Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Live By Night (2016)
Commentator: Ben Affleck (director, writer, actor), Robert Richardson (cinematographer), Jess Gonchor (production designer)
1. “Hey this is Ben Affleck,” he says, and he sounds exhausted.
2. The opening title sequence was meant to establish Joe Coughlin’s (Affleck) backstory “so we could get going with the film right from the jump.”
3. He wanted the opening robbery to be done in one shot “without feeling like it was one shot so that it wasn’t self-conscious and we weren’t pointing to the fact.”
4. The eternally great Titus Welliver appears briefly as the man in the barbershop chair shot in the back of the head. “I cut out his other scene.”
5. The woman who stabs a guy at the 5:25 mark is a stunt performer who doubles as Black Widow in the Marvel movies. He stumbles a bit saying the word “Marvel.”
6. “Sienna was great, and she so doesn’t look like Sienna in other movies.” This is actually the moment I realized that was Sienna Miller here as Emma.
7. The falling snow is done via CG, and when one of the guys compliments its look and how it even appears to land and melt. “Yeah, the first time it didn’t,” says Affleck suggesting he had words with the effects folk, “but by the time it was finished it landed.”
8. Affleck cast Italian actor Remo Girone as the mob boss saying he “liked that he wouldn’t be known to American audiences so he might be a little more scary and foreboding.”
9. The big puddle they drive through at 17:17 which splashes up is a CG effect. They don’t explain why it was added, but it’s one of many digital touches during the car chase. “We did a lot of digital clean ups with this because we’re driving by places and there’s all kinds of signs and there’s traffic lights and bullshit like that we had to take out, so it was very arduous.”
10. The fuel tank in these cars was placed towards the front “so they were prone to catching fire.”
11. The original cut ran around two hours and fifty minutes.
12. Chris Messina gained forty pounds to play Dion Bartolo.
13. The exterior porch scene at the dance hall on the river in Florida was originally meant to be shot on a real exterior, but the bug situation made it impossible so they used a green screen instead.
14. He says shooting a scene with a burning cross and Klan members in their hooded uniforms made him realize how terrifying the real thing must have been.
15. The bit between Joe and Dion arguing about who shot who was improvised.
16. They neglect to mention the guy who looks like Wes Bentley sitting in the front row of Loretta’s (Elle Fanning) first sermon, but they do point out Taylor Swift’s brother, Austin Swift, who plays her friend Mayweather at the second.
17. He says he would have dialed back the commentary regarding the power struggle between white Protestants and immigrants had he known that Trump would be elected. They recorded the commentary on his inauguration day.
18. “I never mentioned it to you,” says Richardson, “but you know that’s a green screen out that door.” Affleck responds with a shocked “Out what door?!” before laughing about it. It’s a very visible green screen (once it’s been pointed out) over Graciela’s (Zoe Saldana) shoulder during her talk with Joe around the 1:37:00 mark. Visible as in no image has been laid over it. “It just plays as night.”
19. Joe’s reunion with Emma originally showed her with much heavier make-up, but audiences “were really like freaked out by it.” He says it was authentic to the period, but they ended up toning it down digitally.
20. This is Affleck’s favorite of his own movies. “Everything about it was so much harder to do and required so much more elaborate work.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I didn’t want to have them say ‘live by night’ here so they just said ‘sleep by day’ and let the audience fill in the blank.”
“This is the most realistic part of it which is how impossible it is to get these cars to get in the right gear. You had to vaguely guess where the gear was.”
“I thought if we had someone from the Marvel Universe it would help our box office.”
“I was never a fan of the prison cap, but they told me it was realistic.”
“If you don’t know what to do always start the scene reading the paper.”
“I really love this movie.”
“Trying to get this kid to play with me was like the hardest part of the movie.”
Live By Night is Affleck’s first real misstep as a filmmaker in many ways as he allows the narrative to drag and meander a bit too much. We don’t get as close to these characters as we need to for their eventual story turns to pay off, but there’s no denying Affleck’s passion for the project. His commentary reveals both a love and knowledge of films – as well as the abundance of CG work in the film, most of which is seamless – and hopefully, he jumps back in the director’s chair soon.