How to make a great film the Stanley Tucci way

Want a crash-course in filmmaking from by three-time Emmy winner, two-time Golden Globe winner, and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci? You got it.

Stanley Tucci: The most crucial part of filmmaking is that it's a collaboration and the actors and the director and the designers, and the DOP, everybody has to be on the same page and they have to be able to communicate. They have to be able to give feedback to one another, accept that feedback, throw out more feedback so on and so forth. It has to be a give and take.

You're constructing something, you're building something, you're building towards something, but then as you go through that process you're tearing it down again, you're deconstructing it, you're building it back up again in a different way. 

You have to be prepared, whenever you're going to make a movie, to just throw anything and everything out of the window at any point during that process. That's your primary—not obligation, but it's of absolute necessity that you be prepared to do that as a filmmaker. Don't be precious. And during that process, you find that the thing that you're trying to create is always changing, it's always in flux and that, ultimately, it really is never really finished.

I'm also a big fan of not cutting—unless I really feel it's necessary—and forging ahead and having somebody repeat lines. I'll say, "Okay now go back to the beginning of that monologue and just do it again. Do it again and just do the whole thing with your eyes closed," or whatever. Just to keep the camera rolling, otherwise what happens is people start to think too much and thought can be the absolute death of creativity and then everybody else on the set starts doing this: they start grabbing their thing and they start adjusting it and the guy comes over with the makeup and the thing comes in with the hair and blah, blah, blah and that's ten minutes and all the energy is gone, and that actor's concentration is gone, and we've lost time.

You hope for a certain budget, you usually don't get it. You get maybe close to it, but you know what your bottom line is. You know, like, okay I can make his movie for blah, blah, blah. I really can't make it for less than that because then it just becomes—it won't look good, it just won't work. So you have to know what your bottom line is and that's basically what you usually end up with on a movie like this. Once you have that you have to stick to it, and I'm very happy to overspend my own money, but I'm not interested in overspending somebody else's money. I'm only interested in coming in under- or on-budget. And I rather like those restraints because throwing money at a problem doesn't always solve that problem, as is evidenced in so many bigger films. The idea of restraints, constrictions, restrictions—they only engender creativity, as far as I'm concerned. And again, if you have the right team who go, 'I know what to do, I know what to do. Just give me that pillar that we used for the set on blah, blah, blah, we'll take it, paint it green, stick it over here and put the bush in front of it and nobody will ever know.' And this is what's done—and people don't know; I mean, if you have really good people they don't know, if you have really bad people you can sort of go, 'Oh that's at same pillar painted green with a bush in front of it.' But I think it's really just all about imagination. It's about imagination and creativity.

Finding somebody with whom to collaborate sometimes is necessary; sometimes you don't need it. Sometimes you think you need it but you don't need it, which is why you see, a lot of times, people will sort of pair up and they do a couple of projects and they end up going their separate ways. Because they took something that they needed from each other at that time, and then once they sort of got it they could go their own ways. I think if you look at the example of Picasso: Picasso was like a thief, like a sponge, like a thief who was a sponge, like a sponge-thief. Does that make any sense? If you look at his trajectory, he sort of aligned himself with Juan Gris, who was the great cubist; Julio Gonzalez, Gonzalez was a great sculptor; he befriended all of these people and sort of took from them what he needed in order to do what he wanted to do and learn from them and then go from there. That's part of what you do when you're younger. But sometimes if you just take a beat you may realize that you don't really need that. It's very rare to find a collaboration that lasts for longer than a couple or three projects, I think. It's very unusual. But I think you're looking for somebody always who is going to not just be a yes-man, but somebody who is going to challenge you, who shares an aesthetic, but who is really going to challenge you, who is really going to question you, who is really going to say, "Why is that line necessary? Why do you want that shot in there? What does that shot mean?" And you have to be able to do that to that person too.

And I think every artist goes through—and it's part of it this film, Final Portrait, where Giacometti is incredibly self-doubting and self-effacing and self-loathing, even. I think that we all have that and then we have these moments of, 'Oh I really am good at what I do. I really do know what I'm doing. I really am okay and I'm good at this.' And then you have those moments where you go, 'I have no idea what I'm doing, why have I ever chosen this profession?' It's simply a matter of—I don't know that you can ever get to the point where you can balance it out, but having a good support system and taking a deep breath and maybe looking back on what you have achieved without resting on laurels is not a terrible idea sometimes.

"The most crucial part of filmmaking is that it's a collaboration," says Stanley Tucci, as he opens the door on this seven-minute crash course on what it takes to make a great film. Tucci is a lauded character actor, three-time Emmy winner, two-time Golden Globe winner, and Oscar nominee who has appeared in films such as The Hunger Games, The Lovely Bones, and Spotlight. Tucci also has a life behind the camera, where he has most recently written and directed Final Portrait (2018) starring Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer. In this behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking, Tucci lets us in on the dynamics of creative partnerships, how restrictions fuel imagination, and why you should try to yell "Cut!" as little as you possibly can. So without further ado, here's how to make a great film, the Stanley Tucci way.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.