IFH 229: From Indie Films to Directing a Hollywood Icon with Adam Rifkin



Top Apple Filmmaking Podcast

20+ Million Downloads

Right-click here to download the MP3

Today’s guest is Adam Rifkin. Adam Rifkin is a Writer/Director whose eclectic career ranges from family comedies to thought-provoking indies to cult classics.

Most recently, Rifkin Wrote and Directed [easyazon_link identifier=”B079F9NCJ3″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]THE LAST MOVIE STAR[/easyazon_link], a poignant drama starring screen legend, Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter and Chevy Chase. The critically acclaimed film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where it was bought by A24 and is set to be released in March 3o, 2018 in theaters, all streaming platforms and DIRECTV.


Rifkin also Directed DIRECTOR’S CUT, a wild and twisted meta-thriller penned by iconic illusionist and comedian, Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller. DIRECTOR’S CUT was the opening night film of the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival and will be released by Epic Pictures under their new, DREAD CENTRAL PRESENTS, horror banner.

Additionally, Rifkin Directed [easyazon_link identifier=”B00WL256UY” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]GIUSEPPE MAKES A MOVIE[/easyazon_link], an outrageous yet touching documentary about trailer park filmmaker Giuseppe Andrews and the misfit family of homeless people he’s assembled to perform in all of his bizarre yet heartfelt movies. GIUSEPPE MAKES A MOVIE currently holds a coveted 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Previously, Rifkin Wrote and Directed the award-winning film LOOK, a controversial drama that takes us into the foreboding world of surveillance and explores the conceit that the average American is captured on camera at least 300 times a day. Adam also Executive Produced, Wrote and Directed LOOK: The Series for Showtime. The stand-alone 11 episode limited series enjoyed the highest ratings in its time slot in Showtime’s history.

Rifkin earned cult status when his film [easyazon_link identifier=”B0763XZ22P” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]THE DARK BACKWARD[/easyazon_link], an oddball fairytale about a stand-up comic who grows a 3rd arm, starring Bill Paxton, Wayne Newton, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, James Caan and Lara Flynn Blyle, was named one of the top ten films of the year by The New York Post. He would then be immortalized as the Director responsible for New Line Cinema’s DETROIT ROCK CITY, a bona fide cult classic about 4 teens in 1978 who go on an Arthurian quest for KISS tickets. [easyazon_link identifier=”B000031EFY” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]DETROIT ROCK CITY[/easyazon_link] continues to speak to and inspire generations of rock fans around the world.

An A-list screenwriter, Rifkin has a penchant for family fare. He wrote UNDERDOG for Walt Disney Studios, a tent pole comedy based on the iconic 1960’s cartoon show, [easyazon_link identifier=”B000NGVP5U” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]ZOOM[/easyazon_link], starring Tim Allen and two hits for DreamWorks, [easyazon_link identifier=”B00AEFYO08″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]MOUSEHUNT[/easyazon_link], and [easyazon_link identifier=”B001EVK0LI” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]SMALL SOLDIERS[/easyazon_link]. His next foray into family entertainment will be PEEPS, a Lego Movie-esque animated feature he’ll write and produce based on the icon PEEPS candies.

We discuss how he jumped from screenwriter to director, how to handle a problematic actor on set and what it was like directing an icon.

Enjoy my conversation with Adam Rifkin.

Alex Ferrari 0:36
I'd like to welcome the show Adam Rifkin, man, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Adam Rifkin 4:31
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Alex Ferrari 4:34
So um, how did you get into the business in the first place?

Adam Rifkin 4:37
Well, I grew up in Chicago loving movies, I all I ever wanted to do when I was a kid was make movies. So I commandeered my father's home movie camera when I was about five or six. And I just started shooting movies starring my sister and my friends and because I wanted I knew that Somewhere in Hollywood movies were made, I didn't necessarily understand what a director was, what a producer was what a screenwriter was. But I knew that I wanted to be a part of making movies. So what I did was I made movies, my whole youth, just because I loved it. And the plan was, I was going to move to Los Angeles once I was old enough, and I was gonna learn how to do it for real. But what I didn't know until I got to LA and started making movies in my own is that I had kind of been teaching myself the principles of filmmaking, all those years as a kid, and I still utilize the same principles today, when I'm making real movies.

Alex Ferrari 5:37
That's awesome isn't until you actually self your self taught in many ways. Did you go? Did you go to film school?

Adam Rifkin 5:43
I did not actually go to film school, I went to USC very briefly. And I think it's a fabulous school. And I have nothing against film school. But for me at that time, I felt that you know, what they were just starting to learn to do I had kind of been doing all those years as a kid making my own movies. So I just left school. And I figured out pretty early on that the only difference between making a movie and not making a movie was finding the money. And then once you have the money, you can make a movie. So I just started writing scripts and trying to find money. And I got very lucky. And I started making movies when I otherwise would have still been in school.

Alex Ferrari 6:22
Now you started off as a writer.

Adam Rifkin 6:24
I started off as a well, I always wanted to be a director. But I started off writing because I knew if I didn't write something, they'd never let me direct unless they really wanted to make what I wrote. I mean, if so I started writing scripts in hopes that they would let me direct them,

Alex Ferrari 6:40
Kind of like the Frank Darabont way of doing things.

Adam Rifkin 6:43
Right. Right. So um, so I started writing more out of necessity than out of passion. But I love it as well. And I actually do a lot more writing than I do directing, because it's a lot cheaper to sit down and write a script than it is to actually shoot a movie.

Alex Ferrari 6:58
Isn't it weird, though, like, you know, you call yourself a director, sometimes, not sometimes you call yourself a director. But yet, the actual amount of hours that you actually direct and practice your craft is so minimal.

Adam Rifkin 7:09
It's minimal, because it's so expensive. Well, I should say, because it used to be so expensive. Luckily, for people who are pursuing directing now, you can make movies so inexpensively, there's really no excuse, why you're not making a movie unless you just don't have the drive. Because when I was growing up, the only way you could make a movie was on the only way you could make movies on film, you had to buy the films, to develop the films that you had to rent the equipment that you could edit that film stock on, you had to cut the negative. I mean, these were just basic costs that you couldn't get around. Now, you can direct a movie on a cell phone. Yep, you can edit it on an app, you can release it to the world on YouTube, you can market it to the world on social media. And you can basically do all that for pennies.

Alex Ferrari 7:59
Right? Exactly. There is no excuse anymore. There. There really isn't.

Adam Rifkin 8:03
By the way there are there. I'm sorry to interrupt. There are great examples of, of movies that were made that way, you know, tangerine,

Alex Ferrari 8:10
Tangerine. And then yeah, there's the film. Yes. And Steven Soderbergh new movie, we shot on iPhone as well. Exactly. Yeah, there's no there's no excuse. And even if it's not an iPhone, you can still get you know, DSLR is you can get so exact so many cheap pieces of equipment to make it to tell your story. It's true. Now you also um, so you wrote two movies that I remember very vividly as I was growing up mousehunt and Small Soldiers for drones, right. Those were some of the early milestones. I remember being I think, either the first or second movie DreamWorks released.

Adam Rifkin 8:45
It was technically the third movie, I believe they released they released

Alex Ferrari 8:51

Adam Rifkin 8:52
Amesdad and mousehunt. Right, but it was the first script they bought. Okay. As a spec script that which was exciting. Very exciting time.

Alex Ferrari 9:03
Oh, God. Yeah. Cuz I mean, when DreamWorks was starting up, I mean, everybody in the world was like, what's gonna happen? What's gonna happen? They Exactly. And out of all the scripts in Hollywood, your spec script was one of the was the first one they picked up, which was it was an amazing time. And that was a huge hit, too, wasn't it? If it was it made over a million $100 million. And it was really, really fun. And that that kind of launched you into a different place in your career.

Adam Rifkin 9:28
Oh, that changed everything. Prior to that I was making independent films and you know, very happily, you know, writing and directing independent films. I had done my first film, never on Tuesday, which I was talking about, but I also directed and wrote the dark backward and I wrote and directed to chase and, and some other Indies, but that movie, and sort of being anointed by Steven Spielberg changed everything. And suddenly I was on a different list. I was studio approved, so I suddenly started writing a lot of big studio movies, which is a lot of fun. No, did

Alex Ferrari 9:59
Did you work with the Mr. Spielberg?

Adam Rifkin 10:02
Yes, I did directly with with that movie and with small soldiers.

Alex Ferrari 10:06
And what's it like? Well, because I've had a lot of guests on, on that I have worked with Steven, I'm always fascinated to hear different people's perspective on on. Honestly, he's like, you know, as legendary as it gets in this business.

Adam Rifkin 10:18
Absolutely. And he's also a really, really nice guy and puts you at ease immediately when he walks in the room. And he's very creative and very funny. And he really loves the creative process. So when we sit around and start spitballing ideas, one idea feeds off another idea feeds off another day, it really was a lot of fun that way.

Alex Ferrari 10:36
So how was it? How was it working with him? Like, when you first your first day working with Steven Spielberg? Like when he walked in the door? What was your vibe? Well, I was petrified at first, because you know, I mean, here. It's 1996. I think he's already done a couple things.

Adam Rifkin 10:55
Yeah, he he, yeah, he had done a few things by that point. And he walks in the room. And he immediately said, and obviously he knows how he is perceived by people who are, you know, who had my admire him and said, Look, I'm gonna throw out a lot of ideas. And just because I'm the one saying the idea doesn't mean you have to use it. I'm just, this is the process. So just because it's me, don't feel intimidated, don't feel you have to do everything I say, this is just we're just gonna be creative. We're just gonna throw ideas back and forth. And he was very true to that. And that was really refreshing. I didn't expect that.

Alex Ferrari 11:31
He was he's very self aware.

Adam Rifkin 11:33
Very self aware. But in a very, but in a very humble way. It's in a very humble Yeah, believe not a very humble way. It really put me at ease immediately.

Alex Ferrari 11:44
Now, what is your process when you write a screenplay?

Adam Rifkin 11:47
It depends on the screenplay, okay? If I'm writing a script for myself, that I intend to direct, it's, I, I, because I've written a lot of scripts at this point to I feel a little more confident in this part of the process, but I don't beat out every beat, I don't write I don't I don't write down every beat, you don't, I don't outline every beat. No, I don't outline every beat, I outline the major, sort of landmarks of where the story is going to go. And then I start writing. And then as I write ideas emerge from the writing that affect what, um, you know, what is to come in the store, and then I read beat out the, you know, from, you know, every 1020 pages or so, I find myself re outlining roughly what's to come. Now, when I write a movie for hire for a movie studio, they don't have they don't like that free wheeling spirit. So I beat out every detail, I write treatments, I rewrite treatments, I rewrite beat sheets, it's a very meticulous process. Because many people are involved and money's involved. And, and, you know, both versions are good. And by the way, for people who have never written a script before, I'm not gonna say there's a right or wrong way, but it probably would serve you well, to beat out your screenplay. You know, if you're, if you're, if you're a young writer, doesn't mean that it won't change as you write. But you want to, you want the story, always pulling you forward into a forward with a forward momentum, right from the beginning to the end. And if you don't have that, spine, sort of laid out ahead of time, it's easy to go off on tangents, and to lose your momentum, your narrative momentum.

Alex Ferrari 13:44
So I think it helps to beat your your script out. And when you and just so for everyone who's listening when you say beat your script that you mean kind of outlining and just putting like markers in the road that you have to hit along

Adam Rifkin 13:55
Right so you'd say you know, scene one is gonna be you know, Joe at his job at the bank, and we learn that he is you picked on at the bank and we learned he has a crush on the the teller next to have, we learned that he is broke, because he lost all his money in the divorce. And then the next scene is, you know, we know that he's going to be with his divorce lawyer telling him that he has to give up more money to pay child support. And then the next scene is, we know that he's going to, you know, he's, he sees the money being delivered to the bank at a certain time every day. And then, you know, by the time we get to, you know, roughly, you know, what's, you know, more often referred to as the end of Act One, we, you know, where the story really kind of kicks in, we roughly are going to know that Joe has decided at the end of Act One, he's going to rob the bank, you know, from the inside, you know, so and then act two would you beat out you know, he's gonna plot it out how he's dealing with the divorce situation, how he's, you know, trying to woo the other teller All the difference you

Alex Ferrari 15:00
You don't have, you don't have to write the entire script out here on the show. Because you're good. I'm going to like okay, so so what's it what is it comedy is? Is is Boston acid? That's why he wants to kind of take it out on him. I think by the end of this podcast, we're gonna have our next movie I decided about, I think it's good. I think we, I think we can greenlight this. But yeah, but that, but that does help me when I work. When I write, I love leaving. I love creating that structure, because it just, it's something you can hang your hat on. Yeah, it gives you that roadmap, and I feel it gives you much more liberation as a writer by having because if you don't you just start trying to write in this kind of, you have no idea where you're going. It's I know, some writers do that. But I can't. It's really

Adam Rifkin 15:47
Some writers do it? I generally do not. And I will say that it's very easy. If you're a writer to get excited get started. Get about 20 pages in and then suddenly you don't know where the hell you're going from there.

Alex Ferrari 16:00
Right? It's Yeah, exactly, exactly. But

Adam Rifkin 16:03
I will tell you this, and a lot of people don't necessarily think about this when they're starting because they want to start turning pages over writing means writing pages, right? Well, plotting, is writing. Right? You know, so if you if you are figuring out the details of your plot, I mean, by the way, some people plot for months, and then they write the whole script in a week, because once they know every detail of their plot, sure, just filling it in, in the script form is easy, you know,

Alex Ferrari 16:30
Right. Exactly, exactly. Now, you do believe that being a screenwriter is a great way to get your foot in the door as a director?

Adam Rifkin 16:39
It was for me at that time. I mean, it's different for everybody. Okay. And, you know, the, like I said, these days, things are different. And with technology being so affordable, and so available, you know,

Alex Ferrari 16:55
I could do it,

Adam Rifkin 16:56
You just go do it. But that said, I mean, you don't want to just go do it without a good script. So whether you write the script, or whether your buddy writes the script, or whether your mom writes the script, if you're going to make a movie with your iPhone, with a few friends and and you know, try and get it, you know, try and get it off the ground. Don't just run off half cocked and start shooting just because it's fun to do. Know what you're gonna shoot, plot it out, write it, you know, take it seriously, you're making a movie, even if it's a movie that you're making for $100 you're making a movie so so put the necessary time into prepping it properly.

Alex Ferrari 17:29
And would you suggest in today's world to just go for the feature right away or to do 1000 shorts?

Adam Rifkin 17:35
I don't think there's any wrong way to do it. You know, listen, there's we we've all heard the stories of somebody who's short, went viral, and it got them a big movie deal. You know what I mean?

Alex Ferrari 17:46
But those are, those are lottery ticket. rare moments.

Adam Rifkin 17:48
That is true. Uh, my, my general feeling is go for the feature. I mean, that's my that's my other

Alex Ferrari 17:55
Product you can sell.

Adam Rifkin 17:56
You have a product you can sell and and you can, and it can change your life. I mean, if you know, I know Oren Pele is a super nice guy. Yeah, he made a paranormal activity in his house for a few 1000 bucks, right? Yeah. And that movie got accepted into slam dance scared the pants off everybody who saw it got bought by DreamWorks. It got released by Paramount. It was it changed not only his life, but it sort of changed the movie business completely. Yeah. And that was you know, if he had made a scary short, that wouldn't have happened. It might have gotten a lot of views on YouTube, but it wouldn't have changed so much in his life and in our lives.

Alex Ferrari 18:34
Yeah, shorts don't generally change people's lives it might open a door to but a feature will exactly like El Mariachi short for El Mariachi, a short for clerks. shirt for Blair Witch, it wouldn't have worked as much.

Adam Rifkin 18:47
Not it wouldn't have had the same upside.

Alex Ferrari 18:49
Without question without question. Now what is the toughest thing you had to deal with from jumping? jumping from a screenwriter to a director?

Adam Rifkin 18:58
Well, the toughest part is always getting the money to get a movie made. I mean, you might Yeah, he's you write a script that you are proud of. You're excited by you're inspired by you really want to make it? And then it's like then you know, trying to find the money. It's like pushing a giant rock up a hill. Because it's expensive to make movies. So that's always the hardest part.

Alex Ferrari 19:21
Now what's what's it but what advice can you give a first time filmmaker first whose first day on set?

Adam Rifkin 19:30
The Okay, there's a lot of different pieces of advice I can think to give. Alright, so your first time filmmaker on the set, first of all, take it one day at a time. Okay? Okay, because you've got a whole script. You've got days ahead of you. You got a zillion shots you need you've got a million moving parts and lots of people and your job is to be the sort of conductor of this massive orchestra and you need to know exactly how to get the right sound out of each instrument and each instrument and each player needs to be spoken to And dealt with in different ways. So you have to always keep your eye on the whole, the totality of the movie, whereas everybody else's job is to focus on their individual department or their individual task. So that's why it's like a movies like a train every different. department is like its own train car, but you're keeping track of the the train as a whole. So keep in mind that little by little everyday, you just need each little piece, one by one that you're collecting, so that in the editing room, you have all the pieces you need to assemble the movie. I would also say it's, it's, you're gonna be asked a million questions all day, every day by everybody. That's something that directors, first time directors are really hit in the face with heart right off the bat, you know, just within the first two seconds of walking onto the set. Do you want the toothbrush to be blue? or green? Do you want the car to be a Chevy Impala? Or do you want it to be a Porsche? Do you want the hat to be a derby or a top hat?

Alex Ferrari 21:16
What do you want? What do you want for lunch?

Adam Rifkin 21:18
Yeah, what do you want? So you need to understand that every time you say yes or no, if you're happy or unhappy with that decision down the line that's you're doing, that's your fault. If you say yes to something just because you're overwhelmed in that moment, and you don't want to deal with it. You don't want to look at the sketches for the set. Because you've been asked 5000 questions in the first five minutes you walked on the set. And you just don't even want to look at the set sketches. You say just fine, whatever you want to do, and then you show up on the set and you hate the set. That's not the production designers fault. That's your fault, because you didn't take that moment to look at those designs, and say yes or no, that's a that's a piece of advice. I learned my first day on my first movie, and I always will remember it. And another piece of advice that I heard from Terry Gilliam when I was very young, and he did a screening of Brazil, at USC. And then he spoke Afterwards, he said, when you're making a movie, everything feels like it's all going all wrong all the time. So just be aware that that's not unusual, it happens to all filmmakers. So don't let that freak you out. Now, I will also say this. One of the fun parts to me about directing a movie is the chaos of it all the problem solving is the is very much the craft when you're on set. And so everything that you plan for is going to change within three seconds of you stepping onto the location. And you have to be able to think on your feet, roll with the punches, and take whatever restrictions are forced upon you and turn them into what has to look like creative choices. And more often than not, when you have to throw you all your prep out the window and you're forced to deal with something that you didn't expect, and you have to change everything, you'll get something better than you ever would have imagined if you had all the time and all the money in the world.

Alex Ferrari 23:18
Yeah, that's sometimes when you don't have that time or that money or there are those restrictions, that's when the best stuff comes out. Absolutely without question. Now, this is something I know a lot of directors deal with. I've dealt with it. I'm sure you have as well. How do you deal with a difficult actor or crew member on set like a department and I'm assuming you're not going to deal with a bad attitude from a grip. But, you know, bad attitudes or just difficult or like they're trying to you it's a power struggle, which happens. What do you What's your advice on dealing with that?

Adam Rifkin 23:50
Well, I mean, I'm quick to fire people. I have no problem firing people. And I'll do it fast. If somebody's got a bad energy, a bad attitude, and it and that can be very toxic on a movie. Oh, sad, woof. It can be very, it can also be very contagious. So I have fired lead actors in movies of mine who are the first couple days it was a problem and I just replaced them. And usually, in my first couple movies, I was afraid to fire people. I thought oh my god, we're a well oiled machine everybody's going to be so thrown off by this and then once I actually had to fire somebody for the first time, and the new person that came in the next day, worked harder, was more talented and had a better attitude. Suddenly the whole crew the whole vibe on the set, lifted. And I realized oh when you when you cut off dead wood and replace, replace it with you know, a you know something that actually fits the machine better. People appreciate it. So I am I am quick to to make a switch when it's necessary. Now Sometimes you can't fire a particular actor, either because you need them for the financing because of their name value, or because you've shot 80% of the movie and you have a bag that suddenly you can't suddenly replace them. Listen, you can't you can't let anybody bully you. You're all there for the same reason, you're all there to make the best piece of product, you can, if somebody just has a terrible attitude, you know, sometimes you have to get a person's agent involved. It has happened, you know, but more often than not, I find that if there's somebody on in a key position or in the cast, who is trying to push to, to, to, to see how far they can push their dominance, or like a little power play, I find that, you know, bullies generally fold if you bully back. And that's just the same dynamic that exists on the playground, or in the sandbox when your kid applies to a movie set in the adult world. So just don't allow yourself to get bullied. Do you? Do you agree? Those are sometimes especially with some of the more seasoned actors, because I've worked with some, some seasoned actors as well, that they kind of push to see who they're dealing with? And if they're safe? Yep, absolutely, absolutely. And they respect you if you push back, because they want to know that they're in firm hands. And that doesn't mean that you have to be Mr. Macho, chewing on a cigar and your chest is puffed out to you. But if you have a a grasp of what you want, and why you want it, and you push back and you you say respectfully, I disagree with that. And here's why. More often than not, they will appreciate, by the way that the the point that they may have been making, they may not even have a strong conviction on they just want to see what your reaction is going to be. And if your reaction is, here's why I believe in this, here's why it's important. Here's why I need you to you know, follow me down this, you know, path more often than not they will if you are, if your firm and what you believe and why you believe it, they will say Yes, sir, I, I'm with you, I'll follow you. Let's do this together.

Alex Ferrari 27:18
And they don't they don't teach you that in film school.

Adam Rifkin 27:21
They do not teach you that. That's, that's personal dynamics that you just kind of have to pick up from life, you know?

Alex Ferrari 27:26
Yeah, absolutely. Now, do you do a lot of rewriting on set?

Adam Rifkin 27:31
Yes, because things always change and evolve. And you have to like I was saying you have to roll with the punches. So my current film, the last movie star, we did a lot of rewriting on set. Because for example, I'll give you the biggest, most global example of what changed on set and how that changed. Lots of things about the movie. As you may know, the movie stars Burt Reynolds. Yeah. And he's about an older man who used to be a big movie star, but now has to deal with the fact that his glory days are behind him. And he's invited to a film festival in Nashville to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. And he's excited about it, he thinks it's going to be a big deal. But when he shows up, it's a bunch of film geeks showing movies in the back room of a bar. And he's humiliated that he was somehow convinced to show up. Yes, so. So he bails on the film festival and gets his driver for the weekend played by Ariel Winter to drive him from Nashville to Knoxville, where he's from, where he goes on a little soul searching journey, visiting the landmarks of his youth. So now the original script, had him going from LA to the Philippines to a film festival in Philadelphia. And then he bailed on the thought festival and drove to New York, where he's from. And when we got funded, the funding came from Tennessee. And the and it Well, here's here's the funny thing is, is that that was not a prerequisite for the money coming from Tennessee that we had to shoot there. But what happened was, we were scouting all the different cities that we that had tax incentives that we felt could play as New York and Philadelphia. So we scattered Detroit, we scattered Minneapolis, we scattered New Orleans, and the producers from Tennessee said why don't you scout Knoxville? With a little movie magic. Maybe this town could also play as New York. And they said you can shoot it wherever you want. But just at least scout it. Maybe it'll work here. And if it does, we're very connected here. We could get a big bang for our buck here. So I went to Knoxville and I loved it. I fell in love with the look. And there was no way it was going to play as New York.

Alex Ferrari 29:47
No way. I was about to say. I don't think that's happening without a lot of visual effects.

Adam Rifkin 29:53
Yeah, but I said I got an idea. Why don't we instead of trying to play As New York, why don't we just embrace Tennessee, he's going to go to a film festival in Nashville instead of Philadelphia. He's going to go to a, he's going to drive back to his hometown in Knoxville instead of New York. And I've you know, I've seen very few movies really take advantage of Knoxville and Nashville, so it felt fresh. And and so we all agreed, let's just do that. So now once we decided to shoot it in Tennessee instead of on the East Coast, everything throughout the script changed. Yeah. So as we were prepping the movie, all those little

Alex Ferrari 30:34
New York Philadelphia stuff,

Adam Rifkin 30:36
Yeah, they all had to be adapted to fit the Knoxville locations, and it worked out so much better for the movie. And it changed. Everything changed the way we scored the movie, it changed who we cast all the other roles changed everything, all for the better. And that is what I'd call one big happy accident.

Alex Ferrari 30:53
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Yeah, movies, you're kind of hoping for happy acts. Yeah, I mean, cuz I, you know, once I saw the movie, and now that you're telling me it was Philadelphia, New York, it would have been such a different energy. It's such a different vibe. I mean, Philadelphia is a big city compared to Nashville, and Nashville. Seems so much more, homey. And that bar was one. By the way, I got a chance to watch it. It was an absolutely I love the movie. Thank you very much. It was wonderful. And when I saw the trailer before, we were in contact, I was like, I gotta go see that movie. And I told my wife I saw she's like, why did you watch it? I want to see. Sorry, I guess. So. So let's talk a little bit about last movie star. How did you come up with the idea? And is it true that you only wrote her for her? And if Bert wouldn't do it? You would have not done the movie?

Adam Rifkin 31:53
That is 100% true. When I was growing up in Chicago, Burt Reynolds was my hero. I he was the biggest movie star in the world. Yeah. As you know. Yeah. And he was on every I mean, he was the funniest talk show guest he

Alex Ferrari 32:09
Was he was gf seen some of those old The Tonight Show stuff. Oh my God,

Adam Rifkin 32:14
You're so funny, right? He was and he just he just exuded this charm, and this humor and this self deprecating, you know, comedy. And I just thought he was the coolest guy. And I just fantasize that he would be my friend one day. I mean, when I was kid, you know, I just thought it would be so great to to ride around in the trans-am from smoking the band, Burt Reynolds.

Alex Ferrari 32:41
By the way, did you see that? That George Clooney commercial with him? Because, of course, I was an amazing comp. Yeah, what an amazing visual effect. That was, it was really literally looked like he was

Adam Rifkin 32:52
Really well done. So, um, so years later, I'm thinking to myself, you know, I still love Burt Reynolds. And I've always felt that Burt Reynolds. You know, he was obviously beloved as a movie star. But he never he got shortchanged as an actor, because his movie star persona, I think, overshadowed how great of an actor he is. But he's a brilliant actor, you look at deliverance and The Longest Yard and starting over and then the Boogie Nights, obviously, he was nominated for an Oscar. But people think of Burt Reynolds as Burroughs movie star before they think of Burt Reynolds actor. So I wanted to write a role for Bert. Mainly because I wanted to give something back to him for all the years of joy he'd given me throughout my life. But I also wanted to write a really juicy role for him, so that it would remind people what a brilliant actor he is. Now, I didn't know if he was interested in

Alex Ferrari 33:46
Doing it. I mean, he has a shot. He hasn't shot anything in a while.

Adam Rifkin 33:50
Is he especially a leading role, you know, I mean, he he. And so I didn't know him, but I rolled the dice. And I wrote the script anyway. And clearly, the events of the movie are sort of based on Burt's real life, I wanted that to be the case, because I wanted him to be able to really dig down and be able to relate to what it's about. And I submitted it to his manager, and I said, Please tell Bert, if he doesn't want to play this role. I'm not making it. I wrote it only for Bert. And his manager said, Look, I'll send it to him. But I can't promise you what he's gonna say. I mean, Bert does what Bert wants to do. Right? I said, fair enough. So the next day, I get a call from Burt Reynolds. And, listen, we've all met famous people, you know, right. And I never get starstruck. But when I recognized his voice, I was suddenly 12 years old. It was an amazing moment. And he said to me, when I first started by saying, you know, this movie hits very close to home. And this is very this deals with stuff. That's very tough for me to face. And as he's talking, I'm thinking to myself, well, he's gonna politely pass, but it was very nice of him to call me in passing. You know, personally, what?

Alex Ferrari 35:07
What a what a gentleman,

Adam Rifkin 35:09
Gentlemen, what a beautiful gesture, right? And so I'm just thinking to myself, I'm talking to Burt Reynolds, I can't believe it. He's such a nice guy he's calling to pass. And I almost didn't even hear him say, I'll do it. I almost missed that part. Because

Alex Ferrari 35:22
You already talked yourself into, he's like, Oh, he's gonna say no. So just enjoy this. But as you're talking your own edge, you can hear what he's saying.

Adam Rifkin 35:29
Exactly. But what he basically said was, you know, if you had sent me the script, 10 years ago, I wouldn't have been able to face what it's about. But at this point in my life, I have to do it. And so I'm in and so it was just an amazing moment.

Alex Ferrari 35:40
No, he, he his performance in this, I really hope he does get some accolades for it, because it's wonderful. It's just such a raw performance by him. And

Adam Rifkin 35:52
I agree, I think he deserves tons of accolades. And I think he deserves everything that you can imagine could come from a raw and vulnerable performance. I think he deserves it all for his performance.

Alex Ferrari 36:04
I think it's very similar and not obviously in tone or actor. But what Mickey worked in with the wrestler? Sure, because Mickey had to deal with a lot of stuff in that movie. Exactly. And it was such a raw performance for him. I feel that it's similar for Bert and this because this, I mean, as I was watching the movie, I'm like, well, this is Bert right now. Like, you know, he's exactly with all of that. I mean, when he went to, to see his old flame, if you will, his ex wife. I was like, Yeah, I know who that is. Yeah, yeah. I'm not gonna say her name. But I know who that is. You know, and I'm sure that must have been, you know, Oh, God, to go through what he's gone through to live the life he's gone through. And, and he says in the movies, like, I made lots of mistakes, but I don't regret. Yeah. You know, exactly, exactly. You know, on a funny side note, I actually was invited to speak in Jupiter, Florida, to a bunch of filmmakers. And guess where they made me do it? Where the Burt Reynolds museum? I love it. That's fantastic. So I've been at the Burt Reynolds Museum, which for people who don't know what if you're ever in Jupiter, Florida, you've got to go to the Burt Reynolds museum. And it's a free standing building. And you walk in, and it's wall to wall ceiling to floor, Burt Reynolds memorabilia, everywhere. And I was just shocked that a place like this existed. Have you ever been. I have not been to that the actual museum. It's, it's brilliant. It's just, it's just really they got the caretaker there that gives you the tour. They tell you all about birth. It's just fascinating. So I love it. So you're on your first day on set directing Burt Reynolds? What Yeah, what are you 12? Like, what are

Adam Rifkin 37:46
Your fields? Well, I'll tell you that. Well, I'll tell you, I'll tell you, here's like Steven Spielberg. Okay. Burt Reynolds also put me at ease immediately by saying, look, because he obviously knew by me writing the script that I was a massive fan of, you know, of course, um, and he said to me, Look, we're making this movie together. I need you as much as you need me. We're collaborators. So if you don't like something I'm doing, kick my butt. And I will do the same thing for you. And we will, we will do this movie together. And from that moment forward, we were genuine colleagues, collaborators, and became really close friends as a result of this experience working together. You know,

Alex Ferrari 38:31
That's, that's that must be. That's awesome. Because a lot of times when you're dealing with a legend, an icon, yeah, like, but like, how do you direct an icon like, how, how do you do it? And I had another guest on that, that had, he was directing john malkovich. And he was like, second time, he's directed a movie. And the best thing he said is like, he walked up to john and said, how do you how do you want to be directed? That's good. And that was that's great, isn't it? Because this shows respect? Yeah, because there's my you know, cuz you don't know you direct someone like that the wrong way. And it's a hell of a trip the rest of the shoot, absolutely. But this was this obviously was different. Now, what was the best day on set? Working with Bert like that one moment that you just like, on life is good.

Adam Rifkin 39:18
Well, besides every day Besides, like, well, exactly. The best day was was for me. The reason it was the best day was because it was clearly the best day for birch. And when you saw his eyes just light up, it just made everybody feel so good. And that was the scene in the football stadium. No, because birds because birds fantasy in life was to mean and he played for Florida State fantasy was to go on and become an NFL star. Yeah. And he had a career ending injury which forced him to have to turn from Sports to acting, but he always still feels that you know, football is the one that got away. And when he said, you know, stepped into The Neyland Stadium and looked around at all the bleachers and just imagine the crowds cheering you could just see it on his face. It just gave us all chills, you know.

Alex Ferrari 40:10
That's awesome. That's awesome. And then I'm assuming Bertha already seen the movie and he likes it.

Adam Rifkin 40:15
He loves it. He saw it for the first time in Tribeca, Tribeca Film Festival. And I was nervous because I didn't know what he was gonna think. Right, right. And he loved the movie, he cried multiple times. And during the q&a, he said, It's embarrassing to cry at your own movie, just like you're not allowed, you know, you're not supposed to laugh at your own jokes. It's, it's, it's not cool. But he said, You know, he couldn't help but he was he was moved by it. And that made me feel really good.

Alex Ferrari 40:41
That's, that must be you know, as a as a creator, as a writer, and as your director to be able to give that gift to someone like Burt Reynolds, because I'm a huge fan of birds as well. And not just from Boogie Nights. But I'm a 70s kid. I'm an 80s. Kid. And you know, I smoking the bandit movies and deliverance and all the best. I mean, he was Oh, and by the way, I love the the comping, would you work you guys did that the VFX work you did with his old bank, you Oh my God, I saw that. I was like, Oh, that's brilliant. Thank you so much. It was so wonderfully done. It was such a, it's such a love letter to Bert. It's just such a love letter to him. Thank you very much. So now I want to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?

Adam Rifkin 41:29
Well, like we were talking about before, the advice I would give a filmmaker today is make a movie and make a really good one. And, you know, get it you know, either right or, or find a really great script or convince somebody that you know who's a good writers write you a really good script, shoot it how you know, utilize all the, the things you have at your disposal, to to enhance the value, the look and the value of your film. Like for example, if your father owns an autoparts store, and you know you have access to that autoparts store, right, something set around an auto parts store, it's just gonna look, it's just gonna look better. I mean, if you're gonna, if you're gonna make a tiny little micro budget movie on a phone, probably don't try for a period epic. Probably don't try to don't overextend yourself. Yeah, don't don't make it look like a high school play shot on a cell phone, you know, where you have, you know, your, your teenage friends playing grandparents and stuff, you know? And would Yeah, exactly. Try to utilize what you have at your disposal as intelligently as possible. And, and just do the best you can to make it as good movies, you can make it now you may succeed, and it may get accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. And it may get bought by age 24. And it may change your life. Or it may just be a great learning experience for the next time. But I would say if you want to break into the movie business today, that to me, is how I would approach it if I were starting today.

Alex Ferrari 43:02
And by the way, the last movie star was purchased by a 24 wasn't bad is right. That's correct. You right now they are the studio but like if you're a filmmaker, you want them to pick you up your movie.

Adam Rifkin 43:14
They have the best taste, they release the coolest, most interesting edgiest films, they are really creative with how they get their films out there. They were our first choice. Of course, they bought it at they bought it at the Tribeca Film

Alex Ferrari 43:28
Fest. How has it been worked? Because I haven't I haven't spoken to anyone who has actually had a film released by them. So I'm curious, how is it working with them? How is the dealing like the marketing, any any insight you can give me behind the curtain of 824?

Adam Rifkin 43:41
They're the best because they only pick the movies they believe in. So right there, you know, you're in good hands because they they like your movie, and they believe in it. And they trust their opinions, which a lot of distributors do not, you know, they they base the decisions they make on cast. Yeah, either cast or you know, foreign marketplace value or they base it on, you know what the test test

Alex Ferrari 44:09

Adam Rifkin 44:10
Audiences think right? A 24 says, we like this movie. We're sticking with it. And that's a really refreshing thing. And then also to they're just really creative about how they I mean, I don't know if you've noticed, but they've been getting burnt out everywhere for this movie. And it's been very, very first of all Burt's having a blast, I'm sure. And it's just they've been doing an incredible job.

Alex Ferrari 44:32
That's awesome. That's awesome. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

Adam Rifkin 44:39
What book? Well, I mean, my favorite book is Moby Dick. Okay. My other favorite book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I'd say probably though, in terms of the kind of films that I want to make, maybe a Confederacy of done As I read at a very impressionable age, and that has definitely influenced me and how I write or the types of stories I want to tell. Yeah, I mean, that's those those are those examples. Don't tell me I'm a big I'm a big Vonnegut fan, obviously. Sure. I mean, I'm so and also to you know, I also, a lot of the kids books I remember as a child, still are big influences on me as a filmmaker, and as a grown up. I'm a huge Dr. Seuss geek. I'm a huge Shel Silverstein geek encyclopedia Brown.

Alex Ferrari 45:33
No, I'm joking.

Adam Rifkin 45:36
No, but but you know, I mean, Shel Silverstein is probably as much a guru to me as any filmmaker that I admire, you know,

Alex Ferrari 45:45
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Adam Rifkin 45:50
The lesson that took me the longest to learn? Okay, here's a lesson that I'm still learning. And that is that. And this applies to business, and moviemaking and Hollywood pursuits. But it also, I guess, this applies to everything. And that is that film, happiness is a choice, you know, you can choose to focus on the negative, or you can choose to focus on the positive. If you choose to focus on the negative, I think you're going to very easily get pulled down a negative rabbit hole. If you choose to focus on the positive, you can very quickly get so wrapped up in all the fun and the beauty and the excitement of what that offers. And I think that applies to when I'm making a film. And everything is going wrong. on a particular day, the sun is going down the actor twisted his ankle, the prop doesn't work, the generator won't start, everything's going wrong. I think to myself, yes, but I'm making a movie I rather have, I'd rather have everything going wrong. And all the problems that go along with making a movie, then have all the problems that go along with not having a movie to make. And so then, because I'm in an inspired state of mind, I think all right, well, what do we have? We do have a camera, we do have about 20 more minutes of light. And we do have these actors who didn't hurt their ankle. So how can we tell what we need to tell for the story? in one shot, we got time for one shot before it's dark. And then suddenly everybody rolls up their sleeves never is working fast and ever is having fun. And somehow you pull some rabbit out of a hat that you never would have thought of. And now that's the scene that everybody loves the most in the movie.

Alex Ferrari 47:35
Right? And that's in the trailer. Yeah, exactly. Now this is the next question is the the toughest one of all of them. Three of your favorite films of all time.

Adam Rifkin 47:44
Three of my favorite films of all time. Geez, that is a tough one. All right, I'm going to try to narrow it down with you. Okay. I, I'm going to make a bold stance here and say of my three choices, I'm going to count godfather one and two as one choice are enough. Okay, fair enough. Those to me are companion pieces. They're the same and absolutely, exactly. And I feel that they are perhaps the best movies ever made. So that's definitely on my top three list. The other two is a constant revolving door for me. So I'm going to throw out some titles that have all been in my top three normal times. Sure.

Alex Ferrari 48:26
Sure. Fair enough.

Adam Rifkin 48:27
Okay, taxi drivers always in my top three, even when it's not in my top three. Right. Harold and Maude is always in my top. Yeah, even when it's not in my top three. Sunset Boulevard is always in my top three. Once upon a time in the West is always in the top three. Yes. The Last Picture Show always in my top three. I don't know how many top threes. Now I've mentioned these are some of these are some of the titles that I you know, 2001 is always in my top three, you know, so?

Alex Ferrari 48:52
Got it. Fair enough. Fair enough. Adam, thank you so much for being on the show, man. It's been a pleasure talking to you. And again, congratulations on the last movie star man, you got a jam on your hands, man.

Adam Rifkin 49:02
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It's been a blast. I can't believe it went by so fast.

Alex Ferrari 49:08
I want to thank Adam for being on the show and dropping some major knowledge bombs is the first film that we've had on the show that has been picked up by a 24. And it is the goal of think of many filmmakers to have their films picked up by a 24 I'm, I'm hopefully looking forward to one day working with them in one way shape or form. They do some really great work and and the last movie star is definitely worth their moniker without question. So now for those of you who are interested in watching this awesome movie, it's going to be coming out March 30, which is on a Friday, and it'll be on limited release. But definitely check it out. You can check it out is a great great film. And if you want links to anything we discussed in this episode, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/229 for the show notes and don't forget April 9. We will be releasing Suzanne Lyons indie film producing masterclass her workshops that normally cost about 20 $500. To to attend, I was able to convince her to let me record it and put it out for the tribe and for filmmakers around the world. So if you want to get in early for a little special early bird discount, just email me at [email protected]. I'll put you on the list. And you'll get early access to the course. Now I know this week's been a treat, because you've gotten three episodes out of me this week. So but that's going to be the norm. We're going to start doing three episodes every week from now on, because I'm crazy, man. I don't know how I do it. But I'm not. I do it all for you guys. I want you to get as much information as possible to help you guys on your filmmaking journey. Oh, and by the way, I forgot to tell you guys, I will be at na B this year, it's going to be my first time at na B and I'll be doing a talk for black magic on Wednesday, the 11th at 11am at booth s l 216. Which is the Blackmagic Design booth. So if you guys are there, come by love to talk to you guys love to meet some more of the tribe. And we're going to be talking I'm going to be talking for about 45 minutes to an hour about my experiences with Blackmagic the cameras DaVinci Resolve how I edited the space program that show I did for Legendary Pictures. We're gonna talk a little bit about some other programs I worked on. And I might just might talk a little bit about on the corner of ego and desire. So I hope to see you guys there. And as always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.



  • A24
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B07BNWCH15″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]The Last Movie Star – Streaming[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B079F9NCJ3″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]The Last Movie Star[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B000031EFY” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]DETROIT ROCK CITY[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B00AEFYO08″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]MOUSEHUNT[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B001EVK0LI” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]SMALL SOLDIERS[/easyazon_link]


  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)



Where Hollywood Comes to Talk

Oliver Stone

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)

Edward Burns

(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)

Richard Linklater

Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)

Eric Roth

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

Oscar® Winning Writers/Directors
(Everything, Everywhere, All At Once)

Jason Blum

(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Get Out, Whiplash)

Chris Moore sml

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Good Will Hunting, American Pie)

(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

Marta Kauffman sml

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Showrunner
(Friends, Grace and Frankie)

Free Training of The Week


How to Direct Big Action Sequences on a Micro-Budget

By Gil Bettman

Join veteran director Gil Bettman as he shares the secrets to directing big budget action on a micro budget.