James Mangold recently conducted a Reddit AMA to chat Logan and other insights into his process. Nofilmschool has a great write-up of the key highlights from a filmmaking perspective.
I was particularly struck by an answer he gave about getting good performances out of actors for small or independent films:
[S]ometimes I go to film schools and advise younger filmmakers about their short films and independent feature projects and invariably I see sometimes that the films are crippled by stiff or unreal acting performances. What I would suggest is to tailor your early projects around talent, amazing talent you know, meaning if you have a friend who is an incredible singer-songwriter and has a kind of very unique personality, write a movie about them as if they were a character, you know? Martin Scorsese’s first movies all revolved around characters who could very ably be played by Robert De Niro or Harvey Keitel and other friends of his. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that his early movies feature such sterling performances, that in many ways the material was tailored to the assets he had access to, the second you’re kind of writing a movie and then trying, with limited resources to find the right person in an acting school or wherever to play this role, you’re already crippling yourself or really limiting your ability to find the best person. Also i would look other places that acting classes. I would look at comedy clubs, I would look for people who just have an amazing look or natural way about them or a very powerful personality and see whether you could take advantage of that.
“Play to your strengths” and “use what you have access to” seem like obvious advice but I think they are worth heeding for those just getting into the field. It was definitely the approach I tried to use.
For related content, see /Film’s interview with Mangold and The Ringer’s feature on Mangold.