Snow Angels interview

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Chris Reardon/Warner Independent Pictures

The notion of David Gordon Green, writer and director of three highly personal films shot in his native South, adapting a novel set amidst a snowy western Pennsylvania milieu might seem a bit contradictory. Yet, that’s precisely what the filmmaker has done with Stewart O’Nan’s novel Snow Angels, in a move that marks the start of what appears to be a deliberate branching out in his career.

“[Adapting a novel was] ultimately a really valuable process,” Green said, “because I learned the discipline of trying to communicate something for other producers and other directors and other actors that had less to do with my own vague interpretation of what I was trying to do and sketches that I’d done in the past with screenwriting, and more about really giving myself a grammatical sense of character, story arc and transitions.”

The scope of the departure from the filmmaker’s norm can be seen in the narrative itself: An intimate domestic drama that does not call for his usual sweeping aesthetic, it explores the dissolution of one marriage, the strife facing a second and the burgeoning young love between high-school students Arthur (Michael Angarano) and Lila (Olivia Thirlby). Green and longtime cinematographer Tim Orr found themselves challenged to visually convey the suffocation latent in the main plotline, in which a tragedy drives Glenn (Sam Rockwell) and Annie (Kate Beckinsale) further and further apart, while confronting the logistical hurdles posed by the unfamiliar snow covered locale.

“We had the burden of the snow melting about two weeks into production. So for the background it became very difficult and we had to shoot strategically, but in a way it made things more intimate,” Green said. “We had to shoot a little tighter compositions and we had to bring shavings from the hockey rinks to pepper around the yards, rather than sitting back and saying, ‘Oh what a pretty shot with these beautiful trees and the ways the shadows are cast on the snow’ we were like, ‘What’s in (Beckinsale’s) eyes, we’ve got to get up in there.’ We’re finding details and intimacies and her innermost secrets by looking at her from a place where we’re not distracted by the landscape.”

However, one consistent strain within the director’s characteristic approach remained: his belief in improvisation. To give the members of his ensemble, cast in large part and it’d seem paradoxically for their comic sensibilities, room to develop their characters and draw out the individual personalities he allowed them considerable leeway with his scripted dialogue.

“There were no bad takes. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh you messed up a line do it [over]‘; it was just like, ‘Let’s let you guys be you guys and here’s what’s supposed to happen in a broad sense’; and it was just a matter of finding it in the editing room,” Green said. “We had tremendous options and the balance of humor and drama just had to be found there because we could have played a lot of the scenes lighter and some of them heavier and it was just about finding the right middle ground of gravity.”

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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