HFPA in Conversation: Derek Cianfrance on the Power of Family Stories

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros May 8, 2020
Director Derek Cianfrance

jeff kravitz/getty images

Living like a hermit is familiar to filmmaker Derek Cianfrance. He tells HFPA journalist Ana Maria Bahiana that when he writes and edits his projects he is mostly by himself. “For me isolating myself in a room and building is not that dissimilar to how I’ve lived large portions of my life. I feel like so much of my life is prepping and planning and dreaming about the films and the stories that I want to tell. And then the time for me to actually go out and shoot them is so small and so rare and that’s really my main interactions with the world.”

He was in the middle of finishing his new limited series I Know This Much Is True when Covid-19 hit Brooklyn, where he lives and has his home studio. “We shut down about a week before the restrictions came into place and just moved everyone home. We were all working from home.”

The idea for I Know This Much Is True came from Mark Ruffalo who plays two leads, twin brothers, in the story.  “I’d long been a fan of Mark as an actor. In fact, with my film Blue Valentine when I was first trying to pitch that around and get it going back in 2003, 2004, I sent it out to Mark because I loved You Can Count on Me.”

But Cianfrance didn’t hear from Ruffalo. “That was just one of the many rejections I faced with Blue Valentine over the years. Anyway, eventually I finished the film and I went to Sundance with it in 2010, and Mark was there with his directorial debut Sympathy for Delicious. We were just instantly bonded. I felt like he was my brother immediately.”

They kept in touch over the years. “Six years ago he called me, asked me if I wanted to go to breakfast and he said he had the rights to this book "I Know This Much Is True" by Wally Lamb. Without knowing much about the book other than it was about twins and it was about a sibling relationship I said yes immediately because I really wanted to work with Mark.”

And he also likes stories about families. “My very first film I made was about brothers and Blue Valentine was about husbands and wives and Place Beyond the Pines is about fathers and sons and Light Between Oceans was mothers and daughters and this is again about brothers.”

Listen to the podcast and hear how his grandfather’s and father’s temperament shaped him; what was the first photo he remembers taking; why he changed his attitude towards life after his firstborn; how VCRs and VHS shaped his life; what horror movie he has seen more than one hundred times; whose picture he taped on his ceiling when he was a teenager; what kind of memories he has from his grandparents; why he thinks it is important to talk about mental illness; how he and Mark Ruffalo connected through the experience of losing a sibling; how he is exploring masculinity; how he describee women in his life; why he asked Mark Ruffalo to do pushups before some scenes; what comment filmmaker Ryan Coogler gave to Derek Cianfrance about his male characters; and what will he do next.