“Good Will Hunting” director Gus Van Sant spoke to members of the Massachusetts Production Coalition at their winter meeting Wednesday, joined by his associate producer Thomas Smith, whose credits include “Her,” “Being John Malkovich,” and “Adaptation.”
Van Sant is currently in town hunting witches. Well, sort of. The director is in Massachusetts to helm the pilot of Jenji Kohan’s potential HBO show “New World,” which is said to be loosely based on the Salem witch trials. (The director revealed that the pilot will feature British actor/comedian Eddie Izzard.) Van Sant said he and Kohan were originally drawn to the chilly coastline of the North Shore, though that could change.
“Jenji [Kohan] was really interested in having snow on the ground. . . . We’re here partly because of the snow, but maybe we pushed too quickly because now we’re having problems,” Van Sant told the audience.
He said Kohan, best known as the creator of “Weeds” and “Orange is the New Black,” is excited about the possibilities.
“I think that Jenji [Kohan] found the mass hysteria of the period could be applicable today,” he said.
Van Sant is no stranger to the state. In addition to “Good Will Hunting,” for which the director earned an Oscar nomination in 1997, Van Sant shot “Sea of Trees, starring Matthew McConaughey, in central Massachusetts last year. Van Sant attributed the choice of setting to the hiking opportunities, the generous Massachusetts tax incentives and restrictions in Japan, where the film is set.
“We weren’t allowed to shoot in the actual forest because the government wasn’t happy with its reputation,” he said.
For Smith, the weather and setting hiccups were worth the chance to see Van Sant get lost in the story.
“Watching him work is amazing, because he listens more than anyone,” Smith said of Van Sant.
Also slated to speak at Wednesday’s event was George Parra, executive producer of Oscar noms “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” but a difficult day on the set of his current film, director David O. Russell’s “Joy,” kept him away.
His absence was excused by event organizers.
“In other disciplines, it would have been called a crisis, but we call it a ‘film day,’” said Lisa Strout of the Massachusetts Film Office.