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Toronto International Film Festival

For 'Pines' director Cianfrance, the waiting is the easiest part

September 16, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • A pensive--and patient--Derek Cianfrance at the Toronto International Film Festival.
A pensive--and patient--Derek Cianfrance at the Toronto International… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

TORONTO--The Big Green Egg is a culinary device that allows chicken and meat to cook for as much as 15 or 20 hours before it’s ready.

Derek Cianfrance can't get enough of it.

The director of "The Place Beyond The Pines"--the family drama that was  one of the breakout titles of the Toronto International Film Festival that ends Sunday--has a thing about time. Specifically, taking a lot of it.

PHOTOS: Toronto International Film Festival 2012

For "Pines," he spent a Green Egg-like eon (five years, more than 30 script drafts) before finally shooting the film. And though that pace was practically microwaveable compared to his previous "Blue Valentine," (12 years, 66 drafts), it still benefited from a lot of extra simmering, he says. Just like his beloved Green Egg cooker.

“I’m interested in what time does to things, what it can bring out that wasn’t there before,” the director said.

Cianfrance is sitting in a downtown Toronto hotel room. His movie—starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes-- had just sold to Focus Features after a high-profile bidding war, and the company will make it a mainstay of its 2013 slate. In a festival dominated by big fall 2012 releases (“Argo,” “The Master,” “Cloud Atlas”) that audiences are already beginning to see, “Pines” is, fittingly, a movie that film fans will have to wait a lot longer for. It won’t be ready for public consumption until 2013.

FULL COVERAGE: Toronto International Film Festival 2012

When it is, audiences will see the work of a fastidious, idiosyncratic director. For Cianfrance, time wasn’t just about preparing the movie: it was the movie's essence. A seemingly intimate character drama, it sprawls out over more than 15 years, showing how time can change people and relationships.

The film starts by focusing on a bank robber named Luke (Gosling) and the girlfriend and baby mama he wants to provide for (Mendes). Over, well, time, it passes the story off to an idealistic cop (Cooper) and, eventually, to their respective children, who play out a kind of inverted version of their fathers' story line. Much of the movie poses the question of how much we're destined to repeat the sins of our fathers, and to what extent we can change that.

Of course, it’s not always up to a filmmaker how quickly to make a movie; financiers and actors play a huge part too. But given the choice between doing something now or waiting until he feels it’s ready, Cianfrance, 38, will always opt for the latter — an anomaly in a business where seize-the-moment is the going mantra.

The scenes themselves also went through something of a slow cooker. For a car chase sequence — Cooper in a patrol car, Gosling on motorcycle—Cianfrance filmed 22 takes of Gosling weaving in and out of traffic. (The director was adamant that there be no edits in the scene; “stitching it together just has a different feel.”)

Soon Gosling began to internalize Cianfrance’s approach of spending the extra hours. To get his motorcycle skills up to par, Cianfrance said, the actor spent six hours a day for nearly two months working with a top Hollywood stuntman.

Cianfrance also encouraged Cooper and his on-screen wife, Rose Byrne, to spend time together, putting them in a house for a week where they lived as a married couple. That follows a similar theatersports-y method Cianfrance had Gosling and Michelle Williams follow for “Blue Valentine.”

And then there’s “Pines” running time. Already no sitcom episode at 2 hours and 20 minutes in its finished form, the movie actually existed at nearly 3½ hours at one point, a fact that prompted cinematographer Sean Bobbitt to remark to a reporter at the film’s afterparty that there were several other films its director could have cut from the footage.

“For a director like me,” Cianfrance admitted, “editing is murder.”

Taking all that time can undermine one’s passion. Cianfrance said that he lost zest for “Blue Valentine” when it came time to shoot it. “The idea came to me when I was 24. By the time I got to direct it I didn’t feel it anymore.”

There is, in other words, a downside to letting things happen too slowly. “Blue Valentine took 12 years,” he said. “I don’t wish that on anybody.”


Focus Features will go to a ‘Place Beyond the Pines’ 

The Place Beyond The Pines is where film buyers want to visit

Ryan Gosling plays a robber, is greeted like a rock star

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