Director Alfonso Cuarón Talks Originality and Unorthodox Directing in New Interview

You know Alfonso Cuarón from his work on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but the Mexican filmmaker has also created groundbreaking indie films like Y Tu Mamá También and his newest film, Roma. Cuarón sat down with Boo Junfeng and Netflix in Singapore for a discussion on this film, which follows a maid and the family she works for in 1970s Mexico City.

Roma is a semi-autobiographical piece, influenced by many of Cuarón’s personal experiences. He explained some of his processes in filmmaking, including his need to shed any influence from other filmmakers:

This was a funny project because I was reinventing my process. In the past, we always referred to masters we admire, and in this one, I decided I just wanted to own it. So I tried to avoid influences. I tried to stay away from references so much that I found myself a couple of times placing the camera, but I was whistling, and I recognized that [I was] whistling from a particular Bach tune [from] a film that I love, and I said ,’Oh, okay, let’s change the angle.’ I said, ‘This is mine, that is another filmmaker.’

Cuarón admitted, however, that it’s difficult to rid oneself of influences when one simply loves so many filmmakers, so some of his favorites might have slipped through into the project:

Maybe I’m more a cinephile than an author. So in my DNA, there are all of these filmmakers [who] inevitably are going to come through. […] I was trying to avoid cinema during that period, I was reading a lot, and one of the things I was rereading was Bresson’s book Notes on the Cinematographer and Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time, so probably, that’s the ghost of those guys coming through.

Cuarón often takes on multiple roles in his films, as a writer, director, cinematographer, producer, and editor, a versatility he credits to his training in film school:

I edit most of my films. I enjoy that. Think about how in film school you have to take on so many roles. In my film school, if you didn’t do anything, no one was going to do it for you.

As a director, Cuarón often chooses how much or how little of the script to reveal. For Roma, he says he chose to say little in order to elicit genuine reactions from the actors:

The difficult thing is that no one had the screenplay, but we were shooting in chronological order. So every day, [the actors] would learn their circumstance. I would never give instructions to the whole cast. I would talk to each one individually – and most of the instructions were contradicting the other actor.

The director’s unorthodox style is one that applies differently to blockbuster and indie movies. His attention to detail in the set, props, and production design, however, has been praised in both Roma and Harry Potter:

I wanted to shoot as much as possible where the scenes took place, forty years ago, and if not, to reproduce the place by the inch and have the actors wearing the same clothes and having the same props. It was a perfect replica. We used 70% of the original furniture. Not only that, but every single drawer had the elements that those drawers had ages ago, even if we were not going to open them.

If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Alfonso Cuarón makes movie magic. Check out the interview below, and be sure to see Roma before it leaves theaters!