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Directors detail their films' crucial scenes

David O. Russell ('Silver Linings Playbook'), Tom Hooper ('Les Miserables'), Wes Anderson ('Moonrise Kingdom'), David Chase ('Not Fade Away') and Benh Zeitlin ('Beasts of the Southern Wild') talk about the pivotal moments in their films.

December 13, 2012
  • Robert De Niro and Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Silver Linings Playbook."
Robert De Niro and Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Silver Linings Playbook." (The Weinstein Company )

For most directors, there is usually one moment in their film that brings it all together while they are shooting — or sometimes before production has even started — one scene that unlocks key relationships among the characters or clicks so well the director knows the film as a whole is going to work. Or sometimes it depicts in just a minute or two the whole point of the film. The Envelope talked with five directors with films out this year who experienced just such a moment.

David O. Russell / 'Silver Linings Playbook'

"The obvious candidate is the 'parley' scene, when Jennifer [Lawrence] comes in and takes the steering wheel from Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper, and basically hijacks the movie [by amping up a high-stakes bet]. Every major character in the movie is in that scene, and everything in the movie is in that scene — family conflict, the mania about [football] that is so specific but has a talismanic power for the home. That scene ripsaws from emotional pain to startling hilarity, but it all feels real to me, and it's based on the personalities of the characters. The burner was on full blast for that one."

—Randee Dawn

VIDEO| The Envelope Screening Series: 'Silver Linings Playbook'

Tom Hooper / 'Les Misérables'

"I particularly remember shooting the soliloquy with Hugh Jackman. It's early on when this poor, abused, downtrodden convict has been forgiven by the bishop for stealing silver from him and has this extraordinary moment of spiritual conversion. It's a 31/2-minute soliloquy, effectively a man reflecting to himself. It struck me when I was shooting it — it was very early on — I was thinking that not only does the audience need to accept people singing, but they need to accept the concept of the soliloquy, that people are going to sing to themselves. It's a bit like in Shakespeare, these great moments of self-reflection.

And Hugh did this extraordinary performance where he was sort of crying and singing, with all the power that thing requires. He's got this extraordinary stamina — never complains, a very strong guy. And he just kept going and going as many times as I asked him to do it while I was getting the camerawork right and the shot right. But it was a real moment when I thought, 'God, this is going to work,' because it was a moment that put on trial not just the concept of live singing but the concept of whether we would accept the soliloquy as a form of engaging with the character."

—Oliver Gettell

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Wes Anderson / 'Moonrise Kingdom'

"There are a couple of key scenes. There's a whole sequence where the kids are alone in a little cove. It's not a very long sequence, but it's sort of the center of the movie, where they've finally reached their destination and set up their own Swiss Family Robinson life there. They dance on the beach and kiss, and that's the reason to make the movie — to see them create this experience for themselves. Another scene is with Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, and they're in the dark in their bedroom together, talking to each other from between the twin beds. The two of them were so electric in this odd little scene, and they brought so much to it. It was very exciting to write a scene and see your actors make it so much more interesting."

—Randee Dawn

David Chase / 'Not Fade Away'

"I worked with Steven Van Zandt on 'The Sopranos,' and he's got similar tastes in music to me. He's a little younger than me, but he loves the Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks. If you listen to his radio show, you know that's what he's about. And because he knows all this, he's a tremendous resource. So I talked to him about the script before I started writing. And often I didn't agree with him, but there would be something in what he said to me that would strike a nerve.

I wrote the script and wasn't happy with it and was about to give it up. Then he sent me a demo he made in Norway with this girl group — and it was a great rock 'n' roll song, it felt like a great song for the band in my movie, just enough rock 'n' roll craziness and blazing talent but not perfection. The most amazing thing about it is the song has four verses, and each touches on a holiday — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day. And my script has the same chronology. That made me pick up the script and get started again. It became the song the band in the movie actually struggles to come up with, and they do it. The song is called, 'St. Valentine's Day Massacre.'"

—Randee Dawn

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Benh Zeitlin / 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

"There's one scene in the middle of the film, where Hushpuppy is trying to feed her father medicine, and they start fighting, then playing, and then he gets sick. It's like a one-act play, a seven-minute scene, and it's the first moment where both sides of that relationship start to really communicate with each other. There are these big emotional upheavals that are pivotal to that scene. As we edited the movie, every scene got a name like 'The Fight Scene' or whatever, but we always called this scene 'Scene 91,' because there was no way to describe it. It was just a key moment that unlocks their relationship, and on a script level it was always a real centerpiece."

—Randee Dawn

VIDEO| The Envelope Screening Series: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

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