Noah Baumbach Narrates a Scene From ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’

Noah Baumbach Narrates a Scene From ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’

A father-son lunch turns into an uncomfortable negotiation in this scene from “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).” The scene features Ben Stiller as Matthew meeting his dad, Harold (Dustin Hoffman), for lunch, with a secret plan to bring up the business of trying to settle his father’s estate. He brings along an associate, Gabe (Matthew Shear), and Harold doesn’t take the meeting so well. Mr. Baumbach shot the scene at a Brooklyn restaurant, where he and his crew capture much of the scene in a long take. In a recent interview in New York, the director discussed how he chose the location for the scene and what made it a challenge. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

What format did you shoot on?

We shot this movie on Super 16. The mags are actually bigger, so you can shoot longer takes than you can on 35 millimeter. We wanted to do this shot in one continuous take, which meant that we had to choreograph it very particularly. While they’re saying all their dialogue, they have to say things at exactly the right moment. We were on a dolly, which also all the waiters and people in the restaurant had to make sure to step over and not run into. And I think we may have done something like 60 takes of this one shot, which took us three-quarters of the day.

What made the scene difficult to get right?

Not only are the actors having to play the scene truthfully and remember all these lines. But also they had to do it at this specific rhythm and pace. And at the same time the camera had to move and not get bumped into and had to follow them properly. And so there was a lot of room for error.

Where did you shoot the scene?

We shot this in a brasserie in Williamsburg. And we picked it because we actually had a pathway that we could lay the dolly so that we could pick them up at all these different points in the restaurant without having to cut. I was partly inspired by a shot in a Max Ophüls movie, “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” where characters are coming into a restaurant. We’re inside while they’re outside, so the camera follows them along the window. Then they come to the door and appear right at the camera.

Tell me about where you cut away from the unbroken shot and why you cut when you do?

We cut right at the point that a sensitive topic is being broached. Matthew wants to get his father to focus on and organize the selling of his house. But more specifically, Harold is a sculptor. And Matthew has figured out a way to not only sell the house, but also sell his father’s artwork along with it. This is, in Matthew’s mind, a great coup. And he knows he needs to find just the right moment and just the right way to tell his father to get him on board, because he expects refusal, which is what he gets, of course. So the cut comes right at the point that Gabe starts to broach this topic with Harold.

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