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At Eternity's Gate with Julian Schnabel and Lee Daniels (Ep. 172)
"Hello, and thanks for tuning in to another episode of the directors Cai. Brought to you by the directors guild of America, featuring today's top director sharing behind the scene stories of the latest films and insights into the craft of directing please take a second to subscribe to our podcasts, and I tunes or wherever you get your podcasts. This episode takes us behind the scenes of director Julian Schnabel's new by graphical drama at eternity gate set. During the time Vincent Van Gogh lived in arl- and over. So was France. The film is a journey inside the world and mind of the tortured artist. Who despite skepticism, ridicule and illness created some of the world's most beloved and stunning works. In addition to add turn ities gate, Mr. Schnabel's credits include the feature films Miro before night, falls Bosque and the documentary feature. Berlin, he was nominated for both the DIGI award and the Academy Award for his two thousand eight feature the diving bell and the butterfly following a recent screening of the film at the DJ theater in Los Angeles. Mr. Schnabel's spoke with director Lee Daniels about filming at eternity gate during their conversation. Mr. Schnabel discusses putting the audience in the perspective of Van Gogh working with an editor whose main background. Was an architecture, and why this may be his last film. Everybody. We have matching a patent leather shoes. Tell them why. There was the gala of route the. Lucknow? So and he kept he kept his AT took his tux off in the car here. Ooh, how you. Ju-? The last time we were here together you interview in you interviewed me for the Butler. I think we did that in New York wasn't hunting. So but say movie, Saint people just different state. All right. Thank you. Nice to see everybody. Thank you for coming out. So Julian Schnabel's, my hero. And he's one of the reasons why I do what I do. And I guess I'm going to just start with. I why why this film? Why? Well, I didn't wanna make a movie about Van Gogh because everybody thinks they know everything about him. So it seemed absurd to do it. But. I don't know a whole lot about other things. But I know quite a bit about painting. And that's what I am on the painter. And I think there's a an inevitability about his work and. I think he's still waiting for his audience, but they keep coming anyway. So I think that maybe it was a reason why didn't want to do it in the first place. But are later I think the fact that most people think they have a relationship with the painter. Why? Mus good to try to answer that I think ultimately, I got a chance to say things about painting that I wanted to say and about being an artist in just about making anything it wasn't necessarily about painting. But maybe that was a way to talk about what it's like to be alive. When I when I. I walked away with the feeling of like. Wow, critics, you know, 'cause they dogged him, you know, and. As an artist. You know, you get dot you open yourself up to complete vulnerability. And I what it left me. I ended up leaving this film with the feeling of what defines art who who who is who defines that a critic from the New York Times. Who defines what defines art? And I was just wondering if you had anything to share on that. Listening is that why you did the phone. I think that art is a practice that nobody asked you to make. I don't think people do it for the money. I don't or for the fame when you're young you want agreement from other people, maybe one agreement from other people just for being alive, and you don't really know how to get it. So you do different things to get people's attention. But ultimately, the more you work. I think when Vincent says. To Dr Gachet. I thought that an artist was supposed to teach something about. Life. And then I I stopped thinking that now I just think about my relationship with your turn ity. And. I think the more you do it the more you realize that the process of doing it is really. But the thing is and. The notion that Van Gogh wasn't successful. Is a bit is absurd. I would say since. First of all he. If and I guess there's that moment where Wilma sitting in that vegetable field any pours dirt on his face, and he starts smiling. And I would say that to me it looks like that guy was exactly in the right place at the right time and. I don't know how many people actually feel like that in a lifetime. And the work that he made were was his. His was his companion was his confident, and it was his he had the dialogue with himself. It's a luxury when you can have a dialogue with other people. And I think that that's what he loved so much about Gauguin that he had respect for him. And I love that. I love that you showed that I felt like when I was watching the movie I was watching. Watching Van Gogh paint is how you sort of. Is how you directed. It. I shot who shot it Ben wa Delo shot the movie. I think he did a great job and guess this bunch of directors in this room, and I can say to you that he never said wants to me. I can't do it. And that's extrordinary. And there was no he asked for a lot this one. Well, we devised ways of doing things Louise Coburg is in the audience. She wrote the script was John Claude carryanne, I n and also edited the film. I did it with her. But she did it how you wanna stand up stand up. Louise. So obviously, we all know that editing is writing and. Ben wa Willem Louise, and I all became the same person at some moment and. What was your question? I'm sorry Lee. Where'd you shoot it? Okay. So we were we were in all. And that all in the south of France. And that's where Van Gogh lived from eighteen eighty eight until he moved to over sir walls where he died, and so this was took place more or less than the last two years of his life. Gauguin came down visit him as brother. Paid for Gauguin to go down there. And. Keep them company, but Gauguin wanted to do it and one thing that was, but when we arrived, for example, there was no weet in. The south of France. So we sent Ben wad. Scotland asked him to shoot his feet. Okay. So how much is your budget for this? Budget was ten million dollars. And we probably had to spend two million dollars on lawyer's fees for some ridiculous can reason. I mean, it really was hobbled together in a way, and and at a certain moment. Also, we lost three hundred and fifty thousand dollars from one of the investors. They said, well, can you shoot seven hour days? Yeah. I can. And in fact, every day at about five thirty it was magic our in our will end. So Louise, and I would actually. Keep inventing scenes to shoot. And so many of the things that are in the movie were done spontaneously and Willem was up for it. And so was Oscar so good. He's so good. He's so good in the film. Let me do you. Do you like you shot? Now a couple of movies the country. What's different between those crews and these crews here. Your American supposedly. I mean, my father's from Czechoslovakia. My mother was born in New York, but she's from Romania, and I would say. Well, but I would say about say be honest. Well, I would say I mean, I've felt like a person who's person without a flag really somewhere in mid Atlantic. And after I made the diving bell and the butterfly was within tell you, right. I was with Sean Penn who made a movie about. Go with the Emile Hirsch. Into the one to the wild. And I was sitting there watching Shawn's moving. He's really an American director. I was a real American movie, and I looked at the diving bell and the butterfly and I thought well, that's a French movie. And it was a moment where Jerome said do one in me to make the movie in English. And I well, I can't do that. Don't you think it'd be weird for? French people to be speaking English and people reading French subtitles of a movie about a guy who's runs a magazine in Paris. So no, I don't think it'd be weird at all. I said, well, I can't make that really. And so we made that movie in French, and but this movie. I think we're in a post linguistic kind of moment and. What is often Tissot and? Okay. Those kids it would have been very inauthentic to me for those kids to speak English. And also for the people that were in the bar in the Tambo around to be speaking English. But when you're a foreign are you speak your language with your family at home and in this case? The convention was advan go and his brother, we're gonna speak English. And then I guess you could see how beautifully Oscar Isaac speaks French. But he doesn't really speak French that beautifully of. He did a pretty good job. But French people would have heard that it wasn't that good. Louis Gorell came over to the house, and we recorded Louise voice on iphone, and he did Oscar's voice. And we were able to. Arrange acuity and do the tenor of his voice to where it sounded like Oscar's voice and Louis Carell did in mazing job. He also read Orioles letter and was go Gant's voice in the end. And I'm glad that they let them use the movie place. So you could see the yellow come up because I think that's kind of the really the end of the movie, but we didn't want to have too many endings. So we had to wait a little while to give you the yellow. I loved the I really was surprised in love the tenderness between the brothers came came out of nowhere. A shot of Willem in the bed looking up at his brother not wanting to leave. I felt. It's interesting when you think that an image could speak volumes because what they're saying. Isn't that interesting? But the fact that these two guys are lying in a bed in a suit and his his his brother holds them like that. I thought Rupert was really the repository of all of his grief and all of this love, and and at a certain moment, he said to me, I think maybe just my character. I need to have more agency where I could speak about my brother. I said. If I said if you just do what I ask you to do. I think it'll be fun. And he sure did I mean he was really able to be still and the he had so much affection in him towards Willem. And he was so there was some pretty chaotic moments in some of these scenes, and Rupert was able to be very stoic and still and still still still still the that's that's how I felt too about. Who's that beasts that was in the in the? Mental. Oh, Neal's our droop. He's a beast. He's brilliant. You know, when he said basically told him that he couldn't that. What was this garbage? Was it? What was what was he doing? I mean, he was acting as as what he was wasn't acting. He's not acting. He's just crazy as a bug. Here's a great actor though. But he's not I don't think he was acting. In fact, I wanted him to say because some people don't understand what he's saying. Sometimes maybe some people did or didn't. But didn't feel like we needed to put subtitles under what he was saying. Because of I didn't want anybody to read anything when they were looking at his face, except what was on his face so Neal's. He played in the diving bell and the butterfly also. And he's what was what was he was a guy who had been locked in a basement on had been kidnapped and came to see John Doe, and John Doe is sitting there paralyzed. And he says God why why didn't I call this guy when he got out of being? In after he was kidnapped. And so he was instead of it being a positive thing. He was just mortified that. He is sit there and look at this guy. He never called. Anyway, I wanna kneels to do to play in the scene, and at a certain moment, I said to him you think you could just tell me the words sergeant again. And he said, you know, I am like a leaf that's blowing around in the wind. And I don't know that I could get to that place again and really deliver that line that you're asking me to deliver. And so I said, okay. And then he said it anyway, but we never changed it. And I think that the movie was made like that. I think that Willem was like a leaf blowing around in the wind, and we were like a leaf blowing around in the wind. And there was a lot of wind, and weather and the weather and the landscape. Protagonist in the film. We shot the movie in the asylum, where did you shoot the film for? Was thirty eight days or something like that? But we had two weeks where we was not scheduled and we went down to all. And it's not a cozy place maybe in the summer. But in February when Gauguin told him to go down there. It's brutal and people are not necessarily warm, and they definitely were not nice to Vincent. And it's. So when we went down there, the sunflowers were dead, and it was fantastic. I mean to see though, sunflowers really looked like you were walking through a concentration camp in those and those of flowers each were people and to walk through there and. Really Benoi did an amazing job. And when when he went to Scotland he was wearing van Goghs, shoes and his pants. He even had his hat in case. There was a camera shadow, and when I walk around I look at the floor all the time, and sometimes you look up, but I thought it'd be nice to see feet walking up the screen on. So tell me about that you just tell them what you share with me about that. But shot. About walking through the seasons that way, I mean, basically it starts and you're you're walking around with him. But without it was a way of him walking through who shot it. Oh, well, those particular moments at the beginning when you're not by Ben wa but at another moment, we gave William the camera. So there's moments when William is running and he's holding the camera when Willem is walking home after he's been shot and he walks in front of the liquor. He's shooting his feet. And then he shoots the people that are looking at him with the split Dieter. I mean, basically I walked into. Vintage shop, and I bought some say, well, she is to what is it a vintage shop old clothes store. And I. Bought the sunglasses, and when I walked out I looked to the floor, and I realized they were bifocals. So there was a step in the grass, and I thought. Wow. That's okay. So I took the glasses and gave it to Ben wa and asked him to tach it to his lens. Then the sunglasses were a little small for the lens. So we created a split Diop there. So we could have a dif- different depth of field and thought that that could reflect van Goghs feeling of. Or anxiety or gets more exacerbate in and so and by not attaching it to lens, we could just move it around a little bit felt more human. But it's very interesting. When people say, oh, what's wrong with the bottom of the screen, or why did the blue eyed all of a sudden came black did something wrong with the projection into say, no, no the movie supposed to be like that just some K about research. I mean, like did you do things? I did he have a girlfriend. Did he have a lover? Well, and then how do you how did you go about researching? It's it's a bit ago. How are you? How did you go about your research? Yeah. And did you have a girlfriend or lever? Well, he had a girlfriend in Amsterdam. I mean, she I didn't know her. And I wasn't there. But it's documented that he had a girlfriend who had a child and he couldn't afford to take care of her because his brother was paying his bills. And so he had relationships basically with people that he paid have relationships with. So he didn't have a girlfriend. And. An particularly at this time. Between the winter of the beginning of eight hundred eighty eight until the time he died. He definitely didn't have girlfriend, but he was accused of touching women. Sometimes in our being kind of like a town. That's sort of like how you began it. Well, let's see. I mean that was the goal that letter. Yeah. Okay. I don't know that was going. That'd be an interesting thing for everybody to talk about from it. I'm just for us. 'cause I can tell you what I thought. Okay. Love to hear what I thought that something was going on. And I didn't know where we're going and when you came back to it. I thought that something was wrong. I know you're right. But at the beginning of the movie, you you you're lying in the dark or I lie in the dark in the morning. And I think about things or whatever, and I would like to be one of them. I'd like to sit down and have a drink and asked if they Mike somebody to ask me if I'd like a piece of fruit or I mean, just something and a one would smile at me. And anyway, and so an a very literal way you kind of see what he wants. And then here's a woman standing on the road. But it's not really connected in such a. Literal, way and. I think that there is a big chasm. There's a chasm between art and society. There's a chasm between artists and society, and there's certainly a chasm between or I mean, somebody might be very good at one thing and not so good at other things. I mean, he was very good at painting very bad at relating to people. They did of. There was a petition to keep him from coming back to ARL, man. That's a fact, and so, but we invented situations that would serve the story. I mean, he didn't paint the roots in eighteen eighty eight those kids didn't bother him. I mean, that's not exactly what happened. But it was a good way to get him into the hotel set up the sing. So then his brother could call write a letter to Gauguin to get him to come down there. I mean, I wrote the letter to go GAM, but there worked correspondents that were close to that. And then. Getting Gauguin down there. You could have you can see how how important friendship was. And also somebody that he could communicate with. That's so cool. I mean to. I thought about my friendship with you. When I watched the film to you know, how supportive you've been and how you are a supporter of the arts. You know, you support artists and. Yeah. That's what I thought about that with him and your style, man. I really dig your style. I love how I love the music, and I love your your lack of your lack of sound. We're in. We're in motion. We're hearing things. Oh, we don't hear anything. Didn't you hit me with some music is almost like a cool jazz album? And who did whose Taylor who who did the music Tatyana, Liz off sky thinks this is the. I think I I soundtrack that she ever made her first instrument is the violin. And. The first couple of cords in that I made up, and then she and Paul Cantillon did the rest, but all of the piano music, she played by herself. And then louisan I as we edited the film or saw the film really heard that in his head. Now, the in you, you say louisan you edited the film. How does how does that does that? The editor of the film. Editor of the film. Okay. All right. What happened was it was unintentional of you hire had you edited before Louise, she's an architect. Okay. So how did that work? Gene. You can you. Explain it or are. Okay. Well, John Claude carrier, and I started to write the script. And at a certain moment. I mean, something happened. We were we went to we saw Van Gogh Arto exhibition at the museum Dorsey, and when I was looking at the paintings, I was explaining what I thought how Van Gogh painted them to John Clottey felt like go Van Gogh was talking to him. I didn't know that till a couple months ago. Anyway, I was explaining things about the painting. And then I thought okay, the fifth say fifteen paintings in the room, you have an experience with each one of these things at the end, you have an accumulative feeling about everything you saw. So I thought if the structure of the movie is that and we have fifteen vignettes, and it doesn't have to be nil 'lustration of what's in the painting. But a story that could be a parallel life to whatever that separate image was. So we started thinking or talking about things for example discussions about Christ. Shakespeare, vietnam. At a certain moment of. I was seeing a movie I guess being somebody that may actually makes things three dimensional things. With seeing the movie at a different way than John Claude. He's eighty seven I'm sixty six she's thirty three she's from Sweden. I'm from Brooklyn. He's from Columbia, and we all had a feeling about Van Gogh and saw it in a different way. So at a certain moment of Louise started to organize the vignettes into a place where this narrative was coming that was closer to how I was seeing the film. And then when we went down to ARL, if you see the script, you'll see it says that we've been kind of re wrote it, but it was say he walks in nature. I mean, we had seen those eighteen minutes long him walking in nature. There were a large moments of the film where there's no talking, and then there's some where there's a lot of talking. And so we thought and I think that she saw the movie visually head portrait's horizontality landscape, and I guess also. So we started to. Respond to these seven hour days and also to literally to the physical arduousness of the landscape, and for example. So you started the film without an editor knowing so did, you know, she's going to edit prior to on the journey know what happened. No, not at all what happened was Juliet wealth lane who edited the diving bell and the butterfly was supposed to do this. But she was working on Jacko DR Smoot movie and wasn't going to be free till April. And I love Juliet and trust her and thought, we'd wait, and we got done shooting on December ten, but the thing is that don't you hate that? When that happens. When you're doesn't happen to me all the time because movies all the time. But but you hate that. I hate it when it happens. So. Louise. Learn the avid program in two days because she basically does all of these bills these buildings and all does all the spatial work sketch up and different things in has. Curated different exhibitions. And in fact, there's an exhibition at the museo door state where she built the walls. And so I think thinking spatially has a lot to do an editing and also. Inventing things. I don't think there was one set that we did we didn't change everything around. So someone asked her the other day, did you we editing on on the set? She wasn't editing but recorded everything new all the skeletons were buried in undescended tenth of we just started editing movie, and it was on the laptop. So we went edited in Mexico airplane wherever and by the time, April rolled around. We were so far how long does that? So you got a December tenth to April tenth what does that December? Mark was a four or five months. That's good. We were so far gone that when Juliet of looked at the material and some money, well, we paid her anyway instead of breathing on her neck, we'll let her work on it for a while. But she was going to take out everything that characterize it as what it was. And you've got all fight for whatever. That thing is. I mean, there are a lot of battles to fight when you make movies, but there's. We really preserved what we thought was the film. And so we just were inseparable and basically. Went through that whole process. And she used the editor. We added it together. It's great. None of your films are like and yet they still have the same heartbeat. You know, I can never. Know, they they have the same heartbeat. But just none of them. Feel the same. What were you? What were you going for like when you when you when you with this you going for I wanted somebody to have the feel I didn't want to be about Van Gogh? I want you to feel like you were him. I wanted to put everyone in have the experience. That's how I felt. I felt like I was criticized and I felt like, you know, anything you read if you read a review, the one thing you what you cling to what I cling to is the negative as opposed to the positive. I felt so I felt for him as an artist. Well, he didn't really have the tickets you start the movie with the taking the paintings down from the wall get outta here. Yeah. That's a bit predictable. And that's why we put the girl at the beginning to say, hey, this is not going to be a regular bio. We're going to have some really. Thing out in nature that will be the poetry of this guy's life. And. It was a bit too wrote. The fact is that he actually did those and you asked about the research, those are the paintings that were in a more or less. Those were the paintings that were in the cafeteria. So I guess I knew a lot of art historians and people that have curated and and authenticate Van Gogh's work. So we knew which pictures were in the cafeteria which pictures were painted in the asylum, which pictures would have been at his brother's house of. So for example, the roots were painted in eighteen eighty nine not one thousand nine hundred eighty eight but it was good to paint the roots to have that scene. I mean Van Gogh is never seen a Velasquez painting or Goya painting because Goya paintings weren't at the loop at that time, he did see Delacour Varanasi frowns halls. But I thought it was more interesting to show that if you look at it. Painting. And of Alaska's painting up close you see a bunch of abstract marks. And that's what you see. When you see Van Gogh painting and his work is more in concert with those guys and say Millais or Gustav de Ray somebody that he might have light. So I took the liberty to pick what I wanted. I mean even had Carvalho in there. But the. Who I think is as my favorite. But he did. And it just so happened. They let us shoot in the Loof and neck. How do you mean it just so happened? That's well, I'm just so happen. I guess they know my work, and they would have let me shoot in the Lou probably if you would have paid them. Yeah. I doubt it very nice. And anyway, so we've gotta pass shooting in the room where the Delacour paintings, and you see Garrick halt the rafters in there also. But in the next room is the marriage it kinda by Varanasi, which is the painting that Napoleon stole from the Cini foundation Venice, anyway, we were able to just walk in there. So William guests to walk up to the painting and in the real life, supposedly Van Gogh wrote. Because he didn't think he liked Varanasi. And he was painting potatoes eater. The potato eaters around that time, which was kind of a gray Brown and black painting. But when he saw the marriage at Khanna, he wrote the colors in my painting. Don't come from reality. They come from my palate. Well, the your was in your house recently. And I gotta tell you. I wanted to I wanted to I wanted to take it out of there. The portrait of Willem. And then there's a there's a there's a portrait of Willem. And then there's a portrait another portrait of Willem. Tell me. I would've I would've taken anyone is going to go for some money. I know, but then what isn't gonna go for some money. One was a prop. And I was going to ask if it's a prompt and give it to me. I will I already gave it to William do you gave it to will Andy I did. So what who gets that who gets who gets the money? I hope I get some someday. Anyway, here he goes. Nah. Okay. So what happened is Van Gogh? I'm one of the things we found out and making the movies how we worked, and I don't know if anybody knows us in the room, probably raise your hand, if you know, do you know that the flower paintings, the paintings of sunflowers, he didn't paint all of them from life. There. Fifteen sunflowers in a painting and their fifteen sunflowers in another painting. In some another one there might be twelve sunflower. So what I'm saying is he would make paintings of his own paintings say you couldn't go out that day or whatever he wanted to paint. He would make paintings. So he was kind of like Andy Warhol in that sense because he was sort of the first post modern painter. So that being said if William was going to be Van Gogh I needed to make the painting that he painted himself. Look like willing sees in the movie, so I painted Willem as Van Gogh. And that's what's on the wall and the asylum after I got home, I painted a painting of the painting. So I made a plate painting of the painting of Willem as is going to steal. And that's what he saw the student who said this is going to be your last movie. And I don't believe you. And I hope to not know why why am I really change? Well, you know, I have to really change gears to do that. I mean, everybody here. Probably I mean, if that's what you do you do that that way of mediating the world, I do that by painting. And I really didn't want to do this. But I think it was my mother that was. Had an impulse to educate people or maybe she did that to me. I don't know what it was. But I felt like he was. Mistreated during his life. I think he's been Meese mistreated historically with all of these silly myths, and I think he's missed been mistreated in films that we've seen by directors that we all respect who don't know anything about. I mean, Robert Altman's a great director. He didn't know God damn thing about. I was gonna say Willem Dafoe about Vincent Van Gogh. And I mean, it was beautiful thing. Sean, I always loved the thing about the brothers in them. But the first thing that happens in that movie talks about a painting being sold for thirty six million dollars or whatever who gives us. I mean, that's not what it's about. And so I mean. I mean, MAURICE Piazza's movie. I don't know if anybody likes that movie. But it was a busy in my opinion. I French people like it. But I mean, it could have been about anybody. I mean, you didn't answer my questions. My final question to, you know, don't I hope not? I hope this is not that just some bows. No, no, no. Because I really have to change gears to do that. And this was something that was very very close to my. Of me trying to understand what it's like to be alive. And I think I said what I wanted to say when he says when I'm painting, I stopped thinking. I like to do that. I like to stop thinking. And and I guess when I'm painting. I do stop thinking. And maybe when we're making a movie we've stopped thinking also at the moment, we can stop thinking when we can just let something happen. And I think that what you can see in the movie is how we really depend on. I mean, what William did how we could access that place and do what he did how Oscar mas- Mickelson. I mean, these people. Who knows where it comes from? I mean mas- is a dancer. I mean, Chris walk and is a great friend of mine. I mean guy could read the telephone book, and it's interesting, but but they can do something that I can't do. And when I was a painter. Longtime ago, and I had comments about movies. Nobody listened to me. But being the director of the actors, listen to you. So I started to I and the thing about John Michel Basquiat? I think I probably did it for the same reason. Because. I hated Robert Hughes saying that he was he was you're the Eddie Murphy of the art world and all of this abuse that he took really and I thought okay, oh at the John Michel to give him. The respect. Well on that note. I respect you very much, and I'm really happy that you brought this into the world. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you Lee. And thank you guys are coming. Thanks for listening to another DJ QNA if you'd like to hear more you can find past episodes at the director's cut wherever you listen to podcasts. We'll have a lot more fuel in the coming weeks as Ford season approaches, including QNA's Alphonso Koran David McKenzie and Steve mcqueen's. So be sure to subscribe, saying don't miss Nep sewed. If you're enjoying the podcast, please take a moment to write in review us on. I tunes. We'd love to hear your feedback and you can help Palestinia files. Find the show. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time. 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