Demme, Lumet on Getting 'Rachel' Married Director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) and screenwriter Jenny Lumet discuss their critically acclaimed new wedding dramedy Rachel Getting Married.
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Demme, Lumet on Getting 'Rachel' Married

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Demme, Lumet on Getting 'Rachel' Married

Demme, Lumet on Getting 'Rachel' Married

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This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. While some filmmakers become known for a particular style or genre, the work of director Jonathan Demme is striking in its sheer eclecticism. His films range from comedies like "Married to the Mob," to an exploration of AIDs discrimination in the film "Philadelphia," to the thriller, "The Silence of the Lambs," which won five Oscars in 1992. He also directed the documentary "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains," and the concert films "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" and "Stop Making Sense" featuring the Talking Heads.

Demme's new film, "Rachel Getting Married" is a family drama shot in documentary style. The screenplay was written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. The film centers around Kym, a young woman played by Anne Hathaway, who's coming home from a drug rehab center to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. She's trying to deal with seeing her family while musicians, caterers, and friends buzz around the house. Her family is trying to get the wedding together, hoping Kym doesn't cause any drama. At the same time, the whole family is still dealing with a tragedy from years ago.

Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies spoke to Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet. He started by asking Lumet how she came up with the concept for the film.

DAVE DAVIES: Well, Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet, welcome to Fresh Air. This film, "Rachel Getting Married," is a wedding movie, but it's not exactly just a wedding movie. And let me direct this to you, Jenny Lument, who wrote the screen play. You know, the center of this story is the sister of the bride coming home out of a drug rehab center and comes home to a house which is full of musicians and caterers and family and friends all in the whirl and buzz of getting a weekend wedding ready. And she's trying to cope with getting back to the jarring reality of life outside of rehab. And it's just a fascinating concept. Where did it come from?

Ms. JENNY LUMET (Screenwriter, "Rachel Getting Married"): I had an image of a bride getting ready for this big moment, and she's in a room by herself and her wedding gown, and then her sister bursts in the room, either destroying a moment or creating a moment. And those women lived in my head for, I guess, months, and then I started listening very carefully to what they were saying to each other.

And I've been a bridesmaid, and I think, honestly, preparing the bride is actually quite beautiful. And I think it's been going on for thousands of years, women preparing this young woman to go out and, you know, take this step in her life. And it actually kind of resonates for me. Having said that, I've also had to wear a really stupid, poufy dress and, you know, like run around trying to find eyelashes and mascara, stuff like that, too. So it's not all historical reference.

I think it was just that idea. Of course, I know people, and, of course, the characters in this movie are amalgamations of people that I know. And some of them I made up out of (unintelligible) and some of them Jonathan made up. But I think it was from that one moment.

DAVIES: Jonathan Demme, in the director statement that came with the production notes we received for this film, "Rachel Getting Married," you described an enthusiastic reaction when you first read Jenny Lumet's script, and you said you saw a film that could be made from a script that would mirror your reaction to reading it. What did you mean by your reaction and recreating it on film?

Mr. JONATHAN DEMME (Director, "Rachel Getting Married"): Well, I read the script, and two things happened that sort of never happen. This script made me laugh out loud so much that family members were going, what's going on in there. And I was like, I'm reading - I'm just reading this script. And then, at a certain point in the picture, and it has to do when the sisters kind of are suddenly together, and one of them has been hurt, and the other one is ministering to her, and I'm sitting there reading the script, and tears start going down my face.

And I am tough, you know. I never cry. But I cried then, and I thought, wow, what if we could capture all the fun, the tremendous edge, the heartbreak, the emotion of this piece in a movie. Wouldn't that be one heck of an hour and a half spent in a movie theater? So that made me kind of go for it because, you know, to me, Jenny had - she achieved all these things in her script by leaving the formula, not by pursuing the security of a formulaic movie.

DAVIES: You know, one of the things that I liked about the film was, just like real life, you have these little moments where these confrontations between the sisters and the family erupt at unpredictable times and at moments where there are distractions which they want to get out of the way and which various family members are there uncomfortably observing it, participating. And I thought we'd listen to one little moment of this.

And I think I can set this up. This is after a very - after the wedding rehearsal dinner at which Kym, the sister who's come out of rehab, has given a very inappropriate, probably, and awkward toast in which she is going through one of the 12 steps, which is to apologize and ask forgiveness for those she has offended. And she takes the moment of her toast at her sister's wedding to go on and on about her experiences in rehab and apologize to other people and then give a blanket thank you to her sister and apology, in which she says, you know, I've been a nightmare. You've been a saint. And scene we're going to hear is, they're coming back into the house after the rehearsal dinner unloading stuff. Packages are dropping, and we hear the sister who's getting married, that is to say, Rachel, begin the conversation. Let's listen.

Ms. ROSEMARIE DEWITT: (As Rachel) Well, you've never said anything to me that's remotely apologetic. Yet, all of a sudden, at my wedding dinner, in front of everybody, you decided to grace us all with your development.

Ms. ANNE HATHAWAY: (As Kym) I just got home.

Ms. DEWITT: (As Rachel) Geeze, hey everybody, and yes - just in case you might be thinking about something else for five minutes, like I don't know, my sister's wedding, they just cut me loose. A loose cannon, hey! Anybody up for some rehab humor? Because I'm really, really fine with acknowledging my disease. Hey, and now, watch me be really selfless and leave a lovely blanket apology to my sister for being so tad out of the loose?

Ms. HATHAWAY: (As Kym) You are so cynical.

Mr. MATHER ZICKEL: (As Kieran) Rachel, enough, please. Rachel, she is making an effort here.

Ms. DEWITT: (As Rachel) Oh, an effort? Is that what that was? Because I think she presumes this since everything has always revolved around her disease, that everything else is going to revolve around her recovery. That's what I think.

Mr. BILL IRWIN: (As Paul) Rachel, she just got home.

Ms. DEWITT: (As Rachel) Again.

DAVIES: And that's Rosemarie DeWitt and Anne Hathaway from "Rachel Getting Married," the film written by our guest, Jenny Lumet, and directed by our other guest, Jonathan Demme. Jonathan Demme, this film is shot in a documentary style. I mean, we see a lot of handheld cameras in which, you know, the camera follows dialogue from one to another. Explain your approach in shooting this film.

Mr. DEMME: Well, I think two things probably more than anything else. One is that, over the years, I put a lot of energy in trying to find the most time-honored way of bringing the audience into a scene through a very sort of, you know, with an eye on Hitchcock techniques and stuff like that and really kind of, I think, sort of on my own terms, quote unquote, "perfecting it." And I reached a point where I felt that it was working, that the intent of this rather formal kind of quasi-Hitchcockian style was effective.

And then, at a certain point, I started feeling like, well, I know how I'm going to shoot that scene before I even get there. I know what it's going to look like before I even get there and looks fine. And I guess I kind of got bored with that caused (unintelligible) to shoot. And if you start getting bored with the way you're working, it's time to change.

Meanwhile, I just - you know, "Mean Streets" was the first time where I really kind of went, wow, and saw, gosh, look at the way this picture has been shot. You know, the immediacy of that handheld camera and stuff. And, you know, handheld cameras have been around before Martin Scorsese showed up, especially in, you know, the Nouvelle Vague and films of John Cassavetes. But there was this urgency, and I felt myself feeling like, wow, this is really happening the way Scorsese used it. So I've kind of admired that, and I was trying to get a little handheld into the movie. And then more recently, I've been shooting a lot of documentaries with Declan Quinn.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. DEMME: One of the really great cinematographers of all time. And after we did a documentary together about Jimmy Carter, "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains," about a year and a half ago, and coming off of that, the way that Declan is able to make what's really going on in real life feel so incredibly immediate and cinematic made me think, well gosh, let's shoot "Rachel Getting Married" like that. Let's pretend we're making a documentary. In fact, we won't even rehearse, and we had to cast actors who were willing to not rehearse, to not know when the camera was going to be on them. And we went forth with that. We had a blast, and I love the way this picture looks. I'm so excited about it.

DAVIES: What's interesting to me about the documentary style was that there were moments that I was very aware of it - but in these really intense family discussions, and we heard one of them a moment ago, when I thought about it later, I thought, wait, I think, in that case, he wasn't doing it documentary style. I think those were carefully blocked with stationary cameras. And then, when I went back and looked at the movie notes, indeed, those were also shot with handheld cameras. Why, Jonathan Demme, did it seem so convincing and immediate and I forgot all about - why was that effective in a way that I was - it made me forget about the documentary style?

Mr. DEMME: Well, we started out when we began filming, we started immediately with the rehearsal dinner because we wanted to - that was something that we really didn't require any quote unquote, "direction or blocking" because we just bring the actors into the room, and we tried very hard to prevent as many people as possible from knowing, getting to know each other beforehand, so we could actually even film people kind of in a situation getting to know each other in addition to providing the content of the scene. But we were able to shoot pure documentary style, just pure. In that situation, that meant that the family members who we will later focus on, we focus on in the scene in the living room.

By the time we got to the scene in the living room, they were used to the documentary style. They were used to ignoring the camera. They were used to not necessarily being in any given shot and then find themselves in the next shot. And the kind of feedback we were getting there from the actors was they were really, really excited about working this way, that it really helped keep the spontaneity factor in full effect, that by not having blocked out shots and then repeated blocked out shots as we would try to perfect every angle, it kept them feeling as much as possible that this was really going on.

And, you know, one thing that Declan and I thought would be great, one thing he really wanted to do was operating on the premise that almost every single scene here, in theory, someone could have had a little home movie camera with them, including the family arguments. And if one was perverse enough, they could film these little arguments. And that's just the way it went forth.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet. Jenny Lumet wrote the screenplay for "Rachel Getting Married." Jonathan Demme is the director. We'll talk more after our break. This is Fresh Air.

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Jenny Lumet, who wrote the screenplay for the new film, "Rachel Getting Married," and Jonathan Demme, who directed the film. You know, Jenny Lumet, when I prepared for the interview, I don't know if I've ever spoken to someone who'd written a well-received screenplay who I could find less information about in the media. I mean, you're, of course, the daughter of Sidney Lumet, the director, who's done all this tremendous work and still working, right?

Ms. LUMET: Yeah.

DAVIES: All I knew about...

Mr. DEMME: Better than ever.

DAVIES: Yeah, you're described as a seventh and eighth grade teacher and the drama lady at an independent school in Manhattan. You have a black belt in tae kwon do, two kids. And you have some acting credits over the years, and you've done some acting.

Ms. LUMET: One, yeah.

DAVIES: But is - I don't know - how did you get in to writing? Have you written stuff before that didn't get published? Tell us a little bit about it.

Ms. LUMET: Yeah. I mean, this is probably my fourth or fifth screenplay. The other two before got option, but they didn't go - I personally thought they were hysterically funny, but I think that I'm the only one, and they didn't go anywhere.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I started writing. And there's no - it wasn't like a lightbulb went on in my head. You know, a-ha, now is the time. I couldn't tell you why I started. I love teaching, I love teaching the seventh and eighth grade. I'm the drama teacher. I'm a better writer when I'm teaching. And that's what I've been doing in raising my kids. That's what I've been doing.

DAVIES: Why do you think you're a better writer when you're teaching?

Ms. LUMET: Oh, because if you can, you know, get up in front of a room of freakin 12 and 13-year-old kids, you can do anything. There's no way I would have chased down and stalked Jonathan Demme had I not had, you know, can I say, balls? Had I not have those from facing down rooms of 12 and 13-year-old children because if you are a melon-head, they will let you know.

DAVIES: This film has something which is unique in cinema, as far as I know, which is a duel on who can best load a dishwasher, which is a funny moment in which Rachel's dad and, I guess, the groom in the wedding get in this argument about who knows how to better load a dishwasher. Jenny Lumet, where does that come from?

Ms. LUMET: That is completely pilfered. I grew up how I grew up being, it wasn't like, you know, famous people were crawling out from under the sink when I got home from school. But every now and again, there was a great artist in the house. And one time, the director Bob Fosi was in the house for dinner. And see, you have to - this is a very - Bob Fosi is - I was a little girl. I was 11 or 12, and this is a very languid, long, graceful man and his whole being sort of ends and extends to the cigarette in the fingertips and sort of ends with the cigarette in the fingertips. And even the smoke is graceful around this man. And he was dressed in black, black cashmere sweater over the shoulders, you know, black shirt, black pants, and this beautiful goatee.

And there is my dad, who looks like a cantaloupe, completely spherical with, like, a big tummy wearing a sweat suit with like vinaigrette stains all over him. And there, it's after dinner, and my dad's loading the dishwasher. And Bob Fosi takes a big drag of this Ugal Wass (ph) or whatever it has he was smoking and goes, you know, Sidney, if you put the salad bowls in the upper level, you'll get 10 percent more stuff in your dishwasher. And my dad, who is 5 feet 3, looks up and goes, Bob, go vromp, because I don't - I can't say that on the radio.

And so then there, there we have this, and for the next hour and a half, these guys, who one would think would have something else to talk about other than loading the dishwasher, went at it like two people caught in the grips of the worst OCD on the planet, with Bob Fosi turning the tines on the fork upside down and calling Sidney a barbarian and Sidney saying, oh you're - what do you know, dancer boy? I mean, it was so demented, so demented. And I did not remember it because I am prechant(ph) and thought a ha, I will use this - that, you know, decades later. I remembered it because it was psychotic and disturbing behavior.

DAVIES: Well, Jonathan Demme, you have such a diverse career. I mean, you've done so many different kinds of films. You got started with Roger Corman, who, of course, is known for making lots and lots of successful, like, what would you say, low-budget action, horror, all kinds of stuff. And I think he does a cameo in "Rachel Getting Married," doesn't he? Is he in the wedding?

Mr. DEMME: He does, indeed. In fact, there's a moment in the movie that I loved a lot, which I don't expect anyone else to love. But there's a shot of the couple saying their vows. And just off to the side, there is this incredibly handsome guy in a fabulous suit with a gigantic grin on his face, and he's aiming this little tiny handheld camera at the couple. That's Roger Corman, who I gave the camera to seconds before.

He didn't know he was going to be expected to do that. I mean, he really rose to the occasion, then we cut to Roger's shot, a beautifully composed, fabulous shot of the bride. So that's a - you know, the thing about Roger, he's famously tight-fisted. He's famous for two things, being - three things, brilliant filmmaker in his own right. Second of all is this mogul. Third of all, so tight-fisted. And that the thing about Roger is that, if you offer Roger SAG minimum for a couple of days work in a movie, he shows up, does a great job in the part, and goes away thinking that he's really somehow stuck it to the man.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet. Jenny Lumet wrote the screenplay for "Rachel Getting Married." Jonathan Demme is the director. We'll talk more after a break, this is Fresh Air.

If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Jenny Lumet who wrote the screenplay for the new film "Rachel Getting Married," and Jonathan Demme, who directed the film. Jonathan Demme, one of the hallmarks of some of your films is, shooting scenes where characters look directly into the camera or almost directly into the camera. And I'm wondering, is there a particular reason or purpose for that technique when you use it. I mean, I saw that in the "Manchurian Candidate," a film you did few years ago.

Mr. DEMME: Yes. That is - the use of subjective camera is an idea that's been around in movies for a long, long time, and it's an idea that was seized on very notably by Sam Fuller and by Alfred Hitchcock in two different very kind of - otherwise very different styles of film making. And the whole point, according to Hitchcock, and it's right, is that, you know, if you go subjective camera, you are for that moment putting the audience in the shoes of the character. You're showing the audience and making the audience share exactly what it's like to see what the character sees.

So Tak Fujimoto and I, when we started getting enough of a budget where we could afford the right lenses because we started out doing low-budget pictures together - we started experimenting with this subjective camera thing, and we kind of fell in love with the idea of using that as we - as our close up, instead of having the camera slightly off to their side. Our thing was, well, maybe by using subjective camera in ordinary dialogue situations, you know, we can bring the audience that deeply into the film that way.

And we were afraid that it might be kind of off-putting or call attention to itself, but we found out - "Married to the Mob" was the first time we did it, and nobody commented. The scenes that we used it went really well. No one found fault with it. So when we did "Silence of the Lambs," we really went to town with it. We just started subjective camera for every dialogue scene, trying to pull the audience deeply - as deeply as you possibly could into the scene. So it was really an aggressive way to pursue intense audience involvement.

Now, in this movie, in "Rachel Getting Married," there is no subjective camera. This time, the energy and the effort to draw the audience as deeply as possible into the movie comes from making them feel that what they're seeing actually happened. And in this way, we try to take advantage to that - kind of that truth factor that comes along with looking at your home movies. This really happened. Look how shaky the camera is, or we tried to make it not too shaky, but that's how we tried to really galvanize the audience in to believing what they were seeing and getting as involved as possible.

DAVIES: I wanted to talk just a little bit about the "Silence of the Lambs." It's the film - goes back a few years in your career, 1991, but it swept the Oscars. And I read in an interview at the time that Janet Maslyn said that it was your opinion that every director dreams of making a film more terrifying than anything he has ever seen. Is that true? Was that something you tossed off the time?

Mr. DEMME: Well, I tell you - what I can tell you is that I know, when I saw "Zodiac" and then again, when I saw "No Country for Old Man," there was a moment in each of my viewing experiences like, damn it, this is scarier than "Silence of the Lambs." So I guess, on a certain level, that there's something there. Yes.

DAVIES: You've been topped again.

Mr. DEMME: Yeah.

DAVIES: I read that a lot of producers didn't think that the novel by Thomas Harris could be made into a movie. Partly because the - you know, it's just such a grizzly story. And I'm wondering how you confronted the questions of how much you show of either the actual violence itself or the resulting carnage.

Mr. DEMME: An enormous amount of work went in the - into trying to figure out a way that we could deliver the full maximum power and horror of some of the phenomena contained in that story without grossing people out. And Tak Fujimoto, the director of photography, Christie Ziya, the production designer, and I and others just spent just so much time, how are we going to do this. And Christie, at a certain point, she went to the work of Francis Bacon and started bringing Francis Bacon images in. And saying, what if we did something like this. Maybe we could show it but not necessarily show it. And Tak said, yes. You know we could why...

DAVIES: Clarify Francis Bacon for the audience here.

Mr. DEMME: Francis Bacon, the great modern, disturbing English painter. Yeah. So - and then Tak would say, yes, I can light that. I can see how Francis Bacon is working with light and shadows here, and we can duplicate that, and we can work with that. So we got a lot of inspiration from Francis Bacon, and I hope that his estate doesn't now sue us or something. But so, that was a big, huge part of preparing for the movie.

DAVIES: Of course, that the dark heart of the film is the character of Hannibal Lecter, which is performed so brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins. And maybe we should just listen to a little bit. Do you have a favorite scene that you think captures that performance?

Mr. DEMME: All of them.

DAVIES: All of them. Well, let's listen to just a little.

Ms. JODIE FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) Doctor Lecter, whose head is in that bottle?

Mr. ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) Why don't you ask me about Buffalo Bill?

Ms. FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) Well, do you know something about him?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) I might if I still had the case file. You could get that for me.

Ms. FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) Why don't we talk about Miss Muffin? You want me to find him.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) His real name is Benjamin Raspbell, a former patient of mine whose romantic attachments ran to, shall we say, the exotic. I did not kill him, I assure you, merely tucked him away as I found him after he missed three appointments.

Ms. FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) But if you didn't kill him, then who did, sir?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) Who can say? Best thing for him, really. His therapy was going nowhere.

DAVIES: Well, you know, you did the horror classic of the generation. And you've done, you know, so many things, and then, of course, this most recent "Rachel Getting Married." What's next for you?

Mr. DEMME: I have begun work on a very special - I now have a very special opportunity to make a very special documentary about Bob Marley, and we are working very closely with the Marley family. And we have discovered hundreds of hours of quote unquote, "never before seen," performance footage, interview footage stuff that was mislabeled in a vault in London decades ago. And I can't tell you the treasure trove of stuff.

So it's going to be a film that really, hopefully is going to be the film that Bob Marley would have us make. It's going to be a film in Marley's words. We're not going to be cutting to people explaining him to us for us. And we're also going to do something which is a little unusual and in port - music portrait documentaries, is that, when we cut to a performance, we're going to let it play. We're not going to do a hot 20 seconds and then have people talk about how great that was. We're just going to let Bob Marley go.

GROSS: Jonathan Demme directed the new film "Rachel Getting Married." Jenny Lumet wrote the screenplay. They spoke with Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies, who's a senior writer for the "Philadelphia Daily News." You can hear our film critic David Edelstein's review of the film on our website, where you can also download podcast of our show.

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