Graphic of a two-headed lizard from eXistenZ

Transcript: Dead Ringers: Filming

PETER SUSCHITZKY: I would say that they’ve changed. They’ve become more daring in the way they are directed. To start with, on Dead Ringers, David wanted each scene to be shot from many angles. We would do a wide shot, and a medium shot, and close ups. Often we would shoot only a small section of a scene in a medium or a wide shot. And then we wouldn’t repeat that part of the scene when we cut closer. Most directors will overlap, or do the whole scene in each angle. He’s now become very certain about how he wants to edit his films. So they’ve become productions in which there is not a lot of footage turned over, or not many minutes of digital time turned over.

RONALD SANDERS: There are a lot of things in Dead Ringers that I really look at and like. Part of it was because the twinning stuff was difficult. There was only one motion control rig in North America, I think at that time, and we had it. They’re so seamless; they work so well. And Jeremy’s performances were so good. I can look at that and really feel... I mean, I can look at it and say, “Wow, that really works well.”

Well, Dead Ringers is actually one of my favourites. It might be the favourite. I don’t want to have to actually make a decision about that, but it could be the favourite. It was very technical. What we did is made quick and dirty comps of the two elements that we thought we were going to use when we looked at the rushes. Then we’d take those comps – and that was the days of real opticals; they weren’t computer generated. We took those and used those as rushes to cut. Then, if they didn’t work within themselves in the cut, we’d go back and change the relationship between the two comped elements and do it over again. And, you know, trying to concentrate on the performance, while worrying about all this technical stuff – It’s much easier to do now than it was then. And I think because I did a lot of planning how we were going to do it, how I was going to work, how the workflow would go so that I could concentrate on the performance and not have to concentrate on all the technical things we were having to do.

I think it worked really well, because I think both of his performances are great. From day one – in fact from before day one, we did some tests months before – he had the two characters, even in the test. The two characters were quite separate and quite specific to themselves. I think he was amazing. I did anticipate all the technical things – with the help of many people we got it right – but the main thing was Jeremy. You know, it’s difficult giving a performance that is going to be to yourself as a different character to another person. It took a lot of focus and concentration on his part and he was extremely good, he’s extremely good technically, as most British actors are. You know, they’re technically very good with continuity and hitting the level of their performance for film. He was brilliant and that was the main thing. And it may well be my favourite of David’s movies. I can still watch it and marvel at how well it works, considering how primitive that sort of thing was at that time.

JEREMY IRONS: Yes, I did have to find a way, but any film performance has to do that. But, in fact, the way, it was so simple. I had a nemesis – I had the person I was talking to, the “me” – always off camera. And this actor, who is in every scene of the movie but never appears, he was always my eyeline, he would throw me the lines back. So I could play with him.

Now, I’m one of those actors who – maybe it means I would be a better director than an actor – I always know what the other actor should do. I rarely know what I should do. Well, the joy of this of course was the other actor, I was about to go around and play that role. So, I could sort of see what he was doing and say, “Well, that’s not right, but anyways we’ll do it like this... .” And I found the process, which is basically you play the scene.

Let us say it’s a walking scene, the two of you walking along a corridor talking. The camera’s on a track. You play that scene. They press a button. That camera movement is recorded in the computer. So that once we’ve done two or three takes – and each take will of course be different: a different speed of the camera, I will have moved at a different speed. Those – say there’s three, four takes – are put in the computer. I then go and change, come back as the other character, and the camera repeats exactly what it did on take one, and take two, and take three, and take four with me on the other side.

Sometimes, for focus, I would ask for a – say it was a walking shot and I had to stay the same relationship to the camera as I had the other side – I would ask for a bar to come out. So I’d be in a way keeping the bar on my stomach so I knew I was in the right position, I didn’t have to think about that.

I believe there are only eight twinning shots in the entire movie. I mean, David was very clever. He thought, “We’re doing a trick here, we’re playing twins but I mustn’t ever do two-shots where I wouldn’t normally do two-shots. Just to show off. Do a two-shot where I would use a two-shot, otherwise it’s always directly cutting between one and the other.” So he doesn’t draw attention to the trick. Which I think is typical of David. I mean he’s a very – well, we can go on at length about David’s qualities as a filmmaker – but he’s very intelligent and subtle.

PETER SUSCHITZKY: There were a number of technical demands, which were quite new to me. Well, one in particular. That was the ability to use of a computer-controlled camera and dolly. It was in the very early days of motion control, and that was totally fascinating to me. We used it sparingly because it always took a long time, at least then, to prepare a shot using motion control. Nowadays it’s been assumed into shooting and I’m sure it’s not quite that painstaking to use, but I always called it “emotion control” because whenever I’ve used it, either on a movie or a commercial, it’s always taken a lot of time and thought to use it.

And as you say, we had to create twins out of one person. We used a number of techniques to create that illusion. Sometimes it was the use of a double. And we’d shoot over the double’s shoulder and the audience believed that both characters were twins. Sometimes we used optical splits. We’d photograph Jeremy as one character and then as another character with a locked off camera usually, because that was the simplest way of doing it in those days before digital effects became easy to use.

JEREMY IRONS: Well, film is an illusion; we’re creating a world that doesn’t exist. And the added illusion of Dead Ringers really, sort of tickles my fancy. The fact that there are two identical twins both played by the same actor. And I think that gives one a huge opportunity.

I remember searching towards how you do that. And when we prepared it, we shot on two separate days for the different costumes for the two different guys. I had different dressing rooms for each one. And I think on day two, when we saw the rushes of the day before – I mean, remember in those days, we didn’t have video, where you could immediately check – we’re sitting watching them, and I said to David and to Peter Sus, “This is hopeless.” I said, “Anyone can tell the difference between these two. You’ll never confuse them.”

I then had to find a way to play two people – one person playing two people – those two people who could be confused for each other. But who were different. I found an internal switch, and then mixed all their clothes up, and was able to switch internally from one to the other. Then, when I had to play one of them pretending to be the other, I would do the external mannerisms that I sort of knew about without changing the internal switch. So that, hopefully, the audience would be able to see. That process I think is really interesting and I suppose it’s work that as an actor you don’t often get the chance to do. And that’s really why I’m proud of what Peter, David, and I came up with.

HOWARD SHORE: Dead Ringers is interesting because it was done very... . Film music is about point of view. It took me a while to kind of understand that, to sort of grasp that idea. And, of course, the films that [David and I] had done before Dead Ringers, they weren’t so much about using film music in a traditional way, and being so specific about it. David’s films are not there to express the ideas so clearly to you. He creates a lot of ambiguity in the work. He wants you to decide how you feel about the film and how you feel about the scene and the characters. And that, on its own, is a unique technique. So, it’s not always clear as to what’s being expressed. We’d take you into the story and you can make your own decisions. I think Dead Ringers is a very good example of that, where the expression of it – in the film, in the way it’s shot, in the acting, Jeremy, [and] the editing of it – it’s all creating something that [is] in a wider scope than what’s actually on the screen. It was a pulpy story but he brought it to the screen in a much broader way, which he always does, really. That’s really the fun of it.

So, the music in Dead Ringers works all around the edges. It’s all about subtext. It’s not about what’s necessarily on screen. It’s adding another layer, another dimension to the film. It's creating depth to the story. And it’s also probably making you think about things in a more subtle way.