MP: It seems like the film is dealing with some big themes and subjects—issues of power, control, brutality. Were you making a particular statement? Or was it just a story? What did this mean to you?

OM: Oh it’s all of the above, hopefully. I mean, you always hope to have a part on every level, on every layer. For us it was very much a conversation about power and sexuality and brutality. And really all the issues that are in that world, in that space, come down to one word, which is “masculinity.” That’s really the big inspiration of this movie. It’s really looking at a man who’s really showing all the traits and all the characteristics of the classic patriarchal country, where he’s of military power, he’s the king of the hill at home, as well as in the streets. He has the liberty to live where he wants. He’s living out a fantasy over this harem that he’s created for himself, he goes on the prowl for women, and so it’s kind of like what people hopefully would perceive as a dinosaur, but he still needs domination, and so the movie is populated with a lot of women around him who take him on this spiral where, at the end of the day—not giving away too much of the ending—but at the end of the day, he’s kind of stripped of everything and stripped of all that old-school power trip, and he’s basically just pieces of himself and his demons, and he’s left to deal with it—and hopefully the women and that sort of feminine power taking over and realizing that hope for the future.

MP: What do you think about the position of these policemen who are, in some cases, perceived almost like a military occupation?

OM: Yeah I mean I think it’s a really interesting time for the word “occupy.”

MP: {laughter}

OM: You know, first of all, we occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and I’m not even talking about the past occupation of them, I’m just talking about currently. And we all know that occupations, in military terms, comes down basically to policing, so you have an army basically functioning as a police force in these foreign territories as part of foreign policy. I’m not knocking that down, I’m just observing.

And with the Occupy Movement, it’s really ironic how the police come as representatives and enforcers of the powers that be, even though the people in the Occupy Movement are really on their side—not in terms of their behavior, but in terms of their economic status, in terms of who the police are in society and how much they’re paid, and if you boil it down to the economics of it, the police should be out there marching with the Occupy Movement.
But the reality is that the police serve a certain function, to maintain a certain status quo, and that’s one of the things that the movie is about, because it basically gives you three options for looking at the police, as symbolized by Dave Brown.

The first view is “bad apple.” Bad apple is excusable. It’s sort of like, something went bad with this man. But the second option is police corruption, so it’s a problem with the department. So the only problem that you have is actually switch things in the department, changing things, controlling things, putting it maybe under federal supervision, and if you fix the department, you’ll fix the problems—with police corruption, with brutality, with evidence tampering, all those things. And the third option, which I think is the thing that makes more sense, is this fact that the police are a reflection of the occupation of certain neighborhoods and certain parts of cities that are designed, basically, to keep the bottom down and basically maintain the status quo, but out of sight, so that the other side—the people in power, the people with money, the people with comfort, the people that are living in the “safer” areas—are sure that they can sleep safely in their bed while bad thing are happening to people and it’s not their problem.

MP: Wow.

OM: And I think that’s an incredibly overwhelming reality that is really at the basis of how we’re going to deal with this. Looking at the film, people will say, “Oh yeah, you’re criticizing the police.” I say, “No.” I think a lot of the thing I’ve learned, living in Los Angeles and in the making of the movie, is that the approach of the police in the neighborhoods like Rampart is, you know…“the American occupation of Los Angeles,” they call it. “The biggest gang in America,” they call the police, because basically the police have been thrown into this guerilla war on the street level, and that’s not gonna change.

There’s no solutions to prevent corruption because it’s the same thing as putting soldiers in an occupation in a foreign territory—there’s too much that’s gonna go wrong. There’s too much human behavior that’s going to get in the way. So you’re gonna have to start thinking about it in a different direction, and the different direction is: what is wrong with society?

What is reflected in the way this behavior is happening—in the way that minorities are treated, and the way that the incarceration system works, and the way that even the police are treated, and the way they’re paid, and the way they’re trained, and the whole educational system. It’s not a big secret that what’s lacking and what’s wrong in our society starts with education. It starts with the way people are brought up, and what is put into their heads and put into their minds as engaged citizens.

So I think you can blame certain police officers for certain behavior, you can blame certain departments for certain behavior, and power and so forth, but, ultimately, I’d say it’s about us, and it’s about society, and I say—even if its sounds a little controversial—put the police aside for a second. It’s really not about them. It’s about the game that’s been created to keep the status quo going and to let the people who own it all gain from the game. If you look at it that way, then you start thinking about the basic things, which are jobs not jails, and education not incarceration.

MP: I think I’d vote for you {laughter}.

OM: I think you and I will be the only ones.

MP: {laughter} I looked at the cast—not only do I respect them for their craft, but also they’re a group of activists and human rights supporters: Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ice Cube and Anna Heche. The material was so emotional, what was it like directing that?

OM: Well, I think the most emotional part in making the movie and discovering the movie—because it was a process of discovering—is all the scenes with the family. All the scenes that have to do with the fact that, at the end of the day, we’re all engaged—hopefully some of us—in certain causes and ideals and certain ways of living, but we’re human, and we’re making all these mistakes, and we’re caught in particular systems—whatever it is—but ultimately, there’s a price paid by the people that are closest to you. The damage that we do in the service of whatever motivates us in life has a direct effect, mostly on our kids.

Dave Brown, who has done so many bad things as a cop and has been allowed to get away with so many bad things because he actually was part of the game—and the rules of the game were within the boundaries of how he behaved—he couldn’t separate his private world from his job, and he brought his job home. So ultimately he will be judged not by a tribunal or a court of law, but by his two daughters—and that’s the most interesting thing.

So it created a really emotional, eventful world that we really felt as we were shooting it.

MP: I don’t know what that process would be like, I just know that it’s got to be really intricate and multi-layered. With those dynamics, was there any moment with one or two of them where it became really intense?

OM: I think, to be honest with you, it was almost all of them. The way we work is a little bit unusual for the way movies are made. First and foremost, you know I worked with Lawrence Inglee and with Woody and Ben Foster on The Messenger, so we had our bond and our love for each other coming into this movie. That goes a long way. And Ben Foster is my business partner—we have a company together, and he was a producer on this film—so it was really for us to set the tone.
And I think everybody came into it with the understanding that they would go through an experience that is literally not by the book, that is not executing the script and then going home, but living and breathing these characters and being in the moment with each other, and improvising and creating a lot of present-tense intensity between characters. I think that almost every scene was an exploration—it was never going to be just what’s on the page. So I know I was very lucky—we all were—to work with a cast of this caliber. These are extremely experienced and intelligent actors, who are also deeply emotional and—as you say—are also engaged in the world. Being in the moment with these guys was just a profound experience every day, and when we shoot a movie it’s actually a very short process, especially an independent movie like this. It was only thirty five days of shooting.

MP: Wow.

OM: But you live so intensely that time really has a different kind of feel to it, and when you get out of it, you realize you’ve been in this bubble, just boiling in this pot—brewing it and examining it—and we process the flavor and taste the nuances. So at the end of it, you’re completely drained, but you’ve had an incredible experience with people you really like.

MP: I’ve been a fan of Sigourney Weavers for many reasons, on many levels. Was it powerful watching her work?

OM: Oh absolutely. She’s incredible, and she’s never worked this way—she’s a classically trained actor. She comes from the theater, she’s done all these movies, so she’s very much used to the process of rehearsing and then executing and creating.

I told her from the get-go that we will not be doing any rehearsal, and we will just start shooting scenes without even planning them, and that it will be a total surprise for everyone what will happen, and not to worry about the camera or the lighting—we’ll find it; we’ll make it work.
I think she was excited and then nervous—like all of us—about what’s going to happen next. And what was so impressive was her ability to understand the set, understand the scene, to understand her place in it, and to be so natural and in the moment, but also beautiful and powerful and righteous and contradictory. It was just a lot of these things that she brought, seemingly so effortlessly, but I’m sure it’s part of her talent to make it look so effortless.

Really, from the moment we met, she came to this meeting and said, “I read the script three times and I think it’s really important to get this movie out there.” She was just so into it, and talking about what she thought were some of the messages that the movie was sending. It was a happy experience from the very beginning.

MP: You really didn’t have rehearsals? You said, “We’re just going to go in there and do this?”

OM: There’s not one thing in the movie that’s rehearsed.

MP: Wow, is that a normal way of shooting? Was this like some guerilla-style, real-grit tactic? Whas that your idea?

OM: Well, it’s the way I worked on The Messenger as well. I really feel that actors should really know who they are as characters; they should really study their lines; they should be prepared; but once they come to set, for me the most exciting way to shoot a scene is to really find it, really kind of grind your way through it, until you feel like you have something that you can put together. So every time we shot a scene, we put in the entire scene, and we don’t shoot pieces of it and then put it together, like some movies do. We shot the whole scene and then chop it up. I told everyone when they got here that there won’t be any rehearsal. And more than that, I don’t call cuts—I don’t cut the scene. I let the actors get tired of it. I never know what they’re going to say, and they never know if they’re going to come up with something really interesting, and so it’s kind of a process like that, where you do what you need to do in terms of the script, but you also keep going, because the actors have researched their characters, they’ve read about them, they’ve watched movies, they’ve talked about them, they have a backstory, so they can really take the characters as far as they want to in a scene, which makes sense.

MP: That is really an amazing process, and also a really scary process, I imagine—so hats off to you. You go in there and everything better be there, and it better be fully present in it.
OM: Yeah.

MP: What was that like working with Woody?

OM: Well, I worked with him on The Messenger, and we’ve become good friends, so I kind of knew what to expect, but he kept on surprising me. He was very serious about doing it right. He was really putting a lot of time into sculpting his body and his psyche. He was really comparing himself and taking it very seriously, and getting as deep as he could into the role, because he really didn’t see himself as someone who could play a cop, so he really wanted to see it for himself before he could really show it to other people. So he just put a lot of intensity and a lot of seriousness into it. But with Woody, nothing ever goes without humor, so his ability to go into really serious scenes, and intense and violent moments, and then step out of it and just be Woody—that’s really impressive. It’s kind of scary actually.

MP: {laughter}

OM: So I was definitely impressed with that, always impressed with that. And just a lot of emotional stuff. He’s not afraid to cry or express his emotions. He said he didn’t used to do that on sets, but since we started working together, it seems to be the way he does things {laughter}.
And every single one of these actors brought a different background, a different world. I was directing no more than thirty actors on this movie, even some who had one line here or there, but really everything revolved around what was going on with this main character. And even then, I kept telling people, “I’m looking into a different actor’s eyes every couple days, and I’m learning so much just to see the different processes people go through, and how their acting works for them.” For me it was a real learning experience.

MP: What your experience with Ice cube?

OM: He came in with a lot of seriousness and a lot of desire to do it right. He really felt like the world of the movie—he’s experienced it from all sides. He’s the guy who wrote “F*ck the Police,” so it’s an interesting contrast to put him in a role where he’s actually kind of the good guy—not the guy who’s what you would expect, but actually the guy that nails Dave Brown and is stronger than him. Dave can throw whatever racist shit he wants at him, and it just doesn’t affect him. In my mind it’s a really good performance that shows a side of Ice Cube people haven’t seen in a while.

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