DVD Talk Interviews Director Chris Weitz
Director Chris Weitz
DVD Talk writer and film critic Neil Lumbard recently interviewed filmmaker Chris Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie) about his latest film as a director, Operation Finale. The film has an A-List cast including Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, and Melanie Laurent. The film is based on a true story about the hunt for a Nazi officer who was a central figure in orchestrating the holocaust. The interview took place on October 31st. Operation Finale is now available on DVD and Blu-ray as of Tuesday, December 4th, 2018.
What inspired you to tell this story?
It's a terrific story and a genre I haven't worked in before. I had never made a thriller before. So that was very challenging. When I was sent it [the script], I was interested because my dad had worked in this area. He was a German refugee. He eventually joined the US Army. He fought in the war and after the war he wrote biographies on prominent officials. I was his fact checker. I was his assistant on some of it so I grew up around it. It's a world I was accustomed to.
Wow, that's amazing. When you got involved in the project had you come up with the idea or when did you become involved?
The script was sent to me by MGM. A young English writer, Matthew Orton, wrote it on spec. It wasn't something I had been thinking about beforehand. I became really absorbed in the story. This mission. It's interesting: the danger of it and of the exploit. It brings up a lot of real issues about the nature of justice. The nature of evil. It was a great way for me to explore [these themes] within the suspense of a thriller.
Those are excellent points. Watching the film, I did get the sense this wasn't your typical kind of World War II film. Was that something that also drew you to this project?
Yes. It takes place in the 1960's. Although the path everyone is marching under matches, it takes place in a different country and place, Argentina, with people who would rather forget about what happened and move on. It becomes a psychological thriller rather than a military or spy thriller by the end of it.
The Cast of Operation Finale
I really did like that about the movie. What was it like working with Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, and Melanie Laurent and all of these wonderful actors with such accomplished pedigrees?
It was pretty great! Oscar is an extraordinary actor. Other actors really want to work with him so that helped in terms of the casting. He was one of the producers. He was very intelligent in terms of what he brought to the film. He has thought about this subject and period, regarding the holocaust, more than any actor I know. I was very pleased Melanie decided to do the film. She is the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor. She brought a real commitment to telling this story.
She had a personal significance to being involved. What was it like working with composer Alexandre Desplat? I know that you worked together previously on New Moon. Did you discuss how the score should sound in the context of the movie?
Well, this is our forth movie together. Part of what I want to do is get out of his way because I know he will always bring something intelligent to the table. At first we had a discussion of maybe only having percussion and choir. Eventually it changed as it wasn't enough to fully carry the film. Those elements help carry the movie in an important way. The choral voices were almost like the voices of the dead reminding people of the shock of these historical events. Alexandre's main theme was kind of retro in a way. There was a Bernard Herrmann-esque aspect to things. He's always wanted to be a film composer, he's not a symphonic composer who lost his way. I was keen to make this film feel stylized. In terms of the score, it's a very stylized one.
I agree. The score was excellent. He is one of my favorite composers.
Composer Alexandre Desplat
I'm a fan of your work as a filmmaker as a writer and as a director.
About a Boy
What was perhaps your favorite project?
Oh golly. I supposed one that I always loved is American Pie because it was the first chance my brother and I got to direct. In terms of a movie that went well from beginning to end and came out how we wanted it to be (because they never do, there's always a certain amount of compromise): About a Boy came out the most like we thought it would.
A Better Life is another one I am connected to and that was the one in which Demian Bichir was nominated [Editorial Note: Nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, 2012 Academy Awards].
I think it was great to present that performance and character even though it wasn't a movie a lot of people saw. I think it has a long tail and it's important for people to see documented immigration stories presenting immigrants as human beings. As the great Roger Ebert said, film is like an empathy machine which can give you a glimpse into the lives of people you would not have experienced otherwise.
I couldn't agree more. About a Boy, on that note, is one of my personal favorites.
What was it like working on Star Wars: Rogue One?
It was a dream come true for me. I saw Star Wars when I was seven years old and it changed my life.
It's probably why I work in movies. To have a chance to not just work in Star Wars but to work on a story to the opening crawl of the movie I love most in the world was extraordinary.
Star Wars: Rogue One
That's awesome. Are there any particular things you wanted audiences to take away the most from watching Operation Finale?
Oh golly. I think, no. I'm not trying to force a particular meaning on people. If they can give me two hours of their brain time, I suppose I would like people to take away the notion that these kinds of impulses towards political and racial violence is not unique to Germany in the 1930's. It is always possible. We are not just doing an active memory but a warning.
A warning: to remember how important it is to always remember the history we've experienced not just as a nation but as a world.
I'm actually a aspiring screenwriter myself. I've written two screenplays on spec. Do you have any aspiring words for those who want to become filmmakers themselves?
Oh cool! I think that the tools to make films by oneself are actually more readily available than ever before and the gate-keepers are starting to disappear. I'm lucky to work in a studio system but that system won't be in place forever. Most movies will be seen on the internet from now on. I always encourage people to make their own movies.
A guy I know, Jim Cummings, made Thunder Road. He and his friends just went out and made the movie and didn't wait for anyone to say they could do it. They just went out and made the movie.
That is definitely true. I think that Steven Soderbergh making Unsane with an iPhone is an example.
Anything else, Chris, that you would like to add as a thought about Operation Finale?
It's just been great to talk about it. It's been a great tribute. Thank you.
This last question is just for fun since it's Halloween. What is your favorite scary movie of all time?
Man, I'm so easily scared I tend to avoid watching horror films. It's probably Don't Look Now, the Nicolas Roeg film. It's pretty great. I'm sure it probably wouldn't scare a hardcore horror movie fan but I'm easily scared.
Thank you for the opportunity to interview you. It was great to interview you! I hope you have a long road ahead as a filmmaker. I hope you have a good Halloween.
Thank you, take care.
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