By David D'Arcy
April 5, 2006 - 2:15 PM PDT
Are you still making commercials?
Yes, but not as much. If I were just doing Twelve and Holding and L.I.E., I would be in the poor house. L.I.E. opened some very interesting television opportunities for me, where I got to work on Six Feet Under, and I just finished adapting a book, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Brady Udall.
What is the trick to adapting a book for the screen?
The key is going back to what you like in the book. Don't forget that. When you get away from it, go back to it, to what moved you so much about this book, and how it made you think.
How did making commercials help you as a director?
The practicality of moving a set. The other important thing is trusting your instincts creatively. If something feels right, go with it. Don't fucking labor it, because it's probably right.
In commercials, you also have to know how to say something in thirty or forty seconds.
Commercials are really hard. Where they're not hard is that they are well-funded. You're doing a thirty-second film, and the budget in terms of what's being spent on each second is way more than a movie. So it's okay there, and it's a way to make a living. But it's hard in that most commercials are just total shit, and you're trying to turn something that's crappy into something that's interesting, you know? Most of it's bad. I do it for a living, and it pays pretty well.
But I just finished this pilot for Showtime last September and October. We shot in Miami. Katrina and Rita shut us down, those hurricanes. But we got through it. It's called Dexter, and it's about a Miami Dade Forensics blood-spatter specialist who moonlights as a serial killer. But he only kills other serial killers, so he's a vigilante who solves crimes the way he sees fit.
This sounds like the snake biting its own tail.
Who's the star?
In the role of Dexter I cast a guy from Six Feet Under, Michael C. Hall, who played the gay brother.
Sounds like quite a character, Dexter. One of the things that I liked about L.I.E. was the humanity that you brought to a sinister character who was a pedophile. How did people react to that?
I got a lot of scripts. In terms of scripts with gay themes or older gay men, I was just sent a million books. This is not who I was. I don't have an agenda here. But where L.I.E. has clearly disseminated into what I'm doing now is that it's stuff that's dark and challenging and complex, and putting a human face on the grotesque, the ugly, the monster, or something like that. That's why I did L.I.E. In researching the character, Big John, all the research that I did about his world was about finding the empathy, really, for the character.
Should there be empathy for a character like that? Did you find yourself, after people had seen L.I.E., having people come up to you and say, "Why did you want to give that amount of sympathy to that character?"
It wasn't really sympathy, though. I don't want people to feel bad for him. It's more the need to understand him.
That's true with Dexter, too, and Dexter's clearly an out-there concept. It's high, high concept. I'm going off on a tangent here, but seeing a guy like Dexter discover the human side of himself, I find that really fascinating, to see the monster - like Boris Karloff - the monster becoming a human. I just think that's endlessly fascinating.
Does Dexter have a girlfriend?
He does. But Dexter doesn't feel anything, so his girlfriend's all about a front. It's all about fitting in, but he doesn't even understand sex.
And she faces no risk because she's not a serial killer.
Dexter is only killing people like himself. He's killing other killers. He would find [Jeffrey] Dahmer and completely cut him.
Then he must have a huge freezer filled with these people.
No. We haven't established that, funnily enough. It's all based on a book by Jeff Lindsay, called Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Someone else adapted it, then I came in, and moved ahead things from the novel, and then the rest of the season will be the rest of the novel.
Why did you make the parents in Twelve and Holding seem so helpless? The parents seem to be as inept in their inability to deal with their feelings as the children are.
This movie is about that gap that's created when they are swimming in those feelings, and when the kids have to go into that gap and navigate by themselves. That's what assisted me in Twelve and Holding as well as in L.I.E. It's also about how the kids are able to heal it. I guess it's a lot about being a parent, too. It's about how children impart their wisdom to a parent and heal them. One kid suffers the sins big-time, and tries to heal his parent, and it goes wrong.
How easy is it for you to raise money for a feature that's not an HBO project or a project initiated by another well-known company?
It's really hard. The fact that you make a movie is a just a huge accomplishment. You know that a lot of these movies get made by rich parents, or by trust funds.
What sort of movies do you watch these days?
I'm not watching a lot of stuff now. I'm creating a lot. I've got kind of a restless nature, so that I have to keep myself interested in stuff, keep busy. I've got the kind of personality that, when I get home at night, I've got to read something to get an idea for the next project, or I've got to start writing. In the past few years, I haven't visited the films that made me want to do it - like L'Avventura by Antonioni that made me say, "I want to do that," so I'm not really watching anything - just a lot of fucked-up stuff on the news.
People like to say that all sorts of ideas are coming to cinema from commercials and music videos. Can these techniques or ideas be incorporated into a new kind of cinematic language?
Does it influence filmmakers? Oh, yeah. Look at Michael Bay. His movies look like his commercials. If you saw my commercials reel, because I have one - every working commercial director has to have a sample reel - I'm not sure that you would make the correlation that my movies look like my commercials. How can they? Look at what I'm doing.
But I just did a PSA on under-age drinking with an 8-year-old for the Ad Council. That was the first thing that I ever did that reflected what I was doing in movies that came to commercials. It won the Ad Council Award, and it's running right now.
Do any of your commercial clients know that you made L.I.E.?
Yes. And it freaks them out. I once worked for Kraft, and everyone said, "Don't talk about your movie, don't talk about your movie." It's Middle America, and it's just a completely different mind-set. It was the same thing when people heard that I worked for Six Feet Under. They'd say, "That gay show?"
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"A story about innocence lost always grabs me."
"The monster becoming a human. I just think that's endlessly fascinating."
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Besides reviewing art and film for National Public Radio, David D'Arcy has also written for the Art Newspaper, the Economist and other publications.
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