The September Issue–R.J. Cutler, Part I ...

So as I mentioned yesterday I was invited to partake in a Q&A session (along w/eight other bloggers) with R.J. Cutler, the director of The September Issue. I had no idea how long it would take me to transcribe the audio plus edit, so I apologize for just now posting! I hope you enjoy!

Q: You talk in an interview about the need for separation of church and state and that the director of a documentary needs to have final cut. Did the lack of separation of church and state within a big fashion title such as Vogue surprise you in any way?
A: In talking to Anna and Tom Florio (former publisher of Vogue) they would say that there was always a very strict separation of church and state. What surprised me, with questions of where you draw the line, was the enormous impact that Anna has on every single aspect in the industry. You see that demonstrated in the Neiman Marcus scene where Burt Tansky is asking for her help with shipping. You know I’ve often said that you can make a movie in Hollywood without Steven Spielberg’s blessing, and you can publish software in Silicon Valley without Bill Gates’ blessing but it’s hard to think of people in the fashion industry who have thrived in the fashion industry without Anna Wintour’s blessing. That really makes her one of those singular figures in America, and I think even world business. One of the reasons I was compelled to make this movie about her.

Q: Who would you say has more power in their respective industries? Bill Clinton or Anna Wintour? (Cutler produced the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘The War Room’ about Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for the Presidency).
A: (Laughs) It’s just a tough, tough comparison. When I think about Anna’s impact and influence on the fashion industry the two people who come to mind for me are Mike Ovitz when he was running CAA and the way that it seemed as though all of Hollywood’s business somehow ran through him. The other is Frank Rich when he was the lead theater critic for the NY Times. In those days I was a young theater director and I know that Frank Rich’s thumbs up meant that your show was a hit and a thumbs down meant your show was a flop. It was that type of singular impact. Those are the types of comparisons that come to me and they’re very rare in our culture. I’m also asked how Anna's power compares to the fictional version of her that Meryl Streep portrays in The Devil Wears Prada and my answer always is that the Miranda Priestley character isn’t nearly as powerful as Anna. The more power you have the more economical you can be in your communication. Anna doesn’t need to jump up and down and throw her coat on desks, or make speeches degrading people or explain herself at great lengths. Everybody is so finely attuned to her responses to their work and even their presence that it’s almost as if very few words need to be said.

Q: Did you go into filmmaking knowing that Grace would split screen time with Anna and be as prominent a character as she is in the film?
A: I certainly didn’t know Grace was going to play such a prominent role when I started making the movie. I hadn’t met Grace and am embarrassed to say that I didn’t really know who she was. I went into this film with a blank slate as far as any deep knowledge of the fashion industry. I liked being in that position with this film because I could see everything with fresh eyes and learn everything kind of anew. But one of the things that became very clear to me immediately was the nature of the relationship between Anna and Grace–that all the action seemed to take place between the two of them or in the context of the shoots that Grace was doing. When you’re making a movie you’re always looking for defining relationships. It quickly became apparent to me that Grace and Anna’s relationship was the defining relationship at Vogue. So I decided very early on, rather I felt very early on that this was what I wanted to build the film around. The challenge was that Grace didn’t want to have anything to do with the movie. In fact, the very first words she said to me were “go away.” She was very adamantly opposed to being involved in the film. She felt that she didn’t really know who we were or what our process was. She felt that we would get in her way and it took some time for us to earn her trust and for her to realize that our filming with her was only going to kind of enhance her process and the experience of doing what she does. In the end she came to quite enjoy it. And of course it became the film. I mean the film really is the story of the relationship between these two women [Wintour and Coddington] who appear to embody these kind of mythic polar opposites. But as you get to know them you realize that their relationship is a symbiotic one. And together they have achieved so much in two decades working side by side and that’s very, very exciting. I’m often told that people find one of the most moving parts of the film to be the end when Anna acknowledges Grace’s genius and Grace herself said that the first time she saw that she was nearly moved to tears.

I don't know about you but I'm thinking Grace is pretty punk rock. I'm half-way transcribing this beast so part II will post by Friday. Don't forget to mark you calendars for the release of the DVD, plus bonus DVD on Feb. 23!

Photo: Here


Laura said...

Very, very cool! Thanks for sharing. I can't wait until the movie is released on DVD so I can finally see it. I've been waiting and waiting! This just makes me more eager.

the southern hostess said...

I can't wait for the DVD! So cool that you got to do this. By the way, I gave you an award on my blog.

heart charlie said...

WOW.....I loved this post. I read every inch of it and I am so amazed by the insight and the point of view it stands on. That quote, "The more power you have the more economical you can be in your communication" is amazing in both it's complexity and simplicity. Also I love the part about Grace, for me she enveloped the innovation, standard of excellence, and genuine passion that is Vogue. Her presence in the doc really held the film together for me as a viewer and I love the fact that this question was acknowledged. Wonderful post, brilliant! I follow you ;)

Happenstance said...

Yes, Heart Charlie! I love that quote so much too! It's so simple and so powerful. I'm going to print that out and keep it in my office (kitchen).

taryn said...

yay! so fun to read haydee.
i just saw the movie on my flight to ny! :)

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