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By Gregg Shapiro

 

Gay filmmaker Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven, and others) daringly and successfully enters new and exhilarating territory with his latest film Wonderstruck (Amazon Studios). Based on the book by gay young adult author and illustrator Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck tells two seemingly unrelated stories, fifty years apart. One, shot in black and white and set in 1927, is about Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a young, deaf girl obsessed with silent movies (and one actress in particular), whose world is about to change dramatically with the birth of the talkies. The other story, shot in color and set in 1977, deals with Ben. Following the sudden death of his single mom, Ben embarks on a journey to New York where he attempts to track down the father he never met. I spoke with Haynes in October of 2017.

 

Gregg Shapiro: Todd, if you don’t mind, I’d like to begin with the most obvious question. What was it about writer/illustrator Brian Selznick’s young adult novel Wonderstruck that made you want to adapt it as a movie?

Todd Haynes: I didn’t read the book first, I read the script. The script had already made a major move towards cinema. It demonstrated somebody bitten by the bug of how to really evoke, use and consider all the components of movies in the storytelling through cinematic language. Cinematic language without words that goes beyond words. It’s not a story that’s driven by dialogue. He already was considering sound and the edit and all the things at the sinew of cinema storytelling. That was infectious. Maybe other directors would be like, “That’s my job! Back off, dude!” I was thrilled by that.

 

GS: Do you think it was because it was his own book that he adapted that he could see it cinematically?

TH: John Logan, the screenwriter from Hugo (Martin Scorcese’s 2011 screen adaptation of Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret), had said to him to enter the process and not to show it to anyone until he felt like he’d gone deep into that process, of thinking about it as a film. He did that! It’s not just bringing his drawings to life. It’s something very much about cinema. Cinema is in the content; it’s not just in the form. The little girl is a lover of movies and a follower of this actress. We don’t know all the reasons why. Also, what the change from silent pictures to sound indicates for this deaf child is an observation of profound magnitude.

 

GS: That comes across in the powerful scene when Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is leaving the theater, and she sees the signs about the renovation and the arrival of talkies.

TH: And it’s really powerful for deaf audiences.

 

GS: W.C. Fields had a famous quote about never working with children or animals. What can you say about your experience of working with children?

TH: Everything that one says about children in this film has to be contextualized because the children are always changing as they grow up and different ages of childhood are so different. The age of 12, which all three kids are scripted to be around, is its own kind of child. A level of sophistication, wisdom, and knowledge about the world that has not yet been contaminated by the hormonal explosion. Right? That renders a kind of wisdom and depth and clarity, I think, that we may never match in life. I found this age to be an exception in almost every way, or at least in heightened moments. Almost parallel to how I felt about cinema in the moment before sound comes in. Reaching a level of sophistication and new ideas and innovations that was remarkable. It’s like what happens with kids right before puberty. It’s a unique moment. These two ideas join in this film. The actors that I cast demonstrated that to me in many ways.

 

GS: How much time would you say that you spent in museums as a child?

TH: I spent a lot of time in museums. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I spent more time in art museums than in museums of science. I didn’t have the Museum of Natural History as a location in my childhood the way these kids do in Wonderstruck and the way that many of the people with whom I worked on Wonderstruck did. Brian Selznick lived in New Jersey and would visit New York and go to the museum. Mark Friedman, my production designer, spent countless hours at that museum. In fact, both Oakes (Fegley, who plays Ben), who is from outside Philly, and Jaden (Michael, who plays Jamie), who is a New York City kid, spent a lot of time at the museum when they were kids.

 

GS: Wonderstruck is your first PG-rated movie, as well as being based on a novel with a young adult readership, which means that, as a filmmaker, you are going to be reaching a whole new generation of moviegoers. What does that mean to you?

TH: It means everything to me. That’s why I made the film. I wanted this to be a special gift to kids today, and be a film that embraced kids making things with their hands, building little buildings. Ideally, kids getting off their phones and doing things that we all did as kids, that I think kids still do. Having glue and tape, and marker stains on their fingers, and wanting to make things. In the stories of both kids, those creative practices and hobbies and interests are the very things that take them through life and let them figure out who they are and get to where they need to be. That’s absolutely true of the Rose story, where we see the before and after. One suspects that Ben is going to be just fine, given his curiosity and interest in doing things creatively.

 

GS: With the exception of Safe, your feature films have all been set in time periods of the past. Can you please say something about your interest in bringing the past to the screen?

TH: I think the past, at a really selfish level, demands of me to continue to be a student of history and cinema and to continue to learn. One could apply those same interests and drives to contemporary stories, but I think I feel like I get to time-travel myself in making these movies. To feel like I have touched something tactile about the eras in which I have made films. I also think it sets up a frame for the audience to think about their own lives and their present lives in relation to the past. All films have frames around them, but some of them are made explicit. I think a period film makes that explicit. A question that the film is asking you.

 

GS: You once again worked with Julianne Moore on Wonderstruck. What makes your working relationship special?

TH: Our working relationship is special not because she only does her best work with me. Speaking for myself, I appreciate her remarkable talents, from film to film to film, whether I’ve made them or not. I’m so continually bowled over by how well she knows the medium of film. How risky she remains as an actor. How unobsequious she is with the audience. She doesn’t need to be liked to feel induced to do a project. That’s not what motivates her; a kind of affection for the character or to make an audience melt by her charms. She’s interested in something else, and it’s riskier and continually intellectually challenging. She’s an insanely brilliant person. I think a lot of this happens at her core, in some weird chemistry that she has with the medium of film.

 

GS: Wonderstruck has already won one award – the ICS Cannes Award for best director. What would it mean to you if it won a Best Picture Oscar?

TH: It’s hard for me to think about things like that. It ultimately gets in the way of why I make movies and how the movies are valued over time. I’ve been very lucky to feel like my films retain interest for people well beyond the years of the awards season. We all talk about it; we’re all aware of it. We do campaigns for our movies with those goals in mind. But there’s a part of me that needs to try as much as possible not to think about it. I have too many other things to do to talk about the movie, so I don’t fixate on stuff like that.

 

The Wonder of it all: an interview with Todd Haynes

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Gay filmmaker Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven, and others) daringly and successfully enters new and exhilarating territory with his latest film Wonderstruck (Amazon Studios). Based on the book by gay young adult author and illustrator Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck tells two seemingly unrelated stories, fifty years apart. One, shot in black and white and set in 1927, is about Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a young, deaf girl obsessed with silent movies (and one actress in particular), whose world is about to change dramatically with the birth of the talkies. The other story, shot in color and set in 1977, deals with Ben. Following the sudden death of his single mom, Ben embarks on a journey to New York where he attempts to track down the father he never met. I spoke with Haynes in October of 2017.

 

Gregg Shapiro: Todd, if you don’t mind, I’d like to begin with the most obvious question. What was it about writer/illustrator Brian Selznick’s young adult novel Wonderstruck that made you want to adapt it as a movie?

Todd Haynes: I didn’t read the book first, I read the script. The script had already made a major move towards cinema. It demonstrated somebody bitten by the bug of how to really evoke, use and consider all the components of movies in the storytelling through cinematic language. Cinematic language without words that goes beyond words. It’s not a story that’s driven by dialogue. He already was considering sound and the edit and all the things at the sinew of cinema storytelling. That was infectious. Maybe other directors would be like, “That’s my job! Back off, dude!” I was thrilled by that.

 

GS: Do you think it was because it was his own book that he adapted that he could see it cinematically?

TH: John Logan, the screenwriter from Hugo (Martin Scorcese’s 2011 screen adaptation of Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret), had said to him to enter the process and not to show it to anyone until he felt like he’d gone deep into that process, of thinking about it as a film. He did that! It’s not just bringing his drawings to life. It’s something very much about cinema. Cinema is in the content; it’s not just in the form. The little girl is a lover of movies and a follower of this actress. We don’t know all the reasons why. Also, what the change from silent pictures to sound indicates for this deaf child is an observation of profound magnitude.

 

GS: That comes across in the powerful scene when Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is leaving the theater, and she sees the signs about the renovation and the arrival of talkies.

TH: And it’s really powerful for deaf audiences.

 

GS: W.C. Fields had a famous quote about never working with children or animals. What can you say about your experience of working with children?

TH: Everything that one says about children in this film has to be contextualized because the children are always changing as they grow up and different ages of childhood are so different. The age of 12, which all three kids are scripted to be around, is its own kind of child. A level of sophistication, wisdom, and knowledge about the world that has not yet been contaminated by the hormonal explosion. Right? That renders a kind of wisdom and depth and clarity, I think, that we may never match in life. I found this age to be an exception in almost every way, or at least in heightened moments. Almost parallel to how I felt about cinema in the moment before sound comes in. Reaching a level of sophistication and new ideas and innovations that was remarkable. It’s like what happens with kids right before puberty. It’s a unique moment. These two ideas join in this film. The actors that I cast demonstrated that to me in many ways.

 

GS: How much time would you say that you spent in museums as a child?

TH: I spent a lot of time in museums. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I spent more time in art museums than in museums of science. I didn’t have the Museum of Natural History as a location in my childhood the way these kids do in Wonderstruck and the way that many of the people with whom I worked on Wonderstruck did. Brian Selznick lived in New Jersey and would visit New York and go to the museum. Mark Friedman, my production designer, spent countless hours at that museum. In fact, both Oakes (Fegley, who plays Ben), who is from outside Philly, and Jaden (Michael, who plays Jamie), who is a New York City kid, spent a lot of time at the museum when they were kids.

 

GS: Wonderstruck is your first PG-rated movie, as well as being based on a novel with a young adult readership, which means that, as a filmmaker, you are going to be reaching a whole new generation of moviegoers. What does that mean to you?

TH: It means everything to me. That’s why I made the film. I wanted this to be a special gift to kids today, and be a film that embraced kids making things with their hands, building little buildings. Ideally, kids getting off their phones and doing things that we all did as kids, that I think kids still do. Having glue and tape, and marker stains on their fingers, and wanting to make things. In the stories of both kids, those creative practices and hobbies and interests are the very things that take them through life and let them figure out who they are and get to where they need to be. That’s absolutely true of the Rose story, where we see the before and after. One suspects that Ben is going to be just fine, given his curiosity and interest in doing things creatively.

 

GS: With the exception of Safe, your feature films have all been set in time periods of the past. Can you please say something about your interest in bringing the past to the screen?

TH: I think the past, at a really selfish level, demands of me to continue to be a student of history and cinema and to continue to learn. One could apply those same interests and drives to contemporary stories, but I think I feel like I get to time-travel myself in making these movies. To feel like I have touched something tactile about the eras in which I have made films. I also think it sets up a frame for the audience to think about their own lives and their present lives in relation to the past. All films have frames around them, but some of them are made explicit. I think a period film makes that explicit. A question that the film is asking you.

 

GS: You once again worked with Julianne Moore on Wonderstruck. What makes your working relationship special?

TH: Our working relationship is special not because she only does her best work with me. Speaking for myself, I appreciate her remarkable talents, from film to film to film, whether I’ve made them or not. I’m so continually bowled over by how well she knows the medium of film. How risky she remains as an actor. How unobsequious she is with the audience. She doesn’t need to be liked to feel induced to do a project. That’s not what motivates her; a kind of affection for the character or to make an audience melt by her charms. She’s interested in something else, and it’s riskier and continually intellectually challenging. She’s an insanely brilliant person. I think a lot of this happens at her core, in some weird chemistry that she has with the medium of film.

 

GS: Wonderstruck has already won one award – the ICS Cannes Award for best director. What would it mean to you if it won a Best Picture Oscar?

TH: It’s hard for me to think about things like that. It ultimately gets in the way of why I make movies and how the movies are valued over time. I’ve been very lucky to feel like my films retain interest for people well beyond the years of the awards season. We all talk about it; we’re all aware of it. We do campaigns for our movies with those goals in mind. But there’s a part of me that needs to try as much as possible not to think about it. I have too many other things to do to talk about the movie, so I don’t fixate on stuff like that.

 

The Wonder of it all: an interview with Todd Haynes

By Gregg Shapiro

 

Gay filmmaker Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven, and others) daringly and successfully enters new and exhilarating territory with his latest film Wonderstruck (Amazon Studios). Based on the book by gay young adult author and illustrator Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck tells two seemingly unrelated stories, fifty years apart. One, shot in black and white and set in 1927, is about Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a young, deaf girl obsessed with silent movies (and one actress in particular), whose world is about to change dramatically with the birth of the talkies. The other story, shot in color and set in 1977, deals with Ben. Following the sudden death of his single mom, Ben embarks on a journey to New York where he attempts to track down the father he never met. I spoke with Haynes in October of 2017.

 

Gregg Shapiro: Todd, if you don’t mind, I’d like to begin with the most obvious question. What was it about writer/illustrator Brian Selznick’s young adult novel Wonderstruck that made you want to adapt it as a movie?

Todd Haynes: I didn’t read the book first, I read the script. The script had already made a major move towards cinema. It demonstrated somebody bitten by the bug of how to really evoke, use and consider all the components of movies in the storytelling through cinematic language. Cinematic language without words that goes beyond words. It’s not a story that’s driven by dialogue. He already was considering sound and the edit and all the things at the sinew of cinema storytelling. That was infectious. Maybe other directors would be like, “That’s my job! Back off, dude!” I was thrilled by that.

 

GS: Do you think it was because it was his own book that he adapted that he could see it cinematically?

TH: John Logan, the screenwriter from Hugo (Martin Scorcese’s 2011 screen adaptation of Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret), had said to him to enter the process and not to show it to anyone until he felt like he’d gone deep into that process, of thinking about it as a film. He did that! It’s not just bringing his drawings to life. It’s something very much about cinema. Cinema is in the content; it’s not just in the form. The little girl is a lover of movies and a follower of this actress. We don’t know all the reasons why. Also, what the change from silent pictures to sound indicates for this deaf child is an observation of profound magnitude.

 

GS: That comes across in the powerful scene when Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is leaving the theater, and she sees the signs about the renovation and the arrival of talkies.

TH: And it’s really powerful for deaf audiences.

 

GS: W.C. Fields had a famous quote about never working with children or animals. What can you say about your experience of working with children?

TH: Everything that one says about children in this film has to be contextualized because the children are always changing as they grow up and different ages of childhood are so different. The age of 12, which all three kids are scripted to be around, is its own kind of child. A level of sophistication, wisdom, and knowledge about the world that has not yet been contaminated by the hormonal explosion. Right? That renders a kind of wisdom and depth and clarity, I think, that we may never match in life. I found this age to be an exception in almost every way, or at least in heightened moments. Almost parallel to how I felt about cinema in the moment before sound comes in. Reaching a level of sophistication and new ideas and innovations that was remarkable. It’s like what happens with kids right before puberty. It’s a unique moment. These two ideas join in this film. The actors that I cast demonstrated that to me in many ways.

 

GS: How much time would you say that you spent in museums as a child?

TH: I spent a lot of time in museums. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I spent more time in art museums than in museums of science. I didn’t have the Museum of Natural History as a location in my childhood the way these kids do in Wonderstruck and the way that many of the people with whom I worked on Wonderstruck did. Brian Selznick lived in New Jersey and would visit New York and go to the museum. Mark Friedman, my production designer, spent countless hours at that museum. In fact, both Oakes (Fegley, who plays Ben), who is from outside Philly, and Jaden (Michael, who plays Jamie), who is a New York City kid, spent a lot of time at the museum when they were kids.

 

GS: Wonderstruck is your first PG-rated movie, as well as being based on a novel with a young adult readership, which means that, as a filmmaker, you are going to be reaching a whole new generation of moviegoers. What does that mean to you?

TH: It means everything to me. That’s why I made the film. I wanted this to be a special gift to kids today, and be a film that embraced kids making things with their hands, building little buildings. Ideally, kids getting off their phones and doing things that we all did as kids, that I think kids still do. Having glue and tape, and marker stains on their fingers, and wanting to make things. In the stories of both kids, those creative practices and hobbies and interests are the very things that take them through life and let them figure out who they are and get to where they need to be. That’s absolutely true of the Rose story, where we see the before and after. One suspects that Ben is going to be just fine, given his curiosity and interest in doing things creatively.

 

GS: With the exception of Safe, your feature films have all been set in time periods of the past. Can you please say something about your interest in bringing the past to the screen?

TH: I think the past, at a really selfish level, demands of me to continue to be a student of history and cinema and to continue to learn. One could apply those same interests and drives to contemporary stories, but I think I feel like I get to time-travel myself in making these movies. To feel like I have touched something tactile about the eras in which I have made films. I also think it sets up a frame for the audience to think about their own lives and their present lives in relation to the past. All films have frames around them, but some of them are made explicit. I think a period film makes that explicit. A question that the film is asking you.

 

GS: You once again worked with Julianne Moore on Wonderstruck. What makes your working relationship special?

TH: Our working relationship is special not because she only does her best work with me. Speaking for myself, I appreciate her remarkable talents, from film to film to film, whether I’ve made them or not. I’m so continually bowled over by how well she knows the medium of film. How risky she remains as an actor. How unobsequious she is with the audience. She doesn’t need to be liked to feel induced to do a project. That’s not what motivates her; a kind of affection for the character or to make an audience melt by her charms. She’s interested in something else, and it’s riskier and continually intellectually challenging. She’s an insanely brilliant person. I think a lot of this happens at her core, in some weird chemistry that she has with the medium of film.

 

GS: Wonderstruck has already won one award – the ICS Cannes Award for best director. What would it mean to you if it won a Best Picture Oscar?

TH: It’s hard for me to think about things like that. It ultimately gets in the way of why I make movies and how the movies are valued over time. I’ve been very lucky to feel like my films retain interest for people well beyond the years of the awards season. We all talk about it; we’re all aware of it. We do campaigns for our movies with those goals in mind. But there’s a part of me that needs to try as much as possible not to think about it. I have too many other things to do to talk about the movie, so I don’t fixate on stuff like that.

 

 

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