Michael Mann talks finding a place for camaraderie with his fellow directors

Posted by · 8:29 am · January 9th, 2012

The DGA announces theatrical nominees today (in under an hour). It will be a big announcement, but as I perused the Guild’s website this morning killing a little time, I delighted in F.X. Feeney’s lengthy chat with director Michael Mann currently being featured there.

Mann is my favorite working director and I can’t wait to dive into the new series he’s been working on with David Milch (another personal god), HBO’s “Luck.” So I leap at any chance to read someone picking his brain. And Feeney has a nice history with the director, having edited that handsome Taschen book on the films of Mann and offered up some quality interviews over the years.

A lot of ground is covered, from Mann’s “I-want-to-make-movies” moment (seeing Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” in college) to his new task managing directors on “Luck.” I was having trouble deciding which bit I wanted to quote. It’s all good stuff. Ultimately, though, a passage on Mann’s view of camaraderie with his fellow directors seemed particularly applicable today.

Here’s what he had to say about how being active in the Guild has served him as a director:

“Directors don’t see other directors a lot. When we’re making films, there’s only one director on that set. It’s not like actors, working with other actors, or writers, who are working at home and can get together after work over coffee. If you’re working in Rome and I’m in Mozambique, we can’t just hang out. So what the Guild provides, apart from the many superb bedrock forms of support whose virtues are well known by its membership-creative rights, the pension plan, etc.-what I personally hold close is the society it offers of spending time with fellow directors. Whenever we get a chance to get together and talk, it is both rare and tremendously enjoyable. If Alejandro González Iñárritu wants to ask me about a certain cameraman, actor or actress, there are things I can reveal to him, regardless of the political sensitivities, which I wouldn’t say to anybody else. I can always tell the unvarnished truth to another director. And I’ve enjoyed the same benefit coming the other way. There’s a wonderful solidarity and truth-telling that goes on among directors.”

Oh, okay, one more passage. These thoughts on Mann’s retrospective view of the sound and music of 1981’s “Thief” and using sound effects melodically to integrate audio textures are just fascinating:

“…it can actually get quite nuts. In Thief there’s a fire extinguisher going off in F minor. We actually found a way, in Tangerine Dream’s studio, of processing actual sound effects and rendering them into a key. This was long before digital computers. The layering can be extraordinarily intricate. During the safe-cracking sequence in Thief, the chaotic sound of the burning bar suddenly stops, and in the silence-corresponding to the bright points of light on the diamonds when the first tray is pulled out-you start hearing a high-pitched note in the key of E, and every once in awhile there’s a blast in F minor of the fire extinguisher putting out the embers. This moment happens to work for me, now, in a way that I can still look at and not cringe. It’s withstood the test of time. Other things in the film are nonsensical: ocean waves crashing in G minor-sounding big, but yielding nothing at all.”

Give it all a read at the DGA website.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for today’s big reveal. Will Woody Allen assert the dominance of “Midnight in Paris?” Will Terrence Malick defy the odds and make the cut? Or will it just be a benign slate revealing very little? We’ll know soon enough.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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