Rocking the Boat

Published October 16, 2013

ABOVE: ROBERT REDFORD (LEFT) AND J.C. CHANDOR ON THE SET OF ALL IS LOST. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW ILLSON AND ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS.

In 2011, writer-director J.C. Chandor stormed Sundance with his debut film, Margin Call. Set in a Lehman Brothers­-like firm in the fatal 24 hours before the financial crisis, Margin Call boasts performances by Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Zachary Quinto. This week sees the release of Chandor’s sophomore film, All Is Lost. Shot from a 32-page script, All Is Lost stars Sundance founder Robert Redford—and only Robert Redford. Stranded on a small yacht in the Indian Ocean, Redford’s unnamed protagonist utters fewer than a dozen words throughout the film and one of them is a very vehement “Fuck.”

EMMA BROWN: You’re the first Sundance-discovered director to ask Robert Redford to act in one of your films. When did you decide on Redford?

J.C. CHANDOR: I had really written the story to be played by someone later in their life—in the later chapters. If you’re looking for someone in his mid-70s who is willing and able to go through this and also has an extremely deep and meaningful relationship with an audience—a preexisting relationship—there aren’t that many people. He really came to the top of the list very quickly.

BROWN: Was he intimidating?

CHANDOR: He’s very down-to-earth. Ten minutes into a conversation with him, you feel very comfortable. Then he goes ahead and tells you some story about meeting the Dalai Lama with Paul Newman and suddenly you remember, “Oh my god, this is Robert Redford I’m talking to!”

BROWN: I’m not in a rush to go sailing after this film.

CHANDOR: [laughs] This is the worst-case scenario! The film was always a horror movie for me. There is this very primal fear that people have of being truly alone, and there’s no more alone place on earth than where this guy is. But I hope it doesn’t turn into a Jaws situation where people don’t want to get on a boat anymore.

BROWN: How did you choose the location?

CHANDOR: I love survival films, but I was trying to tell one where you didn’t use any of those tricks. It started to feel like a very clean, clear, and beautiful way of a person having all the things in their lives slowly stripped away. When you’re on a boat, it is this tiny little island where you have to be completely self-sufficient. Some of the stunts and some of the crazy things that happen to the boat are things from when I was a young kid sailing.

BROWN: There are a few different ways that you could interpret the ending.

CHANDOR: My hope for the ending is that it’s not vague in any way—I have a very specific view of what I believe happens. It’s based on your understanding of the movie and your worldview.

BROWN: This film is very different to Margin Call.

CHANDOR: At the time of writing it, it was a little far-fetched that anyone would allow me to do this. Margin Call was very much a chamber piece: it was so dialogue-heavy and so specific. A sophomore film is a big challenge because people immediately offer you more money and bigger movie stars to do a very similar thing, and I knew this wasn’t what I wanted. I love visual storytelling, so this seemed a wonderful opportunity to take on a distinct creative challenge.

BROWN: Did you always want to direct?

CHANDOR: Not really. I don’t come from an entertainment family-I come from New Jersey. Until I was 15 or 16 years old, I didn’t even really know what that job was. I had a caricature view of the guy in the beret with the big megaphone­­, but a movie director and writer was beyond my role of understanding.

ALL IS LOST COMES OUT THIS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18.