Cash For Gold: Josh Safdie Talks Robert Pattinson And Good Time

The Safdie Brothers are the directorial heirs apparent to that school of filmmaking that encompasses Scorsese, Friedkin and Cassavetes. Steven T Hanley caught up with Josh Safdie to talk about their new film, the Robert Pattinson starring Good Time

In the current cinematic climate of superhero movies and safe and sweet indie movies, The Safdie Brothers look and feel like they’re from another time, channelling John Cassavetes or Abel Ferrara’s cinematic hustle.Their aesthetic akin to that of Michael Mann’s Thief or Scorsese’s often overlooked masterpiece After Hours. The brothers and their movies feel like they’re from another time – but it’s not dated or retro, its fresh, visceral, grounded and raw.

Their new heist movie Good Time is their most assured work to date. I sat down with Josh Safdie in London to talk about their unique approach to making movies.

A few things have struck me about your aesthetic and choices that I wanted to you talk about. First is the choice to do do the ten-minute opening before the credits roll

Josh Safdie – 12 minutes I think, the same as Heaven Knows What

Is it a reference? is it someone in particular who does that?

JS – It feels intuitive, I think that Cassavetes did it in Minnie and Moskowitz, after Moskowitz leaves New York and arrives in LA.It’s a way to formally say the beginning is over and now the movie begins.

 Right. It kinda just throws you in, I find your brain starts paying attention straight away if there are no credits.

JS I think it’s interesting to start messing conceptually with what credits do to an audience. You’ll see people like drift in to movies in the theatre when the opening credits come on like “Oh I hope we didn’t miss anything yet”. I like playing with that and kind of saying something’s not precious. Even at the ending of Good Time we’re telling the audience on a formal level ‘the movie is over’, you can get up and leave anytime you want but then we’re gonna shoot arguably the most emotionally effective scene in the whole film underneath that, and we have this beautiful Iggy Pop song narrating it. On a formal level you’re telling an audience you can get up and leave. Conceptually what you’re saying is like “Hey, the developmentally disabled the mentally disabled exist, but you can get up and leave right now”, because we’re saying that the world considers it unimportant in a way – you know what I mean? I think it adds an emotional resonance that you’re being told “this isn’t important” but is arguably the most important scene in the movie. I like that. I like seeing the people who stay.

Your cinematography – it seems like the style of camera work you’re using is from another time. In Heaven Knows What you have that amazing overhead zoom where you’re tracking her through the streets and the same in the chase in Good Time.

JS Yes and we do the kung fu zoom in on the Sprite bottle. For Good Time it was more like a perspective thing, where with Ray we see Connie’s demise from Rays point of view and then we see Ray’s demise from Connie’s point of view, to show that they’re so far from one another. Zooms are always a very effective, very almost primal technique in filmmaking. You’re telling an audience, almost as if I were to be orally telling you a story I would be constantly reminding you of one piece that you need to pay attention to. Visually you can do that with a zoom. It’s something that I don’t think will ever die down, maybe it comes across as quite antiquated but to me the zoom will always feel fresh.

I love it, Kubrick always had amazing zooms. You kind of have that 70’s old school look. Does that come naturally to you?

JS- Those movies are very formative for us. We learned a lot from watching the films of Friedkin and Scorsese and DePalma and Cassevetes of course. But the way we normally shoot them, we kind of are just shooting them, we’re not really thinking of the other movies. The movies are more inspired by real life. My intuition of where to put the camera is very intuitive and very quick. so maybe it’s very much inspired by the films of the 70s, 80s and 90s and maybe its just how we speak or how we learn to talk film.

Tell me about your choices of music and composers

JS On Heaven Knows What we had Isao Tomita, who died about a month after I met him. Once he saw Heaven Knows What he was very much taken by how honestly we used music and how it was very romantic but also very aggressive. The music was front and centre but it was also overwhelming, nothing was ever underwhelming. I had been a fan of Oneohtrix Point Never. I wanted to work with him and we met and he was actually the third person attached to the film. First, it was Buddy then Rob then OPN, but this was the first time I’ve ever done a score. I’ve usually just appropriated music that’s been done before. I am a maximalist and I like to be very obsessive so it was really fun to be able to to get in at a micro level and create the fabric of the soundtrack.

You guys cast the the type of faces I don’t often see in cinema these days. These days Warren Oates would never get cast. Or Harry Dean Stanton or Tom Noonan

JS – They would never be stars in this day and age

But we see these types of faces throughout your films which I really enjoy

JS I just find it to be very disheartening to see that a Warren Oates couldn’t come up in this day and age. I guess you could say the closest thing to a Warren Oates now is Michael Stolberg, who’s a great actor, or Joaquin Phoenix. Michael Shannon is amazing. If you look at them, they play the game but they don’t play the game in such a corny way. We get a lot of from our agents they say “Hey this person wants to meet with you” and you look at these pictures: “Who the hell are these people? They look like 75 other people.” They’re such a generic quality to them. Maybe that’s always been the case but there seem to be people who want that. Buddy Duress should be a massive star. He’s unbelievably talented, he’s unique looking, beautiful in his own way. He should be a star but people are afraid – “Oh he’s been in jail? That’s kind of scary.” People need to be more open-minded.

I heard you guys were ignoring calls from production companies, agencies, and film offers and just doing your own thing. That’s a scary game to play. You obviously know how fleeting this business is, were you ever scared that you were ever gonna go off the radar or be forgotten about.

JS It is Scary. Yeah it could disappear tomorrow. What’s interesting is we had two films back to back at director’s fortnight and we never even answered the emails. All the agencies were reaching out and we wanted to make a bigger film and we realised we had to embrace that world in order to get stars attached, because on a certain level stars do work very closely with their agents. You have to constantly be working and releasing stuff to stay relevant which is weird. But me and my brother and everyone I work with are in no shortage of ideas, so we’re kind of trying to make stuff, and for the first time in our careers there are people who like really wanna hear us out. The moral of the story is when you have any momentum you have to sign up to as much as possible so that you can just capitalise on it. The attention span is very flippant and fleeting, and you know the people will be talking to you and answering your calls one day and the next you can’t get them on the phone.

You’ve been delaying your movie Uncut Gems which you’ve been planning for several years now. Why is this? Do you need a bigger budget

JS Yeah it was budget. In hindsight we weren’t ready to make it. I think life happens in very specific ways for a reason. The world was almost telling us we weren’t ready to make it yet and we didn’t deserve to make it yet and I think that had we made Uncut Gems before Good Time… Because it’s a great script and we’ve been working on it for a very long time, if we jumped into when we wanted to it it wouldn’t have been nearly the success that it can be today. Every movie we make we’re learning from the previous one. We’ve had the luxury of learning by doing and slowly coming out of our closet to make work.

I remember you were saying that Robert Pattinson had something similar to PTSD from all the Twilight stuff. You almost channelled that social anxiety into his role.

JS Yeah he acted like a man on the run, I mean I remember one time we were doing a location scout very early on. I was taking him around places that I grew up. We were under an underpass near the Queens central mall and we were getting empanadas – and all of a sudden I see this look wash over on his face and I was like “What’s going on with him right now?” he wasn’t paying attention to me and then I slowly realised everyone had their phones out, everyone was taking pictures of him. It was almost like they were zombies, and then he’s like “Do you mind if we go around the corner?” so we went around the corner and he admitted to me and said “It’s kind of like being in Vietnam, like I have this trauma. Whenever it comes and I’m face to face with it I get reminded of not having an identity and being robbed all the time” You know, it really did feel like he was a man on the run like constantly like “Where do I need to go?”

In your films you guys have an empathy for the hustlers, villains and anti-heroes. Can you explain why?

JS For as long as I can remember I’ve always been attracted to a certain type of character. I think that we are hustlers very much in our own right. We’ve been hustling ever since I was 20. I’ve been trying to hustle and figure out how to make work and, you know, do the thing on the side in order to do the thing that you’re putting forward. Doing cash for gold infomercials that hopefully never surface. There’s a certain character that I’ve always had an affinity with and I believe that once you stop moving you get depressed. You need to keep moving all the time. So yeah, for some ineffable reason these are the characters that I look up to and that I wanna spend time with. Some of them are despicable characters but I also admire their independence. I think someone who’s hustling is largely independent because they’re saying I’m going to operate within the space and try to carve out my own path. Anyone who wants to walk their own path is heroic to me. They’re winners even when they don’t win and I’ve always been really interested in that. I know the next four projects that we’re doing and they’re all very much in that vein.

Good Time is in cinemas now

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