Were you surprised by the mix of ideas in Ten Minutes Older?
It was, because I had no idea. I saw the film for the first time yesterday. Friends were involved. Spike and Wim and Aki, so I knew a little bit about some things people were doing. But yeah, I thought it was really interesting because I didn't have any idea what it would be like. I love short films. I've been working on a series of them myself, supposedly, over the years. All called Coffee and Cigarettes. I plan to make more of those and I've written three other little scripts for short films, too. If I get time, I'd like to just do them.
Did you talk with some of the other directors about what you were doing or did you decide not to talk about it?
Well, it's funny. We talked about it, but none of us really said anything about what we were doing. Aki told me nothing. He told me a few things about a train station and that was it. So I had no real idea. And Wim told me sort of his idea, but it's very different than I imagined it somehow. And Spike was just like, "I'm busy, I'm busy, I'm doing it, I'm doing it." You know? "What are you going to do it about?" "Ten minutes, ten minutes." Spike's always so busy.
How long did you work on this ten minutes?
We shot it in a day and a half and edited it for a few weeks.
Int. Trailer. Night
Do you remember the longest ten minutes of your life?
Could I have ten minutes to think about that?
One of the longest ten minutes was being driven to a doctor when my eye was cut open. I was literally biting on a piece of wood. You know the Native American thing, when they pull the bullet out of him or whatever? It was really excruciating. But you know, time, to me, is really an arbitrary thing. I think humans don't have a clue. Time is just some yard stick. Maybe, as Stephen Hawking and some theoretical physicists say, time doesn't even really exist. It's a part of space. So I think we have no clue about time. I don't think about time very much and I especially don't think about the past very much. I like to go forward. For example, for my feature films, whenever they're finished and out, I never see them again. I'm not interested in them. I hopefully learned something from them or met people that I care for or had great collaborations or whatever, but I'm not interested in seeing them again.
Do you sometimes think you're running out of time? That you won't get done what you want to get done?
Well, certainly, but I don't put that kind of pressure on myself. Maybe that's why I'm not very ambitious. I have so many priorities, but I'm not a real good planner. I don't plan ahead and I think the most beautiful things that have happened in my life are accidental or circumstance. So I try not to think about planning or time constraints on things.
What do you do when you're not working on films?
Music and reading and seeing friends, being with people I care about. Traveling. I really love to have time to read and listen to music. I read all kinds of things. I just finished a book last week, a new biography of Rimbaud. That was great. I read a book called The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollen. Which is a book about plant life and how plants use humans. Sort of an anti-human-centric book about plants. Really beautiful book. I just read a book about Sufism. I don't know, I read stuff all the time.
Is reading a form of escapism for you?
I just love the wacky ideas that humans have expressed to each other, whether it's films or music or painting or books or whatever. I've always loved books. I studied literature first. I love poets and poetry and all kinds of books, whether they're about science or history or fiction or whatever. Although I don't read so much history, really, because I don't believe history exists. It's always somebody's perception of something, molded for some other reason. I don't think there is such a thing as history, really.
What is Hollywood's perception of you now?
Hollywood? I have no idea. Where's that?
Have you been "approached" recently?
I used to be "approached" a lot when I was younger with all kinds of things that would always make me wonder if they'd ever seen a film I'd made. It was like, "Do you want to make 'Porky's 5'?" Ok, it wasn't that bad, but almost. I think they'd just look in a computer and see how many times your name has appeared in Variety and make a list. "Oh, he's number 14. Give him the script." I have no idea. I stay very far away from that world.
Why do you make films?
Because I love the form so much. It has everything in it. It has music and rhythm and acting and design and composition and sculpture, in the way you edit a film, and it has collaborations on many levels. I write alone, which is very solitary. Then I prepare the financing of the film, which is kind of like criminal activity, in a way. And then you shoot with a lot of people, which is so wonderful. And then you edit with just a very few people, really me and just one other person, and it's a very different thing.
I've learned a lot about Zen philosophy in a way from editing because you have to listen to the film and have it tell you what it wants to be. You can't just try to force it to be what you thought it might be. Especially the way I work. It's very organic. I've never had a storyboard. I have scripts, and we follow them, but we're also finding the film as we go, and it's sort of like taking a piece of marble out of a mountain. You need a lot of people to do that. And you're looking for a piece that looks like a dog. And then you find that piece and you bring it back and you look at it with the editor -- and the marble tells you it's really a bear. So you have to make it a bear and not a dog. Because if you make it a dog, it'll be a funny-looking, bear-like dog.
It's also very interesting -- this is a little esoteric, but -- if you're making a film and you have a rough version, an early version, and you make a big change in the film, it effects the film in a small way. And when you have a very closely edited film and you're getting to the end and you make a small change, it effects the film in a big way. Which is very enlightening in an odd way. I don't know how to explain it. I've learned a lot from editing.
You mentioned that finding financing was like criminal activity. But on Ten Minutes Older, there was a producer, so it must have been like a holiday for you.
Well, in some ways, yes, in other ways, no. Because I am a control freak and I own all my own negatives except for the film I made with Neil Young, which he financed and owns. So when that part is taken out of my hands, sometimes that's more difficult for me. Because I'm used to having say in who buys the film, how it's shown, how it's released, where it's seen. And in this case, I don't. It was a little hard for me in a way. I like to have some input into those things.
Neil Young is also a control freak, isn't he?
Yeah, he is. That's why we get along.
You didn't clash at all.
No, in fact, when I called him up and said, "Neil, of all these songs that we filmed, I have this list. Tell me which ones you'd like in the film." And he said, "No, man, that's your job. You choose." And it's his music, you know? So I had complete artistic freedom with Neil's film. But then, on the business side, they sold the film to whom they wanted, but they consulted me every time. It was not at all uncomfortable. It was very generous and respectful. I'm not sure why, but Neil really respected and trusted me. He kept saying, "Well, I wanted you to make the film, so why should I have anything to say about it? That's why I want you to do it." That really meant a lot to me.
A couple of years ago, you were hailed as a pioneer of American independent cinema. How do you look at people like PT Anderson today?
Well, I'm thinking of changing my name to JJ Anderson. Because you have Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson and there's another Anderson, too. And they're getting a lot of financing. So, what do you think? JJ Anderson? I'll dye my hair back black and dress differently and see if I can start a new career.
No, what's your take on young American cinema?
I like diversity and I like original visions, so whether I like their films completely or not, I'm all for all of these people that have a strong vision, whether it's Todd Solondz or Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson or Harmony Korine. There are many people who have an original voice, and I say, I love that. I may not love all their work, but I love that they're doing it their own way and that's where new life comes into any form. It's the people that imitate, that just try to use formulas that are not at all interesting to me.
Most of them don't stay independent.
That's true. But you know, some people, like the Coen Brothers, who are more my generation, make studio films but they still have control over them. Or Spike. So it's not a matter for me of where the money comes from or who releases the film or what the budget is -- I don't care. I care about the film. And if the film's original and it's their vision, then I'm really happy that it's made. Even if I don't like it.
Is it true that you give all your awards to your mom?
I don't understand awards, really. But they help you in your profile which goes into the criminal side of getting money away from people so you can make your work. My only goal is to try to keep making films the way I want to. Whatever will help me do that, well, I'll accept that. Sometimes it's flattering and sometimes it seems just superficial. But if it helps you make a film, I'll take it.
What was the most complicated film you ever made?
The most difficult was Dead Man. We really didn't have enough money and we had a large crew and we had horses and period wardrobe and we had to shoot in places where you can't see a road or a telephone pole. And we shot in Arizona and Nevada and Oregon and California... It was very complicated. Very difficult, physically. And we didn't have enough time or money. That one was the hardest.
But the most difficult strategically was Night on Earth because we shot in five cities. We had different crews in each place. We had a very short time to work. And we were shooting all inside cars. Ask any filmmaker, "How do you like doing car work?" And they will just say, "Please, get away from me. Don't even talk about car work." It's difficult. Towing, moving, lighting. You can hardly see your actors. It's just very difficult.
Is it true that you borrowed film stock from Wim Wenders to make Stranger Than Paradise?
He gave me film stock that he had left over from The State of Things. For the first half hour version. And I had just enough film stock for the kind of film I had to shoot in very few takes. Even the design of the film, single set-ups for each scene, was part of a strategy, again because of a limitation on the amount of material I had. Yeah, he helped me a lot. And I'm also very proud to say that the black pieces in between were already exposed negative given to me by Jean Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet. So, wow, I was really graced with this material.
This year marks 20 years since Rainer Werner Fassbinder died. Has he been an influence?
In what ways?
Well, again, originality. Fassbinder was amazing to me. I have little pieces of things that stay in my head. The framing of a shot in Katzelmacher, where the guy sits up in bed and leaves the frame. Or other tiny moments here and there. Themes in his films; I like how varied he was, too, and how much he worked. He left us so many gifts. I love Fassbinder.
As an avid reader, why haven't you made a film based on a book?
I think movies are often made from books that are not great books. I love all kinds of things. I'm not a hierarchical guy, so I will read crime fiction and so-called great literature, but I haven't ever read a book that I've thought about adapting. I've talked with people. Elmore Leonard asked me if I'd want to adapt anything of his, and I was so honored, but so far, nothing has really hit me so hard that I would do that.
A long time ago, I thought about trying to adapt Serenade by James M. Cain in a new way, but that was 15 years ago. There are many great books, though, and I think you could almost take a moment of a great book and make a whole film. I think short stories often make better feature films because you can expand them, whereas with a great book, you have to reduce and you lose a lot.
Do you have a dream project, something that you want to do someday if enough money comes together?
I do, yes. But again, I'm superstitious.
Discuss Jim Jarmusch's favorite films and guilty pleasures here.