Digital scan (thanks to @sallyvg):
Translation by Laura
ON THE COVER
Some sort of hallucinogen journey which electrified the Cannes selection this year, ‘Good Time’ follows the hellish night of a con, Connie (demented Robert Pattinson) who tries to bail out his mentally disabled brother, Nick (Benny Safdie) after they robbed a bank. From their New-York office, the brothers filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie (‘Lenny and the Kids’, ‘Heaven Knows What’) talk with us on the phone about this overexciting turning point for their work as directors as well as the power of their brotherhood which underpins the movie.
Q: How did you react when Robert Pattinson told you he wanted to make a movie with you?
Josh: When we listened to his voicemail we were working on the pre-production for ‘Uncut Gems’ a funny thriller in New York’s diamonds industry which we will try making and filming in 2018. I tried finding Rob a role there, but nothing felt good. So, I just asked myself if I was going to call him back… But my producer just pushed me to and that’s how ‘Good Time’ was made.
Q: It’s the first time you welcome a movie celebrity in your indy & low budget filmography. What kind of issue did it raise?
Josh: We knew his name only would bring us a bigger budget than what we are used to. We also needed to learn more about him to go deeper than his public persona. His celebrity is a huge part of his identity. We used it to create his character. He is a man on the run, who has to hide not to be found: it’s really the same as being a celebrity.
Benny: The fact that it is easy to recognize Rob forced us to take special precautions. We had to be really discreet on location, we checked in advance on the internet that the info was not leaked. Talking about that, ten days after filming the themed park scenes, someone wrote on the internet ‘They’re going to film at the Long Island themed park!’ Everyone went there so we had left a while ago.
Q: Josh, you wrote the movie with Ronnie Bronstein, who was the lead role in ‘Lenny and the Kids’ (2010) and who has co-written and edited all of your movies since. How is he including himself in your duo?
Josh: I met him in 2007 when he presented his movie ‘Frownland’ at the South by Southwest festival. I had seen his face in the crowd and he has just appeared like a gem in the middle of rocks to me. I told him he looked like a star. We became close and now consider him like a brother. He is the link between Benny and me, he makes us grow-up without counting on one another all the time.
Benny: Ronnie is one of the rare person we can fight with but never stay angry at. It’s exactly the same with Josh. We can get on each other’s nerves but at the end of the day they’re my brothers.
Q: The love uniting the ‘Good Time’ brothers brings light and sweetness to the movie. How did you build this relationship?
Benny: As soon as we decided I will play Nick, we understood we could go pretty far. Way before the filming, Josh asked Robert Pattinson to act like Connie and to write me emails as if I was Nick. In this fiction, Connie was on his way out of prison, he tried to reconnect with his brother because he treated him bad before. In my answer, I got angry at Connie who kept silent too for too long. We continued exchanging emails like that for two months and copying it to Josh.
Josh: It was while Rob was filming ‘The Lost city of Z’ by James Gray…
Benny: Yeah, he was in the Amazonian jungle! Thanks to these emails, Ronnie and Josh were able to improve the scenario and for Rob and me to talk about our characters’ back stories, like the frustrations weakening their relationship when we were on set. And it helped Rob understanding how he should talk to his brother who has a certain way to apprehend things. Nick is skeptical, you have to impress him so you can communicate with him.
Q: Benny, why did you choose to be Nick?
Benny: We started looking among professional actors then among real disabled people. Some were close to what we were looking for but we just realized that the pace we had to film would not suit them. We were not at ease with hurrying them, we did not want to use them. Then again, on a project with Ronnie in 2009 I had to examine the depths of my brain and to write a character who looked like Nick. I had found a way to keep my tongue at the back of my mouth so it could give me a different way of talking. This project did not give any results but we took back the character, and his way of talking, and we developed him. He became stronger, because in between I gained some muscles too. This strength is important in his personality, because it makes him potentially dangerous to other people.
Q: The movie opens on a close-up of Nick and then is a succession of close-ups. What kind of interest do you have for this kind of technique?
Josh: We have always loved close-ups. For me, it’s like x-rays, they can capture the subject’s emotions, to observe what’s inside the character. This kind of intimacy does not exist in other arts. On ‘Good Time’ it brings some kind of stressful climate because we don’t really see the context, the attention is on characters and how they feel…
Benny: The use of the CinemaScope, which is not made for close-ups (the scope, with its panoramic format, is usually used to focalize on landscapes’ immensity, like in westerns), it gave us the possibility to enter deeply into the characters’ face.
Q: You had never made a movie so colorful, with this fluorescent lights, and even, literally, when after the bank robbery the paint bomb to neutralize the bills explodes at the brothers’ face. Where dos this need of colors come from?
Josh: I have always loved the mixing of lights, the fact that there are several temperatures of different colors in each take. It’s something really New-York. New York is a concentration of all kind of people, they all coexist. We wanted to apply this idea really concretely in the movie. And then the photography director, Sean Price Williams (who aslso work on Alex Ross Perry’s movies) considers the movie starts on a neorealist way and that after the bank robbery, when the brothers are painted up because of the explosion, we just fall into an experience which is similar to ‘Alice in Wonderlands’. Everything becomes phantasmagorical. He wanted to dive deeper into the rabbit’s hole thanks to the colors. The lights become more expressive and nightmarish as the movie progresses.
Q: The movie pattern, a hero living dark adventures during one night only in New York, reminds us of ‘After Hours’ by Scorsese. Was it your main inspiration?
Benny: We’ve never had a precise movie on our minds when we work on a project. Of course, the pieces we have seen made us but we never look at references.
Josh: Nevertheless, ‘After Hours’ is Ronnie’s favorite movie and it is true we wanted to wink at it while making the soundtrack so we added a little bit of Howard Shore’s composition for Scosese. Then the formula for ‘After Hours’ is one we’ve always loved. Like in ‘Candide’ by Voltaire, the hero is doing quite well in the beginning and then his situation goes from better to worse. Our movie filmography is mostly composed of apocalypse movies. I think what I like about it is that it’s an excuse to be romantic.
Q: When they rob the bank, both brothers wear black men’s masks. What does it mean?
Benny: It was an idea which comes from a real story. We read in the newspapers the story of a Polish man who lived in Ohio and robbed banks wearing a black man’s mask. It’s a genius costume.
Josh: Well, genius in the bad sense of the word…
Benny: Obviously! What I meant is it worked because it gave him the exact opposite of what he really looked like. And of course, the scene shows the racism we are exposed to in the states. Being face to face with those masks, the bank employees think of the robbers as a certain kind of cons on whose they already have preconceived ideas. Connie uses those as a real asshole.
Q: Already there in your movie ‘Heaven Knows What’ (2016) the music has a vital importance. The frenetic rhythm and loud keyboard sounds of the soundtrack, as when Connie goes to the hospital to get Nick, increases the tension.
Josh: Our first two movies (‘The pleasure of being robbed’, 2009, and ‘Lenny and the Kids’) don’t have a soundtrack. Lots of filmmakers start their career with exuberance but when I was young, well I mean younger because I am 33 now, in my twenties I was obsessed with the idea of not having a style is actually having one, that I should strip of everything. I have evolved. We made a ‘Good Time’ version without music, there’s only the night’s silence. But Connie’s fever is really important for the movie, and we wanted to highlight it, which make it possible for us to have Oneohtrix Point Never’s music.
Q: Buddy Duress adds up to the craziness when his junkie character arises in the middle of the movie to become Connie’s ally. He is as funny as hysterical. Where does he come from?
Josh: We discovered him for ‘Heaven Knows What’ (he was one of the lead role’s junkie lovers), his ral conviction when he acts impressed us. It probably comes from his time in prison and from his life in the streets, which made him getting used to invent his own character. His long monologue in the car happened in one take only. He was so into his role that Rob and him could not tolerate one another on set.
Q: Hidden at a old lady’s house for a few hours, Connie found a silver jacket and dyes his hair blond, reminding us of Ryan Gosling’s character in ‘Drive’. Did you think about that?
Josh: No, our movie has nothing to do with Nicolas Winding Refn’s. For the costumes and esthetics, we used Edmond A. MacInaugh’s book ‘Disguise Techniques’ which explains how to fool people, for example by using city workers’ uniform to disappear in a crowd. To dress up as a postman or a garbage man helps breaking the law by blending the crowd; people don’t dare confronting you and no one will remember you. That’s the kind of method Connie uses.
Q: His look on the last close-up, where he appears with his messy hair, his goatee and his crazy eyes toward the camera, refers to a famous picture of criminal Charles Manson. Is that deliberate?
Josh: In reality, I am truly interested in Charles Manson… I won’t talk about on which extend but let’s say I talked with his fiancée and best friend. I have always wanted to meet him, I think he is a really interesting character. In the end, he is just a failed musician… I talked to Rob a bit about Charly when we prepared for the movie but it was not the main subject of our conversations. I think it’s just a metaphysical coincidence.