By James Rocchi
Snow Angels, the fourth film from writer-director David Gordon Green has many similarities to his earlier films George Washington, All the Real Girls and Undertow: A small-town setting, the interconnected lives of a broad community. At the same time, it's a significant departure. Snow Angels is set in a snowy Eastern community, as opposed to the Southern landscapes that have been the backdrop for Green's earlier films; it's his first adaptation; it's got his "biggest" cast, in terms of name recognition and marquee value (or at least some indie version of it, with Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale playing a struggling separated couple).
Based on Stewart O'Nan's acclaimed novel, Snow Angels premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival; in the period between then and the film's release to theaters this year, Green directed Pineapple Express, the Judd Apatow-backed marijuana-action comedy some are already preemptively labeling a sell-out, sight unseen. But speaking with GreenCine, Green's articulate and enthusiastic about both his intimate, chilly-climate drama and his upcoming stoner-comedy action flick; he talks about being energized by challenges other directors shun, and also notes how, for one of his lead characters, his emotional compass came from his boom operator.
When you were filming Snow Angels, did you look around the snowy expanses of what was supposed to be small-town New England and think, "Boy, I shouldn't have left the South ..."?
No. No, I like to travel; I like to show up in new places. I'd been all over the South and thoroughly investigated all its nooks and crannies and shadows and thought I had to escape to some new landscape.
And shooting in snow, in cold - that was something you had minimal problems with?
Yeah, it wasn't too bad; it was really cold, but I'm pretty flexible in terms of my internal thermometer, so I can accommodate all sorts of... the weirder the better, and when it's really cold and people are shivering and I have to wear moon boots and there's snow or fake snow to add to the obstacles of the day, I kind of thrive creatively in those environments; when others seem frustrated by animals and water and children, I have an enormous appetite...
For animals and water and children. So your next film is going to be an update of Flipper.
[Laughs] Or Andre - you ever see that, the one about the little girl and the seal?
Snow Angels premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and there's been a bit of a gap in terms of getting it into theaters. Did you go back to it? Did you look at it again after Sundance? Did you make changes?
No; I didn't watch it for a year, which is probably the most valuable thing I could have done. With having that kind of time capsule... typically, I would have had interest in "Oh, let me go back and fine-tune some edits," or whatever, but we had plenty of time in the post-production process, and I jumped immediately on to another movie, so I didn't really have time or interest [in making changes]. When I watched it with a crowd for the first time at Sundance, I just felt like all the emotional reactions - high and low - were kind of what I thought I felt a film like this needed, so I kind of didn't want to touch it.
Does it feel a little bizarre for you personally that you had this film at Sundance 2007, you did so much press for it then, and now a year later you're going back and going through the same mill of publicity again?
It's such a personal movie that, honestly, talking about it is a rewarding, educational thing for me. Because it was such an emotional, internalized movie for so long, the story and characters, and typically the campaign trail for a movie like this, especially as a director on a low-budget movie, you've got to get out there and give the film a voice, and convince people to come and see it because there's not this enormous marketing budget.
But for this movie, I find that I get closer to the movie every time I talk about it; I get closer to the situations that were already pretty intimate to me. Because I feel like it's connecting with an audience, it's connecting with individuals on a level where having that true human interaction breaks down that wall of being a "Hollywood Movie"; it can become a personal relationship and experience and less of an intimating, unconvincing, unrealistic monolith.
The spread of ages among the characters in Snow Angels is substantial; do you find it easier to write and direct looking back at the adolescence you may have had a while ago, or imagining future states of parenting or a difficult marriage that, while they're more mature concerns, you may not have had yet? Which is tougher - reaching back into memory or looking forward to future possibilities?
Honestly? I can't do either of them; I can only write what I feel immediately, with any sort of authenticity or honesty, so I wanted to make sure that all these characters... I mean, I'm 32 years old; when I started writing this script, I was 28, and I wanted to make sure I had a contemporary personal reason for writing these things. I think it's really dangerous writing looking back because you had nostalgia and sentiment and things that don't belong in a movie like this. I think it's a little too presumptuous to look forward and try to pretend that I know what people are going to feel like in various situations. What I did is just try to disguise my own personal connections and disconnections in my immediate life to show the greater struggle between the two, three, four sides of me that are at conflict with themselves right now: The guy that still wants to be a kid, and is still infatuated with first kisses; the guy that has stepped away from relationships and is trying to figure out how to reconnect and in having those kind of desperate dreams of what love and commitment can be about without the certainty or comfort of that reality. Everything that I have tried to exhibit in there, it was always in the now, as far as writing and making the movie.
And yet the stuff that happens to Michael Angarano's character feels incredibly real; the stuff that happens to Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale all feels incredibly real. Did a lot of that came from Stewart O'Nan's novel?
I think he wrote a very personal book that came from the notes of his life and childhood, and he talks about some of the headlines in his town in small-town Pennsylvania, where the book takes place. I think he really connected on a very specific level with the characters. I updated it, made it more contemporary - or at least kind of ambiguous in time and place - in order to give those characters and scenarios universal appeal, something that everyone can see - if they're not as entirely self-indulgent as my own personal investment in it - I think everyone can find someone they understand.
For me, it's Annie (Beckinsale) and Glenn (Rockwell); for some people, it's Annie or Glenn. To me, I've been in both sides of those relationships, and I know how I feel about those people; but I can only imagine some people, for example, my boom operator, who, whenever Sam would give a heartfelt monologue, I'd look at the boom operator and see what he thought, because he always referred to Glenn (Rockwell's character) as "I've been there." He felt like Glenn was very much a part of him and who he was during part of his life, and so I'd look to him to have that navigation.
Specifically, if you're identifying with one person, I want to make sure it really connects; but for me, it's a more broad connection to everyone. I just can't write about people that I don't know.
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