The wait is over! When I picked The Brothers Bloom for Cinematical Movie Club, it came with an added treat -- director Rian Johnson agreed to answer your questions about the film. The responses were whittled down to eleven questions, and now he's weighing in with the answers, talking about how 8 1/2 influenced Bloom, why a '78 Caddy is "a controversial choice," and some details about his upcoming and eagerly anticipated sci-fi film, Looper. (News just hit yesterday via THR's Heat Vision that Brick star Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in talks to star in the film.)
Hit the jump for his answers and stay tuned for more goodies, when Johnson offers his Top Five essential films for Bloom fans and weighs in on his pick for last week's movie club, Paper Moon.
I gathered from the film that you might be a fan of Fellini's 8 1/2, most notably in the way it was filmed (and that bit of the score you appropriated)... but I also noticed a bit of a reflection of themes: you get the sense that Guido in 8 1/2 really would LIKE to script and control his life and the people around him, but he has even less control in real life than he does in his movies; Bloom would like nothing other than an unscripted life, but he has no idea how to even life when it isn't controlled. I was wondering if that was intentional or conscious, or if it just happened.
Rian Johnson: Very well said. It's dangerous for a filmmaker to start talking about Fellini in relation to his own film, there's the danger that he will be justifiably tarred and feathered and run out of town on the high-falutin' wagon. But I will say that the final moments of 8 1/2 are the most powerful for me, and they're all about Guido giving up control to some extent and recognizing that he is not directing the circus, but is part of it. That rings true for me in terms of Bloom's journey. He has this notion that he is trapped in a "written" life, that he is suffocating in storytelling, and wants to escape it for what he imagines is the unscripted, "real" life everyone else is living. It's similar to what we've all felt at one time or another, that we're looking through a picture window at the world, and that everyone else is having a much more authentic experience than us. Although it is very different in many respects, Bloom ends up in the same place as Guido, giving himself over to the circus.
How much of the story did you plan out for Bloom? How much did you write, know, and develop before starting the script?
Rian Johnson: I'm a very detailed planner, I spend the first 80% of the writing process outlining and diagramming in notebooks. I can't imagine sitting down at a computer to write without knowing where it's all going.
The difference between Brick and The Brothers Bloom is quite pronounced. How did you make that transition? Is it difficult to work on/write a film that is so different from one you've done?
Rian Johnson: By the time Brick was finished and in theaters it had taken 9 years, so to tell the truth I was dying to do something as different as possible. The next film I'm (hopefully) making is a dark sci-fi story, about as different from Bloom as Bloom was from Brick. It feels good to shake it up each time, and stretch into new territory.
I've heard that the character of Stephen was based on Robbie Robertson, any way you could elaborate on that?
Rian Johnson: I was listening to The Band while writing the script, and the mythos of those '70s folk rockers felt very important to me with these two brothers. That devil-may-care coolness, and a certain shagginess set against the opulence of Europe (or really a caricature of Europe) just felt very right. The Dylan song "When I Paint My Masterpiece" sums it up nicely. We actually tried putting that over the ending once, when Bloom walks away with Penelope, but it felt too on the nose. Stephen catching the fly in the New Jersey bar is a Last Waltz nod.
I loved the use of a complex female character who is more then a simple romantic interest. Was it difficult writing the character of Penelope, or was she something you had thought of before?
Rian Johnson: She was the most difficult character for me to write, by far. Maybe because she was the one I secretly identified with most. I'm pretty introverted, and I always thought of Penelope's mansion as her head, where it's comfortable to have a rich internal life but which ultimately can't fulfill you. But the credit for what's on the screen goes to Rachel Weisz. She worked her ass off to make sure that every moment felt real and experienced, and thank god she did, or that character could have easily been an insufferable pile of quirks.
Could you explain " '78 Caddy? Controversial choice."?
Rian Johnson: That was one of the first cars I owned after college. And the "controversial choice" was something a friend of mine used to say, and you would never know whether it was a diss or compliment. You'd have your music on, and they'd nod and say "Hm. Steely Dan. Controversial choice." And you'd want to punch them but not know exactly why.
It still bugs me even though it's been a while since I saw Brothers Bloom but the relationship between Stephen and Bang Bang was never fully explained. Was it romantic or strictly professional?
Rian Johnson: I think it bugs Stephen too. Mark was convinced they were having a torrid affair. Rinko was not convinced.
If you had to remake any film -- please don't, I love your originality, but if you had to -- what would it be and why?
Rian Johnson: I'm not really into remakes. They bug me. I'm sure there are situations where filmmakers have valid reasons for remaking this or that, but personally I'm just not sure why I'd waste three years of my life making a movie that has been already made.
A lot of people have pretty much asked the questions I was thinking of, so let me hit you with this: What advice would you offer someone who hopes to become a writer-director like yourself?
Rian Johnson: Write (or find) a script you believe in, and then it's just plain persistence. Get it to anyone who will read it. Find other people who believe in it, and just don't go away until it gets made. I wish there was a more practical or useful answer, but every film that gets made is a unique miracle, and as far as I can tell the only common thread is persistence. Also, it's important to keep making movies, even if they're shorts with your friends shot with an iphone on a weekend. It'll help you keep your sanity, and refocus your mind on why you're going through all of this in the first place.
Can you say anything about a project called The Life of the World to Come?
Rian Johnson: It's a performance film I made over the summer with one of my favorite bands, The Mountain Goats. We shot John Darnielle playing the entire album front to back in one continuous take, in a performance space at Pomona College where he had given his first piano recital at the age of 8. It's a beautiful album, and I hope the film captures in an intimate way part of what's special about seeing John play live. Also (and I don't mean to rub this in if there are any Mountain Goats fans reading this) when we shot it I basically got a private concert from John, which was just about the coolest thing in the world.
I'd just like to know anything at all about Looper.
Rian Johnson: Looper is a time travel movie, set in a near future where time travel doesn't exist but will be invented in a few decades. It's pretty dark in tone, much different from Bloom, and involves a group of killers (called Loopers) who work for a crime syndicate in the future. Their bosses send their targets hogtied and blindfolded back in time to the Loopers, and their job is to simply shoot them in the head and dispose of the body. So the target vanishes from the future and the Loopers dispose of a corpse that doesn't technically exist, a very clean system. Complications set in from there. I can't wait to make it, I'm a big sci-fi fan and it's going to be a fun world to play in. Fingers crossed.