Cianfrance, Derek: Cinema as Voyeurism

Toronto: Derek Cianfrance Talks Cinema as Voyeurism: “Every Scene is a Sex Scene”

Derek Cianfrance - H Getty 2016
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“I don’t even like looking at actors with my own eyes when I’m shooting,” the ‘Blue Valentine’ director told a Toronto Fest masterclass.

Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, a close study of a marriage breakup that starred Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, may have looked painstakingly crafted.

On Saturday, Cianfrance told a Toronto Film Fest masterclass that his hand-held shoot for the lost-love drama, full of close-ups, was shot with little rehearsal and ample on-set discovery. “I don’t even like looking at actors with my own eyes when I’m shooting. I’m right next to them, but I’m in a monitor, and I have a rule on set that no one can look at them,” he insisted.

Despite sexually explicit scenes involving Gosling and Williams, Cianfrance added he saw the entire shoot for Blue Valentine as virtually a closed set. “I feel like every scene is like a sex scene. You don’t want people looking at the actors because you’re invading their space and I feel like they’re not making a movie,” the writer-director of the HBO limited series I Know This Much Is True, added.

Cianfrance said he prefers to come on set prepared not for what he expected to happen, with certainty, but with eyes open to possible discovery. He recalled an early scene in Blue Valentine where Gosling’s troubled character is asleep on a couch and his young daughter Frankie, played by Faith Wladyka, wakes him and they leave together to go into a yard.

To shoot that scene, Cianfrance said the camera was set up the night before and he slept on an adjoining couch next to the camera and awakened before dawn.

“I woke up at 4:59 a.m, got the camera rolling and Ryan was still sleeping and were shooting digital at this point, so I could shoot a long 45-minute take on a Red camera. I texted my AD, who was outside with the girl and said send her in,” Cianfrance recalled.

“Once the sun came up, all of a sudden this little girl pops through the door and woke up Ryan. And he didn’t say his lines that were in the script. He kind of woke a little bit, and that’s what we ended up using. It’s like embracing that mistake or discovery,” the veteran director/writer recounted.