On their most personal film
Joshua Safdie: I’d say Daddy Long Legs is probably the most personal, but this one’s very close to it. This was the followup to Daddy Long Legs, and I think that the Howard character, and his constant fight to belong … I can’t help but relate to that as a team of filmmakers who’ve been constantly trying to put our own product out there. Like the golden Furby, we’d hear people telling us that it was either worthless, or this, that, or the other. But sticking with it and fighting and saying … it’s like Howard says, “You know what? Maybe you didn’t like that one. You might like it the next time.” You know what I mean? You feel so dedicated to this thing, and you’re going to take any modicum of success and parlay it onto itself so that you can hopefully hit the big one.
And then you couple it with our childhood perspective of not only our father, but also our mother, and then our stepfather, seeing people try to strive and use the things of consumer and material culture to try to overcompensate and try to be like, “Yeah, I belong here.” And, in particular, with our dad, he worked in the Diamond District, and he tries and he tries. The difference between our dad and Howard is that our dad has had many different jobs. So yeah, this is a very personal film and there’s a lot of deep-rooted things in it that are strange little jewels for our own selves that I don’t think anyone else would be like, “Oh that’s tied to this.” There’s a lot of really messed up personal stuff in there for us.
What did your father think of the film?
Benny Safdie: To him, it’s just a movie, because it’s not like Daddy Long Legs, which was a real inspection and criticism of him in a lot of ways and loving of him.
Joshua Safdie: This one he saw and he actually compared it to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That was a movie he showed us very, very early on.
Benny Safdie: He would show us movies where he relates to the main character’s inability to get out of it.
Joshua Safdie: That’s what a lot of people do. A lot of people share movies that they feel what their close ones would be like, “This is me. This is my self. So watch this to understand.” He loved the movie, though. He bought us our Adam Sandler tape really early on. So, to him, it was just a movie. He was so entertained by it that he forgot that his kids were involved in it.
On growing up with Adam Sandler
Joshua Safdie: We started with the records, we heard the records. To me, it all started for us with “Sex or Weight Lifting”. Because you’re kids, you’re just kind of like, “Whoa. What is this? Oh my God, this is crazy.” It’s greater than a porno. It’s kind of like, “Whoa, that’s pretty real sex.” And also it’s just so funny. Even on the set of Good Time, whenever things would get tested, I would say, “I’m hitting the record button now…”
On Daniel Lopatin
Joshua Safdie: Daniel’s amazing. Good Time was a lot easier than this. We knew what it needed to be, we knew its purpose. It was a pulsing drive that would come out. I still love shredding to that score. I know people who get speeding tickets listening to it ’cause you just start fucking driving fast.
Benny Safdie: The narrative pace drove the score.
Joshua Safdie: With this score, in particular, I remember when we finally finished, and he sent me the rough mixes, and I took like a very brief vacation ’cause I thought we were gonna be done with the movie and then we weren’t. But it ended up being just a little bit of a break. I remember listening to the rough mixes and there’s a couple of pieces that are like the Good Time driving pieces, but there’s a lot that’s just kind of euphoric music and beautiful and new agey in a weird way that’s very cool. And making this score was so much harder than Good Time because it was more unknown. And I felt like we were going to new places with Dan. And there’s also flutes, there’s saxophones, there’s percussion. We worked with Eli Kessler, who’s an incredible percussionist. Gatekeeper performed on the soundtrack. Mario Castro. We had a lot of collaborators on this.
Lopatin offers a great juxtaposition in the final scene. Very misleading.
Joshua Safdie: Interestingly, his first sketch for that final cue was very Cheers-inspired. It was very Boston. Like you were all good friends and there’s a Yamaha electric piano called the CP80, which was just a sound that we knew we wanted. And his first improvisations on that were the first sketches for that final piece. And they were a bit maudlin, but the maudlin element to it kind of made it feel like the closing credits on a soap opera or something, which I really liked. So then we took that and we added the cosmic element to it, and cosmic was the key as the ending had to feel cosmic. The movie kind of wraps itself up at the very end, and that was very important to us. That it had this feeling of the spaceship in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
It’s no coincidence that he’s using his name on this movie and not Oneohtrix Point Never. For me, it’s a sign of maturation, but it’s also, a composed piece of music. It’s not the name that some people can’t even pronounce — Oneohtrix Point Never — it’s not like this weird edge lord. Don’t get me wrong, OPN is some of my favorite music.
Yeah, we struggled to pick our favorite album of his this decade. We went with the Replica.
Joshua Safdie: I think Replica was his Trojan horse for a lot of people, too. It was like the one that kind of got into you.
Benny Safdie: The thing that’s hard is his music never really takes back seat. For us, it was always going to be like, “It has to all exist on the same plane.” The music is there, it’s there. If it’s not there, it’s not there. If there’s like a couple scenes where it plays underneath, it’s not just lowered, it’s woven in and out of the hole.
Joshua Safdie: By the way, Eccojams is up there, too. And I actually think Eccojams does relate to this score, too. There’s a Chuck Person element to it. The fact that he didn’t go by Oneohtrix Point Never then, and that it was called Chuck Person, named after the most generic basketball player whose last name is Person. You know what I mean? And that’s another huge thing for Dan. He got asked to score a movie that centers around the Boston Celtics, and he’s a Boston guy, and loves the Celtics.
On that 48 Hours remake
Joshua Safdie: What’s interesting is that Walter Hill, who I met for the first time recently, I heard he was a Good Time fan. And he really responded heavily to Uncut Gems, which was amazing because The Driver is one of the greatest movies. But I said to him, “Let’s get this off the bat right away, so it’s not awkward, we’re not remaking your movie.” And he’s like, “I figured. I watched these two movies. I like these guys. There’s never a shortage of original ideas.” And I said, “Yeah, the thing is that we tried to write it and we just couldn’t do it. There was a general structure of your 48 Hours, but it just was its own thing. It was so original in its idea, we couldn’t do what it was doing. We know there are people who could just rewrite that movie, but we couldn’t do it.” So, I don’t know what it’s going to be. It’ll most likely get turned into something original for me.
On the power of Scorsese
Joshua Safdie: [Scorsese’s involvement] raised the profile immensely at a time when this project needed it.
Benny Safdie: It showed that somebody believed in it in a way that was huge.
Joshua Safdie: I remember meeting him for the first time. He saw Heaven Knows What, him and his producing partner Emma Koskoff, it wasn’t even Good Time, and we heard that he really responded to the movie, that he saw the romance of it. He saw it as a traditional romance film, like a Hollywood melodrama, and so I met him after seeing Silence, which was intense cause we’re obviously very big Scorsese fans.
So I met him and I wanted to talk to him about his movie, which I just saw, which I found very profound about enduring in your beliefs. Actually, the deepest part of Silence is when is when they go into that house, and they start eating, and everyone around them was like, “We’re not going to say grace?” And it shows you that they’re just people that are actually getting caught up and they’re actually forgetting about their faith in the moment. That’s one of the best moments of the movie. But, when he and Emma attached themselves under the film in 2015, that was before we even made Good Time.
That was huge because it invigorated this project that was lingering around now, already four years old, five years old. And it was like, “Oh, we got this approval here and they brought money actually to the table.” That partnership ended up changing when Scott Rudin got involved three years ago, but Emma was very helpful in helping build out the crew and help with some of the union stuff. But Marty, we were told very early on, “He’s going to read your script and then he’ll watch one edit of your movie and he’ll give you thoughts.” But he was so deeply involved in The Irishman by the time we finally made our movie, and when he saw our first cut, he was like, “Don’t change a frame.”
Uncut Gems hits theaters everywhere on December 25th…