One of the films you’ll soon see I’m pretty high on for the upcoming awards season is Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” I don’t know what it is but I just find myself rooting for Affleck to really succeed behind the camera. Guys like him, Bennett Miller, George Clooney, Tom McCarthy, Scott Cooper, Billy Ray, Sean Penn, they trade in a sort of stripped-down, frill-free cinema that nevertheless never sacrifices thematic potency for subtle strokes.
It’s interesting to note, then, that a number of those filmmakers are either current or former actors themselves. Affleck did his time building a movie star image that eventually became fodder for gossip column inches, and he also made his share of dubious role choices. But he was surely always learning from those experiences. He is still, after all, an Oscar winner for one of the richest screenplays of the late-1990s.
So with that in mind, I happened to be watching “Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell” last week. It’s another of the director’s Q&A specials, this one taking place in Austin, Texas after a screening of his latest film, “Red State.” (Whatever you might think of Smith or his films, I think he’s always had shrewd insight into the business and I really enjoy these appearances. If you ever make it to Comic-Con, it’s worth it to check it out, as he has a standing program there to just take the stage and listen to questions from his fans.)
Early on in the special, one attendee brings up Affleck and mentions how relieved he is that the actor/director is out of the doghouse following the success of films like “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.” He asked Smith if Affleck ever reached out to him for some advice on the gig, and of course, Smith was self-effacing and noted that Affleck’s talent would inevitably be borne out.
I’ve included a clip from the special below. This exchange starts at the 10:22 mark, so feel free to scroll down and watch for yourself if you prefer, but I thought I’d just offer up Smith’s thoughts here, too.
“That dude was always going to pop as a director,” Smith says, “because most actors, when they transition to directing — think about it, you sit behind how many directors over the course of your career, watching a bunch of different styles? You see people doing it all the time. You pick and choose. You’re like, ‘Oh, I’d do that.’ ‘I would never do that myself.’ ‘Ooh, that seems like a good idea.’ So you’re putting together a trick bag without even knowing it.”
It reminded me of some things Affleck said back in November of 2010 when I sat down with him to talk about “The Town.” We were in the middle of discussing his potentially teaming up with “Good Will Hunting” collaborator and best buddy Matt Damon on another project. The problem, Affleck says, is Damon’s so busy as an actor, and with incredibly talented directors calling him up — Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers, etc. — who can blame him. But he’s learning from all those experiences, and, Affleck predicts, will make a hell of a director when he finally takes the plunge.
“Matt is honestly a great director who hasn”t directed a movie yet,” Affleck said at the time. “He”s extremely smart about movies. He really understands how to make a scene work. He has really unique ideas and he has the ability to see a movie from the audience”s point of view. I think that”s what makes him a great writer and it”s what”s going to make him a great director. He really gets that perspective, and it sounds obvious, but it isn”t. For a guy who”s made a lot of art movies, he”s got a very strong sense of satisfying an audience in a broad and interesting way.”
That’s obviously the kind of thing you can really acquire as someone on the other side of the camera, I think, and it’s part of what makes Affleck’s directorial work stand out so far. It’s smart, economical filmmaking that entertains without overwhelming. And the trailer for “Argo” promises more of the same.
“Ben let the performances go front and center [in ‘The Town’],” Smith continues in the clip. “Ben let the actors kind of speak for themselves in that movie and it was a performers’ movie. The cinematography looked great but it was really an actors’ flick. So I was proud of him for that, because this was the dude who was on ‘Chasing Amy’ constantly trying to tell me how to make the movie. He was always, not so much directing, although he’d say, ‘God dammit, move the camera. Move it!”
From there Smith goes on to detail Affleck’s cherry-picking of the “Red State” cast for “Argo,” which features actors like John Goodman, Kerry Bishé and Michael Parks who appeared in Smith’s film. It’s a funny story that leads to Affleck’s pull quote for the poster (which wasn’t used, but is still funny in context): “I fucking love this movie MORE than Quentin Tarantino!”
Check it out below. The second part is also available on YouTube here.