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Lie Cheat and Steal?
The cast and crew of Daddy Longlegs confess their movie making methods.
Written by: Kelly Calabrese
With an unprecedented way of casting and filmmaking, the crew of Daddy Longlegs set out to create a fairytale style story based on events from the directors' lives.
The directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, as well as lead actor Ronnie Bronstein, sat down with NYCastings at Sundance 2010 to reveal how their past, New York City, and Craig's list helped shape their latest movie.
“Inspired emotionally by true events,” Daddy Longlegs delves into the lives of a father and two young boys who only get together a couple of weeks a year. When the going gets tough, the father uses some unusual techniques to keep the kids safe from the world.
Though this film did stem from Josh and Benny's past, “I feel like every movie is based on real events,” Benny shares. “Some skewed perspective of something that really happened to you that inspired some idea.”
To keep it real, the film shot in New York because the directors “grew up there. It's our vocabulary,” Josh Safdie says.
“Filming a scene in NY is not a glamorous thing,” Josh says. “Most time you wouldn't even notice we are filming because my goal is to trick people to go home and say ‘I saw this man running as fast as he could with one child half on his back and another trying to keep up with him.' I kinda get a little snobby when it comes to the idea of perpetuating the fact that this is really something happening within the fabric of the city. I don't believe in shutting down streets we don't have money for that anyway.”
“The idea is to either shut the street down and rebuild it with people who are affecting naturalism on the street where everything was already flowing naturally an hour before. So instead, you shift the aesthetics around so you can sneak the shots and get the real naturalism. In order to be a filmmaker you have to have a criminal mind. You have to be willing to lie, cheat and steal.”
As their lead actor, Ronnie Bronstein used this guerilla style of filmmaking to tighten his character.
“If you're forced to interact with people who don't know you're acting you can't break at any point,” Ronnie says. “Especially the character I'm playing. He's so hostile. If he breaks he'll get beat up. If you're playing a practical joke on a friend you can stop at any time. Once you start playing it on the world, on strangers, you've got to go all the way.”
Having the characters commit fully led to some unexpected moments. “There were learning experiences based on events we were not expecting,” Benny says. “We had this stimulus we were using to get the reactions from the actors that we wanted. But in one scene the father has this girlfriend and we thought she'd come over and the kids would accept her. What we didn't realize, was that the bond that was created between Ronnie and the kid was so strong it was like trying to break up a relationship.”
Ronnie adds on that “this movie was very scripted, it's not a free for all, but the characters are monsters and once you commit to a specific character, with specific traits, and specific ways of thinking, you're limiting the direction a movie can go in because we are all limited by the nature of who we are.”
To keep the believability strong, Josh and Benny had the acting begin as soon as the cast showed up. They would meet the day before filming and discuss the importance of the film and the emotions so that there was nothing to speak about while filming except for minor details.
Josh believes that “it takes a load of stimuli to jolt a self conscious person them from the pedestal of awareness,” so they limited interruptions in order to get the deepest truth from their actors.
In the end, the cast and crew believes that this free flowing style of filmmaking helped the film “come out better. Not in an improv way, but in a broader picture way. “
Having a broad, unique view, of filmmaking also trickled over to the casting process. For this film, Josh found the two lead children on the streets of New York City, rather than at a typical audition.
I saw “the younger ones face,” Josh says, “He was being dragged by his mother, and the older one was by her side, but the younger one was being dragged and his eyes were just like Benny's.”
“And their mother plays the real mother in the movie. When she was younger she had aspirations to be an actor,” but that's not why we cast her. The casting process “was a documentary type of thing. A glance of dances,” Josh says.
As another unconventional casting method the brothers placed “very obscure and weird Craig's list postings,” Benny says. “If you write it properly you'll get hundreds of responses. We posted under babysitter and that's how we got the babysitter. I went to meet her and said ‘this is going to sound weird but we want you to play a babysitter.'”
This alternate approach to casting stems from the fact that many actors submit for roles they aren't right for.
“I understand from the point of view of the actor,” Ronnie says, “they are subservient to getting cast, they are at the mercy of other people's discrimination. But they send out blindly even if they didn't want that type of person and I think you chip away at your craft, at your soul, when you do that and you don't endear yourself to the directors.”
The cast and crew of Daddy Longlegs certainly have a strong take on movie making, but does it succeed in preserving the soul, craft, and naturalism it sets out to?
You can form your own opinion by breaking open your Video-On-Demand schedule. Daddy Longlegs will play on national Cable systems, until February 26th, as part of Sundance's new video-on-demand label.
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