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"The facts don't really matter:" An Interview with Ramin Bahrani, Part 2

The second part of our interview with the American director of "Goodbye Solo".

This is the second part of a two-part interview. Part one can be found here.

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NOTEBOOK: In writings about your films, versimillitude tends to get emphasized. A "documentary" aspect. But it's more important that something should feel real than that it is real, right?

RAMIN BAHRANI: Exactly. Little Deiter Needs to Fly: that guy doesn't really open and close his door the way he does in the film. But that's in him. Herzog just exagerrated and staged it.

NOTEBOOK: And Bells from the Deep—have you seen that one?

BAHRANI: Yeah— those people are just drunk, they're not really praying! But he shoots them on the ice and he puts the right music to it, and it feels like a spiritual moment. It feels true.

NOTEBOOK: It's not very fashionable for people to talk about truth nowadays. But is that something that your after—trying to convey the truth of some situation?

BAHRANI: That's a tricky question. I want to convey it—to the extent that I can understand. It has to be true to the extent I understand, and it has to be correct to the character. All of the films I've made are attempts for me to better understand how I see the world and how another person sees the world. But it's elusive. It's something extremely elusive and it can never be attained.

NOTEBOOK: Yesterday I interviewed Andrew Bujalski and he brought up that he found it very difficult to believe in evil, but he also thought that not believing in evil was limiting, because it would keep him from understanding other people's points of view.

BAHRANI: I've been thinking about evil for some time. I've been looking at my three films and thinking, "How can the grotesque and the evil be more a part of the film?" I've been thinking about the idea of evil and the idea of the grotesque. It's what we talked about earlier: once you get into a genre like the Western, you're opened up to extremes. And one extreme is evil. Of course it exists. You know, a really interesting film that I've been looking at recently that portrays evil in this really unique way is Night of the Hunter. Its portrayal of evil is very specific and borderline beautiful. And that contrast between the poetic and beautiful aspects of Night of the Hunter and the evil of it is very interesting. Very disturbing. How closesly it connects, not just a guy's fingers, Love and Hate. The best part—the riverboat, the "Huck Finn sequence"—this is a very tense moment of beauty and evil. Aguirre, the Wrath of God: that guy is evil, psychotic. He wants to populate the world with himself. He'd gone mad. So I've been thinking about how to incorporate evil into my films, when it belongs there. Not every plot can tolerate evil, but of course it exists.

NOTEBOOK: Do you think some of your movies could've used more evil, are you fine with its absence in the first three features?

BAHRANI: I don't want to look back on the films and think about how they could be changed, but I do want to think about them very critically so that I can understand how the next film could be better. What I succeeded at, what I have not succeeded at. What could have been done better. I want to incorporate and encompass more films.

NOTEBOOK: You've made three features over the course of the 2000s.

BAHRANI: I'm extremely glad I made the three films so quickly. If I made one film and sat down and thought about what I should do next, I would've never had the chance to make another film. It's kinda deceiving; people look on IMDb and they think one film lead to another one. But the truth is that I just kept working, making them as quickly as possible. Someone once told me that when you make your first film, you have to start the second one the very next day. I also don't have much else to do, and I get bored kinda quickly.

NOTEBOOK: The Fassbinder route, right? The first year he made films, he made two...

BAHRANI: Oh, God, I have no idea how he did it.

NOTEBOOK: I think drugs were involved. At least towards the end.

BAHRANI: If I could make one a year, or one every two years, I think I could do it.

NOTEBOOK: Is it just a question of just getting together resources?

BAHRANI: No. It's because I write, and I also edit the films. It takes a long time: there's just no way around it. I try to work fast, but I can't write a script in a week. Herzog claims he writes his scripts in 8 days! I can't do it. I'm not that quick.

NOTEBOOK: How long does it take you to edit your films?

BAHRANI: I like to look at all of the footage first, before I make any cuts, and take notes on it. Then I put together the assembly and make some cuts. How long does it take? Let me count—August, October, November, December...maybe like 4 to 5 months?

NOTEBOOK: Do you separate all three parts? Do you write, then shoot, then edit, or do you feel like sometimes you're editing in your head as you're shooting, or framing a shot as you write?

BAHRANI: Sometimes I feel like I'm editing as I'm writing, because editing is a great tool for learning how to write, and it's also a very good tool for learning how to direct. There may be times in the script that you've written something—your friends or your colleagues, people you wanna get feedback from—and they tell you "You should cut this, it's redundant" and of course it is, so you're editing it earlier. I want to make things crystal clear to an audience. And sometimes I think about editing as I'm directing. There's something about those three stages that's very connected, and something about each that's very different. But I don't like to focus on one part to the point that it prevents things from happening. When you're shooting a film, you know the script, but you should also be prepared to change it. You may be on location, watching things happen around you, and you discover falsehoods in the script that you can change right there. Your feelings may change as you're shooting. As for editing, the cliche is true: it's the last chance to re-write the film. The characters can change, the sequence of events can change while you're editing. I never look at the script when I'm editing.

NOTEBOOK: Do you go through a lot of different versions of the film while editing? Or is it more like just piecing together one version?

BAHRANI: It takes time. It takes time to understand which scenes are really needed, which scene might have to be cut in half. Man Push Cart was the most like that. The film was really re-envisioned and altered. It was the most dramatically different from the script. Chop Shop less so, Goodbye Solo even less so. And I think that's because editing and writing them made me a better writer. You see certain mistakes you made in writing. In Chop Shop, in the editing process, it became clear that I had to get Isamar into the film earlier, but in the script she came in later. In Goodbye Solo, I realized I had to get Solo to move into the motel sooner, so I started to jettison scenes. I have to say, I really enjoy editing. Every film I make, I think, "This is one where I'm gonna get an editor." But I always end up doing it myself.

NOTEBOOK: Do you want to keep doing all three things? Or do you feel like someday you might not write the script, or might not do the editing?

BAHRANI: I always think the door's open that I will not edit every film, and I have opened the door that I may not write every film. The script doesn't have to originate with me. There are a couple of writers I'm interested in and talked about whether they had projects or ideas. As you can imagine, when you're a director, things get sent to you: books, ideas. I'm very open to it, I'm always very interested in them, but I just haven't found the right one yet. If it was something I was sent, I'd want to re-write it, but what director doesn't? I'm open to it; it just hasn't happened yet.

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