Q&A with Adam Driver, Daniel J. Jones, Steven Soderbergh, and Scott Z. Burns

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Report.

Your characters spends a lot of time in an underground room, and doesn’t interact with a wide variety of people. But you still manage to develop a sense of urgency for the audience. Can you talk about that process?
Adam Driver: There is a kind of decorum that comes with being in that kind of space that I really related to. There is a withholding of emotion, because you are there to do a job and not to insert your opinion or to have a feeling that you can express to your higher ups. Even though there are a lot of scenes of research, it is still exciting to play someone who is conflicted internally with his own morals about this institution that he’s grown up idolizing. At the same time you can’t help but feel the bigger picture of the morals of the country that he cares about. Those things, even though there is a lot of research, there is an underlying drive that I thought was really exciting that Scott and I talked about. It was also necessary to not just spout information; there has to be something underneath. The internal drive that Dan so clearly has is exciting to play.

I felt like I needed to show you enough to make you want to leave, but I hoped that my actors were engaging enough so that you would stay.

Scott, you were wrestling with this mammoth source text, and you had to bring it through a dramatic arc over about two hours. You are also telling the story through a couple of different people. How do you as a screenwriter begin to do that? It seems like an incredibly hard thing to do.
Scott Z. Burns: It is really hard to balance the different components to the characters. You sit there as a dramatist asking, “What is my obligation to the story” and then you look at the fact that there is reality underneath it all. With this more than anything I have ever worked on, we had a lot of table readings so that I could hear the script out loud and figure out which parts were redundant or emotional. It was interesting because I went back and thought about a movie like Serpico and the scenes I found least compelling were the ones where we go home with him. Steven [Soderbergh] and I have talked over the years about when it is appropriate to go home with your characters and when it’s not. Dan has a great story about being asked about the Report and Senator Feinstein looked at him and said, “You’re not a Senator, Dan.” I was more interested in the emotion that comes from somebody who is not allowed to express their feelings. When I’ve worked with actors in the past, telling them they can’t express something is more interesting to watch than giving them the luxury to feel all over the scene.

Dan, can you talk a little about the path you’ve been on in your life, from the years we see depicted in the film to now?
Steven Soderbergh: Can you believe you’re talking to the National Board of Review right now, after all this! How does that fantasy happen?

Daniel J. Jones: It is really gratifying and wonderful to have a film depict some of the events in your life, but there are a lot of people in the world who do amazing things, and films aren’t made about their work- there was a scene in the film where Adam says to Annett [Bening], “Maybe when the report comes out, the world will know.” There was a period of time where I thought this was bigger than the report we were working on. We had gone so deep in the weeds, 6,700 pages and 38,000 footnotes. No one had ever really looked at a program like this in such detail. I did think anyone who is serious about acquiring the intelligence from detainees, if this report was released, regardless of the regime, they would say this does not work and we’re not going to do this. I thought there was value in this; feeling that pressure; feeling it needed to get out because of all the research we had done. I did not think films would be made, but I think it did have huge implications to the world. 

Daniel J. Jones: It is really gratifying and wonderful to have a film depict some of the events in your life, but there are a lot of people in the world who do amazing things, and films aren’t made about their work- there was a scene in the film where Adam says to Annett [Bening], “Maybe when the report comes out, the world will know.” There was a period of time where I thought this was bigger than the report we were working on. We had gone so deep in the weeds, 6,700 pages and 38,000 footnotes. No one had ever really looked at a program like this in such detail. I did think anyone who is serious about acquiring the intelligence from detainees, if this report was released, regardless of the regime, they would say this does not work and we’re not going to do this. I thought there was value in this; feeling that pressure; feeling it needed to get out because of all the research we had done. I did not think films would be made, but I think it did have huge implications to the world. 

In the film, there are a few bold-faced names; Snowden comes up. Also you immediately think of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers in the opening scene. How much were these characters and these similar historical events in your mind as you were making the film?
DJ: We ended up where we ended up. There was Senator Udall depicted in the film. There was the Democratic Caucus meeting when he says, “I’m prepared to read this on the Senate floor.” There were a lot of roads not taken. We were down to the wire. The fact that the report came out right before the congressional Senate changed hands from Democratic to Republican could have made it not come out. But it did and it is hard to think what the other options could have been.

SB: For me, it’s interesting because in the film when Feinstein says that Edward Snowden is a traitor, she said that; that is a direct quote. What was important to me was to show that the character of Dan was living in a different kind of box. The movie is in a lot of boxes, both metaphorically and physically. He couldn’t have been Edward Snowden without betraying everything he had done up to that point. The only path for him was the constitutional path, which has now been blocked by all manner of bullshit. It was just about a bunch of boxes; The room where he did the work, and even when he goes to meet [an attorney played by Corey Stoll], the reason I fell in love with that location is because after having been in a windowless room for six or seven years, he finds himself in a room that is entirely a window.

There is a great scene in the film where you talk to your colleague about the nightmares you are having. It is remarkable because we don’t see inside your character’s head that often, and this is a startling admission, that this stuff is touching you in a deep and profound way. I was wondering if through talking to Daniel or just through how you conceived it, how he kept doing this, in spite of the horrific facts he was unearthing.
AD: I think Dan just kind of answered that. He was driven by a sense of faith in the system that this report had the potential to change our identity as a country. Even just that idea is enough to make someone persevere with almost no support. That kind of faith and patriotism is pretty strong within him. It’s not just him against the CIA as a whole or against any one person, but unearthing what is true, even with people who are trying to support him within the CIA. I don’t think it was a lot of support, but the potential of what the end result could be is a big reason.

I’m curious as to whether or not the hypotheticals that John Yoo gives in that OLC meeting were actually said that way, or if there was some dramatic license taken. They were totally shocking.
SB: You can Google them. I did not write very much, but he did. It goes to a larger thing which we are all living through now, which is the issue of the unitary executive, and exactly what it means to be president of this country. John Yoo really started this. It did continue through the Obama administration as well. It was sort of an amplification of the powers of the President. It was stunning to me that suddenly, the president, in the minds of some of these people, had these supreme powers and that they could order things that I always thought were horrible crimes and that they were above the law. So I started reading John Yoo’s speeches and googling them. I went back and read the OLC letters and even the OLC itself is a strange, arcane body that sort of exists between the White House and the Department of Justice.

The depictions of torture are very difficult to watch. Could you talk about your philosophy behind keeping them that way?
SB: We went back and forth about this more than anything in the film. I had written a draft where there was no torture and then we talked about how we would shoot it. I knew from the beginning I wanted it to be more about the torturers rather than the tortured – I realized that if I showed a lot of torture, it seems that I am asking for sympathy for the people being tortured, and so I was always very conscious to spend much more time on Mitchell and Jessen and the people who were doing the torture than on the tortured people themselves. But Alberto Mora, who was the Navy’s general counsel and is one of the real heroes of this story after the fact. Mora, when he was at the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld, stood up when he found out about this program and said, “this is wrong. We can’t do this. This is against the uniform code of military conduct. This is against everything we are as a country.” And what he said to me both when I was doing research and more recently, is you have to show people. And it’s the same reason why the CIA burned the tapes. They did not want those tapes because they’re betting that if you saw the tapes you would turn your head and walk away. And that’s the difference between movies and Senate reports. I felt like I needed to show you enough to make you want to leave, but I hoped that my actors were engaging enough so that you would stay.

You grounded it in truth, so it becomes an act of bearing witness as opposed to something else.
SB: I spoke to Malcolm Nance, who created the SERE School at Coronado to protect people. The whole function of the SERE school was, if you serve this country and you’re going to fight some horrible dictator who does brutal things to you, you’ll be prepared. The fact that Mitchell and Jessen took the training that we give our best soldiers and weaponized it is… bananas. When I first reached out to Malcolm, I asked if he could help me with this and he was so passionate about helping us tell the story. It is really important that people understand the moral high ground we lost by doing this and what it means to everyone who goes out and defends our country. Adam was in the Marines and he and I talked about this. It’s not a small thing. We’ve compromised generations of people who will serve this country.

How did you approach the film which is so procedural yet has these very human qualities and startling closeups?
SB: I never went to film school. I did get to stand next to Steven for about two to three hundred days on set. I learned a lot and the main thing I learned is that I am not him and I can’t do what he does. One of the things I did learn along the way when we were doing the Informant is the abuse of the close up, so I knew at the beginning when I wanted to really get in close. The close up of Adam during the scene with Corey Stoll I think resonates the way it does because we didn’t abuse that technique. I really learned from Steven that, if you have faith in the language of cinema, you can save that shot and that it will yield great results. But you as the filmmaker have to have that restraint. Eigil Bryld, who is spectacular, really got that and worked with me and so we knew there were certain points were we were going to go there. The other thing is that we shot this movie in 26 days, and so I knew going in, if you know your quarterback can’t throw, work on your running game! If we had tried to get a technocrane and to build really elaborate shots in every scene, we would not have made our days and I think we would have just obfuscated the story. The great thing when I went back and looked at Alan Pakula films, and solicited advice from Steven, is that they did not put the camera in front of the story. I had such great actors that I knew I could just lay back and I didn’t want what we are doing to interfere. And as Steven has said to me, “there’s really nothing Adam does that isn’t interesting to look at.” And so I knew I could get away with that restrained, because he is that interesting to watch. I also knew there were times I could tip my hat to those great political thrillers. But if the movie was going to rely on a lot of trickery to build tension, it wasn’t going to work.

I would love to know what your reaction was to everything you learned when you had completed the film?
DJ: One of the things that impresses me the most is that the full report is almost 7,000 pages. The executive summary, which we slaved over for a long time, was 525 pages. I did not think you could do it in less, but then Scott goes off and does it in 130 pages! And he  has done a fantastic job not only telling the story of the study itself, but also the story of getting the report out; the process of pulling it all together. I also want to mention Adam here. If you follow Adam’s face throughout the film and his eyes, they convey time. This started in 2007 and it wrapped up in 2014. The film is only 2 hours, but you feel that lapse of time both through Scott’s writing and Adam’s portrayal of the character and I’m really proud of them for what they did.

THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW TO ANNOUNCE HONOREES TUESDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2019

New York, NY (May 29, 2019) – The National Board of Review announced today that it will release its 2019 honorees on Tuesday, December 3, 2019. The gala to celebrate this year’s group of lauded filmmakers will take place on Wednesday, January 8, 2020. The celebration will be held at Cipriani’s 42nd Street in New York City, where it has taken place for over a decade. NBC News and MSNBC’s Willie Geist will return to host the evening.

The National Board of Review’s awards celebrate excellence in filmmaking with categories that include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Original and Adapted Screenplay, Best Foreign Language, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary, Breakthrough Performance, and Directorial Debut as well as signature honors such as the Spotlight Award, Freedom of Expression and the William K. Everson Film History Award.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW
Since 1909 the National Board of Review has dedicated its efforts to the support of cinema as both art and entertainment. Each year, this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals and academics of varying ages and backgrounds watches over 250 films and participates in illuminating discussions with directors, actors, producers and screenwriters before announcing their selections for the best work of the year in early December prior to an annual ceremony in January. Since first citing year-end cinematic achievements in 1929, NBR has recognized a vast selection of outstanding studio, independent, foreign-language, animated and documentary films, often propelling recipients into the larger awards conversation. NBR also stands out as the only film organization that bestows a film history award in honor of former member and film historian William K. Everson. In addition, one of the organization’s core values is identifying new talent and nurturing young filmmakers by awarding promising talent with ‘Directorial Debut’ and ‘Breakthrough Actor’ awards as well as grants to rising film students and by facilitating community outreach through the support of organizations such as The Ghetto Film School, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, and Educational Video Center. With its continued efforts to assist up-and-coming artists in completing and presenting their work, NBR honors its commitment to not just identifying the best that current cinema has to offer, but also ensuring the quality of films for future generations to come.

Join the conversation @NBRfilm

# # #

Press Contacts:  
SLATE PR  Shawn Purdy / Rachael Trager
(212) 235-6813
shawn@slate-pr.com / rachael@slate-pr.com

Q&A with Olivia Wilde, Katie Silberman, and Jessica Elbaum

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Booksmart.

Katie, you’ve taken a script that had been around for several years and made it feel brand new. That must be a huge challenge — what was your approach?
Katie Silberman: We talked a lot about what made us love the classic high school movies, and what made us want to make movies like that. And we talked about how the best ones are very timely — they’re very specific to the generation that they’re reflecting — and when you watch one, it’s not too specific, but you think to yourself, “oh that’s what it was like to be a teen in the ’80’s, or ’90’s, or ’00’s,” and they’re also timeless in terms of the story that they’re telling, and the humanity, and the character arcs, and all of that. And so much has changed for young women in the last 5-10 years since the script was originally written, in terms of what young women are facing and in terms of how much they’ve had to step into the role of personal activist — of being in charge of themselves and fighting for themselves. As we were developing it and thinking about it, it was a time when not only did we have more access, probably, to first-person perspectives of teenage life than ever before (since everyone puts themselves out in to the world on social media), but it was also when the Parkland students were organizing the March for Our Lives. They were so publicly active and inspiring to us, and we were so inspired by that generation, that it was about trying to reflect in the script what it’s like for these young people who are so brave, and courageous, and smart, and progressive and inspire us in so many ways. Because we were being inspired by them, on a daily basis, in real life. And it was about acknowledging in movies and in real life that it took so long for women to understand that they could be taken seriously… and then the next step is then acknowledging the multi-dimensionality of female characters, that you can be serious and fun. That you can be a lot of different things now, when in the past you’ve been reaching just to be taken seriously at all.

Part of being a director is learning how to fight for your ideas

Olivia Wilde: Katie originated the idea that the other students who Molly and Amy had assumed were sort just party animals were actually also going to great schools. That was in her first pitch: what if the other kids are also really smart? That is the crux of the film — that is the premise. Which proves that it’s possible, when doing a re-write, to maintain the heart and soul of an original idea while also restructuring the premise entirely… and by so doing, to elevate it. I found that to be really fascinating, to observe the evolution to bring the story to the level you see on the screen. Jessica and I were astounded: we knew it was brilliant. Then Katie proposed that there be three different parties, and making it a night of graduation parties. And that allows them to go on an adventure, and then it’s the Wizard of Oz, and they can learn about themselves in this different way. It was just incredible to see how she took the same piece of material I’d been staring at for so long and unlock the story completely.

Jessica, from your perspective as a producer, what was your impression after the version of the story Katie pitched?
Jessica Elbaum: It just clicked. From Olivia pitching — and I should tell you, she pitched it as Training Day, basically, as a buddy cop movie… because as we all know, high school is basically going to war — so from the time Olivia pitched it and had such clarity and conviction, I felt so safe with her, and that lead to Katie, and Katie pitched it, and sort of reinvented and reinvigorated the soul of the story in a way that we both loved. For me, as a producer, all you want is to be lucky enough to make choices that make you feel safe. And I have just never felt as safe with two filmmakers in my career. For me, it was just a dream come true. When you feel that confident, the answer to everything they pitched was always, “yes, of course, we can make that happen,” because every idea was better than the last. You just want them to keep going!

There are several scenes in this film that are incredibly risky. They elevate the film and work beautifully, but they must have been hard to get on the screen, no? I’m thinking specifically of the Barbie scene, the dance number, the pool scene, and maybe even the pizza guy scene.

OW: Part of being a director is learning how to fight for your ideas. You have to get really good at clear communication. You have to be able to illustrate your vision very clearly. You can’t complain about people not seeing it if you’re not really describing it well. So I fought hard for those sequences because I could see them very clearly in my head, and I learned through the process that it’s really about making sure that you’re explaining why they’re necessary within the larger narrative. Why it’s worth the investment and the time. And, you know, on the page the Barbie trip does not seem like an essential part of the production, so I had to fight for it. But we made it work, and it starts to be a strategy: you take money from somewhere else, and you say, “I have the money to do it, don’t worry, we’ll do all the work, just let me do it.” And to their credit, they let it happen, but yeah… I had to fight for it. And I feel good about earning those scenes and continuing to fight for them, and I’m really happy they’re still in the movie, but anyone making a film should know: just because someone pushes back, it’s not inherently unfair. As long as when you make your case clearly, and effectively, that then you are permitted to do what you want. But you’re going to be forced to fight for those things, and that’s worth it.

THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW SETS ANNUAL AWARDS GALA FOR WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 8, 2020

NBC NEWS & MSNBC’S WILLIE GEIST TO RETURN AS HOST FOR SIXTH YEAR IN A ROW

New York, NY (March 20, 2019) – The National Board of Review announced today that its annual film awards gala will take place Wednesday, January 8th, 2020, with NBC News & MSNBC’s Willie Geist returning as host for the sixth year in a row. The celebration will be held at Cipriani 42ndStreet in New York City, where it has taken place for over a decade. 

The National Board of Review’s awards celebrate excellence in filmmaking with categories that include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Original and Adapted Screenplay, Breakthrough Performance, and Directorial Debut, as well as signature honors such as the Freedom of Expression, Spotlight Award, and the William K. Everson Film History Award.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW
Since 1909 the National Board of Review has dedicated its efforts to the support of cinema as both art and entertainment. Each year, this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals and academics of varying ages and backgrounds watches over 250 films and participates in illuminating discussions with directors, actors, producers and screenwriters before announcing their selections for the best work of the year.  Since first citing year-end cinematic achievements in 1929, NBR has recognized a vast selection of outstanding studio, independent, foreign-language, animated and documentary films, often propelling recipients such as George Miller’s visionary 2015 Best Film winner Mad Max: Fury Road into the larger awards conversation. NBR also stands out as the only film organization that bestows a film history award in honor of former member and film historian William K. Everson. In addition, one of the organization’s core values is identifying new talent and nurturing young filmmakers by awarding promising talent with ‘Directorial Debut’ and ‘Breakthrough Actor’ awards as well as grants to rising film students and by facilitating community outreach through the support of organizations such as The Ghetto Film School, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, and Educational Video Center. With its continued efforts to assist up-and-coming artists in completing and presenting their work, NBR honors its commitment to not just identifying the best that current cinema has to offer, but also ensuring the quality of films for future generations to come.

Join the conversation @NBRfilm

### 

Contacts:
Shawn Purdy / Rachael Trager 
SLATE PR
(212) 235-6814
shawn@slate-pr.comrachael@slate-pr.com

NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW ANNOUNCES 2018 AWARD WINNERS

THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW NAMES 2018 HONOREES
INCLUDING
GREEN BOOK FOR BEST FILM OF THE YEAR
&
BRADLEY COOPER FOR BEST DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

The Organization’s Gala will be held on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 in New York City

New York, NY (November 27, 2018) – The National Board of Review today announced their 2018 honorees, with top awards including Green Book as Best Film of the Year, Bradley Cooper as Best Director of the Year for A Star is Born, Viggo Mortensen as Best Actor of the Year for his performance in Green Book, and Lady Gaga as Best Actress of the Year for her performance in A Star is Born.

NBR President Annie Schulhof said, “We are proud to honor Green Book as our best film – it is a warm and heartfelt look at a remarkable friendship, brought to the screen at a moment where its story of love, compassion, and shared humanity deeply resonates. We are also thrilled to award Bradley Cooper as our best director – he is an extraordinary talent behind the camera, bringing a fresh and modern perspective, as well as superb craftsmanship and tremendous heart, to the classic story of A Star is Born.”

The 2018 awards continue the NBR’s tradition of recognizing excellence in filmmaking, going back 109 years. This year 261 films were viewed by this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals, academics, and students, many of which were followed by in-depth discussions with directors, actors, producers, and screenwriters. Voting ballots were tabulated by the accounting firm of Lutz & Carr, LLP.

The National Board of Review’s awards celebrate the art of cinema, with categories that include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Original and Adapted Screenplay, Breakthrough Performance, and Directorial Debut, as well as signature honors such as Freedom of Expression and the William K. Everson Film History Award.

The honorees will be feted at the NBR Awards Gala, hosted by Willie Geist, on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at Cipriani 42nd Street. To request credentials to the evening’s red carpet, please fill out the application here by December 28, 2018.

Below is a full list of the 2018 award recipients, announced by the National Board of Review:

Best Film: GREEN BOOK
Best Director: Bradley Cooper, A STAR IS BORN
Best Actor: Viggo Mortensen, GREEN BOOK
Best Actress: Lady Gaga, A STAR IS BORN
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Elliott, A STAR IS BORN
Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Schrader, FIRST REFORMED
Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Best Animated Feature: INCREDIBLES 2
Breakthrough Performance: Thomasin McKenzie, LEAVE NO TRACE
Best Directorial Debut: Bo Burnham, EIGHTH GRADE
Best Foreign Language Film: COLD WAR
Best Documentary: RBG
Best Ensemble: CRAZY RICH ASIANS
William K. Everson Film History Award: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND and THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: 22 JULY
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: ON HER SHOULDERS

Top Films (in alphabetical order)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Eighth Grade
First Reformed
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
A Quiet Place
Roma
A Star Is Born

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)
Burning
Custody
The Guilty
Happy as Lazzaro
Shoplifters

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)
Crime + Punishment
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)
The Death of Stalin
Lean on Pete
Leave No Trace
Mid90s
The Old Man & the Gun
The Rider
Searching
Sorry to Bother You
We the Animals
You Were Never Really Here

 

ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW For 109 years, the National Board of Review has dedicated its efforts to the support of cinema as both art and entertainment. Each year, this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals and academics of varying ages and backgrounds watches over 250 films and participates in illuminating discussions with directors, actors, producers and screenwriters before announcing their selections for the best work of the year. Since first citing year-end cinematic achievements in 1929, NBR has recognized a vast selection of outstanding studio, independent, foreign-language, animated and documentary films, often propelling recipients such as George Miller’s visionary 2015 Best Film winner Mad Max: Fury Road into the larger awards conversation. NBR also stands out as the only film organization that bestows a film history award in honor of former member and film historian William K. Everson. In addition, one of the organization’s core values is identifying new talent and nurturing young filmmakers by awarding promising talent with ‘Directorial Debut’ and ‘Breakthrough Actor’ awards as well as grants to rising film students and by facilitating community outreach through the support of organizations such as The Ghetto Film School, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, and Educational Video Center. With its continued efforts to assist up-and-coming artists in completing and presenting their work, NBR honors its commitment to not just identifying the best that current cinema has to offer, but also ensuring the quality of films for future generations to come.

Join the conversation @NBRfilm

Contacts:
Andy Gelb / Shawn Purdy/ Rachael Trager
SLATE PR
(212) 235-6814
andy@slate-pr.com / shawn@slate-pr.com / rachael@slate-pr.com