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Flight - Robert Zemeckis interview

Flight

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ROBERT Zemeckis talks about some of the challenges of directing Flight and returning to live action for the first time since 2000. He also talks about his process of directing actors and how he went about portraying the central character of Whip, played by Denzel Washington. He was speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. This is your first live action since 2000 with Castaway and What Lies Beneath. But you weren’t deliberately looking for something to make in live action were you?
Robert Zemeckis: I don’t have any agenda of what tools that I use to make a film. Making a film for me is the same whether it’s a live action film, or animated or digital… however the images are created is just part of the process. So, I make the films the same way. I wasn’t really looking for a script being a digital film or a live action film. I was just sort of gravitating to those then this came along and it obviously had to be a live action film.

Q. What grabbed you about the script?
Robert Zemeckis: First of all, it was so unique and it was bold and so brilliantly, brilliantly written and it had great characters in it. All the characters were beautifully drawn and it was full of moral ambiguity, which I hadn’t seen in a screenplay in a really long time. I loved everything about it.

Q. Were or are you a nervous flier before or after directing Flight?
Robert Zemeckis: No, I believe that flying is a very safe form of transportation. I believe the statistic that you are more likely to get killed in an automobile than you are in an airplane.

Q. Can you talk about your approach to the character of Whip? Sometimes he’s raw and naked, while others you shoot him almost like a rock star…
Robert Zemeckis: It was all inspired by the screenplay. The screenplay actually speaks to this gentleman’s question. It was very obvious in the way it was written that Whip was doing whatever he could to charm someone, or to con someone. It was all written that way. It wasn’t by design that we tried to impose something to take the audience in or manipulate the audience to like someone who was doing something that might have been morally reprehensible. That was in the original screenplay and the original screenplay when I read it the first time, and I’ve heard this from audiences so I think I’ve accomplished what we tried to do, i was constantly questioning my own sense of morality because as I was reading it, I was saying: “Do I want this character to continue to act this way? Do I want him to get off? Do I want him not to get off? Where do I fall off on this?” But that’s what was so unique about the piece.

Q. What were the challenges you faced in getting such great performances from your cast?
Robert Zemeckis: There’s an old saying that good directing is good casting and good writing. I subscribe to that. We went through a large process… a long process of talking a lot about the characters and the screenplay. I did this with all my cast, sometimes in a group and sometimes just one on one for many, many, many hours. And that was our process. Whether I was doing any directing at that point, I don’t know… basically, my process is just to sort of act the movie out the way I see it and answer any questions they may have about the character, rather than to try to form a performance of any kind. My feeling is that where actors go to get that is their job and I don’t try to… I kind f don’t want to know because sometimes it’s pretty scary. So, I try and lay out the character and they’ll go off and find it.

Q. Have you received any feedback or reaction from real-life flight crews about elements of Flight or your character in general?
Robery Zemeckis: Well, because the movie has so much complexity, we previewed it all over. We actually previewed the movie in England and in the US and I must tell you that in almost every preview we would get a preview card where there would be someone who had written something like: “I’ve been in the airline industry for 35 years and thank you for making this movie…” And things like that. So, we’ve actually got very positive feedback from the airline industry and people who work in it. In truth, we portrayed everything – the good stuff and the bad stuff – honestly and that’s all you can actually hope for.