Noah Baumbach and Dustin Hoffman teased Baumbach’s newest film, The Meyerowitz Stories, at the Tribeca Film Festival on Monday night, weeks before the Netflix release makes its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
Directed by Baumbach and starring Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Emma Thompson, The Meyerowitz Stories is about a family of adult siblings dealing with the eccentricities of their aging patriarch (played by Hoffman).
“It was very specifically written, what I presented you with, but we spent a long time working through it,” Baumbach explained about his process with Hoffman. “If I have the script in a way that I feel like it feels right to me, I’m more interested in seeing the actor find their way through what I’ve written. … If it’s cast right, even if they’re not fitting exactly right away, we have to stay what’s been written to find it. Rather than scrap it and rewrite the dialogue.”
That fastidious devotion to the screenplay was something Hoffman said he only experienced one time prior in 50 years, with Calder Willingham and Buck Henry’s Oscar-nominated script for Mike Nichols’ The Graduate.
“The script supervisor would come up to me after a take and would say that’s not a period, those are three dots,” Hoffman said about making The Graduate. “Your script supervisor did the same f—ing thing.”
Hoffman and Baumbach spent the length of their Tribeca Talks event busting each others’ chops in a similar fashion over the Meyerowitz shoot. The 79-year-old Oscar-winner mocked his director for demanding repeated takes (sometimes, he claimed, upward of 40) and for being more rigid with the written word than even Woody Allen.
“I directed a film where I was looking for an actress for one of the parts and I saw something she did in a Woody Allen film,” Hoffman said of Pauline Collins, who starred in his directorial debut, Quartet. Hoffman called Collins up and said, “I don’t know how you did that scene. It sounds like it was completely improvised. And she said it was. I said, but that was Woody Allen’s movie. She said he said do whatever you want.”
“That was not the case when we worked together,” quipped Baumbach.
Still, the director said Hoffman was a strong influence on him throughout production.
“You would push me also to explain myself, if it wasn’t in the script, to put it in the script,” he said. “And you would also describe what was going on in a scene in a way that would crystalize it for me.”
Not that it necessarily worked the way Hoffman had hoped. “Yeah, but then you’d still say, ‘Let’s do a take, I want to get this [my way],'” Hoffman joked.
Replied Baumbach: “But then I knew to do it another 20 times.”
The Meyerowitz Stories premieres at the Cannes Film Festival in May and will be available on Netflix later this year.