Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"The Town" Dublin Premiere with Ben Affleck (Here Be Spoilers!!!)

Crowds gathered a couple of hours early outside the Savoy Cinema on O'Connell Street in anticipation of writer, director, producer, movie star and all-round talented guy, Ben Affleck, who was attending a screening of his new film The Town, hosted by the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Coming to the attention of critics and screaming girls alike in 1996 with the superb Good Will Hunting which he co-wrote and starred with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck's star rose and rose as he went from indie darling to heartthrob to action hero until, more recently his star began to dwindle due to some truly awful additions to his CV (the worst of which involved J.Lo). The handsome star seemed to be on a downward spiral and was in danger of becoming a mere house-husband to wife Jennifer Garner and their two daughters. However, as it turned out, he was not waning, but merely had his head down working on an exciting new venture into the world of directing. Blowing the socks off Hollywood with his debut, Gone Baby Gone, Affleck shocked  everyone by making a self-assured, technically brilliant and highly engaging emotional drama starring his brother Casey and Amy Ryan, who he directed to an Oscar nomination for her role.
Now he has returned again to gritty drama, this time more action-centric which focuses on a gang of bank robbers in the Charlestown area of Boston, an area notorious for bank and armoured car robberies. This time he also takes the leading role as emotionally lost bank robber Doug in The Town. This is an outrageously slick movie with twists and turns aplenty and more tension than I usually like on a Monday night. The film is currently enjoying critical and financial success Stateside and will surely enjoy the same when it opens here on Friday 24th September.

Affleck was greeted by screaming fans but was rather quickly ushered inside to talk to the eager press. He was joined by his very lovely co-star Rebecca Hall, who looked elegant in a contemporary black gown, no doubt by some designer I know nothing about (feel free to inform me if you have any idea). they eventually made it inside and gave a brief introduction to the film, promising to come back for a Q&A after the screening.

Luckily, they kept their promise, because by the end of the film, the salivating audience were dying to pick Affleck's brain about the making of this fantastic thriller.

JDIFF's Grainne Humphries mediated the session and began by asking him if was aware of Charlestown, growing up in Boston. He replied "I grew up quite near Charlestown. I knew of it’s reputation. It was notorious, an Irish neighbourhood. It had 49 murders one year and only 25 were solved because of their famous “code of silence”.  The murders got a lot of media attention, the bank robberies, less so. He felt that the bank robberies and the criminals themselves were interesting characters and enjoyed the research part of the process which seemed far more simplistic than one might imagine; "Actually, I did a lot of internet research. I researched robberies in Boston, then Googled any names I came across then found out their prison, called up the prison and asked if I could have an hour or two with them. They all said yes so I travelled around to all the prisons. It was fascinating and they all had great stories" Seemingly, a lot of the situations in the film were taken directly from these men including a great moment where the gang are at the end of a long chase scene and they find themselves eye to eye with a beat cop and he looks away, not wanting to get involved.

Apparently some of these guys ended up in the movie. they were encouraged to come in for the open extras casting and they were really happy to be cast and Affleck thought “good, 'cos I wouldn’t wanna see you angry”.

The spotlight then moved to Rebecca Hall who has thus far been fairly quiet. Grainne asks about her experience in the film. She reveals that Ben is; "irritatingly good at everything he puts his mind to. Irritating and inspiring." Affleck adds that there is a balance of action and love in the movie. The heart of the movie is a guy who just wants to change. A woman is often the only way a man can change his ways. "I wanted to cast someone magical, not just some starlet. Someone you could really fall in love with." Rebecca's first day was when he realised she was perfect for the part. they shot a very difficult scene in a laundromat. It was a difficult scene because she had to come across flirty at first and then have a breakdown, but she pulled it off perfectly and Affleck was sure he'd picked the right woman.

The session then opened up to questions from the floor, with someone asking Ben "If someone put a gun to your head, would you rather direct or act and what was the most difficult part of directing this movie?" Rather surprisingly, I thought, he claims he would rather direct. "
You get to steer the material more.There's times when you're an actor...or at least when I'VE been an actor where I've been wanting to steer the ship one way and the director is wanting to steer it another way and I don't know that either one of us is right but it's very frustrating to be at cross-purposes...I anticipated that everything was gonna be hard so nothing really surpised me in it's difficulty." He went on to say that one of the biggest challeges was getting the cast and crew to believe in him and earning their trust. Also, the specificity involved in shooting the action scenes is a lot less fun when working on them, than watching them. He also gives a shout-out to his cast (and therefore himself) by saying that the most interesting thing about action is that you can have spaceships, or dragons fighting one another or whatever but if you don’t care about the characters then it’s not effective so when action sequences work it’s a real testament to the actors.
When asked what his favourite scene was he said, "I really loved the stuff with Rebecca at the ice hockey rink with all the kids around. I think its really added to the coda of the piece and it was really moving. I loved all the white in the background. And it was easy to shoot...everything else was terrifying."
Some cheeky audience-member asked if he would like to make something in another genre. He laughs and replies; "I guess I better do something different. After Gone Baby Gone I would have liked to have done something different but I really wanted to play this part so I went for it."

A lady in the audience (presumably someone's Ma) interjected to tell Ben that she thought he and Rebecca  were "lovely" and she was glad he went in and shot those fellas in the shop....ahem...moving on!

Ben gets all giggly when asked if he has any plans to work with his brother again? He laughs that the thing about brothersis that you have a great rapport which is great for working together but if you butt heads on something you just wanna kill them. "I’d love to work with him again...I’ll do anything as long as he knows I’m the boss (laughs)!"

Both he and Casey had films in the Venice Film Festival this year. Ben talks a little about Casey's hoax documentary, I'm Still Here. He calls it a "wonderful film all about the media and Joaquin Phoenix plays a character who is finding the whole thing difficult who loses it". He deftly avoids talking about the scandalous outrage that was a year-long lie about Joaquin Phoenix's fake foray into rap music and emotional breakdown.

Someone in the crowd asked was Heat an influence to which he again, gets a bit giggly: "Heat...hmmm (laughs) Yes, Heat. That movie!" His odd reaction is due to the fact that all the guys in prison that he interviewed during his research invariably asked “so, you know that movie Heat?” And when he was conducting research in the FBI the guys brought him around, took him through the offices and they had a POSTER of Heat in one of the offices. Part of being a director, he claims, is sometimes picking the right people to steal from. Heat was definitely an influence, as was Rififi, Gomorrah, Amores Perros.

A member of the audience asked what the collaborative writing process was like and Ben answered, "Writing Good Will Hunting was a very different experience because we improvised a lot of it. We would record ourselves talking our way through it and then write it into the script." The process of writing The Town was different because there was a very long draft of the script and then Affleck wanted to add all these great stories from the prisoners soa lot of material had to be cut "because nobody wanted to make a 6 hour movie". The rewriting process also changed the ending from the source novel.  In the book, Dougie dies in the end. Ben felt that ending would be very hard to play so they changed it. They thought very hard about changing it back but it didn’t feel right so they changed it again and made him die in another way, but it still wasn’t working so they ended up changing it back. Ben slyly plugs the eventual home release "The other ending will be available on the Blu-Ray."

An audience member asks was it their intention to make the film feel true-to-life and questions some references to CSI in the film. "We really tried to make it feel real. The references to CSI were impovised on the day. In fact I’ve never been in a movie where lines get into the movie and the gag reel" then he quickly changes his mind and says..."actually, no I have."

An avid fan of Rebecca Hall proclaims that he loves her and then proceeds to ask what her journey has been like in her rise to movie stardom. She looks overwhelmed and exclaims tha it has been amazing. From Starter for Ten to working with Chris Nolan on The Prestige, then Woody Allen now Affleck (makes a thumbs down gesture, then laughs). She claims it has been a whirlwind but nothing really has changed. "I’m still getting jobs I want and so far have been working with people who really excite me."

The floor is then closed to questions and Grainne Humphries closes the Q&A with the inevitable "what's next" question. Ben states that he is starting a movie in 3 days in Oklahoma with Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weiz, to be directed by Terence Malick. An exciting prospect if you ask me. He then thanks the audience graciously and says goodnight to rapurous applause from the crowd and motions for Rebecca to answer the question, though she seemed to think they were finsihed. She answered that next up is The Awakening, a supernatural drama and a movie with Will Ferrell, Everything Must Go. She will also be appearing in Twelfth Night at the National Theatre in London.

At that the stars bid the adoring crowd adieu! All went back to normal as I excitedly bounced off to discuss my new favourite heist movie with my friends over a pint! 

 - Charlene Lydon

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