Brian Helgeland
by Rob Blackwelder/SPLICEDwire
WHO: Brian Helgeland
WHAT: director
WHEN: April 17, 2001
WHERE: Ritz-Carlton Hotel, SF, CA
HOW (you might know him):
Helgeland wrote "Conspiracy Theory," co-wrote "L.A. Confidential" and directed "Payback."

PART ONE of Helgeland Q&A
"A Knight's Tale" review


 LINKS for this film
Official site
at movies.yahoo.com
at Rotten Tomatoes
at Internet Movie Database
More with Brian Helgeland, the director of 'A Knight's Tale'

By Rob Blackwelder
(Some questions in this interview came from another journalist present for the Q&A.)

Helgeland and I got into a couple in depth exchanges that would have made the first part of this interview far too long for a quick, easy read. But they were just too good to leave out completely.

Here's what the director had to say about James Ellroy and "L.A. Confidential," how Kevin Costner ruined his screenplay for "The Postman" and more about "A Knight's Tale," including a funny story about how Rufus Sewell landed the part of the heavy.

Q: You know, I'm a fan of Rufus Sewell.

A: Yeah, me too.

Q: I think he's sorely under-appreciated on this side of the Atlantic. You gotta be watching dailies of him being this menacing bastard and just smiling to yourself.

A: Oh, yeah. He's fantastic. Fantastic. The irony is, the movie I was trying to do that Paul Bettany was in, before I met Paul, Rufus had come in to read for that part, the hero. He came in, he sat down and said, "You already got a villain, huh? Because I like the part of the villain a lot better." And I had already cast the villain -- it was going to be Antonio Banderas -- and I go, "Yeah, it's Banderas." And he goes, [hanging his head], "Yeah, that's a shame. I really like the villain part." I was like, "I'm sorry, Rufus. I already cast the villain."

Q: [Laughs.]

A: And he read for the good guy, and he got half way through and he was like, "I don't wanna play this guy." And I wanted to say, "Well, what are you doing here?!" But I said, "Well, that's OK." And he goes, "Can I read for the villain?"

Q: [Laughs.]
I said, "Um, I cast the villain already!" And he says, "Well, the guy could be in a car accident! Something could happen. You should know who else could do it."

Q: [Laughing harder and harder.]

A: So he read, and he was really good. And I was like, "You were great, but I already cast it." So then when I was trying to cast this movie, I remembered him...

Q: Of course! How could you forget?

A: Yeah! So we sent him the script.

Q: I wanted to ask you about this really brilliant tracking shot about half way though, in the church scene, beginning when Heath Ledger comes in and splashes his face with holy water. I didn't time it but it lasts...

A: ...about four minutes probably.

Q: That was impressive. How long did it take to set that up?

A: There's kind of a funny story behind that. That location was in a hockey rink, where we built that set.

Q: Really?

A: We didn't have the stained glass windows. We CGI'd those in. That set was also the dance hall and it was the first church, where he rides his horse in, and it was (also) the Notre Dame with the stained glass windows. I think I had four days to shoot, and on the 4th day I was still doing the dance up until lunchtime. I knew I was going to have to go over a day. So we had to call Sony and get permission to go over a day, and to shoot there was something like $130,000 a day. So they were screaming at me all through lunch about how irresponsible I was, and I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I'm not gonna get it in half a day." So finally right after lunch ended they called and said, "OK, fine. We're going to give you the money, but now you're going over and you're a jerk and we hate you," and all that kind of thing.

Q: [Chuckles.]

A: But I got another day, so I know I can shoot the masters with the time I have left, then the next day shoot all the coverage. So we rehearsed it a couple of times, just me and the actors. And they started to kind of move as they went along, just kind of naturally. As things started going south between the two of them, she would walk away and he would follow her. Then we did it for camera, and watching on the monitor it started to fell like a dance to me. Each time they would move, they'd get farther and farther away from each other, which seemed to be part of them getting farther and farther apart relationship-wise. All of a sudden I thought, this could all play on the master! Then I don't have to go over tomorrow and I can save all that (money) to go over another day. [Wicked smile.]

Q: [Laugh.]

A: So they practiced a little bit more on their lines, and we accentuated -- we tried to turn it into a dance almost. And they're both really good -- Heath in particular does a lot of stuff with his body in that scene, kind of plays it broad because he knows it's far away, and it helps sell what he's doing. And at the end of the day we had it! Then I just shot two close-ups at the very end where he says, "I will not lose," and she says, "Then you do not love me." When the studio saw it...they were like "Where's the coverage? Aren't you going to cut to close-ups earlier?" And I was like, "Hey, I saved you guys $130,000! There are no close-ups!"

Q: That's really cool. A tracking shot is not usually something you think of as an inspiration move or a last-minute money saver.

A: Yeah, yeah. But once we rehearsed it, then I knew we had something, and I was really happy because I thought it played the best that way.

Q: Let's talk about your past projects for a minute. I interviewed Curtis Hanson and James Ellroy for "L.A. Confidential." I'm sure you met with Ellroy a few times and I wondered how that went since he's such a character.

A: The weird thing was, I had gotten ahold of these pulpy novels he'd done in like '88 or something like that. I just tore through these things and I thought they were just great. Then when "The Big Nowhere" came out, I bought that right away and I read somewhere he was going to be signing it at some L.A. bookstore. I'd never gone to any book signings, but I was like, it's Ellroy. I gotta go see him.

It was really depressing because there were like, eight people there -- this was probably in like '89 or so. So I talked to him for like half an hour, until he probably started to think I was a deranged fan or something like that, and he told me how he was going to write books that could never be made into movies. And I was like, "Cool, cool."

I had read "L.A. Confidential" when it came out, and Warner's had it and I was trying to get hired to write it. Curtis was separately trying to do it, so we hooked up and when we were all done we sent it to Ellroy to read. He called us, he was coming into town and wanted to talk to us about it. Knowing he didn't mince words, we knew if he hated it, he'd still be happy to have dinner and tell us to our faces that he hated it. But he liked it...and I've been friends with him ever since.

Q: On the flip side from the quality of "L.A. Confidential," you did a re-write on (Kevin Costner's post-Apocalypse bomb) "The Postman."

A: Yeah, yeah. There were only two writers officially involved. (Then) there was a "mystery" third writer.

Q: Hmm. I wonder who that could have been.

A: But there were only two official writers ever on it. And one was Eric Roth, who wrote "Forrest Gump." He was on it for four and a half years, and I was on it for four years after him. And we're actually friends, so we talked about it a lot. But the "mystery" writer did a very simple thing. The script is basically the same, with a massively important difference -- in the original script, the postman was very cynical and he was a scammer. He's doing it to get food and get laid and not get killed. And everything was a lie. And he just would lie at the drop of a hat and he would have to keep it all straight, which he was good at. And at the end, two-thirds of the way through, what's happened is that everyone believes the lie except him, and he has to come to terms with it. he's created this whole thing and people are dying over it. And what the mystery writer did was made him sincere from the very beginning, and he made it so that he believed all this stuff he was saying, rather than he was just saying it to keep from being killed. Which would have made a much better movie, because at the end he's, "Oh my God, what have I done?"

Q: You must get a lot of questions about "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master" (1988). It was a huge hit and people still love it.

A: Yeah. It's a lot of fun. At the time, it was a great way to break in. 'Cause any guy who could write who was established didn't want to write that stuff. So it was a good way to break in. And also, those movies, horror movies, are so cinematic. Of almost any story or any genre, or whatever you want to call it, they're the ones most suited to cinema. It's all so visual. It's a great way to learn how to write and to learn when the visual is going to take care of it for you. They're just great movie stories, horror movies. It was a blast.

In Association with Amazon.com


by Brian Helgeland







or Search for

Buy the Poster at AllPosters.com
Buy this Poster

powered by FreeFind
SPLICEDwire home
Online Film Critics Society
All Rights Reserved
Return to top
Current Reviews
SPLICEDwire Home