David Lynch, Uncut, Part Two

David Lynch Interview No. 2 Sept. 26, 2006

Scott Thill: First, let’s follow up on the non-Inland Empire projects you had in the hopper when we last talked in March.

David Lynch: Well, the ringtones are up. And I think ringtones had their moment about five months before ours went up! (Laughs) It took a long time. Every phone is different, so you’ve got to build them for like 15 different ones, so it was a big, big deal. But they’re there, and there are a lot more on the way, but I’m not even sure how they’re going. I’ve been working on my film, and just finished it. The coffee is also close to getting done, and that will be great. A new compilation DVD of content from DL.com is coming out soon as well, so those are the main things. And a lot of those pieces will look better on the DVD than they did on the site.

ST: So let’s talk about Inland Empire. It’s 172 minutes long, shot entirely in DV. And last time we talked, you said the quality of DV was terrible. So I’m thinking to myself, David Lynch thinks DV quality is terrible, but he nevertheless made a three-hour movie with it.

Lynch: Well, here’s the thing. It’s not terrible; it’s just not the quality of film. I really love DV; I love what it can do for making films. I love it.

Then there’s this machine called The Alchemist, which up-reses (increases the resolution of) the quality of your DV footage. See, in film, you sit with a timer, and time every scene and shot. And you can’t stop the projector, or the film will burn up, so you’re working on the fly. Then you make changes and go back and do the same thing the next day. And the bath can be a little different, because weird things happen. You look at it and time it some more, until you’ve finally zeroed in. It’s a long, involved, tough procedure. Then you get it just right, and that’s called an answer print. All of these things come off the negative. Then you make an IP, which is an interpositive print taken from the negative, which looks strange but nevertheless makes a beautiful negative. And that negative is the one you use to make your release prints. Through these processes, you often find that you get a lot more contrast, so you’ve got to check those prints. And for one reason or another, they might drift in color, light and dark, so you might have to put a few timing lights in the negative. So there’s another thing.

ST: A serious process.

Lynch: Yeah, and now you get to the DVD. The timing you established for the film won’t work for the DVD, so ?
ST: You have to start all over again.

Lynch: Start all over, Jack. In the telecine bay. Now, with the telecine bay, you’ve got control over blacks, midranges, whites, color and so on. You can stop and tweak stuff, get ideas and change things. It’s beautiful, but it takes a long time, and normally you don’t dick around with changing things. You just go make the color the way it was on film. But with DV, you put it through The Alchemist and you’re there in the telecine bay — first stop.

The Alchemist was a dream. Incredible! So now you’ve got close to a HD feel, and you drop that into the telecine bay. You’ve got so much control. You make a negative out of that, print it, and it’s almost perfect. You can tweak it beautifully, and believe it or not, 98 percent of DV looks to me just as good as film. I love it. There are some artifacts in a few places, and those could be gotten rid of if you had the money to go in there and hand-correct it frame by frame.

ST: The way you did the Eraserhead DVD?

Lynch: No, cleaning is much easier now. It isn’t a big problem anymore, but to go frame-by-frame on certain things is useful. If you’ve backlit someone, for example, you can sometimes get a shadow which is not a pretty thing. It turns into a black line, but it’s OK. It’s only in a couple places. But either way, DV looks so good. I really couldn’t believe it.
ST: I’ll take 98 percent.

Lynch: Yeah, but now that’s yesterday’s story. There are cameras coming out now that are going to make shooting digitally a serious dream.

ST: When you think about how you started out as a filmmaker and then about how today’s artists are getting a head start with all this convenient tech, what jumps out at you?

Lynch: It’s a dream world now. But like I always say, everybody has access to a piece of paper and a pencil. But how many great stories are written? Now everybody has access to at least a pretty inexpensive camera, and if you get the ideas and think on your feet, you can make a feature film. You can get a little Pro Tools rig, a DV camera, an editing system and some drives set up, and you can make a feature film. It’s so great. So great.

ST: In your eyes, how has this exponential innovation changed the power structure of the industry?

Lynch: We’re watching it go away, every day. Look at what’s going on in the music industry and you will see what is coming for the film industry. Everyone and their little brother these days has a digital still camera. Some people pay for their music on iTunes — although a lot get their music for free — and now TV shows and movies are on iTunes as well. So there are going to be some serious readjustments!

ST: Do you think they’re ready for them?

Lynch: Nobody’s ready for them.

ST: Where do you see yourself in that relationship? In one sense, you’re an insider. But on the other hand, you’ve struck out on your own, with the site, with DV, with film narratives that resemble Gordian knots.

Lynch: You just do what you do. I live in Hollywood, but I don’t hang out with industry people. And I haven’t made a studio film. I’ve never made a studio film. Dune was between Dino de Laurentis and Universal, and The Elephant Man was sort of between Paramount, EMI and Mel Brooks, although Brooks’ company was the one who did it. And Dino really did produce Dune.

ST: And Blue Velvet as well?

Lynch: Blue Velvet was distributed through Dino’s company, so I’ve never really made a studio film. And now I work with the French, Canal Plus, and they’ve been so good to me. Before that, I worked with CiBy 2000, but when the owner died I lost that gig.

ST: Do you think that, when the industry wakes to these changes, they’ll feel they have been having a dream or a nightmare?

Lynch: Well, it was a pretty good dream, and now it will be a pretty good nightmare. You can feel it. It’s real different.

ST: How about your latest works, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, both of which are films sort of about the practice of filmmaking, its industry, its actors, its vicissitudes, its virtues and so on. There are so many metafictional layers there, so I’m curious how the strands come together for you.

Lynch: Ideas. You get ideas. Ideas tell you everything. There’s a cart and then there is a horse. And the horse is supposed to be in front of the cart, pulling it along.

ST: So you’re the horse?

Lynch: No, the ideas are the horse. So you don’t start by saying, “I’m going to make my film a commentary on Hollywood.” Some people do work that way, and that’s fine. But I’m going along and get an idea I happen to fall in love with. So the ones I fall in love with, you discover ways in which cinema can make them happen. It fires me up, and I start going. It’s a trip, and I don’t know a lot of the time where it’s headed, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. And the idea dictates everything.

ST: Recalling our conversation on TM earlier, you explained one of its tenets as being “Where the attention is, that becomes lively.” Do you feel that, in a way, because you’re in geographical proximity to Hollywood and part of its industry to a certain extent, that your attention is firmly on it, and that your films are enlivened exercises of that attention?

Lynch: Not really. I always say that it’s desire that drives the stream of ideas coming in. You desire something and it starts pulling the ideas. We are truly influenced by our environment and our world, but now the input is not just coming from the surrounding block or city, but from all over the world.

ST: Like the internet?

Lynch: Yeah, that’s the “all over the place” part. The whole world is now flowing in, if you want it to. So there’s a ton of information flying in. I will also say that you can get an idea and then check it against this cloud made up of everything, and see if it’s an idea that seems to go with the now. Sometimes I do that, but I don’t know. It’s catching ideas. That’s the thing. You can catch the same ideas anywhere.

ST: Do you think the industry takes it personally?

Lynch: Well, I don’t know. Critics are human beings, and they have the opportunity to write their opinions. And I never really say what my films are about for me, because the films should stand on their own. It’s common sense. So people are allowed to invent their own conclusions. Critics see tons of films, and there are all different kind of critics.

ST: But not just critics, also filmmakers and the like. Some of them might look at Inland Empire and say, “Lynch is making another film trashing the industry.”

Lynch: I don’t know what to say, because they say what they say.

ST: I read a quote of yours in a review of Inland Empire that spoke volumes, something to the extent that you never understood why people expect their art to make sense when they accept that life often does not.

Lynch: But it does make sense. It can make beautiful sense, but what I meant was that if everything is just on the surface, then you’re going to get just that. And if you use your intuition and think your way into different places, then you can get more out of it. I always say film has an ability to communicate abstractions, things you can’t say in other ways. So you experience art and film, and in that way it is like life. We’re experiencing it. People can look around and some will find clues in everyday life and others will see what they want to see. It’s fine. But a lot of people get frustrated when they encounter an abstraction. I don’t. I love abstraction.

ST: I do as well, if only because they shift the burden of interpretation onto the viewer.

Lynch: Well, if you take a painter like Franz Klein and have him put one of his abstract expressionist works from the ’50s into words, it’s a joke. So that’s the painting. Film has got the same beautiful things. And it’s not abstraction for abstraction’s sake: It’s a way, it’s a language, and it’s based on ideas. And you see what it can do to those things. It’s so beautiful. So beautiful.

ST: How did the process of filmmaking change for you working with DV, compared to the old tech of Dune and the rest? How did the actors react to the technology? Talk about that a bit.

Lynch: Well, it’s a bunch of different things. But DV is a miracle, a beautiful miracle.

ST: Do actors feel uncomfortable working with something like the 40-minute takes that DV provides?

Lynch: No, they don’t feel uncomfortable at all. They feel way, way good. How about this? You’re in the middle of a scene and you run out of film. But people get used to it. You stop and reload. Some guys can reload super fast. That changes with DV. Or the actors: I’ve been talking to them while shooting for some time now. But with DV, we can talk and talk and film and film and get in there and perhaps hit something, some button that we wouldn’t have been able to capture if we had to keep stopping to reload the camera. It’s magical.

Say I want to turn around and shoot the reverse: I can that turn around in a millisecond. With a 35-mm camera, the turnaround isn’t a millisecond, it’s a long time. Some people say that you need to make sure that the lighting is correct and all of that, but you see what you’ve got. If you need to tweak something, you tweak something. But if you’re happy with the setup, you can get into a scene without interrupting it, really get into it, popping back and forth, back and forth, talking the entire time. It’s a beautiful thing for an actor. Beautiful, for me and the actors. It’s so good.

ST: It would seem like they don’t have to turn it off and turn it on again, depending on the whims of the camera.

Lynch: Well, when you turn it off, it’s not always so easy to turn it back on again. Sometimes, you catch a thing that is so delicate, and if you turn it off then on again, it’s not there anymore. That’s the thing right there. It’s real delicate.

ST: From what I’ve read from the Inland Empire actors so far, including Laura Dern, Justin Theroux and others, working with you on a film is serious fun.

Lynch: It should be fun. Life should be fun. There are all these stories about people wanting to visit film sets, and after being there for half a day, they all want to leave. It’s so boring, because there is so much downtime. As for the actors, after going to their trailers, something happens. They go to their trailers quick, but come back slowly. You know, you want to get everything they can give on tape, and with DV you have way more chances to do that.

ST: It’s so interesting to hear them say that it’s fun, though. Theroux called it a “goof.”

Lynch: Well, it’s not a goof. He may have said that, but he meant it was fun. It’s supposed to be fun, meaning it’s not supposed to be something you hate doing, or have an uncomfortable time doing. What good is that? It’s like common sense. Anything different than “fun” is peculiar and absurd. Why shouldn’t it be fun? It should be fun, and it can be fun. And that’s when you get good stuff, good work. You discover things together. It’s beautiful.

Next: Catching ideas, brushing teeth, stumping for Laura Dern, experimenting on the web