Alfred HitchcockFavorite Film
Man with a Camera (1929)Favorite Actors
Robert Downey Jr.
Question and Answer session with Producer, Director and Writer; Edward Bass
Q: Why is making "Belle" important to you?
A: It's just plain fun. Making films is fun. And making people enjoy, maybe even like, a dark character makes it extra fun and extra challenging.
Q: What sold you on the idea of making this particular film?
A: When I heard the story from Eva Mayer, whose family bought the old Gunness property, I felt as though I had just discovered the internet.
Q: What is it about this genre that you prefer?
A: I prefer nothing about this genre. For me, it's really just about the characters, and if the characters are rich, it doesn't matter if the backdrop is a farmhouse in Indiana with a psychopath femme fatale or a sinking ship called the Titanic with a lead character who draws one-legged prostitutes.
Q: What makes Belle Gunness likeable to you?
A: Maybe the same thing that made her likeable enough to have been able to kill over 100 men. Like Robert Blake in Truman Capote's film "In Cold Blood", there was something likeable about him. It was probably similar to Belle. I want her pain and suffering to be the highlight of the film. When Capote wrote "In Cold Blood", his murderers were present whereas in the movie version, they were pushed to the sidelines. If you have good characters you're dealing with, love them, and keep them around. Every great actress will bring something to the table, but I think great material will make for a great performance, and I'm very old fashioned. I believe that everything has to be there on the page.
Q: So, you rely on your storyboards?
A: You know, as a director, I'm supposed to say no, and that I'm ready to improvise on every turn... but I have sketched over 1000 drawings that have been given to our art department and we have made numerous changes just based on pictures. Hitchcock always felt that when he finished the storyboard process then his film was finished. I might not go that far, but I do hope that the prep is so strong that my storyboards will hopefully be my diary for the future.
Q: What about rehearsal?
A: For me, nothing is more important than rehearsal. In acting training, we do the stage presentation of Belle, and each time I direct a new actor in the role, a new facet appears. And certainly, when I have my cast together, rehearsal will be a key element.
Q: How do you think your audience will respond to this film?
A: I hope at least half as well as those who have read the script.
Q: As a filmmaker yourself, what would you say is special about this character?
A: She's a pig farmer named Belle. She molests her own daughter, smokes a combination of heroin and cocaine, tortures and rapes men, and still has time to cook a mean pot roast. It doesn't get better.
Q: What are some of your cinematic inspirations for this film?
A: Sunset Blvd., Citizen Kane, and even oddly enough The Odd Couple.
Q: Well, that's odd.
A: As am I. Every night I watch 2 films, I listen to radio theater at least 3 nights a week, and I can say that I am inspired by Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder and Clint Eastwood. There's nothing specific, but I always tell my students every day to read a great script, see a great movie, read a great book, and then you will see how to value the work we do here, and I try to practice what I preach.
Q: Where do you plan on shooting this film?
A: At least partially in La Porte, Indiana, if they don't run us out of town.
A: No, not exactly. But they have a historical society of which their main goal seems to be squashing any publicity on Belle Gunness. They certainly haven't embraced the publicity, other than one guy named Bruce Johnson. He actually flew to Norway and had people from Norway staying in his home, and was involved in the DNA testing. But the society just don't give her that "Jack the Ripper" embrace.
Q: You seem very detail oriented.
A: Yes, I was always interested, on every set, in how the wardrobe was coming together for the extras and whether they had a crisp ironed look and all the little details. I don't care about stars, I care about faces and what someone can bring to the role. That's what was so great about the '40's, that each actor and character actor was just supreme. And, I always want to grab the brush and add a bit more blood or blush and find a way to build suspense or exactly how that candle will light the room and what is going to keep the audience right there with you. Yes, it's in the details; especially with suspense. It's timing and pacing, and making the actors feel comfortable, especially for the lead, in what is a very difficult and troubling super-sized role.
Q: Do you think the actress will get an Oscar? Do you think it will it be Oscar worthy?
A: So I'm told. And not so much for any brilliance on the script, but there is so little out there for female actresses that's meaty, and this may be a little extreme, but she's not cooking up something for a man, she's actually feeding those men to her pigs. There is nothing stereotypical about this role. And therefore, I do think that the actress who does this will understand, especially after the precedent of Monsters Ball and other pictures that have similarities, that this is an important role for women and will turn the leading lady into "the Belle of the ball." It is my own tribute to Hitchcock in horrible arrogance. I think that this is where he might have taken terror had he been active today.
Q: What directors influenced you?
A: I was probably more influenced by silent films, which were probably the directors that influenced the Billy Wilders and the Stanley Kramers, who I was fortunate enough to work with. There were so many great techniques and visuals done simply by a handheld camera and by special effects.
Q: And are you going to have a lot of special effects in your upcoming film?
A: Our special effects will be great acting, a great intriguing true story and a true theatrical experience. The effects come from shadows, timing, expression, the building of characters, and the underlying terror.
Q: You had mentioned Robert Downey Jr. as one of your favorite actors. Can you elaborate?
A: Yes, whatever he does, he's superb. He's taken some hard hits and came back strong. And who else could play an Australian in black-face playing a black guy in "Tropic Thunder"? He has all the versatility of a Chaplin. That's why I liked Cagny. He could make you laugh, make you cry, and he could frighten the shit out of you.
Q: You also mentioned Ingrid Bergman?
A: You know, I say Ingrid Bergman, but it's so hard to come up with a definitive thing about Bette Davis, Gene Tourney, and Fay Wray... I just love them all.
Q: So, you grew up in the film business?
A: No, I grew up in Beverly Hills, which I guess is one in the same. But, I used to see Groucho Marx, when I was very young. As a child, I always admired the old time actors: their charisma, their style, even their flaws. I was always honored to be able to sit with Bob Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and even Bob Hope.
Q: What advice can you give to those aspiring to succeed in the film industry today?
A: Work in small productions and remember that the film business started with simplicity. Go back to basics. Find a great story, a great script, and never worry about budgets. Be versatile. Try to learn every aspect of the film-making process, from set design to lighting and everything in between.
Q: How do you hope Belle the film will contribute to cinema?
A: I hope that I have utilized all modern techniques of cinematography, while incorporating some elements which seem to be lost in today's films. Ultimately, this should translate with respect to audiences, by not giving them what they've already seen, but giving them a unique story that's not anticipated. I want something that does not follow the charts and what the audience's present appetite might be--I want to create a dish that is different.
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