Highlights from SXSW film events


“Made in Austin: A Look into Song to Song”

Holy cats, there he is: Director Terrence Malick, one of the most private filmmakers of his generation, hanging out on stage with Richard Linklater and Michael Fassbender, the latter a star of Malick’s “Song to Song,” chatting on the first Saturday of South by Southwest. Some things they revealed about the movie, which opened SXSW:

The original cut was about eight hours long. “There was no part of the shooting day that was idle,” Fassbender said. “If we were on the way to a location, we were shooting on the way to the location.”

On finding the character as one goes and the improvisational nature of the shoot. “I like not having lines to learn.” Fassbender said. “It’s a very liberating thing when you’re not carrying dialogue. It’s very hard not to load an intention if I am getting lines as I go.”

Sometimes, Malick is shooting something that is not the actor. “I’ll be acting my socks off and Terry will be filming a beetle,” Fassbender said.

On setting his films now rather than in the past. Malick said he was a bit timid at setting his films in the present. “(One struggles to find) images you can use that haven’t been a part of advertising,” Malick said. “But then you find there are as many today as there were in the past.”

The original title was “Weightless.” “We had a title card from Virginia Woolf at the beginning,” Malick said. (“How can I proceed now, I said, without a self, weightless and visionless, through a world weightless…”). This ended up still being a bit of a theme.

On having, as Linklater put it, “punk rock elders” in the film. “I was trying not to be overwhelmed by these rock gods,” Fassbender said, “but I do remember that both Patti Smith and Flea, you would put the camera on them and words would just flow out. And then all of the Chili Peppers beat me up.”

Fassbender wishes there was more Val Kilmer kept in. “I was hanging on by my fingernails,” Fassbender said. “He is a force. To be in (this kind of movie), you have to be prepared to fall on your face over and over again all day. That is what I found so impressive about Val.”

On Fassbender maybe directing. “I would like to direct,” Fassbender said. “What would I like to direct? Something contained.”

On Austin changing. “Your film is already a period film,” Linklater joked. This is actually true, as Malick noted — Alamo Drafthouse South looks totally different now.

— Joe Gross

Noah Hawley on ‘Fargo,’ ‘Legion’

Austin’s Noah Hawley talked about making two of the most interesting series on TV in recent years, “Fargo” and “Legion,” during an appearance at South by Southwest. The interviewer: Pulitzer Prize finalist and Austin resident Philipp Meyer, whose “The Son” screened at the fest; it will be premiering on AMC this spring as a series starring Pierce Brosnan.

Hawley, who’s not only a show runner but also an acclaimed novelist, said that making “Fargo” for TV was like making a 10-hour movie. And he noted that the Coen brothers, on whose movie his series was based, aren’t exactly talkative about their creative process, so he had to analyze it for himself. What did he discover? That they let the camera do a lot of the talking.

Hawley said he thinks the key to the success of “Fargo” was the focus on creating “a feeling and a sensibility” that reflected the original movie.

With “Legion,” which is currently showing on FX, Hawley has a different challenge. He’s in comic-book territory, and he’s dealing with one of the most powerful mutants ever, played by Dan Stevens. So he says he has tried to keep the audience guessing for the first few episodes, that he’s trying to establish “a state of mind” once again.

But since “Legion” is on a commercial network, he says, he has to take into consideration the fact that his narrative will be interrupted for commercials. “You have to approach it a bit different” when that’s the case, he said.

“‘Legion’ isn’t clear to anyone yet, but we’re moving in that direction,” he said. “We’re creating a world.”

He said he thinks the key to success for “Legion” and other series is to engage the viewer, to disrupt expectations, to make them put down a cellphone and actually focus on what’s on TV.

“We’re not going to all you what it means, and if we do that, the viewer’s imagination is engaged,” he said. “If you don’t give what’s expected, there’s tension that makes the audience engage.”

— Charles Ealy

A ‘Muppet’ guy and a Maltin

Frank Oz was at SXSW with this new documentary “Muppet Guys Talking.”

It is just what it says in the title: A movie about the original crew who formed around Jim Henson and gave us the “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street.”

Oz sat down with critic Leonard Maltin for a chat. Some of the highlights:

Guest stars thrived on “The Muppet Show.” The guest stars on “The Muppet Show” (1976-1981) were a who’s who of ’70s entertainment.”We would often hear stories about people who were hard (to work with),” Oz said. “You have to consider the source, because that would mean they want to work hard and some people don’t want to work hard. We found that once they were in an environment in which they knew they were supported, they relaxed and believed in the characters and had a ball.”

Young people will giggle at the existence of Edgar Bergen. Which is fair. “Understand something, this is the most bizarre thing,” Oz said to the audience, “Edgar Bergen was absolutely, extraordinarily popular. And he was a ventriloquist. On radio.” (Cue massive laugh from crowd).

It is clear Oz still, for the best reasons, absolutely reveres Jim Henson. When asked who his inspirations were, Oz said, “I wasn’t really inspired by one person until I met Jim. I moved to New York when I was 19 years old because Jim asked me to.”

Bert and Ernie match Oz and Henson’s personalities, in that order. Originally, it was the opposite. “But that didn’t work, so we switched characters, which really mirrored our relationship,” Oz said. “At that time, I was neurotic, rigid, and Jim was always playful. And the design by the Workshop mirrored that. Bert was vertical, straight, rigid. Ernie is horizontal and playful.”

“Little Shop of Horrors” tested reeeeeeely badly. Oz said the audience absolutely hated that the leads were killed at the end of the movie. “You want a 55 percent or greater on the score card under ‘Would you recommend this movie to a friend?’ We got 13 percent.” Time for reshoots and a happier ending.

What does he want to be remembered for? “It’s gonna sound corny, but I just want to be a good father.”

On pushing puppetry forward as an entertainment technology: “That was all Jim,” Oz said. “We were with Jim, and he took us on those journeys. Jim always wanted to break new ground.”

On how Henson would feel about streaming technology: “He would have been ahead of you all,” Oz said to a round of applause. “He believed in R&D.”

The moment everyone started to maybe tear up a bit: A gentleman in the audience asked Oz about an article in Salon called “How the Muppets created Generation X” and how the piece suggests that a lot of the values that Gen-Xers tend to have in common were communicated by the various Muppet venues. “Tell me in your opinion what those values are,” Oz said.

“Acceptance, tolerance, curiosity, enthusiasm for diversity,” the gentleman said.

“You could just say one word for that, and that’s Jim,” Oz said. “That’s what we learned. He never shared his philosophy verbally, he just was who he was and we followed him because all those words and more were Jim’s moral compass.”

— Joe Gross



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