For a film by first time director, “The Trouble With The Curve” boasts an impressive cast – Amy Adams, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and, at the center of it all, Clint Eastwood. Robert Lorenz has worked with Eastwood for years, producing many of his films and acting as a second unit or assistant director, all the while waiting for his chance to step up and take the lead. When he discovered the script for “The Trouble With The Curve”, a simple film about an aging baseball scout who reconnects with his daughter, he knew this was his chance. So, with Eastwood’s blessing (and help to attract other great actors) he took the reins and found himself directing his director. Along with a small group of journalists, I sat down with Lorenz to find out how exciting that experience was.
Working with Clint Eastwood the actor after working with him for so long as a director, did you worry it would be hard for him to give up control?
Yes. Yeah I was a little concerned about that. It’s second nature to him to direct, to come to a set and just call the shots. I figured the only way around that was to come in really prepared. I had a vision for the film. I knew what I wanted to put on film so I came in with my shot list and I just kept things moving at a really quick pace so that there wasn’t any hesitation and there wasn’t any moment for him to step in.
Because he does very few takes doesn’t he?
Did you try and work that way as well?
Yes definitely. I’ve observed his process for many years. There are a lot of things about it that I am a fan of. It’s based on logic. When you’re filming there are so many elements that have to come together, and try and get all those things to converge at one moment is really difficult. And if people think that you’re going to do 20 to 30 takes, everybody just kind of mills around until they feel like it’s time. But if you think there’s only going to be one or two, everybody is on right at the beginning. There’s I think some truth to the idea that you get a certain authenticity the first time someone says these words and the first time someone reacts to them, so you want to try and capture that. That’s really the reasoning behind it all, and then you just have to pair that with confidence that you have what you need before you move on. That I’ve learnt from sitting in the editing room with Clint over the years and watching what worked and what didn’t and where we were short and where we weren’t. So that when we were filming I could say, ‘Okay, we got it. Let’s move on.’
So you’ve wanted to direct for a long time. Why was the time right now?
Yeah, that’s why I got in the business. Observing Clint was a great school. I had intended to go do it much sooner but Clint just kept working and never gave me a break. He just kept coming up with more and more great projects and it was just hard to walk away from them. And I was developing other projects to go and direct, things that didn’t involve Clint, and things that were much different in nature than this. My taste leans towards a little bit darker stuff. But this script came in and it really appealed to me. I thought it worked on a lot of levels. The fact that Clint really responded to the role gave us an opportunity to work together so neither one of us had to sort of stop; we could both keep moving forward. I thought it was a simple but unique story that it would be very manageable as a first project for myself, and that it had great roles and characters that could attract a good cast. It just seemed like sort of the ideal thing to start with.
How was your experience directing? What surprised you the most about being in the job?
I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. Producing for Clint, there is a fair amount of anxiety because I have to bring all the pieces together, all the people, all the crew, the equipment and choose the locations and stages and all these things. Clint is not somebody who really likes to do a lot of preparation. He likes things to unfold very naturally and organically. It’s a lot of guesswork in hoping that I have all the stuff that he needs to accomplish his vision. There is a lot of stress when he would show up on set. You hope you got it all. In this case, I knew what my vision was. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve. I knew exactly why I needed to do that so I just tell people and it was there and it was great. It was a lot of fun.
Can you ever go back to not being a director?
That’s going to be hard. I’m attached to a project that Clint is hoping to direct soon. Maybe it will come together, maybe it won’t, I don’t know. I would do that if it came together. Really my focus is on finding another project to direct because that’s really what I want to do.
One that does not have Clint Eastwood involved?
I think it would be very unlikely that we would do another one together… I mean just because there are so few roles that come in that appeal to him that make sense. You know, he’s an 82-year-old guy. We get cop dramas and Westerns but he doesn’t want to do that. It’s not believable. It’s not realistic. It’s territory that he’s already covered. I think it would be difficult to find another one that we would together on. He enjoys directing so much. I think he wants to do as much of it as he can.
What would you like to do next? Which genre?
I like all genres. Mystic River is one of my favorite movies that we’ve worked on together. That’s kind of closest to what I would like to – that movie turned out the way I would have liked it to turn out if I had directed it. I like that kind of material. I’ve got some other crime dramas and stuff that I’m pursuing. I would like to do something that’s very different from this so I don’t get categorized as one particular type of director.
Can you talk a little bit about the casting of Justin Timberlake?
All the major roles, before I cast somebody I ran it by Clint because I wanted him to be comfortable with whoever he was acting with. I wanted him to feel a part of the process. That role of Johnny, the two of went around and around on it. We weren’t in sync on the type of person that was going to play that part. Somebody at the studio mentioned Justin Timberlake. I heard that idea and I thought wow, why didn’t I think of that sooner. He’s so likable. He’s so charming, and that’s exactly what the role called for. I reached out to his people and they immediately came back and said ‘Justin is really into this idea’. And then I said ‘we want him to come in to read’ because I wanted to try and convince Clint. I thought I might have a little bit of a challenge there. He did. He was very gracious and he came in and did a couple of scenes. When I told Clint, it turned out, he loved the idea right from the get-go. Clint has been a big fan of Saturday Night Live and he’s always laughing about Justin’s comedy on that show. I did show him the tape but I didn’t even need to; Clint went for it right away.
Amy Adams, she’s great at playing these strong female characters. Was she the perfect choice to go toe-to-toe with Clint?
Yeah, absolutely. She’s one of those actresses that just loses herself in every role. I was just so thrilled to get her. Obviously, she, Justin, and John Goodman, they didn’t do this movie because Rob Lorenz is directing it. They did it because Clint Eastwood was in the movie but I was willing to take full advantage of that. She has that tender side that can be very endearing and then that really tough side that can standup to someone like Clint. That’s why I thought she would just be ideal for it. The fact that she even had sort of a physical resemblance was just a bonus.
Baseball is not very popular in other parts of the world… What did you do to make a film that is obviously appealing for a more universal audience?
There was definitely more baseball in the script than ended up in the film, in the two hours of the film. I like baseball and I know it has a special appeal in this country because so many of us grow up around it. It has sort of a nostalgic thing that I was trying to capture. I know that a lot of people, even in this country, don’t like baseball and don’t follow it and certainly outside of the country. I wanted to make it engaging but really simple to understand. Really, it’s just the backdrop of the story. The real story is the relationship between the father and daughter and secondarily between Justin and Amy and then all the other characters. The human emotions and the human aspect of the movie was key. That was something that I think anybody can relate to and baseball is just the background.
I may be wrong, but I think baseball is that the most popular ball sport for moviemaking… What is it about baseball that makes such good movie material?
It’s a game here that everybody plays or is familiar with. It’s always on TV and you can play it formally in school or on teams or you can just go out in the backyard and hit and play. Everybody seems to in this country have a connection to it somehow. Usually it has to do with your childhood, which brings up fond hopefully nostalgic memories. I don’t know why outside of Hollywood there’s not more movies made about other sports.
Being in a position of giving direction to Clint Eastwood, how did you feel about it?
It was a little daunting at first considering who he is and his reputation and his career. He’s also my friend. I know how much he enjoys being on a movie set and just having fun. I share that enthusiasm for filmmaking. I just had to push those other thoughts to the back of my brain and try to have fun and keep in mind all the aspects, the things about filmmaking that he likes and how he likes things to be.
Did you have any difference of opinion while shooting?
Yeah definitely. I wanted the movie to be mine. I wanted it to be distinctly different from a typical Clint Eastwood movie. It’s a very straightforward story that called for rather traditional storytelling techniques. It just didn’t call for really experiment stuff like fast editing and really busy camera movements. I couldn’t really bring any of that into it. I chose a different composer, someone that he’s never worked with. I used long lenses, something he isn’t fond of.
Was there anything specifically that he said like should we do this and you had to say no?
A little bit with casting, we had very different ideas about that initially until we came together. There were some things on the set. He had a different idea about the cemetery scene. We got there and we just worked it. We compromised and I think the scene benefitted from it because it was a little bit of both of our ideas about how we felt. But when it came to acting I didn’t interfere because he kind of brought that to a much more powerful level than what was written on the page. I let him do his thing and tried to stay out of his way.
We didn’t think we would see him back on screen after Gran Torino, do you still see that he loves acting?
Yeah he does if he’s got the right part. He’s a movie star. He likes being the center of attention. I don’t think that ever grows old. That part of it is fun for him. I think probably the most challenging aspect was him being on the set and having everybody come up to me instead of him. Sometimes he was sitting there alone in the chair, ‘why isn’t everybody coming to talk to me?’ I think he’s going to stick with directing from here on out.
The Trouble With The Curve opens in Australian cinemas on December 6.