Bennett Miller On The Spot

Fans of Bennett Miller’s 1998 documentary The Cruise will recognize similarities in his long-awaited second film, Capote. Both feature quirky, introspective characters who are a little tortured. Hungry Man’s Miller, 38, has directed commercials for Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless and In his spare time, the yoga fan likes to draw and play chess in Washington Square Park. Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, debuted at Colorado’s Telluride Film Festival in September and opened nationwide on Friday. Q: Why make a movie about Capote?

A: I’ve been looking for a long time for a follow-up film to The Cruise. The truth is that I read a lot and was offered a lot of stuff. And it was just a really protracted waiting game. When I read this script, it really spoke to the things that I was looking to do in a film. And it’s hard to put those into a little nutshell.

Looking back, how do you think the whole process went?

It was extremely challenging for every single person involved with this thing. There was nothing easy about making this movie. And that goes from Philip Seymour Hoffman all the way down the line to the PAs. But I think that the truth of the matter is there was so much passion in this project. There’s this concept that if you have a vision about a thing, the obstacles go away.

Are there any lessons you learned from your commercial experience that helped you in making the film?

Absolutely. This is a low-budget film, relatively. It’s like a $7 million film. But to do a dramatic period piece … that’s really challenging. Shooting commercials and accustoming myself to so many circumstances and crews and different challenges was a pretty good workout just on a mechanical level. And also, maybe the better answer is that I used my commercial crew. We have a real shorthand with each other, and we know each other. To me, commercials are sort of like Groundhog Day—you get the opportunity to confront again and again inadequacies and problems and fix stuff.

What inspired you to become a director?

I liked putting on a show. I think I started putting on shows probably when I was 5 years old. I was obsessed with marionettes, and I was obsessed with the theater.

Which directors do you admire?

Everyone from Stanley Kubrick to Wim Wenders to Sydney [Lumet], but specific movies, too. Sydney [Lumet]’s Pawnbroker and Network. Wim Wenders: Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities. Stanley Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon.

What’s the smartest business decision you ever made?

Honestly, my smartest business decision was to never do anything that I didn’t love doing. My father told me he wanted me to go follow in his footsteps—he’s a builder. I told him I didn’t want to do that. His piece of advice was, “Do what you like to do, do it well and you’ll do great.” Meaning like financially, don’t worry about that side of it. That has a way of taking care of itself.

What about the dumbest business decision?

I don’t really make a lot of business decisions. My business life is really simple. It’s like, get check. Put check in bank. Pay rent. I’ve never bought a stock in my life. I never got caught up in that trip. And the truth is, I don’t obsess about money ever.

How do you get past a creative block?

I basically just stick with it. I think the mind has a way of getting to where it needs to get to. If you are persistent. Sometimes things don’t happen on the schedule you want them to happen on. But I really think understanding the problems that you face is really the answer to solving them.

What’s your dream assignment?

I am attracted to anything that does not feel derivative. My dream assignment really is just to work with people who are ambitious and want to break new ground.

What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of your life so far?

I’m very proud of my two films.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?


What is on your nightstand?

I’ve got Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters. It’s 100 great figure drawings analyzed. So it’s drawings from everyone from, like, da Vinci to Raphael. And anatomy experts point out how they managed this and that.

What’s the last CD or music that you bought?

In the last couple of days I’ve bought the Decemberists. I also bought Funeral recently by Arcade Fire and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [by Wilco]. I also just downloaded a bunch of Maria Callas. And Dolly Parton’s duet with Kenny Rogers, doing “Islands in the Stream.” And Tiny Tim doing “Stairway to Heaven.”

What’s the most important thing you learned from parents?

Better to settle out of court.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I play chess in Washington Square Park a lot. I’ve been going to Washington Square for almost 20 years. I just love it. The chess circle in the park attracts the kind of people I feel like spending a Saturday with.