Ben Affleck has been earning widespread acclaim for "The Town," in which he starred, co-wrote and directed, but the praise has been particularly loud for his assured, textured directing in only his second such outing. Such a steady hand surely was propelled by films of the past. Affleck sat down recently with The Envelope to discuss some of the movies that influenced his filmmaking choices.
"The movie that was a big influence in terms of that, in terms of genre, everything, was 'The Friends of Eddie Coyle.' Not only did it naturally have connections in terms of working-class guys robbing banks in Boston, which, let's face it, there aren't very many movies about, it also had an incredible feel, sense of place. The way it was photographed, the tone ... there's some tracking, long-lens stuff, which is kind of '70s, but it's a little bit more ragged in that movie. Robert Mitchum is walking down the street, he has a surreptitious meeting with a law enforcement person, and you see a lot, but you feel as though you're at a distance. Having those shots track, it's hard to perceive the movement, but it's there. We did that a lot. To me, it's a purely filmic technique thing you steal, but it gave it a feel I wanted to borrow."
"I definitely keep coming back to those kinds of stories. 'Good Will Hunting' had the same kind of thing; 'Gone Baby Gone,' Casey had it with the Bubba character; on this movie, Jeremy [Renner] and I have it. It's complicated -- one person is taking another life course, and it's hard to reconcile your love for one person with the fact that they want to do something fundamentally different from you
The car chase
"There's a car chase in 'Amores Perros' I thought was really cool. It's not the longest or the sexiest or anything, but it felt real. I believed they were driving around Mexico City, the guys with the truck were chasing them or whatever. It was more tense to me than a million flying CGI animals. Because I was invested in these characters, it mattered to me. If they got in a car accident, that would really be a terrible thing. Whereas [in other movies], who cares if that character falls off a cliff? It's just a video game anyway.
"I thought, the most important thing is to root the audience in the movie. Have them believe in these guys, believe the scene is real, care about these characters. That'll give me a huge multiplier on the action stuff. And if I shoot it so the camera is never where a person couldn't be, the camera's never at some imaginary, high vantage point, sort of flying around the cars. I'm going to be in those cars, over one actor, onto another actor, all car-to-car stuff
" 'Heat' is for sure the biggest influence, action-wise, in the movie. Every criminal I interviewed referenced 'Heat.' The FBI referenced 'Heat.' I'd ask, 'You ever see anything you think was pretty legit?' And they'd say, 'Oh, yeah, "Heat." ' And sometimes it would be unsolicited. [In a "townie" voice] "The thing is -- d'you evah see 'Heat?' " The FBI literally had the poster up, in Violent Crimes and Robberies. It's so visceral and so powerful and so loud and so jarring that it's nothing like the fun bank robberies in other movies. It's tough and tense, and the feeling of that action bled out into the rest of the story. People are serious and the stakes are high, and the consequences for these kinds of choices are severe. Both of those things I wanted to do in this movie. I felt [Michael Mann] did them as well as anyone had."
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APPLES FOR THE TEACHERS
In a career that spans 40 or so films, Ben Affleck has learned a few lessons from his directors over the years. Among them:
Gus Van Sant "Good Will Hunting"
I learned from Gus the power of letting actors make their own discoveries. I was so used to the director coming over after a take and saying, "How about this? How about that?" We'd do a take and he'd say, "OK, one more. OK, one more." Finally I'd say, "Gus, what do you think?" And he'd say, "I don't know. What do you think?" And all of a sudden, I went, "What do I think?" I was empowered, instead of looking at it as a process where you're kind of auditioning and trying to please the director, I was thinking, "How do I think this should be played?" ... and take responsibility for that.
Roger Michell "Changing Lanes"
He taught me that you have to cast every single role in the movie like it's the lead. Down to the extras and people who have one line, they need to be right.
"Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," "Jersey Girl"
The importance of writing, the words the characters are saying. No one loves the written word as much as that guy does.
as-yet-untitled 2012 film
He taught me you have to tell your own story. Terry's not making anybody else's movie. He's making the movie he wants to make, that touches him or is about things he believes are important. I don't know if [self-doubt] ever crosses his mind. It crosses my mind all the time. Are people going to like this? How does this stack up with that? And those are the worst questions you can ask yourself.
Allen Coulter "Hollywoodland"
Mood matters more than you think; the way you establish tone in a movie in really subtle ways can make or break movies. The other thing I learned from him is just how important transitions are. Just those little beats on a sting or a cut or the sound of a flag whipping in the wind.