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JOE WRIGHT at MVFF’s ‘Insight’ Event
How do you stall for time when the honored guest is late for the show? Send in Zoe Elton, if the show is the Mill Valley Film Festival and the guest is Joe Wright. And that’s exactly what happened when the brilliant young director fell victim to flight delays and congested highways on his way to speak at ‘Insight: A Master Class with Joe Wright’ at the Smith Rafael Film Center.'
On day three of the 31st MVFF, the full house showing jitteriness as the minutes clicked past the program’s start time. Elton, the Festival’s Director of Programming, bought time with congenial small talk, starting by reminding us that this was not the first time Joe had been part of the Festival. Two of Wright’s highly praised previous works –
Pride & Prejudice
and the Oscar-winning (for Best Musical Score)
– had screened at prior festivals with Wright in attendance. Of course, everyone was eager to see clips from Joe’s newest film,
, featuring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
Elton was just warming up when Wright himself marched in at a brisk clip, bag slung over his shoulder, closely followed by the MVFF Director Mark Fishkin. Both looked a bit winded, and Joe summarized the incident concisely in his first three words: “Fucking American Airlines!”
When the laughter died down, the audience settled and the ‘class’ began with clips from
. The film’s true story follows a Los Angeles journalist (Robert Downey Jr) in an exploration of the local homeless community while he attempts to help one man in particular (Jamie Foxx), a Juilliard-trained musician who has developed schizophrenia. Wright said that he shot a lot on-site at the LAMP homeless facility in LA, using real homeless people – not just as extras, but actually letting them improvise their own dialog on camera.
Foxx’s depiction of the confusion and paranoia that affecting a mumbling homeless person on the streets of downtown urban areas might well be compared to Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character in
for its authenticity. Judging from the clips shown, we can expect another Oscar nomination for Foxx.
Wright then turned our attention to a clip from
Pride and Prejudice
– in particular, a large indoor crowd scene at a dance. Here Wright explained how he chose (contrary to how most directors shoot these type of scenes) to film things ‘live,’ with all the actors using radio mics, with a crowd of town locals actually speaking and participating during the action while sound was recorded.
, we watched a phenomenal scene depicting Dunkirk during World War II, where Wright employed 1000 extras and shocked his DP by choosing to shoot the scene on the beach as a single, continuous, unedited five-minute shot that follows the principal actors around – a true mastery of motion picture technique.
By the end, Wright had let his audience in on some other tricks of the trade, including techniques he uses with his actors when he needs to call them on bad habits or involve them deeper into the film. With many in the audience filmmakers themselves, it appeared that nobody minded the early wait to get these pearls. Clearly, everyone felt grateful for Wright’s generosity. And it was equally clear that we should expect to see many more exceptional films coming from the very talented Joe Wright in the near future – perhaps even at the next MVFF, always an exciting event.
Gus Manos, October 10, 2008