Jodie Foster Visits Art Center as Part of Film Department’s Distinguished Filmmakers Series

Dan Perri talks with Jodie Foster in the Ahmanson Auditorium. Photo: Chuck Spangler.

Actor-director-producer Jodie Foster visited a packed Ahmanson Auditorium earlier this afternoon for a discussion and Q&A with Film instructor Dan Perri as part of the Film Department’s Distinquished Filmmakers Series. Foster, who’s next starring in director Roman Polanski’s Carnage (trailer embedded below), shared with Art Center students her experiences as a director on the sets of Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays and The Beaver, as well as her thoughts on filmmaking in general and a few of the great directors that she’s worked with.

Here are a few highlights from the event:

Foster on when she first became interested in directing: “When I was six years old I did a television show called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. One day, the director showed up and it was the other actor, Bill Bixby, and my mouth just hung open. That’s when I realized actors could be directors and I remember thinking that someday that’s what I wanted to do.”

On the importance of words: “I don’t write, but I love writing. I was a literature major and I’m all about words. That’s my connection. And that’s even my connection as an actor, strangely. I’m one of the few actors I know that connects with words first and images later. I don’t make action films, I make personal films, so I have to download my psyche onto the script before I even start shooting so that the film reflects my personal psychological evolution. If it doesn’t, then I’m not engaged.”

On working with producers: “I love the creative partnership between the producer and the director. In the world of studio movies, everybody has this idea that a producer is an antagonist. In the best of all possible worlds, the producer is your brother or sister. They’re your right hand person that goes through the entire process with you and that loves your child as much as you do. You’re there to create this thing together.”

On juggling producing and acting: “I prefer to direct and produce at the same time. Producing and acting is a bad idea. It makes for a very difficult relationship with the director. The director should never have to have a budget schedule conversation with another actor. The director should never have to have conversations about the costars with another actor. There are many conversations that shouldn’t happen between a director and an actor, and unfortunately when you’re producing a movie, you have to have those conversations.”

Continued after the jump.

Jodie Foster. Photo: Chuck Spangler.

On making artistic choices early on: “If you make specific visual, conceptual, emotional, literary choices from the beginning, then you have a film that has a very strong signature. Movies that cost $140 million get into trouble because they have a lot of money and they defer those decisions until later on. They can just shoot the scene from everybody’s angle and get into the cutting room and figure out what they’re going to use. When you start creating your film that way, you don’t know your movie because you’ve just shot 1,000 different options. When you’re disciplined enough to say, ‘This is what my movie is saying and this is how I’m going to say it’ it may be bad, and it may stink, but at least it has a pure and designed idea behind it and you know you’re telling the story using every inch of vocabulary that you have.”

On having not attended film school: “I think there are different advantages and disadvantages. I think about that every day when I’m on set. I never had an 8mm camera and ran through the streets or had that community thing where you could make something that sucked and it didn’t matter because you could just try stuff. I never got to do that. Everything I did was immortalized forever and I had to pay for it and get criticized for it. So there’s a whole period that I missed and that I’m really angry about. [laughs] I think what is important is who you start becoming between the ages of 17 and 26. Are you in Burma travelling with a backpack? That’s an interesting film school. Are you volunteering at the Metropolitan Museum and learning about Rembrandt? That’s an interesting point of view as well. Are you working for a living in a coal mine? All of who you are in those seminal years and how everything that’s important to you starts bubbling up.”

On why equipment isn’t important when you’re learning: “I like a piece of paper and a pen. That for me is the blueprint of a film. If I was running a film school–which no one will ever ask me to do–I would just want you to have a paper and a pen for the first three years. I wouldn’t even want to see what people could put up on the screen. There are two parts to the process of creating. There’s the choreography and there’s the dance. And you really have to have both. Dance without choreography is wailing around with your arms. It’s like a drummer who has no music, just banging away.”

On Panic Room director David Fincher: “David Fincher couldn’t be more different from me. He does 125 takes and everything’s perfect. He has a real discipline and visual style and he asks a lot from every single person. He knows every frame of the film and he knows every job that’s on the film better than that person, including the acting. He’s a better actor than I am. I respect him so much. I love working with him. It’s exhausting, it’s infuriating, and difficult, and I just adore him.”

On The Brave One director Neil Jordan: “He has an almost stream-of-consciousness way of coming to the set. He’s prepared by doing the research or being intrigued emotionally by things, but he really can’t see it until he stands on the set. And then he says crazy things like, ‘What if 30 taxis just came by and they almost wiped you out?’ And then people scramble on walkie-talkies saying, ‘Call a taxi service and see how many taxis we can get!’ He comes up with these crazy things that are so specific and so good and he never makes the wrong decision in the moment.”

On Polanski: “He’s so old school. Part of the charm of Roman is he’s not interested in changing the way he does things. And he’s a master of everything so he does everything: he puts tape on the ground, he puts sandbags there so you don’t overstep your mark, he moves props around, he brings things from home and gives it to the production designer. He’s very homespun. He has the same viewfinder [he used in] Knife in the Water. Who even uses a viewfinder anymore? He stands there on the set and very carefully, very quietly looks through the viewfinder. That’s the way he’s always done it and that’s why his films have very consistent visuals.”

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