The Bigger Chill
By Mike Russell
So get this: Lawrence Kasdan — the writer-director
behind “The Big Chill,” “Grand Canyon,” and “The
Accidental Tourist” — always wanted to helm
an action movie.
You know, with special effects. And helicopters.
“I love the hardware,” he says. “I
like action movies like that, and I haven’t gotten
to do it.”
That is, until now.
Yes, the man who conceived “Wyatt Earp” as
a three-hour, character-driven epic just wrapped up his
adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher.” The
movie (which Kasdan co-scripted with King-adapter par
excellence William Goldman) marks the director’s first stab
at fantasy filmmaking since helping write “Raiders
of the Lost Ark,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return
of the Jedi.”
“I’d written movies like this and not gotten to direct
them, you know?” he says. “This one has elements
that are familiar to me from my other movies” — most
notably, that it stars four character actors (Jason Lee,
Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis and Timothy Olyphant) as angst-driven
pals — “but then that story runs head-on into
this alien invasion.” It also runs head-on into
a crazed military officer (Morgan Freeman) who will go
insane lengths to stop the body-snatching spacemen.
In Focus snatched
an hour of Kasdan’s time as he
put the finishing touches on “Dreamcatcher,” which
opens March 28; here’s what the director had to
say about monster moviemaking, Morgan Freeman’s
gravitas, William Goldman’s “ruthless clarity,” Stephen
King’s “retirement,” and Hollywood’s
• • •
On your earlier
fantasy films, you were answering to Lucas and Spielberg.
How are you approaching the material differently
now that you have a little more control over how it’s
Being a screenwriter is so different
from being a director/writer, where you have total control
over everything. I always
feel that when you write for somebody else — no matter how good
they are, and I’ve had some of the best
directors in the world doing my stuff — it’s
always different in tone than what you would do.
Tone is everything. You know, you could
give the same script to five different directors and you’d end up with
five very different movies, and it always has to do with
tone — with what they think is funny, with what they
think is realistic, with what they consider to be important
human behavior, with what they consider to be irrelevant.
And when you’re the writer/director, you get to make
all those decisions. It’s what I always wanted to
I feel fortunate to have directed 10 movies.
On the "Dreamcatcher" Web site, there’s
a clip where Timothy Olyphant’s trapped in the snow….
Yeah — he’s sitting out in the snowstorm all
alone, and this creature has escaped from the body of the
woman they saved, and is making its way toward him, but
he doesn’t know it because it’s under the snow.
It looks like it hearkens back to the
days of "Jaws," when
you didn't see the monster until the payoff.
You know, there are people who think
you should never see anything — it’s
all implication. And I suppose that has its virtues — but
not what I go to a horror film for. I want to see something,
you know? [laughs] And this
is more “Creature
Feature” — you
do get to see the creatures. But in that sequence,
you know it’s there, and it’s gonna jump out
at any moment — but you don’t know when.
My favorite horror films are “Alien” and “Exorcist.” Even “Silence
of the Lambs,” which is a human story. But I like
seeing this stuff. Psychological
suspense is great, and it should be mixed in there all
the time — but I
sometimes feel a little cheated when I come out and I haven’t
Well, you must love having the new digital toys to play
One of the advantages of waiting so
long to do an effects movie is that the tools are SO great now, and you can do
things that you couldn’t have done three years ago.
It just changes every day.
I’ve been working with ILM, and it’s
fascinating. With other movies, you finish production and
cutting the movie. With an effects movie, you’re
making a second movie after
finished the shooting, because so much is being added to
what you’ve shot.
We’re dealing right now with effects that will have
a huge impact on the movie — and we’ve been
done shooting for six months.
Barry Sonnenfeld said directing special effects was kind
of like trying to teach acting to a bunch of guys who are
good at math.
a good friend of mine. I’ve
never been technical; I’m sort of in awe of people
who can do this stuff at all. And there is a
good bit of explaining — sort of right-brain meeting
left-brain all the time — but I’m always amazed
at what they eventually come up with if you keep pushing
pushing and you keep saying, “No, that’s not
it — this is what I want.” They will come to
you, finally, and they will do something that you could
never do on your own in a million years.
Like many of your films, “Dreamcatcher” has
a large, ensemble cast with a lot of character actors.
Is that just something you’re attracted to in the
You know, I think it was coincidence
in this case. Who knows why this
particular Stephen King novel appealed to
me so much? There’s no question that I must have
felt some familiar resonance by seeing a story about four
friends who aren’t particularly happy with their
lives. That’s just sort of subject matter that I’ve
been dealing with for 20 years. But the fact that it then
turns into this sort of horror film — that’s
what made it for me.
But you’re sort of “smuggling” pet
themes into the material.
Exactly. You know, I think all horror
movies are about metaphors. That’s the main thing
me: How do you find a dramatic metaphor for the issues
that concern you? Whether it’s raising children or
dealing with life choices, you want to find something that
dramatizes it. And horror films are the most explicit,
in a way, because they find a metaphor for our deepest
You know, “Accidental Tourist” — which
couldn’t be any more different, and is the other
book I adapted — is about similar things: the fear
of chaos that is in the universe. We’re trying to
control our universe, and everything around us shows us
we have no control. “Accidental Tourist” dealt
with that in an emotional, literary way — and “Dreamcatcher” deals
with it in a very visceral way.
Which leads nicely into my next question,
which is about Morgan Freeman’s character. He’s playing this
kind of complex, Col. Kurtz-ish lunatic, right? He’s
someone who tries to aggressively control his environment.
Yes. He has a mission. He’s not even evil; it’s
that he’s gone ’round the bend, really. He’s
very good at his job, but he’s been doing it too
long, and he’s lost perspective. He’s a black-and-white
strategist: “You have to wipe out the whole thing — there’s
no middle ground.” That doesn’t leave much
room for human consideration, you know?
And his protégé is Tom Sizemore, who sees
that his hero and mentor has lost it and is no longer considering
any other options. It sets up this kind of father/son betrayal
business — because Sizemore has to choose for life
instead of the rigid militarism of Morgan Freeman’s
How do you make that black-and-white, messianic worldview
Well, it helps if you get one of the greatest actors in
Yeah. That would help
quite a bit.
It goes a long way. I love actors — I think it’s
a miracle what they do. I went to Morgan right away for
this part, even though he’s generally played more
benevolent characters. I thought he would be fascinating
as a slightly crazed guy.
I would imagine he gets sick of playing “dignity” all
the time. People forget that the role that broke him out
as an actor was “Street Smart.”
That’s right — in which he’s
really scary. You know, when we were in rehearsal — I
guess he would be all right with me telling this — he
I’ve got gravitas out
the ass.” [laughs]
very funny. He’s as great
a guy as I’ve ever
worked with. During the rehearsal process, he was a model
for a lot of these younger actors, who have barely ever
seen rehearsal, because movies
don’t rehearse much
any more. Morgan loves rehearsal himself; he’s a
It’s interesting that you cast
actors in lead roles who would be character or supporting
actors in any other
I always look at it like they’re just
a picture away from being leads — and
it’s always been
true. That was certainly true with Costner and Kline, and
Hurt when he did “Body Heat.” If you pick great
people, they’re going to go on to other good things.
You’ve always been pretty adamant about writing
your own screenplays — but now you're adapting (with
William Goldman's help) best-selling material.
Well, I’d adapted “Accidental Tourist” before,
and I found it a very satisfying experience — we
got a lot of nominations and Geena won an Academy Award — so
I was familiar with that process.
Bill Goldman and I have known each other
a long time; we were both in the Soviet Union together
10 years ago on
a Writer’s Guild trip, before the whole thing fell
apart. Bill had been an idol of mine: When I was in college
trying to become a movie director, and thinking that I
would become a screenwriter to make that happen, Bill was
selling “Butch Cassidy,” he was writing “All
the President’s Men” — he was the greatest
screenwriter, the most famous screenwriter, in the world.
He’s an amazing character and a great thinker about
story structure. This is a 600-page novel, and he did a
lot of the work of breaking it down before I came on and
What is it Goldman understands about Stephen King, anyway?
I think Bill has a ruthless clarity
about what can be in a movie and what can’t…. Sometimes you can
underestimate what can be in a movie. There were things
in the book that I wanted in the movie that Bill felt maybe
couldn’t be in — and I sort of added them back.
But he’s wonderful in terms of breaking it down to
the simplest elements.
You know, if you look at the track record, basically every
good Stephen King movie has snow in it.
Well, sure. “Misery,” “The Shining”….
What about “Stand By Me”?
Well, “Stand By Me” is the exception, and “Carrie,” also —
“Carrie,” which I love — and think is
one of Brian’s greatest movies.
— but in the last 10, 15 years,
the best King adaptations have featured snow-bound characters.
something creepy about snow. I love it. We have a place
in Colorado; for me to go out
walking in a snowstorm, that’s about as good as it
gets. And this movie was cold.
We were shooting it in British Columbia, and it was 27
It’s always interesting to work
in weather that can kill you.
Yeah. I’ve done a lot of that.
Working on Westerns puts you in some pretty severe weather.
So you still don’t mind snow
after this shoot. How about fake snow?
That’s a pain. You have to wear a mask because it’s
hazardous material. We had one really big set that was
supposed to be outside, and that was my least favorite
shooting. It’s kind of a mix of plastic material
and paper, and it’s much more slippery than real
snow. It’s like walking on ice all the time. The
actors find it difficult, you have fans blowing the fake
snow into the air, everybody’s wearing masks….
I much preferred being out in the cold up north.
Are the actors wearing masks until
you say “Action”?
Yeah. That’s why I take my mask off — because
if they’ve got to breathe it, I’m gonna breathe
it. I can’t direct with a mask on my face, anyway.
Now, there’s a review of your “Dreamcatcher” screenplay
online — and it was really positive.
Good. It’s so funny, isn’t it? That’s
new in the world. I was writing for a long time before
there were reviews of screenplays before the movie came
The screenplay’s very different from the book. The
book is 600 pages long, and was written after Stephen’s
accident. There’s a lot about the accident in the
book, because one of the main characters is hit by a car.
I think he wrote it in a lot of pain; he couldn’t
even sit at his computer. He wrote it longhand in six months — a
I think Stephen is interested in human frailty:
In what ways are we vulnerable? We can be vulnerable from
forces — from mysterious sources, from monsters.
We can be vulnerable from inside — from disease and
addiction. A lot of his stories are about those issues.
There are a lot of fever dreams in the novel.
That was part of the difficulty of the adaptation: A lot
take place in people’s heads.
There’s a big subplot in the film where “Mr.
Grey,” the alien, is trying to take over the mind
of one of the main characters.
Damian Lewis plays that character.
The alien has entered his body, but hasn’t consumed him — so the
entire movie is a kind of battle of dialogue between the
human, Jonesy, and Mr. Grey, who’s using his body
to get around.
How do you depict that onscreen?
You get a great actor. [laughs]
Have you ever seen Damian? He’s in “Band of
a wonderful British actor, and he does a wonderful American
accent — but when he’s Mr. Grey, he speaks
with a British accent.
t’s fun. Part of the drama
of the movie is: Can Jonesy be saved, or does he have to
be destroyed because Mr. Grey is in him?
And Mr. Grey is starting to gain an affinity for human
Actually, Stephen King — who’s
been fantastic about this whole process, and really loves
the movie — told
me the one thing he missed was that, in the book, Mr. Grey
gets a craving for bacon. But Mr. Grey doesn’t understand
that you have to cook it, and
he eventually eats a whole package of uncooked bacon, which
makes him sick. And none
of that is in the movie [laughs] — I
fit it in.
In the online screenplay review,
the writer said you were really faithful in translating
dialogue — but
did express great disappointment that you truncated a chase
in the book that involved Kurtz following a car that was
following yet another car.
In the book, that chase was 300 pages
long; in the movie, it’s about a half-hour long. What we did is, I think,
much better than the book — because it’s much
more visual and dramatic, really, the way Kurtz goes after
them. In the book, it becomes very confused about just
who’s chasing whom, and why. Hopefully in the movie
we’ve clarified all that. I don’t think anybody’s
gonna be unhappy.
One of the lit-crit trends we're seeing
these days is that Stephen King is kind of getting his
due — he’s
being re-appraised as a weightier writer.
Yeah. I think he’s an amazing stylist. Because his
books have been so popular, and because almost everything
he’s written has been turned into some kind of popular
entertainment — TV or movies — in the old days,
they used to dismiss it. But the fact is, he’s a
terrific writer. The fact that he’s so prolific is
sort of mystifying.
Yeah. He says he writes 2,000 words a day.
He says he’s gonna quit, but
no one believes him.
Do you believe him?
I think he may take a pause.
I mean, his idea of “quitting” is, “After
the next four books, I’ll quit.” For most people,
it’s, “I don’t think I can write another
word.” [laughs] I don’t
know what he’d
do if he didn't write.
Maybe he’s in too much pain.
I’m sure any near-death experience
has you evaluating your priorities.
I read somewhere that he calls every
day of his life after the accident “The Bonus Round.”
He wrote a wonderful thing about the
in his book On Writing. That
may be one of the scariest things he’s written.
Now, on the "Dreamcatcher" Web site [dreamcatchermovie.com],
you’ve been contributing an unusual amount of behind-the-scenes
Oh, yeah. Because I’ve made all these
movies, and you always have the “Electronic Press
Kit” — people
come in for 10 days over the course of a huge, long shoot,
and they want to shoot the actors and something flashy.
But what I always miss is the filmmaking.
See, I don’t think there’s been
much stuff done about what’s really involved
in the filmmaking process. What you see on these “making-of”s
is about movie stars — and directors, to some extent.
But I’m interested in the whole crew — the
various skills and crafts that have to be applied to making
something this huge. And I think that’s what you
see on the Web site. When we started the Web site right
at the start of production, we actually had a guy shooting
on the set every day.
I must say, I love the phrase you
say in one of the Web-site videos: “We’re doin’ it
the way D.W. Griffith used to do shitweasels.” I
know what that means. [Kasdan
laughs] Now, you're known for working with a sort of rolling ensemble
of actors and
crewmembers. Did that sort of shorthand come in handy on “Dreamcatcher”?
It’s always helpful when you’ve worked with
people before. In addition, I had John Seale shooting the
movie. John and I had been trying to work together for
10 years. He’s one of the most amazing people in
all of movies — a great spirit, you know? He’s
Australian — the harder the conditions, the happier
he is. We shot two or three cameras all the time — which
a lot of cinematographers don’t want to do, because
it’s harder to light. But it makes for enormous energy
on the set and a lot of forward momentum — you get
to spend your time shooting instead of waiting.
It’s interesting that the Australians
have emerged as a sort of hardy filmmaking force.
It’s a rough country, and they’re very “butch,” as
John Seale always says. The tougher it is, the better.
Only a New Zealander could have filmed
of the Rings” trilogy, eh?
Yeah. That’s a beautiful job
that guy did.
How do you tackle the sort of well-worn trope about an
angelic, retarded man-child and make it interesting and
That concerned me a lot.
I’ll bet it did.
There’s one element that sort of saves it, I think — which
is that he’s not what he appears to be. Some of the
fun of the story is that you see that he’s the most
powerful figure in the movie.
I absolutely fell in love with the Donnie
Wahlberg take on Dudditz. He has a very kind of open, sweet
he finally comes into the movie — which is really
at the end — it’s not like a retarded person;
it’s something much more ambiguous — and it
turns out to be something truly strange.
• • •
II.ON OTHER MATTERS
You must be incredibly proud of your
son, Jake. [Jake Kasdan’s directorial debut — at age 22 — was
the underrated comedy-mystery “The Zero Effect.”]
Very. I love the work that Jake’s been doing — not
only the two movies that he’s directed, but also
his fabulous work on “Freaks and Geeks” — he
directed the pilot and a lot of those episodes. And I actually
have another son who’s working in the business already.
He’s writing for television now. He’s 23 — so
they’ve both come along a lot faster than I did.
Jake directed his first movie at 22, and I was 30 when
I did mine. And the only help I’ve given them was
giving them a household in which they saw their dad was
happy in his work.
Both “Zero Effect” and “Silverado” found
pretty large audiences on video, didn’t they?
“Silverado” is a gigantic video — I
know, because I get the accounting.
“Silverado” would have been a gigantic hit if it had
been released a little better. It tested through the roof — better
than anything Columbia had ever tested at that point, which
included “Ghostbusters.” The Coca-Cola Company
had taken over Columbia at that time and didn’t know
what they were doing, and when they saw these huge test
scores, they rushed the release — and it opened on
the weekend of “Live Aid.”
But I’ve sort of gotten over all that disappointment,
because the movie has such a huge following around the
world. It plays constantly on television around the world
and on cable. It’s on HBO about once a month.
Kevin Costner is unhinged in
He’s great in that. He was really
young and full of juice.
Now, since “Mumford,” you’ve
been laying kind of low.
That’s a luxury of being comfortable — you
can pick your spots. I took a little time off after “Mumford,” but
now I’d like to not take any time
off — and
do something else.
Our magazine did a survey last year
asking readers to name the best films of all time, and
of the Lost Ark" and "Empire Strikes Back," unsurprisingly,
made the top 10. Is it wrong of us to wonder why your talents
weren't utilized on more "Indiana Jones" and "Star
No. It couldn’t be simpler. [laughs]
George and Steven asked me to do the second one; I didn’t
want to do it. I was directing movies at that point; I
proud of “Raiders” — it was an incredible
movie — and I really didn’t want to go back
I had done the sequels to the “Star Wars” movies
because George had asked me to do it. You know, I had finished “Raiders,” and
he asked to come in and help him out with “Empire” — he
was in a spot. And it was great fun, and it was over relatively
quickly. Then I went off and I made “Body Heat” — partially
with the support of George — and I had a directing
career that was going pretty good. He asked me to come
back and just write “Jedi” because he was really
desperate at that point. We did it together, and we did
it really fast; I felt like it was a job of work. But I’m
not a huge sequel fan, and I didn’t see any reason
for me to be working on the “Indiana Jones” series.
You know, when I was hired to do “Raiders,” I’d
only been in the business a couple of weeks. Steven had
actually bought “Continental Divide” to produce,
and what he really wanted was
for me to write “Raiders.” And
he introduced me to George, and in 10 minutes George gave
me the job — and I found myself working with the
two hottest people of my generation. A few weeks later,
we were outlining the story, and then I went away for six
months and wrote it. It couldn’t have been much more
satisfying. But to me, that’s never an excuse to
do another one — you put it in the bank and you do
Now, you told Starlog in 1981 about
your “Raiders” script
rewrite: “A little bit of my script's logic and character
development fell out along the way.” What was missing?
And will it show up on the Indiana Jones DVDs?
I don’t think so. [laughs]
Actually, I ran into Frank Marshall over the holidays,
and he’s working
on that [DVD] collection. I don’t think there’s
going to be a lot of…. I don’t know what they
have planned. They obviously made a lot of smart decisions
about what should be in the movie and what shouldn’t.
When you’re a beginning writer, you know, you hurt
for everything that’s lost. After you’ve directed
10 movies, you see that you cut stuff for a reason.
You’re not afraid to be blunt about what you perceive
as flaws or things you wish hadn’t been cut in your “classic” films.
Has time tempered this instinct, or made it stronger?
No, it’s tempered it — no question. You know,
Akira Kurosawa, I think, is the greatest director that
ever lived — he’s the most important influence
on me. And I saw him at the Directors Guild when he was
80 years old; they were giving him a life-achievement award.
And he said, “I’m just beginning to understand
what movies are.” And it wasn’t false modesty;
it wasn’t blowing smoke. He really meant it.
And I believe that all the filmmakers in
the audience understood. Because movies are mysterious;
you never really master
them, you know? It’s a surprise every time you put
two pieces of film together. Something happens that’s
a third thing. It’s not the shot that’s coming
in, it’s not the shot that’s going out — it’s
what happens when you put them together.
I think as you get older, you realize movies
are not simple in any way, shape or form — and the
decisions that are made are made for what seems like a
good idea at the
time. I sort of think that’s what life is about:
You don’t make the right decision, necessarily — you
make the decision that you made at that time because it
Did you enjoy participating in the Star
Wars: The Annotated Screenplays book?
Laurent [Bouzereau], who wrote that
book, is working on the DVD for “Dreamcatcher,” and
he did a great documentary about “Big Chill” that’s
on that DVD. He works full-time for Steven, pretty much.
He’s an amazing scholar of these current movies.
When he was doing the research, I’d written two of
the three [“Star Wars”] scripts — and
I couldn’t remember any of
the stuff he was asking me. He knows so much more about
it than I do. I could never have
put that book together — what was in, what was
out, and what changed.
I would like to speak for many film
fans in thanking you for your reported efforts in encouraging
to make “Almost Famous.” His mother, in an
interview, has said that you were one of the people really
kickin’ his butt to get it written.
He told me about it long before he
wrote it, because I always thought his personal story
was so amazing. Cameron’s
a friend and an amazing talent. I really thought he should
stop fartin’ around and get it done. And he did.
It’s hard to write your most personal story.
Was it weird to see one of your
first scripts, “The
Bodyguard” make it to the screen so long after you
wrote it — and starring an actor you helped
Kevin read “The Bodyguard” while
we were doing “Silverado” in
1985 — and he was not a movie star. But he had it
in his mind that he was going to play that part and he
was going to become a movie
star. And he did.
He wanted me to direct that movie. I was
just starting on “Grand Canyon,” which I was
writing with my wife, and I was a bit burned-out on “Bodyguard.” We
had gone through several drafts — my brother had
done a couple of drafts — and there were problems
with the script that I thought were big and that I didn’t
know how to solve.
nd Kevin didn’t think they were
problems at all [laughs] — and
he turned out to be right, I think.
We hired Mick Jackson to direct the movie, but I did produce
it. And the script is almost exactly what
I wrote in 1975. The tone is
very different from what I had in mind, but
the movie was so successful — and it was a total
shock to me, really.
You always stress the importance of
story and character. Do you feel those two elements are
being forgotten in today’s
I think this turned out to be a really
good year in movies, surprisingly. They’re always
back-loaded toward the Academy Awards, so you can get
very discouraged about movies
during the summer, and then in December everything perks
There’s a certain kind of Hollywood movie that’s
obviously not very good any more. What used to be the staple
of “popcorn movies” has been denigrated into
just effects and cutting and noise. But there have always
been good movies in the midst of that, you know? There
are people who really love what movies can be, and they’re
still making good movies.
Your parents were reportedly very supportive of your writing
efforts. How much of a priority has it been to you return
that favor to your own children?
I think that’s a great gift that you can give your
children. I think that what my parents did was not so much
specifically encourage me to write, but just that they
treated it like it was a legitimate thing. I think that
that’s half of what we need — for someone to
validate what you’re doing, so you know you’re
When you’re doing creative work, it can get very
lonely, and you can think, “This is all fantasy.” There’s
not much validation from the outside world for a long time.
But if you’re in an environment where people say, “No — keep
at it. Keep writing. You don’t have to show anything — just
keep at it until you’re ready to show it. And once
you show it, don’t give up because someone doesn’t
like it.” Those are the things that you’re
hoping to give to your child.
Do you think you’d be writing
today if your folks
hadn't been that
I don’t know if I would have started
if the environment at home didn’t say, “This
is a real thing.” Because
I was growing up in West Virginia, and no one there thought
that movies were made — they
just sort of happened: The
actors sort of made up the dialogue, and it was mysterious.
But I was in an environment in which it was said, “Things
are created out of nothing.” That’s very encouraging.
What were your parents’ occupations?
My father — who had written plays in college, but
was completely stymied and sort of gave up writing — ran
a electronics store in West Virginia. This was back when
every TV had to have an antenna on the roof, and he sold
the antennas and the vacuum tubes and everything. He died
when I was relatively young, so he didn’t get to
see much of my life. But he was a huge influence on me.
You started out as an advertising copywriter.
Mm. I did that out of desperation.
I’d gone to UCLA
in the film school, but I couldn’t get in the Directing
program. I was accepted in the Writing program. I’d
been going to school at the University of Michigan, and
when I got to L.A., I was very lonely and I had no money — and
I didn’t understand why I was in a writing program
when I could write on my own.
So I went back to Ann Arbor, and I worked
in a record store and continued to write screenplays. And
then I decided
to get a Master’s degree in education, thinking that
I could be a high-school English teacher and write, you
know, in my free time — I’d have all the summers
off and everything. But in the early ’70s, there
were no high-school English-teaching jobs — it was
just as hard to become a high-school English teacher as
it was to become a screenwriter. And so I got offered a
job from someone I met in an advertising agency — and
so I ended up working in advertising for about five years,
but I only enjoyed it for about six months. I had about
four-and-a-half years of really being unhappy — writing
all day in advertising and writing all night in movies.
Is it true that you vowed not to have a second child until
you escaped the industry?
true. I was so miserable. This
goes back to the idea that you want your children to see
happy in your work. My father had never been
happy in his work, and it made a huge impression on me.
I already had
one son, and I was really happy with him and proud — but
I didn’t want another one
while I was so miserable.
How do you interface with the advertising
people in the movie business — from a position
of sympathy or rebellion?
Sympathy. You know, advertising and
promotion and money and hype, they’ve all become
more and more important. You can sell almost anything
if the concept is not deeply
flawed. Enough money and promotion can get anything opened.
You can’t necessarily get a second weekend out of
it, but if you start big enough on your first weekend,
you’re going to do all right.
When I made “The Big Chill,” it didn’t
open to that much money, and we weren’t in that many
theaters. But it played for six months. And you can’t
do that now.
The general public now watches opening-weekend box-office
statistics like it was a sporting event.
It’s awful, really — because that becomes
the only standard by which people decide what they’re
going to do. They want to see what everybody at the office
is seeing. It’s unfortunate, because it narrows the
kinds of movies that can be widely seen.
There was this brief period in the
late-‘80s/early-‘90s — specifically,
with “The Big Chill” and “Grand Canyon” — where
you sort of became regarded in the media as the director
laureate of boomer angst.
I always thought it was a bit of a
misidentification. In the last 20 years, there’s been a slight prejudice
against the middle class in Hollywood movies. And those
movies were not really about boomers — they happened
to be about middle-class people of a certain age. “Grand
Canyon” is actually full of all kinds of characters — some
of them are “baby boomers” and some of them
It didn’t bother me that much, because when “The
Big Chill” was such an enormous success, it was validation
to me of the idea that you could write a personal story
and have it be entertaining enough to play all over the
world. Young kids identified with it and people who’d
been in college in the ’50s identified with it. And
that’s all you really want to do as an artist — just
speak to people in a relevant way.