PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Darren Aronofsky on Pi

Pi, also titled π, is a 1998 American surrealist psychological thriller film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. It is Aronofsky's directorial debut, and earned him the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and the Gotham Open Palm Award. The title refers to the mathematical constant pi.   Like most of Aronofsky's films, Pi centers on a protagonist whose obsessive pursuit of ideals leads to severely self-destructive behavior.

Pi was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and filmed on high-contrast black-and-white reversal film. It was produced on a sufficiently low budget of $60,000, but proved a financial success at the box office ($3,221,152 gross in the U.S.) despite only a limited release to theaters. It has sold steadily on DVD.  ~~ Wikipedia
Excerpts from director Darren Aronofsky's diary:

January 31, 1996 Back From Sundance '96
Just got back from Sundance. My birthday is twelve days away. It's amazing how quick time spins by. I'm getting older and I'm not making films. Sundance was a blast. I saw a lot of people from my industry and I was truly fused with the independent spirit. Let's go make film. 

Friday April 5, 1996 Retreat
I am in the country at my college roomate's parents' place. It's nice and I am about to embark on the first draft of π. In many ways this is the most important week of my life. I feel a little weak but I must move ahead. This most likely will be the first film I make. It's not that bad. It's only taken me five fucking years to make my first feature after SS. These are the rules for this draft: 

1. Always move forward. If you have a problem type through it.
2. Only take a break after something good happens on the page or you accomplish a goal.
No breaks for confusion -- (type through it).
3. Ten pages a day minimum.
4. Only go back to add something. Do not remove contradictions, just make a note.
5. Do it. Suffer, live, cry, struggle for one week. You'll feel like a million bucks by the fifteenth.
6. Have fun.

September 13, 1996 11 AM Busyness
Associate Producer Scott Franklin came up with "the scheme to end all schemes." We've been asking every person we know for $100. We drew up a clever letter and searched our rolodexes. The letter is doing well. People seem positive and we've already brought in over a grand. Anything to get it done. 

Starts with the circle. The entire crew and cast joined hands and we all formed an economic and artistic partnership. A socialist collective. I made a speech from my soul. I thanked all and offered everyone a chance to take risks, a chance to make π there own, a chance at a meaningful collaboration. I almost cried. My mom did. She's craft services. We shoot -- no more excuses. 

Monday October 21, 11:40 pm End of Week One
Week one ended hard. We did the hallway in Joanne Ovadia's building. We didn't have landlord permission and it gave everything an edge. They are Hasidic and we were filming on a Saturday so we secured little interaction. There was a vicious Hurricane outside and it coincidentally rained out the first game of the World Series, Yanks vs. Braves. I'm glad the series is on but it may also cause a problem. The fact that the Yanks are getting their asses kicked means less baseball interest from the crew. More focus.
The day was a long one and was almost 20 hours. Hard. Matty had a vicious headache attack. But, he stuck in there. 

After wrap I had my ceremonial cigarette and then I got a beer at Capt. Walters a couzine bar in Sheepshead Bay. My mind was racing with the compromises I had to make. Film is about compromises. It's so hard to get everything. It's a thin line between weighing what is positive and what is negative in this world. What hurts the film and what is important to get. Very confusing. 

Today started well but we really slow down in the afternoons. After lunch is always a bitch. It takes forever to get set-ups.

October 22 11.25 DAY EIGHT DONE
Saw dailies today for the first time. Must say they looked really contrasty. This film definitely looks unlike any feature I've ever seen. It is very wild. All blacks and whites but many of the images look like beautiful stills. It really is a beautiful looking movie. I know now how to look at the images

I've shot 14,000 feet which is two fifths of my entire load. I'm terrified. Ratio will drop for dialogue coverage. It has to. 

Gotta save film. 

Shot inserts today. High Contrast means we need many Close-ups. Cut the masters. Go for Close-ups. 

11/6/96 1.30 am
Today was by far the worst day as well as one of the worst days of my life. It started with Headache 3. A stunt intensive scene. Many special effects and we are unprepared. Maraffi tells me he's got a new job starting tomorrow. Shit is pent up. Then, there's Sean's performance. I'd love to attach all the negativity to Sean's outstanding work, but truly it would be a lie. The day started off badly. I was ill prepared. My fault. Sean was amazing. Absolutely overwhelming. 

I started to heave and barf and sob and pass out. I begged for life, the film, everything to end. I was dying. My heart was super fast, my mind cluttered, I was ready to sob. I don't know why. I was fed up and the anger was pented. I was lost and confused and depressed.16 hours later we got most of the day. I owe a few tight shots. Oh well.

Tuesday 5.11 am
One of our longest days just ended. Day started Monday at 8 am, it is now the next day time 5.11am. That makes it 21 hours and the entire crew ain't in bed yet. 

We destroyed Euclid tonight. Shot it in a wide to be safe and that may have been a mistake. Shit looked a bit weak from above but the flashes really helped. Chris B.'s technology has been extremely helpful.
Eric leaned hard on me for going late but it is the last week and now is not the time to compromise.
Sean and I had friction. I did not pay enough respect to his headache performance at the head of Euclid destruction shot. He jumped on me and was pissed off for most of the day. During the Devi scene I knew I had to bring him down. The scene needed it. He was all over the place and fighting me. He wasn't trusting me. I told him to stop fighting me. He wouldn't. Then, I told him that we had the same intentions to make a great film and that for that to happen he needed to trust me. He finally calmed down. I had him take several breaths and then right before we filmed I had him hug Samia. I let the sound roll, then the camera, then the slate, then I called for places. And then action...nice take. 

Thursday 11/14/96 6.32 AM
All nighter. Went pretty well. I dreaded most of the night probably because I hate this scene. The gun and Marcy's desperation just seem so over the top. Pam was real good tonight she nailed it. I made a mistake by making her first scene the difficult one of the speech. It threw her off and she told me how hard it was for her to jump right in it. She was really out of energy tonight but she summoned a lot from somewhere and really did some very nice stuff. 

Something about Wednesday night: I operated the camera for most of the night, except when Matty fell, and I realized in order to do that you must be very rehearsed. Reason: It's so fucking hard to focus on 4 actors, frame and light all at once. One actor, no moves, I can handle but moving all around was hard and I'm sure my hesitation will show. 

April 23, 1997 4.40 PM
Eight days until May 1, so I awoke at 8 am after a four hour sleep and called Oren to declare we were on emergency. We need to finish the first cut by May 1 otherwise we are in trouble. 

Peter Broderick of the IFC saw the trailer and read our press and was very interested in the film. He wants to see an assemblage. The IFC has a finishing fund and the 50g's we need isn't much for them. 

Sunday June 8, 1997 8.50 am
OK. We are cooking. Eric feels it too. Cutting so that days are forgotten. Time is forgotten. Amazing. Always thinking about how to conquer the film. How to win. How to understand it and edit it and make it better. 

Sean asked me what the film is about. My answer: ONE. 

OK: So I told Sean that the White Void scene has me whipped. That I'm scared to face it. The fact of the matter is that I am ready to do it. I'm gonna cut that motherfucker and make it work. 

Worked on VO with Sean. Very hard stuff to get right. Very tedious but we got very far. We really came up with some good stuff. Sean was hard at times to work with but ultimately it is me. I get frustrated and I need to have patience and to relax. It is a very meticulous process post-production and you need to work at it. 

After Sean left I spent the rest of the day logging his stuff. Avid is dope.

How many people helped us on this film. How many names are gonna be in the credits? There are 80 people who gave us $100. There's gotta be 200 names in the credits. Amazing. 

I know we will get the thirty seven thousand dollars to finish this. 

We've spent a fortune already. Spike Lee B&W. Jim Jarmusch B&W. Scorsese B&W. Kevin Smith B&W. Kubrick B&W (he doesn't count). 

B&W is the way to learn. It's the way to figure out the world. 

For Aronofsky's Pi production diary, in full, complete with pictures and more, go to:


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