This week, FilmScene is screening God’s Pocket, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last projects before dying tragically in February of this year. God’s Pocket is also the directorial debut of John Slattery, best known for his role as Roger Sterling on Mad Men.
While Slattery remained behind the scenes, he cast Christina Hendricks (Mad Men‘s Joan) in a leading role alongside Hoffman and John Turturro. On the film, UI graduate Arthur Jongewaard served as the art department’s set coordinator. Jongewaard comes across as hesitant to speculate on Slattery’s artistic motivations, or to elaborate on insights gleaned from working with Hoffman, but he was kind enough to answer a few questions for Little Village over email:
By way of an introduction, can you share a little bit about your career to this point? Maybe starting with the projects you were working on in Iowa City?
I studied film at the UI and received a degree in Cinema and Comparative Literature in 2004. During that time I concentrated my studies in the French new wave, Italian neo-realisim and film noir. All of my film production experience would come later after college.
As an art director I imagine the challenges are as much about budget and logistics — getting the right props on the right day at the right price — as they are about creating the right visual effect. For those that are interested in pursuing this career path, what would you say are the most important skills?
Art direction is mainly about organization. Maintaining the designers’ vision on time and on budget is the bulk of the job. If you have two weeks and $20,000 to get a set ready, drafting the set, scheduling the construction/scenic artists and budgeting the materials are your main priorities. For this, a detailed understanding of architecture, painting and artistic techniques are necessary to be able to estimate timelines and budgets.
God’s Pocket was John Slattery’s first effort at directing. What stood out for you about the way he ran things?
John was very nice, humble and approachable on GP. His attitude remained constantly positive and realistic towards the project. Our encounters were mainly budgetary as he was also one of the main producers. However, his idea of aesthetics and tone were well illustrated to me, and we did our best to capture the mood he envisioned.
What did Slattery tell you he needed from you in order to carry out his vision? What was the time period? How did he want the movie to “feel”?
The film was set in the late 1970s, in a fictional suburb of Philadelphia. The characters are working-class, hard-luck cases on the surface, but since that is the only variety of person in town, it is viewed as a normal and admirable identity. This is something I think that the critics may have missed.
This film has a lot of star power, but if I remember correctly, it was still extremely low budget. Who was fighting to get this movie made? Why?
The main financiers of the film were Philip Seymour Hoffman (his production company is called Cooperstown), Lace Accord (the Director of Photogrpahy — his company is Park Pictures) and John Slattery’s company, Shoe String Productions.
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This was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last movie, our last encounter with a genius gone too soon. Having watched him work day after day, is there anything you can pass along that will help us understand him and his approach to the craft?
Philip was deeply committed to his role, and from watching him and John he was always playing the character that John was trying to portray.
God’s Pocket screens through this Thursday at FilmScene.