Aruba 2013: Paul Verhoeven Q&A
Posted on Thursday July 4, 2013, 19:14 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
On day two of AIFF 2013, Empire spent some time with Paul Verhoeven discussing his latest project, the highly experimental psychological character-comedy Tricked. The first ever interactive movie, it was conceived as means of integrating the public into the filmmaking process by soliciting scripts that picked up from where an opening five-minute sequence (written by screenwriter Kim van Kooten) left off. The result - one that astonished Verhoevn and writing partner Robert Alberdingk Thijm - was an absolute deluge of scripts from which, rather than selecting one to work with, they spent hour on infuriating hour meticulously teasing out elements - a line here, a plot twist there - in an attempt to construct a cohesive whole.
Almost miraculously, the film is terrific, a wickedly funny comedy of manners in which nothing and no one is what they seem. As an attempt to shake-up the way movies are written and made, however, it was not remotely what Verhoeven had in mind.
Would it be true to say the experience of making Tricked didn’t live up to your expectations?
I think some comments I made were taken the wrong way. That’s something I maybe said in a moment of despair (laughs). But looking back if I ask myself whether I stand by that judgement, then probably yes. I’ll tell you very specifically what I found disappointing. I though we would get thirty or forty scripts and that I and Robert would have to work a little bit to get them right, maybe a half a day’s work or something. We all thought that among the scripts that came in there would be two or three that would be useable. That was the disappointment. We got seven hundred scripts and there were none. I realized then that it was going to be much more difficult for me and Robert to make this work.
From the moment we accepted that, we looked at the scripts we had in a very precise way, then we found an enormous amount of elements that we could use, but not in one script.
Was there an overriding problem with the scripts people sent in?
They didn’t get the style of Kim. She’s a television writer and with her it’s all about writing between the lines - what people say is not exactly what they think. She is one of the top three scriptwriters in Holland, and it’s not so easy to copy that style. To expect people to have that talent of hers is a lot; to be able to write a line to make you think something and then five seconds later you start to doubt it, that is not so easy, it’s really interesting script writing.
Do you think a different type of movie would’ve elicited a more workable response?
I said later to René (Mioch, producer), perhaps we should’ve made a much more normal beginning, not something cliched, but more action oriented, an adventure - maybe someone gets a letter that leads them to a place, something easier than this which all rests on characters and their psychology, all the little mysteries. In retrospect we should’ve said, ‘This is too difficult. We need a more straightforward story and not a character study.’ But I liked what Kim wrote so much!
Of the ideas you couldn’t use, what really stuck in your mind?
A lot of scripts, in the second episode, the gangsters show up (laughs). The Rumanian mafia or the Russian mafia appear and start to shoot people. There were ones where the house was invaded by aliens; the house blowing up, completely different from the beginning. People went immediately into extremes. They’ve seen all the American movies.
Even so, having to take elements from a huge number of scripts rather than just using one, did you enjoy the process?
Ja. But half way we reached a very difficult point because I felt there was no end to the story. No one wanted [the characters] to leave the house (the opening set-up scene takes place at a house party); I felt we had to get them out! And we needed structure, we needed a mid-point and an end. There were eight episodes, and around three or four we realized we had to intervene and bring the most serious scriptwriters together, a couple of hundred, and tell them we were half way through the movie and they had to think about an ending. More and more Robert and I had to steer it a little bit.
Was that a tough decision, given that it wasn’t true to the original objective?
It was kind of a moral problem at that point - if we remain completely true to the project, there will be no ending and it will just be left hanging. And that will be fair, because that’s what people wrote. On the other hand, what purpose does that serve? Perhaps very post-modern (laughs), but I felt it wouldn’t work here. So we had to decide how much to intervene; how much of them are we going to use and how much of us will be pushing in. We had long discussions about that, but we all felt ultimately it was more important to make something that would work than being completely true to the original proposal.
Are you pleased with the end result?
I’m absolutely amazed. In retrospect, it was a wonderful experience. I’m sure I wouldn’t have said that some time in the middle But it’s often this way: movies that you make where the atmosphere was difficult and bad and then it comes together and you’re happily surprised.
Which of your previous films do you think would have benefitted most from the interactive approach?
The Hollow Man. It worked okay and it made money, but it’s so little of me and so much of the studio. I think it could’ve helped that (laughs).