IFH 550: Building a Hollywood Directing Career with Brad Silberling

Brad Silberling

Today on the show we have writer, producer and director Brad Silberling. I had the pleasure of meeting Brad back in 2005 at my first Sundance Film Festival. He was very kind with his time and gave me some great advice.

His feature films include City of Angels starring Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage, Moonlight Mile, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon; Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep; 10 Items of Less starring Morgan Freeman, Land of The Lost starring Will Ferrell, as well as his debut film, the family classic Casper, produced by Steven Spielberg.

In television, his growing stable of hit series include the critically acclaimed comedy Jane The Virgin as well as the period drama Reign, contemporary reboots Dynasty and Charmed, and the new Disney Plus series Diary of A Future President. He is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater Film and Television where he earned his masters degree in production, following his bachelor’s degree in English from UC Santa Barbara.

Brad and I had an amazing talk about the business, warts and all, what it was like having Steven Spielberg as a mentor and how he built his directing career.

Enjoy my conversation with Brad Silberling.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show Brad Silberling. Hey, doing that, Brad.

Brad Silberling 0:16
Excellent, man, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:17
I'm doing great, man. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. I am. I am humbled and honored as I was telling you before you and I met in 2005, at my first Sundance, and you were speaking had a fantastic panel and I got a picture with you. I'll see if I could put it in the show notes. I have it. I have it in my archive somewhere. And you were always You're very kind to a young filmmaker just asking price stupid questions. Like, how do I get an agent? Like, you know, like, dumb pie stuff at the time, but you were very kind. I never forgot you. And I followed your career as as you moved forward. And I just the other day, I was like, you know, I got to get Brad on the show, see if he'd be interested in coming on the show. And here you are, sir.

Brad Silberling 0:59
Here I am direct from the San Fernando Valley to you.

Alex Ferrari 1:04
So how did you so how did you get started in this ridiculous business that we we love so much?

Brad Silberling 1:13
I you know, I'm not alone. I was a kid with a camera. I was a kid with a Super Eight camera here in the Valley. And it's interesting because I so my dad, who passed away eight years ago, he was a documentary producer. He was born in DC because he was working for the US IA, which is actually our government's propaganda arm. We do have one. No, no, no, he was producing documentaries during the Kennedy administration. And only in the 60s would logic have dictated that he would move from that job into network television. Don't ask how they made that leap. It was a smaller business then. So we moved out to LA and 67. And he started working at at that point at ABC as a programming executive. So oddly enough, they thought his skills would translate. So he worked as a network executive the whole time I was growing up. But he always loved production. And so I took advantage of that by I would go beg to be dropped off at a set at any point I could, from probably about age nine. When I was old enough to ride a bike, I would steal over to universal, I'd met a really nice secretary who would like slip me call sheets and a drive on which was a bicycle. And I would spend every Friday afternoon there, but I just was fascinated by the process. And again, my dad was always coming at everything from from a story perspective. But I'm that guy who, you know, I still hadn't really picked up a camera I was just absorbing. And then I was there that first day. In 1975 First day for showing of jobs I made my dad dropped me off, there was a theater called the Plitt. That was in Century City where ABC was where he was working and I begged him to just drop me off. It was like an 11am showing. And I'm sitting there alone The theater was not full even though obviously days to come. It was going to be incredibly full, huge airplane kind of recliner seats. I'm alone in my row. And I get to the the the attack on the little Alex Kittner the kid on the raft. And I'm just having a heart attack. And I don't know if I can make it through the movie, looking around to see if there's anybody there. But I hung in thank God. And by the time it was done, I had that feeling which was who got to do that. Who did that? Who took me through that ride. That is something I will never get out of my system. And I went home that day and snuck into my dad's photography closet. It's still his he had a Mac it was a it was in a Minolta Super Eight camera and I started shooting that so that day I it was just like the switch was thrown and Stephens really funny about this because I'm not alone. I mean, I can tell you the number of other filmmakers who were switched on in that moment by that movie. And so I started shooting Yeah, so I was shooting all I did two things. In junior high school in high school, I shot movies and I played soccer and that was what I did. And this was to parade again where it was. I mean, I look at everybody now with their phones in what's possible. And back then you're shooting three and a half minute cartridges. Every second counted. You had to really so you're cutting in the camera. Are you really thinking through your material, your splicing your little, you know, super aid splices. But I, so that's what I did. And I was very obsessed. And I did that right up through, I got a lot of good advice to not do film as an undergrad. But to try to actually learn anything else have sort of more of an open humanist mind. Start writing. And so then I went to grad school and went to UCLA. And made you know, SC is more famous for its, you know, thesis, final films, whatever they're called. But I made, I made my thesis film, and I was fortunate we fought to have our first industry screening because UCLA was super egalitarian, and they didn't normally like things like that. But we did. And so coming out of that screening, I ended up going under contract, I went under contract universal. There had been a woman there who's still a great friend, Nancy Nayar, she ran casting at Universal, she was there just to troll for actors. She saw my film, and she said, Would you mind if I took your film Back to the studio and I was like, yeah?

Alex Ferrari 6:14
No, please, please don't.

Brad Silberling 6:17
Please, no. Can I walk you to your car. And so I got a really funny set of phone calls. One was from the TV group, and one was from the feature group. And again, at that point in time, they did not communicate, they still don't often. And they basically both wanted to try to put together some sort of deal. They hadn't really done term deals for directors since like the early 70s, like Spielberg, so when Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner, a number of these guys who basically were on term deals. And so they dusted off an old term deal. And they, they just like, he's young, he's cheap, hopefully, you know, some talent, let's do this. And they covered everything from writing, directing, producing, you know, making omelets, they, they, they had me, but it was incredible. So I was prepared to start, you know, parking cars at a grad school. But I went under contract. So that meant immediately trying to figure out who's producing on the lot is their television, who's making movies. And that became home for the first two and a half, three years that I got started. And then ironically, Steven bochco and his then sort of in house director, a really great guy named Greg Havlat. Saw my graduate film, and they said, Come over here. And universal was very wise, because they're like, good, let him go. Fuck up on their, on their dime. So but I so my first three years of work or directing television, primarily over budget goes company,Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 8:02
Oh, so I have to ask you though, because looking through your filmography, you have the distinct honor of being one of the directors, who directed an episode of the infamous cop rock.

Brad Silberling 8:14
I'm one of only 11. And the original order was for 12. And they killed it. I remember Stephen coming down that set one day. And he was like, well,

Alex Ferrari 8:27
This didn't work.

Brad Silberling 8:29
That was my second hour of television. It was crazy.

Alex Ferrari 8:33
I beat so for people. So people listening if you don't know what comp rock is, Google it on YouTube and watch a scene of cop rock. It was this musical cop show, which is it is such an oddity in television history, you know, from such a big I mean, Steven bochco was like he was the he was the dude, he was it. So it you know, it'd be the equivalent of I don't know, whoever nowadays, you know, big show runner, Shonda Rhimes doing a cop, cop musical. And it was I saw so I mean, I never seen a full episode because I wasn't I didn't see it when it got released. And I don't whatever's on YouTube. But I just remembered this cops just like singing about drugs. And it was just the weirdest thing. And when I saw it, I had to ask you, what was it like being inside of that?

Brad Silberling 9:23
Here's the truth of it that Steven had seen there was a great British series called The Singing Detective. And I think he was feeling his muscle and feeling his strength and thinking I can do anything. Let's do that. The problem is, Steven didn't really and God bless him. He passed away a few years ago, he was an amazing guy. He didn't really care about music. Didn't really like very much. So this was the problem. And you know, the whole idea of musicals is you only you only burst out into song when you have to when when when basically the spirit moves and the story needs it but He didn't approach it that way this, the cop rock outlines were like, normal Hill Street, it was like procedural procedural, maybe a song in here. And also a problem they weren't raised in, which meant that in production, they came very late. So it wasn't like you had this great champion, Steven Spielberg talks about this beautiful process. On my side story about working for six months, even as you're doing the choreography and just copra you would be shown the number on the day of shooting, because the music had only just gotten to the choreographer who's kind of winging it. And so all the actors like the fuck and and but it was recorded live in terms of the singing, which also is usually you do, you know, like a pre record? It was crazy. And and yet there there would be. There were numbers that kind of worked. And then there were a lot of them called groaners that were just like, Oh, no. And you just fell for these actors who had to commit. And you know, so it was a, it was an exercise in insanity. And like I said, it was not it. If somebody who just loved the musical form, had tried it, maybe before. But anyway, yeah, it was good. But that was my second hour television.

Alex Ferrari 11:25
So so this is his this is this, what I'm doing? Is this is this?

Brad Silberling 11:31
Great. Okay, you go over there. You danced a blocker, you get your gun, let's do this.

Alex Ferrari 11:36
And you've never directed a musical at this point in your life.

Brad Silberling 11:38
Oh, of course, of course.

Alex Ferrari 11:41
Because how many people have really directed musicals? So that list is fairly checked. All right. So you're there as a young How old are you at this point 22 23?

Brad Silberling 11:52
I was probably 25 20. Yeah, I was probably 25

Alex Ferrari 11:56
25 years old. Second time. My God. Alright, so let me let me ask you the first day because I always love asking this question the first day on the first job that you got after you signed that deal with Universal. When you walk on set, I gotta believe you're losing your mind. Your your imposter syndrome is running rampid you're like, any moment now? Security's gonna escort me off the lot. How did you like walk on and like, do your job with all of that? I mean, I'm assuming so am I correct?

Brad Silberling 12:30
You, right, you're assuming and your assumption would be correct. But for three, they all tell you two different stories, but for three things. One is I, you know, I even remember, when I got my contract, everyone was like, Oh, my God, are you losing your mind? And I wasn't, it wasn't hubris. But I felt like I'd been doing what I was doing for a long, long time. And I trusted myself. I felt like okay, I've got more than just the kid next door to be my crew. Now, this is good. So my crew got bigger. But the single biggest reason my Canadian friends are gonna kill me. But the single biggest reason I didn't fully have that was my first episode for universal ended up being in Toronto. They were doing a second batch of Alfred Hitchcock present, right. And so I i finagled my way into one of those. And I swear, I don't know what it was, but I was not intimidated by the Canadian crew. And I was working with awesome. I was working with Mike Connors, Matt Mannix, he was the lead. And he was couldn't have been more dear and awesome. And so I just thought, of course, why not me. So it that part didn't really overwhelm me, I felt fine. I'll tell you the moment that you're thinking of it was less imposture than just like, how did this happen? So that's my first directing job in television. My first feature directing job is Casper, and we're shooting in 1994. As I've told you, I picked up a camera because, um, Steven Steven ended up becoming my mentor and giving me my first feature job. And the first morning of our shoot, we were shooting in the big kitchen, there was a big long kitchen sequence that was gonna end up having more CG, then all of Jurassic Park was insane. He's awesome. He shows up at call to be there for my first shot. And we'd go into the hearse, and it's awesome. And when the time came to call action. I just sat there and he's next to me. And I'm looking at him. I'm looking at this whole situation. And it's like, everything just dropped on my head. I was dumbfounded by the universe. that this was actually the case that he just looked at me and smiled Newman say it as like, action. And it was, it was still one of the most incredible moments and it was just that that thing of confluence, like, how did this happen? I'm grateful it happened. But yeah, so in a weird way, that was my bigger moment. But I did, yeah, I had, maybe unfounded. But I did always have a belief that if you have the story, and you know what every setup is, and you're there, the crews gonna follow you doesn't mean that there's not going to be testing and that they're not going to sit there with their arms folded at times. You get all of that I had the DP on that very first. Alfred Hitchcock episode, by I don't know, it was like night number three, like wanting to quit. Because I'm very hands on. I don't just say, Yeah, let's go do a nice to shot and I'm going to go get some coffee. I, I'm still a kid with a camera. I set every shot, I, you know, I rehearse with the lens in my hand. I'm just who I am. And this guy wasn't used to that. And it was really funny. I've had that a few times, even in some of my movies where to pay. So I now my litmus test for whom I'm going to collaborate with as a DP in particular, it has to feel like a friend from film school. That's not a GISTIC. They can be 90. But it has to be that spirit. We're in this thing together. Oh, look, what I'm seeing. What are you seeing? Ooh, look at that. But those who work in such a way that it's like, I'm the director of photography, you go sit in your chair a little man. I'm just not there. So that was that was an interesting early moment for me with my confidence, but how to keep a collaborator close without losing them.

Alex Ferrari 16:54
Now, I heard I remember years ago, when Casper came across when Casper came out, it was a fairly big. It was a fairly big deal, because CG was just starting.

Brad Silberling 17:06
We were the first character with dialogue. CG animation. So Steven had done Jurassic and 93. And as he Yeah, that first morning, when he came to my set, and kitchen, he's like, Dude, you're about to blow through more spots than we did in the whole movie. And he's but he came, he came like week three. And he's like, oh, man, if you'd known what you're getting into, you'd never would have said yes to this. And I laughed. He said, You're now directing these characters. There's dialogue. There's monologues, there's soliloquy, he's, I just had to have the dude's turn and roar. And it was a deal. It was a deal. And it was we there was an early glimpse of motion capture that was experimented with, but it was not ready for primetime. So unfortunately, I didn't have that to go to. It was all here. And then I basically had to go with a with a old school 2d line animator, I had to go and basically, after making the movie, direct every performance in pencil sketch, right, then hey, then take those to ilm, and go through the whole so it was very handmade.

Alex Ferrari 18:23
Now what watching some behind the scenes or an interview that you did, was it true at one point that you turned down and said, I can't do this, and that Steven had to literally call you off the ledge?

Brad Silberling 18:37
Yeah, so he we met again, it's it's only he could have done this we met because he happened to see some television that I directed not a bochco show, but Gary David Goldberg who's passed away and he was amazing. We did family ties, but then he, Gary did a show called Brooklyn Bridge. That was really memens remembrances from his growing up in Brooklyn in the 50s. And I happen to direct an episode. I can say this because I'm a tribe member. But Gary said, yeah, you directed the least Jewy episode that we did. Because it was it was an episode about this kid and his family going to Ebbets Field to try out for this thing. And it was so non Jewy that it was more of an Americana episode. And they ran it and it's crazy. I was just thinking about this this morning. It was in thanksgiving of 91 So 30 years ago last few you know a month ago. It they ran this episode because they needed to fill the extra half hour after the first running CBS did have et so Stevens movie ran. They needed to fill a half hour they thought oh, this is very heartwarming, very Americana apps. So Gary called me the next week and said you're not gonna believe the phone call. I got that. And I said, Yeah. And he said, my friend, Steven Spielberg was obviously watching his own movie, and stayed through the commercial break. And he saw your show. And he called me and wanted to know who did it. So that's how I met Steven. So I went and sat down with Steven. And he happens like a Schwab story. He happened to see that episode. And he walked in his office and Amblin. And, you know, my hearts through my mouth at that point. He's the most disarming kind, warm human ever. So that goes away in 30 seconds. But he didn't even let me say anything. He said, Okay. Let me tell you about your last three years. And I look at him, and he proceeds to tell me exactly what I had been going through as a young director, under contract in television. And I'm like, my jaws hanging open. And he's loving it. And he said, Yeah, I know, I cuz I experienced that. And I saw what you did, I could see you were making a movie, but you only had a half hour to make it. And I'd like to help you make a longer movie. And so that, yeah, so that's what started us. Originally, he had in mind, much more reasonable first movie, it was like a little Louis mall film, there was a thing called the divorce club that we were going to do. That was about kids and divorce, kind of comedy drama, is Warner Brothers. And so when he went to go make Schindler's List, I was starting to prep that movie. But I noticed some real foot dragging from the studio about hiring like crew. And so I called Lucy Fisher's great producer now was the executive and I called her I said, Lucy, is there a problem? She said, I think you should call your friend Steven. I don't think they want to make this movie. And so I called him in Poland. And he was like, Hey, how's it going on your first movie? Isn't it amazing? Isn't it great? And I was like, Dude, I It's wonderful. But I don't think they want to make the movie. What? That's crazy. I'll call them and he called Terry Semel and Bob Dale. And he called me back two days later, he said, I'm so sorry. You're right. They don't they're scared of it. They think it's it's the subject is too sensitive. And he said, I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry. I'm like, don't worry about it. Go back to my day job. Thank you for trying. And that was the timing where I went back to bochco to direct one of the first 10 episodes of NYPD Blue so that Steven takes credit for my marriage because I ended up marrying Amy Brennaman who was in the cast of NYPD Blue the first season. But then he called me and he said, This is months later, I was doing a pilot in Hawaii for bochco, and he said, Okay, starts the call saying, Okay, this one's really going to happen. Promise it's gonna happen. With start date, I have a release date. And the moon is gonna, I said, the movies what? He's like, can you say, it's Casper? And I said Casper? Like is in the front? Yeah. Yeah, yeah. But it's gonna be live action. It's gonna be CG. I just did these dinosaurs. You're gonna be doing this and that. And I'm dumbfounded, you know. And I said to him, you know, which Brad you called? Because I was like, Dude, I, you know, I had no animation background, I'd done some small visual effects work in television, but I dated an animator at UCLA. It's like i i But I really didn't have any clothes. And he was amazing. He was like, know what you do. You're technically savvy, what you do and emotionally what you do and what this movie needs, is you? And so but I didn't just say yes. On the call. I had to take a weekend. Because I was overwhelmed by the prospect of mass failure.

Alex Ferrari 24:04
Yeah, because that's a that's a huge that was a that was a big movie when it came out.

Brad Silberling 24:08
Huge movie ended up where we knew would be it was like $65 million. At that point, this is in 95. And all of a sudden, they're in Hawaii, and I'm just thinking, Okay, if this movie works, Steven Spielberg presents great, great, great. If it doesn't work, I'm like one of those direct first time directors littering the beaches of Malibu who can't get a second job. And so I was really anxious about it. He did a very shrewd thing. What he did was he sent the young producer Cullen Wilson who was going to do the movie. He sent him to Hawaii with a trunk of basically, almost like illustrations from ilm, about how this could work. What the modeling would be like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I'm just driving around to scout my pilot with calling the whole weekend saying, I know this can't work I, you know. And then it was awesome because I had a conversation with with now my wife then girlfriend, Amy. And she's like, okay, it's like pros and cons. Why, you know, what are the pros and like, well, it's an incredible opportunity. And I love the fact that the movie is actually embracing this idea of loss and that there's an emotional storm. And she's like, okay, so what are the cons and like, I could tank? And so that's when I just realized, okay, the only thing keeping me from this is fear. I gotta fucking dive in. And so yeah, I called him back. And I said, Okay, let's go. And it was just like, lightning from there.

Alex Ferrari 25:50
That's amazing. Because I mean, I still remember when that movie came out I love the movie, when it came was such a heartwarming and touching film. But it was technically they everyone was just talking about the character and was just a first real use of animation as a as a talking characters. And yeah, they were go so you, you know it's not avatar. But but but without Casper, it's hard to get the avatar like you need a minute. It's part of the evolution. But it was so beautifully, even. It still holds to this day. It's still holds.

Brad Silberling 26:21
He, I was waiting. I was waiting for the big Yoda moment. And I was when I was in prep, to talk about the effects and about the effects work. And we're getting closer and closer to shooting. I'm like two weeks out. And Steven slows and talk to me about he had at one point said to me, oh, yeah, I'll have the office send you a couple of tapes of work sessions with ILM. You can see how I gave them notes on the dinosaurs. And so you'll know how to like yeah, okay, great. We shouldn't done it. So finally I said, Hey, can we grab five minutes? He's like, Yeah, great. Great. I said, Okay, well, first of all, I think this affects budget doesn't really reflect what it's going to be. And he looked at me with that great grant, he said, I wouldn't worry about it, just go shoot your movie. And I was like, Okay, this is the guy. This is his, like, Close Encounters thinking. I know, it's gonna be pretend it's the other number, but it's really going to be this. But more importantly, he said, again, what you know how to do you know how to stage beautifully, you know, how to, to really you know, where the camera goes, You know what to do to do an elegant job. in live action. Don't treat this any differently. You have to basically, just don't try to like compensate. Do it just as you would, but only you're going to know where those characters are. And you're going to have to communicate that. And that was exactly the right advice. So I stopped thinking, Well, I have to kind of put on a different filter. And I treated those four ghosts, just like any other character in the movie, and I'm going to stage with them, I'm going to counter the camera, the focus shift is going to happen because there's the moment it made me look like a madman on set. Because it's like orchestrating, you know, it getting the crew to understand where these ghosts were, how quick, they were moving, getting the camera operator to tilt at the right moment to an empty part of the set. And then, so I was doing this all the time. It was, it was crazy. But it felt completely natural. And that movie made me fearless. Because once you've done that, you can't throw anything at you that you know, and also it it I have friends who are live action directors who still have this envy of going to do a big effect strip movie, right? And it's funny, I for me, it's just another tool in the tool kit. I don't thirst for that. But I know how to, I know how to basically use those tools, and how to communicate with with lighting to you know, lighting, TVs and animators. And so it was like this incredible two year learning curve. That was invaluable.

Alex Ferrari 29:11
I've had I've had a lot of I've had the pleasure of having some amazing guests on my show. And I doesn't cease to amaze me, I can probably count 20 instances that Steven Spielberg launched their careers, or help them along their career. He is one of those, those guiding forces in Hollywood, he doesn't get credit for that he has helped so many filmmakers off the ground, either to start or later in their career or one point. He's always kind of the man behind the curtain in a lot of ways, just giving that nudge helping a little bit out here. And I've heard nothing but the nicest wonderful things about I mean, the craziest stories. It's amazing stories, but and I know He, that's why I knew that he worked with you on Casper. But your story about him doesn't surprise me the least.

Brad Silberling 30:07
Yeah, he it comes out of sheer love of film and filmmaking and storytelling, and it's what keeps the ego out of it. He just wants to push, good work along, you know, a couple of movies mine that that weren't ones that he was involved with. He's just the best like on City of Angels, which I did over at Warner Brothers. He, he said, when's your first preview? Can I come? And I was like, oh, yeah, let's do that. That's gonna freak them out. And so I literally took Stephen to my first you know, audience recruit, they didn't see him. But he wanted to come because he felt so you know, proprietary, and we felt like family. And indeed, like, the studio was freaking out. They're like, Oh, shit. And yet, it was the best because he just had this reaction. And then he's like, Hey, I carved out a day, next week, you know, you want me to? I'll run the picture with you. You want, you know, you want to hear some thoughts. I was like, Yeah, man. He's done that a couple times, three times on movies where he'll come and spend the day just run the picture in the cutting room, again, offer up thoughts. And no, no, you know, no ties to any of those, like, here's what I see. Do with that? What you will, I'm so proud of what you're doing blah, blah, blah. Um, and that's actually what it is.

Alex Ferrari 31:38
And I just heard a story, a friend of mine who released a film. And he's like, dude, do you know I just got a letter from the producer. I just got a call from my producer, who got a letter, a handwritten letter from Stephen saying, Hey, I saw his my film. And I just want to let you know, I really liked it. That was it. Like, there's nothing? No, I don't want to do anything with you. Like I don't want to like, and there's no agenda just like, I saw the movie. I thought you'd like to know that. I liked it.

Brad Silberling 32:09
He's like ahead of the curve. Because what I have found, I think was after City of Angels came out one day, I remember I got a phone call. And I thought it was a friend playing a prank. It was Dustin Hoffman, good cop with only me. And I thought, wow, somebody is doing a really weird Dustin Hoffman imitation is this bread. And he he called me because he'd seen the film. And he really, really enjoyed the movie. And he said, You must like actors. He like actors. I feel like he like actors a lot. And so we talked and I finally said to him, this is so kind of you to do, do do do this. And he said, You know, I didn't for many years. I didn't I was too competitive. He said, But I'm getting a holder. And I like to acknowledge great work. And that was the most incredible thing. And then of course, I took that because then I built him into my next movie. But I Stephen has been ahead of that curve. And I think it is because he, he knows the the pain. You know, people forget his first directing job for him was a nightmare. You know, the the knight gallery, sent him back to Arizona for a year and a half. He was like, I'm not ready to do this. So he knows what it's like to get real support. He knows what it's like to. He always he always says that to me. When I made a film, a film mine moonlight mile, again, was something that I'd written and he's like, it is your DNA. It's you through and true. I feel you in every frame. That is what we're here to do. And so he's it's, it's an incredible thing. And I knows he I know he knows it. But I remind him of yearly I'm like, you know, in Yiddish like what a mitzvah it is you do for your kind every every day you he loves movies, he loves television, he watches everything.

Alex Ferrari 34:18
It's It's remarkable. And the thing I always find fascinating about him is that he's like, he doesn't have to anymore like he had he could have stopped decades ago, you know, after et you could have a lot. He didn't have to do this, but he does it without agenda without quid pro quo. He's just been truly wants to help and wants to and he knows, he knows, in a very humble way that he's the 800 pound gorilla in the room. He he knows that very, very, very well. And he uses that power for good.

Brad Silberling 34:53
Well, and he'll also tell you, which is really funny, I remember between movies at one point he was a was Amblin television or maybe it was DreamWorks Television and they were producing one of their first TV shows. He was like, there all the time. He was like, Hey, come meet me. I'm on the set of so and so out in Chatsworth, come, come hang. And I was like, and I went there. I was like, What are you doing? He's like, Oh, this is like my methadone. He said, If I'm not actually shooting, I need to be really close to it and get a fix. And that is. So he calls he calls, the movies he produces or the TV shows his methadone. And I've always thought of that, because I share that it's my favorite thing. I'm the best director ever. When I go visit a friend set, I got no pressure. I'm really happy with the snacks. The actors look really nice. I'm really just loose. You know,

Alex Ferrari 35:46
Ohh anytime you visit a set, you just like it's not my, it's, I'm just I'm a passenger on this ship. I don't have to I don't have to drive. It's great.

Brad Silberling 35:54
A friend, a friend of mine is starting a movie next week in Boston. I'm going to go visit him. And he said, what day you coming? And I said, I think I'm coming on the blog goes, Oh, that's really funny. That's Guest Director day. That's amazing. So he's like, I'm like, nothing. Doesn't work that way, my friend.

Alex Ferrari 36:13
So one of your, as you mentioned City of Angels, which I absolutely adore. I watch that film every few years because I absolutely adore that film. And it was obviously made a remake of a masterpiece of a film, which is Wings of Desire. How do you approach remaking is really a masterpiece. I'm not exaggerating, winds of desire is a masterpiece.

Brad Silberling 36:37
Oh wins the desire. So you want to go, you want to go on a bad blind date, go see Wings of Desire, which is how I saw that film. I, I went on a blind date. And I went to see wings desire. And I was I couldn't move out of my seat at the end of the movie. And I looked to my left, and the woman that I was there with clearly was looking for her popcorn remnants or whatever it was, and there was like, no response. And I couldn't, there was a really short date after that, you know, it was poetry. And it was just life humor, and observing nuance, and it was an incredible movie. The only way you make that, that film when we did is you you you can't approach it as an actual remake? Because if it were you What are you doing? You know, you can't do it. And so when I got a call about the film, I was really interested, my agent then said, Oh, Dawn, steel. producer Don steel is doing a remake of Wings of Desire. And I was like, what? I couldn't put those elements together, Dawn, who's been gone now. 20 years, was arguably one of the most commercial movie brains as a studio head and then as a producer. So I went into meet her. And what I realized, and I say this lovingly, I don't know if she ever saw the original film. And that's what that's what set me free. I was like, oh, okay, she's thinking of this as a high concept premise. And had engaged Dana Stevens who's a wonderful writer, Dana as well was late to the Dana was not a vendor's efficient auto was not. So they were freed up at the initial stage of development by not chasing that, but by trying to come up with a story. And I knew that for me, if I could bring the emotional response I had to VIMS film and some of the the tonal play, but but also be able to just own it and just think, again, we're not doing because obviously Windsor desires like gossamer threads. It's there's that much story and and the incredible thing is so Nick Cage and I had a real instinct, because I remember asking Dawn steel, I said, So tell me about your conversations with them. What does that been like? And she's like, Oh, I haven't talked to him as a really you've never engaged which goes, Oh, no. Wow. And so when Nick had signed on, he and I both were like, truly loved to get the script to famine, just sort of who knows get any thoughts but more so just reach out and say we want there to be a continuity because we we really are so indebted to the initial impulse he had. And he was amazing. And he read it quickly and responded. And then he ended up becoming like a beautiful kind of godparent to the movie from that point on, or, or an angel, if you will, or an angel, guardian angel, a German guardian angel. He was great. But what he said to me and Nick at that point, which was amazing. He said, This is crazy. Do you know that in my original concept for the movie, it was going to take place in a hospital. And the female lead, of course, who's a trapeze artist was going to be a doctor. He said, My dad was a surgeon. That's where I wanted it to take place. We couldn't afford it. We couldn't afford a location. And we couldn't afford it. That's why I think about it. That's why she's a trapeze artist. We've put a tent up. And we were like, Oh my God, that's the beauty of film. It's like you can't imagine that film any other way. That can, you know, the visual, concede a flight and all that goes and none of that was budget. We couldn't afford it. So again, so vim came to my first test screening with his wife. And they were fantastic because I you know, the way test screenings, good lights come up at the end, you you as the filmmakers Studio, you leave the room. Everybody gets handed their little note cards, and they fill out shit. And Vim and Donati, his wife were really funny because they, nobody knew who he was. So they're like spying on people's cards, and then they would come running out to me, ooh, it's looking really good. And they like this. And they like that. And then he run back in. And so he was awesome through the whole process. But again, didn't expect it to be, you know, a xerox copy, appreciated that we weren't just doing that, but still felt really happy to be connected to the film. And that was the only way i i was able to do it. Otherwise, it would have just been.

Alex Ferrari 42:09
Yeah, cuz you can't, you know, I had John, Panama. I had John Batum on and I talked to him about point in return. I'm like, how do you take the Femme Nikita, and like, redo it like, but he didn't have a guardian angel from France. He was on his own.

Brad Silberling 42:26
John, I know what you're talking about.

Alex Ferrari 42:29
You know, John's, John's that I'd love, John. Absolutely.

Brad Silberling 42:33
And he's and you've seen his book, which he's written, He cares so much about the craft of directing and what directors go through. And he's the best,

Alex Ferrari 42:44
Absolutely no question. Now, how did you How do you approach taking a popular children's series and turning it into a series of unfortunate events? Like how? Because that was at that point in your career, the biggest budget you've ever worked with at that point? Correct?

Brad Silberling 43:02
Yeah, yeah. No, for sure. Cabin Casper and CD of angels were probably within $5 million of each other somewhere in the 60s. And well, yeah, Lemony Snicket by, you know, over two fold, partly because Scott Rudin and Barry Sonnenfeld had been in early development on trying to make the movie at Paramount. And they spent some money. They spent some money, and the studio got very scared because the script it's interesting handler is a friend of mine, and Daniel Handler, who's the real Lemony Snicket. And Daniel had done an adaptation, but the adaptation was like, bonkers. It wasn't, it really wasn't honoring his own work, which amazed me. And I think because he's so prolific and he's so imaginative, I think. He thought, why am I just gonna go recreate what I've done, I want to go do some other stuff. So what I remember asking if I could read where they had been headed, and it was crazy town, but it was also very expensive. So that's how DreamWorks got involved was, they basically decided they were going down the wrong path at Paramount, reached out to DreamWorks to partner on the movie. And it was mutually decided that they would bring on a whole new filmmaking team, new script director. And so I was in Europe. I was with Dustin Hoffman. I was in Europe, promoting moonlight mile when I got a call from Walter parks who was then running DreamWorks under Steven. And he said, Are you familiar with these books? And I said, No. And he said, Go get your hands on them and call me back. And I went to the biggest toy store hat have I think it's called in London and bought the first three books. And was so again, for me it's like, tone, and character. And I was so blown away by, you know, the essential premise of those books, which is that the kids are the adults, the adults are idiots. And that there's a real straight look at darkness that there's a real straight look at loss and perseverance, and what that means. And so I was reading these and just the, again, the sense of wisdom, huge intelligence tone, I just thought was fantastic. So I called him back and I said, this is great, what's the situation? And he said, Well, when you come back, come sit with me and Steven, but if you want to do this, we should do this. And so that began the process, you know that there's 13 books at that point, there weren't 13. But it was decided that we would tackle the first three. But by nature, they are like serials, they're episodic. And my, for me, the biggest challenge was going to be making it still feel like a three act film, and not just like, and then we're here, and then we're here, which some of it is naturally still that way, but that there had to be some sort of a bigger arc. So we spent a good bit of time. And thankfully, handler, was willing to come back into the process because I didn't want to lose his voice. I didn't want to lose his, you know, just I'm sort of sweet and sour thing that he does. And then we had to put Yeah, I mean, it was a very expensive movie, I asked Sherry Lansing, not to make my life harder. But I said to her when I met her, don't you want to, frankly, given the money you're spending? Don't you want to do? It's, you know, expect the future two and three? Don't you want to do two back to back and amortize the cost? These sets are going to be insane amounts. And shares awesome shares like, oh, no, honey, I'm very superstitious. I'm too superstitious. I let the first one come out. And then we'll decide I was like, okay, and I had over the course of early, the you look, you pick up one of those books, there is a sense of there's like a sense of that everything being handmade the illustration. Yeah. And I wanted the film to feel like an illustration. And so when I started scouting, and trying to kind of design the film with Rick Heinrichs, who's awesome, we were actually going out into the real world looking for locate and we both were like, huh, can't do it. This is neither the hunter we have to find a way to make everything feel handmade. It times more two dimensional and three dimensional. That means we have to control it all. That means we're gonna have to be on set the whole time, including for exteriors. And so that's how we approached it. And again, the studio back did but yeah, it was, it was it was an expensive movie,

Alex Ferrari 48:07
It was now how do you direct a force of nature like Jim Carrey? I mean, he's he, I mean, obviously, he's very similar. And energy to Robin Williams, you like this kind of kinetic energy that you just like, you can't control it. All you could do is corral it.

Brad Silberling 48:26
What you do? It would be like if you did a two hour interview, and you hopefully made great prompts, and let that interview go and then sit down together and say, That's salient. That's great. This not so much. What I realized early with Jim Well, two things when people know about Jim Carrey, everything seems like like Robin Williams, like Oh my God. So he is a preparer. And he feels most grounded and safe when he's prepared. So what I realized was like, Okay, how do I do that and still, capture all that's Jim. And what I realized was, I want to basically get the most out of his freedom, and then create. So normally when you do makeup, hair wardrobe tests on a film, there is no sound recorded. You just put an actor up. I had this crazy idea that I got from actually John Slazenger doing this on Midnight Cowboy, which is I brought the sound mixer and I decided to interview each of these potential characters that Jim was going to do meaning. Jim's off and then Jim's Stefano and then Jim is I'd asked him about public policy. I'd asked him about his thoughts on on, you know, secondary education, you know, on Las Vegas, and he just had a great And we're recording it. And we looked at each other after the first day and thought, it's all in there. That's amazing. It's all in there. And so what we did was I went and took from these really, hopefully well prompted, but great improv, I took the best of what we thought could play within the story. Because I did bring it around often to the kids into the situation and what see what he's going to do with the money and Titanic sucked, I could do better. And so what you do is you, you, it's, it's less hemming him in and more like, here's your pasture, let's go play. And I'm going to take your best moves. And we're going to bring that into the story. And so that's what we did, we brought all that material back into the script. So the script, what you have on screen is all material that that derived from improv that we did well ahead of the time. And again, it's like a kid, you know, teenagers with a camera. He and I responded on a really fundamental level, like pals, and I realized that I had to make him feel safe. And, but also, not just pulling surprises, but let's go through let's prepare, he would know, if he had to work the staircase in that mansion. He knew how many steps there were, how many he was going to take before a gesture. And if God forbid, the night before the construction crew change the number of steps. That's where he gets thrown. Because it was like no, I'm so I'm so I'm a dancer, I'm so prepared. And so if you know, that's the animal you're dealing with, you lean into it, and you make him feel safe. The studio got very scared, they got scared off into the process about you know, what the reason kids love those books and why they love the series, because it's super honest, it goes really dark. They get very scared of that at times. And like, the 11th hour, they got a little worried about camera loss makeup. And I said to them, oh, we're past that point. And this is exactly what it's supposed to be. You know, and they, they, but they, I forget what they did. And they they asked Walter parks to see if there was anything he could do. And I was like, Oh, this is not going to end well, because we've committed, it's going to get in his head. And it's gonna blow up. And our first day of shooting, Jim never got on camera. Because I think one of the producers had gotten in his ear like, well, maybe we can have a little less darkness under the eyes. And I remember saying to the producers like that is gonna come at a cost you wait. And sure enough, I went into Jim's trailer and he was like, Wow, are we are we just making a mistake? What's going on? And I said, Absolutely not. You are the character. This is the makeup. Go home today was a great rehearsal for printing from putting on your makeup for three and a half hours. Go home, get some sleep, we're gonna start tomorrow morning. Fuck them. And that's what we did.

Alex Ferrari 53:16
Yeah. And that's, that's awesome. That's an awesome story. Now is there you know, as directors, there's always that day. And it could be at the beginning of your career. It could be at the end of the career. It could be the middle of your career, on a day on the set, when the entire world is coming crashing down around you. And you're like, Oh, my God, like the actor won't come out. Like you were saying before we started like the actors drunk. He's getting she's getting a divorce. We're losing the sunlight. The camera fell on the lake. And every minute that goes by, it's literally 1000s if not hundreds of 1000s of dollars going by. What was that day for you? And how did you overcome that obstacle that day?

Brad Silberling 53:58
Wow. It's so funny because I'm smiling when you're saying that day. It's more like days.

Alex Ferrari 54:05
Every day I asked that question often is like you mean every?

Brad Silberling 54:09
Well, I'll tell you here's a here's a really, I I think I think I'm happy that I don't have a litany of them in my head. Partly because, listen, you the days that you think are going to be a cakewalk slam you like a ton of bricks, right? And then you're like, Holy fuck, how did this get so hard? And then the days that you're anticipating hell become like joyous so it happens throughout the process. I think as you do it more what you know I always say it's a shot at a time. You go one shot at a time I when I would in my golf cart drive myself to set on Lemony Snicket, we shot I think we shot 146 As on that movie, it was 146 days. And I remember, like a third of the way into it thinking this could really become overwhelming. And I remember just driving my cart with my happiest moment was like driving my golf cart to the stage with my little one cup of coffee. And I thought, I think I'm just like a minor, I go into the mine. And I come out with film each day, I can't even begin to think about the end of this journey, because it will take me out, I just have to go in and really concentrate one shot at a time, one performance at a time. And that's how you can persevere and not get overwhelmed. I over the years have gone to sit, just again, my method and I'll go sit with Steven on a set. And it's what's always given me the joy of one shot at a time. Because as much as people like to prepare, he prepares, but he still comes up with it. It's like jazz, he comes up with it a shot at a time on set. And if you do that, you could be shooting 10 days or 100 days and as long as you're getting some sleep and you're eating Okay. And you believe in what you're doing, you can get through it. The one i i I remember one day that was pretty amazing on Lemony Snicket that is about as close to what you're describing, as I've probably ever come. Where we had, we were doing a sequence with Billy Connolly. And there's a character in the books, the incredibly deadly Viper says huge Viper, of course, is harmless, but looks really neat. So we had a giant prosthetic version of the Viper created just to basically be able to rehearse and to for the camera operator scale. And the babies with these were babies who were playing Sunday, they were 14 months old. There were twins when we made the movie, and one of them on the rehearsal in rehearsal, do I always shoot my rehearsal? So everything's always on film, or digital? Because why not? It's like, I'm not going to lose a great performance. So I don't like just a camera rehearsal, I always roll and it gets everybody focused. So we rolled on the rehearsal in the grip who was sort of manipulating this huge, fake snake got a little too overzealous and his performance. And like, what views and the gait of this pen that the snake was in was, you know, fly's open. It goes right at the baby, who's being held by the kids. And she said, it's all it's in the movie. She looks and screams bloody murder. And she's toast. She's like, I'm off. They got to take her off the set, she was scarred. I still feel that she was scarred from that for the rest of the movie. Most of the rest of the movie was her twin sister who was just like a joy baby. She though freaked out. And at that point, when you're dealing with with infants, you only have so many minutes on set. Her sister had already worked that day. I had nowhere else to go. There wasn't another scene we could jump into. There was it was one of those where it was like, and I remember, I just, it was that moment, like, holy shit. I turned to my ad who's done every movie with me. And she's amazing, Michelle than he does. I turned to her with this look. And I said, I need to take a walk. I've never in my career left my set. I never leave the camera. I was so overwhelmed. By this wall. We had walked into that I literally walked out the stage is a paramount. And you know, on a big movie, you've got it feels like 1000 radios all around. There's PDAs. Right? And what I hear on as I'm walking out of the stage and I'm walking down, you know, I hear don't let them get to Melrose don't let them get to Melrose. They literally thought I was gonna walk and never come back. And I don't know if I think about it, but it was amazing. So I got like, halfway down and take a deep breath. You know, like, Okay, again shot at a time. It's their mood I sometimes too, in my head. I think it's their movie too. Meaning I take it all on my head. I take responsibility for everything. But everybody has come together they want to tell this very challenging story with real babies and real this and that. It's their movie too. We'll figure it out. You know, and the more you do it, this friend of mine starting this movie in Boston next week, I was mentioning, a lot of it takes place at a boarding school. He just lost two weeks out his primary location, like incredible Primary School location, all the architecture, because it COVID the Board of Directors, I guess got together and we're like, No, can't do it. And I was on the phone with him when he got the other column, the other line, and he's like, and I checked in with them next morning. He's like, You know what, this is what happens. We do this long enough, we kind of get unflappable. And you do you it's not that you don't care. You just know, there's gonna be a solution. And as always happens in film, you look back and think it couldn't have been any other way. So there's a faith in the process. Yeah. Cast. recasting.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:53
No, you're absolutely right. There's there is that thing that you're like, Oh, why did I lose that? Well, like the trapeze thing. In Wings of Desire. Perfect example. Like, I mean, that he wanted a hospital, but he couldn't afford it. So we got the trapeze. It's, it's, it is such an insanity that we do. I call it the beautiful sickness, because it is. Because it is it is. And you know, which is once you get bitten by that bug, you can't get rid of it ever. It really it's always inside you. And it's beautiful. But it's I've spoken to so many filmmakers over the course of my career, that there's an insanity to what we do. We have we have gone to the circus, we've ran away with the circus.

Brad Silberling 1:01:38
Yeah. And it's a compulsion. Yeah. And there's a and I've had it again since I was younger. So when I was making my little super eight films, lived in a neighborhood that had turned over and really there were not a lot of younger families. There was one kid next door to me, who was younger, was the only actor I had. He was in every movie that I made. And he got really smart. At one point, he started saying, I'm all tired today, like you hold this handout, I have to give them five bucks. And you know, it's my first time dealing with unions. But it was funny because he the compulsion he would look at me some days ago, oh, no, you got another one. Because you just get bitten and you want to tell another story, and you want to go do that thing. And I always say different with different filmmakers, I can look at their movies. Paul Anderson, another fantastic director from the Valley, we are Valley people. Here in LA. I adore licorice pizza. And I looked at it and I said he wanted to make a movie. Meaning he was very excited to create a feeling. It wasn't that he was sitting there chiseling out a story that was just like this. And just like that, he got really excited to go make a movie. And sometimes our movies are that it's like, I want to go make a movie, and I'm gonna find enough that I can care about to hang on this movie. And just enjoy the process. Peter Weir, who among you know, the pantheon of living directors is one of my faves. And I sought him out after Caspar, actually because I was gonna go to Australia. He happened to be in LA and he's become this incredible. Again, friend and mentor. He said a really brilliant thing about he made a movie called greencard with Dr. Jia and, and maybe I missed out. Yeah, that's right. And the movie flopped, and just got kind of panned. And he just had the greatest attitude. And he said of it later, I realized that the audience was in the wrong place. They should have been with us while we were making the movie. Because the process was so pleasurable, we had such a great time. And I guess I wanted them there, maybe less. So sitting in a theater watching the movie, and I, I knew exactly what he meant, which is, you know, sometimes it's just, I want to go and have this great experience. And so, but But it's all from that root compulsion, and part of your job, if people do it with more or less success is how do I manage that compulsion and have a life? You know, for reason that most these marriages go down with filmmakers and other artists. And it's like, you have to find a balance, and we're always working at that. But the bug is still always there. And you know, it's this I call it the great Harrumph. It's this creative Harum for you're unsettled, because you're searching for that next thing to just lock into.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:46
And I'd imagine, you know, being someone like yourself, who's had success as a director in your career, when you start getting those first big jobs, you know, when you're on the set of Casper and on the set of City of Angels and that I guess helps to amplify because the high is so much higher for someone directing, with all the toys in the world like unlimited tickets. That high must be pretty immense for someone like yourself, as opposed to an independent filmmaker who is used to making 100,000 $150,000 movies. Don't get me wrong, it still could be a high for them as well. But I could only imagine the level of flike height you get you get your movies get released, you get huge audiences, you're working with the the best collaborators in the world, you have Steven Spielberg sitting there visiting the set, I could imagine as a director, you that that that compulsion must be even more. So I think that's probably why you do so much television, because television you're constantly working, as opposed to features that take forever.

Brad Silberling 1:05:44
Well, this is this is right. Pilots, and I love making pilots because pilots are little movies that have to be done by May 2. And they have to, they're not going to wait for the actor because they can't they have to have it on their schedule. No, it's true, though. I'll tell you, and I remember this. While I was shooting Casper, Kevin Reynolds who made another thing Waterworld Kevin's an old friend because he married one of my oldest friends. Kevin was on the universal lot. And he got I don't know if he was in post on Waterworld or

Alex Ferrari 1:06:20
95. I think it was in post around that time.

Brad Silberling 1:06:24
And I remember he came by, and I was like, you know, famous at Waterworld, the first movie to ever break the 100 million dollar figure on a budget. And I said, God, that just must be amazing and crazy and great. And champion. And he's looked at me said you know what? It's still all the same problems. He said, I'm still fighting to make my days, I still don't have enough for certain things I want to do. He said so yes, it's great. He said, But don't don't have an illusion that it just suddenly changes. And so when you're talking about the size of the Minister to, I'll tell you where we're all in the same spot in a beautiful way, the first time we walk in with that first audience. We're sitting there if the movie costs $2 million, $200 million, or 20,000, your heart is here, because how are they going to receive this? How are they going to laugh? Are they going to cry? That's the great equalizer. And for me is still what I'm most excited about. It's one thing to sit and just go make a film for myself, but it is an audience experience that I crave. Nothing is better or can be worse, but usually nothing is better. And that's kind of an interesting equalizer. The rest of the sizes, again can be great at times it can be like I say like oh shit, I just got to put on my mining cap because this thing is you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:54
Cut cut wood carry water, cut wood carry water, solder to time, carry water. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Brad Silberling 1:08:08
Okay, so you remember that great line from Glengarry Glen Ross? Always? Closing? Yeah, mine is always be writing. And if you can't write, always be dating a writer. Seriously, because in the end, it is all about content. And for somebody trying to break in somebody's trying to sustain it. So it's the rocky story. It's like Stallone saying yeah, you can make my movie but I'm going to star in it. And the only way for filmmakers to get to guarantee their place unless they're coming off of you know John Watts last movie. The only way you're going to guarantee your place is primacy of and this was Steven has said to me many times too. It's like that's the thing when it's your baby. They mean they don't want to make it but if they make it it's only going to be with you. Always be writing always be dreaming and like I say truly if you're not a writer then find somebody to collaborate with. It's going to be the I mean, I will say without a doubt my most enjoyable experiences be the larger small have been on the films that I've written I've done both and I've loved my other movies too but the experience of it I'm the most free in a weird way. I'm not like I remember Dustin Hoffman on moonlight mile was waiting to see if I was going to be like Mr. Letter perfect. And I was like Oh god no i cuz I I've already written it. Now we can play if we need to play. So but but that it's that it's always in the other thing too. It's like when I was growing up soccer player, you know, we used to watch these Pepsi training films that they would scream and they were always starving. Pele. Pele was always basically dribbling a grapefruit on a beach in Brazil. And his whole thing was, anybody can do this with just a grapefruit. And I think of that all the time, which is if I have that creative, if I to have to wait to pull together $100 million $10 million 200,000 If I have to wait to be creative, because of other people's money, I'm going to be doomed and bitter. And so writing gives me the control there's nothing but keystrokes or a piece of paper or journal. That's gonna stop me from continue. No. And Stephen has a great phrase bill burr he he talks about your your, your your writing I in your directing, I and he has said to me, you know that the reason he knows I love to write is it's, it's my directing I getting to play, but play on the page. So that's, that's the key is I can't stress it enough. Every time I go back to film schools to talk to young people, like you have to be a creator.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:17
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Brad Silberling 1:11:24
Wow, that's a great question. Um, I would say probably, it's an ongoing lesson. You can begin to wait stubbornness with I guess, integrity and stubbornness for many go hand in hand. And I can be super stubborn when I want to do something, I'm going to get it done. It may take two years, 10 years, it may I'm gonna get it done. And it's funny, I have three movies that I've made, each of which had that about it moonlight mile, I wrote a first draft of in 1993. I made it in 2001 10 items or less similar picture I did with Ben Kingsley, ordinary man, I, by the time things got together, fell apart. So I'm stubborn. But what I realized is that I can't be singular and stubborn meaning be open to I was always at the belief that I have to just stay on one project, I can't be distracted by others. And the challenge there is, that's fine. If you literally are prepared to not go and do something for a long period of time, because there are elements that are out of your control. And so I'm both creatively staunch. But I do, it's like you can juggle more plates in it in a successful and enjoyable way. The more you do it, you get confidence. So I might be developing a limited series that might go. But I'm also out to cast on another movie that it would have been once upon a time, I would have only just sat and waited for that cast come together on that movie, Moonlight mile, and suddenly or the money to come with it. And so suddenly, it was from 2008 to two. But when we released the movie 2000 Or sorry, 98 2002 it was like almost four years. And on the one hand, like Peter Weir always said to me, make sure you live your life. Some people just go movie to movie to movie, you need to take time and read and hike and listen to music and fill yourself. So I'm I'm I have both in me I can wait. But I've learned to not to not cut off other opportunities. And so that initially would have been probably more of a challenge for me and I have a bigger view of it now.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:06
And what is your what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Brad Silberling 1:14:12
I mean, well, every filmmaker will tell you, it's like, don't ask me that question. But I'm gonna tell you obviously, JAWS is what lit my little fuse. i You can ask that question and get a different answer every day. I'm going to tell you I love again talking about Peter. We're in a more commercial film of his. Okay, I'm cheating. I'm giving you two. I love Gallipoli and I love witness witnesses this remarkable movie. It's like this. And then I'm going to give you a only because I recently saw it again and I was like God i wish i have made that movie. I'm going to mention ZhongYi movie that most people have not seen and they must see it. And so it's it's the smallest movie he ever made. It's called not one less. He made it with with non actors and a little Chinese village is the most breathtaking, beautiful. It's like, not even Veritate because it's still beautifully controlled the way he can. But it's what movies can be. I come back to it from time to time to you know, reinvigorate me. I'm a big Ozu fan. Love I love floating weeds. Floating weeds is a movie that I come back to, for tone for just what exactly where that camera is on that 50 millimeter lens. So those are movies that always stay with me. But I do have those movies that I call like, oh, that's just a perfect movie that you can go back to from time to time and they can be indifferent. That can be All the President's Men it can be can be the verdict. It can be you know, you name it. So I have a I have a, you know, one of those revolving CD changers. It's not to fix

Alex Ferrari 1:16:13
Exactly, it's absolutely rotation you got rotation.

Brad Silberling 1:16:16
But it's just it's it's honestly to tweak myself. It's God. That's beauty. Every time I see something that I enjoy, it makes me want to go that day and make a movie. And that's what it is

Alex Ferrari 1:16:29
My friend. I appreciate you coming on the show, Brad. I really do. Thank you so much. It's been a wonderful conversation. I hope it's inspired a few people to go out there and make a movie and and scare the hell out of others to not make movies. But I truly appreciate your time my friend. Please continue making the work that you do and good works. I appreciate you my friend.

Brad Silberling 1:16:48
I appreciate it too. This is fun. Thanks so much.

LINKS

  • Brad Silberling – IMDB

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IFH 549: Sundance 2022 – God’s Country with Julian Higgins

Julian Higgins is a Los Angeles-based director, writer, and producer. His first feature, GOD’S COUNTRY – a neo-Western thriller starring Thandiwe Newton – will premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Julian’s short films have screened around the globe and won dozens of prizes, including the gold medal Student Academy Award, two Student Emmy Awards, and the grand prize of Ron Howard’s “Project Imagination” Contest. His most recent short, WINTER LIGHT, was a top ten finalist for the Oscar.

A New Hampshire native, Julian holds a BFA in Film from Emerson College and an MFA in Directing from the American Film Institute. He currently teaches directing at both institutions.

Based on a short story by acclaimed author James Lee Burke, God’s Country is a character-driven thriller set in the snowy wilderness of the American West. Thandiwe Newton plays Sandra Guidry, a Black professor living and working in a rural college town. She’s also grieving her recently-deceased mother, for whom she’d served as primary caretaker. On the day of the burial, Sandra discovers a mysterious red truck parked in her driveway.

She soon learns it belongs to a pair of local hunters seeking to enter the forest behind her house. Sandra turns them away politely but firmly – her experience tells her these are not the sort of men to welcome freely into her world. But they won’t take no for an answer, and soon Sandra finds herself drawn into an escalating battle of wills that puts her most deeply-held values to the test.

Enjoy my conversation with Julian Higgins.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Julian Higgins. How you doin Julian?

Julian Higgins 0:14
Very good. Thank you so much for having me on.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thank you so much for being on the show, man. First of all, congratulations on getting into Sundance, you've, you've won the lottery is all downhill from this point on the money should be the truck of money should be coming in at any moment now. Right. dumping into your front yard.

Julian Higgins 0:34
It's backing up to my house right now.

Alex Ferrari 0:36
Right! And, and the next in your next movie should be about 200 million, right? That's generally well, you could do whatever you want with it. Right? Is that the way it works?

Julian Higgins 0:44
That's what I've observed. That is what I'm expecting? Yeah. Well, it really is, like, he said, It's like winning the lottery, it is is an incredible privilege to be involved at all and to be included. So we are super excited as a team to be sharing the movie with the world this way.

Alex Ferrari 1:06
Absolutely. There's no question. I joke about it. Because a lot of filmmakers think that that's the way it goes, Oh, you got into Sundance, that means it's smooth sailing from this. From here on out. I always like now I've been involved with some Sundance films in my day. And I've seen it firsthand.

Julian Higgins 1:20
It's yeah, and it's also like, it's the the journey was making the movie, you know, and then the catharsis that we felt when we finished it is the best, you know, I mean, I mean, I'm sure we'll get we'll get into the whole process. But yeah, absolutely. No, this is all kind of, honestly, you don't expect anything else beyond just trying to finish it. So

Alex Ferrari 1:42
That you got a movie made is a miracle in itself, let alone in these trying times. And we'll go into what happened in the middle of your shooting of this film. But before we go down that road, man, how did you get started in this ridiculous business?

Julian Higgins 1:59
Yeah, I mean, you know, I, I had a, an instinct, as a really small child to draw. That was sort of the first kind of creative instinct that I had was drawing. And, and I think it was, I think it was just a, you know, I grew up in rural New Hampshire, there was, I was an only child, it was a I was pretty imaginative kid. And drawing was just a natural outlet. But it translated also pretty naturally into acting. I mean, when I was pretty young, I realized that there were actual human beings in these movies that got to go on these adventures, you know. And for me, it was pirate movies. I wanted to be a pirate real bad. And so and then something clicked for me at one point that, you know, you could actually be an actor and go be in a pirate movie. And that became my, my one goal from about second grade onward. That's awesome. Yeah, and like, you know, then that sort of developed into a much more serious love of acting. I mean, that was really it. For most of my youth, especially, I mean, even into college, I thought I might try to actually be an actor, I'm greatly relieved, that I'm not, because that talk about a tough profession. But um, but yeah, like, I think all of that experience, just thinking about acting and, and doing it and learning about it. And honestly, I'm just kind of a geek about acting, you know, I'm fascinated by all the different approaches and, and thinking about the interaction between performance and storytelling, and all these things. So that has been the most valuable experience I've had as a director, and then somewhere along the line it, you know, I think, as it occurs to a lot of actors, maybe I should write stuff that I could be in. So acting led very nicely into writing. And then, you know, it was in seventh grade, my friends, and I had written a bunch of silly sketches. We were all watching Monty Python, you know, and we were like, we should film some of these sketches, just just for a couple laughs. And for me, it was very much like, the first time I had to think about where the camera would go, based on what the scene was about. That was the moment I was like, Oh, I see. This is what it's, this is what I'm going to be doing. Like, it was drawing, acting writing. It was the imagination, the creativity, like all that all that came together into this beautiful puzzle that is so satisfying to solve. And, and every scene you do is completely different puzzles. So it just never gets old. And so I really haven't looked back since then. And as far as like getting into the business, I mean, the, you know, I knew, as I said, quite young, this is what I wanted to do. So I went to a school Emerson where you get to start your major the first year, that's why I wanted to go I just wanted to get into it, you know, start making things. And you know, because I had I had shot some projects in high school and things but I wanted to, you know, get into the real thing as soon as possible and Emerson was, you know, a great, really creative environment, I made a film that I thought represented me really well. And that's what I used to apply to the American Film Institute, which, you know, that was coming out here for the first time to LA and going to AFI was, you know, led to the work that really opened the doors on my career. So that's sort of, I kind of had the classic, you know, find it young and go to film school approach. But yeah, it's been my focus.

Alex Ferrari 5:30
Yeah, I didn't discover my I didn't get bitten by the bug until I was at high school. But I was working in a video store throughout high school. So there there was that so that that kind of like, Hey, I got 3000 VHS tapes around, maybe I should do this.

Julian Higgins 5:45
Yeah, and I should say, like, you know, a major. My parents, my mother writes about film and teaches film and my father's you know, film lover like he just you know, whenever my mom would go to a academic conference, he would bring home some sweeping war epic for us to watch. So I got I got like the sort of Truffaut and Curacao childhood from my parents, my mom teaches the French New Wave. And so I definitely had a very sort of film snobby upbringing, which I'm so grateful for. But, you know, there's a lot of American movies I have not seen yet.

Alex Ferrari 6:20
I, one of my prized possessions is an Akira Kurosawa our autograph movie, still that I got in LA. Like, it was, it was a pre it was a pre baby purchase, meaning that you wouldn't, I wouldn't, I would have a conversation with my wife about it. Now. They're like, really, really, we have girls now what's wrong with you?

Julian Higgins 6:44
Exactly. Before your money had destination from before it was even made? Exactly. I get that, you know, like, my dad was. My dad grew up watching, you know, you know, big American epics of the 50s, as they came out on the big screen, and he has a real kind of nostalgia for, like, the kind of they don't make them like that anymore movies. You know, like, he wanted to make sure I saw Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen as a kid, you know. And I'm, you know, I definitely got my love of sort of epic storytelling from him. And then my mother is so you know, invested in, you know, the filmmakers themselves. And she writes, you know, books on directors and things like that. So, I definitely was very aware from a young age that this was like something you could do, you know, and I think that all that really helped a lot.

Alex Ferrari 7:37
Is there any film that kind of lit the fire? That really lit the fire? Was there that one movie you said, Oh, man, because we had Shea on your co writer on God, and God's country and his, his believing that was rocky for? And I was like, Yes, we understand that man. Don't apologize. It was awesome.

Julian Higgins 7:58
Yeah. I mean, it's funny, because like, I grew up in such a kind of like, movie scholar household, as I've said, I realized my mom had all these films on her shelf. And like, I knew the covers before I'd ever watched them, you know? And then and then like, one day, I was like, Citizen Kane, what is that? Because she keeps talking about that. Maybe I was just watching. I just watched it one afternoon. And I realized this is this may strike some people. That's funny, but like, I realized that I had seen it before. I thought I was watching it for the first time. But I'm actually pretty confident that I saw that movie before it could even like, speak or like, remember, you know, like, I think my mom was, I was absorbing a lot of great films and classics, classic films, as like, as a baby, really. I mean, I think I Citizen Kane was kind of like, I know, it's so cliche to say Citizen Kane, but it really was the case like that That movie was very eye opening, because it has such a fragmentary structure. She was like, Oh, I see, you can tell a story in a totally on, you know, nonlinear way. And I saw that, I would say, probably in maybe like, fifth grade. You know, that's when that's when this happened. And I was already thinking about just like, you know, acting and drama and stuff. And that movie really did make me I watched it over and over again, trying to figure out how it got built, you know? And it's, you know, again, it's super cliche to say

Alex Ferrari 9:29
It but it really, it isn't it isn't because, I mean, you're literally coming from a you know, a family of film scholar, so it makes all the sense in the world that Citizen Kane would be the movie that kind of did it for you, as opposed to like, you know, I mean, I, for me, I think the first time I haven't thought about it was et. I saw it and I was like, I was like, what? In first grade or second grade, I went home and started writing a script, which is basically I wrote for a script that's second grade, by the way, and this is what I wrote, young boy meats alien. And that's pretty much the end of that script. So that's a winner. I think that's, I could sell that for 3 million. I guess I'll guess a 5 million later. But, so Alright, so your first feature you got off the ground was mending the wall? If I correct is that correct?

Julian Higgins 10:22
I mean, it's so generous of you to call that a feature, I really do appreciate it. This wall Mending Wall is a project that I you know, it's one of those. I mean, I made it as a junior and senior in high school. Okay, so it was never released or anything. But at the time, of course, I was like, I gotta get this IMDb, you know,

Alex Ferrari 10:46
I saw that, but it was 80 minutes, but it was 80 minutes. So it's like, it's technically your first feature

Julian Higgins 10:50
I had done. I had done like, I'm gonna call it a feature length video. Okay, so I've done I've done some pretty, like ambitious projects, if you're like an eighth grader, you know, yeah, before, but like, that was sort of the one where I was like, Okay, this time, I'm going to cast grownups in the grown up roles, you know, it's not gonna be my friends playing the roles. So like, I actually had some, you know, really lovely community theater actors from the, you know, the, the upper valley where I grew up, there was like, a great regional theater there. So, you know, just trying to find people that knew more than me about, you know, acting on camera. And, yeah, that was like, an incredibly important project, for me just to like, go through it go through the entire process from writing it to, you know, trying to fundraise it, even though I think it cost maybe $3,000 over the course of two years, you know, like, but but, you know, that's, that has been that has turned into my main advice is, like, I don't think there's any substitute for just getting stuck into it, you know, like, in whatever way you can manage, it doesn't have to be a huge ambitious, you know, project, it can be something quite small, it just need to go through the process as many times as possible. And I'm really grateful that I got to do all those projects, when I was in, you know, even before college just to go through the process, you know, so, it's one of those things where you're the one man band, you know, like, I shot it, I edited it, I was, you know, we didn't even have a boom, or like, external sound, it was all just in camera sound, you know, so it was his homemade as

Alex Ferrari 12:33
Well listen, you know, I feel you, I've been there, I've done that I completely understand where you're coming from. But it's something that you're right. It's kind of like, you know, we're craftsmen, you know, we have to perform our craft, and it's as a writer, you get to write as much as you want. As a painter, you get to paint as much as you want. As a musician, you get to play your instrument. But for directors, it's so difficult for us to practice our art. And, and the thing is, is like, we spent an entire career, not doing our art very much, it's more about getting revved up to get the project up and grow. But the actual onset directing, it's such a small percentage of our careers, that as much of that as you can do as possible, unless you're Ridley Scott, if you're really Scott, you direct five movies a month, and

Julian Higgins 13:26
But, you know, like, I think that has been something that I've thought a lot about, especially in the last few years is how do I create opportunities for myself very low stakes opportunities to just practice the individual, you know, like exercising at the gym, like you got to isolate the muscles and just keep them in shape. So like, one thing that I've been doing that I think has been critical for me is just this was pre pandemic, obviously, but, you know, I'll start it up again, as soon as possible. Just once a week, a few actor friends and I would just get together for a few hours and work on scenes, I would direct them, they would often they're not to shoot them. They're not I'm not is not seen as I'm writing, who just pick good material, and just work on it together just for the exercise. Yeah, and I think things like that are so important, because as you say, it's like, like, in the last five years, you know, I've been on set as a director for, I don't know, 60 days, in five years, you know, and like, I'm thinking about it all the time, and all the time. But like the amount of time we actually get to do this beautiful thing that we are, you know, we believe are the purpose of our lives. You know, it's such a small percentage of that. So

Alex Ferrari 14:35
It's it is the it is it is the sadness, it is the beautiful sadness of being a director. You just don't get to direct you just don't get to direct as much as you want. And that's for everybody. By the way. I mean, it's not just for the Masters as well.

Julian Higgins 14:50
I can see why people are so enthusiastic about television, you know, I mean, you got it. You had a great interview with Dan audience the other day. I mean, Dan is such

Alex Ferrari 15:00
He's a master. He's like, Yeah,

Julian Higgins 15:02
I had the opportunity to shadow him at one point, I don't think he would ever remember that it was on house. And, you know, the the executive producer of the show, Greg Atanas. Who, by the way, no slouch. Greg Atanas is also like a very high level, he poked his head in the door, he was like, Daddy, yes. You know, like, anyway, my point is, I can see why doing, you know, 300 episodes of television, and how appealing that would be to just constantly be working, constantly solving problems and constantly getting into new material. Like, that's extremely exciting.

Alex Ferrari 15:36
Now, let me ask you, I mean, so I'm assuming that you know, out of college, you didn't go straight into, you know, a career and making a lot of money and just directing all the time. But either like now. Now, now, you're obviously you arrived, you've arrived already, you've arrived? You're standing on bricks of $100 bills stacked? I understand that. So no, but generally speaking, but you were more you're more established. Now. You have actually have you directed union? Have you directed features, you've cut television, and so on. But when you're starting out, what was the thing that took you? I mean, from from mended wall, to Mending Wall to all the way to God's country? There's a there's a lot of even up to your first episode of House, which was your first TV job? It took years? How did you keep going? Because it's so much of what we do is the resilience of just showing up and keep going, even though there's no hope of making it the way you want to, but yet you keep going. So what did you was it? What was it for you?

Julian Higgins 16:42
Yeah, I mean, so it's interesting, because like, you know, I, in film, school, or whatever you hear stories about, you know, like, I remember hearing, Derek, Shawn, France took him 10 or 12 years to get Blue Valentine made. And at the time, I was like, Oh, my God, I don't know if I could do that. Yeah, it took five years to get God's country made. And it was so enjoyable. Like, even though it was really difficult at times, and like, it definitely presented all kinds of unforeseen challenges. You know, the fact of engaging with a project that you really care about, that means something to you, and is, you know, deeply personal in that way, carries you along through thick and thin. So it's, it never really feels, I mean, here's the thing. I was extremely fortunate to have parents that weren't trying to talk me out of being a filmmaker, they were, it goes back to the parents again, as always, you know, like, they were so encouraging of my creative interests, they never tried to say, well, we want you to be a doctor or a lawyer and the classic story, you know, and then I had a school system around me, that allowed me to do the things that I was excited about within the program, you know, that my high school had an independent study elective, where you can work on your own project, you'd have to propose it. But you know, if you've got, you know, ran to the opportunity, you can work on, you know, like, that's what, that's how I made Mending Wall, you know, right, it's like, and so and then Emerson, and, you know, it's such a nurturing environment. And then AFI is a very brutal environment, but it's like, you know, it puts you to the test, you know, the learning curve is very steep. And so really, what the thing that has carried me along is, I have never felt like there's no hope, when I'm working on a project that I feel is is extremely personal to me, and, like, emotionally compelling to me, because then I have something that keeps my eye on the future, you know, and, and so for me, if you look at the, I mean, you referred to the years that I spent, I mean, for me, it was a sequence of projects, I don't even think of it as yours, you know, like I don't, I kind of lose track of how long things take. But what I know is that I made a string of projects, that at the time, I poured my heart and soul into and did the best I could do, you know, whether they were whether they came out, you know, I don't know, I don't know that there's objective like, Oh, this is great. This is not great. But you know, obviously, you always have complex feelings about your work, but But you know, like, I don't regret any of it. Because I, you know, you always try to find your way into the project, whatever it is, and what speaks to you about it. And then you grab that and you develop it as much as you can. And God's country is no different.

Alex Ferrari 19:30
Now, so. So you got your first when your first TV director, Job was house, not bad first TV gig, by the way. Not bad at all. You're coming in on the tail end of I think it was last season, right? If it wasn't mistaken

Julian Higgins 19:46
It was actually, there were only seven episodes after mine. Right. So you were so I really didn't catch the tail end.

Alex Ferrari 19:53
You got the tail end of it. And so I have to ask you the question, because I know how it felt when I first walked on set up Real set? What was it like? You were what, like, how old were you?

Julian Higgins 20:05
At the time. And, you know, the, the, the director that I mentioned before, Greg Atanas, is the one who really, you know, made that opportunity happen for me, he was the producing director on house at the time. And he, once again, like, it really does come down to the work ultimately, like, I would not have been able to even enter that, that sort of that opportunity at all, if I hadn't made a short that really represented who I wanted to be as a director, which was thief, my piece of foam. And Greg, just, you know, this is not, you know, a plan you can make, the plan has to be, I'm going to do the best job I possibly can with the projects I choose to work on, you know, with the resources and the people that I have at the time to work with. And, you know, so thief was at the time, I felt like, this is the best I can do. And putting that out in the world is kind of where that ends, you know, even you have to start thinking about the next one. And but Greg was actually the presenter of an award that the movie won. And i i That was the first time I met him was I saw him on stage, he presented the award, I happen to win. And then backstage, he was like, Hey, are you interested in TV directing at all, it never occurred to me, and I don't think it occurred to him at the time. I can't put words in his mouth, but that I would actually end up directing house, he just wanted to know if it was something I was interested in. And, and, you know, one thing led to another we had conversations that months went by, you know, he was like, why don't you come shadow me on an episode, you know, it's just sort of slowly built this relationship over maybe six months, you know, and I showed up on the show a lot. That's when I watched it, it is direct, a lot of other excellent TV directors that I got to kind of learn from and watch. And, and, and then I think through that process, he got to know me what my priorities were like, what how I thought about directing and the work. And he saw that I was really committed to being there and learning as much as possible. And then he actually dropped out of an episode that he was going to direct and gave it to me, which is in addition to being very generous. It's also kind of like the break that people dream of, you know, now that walking on set for the first time as the director, it was Friday the 13th. It was a massive, massive scene in the LA Convention Center downtown with 300 extras and worse, you know, techno crane and steadycam going up and down escalators and like all this stuff, I knew that was going to be the first day. Obviously, I'm so excited. But you know, the answer to all the director stresses, in my opinion, is prep. You know, I mean, that so I knew was gonna be a big day, I prepped the hell out of it, you know, and, and that, that, that I think really helped. Because I came in with a plan, I knew what I needed, I knew I didn't need, I wrapped the day on time, which is the most important thing you can do. Anyway, you know, what I found, which was surprising to me was that the actual job of the director, you know, and what I have to deal with, doesn't actually change that much, whether it's a pretty small, short, you know, an independent feature like God's country, or, you know, big television show like house, I'm still at the end of the day, I'm communicating with the heads of department communicating with the actors. I'm trying to tell the story cleanly and clearly and effectively, you know, it, it's always kind of the same job, just the scale of it goes up and down. But you know, and by the way, directing house was a real treat. I mean, I don't want to it was it was difficult, like everything, but it was, it was a really wonderful show to work on.

Alex Ferrari 23:58
Now, did you ever I mean, because I remember being the young guy in the room, that that doesn't happen anymore. Very rarely, it does happen every once in a while now I'm still the young guy in the room, which I always find like, am I the youngest guy in the room here? That's awesome. But I remember always being the young guy in the room. But when I walked in certain sets, there was the politics of the set that they don't teach you in school, the the DP that might be like, No, I'm gonna shoot it my wicked, or the production designer doesn't want to play or the actor who doesn't want to play. Can you kind of touch a little bit on how if that if that ever happened to you? And how did you deal with it?

Julian Higgins 24:31
Yeah, I mean, it makes sense to me, that people would be skeptical. I mean, I think you you may be referring to two different types of things. Like obviously, there's people that are gonna act a certain way no matter who it is. Sure. But then there's, you know, it's just like the, I think, a perfectly natural skepticism of someone who, either visually or for whatever reason, just appears to be kind of young, you know, and I think it makes sense actually, because you know, especially if Care, the more you care about what the work you're doing, the more you need there to be trust, you know, and for me, like, like Hugh Laurie, who I grew up watching his work. I love you, Laurie, you know, I mean, he's just an incredibly intelligent actor. And, you know, he carried that show on his shoulders, like he, he was the one who need to make who needed to make everything work. And so, when, uh, you know, I had been on the show hanging out, like, I don't think anybody knew who I was, I think they maybe thought I was an intern or like, somebody whose nephew or something like that, you know. And so then to be referred to as the director, I could understand why that's a little alarming, you know, like, wait a second, that's the director. Now, again, the way that you win, the trust of people you're working with, in my opinion, is you do the work before you ever walk on set? No, I mean, the way you show people that, you know, what you're doing is you execute the work. And slowly that goes away. But there's absolutely that, like, for me, I made some strategic decisions. One was, I bought a big fat pair of director glasses. You know, like, I needed to look like I could make bold decisions.

Alex Ferrari 26:21
So like, Tony, so Tony Scott glasses. So Tony, Tony Scott glass,

Julian Higgins 26:25
Ridiculous, like, hunt down some stills from that episode, you'll see these are some big big glasses. Now, it's like, that probably doesn't make much difference. But I actually think certain people didn't recognize me, which frankly, helped, you know, but honestly, what it is, is like, there is going to inevitably be discomfort. I mean, I don't know that there's any way you can solve it in advance, like, there's always going to be a part of someone with news, a new director on a TV show. You know, if you're working on that show, every day for months and years, a new person shows up, you're like, Okay, are we going to be safe? Like, are we good? And it's totally understandable. You know, and so a big part of, especially the TV directing job, but any scenario where you're, I think working with new people is, you know, come in ready to work. Because that's how you show people what your priorities are, you know, and like that you're paying attention, and you are going to listen to them and say yes to their ideas. And like, you know, I mean, the problem would be is if I walked on, instead of house and tried to tell people what to do, like, it's not that it's always a collaboration, if you're the director, you know, so

Alex Ferrari 27:37
Now, I always love asking this question of directors, you know, we all when we're on set, there's always that one day, that the entire world's coming down upon you. And then I always get from directors do you mean every day? I will? Yeah, there's, so every day could be but like, there's always that one moment in a shoot or in a movie or on a show that the camera bro, you love you losing the lie that you're at your actual broken ankle, a COVID head? Something, something happens? What was that day for you? And how did you overcome that day,that situation?

Julian Higgins 28:12
I do tend to be more of the happy warrior in these in the process in general. I mean, I do think I'm very aware of just what a privilege it is to even be able to do this at all, or even consider spending my life force on this, you know, so like, even the challenges, I do think I do a pretty good job of bouncing back quickly. I think the answer, of course, that comes to mind, when you ask that question is, you know, we were making God's country and Montana. And we were in that perfect window, where aardige thing three weeks later, the entire world shut down because of a once in a century pandemic, you know, so, and of course, my it was like, oh, yeah, of course, of course that would happen. You know, like, are we ever going to make movies again, much less when we finished the movie, you know? And and, you know, we had to make the decision which was the only decision obviously, but you know, to shut down production with about half of the schedule remaining to shoot and kind of pack our bags and go home with no no idea when or even if we would get a chance to finish it you know, and on top of the all the other uncertainty of that time you know, that was that was definitely a dark night of the soul for me. Because I don't know because I for everybody, but

Alex Ferrari 29:39
I can't even imagine. Like you've got an amazing star amazing cash. You've got the movie you've been working on for five years. everything's running smoothly, and all of a sudden, yeah, we got to shut the entire thing down because the world is ending, essentially. Yeah. And what I love and what I love about you said something very, very It's a sickness that we have as filmmakers, you said, Will we ever be able to make movies again? That is where your mind goes first is that like, not that the world's coming to an end? Like, wait a minute, am I going to be able to finish this? And that is that is the sickness. That is the beautiful sickness of being a director.

Julian Higgins 30:18
I mean, for me, it was like, I just don't know who I am. If I am not going to be able to make movies, like I really did spend some time thinking like, Okay, if this continues forever, like, What if we never come out of lockdown? You know, like, who am I going to be? And you know that that was a moment, I haven't really experienced a moment like that before. But, you know, to my credit, my manager, Jake Weiner. We were on the phone, like maybe two weeks into the pandemic, and he was like, I was like, Jake, are we ever going to make movies again? And he was like, Yeah, we will, you know, and, like, he had no reason to say that, in my mind. Like, that was completely we didn't have enough information to say that. But I seized on those words. And I like trusted my manager, you know. And, anyway, so yeah, I mean, that decision was clearly like, not a difficult decision to make. It was it was difficult emotional decision to make, but we had to send everyone home, especially Tandy way lives in England, like, we needed to make sure that everybody could get home before it shut down for real. So they pulled the plug on the movie. And like you say, like, it's really about overcoming it. You know, I had a couple of weeks there, where we, you know, where I've talked about what I was feeling, but, um, but then, you know, I will say, in hindsight now, it really was largely upside. And I will say, the reason for that is, we got to stop in the middle of the project, and reflect on what we had done, you know, which you don't get to do normally. And the way I would want to work, maybe not a year, maybe not a year of interruption, but like, you know, to stop and be like, Okay, let's look at what we have. Let's, let's start editing it, let's see how it's working, like what decisions are, you know, what choices are we making, that are really panning out? What choices are we making that, you know, aren't necessary? How are the performances coming together, and then Shay, and I, you know, we started rewriting things. And we involve Tanya in that process as well, like, we were talking, the whole time we were down, the cinematographer got to weigh in, like everybody was looking at the footage, and the value of that I cannot overstate how much that helped the movie is such a better movie now. Because we had that time to think about, you know, what we had done thus far. And, and we did have to wait, you know, we shut down on day 17 of the shoot. And then 367 days went by, and then we started rolling on dating. And so we had, and like, that was an important year, you know, 2020 was an important year, for the world, obviously, for obvious reasons. But in America, you know, so many things, I think, provoked by the pandemic really came to the surface, and we started having conversations that were very much the meat and potatoes of the movie anywhere. And, and so, you know, finally, a lot of stuff came to the surface, as far as, you know, racism and sexism and misogyny, and like, the interplay between those things, and the way we have heard, we've set up our society, you know, and the movie felt more relevant than when we started even. And so we really, really went back with a sense of purpose. It was, it felt even more important than ever to finish telling a story. And I think it was also more sorry, I can go on about it. But I just want to say one more thing, which is the, the crew all the way down the line, I think, because we were all working on it. At the moment when the world ended, you know, it was so much more to to it meant so much more to come back and finish it. It wasn't a gig to anybody that worked on this project. You know, it was we went back pre vaccine, you know, we had to implement the strictest safety protocols, you know, and everybody was so committed to doing it. I think finishing it was like, you know, it may sound a little corny but like, finishing it was the kind of gesture of we can overcome this stuff together if we work together.

Alex Ferrari 34:36
That's yeah, I can only imagine like I said that when Shay told me the story as well, I was like Jesus you guys had you went through the wringer. But it was upside. It was a lot of time to reflect and filmmakers don't generally don't get to do that. But I also saw your film, Winter Light, which is essentially the precursor to God's country. Correct.

Julian Higgins 34:59
It's really interesting. Seeing how that happened, because like, you know, the film is based on this short story. James Lee Burke wrote the short story, Winter Light in the early 90s. And I read it in 2010, after I finished AFI. And my mom handed me this book of short stories, because she's a fan of James Lee Burke. And, you know, when your life's the first story in there, and by the time I finished reading it, I knew, it was one of those things where you just kind of know, like, this is speaking to me, in a way I don't even understand yet, you know, but I know I'm gonna have to engage with this. And so for a few years, I tried to figure out how to make it into a short, it is such a contained story. It's a wonderful story, but it's it's very abrupt. It's very short. And it's very, like internal character study. So, you know, the whole time I was working on the short, because it was kind of an expensive, short to be honest, like,

Alex Ferrari 35:58
You shot 35 millimeter, like, how did you guys even get the financing? How did it get off the ground?

Julian Higgins 36:02
Yeah, I mean, you know, the financing came in from a bunch of different places, from individuals from groups from grants from we did small crowdfunding campaign, like, it was the typical story of doing a short, but just trying to get, you know, trying to kind of pull out all the stops, you know, and my cinematographer and I have a very good relationship with Panda vision. So like, you know, you call in your favors when you're making a short, something like that, like, you know, and anyway, so we pulled off the short, but the whole time, I was like, you know, I don't think there's enough story material here to turn into a feature. Because, you know, the short was so expensive, it was like, Okay, why don't we just make a feature, and I genuinely did not think that was, there was enough material there. So it kind of when I finished that short, I just sort of felt like that was the end of my engagement with it, you know, and flash forward a couple years. After the 2016 election, the the sort of themes of the story, really, like, bubbled up for me again, I was driving home from Whole Foods. And it like really struck me like, Oh, that is a very relevant story. Again, and, and I had this idea, which I'm sure she talked about, as well, we basically decided to, you know, as a way of kind of incorporating the things that we were seeing happening in the world and in the country that we were, they were making us moved and angry and, you know, just sort of agitated as a way of talking about those things. We decided to repurpose the story. And, you know, change this sort of aging white male protagonist to a 40 Something black woman in order to have a different view on what's happening. And, you know, I'm the whole subtext of the story, changes with that change. And suddenly, we were able to get into these things that were making us feel so motivated. I mean, it's Shay Shay says that that choice was our was our kind of activist choice. And I think that's, you know, it was a huge responsibility to tell the story from that perspective. And it took us a really long time and a lot of, you know, attention to translate one thing to another, but it's not exactly your classic like, short to feature story,

Alex Ferrari 38:37
Right! No, no, without Without question, but I was just curious about that. When I saw it. I was like, it was a beautiful winter short was Winter Light was beautiful. And I was like, Okay, I just figured out where it came for workouts country came from, okay, this all makes sense. Now. I always love asking

Julian Higgins 38:53
It's kind of like it's two adaptations, completely the same source material. Yeah, but like, you know, when we were when the script was circulating, if someone had actually seen the short, they would get very confused, because these stories are about completely different things, you know, right. Like they have some special elements in common that are shared by this source material, but it's a it's a it's a rat pretty radically different meaning and intention. Sorry.

Alex Ferrari 39:22
No, I always love asking people who get into Sundance what it was like getting that phone call, because it's just like, it's like it's the it is the lottery ticket. It's every every filmmaker wants to do it. You know, ever since the 90s of mariachi and Tarantino and everybody else, Sundance is the holy grail for independent film. It's so what was it like getting the call?

Julian Higgins 39:45
You know, it's funny because like, it was a text.

Alex Ferrari 39:49
No, it was no way they didn't text or they called your manager.

Julian Higgins 39:54
And no, a programmer texted me directly saying, Hey, could you just chat quickly? And I happened to be on the phone at the time with our producer, Amanda Marshall. And I was like, what does this mean? You know? And she said, Well, it's very early in the process. So they're probably checking to see like, how you're coming along with the movie, and you're done in time and stuff like that. So I was like, very kind of relaxed. When I, I was like, not prepared to be told the news. And I honestly, I couldn't process it for like, days. You know, I, it took me it took so long for it to sink. And it did not feel real at all. I didn't think it was like a practical joke or anything like that. But my reaction to it was like, oh, because a new thing is like, we didn't really, we were not done with the film. You know, like, as I'm sure you've heard many times before, like, you know, people are working on their movies, right up until the last second. I mean, we were not done. We, we had picture picture locked to the film about a week before I got that call. So we still had sound mix VFX color, like score, like all this stuff to do. So to me, it was like, Oh, my God, like, what are we going to do? Now we have, we have our work cut out for us. So once again, that was kind of like, just got to keep going because we want this thing, which right now feels so kind of, it feels like a fantasy of something that could happen in the future. You know, did not it did not feel real until we actually started getting, you know, programming emails from stuff, you know, really sunk in a long time after. I know, that's not maybe the story that is the most exciting like, but, you know, that's really the reality of it. For me, it was I immediately thought, Oh, well, now we have to finish the movie.

Alex Ferrari 41:45
Oh, shoot, this is serious now. Yeah, well, I'm gonna I'm gonna ask you, if this just got real. Let me I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my, my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Julian Higgins 42:00
I mean, I did touch on this a little bit earlier, as far as like, you know, trying to find ways to go through the process as much as possible, even if it's just for yourself, you know, but I do think that you have you have control over very few things. As a, as a filmmaker, you know, I do try to really keep my eye on the ball of like, what do I have control over? What don't I. And what I think it boils down to for me is, there are basically two things that you actually have control over. And one is generating your own material that you care about, in whatever way that works for you. Whether it's writing shorts, spec commercials, like getting together with your friends, making music, video, or even, you know, trying to get an independent film off the ground, like whatever you can do generating material for yourself to direct or producer, whatever, you do have control over that, you know, you can generate that those ideas. And then once you have those projects that you know you want to do, you have to announce to the world that you want to do them. You know, you have to share what you're faking as widely as you possibly can. And like, what that means is like, every time you finish a short, you should be sending it to everyone you know, and you don't even need to like hear back about it, you know, you don't know never needs to watch it. They just need to know that you're out there doing things and generating things, you know. And then what I what I have found is if you keep doing that you keep your eye on the ball of actually making things and whatever way you can manage, you share it as widely as possible, where people will start thinking of you for things, you know, because they know like, oh, once every six months, like something's showing up in my inbox. Oh, yeah, right. Like Julian, that's cool. He's still out there doing things, that's great. And then that's how they start to think of you and you know, what they do with the material that you share? You don't have any control over. But I do think those are the things that matter the most.

Alex Ferrari 44:00
You know, it's funny, I actually, that's exactly what happened to me when I got a TV gig to do a series. It was a high school friend of mine, who followed me on Facebook, he's like, Hey, he was an exec at this place. He's like, Hey, man, do you want to come in and like, talk about making this show? And I'm like, yeah, why did you call me he's like, I've been following your short that you did, like in 2005. And I know you can pull a lot, you can squeeze a lot out on $1. So that's what we need for this project. And it's so true. It's just literally someone just following me. He's like, Yeah, do you want to? Do you know, do you want

Julian Higgins 44:34
A beautiful story about this one point, which is a friend of mines. Grandfather, was a big fan of Charlie Chaplin when Charlie Chaplin's movies were coming out. And it was that I guess that was the time when you could just write a fan letter on your paper with a pen and like put it in the mail and it would show up at like Charlie Chaplin's office somehow. So he would just write these letters. So You know, every time when we came up with right Charlie Chaplin a letter, just send it off. And, and then I guess, later on in his life, you know, you, I guess was visiting Paris and he saw Charlie Chaplin sitting at the back of a like little bar in Paris. And he was like, Okay, I can't just can't just leave, you know, so he walked up to Charlie Chaplin, he was like, you know, Mr. Chaplin, I haven't read any letters for years, I just want to say, I'm such a big fan of yours. You know, and they talked a little bit. And Charlie Chaplin was like, why would you stop writing? You know, and I think that's kind of how it works, you know, like I do, I do think that is sort of like, the basic concept is, if people don't know what you're trying to do, they will not be able to help you. You know, so you do have to let people know, if you finish something, share it with you, or trying to raise money for a short film, let everyone know, you just don't know. And you have no control over how that's gonna, you know, work its way through the world.

Alex Ferrari 46:00
Absolutely. You've no idea what what little thing you do here will affect that little thing. It's kind of like the butterfly effect. You just don't know exactly how it's gonna happen.

Julian Higgins 46:09
And by the way, like, everyone has stories like that, oh, that's not like, like, that's just how it works. When it works. That's how it works is you keep your your nose to the ground and make your work. And, you know, keep doing that, because that's that should be the focus.

Alex Ferrari 46:23
Is it? Is it just me or did you also go through the process of deconstructing every successful director that you looked up to, on their path of how they got to where they are, and maybe even tried to? emulate it? So like, Okay, I'm going to make a $7,000 action movie in Mexico. Like, like, I didn't.

Julian Higgins 46:48
Yeah, I didn't really like I would, I would, I would get really fixated on certain directors, and of course, watch everything they did. And, you know, and then I would go in and like, frame by frame, trying to figure out like, how did they achieve that effect? You know, I mean, what one director that was really important to me, even though I don't, I don't think I will ever make anything that's in that kind of vein is Terry Gilliam No, because yeah, because because his movies are so inventive. And you can see that he has had his hands on every aspect of the movie, you know? And I have no idea what he's like to work with or anything like that. But his movies were so inspiring to me as a as a young filmmaker just because they were so specific. And I think that's what I responded to was when people were able to do something that felt really really personal and sort of their own strange little V worldview Sure, but with you know, with a bigger budget or something like David Fincher obviously like his movies are so so David Fincher and yet he's able to do that that thing that he does in a big

Alex Ferrari 47:52
Well like um, I mean, Time Bandits. Let's not even get going I've ever seen bandits in the theater when it came out and blew my mind. And Fincher features basically a scalpel. Like he is so precise as like, there's sharp edges on everything he does. It's so perfectly constructed. And I had the pleasure of talking to his DP Jeff Cronin, well, coronal well, and I was just like, dude, how'd you do fight? Like, how do you do Fight Club? How did you grow up with a dragon that did like, and asking them all these questions and how David works and how he worked with David, it was just like, Everyone listen, you gotta listen to that episode. It's absolutely mind blowing if you're a David Fincher.

Julian Higgins 48:29
Yeah, I do think like, Yeah, I think I think for me, it's like, I get very fixated on directors that I think are consistently expressing how they, how they see the world through their work, no matter what kind of thing it is. And lately my, my, you know, my enthusiasm has been about, you know, interacting with the world. When I was when I started as a filmmaker is more about the pure imagination. No, and just like the excitement and you know, like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen no example. Terry Gilliam is so which is just an extravagant like, you know, fantasy. It's just so much fun.

Alex Ferrari 49:11
Can you imagine that being made by studio today? Like, that's not even a car.

Julian Higgins 49:15
I mean, it almost didn't get made at the time,

Alex Ferrari 49:17
It barely, barely got made then.

Julian Higgins 49:20
And now I find myself you know, focus much more on like, what kind of conversation is the movie trying to have with the audience, right? What is the movie trying to get the audience to consider? And maybe even for the first time, you know that those are the things that really attract now?

Alex Ferrari 49:35
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Julian Higgins 49:41
Oh, wow. Easy question.

Alex Ferrari 49:43
Sure. This is that trick question. This is the tree. This is the tree. This is the tree question. What kind of tree are you that's?

Julian Higgins 49:51
Yeah, that's a much easier question to answer. I mean, the thing is like, I think I'm I think less than that, I think a lesson that I that I sort of understood long before, I could Well, I guess what I'm trying to say is you can hear something 100 times and only understand it on the 101st time, you know. And like, one thing that I kind of knew intellectually, but didn't really understand was this idea that it is better to get the audience to ask the questions than to try to give the answers. And I think like, that is really a life lesson for me as well. Like, one thing that I have just been thinking so much about, as this movie comes to the end is, you know, you can't force it. Really, that's really what it boils down to like it. The the the, as, as I learned, in Dune, the mystery of life is not a problem to solve. But a reality to experience. I think that is basically the truest thing that's been said, you know, and I and I really like is as geeky as it sounds, that trickles down to like, the editing process to me or letter, you know, what we do, like, that's just so that's so deeply true about the mystery of life being a reality to experience. And so, for example, like, the first cut of this movie was two hours and 20 minutes long, the Final Cut is an hour 40. You know, so we cut a lot of movie out of this. And I was noticing that the parts we cut, are the parts that are trying to explain things to the audience. You know, and like, I really feel as a as a sort of value that like, I want to trust the audience, you know, but it's so tempting when you're trying to be telling a story you care about to try to make things really clear, but actually, it's about expressing something and letting the audience consider it.

Alex Ferrari 52:02
I agree. 100%. Yeah, I agree. 100%. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time.

Julian Higgins 52:13
Yeah, I mean, this is another, I mean, how could you possibly but today, today, I think like I'm gonna answer this question in the sense of movies that are really influenced me and like, inspired me. And, um, you know, I think like I mentioned Kurosawa, you know, I think he's made such I am much more of like the epic Curacao fan than the sort of social drama course our fan but you know, Ron is a movie that everybody you know, talks about throne of bloods incredible, but the one for me that really, I really encourage people to go see it, if they can find it. It's I believe it's on the Criterion Collection. It's called Dirceu Zala. And it is a story about a Mongolian guide, leading an expedition in Mongolia, for a bunch of Russian and cartographers. And it doesn't sound like, you know,

Alex Ferrari 53:08
Thrill ride type concept type concept.

Julian Higgins 53:11
Yeah, it's really like, and you should see that the biggest possible screen, this is a movie, they really don't make them like that anymore. It is such a personal portrait of two human beings, these two men who sort of, in a way like become brothers in a sense, there's it's almost a love story. It's like a platonic love story. But it is the like one of the biggest most sweeping epics ever made. So that's a big one for me, like, the the mix of character study and, and scale is something I really aspire to do. I would say foxcatcher is a movie that influenced me very deeply. foxcatcher is like right in the pocket of the kind of movie I want to be making. Yeah, and then I you know, I kind of have to go to No Country for Old Men for so many reasons. I never get tired of watching and I learned something profound from it every time I see it, both in terms of the content and the filmmaker. It's just love. It doesn't mean I've ever seen

Alex Ferrari 54:10
Right and I think that you're I mean God's country is in your western you know, it is a modern Western and there is an Misha, we're talking about it in our episode. There's no one doing better right now than Taylor. Sheridan. I mean, his high water winter when River and obviously Yellowstone I'm obsessed with the LFC. Um, and it's

Julian Higgins 54:34
White from Yellowstone. Yeah, God's country in a very kind of roll as well.

Alex Ferrari 54:39
Yeah. When I saw him, I'm like, Oh, that's awesome. Jimmy got work. He's fantastic. And by the way, he's fantastic in your movie, but listen, brother, I appreciate you coming on the show. I wish you nothing but success. Enjoy the ride. It is going to be it is short. You know, I've talked to a lot of sunrise at Sundance filmmakers that is just like it It's a world win. Unfortunately you won't be able to get there this year because of the world being the way the world is but enjoy all the all the benefits and all the wonderful things that come from being in the Sundance Film Festival. So, continued success, my friend and good luck.

Julian Higgins 55:16
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me and Shaye both on.

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IFH 548: Sundance 2022 – The Watcher with Chloe Okuno

Sundance, Chloe Okuno, The Watcher

Well Sundance 2022 has begun and so has our coverage. Today on the show we have writer/director Chloe Okuno.

Chloe is a graduate of UC Berkeley with a masters degree from the American Film Institute Conservatory. There she received the Franklin J. Shaffner Fellow Award, and directed the award-winning horror short film SLUT.

Her recent work includes writing a remake of “Audrey Rose” for Orion Pictures and writing and directing a segment of the anthology series V/H/S/94. She’s the director of this year’s Sundance feature film Watcher.

Julia joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied. One night, people-watching from her picture window, she spots a vague figure in an adjacent building, who seems to be looking back at her. Soon after, while alone at a local movie theater, Julia’s sense of being watched intensifies, and she becomes certain she’s being followed — could it be the same unknown neighbor? Meanwhile, a serial killer known as The Spider stalks the city.

Below is the story of making The Watcher from Chloe’s POV.

In making “Watcher,” I wanted to capture a kind of constant, uncomfortable dread that accompanies many women throughout their lives- one that is expressed through the character of Julia. Julia moves into this apartment building with her husband and quickly begins to believe she is being watched.

She recognizes that the Watcher is a threat. She feels it very clearly- even if it’s difficult to articulate the extent of that threat to the people around her. It’s a situation that’s probably quite familiar to most women. We experience the world in a different way than men and then when we try to express that experience, we’re often doubted- written off as paranoid, irrational, or overly sensitive… which in turn can make us begin to doubt ourselves. 

This has always been at the core of a story that in other ways has evolved greatly since I was first hired to direct it in 2017. Initially, the script was set in New York City, but when it became clear that we would be shooting the movie in Romania, I decided to rewrite it to take place in Bucharest.

Sundance, Chloe Okuno, The Watcher

There are times as a filmmaker where practical limitations end up being creatively very freeing- unlocking something great when you’re willing to embrace the unexpected. This was one of those times. Suddenly, Julia’s experience as a foreigner in this new city heightens all her other feelings of unease and uncertainty.

She finds herself increasingly isolated- largely unable to speak the language and therefore alienated from everyone around her. There were of course natural (sometimes uncomfortable) parallels shooting the movie on location in Romania: unable to speak the language, oftentimes sequestered in a hotel room amidst the raging pandemic, and occasionally fighting against the doubt that surrounds you as a woman working in a male dominated profession.

Fortunately, life didn’t fully imitate art. I finished the movie without any nightmarish descent into Watcher-style darkness, content with the hope that all of the tension found its way on screen. 

The filmmakers I admire are the ones who are able to create a language for emotion through their craft, translating what they feel into a form that other people can see and experience for themselves.

For Watcher I was inspired by the work of David Fincher, Sofia Coppola, Satoshi Kon, Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Mary Harron- filmmakers who have excelled at translating fear, loneliness, and alienation. The hope is always that there will be someone else who can empathize- telling stories so that we can take comfort in the recognition of ourselves in others. As a person filled with seemingly endless anxieties, making films is the best- and possibly the only- way I’ve found to confront them.

I’ve done my best to portray them honestly in this film, and I can only hope that those who have experienced similar fears and anxieties will find solace in the knowledge that they are not alone. 

Enjoy my conversation with Chloe Okuno.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, Chloe Okuno. How're you doing?

Chloe Okuno 0:15
I'm doing good. Thank you. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:18
I'm doing I'm doing great. Thank you so much for being on the show. I had the pleasure of watching your new film, your new Sundance film, The Watcher today, and it was it was creepy is pretty, pretty creepy. So we will get into it. But before we get started, how did you? And why did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film industry?

Chloe Okuno 0:40
Oh, wow. Yeah. What a question. I've asked myself that question many times over the years. questioning my decision to do this instead of going to law school. So I, I'm from Pasadena. So I guess I grew up on the periphery of the business, but my family isn't in the business at all. And I think when I was around in high school, I just, I loved movies. And it was the only thing I was really passionate about. And I sort of started to, you know, consider the idea which seemed very far fetched at the time of being a filmmaker, because there were so many filmmakers who I just had completely fallen in love with. So yeah, I think around high school, I thought about getting into the business. And I did like a six week directing course at the New York Film Academy, where they left us with like 16 millimeter cameras, and like four screws, and none of us knew what we were doing. But they taught us the very basics of cinematography and film editing. And I completely, you know, fell in love with the process of actually making movies. So yeah, it was it was it's been quite a few years now that I've sort of tried to make my way through this very difficult business.

Alex Ferrari 1:58
And was there a film that lit your fire? To do this?

Chloe Okuno 2:02
Oh, god, that's such a good question. I mean, I think there were probably quite a few. I'll be honest, I was a major Quentin Tarantino Stan when I was in high school, and I want you to think he's fantastic. So when I was, I was living abroad in France for like a year. And it was kind of a terrible experience. In a way I was really lonely and miserable. But I went to see Kill Bill like seven times in the theater. And it just provided such a source of comfort and escapism. And I think like that sort of solidified for me the idea that this is what I wanted to do.

Alex Ferrari 2:38
That was not a bad movie to be inspired by. And queenless inspired a couple filmmakers, not many, but a couple. over the over the years. Now, I've noticed that from your filmography, you've kind of lean towards the horror and suspense genre. Is there a specific thing that kind of caught your eye and why you kind of love, you know, telling stories in those genres?

Chloe Okuno 3:04
I think for me, it's just a particularly intense and therefore cathartic experience, to be afraid and to get your heart rate elevated. And I just I love, you know, filmmakers who work across the horror and thriller genres. You know, I like growing up Tarantino, but it was also David Fincher, and the Coen Brothers and John Carpenter and, you know, Toby Hooper and Wes Craven and I just I really fell in love with people who were able to make movies that like, terrified me, but also energized me because I think just their filmmaking craft is for me personally, the most exciting.

Alex Ferrari 3:49
Yeah, without without question, now you start off as a PA, like many of us do. And was there something those was there a time? Is there some Is there a question or excuse me, is there something that you wish someone would have told you some piece of advice? Back when you started this ridiculous, insane adventure filmmaker? Because I say that because I say that with it. I call it the beautiful disease because of the beautiful sickness because it is it's like it's a sickness, but it's a beautiful one. It's the it's the path of the artists. But it's insanity. We're carnies. I mean, we're essentially carnies. We went went off and joined the circus.

Chloe Okuno 4:31
Yeah, completely. Yeah. No, I mean, I think it is weird. I was thinking about like this when I even first started making movies and how intensely stressful it was, but you even sort of fall in love with the stress, you know, your highs and the lows and you definitely fall in love. I think with sort of, like you said, that carny lifestyle of like going from movie to movie and having these really, you know, incredible like experiences with these people and then moving on to the next But yeah, I mean, I wish that I don't know that anyone could have given me any advice that like would have persuaded me one way or the other. You know, I think in this you're in it and like you just, you, you, as long as you continue to love it, you keep going. And I think there are a lot of people who ultimately get disillusioned with this business. And why wouldn't they because it's just heartbreak after heartbreak after heartbreak. And I've certainly experienced that. I mean, I've been working, you know, since graduating AFI in 2014, I've had so many projects kind of fall through the way it's

Alex Ferrari 5:35
Shocking, shocking!

Chloe Okuno 5:38
What a shock. And you really do, I think the other thing is, like, coming up with, you know, your fellow filmmaking friends, you really see that this business is just you're on a roller coaster, and sometimes people will have very high moment in their careers, and you'll feel very low by comparison, oh, then that verts immediately, you know, and I think it's just like, if there was advice, and I sort of just learned it by sticking with it for this long. But, you know, if someone had just sort of told me, like, just sort of ride the ups and downs, because that is part of it, you know, don't get discouraged too much. But at the same time, I certainly, like have a hyper awareness that I need to enjoy this moment in which my career is going well. And I have a movie in Sundance, because, you know, in a year from now, it could be a totally different situation. So I think you just sort of have to, to keep going and try not to let it psychologically damage you permanently.

Alex Ferrari 6:44
Because this is the thing that they don't teach you like at film school, they don't talk about this, this is not part of the curriculum, very often, they teach you how to run a camera, they teach you how to work with an actor, they teach you how to light something, but they don't teach you about the realities, and the hardships and the resilience that is needed. And I know you know this as well, coming up, there are people, you know, colleagues of yours that you look at, and like how are they directing? Like, how did they get that job? You know, because there's people who are not as talented sometimes, but they're more resilient. And, and some and you just look at you like, man, they just hustled harder than everybody else and don't work in. You gotta hustle. Right? It's, but is that resilience that is not that is the that's the thing that I try to preach on the show so much is that resilience that you need to handle the those blows those as Rocky Balboa says, take the hits and keep on and keep on moving forward?

Chloe Okuno 7:40
I mean, 100% that's what it feels like. I sort of feel like it's, it's about tenacity and resilience, it's almost a war of attrition, like who can stay here the longest and take the most time. And I genuinely feel like one of the reasons that I'm still here in this business, is that unfortunately, or fortunately, I have a very high tolerance for other people's bullshit. You know, I just I actually don't It bothers me. But at the same time, I understand that you just sort of have to take a lot of bullshit in this business and like, navigate it and keep, you know, figuring out how you can make your movies but also whether all the stupidity that surrounds you constantly. So

Alex Ferrari 8:22
I'd love to just dig in a little bit on your common is like, you know, it's who was willing to stay here and continue to take the hit. That is the definition of insanity. Like that is literally like you don't see that in the cookie, the cookie business like you know, you don't see that. It's just like, it's this constant, just constant thing. And I always find these, you could, you've won in many ways, there is a lottery ticket mentality to filmmakers, like the next one. It's like we're, we're constantly betting on black, or betting, you know, at the roulette table, like the next projects don't like a blow me up the next project, someone that's going to get me that the big. And the dream of most independent filmmakers is to get a film into Sundance, because back in the 90s, that was what happened. And you saw all of that success of filmmakers who got into Sundance and it blew their careers up and everything like that. But is that kind of weird mentality of just always hoping that the next thing will blow you up? And I found in these my experience as a filmmaker, I finally realized that I'm just going to do the work. And whatever happens happens, did you kind of find Have you found that kind of groove for yourself?

Chloe Okuno 9:29
Oh, completely. Yeah. But I also never really assumed I mean, of course, like, getting into Sundance was incredible. And genuine surprise, I think for me and everyone else who worked on this movie who loved this movie, and we're so proud of it. But Sundance didn't necessarily feel like a realistic goal for us. No, it was kind of a dream. And I in some ways, it is for everyone, because it's so unlikely that you get in because it's so competitive. But yeah, I mean, even now, I certainly don't think like what Well, I've done.

Alex Ferrari 10:00
I've, I've arrived, I have arrived.

Chloe Okuno 10:04
I have arrived. Yeah. No, I think you're probably always feeling that, you know, every movie you work on could be your last, you know. And it's like,

Alex Ferrari 10:13
It's so funny because I talked to I mean, I've, I've had the pleasure of talking to some very, you know, successful filmmakers on the show, Oscar winners and all this kind of stuff. And they're just like, you're only as good as your last project. Like, just because you won the Oscar just because you, Sundance that will open some doors for you. But it, you know, the trucks of money, it's not going to just come and they're not going to just go well, you got into Sundance, oh, how many projects do you want to do will finance all of them and take as long as you need? Like, that's not. But a lot of filmmakers think that that's what happens. Like, oh, you got into Sundance your Sundance Film Festival filmmaker. Now, the doors wide open, the doors creaked open. You know, and it's great. Don't get me wrong. It's absolutely great. And anybody would kill for it. But I just always like to, because I've had films in Sundance, and I've worked on projects with them. And I've seen what happens. Like, okay, great was awesome. Now get to work.

Chloe Okuno 11:06
And, and you have to have, I think a lot of projects going at the same time, because inevitably, only one of the five will go through if you're lucky. So yeah, that's also been kind of the thing that was difficult. Like, I went straight from making VHS 94 into watcher. So I was trying to like, finish up editing VHS while I was in pre production on watcher. And I had a script that I had been contracted to write for a studio. So all of this sort of fell on me at the same time. And, of course, it's like no complaints having things to do. But also it's like, in order to have a viable career and like to increase your chances, you have to be involved with so many things. But then, of course, inevitably, you end up having to do all of them at once.

Alex Ferrari 11:54
Right! Yeah, yeah, we can all wish for these problems. Like, oh, I'm too busy.

Chloe Okuno 11:59
It feels terrible. I'm complaining about that.

Alex Ferrari 12:01
No, no, but no, but you're absolutely right. But there's still a stress and a pressure to that you're like, Okay, great. I just got into Sundance didn't expect that. Oh, God, I got to finish this thing. Oh, God, I gotta do this now. And now it's it. There's a lot of pressure on you. And I can only imagine, you know, being in the orbit of filmmakers who've been in Sundance, you know, working with them on on their on their projects. I see the pressure of what, you know what near like, Oh, God, all this stuff. And you know, before you should be able to go to Sundance now this year, unfortunately, we can't experience the Park City. Have you ever been?

Chloe Okuno 12:33
Oh, no, I've never been.

Alex Ferrari 12:37
I don't think I don't think you'll ever be what it was prior to 2020. Again, because I can't I can't see 60,000 100,000 People walking in a two block radius.

Chloe Okuno 12:47
I mean, right now, yeah, that seems like a futuristic sort of dream.

Alex Ferrari 12:53
Exactly. No, but and I always love asking, How did you get the news? And how did like what was I always love that story? Because those are so much fun.

Chloe Okuno 13:00
Yes. So it was funny, like, from the time resubmitted, like every single week after every time I got a call from my agents, I just braced myself because I was convinced they were calling to tell me that we didn't get in. Right, of course. But no, I got the news. I think it was I can't remember exactly what it was. But I was just at my desk working. And I got an email from a Sundance programmer. I don't know if it's okay to say her name. But I'll say her first name Heidi. And I didn't know her. Personally, I didn't know who this person was. I was like, Who's this email from? And I look and I see she's, like a senior Sundance programmer, and she just says, Are you available to hop on a zoom with me? And like the next 10 minutes? Like, what? Okay, surely they wouldn't be zooming me to tell me I didn't get in, right? They're just gonna give me the bad news through my agents. But I still wasn't like, totally sure. So I hopped on the Zoom. And it's just her and me. And she gives me the good news. And I think I started crying.

Alex Ferrari 14:00
Oh, of course, as you should, I would have cried.

Chloe Okuno 14:04
It was very overwhelming, but it was really nice. I love that they sort of, you know, they give you the news themselves, and and one on one. And it was sort of perfect the way it just totally came out of nowhere.

Alex Ferrari 14:15
Yeah, you're just hanging out. And then you just get that call. It's yeah, that time of year during Thanksgiving. That that's that that's that little two, three week window where they start letting people know and you're just like, and every day that goes by, you're like, I didn't get in. I didn't get in. I didn't get in. And then like December 1, like I definitely didn't get it. I've had some people get called December, like early December, and they're like, Oh my God. But it's, it's an amazing experience. It really is an amazing experience. Now, how did watcher come to be? How did you get watcher off the ground?

Chloe Okuno 14:46
Yes. So um, I was hired to do it in 2017. And it was actually a fairly sort of, you know, typical origin story and that I think the scripts came to me through my agency And I read it and they said that this company is hiring a director. They're talking to a handful of people. And I just at the time, I think I was a few years out of film school, I'd had a one really pretty painful setback in my career, and I was more determined than ever to land the job. So I'm pretty sure they just gave it to me because I like put together a 20 page presentation. And just like, you know, Reese Witherspoon and election style tried harder than everyone else.

Alex Ferrari 15:35
That's a great analogy, by the way, that was awesome. Let's call back. So that says, you basically was a work for hire, you just landed the job.

Chloe Okuno 15:44
It was initially Yeah, it was I laid out the job. It was work for hire. This script by Zack Ford was very interesting. It was, you know, this, the core story was about this couple, Julia and Francis move into an apartment and Julia becomes convinced there's a guy watching her. But then over the five years that it took, you know, for me getting hired to the movie getting made. It actually there was a significant amount of evolution. And I think the the biggest evolution really was when the script initially was set in New York City. I heard pretty, you know, late in the game that we were going to shoot in Toronto, and then that fell through, and then they talked about shooting it in Bucharest, in Romania. And I just decided to totally embrace that and rewrite the script to take place in Romania, which ended up being a real creative blessing, because it kind of took the narrative in this in this whole other direction, that really just sort of help, you know, bolster, what was already there in terms of the emotional journey of our protagonist, and just helping to increase her sense of isolation and alienation. And, you know, suddenly she shows up, and she can't speak the language. And it just brought this whole other level to it. So it was, yeah, it was a very interesting evolution over over those five years,

Alex Ferrari 17:04
I was gonna ask you how Bucharest came to be? Because it was kind of like, that's very unlikely. Do you normally New York, LA, you know, kind of plays, but it actually added such a level of just another texture to the whole story that really made it stand out for me when I was watching it.

Chloe Okuno 17:24
That's awesome. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it was, um, you know, I think there were some budgetary incentives, certainly shooting mania the way Yeah, it's a very common common destination, partially for that reason, but also because, you know, they have the infrastructure there to make good movies, they have really good crew. And I think the financing company had worked in Romania before, so they had experienced there. So there were a lot of practical reasons to go shoot it there. And then I really did. You know, I tried to absorb everything I could, when I was there. I'd never been to Romania previously, I'd lived in in Russia. So I had at least some former Soviet Union experience. But Romania was new to me. But it was great because I really was able to sort of like infuse little details into the script based on experiences I had in pre production. Like, there's a scene where Julia goes into this beautiful sort of museum, and she gets chased by this angry security guard who's screaming at her and Romanian, and she doesn't understand what he's saying, that literally happened to us, like we went that location, like that actual location. And I take out my phone to take pictures, and this guy just comes running out and screaming it. Wow, we actually that's the guy who's in the movie, we cast him. You're terrifying. Like, let's put you in the film.

Alex Ferrari 18:49
He was cooler than after you offered him the part. He was a lot cooler,

Chloe Okuno 18:53
Way cooler. But the greatest thing was that I think he clearly was really nervous because he wasn't an actor. So the first few takes, he wasn't he wasn't like doing the thing that he did to us and in person. But we eventually we got him there.

Alex Ferrari 19:08
That's, that's amazing. That's a great. That's a great story. Now, I didn't notice that this film had a Hitchcockian vibe to it. Was he an influence at all, when you were making this?

Chloe Okuno 19:18
So I mean, definitely, from a pure narrative perspective, like rear window, I think was massively influential on this movie. You know, it's sort of, I think, like, directly referencing it in many ways. Sure. And visually, as well, and I think we're all trying in some ways to emulate Hitchcock in terms of, you know, his ability to create tension and suspense. So yeah, he was a reference. Um, David Fincher was the reference.

Alex Ferrari 19:46
I could see that that could see Fincher Yes, thing in there. No question.

Chloe Okuno 19:50
Absolutely. Yeah. There is a great Japanese movie called Perfect Blue by Satoshi alone, which actually ended up being quite influential as well. Well, it's about like a Japanese Popstar who's being stalked by one of her fans. So yeah, there, there were quite a few influences. And I hope that, you know, they came together in some way that makes sense.

Alex Ferrari 20:15
Now, as a director, you know, when we're on set, you way it's such it's such an interesting thing as directors as artists, we don't get to practice our craft very often, actually directing, it's mostly years of getting things off the ground. Unless you're Ridley Scott, then if you're Ridley Scott, you're directing all the time.

Chloe Okuno 20:36
Gladiator and like Blackhawk down, and like another

Alex Ferrari 20:39
House of Gucci, the last king aliens, like he's doing all of them at the same time. But generally speaking, we don't get to do it very often. And when we're there, I always find them like, it's the hat. I'm the happiest ever being on set. It's just like, Ah, it's great. Is there and there was but with the happiness there have comes that day, where you feel like the entire world's coming crashing around you. You've lost, you've lost. Like, she's not everyone lives who's listening? She's laughing. The second I said that she's like, You mean every day. But there's that specific day that you feel like you lost a location. Actor broke his leg? The sun is you're losing the sun? What was that for you in this project? And how did you overcome it?

Chloe Okuno 21:29
I'm laughing because I'm thinking of like, seven or eight different things

Alex Ferrari 21:36
A couple A couple of them, that would be good.

Chloe Okuno 21:38
Um, okay, so the first one, I think was because of a variety of scheduling issues. Obviously, scheduling is always a nightmare. And indie film, like you put COVID on top of it gets like 50 times harder. So for scheduling reasons, I think on our on day four, we had to do this massive scene, which takes place at the end of the movie, and is probably one of like, the heaviest emotional moments for our two lead characters. And it involves all these extras in an indoor space, so there's no COVID on top of it. And it just was a very, very difficult night, it was also a night shoot. So I think we were shooting from like, 5pm to 5am. So just a lot of difficult circumstances. And again, this is day four on my first feature film, so I'm also just, you know, trying to get my bearings in some way. So that was very hard. And in, without going too into detail, I think, you know, because of that level of stress on every single person in the production, there was a little bit of drama,

Alex Ferrari 22:58
No honest sets stop it!

Chloe Okuno 23:02
A little bit of drama. Um, and I, I feel like I, I, you know, got through it the way that you usually do, which is to sort of just grit your teeth, and like, you know, write it out and try not to get too rattled, and try not to let it make you too emotional, because I will say like, like genuinely, women on set, especially when you're in a position of power you people don't, will not give you a lot of grace, when it comes to showing your emotions, you have to be very careful about it, you have to in a way that, you know, I'm sort of making a movie about that, you know, like Riley to do the same thing. It's just constantly sort of modifying what she feels so that people will, you know, write her off as lacking credibility. Being a female director, you're kind of doing the same thing. So I think it was really just a matter of in some ways, unfortunately, I have a lot of practice with that. So but it still is very difficult. And it just, you know, you had to sort of like take a deep breath, and like, make sure that as much as possible, in spite of all the drama we were getting through our day. And at the end of it, it did feel fairly miraculous that we, we made

Alex Ferrari 24:25
Which, which is interesting, because I've had multiple female directors on the show, and I love talking to female directors because it's a perspective of direct and I don't have I'm a Latino filmmaker, so I have that perspective. But, you know, I've never dealt with a lot of things that female directors have to deal with and vice versa. Is there any advice you could give a young female director listening right now or watching right now on how to deal with difficult situations on set? Because look, I when I was coming up, I was always the youngest guy in the room. That's that's not the case anymore. But I was always like I was was a kid in the room and I would walk on some of these sets as a director and, you know, you'd have the the, the grizzled, you know, 60 year old grip, who you know, who's like, this kid doesn't know what he's doing, or, or the DP that is going his own way, or things like that. It was difficult for me to deal with that coming up, I could only imagine what it'd be like it was, especially in the came up in the 90s. It's not the same world for female directors as it is today. It's gotten better from my understanding, is there things that you can give any tips on how to maneuver those for female directors, or even just young directors? Who just when you've got a DP who's like, Yeah, I'm gonna shoot it my way? What are you going to do? What are you going to do about it? You know, or production designers? Like, no, I don't think that's the way to do it. And like, and you've got to, you've got to kind of show some teeth.

Chloe Okuno 25:50
Yeah, you do. I mean, I think my, my advice would be I, I find it very difficult to stand up for myself and advocate for myself as an individual. And I think that's not uncommon with women, for whatever reason, we've sort of been taught not to do that. And if anything, I think we're sort of it's ingrained in us to try to make other people around us comfortable, right. And that's not what you need to do when you're directing the movie. But what has really helped me is sort of telling myself, Okay, I'm not standing up for myself, Chloe Okuno, I'm standing up for this movie that I'm trying to make. So the movie, like the movie that you're trying to make the thing that is going to exist at the end of the day outside of you, in some ways, that becomes the thing that I'm just like, I'm protecting this. And it doesn't really matter what people think of me, I'm, I'm standing up for what I believe is right? For the sake of this movie that I'm trying to make, it almost becomes like a separate entity, like a little baby that you're trying to protect.

Alex Ferrari 26:54
Okay. That makes sense. That's a good way of looking at it. Like, you separate yourself. You take yourself out of it. And now you're like, No, I'm the mom or the Papa Bear of the of the movie.

Chloe Okuno 27:06
Yeah, no, exactly. And and even doing that, it's still very hard. You know, and it's always hard when you're a director, because you're working with people who are experts in their fields, and you are not, so they're looking at you like, what do you know, it's your first movie, you know? Or no, I've been doing this so many more years than you have. But truly, like, I really find, first of all, if I make the wrong decision, I'd rather it be my wrong decision, then, me accepting someone else's wrong decision and living with that, you know, that's always better. But also, I really feel like, you know, the thing that directors have, that no one else does is we've lived with the movie for probably years, like we know it inside and out, we should know why we're making a certain decision. It's not kind of, for other people, it might be isolated. But for you, you're taking it within the context of the entirety of the movie. So how is production design going to work with cinematography, and the actors and everything else that you've planned to tell this very particular kind of story in the way you want to? So it, I find it constantly challenging every day, to have the sort of confidence to tell people what I want, especially when they give me a lot of pushback. But that's sort of, I feel for me, like, that's the essence of the job in some ways.

Alex Ferrari 28:26
Yeah. And I mean, I, you know, I forgot that this was your first feature. So you had that to deal with? And how did you get from, you know, how did you get your agent from shorts, because I know a lot of people listening are like, this is your first you know, everybody wants their first feature. Everybody wants to get their first feature gig, especially work for hire is unheard of, you know, you normally have to build it all yourself and find the financing yourself and cast by yourself and all this stuff. So this is a very unique scenario. How did you get your first agent? And how did that process go from from short?

Chloe Okuno 28:58
Yeah, so I got it, I had a the short that I made coming out of AFI was called slet. And it was like a coming of age for movie, which did pretty well on the festival circuit. So I can't even remember exactly how they saw it. But they saw the movie, my former agency and reached out to me and wanted to read me, which was incredible. Also something I wasn't necessarily expecting to make the film school. So that's how that happened. But like I said, you know, that was in 2014. And it's now 2022. And I'm you only now premiering my first feature. So that tells you how long it took to get to this point.

Alex Ferrari 29:38
Even with it even with agents, even with agents,

Chloe Okuno 29:41
Even with agents. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 29:43
That's the thing that a lot of filmmakers and screenwriters need to understand is like just because you have an agent doesn't mean that you're gonna just be working all the time.

Chloe Okuno 29:50
Oh, no, no. No, no, even with agents, I think you you know, you still have to really be pushing all the time yourself.

Alex Ferrari 30:00
You got to be hustling and they might open some doors for you like this opportunity that presented you with the watcher you know and you were you are you election did out. It got it got it got it. Now going back to I think was full circle your first short film that kind of made the rounds?

Chloe Okuno 30:18
I guess it will full circle was a not exactly. So when I was 19. And I had been like working as a PA on all these indie sets, I made this little movie called Birdman. And I didn't know what I was doing. It was one of those ones where I like wrote it produced, directed and edited. And it's a miracle that even got made because it was just me stumbling around in the dark. But yeah, there was that one. And then when I was at AFI made a few shorts, one of which was full circle, which hasn't really been seen, because at AFI your first year you make these shorts, but they're sort of designed to be done very quickly for no money and you don't get the rights anything. So you can't really be distributed or go to festivals.

Alex Ferrari 30:58
Of course not why would they right? Yeah. So was there a were there some major takeaways early on in your career that you kind of brought into your careers because I remember one big first first time I did my commercial reels, this is back in the 90s. Where's I shot on 35 I hired to DPS. There were two dps on set. This is how bad the situation was. I've never had any ever since and the professional crew that was hired. They're like, why are there two DPS? Like why? They owned a grip truck. And they had access to a film camera. So I say, Well, if they own the gear, they must know what they're doing. mistake that I never ever made again. And that was something I brought in from those early days of me starting out as a director. So is there anything that you brought from those early days doing your shorts?

Chloe Okuno 31:55
Yeah, I never want to produce something that I'm directing at the same time.

Alex Ferrari 32:02
You said no, I'm good. I'm good.

Chloe Okuno 32:04
Yeah. I mean, it was probably it was a good experience. But no, I mean, it's just like directing, if you're really lucky, and you have good producers. You know, they're the people who allow you to focus creatively, because just that just the creative focus takes up 100% of your time. So when you're trying to like, make the movie, but you're also thinking about like when craft services can arrive. Is this not conducive to?

Alex Ferrari 32:30
I'll tell you what, I've most of the things I've done. I've also produced and I agree with you like and there's been times where I've been in work for hire. I'm like, This is so much easier. It's you mean, I don't have to sign checks during lunch. Like, it's insanity.

Chloe Okuno 32:48
That is it's so hard. Yeah, I don't know how you continue to do it. Because I did it once, like on a tiny little note budget movie. And I was done.

Alex Ferrari 32:57
I think for me, it's just I didn't have a choice. I didn't have a producer. So I was just like, well, I got to do it myself. I came from Florida. So in Florida, there wasn't a plethora, you know, of filmmakers that I could work with. So I was just like, Alright, I got to just sign the checks and produce it and get it done myself. And it was a good horror stories, horror stories growing up during that time. But but you know, it's the shrapnel it's the shrapnel that you you gather along the way, and it makes you who you are as a filmmaker. And, you know, looking back again, I always like going back, especially when we start when you're starting out? Is there something that you wish someone would have told you at the beginning, not in a way to dissuade you from being a filmmaker, but to actually help you on your path? Like if you could go back and say, listen closely. It's gonna be it's gonna take you twice as long and twice as hard as you think it's gonna be. Now you really should think about being a lawyer. But if you're not, if you're going to go down this path, this is this is probably something to look out for.

Chloe Okuno 33:58
Oh, man. I mean, honestly, I'm sort of worried I'm even now making mistakes that I'm not aware of, like, go back and give myself advice when I feel like I'm still sort of in the thick of it, like, ask me again. And I'm 75. And I've done a couple more movies, but I don't know. I mean, I'll be very honest, like, a thing that has been sort of very difficult and surprising to me is that, like you said, you would assume that the easier thing to do as a independent young filmmaker would be to get your own movies made, as opposed to getting hired to direct something else being a director for hire. I actually found it's been the opposite. For me. I'm a writer, director, and I write scripts that I guess are I think accessible, but also they cross a lot of different genres. And I don't know for whatever reason, I found it very difficult to actually get those scripts made, and I found it easier. To get hired on projects, which like us again, it's just, it's upside down world. But, um, I don't know what my advice is because I haven't figured out how to fix it yet. But I guess

Alex Ferrari 35:14
One piece of advice, I think it's wear comfortable shoes, wear comfortable shoes. That's always.

Chloe Okuno 35:20
That's great advice. Yeah, we're comfortable shoes have a lot of pockets. Pockets are essential.

Alex Ferrari 35:26
You remember those pictures of those directors, especially commercial directors had that vest on that they had like 1000s of pockets, and they could stick them in the back and you would just look at them and like, and they were always khaki pants with tons of pockets. And you're like, wow, that's what a director wears. And then when you're on set, you're like, Yeah, that makes so much sense. I always wear khakis. I always have pockets everywhere, just because I'm shoving stuff in all over the place. Here's my shot list over here. Here's, here's the schedule over here. And I'm just constantly Oh, yeah. Unless again, unless you're Ridley Scott.

Chloe Okuno 35:59
Please got released his own director's jacket. I think?

Alex Ferrari 36:02
Did he? Of course he did. Why? Why wouldn't he? I just adore Ridley because he first of all, he didn't give a crap when he was in his 40s which was by the way his first movie was in his early. His very first feature was, I think it was 40 or 41. But by the time he made that first feature, he had directed 2500 commercials. Wow. So he was a professional right I mean, he more proficient and more time on set then all the Masters working at the time, so he was very proficient at it. Same thing for Fincher, same thing for like Bay and Fuqua, these commercial directors. They just constantly worked for decades. But him and Tony both did that. And then they got off the ground with the with the with the directing, but now I don't know, Tony, I think he's just rushing against the clock, because he's just like, I need to make five movies a year.

Chloe Okuno 36:52
I really respect it. Yeah, I've heard that. So we were so lucky. We had the most amazing colorist on watcher named Stephen Nakamura. Gorgeous, gorgeous. Were Yeah, I mean, he did he and my DP Benji Kirk Nielsen. Both did amazing work. But Stephen has worked with Ridley Scott, you know, he he was the colorist on the last tool. And he, and I hope I'm not talking out of turn. But yeah. And he told me that, you know, Ridley is one of these guys who shoots with multiple cameras.

Alex Ferrari 37:23
But the time that I five cameras, I heard five cameras at the same time. Yeah.

Chloe Okuno 37:27
5 Cameras, you know, doesn't like to do a ton of takes. But also, the really big thing that I took away from why Ridley is able to move so quickly, aside from just being a genius, and being in the business for decades, is that the actors show up and immediately respect him. You're not going to get any pushback when you're Ridley Scott, even for movie stars. So I think that's probably helpful.

Alex Ferrari 37:48
And you know what that is, I've noticed that as I've gotten, I've gotten a little bit and I'm a little older now. And I've been doing this for a little bit longer. When I walk on set, I'll still get a pushback sometimes from someone older than me. And I have no I definitely don't have the reputation for at least a stretch of the imagination. Nobody has the reputation everyone's got. But yeah, at a certain point. You, you made enough movies, they just know like, oh, he he or she knows what they're doing. You know, you know, but I still remember the day I walked out on a TV show I was doing which I was producing, and paying everybody out of like I was the production company. And this first ad didn't know who I was. I didn't hire him. And he started giving me crap on day one. And I'm like, dude, like I might I might DP I've been working with forever. My product. My, my line producer I've been working for in the line producer hired him because it was a last minute hire because my first ad was booked. So I was like, okay, and this guy just started giving me crap. And I'm like, dude, come here. Come in for a second. Just pull them aside. It's like, if you don't like the way I'm working, you can leave. I've been doing this close to 30 years, and I could do the show without you. And after that, and I go oh, and oh, by the way, I'm paying you. After that. It was very smooth sailing. It was very calm, quiet. Just chill that he was like the best friend.

Chloe Okuno 39:17
Yeah, oh my God. That's amazing. I mean, I would love to get to that point where I can just pick some one aside, and very quietly tell them that I'm better at this than you are shut up.

Alex Ferrari 39:28
Like, I'm like, dude, between me and my DP we can run the set. Dude, we don't need you on this production. This is not the last duel. I don't need you. If you're gonna give me attitude and be toxic on the set. Like, I don't need that. But by the way, also congratulations on being nominated for the grand prize. The Grand Jury Prize for Sundance I saw on your IMDB that you were nominated.

Chloe Okuno 39:51
Oh wait, I didn't I this is news to me.

Alex Ferrari 39:55
Well, congratulations. But listen, I just saw it on your IMDB that you got it says nominated for Grand Jury Prize at Sundance,

Chloe Okuno 40:02
Isn't aren't all the films who are in competition nominated? I don't know

Alex Ferrari 40:06
If they are, if they are, enjoy it, if they aren't enjoy it, but I saw it on your IMDB. I was like, Oh, that's really cool.

Chloe Okuno 40:15
Love it.

Alex Ferrari 40:17
I'm glad to give you that news.

Chloe Okuno 40:19
I know breaking news

Alex Ferrari 40:23
Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all of my guests, what advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Chloe Okuno 40:36
My advice would be to, like I said, it could sort of backfire in some ways. But don't be too precious. First of all, because there's no perfect project. And you'd be shocked. I think even sometimes, if you're a director and a script comes to you, that's not perfect. Or if you're a writer, director and writing your own script, and you just feel like, okay, it's not Citizen Kane yet. Don't be afraid, I think to put it out into the world. And don't be afraid to take on jobs that maybe still need some work. Because in this industry, things always a lot of times, they take a lot of time or they happen in like a minute, it's one or the other. But you can you can evolve things. And I just think, you know, there's there's a lot of potential and projects, and there's a lot of pressure on young filmmakers to do something that is sort of perfect their first time out of the gate. And you know, on second and third time filmmakers, you know, you're only as good as your last movie. But I would just say don't get too caught up in that. And don't let that psych you out too much. Because I think to a certain extent, I spent a lot of years. So fearful of making a movie that was bad. It probably prevented me in some ways from taking opportunities that would have been good. So that would be my advice.

Alex Ferrari 41:52
Great advice. i Yeah, before I made my first feature, it was always like I have to be Reservoir Dogs has to be El Mariachi has it has to be cooler has to be this thing that blows up. And it's not. That's an anomaly. Just do the best work, you can move forward. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Chloe Okuno 42:17
Um, I'm still continuing to learn to weave I mean, we had just such a long conversation about it before. But I really am still learning to stand up for myself and to trust my instincts. And you know, every single day, you're sort of confronted with a million different decisions as a director. And if you're a person like me, who's kind of anxious and tends to overly intellectualize everything, like every single one of those decisions, even if they seem really small and unimportant suddenly feels like it could make or break your movie. And maybe that's true, but it's probably not true. And I think it's just like, literally every single day I direct I'm, I'm having to push to believe in my instincts and just believe in myself. And I don't know if I'll ever fully learn that lesson. Because I think it's part of the process like going through that struggle. And maybe that's what makes things interesting. Like there's the inherent tension there.

Alex Ferrari 43:23
Well, I'll tell you what, don't feel bad because I've talked to some of the biggest people in the business and they all feel the exact same way that imposter syndrome. It's a it's a real thing. I think it's just inherent of being an artist. So it happens to all of us. When I hear when I hear that, when I hear certain Oscar winners going, Yeah, I don't know if I can write this. I'm like, Dude, you just won the Oscar. What's wrong with you? Like yeah, I don't know. I still can't I don't think I could do it. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time.

Chloe Okuno 43:52
Oh, okay. Um, Harold and Maude. Way, way up there. Yes. Alien. Also probably my favorite horror movie of all time. And the last one. I'm going to say Once Upon a Time in the West,

Alex Ferrari 44:11
Oh, nice, very good, especially that opening sequence

Chloe Okuno 44:14
The opening sequence. I think that opening sequence and also the sequence where they're like, at the well, like the good shot and the music that like Ennio Morricone score, just that there was something about that, that just sort of like changed me when I saw it.

Alex Ferrari 44:30
So it's a great choices. Chloe, thank you so much for being on the show. I wish you nothing but success. And congratulations again on being at Sundance. Enjoy this moment. It does go fast. Just Just enjoy the ride because it's going to be a fun ride for you. So continued success, my dear.

Chloe Okuno 44:47
Thank you so much. Thank you

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IFH 547: Inside the Low-Budget & Profitable Films of Asylum with Jared Cohn

The Asylum, Asylum Film, Jared Cohns,

Today on the show we have prolific indie filmmaker Jared Cohn.

Jared Cohn is a film/TV director, writer, and producer based in Los Angeles, CA.   He has directed over 40 films that have been produced and distributed by major studios and production companies such as Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, Syfy, Lifetime, and many more.

His works have been released theatrically and he has won numerous awards and has been featured in GQ, New York Times, LA times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline and many other press outlets.  I wanted to have Jared on the show to discuss his process, his origin story and what it was like directing over 20 films for the legendary film studio Asylum Films.

His new film is Deadlock starring Bruce Willis.

Bruce Willis stars as Ron Whitlock, a wanted criminal leading a team of mercenaries on a mission of vengeance. Convinced that the government is working against them, the merciless group brutally seizes an energy plant and holds everyone inside hostage. With a nearby town on the brink of massive flooding and destruction, it’s up to one retired elite army ranger Mack Karr (Patrick Muldoon) to save thousands of innocent lives before it’s too late.

Enjoy my very entertaining conversation with Jared Cohn.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Jared Cohn man, how you doing Jared?

Jared Cohn 0:15
I'm doing good. I'm doing good. I'm very happy to be here, man. I'm a you know, big fan and thanks for you know, getting back to me. Great beyond man.

Alex Ferrari 0:25
I appreciate that man I appreciate you reached out to me said that you've been listening to the show a while and you were a fan of the show. And, and I love by the way you pitched your pitch was perfect. Like you gave me bullet points. You're like, this is what I've done. This is what I've worked with. I have this story, this story, let me know. I was just like, perfect. Like, I get I get paragraphs I get like novels sometimes sent to me about people's life story. I'm like, I as much as I want to listen to I can't, I only don't only have so much time in the day. So yours was perfect in it. And it caught my eye. Because, you know, I always like to have stories and angles on the business that I haven't had on before. And you definitely have lived a very interesting life as a director throughout your careers, so we're gonna get into that. But first, how did you get started in the business? What made you want to get into this insanity?

Jared Cohn 1:15
Oh, man. So like, you know, like, so many people and and like, other people have said on your show, like, I started as an actor, like, like, you know, bright eyed dama gum and green. You know, I came out here I had a roommate, and on the East Coast, that was an actor and, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So he goes out to LA and find success, you know, really quick, some, some good projects. So I, you know, I was like, I got very interested, I'm like, Alright, I'm gonna get into the, you know, the entertainment industry. And, and, and I also wanted to write, I was like, awesome, let me try, you know, right now started, I was reading scripts, taking some action classes. And I was like, I can read it. I was like, some of the scripts I read, I was like, I can do this, this, you know, a lot of white space on the page, you know, the, like, writing book. So I started just how I started acting and moved to LA and doing the classes and writing all the time all the time and, and started booking some terrible not that yeah, it started with like, student films and all, you know, not terrible. I mean, mad respect to anyone. So you know,

Alex Ferrari 2:33
Listen, man. Listen, I've made some terrible stuff. It's okay. You could say, yeah, we've all we're not all Spielberg. We're not all you know, James Cameron. It's okay. Let's we could we could have, we could all agree that we don't all are perfect all the time.

Jared Cohn 2:47
Not everything's a win, you know? Yeah. Sometimes Sometimes you just gotta take the L and

Alex Ferrari 2:52
But atleast, but atleast you got to swing at the bat. That's the thing.

Jared Cohn 2:56
And so what I was writing and acting and what really the first thing one of the scripts I wrote was called steady Danny. And I acted in. So let me back it up a minute. So I acted in four silent movies. You know, I just auditioned, you know, submit this is back in the day. When you were mailin, you know, you're a mailin, I was mailin headshots. And, you know, and

Alex Ferrari 3:24
Fax and resumes.

Jared Cohn 3:26
Yeah. And, and, and I think at the time I did just began like now casting or backstage and backstage and act, you know, active access was like, just getting going like, so it was, this is, you know, oh two, three or something like that. And I submitted her for way the vampire went down the asylum, audition, you know, book department, and they shot the film on 35 millimeter

Alex Ferrari 3:56
Back in the day, this is going, you're going back? So real quick, let's stop for a second. You can't for everybody who doesn't know who asylum is. Can you talk about who asylum is as a company and what and what they do?

Jared Cohn 4:09
Absolutely. So I'll start off by, you know, by attributing them for, you know, oh, you know, so many ways in my in my life, and but they asylum or you don't know, they did sharknado. I mean, they do the what they call, you know, mock busters, you know, like tie ins, which I've done, you know, for they've made hundreds, hundreds of movies. I have 600 movies. They've been around for over 25 years. Almost 30 years.

Alex Ferrari 4:47
They're just there this generations. Roger Corman almost

Jared Cohn 4:51
Yeah, I mean, and run by very three. Very, very smart guys. David Bowie, David lat. And Paul bells and yeah, they make a movie about make a movie every month is also they also do. Yeah, you know, we instead of just shooting schedules or incentives instead insane you know, I mean, but they get them to I mean they and they they know and they would they're very smart because you know they they adapt and pivot with with the marketplace so you know, thrillers are doing well like you're gonna be doing holiday movies you're gonna be well like, if creature features are doing or are doing then they're doing Oh, so it's like they're making they're right on the pulse. And that's because, you know, David O'Malley, he goes, you know, he was obviously pre COVID kind of changed everything, but going all the markets, you know, you know, knowing everybody, so it's very, very good. You know, it's a lot of people talk crap about, you know, all the movies are so low budget, it was like crab over blogs, like, making money. Like they're making money, and they're making movies. So like, you know, and be you know, and everyone, there's always a reason to talk crap. You know, some people. I mean.

Alex Ferrari 6:29
Yeah, so sorry. So you've it so you were saying? So back to your story. So you were acting in asylum films? How did you go from acting to asylum films, to making asylum films?

Jared Cohn 6:41
So I wrote the I wrote the script Steady Danny. And I, because of acting, and then I got to know, you know, I met David Rowley, David LA. And I had just completed a script that I wrote. And I was just basically running around town, like begging everybody, I knew how to read it. You know, like, every early screenwriter, and I got it, you know, I just And he, and I remember, I remember the phone call. And I was, I was actually in New York. got, I got a phone call from Ramallah. He's like, Hey, I'm reading your screenplay. It's like, it's really good. What do you want to do with it? At the time, and this is the time when I was like, I can't I wanted to be an actor. But I was also, you know, the reality of the business was, you know, we live in my house, and I, you know, so I was like, I was like, Oh, well, he's like, Alright, come talk to me on, you know, Can you can you get out here and a couple days, I was like, of course, I didn't tell him I was in New York, because, you know, I didn't want it any reason to postpone any meeting. So I just jumped on a plane know them. And he basically was like, We want I want to make this movie. He's like, if you want to play the lead, this is gonna be a small movie. If you are, we're open to, you know, possibly, you know, possibly directing. I haven't, and he's like, I hadn't seen it. Like, then we're gonna put stars in there. And it'll be a bigger budget. I'm like, Well, you know, I'll do the I'll direct. And he was like, wow, well, what do you what did you have? You know, like, what did you What do you have anything you've directed, and luckily, at that point, I actually had basically taken out all my money and made this little horror movie. So at least I had that to show them

Alex Ferrari 8:45
And you're off to the races?

Jared Cohn 8:47
It was off to the races. So then and then yeah, we set we wrote the script with over there.

Alex Ferrari 8:53
So let me ask you this, then how? How is it to make a film for asylum because you hear all these legends from the outside in of like, super low budgets, insane schedules, all this kind of stuff? What's it like, inside asylum as far as from, from a director standpoint, from a filmmaker standpoint, on budget restraints, schedule restraints, castings, just work post the whole gambit? Like what's it like working inside that machine? Because it is a machine obviously.

Jared Cohn 9:24
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I mean, I gotta, like, be you know, it was so you know, everything is very fast paced. And you know, when they when they put, you know, the Go button on a movie, like, everything, just, it almost, it's like, it's like, alright, we started shooting and we start shooting in a week. And you have nothing, right. And the actors or anything, Jesus that's like, basically, he got you got everyone everyone goes, you know, different people react to handle a different differently, you know, some better than others. But it's like an instant scramble of, Alright, we gotta get cast, we gotta get locations, we got to get word and like date, we have to get not only getting here, but they have to like, deliver, you know, XYZ and like as soon as they get hired, so it's like, phone calls are like, Hey, are you available? Like, you know? Yeah, can you come in today? It's very quick, very, very quick.

Alex Ferrari 10:28
How do you deal with that pressure as a filmmaker, man, especially your first one, like, how do you deal? How did you deal with that kind of, because look, I mean, I've directed features, I've been in the business for a long time, that kind of situation I've, I've done that the fastest turnaround I've done is 30 days, like from idea to start shooting, and it was all within my world, meaning I controlled everything I finance that I did everything. I can only imagine trying to put together one of these projects, which a lot of times those have high visual effects and things like that, like it takes planning for that kind of stuff.

Jared Cohn 10:58
Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, um, I will say also, sometimes, and some of the films you know, you haven't yet you have more time. So not everybody, there was a few there, you know, we need we need to start shooting in a week that no, that's those are two stories. But some of them, uh, you know, you have, you know, a month or something. Never too long. But I mean, it, the good thing is, I mean, I mean, the asylum has, you know, has everything they have their castings built in, and their roster of actors, their VFX cars that are on staff, and they're younger,

Alex Ferrari 11:43
So they have a machine. So they're like a miniature marvel, because Marvel has all that situation is well, obviously at a much different level than asylum, but they all have that. So you can basically when they say, Go, you've got support staff, you've got VFX, you've got there's a lot of people that are ready to rock and roll for you suddenly, it's not like you trying to gather everybody in a week.

Jared Cohn 12:03
Exactly. The line producers, you know, they, they are fun, you know, they're really count. They're really good at getting things done. And, yeah, it really is like a, you know, like, a it's a machine. It's a machine. Yes. And I seen it and, like, it works and and especially now AVOD like, it's all their titles are it's, you know, gold.

Alex Ferrari 12:36
Yeah. So right now, so Okay, so how, what's that? What's the turnaround? What's it? What's your standard schedule? Just shooting schedule?

Jared Cohn 12:45
Well, you know, I would, I mean, I would, anywhere from six to 16 days.

Alex Ferrari 12:58
And this is, this is coming from me who have shot a movie in eight days and four days. And yeah, that seems like a lot, because those are bigger stories that you guys generally are telling you not telling, like small stories you're telling. Oh, like, oh, there's monsters coming from underneath the ocean.

Jared Cohn 13:14
Yeah. And you're, I mean, all types of it's like, it's like, I went to film school, but you know, like, this is your film. Like, this was like the graduate class, right? You know, like, you learn so much. Because, because usually, I mean, on a bigger on bigger stuff, like, you're not really witnessing the inner workings of, like, every moment, yeah, everything but like, on time, so sometimes, you know, so expose, like, you know, what you need, like, I'm really this product we really need, like, let me see it. Before we go into it. Like, it really teaches you to, like, pay attention to the details. Because what happened, like, like, if you're not on top of, you know, if sometimes people drop the ball, you know, you know, different departments that may not have, you know, might not have a or a location and have a location may not have visa or might not have an actor. And, but it's like, you still gotta shoot, like, like, he can't go like, Okay, well, we're just gonna, you know, call this day a wash and, and, you know, it's like, no, like, you have to

Alex Ferrari 14:24
You got to make today got to make the day gotta shoot.

Jared Cohn 14:27
Yeah, got to make the thing gotta shoot something. So

Alex Ferrari 14:30
And you did 15 of these films with asylum. And like you were busting out what form a four year for a clip there.

Jared Cohn 14:38
You know, I mean, yeah, like, you know, there's a few of us that have done you know, you know, a, you know, bunch in that probably in that. You know, like, you know, Mark Atkins you know, Anthony Bronte.

Alex Ferrari 15:00
But let me let me ask you so what so it just so the audience understands this business model works because they got this stuff sold way before, once they Greenlight it, they've already know they've made money. Yeah, it's, it's done.

Jared Cohn 15:13
They're, they're in touch with all about what, you know, the bar market is a really very interesting, like, place because, you know, there's, it's sort of, there's always territories, and buyers and they need content, but it's like a market, it's like, almost like at all i got like the I can bang, like, you know, walking around buying some strange fruit in Bangkok, like, you have to know like, the buyers and they know and the button on the buyer what they want. So when they make a film, they are, you know, fully cabinet into the international market

Alex Ferrari 16:00
Pre-sold already pre sold based on either genre or cast.

Jared Cohn 16:04
Exactly, exactly. And they know exactly who they're selling it to, and what they want, what their tastes are. So they're going into it. And they you know, they're their own, they direct their selling directly to the buyers because that you know that they have the relationships.

Alex Ferrari 16:21
So you but so now you're also saying off air, you told me that they have they just made a deal with Tubi. So they're doing original Tubi stuff, and you said AVOD a little set a little bit ago. For everybody listening, a VOD is advertising video on demand or add video on demand, which is advertising based content or video on demand very much like YouTube is AVOD as well as to be in Pluto and those kinds of things. Now, now asylums libraries have is becoming extremely valuable in the Avon space, so much so that they're actually building stuff for Avon specifically, correct?

Jared Cohn 16:56
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Avon is a really the future of Avon is the return of like TV. Yeah, essentially. Yeah. Right. So it came full circle and like, like now everyone is watching a bot which is Yeah, which is all these great movies, and all these channels. You know, to be Peacock has a free platform. You know, Pluto, whatever crackle. You don't got to pay, you just got to watch commercials, just like to the days like the olden days. That's ideal today, so. Yeah. Whereas like, you know, titles before it was like, if you had a library, okay, yeah, you can resell it. And you can go and you can suss out, you know, buyers and try to license your movie, you know, but now, with Eva, you just put them all put put them all up there. You know, put them all to work instantly. Festival to everyone for free. Just got to watch more and they're making money. So it's like

Alex Ferrari 18:05
They're doing what they're doing. They're doing well. Now what was the biggest lesson you learned during your time making asylum films? I know you're still making them. But like, Is there is there a lesson that you learn from their, their way of making movies because it is a specific way? Kind of like what Corman did back in the day, there was a science to it, like what Jason Blum does now with Blumhouse what is that lesson that you'd like that nugget of gold that you've picked out from working for them so long?

Jared Cohn 18:32
Oh, man, like, just so many things. I mean, I learned so I mean, had a I mean, it had I worked at a block, too. I mean, like, everything I learned I learned so much from them, but like, most importantly, like how to come in on schedule on budget on a very fast paced, you know, how to shoot a movie in eight days, you know, seven days, six days. I mean, it is possible. And there's, you know, there's a you know, some really good filmmakers, you know, following that, you know, that sort of model you know, ideally, I you know, I prefer longer, you know.

Alex Ferrari 19:28
Like everybody does. Yeah, like, like, I've always I've always tell people, what are the two things you will never hear as a filmmaker. You have all the time in the world and nothing but money. Like that's something you will never hear anyone ever say. Yeah. And even Steven Spielberg doesn't get that like even they nobody, nobody gets as much time as they want and as much money as they want. Not even Chris Nolan. And he's pretty damn navan. Maybe Maybe James Cameron, maybe James Cameron here. because he's had 10 years to make the sequels to Avatar

Jared Cohn 20:08
I cannot believe he's been a avatar we're still waiting on our avatar 2

Alex Ferrari 20:14
And but but but to be fair, he's gonna bust out with avatar 234 and five like every year after his gets released, so he's you so but but he's one. I think he's the only human being on the planet that gets to do that. Honestly. There's not anybody els

Jared Cohn 20:29
He owns what IOM

Alex Ferrari 20:33
No, no, no digital domain. He sold that a long time ago. Okay. Oh, yeah, he's doing okay. He's doing okay from stuff. I'm not crying for Jim. Jim's doing financial he's doing fine. But he's one of those guys like just sees gets. I mean, there's nobody else on the planet who could walk in and do what he did with avatar and continuing to do that. Just really is it? Now is there is there What is the craziest Story Asylum film story that you can tell me on air? Like something that was so insane you're like, I can't believe this happened.

Jared Cohn 21:08
Okay, I gotta I gotta go. This is Yeah. I mean, we were in Florida, Pensacola a, shooting a Atlanta gram, which was, you know, a mock cluster of Pacific Rim. Sure.Guielmo Del Toro. And we're looking at all these actually, like amazing locations at this naval base down there. And, you know, it locations were really super dope, because it's actually like, a real Navy base. So we're scouting them for days and planning out, you know, going over the shots. And, you know, and Jeek every GQ magazine sent down a reporter to write this story which exists now it's actually came out and like, it was cool to be a part of. So we're down there, or we're getting ready to shoot and days are going by and then like, literally, like, a day before we start to shoot, get a phone call. One of the producers gets a phone call from some guy and like the Pentagon. Finally, I guess got ahold of the script. And was like, No, you guys aren't this this movie on our Navy base, like so literally, it was just that was a curse

Alex Ferrari 22:48
So you lost so you lost a location.

Jared Cohn 22:50
We lost every location in the movie pretty much like 90 It was a while location. We had Graham Greene down there. Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 23:03
How did you? How did you overcome that, man? How did you like how do you overcome? Like, I lost the all the locations for my film a day before I start shooting? And I've got what how many days? Did you have shooting on that? Six days, eight days? 10 days.

Jared Cohn 23:16
That one we actually had that was I think I had like 13 13 or 14 days.

Alex Ferrari 23:22
Oh, wow. That was a lot for you guys.

Jared Cohn 23:25
It was gonna be about to be like, yeah, it was gonna be a big one. Like the budget was bigger as for sci fi, okay. So, like the pressure was on.

Alex Ferrari 23:36
So how did you guys recover? How did you guys recover from that?

Jared Cohn 23:40
Man, you know? We, you know, we just everyone was scrambled and we found you know, locations that were, you know, not nearly as cool but, but oddly that film got have like a sort of this cult sort of following. And misc Mystery Science Theater. aired it and no, did they? Yeah, that's awesome. It was so it was it found sort of found its way and maybe if you know, we shot the Navy base, like it wouldn't have it wouldn't have been like,

Alex Ferrari 24:25
I think it would have been just a little too cool is what it would have been.

Jared Cohn 24:29
would have been like to locate it wouldn't have been as you know, kitschy I guess or whatever people found, you know,

Alex Ferrari 24:38
They liked about it. Well, I listened. I looked it up when I was about it. When I was going to do your interview. I was like, let me do some research. And when I found it on YouTube, like you could just watch it on YouTube for free with ads. I was like, That's genius. Yeah, that's brilliant man. So um, so for how did you go from working With asylum to making in directing multimillion dollar films, dollar films with like Bruce Willis,

Jared Cohn 25:08
Umm, it really I mean, I, I have to say, you know, it comes down. And I'm glad I'm able to write a decent a script that gets made. Because it's all been scripts that I've written that I've run out and I, you know, metaphorically shove it down people's throats as I can sure to read it. And I just did I was going like in tip pitch fest, you know, or, like, be dating with, you know, right. Like, how are you doing my name? Now? I'm pitching you a movie there I think is great. And here's why I think it's great. And here's why you should make it so I did all that crap, man. I submitted I actually won a screenwriting contest like you know one like a few grand like Sal was doing all the

Alex Ferrari 26:13
The usual stuff the usual stuff that every screenwriter does.

Jared Cohn 26:16
I was doing all that stuff and and it took a long time it took a really long time you know, that one deadlock to gate he wrote it wrote the script eight years ago, you know, Oh, perfect first draft. So it was really eight years of running around. And like it had so many false starts so many. Oh, yeah. So many producers that were gonna make it or just come in like, got optioned or whatever. Like, just like, it was it was really exactly like after a while. I was like, I really like reality. Beat me up on that one. But I got a you know, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 27:02
It got finance you got you got Bruce Willis. Now, I gotta ask you, how do you direct Bruce Willis, man? Cuz you've done you've done two movies with him now, right?

Jared Cohn 27:11
Yeah, uh, you know, I mean, you gotta just, you know, you got to work. Bruce is you know, he's a lot, you know, legend. You know, and he knows, but, you know, he, you know, he knows what he's doing. So it's

Alex Ferrari 27:30
Kind of just sit back and let them kind of go and let him do Yeah, let him be Bruce.

Jared Cohn 27:34
Let Bruce be Bruce. You know, and Bruce, and he'll bring it so. Yeah, I mean, you know, it's just great. You know, he's such a, you know, such icon.

Alex Ferrari 27:47
Yeah, I mean, on your first day to tears like on your first day on the set, and you're like, Okay, Bruce, this is the scene like, what? How surreal is that as a filmmaker dude, like you just like, Oh, God, this John McClane.

Jared Cohn 28:02
Yeah, I mean, if you just got exactly you just got to kind of a Bruce, you know, this is what, you know, this is what this is what we're doing and kind of takes it all in. And, you know, maybe some ideas on and but, you know, if he doesn't, you know, if he doesn't like a line of dialogue, or whatever he will be writing, say, or you'll either be writing like, and he knows what he's saying. He knows how to make stuff sound. Cool. So cool. So like, Y'all y'all y'all, you'll only have a problem if you interfere with his creative process. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 28:44
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, you also got to direct to legendary Mike Tyson dude, like how the hell do you direct Mike Tyson?

Jared Cohn 28:54
Man, he's awesome, man. He's so cool. I mean, like Tyson

Alex Ferrari 29:01
He's he's cool. And like, he seems. I mean, look, we all look. He's one of the most famous human beings on the planet, Mike Tyson. So it's, you know, he's, you know, it was kind of like Muhammad Ali. Like, he's Muhammad Ali did movies because he was just like, so freakin famous. That they put them in put them in a movie. So when you when you're with Mike, I mean, he seems like he's super cool. And you know, but don't piss him off because he's still Mike Tyson.

Jared Cohn 29:31
Yeah, I bet he's, yeah. And he's is Yeah. So cool, man. And, like, really came alive. Like, like, you know, it once he came, he showed up and I think, you know, he came off a long flight and was coming, you know, crazy, crazy schedule. It's Mike Tyson. Sure. Yeah, but once he got that said he got an award job and He's warming up like you say I started having started having fun It was it was great. It was just really great to see. To see him Have fun and and, like, enjoy, you know, being onset and acting because I mean, he's getting bombarded everyone's just you know, bombarding him and it's

Alex Ferrari 30:18
Everybody wants a picture everybody wants a picture everybody wants a piece of Mike it's like,

Jared Cohn 30:22
Everybody wants a piece of Mike and and. And you know like he's just it's insane to see you know so like everyone everybody wants a picture with Mike Tyson. And

Alex Ferrari 30:36
I mean and they all want that picture with him like with the fist up to their chin or something like that something like something cheesy like that.

Jared Cohn 30:43
I was this is how she is a little cheesy story. I go I go. I watched I was I thought it'd be funny to have like a video or like he was knocking me out, right? I was like, Oh man, I gotta get

Alex Ferrari 30:56
I'm sure that's original. He's never done that before.

Jared Cohn 30:58
Is there for so I was like, Yeah, I was like, I was like, it'll hold the camera and my phone can you know this? Man be cool. Like, and he's like, Nah, man.

Alex Ferrari 31:09
I'm not gonna know. Because if that video got out if he did, if it looks real, it'll go. It'll be national news.

Jared Cohn 31:17
I know. He knows that. He knows that. And, and it was just funny. I was geeking out on Mike Tyson. Because, I mean, he's Mike Tyson. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 31:32
Yeah, it's like, yeah, man. I mean, you work. You've worked with some legends, dude. And you also work with Captain Kirk dude, William Shatner dude, like, what? i How do you? How do you work with someone who's I mean, you're that those are basically three legends? You know, in their, their specific fields? Like, how do you work with the how was it working with William man?

Jared Cohn 31:53
William it he Yeah. And you know, he's a guy, another guy, man. He's been doing it, you know, so long? That he knows, you know, exactly. He knows the filmmaking process. He knows the shot, like, and, you know, Emile you know, you know, and if you know what you're doing, and if you're moving, you know, if you're moving along, you know, you know, he's cool. You know, and yeah, I mean, he's got to be specific, because, you know, he'll call it like, if you're, if you're not on your game. And, you know, there were some because, you know, not on my, on my department, but, you know, whereas, you know, things happen on a movie with it, you know, production, you know, a band is running a little late or sure Rob, I don't know, late or something. And he has no problem, you know, being, you know, calling, calling, calling, and he's right, you know what I mean?

Alex Ferrari 32:54
Like, be professional, be professional.

Jared Cohn 32:58
You know, he's just the other time. You know, he's been around, you know, so you gotta, every everything he says, You know, I was like, Yeah, I agree. I you know, it's like, you wish you could snap your fingers and you know, make the runner come back, you know, Catina stuff happens and and yeah,

Alex Ferrari 33:23
It is what it is. It is what it is. But you're still working with I mean, look, I've worked with guys like that, too. And, you know, if when they've been around forever, man, you better be on your game. You know, they they come to play, especially if they've played on a big level. You know, if they've, if they've, you know, I've worked with Oscar nominee nominated actors and like you like, it was amazing to watch a professional like that work. Yeah. And if you like, just, if you're not on the same level playing field, it's like walking, like you're a high school football player walking on the NFL on an NFL field, you're going to get clobbered.

Jared Cohn 33:58
They'll eat your lunch.

Alex Ferrari 34:00
They will definitely eat your lunch if you don't play. If you don't, they will. And if you get a real one. That's really armory. You're gonna be, you're gonna be in rough shape for the rest of that shoot.

Jared Cohn 34:13
I mean, I've worked. I oddly, like I've worked with you know, I worked with some amazing let me just preface this because I've, you know, majority of people I work with are awesome. And you know, I'm able to understand and you know, but there's been some peat like some people I can't I just like think they're

Alex Ferrari 34:38
The last Coca Cola in the desert.

Jared Cohn 34:40
Yeah. Perfect. Yeah, exactly. And I'm like, like, Who do you think like, I like such like, entitled, The disrespectful like, I'm like, I'm like, I don't understand how, like, like, I'll never want to work for you again. and like, and I know some people now and like things come up in conversation. Oh, and they'll ask me like, oh, how was it like working with so and so and, like, if they're like, if you're not kind and respectful, like, you know, like, I like, I don't understand that mentality and I, you know, I get it like if you're gay if you're like a big, big star and you know, and

Alex Ferrari 35:29
Look man even the biggest stars like a Tom Hanks or Yeah, you know, or the rock or these guys are cool. And I've always I've at least in my experience, the bigger the star, generally the nicer they are. It's those like, on the way up, or the middle level guys or gals, who are the ones that give problems because their ego is very fragile, and they haven't, you know, once you win three Oscars you generated like that, like, you know, Meryl Streep. Let's go, we're here. We're here to work, you know, but this one thing, this is a lesson for everyone listening. This is a really small business. It is very, very small. And it word gets around real quick. If you screw someone over, if you're difficult to work with, I was talking to an agent at a big agency the other day, and they were telling him like, oh, man, you rep. This guy's like, Yeah, I can't work with him anymore. My life is too short. To have that kind of toxicity in my life. I was like, wow. And that person was a fairly big star. I was like, wow, that's you're not the first person I've heard that from. It is it's a small little town, man. It's a small little town. And everyone talks about every everyone knows everybody. And if you screw one person in one place, and it could be something as small as you know, on a silent movie, that's a low budget film. And they might on the next project, go off and do a Tarantino film, because quitting pulls them out of out of wherever they you know, out of like, where they're at bedtime and telling you it everybody talks. So the best advice ever heard in this business? And let me know if you agree with this. Don't be a dick.

Jared Cohn 37:11
Yeah, exactly. And and, you know, I've experienced working with mean just a few, but like, they were like, you remember them. So clearly. There's so many good people that like I could talk about, but like, you're right, the, like the few people like the Dick's like, you remember the most because it's like, it'll ruin the whole experience. Almost

Alex Ferrari 37:39
It's tough enough, man.

Jared Cohn 37:40
This is tough enough work. Yeah, yeah, like, so. Yeah, please just be cool. Like,

Alex Ferrari 37:46
Just be cool, well, at least you're not on it. At least you're not on these films for like, you know, six months.

Jared Cohn 37:53
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I mean, what I mean, I'd love I mean, I'd love to do like a tea house and TV. Yeah, that would be great. We're on the same project for six months. I mean, that would be awesome.

Alex Ferrari 38:08
Yeah. And if you just got and you just get checks every week, and we're just working out. Oh, just instead of fossil and stuff hustling out every project, you got to work out another one. And another one. I know the feeling, man. Yeah, it's when I got when I was. I worked staff a couple times in my career. And I was promptly fired from both of them early in my career as an editor and I was man that you get addicted to that check at checkout real like leave me I don't gotta go hustle for this. It's just gonna give me this every week. I just got to do my work. This is nice.

Jared Cohn 38:36
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, exactly. Having the next project lined up or something, you know, always is a hustle. Yeah. Also, yeah, the hustle is real. And, you know, yeah, it's like, you know, there's a lot to be said for, you know, being in the hospital be like, being in the trenches. And, and, you know, I, it's like, as soon as you get in the out of the trench that you're in, you might run a little bit, but then you're getting out from different bullets, you got to go back down into it. Now you're on this new trench and you're hustling again. So you know,

Alex Ferrari 39:16
But that's but that's the life of the filmmaker man. That's the life of the filmmaker. It's like even the big boys will go two or three years between projects because they gotta hustle it out and then sometimes they get the keys taken away from them because they get they get thrown in director jail. If you know once you you bomb $100 million $200 million movie and you're not a big you're not one of these giant juggernauts you're you get put in director jail and I'm like, Ah, man, it's it's it's a real thing. Director jails real man. I've talked to the directors who have been in jail. And it's it takes you know, Shane Black who wrote a lethal weapon and last Boy Scout and you know, all that stuff. He got thrown into screenwriter jail after Last Action Hero and he didn't work For 1213 years, and 12 or 13 years he didn't work. I mean, this guy did Lethal Weapon long kiss. Goodnight, last last Boy Scout like he created the spec him and Joe Joe Astor house were basically the ones making the three or $4 million a script script market like with a boom of the of the spec script markets back in the day. And then after last action here, which which was a very big failure. He keyed literally got he's gone. And then it wasn't until Kiss Kiss Bang, bang. And a producer said, Hey, we're gonna make this movie that he was allowed back in, but his keys were taken away from him. And it he's not a couple movies system. Thank God. I guess I'd like Shane.

Jared Cohn 40:41
Yeah, he did that Predator movie.

Alex Ferrari 40:44
Yeah, he did. The Predator movie did Ironman 3.

Jared Cohn 40:46
Yeah, he did. I mean, yeah. I mean, some of those movies. Amazing. And his count. Yeah. I mean, he just, I mean, you got to have your own, you got to be able to do your own stuff. Like, and that is, you know, helped me a lot. You know, being a producer. You know, that way, that way, I'm running off the weight, you know, and I have company people and we, you know, so to be able to do your own stuff and is when you want your time you don't have to wait. Yeah, so you can't you know, someone can take your big your big keys away, but you got it. You got a back pocket key.

Alex Ferrari 41:30
Well, that's because, you know, you come from a place you come from the street level, like I do, like, you know, we're like we're indie film hustlers, all the way from the beginning from the bottom. So we haven't been blessed with the 100 million dollar budget. You know, if you give them $100 million budget guy a million they wouldn't really know what to do with it. Like Roland Emmerich is not making a million dollar movie like Ridley Scott's not making.

Jared Cohn 41:56
No, that's, that's the lunch that's the catering budget.

Alex Ferrari 42:00
That's for that for a week. Now, what are you working on next? Now, what's the next project now?

Jared Cohn 42:08
Um, but just the deadlock. Lifetime movie came out on December 10. And the next one I got two movies that I did. One is called vendetta which you know Yeah, Bruce was my take Mike Tyson and Clyde standing. Do Rosie Thomas Jane that will be coming out I don't have a date. But also Lord of the streets will be coming which is a film that I was done with my company and producer I wrote it and directed as well. But we had we had a you know in in April and and a fan Anderson Silva rampage. Jackson Khalil Rountree. Nice AJ McKee, check Congo. Richard Grieco was in their trash from naughty by nature was in there.

Alex Ferrari 43:10
That's awesome, man. That's awesome. So yeah, what I respect about what you do, man is you do it. And you're out there hustling and you're making the movies and you're making a living as a director, and I can't and no one should ever take anything away from anybody doing that. You know, and I, that's one of those of the reasons why I wanted you on the show is the filmmakers to understand, like, we all don't have to be Steven Spielberg, we all would like to be. I mean, we all would like to have $100 million to go off and play. But those are, those are very specific people. And those, those windows are getting smaller and smaller people. But that doorway is getting tighter and tighter for anybody who can even make that kind of movie anymore. But if you only chase that, and that's the only definition you have as a success in this business, you will fail and you will be bitter and angry for the rest of your life. But if you can find happiness, doing the work you want to do and make a living doing it all power to you, brother.

Jared Cohn 44:08
Nah, man, you said he said, you know, you, you start you talk to big people, little people, people in between. And it's really about, you know, having that attitude that that, you know, hustle. I'm gonna go with the flow roll with the punches. I'm gonna get punched in the face.

Alex Ferrari 44:28
Oh, yeah. My favorite. My favorite analogy is like we're all in a fight. But most of these filmmakers coming up have no idea they're walking into a ring. They're like, Oh, look, it's so pretty in here. Look at that. What's cool and you're out cold because you didn't even know the punch was coming. I'm here to let you know you're in a fight and the punch is coming. So you can take the hit. Keep going and keep going.

Jared Cohn 44:51
To take you're gonna take the hit and you'll think you won't even know you got punched in the face until like you You ran down some rabbit hole like six, you know, for three years or something on a project, right? Coming up on a he basically just said in a landline and it's over. And I mean time is time is your only friend and enemy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 45:20
I agree, man and the thing is that it's about keeping moving forward. And and I respect you in the Senate man you've made 40 movies did you say?

Jared Cohn 45:31
Yeah 45 .

Alex Ferrari 45:32
45 films So listen, man, I mean , I had somebody on who made like 100 over 100 movies or 200 movies he was on. He did a lot of Lifetime movies. And he's Dakota. No, no, God, he's gonna kill me. I forgot his name. I can't remember his name right now. But he was on the show. And I told him the same thing, man. I'm like, Look, dude, you're doing you, man. You're putting out three, four of these a year. You make a good living. You're enjoying your process. You get into work with some of your heroes. And you get to make movies. Dude, it's the dream. Like how many people? Huh, Mike? Mike Pfeiffer?

Yes, it was Mike Pfeiffer

Jared Cohn 46:08
Oh, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 46:09
I love Mike. Yeah, that's Mike. Mike was on the show. And he I told him that I was like, you know, and I hung out with him a bit and went to a color sweet with him. And like, you know, we hung out for a bit because he was he was calling me down the street from where I live. And we were just talking about it, man. I'm like, Did you fucking live the dream, dude, you're like, I mean, I don't care what anyone says if anyone has a problem with the kind of movies you're making, go screw them. And because you're making a living as a director, you're enjoying your life, you're enjoying what you're doing. It's not everybody's cup of tea. But who cares. It's if it's not everyone's cup of tea, you're happy and you're making a frickin living doing what you love to do. That's the dream. That's the That's the definition of success for me. If you make 50, if you're, if you're in Kansas, and you make 50 grand a year, directing movies, and you could put food on the table, a roof over your head, and maybe going on vacation with your family, dude, and making whatever kind of movies you got to make to do that, and you're loving what you're doing to it. That's the definition of success to me. I don't need a million dollars. I don't need $5 million. Would it be nice? You know, like I said, I always tell people if Kevin Fahey calls, I'm gonna take the meeting. If Kevin calls, I'm taking the meeting. I'm not saying I'm going to direct the Marvel movie, but I will take the meeting. No question, because I have to find out what that feels like. But, but that's not the definition of success for me anymore. And that's took me a long time to figure that out. And I hope people listening understand that that it's great to have goals and aspirations to be our heroes. Like, you know, many people wanted to be Stanley Kubrick. Steven Spielberg wanted to be Stanley. Hell, Steven Spielberg wanted to be Akira Kurosawa. So to George Lucas. So to Coppola, they all wanted to be Kurosawa. And they ended up being themselves. We all aspire to be our heroes. But the chances of getting to that level in the same way they did is impossible because there's only one Spielberg there's only one Chris Nolan. There's only one David Fincher, there's only one Robert Rodriguez. Right? But you got to find that place in yourself, man, you got to find that place that makes you happy. And you make the movies you want to make, right?

Jared Cohn 48:15
Yeah, you know, I mean, so fuckin true, man. Like, so. True. And everybody that everybody wants to be. Just be yourself make the move. You know? Like, you know, they're making move, they're they're making the movies that they feel are commercial. So maybe you know, and because they believe that it becomes commercial, you know? I mean, Christopher Nolan. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 48:42
Making $100 million movie about Oppenheimer. Are you kidding? Who else on the planet gets to make $100 million movie about Oppenheimer? Yeah, like that's insanity. That's insane. But I'm always grateful when I when I get the when I get the pleasure and an honor to talk to guys like them. I always say, Man, I'm glad you're taking the swings. You might not always connect with the ball you might not always take get a home run. But I'm glad you're taking the swings because when you take the swings when when guys like that and and directors like that go out there and take those swings. It only benefits us you know, like Avatar was a hell of a swing you know Inception a hell of a swing you know Fight Club. Hell of a swing you know, like these are these are big at bats and I'm so glad that they did it because we are the benefit the matrix huge freakin swing, like you know, that all that kind of stuff, man. So, I'm just happy with that.

Jared Cohn 49:45
It's true and you know, the Great's are great for a reason, you know, and a list actors are a list for a reason, you know, and yeah, and You know, sure, you know, some people, you know, you could argue nepotism or this or that. But again, just like they're putting out works on the screen. That's what's good about this, you know, the good and bad about this business, you know is is, you really can't hide anything, nothing. It's all there. So it's very visual. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 50:24
At the end of the day, nepotism will get you through the door, it might get you a meeting, hell, it might even get your first movie, but if you ain't gonna make money for them, they don't care if your last name is Spielberg, Nolan Fincher Kubrick, no one cares. They might get an opportunity that you and I won't be able to get purely because our last name is not bad. But that might get them in the door, but they got to have the talent and the experience to keep yourself in that door. That's right, Amen. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Sir, I asked all of my, my guests, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Jared Cohn 50:59
I, you know, I would say, just shoot something, you know, like, and, and there's no reason now that the, you can't afford a digital camera. That's, you know, and it's an enzyme and free editing software. So just, you know, there's no reason to like to just, you know, shoot something. And that way you have your learning and you by doing, if you're Yeah, and we will be working on something, you know, always always, because a lot of people just talk, you know, and, and it's good to talk and plan, but you got to push the button. At some point, you got to, you know, you got to say, alright, I'm shooting this thing. And we start shooting on the date, dot, dot, dot, you know, whatever, like, and you go, you gotta go, you gotta go, and you gotta go, you gotta show it show with the camera, and your actor and location.

Alex Ferrari 51:59
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jared Cohn 52:05
How to deal, you know, like, how dealing with people, other people, communication skills, and how to, like, communication skills are so important because you don't, you know, everybody is so me, people, me people are so different, but are still people that everyone had. And then there's, everybody kind of wants the same thing. You know, they want to be happy, validated and appreciated. And, and it comes in everyone comes in a different form, and, but some people are just really hard to read to. So you're, you're accepting the fact that you'll never fully understand anybody. Probably, you know, maybe even yourself just a small extent, but but doing the trial, realizing that and figuring out a way on how to deal with people, but you didn't take the time to like, oh, that person is terrible. I would, you know, maybe they are, you know, but you're gonna be in situations with people that you're not, you're gonna just have to deal with and you can either put yourself through hell, the only person experiencing the pain is gonna be yourself.

Alex Ferrari 53:16
Right! Right. All right, good lesson. And last. Lastly, three of your favorite films of all time.

Jared Cohn 53:24
Oh, man, there's so I'm obsessed with blood diamond.

Alex Ferrari 53:30
Oh, so good, man. Did you hear that? You listen, did you listen to Edward Zwick conversation I had?

Jared Cohn 53:37
Yes, yes,

Alex Ferrari 53:38
It was one of my favorite interviews I've ever done I love I love Ed on the show.

Jared Cohn 53:43
Legend legend. Oh my god yeah, that movie is just love love it Leo is Danny Archer man. Limitless yes it fucking incredible incredible incredible movie. Um I'm gonna say I'm just gonna say parasite man.

Alex Ferrari 54:10
Parasite Yeah, man. Good film.

Jared Cohn 54:13
Yeah, I mean, blew me out of the fucking water that that movie it just blew me out of the fucking water because I was not no idea what to expect. And man that like the game like squid game?

Alex Ferrari 54:33
Oh, I love I love squid game. I love it.

Jared Cohn 54:36
I'm just like Asian Asian cinema.

Alex Ferrari 54:39
Korean Korean cinema is awesome. They're doing really

Jared Cohn 54:43
F*cking amazing. And, and for everyone out there watch some awesome Kpop music videos, though. They are f*cking nuts. The band BTS. Yeah, it was like, huge. Their music videos are like so cinematic, gold

Alex Ferrari 55:03
I'll tell you, I'll tell you I'll tell you my story, my Korean filmmaker story. I'm at Sundance at them in 2005 at the midnight screening of old boy. And the directors there, he just flew in from Japan to talk and like we're out like, you know, two o'clock in the morning on Main Street and I'm talking to him. I can't remember his name off the top of my head. Park. I think it's Park I forgot his full name but we just sit there talking through his translator about filmmaking about old book before the world really had heard of old boy. And if anyone who has not seen old boy the original go watch old boy, because it will mess you up in a big big way. Oh, yeah. But But listen, man, it has been a pleasure talking to you, man. I wish you nothing but continued success. Keep making the films you want to make brother. Keep yourself happy and and do what you got to do, man and you're an inspiration to a lot of filmmakers out there because you're you're doing it you're making it happen for yourself and it's hasn't been an easy road. I'm sure it's been. It's been Alan back I'm sure. I'm sure you got a little bit of shrapnel on you as well as like I do. But I appreciate you coming on and sharing your your journey with us, man. So I appreciate it, man.

Jared Cohn 56:22
Thanks so much, man. It's truly an honor man. You know, it's like, and I'm gonna go back and I'm just you know, it's funny. It's because I'll be listening. I'm listening and then I can't wait to see my name pop up in the in the Spotify.

Alex Ferrari 56:39
I appreciate you brother. Thanks again.

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Screenplays: FREE Download 2021-2022 Oscar Contenders UPDATED

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2020-2021 Oscar Contending Screenplays

The Father – (Sony Classics) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Original Screenplay)
Promising Young Woman – (Focus Features) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Adapted Screenplay)

2020-2021 Oscar Contending Screenplays

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2020 Oscar Contending Screenplays

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IFH 546: How to Direct Your Dream Project with Adrian Martinez

adriana martinez, igilbert

Today on the show we have returning champion Adrian Martinez.

Adrian Martinez has over 100 television and film credits including several standout sidekick roles -“Focus,” opposite Will Smith and Margot Robbie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” opposite Ben Stiller, “Casa de mi Padre,” opposite ‘Mexican’ Will Ferrell, “I feel Pretty,” as Amy Schumer‘s office buddy, ‘Mason,’ and as ‘Elliot’ the dog catcher in the CGI and live-action re-imagining of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.

Adrian also co-stared with Will Smith and Margot Robbie in the film Focus.

Will Smith stars as Nicky, a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). As he’s teaching her the tricks of the trade, she gets too close for comfort and he abruptly breaks it off. Three years later, the former flame—now an accomplished femme fatale—shows up in Buenos Aires in the middle of the high stakes racecar circuit. In the midst of Nicky’s latest, very dangerous scheme, she throws his plans for a loop…and the consummate con man off his game.

On the television front, Adrian recently starred in ABC’s crime drama series “Stumptown” alongside Cobie Smulders, Jake Johnson, and Michael Ealy, and in the CBS all access comedy, “No Activity,” produced by Will Ferrell and Funny or Die. Adrian was also a series regular playing computer hacker, ‘Dumont’ in “The Blacklist: Redemption,” on NBC, opposite Famke Janssen and Ryan Eggold.

Adrian’s directorial debut, “iGilbert,” a drama he wrote starring himself, Dascha Polanco (“Orange is the New Black”) and Raul Castillo (”Looking”) was recently released by Gravitas Features and currently available on demand and in select theaters.

iGilbert is a future fairytale about being seen and feeling unseen. Gilbert feels isolated from the world, life, and people, and is starving for human connection, as he reaches for his cellphone to connect with the world, with dangerous consequences.

“There is beauty among the broken in writer/ director Adrian Martinez’s iGilbert, a dreamlike ode to human connection at a time in which our phones keep us safely cradled in our own bubble of safety….”  — Filmthreat.com 

Enjoy my conversation with Adrian Martinez.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome back to the show, returning champion, Adrian Martinez. If you can wake up, sir, I appreciate that. Thank you.

Adrian Martinez 0:21
Alex, it's an honor to be here. And I thank you.

Alex Ferrari 0:26
I thank you for coming back on the show, my friend. It's been it's been a few years since you've been on the show. You were you were on early early on. Because, you know, we knew each other from now leap and, and worked a little bit together on on that stuff back then. And I asked, I asked, you know, a giant in the field, like yourself to come and humb to my humble podcast to talk shop back then. And now you're back, sir. And I appreciate you then. And I appreciate you now.

Adrian Martinez 0:59
Well, I couldn't be more grateful to speak to you because you know, movies. Uh, you know, the price we all paid to make them. And so I'm grateful to be here.

Alex Ferrari 1:09
Yeah, we're going to talk about your new film, which is your directorial debut iGilbert. And a little bit, which is, which I love by the way, and I'm sure there's a couple stories I'm sure it was very easy to to make it random and very quickly. I'm sure the money just flowed in. And you shot it what in like, a weekend and got all the all the actors just showed up? It was great. Yeah. And yeah. And it got released right now like this is? So for people who don't, who aren't aware of your career, how did you get started in the business?

Adrian Martinez 1:45
I was a complete an abysmal failure and everything else. Then, I actually started as a teenager, and I was at high school Springer. And, believe it or not, and they were going around schools, putting up signs for a crime reenactment show called Unsolved Mysteries. And they were looking for sprinters. So my friend said, Yo, you're the fastest one here, you should do it. And I was like, I don't know. They're gonna pay you like $500 for the day. Alright, where do I go? So the whole audition was a sprint, literally, like a 40 yard sprint. And yeah, I was a medalist, and I left everyone in the dust tonight. And I booked it. And I became sag eligible. And now just 87 years later, on directly my little bit

Alex Ferrari 2:45
But we did you use? Did you? Were you method when you were right, when you were running? And sprinting? At the time, did you what kind of acting techniques did you use?

Adrian Martinez 2:56
I I said go for the money, go for the money and go for the money. I had an objective. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 3:02
There was an objective no question. Now you've worked with some of the best directors in the business over your long career. I mean, you're one of those actors who I constantly see pop up everywhere you just one of those actors who's always working and it's so funny

Adrian Martinez 3:18
I was standing behind you.

Alex Ferrari 3:21
You're like David Pumpkins you like standing right behind me. But it's true because I you know, I'll be watching a movie or a show on you know, on TV and with my wife and I'm like up there's Adrian. Oh, there's Yeah, it always puts a smile on my face. I'm like, Oh, that's awesome. He's still he's cranking along. I love it. And I love what you know, when you're doing your your thing. And by the way, there is nobody else like you like you have no competition.

Adrian Martinez 3:48
Let's just keep it that way.

Alex Ferrari 3:50
There's not an Adrian Martinez type, like you are a there is nobody else like you. You have such a unique energy to you, to you and everything you do so but all these shows you've worked on all these movies you've worked on, you work with some of the best directors in the business. What were some of the lessons you learned watching them that brought that you were able to bring into directing your first feature?

Adrian Martinez 4:11
Well, I tell you, when I worked with Ben Stiller, Sheikha Latifa Walter Mitty, I learned all about hard work. Because he produced it, he directed it, he started it. And he was the first one to show up the last one to leave and then he would go work on the Edit. And I just, I just stayed on him like, like white on rice, or, in my case, off white on rice. And I just really just tried to learn as much as I could, but extremely powerful hard work ethic. And then, of course, at the Pollak rescue piece that worked with him on the interpreter with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn and this is a man who was just so vs understated power like he ran the set. But but he did it with a whisper. And you don't have to yell at anybody. You don't have to be a dick. Just have to know what you want, and deliver the message with passion and commitment and authenticity. And he did that. And he knew how to speak to different actors, as if they were each a fingerprint. And I was nervous. I was working with Nicole Kidman, and he's an Oscar winner. And I was just I was nervous. I was kind of starting out. And he was just like, Dude, you got this. You got this. See that lady over there. And he's talking to Nicole. She's, she's, she's gonna be there for you. 100% This is a safe place to work. So just take a deep breath and joke. Yeah. That was it. That was it. You were done. It was just, I was so moved by that. I still fucked up. But

Alex Ferrari 6:04
I mean, you you almost brought the whole movie down. But but but at least you felt safe.

Adrian Martinez 6:08
But. But he was so generous to like he told me. I said, What about if I? Because I was worried. I was doing a scene with her. And I'm like, I'm like the sound man of this booth, right? And I said, What if she gives me the line? Can I leave my violin here? And I say, number one, stop flirting. It's not going to happen. And he laughed. He's like, that's absolutely ridiculous. But I want to shoot it. So you know, this was $100 million movie. And he gave me the generosity of shooting Matt. And I just, I'll never forget, I

Alex Ferrari 6:48
Did it make did it make the cut?

Adrian Martinez 6:50
No, of course not. It was absolutely ridiculous. But he gave me the time of day and he respected my idea. And you know, he believes in me not to shoot it. So I mean, they were spending $300,000 a day on that. Oh, yeah. So each take is pricey. And he still let me do it.

Alex Ferrari 7:11
And Nicole. And I'm assuming Nicole cracked up.

Adrian Martinez 7:16
She was like

Alex Ferrari 7:22
That's amazing. Yes. And it's and he was I mean, he was a master and, and you know, I've seen those directors who just just their mere presence commands attention. And they're, it's kind of like, you know, when you're Sydney Pollack, you know, everybody knows you're on set just by you walking on it. It's one of those things. Now, you've worked as an actor for many years now. And one of the things that actors have to deal with a lot is rejection. What is the mechanism that you use to deal with that? Because I mean, it's, I mean, as a director, when I when I do castings, I'm trying to be as nice and unkind to actors as possible. But you guys go, you know, sometimes on, especially when you start out, you know, five or 10 castings a day, and you're rejected from almost all of them, if not all of them, almost on a daily basis. And so you go through 100 upside. Stop crying, stop crying. Stop crying agent. It's but but I'd have a month, you might get one, you might land one if you're lucky. How do you deal with the rejection?

Adrian Martinez 8:24
Oh, my God, I'm having that Oprah moment. Dude, just just the life I chose. And like my mother would say, nobody's forcing you. Shoot, it's true. She would crockery finger like dollar. Nobody's forcing you, right? Thanks, man. But look, resilience. That's all it is. I was watching this documentary with Rita Moreno. Yeah. The one that just came up. Yes. Great. And she was like, you know, because she admits that she was actually raped right by her agent, what she was just a teenager and kid she fought through that fought through that football, that racism and ageism in the vicinity. And they asked her how just you have to be resilient. That's it resilience. There's no and some people have a capacity for that more than others. And I understand that a lot of my friends no longer are no longer in the business and I respect that. But you just have to fight and be resilient.

Alex Ferrari 9:33
And I think that's something that every every person in every part of our business needs to understand from directing to gripping to screenwriting to acting, it is resilience and and that's what they don't teach you at film school. And they don't announce that they don't sell that Hollywood doesn't sell you that they sell you this. I always say they have they're really great at the sizzle but they suck at the steak.

Adrian Martinez 9:54
Yeah, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
Now you you also worked with With, with one of the biggest movie stars, if not the biggest movie star in the world at the time with Will Smith as a co star on focus. Were there any valuable lessons you learned from working with, with will and you know, just being around someone who is so not only so famous, but how he works and how he got to where he is with any valuable lessons you learned.

Adrian Martinez 10:25
Two quick stories about him I, my first day, just seeing I'm in an ambulance on a gurney. And sitting over me is Margot Robbie, and Will Smith. And we have no air in this ambulance. We have lights right over us. And I'm like in a polyester suit. And I'm dying, I'm dying, I'm sweating my ass off. And Will Smith reached into his pocket, took out his personal handkerchief and dab the sweat off my head. And that was day one. We were in New Orleans. And I'll never forget. And I said to myself, I'm going to be good on this movie, I'm going to be safe. Because if the biggest star in the world had the humanity to do that, I'm going to be good. So that's what Smith that you don't read about. But he is like a parade float. He is larger than life. When we were in Buenos Aires. He came out of his trailer just like frogs and people like the Beatles just came after him. But what he taught me is treat everybody, everybody with respect. Because you don't know who they are where they fit. me tell me that. But he showed me that just by dabbing my forehead.

Alex Ferrari 11:51
That's a great, great, great lesson. Now, I want you to tell you, you've been talking about I Gilbert for a couple years. Now I remember, you know, we threatened to work with each other a little bit on that on the post end. When you guys were trying to get something going or finishing up the film. How tell me first of all, tell me about the film. I Gilbert, what is it about?

Adrian Martinez 12:14
Well, it's a personal story for me, because I there was a long time in my life when I felt completely disconnected to everyone. Just just being Latino in this business, being a big guy walking into, you know, a drugstore and just having people look at you just because you're paying or whatever. And I just kind of like, let that simmer inside me. And then one day, I'm on the subway in New York. And there's this guy sitting opposite this attractive woman. And he starts just taking pictures. And then he kept doing and it's just like, what did that What are you doing? He didn't say anything was just dead. And then you got off the next stop. And I thought to myself, Who is this guy, that he is so dead on the inside that he could, you know, dehumanize someone in that way. And just keep moving. So that stayed with me. And then of course I have a daughter, you know, she just turned a teenager and I'm like, Who is she going to wind up with? This is the dating pool. You know?

Alex Ferrari 13:31
I know the feeling brother.

Adrian Martinez 13:35
And you know, I reached the point as a person and as an actor that I just wanted to tell stories that mattered to me. And what I felt was this growing disconnection between people. I mean, listen, we all love our phones, and we all love social media. But it can be very isolating. So just like in Taxi Driver, the metaphor for loneliness was the taxi. Today, to me, it's the phone. And so that's how I started cultivating the story.

Alex Ferrari 14:09
And how did you How long ago did you start this process?

Adrian Martinez 14:16
I wrote this maybe 10 years ago. And I shot it in 2016 and 2020. I had to do reshoots last in 2020. And then post production was a real pain in the ass. I couldn't find the right composure. The good the music was so essential to this movie. But finally, it was an act of God because that was I was in Savannah, Georgia. I was shooting lady in the trap, the remake and I'm just walking around and I see Leonard Malton the film critic heading towards the screening over Scott and I just like Linamar antics, I walked up to him, I said, it's the mountain. I love your books. They were really instrumental to me just was say hello. And you said, Thank you. Thank you so much. And he's with his family, couple friends. And I was so desperate, I just blurted out. Does anybody know? composure? Yeah, like it was a total non sequitur. But I was just so like, I couldn't stop thinking about any other composure. you compose. I was on the subway. I didn't, you know, composers. And then somebody said, Oh, I know somebody New York. His name is Gil, Tommy. Okay, Tommy. And I went to Apple Music and I started guild Tommy and I heard this song that he wrote called time, like rain. And it was like a lightning bolt. It was just like, that's, that's the tone of the song. That's the tone of the music I need for this for this one. That's it. I reached out to him. And the rest is history. He and his partner. You sell a full sell the vestry. She's from Spain. compose the most gorgeous score. It is when you see the movie. That's a beautiful spot I got. Yeah. And I kept trying to trip him up like, it's got to be sexy, haunting, sad, but beautiful. Like I just confirmed

Alex Ferrari 16:32
And creepy, but fast but it's slow.

Adrian Martinez 16:37
And I swear he like took a leak came back and boom, there was this fantastic score. And props to my wife, who, who wrote the the the end call song and the song in the flashback. But that was it. We were off and running after I got that score.

Alex Ferrari 16:56
So how how did you get the funding for the film?

Adrian Martinez 17:01
Well, that was hard. That was the hardest thing I've ever done. I move the money from savings to checking.

Alex Ferrari 17:10
Did you finances yourself finances yourself?

Adrian Martinez 17:12
I did. I don't recommend. I told my kid Listen, the good news is that he's making a movie. The bad news is you're not going to college. Yeah. But we'll see.

Alex Ferrari 17:29
But isn't it isn't it amazing though, as as filmmakers you know, I call it the beautiful sickness because we you know, once you get bitten by the bug, you're done. You can't get rid of it. It's it's in your blood you. It can go dormant for years and still pop its ugly head somewhere. And I had I had I had a director on the show who literally mortgaged his home for his first film, the movie bombed. He lost his home had seven kids had to move back in with his parents and his seven kids and his wife. And he said the only thing I could think of is like, oh my god, I'm never gonna get the direct another movie. And I'm like, that's, that's sick. That's that's absolute sickness.

Adrian Martinez 18:13
Yeah, but essentially, for me, it was same thing. I had property. In New York, I sold it to finance the movie. And I have no regrets. Because for me the choice was, am I going to be an actualized? Landlord? Collecting rents? Or am I going to be a naturalized filmmaker? Wow. Living my bliss. And you got on your comeback? Yeah, you know, if you look no worry about it.

Alex Ferrari 18:44
Exactly. Exactly. You did it. So it so but you so what took you so long? Then if you had if you had the funding, why did it take so long from the moment you wrote it to the moment it's been released almost 10 years later?

Adrian Martinez 18:57
Because at first I did try crowdfunding. I tried all kinds of, you know, I reached out to friends in the business. I mean, I went the route that you would, because who really wants to, you know, but it just came clear that, you know, it wasn't gonna happen. And then I had a window and I said, That's it. I'm just gonna shoot it.

Alex Ferrari 19:20
And you just and you ran it. You grabbed it. You grab the few friends as actors and brought him in and amazing cast by the way. Great cast.

Adrian Martinez 19:28
Well, I feel like this is the best thing. Dascha Polanco, Stan with all due respect to our interest in new black she she just gives such a subtle powerful performance

Alex Ferrari 19:40
It's beautiful beautiful spir It's haunting it's always haunting

Adrian Martinez 19:42
Yeah, yeah. And then you get people like well Sean Maher know from House of Cards coming in and help me out she was terrific money Kernan as the doctor I love her. She's gonna be on the show ghosts down. She just was on power. Whereas a regular, just good people, you know, good people, and of course, Raul Castillo, who I met on a movie called, Don't let me drown that went to Sundance. And we've always just stayed in touch. And I'm like, Dude, he's a creep. But I need you to bring that heart you bring to everything. And he did.

Alex Ferrari 20:21
Now, as a director, you know, there's always that day on set, that you feel like the entire world is coming crashing down around you. You're like, Oh, my God, you happen every day. So what am I? What am I doing here? I'm going to lose all my money. I, you know, and it could be for many different reasons. What was that? What was one of the many days that you had on the set? And how did you overcome those those moments? Because it's crippling, I've had it. I mean, I've literally had panic attacks. When I was first directing. It's It's It's horrible.

Adrian Martinez 20:54
Yeah. But it's also wonderful. Yes. That your story? Yeah. The way I was able to do it was like, I shot some short films in college. And so I said to myself, I'm going to do one short film a day. Okay, that's it. I'm doing one short film a day. And I did that 20 days. And then I said to myself, like, I remember one time we had, we had a scene change, and wardrobe forgot the change of clothes. And she was in Chelsea, we were in Harlem. It was rainy. Everything just sucked. And we're just sitting around, just kind of like waiting for the clothes. And I said, let's just grab the camera. And let's just walk the streets and do some pickup shots. And in those pickup shots, and I found some, some real gems. And it reminded me of who directed Babbo was the narrative.

Alex Ferrari 21:57
Oh,.

Adrian Martinez 21:59
Yeah. He was like, you know, just shoot, like, the screenplay is like the newspaper that just changes every day. Just go out. If you see something industry, interesting, just shoot that and be open to the miracles. So I was, and I wound up having some really nice shots, kind of like B roll stuff that that we use while waiting. We just got to keep going.

Alex Ferrari 22:25
Now there's there's some shots in the movie that I you know, I know, because obviously, this is not $100 million movie. So I know you didn't get to lock off grand Central's are not Grand Central is Grand Central. Jason, what's the name of? Grant says, right. So I know, you didn't lock off Grand Central and I know their scenes in like, you know, there has a lot of production value. I'm assuming some of that was, quote and quote, stolen?

Adrian Martinez 22:51
Not Grand Central.

Alex Ferrari 22:52
How did you do it? Yeah. How did you do? How did you do the Grand Central CMN?

Adrian Martinez 22:55
They will not let you in the you got to do you got to get permission. And you got to pay them. They have their own movie person. Okay. Okay. One night. And that was $1,000. Wow. Yeah. And I for that you get a platform, you get access to one train, not news. And you get access to the main area, but they won't lock it off. So

Alex Ferrari 23:23
I said there were people those were real people just walking around.

Adrian Martinez 23:26
Yeah. And then I said, Okay. Now originally in the Cass Gilbert Gets his phone. And he, he nervously is recording someone, and that he drops it into a subway track. And originally, I had it in his mind that he goes into the track to get the funnel. As the train goes by, it really jumps out of the way. And the MCC, the NTA said No fucking way. Because they were like, We don't want copycats any of that. So then I had to improvise. I said, Okay. He just records the person. And he walks away. And then the stress of it, because he's not in good health comes in and he passes out. And that's the movie. That's the scene in the movie, you see. But originally, it was a different kind of trauma.

Alex Ferrari 24:29
Well, there was, I mean, for $8,000 Actually, that's not bad. For the price. Gorgeous. I mean, I mean for what you get, I mean, try to build that set. Yeah, you know, the production value is not that bad for a day and they get a you get the train and it's not a bad it's not a bad deal. But there were some scenes that were on the street. I'm assuming you kind of run a gun did a lot of a lot of those kinds of scenes, or did you? Did you always have a permit? You always had permission? Because I mean, I've talked I've talked to filmmakers who made 100 million out movies that run a gun?

Adrian Martinez 25:02
Yeah. No, a lot of it was running gun. And but sometimes if you're going to shoot something that's instrumental to the story, like the Grand Central, you got to just pay the price. Sure, sure. I mean, but yeah, something that was running. And interesting John Carr, the DP, he had a segway. I think that's what you call those things you scoot on. And so we would, he would, we would use that for dolly shots. He would just segue from one place to the other. And we tried doing that at Grand Central and they said, now you can use the same way. But

Alex Ferrari 25:40
Is that is that a direct impersonation?

Adrian Martinez 25:45
Questions right here.

Alex Ferrari 25:51
No, it's so yeah, the segues then is this generations wheelchair which was made famous by Robert Rodriguez in mariachi, you know, using the wheelchairs a dolly now you could use a Segway as a dolly, you put that with a Ronan, you put that with a ronin, and you've got like, you know, almost a techno crane.

Adrian Martinez 26:08
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 26:09
Now, um, what are the skills that you brought as an actor to directing in this film like me all this experience you've had as an actor? Were any of those skills used in directing this film?

Adrian Martinez 26:24
Well, absolutely. When speaking of actors, because I get it, I know the price they paid, right? And acting. It takes a lot of courage to be an actor. It's, you're lending your emotional life to the character to the story. And that process is harder for something that for others. So I knew going in, to speak to actors. And I know each actor is different. If you're talking to like, and I've seen Morgan Freeman say this, like, what do you want from a director? Nothing. I know, I know what I'm doing. I don't want anything. Alright, that's Morgan Freeman. Other actors want to get deep into conversations about objectives and backstory. Cool to talk about and as long as you want on this set, dacha was very much into Jada she, she could connect to her story. And we would talk about her body dysmorphia and the characters party's dysmorphia and, and, you know, rebel, was playing someone who has PTSD and we want to talk about that. And you know, the price you pay to be a soldier and then come back out of that and to be back in the regular world and not being able to connect with the people that matter to you. So it was just like, each person had their own their own journey to take and you just have to be this.

Alex Ferrari 27:59
That's a thing that a lot of directors especially young directors coming up don't understand when working with actors, because working with actors is very mysterious. It's almost like a it for many for many, you know, unseasoned directors, they look at what the actors do as, as magic almost like how do you just turn it on, turn it off. I think one of the things you just said is so important for people listening to understand is that each actor is different and wants to be spoken to differently. Some come with all the confidence in the world, give me as literal as much as you want. And you're good to go. Others are much more neat, not needy, but want more interaction with the director and, and some need time to get into seeing other others can just pop, turn it on, like in a dime. Some are methods that are not, but that's such an important part. And I'm assuming, you know, you working with the insane list of actors that you've worked with and collaborated over the years. I'm sure you've seen the gambit from everything I just said right.

Adrian Martinez 28:59
100% and whatever it is, give it to them. Because at the end of the day, people will see the memory. See the performances, you know that no one's ever said, Well, I really love the gaffer on this. The Gaffin was fantastic. I appreciate the gap, but we can't do it without it. But your moment was sink or swim on the performances. So whatever the the actors lead on the day, it would just be that without judgment, just give them up to me.

Alex Ferrari 29:29
Now have you I'm assuming on your during your your travels, you've run into performers who might either have given you not giving you as a director, obviously, but you've seen actors who've acted up on set or not give you like, you know, either ego or insecurity. How do you suggest directors deal with trouble like you know, not troublemakers, but just people who might not feel safe? Because I know that for a fact that if an actor does feel safe they start acting up sometimes depending on who the actor is and where they are in their career. And others. You know, I just always love to hear any tips that you could hear, because I know that's one of the questions I get asked all the time, like, how do you deal with a difficult actor? If they're like the star? Or if they're just how do you deal with them? So what do you what's your suggestions with that?

Adrian Martinez 30:19
Well, if you're another cast member, just like walk away, and then let the other people do with it is not your battle. Right? If you're the, if you're the, if you're the director, you just got to pull them to the side. And hopefully, there's a room somewhere where he can just let them ban because you have to keep the space safer everybody. One guy going off, it's just that it's just like, it just brings everybody down. So if at all possible, you just pull him to the side, validate his feelings or feelings and say, Okay, tell me everything you got to say just let it up. Just let me hear it. And hopefully the person just leaves that moment. I was working on a movie was a Baton Rouge and Jeffrey, Jeffrey Tambor lost his ship. I mean, he just went crazy. And he just totally lost his patience started screaming at everybody. And the director was just like, okay. 100% I get. And, yeah, you just want on the 10 minute rant. That was it. We went back to the, to the shot. And the whole, the rest of the day felt icky. You know, next day, he came back, he apologized to the casting crew. And we moved on. But that rarely happens. I haven't seen too much of that. Jeffrey losses. Yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 31:49
I mean, it's rare. It's my experiences. I mean, it's, you know, obviously, that's what the attention goes on to those kind of scenes, and, you know, the, like the Christian Bale, you know, break down and those kinds of things. Yeah, but in my experience being on set, as much as I've been, I've never really seen that it that's most of them. Most people are professionals, and they don't act on professionally, at certain points, you do have breaking points. And it could be the cast, it could be the, the crew, it could be the environment, it could be financial, it could be you just got divorced. It could be, it could be a million things, it could be a million things, you never know what's going through an actor's head

Adrian Martinez 32:28
Keep your side of the street clean. That's it. You know, for the moment you show up and keep your side street clean, you're on time, you're prepared. You work and you go home. And you do that. That's the discipline. To me, I wish the whole world was run like a movie set, where everybody knew their role. And for the most part, nobody complains, we all do our job at That's it.

Alex Ferrari 32:55
And you get in and get out and move on. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was from a from I forgot which director told me this, but he's like, if you want to know how actors are feeling, you become best friends with hair and makeup. Because they're the ones are going to know, they had a rough night, they just broke up with their girlfriend, they, you know, they just got dropped from their agency or something like that, you're going to be the first to know they're going to be the first to know so always ask hair to makeup. How's Adrian today?

Adrian Martinez 33:24
There all like therapist. I mean, what's how much I was a day player. That's something I sat down. And they're like, so you married? What's goin on? Fuck, they go, they go right into it. And sometimes they catch you vulnerable when you actually feel like talking about your business. And you may say things. But yeah, that's a good, that's a good analogy.

Alex Ferrari 33:54
That's a good piece of advice for anyone listening out there make friends with hair and makeup, because they will know. And I think you were talking about it earlier is like I think as directors, this is one thing they don't teach you in film school that we are almost psychology, you know, psychologist and therapists on the set, because we not only have to deal with the actors and their emotional toll depending on the scene and the character and what they're going through in their own personal life. But you also have to run the set and all of each individual event crew member has that kind of stuff, too. So you've got to kind of the politics of it all as well is something that they don't teach you. Is that do you feel the same way?

Adrian Martinez 34:31
Yeah, but don't let them see that. I mean, like, oh, yeah, go to the bathroom, and scream. And just like, do whatever you got to do. But once you're back on set, everything is fine. Oh, yeah. He went, even if it isn't, because they look to you to know where this shift has gone. And so that's really important that you set the tone, you know, like a conductor with an orchestra. You set the tone, you said I love keeping it light. I love keeping it funny. I crack jokes all day at night, even though we were shooting the trauma. I was making jokes all the time. And you just got to keep the light and keep it moving.

Alex Ferrari 35:14
No, no question, I think. And that's a great piece of advice, because I remember my first film that I shot, day three, I excused myself, went to the bathroom and literally had a panic attack for 15 minutes, and had to go through the whole thing. And I came back out. I'm like, I knew even at that early part of my career, I can't show what's going on. If not, the whole ship goes down. And it's tough. It's not It's not easy being the captain. It's not. Yeah, but everyone thinks they could do it better. But everyone thinks they could do it better than you can.

Adrian Martinez 35:46
And maybe they're right. Yeah, sure, sure day, I'm the captain.

Alex Ferrari 35:51
For better or worse, we're on the ship. Now, I always love asking actors who direct how they're able to direct themselves, especially human, you're the lead of this movie. So how in God's green earth can you not only direct your first feature film, but then also have the ability to direct yourself be separated from yourself as far as performance is concerned? Be objective, because I've done it two or three times, and I'm not an actor, and Terry was horrible, horrible experience for me. How did you do this on a day to day basis?

Adrian Martinez 36:27
It comes very easily to me, I very intuitively had no problem with it. I would block the chain and my standing Walter Walter crews would sit in and he would just figure out what we're going to do. Then I would step in, I would perform. I maybe take a moment just to kind of like remind myself of what really matters to me in this scene. I'm just kind of like, go there. And shoot it. Cut. Check the viewfinder. Look at what look at the playback. Okay, would I be willing to see this in a movie? Is this interested enough to me? Do I want to make an audience sit through this? Yes. Good. Let's move on. No, do it again. And that comes easily what came hard for me was producing because I don't I mean, I love you know, having some money, but I don't. I don't like money. Like I don't like dealing with my taxes. I don't like you know, I don't like any of that. Just so I remember like shooting scenes and then just before an emotional scene, I can't have someone come up to 18 You have to sign these checks. Oh, yeah. should have seen him. I know. But we got so so you're signing the checks. That kind of shit just but writer director not I don't have a problem with it.

Alex Ferrari 37:58
I when I was doing my demo real. Shooting commercial. I shot $50,000 commercial real back in the 90s when we had to shoot on film, and that destroyed me nuts. Like, okay, you sign these checks. I had my UPM come over. And I'm like, but I'm in the middle of the creative process. And you need me to sign frickin checks. Like, no. Oh, God, it was it's absolutely brutal. But hey, you know, if you want to get it done, man, you got to do what you got to do.

Adrian Martinez 38:24
Yeah, these are as long as you you know, like, because what is it? They say? Pain is temporary film is forever.

Alex Ferrari 38:31
Yep. Yep. It's, it's like it's like Kubrick you so he say? He's like, you know, we're already here. We're all set up. The lights are on the cameras are here. You know, let's do it again. Let's, let's just do it again. See, see? Let's just do it again. Because we all we all got here. This has taken a long time just to get us here. For this moment. Let's take our time. Let's do it again.

Adrian Martinez 38:57
God bless Shelley Duvall.

Alex Ferrari 38:59
Oh my god. That's Oh my god, what she went through when the shining. Used to use Shelley Shelley. God bless Shelley. Absolutely. If anyone's not seeing the making of The Shining, get the blu ray go online. 20 minutes of just watching Stanley Kubrick absolute decimate Porsche lead of all I love.

Adrian Martinez 39:17
I love Kubrick

Alex Ferrari 39:18
Oh no, of course. But I think it was also but I think it was also his technique. And this is something I've always I mean, I've heard Coppola do it. You know, and other directors do it where they abused their actors because that's what the feeling they want in the scene, or things like that. And I don't I don't personally like doing that. Kubrick obviously did it with Shelley it you know, for better or worse at work because she was an absolute mess in that movie. Looking why you know what her character was? I know cool. People have tried to do it with with Winona Ryder on Dracula. Yeah, and all that kind of stuff. What What's your take on that kind of stuff? I mean, I always like just like let the actors Do them if they if they need me to yell and curse at them. There's something wrong. That's my opinion. What do you think?

Adrian Martinez 40:07
Again? It's the fingerprint thing. Oh, you're right, you're right. If an actor needs that, and they're okay with it, I mean, I'm not going to be abusive, right? That's where you draw the line, of course. But sometimes, you know, you do need an actor just to be in your face to say, Listen, this is what it is, this is what it is. This is the scene what you let her know that you're tired of a fucking fucking nail it, whatever it is. Right, right. And you got to do what you got to do. And then sometimes you go up to an actor, and they're like, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 40:48
Exactly, exactly. Now, what, what surprised you the most about yourself, during the process of directing and producing this film,

Adrian Martinez 40:59
That I could do it I mean, I took on a lot. I took on a lot. And it came at no small price. I mean, there were times when I felt tremendous despair, and, and terror. Because, you know, all kinds of things happen, people came and left. Locations came and left the food didn't arrive meal. It just like, it was just a series of tsunamis that you just have to grab this, your your surfboard, and just just keep going. But it affected me, you know, Peter Brooks says, actors are athletes of emotion. And I feel everything as a person, you know, like I take everything in. So to be able to compartmentalize that as a director, producer to stand back and see the bigger picture to allow myself to feel that our agony I was in or whatever bliss I was, and just keep coming back the next day, as if each day is a miracle. That was That was hard. But I did it. And I did it mostly because of the crew, and the cast that back me up every day. Without even knowing it, you know, like, and sometimes knowing it, but just knowing that they were there for me that they believed in the story that they gave me their time. No one got compensated a lot of money. But they were there. And just just by the fact they were there was was an affirmation of my vision and destroy. And that kept me going.

Alex Ferrari 42:41
It is the his the beauty and the terror of being an artist is what you just explained is the UPS the peaks and the valleys, the bliss and the despair, that could happen within a minute, a second of each other. And one moment, one moment, you could be at the highest of the high and the next moment, you could be at the lowest of low and it could turn on a diamond. And that's a unique that's unique to the filmmaking art. You know, I'm not sure it is like that with photography or with, you know, painting. I don't know, even with writing, I definitely think it is, as you know, could you wrote this? How long did it take you to write this by the way?

Adrian Martinez 43:21
So I write very slowly and very quickly. And by that I mean I was I was just cooking with this idea for a year or two. And then I banged it out in a weekend. So I mean, of course, obviously that was the first draft. And Jose Rivera who wrote and got an Oscar nomination for the Motorcycle Diaries. He's my up on a movie. And he has a writing group where I brought it in. And I would have other writers from different parts. And Muslim or no was in that writing group at the time. I knew I wanted her in the store. I just love her. I just love her look her presence. She's so smart. But yeah, they're the script took different stories, different lives. So like, let's just call it a year.

Alex Ferrari 44:18
Okay, fair enough. Now, besides composing, was there any other part of the post production process that you would like to warn filmmakers that never made a feature about like the kind of a couple of hiccups or pitfalls that you might be able to fall into in the post production process of this?

Adrian Martinez 44:39
Just remember that when you catch the movie, you're not just casting the cast. You cast the crew, and you're casting the post production people you got to be with people that are highly vetted, that come from personal referrals, people you trust like it was. It was Oscar winner Shaka king who taught me about the post people In iMovie, he said, Yeah, go here. Go to this guy. That's it. I believe he shocked. But this is before you blew up. But he, we did a movie together called newlyweds that went to Sundance his first movie. And he's been very, very helpful. I thanked him in the credits. Good man, smart man. But that's that's definitely the the truth. You got to really go with people that are vetted and recommended. And trust them and work with them. Make sure they're collaborative. Make sure they get what you're trying to get after. If you get any whiff of this guy doesn't know what he's doing. Go walk work. You bet. Yeah, that's not the one for you.

Alex Ferrari 45:53
The the the main question, I have to ask you, would you do it again?

Adrian Martinez 46:01
Yes, but not with my money.

Alex Ferrari 46:07
I think it was Peck and Buzet. Peck and power John Ford or somebody Africa it was like, never use your own money. Never.

Adrian Martinez 46:13
Yeah, I say that. But I just shot a trailer. Kind of like a proof of concept. For a pilot. I'm pretty together with my own money. So but that's I told him I told my wife That's it. That's it. Not gonna shoot pilot. Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
For everyone that not watching this, Adrian just rolled his eyes and which insinuates that there might be a potential for music is it's a sickness, man.

Adrian Martinez 46:48
I just watched it, man. I don't want I don't like waiting for permission from anybody. I don't like you know, I mean, obviously, there are limits. So I'm not gonna shoot a series for all of my time. But sure. But I can shoot a trailer for a proof of concept. And that's what I did. And we'll see how it plays out.

Alex Ferrari 47:09
Now, you haven't you? I think you have an announcement for your next project. Isn't it called Redfield? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Adrian Martinez 47:17
Oh, yeah, very exciting. Just came out on deadline yesterday. I I'm going to be Aquafina psychic in this movie. So it's me and Aquafina versus Nicolas Cage as Dracula. And because I don't know how to pronounce his last name. Forgive me. Nicholas helped out. Okay. As Renfield it's gonna be good. It's directed by crispy, crispy. Kay, who did? Tomorrow wars. He's really smart. Wow. It's gonna be funny. Is going to scare the shit out of people. It's gonna be good.

Alex Ferrari 48:02
It's it's Nick. It's like, it's I mean, it's gonna work. Have you worked with Nick, have you worked with Nick before?

Adrian Martinez 48:08
I did. I did a movie. Called army of one. Yes. Where he? Larry Charles directed it. I don't think it went anywhere. But it was fun to meet him. It's fun to shoot it. And it's about a guy who who wants to kill Osama bin Laden. So he just like it's like this. This guy from the Midwest just got himself to the Middle East to try to try to kill a sound a lot. And the comedy ensued. But yeah, I worked with him a very nice man. Very nice man. And a real artist. People really, I mean, Nicolas Cage, you know? He went through this patch where he was just doing whatever to make money. But let me tell you, this guy can act. He's a wonderful actor. And he's got this movie coming out where he plays himself.

Alex Ferrari 49:02
Oh, I can't wait to see it. I can't wait to see it. Oh, yes. Like I'm the greatest actor in the world or something like that. It's like an amazing title. And I think he's sell like he's acting for like a billionaire off like some form Billy. Oh, I saw the trailer. I was just like, yes, he's gonna have a double. I mean, I just I can't get enough a nick. I think Nick is

Adrian Martinez 49:22
Yeah, no, we're at a we're at the precipice there but not another Nicolas Cage renaissance and Ren fields part of that. I'm really psyched.

Alex Ferrari 49:28
Oh, that's amazing. I can't wait. I can't wait to see you. You work with him and Aquafina she's, I mean, she's amazing.

Adrian Martinez 49:36
I love her. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 49:38
I just saw her in Shan-chi and she. She likes steals every scene. She said she steals it. She's fantastic. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Adrian Martinez 49:45
I'm just gonna try to hang in there. That's it.

Alex Ferrari 49:48
Now where can people see i Gilbert?

Adrian Martinez 49:52
It's everywhere streaming right now. So Amazon Prime and iTunes and movies. You to IMDb TV, like it's everywhere it's streaming. So just write i, Gilbert and enjoy the movie. And let me know how you feel that my Instagram taste of Adrian,

Alex Ferrari 50:09
Which is a fantastic handle, by the way. I've always loved that handle.

Adrian Martinez 50:15
I mean, it's just a taste. You know?

Alex Ferrari 50:17
We can't take all we can't take all of Adrian and it's too much, there's too much too much you have to taste now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Adrian Martinez 50:35
Don't waste time. Time is the enemy time doesn't give a fuck. Time. Just keeps moving on. So grab your phone, if you don't have a camp, just grab your phone. Shoot. Don't make excuses. No one's interested. Just, oh, I don't know how to write. Find somebody who does and collaborate. Just keep going and don't waste time.

Alex Ferrari 51:04
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Adrian Martinez 51:09
Don't waste time. I wasted so much time. That's why I'm saying. Absolutely. And also be professional. I mean, you know, we all know this. But it really matters to be kind like people remember kindness.

Alex Ferrari 51:28
Well, the best advice I ever got in the film business is don't be a dick. So yeah, that's a really bad. People underestimate that. By the way. Yeah. On your first interview, I asked you that question. You know what your answer was? No pressure,

Adrian Martinez 51:45
Eat. Eat salads. I can't remember.

Alex Ferrari 51:47
It was I'm enough.

Adrian Martinez 51:50
Oh, yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 51:52
I'm enough. And I was like, wow, it just hit me like a ton of bricks when you said that. And most people don't realize they go through their whole life thinking that they're not enough. But when you realize that you are enough, it's pretty liberating. So I thought it was I just wanted to bring that back because it was such a wonderful answer. And it was the first time anyone had ever said that. On the show it many people have said it afterwards. They probably all stole it from you, sir. But but it was a very profound answer. So I wanted to, I wanted to thank you for that.

Adrian Martinez 52:21
Yeah, like, I mean, not only are you enough, but who else can you be? Like, I forget who said it? Like, I think it was Oscar Wilde. Be yourself. Everyone else take it.

Alex Ferrari 52:32
Absolutely.

Adrian Martinez 52:35
So amazing. It's really it's really about embracing who you are, and bringing that gift and trusting it. Trusting who you are. And just really, there's a light inside you that that people want to see. So just get out of your own way and show it.

Alex Ferrari 52:52
And last question three of your favorite films of all time. Man as of right now,

Adrian Martinez 52:59
Well, yep. What build number ones always Shawshank Redemption, amen. Amen. me too kind of like with the same you know, like get busy living or get busy. Yep. A special I love Juncus out is a hugely inspirational actor to me. So I think of Fredo in The Godfather. I think of him. Show the Godfather wanted to. Okay, I'll throw in number three, because I just feel like gaffa three gets a bad rap. But the new kind I liked a lot.

Alex Ferrari 53:35
I haven't seen the new cut yet. But

Adrian Martinez 53:37
Yeah, it kind of streamlines everything more.

Alex Ferrari 53:41
Have you been looking after Godfather one and two, it's really tough. Like Godfather one was a tough follow. Then they beat it with Godfather two in many ways or even equal that or beat it? I mean, how many times can you hit lightning?

Adrian Martinez 53:53
Yeah, it's tough. Yeah. And how many more I gotta give just one. One more ship. This boy,I Gilbert, which I just saw.

Alex Ferrari 54:09
I hear good things about that one,

Adrian Martinez 54:11
Really spoke to me.

Alex Ferrari 54:13
I heard the act that the lead actor was, but the rest of that heifers the cast in the direction was fantastic.

Adrian Martinez 54:19
If you just fast forward his performance. He just really got a really classic film.

Alex Ferrari 54:27
Mute his performance, mute his performance. unmute it when it comes up. I appreciate you coming back on the show. I I wish you nothing but continued success in everything you do. I'm so glad you finally got this film made because you've been talking about it for a while. You've been talking about it for a while and it has just been I'm just so glad that it's finally done. It's out in the world and the you survived it. Yeah, and you're threatening to do it again.

Adrian Martinez 54:59
Yes. Last Man Standing that mean I swear the Martians can drop the bomb and annihilate the earth and out of the rubble my hand will count with my demo reel take it to your leader motherfucker.

Alex Ferrari 55:17
Oh you got in the Will Smith comes out for some strange reason some from somewhere. Always, always save the day to save the day. Adrian continued success, my friend. A pleasure.

Adrian Martinez 55:27
Yes. Thank you for having me. Thank you. Don't wait for years again.

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IFH 545: The Godfather of Ninja and Cannon Films with Sam Firstenberg

You are in for a treat today. We have legendary 80’s action director Sam Firstenberg.

At a young age Sam began to “create” movies to entertain his friends. Horrifying his mother, he would cut up books, stringing together the pictures and rolling them up. He would then put the roll into a box with a cut out window, shine a flashlight from behind, and manually pull the roll, revealing the pictures through the window in sequence.

Sometimes he would plan a special show in which his sister narrated the “film” based on a script Sam would concoct, and his father would accompany on the violin. As he grew up he found a hobby in photography and by high school had turned his bedroom into a darkroom where he would earn pocket money by developing pictures for his friends.

After serving three years in the Israeli army, Sam came to the US in 1971, began to study and work in films, and culminated his studies with “One More Chance,” the graduate film thesis which turned into a feature-length film.

“After Golan bailed us out, our film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981, then went on to become the official US entry at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival   in Switzerland, and won a Silver Plaque at the 17th Annual Chicago Film Festival. This film became my calling card, and launched my career.” recalls Sam.

By then Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus had acquired Cannon Films. They hired Sam to direct “Revenge of the Ninja.” Sam knew nothing about martial arts, but learned quickly and the film, which starred Sho Kosugi, was shot in Salt Lake City, Utah. Distributed by MGM to a great box-office bonanza, it set the stage for Sam’s next directing assignment, “Ninja III – The Domination,” also starring Kosugi. The film was shot in Phoenix, Arizona and was also tremendously successful.

Both Ninja films directed by Sam were sequels to the highly successful “Enter the Ninja” directed by Golan. “Then came a pleasant opportunity,” Sam smiles.

“Golan wanted me to direct ‘ Breakin 2 – Electric Boogaloo,” another sequel, which then made me the king of sequels, but also gave me a break from directing Ninja action films.”

In fact, each of the sequels directed by Firstenberg resulted in better reviews and box office draws than the originals. “Breakin 2 – Electric Boogaloo ” was a musical that featured major dance production numbers, filmed in Los Angeles. Distributed by TRI-STAR it was critically acclaimed; and a box office success, one of the reviews hailed it as

“The most exuberant musical of the decade.”

Soon after the release of ” Breakin 2 – Electric Boogaloo ” Sam was on his way to the Philippines to direct “American Ninja” a major action picture starring Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, who would team up with Sam for two additional motion pictures, “Avenging Force,” shot in New Orleans and the swamps of Louisiana, and “American Ninja II”

’Avenging Force’ was one of the most physically grueling productions I ever worked on,”

comments Sam.

“We spent days and nights in water, mud up to our waists, with snakes crawling between our legs.”

The film opened to rave reviews. The LA Times called Firstenberg

“… a rockin’ young action director who’s pulled off a series of rave up pictures for Cannon including ‘ American Ninja ‘ and ‘ Electric Boogaloo,’ and now in ‘ Avenging Force ‘ shows off his savvy style, which combines a keen sense of pacing with brawny punch…it marks the emergence of a truly gifted movie talent.”

The next picture for Sam was “Riverbend”, a controversial drama with Steve James and Margaret Avery from “The Color Purple.” The picture explored race relations in 1966 Georgia, and was an opportunity for Firstenberg to work with strong dramatic material. In sharp contrast, Sam’s next picture was an all-out comedy, “The Day We Met,” which proved to him that his directorial talents were easily extended.

“Delta Force   III” came next, a military action picture with Nick Cassavettes, Eric Douglas, Mike Norris, and Matthew Penn, and was followed with a breakthrough approach to martial arts in “American Samurai” introducing hot young martial artists David Bradley and Marc Dacascos.  Firstenberg then got his first taste of TV work with a nighttime crime show for CBS, directing six episodes of “Sweating Bullets”

With the creation of Nu Image, principles Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort recruited Firstenberg to direct their first production, “Cyborg Cop,” and then the sequel, “Cyborg Soldier,” both sci-fi action flicks with David Bradley. In addition, Firstenberg completed with Bradley and Frank Zagarino the action picture “Blood Warrior.” Next came “Operation Delta Force” a military style action / adventure with Ernie Hudson, Jeff Fahey, Joe Lara, Frank Zagarino, and Hall Halbrok.

1997 brought Firstenberg to explore new directorial areas; “McCinsey’s Island” is a comedy for children, a treasure hunt movie with Hulk Hogan, Robert Vaughn, and Grace Jones, and “Motel Blue” with Sean Young, Soleil Moon Frye, and Seymour Cassel, is a psychological thriller with two women in the lead.

Sam and I had an amazing conversation about all things Cannon Films, Ninjas, Break Dancing and 80’s action films. Enjoy!

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show Sam Firstenberg. How're you doing Sam?

Sam Firstenberg 0:14
Excellent, thank you. I'm glad to be with you.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thank you so much for reaching out to me I was I was excited when I got your email. I'm like, oh my god, I gotta talk to Sam, I gotta I gotta get into the, into the the stories, I'm sure you have one or two stories about your time at Canon and all of your directing and filmmaking career throughout the 80s 90s. And even in the 70s, as well. But the but specifically, we're gonna focus on the 80s and 90s, and a lot of the cool stuff you did back in those days. But before we get started, how did you get started in this business?

Sam Firstenberg 0:49
I was one of those kids who love movies love cinema. And actually one of the, you know, there's always this one kid who goes and see the movies and comes back to the neighborhood and tells the movie to the other kids. So this was me. So that the answer I don't know that they love to cinema is I don't know where it comes in the love of storytelling. But I grew up in Israel and from Jerusalem. And I had no knowledge. We actually we didn't have television even then, when I was a kid in the 50s. And when I finished high school and the mandatory service in the military in Israel, so by the time I finished 21, I decided I'm going to Hollywood to study film, to learn how to make movies. So that that's basically it. I I traveled from Israel to Los Angeles and enrolled in film school. And I started to learn how how we make film, luckily, or accidentally or luckily, I met famous Israeli producer Menahem Golan did in Israel. He was very famous. And I met him here, here in Los Angeles in Hollywood. And, and I started working in, in in with him and other movies, all kinds of odd jobs. Assistant helper griep electric, anything in the beginning. So that's how I started into the business of movie.

Alex Ferrari 2:30
So you started with with with him and started just doing any little odd jobs and he was already was he? I'm for everyone listening. He started he was one of the cofounders of the legendary canon films.

Sam Firstenberg 2:45
Correct. But they were but that time was was still 1972 to 1973. They were there was no connection between him and Canon at the time. Okay. He was producing movies in Israel together with his cousin Euro Global's and they came here to Hollywood, they sold the movie, because I've learned and they they created the small company, the name of the company was America Europe picture. And they produced the movie he directed they produced a movie with Tony Curtis was called Lipkin a gangster movies. So in the 70s, you know, they had a company in Israel, no film, and they had this little company. America picture that produced lab care then produced another movie with Robert show diamonds, and few little movies. They only purchased the purchase cannot they did not establish canon canon was at a company in New York, a small distribution says company of movies in New York, and they purchased the company I believe in in the beginning of the 80s 1979 1980. The purchase they took over this company can all and then they took it. They took it and made it into a huge company.

Alex Ferrari 4:05
Right! So isn't so what but what was canon doing prior to them getting it? I mean, they were just just a normal small little distributor, right? They weren't doing genres stuff.

Sam Firstenberg 4:13
Correct. They were they were producers and distributors. They produce some movies. The base was in Israel in Tel Aviv. This was the base. And they produce a lot of Israeli movies. They made a lot of local Hebrew speaking movies. In conjunction with making this movie, let's say the dimension lab diamonds with Robert Shaw and was Assistant Director in the movie diamond. They produce the movie which is called the Passover plot. So a mixture of Israeli movies in some kind of international movies, English speaking international movies, but they were very good at sales. They used to go every year to confirm is divided into all the other film festivals and film market and sell those movies that they produce. And they became very knowledgeable. And with this process of selling movie internationally, up to this point, they always had the dream, both of them always had the dream to go to Hollywood one day to make it in Hollywood. And eventually they did. So the opportunity was they produced an Israel kind of successful movie operation tangible about that, and table operation. And they sold it to one of the major studios here. And I guess my guess is with the money of the sale, they bought this company, Cannon, they also had another hit. It was lemon PepsiCo, it was a Hebrew speaking movie that produced by the director they produce was directed by Bob Davidson, and also a movie that made a lot of money. So I guess that with the profits of both of those movies, they they were able to buy or to take over cannon.

Alex Ferrari 6:07
So how did they? How did they start? Since you were basically they're working with them. How did they make the decision to start going into genre? Because everything you're telling me right now is none of its really genre. Yeah, maybe a gangster movie here and there but not genre as we knew it.

Sam Firstenberg 6:25
Correct, correct. They, when they produced movies in Israel, there were mainly local comedy, that cater to the local audience. Very much like movies in Turkey or in Greece or in, in Egypt, those kinds of local comedies that deal with local subjects. And then they kind of always flirted with action a little bit. As I say, Operation Thunderbolt was a big action movie actually military action. But they had the SPN as movies they flirted with action when they came to when they took over. Ken on it was in the 80s 1980s 1981 What was very popular at the time here in in Hollywood for the low budget independent is to make low budget horror pictures. This was the standard there were many many of them done very low budget, you know, not much has changed not much has changed. Now much was my the source by the sorcerer but other movies by the excesses, sorry, influenced by the movie the excesses, but others, you know, there there were so many, and cannot, those two partners and cousins and 100 year old that was they decided to go this route of low budget, because it's really cheap to make a horror picture. But they were not very successful in terms of it was not part of their culture they in grew up in in America, that horror picture is a very American genre, it's very specific American genre, which is not definitely not that, at that time, was made in other countries around the world. And but they they it didn't really catch because they didn't understand the essence they then they didn't grow up with a horror picture. So they decided at some point to switch to action. And their first the first action movie they produced was called enter the Ninja.

Alex Ferrari 8:31
So they so where did the Where did the ninja come from? Because essentially, they popularized the concept of a ninja in America. I mean, I was I dressed as a ninja I went to ninja school. I was at throwing knives I mean, I didn't um Chuck's I mean yeah, there's Bruce Lee would not but the ninja was they brought it to America.

Sam Firstenberg 8:50
Definitely. So next you know next to the horror picture there was a an another genre floating around Of course you had from Hong Kong the martial art movie the Hong Kong the Chinese Hong Kong martial art movies, which we used to call them karate movies or kung fu movies. And but there was a beginning Chuck Norris, octagon. And then Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee. So there was this other general martial art going parallel to the, to the horror pictures, but not as big you know, there were a few in one day. And I can go on used to, to hear ideas. People came to him with scrapes and idea. And the story is the legend is I did not witness it. There's one day Mike stone walked into the office and Mike stone one of it was one of the champions. You know, as well as Chuck Norris and Tadashi and Bruce Lee. And and he pitched to Menahem Golan this idea to make a movie about ninja And now ninja was a as you say was a novel idea was a different idea because we all knew about samurai movies we you know that scene Akira Kurosawa Seven Samurai you Jimbo and and we all knew about the Americans martial art movie entered the dragon was the big one and but ninja nobody ever heard he says a specific you know sub genre of the in Japan in the Japanese mythology of martial art in the Japanese culture and nobody ever thought later on I found out that here and there in Hong Kong movies there was some appearance of energy or energy here there's bad guys oh sure here and there very very few various spurs. But here Mike stone pitch to the idea. He probably had a story storyline I wasn't there and may not have gone I loved it and he said okay, this I understand actually, for the international market that's something that I understand and they produced and they went to the they did the filming in the Philippines they filmed it in the filament and they did it and came back editing and they sold it won pretty well much they sold it in a much better way that they sold that they did with the the horse right so I guess you know I'm trying to play to play to be in his brain so I guess they decided okay, we know what we don't want to do we understand we can do action and this new gimmick for them it was a gimmick ninja works people buy it you know the buyers buy it was Franco Nero was the star of enter the Ninja. And show Kosugi was the villain and Mike stone choreograph the fight and, and suddenly it was you know that the audiences around around the world not only here suddenly they saw this noble new idea and enjoy a nice gimmick tonight. As a nice look the the wardrobe. Yeah, it was it was very Oh my God, when you're a kid, at the beginning, when you're this is the legend. This is the story. Oh, Mike Stone, nothing to learn and how it was born.

Alex Ferrari 12:27
And now the funny thing is, is when you're a child, I mean, especially a kid growing up in the 80s and you see a ninja for the first time and you see the throwing star and the sword and it's like, oh, my it was just it was just a revelation. But I mean, nowadays there's so much when we you know nowadays they have 1000 things but back then there wasn't anything like that. Especially not thing on TV. No movies, it was a it was a thing. And I think what I mean and I think this is obvious cannons explosion in the in the world marketplace had to do also with the timing of the home video market, which that they fed off of each other and exploded Correct?

Sam Firstenberg 13:10
Definitely. So remember Ken on eventually, when we are looking in hindsight became the biggest of the independent company, but companies but it was not alone. There was a bunch of those companies, Shapiro Glickenhaus, am entertainment, corral call, and many, many more. And all of them were producing some of them specialized in horror only some of them specialize in in kind of comedies. Some of them specialize in what they used to call TNA movies,

Alex Ferrari 13:42
Right! Soft core, yes, soft core erotica.

Sam Firstenberg 13:47
There are many of them, and suddenly came in a new market, a new source of movie which was the home video market. The rental people went to the corner stores, they rented the movie. The major studios did not pay attention to this to this money, they're scarce. And but those little companies immediately they realized for them, it was a goldmine. And they started to produce movies, and they sold it so there was money there was no problem. The risk was very long. So this was the beginning of the 80s. They took very low risk. And worldwide not only here in the North America, not only in the United States, Canada, but worldwide those those this industry of renting cassettes to home was and you know the shops that had to buy those cassettes, they had to pay a lot of money.

Alex Ferrari 14:40
I worked at them. I worked at a video store. Oh yeah, we 10 to $20 Oh, I think wholesale we used to pay 75 60 to 75 bucks for wholesale retail was 100 books at least four copies of every movie business before blockbuster bought 1000 copies of everything.

Sam Firstenberg 15:02
It was a business so cannon thrive because of this, because of this money because of this market. And they started to, to produce more and more movies to the point that at some years, they made about 30 or 40 movies a year.

Alex Ferrari 15:18
Jesus, and it was it's so funny too, because I remember I worked in the video store 88 to 92. So I was right in the middle of the heyday of video stores, there were no DVDs, any of that stuff. But I remember because I was the manager. I will you know, we buy we buy, you know, four copies of American Ninja. Each one of those would make probably on on on return 400 bucks 500 bucks per and then sometimes you would get a movie like faces of death, which would which give you 2000 Because everybody wanted to read that one. But it was true. Our store was full of disk, Orion Pictures and canon and Kericho and then slowly the studio's figured out, they're like oh, maybe we should start throwing our movies up

Sam Firstenberg 16:11
Exactly what happened eventually the major switches he realized they say why are they making the money where we can make the money we have the power at the beginning of the 80s the mindset of the studios theater theatrical you know they make money in theaters then they sell it to television to networks they make a little bit more money they sell it to the airlines they make little bit more money with the airlines but then they realize this what's happening here making good money up over there with the with the cassette with the whole video let's let's move in and and and then you had predator then you have got these decided let's make those the same movies a little bit bigger budget bigger stars or quality and and then we will take over this.

Alex Ferrari 17:00
Right. That's when the diehards and the lethal weapons and all of the all those those were all essentially genre movies but with

Sam Firstenberg 17:06
Genre with a better budget with a bigger budget

Alex Ferrari 17:09
With bigger budgets. Exactly it I mean, it was I look back on those days very fondly working and everyone listening to the show knows how much I loved working in my video store. And I worked. I worked two video stores. I worked at a movie theater for two weeks, and I quit. Because I hated cleaning up the popcorn. The video store was a much better gig.

Sam Firstenberg 17:33
But But Alex the the studio is rigid, more or less. Right? So many departments. So when studio make a movie, it's rigid, independent companies at the time and the 80s they went crazy because there was so much money. There's so many Oh yeah. And basically they told the directors you guys go and do whatever you want. We don't have time to control you and to bother you. Right. Toby Hooper Joselito Sheldon is you guys weren't you basically had into the into the scene and they started doing Friday the 13th eventually also

Alex Ferrari 18:13
Got picked up Yeah,

Sam Firstenberg 18:14
Bigger movies came out of this big bigger idea.

Alex Ferrari 18:17
Right, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all these kinds of stuff.

Sam Firstenberg 18:20
Chainsaw massacre, Terminator came out of this genre.

Alex Ferrari 18:23
Yeah, exactly. The Jim Cameron, it was it was really a fun, interesting time because it was just those always a time when when the studios are in trouble. And they can't figure out or they have to fill a lot of content. They give a lot of freedom and creativity to the creators that happened in the 70s with the Scorsese consumers, right and easy writer. But in the 80s, there was so much need for content. I remember we used to be only able to buy two to three movies a week. That's all that was all that was being released. Like that was it and then now I mean, it's there's three movies a minute being released. And that was the other thing too for people listening and like you were saying that the studios are rigid. It took them 12 years before they opened up a streaming service after Netflix launched same Exactly. So Netflix made all the money for a decade, got a huge head start on them. And now they have a major competitor that they're losing talent to creativity actors are all losing them to Netflix because Netflix was ahead

Sam Firstenberg 19:29
It really it's a it's a it's a tide that repeat itself. The only thing was really we were lucky there was there was good money at the time in the 80s. I was not the budget. The movies that we made are not we're not tremendous budget, but we're not bad when you talk about like a couple two, 3 million in that time. Yeah, because if you take American Ninja, for instance, yeah, we shot it nine weeks, six days a week with two units, some some Halo six unit Nine weeks, nine weeks, nine weeks of six day nine weeks of with two unit two full units. That's an additional unit. Full unit. The crew was huge, like 250 people, we had anything we wanted. So they were really medium budget, and the streaming don't have this, you know, unless unless they make a event movie or television series, they they don't give those budgets. And today, young filmmakers have to make movies in five weeks, four weeks,

Alex Ferrari 20:32
Five days. It's it's, it's remarkable. But I mean, also back then, the the barrier to entry was a technology, it was so expensive to own any of the technology to make it where now, it's not about technology. It's not now it's about distribution. It's about actually getting your stuff seen. I always tell people in the 80s if you finished a movie, good, bad or indifferent, you made money with it, you sold it. It was sold. If you figured if you flush out a 35 millimeter movie, finished it, it went into theaters. And then when the whole middle market hit it definitely what I mean I saw stuff that I'm like, how did this get produced?

Sam Firstenberg 21:13
So Golan is a very funny quality. I think in the movie electric booger the secret of Cannon, he said. And they quoted him, but it was quote from the 80s. He said, I don't if you make a movie and you don't make any money, you probably stupid I don't understand.

Alex Ferrari 21:33
But But he had it. So his business model was low budget, you know, so we're talking, I mean, 1 million to $3 million. Which, right? Yeah. And above a little bit, depending on how big it was even more Electric Boogaloo was, like $6 million. Oh, yeah. But that you had a huge hit with break in the first one. And then there was a circumstances. And then of course, he did Masters of the Universe, which was a whole other thing. That's a whole other conversation

Sam Firstenberg 21:59
Another level of Cannon on which it's not exactly what we are talking about. Sure. But that was like, I think that was their hayday. But they had this model of, you know, that, hayday, they invented I know, they invented the so called PRISM that really took them to the marketplace, took them to their distributors. And and offer them this poster, that poster this idea, even before they had the script, if they saw that the buyer, you know, kind of liked it. Here's a poster with Chuck Norris, you liked it, they came back to the office, they pre sold it. And then they came to the office, they roughly in a rush way they wrote the script. And he went and made the movie to fulfill the promise of the poster and sell concept. So they came up with a pre sale. They knew how much money to invest on in the movie according to the pre sales to the amount of money

Alex Ferrari 22:57
So they they're the ones that came up with pre sales. We had no idea that Cannon was the guy those guys were the ones because when I heard about the pre sales, I mean pre sales now are are rare. They're there but it does happen especially if you have a relationship with the buyers and you're long standing. But generally me because before you literally could go to AFM with a poster this will do to open up a shop and go do you want this new movie with with Michael Duda coffin it great $50,000 for your territory $100,000 for your territory $250,000 For Germany and and, and they would sell up so they came home they're like, Okay, we could invest. Let's invest a million dollars because we have 1,000,005 it pre sales. And then we also have other places we can make some more money off of it. I mean, it's a win win.

Sam Firstenberg 23:45
Right this will this was the model this was the system. Beside the Menahem Golan in your world was there was another partner Danny Dean Berg, he was the head of sales. And they kind of invented it. Everybody adapted the system all the independent companies have pre selling. But yes, there was so much need for product all over the world for the for this new emerging market of home video. It was revolutionary for young people. Today. It's hard to understand when you see the streaming, the idea that you can take a cassette, bring it home, start the movie or whatever you want. You can pause it go rewind it rewind it restart. It was revolutionary. It's hard today today's how to grasp.

Alex Ferrari 24:32
Nobody was right. I literally had to go see Ghostbusters 34 times in the theater when I when it came out as a kid because but when the VHS came out, I bought it. And I watched it a million times at home and I would stop it. We rewind it. I could play it back. I could play the scene I loved again again. It was something that you know kids today really don't understand because now they're like well, I just had opened up my phone and everything that's ever been made is accessible to my fingertips. i It was revolutionary and people love that idea and that you can go out and rent 2,3,4 movies a weekend.

Sam Firstenberg 25:06
And it was equal in, in Los Angeles. Yep. And in some small village in Africa. In Africa, Far East, a little hot around the cafe. The video had the video machine, you know, so the village and the machine or every home and the machines are not expensive. It was a cheap.

Alex Ferrari 25:28
It was. It was. And I try to explain to people to back and we're still only talking in the VHS days when DVD it it was even cheaper to make things and when it was cheaper to produce the DVDs than it was to create the VHS is you could you can make 1000 of them in a minute. And it used to take a lot longer to do VHS is and I tell people like That's why sniper 7,8,9 were pre made and released because they knew they were going to make five or $6 million in the DVD market. But then in 05 06 It started to dwindle. And then streaming came along and then it just it destroyed. It destroyed that market. And I think that everyone I think it was basically from 1982, early 2000s It was a goldmine. Everybody was making money

Sam Firstenberg 26:19
We call the type of movies that we are talking about Friday the 13 American Ninja we are calling them that genre, low budget independent movies of the 80s in the first half of the 90s Right. So this was the era 15 years and then the studio's realized it's not it was not the end of the this industry but the studio started to take over in the middle of the 90s and they said they came they started to come up with bigger budget predator etc. True lies a terminator they started to take over the market of course they have more power or more financial power better product etc. Eventually they took over and they created the relationship with Blockbuster and it was in a movie became a business have a bigger budget now pushed away pushed away the smaller companies

Alex Ferrari 27:20
Right that's why Orion went under that that time and Cannon eventually call it fair there everybody my guy but they were making care Kericho was making to Terminator two, Total Recall. You know, Orion was doing Robocop and won four or five Oscars in the course of a decade. I mean, it was an Kuroko and made some big big moves. Oh huge movies they made Yeah, absolutely. So American Ninja. So So American Ninja which I just I you know when I heard first of all the ninja came out and you did Revenge Of The Ninja came out and then the ninja started to come out. But then American Ninja you like wait a minute, an American Ninja and it was like a mind blowing thing. You're like holy cow and Michael Duda cough is up there and he's doing how did you how did how did American Ninja come up? Was that your idea? How did that come?

Sam Firstenberg 28:13
Not mine. So we so they made enter the Ninja. Let's just talk a little bit about the history of the company made enter the ninja and the movie did pretty well you know moderately well. And they immediately they wanted the sequel. They wanted to make Revenge Of The Ninja they like show Kosugi very much he was the villain in enter the Ninja. And but the Menahem Golan, which directed enter the ninja did not want you know the company was starting to take off and he was busy. He didn't want to do the secret. So he turned to me I just finished directing a movie that I sold to Cannon and this was the beginning of 1982. I just sold to the movie one more chance that I directed and produced and they turned to me said would you direct it? Of course we had relationship as I told you I was his assistant director. I was assistant director in the company for a while and and here they saw that I can make a movie. This was this one more chance movie with Kirstie Alley by the way. Yeah, he was there. And and they turned to me said would you direct the sequel? Okay, so we made Revenge Of The Ninja which show Kosugi he was the star. It was they liked it. It was kind of successful they wanted? No it wasn't for them. It was more than successful. It was the first movie that MGM picked up. It was the first movie from canon that the major company picked up for distribution Revenge Of The Ninja because it was distributed by MGM. Okay, theatrical

Alex Ferrari 29:51
I remember I remember the box. I remember the VHS box was the big

Sam Firstenberg 29:55
Kosugi flying in the sky with Yeah, and this was actually designed by MGM and now we are talking you know they really need the sequel to make money. So, you know because of some reason show Kosugi did not want did not feature he was in the third the ninja three the domination he was not the feature the feature character but Lucinda Dickey, it was a female ninja and and then suddenly there was the craze of breakdowns So, Cannon pose with, with ninjas in the braking and braking to Electric Boogaloo which I directed again a sequel to the sequel, but the interest of the buyer when I say the interest of the buyers around the world maybe the viewers with the with the break downs with the breaking was quite for favor of quickly and the buyers wanted more ninja maybe they weren't ninjas. By now everybody's making movies. And they call me back to the office Moran Colin Colin calls me to a meeting. And he says we need another ninja movie. But this time it's going to be American Ninja. So not my idea. The phrase came from him. I don't know how he came up with this. Now this is a revolution actually a revolutionary and crazy, really crazy idea. Because Ninja is really unique. We already mentioned Japan very unique to Japanese collector culture. You can have Brazilian martial art, but you don't have a Brazilian ninja. Capoeira which is a Brazilian sure there is a Chinese martial art there is Korean martial art but not ninja Ninja is specifically Japanese samurai and it's part of the Japanese mythology and curse of course. And as long as we made that the ninja at the first three ninja movies with some connection to Japanese culture it was fine okay, but here he comes with IDEA forget about the Japanese forget about the American Ninja no connection to Japan whatsoever and culture so it was his idea there was no script there was no nothing this was only this idea. And you know I was thrilled I like our American cinema I believe that American cinema is the most successful and this is as close as I will get to to a James Bond thing in western America ninja so now I mean that I'm about to do Western james Bond.

Alex Ferrari 32:31
Now so American Ninja did extremely well it blew it was it exploded didn't it and I know it killed it by at the video stores I mean just killed

Sam Firstenberg 32:41
We didn't know what's going to happen you know of course as I said for Cannon film for Cannon breaking was a major major moneymaker the first breaking and breaking through electrical are big,

Alex Ferrari 32:53
I mean massive you're talking about 10s of millions of dollars breaking

Sam Firstenberg 32:59
And both of them or I mean MGM the first breaking was distributed by MGM the second the one I directed was distributed by Tristar Columbia Tristar so being distribution

Alex Ferrari 33:10
So also canon at this point is getting major distribution from because I know they had an output deal with Warner Brothers. That's how they got a Bloodsport

Sam Firstenberg 33:18
You mentioned must serve the universe they were flirting little bit with the Spider Man No Spider Man Superman yeah okay yeah that's right they did they can and Superman Yeah, I think the already they they also already had the Chuck Norris under contract invasion USA missing in action. So they already had Chuck Norris working for them. And they had Charles Bronson working for them exclusively at this point. That was number two. That was number three. Number four. Yeah, so by then the company was being and we are and they send us to the Philippines to make it to Manila to make American Ninja. And you know, we chose microfluidic have to be the American Ninja the persona, the actor who personify American Ninja, and we are there and we start to make the movie and we kind of realize you never know you know, maybe while making a movie. Nobody knows if the movie will be a success will not be a success. The audience will like it will hate it. You don't know you're making. It's enigmatic. It's it's a question big question mark when you but there was a good feeling. We saw Michael on the screen, the charisma, the relationship between Michael Ludi Cove and Steve James. It was really the bond was working on screen. Even the love story Michael do the COVID through the air and so on and she came from Friday the 13. So this was working with and we put the movie together editing room and music. And actually they were so eager to continue the company that they send us to new before the movie was released. They send that to New Orleans Would Michael do the job and Steve James and myself to make the movie avenging force, which was really meant for Chuck Norris and he didn't want to do it. It was part of the invasion USA. franchise, but he didn't want to. So we are now in New Orleans shooting this movie filming this movie, avenging force. And then the American injure came out in theaters. And then we hear we kind of start to hear and read the explosion. Worldwide. I'm not talking about America that this is like the new terrorism. Or this is the new mini James Bond. Right now this week. Yep. Wow, this whole idea that the concept, the phrase, American Ninja, and it's exploding all over the world. And we are there in New Orleans. That truck just did not even participate in any promotion anything because we were like, it was just like, yeah, do you think it just really soy? It was it was huge. Immediately. Of course, there is a target audience as you yourself was the you're the target audience share the young people male boys teenager or up to the age 3540 This was the mainly then, of course there were also girls that like this. He was so handsome Michaels looks so good. And but but it was a target market. It hit the market. Right. Right on all over the world. Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 36:33
What year was that? 8590. Right. So right when God VHS the video stores are exploding. There. I remember my first video store experience was 8182. And I rented for I think, no, it's actually later than that. By like 84. But I but I rented Flashdance. I never forgot it never forgot it. And we rented flash that's so around that time it was starting to it was starting to really take off blockbusters still years away. So the mom and pop stores are still running everything.

Sam Firstenberg 37:08
And, and in the case of American Ninja, it was theatrical all over the world. Yeah, it played theatrically in Africa, in Asia, or South America all over the world. Suddenly, it was if before there was some kind of, you know, the audience, I'm trying to terrorize here, though this has to relate to Japanese type of culture. Now, from this moment on, they didn't have to. It was a James Bond, American Ninja, you know, it was Hollywood movie the way they like, you know, the way most of the action movies in the world look like. And all American characters to the military in the military base, American military base, the story that happened? So I guess it was easy for the audiences around the world, the young people to identify. And this correction,

Alex Ferrari 38:02
Yeah, no, no question. And what I also always loved I absolutely love the chemistry between Michael and Steve. James. I mean, the late great Steve James. Well, I mean, he was so charismatic. On, on cam, I just never forgot him. You know, I looked him up a few years ago. And I heard that he had passed and I was very saddened by it. Because he was because I was looking at like, you know, maybe I could use him, I would love to have him in one of my movies. Just you know, to show respect to to a hero of mine when I was a child, his chemistry was amazing. Was all that like a lot of those lines in that stuff on set? Was that him and Michael just kind of, you know, riffing?

Sam Firstenberg 38:42
So yes, yes, you're right. When we cast when we when we were in the casting of American Ninja, and our main goal was to find this character American Ninja Johnstone, but also Jackson was already written the script, his body body sidekick, was written in the script. And we saw a lot of young people for both part, but and we had some hesitation with American Ninja with the jaw stone because everything is only shoulder. But let me tell you when Steve James walked in for the casting, and I spoke with him a little bit, and he was a martial artist and we read few lines. We didn't look anymore and he agreed when he agreed to do it. We didn't look anymore for this Jackson character. This was Steve James he will, you know, the Okay. big muscles, the shoulders that look like a Hercules.

Alex Ferrari 39:37
And he was funny. He was funny. He was smart and funny. He was smart and funny too.

Sam Firstenberg 39:42
So he had this, this, you know what you see eventually on the screen, and when we got to the Philippines, they they didn't have even chance to meet each other Michael Gove and Steve James up to the point because in the low budget, we don't have rehearsals. We don't have money for rehearsals. They don't give us any rehearsal time. So the first time you meet your fellow actor or the director many time with actor, it's on the set the first time, the first day of shooting, so they met on the set. And and they started, you know, as the scenes were developing, I don't remember exactly the order that we were shooting the scenes, but the chemistry, the chemistry between them or developing on and on. Now, Steve was a big fan of action movies. And and always I will say he's a historian of action movies, especially black action movies. You know, he had a big collection at home steam like 2000 movies, he was specializing in black cinema, sharing from the either black directors, black actors, silent from the silent era movies. But anyway, he was so this genre shaft, you know, he wanted to be the new chef. Basically, he could have been very familiar to. So back to your question many of the, of the one liners many of the mannerism he brought in. But now let me tell you something funny enough. Every time you know, I made you movies, it was teachings, I directed theater. But then at some point, he knew exactly in the series, some point he tears off his shirt, throws it away. To show his muscle ties it, Steve, you're not asking me. Every time in every movie, at some point, you take off your shirt and you continue. He said, What do you think you know how I'm working for this muscle? all this hard work I'm not going to show it off I have to show it off.

Alex Ferrari 41:49
Then how many and how many American ninjas were there. I think I remembered up to four was there more?

Sam Firstenberg 41:54
I directed only two of them. Okay. And then I directed with Michael and Steve the movie avenging for us. And I directed with Steve James another movie, which was completely different movie, which was called Riverbend. And this is not in the genre of the ninja. Not even martial art. It's kind of it's a racial tension movie in the south in the 60s.

Alex Ferrari 42:17
Oh, he must. That must have been awesome.

Sam Firstenberg 42:19
It's a very, and he was the lead. He was very happy. And then he took it was a little fight he took off his shirt.

Alex Ferrari 42:27
But obviously listen, if I looked like Steve James I would I would walk around without my shirt all the time.

Sam Firstenberg 42:31
I had the privilege to direct Steve James four times for movies.

Alex Ferrari 42:37
Like I said, if I look like Steve James, I would walk around without a shirt all the time. Did I mean absolutely. Absolutely. There would be no question anyone listening Google Steve James and you'll understand what I mean. Now was the biggest hit for for Cannon American Ninja. Oh, it was a Break in?

Sam Firstenberg 42:57
No, I I don't know exactly by number. Let's say they produced about 200 300 movies. She's the best, let's say the best. from a quality point of view. The best movie was runaway train. Oh, yeah. So people, most people agree that that's the best movie they made was runaway train with Eric Roberts, and Jon Voight. But a popularity they had few kind of franchises that were doing very well, the American Ninja, the Deathwish and the missing in action with Chuck Norris. So 111 franchise was Charles Bronson, which was doing very well one franchise with Chuck Norris, which was doing terrific and the third one was American engine. Now when the company the company ended up with bankruptcy and a lot of companies and people and creditors came after came to the court. They all they probably owe money to everybody to a lot of places and and the SS were divided. met everybody wanted American Ninja. It's a good title and eventually MGM won the entire American Ninja Series in and the breakdance series went to MGM so all the movies that either directors for Canon ended up with MGM but some movies ended up with Warner Brothers some ended up with Paramount and other creditor Charles Bronson was a creditor he gave us a lot of money Yes but this was the as the title American Ninja is the the you know as the title the title it the it is the thing that that came on headed as an essence not necessarily the movies but as a title. So yeah, the missing in action doesn't sound it sounds good but it's okay. Oh, that wish they did not originate as you know that wish was originated before Cannon

Alex Ferrari 45:00
Right, exactly. So then you did. So I remember when breakin came out because I was breakdancing as a kid back then and breakin was when it was big. It was breakin and Beat Street. Those were the two big breakdancing movies that came out that those years then came out break into the Electric Boogaloo with it, which I argue is probably the best title for a sequel ever. There's, I mean, it is Electric Boogaloo. Anytime you're trying to make a joke. I'm like, oh, yeah, we're gonna make lethal weapons three the Electric Boogaloo. Like you always throw Electric Boogaloo at the end of it. Who came up with Electric Boogaloo?

Sam Firstenberg 45:36
Okay, the phrase electric villa. There is a lot of discussion or disagreement about this. Now, there is an essay, somebody wrote an essay about this phrase electric Google, with the really research into history of America. Now, our two stars Shabba doo. Also, the late poor shabu also passed away this year. Shabba Doo and Michael shrimps, both of them kind of claim that they have invented it. But it has a deep root way back in the 50s. From what I read in the article, so either there was a Google was a type of dancing that goes all the way back to the 50s and 60s, and Shabba doo was very active in in the what was the television show The train the Soul Train? Yeah. And in the Soul Train, there were a lot of brigalow that there is a style of dancing that goes way back. How it was kind of combined and the shrimp and the name of the the street name of Michael chambers. So he's Michael Boogaloo shrimp chambers, Michael chambers. attached this, the word Bogota. But the combination of those two words and lectric boogle happened after the movie breaking and so sad probably in this because they already knew that they want to make a sequel. Even hookipa who did it though but who actually put it together for the movie? It was between men and Golan Shabba doo I had nothing to do with it when I was hired when I was asked to do the movie to directed the name braking to Electric Boogaloo was already on the script so I have nothing to do with it. So every every one of them in many discussions if you search the internet for interviews with the Shabba doo interviews with Sri with Michael Chang there or written interviews, you will find many different versions but but that to the best of my knowledge, the legend it It happened in Cannes Film Festival. When they were selling, breaking they took the three of them Lucinda and Shoba do and Michael took with them to can to promote the movie. And as they saw that the response of the buyer they immediately decided to do a sequel. And the legend the storytellers that right there in Cannes, it came together this breaking two Electric Boogaloo. I saw right about that it became a new meme of the 80s phrase of the 80s. And it was borrowed to many, many different purposes, including at some point somebody put a joke. We should write a Bible to Electric Boogaloo. Lately took a sinister turn, you know the it was adopted by the group. The Bigelow's that right, white supremacy grew Right, right believing in a sequel of the Civil War. Of course. The first they took the word he used to call it the second Civil War Electric Boogaloo. But then it was shortened to the Buggles the writers on a second in a second Civil War. Oh my god. I know. So the whole gamut from dancing to comedy to this to to a sinister

Alex Ferrari 49:10
Sinister doing white supremacy, you know, and it's, it's interesting also, because as artists, you just put things out there you don't know how it's going to be received and who's gonna take what and you just don't know as a as a, as a creator of these things. But, you know, I like to look at it. That term Electric Boogaloo is a very funny you know, a joke that a lot of people kind of throw out like the Bible to Electric Boogaloo and things like that that it's just so it's just one of those names that you you hear you never forget it. You hear bring it to the light you never forget it.

Sam Firstenberg 49:41
Right it has a good ring to it good sound and you know when they read the the sequel they when they make the when they made the documentary, right so immediately they took the title of the movie of this of the documentary is electric burger,

Alex Ferrari 49:57
Which exactly which summarizes everything Cannon did in two words. It was it's remarkable. And I do remember I never forgot this scene, and I know how you do it. But I'd love to I'd love to find out how you guys did it. How did turbo dance on the ceiling? You know, when he was dancing up on the wall? I know it's generally a big giant thing. I've seen Chris Nolan do it. It seemed Stanley Kubrick do it? But generally you don't have those kinds of budgets. So how the heck did you guys do it?

Sam Firstenberg 50:21
Okay. So this was not on the original script, this dance scene, this dance was not on the original screen, a script in one day, why even while I was shooting, we were shooting the movie in East LA more in the neighborhood, which is called Bowens height, which was the scene in the center of hip hop and breakdancing. I was called lunchtime and I was called back to the office office, the offices were in Hollywood. And man, I'm gonna say, come back. I had no idea why I'm coming back. Maybe he wants to fire me, maybe? I don't know. But anyway, he had this idea and said, Let's have shrimp dancing in the ceiling. Now, this is not a new idea. It was done by Fred Astaire. Yeah. Yeah, royal wedding, the name of the movie. So that's the first time it was done, then it was using Kubrick, right? In many horror pictures. And so basically, I knew what it is, it's, the mechanism is called gimbal. gimbal is kind of a simulator for flight simulator. You know, the, the, you know, the aerial photographers. So they actually, they practice in this gimbal, they put them on a set, and when it's too big, huge hoops, or rings, big one on rollers, and the chair is in the center, and then you can roll the dice big. So the cinematographer is upside down, or the pilot in training is upside down. Now, if you take this huge, huge gimbal, this huge of big rings, the Turing's on rollers, and and the set the room is built inside the camera is glued to the floor of the of the set, or kind of hooked not glued, necessarily here, you know, braced and if you turn the room around, the camera does not see the turning around because the camera goes around with the room. So for the camera, man, the room is always the straight, look straight. But dancer, you know, once you're 90 degree, let's say the camera man is to the right or to the left, the dancer is already on the wall, but the wall is horizontal to Earth. And when it is all the way up 180 degree the cover man is up on the way up, and the ceiling now is down. And he's dancing in the ceiling. But the camera doesn't see the difference. What you do need, everything has to be glued to the set. So all the for the pictures on the wall, everything all the books on the shelf, like behind you, you have books on the shelf, they have to be glued, because when it's up, they upside down, you know all the book to find. And if there is some scenery in the window, the scenery has to move in the window with the with the gimbal and all the lighting, you cannot have a change of light. So the lighting, everything moves together with this rotating and that's how it's done. And you know, it was done in a lot in horribly. This party I think that we got our particular gimbal from Elm Street.

Alex Ferrari 53:45
Oh, yeah. Well, yeah, I was I said what I was gonna say, Well, I West Craven because I know he did it for the blood, the blood coming out of the bed.

Sam Firstenberg 53:51
Okay, so he just read it was like it was somewhere around in the warehouse in Hollywood and

Alex Ferrari 53:56
They rented it. Okay, that makes sense.

Sam Firstenberg 53:59
It was built our our department builder said, Sure. And we hired the special cinematographer. You need the aerial cinematographer, because when they're upside down not to get confused. They are the aerial photo cinematographers the they they are used to this turning Iran upside down and

Alex Ferrari 54:18
I have to ask, I have to ask you, thank you for that. Because I mean, I always wonder like, they didn't have $10 million to build something like this. But I didn't think that they just had a couple of these lying around in LA because in LA there's everything I even shot. I shot I shot a television series.

Sam Firstenberg 54:34
Our operation Alex our operation was so cheap that it was turned by hand we didn't have multiple routes just kept pulling on this new drawing by hand manually.

Alex Ferrari 54:49
People always ask me like, should I move to LA I'm like, Look, you know, I just moved away from LA. I love LA but in LA you i mean i There's a standing spaceship set that I shot a whole series On that we just it's just a standing set that looks like aliens it's there you can't find that in Ohio

Sam Firstenberg 55:08
You know naturally the industry you know you you have to deal with cars you go to Detroit I mean, it's natural. The I worked all over the world I worked and filmed all over the world. And there is from a convenient point of view from a technical point of view and from personnel from people point of view. Expertise, there is no place in the world like Hollywood for me making film. I'm not talking maybe Hong Kong of course in Hong Kong in China, but London but there's nothing like all the get the generator goes down within 10 minutes you're another generator. Immediately easy. Somebody will find another generator in 10 minutes and it will be on the seven and working. You need this special lands crazy land on somewhere it is somewhere for rent within five or 10 minute drive is say it wardrobe. Obviously this is the center of this this type this industry it's the central point in the world for the for Western moviemaking is home. So everything is here you're right.

Alex Ferrari 56:12
Now what is the craziest story that you can say publicly from your times in cannon?

Sam Firstenberg 56:23
The truth is The truth is nothing extraordinary happened on the on any of the sets that I work not not a serious injury. Obviously nothing fatal. Nothing happened. No, no series we were so careful. And so methodic in working and in nothing crazy happened while filmmaking but let me tell you an interesting story that relates and does not realize and no, we were in the Philippines in Manila shooting Americans. And we stayed in a nice hotel Manila hotel in in Manila. This was the biggest hotel was beautiful. And Sunday we were not shooting they were not working. We are on the in the swimming pool most of the time in the swimming pool. So one of those Sundays, I am, you know, the crew is in the swimming pool. And next to me, Michael Rubicon. And we are kind of laying on those chairs in the sun and enjoying. And Michael is next to me. I'm here, Michael is suddenly I realize that something is wrong. There is a woman frantically running on the edge of the pool. And I look down and I see a girl that sees like a girl that like still like going up and down. She like she's drawn. And I look up and there was a lifeguard but he was completely busy. His attention was completely in another direction. Jesus. So I hit Michael right away. Michael was right next to me. Michael jumped with me into the pool. No question. So we both jumped into the pool and we dove all the way to by then the girl was all the way into one. And what we could see. So a nobody sees only this woman which apparently was the mother. And nobody else is it was just a moment that nobody was paying attention to what's happening in the water. And Michael and me were tagging all the way down to the bottom. We grew grew up the girl we bring there both of us put her on the edge by then she's not breathing anymore. So I'm trying or whatever crew to do whatever we do, but you know, I'm not the medic. I don't know what I'm doing and pushing and breath resuscitation. But then comes a young man. He says I'm a soldier. I'm a medic, we'll move over everybody let me I'm the only one in charge here right now. He was one of the soldiers American soldiers at the time. There are many many American soldiers in the Philippines. He took over as he knew what he was doing much better resuscitation push the on the chest. Water came out boom she came back and and that's it the girl came back back to life let's say and no we visited her that it was very exciting very emotional, you know to bring somebody from the dead back to life. She was her family was actually Chinese from Hong Kong they were visiting and vacationing over there. And later on I was in Hong Kong I visited visited with a family but there are a nice picture of Michael and me with a girl a day later this girl and and I consider it pretty crazy for that we were there shooting American Ninja at the right moment in the hotel in the day off to save some of his life. So I consider maybe The purpose of American the movie American Ninja was actually to save a girl.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:04
Right! So, so American Ninja actually saved, the American Ninja actually saved her.

Sam Firstenberg 1:00:13
Absolutely. Now, let me ask you, you didn't have that. You know, when we went to South Africa, we were talking about the explosion of American Ninja. And then we were shooting night hunter which became avenging force in New Orleans, all of us. And as we came back, and we finished editing, they already by then they needed a sequel to American Ninja badly because American Ninja was a huge need all over the world. They needed. And for some reason they had this time they had some money in South Africa. So apartheid South Africa, it was toward the end of apartheid, but still apartheid. And Steve was pretty worried. He said, Well, I'm a black person, I'm going out to South Africa. But he told me anyway, you're going ahead of the Euro pre production, call me and I want to go to hear from you every day. Tell me what it is in South Africa. Nobody knows. We went to South Africa. And this was really the the ending days of the apartheid. Actually, when I was there, there used to be three different identity identity identification card different ideas for different races, but by then they unified it to one car. There were no more different cards with different colors. So I um, you know, I told I called Steve I spoke with Steve you there there's still nothing to worry about. That is changing. The atmosphere is really changing. There is no more white beach Black Beach. It's it's changing, you know, really changing. Come up. So he came over in the first week, and in the weekend we went out in Johannesburg to the street. Now we didn't realize how big they became my political and Steve James became huge stars to the kids too. They were recognized everywhere. We couldn't walk in the street anymore. Because all the young African kids were running after them especially Steve that was tall and impressive. And in you know, probably for them they saw this hero black hero not only you know the African American hero or their it was something special. And they ran everywhere we went with Steve James it was impossible in the streets of Johannesburg.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:29
Wow. Amazing. Well, let me ask you so I asked I'm gonna ask you a few questions ask all my guests what is what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to to make it today's business?

Sam Firstenberg 1:02:42
What I see what I see today, let's say action more action because you know they're always placed for drama person on movies you can always make and take as you mentioned, technology is cheap all you need a computer camera, put the editing program in your computer and you can make them so all those person on movie like moonlight or what those movies will always be done. People will young people wants to tell story and express themselves, they will do it. The question comes down when you want to make a more expensive movie when you want to make action movie. It's not cheap, making actual movie is not cheap. And they're they're explosions, there are mechanical, there are cars chases, etc, etc. And what would happen from a business point of view that the movies went through transformation in the 2000, etc. They became paperback movies. It was expensive to make movies, you needed the lab, you need the camera, you needed to buy film, you need to print the film, everything was expensive. So you can make a very, very, very cheap movie. And you can make a movie you need at least to to be near a lab to develop the film, at least. And this have changed a lot. It's cheap now you don't need the lab. So the cost of production has strike. The buyer the potential buyer, television stations streaming services, whoever buys those small independent movie they got used now they can pay less money to buy the movies. You know, so now it movie they used to buy movie for $1 million. A young filmmaker that just finished a movie can you can have my movie for 80,000 I don't need 1 million. I will cover my costs if I sell it to you at and I sell it to some German television and cetera very quickly I will cover my costs. So the buyer got us to buy cheap movies. Now when it comes to make a action movie, and you need this eight weeks or nine weeks of shooting the 6 million today equivalent formula the buyers that we don't have don't make this action movie I don't care if you're not making Spider Man if you're not making superhero huge event movie, don't make this movie I will buy the small movie the cheap horror movie I will buy the the the cheap dramas. So the sources have dried the money have dried to make an action movie. And despite the fact that is it's it's cheaper, technologically cheaper, but still you need the money and and there is no money around. So producers who want young director to do action movies, they're asking them to do it for 1 million today money for weeks shooting and it's not really action movie. So this is a tough, tough, tough area. When you deal with action or sci fi stuff that needs special effects. This is one area the big the saving grace is the digital effects. Graphic digital effect we did not have it we had to or they were very very very expensive. So we had to physically produce everything every fight every Chase every card hit every head to really physically be done with to flip cars. Today, with some ingenuity and some knowledge you can flip a car on in your computer you can have a huge explosion for no money, etc. So those two forces which are really not working either working against each other or complementing each other, less money, much less money, but the technology of the CGI or the graphic. computerised graphic SpecialEffect help. So they have to navigate this area. They also the young filmmakers, again in action, they come up from a different background, we came from a background of as I say Western James Bond Tarzan's and the young filmmakers are coming from the background of video games. Sure, not home movies, they're back their visual background, the visual way they see thing is the way they saw it when they play video game to their kids.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:21
Right!

Sam Firstenberg 1:07:22
Fast pace, great special effect. Very grand stuff. So So those are the things that have changed, and but you can prove yourself by having a computer and camera people can buy a camera, they can buy a supercomputer, or they can just buy or this right Oh, the phone,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:45
The phone will do it. Then it shoots shoots 5k or 8k Now who knows? It's insane. Right? Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Sam Firstenberg 1:07:57
If you think the movie business is the analogy to life Okay, you I say I would say as it you know, Director Director is the chief guys, he's a top of the pyramid, he makes the decision. And he delegate the tasks to everybody. So he's at the top of the pyramid. So I've learned I think the most important is really, to be humble enough to humble yourself. There is nothing you do by yourself. This is the biggest bluff in the world. I mean, unless you're an animator and you sit at home for three years by yourself and you make the movie animation, you use a lot of talent, the director, the creator of any this type of movies, not It's not painting so you're not in your, in your studio by yourself painting, you need a lot of help and a lot of talent and and only with the help only with the with the harnessing all those different talents into your talent as the director is the storyteller, something the magic will happen. So, in my case, my success, you know, the movies that have been successful American Ninja Electric Boogaloo. They happen because many people contributed to the performers that are there. The cinematographer that and all of this together was channeled through my, my talent or my abilities or whatever you want to call it, to create what you've created. And I think it's also true in life. You don't go alone by yourself, are not alone. I can tell it now I'm 70 years old and look back you don't go alone by yourself if you don't have a support by friends and family, etc. Very true. Probably.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:49
Now and what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Sam Firstenberg 1:09:53
Films of all time?

Alex Ferrari 1:09:54
Three.

Sam Firstenberg 1:09:55
I'll tell you I am All it's hard to say there are so many features

Alex Ferrari 1:10:03
Three that comes to mind.

Sam Firstenberg 1:10:05
But the I love Akira Kurosawa's movies when I was introduced to this Japanese genre of action, Eugene Bo, 7 samurai I was struggling Oh, wow. Amazing. But, you know, I was influenced a lot when I was young by Hitchcock movies, you know, watching John Ford and etc. I'm not a great fan of horror pictures. So those are the type of movies let's say the most impressive are the movies of David Lee. I mean, Dr. Zhivago Lawrence of Arabia, big vast movie big big movies and and those are really the movies that I really like there is a big best Nestle, some action, great drama unfold within the movie, the story of the movie and etc.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:10
There's very few directors in today's world that gets to play on that kind of Canvas. You know, the James Cameron's that Steven Spielberg's the, you know, the Chris Nolan's of the world, they get to play in these giant giant canvases, because it's so darn expensive to play on those on those canvases. But, but it's remarkable but Sam, listen, I want to thank you for coming on the show. It has been an absolute honor and and pleasure talking to you and going back down the nostalgia lane talking about cannon and your amazing work you did back in the 80s and 90s. I appreciate you my friend and thank you for helping make my my childhood a little bit more interesting and entertaining. So I do I appreciate you my friend.

Sam Firstenberg 1:11:54
Yeah. First of all, you're very welcome. And I was happy to be in touch with you and I hope that the listeners will enjoy what we talked.

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IFH 544: Filmmaking Lessons: The Art of Adaptation with Joe Wright

Joe Wright, Cyrano, HANNA, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, ATONEMENT, Anna Karenina, DARKEST HOUR,

Today on the show we have Oscar® nominated filmmaker Joe Wright.

Joe has established himself as one of Hollywood’s top directors with his rare ability to captivate global audiences through his extraordinary cinematic craft.

Most recently, Wright directed the psychological thriller THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, starring Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Gary Oldman. The film follows an agoraphobic psychologist whose life is turns upside down when a befriended neighbor suspiciously disappears. The film was released by Netflix in May 2021.

Previously, Wright directed the war drama the Academy Award winning film DARKEST HOUR. Written by Anthony McCarten and starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, the film follows Churchill’s early days as the British Prime Minister during World War II. At the 90th Academy Awards, the film earned four nominations, including ‘Best Picture’ and won for ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Makeup and Hairstyling’. The film was also additionally nominated for nine BAFTA Awards including ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best British Film’, four Critics Choice awards, and a Golden Globe award.

Wright made his directorial debut in 2005 with the critically acclaimed film PRIDE & PREJUDICE. Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen and Donald Sutherland, the film was adapted from the Jane Austen novel of the same name and garnered commercial and critical success.

Wright received the BAFTA Award for ‘Most Promising Newcomer’ and also won the ‘Best Director of the Year’ award from the London Film Critics Circle. The film also received an additional five BAFTA nominations including ‘Best Screenplay-Adapted’, four Academy Award nominations including ‘Best Actress’ for Knightley and ‘Best Original Score’ and two Golden Globe nominations including ‘Best Film’.

His sophomore directorial feature was an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s ATONEMENT, which was released in 2007 by Universal Pictures. Reuniting with Keira Knightly and also starring James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan, the film opened the 64th Venice International Film Festival, making Wright the youngest director to ever open the event.

The film went on to receive thirteen BAFTA Award nominations in major categories including ‘Best Director’ for Wright and ultimately won for ‘Best Film’. At the 80th Academy Awards the film also picked up seven nominations including ‘Best Picture’ and won for ‘Best Original Score’ and earned seven nominations at the Golden Globes, winning ‘Best Motion Picture – Drama’ and ‘Best Original Score’.

In 2012, Wright released his film adaption of Leo Tolstoy’s historical romantic drama ANNA KARENINA, which first premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Marking his third collaboration with Keira Knightley, the film depicts the tragedy of Russian aristocrat and socialite ‘Anna Karenina’, whose affair with ‘Officer Count Vronsky’ leads to her ultimate demise.

His adaptation earned four nominations at the 85th Academy Awards, six nominations at the BAFTA Awards including ‘Best British Film’, a Golden Globe nomination, and two Critics Choice Awards.

Additional filmmaking credits include the 2015 prequel PAN starring Hugh Jackman; the 2011 action thriller HANNA with Saoirse Ronan; and the 2009 drama THE SOLOIST starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

His new film is the magical Cyrano starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, and Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Too self-conscious to woo Roxanne himself, wordsmith Cyrano de Bergerac helps young Christian nab her heart through love letters.  This musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play tells the story of Cyrano de Bergerac as he pines for the affections of the beautiful Roxanne, who has fallen in love with another man named Christian de Neuvillette. Though Cyrano understands that his social status and physical appearance will forever keep him apart from his lady love, he offers his skills as a gifted poet to Christian in an effort to bring the two lovers together once and for all.

Enjoy my enlightening conversation with Joe Wright.

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Joe Wright. How're you doing Joe?

Joe Wright 0:14
I am excellent. Thank you. I'm very well,

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've, I've been a fan of your work for quite some time. So I'm excited to kind of dive into the weeds with you on on on your career. So first and foremost, how did you and why did you want to get into this insane business?

Joe Wright 0:33
Um, I don't know. I mean, I think I'd like to be able to tell you a story that clearly illustrates a particular moment in my life, when I knew I was going to be a filmmaker. But it was more incremental than that. I knew I always knew that I wanted to be in drama. Somehow. My parents were puppeteers. And they did you know, puppet shows for for adults and kids. And so I grew up in this kind of fantasy world of fairy tales, which was no preparation at all for the harsh reality of contemporary life. I went to a drama club after school where you paid the equivalent of like, 10 cents a lesson and and you went and did improvisation workshops with other kids from the local area. That was an important kind of stepping stone. I, I hung around in a pub in Islington, in London. That was you know, a lot of actors went there and writers and people and there is a little theater upstairs where people put on shows. But running parallel to that was a was a passion for film from you know, the age of six, I remember asking my mum how films were made. And she happened weirdly to have a long strip of cartridge paper. And we we drew a picture or she drew a picture of a prince and a princess and then divided that to another square. And there was a dragon and the dragon came and stole the princess and, and told the story of George and the Dragon. And then we we cut a hole in the lid of a shoe box and wound this paper through this aperture. And she said that's, that's how you make films. It's it's storytelling with images, one after the other. And, and I guess that kind of set my whole imagination on fire in early age,

Alex Ferrari 2:53
Was there a film was there a film that lit your fire?

Joe Wright 2:56
There was an idea to be an actor, I thought I might be an actor, you see. And my plan was to be a very famous actor. Obviously, because you're not gonna plan to be a you know, out of work actor. And, and then through acting, I was gonna, I was gonna move into directing. However, I sat around in my house for, you know, a year waiting for the phone to ring and nothing much happened. And then my dad had a stroke. And I thought, Okay, I need to do something with my life. So I went to art school, and an art school I was, you know, I gave up acting, and I just started making short films. And to answer your question, there are many films that that influenced me along the way. I think David Lean's Great Expectations was one of those, especially the power of the, of the graveyard scene, and when Pitt runs into Magwitch. And then, you know, when I was about 15, in the same summer, I saw for the first time taxi driver and blue velvet. And, and, and I thought, you know, I thought Blue Velvet was a comedy actually. But I watched and rewatch those films over that summer. And I think they really had a huge impact on my understanding of what a director does, actually.

Alex Ferrari 4:31
That's, that's amazing. Now how you say you were doing shorts, there's a short called crocodile snap. How did you get that short off the ground, get the money, get the everything to kind of put that thing together?

Joe Wright 4:42
Um, well, I that was after I left college, and I'd made a short film at college, which had won a prize and the guy who gave out the prizes for fuji film The guy he was that his name is Jeremy Howe. And he wrote to me saying he liked my movie, you know, my short film. And he ran a BBC series called 10 by 10, which was 10 short films of 10 minutes. And I called his receptionist every day, bugging her. And I think I bugged her to the extent that in the end, she told me where he was having a meeting that day. And he just said, if you want to talk to him, just go down there and talk to him. And I turned up, and I hung around, it was the Royal Institute of British architects, and I hung around this very imposing institution for three or four hours until he finally came out. And I said, Jeremy, Sir, I need to talk to you about this film and, and he said, Well, I'm very late, but you've got between here and Googe Street, subway station to, to pitch and, and so that four or five minutes of that walk really changed my life, because I managed to persuade him to let me do this short film. And listen, I'm talking about $3,000 Probably, budget. But to me, that was an astronomical amount of money and inconceivable for me to to get hand my hands on. And he commissioned this short film, and, and then that got nominated for a BAFTA. And from there, I was kind of on the very early stages of some kind of ladder.

Alex Ferrari 6:52
Now, how did you make the jump from a $3,000 short to directing Pride and Prejudice? Which is a bit more than $3,000 if I'm not mistaken?

Joe Wright 7:02
Yeah. Well, I was, I was very lucky. I mean, I always tell sort of young filmmakers who are trying to figure out how to how to get into the business, how to gain experience. I always tell them to hang around actors. And basically to find if there's a if there's a little fringe theatre, if there's a actors workshop, if there's anything that involves actors, putting on shows, telling stories, that's your best bet. And as I mentioned before, there is this pub in Islington called The Old Red Lion. And drinking this pub was this incredibly important character called Kathy Burke, who is an actor and director and writer. She won the Palme d'Or for Gary Oldman is nil by mouth. And she was very influential. And every time I made a short film, I'd give her a VHS copy of my short film. And without telling me every time I did that, she would pass that on to this producer friend at the BBC. And so one day I got a call out of the blue saying, will you come in to the BBC to meet Catherine Waring? Who is this producer? And I went along and it was in the days where you could still smoke in offices, and I couldn't see her through the midst of tobacco smoke. Although it did smell a bit odd. And, and through the smoke, I heard this raspy voice say, so would you like to do a three part drama for the BBC? And I could have I jumped out of my mouth. And I tried to play it very cool and said yeah, well it depends on the script

Alex Ferrari 8:59
Lessons for everyone learning if you're in the room and they offer you something like this, you got to act cool. You can't just lose your your crap right there.

Joe Wright 9:09
So it depends on the script. And and you know, she she sent me the the first episode and I was actually bowled over by it was a really beautiful piece of writing called natureboy. And, and I was suddenly directing at the age of 26. I was directing three one hour episodes. So three hours of television, a budget of I think 3.4 million pounds. So that was a huge steep learning curve. And then I made about 14 hours of television. I did about Yeah, three or four TV projects, each one kind of bigger than the last. And, and then one day I was asked to go and meet working titled to talk about Pride and Prejudice.

Alex Ferrari 10:03
So yeah, so it wasn't like, Oh, I just made 1000 out of moving, they just give you Pride and Prejudice you, you built a career.

Joe Wright 10:12
Great, it was great because people say, wow, you're, you know, this is the first time film director. As if I was somehow, you know, blessed from, from heaven, with this kind of ability to make, you know, to know how to make movies at that level, at that level. At that level, it was very hard, hard won. And I didn't tell anyone that really I was quite, you know, reasonably experienced in TV. I let them believe the myth of of talent. But, but yeah, it was the teacher that that that improvisation workshop, I always used to say it's 99% in 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. And I think that was that was very, very true.

Alex Ferrari 11:07
Now, you've worked with some remarkable actors in your career, how do you approach or do you have any advice on directing actors because you've been able to, you know, pull or collaborate on some amazing performances?

Joe Wright 11:23
Yeah, I mean, I think, I think I think the fact that I used to act as a kid means that I, I never, I never shrouded the craft in this kind of mystic reverie. Gentlemen, people will think of actors as almost being like, witches or you know, warlock. This strange kind of alchemy happens and somehow they're able to do this thing shape shift. It's, it's it, it's certainly an art. Acting is certainly an art, but it's also a craft. And I approach actors, as crafts people as collaborators, I am completely open with them about the process. I don't I don't expose my fears too much to them. Because they need bolstering they need to believe that you believe even when you don't. But I but I share the process. I tell them exactly what the story is that we're trying to, you know, try to tell I make them a part of it. And I I don't bullshit them either. skews language. I don't I don't try and kind of, you know, I think they often get infantilized, alright. And if you treat actors like children, they'll behave like children. Where if you give them the respect of intelligence, then then they'll reciprocate intelligently. And yeah, and I think it's, it's really, it's really just talking straight to them. And not not kind of, you know, I remember I remember, you know, there are tricks, you know, but I remember talking to Keira Knightley on on Pride and Prejudice and, and saying, Listen, your head of department, right, there's that there's the camera department, there's the art department, there's the acting department. And it's an department like any other department in telling this story. And you as the lead actor, are the head of department. And therefore, as head of department, any new department member that comes in on a day to day or a couple of lines, your job is to make them feel welcome and ask them if they're okay. And support them, you know, and that was a trick that we really worked because it it grounded her and it meant that every supporting actor that came in therefore supported her because she had reached out as a you know, as the head of department

Alex Ferrari 14:22
That's a that's an amazing I've never heard that that technique before that's a really great technique to use.

Joe Wright 14:28
Oh Gary Oldman that but here it was it it also I mean, the other thing with actors is that generally they are all different around what makes them tick. And then you know, and then and then play to their specific

Alex Ferrari 14:53
Yeah, strengths and stuff. So So do you I always tell act I always tell filmmakers This is that as A director, you really need to create a safe space for the actor, if the actor doesn't feel that they're in a safe space where they can really go on out on a limb, you know, with their craft, if they feel they have to protect themselves. That's when the problems start. Is that is that your experience?

Joe Wright 15:16
I think that's a brilliant piece of advice. Absolutely. I think I think, you know, we're all exposed, we're all, you know, scared of being judged. Am I a good director? Am I a good boom operator, you know, am I doing okay? But for the actor, they're in front of the camera, and that's a whole nother level of vulnerability. And therefore, you have to support them. And, and, and create that safe space, which is one of the reasons why I do rehearsals, I do a lot rehearsals prior to shooting two or three weeks for a movie, and, and that is partly about learning each other's rhythms and so on. But it's also about just getting to know each other and getting to a point where they feel safe, looked after,

Alex Ferrari 16:09
And comfortable and comfortable with each other. Because if there's gonna be any issues, I'd rather be in rehearsal, then, as far as personality conflicts or techniques, ones, method ones not method, things like that. You've got to figure all that stuff out in a much cheaper environment, and a much cheaper.

Joe Wright 16:25
Yeah, your cheapest days or your rehearsal days. But also, you know, to other things, I think it's really important to like your actors. So when you're casting, you have to figure out whether you like this person, because you're gonna have to talk to them a lot. And I find it personally I find it difficult to talk to people I don't like one do I like them? And to do I respect their intelligence because there's a there's a kind of myth that goes around the, you know, the airhead actors. The the most successful actors I've ever met are the most intelligent people I've ever met. You know? Great be that, you know, Tom Cruise is incredibly smart, you know, and Nicole Kidman incredibly smart Gary Oldman, incredibly smart. These people are really, really smart. They're not, you know, and intelligence, as in, you know, as with music or science or politics plays an enormous part in the ability to act.

Alex Ferrari 17:30
Now, do you storyboard by any chance, because even you have you paint on such big canvases.

Joe Wright 17:37
I storyboard when the sequence involves very specific ideas of montage. When I'm interested in how one image cuts to another, I'll draw those two pictures and put them next to each other on a piece of paper and see how they work together. If it's a long developing shot, or a long steadycam shot, then I don't. Because I don't find it useful. But I storyboard everything I do. And often also, what I'll do is I'll get plans of the set. And then just mark out diagrams of the camera move the direction, the light direction in particular, so that my DP can pre light confidently knowing that that's the direction I'm going to be looking in. So I plan very, very carefully, but not always storyboarding.

Alex Ferrari 18:29
Very cool. Now, there's one film that you made that is one of my favorites. And when it came out, I saw the trailer and it blew me away, Hannah. I absolutely loved Hannah. And it was kind of like a revelation when it came out. It was obviously a big, very big success even spawned off a very successful television show. At this point, how did you get involved with Hannah and and how did you bring that, that energy that that movie has it's so so wonderful.

Joe Wright 18:59
Um, thank you. Hannah happened because Sasha Ronan called me up and said, I want to make this film Hannah and I want you to direct it. And I was like, great. Alright, then let's do that. It was was it I mean, I'd worked obviously with Hannah on atonement, Sherman. I had worked obviously with with Sasha on atonement. And she was 11 Yeah, she was a kid. Yeah. And then she was 16 when we made Hannah and it was something that you know, that focus features had sent her and I guess she liked working with me and and asked me to ask me to do it and I read the script. And it was interesting actually, that that that process because there is the script, I read it There was two credited writers, one of whom was a guy called Seth Lochhead. And this script was really uneven, it was really patchy, there are moments of kind of surreal flights of fantasy that I'd never encountered in a kind of certainly not in an action movie. The strange almost sort of hallucinatory experience. And then there were the, there are bits that were like purely procedural kind of actions by thriller. stuff. And so I kind of questioned what that was about and discovered that actually, the studio had been scared of set lock heads original original script, which was the kind of more hallucinatory thing and that they'd brought on another writer to write the more procedural stuff and kind of tame it down. So I basically went back to Seth and he and I worked on developing his flavor and his ideas more fully, but also kind of, practically so that it was actually shootable Yeah, and I bring you know, I work very closely with writers every film I make is extremely personal. And, and so there were elements that I was, you know, there was stuff I was angry at the world at the time, something had happened to a friend of mine a woman who had been Yeah, something bad had happened to her. And and so the film was a kind of innocent, outsider's view of this crazy world in which she was born into

Alex Ferrari 21:58
And I guess those that that horrible thing happen to your friend and this script at the same time, kind of came together at that moment where that energy and that anger you might have been perfectly fit that that film.

Joe Wright 22:13
I kind of, I don't know. I don't you know, I'm I think things seem to if you allow them to things seem to happen at the right moment. I'm not much you know, I'm not I don't really I'm not, I'm not really into the idea of an interventionist God, but I do believe that if you get into the flow of things, things happen as they should.

Alex Ferrari 22:41
Yeah, I've been given the advice is like don't push the river the river is going to the rivers flowing with or without you. You trying to push it, it's not it's only going to make you tired.

Joe Wright 22:51
Exactly right. It's really I've tried it. Oh, yeah. I've spent a lot of my career trying to get

Alex Ferrari 22:59
Like can we get this one little project pushed a little bit more can we get just a little bit more money just let it let it happen. Now um, as directors you know, we always find I'm sorry.

Joe Wright 23:12
As they say in Frozen just let it go

Alex Ferrari 23:14
Just let you read my mind know I have God think others over that phase. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Anyway, anyway, anyway. So as directors there's always a day that we have that the world we feel like the world is coming crashing down around us on a shoot day or in the middle of a movie and, and oh, my God, how are we going to get through this? Whether that be the camera fell into the lake, we're losing the light, the actor broke their leg, something happens, that you feel like, I don't know how to get through this. What was that day for you? And how did you overcome that day? Is there a day in your in your career that you can that you can say publicly?

Joe Wright 23:58
Usually, usually, right usually happens at about four o'clock

Alex Ferrari 24:06
Every day, every day,

Joe Wright 24:07
Every day you think you're going along fine. You know, you started the morning with confidence in your plan. And, and maybe you've taken a little bit too long over hurdles or setting up that shot or this shot and, and you've got, you know, three scenes to get through and then suddenly you go oh, God, it's lunchtime, and I've only done you know, half a scene or one scene. And then everyone's a bit slow coming back from lunch because they've had the apple pie and custard. And, and you're trying to get through and then at about four o'clock you go, Oh, you know, oh, no, I have, you know, two hours left. And I've still got to do this three page scene. How am I gonna ever get through the day um, and you get through by by economizing basically, you get through by figuring out what the essentials of that scene are, and shooting that. And, and often those end up being the most interesting scenes. Because you haven't had the luxury of, of, you know, over articulation. So, so I think often, you know, and in a way, I'm beginning to try and apply that, overall to the films I've made, you know, to just what are the essentials, what's important and, and stripping away the kind of the decoration if you like. And I'm really listening to to the story. So that's a kind of general answer for you. I mean, certainly the day that Mount Etna erupted whilst we were shooting the battle sequence of Syrah No, that was a fairly catastrophic day. I would say, the only solution that day was to pick up the camera case and run

Alex Ferrari 26:27
The hell with the day, the hell with your day.

Joe Wright 26:29
Yeah, I have no other advice for for young filmmakers who happened to be facing a volcano erupting other than to say run.

Alex Ferrari 26:41
Forget the shot. I mean, if you can get the shot, maybe let the camera run for five more seconds, but then run

Joe Wright 26:47
And then run and protect your head as well. Because the projectiles stones

Alex Ferrari 26:52
You were that close how you were really there.

Joe Wright 26:54
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, we shot a sequence. Well, I mean, Jesus, I laugh now, right. But I was literally crying. We had planned to shoot the the battle sequence at 16,000 feet at the near the summit of Mount Etna. And four days prior to shooting, there was a unprecedented snow storm. And our set got buried and two meters of snow, including the 100 foot techno that we read. And, and the whole thing was completely inaccessible. So with only, you know, four days, notice we had to, we conceive the whole very complicated sequence anyway, down to 8000 feet. And that was interesting to kind of go, Okay, I've got no set. I've got, you know, a bunch of guys dressed as soldiers. I've got no set, I've got a camera and a tripod. And that is literally it. I've got no tricks to hide behind, though, you know, I can't even move the camera, I've got no track. Because I'm working on a kind of vertiginous, volcanic slope, and to really kind of go Alright, what do I need to tell this story? What How can I tell this story with these very few basic tools at my disposal? And that was that was fascinating. But yeah, then then the volcanoes erupted.

Alex Ferrari 28:34
Because I remember watching that sequence. And Sarah No. And I was it was, I mean, it was beautiful. And I'm thinking to myself, because in today's world, you just don't know how much is visual effects? How much is you know, did he shoot this on a green screen? Like, how much of it was, and I'm like, when you said that, because I've been at 12,000 feet. And it's, I was having problems walking. I can only imagine trying to shoot at that level. It was brutal. It's absolutely brutal. It's like it's absolutely brutal. But those scenes that in sernova, specifically, they were, they were beautiful. There would be those that those war sequences without knowing the backstory behind it. I'm like, Okay, this makes sense. But that's but that's the thing is and I feel that as as filmmakers, if you're given to, if you're, if you're if you if you if I told you, Joe, all you got is time and money, which would be fun for a minute, but at a certain point, you just like, I need limitations. And those limitations are what help you chisel down the fat on a see.

Joe Wright 29:36
I've done it, I got time and money I got you know, they gave me they gave me $180 million to make pan right. I got you know, all the tools I could could possibly want. And it was the biggest disaster of my career. Whereas, you know on a film like atonement for an instance, I had one day to shoot a montage sequence of the beach at Dunkirk, I understood that there is no way I was going to be able to complete that sequence in a single day, given the tide coming in and out. My only solution therefore, which I thought was a pretty good greatest solution was to shoot the whole thing in a single steadycam shot. And that for a while was the was the the shot that defined my career, you know, so. So I do strongly, strongly believe in limitations, liberal liberating us creatively and using, you know, always having a kind of a positive solution based outlook. Because generally, what we're doing and you know, is to, is to find solutions, there are a series of problems over the course of a day. And our job as a as directors is to gather these people together and marshal them through the, through the problems by finding solutions collectively. And, and those of creative solutions as well as practical solutions. If you're living deeply deeply in the heart and head of the film, then those solutions will carry through the story and the themes that you're trying to express.

Alex Ferrari 31:28
So, you know, as when you're when you're on set, you know, especially at at the indie stage, there's 1000 questions, but I can only imagine at these 100 $80 million stages. How do you what advice would you give filmmakers dealing with that barrage as you know, young directors who are being asked every minute, what do you think of this? What do you want to do there? How do you do this? How do you move that? Because I mean, directing is essentially compromise, compromise, compromise. It's never what you want. But you know what I mean? So as far as answering and dealing with that kind of hurricane, because you're in the center of a little mini hurricane and every day as a director.

Joe Wright 32:06
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 32:06
How would you approach that?

Joe Wright 32:07
I love that. I love that feeling. I love being on set.

Alex Ferrari 32:11
Oh, God. Yes.

Joe Wright 32:13
The two the two very kind of practical suggestions I would make. A, well, I get up two hours before having to leave for set and I spend those two hours reading the script. And writing a shortlist every morning. I've done I've already done, you know, first drafts of a shortlist and or storyboards with my DP earlier. But I spend those two hours kind of very quietly contemplating what's really necessary and and what the story is that I'm, I'm trying to tell. So that's one thing that grounds me and helps me keep focused. And the other thing is, when someone comes to you with a question, the first or an idea, which can be just as challenging sometimes is the first thing that comes out of your mouth is thank you. And that buys you a window of time to one bring your bring your panic and your ego down and just buys your little little window between their question or their suggestion and your answer. It just kind of is a magic word that breaks things down. And then you can approach the question or the or the suggestion with a kind of clear, clear of ego. Really? That's, but it kind of works. You should try. Try to work.

Alex Ferrari 33:59
Oh, no, it definitely it definitely does be I mean, I was the best advice I've ever gotten on set is don't be a dick. Best advice in the business best advice you could get in this business. Don't be a dick.

Joe Wright 34:13
Absolutely. That's a fundamental piece of advice.

Alex Ferrari 34:18
Now, you know, earlier in your career, or I'm assuming throughout your career, you've got to deal with rejection. How do you deal with rejection? I'm sure there's projects that you wanted to get off the ground that didn't, you know, a lot of people think that like, oh, once you get to a certain level, they just constantly you all you got to do is make a phone call and they give you $50 million, or $100 million, and just make whatever you want. And that's not the truth. You know, after talking to so many filmmakers over the years. I know that's not the truth. But there's a kind of lore in that of young filmmakers thinking that, you know, people have to they have that opportunity and they don't generally how do you deal with those rejections? How do you keep moving forward?

Joe Wright 34:57
Right, I think I think you're absolutely right. There is no final destination. You don't you know, there is no, there's no arrival, you don't get somewhere and go, Oh, great, I need it. I'm here. I'm here. And now people are gonna let me make my films. And that's certainly not my experience. I think I find I find rejection really hard, actually. And I haven't, and I haven't yet found a very healthy way of dealing with it. But I, you know, this is all I can do, right? is all I can do, I haven't got, you know, wealthy parents to lean back on, I haven't got any other source of income whatsoever. It's my job. It's my vocation, and it's my life. And it's my heart. And it's everything i i Love. It's also a spiritual practice, I believe, but it's, but it's a job, you know, I got put food on the table. And so therefore, I have to get up, dust myself down and go back to work. And that's all it is, you know? It's like, Okay, that didn't work. Let me try something else. Let me try something else. Let me try something else, you know. Because I don't have a choice. You know, I don't have the luxury of going well, that didn't work. And I'm really hurt. My feelings are really hurt. So I'm going to just go and take five years off and sit on my dad's yacht, you know, that is an option. So it's just about picking yourself up Dusting yourself off. And keeping on going. I mean, I had a, you know, I had a terrible crisis of confidence after pan. Sure, I shouldn't talk too much. But you know, I had a terrible crisis of confidence after that. I called up. Alfonso Khurana said, I'm having a terrible time. And we've talked about it, and he's someone who I thought never experienced crisis of confidence. You know, he's, he's great. He's Alfonso Corona, may, you know, gravity and Roma. He said, Man, I'm having exactly the same problem myself. You said, I'm going through the same thing. I said, Oh, you you know what, you go through that too. Because yes, a man I go through this too. You know, it's, it's hard. We all go through it. And we, you know, and and we went and, and watched a couple of early Italian, neorealist movies and felt much better. You know, I think, I think practically something you want to do is just go and watch the films that made you fall in love with filmmaking in the first place. Remind yourself of what you love about film. Which isn't careerist bullshit, it is the art form itself. And then put that into work. You know, it's no, it's no coincidence that having had that experience, I went and made Darkest Hour, which was essentially about this little guy who had a crisis of confidence. You know, his name was Winston Churchill. But fundamentally, for me, it was about a guy who had a crisis of confidence, who doubted himself as others doubted him, and, and so I was able to put all of that experience directly into that movie.

Alex Ferrari 38:54
And, you know, I think as as artists, we all have that moment, especially when you're on set. And I've and I've talked to so many different directors at so many different stages of their career. And it happens all the time that you have that kind of imposter syndrome. You could have won an Oscar, and you feel like oh my god, someone's gonna come in and go what are you doing here? You don't belong here security escort Joe out off the set. Is that

Joe Wright 39:18
We all have that. The only person that doesn't have that is in a written Yeah. doesn't have that.

Alex Ferrari 39:26
I don't think I don't think Cameron has it either.

Joe Wright 39:30
Maybe not Cameron. Okay. But apart from in a Ritter and Cameron. Everyone else is imposters they're the only true guests. You know, what are you gonna do? You're gonna go to the party and go, Oh, I'm not an imposter. I belong here. And then they're lonely because, you know, you think you're the only one that belongs, you know, it's it. We all share we all come and we you know We're humans similarities are far greater than our differences.

Alex Ferrari 40:05
Agreed 110% And that's why I try to do when I do these shows and I speak to people like yourself is I want to kind of break down the myths of so many because when I was coming up as a young filmmaker I you know, I looked up on on the on the mountain, Mount Hollywood where Spielberg and Cameron and Lucas and Coppola and Scorsese lived,

Joe Wright 40:24
Terrified, terrified.

Alex Ferrari 40:28
Of course,

Joe Wright 40:29
The man is worried he worries all the time.

Alex Ferrari 40:33
And he's Steven Spielberg.

Joe Wright 40:35
And he's Steven Spielberg. , exactly. It's like it. I mean, my God, and in a way, that's what the movie Sarah knows about her. So I did that. And yeah, it's about someone who, who feels like they're living in the wrong body who's an imposter. It's about a safe feeling like you're different from everyone else. It's what we, you know, it's what I'm trying to talk about in the movies is, how do I fit in? How do I how do I communicate with other people? Hannah is about a girl trying to go How do I fit into this world? How do I connect with other human beings? Why is it so difficult to connect? Why is it so difficult for me to get past my own feeling of lack of self worth? Why can't I allow people to see me really for who I am? All of those questions, that's drama. And that's why I love making drama, you know, and what I've discovered is that I have to make the movies that I love. I've tried making, you know, movies, big CG movies, I've tried making movies that, you know, twisted, dark thrillers, I've tried making movies that that aren't really expressive of who I am. But I'm messing around with genre and trying things. It was interesting, but the films that work are the films that speak of who I am as an individual.

Alex Ferrari 42:04
Right! And you could absolutely tell that and you know, I just happened I had the pleasure of watching Sarah No. Yesterday, in fact, so it's fresh in my mind. I absolutely adored the film. I think it's wonderful. It's one of the best films of the year without without question. The performances are wonderful. I, how did you how did you bring that story? What made you want to bring that story back? Because it has been told obviously, a million times before because Cyrano de Bergerac what, what made you want to come in and throw your your twist on it?

Joe Wright 42:38
I would always have wanted to tell that story. Because I feel it is I identify with with with Cerner, you know, I, as we've talked about, I feel like I don't fit in or unworthy of love, incapable of connecting with other people. My, my, my insecurities, my fear of intimacy, all expressed through that character. And the question was that, or the problem was that it had been done before. And so there wasn't, you know, an opening for me to to I couldn't remake the, the nose version. And then when I saw Peter Dinklage play Cyrano, and I think often creatively successful movie is about the right actor in the right role at the right time. Like, you know, Gary Oldman, and in darkest hour, or Kara in Pride and Prejudice, or indeed Sasha and atonement. And seeing Pete In that role, suddenly, the emotional weight of the story hit me in a way that I hadn't experienced before. Because, however, strong the suspension of disbelief might be, you're always aware that Jared Pedja is wearing a you know, big prosthetic on the end of his face, and at the end of the night, is going to take that off and go to the bar and get drunk. Whereas with P there's a amedia authenticity, you know, that P is is gonna be always been, he is he's always going to be P He's, he's he's lived with that experience, and he brings the weight of that experience to that performance. And then to see him opposite Haley Bennett, who is so extraordinarily womanly, feminine and feminine. And and, you know, she's not one of these kind of androgynous girls that kind of completely asexual she's kind of she's got this extraordinary femininity and, and sexuality and intelligence and, and so to see him opposite her seemed like the perfect, perfect coupling

Alex Ferrari 45:20
The casting was phenomenal enough. I mean, it was an absolutely phenomenal, I hope Peter gets nominated because he was it's a tour de force, it's an absolute tuna force performance on his part. Now I always wanted to ask because I've never spoken to a director who's worked on a musical before. So how do you approach directing these large set pieces and musical sequences, because it was just, I've just I've never directed a seek a musical sequence, I don't even consider how you would even go at that level with so many costumes in the locations and everything.

Joe Wright 46:00
Thank you like you would any other sequence you know. And the choreography is probably the biggest difference, dance. But that is really very much like fight choreography. You know? It all has to be very, very carefully worked out and rehearsed. endlessly for weeks on end, prior to shooting. All of the we made a choice to have all of the singing happen live on set. So that there was a level of intimacy and that there will be a fluidity between the speech and the singing.

Alex Ferrari 46:46
And you can't should you cut between performances like so if someone's singing here on set and someone's? Are you cutting those performances are you laying down like on an ADR track afterwards, have them live on set,

Joe Wright 46:57
No that they're singing live on set, and that's what we're cutting with. Okay, so they're wearing ear wigs, so they can hear the music backing track. And if they are singing in duet with another performer, we've got a temp recording of that other performer playing in their ear. And then when I go and shoot that other performer, I've got what we recorded on set from first performer playing in there. And sometimes we had live accompaniment because we wanted to kind of you know, we wanted to be off click as they say so so we could so they could be more kind of they could move the written the melody around and the rhythm around a little bit more. But but shooting the singing live like that enabled a much a much more tender, fragile, intimate experience. We're not seeing we're not hearing them through a glass panel. We're not, you know, we're not having them talking, talking and then suddenly needle drop and we're into it's a musical. It's as natural as singing along to the radio whilst you're doing the washing up.

Alex Ferrari 48:15
And I saw that right away. I was like, Oh, he's he's doing it that way. I was like, Oh, this is nice. And and when you see Peter just start singing, like, you know, in the middle of like he's having a conversation then just starts to sing naturally like you it was it was wonderfully done. It was really wonderfully executed.

Joe Wright 48:32
Well, thank you. I mean, that's also massive. You know, massively helped by the band, the National who wrote all the music and lyrics and then their music has a kind of contemplative emotionality, the yearning and and it's not kind of, you know, it's not I was about to say another film that it's not, it's not 80s musicals.

Alex Ferrari 49:01
Got it. Exactly. Fair enough. Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, when is when is your know are being released? And where can people see it?

Joe Wright 49:09
It is being released on it's been released on on January 21. In you know, selected theaters and then goes wide on February the fourth.

Alex Ferrari 49:22
Okay. And 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?

Joe Wright 49:29
Oh, God. I mean, I think we've covered that, haven't we? I think we might. I mean, you know, yeah, as I said earlier, find actors go to go to you know, there's a little room upstairs of a pub. Going put a show on.

Alex Ferrari 49:50
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Joe Wright 49:55
I'm enough.

Alex Ferrari 49:57
You know what, that is one of the most common answers it out of all everybody has a lot of people. That's a that's a lesson that a lot of people have learned. It's fascinating that and patience

Joe Wright 50:09
Yeah, I still haven't learned it. But yeah, that's the lesson I'm continuing to try and learn.

Alex Ferrari 50:15
It's always that and patience. Patience is the other big one that a lot of people have to learn.

Joe Wright 50:20
What? Yeah, maybe. Let me read the same self help book.

Alex Ferrari 50:26
And lastly, three of your favorite films of all time.

Joe Wright 50:29
Uh, well, I can't even begin to films into just three. So I'll just come with three off the top of my head. See, I can't even do that.

Alex Ferrari 50:44
I'll get to directors too if you'd like.

Joe Wright 50:47
I'm trying to be clever. I shouldn't be clever. I should just tell you what the films that are brief encounter by David Lean, okay. Fellini's ama code. And viscosities. The Leopard.

Alex Ferrari 51:06
Amazing lists are amazing lists. Joe, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It was so much fun. Please continue making movies. You you you are needed in the cinematic world. So I truly, truly appreciate you, my friend.

Joe Wright 51:23
Bless you. Thank you so much.

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Alex Proyas’ Short Film: Strange Residues

Alex Proyas, Vidiverse

This is what Alex Proyas had to say about one of his early short films Strange Residues.

I was a teenager when I made this film in the second year of film school. Even so there’s plenty of ideas I would keep coming back to. And “STRANGE RESIDUES” is possibly the silliest title for a film I ever came up with…

Subscribe to Alex Proyas YouTube Channel

We had the honor of speaking to Alex Proyas about his creative process and his new streaming service Vidiverse.

SHORTCODE - SHORTS

Want to watch more short films by legendary filmmakers?

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

IFH 543: Inside X-Men, Deadpool, Logan & The 355 with Oscar® Nominee Simon Kinberg

simon kinberg, the 355m Mr and Mrs Smith, Logan, X-men, Deadpool

Today on the show we have Oscar® and two-time Emmy® Nominee Simon Kinberg

He has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers, having written and produced projects for some of the most successful franchises in the modern era. His films have earned more than seven billion dollars worldwide.  

Kinberg graduated from Brown University and received his MFA from Columbia University Film School, where his thesis project was the original script, “Mr and Mrs Smith.” The film was released in 2005, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. 

Upcoming, Kinberg will premiere his action spy film “The 355”, which will be released theatrically by Universal on January 7, 2022. Directed, co-written and produced by Kinberg, the film was one of the biggest deals out of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and stars an ensemble of A-list actresses including Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing. 

A dream team of formidable female stars come together in a hard-driving original approach to the globe-trotting espionage genre in The 355.

When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, wild card CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Oscar®-nominated actress Jessica Chastain) will need to join forces with rival badass German agent Marie (Diane Kruger, In the Fade), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o), and skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Oscar® winner Penélope Cruz) on a lethal, breakneck mission to retrieve it, while also staying one-step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan, X-Men: Days of Future Past), who is tracking their every move.

As the action rockets around the globe from the cafes of Paris to the markets of Morocco to the opulent auction houses of Shanghai, the quartet of women will forge a tenuous loyalty that could protect the world—or get them killed. The film also stars Édgar Ramirez (The Girl on the Train) and Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Endgame).

The 355 is directed by genre-defying filmmaker Simon Kinberg (writer-director-producer of Dark Phoenix, producer of Deadpool and The Martian and writer-producer of the X-Men films). The screenplay is by Theresa Rebeck (NBC’s Smash, Trouble) and Kinberg, from a story by Rebeck.

The 355, presented by Universal Pictures in association with FilmNation Entertainment, is produced by Chastain and Kelly Carmichael for Chastain’s Freckle Films and by Kinberg for his Kinberg Genre Films. The film is executive produced by Richard Hewitt (Bohemian Rhapsody), Esmond Ren (Chinese Zodiac) and Wang Rui Huan.

His original series “Invasion” premiered on Apple TV+ on October 22nd. He co-created the show with David Weil, serves as Executive Producer, and wrote or co-wrote 9 of its first 10 episodes. It is considered one of Apple’s most ambitious series to date as it was filmed on 4 different continents. The show has already been renewed for a second season, which Kinberg is show running and Executive Producing again. He is also the Executive Producer of the upcoming show “Moonfall” for Amazon. 

Also upcoming, Kinberg produced the sequel to “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Death on The Nile,” directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Annette Bening and another all-star cast.

Additionally, he is producing several projects for Netflix including “Lift” starring Kevin Hart with director F. Gary Gray, his original script “Here Comes the Flood” with Jason Bateman directing, “Endurance” with Camille Griffin directing, and “Pyros” with Reese Witherspoon starring and producing. Kinberg’s latest spec “Wayland” will also begin production next year for Lionsgate, with Michael Showalter directing, and Jessica Chastain producing alongside Kinberg 

Kinberg will also be producing “The Running Man” at Paramount Pictures to be directed by Edgar Wright, “Artemis” to be directed by Oscar winners Chris Miller and Phil Lord and based on a book by the writer of “The Martian”, the remake of “The Dirty Dozen” at Warner Brothers with David Ayer writing and directing, “Starlight” at 20th Century Studios to be written and directed by Joe Cornish, “Death Notification Agency” at Amazon based on the novel of the same name, “Karma” at Sony Pictures, “Chairman Spaceman” at Fox Searchlight, to be directed by Oscar Winner Andrew Stanton, and an Untitled Action-Romance starring Idris Elba at Apple. 

Following almost a decade’s worth of Marvel films, Kinberg will also write and produce “Battlestar Galactica” for Universal which will be his latest franchise universe. 

In 2006, he wrote “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which opened on Memorial Day to box office records and began his ongoing relationship with the franchise. In 2008, Kinberg wrote and produced Doug Liman’s film “Jumper” for 20th Century Fox. In 2009, Kinberg co-wrote the film “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey Jr, directed by Guy Ritchie. The film received a Golden Globe for Best Actor and was nominated for two Academy Awards. 

In 2010, Kinberg established his production company Genre Films, with a first look deal at 20th Century Fox. Under this banner, he produced “X-Men: First Class,” executive produced “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and wrote and produced “This Means War.” In 2013, Kinberg produced “Elysium,” which starred Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, directed by Neill Blomkamp. 

On Memorial Day of 2014, Fox released “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which Kinberg wrote and produced. The film opened number one at the box office, received critical acclaim and went on to gross more than $740 million worldwide. 

In 2015, Kinberg had four films in release. He re-teamed with Neill Blomkamp to produce “Chappie,” starring Hugh Jackman and Sharlto Copley. Kinberg produced Disney’s Academy Award-nominated film “Cinderella,” starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Kenneth Branagh.

In addition, Kinberg was the co-writer and producer of “The Fantastic Four.” His final film of the year was “The Martian,” which he produced. The film, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, grossed more than $630 million worldwide, won two Golden Globes (including Best Picture) and was nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture). 

In 2016, Kinberg produced “Deadpool,” starring Ryan Reynolds. The film broke international and domestic records for box office, including becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time globally. It went on to win two Critics Choice Awards (including Best Picture – Comedy) and receive two Golden Globe nominations (including Best Picture), a WGA nomination and a PGA nomination for Best Picture. That year, Kinberg also wrote and produced “X-Men: Apocalypse.” 

In 2017, he produced “Logan,” the final installment of the Wolverine franchise with Hugh Jackman. It was selected as the closing film of the Berlin Film Festival and opened #1 at the box office. It was named one of the ten best films of the year from the National Board of Review, garnered three Critics Choice Nominations and an Academy Award Nomination.

Kinberg was also a producer on “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Branagh starring alongside Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, and others. 

In 2018, Kinberg produced “Deadpool 2,” which matched the success of the first film. It was Kinberg’s fourteenth film to open number one at the box office. 

In 2019, Kinberg made his directorial debut with “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” which was released June 7. The film once again starred Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, with new addition Jessica Chastain. 

In television, he was the executive producer of “Designated Survivor,” starring Kiefer Sutherland on ABC and Netflix. He was also the executive producer of “Legion,” “Gifted,” and executive producer and co-creator with Jordan Peele of the remake of “The Twilight Zone” on CBS All Access.  

Kinberg has served as a consultant on “Star Wars: Episode VII” and “Rogue One,” and he was the creator and executive producer of the animated show “Star Wars: Rebels” on Disney networks. 

You can also watch Simon’s Screenwriting Masterclass on The Dialogue Series on Indie Film Hustle TV.

The Dialogue: Learning From the Masters is a groundbreaking interview series that goes behind the scenes of the fascinating craft of screenwriting. In these 70-90 minute in-depth discussions, more than two-dozen of today’s most successful screenwriters share their work habits, methods, and inspirations, secrets of the trade, business advice, and eye-opening stories from life in the trenches of the film industry. Each screenwriter discusses his or her filmography in great detail and breaks down the mechanics of one favorite scene from their produced work.

Needless to say this is one heck of an episode. Enjoy my conversation with Simon Kinberg.

Right-click here to download the MP3

 

Alex Ferrari 0:00
First of all, how did you get started in the business in the film industry in general?

Simon Kinberg 0:17
I got started. I was in film school graduate film school at Columbia, in New York. And I wrote a script. In my first year of film school that a professor of mine named Ira Deutschmann, who was the creator of fine line features and produced a lot of movies he read, he liked the option for $1. Nice with the promise that he was sending out to Hollywood, to studio executives and agents and managers and the like, to start my career, and it did, I got my agent CA, where I remain represented, I got my lawyer who's still my lawyer, and a lot of relationships that are still some of the closest professional relationships in my life and those people. I was 23 at the time, and those people were maybe a little older than I am. And those people now run studios. Those people are Scott Stuber, and Donna Langley, and Emma watts. And those are, you know, we all started as kids together, and now we're no longer kids. Um, so that's how I started. And then I continued in film school, even though I was, you know, getting this traction and working in Hollywood. And then my, my thesis project in my second year of film school, was a script called Mr. Mrs. Smith. Um, and that obviously turned into a movie, starring Brad and Angelina. And, and from that point forward, my career really, really catapulted to a different level.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
So one of your first scripts gets picked up and is a big Hollywood, a big Hollywood production with two of the biggest movie stars of all time, out of out of film school, essentially.

Simon Kinberg 1:55
That is that is accurate. And, and was completely absurd, and surreal. And may you know, listen, making that movie would have been surreal. In any circumstance

Alex Ferrari 2:08
At any age, yeah, at any age.

Simon Kinberg 2:10
But when you're 20 something years old, and you're on your first film set, and you're showing up to work every day. And in the morning, you're working with Brad and Angelina onlines. And Vince Vaughn and Kerry Washington and Doug Liman who was about as hot as any director could be, because he'd gone from swingers to go to Bourne Identity to our film. It was a I wouldn't even say a dream come true. Because I wouldn't have dared to dream that big. It was a it was a completely like absurdist fantasy, it felt like I was in a Charlie Kaufman movie,

Alex Ferrari 2:44
Which is and obviously anyone listening. That's generally the way it works for screenwriters. This is the normal role that all screenwriters go through.

Simon Kinberg 2:51
They say what do you what advice do you have to sell a movie and get the biggest movie stars in the world act on it? And then you're golden, you're done?

Alex Ferrari 2:58
Then everything just just the doors opened magically? Of course, of course. Now, what is what is your writing process? Like? Do you do you sit down every day at a certain time? Do you wait for inspiration? The Muse to show up? Do you argue with the muse? Why aren't you here? Things like that.

Simon Kinberg 3:18
I'm the I love these questions. Um, the answer your question is, my writing process is everything you just described. But it starts with I have a set amount of hours each day that I'm going to write because if I don't have that kind of construct, or that kind of discipline, the Muse is never going to show up. I don't think the Muse is magically shows up. Sometimes it magically shows up while you're sleeping or you're in the shower or your subconscious is working, right. But But what it needs is some sort of container. And then within that container of however many hours I'm going to, I'm going to sit down and write per day and I have a goal of how many pages I'm going to get done or how many scenes I'm going to get done. But that goal sometimes surpass it, most times I come short of it. Then you just wrestle all day. The writing is the greatest torture in the world. And it is the greatest pleasure in the world when you get it right when the Muse shows up, and a line comes out of nowhere and you don't know where it came from. And if not for you it would not have existed. And it cracked something open. It's the greatest feeling in the world and the other 99.9% of the time, you are staring at a white page or a white wall and saying why they why did they take this job? Why do they choose this career I could have been a professor I would have been a happier person. That's my writing process. I mean, my my technical or specific writing process, I would not advocate for anyone including myself, but it just happens to be mine which is I write by hand and I write on blank white pieces of paper, front and back. And I don't know what page I'm on when I'm writing the script. I just know a sense of sort of flow and rhythm of storytelling. And what it helps me with is one, I'm just much looser, because it's not on a computer. And I don't feel like there's this sort of finality to what I'm writing. And it's got scribbles and scratches, and you'd never be able to read it anyway. Um, but it also, it keeps me from going backwards, it keeps me from looking at yesterday's work, because I can barely read yesterday's work. I just keep moving forward. And there's a satisfaction of that. If I were to show you a picture, by the time it's done, you know, it's, it's really a lot of pages. And so the satisfaction of building that pile, as I'm writing, and that's better than being able to scroll up and down a screen for me.

Alex Ferrari 5:44
Now, you know, as writers, you know, I know when I'm writing, I feel sometimes that like I'm typing, and then afterwards I read and I go, who wrote that? Like, I don't even remember writing that. Do you have that feeling of almost channeling some other worldly force that that thing that writers, if we're lucky enough to tap into? flows through you? Is that your experience?

Simon Kinberg 6:04
Yeah, I mean, that's the that is the that's the point. Oh, 1% of the time, that's the great. That's the undefeatable joy. You know, when people ask me, What's the what, what, what's my favorite part of my job, and I've done a lot of different aspects of this job between producing and directing and writing. And the greatest pleasure for me, by far in a way are the moments you're describing where as a writer, you do, Discover or channel however you want to describe it, invent whatever the verb is, it is outside of you, and then it is coming through you, and then it is on a page. And if not, for you existing in the world, those lines, that idea would not exist either. And that feeling is the greatest feeling in the entire world. And it is the feeling, you know, there's a there's a joke, and I can only say this joke, because I'm a Jew. Is it? Why did the Jews search in the desert for 40 years? Because they found, I don't know, $1? Why did they search another 40 years? Because they found $1. And, and I think that is very much my writing process and all of our writing process, right, which is like, like, forever, we find something that is invaluable. And then we take another forever because that we're chasing that feeling.

Alex Ferrari 7:21
Oh, that's the film industry in general. I think as film creatives, you're just always searching for that. Hi, that happens. A handful of times, if you're lucky. If you're lucky in your lifetime, whether as a director as a producer, as a writer, you're looking for that Hi, it's we're sick, we're all sick. It's it's a it's a beautiful sickness.

Simon Kinberg 7:41
Listen, you know, I say this to my partner all the time. She's a writer too, but a different kind of rhetoricians poet, and I say, you know, if not for the fact that after six hours, eight hours, 10 hours a day, we came out of our rooms, with pieces of paper that had writing on it, we would be considered, you know, psychiatric, or psychologically, you know, imbalanced and put in a psychiatric hospital because we would just be sitting in our room for 10 hours a day, staring at the wall, communicating with imaginary voices and characters in our head. And if we didn't somehow experience you would be that I'm sure that would be diagnosed. I'm not a psychiatrist, psychologist, but I might my armchair psychology would be that would be schizophrenia. Um, fair enough. But but, you know, we tend we're writers and artists, and so we get away with it.

Alex Ferrari 8:30
Now, one of my favorite films in the X Men series is X Men Days of Future Past. You know, you you wrote that, how did you come up with that storyline like that? That's an insanely complex line, meaning all moving parts?

Simon Kinberg 8:47
Yeah. Um, well, I came up with it, because Chris Claremont came up with it. And, you know, it was it was a comic book. Um, and so the, the notion of it was something that already existed as a comment. But as a comic, it was wildly different than the movie made like as, as a one specific example. It was Kitty Pryde, they went back in time, not worrying. And one of the reasons I made it will vary. And other than obviously, Wolverine, being the leader of the franchise, was because I thought there was something incredibly powerful about this character who had been in some ways teamed by, by Professor Xavier having to go back to a younger broken Professor Xavier and team and teach him the lessons that Xavier had taught him. So there was a there was an inherent complexity. And it was interesting that, but writing that movie, I would say, from a technical standpoint, was the most complicated and difficult film I've ever written because of the time travel element because of the time paradoxes because of the fact that I was playing two different sets of characters who were essentially the older and younger version of the same character, you know, simultaneous and wanting to Giving them all arcs, you know, and wanting to wanting to give Halle Berry interesting things to play and certainly wanting to give all of our younger X Men from X Men first class who were sort of the dominant storyline of that movie, really interesting, surprising twists and turns emotionally in that film while also servicing a storyline that was itself an unbelievable, you know, demon to wrestle to the ground. And

Alex Ferrari 10:27
No, no question and be like, yeah, like, even when you're writing the voices of the same character is so different from the older Xavier to the younger, Xavier, and keeping that all together like did you like just put it all up on a board? Like how do you keep not only the characters, but the timelines? And the paradox is like, that's why I looked at movies like Back to the Future. I'm just like, Jesus, man. How did Bob and Bob do that?

Simon Kinberg 10:51
Yeah, I mean, back to the future was obviously a movie that I looked at a lot. Terminator two did a lot. Although there's not as much back and forth obviously in the character, the same kind of struggle with the characters. I'm a I have a great actual Terminator two story, which is I met James Cameron's one of my shareholders like all of us, and I met him we were on a panel together and sanely while I was writing the as a future past and I said to him, Listen, I'm writing this time travel movie. And I'm, you know, the Terminator films are for me, among the greatest time travel movies of all time, obviously, among the greatest science fiction movies, maybe movies movies of all time. And I said, you know, I had brought this like fan book that I had, I told him to sign and and, and so he was like, okay, buddy, I'm going on a panel with you, but I'm happy to sign your book. So I saw he wrote signed the book we went to the panel I looked at the book afterwards. I need written dear Simon Don't fuck it up. Love James. And I ever met and and and throughout the writing of the process of Days of Future Past, I just kept thinking Don't fuck it up. Don't fucking keep fucking it up with these paradoxes. But I'll be into those words. But, sir, sir, sir. So um, you know, yes, I did have I don't usually use no cardboard when I write. But I did with that, because it was so complex. The luxury I had. The advantage I had in writing the older and the younger versions of these characters is that I had already written the older and younger versions of characters, I'd worked with the older cast X Men three, and did work with the younger cast on days on first class. So I knew the nuances both of the characters and of the actors. And so I could channel that to some extent, or rely on that to some extent. But even within that I was, I was creating new versions of those characters like that. The professor, the young Frederick Xavier, that McAvoy is playing in his future path is very different than the McEvoy of first class, obviously. And so I in the fact that you know that from the very beginning, the movie you introducing the older Xavier and the older Magneto as partners and friends, again, you're just, there's a lot of sort of work you're doing to both honor the voices, and then also innovate on the voices that came before.

Alex Ferrari 13:20
Now you you produce the film, that's one of my favorite comic book films of all time, Deadpool, which must have been I mean, I just suddenly assume it must have been a ball to work on that project. What At what point did you jump on that project? It was it after the film was leaked, by somebody got the green light? How was it? How was it working on that project?

Simon Kinberg 13:44
Um, it was extraordinary work on that project. And it was exactly what you said, which was it was it was great fun to witness. I'm, like, just unbelievably talented people from the writers, Ratan Paul, who really created the voice to Tim Miller, who was directing his first movie, which is incredible about, you know, the multi tonally of that film is really hard. And then most especially Ryan. Ryan Reynolds is not just the actor of those films or any film he works on. He's the producer. He's He reminds me a lot of the way Tom Cruise works. He's also kind of the person who is operating in every category of the film. He's just sort of force of nature of the movie in the best possible way. And when I got involved was after the movie had leaked, but before it got greenlit, it was close to getting greenlit but was not greenlit and Retton Paul, the writers where they can reach the writers emailed me I'd never met them, and they email me saying we need your maybe they said we are we are dead will we need your ass with a bunch of ellipses after it and And then that that was the subject. And then in the body of the email, it continued the word asked into assistance. And, yeah, and they and they, and they made this, this sort of plea to me because I was at that time overseeing their sort of X Men universe at Toys of jury box to help them. And Ryan and Tim get the movie greenlit. And so we all work together a bit on the script, and then quite a bit in the budget. And one of the things that was extraordinary about that film, especially when you go back and rewatch it is, we made that movie for I think, something like $50 million. Now, which is low, it's tiny compared to what your superhero movies are made for, which is usually in the $200 million range. And, and that was part of the deal with Fox because they'd never made and nor had most people ever Marvel hadn't made. They've made blade, but they'd never made a true R rated comic movie before. And the tone was so wildly anarchic and different. And, you know, breaking the fourth wall and all the things that Ruby does. They said, Listen, this is feels like a gamble. But it's a cheap enough gamble that we're going to take it. And they did. And obviously it paid off. incredibly well for everyone involved.

Alex Ferrari 16:22
Now I have to I have to thank you for for making a Logan, which is arguably one of the greatest in my opinion, superhero films of all time. In the genre. It is what it's like dark night, it's up there with dark night. It's just one of those films and it's such a bittersweet film. Because I wish you could stay his age forever. Just continue to play that character. What was it like? Because you've been with that character, and you've been with you playing that character for so long. What was it like putting that film together and finishing off his his swan song, if you will.

Simon Kinberg 16:55
It was all the things you said it was bittersweet because I had lived with Hugh as both a friend and a partner in making these films for probably over a decade. And and it was also really exciting because he his ideas, Jim mangles ideas, who's a genius filmmaker, Scott Frank's ideas, who's clearly a genius writer. You know, Scott wrote, directed all the Queen's gambit episodes, and he just has such incredible, incredible pedigree. We all came together, they all really did the heavy lifting and Hutch Parker, who was another producer on that, and had worked on a bunch of the X Men movies and had been the executive at Fox for a lot of them. We all came together and with a common purpose, which is creating, you know, a truly dramatic, truly emotional, deeply resonant swan song for this, you know, character that had been in the zeitgeist for, you know, again, well over a decade, close to two decades. And so it was it was an extraordinary process with a bunch of, you know, a plus brilliant human beings taking the job incredibly seriously. And just really listening and caring deeply. Yeah, thing when this isn't good enough. And like, really, I remember Jim mangled with that last action sequence. And really the third act of the movie just going over and over and over again. And Scott rewriting it and me taking a pen to it and, and Jim mangled himself, rewriting it and just like working and working and needing it until, until we could create something that was worthy of saying goodbye to you in this part. That would be hard for people.

Alex Ferrari 18:54
Would you I have to ask this. Will we ever see Hugh in a dead movie in a Deadpool movie? As a cameo ever?

Simon Kinberg 19:02
I you know, I'm not a part of that universe anymore. Because Disney bought all the Marvel movies at Fox they bought Fox. So I dancers I have no idea. I know, obviously, like the rest of the world does that you and Brian are friends and have this sort of rival beyond, you know, foam rifle rifle on social media. Um, so I wouldn't be surprised, but I also have no idea.

Alex Ferrari 19:34
Got it! No problem. Now tell me about your new film the 355 which I had a pleasure of watching yesterday. And it was it was wonderful. It was just wonderful to see a group of women just kick all sorts of us throughout the piece. So how did that how did that come to be?

Simon Kinberg 19:50
It came to me because it was actually going back to an excellent movie. When Jessica Chastain and I we'd work together on the Martian. And then we work together on X Men Darlene When we were on the X Men set, Jessica had this idea to do a an all female ensemble spy movie. And she brought that to me and said, I had this idea It might sound crazy, and I said actually sounds really intriguing. Um, and then we just started building it with her producing partner, Kelly Carmichael together, and we got the actresses really on that pitch alone. And Jessica's relationships and Jessica's, you know, sort of pedigree. And we went to the Cannes Film Festival, and we sold it at the Cannes Film Festival to universal for the UK and US rights as our partners, and then to other distributors that other territories around the world. And from there, we really crafted it to the actresses and built the movie,

Alex Ferrari 20:49
You pre sell, but you pre sold it prior to actually going into production.

Simon Kinberg 20:53
We pre sold that way before going into production. So it all happened very fast. I mean, we pre sold that it can in 2018 in May of 2018. And we were shooting by summer of 2019.

Alex Ferrari 21:09
And it's been on hold since then, because of COVID

Simon Kinberg 21:11
Because yeah, we were meant to come out last year, exactly one year ago. Um, and it was a tough time for COVID. And obviously we're in another tough time for COVID. But not a tough time. That's true, I mean, a different tough time for COVID. Because we're in a mime. And sure, strain is not thankfully quite as lethal as what we were dealing with last year. But yeah, we pushed to the year it's been done, it would have could have easily come out last January. And now we finally get to release the film.

Alex Ferrari 21:47
Now, how was directing such remarkable actors? I mean, you've got Oscar winners in there, you've got I mean, they're powerhouses every single one of them. What What how do you approach directing actors like that, as a director?

Simon Kinberg 22:00
Umm, I approach it, the way that I approach kind of directing any actor, which is their partners, um, I have to go into it that way. And especially with actors like this, because they own their characters, more than a director does. Because they're living that part, they're wearing that part, they're thinking of that part. And only that part is the director, there's so many things you're thinking about, right, not just the characters in the story, but also the visuals and all of the technique of making the film. And with these particular actresses, and the actors at your Ramirez and Sebastian, Stan, they just had tons of ideas, and really an immense amount of authorship and ownership over their characters. And that was part of the process going into all of this was we were all partners in making the film. Um, and so that's the way I directed them was, you know, their ideas, my ideas, other people's ideas, and other actors ideas within the scenes with them. We played it felt like kind of, like the lovely thing about it, it felt like being in an actor's workshop with the best doctors in the world.

Alex Ferrari 23:03
Pretty pretty much pretty much now as directors, you know, there's always that day that we're on set, and the entire world comes crashing down around us. And we're the sun is we're losing the sun, the the cranes not working, the actor can't get to the set for some reason. What was that day for you either on this film, or any of the films you've directed? And how did you overcome that moment, as a director?

Simon Kinberg 23:26
You know, I think on this film on 355, the hardest moment to the moment where I felt like, I just want to go home. Because you know, you do that you do have that feeling sometimes, um, you know, you're shooting, you know, 5060 on a huge movie, 90 days of photography, and they're long hours and all that. On this one, it was we were filming the fish market sequence in an actual fish market. And it was right after the fish market closed, but you could still smell the sting of from that day. And it happened to be quite literally the hottest day in the history of the United Kingdom. And so, the smell itself, I think Penelope passed out. I was close to passing out most of the day. Um, it was, you know, sort of before the day of wearing gas masks or surgical masks wherever we went. And, and so it was overwhelming, and the heat was overwhelming as well. And we had stents and we had big crowd sequences. And it just felt like the scale of it plus the simple, you know, Human Reality of you're in the stinkiest place imaginable on the hottest day in the history of a country was a was a lot to manage. And you made it through. I made it through luckily the actors made it through We all kind of bonded together and helped each other get get there.

Alex Ferrari 25:04
Now, is there any advice you could give a filmmaker screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Simon Kinberg 25:10
You know, it's hard, because, you know, everybody has a different way into the business. So, you know, I get asked this question a lot. And I hear people ask this asked this question a lot. And I don't want to give like a symbol or a singular answer, because again, obviously, my path is very different than other people's paths are going to be and everybody I know who works in the film industry habit has a different story. The thing I would say is, write something you love, direct, something you love, I think the mistake that I see a lot of new filmmakers make or new writers make is they right or make something they think is right for the market. Or for the cycles or for, you know, not for themselves. And the truth is, you can't chase the market, partly because by the time your movie comes out, the market will have changed already. It takes time. And also because people can feel it. There's enough writers out here in Hollywood, there's enough director there in Hollywood, what they want is new, fresh, genuinely original, genuinely unique, bespoke voices. And I want that as a producer, I can feel that when I read new scripts, and, um, you know, we all know how to write the tricks of a script, we all know the structure of a script, it's not enough to just write something that's solid, you have to write something that makes people feel like, Oh, this is a new voice. And so it's trust your voice, trust your vision, don't try to copy other people's voices and visions because they're working.

Alex Ferrari 26:39
And last question, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Simon Kinberg 26:46
Wow, um, balance, I think balance is something that took me a very long, 48 years old, and I would say, I just learned that, and I'm still learning it. Um, but I just learned it in the last few years with a two year old baby and God bless you. I know, I hope God does. Um, I'm counting on it. Um, but, uh, um, you know, I think for a very long time, I was so focused on my work. That and I, I felt like, you know, I'll have time when I take a break from my work to take care of my life. And my work just kept rolling. And, you know, I moved from country to country and movie to movie and set to set. And that's wonderful on the one hand, but on the other hand, it hurts two things. One is obviously it hurts your life. Because you know, if you want to be in a real relationship, or a real family, it's harder. It's harder on them. And it's harder on the bonds. But it's also it hurts you as an artist, because you start recycling your old ideas, instead of actually living in the world and coming up with new ideas. And so that balance is something that I'm still learning. But it is the lesson that comes first to mind when you ask that question. It's a good question.

Alex Ferrari 28:14
Thank you, Simon, so much for being on the show. And where can people and when can people see 355?

Simon Kinberg 28:19
This Friday, January 7, it will be in theaters. Um, and I hope people go see it.

Alex Ferrari 28:28
Simon, thank you again for being on the show. And thank you for doing making some amazing films along the way of your career continue doing so, sir. So thank you so much.

Simon Kinberg 28:35
I appreciate I appreciate all your questions and your support. I really do.

Alex Ferrari 28:39
Thank you, my friend.

Simon Kinberg 28:40
Ok take care!

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