ENCOUNTER WITH TRAVELLERS: Hopper & Wenders

Dennis Hopper and Wim Wenders in discussion
Berlinale Talent Campus 2003

Dennis Hopper and Wim Wenders are travellers - in every sense. On their exploration tour to the end of the world the two completely different characters are living seismographs for all facets of human existence and expression. They are creators of images and imagination and both have “the photographic eye”. And both of them have gone through difficult periods. What is the nature of their motivation and their desire to express themselves? And in moments of doubt and desperation, where do they find the energy for self-motivation? These were some of the questions they discussed during an encounter presented by the European Film Academy, Hugo Boss and Telefilm Saar at the Berlinale Talent Campus. The conversation between the two is a wonderful document of the joy and challenge of artistic life. The Campus audience just loved it and, for all who did not have the possibility to come and listen themselves, we have documented it here below.

HOW IT ALL STARTED & THE SECOND FILM SYNDROME

Dennis Hopper: Let me ask Wim a question: when did you decide to become a director? How did that come about?

Wim Wenders: That happened after my fourth film. (Laughter) Because I was really a failed painter, and it took me so long to come to terms with that.

DH: See, I’ve never realised that yet?.

WW: There you go. When did it hit you?

DH: You mean, that I was a failure as a painter … ? Well, actually I started out in the theatre aged thirteen. I mean, not in a professional theatre, but doing Shakespeare in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre. And when I was eighteen I went under contract to Warner Brothers and the first day that I was on a movie set, I realised that there was a director. In the theatre, I knew there was a director, but once you got on the stage, the director left and you were okay. But in the movie, after every line you said somebody was saying “Cut! Do this again! Do that this way!” and so on. And I thought, I want that job, that’s the creative job in the movies.

WW: I wasn’t kidding about the fourth movie because it took me three films to understand that filmmaking wasn’t just a bubble or a dream, but that it was something that I could actually continue doing. It took a complete failure to understand that I really wanted it. It actually took the worst film that I ever made to make me want to do it right. I’m talking about Scarlet Letter.

DH: Did you do The American Friend after that? What was your fifth film?

WW: The fifth film was Kings of the Road and The American Friend was two films later. When we did that one, I already signed “director” as a profession when I checked into a hotel, and that was a proud statement because for the first few films I wrote different things down. What do you write down in a hotel when they ask you for your profession?

DH: Actor. It covers just about everything … My first film was Easy Rider, which was very successful, and then I went back and made the movie that I wanted to make as my first movie. It was called The Last Movie and stopped my career and I didn’t direct again for ten years - not because I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t get a directing job.

WW: Did it ever hit you that it was the wrong title?

DH: It hit me at the time. “You’re only as good as your last movie.” But, you know, the great thing about Wim is that he’s been beaten down and he goes right back and makes a movie, and continues to make wonderful films. I could never get the financing to go on and make films as a director.

WW: The “second feature film syndrome” is quite an important thing in any filmmaker’s life. My third film was really my second, since the first one I made didn’t really count. That was Summer in the City. I made it at the end of film school. Everybody was supposed to make a fifteen minute short film. We had a certain budget and I figured out that if I did every shot only once, and if I shot in 16mm black & white, I could stretch that same budget to a hundred minutes - but only with one take. And that’s what I did. Nobody ever saw the film because I used all the music that I liked and I didn’t know you had to pay for the rights. I used everything in the book, and of course, that made its distribution impossible. So I don’t count it as my first film. Then I made The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty Kick, which was my Easy Rider in a way, my real first film. It wasn’t successful like yours, of course, but people liked it.

FAILURE AND SUCCESS

WW: And then I fell into a trap, thinking “I can now do whatever they want…” - whatever they want! … - and made a film that they wanted from me, and that was a big mistake, a disaster. Do you know the novel, “Scarlet Letter”? It takes place in the 17th century in New England and because we lost half our budget we had to shoot it in Spain. So all the Puritans were Spanish Catholics and we shot it in one of those villages where they made the Spaghetti Westerns, which are all shot in Spain, not in Italy. We painted the Western village black, so that it would look like Salem, Massachusetts. We didn’t have more money in our art department budget than to paint the whole thing black. Afterwards, every Spaghetti Western took place in a black village! (Which was the proof that they made them all in Spain.) Anyway, that film was a total disaster and it led me to think that I really shouldn’t be in this filmmaking business. I had made something that didn’t belong to me at all. It wasn’t from the heart. It wasn’t about anything that had anything to do with my own experience. It was based on a novel that took place in the 17th century. It had a woman as a hero. I realised while I was making the film that I had no right to talk about the life and the world of a woman. It was all completely pretentious and preposterous.

So I understood that if filmmaking was worth anything, it had to be about my own experience. It had to be about something I knew. It had to be about what really counted for me. There had to be something at stake. That’s what you did with Easy Rider. There was a lot at stake there. It took me three films to find out that filmmaking was really about that motto of today’s talk: “Create or Die”. If you’re not willing to die for it and if you’re not willing to give everything you have, literally, then you’d better not do it. But your experience was very different with The Last Movie.

DH: Well, Wasserman wouldn’t distribute it. After winning the prize at Venice, if he’d just have released it in Europe, I would have been able to have some sort of play. But he said, “we’re going to play it for two weeks in New York, two weeks in Los Angeles, three days in San Francisco and shelf it unless you re-edit it”, and I thought that was preposterous. So I went on every talk-show and said “this is preposterous, this is what Universal Pictures said they’re going to do” and, of course, that’s exactly what they did. I don’t know if the picture would ever have been understood or not. I really don’t know.

I showed it recently when I had my retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. I showed it to a young audience there and it’s the first time I ever sat in an audience who actually enjoyed the movie. They loved it. They laughed. They had a really good time. Because of MTV, because of music videos and all the commercials, it’s perhaps a lot easier to understand The Last Movie now than it was when people first saw it. But it never had a real chance, so I don’t know if it would’ve been a success or not. It was packed for two weeks in New York, two weeks in Los Angeles, three days in San Francisco, but that was the end of it. And I couldn’t get a job directing again for ten years!

Then I directed a film called Out of the Blue. I went to Stewart Stern, who wrote The Ugly American and Rebel without a Cause, and I said, “would you write this screenplay?” And he said, “I go to a psychiatrist and I pay the psychiatrist, so if you’re going to come to me, you have to pay me. I know we’re friends, but you’re going to have to pay me”. So I scraped together a bit of money (not nearly what he got for his screenplays, but it was hard for me at the time). I would tell him what I thought the scene was, and he would go upstairs and write it and come down and say “is this what you meant?”. And I said, “more or less”, and we just went through it that way. So, at the end of it, we had a very beautiful screenplay. I probably should’ve released the screenplay as a novel and forgotten about making the movie …

By that time, my idea about filmmaking had totally changed. I had taken to heart that a movie has a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order. And I made a movie like that. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order. I think it’s important in those moments to reconsider what your priorities are, whether you have a big success or a big failure with your first film,. After I made Easy Rider I should’ve made something that I knew was going to be successful. But, you know, it’s nice thinking about it now. You couldn’t have told Dennis Hopper then.

WW: But there’s something about success and about failure when you look at it hard. I realize in hindsight that failure was more important for me than success. I mean, one likes success so much more, but if you only have success, you’re living in a parallel universe. You don’t have to defend anything anymore. And you don’t have to question yourself. It’s only through failure that you have to define who you are, you have to defend what you do, and all of a sudden you grow. If you have one success after another, you’re doomed to not even know anymore who you are. (Applause) - That was the last thing I’d thought anyone would applaud -

I saw Easy Rider at my first year in film school in Munich. I had just started writing for a little film review called ‘”Filmkritik”. Dennis didn’t make it to Munich - I don’t know why. Peter Fonda came with the film and I did the first interview of my life in this hotel room with my friend’s tape recorder because I didn’t own one myself. I made a fabulous interview and Peter Fonda was really opening up and telling me things that I don’t think he told everybody - or maybe he did, but I was under the impression that I had the whole story. I went home and I turned it’ and there was nothing on the tape. I had to make it all up! That taught me a lot about journalism.

So I left out most of the interview and wrote about the experience I had with the film, which was much better because it made me come to terms with why I liked the film so much. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I’d never seen anybody connect a story and its imagery with music like Dennis had done. I was very excited because I realised there was something very precious in that new connection he had found, in that directness. Between rock and roll and film there was a secret link that nobody had actually made before. For me, Easy Rider was a real turning point in my understanding of filmmaking. I realised what sort of thrill was in that combination, that chemistry. I went back the next day and put a lot of rock and roll into my first short film.

DH: I edited the movie for a year. I shot the movie Easy Rider in four and a half weeks, going all the way across the country and back. But I had no way to see my dailies, so by the time I got back to Los Angeles, I had something like 70 hours of film. It took me a year to edit it. I would play the radio on the way to the editing room and I would hear the music off the radio. And as I was doing the travelling sequences I started putting songs to it, like “Goddam to push your man” and “Born to be wild” and these various things. It was a very different world in those days because no one had ever used found music then. They’d always written a movie score for a movie. At the end of it, all I had to do in those days was go to the artists who’d performed the songs and ask their permission, and I got the rights to use the music, but it was a very different world than it is now. Peter had gone to Crosby Stills Nash & Young, who were great musicians, and he’d had them say we could use their next album for all the music in the film. I got rid of the idea of that by God knows what means - I won’t go into details - but I went to use the music I’d found for the movie.

I don’t know if I learned anything from making this film. I’d gone under contract with Warner Bros. when I was 18 and I already wanted to be a director then. And I was 31 years old by the time I could finally direct Easy Rider. So I’d been waiting a long time to direct the film. The cinematographer, Laszlo Kovacs, was just amazing. He had come out of Hungary during the revolution. He’d been trained in a Communist school and he was the greatest telephoto-operator I’ve ever seen. We shot all the bike sequences out of the back of a Chevy convertible with some of the air out of the tyres and some sandbags and an Arriflex camera. Those great shots of the wheels up to Peter and me … We had just an amazing communication, Laszlo and myself because I was directing the film and also on a motorcycle. He’s just an incredible guy. I could never have done it without him.

WORKING TOGETHER

WW: Dennis came to Hamburg straight from the set of “Apocalypse now”. He was still in character, with 3 cameras hanging around his neck, and totally spaced out. Well, when Dennis understood that he was no longer in the Philippines, but in Hamburg of all places to shoot The American Friend with me, we started working. We had been shooting for two weeks already on our own without him. And then Dennis had his first days on the set, alone with Bruno Ganz. Bruno is the kind of an actor who prepares himself really meticulously. He knows every gesture beforehand. He knows exactly how he’s going to do what. He’s got it all laid out. Dennis was the opposite. He didn’t really give a flying f***. I was under the impression that Dennis had never even read the script. He probably had, but he might have forgotten it?

DH: I didn’t know there was a script! You were writing every day, weren’t you? Because I remember waking up drunk with pages all over me, lying in the lobby and thinking, “My God, they’re still writing!”

WW: Anyway, Dennis didn’t care about the pages. The amazing thing was that Dennis was fooling around and making jokes, and then the camera would roll and the slate was hit and “snap!” Dennis was there. He was right on the money, and concentrated! He knew exactly what he was doing. Very present, very sharp. And when I said “Cut!”, Dennis would joke again and fool around immediately. It drove Bruno crazy. It drove him nuts that this guy didn’t concentrate, didn’t prepare, and was good! On the third day they had together, all of a sudden, I don’t know how it happened, but there were fists flying and the camera was still running and I shouted “Cut!” and there they were, on the floor, fighting.

DH: Something had obviously gone wrong.

WW: There were noses bleeding, and they were yelling insults, and it was a total disaster. The last thing I saw was that they somehow left together. So I thought they were going to continue in the alley, but nobody heard anything from them anymore … - until the next morning, when they came back together. Man, they looked pretty bad! Their faces didn’t really have any continuity from the previous day. But we started to shoot again and from then on, Dennis and Bruno were fabulous. Dennis came to me in the evening: “Where are my pages?” And when I brought Bruno the new pages, he would say: “Oh, leave me alone, I’ll read them tomorrow!” They learned a lot from each other. Or maybe it was osmosis. But, from then on, I had the two greatest actors on my set and Dennis was incredibly disciplined - not necessarily after the shoot - but during the shoot.

DH: But Wim was amazing. I’ve said this for years. It was like being in a blizzard and a big Saint Bernard dog finds you with brandy around his neck and saves your life in a snowstorm.

WW: You were after my brandy, right?

DH: You were amazing. You’re a gentle giant. It was a great experience for me. And you know, Robby Müller - I saw something I’d never seen. We were shooting at the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, in the hat-makers shop. And Robby Müller, the cinematographer, wanted to show the outside, so rather than putting stuff up to cover the windows so you can see the density of light through and see outside, he bounced the light by putting lights around the window, and I thought, what a genius idea. I’d never seen anyone do that before. I think he must have invented it.

WW: On that film Robby single-handedly invented a lot of things. Like Kino-flows, fluorescent lighting. That wasn’t done until then, those lights didn’t exist yet. It’s great to have a cameraman who doesn’t have his usual approach and applies it to each and every film. I love working with people who re-think their craft and if they make another film they just start from scratch. Robby Müller, with The American Friend, really started from scratch. He lit it differently than I’ve ever seen him light something before. He just thought that the film needed a whole different approach.

DH: What was amazing also was that there were seven directors in that film which you had as actors. There was myself, there was Nicholas Ray, Gérard Blain, Sam Fuller, Jean Eustache, Daniel Schmid, Peter Lilienthal. All as actors.

WW: I cast all my director friends because, you know, there were all these gangsters in the script and all these mafiosi, and the last thing I wanted to do was cast them the way everybody would expect them to look. So I cast only colleagues as gangsters?

DH: That figures …

WW: … because they were the only gangsters I knew. The only crooks I knew were directors.

THE SCRIPT

Question from the audience: Mr Wenders, when you have a screenplay finished, and it’s one day before shooting, do you know how the whole shooting process is going to work? And do you know how the film is going to end from the beginning? How was your experience with “Buena Vista Social Club”?

WW: It rarely happened to me that I considered a script finished at the first day of shooting. WRONG MOVE was one of these exceptions, maybe the only one. I always think that, as good as the script may be - and I made some movies with good scripts, some movies with no script whatsoever, and some movies with just a couple of pages - I could take it further and improve it. The script and whatever notions and ideas that anybody including myself had manifested in it before the first day of shooting, could never really be so important as the real thing. And that only starts happening, when you’re there, on location, with your actors and your crew. Sometimes a script, as good as it may be, might make you blind for your actors and for your place and for the truth of the situation. When you’re writing you can’t really know the truth of a situation. You may think you know it because you’re into your story. But that’s a big mistake, in my book, if you start taking that story for the truth. Hopefully, there’s some of it in your story, but in order to really materialize, you have to find a more existential equivalent to it than you or your writer could have ever dreamed of. I found it is utterly important that, as a director, you have that liberty to not follow your script. And to re-write it. Maybe Dennis and I both started making movies at a time when that was more acceptable than today. I think it’s utterly important to have the liberty to let your actors, your DP, and your crew have an influence. If I, as the director, am just executing somebody’s storyboard or some script that was written and agreed upon and signed, if I’m therefore just “executing” it, then somebody else would have to do the film, not me, because I’m not good at that. This industrial approach is often taken today. A lot of movies, not only in Hollywood, are made like this. They exist as a completely finished product before the first day of shooting. As a director, you just have to go through the motions. I could never do that.

What about Buena Vista Social Club? There was never any script. On the flight to Havana, I was trying to scribble down a concept, but I forgot it the moment we got out of the plane because it was obvious that place didn’t need a concept. The place wanted me to be open for it and the music was the concept. We just had to be true to it and let it be the centre of attention. And these people were so amazing, there was nothing to add. I mean, I tried not to add anything. I just tried to capture as much as possible. When you do a documentary, you need a very different approach, a different mind-set from the beginning. You really want to make whatever is in front of your camera the main thing. You want to honour that. You want it to become the focus and you want to translate it to the audience. You become a medium. And you really want to step back as much as possible. At least, that’s how I feel about documentaries. I made other films where that wasn’t the case, but I never called them documentaries. I called them “diaries”. You can also make a film in a very personal way, whereby you expose your own subjective view of things, but that shouldn’t be called a “documentary”.

DH: It’s very difficult if you have a script, for example, if you’re sitting and you write about robbing a grocery store. Well, that’s fine, but the grocery store, when you get to shoot it is not like the grocery store that you wrote about and the people who are playing the parts are not really like the people you wrote about, and the cinematographer has his own ideas. Things have to be loose enough to be able to change, to be creative. Also, it’s interesting that, in the 20th century, the greatest film that I, in my mind, ever saw, and the first time that literature and film ever really married was Wings of Desire.

ART, CONFLICT & TRUTH

Audience: Mr Hopper, some of the most interesting work you’ve been involved in, like Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now, have come at times of conflict, it seems, in your own life, and I would just like to ask both of you what you think the correlation is between really great, interesting art and conflict?

DH: Well, you know, drugs and alcohol work for one minute because if you’re shy, they will suddenly liberate you, so you can be more free. But pretty soon you’re working for the drugs and the alcohol. Alcohol and drugs are a crutch. They may be very liberating for a moment, but after a while, they’re not liberating at all. As far as chaos and conflict are concerned, I think that a troubled being, a troubled soul that needs to express itself, doesn’t need to be drunk or on drugs. I think that hate and love are both creative things. I think we should take these things and make them work, rather than attack other people and doing those things. We should take these things and use them and learn how to use them as tools to create with. They’re very powerful: sex, hate, love. These things are very powerful tools to be able to utilise and put into our work. I think it’s important to know who we are and what we’re about, and we’ll find trouble inside us, and that will come out and we’ll express that in our films.

WW: Conflict is at the very source of creativity. Conflict means that you have to make decisions and that you have to find out what the truth is, against all obstacles. I think that filmmaking is probably the most privileged way to discover the truth of something. And there’s nothing more reassuring and exciting than if you realise you’re onto something, and that you’re about to explore the truth of something with your film. Whatever story you’re telling, whatever turmoil and mess you might be in, the very fact that you’re onto the truth gives you all the reassurance that you can possibly find because there’s nothing more comforting and calming in the world than the truth.

DH: One of the great stories about that is that when you were directing “Hammett” for Francis Ford Coppola and Francis stopped you in the middle of shooting, and you - rather than putting your tail between your legs and going home - went off and made State of Things and then went back and finished Hammett after that, which was actually about the making of Hammett in an abstract way. I’ll always remember thinking, “boy, that’s the way to go if you can do it”. I know it isn’t easy, but that’s a terrific creative moment.

WW: It’s true. I was totally lost, and I was in despair, but in the middle of a conflict you sometimes lose all orientation. But making a film about that very situation allows you to step back from it, and then you can find things out! In order to survive Hammett I had to make this other film in between. Also in order to sort of stay friends with Francis, which is what we did after all and, in a way, that’s the most amazing thing about the adventure - that we still respect each other - but I had to make that other movie in order to get it out of my system.

FILMMAKING & REAL LIFE

Audience: How does the process of filmmaking affect your own personal experience? Does it help you with the experience of your own life?

WW: I can safely say I could not remotely be who I am today if I hadn’t learned from film to film to understand the world better and therefore understand my place in it better. I think the fantastic privilege of filmmaking is that it touches not only on all the arts, but that you’re also dealing with experiences, and that you can actually start a film in order to find out something about a subject you don’t know enough about to begin with, even about yourself. Like I did State of Things in order to find out how I felt about having failed in Hollywood. I’m not saying that you have to expose private stuff in a film, on the contrary. There’s a very fine line between “private” and “personal”, and I really believe that the only stories worth telling to other people, and the only ones that really communicate, are personal, and that means: based on experience. “Private” stories, on the other hand, don’t translate experiences. They just embarrass all parties, the storyteller as well as the audience. A good comedian knows that fine line, for instance, and sometimes even plays with it.

Anyway, in order to be creative, you have to expose yourself. That’s a risk you cannot avoid. And you have to come to terms with a lot of things, otherwise you just cannot continue and you get stuck and turn in circles. I think filmmaking is a fantastic way of coming to terms with issues and conflicts and relationships. I think there’s no better way to learn and to discover the world. Writers, for instance, have a very difficult time to learn, because they’re always more or less in this very small, defined world with the computer or the typewriter, while, as filmmakers, we get to work with lots of people. You might have this idea or this dream at the very beginning of a film. It’s like a candle or a flame that you’re carrying, but in between you have to pass it on to your actors, and you have to give it to your cameraman to carry it and your editor, and you’re mostly there just watching that they don’t fuck it up and let it be blown out. It passes through all these hands and that’s an incredible act in itself, too, because you have to take something from yourself, sometimes from your deepest heart, and you have to trust other people with it. Filmmaking, more than anything, is about trust. I wasn’t a trusting person when I started to make movies. I learned a lot about trust and about love from making films. If you’re not into sharing, you’re going to get it all wrong.

NEW FREEDOM THROUGH DIGITAL FILMMAKING

DH: You’re very fortunate to live in this period of time because the digital experience allows you to be able not to have to go out and get millions and millions of dollars, but, in point of fact, for somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000, you can make a feature length digital film. And for about $140,000, if you get a theatrical release, you can blow it up to 35mm. But, at that point, you have only about $160,000 invested instead of the $4 or 5 million which is the low budget end of things at the moment in our business. That’s a big advantage. And also, who said that a movie has to be 90 minutes long? I went out and made a little digital thing that was eight and a half minutes long about a homeless woman who lives on Venice Beach. It was a wonderful experience for me. There was just the cameraman and myself and I wanted to get the woman waking up in the morning, so I got up at about 5 o’clock, and the sun came up around 6, and by 8 o’clock, about two hours later, I said to my cameraman, “you know, it’s really amazing. I always prided myself as a film director that I could get 27 set-ups or more a day, and I thought that was really incredible. I wonder how many I have now, two hours into this …” And he said, “Oh, I’ve written it down, you have 70″. Because all I had to do was move it from one angle to another angle. I didn’t have to move a thousand lights and a thousand electricians, etc. to build this amazing chapel. I could merely just move the camera. It’s a great time that you live in to be able to work and experiment, and even if they’re only like drawings of something that you’ll do later, the digital world is a wonderful world to experiment in and play in.

WW: It’s great that all these young people can go out and shoot with digital cameras today because it means they’re free to make experiences. As soon as you need more money, you have more constraints, and right away you are not allowed to really explore any more. The bigger your budget, the more you’re just allowed to execute some master plan. Film as a form of “expression” has been almost lost in the nineties. Film had been reduced to “entertainment”. Which is a great form of expression, but certainly not its only definition.

THE RISK OF SCI-FI FILMMAKING

WW: “Until the End of the World” was the only science-fiction film I ever did and I made one big mistake: I put the film into the near future. Actually the film starts in 1999 and ends in the year 2001, and we shot it in 1990. So I can give you some good advice if you ever make a science-fiction film: Don’t put it at a time that can catch up with you! Put it further on to spare you the embarrassment.

I have a science-fiction project for much further in time now, in 500 years from now. I like sci-fi a lot, but I’m not interested in the technology aspect of it so much. I’m really interested in how people and relationships and behaviour might change. If you look at the great sci-fi stories, or even more so if you look at bad sci-fi movies, you realise they’re really about the time they were made in. They take place in the future, okay, but everything in the film is about that era in which it was conceived. Every sci-fi film defines its own time, its hopes and fears, not so much those of the future. I like sci-fi for that, and I hope one day I can make another one.

This one was such a difficult experience. One of my big failures, yet my biggest achievement, too, maybe… As we were talking about failures before … It was by far the most expensive thing I’ve ever done in my life: The film cost more than $20 million, which was a lot of money in 1990 for a European film. It mainly failed because I had made a film that was way too long. It was a truly epic story. My own cut lasted five hours, but the distributors insisted on their contracts and I had to cut the poor thing down to two and a half hours. It became a sort of “Reader’s Digest” of what I had intended. And that was a sad story because, all of a sudden, there were just the ideas left, without any flesh around them. When you have to strip down a film mercilessly, you realize the first things that go are all the scenes involving humour. They’re the least necessary when push comes to shove.

FILMMAKING AGAINST WAR

Audience: As a filmmaker, you can influence people. I’m especially interested in this matter because I’m from Yugoslavia. Is there any chance against the war situation? Is there any chance for any movie to have some influence on humanity?

WW: As a filmmaker, obviously, you have to ask yourself that question these days. Whenever I think about any movie I’ve seen about war I come to the same conclusion: That films have that in-built thing that perpetuates whatever they depict, against the best intentions sometimes. I have not yet seen a film about war that in some way or another doesn’t glorify it. So maybe the only way as a filmmaker - for myself - to react to that realization is to make a film about the opposite - to make a film about peace. That is really the only thing we can do. Perpetuate peace, glorify it and make it seem like the best thing on Earth. Which it is. I mean, look at all these war movies. Look at each and every one of them. In the end, they make you ready to accept images of war. They wear down your resistance. And that’s what it comes down to. So I prefer to develop counter images. As war is the obscene state of the absence of respect and love, the only thing you can do is to project the opposite. And that is the only way for filmmakers to do something against war. Otherwise you have to do other things, like go into politics, or join the people on the streets and protest. As filmmaker you have that one weapon of stating the truth and beauty of the contrary, of Peace
HOW TO BECOME AN ACTOR IN L.A..

Audience: Mr Hopper, I’ve got a dream and that is the urgent wish to act. I’m moving to LA next month, to Venice Beach. I just want to know, what would you recommend to someone who wants to act? Where to go? Who to ask?

DH: When I came to Los Angeles aged 18, you couldn’t get an agent unless you had a Screen Actors Guild Card. And you couldn’t get a Screen Actors Guild Card unless you got into a major studio. There were no independent films those days. The studios were Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and you couldn’t get inside the studio without an agent and you couldn’t get a Screen Actors Guild Card unless you worked in a movie. The best thing to do is find out where actors hang out, where actors go, and usually that’s little theatres. Whether you like the theatre or not, it’s a place that you can showcase yourself and it’s a place where you can learn to act because if you want to be an actor, you’ve got to learn how to act.

But it’s a different world now: you have digital possibilities and you have people you can put together. You can make a reel of yourself with a young director showing your abilities as an actor. Where you study, what you learn … You need to have somebody who can instruct you in some way and tell you the no-no’s and the yeah-yeah’s of what they think acting is. That’s a person you should pick with a lot of care because they can give you a lot of bad ideas. There’s nothing worse than having a trained actor who’s been trained in pre-conceived ideas, in my mind, because there’s no improvisation with them. There’s no give-and-take. There’s just what they’re doing and that’s it and you either get into their mode or you’re finished. If you want to be a painter, you’ve got to go where there are painters. And you need to be able to work, and I think digitally right now would probably be a good way. You can make a reel of yourself. You can show it to an agent.

Audience: Is there any place you know in L.A.?

DH: Where? To study?

Audience: Where I could meet people like that?

DH: You know, I don’t know of anywhere in LA. There are places in New York that have teachers. People who have studied with Strasberg or with Sandy Meissner or Stella Adler. These are the people who I would recommend. I can’t give you a name right now, but they’re mostly in New York. I don’t know anyone in Los Angeles, but I’m a little out of touch in that area at the moment.

WW: But there are more theatres in Los Angeles.

DH: Absolutely. And there are a lot of actors. Get a job as a waitress and you’ll find that all the other waiters are actors. Good luck!

THE FUTURE OF CINEMA

Audience: Where do you think the future of cinema is going to be? Is there anything you’re missing in present cinema? Having been inspired by the book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” on the big revolution in Hollywood I was wondering if you think that there will be changes like this again? Not only with digital video, which is one thing, but do you think there will be such a great movement again in cinema? Because I find that cinema has now become very conventional again …

DH: Well “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” was about when the directors took over. The studio system was dying. They weren’t making money and, after “Easy Rider”, they suddenly realised that anybody who was riding a bicycle could direct a movie. There was suddenly a lot of independent movies being made and people in the studios giving people a lot of opportunities to make movies. So, for one brief moment in Hollywood’s history, the directors actually took over. In the studio system, a director merely directed the movie. He didn’t cast the movie. He didn’t write the movie. He didn’t edit the movie. He didn’t put the music to the movie. That was all the studio that did that. He merely came on the set and directed the movie. John Ford and John Huston, and a few other directors, learned how to shoot only one close-up or two lines … or they would shoot three lines in a long shot and two longs in a two-shot … and that’s the way they had to edit the film. They didn’t give the studio any opportunity to have any other kind of footage. Anyway, for this brief moment in “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”, we took over and had total creative freedom. I had total creative freedom on The Last Movie and Easy Rider and then I was stopped. It was pointed out the other night that the only two who ever got through all that were Spielberg and Lucas because they were the only ones who didn’t drink and take drugs. The rest of us fell in the gutter. But it was that one moment.

What is it like now? Is it coming back? I don’t see it in Hollywood. Hollywood’s all about the big weekend box office … how-much-money’s-it-gonna-make-on-the-weekend? If it doesn’t make money on the weekend you don’t see it the next week in a theatre. Also, everybody talks about the independent movie and how great the independent movies are - we do make independent movies in the United States, but we can’t find theatres to show them in because the big studios have all the theatres wrapped up. In an ideal world, if you built a big cineplex in the US… or ten theatres, that seven of those theatres would be for the big Hollywood blockbusters - which would be a gamble - of the other three theatres, one would be for foreign films, one would be for independent films, and one would be for the history of film because we’re losing our history. We’re not seeing the great films that are made in the past any more, and if you had those ten cinemas in a cineplex, I would guarantee, after a year of people being educated to know that they could go to those theatres, those theatres would be packed and the others would still be a gamble of who’s making the big weekend box office. Distribution and theatres are the crux of the whole thing as far as making film is concerned. Also, we’re in an era where we could change the whole … I know that for five billion dollars we could change all the theatres in the United States over to digital projection. At that point, you could cut out a lot of work for teamsters and people dragging film around, but you could actually beam up to a satellite and beam right into a theatre, or you could send a little chip, and that would be it. So, there’s all these possibilities, but you will probably see this hopefully in the future.

WW: I’m an eternal optimist, so I would answer your question with an entirely optimistic response. All through the 90s, and up to right now, you see that, on one hand, movies get more spectacular and more expensive and louder and more bizarre and filled with so much noise -. and the more noisy and the more spectacular they get, the more you realise how empty they are! And I think there is an enormous hunger out there, a massive public need that films deal with something real again, that they deal with content. For a couple of years now, all of a sudden documentaries are back in a big way. Why? Because they don’t deal with form! They don’t give a shit if their shots look great. Their “production value” are their issues! For a while, especially in the 90s, it was all about the looks and the gimmicks and the special effects. That will continue, and films will eventually cost half a billion, but that’s no skin off my nose. I’m not going to start worrying about the fate of those blockbusters. They will continue to exist, anyway, but, parallel to that kind of cinema, we’re seeing right now an incredible revolution, and we just catch a glimpse of the tip of that iceberg: Every sort of film will exist again in the near future - documentaries, auteur films, diaries, B-movies, experimental films, even forms we don’t even know yet - that are all based on content and experience. That is the only thing Hollywood is not able to deliver. Well, I shouldn’t say “never” because every now and then they do, and every now and then there is a movie like “The Hours” which I just saw, which I think is a fabulous achievement. But mainly the Studios don’t give a shit about content. It’s all about bamboozling and “razzle-dazzle”, to quote another movie I just saw which will surely win the Oscar, not The Hours. But still: There’s an incredible hunger out there for something else, something more caring, that answers questions and deals with issues and content.

I don’t think there’s ever been a generation more privileged than yours to fulfil that need, and to go and work with it and for it. In a couple of years, that narrow gate that you still have to go through because you still have to blow up your digital movies to film and you still have to find a distributor and you still have to go through the same, damn narrow door of conventional distribution… that narrow door will be wide open soon, as soon as digital projection is available. It doesn’t even have to be the same circuits. It can be other circuits, new ones. I really envy you, all of you, because that is the future: You can start telling things that are important again. Now if that isn’t wildly optimistic!