Demolition: Director Jean-Marc Valee’s Approach

Director’s Work Process

Jean-Marc Valee’s fresh directorial approach to filmmaking brings an organic authenticity to his work. “He doesn’t have a shot list.  He doesn’t storyboard anything. He feels out the space and he feels out the actors and the script and by the time he’s done shooting, he’s got it five different ways.”

At first, this technique could be intimidating to an actor since it requires a large amount of trust in the director and an adjustment to the way one might typically prepare and perform a scene. Both Jake and Naomi had heard about Jean-Marc’s distinctive shooting style so, on the first day of filming, Vallée sat with the actors to explain his process and assure them that they had nothing to fear. After the first week, both settled into his style and grew to appreciate it.

“It does change a performance,” admits Watts. “Sometimes it’s hard because he’s thinking so fast and you’re keeping up and the camera’s never cutting…you just give yourself to that process. It might be hard for some people because they’ve got it all mapped out in their head and they’ve arrived with choices and ideas. You have to give in to that and just lend yourself to how Jean-Marc envisions it, which is a great thing for an actor.”

As Jake explains, “I think a lot of why the movie is as beautiful as it is, is because of the way Jean-Marc wanted to make the movie and filmed it. Every time you take a turn in the film and you expect it to go one way, you actually go another way.  And that other way is sort of an odd way. It’s the Jean-Marc Vallée way. [LAUGHS] And, I think that’s what makes it really special.”

One of the many memorable scenes in DEMOLITION takes place when Davis begins to freestyle dance through the streets of New York City.   Gyllenhaal describes the filming process and its challenges:  “Probably a week before we started shooting, Jean-Marc sent me a note that said, ‘I really want to have this dance sequence.  I want Davis to just dance through the streets of New York City while listening to music.’  He sent me a few videos of different dancing that he liked…sort of free-flowing, kind of dance. Then I thought, ‘It’s gonna be a bit humiliating.’  But, I like that feeling and that’s a great thing about being an actor.  So, Jean-Marc loaded up an iPod and said, ‘Here’s the iPod, here’s your earphones…just dance.  We’ll follow you.  Just go dance around the streets.’  Jean-Marc had the camera on his shoulder and I just walked out into the street and, as all the commuters were coming down the street, I just started dancing — through them and around them all while Jean-Marc filmed.  There was construction going on and I just dismissed all the cones and ran through the construction and danced with different people. I think, if you’re doing something really crazy in New York City, most people tend to just ignore you.  So I think that’s kind of the metaphor for the movie in a lot of ways — allow yourself to feel that freedom that we all kind of bottle up. That sense of walking down the street trying to be cool where you’re holding on to some idea that people think of you as opposed to just letting it go and saying, ‘Screw it, I’m gonna dance in the streets!’”

As Jean-Marc recalls, “Jake had a nice way of putting it. He said, ‘It’s like a dance… I’m dancing with you and dancing with Yves.’ Both Jake and Yves were troopers and are now really comfortable with this kind of approach.”