Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin) & Todd Field (Tár) received the Ouststanding Director Honor at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday evening.
Moderated by Scott Feinberg, executive editor of awards at the Hollywood Reporter, the evening took place in the historic Arlington Theatre.
After a clip from TÁR, director Todd Field came out for a brief discussion, starting with the introduction to his film. Field talked about his original interest in music, and how working at a movie theater caused him to fall in love with the medium. Even so, he originally intended to pursue music in school, though he followed a girl into theater.
For Field, directing is a subtractive job, more about what you don’t do. Coming up, he was fortunate to see a lot of directors in action and took in the aspects he thought did and didn’t work. Field sees actors as the central part of the filmmaking process and finds that essential. They’re what we come to see and what each scene revolves around. Field also noted that for him, the biggest moments come between cut and action, as this is where he and his actors can reflect on what just happened and where they’re going to go from there.
Talking about the long break in between his second and third films, Field shared that he was having another child. Also, while he was offered projects, because he had a good sense of what these kinds of things would require, he knew that for most, the cards just weren’t right, and he wasn’t going to play them.
Field had the character of Lydia Tár running around his head for years, but didn’t know exactly where to put her. However, when he was approached about a project centering on a conductor, it clicked. Before Tár, Field didn’t know a ton about the world of classical music, though Leonard Bernstein served as a bit of a guiding light.
In speaking with conductor John Mauceri, Field was able to learn a lot, figuring out what things he could have characters do that would mirror the reality of how orchestras operate. Mauceri also helped Field to understand just how right Mahler’s 5th really was for the film.
Finally, Field spoke about the decision to examine the misconduct of the powerful through a woman. Field recognized how it is usually men in this situation, but knew if he had this film center on a man, it would be all too easy for audiences to just file the character away. By changing the gender dynamic, Field was hoping to get audiences to actually consider power, instead of just writing off those with it.
Martin McDonagh and Scott Feinberg (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)
After a clip from The Banshees of Inisherin, director Martin McDonagh took the stage. Speaking to his childhood, McDonagh shared how his parents were Irish, though he was born in England and was always sort of going back and forth. However, Ireland played a big part in his work, as he always found it very beautiful and special as a kid, perhaps because of how different the smaller islands felt from London. Additionally, it was when he first tried penning Irish plays that he felt free as a writer.
Although McDonagh started out with plays, he noted that he always would’ve preferred to do movies, as those were his great love. In fact, McDonagh never had a great fondness for theater, finding that plays could be somewhat dull. So, when he started writing plays, he tried to take them as far from dullness as he could, attempting to infuse as much cinematic character as possible. When McDonagh made the jump to film, his biggest fear was making films that could be seen as playlike, being overly wordy or limited in scope.
McDonagh first encountered actor Brendan Gleeson (one of the stars of The Banshees of Inisherin) when the actor came to a day of three of McDonagh’s plays, possibly because Gleeson’s brother helped construct the sets. As Gleeson was THE Irish actor, when it came time to cast his upcoming short film, he was at the top of the list. And he said yes.
McDonagh met actor Colin Farrell (the other star of The Banshees of Inisherin) through the casting process for In Bruges. He saw something untapped in Farrell, a more broken, sensitive quality that his usual (and successful) leading man roles hadn’t quite captured.
Speaking to his process, McDonagh shared how he always fights for rehearsal periods before shooting, which doesn’t always happen for movies. Before he began directing films, McDonagh had never directed, though he had some practice talking to actors on the plays he wrote, something he learned a lot from. When it came to the rehearsals for In Bruges, McDonagh was somewhat terrified, but found that he could explain why every line was there and the impulse behind each. For his approach to directing, McDonagh shared that he just tries to get out of the way of the actor and script, letting things unfold organically.
Asked about possibly doing a play with Gleeson and Farrell, McDonagh noted that he’d actually asked them, though they turned him down. However, he imagines they’ll be doing another film together.
As for actress Kerry Condon, another key part of Banshees, McDonagh had actually worked with her on stage before. Kerry was cast in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the actress turning out to be dynamite in the play.
For The Banshees of Inisherin. McDonagh acknowledged how we all experience pain, tragedy, and despair, and it can help to tap into that while writing, though he finds that it’s best to not dwell on it. As for the debate dramatized in the film, McDonagh finds himself on team Pádraic, even though he may be a bit dull.
As for the setting, McDonagh shared how the civil war taking place in the background sort of mirrors the civil war between Colm and Pádraic. Additionally, McDonagh had been wanting to do a period film.
Field then came out to join McDonagh for further discussion. The two shared how they met in Venice, continually bumping into each other at different awards events. Asked about their process of almost exclusively directing what they write, the directors talked about if this would change. McDonagh explained that he’s always worked that way, but joked that he might change that if he’s running out of ideas. He had seen some interesting things recently that made him consider adapting, but noted that he’ll probably stick to original work. Field’s first two works were adaptations. As writing is lonely work, he appreciated being able to work with other writers, especially the ones that originated the characters and worlds in his work. However, he always felt a bit envious of writers who created their own work, and found doing so to be much more gratifying on Tár.
Speaking to the process of showing their work to others, Field talked about always showing his scripts to his wife, though it’s tough. On Tár, she actually refused to read it, not wanting to go through that whole process with Field.
Lately, McDonagh has been showing his scripts to his girlfriend, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a talented and tough writer in her own respect. McDonagh also noted how he feels that it’s important to have a good sense of the pluses and minuses of a script before showing it to executives.
Feinberg asked the pair how things have changed since they started in this business, about 20 years ago for both. Field noted how, when he began, there were no phones, internet, podcasts, etc., so people’s attention was a bit calmer. He did maybe one or two press events and an interview or two. This go round, the amount of time spent in the so-called “fourth quarter” was quite extensive, with so many events and talks and so on. McDonagh agreed, sharing that he didn’t really do any press for In Bruges. For Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh saw a bit more into the machine things were turning into, but this year he was really faced with it. However, he finds all the awards promotion work sort of fun, maybe just because a bunch of his friends are also nominated and at all the events this year.
On the other great films to see from the year, McDonagh called out Women Talking, with Field agreeing and also making note of Aftersun, Bardo, White Noise, and Saint Omer.
Finally, Feinberg asked what was next for the two artists. McDonagh said he can’t say, though maybe another project set on one of those small Irish islands. Field said he was just going to go home.