Friday, February 24, 2012

An Interview With Martin Scorsese about Hugo, 3D, and the Future

Renowned director Martin Scorsese’s groundbreaking and original adventure Hugo makes its highly-anticipated debut on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD on February 28, 2012 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  Recipient of more Academy Award nominations than any other film,  Hugo  was honored with 11 total - including Best Picture and Best Director - and has already won Martin Scorsese the Golden Globe for Best Director, was named the best film of 2011 by the National Board of Review, and was cited by more than 150 critics as one of the top 10 films of the year.   Hugo  will be available in a three-disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, as well as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, each of which boast nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes special features including an illuminating making-of featurette, a retrospective on the extraordinary genius of filmmaker Georges Méliès, a look at the mechanical man at the heart of  Hugo, plus interviews with the cast and crew and more.  Read on for his thoughts about the movie, 3D and where he sees the future of film going.

Q: You faced so many challenges making Hugo. It was the first time in your illustrious career you shot a movie in 3D, the sets were complex, two of the leads were young actors and there were so many other complexities. The question is … was the experience fun or a headache?

A: It was a lot of fun and yes it was a headache (laughs). But it was a really enjoyable headache. (Cinematographer) Bob (Richardson), (production designer) Dante (Ferretti), (editor) Thelma (Schoonmaker) and (original music) Howard (Shore) could all tell you it was a discovery with each shot. Each sense of designing the picture and every facet of it was really a re-thinking about how to make pictures. Of course, that's with the element of 3D, but also the re-creation of a boy's memory of where he was in the past and how you create a sense of heightened impression of Paris in 1929 -1930. All of this was built together in many different facets. It was arduous, but a great deal of fun.

Q: You have achieved so much. Why put yourself through the stress of such a big film shot in 3D?

A: As tough as it was sometimes, I thought it would be fun to go back to square one. I wanted to test the boundaries and see how far we could go. I loved the possibility of using depth. 3D is exciting. It also demands respect. The truth is I have always been excited by 3D and I felt Hugo was a perfect opportunity to explore 3D. Sometimes it was restrictive. Depth became very important and every shot changed. We had to place actors in different spots. The actors' performances had to be different. We needed things in the foreground and things in the background. It was difficult, particularly in the first few weeks, but after a while we got into our groove and 3D is a wonderful tool to tell a story.
Q: It seems Hugo is the perfect movie for you. It is a magical story and journey, but also, as a lover of film history, it delves into the first motion pictures made by the great French filmmaker Georges Melies which must have excited you. Can you talk about how you became attached to the project?

A: When I received the material from (producer) Graham King my wife read it. She loved it and gave it to me and I read it. It was from a beautiful book by Brian Selznick. It was a graphic novel in a sense from the look of it. But, also I have a young daughter. I guess it was two trains running in a way. I was with my daughter every day and I just began to see things differently and perceive life or the world around one in a child’s view as it changes and the imagination of a child, the creativity of a child, but also a child’s thoughts and storytelling. So, it just seemed to be a very happy coincidence that this story, and also the fact that this story resolves itself, through the device of motion pictures. Graham King said 'Marty this is you. You have to do it'. It all came together.

Q: Can you talk a little more about your experience reading Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, for the first time. 

A: I had one of those experiences you often hear about. I was given the book about four years ago and sat down and read it completely in one sitting. I immediately connected to the story. When I was reading I didn't realize the man in the toy store would be Georges Melies. Then I discovered it was a true story. He worked in the toy store for 16 years because he was broke and someone did discover him.

Q: What in the book spoke loudest to you?

A: I loved the idea of seeing the world through a boy's eyes. Hugo is 12-years-old. I was particularly drawn to him because he is a vulnerable child. The boy was living alone in an attic type place in a train station - one of the biggest train stations in Paris. It had the atmosphere of a giant engine. The attic is filled with clocks and a big window that looks over Paris. I loved that.

Q: Can you provide a quick summary of the film?

A: The boy's father dies, he is alone, but he has the automaton that is broken down. It lacks some covering and you can see the gears and flight wheels inside. He meets Georges Melies and a little girl, Isabelle, who is Melies' goddaughter. She helps him find the answer to everything. But we also learn about the origins of film. I didn't realize there are generations who do not know about the origins of film. I love the fact young people may learn about this.

Q: When you agreed to do Hugo, who among your collaborators did you contact first? Do you go to Dante and say 'How do we do this?'

A: I think I did. Yes, I think we went to Dante. Then the film was cancelled (laughs). I wanted it (the look of the film) to be the boy's memory of Paris in 1931 so it doesn't have to accurate. It has to be heightened, but it shouldn't be fantasy. So I was thinking about the surrealist films of the 1920s that they made there - Rene Clair's Le Million, but particularly Under the Roofs of Paris and A nous la liberate and the beautiful Jean Vigo films Zero de Conduite and L'Atalante. That whole school of filmmaking of the time is what we really embraced. Apparently Brian Selznick too, in the book, used the references including The 400 Blows (by Francois Truffaut).

Q: Can you talk about 3D and its place in filmmaking. 3D has its supporters and critics, just like Technicolor had its supporters and critics?

A: The first time images started to move, immediately people wanted color, sound, a big screen and depth and that’s just what we’re doing now. Ultimately it took until 1935 to get the three strip Technicolor process working right and even then, from 1935 to 1960 or so, color was only deemed proper, or appropriate, for musicals, comedies and westerns. No serious, quote-unquote, films. Until finally in 1967, 68 or 69 or just about the time the color started to fade, that's when every film had to be made in color. I remember doing Raging Bull in 1979 and the studio was reluctant to do it in black and white. Irwin Winkler pointed it out to them every picture made in the 1970s in black and white had been a hit - Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show and Lenny - so they relented. You have to understand that is a mindset against color because there were so many attempts at color from 1895 . They were all hand tinted and painted. There were so many attempts and the audience always said 'It wasn't realistic enough. The skin tones are wrong. Everything is orange. Everything is blue' until finally they got it right. For me, 3D is just another element to tell a story. As I'm sitting here now, I'm seeing you in 3D. Most people have stereo vision, so why belittle that very, very important element of our existence? There’s got to be, for all of our technical expertise, a comfortable way of dealing with it. The cameras are certainly getting smaller. The cameras are getting more flexible. The issue with glasses? No glasses. That's being worked on. Why not use it?

Q: Where do you see the next big change in filmmaking?

A: If everything moves along and there are no major catastrophes we’re basically headed towards holograms. Why can’t you have 3D Hamlet?  He comes out to the audience and does 'To be or not to be?’ I mean, they do in the theater. The actor walks right out into the centre. Why can't you have it in a movie theatre? You have to think that way. Don’t let the economics and fashion inhibit you if you’re being creative.

Q: You have some great actors in the film - Sir Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee and Jude Law and the youngsters Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz. Probably the most interesting casting choice was Sacha Baron Cohen as the train station inspector.  Can you talk about that?

A: The station inspector's job is to question any kid in the train station who looks like a street urchin. If they have no family, they go to an orphanage. I asked Brian Selznick if we could open up the part because I didn't want him to just be a villain who is chasing after the boy. I wanted to bring more layers to the character and that's why I wanted to work with Sacha Baron Cohen. I know he would bring more layers to it.

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