David Michôd, Director of Animal Kingdom, Discusses The Decline of Bank Robbers, Breaking Into Movies, Using Slow Motion, and The Beauty of Air Supply
Posted on Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by David Chen
David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom is my favorite film of 2010 so far (see my Sundance review here), so when I was given the opportunity to chat with Michôd a few months ago, I jumped at it. In our half-hour interview, we discussed how he first broke into the industry, the decline of bank robbers in Melbourne, Australia, the process of choosing a complete unknown to headline his film, his copious use of slow motion, and the beauty of Air Supply. I’ve released this interview on the /Filmcast feed. You can also watch the video of the interview and read a few highlights from it after the break.
Note: During this interview, we discuss some plot details that are revealed in the first 30 minutes of the film, and there’s a clearly demarcated section at the end where we talk about some of the film’s spoilers.
Animal Kingdom is already playing in New York and LA and opens on Friday in Boston and Chicago. It will expand wider to cities across the country in the weeks to come.
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On getting the idea for Animal Kingdom:
“I started writing the film pretty soon after film school finished. I grew up in Sydney and moved to Melbourne when I was 18, and in the course of those years, me discovering this big new city, I was reading quite a bit of true crime writing. Melbourne has a long and rich history of true crime writing. And in particular, there was a couple of books by this guy named Tom Noble, who used to be the chief police reporter at The Age newspaper in Melbourne. There was something about these stories…Melbourne, especially in the 80s, it was kind of a wild period in that city’s criminal history.
There were these hardened gangs of armed robbers and an equally kind of hardened core of the armed robbery squad in the Melbourne police, and a very real, very palpable animosity between the two groups. And there was something about reading stories of this world that was fleshing out these new streets and neighborhoods in this new city I was living in…I almost immediately started imagining a big Melbourne crime story. I didn’t set the film in the 80s, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to make a film in which people were laughing at mullets and giant phones and silly outfits. But I did want to capture that period of decline of armed robbery as a serious profession, and what might have happened to the people for whom that was a profession.”
On writing and making the film:
“When I left film school, I had no conception of how I might go about getting to direct a film. They are incredibly expensive things to make and I couldn’t picture a world in which someone would give me that money. When I started writing, I imagined I’d be writing for someone else to direct. But the more I wrote, the more emotionally attached I got to the thing, and the more I feared giving it to someone else to screw up.
So I started doing the things that I felt I needed to do to get myself into a position where I could direct it, which meant going and making some shorts, and really working hard to make sure that those shorts were not just examples of how I can direct, but were shorts that in and of themselves got attention and made people excited about the idea of me directing Animal Kingdom.
But it’s a long and slow process. It’s just chiseling away at it, and it’s little affirmations that keep you working on it. Over the course of writing the screenplay, my writing matured and the script got to the point where it was ready to go…
I had been having meetings and it was clear that people were responding to the script. On the one hand, people were reading the script in lots of different ways. It’s a crime film that on a functional level works the way crime films do, but you can read that in all sorts of different ways. I realize that some people were reading it as kind of a cool, rock ‘n roll crime film. And I had an image in my head of something that was much more austere, menacing, and almost poetic. So, in the course of trying to get the movie going, I realized that I needed to make these shorts not just to inspire people’s confidence in me as a director, but also to communicate what my sensibilities were.”
On choosing newcomer James Frecheville to be the star of his film:
“I kind of knew from the very beginning that whoever the actor was who was going to play that character would most likely be someone who hadn’t done much, in part because kids generally haven’t done much, but also because in my experience, those kids who want to be actors very often at that age are not the kid I’d be looking for. They’re often little musical theater kids.
As it happens James had been doing quite a bit of drama at school and stuff. We saw a lot of kids. We saw about 500 kids. I knew I’d need to go through that process, because all the shorts I’d made before had kids, and I knew that that part of the process was a long slow search. But he had a level of detail in his performance, in his audition pieces that was quite remarkable. I grew to really like his physicality as well. He’s a big kid. He was 17 when we did the film but he’s 6’2″. He’s a big kid, and I liked the idea of the character being carried by a kid of that size. He looks in some way like he should be able to handle himself in that world, and yet he’s 17 so he still looks like a kid.
But it was just the detail, more than anything else. I knew I wanted the character to be quiet, emotionally shut down and just socially inept, the way kids often are. It was important to me that there be detail there. I’ve seen the film 100 times now and I’m constantly amazed at how much detail James was able to bring to that role.”
Check out the full interview: