You wait the best part of 30 years for one and then two come along at once…Orson Welles movies.
Pieced together from the 1,083 reels of footage for The Other Side Of The Wind (which debuted in 2018), Hopper/Welles is the latest ‘new’ feature from the industry titan, who died in 1985.
Ahead of its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, we spoke to producer Filip Jan Rymsza about the backstory behind the movie, on which he re-teamed with The Other Side Of The Wind editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker).
The intimate and revelatory documentary captures a 1970 meeting between the Citizen Kane director and the then-rising star Dennis Hopper, who had just made Easy Rider. The encounter came about when Hopper agreed to a cameo role in Welles’ troubled The Other Side Of The Wind. Welles flew Hopper from New Mexico to Los Angeles, where he cooked him a pasta dinner before they spent the evening talking as the cameras rolled. The unscripted and timely conversation between the two film legends – with Welles probing Hopper as the off screen interviewer – spans politics, violence, America, religion, family, sex and moviemaking.
Hopper said in an interview years later that during the conversation Welles adopted the persona of The Other Side Of The Wind’s lead character Jake Hannaford, a legendary director who was ultimately played in the film by John Huston. You can check out first footage of the anticipated movie here.
Producer Jan Rymsza, whose credits also include Lost Transmissions and Valley Of The Gods, is also in Venice with his directorial debut, Mosquito State, which stars Beau Knapp as an obsessive Wall Street data analyst whose psychological meltdown coincides with an infestation of mosquitos in his austere penthouse overlooking Central Park.
Below is our talk with the U.S.-Polish producer about the two films, which mark his fourth and fifth projects to debut at the festival.
DEADLINE: Tell us about Hopper/Welles’ journey. It was part of the vast amounts of footage discovered with The Other Side Of The Wind, right?
RYMSZA: Yes. This was early material for The Other Side Of The Wind, the bulk of which Orson shot a couple of years after. But it’s all very separate from the narrative trajectory of The Other Side Of The Wind so we couldn’t include it. I was also servicing Morgan Neville who was working on documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead and he was always asking me if there was any extra footage that would fit his film, but this didn’t really work with Morgan’s narrative either. So, we gently set it aside during the nine years it took to assemble The Other Side Of The Wind.
I eventually went back to take a look at the material and I was really struck by it. There was something powerful in the rawness of the conversation. It just felt like you were in a room with these two guys.
The Venice programmer Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan had lunch with my friend, the director Nick Ebeling, who made the Hopper documentary Along For The Ride. He knew I had this footage and told her. I knew her from The Other Side Of The Wind and she and I had already been talking about Mosquito State, my directorial debut, so she asked to see the Hopper/Welles footage. Half an hour into it, she said, “It’s amazing, go finish it, I want it for Venice.”
DEADLINE: How difficult was it to put together technically and were there any rights issues?
RYMSZA: I resolved the rights issues on The Other Side Of The Wind, it’s the same right holders. In terms of difficulty to put together, it’s similar to the predicament on The Other Side Of The Wind. We were fairly restricted because Orson had a tendency to cut the negative into snippets. It makes the material very inelastic, you can’t quite use it in the same way, but the counterpoint is that it gives you an idea of what Orson liked and how he was going to cut that material. You know he was going to cut it fast. It wasn’t one of those things where one camera was going to go for the entirety of the roll, you knew that it was meant to cut back and forth, that’s kind of how his dynamics feel, and that’s why I said it was like a camera cut because I didn’t see any stuff quite like this earlier. But then he started using this technique, this documentary style technique, for a lot of the party scenes in The Other Side Of The Wind.
DEADLINE: And this material has been largely unknown to the world until now?
RYMSZA: I think very few people knew about it. It was in the Paris vault under court order with all the stuff from The Other Side Of The Wind. I reached out to two of the other people who were part of this shoot – Michael Stringer and Glenn Jacobson – and their memories were very hazy. We’re talking one evening 50 years ago. Both men gave me two different locations for the shoot and totally different circumstances for it.
DEADLINE: What are your main takeaways from Hopper and Welles’ conversation?
RYMSZA: Them talking about the craft of filmmaking and how they differ in terms of what they like, is fascinating to me. I don’t necessarily think you need to be a student of Hopper or Welles to appreciate what they’re talking about. I like the idea they discuss about how you like more films as you get older because of how much respect you have for the craft and what it takes to make any movie, whether it’s good or bad. The greatest lesson for me was what Orson said about being the enemy of the film, that you have to divorce yourself from everything that you shot and go into it ready to cut out all beautiful things. I really think that that should be one of the 10 commandments of filmmaking.
Politically, I think a lot of it is very timely. And in terms of Civil Rights and the role of the artist, too: do you speak through your work or do you need to be vocal about your political views? This is happening again 50 years later.
DEADLINE: We’re very quick in the media to anoint everything as unprecedented when often events and injustices are variations on something that happened decades before…
RYMSZA: It’s cyclical.
DEADLINE: At one point Orson says he thinks there will be a black president soon, which was a poignant line…
RYMSZA: Yes, it took another 42 years…Thankfully, we managed it eventually.
DEADLINE: And Hopper says at another juncture that most wealthy Americans think they can become president, which in a way made me think of Trump’s ascendancy…Is there any more footage to come out of the treasure trove you uncovered? Could there be another feature?
RYMSZA: There are little curios and little things that eventually we’ll put together but nothing that feels so standalone like this. I don’t think there’s another feature.
DEADLINE: Remind me how much footage there was total in Paris?
RYMSZA: Around 100 hours. The Hopper material was around five hours.
DEADLINE: Let’s move onto Mosquito State. Will your cast and crew be there with you on the Lido?
RYMSZA: I’ll have my leads and my cinematographer. Beau is coming from LA so will need to do the COVID tests the festival requires.
DEADLINE: I see you said the movie was partly inspired by Michael Lewis book Flash Boys and the financial crisis of 2007?
RYMSZA: Yes. At first, I was just struck by this idea of a man becoming obsessed with a mosquito. I had just tried and failed to put together a film that was very big in scope, as a writer/director, and I was struggling with the size of it. So, I figured, you know what, let me try something that’s the opposite, something that’s super contained, something that can take place in one room. A friend told me about this episode that he was having where his apartment in downtown LA was infested with mosquitos, and they were keeping him and his family up all night, and he started to go a little bit crazy, and so that was really the first seedling of the idea, and then slowly, and it took me years, to kind of sort through what that story could be, and then, eventually, I arrived at the guy being a quant and it taking place in 2007.
DEADLINE: Was The Fly an inspiration at all?
RYMSZA: No. I went back to look at it just because it’s a three hander and super contained. I always thought that movie was very campy but it holds up and there were some cool ideas behind it. I went back to read the original Playboy story, too. I love that Cronenberg took it in a totally different direction, but I didn’t really look at a lot of genre films because I didn’t really view this as one. I thought more of movies like Taxi Driver.
DEADLINE: What was your biggest challenge?
It was definitely more technical. I looked at a lot of penthouses in New York but ultimately I knew I had to build it on a stage here in Warsaw. From a VFX standpoint it was massive. Capturing the mosquitos and their movements was very challenging. I started out with one VFX vendor and ended up with 17.
North American rights to both films are being sold by Nick Ogiony at CAA. Rymsza is repped by Brian Levy at Management 360 and attorneys Jonathan Gardner and Molly Fenton of Cohen Gardner LLP.
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