Noah Baumbach, Dustin Hoffman discuss all things film at Tribeca

As part of the Tribeca Talks: Directors Series panels at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, Dustin Hoffman engaged in a lively and immensely entertaining discussion with director Noah Baumbach on Apr. 24 at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.  Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Frances Ha”) directed Hoffman for the first time in “The Meyerowitz Stories,” which is scheduled to make its world premiere at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival as part of the Palme d’Or competition.

The two artists spent an hour verbally jousting onstage, covering a range of topics from directing techniques to improvised dialogue to even John Waters.  Some excerpts from their conversation, in which Hoffman served as interviewer and Baumbach as the interviewee, follow:

On how his childhood home made it into Mike Nichols’ 1986 film “Heartburn”

Baumbach: They had scouted our house in Brooklyn in Park Slope.  They ended up choosing the house which was so thrilling for our family back then.  Now that I’ve made movies, the idea of having a movie shot in your house is horrible.

At the time it was like being in a movie.  There’s this scene at the end of the movie where Meryl Streep puts a pie in Jack Nicholson’s face.  That was the house I grew up in.  I actually watched it again recently and there’s photos of my brother.

On sticking with the script, verbatim

Hoffman: When we worked together [on “The Meyerowitz Stories”], it was only the second time in 50 years for me that I worked with a director who – you want an honest answer?

Baumbach: Yes. [to audience laughter]

Hoffman: …where the director wanted me to say every single word that was on the page.  And the last time I [was] asked to do that was “The Graduate.”  The script supervisor talked to me after a take and said, ‘That’s not a period.  Those are three dots.’  And your script supervisor did the same f***ing thing.

On giving actors line readings

Hoffman: I’ve never understood actors that don’t want line readings.  If the person who’s written it has an ear for what it sounds like – I want to know what is in their head when they’ve written it.

Baumbach: You would say, ‘You do it,’ and then I would do it, which put pressure on me because I’d have to get it kind of right.  So sometimes I’d be off also. I can’t say it a lot of times the way that I’ve written it.  I mean, I can kind of, maybe, approximate it.

On how much of Baumbach’s movies are improvised

Baumbach: I get asked that question pretty much every interview I do: how much of the movie is improvised.  Which I’m always insulted by.  But maybe I should take it as a compliment.

Hoffman on writing all his lines on paper before going on camera

Hoffman: I can’t work any other way.  I’m a very slow memorizer.  I did it in high school when I was studying for a test.  I write out all the lines.  What I find interesting about it is that you start to understand why a writer – in this case a writer-director [like Baumbach] – is choosing this word or that sentence as opposed to, ‘Why didn’t you do it that way?’…I enjoy that part of it.  I did it with Shakespeare, with Arthur Miller.

On the director John Waters

Hoffman: …he does pornography?

Baumbach: It’s not pornography.  It’s like “Pink Flamingos.”

Hoffman: Oh, yeah.  Okay.

Listen to the full audio of the panel on YouTube: