Combustible Celluloid

Interview with David Siegel and Scott McGehee

To 'Bee' or not to 'Bee'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Years ago, filmmakers David Siegel and Scott McGehee both attended UC Berkeley and eventually teamed up for a series of short films shot in San Francisco. When it came time for their feature debut, Suture, they wound up shooting in Arizona. Their second feature, The Deep End (2001) -- with Tilda Swinton -- was shot in Lake Tahoe and Reno.

But now that the team has recently relocated to New York, they have returned for their first Bay Area-shot feature film, Bee Season. In some ways, this constant roving relates to the theme of Bee Season, which tells the story of the controlling Saul (Richard Gere), a Jewish scholar, and his family.

Each family member experiences some kind of crisis or reinvention of faith. The youngest daughter, Eliza (Flora Cross) finds that she has a spiritual connection to spelling bees, son Aaron (Max Minghella) finds himself drawn to the Hare Krishnas and mother Miriam (Juliette Binoche) becomes a kleptomaniac, searching for bits of "God's container."

In selecting the remarkable Cross, the filmmakers looked for a young actress who could project a deep, quiet thoughtfulness. "We wanted to find someone who could just sit there and you could get inside her," Siegel says. "And she did that, as well as looking like Juliette Binoche."

Fans of the book have balked at the casting of Gere. "I can't pretend we haven't heard that before," McGehee says. "It really surprises us when people don't find him perfect for the role. Saul's a complicated guy, and Richard really got that. He got Saul's narcissism, and he got the way that cooking a meal for your family can be oppressive."

McGehee and Siegel have stayed together longer than almost any other non-related filmmaking team. They ascribe their success to an early understanding: "If we didn't agree with each other, and we couldn't convince each other one way or the other, we'd both give up on our point of view and look for something else," McGehee says. "There must be some other way to do this that we're both going to like better. It takes a long time to take two points of view and create one out of them."

While on set, and especially while working with actors, the pair make an attempt to appear to be of one mind and one voice. If they do disagree, they try not to show it. "We're good parents," Siegel jokes.

October 17, 2005

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