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Paul Thomas Anderson

…because what other filmmaker could turn porn stars, cult leaders and Adam Sandler into vulnerable human beings? An heir to the spirit of New Hollywood, Paul Thomas Anderson tells complex, character-driven stories with cinematic flair. Influenced heavily by Robert Altman, his films often feature ensemble casts, improvisational performances and naturalistic dialogue. While Anderson has earned his reputation as an actor’s director, his work also displays a careful mastery of the technical elements of film.



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If Tarantino is cinema’s boldest thief, then Anderson is its most graceful cat burglar. His films contain countless references and allusions to other works, yet in a carefully studied manner that weaves them seamlessly into the context of his story. Perhaps the most famous example of this is his repurposing of the iconic tracking from Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" into one of the opening disco scenes of his film "Boogie Nights," which he reinterprets again through a tracking shot at a porn industry house party scene. However, the largest influence on Anderson’s work is undoubtedly Robert Altman, who similarly featured large ensemble casts and characters who were often pushed to the margins of society. "Magnolia," for example, essentially reworks the structure and storytelling style of Altman’s "Short Cuts." In fact, his relationship to Altman went beyond artistic admiration: when Altman’s health was failing during the production of his last film, Anderson signed a waiver assuring that he would complete the film in Altman’s place. Anderson’s deep understanding of film history also speaks to the careful preparation for his own films.

There are few filmmakers who make it so clear how much they care about the fictional characters in their work. Whether it’s Dirk Diggler’s naiveté on the path to stardom or Daniel Plainview’s ruthless vision of power and perfection, Anderson somehow manages to convey the simple human desires that shape his characters. Perhaps this also explains why Anderson encourages improvisation among his actors: like Robert Altman, he believes it creates more natural performances that connect with the audience. It’s probably also the reason that most actors would strip naked and play old-timey instruments to be in his films – in fact, several performers actually did this for a scene in "The Master." Anderson’s devotion to his characters also extends to his actors, who have rewarded him with finely crafted method performances such as Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" and Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master." And those are just to name a few of the highlights – Anderson has also extracted excellent work from Adam Sandler, Tom Cruise and Mark Wahlberg. Yet the most telling sign of Anderson’s ability with actors is how many of his cast members have appeared in multiple films: Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall…the list can go on, but you get the point. While some filmmakers have relied on bullying and trickery, Anderson does it the good old-fashioned way through inspiration.

Anderson’s careful study of other filmmakers’ work has helped to develop his unique style. His fluid moving steadicam shots modeled on directors like Scorsese and Kubrick has become perhaps the most definitive feature of his work. Depending on the mood of the scene or tone of the story, his use of these shots can convey a sense of dynamic energy, deliberate tension or even humor. Yet in the spirit of a true auteur, Anderson also pays careful attention to every element of film, from the lighting in the shots to the layering of the audio tracks. In his more recent films, the role of sound has played an increasingly important role both through his collaboration with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood for the score to the use of eclectic sound effects that recall the works of Walter Murch. Despite the complexity of the technical aspects of his work, Anderson takes a relatively simple, almost traditional approach to film production.

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Book

Blossoms and Blood: Postmodern Media Culture and the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

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Article

“That’s Just Good Sound” – Paul Thomas Anderson on the Music in His Movies

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What Is The Master Really About?: Five Interpretations

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Livin’ Thing: An Oral History of ‘Boogie Nights’

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Paul Thomas Anderson: Ghosts and the Sea

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Podcasts

Interview Magazine: Paul Thomas Anderson

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Interview

“The Only Thing I Ever Really Look at in Movies is the Actors”: Paul Thomas Anderson on Inherent Vice

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Syd Field – MAGNOLIA: AN APPRECIATION

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Paul Thomas Anderson: A.V. Club Interview

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What It Means to be a Paul Thomas Anderson Film

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Bigger, Louder, More Frogs: How PTA sets himself apart from Hollywood’s other wunderkinds

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TCM Biography: Paul Thomas Anderson

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