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dreamcatcherThe Bigger Chill

By Mike Russell

So get this: Lawrence Kasdan — the writer-director behind “The Big Chill,” “Grand Canyon,” and “The Accidental Tourist” — always wanted to helm an action movie.
You know, with special effects. And helicopters.
“I love the hardware,” he says. “I like action movies like that, and I haven’t gotten to do it.”
That is, until now.

Yes, the man who conceived “Wyatt Earp” as a three-hour, character-driven epic just wrapped up his adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher.” The movie (which Kasdan co-scripted with King-adapter par excellence William Goldman) marks the director’s first stab at fantasy filmmaking since helping write “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”

“I’d written movies like this and not gotten to direct them, you know?” he says. “This one has elements that are familiar to me from my other movies” — most notably, that it stars four character actors (Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis and Timothy Olyphant) as angst-driven pals — “but then that story runs head-on into this alien invasion.” It also runs head-on into a crazed military officer (Morgan Freeman) who will go to insane lengths to stop the body-snatching spacemen.

In Focus snatched an hour of Kasdan’s time as he put the finishing touches on “Dreamcatcher,” which opens March 28; here’s what the director had to say about monster moviemaking, Morgan Freeman’s gravitas, William Goldman’s “ruthless clarity,” Stephen King’s “retirement,” and Hollywood’s mysterious lessons.

• • •

I. ON ‘DREAMCATCHER’

On your earlier fantasy films, you were answering to Lucas and Spielberg. How are you approaching the material differently now that you have a little more control over how it’s presented?

Being a screenwriter is so different from being a director/writer, where you have total control over everything. I always feel that when you write for somebody else — no matter how good they are, and I’ve had some of the best directors in the world doing my stuff — it’s always different in tone than what you would do.
Tone is everything. You know, you could give the same script to five different directors and you’d end up with five very different movies, and it always has to do with tone — with what they think is funny, with what they think is realistic, with what they consider to be important human behavior, with what they consider to be irrelevant. And when you’re the writer/director, you get to make all those decisions. It’s what I always wanted to do.
I feel fortunate to have directed 10 movies. It’s a gift.

On the “Dreamcatcher” Web site, there’s a clip where Timothy Olyphant’s trapped in the snow….

Yeah — he’s sitting out in the snowstorm all alone, and this creature has escaped from the body of the woman they saved, and is making its way toward him, but he doesn’t know it because it’s under the snow.

It looks like it hearkens back to the days of “Jaws,” when you didn’t see the monster until the payoff.

You know, there are people who think you should never see anything — it’s all implication. And I suppose that has its virtues — but that’s not what I go to a horror film for. I want to see something, you know? [laughs] And this is more “Creature Feature” — you do get to see the creatures. But in that sequence, you know it’s there, and it’s gonna jump out at any moment — but you don’t know when.

My favorite horror films are “Alien” and “Exorcist.” Even “Silence of the Lambs,” which is a human story. But I like seeing this stuff. Psychological suspense is great, and it should be mixed in there all the time — but I sometimes feel a little cheated when I come out and I haven’t seen anything.

Well, you must love having the new digital toys to play with.

One of the advantages of waiting so long to do an effects movie is that the tools are SO great now, and you can do things that you couldn’t have done three years ago. It just changes every day.

I’ve been working with ILM, and it’s fascinating. With other movies, you finish production and you’re cutting the movie. With an effects movie, you’re making a second movie after you’ve finished the shooting, because so much is being added to what you’ve shot. We’re dealing right now with effects that will have a huge impact on the movie — and we’ve been done shooting for six months.

Barry Sonnenfeld said directing special effects was kind of like trying to teach acting to a bunch of guys who are good at math.

[laughs] Barry’s a good friend of mine. I’ve never been technical; I’m sort of in awe of people who can do this stuff at all. And there is a good bit of explaining — sort of right-brain meeting left-brain all the time — but I’m always amazed at what they eventually come up with if you keep pushing and keep pushing and you keep saying, “No, that’s not it — this is what I want.” They will come to you, finally, and they will do something that you could never do on your own in a million years.

Like many of your films, “Dreamcatcher” has a large, ensemble cast with a lot of character actors. Is that just something you’re attracted to in the material?

You know, I think it was coincidence in this case. Who knows why this particular Stephen King novel appealed to me so much? There’s no question that I must have felt some familiar resonance by seeing a story about four friends who aren’t particularly happy with their lives. That’s just sort of subject matter that I’ve been dealing with for 20 years. But the fact that it then turns into this sort of horror film — that’s what made it for me.

But you’re sort of “smuggling” pet themes into the material.

Exactly. You know, I think all horror movies are about metaphors. That’s the main thing that’s interested me: How do you find a dramatic metaphor for the issues that concern you? Whether it’s raising children or dealing with life choices, you want to find something that dramatizes it. And horror films are the most explicit, in a way, because they find a metaphor for our deepest fears.

You know, “Accidental Tourist” — which couldn’t be any more different, and is the other book I adapted — is about similar things: the fear of chaos that is in the universe. We’re trying to control our universe, and everything around us shows us we have no control. “Accidental Tourist” dealt with that in an emotional, literary way — and “Dreamcatcher” deals with it in a very visceral way.

Which leads nicely into my next question, which is about Morgan Freeman’s character. He’s playing this kind of complex, Col. Kurtz-ish lunatic, right? He’s someone who tries to aggressively control his environment.

Yes. He has a mission. He’s not even evil; it’s that he’s gone ’round the bend, really. He’s very good at his job, but he’s been doing it too long, and he’s lost perspective. He’s a black-and-white strategist: “You have to wipe out the whole thing — there’s no middle ground.” That doesn’t leave much room for human consideration, you know?

And his protégé is Tom Sizemore, who sees that his hero and mentor has lost it and is no longer considering any other options. It sets up this kind of father/son betrayal business — because Sizemore has to choose for life instead of the rigid militarism of Morgan Freeman’s character.

How do you make that black-and-white, messianic worldview compelling?

Well, it helps if you get one of the greatest actors in the world.

Yeah. That would help quite a bit.

It goes a long way. I love actors — I think it’s a miracle what they do. I went to Morgan right away for this part, even though he’s generally played more benevolent characters. I thought he would be fascinating as a slightly crazed guy.

I would imagine he gets sick of playing “dignity” all the time. People forget that the role that broke him out as an actor was “Street Smart.”

That’s right — in which he’s really scary. You know, when we were in rehearsal — I guess he would be all right with me telling this — he said, “Yeah, I’ve got gravitas out the ass.” [laughs] He’s very funny. He’s as great a guy as I’ve ever worked with. During the rehearsal process, he was a model for a lot of these younger actors, who have barely ever seen rehearsal, because movies don’t rehearse much any more. Morgan loves rehearsal himself; he’s a theater actor.

It’s interesting that you cast actors in lead roles who would be character or supporting actors in any other film.

I always look at it like they’re just a picture away from being leads — and it’s always been true. That was certainly true with Costner and Kline, and Hurt when he did “Body Heat.” If you pick great people, they’re going to go on to other good things.

You’ve always been pretty adamant about writing your own screenplays — but now you’re adapting (with William Goldman’s help) best-selling material.

Well, I’d adapted “Accidental Tourist” before, and I found it a very satisfying experience — we got a lot of nominations and Geena won an Academy Award — so I was familiar with that process.

Bill Goldman and I have known each other a long time; we were both in the Soviet Union together 10 years ago on a Writer’s Guild trip, before the whole thing fell apart. Bill had been an idol of mine: When I was in college trying to become a movie director, and thinking that I would become a screenwriter to make that happen, Bill was selling “Butch Cassidy,” he was writing “All the President’s Men” — he was the greatest screenwriter, the most famous screenwriter, in the world. He’s an amazing character and a great thinker about story structure. This is a 600-page novel, and he did a lot of the work of breaking it down before I came on and started writing.

What is it Goldman understands about Stephen King, anyway?

I think Bill has a ruthless clarity about what can be in a movie and what can’t…. Sometimes you can underestimate what can be in a movie. There were things in the book that I wanted in the movie that Bill felt maybe couldn’t be in — and I sort of added them back. But he’s wonderful in terms of breaking it down to the simplest elements.

You know, if you look at the track record, basically every good Stephen King movie has snow in it.

[laughs] You think so?

Well, sure. “Misery,” “The Shining”….

What about “Stand By Me”?

Well, “Stand By Me” is the exception, and “Carrie,” also —

“Carrie,” which I love — and think is one of Brian’s greatest movies.

— but in the last 10, 15 years, the best King adaptations have featured snow-bound characters.

[laughs] Well, there’s something creepy about snow. I love it. We have a place in Colorado; for me to go out walking in a snowstorm, that’s about as good as it gets. And this movie was cold. We were shooting it in British Columbia, and it was 27 below sometimes.

It’s always interesting to work in weather that can kill you.

Yeah. I’ve done a lot of that. Working on Westerns puts you in some pretty severe weather.

So you still don’t mind snow after this shoot. How about fake snow?

That’s a pain. You have to wear a mask because it’s hazardous material. We had one really big set that was supposed to be outside, and that was my least favorite shooting. It’s kind of a mix of plastic material and paper, and it’s much more slippery than real snow. It’s like walking on ice all the time. The actors find it difficult, you have fans blowing the fake snow into the air, everybody’s wearing masks…. I much preferred being out in the cold up north.

Are the actors wearing masks until you say “Action”?

Yeah. That’s why I take my mask off — because if they’ve got to breathe it, I’m gonna breathe it. I can’t direct with a mask on my face, anyway.

Now, there’s a review of your “Dreamcatcher” screenplay online — and it was really positive.

Good. It’s so funny, isn’t it? That’s new in the world. I was writing for a long time before there were reviews of screenplays before the movie came out.

The screenplay’s very different from the book. The book is 600 pages long, and was written after Stephen’s accident. There’s a lot about the accident in the book, because one of the main characters is hit by a car. I think he wrote it in a lot of pain; he couldn’t even sit at his computer. He wrote it longhand in six months — a 600-page novel.

I think Stephen is interested in human frailty: In what ways are we vulnerable? We can be vulnerable from outside forces — from mysterious sources, from monsters. We can be vulnerable from inside — from disease and addiction. A lot of his stories are about those issues.

There are a lot of fever dreams in the novel. That was part of the difficulty of the adaptation: A lot of things take place in people’s heads.

There’s a big subplot in the film where “Mr. Grey,” the alien, is trying to take over the mind of one of the main characters.

Damian Lewis plays that character. The alien has entered his body, but hasn’t consumed him — so the entire movie is a kind of battle of dialogue between the human, Jonesy, and Mr. Grey, who’s using his body to get around.

How do you depict that onscreen?

You get a great actor. [laughs] Have you ever seen Damian? He’s in “Band of Brothers”; he’s a wonderful British actor, and he does a wonderful American accent — but when he’s Mr. Grey, he speaks with a British accent.

t’s fun. Part of the drama of the movie is: Can Jonesy be saved, or does he have to be destroyed because Mr. Grey is in him?

And Mr. Grey is starting to gain an affinity for human culture.

Actually, Stephen King — who’s been fantastic about this whole process, and really loves the movie — told me the one thing he missed was that, in the book, Mr. Grey gets a craving for bacon. But Mr. Grey doesn’t understand that you have to cook it, and he eventually eats a whole package of uncooked bacon, which makes him sick. And none of that is in the movie [laughs] — I just couldn’t fit it in.

In the online screenplay review, the writer said you were really faithful in translating the dialogue — but did express great disappointment that you truncated a chase in the book that involved Kurtz following a car that was following yet another car.

In the book, that chase was 300 pages long; in the movie, it’s about a half-hour long. What we did is, I think, much better than the book — because it’s much more visual and dramatic, really, the way Kurtz goes after them. In the book, it becomes very confused about just who’s chasing whom, and why. Hopefully in the movie we’ve clarified all that. I don’t think anybody’s gonna be unhappy.

One of the lit-crit trends we’re seeing these days is that Stephen King is kind of getting his due — he’s being re-appraised as a weightier writer.

Yeah. I think he’s an amazing stylist. Because his books have been so popular, and because almost everything he’s written has been turned into some kind of popular entertainment — TV or movies — in the old days, they used to dismiss it. But the fact is, he’s a terrific writer. The fact that he’s so prolific is sort of mystifying.

Yeah. He says he writes 2,000 words a day.

He says he’s gonna quit, but no one believes him.

Do you believe him?

I think he may take a pause. I mean, his idea of “quitting” is, “After the next four books, I’ll quit.” For most people, it’s, “I don’t think I can write another word.” [laughs] I don’t know what he’d do if he didn’t write.

Maybe he’s in too much pain.

I’m sure any near-death experience has you evaluating your priorities.

I read somewhere that he calls every day of his life after the accident “The Bonus Round.”

He wrote a wonderful thing about the accident that’s in his book On Writing. That may be one of the scariest things he’s written.

Now, on the “Dreamcatcher” Web site [dreamcatchermovie.com], you’ve been contributing an unusual amount of behind-the-scenes material.

Oh, yeah. Because I’ve made all these movies, and you always have the “Electronic Press Kit” — people come in for 10 days over the course of a huge, long shoot, and they want to shoot the actors and something flashy. But what I always miss is the filmmaking.

See, I don’t think there’s been much stuff done about what’s really involved in the filmmaking process. What you see on these “making-of”s is about movie stars — and directors, to some extent. But I’m interested in the whole crew — the various skills and crafts that have to be applied to making something this huge. And I think that’s what you see on the Web site. When we started the Web site right at the start of production, we actually had a guy shooting on the set every day.

I must say, I love the phrase you say in one of the Web-site videos: “We’re doin’ it the way D.W. Griffith used to do shitweasels.” I don’t even know what that means. [Kasdan laughs] Now, you’re known for working with a sort of rolling ensemble of actors and crewmembers. Did that sort of shorthand come in handy on “Dreamcatcher”?

It’s always helpful when you’ve worked with people before. In addition, I had John Seale shooting the movie. John and I had been trying to work together for 10 years. He’s one of the most amazing people in all of movies — a great spirit, you know? He’s Australian — the harder the conditions, the happier he is. We shot two or three cameras all the time — which a lot of cinematographers don’t want to do, because it’s harder to light. But it makes for enormous energy on the set and a lot of forward momentum — you get to spend your time shooting instead of waiting.

It’s interesting that the Australians have emerged as a sort of hardy filmmaking force.

It’s a rough country, and they’re very “butch,” as John Seale always says. The tougher it is, the better.

Only a New Zealander could have filmed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, eh?

Yeah. That’s a beautiful job that guy did.

How do you tackle the sort of well-worn trope about an angelic, retarded man-child and make it interesting and fresh?

That concerned me a lot.

I’ll bet it did.

There’s one element that sort of saves it, I think — which is that he’s not what he appears to be. Some of the fun of the story is that you see that he’s the most powerful figure in the movie.

I absolutely fell in love with the Donnie Wahlberg take on Dudditz. He has a very kind of open, sweet face. When he finally comes into the movie — which is really at the end — it’s not like a retarded person; it’s something much more ambiguous — and it turns out to be something truly strange.

• • •

II.ON OTHER MATTERS

You must be incredibly proud of your son, Jake. [Jake Kasdan’s directorial debut — at age 22 — was the underrated comedy-mystery “The Zero Effect.”]

Very. I love the work that Jake’s been doing — not only the two movies that he’s directed, but also his fabulous work on “Freaks and Geeks” — he directed the pilot and a lot of those episodes. And I actually have another son who’s working in the business already. He’s writing for television now. He’s 23 — so they’ve both come along a lot faster than I did. Jake directed his first movie at 22, and I was 30 when I did mine. And the only help I’ve given them was giving them a household in which they saw their dad was happy in his work.

Both “Zero Effect” and “Silverado” found pretty large audiences on video, didn’t they?

“Silverado” is a gigantic video — I know, because I get the accounting.

“Silverado” would have been a gigantic hit if it had been released a little better. It tested through the roof — better than anything Columbia had ever tested at that point, which included “Ghostbusters.” The Coca-Cola Company had taken over Columbia at that time and didn’t know what they were doing, and when they saw these huge test scores, they rushed the release — and it opened on the weekend of “Live Aid.”

But I’ve sort of gotten over all that disappointment, because the movie has such a huge following around the world. It plays constantly on television around the world and on cable. It’s on HBO about once a month.

Kevin Costner is unhinged in that movie.

He’s great in that. He was really young and full of juice.

Now, since “Mumford,” you’ve been laying kind of low.

That’s a luxury of being comfortable — you can pick your spots. I took a little time off after “Mumford,” but now I’d like to not take any time off — and do something else.

Our magazine did a survey last year asking readers to name the best films of all time, and both “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Empire Strikes Back,” unsurprisingly, made the top 10. Is it wrong of us to wonder why your talents weren’t utilized on more “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” movies?

No. It couldn’t be simpler. [laughs] George and Steven asked me to do the second one; I didn’t want to do it. I was directing movies at that point; I was really proud of “Raiders” — it was an incredible movie — and I really didn’t want to go back there.

I had done the sequels to the “Star Wars” movies because George had asked me to do it. You know, I had finished “Raiders,” and he asked to come in and help him out with “Empire” — he was in a spot. And it was great fun, and it was over relatively quickly. Then I went off and I made “Body Heat” — partially with the support of George — and I had a directing career that was going pretty good. He asked me to come back and just write “Jedi” because he was really desperate at that point. We did it together, and we did it really fast; I felt like it was a job of work. But I’m not a huge sequel fan, and I didn’t see any reason for me to be working on the “Indiana Jones” series.

You know, when I was hired to do “Raiders,” I’d only been in the business a couple of weeks. Steven had actually bought “Continental Divide” to produce, and what he really wanted was for me to write “Raiders.” And he introduced me to George, and in 10 minutes George gave me the job — and I found myself working with the two hottest people of my generation. A few weeks later, we were outlining the story, and then I went away for six months and wrote it. It couldn’t have been much more satisfying. But to me, that’s never an excuse to do another one — you put it in the bank and you do something else.

Now, you told Starlog in 1981 about your “Raiders” script rewrite: “A little bit of my script’s logic and character development fell out along the way.” What was missing? And will it show up on the Indiana Jones DVDs?

I don’t think so. [laughs] Actually, I ran into Frank Marshall over the holidays, and he’s working on that [DVD] collection. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of…. I don’t know what they have planned. They obviously made a lot of smart decisions about what should be in the movie and what shouldn’t.

When you’re a beginning writer, you know, you hurt for everything that’s lost. After you’ve directed 10 movies, you see that you cut stuff for a reason.

You’re not afraid to be blunt about what you perceive as flaws or things you wish hadn’t been cut in your “classic” films. Has time tempered this instinct, or made it stronger?

No, it’s tempered it — no question. You know, Akira Kurosawa, I think, is the greatest director that ever lived — he’s the most important influence on me. And I saw him at the Directors Guild when he was 80 years old; they were giving him a life-achievement award. And he said, “I’m just beginning to understand what movies are.” And it wasn’t false modesty; it wasn’t blowing smoke. He really meant it.

And I believe that all the filmmakers in the audience understood. Because movies are mysterious; you never really master them, you know? It’s a surprise every time you put two pieces of film together. Something happens that’s a third thing. It’s not the shot that’s coming in, it’s not the shot that’s going out — it’s what happens when you put them together.

I think as you get older, you realize movies are not simple in any way, shape or form — and the decisions that are made are made for what seems like a good idea at the time. I sort of think that’s what life is about: You don’t make the right decision, necessarily — you make the decision that you made at that time because it seemed right.

Did you enjoy participating in the Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays book?

Laurent [Bouzereau], who wrote that book, is working on the DVD for “Dreamcatcher,” and he did a great documentary about “Big Chill” that’s on that DVD. He works full-time for Steven, pretty much. He’s an amazing scholar of these current movies. When he was doing the research, I’d written two of the three [“Star Wars”] scripts — and I couldn’t remember any of the stuff he was asking me. He knows so much more about it than I do. I could never have put that book together — what was in, what was out, and what changed.

I would like to speak for many film fans in thanking you for your reported efforts in encouraging Cameron Crowe to make “Almost Famous.” His mother, in an interview, has said that you were one of the people really kickin’ his butt to get it written.

He told me about it long before he wrote it, because I always thought his personal story was so amazing. Cameron’s a friend and an amazing talent. I really thought he should stop fartin’ around and get it done. And he did. It’s hard to write your most personal story.

Was it weird to see one of your first scripts, “The Bodyguard” make it to the screen so long after you wrote it — and starring an actor you helped make famous?

Kevin read “The Bodyguard” while we were doing “Silverado” in 1985 — and he was not a movie star. But he had it in his mind that he was going to play that part and he was going to become a movie star. And he did.

He wanted me to direct that movie. I was just starting on “Grand Canyon,” which I was writing with my wife, and I was a bit burned-out on “Bodyguard.” We had gone through several drafts — my brother had done a couple of drafts — and there were problems with the script that I thought were big and that I didn’t know how to solve.

nd Kevin didn’t think they were problems at all [laughs] — and he turned out to be right, I think.
We hired Mick Jackson to direct the movie, but I did produce it. And the script is almost exactly what I wrote in 1975. The tone is very different from what I had in mind, but the movie was so successful — and it was a total shock to me, really.

You always stress the importance of story and character. Do you feel those two elements are being forgotten in today’s Hollywood?

I think this turned out to be a really good year in movies, surprisingly. They’re always back-loaded toward the Academy Awards, so you can get very discouraged about movies during the summer, and then in December everything perks up.

There’s a certain kind of Hollywood movie that’s obviously not very good any more. What used to be the staple of “popcorn movies” has been denigrated into just effects and cutting and noise. But there have always been good movies in the midst of that, you know? There are people who really love what movies can be, and they’re still making good movies.

Your parents were reportedly very supportive of your writing efforts. How much of a priority has it been to you return that favor to your own children?

I think that’s a great gift that you can give your children. I think that what my parents did was not so much specifically encourage me to write, but just that they treated it like it was a legitimate thing. I think that that’s half of what we need — for someone to validate what you’re doing, so you know you’re not crazy.

When you’re doing creative work, it can get very lonely, and you can think, “This is all fantasy.” There’s not much validation from the outside world for a long time. But if you’re in an environment where people say, “No — keep at it. Keep writing. You don’t have to show anything — just keep at it until you’re ready to show it. And once you show it, don’t give up because someone doesn’t like it.” Those are the things that you’re hoping to give to your child.

Do you think you’d be writing today if your folks hadn’t been that supportive?

I don’t know if I would have started if the environment at home didn’t say, “This is a real thing.” Because I was growing up in West Virginia, and no one there thought that movies were made — they just sort of happened: The actors sort of made up the dialogue, and it was mysterious. But I was in an environment in which it was said, “Things are created out of nothing.” That’s very encouraging.

What were your parents’ occupations?

My father — who had written plays in college, but was completely stymied and sort of gave up writing — ran a electronics store in West Virginia. This was back when every TV had to have an antenna on the roof, and he sold the antennas and the vacuum tubes and everything. He died when I was relatively young, so he didn’t get to see much of my life. But he was a huge influence on me.

You started out as an advertising copywriter.

Mm. I did that out of desperation. I’d gone to UCLA in the film school, but I couldn’t get in the Directing program. I was accepted in the Writing program. I’d been going to school at the University of Michigan, and when I got to L.A., I was very lonely and I had no money — and I didn’t understand why I was in a writing program when I could write on my own.

So I went back to Ann Arbor, and I worked in a record store and continued to write screenplays. And then I decided to get a Master’s degree in education, thinking that I could be a high-school English teacher and write, you know, in my free time — I’d have all the summers off and everything. But in the early ’70s, there were no high-school English-teaching jobs — it was just as hard to become a high-school English teacher as it was to become a screenwriter. And so I got offered a job from someone I met in an advertising agency — and so I ended up working in advertising for about five years, but I only enjoyed it for about six months. I had about four-and-a-half years of really being unhappy — writing all day in advertising and writing all night in movies.

Is it true that you vowed not to have a second child until you escaped the industry?

[laughs] That’s true. I was so miserable. This goes back to the idea that you want your children to see you happy in your work. My father had never been happy in his work, and it made a huge impression on me. I already had one son, and I was really happy with him and proud — but I didn’t want another one while I was so miserable.

How do you interface with the advertising people in the movie business — from a position of sympathy or rebellion?

Sympathy. You know, advertising and promotion and money and hype, they’ve all become more and more important. You can sell almost anything if the concept is not deeply flawed. Enough money and promotion can get anything opened. You can’t necessarily get a second weekend out of it, but if you start big enough on your first weekend, you’re going to do all right.

When I made “The Big Chill,” it didn’t open to that much money, and we weren’t in that many theaters. But it played for six months. And you can’t do that now.

The general public now watches opening-weekend box-office statistics like it was a sporting event.

It’s awful, really — because that becomes the only standard by which people decide what they’re going to do. They want to see what everybody at the office is seeing. It’s unfortunate, because it narrows the kinds of movies that can be widely seen.

There was this brief period in the late-‘80s/early-‘90s — specifically, with “The Big Chill” and “Grand Canyon” — where you sort of became regarded in the media as the director laureate of boomer angst.

I always thought it was a bit of a misidentification. In the last 20 years, there’s been a slight prejudice against the middle class in Hollywood movies. And those movies were not really about boomers — they happened to be about middle-class people of a certain age. “Grand Canyon” is actually full of all kinds of characters — some of them are “baby boomers” and some of them aren’t.

It didn’t bother me that much, because when “The Big Chill” was such an enormous success, it was validation to me of the idea that you could write a personal story and have it be entertaining enough to play all over the world. Young kids identified with it and people who’d been in college in the ’50s identified with it. And that’s all you really want to do as an artist — just speak to people in a relevant way.

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