Terms of engagement: Fernando Meirelles on the changing dynamics of filmmaking
For the first time in Academy Award history, the studio with the most nominations was a streaming service. And with some of the most renowned filmmakers across the globe embracing streaming media, movie-making and movie-viewing are at the cusp of a tectonic shift.
For Brazilian auteur Fernando Meirelles, whose 2019 Anthony Hopkins-Jonathan Pryce starrer The Two Popes earned three nominations at the 2020 Oscars, it is a logical progression. “We have to make films that will fit the big screens of the movie theatres as well as the smaller screens of the mobile phones; that is how it will be whether you like it or not. It is not an option but an evolution,” says Meirelles.
We are the world
But he admits that the viewing experience is not the same. “Watching a beautiful landscape on your phone while walking in the subway is of course not the same as watching it on a big screen inside a movie theatre,” he says. “The image isn’t the same, the soundscape isn’t the same, and it is definitely not the same experience. But at least the guy watching on a phone is still watching the film. That is always better than him not watching it at all!”
The number of theatre goers is dwindling and now filmmakers must reach to the homes of the audiences instead, points out the City of God director. “Today, maybe 40 million people go to theatres, but the audiences you get on these platforms are in billions. If you make a niche film the gap is even wider. And this also translates in funds,” he says.
Meirelles’s The Two Popes could get the funding it required because it is on Netflix. “In a conventional production system this film would have a budget of say, $12 million. But Netflix can afford a much bigger production cost because it reaches Catholics in 170 countries,” says Meirelles. The Two Popes was reportedly green-lit at a whopping budget of $40 million.
On the flip side though, Meirelles adds, it is easy to be swayed by the budget and lose focus. “You are often tempted to go grand and in the process, sacrifice the soul of the story,” he points out. “I could have shown the grandeur of the architecture of the Vatican since we had spent so much on the sets, but my story was about these two people. I was working with two brilliant, if diametrically opposite actors, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, and I wanted to focus on their expressions. So, we restricted ourselves mostly to close-ups.”
With the Vatican was not involved in the production, the producers had to recreate the Vatican at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios and the elaborate set included a life-size Sistine Chapel that took two months to build and ended up being five centimetres larger than the original. CGI was used to recreate the dome and the crowd scenes in St Peter’s Square. “Although we had built this extravagant set, my focus was always on the conversations happening between the two men rather than showcasing the stunning architecture of the place. When you have an amazing set, you sometimes forget the story you are telling and get distracted by the grandiose of it all. You are so impressed that you want to place your camera to show it all. And from the very beginning I had made it sure I don’t get waylaid by the grandiose! We never show the beautiful Botticelli on the walls but rather focus just on two old guys chatting,” he explains.
But Meirelles didn’t tweak his approach as a director. “Sometimes, when I framed a scene, a thought would come to mind that someone would probably watch the film on his/her phone! But I shot the film just as I would shoot any film for the big screen,” says the 64-year-old Golden Globe winner.
Now, however, most films made by OTT platforms get theatrical releases as well. If in 2018, Netflix had released just four films, Bird Box, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mowgli, and Roma, in theaters, in 2019 it released 10 of its originals at the theatres while Amazon Prime’s 2019 originals, Aeronauts starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne and The Report starring Adam Driver and Jon Hamm, as well as Ritesh Batra’s Photograph starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra, also got theatrical releases. This might also have something to do with its Academy aspirations, which was further reinforced by Roma’s whopping 10 nominations and three wins at the 2019 Oscars. And this year Netflix bagged a whopping 24 nominations, more than any Hollywood studio, including two in Best Picture for Robert De Niro- Al Pacino-Joe Pesci-Harvey Keitel starrer The Irishman, and Scarlett Johansson-Adam Driver-Laura Dern starrer Marriage Story In order to qualify for the Oscars, a film must run for at least seven days in an LA county theatre.
“This platform gives the best of two worlds. My film got a theatrical release and did the festival rounds, so it has the life of a proper film and then immediately it was available on the platform to stream at home. What else can I ask for,” chuckles Meirelles.
Follow @ananya1281 on Twitter
From HT Brunch, May 3, 2020
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch