Interview with Please Give Writer-Director Nicole Holofcener

After studying film at Columbia University, writer-director Nicole Holofcener made her first feature, Walking and Talking, in 1996, and she has been going strong ever since, directing feature films such as Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money and Please Give, as well as working in television, for acclaimed series such as Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Bored to Death and Parks and Recreation. I had a chance to speak briefly with Holofcener on the occasion of Columbia’s panel on women filmmakers.

Ezra Stead: There is a striking realism and intimacy to your films, going back to the first one, Walking and Talking, and I know a lot of material is taken from your own life or that of your friends. Is your apparent muse, Catherine Keener, generally playing the Nicole Holofcener alter-ego, or is your own personality spread out more among all your characters?

Nicole Holofcener: I guess I could say she has been my muse, but in a couple of movies she has not played the “me” character. She certainly does play me well, and all the characters, I suppose, are a part of me, and even if that character she’s playing is based on someone else, there’s still pieces of me. She has been a muse, definitely.

ES: I read somewhere, in another interview with you, where you said your friends say, “Don’t say that around Nicole, it’ll be in a movie.”

NH: I know, just one friend in particular; she’s very nervous [laughs]. If somebody has shame, I suppose they don’t want to be revealed. Most people’s shame is not very interesting or theatrical, so don’t worry I’m not gonna write about it. Whatever you’re doing that you’re embarrassed about, I don’t care [laughs].

ES: So in general, your films are fairly autobiographical, or was Walking and Talking more that way?

NH: No, they all are. I mean, none of them are real, none of them come from things that really happened; I suppose there are moments that really happened and lines that really happened, but most of it is made up but, I would say, based on me and my experiences, and my friends.

ES: What future projects are you working on now, if you can tell us?

NH: I’d love to tell you. I’m so glad I have that, thank god, it’s so hard when there isn’t one. Yeah, I’m in pre-pre-production for a movie that I wrote that Fox Searchlight has been making, and I start shooting in August, I think. I hope.

ES: Untitled, so far?

NH: It is. Not fun. I’m not good at titling things. The only title I really like, that seems correct, is Friends with Money, and that’s what I wrote when I first started writing it, you know, this is gonna be about “friends with money,” it was easy. This one has Julia Louis-Dreyfus in it, and James Gandolfini, so I’m happy to publicize my next movie.

ES: I also read that you were involved at one point in directing the Seth Rogen / Joseph Gordon-Levitt film 50/50. Is that you’re still interested in pursuing – directing features written by other people?

NH: I’m still gonna direct 50/50 [laughs]. It’s something I am very interested in, and I’m sad that I didn’t get to direct it, but it was family stuff, and that’s okay, it turned out well. I liked the movie.

ES: But you are interested in directing someone else’s script?

NH: Yes, if I fall in love with it. I really want to, have to, fall in love with it. Yes, please send me things. Send me good things [laughs].

ES: You’ve directed a lot of TV as well. What are some of the differences in TV vs. feature film directing?

NH: There’s not much difference. The television shows that I’ve worked on have all been single camera. It feels like I’m working on a little film. It differs from show to show. A show like Enlightened, I feel like I’m working on a movie; a show like Parks and Recreation, I’m at a party. I mean, it’s different. I guess, to some extent, working on a television show is easier because it’s not my problem, in the end – I didn’t write it, I didn’t create it – and for the same reason, it makes me more anxious because I have someone else that I wanna please, besides myself, and I really only work on shows that I respect and am proud to have my name on, so I really do wanna please the writer, and the creator. Other than that, they’re pretty similar.

ES: So you think that, when and if you end up directing someone else’s script, it’ll be similar to that?

NH: I hope so, yeah. I hope that I have that relationship where I turn to the writer and say, “You happy with that? Is that how you saw it?” That’s a real collaboration.

  

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Weekend trailer: “The Town”

As a director, Ben Affleck is following up his critical success on “Gone Baby Gone” with another crime thriller adaptation set in Boston., Based on Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, “The Town” appears to be one of those cops-and-robbers tales where the both sides get equal time and a woman is in between them. This time, Affleck is the main robber, Don Draper Jon Hamm is the cop (G-man, actually), and Rebecca  Hall (“Vicky Christina Barcelona,” “Please Give“) is the woman who is, naturally, caught between them. Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively are also about.

My thoughts — this appears to have a good cast, but I wonder if director Affleck should have had second thoughts about casting himself and not his, say, his brother or, really, anyone else. True, in my view he’s gotten perhaps a little too much crap for his acting over the years. He’s been very good in a number of supporting roles. He also has been pretty darn weak in some crucial leading roles. We’ll see. Also, I didn’t love Affleck’s earlier cops-and-criminals drama quite as much as most critics, so we’ll see about this one.

H/t Rope of Silicon.

  

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Weekend box office: poor, poor “Iron Man 2″…

“It broke no records” seems to be the fairly silly refrain. According to Box Office Mojo, “Iron Man 2” made only an estimated $133.6 million Paramount and Marvel Productions. Why, that’s not even enough money to buy a pound of Kobe beef for the entire state of Hawaii! Of course, at $163,193,428.00 they’ll hit that milestone shortly. (Yes, I did the math, based on the $380.00 it costs to buy four pounds of Kobe New York steaks via mail order from Neiman-Marcus.).  That’s the problem with all this bar setting, it makes massive success look like failure.

I personally succumbed to that mania partially on Thursday. I did that mostly in deference to the gurus who generated the mania, even knowing that, while it’s not a bad movie, almost everyone seems to agree it’s some level of let down from the first film — the only real disagreement is how much. (There are people out there who didn’t even care for the first film for perfectly legitimate reasons, shocking as that might be to some of you.)

Jon Favreau has made some charming movies — I love “Elf” — but “The Dark Knight,” this ain’t. However, Anthony D’Alessandro points out some good reasons why, in terms of box office at least, that might be an unfair comparison. He also mentions that it pulled a 31% improvement over the original’s opening, which is “well within the perameters [sic] for most sequels.” It’s worth noting that the movie more than justified the one record it really did break — the number of theaters it was booked into. It’s 4,380 screens enjoyed by far the week’s best per screen average (which usually goes to a limited release film) with a terrific per-screen average of $30,502.00.  Still, I can’t help wondering if Favreau’s improvisational approach, which he discussed in some detail at the film’s press conference, might have limited the power of the film’s story and hence it’s long-term appeal. We’ll see.

In any case, given the film’s international take of $194 million so far according to Nikki Finke, it’s already significantly exceeding its $200 million production budget by roughly $127 million. That is not shabby. ($200 million is now considered low for this kind of movie, I guess. Marvel is the stingy maker of efx laden epics. I guess there are a number of big salaries to pay.)

Freddy contemplates his rapidly dropping grosses in despairComing in a very poor second indeed is the latest horror remake, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It dropped a gigantic 72% in its second week, obviously not generating a whole lot of excitement in terms of word of mouth and also probably sharing a big part of its youngish audience with “Iron Man 2.” Coming in third place is Warner’s extremely strong “How to Train Your Dragon” which is leggy as all get out and made $6.76 million in its seventh week. It cracked the $200 million mark this week, though it’s $165 million budget shows just how risky a gamble this kind of movie can still be. However, if you can make a family picture that parents truly enjoy, you can be reasonably sure the world will beat a path to your door.

It’s also important to remind everyone that Sunday hasn’t actually happened yet as I write this and I’m not sure the Mom’s day factor is all that easily predictable. One movie that could benefit from a Sunday surge is the “awww” generating documentary, “Babies,” which did okay in it’s 534 theater release, earning $1.575 million and a per-screen average of $2,949.00. The week’s second highest per-screen according to Box Office Mojo (which is missing several key movies on its list) also benefits from a mom’s day tie-in as its title, “Mother and Child,” makes clear. It earned about $11,000 per screen at four theaters for Sony Classics. According to Indiewire, that figure was nearly matched by a movie that is just a few years younger than Betty White, Fritz Lang’s once-again re-restored “Metropolis” which — visually, anyhow — blew me away at the TCM Classic Film Festival just a weekend or two ago.

Actually, there’s much more going on regarding limited releases than I have time to discuss, including strong business for “Please Give” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” as well as not-bad biz for “Harry Brown” and perhaps some spectacular showings on individual screenings for that horror movie I’m not talking about. The above-linked Indiewire is the place to go for such information.

Do not f*ck with Michael Caine. Trust me.

  

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No box office surprises: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” tops the charts; “Furry Vengeance” bites it

A Nightmare on Elm StreetI’m going to keep in short and snappy, especially since things have worked pretty much they way they looked to way back on Thursday night. So, yes, as expected, the critically dissed remake/reboot of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” did scarily well for Warners, earning an estimated $32.2 million or so as detailed by Box Office Mojo. At the #2 and #3 spot are the leggy successes of the moment, Paramount/Dreamworks “How to Train Your Dragon” and Fox’s “Date Night.” They earned estimates of $10.8 and $7.6 million respectively.

In other news…Oh, for a universe where someone not named Frank Miller made “The Spirit” and cast Brendan Fraser in the part he was born to play as Will Eisner’s affable-but-tough Denny Colt.  In that universe the accomplished actor wouldn’t have to take parts in apparently horrid comedies like Summit Entertainment’s “Furry Vengeance,” which climbed all the way up form 0% on Rotten Tomatoes earlier to a rocking 02% here on Sunday nigh because of a positive review from voice-in-the-wilderness Chris Hewitt. Still, the other 48 RT critics apparently spoke for the majority of filmgoers. The comedy earned a fairly pitiful estimated $6.5 million on its opening weekend to hit the #5 spot, despite plenty of publicity and screens for a wide release family film.

In the world of limited releases, the top per-screen earner was the extremely well-reviewed comedy-drama from critical favorite Nicole Holofcener and star Catherine Keener, “Please Give,” which earned a rocking estimated $25,600 or so for Sony Classics on five art-house screens over the weekend. Among other indie films doing notable business was the offbeat comic documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” which earned an estimated $182,000 on 20 screens. “Harry Brown” starring Michael Caine also debuted strongly, earning an estimate $180,000 on 19 screens for Samuel Goldwyn, who is doing very well for a mogul whose been dead since 1974.

Michael Caine is

  

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Weekend box office preview: It’s a “Nightmare” all around

So, we have just two major releases this week and while one is hard-edged remake of a franchise-spawning eighties horror hit and the other is a purported family film, to me all signs this weekend in terms of major new releases (and one tiny release) scream: “Be afraid, be very afraid.” For the most part, the critics aren’t disagreeing.

For starters, we have “A Nightmare on Elm Street” which brings us Jackie Earle Haley in the role made famous by Robert Englund — the child-murderer of everyone’s dreams with the specially augmented fingers, Freddy Kruger. Now, as someone who is such a wuss that he was unable to get past the first twenty minutes or so of the original on VHS — that Wes Craven guy really knows how to scare people — I’m not really one to judge. However, the critics are thoroughly unimpressed with the new version directed by another music video alum, Samuel Bayer, granting it a dismal 11% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.

nightmare_on_elm_street01

Still, even if the original version is regarded as something of a classic today by critics, this movie has “critic proof” written all over it. Indeed, jolly Carl DiOrio, assures us that it’s “tracking” very well and will top the box office with “as much as” $30 million for Warner Brothers. He also gets a bit less jolly in his video this week and actually complains about the use of the word “reboot” to describe films like “Nightmare.” Well, considering that you’re starting over an existing franchise as if the original had never happened, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to call it. It’s not only a remake.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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