Nine Lives

Magnolia Pictures

Sundance 2005

Locarno 2005 (Golden Leopard for Best Picture, Leopard for Best Actress)

Nine Lives

By depicting nine different characters at emotional crossroads, Nine Lives examines how we so often find ourselves captive in relationships, both past and present. Indeed, these situations are too often of our own making – and we have no idea how to extricate ourselves from the cages we have constructed.

One woman, Sandra, is literally in prison and wants desperately to connect with her visiting child. Diana confronts the sudden flash of a past relationship long after she has moved on to a new life. Holly can't seem to move forward until her stepfather acknowledges the pain he has caused her. Sonia reels from her boyfriend's disclosure of an intimate secret to their closest friends. Teenager Samantha is caught in a static loop as the peacemaker between her parents. Lorna attempts to comfort her ex-husband after his wife's suicide and finds herself implicated in the tragic death. Ruth considers straying from married life during a motel rendezvous. Camille faces the limitations of her previously dependable body. Maggie allows her own life to be eclipsed by that of her young daughter, Maria.

Where other writer/directors scratch the surface of emotional issues, Garcia plumbs the depths with these nine stunning women who meet the travails and disappointments of life with a resilience that is at once heartening and heartbreaking.

  • Kathy Baker
  • Amy Brenneman
  • Elpidia Carrillo
  • Glenn Close
  • Stephen Dillane
  • Dakota Fanning
  • William Fichtner
  • Lisa Gay Hamilton
  • Holly Hunter
  • Jason Isaacs
  • Joe Mantegna
  • Ian McShane
  • Molly Parker
  • Mary Kay Place
  • Sydney Tamiia Poitier
  • Adian Quinn
  • Miguel Sandoval
  • Amanda Seyfried
  • Sissy Spacek
  • Robin Wright Penn
  • Directed by
    Rodrigo Garcia
  • Written by
    Rodrigo García
  • Produced by
    Julie Lynn
  • Executive Producer
    Alejandro González Iñárritu - Amy Lippens
  • Associate Producer
    Kelly Thomas
  • Original Music by
    Ed Shearmur
  • Cinematography by
    Xavier Pérez Grobet
  • Film Editing by
    Andrea Folprecht
  • Casting by
    Amy Lippens
  • Production Design by
    Courtney Jackson
  • Art Direction by
    Amy Lamendola
  • Costume Design by
    Maria Tortu

Review by Steven Holden for the New York Times:

"EACH of the nine brief scenes in Rodrigo García's "Nine Lives" is a little epiphany that revolves around a different woman under emotional stress. Together they add up to a collection of wrenching, minutely observed moments that suggest Chekhov short stories. Each is written, acted and directed with such exquisite calibration of tone, subtext and body language that the performances seem less like acting than fleeting, revelatory moments of real life captured on film."

Review by David Ansen for Newsweek:

"Like a great racing car, "Nine Lives" can go from zero to 90 in no time at all. The short story form is one of the toughest to pull off on film, and Garcia makes it look easy... Garcia instinctively grasps what the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called "the decisive moment." His 10-minute snapshots seem to locate the heart of every scene. I'm not sure how Garcia makes these vignettes so urgent, and so satisfying, in such little time. He seems to have an almost clairvoyant grasp of character, and the ability to reveal a complete personality in cinematic shorthand."

Review by Roger Ebert from Sundance 2005:

"I also greatly admired "Nine Lives," by Rodrigo Garcia, which has a large cast including many famous names, and uses them in a series of nine vignettes, each one filmed in a single shot of 10 to 12 minutes. Some of the segments have the impact of great short stories. For example, a scene in which Robin Wright Penn plays a pregnant woman who is in the supermarket when she meets a former lover, also now married. It becomes clear to them that their old attraction is still powerful. In another lovely scene, Aidan Quinn and Sissy Spacek meet in a motel for illicit love, but the arrest of a woman in another room changes the dynamic. Glenn Close stars in a bittersweet closing segment in a cemetery. The film's mood is elegiac but hopeful, as needy people uncertainly reach out to one another..."

read full review


Production notes written by Julie Lynn - Producer, Nine Lives
Mockingbird Pictures - December 2004

In November, 2003, Writer-Director Rodrigo Garcia, Associate Producer Kelly Thomas and I had lunch at Victor's Deli near Beachwood Canyon in Los Angeles to talk about our new project, Nine Lives. The contained nature of the script and production requirements would allow us to move very fast . . . if we worked very hard. Barely more than a year later -- light speed for developing, funding, and completing a picture -- we are putting the finishing touches on the film.

Rodrigo's earliest conception of the piece was to look at a moment in the lives of nine interesting and extremely different women. Rodrigo seems to me to be particularly interested in those men and women who are caught. Trapped in cages of their own making: past relationships, present relationships, the status of their neuroses, the status of their bodies, the opportunities that stand in front of them, the opportunities that have been wasted.

As these specific representatives of the human condition came alive in Rodrigo's imagination, and as he began to commit them to paper, another thought arose. What if we were to shoot each segment in real time? One continuous shot; one continuous slice of life. And that is how the script was delivered.

The challenge of making an entire movie in nine, 10 to 14-minute shots became our blessing and our curse. Only nine locations – but nine locations that required very limited alteration - as well as expansive support for extended shots that moved in all directions. Only two to four days of work for any actor – but juggling the schedules of many busy thespians in order to fit them into a very short production period. Only three weeks of shooting – but days that called for a highly skilled, experienced, and very collegial crew.

The idea of the continuous take was, of course, particularly intriguing to our actors. Demanding in that there would be no stopping and starting, no coverage, no chance to pick up every nuance from many different takes. Thrilling in that it would be an opportunity for continuous performance, allowing each actor to really inhabit the moment in time without interruption. Indeed, more than one actor asked if we would "consider making it Eight Lives" if their piece didn't work out! The cast members – all of them – were extraordinary. They were game and magnificently talented. Rodrigo always says that he never fully knows who the character is until the actor tells him. For this piece, that was particularly true, as these extraordinarily gifted performers all brought so much to our table.

The process was also a challenge for our technical team. Director of Photography Xavier Pérez Grobet worked hard with Rodrigo to give each extended Steadicam shot movement and pace – without interfering with the characters' stories. We enlisted two incredible Steadicam operators – Dan Kneece and Henry Tirl – to take turns at this punishing job. And we shot the movie with Kodak's Super 16mm Vision 2 stock, so that it would be physically possible to carry enough film for the extended takes. To get the film to its finished 35mm format required a lot of help from the digital intermediate team at EFILM and their partners at Deluxe. Xavier and Rodrigo became more innovative and daring with each subsequent vignette. Their choices became increasingly audacious as the shoot progressed, without ever sacrificing their invisibility.

The production period was 18 days – two for each of the nine lives. The first day for each segment was devoted to layering in all the players: Rodrigo and the actors, then bringing on Xavier and 1st AD Darin Rivetti, then pulling in the Steadicam operators, sound, and other key crew before relinquishing the set to the design, grip, and electrical teams.

Understanding that we had wonderful and experienced crew at every level of design and execution on the film, we decided that the movie itself would belong to its makers: every member of the production team from the production assistants on up who worked the entire length of the shoot owns a piece of the film. Our sizeable cadre of interns was compensated with weekly "mentorship lunches" chaired by the Nine Lives key artists, including Rodrigo, Xavier, Darin, UPM Jonathan McCoy, Costume Designer Maria Tortu, Script Supervisor Ingrid Urich-Strass, Production Sound Mixer Felipe Borrero, and Location Manager Carlos Aragon. The day that Glenn Close saw them all sitting with Ingrid and asked if she could do the same . . . well, they were stunned – but not too stunned to ask plenty of questions.

Eighteen days of production later (well, seventeen, since we rehearsed Glenn Close's and Dakota Fanning's piece at the cemetery on the same day that we shot Kathy Baker and Joe Mantegna at the hospital), we were on to a post-production that meant taking advantage (and I do mean taking advantage) of the above-mentioned EFILM and Deluxe, renowned composer Ed Shearmur, I Postini for editorial space, and ZTRACKZ down in Mexico City (courtesy of our Executive Producer Alejandro González Iñárritu) for our sound design and mix.

As I write these notes, I'm nine months pregnant (that's a whole 'nother story about location scouting while under the influence of morning-noon-and-night sickness), and I'm still mad about missing the chance to be present for the sound work. Yet there should be no complaints, as the baby's first trip will be to the Sundance Film Festival premiere of Nine Lives: a film that all of us are very proud to share with you.


Q & A with Rodrigo Garcia

Q: You've worked with Academy Award-winning actresses before, but do you ever find yourself a little awed and intimidated by them? I mean, how do you approach directing Glenn Close or Holly Hunter?

RG: At first, it's a little intimidating. I've worked with Glenn and Holly before, so they don't intimidate me personally because we have a good relationship. I'm happy to see them and I'm happy to see them socially always, it's fun. Professionally, I think the better the actor, the less directing. I think a lot of people who have not directed or are starting to direct, and unfortunately, many seasoned directors, are scared of actors and that doesn't allow you to have a give-and-take and a flow. But I think the better, the greater the actor, the less directing to do. So I'll take them . . . the bigger, the better the actor, the better! In the case of this movie, I wrote the script, so they already responded positively to the script, so I have, to some extent, their seal of approval. I would say that the pressure is in delivering a movie that is in response to the quality, [a movie] that pays homage to their response to the material. You know, it's a very, very low budget movie that we're doing in nine shooting days, basically -- nine to rehearse, nine to shoot -- with a very small crew [supplemented by interns], fifty percent of them young film students. And you want to deliver a movie that is consistent with the level of the actors who are in it. I would say that's the source of pressure rather than the actual directing of the actors.

Q: What are your influences as a writer and filmmaker?

RG: I obviously grew up in a literary environment. So I have a weakness for novels and short stories and a little less for real theater, not for performed theater. I didn't see that much theatre growing up. I did grow up in a household where nothing was more respected than something [that was] well written. It was impossible to escape that in any way. So I would say a lot of short story writers. Everyone from Hemingway to Joyce to Carver, a lot of them in English, but also Chekhov . . . but I love the small portrait, the little moment caught, the oblique look at something that's in passing rather than the novel.