The latest project for Mott Hupfel, DP of the 2007 indie hit The Savages, is Jack Goes Boating. The film, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman (who is, incidentally, a pretty good actor as well), debuted at Sundance this month, and has been getting rave reviews.
The film, based on a play of the same name, follows Hoffman’s character as he attempts to connect with Connie, played by Amy Ryan. Hupfel took the time to answer MovieMaker’s questions about how he worked with Hoffman’s directing style, the battle between working quickly and achieving beautiful results and what project he would like to have shot.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): How is Jack Goes Boating different from previous projects you’ve worked on? It’s the first film you’ve worked on that’s based on a play—does that affect how you and director Philip Seymour Hoffman approach the material?
Mott Hupfel (MH): The big difference here was all based around Phil’s working style. The greatest of the many great choices Phil made was to spend the lion’s share of our pre-production time rehearsing. I cannot recall what I did on the other films during this time but on Jack Goes Boating we rehearsed, with all the actors, in taped out rooms, with furniture, for 90 percent of the time. Each scene was gone over thoroughly so that everyone understood and felt comfortable with every detail of the scene. I was able to understand the scenes so much more thoroughly and because of this, the blocking became obvious. This created a shorthand on set that helped us to move much more quickly through each day. I had a much deeper connection to and was much more intellectually involved with the material, making the job quite a bit more rewarding creatively.
MM: Jack Goes Boating is a romantic comedy, but one with serious elements as well. What sort of visual style were you going for when you were shooting the material?
MH: Phil wanted the film to feel very real. It was important to him that people feel what the characters were feeling in each scene. There are times when we literally enter Jack’s head and see what he sees in reality and in his fantasy. I think Phil responded to the simplicity and reality in parts of The Savages and felt that was a good starting point to discuss this film. As we rehearsed, Phil and I began to discuss how certain scenes should feel and how the film version of this story could build on the play. We found some places in which the visuals of the film could comment on and strongly enhance the emotional core of the scene. Phil was very sure of himself and quickly responded to some pretty unconventional ideas we came up with.
MM: This isn’t your first experience with Sundance—The Savages debuted there in 2007 and The American Astronaut was there in 2001. The festival has also gotten a new director this year; do you feel that there have been any changes in the way Sundance has dealt with their films, and DPs in particular, over the last several years?
MH: Unfortunately I have had no experience with Sundance dealing with DPs at all. I have never had any contact with anyone at Sundance regarding any of these films. In fact I have actually found it difficult to get tickets to my own films. What I look forward to is finally being able to finally see an audience reaction and reading the press after a premiere. That is the best thing about Sundance for me.
MM: Would you ever want to work as a DP on a huge summer blockbuster-type project, or do you prefer working with smaller, character-driven movies?
MH: I want to work on any project that has at least one person, besides me, who really cares how the film looks. Unfortunately I meet on a lot of lower budget movies where the attitude is, “How quickly and cheaply can we get it done?” Often the first question I am asked is do I work quickly? Of course it is important to get the film done and to be reasonable and frugal, but it would be nice to at least start out trying to make something beautiful and meaningful.
MM: What’s your ideal project?
MH: Rather than describe an ideal project that does not exist I will list films I wish I had worked on: I loved The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard. The shooting style is absolutely gorgeous plus it supported/created completely the mood of the film. It was clear that the way this film was shot was both very simple in terms of setups and lighting yet was in perfect harmony with the way Romain Duris acted. I imagine that they worked hard to really create the mood scene by scene beforehand and then did the shooting in a pared down way that works perfectly. Lance Hammer’s Ballast is similar in that the very simple style of the shooting perfectly supports the mood of the film. I think that the way video is being used in all sorts of filmmaking has helped to usher in a very streamlined style of shooting. It is the people that use this style in a way that is not just simple but still very beautiful that I respect. My goal is to have my cinematography enhance the meaning and depth of a film in a subtle and, above all beautiful way. It should do so with out drawing too much attention to itself.