Combustible Celluloid

Interview with David Gordon Green

The Green Style

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With George Washington (2000), 27 year-old writer/director David Gordon Green made one of the most amazing American film debuts since perhaps Slacker or Reservoir Dogs. Most people who wrote about the film called it a cross between Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven) and Harmony Korine (Gummo), which, believe it or not, perfectly describes Green's filmic tastes.

"I don't understand why people don't talk about Jon Turteltaub much," he says of the director behind While You Were Sleeping and Disney's The Kid. "I'd like to write 'Jon Turtletaub on Jon Turtletaub' -- really find out what makes this guy tick and why he makes the movie choices he does."

Green describes his movie tastes in extremes. He wants something either intellectually stimulating, or utterly trashy. During the conversation, he talks about the virtues of both Andrei Tarkovksy and Blue Crush.

He loves to imagine a movie industry with more creative daring, an industry in which Neil LaBute is called in to finish a Jon Turtletaub movie, or the people behind Jackass: The Movie get to do a remake of Splendor in the Grass.

Green has journeyed to San Francisco to talk about his sophomore effort, a less impressive but still powerful love story called All the Real Girls, which opened Friday in San Francisco theaters.

He says his goal was "to make a movie that felt like a real love story -- not even a story, but real love," but at the same time he calls the film a remake of Get Over It, a teen pop romance starring Kirsten Dunst.

In their own work, Green and his co-writer and lead actor Paul Schneider avoided the temptations of trash; they simply wanted to make a movie that felt true. "Like if you saw a documentary about two people falling in love and how clunky and awkward that would be," Schneider says.

"It's unremarkable," Green adds. "It's not the smartest screenwriter with his crackerjack dialogue. It's not the most chiseled actor who takes his shirt off and makes your jaw drop."

"This is not about lucid communication," Schneider finishes. "It's about people clunking around with a ton of passion in their chest but not the facility to articulate it."

In the film, Schneider plays the town womanizer, a twentysomething who has loved and lost nearly every girl in town. In the film's first scene, he falls for Noel (Zooey Deschanel), who happens to be his best friend's sister. All their friends oppose the relationship, but their mutual feelings continue to draw them together -- until unforeseen problems of their own arise.

Green explains his directing technique, which encompassed experienced actors like Deschanel (The Good Girl) and Patricia Clarkson (Far from Heaven) to actors like Schneider with only a couple films to his credit, to many first-timers.

"It's less about what your qualifications are, what your resume looks like and more about -- do you listen to the way people speak? Do you watch the way people move? Or are you watching your favorite Oscar-winning performance and trying to emulate it? We had people who had never seen a movie camera before, but they knew how to listen to people."

Schneider provides an example. "I could show you a script at my house in New York that has a line drawn through a word that says, 'throw away this syllable, nail this syllable,' and on the side it says, 'hard eyebrows, shake your head, and there's a frog in your throat.' I'm not the most experienced actor in the world. I wanted to get this stuff correct. It takes just as much work to make it sound off the cuff as it does to iron it out and make it smooth."

When Green and Schneider set out several years ago to make George Washington, they put everything aside, neglecting family, friends, community, relationships, rent, belongings, etc., to make the film. Their budget was practically zero, but the spirit was there. To raise money, the filmmakers worked temp jobs and other low-end jobs that they wouldn't get emotionally involved in.

Though this time around the budget was bigger and the filmmakers had "bigger toys to play with," the experience of making All the Real Girls was not much different. Schneider boasts that even the crew members read the script, when, on mainstream films, they just look at the clock and wait for overtime to kick in.

It's possible that each and every person on the cast and crew found some feeling or some rhythm that they recognized from life. Indeed, All the Real Girls comes packed with scenes that do not further the plot. They're simply there because sometimes nothing happens.

"Terrence Malick makes movies that are about things that you can touch and seem like they're on this earth and don't need $100 million to make," Green says. "It's nice to see that stripped-down thoroughly observed sense of wonder and curiosity."

Green says that in All the Real Girls, he purposely left a lot of time to meditate, "rather than getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of urban existence. A lot of this movie is environment and atmosphere. We're not rushing into anything."

Date: March 2, 2003

Movies Unlimtied