Focus Features releases The Outfit only in theaters on November 18th, 2022.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Graham Moore: I think that all three were important. My editor, Billy [Goldenberg], and I really believe in performance, performance, performance. The only thing that really matters at the end of the day are the actors. When we're picking takes and assembling a scene and constructing the full arc of the film, at the end of the day, if the shot is a little bit out of focus, the audience will forgive it. If the camera motion is a little wobbly, the audience will forgive it. If the story drags a little, the audience might forgive it, but if the performance isn't emotionally engaging, the audience won't care, and it doesn't matter how good the other elements are. The most important thing, and maybe even the only truly important thing, is presenting the actors' performances accurately and most compellingly to an audience.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to know how much exposition to incorporation and how to incorporate it, especially during the scene with the exposition of the box with the tape. What's wrong with being confused sometimes?
GM: It's a really important thing that we talked about a lot. We would joke a lot while we were making the movie: "Is it mysterious or is it confusing?" Mysterious is good. Confusing can be good, but it can also get a little bit dicey. As we're trying to modulate which is which, I was so glad you zoned in on that scene of exposition about the tape that's inside the case and what the tape is. That was a really hard scene to write and perform because it is a lot of exposition on it. I think that my instinct as a writer and as a filmmaker is that exposition works best when it either comes from a place of character or a place of argument. That's a great scene where the person telling us the information, [Francis], Johnny Flynn's character, is trying to browbeat Mark Rylance's character, [Leonard], with the information. So, rather than Leonard saying, "Tell me, tell me, tell me", and then have Francis, reciting information, it's the other way around. Francis is going, "I'm going to tell you this thing and you're not going to stop me from telling it. You don't want to know? I'm going to tell you anyway." And Leonard keeps going, "No, no, no. Don't tell me. I don't want to know. Please don't tell me what it is. I'm safer if I don't know what it is." So, that sense of tension becomes a sort of dramatic backbone to the scene to allow for some of the exposition to come out. Likewise, we then calibrated a lot of the writing phase, even in terms of talking about performance, doling out information over the course of the film. We learn a lot about Zoey Deutch's character as the film goes along. There are pretty big pieces of her backstory that aren't secrets exactly, but are hugely meaningful for her character and for why she's doing what she's doing. We don't get to go relatively deep into the film. So, when the film starts, we see a shop front, we see a man who walks through the door and he's got a coat and a hat and goes to the back. We don't even get dialogue in the film for 6 minutes. So, we're slowly getting information about him as well. One of the biggest tools from a writing and filmmaking point of view became, "How do we dole out little nuggets of information about these people exactly when you need to have known them, and not before. Let's intentionally give the audience as little information about these people as possible, especially in dialogue, until they absolutely need it." My co-writer, Johnathan [McClain], and I, prepared extensive backstories and timelines for the life histories of every single character. It's a film that has a lot of events that we reference off-screen---gunfights that happen just offscreen and then someone enters our shop bleeding from his stomach coming from one of those gunfights to events that happened just days before the movie starts to things that happened months before the film starts and to things that happened many years before the film starts. So, we prepared these very elaborate visual timelines that could be 30 or 40 pages long and gave them to Mark, Zoey, Johnny and Dylan and said, "We're not going to reference all of this in dialogue; we're, in fact, going to reference almost none of it in dialogue, but, as you know, this is what's actually happened." We found that that informed their performances in a really lovely way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Roger Ebert once observed that it's harder to get inside a character's head through a novel than through a film. As someone who's an author and screenwriter, do you agree with that observation?
GM: Very much so, and I think that that's such a perfect way of pointing out one of the big differences between writing for the page between novels and films. I write both, I make both, and I love both novels and films. In a novel, you have access to a character's inner thoughts and feelings; in a film, you just don't. There's no way to do it. One of the challenges of The Outfit was to take that constraint and actually use it to our advantage. The Outfit is a film where you spend a lot of time watching a main character who you're trying to figure out. He's a little bit mysterious. He starts doing things, and you're not exactly sure why he's doing them. There's a lot of mystery surrounding what he's doing, how he's doing it and why he's doing it, especially. What film, I think, can do better than a novel is create intrigue and mystery surrounding a character we think we know. Because we don't have access to his head, you're trying to figure out what's going on in there, whereas a piece of prose would just tell you. So, that's part of creating the uniquely cinematic experience of The Outfit. The goal was to create something where the audience is spending a lot of time watching Leonard, watching Rylance's performance and trying to figure out what Leonard is up to.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn a crime thriller into a classic? What are some films that would pair well with The Outfit in a double feature?
GM: I always thought of The Outfit as being in the tradition of some of the great Hitchcockian thrillers from the 40's and 50's which I've always loved, as well as the great single-location thrillers---from Hitchcock's Rope or Lifeboat, which I think is an underrated Hitchcock masterpiece. 12 Angry Men is one of my favorite films ever made, as you can see from The Outfit. Even something like Death Trap from a little later or Sleuth, I really love. They're the kind of films where there aren't a lot of sets, there aren't a lot of characters, but everyone's double crossing each other and tricking each other, and you're trying to figure out who has your allegiance and who's doing what to whom. There's a timelessness to that sort of storytelling. That's what I loved about it. When John and I were writing the script, I listened to this interview with Daniel Humm, the head chef at Eleven Madison Park. He was talking about how any chef can make something that tastes interesting and different with 100 ingredients, but he was really interested in what a chef could do with only 3 ingredients. How do you make something that tastes surprising with only 3 ingredients? I thought that that was such a lovely metaphor for what I was thinking about for the filmmaking processes and what I love about these types of thrillers. How do we make something endlessly gripping and thrilling and hopefully timeless with only a few ingredients?