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Interview With Darren Aronofsky

Interview conducted by John A. Accardo from concerning Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream."

As a filmmaker, are you aware of exactly how you're affecting the audience emotionally?

Darren Aronofsky: I think it's a combination of things. You start with your theme and your story; whenever you know what your theme is and what your theme is about, there's only one place to put the camera. There is only one place that you tell the story from, the film is very clear once you understand that. That is my whole schooling, Akira Kurasawa is my god, an extremely disciplined filmmaker, wherever he places the camera, it's the right place to place the camera, there's no other place to put the camera, it's in the right place. That's what I search for when I go onto a set, what angle is going to really tell this. Then I have every department approach it that way. What is the right score, what is the right sound for this moment? And then it becomes a combination of if you're trying to reach the audience by subjective means or objective means. Subjective meaning, are you trying to get the audience inside the character's head, or are you trying to get the audience to take a step back for a second and look at the character and actually feel for the character. Like a theatrical place and go, "man that sucks."

An example would be in Ellen Burstyn's performance; the difference between putting the camera on the inside as she's spinning around in circles, just walking around terrified, we have the sound design swinging around the room or the TV swinging around with her in the opposite direction. We have the music going crazy. When we finished that scene, I said that it was my homage to Fellini.

As opposed to that shot of her cleaning the apartment, which is that time-lapse shot. We're outside of her and we are watching the whole apartment, and we're watching her cleaning the apartment. Those are two totally different shots, one's subjective, the other is objective, but they hopefully tell you where her state of mind is and what's going on inside of her. So, hopefully, all that stuff translates on the screen. The biggest insult you give me is that this film is an MTV movie. I mean, I respect all of the inventions of MTV, and in fact, I steal a lot of inventions from MTV, but it's basically style without substance. And basically what we try to discipline ourselves is, don't every use stylistic techniques unless it pushes the narrative forward, and that is the key principle.

You've studied action and animation as an undergrad, and then you went to AFI (American Film Institute). It seems to me that the action and animation had a large influence on you.

DA: I think animation has totally been a big influence because animators have to design a frame, 24 times for each second, so they basically live life 24 more times than we do. Or at least they bring that much more anal retentiveness to films. And my partner, my former roommate who did all the digital effects in this, movie, he was an animator, an extremely disciplined animator, and I try to bring that discipline to every frame I do. Basically, make everything clean and perfect, every moment a point to what the theme is and what we're going to do. (Slams the table three times) Bam, bam, bam, going down, down, down.

Let's talk about Ellen Burstyn. I find it interesting that you have her in this film, James Gray has her in The Yards, and The Exorcist has been re-released. Why do you think she is having this sort of resurgence?

DA: It's kind of like, why was 1849 the year everyone rushed to California to look for gold? It's amazingly coincidental and I'm very excited for her. I was blessed with her presence. For me, the greatest thing I've ever had the honor to do was to capture her performance in this film. I really think it's the greatest thing I've ever been involved with. What I think she does in this movie at 67 years of age is remarkable. And it's a real shame that because of the ages and sexes in Hollywood, we haven't seen her since the late 70s. Think about all the art America and the world has been robbed of. She's really an amazing performer, and when you see her in The Yards, she does a great job in a small part.

How much rehearsal did you focus on in this film?

DA: There was a tremendous amount of rehearsals. On Pi I got to do eight months of rehearsals. On this film I got about a month and a half with Harry, Tyron and Marian, which I picked Jared, Marlon and Jennifer. But Ellen was doing a play, so we got to do a couple of weeks. She was actually doing long dates that were turning into nights, and she was playing the mother role. For anyone who knowsÖwhen I went to see the play I was just, "My God, she's rehearsing every night."

The soundtrack for the film was outstanding, you decided to use the Kronos Quartet. Did you have any other musicians in mind?

DA: Well, the score is by Clint Mansell, who's an electronic musician. And he started designing music, and the music had a lot of strings in it. Early on I started to think, and it's always been a dream of mine, to have a big orchestra in a movie. But, pretty soon, we just got the idea--I was around CMJ I think last year and we had went to see a Fight Club screening. And we were sitting around, and just thought, let's go after the best. But then we figured, who ever comes in first and whoever we can afford. Kronos represented a chance to work with legends, so we got Kronos. It's an interesting fusion of classical music and electronic music. The way Clint works, is he uses samples. A lot of the percussion he uses, he stole from Enter the Dragon and are actually Bruce Lee punches, and that's how he gets his beat in percussion tracks. It's a really wild score.

Can you talk about the upcoming projects you are working on?

DA: Well, Proteus, it looks like I'm no longer going to direct, I'm going to produce it with my partner, Eric Watson. So we're going to produce it together, and it looks like David Twohy (Pitch Black). It looks like they're going to be doing the stage work out of the country. Proteus is this monster movie set in a World War II sub in World War II. The idea is that the Nazis are up above and thereís a monster down below. It was something I wrote while I was cutting by it, we sold it to Dimension. We ended up doing Requiem, and it now looks like Dave is doing it. Ronin is on hold right now, because me and Frank Miller are going to write the new Batman. Iím also writing a new science fiction film, which is currently untitled, that Iíve been working on it for 10 months. Itís this really big meta-physical, science fiction film which will hopefully be my next project.

Can you tell us a little bit about Stanislovsky and your approach as a director with these actors?

DA: Iíve studied a lot of acting, and Iíve even taken acting classes, not because I have any interest in being an actor, but because I wanted to know what was going on with my actors. I really donít get into that with actors, thatís really their job. When you work with professional actors on this level, you generally donít have to work with them. They are such professionals, and thatís really their problem, to be frank. Thatís what their art is, thatís what they do. My job is to define the script through my interpretation, for them. I mean theyíll have their own interpretation, and sometimes their interpretation is more interesting and weíll use it, but generally Iíll pick up all the actors and Iím just trying to bring all the different elements together, and make sense out of it. Thatís more my job.

The issues concerning the art of our generation is predominantly very cold or about sex, and Iíve noticed that in your work.

DA: I think itís something that people have been dealing with forever. Most of this comes from Hubert Selby Jr., who is just very sensitive to pain, has been in pain for most of his life, and explores the darkness to deal with that pain. A lot of art comes out of that. A lot of artists are trying to deal with the positives, and change things. Since he was about eight years old, heís been trying to figure out why people hurt each other. Thatís really why this film is so dark, itís not supposed to add something to the world, itís showing f*cked up things can get if you let them get out of control. If you make little decisions that end up that are actually very innocent decisions, moment by moment, they seem fine, but what they really add up and they end up a really, really dark Hell. This shows us a true example of what can go wrong.