The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Greg Mottola (“Clear History”)

Greg Mottola first came to prominence as the director of the indie comedy “The Daytrippers,” but he began a much quicker rise in mainstream recognition when he helmed the comedies “Superbad” and “Adventureland.” Currently, Mottola is making the rounds to support his work as the director of Larry David’s new HBO movie, “Clear History,” but he’s not entirely confident if the word “director” really sums up his efforts on the film. Bullz-Eye chatted with Mottola during the TCA press tour, and we talked about how surprisingly easy David is to work with, how he came to appear in a couple of Woody Allen films as an actor, and what a hassle – and what fun – it was to make “Paul.”

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Bullz-Eye: So directing Larry David has got to be at least somewhat of a challenge.

Greg Mottola: Um…

BE: I’m not saying good or bad, just…challenging.

GM: It’s… Well, I mean, the process was so specific. I don’t even know if my job title should be called “director” on this movie. [Laughs.] “Associate collaborator” is probably closer to it. But that’s the way it should be. I’m not sure if, in the press notes, they talk so much about how we made it, but essentially it’s the same way Larry does “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with some key differences. But Larry writes a script-ment, they call it, so this was about 35 pages of paragraphs of what happens in this scene, with an occasional line of dialogue or joke that Larry or his co-writers thought, “Oh, we should definitely get that in.” So they write that in, but, really, no other dialogue.

And we get to the set, we walk through the scene, and we’ll just sort of block it very generally. Like, “You’re gonna enter from that door, you’re gonna be sitting here, you’re gonna come over here, talk about this, you’re gonna leave.” Y’know, just sort of walk through all the little bits of blocking, but never rehearse it at all. So the first time anyone is acting, the cameras are rolling. And it’s usually two cameras, sometimes three if we can squeeze another one in there. And Larry by and large never does the same thing twice. [Laughs.] So as a director, you’re constantly strategizing, “Okay, we did that one time, I’d like to try and get something like that line, maybe in a tighter size, so…let’s switch lenses right now while we’re in the zone, and we’ll swap back and do wide shots again.” So you’re constantly just sort of improvising the directing style as everyone’s improvising the lines.

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So directing Larry is just sort of endless conferences between takes about, “We’d like this from that, we didn’t like that,” just sort of honing in on what worked, sometimes stopping entirely and saying, “This doesn’t work at all, let’s start from scratch and just approach it completely differently and do a different version of the scene.” And that happened a few times. We’d have two completely different versions of the same scene…and usually the one that ends up in the movie is the second one. You know, the one thing about Larry is that he’s an absolute pleasure to work with. Despite his sort of screen persona and his point of view about human nature, which—between “Seinfeld” and “Curb”—is pretty clear… [Laughs.] He’s a really happy guy! He’s a guy who walks around whistling and practicing his golf swing. He’s, like, in a good mood 99% of the time. So it’s great to work with him.

BE: I…can’t really wrap my head around that.

GM: [Laughs.] It is hard to believe.

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11 Movies to Look Forward to in 2011

As a film critic, you learn to keep your expectations to a minimum, because more often than not, the movie in question is never as good as you hoped. That doesn’t change the fact that there are still some movies that you want to see more than others, and as long as you don’t mind the possibility of disappointment, it’s okay to let your inner fanboy out every once in a while. This year certainly has plenty of movies to get excited about – at least, that’s what Hollywood is banking on with an upcoming slate that includes “Pirates of the Caribbean 4,” “Cars 2,” “Green Lantern,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” – but there’s a lot more great stuff out there than just the usual summer tentpole films. To give you a better idea of what’s coming to theaters this year, I’ve assembled my 11 most anticipated movies of 2011 with the hope that you might discover one or two titles to add to your own must-see list.

“PAUL”

Who: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig and Jason Bateman
What: Two British sci-fi geeks on a cross-country road trip through the U.S. encounter a real-life alien named Paul who needs help getting back to his home planet.
When: March 18th
Why: The trailer may not instill a whole lot of confidence with its heavy dose of juvenile humor, but as a fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who also co-wrote the film), it’s hard to imagine them disappointing their fanbase. I wouldn’t necessarily expect anything as great as “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz,” but between all the geeky sci-fi references and the awesome supporting cast (including Jason Bateman as the FBI agent on their trail and Seth Rogen as the voice of the titular alien), it’s safe to say that “Paul” will be every bit as funny as it sounds.

“HANNA”

Who: Saorsie Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett and Olivia Williams
What: A girl raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is sent on a mission across Europe while eluding operatives under the command of a ruthless CIA agent.
When: April 8th
Why: Director Joe Wright may be best known for sappy period dramas like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement,” but I can’t wait to see what he can do in a completely different genre – especially one that provides him with a bigger playground to work within. The trailer seems to suggest that “Hanna” will be more than just your average action-thriller, with Wright aiming for something a little more thought provoking. And with a cast that includes Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, and one of the best young actresses in the business in Saorsie Ronan, this could be the surprise hit of the season.

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”

Who: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till and Jason Flemyng
What: The story of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) as young men learning to control their powers, and how they worked together with a band of mutants to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known.
When: June 3rd
Why: Apart from the fact that it takes place in the 1960s and serves as a prequel to the original trilogy, details on “X-Men: First Class” are pretty scarce. But after walking away from the directing gig on the last “X-Men” film, I think that most fans are curious to see what Matthew Vaughn can do with the franchise. The retro setting definitely has my interest piqued, and using the relationship between Xavier and Lehnsherr as a parallel to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X is brilliant. That hasn’t stopped Internet forums from stirring up bad buzz in response to the recently leaked photos and rumors that Vaughn is feeling pressed for time, but he doesn’t have a bad movie to his name yet, so it’s probably better to just let the film speak for itself.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART TWO

Who: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes
What: Harry returns to Hogwarts with Ron and Hermione to find and destroy Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes, leading to the inevitable battle between the Boy Who Lived and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
When: July 15th
Why: The real question is, who isn’t looking forward to this movie? The previous seven films have grossed over $6 billion worldwide, and where most franchises tend to lose steam around the third installment, this series has only gotten better over time. They’ve also gotten progressively darker, and “Deathly Hallows: Part Two” promises to be the darkest yet, with the massive Battle of Hogwarts resulting in the death of several major players – some good, some bad, and some whose allegiance remains a secret. I’m still holding out hope that the movie will dive a little further into Dumbledore’s past, because “Part One” covered so much of the book that the only thing left is the battle.

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