Woody Allen is a man who likes routine. The native New Yorker makes a film every year at his own pace (his latest Irrational Man opens soon) and he seems happy and content to do this for as long as he can. What he doesn’t appear to be happy with is the deal that he signed with Amazon to make a new online series. It was an odd thing for Allen to agree to but now he seems to regret the decision.
Allen gave a wonderful interview to Deadline, where he talked about his career, moviemaking and his new series. Here’s a few (Amazon) prime snippets…
On making big budget movies
No. I don’t have any interest in that. I’ve got to say though, the guys you just mentioned, I have nothing but amazed admiration for them. How a guy like Scorsese or Ridley Scott can make a big film, and still put their artistic vision into it and deal with the studios and stars and triumph over that to make the fabulous films that they make is something that is beyond me. I don’t have the personal resources, the character, the intelligence; I don’t know how they do it but they do it. They make wonderful films that work. Those directors compromise but the results are not artistically demeaning. They manipulate and navigate the waters and come up with great movies, fighting the battle against the Philistine studios, the money people, and triumph artistically. I have nothing but awe and admiration for them. I can’t imagine how they do it. Me, I don’t want to be bothered or have to talk to anybody. I don’t want to have to talk to anyone. I just don’t have the temperament for it. I couldn’t survive it so I’d rather get my little 18 million dollar budget and make my film. And if I go over, I give away a portion of my salary and that’s fine with me. Over the years I’ve given away a lot of monies, starting right from the beginning. I get the film I want, I never have to think about it but I still admire that those guys can make big-canvas, high-budget movies, these beautiful, wonderful films and they can finesse the terrible burden of having to deal with the suits.
I’ve never had a film in competition in my life. I just don’t feel you can say one film is better than another. Who’s to say some arbitrarily appointed group of judges can decide one is better? Is The Godfather better than Goodfellas, or whatever came out the same calendar year? You don’t make these films to compete. People make films for different reasons. For money. Or, they make them because something in them demands artistic expression. I do it because I enjoy the work. Once a film is over and I see it in this room and we’ve taken it as far as we can go, with no room for improvement… that’s it. It leaves this room and I never see it again ever, for the rest of my life.
On the best film he has made
Yeah, well I hate them all. None are different, and all are…unsatisfying, when you’re finished. Once, I had a generally positive feeling when I finished Match Point. I thought I was very lucky with this film. I was going to use an actress and she fell out a week before we shot and by sheer luck I stumbled onto Scarlett Johansson, who was luckily available. I was shooting in London. I needed a cloudy day, and that day it was cloudy. I needed it to be rainy for two hours — it would rain. I wanted a week of sun, we got it. I could do nothing wrong; I couldn’t screw up no matter how hard I tried. Everything fell into place. When the picture was over, I had a nice feeling about it. I felt that every actor, even those who had one line or two made a contribution to the picture. They didn’t just say the line in a neutral tone. If some guy was repairing our clock or delivering a sandwich, whatever they did they did beautifully and made a contribution. Everybody brought their own thing to this movie and I felt by wonderful good luck, that picture came out very, very close if not right on to what I had conceived to begin with.
On the state of Hollywood
Well, I think it’s terrible. To me, movies are valuable as an art form and as a wonderful means of popular entertainment. But I think movies have gone terribly wrong. It was much healthier when the studios made a hundred films a year instead of a couple, and the big blockbusters for the most part are big time wasters. I don’t see them. I can see what they are: eardrum-busting time wasters. I think Hollywood has gone in a disastrous path. It’s terrible. The years of cinema that were great were the ’30s, ’40s, not so much the ’50s…but then the foreign films took over and it was a great age of cinema as American directors were influenced by them and that fueled the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s. Then it started to turn. Now it’s just a factory product. They can make a billion dollars on a film and spend hundreds of millions making it. They spend more money on the advertising budget of some of those films than all the profits of everything Bergman, Fellini and Bunuel made on all their films put together in their lifetimes. If you took everything that Bergman made in profit, everything Bunuel made and everything that Fellini made in their lifetimes and added it all together, you wouldn’t equal one weekend with the The Avengers and its $185 million to $200 million.
Hollywood is just commerce, and it’s a shame. There are all these wonderfully gifted actors out there that, as you said before, will be in a film of mine for virtually nothing, union minimum, for what you called validation. Really, it’s because they want to work on something that doesn’t insult their intelligence; they don’t want to have to get in to a suit and practice stunts for two months and then do stunts and then… they want to be in something that doesn’t demean their artistic impulses.
On being an independent filmmaker
It’s even freer, now that I’m backed independently. I’ve never had a script note in my life. I write the script; nobody sees it, not the people that put the money in the picture. I cast who I want, and make the film. That’s why I’ve always felt the only thing standing between me and greatness, is me. There’s no excuse for me not to be great except that I’m not. What can I say? Nobody tells me who to cast, how long to shoot, what to shoot, what themes to do, what stories, what line to take out. The backing arrives, and I show up at some point with the film. It could be horror, a comedy; it could be a black-and-white tragedy in medieval Prussia. Nobody knows. What they’re buying is me and the assumption that over many years, he hasn’t done anything that outlandish. The budgets are small compared to most film budgets. If you were backing me my whole film career you would have made money. But also, a film opens like The Avengers and in one weekend, one weekend, it makes more money than six of my films make in ten years.
On television and making his series for Amazon
I don’t even know what a streaming service is; that’s the interesting thing. When you said streaming service, it was the first time I’ve heard that term connected with the Amazon thing. I never knew what Amazon was. I’ve never seen any of those series, even on cable. I’ve never seen The Sopranos, or Mad Men. I’m out every night and when I come home, I watch the end of the baseball or basketball game, and there’s Charlie Rose and I go to sleep. Amazon kept coming to me and saying, please do this, whatever you want. I kept saying I have no ideas for it, that I never watch television. I don’t know the first thing about it. Well, this went on for a year and a half, and they kept making a better deal and a better deal. Finally they said look, we’ll do anything that you want, just give us six half hours. They can be black and white, they can take place in Paris, in New York and California, they can be about a family, they can be comedy, you can be in them, they can be tragic. We don’t have to know anything, just come in with six half hours. And they offered a lot of money and everybody around me was pressuring me, go ahead and do it, what do you have to lose?
And I have regretted every second since I said OK. It’s been so hard for me. I had the cocky confidence, well, I’ll do it like I do a movie…it’ll be a movie in six parts. Turns out, it’s not. For me, it has been very, very difficult. I’ve been struggling and struggling and struggling. I only hope that when I finally do it — I have until the end of 2016 — they’re not crushed with disappointment because they’re nice people and I don’t want to disappoint them. I am doing my best. I fit it in between films, so it’s not like, no film this year, I’m doing Amazon. It’s a job within my usual schedule. But I am not as good at it as I fantasized I might be. It’s not a piece of cake; it’s a tough thing and I’m earning every penny that they’re giving me and I just hope that they don’t feel, ‘My God, we gave him a very substantial amount of money and freedom and this is what he gives us?’