Roundtable Interview With Director Derek Cianfrance On The Place Beyond The Pines

We asked if doing a film like The Place Beyond The Pines was a little scary:

Derek Cianfrance: Yes, because of the action scenes, and in terms of structure, a lot of people had suggested that I inter-cut the film. I love parallel editing, I did it with Blue Valentine, and even go back to D.W. Griffith or Star Wars – it’s a great tool of filmmaking. But to me the bravest choice we can make in this film is to keep it chronological because it’s a film about legacy. Making it very personal, it was about that fire I was passing on to my child.

I’m also dealing with violence which I’ve never really dealt with before in a movie. It made me almost sick to put a gun in the film because I just don’t like them in movies. I’m sick of them in movies. Talking about responsibility with my own kid, I can’t even watch a football game without turning off the channel, you know? I don’t know when violence became so cinematic. Violence is just so cool today, and if I have to see another slow-motion bullet come out and hit someone in the head while their brains splatter out – to me it just isn’t beautiful, it’s not cool.

“But you treat it differently, violence is violence…”

Derek Cianfrance: Yes, and it’s narrative, it’s story, so as the audience you have to experience it. There’s a point in the movie, I think that first hand-off, where I love being part of the audience in that moment because it’s transcendent, there’s a period of a certain emotion. There’s no sanctity of a flashback.

Going back to the church scene where Ryan breaks down, we asked Derek how he got Ryan to evoke so much emotion:

Derek Cianfrance: It was not expect, it just happened because of all of his choices, all the of the shame and regret he felt I think. Walking into this place and not being able to fit in? He realizes he can’t be a part of the world, he’s always going to be an outsider. When he sat down and they were saying the “Our Father” while baptizing his kid, it just overwhelmed him.

I remember the same thing happened on Blue Valentine. There was a scene where he had to bury his dog, and I showed up to the set that morning to find a hole dug by the production team. I was like “What is going on?” They just answered “Well that’s your hole.” I said “No, he has to dig the hole,” and someone on my production team said “Derek, there’s a lot of roots out there, it’s going to take him a long time to dig that hole,” and I was like “Well that’s fine.” I set the camera in the back and started filming Ryan digging this hole, it took him like 2 hours, and the crew was thinking I was ruining my movie.

Ryan did this, buried the dog, put the dirt over, and he walked back to the house, but you could see how physically exhausted he was, his muscles were just dead. So he walked back into the house, grabbed a beer, we started shooting, he started drinking his beer at the table, but then he started to just break down and cry.

As he told it, his mind knew that he wasn’t burying his dog, but his body didn’t. His body actually did the thing, it was a physical action, and his body tricked his mind. This is why I like physicality in my actors, and getting to that moment where acting stops and behavior begins.

Then we asked about the casting of Bradley Cooper and how Derek got him involved: 

Derek Cianfrance: I had no idea who was going to play Avery, I was auditioning a number of actors, and they said “You have a meeting with Bradley Cooper.” I’m thinking to myself “Wait, the guy from The Hangover? I don’t think he’s going to be in the movie, but I’ll meet with him anyway.” I didn’t think he was an “actor,” you know what I mean?

Then I met with him, and I was immediately struck by Bradley. I’d say the image I had of Bradley when I first saw him was a pot of boiling water with a lid on it. When I met him as a man, I felt like there was a storm raging inside him, something conflicted he was wresting with, and I related to it. Immediately I had a kinship with him. I even went back and re-wrote this character based on my mis-perception of who he was as a person and I thought I could make this character who could be paraded around as a hero, as “The Sexiest Man Alive,” but inside he was corrupted. Inside there was this toxic feeling. I thought that he could do that.

So I re-wrote the script specifically for him and gave it to him, and he was very nervous about it. In fact, he said he wouldn’t do it. I had to drive up five hours to Montreal where he was shooting The Words and had a four hour dinner with him from 12:00AM to 4:00AM. For three hours and forty-five minutes of that, he wasn’t doing the movie.