I interviewed Gus Van Sant via telephone yesterday for his upcoming Milk, which opens Nov. 26. One of the things I hate about interviewing filmmakers by phone is that if the conversation starts out on an awkward note, it is really difficult to set it right before your allotted 15-20 minutes are up.
I am much better at salvaging an interview gone wrong in person, because on the phone I end up getting all tongue-twisted and stammery when I feel I'm losing the other person's attention. This never happens in a face-to-face, because I happen to have a really loud voice that I know how to use to either a) make people listen to me, or b) annoy the hell out of them.
Van Sant is an exceedingly nice guy who I've interviewed many times in the past, but he's a little spacey and distant and his focus tends to drift if he's not feeling engaged. Suffice to say that this was not one of my best efforts.
I did, however, manage to seize his attention when I pointed out how smart I thought it was to show Anita Bryant in the film only through real news footage, instead of having an actress play her, because the things that come out of her mouth are so outrageous, they would only seem credible if you were watching the actual person.
"What you just said is exactly why we did it," Van Sant said. "I fell into a search for stock footage of her because of a suggestion in the script [by Dustin Lance Black] that indicated we should only use stock footage to depict her, because he didn't think it would sound right coming from an actor. It would sound corny and odd. And he was right. If he hadn't suggested it, we probably would have cast the character."