CARY Joji Fukunaga isn’t a name that’s immediately recognised. But he is starting to make footprints that will soon change all that.
The 36-year-old American film director, writer and cinematographer has a handful of critically-acclaimed credits to his name: Victoria Para Chino, a short story he wrote and directed, which bagged him numerous student awards at an array of film festivals; Sin Nombre, his debut feature film which he wrote and directed; and a remake of Jane Eyre, which bagged several film award nominations. That’s not discounting his other short story ventures – although they didn’t make as big a wave as Victoria Para Chino.
Now his résumé is bolstered by the TV endeavour True Detective. And he couldn’t have asked for better creative mileage than directing Hollywood heavy- weights Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the leads.
Shedding light on how he came on board the project, Fukunaga said: “Nic Pizzolatto, the writer, wrote the first episode and I think his original intention was to make it a novel, but then a producer at our collective management/production company convinced him to make it into a television show.
“The idea was to make it a hybrid, so it’s a mix of television and cinema, and to bring in one director to be the vision for one season, and bring in feature film talent, so guys like Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, in the best-case scenario.
“We started developing it about two years ago and once we packaged Woody and Matthew, and started taking it around town, HBO snapped it up,” he explained
Unlike most series, True Detective only runs for eight one-hour episodes.
The director clarified: “Well, I think there are definitely reasons why one wouldn’t do it this way; it’s a very difficult logistical endeavour and we definitely had our challenges getting through it.
“But those were mainly due to the fact that in television you usually have four directors for eight episodes, and you’d be switching around, with four teams prepping as you go. We just had one, so it was a real case of stamina and endurance, location scouting and casting, while we were also shooting.”
Fukunaga says Louisiana wasn’t the initial setting for the story, it was the Ozarks (Missouri, Arkansas).
He said: “When I read the first script it was the Ozarks. And that really interested me too, because it was a part of the country I’d never spent time in. But the imagery that was in the script was easily translatable to Louisiana, and given that the author was from there, it made more sense in the end. There are many different sorts of power paradigms in the South; you have the military, you have the petro-chemical industry and you have religion. And then you have the normal government, too.”
Interestingly, McConaughey’s role wasn’t the one that was originally offered to him. But when he read the script, he was drawn to Rust Cohle and then suggested Harrelson as the ideal actor to embody Martin Hart.
Aside from working with these dream actors, Fukunaga sung their praises on nailing the nuances and conflicting emotions of their characters.
He said: “Part of it was their friendship, but it was also their commitment. It’s kind of a cliché to say, ‘This movie wouldn’t have existed without this character’. But I think it’s a different movie if there are different actors interpreting it, just like that script would be a different show if I didn’t direct it.
“But I really love what Woody and Matthew did because, first of all, I think Matthew was doing a role he hadn’t really done before and really committed himself 100 percent to it, and that inspired Woody also.
“Woody even said so on the last day of shooting, when Matthew finished. He gave a speech when Matthew sort of took his bow, and it was an emotional moment. Because they’re such good friends, they can speak honestly, and they don’t have to kiss each other’s ass at all.
“But Woody talked about how inspired he was by what Matthew did in the show and how watching him work made him want to raise his game. I think they constantly raised each other’s game.”
With the vision outlined, the challenge was on for Fukunaga to bridge the worlds of TV and film.
And in magnificently intertwining the characters’ journeys with the grisly occult murders that impacted on their lives, Fukunaga can smile at the end result of what some would describe as a very ambitious outing.
Challenge is clearly a driving force and not a stumbling block for this rising filmmaker. He can only impress going forward!