127 Hours Q&A
Director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Coulson stick James Franco up a cliff in the desert, the fiends...
Danny, why choose this film for your Oscar follow-up?
Danny: It was what you can do really. The advantage we got with the success we had was that you had an opportunity to do something with it, and I've wanted to make this film since 2005. I'd read about it in the papers at the time, and then he wrote this book about it. I went to meet him and said that I didn't want to do it like Touching the Void, because that was so wonderful and I didn't want to do it like a documentary. I said I wanted to do it where you are part of the experience, and where the audience is trapped with him for the whole 127, and he went blank and glazed over like the studios did. So after Slumdog I talked about this idea with Christian (producer) and I wrote up a treatment and we went off to make it. Without that success, we wouldn't have gotten to make it. Because what you saw in the teaser trailer is the good bit, the fun bit - and after that he's stuck there. But it's a good thing to do, career-wise.
How about the experience of making it?
Producer Christian Colson: It was more of a sprint than an endurance test for the crew, because we were working in very dangerous conditions on location and on a very small set in a factory. So we worked at an incredible pace or everyone would have gone mad. We had two units working simultaneously, with Danny directing from very early in the morning to very late at night, and we were out of there in seven weeks. We started in March and we premiere in September.
How do you make a single location compelling?
Danny: Do you remember the Brian Keenan story? He was chained to a radiator. I wanted to make something like that, where there are no movements; it's just focused on you. So we had these digital cameras we used for Slumdog that are very small and manoeuverable and you can get in there. It makes the story more urgent in a way. This guy took a video camera with him, he filmed himself every day. He hasn't shown them to everyone except his mum and a couple of friends, they're in a bank vault. He showed them to us and James Franco. When he runs out of water, there's a gap in the tape where he didn't tape himself for two days, and there's no gap on the tape. And the change is incredible, this shrinking of the human spirit. And this was before YouTube but he was obsessed with documenting everything. But we want it to be a challenge for you guys as well, to see if you can watch it.
How is it a British film?
Danny: We developed it, we wrote it with Simon Beaufoy, and everything but the shooting was done here. It's got a sensibility in it that is unusual really, and I think when you see it you'll think it's British.
Why cast James Franco?
Danny: I think we thought he'd always been underrated. He was going to get Spider-Man and he didn't. You watch him in Pineapple Express and he's fantastic. We got him in for an audition. He's not a lookalike; he wasn't an obvious choice, but he was great, so we asked him to do it. When we shot it, he was in a corridor that's narrower than this stage and he was chained to the end. Everyone else had to be outside, and the only way to do it was long takes. The bit after you saw him getting trapped in the trailer has him trying, for hours, to get out. Now we'd fixed it so he couldn't move the rock; but by God he tried! He tried to rip that set apart. So we had two cameramen every day, because we didn't have a villain - except for the rock, but it's inanimate - but we'll have two cameramen and change them so it gives him something different to do. But I hope that everyone will see what a great actor he is in it. And there's a little Pineapple Express bit in there to cheer everyone up in the middle.
Any advice for young filmmakers?
Danny: I think Christian knows more about this than I do, because I think the best thing is to work with your peers, your mates, because you can take criticism off them. We just had a big battle about the end of the film, and when you go into those you have to have respect for each other. What's difficult is looking at us and thinking that there's some door you go through to get here, and there isn't; you just have to go through. But work with people you respect, or it's a minefield of egos. And it's more fun anyway.
Christian: And be really good as well!
Most of your films seem defined by the location a bit. Does the location of a story influence your decision to make a film?
Danny: It's very much the story really. You're drawn to stories that are set in interesting places, but I do love setting the stories in places that present a challenge to the filmmaker. Like making this film in a rush, like it's some insane desire we have to tell this story, that'll help the film - and I think it has. We're trying to finish it in time for Toronto, and it's really good to do it. The way you approach the dynamic of a story does affect the story. I was affected quite badly by Thailand, whereas in Mumbai it was unbelievable - and what we got off this corridor we trapped him in.
How much can an audience take of how he frees himself?
Christian: The measure of success is that the audience has to be rooting for it to happen. It's not a horror film; it's something he's doing for a reason. It took him 45 minutes to do it - it's not real time, no - but it's not something you can respectfully skim over or avert your gaze from.
Danny: Going back to the approach, if you trap the audience then you're invested in it. You're not seeing the guy, now, talking about how it was back then. You've only got two options then - stay and die, or do what he did. We built a complete prosthetic arm, like the real one, and then we let him do it, and it was hard, really hard. So you want it to be a big film about those things as well.
All your films seem extremely different - have you got an ambition for something different again?
Danny: I'd love to do an original musical, because I think that's very very difficult, a bit challenge for any director. So I'd love to do that, or an animated film, but that requires so long that it takes a different calibre of person. I remember talking to whatsisname, Ari Folman. I said I'd love to do an animated film, and he said, FOUR YEARS.
Sunshine was the only film in 20 years that left me completely speechless. What originally drew you to that?
Danny: Yeah. Sci-fi is very tough - real sci-fi, not fantasy sci-fi. Because it's limited. Real stories are based on our collective experience. But space, of course, very little has gone on there. Most real space stories are based on a signal from somewhere else, because we haven't been able to create other stories because if you go too big it's fantasy. It's very hard technically because all of you are very critical about things floating in the wrong way. And so many have done before - Solaris , whatever. I love it, but I'd never do another one.