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Cary Fukunaga, the bright young filmmaker who first caught the indie film world’s attention in 2009 with Sin Nombre, fielded questions about the future of film and distribution, offered his two cents on the psychology of binge-watching; and, yes, talked about the six-minute tracking-shot from episode four of True Detective - which he calls his “one-er.”
Former Focus Features CEO and previous collaborator James Schamus, who met Fukunaga in the process of distributing his two early features (Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre) generously offered a sizable 20 minutes of the hour-long talk to the audience to pose their questions. Maybe Schamus had sensed that the crowd was filled with fans of Fukunaga’s thrilling camera-work, because the discussion that spanned the young director’s journey from his childhood in Oakland,CA to the filming of his latest feature in New York City was marked with methodological detail.
Fukunaga described his origins in documentary filmmaking before studying at NYU and how he carried that through Sin Nombre and his yet-to-be-released Netflix Original Beasts of No Nation. For 'Beasts', Fukunaga described how the amateur actors recruited from the streets of eastern Ghana professionalized with impressive speed.
But for Fukunaga, 'Beasts' is already in the rearview as he continues with pre-production work for his latest feature, an adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Citing Fukunaga’s tendency for horrific iconic images of horror, Schamus asked which image spawned his interest in this latest adaptation. His answer was one anyone who grew up terrified of the It mini-series would say: Pennywise’s face in the sewage drain.
But shifting from film, to filmic television, back to film left Fukunaga with some narrative quandaries. Though True Detective had always intended to be a bounded series with a definitive ending each season, he found the idea of serialization and an unresolved narrative arc discomforting. “I’m still trying to figure out what’s at work in episodic television," he said. "We know there’s more so we’re not completely satiated. When you binge-watch a show, you’re not always chasing cliffhangers or plot points, you just have an hour until you absolutely have to go to bed. So you keep watching.”
Fukunaga and Schamus quipped back and forth about the future of cinema and narrative storytelling for awhile in this vein, with Fukunaga wary of immersive technologies: "Where is the storytelling anymore? By choosing the direction the audience has to take in the plot, you’re also depriving them of that choice.” For Fukunaga, this dilemma strikes a chord as 'Beasts' unusual dual-distribution plan incorporates both the cinema and the digital. Though the awards process seems suspect, he expressed anxiety about potentially offering his film to a jury featuring an "old-guard" of cinema with apprehensions for the digital. At one point, Fukunaga turned the question to the audience, taking a poll to gauge the most popular film watching practice. Of course, with a festival audience, the majority watched movies at the cinema.
The conversation always managed to drift towards True-Detective, and Fukunaga took one of these opportunities to share a story about directing Matthew McConaughey, a health-nut and non-smoker, in an early scene where he takes long, audible drags of a cigarette. Fukunaga describes saying, "'don't make it look like a middle school girl smoking for the first time.' And McConaughey went in the opposite direction, just Cheech and Chong-ing it."
Schamus, though, was a clear Cary Fukunaga fan, expressing delight at a question directed at "Cary-san" and his optimism for the young director's works-in-progress. His closing words summed up the director's vision and why it continues to compel such a variety of cinematic audiences:"Cary can spot a person at the back of the room and realize - that's a center of a universe."
Hear the full conversation. More video coming soon.