Where has Todd Field been all this time?

That’s what film critics wanted to know when his film “Tár” was released in the fall. It had been more than 16 years since he had directed a feature – “Little Children,” in 2006.

The questions continued in January when “Tár” got six Oscar nominations, including best director and best original screenplay for Field. “Little Children,” starring Kate Winslet, had garnered three Academy Award nominations. Field’s only other feature film, “In The Bedroom” (2001), starring Sissy Spacek and shot in Maine, got five Oscar nominations.

So why did it take so long for a director with such an impressive resume to make another film?  The answer involves Field’s intense desire to stay home in Maine and be integrally involved with raising his youngest son, born after “Little Children” came out. Over the past 16 years, he’s been mostly at home with his family, including his wife and four children. He coached Little League, drove the kids to school, directed some commercials and wrote.

“If I was going to do something that was going to take me away from home, from my family, it would have to be worth it. I probably set the bar at a place just high enough to not be able to reach it,” said Field, 59. “I have been able to coach a Little League team, all the stuff you hope to be able to do as a parent.”

Field will find out Sunday if the effort earned him any Oscars when he attends the ceremony in Los Angeles with his wife. The awards presentation will air live on ABC at 8 p.m.


Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field’s “Tár.” Field has been nominated for a best director Oscar. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

“Tár” stars Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, a self-absorbed and internationally famous symphony conductor whose life is unravelling amid sexual misconduct and abuse of power claims. Field said the character of Lydia Tár came to him more than 10 years ago, and he jotted facts about her and her life in a notebook, something he does as characters occur to him. He said being mostly home for so long gave him the time and the “luxury” to write and try to flesh out a story about the conductor.

While “Tár” is up for six Oscars, Field is a named nominee in three categories: best director, best original screenplay and best picture. He is listed on the best picture nomination as a producer along with Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert. The film’s other nominations include Blanchett for best actress, Monika Willi for film editing and Florian Hoffmeister for cinematography.

Field’s three feature films together have garnered 14 Oscar nominations. He personally has been nominated six times – twice for best picture, twice for best adapted screenplay and once each for best director and best original screenplay. If Field wins Sunday, it would be his first Oscar.

Maine director Todd Field’s first film in 16 years, “Tár,” has been nominated for six Oscars. Lev Radin/ Shutterstock.com


Field, who declined to name the Midcoast town where he lives to protect his family’s privacy, said it was the experience he had making “Little Children” that made him want to focus more on family. He said working on that film with two toddler actors made him start thinking about the moments he missed while his three older children were growing up, a time when he was often busy acting or directing. He wished he could “do it all over again.” If he could, he’d spend more time with his children from infancy on up, focusing more intently on the small moments.

But he doubted that would happen. He and his wife, Serena Rathbun, were both in their 40s by then. They had married in 1986 and had three children. Then, while Field was in Japan in 2007 promoting “Little Children,” he got a call from Rathbun, who said “you got your wish.” Their youngest son was born in Maine in March of 2008.


“I was supposed to start prep on my next film the next day. I remember walking out of the delivery room and going straight to a phone, calling everyone and saying, ‘I’m not making the film. I’m staying home,'” said Field, speaking from Los Angeles in February. “It wasn’t something I thought about. I just knew it as soon as I saw him.”

Field grew up in Portland, Oregon, and left home soon after high school to study acting in New York. He got a supporting role in the Woody Allen film “Radio Days” (1987) and later was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his role in the 1993 film “Ruby in Paradise,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. He also made appearances in TV shows like “Roseanne” and “Chicago Hope.” He was in “Twister” in 1996 and had a major role in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” in 1999.

At some point amid his career, in the early ’90s, he lost his passion for acting and decided to focus on directing. He attended the American Film Institute as a fellow, but continued to act to pay off student debt.

Cate Blanchett as the title character in “Tár.” Maine resident Todd Field has been nominated for best director and best original screenplay for his work on the film. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

It was during the transition from actor to director that Field and his family first came to Maine, though his mother’s family has roots in the state dating to the 1600s, so he heard a lot about it growing up. His family had been spending summer vacations at his wife’s parents’ vacation home in Rhode Island, but Field wanted to start his own separate summer tradition. So he asked his in-laws where he could go where they would not follow. His mother-in-law, Mab Ashforth, said Maine.

Field was told his father-in-law, Bo Goldman, a two-time Oscar winning screenwriter for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Melvin and Howard” (1980), would not be able to get in touch with his agent on a remote Maine island and probably couldn’t get a New York Times. So Field and his family found a vacation spot in the Midcoast and, by about 1998, were living in Maine permanently.

The irony of his Maine story, Field says, is that his in-laws eventually followed them and moved in. Ashforth died in 2017, but Goldman still lives with Field and his family. Field’s grown children also live nearby.



Maine also helped inspire Field in his first feature film, “In The Bedroom,” which was shot around Rockland, Camden and other Midcoast locations. The film is based on a short story called “Killings” by Andre Dubus and set in Dover, New Hampshire. But after spending time in Midcoast Maine, Field decided it was the perfect setting for the grim story of people dealing with grief after the violent death of a loved one. He told producers he was adamant about shooting in Maine.

Maine’s lobster industry is key to the story, and the film’s title refers to the rear compartment of a trap that holds two lobsters. Field went out of his way to use Maine residents as extras and in small roles, including a former Camden police chief, a Bangor TV camera operator, a swing bridge operator, a local judge and members of the Rockland T-ball league.

“I remember when they filmed the courtroom scene, he asked me where the reporters and cameras should be,” said Barry Littlefield, the Bangor TV cameraman, at the time, who was cast as a cameraman in the movie. “He was really looking for everything to be authentic and really listened.”

The film gained the respect of Maine audiences for portraying the state in a straightforward way, without stereotypes or over-the-top accents. In addition to Spacek, the film starred Marisa Tomei and Tom Wilkinson.

Sophie Kauer in a scene from “Tár,” directed by Maine resident Todd Field. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

After “In the Bedroom,” Field worked with writer Tom Perrotta on a screenplay based on his 2004 novel “Little Children.” It’s the story of an unhappy housewife (Winslet) who has an affair with a married neighbor, played by Patrick Wilson.


Field said he had written a script called “For God and Country” when his youngest son was born and decided to stay closer to home. When his youngest son became a teenager, he decided he might feel comfortable going away from home for the right project. He talked to Focus Features about “Tár” a couple years ago and was surprised they wanted to make it “right away” and with no major changes. Blanchett signed on as the star and the whole project took less than two years to complete, with filming in Berlin, New York and Southeast Asia.

The film immediately captured the attention of critics and film writers. One reason was its story of power dynamics and sexual misdeeds, but with a powerful female character as the focus. Though the idea of power being abused for sexual favor by men has been in the news for the last several years and spawned the #MeToo movement, the film is mostly about power dynamics that have been playing out among humans forever.

“We really haven’t seen a female character like her. She’s drunk on her own power, yet there’s complexity because she’s a woman in a man’s world, acting tough like the boys,” said Alicia Malone, an on-air host for Turner Classic Movies cable channel and author of three books about the roles of women in film.

Malone, who also lives in Midcoast Maine, says she thinks the movie stands out because there isn’t lot of exposition to explain to audiences what is happening. Instead, a lot is left up to a viewer’s own interpretation. There’s also a notable lack of sound – background music or a score – Malone said. There is music when it’s being played in a scene by musicians, but the film is without the “musical cues” that in so many other films tell viewers when they should feel sad or happy. The lack of a score adds tension, she said.

Sophie Kauer and Cate Blanchett in “Tár,” which was directed by Maine resident Todd Field.  Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Field said he’s working on a script now but isn’t quite sure what it’s about. He knows he wants to set it in Maine, and film it in Maine if possible. He knows, however, that the first thing production companies ask is “Can we afford to do it there or do we have to go somewhere else?” And with a nearby state, Massachusetts, offering far greater financial incentives to film crews, Maine is a tough sell.

Field said it didn’t take long for him and his family to fall in love with Maine when they moved here some 25 years ago, and the love has lasted. When “Tár” was released last fall, he spoke at a screening of it at the Strand Theatre in Rockland. He said he and his family were excited to have the movie at the Strand because “it’s our theater.” He said he was sad to be away earlier this year when the Strand celebrated its 100th anniversary. He said he wouldn’t be back in Maine until after the Oscars.

Field said in February he was definitely taking his wife to the Oscars but was still working out plans as to who else in the family might join them. While he’s honored to be nominated, he said he decided a long time ago that thinking too much about accolades can be counterproductive.

“It’s a lovely thing to get nominations, but that’s not why you make the film,” said Field. “I remember when I was acting, we’d be working on an indie and the director would say, ‘Hopefully we’ll get up to (the Sundance Film Festival in Utah).’ Then you knew it wouldn’t get to Sundance. If you’re thinking about those things, you’re probably in trouble.”

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