Safdie Brothers talk ‘Uncut Gems,’ directing, student filmmaking and screenwriting

Noah Levine

Josh and Benny Safdie have slowly paved a way for themselves in Hollywood with critically acclaimed films like “Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time.”  The directing duo is back with their most ambitious project yet, entitled “Uncut Gems,” which stars Adam Sandler as a jeweler in New York City who tries to balance his family life with the intense atmosphere of the industry. The Daily Texan spoke with the Safdie brothers about their filmmaking ventures. 

Daily Texan: This film features a very high-profile cast, including Adam Sandler and Idina Menzel. How did you get these actors involved? 

Joshua Safdie: I think once you build a body of work over 11 years, you start to develop a reputation. When we started to work with known entities and (viewers) started to see these known entities disappear into these roles, I think that became a really big attraction to other actors who are interested in disappearing. Our movies might not make lots of money at the box office leading to this one, but at least they have stood for something, and the work on display was exciting.

DT: What’s it like to film scenes with such large crowds?

Benny Safdie: You never actually have enough people. There are scenes where you have to figure out how to place the camera, work the people, move them around. We wanted to fill it in. You have to figure out interesting ways to kind of trick it. And it’s also such a strange thing to think about, like, “Oh, what would that person just be doing naturally in the background?” When somebody looks unnatural, you notice.

DT: Any advice for student filmmakers?

JS: Keep making (stories) up until you find (something) specifically that speaks deeply to yourself, your voice in a weird way. If you think you’re being specific, you haven’t even started. 

BS: There are people playing (acting) parts (in film school) that are so clearly not who they are. Somebody putting on the worst costume. So you don’t have to do that because you could just make a movie about yourselves, you know?

DT: As a director, how do you get the best performance out of actors?

JS: A huge part of it is the initial transfer of enthusiasm. Letting these performers know that you know who these characters are, and you want them to know, so giving them specific things that would inform a lifetime. And that comes from watching a lot of documentaries and knowing (why) I feel like I can get so close to this person and taking those things and figuring out how they correlate to a fictional character. And then when you write these character biographies for the actors, it’s very helpful. You know, where they were when they were born, what happened, what were the milestones of their lives and then the little details. With Lakeith (Stanfield), I would send him memes that I thought that his character liked and … I thought his character thought were funny.