Exclusive Interview: Danny Huston and Bernard Rose on Boxing Day
Boxing Day is based on the Leo Tolstoy story Master and Man. If you know the Tolstoy story, that’s a spoiler. Danny Huston stars as Basil, a family man buried in debt who makes a trip to visit foreclosures for a possible quick flip. Nick (Matthew Jacobs) is the driver her hires, who’s introduced violating a restraining order his ex has against him. After Boxing Day premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, we got to meet up with Huston and director Bernard Rose to talk about the film and some of the interesting entries on their past filmographies.
CraveOnline: Is the movie punishing these characters for their vices? The opportunism of Basil and the violence suggested in Nick’s past.
Bernard Rose: No, I think punishing is the wrong word or judgement is the wrong word. What the film shows is that people judge and punish themselves. One of the things that’s very interesting to me in the film and I think pretty clear, they’re both broke. Neither one of them has the price of a cup of coffee, and yet one of them thinks he’s very superior and one of them, and it’s just as damaging, has this giant chip on his shoulder. So they’re both completely confined within what the view as their social status and they both will fight to the death to maintain their social status which is an absurdity because at the end you realize that neither of them have any status. They’re just two animals in the wild.
Danny Huston: And the wonderful thing about Tolstoy is I suppose there is no judgment. They’re just fantastic dissections of human beings.
Was it easy to imagine Master and Man in a modern context, with a car, with the housing market?
Bernard Rose: Obviously, when you’re trying to do an adaptation you look for parallels. In the book he is going to make a property deal so you just really ask the question, “Where could you get lost in the snow in America?” Colorado. “What is he buying?” Well, he’s going to be buying houses. Then you look at the situation in the housing market. It’s pretty much there for you. The things the characters do in Tolstoy are the same things that we do, so you just look at how it would work in the modern day.
Of course a lot of people said to me, “Oh, that story doesn’t work in a modern context because of GPS.” I thought that’s so not true. In fact, in Tolstoy’s story, with a horse, it’s harder to get lost with a horse because horses kind of know where they’re going anyway.
Danny Huston: And the housing market, we got a list of foreclosures and we traveled into Denver, into the Colorado mountains and we actually followed a real list. Those homes that you see are actually foreclosed homes.
So was the movie in some ways as opportunistic as Basil?
Bernard Rose: I don’t know about opportunistic. Just living off the land, trying to look at the world as it is and trying to reflect what’s going on.
Danny Huston: Yeah, there’s not a great deal of profit to be made in these ventures.
Well, a free location isn’t nothing.
Danny Huston: Oh, yes, yes. In regards to that, in a way, we use what we’ve got.
Was the Tolstoy connection apparent from the beginning?
Danny Huston: Well, this is our fourth adaptation so I kind of know what’s going on. Ivansxtc is The Death of Ivan Ilyich, The Kreutzer Sonata is The Kreutzer Sonata, Boxing Day is Master and Man and now our fourth is Two Hussars which we call Two Jacks. Obviously I know that it’s adapted form Tolstoy to start with first and foremost, and then I’m always interested to see how Bernard figures out how to make the adaptation. I just think he’s got such a keen, intelligent understanding and is able to modernize the setting in a very relevant way but still always staying true to the characters.
You mentioned in the intro to the screening that you got this together over a Christmas break, which is very guerrilla style. Danny, did you grow up around the studio system with your father and have you seen the gradual shift towards this sort of guerrilla style film?
Danny Huston: Yes, as for the studio system, I saw my father, even though he was very successful and a great poker player at the game and was really able to use the system for his own means and make the films that he wanted to make, but I could see how tough it was and hard. The whole circus act, the amount of money that’s involved can be really quite arduous. Have I seen a change? No. I want to be cocky enough actually and say I think that Bernard and I were somewhat responsible for the change. With Ivansxtc we were the first digital film that got a theatrical release. So we were pioneers. We feel we were at the beginning.
Bernard Rose: And of course it really isn’t 100% a new thing. It’s always been something that went on. If you look at obviously in the late ‘50s the French New Wave filmmakers, they were doing that, just going out into Paris with a camera.
Danny Huston: But still, I suppose costs, developing costs.
Bernard Rose: The hardest thing with a film, by the way, is not financing. It’s not casting. The hardest thing is having a good story to film. That’s so much the hardest thing in any movie.
Danny Huston: My father always said, “Write a good script and cast it properly.”
Bernard Rose: Really, financing is not ever the issue.
Danny Huston: No, but we were stuck in financing hell, both Bernard and I at one point in our lives which is what, in a way, inspired us to make films in this way and Ivansxtc was the first.
Was it an artistic choice to shoot a lot in closeup, and did you think about editing that way too?
Bernard Rose: Well, the film is mostly in a car so it’s hard to get a wide shot.
But even when they visit the houses, the shot stays on them.
Bernard Rose: Not entirely. I think that in the end, obviously doing a two hander, the actors are what the subject is. That’s what the film is about. It’s about them. There’s actually a lot of landscape in the film too. I think that in many ways, a film like that, a drama is more likely composed of wide shots and closeups rather than medium shots, just because that’s what we’ve got going on.
Does that make it easier or more difficult to edit?
Bernard Rose: I think editing is always the same. If your material contains the right energy and the right pieces, editing’s never a problem. There’s the whole idea of conventional editing and continuity and eye line. That should’ve gone out with Godard. It’s amazing that people even still talk about it.
Danny Huston: The sound editing, there’s a sequence in the bar where real music is playing. How Bernard was able to cut that so seamlessly…
Bernard Rose: That’s one of the things that I hate in movies. There’s a couple of movie conventions which are just mistakes. One of them is you’re in a situation where people are talking at a bar and people are playing music. They shoot the shots where the musicians are in the shot, they shoot them with the music playing and then all the other coverage they tell them not to play and they tell all the people around to mime the conversation so they can record the people talking. So you get an effect which you’ve seen in a million movies where people are in nightclubs having intimate conversations. There’s no nightclub I’ve been in the last 20 years where you could even hear anything anybody said.
That bugs me too.
Bernard Rose: It’s one of those conventions that’s just plain not the right thing. So to me, if someone’s in a noisy bar, to make them look like they’re doing it correctly, you have to be in a noisy bar. Yes, the recording will be noisy. Yes, if there’s music playing when your’e cutting between the shots, the music won’t match up theoretically, but there are ways of doing it and I’m not going to tell anybody how because I’m pretty proud having pulled it off. It’s actually quite a good trick.
Danny Huston: In a way, in pounding clubs one should just have subtitles.
Bernard Rose: Or have people just be yelling in each other’s ears and you could barely hear them.
Danny Huston: One needs subtitles anyway when somebody’s talking to you in a club.
Bernard Rose: It’s the cliche of police procedurals. They’re always in the club talking while there’s a girl doing that. That’s every episode of “CSI: Miami.”
They also say you can’t cut two sounds together. You have to pipe it down or crossfade it, and that’s bullsh*t. You can cut two sounds together.
Bernard Rose: Bullsh*t. Look at Godard. I’ll just drop the sound out entirely for a minute. Everything is possible. I remember when I was first starting out, continuity people on the set used to say, “That won’t cut.” I’d say, “Why? Is there something wrong with the film? What do you mean it won’t cut? How can it not cut? You may not like the cut but I’m not asking your opinion.”