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From Adult Films to Directing Men in Black with Barry Sonnenfeld
I can’t tell you how excited I am for today’s episode. I had the pleasure to speak to the legendary director Barry Sonnenfeld. We discuss his idiosyncratic upbringing in New York City, his breaking into film as a cinematographer with the Coen brothers, and his unexpected career as the director behind such huge film franchises as The Addams Family and Men in Black, and beloved work like Get Shorty, Pushing Daises, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. We also chat about the time he shot nine porno films in nine days. That story alone is worth the price of admission.
I don’t think Will does get upstaged because his reaction is always funnier than what is actually happening. That is also the reason Tommy is funnier than Will.
In his new book Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker shares his laugh-out-loud memoir about coming of age. Constantly threatened with suicide by his over-protective mother, disillusioned by the father he worshiped, and abused by a demonic relative, Sonnenfeld somehow went on to become one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and directors.
His book is written with poignant insight and real-life irony, the book follows Sonnenfeld from childhood as a French horn player through graduate film school at NYU, where he developed his talent for cinematography. His first job after graduating was shooting nine feature-length pornos in nine days. From that humble entrée, he went on to form a friendship with the Coen Brothers, launching his career shooting their first three films.
Though Sonnenfeld had no ambition to direct, Scott Rudin convinced him to be the director of The Addams Family. It was a successful career move. He went on to direct many more films and television shows. Will Smith once joked that he wanted to take Sonnenfeld to Philadelphia public schools and say,
“If this guy could end up as a successful film director on big-budget films, anyone can.”
His book is a fascinating and hilarious roadmap for anyone who thinks they can’t succeed in life because of a rough beginning.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s philosophy is,
“Regret the Past. Fear the Present. Dread the Future.”
This EPIC conversation is almost two hours and had me on the floor laughing one minute and in absolute shock the next. This is by far one of my favorite interviews I have ever done on the show.
So sit back, grab a drink and enjoy my conversation with Barry Sonnenfeld.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Barry Sonnenfeld – IMDB
- Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSION HERE)
- DONATE to Feed America to help with people affected by Coronavirus
- $1 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)
- The Complete Indie Film Producing Workshop with Suzanne Lyons (COUPON CODE: IFHFILMPRODUCE)
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business (FREE AUDIOBOOK)
- Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Filmmaking Story) (FREE AUDIOBOOK)
REAL-WORLD STREAMING FILM EDUCATION
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Hollywood Film School: Filmmaking & TV Directing Masterclass
- Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons
- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters
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- Indie Film Hustle® Podcast
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- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
Alex Ferrari 2:40
Now guys, I can't tell you how excited I am. For today's episode, I had the pleasure of talking to a legendary director by the name of Barry Sonnenfeld. Now if you don't know Barry's work, I'm gonna just rattle off a couple of things that you might have seen that he has done. He is a director of The Addams Family, men and black 123 Get Shorty and is currently producing the Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, just to name a few things that he's done. By the way, he's done a lot more than that. And in this epic, almost two hour conversation, I sit down and take you through a journey. That is Barry sonnenfeld he was wonderful. I love talking to him. One moment, My mouth is just gaped open at the stories he's telling the other time other moments, I'm terrified another moment. I am laughing on the floor. It was an amazing interview, arguably one of my favorite interviews of all time on this show. And if it wasn't enough that he is this kind of legendary director, how he got his start was even more impressive with being the cinematographer of the Coen Brothers first three films. He shot blood simple, raising Arizona and Miller's Crossing. So we talk all about how he got involved with the Coen Brothers, as well as his new book, Barry Sonnenfeld call your mother Memoirs of an erotic filmmaker. And also I asked Barry about his very very early start in the business when he shot nine porn films in nine days. See everyone gets their start somewhere, guys, you know, it's not all to the Oscars right away. And that story alone is worth the price of admission to this episode. It is hilarious. Now I am going to have to put a disclaimer on this episode. You know, we talk about some stuff that might not be appropriate for younger ears. So please, if you're listening to this on the radio, if you've got kids around, be aware this is your warning. But for everyone else in my conversation with Barry Sonnenfeld. I'd like to welcome to the show Barry Sonnenfeld. Barry, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Barry Sonnenfeld 5:10
It's a pleasure. Good to be here.
Alex Ferrari 5:12
I'd like I was telling you, before we got started, I've been a very big fan of your work for a long, long time. I actually, I was in the video store in the 1980s and 90s. So you had a big impact on me with some of your early films, especially stuff with your Coen brothers and, and the stuff that you were shooting as a cinematographer, which we'll get into. But I remember the big standee for Addams Family, right in the front of my my mom and pop store. Yeah, and and man, the whole family, right? Yeah, it was, it was a very interesting in the 80s in the 90s. Were a very fun time. So we'll talk about that as well. But first and foremost, what made you want to pee in this ridiculous business that we call the film industry?
Barry Sonnenfeld 5:56
You know, it was totally accidental. I was I didn't grow up with any sort of love or interest in films. I was not a film buff. I didn't go to a lot of movies. I thought I wanted to be a still photographer, you know, and I bought a Leica and I had, you know, a series of lenses that use like a Believe me, not a new one too expensive. And I realized a I didn't think I was ever going to be good enough and be I thought it would be a fairly lonely profession. And I wanted to find something with just more you know, people in it, you know, more communication and collaboration. But I graduated college and I had I took a year off couldn't figure out what I wanted to do. And my mother had this weird fear. She's very over protective. tend to name is above Barry sonnenfeld call your mother and she's very over protective and said, Why don't you go to graduate homeschool, you should go to NYU graduate film school you love photography you love writing. Movies suggests a lot of still photographs with writing, which by the way is totally not true. Even though I went to NYU for three years of graduate film school, and my parents had no money and they did not pay for my education, I ended up taking out massive student loans. But while at NYU, I discovered I had an ability to shoot I was one of the two really good cameraman at graduate film school. Weirdly, the other graduate student who was a good cinematographer, was my next door neighbor in the East Village. And that was Bill Pope. Pope shot, you know, the matron ambrane the he shot the three matrix movies, he's shot, Sam's, you know, Spider Man movies he shot man and black three for me. So we were the two cameramen at NYU, as it turns out,
Alex Ferrari 8:03
That's that's very you see. that's those are great stories. Those are great, sir. And within that early years, those were the that was the 70s if I'm not mistaken, right. And NYU? Yeah. Mid 70s. Yeah, mid 70s. So Marty was already Marty at that point. And he's already making stuff, obviously.
Barry Sonnenfeld 8:21
Yeah, well, he was he he did teach at NYU undergraduate school, which was on a different campus and all that he had already made a couple of movies I think he had made even had made Main Streets by the time we were either in or getting out of graduate film school. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 8:41
That was a must. That must have been a very exciting time to be in not only NYU specifically but around in, in the film industry, because the Hollywood system was kind of breaking down the old studio system was breaking down in the week giving opportunities due to the young uns to the to the film school crazies.
Barry Sonnenfeld 9:00
You know, what we we weren't in the film industry, we were barely making a living working at network couriers delivering packages from seven to nine in the morning while I graduate film school, while I was fun, actually, at the Graduate film school is that we often had cameraman and, and directors come to the school and show their movie, you know, before it was coming out, you know, sort of. And that was interesting, because, you know, we would have like, who was some of the people there? Oh, there was one cinematographer who was really angry at everything. And no matter what we asked him, he'd say, it took me 18 years to get into the union and then 17 years to move up from assistant operators had dp and I'm, I'll be damned if I'm going to tell you why it took me 30 years to learn and he kept talking like this. And then finally I raised my hand and said, Why You hear? It's a great, great instructor. Great instructor. Yeah, that's great. Yeah. Well, we also had one night that the chairman the first year I was there was a guy named Mel Howard, who is very in the indie world. And he was going to show Bob Dylan who was a friend of his Bob Dylan and several of his friends, the Robert Frank unreleased movie called cocksucker blues about a Rolling Stones tour. And the stones had paid for it, saw it and realize we can't release this movie. But so Robert Frank came, we and the offer. The other thing about it is it was a double system print, which meant the soundtrack and the picture track were not yet combined. And then why you graduate film school is one of the few places on the East Coast that had double system projections. So Mel in order to let his buddies you know, Bob and Roger Gwyn, and Robert Frank, see the movie. He had to let the graduate students in as well. So we got to see this movie that no one's ever seen called cocksucker blues, by Robert Frank and how was it? Oh, it's it's, it's last suitable. Because you're constantly seeing the stone with groupies on their private jet having sex. So it was it was not something that really should have ever been shot. By the way, it was fun. And after the movie, I saw Bob Dylan getting into a Cadillac of Roger McClintock and I said good cards. I said to him as we passed by a good car to drive after a war which is one of the lyrics one of the songs and he gave me the finger which I'm very proud of.
Alex Ferrari 12:00
Now, which which leads me to my next question, can we you discuss the nine pornos that you shot? Well, oh, well, I mean, his his graphic is just just try to keep it as a very hard pG 13.
Barry Sonnenfeld 12:22
Okay, all right. Very hard as ironic, I'd say. So, when I got out of film school, I felt that if I owned a camera, I could call myself a camera man without feeling like a delay. Because I owned the camera there from a camera man. So a buddy of mine from film school and I bought a used 16 millimeter camera called a cp 16 reflex. Now this is way before video. So nowadays, anyone can just buy a Sony A three or Nikon or Canon or a seven and call themselves a you know a camera man. But back then no one was shooting videos. There was no you know, video except you know, in studios and stuff. So I own this camera when my buddy and he knew a guy who was a porn producer and director. And so he got us this job shooting nine feature length movies in nine days. They were 20 hour days. But by having nine days of rental for the camera, it paid for two thirds of what we paid for the camera. So it was worth it because now we you know, we were two thirds of the way there and but it was horrible. You know? I made a contribution because at film school, everything you know film is so expensive, you know 400 feet of Rostock to buy it, develop it, rent it, you know, so at film school, you always pre pre planned everything you did shot list, you knew exactly what you're going to shoot. You never shot masters, you always knew where you're going to be in the close up and only shot those lines. So what I introduced, block shooting to pornos, and why block shooting means is once it block shooting, let's say if you're doing a streaming television show, and you can only get Alec Baldwin for two weeks. Let's say you shoot all of his scenes in those two weeks, no matter who he is. Even if if he's in Episode 147 and nine, that's called block shooting. So what I convinced Dec the producer and director to do
Alex Ferrari 14:46
No pun intended,
Barry Sonnenfeld 14:48
no pun intended either. Very hard 13 is is that once we let a sat be at the bathroom or the kitchen In the bedroom, we would choose all the scenes for any movies that took place in a bedroom. So we would shoot scene three for movie one, shoot scene seven for movie two. If it was in that bedroom, we were already lit, and we would just shoot, shoot that. We also had a dentist that which was incredibly under erotic and because who wants that? in our heart and also water picks are really not sucking devices. They're, they're sucking devices. They're not projectile devices. So it made no sense. And also, you don't want to think about having sex and dentist Yes, or I didn't. But
Alex Ferrari 15:43
That doesn't seem very app. I mean, the dentist is probably one of the more painful non comfortable places to be in your life as a general statement, let alone thinking about having sex in that environment.
Barry Sonnenfeld 15:54
And there's not a lot of room there. Yeah, so in any case, we shot those nine features the nine days and things went horribly wrong on the last day and without going into the details. I ended up when a double insertion some quota double penetration went horribly wrong. I ended up being covered foamy, liquefied, warm, effervescent, human excrement
Alex Ferrari 16:26
Oh, that's an amazing description.
Barry Sonnenfeld 16:29
The problem is I've always been very wide angles, I when I was shooting sales with my like I used to 21 millimeter, I would say half half of the shots in any movie I've ever shot or directed, have been a 21 millimeter, a wider and 16 millimeter, the equivalent of 21 millimeter is called a 10 millimeter. So I was this close to the action when Mark Antony pulled out of this woman's anus, and it was as if her body was a bottle of champagne. Oh, shakin way too. I was literally a fountain farmer, human excrement that immediately covered my face and the camera. I put the camera down and then threw up on them.
Alex Ferrari 17:29
Why is this? Why hasn't this? Why hasn't this scene made it in one of your many, many features? Or?
Barry Sonnenfeld 17:35
Well, I'll tell you the truth. I used to shoot commercial. And I was shooting a series of ups commercials for an agency called amaravati and purus. And I tell them the story people used to hire me to hear the stories, because it's about a 20 minute story. It goes on and on and on. Anyway, I tell the the ad agencies the story. I you know, I'm done. And the next thing that happens about I don't know two years later, turns out that the next director after me to shoot commercials for these guys was Kevin Smith. Okay. They told Kevin this star, the story. And Kevin stole my story and directed a movie called I don't know is something like someone in someone make a porno.
Alex Ferrari 18:33
Zack and Miri Make a Porno movie. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I think with jet Railgun Seth Rogen. And thanks.
Barry Sonnenfeld 18:44
Yeah. I never saw it. But I hear that he's stole my see. Wow, have you seen the movie?
Alex Ferrari 18:52
Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah. I've seen a lot of Kevin's Well,
Barry Sonnenfeld 18:54
I think that there's a scene where a I don't remember that was penetrate.
Alex Ferrari 19:00
Um, I promise you that they, I promise you there is I don't remember because I tend to block things like that out of my my psyche. But I haven't seen the movie in probably a decade when they came out. But I'm sure that that seems in there. And wow, that's Have you ever spoken to Kevin about this?
Barry Sonnenfeld 19:19
I haven't. But his people emailed me and said Kevin is releasing the Special Edition DVD and wants us to talk about your porno experience. And I said, Are you kidding? He stole my story. And now he wants me to also let him interview me for his DVD. So I didn't do it. Oh, alright.
Alex Ferrari 19:42
Well, so I'm, I'm kind of happy I asked you the question, but I'm kind of not so. Right. It's amazing. Because I've you know, I've heard I'm originally from South Florida and in the South Florida market. When I was coming up a lot. There was a lot of guys who I was I started off as an editor before I became a director and There was people like hey, you know, we gotta do porn gotta do porn and like that's the pays the bills. I never ever once got the opportunity I didn't ever he was even asked, I'm sure I would have done it as a younger man, I'm sure I would have edited it. But I could only imagine shooting nine full length feature film porn I was in nine days. Not only is that exhausting, but you must become numb to all of it. Like I'm sure like for the first five minutes, you're like, well, this is kind of cool. And then that's it.
Barry Sonnenfeld 20:30
That not even five minutes, maybe now it was never cool. It was never fun. I always say that if they released porn would smell vision. No one ever see it again. Although truthfully, they would probably dive in different smells like vanilla and cherry and stuff
Alex Ferrari 20:48
like pine and pine. And pine. It was it was terrible. It's horrible. I do learn something though. Did you learn stuff?
Barry Sonnenfeld 20:56
You learn nothing? Oh, yeah, I learned I learned. Well, here's what I learned. I learned that nothing about filmmaking. Okay, what I learned was that the set on pornos is a very feminist driven set. Okay, the females have all the power, the actresses have all the power, because they can. They can either help or hurt the guy, you know, help him with his erection or just be so mean to them that they're soft and flaccid for hours. I also learned that the average time between come shot is four hours, it takes four hours to get a come shot, it takes about 15 minutes to do the you know dialogue. Your sister home if someone
Alex Ferrari 21:47
orders some pizza with extra sausage.
Barry Sonnenfeld 21:52
And then it takes about 2025 minutes to shoot various sexual positions. And then Dec would say okay, we're ready for the come shot at which point the other camera man and I would dim the light we lay just rest our backs against some set wall and take nap. And then it would take between three and four hours for the guy to be able to come. So that's how we were able to work with so little sleep as we had many naps during the day while the guy and if you looked at your chart, so you could only do five come shots a day. Because five times four is 20 hours and you needed four hours to just I was the only one who went home everyone else. The crew was dick. The other camera man who I own the camera with a guy named Eric who was the gaffer and sound man. And then we had a woman whose job it was. She was a paper towel girl. And what she did is after
Alex Ferrari 22:54
that no, no, no, no, you don't have to go down. I completely can connect the dots. I hope I hope everybody listening can connect the dots because I don't want to detail something. It is fascinating. Yeah, honestly one of my favorite origin stories of any filmmaker. It's amazing.
Barry Sonnenfeld 23:17
That was That was my first job out of film school. graduate from 999
Alex Ferrari 23:23
on film no less. And I'm on film and 16 I'm assuming right it was a 16 Yeah, yeah. Amazing. Well, so from from and the guy's name is dick. I mean, you can't make things like that up. So from
Barry Sonnenfeld 23:39
The company was called Mr. Mustard production, which doesn't sound appetizing either,
Alex Ferrari 23:47
I mean, you can't write this stuff. This is amazing. Alright, so how did you go from your porno experience to getting involved with the Coen brothers. Right? Did they see your porno work and say, Hey, Barry.
Barry Sonnenfeld 24:04
I don't think anyone saw it. I don't know why I never traveled uptown. Again, it has to do with me owning a 16 millimeter camera. I was at a party, a Christmas party with people. I didn't know that I knew the hostess. But that was it. And there was one guy across the room who seemed to not be friends with everyone. But tall guy that kind of like howard stern and that was Joe Cohen. And we started to talk because we were the only guys not talking to anyone else. And he had gone to NYU undergraduate school, but I didn't know him at all. From there. And he and his brother Ethan had just written the screenplay for blood simple. And Joel was the assistant editor on Evil Dead. Sam Raimi, his first movie The End fam told Joe, that the way to raise money to make an independent film was to shoot a trailer as if it was a finished movie. And use that trailer to show it to you know, dentists investing clubs and Doctor investing clubs and trend rich friends of your parents or whatever. Because no one can read a script and say, Oh, yes, I I've never worked on it. I've never I'm a dentist, but I'm reading this script. And I think it sounds like a good blue BNL. So, Joel and Ethan had never done anything. So how do you know if they're any good. But by having this trailer, the dentists, the doctors, the inventors, the businessmen could look at the trailer and go, Hey, I can see this movie. Be this trailer looks really cool. See, you guys seem to know what you're doing. So Joel said, we're gonna shoot a trailer of the script we wrote and see if we can raise money. And I said, Well, I own a 16 millimeter camera. And he said, okay, you're hired to shoot the trailer, not the feature. And so we shot the trailer. And it looked great, and we got along great. And it took us a year. Joe went out to Minneapolis where they grew up and hit all the Hadassah women. That's the sort of Jewish you know, women's society out there. Ethan and I stayed in New York with a print and a projector. And it took us here, but we raised the 750 grand Wow. And went to Austin, Texas, and the first day, shooting blood simple, was the first day that Joe Ethan or I have ever been on a movie set. I had never been a camera operator or a camera assistant. On features, Joe had never directed anything except student films and eight millimeter stuff with Ethan. Ethan had never produced anything, he was a statistical typist, that mathys where you just typed invoice numbers for eight hours a day. So I always tell people, declare what you are. And you'll find a way to make a living doing, you know, and that you don't need to work your way up, you should just decide. I'm a cameraman, I'm an editor. And when people say well, you know, how do I? How should I get started in the film business? Truthfully, the best two things. What you learn the most actually is what you did editing, and writing. Those are your best ways to because you learned about the structure. And also the great thing about having a script is no one can take that away from you know, if you want to be a director, they can always find another director. If they want to hire another editor, they can get another editor if you have written a script, and you own it. And you say, if you want this script, I have to direct it. Though, they'll oftentimes say yes, if the script is good enough, because truthfully studios these days, want first time directors, they want to control everything they the studio does, they don't want people that have strong opinions or people that can push around. So I think right now it's almost easier to get a job as a first time director than someone who's been around directing for decades. That's what
Alex Ferrari 28:44
yeah, it is interesting, because, you know, I think Ridley Scott came out and said he goes I can't believe they're giving these $200 million you know, franchise films to to a 25 year old or you know, a young kid and he's very talented or she's you know, but it's not It makes no sense why wouldn't you hire Ridley or yourself or somebody who's been down that road and that makes absolute sense.
Barry Sonnenfeld 29:07
It's because they want the studio's want to control everything. the studio's don't really understand what directors do and think that they that they can do it and that directors are like traffic cop. And, you know, so all those Marvel movies. Look for first and second time. Directors for the most part until they're in the family. It's very interesting.
Alex Ferrari 29:30
Yeah, as of as of this recording, Sam Raimi just got hired to do the next Doctor Strange. Realize, yeah, it just got released today. The information the news broke today. So Sam actually officially signed to do Doctor Strange with a master of madness or something like that. Which makes all the sense in the world because that's a perfect movie for him. Right, which makes sense. I wanted to ask you something in regards to blood simple, and I know that Sam, actually I think he was the first To do it or at least popularize it is putting the camera on to a two by four. And having two guys on each side just run so you get this really insane kind of fast Dolly and then shooting the film a little faster. So it would get like this revved up kind of POV. You guys did that in blood simple as well, how did that whole thing come around? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Barry Sonnenfeld 30:33
Well, Sam kind of invented it, it was called the shakey cam, what gives you the energy actually is not under cranking it by using an extremely wide angle lens, you use a 9.8 millimeter. And this is 30 in 35 millimeters. So it's extremely wide angle, it's pi as a angle of view of 165 degrees or something. It's almost everything and because it moves to space, and changes perspective so quickly because it's such a wide angle lens. I mean like this is a wide angle lens to like, Look I'm I'm you see both my hands on with this tiny little move. Now I'm very tight. And it's because of the nature of wide angle lens is that a little move make two very different moves and perspective. So I'm trying to remember if we use it on blood simple we use it a lot on raising Arizona. No you did.
Alex Ferrari 31:30
There was a saw in blood sample. I remember that was like outside the house. It was coming toward the door or something. Yeah,
Barry Sonnenfeld 31:36
it's Danny had Dahlia had just grabbed Fran McDormand outside the house, and we're way back on the other side of the street and the door opens and, and hidayah is bringing her towards Atlanta, we raced towards him. And she breaks his finger, and then kicks him in the groin, and then he bends down and throws up which is another story. So we learned that from Sam, we use it a lot more in raising Arizona, there's a scene where we go over found over a car up a ladder through a window into Florida, Arizona is now in this fake one continuous shot. I always say that we could read, you know, blood sample cost 750 grand, I said we could redo that movie right now for 20 million. And it wouldn't be any better. We could reshoot raising Arizona, which I think was 5 million. We could reshoot shoot. Maybe it was 12 No, I think it was five. We could reshoot that for 15 million with techno crane sure that of using shakey cam, and then again, it wouldn't look any better. So it's great. How are we able to pull off all that stuff? And make it seem professional?
Alex Ferrari 32:50
No, I remember in blood simple, which I think was one of the I don't know if it was the first time but the lighting in there was a shot where there was bullet holes in the wall, right? And shafts of light would come in with the smoke coming out. And I still remember going back. I don't know where I heard about her Joel Silver, talking about that shot specifically. And he's like, I make action movies. Why doesn't my stuff look like that? And that's a testament I'm assuming to you because you were the DP on that. How did you know when was that something from your commercial world that you kind of brought into the film or like, because I hadn't seen that either prior to that, like something so cinematic, because blood simple is Yeah, it's in your film, but it is very cinematically shot.
Barry Sonnenfeld 33:32
Yeah, no, it's funny. It's one of the shots we also did from the trailer. Because Don't forget, you know, we didn't have actors or anything. So for the trailer, it was very abstract. It was like dotted lines on the road. It was following a you know, like cowboy hat or following like someone's boots, you know, an insert of a gun. And actually, in Hillary's loss. Hillary was a woman who had the Christmas party where Joe and I met. It's now eight months later. No, no, it's now two, three weeks later, we've now built the wall and Hillary's loft, and we're shooting that shot. Not the one that's in the movies, though. But our cheap version of it, which was we drilled these big holes, these big plugs in the wall. We literally had a wall that was probably 20 feet long by 10 feet high that we tackled and everything we drilled these plugs out and, and then we put screws in the back of the plugs and then we replastered the wall. And then I had a lot of little inky so I could shine all those light in different directions because they weren't just one light, like every hole that opened up to three different beings from each show. And so I had all these keys I taught Ethan Cohen, how to be my gaffer and how to put the light bulbs and without burning him. And all that. And as I dallied into the wall, in the back, this guy, Don was hitting the hammer to the screws and the plug, first of all, our side of the room was dark was pretty dark. And also the plug moved to frame so fast that you didn't just look like a hole opening up. And so that was in the trailer. And that's really what got us to 750 grand, I heard a story that Nestor almendros, who is a pretty famous cinematographer, and Nestor was a big believer in motivated light, which I don't believe in motivated lightning. If there's a lamp over here, that's where the main light should be from. If it's above you, it should be there. Nestor saw was a judge at some film festival where blood sample was shown. And he said was a great shot, but the lights not motivated. Cuz, obviously in a bathroom, you wouldn't have multiple beams of light. But anyway, it worked.
Alex Ferrari 36:04
It's still it's still a cool shot. Yeah, it's still a cool shot. Now you brought up raising Arizona, I have to ask you, how in god's green earth did that film get made in a studio? I mean, like, like you can't you read that script, I have to believe you read that script. And you see blood simple, which is completely different. I mean, it has some tones, but it is the other side of the Coen Brothers is like they're serious. And then there's the the Miller's Crossing and the and the Big Lebowski, they have those two, those two just opposite positions of their sensibilities. So you've come from blood sample, which generally in studio world, you got to they just want you to do the same thing again. But they've completely changed and go to raise era, is that a, how does that script get financed? And then how do you explain like, how you're going to shoot? It's such a unique piece of art that was made within a studio, even back then, I mean, now that would never ever in a million years get made. But back then even how did they even get fine? It started, how did that happen?
Barry Sonnenfeld 37:03
Well, Fox was a distributor, but Fox was not putting up the money. The money came from a guy named Ted Pettit, who owned a lot of movie theaters, and who eventually bought the rights to blood sample. So the Cohens at to, you know, be the distributor. So the Cohens had a relationship with Ted Fox was very involved. But you know, the thing about Joel and Ethan is there, they would never do a film for hire, you know, they boys had final cuts. They're always willing to walk away if they don't have Final Cut. Joy says, I don't know how to direct a movie, if I'm not in charge of it all the way till the end. So I think it was a little risky, but it wasn't that risky. It wasn't an expensive movie. So the other reason that Johnny's and can have Final Cut in there movies don't cost a lot of money. As I said, I think it might have been 5 million bucks to do raising Arizona and so that the downside of that cost is not that much per studio.
Alex Ferrari 38:17
Right? Yeah. And they took a risk. Basically, they just kind of rolled the dice a little bit.
Barry Sonnenfeld 38:22
Yeah, but it's not that big of a risk if you lose 5 million bucks. And you can even release it for a big studio. It's not that big a deal.
Alex Ferrari 38:30
Right. Exactly. In the sense, the well, you also went on to you know, you not only worked with the Cohens on a would you did Miller's Crossing as well and right. And three those three correct and the but you also did you did a couple other little films, as a cinematographer that they made a couple a couple bucks. Again, this this is my golden time in the video store. So I know these movies very, very well. Big. When Harry Met Sally and misery just to name a few. There was a few more in there, but those three were massive hits of of their day. And you worked with Penny Marshall, you worked with Carl anacron Korea car car, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob sorry Rob Reiner. And and Rob Reiner again from misery. What is the biggest takeaways you got from working on those kind of big hits? Because I mean, racing Arizona wasn't if I remember correctly, wasn't a monster hit by any stretch. It was kind of like a cult. It's a cult thing. But was big. The first kind of big thing that you'd worked on. That was a big box office, or was it
Barry Sonnenfeld 39:39
the movie? The movie before big was Throw Momma from the Train? Yes, yeah, that was the first movie. Although I had been hired to shoot big. And then after I was hired about two weeks into it, the studio shut it down. Because they didn't Petey wanted. De Niro for the lead and Barry Diller wanted to hang so we shot shut down to wait for Hanks and that allowed me to go shoot Throw Momma from the Train with Danny DeVito who became a good friend of mine, but I think that it's funny that I think Danny's movie was the first movie where I was sort of like, you know, in Hollywood, making, you know, a real movie unreal stages. And what's funny is throw Mama was shot on stage three, eight, at Hollywood center studios. It was before that it was zoetrope, which Francis Ford Coppola. So the first movie I shoot in LA is throw Mama. And it stage three. And then when I'm shooting When Harry Met Sally, part of that takes place. Some of this, we had some of it in New York, but all the sets we built, and we were on stage three, eight at Hollywood center studios. Then what? What, then we shoot, misery and misery is shot on stage three, eight at Hollywood sent it to you. And then I become a director. And, and the first thing I'm ever doing as a director is we built the mansion, The Addams Family mansion on stage three and eight at Hollywood center studios. So I said to my wife, I call her Sweetie, I said, you know, everyone says Hollywood is the film capital of the world, they seem to have one stage. That's the ceiling where they give you probably four different times, the first four times they ever shot anything in Hollywood, was all on the same stage.
Alex Ferrari 41:45
So what So what are some takeaways you did had from shooting those kind of big movies like big and when he gets out and just being in the, you know, I've had other guests on the show that they've been in the middle of like a cyclone of like big hits. And I always fascinated, you know, you're still you were cinematographer at that point. So you weren't like the head. You know, the the creative force behind it at that point. But, but you know, when you're the DP of big and then When Harry Met Sally, and Throw Momma from the Train and misery, back to back to back to back, there's a very few guys in town who are doing this. How does it feel like to be in that time period of your career?
Barry Sonnenfeld 42:21
I really enjoyed being a camera man, I really loved the job. I wasn't looking forward. I wasn't saying I should be a director. You know, I wasn't that guy. I was really happy. Being a cinematographer. It was interesting to watch how different directors worked, although truthfully, because one of the things I believe in, both as when I was a cameraman, and now as a director, and a producer is I believe that the camera can be more than more than a recording device. The camera can actually be our storytelling device, it can be a character in the movie, you will get blood sample, you look at Throw Momma from the Train, you will go raising Arizona, you look at Addams Family, or what I did for three years on a series of unfortunate events for Netflix. The camera is a character in the show. So even though I was a cinematographer, I, I was very involved very, very involved in in everything, you know, I would often you know, after lunch actors are usually tired, they've just eaten all the Bloods, you know, working to digest your food, you know, so, you know, I would always I would I always put myself not to cinematographer but the friend is a director. So I could say to rob or Danny or whoever, I think they had more energy in the master before lunch, you want to just remind them to pick up their energy, which is stuff that if a cameraman said to me I'd be really annoyed by but somehow I got away with it. I guess I was always a bit of a filmmaker. You know, I did most of the designing of the shots to the other directors less so with Joel and Ethan. But like on big I designed, you know, all the shots and stuff like that. And we're Rob on his movies. I was very instrumental in the way those movies worked and all that. I recommended the ROB hire Kathy Bates to be the lead in misery. Not a bad choice. Not a bad choice and Kathy and I became really good friends. Every morning she'd arrive on the set and go fuck you son and fell and I go fuck you, babe. That was like our way of saying hi. Here's a horrible moment on the set of misery. Jimmy kamino spent most of the movie in bed and at one point You know, Kathy Bates goes into town. So he gets out of bed and he's, and he's in pain because his legs all screwed up. And he has to crawl across the floor and I'm underslung with a very wide angle lens, you know, the cameras right on the ground, and Jimmy's crawling towards me. And Jimmy says to rob and myself, Jimmy says, Hey, back. Oh, he says, Hey, hey, Rob, how far Should I crawl and Rob looks at me and goes back, and I go, and I spit on the floor. And Rob Reiner, because I have no respect for Jimmy at this point. And Rob Reiner says, crawl to the loogie. Jimmy, Rob has respect for Jimmy either at this point. So you know, the, the main difference is on big features. You've got more money, you've got more equipment, you've got more cranes, you've got bigger crews, you've got more light. And also, it's easier, actually because if you fall behind schedule, the studio has more money, you know, I'm blood simple. There was no more money. If we needed reshoot. We shot a lot of real little inserts and stuff for blood sample in my backyard in East Hampton, Long Island. You know, there was there was no more money to be found on big budget films. There's always more money this studio isn't going to like say we're not finishing the movie. So I found the bigger the budget actually, the easier it is.
Alex Ferrari 46:40
Now I heard stories about Mr. Khan on misery. And I heard that a bunch of different things it was there. No when you say no respected you guys did just like Robin him and you just have a bad situation back then.
Barry Sonnenfeld 46:55
No, no, no, it wasn't no fights or anything like that. It's just that Jimmy is the most frantic, energetic, sort of on able to sit still, you know, you're talking to him, and his knee is doing that, you know, got it. And for that actor to have to spend 80 pages in bed, the wrong guy to have that job. And he just, you know, I remember you often told me that, that he would spend a lot of time in the Playboy Mansion. And, and he said that he had slept with he had had sex with 17 straight playmates for the month. You know, this is decades ago, as I said, I said, as a joke. I said, so Jimmy, what month turned you down? I didn't ask for her name. I just said what month turned you down? and Jimmy are bad. I can't tell you that. I said you can't tell me the monitor. Nothing you year. I mean, that's a year know what you were talking about. And this was, you know, years earlier, it wasn't like a momentary story. It was a story about when he was hanging out the Playboy Mansion, you know, years ago. Bad. Can't tell you that much. So anyway. But he's, he's a lovely guy. He's just got way too much energy to be at bedframe he paid?
Alex Ferrari 48:28
It's like It's like trying to strap down Robin Williams for 80 pages, like in a batch. Right? Just Right. That's just ridiculous.
Barry Sonnenfeld 48:36
Well, and in fact, you know, and I write about this in my book, you know, I directed Robin in RV. And one of the issues is that Robin and I really liked each other's people. But Robin did not like me directing him because I didn't want his, you know, his jazz his improv, I wanted a really sort of controlled performance. And Robin is all about improv and joking around and this and there were too many kids on the set that needed to know when to come in with the next line. And they you know, kids know, okay, my line is after he asked me what my favorite color is, and I'm going to say green. So for Robin to improvise and say So how old are you? The kids going? Do I say green? Do I say eight? Do I is that even dress? So I kept trying to convince Robin this was a wrong movie. And there were too many kids for that wild improvisational stuff. And I loved his improvisational stuff but didn't want it in the movie. And I don't think Robin had a good time. There was it but it was tough.
Alex Ferrari 49:54
There was I've only met a couple people who have actually met or worked with Robin and I had the pleasure of Meeting Robin once, and I had never met a human being whose energy literally just kind of like vibrated off of him. And when I met him he wasn't on. He was just right. He was just hanging out, not cracking jokes, not looking for attention, not trying to make a smile. He was just a human being with his wife doing his thing, but I had never met a human being you could literally feel it. Is that something that you felt as well working with him?
Barry Sonnenfeld 50:29
Oh, yeah. No, it was it was. It was amazing. Here's some other things, you know. You'd have to have six pair of all wardrobe because he's sweat so much. He was the hairiest human being I had ever met, you know, every day, they would have to cut whatever hair was from here up, it would come out over the top. And yes, to that, I knew that they had shaved it yesterday. It does. And he would sweat so much that after four or five tanks, with all of this energy, you'd say, the wardrobe person would say we need to change your shirt. And so there would be all these wardrobe people with hair dryers in the distance drying shirts, because we only had six of everything. And he was going to them after every four takes. So it was those section go there. The other thing about Robin is one on one with Robin, and again, this is in the book, but one on one with Robin was a pleasure. All comedians do three things. They collect fountain pens, they collect watches, and they collect cards, Robin was fountain pens, watches and bicycle. You know, he is a major biker. And he had hundreds of bicycles. But Robin was great one on one. I remember being at this restaurant called chinchin in Vancouver, which is where we shot RV. And we're sitting there I'm learning about astronomy and the Kabbalah and about comparative religions. And then the waiter comes over. But so now instead of two people, there are three and that means Showtime. And Robin became a different person. He made fun of the guys tie. He did this, he did this. And years later, I'm back in Vancouver, 13 years later, producing a series of unfortunate events. I go to chinchin and the maitre D comes in it's his day off he comes in he goes, sir, you don't know who I am. My name is Richard. I came in on my day off 13 years ago, I was your waiter when you had dinner with Robin. And for several years after that I went to terrible pstd as did every other guest who was into a restaurant that night I saw your name. Remember this so well. I had to come in to see you to see how you were if you had to work with him every day. So that's Robin was incredibly talented. You could give him a stick and say give me an hour. And he'd give you an hour of comedy pure comedy and stuff. Yeah. Yeah, no, he
Alex Ferrari 53:11
was he was he was a remarkable human being no question. Now you say in your book that you really weren't looking to direct you kind of fell you kind of fell into directing? Well, your first movie was Addams Family. How did you fall into that? Because if I remember correctly, Addams Family was not a small little movie. It was a it was a studio film. It was on a on a stablished IP. And you guys were trying to basically rebooted before reboots were reboots for movies. So how did you fall into that? Like most people are dying to get that job? You just fell into it?
Barry Sonnenfeld 53:46
fell into it. I was in LA. I was staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and I was finishing up misery. And was Sunday morning. And sweetie and I were watching the Indianapolis 500 on the television and the front desk, rang and said, Scott Rutan just dropped by a package. We're sending it off. And in the package what was a letter from Scott saying read this and meet me in two hours that you goes, which is a restaurant, sort of a hippie dippie restaurant, and if you like scrambled eggs, and spaghetti, that's your restaurant and read it and meet me in two hours. And it was the script for Addams Family and I had grown up I was not a fan of the TV show. But I liked the monsters more weirdly. But I loved the Charles Adams drawings that appeared in The New Yorker and The Addams Family is based on those drawings. So I read the script. I didn't think it was very good. I said this witty, the script isn't good. And she said take the meeting, which God maybe he knows it's no good to so I go and have the meeting. And I say say to Scott, why me And he said, Well, there are two reasons. One is I went to Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. And they both pack. And I thought if I can't get those two, if he said all the good directors path, instead of taking the chance on some comedy hack, I'd rather hire someone who has a very specific visual style. And who knows comedy. And Scott before he became an independent producer, ran Fox, when we did, raising Arizona, and when I shot big, so he saw all the dailies, he heard all the stories about MIDI and Penny and, and he knew that I had designed all the shots and all that stuff. So Scott knew that I might be capable. And, you know, I told him what was wrong with the script, he agreed, we got Paul rods neck to do an uncredited rewrite. And next thing you know, I said, I said this guy at the end of the meal, I said, Look, I'll tell you what, this guy's very persuasive. I said, if you can get me the job directing the movie, I'll do it. But I didn't think he would. Right. So he, he and he and myself went up to Orion, which was the independent studio at the time. Who was famous for being the most director friendly studio, it was like the Netflix of the day. You know, right now you want to be working in Netflix, because they really respect directors, etc, etc. So, um, so did Orion. So, Orion thought I was a nice boy. And they trusted Scott. And, and we, they agreed to let me make Addams Family.
Alex Ferrari 56:55
No, but wasn't. was The Addams Family Paramount?
Barry Sonnenfeld 56:59
Well, that's a really good question. And of course, this story, which is also in my book. So here, what happens there? Orion partially because they were so director friendly is on the verge of bankruptcy. Yeah. And the one piece of property and we were halfway done shooting it. Right. So the one piece of property they had and we were halfway done, that might get them some some money to stay solvent was Addams Family because it looked commercial, it looked like it was going to be a hit. So I also had the best editor there ever was Didi Allen, who cut Bonnie and Clyde and you know, flash shot and red Serpico so the the kind of 15 minute reel of some scenes, and Scott Rudin took it around to all the studios. Universal almost bought it but they didn't offer enough and on Friday morning, Frank Mancuso, senior of Paramount Pictures, buys, the book buys the movie, so it's going to become a paramount movie. Orion will make get some money, just to keep them afloat for a while. independent of him buying the movie later that day, he gets fired. And the new guy that comes in is Stanley Jaffe, who looks at the same 15 minutes and Stanley is humorless. He sees the same 15 minutes and says this movie is uncomfortable and unreasonable. So for the next six weeks or eight weeks I'm working at a studio that hates the project that looks at dailies every day and the the, the studio people assigned to my movie are calling Didi Allen and Fang. We saw the dailies we don't think this scene will cut together. And Didi says Well, of course it will cut together it's a really funny scene. But faster and went they are never in the same frame. Indeed. He says yeah, that's what makes it funny. Okay, well we don't so okay fine. So now they hate me they hate the movie etc, etc. I get done. The day you get done the director on on DGA movies studio movies have a 10 week director's cut right. During that time, no one can see the movie no studio executive can come in and look at it. You don't have to show it to anyone. It's 10 weeks for you to rearrange the movie which is now just in dailies and rough cut into the movie you want to show the studio. The day I get finished the not the chairman of the studio, but the president Gary Lucchese calls me up and says Can we have lunch?
Alex Ferrari 1:00:03
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:00:14
Sure. Gotta have lunch with him in the studio Congress and the executive commissary, you know, like where bill Shatner and the members of the bridge from Star Star Trek, have lunch to not to cling on. But the, you know, the Star Trek guys get to have a deck. And I meet Gary and this other guy named Bill, who's creative executive scientists. And Gary says, show us a movie now. Don't take your 10 week DJ cut, show it to us now. I go, Gary, it's not going to happen. It's a union thing. I have these 10 weeks that don't have to he goes, Oh, I know. You don't have to but show it to us so we can help you. I said, I don't want you to know. Because we're your friends. I said, No, you're Oh, you're not. And I said, You know what, guys? This has been fun, but I gotta go. Thanks for the Cobb salad. And I get up to leave. And Gary says, take a bath. If you won't show us the movie, Will you at least tell us what it's like. And I go, I really shouldn't do this, but I will. It's like a much sadder version of Sophie's Choice. I leave I go back to my office. I guess there's a phone is ringing down the hallway. I pick up the phone and Scott rude. Did you just tell Gary Lucchese that Addams Family is a sadder version of Sophie's Choice. I don't know. Because why did you tell him? I said, I told him it was a much se that says, Oh, I'm back. He believes you call them back. Scott, how could I turn? If they had seen dailies? How could you look at those dailies and think I could turn this into a sadder version of Sophie's Choice? Because, first of all, everyone's frightened because family doesn't like the movie. Second of all, executives don't know how to look at dailies called Gary back. Okay. Hello, Gary Lucchese, please. Barry sonnenfeld calling one more. Okay. All right. Hello, Barry. Hi, Gary. Hi. Hey, listen, Garr. Remember when I told you that Addams Family was like a much sadder version of Sophie's Choice. Yes. Well see. Here's the thing. It was like kind of a joke. I didn't actually mean it was just like a joke. Well, then, what's it really like, Barry? I said, Well, really? It's really really funny. Are you serious? Close. That's fantastic. So easy, easy, equally willing to listen to whatever I thought Sophie's Choice, very funny movie. And, and then, you know, it was it was tough. You know, Stanley saw the movie, you know, after the 10 weeks and hated it. In fact, it was in my contract. When I did add some family values that family had to bring his wife to any recruited audience screenings of the movies so that she could tell them when it was fun. That's how I was in your contract. Yeah, because the man had no sense of Oh, I had other things to my contract. Like that. I was in charge as a set and Scott couldn't tell me what to do or whether to scout drove me crazy. He was on the set on the first one every single minute screaming at me and screaming at me, you know, when the you know, in pre production. We often met in his office and things were so difficult between the two of us because he you know, he, you had to God thinks he's right until proven wrong, which is what a producer should do, or director should do. But I also believe that I was right until proven wrong. So there were a lot of disagreements, a lot of fights and at some point with him, screaming at me, I would make a fort out of his couch, I would take all the pillows and bolsters off, and I would build a fort and I would crawl into the fort and then put the pillow last remaining pillow where the entryway was. And I would yell at him. I can't hear you. I'm in the form. And Scott would scream. Get the fuck out of there. I don't have time for this shit. This is full of shit. always obey the sanctity the fort, he always knew that I was there, he never kicked.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:06
He never kicked it open and never kicked that open.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:05:08
He never went like that and said, Hello, and so forth. He paid me to get out of the for the couch, right? And I'd say a nod to tell you apologize. All right, then we got to know. And then he'd say, All right, I'm sorry. Get out of the fucking court. I got that. Okay. And I, you know, raised my head out and build the couch, back into a couch. And we would continue, because here's the thing. Everyone's afraid, everyone tempted to or, and, and, and if you have any strong opinion, and fight for those opinions, you'll usually when it's what I learned from Scott, rude, Rutan, his whole thing is Maggie Smith. You want her and everything. So like, I'll be in the car with him driving somewhere, and he'll be on the speakerphone with some studio and he'll say, If I can't have Maggie Smith for that role, I'm going to quit and shut down your fucking production. And without Phil, they go, Okay, okay. You can have Maggie Smith. And I'm thinking really, Scott, you've got all these other things. And if you can't have Maggie Smith, for that one scene that she's in, you're going to shut down, are you? And Scott says they don't know that they're just afraid. You know, Scott taught me that if you stand at the edge of the cliff with a studio executive and say, let's hold the hand and both commit suicide. They'll back down. They'll say no, no, no, I don't want to die. They won't say all right, let's do it. shithead. Come on, you want to die too? They won't do that. Because, God, such a bully. Just like Donald Trump. They're such bullies. To some point. Everyone goes, Okay, okay. Like, I want what Russia gave Trump on. Lindsey Graham. I'm sewing. But I digress.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:01
But so let me ask you, I always like to ask directors of your statute. This when you first walked on the set, on the day one of the Addams Family as a director, you had been on many sets before you've worked on many things before. What was that feeling? You're like, Oh, this is all on me. I everything is riding on my shoulders. I'm the director now. I'm not, you know, you know, working with a director as a cinematographer. How did that feel?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:07:29
Well, two things. One, as a cinematographer, I always felt everything was on my shoulders. Yeah, that we had to make the day. I mean, any martial would do 15 master tapes and then go into coverage of extras who now are getting upgraded quiches giving them lines. And you know, none of this will be in the movie. And I'm looking at my wife saying, Oh, my God, we have 20 setups today. And we're about to have lunch in an hour. And we're still on the master. It was I always felt it was always my responsibility in any position was here in the director. However, having said that, and by the way, as a director, I was equally nervous and threw up constantly because at a weak stomach, I was constantly showing up on the set of blood sample, which was the first thing I ever did. What I did on Addams Family, which was, if I may say so myself, really smart, and I continue it to this day, is I never understand directors that hire weak people so that they can feel stronger. Yeah, I feel like I'm gonna get all the credit. Anyway. Let me get people way smarter than me. So I had DD Allen. So instead of thinking, I want a first time editor, so I don't feel insecure around someone who's done this for 40 years. I said, I want to find someone who's done this for 40 years. So I've got DDL and as the editor and also as the camera man, this was a really you got a minute Oh,
Alex Ferrari 1:09:07
we've got all the time in the world, sir.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:10
So you know as as a cameraman becoming a director. I looked at the other cameraman who had become directors. Gordon Willis, one of the great shot of the Godfather movies. Prince of Darkness heaven without
Alex Ferrari 1:09:27
reference of darkness. You
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:29
are into darkness right as Bobby green hood says this man lights for radio.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:35
It's a great line to I'm gonna steal that line. Oh, that's a fantastic line
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:40
Yeah. So Willis direct one movie called a window. Bill Fraker, one of the great direct one movie called The legendary The Lone Ranger and john Alonzo, who shot Chinatown and Farewell my lovely one of the great tunes. One We'll be called FM. Why did none of those three cameraman all much better than the really great cameraman? Why did they fail? Why were they only able to direct one movie, in each case, they move that camera operator up to being the DP. What that meant is they didn't want to give up the camera. They didn't want to get someone better than them then which would force them to be the director. They really wanted to feel comfortable by being able to go back to that camp. So I said to myself, if I'm going to succeed, I need the camera man, so much better than me that I won't say shinza 10k go over there. Because, because then I'm not talking to the actor, right? And what my biggest fear was, was the actor because I had never I've become friends with the actors as a dp, but I've never directed actors, you know. So I hired Oh, and Roy's man who shot The French Connection movies. You know, all Tootsie, all these great movies. So that it would force me away from the camera, and forced me to actually direct actors. And what I discovered was that I loved actors, which I didn't love when I was a dp, I liked them and what hang out with them, but they never hit their marks. They would rehearse things one way, and then play it another way when they came out of hair and makeup and knew their lines. So for me, the actors were the big unknown, because I knew my way around the set, obviously, what I didn't know is, did I have any method of talking to actors. And what I discovered is, all I want actors to do is talk fast. They talk fast, they don't have time to act, and you don't want to see acting, you want to see reality, you want to see pace, you want to see energy, and you never want to see acting. So after every take, all I ever say to act is is can we do one, like, do one more like 10 times faster? Everyone 10 times faster, just for fun. One more time, everyone talks much faster. And that's always the one you use. And that's what I kind of discovered. And as little as I know about film history as someone who has exclusive work exclusively directed and shot comedies. And by the way, stylizing comedies is really hard. Yeah. And so I think that's why Rutan hired me because it's rare to see a comedy with visual style.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:50
It's usually very flat or very, you know, just because this comedy is playing for the gags not
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:12:54
playing for the lights. That's right. That's right. But so my favorite movies were Howard Hawks, comedies like bringing a baby and his girl Friday, and all the press and surges comedy, Palm Beach, don't raise solvent travel and everyone, no one's listening. They're just talking. No one's even waiting to understand what someone just said. They're just talking right over the next line. And that's the way I love it. And on Thursday, unfortunate events. When other directors were directing, sometimes I'd be up in my office, working on Edit to previous episodes and all that. And Malena Weissman, who played violet on the series would come up to me when there was another director and and say, I always know when you've arrived on stage, because the director will come to all of us and say, let's just do one much faster. Meaning Oh, Barry's here. He's gonna like say that. So let me say it before he does. So. Yes, it was really scary. But it wasn't because I was on a movie set. It was because I was going to have to talk to actors, and I didn't know what that was going to be like.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:02
Now you shot a little movie called men in black. Which, correct? Yes, yes. Yeah. You directed a film called men and black. It was just a small film with a young upstart. William something. Yes, Mr. Smith, Mr. Willis, Will Smith. When you were directing men and black? What What was it like? Well, I was probably the biggest thing. You'd have a director at that point. I'm assuming the budget was much larger than Addams Family at that point, correct. Yeah. Right. And then and then you had Will Smith was who was fresh off of independence day if I'm not mistaken. Correct. Now, yeah. It was meant meant back first.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:14:42
Independence came at independence game day came out first, but Well, we're shooting the last two weeks of independence day when we started shooting men and black so the only movie he had done was called six degrees of separation. That You know, obviously Fresh Prince. And that's
Alex Ferrari 1:15:02
how I know so he wasn't a star. He wasn't a monster star while you were shooting, he was still Fresh Prince of Bel Air who got the lead in a huge studio movie basically. That's right. Yeah. And I guess they I guess they saw him on an independence day or something. And they said, Hey,
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:15:16
Nathan, they had nothing to do.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:19
Did you? Did you cast?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:15:21
Yeah. Oh, what happened? Okay. So I get the script. And, and I, we didn't I read our scripts together. We like, this is before email. So we got sent two copies we do is give me a 60 page Head Start because some of the flow reader and we finished the script. And I turned to her and I said, Tommy Lee Jones. And she turned to me and said, Will Smith and I said, Who's Will Smith? And she said, Have you not seen fresh print? And I go? I guess not. She says you want Will Smith. And you always do what your wife tells you. So. So the studio and Spielberg and the producers don't want Tommy Orwell they want Clint Eastwood and O'Donnell.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:11
Oh, that's right. I heard about that. Yes. That was the original cast that crystal Donald.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:16:15
Right. Yeah. So Bill bird says, you know, Chris is in LA, I want you to come to LA and convince Chris to do a movie. He's staying at the Four Seasons Hotel, we'll put you up to Cyclades LA, said support season. Same place. I was when Scott Rudin sent me the script for Addams Family. And Chris says, look, you know, I read the script, I think the script has potential, but right now, it's not very good. And I also have this other project that I'm being offered that has the loan in it. So tell me why I should do men and black. And I said, first of all, you should definitely do the movie with Stallone. He's really smart. He knows everything about camera. In fact, Stallone fired me off of Tango and cash. I heard about Africa. So he's really smart. So you should do that. And second of all, in terms of the script of men and black, it's not very good. And I don't know how many how to make it better than true. who's really, I'm not much of a director, Chris, Chris path. Shockingly. Okay. So Chris path. By the way, Chris is a really, really good actor. It's just that my wife told me that I wanted well, Smith. So that's the end of that story. So I lived around in East Hampton for 30 years. And Bill Burns spent the summers there. And so we were both in the Hamptons. And I knew Will Smith was in Philly at a wedding. And I arranged for a helicopter to come up and fly well to meet Spielberg. Wow. So Bill Berg met well in East Hampton will was very funny and charming. And and they agreed to let me hire will. In fact, Independence Day didn't come out until about two weeks before we wrapped Principal photography on men and black so I had 18 weeks before well as a movie star he was just a television star so that was easy for me. The last two weeks when that will be open will became will became a movie star.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:41
Did did he become a movie star in those last two weeks?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:18:44
He's always been great is always then relaxed and funny and you know irreverence?
Alex Ferrari 1:18:51
Yeah, that's that must have been amazing. And how was it working with like was I know you did some visual effect work in in Addams Family but men and black was a whole other world
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:19:03
Yes or no? You know, the truth is I was very lucky to have hired Rick Baker to do the the creature design. And Rick taught me and it's something I believe in to this day. Rick taught me that anything you can do with puppets or you should and was so like all the worm guys seemed in men and black, you know, our our rod puppets, you know, we built we always placed the worm guide so that we can have rods coming through a wall behind them. Because then you can add lead. Then your actors are working with other actors because all puppeteers are funny and charming. And are members of sag. And, and they have senses of humor. So you can I there's a line in the First Men in Black where, which wasn't written I threw it into the set which is I said to Tommy, Tommy Yes, the worm guy. pouring your coffee. if, if, if, if it's the same old shit today, and the worm guys goes now Vinnie cinnamon was my favorite kind of coffee when I lived on the Upper West Side was Viennese cinnamon, you know, cinnamon infused in the beans. So you couldn't do that with visual effects. Because most visual effects, supervisors and designers and animators, their strength is not comedy, you know. And also, I gotta tell you, I really, really, really don't like the luck of most modern visual effects movies. I cannot look those Marvel movies. they disobey all they look like video games. First of all, they obey all rules of physics. You can't have Hulk in the foreground on the San Francisco Golden State gutten, the San Francisco bridge, super close up. And all of the San Francisco in the background also be in focus. As soon as you do that, as soon as you don't play depth of field, the audience knows it's not real, the audience knows they're watching a video game. And it just takes you out of the movie. So like even the whole ending when dinajpur yells spacecrafts that he's stolen from the World Fair, crashes into the ground and comes racing up to will and Tommy and a good break through the use of fear. Those were all miniatures, they were giant miniatures, they were all 2025 30 feet big. But it was all shot. Real. Because if that was visual, whenever you go the visual effects, you can put the camera anywhere, you can cheat, you can play with depth of field, and the audience knows that. So Truthfully, I always thought that men and black was a buddy movie with a few visual effects. If you look at it again, it's very rude. And I mean, it's real. And it looks great. But there's not a lot of VFX in it.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:07
I guess you I guess I guess you're right. It is a lot of miniature work there. I mean, it started getting a little bit more like in by two and three, there was a little bit more visual effects in it. But the first one I think was You're right, it was very more pure in the sense of in camera as much as you could.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:22:21
That's right, whatever you can do in camera, whatever you can do with puppets, even if they're, you know, radio controlled puppets or whatever, the whole Men in Black three, you know, the whole Cape Canaveral thing and all that that's all visual effects. I mean, we built the big, fat, but you know, it's way enhanced and all that. But the first one was not a big visual effects movie. But I've always been comfortable around visual effects, you know? Until you know why, because visual effects require pre production. And we talked about this earlier at NYU, when film stock was so expensive. Yeah, always, always design shots way early, because the worst place to ever make a decision is on a movie set. The worst place is not knowing where you want the camera and you'll look out the window as a set. And the crew is all lying on like sound blankets and sunpad we're playing frisbee and a day is a couple of $100,000 a day to shoot and you're wasting time while crews are sleeping. That's devastating. But all visual effects acquires the same thing that low budget requires which is everything is pre planned and there are no surprises
Alex Ferrari 1:23:40
if I you know men and black reminds me of like 48 hours with with aliens basically. In a sense, in a sense like that, because this is the buddy cop movie and they're complete opposites and stuff. I I'm trying to I'm just racking my a crack in my band back and I can't think of a movie. Like men and black or like the buddy. Action sci fi. I think it was the kind of the first one to do that. Am I wrong?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:24:08
I don't know. Because I'm not a film buff. But you might be right. What's the other one? Midnight Express? No, not Midnight Express. Brolin. Josh? No, no, that's
Alex Ferrari 1:24:19
midnight run. But I'm talking about sigh run. Yeah, so
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:24:23
midnight run is like 48 hours and that it's a buddy movie. This comedy disguises his big mob thing. And in fact, I always thought that Marty whenever there were those big chase scenes and police cars, that I didn't want that I wanted more buddy stuff. And so I think men in black may have been the first buddy science fiction movie, but I don't know. I don't want to take credit for it. But I will say it's a buddy movie. And chemistry was fantastic.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:55
Yeah, that's the thing that people when directors and filmmakers don't understand chemistry We can save you. And so much like if you have good chemistry with actors, it can save that production value. It could save other things like because people are so drawn in by that chemistry. And you could mean Well, we'll just just oozes chemistry, you know, like his his his his energy, but with mixed with Tommy Lee, who is completely opposite, but they get, it's kind of like the ying and yang just works so beautifully together.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:25:26
It's George Burns and Gracie Allen with Will Smith is Gracie Allen and Tommy Lee Jones is George Burns. And, in fact, Tommy, on the first movie hated me because he thought he was in a comedy and kept trying to be funny. And I kept explaining to comedy, Tommy, that. You're going to be funny by doing nothing. You are the audience's point of view. You are the reaction shots. The reality is that more or less, you're the straight man. And he didn't understand coming at all. Well loved him. I loved him. Tommy loved Well, I loved Well, we all love each other. But Tommy really had a problem with me. Luckily, well, so it's okay. And the other problem with Tommy is, he's like a little kid. He was always playing with it. neuralyzer and breaking them. And whenever they had to shoot their gun, because they were space guns, you know, and they didn't make any sound. And he didn't have where he would make a town so he'd go. Army. Go don't make the sound of the gun. I didn't. Well, Tommy. Yeah, you you did it again. Sir. You made the sense. No, I did. Tommy will tell it. Alright, we do. Eight takes where Tommy would one after another like that and not hear a sound so he would do it. Go he was making the gun sound. It's fun. But it was great.
Alex Ferrari 1:26:56
It's funny that my short film had the same problems in it that men in black did because I had guns and my actors would go, I'm like, dude, stop that. We can't, you're ruining the audio.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:27:09
Right? And we're speaking you make sound.
Alex Ferrari 1:27:12
That was the thing. It was like you got to stop to the Pew Pew or the Chuck Chuck.hat's amazing. Now you also directed another film, which I absolutely loves one of my favorite comedies of all time is Get Shorty. Love, love, love Get Shorty. And and the way you got Get Shorty was through mama Throw Momma from the Train all those years back and you kind of explain that that whole little connection.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:27:42
Studio didn't want to make Elmore Leonard movies no movie that Elmo that had been turned into a movie from an Elmore Leonard novel had ever made money and no studio wanted to make movies that were inside Hollywood. The reason I bring that up is because I bought the paperback of Get Shorty and no one has the rights to it. You know normally right everyone would think you know before you know in galley, they would have read it bought it. Elmore was like not someone that the studio wanted to work with, because none of his movies had done well. Not that he had written, but that he had written a novel not the screenplays, but in any case, I'm on this cruise in my wife I read Get Shorty. And for me Get Shorty is about a guy who's so self confident the Travolta role that he will go from a numbers runner to a big time producer just because everyone in Hollywood is afraid. So if someone comes in with any self confidence, they will rule. Right? Well, I was thinking, who's the most self confident person I I've ever worked with, for no apparent reason. And that's Danny DeVito. So I read the book. I say, sweetie, read this book. Bufalino really, really read the book. She says, Danny, I know exactly. Because Danny is so self I called Danny. I go, I just read a book that you should read. He goes, Okay, I'll buy it. you produce, I'll produce it. You'll direct it. I'll start I go great. He gets the rights to it. He calls me up about six weeks later, says we got the rights. I said you love it. He goes I don't know. I haven't read it. I just bought it because you wanted it. Right. That's pretty great. Wow. So it takes years every studio passes for those two reasons. Elmore Leonard. It's a movie script about moviemaking, Holly. Yes. God Frank has written a brilliant script. For years, no one wants to make it in fact, near the end of the five years it took to even get a studio to agree to make it I get 10 men and black. I get hired to do men and black. I quit men and black, because I'm not getting along with the producers.
Alex Ferrari 1:30:11
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:30:22
I direct Get Shorty. And then men and black is still available. I see the head is the president of production at the IV at this shore with Huma Thurman. I go up to him and I go by the way, I finished Get Shorty I'm in post production if you want to rehire me to do men and black so now avail so
Alex Ferrari 1:30:43
You shot half of men and black. And then you you have left?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:30:47
Oh no, no, no, I quit before we ever shot and Scott that I like. So I quit. And also because we finally got MGM, who agreed to make Get Shorty. And I'll tell you another story about confidence. And how we got Get Shorty made the budget forget shorty was $30,250,000 mg, MGM said, we'll make the movie for 30 million US to lose 250,000. So Danny DeVito and the line producer and I went to MGM. And I said, All right, have you want to lose the 250? And they said, Well, we've been looking at the budget and truthfully, the budgets very tight. You know, but we do have a few suggestions. You've got 20 $500 down for parking. Isn't that a lot? Can we lose it? Granted? Nope. can't lose it. You got to it's a union rule. You got to pay for parking. If you're on a set instead of sage. But couldn't we do it for 1500? I go, Oh, Jesus, we're gonna save $1,000 here. And Graham says no, it's 2500. And then someone else says, Oh, wait, in this scene. Look at these first four lines. We use the first four lines. Yeah, and I go you know, that won't help because they still need exactly the same setup. repaid see so and then I said look, I'm going to tell you how to lose $250,000 and if we lose the 250 do we ever green light can I leave this room with a green light and we can do this movie if we can lose the 250,000 and now Danny and grammar shot because they know the budget and they know we can't lose 250 and Mike mark is the head of MGM says yes, if you can lose the 250 It's a greenlit movie. And I said okay, there's a scene where Travolta's visit Gene Hackman, his character on the set of one of his 10 day wonders, Gene Hackman is basically playing Roger Corman, you know, Pac Man does these 10 day movies, I said, it's a great scene and it'll be bloody hatchets. And we've got Ben Stiller, who's willing to play the young, and why you recently graduated director. And I said, that scene takes place over two nights. Each night costs $125,000. It's a great scene, but it doesn't move the story forward. If we lose that theme. No one will ever say How did he know? It's just a great scene. But it's not a plot scene. It's a comedy scene. And my philosophy is if you can take a scene out of a movie without it hurting the movie, get rid of it. It's why Get Shorty is the only movie that's over 90 minutes that I've ever directed. And that's because the script is 20 pages longer than a normal movie. So I said we lose that theme. It's two nights 125,000 a night. We save 250 we're on budget and we can get a green light. Mike says find another way. I love that thing. I said you don't need it, Mike and you can't afford it. seen this house? Because it's not out. I love that scene. I said the budget 30 million. With that scene out. We're on budget. We're on schedule. Now. You can't have it. You could Don't tell me I can't have it. I'm the head of the studio and have it because why would take the habit. I said you got it. So I said okay, just to be clear. up this movie is now $30,250,000 with that theme in there. He says I just told you that so I said okay, just checking. So, but the reason I had power was because I was willing to lose the thing. If I wasn't willing to lose the scene, if I was faking it. They would have known it, but I meant it and I met And by the way, this scene is not in the movie. We shot it. And it's a hilarious scene. And Ben Stiller is great. And there's a joke because Travolta who's never been on a movie set who loves movie movies keeps sitting on different director chairs. And people keep saying get out of my fucking chair. So that's sort of a comedy runner. Ben Stiller was hilarious. But it didn't move the story forward. And I could tell the audience was going to get antsy because it came after two other scenes, that were really good thing, but also didn't move the plot forward. It came after the scene at at the movie theater where Travolta is watching Touch of Evil, great thing, you could cut that out of the movie, it's just the scene that shows how much Travolta loves movies. And he's mouthing lines, you know, he's mouthing the line, the fat guy did you know, whatever. So I have my first recruited audience screening. And I have Final Cut on that movie. And Mike Marcus comes to the first recruited audience screening. And the scene isn't in there. Because I knew it wasn't going to work. I didn't even want to try putting it in. Even though it was a great thing. Because once you lose an audience in a comedy, it takes 1015 minutes to ever get them back again. And you hear them scratching their butts and coughing. So I didn't want to ruin the first recruited audience screaming so Marcus is sitting right next to me, Mike Marcus, and he says, Hey, fucker, where's the scene? I said, Mike, it's not going to work. Even look, you have Final Cut. Will you do me a favor? at our next recruited screening? Will you just put it in there so I can see it and convince you otherwise? I said, Mike, I'm going to lose it. shithead you have Final Cut. I've seen it this way. Just do it. Everyone calls me shithead and little fuckers. The next recruited audience screening we have I put the scene in there. Halfway through the scene is starting here. The audience cough and Russell. And Mike leans over to me and says, You fucking piece of shit. You were right.
Alex Ferrari 1:37:31
But what's fascinating is that you pull the Jedi mind trick on him. in that meeting is like for that extra 250,000 it was fascinating how you turned it on. On on its head. It's it's Hollywood 101 it really is a masterclass of how to work that room, if you ever able to get into that room.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:37:50
That's right. But the secret is, you have to mean it. And you have to be what dumped off at. Scott Rudin does the same thing, but he's full of shit. When he says, Come on, let's jump off the cliff. Or if I can't have Maggie Smith, I'm gonna you know, shut down. I don't believe Listen, did you ever see Jake has been movies a TV set?
Alex Ferrari 1:38:14
No, I haven't. I know that.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:38:17
Jake has been directed this fantastic comedy about pilot season called the TV set with David's the company. And part of the issue part of what David's the company is a writer director. And they what they do is they they know they want this actor. They want actor a, but you never bring one actor into the studio room to audition. You always need someone who the studio can say no, don't like them, right. But you usually bring in an actor who's good enough that if they say we want after being you're not stuck, but in Jake's movie, they bring an actor a who they all want, you know, except the studio and then the Worst Actor ever and the actor and the studio of course as well. We love that terrible actor we so the company's characters stuck directing the Worst Actor ever. So you don't want to pull a fast one and and be called on it. Like you don't want my markets and say, All right. 30 million means not having that theme. So I'm not having it. So that's why don't pick a scene you really want pick a scene that you really believe. If that's and I'm always a big believer, I always say I'd rather do 90 scenes perfectly, where I have the right budget and the right cranes and the right actors and I didn't need a day player and I was able to cast this guy, the 91 scene where every scene is compromised because there's just too many scenes. So I couldn't have the techno crane and I had to go with a day player. So I'm always willing to pare down the budget to lose stuff I don't need to the stuff I have left, I can do really well. They're very smart. By
Alex Ferrari 1:40:12
Now. Can you tell me what your favorite part of the whole filmmaking process is?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:40:18
My two favorite parts of pre production and post production. The worst part is directing and being on the set, because I have to, to follow his favorite part, his post. And it's kind of my favorite part too. But you know, to follow says, the worst your movie is ever going to be in the last day you're shooting, and then you get to make it good again. Now, you wanted a sunset, but it was overcast that day, there's no sunset, but you have to shoot anyway. It's only disappointing. You never leave the set at the end of the day thing. That was surprisingly much better than I thought you leave the set every day. I don't know if we have the theme or not. But that's we're moving on. On down tomorrow, so. And then in post production, you lose stuff, you get rid of stuff. You have ADR, you have music, you have visual effects. You suddenly discover I remember there was a scene in Addams Family. And Didi and I were about five months into cutting and I said to dt, should we just lose the thing and vd one? Yeah. And I said, How long? Have you known that? She said, Well, a couple of months. And I said, Well, why didn't you tell me? She said, like a good psychiatry. She said, you had to discover, to lose. And I suppose we lose it. She said, yeah. And or sometimes when the third act isn't working, don't touch the third act, touch the second act. Oh, people are so bored in the second act that they've given up on the third act. just shorten the 32nd. Act and change nothing the third act, and people say, why don't you change is the third act, not a thing. It was all an act an act. So post production, what you learn is that film is a very fluid plastic medium where you can change things. Also audiences are so stupid about continuity, and oh, yeah, change things. And, you know, in blood simple, we use five different cars for race. There's a Fiat, there's an Oldsmobile, a bow, a Buick, and another Buick one Buick was yellow and one was green. And no one notices that they're fun that ray is driving five different cars. And they think it's just one cartel. My favorite part is, post. My second favorite part is prep, where you have all the time in the world to design the shots and figure stuff out. And suddenly, you're with the writer saying, Hey, listen, I, you know, can you add a thing here? Because I need more space to get from A to B for the actor because I want to be tracking with him the whole time without a better way? Or do you say the production designer? Can you move that window so it's exactly opposite the door so roll can open the door and I could pull back through the whole set out the other window and see pubert been jumping off, whatever. So post and prep, anything that's not dressed related.
Alex Ferrari 1:43:24
I like and shooting is the most stress related there is and what I find what I find funny is that no matter no matter how big the movie, or how small the movie, The problems are similar, and they're just the same like everything you just said, I have gone through on my indie movies, my indie productions, my indie commercial, doing commercial work a music video work a TV work, it's all the same $300 million dollars or $30,000
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:43:54
it's absolutely blood sample had the same problems that men and black three had except men and black three, actually, we could just throw more money at it and play simple. We could. So but it's the same problem. You know, losing fat, that kind of stuff. Wrong actor.
Alex Ferrari 1:44:12
Yes, yes. Now, can you tell us about your new book? Barry Sonnenfeld call your mother.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:44:19
Yeah, well, the second half of the book is pretty much what we've been talking about you know, it's about meeting the colon and blood sample and there's a lot about Addams Family and there's a lot about there's very little about men and black or any of that stuff because it says you know always hope for sequel but to the second half is about my career in the movie business, Scott Rutan, all that stuff. So first is how I got to where I am today, which is by having totally insane narcissistic parent. The title of the book Barry sonnenfeld. Call your mother is because at 220 in the morning Night, April, January 1970, while Jimi Hendrix was warming up Madison Square Garden 19,600 people over the PA system, Barry sonnenfeld call your mother titled The bug, my mother was very protective over protective I said I'd be home at two, it was 220. So therefore in that 20 minutes, she assumed I had died, obviously, obviously obvious. And this is, you know, way before painful as this is before you know pagers or cell phones or anything, he has to go to the payphone. And call your mother weeping because you assume your father has died. because how else would someone be able to convince anyone who picked up the phone to go through enough levels to get this Weeping Woman to speak to the person who has to decide Yes, we will make this announcement. I mean, it's truly amazing. And I'll tell you a funny story. I was there that night with my girlfriend, we were seniors at the highest School of Music. And, and due to the Coronavirus, she had been looking to some bio boxes and found the ticket stub of the fact that she and I went to the mats at Shea Stadium. The day the Mets won the World Series and had sent me that stub and she said, You know I couldn't find your dress. So I did some research. And I see you have a new book out called Barry sonnenfeld call your mother. I remember that evening. So well, you must really remember it. So I have proved that I'm not making up the story that my girlfriend from 50 years ago, found me send me the ticket stub for the Mets game. And remember that, that it referred to the Madison Square Garden. So the first half is about my young life, how I became sort of a person fed with neurosis. And based on all the sort of adventures I had growing up. And they they sort of interweave like in the middle of a story about my fear of flying based on my mother's convincing pilots to drop the oxygen mask because she thought she was having a heart attack while flying on our first commercial flight to Miami. I'll make our move. I'll interweave that with having a meeting with MC Hammer. At the end of Adams family, you know he wrote this great family, of course, yeah, they do what they want to do say what
Alex Ferrari 1:47:44
They want to say live, how they want to live, play how they want to play, of course.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:47:50
But that that fear of flying sorry, becomes leading MC Hammer, the fact that I knew I was going to sell one of my 1962 Lincoln Continentals to a black person. And when I was meeting hammer, I parked my Lincoln right in front of where we were having our meeting at Paramount so that he could see the the car and I said to hammer how many cards do you own? This is after, you know, we convinced them to write the song. He says, Well, I have 12 and I said I think it's going to be 13 and he says, Wait, that's not your Lincoln, is it? So I felt MC Hammer my Lincoln. So these stories are into woven within the body of the book for the most part,
Alex Ferrari 1:48:30
You are fairly well adjusted for a man raised like with a mother that neurotic I I too had a Cuban mom, a Cuban Cuban mom from Miami. So absolutely, if it's 202 you're dead. If you're dead, you're dead. You're dead in the streets. If it's two, if it's 220 The devil is taking your soul. So there's no there's no confirmation of the dead body. So now we have to up it dead is not enough. The soul is gone.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:49:04
By those Cuban mothers can give the Jewish mothers who run for their money.
Alex Ferrari 1:49:08
Man, I feel you my friend, I feel it. Now 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?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:49:20
Okay, if you're a writer, write a script because what we talked about is that a script is something that you own, that no one can take away from you. You can either sell it or insist that you're the director or they you ever producing credit or whatever. write a script. If you want to learn how to make films, I would say try to get a job in the cutting room. Because editing is where you learn to structure and storytelling. The great thing about nowadays is because there are video cameras that are very available and cheap and because there's so many outlets. The other thing I would do is if I wanted to be a film director or a cameraman or something Or filmmaker, I'd find a couple of friends that are very good actors. And I would write some stuff for them and shoot these eight or 10 minutes things and start to develop storylines or characters for these little show. So, you know, I did recently did a q&a with Jerry Seinfeld and said 92nd Street y in New York. And someone said, to Jerry, how do you become a writer? And I loved his answer so much. He said, How do you write there, he said, You got a pen, and you get a pad. And you turn off your phone, and you turn off your computers, and you sit there. And he said, you're writing, even if you haven't written anything, just don't touch your phone. That's, and at the end of the day, maybe you've written four lines, maybe you haven't written anything, but you your process of sitting there with that pen and that pad, you are writing. And I think it's so brilliant and so true. And then the same way, if you declare yourself a director, and you start directing, you are a director. So get out there, make those small, little films, find a couple of great actors write some funny or interesting or, you know, there was this guy, when GoPro first did this amazing parkour thing. And he got himself a feature from it. And I don't think this feature did well, but it was just so visually arresting was about an eight minute video, you know, where the camera went everywhere? So what I would say is, start doing stuff, don't talk about it, go out and start shooting.
Alex Ferrari 1:51:44
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:51:50
Okay, I'm going to talk about that film industry. The lesson I took me the longest time to learn, and I finally learned it is, although this book might queer that deal, because I might anger some people. But in any case, I would always when I had disagreements about the studio, you know, with on the men and black movies or whatever. And we were going to do some reshoots, or whatever. And some and, you know, head of the studio, whatever had ideas I go, I couldn't disagree more, or can I totally disagree with that? That's what we need. Will Smith kept saying to me, he called me bad. Keep saying bad. That's, that doesn't help. Don't don't take that approach, because now they're on the defensive. And I'm many black three, I wanted to do some additional photography. And the head of the studio had one, one series of ideas, and I had a totally different set of ideas. She presented her set of ideas. And instead of saying, I totally disagree, I said, I so. So see why you think those scenes are great, and I so appreciate why those seeds are exactly what you think we need. And without any more saying why I think those are great ideas. Here, here's what I have come up with, that would say totally different stuff. But I would get it and I was allowed to do what I wanted to do, because I didn't immediately anger everyone by saying, I disagree. Or that's a stupid idea, or that's not what we need. Instead, I'd say, totally understand all those reasons. I think they're all great ideas. I have some different ideas. And I'll tell you what I think my ideas will do for us. But I no longer say bad idea. I disagree. I start out totally agreeing with them. So that they are no longer adversary. But we're on the same team. And that took me decades to learn.
Alex Ferrari 1:54:01
You're very Jedi Master esque. When you speak like this
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:54:07
250 grand. I came to Jedi very late. You don't want that person you want. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:54:19
These are not the droids you're looking for sir. Now, what was the biggest fear you had to overcome when you made or you were first walked onto a set, whether that be blood simple, or like that convinced you to? I can do this? Like what was that fear you had to overcome?
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:54:39
Well, as a cinematographer, I needed to start to see dailies and to see that the way I thought because this again, is way before video tap even. So it's not like now you're on the set and you look at a monitor and what you see is what you get, because everyone uses video cameras. So I had to discover that I was good. And that I didn't know what I was doing as a cameraman. I mean, literally, I had shot a bunch of porn and some industrials for Rabbi Gelman picture. boxes. So, on the set of blood symbol, I had never done this before, literally had never shot a feature. So I hadn't started to see stuff to see, oh, I'm okay. I can do this. And, and then when I became a director, again, I had to spend enough time with the actors. And believe me, I was totally stressed out. I fainted on The Addams Family set one morning, I, I then convinced myself just overtime, you know that. The other thing is, the more you do it, the more comfortable you get doing it. Right? is why I was saying to your audience, when they're starting out, just keep doing it, do another one, do another one, do another eight minute video, do another format. Do that. Because the more stuff you shoot, the more you realize, Oh, I see if I'm over the shoulder here with a 50 millimeter and then I come around to the other over the shoulder. And I'm on a 21 millimeter, it doesn't match and they don't look like they're in the same roomy than I should use the same lens on both over the shoulder stuff like that. You don't know until you do. And that's that's the great thing about film school. Although now you can do it on your own. Which is it allows you to make movies and until you actually make them. You don't. You can't watch a lot of movies and figure out all those things. You got to do it.
Alex Ferrari 1:56:43
Right. Yeah, you could look at someone writing music. But until you actually start kidding. I listened to a symphony. It's easy. I could do this. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. Now the toughest question of all three of your favorite films of all time.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:57:00
Oh, that's easy. Dr. Strangelove. That's my number one. I really like taxi driver. I haven't seen it in a long time. I want to say taxi driver. And I'm going to say Palm Beach story, which is a comedy directed by Preston Sturges.
Alex Ferrari 1:57:22
Now, since you said Dr. Strangelove is your favorite, I have to do a follow up question which is your favorite Kubrick film? I'm assuming you're of Kubrick fan. Dr. Strange.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:57:32
It's a strange job is my favorite movie ever. My favorite Kubrick movie number two, I would say it's 2001. I didn't like Eyes Wide Shut. I don't think I saw Clockwork Orange because it seemed too scary. You know, I've never seen a scary movie I've never seen like, shiny now, or Exorcist or anything like that. You know, the prom was when I was a kid. I want to see Jason and the Argonauts. And there's that scene was a skeleton. And it was scary movie I ever saw. I think it was like 10 and I would never do I've never seen a twilight zone or or an outer limit or anything.
Alex Ferrari 1:58:20
Never seen so sorry. More. So in your wheelhouse the comedies the comedies in the action. Yes, yes. Yes. And can you tell the audience where they can find the book and when it's out.
Barry Sonnenfeld 1:58:35
The book came out on March 10. And it's hard to get right now because Amazon, the bookstores, the claws, so I what I would say is either buy the Kindle version and read it on your iPad, there's about 100 photos in it so the iPad is a really good way to read it. Or the audio book is read by me. You get 10 hours of this voice but I'm very sarcastic while reading it I don Katz is the CEO of audible.com told me that rarely does he has he listened to a book where the reader knew where to put the quotation marks within their voice and I have great thing and I pause and just the right place. So he thought I did a very good job reading it which was surprising to me because I didn't want to read it I wanted max Greenfield curry that Max's as become a friend of mine but they wanted hash one is the publisher wanted me to read it. So I did. So you can order it as a hardcover from either you know, Amazon or Barnes and Noble it just takes a while because your backlog because of shipping other things for Coronavirus and stuff like that. But I would say if you want immediate gratification even the audio book, the audible dotcom book or the download the Kindle version,
Alex Ferrari 2:00:03
And it makes the most sense that you, you would be a good audio book reader because you tell stories you've been telling stories your entire life. So you have that knack already to just the pacing, the story of just listening to you tell your story so brilliantly. The pacing, the timing, it's it's there. I'm sure at a party, you are the center of attention.
Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:29
Well, I'm an only child and I'm Jewish. So I'm supposed to be.
Alex Ferrari 2:00:33
Exactly. And before we leave, can you tell the audience your philosophy of life?
Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:44
Yeah, nine words.
Alex Ferrari 2:00:47
Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:48
Regret the past. Fear the present. Read the future.
Alex Ferrari 2:00:55
Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:57
Well, okay, I'm gonna leave you with this.
Alex Ferrari 2:00:59
Yeah, go ahead.
Barry Sonnenfeld 2:01:00
There's no upside in being an optimist. There is only an upside in being a pessimist. And I'll tell you why. If you get on a plane, and you stand with a guy sitting next to you, and you say, this plane is going to crash before we get to Cleveland, either one of two things happens. If the plane starts to nosedive, you get turned to the guy sitting next to you and go, Oh, was I right? or walk? Or if the plane doesn't crash, you win. Because you've landed successfully in Cleveland. It's a win win, as long as you're a pessimist.
Alex Ferrari 2:01:38
Because if you would have been positive in that situation, like yeah, I think we're gonna be clear sailing. And if it starts going nailed down, you're just like, Well,
Barry Sonnenfeld 2:01:46
No win, no elbowing the guy next to you going Hello. Oh, yeah. Sorry, always be a pessimist that's my.
Alex Ferrari 2:01:56
And on that note, sir, I truly thank you for all the time you dedicated to to the show today, it has been an absolute pleasure. I know, we could probably speak for another four or five hours. But thank you so much for your wisdom and your humor, and your entertainment today. Because it's been an absolute joy talking to you. So thank you, Barry.
Barry Sonnenfeld 2:02:16
You too, it's been a total pleasure and I stay safe. And we'll see each other when I eventually get to LA.
Alex Ferrari 2:02:24
I want to thank Barry so much for dropping not only knowledge bombs on the tribe today, but easily one of the most entertaining episodes I have ever had the pleasure of doing here on the indie film hustle podcast. Thank you so so much, Barry, if you want to check out Barry's book and get even more of these amazing stories, you can head over to www dot indiefilmhustle.com/384 for the show notes. And it's also available in audio book with his lovely voice, narrating the amazing stories that he has. So if you're sitting around quarantine and wanted to sit down and enjoy some great Hollywood stories, this is the book for you. I want to thank you guys for listening. I am working on something fairly big. Again because I'm in quarantine now. So I am now more focused than I usually am, which is kind of scary. But I am working on something pretty big for the tribe, something I haven't done before. something pretty epic. And I hope to release it or let you guys know about it in the coming weeks. So keep an eye out for that. Thank you guys again so much for listening. As always. Keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. Stay home, and I'll talk to you soon.
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WATCH A FREE 3 PART LOW-BUDGET FILM PRODUCING VIDEO SERIES
Taught by veteran award-winning film producer and author Suzanne Lyons. The filmmaker behind over a dozen profitable low-budget feature films.