|On Directing with Antoine Fuqua
by Gina Ponce
Acclaimed director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, 2001) revisits the big screen this spring with Brooklyn's Finest, a police drama that captures the gritty, volatile, and morally conflicted side of the NYPD with a cast that includes Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes. Fuqua speaks with nthWORD about making Brooklyn's Finest and the challenges and power of film.
nthWORD: Did you always have an interest in film?
AF: Always, I love movies. I loved watching films growing up; they had a profound effect on me. I never thought about being a director as a kid, I just watched all the great Westerns and the great gangster films. I loved the power of movies.
nthWORD: Was there a certain movie that influenced your decision to pursue film as a career? Why did you choose to be behind the camera instead of in front of it?
AF: There's a few. Definitely Scorsese. When I first saw Taxi Driver I was just stunned. It was just so raw and real; it reminded me of a war I grew up in, in the sense that you can capture that on film. So that's always struck me. And then I saw films like Citizen Kane and films from when I was a kid, all the great gangster films like The Public Enemy and Scarface, so I loved that. I wanted to be able to do my version of those things. Looking back on it, when I was watching movies growing up I couldn't wait for the names to come on the screen. And then at some point I started to wonder who the director was and why he made those movies. Like [Akira] Kurosawa and the Seven Samurai and John Ford [with] The Searchers. I started looking at the directors, especially with Citizen Kane, I remember seeing that for the first time, because there's a lot of technical tricks. There's a lot of visual things in there that draws your attention to somebody behind the camera who was creating that illusion, and that really got me excited about the directing part. I always wanted to be able to paint a picture, to use a camera like a painter. I like writing and I like painting; I went to school for electrical engineering so I was always into details and putting things together, and to be able to actually create something appealed to me more than being in front of the camera and all that stuff. Plus, [there are others] that are just so good at it, why bother?
nthWORD: Was there a big transition from directing music videos and commercials to directing movies?
AF: It's a totally different medium, a completely different form of storytelling. Videos are fun in an abstract way. You can experiment technically, and you can do more abstract things that have nothing to do with the song or you can have more metaphors and things like that in there. [With] commercials you can flex your muscles and learn some of the tools of the craft. But telling a story for two hours and making compelling characters and having emotions where you're trying to engage an audience to see a vision that you want them to see - see the world the way you want them to see it - it's a big difference. And dealing with actors, there is a huge difference. So that transition can be a little bumpy.
nthWORD: Where does your creative process begin with a film? Do you have a specific method or approach to how you direct?
AF: It depends on what it is I'm doing, but I like to find the layers in the story, the spiritual layers. I'll sit down with the movie and see if there's some sort of Joseph Campbell reference that I can hang my hat on and then create off of, and then I start the layers from there as far as the psychology of the actors and why their actions go from this to that with the decisions they make. So I guess my method would be to look at the different layers, not just the physical layers or what is obvious on the page.
nthWORD: What is the biggest challenge you face as a director and what has been your most challenging film to date?
AF: Probably the biggest challenge, outside of just getting the money to get the movies made that you want to make, is for me challenging myself. There are so many great directors, and you look at films like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, Scorsese, Oliver Stone, these guys that I admire, and I wanna be able to be placed somewhere in history on the level they have created. But that's my own personal challenge. My most challenging film to date - probably King Arthur. It was just tough 'cause the studio wanted a PG-13 movie and I wanted an R. I thought we were making an R, and then it turned out they wanted PG-13 right in the middle of shooting. Sometimes when you're in those types of situations the environment makes it harder for you to deliver the movie you really want to deliver.