Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Peter Sattler talks about 'Camp X-Ray' and Kristen with The Film Stage
Getting to the casting, Peyman Moaadi is such a fantastic actor in Asghar Farhadi’s film. Were you privy to A Separation and About Elly before?
I hadn’t seen either of them until our casting director suggested Peyman. I watched A Separation and I was blown away. I’ve just become obsessed with Asghar Farhadi’s work. He’s so good. Peyman is so amazing in that role. It’s actually funny because when I saw A Separation, he’s so stern and so buttoned-down and so taciturn in that film, I thought this is completely wrong. Ali needs to be loud and boisterous. Kristen’s character is the one that’s quiet and buttoned-down, but my casting director said, “Just call him. Do a video chat with him. You’ve got to meet this guy.” So I did a video chat with him in Iran and he instantly jumped on and was like, “Hey sir! How are you doing?” He’s so full of life. It spoke to his range as an actor that he could play a character so different from his own persona. Honestly, after that first call I had with him, I couldn’t get Peyman out of my mind and then when I put Peyman and Kristen on a video chat together the chemistry was instant. We were just talking with him and Kristen had since watched A Separation and we talked about him. During the video chat we were talking with him and then at the end, I remember Kristen and I just looked at eachother and she was like, “We have to give him the role.” I was like, “Yeah. We do.” We gave him the job right on the spot. We were like, “Peyman, no one else can play this role.”
Yeah, he’s great. When Kristen came on board is that what got more financing in place or was it there beforehand?
There was some in place, but I’m not even sure that would’ve been enough to get the movie going. You know, having Kristen on board helps in a lot of different ways. Not just in terms of financing, but really in terms of how people take the film seriously. If you sent a script out to an actor like Peyman Moaadi and there’s nobody in it and you’ve never heard of the director, no one is really going to take it seriously. No one is going to return your phone calls. Similarly, we were so lucky to get someone like John Carroll Lynch in this film. Just having an actor with the gravity and weight that Kristen does, it’s a vote of confidence. When you’re a first-time director, you need someone to say, “Hey, I believe in this guy and you should too.” David Gordon Green did that as an EP and Kristen when we met and said we want to do this movie together, she gave that vote of confidence as well. Even if they love the script, they’re just like who is this guy? I hope he’s not an asshole.
The film definitely has political elements to it, but I don’t think that’s really its main thrust, rather showing this relationship between two people. How did you carefully strike that balance?
It’s a real tightrope you have to walk there. I think the way that we approached it, the general mantra we had, was just to be honest, to shine a stark light on things that we saw as true and poignant without trying to make any judgement about it. We were conscious to make the film try not to manipulate the audience. I repeated that to everyone in every situation. I remember when we were working on the music with Jess [Stroup], our composer, I was like, “That cue feels like we’re manipulating too much. It feels a little too like we’re trying to make you sad about that.” So that kind of worked throughout the film as a way to be observational and austere and present an unvarnished look at the film. That goes into the cinematography. I didn’t want to do a bunch of flashy director tricks. I just wanted to, as much as possible, have it unfold in a very real, realistic manner. The second you start getting into politics you just go down a rabbit hole then half your audience is going to stop listening because you’re not saying what they want to hear. For me it was more important to try and avoid those pitfalls and instead focus on a more human story, and along the way show people a few things about Guantanamo Bay and don’t give them the answer, but at least have themselves ask the question again.
Can you discuss your experience at Sundance and acquisition, perhaps what you felt going in?
Yes, Sundance was a whirlwind, as anyone that’s been there knows. It’s a circus, man. It’s crazy. That was the first time I’d been to Sundance, ever, attending or with a film or anything. So to go there with Kristen and all the media hoopla surrounding her and all the press we were doing, it was wild. At the same time it was very interesting to me because we literally just finished the film. I did a quality check on the DCP like two weeks before Sundance happened so it still so raw and still just a part of me. It was a very weird emotional time. There’s also kind of a release. Once it’s done and you get it out there and you start to talk to people that have seen it and you read a review or talk to someone and they understand exactly what you were trying to do, it’s a really satisfying thing. It’s like, “Oh, thank God.” I had a very clear vision of what I wanted the movie to be then it just becomes a question of the execution and when you execute that, do people get it? A ton of people have and that’s just super satisfying to me.
So yeah, I was there and IFC picked it up and they’ve been awesome. We’ve got a nice little release coming out here and we did a ton of crazy press with Kristen and we’re doing a bunch right now with her. It’s been nice and it’s a real challenge too. It’s a film about Guantanamo Bay. That’s an interesting marketing challenge. How do you get people to look at something they’ve spent the last 12 years of their life ignoring? Which is part of the approach I wanted to take. Not to be this over-the-top political film but make it about people. Whether or not you share my opinions about Gitmo, or whatever your opinion about Gitmo is, you can relate to people. You can relate to any human being if you get to know them well enough. That’s really the whole point of the film.
Some filmmakers when they premiere their movie they wash their hands and don’t ever want to see it again. Have you been watching it?
I’ve seen it numerous times but I don’t like watching it any more, not because I don’t like it. I really love the film. It sounds weird, but I think sometimes that’s a hard thing for an artist to say because you have to be critical of your own work but you have to believe in it. It’s a weird split mind. The real problem with making a movie, especially making one as fast as we did, is that it’s so easy to loose objectivity. I’ve seen the movie a million times so what I want is to not watch it for a year and then watch it again and have that experience the first time I had that idea. It’s hard. When you’re behind the curtain like that you don’t get that clean and clear vision like an audience does. Also our editing was so intense. I was in the room every day every hour with Geraud [Brisson], my editor so I saw it all a billion times. So actually I’ve been saving up since I haven’t watched it in awhile. I think the next one I’m going to watch is going to be in Abu Dhabi. We’re going to the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and I’m really excited to see how the film plays to a Middle Eastern audience. That’s a really unique viewing experience that I’m quite looking forward to.
Read Peter's full interview where he talks a bit more about his career and filmmaking at the source: The Film Stage