Editor’s Note: Welcome to part two (of four) of our exclusive online series about Colorado filmmakers at the Oscars. Check back every Friday until the big show on February 24 for a new Q&A.
Derek Cianfrance is Colorado born and bred: The director grew up in Lakewood, attended Green Mountain High School, and went to the University of Colorado at Boulder (he left early to direct his first feature, Brother Tied). He went on to create a number of well-received documentaries, short films, and musical portraits (aka short profiles about musicians), all before assembling the critically acclaimed feature Blue Valentine. Star Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Actress at the 2011 Academy Awards. Cianfrance recently chatted with me about working with Ryan Gosling and why he likes making films that are “a little uncomfortable.”
5280: You began making movies at an early age, right?
Derek Cianfrance: When I was six, my brother got a cassette recorder for his birthday, and I remember taking it from him, and all throughout my childhood I would record people. Basically everything that I’m doing now. I would interview people, I would do little skits, I would try to get my grandmother to speak Chinese, and I would use it as a surveillance device. And that’s where it all started, this idea of telling stories and capturing moments.
5280: There’s a familial theme running through all of your movies. Is that intentional?
DC: Yes. Each [film] is about family. Brother Tied is about brothers. Blue Valentine is about husbands and wives. The Place Beyond the Pines is about fathers and sons. There are a lot of secrets and intimacies within families, and I like that. I like making films that are very personal, very surprising, and maybe a little uncomfortable. Blue Valentine was inspired by my fears of my parents getting a divorce, and The Place Beyond the Pines was inspired by all of my anxieties about becoming a father.
5280: Let’s talk about Blue Valentine. How did you first meet Ryan Gosling—and how did you get him to star in your film?
DC: I met Ryan in 2005. My producers had also produced Half Nelson. And they told me during the filming of Half Nelson that I needed to meet him because they thought he was my brother. People were always telling me that I kind of looked like him. When I met him, I instantly realized he’s a movie star. I’m the normal guy, and he’s the movie star version of me. We just became friends after that.
When he read the script for Blue Valentine, he loved it. He wanted to do it, but he didn’t think he could play the older guy at that point. So I told him, “Why don’t we shoot all the young stuff now and we’ll wait six years to shoot all the other stuff?” He thought that was the best idea in the world. And once he agreed to do that, I knew I had a partner. Unfortunately, no one with money or anyone in the industry thought that was a great idea. They all thought we were crazy, but it was great because we were crazy together.
5280: What do you remember most about production?
DC: It was like a vacation—truly one of the best times of my life. I had worked 12 long years trying to make that film, and I really thought it was cursed. But once I got on the set and started shooting it, I realized it was blessed. All those years of suffering? There was a catharsis to it. It was indescribable, an absolute pleasure to take something you’ve dreamed of and then, all of a sudden, be living it. There was a tangible magic happening on the screen.
5280: And to see Michelle nominated for an Oscar?
DC: Whether she got nominated or not, I was very proud of her work on the film. The Oscar nomination was great and I was so happy for her. It was also nice that she got all that love because it allowed more people to become aware of and see the film.
5280: What are some of your favorite films of 2012?
DC: I loved Beasts of the Southern Wild. I thought it was an absolutely magical movie. And I loved Life of Pi. I thought it was insane. I don’t know how he made it. Ang Lee is such an incredible filmmaker, and I really admire his choices, from The Ice Storm to Brokeback Mountain to Sense and Sensibility to Life of Pi. Very few filmmakers are able to have a varied body of work like that.
5280: Would you ever shoot a film in Colorado?
DC: Absolutely! I’d love to make a film in Colorado. But it’s so much different than I remember when I was a teenager. The highways have gotten much wider and there seems to be a Home Depot on every corner. I grew up in Lakewood and the suburbs. At some point, I’d really love to make a film in Colorado. In the suburbs.
Next Up: The Place Beyond the Pines (March 2013), starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, and the HBO original series, Muscle, based on Sam Fussell’s memoir about the world of bodybuilding.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Part One: Sarah Siegel-Magness