Eliza Hittman: Do you feel like it takes two producers to hold a film together?
Kelly Reichardt: Of course. I felt like we were in a band with three people and then two of them got married and I was like, “Wait, what?” It was an adjustment, but I do think it takes both of them because they work so well together; overall it makes the job more enjoyable for them—there’s a crisis and they’re dealing with it together. But our little thing that made a huge difference is that they used to pick me up in the morning before we’d go shoot, and the whole morning drive to set were producer-y conversations, and I thought my head was gonna explode. I wanted to focus on what I needed to do for the day—I didn’t want to be having those discussions first thing in the morning. And so First Cow was the first time I drove to set with someone else. I get a quiet car, and was able to think about my day and not get caught up in all the small things of what was happening, production-wise.
EH: That car ride to and from stuff is very important.
KR: Oh my God! We’re in cars together before production and during scouting, but our new rule of not being in cars together during production changed everything for me. It was a small thing, but it made a huge difference. They’re the producers of these movies and I’m super grateful to be able to pass. It’s not that I don’t want to be involved and know what’s going on, but sometimes I don’t, and it just opens up room for me to be able to focus.
EH: I’ve worked with the same editor and the same DP a few times now. So for me, I’m used to having that dialogue and I always ride to and from set with my DP and that’s important because that’s our time to prep and to reflect.
KR: Yes, I really want to be alone in the morning. And everybody wants to get away from me by the end of the day anyway, so a solo ride home is fine also.
Eliza Hittman: Every time I’ve made a movie, I’ve made a casting director’s head explode, because I’ve gone in a direction they didn’t expect. I’ve been directing theater and film for a long time, and I have this sense of who will bring the deepest performance to the role. Sometimes your casting directors see things a little superficially on the page in terms of how a character is described, and hold on to certain attributes. I have a feeling of who will bring the most emotionally authentic performance to the role that doesn’t always align with how people physically see the character. Holding onto the ability to have full approval for how the movie is cast is important for me.
Kelly Reichardt: Casting is hard to talk about. I’ve been working with Gayle Keller for a number of films now and her casting ideas always surprise me. I’m like, “What? I don’t know,” and she always says, “Think about it.” I love our back and forth.
When Jonathan Raymond and I are writing, we’re always building characters out of a salad of people we know. I like to wait a long time before I’m thinking about choosing who’s in the role, because I like picturing people that I’m like stalking on the street like, “Oh, it’s like this kind of person.”
Shooting on film
KR: I didn’t shoot film this last time and I’m aware of when I get one thing, what I’m trading. Here’s a bottom line of what you have: if you’re going to do this and shoot in film, you have to give up three days. I have to make that decision myself. I’ve gone back and forth between film, I’ve shot on the Alexa twice, and there are some things that I’ve gotten attached to by not shooting on film. One of them is having monitors, and seeing almost color-corrected images of what you have. I have gotten attached to being able to see clearly. And the worlds are starting to meet more and more, as far as Chris Blauvelt or Ed Lachman, a lot of people can really make something shot on the Alexa look really close to film in a way that even three years ago didn’t seem possible.
And the film stocks keep getting more and more pure where I think, “Wait, what am I fighting for here exactly?” It’s becoming less clear… But having said that, Chris and I just shot some 16mm the other week and it’s really fun looking at it.
In Night Moves, it felt like a huge sacrifice to give up film, but I just couldn’t light the areas I needed to light, these big places, on film. But I went back to 16mm film for Certain Women, and it was really hard going back to film.
EH: I committed to film for two projects and then I’m pretty open minded about what to shoot on. But then for me it feels like 16mm has become a bit of a gender issue and more and more female directors have trouble making the justification to shoot on film. It’s a bit of a statement in a way for me to shoot on film because it’s something that you have to be grandfathered into. I know people who are trying to get their films made and they want to shoot in 16mm and producers say, “Oh, you’ve never done it before, so therefore you can’t do it.” It’s important to set the bar and say I can shoot this movie on film, I’ve made everything short-form on film, and another feature on film, and why not? I don’t feel like I end up sacrificing that much in terms of days. It ends up being more in terms of crew size, which I don’t mind, because I like having a more intimate crew.
KR: To me it’s about the color timers. Everybody in the labs are the issue with shooting film. At first it wasn’t that much more expensive to shoot on film, but it’s become more expensive because there’s fewer labs and the color timers you want to work with are mostly working in digital, the post houses are, everything’s set up for digital, I mean, as long as you’re finishing on film. You could shoot on film and then finish digitally, but it’s still more expensive than it used to be—just like how postage has gotten more expensive than it was at one time.
—as told to Caleb Hammond
First Cow, directed by Kelly Reichardt, opens in theaters Friday, courtesy of A24. Never Rarely Sometimes Always, directed by Eliza Hittman, opens in theaters March 13, courtesy of Focus Features.