Have you ever wondered if in order to make those meticolous, accurate and rigorous movies you also have to be a meticolous, accurate and riogorous human being? You can’t get a definitive answer to that, but coming out from a conversation with Michael Mann maybe you can have some hints on the matter.
Director of movies such as Last of the Mohicans, Collateral and now Public Enemies he’s a man in his sixties, who’s very keen on taking notes during the questions, who fully answers, who remembers dates, places and events and who sometimes likes to complete answering question n.2 during the answer of question n.5.
In addition, like many big directors, he’s definitely not trying to make a certain kind of movies or pursuing the same dynamics (though this is what he does) but prefers concentrating on details often without the audience noticing it. Because for Michael Mann this is how you make a masterpiece.
The most important thing for this movie, Mann says, is how fast these people’s lives burned, he wanted to put the audience in that position, inside those bodies, in that time and in those places. Something that continously pops out in Michael Mann’s answers is this idea of being John Dillinger (“What was he feeling in those moments?”) through a perfect scenario. Obvisously all this research and will has its peak in the use of non finalized digital cinematography.
“We were supposed to shoot on film but then just before the beginning of the shooting we had a test. On a rainy night we took a car from the ’30s and some people dressed as those days, we put them in front of a wall and shoot both with a film camera and with a videocamera. When we watched the result, the film images looked like a period movie, the digital ones looked like today” and then a question comes out of the crowd spontaneously, it’s the 3D question and the answer is: “Yes! I’d love to shoot a 3D movie, it’s something that fastens me! The more the audience is immerse the better it is!“.
To get to this result, this detailed description of a man and an era they went in the original location, had the belongings from John Dilllinger, ran in those forests, hid behind those trees, stand in front of those walls, shot with those rifles and so on. Everything to get actors in the part and audience in the movie.
“I always start from the context. 9.17pm in 1934 how was that? How can you feel in that moment? How can you be real and specific? I start from details and have to be really accurate otherwise you’ll never feel like Dillinger in that moment, that rain, with that kind of light etc etc Then I start to work on what did they think, because at that time they didn’t think the same thing we do today. Taking attitudes from the present and transferring to past characters doesn’t work. How did they think about fate at that time? They were surely fatalist, you know things like: ‘The bullet with your name on it’ or ‘When your time is up, then is up’. They had no plan for the future. You have these incredible robbers, a team which was the best in the States and they just could plan from now to next friday“.
So how did you train the actors?: “The goal was to create a realistic experience for them too. Both Johnny and Christian were amazed driving a car from the ’30s in 2009, it’s something really weird, it has no transmission, no suspension and whatsoever! But it’s beautiful and all together is really well built. When you drive it for a moment you picture yourself at that time. That’s how we worked“.