FilmInterview

David Dobkin Discusses Directing ‘The Judge’

Rachel Smith 16’/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

David Dobkin, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall on the set of The Judge. Photo Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures.
David Dobkin, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall on the set of The Judge. Photo Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures.

Before watching The Judge, Emertainment Monthly got to sit in on a conference call with director David Dobkin.

Dobkin explained his background before jumping into the films importance. He studied at NYU in the arts program and, at the time, thought he’d go into dramatic work (this coming from the director most acclaimed for Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights). The Judge provided the chance to realize his dramatic dreams.

When Dobkin first read the story, written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque, he said it resonated with him. Dobkin recently had personal experiences with his mother’s passing. He wanted to create a story much like his own family, having the patriarchal mother who held the family together, then leaving the whole family to fend for themselves.

Deciding how to bring this story to life was full of directorial decisions. Dobkin was inspired by films like The Verdict and The Godfather, and he wanted to make a movie that had all the elements of a classic film. The Judge was shot on film, something studios usually try to talk directors out of due to higher costs. He knew shooting on film would give it a more classic feel that he envisioned. Luckily he had Academy Award-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski behind him, so no one fought him on it.

Dobkin praised Kaminski, saying, “I’ve never worked with a better cinematographer…He’s so deeply gifted.” He then added, “He [Kaminski] would bring my ideas to a brighter, artistic light.” This was very evident in the film, especially in the lighting.

Robert Downey Jr. and David Dobkin on the set of The Judge. Photo Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures.
Robert Downey Jr. and David Dobkin on the set of The Judge. Photo Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures.

As far as the story goes, Dobkin described it as “a great American novel made into a movie. Great movies came from that [literary-based] place.” He recalled the process of making the story into a real film, saying, “Slowly but surely it became more entertaining.”

From campaigning so hard to get the movie made to now, he’s feeling the pressure of how the public and critics will take it. They premiered the film at the Toronto Film Festival because it’s not competitive; it’s audience centered, though put them under intense microscope. The audience feedback? A full spectrum of fun and tears and heartfelt emotions.

He said, “I don’t believe in audiences coming for a two-hour movie and not having fun, that’s from my Wedding Crashers mentality. I want people to think and see possibilities of growth in their own lives and families.”

Acknowledging the length of the movie is key because that has been a big issue for most critics. Though, the audience’s response being overall positive at Toronto gave him confidence going into this premiere week.

He also acknowledged his competition this month, following Gone Girl. Dobkin explained, “It’s like a book but it’s not a book. This is not a franchise to build from so finding success can be daunting.”

He thinks that his film can go toe to toe with Gone Girl because of the relatable messages and storylines involved. “Regrets of lost time. Returning home. Feeling of wanting to please your parents. The overarching theme is universal. Summing up the whole 141-minute package by saying, ‘It’s a right of passage movie,'” Dobkin said.

Robert Downey Jr., Billy Bob Thornton and David Dobkin on the set of The Judge. Photo Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures.
Robert Downey Jr., Billy Bob Thornton and David Dobkin on the set of The Judge. Photo Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Judge was a major directorial opportunity for Dobkin but was also the first big project produced by Team Downey. Team Downey is a new production company headed by Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan.

Dobkin said of working with Team Downey, “I knew both of them before the company. Producers are supposed to support and protect the filmmaker and push the director to stay on track, budget, and time. This has been the best experience because they did all these things at the highest level.”

He also said that they helped him steer clear of distractions. One distraction was having Downey Jr. playing producer and actor at the same time, but Dobkin said it was a real team effort. He helped with casting decisions (besides himself obviously). They pinpointed Robert Duvall to play the father because he could master this character. He had to be someone “unlikeable but in a beautiful way.” They had to get the casting perfect for the film to work, and it is largely successful because of their choices.

To drive this point home, Dobkin admitted, “I’ve walked away from movies that have miscasting issues and this couldn’t be one of those situations.”

Thank goodness he didn’t walk away because he thinks he made a really special movie, not only for himself but also for anyone who watches it. He said filmmakers always want to put a little of themselves in their movies, and he feels that he did that accurately. To see if you agree, go experience The Judge for yourself when it hits theaters on Oct. 10.

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