Seeing as this interview with writer/director David Lowery is in print, what you can’t be fortunate to witness, is the exceptional moustache the talented filmmaker was sporting. However what you are able to indulge in, are the intelligent and fascinating words that came out of the mouth beneath it, as we discuss his latest project Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

In what is certainly the director’s biggest production to date, Lowery discusses the daunting aspects to taking on such a grand task, while also telling us of how he pinched himself constantly, given the cast he collated. Also discussing the origin to the title of the film, he also divulges information of his next project – which sees him team up with lead star Casey Affleck once again, who was an idol to him when back at high school.

One of the most fascinating aspects to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is that the crime that the entire film hinges on, isn’t dwelled on at all, what made you want to play it that way?
It’s something that I’m always interested in, the in between moments and the moments after something big has happened. My first film was largely silent because I kept finding the moments in between the conversation and the dialogue were far more interesting. I’d cut the dialogue out and you’d have these moments that are silent but nonetheless tells you so much, forcing you to use the visual language you have at your disposal as a filmmaker. With this film I felt like we’ve seen bank robberies, we’ve seen couples on a crime spree and prison breaks before, so I was very conscientious of the fact that if I left those things out that would make more of a point than actually including them. Especially in the first 10 minutes of the movie, pushing the audience in the direction I want them to be to understand how to approach this story. If we leaves these things out and you notice they’re being left out – that will get you in the right mindset for the rest of the movie.

The film is almost genre-less to an extent, with shades of action, romance, drama… Was that the intention, to make a film that can’t be truly categorised?
That’s remarkable, I love that it’s your response to it because I wanted it to have reflections of all these other things. A lot of people in the US refer to it as a western, and though it’s not really a western, there is shades of that in there. If it’s unique in any sort of way that means it’s working, because I wanted to pay homage to other genres and has elements of them, yet move in its own direction.

This is a much bigger production than your previous pictures – was that something that became apparent seconds after you arrived on set? Was it daunting at all?
It was in a certain way because I walked onto the set and there were all these trucks. I think that’s the biggest thing when you’re on a big movie set, that there are just trucks everywhere, and that was something that was entirely new to me and I wasn’t familiar with. The first 15 minutes of being there I thought, what are all these people doing? All these people I haven’t met before. Normally I’m the one who hires the crew and it’s never more than like five or six people, so to have 40 to 50 all working and I didn’t know who they all were was surprising. I knew I was going to be phased by that but it was something that still felt like a big step. However within 15 or 20 minutes, the assistant director would call me over and say “where do you want the camera to be?” and once that starts happening, it doesn’t feel all that dissimilar to all the movies I made in the past, as it just comes down to a camera, the actors and where I want them to go.

It must be quite humbling for you to know there were this many people coming together all for your script and your creation?
It is humbling. I mean, I never stopped thinking that I was incredibly lucky and that I’m getting away with something. Even now, travelling around the world and talking about the movie – that’s humbling too, that people want to talk about it with me. I’m honoured and I feel very lucky that it all worked out.

Do you think the fact this was a bigger budget and bigger production changed the way you directed at all? Did you have to alter your approach?
Just a little bit. That was one of the things that was a learning curve, learning that when you don’t have any money at all you can kind of get away with anything. Our budget in the film was three million, which at first I thought would allow us to do anything, but it all gets used up very quickly and there are more rules you have to follow and there are restrictions that come with that money. It certainly affords you a great deal of things but there are other things that vanish and learning how to work within those parameters took a little bit of getting used to.

Can you tell us about the title to the film – I read that Casey Affleck said that it just a misquoted lyric on your part?
Yeah that’s true, and the title predates the movie by six or seven years. I heard this old country song and I couldn’t tell you what it was, or what the lyrics were – but I know that I thought they were lyrics from it and when went back and listened to it and realised it wasn’t, but I liked the phrase. It was similar, but spun into ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ in my head and I thought it was a nice phrase and I liked how it rhymed and I liked it was idiomatic and grammatically incorrect and it evoked something in my brain that I hung on to. When I started writing the script I knew from the outset I wanted this movie to feel like a folk song and I thought that using lyrics from a song as a title would be a good way to set the tone, and I thought back to this phrase that I misheard years before and it just felt like the right title. That phrase suggests something that is very thematic, that every person has an innate ability to do the right thing, there is a goodness to humanity that I believe in and wanted to put through in the movie, and the title speaks to that. It just suggests the type of movie it’s going to be, putting you in the mindset you should be in before you sit down to watch it. I think the titles paint the first wash on the canvas for an audience and I think this does that.

You blogged about the making of this movie as you went along – is that something you wished more filmmakers did? Particularly when you were starting out, I imagine it would have been so helpful to have this insight into the industry?
One of the big things that I loved when growing up and learning how to make movies was reading the journals that other filmmakers would publish, like Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh, who published making of diaries that were tremendously helpful to me, especially Soderbergh’s, because he was so self-defacing it made me understand where he was coming from with this approach to making movies. I think that it depends on the filmmaker though, if someone like Paul Thomas Anderson – who doesn’t talk about anything or do commentary tracks anymore, there’s something nice about keeping the mystery, but people who do want to talk about it and do want to provide an insight, young filmmakers today, as I did with the production diaries, will find it’s incredibly helpful. You can learn a lot from other people’s experiences.

I interviewed Shane Carruth recently – who you have of course collaborated with before – and he talking about he was in control of the marketing campaign in Upstream Colour, allowing him to contextualise the film. Is that something you’d ever be interested in doing?
Yeah it is. With this film I just let it go out into the world and allowed people to market it, but I helped cut the trailer in the US a little bit and I chimed in on the poster, and I really had my ideas of how I would like to contextualise the movie, but at the same time I wanted to trust the distributors who are releasing it to do what they feel is best for the film and to get it out there to as wide of an audience as possible. But watching Shane to Upstream Colour, I was very envious that he was doing exactly things just the way he wanted – but I also saw how exhausted he was and how he didn’t have time for anything else, and he had to put his next movie on hold because he had to focus on the distribution, and that part of it I don’t like. But being able to control the context in how it’s put out is something that greatly appeals to me.

Having edited Upstream Colour – I was wondering how you think editing lends itself to directing, and vice versa? Do the two go hand in hand?
Absolutely. I worked with other editors on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints but I still had my hands on the controls. They’d be editing and I’d be editing on my own machine simultaneously. From the first time I started writing this script, all the way through the shoot and all the way to the editing room – I’m thinking about how this will cut together, putting it together in my head, always being very conscientious of pace and rhythm and how one shot will lead to the next, and those are things that editing teaches you, and once you go down that path as an editor you can’t not think that way. It certainly helps you on set, too, but sometimes you can shoot yourself in the foot because you’ll say, “I don’t need that shot” or “I don’t need that close-up” and then get to the editing room and really wish you had it. But more often than not it’s just very helpful. At the same time I know that a lot of directors don’t want to be editors and they want somebody else to come in and take over at that point, and that’s fine, it’s another style of working, so it really comes down to personality – but for me it’s been of enormous benefit.

You’ve brought together a fantastic lead trio of cast members, Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster – you must have been thrilled to have got those three on board?
Yeah I was pinching myself constantly. You know, they all came on within about two or three weeks, they all read the scripts, I met them and then they all said yes, so once again I consider myself to be very lucky that they wanted to do it and that they enjoyed it too, I mean I’m working on another project with Casey now, and he is someone I have admired for so long, since Good Will Hunting when I was in high school. I thought he was terrific in that movie, so now to be working with him on two projects, is just a real joy.

It must be quite surreal as well, to go from idolising someone at high school, to then be telling them what to do on a film set?
Yeah, exactly. The first time I sat down with him to meet him, before he walked into the restaurant, I was like, I’m about to meet Casey Affleck, this is so strange, what am I going to say? Then he sits down and you realise he’s just a normal person and you like all the same things and find out that you do indeed speak the same language, so that sense of anticipation goes away and the sense of hierarchy and the fact he’s a movie star and I’m not, that goes away completely. It very quickly becomes about two people who want to do the same thing.

So what is this project you’re working on with Casey?
It’s a science fiction movie, not with spaceships and things like that, but more theoretical based on a short story that he gave me. So I’m adapting that and writing it now and hopefully sometime next year we can shoot it.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is released in cinemas on September the 6th. 

Image source: Marco Vittur for Empire.