Director Of #WarMachine #DavidMichod in Coversation with #FilmCriticJohnsonThomas (Full Transcript)
Writer Director David Michod cut his teeth in the International Cinema arena with his critically celebrated ‘Animal Kingdom’ a film that won the World Cinema Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Michod also co-wrote the feature ‘Hesher’ starring Joseph Gordon Lewitt and Natalie Portman which also debuted at Sundance and his next feature ‘The Rover’ was amongst the official selections at Cannes 2014. He was here in India for just a day, to promote his Brad Pitt starrer ‘War Machine’- a quasi humorous absurdist satire on America’s never-ending involvement in Afghanistan. He talks to Film Critic Johnson Thomas about how that came about..
How difficult was it for you to adapt the book ‘The Operators:The Wild and terrifying inside story of America’s War in Afghanistan’ into a script for cinema?
It was quite tricky. The book was written by a war correspondent, Michael Hastings, who was hanging out with a four star general in Afghanistan- through his process of writing the article in Rolling Stones and later on, the book. I was drawn to the character of the General and knew that I wanted to take it away from just the General’s experience and make it much bigger in context, about the entire American War Machine. That’s also how the title came about.
How difficult was it getting to that point?
I had been thinking for a long time about making a movie set in either Afghanistan or Iraq. A movie about the experience of modern American war but I hadn’t been able to find that story. So when Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner from Plan B brought me Michael Hasting’s book and I started to see that movie that I wanted to make, it came out of me very quickly because I had been thinking about it for a long time.
How long did it take ?
I had been thinking about this for around 7 years but I couldn’t find the story that I wanted to tell or that anyone would let me make, War movies aren’t cheap. They involve a huge cast and have unimaginable production costs which a medium budget filmmaker like me would not be able to command. Right from early on in my career I have been aware of the things that are and aren’t achievable. I had a few ideas germinating in my mind over the years but they were all dark films and required bigger budgets. I always knew that the combination of darkness and big budget wasn’t really going to work.
So the idea behind the absurdist tone was because of that? The tone of the book was far more forthright- strikingly different from the one you chose to highlight in the film.. ?
It wasn’t for financial reasons but because the other resistance I had to these dark stories was that they were all stories set on the battlefield with soldiers and I feel they are the only movies being made on war today. Those films are usually about the battlefield experiences and they don’t ask larger questions of the architects of those battles. What attracted me to Michael’s book was the fact that it was about the people who were actually dictating the war and not merely about those fighting it. It painted an overwhelming picture of delusion and vanity of men with an overblown sense of themselves. And that for me and Brad, said absurdity. From the earliest days of our discussions we started playing this movie as a war satire leading up to the ridiculous.
How did you decide on Brad Pitt for the eponymous role?
Brad’s company had the rights to the book so when I was writing it, I was writing it in the hope that it would be for Brad. But he would never commit to a project before the script was written. I could say, through the many discussions we had on the subject, he was highly interested. So as soon as the script was written he committed to it very quickly and said ‘I wanna make this movie and I want to make it now!’
He plays a character that appears to be a caricature – ridiculously absurd in his pomposity. How did that come about?
We had discussions about how big the character would be played. One of the things that was important to me was to project what was happening on the decision making table in America and what was happening on the ground in Afghanistan. And I wanted that separation to be felt distinctly. And we felt , to achieve that, we needed to play the ground very straight while playing the top as absurd and big. And let the characters delusions be writ large.
So would you also say that throughout the movie it’s your voice that’s coming through – about America’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Yes. My voice slips in every now and then. It feels now, as though the movie is asking the questions that I was asking myself for years -while I was reading and researching about the futility and unremitting extravagance of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both America and Australia have been involved in this war that has gone on for 16 years now, with no clear end in sight. The question I keep asking myself is how is this possible? I presume that the men ( and it’s always men) running, orchestrating the show from within the comforts of their drawing rooms, must be intelligent and capable people. How can they not see the futility of this as clearly as I do. And when I discovered Michael’s book I realized that the lived inside these bubbles of delusion and personal ambition. That’s why I wanted this movie to be asking those same questions. An hopefully answering them too.
So you could say you identified with Michael Hasting’s point of view?
You could feel on every page that the time Michael was spending with these guys was extraordinary for him. Partly extraordinary because he couldn’t believe that they were behaving the way they were behaving. That they seemed so full of themselves, so full of hubris that they couldn’t see that they were incriminating themselves in front of a Rolling Stones reported.
That’s probably because they did not take him seriously I guess?
They either did not take him seriously or they took themselves far too seriously to care about what anyone thought or some combination of both. That was what I could feel on every page. That he, like me, couldn’t believe that these intelligent supposedly capable architects were so blind, almost oblivious to the devastation caused by seemingly perpetual war resounding with their footprints in the world they stomp through so callously.
Do you feel there’s a kind of resistance to such kind of critical cinema in the world today.. because in India we would never be able to make a film denigrating the army or the establishment to such an extent?
It very tricky. All the movies made in America about war, are all very particular in expressing the experiences of the troops and hey are made out of respect and with reverence and they don’t ask larger questions. And we knew that this movie would be difficult to make in the studio system because the studios would be afraid of it. They would be afraid about the economics and wonder at it’s ability to play all over America. But we felt it was important that this kind of movie becomes a part of the conversation on war too. And we were happy to get Netflix on board to achieve that purpose.