When David Gordon Green walked into the screening room at the Harvard Film Archive (HFA) on March 10, he looked indistinguishable from many of the students in the audience. Wearing a pair of jeans and a nonchalant expression on his face, Green’s casual appearance belied his status as an experienced and critically-acclaimed film director. Green was present at the HFA to screen a number of his films, including the newly released “Snow Angels,” and to answer questions from the audience.
Green’s directorial technique is marked by its frequent use of the Southern Gothic style. “Snow Angels,” however, is unique in his corpus. Set in the northern United States, the film is a plot-driven story about adult relationships, rather than the coming-of-age narratives that characterize his other films.
While Green wrote original screenplays for each of his past films, he adapted “Snow Angels” from the novel of the same name by Stewart O’Nan.
When asked during the question and answer session following the screenings whether he prefers adaptation to the self-conceived screenplays he penned previous to “Snow Angels,” Green said “Sometimes I feel creative and want to clear my head, but a book can give you a map—and a sense of progress.”
Green found the new process liberating. “It was my first adaptation job,” he said. “To have the book as a way to flesh out ideas is great not only for me as a writer but for the actors too. And you can plagiarize legally. I personalized the script for my own taste.”
Green’s personal touch is evident through his encouragement of improvisation and abandonment of the formal script. He readily welcomes “mistakes.”
“I like it when people mess up their lines” he said. These surprising elements lend an individual flavor to a movie which is centered on the much-trodden themes of relationships, love, and loss in a small town.
About casting “Snow Angels,” Green said, “I want people who have something to say other than what I’ve scripted them to say.” He specifically mentions comedienne Amy Sedaris, who takes on an emotionally challenging role in the movie.
“I love her” Green said. “I really like reinventing people. All the characters are substantially different from how we see them normally.” He was especially impressed by Sedaris’s improvisation in one scene, which then altered the direction of the scene itself.
While the performances in “Snow Angels” are unique, the subject matter of the film isn’t groundbreaking. Green said, “It had a traditional structure…It’s not radical. There’s a familiarity there.”
But it was the emotional exploration that Green enjoyed the most.
“I can take all the risks in that direction” he said. “There are always special effects and dinosaurs...I want to really get to the core of what moves and shakes us.”
“Snow Angels” clearly communicates the emotional intensity that Green seeks to explore. Green knows that a lack of special effects in his film may hinder its performance at the box office, but he is satisfied with his final product.
“It is rewarding to see people talking about the movie,” he said.