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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Michel Gondry



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. How is your working relationship with Charlie Kaufman?
A.
Hectic. I was saying this morning that he gets on my nerves because I have to justify my ideas. But then, at the end of the day, he makes me smarter, because I have to dig very deep to find out why I want to do something.
You can really count on him to tell you if he likes it or not, without any compromise at all, which is a very rare quality. He just focuses on what he thinks is right or wrong.
Sometimes I get irritated, because I wish I could just work with my instincts, but then, at the end of the day, I find it great that he makes me more intelligent.

Q. And when you put Jim Carrey into the mix as well...
A.
When you put Jim Carrey into the mix, you have Charlie there [points to his left] and Jim there [points to the right] and me in the middle, torn apart! Jim wants to do a horror movie, with explosions everywhere, and every time I come up with an idea, Charlie says, 'oh no, I think it's too visual, it's a concept, it's not real'. And I'm like, 'what movie would you like me to do'. Amazingly enough, they both like the same movie, though.

Q. And Kate, presumably, wasn't too much of a handful, compared to the other two?
A.
Oh, she's a pain in the arse [laughs]. She's going to kill me! No, she's great. She decided that her character would be so colourful, which it was anyway, because Charlie had written this amazing character. To me, she was the guarantee that the film would be interesting, because of Clementine, as she was holding the story.
She had been a little fed up to be doing the period theme, or having to be the sweet, nice girl. So fancied the challenge of taking on a very grounded character, and because she hadn't previously had the opportunity to do that, she would do even more. She had great timing and she made us forget that she had been in big ship movies...

Q. Did the structure of the film cause you any problems when you put it together?
A.
Charlie had come up with the idea to start with one scene that would play like it was real life. I mean, it's all real life, but he wanted to make it feel like it was happening for real, that it was out of control, and not that we were trying to organise it into a story.
And then later on, you will discover through the film, that they have been meeting earlier, and that this was not the first meeting. So if you were to watch the movie a second time, you would revisit the scene, and say 'oh, that's why they say that'.
He [Charlie] was really excited by that, and it was difficult to organise, but, in fact, when you shoot a movie, you seldom shoot in order. You always have to jump in time when you shoot it.

Q. Does this also mean that it was also very tightly written, that there was nothing you could cut out without unbalancing everything?
A.
It was very tightly written. Everyone was dying to do it. But, on the other hand, we were willing to shoot more, because we wanted to be creative throughout the process, including the editing.
If the editing is just a process to put together what you have been shooting before, it becomes sterile.
So we shot more stuff. There was one character, and I'm really sad for the actress, who played an ex-girlfriend of Joel, who we cut the back story.
But we wanted to shoot it, because it made Joel's character stronger to have this part of his life existed. However, it would have been too much to put into the story to sustain the audiences' attention.

Q. Apart from the obvious scale differences and the logistical differences, what are the different artistic challenges between making a movie and making a pop video?
A.
Well, you have to live with people criticising it [movies].
If they like it, then it's good, but they can screw your mind both ways. If they don't like it, you feel depressed, but if they do, you have to be careful to not believe it's as good as they say.
Every single person in the street comes up with a comment, and they would not be embarrassed at all to say they hate it, which I find kind of mean, because if they don't like it, they should just not talk to me.
Seriously! I always tell me friends, it's fine if you don't like my movies, just don't say it to me. Because it has taken four years to do it, but people assume that you're in such a great position, that everyone can bring you down. But it's not true, it can be really painful.
I mean my best friend saw my first film and said that he really loved the final five minutes, and then made some more comments. Which is fine, it was his opinion, but I told him, 'listen, you should consider me as a child', because if you have a child, you would not say to him 'oh look, you're tiny, and you're weak, and you're not very pretty!' You need to be able to preserve a little bit if self-confidence.

Q. Mark Ruffalo played a filmmaker in XX/YY and somebody did this to him, and he ended up giving them $8 as a refund...
A.
Yeah, but that's how Charlie feels too. People come up to you and say, 'I wasted two hours of my life, watching this movie'; and he's like, 'what would you have done with those two hours anyway? You would have done nothing, so don't complain about it!' And it's true!
Do you have to insult us? I mean sometimes people get upset because we don't want to make something commercial. We want to do movies that we want to see, yet some people get angry about that.

Q. Why do you think that is?
A.
I think people who are non-creative sometimes get upset because you are creative. Just simply for that.

Q. Is that a problem, perhaps, because people think they know what a Jim Carrey movie is?
A.
Yeah, they say we don't want to alienate Jim Carrey's audience. It's funny because we think people are being brainwashed.
But I think if you work for a company you have to at least carry some form of your own opinion. Sometimes, you don't have the luxury to be able to say, 'fuck off' to your boss, because you need him.
But I think you should say it to yourself, for your sanity.
I've been there. I've been doing work for a stupid company, and I've said 'fuck off' to my boss, in my head, and for real. I wanted to be on the dole, to get the money (which I never got, by the way), and I wanted to be sacked.
So I would come late every day, and say to him I'm just being normal. And he would say, 'well, do you know what's going to happen?' And I'd be like, 'tell me', because I wanted to be sacked. But it's such a great position to be in, like to have to be obnoxious to get sacked.

Q. Does it cause you conflict to work for companies that you don't necessarily agree with their product?
A.
I have a strong ethic, like I've never done a commercial for the Army, or for a cigarette company. I've done a commercial for alcohol, which I think is not great, but I drink alcohol. I would never use babies in a commercial either.
Those guys who advertise the Army every five minutes are just so unethical to me. I don't usually make political statements, but I seem to be putting my brain out at the moment...
I just feel sometimes that somebody should draw this right. One Iraqi equates one human being. I'm so sick of being in America and hearing everybody talking for 10 hours about some guy who's been taken hostage and how horrible it is.
It is horrible, but it is just one thing that is happening out there. Sometimes there are 100 Iraqi's dying, because they are getting bombed, and they never mention that. And I don't understand the concept of there being a difference between two human beings.
Like reading a newspaper, and in small titles, there is a headline 'plane crashed in India', and then in big type, 'three American citizens...' Fuck you!
I have ethics, I'm vegetarian, but I hate animal rights people. I hate them!
You know, in America, there is this show called Animal Cops, and they go and arrest the homeless, because they mistreat their dogs.
They take a guy who has Aids and put him in jail because his dog has fleas. It's like, God, wake up now!
But those people are just frustrated, people who are trying to get power, and I hate it. I just want to kill them.

Q. Have you talked about maybe making a film with specifically more political content?
A.
Yes, I think I will sometime. I get more and more pissed off with what I see in the media. So if you ask me about things, I feel it is right to talk about them.
I've been vegetarian since I was 12, because of some sort of spiritual belief, but all my life I've been bugged about why I eat fish and not a cow. And sometimes I will put people in front of their contradictions and then I will be blamed for eating fish.
So, ok, one second, a fish has a three second memory. After it does one loop in the tank, it can't remember where it was before. But a cow has a large brain. In the scheme of things, he can come higher in the order. So shut up now.

Q. So do you have a very ethical belief system then? I gather from what you've just said that there is still meat on the family table...
A.
Ah yes, I encourage my son to eat meat. I just don't want people to come to me and say, 'oh, you have to protect the animal' and this is the contradiction that I have.
I understand that people have to eat meat, but if you have to, then just be honest and just kill the animal. If you want to eat meat, then you should be able to kill the animal yourself.
I mean, if I am hungry I will kill a dog and eat it, I guess, it's human nature, to survive.

Q. So do your ethics inform the things that go on on your set in other ways?
A.
No, ethics for myself. I just don't want to be in contradiction with myself, so I try to figure out what I should do, or not do.

Q. With this being quite a complex movie with a lot to be got out of it from more than one viewing, do you have anything in mind for the DVD. Something extra?
A.
If I get Charlie to do an interview with me, it would be the best extra. We'll see.
I'm a little torn about the whole thing, though, because when I did Human Nature, I had a great idea... just to tell you how company people are, and how much lack of vision they have. That's what defines them. Lack of vision. What's your specialty? I don't have vision. Ok, you should be a corporate, honestly.
My idea was to take this scene, where she gets zapped by Rhys Ifans and Tim Robbins, and I wanted to do all the scene and put them in a row, so that when you have your remote control, you push select, and it will put you to the next zapping scene, so that basically you have the feeling you are zapping him.
I said that six months ahead! One week before the DVD was out, they sent me a copy for approval, and I said, 'where's my idea'. And they said, 'oh, we didn't have time to do it, it was too complicated'.
So it was like, why do you show it to me if you can't do these things? And why do you misspell the name of Robert Forster, so you have to change it.
But they then said, 'oh, we don't change the spelling if it's not one of the two main characters'.
I mean, why the fuck would they give me this thing to approve? What do you expect from me? And that's what we have to deal with all the time...
So, in answer to your question, I just know for a fact that it will be fucked up, so I don't want to get too excited.
I did my own DVD with everything that I wanted, and it took six weeks to do it. So it is all possible. I think everything is possible when people put their mind to it. Stop thinking it's not possible, that's the only thing I ask you. Ninety nine per cent of my energy is spent saying to people, 'listen, it's not 'not possible', ok.'

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