Allen Coulter On The Spot

Allen Coulter, director of Hollywoodland, began his career in the mid-1980s helming late-night TV horror shows. The Texas native went on to direct episodes for such hits as The X-Files, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City and Rome. His first feature, a film noir, is about the actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck), television’s first Superman, whose death was deemed a suicide, and the detective (Adrien Brody), who believes Reeves may have been murdered. Coulter, who directs spots through Hungry Man, discusses his feature film debut.

Q: Why choose to tell the story of George Reeves for your first feature?

A: I thought it was a fascinating Hollywood unsolved mystery. And it took place in an interesting collision of periods—the end of the golden age of movie studios and the beginning of television.

How difficult was it to capture the time period?

It took an enormous amount of research. We looked up everything from the shoes to the cars to the light switches. We had a brilliant production designer, Leslie McDonald, who was familiar with the period, and a brilliant costume designer, Julie Weiss, who had grown up in Los Angeles at that time. We looked at the time with extreme focus down to the tiniest detail. And then I made an artistic decision not to feature those details too prominently because I wanted it to feel like it was actually shot in 1959, not like a period film from 2006.

Did you take any liberties with the story?

Adrien Brody’s character, Louis Simo, is a fictitious character who was something of a combination of two men hired by Helen Bessolo, the mother of George Reeves. Otherwise, we tried to stay as close to the truth as possible. When we could not find out the exact truth, we tried to show what we thought must have happened.

How did the experience compare to your directing work in TV and commercials?

In feature films, the director is final arbiter of the artistic vision, and it was a pleasure to have that kind of control over the whole project. In terms of my methodology, really nothing changed.

Did you come away from the production feeling you had a better idea of what really happened to Reeves?

No. I maintained a neutral stance on what happened in an effort to give each theory its full measure of possibility.

What inspired you to get into filmmaking?

Great films that I saw as a child that left lasting impressions on me, and the realization that I might be able to do that for someone else.

What piece of work are you most proud of?

Hollywoodland. It’s where I had the most control over the situation. I also love “The Face” [1989], an episode of a TV show called Monsters that few people have ever seen. I directed it like a redneck Beckett.

Describe your best experience on a commercial project.

Budweiser [“Jersey Guys,” 2001] was a lot of fun because it allowed me to draw upon my background in drama and comedy. I was able to cast actors who could create characters that were carried through an entire campaign.

What was your worst experience on a commercial project?

The ones that got away.

Name the last film, TV show or commercial that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”

The Holy Girl by Lucrecia Martel and The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard [both feature films].

What is the most disappointing creative trend you’ve seen lately?

Reality TV.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

Staying in New York.

The dumbest?

Staying in New York.

What advice would you give a director just starting out in the business?

Say “yes” to everything. And as soon as you can, say “no” to everything.

What’s your dream assignment?

I’d love to make a Western based on a true story about an unknown cowboy.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Not too tall.

How about three words that describe how others perceive you?

Inveterate, risible, sedulous.

What’s your greatest fear?

To be forced to be on a reality TV show.

What’s the last book you read?

One Step Behind by Henning Mankell.

The last movie you saw?

An Inconvenient Truth.

The last CD/music you bought?

Jazz In Paris box set.

And what’s the last thing you did for fun?

Outran the paparazzi in Adrien Brody’s Corvette.