DATE December 16, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Donald Barlett and James Steele discuss their article
in Time about Native American-owned casinos and who has been
benefiting from the profits
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Casino gambling on Native American reservations was legalized by Congress in
the late '80s. The purpose was to create jobs and help get Native Americans
out of poverty. Indian casinos are succeeding in making money. Last year,
290 of them in 28 states pulled in about $12.7 billion in revenue. But
according to an investigative report in Time magazine, the profits are making
a small percentage of Native Americans rich while the majority get nothing.
My guests, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele,
are the authors of this two-part report. It began last week, and continues in
this week's edition of Time.
To qualify for a casino, you have to be a member of a federally recognized
tribe. Barlett and Steele found several long-defunct tribes were resurrected
for the purpose of getting permission to build a casino, and these particular
casinos benefit few natives. The most lucrative casinos are near urban areas,
but most of the native population lives in rural areas in such states as
Oklahoma, Montana, North and South Dakota. The casinos there are not very
lucrative. I asked Barlett and Steele for examples of what they consider the
best and worst ways casino profits have been used by tribes. James Steels
started with a positive example.
Mr. JAMES STEELE (Journalist): We saw a tribe out in Kansas, west of Kansas
City, a fairly good-sized tribe which has a very successful casino that
doesn't disrupt its neighborhood. They plow most of the profits from that
casino back into the reservation, into everything from housing to education to
senior developments. They're rebuilding the reservation's road network, which
had gotten into a very rundown state for a very long period of time. They're
donating money to some neighboring school districts where children on the
reservation go to school. And they're taking a small percentage of the
profits from the casino and sending out checks to every member of the tribe.
And what is really most impressive about what they do is that it's this nice
balance between investing in what you might call community values, the
reservation, and also giving a little money to the individual members. And
what you find with this particular tribe--it's about a 5,000-member tribe, the
Potawatomi nation--most of them don't live on the reservation, which is very
common across the country in terms of Indian country. Most have had to find
jobs elsewhere because the reservation itself was in such economically
difficult straits for many, many years. But what the tribe does, it gives
that annual distribution not just to those on the reservation, but to all
5,000 members wherever they may live, because it believes they're all part of
the same family.
GROSS: And an example of profits that you don't think are well-spent in terms
of the original goal of these casinos, which is helping Native Americans get
out of poverty.
Mr. DONALD BARLETT (Journalist): And the other extreme, Terry, is the tribe
we write about in part two, the Kickapoo tribe of Texas, which has a
reservation down in Eagle Pass along the Mexican border. And they started up
the casino. This is a tribe many of whose members speak only limited English.
They still speak their ancient language. Most of them speak Spanish; very
poor, very limited education. So the casino goes up, it seems to be doing
very well, but the money doesn't--nobody's sure where the money is going after
a period of years.
And tribal members we interviewed found said the money was being diverted for
a variety of purposes. It was going to run election campaigns. Mr. Garza
had run for the US Congress unsuccessfully; his son had run for the state
Legislature; money had been spent there. Or the money had simply disappeared.
It had gone into Mexico and nobody knows where. The members themselves saw
very little benefit from the casino.
GROSS: Did the members of the tribe try to object to the way the money was
Mr. BARLETT: For several years, members of the tribe would raise the
objections. They wrote letters constantly to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
They wrote letters to the FBI. They wrote letters to the Interior Department,
to other law enforcement agencies. And they simply never got a response.
GROSS: Well, what about regulation? There's the Bureau of Indian Affairs,
there's a Native American Gaming Commission. Have those groups been useful at
all in preventing this kind of mismanagement of profits from happening?
Mr. BARLETT: The short answer is absolutely not. They've absolutely done
nothing. The Bureau of Indian Affairs' response is, `Well, this is an
internal tribal matter, and you people have to deal with this yourself,' no
matter what's going on is improper conduct.
And there's another aspect to this, Terry, that we haven't talked about and
may well be the most disturbing, and that is that these reservations in many
cases are run like dictatorships. They're run the old Communist bloc
countries. Dissent is not acceptable. It's not tolerated. People will be
banished from the reservation. People who question what's happening may lose
their jobs, they may lose their housing. It's very disturbing.
GROSS: I want you to talk about Mary Ann Martin. You describe her as
presiding over America's smallest tribe, and she's built a very profitable
Mr. BARLETT: Mary Ann Martin actually didn't even know she was an Indian
about 20 years ago. When her grandmother died, she became aware of her Indian
heritage. She had been raised as an African-American in Los Angeles, pursued
that, and in the early '90s, was designated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as
a member of the Augustine band. And that point, there were no living members
of the band. She and her two brothers were designated as members of this
tribe of Indians.
And this was about 1991, and in the years that followed, her two brothers, who
were LA gang members, were killed in the drug wars of that era, and so she
became the only surviving adult member of the Augustine band. And she began
negotiating to put a casino on her reservation in Riverside County in the
desert not far from Palm Springs. And last July, the Augustine Casino opened
there, and so now she is the one-woman tribe member proud owner of her very
In addition, when a tribe is recognized, they also qualify for all kinds of
government assistance. So Mary Ann Martin has also qualified and received
several hundred thousand dollars in federal aid for housing to run her tribal
government for the one adult. You know, we should hasten to note there are
seven children there. She had three, and four she took from her two brothers'
families to raise them, also. So in time, you know, you will have eight
adults, but that's the extreme situation of Indian gaming.
GROSS: So who profits from the casino in this very small tribe?
Mr. BARLETT: Well, you know, she will profit and also the investors. And
this is a Las Vegas company, Paragon Gaming, headed by Diana Bennett, who's
the daughter of William Bennett, who developed the Circus Circus casino on the
Las Vegas Strip. And she in turn had investors in other sections of the
country who put up money, as well, to help bankroll this project.
GROSS: So the picture that you're painting is that some of the casinos are
run by tribes that are almost tribes in name only because they represent so
few people, and that the profits go to very few people. Instead of benefiting
a large number of Native Americans, they go to this very small tribe and they
go to the backers and the investors of this casino. Let's talk a little bit
about these peripheral people who profit from the Native American casinos.
How do the investors typically figure into this?
Mr. STEELE: Most of the names are not known names. They're people folks
have never heard of. You've certainly got some Las Vegas and Atlantic City
folks involved now, from Donald Trump to certainly Harrah's and so forth. But
most of the people in the early years who backed a lot of these from the early
'90s on were names that nobody's ever heard of. And one of the most
intriguing ones to us is a Malaysian billionaire who's now 85 years old, a
fellow by the name of Lim Goh Tong, who financed Foxwoods, which is the
biggest casino, not only in the United States, but the biggest casino in the
world happens to be the casino of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in
Connecticut. He put together a deal, loaned them the money and also took a
cut of the profits that will last until well in--roughly around 2018, it's our
We calculated that he and his family and various companies that he's
associated with will probably profit to the extent of about a billion dollars
over the life of those agreements. But again, nobody knows, for the most
part, about these people. They go on a case-by-case basis, project-by-project
basis. They take 30 percent very often, the managers do, of these casinos
once they're up and running in return for running them and for backing them.
The other thing they do, which was absolutely fascinating to us, they don't
just supply the money to build the building. They take on the whole process.
They finance the lawyers. They finance the lobbyists. They hire the
genealogists in many cases if the tribe has to re-establish itself and show
what its lineage is over time. They take on the entire process. They pay the
rent on the tribal offices. They pay the salary of the consulting fees for
the tribe's public relations officer, if they have one. They take over the
entire, really, market basket of things the tribe needs to go online and have
GROSS: My guests are Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Donald Barlett and
James Steele. The second half of their investigative series on Indian casinos
is in this week's edition of Time magazine.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are investigative reporters
Donald Barlett and James Steele. They're editors at large at Time magazine,
and they've written a two-part investigative series on Native American
Are there feuds going on now between the casino rich tribes and the casino
Mr. STEELE: There certainly are, and one of the most--it's not a
full-fledged feud, but one of the most interesting ones of these is up in
Minnesota. Minnesota is one of those states in the Midwest with many Indian
tribes, and it also has many casinos. One of the most successful Indian
casinos in the country is right outside of Minneapolis. It's called Mystic
Lake. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, which is a tribe of roughly about 300
members, has this casino. This casino generates hundreds of millions of
dollars in revenue every year and every member of that tribe has done very,
To the far north in Minnesota, you have a tribe such as the Red Lake band of
Chippewa, which has roughly 10,000 members and three small casinos that, if
they make any money, it's a very modest amount of money. The tribe in the
north tried to partner with the state of Minnesota to open a casino somewhere
in the Twin Cities area to basically make some money because their casinos in
the north will never make the kind of money that ones near a big city will.
And they were opposed in that by the Shakopee Mdewakanton and another large
tribe right outside Minneapolis and St. Paul who did not want to see in any
way certainly the proceeds they were deriving from gambling interfered with.
So that's one fight that you see going on. It's a low-keyed one. It hasn't
had much publicity. But you see things like this all over the country where
the have tribes are resisting efforts to share with the have-not tribes.
Mr. BARLETT: And, Terry, to put that tribe in perspective, each member of
that Shakopee tribe gets an annual dividend check exceeding $1 million. The
last one was very close, I guess, to about 1.5 million.
Mr. STEELE: I think one of the sad things that we have seen on a number of
these reservations that's the kind of problem that would have been
inconceivable a number of years ago, and that is in some tribes, especially in
some of the smaller tribes, they have decided to--some are disenrolling
members, some are not letting in people who are truly part of the family
because the tribal councils have the power and the control to be able to do
that. So you have the situation where we focused on one in part one--a tribe
outside of Fresno, which has an extremely profitable casino. And there are
roughly about a hundred members of that tribe who now share somewhere between
300 and $400,000 a year in various dividends from their casino. There's an
equal number--actually a slightly fewer number of folks who are related to
them--their cousins, their daughters, sons, their aunts, uncles--all of whom
are out in that same area over the years do not share in those profits because
that particular tribal council has made decisions that have restricted the
membership. And we've found this all over the country. And actually since
that first article appeared that talked about that particular tribe and what
they're going through, we've had calls from all over the country--other Indian
tribes--that folks have gone through the same thing.
GROSS: One of your concerns--the Indian casinos--is you think it's basically
getting the government off the hook because the government can feel confident,
the American people can feel confident they have a system in place that's
supposed to be helping Native Americans--these casinos, where you help
yourself through capitalism. But the reality is that these casinos aren't
helping the majority of Native Americans, so that the confidence that American
people and American government can feel about the help it's giving Native
Americans is unfounded.
Mr. STEELE: It's absolutely unfounded. And I think it's one of the things
that sort of interested us so much when we got into this subject because there
is this perception that tribes are being helped, and the ones that are being
helped, of course, are really being helped, but the vast bulk certainly
aren't. And it's one of the reasons we think the Indian Gaming and Regulatory
Act needs to be revisited. There are a number of ideas that are bandied
about, about what the solutions might be. But the main thing is that it needs
to have more focus on actually who's benefiting from this, who has the
likelihood of benefiting from this. There are all of these glitches in the
picture that we were totally unaware of when we got into this. And I think
most Americans have no idea exactly what's happening in this field.
GROSS: Do you see this story as fundamentally breaking down to being a story
about good guys and bad guys, or do you see it as a story about a system that
Mr. STEELE: It's more really the latter, though, there are a lot of good
guys and bad guys in here as well. But it's mainly a system that's broken
down. I mean, it's easy in retrospect to see how the 1988 act, the Indian
Gaming and Regulatory Act, could not have worked the way some people wanted it
to work. And, of course, now many of the tribes have taken the position that
it really was not about regulating gaming, it was about sovereignty, about
building up tribal governments. But the fact of the matter is, that's a
certain kind of retrospect. It was mainly--it was largely to regulate gaming.
It was in part to develop economic institutions on reservations. And on the
latter, for the very small tribes with rich casinos, it's worked wonderfully.
But it's affecting only a tiny percentage of the Native American population.
Mr. BARLETT: And I think when you talk about the good guys-bad guys,
certainly at the beginning, you probably can't make that case, but you
certainly can now. Because Congress has just refused to look at this issue.
You have a very few lone voices on Capitol Hill. Frank Wolf of Virginia, the
Republican congressman--I mean, he's like a voice crying in the wind. Nobody
pays any attention to him, but he's tried to bring this issue up time after
time after time. And the other members of Congress simply aren't interested.
Mr. STEELE: And the campaign finance reforms so widely touted here over the
last year basically does not apply to Indian tribes, which is one of those
exceptions that has not gotten a lot of great publicity either.
GROSS: Why doesn't it apply to Indian tribes?
Mr. STEELE: Because while soft money applies to all groups, there's an
exception which was basically decreed by the Federal Election Commission that
lets basically individual members of the tribe contribute as much as they
want to individual candidates.
GROSS: So are candidates making a lot of money right now from Native American
Mr. STEELE: They have been, particularly in California's ...(unintelligible).
The money that's flowing out there is astonishing. Indian tribes are now the
largest special interest in that states. If you go back a decade, they were
barely a blip on sort of the special interest radar screen. Now they
spend--they contribute more, they give more than such legendary special
interest groups as the trial lawyers and the doctors. They're number one out
there simply because there is so much cash flowing through those operations.
GROSS: Was this a hard piece to write in the sense that, you know, you're
writing about Native Americans and you're writing about corruption within the
casino system on Native American reservations? And I'm sure you have a lot of
sympathy for Native Americans who have had, you know, their land taken from
them and their rights taken from them--they're now struggling to make a living
and here you are bringing bad news about what goes on in the Native American
casino industry? I'm sure--you know, I'm projecting here, but I imagine it's
bad news you didn't really want to bring. So I'm just wondering if there were
a lot of land mines in writing about the story that made it very difficult?
Mr. BARLETT: I think you put your finger on something that's very important.
I think in no small part this attitude is why the situation is spinning out of
control as it is, because there is a reluctance to--there's a great deal of
sympathy out there. I mean, the way this country has dealt with the Indians
over 200 years is--what can you say about it? On the other hand, when you see
close up the way individual tribe members are being treated by their own
people, it was in that sense a very easy story to write because that this is
permitted to go on this country is an absolute disgrace, and it's allowed to
go on. And this is a case where because those tribal governments in a
position to do so simply assert sovereign immunity and everybody else backs
And you cannot imagine the pressure that is put on ordinary Indians living on
reservations. We've been inundated with phone calls since this piece ran.
Very, very, very few publications write about this. Few alternative
newspapers, interestingly, have. And one of the things that struck Jim and I
was an alternative paper in Arizona that told the plight of one Indian woman,
and you read the story and you said, `OK, that's really interesting,' and then
the next week's issue is filled with letters saying, `Thank God someone came
to tell our story.' And so in that sense, this was really a very easy part of
the story to write.
Mr. STEELE: It also was easy to write when we realized how few were
benefiting. And when we realized how few would ever benefit under the current
regulatory set-up, then it became an easier thing to deal with the
imperfections of the system.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.
Mr. STEELE: Nice to be with you, Terry.
Mr. BARLETT: Thank you so much, Terry.
GROSS: Donald Barlett and James Steele have written a two-part series on
Native American casinos for Time magazine. Part two is in this week's
The National Indian Gaming Association has written a letter to Time in
response to the report, suggesting that the magazine has tried to manufacture
scandal to sell magazines. The association claims that casinos have created
over 300,000 jobs, more than 200 of the roughly 340 Indian tribes in the lower
48 states use Indian gaming to generate tribal government revenue; revenue
which has built schools and funded college scholarships. The letter also
argues that the fact that the Indian Gaming Commission has yet to discover any
major cases of corruption is a testament to the upstanding job done by its
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Coming up, we talk with film director Todd Haynes and production
designer Mark Friedberg. Their new movie "Far from Heaven" is inspired by
Douglas Sirk melodramas of the '50s, but it explores themes that couldn't be
shown in the '50s, like homosexuality and interracial romance.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Todd Haynes and Mark Friedberg discuss their new
film "Far From Heaven"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of theme from "Far from Heaven")
GROSS: We're listening to the theme Elmer Bernstein composed for the new
movie "Far from Heaven." The theme just won the LA Film Critics Association
Award for best music score. If it seems to have a 1950s sound, that's
intentional. The movie is set in the '50s, and it's an homage to Douglas
Sirk's melodramas of that decade. "Far from Heaven" stars Julianne Moore and
Dennis Quaid as a seemingly perfect couple. He's an executive, she's a
beautiful wife and mother who keeps an impeccable home. But beneath the
surface, things are turning sour. He is a repressed homosexual who can no
longer bear physical contact with his wife. She is falling in love with a
very intelligent and sensitive gardener, who is African-American. Julianne
Moore just won the best actress award from the LA Film Critics Association for
"Far from Heaven" and the new film "The Hours." Here's a scene from "Far from
Heaven" at a cocktail party in the couple's home. She is serving drinks; he
has had too many, but the guests still believe in the facade.
(Soundbite from "Far from Heaven")
Unidentified Man #1: Well, by golly there she is now, the prettiest gal in
Ms. JULIANNE MOORE (As Cathy): Oh, Sam, liquor brings out the Texan in you.
I hope Eleanor isn't listening.
Unidentified Man #1: So what if she is. I still say Frank is the luckiest
guy in town.
Unidentified Man #2: Hear! Hear!
Mr. DENNIS QUAID (As Frank): It's all smoke and mirrors, fellows, that's all
it is. You should see her without her face on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman #1: Frank.
Ms. MOORE: No, he's absolutely right. We ladies are never what we appear.
Every girl has her secrets.
Unidentified Woman #1: I'll say.
Mr. QUAID: How about this girl going and getting her husband another drink?
Ms. MOORE: Darling, don't you think you've already had enough?
Mr. QUAID: No, I don't think I've had enough.
Unidentified Woman #1: I'd like to take a moment to raise a glass to our
marvelous host and hostess, and another glorious annual party at the
Whitakers. To Frank and Cathy, truly Mr. and Mrs. Magnatech.
Group: Hear! Hear!
GROSS: My guest, Todd Haynes, wrote and directed "Far from Heaven." His
other films include the "Velvet Goldmine," "Safe" and "Poison." Later we'll
meet the film's production designer, Mark Friedberg.
Todd Haynes, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Are there specific Douglas Sirk films
that you're paying homage to in "Far from Heaven?"
Mr. TODD HAYNES (Writer/Director, "Far from Heaven"): Yeah, there's
definitely a film that we looked at probably more than the others, and it's a
film that's not quite as well-known as his really famous and wonderful films
"Imitation of Life" and "Written on the Wind." It's a film called "All That
Heaven Allows" with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, and it was a follow-up to his
first huge hit, the film that made Rock Hudson a star, called the "Magnificent
Obsession." But "All That Heaven Allows" is great because it's so--it has a
much quieter domestic kind of setting and theme. It's really just simply
about the divorced older woman who strikes up a romance with this sort of
visionary gardener played by Rock Hudson, and the sort of subsequent crises
that ensue, you know, in the rigid town, and people who know "Far from Heaven"
will already see big similarities.
GROSS: It's quite a scandal because he's a much younger man.
Mr. HAYNES: Exactly.
GROSS: Yeah. Now a lot of people think of '50s melodramas as being
hopelessly dated and even unintentionally campy in their soap operalike plots.
What do you love about the stories?
Mr. HAYNES: I guess Sirk brings a certain kind of acuity to his look at
American sort of bourgeois middle-class life, you know, at that time. He's
very--in fact, when he talks about--in interviews in the late '60s when he
talks about this period of his filmmaking, he's surprised that people feel
sentimental about his films at all. But there is a sort of critique that he's
playing out visually and--that kind of works against the grain of the
sentimentality, and I think it's one of the reasons why his films remain
really interesting to people today.
GROSS: Now the taboo that's explored in the Sirk movie "All That Heaven
Allows" is, you know, an older woman falling in love with a younger man, and
he falling in love with her. You built your plot in "Far from Heaven" around
a couple of things that were so taboo in the '50s you couldn't even have shown
them in the '50s. One in your film is that the husband realizes that he's
really gay, and his wife, who is white, falls in love with an
African-American. You couldn't have shown that in the '50s. Did you
intentionally go for things that you knew would have been taboo in the '50s?
Mr. HAYNES: It was a balancing act, I think, in my thinking when I was
writing the script, because on the one hand, yes, I'm exploring--I think the
theme that would have been impossible to depict at that time would be the gay
themes that Dennis Quaid's character struggles through. The racial themes,
there are actually some amazing films from the '50s and even the late '40s
that got pretty close to some of the themes we explore in "Far from Heaven."
But more, I think, rather than it being a film about, you know--that takes on
the '50s style but ventures into places '50s films wouldn't have gone, I think
what's almost more weird and noteworthy about it is how restrained--we impose
the same restraint on these kinds of themes that you would see from films at
that time, and in fact I think it actually makes the themes and the events in
the film stronger, because they're so sort of minimally, you know, excavated.
They're really--we're just touching on little bits of information that you
need to know without really fully delving into what Quaid's sexual quest is
all about and what really happens to him behind closed doors.
GROSS: Now the two films that Sirk made with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson,
"Magnificent Obsession" and "All That Heaven Allows," they have happy endings.
Your film doesn't.
Mr. HAYNES: No.
GROSS: If I'm not giving away too much by saying that.
Mr. HAYNES: No.
GROSS: Was that a conscious decision, that things were not gonna be resolved
in a happy way?
Mr. HAYNES: Yeah, it definitely was. I mean, one interesting thing about
Sirk, and he writes about this, is that he was very well aware that his
endings were insufficient and that they left you kind of wanting, and they
didn't really resolve the conflicts that his films explored. So they were
kind of false happy endings, as he described them. And I liked that idea, but
I ultimately--I think at a certain level, Terry, I wanted to make a movie that
really did make people cry, that really got under your skin in ways you might
not see coming as it starts out, and that you really feel, you know, caught up
in, and so for me it had to have a sort of more hopeless ending.
GROSS: So instead of saying, `Well, society is repressive, but love conquers
all and people when you scratch beneath the surface are basically good,' your
film is saying, `Society's really repressed and there can virtually be no real
happy endings in such a repressive society.'
Mr. HAYNES: Yeah, exactly. I mean, what's lovely about these kinds of films
is the onus is put onto the society. That's the villain in these films.
There's no individual that you can sort of single out and say, `Oh, without
that person involved, everything would be fine.' The best melodramas really
are ones that find really ordinary people caught up in very simple, you know,
tangles of need. And when those needs aren't fulfilled or when somebody takes
a sort of a slightly dangerous step outside of the prescribed options, you
know, everybody suffers. And I think that's just more true to how we all
experience our lives and the constraints that we live under.
GROSS: Let's talk about the look of your film "Far From Heaven." Did you
want it to have that '50s--I mean, obviously, you did want it to have that
'50s Technicolor look that Douglas Sirk's films have.
Mr. HAYNES: Yeah, absolutely. It was--I mean, what's really amazing about--I
imagine almost any chapter of interesting Hollywood filmmaking that you go
back to, you really, you know, focus on and dissect and analyze is that you'll
learn a whole wealth--a whole new language, basically, languages that have
often just sort of disappeared from our vernacular today that are beautiful,
rich, you know, languages of color and decor and costume. But they serve the
story. They're not separate from what these kinds of stories are and what
they're trying to express. So to us, it was a language that was absolutely
particular to the kind of story we were making. It's wasn't like we were just
imposing a '50s style on some, you know, plot.
GROSS: Let me bring Mark Friedberg into the conversation. He's the
production designer for "All That Heaven Allows" and was also production
designer from the films "The Ice Storm," "Runaway Bride" and "Pollock."
Mark, welcome to the conversation.
Mr. MARK FRIEDBERG (Production Designer, "Far From Heaven"): Thank you. Nice
to be here.
GROSS: So when you started working with Todd Haynes on "Far From Heaven," did
you go back and watch Douglas Sirk films? Had they been important to you
before making this film?
Mr. FRIEDBERG: They had been films I had seen, but I hadn't ever really
watched them for what they had to offer visually, at least as far as the work
I had been doing. And...
GROSS: What struck you most when you watched them as research for "Far From
Mr. FRIEDBERG: Well, it was, as Todd said, when we dissected them and we took
them apart, what was most striking about them was actually how theatrical the
worlds that these characters lived in were, how emotional, almost, you could
say, by virtue of the fact that all the visual elements were heightened. And
we got very involved in, really, I think a very vibrant palette of
complementing colors and color temperatures that sort of allowed there to
be--provided a tension visually, I think, that very much underscored the
tension that the characters were feeling.
GROSS: So you saw the visual vibrance of the film and the saturated colors as
being in intentional contrast to the repressed emotions that the characters
Mr. FRIEDBERG: It's almost--in a way for me, it became almost that. But you
know, the characters are so stuck with their own emotions, so unable to do
anything with the true emotions that they feel that they almost had to come
out in the world that they lived in...
Mr. HAYNES: Mm-hmm.
Mr. FRIEDBERG: ...that they saturated themselves into the world that they
were--the place that these characters were living in. I mean, we also were
creating, you know, a world that was specific to this family at their economic
level at that time in the world but was very sort of particular to the '50s,
in fact, when it was really an ideal. And we were creating, you know, an
idealized sense of what this world might be.
GROSS: My guests are Mark Friedberg, the production designer of the new film
"Far From Heaven," and Todd Haynes, the film's writer and director. More
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guests are Todd Haynes, the writer and director of the new film
"Far From Heaven," and Mark Friedberg, the film's production designer. When
we left off, Friedberg was saying that the vivid and idealized world they've
created in the film is an intentional contrast to the repressed emotions of
the main characters.
Describe the world a little bit by describing their home. And this is a
couple, you know, she is the perfect housewife and he is an executive at
Magnatech, which is like a fledgling television company.
Mr. FRIEDBERG: The home, I think, is very much an extension--or at least we
looked at it as an extension--of Cathy's world in that truly it's her story
even though a lot happens to these other characters, as well. We were
creating a set, I think, that spoke to the history of sets, to the--we quite
often create worlds where you really don't want to notice that they exist,
that they seem very naturally the place where their characters are living.
And I think we were trying to create that, but also a place that you
recognized as a setting, as almost one step removed from what it might
actually really be.
Mr. HAYNES: Kind of an ideal like a, you know, almost wish fulfillment of
what women at this particular time aspired to. What's so fun, what was great
with Mark and I is just this sort of ridiculous loop that we took where we're
not really making a film about Hartford, Connecticut, in 1957; we're making a
film about how a Hollywood sound stage back lot mentality would interpret
Hartford in 1957.
But, of course, we were a low-budget, independent production that had to apply
these kinds of demands on what was half a location shoot in New Jersey and
half a sound stage--you know, a shoot on a beautifully built set that Mark
GROSS: What was it about the sound stage look that you wanted?
Mr. HAYNES: Everything. I mean, the control--I mean, I think the best
possible thing is to settle on the stage finally after the craziness of
location shooting and be in a controlled setting where the kind of detail we
were looking at in terms of the architecture of space and the ways that
literally Mark could construct a set that would set up the kinds of shots of a
kind of claustrophobia at times where there'd be oppositional high and low
angles. But he could actually build steps that go down into the living
room--or go up in the living room and then go further up into the music room.
And then we could place characters on these various levels and intensify those
high-low oppositions so the ceiling feels like it's looming down over
characters or--you know, it was just an amazing opportunity for me to
construct, you know, an architecture that would support the aesthetic kind of
suggestions that we were trying to make visually in the film.
GROSS: Color is really important in the film. The colors are very saturated,
very rich. Did you have, like, a color code? You went into this with--like,
talk a little bit about how you chose the color themes for different scenes
and for different characters.
Mr. HAYNES: Yeah, color was sort of everything in this film. And it started
in a sort of intuitive way with myself just going through the scenes and
creating these sort of spectrums of colors with color swatches that were ways
I could start to communicate the moods I was looking for to the creative
departments. And then I'd sit down with Mark and Sandy Powell, the costume
designer, and Ed Lachman, the director of photography, and we'd sit for,
really, days and meticulously go through the film and begin to talk about
these sort of almost, you know, unverbalizable(ph) issues about color.
And the cue that Mark was talking about earlier that we took from Sirk was
that his use of color was so much more subtle and complex than you see in
movies today, where color is sort of one-note application of blue is sad or
scary and warm--you know, yellow gold is happy or nostalgic. There's always
complementary colors. There was always warms and cools interacting in his
frames, you know. And it just deepened and made more, I think, subtle and
rich the emotional themes of the film. And so that was our strategy, and we
talked about ways that the warms and cools would kind of develop in opposition
to each other. And sometimes the warms would be dominant, and Cathy would be
in the one cool color in the scene. Or, you know, we'd place characters in
opposition to the general thing, or it would just be the use of light and
GROSS: Is there a specific scene where you can describe how the colors are
used and what you think it does to the experience of watching the movie?
Mr. FRIEDBERG: Well, I mean, the specific--one of the things we learned from
Sirk specifically was the way he enhanced the perception of night especially
as it's seen through a window. And in the scene with Dennis Quaid and
Julianne on the couch after the party, the blueness of the night, it looms
there and it's ominous, but it's also beautiful and enticing at the same time.
And that's one example where it's a little bit on the nose.
But the other thing that we often did with color was, and as we did in that
scene, was while there may be a dominant blue theme somewhere going on in the
frame, we also complemented that with a warm somewhere else. And I think
that's what gives the movie its vibrancy. It's not just that there's bold
colors, but it's the way that colors are used in conjunction and in opposition
to one another as a sort of--you know, in ways that can both create a tension
or soothe a moment.
GROSS: Todd, did you use any rear projection in the movie?
Mr. HAYNES: Oh, yeah. We did. It was--we did in the classic--for the people
who don't really know what that is...
Mr. HAYNES: ...you know, the basic way that people identify it is in the
old-fashioned projected screen behind the car shot, where if you visited
Universal Studios, you'd get to climb into the half-car and they'd turn the
screen on of the street going by, and you'd feel like just, you know, one of
those old-fashioned movies. So we did...
GROSS: So instead of you driving in the car...
Mr. HAYNES: Yes.
GROSS: ...you're sitting still in a car...
Mr. HAYNES: Yeah.
GROSS: ...but there's a film behind you of the scenery passing by. So it
looks like you're actually driving, but that's just an optical illusion.
Mr. HAYNES: Exactly. And what's funny is rear projection is still used today
in action films and in a lot of ways very subtly...
Mr. HAYNES: ...and it doesn't call attention to itself in ways that a
contemporary audience might notice in old films. But we wanted to have that
kind of beautiful artifice in a lot of places in this film. And so what was
really exciting is we actually rummaged through with some great research
people and got our hands on the actual rear projection plates--the films--from
Sirk from "Written on the Wind."
GROSS: Wow. No kidding.
Mr. HAYNES: That--no. That Dorothy Malone is driving her bright red, you
know, sports car, we have that backdrops plate. So when Julianne Moore is
leaving her house after the NAACP kids come by knocking on her door and she's
going to drive past Raymond's garden shop, the first rear projection that you
see is actually from "Written on the Wind."
GROSS: That's amazing.
Mr. HAYNES: I know.
GROSS: You must have been so thrilled to find it.
Mr. HAYNES: Oh, God, it was such a pivotal moment for us. It was actually
our very last day of shooting that we did all the rear projection stuff. So
it was kind of a nice culmination to the whole experience.
GROSS: Can you tell that that's from a different--that that was shot in a
different decade and shot by a different person? I mean, I certainly didn't
notice something sticking out like that.
Mr. HAYNES: I don't know. What do you think, Mark? I couldn't tell,
Mr. FRIEDBERG: No, I don't think I could tell. I mean, actually, there were
a few places where we used old-fashioned tricks, and in some cases, it was
simply because that was what was most affordable. Well, actually, my most
exciting moment on the film came on the second-to-the-last day of shooting
when we had to create the sea outside of the Miami restaurant. And we had all
kinds of complicated and technical ways of doing it, but what we ultimately
ended up affording was a large piece of blue cloth with cellophane, sequins
and a couple of fans. And it's the most beautiful sea I think I've ever been
a part of.
GROSS: My guests are Mark Friedberg, the production designer of the new film
"Far From Heaven," and Todd Haynes, the film's writer and director. More
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Todd Haynes, the writer and
director of the new film "Far From Heaven," and Mark Friedberg, the film's
Todd Haynes, let's talk about the acting in the movie. Julianne Moore is the
star of the film, and she is pregnant. She was pregnant when you shot the
Mr. HAYNES: Yeah.
GROSS: And you can kind of tell. I mean, she's wearing skirts that are
especially full. She has a kind of bigger waistline than you remember her
having in previous films.
Mr. HAYNES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
GROSS: But everything--you know, she's wearing baggy coats some of the
Mr. HAYNES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...but it still works. When did you--how did she break the news to
you after you cast her that she was actually pregnant?
Mr. HAYNES: We were in preproduction and we were already having--beset with a
lot of, whatever, conflicts just in getting the commitment to the money that
we felt the film required at the most minimal level to get made. And then all
of a sudden, we hear Julianne Moore is pregnant and that she will probably be
close to six months pregnant by the time we finished shooting the film, you
GROSS: Oh, God.
Mr. HAYNES: And there was no way of changing. The schedule was completely
built around the fall, the leaves. We needed those leaves. And so there was
no way to start earlier or, obviously, go later. That would have been much
So it was really--the person to really talk to about how hard this was is
Sandy Powell, the costume designer, who was not happy about it and had planned
Mr. FRIEDBERG: But I think, ultimately, on some level, it kind of gave
Julianne a more period appearance.
Mr. HAYNES: Absolutely.
Mr. FRIEDBERG: I think that that was what Sandy...
GROSS: You mean, like, a more fuller figure like movie stars tended to have
Mr. HAYNES: Terry--yeah. Yeah.
Mr. FRIEDBERG: And that was Sandy's brilliance was she actually made it for
Mr. HAYNES: I agree. And she's bosomy.
GROSS: Yeah. Yeah, she is.
Mr. HAYNES: I mean, she's got these beautiful bosoms and she's glowy. And
she--I think Julianne Moore looks so amazingly beautiful in this film. A lot
of it is how beautiful she is; a lot of it is very careful lighting that Ed
Lachman really tried to emulate the Hollywood lighting. But she's glamorously
photographed and she really glows, and it all really does serve the character
and the period.
GROSS: How does her look in the clothing that she's wearing compare to what
you had in your mind when you first cast her?
Mr. HAYNES: I have to say it really is what I pictured, you know. I mean,
maybe she's just a little fuller, fuller-formed, because I just don't think of
her that way normally. When you meet Julie, she's tiny and lovely, you know.
But she glows and she looks womanly. And that very scene Mark was talking
about of Dennis on the couch after the party with the blue moonlight coming
in--when she's trying to comfort him, she's leaving across the couch and her
bosoms form these sort of--this voluptuous torpedo toward him. And, of
course, he's cowering in intimidation around his heterosexuality and here is
just this swath of cloth, you know--and then her bum is also, like, this big,
beautiful wrap of sort of satiny cloth picking up the moonlight and also
interacting with the maroon color of the fabric. And it's--I mean, it's just
an amazing image, I think, and it has a lot to do with the costume and a lot
to do with the setting, but a lot to do with her, her physical state at the
GROSS: Do you think that having made this movie and just kind of drenched
yourself in a 1950s approach to movie making, with rear projection and working
with sound stages and so on, do you think that's going to carry over into
subsequent--into future films that you each make?
Mr. HAYNES: I don't know. Every film I've made, I think, has been its own
kind of delving into a sort of genre and all of the stylistic associations
that come with that genre. And for me, there are always learning processes
about the period I'm looking at. And my film I did before "Far From Heaven"
was called the "Velvet Goldmine," and it was about the glam rock era in the
'70s. But it was as much about the kind of drug culture movies that were
coming out in the late '60s that I loved as a teen-ager. And that brought
with them a whole set of stylistic terms, as well, and that we just dove into,
you know. As much as it was about clothes and music, it was about the way the
camera works and what the colors were and what the style was of this
particular kind of storytelling.
So for me, each one becomes an opportunity just to learn more and continue to
stretch myself and see the relationship between style and content and how
they're sort of--in the best films you can't separate them.
Mr. FRIEDBERG: Well, what I was so struck by is how different this world is
from my aesthetic and how much I ended up loving this aesthetic or the way
this--so I'm actually quite worried about what's going to happen to me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both for talking to us about "Far From
Heaven." Todd Haynes, Mark Friedberg...
Mr. HAYNES: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: ...thank you both so much.
Mr. FRIEDBERG: Thank you.
GROSS: Todd Haynes wrote and directed the new film "Far From Heaven." Mark
Friedberg is the film's production designer.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
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