Open Road Films
Filmmaker Marc Forster’s filmography has run the gamut from James Bond movies (Quantum of Solace) to quirky Will Ferrell comedies (Stranger than Fiction), Oscar-nominated Johnny Depp vehicles (Finding Neverland) to adaptations of best-selling books (The Kite Runner, World War Z). In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find a through-line between the ten films Forster has directed up until his most recent film All I See Is You.
The character drama stars Blake Lively as Gina, a blind woman living with her businessman husband James (Jason Clarke) in Bangkok, Thailand when her doctor gives her an option to regain some of her sight. Soon after starting to see again, Gina and James’ marriage starts to hit turbulence as Gina wants to explore her new freedom, and James feels neglected and left behind.
It isn’t one of Forster’s more mainstream efforts, but more of an art film, which might be why Open Road Films, who picked the movie up at Toronto last year, gave it a minimal release into under 300 theaters this past weekend.
Fortunately, Forster is back to bigger movies for his next one, a twist on Winnie the Pooh for Walt Disney Pictures starring Ewan McGregor as the grow-up Christopher Robin.
The Tracking Board got on the phone with Forster a few weeks back for the following interview.
I feel like you tend to go from the big movies to the smaller more intimate movies. You directed Machine Gun Preacher after doing Bond, and this one after World War Z, obviously with a gap between. Has that been a conscious thing, going back and forth between bigger and smaller movies?
Yeah, absolutely. I need to do something personal, and right now I’m still shooting the Christopher Robin movie for Disney, the Winnie the Pooh live action one, so it’s going back and forth between those. I think it’s just what I love as a filmmaker and storyteller, and it’s important for me.
Open Road Films
Was Sean Conway’s script for All I See Is You something that already existed before you got involved or were you developing it with him?
No, I had this idea on my own and had been thinking about it for a while, and then formulated it and brought Sean in a little bit of a later stage. When I started it, I was basically like every filmmaker who loved these movies from the ‘70s and always loved painting. I felt like filmmaking is sort of the poor cousin of being a painter, so I always wondered how can I bring something painterly into a character’s point of view? One day I was in the shower, and I had really strong soap in my eyes, which hurt me for hours, and I couldn’t see properly and it was all these shapes. I thought, “Oh, interesting. I wonder what it’s like for people who were able to see and lost their sight? So I started researching that, and I started reading all this stuff and meeting with a lot of different people and medical people and started to research, and I thought that could be very interesting. Also, I wanted to do a love story and wanted to deal with the complexity of marriage and what it means and co-dependency and all these issues that always fascinated me. I basically started slowly developing it. It took me probably a year by myself just to do technical research. I wanted to get a feel for the style of it and point of view and also the visual presentation. Once I had that all together, I wrote a rough outline of the story. Sean and I were friends and we always wanted to work together. I said, “Look, we want to work together, so let’s start from the outline and we’ll write together,” and he said, “I love this, let’s do this,” so we just kept working together on it until it formed itself. Yeah, I was very glad I was able to make the movie.
It seems more personal than some of the other movies you’ve done, and it’s a lot more artistic and maybe contains more of your personal interests.
You know, for sure. It has a lot of fixtures of personal stuff in there, but also as I was saying before, I felt that these movies from the ‘70s were always so open-ended and then in the ‘80s when the hero’s journey started, and you had to tick all these emotional boxes of what people or audiences expect from a film. I felt that somehow the TV shows are replacing these independent movies now, which has more character development ultimately at the end of the pilot or if someone still has some open questions and the discussions you can have. Movies don’t have that anymore or less and less I feel. Everything has to be answered and tested and this and that. I just wanted to keep that very loose, because this movie is about love, and everybody should have a different opinion and experience, and people should talk, and that was always my intention with this one.
Why did you want to set the movie in Thailand, of all places? You probably could have set it everywhere but you deliberately chose Thailand and very much used that in the story.
I researched and looked at Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok because they all have these closed centers in Asia, and I wanted to get to that place where it’s visually similar and where her husband takes her, so she’s in an environment that doesn’t speak the language, and she’s blind. Those places have such a unique visual influence, so I wanted to choose a place like that.
Being that this movie was personal and from your own idea, was it harder to get financing to get it made?
As you know, these days, to get these independent movies made and funded and get them out there is always tricky because people see them less and less. It’s just a reality, so you always have to figure it out budgetarilly and all the rest of it. It wasn’t easy, but every time you make an independent film I think it’s hard, especially with this one, which I thought for me has… you can say It’s a psychological drama or a love story, but it has certain aspects of a Hitchcockian thriller, but for me, it never was that. It’s always important that I felt like that the marketing is something that people see something, and they don’t go in expecting the wrong thing.
Open Road Films
How did you end up with Blake and Jason to play the married couple? I think Blake’s a little more obvious because she’s a star who can carry a movie but Jason’s not so obvious. How did you pair the two of them?
Jason and I always wanted to work together for a long time and Jason was part of the project first. We almost did another movie together, and I ended up not directing that movie, but we always talked about what we should do together. I brought him the script, and he was the first person I brought it to. He loved it and said, “I want to do this,” so that’s how basically we started working together on it. Then Blake ended up working as a pair with Jason. I wanted to have someone who has this kind of beauty, but is able to downplay it a little bit and make the character of Gina very natural. Ultimately, she becomes another person and that change. I also thought she would also would be good with the chemistry, and once they started talking together, I thought it felt very natural, and I felt I could believe them.
The movie itself is almost about the definition of beauty, because when you’re blind, how do you define what’s beautiful, but when you have vision, you have other things to weight it against. Is that something you and Sean wanted to explore in the screenplay?
We explored it in the screenplay, and then also obviously a lot of the visual references, and then ultimately, any sort of relationship is about mind, body, spirit, so it’s how their emotional relationship changes and also their physical one, and they both go hand in hand. At the same time, I wanted to play around with what’s going on with her internal life as this canvas in a painterly style, but try not to overdo it. The visual aspects of the film always supports the emotional aspect and the story aspect of where we’re at.
How did you go about creating the visuals of Gina’s blindness and what she saw, and was Blake privy to what she’d be seeing or some tests she could look at while acting?
Yeah, I showed her earlier, but then we also had these lenses made for her that sort of blinded her, and she only had 5% of her vision, so the first time she was on the set, she was wearing her blind lenses, and she’d walk on set and had to feel her way around the apartment because she’d never seen it before. I wanted her to discover it, so I had her touch the sofa and touch the corners. With with that limited ability of sight, you see light here and there and light shapes and people’s shapes. Pretty much what you see in the movie is pretty real. A lot of people lost their sight and regained it, and I had test audiences, I brought people in that they were able to see and lost their sight, and I said, “What do you think about the sound? How does this sound? How do you experience sound in a room or in a restaurant?” So we played around with the sound as well and had a lot of different recordings for that part of the storytelling.
Open Road Films
I know you’re doing this Christopher Robin now…
Yeah, I have two more weeks left of shooting and we’re wrapping in early November.
I saw the other Christopher Robin movie, which I’m sure you know about it, but it reminded me of Finding Neverland a little bit, so is your movie also in that vein?
I think the Christopher Robin movie I’m doing is very different. I mean, it’s really about Christopher Robin has grown-up, and it has nothing to do with his childhood. It’s fictitious, and it’s really about Winnie the Pooh, finding him and bringing him back to the 100-Acre Woods, so it’s a little different story and has nothing to do with A.A. Milne as an author. It’s a different fictitious take on it, so I don’t think there will be a comparison between them. They’re like pretzels and oranges.
You have Ewan playing Christopher Robin, but they had Kelly MacDonald playing his nanny in their movie since they broke out of Trainspotting together.
And you’re using some of the original Winnie the Pooh voices like Jim Cummings, so do you have them on set doing the voices as well or is that all post-production?
No, I sort of cast readers to have on set, reenacting Piglet, Eeyore, Pooh and we do everything else in the studio, because we’re doing the characters animated.
Is it going to be very obvious that you directed it? I think that every movie you’ve done has been a little different from one to the other, and I’m not sure you’ve directed the same movie twice.
Yes, it’s definitely very different, especially with all the stuffed animals, but it’s been a great shoot, and I’ve really been enjoying it, and Disney has been a great partner, so it’s all been very positive so far.
You’ve also ventured into TV with Hand of God, so how was that transition to television and are you going to do more in the future?
The thing is that Hand of God was my first TV experience, and we did two seasons, and I did the pilot, and I wasn’t hands on involved with any of the first or second season, but I realized I do like television. It’s interesting, but if I ever did it again, it would have to be the right piece, and I want to really sink my teeth into it the next go-round, and the vision has to be maintained once you did the pilot. I’m less the type to just walk away and let them keep going, so it was a good learning experience.
At one point, you were going to direct a movie from a lost Stanley Kubrick script, called The Downslope, so was that a real thing?
No, I’m not involved with that anymore. I believe they’re hiring someone to write a new draft of it, but I don’t know exactly where it’s at.
Is the movie based on the novel Red Rising still something you might do?
Yeah, that’s also in limbo a little bit. I don’t know what Universal is going to do with it.
All I See Is You is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor