An Interview With Thomas Jane
Jane began his film career as a successful character actor and in the 1990s found
himself working for Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie
Nights, Magnolia), appearing in
big commercial hits (Face/Off) and
major event art films (Terrence Malick’s The
Thin Red Line) among the many films that followed. In 2004, he proved his ability to be a lead
actor and carry a film in the underrated second adaptation of the Marvel Comics
franchise The Punisher and followed
that with more genre work like The Mist
and The Mutant Chronicles. Currently the star of the hit HBO series Hung, he reportedly passed on a big
Hollywood blockbuster to direct an impressive new thriller he also stars in
called Dark Country. We recently talked to him about his thriller,
his career, genres, new technology and the future of feature entertainment
people will actually want to watch.
Did you ever think you were going to
Jane: Yes, I’ve always wanted to. When you work with a lot of great directors
and you start getting a feel for what directing’s all about, anybody who loves
film eventually wants to make their own movie where they call the shots.
Fulvue: When you were picking what you wanted to
direct, were you just looking at scripts for years and said “I want to do
this. This is the one”?
TJ: Yes. I
have been looking around for something I could attach my own sort of vision
to. It was contained, not very big, so
it felt like I could control the movie.
There are only four characters in the film and I love road movies, I
love movies that are left of center, a little offbeat. I am a big fan of [the original TV series Rod
Serling’s] The Twilight Zone, [the
original] The Outer Limits and I’m a
big fan of Film Noir. So I was looking
for something where I could sort of plant my own personal taste into the film
and contribute something that was unique and not feel like I was ripping off
anybody; to create a look and tone of the movie that was singularly my own. I also wanted to create something that was
so many movies being made today and so much more of them are all about sort of
appealing to the widest base of people that is possible and I feel like that’s
great, but where’s movies for the odd, strange kid in class. The strange kid in class when I was a kid was
listening to Punk Rock music, but they were also into movies by David
Lynch. They had a VHS copy of Eraserhead at their house and I wanted
to appeal to that crowd of people, a film that was unique and different and
that not everyone would get or like. Do
something that had its own unique voice that people could fall in love with.
Fulvue: What I liked about it is that it constantly
has a mood and an atmosphere and that it does try to be very original and has
something I am not seeing in most films of its genre: suspense! You were actually able to create
suspense. I see name directors in the
genre going out, there making stuff, the stuff’s bad, I’m seeing all these
Horror films being remade. They’re
Fulvue: As an actor, you’ve always picked really
interesting, unique things to do and I think you’ve become one of the best
actors of your generation. You can do
leads, you can do character actor work, now here you are and right off the bat,
turns out you can direct.
Fulvue: I really liked it. With all these productions, especially a lot
of this independent stuff, we have this glut of package deals, most of them
which have been bad; yours has been one of the few gems I’ve seen. Did you and your cinematographer try to
emulate the look of Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and even One Step Beyond?
TJ: I storyboarded the entire movie with a
wonderful storyboard artist named Dave Allcock and he is a big comic book guy
like me. I’ve been reading comics since
I was eight. I wanted a graphic novel
style approach to the film and the Film Noir style I very much borrowed from
John Alton, a wonder cinematographer from the 40s.
Fulvue: Right, one of the most important of the Noir
black and white cinematographers. [His
book Painting With Light (1949)
remains an industry standard 60 years on.]
TJ: Exactly, I stole a lot of his shots for my
film and not a lot of people are… aware of what he created today, so I was able
to make that stuff seem kind of new. I
did show my cinematographer [Geoff Boyle] Film Noir: They Walked By Night, Raw
Deal, T-Men, the films of
Anthony Mann, there’s just so many.
There’s such a great cannon of Film Noir out there and they were on
limited budgets and they had to make of shadows and they had to make their
crappy paper sets look interesting and they did it with light &
shadow. They did not have a lot to work
with. They were very, very creative in
how they created the style and I borrowed heavily from Film Noir and I borrowed
heavily Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.
And I tried to take a pinch of David
Lynch and a pinch of The Coen Brothers and a pinch of Stanley Kubrick.
Fulvue: Which is all good stuff. The reason I ask this is because I was
thinking, the film seems obsessed with the 1950s in particular. Is that intentional? Is there something about the 1950s that
appeals to you?
TJ: Yea, I suppose there’s some. The film, the story itself just to me, presented
itself as a kind of a 50s film and that just evolved into the kind of style
that I tell the story in. We shot in 3-D
and that also married well with the idea in the 40s and 50s they used a lot of
wide angle lenses, they shot most of the movies with wide angles. I don’t think they ever got longer than a
50[mm] with their lenses. I also limited
myself to the 50 and wider to make the film, so that married well with the 3-D
because the equipment, we could not get much wider than a 50 and be able to be
able to craw all that into a 3-D rig.
Fulvue: Which helps that you're going to use that kind
of lens. I noticed that you purposely
muted the colors, but you did not gut them out.
What was your approach with your cinematographer to color?
TJ: I basically told him that I wanted and that
we were shooting a black and white film.
I knew it wasn’t ultimately going to be a black and white film, it was
going to be in color, but I wanted to approach the color pallet as if we were
shooting in black and white, so we have really crushed blacks, a lot of mid
tones and I was able to get sort of a unique look. It has a modern feel to it, but it also has a
very classical Noir style to it. In
terms of the colors, it appeals to me.
The nighttime colors to me appear to be muted in the nighttime, but it
is not devoid of color. I wanted stay
away from the cliché of filming everything blue at night. It drives me nuts. When we used to go to the movies and it’s
nighttime, everything’s blue. It drives
Fulvue: That probably came in part from the early days
when they couldn’t light the films enough.
The tricks the early cinematographers had to do. When you shot this, you are using high
definition equipment, not film. Did you
have any concerns you were not going to be able to get the look you wanted in
TJ: Yes, I did, but HD behaves so much better at
night then it does during the day. The
daytime HD still has problems.
Fulvue: It’s a little self-illuminating at night, but
you don’t want your film to look like the evening news either.
TJ: Yea, it’s tricky. With the right eye, we shot with a Red [One] camera…
Fulvue: It’s a 4K camera [4,000 lines of progressive
TJ: The Red camera to me has a completely
different signature than the [Panasonic] Genesis [used on Superman Returns], the [Thompson] Viper. They all to me have a signature that smacks
of HD really strongly, whereas the Red camera has a slightly warmer
signature. It falls somewhere in between
film and high def. The Red camera has a
unique signature that I was able to manipulate to really my advantage and play
up, not make it look like film and not getting away from the coldness and the
lightness of HD, which also drives me bananas.
Fulvue: Right, the HD has not conquered film red,
video red not as good as film red and I see that over and over, maybe that is
why they call the camera Red. Did you
try any other HD cameras?
TJ: The other camera I used was The Silicon
Imaging camera. Slumdog Millionaire was all shot with [that] camera and they’re
very small, but they also married well with the Red camera so that we used both
and the film’s pretty much equally distributed [between the two]. And it really comes down to your taste as a
filmmaker and you have a lot of leeway, you can manipulate... you can add grain… make it look unique and
I’m hoping that people see this and realize hey, it doesn’t have to look like
crappy HD… You can actually create
something that’s unique, you know it’s not film and it’s not HD, but it has its
own unique signature and the future of this kind of stuff looks really
bright. I think ultimately, we’ll be
able to come up with a look that’s just powerful but different. It will be unique.
Fulvue: The only good films I’ve seen shot on HD have
come from director’s who already have a lot of proven work in actually
celluloid. You have [Francis] Coppola
and Sidney Lumet and so forth, so for you to get a really good look the first
time out is especially impressive.
There’s hardly any motion blur in the whole thing.
TJ: Thank you.
Fulvue: Looks really good. When I was listening to your audio commentary
[on the DVD], you definitely have an instinct, you really care and that is
missing with most filmmakers. I hope you
get to direct again soon.
TJ: I appreciate that.
Fulvue: Finally, how does your personal work in
Martial Arts whether you are training for a film or not, help you with your
work on screen and behind the camera?
TJ: It’s more of an attitude. It’s a centering, self-centering. There’s something wonderful about the
self-centering and focus and almost a meditation in a way, so I think it helps
you in all aspects of living.
Fulvue: I agree.
I want to thank you for taking the time to do with interview with us.
TJ: I appreciate it.
Fulvue: I hope the film gains the audience it
TJ: Great, thanks.
Fulvue: Thank you.
Dark Country is available from Sony Pictures
Home Entertainment on DVD beginning October 6 and you can read more about it at