Tag Archives: Adam Driver

Marriage Story director Noah Baumbach

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Noah Baumbach first made a name for himself with The Squid and the Whale, his 2005 semi-autobiographical, bittersweet story about his childhood and his parents’ divorce. It launched his career, scoring him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Noah Baumbach

His latest film, Marriage Story, is also about the disintegration of a marriage — and the ugly mechanics of divorce. Detailed and emotionally complex, the film stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as the doomed couple.

In all, Marriage Story scooped up six Oscar nominations — Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. Laura Dern walked away with a statue for her supporting role.

The film co-stars Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta. The behind-the-scenes team includes director of photography Robbie Ryan, editor Jennifer Lame and composer Randy Newman.

Just a few days before the Oscars, Baumbach — whose credits also include The Meyerwitz Stories, Frances Ha and Margot at the Wedding — talked to me about making the film and his workflow.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
It’s obviously about a marriage and divorce, but I never really think about a project in specific terms, like a genre or a tone. In the past, I may have started a project thinking it was a comedy but then it morphs into something else. With this, I just tried to tell the story as I initially conceived it, and then as I discovered it along the way. While I didn’t think about tone in any general sense, I became aware as I worked on it that it had all these different tones and genre elements. It had this flexibility, and I just stayed open to all those and followed them.

I heard that you were discussing this with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as you wrote the script. Is that true?
Yes, but it wasn’t daily. I’d reached out to both of them before I began writing it, and luckily they were both enthusiastic and wanted to do it, so I had them as an inspiration and guide as I wrote. Periodically, we’d get together and discuss it and I’d show them some pages to keep them in the loop. They were very generous with conversations about their own lives, their characters. My hope was that when I gave them the finished script it would feel both new and familiar.

What did they bring to the roles?
They were so prepared and helped push for the truth in every scene. Their involvement from the very start did influence how I wrote their roles. Nicole has that long monologue and I don’t know if I’d have written it without Scarlett’s input and knowing it was her. Adam singing “Being Alive” came out of some conversations with him. They’re very specific elements that come from knowing them as people.

You reunited with Irish DP Robbie Ryan, who shot The Meyerowitz Stories. Talk about how you collaborated on the look and why you shot on film?
I grew up with film and feel it’s just the right medium for me. We shot The Meyerowitz Stories on Super 16, and we shot this on 35mm, and we had to deal with all these office spaces and white rooms, so we knew there’d be all these variations on white. So there was a lot of discussion about shades and the palette, along with the production and costume designers, and also how we were going to shoot these confined spaces, because it was what the story required.

You shot on location in New York and LA. How tough was the shoot?
It was challenging, but mainly because of the sheer length of many of the scenes. There’s a lot of choreography in them, and some are quite emotional, so everyone had to really be up for the day, every day. There was no taking it easy one day. Every day felt important for the movie.

Where did you do the post?
All in New York. I have an office in the Village where I cut my last two films, and we edited there again. We mixed on the Warner stage, where I’ve mixed most of my movies. We recorded the music and orchestra in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I really love it. It’s the most fun and the most civilized part of the whole process. You go to work and work on the film all day, have dinner and go home. Writing is always a big challenge, as you’re making it up as you go along, and it can be quite agonizing. Shooting can be fun, but it’s also very stressful trying to get everything you need. I love working with the actors and crew, but you need a high level of energy and endurance to get through it. So then post is where you can finally relax, and while problems and challenges always arise, you can take time to solve them. I love editing, the whole rhythm of it, the logic of it.

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Talk about editing with Jennifer Lame. How did that work?
We work so well together, and our process really starts in the script stage. I’ll give her an early draft to get her feedback and, basically, we start editing the script. We’ll go through it and take out anything we know we’re not going to use. Then during the shoot she’ll sometimes come to the set, and we’ll also talk twice a day. We’ll discuss the day’s work before I start, and then at lunch we’ll go over the previous day’s dailies. So by the time we sit down to edit, we’re really in sync about the whole movie. I don’t work off an assembly, so she’ll put together stuff for herself to let me know a scene is working the way we designed it. If there’s a problem, she’ll let me know what we need.

What were the big editing challenges?
Besides the general challenges of getting a scene right, I think for some of the longer ones it was all about finding the right rhythm and pacing. And it was particularly true of this film that the pace of something early on could really affect something later. Then you have to fix the earlier bit first, and sometimes it’s the scene right before. For instance, the scene where Charlie and Nicole have a big argument that turns into a very emotional fight is really informed by the courtroom scene right before it. So we couldn’t get it right until we’d got the courtroom scene right.

A lot of directors do test screenings. Do you?
No, I have people I show it to and get feedback, but I’ve never felt the need for testing.

VFX play a role. What was involved?
The Artery did them. For instance, when Adam cuts his arm we used VFX in addition to the practical effects, and then there’s always cleanup.

Talk about the importance of sound to you as a filmmaker, as it often gets overlooked in this kind of film.
I’m glad you said that because that’s so true, and this doesn’t have obvious sound effects. But the sound design is quite intricate, and Chris Scarabosio (working out of Skywalker Sound), who did Star Wars, did the sound design and mix; he was terrific.

A lot of it was taking the real-world environments in New York and LA and building on that, and maybe taking some sounds out and playing around with all the elements. We spent a lot of time on it, as both the sound and image should be unnoticed in this. If you start thinking, “That’s a cool shot or sound effect,” it takes you out of the movie. Both have to be emotionally correct at all times.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did it at New York’s Harbor Post with colorist Marcy Robinson, who’s done several of my films. It’s very important, but we didn’t do anything too extreme, as there’s not a lot of leeway for changing the look that much. I’m very happy with the look and the way it all turned out.

Congratulations on all the Oscar noms. How important is that for a film like this?
It’s a great honor. We’re all still the kids who grew up watching movies and the Oscars, so it’s a very cool thing. I’m thrilled.

What’s next?
I don’t know. I just started writing, but nothing specific yet.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

The A-List: Jim Jarmusch on his latest film Paterson

By Iain Blair

Over the past few decades, writer/director Jim Jarmusch has followed the beat of his own drum and built up a body of idiosyncratic films that include Permanent Vacation (1980), Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Night on Earth (1991), Dead Man (1995), Year of the Horse (1997), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Broken Flowers (2005), The Limits of Control (2009), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) and Gimme Danger (2016).

Jim Jarmusch and Iain Blair.

His new film, Paterson, fits firmly in that tradition. Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey — he is also a poet. Each day he adheres to a simple routine: he drives his daily route observing the city as it drifts across his windshield and while overhearing fragments of conversations swirling around him; he writes poetry into a notebook; he walks his dog; he stops in a bar and drinks exactly one beer; he goes home to his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani).

By contrast, Laura’s world is ever changing. New dreams come to her almost daily, each a different and inspired project. They have a happy marriage and love each other. He supports her newfound ambitions and she champions his gift for poetry. The film quietly observes the small triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details. As Jarmusch himself says, it’s “a kind of antidote to dark, heavily dramatic or action-oriented cinema.” No kidding. The film’s big action scene is when Paterson’s bus breaks down.

In a rare interview — he doesn’t like doing press or promotion — I met up with Jarmusch about making the film, his workflow and poetry.

You’ve always been interested in poetry?
Yes, since I was a teenager. I studied poetry at Columbia and I read a lot of Rimbaud and the French poets. I then got into the American poets like Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, who came from Paterson, so it all ties together. This is my first film where the main character’s a poet, but I’ve woven references to poetry into a lot of my films, such as Mystery Train and Ghost Dog and Dead Man, so there’s a thread there.

How long had this idea been gestating?
A long time. Some 20 years ago I took a trip to Paterson because of William Carlos Williams, and the whole idea of it being a utopian idea for an industrial city. Allen Ginsberg had also grown up there, and when I got home I made notes about a possible story about a guy named Paterson who lives in Paterson and writes poetry. I also got very interested in the history of the city, which is fascinating. Then I finally wrote the script about six years ago.

Fair to say it’s a wry look at the simple pleasures of domestic life?
Absolutely. I think it’s a comedy, like almost all my films — or at least, they have comedic elements. It’s a story about details, all the little mundane stuff of daily life, the slight variations in the days of the week, that might inspire a poet that is of that school. It’s not the poetry of exclamation. I intentionally avoided conflict, action and, to some degree, plot. For some time I’ve been trying to make films where you’re hopefully not always thinking about what’s going to happen next — Zen-like things where you’re just in the present all the time.

What did Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani bring to their roles, as you usually write with specific actors in mind?
Nearly always, but not this time, which was very strange for me. I’d seen him in just a few things and I love his look. Once we met I intuitively knew he’d be just right, because he has this very subtle, good sense of humor, he’s quiet and very observant. He’s not analytical, he’s intuitive like me, and I was so lucky to get him and create this character together. I wrote Laura as this all-American girl, but someone I know said, “Why don’t you cast Golshifteh Farahani, since you love her work?” Once we met, I thought, why not? And the city of Paterson is very ethnically diverse, so it made sense.

Do you like the post process?
I love editing and post. I love all parts of filmmaking, except getting the financing, which can be agonizing. But the rest is so much fun, and post is where you really make the film. Shooting for me, since I don’t have it all figured out, is just gathering all the material. In post is where you find the film and finesse it into the form it tells you it wants to be.

Where did you do the post?
We did it all — editing, sound and the DI — in New York at Harbor Picture Company.

You worked with editor Affonso Gonçalves, whose credits include Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter’s Bone and who cut Only Lovers Left Alive for you. Tell us about that relationship?
He doesn’t usually come on the set — maybe a couple of times on this one. He got familiar with the dailies as we shot, but he didn’t really start cutting (via Avid Media Composer) until we were done shooting. Then a very important part of my job is to select the takes, as I’ve collaborated for a long time with the actors, and that’s not always obvious in the editing room. You could make a totally different film by taking, say, all the most light-hearted takes. So we go through all the takes and mark what I like, and then we start working and shaping it. He starts in the mornings and then I come in after lunch and we work together. Sometimes I get ahead of him, so some days I don’t come in, but generally it’s a daily thing.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
I have incredible sound designers I’ve worked with on many films over the years — sound designer Robert Hein and re-recording mixer Tony Volante — and it’s all incredibly important to me. Sound is half the film, so it’s very delicate and evocative, and the big thing I love about it is it’s the closest thing humans create to dreaming, drifting into this parallel world.

Robert Hein is this amazing artist, and we discuss things as detailed as, how many trees are close to the house? What types of birds and how many would be audible at dawn? Or you hear a distant motorcycle go by. We discuss exactly what type of bike is it, and what does that mean. What kind of people are around? The audience isn’t conscious of all that, but all these details form the fabric of the film and accumulate over all the scenes. The visual seems more important, more dominant, but it’s the sound and music that often tell the real story of what’s going on in a film. So I love love love working on all the sound. (At part of his process, Hein used Avid Pro Tools 12.5 Native during editorial, Pro Tools 12.5 HD in the mix studio and the Avid System 5 mixing console during the mix.)

How important was the DI on this?
We did it with colorist Joe Gawler, who did Arrival. In my opinion he’s the greatest on this planet. He is the man! I had the master Fred Elmes as my DP, and when I got the two of them together — I was thinking, “How did I trick these great artists into working with me?!” So I sat in on the timing, but I defer to them as they really elevate the look, which is really quite beautiful. (Gawler used Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve.)

What’s the state of indies today?
Financing is much harder now, and there are fewer companies, especially in the States. And the theatrical release used to be the big business part of it, and then the video release and so on was just ancillary. But now that’s totally flipped, and the theatrical release is just the promotion for the VOD and so on. It’s mind-boggling for me, though it doesn’t affect how you make a film. When people say, ‘The novel’s dead, it’s the end of cinema,’ that’s all nonsense. These art forms change and fluctuate and mutate, but they don’t die.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.