Guy Pearce and Mark Fergus Interviewed – ‘First Snow’

     March 22, 2007

When I first got invited to do the press day on First Snow I’ll admit that I wanted to get some info on Iron Man from Mark Fergus (the writer/director of First Snow) as he is one of the writers.

But while I did get a number of answers on the project – and they are below – I don’t want to take anything away from this film as it’s the first one that he both wrote and directed. The film is called First Snow and here is the synopsis (provided by the studio):

Stranded after an accident outside a desolate town, Jimmy (Guy Pearce) visits a fortune teller (J.K. Simmons) to pass the time, but soon learns that his days are numbered. At first skeptical, Jimmy’s world begins to unravel as the psychic’s visions come true. As his girlfriend (Piper Perabo) and business partner (William Fichtner) watch him slowly come unwound, Jimmy wonders if a past betrayal could be catching up to him. Now, with his ultimate fate looming nearer, Jimmy becomes obsessed with revisiting his past in hopes of changing his destiny.

When the interview first started it was just Mark Fergus. After a little while Guy came in and they both started answering questions. They each talk a lot about the creative process, how it compared to other projects and of course what they each have coming up next. It’s a solid interview.

You can also listen to the MP3 of the interview instead of reading it.

Also you can watch the trailer before getting to the interview.

And here is a link to the official site.

First Snow falls into theaters tomorrow.

What’s the writing process between you and Hawk (his writing partner) and then what was it like to go and direct?

Mark Fergus: Yeah, we’ve been writing for about 12 years now we met in New York and just started to edit for each other, and we both needed help kind of pushing material to a different place. And then we just decided, ‘Oh, let’s just write something original.’ And we just went from there, and I never thought we could work together because we have very different personalities and sensibilities but there’s something about the back and forth between us that just totally worked for the kind of – things I never would have thought of, things he would have never thought of. We just were banging stuff back and forth, and we pretty much like to – it pretty much started that way because we usually lived in different places, so we were able to not write kind of hovering over each other. We’d each tackle one phase of it, and then bounce it back to the other guy, and then they would do their pass, and then bounce it back we had this great – we weren’t editing for each other, we weren’t editing each other before we got a chance to try something. And that’s been really helpful for us, and that’s how we wrote all our assignments I was living in, when we did Children of Men, I was living in New Mexico and he was living in New York. Now, he lives in Vermont and I live in LA it’s a real fun way to work, and it’s just by necessity. But I think doing the project now, Iron Man, he’s had to be out here, and we’re in a room together – and it’s cool, but it’s a different dynamic, and I like the non-editing, loose way that we work. And also, when you get burned out, you just hand it over and let him carry it for a while, and projects move forward much quicker and weird stuff starts to happen in the midst of it. And then directing, I think he’s got a family now, and a bunch of kids, and I know he’s going to direct one of these days when he gets everything settled. When we wrote First Snow, I always wanted to – I felt like when I saw In the Company of Men, I keep talking about that that was one of those films that made me realize – you can say there’s no directing gigs out there, but you can just go and write something or try to write something that fascinating and it’s just all about the writing, and there’s no big money behind that movie, you can do something like that. That ended up being our reasoning behind writing First Snow, and it was always something to direct so I always made it clear that I wasn’t interested in giving the script up to anyone. And if anyone wasn’t cool with that, cool we’d just walk away there. And that was all that really needed to be said there, and they just wanted to see how committed you were to seeing it through, and that’s how we got that first one off the ground. And I think also the casting, that’s where the money comes in but I think if the cast will take a chance, the guys who back these movies are willing to – they feel a lot better when the actor feels very comfortable with you. And it was actually pretty smooth, smoother than I would have expected to get a film put together – and, of course, a lot of luck with that with the Yari Group, and all the factors that collested to make it happen. But certainly, I think the main thing, just to get past the writer thing, I had to show them you could, you had a visual conception of the film, and all the dog and pony that go along with that, the story boards and visual. And I always watch that LA Confidential, Curtis Hanson shows how he pitched LA Confidential to executives, even though he had a track record, a great track record but the way he did the slide show – ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ That’s what you gotta do, so thank G-d for DVD extras, you can learn all this stuff, so that’s sort of what helped us – the little flip board of influences and sources and things you wanted to do visually.

Did you have a particular experience that influenced this story?

Mark Fergus: Just really, I think, Hawk had dealt with fortune readers in New Orleans where he had lived for a couple of years and he had a lot of disturbing, feeling like somebody was a phony, but having them say stuff that stuck with you, and kind of lodged into you, that you couldn’t really shake. And if people told you, you have a short life line, screw that but are there people who have access to – people who read energy I think there are super intuitive people who can feel energy. There’s a great documentary – I can’t remember the name – but it wasn’t so much that gift of sight, but the extraordinary intuition to read people’s energy. I just like to leave it as a big ‘what if’ I’ve never gone to, other than recently as a joke, I was put in front of a tarot reader, but I never wanted to know too much about it, because to me, it’s a great mystery, and a great ‘what if’ of life of people who have sight. Is there anything to see, even if somebody had sight? I think we just approached it as it’s a drama about somebody who is really poisoned by guilt and really needs to kind of tear themselves down and what would be a catalyst to have them looking it had to be something superficial from the outside to kind of push them into that. I think I look back at all the characters we’ve done now, and there’s always somebody, some male character with a lot of demons who needs to have a reckoning, and have some kind of redemption. And maybe that’s our story everybody has that one story you’re telling over and over, and maybe that’s our story which speaks to us. And so, I think the fortune teller was just a simple mysterious way into ‘what does it take for people to look inward and solve or unravel themselves and find some grace in life?’ What would force you to do that, and I think fear of death is certainly a compelling one.

How do you go about writing these huge Hollywood films?

Mark Fergus: We’ve only come into them late we met Jon Favreau on an adaptation of Jon Carter of Mars, and when that one didn’t go forward, we jumped onto Iron Man. And I think what he likes is we’re going to approach it the same exact way as First Snow there’s a different context and a different – we’re just going to write a story about a screwed up guy – same thing, tear himself down and rebuild himself. And that’s still the same story, and I think Jon appreciated we were going to approach it that way, as if it were a small story, as it works as a small story – I think it works on a larger scale. And Children of Men, we wrote that as the tiniest, we just saw – it’s a Casablanca story in a slightly, in the slightly distant future and a fairly plausible dilemma facing mankind. But all we really cared about is this is a guy with a difficult past, with a woman who now comes asking for help and just the shear simplicity of ‘what would you do in that situation if someone comes back and now needs you?’ And the scale of it just kind of takes care of it itself the project is what it is. And I don’t think you need to write it – we never thought of writing any differently given those situations. It just comes down to the simplest human story, and Favreau was amazing in reminding us – when you think you want to go bigger, because ‘oh, I just watched Spider-Man last night, and g-d, there’s so much of this.’ And you start thinking how to get more razzle-dazzle and he kind of reminds us why he hired us was ‘just tell me what the human story is like Children of Men,’ ‘get the girl to the boat.’ It’s something real simple that translates.

(Guy Pearce walks into the room)

Does that answer that, I think?

This is really your chance to say he was your fifth choice –

Guy Pearce: I thought I was your seventh choice.

Mark Fergus: Yeah, I forgot.

Guy Pearce: Yeah, cause Russell passed, Tom passed, Brad passed, and then Keanu passed –

Mark Fergus: Hugh Jackman –

Guy Pearce: Yeah, Hugh passed. Then there were the girls that’s when you thought you would go for the girl.

Mark Fergus: Yeah, Piper was originally going to play it.

Guy Pearce: Yeah, cool. How’s everything going? I’ll talk to you later.

How did you get involved in this?

Guy Pearce: Well, it’s pretty straight forward my agent had gotten a hold of the script and really liked it, and sent it my way. And I liked it, and clearly liked it in the same way we just met up, and I think at that first meeting it was pretty clear that we probably thought in that same kind of way. It’s really important to me – it’s really important to make a good film, but probably more important to have a good experience when you make the film. I think if the film’s going to be good, then it’s going to be good but to be able to communicate and have great respect for one another and be open enough and honest enough to say what works and what doesn’t, and go and say, ‘Oh, I’m having a problem with this’ or ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing here.’ Whatever, I find that more important than anything, and Mark’s clearly someone who is sensitive with that and aware of that.

Mark Fergus: Yeah, absolutely. And I thought I was going to be intimidated, not just by his career, but by his presence.

Guy Pearce: Yeah, my sheer intelligence but no, he wasn’t at all

Mark Fergus: Yeah, it was very important for me to know I was going to be able to gain their trust, to be able to direct the film because you had worked with so many great directors. It was really relaxing and disarming to know that we could just talk as people and connect on a personal level and then the story would come out after. And I thought that was going to be the foundation, but it ended up being really solid working with you.

Guy Pearce: Yeah, and I think it’s clearly, it’s the best way to work anyway it’s a little like just grabbing your friends and saying, ‘Let’s go make a short film’ and ‘what do you want to do?’ And just being able to communicate right there and then, and instantaneously, be able to come up with any ideas – but even if everybody thinks it’s not a great idea, have enough respect to go, ‘Well, no how about this?’ I’ve met lots of directors who have far more experience than Mark and I put together, who immediately I go, ‘No, I couldn’t come and work for you,’ ‘because I feel you’re not listening to me or you’re not actually compassionate enough to want to listen to what I find an issue.’ And I clam up pretty easily – I find that I kind of go ‘ohh, my g-d’ really easily around people. So if somebody’s of that kind of nature, I just kind of find that too difficult. With Mark, I knew I could just boss him around, tell him what I wanted.

Mark Fergus: Yes, sir.

Is that the norm with directors?

Guy Pearce: No, not necessarily, I think it comes down to personality types some people you click with and others you don’t. Some people are sensitive to really want to listen to – and I think it’s more – if I was directing and I had a bunch of actors in front of me, I would need to know, and I would need them to know that I know exactly how I’m going to support them in what it is they’re going to try and do, and how I’m going to try and help them in getting there. And if they don’t need help getting there, how I’m going to actually leave them alone as well where I think a lot of directors just kind of plow in and try and boss their way around. And you suddenly go, ‘Am I actually -,’ ‘Can I actually connect to this’ or ‘how’s this working?’

Is that something you know early on in meetings?

Guy Pearce: Well, to a certain extent you generally pick up a vibe straight away and I’m actually a lot better these days sitting down going, ‘So, do you like to rehearse?’ ‘How do you feel about this?’ and ‘What do you reckon about that?’ Just sort of asking a few basic questions that will kind of give you – like if I mention the word ‘rehearse’ and the director goes, ‘oh, ugh, I don’t know, ugh, ugh,’ I think, ‘Eh, this is going to be tricky I don’t know how this is going to work with me.’

What about when a co-star?

Guy Pearce: Well, I must admit, I’m also aware of a director when they have a scene with five actors and every actor has a different approach – how do you handle that? But, that takes an ability to communicate with your other actors, ‘Listen, this particular actor really, really needs to do this, this, this, and this. You think you can just block it through loosely, you guys can go, I can stay with you and we can just nud it out a bit more.’ But I think that juggling ability, not too many people have.

Mark Fergus: There’s always a way I think there’s a phrase about casting that ‘90% of your job is you’re casting correctly,’ and then everything else is intuitive. To me, it’s just dumb luck, and then everybody who came onto this seemed to be in a single mind and spirit in a way we all wanted to work together.

Guy Pearce: And I don’t think it’s dumb luck, I think it’s your intuitive ability to go, ‘You feel like the right person to me.’ I don’t know if there was – I wasn’t there for the process of producers saying, ‘We only want A-list actors.’ I know there was a little bit of that from finance people as far as who they wanted and who they didn’t want, etc… But I think within the, sort of realm or who was acceptable, you pretty much picked the people you wanted.

Mark Fergus: Yeah, they came to the project.

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How did this experience of telling the story compare to telling the story in Memento?

Guy Pearce: How did it compare? Well, I don’t know how to answer that.

Was one more emotionally taxing than the other?

Guy Pearce: Memento was faster and more furious and Chris and Mark are very different people. It’s different because you’re surrounded by a completely different group of people, I think. I don’t know, I think even though Mark kind of knew – the film that’s there on the page is pretty much the film that’s there on the screen, but I feel like there was a more. Well, this is going to sound like the Memento experience was kind of insensitive, cause it wasn’t it was very sensitive. But I feel like this experience – I was probably a different person by the time I did this film to when I did Memento as well. And Chris is very articulate and clear cut, and he’s incredibly sort of deft when it comes to technical, Chris Nolan and he said to me, Chris Nolan said to me initially, ‘I’m not really sure how do work with the actors.’ And he’s far more technical, I suppose, where as Mark is far more connected emotionally. But in saying that, that’s not to say Mark is not technical, and Chris is not emotional, I’m just trying to find a difference, I suppose, between the two. But Memento was fast and furious – (to Mark) how many days did we shoot this in?

Mark Fergus: 29 days.

Guy Pearce: 29 Memento was 24 or 25 days. Memento felt like we were running around like crazy ‘we’ve done this, now let’s run to the next location.’ And it kind of took that– there was just a different vibe. Chris and Wally (Pfister, director of photography on Memento) are just fast and furious guys, where as our team was pretty chilled, I suppose. I mean, Richard is pretty snappy (snaps his fingers), I suppose, but it was a sort of chilled vibe about this film in a way. I don’t know how chilled you were directing your first movie, but it was pretty chilled –

Mark Fergus: No, it was definitely – we wanted to discover more, we didn’t want to know how every scene was going to – we knew what we wanted, we knew where we were starting from, but we wanted to let some chaos into the process.

Guy Pearce: And I think Memento is kind of a technical miracle, really it really is a kind of a machine you really don’t understand until it’s up there on the screen – and I think the only one who fully understands it is Chris. And I was able to do my job emotionally, but I don’t really think I was aware of how brilliant the thing was until I saw the final product where as this felt like a normal film, organic, and we did a lot of discussing about the character, and the relationships between the characters, and so it was kind of different in a way.

Does that help you as an actor rely on the different styles of directors?

Guy Pearce: Yeah, sometimes it just kind of depends on how safe and secure you feel that’s my first thing, you know. When I go into a photo session with somebody, and their attitude isn’t right, I immediately feel insecure – like a kid who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing. And someone else can go, ‘No, what you’re doing is great.’ ‘Cool.’ And you’re immediately relaxed and it’s amazing how you can go from that place to that place depending who you’re talking to.

What are you doing next?

Guy Pearce: I don’t know what I’m doing next.

What have you done recently?

Guy Pearce: I finished doing Death Defying Acts with Catherine Zeta Jones in England with Gillian Armstrong directing, which is a sort of fictional story about a woman and her daughter in the 20’s in Scotland, who have – funny enough, a psychic act. Houdini, on his world tour, stops off in Scotland and makes this announcement. Which is true, that anybody who could come forward with his mother’s last dying words would win themselves $10,000, which was a huge amount of money in that time. So they’ve taken that idea, and made it as a sad sort of fictional account of these two people coming together, and Houdini becoming a catalyst of what happens to Catherine’s character. I play Houdini, but it’s not a biopic, or anything like that.

To Mark, did you refer to the comics of Iron Man or did you go with a blank slate?

Mark Fergus: It’s kind of both approaches, it’s the guys who are the Marvel guys there’s a tremendous motherload of history and detail, and being respected and being considered from the whole history of the project to yesterday. And then there’s also a tremendous opportunity to look at, from the outside, as a story that needs to do certain things, and to find out what else could be done, and to not let anything be off limits. It’s kind of the best of both worlds for the fans, but it’s also not going to just be stocking that cage that has to follow everything. Cause the comics evolved, too everything has been tried in the comics over the years, and they’re taking a really broad approach to ‘what’s the coolest story,’ ‘what’s the most interesting story,’ and anything goes that fits into that – that feels right, not just anything. I think it’s a smart thing, they’re being really open and they’re not going anywhere that fans wouldn’t be psyched about I think it’s the best of both worlds. And I’m an outsider coming in, cause I’m not a comic book guy, so I’m learning it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t grown up with the comics and there are other writers on it who are comic guys. So they’re hitting it from a lot of cool approaches and Jon is the ringleader, who says ‘this is the movie, bam.’ And he’s great, by the way it’s in amazingly deft hands, so he’s a natural story teller and he’s going to really knock it out of the park, I believe.

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