‘White Noise’ Director Noah Baumbach Says He Never Saw Don DeLillo’s Novel as ‘Unfilmable’ at New York Film Festival’s Opening Night

Long before “Marriage Story” writer-director Noah Baumbach was attached to Netflix’s “White Noise,” several filmmakers mounted attempts to adapt the notoriously “unfilmable” novel of the same name written by Don DeLillo.

Variety reported in 2004 that “The Addams Family” director Barry Sonnenfeld was on board to direct the film, known as his “longtime passion project.” The torch was then handed off to Michael Almereyda, best known for his 2000 film “Hamlet” starring Ethan Hawke, after Uri Singer acquired the rights to DeLillo’s novel.

Baumbach’s “White Noise” served as the opening night screening for the 60th annual New York Film Festival on Friday, making its North American debut after a divisive premiere at the Venice Film Festival. The director told Variety on the red carpet that he didn’t give a second thought to the idea that his film’s source material was unadaptable.

“I didn’t have any relationship to that narrative,” Baumbach told Variety on the topic of the novel being seen as difficult to adapt. “This is the first movie I’ve made from a book, so I picked a doozy. From my perspective, this is something that feels to me like the world does right now. This is a way for me to express how I’m feeling about the world right now. It felt like a gift at that time.”

“White Noise” stars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig as a married couple that becomes consumed with existential dread amid an airborne toxic event that plagues their town. Baumbach first discovered the book in his youth. When revisiting it as an adult, he said he was “tripped up” by some of the images he had extrapolated in his head.

“I read it when I was a kid and I lived with images from that book for years that I wasn’t even sure were in the book anymore,” Baumbach said. “And then when I reread it, I was quite surprised to go back and see what actually was in the book and what maybe I had extrapolated.”

He continued, “I felt like there was so much in [the novel]. And there’s so much in the movie. In some ways, it’s like, ‘Take all of this and then go on your way and see how it all shakes out.’”

When first reading the novel and Baumbach’s script, composer Danny Elfman said he found “the beauty was that there was no genre.”

“People asked me what kind of film it is and I say, ‘I can’t describe it,’” Elfman told Variety. “It’s a dark comedy, but it’s not just a comedy — it’s romantic but it’s also satirical and [there’s] social commentary. I don’t know how to describe it. So [with] the music, it just meant anything goes — and everything went.”

Elfman compared his experience collaborating with Baumbach to his formative days working with Tim Burton.

“It brought me back to years ago, just goofing around with Tim Burton on these crazy films that no one knew what to make of,” Elfman said. “There aren’t many films that I’ve worked on that you go, ‘Really, what is this film?’ And ‘White Noise,’ it’s got that quality.”

While praising Baumbach’s vision for the film, producer David Heyman told Variety that “we need people who are ambitious with cinema. I’m a big believer that the tentpole films are less lively without films like this. I think some of the best Marvel movies are made by people who actually exist in the independent sector. We need those filmmakers, who are not people who are making films based on films, but people with singular voices.”

Heyman has successfully tapped many independent filmmakers to direct high-budget franchise films, most notably with Alfonso Cuarón and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” While Heyman said he could see Baumbach doing a “really psychological horror movie” within the realm of a blockbuster franchise, he doesn’t believe the director will make a Marvel movie anytime soon.

“Noah needs to follow his heart,” Heyman said. “I don’t think he’ll be somebody you will see creating a Marvel film anytime soon. I don’t know, I just don’t necessarily see that as where his heart lies.”

Netflix will release “White Noise” in select theaters on Nov. 25 before its streaming release on Dec. 30.

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