was not the first person to take a crack at it. She was the first person to succeed. Uh, it’s a really hard book to adapt. I don’t know how they do it, that’s why I don’t do it. I don’t adapt my own work, I have no desire to adapt my own work. I’d rather trust it to extremely competent people. Uh, and I’m not one. So I’ve been, you know, otherwise then finally the final thing is luck. I’ve been lucky, I’ve been really lucky at this point. 

    Q: Hi, Lelani Clark with WBAI Radio. This is for Mr. Lehane. How pleased are you at the amazing ensemble cast in your film? I mean it’s an amazing cast, and how they brought your words to life. Can you talk about that? 

    DL: Yeah, it’s an actor’s clinic. I mean you just sit there and one after the other after the other… one of the ones I single out just because I’ve liked him ever since this Michael Mann t.v. show “Crime Stories,” Ted Levine. Ted Levine has a tiny part in that. It was pretty crucial though. He has a speech that’s almost impossible to deliver, and I wrote it that way. Uh, and he kills it, he just knocks it out of the park. And he’s only in the film I’d say screen time maybe three minutes, you know, maybe. Uh, so we have that all the way up to Leo who gives you know, a hands down gold statue performance, you know, and Ben Kingsley, and Michelle, and Patricia Clarkson, uh, and Emily Mortimer, and I feel like I’m giving an Oscar speech, I’m going to forget somebody, but Max Von Seydow, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s outstanding, and I just get to sit there and…. You know I was, I was—you know I’ve been, I’ve been extremely blessed with that across the board now, so yeah, I felt uh, there’s nothing I can say except what incredible performances. And that’s what you get when you see a director of that stature working with actors of that stature, you know. 

    Q: Don McLaughlin(?) from Sixty Second Preview. When you give up a project, when you give up a book, I’m wondering if it’s not unlike giving up a child for adoption. You suddenly see they’re dressed funny or something, you know. 

    DH: No, it’s giving up a child to a baby sitter. That’s exactly what it is. The book doesn’t—you know it’s a James M. Cain line, what do you think about what Hollywood did to your books—my books are right there. He points—he pointed behind him, my books are right there. I think that uh, a book is an apple, a movie’s a giraffe, they don’t have much more in common than that, they have a basic sort of narrative DNA, and they’re two different entities. So I have no problem looking at “Jaws” the book and “Jaws” the movie, “L.A. Confidential” the book and “L.A. Confidential” the movie. This is before my own work, and saying they’re two different entities. And they’re two different uh, beasts really. You’ve made a deal, and you should, you should honor the spirit of that deal, and so when I sell my books to the movies, I’ve sold them I hope for the best, I put my complete faith in the people, and I shut up, and I get out of the way, and I let them do their job, and so far that’s really worked. So maybe I’m onto something. I don’t know. 

    LK: But generally speaking, and I have done other adaptations uh, you, you do not find the sense of artistic generosity that you get with Dennis, and you certainly don’t get anything remotely resembling a level of trust, absolutely that’s true. 

    MM: If you look back at the history of Hollywood you know you’ve had a lot of famous authors who have worked as screenwriters unsuccessfully. I’ve often felt over the years that short stories often made it easier for somebody to adapt a movie than, than you know, novels because they (clears throat), they tend to be longer and it really takes a lot of work to get them to, to you know, fill the format in most movies where you’re trying to get everything set in two hours, or two hours and fifteen minutes. So (clears throat), you know, I, I think that the same thing that Dennis was talking about is kind of once you turn it over to the people that you think you want to trust, you know, just step back. I mean that’s exactly what happens here, you know. I mean we basically, you know, we sit back, you know, and just watch people do what they do. I mean frankly you know, it’s a team sport. Making movies is a team sport. It’s not, it’s not one guy, it’s you know, I’m sure Marty would tell you that you know, his editor played a big part in it, his cinematographer played a big part in it, uh, you know, all the people that did all the other trades that are part and parcel of making a movie, you know I’m sure Marty would agree that they, they played as big a part if you know, as he did. But he assembled it, it’s his vision, it’s what he saw in the movie, it’s what Laeta translated from this book, it’s what you know, it’s what’s brought him to this, you know, whatever thoughts he had, brought him to the book, brought him to the book, and then when you make a movie it’s a different animal. You know it’s uh, it’s what you saw up there, it’s what you gathered. If you walked out I’m sure a lot of you are still thinking about the movie, you know, haven’t really gotten everything that the movie’s in… you know you—I mean I’ve seen the movie about four or five times and I must say that you know, the second time I got stuff that I hadn’t seen the first time, and the third time I saw something I hadn’t seen the second time. I’m not suggesting that everyone of you go to it again and again, but—and especially pay of course, but that’s you know, that’s the mark of a really good movie. You walk out—you’ve had a good time, you’ve enjoyed it, you’ve enjoyed the ride, then you go away and you’re thinking about it, and you hopefully you’ll discuss it with people. 

    BF: You know there are a lot of prisms that it goes through as Mike was saying, Dennis’s original work, through Laeta’s then adaptation, Marty’s vision, and also the actors vision. I think DiCaprio’s interpretation of one scene, that working relationship, that collaboration, and then you know, finally the point-of-view of the audience, and each individual audience member, and what they bring to it personally. So I think that’s something that’s pretty unique to movies. 

    Q: Hi. This has already been mentioned that this is your third novel that’s been turned into a movie. When—in—during your writing process is this something that you consciously think of that this could potentially be a movie when you’re writing the actual book? 

    DL: No, no, I—and I know that sounds—I know how that sounds. But the truth of the matter is when I’m writing a book I have a really very clear intimate relationship with the reader, and it’s just—there’s some reader, I can picture this person in a chair, that’s who I’m speaking to, that’s who I’m writing for. Uh, when the book is done, completely done, and knowing it’s ridic… it’s a ridiculous conversation to have anyway, uh, I, I will have the sort of sitting around with my wife and friends—who could play so and so. You know we’ll have that conversation. But also as I’ve gone on further into this business realized how academic and really even illogical that discussion is to have because when I wrote “Shutter Island” DiCaprio never would have jumped to mind. He was too young, when I wrote it, you know what I mean? But he aged into the part five years later. So when the conversation I had in 2003 when I finished the book, nobody would have said Leonardo DiCaprio, you know. So you just—I don’t think, I don’t know why, I think because I have such a quote unquote literary academic background, I see a book as something very clear over here, and I see a movie as something very clear over here, and they just never meet until the book is down. It’s down, it’s locked, I’m out, okay. Could Russell Crowe play you know, Joe. You know, maybe, you know. 

    MM: Think about all the great movies that were played by second and third—you know people as second and third choice. You know Bogart made a career about having George Raft turn down parts which he played and went on to winning all kinds of awards. And that’s true in most instances in the movies. This, this case was kind of unique because Marty and Leo came on, bingo. This was uh, you know, Brad’s, Brad’s first choice, and I think Laeta’s—Brad and Leo’s you know, their first choice, and I think the whole thing came together. Very unusual actually in the movie business because most, most of the time you’re going for the second or third choice which is probably in some cases why you know, movies didn’t work as well. 

    Q: Hi, Joe McCabe (unintelligible). For Dennis and Laeta, just wondering, when you guys were writing the novel and the screenplay, did you in your mind have these elements of gothic horror or were you surprised that Scorsese brought those to the film? 

    DL: Oh I did, I did really clearly. I said when I wrote this, I felt pigeon-holed by the critical response to my previous book “Mystic River,” and I felt like for the first time in my life I’m being watched and they expect something of me. And I’m a contrarian by nature, and I—well then I’m going to give them what they don’t expect. I’m going to write a gothic because I’ve always loved them. And then I said and I’m going to not only write the critics liked “Mystic River” so I did something wrong, there’s something bourgeois about the book if the critics got it. So then I said I’m going to do—I’m going to confound them. Only the French are going to get this. And I said my influences are going to be high art gothic over here, and just low-down, dirty “B” movies, whatever I can really “B,” “B” movies so that you won’t get—I love “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” because you don’t—people who saw it at the time went wow, that was a cool drive-in movie, and then two years later were like wow, I think that was saying things. And I wanted that to be “Shutter Island.” I wanted it to be—I wanted to write it really obliquely about what I was very angry about at that point and not even understand it myself, and have it funnel through “B” movies. And Scorsese totally got that to the point where he didn’t believe there was one movie I hadn’t seen. He was like well of course you saw—I think it was Doctor, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary” is like—and of course I caught your reference in that, and I said I never saw that. And he was like you liar. And I was like no, really. I didn’t see that one. You got “Manchurian Candidate,” you got “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” you got all those, but yeah, so that was me, and for Laeta…. 

    LK: Uh, personal fascination with 19th century novels. So yes, much of what I responded to was you know, ironically was the Bronte sort of aspects of the—the gothic quality to the story telling.  Although also I would say, so I think I was responding to the source material, I don’t think I was, uh, I don’t think I was reading into or bringing anything in particular. But ironically, although I could  see all of the elements of the sort of McCarthyism that were being alluded to, for me personally, uh, so much of what spoke to me in the story were what you might consider to be a traditional gothic novel elements from that period about madness, about the wages of sin. You know very “Wuthering Heights” kind of stuff. 

    DL: Yeah, I think all the other stuff, the McCarthy, all that is—it’s nice, it’s wrapping paper, but you know, the heart and sole of it is you know, the cliffs, and the caves, and the (overlap) you know the isolation, and the rain, and the yeah…. 

    LK: Yes. You don’t get to do that very much. It was really fun. 

    Q: I have a question for Mr. Lehane. I’m curious about this psychiatric institution. Was your story based on an actual place? 

    DL: Well there was an actual—it was a minimum security uh, mental institution on an island in Boston Harbor, but it was connected by a bridge. It was called Long Island actually which would have been a really crappy title, you know. And uh, I just don’t think it would have had the same shiver, you know, Long Island. Hmm, Montauk. So it uh, when I was a kid, my uncle who had worked there at one point took us out there and it had been… stopped being a mental institution in the 60’s I believe. Then it was a home for the mentally handicapped, then it became—now it’s a drug rehab place. Anyway, he brought us out there during the blizzard of ’78 and it was really barren, and there was nothing—nobody was using it at that point. And he told us that sometimes, usually right about now when the sun was going down, uh, the ghosts of the, of the former patients could be seen in the woods. And then because it’s my family, he vanished, you know. That was our sense of humor. And me and my brother were, you know, walking around the woods and truly thinking we saw people in mental institution straight jackets running past us. That kind of stuck with me, as it would. And uh, and twenty-five years later or so I was just walking along a beach and I looked out and I thought what if that institution didn’t have a bridge to it, and what if it was maximum security because there’s a history to the Harbor Islands. There was a concentration camp out there in the 1940’s for Italian prisoners of war. There’s forts, there's all sorts of cool things out there. So I just thought what if I put a mental institution, and I called the Harbor Island authority, this is my research, you know, I called the Harbor Island Authority and I said what’s the furthest nautical distance from Boston of one of your islands. And they said island number “X,” it’s twelve miles. Shutter’s thirteen. That’s right. Inspiration. Thank you. 

    (END)

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