January 23, 2004
A Writers Guild Screening with Director/Writer Anthony Minghella
By Lisa Yapp
British Director, Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Truly Madly Deeply) has had an interesting trajectory to fame. Starting as a keyboardist, he then taught Medieval History before becoming a TV screenwriter and finally finding film.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO DO COLD MOUNTAIN?
When four copies of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, COLD MOUNTAIN, arrived at his home the week after he finished The English Patient, Minghella saw it as an “augury”. Adding to the coincidence, he had spent several years writing and being fascinated by pilgrimages, which is at the heart of the novel.
SO WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS TOWARDS ADAPTATION?
When he decided to accept the project, he read the book once then he put it down and spent over a year doing research into the period. He read about a major Confederate victory, the Battle of the Crater, which had never been filmed and recreated it to open the movie. His approach to adapting a book to film is to “write his way back to the novel”. Read it once and never outline the plot chapter to chapter. (He hasn’t opened Cold Mountain since 1998). He doesn’t care if the film is different from the novel because he is not trying to recreate or mimic it. He justifies it this way, “ When you read a book you see the movie in your head. Everybody has a different movie of the same book and that’s the heart of adaptation”. He says Hollywood has tricked us all into falling for genres. But, life just isn’t that simple. Nobody wakes up and says today I am going to be in a comedy! So, he tries to put a puzzle in the plot.
IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE TO BEING WRITER AND DIRECTOR?
Minghella says he loves being both because it means there is one less person’s hubris to deal with. As an example, he was able make a last minute change such as the line Inman says “ like any fool who’s sent to fight with a flag and a lie” without having to run it by a committee.
HOW DID YOU GET THE MUSIC TO MELD SO WELL WITH THE FILM?
Being a musician, Minghella thinks of music as a character in his film not something that is tacked on later. While writing, he plays the piano to clear his head. After the first draft (and he did 20 in two years) he brought in Gabriel Yared, to begin the score. The poor guy, a master of English patience, sits fiddling on the keys as Minghella writes.
WHY DID YOU CHOSE ROMANIA?
Hollywood craftspeople are very upset that this film was in Romania. Minghella brushed off the question saying he spent six months in South Carolina scouting locations and financially it wasn’t possible. Since it was possible for The Patriot, another Civil War movie with epic battle scenes, to be made in the USA lots of people aren’t buying it.
Then, he made a weak comment about the terrain being too carved up by agriculture for his wide shots. Trust me – his shots weren’t that wide. I think he was able to have more control by going to Romania where he could stretch the budget building villages etc. His love of detail is such that he even planted and grew the cornfields to the proper height.
IS THIS HOLLYWOOD LEFTIST ANTI-IRAQ PROPAGANDA?
Lots of people are saying that this film was made to show the foolishness of the Iraq War. Though the film is definitely anti-war, Minghella signed on to write and direct it in 1998 way before the current crisis or President Bush was elected. He says he never wanted to do a war movie but a film about how lives are affected by war. Most war movies romanticize war with Generals on horses carrying flags and he wanted to show how sometimes there is little honor in winning as in the massacre of the Battle of the Crater.
WHEN DOES HE KNOW TO GIVE UP CONTROL?
Minghella says he has a sign over his desk that reads, “ If nine Russians say you are drunk lie down!” So, he tries to surround himself with Russians that will point out when he is “ a long way up his fundament”. We should all be so International!