James Foley and Dustin Hoffman
Director James Foley (left) with
Dustin Hoffman on the set of Confidence.

The following is a portion of the transcript taken
from a Q & A with director James Foley (with screenwriter Dough
Jung) conducted at the American Film Institute in April, 2003 following
a screening of his new movie, Confidence.

Peter Markham:  For those of you who don’t
know me, I’m Peter Markham of the Directing Faculty. We are very
privileged to have writer Doug Jung and director James Foley today. 
Let me say a little about Doug for you.  Doug graduated from the
NYU Tisch School of Arts, has worked in various capacities and is
quite a new writer.
Confidence is his first feature film.
He is currently working on other projects at Universal for producer
Laura Bickford who produced
Traffic. Let me also introduce
James Foley to you.  As you can see (from the handouts) he has many
distinguished credits to his name, such as
At Close Range,
Who’s That Girl?, Glengarry Glen Ross, and a particular favorite
of mine,
After Dark My Sweet. James has a mastery of broad tonal
range which must be the envy of many directors and it’s thrilling
to have him here today.  Thank you, James. [applause]

Peter Markham (MM): Looking at the
territory of something like David Mamet’s
Glengarry Glen Ross and the Jim Thomson novel After Dark My Sweet, there seems
to be a thread that you are following.  Did those films inform your
work on this film or did they inform your choice of going for this

James Foley (JF):  I’m sure it informed stuff;
I’m stuck in the same brain. For better or worse I’m not conscious
that there is any kind of thread other than reading a bunch of scripts.
Most scripts suck and you don’t want to do them and you read one
that’s good and you do want to do that. So what you think
is good is going to have a certain consistency to it… In this particular
case I think I was most drawn to the idea that it was like a playground
of subtext where the subtext was actually text in terms of
story points and plot points. It also had a kind of tone about it
that was really appealing to me in the sense that [when] I finished
the script I had a smile and a certain kind of feeling that
I haven’t experienced before. I had a real desire to go live in
that world.  Even now that I’ve seen it a few times, I still like
to watch the last six or seven minutes when the Coldplay song comes
on because it’s the first time I’ve made a movie with a happy ending.
The boy kisses the girl, the pop song comes on, fade to black.

MM:  What interested me so much about
this film was that it was a combination of very streamlined plotting
and storytelling, but it’s also very rich in character and character
revelation.  Was that what you think drew you to it and excited

JF:  Well, it certainly drew me to it.  [Screenwriter] Doug [Jung] probably has a different experience
with the project that precedes me, but I’ve been asked a lot about
con movies and references to other con movies. And, as dumb as I
am, I never thought about the fact that it was a con movie and that
it existed in some genre.  In this period, when reviews start trickling
out and I start railing against anything that is less than stellar,
this idea that it doesn’t obey certain rules stuff drives me up
a wall!  As if somehow someone handed you a rule book about how
con movies are and if you divert from that… I am blissfully ignorant
of con movies and I was drawn to the idea that this had such an
intricate plot—that it was pleasurable to turn the page and see
what happens next…

MM:  Coming back to the notion of the con
artist genre, if there is such a thing… Ed Burns and Rachel Weisz
are kind of scamming and cheating all the way through but in the
end find real love. I’m wondering if there’s a parallel to the writer
and the director and the actors in the sense that they’re all con
artists tricking the audience. The audience is the perhaps the ‘mark’
and they are tricking the audience in order to arrive at a truth
if the movie is going to be successful.

JF: I hadn’t thought about it that way. There
is collusion among the actors and myself and Doug.  The fact that
a truth is happened upon is cooperative, and so it’s the best kind
of cooperative con—and the best kind of moviemaking experience…
As opposed to most movie experiences, [which are] more akin to the
guys who are conning in Glengarry Glen Ross—cannibalistic
and destructive. The ending of Glengarry Glen Ross (the movie,
not the experience of making the movie itself) [is] more emblematic
of the typical Hollywood experience. 

of the AFI Conservatory’s most popular programs, the Harold
Lloyd Master Seminar (HLMS) series
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MM:  Do you think that there is something
[to] the Mamet idea of the philosophy of relationships, whereby
any relationship is based on a confidence trick to some extent?

JF: What is the definition of a confidence
trick?  Does that mean a scam or…

MM:  Well, one is in it for oneself I suppose
is what I’m saying, which kind of makes true love impossible.

JF:  Yeah, it becomes really semantic and crazy.
In this case I think the pleasurable surprise of the movie is that
that is not the case. We have been led to believe it at certain
times, but it turns out that all our principal people—including
Andy Garcia—are not conning each other. They were cooperating
with each other and they were telling the truth to each other, and
I think that is a viscerally very pleasurable thing to realize at
the end. It kind of stirs warm thoughts.

MM:  There is quite a degree of consensus
among certain areas of film pedagogy that you shouldn’t use voiceover. 
I personally love it.  I love the many different ways of using it. 

JF:  Yeah, I’ve used voice over once before
in a very different way in After Dark My Sweet.  Of course,
it was in Jim Thompson’s novel and it’s all to do with point of
view.  It that case there was such a rigid first person internal
point of view that it seemed inexorable that that was what you had
to do. It’s amazing how many scripts I read where you can’t tell
whose point of view the movie is being told from. It’s being told
from no one’s point of view. It’s some kind of objective,
distanced crap. [laughter] So one of the things I really
liked about Confidence was that the point of view was being
played with, but it was essentially Ed Burns’ (the protagonist’s)
point of view.  That’s the sort of anchor I’m looking for in terms
of everything that follows. 

In After Dark My Sweet I remember we were going
to shoot a scene and Rachel Ward and Bruce Dern came up to me and
they said they had this cool thing they thought of doing before
Jason Patric, the protagonist, came into the room. I had to say,
‘Oh, I’m sorry. The story doesn’t really exist until he comes into
the room, so I’ll have to cut it anyway.’  And they couldn’t understand
what I meant: ‘What do you mean it doesn’t exist?’ I had to say
that we were seeing everything through his eyes so we can’t show
something that he doesn’t see, or else the whole consistency of
the point of view gets wrecked. 

MM:  [In working with your cinematographer,]
are you setting up certain questions, visually speaking? Are you
looking for what your journey is going to be, [with] your cinematographer
and production designer helping you articulate what it actually

JF:  Yeah. I don’t like reading a
script too many times because I think the first time you read it
as a director, that’s going to be what an audience is going
to see—whatever you reacted to the first time. I like to remember
that feeling to make more of those kinds of decisions and not start
reading and re-reading and deconstructing and thinking about it,
because then you start getting intellectual ideas and I’m really
against making references to any other film. To me it’s blasphemous
to make references to other films in talking about shots… Of course
every decision you make is influenced unconsciously by every movie
you’ve ever seen, but I like to think you can get as influenced
by your eye driving down the 101 and moving a certain speed and that was a shot that is now in your head. Not thinking
about it as a shot, but when you go to make a shot, you will be
creating something that is based on your entire history of
visual experience and not just what you’ve seen in movies.

MM:  I guess the eye and the heart have
a certain intelligence, too, and that is what you’re talking about.

JF:  Yeah, a direct connection between them
and bypass your brain.

MM:  And how does that then influence the
work with the editor? How do you proceed?

JF:  I used to write detailed notes to the
editor about how to cut things together and then I realized that
I could always go back and do that—do what I intended—and tell him
nothing and see what he does on his own. Because [the editor] will
come up with something I haven’t thought about. And if I don’t like
it I can go back and do what I did think about.  In this
case, I had a great experience with editor [Stuart Levy], because
I didn’t tell him anything and he wound up doing. In many ways,
things I hadn’t thought of the exact way he did it but it was toward
[the same] goal.  So it added a whole other dimension. It was the
best collaboration I’ve had with an editor so far.

MM:  How far ahead do you plan that very
dynamic approach to transitions—the swish pans, the smash cuts?

JF:  Usually it begins on the first day. You
just dive in…  Then, of course, your responsibility as a director
is to be very conscious of transitions and somehow it just seems
right to go out of black and see the scene and go black again and
then you have to connect those things. And then secondarily it becomes
whether anyone gives a shit about what you’ve accomplished. Even
if they don’t, there’s a satisfaction of accomplishing what you
set out to do. 

MM: With a very fast shooting schedule [35
days]… do you find you’re forced to do more set-ups per day than
you want? Are you a director, in other words, who would rather do
more takes and less set-ups, or do you like the energy of a relatively
fast moving day?

JF:  The faster the better. I have no interest
in going to my trailer and waiting; I’d love to just shoot all day
long. But my experience is that there are never enough hours in
a day—no matter what the budget is—to do as many set-ups as I want
to do. And I just take it upon myself to play that game in my head.
As the day progresses, I start dropping things from my list and
going down the page with what do I have to get.

In terms of the filming, there wasn’t that much improv.
Anything that happened was mainly from Dustin but that was just
in the script. I am very aware of kind of keeping a rein on that
because if an actor is struggling with a moment; if they have that
escape valve of being able to say other words it’s just dancing
around the problem of not being able to make the word work.  So
I learned my lesson to try to discourage that, but it’s a moment
by moment decision. 

I’ll tell you, my shooting of Glengarry Glenn Ross was interesting because it went so fast and so friction free. There
was never any problem between those guys. I thought about it a lot
afterwards and it was because of this assumption that the script
was the bible and nobody was going to question it.  Once we couldn’t
figure out what it meant, so Jack Lemon, Ed Harris and I called
up David Mamet, who had written the script long before and didn’t
have anything to do with the movie, and he just said, “Good luck.” 
But anyway, I called him and said we really tried to figure out
what this means and we are at a loss and he was silent and he said,
“Say it again.” And I did and he said, “I don’t know what the hell
that means.” And I said, “Oh.”  And he said, “It’s probably a typo.”
[laughter] So I said, “Alright, well, what do you think it
should be?” And he said, “Oh I don’t know, why don’t you guys just
improvise something?” And I remember being so surprised that we
were all being so Catholic about it and he was saying to
just improvise something, which we then did.

MM:  Before we come to an end, are there
any mantras that you would like to give these new filmmakers? Any
other pearls of wisdom you can give us?

JF: I’ve got a pearl of wisdom. Coming
here today and talking about it is useful to myself in a selfish
way. It forces me to rejuvenate my own perspective and energy level
from when I was graduating from USC. The thing I’ve come to learn
is the most valuable thing that any filmmaker or director or writer
has is his particular point of view.  It’s more valuable than any
technical ability. It’s more valuable than intelligence, it’s more
valuable than anything. I think cinema is so exciting because I
can go as an audience member and see the world in a way that is
different than what I can see with my own eyes.

Those moviemakers who are doing something personal
and subjective no matter what the story is—they don’t have to have
written it but it’s just how they see the world and that is a very
valuable thing. It’s not valued by Hollywood very much.  Studios
don’t care about a director’s vision, they care about a director
being a good shooter. I’ve heard that word and it sends chills up
my spine… as if there are directors out there who mechanically record
images. They better look good and the movie stars better look good
and that’s that.

The idea that it’s a subjective worldview is not talked
about much, and to me it’s the most important thing. The truth of
the matter is that the good directors are people who have a vision
and keep it to themselves from a studio point of view and turn out
a movie that is particular. If you stick to your guns every day
of shooting and cut it all together then it’s going to be your particular
vision.  But every step along the way there is constant pressure
to compromise that. Everybody wants to come in and tell you what their vision is and how they see things. My answer
is always, “That’s interesting, that could work in your movie.” 

The last thing I want to say about that is the
biggest lesson I learned on my first movie was not to be afraid
of being fired. I remember being pressured by a producer to do something
that I felt was wrong and I just walked away. I remember I was being
paid $85,000 and I was just out of film school and I’d already gotten
half of it and I thought I would be rich for life on $42,500. So
I thought the worst thing that could happen if I refuse to do what
he wants was that I would get fired. So I decided that was alright
and I went back and said, “No.” That was the end of that—we just
went on and it’s something that I like to remind myself over time
because I don’t ever want to feel as if I am doing something out
of fear.