Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty) Talks Ryan Gosling’s Lost River

From the email archives of the auteur Terence Nance, a few constructive notes on a cut of a movie prior to its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival...

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———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Terence Nance <morrisnight@netscape.net>
To: Ryan Gosling <heygirl@gawslayin.org>
Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2014 15:44:13 -0400
Subject: Notes and whatnot


How you been?

Baby on the way, maaaaan. whuuuuuuuuut.


reincarnation, procreation, the circle of life! Heavy.

Must be really changing how you see this film as the edit evolves.

So generous of you to send me the cut. I’m definitely down to be involved, an ep credit would be madly generous and fuh real overkill but credit me as the spirit leads you to.

So! The notes you requested are below.


1. The time codes are kinna bullshit as I think I have number dyslexia so just go with your gut gwb style when trying to assign a note to a moment in the film.

2. I know I’m mad harsh or curt in my phrasing at times but I’m typing this on the 6 train on the way to my in-laws’ crib in the bx so that is to blame for any overreach in the ferocity of my phrasings – trust, I’m just trying to help you make the best film possible so you can shock the world on the croisette!!!! the croisette!!! can you believe it!!!???

Without further ado…

0:03:10 Cut the opening credit sequence that establishes Xtina and family. It’s just eye candy. her smoking looks forced. lil baby is maad cute tho.

0:05:19 The scene where bones waxes poetic with the sagely negro non actor is overcut, try to execute it as a single coverage scene. Right now it feels like you are cutting around the non actor guy’s “the camera is in my face and I know we are making a movie” performance. Doesn’t feel like these are two characters with lives outside of the scene. Also the parallels with real life black people leaving New Orleans and real life poor black people leaving Detroit is waymuthafuckintoooo on the nose / forced / vapid. Might be able to salvage if you have something reduced / more naturalistic in the footage.

0:08:13 Cut copper scavenging montage way down, you just gotta quickly establish Bones’ day to day. Also Bones is supposed to be an all caps SURVIVOR in this unforgiving environment but watching him knock down walls was kinda like watching Leo DiCaprio shoot jumpers in Basketball Diaries (it’s maaaad awkward and hilarious).

0:09:23 Not scared of Bully antagonist character at all – can you cut it so i’m scared of him? Burning bike shot was cool. Maybe reduce it to that, then portrait shot of Bully, then Bully and lipless sideckick can try and chase Bones down in the car a little. Maybe my blood will pump a little then? idk

0:12:01 Scene with Ben Mendelsohn’s banker character might be more awesome if there is some visual context that they are at a bank and that Xtina is in the belly of the beast / the place where americans go to get cleaned out by corrupt monied institutions: banks, universities, corporations etc. His performance is great but it doesn’t tell the story enough. It’s also weird that there are 90 b-roll shots to contextualize how dilapidated and detroit-esque the town they live in is but zero shots to contextualize any other environment the characters find themselves in. This is an opportunity to do that. Also the dialogue where she explains that she was duped by an aggressive / conniving mortgage lender person is waymuthafuckintoooo on the nose / forced / vapid so just cut it out. Just the fact that she got foreclosed upon will contextualize her plight as social commentary pertaining to the housing crisis.

0:17:21 Cut out the exposition. Start the movie at this scene where the neighbors’ house is getting knocked down and Xtina is telling her son that she has the financial situation under control. The 15 minutes before that are eye candy / heart candy. So disregard notes above, just cut all of that out of the movie. problems solved! This is soo far the strongest scene, and the first time that Xtina is believable as “a woman in poverty.” This is also the first scene in which she isn’t wearing expertly applied makeup, so those two things might be linked.

0:32:13 I like Rat’s intro, Saoirse can sing! love the lil song, but minimize her grandmother’s character. Do you have anything that can suggest Rat and Bones were childhood friends? the intercut of her song with his “i’m cupcakin!” face doesn’t work.

0:34:00 Cut this scene of Bully yelling at the sky, he’s boring.

0:38:20 2nd scene where Bones has to establish that he has a palpable kinship with an older black man non actor, the salvage yard owner. Scene doesn’t work. Salvage yard owner is a better actor than the guy fleeing town but he’s still doing that “look ma, i’m in a movie!” acting and Bones hams it up again and his shirt is way too clean / dry (shouldn’t he be sweating after running so far carrying several pounds of salvaged copper pipe or na?) so cut this scene.

0:50:18 Xtina’s face cutting scene is soooo fantastic, you gotta put me in touch with your prosthetics / sfx guy, this is the best thing i’v ever seen of this nature in a movie.

0:53:16 Like the scene where Xtina gets to her “job” and it’s something more strange and less obvi than straight up stripping or prostitution. Eva kills all these scenes, she’s the only actor that is feeling like she belongs in this world, to a lesser degree Saoirse as well. Like the production design and costumes, milk the backstage set up more, love the way it looks.

0:58:51 Cut the song from Dave, too obviously a send up of Dean Stockwell singing in Blue Velvet or anyone singing in a David Lynch movie. I think these are moments when you could “ground the fantasy in reality,” for instance everything on the stage should be very entertaining!

1:07:00 This curse thing that Saoirse introduces should be done matter of factly so it’s more aligned with the tone. also having “a prophecy” is mad cliché, more cliché than “let’s save the family home,” and even more cliché than “I gotta help my mother out financially to save her from herself.”

1:00:10 I like the cab driver, give him more screen time than Bones. Bones’ face takes me out of the movie, it’s off tone.

1:13:00 Like the bring the kid to work scene, that’s real shit.

0:59:39 Love the shot where Bones chases Bully’s car across the bridge.

01:02:52 Cut the scene where Bully kills the rat, Saoirse is set up as too real in the streets to let that go down.

1:26:12 The date scene makes no sense, i don’t know how you are going to fix it, you might have to live with it. It makes no sense because it builds to a false climax of their love and a foreshadow of them running away together. At the very least cut out that music swell when they are in the abandoned theater loving on each other.

1:26:12 Shit, Bully is now having a convo with a non actor black person… so now this is a motif. so now I have to explain to you why you gotta cut this whole motif out of the movie. I mean… ok. you are shooting a movie in detroit that is fictionalizing the REAL problems that poor Black people are having there. But the only Black characters are literally those same people (who are at least archetypally experiencing REAL problems) but marginalized to third tier supporting roles in which they are used as props to sell the emotional weight (or comic value) of the plight of the wealthy white actors that populate 99% of the screentime. you should cut all of these scenes with the non-actor Black key extras that are used to make the film feel “real.”

1:07:55 Same thing, cut the scene where Xtina and her son talk to Don “Magic” Juan on the bus, another non actor black person to “ground the film in reality” / directly, indirectly, discreetly teach someone a lesson… Glad I saw this before you put it out, trust me i’m saving you a huge headache with this!

1:16:14 Cut the house on fire scene as if a candle falls and starts the fire, pack rats die like that all the time. I like the idea of grandma meeting her death due to her fixation on the nostalgia for a past during which she was a part of an exploitative oligarchy whose privilege rested on the backs of the labor of the poor. There is poetic justice in her dying alone in a dilapidated house, unable to release the spell of wealth and hedonism.

1:23:00 shorten the attempted rape scene and cut out all of the synth hits. love the stabbing, and like that it’s intercut with the breaking of the spell by Bones.

1:27:21 Given those changes ending works as is.

In general this cut is a fantastic start, with these changes I really think you have something solidly excellent here. Overall the best hiring decision you made was bringing Benoit Debie on board, he killed it. You have a fantastic eye for composition and camera movement. I’m super impressed that you would make a movie this abstract and playing with the language of art films as opposed to something aesthetically or formally “safer” / “more stylistically referential of movies that make money.” that said, on the next cut make sure to push the film farther away from the narrative clichés (#savethehouse #savemymomma #savemygirlfriend #runfromthebullybutthenattheendstanduptothebully). The less recognizable the film is as a narrative in which stakes are raised in the service of a climax that “pays off” the better / more powerful the film will be as an experience that focuses on tone, emotions, ghosts, landscape, death, and change.

Also your efforts here are super admirable because you are already playing the “let’s write and direct a movie!” game with one hand behind your back so to speak. You are in a completely unfair situation because people are chomping at the bit to eat you alive critically with this film. People love to see the favorite lose, Goliath fall, david win, the megalomaniac humbled, all that to say, the scales are not tipped in your favor.

Even with this current cut, I can tell you FOR SURE that if an unknown filmmaker had put this exact cut of the film out and premiered it at Sundance or Cannes or somewhere like that, critics would love it, the reviews would be laden with… “how did he do that” and “he’s sooo formally ambitious” because he would be allowed to make the mistakes that all first time white guy feature filmmakers are allowed to make, i.e. making the movie too long, miscasting a few roles, but overall finishing something that is producorially and conceptually ambitious. The rough cut of this movie is definitely more exciting in terms of a new directorial voice than half of the films I see at festivals.

But, because of your fame, I can already tell that critics are assuming that you are immune to making those first time feature film mistakes that WE ALL MAKE (god knows I made them). Instead, these critics and fanboys are going to come after you like you are Stanley Kubrick or something making your 8th film from beyond the grave. It’s unfair I know but I think if you make the changes above you can fool proof this movie from even that gravely unfair double standard. There are a few things that you can’t change like the casting (In 2020 hindsight, it would have been much better if the whole cast was local non-actors, read: Beasts of the Southern Wild, George Washington, shit… Attack the Block) but, we all make mistakes and we live with them.

Anyway man, let me know if you have any questions. You can text if it’s easier. Take notes so I can study them in 5 years when it’s my turn. Give my best to the missus.


Terence Nance is an artist originally from Dallas, TX. His first feature film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and won a Gotham Independent Film Award. The album of the same title will be released later this year.