‘Magnolia’: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Absorbing Mosaic of Compassion, Humanity and the Importance of Forgiveness

Jason Robards and Paul Thomas Anderson behind the scenes on Magnolia. Production still photographers: Peter Sorel, Victor Aguirre © Ghoulardi Film Company, New Line Cinema, The Magnolia Project


By Sven Mikulec

In 1997, an ambitious 26-year-old called Paul Thomas Anderson made Boogie Nights, his sophomore directing effort that dazzled the film loving community. The commercial and critical success of the film was so impressive that Anderson, practically only a beginner in the ruthless shark tank of Hollywood, found himself in an unexpected, quite unique position of being allowed to make whatever the hell he wanted to make next. Michael De Luca, who was in charge of production at New Line Cinema, agreed to support Anderson’s next project without even knowing what the film was supposed to be, even granting the rising director the final cut, a privilege often withheld from far more recognized and experienced filmmakers. And what Anderson chose to do next was to breathe life into an idea he got while Boogie Nights was in its long editing stage, when he started jotting down his descriptions of strong images he wanted to develop, a series of visual and narrative pieces of a story that was yet to be forged. The seemingly disparate line of images, motifs and ideas slowly started to come together, their blending ultimately aided by a remarkably talented all-star ensemble cast, beautiful songs of Aimee Mann and Anderson’s studiously poignant writing that created real, full-blooded characters we’re naturally inclined to relate to. Magnolia, as Anderson named the picture, is a touching, emotionally overwhelming mosaic of grief, estrangement and anger, a complex weaving of stories relating to sad, troubled people who walk lost, broken and frightened through the darkness of the San Fernando Valley, with only an occasional beam of light fighting through the clouds to remind us what kind of total wreckages most of Anderson’s antiheroes in this film really are.

Magnolia was first conceived as a small, intimate movie, but as Anderson started working on the screenplay, the concept steadily grew and expanded. There were many actors and actresses the director admired and whom he wanted to write for, and as he realized he was handed a carte blanche opportunity he would likely never get again, he decided to go for it. He chose a series of familiar faces he had already worked with on Hard Eight and Boogie Nights: John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, Julianne Moore, Melora Walters, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Alfred Molina… A perfect cast he further enriched by adding Jason Robards, Melinda Dillon, Tom Cruise and young Jeremy Blackman, among others. The specificity of Anderson’s position as a highly wanted and recognized filmmaker can be seen in the very casting of Cruise, arguably the most popular Hollywood star at the time, while the choice of giving him an unusual, even unnatural and very complicated role in the film is a testament to the director’s vision, courage and remarkable self-confidence. The roles that went to Reilly and Macy were written specifically for them because Anderson wanted them out of their comfort zone (Macy) or given an opportunity to shine in something completely new (Reilly). Magnolia is so unique in its structure that there really isn’t a single star stealing the show: there are more and less inspired performances, perhaps, but the majority of the roles are so convincing and well-performed that the film basically works fine as the highlight reel of each and every cast member’s career.

With cinematographer Robert Elswit behind the camera and Dylan Tichenor laboring in the editing room, both of whom are Anderson’s long-time companions, Magnolia is also distinguished by the effective use of American rock singer Aimee Mann’s songs, such as ‘Wise Up,’ the piece that Anderson used as a glue tying the characters together in one particular impressive sequence. Anderson met Mann a couple of years earlier, as her husband Michael Penn was writing the score for Hard Eight, and sent her the script to encourage her to write specifically for Magnolia. Mann was honored to see her work used as the central piece of a film like this, and besides the critics’ praise, her work gained recognition in the form of an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song (‘Save Me’), one of three Academy nominations the film received (Best Original Screenplay for Anderson, Best Supporting Actor for Cruise). Although struggling at the box office—nothing strange when you consider the fact Magnolia is hardly mainstream material—Anderson’s third film was greeted enthusiastically by the critics and is still considered one of the best works of the whole decade.

I wanted to make something that was intimate and small-scale, and I thought that I would do it very, very quickly. The point was that I wanted to shed myself of everything that was happening around Boogie Nights. And I started to write and well, it kept blossoming. And I got to the point where still it’s a very intimate movie, but I realised I had so many actors I wanted to write for that the form started to come more from them. Then I thought it would be really interesting to put this epic spin on topics that don’t necessarily get the epic treatment, which is usually reserved for war movies or political topics. But the things that I know as big and emotional are these real intimate everyday moments, like losing your car keys, for example. You could start with something like that and go anywhere. —Paul Thomas Anderson


The film deals with numerous subjects, exploring several themes that have always piqued the interest of humanity: the inability to forgive, the devastating effects of poor choices, the corrosive impact of guilt and loneliness, the overwhelming burden of history that shapes our presence and determines our future. “I really feel that Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make,” Anderson stated once. Described often as a perfectly imperfect film, this is a three hours long emotional rollercoaster carried on the shoulders of definitely one of the best group of actors and actresses ever utilized in the same film, a movie that doesn’t feel a minute too long thanks to the absorbing stories and palpable characters created with wit, intelligence and compassion. Whatever Anderson or anybody else comes up with next, Magnolia is bound to stay near the very top of our favorite movies.

Screenwriter must-read: Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay for Magnolia [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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“Shooting Eyes Wide Shut in England, Tom Cruise had time to kill. One evening, he and Nicole [Kidman] watched Boogie Nights, the second feature from twenty-seven-year-old wunderkind Paul Thomas Anderson, a writer-director and LA native son who had become the upstart of Hollywood after his first film, Hard Eight, made a splash at Sundance. Cruise was struck by a bungled, drug-addled robbery scene set to ‘Jessie’s Girl’ and called Anderson up with his congratulations. Anderson happened to be in London, and he gladly accepted Cruise’s invitation to visit the Eyes Wide Shut set. Noting [Stanley] Kubrick’s scant film crew, Anderson asked the director if he always worked on such a small scale. ‘How many do you need?’ replied Kubrick. ‘I’m an asshole, man,’ said the humbled young auteur, ‘I spend too much money.’ But he was about to embark on the most star-studded and narratively complex film of his career. Earlier that year, Anderson’s father, Ernie, had died of cancer. A late-night horror movie host who went by ‘Ghoulardi,’ Mr. Anderson purchased a Betamax video camera for his son when the boy was twelve, launching the director on his path. Cruise understood. He, too, had lost his father early. But in truth he’d lost his dad—and namesake—Thomas Cruise Mapother III years before. After his parents divorced when Cruise was twelve, he’d only seen his father twice: at fifteen when his dad took him to the drive-in and on his deathbed. The elder Mapother never watched one of his son’s films.

‘He tried going out to see Risky Business, but he was in too much pain,’ said Cruise. In the first leg of his career, he was remarkably open about their relationship, as though the wounds were still so raw that it helped to say them aloud. ‘I hadn’t seen my father for a number of years. I heard he was dying, and I didn’t know where he was. He didn’t want to be contacted. He left and didn’t want to be contacted for years. I think he was tired of inflicting so much pain on other people that he just had to get away.’ ‘I spent some time with him. We talked,’ he continued. ‘I think he made so many mistakes that it ate him alive. Even when I went to see him, he didn’t want to discuss what had occurred in the past. I said, ‘Whatever you want, Dad.’ But I held his hand. And I told him I loved him, and that I was going to miss him. He said when he got out of the hospital we’d go have a steak and a beer and talk about it then. He died before we could do that.’ His father did have time to give a few quotes to journalists who tracked him down. In 1983, he told a reporter that he had ‘made a personal decision to respect my son’s wishes, which was for me to stay the hell out of everything,’ saying that they had gone over four years without communication (‘a long time, at least to me’) until Tom and his sisters had come by his hospital after a cancer operation. When it was suggested to the elder Mapother that their visit had meant more than words could express, he began to weep. ‘A lot more, a lot more.’”—Fifteen Years Later: Tom Cruise and Magnolia by Amy Nicholson


Paul Thomas Anderson interviewed by Kristine Mckenna & David Konow, Creative Screenwriting, volume 5, #1 (January/February 1998) & volume 7, #1 (January/February 2000). The following is an excerpt from that interview.

Leonard Cohen once commented, “every artist—be it a painter, composer, or filmmaker—has one song he writes over and over again. And the beautiful thing about this endeavor is that you don’t realize you’re writing the same song repeatedly, but in fact, it keeps returning to you wearing the original blue gown.” Do you agree?
Probably, although it’s too early for me to tell what mine is. I think there are similar themes and motifs in the two movies I’ve made, but I didn’t see that until after the fact. Both stories have father figures, a young protégé, a makeshift family, and the paying of some kind of karmic debt. With Hard Eight, the lead character, Sidney, is dealing with guilt he feels over something he did before the story in the film begins. Boogie Nights could almost be seen as a prequel to Hard Eight in that it follows this kid as he does things that leave him with a huge karmic debt. When the story ends, you sense that Dirk will now attempt to atone for the things he’s done; in other words, Dirk becomes Sidney.

Do you feel it’s important that your next film be markedly different from Boogie Nights?
No. I think it’s important that I resist being influenced by people who encourage me to make another Boogie Nights type of movie though, and I want to put the proper pair of horse blinders on. I try not to second guess my instincts, and at the moment I’m writing a part for Luis Guzman. As the character has developed, I’ve realized I’m basically writing Maurice [Guzman’s character in Boogie Nights] again. Part of me says, “wait a minute—you’re writing Maurice again,” but another part of me wants to explore this character more—maybe because Maurice got shortchanged in Boogie Nights. The new script is set in 1997, so maybe this is Maurice twenty years later.

You’re presently in a precarious place as a artist. You’ve been able to privately develop your first two films, but the success of Boogie Nights has brought many conflicting forces to bear on you and your work—the pressures of the marketplace, the distraction of flattery, the demands being made on your time. Are there steps you can take to protect your sanity and your future as a filmmaker?
That’s a good question and all I can say is I’m learning as I go. I wrote my first two movies fueled by a desire for revenge on all the people who told me I’d never amount to anything, and those movies came from a place of “I’ll show you.” Now I hear people say Boogie Nights is great, but what are you gonna do next, and that’s a challenge too. Ultimately I’m not worried because once you start writing and you’re alone in a room and you get in a groove, there’s nothing else going on in the world. I’ve been to the Hollywood parties and the lunches with so and so, and without sounding arrogant or ungrateful, I can tell you that none of it is as fun as making a movie.


How were you able to avoid the hoopla of Boogie Nights and concentrate on writing another movie?
You know, it’s actually pretty easy for about three hours of the day and those are the three hours of the day that I’m writing. You’re really only self-conscious or thinking about it when you’re not writing. My general work pattern is that I wake up very early in the morning and I write. I can really only write for three or four hours before I’m either tired or I’ve smoked too much. And that’s when you start getting self-conscious and you start thinking, “Jeez, there’s all these people paying attention to me and what I’m going to do next.” I’m just thankful that it’s not when I’m writing, because it’s not affecting it. You know how it is: when you’re alone in your room and it’s you and your computer, you’re truly not thinking of anything else. In the off-hours, I was probably self-conscious, but in the on-hours I wasn’t.

Did you ever feel any pressure to follow up Boogie Nights?
Well, I might have. The truth of the matter is when I sat down to write Magnolia, I truly sat down to write something very small, very quick, very intimate, and something I could make very cheaply. Boogie Nights was this massive, two-and-a half-hour epic. And I thought, “You know what? I wanna bury my head in the sand and just make a little small movie.” So, in other words, I might have been reacting to the size of Boogie Nights. But obviously, no hoopla informed it, otherwise I wouldn’t have made a three-hour movie that’s as big and long as it is. I truly just ended up writing from my gut and my gut took me to writing Magnolia as it is, as opposed to a smaller version of it.

How long did it take to put Magnolia together? When did you first start writing?
I was kind of where I am right now, as I’m mixing Magnolia. You start thinking about, “Well, gee… what am I going to do next?” It was the same sort of thing on Boogie Nights. On Boogie Nights we had an incredibly long editing period because I was going through a lot of MPAA negotiations regarding the rating, trying to get an R rating. I had a lot of free time to think and tinker with the editing on Boogie Nights, and I started formulating some of the thoughts that were Magnolia. Now what happened was, as I came closer to the finishing of Boogie Nights, that’s when I started to write stuff down. While I was mixing Boogie Nights, I started jotting ideas down. Once the movie was off and out into the theaters, I was able to jump right into writing. That was November 1997.

Why do you feel you write with such a big scope?
I think if I have a problem as a writer it’s writer’s block in reverse, which can be just as detrimental as not knowing what to write. I think I have so much shit in my brain that sometimes I just kind of vomit a lot of it out. Boogie Nights is a three-hour movie, but believe me, I had enough pages to make an eight-hour movie. It’s just about pairing it down to where I think it’s right. It’s funny because the movie that helped me make a mark, Boogie Nights, was long, and then this movie’s long. But my first movie was an hour and forty minutes, a regular movie length. So it’s not as if I’m completely interested in being the “epic guy” each time. I might sit down with a master plan and want to write a ninety-minute movie. But if it ends up being 200 pages, at a certain point, I’ve just got to decipher whether I’m being lazy or whether my gut’s truly taking me to a proper place.


How did you avoid repeating yourself?
I’m not exactly sure that I haven’t. Maybe I’ve just dressed the same thing up in different clothes, you know what I mean? I was not really able to notice a pattern in my work until I made three movies. Now I’m starting to decipher that they all have something to do with surrogate families and family connections. I’m only noticing this probably because people say it about my stuff. I think a lot of things interest me, so I’m prone to repeat myself because there’s a million different styles of clothes that I like.

In Magnolia you did a really good job of going back and forth between stories without confusing the viewer or losing momentum. Are you able to write a story all the way through like that?
What I did on this was, at certain points, if I felt lost or confused with any of these characters’ stories, I would break it out and string it end to end chronologically instead of its being interrupted by another person’s story, just to see how that was working as a movie of its own. Like the Jason Robards/Phil Hoffman story, I plucked that out on its own just to make sure that it was going well. I think the writer in me loves to branch off to other characters, but it’s the director in me that gets excited in terms of working on transitions and how to successfully pull it off. So I think I end up writing for myself as a director when I go to places like that.

How did you come up with Tom Cruise’s character Frank T.J. Mackey?
About three years ago, a friend of mine was teaching a class on audio-recording engineering. He had two students in the class that he thought were particularly interesting. One afternoon he was going to lunch and he noticed these two guys talking in the recording studio. There was an open mike out there, and he recorded a DAT of these two guys talking. So a couple of years after that, he found this unlabeled DAT and what he heard blew his mind. He played it for me and essentially what happened was you heard these two guys talking about women and about how you’ve got to “respect the cock and tame the cunt.” They started talking all this trash and ultimately what we decided was they were quoting this guy named Ross. Well if these guys were talking this ridiculously, who was Ross? What we deciphered was, there’s this guy Ross Jeffries who was teaching this new version of the Eric Weber course, “How to Pick Up Women,” but this guy had a whole new slant on it which had to do with hypnotism and all these subliminal language techniques. Then after researching him, it led me to four or five other guys like him, and so I just went hogwild in the arena of this guy, trying to decipher, “Why is anyone like this?”

How did Tom Cruise become aware of the role and did you write it for any actor in particular?
I wrote it for him. He had called me up when Boogie Nights came up. He was making Eyes Wide Shut, and his agents called me to ask if I was interested in meeting him. He was a big fan of Boogie Nights, and I said absolutely. Coincidentally, I happened to be going to London to promote Boogie Nights. So I went and met Tom and told him I was about to sit down and write my next movie. I was just sort of formulating the character and Tom said, “Listen, anything you do I would love to take a look and be involved.” I said, “Okay, let me call you in about eight months when I’m done writing.” I talked to him once or twice over the course of eight months and I said, “When you’re done shooting that movie, I’m going to be done. I’m going to give this to you and I think you’re gonna have a lot of fun.” So I finished writing it, handed it to him, and it was literally like one of those Hollywood stories. We got together the next day, talked about it, and we were off.


How happy were you with his performance?
I am completely enamored with his performance. I must admit to writing a very show-offy role, and Tom kinda knew that. I told him, “You get to do everything in this. You do the banquet hall seminar where you get to be onstage and you get to do the ‘going to see Dad’ bedside scene. You really get to run the gamut here.” I think he was really excited by that, and I think he just went with it. There was not a moment where he was scared, there wasn’t a moment where he questioned what I asked of him. If anything, he brought too much to the table and I would say, “No, you can’t use a whip in this scene!” I would just have to calm him down and remind him to keep it simple sometimes. That was really the only direction I gave him. He really was spot-on with how to do it.

In the scene where Mackey sees his father before he passes away, in the screenplay it seems like they came to some sort of reconciliation. But in the film, we don’t know if they reconciled or not.
There are very, very, very few times as a writer where I will write a scene and leave it to what happens. That was one scene where I just kind of underwrote it intentionally. I just said, “Listen. The most important thing is that this character goes to see his father.” I felt when he decided to see his father, he should walk in very quickly, very aggressively, with a real hard on to get back at his dad. And whatever happened after that was really, truly up to Tom. It’s one of those moments that you do leave for an actor. It’s a very scary, dangerous thing to do, and generally I don’t do it because you should have a plan. But it was one of those things where I decided the best way to do this is probably leave room for whatever happens and whatever Tom can emotionally bring to the table. I said, “Listen, you can be as angry as you wanna be, you can be as sad as you can get. Let’s start doing it and let’s see what happens.”

The rain of frogs at the end of the film was great. Several scenes in Magnolia refer to the book of Exodus in which there was a plague of frogs after Moses’s people weren’t allowed into the promised land. Was the rain of frogs a natural reaction to the turmoil that built up in the film?
Well, that’s certainly an element. There’s certainly a Biblical reference there, but I’d be a liar if I said to you it was written initially as a Biblical reference. I truthfully didn’t even know it was in the Bible when I first wrote the sequence. I had read about a rain of frogs through the works of Charles Fort, who’s a wonderful writer. He was the person who coined the term UFO, who wrote about odd phenomena. So when I read about the rain of frogs, I was going through a weird, personal time. I don’t want to get too personal, but maybe there are certain moments in your life when things are so fucked up and so confused that someone can say to you, “It’s raining frogs,” and that makes sense. That somehow makes sense as a warning; that somehow makes sense as a sign. I started to understand why people turn to religion in times of trouble, and maybe my form of finding religion was reading about rains of frogs and realizing that makes sense to me somehow. And then of course to discover it in the Bible and the reference that it makes there just sort of verifies it, like, “Hey, I guess I’m on the right track.”

Do you want everyone who sees Magnolia to have to interpret the scene in their own way and think what it could mean to them?
Absolutely. I’m normally not a big fan of that; I generally like to make my points. But there are some times where if you pull it off properly, you can put something on the plate of the viewer and go, “You know what? However you want to decipher this, you can.” And there absolutely is no wrong way. If you want to reference the Bible, that’s good; if you want to link it to something else you can. There’s a notion that you can judge a society’s existence by the health of its frogs. There’s something about a frog’s health; the color of its skin, the texture, the wetness on its back, that’s an indication of how we’re treating ourselves as a society. So when you look around and see that all the frogs are dying or deformed, it’s sort of a warning sign about how we’re treating ourselves. The ironic thing is as I was thinking this up, I met with Phillip Baker Hall, who’s an actor I work with over and over again, and he asked, “What’s the next one about?” And I said, “Well, I can’t really describe much to you Phillip, but there’s this one sequence in the film where it starts to rain frogs.” He was looking at me and just nodding his head. Then I explained the history of frog rain, because it really does happen, it’s something that has happened many times. Then he said, “I have an interesting story. Just after the war, I was in Switzerland and I was in a rain of frogs.” I said, “What?” Phillip had been driving on a mountain pass in Switzerland and he said for about fifteen minutes it rained frogs. It was really foggy and the mountain road was covered in ice. The frogs falling was not the thing that freaked him out. What freaked him out was that his car could not get any traction and he was afraid he was gonna fall off the mountain! I just thought right then and there I gotta go through with this sequence.


Magnolia and Boogie Nights have a lot of great songs in their soundtracks. Do you write to music?
Absolutely. Even more with this one than ever before. This one was very specifically written to Aimee Mann’s songs. She’s a good friend of mine, she’s a wonderful singer and songwriter. In addition to a lot of great songs that have been released, I was privy to a lot of demo stuff she was working on at the time. So I had those to work off of. In a way, I sat down to adapt one of her songs. There’s a song called “Deathly” that she [wrote] and the very first line of the song is “Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing me again?” Melora Walters says that in the movie. That sort of notion of being unlovable or being so fucked up you can’t understand how anyone could love you back was really important and really beautiful to me. It kind of made sense to me at that time in my life. I probably owe Aimee a ton of money for the inspiration she was to this movie.

You have final cut on Magnolia, and you’re certainly in an enviable position as a writer and director. A lot of people reading this could be on the verge of a break as a writer and are about to face the den of wolves that’s known as development hell. Do you have any suggestions or advice on how writers can empower themselves more?
Right off the bat, I want to say that my motto is: remember the power is yours. The power is in the writer. It seems that the writer has been so neutered lately that he’s forgotten that the buck starts and stops with him. I think that’s how I got to direct my first movie. Basically it was a bribery situation; it was, “I know that you like this script, but there’s no one else who’s going to direct it, and I own it.” I think to get paid for a script before you write it is just certain death, because you’re basically giving ownership to someone else. I think what most writers have to remember is they can not only have power of authorship, but if they really want to, they can have power of ownership. There’s a very big difference. Ultimately, it is my choice about who I give my script to. Anyone who is writing alone in their room, that is their material, that is their product, their copyright; they own that. Don’t give up easy: never fuck on the first date. However, I think I’ve only come to learn a lot of lessons because I got incredibly fucked. I’d made my first movie with a company I’d never met. I never shook hands with anyone at Rysher Entertainment, and it was the biggest regret of my life, because there was that small period of time where I had my first movie taken away from me. Ultimately I got it back, and what’s out in the world is my version, but I went through a movie being taken away from me, a movie being recut behind my back. I went through all of that, and it created a sort of paranoia and guardedness in me that I’m glad I have, because that will never, ever happen to me again. But I was so fuckin’ anxious to get my movie made, I would have gone anywhere. So it’s hard to say. Is it good advice to tell someone to hold out? Well, I sure wouldn’t have taken that advice when I was twenty-three years old and I could get my movie made. You’re gonna go where you can go, but if you can just remember that your brain is yours and they can’t own it, then it’s a really healthy thing.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned about this movie business in the last two years?
I unfortunately learned that writing and directing a good movie is only fifty percent of my job, and that the other fifty percent is dealing with the people who finance it and get the movie seen. Because however good your movie is, it doesn’t mean shit if nobody sees it. It’s very odd, but the movie business is full of people who don’t love movies, and the more people I meet in this industry the more I want to run away.

How is having a hit movie different than you’d anticipated it would be?
I still feel like I don’t know the secret frat boy handshake. I was recently at Carrie Fisher’s birthday party, and they were all there—Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Warren Beatty, you name it. And sure, some people knew who I was and complimented me on the film, but I still felt like I wasn’t a member of the club.

Do movies shape the culture or merely reflect it as it already exists?
I think they shape the culture—and that, of course, means they have a responsibility to the culture. As a filmmaker, how much I feel the weight of that responsibility changes from one day to the next. If you feel it too heavily you’re probably becoming pretentious; if you don’t feel it at all you’re probably a jerk.



Paul Thomas Anderson on his film, Magnolia.



Not your typical promotional documentary or featurette, That Moment: Magnolia Diary (2000) shows you the highs, lows and especially the hard work required to make a film. Directed by Mark Rance, the documentary follows the very over-worked director Paul Thomas Anderson through a gruelling 80+ days of shooting Anderson’s third film, Magnolia (1999). Very funny behind the scenes material and interviews, press junket video and various screenings and meetings are presented to us, just to let us know how hard it really is to make a 188-minute film. This feature-length documentary is featured on the Magnolia Blu-ray disc, available at Amazon and other online retailers.


Talk Easy is a weekly podcast of intimate, long-form interviews with people from all walks of life: filmmakers, comedians, activists, politicians, actors, and beyond. The show is hosted by writer Sam Fragoso. This week Sam sits down with renowned actor, Philip Baker Hall. Best known for his work with director Paul Thomas Anderson, Hall is a captivating presence on and off the screen. Sam and Philip talked for a long time and got into detail on so much of Philip’s life. In this episode we learn more about his work with P.T.A., his falling out with Robert Altman, and his thoughts on death and dying.



Tracking a journey of camera journeys from Hard Eight to There Will Be Blood suggests the director has put away showy things. Video Essay Catalog No. 166 by Kevin B. Lee. Featured in Sight & Sound magazine.

“This single two-minute-five-second shot encapsulates the essence of Anderson’s three-hour magnum opus, connecting five different characters with the sheer velocity of forward motion through narrative space and time. Working with an unlimited budget and final cut, with this film Anderson enjoyed a creative freedom afforded to the rarest of directors. But with that freedom came a great anxiety, one that pervades the film. It’s an anxiety to prove himself, to do something even bigger than Boggie Nights. And it informs the hurried pacing of this particular shot, as the camera moves faster than what we saw in his previous films. We no longer have the sense of coming into one’s own as in Sydney, or in celebrating and absorbing a subculture as in Boogie Nights. Here the shot amounts to a relay race between five characters organised in six different configurations. The point of focus is exchanged between them smoothly along a single line of movement. Ostensibly, this shot wants to reveal the working guts of a Hollywood television studio, but it doesn’t settle long enough on anything in particular to let you take in the details, other than the anxious sensation of people working and moving. If there are any potential areas of interest on the periphery, they pass fleetingly. It’s a shot that wants to be everywhere at once, and nowhere in particular. The attraction is in the camera movement itself as a spectacle of kinetic exertion: movement for the sake of movement.” —Kevin B. Lee



“Paul is one of the few people I’ve worked with that has a poetic temperament. That allows him to do things in his films where you know the result will be more than the sum of its parts. It’s a combination of the way we shoot it and light the picture, the way it’s performed and edited, the way everything resonates with everything else. Each scene is doing more than just telling a story; it’s doing something you can’t put into words. And that puts him, I think, in the land of people like Bergman, Kurosawa, Ozu and Ford.” —Robert Elswit



Dylan Tichenor, ACE, began working on films as an assistant to Geraldine Peroni (an American film editor) in the 1990’s. When Peroni passed away in 2004, Tichenor stepped to finish her work on Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Tichenor was first credited with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, for which he was nominated for a Satellite Award. Tichenor was nominated for two Oscars; one for his work on Anderson’s 2007 film There Will Be Blood and one for co-editing Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty with William Goldenberg, ACE. Some of Dylan’s other work includes Magnolia, The Royal Tenenbaums, Unbreakable, The Town, Doubt, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Whip It and American Made.



Magnolia is the third collaboration between director Paul Thomas Anderson and editor Dylan Tichenor, who cut the critically acclaimed Boogie Nights and served as post-production supervisor on Anderson’s first feature, Hard Eight. Tichenor has worked in a variety of positions, ranging from apprentice to associate editor, on such Robert Altman films as The Player, Short Cuts, Ready To Wear and Kansas City. Nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Altman’s Jazz ’34, Tichenor most recently edited The Royal Tenenbaums. —Dylan Tichenor and Magnolia: How He Edits His Scenes


An impressive edit by Leandro Copperfield, Paul Thomas Anderson’s atmosphere.


Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. Photographed by Peter Sorel, Victor Aguirre © Ghoulardi Film Company, New Line Cinema, The Magnolia Project. Thanks to Will McCrabb. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.


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