David Lynch’s Empire

Director David Lynch

The only predictable thing
about David Lynch is that he
is always looking to surprise
us. Since 2001’s Mulholland
Drive
, Lynch, 60, has been
seeking new creative outlets
for his work. His Website,
davidlynch.com, offers weather
reports (which Lynch delivers himself from outside
his Hollywood Hills home), his music and a collection
of experimental videos. Most notable among
them is the 2002 Web-only series Rabbits, featuring
humans dressed as rabbits, the voices of
Mulholland Drive stars Naomi Watts and Laura
Harring and a laugh track.

“He keeps expanding and growing as a person
and as a filmmaker,” says Laura Dern, who
appeared in Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and Wild at
Heart
(1990). “What is unheard of is that he gets
braver and more willing to risk further. The more
rules he knows about, the more rules he wants to
break.” Lynch’s latest project, Inland Empire, is his
boldest experiment yet, taking him into uncharted
territory in moviemaking and distribution.

Working without a story, Lynch invited Dern and
the other actors, including Justin Theroux, to experiment with him. Lynch used a skeleton
crew—some of Dern’s scenes were shot with just
her and Lynch—to film a series of separate scenes,
highlighted by a 14-minute monologue by Dern.
Ultimately, Lynch realized that these scenes were
part of a unified piece, which he developed as he
continued to shoot. The film also marks Lynch’s first
feature foray with video, which seemed to inspire
his unfettered approach and enhance the hallucinatory
aesthetic. The result is a narrative that is
confounding but absolutely compelling. In a raw
performance that anchors the film, Dern plays an
actress (or does she?) who stars opposite Theroux in a melodrama directed by Jeremy Irons. But, as
actress and character bleed together, the story
fractures in time and space, taking us to Poland,
incorporating scenes from Rabbits and possibly
introducing a third Dern character (she isn’t even
sure how many people she played). The film, which
makes Mulholland Drive look like a straightforward
narrative, defies easy explanation—and Lynch
refuses to offer any guidance.

But perhaps Lynch’s biggest leap with Inland
Empire has been into the world of DIY moviemaking.
When it proved difficult to secure a good distribution
deal, as is his custom, Lynch decided to
turn adversity into opportunity (Mulholland Drive
famously grew out of a rejected TV pilot). Buoyed
by business on his Website, which offers Lynch’s
Signature Coffee, Eraserhead ringtones and copies
of his short films, Lynch decided to distribute
the film himself through his company, Absurda.
Like an old-fashioned record promoter, Lynch has
traveled with the film, promoting its release in
each city. He hasn’t shied away from showmanship
either, recently stopping traffic on Sunset
Boulevard with a “For Your Consideration” banner
and a live cow to promote his leading lady.

MM sat down with Lynch in New York to discuss
his conversion to video, working without a
story and his new role as a mini-mogul.

Inland Empire
Inland Empire (2006)

Daniel Nemet-Nejat (MM): What made you
decide to distribute Inland Empire yourself?

David Lynch (DL): On the Website, we started
selling Eraserhead and some short films.
My friend Eric then met these guys who
said they could get it into some stores—
like a distribution thing. It seemed kind
of magical; you didn’t need a middleman.
Then there was some question, ‘Well, jeez,
maybe it could happen with the new film.’
But I didn’t have the money to pay for it,
and I didn’t really think I could do it. When
the film went to the Venice Film Festival,
I heard that advances for films were going
down—especially for a three-hour film that
no one can understand. But they hadn’t
even seen it yet, so it wasn’t that. It’s just
that when you go with a distributor, you get
an advance; advances are going down and
it’s been my experience that the advance is
all you will ever see. This way, there is no
advance, but a possibility of seeing more
and it’s more in one’s control. It’s kind of
freeing, in a way.

MM: Has being a known commodity made
it easier for you?

DL: For sure. But I think that anyone could
do it. If you’ve got a feature film and people
like it, you can do it.

MM: Have you been able to take advantage
of digital projection?

DL: No, there are not enough theaters. We
have to print on film, and that’s superexpensive,
so the number of prints is always
a question mark. With digital projection,
you could go much cheaper.

MM: Are you trying to recreate a midnight
movie atmosphere?

DL: Well, it would be beautiful. When
Eraserhead came out in the 1970s, the midnight
movies, that idea made that film. The
art-house circuit made that film. And those
two things have kind of disappeared. I think
it could come back.

MM: Do you plan to use any promotional
gimmicks, a la William Castle?

DL: Well, I went out on the street with a cow
for Laura Dern, so I’m into show biz.

MM: How did you end up using video?

DL: I started doing these experiments for
my Website and I shot them on the [Sony] DSR-PD150, which is not high-res DV. I
would get an idea for a scene or something
and I would shoot it and then I started getting
more ideas and I saw how these scenes
started relating one to another, realizing that all along I’d been working on something.
So now I’m committed to the Sony
PD150, which I loved by then. We did tests
from DV to film and they looked beautiful
to me, really amazingly good. I was just
a happy camper. I will not go back to that
dinosaur film way of going.

MM: Is it the quickness of it that you love?

DL: It’s not quick for quickness sake; it’s all
the in-between. With film, you wait for two
or three hours to move the camera and light
the damn thing. This is what kills a scene; it
kills it. So this thing gives life to the whole
process. It’s beautiful.

MM: You have compared video’s look to
an old Hollywood aesthetic. What do you
mean by that?

DL: The quality of what I shot reminds me
a little bit of the 1930s kind of emulsion
and technology in 35mm, where everything
wasn’t so crisp and it was a hair more
impressionistic. It made it somehow less
real and more magical.

MM: A lot of your films have a certain
tension with the past—a nostalgia and a
rejection at the same time. Is that something
you’re conscious of?

David Lynch

DL: No. These things come from the ideas.
Some people, I’ve heard—I don’t know—
want to make a film to show this problem
they’ve heard of in the world. That’s fine. It’s
absolutely not the way it happens for me.

MM: How does it happen for you?

DL: I get an idea. It could just be a little fragment
of an idea that I fall in love with. When
you catch an idea like that it’s so beautiful,
because you know what you’re going to do.
It may just be a tiny piece of the puzzle, but
it’s enough to bring in the rest, in time.

MM: It seems like you’re trying to get
back to a more experimental approach, both
with the subject matter of this film and the
process of making it.

DL: Every film, in a way, is an experiment.
You get an idea and the idea tells you everything.
It’s like… a chef catches a fish. Now the
chef didn’t make the fish, he caught the fish.
But the chef can cook it and prepare it in a
really good way. So it’s then up to the chef to
do something with that fish. He might experiment
with a little bit of brown sugar one
time, mixed in with something else that’s he’s
been liking. But the proof is in the tasting.
He could taste it and say, “No! Not for this
fish.” And he would remove the brown sugar
and go with another thing until it tastes just
right. That’s when the analogy stops. The
idea is talking to you and you experiment
with the thing until it feels correct based on
that idea. Sometimes you veer off and you
know that’s not right and you come back and
say, ‘Oh, that’s what we need.’

MM: Was the first scene that you shot
with Laura Dern the extended monologue
that is cut through the final film?

DL: It doesn’t really matter what the first
was, but it wasn’t the first.

MM: Can I ask what the first was?

DL: No. I’ll tell you why. Someone’s in the
middle of the film and they’ve read your
article and they (whispering) “Hey that’s
the first scene…” It putrefies the moviegoing
experience, which is a delicate thing.

MM: You’ve said that after shooting six
scenes, you realized that you had a movie
to link them all together. What made you
realize that?

DL: I don’t know. I got a feeling that those
scenes could relate and they were totally
unrelated before. And then, what you call “a
glorious idea” came.

MM: How was it directing actors without
having a story arc?

DL: That’s a good question. It works surprisingly well, because if you’re honest
in the scene… it’s like, you are yourself
today—everything that you do, your kit,
is working like it worked yesterday. You
don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
So, if we shot you today and then got
an idea for tomorrow, you would be the
same. But we would talk about yesterday,
because yesterday might have some significance.
‘Remember yesterday, you were
wearing that black shirt?’ Well, you might
wear the same thing today. So there’s something
that would carry over from the first.
But the first was honest because it was that
character in this particular scene. And the
second you’re honest in that scene, you
have that first scene to refer back to and
it gets easier.

In other words, it strangely doesn’t
matter. You could even get the third scene
happening before the first scene and it
still is working. It’s still that same character,
but it’s been done in the beginning
anyway—scene by unrelated scene by
unrelated scene.

MM: The structure of the film almost seems
to mirror the approach of making a film,
where you often shoot out of sequence.

DL: Yeah, a lot of times the situation forces
you to do that. It’s much safer to shoot in
sequence and I would always much rather
shoot in sequence, because you may discover
a thing along the way. If you had been going
backwards, you might have to do some reshooting.

MM: Of course, with this film, it’s more difficult
to say what the sequence actually is.

DL: (laughs) There’s a sequence. But, it’s
more hidden.

MM: How has your creative relationship with
Laura evolved over time? It seems like she
has become more of an active collaborator.

DL: All actors are collaborators. They’re
like—how can I say it—a critical element.
But all elements are important. Laura is
an incredibly good actress; she’s also really
fun to work with. Because I’ve worked with
her more than once, you get a shorthand.
So it’s easier, faster, more fun to go forward
when you have a good relationship
with someone. But every time, there’s a
certain point where everything I say stops
and she’s got to make it something real. I’ll
tell you another thing: Before she saw the
final film, it was suggested that Laura write
down what she thought it was and she was
amazingly accurate.

MM: I’ll have to ask her what that was.

DL: I hope she doesn’t tell you.

MM: What does the Web allow you to do
that you can’t do with film?

DL: You can interact with the people and
you can give them kind of random access.
It’s different than film. In film, you kind of
control the thing—beginning, middle and
end—so that people can have a certain
experience. The Internet is not that way.

MM: But you don’t like watching films on
a computer.

DL: I think if you see the movie on a computer,
with the computer speakers, you haven’t
seen the movie, really—but you think you’ve
seen the movie. If you could see the movie
on a big screen, with really good sound, in a
dark room, then you’ve seen the movie.

MM: You seem to be using the Website
to create a “David Lynch brand.” Have you
become more brand-conscious?

DL: That’s other people. I like it as a home
for experiments, but it takes so much time.
In the future, I’m sure I’ll do more experiments
that’ll find their way onto the site. But
when you go off and work on a project, you
leave that behind. You can’t do everything,
and that’s very frustrating. But it is an opening
to the world, so you can put things there
and know they have the possibility of going
everywhere. It’s really magical—and that will
be the way people see films. But I hope when
they download stuff, they can squirt it on a
big wall with really great speakers. MM

For more information on Inland Empire, visit www.inlandempirecinema.com or www.davidlynch.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.