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IFH 607: From Sundance Hit The Puffy Chair to Mack & Rita with Katie Aselton

Today on the show we have Katie Aselton. She is an acclaimed actor and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She may be best known for her starring role as Jenny in the FX comedy “The League.” Aselton can next be seen in Bill Burr’s comedy Old Dads. She was recently seen in The Unholy, opposite Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and appeared in Tiller Russell’s Silk Road, with Jason Clarke. Aselton was also seen in the second season of the hit Apple + series “The Morning Show.”

Aselton’s breakout acting role came in the indie darling The Puffy Chair, directed by Mark and Jay Duplass. The film was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards. Aselton’s other feature credits include Book Club, Father Figures, She Dies Tomorrow, Synchronic and Bombshell. Her small-screen work includes “Legion,” “Animals,” “Togetherness,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Veep,” “The Office,” “Room 104” and “Casual.”

Aselton made her directorial debut with The Freebie, in which she also stars. The film premiered to much critical acclaim at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically by Phase 4. She also directed and starred in the survivor thriller Black Rock, opposite Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was released by LD Entertainment.

Katie’s new film is Mack & Rita starring the legendary Diane Keaton.

When 30-year-old self-proclaimed homebody Mack Martin (Elizabeth Lail) reluctantly joins a Palm Springs bachelorette trip for her best friend Carla (Taylour Paige), her inner 70-year-old is released — literally. The frustrated writer and influencer magically transforms into her future self: “Aunt Rita” (Oscar winner Diane Keaton). Freed from the constraints of other people’s expectations, Rita comes into her own, becoming an unlikely social media sensation and sparking a tentative romance with Mack’s adorable dog-sitter, Jack (Dustin Milligan). A sparkling comedy with a magical twist, Mack & Rita celebrates being true to yourself at any age.

Enjoy my conversation with Katie Aselton.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Katie Aselton 0:00
Really spent 10 years since black rocks sitting with that and thinking about the kind of director I want to be in the way, I want to leave a set and. And with Mack and Rita I lead with kindness and gratitude, and respect, and, and humility. And I think that there is nothing more powerful than someone saying, I don't know. Let's figure that out together.

Alex Ferrari 0:27
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com I'd like to welcome to the show, Katie Aselton. How you doing Katie?

Katie Aselton 0:44
Hey, I'm doing really good. How are you doing?

Alex Ferrari 0:44
I'm doing great! Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've been watching you since the days of the Puffy Chair.

Katie Aselton 0:46
Ohh you just watched me get old right?

Alex Ferrari 0:56
I hate to tell you we all do it.

Katie Aselton 1:03
I just happen to do it on camera.

Alex Ferrari 1:05
I was I was gonna say that's so interesting. Like you like my kids. See some videos of me when I was a kid. Like when I was younger. And they've seen pictures of me younger, but they literally see their you know, yeah, you and Mark just grow old. Better, better, I would say yes. You know, we're just evolved. We're evolving. Exactly. So no, I've been and I'm a huge Morning Show fan. I love the morning show. Love the money show was such such a great show. So my first question to you, Katie is how and why in God's green earth did you want to get into this insanity that is called the film industry.

Katie Aselton 1:40
I know. I grew up in Maine on a on the coasts, like past the tourist parts of Maine, like real main. And it wasn't a town where people left to go to Hollywood. So it wasn't like I was following in the footsteps of anyone else I knew. I just got a wild hair, that this was what I was meant to do. And I had like, just big dreams that I kind of kept to myself for a lot of my early years. And finally, I couldn't keep them in anymore. I don't know. I'm like the kid who? And look, I think we all do this. But I was definitely the kid who in everything I watched, like put myself and I was I'm like a super empath. And so I would like things like really got me and I would really just throw myself into every story and, and my siblings were all much older than me. So I was essentially kind of an only child living in like a really rural area. So my sense of imagination was always very full. And yeah, I just I don't know, it just I don't know, that's what lit me up very early, but then had no opportunity for that. You know, like, if you look in my high school yearbook like I'm in the drama club. There were no productions.

Alex Ferrari 3:01
So what did the so what is the drama club? Do the has no productions just hanging around?

Katie Aselton 3:05
Yearbook picture every year I don't know. It was the weirdest thing. And that is that we're the drama program like they used to put on productions. I think they put her on productions. After I left. It was just my four year stint like nothing. Wow, you're getting Uruguay gets high school.

Alex Ferrari 3:27
Wow. So obviously you've set out to the university. You said, hey, I want to be an actress. Yeah, I want to get to the film industry. And then obviously Hollywood just called and said, Hey, what would you like to do? Oh, my baby, what do you need? Let me help you. How can I? How can I help you? Not sure what you got? So what was the stage from when you want the dream? To go to New York? Did you go to LA? Where did you go?

Katie Aselton 3:53
I went to Boston.

Alex Ferrari 3:56
Obviously the I think the third biggest action in the country.

Katie Aselton 4:02
My family, my parents, God bless them. We're like, you need to go to school in New England for at least two years. And I think their thought was, you know, I would fall in love with a program or a boy or the city or, or just forget that I kind of thought maybe I wanted to move to LA to be an actor. Um, but I didn't. I didn't and while I was in Boston, I went to be you. In my denial of my dreams and my, my sort of need to become to like be perceived as like a serious, like, contender in the world. I told my parents I wanted to go into journalism. I was like, that's the closest I think I can get there's a camera involved. I'm still like a personality. And so I applied and and, and got into Boston University, which has a fantastic journalism program that I absolutely hated that I read Howard Stern's book and I was like, This is gonna be great. Not for me, because I actually just wanted to be Holly Hunter, and actually a real journalist. So I took acting classes on the side and really, really loved it and, and, like, kept looking at my clock and was like, Alright guys, and we're at the end of the two years, and you said you promised and they, they stuck by their word and they did it. And at 19 I moved out, not knowing anyone in Los Angeles and I scoured the pages of backstage West, as early actors did as you do before the internet. And I found a play and I sent in my headshot, and I got a play that was in Sunland. Now, I don't know if your listeners are familiar with Southern California.

Alex Ferrari 5:58
Yes. It's just a bit. It's a bit out of LA. It's a bit just a slight

Katie Aselton 6:05
And north and there's nothing there. It's like industrial parks. I landed a play called at a place called Play us at the foothills. And

Alex Ferrari 6:19
That sounds like a place where that's where a horror movie starts. The play house of the foot that you said sounds like something where a horror movie would start?

Katie Aselton 6:26
No, I and if you saw it, it definitely looks like a place where we're moving. It should take place. They didn't even give me the full script. Like I just got my scenes, but I was like in it. I loved it. I was so excited. My college roommate came out to visit. And this is where the story gets. Gets a little sensational. But I'm promising you right now this is all true. Because she came out we were 19 we didn't have fake IDs. So we were going to go out to celebrate what were we going to do? We're going to go to Mel's diner on Sunset to celebrate get some strawberry shortcake. So we did and while we were there, I look up. We were sitting outside. I look in the windows and I was like oh my god. It said afterwards that Dracula do like, what is his name? I can't remember his name. And Rita's, like, my roommate was like James Woods. And I was like, yeah, it's James.

Alex Ferrari 7:25
Do you ever play track?

Katie Aselton 7:29
Our one of my. I think he did.

Alex Ferrari 7:34
We'll have to look it up. I don't I'm not sure if James was playing

Katie Aselton 7:37
In my head at 19. I was like, he played Dracula. I think he did. And now, I was like, I don't know. But he's looking at us. And I think he's gonna come over and talk to us. And she was like, now what does he want to he doesn't want to talk to us. And I was like, I don't know. But he's walking to the table right now. And he was like, Hey, are you an actor? And I was like, yeah, no, I'm trying to be. And he was like, Well, my name is Jimmy, my friend. Here's a manager and he thinks you have a good look. And through that manager, I ended up getting my first agent. And that is how my career was born.

Alex Ferrari 8:10
So you were you were discovered in Mel's diner? Is that is that?

Katie Aselton 8:16
Yeah, like it was 1949. Like I was Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 8:22
That's amazing. That's an amazing story.

Katie Aselton 8:27
Why an ultimate scumbag?

Alex Ferrari 8:31
Hey, welcome to Hollywood.

Katie Aselton 8:33
Listen, you just gotta find ways to just make those stories work for you.

Alex Ferrari 8:39
So then, Alright, so now you have an agent, you have a manager? And then how did you get involved with this very big budget film puppy chair? This is at least 100 million if I'm not mistaken.

Katie Aselton 8:50
Oh, yes, it was. I mean, all the financing for that movie came from Mark's parents.

Alex Ferrari 9:00
By the way, what was the what was the official budget of that film? Because there's a lot of myths about that film. Do you remember it's there?

Katie Aselton 9:05
Yeah, we can say I think it was like 20,000 or something like that. Right? Yeah, that's low. But it's so much more than the budget of my first film, the freebie which was 10,000.

Alex Ferrari 9:16
So you have one up on marketing.

Katie Aselton 9:20
But I, you know, so there, I spent a couple of years in LA, like, really, I like putting myself out there auditioning. Getting some crap roles that I really wasn't graded and didn't love but I knew I loved doing it. So it was at that point, a couple of years in that I was like, I'm actually going to go to theater school. I had started dating Mark already, Mark was in an indie rock band at the time,

Alex Ferrari 9:44
And really quickly for everyone listening because just in case they don't know. You're married to Mark Duplass, who is the director of puffy chair and many other independent films, brothers, yes. And half of the Duplass brothers, as well. Jay and mark. So yeah, just so everyone He knows who we are. Because we just keep saying mark like you and I know,

Katie Aselton 10:02
And everyone knows, I think everyone, anyone who's listening to your podcast is gonna like they know, but just in case. So we've been dating, he was an indie rock guy, not a filmmaker, not in movies at all. And while we were dating, he, he did it, they did their short movie, this is John. And then after that, we and while I was in school in New York, we did the short scrapple. And that went to Sundance, both of those went to Sundance. And so then the day after I finished my, my theater school program, we went into production on the puffy chair.

Alex Ferrari 10:44
And, and the rest, as they say, is history. So I have, so I have to ask you, because, you know, during that time, I mean, there was obviously that film movement that you know, which I know a lot of the filmmakers in that world don't like to use the word mumble core, but because it was coined by some, some journalists, but for lack of a better term, I'm sorry,

Katie Aselton 11:04
Growth journalist isn't.

Alex Ferrari 11:07
Exactly. So but. But during that time, there was a group of filmmakers doing this kind of style of filmmaking. And in looking back at those kinds of films, you know, when I, I mean, if you were I mean, puffy chair, and mark, and Jay and Lynn Shelton, and all that they were just such huge inspirations for me, for my first featured I didn't, I don't know, a few years, a few years ago. But the thing that was interesting about that, that kind of that movement of filmmaking, it was just very run and gone, it was shot with video cameras, I have to ask you, because you had been at least in productions at this point as an actress. So you're on the set of puffy chair? What do you think as an actress going, it's this kind of work? Like, there's no lighting? Is that kind of like raw? It's like, what did you think about that?

Katie Aselton 11:53
It was really interesting, because, you know, in there in the early years in our relationship, Mark would see me in LA with my friends who are all like, all actors who are out of work. And he's like, I don't understand why you guys just don't grab a camera and make something and I was like, okay, that's cute. Like, that's not how it's done. Okay, like, you need a studio, you need a trailer you need, you know, it was like, just an idea, because that is what we were told was always just how it was how it was done. And it's because it had to be that way. Back in the days when you're shooting film, right? But right around this time is where everything started to change with technology and things became so much more accessible and affordable. And I mean, God, you look back at some of those early mumblecore movies, and they look they're garbage. They look so

Alex Ferrari 12:49
So much so much. Joseph Jones Jones, just Weinsberg stuff. I look back on what how did that get released

Katie Aselton 12:54
I know, but at the time, like no one cared, because it was you were getting cameras in the hands of young artists. And so it was so exciting to hear and see young voices at work. And so it was, I mean, yes, there were definitely moments on puffy chair and Scrabble. And this is John where I was like, this is like, never gonna fly. But also there's something so incredibly freeing in like, first off, not kind of knowing the rules that you don't even know you're breaking. Right? So there's that whole idea of like, know the rules before you break them or not, or just go from the gut and make a piece of art that you're excited about with people you love. And by the way, for anyone looking to go do this, you absolutely should because even if it fails and doesn't go anywhere you learn so much. So as long as you're not, you know, bleeding money doing it you should absolutely be getting out there with your friends with a camera and going and making some fun stuff.

Alex Ferrari 14:01
And the technology today is so much more advanced than what was going on you reshot you shooting mini DV I mean I shot my first film on mini DV dv x 100 A if when it kicked out a little bit I got a sonic

Katie Aselton 14:14
I want to say that might have been what we did Pepe cheer on.

Alex Ferrari 14:17
Yeah, it was one that was the it was the first time you could get a film look out of a real

Katie Aselton 14:23
Very loose but at the time

Alex Ferrari 14:26
I look but at the time it was a 24 p camera and look gorgeous for the it's because all you had is like the 30 unit video cameras compared to so it's like it's beta canon or oh my god it looks like film.

Katie Aselton 14:40
So like with puffy chair no lights. We had one guy who did sound and like would occasionally hold a sheet up over like her slate. It was all we had we could do

Alex Ferrari 14:55
You just run a gun. So that was that was fun because I was wanting to ask actresses and actors who Were in those early movies like, I got, I mean, before it was a thing, and you were there at the beginning of it, you had to go like this. am I wasting my time? It's, um, am I just doing this because I love mark, like.

Katie Aselton 15:11
And I'll also say, like, you, you have those moments in there where you're like, Oh, it feels really good.

Alex Ferrari 15:18
It's wrong. It was wrong.

Katie Aselton 15:20
It was, there were some moments in the puffy chair that I still look back on. And like, you know, actors talk about like, it was in the flow, but like, you have this moment, and you're like, that was one of the more authentic moments I've ever had. As an actor,

Alex Ferrari 15:37
It's really interesting to go back and look at those those films because there is this kind of kinetic raw energy to them. And even though they're technically not sound at all, at all,

Katie Aselton 15:50
But their hearts are so pure and bright.

Alex Ferrari 15:54
And it completely goes through and it is pretty remarkable. And of course, you named it something so marketable. Like the puffy chair, which

Katie Aselton 16:04
When you tell what a movie is about, just by hearing the title, it's about a puffy chair was about.

Alex Ferrari 16:10
I remember during those years, I was I was hearing the rumbles of puffy chair, and I was like, hell is the off the chair. And I'm like, why is this? Oh, it's actually a puffy chair, like, and I remember thinking to myself before because this is, it wasn't pre internet, obviously. But it was internet like, like the early internet. So it wasn't like there was a lot of information out there about the movie. So I remember what like hearing about it. Like, I don't even there was no YouTube yet. 2004 2005 is when YouTube started. So the trailer wasn't out.

Katie Aselton 16:41
Now, it wasn't. I don't think we had a trailer until years later. Yeah, until like, Finally, eventually, someday ended up on the apple. And that's a very sweet person who just like cut it together for for fun.

Alex Ferrari 16:56
Now why? I mean, when did this film when the movie came out and went to Sundance? And were you surprised at the reaction? I mean, I mean, that's the question. I was like, did you know it was going to be hit? I knew you didn't know. But it's so overwhelming, because

Katie Aselton 17:10
I will say in the test screening. When we were testing puppy chair, I cried. Because I was like, this is awful. I also like never as an actor had never been privy to a test screening, right? So like, when moments fall flat when things like aren't playing well. And like, I never should have been in that room. Thank God, I was now that I'm making movies like I'm so happy. I know what it is. But my God, I was like, this is awful. I never should have done this and might end our relationship. This is a real a real stinker.

Alex Ferrari 17:48
By the way, did you have a conversation with him about this afterwards?

Katie Aselton 17:52
Yeah. And he was like, David, it's a test screening like every year asking people to critique the movie. They're like, they're, they're there to criticize it to make it better. So you gotta tear down to build back up again. And it was an early, early, early test screening at two boots pizza in the Lower East Side.

Alex Ferrari 18:09
And I can imagine, I'm assuming technically it was sound very technically sound

Katie Aselton 18:13
That sounded and looked amazing. But call it riding alone was fantastic. Again, what I will say is that experience to the next time I saw it, because then I said I would refuse to watch any more cuts of the movie until it was done. I've been next time I saw it was when it premiered at the library at Sundance, and it played to a full theater. And when that Death Cab for Cutie song comes on, and your, your The van is pulling through the tunnel. I just like had this moment that where everything just froze, and I was like, Oh, I think this might work. Like it just you can feel the energy in the room. But the interesting thing about that screening was that I had never seen puppy tears like a funny movie, because I was like pouring my heart into it. And it was about heartache, and you're watching this couple fall apart. And, and as at some point in the movie, I think it's in the hotel scene. Maybe I haven't seen this movie in 100 years. But I think it's in the in the hotel room where I'm like, give me I'm having a complete emotional breakdown. And I'm sobbing and I'm like, give me a number I just want to know, and like the whole audience laughs and I was like, Wait a second. I was like, Oh, it is funny because there's nothing else. As an audience member, you're so uncomfortable and you can relate so much and you connect. And it was in the moment. I was like, Oh, I get it. And I also get what I can do. And I get like that that particular type of humor of like really dissecting like human discomfort like that something clicked in me It was really amazing. And then like, everything changed after that we got I got signed by at the time it was William Morris, and on stage at the premiere and we moved right out to Los Angeles from there and we've been here ever since puffy chair premiered.

Alex Ferrari 20:17
So then from that point on your career kind of took off.

Katie Aselton 20:21
Oh, yeah, it's been it was so easy. After that, it was just everything happened.

Alex Ferrari 20:26
Everything is like it was just, they just did they, when they backed up the money

Katie Aselton 20:31
In every television show. And in every movie, it's like hard to figure out like when to take a break because I'm just always work.

Alex Ferrari 20:40
So when they pulled up the money truck, and they did it back up into the front yard.

Katie Aselton 20:45
Like all BP dump it in. Yeah, no, it's funny, I didn't work that way.

Alex Ferrari 20:52
It never does. It never does. Even for even even for Mark and Jay. They had to, they had to hustle.

Katie Aselton 20:59
Work at it and still bust your ass and find who you are as an artist and decide what kind of artists you want to be. And then I'm gonna know that's like all part of it.

Alex Ferrari 21:11
So when you made your first feature, the free V. Which when I when I was watching, I was like, Oh, this is obviously taking a cue from puffy chair, arguably, much more sound technically, I have to say, if I'm if I'm gonna, if I'm gonna call it out,

Katie Aselton 21:29
Mark will be the first one to tell you that I lean into cinema a little bit more than he does. He's like, I don't give a shit. I just give me like, give me a performance. That's all I care about. I literally don't care what's in the frame, it doesn't matter. Kind of want it to look pretty.

Alex Ferrari 21:44
So when I was watching them, like, definitely there's an inspiration from from that that core, the mumble core movement, but it's definitely a little bit more cinematic. But there's still there's watching scenes, there's like, oh, there's no lights here. Like this is all natural. This is all natural. It's and then you had DAX Dax Shepard in as your co star who's absolutely wonderful. And, and I mean, he was in 2010. It was pre parenthood. Yeah. So he was he was he wasn't Dax Shepard. Yeah, he was. No,

Katie Aselton 22:12
He was. He was without a paddle Dax Shepard. Oh, punked or pound Dax Shepard. He was there. Um, which is like, I really take great pride in being like this. Like the first step for him into like, him really showing the world who he is as an actor. And I truthfully, I really hope he gets back into more of that kind of acting. He's a beautiful actor.

Alex Ferrari 22:39
No, he's he's, he's excellent actor, even when you're in parenthood, he was, oh, my,

Katie Aselton 22:43
Well, that's the thing. I think you said he took freebie in an effort to like, get into natural acting. I was like, it's like training ground. Like he was just like, he was working his stuff out on me, which like, Thank God, thank God, he did, because he finished. You finish shooting. He finished shooting our movie, all of eight days that we shot that movie and went right up to San Francisco to go shoot parenthood.

Alex Ferrari 23:15
And he's done. And he's done. Okay, since then he's done. All right. He's done a rough himself. He's, he's gonna write for himself. No question about it. Now, the one thing I always love asking directors into something that's not talked about as much as it should be. Is the politics on set. That there's a lot of politics that young directors and especially female directors who have had on the show, they have a whole other set of things that they have to deal with, on set. Is there any advice you can give young directors both male and female coming about politics on set? And when I say politics of set? Yeah, there's obviously the politics of studio executives and investors and producers.

Katie Aselton 23:52
And I can't speak to that at all.

Alex Ferrari 23:54
But but with even crew people who push back on you don't believe in your vision, or are been doing this for 30 years, and they're like, Who's this kid? And that how do you deal with that? What advice do you have for kids? Or young, young young directors coming up?

Katie Aselton 24:10
Yeah, I mean, please, I want the 60 year old who's making their first movie to deal with the politics of the sunset. Because the truth of the matter is, is I've had two different experiences and look 3d was a unicorn all on its own like that was like felt like film camp. Like it was a very like Cassavetes esque, like just really warm environment where it was so collaborative, and I don't think we'll ever have anything like that again, where I felt fully supported from every single person who was in my home shooting that movie. It felt like such a safe space. My second film with Blackrock I definitely went in with a much heavier sense of imposter syndrome. And I think I I wrongly, so balanced that out with like, a strong persona of like, no one's gonna push me around and I didn't treat people I think the way I want to treat people moving through this world, like I, I very much regret the way I handled situations. And I think part of it came from insecurity and part of it came from stress and, and we were under so many, like, the physical elements of that movie were so hard, we were freezing cold and wet and bug bitten, and, you know, over budget, and all of those things, I think, led to me not being the leader that I really want it to be. And then with Mac and re, I went into that, having really spent 10 years since Blackrock sitting with that and thinking about the kind of director I want to be in the way, I want to leave a set. And, and with Mack and Rita, I lead with kindness and gratitude, and respect, and, and humility. And I think that there is nothing more powerful than someone saying, I don't know, let's figure that out together. I don't know, what do you think there is a reason why you hire the incredibly talented people around you. And that is to support you with their knowledge of their job, right. I don't know how to be a cinematographer. There's a reason why the cameras not in my hands, because I don't know how to do it. I don't know how to hang a light. I don't know what it takes for, you know, everything that goes into production design, I hire people who are wonderful at their jobs. And I think the biggest job for a director is to trust in those people. And to thank them for their work. And it is still a collaboration, it's still a conversation, you can absolutely weigh in on things. But I think that if you can end every day with thank you so much for everything you did today. I couldn't be doing this without you. I think that would be my biggest piece of advice.

Alex Ferrari 27:06
You know, what's so interesting is when when I watch Black Rock and washed, makin read up, it's you can you can feel the energy difference. I mean, they're two different kinds of story, but you can just feel, you know, because in Black Rock, you're one of the actresses, you can kind of sense that and I have to I have to ask when I was watching, I was like, Man, this must have been a super easy set. I mean, it should have just just flowed everything worked nicely. On Black Rock. There's no issues whatsoever, because you're running around on an island and I'm like, oh,

Katie Aselton 27:37
Exteriors on the poster name. I mean, it just my rental house is six hours away. Well, you know, when your water housing fails, like you're there, like, we were supposed to have cameras in the water with us didn't have any like, things like there was no shooting and jiving on that movie. Like it was

Alex Ferrari 28:01
Yeah. Opposite of freebie.

Katie Aselton 28:03
The complete opposite. And, and sitting in that headspace for two years, the you know, the time that it takes to make that movie. Really? It didn't a number on me.

Alex Ferrari 28:17
Yeah, cuz I mean, I mean, it was it was your Apocalypse Now, in many ways, because you were stuck out.

Katie Aselton 28:21
And I must admit, I was the one having 10 heart attacks.

Alex Ferrari 28:28
I mean, it must have been it must have been brutal. Because as I'm watching it, I'm like, This is not easy on a massive budget. Oh, my God was $100 million budget. You're still in the elements. Anytime you shooting in the elements, even a scene or two, shot most of that film in there, and you're running.

Katie Aselton 28:46
The only interior shot of that movie is in the car in the beginning when the two girls when Lake and Kate are in the car is the only time wow, that there is an interior shot.

Alex Ferrari 28:58
So when you were prepping that film, I have to ask you Did you Did it come up that like Hey guys, we're gonna be shooting outside? Can we control because you're at the whim of weather and the sun going in and out? Time all tides we probably never considered booking tides that go in and out. Ah, god, it was a it was

Katie Aselton 29:26
A matter that were like we bit off more than we could chew with this one. And it was I'm still so proud of what we made ultimately. But man, it was hard.

Alex Ferrari 29:35
So how do you how is the director? Do you keep morale going? And by the way, you have the added bonus of being an actress in the film that you're directing in this insanity. So I can imagine

Katie Aselton 29:47
I think I misstepped is I focused the most on morale of the cast. And not because we were also in two separate camps like the crew was all held up in One house, and the cast and the produce the Daelim Romanski. and I were in another house. And so

Alex Ferrari 30:08
I was like, so above the line below the line,

Katie Aselton 30:11
I need to keep the actors happy, not realizing that the crew was like ready to uni mutiny,

Alex Ferrari 30:22
They were going to they were going to do so that is if everyone listening, if you can at all help it definitely don't separate above the line and below the line on an on an independent film, try to bring them all together.

Katie Aselton 30:33
And in my head, I was like, this is it's all going to work if we can all just get through these 23 days, like, it's all gonna like, I promise you, it's all going to work. But like when you're getting $100 a day and getting the shit kicked data you and they bitten eaten alive by bugs. Like it's hard to remember that it's all I ultimately, like financially going to work. You know, it was hard. And I hope for your listeners. Yeah, I hope I can take with you.

Alex Ferrari 31:06
I mean, look, I've shot I've shot and in nature, and it's it sucks. It's like you just can't control. When that sun goes behind a cloud, we gotta wait, are we going to try to light it are we going to, because we don't have the we have the budget to actually set up a nice, you know, 10k up and turn it on and off the matches. It's it's just, it's just, it's, so when I was watching this, I'm like, I know she didn't have the biggest budget on this. This is our second movie. And she's running around on an island.

Katie Aselton 31:34
We make make it free.

Alex Ferrari 31:41
It was the pilot for Naked and Afraid that's exactly.

Katie Aselton 31:45
Every, every time we hit a thing, you just can actually crank it up a notch. And that's where we were it was. Wow. Looking back on it like, glad I had that experience. But holy, holy cow.

Alex Ferrari 31:58
Wow. Now, you've gone through a bunch of stuff in your career, and you've gone through your journeys, is there anything that you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career? If you can go back in time and talk to yourself? And go look, I know you want to be an actress? And that's all good, we're gonna do that. But keep this in mind.

Katie Aselton 32:17
Ah, the one thing that I would say is like, and I mean, it really speaks to your podcast is like never stop hustling. You gotta just like I am, I will forever be so upset at myself for the way i i operated post puffy chair. I was like, I just had a movie that was a hit in Sundance, like, I'm fine. I let Mark and Jay go to every film festival. And I was like, I'm gonna do pilot season, I missed every opportunity to meet filmmakers to get in those conversations. And, and that was such a loss. Like, I'm so proud of that. And it changed the narrative, right? And, and the narrative became like, you know, Mark put his girlfriend in the movie. And it's like, oh, no, I'm actually like, I'm an actor. I've been doing this longer than he's been doing it. But like, because I wasn't there. I wasn't a part of the narrative.

Alex Ferrari 33:17
You know, someone else wrote the narrative for you.

Katie Aselton 33:19
Someone else wrote the narrative. So that would be my piece of advice to my younger self is like, Don't let anyone else write the narrative, like, keep the pen in your hand at all times. Do you think that doesn't mean? Sorry to interrupt you mean to be utterly obnoxious, and to be that person who's constantly like trying to shove the door open, but it just means like, say yes to opportunities, and never think that you are at a point where you are too good to whatever that thing is, for me as an actor. It's like, I still put myself on tape for everything that I'm excited about. Like, I am not good for that. I don't care. I don't care. I'll do it. And for you know, as far as like putting back and read out the world, I want to say yes to every opportunity to talk to anyone because this is my moment now. And I don't know when I'm gonna get this moment again.

Alex Ferrari 34:14
And that's something that people people don't realize is like when you're directing, I take it when anytime I walk on set, I'm like, I'm so happy to be here. Unless you're Ridley Scott, and you're directing every single day of your entire life for the last 40 years. Generally, people don't get that opportunity. So when you get the opportunity, as artists, directors are the one artists that we rarely get to, to perform our art. Yeah,

Katie Aselton 34:37
Well, I'll say that to Eddie. Any, like actors feel the same way at least? A lot of times directors or creators have their own art, right. So at least then you have some semblance of control, in your in your path. We're as actors so often we are left to you know the mercy of others. are like making the correct decision like asking permission to do what we do. And so, you know, look, I think the more we can self generate and and, and at least just keep our idle hands busy but even, you know, directors, I think have a little bit of an easier time generating things for themselves but it is it's hard. It's deceptive, right? Like, the job the work is it's few and far between as as you move through the world.

Alex Ferrari 35:32
When when when you were saying that you didn't take advantage of all those conversations after puffy chair and you were just like, I'm gonna go do pilot season was that ego? Where you're just like, I have arrived. I don't need to do this

Katie Aselton 35:43
100% It was young, stupid ego, and not really understanding the business that Well, I am still the girl for main who like I wasn't raised in this like I didn't. And I didn't have anyone really guiding me to tell me. You This is like we were mark and Jay and I sort of came. And you know, my previous group of friends in Los Angeles, we're all living very different lives. And they didn't understand they didn't understand the Sundance of adult right. They were like, so crazy. And in their minds. They were also like she made it. Like, you know, Jeremy Sisto on a TV show doesn't understand, like, Katie Appleton edits in a Sundance movie, you know, it's like just two very different worlds. And so I had no one to look to to be like, how, what do you think I should do right now?

Alex Ferrari 36:34
There was no podcast that back then to tell you. I would have killed for this podcast 15 years ago. Could you imagine having all this information, having these kinds of really candid conversations? I mean, it would have been massive.

Katie Aselton 36:51
It's so awesome to have something that just demystifies something that is that we grew up, like putting on a pedestal right? But it felt so unattainable. It felt so like, you know, we grew up looking at directors like Spielberg and just being like, how does he do it? But like, what if he actually told us?

Alex Ferrari 37:11
I had the pleasure of talking to some of the and I've had the pleasure of talking to some of these kinds of gods. He's like, filmmaking gods. I'm trying to get Steve on the show. I thought I call him Steve, because you know, oh, but

Katie Aselton 37:23
I saw him one time I had a meeting at DreamWorks. He just walked in the door. And I was like, the only thing I could say is, he looks exactly like Steven Spielberg. I know. That's so weird. But like, he like he looks like he like had the best he had, like, just I was like, Whoa, no, you are absolutely stupid.

Alex Ferrari 37:45
It's a uniform. It's a Steven Spielberg uniform. Yeah. You know it. Can you imagine? And I've talked to so many people who've worked with Steven and and had businesses with him and stuff. How what's it like being someone like that, that in certain circles, I mean, he could walk around, he could probably he's so famous. And he's such a he's such a known person around the world. But he's not Brad Pitt. Like he can go off

Katie Aselton 38:08
He looks just like Steven Spielberg,

Alex Ferrari 38:09
Right. So the point is, like, every time he walks into a room, and there's a filmmaker in there, they all had the same reaction you did, like, how do you? And I've talked to people like, how does he deal with it? He's like, he's just really nice, man. He's just really nice and pleasant.

Katie Aselton 38:23
And I think there are people who are not quite so kind, but I think

Alex Ferrari 38:27
No, in this business, stop it.

Katie Aselton 38:30
I know it shocked up it.

Alex Ferrari 38:32
Next, you're gonna say there's egos in Hollywood.

Katie Aselton 38:34
I know. I'm not the only one it turns out.

Alex Ferrari 38:39
So I had the pleasure this morning to watch your new film, Mack and Rita and I absolutely adored it. It's so much fun. And I'm, you know, in the beginning of the movie, you guys shot in Palm Springs. And I just left LA, I moved to Austin, about a year ago. And right before I left, I went to Palm Springs for the first time. And that's where the devil lives. I don't know if you know that the devil actually has a home in Palm Springs. It was 119 when I went, I've never been in 119

Katie Aselton 39:09
You're not meant to go in. But there's times I don't quite know. You're thinking.

Alex Ferrari 39:14
I went to Joshua Tree and then we're like, Hey, we're close to Palm Springs. Let's just go check it out. And but there's human beings walking the streets and bursting into flames. So I felt like just yelling at them with the Tron with up like, don't you understand? Don't you understand what's happening? Me? Thank God they love them so much. So as soon as I was watching those scenes that you shot, I was just like, when did they shoot this? Because it had

Katie Aselton 39:36
It was March. It was hot, but not as hot as it

Alex Ferrari 39:43
So when we were in the 90s Hundreds, yeah,

Katie Aselton 39:46
it was probably it was probably like 90 and honestly like it was fine. We were okay. Okay, yeah, could have.

Alex Ferrari 39:51
Cuz I'm just like port I keep going. Alright, so tell me about the movie. Tell me what the movies about.

Katie Aselton 39:58
The movie is, is really ultimately about being your truest forming yourself at any age, right? This is a really hard movie to give like a one line synopsis too. So that's one line, right your

Alex Ferrari 40:14
Pitch, that's your pitch this

Katie Aselton 40:16
Is like be it is your true self at any age Or pitch.

Alex Ferrari 40:23
Please tell us the longer pitch.

Katie Aselton 40:24
The longer pitch longer pitch is it is a story about a 30 year old woman named Matt who finds herself living a very inauthentic life. She has friends who are all very hip trendy, and with it, yet she connects more to the older women in her life. She was raised by her grandmother and she really feels like she is a 70 year old woman trapped in the body of a 30 year old. So while on this wild bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs with her girlfriends, she is just dying to lay down and get away from it all. So she tucks herself into a side tent that has a regression pod in it and she doesn't care. That's a regression pod, you're going to lay down and in that pod has a bit of a mental breakdown, and really screams that she is a seven year old trapped in a 30 year olds body. And sure enough, she comes out Diane Keaton, and which is very,

Alex Ferrari 41:22
Very big, very big style. Tom Hanks big, beautiful.

Katie Aselton 41:27
But it was so fun to like then watch this character. Have a seven year old woman have to live the life of a 30 year old but the obligations of the 30 year old she's an influencer. She's a writer like she just still has to live that life and it turns out you know, our girl Mac really confused age with wisdom. And the truth is she didn't want to be old. She just wanted to be her. And how do we get back to ourselves?

Alex Ferrari 41:54
Oh, much better pitch than the first one I have to say. It's it is no but that it takes a minute to to bring it out because and you know, just that Pilates scenes alone was probably I mean that must have been so so you so you're working with this young upstart Dan keen? What is it like? Introducing what's it like introducing it into the world?

Katie Aselton 42:16
I'm gonna be excited for people to see what she can do.

Alex Ferrari 42:20
What's it like working with a living legend? I got it. Like it's a director. How do you approach giving her notes and directing a scene? How did you work with her?

Katie Aselton 42:28
I say like it truly someone at some point was like, Oh, you're directing Diane, like dream come true. And I was like, a dream that big. Like, look at what I'm doing. This is insane. Who dares to dream like I'm from a town of 300 people from a school that didn't have a drama program. Four years. Four years I was in a drama club with no production. So it is like it is a real like even like on the eve of like putting this movie out into the world. I am still pinching myself that that is my reality that I get to work every day with her and the truth of the matter is is that is she is just an absolute fucking delight like she is she is one of the reasons why she's so great in this movie is because she is hands down like the most authentic person you could ever possibly want to meet the Diane that we have known and falling in love with as audience members like for decades is exactly who she is. That is Diane, those quirks the idiosyncratic like wild, wackiness, the in the insecurities, the the heart, like the humor, all of that is wrapped up in, in Diane and it's all right there she is, like, vulnerable and real and fun and, and self effacing. And it's just like she's a true delight and working with her was I was really expecting are prepared anyways, I think a lot of actors, nevermind actors who are in their 70s and have been doing this for 40 years, or 50 years. I you expect them to be very set in their ways that they're going to come in, they're going to give the performance they're going to give and no one's going to tell them any different right? And Diane was not that at all. She was so open and like game and ready to play and always wanted to do more physical comedy and yeah, it was just, I am so grateful for what she brought every day.

Alex Ferrari 44:46
And I mean, just again, I'll go back to the Pilates scenes. I mean, it's absolutely brilliant what she did and that that you could just see the the mastery of timing and and comedy and how she's able to like she's a she's a masterful Whoa, competition really is

Katie Aselton 45:02
I know and he doesn't get to do it, which is like crazy to me. I feel like I feel like I haven't seen her do like be this physical in a movie since like baby cheese Baby, baby boom as like a reference throughout this movie because I think it is a very underappreciated movie. It's still 100% holds up. The story of Baby Boom is it's almost more relevant now than it was then post pandemic, and are we going to work from home? And like, do we work to live or live to work? And like, what was the who's the director of that Shire? Oh, who is it? I think it's Charles Shire, wasn't it?

Alex Ferrari 45:46
It was yes. I think yeah. Because I had I think I had him on the show. I didn't think I had him on the show. And I was asking him about this is Charles I think it was yes, yes. Yeah. He's Yeah, he's a master who's, ah,

Katie Aselton 45:58
What's really physically in that movie, like, they're her like, freak out, break down at the well, when the well runs dry. The way she kisses Sam Shepard, like, all of those were touchpoints for me, in making this movie, and we talked a lot about it. And, and I just loved it. I mean, I love all of Diane stuff. But I think what she did physically and baby boom was really like, where we were looking to sort of land with Mack and Rita.

Alex Ferrari 46:28
And what was it, you know, as a director we always come up with is that day that the whole world's coming down crashing around us? And I know that you could argue that everyday stuff. But there's always that one day that has

Katie Aselton 46:42
2022.

Alex Ferrari 46:43
Exactly, exactly. Was there a day that sticks out in your mind that the whole world was coming crashing down around you and you felt like oh my god, how am I gonna get through this? What was that? And how did you overcome it?

Katie Aselton 46:54
The day that we were shooting out at the beach, the big fire stuff? Yeah, a clear power Summit. Shooting and all of a sudden, I'm sorry, I think like the Army's landing nearby title. We were shooting at the beach. We had this big big fire stunt and we're getting going and it's a gorgeous day like so psyched, the weather's great. And all of a sudden, like as we're like gearing up for the fire stuff, like the wind starts to pick up. And la ended up having like, gale force winds that day. And you're gonna watch like there's hair blowing everywhere. We ended up having to CGI like most of the fire we could not get anything to frigging light it was the most infuriating finally dying was just like the second third fire I'm getting on stage I was like yes, you're gonna just go and we're gonna do it and we're gonna and thankfully I had Nicole Byer there who is like just a comedic genius and I could just rely on her to like be clutch like you just need in moments like that you need people to deliver and so we ended up like barely pulling out that fire thing we go to turn the cameras around so we can get her walking through the event. And the when I want to say was like 40 miles an hour Gail first picks up all of the tents Get Lifted like Wizard of Oz and fucking Malibu like they went so far. And we were just like we gotta call it like obviously we we cannot shoot

Alex Ferrari 48:36
We don't have a set anymore. God doesn't want you to shoot is basically

Katie Aselton 48:39
Not want us to finish this day. So he like go home and we're like, oh my god, what are we going to do? What are we going to do? So we're looking at the schedule working out with AD and the only day that we can like fit in a half day reshoot is the day that we are shooting Diane coming out of the pod Yeah, the first time I'm Dion's work hours are 12 hours portal portal, hair and makeup. All of that requires some time to locations Santa Monica to downtown oh man and a massive massive wardrobe change in between and a hair changed because she's has the longer hair there meant that I had 20 minutes to shoot day and coming out of the pot.

Alex Ferrari 49:39
Wow.

Katie Aselton 49:41
It was like only the most important

Alex Ferrari 49:43
Basically the most important shot

Katie Aselton 49:46
But then also the Marie Claire thing is important because then that's like production value, right? Like we need the feel of this big huge event. We need Diane like working the vendors we're you know, we're shooting her coming through and doing the whole thing. There was No compromise. You just had to do it. It was one of those things where I was like, oh my god, oh my god.

Alex Ferrari 50:07
And you know what, and I love these kinds of stories. That's why I always asked that question because I love to demystify for for young filmmakers coming up that they're like, Oh, you've got Diane Keaton, this is a big budget this is this and that everything runs smoothly. No, no.

Katie Aselton 50:23
Shit goes wrong at every level. Like I don't care how much money you have. I don't care what studios making your movie. I don't care if you're just making it with friends, every something is going to always go wrong, and you just have to be ready for it.

Alex Ferrari 50:38
Now, when is when is this film available?

Katie Aselton 50:40
August 12 in theaters. Yes, August 12 that's Friday, August 12, in theaters, and then we'll be PVOD in September and then on Hulu in December.

Alex Ferrari 50:53
So awesome. I can't wait for the world to see this film. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Katie Aselton 51:04
Make stuff with your friends, get good

Alex Ferrari 51:07
Work and just hustle

Katie Aselton 51:10
Hustle make it.

Alex Ferrari 51:13
What is lesson? What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Katie Aselton 51:20
I think it is. You got to put that ego on the shelf and do the work.

Alex Ferrari 51:25
It is something that they don't talk about.

Katie Aselton 51:27
Like you got to bet is I think, you know, listen, I listen to Oprah, and Deepak and ego is is a daily struggle for everyone. But it is like the enemy. Like if your ego does you no favors.

Alex Ferrari 51:41
But you know what the funny thing is that in our business, it's even more prevalent, because not everybody has a group of people or an entire industry telling you you're the best. Yeah, awesome. It's difficult to handle that at any level.

Katie Aselton 51:55
Well, and I think that it gets confused. ego gets confused with confidence, right? Like you can have confidence in your skills and your abilities, but not be led by your ego.

Alex Ferrari 52:07
Right! Exactly. Like I'm too good for that. I remember when I first started directing, I went out as a commercial director, and I had been editing I was with top editor and in South Florida, I was making tons of cash. And then when as soon as I made my demo reel I just said, I'm no longer an editor. I'm just going to send my and then I got calls. Hey, can you work? No, I don't edit any more. I am now a director. Mind you wasn't directing.

Katie Aselton 52:30
Hard to call yourself the director when you're not actually doing it.

Alex Ferrari 52:33
Exactly. So it was just very automated. I always tell people don't worry, the universe has a way of just slapping this little nudge here and there.

Katie Aselton 52:42
I can knock in your head just a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 52:44
And last question three of your favorite films of all time. Hmm. Tootsie so brilliant. Ah, Big Lebowski. Not a brilliant one. And I will say baby, boom. Very nice. Very nice. I had one other question. I forgot to ask you. What did you learn from your biggest failure?

Katie Aselton 53:09
That that there's always another there's going to be a tomorrow you know, the world doesn't stop making movies The world doesn't stop making TV shows. It doesn't end on on the last project it's going to the business keeps going. And no one gives us much shit about you as you do

Alex Ferrari 53:37
Do you spent how many. How many hours of your life was wasted thinking about what other people thought of you and you can and as you've gotten older you didn't think a bit about me they have their own crap. Oh crap they're dealing with how egocentric are we to think like when we walk in the room? What are they thinking? I'm how I look.

Katie Aselton 53:56
No. Everyone cares. No one get no one cares. They're all worried about themselves. right and the wrong cut everyone else some grace. Everyone's doing their best.

Alex Ferrari 54:09
Yeah, exactly. There's no quit. We're all doing our best and we're all just trying to make it through this. This life's journey and in this business is is brutal.

Katie Aselton 54:18
Without some grace, cut everyone else some grace and trying and enjoy it as much as you can.

Alex Ferrari 54:25
Katie it has been an absolute pleasure and honor talking to you so much fun. Thank you so much for dropping your knowledge bombs on the tribe. I appreciate your very, very much and best of luck. I can't wait to see your next project. So thank you again.

Katie Aselton 54:37
Me too. Alright, I'll talk to you soon.

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David Fincher’s Short Film: Heineken – Beer Run

Heineken – Beer Run In need of beer, Brad Pitt goes to the store while skillfully evading the press.

Download David Fincher’s Screenplay Collection in PDF

David Fincher: The Ultimate Guide To His Films & Directing Style

SHORTCODE - SHORTS

Want to watch more short films by legendary filmmakers?

Our collection has short films by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg & more.

Ultimate Guide To Whit Stillman And His Directing Techniques

METROPOLITAN (1990)

Directors like Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach are well-known for their depictions of a particular subset of Americans:  the East Coast elite.  Usually hailing from affluent section of Manhattan and old-money families, their characters are depicted as out of touch and increasingly irrelevant in a diversifying world.

While Anderson and Baumbach have experienced career-defining success from this storytelling model, they draw inspiration from the urban pioneer that paved the paths they currently tread.  That man is Whit Stillman, and despite his relatively short filmography, he has built up a respectable niche for himself as the chief chronicler of the “urban haute bourgeoisie”.

I was, for the most part, unaware of Stillman’s existence as a filmmaker until somewhat recently.  I had heard his name bandied about in film discussions, but Criterion’s recent Blu-Ray upgrades of his 1990 debut film, METROPOLITAN, and 1998’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO piqued my curiosity.  Having previously studied the work of Baumbach and Anderson for the purposes of this project, I was interested in studying the man who served as their inspiration.

I was particularly excited about studying Stillman, seeing as I had never seen any of his films before.  I felt I could really dive into his canon objectively without preconceived notions or nostalgic memories of films already-seen.  First up was 1990’s METROPOLITAN, a polarizing, sedated work that netted Stillman an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature.

The story of METROPOLITAN concerns Tom (Edward Clements), a young Ivy League man who (much like Stillman was himself) is an impoverished debutante caught between the cultural divide of Manhattan’s East and West sides.  A self-described socialist and “radical”, he comes off as a curiosity to a foppish, nihilistic young man named Nick (Chris Eigeman), who invites him to join his group of friends for their nightly Debutante season after-parties.

Dubbed the Sally Fowler Rat Pack, this group of upper-crust teenagers spend the majority of the film debating their increasing irrelevance as a social group and the value of their archaic traditions.  Along the way, hearts are broken and realizations are made, but in the end, it’s clear that the elite class will continue to prattle on in their opulent mansions in the sky, just as they always have.

Before there was GOSSIP GIRL, there was METROPOLITAN– a more sober and sedated satire of Manhattan’s old-money class.  The cast, comprised of young, fresh faces, deliver effective (yet complacent) performances.  This particular subset of New York’s social demographic isn’t particularly known for bold action, so the story is inherently heavy on dialogue and light on visual panache.

To Stillman’s credit, each of the performers is believable as discontented, over-privileged, and over-educated.  With a shock of red hair, Clements simmers with anxious energy as he navigates unfamiliar social terrain.  Chris Eigeman, who would later go on to feature prominently in Noah Baumbach’s early work, is undeniably magnetic as the Rat Pack’s chief cynic.

His haunted eyes convey a vision of the future where their kind has no place among the real movers and shakers of the world— much like how the decadence of the French aristocracy led to their downfall in the Revolution.  METROPOLITAN was  Eigeman’s first feature-film project, and he rode the wave of the film’s success to a respectable career in well-known independent 90’s films.

The rest of the cast is filled out with various faces who have not had as much career success as Eigeman.  As Tom’s love interest, Audrey, the little-known actress Carolyn Farina seems to be the only other member aware of the fading heyday of their class.  Externalized by a trend-bucking bob haircut, Audrey is a progressive thinker and romantic that hasn’t yet lost her idealism.

Besides Tom and Nick, she’s the one shining light of real human connection throughout the film.  A standout sequence for her character involves her silently crying during a Christmas Eve mass.  It’s captivating to watch someone conforming wild emotion to the stoic reserve expected from her station.

Taylor Nichols, as fellow debutante and aspiring philosopher Charlie Black, serves as the main foil to Tom.  Driven by his own yearning for Audrey, he cloaks direct confrontation in the pyschobabble of philosophical theory and practice.  However, towards the end of the film, he is allowed to soften up, loosen up, and enjoy the ride.  I was initially turned off by Charlie’s stuffy pretension, but found myself more sympathetic to him during his subtle transformation.

For a drama that plays out in the opulent confines of sky-high parlor rooms, Stillman and Director of Photography John Thomas establish a low-key, realistic aesthetic that puts the characters on the forefront of our attention.  A naturalistic color palette comprised of beiges and pastels complements a natural contrast.

Stillman and Thomas favor wider compositions and strategic close-ups, almost entirely achieved through locked-off tableau shots, with the exception of the occasional dolly tracking shot.  I also noticed a particular framing quirk, where Stillman shoots the majority of his wide shots from a perspective that gives diagonal depth to the background, while the actors are flush in-profile in the foreground.

In terms of my own personal taste, I find this to be awkward, spatially-confusing framing.  However, it’s nothing that actually affects the movie– it’s just a weird pet peeve of mine.

It’s worth noting, however, that the film features one dream sequence in which Stillman and Thomas take a decidedly stylized approach to the cinematography.  The contrast is boosted higher with impressionistic lighting, and the entire image is shifted into a cobalt blue hue.  The naturalistic sound design that permeates the film also finds an opportunity to abstract itself by throwing in a droning ambient tone.

The music of the film is comprised of stuffy versions of well-known classical pieces.  The composer, Mark Suozzo, creates a score that alternates between uppity/classical, and something resembling ragtime.  It’s an accurate musical representation of the film’s themes and characters, but can’t help but be dwarfed by the inclusion of traditional classical cues.

It’s clear from the outset that Stillman knows this world well, especially from the perspective of an outsider.  Early in the film, Eigeman’s line: “There’s a westsider amongst us”, speaks volumes about the immense social divide on either side of Central Park.  Manhattan’s Upper East Side is a bubble of wealth and arcane tradition (who else even has debutante balls anymore?), and to explore this world of nightly tuxedo events from the perspective of a rental tux provides a fascinating way into this closed world.

Stillman’s vision and direction is reinforced by subtle cues, such as the contrast between the Rat Pack’s inky black overcoats and Tom’s khaki coat.  The fiscal worries and stress that come with the Christmas setting only serve to alienate and ostracize Tom further from his newfound friends, who can spend cash on a taxi ride to Long Island without a second thought while he has to worry about paying $25 back to his own mother.

As a result of their top-tier education, everyone is incredibly verbose and articulate, but their social bubble makes them inherently unprepared for the harsh realities of the outside world.  This air of looming disaster hangs heavy over the film, making for a cinematically rich subtext.  In light of billionaire Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat to a decidedly middle-class electorate in last week’s presidential election, the twenty-two year old METROPOLITAN seems more potent and relevant than ever.

While the story doesn’t exactly boil over with pulse-pounding excitement and drama, Stillman’s debut feature film is strong, assertive and timely.  The slowly-paced, sedate nature of the film isn’t for everyone, but it’s decidedly more captivating than it would otherwise suggest.  Not so much a visual stylist as he is a gifted dialogist and character-creator, Stillman paints a minutely detailed portrait of an increasingly vain and irrelevant social group that clings to its social customs and rituals as a way to fend off the growing realization that its reign of power has come to an end.


BARCELONA (1994)

After the breakout success of Whit Stillman’s METROPOLITAN in 1990, speculation naturally turned to what he would do as a follow-up.  Following up on his debut film’s slightly-autobiographical bent, Stillman drew inspiration from his time spent in Spain as a film sales agent.  In 1994, that experience abroad would inform his second film, a romantic comedy set in Spain during the turbulent days of a waning Cold War, titled BARCELONA.

As I wrote previously, I had come into the study of Stillman’s filmography completely blind– that is, I had never seen a film of his before in my life.  Having enjoyed (but not being bowled over by) METROPOLITAN, I was very pleasantly surprised to find an energy and exotic air of mystique around BARCELONA.  It’s arguably better than his debut, but funnily enough, it has proven to be unfairly overlooked in recent years.

BARCELONA follows Ted (Taylor Nichols), a socially awkward young American who lives in Barcelona because his job at a large US corporation sent him to run their outpost there.  As it is the closing days of the Cold War, Ted lives quietly and discreetly amidst strong anti-American and NATO sentiments vehemently expressed by the city’s youth.

One day, his cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman), a US Navy officer, arrives unexpectedly for a visit and ends up staying for a few months.  As the months go on, both men find themselves falling for the same girl, while the tide of anti-American contempt across the city grows and focuses in on them.

For his leads, Stillman recycles two of the most memorable cast members from METROPOLITAN: Eigeman and Nichols.  Eschewing the nerdy glasses but keeping the nebbish, stuttering demeanor, Nichols carries the film as a focused, uptight American in a strange land.  Despite his anti-social quirks and general blandness, he’s mostly likeable.

His character is not altogether too different from his character in METROPOLITAN, but Nichols adds the gravitas and depth of an older, more experienced person.  The always-watchable Eigeman is also not dissimilar from his METROPOLITAN counterpart, save for his military decorum and sense of national pride.  He’s outspoken, but not entirely cynical.  As in Stillman’s first film, Eigeman is given the lion’s share of snappy lines, providing the film with a snarky wit and attitude.

As for the ladies, Tushka Bergen is effective as the boys’ mutual romantic interest, Montserrat.  Bergen carries herself like a woman twice her age.  A young Mira Sorvino plays Marta Ferrer, a sexually adventurous beauty that the two cousins also lust over.  Funnily enough, I didn’t even recognize that it was Sorvino until halfway through the movie.

She assimilates so effectively into the Spanish cultural landscape, you’d never know she actually hails from New Jersey.  Great casting on Stillman’s part.

Working again with Director of Photography John Thomas, Stillman creates a similar look to METROPOLITAN, but plays it out on a larger canvas.  The image is composed of warm, natural colors and high contrast.  The color palette is similar to METROPOLITAN’s, only more vivid.  Camerawork is mostly locked-off and favors wide compositions and strategic closeups.

Stillman also utilizes diagonal depth in his framing, which feels admittedly more natural here than it did in METROPOLITAN.  BARCELONA is by no means a flashy film, but Stillman embraces the colorful Spanish culture and renders it in understated ways.

Mark Suozzo returns to score BARCELONA, infusing Stillman’s classical sensibilities with the spicy salsa of Spain.  It’s worth noting that there are significantly more source tracks that pepper the piece, mostly European pop songs of the 60’s and 70’s.  There’s also a fair amount of American disco tracks, which foreshadow Stillman’s preoccupation with the genre as a subject he’d explore in 1998’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO.

Stillman shows considerable growth as a filmmaker, expanding the scope of his story and imbuing his comedy of manners with political and revolutionary intrigue.  The first shot of the film is an exploding building, and Stillman uses that both as a way to distinctly establish the cultural mood of his setting as well as generate a sustained suspense that lurks at the edges of every frame.

Like METROPOLITAN, much of the dialogue still gives way to philosophical and cultural debate, but it’s given a narrative urgency by the looming youth rebellion.  Like an organ transplant being rejected by its host body, the Americans in BARCELONA spend the film slowly realizing that the city is turning on them and wants them out.

This being my second time viewing a Stillman film, I’m beginning to recognize distinct stylistic traits of his.  For instance, Stillman seems to begin each of his films with minimal, formalistic opening credits set to classical music.  The font is usually stylized and is always a shade of yellow (which I suspect influenced Wes Anderson in his own distinctive lettering style), and more notably, Stillman never gives himself his own card for his directing credit.

The credit is always shared on-screen with other collaborators.  It’s a subtle way of acknowledging that his team’s contributions are just as important as his own.  Stillman also seems to make frequent use of fade-in’s and fade-out’s as scene transitions.  This positions his directorial style as more akin to live theatre, with his focus on dialogue over action.

Fades are a distinct transition native to theatre, and Stillman uses them in film as a way to both refresh the story and indicate that some time has passed.  All that being said, these observations only come from his first two films, and at the time of this writing, I have no idea if Stillman will continue this established style in later films.

In summary, BARCELONA is a strong follow-up to METROPOLITAN in every way, and in many instances betters its predecessor.  It hasn’t gotten a particularly large amount of love in the home video arena, and as such it’s unfairly become Stillman’s most over-looked film.

This is most likely because BARCELONA is distributed by Warner Bros, who are notorious for not paying much attention to most of their catalog titles and refuse the licensing of such works to independent labels who would (read: The Criterion Collection).  Here’s hoping that Criterion’s recent acquistion of a few select Warner Bros catalog titles yields BARCELONA the treatment it deserves.


HOMICIDE: “LIFE ON THE STREET” EPISODE: “THE HEART OF A SATURDAY NIGHT” (1996)

The year 1996 saw Whit Stillman branch out from the world of cinema and try his hand at the television medium.  Interestingly enough, this maker of old-money parlor dramas chose to take a stab at that classic lynchpin of primitive TV: the police procedural.

I vaguely remember HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS airing around that timeframe, which would put me at around 10 years old.  I never watched it, and having watched only this episode sixteen years after its release, the show’s age is immediately apparent.  The whole thing feels creaky and low-budget, like a generously-funded student film.

It’s clear that the series hails from a time before the recent renaissance of television content and quality.  The Baltimore setting ofHOMICIDE brings to mind the gritty reboot of the “schlocky crime/detective procedural” genre that would happen only a few years later in THE WIRE.

Where film is a director’s medium, television is a producer’s medium.  The director of a TV episode has to adhere to a pre-established look and tone (unless he or she is directing the pilot episode and is part of the creation of said look).  When Stillman came aboard in 1996 to direct his episode, “THE HEART OF A SATURDAY NIGHT”, the series was well into its fifth season.

As such, it’s interesting to watch Stillman appropriate the documentary/handheld aesthetic that the series embraces, while still imbuing his own sense of characterization into the story.

THE HEART OF A SATURDAY NIGHT uses a group murder counseling session as its framing device in the exploration of the emotional damage wrought by three random murders.  Jude Silvio (Stillman reportory performer Chris Eigeman) is a cynical, affluent man whose wife was murdered by a random carjacker, and his three year old daughter  (who was in the car with her) kidnapped.

Caroline Widmer (Rosanna Arquette) can’t bring herself to forgive her philandering husband, who she was planning on leaving before his throat was slashed with a beer bottle in a drunken bar brawl.  Tom Rath and his wife (Tom Quinn and Polly Holliday) are a working-class couple who grapple with the feelings of resentment towards their murdered daughter’s past as a drug addict and prostitute.

These vignettes frame the main narrative as it unfolds for the Baltimore homicide division, led by Yaphet Kotto.  As the night wears on, and the number of John and Jane Does keep coming in, the detectives find themselves strained to deliver justice quickly and efficiently.

Mid-90’s television isn’t known as a bastion of compelling performances.  With its cliched cop-speak dialogue and pulpy subject matter, HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET doesn’t exactly bring out the best of its performers, but the episode is surprisingly stocked with a respectable ensemble cast of character actors.

Besides the aforementioned Eigeman, Arquette, Quinn, and Kotto, a young Melissa Leo shows up as one of the key detectives.  Richard Belzer, who seems to be in every cop procedural show on television, is a strong, yet distracting presence as another detective.  However, THE HEART OF A SATURDAY NIGHT is really the victims’ show, and they all convey an effective pathos in their respective circumstances.

Eigeman perhaps benefits the most, having collaborated with Stillman previously on METROPOLITAN (1989) and BARCELONA (1994).  My bet is that Eigeman’s casting was Stillman’s doing, probably after envisioning him spouting out Silvio’s acerbic, impatient dialogue.  Indeed, it’s Eigeman’s presence that’s the only suggestion that Stillman had a hand in the creation of this episode.

As lensed by Director of Photography Jean de Segonzarac, the episode’s visual look is a drastic departure from Stillman’s previous works, albeit I suspect that its because of his responsibility to adhere to a pre-ordained aesthetic.  The 4:3 aspect ratio frames a 16mm image composed of high contrast, naturalistic colors, and a thick layer of grain.

The quickly-edited camerawork is mostly handheld and framing is done in close-ups to convey a documentary style, which ends up feeling hollow due to the clunkiness of the writing.  Stillman finds an opportunity to stylize the film further by desaturating the colors in the counseling session vignettes.    He knows this isn’t his show, but it’s interesting to see Stillman try to match a look that’s pretty much the opposite of what he’s known for.

As an hour-long episode of television, THE HEART OF A SATURDAY NIGHT is pretty unmemorable and almost entirely disposable.  That said, it’s probably one of the best episodes of HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET due to Stillman’s artistic inclinations and sensibilities (take that with a boulder of salt, since I haven’t seen any of the other episodes) .

For me, it’s going to be most memorable for the inclusion of a crackhead character who comes off as a serious, dramatic version of David Chappelle’s Tyrone Biggums character.  There’s also a strange slow-motion montage in the middle of the episode scored by a weird grunge rock song that seems entirely out of character for Stillman.  Again, however, it’s probably best to chalk that up to the demands of the producers and the show bible.

THE HEART OF A SATURDAY NIGHT is certainly not Stillman’s strongest work, and remains a curious oddity in the filmmaker’s relatively sparse oeuvre.  It’s really only of interest for hardcore Stillman fans, but even then it would be hard to honestly recommend it.  It makes some compelling arguments and delivers thought-provoking insights into the emotional wreckage of murder, but ultimately it’s all undone by the dated cheesiness of the television format.


THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1998)

With his previous two films, METROPOLITAN (1990) and BARCELONA (1994), director Whit Stillman had built up a reputation for sobering depictions of the urban/East Coast bourgeoisie.  His themes and characters are a world onto themselves, often crossing over from one film to another seamlessly.

As a result, Stillman found himself creating an informal trilogy of films, which he has since come to call his “Doomed-Bourgeois-In-Love” trilogy, or his “Yuppie Trilogy”.    With the 1998 release of his third feature film, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, Stillman completed the trilogy with his most absorbing and arguably most popular film to date.

Taking place in New York in the early 80’s, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO follows a small cadre of characters as they struggle to find themselves amidst the death throes of a genre of music they have come to identify themselves by.  Alice (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) are fresh out of college and aspire to careers as book editors during the day, only so they can let their hair down at the disco club at night.

Supplementing the main narrative is a subplot involving their friend Des (Chris Eigeman), a manager of the club who finds himself in trouble when his boss’s shady side dealings spell financial and legal trouble.  The club’s excesses will prove to be its undoing, thus becoming a metaphor for an entire subculture and way of life that reigned supreme in the druggy, heady days of the 1970s (only to come crashing down to sober reality in the following decade).

Stillman is known for his literate, talky characters, and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO has them in spades.  While METROPOLITAN dealt with the confusing social hierarchy of that time between high school and college, and BARCELONAreveled in the collegiate pursuits of worldliness and travel to exotic lands, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO concerns itself with the realities of establishing a career in the working world while using a disposable income to hang on to those last shreds of youth.

As Alice, Sevigny turns in an early career-making performance as a moody, soulful woman who finds herself coming into her own in the waning days of a movement she never really fit into in the first place.

In her own breakout performance, Beckinsale plays Charlotte as the original Mean Girl.  She’s young, gorgeous, and her skin is creamy and perfect— and she knows it.  She effectively weaponizes her beauty in a perverse twisting of feminism, all in the pursuit of satisfying her own vainglorious desires of becoming a television personality.

Despite her nasty traits, Charlotte is an undeniably charismatic character and the most watchable.  As an actress that’s now primarily known for her agility in a catsuit within the UNDERWORLD films, she still uses her sexuality to weapons-grade effect, but it’s ironically in service to the male gaze and not as an expression of an empowered femininity.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Stillman film without the presence of Eigeman, who steals every scene he’s in.  It’s worth noting, that under Stillman’s guidance, Eigeman doesn’t really stray from the singular, outspoken personality he’s known for.  The names and clothes are different, but the philosophy and attitude is the same.

Luckily, Eigeman is entertaining enough that he remains inherently watchable and relatable.  He has become a cypher for Stillman himself, a conduit in which Stillman can inject his own musings about the subject matter at hand.  In THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, Eigmen embraces the sleazier aspects of his stock character.  For example, he sleeps around with many girls, and gets rid of them by telling that he’s gay.  In real life, this would be abhorrent behavior, but goddamnit if Eigeman isn’t a lovable huckster.

Working again with Director of Photography John Thomas, Stillman sticks to the pre-established look seen in METROPOLITAN and BARCELONA.  The image is high in contrast, with even and natural colors.  He frames his subjects mostly in 2-shots that feature both performers in conversation, oftentimes with that ¾ depth angle that I often dislike.

The camerawork is more varied than his previous films, perhaps owing to having to switch up his style for HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET (1996).  While most of his coverage is primarily locked-off on a tripod, he makes strategic use of long tracking Steadicam shots that are arguably inspired by the use of similar techniques in PT Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)– another film about the dying days of disco.  As a result, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO becomes Stillman’s most energetic and visually dynamic work.

Stillman reteams with Mark Suozzo on the music front, who provides a light, subtle score that never distracts and provides just a touch of emotional underpinning to its respective scenes.  Ultimately, however, Suozzo’s contribution takes a back seat to the sheer quantity of disco music on display.

There’s so many classic tracks here that it comes off as a college-level historical survey on the genre.  It plays wall-to-wall in the club, sometimes even bleeding over into the characters’ reality.  The presence of the disco music gives the film a vibrance and personality that coincides not only with the zeitgeist of the genre itself, but the quasi-resurgence that disco was already enjoying in the time of the film’s release.

I distinctly remember a nostalgia for the 70’s during the 1990’s (a phenomenon I like to call the Twenty Year Nostalgia Rule), more than likely brought about by the popularity of films like BOOGIE NIGHTS and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO.

As a director, Stillman’s work on THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO shows a subtle development.  His unique characterization is still present, but the world around those characters is expanded.  It’s not just articulate, over-educated and over-privileged people trying to find themselves– there’s also idealistic lawyers and sleazy club-owners too.

Just as the world expands around us when we leave the insular world of our youth and college, so do Stillman’s characters encounter a reality where their lifestyle and opinions are actually in the minority.  They use their education and privilege to deny their flaws and maintain a sense of superiority over others.  A perfect example is when Des remarks “I’m not an addict.

I’m a habitual user”.  His verbosity and vocabulary afforded to him by his affluent background allows him to hide behind his words and create euphemisms for his flaws without having to actually confront them.  Small exchanges like this show why Stillman is the premier chronicler of that specific subset of the population known as Old Money.

It’s well-known that the film raced to completion in competition with STUDIO 54, another film about the heyday of disco.  While STUDIO 54 proved to be the more commercially successful and popular film, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO is remembered today more fondly, perhaps because of its sober depiction of a gaudy subculture.

The tone is decidedly non-cartoonish, going so far as to to specifically and explicitly mock the excess and cheese embodied by SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1997).  In taking this tack, Stillman turns the film into a sad portrait of one’s search for identity when faced with irrelevance.

Indeed, the looming death of disco hangs heavy in the film.  Stillman even incorporates news footage of a public event where thousands of disco records were literally blown up in a stadium while people cheered.  All of this doom and gloom is given a refreshing counterpoint in what is perhaps the film’s most seminal and inspired moment.

As the story comes to a close and the characters encounter the hangover of disco’s “morning after”, we see two main characters riding a subway quietly.  However, all it takes is one little, subtle dance move and the entire subway system becomes a disco party.  With this expressionist ending, Stillman’s message becomes clear: “the discotheque may be gone, but as long as we hold it in our hearts, disco will never die”.

By the time of THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO’s production, Stillman had cultivated a distinct universe for himself– self-contained and a step removed from reality.  The film features cameos from characters from his past films, such as METROPOLITAN’s Sally Fowler and the Taylor Nichols’ ex-pat businessman from BARCELONA.  It’s a nice touch that capitalizes on Stillman’s cult appeal as a filmmaker.

He even includes nods to filmmakers who have been influenced by him— for instance, Carlos Jacott, who appeared with Eigeman in Noah Baumbach’s KICKING AND SCREAMING (1995), makes a cameo appearance as a bumbling dog walker.  Moments like this are why taking on projects like “The Directors Series” are so much fun– it clues you in to an unseen world of in-jokes and references you wouldn’t necessarily encounter by viewing of a film out of context.

With his self-described Yuppie Trilogy complete, Stillman had created a comfortable niche for himself within the annals of independent filmmaking.  He had passed from upstart reactionary to the status of seasoned veteran/tastemaker/influencer in his own right.  Due to the success of THE LAST DAY OF DISCO, he had solidified his standing as the go-to-guy for depicting the trials and tribulations of the east coast elite.


DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (2011)

Following the release of 1998’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, director Whit Stillman promptly sold his Manhattan digs and relocated to Paris.  The reasoning is unclear, but given his romanticism of European countries and a lengthy stay in Barcelona during his youth, I can’t say it’s entirely unexpected.  What’s more unexpected is that he would drop out of the film scene entirely for the next decade.

Stillman would return to the US in 2009, and after a 13 year hiatus from filmmaking, he released his most recent feature, DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (2011).  Whereas his previous films had gotten increasingly larger in scope, Stillman scales back the story and infuses it with an eclectic mix of faces, both famous and non.

While Stillman’s works are considered “comedies of manners”, they often have a serious, dramatic underpinning to them alluding to the loss of a certain way of life.  DAMSELS IN DISTRESS takes a different tack, as Stillman goes for a firmly comedic tone, at turns both obscure and broad.  The result is a wildly uneven film that’s firm in its eccentric convictions, but lacks the warmth and accessability of his previous work.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS follows a clique of young women at an elite (fictional) East Coast university, motivated by their de facto leader, Violet (Greta Gerwig).  This group of haughty, socially-awkward girls originally starts out with just two others: Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), but through their outreach efforts at the school’s Suicide Prevention Center, they find themselves collecting an eclectic array of people into their circle.

When Violet invites a young transfer student named Lily (Analeigh Tipton) into the fold, she finds herself contending with her rebellious new charge for the affections of a self-admitted player (Adam Brody).

While the story is erratic, uneven, and oftentimes meandering, Stillman commands consistent and dedicated performances from his cast.  Hot off her big feature film debut in Noah Baumbach’s GREENBERG (2010), it’s fitting that Greta Gerwig was then cast in a film by one of Baubmach’s biggest cinematic influences.  Under Stillman’s guidance, Gerwig blossoms into an enigmatic and alluring leading lady.

Gerwig’s Violet is verbose and articulate like many of Stillman’s previous characters, but she exists in a closed-off bubble of reality that allows her to see herself as a tastemaker and leader.  She’s a debutante in a world that no longer has any need for one.  Her anachronistic personality even extends to her wardrobe, which takes its cues from midcentury and 80’s designers.

As the primary love interest and duplicitous player Fred, Adam Brody sheds his nerdy The OC persona and assumes an air of confidence and sophistication that would make Seth Cohen seethe with envy.  First seen in a suit posing as a clean-cut businessman and buying drinks for girls at the bar, Fred reveals himself to be just another student at the university.

Competing with Violet for his affections is the discretely charming Lily, played with an innocent curiosity by Analeigh Tipton.  It’s almost her story as much as Violet’s, and her character is grounded enough in reality that the audience can access this peculiar world through her eyes.  As Violet’s partners in crime, MacLemore and Echikunwoke are likable and funny in their own ways.  It’s worth noting that Echikunwoke stands out as the first real character of color in a filmography dominated by the white bourgeoisie.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is the first film by Stillman where it’s evident that a concerted effort was made to cast recognizable faces, and Stillman assembles a large chunk of his supporting cast from the zeitgeist of television comedy.  Aubrey Plaza, from PARKS & REC, is hilarious as a more talkative, goth version of herself.  Alia Shawkat (Maebe from ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) has a great cameo as a disgruntled student looking for quiet.

Zach Woods, of THE OFFICE fame, has a substantial role as the wannabe-bad-boy editor for the school’s newspaper.  His characterization is reminiscent of the kind of stock Stillman character that Chris Eigeman would play, so I can’t help but speculate that maybe Stillman sees in Woods a new cinematic surrogate.

Fans of Stillman’s work will also recognize a cameo by regular collaborator Taylor Nichols, who plays a college instructor named Professor Black.  Nichols’ character in 1990’s METROPOLITAN was named Charlie Black, and since THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO proved that Stillman’s filmography is its own self-contained universe, it’s not unthinkable that Nichols is reprising his METROPOLITAN character twenty years on.

To round out the casting, Stillman throws in a handful of male characters who come off more like bumbling idiots than functional young adults.  While sophisticated and refined, secondary Lily love interest Hugo Becker still turns out to be driven primarily by his ego and his libido.  Becker gamely tackles Stillman’s complicated dialogue even though he has to garble it through a thick French accent.

As Violet’s ex, Frank, Ryan Metcalf is a highly erratic presence.  First presented as a suave, well-dressed ladykiller, he quickly degenerates into a schlubby buffoon with an intelligence bordering on retarded.  The most puzzling part of this arc seems to be that there’s no real reason for it, other than to inject some broad humor.

For his first film in over a decade, Stillman collaborates with a new Director of Photography: Doug Emmett.  Together, they recreate the classic Stillman aesthetic but update it for the 21st century.  The (possibly digital?) image is natural and filmic, with high contrast and even colors favoring a warmer tone.

Stillman sticks to his usual bag of visual tricks: medium close ups, 2-shot framing, locked-off tripod set-ups limited to pans and fluid dolly moves, etc.  However, he finds ample opportunity to switch up his presentation.  For the first time in his filmography, Stillman incorporates a series of flashback vignettes depicting Violet during her childhood.  It’s a small departure, to be sure, but it definitely shows that Whitman has a vision for the expanded world beyond the story.

While he changes up his visual collaborators, Stillman sticks to his working relationship with Mark Suozzo for the film’s music.  Unlike his barely-there effort for THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, Suozzo’s contributions are front and center in informing the overall tone of the film.  Composed of poppy, almost air-y piano chords and synths, Suozzo creates a whimsical feeling that harkens back to midcentury compositions as well as contemporary works like Air’s score for Sofia Coppola’s THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999).

Stillman also uses the music to inform his characters to great effect.  One standout moment is Violent’s observation about hearing a Eurythmics song at a party: “Oh, it’s a golden oldie.  I love these!”.  Such a weird, fantastic little moment.

After four feature films, Stillman’s approach to structure hasn’t differed drastically, which makes it easy to chart how he constructs his stories.  Just like his previous films, Stillman begins the film with an old-school, minimalistic credits sequence set to score.  This is perhaps a great window into his aesthetic, as the titles (like his stories) are very straightforward and non-flashy.

He prefers to share his director credit on-screen with other collaborators, which is a refreshing change of pace in such an ego-driven profession.  The film is broken up into chapters, not unlike a book (arguably a reference to Stillman’s literary preoccupations).  The story itself, dealing with a girl’s inclusion in (and subsequent delusionment of) an exclusive, privileged social clique, reads like a female-centric mirror of METROPOLITAN.  Indeed, the characters of both films are around the same age.

The tone of the film is very peculiar, in that it takes place in a kind of overmedicated haze.  It’s like the film was bathed in an elixir of Prozac and Ritalin, but I suspect that may be intentional on Stillman’s part.  The exertion of power among the various social cliques plays like a nerdy MEAN GIRLS.  As such, the comedy is very deliberate and a little loopy, which under Stillman’s direction can be either hit or miss.

For instance, Stillman includes a brilliant scene where a would-be suicide is thwarted by the fact that the young death-aspirant jumps from a two story porch and merely maims his legs.  Conversely, Stillman includes a weird lip-sync musical dance number (complete with stylized golden lens flares) followed by an instructional sequence on how to dance the “Sambola!” as the film’s ending.  It’s so bizarre and out of place that it took me out of the film entirely.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, ultimately, is a very polarizing experience.  I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.  It’s at once both charming and abrasive, sumptuous and off-putting.  The comedy veers from subtle to near-fart-level zones of broad humor.  After building such a strong body of work with his Yuppie Trilogy, Stillman’s first work in thirteen years is lackluster and oftentimes dull.

Despite great, valiant performances from his cast, the story sinks under the weight of its own pretensions.  Every filmmaker seems to have a work in which he is working at his most indulgent, and it appears that DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is that work for Stillman.  Those who are familiar with his films will find something they can recognize and connect with, but I’m afraid that the uninitiated will find the story mostly inaccessible.

As of this writing, DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is Whit Stillman’s most recent work.  His career thus far has found him working mainly as a prominent, influential voice in independent cinema.  Just as Preston Sturges and Woody Allen informed Stillman’s aesthetic and characterizatoin, so have his depictions of the East Coast elite influenced numerous younger filmmakers like Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson.

His style didn’t evolve or change like many others of his generation, but the “sameness” of his films speaks to a larger truth.  In just four features, he has cultivated a whimsical, self-contained universe with the urban bourgeoisie at the center.

With the realities of the modern world gathering ominously on the fringes of that universe, Stillman’s guiding artistic preoccupation becomes clear.  It’s this author’s opinion that Stillman is compelled to make art because of his fascination with the decline of the debutante in a democratized world.  Perhaps it’s a morbid interest, as he is every bit the privileged, educated WASP that his characters are.

His films are eulogies for a cherished way of life that only a select few get to experience.  So why does he make comedies?  Well, everyone knows that the best eulogy is the one that makes people laugh.


THE COSMOPOLITANS PILOT (2014)

Over the past decade, television has undergone rapid, major change—to the extent that many are calling it a new “Golden Age” of television. Up until very recently, television was referred to as the “boob tube” for very good reason—programming was cheap and disposable, the writing was lazy and clichéd, and the banality of reality television reigned supreme.

But then, a curious thing happened—cable content providers like HBO and Showtime began developing their own programming, with an emphasis on quality storytelling, compelling characters, and impeccable craft. Groundbreaking shows like THE SOPRANOS and THE WIRE showed off the medium’s potential for powerful, cinematic storylines.

As Hollywood studios were experiencing a budget arms race in a bid to capture the theatrical box office with ever-increasing spectacle (and decreasing returns on originality and quality), television was able to assert itself as a home for substantial, thought-provoking, and innovative content. In short, the spirit of cinema in the 1960’s and 1970’s was born anew in the form of modern-day premium television.

The last few years have seen even-more unconventional providers like Netflix and Hulu getting in on the original programming game. For Netflix, this strategy has been insanely successful—giving us the likes of HOUSE OF CARDS and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK—and for Hulu, less so.

Perhaps the most radical player in this new wave of television, however, is Amazon—a site that until only recently had been primarily considered as America’s online retail store. The television game of the 2010’s dictates that the entity with the best programming slate will attract the most amount of subscribers to their proprietary service, and Amazon has emerged as quite the unexpected player.

Amazon’s Pilot program is unique to its peers in that it presents a slate of pilots every year and allows the public to choose what will continue in series form or not.  The 2014 Amazon pilot slate was just released for public voting, and one of the entries is THE COSMOPOLITANS, director Whit Stillman’s latest work after 2011’s DAMSELS IN DISTRESS.

Produced by Alex Corven Coronia and written by Stillman himself, THE COSMOPOLITANS follows a group of young expats looking for love and friendship in contemporary Paris. No doubt inspired by Stillman’s decade-long residency in the City of Lights at the beginning of the new millenium, the pilot episode of THE COSMOPOLITANS doesn’t boast much in the way of a discernable plot or story, but serves rather as an introduction to the main characters.

There’s Jimmy (DAMSELS IN DISTRESS alum Adam Brody), an anxious, neurotic expat who’s relatively older age can’t save him from random attacks of puppy love. He’s joined by Adriano Giannini as Sandro—a suave, carefree Italian and perhaps a little too old for such youthful endeavors—and Jordan Rountree as Hal—a stuffy, over-serious prep. Fellow DAMSELS IN DISTRESS alum Carrie MacLemore plays Aubrey, who has just moved to Paris and serves as a mousey, naïve addition to the expat crew.

THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1998) star Chloe Sevigny plays Vicky, an aloof fashion journalist. Rounding out the cast is Dree Hemingway as the shy, quiet Camille and Freddy Asblom as Fritz, a rich young Parisian who has quite the high opinion of himself. The group’s chemistry together doesn’t exactly generate a lot of spark, but they’re charming enough to fit right in with Stillman’s career-long examination of the urban bourgeoisie.

Lensed by cinematographer Antoine Monod, THE COSMOPOLITANS retains the unadorned, journeyman visual style that Stillman utilizes. He doesn’t seem to be interested in cultivating a distinct visual aesthetic for himself, which perhaps speaks more to his preference for literary over cinematic style.

He doesn’t move the camera, save for a singular tracking shot at the end of the pilot, and routinely opts for talking-head close-ups which, while compelling from a characterization point of view, does little in the way of giving us an immersive sense of Paris and its distinct landscape. The image—which is unclear to me as to whether it’s film or digital—is also curiously over-lit, especially in the central house party sequence.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS deviated from Stillman’s general preference for naturalistic lighting in his cinematography, and THE COSMOPOLITANS appears to follow this trend. Stillman also incorporates his eccentric pop affectations into the musical soundscape of the pilot, peppering it with doses of French pop and Motown soul and anchoring it with Joan Osbourne’s cover of “What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted?”.

Stillman’s last foray into television—an episode for 1996’s HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET”—was during a very different era for the medium, and Stillman was forced to work within the aesthetic confines of the series established by the producers. 2014 is a different story, and Stillman has almost free-reign in establishing the look and tone of THE COSMOPOLITANS.

Beginning with his director credit, shared on screen with the credits for his other collaborators, Stillman clues us in on the fact that we may be in a different storytelling format but we can expect the same Stillman flavor that we’ve come to enjoy from his feature work. THE COSMOPOLITANS wears its literary ambitions on its sleeve—the plot resembles something like a modern day update to Ernest Hemingway’s seminal novel about expats in Paris, “The Sun Also Rises” (I also suspect that in this regard, the casting of Hemingway’s granddaughter Dree Hemingway wasn’t necessarily a total coincidence).

The characters in the pilot serve as continued proof of Stillman’s artistic thesis— that the elite leisure class is in decline due to their over-education; they’re ultimately ineffectual because they’d rather sit around and philosophize or intellectualize their struggles instead of taking action to gain control of them. They’re only relevant when they are in the good graces of society’s upper crust, so their main struggle in life is to hold onto their “privileged” status as much as they can.

The pilot for THE COSMOPOLITANS is a solid introduction to its characters, but it’s entirely possible that an introduction is all we’ll ever get. The model behind Amazon’s pilot programs is constructed so that popular vote decides whether a pilot is picked up to series.

While THE COSMOPOLITANS is interesting for those who are acquainted with Stillman’s body of work, it remains to be seen whether it is interesting enough for the wider population. The pilot is available for online voting for a few more weeks, and if THE COSMOPOLITANS is picked up to series, it should serve as a fun, intellectually stimulating continuation of Stillman’s unique worldview.

The new wave of programming—designed to take advantage of consumer binge watching—has been suggested to be a new medium different from television entirely, more akin to a good novel instead of episodic television. In that sense, THE COSMOPOLITANS may just prove to be an inspired conduit for Stillman’s literary affectations and provide him with a storytelling format that’s tailor-made for him.


LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (2016)

From his 1990 debut, METROPOLITAN, to 2011’s DAMSELS IN DISTRESS and beyond, director Whit Stillman has built a celebrated career exploring the idiosyncrasies and quirks of Old Money America through a series of original films produced within the independent sphere.  His unique writerly flair enables him to express his insights into this rarified, slightly-stale world in a profoundly funny way that’s also quite accessible to larger audiences.

 It seems natural, then, that his fascination with the aristocracy and literature would dovetail quite effortlessly with the writings of 18th-century author Jane Austen.  He found himself inspired by her novella “Lady Susan”, an obscure minor work that Austen had penned in 1794.

Written as a series of letters issued back and forth concerning a young widow’s attempts to secure her station by remarrying to a rich nobleman, the novella appealed to Stillman as the slightest of narrative frameworks onto which he could graft his own distinct material.  That material became 2016’s LOVE & FRIENDSHIP, the kind of buttoned-up comedy of manners he was renowned for, albeit saved from criticisms of redundancy by virtue of its distinct period setting and lavish costume design.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP serves as a reunion on two fronts– one being Stillman’s second collaboration with Amazon Studios following their production of his 2014 television pilot, THE COSMOPOLITANS, and the other being a reunion for Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, the two leads from his 1998 feature, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO.  LOVE & FRIENDSHIP proves that time has not dulled the sharp chemistry between these two ladies, each delivering a bitingly-witty performance with precise comedic timing.

Beckinsale plays the Widow Vernon, the eponymous Lady Susan of Austen’s novella– at once both glamorously aloof and deeply insecure about her social standing.   Beckinsale’s icy elegance is the perfect fit for a woman who plots and schemes her way through England’s high society, masterfully manipulating allegiances and affections in her dogged pursuit to land a rich bachelor that will secure the financial future of both her and her adult daughter.

Sevigny plays her closest confidante, a droll American expat named Alicia Johnson whose biggest fear in life is getting sent back to her native Connecticut.  The remainder of Stillman’s cast consists of entirely new collaborators, boasting the talents of performers like Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, and Stephen Fry.

Samuel plays the handsome suitor Reginald DeCourcy, the primary target of the Widow Vernon’s pursuits.  Greenwell plays his sister and Lady Susan’s sister-in-law, Catherine DeCourcy Vernon.  Bennett steals the show as Sir James Martin, another wealthy suitor whose awkwardness and smug obliviousness knows no bounds.

Fry appears in what amounts to a glorified cameo as Mr. Johnson, a relation of Alicia’s and a voice of authority to the younger cast members.

2016_21_whit_stillman

Stillman’s films have never quite been regarded for their visual dynamism; indeed, his technical aesthetic makes it quite clear he places a higher value on the screenplay and character development.  That’s not to say he’s a slouch in the cinematography department– on the contrary, his images are every bit as formal and buttoned-up as his subjects, eschewing elaborate camerawork and stylistic flash in order to better hone in on pure character.

Stillman and his cinematographer, Richard Van Oosterhout, supplement his well-lit and deliberately-composed static shots with a modest array of crane, pan, and dolly moves that suggest an approach that’s more ambitious in the context of Stillman’s previous work, while nonetheless feeling relatively sedate compared to the work of other filmmakers in his generation.

He does, however, employ a modest amount of stylistic flair in the form of introductory character vignettes presented in the style of portraiture, as well as the overlaying of onscreen text during scenes in which characters are reading aloud, rendered in an elegant handwritten script that evidences Stillman’s love for the literary and the sheer visual appeal of the printed word itself.

Stillman’s straightforward aesthetic is reinforced by the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, although it’s a bit unclear to this author whether the image originated on film or digital– if there’s a grain structure, it’s very fine, and the $3 million production budget might have been too modest to allow for a celluloid acquisition considering what was no doubt the hefty (but necessary) expense of Anna Rackard’s lavish production design.

Stillman also brings back two key post-production collaborators, his editor Sophie Corra and his longtime composer Mark Suozzo, who teams up with Benjamin Esdraffo to deliver a stately, baroque score appropriate to the setting at hand.The source material may be Austen’s, but the final product is undeniably Stillman’s, who brings his artistic signatures to bear in every facet of the film– right down to the onscreen credit he shares with multiple collaborators in the formalistic opening titles.

While his previous films have examined the moneyed leisure class as a contemporary caste in decline, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP finds them in their heyday, blissfully unaware of their growing irrelevance in a fast-modernizing world.  After a six year hiatus from cinema screens, Stillman reminded audiences of his indie cred by debuting LOVE & FRIENDSHIP at the Sundance Film Festival.

Its warm reception by critics and strong box office take ($18 million over $3) would easily make LOVE & FRIENDSHIP Stillman’s highest-profile work since THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO.  Whereas many filmmakers find their careers re-energized by exploring outside their wheelhouse, Stillman would rejuvenate his by delving even deeper within it, and thus reassert the value of his unique voice in the realm of American independent cinema.


 

Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics and Indiewire. To see more of Cameron’s work – go to directorsseries.net.

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. ——>Watch the Directors Series Here <———

IFH 606: From Wedding Videos to Directing For Netflix & Paramount+ with Rel Schulman and Henry Joost

Henry Joost and Rel Schulman are a directing and writing team, producers and best friends. They founded the New York City production company Supermarché in 2007. Their most recent feature, SECRET HEADQUARTERS, premiers summer 2022 on Paramount+ and stars Owen Wilson, Michael Peña and Walker Scobell. The film is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Films..

In 2020 Henry and Rel directed PROJECT POWER, a Netflix sci-fi action film starring Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt. The film debuted at #1 in over 90 countries. It held the #1 spot in the USA for over 2 weeks. It remains one of Netflix’s top ten original features of all time.

Their first feature documentary, CATFISH, premiered at the 2010 Sundance film festival where it received critical acclaim and went on to a nationwide release. Their second feature, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, released by Paramount Pictures, opened to rave reviews and had the highest grossing horror opening weekend in history. Their second film in the franchise, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 was released in October, 2012, and the two combined have grossed $350 million. Henry and Rel directed two films in 2016: NERVE, a summer hit released by Lionsgate, starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco; and VIRAL, a prescient low budget horror movie with Blumhouse, starring Sofia Black-D’Elia. They also executive produced the 2016 Sundance Film Festival hit WHITE GIRL, directed by Elizabeth Wood, which was acquired by Netflix for worldwide distribution.

Henry and Rel are executive producers on the long running series CATFISH: The TV Show, now in it’s 8th season, and have directed dozens of commercials and short films for companies like Nike, Google, Facebook, and Vogue. They directed the short film A BRIEF HISTORY OF JOHN BALDESSARI, commissioned by LACMA, narrated by Tom Waits, which has been screened at over 100 film festivals worldwide. Henry and Rel’s Google commercial DEAR SOPHIE was named Time magazine’s Best Commercial of the Year in 2011. In 2020 they fulfilled a lifelong dream of directing the season opening short film for the NEW YORK KNICKS.

Henry, Rel, and their in-house producer Orlee-Rose Strauss maintain an active development slate. Features in the works include: an adaptation of Capcom’s MEGA MAN which they wrote and are directing for Netflix; an adaptation of Edward Abbey’s novel THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, produced by Ed Pressman, which they wrote and are directing. They are also signed on to direct a bio-pic about KEITH ADAMS, the deaf football coach who made history leading an all-deaf high school football team to an undefeated season against all-hearing teams. The film is being written by Josh Feldman, and produced by Freddy Wexler, DJ Kurs and Eryn Brown.

Enjoy my conversation with Henry Joost and Rel Schulman.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Rel Schulman 0:00
But I'll say to the guy, Hey, buddy, I believe in you. You got this and then just walk away. And Henry will style over and be like what he means to say is.

Alex Ferrari 0:14
You know, it's always fascinating to me that even on some on big budget films like this shit happens.

This episode is brought to you by the best selling book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Rel Schulman and Henry Joost. How're you guys doing?

Henry Joost 0:40
Good, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:40
Good, man, thank you so much for coming on the show. Guys. I've been I've been watching your stuff for years, man, you know, back in the khakis days back to the catfish days. So you know, very first question I asked for you guys. Why in God's green earth? Did you want to get into this insanity that has the film industry?

Rel Schulman 0:56
Oh, God, I don't think we're any good at anything else.

Henry Joost 0:59
At this point, I don't Yeah, I don't know how to do anything else. That's a huge mistake. And now I can't back out.

Alex Ferrari 1:07
We should have gotten a real job somewhere else doing something? No. So how did you guys get in?

Henry Joost 1:11
It was a lot. It was a complex road. But I think we I think it started out as being just kids who loved movies growing up. And then at some point, there was the realization that like, there were people who actually do that as a job. They make movies, which totally blew my mind. At some point. You know, when I was like, I think I was 16 or something. And I met somebody who was a video producer. I was like, wow, so so they're real people who work in this business. And like that's something you could pursue. I personally became an editor. And, and that's when Raul and I met in high school. And we were both I was kind of like, interested in experimenting with video editing and shooting stuff in high school, and making films and little short films and stuff with my friends. And Rel and I met in our we met in high school, but we really connected in our early 20s. We both had a job at this public access TV station called plum TV. And that was our summer job between you know, like when we were in college, and we were it was this kind of wild place where we were, as you know, 21 year olds given the responsibility to like, they were like, you can make your own show. So I made a show about Hamptons nightlife. And relegated, like a kind of a restaurant conversation show. And oh, and also like a plastic surgery show, right?

Rel Schulman 2:47
Yep. The beauty makeover show Hamptons stuff, which was just crazy. Nice.

Alex Ferrari 2:52
How have you how the academy didn't recognize your work back then.

Henry Joost 2:57
And we were they were like, they're like you guys. You know, you can write direct shoot, edit everything your own half hour show. And but you have to turn it in every week. So we were like, we have this crazy experience, which was made to making a half hour show in one week all by herself. And we kind of commiserated over that and you know, started having our ideas of our own, like, I hope this is not our future to make, you know, plastic surgery shows and stuff like that, like like, what else can can we do? So we started making documentaries and kind of branching out on our own and then eventually formed a production company, which we still have super marchais, which we started in 2007.

Alex Ferrari 3:45
Very cool, guys. I always wanted to ask, you know, directing teams. I've had a few directing teams on the show, and I love asking this question. How the hell do you do it, man? Because I've been directing for 20 odd years, and I can't understand how, like, what like, do you want somebody handle the camera at someone handle the actors? Or, you know, do you guys just ask all the time? Like, what do you think? What do you think? Like how do you actually work together as a directing team?

Rel Schulman 4:11
You know, like, think about if you were on on vacation with your wife and kids and you have like 50 to 100 kids

Alex Ferrari 4:23
Sorry, my my estrus puckered there for a second.

Rel Schulman 4:28
You got to figure out how to get out of the airport, get onto a train and check into a complicated hotel. And there's something wrong with your reservation. How do you split that with your with your wife, you kind of just figure it out. You're both have extraordinary, you know, total responsibility and you got to work together as a team. And you've been an event together for a while.

Alex Ferrari 4:51
And you guys know each other so well at this point, then I'm assuming it's just secondhand. Yeah, you just know oh, this shots this or that shots that are at You both have and you both have similar sensibilities at this point.

Rel Schulman 5:03
Yeah, yeah. So we have to it, otherwise it wouldn't work.

Alex Ferrari 5:07
So then at what point, I have to believe, just like my wife and I, there's disagreements. So how do you guys handle those disagreements or when you're creatively not exactly on the same page?

Henry Joost 5:17
We try to disagree only in private.

Alex Ferrari 5:20
Smart, didn't never, never, never

Never in front of the kids

Rel Schulman 5:27
Because it causes lifelong trauma.

Alex Ferrari 5:31
You know why so funny. But that's what we, my wife, and I do, we're like, we will back each other in front of the kids. But the second the door closes to the bedroom. I can't believe. I know, let's have a conversation. But that's just like an unspoken rule. You never do it in front of the kids. So that's similar to you guys. Yeah.

Henry Joost 5:48
Oh, yeah. We were in production meetings. And like one of us will say, like, all say, I want a million balloons and this scene, and somebody is like, well, that's what you got. Like, that's what both of you guys want rails like, yep. We definitely want a million balloons. The door everybody leaves in the door closes. What the fuck were you talking? We didn't talk about that. We never agreed million have a million isn't a million excessive.

Alex Ferrari 6:16
Yeah, except that you go back the next day. Like, you know, we, we talked about it, you know, 10,000 balloons is fine.

Henry Joost 6:21
Yeah, it's 2 million, please. Yeah.

Rel Schulman 6:25
You can you can appear as extremely collaborative and reasonable. If we come back the next day and say, You know what, we were looking at the whole budget. As filmmakers, we could achieve what Henry was so to want with less balloons. in beta, better craft service.

Alex Ferrari 6:47
So, obviously, you made this, you know, one of those seminal movies of the early 2000s, which is catfish. I remember when catfish came out the documentary and it was a freaky ass, just freaky film. And it was wonderful. And you got into Sundance, what was that whole experience of making that film and then getting it to Sundance, which I'm assuming that was, was that the first time you were going to Sundance

Rel Schulman 7:10
First Feature Film.

Alex Ferrari 7:12
Right. So then, so you out of the gate. You get into Sundance with this documentary? That's, you know, sets the world on fire a bit. What is what was that whole experience? Like? It was, it was wild.

Rel Schulman 7:26
Yeah, it was an awesome roller coaster.

Henry Joost 7:29
We got a little spoiled, I think because we never, you know, we both of us grew up so disconnected from the film industry. And like, we didn't really know anybody who worked in the film industry and didn't end into Sundance and didn't. I don't even know if we'd ever been to a film festival, like, you know, and

Rel Schulman 7:48
I've been to the East Village Film Festival,

Alex Ferrari 7:51
Which is just like Sundance but different.

Henry Joost 7:53
Yeah. It doesn't smell

Rel Schulman 7:58
There was.

Henry Joost 7:59
So we kind of didn't know what to expect. And we had these great, we had two great guides in the experience, which were Andrew jerky and Mark Summerlin, who were the producers of capturing the Friedman's. And they were they were they became producers on catfish. After we've made it because we were just like, what do we do with this? We don't We made this movie. And we have this like, pretty good rough cut that we showed her when we showed our friends. They're like, I can't believe that. Is this real? Like, this is insane. What what do we do now? And they were like, okay, so you go to Sundance and here's how it works. And you know, and you get a really warm, really warm jacket.

Alex Ferrari 8:39
Oh, yes, we can have a whole episode on how to prepare for Sunday's long underwear. long underwear written stay hydrated real socks, thermal socks, not Yep, not tube socks,

Rel Schulman 8:51
No, not tube socks and waterproof boots. There's a lot of sloshing around.

Alex Ferrari 8:57
And they never tell you about the altitude do they? Like you walk 15 feet and you're like

Rel Schulman 9:03
You're getting good reviews, it's a little easier to deal with. It's a little it's a slight bit easier to deal with. So there was so that, I mean, I'll never forget that I really feel like that was the moment our careers began in earnest as future filmmakers. And it was but less than five minutes after the first screening, which is a 10am screening at the library. And, and, and that's Sundance. And a woman comes up to us, Rowena Aguilas, who's an agent at CAA. And she was the agent of Andrew jerky, and Mark swirling our producers. And so there was some familiarity and some, I guess, trust because otherwise we had no idea what that world looked like or who to talk to or who to trust or what agency or anything. And there was just someone we are who knew someone we knew and we said or will sign with you. And that day we had agent that's and that's the, and we've been there ever since. And they've helped us like forge a path as working movie directors, which is not something we even really planned for, or had or had totally clearly seen for ourselves.

Alex Ferrari 10:15
It's fascinating that I mean, you guys kind of like, I mean, you obviously had been directing and working hard and hustling to get to where you were. But when you got to catfish, he was kind of like, Alright, what do we do with this? And you just kind of like felt like, oh, you go to Sundance? Sure. Submit to Sundance, get into Sundance, get an agent at CAA, it sounds like yeah, this is just what you do. It's extremely difficult. Everything that you've just read the right place at the right time with the right product.

Rel Schulman 10:41
Alex, the 10 years leading up to that, and it listen, it hasn't been easy, since the hustle never stops, right that 10 years leading up to that where I mean two, three, all not multiple, all nighters every week, to make as many videos and to get better and better at our craft as possible. And that was, that was the public access TV shows like Henry was talking about, but it was like an extraordinary amount of wedding videos, Bar Mitzvah videos, industrial films, anything, anything in New York wanted on film, and desire to finish product, we said yes. And partially it was to make money. I think neither of us wanted another job. We wanted this to be the job. And the only way for that to work and to cover rent every month, which we were doing buy, like a matter of hours at the end of every month was just to make and make and make. And we ended up buying our own equipment. We ended up we had a storage locker with a couple cameras, a couple computers, sound equipment, lighting equipment, and that equipment is what allowed us to shoot and pay for catfish on our own.

Alex Ferrari 11:51
And they There you go. I mean, it's it's you're an overnight a 10 year overnight success basically.

Henry Joost 11:57
Right! Yeah, we just Yeah, we had done the legwork to be we were prepared for the for that incredible opportunity to fall in our laps that the opportunity being just the story of catfish unfolding in front of us. Like, we knew what we knew enough of what we were doing to capture the story. You know, and then we took a really long time trying to figure it out in the edit. And we had our friend Zack store at Ponte a who had been working on all of our other weird stuff that we were doing. Like, we directed the recruitment video for Harvard Business School, like that was like, it was like that, and like weddings and pharmaceutical videos and like the strangest stuff like just anything. Anything is just

Alex Ferrari 12:44
Yeah, and I said yes to everything to when I was to everything. Anything, anything that came along as I was an editor and the director, anything that showed up I genuine. I mean, I'd made I did promos for Matlock. That's like six months working as a freelancer so great. It was I was getting paid well, but my soul was dying with every edit.

Rel Schulman 13:08
But to me the toughest, toughest clients we ever had were. But also the most loyal were the Jewish mothers for the bar mitzvah videos, Bachmann's videos, and that prepared us for the studio executives. Nothing else. It may it may be dealing with studio heads. Piece of cake.

Alex Ferrari 13:29
Exactly. You don't want to mess with a Jewish mother on on the bar mitzvah.

Henry Joost 13:35
Bride relat Ral was once accused of ruining a bride's life.

Rel Schulman 13:39
Yeah. Oh, gotcha. Yeah, I don't know what you could imagine when he says that. But all it really was was I didn't get enough footage of her coming down the aisle, which was a mistake my camera in the wrong direction. There was two of us that were both shooting the groom each other like Oh, shit, one of us needs to point that way. And we tried to fake it in the edit by slowing it down, cutting away and then coming back. We use a moment. And they're like this out. She was like, Is that all you have? Because that's not enough. That was a long aisle.

Alex Ferrari 14:14
I got I got one better for you. I did have I did a wedding as a favor because I never did wedding videos. Because I just never got into that. But I did a wedding as a favor. And I shot like the I don't know the bride party or something like the dinner or whatever, that pre dinner thing. And I was shooting I was just got a new, a new photo camera. It was all film. And I was like, Oh yeah, I'm gonna use this really high speed film. I'm not going to use flash. Oh, no, no, I was. Oh, so I was the only thing shooting it. Like you guys are both just like oh, it's dude. And it was a friend of mine. And and I was the best man at that wedding. So the the the bride She was trying to kill me. She's like you've ruined have no photos of that day.

Rel Schulman 15:04
That was like we didn't know until a week, at least a week later

Alex Ferrari 15:06
A week later because you have to film all that stuff. And I was just like, how do I do that? That's brutal. And this is before iPhone. So there was literally no Yeah, average. There's nothing on that night. It was like I was the photo. So I feel you bro. I feel I've run I've ruined a bride or choose wedding myself.

Rel Schulman 15:22
I still, I still live with that guilt.

Alex Ferrari 15:27
I wake up in cold sweats sometimes.

Rel Schulman 15:29
Yeah, it sounds like you do to Alex. But you know what that kind of failure fuels me. Shooting the movies that we shoot now, which are you know, they they're their big budget, their studio movies, there's a lot of pressure. If you don't get something, we're the ones who pay for it in the edit. Six months later, right? You can't make a scene work. You can't make a transition work. And it haunts us for the rest of our lives.

Alex Ferrari 15:53
Yeah, exactly. Oh, I've been there. And then when you shouldn't be like, oh god, why didn't I get that one wide shot or, sir? And how do you cut around you're like, and then you don't want to go back and go, we need to pick up that you don't want to do that.

Rel Schulman 16:06
I mean, you know what, though, we we tried to never forget the catfish mentality, which was that we can shoot anything, it's, we can make anything happen with the equipment with our mediocre skills. And that goes for pickups, too. So we never say it's impossible. And we managed to figure out something whether we shoot it in the edit suite or in a friend's garage, or

Alex Ferrari 16:30
You read my mind, I did that on my first feet. I don't know that my first feature I there was like a whole scene. And I didn't cut any inserts. And we literally just I literally just went to the edit room grabbed the same camera shot an insert of like a dog on a pillow.

Henry Joost 16:44
Yeah, we shot stuff. We shot stuff in the editing room for this movie. Did you reality, we have we do it on every movie, I would say like we have a we have a Blackmagic 6k. Yeah, camera that we just just travels with as part of our kit. And so we're we're in the Edit constantly, we'll be like, I'm gonna go shoot that in the hallway right now. And we'll and usually we do a rough version. And then sometimes we even, you know, bring the actors back or bring break get we get the props in the editing office. So we can always we have a room just like that's full of the props. So we can just get inserts get whatever we need.

Alex Ferrari 17:20
In now you don't have to bring out a 35 millimeter panel vision camera. Yeah, wait a few days to shoot it. You could just pick up that little camera, boom, take the card out and pop it in and you're shooting and you're ready to rock. Yeah. So let me ask you. So you guys went from catfish to directing small films like Paranormal Activity three and four. Which did, which were not big budget films. They were actually all budgets considering at the studio, but they made massive amounts of money. So what is that? Like? How does the town treat you? What does that experience like? Because I know so many filmmakers would love to know what it's like being inside of the of the kind of the hurricane or the tornado that is being part of those kind of franchises and making that kind of money with those films.

Rel Schulman 18:03
Yeah, I mean, making the studio's money is it turns out to be a very important

Alex Ferrari 18:10
Key to a career as you're saying.

Rel Schulman 18:13
Hey, there's going to cut it but Jason Blum was was a big fan of cat fish. And he was producing those paraNormals at the time, and there had been paranormal too. And he had seen an early cut of cat fish in New York. He was friends with Directv. And he was like, oh shit, this is a good vibe for found footage. I think he believed us that catfish was real which it is but a lot of people didn't and so he showed it to the crew of paranormal two at Paramount and was like, Guys this is what down footage feels like. This is the aesthetic. This is the tone imitate this. And so by the time they got to paranormal three they were like, Well, why don't you try those goofballs and see if they have enough have any ideas for paranormal three. And it turned out the studio, Adam Goodman and a couple other bigwigs at Paramount were convinced it was fake, which I think made them even more interested in us paranormal being a fake found footage movie and there was nothing we could do to convince them it wasn't and I think we just kind of looked at each other and just like Zipit let let them think what they need to think let's take our first like real paying job. All

Alex Ferrari 19:30
Right, and run with it and run with it and you guys did a great and you guys did a great job with those films. And I imagined I imagined there was a little bit of pressure running into like a very successful franchise at this point. You know,

Henry Joost 19:41
The paranormal three I mean, it's not that there wasn't pressure it was it was a pressure cooker. But there was something about like paranormal three had lower because Panama two did really well but it didn't didn't do as well as Panama one. It was I think seen as sort of a steadily declining franchise. So There wasn't there was, which is pretty normal, I think, you know, unless sometimes things pop. But we were we kind of had a lot of freedom and in paranormal activity three, and had a lot of fun even though it was like, it was this incredibly compressed production window like we landed in LA, six months before the release date. We live in New York and they and Jason Blum was like, I need you guys to get on the first flight, the 6am flight tomorrow. We're like, how long are we going to go? Where are we going to be in LA for and he was like six months until the movie comes out. And we landed there. And there was no script. And there was no cast. And there was like, so we went from nothing at all to a movie in the movie theater in six months.

Alex Ferrari 20:42
And that's a Jason That's Jason

Henry Joost 20:44
That's classic Jason but the it was it was pretty fun. Weirdly, paranormal for became higher pressure because paranormal three did so well that then then all eyes were on four. And I think it actually made it a less and made it a less fun, more kind of constrictive creative environment than three three was like, actually, the codename for the movie was summer camp, I think. And it did kind of feel like summer camp like we were. We had this house, it was all wired up with lights and like, we had to cast everybody was really good at improv, and we were just messing around all day.

Alex Ferrari 21:24
You know, it's fun. And I've had Jason on the show he is a force of nature. Yes. Force of Nature, one of the most entertaining conversations ever. He's a madman. Now, is there something that you wish somebody would have told you at the beginning of your career? Like you guys can go back and tell yourself something like, Listen, guys, this is what you really need to do big first of all, get the shot. Get The Shot of that, of that bride? Yeah.

Henry Joost 21:53
Always make sure one cameras pointed at the bride.

Alex Ferrari 21:57
Other than that, is there anything else you wish you'd keep a camera on the bride? That pretty much covers everything?

Henry Joost 22:04
Yeah. Ben younger gave us good advice, which I which we took. Which was Don't wait. Don't wait forever after your first feature to make your second feature. Make your second feature as quickly as you possibly can. Don't be precious about it. Don't be precious. Just do just do it as quickly as you can. And he said he was like, advice we should have taken which was like, Well, I think when we were at Sundance, were basking in the attention. And like the movie, we're traveling with the movie and stuff like that. I'm doing q&a As he was like, you should be writing your next movie, you should be figuring out your next movie now. Because then when when things die down, you're just gonna be sitting there like, what do I do next? You know?

Rel Schulman 22:47
Yeah. And you get so caught up in the festivals and all those free dinners and meeting Danny DeVito. And you're like, oh, shit, it's been six months, and we don't have anything. And it wasn't easy to get another job because catfish was weird. I realistically, I think people like the storytelling and were curious, but they weren't like, Oh, these let's give these guys like, I don't know, Marvel movie or whatever was whatever you could, whatever they were looking for in 2012, or whatever that was. And so paranormal three was kind of the only job studio gig that we were really up for. Because it fit it matched the style of catfish so well. So we were really lucky that found footage was still a popular genre at that moment. Otherwise, it would have been a tougher transition out of catfish

Alex Ferrari 23:38
Than asking with all the all that attention you guys got off of not only staff fish, but also when you did it with paranormal three. How do you guys keep your egos in check? Because man, that is such a danger in our business. It's like when you start everyone tells you you're great. It's tough. It's tough. Do you guys keep you both? Both of you guys keep each other in check. Yeah,

Henry Joost 23:59
I guess so. Yeah, I think we're pretty hard on ourselves.

Rel Schulman 24:04
A little like Jewish self hate.

Alex Ferrari 24:07
So you said there's so there's a, there's a lot of imposter syndrome, even to this day.

Henry Joost 24:12
Yeah, I think when people are like, Oh, it's really great. I'm, like, irrelevant. Even when we talk to each other in private, we're like, it's okay. Right. It's like, it's better.

Rel Schulman 24:25
I think it's, it's a, it's a, it's a belief that we can keep getting better. So I don't think we're ever going to say like that's as good of a film as we can possibly make. Now it's time to relax. It's like there's always things that we could have improved their shots that we could have gotten. We could have storyboarded more, we could have been more prepared. And we'll get them on the next one. Yeah,

Henry Joost 24:49
We'll do better next time.

Alex Ferrari 24:52
No, I mean, I've talked to so many people on the show that you know, big huge, you know, win Oscars and so on legends and sometimes I go Do you guys still have impostor so From the like, yes. Like, really? It's like massive. It's fascinating to me, but it's like what is

Rel Schulman 25:05
The satisfaction we're looking for as filmmakers? We you know, so paranormal three was, at the time the biggest heart opening weekend ever. Right? Right, right. And we're like, whoa, okay, this feels this feels pretty great. But don't be like doesn't win an Oscar? Of course not. That was not

Alex Ferrari 25:27
What I felt you were robbed personally. That's just documentary.

Rel Schulman 25:35
Exactly. Or was it like, it's not going to the Cannes Film Festival, but a lot of people like it. Yeah. So it's like, you can't really hit every single base with a film. So what is the total satisfaction of filmmakers? I don't know. You just want to feel like you tried your hardest, right?

Alex Ferrari 25:52
And look, if you get a movie made, it's unbearable. If you got a movie finished in the can out people to watch, it's an absolute miracle every Yeah, every time a huge achievement. Oh, it's a massive achievement, especially when you're at that level when you're in the studio system. Even I mean, yeah, you got money, and you've got infrastructure and all that stuff. But that doesn't mean that anything gets even made. It's a it's a mystery, to honest.

Rel Schulman 26:15
Yeah, it's a total miracle every time

Henry Joost 26:18
You make a coherent movie is even harder. Like, I'm like, like, to me compliment start at like, well, you made the movie. Like that's, that's it. That's where they started. And then it's like, and it's coherent. Yeah. Makes nice. I understand what's happening in it. I finished

Rel Schulman 26:39
No, for you to say your kids finished the movie. Whether they liked it or didn't like it like it made.

Alex Ferrari 26:45
That's a win. That's a win. Yeah.

Rel Schulman 26:47
So hard. We married to a one on a movie just to get to the point where the operation the small business, or this has come together has come to life. It's standing on its legs. It's been a year, it's been two years, whatever it is. It's now there's 100 People standing there a lot of money's on the line, and a cameras rolling it's like, amazed. That's a miracle.

Alex Ferrari 27:09
Yeah, without question and, and you know, so you go on to do you know, viral with Jason again, and which was awesome. And nerve, which was such a unique love nerve, like the way that we shot it. The idea behind it. There was a lot of layers to that onion, which was really great. But then you make a movie like project power, which is a slight jump in budget, says cat fish. Just like yeah, it's just like a budget jump

Henry Joost 27:39
1000 times.

Alex Ferrari 27:41
So you're not working on a essentially a mini tentpole movie or a tentpole movie for Netflix. And you're working with an Oscar winner, and a massive movie star like Jamie Foxx. When you walk on the set, how do you guys deal with the pressure of that? Because, you know, look, you're like, I'm in the paranormal. That's a 5 million to depend on four or 5 million. And yeah, you've definitely jumped up in budget with the other films that you did. But even from nerve. I mean, project power is a huge jump for you guys. So how did you guys deal with the pressure of just having that on you with an Oscar winner like Jamie Foxx? You know, legend? Like, and all that stuff? How did you guys deal with it?

Rel Schulman 28:20
Besides Xanax?

Alex Ferrari 28:23
Okay, lots and lots,

Rel Schulman 28:26
Uppers and downers you know, we've never really talked about the sunray. But the moment on day one, where we always give a a speech to the crew, you know, there's 100 people standing around, something motivational like like a coach might do in a great football movie. And there's such a pit of anxiety and nervousness in my chest. Like, it makes me feel like I'm in high school. And I've got to speak to the whole school in the auditorium. Or I don't know if you guys ever jumped off a trapeze when you were a kid. And you look over and go to school. That wasn't a school and so, so I mean, that's the pressure, right? That is pressure, which is everyone's staring at us. I feel like a kid. I don't know how how old they see me as or how experienced they think we are. But I feel like like we're not supposed to be here. And dirty. Yeah. And yeah, we need to prove to them that we know what we're doing. We're comfortable and we're in charge and they can turn they can look at us as confident leaders.

Alex Ferrari 29:36
What is their I mean, that brings up a great point is a lot of times is when especially when when you're young directors, wherever when you're not that young if they just don't know what you've done before. How do you deal with the politics of the set? Like crew like you know, when you've got that, you know, 6060 or 70 year old DP who's been around is like when I worked with Coppola on on the Godfather like and you're like, What are you doing like and you have to kind of come up against like, I want to shoot it this way. You're like, yeah, no, that's not the way we're gonna shoot.

Rel Schulman 30:04
How do you deal with that? One of the special the special effects guy on project power? Feel the rock in Raiders of the Lost Ark? No, like, we were like, it's an honor to meet you.

Alex Ferrari 30:21
So, yeah, exactly. I've had I've had the opportunity to work with these kinds of people like that to you like the guy who built the boulder Raiders. He's probably done a few things in his career.

Henry Joost 30:31
Yeah, so we come out with a lot, a lot of love. Like, we're movie fans. So we're just like, you worked on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Like, why was that? How did you build the giant an Oreo? Like, how did you like yeah, that was awesome. But like, I don't know, we I learned a lot from Mike Simmons, who was our, been our cinematographer many times, just about he has this great way of dealing with people and not offending people. And he does like he, there are a couple of mannerisms. Like, he always says, I assume this he'll be he'll got to be won't be like, I assume that you're putting these lights up because we need this to come to the side. Like, it's not like, Why the fuck are you putting these over here? It's like, he'll be like, I like he'll say, his understanding of things. Like, that's really helpful. And like, I think just being being respectful and just being nice. And being you know, and giving people like, you know, I mean, we're not experts in in everything. We're really experts in nothing, you know, and like, you we hire people who are experts in things, who are, who know a lot more have a lot more experience are better. You know, and it's it's like, letting that experience learning from that, you know, but we have been lucky a bunch of times, like on paranormal three. And I think, with Jamie Foxx on project power. We were sort of seen as these like, on three, they were like, Well, these guys are kind of renegades like they made catfish. And my catfish was our reference film for the panel too. So like, maybe you guys can just like show us a thing or two. Jamie Foxx was like, just the greatest person to work with. And he's like, he's like, I trust you guys. I've seen your stuff. Like, show me the way, Tom, you know, tell me what to do. I trust your taste. I think you guys are really cool. And I think he gave us credit of being much cooler than we actually are. But like, you know, I can we haven't had that experience where it's the opposite of that with a movie star where it's someone who's who's guarded and suspicious and doesn't you know, because like that, that trust relationship has to be there for everybody. So it's establishing that making sure it's there.

Alex Ferrari 32:50
Yeah, if I if I make if I make quote, the greatest action film of all time, Patrick Swayze Roadhouse is amazing.

Rel Schulman 33:00
No. So sometimes we hear things people be like, Well, you guys are really nice directors. And we're like, how, what are the other guys like, oh, but but here's, here's the sympathy I have for an asshole director or the empathy. There's so much on the line for us on a movie, that everything that happens, every decision that gets made, everything that's in the movie sort of gets blamed on us blamed or attributed to, if you're working on the movie, you can kind of like move on. As long as your reputation is solid, you can get your next job, like, our next job kind of depends on how this movie does. And so that we feel that pressure every day, and I think maybe some directors are like, I need everyone else to feel that pressure. Why aren't they feeling the same pressure I'm feeling right now. And they explode and they go berserk. And that actually is not conducive to a good situation.

Alex Ferrari 33:59
I mean, yeah, exactly. I think you guys in the next film should show up with monocles and megaphone megaphone.

Rel Schulman 34:06
Yeah. Now, tell me if there's one thing I think you're an expert at. Hopefully, it was more than one thing. It's quiltmaking, which is the how to arrange this tapestry of experts and to get all those squares in the quilt to match and to make an overall piece. Thanks. Yeah.

Henry Joost 34:33
You're talking about people are actual quotes. Actual quotes. Yeah, actually. I can show you my my quote, man. Good.

Alex Ferrari 34:44
Tell me, tell me about your new film a secret headquarters. To family.

Henry Joost 34:49
It's the it's our first it's our first movie that kids can watch.

Alex Ferrari 34:55
Right! I was about to say. I was thinking like, filmography don't seem Yeah, this was a match for your to PG.

Henry Joost 35:02
Yeah, it's a PG movie. It's a family movie. It's really fun. It's actually something that we've wanted to make it's been on our bucket list for a long time is to make a movie that reminds us of the movies that made us fall in love with movies as kids, you know, so it kind of it What were your inspirations?

Alex Ferrari 35:21
What was your inspiration for this?

Henry Joost 35:22
Well, Jerry Bruckheimer when we first talked to him about this, which was a wild experience, he was like, I've got this thing it's it's it's home alone in the Batcave. It's called secret headquarters Home Alone in the Batcave. And we were like, saying no more. Got it. Yeah. We're in. Yeah. And it's, it's about it's about a kid. It's kind of a it's a superhero movie, but it's from the it's from the perspective of the son of the superhero. And what would it be like to be you know, Iron Man's son, but he never told you he's a superhero. Do you think he's just working all the time, but actually, he's got this incredible secret headquarters under his house full of gadgets and, and, you know, an awesome cars and stuff like that. And he's zipping off all over the world, saving the world. Meanwhile, you're at home thinking your dad's like, a nerd. Who's just like fixing people's servers. And we just like really got got our imaginations going. And we were just like, this would be my favorite movie when I was.

Alex Ferrari 36:28
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. You know, everything. If you can't, if this filament came out in like the 80s, you'd be up there with like, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or, you know, those kinds of or Neverending Story, those kinds. Yeah, those kinds of fun, fun films. And I was watching it. I mean, I definitely could have weeks, obviously nine and a half weeks and too much juncture to injunction. But when I was watching it, you know, you can there's a little bit of Spy Kids floating around. You could sense that the DNA of Spy Kids in there as well. But there's a lot of that too, so much. It was a lot of fun. And oh, and must have been a ball to work with.

Henry Joost 37:06
So great.

Rel Schulman 37:07
What a sweet guy, good natured collaborator,

Alex Ferrari 37:10
That is pretty much like he is in indices. Like what is he's?

Henry Joost 37:16
He's like how he is.

Rel Schulman 37:17
I think he's even kinder than you think he would be.

Henry Joost 37:21
And you forget what a great writer he is. Like he wrote, oh, yeah, he co wrote, you know, Royal Tenenbaums, and Rushmore and bottle rocket. Like, when he when we had rehearsals with him, we got into these dialogue riffs. And would we, we would just write it down and we and then we go home that night, we'd rewrite the scene and we'd send it to him. And he was like, you know, and we, we pop it back and forth. Like, that's, that was such a fun experience to have with an outer.

Alex Ferrari 37:50
Now as directors we all have that day on set. That is like you feel the entire world's gonna come crashing down around you. You losing the sun, camera breaks actor breaks his ankle, whatever. Generally, it's every day something like that happens. But yeah, was there one moment on that film that was like, Oh, my God, what was that moment? And how did you guys get through it?

Rel Schulman 38:10
Yeah, Henry. I don't know if you. I think I just realized today I was going through pictures what the, one of the biggest problems was, I mean, there's always money problems, but there's a huge prop slash character in the movie. And it's the GMO bill. Oh, yeah. Oh, retrofitted. 69 Volkswagen bus that Owen Wilson's character has turned into like a superhero. crime fighting truck. And it wasn't ready. And it was in scenes across the movie, like big action car chase scenes. And the guys who were building it weren't done. And it was shooting in like, two days. And it was so far from done to them.

Henry Joost 38:53
We kept pushing it back. Remember, we were like, there was in the schedule. And we'd be like, well, we'll shoot this side of the scene now. And then in a month, we'll shoot this side of the scene because the thing is background. Yeah, I mean, just like imagine

Rel Schulman 39:06
If they didn't have the Batmobile.

Alex Ferrari 39:08
It doesn't doesn't Yeah, obviously,

Rel Schulman 39:10
The schedule is so fragile, you know, especially with movie stars, like Owen and and he's shooting Loki. You know, it's all like happening the same time. And we're at the point where like the studio and the line producer, everyone's like, well, you need to be ready to erase the gene mobiel from the whole concept from the movie, but you've already shot many scenes where it exists before it gets retrofitted when it's just a VW bus. And that I mean, we really sweat that out.

Henry Joost 39:40
We had staked our our reputations on this vehicle like we like I remember we were kind of dying on our swords about it because there was a lot of pressure even before that to cut it to completely cut it from the movie. And we were like No, just because there was a cannot there can't be a superhero movie without You know, like, a superhero vehicle. And that's just, it just, it has to we have to have that. And it was kind of all it was on us. I remember pulling the picture car guy aside at one point and I was like, Listen, buddy, you got your, your toughest act. That's like, listen, I tried to I'm gonna try to say this in a really nice way. But like, if this thing isn't ready, we're never gonna work again. It was like, Oh, God.

Alex Ferrari 40:29
All right, let me see. If this isn't ready by tomorrow, guys. I know where you live.

Rel Schulman 40:36
We do like a good cop, bad cop thing sometimes where I'll say to the guy. Hey, buddy, I believe in you. You got this and then just walk away. And Henry will style over and be like what He means to say

Alex Ferrari 40:54
You know, it's always fascinating to me that even on some on big budget films like this shit happens.

Henry Joost 41:00
Oh, by the skin of your teeth. Yeah. Like,

Alex Ferrari 41:02
It's like, those indie sensibilities never kind of go away. You. You sometimes gotta like, how am I going to make this work that damn truck? The picture cars not ready. Would you would think that on a budget of this size and this kind of kind of size project? That that would be the least of your issues?

Henry Joost 41:19
Yeah. Yeah, one would think we have yet to work on that movie that's like has such a big budget that you can you know, you don't have to worry about anything. I don't know if that really exists.

Alex Ferrari 41:35
Or one day you'll hear this this sentence. All you have is time and money, guys. So enjoy yourself. You'll never that's a sentence that no filmmaker has ever heard ever. Right? No matter who you are. Maybe Chris Nolan may be crystal. Yeah, maybe. Maybe just a conversation. Now. When's this coming out? Guys?

Henry Joost 41:54
August 12.

Rel Schulman 41:55
Not just that next week. It's in a little more than a week. Yeah.

Henry Joost 42:00
Paramount plus.

Alex Ferrari 42:01
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Rel Schulman 42:10
Say yes. To any project offered to you.

Henry Joost 42:15
Do not don't think camera at the bride. You read my mind. At least one camera

Alex Ferrari 42:21
At all times. No, just because a lot of times we get a little uppity as filmmakers and just like no I'm I'm the next. Spielberg. I'm the next Tarantino. I don't do weddings. You know?

Rel Schulman 42:32
Yeah, I don't I don't see why not a wedding is built in drama. I mean, look at a wedding is a documentary about people on a really important day with a lot of pressure. And all fam. I mean, some of the greatest movies. It's a genre of filmmaking, which is the family gathering the reunion, you know, like the Big Chill or something like that. Or Rachel Getting Married. Those are great movies. You have an opportunity. someone's paying you to make a documentary about that. That's the way we approached it. And it was it was great training.

Henry Joost 43:03
Yeah, it. Just practice, practice, practice, practice, man.

Alex Ferrari 43:07
Any job that came along, man, I would take it. I didn't care what it was like you're gonna pay me to edit. I'll work you're gonna pay me to shoot. I'll do it. It's just Yeah. And sometimes it's great. Yeah, a lot of times it isn't. But at least you're not out there hustling another job. And you get to at least work on your craft.

Rel Schulman 43:23
Yeah, exactly. Most of them weren't great.

Henry Joost 43:25
Yeah. No, they weren't. No terrible.

Alex Ferrari 43:30
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Rel Schulman 43:36
Changed my socks midday. What what I was waiting for.

Henry Joost 43:42
That was a good one. even change your shoes.

Rel Schulman 43:44
Yeah. Oh, yeah. We bring two pairs of shoes to set now. Do you really? Yeah. Yeah. Just like yeah, freshen up.

Henry Joost 43:52
Those are like, I'll tell you what the great feeling.

Alex Ferrari 43:56
They never teach you this in film school. Good shoes on set on set because I'm always on my feet. I don't know about you guys. I'm all day. You rarely sit down. I like when I sit down. I'm like, Oh, God, I can't get back.

Henry Joost 44:11
I keep going. You gotta keep moving.

Rel Schulman 44:12
Yeah, totally. Man. I think Doug Doug Liman does not accept the director's chair on his sets. Because he refuses to ever sit down on set.

Henry Joost 44:25
And as a few directors, I've heard that don't allow chairs at all.

Alex Ferrari 44:29
Yeah, there's a there's a few. I mean, and then there's our cell phones. And then there's the Peter Jackson's who have a recliner on set.

Henry Joost 44:39
I'm talking about Lord of the Rings.

Alex Ferrari 44:40
They would just literally carry around a lazy boy. He would just sit down it was the best

Rel Schulman 44:47
Apparently the room we cut project power and on Sixth Avenue in New York City was the room that Oliver Stone cut something in Henry remember? Yeah, he had a leather recliner brought into that edit room that he just loved.

Alex Ferrari 45:00
But listen, I've had I've had Oliver Stone on the show, and, and he was one of the most interesting conversations I've ever had in mind. He is so smart. Oh my God, he's he's so so smart. And, and I tell people this all the time and you guys, I think you guys would agree. There's not another 10 year period. And any filmography, like Oliver stops from platoon from platoon, every movie a year, and everyone was like Oscar, Oscar incredible. Oscar, it's just, there's just nobody that's ever had a run like that.

Rel Schulman 45:40
It's Yeah, well, a couple is run is pretty solid, too.

Alex Ferrari 45:43
Well, you know, he's sorry, you did okay.

Henry Joost 45:47
I would I recommend Oliver Stones book is really great. Oh, yeah. That's why he was especially especially listening to it on on tape or on Audible. Like, he has such a great voice. Oh, yeah, it's a great audio, but it's uh, I love film filmmaker audiobooks.

Rel Schulman 46:04
We loved Barry Sonnenfeld book.

Alex Ferrari 46:07
Dude, I got when we when we get off. I'll tell you the story. Had Barry on the show, too. And in the first five minutes, he told me his porn story of how he got started in porn. I'll tell you that.

Henry Joost 46:16
Oh, my God. To me that chapter is like I think what's in the book, right? It's disgusting.

Alex Ferrari 46:23
The first five minutes of our conversation. He's that's what he starts with. I'm like, okay, Barry. I guess you've set the tone now. Porn man, that's how I got my start porn.

Rel Schulman 46:38
But in the book he's talking about and how he started and he said yes to everything and yeah. And the

Alex Ferrari 46:45
Pays camera off. He had to pay 60 millimeter camera off. Yeah.

Rel Schulman 46:49
Maybe a little longer than he needed to.

Alex Ferrari 46:51
By the way that porn paid half half the camera off in a week. So yeah,

Rel Schulman 46:55
I mean any shoot loves really worth it.

Alex Ferrari 46:58
From a party that he'd met this tall. You know, same guy in the corner who isn't talking to anybody is like, Hey, I got a camera. Hey, you want to shoot something? Great. That's your star starts.

Rel Schulman 47:08
Yeah, but it was just the sizzle reel for blood. So that was the system. It was you don't get paid to do?

Alex Ferrari 47:14
Nope. But then he got that. And then I think Raising Arizona. Oh God. What a great conversation. Great career. And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Henry Joost 47:24
The Big Lebowski Yep, that's it.

Alex Ferrari 47:31
It stops there. Big Lebowski that's pretty much

Rel Schulman 47:37
Yeah, Big Lebowski. Gray man and red notice

Alex Ferrari 47:44
Very strategic answer sir very very steep.

Rel Schulman 47:49
I find that I find that to be the hardest question Am I still allowed to say Woody Allen movies?

Alex Ferrari 47:53
Look man look at any hostel Andy Hall brother. I'm sorry I'm sorry Annie Hall is still Annie Hall. I don't I mean, it's a masterpiece and

Rel Schulman 48:05
It's a masterpiece. You know what I've but if you're if it's there's got to be a Kubrick movie in there which there probably should be Barry Lyndon No, you're like bear Oh, yeah. Yeah, and it's not just to be different

Alex Ferrari 48:18
Mine is Eyes Wide Shut I'm an Eyes Wide Shut guy.

Rel Schulman 48:21
Oh you because you're a pervert. Very Seinfeld episode.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
Obviously the pervert that's why I love Oh, no, we could talk for hours on Kubrick alone Jesus man. Talk about somebody who just had all did whatever the hell he wanted. But but the ledges after I've talked to a bunch of people who worked with him. He's like he had a set of like, 10 people. Yeah, I finally was able to shoot for a year with Tom Cruise. Yeah. 10 people on set?

Rel Schulman 48:51
Yeah, who really believed in him. And we're like soldiers in his in his army.

Alex Ferrari 48:57
He locked up two of the biggest movie stars in the world for a year and a half. I mean, what kind of juice is that? Like? Seriously? I mean, Jesus, guys, it has been a pleasure talking to you both. So it Congratulations on all your success. I can't wait to see what you guys come up with next. And what do you guys have cooking next, by the way? Let's see something about this is something I'm Megaman

Rel Schulman 49:19
Yeah, Megaman adaptation of Megaman for Netflix. God plusspec Write about like the future of automation. Nice. Yeah, it's gonna be really cool man and robot becoming one good or bad.

Alex Ferrari 49:37
Guys, you see, it has been an absolute pleasure, guys. congrats on all your success and continue continued success.

Rel Schulman 49:43
Thanks Alex. Thanks for all the hustle .

Henry Joost 49:45
Thank you so much.

IFH 605: Vampires, Stunts, Bloodsuckers & Netflix with JJ “Loco” Perry

JJ “Loco” Perry spent the last 25 years as a Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director, directing and designing action for talent such as Dwayne Johnson, Tom Hardy, Jason Statham, Keanu Reeves and Will Smith. A member of the prestigious 87Eleven Action Design, Perry previously collaborated with directors such as Ang Lee, Justin Lin, Chad Stahelski, F. Gary Gray, Spike Lee and Paul Feig – which prepared him for his feature directorial debut on DAY SHIFT.

Perry has trained additional actors for stunts such as Gina Carano (HAYWIRE), Gerard Butler (300), Milla Jovovich (ULTRAVIOLET), Hugh Jackman (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE) and Kiefer Sutherland (“24”).  He’s also worked with Joss Whedon on ANGEL and FIREFLY and Mike Norris on WALKER, TEXAS RANGER.

Perry was nominated for a SAG Award in 2009 for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble for IRON MAN and nominated for a World Stunt Award in 2013 for SAFE and won in 2004 for Best Overall Stunt in THE RUNDOWN.

After graduating high school, Perry served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Corps.  He started his martial arts training in 1975 and began stunt-work after he got out of the Army. He has had over 24 years of martial arts training and has a 5th-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a 2nd-degree on Hapkido and has experience with all kinds of weapons. He got his black belt for Tae Kwon Do at the age of 12 and competed from the age of 7 till 24. Besides martial arts, Perry is also skilled in cycling, rodeo and weightlifting.  He is the co-founder of Taekwondo West martial arts schools in Inglewood, California, and Venice, California.

J.J. PERRY’s directorial debut, DAY SHIFT, is an action-comedy that begins a new franchise for Netflix starring Jamie Foxx, Snoop Dogg and Dave Franco. DAY SHIFT follows a hard-working blue-collar dad (Fox) who just wants to provide a good life for his daughter.  But his mundane San Fernando Valley pool cleaning job is a front for his real source of income, hunting and killing vampires as part of an international union of vampire hunters. DAY SHIFT premieres on NETFLIX August 12, 2022.

Take a quick inside look on the making of Day Shift.

Enjoy my conversation with JJ “Loco” Perry.

Right-click here to download the MP3

J.J. Perry 0:00
Day Shift is an example of stuff we get everything in camera, even the contortions, I just shot it in reverse. And so it's so you know, like, doesn't speak to me to do to work on a big cartoon movie. And I've worked on a ton of movies where everything's animated, you spent five months in a blue screen stage. That's not what I want to do.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book, Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show. JJ Perry. How're you doing JJ?

J.J. Perry 0:32
Good my brother, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:34
I'm good, man. I'm good. Now there is sometimes I see in your credits. There's another name in between JJ and Perry. Which is locco? Is Is that Is that true, sir? Look at all. For people who are listening, he just stood up and showed me his tattoo of locco on his stomach. Listen, before we even get started brother I've worked with a ton of stunt people over the over the course of my career. I have yet to meet a stunt person who's not nuts in the best, most beautiful loving way that word could be used. I've I've had this is what this is. This is this is the conversation with some people when I ever worked with him on his set as a director. I need you to jump off that and you jump off that that building over there he goes, Can I can I go play? Can we go five floors? No, no, I just third floors fine. No, no, I can do I can go 10 floors, I can just move on. I could do 15 If you want to do and you want me to be on fire, I could be on fire. I need it for my real can I be on fire too? And I'm like, can I work? So it's like, no matter what I asked, they'd be like, no, no, no, that's not enough. We can I could drive the car off the roof on fire flip through.

J.J. Perry 1:39
Oh, that's kind of the that's kind of the mentality. You know, like, it's we're always trying to go bigger, faster, stronger. You know, that's kind of the where the where the mindset is always trying to outdo what we did last time. You know, it's like anything else, you know, you you want to step one step beyond what you did last time, we always trying to we're always trying to push the envelope.

Alex Ferrari 1:56
No, absolutely. And, and every every staff person I've ever worked with has been the utmost professional. And it seems like they're not, but there's so calculated and so specific about what they're doing. So everyone stay safe, you know, and all that kind of stuff because I mean, you know, stuff that you guys do is this insane and, and it can't go wrong. And it's really it's really amazing what you do and you met so let's take it let's take it back where the how and why did you get into this insanity that is the film business.

J.J. Perry 2:25
So I graduated from high school back in 86 out of out of Stanford, Texas, and I worked on two films that came through Houston one was called pray for death. It was a show Kosugi film back when the ninja craze was out. And another one was call. They still call me Bruce. It was like an action comic.

Alex Ferrari 2:43
I remember. I remember that movie dude those amazing.

J.J. Perry 2:46
Johnny and the Korean guy, Korean actor. And so you know, I'd already sworn in to go to join the army. So there was no getting out of that. And towards the end of my stint in the army I out processed two to Fort Ord California. I was that's where I was going to out process from. And when I was at Fort Ord, I was on the army taekwondo team. At the time I was going down, I was competing all over California and all over, you know, the US and et cetera. And I went down to LA a couple times to compete. And some of the guys I was competing against were were stunt men. And you know, because I'd been stationed Korea for a year I was I had a leg up on him. You know, I was you know, competing on a very high level at that time. And but one of the guys who's no longer with his name is Chris Cornell was a dear friend of mine. He died in a motorcycle wreck a couple years ago. But he were the same size, same age. And I was like, what do you get? He had nice shoes, nice car, and I was like, Dude, what are you drunk? Do you because No, man, I'm a stuntman. And coming down from from Fort Ord, you know, like, came down and train a few times. About two weeks later, he said, Hey, man, there's a big audition here for a movie called Lionheart it was Van Damme second movie. Yeah, so I took a three day pass drove down and booked the job but the problem was when I went back to ask my first sergeant if I could you know take three weeks off to do a movie he was like, No, you can do no movie boy you we got work to do. We got Army work to do boy so they called me Hollywood up until the time I out processed and then I told them you know, like I said, you know, I didn't know what I was going to do at that time. I figured I would go down to LA and give it a try. I didn't really know anyone except for Chris and I figured you know I'm gonna give it a try and so I just drove down to five South never made the left turn on the tend to go back to Texas and I thought I would probably fuck that up for sure and be back in the army at no time because I knew they'd be saving a seat at the table for me but it just worked out and here we are 32 years later talking about my talking about my movie that I just directed which I can't believe so I never expected any of this my brother I fumbled my way through all of it. And I'm super grateful for every moment that I've had.

Alex Ferrari 4:53
So what was so what was your first big break in the as a as a stunt guy?

J.J. Perry 4:59
Well, So we kind of broke down like this. I didn't really the first week I landed in LA I, I was answering phones at a taekwondo school on Wilshire in La Jolla as well to some taekwondo. And there was a call for they were looking for guys for the cross trainer, Reebok commercial, the very first one for the Super Bowl at that time. And one of the guys that she said, Hey, I don't have my car, can you give me a lift one of the guys that was like an actor type, do did had an agent and whatever. So I drove him over there. And it was in it was in West Hollywood. Park, he goes in, he's taking a while. So I put 50 cents in the meter. I go upstairs and the lady says, Hey, did you put your name down on so I wrote down my name and the number of the taekwondo school. And then I wrote down my friend's name and his agents name and I went in because the movie The commercial was about, it was about basic training. It was like called the Reebok cross trainer pumps. But it was like, they shave your head. It was like an army thing. So I went in there. I was like, Barry, JJ, ak 541109. You know, they were like, oh, shoot, who's this guy? You know, I just literally just got out of the army. And I booked booked that job. So that's how it started? No, I didn't anticipate like when the when the checks started coming in the mailbox. Or, you know, you know, you make 750 bucks a month in the army. I almost started crying, you know, and, and then we have been forever.

Alex Ferrari 6:21
So for everybody listening. You were in a Superbowl commercial. What was we talking about? The early mid 80s?

J.J. Perry 6:26
No, I'm talking about like, 1990 for the

Alex Ferrari 6:30
Right. So your your 1990 Superbowl commercials, the money the residuals off flop? Flop? It's insane. I'm talking about 10s of 1000s of dollars in 1990.

J.J. Perry 6:43
Yep, yeah, that's true. And then then I started doubling a double Lorenzo Lamas a few times down on Renegade, we're down in San Diego, then I doubled Russell Wong and a TV series called vanishing son that that I told you about Jeff cut TNT earlier, a dear friend of ours. Yeah. And kind of how it started, you know, like stunt work is networking. And, you know, it's kind of like they're, they're always looking for the man or woman that's not scared to go big, and it's safe. And they're not looking for the crazies. They're looking for the calculated smart, you know, individuals who, who are ready to go big and have a strong physicality and, you know, having a background in Taekwondo and being in the military, like, when I got out of the army, I didn't realize what I wouldn't be able to apply some of the skills I learned in the army was except for being a cop. But then I quickly realized that, you know, the hard work and the work ethic of being in the Army after the army, nothing else is really ever hard again, you know, so I got that out of the way pretty quick in life. So it was really easy for me to get up at five in the morning and do my road work and go out and meet people and do my thing. So yeah, that's how it all happened for me was those two TV shows got me going in that commercial. And here we are.

Alex Ferrari 7:50
So but so there is I mean, I think there is a stunt school now. But there was Was there anything like a stunt score? Did you just learn on the job,

J.J. Perry 7:56
Learn on the job, and I'll never forget my first car hit, you know, I had to do a get hit by a car on Renegade, they wanted me to want to run into the middle of the street with a with a with a female stunt woman, there's a briefcase and illustrating, they want us to race to the briefcase, and then a Lincoln Continental hits us both. So I'm thinking to myself, you know, I don't want to seem like a you know, like, I don't know what I'm doing. But I also don't want to get killed or make a mistake and hurt my my, my counterpart. So I asked the stunt coordinator, I said, Well, you know, What's the objective of this? He said, Well, your objective is not to get underneath the car row. So, so Right, right, or get light on your feet, write up the hood, get up into the windshield, and if he punches you through, just go all the way over. And if he doesn't just get you know, get outside the car. And so what I did was I just got very aggressive and I the car actually hits you, but I in my mind, I was thinking I'm gonna hit the car. And next thing I know, it was light, it was darker, his life was darker, his life was dark, and boom, I was on the pavement. I was like, Oh, that was so bad. You know. So there was my first part of it.

Alex Ferrari 8:57
I gonna ask you man and I've always wanted to ask, I always wanted to ask them a stunt guy this. What is it in the brain? There's something in your mind in your brain that allows you to go hey, that wasn't so bad. You just said. I think that's absolutely horrific, personally, because that's not that's not in my DNA. So what is it? What is that thing that stunt people have? That not only do they want to do it and enjoy doing it, but they want to continue to one up themselves and keep pushing themselves physically with the complexity of this stuff. And we haven't gotten into fight coordination which we'll get into but but just instance there's something in the DNA of some people that I've at least that I've experienced. What is that? I'd love to hear your opinion on that.

J.J. Perry 9:42
So the generation before me that what I came in were a lot there were a lot of cowboys, you know, and being from Texas, I'm you know, kind of a cowboy too, but that background of riding rodeo or bull riding or bronc riding or or bulldogging you know, you have to be able to you know, can't can't be scared to get hit. So a lot of stuff Non performers come from, you know, a rodeo background or an athletic background like football players or so. But for me, I had 168 amateur fights when I got out of the army. So, like, I wasn't scared to get hit. And you know, being an athlete on that level, like being on the national team or being competing on that level, you have to, there's a lot of me, there's that moment of truth that we all have, you know, like that where you can't lie in that moment, you have to be very real about what's going to happen and you have to make peace with it, you have to be calm in that moment, in all those years of competition, and being in the Army helped me settle into being in a very precarious position. And being being at peace with it, and making up my mind, okay, I did one you can, it's not just like, you're gonna do one, you're gonna get one time, you're probably gonna do it three or four times. It's also pain management, it's also your ability to to strive under pain, like when you get when you're getting hurt now that the difference between getting hurt and getting injured, getting hurt means you get up and do it again, getting injured means you're and you're on a ride and in an ambulance to the hospital gets sewn up or a broken bone. So I would say that most of the stunt performers, we all share the same likes, you know, like, we all came from an athletic background, or you know, X Games now, which I think are some of the most amazing people parkour athletes. Now, you know, UCLA liberal level, gymnasts, some of the some of the best female stunt performers that I work with were elite gymnast at some point, because, you know, you think like, my daughter is in gymnastics, and she started when she was four, but you have the little girls doing this, where they're peeling their hands up, and they're dealing with pain, and there, it's all about that one second, that you have to hit the vault, right? You know, you have to gather all that, you have to make up your mind, I'm going for it. So that's kind of like doing being a stunt performer. You know, you just have to be able to, to not lie in the moment of truth to be present in the moment of truth and execute, you know, so it's all about seeing yourself do it. So I feel like that's something that we all have in common. You know, like one of the one of the big things for me is like being on the road with a bunch of like minded folks coming up with just killer ways to physically displace humans, that's my job, you know, is, is coming up with clever ways to do it, but not injure them, you know, but make it like, because now there's more movies and more content being made than any time in the history of cinema, film. And the expectations are way higher, when way higher, you know, that like with video games, and anime, and all these other things that kids are watching. Now they, you know, diehard is a great example of a movie that I loved in the 80s. But if you if you put a 16 year old kid to watch that now, they'll be on their phone looking at their Instagram in 20 minutes. You know, it's just it's not what they're, it's not going to capture their attention. You know what I mean? It's it's stuff that we've done already, which is it's AMAZING film. And I've got to work with McKiernan before. He's an amazing director. But that's an example to me of where it came from, and where it's going. You know,

Alex Ferrari 12:49
That's really interesting, because, I mean, I was watching, cuz I'm a huge fan of fall guy, the original show back in the day. And my wife and I were watching it. This is like, probably five, six years ago, we sat down and we watched the first full first season because we're like, oh, man, remember, fall guy. Let's go back and watch those man, those were frickin awesome. And you're watching it. And as you're watching what they did on a weekly basis, on a weekly basis, you're like, that was all real. Like, these guys are insane. You don't see that kind of that kind of stunt work in television today. It was just, they were doing gags. I mean, jumping off roofs, I'm like, full blown. It was insane what they were doing. And you're going back. And that's Oh, that was all in camera. We're now I think and you've seen you've started at a point where it was all still in Canberra. And now you've got digital stunt performers doing some really insane stuff. But I do think that as as, as the audience, we can tell when, you know, Fast and Furious is fun. But you know, and the Marvel movies are fun. But, and there's some performers that do do stuff there is great, but when you watch something like John Wick, you feel it a lot more. And you've been on you've worked on John Wick, obviously, but you feel that this is not a CG situation.

J.J. Perry 14:08
You know, listen, around 2003 or four, everybody started saying, oh, we'll fix it and post. You know, for me, and I'll tell you something about Fast and Furious, because I've done too. I did eight, nine a second year directed at none. And I'll tell you something, we did wreck 340 cars, and we do go 1000 miles an hour when we're doing those movies. So there is a dirty way to fake fast is to go really fast. It's fast and furious, not slow and curious. But at the end of the day, it's a day for me. It's like I day shift is an example of stuff. We did everything in camera, even the contortions I just shot it in reverse. And so it's all that so you know, like, doesn't speak to me to do to work on a big cartoon movie. I don't I've worked on a ton of movies where everything's animated. You spent five months in a blue screen stage. That's not what I want to do. I don't usually take a look For those jobs, I'm looking for the jobs where I can lock up Edinburgh, Scotland like on Fast and Furious eight, and do a massive car chase and chase flying over cities on wires and fighting and breaking new buildings, or John Wick or you know any of these new like, I'll give an example Gemini Man is another example of an amalgamation of both. We went to Cartagena, Colombia and this massive motorcycle chase that we did all practically. And then with a augmented Will Smith's face onto the motorcycle writer. So there's an element of both that I think works, okay, that I like, when it's a complete digital takeover. And pretty soon, you know, I think action directing is going to be a lost art soon. There's not a lot of this, it's infinitely harder to lock to block a big car chase up, when you got 19 cars and for motorcycles and helicopters and explosions. That's, that's not easy to do. It's actually a lot harder to do than most people think. That's where second unit comes in. And in all the experience that I gained from being a second year director, making the efficient and fast and it's like, it's like, cool, I'm not thinking about my shot. I'm thinking about my next five shots and my leaves to get to every shot. That's, that's filmmaking. I'm running nine cameras sometimes. So it's that it's that nine cameras spread, redirect, next street, the nine cameras that and push pull track counter, and then mount and then go to the next street. So, you know, that's something that I think will be a lot start soon, because there'll be animating those cars at some point, you know, which breaks my heart, but I'll be long gone by then.

Alex Ferrari 16:34
Exactly. No, I mean, yeah, I mean, when I said like fossil fuels, I remember like when they do jumping a car from a building to a building, I'm assuming I didn't do that live? No. But things like that. But yeah, there was in those those shows specifically, there's a ton of cars that they use, and you could tell that there's cook. And that's one of the things that made the original, so amazing, it was all real in camera. And that's the thing you're right, there's a lost art I have to want to ask you is it think it's confusing to a lot of people listening, especially young filmmakers, what is the hierarchy in the stunt department. So you start off with like a stunt performer? What is the hierarchy as far as the department heads and things,

J.J. Perry 17:09
I can tell you the way it went for me, I started as a utility stuntman, then I became a stunt double. And because of my background in martial arts, and being in the army, I started become I started courting, choreographing the fights that I was in. And then that led me to becoming a fight choreographer. And then I became a stunt coordinator. And then I became a second unit director. And you know, there's, there's a lot of ways to climb the ladder, but I feel like that's the long route. But that's the most important route to take. Because if you miss one of the rooms, you want to you want to hit every rung you want to learn every facet of the game, you know, driving motorcycles, water, fighting, falling fire, you know, horseback, every facet, the more facets that are on the diamond, the shinier that diamond is and the more money you can eventually make it with your in your profession. So I wanted to educate myself on every facet of that. And that's that's how it went. For me. It's a bit different now because now there's infinitely more jobs than there are than there were when I started in. Now, you can come in as a specialist on a fight guy, oh, I'm a parkour guy, or I'm a gymnast, or, and that's that's the way they come in. And that's the way they go. So but you know, that doesn't, I'm not knocking them. There's some amazing talent out there. Now with you know, I think once YouTube hit, and editing software became a consumer products, editing software made a lot of us action directors, because once you know how to edit, it informs what you need to shoot. And you know, growing up on watching that as meet at Jackie Chan films where he really changed the game of fightings. And he's one of them. He's an idol of mine, because he's a stuntman that became a star and then became an action director. So I mean, that's, you know, like he was a Charlie Chaplin and a, what's his name? Buster Keaton, Buster Keaton. He was in Kansas, a huge fan of we all are, but that's kind of where his inspiration came from. And our my generation like I came up with Chad's to hausky, and in Dave Leach, and a lot of the guys over at 711 I'm a member of that crew and I'm also a member of sons unlimited. Who were those original guys that did the fall guy since Unlimited is they've been around since 1973. But that's um yeah, but that's kind of how it was. And you know, watching chance trajectory is kind of the way like, has he changed what we do did we took his movies and we were reshoot shoot his action sequences with cameras and then cut them even on VHF, ah, VHS deck to deck until Final Cut became a consumer product we all chipped in, and then we all learn how to edit. And then we became action directors, budding action directors.

Alex Ferrari 19:43
Now, you know, with all the insane, you know, gags that you guys have done over the years has had there ever has there ever been a stunt that you just said, Nah, man, I gotta walk away from this one. This is just too, too risky.

J.J. Perry 19:57
The biggest thing I ever did was getting married to a lawyer. So no, I look at the end of the day. I'm not I'm just okay in the water. You know, I'm not I'm not. I've done it's done though. Did you see the movie? The Rundown? Yeah, of course. Yeah the Roku I was doubling Sean William Scott when we went down the mountain and over the falls and all that shit. Me and Paul Heliopolis and ton of I read Marcos roar we were there was two sets of doubles for each because we were getting so busted up. And there was a scene where we had to go into a lagoon and swim towards a waterfall. And yeah, Bhutan and jeans on and tunnel. I read his Hawaiian, he's from Hawaii's big. He's like a shark. When he gets in the water. He's massive. And he's like, you know, he's got gills you can swim like a fish. And his wife was doubling the girl in there and she's another one grew up in Hawaii. He's like, after take three or four I started getting really tired. I was like, Hey, man, I'm probably need to tap out. So I would say like doing a lot of water work for me is not my forte. I'm like a brick. I'm like a brick from Texas. You put me in the water. And I might go right to the bottom row.

Alex Ferrari 21:02
Fair enough. Now you You also got involved in one of my favorite films of the 90s Mortal Kombat, man. Dude, how did you get involved with them? Then you eventually played some of the parts of like sub zero and those kinds of things. I mean, again, those at the time. I remember at the time and I mean, you couldn't go anywhere without listening to that damn song. In the radio, first of all, what was it? I mean, how did you get involved with that project, man, and how did you guys make it look so cool back then.

J.J. Perry 21:30
So I was I used to have two taekwondo schools in LA while I was a stuntman. I had one in Inglewood. It's called take one to west, one in Inglewood and one in Sherman Oaks. And the one in Sherman Oaks. I had a friend named Dana he who was already working on the movie, she was an Olympic gold medalist from taekwondo. We're friends from my sport from taekwondo. We were teammates like friends, you know, competitors together and dear friends. He was dating Larry cows and off the producer of Mortal Kombat at the time. They were looking for a stunt double for Johnny Cage for the additional photography of Mortal Kombat. One key brings Larry into my school in the middle of one of my classes, and I can see Luke staring at me and I'm like Dino, who's the dude staring Bisleri Cazenovia brutish, and short combat, and, you know, classes over I meet him like, nice to meet you, sir. Can you say Hey, can you show me some kids and I bust out a 540. And I bust out a bunch of oh, man, it's awesome. Can you turn around for me? And I was like, what's that mean? He's looking at the back of my head. So if I could double the actor who's playing Johnny Cage, and he was like, this perfect. Two days later, I get a call from Robin Chu, who was the was the star of the movie. And also one of the fight coordinators and Jeff and moto was a stunt coordinator, I get a call, Hey, you want to come down and double Johnny Cage for the additional fight with scorpion on the on the bamboo bridge thing and it was a it was a big additional scene. So I got to do that. And as soon as that was, you know, as soon as it was a big hit, they greenlit to then I played scorpion and Cyrax into and did some doubling for little doubling for Raiden a little doubling for smoke a little doubling for all the characters but played to the characters. And then when the TV series came out in there, he called me and says, Hey, we come down and double come loud, so double calm loud for the first few episodes. And then they said, Can you play scorpion? Can you play SubZero? And I was like, Yeah, dude, I do whatever. You know, like, I'm happy. Like, I was always concerned about my acting, but when you have that thing on your face, you know, it's like, just zero. So I want some zero now I'm Chubs zero. That's how it goes. But that was like my Mortal Kombat experience. You know, like, I was super, super stoked. Now that a lot of the youngsters that work for me now they pull it up on YouTube, and I'm a little embarrassed about my bad acting and whatever, you know, a loincloth

Alex Ferrari 23:39
It's the 90s Bro, what are you gonna do? Basically bills dog what are you gonna do? It pays the bills and pay the bills? No question. Now, you know, is it as you became a second unit director, which I still think second unit directors are some of the most technically sound directors out there. If you can direct action. You can direct cinema because it's a visual medium. I think what someone who said it is like my favorite directors are action directors like Tony Scott, and those in those kinds of guys who just are so technical, and visual. What are mistakes that directors make when setting up an action sequence that you've seen?

J.J. Perry 24:19
So you know what we've done? Like at 711 is is the team I've been on before that it was called Smash cuts and it was it was kind of a the crew of us that came up in the 90s together likes to hausky leach Marcus young Mike Gunther Danny her net there was a bunch of Brad Martin and Garrett Warren. These are all guys that are prominent social media directors now that are running the they're running all the fights up in the last 30 years what we did once the Final Cut came out we start shooting stunt does what which is an act we shoot and cut the sequence before we go to the set on we make a room full of boxes that measures out from the production designer and then we shooting cut it sure offer shot where we make the action the star. Without we want to tell our students certain story points after having a discussion with the director, and a discussion with the DP about his style, you know, like, and we, we give them a broad outline of what it would look like, based on their version. And usually we get it right within three versions, like we tied it up within three verses, I've been paired up in the past few years with a lot of first and second time directors, I get paired up with them often to, you know, to help when it comes to the action, it can be quite daunting, you know, like, if you're not used to doing it. And you're right, locking up Scotland with a bunch of cars, and doing why work over a city, and using nine cameras, is infinitely harder. Now that I've done both than directing a scene with three people in a room talking, unless you don't have three good actors. Well, there's bad actors, maybe it's way harder. But my point being the technical execution of that the application of filmmaking is is extremely difficult, especially when you're going 70 miles an hour. And you're gonna go like through seven streets with explosions and whatever, and you have a finite amount of time to do it. Because second unit is never is elaborate, or is funded is first unit is it has to be a streamlined, streamlined event that that moves like that moves like a rocket. So I think one of the mistakes that one of the mistakes that a lot of first and second time directors make is not having a clear vision of what they want. And sometimes my job is to help them discover their vision, whether he or she knows what it is or not. So it's my kind of I always take it upon myself is it's my job, and they don't know, to show them. And they give them options too. That's my job as a stunt coordinator, as a fight coordinator, and a second unit director is to help the director achieve their vision of the action, which is harder than achieving your vision of the action. When I know what I want, I always know what I want. So as a director, I came in with a really solid plan for my movie, I'd had to set my production designer, Greg Berry, we already knew what the sets were going to be and where to put the neoprene in which walls needed to fly because the cameras gonna do this I already knew. So it's, it's it's a new, it's like, it's in the neighborhood that I've been roaming around for 32 years. And if you're new to the neighborhood, it's easy to get lost. And I think a lot of the one of the things that some directors are a little intimidated by is they don't want to, they don't want to, they want to go out and wander around and find it for themselves. And that's cool. But we're not in film school, we're in film work when we're making a movie. So you do have a finite amount of time. And you have to be decisive because every decision you make, as a director has a ripple effect from all of the departments that it has to go to production designer, okay, you're fighting, go to tear this costume needs to go, you punch him here, what makeup needs this, you're gonna break his arm props and prosthetic arm needs to go and using. So you have to be decisive and give your team a chance to react to your decisions. So it's not last minute. And this is one of the mistakes that I think a lot of first time directors make is there. They don't want to decide that they will not make decisions in time.

Alex Ferrari 28:20
Now, when you were involved with John Wick, I mean, that must have been a dream. Like that project must be because it was just such a old school approach to fights. And it's not like being caught 50,000 angles. It's like you see Keanu beaten up three guys one shot. And you it's not like the famous one is like, you know, I don't know if you know who shot taken three or two or whatever. But you see, you know, I saw this one, this one sequence somebody on YouTube, it was so beautiful. It's like, it's Liam running and jumping across a fence as he's chasing somebody with 75 cards. I was like no joke was a tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick tick. As opposed to something like John Wick you just look at and you're like, that's just that's a What was it like to just get in the car and go on. I'm not gay brother.

J.J. Perry 29:09
So I was on Expendables three in Bulgaria with Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone on a container in, in, in. In Sofia shooting machine guns when Chad Stahelski called me we're, we're teammates and you know, mad respect to Chad and Dave for what all that they've accomplished. You know, they that style of mixing Judo with jujitsu in gun work. He calls me and I was about to finish up in Expendables three he said, Hey, listen, I'm doing the shoot out in a nightclub in New York on this on my movie John Wick. I need your help because I was in the army. So I know how to work the gun work and and look, we were all a big fans of hardboiled. You know, the John was so but I want to get my hands on those Chinese guns that have 500 bullets in them. He never reloads I love those guns. I want to get one of those. But that's one of the things that we one of the monitors will I was that we would be true to that. If you're running a Glock 17. With a regular magazine, you have 15. And one, you have an extended mag you get at 17 and one or 18 and one. So that was it, I got the call to come down, they were shooting the lat the final scene out in the dark when he's fighting the father of the guy at the end, he gives me an address of a nightclub and says we want to shoot, we want to start shooting, we're gonna shoot this nightclub scene at this place. Can you go there, I got there on a Friday afternoon. They're shooting at night. So I just drove to that address gave the door guy 100 bucks to let me in and walk through there. He said it'll start at the top. When you go up the stairs, the room you're right and started as a door to walk in. You'll go through we'll work our way all the way around the top floor, and then we'll the beginning of it will pull into the dance floor. So I just walked with my iPhone doing a first person shooter it patrons of the club, then I would turn the phone around to myself do a reload. And then so what John Wick is it's exactly the opposite. It's reverse first person shooter. It's always on Qian and pulling him and then wrapping in until it falls apart. And then we do it all over again. So it's a big pool into a rap. And that's that's technically the idea that theory of shooting. So you see Keanu Reeves is doing this. So for me once a week once I got there and we started working that out. I knew right away looking into monitors with Chad and Dave, I was like, Dude, we're on one. You guys are on one right now. As it's cutting edge, because in your gun. This is the thing. Now that I've done a John Wick I've done to you I did the just the club scene shoot out in the first one. And then I did all of the second one. And we upped Keanu was training camp for the second one because what Chad said to me said, how can we make to better than one I said, Well, you have to make Keanu better. So we put him in a really hard jujitsu camp Judo camp, took him to a three gun range and hadn't trained by a, you know, a 14 time world three gun champion, Taran Butler up here in Simi Valley, we just made him better, and then let the camera run longer. So you know, that was it was one of the highlights of my career because I'm a dear friend and fan of Keanu Reeves. I'm a huge fan of Chester house because we go back 30 years, one of the first people I met when I got out of the Army, he's been a huge a huge ally. You know, like, again, I didn't really have a plan when I got out of the army. I just didn't want to fuck things up and have to end up back in the army. But you know, Chad, you know, went to USC, he was always a he always knew that he I think he always knew he was going to be a director. And I really admire that I kind of watched where he walked in the snow and followed his footsteps. So you know, he was actually a producer on day shift. He was the one that I took it to the gotten greenlit. So that was, you know, that was one of the big, helping him out and working with our team at at 711 was, it's always a pleasure. There was a lot of hitters on that movie, bro. And the first and second one.

Alex Ferrari 32:53
So it's so funny because I remember Dave, I met Dave on in Sundance 2005 When he was promoting as a sledge. Yep. You remember that movie?

J.J. Perry 33:08
Yeah, we worked on it. We all do it.

Alex Ferrari 33:10
You weren't. So I was yeah, he was like he was doing like a stunt thing. And I met him and we hung out for a while. And this is before you know, a few years before he did John Wick. But as I was watching his career gromek Matt got blessed. I'm so glad he's, he's done good for, for himself over the years, man. It's, it's awesome. Now,

J.J. Perry 33:32
You know, if you look at if you look at stunt performers trajectory, like I've worked on 150 features, and over 300 episodes of TV, when you're working with Angley, gently Spike Lee, when you've worked with everyone, you have to learn something if you're paying attention. You know, like that's a different I guess the difference between a stunt guy and a stunt man, a stunt guy is just trying to make a bunch of money and get some toys. A stuntman is out there trying to make the movie better, and he's paying attention to every shot and trying to make every shot better. So you know, being being a stunt man, you know, and learning from some of the masters and learning just as much from second and first and second time directors on what not to do sometimes. Right part of my film school. And you know, Dave and Chad are alike. So the first one is the guy who directed from my group that directed smoking the bandit. Okay, I'll need him. How's that? Yeah. So he busted out in the 70s. He's one of the founders of my group sons Unlimited, you know, so he's one of the guys that busted out and you have a few stunt directors who in the US that have done some movies, you know, like Jackie Chan, for me is one of the all time greats because he, you know, he took it completely to the next level and there and he did stuff that we're still doing now. But Chad and Dave, for me, were instrumental in opening the door. And hopefully that door gets torn off the hinges because in the mid 2000s, in the early 2000s, there was this wave of visual effects directors. were directing movies. And the difference between us and them not to knock them is they don't have a human experience when you're making a visual effects previous you're on a computer and the computer will do exactly what you tell it to do. Right now. Fast forward to me training Keanu or US training. Tom Hardy and warrior Joel Edgerton, and warrior or Charlize here on on on atomic blonde OS them, we're training them, we're trying to do this, we're directing them, we're making them badass, don't best way to fake being a badass is just to make them a badass, we're directing them, and we have their trust. So when we're on set, and someone says, Why don't want to stand over here, I want to stand over there. I'm like, I can adjust quickly. But that Visual Effects Director was like, Well, wait a minute, no, my you know, they don't know how it aired, the computer does exactly what they tell them to do. When they get the human effect. When the human effect comes in. It became very difficult for them. And also it's, it's the interfacing as a stunt coordinator, you're constantly interfacing with all the other departments. So you have this dialogue and this repertoire with everyone on the movie and production meetings go into their offices. So I know how to communicate with everyone. I have a relationship with pretty much every crew anywhere because I've filmed in 36 countries. So it's a huge advantage for us is action directors becoming directors because we have this film, not film school experience. But filmmaking experience, which is entirely different than theory, its execution. It's like fighting the guy that hits the bag all day. You don't know what he's gonna do when he gets punched in the face. But the guy that spars all day, he's reactive, and proactive and hyperactive, you know? So that's, that's my take on on action directing. That's my take on it.

Alex Ferrari 36:43
Well, it's kind of like Mike Tyson has everyone's got a plan to get punched in the face,

J.J. Perry 36:46
Amen, my brother.

Alex Ferrari 36:49
You can be as badass as you want. But so you get that first punch in the face. All that stuff goes out the window really quickly.

J.J. Perry 36:56
That's right.

Alex Ferrari 36:57
So man, I got a chance to watch your new film day shift brother. First of all, congratulations. When I saw it, I was just like, I was expecting great action. I got great action. And then as I was seeing some of the techniques in the movie, I was watching it and I'm like, Oh, this is all old school style in camera stuff like Yes. And then when I saw the contortionist vampires, I was like, Oh, yes, he did. Like, because then you can't be yes, that it's so many you could do visual effects to do that. But man, when you get a contortionist out there doing crazy stuff, it just brings such reality. So tell everybody what the movie is about. And then we'll get into the how you made it.

J.J. Perry 37:37
So the movies about a man that got out of the army a lot like me, gets trying to keep his family together. And you know, LA's a tough place to live brother, like when I got out of the army, I was not prepared for rent and insurance and etc, etc. So he's, he's a guy that that has a job cleaning pools, and he augments his his income by killing vampires and selling their teeth in an underground in an underground market of vampire hunters that extract vampire teeth and kill them. And what really attracted me to this, you know, I've been reading a lot of scripts, and I was super stoked just being a stunt coordinator and secondary director, making a ton of dough flying all over the world, smashing people with all my friends, and then getting on a plane and going somewhere else and doing it all over again. It was a big risk for me to step out and direct a film. So I was going to be very picky and I read a bunch of scripts. Oh, JJ, you were in the army. You should do a movie about PTSD. cybers I was like, No, man, the world's dark right now. You know, right now with COVID and a double feature of monkey pox and a triple feature of war in Ukraine, the Worldstar you can turn on the news right now and find 1000 reasons to want to turn it off. I when I saw when I read the script, Dacia It spoke to me immediately because big drum a little china Lost Boys Evil Dead. Fright Night from the 80s Action, Comedy horror. I don't have a message. There's no I'm not trying to tell anyone to do anything or change anyone's mind. I just want them to enjoy having those three elements Action, Comedy and horror. I always will have the upper hand on the audience. I can wow them with action. I can make them laugh with comedy, and I can make them jump with horror. So using those three tiers, those three elements of those three layers of attack, it was like triangulating my crossfire on the audience to keep them right where I wanted them. The script spoke to me because there's an underground world of vampires and an underground world of hunters that chase them which is just like John Wick, but so that's what they were coming I got a lot of John Wick ish scripts s scripts. I was like I did that man and I don't want to bite on what Chad and Keanu are doing now. People will always say like John Wick, you know, but this in the movie I made is not John Wick with vampires. It's definitely not I definitely wanted to get as far away from that as I could because I'd already worked on that and I don't want to. I want to give the bout to my bros it at 711 Chad and Dave, they did a great job of that. I don't want to bite on that. There's enough people doing it right now. I got a script. I got it from Sean and Yvette Yates from impossible dream. They brought it to me. They've been big, you know, advocates and then the guy Tyler Tice, who wrote it, Jim, me and him worked on it for about a year. I do we just put big action teeth on it, you know, BT. And then I made it the characters is familiar to me as possible, like big John's character was like my platoon sergeant in the Army buds wife is like my wife, my wife's an attorney. She's the mike tyson of our viewers. You know, so and Bud has a nine year old daughter, I have a nine year old daughter, so I try to make it relatable to me. So when the Thespians would ask me, I would be able to speak intelligently. And I'll be honest, the thing that really worried me more than anything, was the comedy. Yeah, cuz that's something Yeah. But I think I'm funny, but I don't know if anyone else fucking thinks I'm funny.

Alex Ferrari 40:53
So, Gary, Jake, having hairy Jamie Foxx Jamie Foxx is not

J.J. Perry 40:59
Getting Day Shift was a win. Getting Jamie Foxx was winning the water. Oh, so talented. Oh my God. What a G bro and inhuman Dave Franco together.

Alex Ferrari 41:10
Oh great. Great chemistry!

J.J. Perry 41:13
I worked on a movie called spy several years ago with it Paul Feig directed. I did the action for him. And I did some second unit for him. And I watched the I was I first saw, I was hoping this would happen from right when Chad and Dave finished John Wick. I started going to you know, read I'd ask directors when I'd get hired and be like, Hey, can I sit through read through so I wanted to be more a part of that to watch the decisions being made. I really paid attention to Paul on how he directed the action and he had these things posted notes. And he would have it was almost like an accordion a post it notes with bolts that he had scribbled down so when he would just let the camera roll and say oh I tried this or I try this and then he would say okay now run with it. So having Jamie and Dave Franco in the comedy bro just let the cameras roll and let them just have at it so you know I I think you know Jamie for me was the biggest winner of all you know getting movies huge thank you Netflix Thank you Chester house from Greenland. Thank you impossible dream for bring it to me thank you Tom for writing in Jamie Foxx I will forever owe a debt of gratitude and all we always be a good program because that was him showing up to do my movie was such a massive thing for me.

Alex Ferrari 42:28
Now with you know, a lot of second unit directors don't get the shot because a lot of them stay a second unit directors for their career. And like you said, I can have fun I can go out I'm working on big budgets I'm having this fun for fun. So when I saw that, you know when I went in and started to research it I was like oh this is his first shot like this is this is not a normal scenario because a lot of times actually second unit directors no action, but they have no idea how to deal with actors like on a on a watch McCall on like a dialogue state or how to carry character arcs and things like that. It's a little tougher to do that. But when I saw what you does, like man, I'm interested to see how he does and I was like man, he held it together man like the whole story was well put together. There's some beautiful easter eggs for someone of my my vintage to to grab on to some some loss boy lines. Well give it away. I was like, I was like nice. So some some nice little easter eggs along the way. But it was just it was just it was just well done. It was really well done. And I was telling you earlier before we get started with the color of it looks great that the the you could feel how hot it is. During you could feel like it Valley. And then that since I'm from the valley. I was just I was just like, I was from the valley. I was just like it up. Oh, they're deep in the valley over there. There. That's not Burbank. Nope, that's so it was fun. Oh, it's always fun for me when they shoot something in LA. They're like, yep, been there. Yep. I know where that is. Yeah.

J.J. Perry 44:00
So you know, Brother, listen, when I got out of the Army, it kind of was like that I moved to the valley first I lived in the back of a taekwondo school for a while and when I got made my first bit of money, I moved to the valley and you have to that's the trajectory I think you need to move to the valley to move down by the airport when you first get here and you don't have any money. Then you make your way over the hill which will be night shift part two will be in Hollywood or you know we'll be in Hollywood maybe next time. But that was the trajectory and one of the things that I remember about the valley when I first got there was being from Texas. It's hot and humid but the colors in the valley that orange and listing total disclosure, I am completely colorblind, the worst colorblind you can be but that orange for me really resonates in the opening of diehard when the plane lands, the orange sun, that setting when the plane lands. That's what I showed Toby Oliver, when I said I need your help with this because I want the interiors to feel cold like vampires would be there you can almost feel the breath. But when you're outside it should be hot and sticky and light Like the valley, you know what you hear? That's the water the water watering things are the you're gonna disturb the cicadas, you know you all of that, that I wanted to get bring that to the movie. So yeah, that was part of it for me and Toby Oliver is a gem. You know, when we shot the movie in 42 days with no second unit, which is a very short shoot for a movie of that size. And we didn't have a lot of time we shot 31 Days in Atlanta and 11 days in LA. So I was scared all my interiors in Atlanta and a few exteriors. So what I did in LA what all of my establishing shots of LA, I would do these big drone, handoffs, big drone shot showing the valley, then we'd have certain operator catch the drone, we hit a button, the drone would fly off, and then we follow our actors into wherever they were going. So I really close the valley because I wanted to, and I think the valley is hot, sweaty, sexy, cool, exotic, trippy, you know, you can smell the different flavors of food in the air, you can hear seven different languages being spoken, it was this mystical place when I moved there being from South Texas, you know, like the valley, you know, like what a trip. So that was part of it for me is to show how exotic the valley was. So there you go.

Alex Ferrari 46:13
So, you know, as a director, you know, and I'm sure you've had this happen on other projects as well. There's always that one day that the whole worlds come crashing down around you. You like oh my god, we're not going to make it. We're not going to make the day we're not going to make the shot. But something's going to happen. And it's generally every day we have every every day, there's a moment of that. But generally, on this project, was there one day that stands out that you're just like, I feel like security's gonna come and take me away.

J.J. Perry 46:39
No, no, but there's a moment I'll tell you. It's funny. So I was never afraid of the action at all ever. And my first ad His name is Bill Clark, I call him Wild Bill. He's Quentin Tarantino is first lady's dear friend, the scene where the vampires come to get. But in his wife, it's the very end of the movie when they they leave South and they take his wife and daughter. Bill comes to me the night before when we were wrapping up, he goes, you know, you got seven and a half pages of dialogue tomorrow. And I was a young girl. And I didn't know what that meant. You know, a lot of time he goes, Hey, Bubba, you got seven and a half pages of dialogue tomorrow. And I was like, Cool, great. He goes, he just kind of pulled me you know, he's like, Hey, so let's talk about this. So it didn't really dawn on me till about four o'clock in the afternoon, when I was better pay better attention to that. But you know, at the end of the day, we ended up getting that right, we had we had, you know, it's because the cast was so great. And everyone, no one went back to their trailers. Everybody hung out on set, we're playing music between setups, you know, everybody was having a good time, I wanted to keep the set light, like I keep my second unit light key there Metallica or Stevie Ray Vaughn, between setups or you know, dealer's choice to get a new DJ. And we had Jamie with his boombox. And we had, you know, taco truck here and there and coffee trucks. So it ended up working out all right. And it was my ignorance that saved me, because I wasn't afraid you don't you're not afraid of what you don't know until you know it right? Of course. And then it kind of worked out. And bill at the end of that day when Whoa, you said that was almost like having a baby. And I was like, Well, I can't speak on that yet. But I can tell you now I know what seven and a half pages mean. So

Alex Ferrari 48:18
Seven and a half pages is a lot of dialogue, man. I mean, unless you're doing unless you're doing master shot theater, then it's cool. You can knock that out in 30 minutes. But if you're doing what, you know, a normal setup, man, that's a lot of dials.

J.J. Perry 48:30
There were nine people in the room too. So there's a lot of coverage, you knows a lot of coverage. And also you had to not, we had to be careful not to shoot the mirror because the vampires are invisible in the mirrors. And I didn't have a huge visual effects budget on the movie. So I had to be very conscious of everything I was doing.

Alex Ferrari 48:45
Right? No, exactly. And how many cameras did you shoot with?

J.J. Perry 48:49
Generally, when we were doing all of it, when we were doing all the dialogue, always three cameras, I always run three cameras. And then when we were doing the car chase, I was running seven cameras, because we didn't I mean, it wasn't like I said it wasn't we didn't have a lot of time. And it wasn't a fast and furious budget or you know, a gray man budget. But it was it wasn't a little budget either. They were very generous with me. So I just because of second unit, I know how to budget my time really, really well. When it comes to action. I just know this is gonna work. This is gonna work. I gotta do this. Okay, so I can make a change here. We can not cut here and go here. I know how to I know how to run the table. I know how to play shoot that I knew how to clean the table to run that eight ball. But um,

Alex Ferrari 49:26
So what was the biggest challenge you had on this project? Since I mean, since it's your first full feature? You've done tons a second. What was the biggest

J.J. Perry 49:34
Hardest part for me was getting the opportunity to do it, bro. You know, to be honest, I was gonna have to do that, by the way. Well, you know, like when John and Yvette brought it to me, and we worked on it for a year I was doing Fast and Furious eight in London. Chad was in London with Keanu promoting John Wick three. Now I had shot the first sequence with the old lady as a stump is and I've done a vampire genogram different species and I don't use sizzle reels and a lookbook. So we're out partying at the Gaucho room with Keanu and Chad celebrating the release of their movie. John Wick three wasn't hanging out with him. In about four in the morning, Chad leans over and he goes, Hey, man, I'm probably going to get some sort of post first look, deal. Do you have anything? And I was like, funny you should mention that. I slid it you know, I didn't slide it across the table. But I texted I emailed it to him. And I knew he was flying back to LA the next day. And at 6am when he was in the car on the way to the Heathrow. I texted him, I said, Hey, give that thing a look while you're on the plane. He landed in LA and he by the time he landed, he calls me he's going to make this move. And literally, two weeks later, we're in meetings to make this movie and it was happening. So COVID Hit which put it on a hold. So the trajectory was shattered. But Yeates as Sean Reddick and Yvette Yates from posturing, give me the script. Get behind me. Tyler Tyson, I work on it for about a year together. Chance to house he sees it gets excited about it walks it in Netflix, or a mom or Taylor Z. Get excited about it about the package of Chad and this movie and myself. Jamie Foxx comes on board and it turns into like a holy shit, it's going to be massive. And here we are. It's all in the past. Now it's all in all behind us. So that's kind of the way it happened. And it happened really fast. We shot it really fast. I had the one of the best times I've ever had prepping and shooting the movie, the only place that I was not aware of was post production. Because 32 years of prepping movies and shooting movies. You never like I've been in the editing room a couple of times with directors cutting together because I always when I shoot second unit, I cut while I'm shooting and I deliver it. So I shoot a stump is for proofing proof of concept. Then when I'm shooting what I shoot, I shoot and cut the footage off of the TTI key and hand it to them and say proof of execution. You don't have to cut it this way you cut it any way you want to. But this was my version of your vision. And now it's locked in now it's done. If you want to give it to your editors, as a roadmap, do whatever you like, but here it is. So all that being said, prepping the movie shooting, it was such a PCK going into post production, I'd already cut all of the action while we were shooting. So theoretically, a third of the movie was cut already when we get to posts. So watching the whole process of post I learned so much in post about what I don't need to do. And I'll tell you like all those shots of the techno crane passing over the pool that follows the feet up and close to the door and a lens flare hidden from the sun. That 45 second shot. My cinematic my Kurosawa shots all gone dog. Oh, yep. So I learned so much about what I don't need to do that I would tell you confidently as a 54 year old budding filmmaker, that my sophomore effort will be infinitely better than my freshman efforts.

Alex Ferrari 53:03
Wow, that's such a man. It's so true. Because even look so it's so funny. They say that man because you've been in the biz man for you know, decades. At this point, you've shot so much work at the highest levels. And yet you fell into the same trap that first time directors fall into like, let's make this one shot here. And then we'll do the Goodfellas shot through the through the kitchen and all that stuff. And I remember Kurosawa, that Kubrick thing will do that. And it's and you you fall into that and you realize, when you get in the cutting room, like I said, it just stops the entire movie, you can't do that.

J.J. Perry 53:36
It went like this. So the action was cut. We watched the movie, for the first time, probably three, two and a half or three weeks in, we just put all the reels together. And the movie came in at two hours and 43 minutes. So I looked at it and I was like, Wow, alright, cool. So I want to listen, I never wanted anyone I was very conscious of this, because I'm always watching. I made this movie for our generation Gen X, but I also made it for the millennials and the Gen X Gen Y and Gen Z hence, but in Seth, counterparts that difference and I'll get into that in a minute remind me to talk to you about why that was inspired from but that was easy. It was easy for me because I didn't want my movie to feel long. I wanted it to be easy to watch because you listen I'm not gonna say any I'm not going to call any movies out. But there's a lot of movies now that I watch that are hard, like I love them but they get become like I'm sitting now I'm aware that they're fat, making dayshift for not for the small screen for being seven or 10 feet away from your big screen TV from your sofa. You're sitting four feet high. Looking at your screen. That's in my mind. That was the movie I was making. I was not shooting it for a theater because it was you know, Netflix is a small screen and but it's big screen ambitions on the small screen. So in saying that it was very easy for me. Once I cut that first part of my finger off, I let that long shot Go, it became easy for me to see it is just it 54 In all those years of experience comes in wisdom. Like, I know I have to, I have to sift some of this out. So I let it go quickly. You know, like, Listen, I'll be honest with you. It's not. It's not. It's not Shakespeare. And if you weren't Shakespeare, they wouldn't be hiring me, bro. They wouldn't hire a caveman like me. It has to be fast and fun. And something has to happen. And I don't want anyone to feel like okay, I'm waiting now and what's going on? I don't want them looking at their Instagram. So that was kind of the the full film filmmaking experience that I wanted to create is something that was scary, acne funny, and easy to watch.

Alex Ferrari 55:43
And it's exactly like that's not a movie that can be two hours and 45 minutes like that story. It's not that story. So it's just not but it's it needs to be fast and tight and quick, and you'd fun. And that's the kind of thing you know, you're not making Braveheart. You know, which is what you need three hours to tell that story. And it's it okay to do that. And honestly, I don't know if Braveheart gets made today. And that's no,

J.J. Perry 56:06
I'm a huge I used to double Mel Gibson strangely, and I'm a huge fan. I think he's one of the best filmmakers. Ah, alright, you know, like, listen, I used to be a stone Golem. Huge fan, bro.

Alex Ferrari 56:19
Apocalypto. Oh, god, it's brilliant film.

J.J. Perry 56:23
The 250 millimeter lens on my set is called the Mel Gibson because he always has a camera on a 250. And he always he told me goes, Hey, kid, you want to see what's going on in there? Put the 250 and reach in there and get them you can see what they're thinking, bro. So I always use that 250 But I couldn't get the Mel Gibson out guys when I was thinking that moment, you know, so? Yes, you're right. It's not and they probably will make a Braveheart but kudos to Mel for making it in.

Alex Ferrari 56:50
Yeah, when when they could. And you told me to ask you about the generational thing.

J.J. Perry 56:54
So yes, I'm on the road as a stunt coordinator, sacking director with all of these Apex stunt performers and stunt coordinators that work with me for the last we've done we've been on the road with the same guys for about eight or nine years at 711 stunts unlimited I hire within my team, Justin you, Troy Robinson, Mike Leia, my bros, but they're, except for Troy. Those other guys and females and girls that are in my group are all millennials and Gen X and Jim why like parkour champions world kung fu champion, car drifting champion trip motorcycle champion, but they're all kids. And I love them. But I don't know what the fuck they're talking about half the time, dude. And we all love each other and laugh at each other. But it's, it's that awkward thing that I wanted that I experienced on the road with my teammates that I love. And we spent time together and we hang out and watch him in May and go to the movies and do functions and stuff together and risk our lives together and make a bunch of dough together. But when I listen to them talk about things I'm like, fuck are they talking about? That's exactly what I wanted to portray that dynamic between blood and Seth in my movie. Like there's the generation that gets their knowledge from this. Right? They get their phone and it's Google. You and me. I'm 54 and we're probably eugenics.

Alex Ferrari 58:11
I'm not I'm not too far away from you, sir.

J.J. Perry 58:13
So you know, we were kids. If you wanted to learn something, you have to go there and learn it

Alex Ferrari 58:17
Until you library library photocopy when

J.J. Perry 58:21
I joined the Army, because I was a junior national taekwondo champion, so I could go boot get stationed in Korea, so I could fight the best in the world. So I committed four years of my life to the army just for taekwondo just so I could go there and fight and train. So I know the way the gym smells at chumps. Shil I know the way the gym smells in Thailand and lupini stadium, I know the way that Buddha con, the floor feels when you walk on it. Kids that learn on it on this, they don't know that they're getting the knowledge without actually earning it, which comes without the wisdom of learning. No, not knocking my younger brothers and sisters because I have a huge admiration for them. And we can learn a lot from them as well. But that for me the practical application versus the quicker knowledge is another thing that I wanted to portray in my movie.

Alex Ferrari 59:10
And if I if I can get up on my old man soapbox. The difference is that our generation is I call us the bridge generation. Because we were at a time when we understood pre internet, pre technology. I don't know about you. But I remember a time when there was no remotes. I was I was the remote from my grandfather. He's like get up and change the channel. And you would go like that stuff. I showed my daughters of rotary phone the other day and their minds just exploded. They just couldn't understand. And I go Yeah, and on. On the on the seventh number. If you mess it up, you got to start over. All these history, but so we know that part of of technology and history and society. But then we also were around when the internet was born. That's right. So, so we have feet and both both generous as opposed to like my daughters. They don't know anything different. You know, and the millennials they don't know a world without this kind of stuff. So it's a different different way of looking at

J.J. Perry 1:00:14
things the internet crashes we would go back to the Thomas guide in a hot minute, but they wouldn't maybe not no deal with that in coins for the for the phones, you remember. I remember the pager when I was a kid, a pager Well, church and the pastor said, Hey, you better get that it might be God page. And he told him, my mom, my grandma. Good Doctor, he must mean doctor.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:38
When is that? So when is Day Shift coming out man?

J.J. Perry 1:00:41
August 12. It drops we are. I'm super excited like all my other director friends that do this is the worst time for you because you don't know. And I was like, Pablo, for me not knowing is the bliss of not knowing. For me, it's awesome. Because I feel like I did everything I could to make it as good as I can. I had a great time doing it. I had a great partner and my cast and my shooting crew and my production producers and Netflix. I'm just super stoked to get it out there and let it let the ship sail and let's see how far it goes.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:09
And the thing I also love about what you're doing, man is like you just made your first feature, but you're still you're still hustling on an out there as a second unit and you're still working. You don't stop man, I saw your IMDB and you're like Nah, man. I'm keep. You're not like I'm a director now I only direct No, no, no, no.

J.J. Perry 1:01:24
I'm working as a stunt man next week, too. So this is how it goes for me brother. Just so you know, like, I learned all my lessons in life. I didn't go to college, I learned my lessons in life in the dojo in in the army. And my master said something to me when I was 11 years old. He said if you want to be a fighter, you have to go fight. Fighting is a perishable skill. Directing in my opinion, for me is a perishable skill. If you're not out there doing it all the time, you know, it's you're not reactive, or proactive, you become reactive, you got to be proactive, you got to be in front of the wave all the time. So I'm constantly just I just got back from doing a movie for Warner Brothers called Blue Beetle, did murder mystery to for Netflix getting ready to do back in action for Netflix. Like I'm just I want to keep myself directing action. And hopefully, my movie goes well, and they give they give this old cowboy another shot at the title baby. I'm ready. Ring the bell.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:13
Now, bro, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

J.J. Perry 1:02:21
Believe in yourself and be as good as you can be be the best version of yourself. Because when opportunity comes, you might not get another shot at it. It comes when it comes in, you can make your fate in certain ways. But you think like for my example, it took me 32 years to get a directing job. You know, so I was when my moment came, I was absolutely ready. I had a script that I loved and was passionate about. I knew what that set was going to smell like before I got there. And this is coming from a dyslexic colorblind guy that never went to college, you know. And so if you get the opportunity, you have to make the most of that opportunity. And don't take anything for granted and learn as much as you can about all the other departments.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:03
What did you What did you learn from your biggest failure?

J.J. Perry 1:03:08
Yeah, I've taken a bath a few times. You know, it's tough love, especially when you get out of the army. The army prepares you for certain things, but it doesn't necessarily prepare you for what to do when you get out always, especially in in the late 80s, early 90s. I got out in 1990. So it was hard for me to because I didn't know many people I didn't know anyone in LA except for one or two people. Like I slept on the floor of a karate school for a long time. You know, it was very, like, there was no room for error. Like if I didn't make money, I was definitely going to be back in the army. So, you know, but la strangely was, you know, a place at the time and even now I'm you know, I love this place. It's a trip, you know, but the weather in the place I fell in love with it the first time I saw it, you know, back in 1988 while I was driving to Fort Ord, you know, like when I drove through LA so that's probably the biggest lessons came from you know, like just learning how to apply the work ethic that I learned in the military and for martial arts in how to monetize that and make make it make me able to survive in the real world.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:06
Three of your favorite films of all time. Oh, whatever comes to mind, brother, but it won't be on your tombstone.

J.J. Perry 1:04:15
When police story and armor of God are tied is action grace you have to I have to mention Enter the Dragon Armor of God and police story so the Terminator and Rocky the first rock in the first Terminator because the first Terminator for me was the story was like I remember I remember sitting in the theater. It was in I was in downtown Houston. Yes probably stone with my buddies and we were like remember the first hang on I remember the first time when you saw Star Wars and when they went to hyperspeed remember that first love Yeah, sure, man. Yeah, yeah, that's it. So that was kind of Terminator for me and Rocky was such an inspiration as well, you know? So I would say I it's hard for me to say three but I would go please story. armor of God rocky Terminator. And yeah, any one of those three for me with those in you like for entertainment like we did it doesn't have action. But strangely, Forrest Gump was such a feel good movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:17
Movie. Yeah. Awesome. Now, one last question, man, because you you mentioned Terminator, you've gotten a chance to work with Jim.

J.J. Perry 1:05:25
I have him as well. I go to the gun range with him as well. Sometimes he she's so.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:32
So what is it like walking on the set of a Jim Cameron movie for the first time. And you're like, Dude, that's terminate, like, like, you have to Geek do geek out every once in a while. I mean, at this point, you've worked with so many. But that first time,

J.J. Perry 1:05:46
The first time I walked on the set prep, we did prep work on the first Avatar and while we when I went in at lunch, they were using this new that new technology where it was real time, Genesis, Garrett Warren, my friend was the stunt coordinator, Peter Jackson, and Steven Spielberg, were there with Jim. So it was like this triple geek out moment where, like, we you know, like, so Garrett walked in front of them. And I snapped a picture, just they were eating, and he didn't want to bother him. But he walked in front of them and stopped. And I clicked a picture for you know, you know, when Jim James Cameron is coming to work, you can hear the helicopter landing. That's when he shows up for work. That's how he comes to work from his place. He's a G Man, like, for me, that generation of filmmakers. Yeah, there's nothing to make the movies in camera, you know, and then went with the wave to technology, even Angley is another example that I've done a bunch with Angley. He's another one that's, you know, practical filmmaker that went all the way into checklist. All of those guys are epic. And if we've seen any fathers filmmakers, because we stood on the shoulders of giants like those men.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:57
Absolutely. No question. J.J man, it has been an absolute pleasure and honor talking to you and geeking out with you, brother. It is I hope, I hope somebody learns a little bit from our conversation here and there's a lot of gems in this woman, but congratulations on your success and your career on your new movie. And I hope man, I hope they give you the keys again, brother. I really look forward to see what else you do, man.

J.J. Perry 1:07:18
Thank you, brother. I appreciate you.

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Ultimate Guide To James Gray And His Directing Techniques

LITTLE ODESSA (1994)

Outside of independent film circles, director James Gray isn’t well-known.  His filmography mostly flies under the radar of the larger moviegoing public, but what little output he does have is almost always well-received by critics.  As a storyteller, Gray specializes in stark chamber dramas with Shakespearean levels of familial conflict– not exactly fodder for the 3D blockbuster set.  However, give the man a little bit of your time, and you too will realize that Gray’s uncompromising vision is poised to one day deliver him into the pantheon of great American directors.

I feel a deep kinship with Gray in that we both are largely influenced by cinema of the 1970’s– that bastion of compelling drama and character-driven storytelling.  When I envision myself making a drama, it usually looks a lot Gray’s austere work.  Naturally, I respond to the man’s films on an aspirational and intangibly visceral level.

Gray hails from The Bronx, and the subject matter of his films hasn’t strayed too far from that general sphere of influence.  He was inspired to become a filmmaker after viewing the works of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, two directors whose touch can still be felt in Gray’s recent work.  He learned his craft in the venerable halls of USC’s School of Cinema-Television, cutting his teeth on two shorts- 1990’s TERRITORIO and 1991’s COWBOYS AND ANGELS.  The strength of the latter landed him an agent right out of school, and catapulted him directly into the making of his first feature, LITTLE ODESSA (1994).

Because neither TERRITORIO or COWBOYS AND ANGELS are (to my knowledge) publicly available, I’ll start the dissection of Gray’s ouevre with LITTLE ODESSA.  The film is set during the cold winter months in New York City’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, populated predominantly by Russian immigrants.  Joshua Shapira (Tim Roth), a calculating hitman, takes on a job that brings him back to the neighborhood he grew up, near the family he hasn’t talked to in years.

When his younger brother Reuben (Edward Furlong) seeks him out to share the news that their mother Irina (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying, Joshua is forced to reconcile with his estranged family and potentially compromise his operations.  Inevitably, his return will have tragic and devastating consequences for all those caught in the wake.

At first glance, one would never know this was Gray’s first film, and that he was only twenty five at the time of its production.  The performances are incredibly accomplished and heartfelt.  Roth doesn’t get to headline a film very often, but he makes the most of it here by turning in a chilling, focused performance as a contract killer in the process of an emotional breakdown.

He embraces the greasy sleaze that the role requires, but also finds the humanity and the empathy within those fortified walls.  As the younger brother Reuben,  Furlong builds on the promise seen in his debut, James Cameron’sTERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991).  Furlong belongs in that specialized sect of actors, populated by the ghosts of James Dean, Brad Renfro, and River Phoenix, who would command striking, powerful performances early in their careers before succumbing to vice and personal demons stemming from their success.

Whereas Furlong isn’t exactly dead yet, he’s arguably squandered his potential by dabbling in hard drugs and straight-to-video shlock. But in LITTLE ODESSA, Furlong bubbles with a focused intensity and angst.  The story really belongs to the family dynamics of these two brothers, and the consequences of Joshua and Reuben’s life choices make for incredibly compelling tragedy.

The supporting cast is comprised of lesser-known faces, but they make no less an impact.  Vanessa Redgrave, as the brothers’ sickly mother, is a stark reminder of the frailty of life and the inevitability of death.  She is a source of strength for her boys, but as her health rapidly worsens, so do the prospects for a bright future for Joshua and Reuben.

Maximilian Schell plays Arkady, the tired patriarch and embodiment of the Shapira clan’s cultural heritage.    An Eastern European sensibility runs through all of Gray’s work, and Arkady is perhaps the first concrete example of that influence within his filmography.

Gray partners with Director of Photography Tom Richmond to create a lived-in, worn-out look that suits the subject matter and the setting.  Shot on 35mm film and presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, LITTLE ODESSA is a gorgeous-looking work.  Richmond and Gray create an image that’s high in contrast, with an even color scheme that deals in a predominantly black and brown palette.

The 70’s cinema of Scorsese and Coppola (especially 1972’s THE GODFATHER) are a huge formative influence on Gray, and it’s evident that he tries to replicate that sepia-tinged look in his own body of work.  He adopts a classical, minimalist approach to his framing and pacing, yet he subtly redefines it for the contemporary era.  No shot is frivolous or wasted.  Each frame is carefully considered.

Grey often composes shots using tangible framing elements like doorways or windows.  The effect, while somewhat distancing, has the effect of voyeurism; it’s as if we are ghosts drifting through the walls of tiny tenement houses and bearing witness to incredibly private family conflicts.  Gray supplements this effect with a variety of considered camerawork, mostly comprised of traditionally locked-off tripod shots as well as dolly movements.  He also incorporates handheld camerawork, albeit sparingly, as a strategic tool that modernizes the aesthetic of his classical forefathers.

Gray also creates a realistic sonic landscape to match and augment his visual work.  While the credits list a collaboration with Dana Sano for the film’s music, Gray largely eschews the use of score throughout the film.  This allows the story developments to resonate without music emotionally manipulating the audience.  However, Gray does use a variety of circa-90’s source music to establish his setting and timeframe.

The most powerful musical elements of the film, however, are when he uses operatic choral music to underscore the tragic elements of his gritty family drama.  Much like the use of similar music in THE GODFATHER, the style of music communicates a rich cultural lineage stemming from The Old World that fits the film’s deeper themes.

As a debut work, Gray shows a considerable amount of confidence.  It’s even more stunning when you consider that he created a film as accomplished as LITTLE ODESSA at the age when most other guys are still doing keg stands during Homecoming Week parties at their old fraternities.  His filmmaking career starts with a bang— quite literally, as the first scene is Roth crossing the street to shoot a guy sitting on a park bench, point blank in the head.

More importantly, however, is that LITTLE ODESSA begins a career-long exploration of the modern immigrant experience in America; more specifically, that of the Russian and Eastern European background.  Theirs is a rich heritage full of deep-seated religious beliefs, customs, and rituals.

Gray is interested in exploring how these Old World cultures assimilate into the melting pot of the New.  It’s important that the action takes place in the outer boroughs of NYC.  Gray’s characters are outsiders, doomed to the fringes of civilization and only able to look upon the glittering skyscrapers of Manhattan (itself an embodiment of the American Dream) from afar.

Another aspect of Gray’s work worth mentioning, and already apparent in his first work, is the theatrical nature of his stories.  Unlike Sam Mendes, whose craft is influence by a seasoned career in directing for the stage, Gray’s character dramas more closely resemble Greek tragedy in their exploration of inter-familial conflict.

However, I also see a secondary, less-mentioned influence in Gray’s work– that of the Shadow Plays from the Far East.  Gray makes compelling and artful use of shadows and silhouettes throughout his work as a storytelling tool, and as a way to inject expressionism into his otherwise starkly realistic narratives.  Cinema itself finds its roots in the Shadow Play tradition, (objects projected onto canvas via light), so it’s fitting that a cinema purist like Gray incorporates it into his aesthetic.

In the eighteen years since its release, LITTLE ODESSA has drifted into relative obscurity.  I only saw the film for the first time a few days ago, but I imagine that it’s still as potent and relevant as the day it was released.  There’s a hustle, a deep urgency, at play here– not just for the immigrant characters of Gray’s story, but for Gray himself, in an energetic bid to play in the Big Leagues.

It’s not a perfect film– indeed, I caught many beginner mistakes (like a microphone dropping into the shot)– but it is a powerful and highly-overlooked experience.  LITTLE ODESSA, for one, is a reminder that Furlong was (and still could be) a truly great actor.  However, he’s only one small part of a much more intricate narrative.  I suspect that once Gray gains more recognition from the cinephiles of the world, they’ll look to LITTLE ODESSA as the first important work of a major American storyteller.  Here’s to hoping that, one day, Criterion comes calling and gives it the treatment it deserves.


THE YARDS (1999)

As an independent filmmaker, the hardest part about making a film is raising the money.  Studios have the luxury of hundreds of millions of dollars to funnel into their development slate, while most independents have to beg, borrow, and steal for meager budgets.  In the days before digital democratized the medium and dramatically lowered the cost barrier, most of these indie mavericks would go years between projects.  As a staunch advocate for traditional celluloid acquisition, James Gray is certainly no exception to this phenomenon.

It was a full five years after the release of his debut feature, LITTLE ODESSA (1994) until he was able to channel its successes into the making of his follow-up.  That film, 1999’s THE YARDS, was a dramatic upscaling of Gray’s vision and scope and enjoyed the participation of an eclectic, dedicated cast of famous faces.  With his second feature, Gray continues to bring his all to every effort, and delivers a riveting tale of bureaucratic corruption and conflicted loyalties.

Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) is a small-time crook, recently released from a stint in jail for stealing a couple cars.  He may be a tough guy on the outside, but he’s got a heart of gold.  When he returns to his small family in Queens, he’s given a new lease on life in the form of working for his Uncle Frank (James Caan), a fiercely competitive contractor for New York’s subway transit authority.  Dismayed at the time and cost it would take to go to mechanic’s school before he would begin working,

Leo begins shadowing his cousin and Frank’s sales executive, Willie Guiterrez (Joaquin Phoenix).  Before he knows it, Leo finds himself deep in Willie’s world of shady back-room deals and nocturnal sabotage raids on rival firm’s trains.  When a routine raid goes awry and ends in the death of a yard operator and the maiming of a police officer, Leo is pinned for a crime he didn’t commit and must clear his name– even if it means betraying his own family.

THE YARDS is an intriguing story that deals heavily in Gray’s thematic preoccupations.  Based off the strength of his script (which he co-wrote with Matt Reeves of CLOVERFIELD fame) and LITTLE ODESSA’s success, Gray was able to assemble a truly fantastic cast.  It also helped that the infamous Hollywood producing powerhouses, The Weinstein brothers, threw their significant amount of clout around to get the film made.

Fresh off his career-making performance in P.T. Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), Wahlberg continues to shed his cheesy “Marky-Mark” persona and deliver a powerful, understated performance.  His peach-fuzz-goatee’d ex-con projects a quiet intensity, expressed primarily through low-volume mumbles and keen observation.  He evokes a considerable amount of sympathy for his character as a guy who’s just trying to do the right thing, but can’t help but get drawn into trouble by those closest to him.

Conversely, Joaquin Phoenix is a broiling, brooding presence in one of his best early-career roles.  A year later, he would gain worldwide recognition for his villainous turn in Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR (2000), but his antagonist here is much more complex and interesting.  His Willie Gutierrez is a slick, oily devil in a suit who’s proud of his sales prowess and even prouder of his criminal cunning.

When his actions kickstart a chain reaction of trouble, his true character comes out– that of a desperate coward who will do anything to cover his ass, even if it means betraying his own family.  THE YARDS is Gray’s first collaboration with Phoenix, which has since blossomed into one of the tightest director/actor duos since Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro (or Leonardo DiCaprio for that matter).

James Caan, who lately seems big into appearing in the early works of directors (see Michael Mann’s THIEF (1981) and Wes Anderson’s BOTTLE ROCKET (1996)), gives a layered, nuanced performance as Frank, the king of his own subway mini-empire.  It reminded me a bit of Paul Newman’s burdened anti-hero in Sam Mendes’ ROAD TO PERDITION (2002) in that he’s an honorable crook whose strength stems from his family and his status as patriarch.  However, he’s not afraid to do what has to be done, especially when it comes to ensuring the survival of his business.

With his dignified mustache and burly, tough guy mentality, Caan projects an authentically East-Coastal, lived-in aura.

Despite fashioning his stories in a primarily male-oriented setting, Gray shows considerable perception when it comes to sketching out his female characters, aided by an incredible eye for casting.  Charlize Theron, in her short black hair and thick eyeliner, completely disappears into her role as Erica, the woman at the center of a love triangle involving Leo and Willie.

She’s as tough and gritty as the guys, but doesn’t lose her inherent femininity in the process.  As Leo’s mother, Ellen Burstyn turns in a powerful performance as a woman broken-hearted by her son’s descent into crime.  It’s not the usual stock character, however– she’s quiet, yet firm in her convictions, which makes her arc so compelling.  Her reaction to first seeing Leo after the media has tagged him as a potential cop killer– covering her face in shame and turning away to sob— is one of the most arresting moments of the film, and shows why Burstyn is quite simply one of the best.

Rounding out the rest of the female characters is Faye Dunaway as Kitty, Frank’s strong-willed wife.  I didn’t recognized her at first, as I’m not used to seeing Dunaway as an older woman in thick glasses, but she gradually reveals herself to be a significant character in her own right– just as powerful and influential in matters of the family as her husband is.

Throughout all his films, Gray has cultivated a very distinct aesthetic, which solidified into its current incarnation beginning with THE YARDS.  The luxury of a higher budget allowed Gray to pour a significant amount of resources into the look of the film.  Collaborating for the first time with the legendary, late Director of Photography Harris Savides (rest in peace, big guy), Gray substantially upgrades his style.

Shot on 35mm film in the 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, Gray and Savides create a gritty, autumnal look that’s quite beautiful.  Savides’ signature naturalistic lighting gives the image a high contrast and even colors that draw from Gray’s preferred black/brown palette.  Indeed, the entire picture seems to bathe in a faint sepia tone that suggests a worn-out photograph.

Gray is also one of those rare directors who uses his visual style as a way to wordlessly convey deeper truths and subtext.  And not just in his camera movements (which are a strategic mix of static, dolly and slow zoom shots), but in his framing and lighting.  I’ve written before about Gray’s tendency to compose shots through a framing device such as a doorway or a window, but THE YARDS is the first instance where I became aware of why he chose to shoot in that way.

I previously made the observation that Gray’s plots hinge on a strong family dynamic that’s firmly ensconced in the rituals and customs of its European heritage.  Because of the insular nature of these relationships, Gray invites us to become passive observers, and not active participants.  By composing shots as if the audience is physically distanced and/or blocked from the characters, and suggesting that the characters don’t know they’re being observed, Gray creates an intimate, breathless story that holds us at arm’s length.

It’s not a cold distance (like the work of David Fincher) but a warm one that engages us in the story while simultaneously suggesting that we’ll never truly be a part of their world.  That’s why a cathartic, brutal slugfest between Leo and Willie is staged from a distance, in long un-broken takes– you’re not a part of their circle, so you don’t get to step into the ring with them.

Another visual component that Gray uses to a subtly rich effect is shadow.  Gray’s shadows are deep and inky, almost like a void.  The color black is just the absence of light (and by extension: of truth), an idea that informs Gray’s placement of shadow in the frame.  Silhouettes and backlit figures suddenly take on exaggerated, poetic meaning in an aesthetic that’s spare in its stylings.

About three quarters of the way through the film, there’s a scene where Willie comes knocking on Erica’s door and tries to falsely persuade her that he’s not the one who’s responsible for the train yard killings.  When it came to lighting the scene, Gray and Savides set up an overhead key light that throws Phoenix’s eyes into deep shadow.

  Because Erica (and the audience) can’t see any semblance of truth coming from the blackness where his eyes should be, his over-articulated claims of innocence ring false.  Our eyes are windows into our souls by which we’re able to discern truth, so obscuring the eye likewise suggests an obscuring of truth.  It’s an incredibly subtle and effective technique, and one that I expect Gray to continue using.

Gray also teams up with Howard Shore to create a subdued, yet rich score that fits the film.  Comprised primarily of strings and ambient tones (with a little oboe or clarinet thrown in), the music appropriately conveys the stakes and gives the film a distinct New York flavor.

THE YARDS shows considerable growth for Gray as a filmmaker.  The film retains some earlier directorial stylings fromLITTLE ODESSA (all lower-case titles and a gritty outer-borough NYC setting), but also expands the scope of his story to focus not just on familial conflict, but on bureaucratic corruption and its subsequent social unrest.  Gray paints his characters like subway system mafiosos in the many scenes of back-room dealings and favor-cutting with police.

Very little about the film rings false, save for some exposition-heavy dialogue in the film’s beginning.  THE YARDS is a powerful morality tale about having to choose between allegiance to family or to justice, a conundrum brought about by a single operating principle: “don’t be a fucking snitch”. It’s a compelling crime drama that hasn’t aged a day in the nearly twelve years since its release.  Just like LITTLE ODESSA before it, THE YARDS deserves at least a closer look, if not a full re-appraisal of its place within cinema– not as a bargain-bin gangster film, but as a modern classic.


WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007)

In 2007, director James Gray released his third feature film, WE OWN THE NIGHT.  It was the first film of his that I had ever seen, and I distinctly remember the vintage-inspired theatrical poster.   At the time, I thought it was one of the coolest posters I had ever seen, let alone the coolest title I had ever heard of.  When I finally got around to watching the film, I confess that it wasn’t as exciting as I had built it up to be in my mind.

In examining Gray’s filmography for the purposes of the Directors Series, I was interested to see how my own personal growth as well as a wider exposure to cinema would inform a second viewing five years on.  While it’s certainly Gray’s most ambitious, sprawling effort to date, it has its fair share of flaws.  Ultimately, however, it holds up much better than I remembered.

The year is 1988, and the drug trade is a well-known presence on the gritty streets of Brooklyn.  WE OWN THE NIGHTcenters on the Grusinsky family, a respected immigrant family with a rich lineage in law enforcement. There’s the patriarch, Burt (Robert Duvall), a tough old bastard with an unwavering commitment to the law.  Following in his father’s footsteps is his son, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg)—an ambitious young man and a rising star in his department.   Together, they are committed to ridding their streets of the drug plague.

And then there’s Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), the black sheep of the family.  He’s a slick, confident nightclub manager, and feels no compulsion to be a law-abiding citizen himself.  He spends his days with a rough crowd of hustlers and dealers, and his nights at his club in the arms of his beautiful girlfriend Amada (Eva Mendes).  The Grusinsky family status quo is interrupted when Joseph is gunned down in the street by armed thugs with sympathies to Bobby’s operations.

Horrified by the violence he indirectly inflicted on his own brother, Bobby agrees to wear a wire and help bring down the people responsible.  This noble act begins a cascade of events that will inevitably lead to his redemption as a man of the law.

WE OWN THE NIGHT marks Gray’s second collaboration with Phoenix, and their strong working relationship results in a subtle, nuanced performance that allows us to sympathize with a salacious character like Bobby.  It’s captivating to watch his confidence waver as the plot thickens, and Phoenix guides his character’s arc to a dramatically compelling conclusion with nary a false note.

Wahlberg is also present for round two with Gray, sharing a similar kind of wary brotherly dynamic that they gave to Gray’s 1999 film, THE YARDS.  His transformation from a slightly cocky blowhard to a haunted young man provides for an elegant counterpoint to the main storyline.  In their scenes together, Phoenix and Wahlberg chew their scenes apart with a power and grasp of the material that hasn’t been seen in movies since 70’s-era Scorsese.

Also worth mentioning are solid performances by Duvall and Mendes.  Duvall, a well-established and respected character actor gives the film an air of gravitas and prestige.  He barely even has to lift a finger—his mere presence instantly elevates the material.  Mendes takes what could otherwise be a bland, underwritten “girlfriend” role and makes it sing with bold choices.  Watch the opening scene of the film to see what I mean.

Working for the first time with cinematographer Joaquin Bacai-Asay, Gray expands upon his established look by using the resources that come with higher budgets and skilled craftspeople.  Shot on 35mm film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Gray and Bacai-Asay preserve Gray’s signature brown/black /yellow color palette, high contrast and subdued tones.  The film is Gray’s first period piece, and while he doesn’t give it a distinctively period feel, he does imbue the film with a subtly aged patina.

One thing I’ve noticed about Gray’s visual style is his embrace of light temperatures found in natural fixtures like sodium vapor streetlamps or fluorescent bulbs as part of his look.  What’s colloquially called “bastard amber”—that unholy orange glare of sodium vapor streetlights—becomes a rich, elegant yellow that gives warmth to the night.

Conversely, scenes under fluorescent lights—like those of the police station—are skewed heavily towards the green/blue tones and create an oppressive, cold atmosphere.  By employing light sources different from those of standard film lights, he creates a high-key lighting setup that looks natural and moody.

Gray’s camerawork also shows a subtle development.  By utilizing a strategic variety of handheld, dolly, zoom and static shots, as well as periodically incorporating a stylized slow motion for effect, he creates a brooding minimalism and tension. His sound design also follows suit—an immersive, naturalistic mix is complemented by well-placed moments of directorial flair, such as the use of muffled voices and a high-pitched tone to signify hearing loss and disorientation after an explosion.

The score, provided by Wojciech Kilar, is minimal and unobtrusive.  Kilar crafts a subtle soundscape of smooth strings and melancholy chords.   For WE OWN THE NIGHT, Gray makes more substantial use of a number of source cues assembled into an eclectic mix of music ranging from disco to 80’s pop.  Their presence gives a cocaine-fueled energy to the proceedings and firmly establishes the story’s time period in the absence of conspicuous visual cues.

Gray’s films have always painted richly detailed portraits of distinct cultures and worlds, and WE OWN THE NIGHT is no exception.  Beginning with a somber prologue montage consisting of black-and-white period photographs of New York’s finest on the job, Gray makes the central conceit of his story clear—A man’s commitment to his job and to his family is sometimes the same thing.

He paints the police as a family in their own right, responsible to each other and everyone.  The code of honor and family carry as much weight, if not more, as the code of law— in Joseph’s own words: “it’s better to be judged by twelve than killed by six”.

While the Grusinskys appear to be predominantly Irish or Polish in their heritage, they are part of a larger family of people coming from all creeds and nations.  Their religious customs and rituals are based around social gatherings like rank promotion celebrations, or worse—funerals.  It is this world that Phoenix’s character spends the movie trying to become a part of, only to find that he’s been one of them all along.

Gray shows considerable growth as a filmmaker with WE OWN THE NIGHT.  He doubles down on his signature stylistic elements—all-lowercase credits, dark shadows in the eyes as the way to obscure truth—but he also shows that he’s capable of larger, thrilling setpieces.  A mid-film car chase set in pouring rain is one of the film’s highlights, proving that Gray can stage action like the best of them.  Indeed, there is far more action to be found in the film, complemented by a faster pace (courtesy of editor John Axelrad) and a cinematically compelling story.

WE OWN THE NIGHT isn’t a perfect film, but it’s an incredibly strong and considered crime drama.  It stands shoulder to shoulder with any one of Gray’s best works, and will be most likely remembered as the film of his that is most accessible to a wide audience.


TWO LOVERS (2008)

Shortly after the release of his third feature, WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007), director James Gray was surprised to see his latest project gain funding in only four months—a timespan exponentially faster than he was used to.  Most of this was off the strength of his previous films, while credit could also go to frequent collaborator Joaquin Phoenix’s rising star.  In 2008, Gray released TWO LOVERS, a brooding meditation on mental instability and its effect on the trappings of a romantic drama.

As his most recently-released film, TWO LOVERS is also one of his best—if not the best.  After the larger-scale set-pieces required by the crime drama conventions of his last film, Gray is now able to tone down the outside noise and zero in on the big implications of even the slightest of gestures.  TWO LOVERS is a quiet, insightful work—the kind that doesn’t get made by Hollywood anymore.  But most importantly, it’s a film that shows an already-mature director growing comfortably into a master of his craft.

Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix—arguably Gray’s closest collaborator) is a hapless young man who lives in a decrepit Brighton Beach apartment with his parents and works in their dry cleaning shop.  His battles with being bipolar complicate his social standing and make him volatile and unpredictable.  When the film begins, Leonard is still nursing the wounds of an engagement-turned-south, which forced him to move back home and regress into a state of arrested development.

His well-meaning parents introduce him to Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a beautiful young woman and daughter to one of Leonard’s father’s business partners.  Sandra is gentle, yet persistent, and soon enough the two embark on a quiet, tender romance—just the kind that Leonard needs in his life right now.

However, one day Leonard meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), another tenant in his apartment complex.  She’s fiery, loud and emotionally unavailable.  Leonard finds himself energized by her presence, and is compelled to pursue her romantically. Leonard juggles these two romances, blind to the fact that Michelle is completely wrong for him and will never truly be his.

All the while, his relationship with Sandra begins to falter as he becomes more distant.  Soon enough, Leonard finds himself in the unenviable position of having to choose between passion and true love, and either choice will bring disastrous consequences.

Because TWO LOVERS is such a quiet, introspective film, the impact of the story falls to the quality of the performances. Gray has proven himself to be a skilled director of actors—mainly due to his preference for character-driven storylines—and his fourth feature exceeds expectations.  Phoenix eschews the braggadocio of his last collaboration with Gray to portray Leonard as a lovesick, wounded animal.  He’s sensitive and quiet, but there’s an emotional storm brewing inside of him.

 When we first meet him, it’s during an unsuccessful suicide attempt that leaves him more ashamed than he was going in. He’s the type of person who, either consciously or not, pursues self-damaging experiences.  Deep down, even he has to know that Michelle will never truly love him, but he goes for it anyway.

Leonard also takes photographs for a hobby, and it’s telling that he prefers to shoot landscapes devoid of people.  It suggests a deliberate social disconnect with others, and further illustrates Leonard’s eternal state of isolation.  It’s very rare that I find myself directly connecting with a character in the film, but I saw more of myself in Leonard than I would like to admit.

Without getting too personal, there was a cynical period in my early twenties that saw me pursuing the kinds of women who were all kinds of wrong for me.  Of course I always knew better, but there was some deep-seated desire to get burned anyway.  Leonard’s avoidance of people as his subjects suggests a fear of direct confrontation that I could sympathize with at some level.  It’s a testament to Phoenix’s skill as an actor that I saw so much of myself in his character (albeit a now-more-distant, former version of myself).

Of course, any discussion of TWO LOVERS wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the event that threatened to overshadow the film completely.  It’s been discussed, mulled over, and criticized countless ways, so I promise not to add too much more to the clutter.  At the time of the film’s release, Phoenix was undergoing his very-public “transformation”.

He showed up to the film’s premiere hiding behind dark sunglasses and a shaggy, unkempt beard, with the word “GOOD BYE!” stamped on his knuckles.  He took the opportunity to announce his retirement from acting, proclaiming that TWO LOVERS was his “last film ever” (indeed, promotional materials on the home video release of the film tout this as a big selling point).

He then proceeded to butcher every promotional appearance he made for TWO LOVERS, doing them all in character as his new persona.

Five years later, Phoenix has returned to acting, and his public “mental breakdown” was revealed to be just another character he was playing for Casey Affleck’s “documentary”, I’M STILL HERE (2010).  While I applaud the dedication Phoenix applied towards his years-long physical transformation, I’m sorry to see a brilliant film like TWO LOVERS get overshadowed in its wake.  If Gray himself wasn’t in on the joke, I can only imagine that there were some very terse words exchanged between the two in the days following the film’s release.

All of this (necessary) talk about Phoenix comes at the peril of ignoring the other performers.  As Sandra, Shaw brings a gentle, unconventionally attractive presence to the film.  She is the beauty that is always overlooked, despite always being there.  It’s clear very early on that she’s a perfect match for Leonard, and we ache alongside her as he grows more distant.

Paltrow, on the other hand, is perfect as the kind of person who has regard only for herself, at the expense of others.  She flits into the film in a burst of energy, and her wild, unpredictable nature combined with her natural elegance easily makes her the object of many’s affections.  Known primarily for her tendency to take on glossy, “safe” Hollywood roles, Paltrow takes a huge risk here as an inherently ugly, self-centered person.

She assumes a cynical optimism that Leonard instantly connects with, and because connections to other people are so few and far between, he turns on his logic blinders and goes completely overboard.  Paltrow’s Michelle is the oblivious enabler for all of Leonard’s flaws, so it’s important to the validity of the story that she embraces all the ugly aspects of her character.

Gray’s stories tend to be very insular between the main characters, so the numbers of his supporting characters are conventionally small.  In TWO LOVERS, only three really make an impact.  Moni Moshonov (the big bad from Gray’s WE OWN THE NIGHT) and Isabella Rossellini (daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Robert Rossellini) portray Leonard’s parents.

They are strong (at times overbearing) presences in Leonard’s world, but their profound love and caring for their son make themselves known as the story progresses.  They are very much connected to the Old World, as immigrants from Eastern Europe, and introduce Leonard to Sandra in a way that’s not dissimilar from arranged marriages.  These two deliver a pair of quiet, haunting performances that tell us much more about Leonard than he does himself.

Symbolizing the New World, Elias Koteas (one of my favorite character actors) portrays Michelle’s boyfriend, Ronald. Ronald is a slick, successful Manhattan businessman, but there’s a catch—he’s already married with children.  He hides Michelle away in a dumpy apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and ultimately ends up leaving his family for her.  In a film where each character is in some state of delusion, he’s the one who most gives into them (that he’ll be happier with Michelle than his own wife and child).

Four features in, Gray has established an easily identifiable look to his work.  Working again with Director of Photography Joaquin Baca-Asay (Gray loves him some Joaquins), Gray uses his richly-detailed setting and naturalistic high-key lighting setups to create an image with high contrast and muted colors that draw from a soupy palette of browns, yellows, and blacks.  Shooting in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio on 35mm film, Gray brings a very sensual feel to his gritty Brooklyn environs.

His yellow, sodium vapor nights are contrasted by biting blue tones in daytime exteriors.  During this particular viewing of TWO LOVERS (my second), I noticed that Gray’s visual style is a lot like David Fincher’s, except softer.  Both have a level of contrast that implies a hard edge, with colors that, while natural, skew in favor of earth tones and steely blues.

Gray’s camerawork keeps in line with his previous efforts, employing the use of tripods, dollies, and footwork to capture his images.  Like his earlier films, he uses natural framing devices like doors or windows to compose his shot.  However, he also uses these framing devices on a subtle level that communicates his themes.

One example that comes to mind is the scene where Leonard takes Michelle’s phone call during a lunch date with Sandra.  Leonard goes behind a glass door to talk, and Gray frames the image as a close up, observing Phoenix through the window frame.  Interestingly enough, the window isn’t entirely smooth- it has beveled edges that fracture and contort Phoenix’s face, producing a kaleidoscopic effect that reflects Phoenix’s conflicted feelings and self-deceptions.

Other visual techniques within Gray’s repertoire are expanded upon here.  Beginning with his opening titles, Gray finally capitalizes his letters—as to why, I have no clue.  He uses slow motion as a punctuation mark for key plot points, and uses shadow as a potent storytelling tool.  Besides artfully using silhouettes, Gray also chooses to shoot key scenes with actors’ eyes in shadow— thus obscuring their intent and making their true message hard to read.  It’s a fantastic, subtle visual device that I’m glad to see Gray continue using.

Interestingly enough, IMDB doesn’t have a composer listed, and neither does the film’s closing credits.  There is very little music within the film, so it stands out when Gray chooses to incorporate it.  He builds a musical landscape that harkens back to the Old World, albeit a romanticized version of it.  A slow waltz on the Spanish guitar is the main musical ingredient, weaving in and out of various jazz and opera pieces (as well as a few house songs during the nightclub sequence).

With TWO LOVERS, Gray paints an intriguing story about a poor boy in a rich woman’s world.  It’s notable that this is the first time we really see Manhattan in one of Gray’s films.  By doing so, Gray opens up the scope of his cinematic version of the city.  I should also point out that the film’s setting, present day Brighton Beach, calls back to the environs of his debut film, LITTLE ODESSA (1994).  I wouldn’t be surprised to see TWO LOVERS as a well-disguised allegory for Gray’s own experiences as a filmmaker: Starting out as an eager young man looking towards the bright lights of the big city, seduced by the lifestyle and people that live inside it, disillusioned by the emptiness he finds there, and finally realizing the importance of his roots.

It isn’t a coincidence that Leonard is bipolar, either.  Its inclusion in the film suggests a theme of duality that runs throughout.  All of the major players lead a double life, save for the pure (Sandra, Leonard’s family).  This duality creates various perversions of love and clouds judgment.  For instance, look at the stark contrast between the staging of the film’s two sex scenes.  Leonard’s bedroom scene with Sandra is the closest the film gets to a sense of lovemaking: warm lighting, sensual compositions, a pervasive sense of tenderness and awe, etc.

Alternatively, Leonard’s consummation with Michelle on the apartment’s rooftop is fucking: harsh/cold daylight, an observant/distant camera, erratic motions, an urgent sense of desperation.  It’s the film’s single most effective communicator of Leonard’s true chemistry with these two women.  Natural versus forced.

The fact that we realize this, yet the characters don’t, is very telling of Gray’s directorial style.  We’re not meant to intimately connect with these characters, neither are we supposed to judge them.  We dispassionately observe them through the doorways of their apartments, in their places of worship and ritual (symbolized in TWO LOVERS by a Bar Mitzvah), on their good days, on their bad days.

You could argue that this observant approach leaves audiences cold to the story, and it is very possible that this is why Gray hasn’t found a larger following.  Maybe it’s a product of a more cynical age, but it could be argued that the character drama cinema of the 1970s, arguably Gray’s largest wellspring of inspiration, were equally as downbeat.

As I’ve written before, Gray’s characters are outsiders, standing on the banks of the Hudson, looking towards the glittering skyscrapers of Manhattan with hopeful eyes.  You could say the same for Gray.  He stands on the indie fringes of mainstream cinema–not quite obscure but not quite central either—and it’s very clear that he intends to be a great director amidst the ranks of such idols as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

He already has the allegiance of Hollywood’s top tier talent– if he stays true to his roots, and continues to value craftsmanship and quality over commercialism, he doesn’t have that much farther to go before he secures his place among the greats.


THE IMMIGRANT (2013)

For the countless numbers of immigrants that braved the cold Atlantic waters in hopes of a brighter future in America at the dawn of the twentieth century, the Statue of Liberty must’ve appeared as quite the welcoming sign. Lady Liberty stood tall and defiant against the elements, offering a safe haven from the old world they left behind. To the dismay of those wide-eyed immigrants, such a promise was rarely fulfilled, and for many, it would be a promised reneged the moment their boats docked at Ellis Island.

The facilities at Ellis Island were, for all intents and purposes, the gateway into America. One would be hard-pressed to find a singular facility so fraught with history, or that has had such a lasting impact on so large a group of people. It was in the marble chambers of Ellis Island that these immigrants were given new, Americanized surnames and the circumstances of their entry into America were established, and it was here where they found out that the promise of the American dream sometimes came at the expense of their idealism and integrity.

Director James Gray’s grandparents were just two of the untold numbers people who entered America through the gates of Ellis Island. Their particular experience inspired the story for Gray’s THE IMMIGRANT (2013), a riveting period drama about hopeful lives torn apart by Ellis Island’s admittedly dehumanizing assimilation processes.

THE IMMIGRANT marks Gray’s return to the big screen after a five-year absence following 2008’s TWO LOVERS, reuniting him with longtime collaborator Joaquin Phoenix for another look into the social experience of Eastern European immigrants in New York. It’s his most ambitious film to date, and perhaps his most unappreciated—The Weinstein Company essentially dumped the film in late 2013 with little advertising or support, leaving one of the best films of the year to flounder in the home video market in the hopes of gaining the appreciation it deserves.

THE IMMIGRANT unfolds in New York City during the year 1921. Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) is a Polish immigrant who has made the long voyage to America with her beloved sister. Instead of finding the refuge they seek, they find only more hardship—her sister is taken away under suspicion of having contracted tuberculosis, and Ewa herself is scheduled for deportation due to an unsubstantiated rumor that she prostituted herself during the voyage across the Atlantic (when in reality she was actually raped).

At the last minute, Ewa is saved by Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a fidgety, dark man who poses as an immigration consultant at the Island so that he can recruit women into his exotic “Women Of The World” burlesque act. With very little options to choose from, Ewa succumbs to Bruno’s fold and begins her new life as a burlesque performer and a reluctant prostitute in the hopes that she’ll save up enough money to get her sister out of the hospital.

A ray of hope emerges in the form of Emil (Jeremy Renner), Bruno’s cousin and a magician going by the name Orlando. He hopes to take her and her sister away with him out west on tour, leaving this dreadful place behind for good. It’s almost too good to be true, and it is—Bruno’s protectiveness over Ewa and his debilitating jealousy towards Emil’s effortless charms thrusts Ewa directly between these two men as they fight over the right to decide her future.

Gray’s films are admired for their inspired casting, and THE IMMIGRANT definitely follows suit. He reportedly wrote the film specifically for Phoenix and Cotillard, and it shows—both actors deliver powerful, nuanced performances devoid of cliché or indulgence. As the titular immigrant, Cotillard provides a quiet, yet strong and determined presence as Ewa.

Phoenix returns for his fourth consecutive collaboration with Gray, and his first with his director after his infamous post-TWO LOVERS performance art stunt for Casey Affleck’s I’M STILL HERE (2010). Phoenix is quite adept at playing troubled, eccentric men who appear uncomfortable in their own skin, so it’s a little surprising to see him act so normal here.

His Bruno Weiss presents himself as a kindly, clean-cut businessman in a bid to inject some legitimacy into his vocation as a burlesque hustler and pimp. He’s merciful and devoted towards his girls, but he has a tendency to get carried away with his emotions. Ultimately, Bruno Weiss is a coward, and Phoenix embodies this aspect of the role with a surprisingly quiet intensity.

Jeremy Renner is dashing and debonair as Bruno’s cousin Emil, a mischievous showman who finds himself drawn to Ewa’s charms. However, behind Renner’s rakish smile lies a fundamental black-heartedness that only shows itself in a pivotal sequence, yet drives Emil’s actions throughout.

Watching THE IMMIGRANT, it’s hard to say why The Weinstein Company decided to give it such a lackluster release campaign. The film boasts stunning, unconventional performances, lustrous production design and handsome visuals—by all accounts, it should have been a contender for all the Oscars.

However, I have to admit there’s still something slightly off about the look of THE IMMIGRANT, and I suspect it may have to do with the film’s unconventional color timing. Shot by veteran cinematographer Darius Khondji, THE IMMIGRANT certainly has the “epic period film” bonafides: 35mm film acquisition, an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and classical camerawork that gives an elegant, disciplined sense of movement and pacing to the picture.

Gray doesn’t pull any punches in referencing the look of Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER PART II (1974), replicating its distinct golden/sepia color cast and pitch-perfect period set/costume design (courtesy of TWO LOVERS’ production designer Happy Massee). However, Gray goes one step further in an effort to distinguish THE IMMIGRANT—he applies a liberal coat of yellow onto the midtones in an effort to recreate the particular glow of electric lamps from the period.

Sometimes, however, there’s quite simply too much of a yellow cast, and the result is unnatural and sickly-looking. Combined with a strong bluish cast in the shadows that appears as if the film went through an Instagram filter, Gray’s color timing for THE IMMIGRANT deviates quite substantially from the conventional look of its genre while exaggerating the faded, amber patina of his previous films to an almost-cartoonish degree.

One nice aspect about this aesthetic, however, is that the reds cut through quite strikingly, enriching the image during the few times the color appears onscreen.

Through his original score for TWO LOVERS and music consultation services on WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007) and THE YARDS (2000), musician Christopher Spelman has emerged as Gray’s go-to guy for all things music. For THE IMMIGRANT, Spelman crafts a quiet, romantic orchestral score that never overtakes Gray’s imagery. It’s not distinctly memorable in and of itself, but it reinforces Gray’s themes and keeps everything aloft.

To give us a greater sense of the period, Gray also incorporates several folk songs—both of Eastern European and Americana origins—that provide us with a glimpse of this unique time and place in history. There’s also the appearance of a rather beautiful classical cue: John Tavener and Mother Thekla’s “Funeral Canticle”, a gorgeous chamber choir piece that can also be heard in Terrence Malick’s 2011 masterpiece,THE TREE OF LIFE.

Gray’s body of work has always assumed the point of view of outsiders relegated to the outer boroughs of New York City, looking in on the glittering lights of Manhattan, a metaphor for those who desire the American Dream yet constantly find themselves denied access. THE IMMIGRANT is easily the most literal illustration of this metaphor, anchored by the image of the Statue of Liberty standing as a beacon of hope for those who wish to enter America.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that Gray was destined to make a movie like THE IMMIGRANTS– it’s a sublime melding of directorial conceits and thematic symbolism. There’s been a distinct progression through Gray’s filmography, with each successive film seeing its characters getting increasingly closer to Manhattan. TWO LOVERS brought its characters briefly into the island for the first time, but THE IMMIGRANT places them firmly within its walls.

After a lifetime spent on the outside looking in, we’ve finally made it to Manhattan, and now that the American Dream is within our reach, we find out that it’s nothing like we had expected or hoped it to be.

The characters that populate Gray’s filmography are firmly rooted in the Old World—there’s a heavy emphasis on family, culture, tradition, and ritual. Gray’s eastern European ancestry informs his characterization, and Ewa’s Polish background is further evidence of that conceit. THE IMMIGRANT’s drama stems from familial conflict, both in terms of biological and adopted family.

Ewa’s entire arc revolves around her desire to save her sister from the machinations of the immigration process, and Bruno’s hatred for his cousin Emil originates in his frustration and self-loathing over the fact that he possesses none of Emil’s charms despite sharing his blood. Bruno also sees his harem of prostitutes as his family, a notion that drives his possessiveness and deludes him into thinking he’s acting in their best interests. Gray covers the religious bases by making Ewa a strict Catholic, a character trait that gives us several moments of religious ritual—confession, prayer, procession, etc.

Gray has long held a talent for conveying his ideas through arresting visuals, but THE IMMIGRANT sees substantial growth for the director in wordlessly conveying his themes. His fondness for composing his shots via natural framing devices like doorways and windows is on full display, and oftentimes leads to sublimely subtle compositions that express Ewa’s alienation from this strange new world.

The last shot in particular is a knockout, and without giving too much away, uses both a window and a mirror to depict both of the protagonists facing the world before them, armed with new discoveries about themselves and each other.

THE IMMIGRANT provides a few other notable instances of simple images conveying weighty subtext. A scene in an Ellis Island holding cell sees Ewa pricking her finger and applying the blood to her lips in a bid to look fresh and healthy—an evocative parallel to similar practices by women in ghettoes and concentration camps during The Holocaust and a nod towards the innate strength and resiliency of the Polish people during hard times.

Another instance sees Emil giving Ewa a beautiful white rose, only for Gray to later show the same rose having wilted from neglect after Ewa has embraced a life of prostitution. In respect to cinema culture and history, Gray’s films have always evoked the gritty aesthetic of late 70’s drama and crime films—this is certainly the case with THE IMMIGRANT, which doesn’t attempt to hide the considerable influence of THE GODFATHER PART II on its visual style.

However, Gray’s references here also stretch even further back into cinema history, with Emil’s magic shows emulating the work of silver screen magician George Melies, or the late-second-act sewer chase evoking the climax of Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN (1949).

THE IMMIGRANT shows an incredible amount of growth for Gray as an artist, which the director himself recognizes—he has stated in interviews that he personally believes THE IMMIGRANT to be his best film. As his first film to feature a female protagonist, THE IMMIGRANT affords him the opportunity to expand his worldview and reap the benefits of a wider experience.

While it nominated for the prestigious Palm d’Or after its debut at Cannes, THE IMMIGRANT has inexplicably become the victim of an indifferent distributor, doomed to obscurity for the sin of not having a decent marketing budget. A studio’s faith in its product should by no means ever be an indicator of its quality, and those who care seek out THE IMMIGRANT will be rewarded with something of a masterpiece.

Gray has always shown remarkable restraint in his aesthetic, but THE IMMIGRANT sees him mature exponentially as an artist and places him in the league of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and the other premiere chroniclers of the New York experience.


COMMERCIALS (2013-2017)

Due to his ferocious commitment to his own artistic integrity, director James Gray has weathered a difficult career trajectory partly of his own making.  His 2013 feature, THE IMMIGRANT, was a stunning work of uncompromising cinematic art, but its botched rollout and limited audience appeal doomed it to failure from the start.

As such, it was going to be a while before he could summon up enough professional capital for his next feature.  In order to sustain himself in this prolonged drought, Gray followed in the footsteps of many filmmakers before him and turned to the world of advertising.  Here, he had immediate value– ad agencies desired his services because his reputation in the feature realm attracted well-known celebrities and film stars.

 From 2013-2017, Gray developed his talents in the commercial sector with three efforts that, while not necessarily advancing his own artistic growth, further developed and refined his technical capabilities with varying aesthetics.

CITROEN: “IMPOSSIBLE” (2013)

A European ad that American audiences have only been able to see online, Gray’s 2013 spot for carmarker Citroen applies a stylish cinematic look befitting the participation of a director like him.  Titled “IMPOSSIBLE”, the spot features Ewan McGregor on the receiving end of an interrogation by TWO LOVERS’ Vinessa Shaw regarding his car’s performance features.

Gray employs a cold, metallic aesthetic to match the sleek modern environs, framing his subjects in his signature style– through architectural elements like the glass fish bowl of a conference room.  Gray indulges in the genre aspects of the spot’s story, crafting a slick little spy thriller that reminds one of a toned-down Tony Scott effort.

CHANEL: “BLUE” (2015)

Gray has often been painted as an acolyte of Martin Scorsese thanks to their shared interest in the social history of New York City.  With 2015’s Chanel commercial, “BLUE”, Gray avails himself of the opportunity to directly follow in Scorsese’s footsteps, crafting something of a sequel to his stylistic predecessor’s well-known Chanel spot starring Gaspard Ulliel.  Ulliel returns here, desperately seeking solace from the dizzying whirlwind of celebrity while Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower” blares on the soundtrack.

Gray replicates the aesthetic of Scorsese’s earlier effort, applying a metallic cobalt sheen over the dreamlike visuals.  The piece exemplifies Gray’s natural, heretofore-unknown talents with a high-fashion visual style, with the director peppering flashy elements like bright lens flares and ethereal double-exposures throughout Ulliel’s existential journey.

LANCÔME: “LA VIE EST BELLE” (2016)

In 2016, Gray was hired to direct a spot for Lancôme titled “LA VIE EST BELLE”, which provided him with the opportunity to direct the fashion brand’s spokesperson, Julia Roberts.  The spot’s loose narrative finds Roberts escaping a boring dinner party in an elegant French mansion and breaking out into a lively garden party with a romantic view of the Eiffel Tower.

Gray uses the same glittery, high-fashion sheen that he did with Chanel’s “BLUE”, albeit in a warmer tone that favors a pink/purple color cast.  “LA VIE EST BELLE” is a fairly anonymous spot from an artistic perspective, but Gray nonetheless delivers a strongly-realized and confident effort that matches Roberts’ star-wattage.


THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016)

Looking over director James Gray’s filmography to date — a series of hard-hitting dramas set in New York — one could be forgiven for not seeing a David Lean-style epic about exploration and adventure in the Amazon jungle in his immediate future.  Even Gray himself initially didn’t see it; he didn’t understand why Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, had sent him a gallows copy of David Grann’s 2009 novel “The Lost City of Z”.

(1)  He had just finished the understated relationship drama TWO LOVERS (2008), and it was still five years before audiences would witness the lavish grandiosity of THE IMMIGRANT’s historical affectations.  Nonetheless, Gray found himself curiously drawn to the story of the real-life adventurer Percy Fawcett and his quest to discover a lost civilization in the Amazon amidst the backdrop of the turn of the 20th century and The Great War.

 He was reminded of a sentiment he had applied to all his prior works, espoused by writer George Elliot’s proclamation that “the purpose of all art is the extension of our sympathies” (2).  In other words, THE LOST CITY OF Z invited Gray, through the process of filmmaking, to discover his own emotional connection to the material while venturing far outside his comfort zone.  Indeed, the production of THE LOST CITY OF Z would be filmmaking as adventure, seeing Gray and his collaborators travel deep into the jungles of Columbia with little in the way of infrastructural support systems.

A formative experience in Gray’s artistic development had been his first viewing of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece APOCALYPSE NOW, and THE LOST CITY OF Z offered him the opportunity to chart similar territory.  He went so far as to write to Coppola and ask for his advice about shooting in the jungle, to which Coppola simply replied “don’t go”.  A warning, to be sure, from someone who had famously come close to the brink of insanity while shooting a movie in the dense jungle, but also a challenge– one that Gray couldn’t possibly pass up.

In detailing the exploits of British explorer Percy Fawcett’s expeditions to the jungles of Amazonia, Gray condenses the book’s eight separate journeys into three, structuring them into tidy narrative acts.  Charlie Hunnam anchors the film as Fawcett, gradually becoming a more distinctive and nuanced character as he grows more obsessed over the decades with the mysterious lost civilization he calls “Zed”.

We first meet Fawcett as a Major in the British infantry in 1905, where his background as a cartographer positions him as an ideal candidate to head up a mission for the Royal Geographic Society, represented by Ian McDiarmid’s Sir George Geordie.  Tasked with surveying the border between Bolivia and Brazil in hopes of quelling a brewing regional conflict, Fawcett is accompanied by Costin (Robert Pattinson; unrecognizable under a bushy beard and spectacles), a fellow explorer fated to become one his closest confidantes in the coming years.

As they travel down the river in a rickety boat and contend with various aggressions from the locals, they become aware of the rumored existence of a lost city hidden deep within the jungle that promises to yield precious insights into human development in the region.  Upon completion of his mission, Fawcett returns home to his family in England– his wife, Nina (played by Sienna Miller as something of a burgeoning Suffragette or proto-feminist), and their handful of children.

Having grown accustomed to the awe-inspiring vistas and boundless freedom of the jungle, Fawcett inevitably finds himself chafing against the rigid conventions of privileged British society.  He organizes another expedition in the mid-1910’s, this time with the intent of finding the fabled lost city of Z.  This particular trip doesn’t prove as successful, and he returns to England just in time to fight in the trenches during World War I.

A battle injury sidelines him for several more years, and it’s not until 1925 that Fawcett organizes one last journey into the beating heart of Amazonia, this time accompanied by his adventurous young son, Jack (Tom Holland).  It is here that Fawcett will face the ultimate test of his convictions and answer for his all-consuming obsession of finding a mythical city that may or may not exist.

Gray presents THE LOST CITY OF Z as something of an anti-adventure film that’s more concerned with story and character rather than outright spectacle.  That being said, he does indulge in frequent moments of epic, David Lean-style cinematography.  Reteaming with Darius Khondji, his cinematographer on THE IMMIGRANT, Gray captures THE LOST CITY OF Z in the very appropriate format of anamorphic 35mm film.

Gray’s choice to shoot celluloid may seem like an insignificant aspect of the production, but it was undoubtedly a major decision with profound implications for the director and his producing team.  Aesthetically-speaking, Gray felt that celluloid possessed a distinct melancholy or nostalgia apropos of a period epic such as this.  Logistically-speaking, he feared that the overwhelming humidity of the Colombian jungle they would be shooting in would quite literally fry any hard drives or digital equipment they lugged along the way.

 This isn’t to say that photochemical film didn’t pose its own unique challenges; indeed, due to their exceedingly remote location and its utter lack of infrastructural support, production had to devise a rickety shipping system that carried the inherent risk of exposed film never making it to the laboratory for processing.

Thankfully, no such issues arose during the shoot, and all can witness the glorious visuals that Gray has committed to film here.  THE LOST CITY OF Z renders Fawcett’s grand adventures in a heavy golden cast not unlike THE IMMIGRANT’s visual aesthetic.  These bold yellow highlights compete for clarity amidst naturalistic earth tones and deep, heavy shadows stained with the slight tinge of teal.  Also like he did with THE IMMIGRANT, Gray draws heavily from the influence of Francis Ford Coppola, fusing the aesthetics of THE GODFATHER PART II (1974) and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) to create a stately, albeit gritty, vibe.

 He also pulls from Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON (1975) and Luchino Visconti’s THE LEOPARD (1963), seen most immediately in the mise-en-scene of sequences set back in the stuffy social circles of Victorian/Edwardian England.  Gray’s compositions and camera movements mix the classical formalism of vintage epics with the handheld immediacy of his New Hollywood influences, and even utilize swooping helicopter shots for added visual grandeur.

 He also incorporates several visual conceits that bear his signature, like the use of natural framing elements such as natural foliage and tree trunks (akin to his framing of his subjects through doorways in his previous work). Composer Christopher Spelman brings musical consistency to Gray’s filmography by returning with an effective (if not entirely memorable) suite of cues that strike a balance between the sweeping romantic strings of old-school epics and a pounding percussion that conveys the throbbing heart of darkness that lies deep in the Amazonian jungle.

For a story that even Gray himself could not initially see as a proper vehicle for his particular set of thematic tastes, THE LOST CITY OF Z packs in a fair amount of the director’s key artistic signatures. A soaring adventure picture indeed seems to be worlds away from the gritty and intimate chamber dramas that made his name, but Gray nonetheless finds several points of access.

His films are almost uniformly marked by a distinct outsider’s perspective, embodied best by protagonists relegated to the outer boroughs of New York City and forced to gaze at the dazzling lights of Manhattan from afar.  Even the ones firmly inside the island are outsiders, such as THE IMMIGRANT’s Ewa Cybulska attempting to comprehend and assimilate herself into the confusing new world of early 20th-century Manhattan.

THE LOST CITY OF Z retains this perspective by virtue of dropping a British aristocrat into the green labyrinth of South America, forced to communicate with the indigenous peoples who inhabit it.  Even when he travels back to England in between expeditions, Gray casts Fawcett as an outsider in his own home, finding himself increasingly at odds with the privileged circles that can’t comprehend his experience in the wilderness.

His films are also characterized by a fascination with the rituals, traditions and heritage of The Old World.  A distinct Eastern European and Jewish character runs through the narratives of LITTLE ODESSA down on through THE IMMIGRANT, an identity upon which Gray can examine the juxtaposition of these ancient social and familial structures, ethical values, and various religious dogma against the modern melting pot of New York.  In Gray’s films, New York can still be thought of as “The New World”, precisely because it is seen through the prism of the American immigrant experience.

THE LOST CITY OF Z further explores these conceits, depicting Amazonia as a literal New World completely alien to the Old World perspective of Britain during the Victorian/Edwardian era of the early 1900’s.  Gray trades his signature Eastern European flair for insights into Anglo-Saxon culture through their various customs and rituals, seen best in the opening sequences where Fawcett leads a rousing deer hunt on horseback and dances the waltz at a high society gala shortly thereafter.

This approach is also applied to Fawcett’s brush with the indigenous tribes of Amazonia, with several sequences depicting his observation of the natives’ unique ceremonial traditions.  He regards these communal experiences with awe, gaining a sense of connection to their innate humanity while growing increasingly contemptuous of the Old World culture he comes  from.

Despite being three years removed from its predecessor, THE LOST CITY OF Z asserts itself as something of an informal companion piece to THE IMMIGRANT.  On the surface level, both are handsome, impeccably-shot historical dramas about the search for individual identity amidst an alien environment.  They even share similar ending shots, framing a key character in the reflection of a mirror as he or she walks away from us.  Together they represent Gray’s emergence as a mature director with a timeless aesthetic that promises to install him in the pantheon of great American directors.

Of course, this assertion is dependent on the successful completion of future works at a similar level– something that Gray himself isn’t so sure will happen.  In recent years, he’s spoken at length to the media about his disdain for the current climate of American studio filmmaking, and how overwhelmingly difficult it is, even for someone of his stature and pedigree, to finance the types of projects he wants to make.  Indeed, while THE LOST CITY OF Z was hailed by critics, audiences apparently decided the lack of superhero tights or shared universes in the film was a liability and mostly stayed away.

In the end, the film made back roughly half of its production budget in box office receipts, delivering the kind of financial performance that makes it harder for Gray to command the level of funds he needs to realize future projects.  He could follow in the footsteps of other filmmakers and make the jump to prestige TV, and with his recent foray into commercial production he has already dipped his toe into those waters.  At the same time, his dedication to the art of cinema is so absolute and uncompromising that he very well might view episodic televised content with a fair degree of distaste.

While we wait for news on what form Gray’s next project will take, THE LOST CITY OF Z stands as the pinnacle of his technical achievements.  In flexing his muscles outside of his signature milieu of urban crime dramas, Gray evidences a remarkable diversity in his tonal reach, delivering the harrowing intensity of war and the romanticism of adventure with similar aplomb.  It remains to be seen whether THE LOST CITY OF Z will attain the classic status accorded to the vintage epics from which it derives its inspiration, but it’s already clear that it is stands as Gray’s most ambitious and technically-accomplished works to date.


Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics and Indiewire. To see more of Cameron’s work – go to directorsseries.net.

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. ——>Watch the Directors Series Here <———

IFH 604: How to Write a Screenplay Super Fast! with Jeff Bollow

Have you ever wanted to learn how to write a screenplay fast? I know I do. This is why I invited on the show award-winning producer/director, best-selling author, film festival organizer and public speaker, Jeff Bollow.

He is the author of Writing FAST: How to Write Anything with Lightning SpeedJeff Bollow began as an actor at age 12 in his native Los Angeles (credits include Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and TV’s Columbo) before working nearly every job in production, from camera to sound to lighting — and including jobs in development, post-production, and distribution.

Jeff has worked on feature films, TV series, commercials, music videos, radio, and corporate productions for companies such as Universal, Castle Rock, Propaganda Films, DNA and the Oxygen Network.

After migrating to New Zealand, where he directed television for TV3 and co-founded the Big Mountain Short Film Festival, he moved to Australia, where he launched Embryo Films. Through his company, Jeff has reviewed over 20,000 project submissions and has edited, assessed and/or mentored over 350 projects. He has script doctored in Singapore, Australia, NZ, and the US; and has conducted over 80 live weekend workshops to over 1200 writers in 9 cities in 5 countries, with a unanimous “recommend” approval rating.

His students have been optioned, produced and won (and placed) in competitions worldwide. He designed FAST Screenplay in 2004 and began officially building it in November 2009. It was finally completed in July 2016, nearly 7 years later. Alongside it, he created the FASTscreenplay YouTube Channel, which now includes over 30 detailed and insightful free videos to encourage writers and screenwriters around the world.

In May 2015, Jeff Bollow delivered his first TED Talk, “Expand Your Imagination… Exponentially” at TEDxDocklands in Melbourne, Australia, to prepare for the next phase of the larger plan. Jeff’s aim is to build an independent film studio that inspires creativity worldwide, to help prepare humanity for the dramatic changes our future holds. When he’s not busy helping writers with FAST Screenplay, he is working on a new book, developing a television series, and planning two feature film projects. Enjoy!

Right-click here to download the MP3

Jeff Bollow 0:00
Cause I think one of the challenges we have today is you know, so many people are watching YouTube and whatever at, like double speed that then to dial it back into the you can't watch a movie at double speed you're gonna miss, like it's not gonna, you're gonna get, you're gonna get info, you're gonna get data points, you're gonna get plot twists and turns, but you're not gonna get nuance and feeling and emotional subtlety. So you can't really watch a movie and take everything that the movie is giving you a way at double speed.

Alex Ferrari 0:28
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com. I like to welcome back to the show returning champion Jeff Bollow. How you doin Jeff?

Jeff Bollow 0:44
I'm great. Alex, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:45
I'm good, man. I'm good. Thanks for coming back on the show brother. You're

Jeff Bollow 0:48
Thanks for having me, man. It's been a while.

Alex Ferrari 0:50
It's been a few minutes. It's been a few minutes. I think you were in the hundreds. If I remember correctly.

Jeff Bollow 0:54
I think it was like, right around 100.

Alex Ferrari 0:56
Yeah, the hundreds or something like that when you came on last time. But your episode, your episode is one of the more downloaded episodes in the history of the show. It's always done very, very well. So I just was thinking I was thinking the other day, I'm like, you know, it's just back on the show, I think we we need to introduce what you do to the audience to this new audience wasn't originally to a new generation. But the new the new members of the tribe that have been listening, and I've gathered since last we spoke, which is you know, substantial since then.

Jeff Bollow 1:28
Exactly!

Alex Ferrari 1:31
Yes, I want to introduce here's what you do, and and who you are to the to the tribe. So for people who didn't listen to the first episode, how did you? And why did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film industry?

Jeff Bollow 1:44
Well, so I was insane as a very young child. So I literally cannot remember a time when I didn't want to be in the film industry. And so when I was like, five or six, seven, somewhere around there, I was like, constantly dreaming characters for myself on my favorite TV shows. So like, at the time dating myself a little bit here. Like it was cheers was one of my big shows that I would like, I would imagine character for myself as Sam Malone's long lost kid because, you know, used to like sleep around and all that kind of stuff. So what if he didn't know that he had a kid and I would like literally dream up a whole episode of me appearing, and being the guest star of like, Hey, I didn't know that. And I would imagine the whole show. So it was a weird, like, acting slash writing fantasy that I had as this kid. So you know, I was, I'd be on my paper route, throwing papers and dreaming up various fantasies on all these different shows. By the time I got to be 12 years old. I was like, my life is slipping away from me. So I said, I gotta, I gotta do something about this. And there was a guy at my local church who had a recurring role on a soap opera called Santa Barbara. And so of course, to me, he was an A Lister, obviously, he's probably he was probably a guy like just that was one of his few gigs that year, but But to me, he was Nayla he had the golden keys of the kingdom. So I asked him, How do you get into this and I, I, he told me, here's where you go to, to it was drama log back in the day, here's where you go for casting notices and try to take a picture of yourself and get an agent and I got an agent. I was with the kids agency, who at the time represented like Wil Wheaton and mine Bialik and that kind of stuff. And, and got some gigs here and there and just fell in love with the whole process once I was actually in it and on camera and doing the child acting thing. And once you fall in love with the process, it's really hard to you know, to forget that you fell in love with the process. So you're just like, I became a sponge and I was I just did. You know, you name it. So I don't know how far down that road you want me to go with? That was the genesis.

Alex Ferrari 4:06
So then, was there any films or TV shows that we might recommend remember you from Sir?

Jeff Bollow 4:11
I mean, the only one that people recommend remind me that the only one that people will remember today is I had a big part in a movie called Don't tell mom the babysitter's dead. Where I got stoned with with Christina Applegate, brother Oh, and I say and I said to a future X file star David do Cagni pocket yourself Metallica breath to which I begged and pleaded with the director Don't make me say this line. It's the stupidest line in the world. And when we have the cast and crew screening it got the biggest laugh of the palate for the stupidity of the lungs. So Metallica breath Yeah, guys I know Don't leave. It doesn't make any sense. But it's it was a thing for a while there.

Alex Ferrari 5:05
That is a cult that is a cult film everybody. Yes, it's called is a good word. I remember seeing it in the theater I told me to. And Christina Applegate was a huge star. She was still married with children at the time,

Jeff Bollow 5:18
It was her first, it was the first sort of foray her first big move into movies. It wasn't her first movie, but it was her first big move into movies.

Alex Ferrari 5:26
Can you imagine if a movie today was called Don't tell mom.

Jeff Bollow 5:30
Well funny enough. It was not called that originally it was it when we shot it. It was called the real world. And then as we were as it was being edited, the real world the MTV first reality show came along, and they went with change the title. So literally, we're at the cast and crew screening and they go, Oh, by the way, we've changed the title. And we asked the producers kids, and they thought it would be funny to call it Don't tell mom the babysitter's dead and we all went, Oh, God. No,

Alex Ferrari 6:02
I'll tell you what that name is. That's, that's, that's the thing that sticks.

Jeff Bollow 6:07
I honestly think that that's the only reason we still remember it today. I mean, movie, it's like, but it's like you only remember it for the title, which is a good lesson for would be screenwriters and creative people. Like if you're making a comedy. Make sure your title is funny. If you're making a horror film, make sure your title is scary, you know?

Alex Ferrari 6:27
Right, exactly. And you know, we can have Bernie's and things like that back weekend. How that movie ever got made is beyond me. And it's such an 80s

Jeff Bollow 6:36
I love that it did, though.

Alex Ferrari 6:39
And not only one, but two, of course, because the body obviously does a stink after the first

Jeff Bollow 6:46
I was gonna say like how long later was Bernie Bernie's? Two? I can't remember. Two years later, there's Bernie still will be at the ad Scott. Oh, seriously. He's so funny. So much of NATO is thinking about this the other day, so much of the films from that generation don't gonna hold up today. There's no no, a lot of cringy.

Alex Ferrari 7:11
And a lot of those movies in the 80s live beautifully in my memory. And I exactly watch them again, because like I was watching, I saw the I saw like a scene from Bloodsport. Okay. And I was like, no, no, I'm not gonna watch it. No, no, I, in my mind. It's fantastic. In my mind, the action sequences were great. And some scenes are great. The action sequences and stuff were really fun to watch. But I don't need to see the story of that. No, no, it's perfect here. Right? Exactly. Most films from the 80s and 90s, where it's good to hear.

Jeff Bollow 7:48
I mean, there's a lot of like John Hughes stuff that you're like, oh, no, love. I love that movie as a kid. And now like, oh, I don't even think I'd be able to

Alex Ferrari 8:03
We all watch home alone on Christmas.

Jeff Bollow 8:05
And it's, it's just funny how this time changes in our cultural sensibilities shift. And as they do a lot of the things that we look back on that seemed relatively normal and tame culturally, back in the day, just kind of, they don't necessarily seem that way today. So I in some ways, it's kind of encouraging because it means there's always going to be this need for new fresh voices and new fresh ideas and perspectives and, and stories. What we need to do then is tell those stories in a way that gives the today audience the same feel that we had back in the day with that with, you know, movies are of the time of the moment, you look back at 50s and 60s films. And the sensibilities were different in those times. So some of those things can transcend and hang on over the years, but some of them are really relegated to the era in which they were mammy.

Alex Ferrari 8:58
You can watch die hard and it still holds you can watch Wizard of Oz and it still holds you go watch godfather and it still holds these things transcend time and space. Pacing might be a little bit slower than we're used to and things like yes, definitely. But overall, they still I mean, I still watch Casablanca and I'm just like, so

Jeff Bollow 9:16
But how much of it is because you already have that bond with it versus

Alex Ferrari 9:22
Oh, if it was fresh, you would be like, like, well, this is does this make sense here? I remember you look at something like Shawshank, and you know Shawshank is I agree. It's gonna hold from I mean, look, there might be a time where if it doesn't cut every five seconds or every two seconds. It's not going to work.

Jeff Bollow 9:43
I think one of the challenges we have today is you know so many people are watching YouTube and whatever at double speed. Then to dial it back into the you can't watch a movie at double speed. You're gonna miss like it's not gonna you're gonna get you're gonna get info you're gonna get data points. You're gonna get plot twists and turns, but you're not going to get nuance and feeling and emotional subtlety. So you can't really watch a movie and take everything that the movie is giving you a way at double speed. So that's, that's going to force the normal speed to be faster. That's one of the reasons why we want cuts every so often now, I think. And it's like, where does that end out? You know, how does that how does that change the story medium over time? I just find that a fascinating puzzle, you know, so

Alex Ferrari 10:32
So let's bring it back to what you've been doing now for a few years. Yes. Which is helping screenwriters with screenwriting development? So the first question, we're going to talk about the fast screenplay, which is a fantastic system that you've come up with. The first question is, what are the three fundamental problems with screenplay development?

Jeff Bollow 10:53
Well, so the so we have a bunch of fundamental problems, but sort of some core fundamental problems are that at the end of the day, we're making a film, when you're writing a screenplay, you're not writing it for the end reader, you're writing it for the audience, you're writing it for the people who are going to make the film for an audience. So because we're not writing for the reader, a lot of writers often get into this place where they think they think my work has to be perfect, or it's how I see it in my head is what it has to be in it. And there's this, there's this, there's this delicacy that they treat it with, that doesn't really hold in how the industry works. The the screenplay is a is a blueprint for the production process. The screenplay is the is the is the thing around which we all huddle, and decide that this is the movie we're gonna make. It's not the screenplay, it's not the, as the writer, the idea in your head, is not the thing that's going to end up on the screen. The idea in your head is what informs the ideas and all these other creative people's heads, which is what's going to end up on the screen. Right? So fundamentally, a challenge that we have, is that, that we have to create for a creative team. Right? We also have to the another fundamental challenge is that there is not the money, particularly in the indie film world to pay for that script development. So if there's not that money to pay for that script development, how do we develop projects. So let's, for example, let's say you've written a script, you send it to me, as a producer looking for material, I look over that script, and I say, Hey, this is a great idea, this is a decent story. But it falls apart in the second act, and it doesn't really work and I need to change the end, my lead is a little bit older than this, can we age it up a little bit, like I have these changes I need to make, either I'm gonna have to pay you or someone who's skilled at doing that to fix that project. Money, which I can't guarantee is going to give me the result that I want. And money, which I can't recoup, if I don't make this film. So it's very risky for the producer to say, I'm gonna go ahead and buy this or make this. So as a result, we don't and we say no, and it's much more, you're much more likely to get a no, because there it's too there's too much required on the producer side to, to make to go down that road. So as a result, what the producer needs is for the writer to be at a higher level of development, like they need the project to come in, at least on the indie level where you don't have the money for development. They need the script and the project come in at a higher caliber at a at a more at a higher state of readiness with less what I call a viable production ready screenplay. You need that? In order to be able to say yes, so that I can at least see that if there are some adjustments, they're minor, and this writer is talented enough, they can probably make those adjustments. That's a that is one of the fundamental problems. So the so those are the main kind of kind of big sticking points now fundamentally within the industry. My belief is that one of the grand challenges we have is that most writing screenwriting is taught by writers. And by being taught by writers, you don't. What you often don't get is the producers perspective, so you often don't get what the producer needs in your project. So if you're writing something and you don't understand what the producer actually needs in your project, what they need from a packaging standpoint, what they need from a logistics production standpoint, what they need from a budgeting standpoint, you have a great idea. Fantastic. But it's got a niche audience. But your budget is like this. Like, there's a mismatch there. It's misaligned. So because it's misaligned, it's always going to be a no no matter how good that idea is. And I think part of the part of the problem is that the generally within the industry, there is not this infusion of the producers perspective, and what the what that what an understanding of that is and what that means for your project. So I don't know if that answers your question.

Alex Ferrari 15:46
No one answers exactly what what it is. And I agree with you, there's so many screenwriters just come up with an idea and a story. They don't think about the product. They don't think about how this is actually gonna get produced. I have so many screenwriters that have come to me and they're like, I have this this tentpole I'm like, stop right there. Stop. Is that Yes, exactly. No one is gonna give you $200 million. No one's gonna give you $100 million. No one's gonna give you $50 million. It is not the world we live in today. No one's buying tentpole specs anymore.

Jeff Bollow 16:14
It's possible, but it's the very peak of a very specific mountain that you have to climb up to to qualify for. If you're running a 10 pole project. You're competing with other writers who have already written tentpole projects. They know the people they know. They know the pitfalls. They know how to craft a project specifically for that, think about a Tom Cruise movie or something like like he has a very clear view of and nuanced understanding of what it takes to make a big theater film, right? That big theater experience if you don't have that experience, aiming for that. It's like, I want to play in the NBA. I want to be Michael Jordan, but I really, I still need to learn how to dribble. Like what? Like, no, you that dude spent years and years and years and years and hours and hours and hours, but writers tend not to want to spend that time and energy.

Alex Ferrari 17:12
But even if they did, so let me ask you this in the last 20 years, how many tentpole movies have been I want I need one, I need one, I don't not that there's a small amount, I need one that you can think of off the top of your head. That's $100 million plus off of an original IP that had no IP prior to that.

Jeff Bollow 17:34
Oh, I I can't think of a single one myself. I don't know for sure. But I would imagine if there are any, it would be in the count them on a single hand.

Alex Ferrari 17:44
If that if there is because I if you and I are both students at the industry, I can't remember of a movie. That not a small movie that made tentpole money, there's paranormal activity and many of those things, that's fine. Agreed. But I'm talking about a movie that walked in with $100 million dollar plus project but in a studio system off of a script that no one had ever heard of before.

Jeff Bollow 18:04
In a way it's a it's a it's a misunderstanding of how the industry works at that level. When you're thinking about tentpole movies, this is a machine this is a business enterprise, the movie is almost like an it's probably a little controversial, but like yeah, a product like a like an afterthought to what the ancillary income would be from that toys. And

Alex Ferrari 18:29
For the Disney folks, some are the Warner Brothers

Jeff Bollow 18:31
When you're talking. But when you're talking about 10 poles, you're talking about Jurassic Park, or whatever this kind of thing you're going to, you know, the McDonald's Happy Meals and all that kind of stuff, right? Like there's there, you have to be thinking about all that stuff, for it to make sense, like who's going to put $100 million into a movie, or these days 250 $300 million into a movie that can't generate that kind of response, like you like I find that writers often are not thinking through the business reality of the stories and the ideas. And it's not just about genre, it's about budget, it's about marketing, it's about how the where the money comes from it. Because I think writers often think we're going to make a movie, and the box office dollars are going to come in, and that's going to be our windfall. And we're going to like, that's not where you make your money on a movie. Like that's a that's a leading indicator of sort of the possibility of the of the long tail of the income stream from a movie. But if you don't if as a writer, you're you're you're just swimming around in your story ideas, and I have this great idea for a scene or if it's great idea for a character, which is often a motivating factor to get into it. But if that's the if that's the singular drive for making that, it, it didn't it connotes a misunderstanding of how the industry works, which is going to be the thing that's going to make actually achieving that impossible, because what I found Isn't writers quit before they actually develop the skills they need to succeed in that space, because they go into it with a misunderstanding or some wrong ideas about how the realities of how it is, and they sort of keep spinning their circles in the wrong direction, you spin your circles long enough in the wrong direction, you're gonna burn out, you burn out, you go this industry, you can't succeed in this industry, this is impossible. I think today, there is more opportunity just succeed as a screenwriter than ever before. The secret is stop aiming for the top of that mountain. And aim at where the opportunity is down here. And the niche markets in the in the television, indie film realm of television, sure, but that's also its own sort of ecosystem you have to get into, you can make, at the end of the day, we have the technology today, to be able to make movies literally anywhere in the world. If we have the technology to make movies anywhere in the world, for budgets that are down here, we also have the technology today to reach anyone in the world. It's a simple mathematical equation, to be able to create a project for a specific audience, if you can figure out the pricing structure of that and whatever sort of corollary back in office, you do the film entrepreneur thing, if you have that, if you have that understanding of it awareness, we can make small movies even that can generate an income for us, oh, God, this is and because of that you can develop your skill today in a way that we never were able to previously because we just didn't have that opportunity. So I think that's the I think that's one of the biggest challenges that writers, for writers at the moment these days, they're not focusing on, on all the opportunity they're focusing on, they're stuck on that one sort of mythical notion.

Alex Ferrari 21:52
Yeah, the lottery ticket. It's it's called a lottery ticket mentality. And they're agreed that someone's going to show up and like, Oh, I see your 100 million dollar temple, I'm gonna give you $3 million on the spec spot on this. And we're gonna go call Tom Cruise. And we're gonna go to make this thing happen. And it's that's the reality of the show the reality of the world. But there is a possibility to do something with that temple script, which a lot of screenwriters because they're only looking at the one thing, if you really are interested in the story, let's say it's an original story, but it's just too damn expensive pitch, there's no, it's a sci fi epic, or there's dinosaurs running around, or whatever it is, right. But you can't create IP off of that. You can write a book based off of it, you could turn it into a graphic novel, you can you can, there's so many ways that you can build IP around it. So that when you go off and build i plsa, take a year and build IP off this, you start selling books and all this, then someone from Hollywood comes knocking like, hey, we'd love your idea. Do you have a script and you're like, hey, I happen to have one. But you've already made money with the idea. So there's other ways to make money with an with a big idea like that. That's not about getting it produced. I have friends of mine who did the exact same thing. And a year or two later, the people who said no to the script came knocking, because they wanted to produce a series. Of course, they had IP on it. And now all of a sudden, they're like, Do you have a script? I'm like, Yeah, I have a script. I gave it to you three years ago, but we'll give it to you. Okay.

Jeff Bollow 23:24
But that's changed the change the draft date,

Alex Ferrari 23:27
Because I changed the draft date and change the title if you need to whatever. But there are other options for for screenwriters too,

Jeff Bollow 23:35
For sure. And I think that's the great thing about screenwriting is that it is something that we were talking about this a little bit before is, is it's something that you can go do right now, the thing is, what I believe is you need to do it right now, strategically, it's at the end of the day, we all want to just be artists. And yes, we all just want to dream movies, and imagine snap our fingers and make them but we can do that. But we're going to be doing that at a lower budget level. And if you're writing you have to develop skills, one of the grand challenges, even at the lower budget level is that there is increasingly endless competition for eyeballs. So you need to have stories that are going to stand out in a crowded marketplace, you have to have stories that are going to that are going to reach a specific audience to develop the skill of doing that. Well, you have to keep doing it consistently. You have to it's like a it's like dribbling practice for a basketball player. You have to practice that you have to get good at it. And the the idea that we can just step out of the gate because we've seen 1000 movies and magically write a great movie is this fairy tale. At the end of the day. These are skills the story dynamics and character arcs and and how to create something actually original rather than some cookie cutter formula. And how to say something that is that we want to say rather than just tell a story that maybe says something other Ben, what we intended, like all of these nuanced abilities and skills are something that takes time to develop. And so if you're only focused on that one impossible goal, of course, you're not going to succeed at that. And I don't want that to be the takeaway, because you can succeed out of the takeaway is stop focusing on the impossible and focus on this smorgasbord of opportunity in front of you use it to develop your skills, you want that maybe tentpole project as a showpiece of what I'm capable of doing. That showpiece might get you writing assignments from independent production companies who just have not been able to find products. They were like me, right. So it's like, yeah, if we can find the writers that are able to do that. Great. And so write your passion project, but use your passion project to build your career.

Alex Ferrari 25:58
Absolutely. There's there's a lot of ways to skin that cat, sir. Yes, exact lots and lots of ways. So then we've been telling everybody, you know, the problems and how we can't difficult to get this user. You have. Can you have the solution, sir, you you've created everything!

Jeff Bollow 26:19
I have. It's true.

Alex Ferrari 26:21
So what is the fast screenplay?

Jeff Bollow 26:22
Well, okay, so fascinatingly, my challenge was this, I wanted to make a I wanted to have so I made a little independent film in Australia with a friend of mine, I should say, We nearly made an independent film we spent seven years working on it eventually had to abandon it, because of story reasons. And it wasn't good enough and all this kind of stuff. But at the time, I thought we were going to be finishing. And so I started looking for screenplays to produce found 300 Odd screenplays literally read every single one of them over a six month span found nothing I could use. reached out to everybody that I knew they had ideas, they had scripts, none of it like it was just not possible. So I thought what I need is, if we're going to take our film to Cannes or FM or something, we, we need to have other projects in tow, I wanted to say, you might not like this, because we made it on a shoestring. But here's three other projects, see, we have the talent, invest in us on these back in the day when you can get pre sales and all that stuff. And so I couldn't find projects. So I said, what I need to do is I need to be able to take a writer from this idea that they have to not just a screenplay, but a screenplay, an independent producer could actually say yes to. So I sat down. And I said, Let me reverse engineer this process. What does a writer have to do to go through this process. And I as I worked it out, initially, I thought there were six phases they had to go through Eventually, I realized there were seven phases that they had to go through. There's four key writing phases, what I call focus, apply, strengthen, tweak, it's the acronym for fast, basically, focus, the focus phase, every single person, you have an idea for a movie, you're gonna have to focus that idea into a story, right, you're gonna take all the different ideas you have and, and make a story out of them an outline or a story plan or whatever, then you have to apply that plan to the page, which is write a first draft essentially. So every one doesn't matter if you're writing the big tentpole, you're writing a little indie thing. Everyone has to go through this process. Once you have that draft, what do you have to do you have to rewrite it, you have to strengthen it until it's a solid story, the story that you wanted to tell. That's the essence fast. Once you have that, once you have lit, you turn these straight ideas into an actual story, then you need to tweak it, you need to polish it, you need to ensure that the reader experience is so compelling that when someone picks up your screenplay, they tear through it, they cannot put it down it is literally a fast screenplay, write a fast read. And that's how you go from idea to final to the screenplay. Now the problem is great, you've written the screenplay, it a screenplay does not exist for its own purpose. It's only exists to be turned into a film. So you need to also connect with the producer or production company. So what I realized there's a fundamental dynamic underneath all of it. And that is the setup payoff dynamic. And so I said, there's actually a phase at the beginning prior to all this where we set up our imagination, so that what we're creating is more in sync with that ultimate target. And then we have a payoff phase where we find and connect with this projects, ideal producer. And that's what I thought it was I wrote a book called Writing fast how to write anything with lightning speed that goes over these six phases of the process. But along the way, after I wrote that book, I realized there's a missing phase in there just because you write a screenplay doesn't mean it can connect with a producer a production company. So there is a seven phase which is six in chronological order, which is the alignment phase and what we are every every writer is going to have to send Their work out for notes and feedback, they're gonna have to decipher that notes and feedback to see if the project lands the way they want it to land so that they know who to reach out and connect with. Most people who send their work out for for feedback, do it entirely the wrong way. They're doing it to get validation. What do you think of my script? Do you like the scene? Do you like this character?

Is this any good? Do you think have a chance to stand up? And please tell me, it's like, that person's opinion is about as valuable as any other person's opinion like it one person is an opinion, a group of people is a consensus, you need consensus opinion. And you need to have the skills to be able to decipher what people are saying, I actually really liked the story. Okay, well, why like, what do I need to change, like, you need to be able to know from what they say. So when you send your workout for notes and feedback, you have to decipher that you have to figure out what the consensus it is. And it's not about validating your project, it's about making sure that your project is aligned with its target, what do you want to say, Were you trying to reach out to, if you. So those are the seven phases, basically, right, we so if you have all of this and you align your project, then you know exactly where to send it, then it's simply a matter of hooking them, pulling them in getting them excited about reading your project. And then once they do read your project, exceeding their expectations, that's the payoff phase. So the so once I realized that, I realized that once you've been through all this, you can actually use that at the beginning to make the next project even stronger. So the system itself is iterative. So at the end of the day, you will continue to loop through this process until your project improves to the point where making a sale is inevitable. And so the problem is, people don't go through that process, there's probably 200 300 skills that you need to learn things like character development, opposition, conflict, pacing, intention, dialogue, all that stuff. So what I've done is I've taken all of those skills and have woven them throughout the process so that as you go step by steps through that process one day at a time, you're learning a new skill each day. And as you're simply going through this process, and therefore you learn by doing. And so that's ultimately what the fast screenplay system and process is all about.

Alex Ferrari 32:22
So I heard you talk about the hidden story dynamic, what is the dynamic,

Jeff Bollow 32:28
The setup payoff dynamic is the hit so the when I started thinking about the hero's journey, started thinking about three act structure, start to think, you know, all of the different story theories are kind of variations on those things. Ultimately, what it boils down to is setup and payoff. In the way I started to realize was that everything in your story is going to be either setup, or payoff, or both where it pays off one thing, and then sets up another, there's actually a fourth element, which is like a reinforcement. So you set something up, you have another thing that's reinforcing that setup. So the payoff can be bigger, but ultimately, it's setup and payoff dynamic. So like a second setup. So so if you think in terms of everything being setup and payoff dynamic, you don't have to be you don't have to land on these rigid, three act structure or the hero's journey. For example, have a love hate relationship with it. It's a it's a it's a wonderful archetype, but it's only applicable to maybe 40 50% of stories, Hero driven stories. You don't need to tell hero driven stories you mentioned Shawshank earlier. Shawshank is not a hero driven story, Shawshank takes the hero character and splits it into two characters, which is what I refer to as the protagonist and the main character. So the protagonist is the character whose actions dictate the twists and turns of the story the things they do change the direction of our story. The main character is the story whose eyes we experienced the story through read and and Andy, right, so and he's the protagonist, red is the main character, the main character is the one who changes, right? He's the one who and he doesn't really change he stays. He has some change. Not not from a character arc standpoint, he has remained steadfast through the whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 34:22
Read much read makes a much bigger change from the beginning to the end.

Jeff Bollow 34:26
But if you were if you were to use the hero's journey dynamic, it doesn't make sense in Shawshank.

Alex Ferrari 34:34
But but try to do a detective story with a hero's journey. It doesn't work.

Jeff Bollow 34:37
Exactly. So my point is that my point is the hero's journey is fantastic. As far as it goes, we have the sort of love affair with these things. And here's here's my read on it as someone who's been teaching screenwriting now for 25 freakin years is that I believe that we have the three act structure archetype we have the hero's journey We have the story circle, we have these kinds of these kinds of different ideas. Because this is a ball of string that is very a amorphous, there's no right or wrong and storytelling there is only effective or ineffective. If you you can't tell me that I can't put that scene with these two characters on page 45. Of course I can do it. The question is, is that going to be the most effective choice for the story journey we're taking the audience on. And so we we do the hero's journey, we do the three act structure, because it's the easiest way to teach this stuff, not because it's the most effective way to tell the story. So what we need to do ultimately, I believe, in the screenwriting world, is find better ways to tell more effective and more original stories. If you think about it this way, if I want to build an independent film studio, which I do to make eventually hundreds of films a year like that is my grand ambition of like with production teams all around the world, like I have this huge vision. If we made hero's journey and three extra extra stories, we use the same formula for every film. How quick is the audience gonna go? Hang on? I'm seeing the same movie here over and over again. Right? We're going to recognize the unknown originality of it. So we need originality, we tell story. TV is not told in a 3x structure story, but it still works told the 4x structure story. Why does that work? Because it's, it's used, it's using the same set up pay off dynamics in different overlapping ways. Right? So if you have, you have three storylines in a TV show, you have your setup payoff arc, in the one storyline set up, pay an arc in another storyline, you can mix and match so that you're always leaving, sort of those cliffhanger hooks and elements that are going to keep that audience coming through and wanting to know what happens next in your story. So the because a movie is a self sustained, like an encompassed in one in one storytelling session, because of that, we need it to be self contained, right, we need. And so as a result, the when we analyze existing stories, we're thinking of it in terms of those Story segments, and that structure that that sort of formula, but I think the formula hurts us more than it helps us. And so my approach to it is that process based approach where we're going to take everyone through that process of formulating ideas, that process, getting it onto the page, that process of going through your whole story, systematically, big picture, whole story, at level, scene level, dialogue level experience level, we're going to go through that and see how all the details affect all the other layers of it so that we make sure it's exactly the story, what we want to tell at the end of it, like going through the process, I think is stronger than imposing some story type on your idea, you might have a great idea and go, Okay, well, now I have to figure out where my inciting incident is upon point one. And so that's going to lead and it's going to shape your idea in a way that might not be the most effective way to tell your story idea.

Alex Ferrari 38:19
So let me I want to ask you a question. I want to ask you a question in regards to story structure. Because yes, I know a lot of you know, I've spoken to a lot of screenwriters and, and I and a lot of them at the high levels, you know, even off the record, sometimes I talked to them off. I'm like, Man, that structure of that movie seems similar to this film. And many of them quietly, like, I'm not gonna say who many of them quietly have said, Yeah, because I, I used that structure as my tip my template for my script. So I always like using plain break. I mean, anybody who watches Fast and Furious, it's Point Break with cars. Right? Same exact story. Well, I didn't even try didn't even try it. It's hidden. I mean, it was so structurally the same, even characters the same, but what do you think of going into some of your favorite mystery? Like, let's say you have a story idea, like, Okay, I have a detective story. Well, let's go to knives out or let's go to some old Sherlock Holmes structures or whatever, you know, you know, detective stories there are and using those stories as that structure template to kind of lay out a template that works with the kind of story you're trying to do.

Jeff Bollow 39:42
I think that's totally fine. I think that's acceptable. I don't see any reason why not to do that. So some of those things are gonna work. Look, the reason the 3x structure and hero's journey are these archetypes that keep getting taught over and over again is because they do work. It works. They work but they work exceptionally well. For those kinds of stories, what I'm saying is that if you're just because you have an idea doesn't mean that you want to fit into the same architect, if you do use it, I teach it, I teach the React structure, I teach bits and pieces of hero's journeys. Like, you need to know this stuff. For one thing, it's the it's the common language of the film industry. So it's like, you need to be able to speak that stuff with some degree of intelligence. But that doesn't necessarily mean that that should limit the creative choices that we make, right? So it doesn't mean that a script or story is wrong, if we're not telling it according to that structure. So as a if you're a new writer, you're just starting out, by all means impose an existing structure over your current idea, see what it does to your idea, see if it makes it work and how it makes it work and why those dynamics are what they are, at the end of the day. If you go back to set up and pay up look, Mike's backing up a little bit. And probably since we last spoke, I've come to to deeply believe that all story is about change. It's not necessarily about the hero changing. But it's about something changes. If nothing changes in your story, it's going to be boring as sin, it's not really going to engage an audience. If, because we because we are so enamored of the hero driven story of that the old that we tend to only focus and maybe executives tend to typically focus on the hero's change that character arc. But that's a specific type of story. And not necessarily the most interesting take on it. Sometimes you want your character to not change, you want the other characters in the story to make a change, or the place can change or some technology's thinking like, it's in seeing the change, that we extract the meaning from a story. That's how stories give us meaning. What changed and how and why.

Alex Ferrari 42:03
So I know a lot of people listening my thinking like all heroes, are the heroes always changing like the other day they don't, I don't absolutely know. James Bond until Casino Royale. Exactly. never moved.

Jeff Bollow 42:16
But if you had genuine character change, you wouldn't have TV shows either because you can't have a character week to week with the same comic foibles, for example sitcom or something. If they were making a change each week, like

Alex Ferrari 42:29
Sam, Sam Malone and Sam Malone, exactly, he might make a change from the beginning of the series to the end of the series. And it may slight, I mean, more, or you're doing something like they did with Breaking Bad, which absolutely that will

Jeff Bollow 42:44
That is a change for sure. And that was that they knew going into it that that was exactly you're right

Alex Ferrari 42:51
They were gonna he was Mr. Chips to Scarface like that's exactly, it was, this was this thing. But you look at something like Indiana Jones and I was just thinking as we're talking, I'm like, Alright, in the end, he doesn't really change a whole hell of a lot. But the people around them do so like I'm Temple of Doom captures character absolutely changes that she went from this this actress who was very pricy and oh my god, the jungle to a badass there at the end of the at the end of the whole thing, and even short round changes to a certain extent. But he is kind of the James Bond, like he kind of doesn't change greatly.

Jeff Bollow 43:29
And so can you imagine, like script notes on that of like, well, we need to see indeed, like grow and evolve as a character, because the three act structure tells us that,

Alex Ferrari 43:38
Anything like that, but that's not the story that they're trying to tell. That's

Jeff Bollow 43:42
Exactly and, and so and so the problem becomes that then we take this stuff that we've all been taught, or that that we've studied, or whatever, and we impose it upon an idea, and possibly take out the most interesting or nuanced or audience grabbing element of that, because we're looking at it through a very specific lens that this industry has imposed upon it. And I just, I'm just trying to push back on that a little bit and say, I don't think that's I don't think that's right, I think it's the setup payoff dynamic underneath it, that if you get the setup payoff dynamic, correct. Were the things at the beginning, you can't set something up and then not pay it off, because then you're gonna feel empty or there's gonna be holes in the story, it's just gonna feel wrong some way and you can't have this big payoff without first setting it up or emotionally doesn't mean anything to us and doesn't doesn't hit us, right? So you're not gonna be able to, if a character or scene or situation doesn't change over time, we're not going to take much away from that. And so that's sort of the approach that I go in with is is that that's our sort of guiding light.

Alex Ferrari 44:53
And I'm gonna I'm gonna go back to Shawshank for a second imagine that there is no red. Exactly. Imagine that they bring red and These character and to the one Andy character, let's say, and let's say, Andy,

Jeff Bollow 45:05
I'm not sure you could but carry on.

Alex Ferrari 45:07
I'm just I'm throwing this out there. Yeah, to prove your point. So let's say we throw these two characters together. And we follow Andy and He's hopeless at the beginning. And at the end through maybe another character outside of him, teaching him hope, but the perspective of the whole story is Andy's it is not somebody else watching Andy, it's Andy, you are with Andy, you feel his pain you're in that room with, with the ladies, whatever they call them, that did all of that stuff and you following through the whole journey. And you might, they might still be able to hold off the the payoff, which if you haven't seen Shawshank spoiler alert, when he escapes, maybe you hold all that stuff up. Let's say we build that story. It's tough. It's it's it's a good story. But there's no there's it says it's not nearly as powerful as the way it was written.

Jeff Bollow 46:02
And this is the and this is kind of what I get at is, is, that story could still be a great story. But because you're telling it, you would be telling it from a different angle, the message, the point, the purpose, the theme, in some cases, that that sort of big picture idea is, is different. And so the takeaway is going to feel different, the audience is going to feel different about the movie, all of those things come from those story choices that you're making. And so so you have to understand, like, as a writer, at least, filmmakers do, you have to really understand that the the the choices that you make story structurally, the choices that you make with the character arc, the choices that you the decisions that you make, about what that whatever that change is going to be, are the thing that give the audience the feeling that they take away from your from your film. It's what it all is about, ultimately, and little details can change the entire picture and scope and meaning and message all of it, right. So it's all interconnected. Every little piece is is intertwined. And that's the big challenge of it, because you change a scene over here, and suddenly, well, this doesn't really set it up properly. And then now how do I how do I fix that? Now? It's like, that's the that's the challenge of the of the job.

Alex Ferrari 47:31
And do you know that I think originally Indiana Jones came to be because Spielberg wanted to do a Bond film. It really I don't know, I think I think the story goes that and please, in the comments, let me know if I'm wrong. But I hear the legend is that he wanted to direct the Bond movie and couldn't I and for whatever reason didn't work out. And he was on the beach with with George, Mr. Lucas. And they said, Hey, guys, I have something better for you. I've been thinking about this, this Indiana thing or this archaeologist and he's like, oh, what? So it makes sense that they would construct Indiana very similarly to James Bond, because Indiana just goes on adventures, and arguably doesn't change much. If you had a character like Indiana Jones that changes from point A to point B like let's say like an ant like a red did and Shawshank it's just not the same story.

Jeff Bollow 48:23
It's just not it's not. If you had if you had Indiana Jones going through some personal transformation, it becomes about his transformation, not about the pure escapism adventure some that the movies about. And so because they wanted to make a sort of serial adventure story, those stories that has to go front and center. And so the change over time becomes the you know, opening up the Nazis, the Nazis open getting the thing you're seeing that change over time rather than the character change over time. And that's what drives the point, the purpose, the meaning the message, all that right, and

Alex Ferrari 49:05
Flash Gordon, and those kinds of cereals, it's all based on, they don't change they did. You know, you wouldn't want them to Superman, Superman didn't change.

Jeff Bollow 49:16
You don't want Superman to change. He's super freaking man.

Alex Ferrari 49:20
Like, you're done. You're done like, and then later on, you have to do other things. But it's always more interesting. All right, so So Jeff, let's Alright, so I have an idea. I want to write a screenplay fast. Give me the bullet points of how I can write that idea, get at least that first draft out onto the page quickly.

Jeff Bollow 49:42
So so there's a couple of things. So I do I have a whole thing that I do at the beginning. It's actually currently a part I added it as a tool to the strength to the setup phase of my system, where it's really all about what I call a fast draft. And it's it's all about getting your ideas into To dress, some people would refer to it as a sketch draft or a vomit draft or like that kind of thing. But mine's a little bit more targeted in that your thinking and planning, it's not just sit down and start typing. It's a, it's a, it's a brain dump kind of thing. So the first thing that I would do is I would say, take all the ideas that you have in your head, and write one idea on an index card. One next one idea on an index card next, and you stack up all these getting, just get all the ideas out of your head, and onto individual index cards, then you're going to scatter these around, put them up on a wall, whatever, and just absorb them and see what connections you might see. And then from that, figure out what who's the driver of the story, figure out what the goal would be figure out what the obstacle is going to be, start to see some of the thematic things within that stuff. Give yourself sort of a wireframe of where you're going from what's what's the state A, what's the beginning state of the character, or whatever it is, that's going to change in your story. What's the state be, figure out what that change is going to be? change does not happen on a dime. Change happens incrementally. So a story is about the incremental change, the plot points, the twists and turns of your story are those incremental change points. So when you think about whatever is going to change, put it up on a wall, see how it sort of sketches out? Think about that. And think about what needs to incrementally change for this to be a believable, plausible change. Then think about what are those scenes that you've mapped out on your on your index cards, whatever, figure out what are the what are the scene elements that could cause or correlate to those things and just put sort of a general framework together of what that story might be. When you're outlining or you're putting your project together, your, your, your, your getting your sketch, together, the stuff that you do, what we do in detail in the focus phase, is it's not about finalizing your story. Writing is a process of discovery, always remember that writing is a process of discovery, you will never have your story, before you write it, you can flesh it out, you can say this is what I think my story is going to be. And then you're going to write that story. But then when you see that story on the page, it's going to be different to what you thought it was going to be, it's not going to be as good, you're going to have new ideas that came up in the writing of it in his brain that has a creative subconscious that spits ideas out to us. Why is that happen? Because your brain is always working in the background, piecing things together, finding connections, seeing themes, and you don't, it's like when you're driving a car, you don't think about every twist and turn you make on a journey you can get from point A to point B and go, I don't even remember driving that distance, your creative subconscious, that subconscious is just staring on autopilot. So your brain can go off in different directions. That's It's what it's designed to do. So we want to capture that we want to let our creative subconscious out. And that happens when we simply blast stuff onto the page and then see what's there. So when you're planning when you've got this, put it on a wall, put it spread it out on the tape on the floor, and for you, whatever it is find those connections, find those things start wireframing, the thing, then you want to do is you want to blast a draft out to specific road markers. So give yourself every five pages or something like that, right, just simply write to the next five pages, don't worry about the whole thing, just worried about getting to the next five pages, because you want to have a draft until you have a draft, you don't even know the possibility and where your story could go. Once you have that draft, that's when you're going to look at it. And you're going to analyze it, you're going to think about it from the different levels and layers of your story. There's the big picture, what's the what's the idea that you're trying to get across? There's the whole story, which is like how am i How am I expressing that big picture idea, the actual story. Then there's the ACT those those like major components that comprise that story. Then there's the scenes the the blocks of action, that comprise those acts that make up that whole story. Then there's the dialogue level, which is like a window to the characters and the stories we understand sort of the the machinations that are happening behind the story. And then there's the and then there's the individual beats of your story. So if you want to get stuff written quickly, throw your get your ideas out of your head, get them onto index cards, flush them out, give yourself road markers, and then blast out a draft see what you've got and then improve that.

Alex Ferrari 54:46
I'm excited

Jeff Bollow 54:49
Oh my gosh. Can you tell that I that I live and breathe this stuff every day and have done

Alex Ferrari 54:59
That's amazing. Jeff, I know I could keep talking to you for at least another four or five hours.

Jeff Bollow 55:06
Probably would keep talking your ear off for all. Just make them stop.

Alex Ferrari 55:11
But I'm gonna ask you a few questions as all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Jeff Bollow 55:19
Today my advice for a screenwriter would be Think Local. Because I really believe that the biggest opportunities that we have today, to launch a career are local, there are people in your neighborhood, wherever you live in the world, that have the capacity to make movies and probably want to. And so if you're what you're wanting to be a writer, right for those people, if you imagine Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas or whatever, like, how did they become so close, they grew up together, it's like they went through the film school, they were like, they were emerging talent before they were big names together. So of course, they're going to work together like not necessarily people at that level, find your own people at your own level, locally, within your own town within your own city. You can make movies today, get good at those skills, develop those skills locally. So then you have showpiece, then you have something that you can take to the studios or the bigger levels that you want to reach out to and you're not coming with a script in your hand that they don't want to read because they don't know who you are. Instead, you're coming with an indie film. That's the first five minutes goes wow, this is amazing. Oh, and what you won, you won which festivals? Oh, and so like, suddenly, this is somebody to pay attention to. And then they they liked this little indie film. And I go, what else have you got? I've got my big tentpole project, but Alex told me not to write, right like that would be my advice is Think Local, because that's going to be your key to global domination.

Alex Ferrari 57:02
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jeff Bollow 57:09
I remember my I remember my answer last time, but I'm gonna give you a different answer this time, this time it is let it go. Let go. Don't get me started. You have an idea of where you're trying to get. And because you have an idea of where you're trying to get, you can get fixated on that, and it can blind you to what's right in front of you. And so when I say let it go, I don't mean let go of that that goal, that passion, that is your fuel. That's your motivation, let that push you let that drive you. But let go of the outcome. Let go of I needed to look this way. Or I'm a failure. If like when I was a kid, I wanted to be a movie star. At a certain point. I was like, You know what, I'm not the leading man. I'm the leading man's best friend. Like that's just my type, right? So I'm probably not going to be the star. So if I hold on to that impossible thing. Maybe it's possible maybe a could have achieved it. But what would I have to what would I miss along the way? Because I'm so stuck on that one idea. If you can let that go. I think you open yourself up to a world of possibility. And today we live in a world of possibility. I know that I know that in the film industry. There's this general sense of it's impossible. If you can find anything you love in the world to do go do that instead. Like I hate that advice. I hate I hate that people say that. No, you can do this. This we have more opportunity today than we've ever had ever. There are no gatekeepers anymore. You can go make your own stuff. If there's no gatekeepers anymore, the quality is where it all comes from, what are you capable of doing develop those skills and get there so let go of those preconceived ideas. Wow, man, I'm rolling.

Alex Ferrari 59:12
And last question. Just three, three of your favorite films of all time.

Jeff Bollow 59:17
Oh, man, I knew you're gonna ask me this and I I hate this question. I'm always going to struggle.

Alex Ferrari 59:28
Thriller come to your mind today.

Jeff Bollow 59:31
Want to find a good sci fi love inception. I know. These are all going to be cliche but I love inception. I love the mystery. I'll tell you what another one that I really like is called time crimes. We've seen that one time crime Spanish film Spanish films fantastic if you like time travel time crimes Man Mark Mark my words you're gonna like it. It's a it's a great little film. And then it since we'll just keep it all sci fi primer. I love primer and primer is not A Primer is not something that you would look at and go, that's a well written film, because it's not about the writing. It's about the end, the end film, and it's, it's cool. I love brain teasers, and I love puzzles and stuff like that. So I lean towards sci fi, just because it's a it's a, it's a, it's a fantastic. I'm a possibilities person. And I like to think through like the, like, where we're going and all that kind of stuff and bring puzzles and stuff. I think we have to exercise this thing to get us where we're trying to go. And, and I love sci fi for that reason. So

Alex Ferrari 1:00:34
That's awesome, man. And where can people find out more about you and your work and all the stuff that you're doing?

Jeff Bollow 1:00:40
I have probably half a dozen places you can find me but I'll keep it to one which I'll just say fast screenplay. Because if you if, if nothing else, join me on the fast screenplay free newsletter. I do a I call it daily ish. Daily prompt, I used to do a daily prompt thing on YouTube where it was like, here's a little prompt to get you writing today. And so I've started doing that in email. I don't do daily because like a lot going on, but, but it's daily ish. And it'll keep you posted with all the various things that I have. And I've got some really cool things coming up. So,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:17
Jeff, it has been a pleasure and an honor to having you back on the show. Thank you for the hard work that you do. For screenwriters around the world, sir. I appreciate you man. Think and keep up. Keep the hustle going, brother, I appreciate you.

Jeff Bollow 1:01:29
Thanks for listening. Thanks for indulging me and thanks for having me really appreciate it. Alex, you I love what you do. Keep up keep doing what you're doing as well.

IFH 603: How Indie Film Super Troopers Made Millions with Jay Chandrasekhar

Today on the show we have director, writer, comedian, and actor Jay Chandrasekhar has contributed to and appeared in a wide variety of critically acclaimed television programs and films throughout his career.

Chandrasekhar assembled the sketch comedy troupe Broken Lizard, which includes Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske. Together they performed comedy across the nation until they set their sights on producing television and feature films.

Under his Broken Lizard banner, Jay directed and co-wrote Fox Searchlight Picture’s comedy cult classics Super Troopers, Super Troopers 2, Club Dread, and Warner Bros’ Beerfest. He also directed the Broken Lizard comedy special, Broken Lizard Stands Up.

Super Troopers hit theaters in February 2002 and went on to gross $23 million with glowing audience reviews (and $80 million on home video.)

Jay continued on to direct The Dukes of Hazard, direct and star in Millennium Entertainment’s The Babymakers, and appear in DreamWorks’ comedy hit, I Love You, Man. Recently, Chandrasekhar published his book, Mustache Shenanigans: Making Super Troopers and Other Adventures in Comedy that gives a behind the scenes look at the making of Super Troopers.

In addition to his feature film work, Chandrasekhar has directed various TV shows, including several episodes of the Emmy Award winning series Arrested Development, Community, Chuck, The Grinder, Up All Night, Happy Endings, New Girl, and Psych. More recently, Jay has also directed episodes of Fresh Off the Boat, The Goldbergs, Speechless, and Schooled.

His new film is Easter Sunday.

Stand-up comedy sensation Jo Koy (Jo Koy: In His Elements, Jo Koy: Comin’ in Hot) stars as a man returning home for an Easter celebration with his riotous, bickering, eating, drinking, laughing, loving family, in this love letter to his Filipino-American community. Easter Sunday features an all-star comedic cast that includes Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley series), Tia Carrere (True Lies, Wayne’s World films), Brandon Wardell (Curb Your Enthusiasm series), Tony nominee Eva Noblezada (Broadway’s Hadestown), Lydia Gaston (Broadway’s The King and I), Asif Ali (WandaVision), Rodney To (Parks and Recreation series), Eugene Cordero (The Good Place series), Jay Chandrasekhar (I Love You, Man), Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) and Lou Diamond Phillips (Courage Under Fire).  

Easter Sunday, from DreamWorks Pictures, is directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers, The Dukes of Hazzard), from a script by Ken Cheng (series Wilfred, Betas). The film is produced by Rideback’s Dan Lin (The Lego Movie franchise, It franchise) and Jonathan Eirich (Aladdin, The Two Popes), and is executive produced by Jo Koy, Jessica Gao, Jimmy O. Yang, Ken Cheng, Joe Meloche, Nick Reynolds and Seth William Meier. The film will be distributed by Universal Pictures domestically. Amblin Partners and Universal will share international distribution rights.

Jay also just launched a new app designed to give the power of reviews back to the people. It’s call Vouch Vault.

“When my film, Super Troopers, showed at Sundance, it played to big laughing crowds. But when it was released to the public, the reviews were only so-so. On Rotten Tomatoes, Super Troopers, got a 38%-fresh aggregate score from less than a hundred reviewers. With the public, though, the film garnered a 90% fresh rating from more than 250,000 non-reviewers. This 38% reviewer-number stuck in my craw. I remember thinking, “Who are these reviewers, these strangers with outsized power, and why are we listening to them? Seriously. When’s the last time you walked up to a stranger and said, “Hey, what movie should I see?”

Our goal with Vouch Vault is to take recommendation power from anonymous strangers and give it to the people whose tastes you know and trust.”

You can download the new app here: Vouch Vault.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Jay Chandrasekhar 0:00
As the human mind works at a much faster rate than you think it does, and so you can pull things out and tighten it tighten and tighten. And the tighter you get. Often the closer to the rhythm you even imagined was and you're trying to lock into a rhythm with the audience.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Jay Chandrasekhar. How're you doing Jay?

Jay Chandrasekhar 0:31
I'm doing great. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:33
I'm doing great, man. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. I've been a fan of yours, brother since since I can't even tell you when spac obviously some Super Troopers came out. I pissed myself and continue to piss myself every single time I watch it. So I appreciate you guys making that.

Jay Chandrasekhar 0:49
Maximum reaction we are always hoping for.

Alex Ferrari 0:54
So I wanted you on the show, man because, you know, Super Troopers and the sequel and many of the other films you've made. I mean, specifically Super Troopers was kind of like this. In the you know, it's kind of like the beginning. Again, if you remember the 90s it was like every week there was a new El Mariachi or brothers mall in or clerks, brothers broken losers was that for the early 2000s is one of those films that kind of just came out of nowhere from you know, group of filmmakers who really nobody knew and exploded on the scene. So before we get into that, how did you get started? Why did you want to get started in this insanity? That is the film industry?

Jay Chandrasekhar 1:29
Well, I was an actor and in high school and college. Almost not an actor I've my sister was, I was kinda like, little lost in high school my freshman year. And my sister was like, why don't you just get in the play? It's super fun. You make a lot of friends. And I'm like a play. I don't know, like, what am I going to do? Like act? And she goes, be like an extra be in the chorus or something. I'm like, Alright, so I auditioned for a play to get in the chorus. I guess. I didn't make it. And I'm like, I was like, wow, I didn't make it. And so the next time they put up a play auditioned again, and I got into the head, a couple lines. And it was really, it was rejection that made me dive back in the second time. I'm like, How dare you? And once I started doing it, I thought, Okay, this is incredible. This is really fun. I was so and I became like, kind of that one of the main guys in the in the theater group in high school. And then in college, I started the lead in place. And then I looked at the television and movie screens. It was in the late 80s. And I was like, hey, there are no Indians on there. I mean, the Ben Kingsley was the one Indian and and they they weren't going to make it Gandhi too. Right? So I was like, well, when they wanted Indians, they put you know, white guys in brown face and these guys did this hilarious accents. I thought like Fisher Stevens and

Alex Ferrari 3:01
Wow, yeah, yeah, that did that does that age well at all? It's a short circuit.

Jay Chandrasekhar 3:05
It's funny, short circuit. My dad told me he goes he goes you have to see short circuit. And I said why? Because they didn't Indian in it. And I'm like, that's not a real Indian. He goes, where does this closest we'll get.

Alex Ferrari 3:19
Look, I'm Cuban and Scarface. I mean, so there you go.

Jay Chandrasekhar 3:25
That's such a good foot. Peter Sellars played a good Indian in the party. I thought I thought he did a nice job. But, you know, like, Indians were showing up but they were the guys who are selling Brad Pitt the pack of cigarettes before he went over and hooked up with cheddar friends or whoever, right? Oh, it'd be the guy would have picked up whichever is. So I decided in college. I started a comedy groups. You know, because I was. I don't know, I don't know how much of this you want. But anyway, I was in college as a junior and I decided I'm going to try to make it and show business. And I said the way I'm going to do it is I can make my friends laugh, no problems. But can I make strangers laugh? And so I moved to Chicago, which is where I'm from. And I spent the summer in Chicago and then I took a semester off college and I went to college in Chicago got credits there, and I immersed myself in the improv comedy world. And I got involved in this thing called the Improv Olympic. And Chris Farley was the top guy at the time and Dave keckler. And they would go see their shows or improv shows, and they were incredible. Like, just like it was like magic. It was he couldn't believe how funny he was. And then I would go do my improv shows with my group, which was like eight beginners, and we would get almost no laughs I mean, I don't know if we got any laughs And I thought, well, wow, that's really failing the test of this. Can I make strangers laugh? So I decided I'd better go cross down and write some stand up. And so I went down an open mic and I did five minutes of stand up and I got laughs and I was like, okay, okay, I passed that test, I'm going to do it. And so I got back to Colgate. And there was an opportunity to start a comedy group. It was basically like, Hey, you want to direct a 1x? And I said, instead, I'll start a comedy group. And so I went around and getting look Magnificent Seven, I gathered all the funniest people I knew. And I put them in a room and I said, Here's, hey, we do improv. And I'm like, now I'm like this worst improv improviser in Chicago, teaching seven other people how to improvise. And it just didn't go anywhere. First of all, we had no the audience. So we were like, Is that funny? I don't know. Is that funny? I don't know. And then we're like, you know what, we're all history majors and English majors. This is right sketch. That's you Saturday live, we can do that. And so we started writing sketches. And one of the guys who I hired was from Los Angeles freshman, and he goes, I really pretty good with this camera. It's like, okay, well, like Santa Claus. We should share video. So we started shooting short videos, and we put on a show and the first night about 30 people showed up. And but it was a good show, I thought and the next night, it was 400. And you couldn't get enough seats it. And the next night was sold out in the next night was sold out. We're like, oh my god, this thing is really caught on. And so we did another show them, we moved to New York, and we reformed his broken lizard. And that was 1990. And I'm watching what was happening in the film business. And I'm like, so all these, like, just Kevin Smith, who's any person what's going on with that guy, Rick Linklater. And I'm like, you know, maybe the only way I'm gonna get because still, there are no Indians on screen. And I'm like, maybe the only way I can get into a movie would be if I wrote it myself. So we wrote a movie together. And then I'm like, you know, we had an experience of Comedy Central with another director who directed us. And I'm like, it didn't really feel right. until like, maybe I should learn how to direct. So that, and I've been directing all these little short films for broken lizard. So I kind of had a leg up. And so we raised money, and we made a half an hour film, and then we raised more money, and we made puddle cruiser, which got into Sundance. And it was just us, me and my friends in the movie. And that group, obviously, then went on to make Super Troopers. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 7:13
And the rest, as they say, is history. It's funny that you say like, you were looking at the 90s. And for people who listen to this show that many of them are younger, who does understand what the 90s and independent film was, it was the first time you really saw the technology is so cheap, and the opportunity for the festivals and Sundance and that Sundance decade, to blow up, you know, filmmakers, there was just a window of about 10 years really, that you could do that that gave you the inspiration to go. I think I could do this. Because if, if, if Kevin Smith made clerks for $27,000, and it's funny as hell, good writing and everything. Wow, what can I do that I'm funny? Similar, same idea?

Jay Chandrasekhar 7:51
That's exactly right. It's very much like if that guy can do it. I mean, it was very much like that. And, and it was, No, the truth is the, you know, the landscape was littered with the bones of filmmakers who didn't make it.

Alex Ferrari 8:06
Oh, and still are, sir.

Jay Chandrasekhar 8:10
But, but we, you know, I've always been some, like, like cocky to the point of stupid,

Alex Ferrari 8:20
Which has to be you have to be

Jay Chandrasekhar 8:23
Attempt to write and direct your own film and shove yourself into Milan. And help.

Alex Ferrari 8:30
Which, which, which. So you made your short film, which was Super Troopers. It was called Super Troopers Three?

Jay Chandrasekhar 8:35
No, no, the first No, the first fish called the tinfoil monkey agenda.

Alex Ferrari 8:41
Oh, fantastic. Name. Fantastic. Fantastic.

Jay Chandrasekhar 8:46
The second the first feature film was called puddle cruiser right. took place at Colgate. And then the the film after that was Super Troopers. One I'm writing Super Troopers three right now,

Alex Ferrari 8:57
When I was so so puddle cruiser. So that was kind of like your clerks. That was the that was your that was going to be that first film that was going to like, and you got to Sundance, which is a huge.

Jay Chandrasekhar 9:09
And Harvey Weinstein saw it and was, you know, tested it and it tested it tested well, but he didn't end up buying it. And he's like, I want to make it into a TV show. Because he just had a deal with ABC. So he's like, you gotta make it a TV show. And then we ended up making it into a TV show with another company and another guy but but we came like inches from being purchased by Miramax just didn't. He wasn't in the room at the right time.

Alex Ferrari 9:44
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now on when you made panel cruisers, I mean, that's the first time you made a narrative feature face you know, as a director, what was the biggest lesson you learned on the directing side making that first feature?

Jay Chandrasekhar 9:55
Well, you know, the thing about A comedy is it's all about rhythm and timing. And if you watch those, you know, I keep mentioning canceled people. But if you'd like to Woody Allen's great work, he'll have three minute takes where the actors are creating his comedic rhythm. And I'm sure he's telling it faster, faster, faster, faster. And he had his he has it taken one of his phones or two people are arguing in the living room, they walk into the kitchen, the camera just points the kitchen while they keep arguing that they walked back after about a minute of arguing in the kitchen. And the reason it works is because the rhythm, right. And so I always had a sense. I mean, I don't know, it may be if you're a comic, you know that it's all about really. And I was like, I think this movie is going to work based on the rhythm we've written into the script. And I don't know. And so we would shoot these scenes. And I'm like, Yeah, that's feels right. This sounds right, right. And then we cut it all together. I'm like, yeah, yeah, there it is. But But what we learned most is that there's so much extra stuff, and space that you need to eat, because the human mind works at a much faster rate than you think it does. And so you can pull things out and tighten it tighten and tighten. And the tighter you get, often the closer to the rhythm you even imagined was and you're trying to lock into a rhythm with the audience. And we were able to do that. So you know, what it taught me is that we couldn't we can do it. Making

Alex Ferrari 11:30
Which is, which is a very important thing, which gave you the confidence to make Super Troopers, which was a slightly larger budget.

Jay Chandrasekhar 11:38
It was 1.1 million.

Alex Ferrari 11:40
How did you get that? How did you get that movie? Money?

Jay Chandrasekhar 11:42
Well, we just asked everybody in Hollywood, and they all said no. And we were like, no, no, we're the pokers. Guys. They're like, yeah, where Joe was sold to Harvey Weinstein, but

Alex Ferrari 11:53
Almost

Jay Chandrasekhar 11:58
You know, we, we, we went to so many different people. And they were like, so let me get the stripe. You guys are the cops. Like, nobody knows who you are. You know, one guy is like, I'll give you the money. But we put Ben Affleck and as the role of authority. I'm friends with them. They'll do it. And I'm like, no, no, I'll play that part. Because good luck with that. And then we and we would we went from place to you know, we were repped at CAA at the time. And they introduced us to all their finance ears. And they interested in this and we got close again, we'd like the we were friends with the Zucker brothers so that they introduced us to the Farrelly brothers and the Farrelly brothers tried to get a made of Fox and they were like we just the studio won't. Because you guys, they just won't do it. And we went with Bob Simons, who was producing a lot of Adam Sandler films and he goes, I'm doing it. We're doing it for 5 million. I'm like, great. And then Bob couldn't get paid the amount he wanted to get paid in the budget. And so he's like, sorry, guys, I can't do it. And I'm like, Oh, okay so then.

Alex Ferrari 13:05
God just all this back and forth. I love people hearing and hearing the stories because it's like, oh, you know, one day you get into Sundance next day, you make broken lizards in the money just comes rolling in. Like, that's not the way it works.

Jay Chandrasekhar 13:18
So then we ended up a friend of ours was George Clooney as assistant. We moved to LA right. And we're like, we were hanging out with her. We're partying with her. We're you know, doing ecstasy. I don't know. Anyway, whatever we're having, but and we were sleeping at George Clooney his house because she was he was off making the peacemaker, I think, and we were, she was alone. And she's like, I can't sleep in this house alone. There are all these paparazzi in the woods. And we're like, okay, so we moved in there for a month. And we

Alex Ferrari 13:53
Does George know this?

Jay Chandrasekhar 13:57
Robes around the slippers and we go feed his pigs. Thanks. That's right. And we had a bomb. And when he got home, he's like, you know, introduce me to these knuckleheads are sleeping in my house. So we met him and he goes, What are you guys trying to do? And we're like, well, we're trying to do this movie and he read it and he goes, this is a great movie, I'll participate. And I was like, Alright, okay, so that was how we're going. And I think we asked him to be in it because I'm just gonna produce. Okay, good. So, then we, you know, we're like, trying to take that around town. And, you know, the jersey films, which is Dan to beat us company is like, we're simultaneously trying to create a television show with them around Super Troopers, because, you know, didn't make it as a movie. We're well let's make his TV show. Then we are unable to sell that. To Fox. We've had a pilot to Fox right. We had a pilot and there We're like, we don't know about them. We don't know about you guys. And they pass. So then Jersey films like why don't we make it move? And I'm like, Well, we're already making it with George Clooney. Great. We'll jump on. So now we're in Danny DeVito and George Clooney and two companies. And Soderbergh is giving us notes on the movie because he's with Clooney. And Soderbergh's, like I don't know about this opening scene, I guess. I don't even know what this he goes. I don't know what's so funny about these cops because I think you guys need a new wrinkle to it like you need you know how, like in Point Break there were those those President United States masks, he was like that, like, Why can't hide our faces? Because we're not famous. But I did. But but we're like, we're not doing that notice. In any case, so then we go around to all the studios, and they all go Yeah, already said no to that. We're not doing it just because you guys are. So now we're like, what the hell? All the independent people said no. And, and, you know, so finally, we're like, I'm in my office pack. I had a New York office, and I was I had moved to LA but I go in there, bring everything back. So pack in the opposite. Get ready, get unplugged the phone again. It's done. I'm moving out. And the phone rings and I pick it up and it's my friend cricket. And she goes, Hey, I hate to do this to you. But you know, my father is a investment banker. And he's, he's retiring and he wants to write scripts, and you're the only one I know is kind of in showbusiness kind of cricket. And he goes, Do you mind just talking to him? He wrote a script, he needs somebody else to look at it, I guess. And I'm like, alright, I'll do it. Right. And so I get on the phone with this guy. And he's like, because you write scripts. He's like, Donald banker, kind of like, tough guy. And I'm like, yeah, yeah, we've written a couple that goes, All right. Well, I wrote a script to it. I'm like, Oh, great. Don't make me read it. But I know you will. And then he's like, I guess I'll send it to you. But why don't you send me your script first. So I can just see what kind of writers you are. And I'm like, I'm being audition to read. Terrible script to sell Exactly. But I like cricket, and I kind of want to kiss her. So I'm like, you know, then I didn't kiss her. But anyway. So I said, I send the script over to this guy. And he, you know, a few days later, he calls me back. And you know, I'm unplugged the phone. Yeah. And he goes, I read your script. I said, Okay. I'm waiting for him to go. Okay. Now. Now I get to read your script. And he goes, pretty funny. Oh, yeah. Because what are you doing with it? I said, Well, it's a banker and raising money. Because how much you need. I said, we need a million to six. That's our budget. And he goes, I'll do it. And I hang up the phone and walk in my producers. I'm like, I know, the banker on the floor, wants to do the movie. And he goes, I will. My producer was an investment banker, too. He goes, Oh, to get this guy to fly? I'll find out, you know, I'll be able to suss him out. And he gets on the phone. He goes, Okay, right. Oh, and then he hangs up because he's a real deal guy. And within within about two weeks now, the bank,

Alex Ferrari 18:24
No, money dropped within two. I've never heard of a movie drop money dropping.

Jay Chandrasekhar 18:28
I'm funding the deal. Let's do it. That's how he looks at it. He goes, when I say I'm funding the deal, the money goes in the thing. And I'm like, why? Wow.

Alex Ferrari 18:38
That is what that is called. Just some some force in the universe just said, It's time for these boys to go make their movie started like that and

Jay Chandrasekhar 18:49
Run them all the way to the end where there's just unplugging the phone.

Alex Ferrari 18:55
Just just as a joke, we'll just go. Here's one last.

Jay Chandrasekhar 19:00
What do you got to pass the test? Which is to be nice to cricket.

Alex Ferrari 19:03
Right! Because if you so basically, we weren't I wouldn't be sitting here right now. God knows where your career would have been. If you wouldn't have been nice to cricket.

Jay Chandrasekhar 19:11
I would have been the Indian guy in the deli selling cigarettes to Brad Pitt when he goes to have sex with whoever.

Alex Ferrari 19:19
They're really funny. Really funny.

Jay Chandrasekhar 19:24
I it may not be true, but I call myself the Indian Jackie Robinson of of comedy. And it's because there were no there were no Indians in comedy. Right. And I got in and a lot of them have come up to him and like, Hey, I saw you on the screen. I thought I could do that too. And you know as these and Mindy and all these folks, I mean, if you look at the wave, there was me and then everybody came in and they're doing great work. I mean, look at all these great people. So

Alex Ferrari 19:58
Yeah, um, You were the Jackie Robinson, sir. You were the Jackie

Jay Chandrasekhar 20:02
Robinson. Yeah, I mean, you know, nobody hurled things at me from the stands are called me.

Alex Ferrari 20:07
There's that. There's that. But But you did have to sit in a room with Harvey Weinstein. So there's that.

Jay Chandrasekhar 20:15
You know, it was it was quite, it was actually quite thrilling. I didn't know. Obviously, all the stuff he had done.

Alex Ferrari 20:21
No, look, not everybody, every week could correct trash him now, because he's a monster and all that. But in the 90s, he was a god.

Jay Chandrasekhar 20:28
Yeah, I don't trash everyone's I mean, he's, what he was doing was awful. But you know, there were a lot of people around who seemed to know what he was, what he was doing, like it was just what the boss did. And you're like,

Alex Ferrari 20:48
I don't and there's, and there's a lot of that stuff that happens in Hollywood. I had heard stories running around town about that since I was starting out. So it's something that hopefully has changed a bit, but I think it has changed, I think, a tremendous, a tremendous amount since since the 90s. And early 2000s, without question, alright, so you get Super Troopers funded by a miracle. Miracle you're shooting? What is it? What is it like shooting? How did how did the production go smoothly? How did it run?

Jay Chandrasekhar 21:17
It had to go smoothly, because we only had the money for 28 days of shooting. Like he's like, in fact, peatland God put in 1,000,002, not a million to six pieces. Like that's all I'm giving you. And so I put in 30, and credit card and rich per element producer put in 13 credit card and we were like, hanging on by a thread. And, you know, like, the weather had to go well, the film. I mean, we shot on film, it had to be you know, everything had to go well, and it and it did. It went it went according to plan. And then we you know, we cut it together. And you know, it was Sundance was, was interested in the film because of the previous thing. But we were so close to the deadline that it was, it was you know, like we had shot it. We shot it in June and the Sundance deadline was, you know, September. Yeah, September. So we cut it together, we put together we sent it in, and I was in. I can't remember. Anyway, whenever we got the call, you get a Thanksgiving that they see or, or your or they don't call it. But the we got the call that we were in and we were like, oh my god, we have to finish this movie in time. And we're not sure we can even do it because we were the do art film lab. And yet all the films that got in were rushing. And so we just received finished, right. And, in fact, it was so close that we we ended up in the do art film lab on the morning that we were flying to Salt Lake City, that we're watching the final approach. And I was sitting in that room with Kevin Halford into play farva And the color timer. And we're watching it. And we're watching it and like watch the first the opening scene of Super Troopers. If you haven't seen it, like I'm a cop, and I know you've seen it though, I guess. And another, we pull over some stoners, and we we mess with them. And there's some other things that's so and it's you know what, it has gone on to become the scene which we're known most for, I would say like, you know, like they're like, it's the scene that describes broken lizards comedy, I think quite well, and people were like that to you guys. Okay, so I watched that scene. And the title of the film comes up Super Troopers. And I'm like, Can we can we turn the lights on for a second? And they stopped the film. And I stand up and I look at Kevin, I'm like, we blew it. That opening scene sucks. And he was we talking about? And I'm like, it's terrible. Otherwise, I act like that. I don't know what. Nobody was telling me that I was acting like that. And he goes, I think it's pretty good, dude. I'm like, What the hell do you know? And the color type of goes, I think it's pretty good too. I'm like, You know what, pal? It's not. And we got to go to Utah tomorrow and show this terrible learn. Right? And I'm like, Ah, Doom. I was just feeling doom. Wow. And in fact, the opening scene a puddle cruiser is the worst scene in the movie. It's just okay. You know, like, like it with comedies. You want to get them laughing fast so that you can keep them laughing and they're like, oh, yeah, we're laughing we're supposed to. So I was like, we tried so hard to make Super Troopers a good opening scene. It was just because of how bad the opening pedal cruiser was. We the product was there opening was so it wasn't bad. It was just slow and whatever. We used to take up a marionette. Like it was Jimmy the dummy, right? And it's like a little ventriloquist guy. And we did a whole scene at the first Sundance with this dummy, where, you know, like one of us would go up on stage and go, Hey, the film print broke. And we're getting a new one shipped in from Salt Lake, the whole packed audience, and the audience have grown. But it's coming, it's coming. We'd make up this thing. And then the dummy had like somebody on the on the, in the audience ago, unprofessional. That was one of us, right? And then another guy would be like, Hey, leave him alone. And is this guy with a ventriloquist dummy. And they go, what? I think these guys are young filmmakers, and they're trying really hard. And then the guy you shut up, you dummy. And then everybody be yelling at each other. And then a guy in a UPS uniform. What am I guys would come run it in. I got the film. And he'd run unspool everywhere, right? And the audience was laughing and laughing. And then we started the movie, and they're laughing and then they go, I was like, to Kevin, I'm like, we gotta go back to my house right now. We'll take the cab go back to pick up Jimmy, the dummy. We're doing the things sketch again. Because we're not doing it. We're just showing it and I'm like, to go to Park City. And we're in a bar, and I'm sitting in the bars, Harvey wants you. And I'm like, oh, we gotta get this guy in the screening, right? And so we send Marissa Coughlin who's in the movie, and she knows him. And she's, he's, she's, he's like, he's like, come on over. And so it was I'm telling the story of this criminal now. So and So Harvey, and, and he's like, look, Jay, I'd love to go to your movie. But I got a meeting right in the middle of it. I can't. If I go to your movie, and I leave, you're not selling your movie. And I'm like, I know. But if if I said, well just put you in the back seat. just sneak out and then you know, he goes, Okay, I'll come to your movie. Put me in the back seat. I'll sneak out and I'll come back. And I'm like, great. Let's do it. And so we do it. We put them in the back seat, back row. place is packed with really high and kind of drunk people because it's like a midnight screening. And we know a lot of people in LA and New York. Everyone's like, yeah, revved up, right. And they all turn and look at Harvey Weinstein. And they go well, right. He's here. Holy shit. He's here, right? And so he's sitting in the back. The movie starts unlike, it's gonna be terrible. And immediately the laughs start rolling and rolling. And then I mean, it rolled. And then when that title came up, the place blows up into an ovation. And tears rolled up. Because I was so tense. I was so tense. And then I'm like pacing in the lobby as enlisting to the movie laughter. And Harvey gets up around the 30 minute mark, he goes, this movie is killing, because I'm coming back. And he, he leaves goes to thing and he comes back and he slides right in he goes, incredible. And at the end of the movie, he goes, come over, talk to me talk to me, because I'm not going to necessarily buy your film yet, because I haven't seen it all. But this is going to help you. Because he watch what happens here. And he goes, in fact, I want you to meet me at this bar. And you watch where we'll be in. You'll be in the daily, whatever the page six. I'm like, okay, so we meet up at this bar, right? And, and I'm there and like, whatever. We're kind of chatting, I'm a spy the movie, because I got to watch it first, give me the print. So we're kind of doing that thing. And I'm at the bar and executives from searchlight. And executives from Sony are like don't sell don't sell to Harvey. Let us we need more people to come see it don't sell or don't sell. And in fact, it created this frenzy. And then we showed it again Saturday night. And we showed it again Sunday night and searched late and made an offer a three and a half. And we're like Harvey, you want to beat that with Sony, whatever. And search sites like that offer expires when your Sunday night screening starts. So take it early. And we're like, We'll take it. We'll take it. Thank God we took a search like because we had such a nice career with those guys. And we never had to deal with, you know, Harvey Scissorhands, which is what he was called by a lot of filmmakers. So we went in recut. I mean, like, obviously a lot worse things recut movies, but I always grateful that I never fell into his his hands.

Alex Ferrari 29:36
Right. But at least he did whatever he did for you back in the day. It started the conversation. It's that's that's an amazing story. So you tripled your budget, and your career was off the ground. I have to ask you, I mean, it turned into a huge hit. I mean, it was it and not only huge financial box office hit but then DVDs back then and

Jay Chandrasekhar 29:58
It made Fox over 100 A million dollars, cheese, a million dollar movie. Almost every penny of

Alex Ferrari 30:07
I was about to say almost every single buddy I like I'm sure that you didn't get that. But but so let me ask you a question I always love asking filmmakers who get this kind of situation happen to them this kind of lottery, I call it the lottery ticket. Because it's like it's, it is a lottery, it's a lottery ticket moment that you worked very hard for. It's not like you was lucky to get it. But all the circumstances that happened like crickets was gives you the money. And then Sunday, there's a lot of these things that happen. How did the town treat you as the director of this film afterwards?

Jay Chandrasekhar 30:43
That what happens is there's a period of, of heat, right? So we instantly got to television deals one with the NBC and one with ABC. You know, like we we entered into, you know, searchlight one at our next film, which would become Club Dread. And, you know, we were, I was in the conversation around town as one of the new guys. But I wasn't pursuing that I didn't even know how to pursue it. Because I was like, I would read these, you know, often not great comedy scripts. And I go, Well, no, I can't make a not great movie, but didn't occur to me that I could then put my improvement tour on it and rewrite it 10 Guys rewrite it or we rewrite I didn't even know that sounds like, well, if it's this now then I can't make that movie. That's how kind of dumb I was. And so I passed a lot of good movies. And then I said, Oh, well, you know what, this is an idea for a film this movie. And I'll just take it, I'll rewrite everything. And and then it'll be the same movie, but it'll be about my version, which should be in my opinion, a good now, like, that's what I do. But then, yeah, I was, I was like, one of the guys who, you know, I was on variety, top 10, directors, you know, all that stuff,

Alex Ferrari 32:22
You went through the water bottle. So you went through the water bottle tool, or you just went, you met everybody.

Jay Chandrasekhar 32:26
The bottom line is, in the film, business is a largely self generating business. And if you relax and be like, I made it, I'm in the top 10. Director, so it's meaningless. It's like, yeah, some producer might call you and go, Hey, can you do something with this, they're still trying to get the money. And, you know, if you're not generating yourself, if you're not out there going, I want to make a movie about this. And this, this, and I'm gonna write this script. And this is the writer is going to do it. We're going to do that together. And if you're not doing that, you're not getting movement. Still.

Alex Ferrari 33:00
Still, at any level. I mean, even Spielberg can can get some things made, but he still has to develop and build and do things like that.

Jay Chandrasekhar 33:09
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he's has a little easier.

Alex Ferrari 33:13
But yeah, a little bit a little bit easier. That

Jay Chandrasekhar 33:15
Leads me to this. I don't want to jump off your train. Yeah. But if you want to continue we can I have a spiel Brooks. I love skills.

Alex Ferrari 33:24
I have so many people who've worked with Spielberg on the show. I have he, it seems to me that he always he's always in the mix somehow, with any any, any big thing that happens in town, you always get the call from even if it's just like, hey, man, great movie. What was your what's your Spielberg story?

Jay Chandrasekhar 33:39
Well, I was I was sitting at home in the pandemic. And I basically had turned into like a full time golfer, like I played every day. And I was just sort of there and I get this call from my agent that said, hey, what do you know about Joe coy? And I said, Well, Joe coy the comic I mean, it's funny, funny, dude. Right? Instead, well, okay, here's the deal. Joe coy has done a stand up special on Netflix. And Steven Spielberg during the pandemic happened to watch it. And he loves Joe Callie. And now he's like, wants to make a chill coin movie. And they want to do it in Vancouver. And they want to and you gotta go any day now, because the film can only be shot in May in June because that's Jo Koy standup window, where he's got stand up shows all over the world and the big show so and I'm like, big shows really? sells out 16,000 seat arenas. I was like, oh, oh, okay. And I'm like, okay, so May June. So we got to be in Vancouver when Monday and they're like, Yeah, kinda. And I'm like, Okay, so I'm in the strips. So I read this rapid I'm like Okay, I got it. I mean, I know Joe's stand up, and it's, uh, it's like attempting to be about his family. And I'm like, Yeah, I said, you know, look, this script, were I to do it would need some work, but it's not work that can't be done. So I said, y'all go. Well, I mean, cuz they Amblin was asking for me to go. And I said, Yeah, I'll do it. So I flew to Vancouver. And and when did a quarantine for two weeks in a in a hotel very nice. But it was hard, where I couldn't see any but I can step over the the entrance to the I just stayed in that room. And then I got out and Jo Koy came to town and I met him for the first time. I mean, I we'd met on Zoom. And we you know, I hired a writer, and she and I rewrote the thing. And, and then, you know, I started I met Steven Spielberg, I just because of the quarantine and the COVID thing, I get to know from every now and then like movie stars don't wear hats. And I'm like, okay, he can't wear a hat and the next thing but

Alex Ferrari 36:10
Steven, Mount Olympus called, and you can't,

Jay Chandrasekhar 36:14
You know, like, we were gonna hire an activist for a part that, and we sent it to him the choice. And you know, she was the more famous person, right? And I've been at Warner Brothers for years, I had to deal over there. And they're, like, just hire the most famous person, we'll put them on the poster, and we'll make it work. And I'm like, I just assumed everybody did that. And so I'm like, I get in the choice most vampers. And he sends a note back. There's other woman's much better actor than the most famous person or anything. And I'm like, Well, yeah, but she's not the most famous person. And he has when he when she was a better actor, I like of course I do. I didn't know I could. I did. So then I did. And it's the it's the central decision for the whole movie. Like, it's because we hired this woman. The movie works in a way you can't even believe in my view. It's called Easter Sunday. Right? Has this you know, you know, he's not just some rando. He's like, who just said, my name is on it? He's like, what about that? What do you think about that? And you're like, Okay, great. But you know,

Alex Ferrari 37:19
I'm assuming one day, you'll get a phone call, maybe,

Jay Chandrasekhar 37:22
You know, I will, I will. I will go to my grave, not assuming I'm gonna meet Steven Spielberg. Even though he's my boss, I just don't I don't see how that could happen. I live in a world where I'm like, constantly convinced I'm about to be kicked out of show business. So there's no space in that world for me to believe that I will meet Steven Spielberg. So

Alex Ferrari 37:41
I always love asking this question from from, you know, people who've hit a certain level in the business is like, do you do you? So you just said, you truly believe that at any moment, security is gonna come in, like, what are you doing here? You need to be escorted out.

Jay Chandrasekhar 37:54
Right! Like, I realized how ridiculous it is. Because I was I did a stand up show recently. And it was me. And Tiffany Haddish. And Anthony Jeselnik. And Tom Arnold, and we're upstairs. We're just chatting for comments, chatting. And I'm like, moments like these were my were where I have to admit that I might have made it. And I hate to admit that, because I'm so hungry. And I'm so they don't want me and show business. I'll show them I'll make a I'll make my 10th movie.

Alex Ferrari 38:33
No, I have to ask you. So that's fantastic. By the way, I was gonna bring you Easter Sunday because I saw Easter Sunday. And we've been working on this interview for months now. And then all of a sudden, I'm like, oh, Easter Sunday is coming out and like, and I'm such a joy cliff. I'm like, absolute huge joy play fan. And I've had I've had the pleasure of meeting him we almost work together on this close up almost working together years ago. And Joe is just wonderful. It's just I'm such a such a fan of his but Super Troopers to is such a unique story and how you got that made? Because the studio didn't want to make the sequel and you had to raise the money yourself. Right?

Jay Chandrasekhar 39:11
They were worried that it was too long. Between films. You know, first one came out in 2002. The second one might have come out in 2016 or 18, or something, I don't know. But it was it was it was a long time. They were like ah or no. And they're like, so they said well, why don't you raise the money yourself? Really, you made $100 million. You can't just carve a couple up. And they're like, yeah, it raise the money yourself will distribute it and like okay, and then they said and you have to raise the prints and advertising budget to which is all the money. It's the budget and all the money to release it. So you're talking about, in this case, we had to raise $30 million. And I'm like, I can't raise 30.

Alex Ferrari 40:13
Cricket, cricket.

Jay Chandrasekhar 40:17
Cricket, British jazz, like, I'll put money in. And we put money together. We had like, I don't know, maybe we got to about five or so. And then we were like, kind of hit a wall didn't weren't eight. And then they also said, we'll never let you take to another studio because other studios are like, Neff. You know, Netflix they will do. Oh, yeah. Can't take it out of work. No. And we're not making it but no, he can't take. So we happened upon this. I mean, we, you know, we, we watched watch the news, we saw these brought from Mars had raised some money for the movie of that. And we thought, well, cat, I mean, we're at least in a similar position, and you know that a thing they loved and they're doing a thing. So we we hired the guy did that campaign sky Ivan asked cough. And he he, he put together account, he first of all, he goes, I'm not terribly familiar with your work. That's the first thing he said. And I'm like a computer guy. And you have no tact or anything. It's so funny. And he then he goes, You know, there's quite a bit of interest in your comedy. around the internet. I've done a search. And I was like, how do you what, okay, and he goes, I'm gonna take this job. And I'm like, okay, great. Let's do it. Thanks. This incredible campaign with great art and incentives. And we made a video where you like, we locked farva in the trunk of a car, and I remember it, and then we said, Give us money, or else we won't let them out of the truck. And then we push go on the campaign. And it was like, oh, like, I mean, we raised I think $5.8 million

Alex Ferrari 42:15
On Indiegogo, right,

Jay Chandrasekhar 42:16
Indiegogo, something like that we were second to product remarks. Whatever they made, we've made a little less. And, and search site was like, what? Oh, how many 50,000 people gave me money. And they're like, Oh, okay. Oh, wow. Great. And then. So then we were able to then now they were really excited about it. And and then they agreed to release the film for us with their money. It's nice. And so yeah, so we still funded the production. They they funded the you know, but we made the movie. And then we tested the movie. And the reaction in the audience was like, I mean, it was insane. The reaction and all the searchlight executives are there. And when they put the they take keep 20 people back to talk to him about the what? How would you feel about the movie? And that and they're like, this is from a franchise? And yeah, so the test did I tell you about the testing of the screen. It tested incredibly well, like the numbers were astronomical. The audience was comparing it to franchises like Star Wars. And Fox, people were like, Oh, my God, we gotta hit. And so they pour the money and they did great campaign, two posters, super cool. Everything was great. And we were like, holy, this is incredible. We're gonna we're gonna have a, you know, it looks really good. We're gonna have a hit movie. And so then the weekend, the week we arrived in New York, it's what you do at the end of the of the campaign to do press in New York Press. We're, it's Monday, and the policy is with us. It's like, I hate to break it to you guys. But whatever, you got really bad tracking on this movie. Like, and the tracking predicts what the box office opening weekend is gonna pay. And they're like, it's it's tracking to open to about $3 million, right? In order to be a success. This movie would in search sites view what he wanted to open to 10 You know, that would be a success for a small film. And we were like, 3 million. How's that possible? Like we had a 50,000. And they're like, Well, you know, like our fans have been notoriously stoners, right? They're like a little slow to the mark. A little slower the market. Got there, like they would have to do a Stand Up Show. There'll be tickets available up until an hour before the Friday and there's like 100 Tickets available. And then boom, it's sold out and you're like gas kit. Get your internet Oh, can you do this? So I'm like, maybe that's it. And they're like, maybe I don't know. And Monday, Tuesday is still tracking three, Wednesday, it's still tracking 3 million. And everyone's like, we make the president of searchlight calls and go, Hey, man, we tried. I'm sorry, right. And then Thursday morning, we're in an interview in some brewery or something in Brooklyn or something. And publicists, because she's looking at her phone. She goes, there's some weird there's some weird and numbers out of the matinees that, well, they're just not, they're not right, but we're gonna get a check. We're gonna check. And I said, What are they there? She's like, well, the next are sold out. And I'm like, Yeah, that's that's true. And so she goes, yeah, there's a problem with the computer the system. There's a problem, obviously, obviously. So then the next screening she goes, yeah, these these numbers are stupid. They're all sold out. And the so two screenings are now sold out morning at 11am. And one and then the third one, she was sold out again. Like he's a real numbers, and suddenly, we've now we went Thursday, we went Friday, were the top movie in the country. And, and we had 1800 screens, I think, or something like that. And Amy Schumer had 2600 2800 screens. So we were beating her on per screen average. And then with the volume of Sprint's they ended up winning the weekend, but we won the per screen average for the weekend with our 1800 scripts. It was a miracle. It was a miracle, and searchlights. Like, let's make two more movies. And then you know, there we go. And there we go.

Alex Ferrari 46:48
And now that's why now you're writing Super Troopers 3.

Jay Chandrasekhar 46:51
We made a film called quasi, which is set in 13th century France. And Steve Lemmy plays a hunchback, and I play the King of France, and Paul said, replace the Pope. And it's a full on Monty Python esque style movie. I'm sure people are gonna go, you guys aren't as good as Python and will go away agree. But still, we made one and we said, You know what the end knew we were in it with this accent. You're like, oh my god, we're in the middle of a Python movie.

Alex Ferrari 47:22
That's amazing. That's amazing. Now I'm jam and ask you a couple questions. Ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Jay Chandrasekhar 47:31
Well, my advice would be don't wait around for other people to let you in. Because there are people like me on the other side of the door, pressing our shoulders against it to keep you up. And the only way and is through that door. So keep pushing. Until wait for me to let you in.

Alex Ferrari 47:55
That's not gonna happen.

Jay Chandrasekhar 47:56
I got this side. I'm in Vegas, the hotel. That's good. The answer as it's awesome. We respond to the same things you would think we respond to, which is followers. And, and numbers. Like if you can demonstrate an audience by making your short films and putting them on the internet and having people watch him, you know, and we go, Oh, my God, a million people watch Oh, wow, that's good. Maybe well, you know, comes with a built in audience, you know, it's like it. It, it's not easy, but it's also you have an ability to chart sort of do things cheaply. The problem for the new generation is that so many people are trying to do things cheaply. There's so much stuff you're like, it's hard to really get your mind around it. And so, you know, the system benefits those with access to capital. And that's sort of the sad truth of it. All right, if you can, if you can raise money. I mean, it's even harder now. Because it's like, Sundance isn't what it used to be, you know, like the people are not. Companies are not going to Sundance and necessarily buying. I mean, they are they're buying phones, but it's a little different. It's not, you know, you don't have these people are automatically in the theater. So yeah, I was streaming a little bit and you know, and that's all good. And that's all good. But that's sort of the changing moment here.

Alex Ferrari 49:20
Do you think that Super Troopers, what would happen if Super Troopers got released today?

Jay Chandrasekhar 49:24
It probably would have gone to somebody like Netflix, maybe?

Alex Ferrari 49:30
Maybe we've ended up knowing that you did. Nobody knew who you were, you made a million dollar movie,

Jay Chandrasekhar 49:35
I believe it would have sold because the response in the room was electric. And that's really the game right? If you can get to Sundance and show the movie in a room full of people, you've flipped the power dynamics so that the buyer instead of watching it on their desk on their laptop and drinking coffee and walking around and doing all this stuff, they are now in a room with audience in the hall. Do you have to like and they're like oh no what do i do i better buy it. I mean that's sort of how that works. And that still works that way you know like I you can still get a movie it into the theater so if you're nobody's and you know nobody's in the movie then it's harder right it's like the probably end up on a streaming service first and maybe you'll never get out of there. I don't really know. I mean, the problem with the problem and Netflix is they pay more money than searchlight does. And and you know, and then the movie ends up being sitting there you know, lost in the soup doesn't have the same when you get a postcard campaign and interviews and it you know, the movie series into audiences brains in a different way. You know, the the movies on Netflix, currently don't do that in my view.

Alex Ferrari 50:55
Right. Yeah, you've right I mean, Top Gun. did what it did because of it. Well, it did. Okay. Yeah. The biggest Memorial Day weekend opening ever. Oh, good.

Jay Chandrasekhar 51:05
Good, good. Good. I you know, the whole thing is I want I you know, I said to universal when we were getting ready to think about how we're going to put out this movie in the middle of the pandemic, of course, the movie tested well, Easter Sunday tested really well. Joe coy is the biggest ticket selling stand up comic in showbiz. He's number Wow, wow. That was 56,000 seats in Los Angeles and three nights. He says 30,000 in Seattle, he is filling hockey arenas everywhere he goes. And I said to them, Look, guys, we got to we got a theatrical comedy that works really the audience's we tested. They love it. We've Jo Koy in his first film, this is like having Steve Martin before the church or Eddie Murphy before for eight hours. We got him. And you guys are universal. And I mean, like, if we can sell this as a theatrical comedy. We you guys, we should all stop. You know. Cuz I said we gotta be you know, we're all looking around go, who's gonna bring the actual economy back? You know who it is? It's us. We're, we're, we've been put here to do this. This is our turn. It's time to do it. And so I've been telling people like, we're bringing the company back. And we're the only theatrical comedy coming out this summer. That's how bad it's gotten.

Alex Ferrari 52:22
You're absolutely right. I mean, yeah. I mean, it is outrageous. And now it's like everyone's saying that theaters are just for the event films. And they are for certain extent, of course. But, you know, like a film, a film like Easter Sunday will absolutely open. Well, I mean, you've got an audience that is used to buying tickets for this artist on top of it sounds like, make sense.

Jay Chandrasekhar 52:44
We'll see if I'm right. I mean, we'll see if I'm right. But I but I hope I am. I mean, you know, it's a gambling business, you know, that it's gunslingers and gamblers

Alex Ferrari 52:53
We're working on we're such a big joke, my fans, my family and our daughters, everyone. So we're gonna we're gonna head out to the theaters to see it when it comes out.

Jay Chandrasekhar 53:01
To do we do you know about my the APA credit, are you?

Alex Ferrari 53:05
I don't, ah, tell me about the app.

Jay Chandrasekhar 53:10
So it all goes back, Super Troopers comes out after this incredible Sundance experience comes out in the theaters. And the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes, a site named for throwing rotten fruit that people like me some site. They give it a 38% Fresh, the reviewers, right? And I was like, what, what, what do we have to do? Like and the and then that's 100 people. Then over time, you know, the audience weighed in, and and the audience gave us a 90% Fresh, right? That's 200,000 people read it that way. And I'm like, Who are these strangers with outsize power, right? They're just, they're, you know, a reviewer, I got no problem with reviews, right? I shouldn't think they're valuable. But aggregating all of them, and putting it into a score is just nonsensical, like we got reviewed for Beer Fest from a woman in Arizona named grandmas reviews. And her review of the film was, I didn't like it. There's too much drinking. I'm like it's an ode to binge drinking. It's called Pure fats. So but that goes into a reviewer score. And you're like, I said, Oh, my God, I need to get revenge on Rotten Tomatoes and stood with me for 1820 years. And then I said, I know how I'm going to do it. I'm going to build an app. Right? I mean, look, the premise is this. reviewers are strangers. When's the last time you walked up to a stranger on the street and said, Hey, what movie should I see? That's what we're doing

Alex Ferrari 54:54
Exactly.

Jay Chandrasekhar 54:56
In Rotten tomatoes. You're taking all these strangers aggregate They're strange opinions and putting it together. There you go. Here's what the strangest thing. So I said, you know, I want to build an app that is, you if you want advice for a movie, you talk to your friends, right? You talk to your friends, your or maybe you know some celebrity on something that some filmmakers today, this is a good movie road to Busan or whatever it is, Train to Busan era. And so I made an app, I started to develop an app that was going to be a recommendation site for movies, TV books, podcasts, music, right? And I connected with these two guys who are computer guys, and they were already reacting to this. You know, like Amazon reviews or Yelp reviews, they're like, who wrote the review? Was it the owner of the restaurant who wrote it? Was it the restaurant across the street and wrote them a bad review? Was it somebody who doesn't like the waiter who gave them a bet? I mean, you know, you're like, you just you're strangers, right? So they were working on an idea to try to solve that problem. And we teamed up. And we made a thing called vouch fault. All right. It's in the App Store notes in the Apple Store. It's in the Android store. And it's basically that says, basically Instagram for recommendations. So if you open my vault, you'll see that I like Reservoir Dogs, you'll see that I like Pulp Fiction, you'll see that I like Richard Pryor live in Long Beach that Stand Up Show. You'll see that I like that joke Koy stand up, you'll see I put Super Troopers there you see, you know, if I like this indie hustle, you could see that like, you can put anything you like. And so if you follow me, like, oh, Jay likes this thing, and you push a button, you can try it, right. But books, anything, I have all sorts of books on there, right? And so it'll work best. I think the goal is to say it's a word of mouth machine, you know, it's also a memory machine so that when I tell my children you know, this Fleetwood Mac rumours album was very important for you to listen to they go, it's not just me saying it. It's there in the vault. Right? They go, Oh, yeah, Dad was talking about this album, I listened to it. You know, it's like and if you if you somebody recommend something in the past, you write it down on a little note in your phone right here. There's a tribal you just stick it in there. So when you're home on a Friday night and like what's in my tribe while you're like oh, yeah, this new BBC Three documentary I wanted to see I remember I wrote it down there it is. Try it. And so it's it's a machine that I hope is going to change the way specifically film is judged the way you know, I want reviewers on there. I'm gonna talk I'm trying to get oh and gleeman and trying to get Drew McWeeny and go hey, guys, I tell me what you love. Right? Tell me the films you love that nobody knows about. And then I'll watch them. You know? I'm not trying to kill reviewers. I'm I am trying to kill Rotten Tomatoes. I am. It is a revenge ploy. It is a revenge.

Alex Ferrari 58:02
You are not the only assert. You're not the only one who feels some vengeance as needed against Rotten Tomatoes, many filmmakers, many filmmakers feel the same way you are and I

Jay Chandrasekhar 58:12
All get on this app. And let's show them who we are.

Alex Ferrari 58:15
Fantastic. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time.

Jay Chandrasekhar 58:20
48 hours, Reservoir Dogs and Goodfellas

Alex Ferrari 58:29
Rest in peace Ray Liotta

Jay Chandrasekhar 58:31
They're all the reason they're all on that list is because they're all tough, funny films. And I like I like it when the guy when the people are tough in the movie. And I like when they're when it's that funny and it's that you know it's sometimes you know, violent and funny is some sometimes really funny but they played straight for eight hours you're like there's some broad stuff but there's some the bad guys are bad the violence is is terrifying and obviously Goodfellas is a way it's funny as hell.

Alex Ferrari 59:06
Joe Pesci scene alone

Jay Chandrasekhar 59:09
I can't believe really leave it at that Reservoir Dogs is still work.

Alex Ferrari 59:17
It's a masterpiece masterpiece. Jay and when is Easter Easter Sunday coming up

Jay Chandrasekhar 59:23
August 5th.

Alex Ferrari 59:25
Man I cannot wait to see it. And Jay thank you so much for coming on the show man and and sharing your adventures and your knowledge with experiences with the tribe man, I really appreciate you. Thank you for your inspiration and just like you were inspired by Ed burns and and Clerks and Kevin and Mariachi and all those kinds of films. People listening now hopefully will be inspired by us like if this guy can do it.

Jay Chandrasekhar 59:49
That's right. That guy can do it. That's a John Oliver said to me when I was I was directing him community. He had never acted before. And I'd seen him do stand up and I loved him to stand up. I said John has first acting scene ever and then like, he nervous at all. And he goes, how hard could it be?

Alex Ferrari 1:00:23
A pleasure meeting you my friend. Thank you again for being on the show brother continued success and I can't wait to see Easter Sunday, man. Thanks again.

Jay Chandrasekhar 1:00:28
For indie hustle, buddy. I'm gonna put indie hustle in my bouch ball.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
Indie Film Hustle. I appreciate you brother. Thank you again, man.

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