R. J. Cutler on The September Issue

Ahead of Friday’s UK launch of the must-see movie of the moment, The September Issue, here’s an interview from the film’s director R.J. Cutler about his time spent behind the scenes at Vogue and up close and personal with icons of fashion Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington. Forget what you think you know – Ugly Betty this certainly isn’t. (Read the full interview at Shots.Net.)

What were the biggest challenges on the shoot? And what did you find most rewarding creatively?

Every film that you make is going to have its own specific world with its own unique set of challenges, and the world of Vogue was no exception. Sometimes you’re faced with a challenge that’s made even more difficult by the fact that first you have to figure out what it is before you can set about overcoming it. At Vogue, for instance, we were filming a group of people who had been working together for years, in some cases for decades. They worked together with a fluidity that was almost deceptive. They communicated with nods and glances, not with grand pronouncements. When we first started filming there, we were stymied. When did that decision get made? How do you know that story’s happening? Who cut that photo spread?

But the biggest challenge that we faced in making The September Issue was the fact that people in the fashion world are very suspicious of cameras. They’re used to a camera being the enemy, something that is prying and looking to catch you in a compromising position, something that’s judging you. And of course our presence is the opposite of that, our cameras are there not to judge but to observe. Convincing the people who worked there that we weren’t like other people with cameras was a huge challenge.

Did the dynamics of the film – namely within the Anna Wintour / Grace Coddington relationship – reveal itself in the process of filming or did this emerge while you were editing the film?

I didn’t know the film would be about Grace and Anna when I went in. It’s what I discovered when I was asking simple questions—how do things get done, who does what? Grace was adamantly opposed to being involved. Sometime that’s an indication that you should stay away and sometimes it’s an indication that you should bide your time and earn their trust. My instinct was that it was the latter because her relationship with Anna was the central relationship of the magazine and they had a unique dynamic between them.

So when we’re in the field, we can’t go in there and say, “I’m here to prove Anna Wintour is this,” or “I’m going to show she’s that.” You have to go in asking, “Who is she?” and “Who are the people around her?” and “What’s it like to work here?” You go in with that question mark, you go in with that curiosity. And you discover Anna and you discover Grace and you discover relationships and you discover history and you discover themes. And you discover the story.