In today’s episode, I have the pleasure of interviewing first-time feature film director Alex Lehmann. And his first film is a hell of a way to launch a directing career. His new film is called Blue Jay starring Mark Duplass (who also wrote and produced) and Sarah Paulson (recent Emmy Winner for The People vs OJ Simpson).
Blue Jay just had it’s a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews:
“If the hour and a half spent inside this story seems fleeting, it’s only because sometimes that’s the best you can ask of a good nostalgia trip.” – IndieWire
“Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson have extraordinary chemistry, painting a cumulative portrait of the fragility and rareness of being truly in sync with a partner.” – Slate Magazine
Meeting by chance when they return to their tiny California hometown, two former high-school sweethearts (Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson) reflect on their shared past through the lens of their differently dissatisfied presents, in this tender, wise and affecting chamber drama from first-time feature director Alex Lehmann.
BTW, Alex Lehmann used DaVinci Resolve to create the black and white LUT for Blue Jay. Check out my conversation with Alex Lehmann and if you listen to until the end he promises to give out Mark Duplass’s personal cell number. Apparently this is how Mark likes to be pitched. Enjoy!
Blue Jay’ is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and most other VOD platforms.
Alex Ferrari 6:35
I like to welcome to the show Alex Lehmann, man. Thanks for coming by man.
Alex Lehmann 6:38
Hey, man, thanks for having me.
Alex Ferrari 6:40
So I wanted to first off, get to your origin story. How did you get into the film business?
Alex Lehmann 6:47
My high school had a really really swanky TV studio. And I spent all of my free time there like my free periods and my lunches. And I would stay after after school until the TV studio teacher would lock up. And he would drop me off at home actually, on the way home probably probably this day and age it would be not out. Right.
Alex Ferrari 7:11
I was about to say today not a habit.
Alex Lehmann 7:13
But my house, you know, my house was on the way home and so he would just you know, I'd say to the TV studio till like five o'clock 530 every day. How's it going? Like a lot of like school news stuff, but like I'd take cameras out and make movies with my buddies. And you know, you were an AV nerd. Basically, I was totally an AV nerd. Yeah, absolutely.
Alex Ferrari 7:34
So So you got started with the being an AV nerd, then how did that translate into actually getting a job?
Alex Lehmann 7:40
Um, well, I mean, I went to film school after after high school. And that's when I realized, like, I wanted to do more film and less TV stuff. And, and Funny enough, you know, I wanted to I wanted to direct because I, you know, I've been doing everything I've been editing, writing, you know, I was just, you know, the one man band, you know, like, we all are, what we start off with, you know, our mom's camera or whatever. And, but then, some of the other kids in school really liked the way my projects looked. And they were like, Hey, how about you come be the DP on my, like, $50,000 short film or whatever, which to me was like, you know, okay, that's, there's some fun toys there. And, and, you know, and I get to, like, you know, do bigger stuff as still films to film students. And that's when I realized I can make a living at helping people on their sets, you know, by creating the images and just kind of like, you know, sometimes little bit of hand holding for first time directors that are like, hey, I want you to be my dp but also kind of, you know, if you can help me make my movie the way your movie turned out. Right. And so I found it as, you know, a way to make a living I want you know, I was kind of scared about coming out to LA and not being able to stay out here for more than six months and go back home with my tail between my legs and my, my film degree and everything and not not know what to do with the rest of my life. So I said, Alright, cameras make me money. I'm going to keep learning about these cameras and keep using them and help people with their movies. So I did that
Alex Ferrari 9:15
for a long time. Now you were homeschooled, you go to
Alex Lehmann 9:18
Emerson College in Boston. Lots of talented people coming out of there. Oh,
Alex Ferrari 9:22
very cool. So then you went to you're an East Coast guy, and then you came out here to LA to go west young man, as they say. Absolutely. And so you've been working as a cameraman and a cinematographer for a while now, how did that prepare you to be a director?
Alex Lehmann 9:38
Well, you know, I think every director cinematographer relationship is a little different as far as you know, where the ideas originate and how much you know the this the flow of the set is being dictated by you know, camera setups or by blocking or by, you know, acting or whatever and So I found myself being hired mostly by first time directors. It wasn't it wasn't the third movie fourth movie directors that would look at my reel and go, man, he makes stuff look gorgeous and you know, it's time to you know, take my my third movie my fourth movie up a notch and hire this guy cuz he's got this just gorgeous look that nobody says it was more like, you know, like, I think I kind of got the reputation of like, the DP that helps you get your movie made. And, and at the same time isn't that tyrant dp who like, is actually just going to take over your movie and you know, get the shots that he wants for his first reel or like, you know, just just be, you know, be a dick about it. And I say on your pie, you
Alex Ferrari 10:45
can say deck, you can say whatever you want, sir. Alright. So, so, so, in many ways, I guess that kept you working. Because that's, you know, that's definitely somebody a lot of first time directors with like that call
Alex Lehmann 10:58
it yeah, it can be working. And for sure. I mean, I did a lot of a lot of other junk too. You know, I held plenty of cameras on reality shows and that's my first job in LA was a camera assistant on the project, greenlight series. Wow, that must have been fun. Yeah, yeah, it was real cool. And actually, is for the the horror movie for feasts. That was you know, I was on the document terian side, and just as a camera system, and then pick up an extra camera whenever I could. And, and then I eventually started shooting movies for the, for that director and for that production company. So, you know, I was kind of, it's kind of at least, I want to say smart, I guess about what reality show. I worked for knowing Hey, there's a transition into movies here. But you know, it's always it's always harrowing that those first couple jobs in LA, you want to make sure you eat it's never going to be exactly what you want to do. But you want to make sure you're you're setting yourself up for for growth and transition at least so that one worked out.
Alex Ferrari 11:58
Yeah, it's true. It never ever works out how you plan. I've never met somebody is like, Oh, yeah, this is exactly how I planned this whole thing out.
Alex Lehmann 12:06
Which, which is a theme of the movie bluejay.
Alex Ferrari 12:09
Yes, yes. Which will bring great into blue. Jay, can you tell me about how Blue Jay came to being?
Alex Lehmann 12:16
Yeah, so um, ironically, things never work out. The way they're planned. And, and there is no golden ticket in in the movie industry. Except Mark duplass asked me if I wanted to direct dp a movie that he wrote. So
Alex Ferrari 12:35
that's a pretty good golden ticket. I just got I'm just throwing that out there. That's not a bad golden ticket brother.
Alex Lehmann 12:40
Yeah, I guess I guess after 12 or 13 years of, of, you know, kind of busting my butt. I
Alex Ferrari 12:46
know you're an overnight success, or you're an overnight success like everybody else.
Alex Lehmann 12:50
It was Yes, it was, you know, I had done some other work with Mark. But yeah, so blue j blue j comes up, Mark says, you know, we just finished work together on this documentary. I made Asperger's or us which is worth getting into at some point, but, but he liked working with me and said, I got this little film that I've been conceptualizing. And here's like, a two page outline. What do you think about what do you think about it? I was like, Yeah, okay. Yeah. Okay, we're doing this. That's great. And so, you know, so yeah, my first narrative feature is, I consider myself incredibly lucky. fortunate. I understand that that doesn't always happen.
Alex Ferrari 13:35
You think? Yeah, so you got so and then you met Mark working on the league?
Alex Lehmann 13:41
Yeah, so I was a camera I was a camera operator on the league and, and we, you know, we shared our passion for for fart jokes on the set, and then we'd hang out at craft services, we would talk about her or like little indie films that we loved watching and you know, kind of our, you know, we shared similar taste for things like that. And we were both kind of melancholic, often dark or depressive in our thoughts, but you know, introspective will just
Alex Ferrari 14:11
say, you're an introvert, an introvert, introspective, introspective,
Alex Lehmann 14:14
introspective, but we so we vibed on some stuff. And he caught wind of this this documentary that I was on our hiatus weeks, I'd go out and shoot this, this comedy troupe called Asperger's or us and these these guys, you know, they have, that they're all have Asperger's syndrome. And and they, they they've been building this the sketch show, and I found it really fascinating. So I fly out on my hiatus weeks, and I, you know, just make this documentary by myself as a one man band. And then I was editing it And finally, you know, felt like I had something to show and I figured, maybe I should show it to mark and see what happens a guy, he's a guy who can get shit done. So Yeah, for anybody listening to this at the very end of the podcast, so listen to this whole I'll give you marks cell phone number, his home address. He wants submissions from everyone.
Alex Ferrari 15:17
Of course, please yeah, if you could give a direct Yeah, direct, you could direct cell phone would be perfect.
Alex Lehmann 15:24
I've been working with a guy for you know, for four years. And it was still incredibly you know, I don't like asking people for things and so it was incredibly uncomfortable for me to even just kind of bring it up.
Alex Ferrari 15:37
Hey, do you want to kind of look at my documentary?
Alex Lehmann 15:39
Yeah, exactly. That, you know, thankfully, the, the lead was ending, so it was like, Okay, if he hates it, or if like, he just doesn't want to have anything to do with it. At least we don't have, like, a whole a whole other season where it's gonna be just awkward on set every time like, Hey, man, I saw you. Yeah, you know, it was a, it was, oh, hey, the carrot sticks are coming out. Gotta go. You know, I knew like I whatever. Like, even if the guy never talks to me again, at least I know. Like, I busted my ass on this documentary, I put my money into it, I put, I put you know, a ton of effort into it. And I believed in it and says, like, I like this is this is I'm taking this one shot. This is the one shot I'm taking it. And, and he liked it. And so, you know, he gave me a couple of notes. And he, you know, he and his brother came on as executive producers and you know, helped me kind of finish it out from a financial and creative perspective. And, you know, we got it, we got it to south by that we sold it to Netflix and all that kind of stuff that just wouldn't have happened without a guy like Mark behind it. And we just really enjoyed working together.
Alex Ferrari 16:48
So Mark, Mark, is that 800 pound gorilla without question in the room. He is he's he's him and his brother. I mean, they've been doing and I mean, I've talked about mark on the show many times and on the website, I'm a huge fan of marks. And and what he does in puffy chair and the whole mumble core movement when it started and stuff like that. And he's an inspiration man, he really is an inspiration of what, what can be done in the film industry without question and they seems at least he seems very down to earth.
Alex Lehmann 17:19
He's such a jerk.
Alex Ferrari 17:23
Alex Lehmann 17:24
great actor. That's all I got to say. Great. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And to boot. He's just just a very kind human being who just Yeah, he just, he just listens to people. And he's just very present. So
Alex Ferrari 17:39
Alex Lehmann 17:40
Alex Ferrari 17:42
So how was it and so you're directing your first narrative. All right, and then you've got your directing a thing written by or film written by Mark duplass. And then you're going to direct Mark duplass and Sarah Paulson in a movie? How do you go about that?
Alex Lehmann 18:00
Well, um, you know, we, we were going off of, you know, not a complete script, we were going off of a script and I guess you could call it
Alex Ferrari 18:14
it was gonna ask about the writing. How does it is it like his normal writing improv heavy kind of stuff? What's his process as far as the writing and how the script is brought up?
Alex Lehmann 18:22
I don't, I don't know what his process is for everything. And I think this one was a little different. But, but I can tell you as far as the process for this one, we you know, we started he had two pages. And you're gonna think like, two pages that really must not have had a lot. Those two pages had everyone every word had importance, is it kind of amazing when I read it was like, wow, these two pages tell the entire story and more importantly, Tell, tell, uh, you know, have a mood have a tone that just, you know, is just, it just, it just hits you, you know, at the core. So we started with that, and, you know, we he and I already know, back and forth, like some thoughts and kind of built, built it out a little bit. And then, and then we cast Sarah, and we had a couple of production meetings, where Sarah Mark myself, and a couple of the film's producers who were insanely talented and generous in their, their ideas, Mel aslin and Zanna Rhonda and Sid fleischman. They would, they would, we would all sit together and it was half a half prep, where we would just kind of discuss the story and like kind of throw out ideas and talk about what was resonating what themes we were kind of, you know, finding as as subtext. And part of it was like, group therapy where we were, we were starting to tell our stories, you know, our high school sweetheart, you know, our guy. There's High School moment stuff which is but it's you know it's amazing because you end up I mean it was kind of like The Breakfast Club right where everybody just has put themselves out there so hard in front of everyone that you build this trust and this bond and and so we you know we would throw all this stuff out and Mark would you know go back and write some more based on what we're doing and I started realizing that the most important thing I could do was was listen to kind of what everyone else was saying especially mark and Sarah. We shot the film chronologically the guy had ideas I wanted to throw out here and there but but everybody had so many good ideas that it started turning into okay what like make sure that you're not just you know when you're not talking make sure you're not just thinking of your own idea make sure you're you're really listening to especially what Mark and Sarah are connecting to and what what story they want to tell because otherwise you know, you just get you know, it isn't conversations a lot of times like people check out and they're not listening to you anymore Just thinking about what they're gonna say next. And it says like I gotta be so present so aware of what they're saying or even just like you know, what, what it feels like they're thinking when they're not talking and so I kind of just really tried to pick up what what you know the stories they wanted to tell where and what what you know, they wanted to bring to it because you know, everybody's got some personal stuff that that was thrown into this film and we changed some of the details and everything we want to protect everybody but it's a very personal movie in a collective fashion
Alex Ferrari 21:38
so it's a little bit of a little bit of every buddy stories in this and one way shape or form in that group they were talking about absolutely so that's why it's so you know, and I've seen like I told you earlier I've only been able to see half of it because I just got access to it a little bit ago but the parts that I've seen a little bit over half the movie already I can there is that honesty that realness it doesn't seem manufactured it doesn't seem like it just came out of somebody's head at least it feels a little it feels real if
Alex Lehmann 22:09
that's what we're going for for sure is like a richness a richness in in in honesty and honesty This is not the the most plot heavy film you're ever going to see but but as far as far as the characters like they're very well developed characters and and you know, yeah, there's just everything that that they say is coming from a genuine place, even when it's not like you know, from the actors, it's just it is coming from somewhere. But But I think that to finally answer your question I'm the most I think the most important thing that I could do directing actors who are amazing and way more experienced than I am who don't need me to help them with their acting The only thing the biggest thing I could do was really just listen to to the moment and find what was genuine and just kind of in between takes me like, like yeah, this like you said like this really resonated like let's go in this direction and we shot everything chronologically so we It was really about just kind of sitting in on on on a really intimate you know, conversation between two people and kind of letting them know what what was working what was resonating what felt real and and I got to bring you know my documentarian background into this where, you know, you're chasing story as a documentary, and, you know, you're not dictating what happens, but when you see something that you like, or that's interesting, or that, that makes you think, or ask more questions, you you dig deeper. And so that was, I would say, that's how I was, you know, directing other than the visual stuff obviously, as I was shooting the film as well. So it's kind of wearing both of those hats
Alex Ferrari 24:00
so so then what did you guys have a final script? Or was like what was the final piece of paper that you guys were working with on set? Was it just basically a big outline? Or what was the actual process? Yeah, there's
Alex Lehmann 24:12
probably like 1520 page script meant and then there were certain scenes that like we would talk about the day before knowing that we we actually wanted a full script for that. So you know, there's a couple scenes where mark you know, would go home at night and type type, you know, type up that three to five pages and, and we'd have that the next morning, but most most of the film was shot on a, you know, off of a 15 to 20 page document. And and shooting chronologically.
Alex Ferrari 24:42
And as far as you as a director is a kind of, you know, because I know normally in a you know, what they teach in film, school and all that kind of stuff. You have that whole you know, your whole script and everything. This is a very unique, different process, though. It's becoming more and more common nowadays. Because of Mark and Joe Swanberg and Lynn Shelton and those and those directors and filmmakers but do you find yourself as a director kind of just almost like a documentary or you're trying to catch the moment because the moments not scripted sometimes it's it just comes out do you find yourself kind of like just just preparing yourself to catch that moment?
Alex Lehmann 25:17
Yeah I think we were going for a feeling more than a precision in words or actions and so as long as we were kind of capturing the nostalgic melancholy and as you know as long as we were like feeling that that the characters of Jim and Amanda we're you know evolving together developing you know, new and interesting dynamics which when you were working with Mark duplass and Sarah Paulson like that, they're gonna do that they're just they're that good you know, as long as you've got that it's it's it's Yeah, I think it's just about finding those moments and going like that's interesting you know, and you just bank US Bank A lot of those really cool moments and you you chase extra you know, kind of extra themes and extra through lines that you give yourself you know some options in post Chris donlin are editor he's cut for togetherness he's he cut creep so he's pretty familiar with you know, the the way you know these duplass Films shoot in one way or another where you know, we we cut together different versions of scenes in case we want to chase the story this way or chase the story that way so we give ourselves some options but but at the end of the day, it's always is always about walking away from a scene feeling like we went somewhere real we were we went somewhere interesting. And none of us feels like it was a lie.
Alex Ferrari 26:53
Right now you were saying you also the cinematographer as well as the director, how do you balance having both those hats on the same set because I've done it myself and it's it's challenging to say the least.
Alex Lehmann 27:08
Um yeah you know we sometimes we were shooting single camera and sometimes we were cross shooting and the first couple days I would operate one of the cameras were cross shooting I quickly learned not to do that because then I only get to see half of what's going on. So that's one way you know, you've got to do it as if you start trying to do the cross coverage for improv like you just put put someone put people on put someone else on the camera it doesn't matter if it's you know, your gaff or your camera the assistant or just you know, your mom I don't know whatever like it's more important that you are you know, watching both sides so that's an important one and that's a lesson I learned day two or three and, and then as far as everything else, my cinematography has always been about the story and that sounds kind of cliche and I kind of hated myself for just saying it because if you're like it's like what somebody has like on their website or like on their business card but but it's true like I've never been obsessed with lenses. I was just asked to write this article about like selecting the right lens and I was like no I I usually like select the lenses that that make the storytelling easier. I'm never I'm never the one that's like Oh, man, this lens has a killer flare, we got to get that like I don't care. I really I you know, I spent a little time lighting I spent a little time thinking about what the what the you know, what the look needs to be but more important to me is does the shot tell the story? And you know, does the blocking benefit the story or is it just Am I just tried to fit the blocking into the frame to make something look pretty. And and when you start thinking like okay, like how do I make the cinematography work for the story you're thinking so much about the story is that you're right back to thinking like a director anyways. So I think that if you're shooting for the story, you're not a and you have a little bit of shooting experience. You're not like fumbling through the camera menu, as long as you're, as long as you've learned the basics. That stuff kind of goes on autopilot and you're you're just working towards the story anyways, and you kind of get lost in the story.
Alex Ferrari 29:30
Now what was the size of your crew?
Alex Lehmann 29:33
We were we were we were like 1213 I think 12 1314 of us and we shot it in seven days. It's it's engineered, you know, to to be achievable with something like that. We didn't want too many people. You know, it's very intimate story. We didn't want to set with just about People being loud and everything it's not all in one location A lot of people ask like oh seven days did you shoot it all in a house, but half of it is in a house, but half of it isn't but when you have you know 1213 people on your crew you don't have a lot of fans or a lot of gear or a lot of people to move around so you can actually hop around to a bunch of places every day and just shoot more
Alex Ferrari 30:26
we'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Where did you shoot what state
Alex Lehmann 30:40
in California in crestline it's next to Big Bear
Alex Ferrari 30:44
I was gonna say it looks does it look like I thought it was like almost Colorado or Montana because of all that it just looked at it didn't look at California at all to me
Alex Lehmann 30:53
yeah it's a pretty cool area up there and and yeah we there are a couple shots specifically that like really make it feel like much much bigger mountain mountain world than than what you would expect from anything near la but yeah, it's like two hours from LA.
Alex Ferrari 31:11
Oh really? It's not that far away either. Yeah. So then what kind of lighting packages Do you use by the way
Alex Lehmann 31:19
um, I used a couple of LED like light pads light mats and like big big sources but you know they don't need to be like bright they just need to be bigger sources so that they're a little more pleasing on on actress faces. And actually, I ended up using I saw you know, there's like, like, not like the little Christmas lights but like the bigger bald ones that people use in their back in their patios and stuff. So I love the look of those I've got a couple of strands of them going around my backyard in you know around my patio table and when we're out there eating just everybody's faces like they're glowing and their eyes just have these just beautiful beautiful sparkles. And I've always thought like man this this these lights you know and the way they wrap around and they give shape they really they really create a beautiful look on people's faces but the intensity is too low because I've tried shooting stills I've tried shooting video with with them just even in my backyard I'm like it's just not not quite enough light. Well we we happen to be we shot the film with with this new Canon camera which I'll get into in a sec. Oh yeah. And it's really good at low light. So it just kind of clicked for me like oh, I'm gonna I just took down all my lights in my backyard. Not even out of like budget necessity. But but because I loved the quality of them so much. And I realized like, I'm not going to need a generator we're not going to need like crazy rigging stuff because these are just like Christmas lights. It's just use some tape and some clamps. But like you can just kind of like for anybody who's a little bit more of a lighting nerd like you can you know with because it's a it's a strand you can kind of like wrap it around so that it gives like you know better shape to the faces than just like you know,
Alex Ferrari 33:13
like but this is not practical. This is stuff off off camera using the light Yeah,
Alex Lehmann 33:17
it was off camera. Yeah, and I just read them you know, like, like up on the ceiling and tape them around and just kind of like get the shape I wanted on people's faces and knowing that the intensity of these bulbs was enough and so like you know, we got some really cool looks out of it.
Alex Ferrari 33:35
So was it so it's basically so you had some LEDs, some some basically like Flexi lights.
Alex Lehmann 33:41
I don't know what those are. But yeah, they're like like, like, two two foot by three foot led pads. I do those and and I had a bunch of Christmas lights and and natural light. Yeah, and practicals too I guess like whatever you know,
Alex Ferrari 33:57
bulbs and stuff like that some bounces here and there and basically you're done.
Alex Lehmann 34:02
Yeah, yeah, but like we didn't Yeah, we that was our that was our lighting package like we got like to
Alex Ferrari 34:06
some no 200 pounds 2000 pound grip Chuck. No, five, five ton 10 ton.
Alex Lehmann 34:11
We didn't even have like an airy kit. Like it was just you know, it was like those two light pads and and like the Christmas lights and you know, and the lamps and practicals Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 34:23
so tell me about this camera you were shooting with.
Alex Lehmann 34:24
So it was developed by canon for the military or for security. It doesn't have an onboard recorder. It doesn't have onboard power. So ready, you know ready to go. You say this is not made for filmmaking. Basically a security camera, but it's a full frame sensor that only shoots 10 ad because it basically has these giant pixels that just suck up any light that's out there. There's like photon magnets. I just geeked out big time.
Alex Ferrari 35:00
I feel you brother I feel you
Alex Lehmann 35:02
yeah and so and so yeah you end up being able to shoot it like I mean I tested it all the way to like 100,000 ISO and as long as I was getting like a half decent exposure at at that you know at that setting I the noise was not too bad and on top of that we you know we were shooting we knew we were gonna make it black and white yes it was at some grain yes and so I was like I that like now I have to worry about noise even less but but yeah the camera The camera was performing really well I got like 50,000 ISO and sometimes 100,000 ISO and yeah it also has this full frame sensor which just it you know, it's it's like what the big movies are doing a lot a lot now like with like The Revenant right like anybody was shooting 65 No, to get that feeling that that really intimate feeling. Or Tarantino shooting you know, he shot 70 notes out of a cabin not because he wanted the VISTAs but because he wanted he wanted that relation relational space with his actors inside you know, inside the cabin. Well, that full frame sensor looks gorgeous with you know, some Canon 70 primes and and it really just allows you to just be a lot closer to the actors without like having like a fisheye. That like just starts distorting and making it feel less personal. So the combination it really was, it wasn't just about a low light camera it was also like the full frame sensor and the image that it that it created with the with the center Prime's it just I don't know, it just felt like very like it was going to be a very intimate look. So yeah,
Alex Ferrari 36:56
so the next question is, why did you guys decide to shoot black and white because obviously black and white lessens your marketability but I think with the cast that you had this kind of movie it is I guess that's not as big of a of a problem as it would be for an independent filmmaker with no name actors in their movie correct but what what made you choose to shoot black and white?
Alex Lehmann 37:17
Well we I mean we have to give props to Netflix you know the do classes have a you know this development deal this four picture deal with Netflix and we knew that this film probably was going to go into that
Alex Ferrari 37:31
so is this part of that four to four picture deal?
Alex Lehmann 37:33
It is it's the first oh cool and we reached out to Netflix when we're in prep and just said like hey you know we're looking at making this movie and you know we got Sarah mark and a very small chamber piece and we want to make it black and why and they said no problem go for it.
Alex Ferrari 37:54
I hear I hear honestly I hear working with Netflix as a creator they just kind of really let you loose in a lot of ways
Alex Lehmann 38:03
yeah and you know by weight smart like i don't i don't i appreciate what they're doing and you know as a as a filmmaker, it's it's exciting. When I think about it from business perspective, it's like yeah, you know, you want to attract people who are inspired and you want to have as many different and interesting things as possible. So it's like yeah, please let it's a smart move. It's a smart move on their behalf and we're all very thankful for it. But But yeah, so I'm not unlike something like the man who wasn't there where it's like the Coen brothers and and even the Coen brothers are being told like well shoot it in color, and we'll probably let you release in black and white but let's just shoot in color to cover our asses. It's like the Coen Brothers let them do whatever they want to do but like you know, studios, especially when it's a bigger budget they want to they want to you know, cover you know, protect their assets and it makes sense yeah, absolutely.
Alex Ferrari 38:59
Fair enough. No, you brought up budget I know that's a very sensitive subject. Can you tell us an estimate of what the budget was on this because so people understand not an exact Of course, but just you know, under something
Alex Lehmann 39:10
it was under 50 million.
Alex Ferrari 39:12
Alex Lehmann 39:15
Yeah. Under 50 million center 50 million I swear. And as soon as
Alex Ferrari 39:21
it looks like 52 million tell you the truth.
Alex Lehmann 39:24
I appreciate that we'll release the actual budget once once the IRS is done auditing us
Alex Ferrari 39:31
a great that's I'm gonna that's gonna be my answer. Now from From now on, anytime anyone asks. Well, my budgets very cool. Now this premiered at was a Toronto. Yeah. So was that the first time you were at Toronto, the Toronto Film Festival.
Alex Lehmann 39:47
I've been there as a as a dp. Okay. A couple of first short and a an adopt and adopt that I shot but that was years ago. It's it's that that festival is just blown up.
Alex Ferrari 40:00
It's an amazing I spent a long time since I've been at a festival too but when I went It was a beautiful festival But how was it so there's a different experience about going as a dp and then going with a movie that has stars Mark duplessis Sarah Paulson that's you know, premiering there how does that whole adventure How did that tell us like a fly on the wall How was that adventure for you?
Alex Lehmann 40:20
Um the hotel room was really nice i mean you know it was it was overwhelming it was all it was all really overwhelming to be completely honest. There's a lot of really wonderful talented people there there's you know, like any festival there's so many movies you want to see and you're never gonna get a chance to see all of them and you want to like you want to meet everyone and talk to everyone me personally like I want to stay away from all the business people and the agents and the producers and whatever and I just want to go meet other filmmakers and actors and watch their stuff and gush about you know how they did it differently and I've learned something by watching them but um but you know it's it's also like you know, an industry it's definitely a very much very much an industry festival where we were there promoting the film and that was really fun and you know, Mark was there and we screened it we premiered it for 1000 people you know, at the Ryerson theatre we we'd never screened the film in a theater for anyone
Alex Ferrari 41:32
rapido shot 10 ADP right
Alex Lehmann 41:34
there shot 10 ADP okay but when we did a couple test screenings when we were you know, cutting the film it just kind of seeing if you know if people liked it or if we were just free just made this little thing that like 15 of us like everybody else hated
Alex Ferrari 41:52
there's always that moment when you're making a movie that you're like Does anyone else like this besides
Alex Lehmann 41:56
Yeah, are we just getting a whole bunch of inside jokes is that right
Alex Ferrari 42:00
exactly it's it's your you live in a bubble though when you're when you're a filmmaker sometimes because you you watch the same cut I'm sure you must have seen that cut at least 60 100 times prior to release and whatever was working on the first two or three times you watched it doesn't have the same impact on the 100th
Alex Lehmann 42:19
oh yeah for sure you thank you and you're always you know,
Alex Ferrari 42:23
you feel lost at the end of it you just like what is it is it good anymore? I don't know I
Alex Lehmann 42:27
really yeah you're looking for ways to make it better and you're in you're looking for the flaws and you're trying to you know just polish it and polish it every time you're watching it you're looking for anything else you can polish and so you're not appreciating anymore so you like to get to people appreciate this like can people get lost in this in this thing because all I can do is look for mistakes which thankfully like right before we got TIFF I had that moment like that you know you QC the the DCP and you know you know that you're you're in the clear and you're just watching it in case something weird happens but you know it's locked you know nobody's gonna let you unlock it like you know unless it just there's unless it sounds like there's a T rex like walking in the background for some weird reason you know your producers are like you're done we need to send us a TIFF or you know we're already behind schedule and you know we're not spending another dime on this it's locked it's great to like finally when you get to that point you can watch the movie knowing you know, it's like put put down the weapon
Alex Ferrari 43:31
just put the knife down. Yeah, put the
Alex Lehmann 43:35
knife down, put the cutting scissors down for whatever and and and so yeah, I did get to enjoy the movie before Tiff and actually just like, cry and laugh and do all the do all the feelings which, you know, I didn't get to do for the months that we were trying to finish the film. But But even so, the biggest screening we had and this wasn't the final version of the film, but the last time we test screened a version of the film, it was 10 people in a room on some couches and with the TV and all of a sudden we're in a giant theater with 1000 people I must be insane. Yeah, it's kind of crazy and it's you know, it's like a 10 ADP like which you know, nowadays isn't that impressive. It's you know, pretty low rez for, you know, however big that screen was and and it's just like very much a little DIY film and a lot of ways so.
Alex Ferrari 44:31
Well, yeah, I mean, it seems I mean, well under 50 million nowadays doesn't get you not a lot. Yeah. But from what you're telling me from, at least from the production side, it sounds like a very do II DIY kind of film. Yeah, sure you have big talent in front of you. But at the end of the day, it was just you and a few cameras and 10 to 12 people making a little very small, you know, small movie with a very intimate story and being projected up there. So how did that 1080 project
Alex Lehmann 45:00
You know it held up great it really did and I don't know if people you know I don't know if we're all more forgiving because it's black and white and because it had a little bit of a it's got like a polished
Alex Ferrari 45:12
gritty look. You added grain to it. I did a little bit
Alex Lehmann 45:16
of grain Yeah, added grain to the theatrical theatrical one more than the than what will be on Netflix. I tested it on like some screens and some TVs and as a guy like we can't we can't do like one green pass for for everything so we added a little extra green for the theatrical
Alex Ferrari 45:37
okay so forth yet so anytime you're doing a theatrical you added a little bit more grain to it now what was the purpose for the adding of the grain just just I mean on a filmmaker to filmmaker I just wanted to know why you did it as far as its aesthetic Is it because you're trying to get that warm film feeling that we all grew up with
Alex Lehmann 45:56
yeah cuz cuz grains cool man
Alex Ferrari 45:58
a grain is cool i do i do good good grain not that dancing and not dancing ants.
Alex Lehmann 46:03
No not dancing us yeah, we tested we tested some grain and you know everybody's got their propriety proprietary grains now like hbos got their vinyl you know, I guess vinyls canceled now the bad they're like big proprietary grand for vinyl. We did a bunch of tests with with different film grains. And we found one that that felt really natural. But yeah, I don't know, it just it just, it gives image a little bit more life. Or it can. And this is this is a film that doesn't have color. It doesn't have sweeping crane shots. It doesn't. It has like one dolly shot.
Alex Ferrari 46:39
I want to say you had $1 Do you have a dolly,
Alex Lehmann 46:41
we had that wait a little doorway Dolly, I was gonna say, I use it once. I didn't want to use it for much. It's you know, there's, it's, it's a simply shot film. And, you know, a lot of the stories is driven by by these characters talking so you don't, you know, you don't you don't want to do too much you want to you really let it let it live with the actors. And and so like a little bit of a little bit of grain kind of gives that just subconscious feeling of like life and movement. I guess that sounds a little pretentious. I'm going to go back then. I'm going to go back to film. Great. Nice. Cool. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 47:23
Fair enough. Now, so Netflix obviously was involved prior to you guys filming correct?
Alex Lehmann 47:32
They they were definitely saying that this seemed like the first film that they want to pick up from the deal. Okay. But I don't think it was officially a Netflix film right away.
Alex Ferrari 47:46
And then but you're also doing like you're releasing it in the in this kind of new distribution model where it's streaming and in the theaters on the same day.
Alex Lehmann 47:53
Yeah. So we have these these great distributors that you know, the duplass has worked with a bunch they called the orchard. They curate a lot of really good films and excited about a lot of the stuff on their slate, but um, there Yeah, so they're doing our theatrical and our VOD. And then eventually the film will be on Netflix. But But yeah, actually, it comes out. I don't know when this podcast airs, but we premiere in, we do our New York theatrical release October 7, and our la theatrical release October 14, and it does VOD and digital platforms October 11.
Alex Ferrari 48:32
So, so it will be on Netflix on October 11. as well.
Alex Lehmann 48:35
No, it'll be on Netflix. TBD. But but not in October.
Alex Ferrari 48:40
Not in October, but probably soon there. Therefore, after afterwards, yeah. After VOD and and and the other digital platforms. Yep. Very very cool, man. Um, so I have three questions that I asked all of my guests and this is this is my Oprah moment so prepare yourself
Alex Lehmann 49:01
my couch right now
Alex Ferrari 49:02
I get ready to cry.
Alex Lehmann 49:03
Oh, there's a furball is that what everybody gets?
Alex Ferrari 49:08
So what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in life or in the film business? Um Wow. If you were a tree, what kind of no joke.
Alex Lehmann 49:22
The lesson the longest. So the hardest
Alex Ferrari 49:27
lesson that took you the longest to learn in life We're in the business
Alex Lehmann 49:31
right now. All I can think of is the lyrics the hardest to learn was the least complicated that I just misquote that is that no, no. Lego 97 I would say that everybody is feeling what you're feeling. When you're you know, everybody's got those moments of insecurity and and doubt and feeling like they don't belong because it's very It's very easy to to just go inward and focus on what you're feeling. And it's like, man, I don't know, I don't know if I'm doing the right thing. If I'm making the right choice, whether it's a life choice or an onset choice, or an editorial choice or whatever. And you you think, like, man, I just, I just really don't know sometimes. And yeah, I think only recently I've realized, like, just every everybody, you know, even the ones that just seem like they've got it all together. Everybody is is constantly having those same questions, no matter who they are.
Alex Ferrari 50:36
And securities and so you mean James Cameron after he's gonna do the next avatar is gonna go? I don't know that I do it right?
Alex Lehmann 50:44
I I'd be willing to bet that James Cameron's got plenty of insecurities as far as how he processes them, how he shows them or hides them or whatever. That's what's different between you and James and me. And, but But yeah, everyone. And it just seems so obvious. So that's, I think that's why that that sound was going through my head. But, but but you know, it's just it is one of those things where, if you're an inward thinking person, you can you can forget that, like, everybody's got that same struggle.
Alex Ferrari 51:17
Yeah. And I mean, I've been in post for better part of two decades, and I've had I've worked on a lot of feature films, and I know that's very true. I mean, no matter how big the person is in the room, while you're editing or color grading or finishing the movie, they all have those insecurities. They just like, Is it good? You know, is it are those jokes funny? Did it cry in the right spot? So we're all human beings at the end of the day, and we're all artists, you know, filmmakers are artists at the end of the day, and artists are insecure, generally speaking.
Alex Lehmann 51:47
A lot. A lot of wonderful things come from that insecurity.
Alex Ferrari 51:52
Now, what are your three favorite films of all time?
Alex Lehmann 51:56
All right. jaws is number one. I'm sure it's been
Alex Ferrari 52:01
on that it's been on the list many times on the show. Yeah.
Alex Lehmann 52:06
I'm going to say you know, it It definitely varies, but I'm gonna say just to keep this podcast moving Hot Fuzz is the movie that I love that movie every time I go back to it I'm like oh shit and he did this and he did that that just you know that's the kind of movie that I love where you just I don't know it's like it's like airplane where you just go oh, you know instead of just like you know gags and stuff it's it's you know, it's plot stuff it's characters out Yeah, Hot Fuzz is a very is a brilliant movie to me that just doesn't get the credit it deserves and I know a lot of people love it but you got to like watch it like twice in the same week to really realize how much thought was put into
Alex Ferrari 52:52
everything like you brought up airplane to get like every time I even think about our planet crack up Yeah, yeah, have you ever seen a grown man naked do me
Alex Lehmann 53:03
Yeah, like I feel like the filmmakers just like he just like worked on the movie so much with it like anytime there's a void of even half a second we're gonna find a joke in there whether it's a sight gag or whatever like we like we're just gonna cram the you know the jokes in there it's amazing. Exactly really as early as and what was your third um the 400 blows is a movie that that I connected with a young age Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 53:31
it's a good film. It's a really good film.
Alex Lehmann 53:33
Yeah Yeah, I like that that film a lot and that that definitely speaks closer to the kind of kinds of films that I like to make or I just you know really really like to stick with a character or a couple characters and even if you put them through a gauntlet it's all about you know them and just kind of how they're they're they're getting through that gauntlet Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 53:57
and then what was the like the funniest story you can actually say publicly that happened on set
Alex Lehmann 54:06
hmm well that time that mark punched Sarah out chip is black eyes We had to oh you said that you can say folks is
Alex Ferrari 54:17
a public you can say publicly so that you can say I'll edit that out sir.
Alex Lehmann 54:24
No, you know, it is a very is very just a positive set I'm trying to think
Alex Ferrari 54:31
while takes nobody like just broke for one reason or another.
Alex Lehmann 54:34
I mean, there's there's an outtake that made made it into the film. There's I mean, a sped tech saga is not as
Alex Ferrari 54:42
nice I just thought this could take right before I caught that's where I'm actually where I'm at in the movie. Yeah.
Alex Lehmann 54:47
I mean, that was that was fun. That was a nice little gift. But um,
Alex Ferrari 54:51
it was a really good spit take by the way.
Alex Lehmann 54:53
It was it was very real, very unplanned, and they kept going. And it was as fun is
Alex Ferrari 55:00
about those capturing those moments, it's like capturing that magic. It's, it's, it is like a documentarian and a lot of ways. But what Yeah,
Alex Lehmann 55:07
you know, it's you want to capture, capture that lightning in a bottle. And you know that. I mean, listen, like really, really good filmmakers can recreate those moments, like champs like that, you know, there's a lot of people that are just, you know, I mean, there's certain filmmakers that will do 100 takes to get it exactly the way that they wanted it or to give themselves every option that they need to cut it. And that's a great way to make films and especially if you've done it well for, you know, 20 years, you get to that point where you really are going to be the person who can refine and you've got actors that just can dial it in. And, you know, I think Sarah is actually one of one of those actors for sure. And, you know, Mark is, is good at that. But Mark's background is not a classical training, he he is the most aware and in the moment person you'll ever meet. If you have a conversation with them, you'll feel like the rest of the world doesn't exist to you to him, he's there. And that's a big part of what he brings to his acting. And and so you know, he is good at like recreating moments, but he's even better at just being incredibly genuine, incredibly genuine in the moment. So you know, we really look to capture that lightning in a bottle and if we've got it, and we're happy we go home, we don't we don't say now let's make the lightning a little bit brighter for this take. Let's just see if we can, you know, tweak the lightning? Or can the lightning come in like half a second later to not Dude, you just fucking cut the lightning in the bottle. You just nailed it. Why are we doing it again? Yeah, like this is, it wasn't exactly what any of us had planned for. It's not a Kubrick set. No, it's the anti Kubrick set and you know, you get you get to go home every day, with these amazing things that happened. And it's kind of like life, like, you know, I dare anybody to try to write down on a piece of paper exactly what's going to happen to them today, and if they get it, right, I'm going to say your life is boring. Go out and you know, let go out and let yourself be surprised and put yourself in, in situations that that allow for interesting things to happen, which is I give credit to you know, I'm a fan of the duplass films. And I you know, I think we're some people fall short of it and trying to replicate it, it's, you can't just have two characters be somewhere and talk and expect that the lightning is going to strike you need to create that perfect condition. And a big part of it is, is developing these two developing characters that have things that they need from each other and want from each other and, you know, putting them in scenarios where those things can happen and have somewhere to go. So you know, you do you have to create the conditions for the lightning. I'm not gonna say it's, it's, you know, it's just as easy as sitting around waiting for lightning to strike. But um, but at the same time, it's it's very much being aware and open minded and lightning shows up in all different forms.
Alex Ferrari 58:35
And final, final question, is there anything you can if you if you were gonna give one piece of advice to filmmakers just starting out in the business? What would that be?
Alex Lehmann 58:46
Um, do everything for a little bit. You know, don't don't don't try to just follow a path you've set out for yourself. And if I'm giving two pieces of I'm cheating on your question, I don't care if I do everything to you know, take, take all the jobs, but the other thing is, like, go out and make those movies and, you know, whatever, it's cliche at this point, but like shooting on your iPhone, if you have to, you know, hey, work for Shaun
Alex Ferrari 59:17
Baker, do whatever
Alex Lehmann 59:18
you got to exactly. But like, shoot them and cut them and finish them. Don't spend a ton of money on them. Allow the first few to suck and maybe they won't, but they possibly will. And don't hate yourself when they suck and don't go broke making the first couple of sucky shorts or whatever. Like just keep doing it and doing it and doing it and you're going to get better. I guarantee you that you know when you compare yourself like we all do, you compare yourself to the filmmakers you love. You're comparing yourself to them farther along in the process. everybody you know you need to remember that they had their first films as well their first shorts and like even even what is publicly their first short like there's there's like the Scorsese the guy shaving whatever yeah which is like a you know cool little short and it's like apparently like his first short film I call bullshit on that I guarantee you I guarantee you he made some short films that were weren't as good and like they never you know they never been
Alex Ferrari 1:00:27
used for a short they didn't get a Criterion Collection on it
Alex Lehmann 1:00:30
yeah and by the way even even if he even if that was for you know what fine that's Scorsese there's plenty of room for other people like like me and you who need to make some some shitty short films and some you know some you know learn just you learn learn to suck and then and then stop sucking it's it's that easy well I just see too many people make something they had to put all their money in it or all their emotion in it and then when it's not what they wanted it to be they give up and that's just it just doesn't make any sense.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:05
Well, from what I understand the Duplo the mark and Jay made their first feature and they spent a ton of money on it and they never released it because it said it was just absolute dogshit
Alex Lehmann 1:01:15
they were they were trying to as the story goes they're trying to make the great American film and and it was dogshit and then they what they they took their mom's camera like they're about to quit the film industry yeah mom's camera and recorded that that Yeah, yeah that little
Alex Ferrari 1:01:30
short that was that got into Sundance and launched their whole career. Yeah, and then they did puffy chair I think right after that. Yeah Yes, everyone has
Alex Lehmann 1:01:40
a story other people chances to make movies which is
Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
so cool but yeah they do give they really do help other filmmakers along and they really help launch other filmmakers and they do they care they really do care and it's it's it's wonderful that they do that because a lot of people when they get to the level that the two clauses are at they don't they just forget about them and they just live in their ivory tower
Alex Lehmann 1:02:03
well yeah and i you know i don't i don't blame those people I think a lot of them are just tired be oh no I know they get rewarded bosses or anyone else it's so so much work to get to where they are. Yeah. But But yeah, I guess mark and Jay have you know reserved a little bit of energy and compassion for for other people trying to get stuff done. So yeah, there for sure.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:30
So where can people find you and find the movie?
Alex Lehmann 1:02:33
And right now I'm in Encino. So yeah, people can find me cheese I don't know I have a website Twitter.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:44
Do you have a website?
Alex Lehmann 1:02:46
Facebook? I don't know. Um,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:49
so no one can find you Alex Okay, that's fine great marketing fantastic Great.
Alex Lehmann 1:02:53
Well you know I'm not a movie I'm I'm just a guy you know just just a guy who's like at home right? A
Alex Ferrari 1:02:59
guy looking at a movie expecting you to say I love you.
Alex Lehmann 1:03:06
Alright, my Twitter handle, I promise I'll try to start using Twitter more it's at Frenchie Canuck. fr ee NCHYCAN use ek Okay, I'll put that in the show block everyone Good
Alex Ferrari 1:03:19
luck everyone getting getting that I'll put it in the show notes. Guys don't worry. And and then the movie is going to be available theatrically in New York on the seventh
Alex Lehmann 1:03:27
on the seventh. It's going to be available digitally on October 11. And it'll have a one week theatrical run. Maybe more if everybody comes Who knows? October 14 in LA
Alex Ferrari 1:03:41
Okay, great. And then after that and then probably in next few months or something like that. You can find it on Netflix where it will live forever.
Alex Lehmann 1:03:50
And absolutely and and, and the documentary that that that the duplass here the doc that started it all for us. Which I'm very proud of as
Alex Ferrari 1:04:00
well. And that's also that's on on Netflix right now.
Alex Lehmann 1:04:03
That'll that's no that'll be on Netflix. Soon, right around right around when it when bluejay hits Asperger's Russia hit as well.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:12
Vincent. Fantastic. I'll put links to all that guys in the show notes. And then as you promised, Alex, what is this if you want to submit something to Mark duplass? What is that? What is that information?
Alex Lehmann 1:04:22
Yeah, don't don't tweet at them or email them. Yeah, he prefers you just call him directly so you can pitch your ideas. And his phone number is 81832
Alex Ferrari 1:04:32
Hello, Alex. Alex, are you there? Damn it! So close so close to get Mark duplass's number I'm gonna have to see if I can get Alex back on the line. Sorry if I teased you guys with that. But you know technology What are you gonna do it just cut off and I couldn't get him back on the line. You know, things suck that way sometimes. But anyway, man, I hope you really enjoyed that interview with Alex. Not only does he have an amazing first name, by But I know I really felt like he dropped a lot of great knowledge bombs, and really got an inside view of not only how Mark works, but how he worked on this project. And it's pretty fascinating, I really wanted to hear about more about his camera and what he was using, which seemed a little bit outside the box. And, you know, and I just wanted to kind of shine a light guys that, you know, just because it's a, you know, a movie that has big stars in it, and is on Netflix and getting a theatrical, you know, it's not that, you know, it's basically a movie. In a house, there's three people in the entire movie. And basically 99% of the movie is just two people are talking and having conversations, and it's visually stimulating, and they have so much fun, and there's so much heart in the movie. And that's what I'm trying to say you don't have to go so big, you know, you don't have to make it so complicated. You know, just get down to the core. Now when you do that, you've got nowhere to hide. In other words, visual effects in action and spectacle will not hide a bad story. So it's a little bit braver to do what Mark and Alex were doing in in Blue Jay. And that's kind of like what we did with mag, you know, there is no world building, there is no big visual effects or action sequences or anything like that. It's the story, it's the performances, it's the characters. And for better or worse, I put myself out there with Meg and we'll see how the world takes her. But, but just guys, don't don't forget, you don't have to go so big. Just tell a good story. And if you tell a good story, and keep it simple, like it was a kiss, keep it simple, stupid, you might be able to get through those hurdles of what you've been trying to do to try to get a feature film made, or to get a project made or something shot, you know, just don't don't build it up so much in your head. That's what I did, unfortunately, for almost two decades, but now I'm free and I'm making movies and that's that's all that's important, man, you're creating art. So I hope you guys like that a lot. Please don't forget to head over to filmmaking podcast calm and leave me a hopefully good review on iTunes. It really helps us out a lot. And of course, as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.
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- Alex Lehmann – Twitter
- Blue Jay – IMDB
- Asperger’s Are Us
- Mark Duplass: SXSW Keynote Speech
- This is Meg – Feature Film
- DaVinci Resolve
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
- Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)