Interview – Danny Boyle – 127 Hours

BN: I noticed that for the first time you have a co-writing credit on the film.

DB: Yes.

BN: What drew you to write?

DB: I like working with writers and I do a lot of work with them.

BN: Yeah.  You’ve worked with Alex Garland a lot.

DB: Yeah, and John Hodge.  I really wanted Simon [Beaufoy] to write it originally.  Simon is a climber.  Simon has been up Eiger.  These are serious mountains.  In fact the guy who originally sent me the book, he’s also a climber.  I thought Simon would definitely want to write this.  We got along so well on Slumdog.  We had a good time, we had been through the whole awards thing together, and really wanted to work together again.  He said no.  I couldn’t believe it.  He said no because he’s very experienced and he knew when I was describing it that I had kind of a fever about it and if he tried to write it I’d be disappointed.  He said, “You should write it first.”  So I did write it.  I did two drafts of it, which was tough because I’d never really done it before.

BN: How did you like it?

DB: I didn’t much like it to be honest with you.  I kind of wandered around doing fuck-all all day.  You make tea and listen to the radio.  You do anything but write.  You get maybe twenty minutes of value the whole day.

BZ: It’s not a dialogue heavy film.

DB: It’s not and that helped me.  I don’t think like writers.  I like dialogue.  I love it.  But I don’t think like that.  Writers think like that, they think in terms of expressing stuff through dialogue.  So, I did the big sweeps of it.  I’d lay out the structure.  As soon as I showed Simon that, he got it then.  He thought, “I can improve that,” and he did, he truly did.  He could see the proper role for himself that wasn’t going to be disappointing.  And I got it out my system, also I was delighted, fucking hell, I could get back to the day-job.  We got on very well. He did the next few drafts and then we started working on it together, it’s kind of a fifty-fifty thing.  It was a good experience.  It was my first experience [writing] really, I would only do it again in similar circumstances, where it was necessary to serve the story; if I had to get it out of my system like that, if I had a vision.

BN: In a way I guess this makes it more of a personal film for you?

DB: Well, it’s weird.  It’s not much the process that made it that, but Simon and I both acknowledge – the other day we were talking about it – that it’s weird.  Given how prescribed it is as being someone else’s story, that we both feel very personal about the story.  There are bits in the film that are very, very much like us as people.  It’s one of the main themes of the film.   What I’ve learned over the years is what he learned in six day, and so to for Simon I think.  It does feel quite personal sometimes, which is an odd thing to say because I have nothing in common with canyoneers, believe you me.  People said that to me in the beginning and asking, “Why are you doing a film like this?”  And I said, because it’s not about canyoneering.  That’s just a bit of it, he gets stuck.  He can’t fucking see any of this wilderness your all going on about.  I said I’m not going to show the wilderness.  He’s stuck there.  He might as well be on the top of a building that’s shut down for the weekend; in a corridor at the top where all he can see is the sky.  I said it’s not a wilderness movie.  They all wanted it to be Into the Wild, it’s not that movie.  That guy was communing with nature.  He [Aron] is not communing with nature.  He is trying to get his fucking hand out of there.  [laughs]  The key lays not in his wilderness skills. They key lies in his heart.  Can he change?  That is the key to it.  It’s a story for everyone, whether you like the wilderness or not.

BZ: One last question. Your movies have a distinct amount of music in them.  Where is the challenge in finding that right balance in accenting the emotions?  Where is the mindset for playing with the emotions compared to just telling the audience them?

DB: With music, well, you can’t really talk about it. Someone said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” it’s nice, but it’s basically pointless.  You just try different things and you feel it.  I guess you can manufacture it.  People say that they want something moving here.  I guess you do say that to the composer.  You do describe it.  Then again, you can’t really talk to composers.  They are musicians and talk is really irrelevant to them.  They’d rather just play.  I worked once with Angelo Badalamenti [The Beach] and all he asked was for us to screen the film for him and to make sure there was this moog synthesizer in the room, and a tape recorder.  He watched the film and just played.  That was it: inside that were a couple of themes.  He was just responding to the film and that’s how he works.  There is no defining way to do it, though other people have ways of doing it.  It’s something you experiment with.  You have ideas and instincts which you experiment with.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t and you just go with the ones that work.  It’s certainly not more scientific than that, at least not in my case anyway.

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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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