Alfonso Cuarón is clearly used to the compliments. Attempt to praise his work and he rushes through the pleasantries. But with a filmography this impressive — he received three Academy Award nominations (two for Y Tu Mamá También, 2001; and one for Children Of Heaven, COH, 2006) and directed Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004) — you can’t blame the man.
After a gap of almost eight years, his new film Gravity is ready. Set to release in India tomorrow (October 11), the sci-fi film tracks the physical and spiritual journey of an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) who is left floating in space after an accident. In this brief chat, the Mexican filmmaker tells us why shooting just “one continuous shot as a gimmick is counter-productive”, how he was expelled from film school and why working in India would provide him with an added incentive.
Did inventing new technology for the film take this long?
Gravity took four-and-a-half years to make. The challenge was to find a way to convey the sense of zero gravity, and doing it with extended and long takes. Everything had to be pre-programmed, and that represented a lot of challenges for the actors, as they were working to strict conditions of timings, positions and cues.
What prompted this story?
It was thanks to a screenplay that I read of Jonás Cuarón, my co-writer. I asked him to help me write something like it. The idea was to create an emotional journey that, at the same time, keeps you on the edge of your seat.
At what stage did you develop your signature filmmaking style of capturing continuous long shots?
The exploration started years ago with Y Tu Mamá También (2011), with Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer. We started exploring how characters and their environments have to have the same weight, and one dictates the other. We started playing with the idea that what we were witnessing is a moment in real time; and that the camera happens to be there to witness the scene. But doing a continuous shot just for a gimmick, I feel, is counter-productive. That shot in itself calls for attention. For me, if a shot is immersive, I enjoy it.
How much tougher is it to shoot like that?
It’s interesting as the actors know that as a director, I don’t have a safety net. I don’t have the luxury of editing later. It requires a bigger level of concentration and way more active participation.
Is it true that you dropped out of film school?
Yes, I was expelled from film school. This was in the same year that Emmanuel was expelled too. We had different points of view of cinema than the school. And we were young and arrogant. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.
How essential do you think film school is for young filmmakers?
See, the new generation technically doesn’t need film school. It’s interesting because you can create a community that you’re going to work with later in your career. My biggest collaboration in cinema is with Emmanuel — and we started working together in film school.
Have you ever been to India?
Oh yes; mostly around Mumbai and a lot of places in Maharashtra. I’ve seen different kinds of Indian movies too — from Satyajit Ray’s films to Bollywood. Actually, my film even pays homage to Bollywood; in one scene, an astronaut sings a (Hindi) song (while they’re floating in space). I am good friends with (producer Vidhu) Vinod Chopra. I’d love to work there, and I’d use that as an excuse to spend some time there (laughs).