DAVID FRANKELS DEVILISHLY SERIOUS ABOUT PRADA SATIRE
HBOs Sex and The City, director David Frankel leaps from little box to big screen with The Devil Wears Prada, based on the same-title novel about the fashionistic world of editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and her fresh-from-school assistant Andy (Anne Hathaway).
The character of Miranda attracted me to this project. Shes a character we dont see often, if ever. Shes strong, powerful, funny and complex, and it was important to take her seriously not to mock her or her world because she takes it very seriously, says Frankel. So (screenwriter) Aline Brosh McKenna and I worked hard to create moments in the first third of the film showing characters clearly taking their jobs seriously. That allows- well almost forces Andy to take it seriously, which encourages audiences to take it seriously and care.
If you stand outside the fashion world or even in ityou see it can be silly, hilarious or self-satirizing. But, in fact, we all worry about what we wear and its a huge business. Someone has to make fashion decisions and only a handful of people do. So, isnt that an interesting character? And wouldnt working for her be fascinating? That was our approach.
MERIN: Is there truth to talk that Mirandas based on Vogues Anna Wintour?
FRANKEL: Meryl based Miranda on a composite of people. We wanted to make Miranda well rounded. Yes, I want to see her warts, and yes, I want to see her be mean but I also want to see her work ethic, what drives her and makes her excellent, and sacrifices she makes and how she charms people.
MERIN: Howd you get attached to Prada?
FRANKEL: (Producer) Wendy Finerman sent me the script. Shed been working on it for two years with four writers by that point. Id never read the book. The script was funny, but it was a movie I didnt want to make a bit disrespectful, campier in tone, straining for comedy. I felt comedy should come out of the characters. The movie shouldnt be jokey. We had to treat the characters seriously, make a funny movie without making fun of the characters.
MERIN: Did you reference Altmans Prêt-A-Porter or other fashion-oriented films?
FRANKEL: I saw Prêt-A-Porter when it came out, but didnt reference it. It seemed to highlight the fashion worlds silliness and whats pointless about it. I feel people already know that its a preconception. In making our film, I wanted to show reality. Yes, clothes are superficial. We could walk around naked, and if everyone did, our lives wouldnt be that different. But they dont. So, clothes have meaning. Theyre clues to character. Andys makeover is a character transformation.
The formative film for me was Unzipped, the Isaac Mizrahi documentary. Hes exuberant, flamboyant, funny revels in some of the silliness of the fashion world, but is also very serious, and his lifes very demanding. Unzipped showed how difficult and challenging it is to be excellent every time out, and be judged mercilessly by so many people. Miranda, although not a designer, puts out a magazine every month judging designers and being judged herself. The magazine thats celebrating this world has to take it seriously.
MERIN: But doesnt Prada satirize
FRANKEL: Well, yes. But theres a fine balance point. I mean, in the movie, Nigel (Stanley Tucci) says at one of the photo shoots, I cant believe I talk about this crap all day. And, thats like all of us you know, I cant believe Im on a movie set all day worrying about cameras and lenses. Its the same thing.
MERIN: What would you say is your directorial strength visual composition, working with actors, storytelling?
FRANKEL: I think Im a good audience. Thats the best thing I bring. Im decent at all the tasks a director must do, and Ive done a broad range of work Band of Brothers and Sex in the City in the same year. Most important is to be able to gage audience emotions and know, yes, this is funny people are going to laugh here and, yes, this is where theyre going to feel, and the rhythm of this dialogue is good or not. For everything else, I surround myself with excellent craftsmen and let them do their jobs. Like Patricia Fields (Costumes) or Florian Ballhaus (DP).
MERIN: So, where did you need most help?
FRANKEL: I got help everywhere. Great writing support, Jess (Gonchor) the production designer, the producers. Jokingly, Id say, Im just here to get the ball rolling and say when to stop.
MERIN: Whats your shooting ratio?
FRANKEL: With Meryl, it was on the lower side because shes good from the beginning and I didnt want her to get mad at me. I kind of tortured everyone else Id say it was probably 15 to one.
MERIN: How do you know when youre done?
FRANKEL: They usually say you have to stop. No, really, you have an instinct, just know the choreography of performance and camera came together. In comedy, its if you laugh especially if youre still laughing on take ten.
Often, you have something youre going for, and you drive poor actors into the ground until they give you that. But I have them do what I imagined last its more interesting to see what they imagine. Thats why I do many takes I want them to do every variation they can think of. Cause thats when magic happens when theyre being the characters, not when theyre told who the character is.
MERIN: Do you set shots in advance?
FRANKEL: I like to see what actors do first that comes from my having seen this great documentary on Stanley Kubricks passive planning. He didnt say anything to actors just saw what they did. Inevitably well, 99 percent of the time their instincts are better than anything Id think of. Then we figure out shots. Shots arent that important. I mean you want them to be sexy, but the most important thing is the characters.
MERIN: Whats a sexy shot?
FRANKEL: When theres intimacy and you have the privilege of getting to know someone whos attractive. A scenes sexy cause its a place Id want to be. Pariss sexy, New Yorks super sexy.
MERIN: Patricia Fields costumes create characters. Did you and she use color to key emotions or mood?
FRANKEL: The biggest design conceit is he whiteness of the office. We wanted it to glow like the inside of a compact. This was a special cage, dramatically different from Andys life on the lower East Side. So the office gives the film contrast every time you step out of it you sense youre leaving a rarified world. Beyond that Pat had full license to do her work and I think it was the design factor more than color that determined individual styles.
MERIN: Is there a big difference for you between small and big screen directorial experience?
FRANKEL: Well, I got to work with movie stars like Meryl Streep and that was fantastic. Also, films a directors medium. On Sex and the City, there were many terrific writers with whom youd collaborate on set. Here, the studio was supportive and confident, and sent me off to make the film. Thats a little scary until you sort of find your legs. There is a more expansive budget. The studio managed the film like one of their children. I got everything and everyone I hoped for in the movie.
And, its really satisfying and fun to sit in a room full of people in front of a really screen. You dont get that experience in TV. (Published in New York Press)