A CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, DES MCANUFF & BARRY AVRICH:
Barry Avrich: Chris, with theatre every performance is different every night. Were you apprehensive with the idea of filming the Tempest and locking this performance on film forever?
Christopher Plummer: Oh yes, particularly when we don’t have any time. There were only two days in which we were able to film this. There are two barriers in front of you. There’s the screen and then there’s the audience in the theatre. So I think a lot of credit to making this thing interesting was that it was shot with great imagination and very quickly so it did have a cinematic look about it. And the audience being present is terribly important because you then feel you have to photograph the audience so you know that they’re there. You then feel that you’re also there in the theatre.
Barry: And Des, when you’re directing Chris for film versus stage, you’ve worked with him before, how do you approach this?
Des McAnuff: I think by and large you’re documenting a theatrical performance and I think you have to accept that and celebrate that and Chris just said it. I think by and large we document that live performance. The terrific thing about the Festival Stage, for those of you who’ve been there, this is the greatest thrust theatre in the world, the greatest open stage. And it is by its very nature three dimensional. You look across at other audience members. It is the empty space. It’s about volumetric space. And so it’s not a proscenium arch, which can be dangerous. When you film on a proscenium arch, it tends to imitate the screen and so the size of the performance, or the scale, is more of a liability. In this case because you have a sense of the audience I think you accept the fact that the performances are going to be somewhat larger than life as they have to be in an 1800 seat theatre.
Barry: How tough for you, Des, I mean it is one thing when you’re directing theatre and you can tweak a rehearsal and a performance and you’ve got notes that you’re taking, but here when we’re sitting in an editing room you have so many choices. Yes, we filmed two days, but it’s ten cameras, hundreds of options. How tough for you directing?
Des: I think we have very good collaborators as you well know. George, our editor makes a very thorough pass and makes a lot of good choices. Obviously, that’s the thing about directors. How many directors does it take to change a light bulb? Does it have to be a light bulb? Of course we always have far too much to say. I have experience as a film maker and that is a great advantage when it comes to doing this kind of work. We also had a chance to do some pickup shots and some inserts which allows it to be more cinematic. We’re essentially all storytellers and we try to embrace the editorial version that’s going to tell the story most effectively.
Barry: And Chris, for you being onstage, I mean you’ve had a great film career, and yet you’ve got to go onstage, you tend to get lost in the role and the performance and yet there’s ten cameras staring at you. How did you manage to ignore all of the…?
Chris: Oh no, that’s nothing. Ten cameras, please, welcome, that’s nothing. And then you forget about them because you’ve got the audience in front of you and that’s really who you are playing to. The difficulty is to decide who you are playing to: whether it’s the mass outside, or the audience which is in the theatre. So that’s a little bit confusing. You have to watch that you don’t overdue certain moments or you don’t make ugly faces when you’re doing something rather larger than life as you described. But that’s the only slight problem. You just have to be aware of that.
Barry: And Des, for you, directing theatre as you do, there’s this whole new medium of shooting for the screen. I mean the audiences have embraced this in a major way. The Met is extraordinarily successful. Our two productions have been widely embraced. Are you now directing thinking about the film versions of these?
Des: I honestly don’t think I’m directing for the camera. I just think that’d be a suicide mission. You’d end up with a production that’s not worthy of being filmed. If the live audience isn’t riveted by the work, why would you bother to capture it for a film audience? I think when we go through the planning process in preparation, we are taking those things into consideration and there are a couple of sequences in The Tempest where we were able to go close on Mr. Plummer and we were able to be somewhat more intimate. I noticed today that some of those moments were extremely moving because he knows how to let the camera come to him. We’ve just filmed another production, Twelfth Night, where we were able to do very little of that and that’s a different kind of experience. I think this is an extraordinary tool; the idea that we can make these movies and do these live broadcasts.
Barry: Ultimately, at the end of the day, why do you think this is important? We can go beyond the location of the theatre and really reach a whole new audience, which is key, but why do you think we should be doing these?
Chris: First of all, it is a record of a performance. We in the theatre do some of our best work in the theatre. Yet, it’s finished and it’s forgotten, and even if it isn’t perhaps perfect as cinema, it is a wonderful record of a performance or performances of these plays and that’s important.