Rachel Getting Married: Interview with Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme in his Own Words

I was involved in documentary work when the director sidney Lumet suggested that I read his daughter Jenny’s screenplay about family and other things.

I loved Jenny’s flagrant disregard for the rules of formula, her lack of concern for making her characters likable in the conventional sense, and for whatIi considered to be her bold approach to truth, pain and humor.

I saw that a film could be made from this script that could mirror my reaction to reading it, that to our own surprise, at a certain point as the story unfolds, despite the script’s refusal to try to manipulate the reader’s emotions, we become part of this problematic family and care very much about its members.

I had wanted to work with Anne Hathaway since watching her in a crowd at a screening five years earlier, already being an admirer of her appearances so far in the movies I’d seen.

I was able to pump up the nerve to ask Debra Winger to be in the picture because we had met several times at a film center close to both our homes.

Bill Irwin is a dear friend and a neighbor, and one of my favorite actors of all time. Rosemarie DeWitt was suggested by our casting directors, and all of us immediately wanted her very badly to play Rachel.

Declan Quinn (the cinematographer) and I felt that the film should try to look like “the most beautiful home movie ever made”, as though every scene was captured on digital by a friend with a camera, or even by the ghost of a character whose death haunts this family.

Because declan and i had such a good experience filming the documentary “Jimmy Carter Man from Plains” together, we decided to take as documentary-like an approach as we could to “Rachel Get Married,” consistent with this ‘beautiful home movie’ idea.

So we never rehearsed before filming, and we rarely planned a shot in advance, preferring to let the actors begin the scene with the knowledge that declan would be responding with the camera in the moment to what was going on. In this way, with no duplicated takes or set-ups, it helped keep the spontaneity factor as alive as possible for the cast.

Because I wanted to present the possibility of a really wonderful wedding, there was very little “extras casting” for the movie, basically, we created a guest list of people I knew, actors and civilians, that seemed to fit with the couple, and proceeded to let the weekend unfold on film, with everybody getting to know each other as we filmed, in the way people actually become a momentary community at “real-life” special events.

At the top of the guest list was a group of musicians who I knew I could count on to create evocative original music in the moment, while we filmed, that would free the movie from the need to have a dramatic background score composed during post-production.

Several of the musicians, some from Palestine and Iraq, had played on the score of the Jimmy Carter film, and Donald Harrison, Jr. is part of a new Orleans family that has been the centerpiece of a documentary project that I’ve been filming there for the past three years.

Love for Robert Altman

I was inspired to make “Rachel Getting married” very much by my love for the films of Robert Altman, and by other American movies that choose to take an approach that departs from reliable and time-honored ideas about how to fashion story and style in an effort to move the audience.