- Film Festival
Last month Philadelphia Film Society Members were able to attend a special advanced preview screening of Drive, the newest film from acclaimed Scandinavian director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn is no stranger to the Philadelphia film scene; he received the Emerging Master Award at the 2005 Philly Film Festival for his work on the Pusher Trilogy, and his film Bronson was accredited as an Official Selection at the 2009 Festival.
Based on the James Sallis novel of the same name, Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, tells the story of a Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver for armed heists.
In addition to introducing the film at the Sneak Preview Screening, Refn held one of the best post-screening Q&A sessions PFS has ever experienced.
Watch the Q&A with Refn:
The next morning, PFS Managing Director, Parinda Patel and local film critic, Irv Slifkin sat down with Refn to delve a little deeper into the cutting-edge filmmaker’s past, present and future projects, including a coaxed response about his interest in directing a long-awaited Wonder Woman film!
Read the Interview:
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: You and Ryan, you knew each other before this project and now I’ve read that you might be doing something else together. Tell me about how you met and then your impressions.
Nicolas Winding Refn: No I didn’t know Ryan before making this movie. It was Ryan who called me to meet and talk about doing a movie together. We did that, and it was certainly very interesting and strange, and it led us to have some sort of telekinetic relationship. So when I saw how to do Drive, when I saw the image of how to do my version of Drive, it turned out really well between us so we decided to do a couple more. Why stop a good thing?
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: And one of them may or may not be Logan’s Run?
Nicolas Winding Refn: One of them is Logan’s Run, but we’re doing another movie before called Only God Forgives in Asia. And then we’re doing Logan’s Run.
PFS, Parinda Patel: Last night at the preview screening, you were talking about how you’re a big John Hughes fan, and in the notes I read that this was your own personal interpretation of Sixteen Candles, which I could not see after watching the film. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I think the first half of the movie was kind of structured around the purity of love. The kind of innocence of boy meets girl, like when Anthony Michael Hall tries to talk to Molly Ringwald and vice versa, and Molly Ringwald is in love with the other guy and all they do is look at each other, and we can just sense their longing. I was very fascinated by that innocence because its hopelessly old-fashioned romantic. That’s what I am, I’ve only had one girlfriend in my life and we’re still together. The nobility of it was very intoxicating to me.
PFS, Parinda Patel: With that being said, you know the elevator scene is going to be the most famous scene of this movie because it goes so quickly from swoon to just, absolute savagery.
Nicolas Winding Refn: I came up with that idea a week before we started shooting; that whole scene.
PFS, Parinda Patel: I heard you got a personal tutorial on how to bash a head in.
Nicolas Winding Refn: I called Gaspar Noé (Director of Irreversible), the king of head smashing scenes, and he kind of talked me through how he had done it. I tried to do it as good as him but I couldn’t. You can’t beat the king. But then I put in a kiss, which he didn’t have.
PFS, Parinda Patel: Which was probably the best part of it, the shift. It was so good.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: Would you consider this a genre film?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Absolutely, I make genre films. I actually consider it a super hero movie.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: I can see that, I think the ending might take it into that realm. But it’s the lack of back-story for Ryan’s character, in particular, and I was wondering if that’s something that was there from the beginning, from the page? Or how you wanted it?
Nicolas Winding Refn: In the book, which is structured very differently from the movie, there’s a whole back story, and his future as well. But I felt in the movie version, I was more interested in the enigma of the driver; what he represents to the audience, because he’s an illogical character to begin with, he’s an existentialistic … panther. He goes by night as one thing and then by day as another. It would be more interesting for people to read his actions then to tell his back story. That [back story] would never be as good because the answer would never be as good as the mystery itself. So it’s a bit like The Man with No Name, that whole mythological figure that comes out of nowhere but you kind of understand that his actions are noble and true. It’s much more interesting in my opinion, so I eliminated anything that had to do with his back story. Even though I shot a little portion of it, I cut it out.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: The ending of the film, is that something that you had your own definitive idea of what happens? Is it something open to interpretation from the audience? I’ve asked four other people who saw the film and each had a different interpretation.
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well all my films have open endings. They come from me always believing that if you want what you do to touch people, you have to let it stay with them. If you end it how can it stay with them? It leaves their body, and art is a flow of emotions that flows through you as a spectator and it can flow out of you as well. But if you can lock it within the conscience of the audience, people will travel with it for the rest of their lives. All my films are always open ended because of that. A few times, maybe [the open endings were] not as successful as I would have liked, but I was young and I needed to find out how to make a movie.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: Well, certainly you’ve been effective in staying with me, because I keep changing my mind [about the ending].
PFS, Parinda Patel: What draws some of your inspirations besides other filmmakers? Where do you get the ideas for these films?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I used to draw more from other filmmakers but then I found out I wasn’t making my kind of films. I was thinking more about what other people would think about my films rather than just making films I would like seeing. So I shaped up and got that out of me, grew up. A lot of things happened at the same time; I began to make films out of pure fetish, which is basically what I like to see. Maybe not always understanding it, but just purely what would I like to see? And Jim Sallis’ book gave me a lot of opportunities to do that because I never worked on someone else’s material before. But his character, driver, was so engaging to me; and the whole stunt-man-movie-world illusion gave me a premise to work out of. So it was my interpretation of a Jim Sallis novel.
PFS, Parinda Patel: Do you think you would have felt the same way if you didn’t get the personal pitch from Ryan Gosling?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well I never had a personal pitch from Ryan Gosling, it was the other way around.
PFS, Parinda Patel: You were pitching him?
Nicolas Winding Refn: No, Ryan Gosling came to me wanting to do a movie, and the project he had in mind was Drive, but it was very different at that point. So it wasn’t until our drive home after dinner, when I suddenly had this emotion of us driving together and listening to pop music, I was missing my wife and my kids and I was just really emotionally out of balance because I was so high. It made me come to some kind of emotional catharsis, and if I could make a movie about a man who is doomed to drive the wasteland, the only way of getting emotional relief through music, there was a character here. So of course Ryan wanted me to make the movie with him, and with me having an emotional connection with him, in a car; it’s hard to imagine but we made it into a movie. It’s a very similar situation to when Steve McQueen wanted Peter Yates to come and do Bullitt with him, or Lee Marvin insisting on John Boorman directing Point Blank. It was an American star that had the power of a star to protect a European filmmaker coming to Hollywood, protecting that filmmaker from influences to let him make the films he wanted to make. Which shows that some actors are very, very smart, because film making is a director’s medium. Bad films are made by bad directors, good films are made by good directors; its very, very simple.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: What is the difference for you between making a film in America as opposed to Europe? Is there a distinctive difference? Is it scarier in some way, or safer because you have a bigger budget?
Nicolas Winding Refn: No, the more money you have is always a pain in the ass, because its more people just more nervous. So I will always try to make a movie cheaper, no matter what, because it’s about influence and having the control. I come from a complete one-man-army world, where I make my own films and will always prioritize them; but the circumstance with me and Ryan lead me to believe that I wanted to try this in Hollywood. Having a great Hollywood experience, making a film that I wanted to make and making it the way I wanted to make it, was great. The best crews are in Hollywood; the best distributors come out of America, in terms of mass market and stuff like that. So it’s a great way [to make a film] if you can get into it the right way.
That goes back to the 1920s when [directors like] Fritz Lang would come over and be inspired to start making films. That’s when Hollywood really began its golden age, when all the European filmmakers would come over to Hollywood and work with the system that had the distribution strength to release their products in such a massive way. But it needed the products. So when the second wave of Hollywood came in the late 60s to 70s you had all these filmmakers actually making films based on European films. So again, European film making sensibilities have always been what Hollywood needs to really discover itself, or rediscover itself and so forth. So the real difference is that in Hollywood you sometimes have to be, basically running for office because everything can end very political. And I have, thank god, survived that, but that is one reason why I will always prioritize my own films, because life’s too fucking short.
PFS, Parinda Patel: You do something that I find very interesting, which is you shoot your films in chronological order. Why do you do that?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Because then I can discover the movie along the way. Why make something if I know what its' going to be like?
PFS, Parinda Patel: Fair enough.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: There’s been a lot of pre-release talk about Albert Brooks. I was wondering what lead to the casting of him? What did you see in him, to give him this different kind of role?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Strangely, I always just wanted him. I knew it was going to work, but of course I needed to meet him to see if it was going to work, to see if we could work together. Before he got the job, he came to my house in LA and he was like a volcano of emotions, and not having killed anybody or ever having played a bad guy in a movie before, I realized that this guy could kill somebody. And wouldn’t that be a surprise? Then I had this movie producer character in my head, where in the book Rose (Brooks’ character) is more of a classical gangster type. I wanted him to be a movie producer to make him more human, rather than just an archetype.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: Maybe he was based on some producer you knew that actually murdered somebody…
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well I’m sure there’s a lot of those, for some reason the crooks in the film business always go to the producers’ side. But I’ve never dealt with producers, with that kind of world. On my film, Drive, Marc Platt and Adam Siegel, who are the real producers, were very protective of me and Ryan, and really were there to support us making a movie together. Which, I have to give them a lot of compliment for, because it took some guts. I think they got some gray hairs but thank god [they] pulled it off.
PFS, Parinda Patel: So you’re executive producing the remake of Pusher; How is that going?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well we just wrapped shooting, and I know they’re cutting it right now. I won’t see it for a couple of weeks when I’m passing through London doing press for Drive. But, I have high hopes for that model, that’s in the movie.
PFS, Parinda Patel: How much input do you have?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Oh, nothing I just found a script-writer to write it, that version. I told him a little of what I thought didn’t work in the original and how that could be better… They’re being very faithful to the original material; it’ll be interesting to see. I’ve only heard good things so far.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: There are three films that I thought of after watching your film, you had mentioned one of them, Point Blank. The other one was Collateral, [by] Michael Mann, I guess something to do with LA at night, and The Driver, Walter Hill’s film where the characters don’t have names. So I was wondering if you were familiar with these films and if they had any influence at all.?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Of course, they’re all great films, but I didn’t really have them in mind. My mind was Scorpio Rising by Kenneth Anger, Pretty Woman and Point Blank.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: Why Pretty Woman?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Because Pretty Woman was the only movie I could think of that successfully made a fairy tail structure out of very dark, morbid subject.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: Interesting. I would have never, in a million years, thought of that.
PFS, Parinda Patel: We have a last question; I have to ask you about Wonder Woman... I know I read an article where you spoke about Wonder Woman and I never heard anything about it again. I’ve been dying to ask you about it. Is anything going to come of that?
Nicolas Winding Refn: You never know…
PFS, Parinda Patel: You’re going to leave it that much of a mystery? Have you been thinking about it?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I would love to make it, but I could only make my version of it. But right now the schedule is pretty booked up .
PFS, Parinda Patel: I think you should do it before somebody else picks it up.
Nicolas Winding Refn: Yeah? Well I think if we say it enough on the internet, Warner Brothers will probably accept the notion that I’ making the movie.
PFS, Parinda Patel: I’ll spread the rumor.
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: Put it up on FaceBook, you’ll get an offer later today. Good luck with Drive.
Nicolas Winding Refn: Thank you very much
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: It was terrific.
Nicolas Winding Refn: I’m glad you liked it.
PFS, Parinda Patel: I loved it, I am fully promoting this as my favorite movie this year. I haven’t seen an action movie that actually caught my attention as much as this one has, and I think so many movies come by us that you just start thinking everything’s going to be the same eventually. When I saw this one, I didn’t really know anything about it, and when I walked out of the film, a bunch of people who had been to the screening, spent a little while talking about it outside. It's definitely a film you're just waiting for other people to see so you can talk about it. We all loved it. We probably all drove really fast home.
Nicolas Winding Refn: Please, no accidents!
Reporter, Irv Slifkin: Was it my imagination or did you use a lot of low angles in this film?
Nicolas Winding Refn: A lot of low angles, yeah. It’s a very powerful angle.
PFS, Parinda Patel: How long did it take you to shoot this film?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Seven weeks, total. Everything.
PFS, Parinda Patel: Well, thank you so much.
Nicolas Winding Refn: Thank you.
Need more? Check out the trailer: