Robert Redford and screenwriter/director J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call”) appeared at a New York Film Festival press conference on Oct. 8, 2013 after a screening of their new movie, “All Is Lost.” It’s a bold, unusual film in which Redford is the only actor, and there are probably 150 words spoken (if that) during the entire 107 minutes.
I don’t think the experiment is 100 percent successful, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. Redford plays a man who is sailing the Indian Ocean alone, and he suddenly finds himself in peril when his boat becomes damaged by floating cargo that has fallen off a freighter. What follows is a lot of action on Redford’s part to try to survive.
This is no “Life of Pi” or “Cast Away.” There is no tiger or soccer ball for him to talk to. In fact, we never learn the character’s name. He is referred to in the credits merely as “Our Man.” (The credits also include a job called “Shark Bait.” Don’t sign me up for that one!)
Essentially, “All is Lost” is an examination of what happens when we must confront our own mortality over a period of time, and the result is compelling, at least for the most part. There are moments when it becomes a little too mundane, I think, but we keep watching because Redford is a great actor and Chandor is a talented director. Much credit must also be given to the crew, cinematographers Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini, and editor Pete Beaudreau.
Below are some of the highlights from the press conference.
On the beginnings of the project:
J.C. Chandor: I sent him the script maybe two or three weeks after I’d completed it. It’s a 31-page document in script form, and it is very much the film that you guys just saw. Obviously not a lot of dialogue, but it was very descriptive, beat by beat, scene by scene, moment by moment.
On Redford’s decision to take on the project:
J.C. Chandor: I walked into his office prepared to make a very in depth presentation about why he should do the film, and as you can probably tell, he was teasing me, “For a guy who wrote a film with no words in it, you sure talk a lot.”
Robert Redford: When I met with J.C., what I think is interesting for me on a personal level, is that it was just one of those rare situations where you go on instinct and you put yourself very quickly in the hands of somebody else because you trust them. I think the word is trust.
I got the script from J.C., and it had a lot of things that I was very impressed with and attracted to – no dialogue, and it was bold. It also was detailed in a way that I felt this person really knew what they were doing, and they had a very firm grip on their vision. And there was a very strong vision. So, when we met, I was already inclined … I just needed to know he wasn’t nuts. When we got together, for me anyway, it was very quick.
On directing an unusual movie like this:
J.C. Chandor: The film’s not a silent film, but we were able to kind of act and direct it the way you would a silent film where we could use that as an advantage to be able to yell out cues that maybe he didn’t even know were coming sometimes. Some of them were sounds and things that he’s constantly reacting to. Sometimes, I would yell those in, and we started to move placement around so that he wouldn’t know when some of these were coming at him.
On whether or not they developed a back story for the character:
J.C. Chandor: We tried!
Robert Redford: That was another thing that attracted me was that it was slightly existential, which meant that you could allow space for it to be interpreted by others. An audience could come in and decide this way or that way they felt…. I went through the normal motions of an actor asking a director, “What’s on your mind? Do you have anything you want to talk about in this story?” And he was pretty evasive.
I thought, “Huh…” He wasn’t answering fundamental questions, which I wasn’t happy to ask anyway. I just thought I had to. But what came out of it was there was a reason why he was being slightly evasive. What he had on the page was exactly what he wanted. Once I hooked into that, I liked it a lot.
On Redford’s character throwing an object in the ocean:
J.C. Chandor: We all giggled. This wonderful environmentalist man who’s done everything he can in his power to look after this planet and make us aware of what we’re doing. And he cut the piece of plastic and literally throws it over his head…. “We just got Robert Redford to throw a piece of plastic into the ocean!” [Note: Don’t worry; it sounds like it was removed.]
On how Redford prepared for this demanding role:
Robert Redford: There wasn’t much preparation. I just went into it. I trusted myself in the water, although I didn’t know what was going to happen in the water – being thrown overboard and being tossed and turned and so forth. I wasn’t afraid of that.
There wasn’t a lot of time to prepare. The other thing was that J.C. and the crew had been there and done such a fine job of prepping for such a low budget, as it is an independent film in a sense. Very low budget which means very little time. They were so well-prepared that it was just a ready-to-go situation. All I had to do, which was actually helpful as the actor, was just be in it and go with what came. So, no, there was not a lot of research.
J.C. Chandor: He’s being a little humble. He’s in amazing shape in his normal life, and he swims constantly. So, he came into it … it’s not like he had to train…. All of that swimming, I think there is one shot in the entire film that isn’t him and that is one that is dreadfully dangerous. The stunt man shouldn’t even be doing it probably. Everything else in the water is him, and that was something that I wasn’t expecting. But he’s a wonderful swimmer and comfortable in these claustrophobic…
Robert Redford: You thought I was comfortable.
J.C. Chandor: He’s a good actor! Most people would have probably excused themselves.
“All Is Lost” opens in theaters Oct. 18, 2013.