fbpx

IFH 594: From Micro-Budget to World-Wide Distribution with Shane Stanley

At sixteen years old, Shane Stanley had already received his first Emmy Award for his work on Desperate Passage (1987) which starred Michael Landon. Over the next few years he learned filmmaking under his father Lee Stanley on what became known as The Desperate Passage Series (1988 to 1995) starring Sharon Gless, Edward James Olmos, Marlo Thomas and Louis Gossett Jr..

The self-produced series earned a total of thirty-three Emmy nominations, (winning thirteen) as well as numerous Christopher Awards and CINE Golden Eagles. In 1994, the Stanleys feature film, Street Pirates (1994) was a two-time winner of the CINE Golden Eagle Award for best feature documentary and film editing.

In 2001, Shane launched Visual Arts Entertainment, his own production company, most notably credited with Gridiron Gang (2006) starring Dwayne Johnson & Xzibit as well as the critically acclaimed independent film, A Sight for Sore Eyes (2004) with Academy Award nominee, Gary Busey.

The film, (produced for under $10,000) marked Shane’s directorial debut and went on to win the Gold Special Jury Award at Worldfest Houston, Best Dramatic Short Film at the International Family Film Festival, a Telly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film and Television as well as two Aurora Awards for writing & directing. The film was also invited to Cannes to compete in the annual international film festival.

His new film is Double Threat.

After skimming money from the mob, a, well-trained fighter, Natasha (Danielle C. Ryan), finds herself on the run with a kind, naïve accountant, Jimmy (Matthew Lawrence) whose life is about to get more thrilling than he could ever imagine.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Shane Stanley 0:00
Let's put story aside everybody freaks out and says, Oh my God, it's all about the script. Yeah, the story is important. But let's talk about the look and production value of film. For me there's there's five elements, and no specific order. Your cinematographer got to know his craft, you you have to get actors that are that I hate to keep using the term no their craft.

Alex Ferrari 0:21
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created Enigma Elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like VHS and CRT images, smoke fog, textures, DaVinci Resolve presets, and much more. After working as an editor colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion Shane Stanley, how're you doing?

Shane Stanley 1:17
I am doing great, Alex. Thanks for having me, man. It's great to see you.

Alex Ferrari 1:20
Thanks for coming back on the show. Brother, I I appreciate you coming back. And you and I have been working together for a little while we've got a couple of courses up on IFH Academy, we got your book about what they don't teach you at film school up on IFH books. And maybe in the next few weeks, we're going to be releasing a few chapters of that book for free so everyone can get to get a taste of your genius. And what's inside and what's inside that book that will hopefully save a lot of filmmakers lives. But today we're here to hear that one right there. What what? Exactly. So but so today, we're here to talk about your new film double threat. But I just want to get into the weeds a little bit about filmmaking and about where we're, how you put this thing together, the realities of what's going on from financing to distribution and so on. So, but first man, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, the people who did not listen to your first interview with me?

Shane Stanley 2:18
Well, absolutely. You know, I grew up in the industry. I actually became a working actor at nine months old. My father was a working actor. We were at a barbecue and there was a guy kind of looking at me from across the backyard. My dad's very protected. She just walked right up to the guy goes, I don't like the way you're looking at my kid. What's your jam? And he said, Oh, no, no, I'm a commercial director. I'm doing a new campaign for century 21. It's this new real estate company and I need a baby and your kids been sitting there quiet and perked up and well behaved and we can't find a kid that doesn't scream. So luxury started to kick this working kid baby actor till I was you know, fourth, fifth sixth grade. But during that time, my father got out of acting and became a working documentary and educational filmmaker. So he had the flatbeds the movie olas, the splicers and 16 millimeter cameras and so from very young age, I started playing around on those cameras and the splicers and movies. And he just started working and working and working. And he was doing everything at such a low budget, he was literally pulling on me to work in the camera department, the editing department. So I grew up in and around the business that way. And as I got older, around the time, I was in high school, he finally got his big break. And it was on a film that that, you know, he did with Michael Landon that I was very, very much a part of. And that changed our lives. And we started making this, you know, a television series of movie of the weeks for about nine years, which spawned into Gridiron Gang, which was a remake of one of our Mo W documentaries. And I started going down the path of working in a television network and studio system. And I just I didn't like development. I didn't like meetings, I didn't like talking about movies getting made. I wanted to make movies. And when I probably about 1213 years ago, after my 1500 meeting at one of the networks, the head of the network called me into his office and said, Let's talk and we put our feet up on his coffee table. We poured us a glass of scotch and he said it's obvious you're unhappy with this process. You're a filmmaker, get out of here, go make movies. And so I I got $500 together and made a pilot for you know a 45 minute pilot which did more for my career as a filmmaker than any of my resume previously. And I've been on that path ever since and it's been it's been quite a ride.

Alex Ferrari 4:48
It's been it has been served without question. You have made a bunch of independent films over the years and I know that you know a couple of things that you should avoid To in regards to making independent film like, what are a few things that make your independent film look cheap? Look low budget because you make high quality high looking budget films at low budgets. But I I've seen them to men. I even worked on a few of them. When I was coming up as a colorist and an editor, where you look at the stuff you're like, Dude, why did you just God? Why did you shoot against the white wall? Why?

Shane Stanley 5:28
Why did you get your aunt to play a big role in your movie? Yeah, me, you know, look, let's put story aside, everybody freaks out and says, Oh, my God, it's all about the script. Yeah, the story is important. But let's talk about the look and production value of film. For me, there's there's five elements, and no specific order. Your cinematographer got to know his craft, you you have to get actors that are that I hate to keep using the term no their craft. And a lot of new filmmakers say well, I don't know any working actors. That's okay. Go to local acting classes, call colleges. There are a lot of actors amongst us that we don't think about. But most the time they're calling their friends, their girlfriends, their aunt, their mom, their dad, their neighbor to star in their movies, and it just sinks the ship. And there's no reason you can't be working with talent. I think that the thing is so important is location. So many people just shoot in their backyard or garage their house. People want to experience new things. And for me, everything is about location and making something look big. Another element is the editing. I think that's absolutely key. An editor can can sink or swim the film in a heartbeat. And the other one is sound production sound. I've been fortunate on my last nine films to work with a guy that to ADR one line with the exception of we did a scene in a car. And we had to, we knew we weren't going to get it because of where we were driving and the organic nature I wanted to shot in and we shot it with the camera trays and the sound and said just go get this a scratch. We'll we'll get him in the trailer doing it later. And that's I you have to have a great sound man, a good editor, a good cinematographer, good actors in good locations. I think if you have those five things, you have already stepped your game so far up, that you're going to you're going to separate yourself, you know, it's I will say it's separates the sheep from the goats.

Alex Ferrari 7:30
Yeah, and I think the other other thing I would add to that is to just when you frame things, just frame it with a little bit of scope a little bit of, of depth in a shot. So like so many times I see shots where, oh, god, look, they shot a two people talking against a white wall. There's nothing interesting in that at all, shouldn't no window, at least

Shane Stanley 7:49
Look out the window, go outside, you know, go go to a, you know, a set of tracks houses on a day, they're not doing the trash, you know, and you know, put a long lens on that thing and just get some depth and some open, you know, and just that's just it is most of the student films or indie films that I look at. And I know you and I have talked about this, they shoot it up against a white wall, or they shoot it in a garage or a bedroom. And these things could just be taken outside or put into some new area. And our job is storytellers is to take an audience to either a place they've never been a place they are afraid to go a place that they want to go or something they didn't know exist. And I think every time you set something up, you need to think that way.

Alex Ferrari 8:30
Yeah, no question. And I'd love to because in your new movie, double threat, there's a scene that, you know, you're talking about people wanting to be taken to a new place, things you haven't seen before. I haven't seen a woman on horseback with a bow and arrow chasing down a car. Ever that I can remember that double exactly didn't look like a startup. So we'll get into how you shot that in a little bit. But that was just like something you're just like, hey, something I don't see every day. That's, that's interesting. So adding little elements like that if something you just like I've never seen that before, adds a tremendous amount of value to your project.

Shane Stanley 9:14
It's gotten a lot of mileage and also, you know, Danielle C. Ryan, is the actor you're referring to Danielle had one mandate, and she produced the film with me as no stunt doubles. I can do anything that you need me to do. And you know, there's a three and a half minute fight scene in that film, not one double She rehearsed it would talk to him and the other guys for one day on her day off. They showed up we knocked it out. And you know, that was the thing you know, we shot that film the heart of the pandemic, we filled it November, December of 2020. And we lost nine locations going back to locations. We had nine locations committed to the film that one after another dropped out during production. And we had a friend with a film ranch who just said dude, here are the keys, lock yourselves up on the hill and go do what you got to do. And so we were very limited. I had that I had a warehouse, I had a hotdog stand. And we had my cousin's cabin and big bear. Those were the only locations we had. And I would love to shot that film all over the world, but we couldn't because of COVID. So taking what we were talking about a second ago was, yeah, is how do we make this interesting? Let's put a girl on horseback shooting a bow and arrow hitting a moving target, which she actually did. Let's get car chases. Let's have fun with this. Let's do a let's go to the airport and steal a plane and have Matthew Lord started up and take off. I mean, we had no stunt doubles in this film. And that was kind of our hook.

Alex Ferrari 10:35
That's awesome. That's awesome. Now, in another interview, I heard you talk about the 11 minute rule that filmmakers and screenwriters should follow what is the 11 Minute Rule?

Shane Stanley 10:44
I will, I will tell you something funny, I got a lot of heat for that I was doing an interview. And before we started, you know, I just said, casually, I said, thanks. There's an 11 minute rule. And I learned this from sales agents that you know, when you make as storytellers the muscle or Spielberg, or you know, Christopher Nolan, what they're going to sit for two hours before you get to the point, I've learned when you're making an indie film, especially in the climate of streaming and 300,000 channels at your fingertips, you better let your audience know what's going on. Within. I've heard from sales agents and distributors, they've been beating in my head for the last six or seven years, you've got 11 minutes to get to the point are there we're out there, they're gonna you're gonna lose them. And I mentioned this on another interview, and I got crucified for saying that. And of course, it was people that have never made a movie before who've never sold a film. And I learned it by having movies that we're building and developing characters, with sales agents, saying you've got to take three or four minutes out of your movie, you've got to get to it by 1011 minutes, dude, if you don't, we're not going to get a sale. So you know, everybody likes to develop backstory and character and you know, all the you know, all the aficionados out there that have their rules that they believe they need to follow. They crucified me, which is fine, everybody's entitled to an opinion. But what was really funny is I am actually a work for hire as a director on a studio film right now that starts in August, I was hired by Studio to direct a film. And what was so funny is we have our first meeting, and they wanted me to read the script. And they never saw the interview. They don't care about any of the stuff I do outside of what they need me for. And one of the executives actually said to me, there is an 11 minute rule that we need to follow this script doesn't do it, it gets into about 13 or 14 minutes, where we finally know what the hell's going on. We need you to as a director, to do a director polish and get us to this 11 minute plan. And I said to him, I said, Well, where did you hear about this rule? And they said, it's just a rule follow it. I've never heard the term 11 minute rule. And I'm not saying I coined the phrase like Richard Kirino. Like that wonderful comedian that said, he coined the lunch from hell or something from hell, but I had never heard the term I was brought up in the interview. But I have found it, especially in the independent world, when you're hustling, and you're trying to sell your stuff. If your audience doesn't know what the hell's going on, and what the journey is going to be, of course, surprises down the road are good, but they don't know what the whole setup is and who the players are by 1011 minutes, man. Good luck. Good luck.

Alex Ferrari 13:16
No, and that's the thing. And this is the difference where a lot of filmmakers don't understand that in the 80s 90s, even the early 2000s, people would go to a theater, they sit down, or in the 80s and 90s they would rent a movie, they've paid for it. They're gonna watch it. You got a hot, you're hooked. But in today's world, you're flipping, flipping, flipping, flipping, flipping and there is 10s of millions of pieces of content for you to consume and movies and ELA and television and entertainment for you to watch that. I'd argue it's like much faster than 11 minutes because it is for me, I I will sit there and I'll start watching something and man, like we were watching the show. What was it I forgot the name of the show, but it was supposedly a really good show. And it was like a new HBO show. I'm not gonna name the show. But we were watching this new HBO show. And it was like a drama and we're just sitting there going, I'm like, what is so slow. My wife and I just like eight minutes in we're like, I can great cast, same cast, great writers. I just it just took too long for me to get into it. I was just like, if this is the pace of the show, then I'm not going to be able to keep going with it. So I just started watching mayor of Kingston

Shane Stanley 14:28
How do you do it?

Alex Ferrari 14:30
I I'm in the middle of it right now.

Shane Stanley 14:31
I first heard that I saw the whole I saw the tama Jeremy Renner show.

Alex Ferrari 14:37
Yeah, Taylor Terrell shared It's so terrible.

Shane Stanley 14:39
She loved it. It's got you know, look, you can pick apart any series Wouldn't we all love to be hit and Taylor's got it going on right now. I'll tell you something. That the last two episodes it's a two part episode. I'm a cutter at heart. I'm an editor at heart is the best cutting. There's a scene in the prison yard. I'm not going to ruin it for you. It's the best Editing I've ever seen on television and it's comparable. I thought I always thought bravehearts battle scenes were the best cut I'd ever seen because it's comparable to the Braveheart stuff. I was just I rewatched the episodes just for the cutting it was I love the show and I hope so.

Alex Ferrari 15:16
So yeah, I think they're definitely bringing it back. But Mayor Kingston is for everybody not listening is a show by Taylor Sheridan, who is right now the most. The busiest human being in Hollywood has I think 11 shows in the pipeline

Shane Stanley 15:32
Yellowstone.

Alex Ferrari 15:33
1932 and then there's like four or five other ones that are just the one with Sylvester Stallone is coming up. Like everybody in the in the country in the world wants to work with him. So he's got like, I think literally, I'm not exaggerating, but a lot and shows running. What's really cool.

Shane Stanley 15:47
What's really cool if I can interject is Donald aviary who co starts and CO stars in double threat the film that we're talking about. She was in 1883. And they they loved her so much. She is going to be in Yellowstone. This year. She's I mean, the whole season. I mean, how cool is that? I'm so proud of her. Well, yeah. I'm allowed to say that because they that news broke two days ago. So I'm proud of her.

Alex Ferrari 16:11
But the reason why I bring that show up is because the first pilot I'm sitting there watching the pilot of that first episode, I'm just going to so tight. It's so in I'm so I'm so in. And then there's a twist in this in the pilot, which we won't tell you about. And you should like what that done. You're hooked for the series because of what they did in the past one of the best pilots I've seen in a while and a wine

Shane Stanley 16:34
And Taylor is so good at those. I'll tell you going back to what you said a second ago that is so key when we were making movies and up until probably 10 years ago. You got them in the theater, they were hooked. They weren't going anywhere. They paid for the DVD of the VHS, they weren't going anywhere. Now, the problem is is the distractions, the phone, so even if they're streaming your show, this is going off, they've got a tablet, they got a kid crying, there's, it's so you have to make your show look like they can't blink. And that's that was the point of the whole 11 minute rule is and I'd learned it the hard way because when we did break even look, love it or hate it, that film had more potholes in it than than a poorly paved road. But the problem was we took 20 minutes out, which left those holes so we could make our deals. That was the problem. And that 11 minute rule. That was what everybody said is you take 21 minutes to get to the damn point. We don't know what the kids are doing until 17 minutes. And once we hit that 11 minute point, everything changed. I thought the movie suffered greatly for it in plots and story and that's unfortunate, but it made the deals when you talk about business and and that was where that was coming from.

Alex Ferrari 17:49
You know what, and then we'll get off the Taylor train for a second because I just I just such a fan of Taylor's Oh, he's so he's so must see TV for my wife and I when the new season of Yellowstone is up. My kids know. Are you guys see it's Yellowstone night? Okay, we won't we won't knock on the door. Because if they knock on the door while Yellowstone is on, they know they're gonna get it. So anytime they walk in, but like so, yes. And now we're like, it's mayor. Kingstown No, no, no, no, I'm not gonna want to hear anything for an hour. Go away. Go away. The house is on fire. There's a fire extinguisher under the under the sink, just deal with it. But that's Taylor. That's the kind of writing that that Taylor does the kind of filmmaking he does, but the shows. And that is he is the He is a writer and a creator for this moment in time. And probably the best. He's probably arguably one of the best writers in television right now, arguably also means a carrier of Jesus Christ. Oh, Jimmy just occurred to me all his movies where I mean hell or high water you just like, oh, you know, and I was watching an interview about him the other day. I think it was a CBS or something like that. And they were he's like, Yeah, after 20 years of, you know, being number 11 on the call sheet. Someone said you should write and the first thing you wrote was the pilot of mayor, Mayor of Kingston. And then after he wrote it, he goes to him and I wish I would have been doing this 15 years ago. He was just never wrote before that. And he never He just and then he just kept going. And he kept and he said which is the best? He's like, I do movies because to support my horse habit.

Shane Stanley 19:30
Yes. That's I think why he and Don hit it off so well is because you know, she she lives on like this huge ranch. And she is she is all about the horses. And I remember when we were working together on double threat, she was like, I really want to do a film with you with horses. Maybe a Western we should do that. And it's like, okay, and then we wrap double threat and Scott 1883 And she goes off. I found my filmmaker who's got the horses Shane.

Alex Ferrari 19:56
Thanks anyway, Shane I'm good!

Shane Stanley 19:59
I can't Can I like Woody Harrelson and indecent proposal? It's like he's got the big yacht. I can't compete. I can't compete with just some old vintage guitars. That's it.

Alex Ferrari 20:13
And you know that he's doing so Taylor's doing so well that he bought he's a co owner now of the four sixes ranch.

Shane Stanley 20:19
I didn't know that.

Alex Ferrari 20:20
Oh yeah, he bought he bought the inferior one of the four sixes Ranch is the largest ranch in America. I think it's it's 275 miles.

Shane Stanley 20:32
Yeah, it's it's i

Alex Ferrari 20:34
275 square miles or some something insane. He owns and he owns he's a part owner of it now. 200 million or something like that? Something crazy.

Shane Stanley 20:47
Let's be nice. I'm just, I'm just trying to put gas into cars.

Alex Ferrari 20:50
Hence why I moved why I moved to Austin sir.

Shane Stanley 20:55
Man, smart man.

Alex Ferrari 20:58
Now another thing I wanted to ask you about man is titles. The title of your movie and how important the title of your movie is. And a lot of filmmakers think about it as a creative choice. And it is. But a movie like one of the greatest movies ever made. Worst title ever for a film? What movie? Is it? Greatest Movie Ever one of the greatest movie ever made in the 90s worst title in the history of cinema?

Shane Stanley 21:24
Well, I know I know. It was a well for me. It was the best selling book was Shawshank Redemption

Alex Ferrari 21:30
It's a horrible, horrible.

Shane Stanley 21:33
Funny story about that movie. Not many people know but go for it. When we first started doing Gridiron Gang we got that film got acquired by Sony in 92-93. So we spent a lot of years at the studio and without naming names. You know, when you're in the studio system, they'll they'll invite you to screenings premieres and little private showings and I'll never forget being invited to a private showing of a film that the head of production at Sony called and said, We want you guys you and your dad and mom to come to see this film. So we went and it was it was Shawshank Redemption. And it was brilliant. It was like I did the lights came up. I turned to the gentleman who invited us and I says one of the best films I've ever seen. He said, we're not that excited about it. We don't know. He said, we're kind of nervous about it. We it's a little picture we may. And I just I didn't know it was based on a Stephen King movie, because I actually saw it without credits. That's the way I saw it. And I just said to him, I said, my only suggestion is changed the title. And everybody looked at me like I just took a turn on the corner of the room. And they were like, you realize that's a Stephen King novel. And I was like, Oh, I just don't think

Alex Ferrari 22:43
It's not a novel. It was a short story. It was a novella. It's a short story. It's a novella. So wasn't like it, you could change the damn title. And it wasn't actually the name of the title of the

Shane Stanley 22:57
paper saw the title and now I think everybody's it's ingrained in our head. But yeah, but now it's in Shawshank Redemption.

Alex Ferrari 23:05
It was horrible, horrible. So can you talk about the importance of titles in the marketing and selling of your film?

Shane Stanley 23:13
I can I the first time I ever got introduced to the importance of a title, I was fortunate enough. When I was I was running Charlie Sheen's production company from 90 I think it was 96 to 99. And we were doing a lot of projects back then. And we got involved with Avi Lerner who's you know, obviously become one of the most prolific independent filmmakers of, you know, content in the world. And we were doing a film, and the title was The sparrow prophecies. So it was kind of this really cool psychological thriller, and they greenlit the film. And it changed but Avi said to me in a meeting, I'll never forget it. We didn't have he called me said we need to have a meeting. We didn't have Skype, we didn't email we drove to Arby's office. He said, we're having a roundtable meeting about the title. And he said, the title stocks, I don't understand it. But most importantly, it does not translate foreign. He said, On a good day, 18% of our money will come from domestic, it's all about foreign and I never forgot that. So I was literally in the bathroom. I grabbed and all that I was getting ready to go to the meeting and I was looking at an old issue of metal edge magazine and the drummer for poison. They're friends of mine. Yes. Ricky rocket was wearing a shirt that said no code of conduct. So I went to the meeting about two hours later, I'm sitting there and obvious screaming about how horrible the title is. And I finally said, What about no code of conduct and everybody stopped? He wrote it down. He made a phone call. He hung up. He said, That is brilliant. He said, You're good at titles. You're a crappy writer, but you're good at titles. I said to him later was we became friendly. He said, you know, and this was in the home video days, but I tell people this now, he said when people go to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, they start new releases. They're in alphabetical order. You have to think about by the time they get to M they've made their selection. He said, so always try to think of, of titles before M, but good to word titles that have translation globally. So for me, I realized and making movies especially in the last few years, you know, we have, we have titles like breakeven, we have titles like nitrate, we have titles like double threat, you know, things like that. And, and for me, it's about let's get a catchy title that we say on a daily basis or a regular like when we hear it it's a familiar term. And for me, it's it's it's really important to catch people's eye that know nothing about you as a filmmaker, they may not know your actors or what your films about, or you don't have the publicity money to make it a household name. How can you do that, and that's all the studio system was doing and repeat sequels, prequels and remakes was let's get rebrand what people know. So as an indie filmmaker, I think it's important to come up with really cool titles that people are familiar with subconsciously, that will help just do a little bit of a built in branding for your film. And that's that's what that comes from. But as it is, I can't work on a film until I have a cool title. I just I never could. It's

Alex Ferrari 26:06
So I actually, when I was working in coming up doing deliveries for film for films, I was working with the distributor, and there was a title of a movie. And let's say it was called by train. Alright, let's for lack of what it's called by drinks. He goes That's to can't make that work. Yeah, we need to be in the top of the catalog. Yeah, so for him, he was looking at it from AFM standpoint, from the American Film Market standpoint, where distributors and buyers are looking at the catalog and it starts at a so he renamed the movie A Night Train

Shane Stanley 26:42
Smart. Because they're not gonna make it NightRain comma A and the catalogs to be able to train at night train.

Alex Ferrari 26:48
So I'm using that as a really horrible example. But it's exactly what he did. He just took it and just made a just throw an a in front of it, and you're just like, but that doesn't sound that great. And he's like, it's gonna sell. So there's, and this is the thing, man. And I know, I know, you and I both kind of fall in the same in the same boat in this regards to art versus commerce. We're filmmakers, we're creatives, we want to tell a cool story, we want to be doing what we'd love to do. But then you got to make money in order to keep this train going, no pun intended. You got to keep this thing going. So there are going to be sacrifices at this level. When you're at the studio level and you get to develop or if you're in the art world, our art film level where you don't care. Like I made a movie called on the corner of ego and desire. A it's not something I AFM was not my strength, not my point. It wasn't like buyers are gonna buy this, I made the movie for three, three grand, and it was fun. It was just for fun. And I was gonna sell it to my audience and I made money with it. And we're all said and done. But it was an art piece. It was an art piece. So there's art films. And then there is a studio world where rules are completely different. They're completely skewed, whatever they want. But in the in the, you know, the grinding indie world in the trenches, if you will, you've got to balance art and commerce. And you just said that you kind of cut out 20 minutes of your movie, or else you wouldn't have gotten deals that you could have stuck to your guns as an artist and said, You know what, this is my vision. I'm not moving forward. And that movie wouldn't have made money you would have been able to make the next one is that first.

Shane Stanley 28:25
And that's just it. I say in my book, I remind people you know, I look at every film we make as a gift. Every opportunity we have I look I compare it to a trip to the moon and how many people have been to the moon twice. I don't think many. And I just say look, if you just want to make a movie, go make the movie you want to make but if you want to have a career as a filmmaker, there are sacrifices and things that you have to change to get there. I mean, I've had films that that people said are brilliant. They've won you know 100 awards and really prestigious festivals premiered at Cannes and then the buyer who buys it at Cannes says great we need to take out five minutes we need to do this we need to switch this we don't like this actor we want you to reshoot that and but that's what got me here I am 50 plus years old now and I am making a couple of films a year and I'm very pleased to say pretty much my way because I've learned how to play the game and it just comes from going back to what you said about Title real quick. The original title tonight train was actually blowing smoke because it's a film about speed it's about you know car racing and motorcycles and all this launch

Alex Ferrari 29:33
Smoke i right away I thought of I thought it was a weird movie.

Shane Stanley 29:37
There Okay, so it first was a week then there was blowing smoke up your ass and then I literally said as a joke I said well the the treatment title was Night Train and everybody's like well that's your title Night Train. The truck is actually your third star in the movie. That's the brand that's plus you got the Guns and Roses song that was real familiar of popular so it's again it goes back to that subtle branding. So we Yeah, we scrapped blowing smoke even though that was the working title. But it was always meant to be nitrate.

Alex Ferrari 30:06
Yeah, exactly. Now I want to ask how did you get double threat off the ground? You know, and especially, how did you get, you know, how did you just? I mean, obviously, you came up with the idea you you wrote it correct? No, no CJ

Shane Stanley 30:18
Weezy a story. So, we were in September of 2020. We had all been on lockdown for six, seven months, I was sitting in my home office. And I literally said, Okay, it's September, coming into the fourth quarter, we can look in the rearview mirror and say 2020 kicked our ass and walked us down. Or we can we can turn around and make it our pitch. I said, I am not going down without a fight. A friend of mine called me it was one of my dearest friends in the world. He said, Hey, I got 50 grand burning a hole in my pocket. Can you do something with it? And I said, Sure. So I called up CJ. And I said, I got a friend who just committed 50 grand, I know it's nothing. I got the cameras for free. I know I can get the locations for free. The actors will just put it under an experimental deal. We'll get a decent actor, somebody will come out play with us, we'll get a crew of eight. Let's just go do it. So we talked to Danielle and her manager at the time, Kurt and we all agreed to go make this movie. CJ had a script in six days. And on the sixth day of Christmas, my true love called me and said yeah, my wife said no, you're not going to 50 grand. So it was like, oh, okay, so I actually was having lunch the next day with one of my dearest friends in the world. And it was when they were starting to let people in restaurants if they were outside on streets, and we sat down and he just said, you know, I told you I'd never get involved in your industry is a very successful man and his own business. He said, I'm concerned about you and your friends. You haven't been out of the house in seven months. He said, What is the cheapest you can make a movie for like bare bones with the COVID protocols. I don't want you to get shut down. So I came back to him later that day and said I broken down what we were going to do. Here's what COVID is going to cost. Let's put a little pad in there. Let's do it. Right let's do it through sag. Let's do it. Hey, everybody, here's the number and he said I want you to get out of the house and go make a movie and within two months from concept to that's a wrap. Wow.

Alex Ferrari 32:18
Yeah, that's an insane turnaround for a movie.

Shane Stanley 32:23
Now the best part of the story is not. I had two assistant editors on the film who sadly lost parents, grandparents and brothers and sisters to COVID So I had I had all the 4k or 5k footage sitting. I couldn't find anybody because Hollywood had started to open and we had no money going in. It took me six months to get the picture transcoded song dailies proxies and cut because everybody was back to work and making good money and we didn't have post money going in. And I literally had to ship a hard drive a 24 terabyte hard drive to Cairo, Egypt. There was a gentleman God loves them. He he heard we were in need he reached out and said I am stuck in Egypt I flew here before the pandemic with my wife we cannot leave we're on lockdown. If you trust me I will deliver what you need. And I literally FedEx to Cairo. A 24 terabyte hard drive and a month later he sent it back with everything done. And we were able to

Alex Ferrari 33:28
Affordably I'm assuming.

Shane Stanley 33:57
He did it for like lunch, a screen credit and the new friend. I mean the guy I couldn't have done it without him. Couldn't have done we had no money. We put it all into the shoot and COVID 40 grand went to COVID on that film. We've tested over 400 times not one positive. We had a couple of COVID officers and all the the PP II stuff you needed. I mean, it was it was unbelievable. What went to COVID like a huge chunk of the movie went to COVID. Wow, that's so we posted it for nothing. I mean, my DP Joelle Logan colored it because he wanted to color a film. He said, I'd like to try coloring the film. And I said, Well, I have no money here.

Alex Ferrari 34:36
And when you're when you're working with this budget level, you got to do what you got to do to make it happen.

Shane Stanley 34:41
And it was it was it was a fraction of what we had been used to so and then you add COVID on top of it. And then the fact that when we were in post everybody was back to work. I was calling people that were friends of friends that were looking for work the week before and destitute living in a box. And as we all know, Hollywood went crazy and So, I would call people in like colorist that would say, Yeah, I'll do it for like five and they were like, Dude, you can't even afford me on backed up for six months don't even bother me. I couldn't get anybody to do it.

Alex Ferrari 35:10
Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I was getting calls left and right to color and I just like, I'm retired. I'm retired. I'm a podcaster. Sir, I don't, I don't color. And I'm joking.

Shane Stanley 35:24
I actually had a friend Chris Rosner, who's one of my dearest friends. I love Chris using an incredible cinematography teacher at LSCC. Chris has a very good colorist. And he had been on lockdown. So he had actually offered when we went into this, he goes, if you're getting a jam and needed color, let me know I'll color it for you for lunch. And you know, a couple of favors. And I said, Great. But the problem was, it took us four and a half months to get it transcoded and synced. So by the time I got the film back, and Frank Reynolds and I started cutting the film, Chris was already back teaching, working full time again. So I lost that window. And that was like starting and thank God it's like he said, he color it.

Alex Ferrari 36:02
It's it's pretty, it's, it's, it's the same thing we do. I don't even know why we do it. Honestly, it's just it's insanity.

Shane Stanley 36:09
I questioned it every time.

Alex Ferrari 36:11
Now, you obviously been able to raise money from investors over the years to get your movies and projects off the ground? What are a few reasons why investors want to invest in our in our industry and your project? Specifically? What are a few things that we can kind of know on how to, you know, angle our pitches or you know, just angle what we're trying to do with them?

Shane Stanley 36:33
You know, that's a great question. And I have found, you know, I think for filmmakers, for many years, it was getting rich people that wanted to rub elbows with celebrities, those days are over. It's about relationships, and people don't like hearing this, especially the young ones coming up who are of that instant satisfaction, get it when you want it age of picking up the phone and ordering something from Amazon and having it or being able to text somebody you can't reach. And I talk about it in my book, Alex, the key thing is relationships, the people that have invested in me over the years, with the exception of one, maybe two times in 30 years were people that I had known for decades, most in which said never never talked to me about investing in film, I will never do it. It's in everybody wants to hear it's going to a cocktail party and meeting a rich guy who wants to rub elbows with as they stay in the player with Whoopi Goldberg and make you know, write a check. And that's not how it works. It's it's, it's about building trust, they they want to know that they can trust you, you have to treat their money like it's your own. For me, many times it was working for these people in side hustle jobs or they had a need and they needed something handled professionally, that they didn't know who to call on. So they called on me and said I need something done for my business, nobody's available. So it would turn into me doing a three month job for them. That they look back and said, This guy didn't fail me. He did what nobody else could do. And he delivered and I this is how he's conducting himself and his business. I want him. And that's what he came from me and and with the exception of running into two or three people in the course of 30 years that said, hey, I want to be in the business. I like what you do, here's a check. It's been about deep seated long lasting friendships that were never built on. Maybe one day, they'll write a check for a movie. And that I think is the hardest thing to translate to people. You'll always meet people that say I know somebody that may be interested or I'm a hedge fund manager I know people or my favorite is is you know, I have clients that are deep, deep pockets, and they're interested in getting in the industry and you know, put a proposal together. I think pitch decks and I talk about this a lot. I think pitch decks have to be reality checks for a lot of people pitch decks, especially for filmmakers who haven't done it. They, they, they they put these figures together that are so lethargic. I mean it's like Greek mythology, how they put you know, maybe back in the old heyday of blockbuster and Hollywood Video, these things may have worked. But it's a new day and age the emojis are tiny if you get them at all. I always remind the filmmakers you've got 54 territories and over 170 countries that potentially to buy your film quit making movies for Instagram red carpet moments and think globally not vocally when it comes to building saying that hey, stop putting Ben Affleck and you know Galaga doe in your pitch deck it's not going to happen and you know and all you're doing is I talked about is all you're doing is disappointing your potential investor Why would you go in with these names to try to lower them and then before you've even started shooting the movie Hey, you got some B rate actor that nobody knows no disrespect to them but it sure doesn't add up to Galka doe and Ben Affleck so your investor is going to look at that and go Well why did you present this and you're ending up with that.

Alex Ferrari 39:50
And let's not even talk about projections and you know busting out Blair Witch Project and paranormal activity.

Shane Stanley 39:55
Oh and Slingblade and Napoleon Dynamite and El Mariachi Oh my god, I always tell people look at lovely and amazing once these little films that were made for a half a million dollars that made back Florence, once it's a great one. Yeah, once it's a great example. And I told me, it's like, Look, if I'd like to think that us filmmakers are smart enough to be creative beings and should have some business sense. And what frustrates me as I see them, look, if if you're a potential investor, and somebody came to you and said, Dude, I need 100 grand, we can build buy this house and flip it in six months and make it 30 million bucks, are you gonna give that guy 100 grand? Probably not. But if the guy came to you and said, I need 100 grand, it's going to take us 10 months to remodel. And probably in the next two to three years, we can sell that house for 250 to 300 grand, is that something you'd be interested in? You may actually listen to him. And that's what filmmakers forget. And remember, when you're going to somebody with a lot of money, or the potential to finance your dream, chances are they're smarter than you are. And they have people in their camp that earn a living protecting them from people like us. And you have to lay it out. It's like, you know, I learned at a very young age, don't don't be us and build this pitcher of total fantasy. Go in with the mindset as you're going to get a base hit an occasional double, if you ever get a Grand Slam hallelujah. But that can't be what you're selling, because it's lightning in a bottle.

Alex Ferrari 41:17
Oh, yeah. I mean, if you're always if you're if you only look at the home runs, and not the not the bunts and the singles, and that's where most of it and that's most filmmakers, do they look at the best case scenario, they never look at the worst case scenario, or the Gen, like it's one out of 1001 out of 10,000. You know, do that kind of big kind of money that blows out the onces and the and the me paranormal activities once a once a decade, you know,

Shane Stanley 41:47
Yeah, but how many millions of Paramount put into that movie Seven?

Alex Ferrari 41:51
Yeah, and I know and I know the guys who I mean, who worked on that, you know,

Shane Stanley 41:55
People of Paramount who acquired it.

Alex Ferrari 41:57
Right, exactly. So we know I knew the stories behind it like oh, yeah, they pumped a ton of cash into this. It wasn't like It's like mariachi like, oh, yeah, it was a $7,000 movie. They made 3 million at the box office like Yeah, well, you know, they did spend a little bit of money remastering it they put a lot of money into marketing. I don't know either. But that's that. That's not that doesn't serve the narrative. It doesn't show in there.

Shane Stanley 42:20
No, it does. And I think the days of those sling blades and Napoleon Dynamite because there were the Miramax is in the Hollywood videos and blockbuster outlets that these little gems found found life and they flourished it

Alex Ferrari 42:35
Man I can't even think we haven't had anything like that happen. Like a movie out of nowhere with no stars

Shane Stanley 42:43
We all know where not not the deal was already done. Let's send it to Sundance a roll announcer like literally

Alex Ferrari 42:50
No where no no talent in the in the movie or like barely any no bankable stars. No nothing like a Napoleon Dynamite style like that goes off and makes $50 million. Or Brothers McMullen. Yeah, that went away. $30 million. With no but like literally nobody.

Shane Stanley 43:09
It was amazing project practically.

Alex Ferrari 43:11
Yeah, just put that thing together. Those I don't know if that's even possible today in that in the way it was then because the marketplace was different. There was a marketplace for indie films. And that's the big thing that a lot of people don't understand is there was in the 90s an infrastructure being built for independent films. The DVD market was huge. There were still Hollywood videos and blockbusters are running around. You know, Rick, when he was on the show, Rick Linkletter when he was talking about slacker he's like, the reason why slacker found the spot made money is because there was an infrastructure starting to be built in the early 90s. There were indie movies in the 80s. There was really, you know, great art, you know, independent filmmakers that make great films in the 80s. And in the 70s. But there wasn't the infrastructure to make money with them. The Easy Rider was like the, you know, and it's not Jack frickin Nicholson and Dennis Hopper, and yeah, of course, back then. And that was considered indie. But there were still independent filmmakers making movies back then, but there wasn't the infrastructure. So in the 90s, there was this groundswell of of places you could put movies and actually make money arthouse theaters, every studio had an indie arm Paramount advantage, you know, Fox 2000 All of those all of those things. Were around for that and that's where that's all kind of gone away. There's only a handful of those left Fox Fox Searchlight or excuse me just search like films now. And, and Sony picture classics, and now they're not doing Indies. They're doing big budget. You know, with big stars. Yeah, like under 10 million stars under 10 million. That's that's that's

Shane Stanley 44:58
A totally different animal and we don't Have you know, it's funny because I have a lot of friends in the music industry. And when Napster and file sharing became really big, I remember I went to a friend's house who had had a record release party. And he played some of the songs that he had on his record, and I and he'd had a lot of success. And I remember saying, dude, this is this is huge. And he said to me, said, Let me tell you something, he said, music is free. He said, Now music is free, we don't make our money on music, we make money on touring. And he said, I'm worried about your industry, because you guys don't tour. And I thought that was interesting. And as I look, now, we're kind of so many of us are giving our movies to streaming platforms for nothing. And we don't have an after party to keep people excited, like an artist can go out, they can do an album in their home studio may cost them a few grand, and they put it out and to get a few singles on it that circulate on iTunes or YouTube. But they're giving that out. And we're all sharing the links to it to friends. So they're really not getting a lot of money on it. But they can go out and tour and make 50 6080 100 grand a night for three or four months. That's their follow up. What do we have? And I don't I don't know the answer to that. But it's something to think about.

Alex Ferrari 46:09
Well, I do have the answers in my book, Rise of the filter producer, where you create multiple revenue streams and product lines based on your movie. Now, it doesn't work for every kind of movie, every kind of story. But if you design it around that it is a possibility. And there are examples of filmmakers giving the movie away as a loss leader, to bring them into their funnels to make money other ways. And I feel that, honestly, I feel that that's really the future of independent filmmaking, I do truly believe it.

Shane Stanley 46:39
And you are a trailblazer with that. And I've always been really good at marketing and building a brand. When you're when you're, you don't have the brands such as you know, ifH academy or whatever you can build, it's in, you're just you're going from film to film to film to film, it's often difficult.

Alex Ferrari 46:59
It's a different way of looking at film. So like I can't I don't think that you know, you're not going to be selling double threat T shirts. Generally speaking, it's not that kind of Hold on. Wait a minute, wait a minute. I'm sorry, you are going to be selling double. Bacon COVID. Our pitch again.

Shane Stanley 47:19
I'm not selling that was designed it and current.

Alex Ferrari 47:26
Amazing. That's amazing. But generally, generally speaking, like not every movie is is set up for a film entrepreneur model. But as a filmmaker, you're gonna go okay, how can I build a sustainable business? If I like a certain genre? Can I kind of build a brand around horror movies? Like Blum like Blumhouse? Can you build a brand around action movies? And like really branded so people know that? Is it possible? Yeah, it's I'm not saying it's easy. But it's,

Shane Stanley 47:52
I mean, for us, it's kind of taking the Hal Needham approach of the 70s and early 80s of that. Cannonball, run them and flipping it, where we're putting the women in the driver's seat, and the guys are riding shotgun. And that's kind of what we've been doing these last three or four years. And it's been really exciting. It's like, but you're right. It's like we had breakeven during the pandemic shot, double threat. I've already shot Night Train, prepping another film, but here I am promoting double threat, but I'm already thinking about NightRain and how we're gonna market that. I mean, it's it's constant. And so it worked together a little bit, but

Alex Ferrari 48:22
Yeah, no, I don't know. I have to ask you on the casting side. Yeah. Double threat. I mean, has a great cast. You know, Matt Lawrence, and I worked with him before he's all the Warrens.

Shane Stanley 48:33
Boys are great. I love them. I'm gonna be with him Friday. I love

Alex Ferrari 48:36
Tom, please tell Matt. I said hi, Austin. Austin, and I say hi. I did. I did a little work with him a little while ago, but But generally speaking, nobody in your movie is this giant, bankable star. So yeah, so they're not like, you know that bringing huge money in but they're good actors. And that's great. So how did you get this is the movie itself, the genre and the trailer and what you've put together is that the star that helped sell the film

Shane Stanley 49:07
You know what it was it it basically was the fact that we've got this lovely girl, Daniel, see Ryan, who's five foot two soaking wet with a full moon. And he does all our own stunts. And she's actually a really good actress. She's actually the star and I train. And we, you know, that film was so different. And we got really blessed with Donald Iberia and Matthew Lawrence and Kevin joy. You know, it was it was somebody that one of the producers found and had known and he was great. But yeah, it was, it was like, Look, we know what we're dealing with. I mean, before we had cast, some of the people that we did, we were making calls to some really respectable, bankable quote unquote, names. And we didn't even get past the hi how you doing? We're doing a film and they said, dude, call us back when COVID is over, because if they were bankable and they had that kind of scratch, it didn't need to work. They weren't coming to the house. And notice respect to who we did get to They've all had tremendous careers and are doing very well. But what was really cool is Donald aviary had called her agent three days before we called her. And she said, I know there are some crazy some bitches out there that are Mavericks that are dumb under nose to locking themselves in the house anymore. Finally, somebody respectable he's making a movie. So when we called Don's agent, and she said, Oh, my God, Don just called me two days ago saying find something. And the problem is, is there aren't many people out there making movies. So we got really lucky, similar with Matthew Lawrence, Matthew had been tired of being locked up for six, seven months as a filmmaker and producer at heart. And he was all about getting out in making art. And so we got really fortunate I wouldn't trade one actor in that film for anybody in the world. I couldn't be more proud of that cast. But for us, you know, for me, and I, it's look, when you're working in indie film, you're not going to go get the A listers, you know, I'll never forget when I was doing my film at Sony, when we when we were simmering down, they said, Hey, anything you get attached with Vince Vaughn, you have a go picture. And that tells you the power that an actor may have and a Taurus? Well, when you're making films for half a million dollars, you don't get those kinds of actors. So what I always tried to do what I talked about it in the book extensively is get actors that people are familiar with the they may not be riding the biggest wave today. But at one point in their career, they were or think globally again, it's like I know Matthew Lorenz has done Mrs. Doubtfire has done Boy Meets World, I look at somebody like Donald aviary, who is in you know, House of Cards, and all our house allies forgive me and heroes, these shows are being syndicated in 100 countries right now. So just because we may not recognize the name or face immediately doesn't mean globally to learn on TV three or four times a day, and they're still stars. And that's how I cast my vote.

Alex Ferrari 51:56
Yeah, and that's, that's a really smart way of going about it. Because they might not look like oh, that's doesn't look like somebody I know. Or doesn't that. But what does she know what she a big star in a movie in a show for eight seasons? Or did they do some other big studio movies at one point in their name is still people recognize or see their face, and they recognize it? If the budget level is it depends on the budget level. So you know, if your budget level starting to go to three, four, or five, 6 million, you have to get bankable names to be responsible to the investors is if you're if

Shane Stanley 52:31
You're making a $5 million film, you better allocate $2 million large to one or two stars to justify what you're spending. You have to weigh it trust me. I have this discussion with buyers, distributors and other filmmakers. I got a lot of friends with a lot of $5 million movies they can't even get looked at because they miss Casta. And, Garrett,

Alex Ferrari 52:53
I'll tell you there was a movie I worked on years ago. I did. I did all the posts on it, finished it up had no stars in it. They went out to the marketplace. Everyone said sorry. You had nobody in it. It's I know it's a sci fi action thing. Don't care. Went back. He raised another 5060 grand 100 grand something like that. Got two stars. I think he got like one of the guys from Stargate. The show Star Gate is a sci fi thing. And he got Michael Madsen for a day each shot him out, re edited the movie reasserted the new scenes. i He came back to me like eight months later, he's like, Hey, can we can we can we redo the movie? I'm like, what would you do with it? Oh, okay. We did that. He packaged it, put them on the cover, went back to the marketplace. And they said,

Shane Stanley 53:41
We'll take I will tell you I had a friend years ago who did a film. He spent 500,000 of his own money on it shot it and 35 millimeter couldn't get it looked at it was just it was his friends and locals in another state. And he brought it to California and it wasn't a bad film. It just didn't have anybody in it. And it was the exact same story. Somebody said if you can put a star or two in a scene and reshoot a scene or two, you may you may get some more I know to date this film has generated over $4 million for him because he just went out and got he literally went into a studio and shot one actor replaced an actor from another scene with with an unknown actor paid them you know, probably 1520 grand for the day that anyone got another cameo for a guy to play in arresting officer to date, that film was made over $4 million for him. And this was a film that nobody looked at for 18 months. It was just like, Dude, I don't even need to see it. Nobody wanted it.

Alex Ferrari 54:35
And that's the importance of a bankable bankable name. So and again, it's not and I've said this so many times on the show and I think I have to say it again for people to understand. It's not out of reach for the shoot somebody out on a day. 1510 five grand a day. 10 grand a day. 20 grand a day. For an eight or 10 hour day is You're gonna get that money back tenfold if you're smart. And it's so important and filmmakers just don't think they can one day don't have the confidence to think that they can get it done. Yeah, but I've just seen it. I'm working with people right now some clients that are doing it currently. And they're going out to the talent. They're like, here's how much I'd have. Okay, let's do this. Let's do that. Great. I need you for five hours. Five hours to shoot out scenes for this movie. Can you do it? And I worked on a movie that had Sonic, Sean Patrick Flanery from boondocks and young Indiana Jones and a million other things, right? So they do so brilliant, they shot him out one day, because that's the whole movie. He's in the entire movie. He's not just in one scene, they now pepper them throughout the movie, she's in like six or seven scenes, but they're all in the same place. So in other words, he's the cop that they come back to like to meet with and they always meet at the parking garage. So they just shot the parking garage. Church changed your shirt, spreadsheet header and, and he dropped off two men and he was just on he's on the cover. So and they shot him off for a day. And then you've got now you've got a marketable movie. And that's the that's the way filmmakers need to think especially in a commerce based film, art house, different conversation.

Shane Stanley 56:24
And you know what, let me let me cap that by saying I have a somebody that was brought to my life a couple of years ago who shot a film with three a list, well known stars, and couldn't get anybody to look at the film. And it was content. It was content. And that was heartbreaking. Because this guy actually spent a million and a half dollars. So what was the content? What was wrong with the content? Well, there's, you know, there's two rules in a movie, don't kill a kid and don't kick a dog anymore, right? And he killed the kid and killed the dog. Yeah, well, they killed the kid and kick the dog. And in that way, it's like, dude, and but it was also involving sexual assault to a child that's like,

Alex Ferrari 57:03
No, no, no, no,

Shane Stanley 57:05
What do you fuck. But these actors who have, like, two of the actors generated over 3 billion in the box office on their work, and they agreed to do this, and you wasted this bullet. And they they can't even get looked at because it's, it's based on a true story that everybody knows. And they're like, yeah, no, we didn't touch on that.

Alex Ferrari 57:28
So I might as well throw some religion and politics in there as well. Oh, let's talk about religion and politics while we're at it. I mean, it's oh my god, that's so heartbreaking. But that, but that's the kind of stuff that happens all the time.

Shane Stanley 57:47
Yep. Okay, we got the cast. We missed. We missed the content. Hey, we got the content. We didn't get cast. I just think it's indie rats. We have to we have to think again, you say it so brilliantly is commerce, business and art and how do you find that and it's, it's, it's about you know, I remember I had a film that that had the greenlight before the Oh, seven crash, which thank God it didn't happen because it was it would have been miscast. We had a lot of ageless actors getting it one of the big agencies was packaging it, and they had some serious cats want to get on board. And I was adamant about the lead being an unknown. I was adamant about it because of her meager world in the script. I didn't want somebody looking at like Jennifer Aniston and the good girl going out she makes a million dollars in episode is you know, when you're watching this girl who works in a mini mart who supposedly broke but it's it's headline news everywhere that the stars of friends are making a million dollars an episode. I didn't want that. I didn't want that to taint it. So I was adamant about an unknown. And I remember a head of a studio brought me into his office. And he said, You're you're digging a grave, you have a film that you have everybody clamoring to do that is bankable and respectable yet you want to hang it on and know you're never gonna get this movie pass go. And he was right. He was right.

Alex Ferrari 59:02
So let me ask you then how did you get distribution for this? How, what is the distribution? How were you all for double threat?

Shane Stanley 59:09
Yeah, it was really, you know, look, it was really simple. We knew we knew domestically that we would be looking at a VOD situation. We didn't we didn't have our own farts on this one. We didn't, you know, have any delusions of grandeur. It was this fun little dirt movie we made with our friends and kicked ass and took no prisoners and it is what it is. And so it was one of those things were it was about partnering with somebody who captured the vision. We wanted a woman run company to be behind the film because we are women driven in our storytelling. And VMI is got a wonderful group that runs that company and they happen to be some wonderful, lovely ladies and they saw it and they just fell in love with it. They just loved the idea of a woman out there kicking ass, riding the horse bareback and shooting somebody with a bow and arrow. You know having the fight seems that she does. And it just was one of those things, Alex, where, for us a lot of times, it's not about the dollars up front, it's about what is the passion and commitment, somebody's going to have to put the product out. That was most important. And fortunately for us, you know, the film is new. So went to can piggyback and with night training, and we're starting to sell up the globe now, which is really exciting because it is a fun action comedy without slapstick comedy that sometimes doesn't translate foreign. It's physical comedy. And you can always do well with that. So it's got the combination of some some fun action sacks, horses, fights, airplanes, and some love and you know, road road type movie. So we're starting to see that it's translating very well across the globe.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:48
And you're you've already started selling out different territories.

Shane Stanley 1:00:50
Oh, I think we got 1213 territories since camp. That's amazing, man. And it's been Yeah, it's really some really good timing, you know, talk about Germany, China, or not necessarily. Germany, China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, you know, South America. I mean, it's like I looked at something that came out yesterday, I was like, God, dang. Seems like starting to move. This is exciting. So the UK. Yeah. And that's just based on us just going out there with a cool trailer and some fun art. Unfortunately, and I'll address it, you know, we came out a week after two weeks after the tragedy in OB. And that was a big problem, because we had already started putting out the the artwork. And that was something that we all, you know, realize that that's something that in hindsight, we wish we would have not, you know, you don't know what you don't know going in. But you know, having your star with an AR 15 on the poster, a week after that tragedy is not the best marketing tool. But the horse was already out of the barn with nothing we ended up.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:48
Yeah. And that's the thing to us. Like, there's just elements and there's variables of in filmmaking that you just don't know, that could be good or bad. Something like what you just said, obviously, is a negative light. But then all of a sudden, your star gets picked up, and is going to be the new Marvel movie. And then all of a sudden, you're like, oh, wait a minute. Now this property is worth a whole lot more because our star is going to be on a big show or a big, so you just these are variables you just can't plan for. So you kind of have to roll with it and see, unfortunately,

Shane Stanley 1:02:20
Unfortunately, there's the gunplay in the movie is minimal and it's all justified good guys versus bad guys. It's not anything like oh, no, no, but you can't force it.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:31
What was Stranger Things? Stranger Things right. Remember stranger things right? The new stranger openings, the opening sequence they like literally put a thing out like, hey, this might be a problem. The opening up of Obi Wan Kenobi, same thing you think like this might, you know, they've made those they made those shows we years like a year ago,

Shane Stanley 1:02:54
Like a double threat in November December was done seven months ago. Exactly. Oh, we knew it was coming out in June of 2022. I've made two movies since that it was like out of sight out of mind.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:10
Yeah, it is what it is. So you just have to kind of you know, roll with the roll with the punches. And that says, I want you to discuss something for me. Can you please debunk the myth of streamers? And the that there's so much money to be made by independent buying Netflix is buying movies from independent filmmakers left and right. They're writing checks like they are writing checks, not to us, but not

Shane Stanley 1:03:36
Why I will give you two examples. I have a friend who is a very, very respected filmmaker that made an independent film for $800,000. They made back when Netflix was spending, they made a deal with Netflix for 250 grand once it went on Netflix, nobody will. Nobody else would look at it, because Oh, you're on Netflix by so it made an $850,000 movie made back to 50. But Netflix pays, I think over the course of two years, they pay it in quarterly installments Plus, you've got your 20% sales commission fee, so and their deliverables which are going to cost you more because you're not in a standard deliverable. So you may see out of that 250, they may see $175,000 over the course of two years. And then I have a friend, I gotta be careful how I talk about this, you get a number one show on Netflix, during the pandemic days, he's made nothing and is pitching on a regular basis to them and other streamers to hopefully get another movie made. And he had a number one number one hit on Netflix during the pandemic and he's like, Dude, it barely covered the cost of deliverables.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:46
And that's, that's and that's the thing, and that's the thing. I want people to hear it because everyone's like, Oh, you gotta get on Netflix. You gotta get into. We don't look I got on my first one got on Hulu, which is insanity. How am I five, five As the dollar movie got picked up by Hulu, that's right. It was a bit it was a different time.

Shane Stanley 1:05:04
It was it was probably six, seven years ago when Hulu was it was

Alex Ferrari 1:05:08
It was 20 2017. But it was 2017. So it's 2017. And, you know, and I also sold it to China. So their cats how old that is. So because China was buying at that point,

Shane Stanley 1:05:22
That doors closed, doors closed right now.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:26
But that was that door was open, and I made good money on both of those. Both of those sales, it was great. But it's not what by the way, if I didn't make a $5,000 movie, that Hulu deal wouldn't really made a whole lot of sense. But because I made a $5,000 movie, it was like, of course,

Shane Stanley 1:05:44
He's learned a lot in the process, which is what we talked about earlier, my background of doing that $500.45 minute pilot that did more for my career than anything than anything that I've done. And you're right. And that's the thing is I always it's like so funny when I talk to people, whether they're people not in the business, or people coming in making a deal with Netflix, doing Netflix, it's like, no,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:06
No, but that's, that's but that's a little secret for everybody who's not in the know. Yeah, everyone thinks that like, Oh, you gotta be on the major streams, Amazon's not buying anything. And if you get on HBO, Max, you are you've got to have some major star power. And I've spoken to filmmakers who have their films bought. But then I'm like, oh, but you have this guy who was in a Marvel movie? Who's the lead in a Marvel movie? Yeah, who's who's about to explode in their movie? That's probably one of the reasons. And it also covered a bunch of other boxes that they wanted to check off.

Shane Stanley 1:06:37
Yeah, yeah, I get that. And, and again, it goes back to how you package market and cast and content and what you're putting together as we talked about before, but I the streaming world, especially in North America is very tough is that's why I always tell filmmakers think about your casting, Think global, and realize you're making a movie for 54 territories in 100. And something countries that potentially can buy because, you know, the I think the average is what 18 to 22% of the films revenue comes from North America. But when you're an indie rad, it could be as little as four to 6%. And that's something to remember. And that means that there still are parts of the world that are buying brick and mortar, video, DVD, Blu Ray, it's still out there. And there are small theaters around the country are forgiving other country around the world that will gladly put your movies in there. It doesn't, it does exist. It's just it's not here. And it's not sexy. You know, again, it's my saying earlier is stop making your movies for Instagram likes. It's not it's not all about the bullshit red carpet that you've put up on the side of receipt of Boulevard, that's duct tape by your buddy to try to get people. That's not why we're making movies, it's a business Think global, get your head out of the San Fernando Valley and West LA and start thinking about the world. And that's what I try to impress upon young filmmakers.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:55
Yeah, and I understand exactly what you're talking about. Because I lived in LA for 13 years. So I know exactly what you're talking about. But a lot of filmmakers who even if they're not in LA, they think that that's making it in their journey. Like you got to look at God. I mean, you just walk around AFM and you can see who are the real filmmakers who are making money. Yeah, I don't care if the movies are good or not. That's not a that's not the question here. That's, that's how you make money. Are you making money? Are you making money and then you as a filmmaker, whoever's listening out there, you have to ask yourself the question, what kind of films do you want to make? Do you want to make films? That is a personal piece of backyard, a backyard film, if you will, that's personal to you do that and make it for as cheap as possible, and understand his art. And hopefully, you can make maybe some money back maybe somewhere, go on the festival church, see what happens. You're rolling the dice of that. But that's not a business. That's hard. That's hard.

Shane Stanley 1:08:51
And it's my brother is my brother reminds you want to be an artist go paint in the Park on Saturday. That's his motto.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:58
Exactly. Exactly, exactly. But if you want to make a business and you want to do what you love to do, and do it consistently for a decade or two, you have to think of commerce, you have to think of the business if you don't, you're not stacking to make it man. And that, you know, that's one of the reasons why most people don't even build careers in this business because they have delusions of grandeur, delusions of what they think is supposed to happen, but they don't look at the reality of what is as opposed to what they want it to be.

Shane Stanley 1:09:29
And here's another thing that I really try to remind a lot of up and comers about is this world we're living in now. You know, everybody talks about how why is time going so fast. Well, it's simple. It's because we can't keep up with the news by the time something it's like tragedy. Look at this shooting in Buffalo. By the time the dust settled on that there was another one at a church here in Anaheim. Then there was the big school shooting. There's there was five that following week. My point is think about how fast the news we move from from thing to thing to thing. It's worse than film When your buddy is putting up a trailer of their movie, their buddies are already looking at five other trailers. And by the time you've sent it out once it's already buried, and it's really hard to get the traction you you really, the traction is not something that we have anymore. It used to be, you know, back and up until five years ago, you put a trailer on Facebook or YouTube man, that thing got tons of hits, people were emailing you about it for weeks or months, you get you get, you know, two or 300, maybe 1000 likes and a couple of days they can't see the movie. They're just buried with everything else. They come home and it's like, Oh, honey, the boys is back on or Stranger Things is back on or, you know, you guys found a new Taylor Sheridan film or something. It's like you indie filmmakers, you can't keep up with the machine that is spoon feeding the world with 10s of millions of dollars on PNa. So you have to think globally and where's your film going to stick?

Alex Ferrari 1:10:55
Right, exactly. And then get back to the film entrepreneur method is focusing on a niche. How is it that it helps with cutting through the noise? If you can, if you can attach to an emotional niche that you're into, then you have a much better fighting chance because they're, you know, they're I don't know how many surf movies they're made every day. But or how many skateboarding movies are made every day? It's not a huge genre. But it's a huge market. And there's a lot of people who are looking for those. You know, I remember when gleaming the cube came out, remember gleaming the back into the 80s? Late 80s I think it was 89 which was Christian Slater, or RAD with the BMX bike movie that just got released.

Shane Stanley 1:11:40
Winner takes all for motocross in the 80s. That's a film that's unwatchable.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:45
Right, exactly. But those movies focused on a niche audience and everybody was like, oh my god, did you see gleaming the cube, it's a skateboarding movie. Or that you can you can make noise with an independent film with no budget and even no marketing money. In a niche, you have a chance you have a fighting chance to cut through the noise.

Shane Stanley 1:12:05
Well, especially in a niche like you're talking about, like imagine getting on all the Facebook skateboarding BMX Facebook groups. Yeah. I mean, like, I'm a big motocross guy. You know, I was my life for 3040 years. And that's like, I belong to these, these little pages on Facebook. And there's like 300,000 members. Oh, and then that's one of 12 that I'm a member of, and then you go on, there's 20,000 here. 100,000 there. Can you imagine if you did a little niche movie for a skateboarder BMX, and that group got behind it, what damage you could do? You got to think that's Burly. I mean, that's how you have to think. But that's happened.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:39
I've used multiple examples of that in my book, because it's exactly how you do it. It's the only it's the only weapon we have as independent filmmakers to really compete against the big boys. Because, like I use the I use the example all the time, there was a documentary about vegan athletes that I I saw, the one was Schwarzenegger and yeah, it was game changers game changers, right. And I was dying to see it. And no matter what was around any big Hollywood movie, any billions of dollars that they spent in advertising, I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's nice. I want to see this, it cuts through all the marketing, I'll get to your billion, I'll get to the next of Japan to film this film. This is the first on my list, because I had an emotional attachment to see that I wanted to see that. So if you can do that, as a filmmaker, it's it's a lot easier. Yeah, that's smart. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions, sir. I asked all of my guests. Oh, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Shane Stanley 1:13:42
My advice to filmmakers trying to break into the business today is, first, make nurture harvest relationships. Whether you're meeting a sound guy on a shoot, or you're meeting a hair and makeup girl on a shoot, my film family runs longer than 2530 years with a lot of us. And those are because of relationships that were made. And I say that or my hair and makeup team or my sound guy writing the checks to finance my movies. No, but they've got my back and I couldn't do it without them. So I think the most important thing is besides shooting and screwing a lot of things up and making yourself better. Relationships me are always number one.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:22
What did you learn from your biggest failure?

Shane Stanley 1:14:26
What I learned from my biggest failure was, you have to keep up with the times I think our biggest financial failure was the film that never got out of the gate when everybody was going to high def in video listening to certain decision makers that were adamant about shooting on film. It raised the price of the film $4,000 more than it should have been, which put us more in the hole and it was that's what I learned is that you were never going to crawl away out and that was kind of a thing and Boogie Nights if you remember with Yeah, Yeah, yeah okay man videotape and I've known a lot of distributors over the years that were always behind the ball when it went from going from film to video video to DDP DVD to blu ray. And that was the one thing I learned is this really good film never saw the light of day because it was just buried in financial whoa because they just they made and I was part of the above the line decisions on that and I should have fought harder.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:23
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Shane Stanley 1:15:28
If you want loyalty, get a dog through when you're when you're when you're hot, you're hot, and you're not, you know, your phone doesn't ring and the people that you would consider, you know, your brothers in arms or your your, you know, the people in the foxhole. It's loyalty in this industry. I don't think it's very, very, very rare. And it's tough. It's tough. Yeah. So I mean, that's that's just as you know, I get attached to people a little more than I should emotionally because I believe I find somebody of like mind and and then again, I go back to you want loyalty. Get a dog. You,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:07
Sir, are a nice guy who has been beaten up by the business. I have shrapnel along the way. I'm assuming 30 years ago, you were much nicer and less cynical than you are now.

Shane Stanley 1:16:19
I don't know. I mean, I was definitely less cynical Sure.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
Stars, the stars were still in the eye. The sparkle was still in the eye.

Shane Stanley 1:16:28
I was still youthful exuberance and excitement. Like the late great Dickie Fox, I clap my hands and I say it's gonna be a great day. Okay, here we go again.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:40
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Shane Stanley 1:16:43
The films that impacted my life the most sideways, I love that film, but But growing up in Jerry Maguire, but growing up, it was the Black Stallion, it was cherries. And it was On Golden Pond. Those were films that my father showed me when I was about eight or nine years old that made me fall in love with the idea of filmmaking. And there you go, like they still play to that.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:09
And where can people find double threat and find out more about you and what you're doing, sir?

Shane Stanley 1:17:15
Oh, bless you. Well, double threat is available on Amazon Prime. But it's just like 15 or 20 different platforms. And I'm sorry to say I don't know off the top my tongue. They're easy to find. It's on Xbox. It's on. You know, Google Play.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:28
Just hit double threat in Google

Shane Stanley 1:17:29
Starring Danielle C. Ryan, Dawn Olivieri, Matthew Lawrence directed by yours truly, you'll find it. Yeah, you can go to what you don't learn in film. school.com That's the website for my book, which has a lot of information if you if you care and you want to go to my website, it's Shanestanley.net It'll take you wherever you need to go. And that's it. That's how you find me and that's what I'm up to.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:53
And if you guys want to check out his book on audio book, yes, always you can always head over to indiefilmhustle.com and and do a search there for it and or go to audible and it's on Audible. Right and it's it's a best seller people love it and it's good and of course if you want to check out Rise of the film trip earner it's not too far either. Check those two good double book if you get both those books, you're gonna be in good shape, sir.

Shane Stanley 1:18:20
You're gonna be in great shape. You're gonna be in great shape.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:23
You get both those books. Those are going to be that to film school right in itself, sir. Thanks so much for coming on the show. But it's always good talking to you, man and continued success. And keep keep that hustle going brother.

Shane Stanley 1:18:35
Hey, Alex. Thanks for having me. Thanks, everybody for checking out and just just keep filming just keep filming guys. It'll it'll eventually you'll find your way you'll find your voice. Just keep doing what you do. You'll get there.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Need Distribution for Your Film? – Check This Out!
  2. Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  3. Enigma Elements – Cinematic Tools & Assets for Serious Filmmakers
  4. Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook

IFH 593: The Way of the Creative Filmmaker with Jocelyn Jones

Jocelyn Jones was raised in an artist’s community on the Hudson River just 30 minutes north of Manhattan. This idyllic hamlet is home to some of the most influential artists of our time and it was here that her interest in art, artists and their process began.

She is the daughter of Henry Jones, a character actor whose credits include some 40 films and over 300 televisions shows. Mr. Jones started out as a Broadway actor, most known for “The Bad Seed”, “Advise And Consent” and his Tony Award-winning performance in “Sunrise at Campobello”. Ms. Jones began her career at the age of 12, appearing alongside her father and E.G. Marshall in an episode of “The Defenders.” Her work in motion pictures includes Clint Eastwood, “The Enforcer” “The Other Side of the Mountain” with Beau Bridges, Al Pacino’s “Serpico” as well as starring in the cult classics “Tourist Trap” and “The Great Texas Dynamite Chase.”

Ms. Jones has appeared on stage in both New York and Los Angeles, most notably at The Mark Taper Forum, playing Greta Garbo in the world premiere of Christopher Hampton’s “Tales From Hollywood.” She has also appeared with Joe Stern’s Matrix Theatre Company, where she played the delightfully insane Violet in George M. Cohan’s farce “The Tavern” and as Constance Wicksteed, a spinster with a passion for large breasts, in Alan Bennett’s farce “Habeas Corpus”. She received critical acclaim for her role as Lucy Brown in Ron Sossi’s groundbreaking production of “The Three Penny Opera”, which famously utilized all three theaters of The Odyssey Theatre Complex for that same production.

An in demand acting teacher for over 25 year, Ms. Jones has shepherded hundreds of actors from novice to starring careers and currently works with over a hundred hand picked actors, directors and writers at The Jocelyn Jones Acting Studio.

Known as a “secret weapon” to some of the biggest stars in the industry, she has served as a confidential Creative Consultant, working on some of the highest-grossing pictures of all time. From advising artists on which projects to choose, to working with writing teams, to develop current and future projects, Ms. Jones’ consultant work has been considered an invaluable asset to many.

As a script doctor, she has served in every capacity, from page-one rewrites to final polishes- confidentially contributing to blockbuster films and television series alike. Her production company, Mind’s Eye Pictures, is dedicated to producing her own original content.

Her new book is Artist: Awakening the Spirit Within.

Jocelyn Jones is one of Hollywood’s most prized secret weapons. A legendary acting teacher, coach, and artistic advisor to the stars, she has served as a confidential Creative Consultant on some of the highest-grossing pictures of all time.

Now, she shares her personal journey—and the secrets behind her unique methodology—in Artist: Awakening the Spirit Within.

How do you tap into the power of creation? A great teacher doesn’t just tell you; they show you! With forthright vulnerability, Jones shares the memories and lessons that shaped her, both spiritually and as a world-class teacher—proving beyond question that the same creative process she offers actors can help you discover andmanifest a life in coherence with your own heart.

Whether you’re an actor looking to elevate your craft or a fellow human traveler pursuing your dreams, Artist shows you step by step how to awaken to your higher self and move confidently into the life you were born to live.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Jocelyn Jones 0:00
Do the interview did with it burns, and you know, look at his love. Look at the size of his passion. And then look at the size of you responding to his passion and talking about these, or you worked on this kind of camera or you worked in this, you know the level of enthusiasm. If you had you know, one of those Geiger counters, it was just charts that is beyond ego.

Alex Ferrari 0:29
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created Enigma Elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like VHS and CRT images, smoke fog, textures, DaVinci Resolve presets and much more. After working as an editor colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years, I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. I like to welcome to the show Jocelyn Jones how you doing Jocelyn?

Jocelyn Jones 1:22
I'm very good. Thank you. It's lovely.

Alex Ferrari 1:25
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am. I'm excited to talk to you. I think I think we're gonna have a conversation that's hopefully going to help some some filmmakers and screenwriters and anybody in the business who wants to be creative and be an artist. And I think it's something that a lot of things that you talk about in your book, your new book, artists awaken the spirit within is that it's things that aren't talked about publicly very often about mental health, about negative talk about self talk about beating yourself up all these kinds of things. But before we get into all of that, how did you get into this insane, insane business?

Jocelyn Jones 2:02
Well, you know, I was a little bit born into it. I was raised on the Hudson River, in an artist's community. And so I was raised with extraordinary artists, my dad was an actor. So the first wave of artists at the dinner table were actors, and they are a breed unto themselves. And then my mother remarried. And the next way my stepfather wrote for The New Yorker, and the next wave of artists at the table were painters, and this was in the 60s. So you just go to the top of that food chain, you know, drop a lot of names. But they were these extraordinary painters. And then, you know, there were dancers at the top of the field. I mean, everybody was at the top of their field. And I was young, and I was impressionable, and I was studying them. And I was very interested in, you know, when they were happy, we're going to talk about happy because I happen to watch you flip the script and be interviewed by your friend CB bato, and talk about happiness. And I was like, yes, you're on to something there. Um, anyway, and so I was very interested in when they were happy, they were working. And when they weren't working, it wasn't just actors who weren't actors go out of work, you know, they should really check into a hotel, because they're very difficult to be around, they get so concerned that they'll never work again. But it was also painters. And it was, so it was anyone who like they're in the creative process, and they are lit from within. And because these guys were at the top of their field, they were lit with inspiration, it was something beyond themselves, which is kind of what the book is trying to hook people up to anybody up to. But anyway, so there were all these actors, and then I left home at a very early age because I lived right outside Manhattan, and if you live near Manhattan, or breath away, you're like, I'm in the city by by gotta go. And, you know, when I was younger, we moved to Manhattan, we still couldn't afford Manhattan, even you know, 60s and 70s, when it was not the same city as it is now. So we would live five girls and an apartment and you know, work when I don't know how many Second Avenue bars and wait tables and go on auditions and all of that. And at that time, I was really young. And I was discovered by Eileen Ford, who was a very big Marvel agent at the time. And she saw something in me and she sent me out for test shots I recall, which were you know, photographers who were trying to get laid, but they also wanted, you know, pictures and tree models and upcoming models, whatever they would take your picture It was during blow up. So I don't remember that. But you know, they were all it was pretty wild time. And I would bring these pictures back to Eileen Ford. And she looked at them and said, Oh, God, Johnson. No, these are terrible. You look so sad. Nobody calls me up and says, I want the sad girl. Okay, that's that. So she said, you have to do something. And so I started creating characters to be in front of a camera because I was really had a hard time with the black box, you know? And so the she I brought those pictures. She said, Oh, you're an actor? And I said, No, no, no, no, my dad's an actor, one of those in the families or not. And she started sending me out on audition. So she sent me out of my first audition was for a heroin addict for Mayor Lindsay's drug campaign. And they were very real. They look like documentaries. And it won an award, I played the size perfect for the sidebar. It was about to say perfect. Yeah, good for the sacral. So, you know, that was that that was the start of my journey toward acting. And I did a number of independent films. But in my, you know, I never loved acting. I mean, I love acting. I love the part of acting, and building life from nothing. I love that I understood structure. But I never you know, you, you talked about how, you know, you found the podcast, it took you a while, but something that you'd found home, it was like a call and suddenly you happy, right? I was not happy as an actor, I I am very private person. I didn't like having to audition. I like control in my life than putting my art in front of somebody and having them say, yeah, like, No, I don't, you know, I from New York, I have a little you know.

But more than that all of this study of artists had settled in the, and I had a certain kind of leadership growing up that came from other things. And I thought teaching, you know, I got pregnant, I have a baby and being a mother and being a teacher sort of went together. And you know, when you do that thing you're meant to do, you put one step on that path. And things just start flowing really well, which is part of knowing Oh, I'm on the right path. So you know, really, I was a teacher for three years. And teaching led to you know, I worked with a lot of film stars on films in private coaching, and that led to Script doctoring. And all of that was very, you know, confidential under nondisclosure agreements, but a lot of fun, very interesting work. And then all of that led to one day deciding, I think it's time to do to leave something of my own, because my whole life has been helping artists. And I love that and it's right. But at some point, you have to look at yourself and say, am I avoiding, you know, my own voice. And so, you know, my mom died. That's a whole evolution in a person's life. Everything stopped. So I could say goodbye, and then handle her affairs. And that's when I started writing the book. And, you know, Alex, I didn't want to write another acting book. There's a lot of acting books.

Alex Ferrari 8:45
There's a couple, there's a couple.

Jocelyn Jones 8:48
I started, you know, I don't know whether this is part of me hustle. But you know, I'm quite spiritual. And so part of what I had spotted with these artists was a kind of a spiritual connection. Call it inspiration, call it the muse, call it spirit, call it whatever. But it's something beyond ego. It's something beyond personality. It's something in the ethos that great artists seem to tap into.

Alex Ferrari 9:21
And it's so funny you say that because, you know, as you know, on the show, I've had the pleasure of talking to some amazing guests and some very high performing. You know, Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Tony winners, really high performing artists. And I always love asking that question. I always ask the question, Where does it come from for you? And the bigger the star, the bigger the artist, the more humble they are about their craft. It's so funny because I've met people who are so boastful about what they do, and you can tell that they'll burn out Soon enough, and they won't have any major legacy left behind. But the bigger the Oscar winner, the more humble they are up because they are aware that in many ways, it's not them. It's coming through them. But it's not them. It's coming through their filter, if you will. So in many ways, and not to get too woowoo. But like I'm talking, I'm going to drop a name. Because I think it's important to the conversation when I was speaking to Eric Roth, who's obviously the Oscar winning writer Forrest Gump. And he just wrote doing, he's doing okay for himself. Eric, I asked him specifically ago, how did you? Do you ever just sit down and write. And when you're done writing, you look at it and go, who wrote that? Like, it's not even you can't even recognize it as your own. It just kind of flew through you. He's like, yes. And I searched for that almost all the time. But I don't always get it. But when I'm able to tap in, it just flows through you. And it's a magical thing. And I think any I mean, as I as I've written my books, there's moments where I've written entire chapters. And then I go back to read, and I'm like, who wrote this, like, it's almost like you're channeling something, as a great artist. And that goes for acting, writing, directing, it's being in the flow. Athletes talk about it all the time, it's being in that moment where you don't think it just is, and it just kind of goes through you. And you already understand the craft enough, that that's not a problem. Like, if you're going to write you have to understand English, you have to understand basic grammar. But once those basic foundations are laid out, everything else is fairly magical. And that I always find that's so interesting that they are all humbled that the biggest ones are the most humble about their process. And in this is 100% of the time I've asked this question. I don't care who it is. Everyone has impostor syndrome. It's fascinating to me. Yeah. Yeah. Everyone. I mean, again, I'll talk back, go to Eric Ross interview. He's like, Oh, yeah, absolutely. Like you're, you're Eric Croft, you've won Oscars. You've worked on the biggest movies with the biggest director? I mean, and he's like, Yeah, but I still, I still feel like at any moment, someone's gonna walk in the door and go, What are you doing here? You're not supposed to be here. So that's an artist thing. I think I think most artists in general do that. Do you agree?

Jocelyn Jones 12:36
Well, yes. I mean, I think there's an interesting explanation for it. First of all, I think intention is is such a really important thing. So when you're talking about what you just said, was so beautiful. When you're really talking about structure, you're talking about technique, which builds structure, right. And when you when an artist and those grapes, and I've worked with a number of those huge, huge stars, which I'm just facilitating them to this space of inspiration. Because the more structure you have, the more you can trust yourself. It's like building a house, and actor, built a life, built a life out of nothing. So you think of those building house, you have to put the structures together so you can live in it. So people are always talking about living in the moment, while living in the moment most actors think of as improvisational. But it's not just improvisational, you have to build the house, you know, the moment so you are building moments. And then because of the structure of those moments, you trust them. And you can fly from one moment to the next which book I like into rock hopping. I don't know if you ever spent time with country, but he knows big wonderful streams with big rocks in them, they have a lot in the in the woods and had to move around. And my favorite thing to do was leap from one rock to another. So I spent years honing this concept from my students, which I still think is a little mad, but about how those rocks are like the structure and you can only have the freedom of the lead. Because you built the rock you've created the rocks and what are those rocks come out and then we go into technique and such. So it is the intention to have that connection to the muse to something beyond yourself. So then we have ego spirit. Now we got to have ego we can't be that's the whole point is like, I'm going to be separate from you. I'm gonna have this ego you're gonna have that ego. We're energetic beings in bodies and how we identify we identify with ego, but we're really something much much, much bigger than ego, but we have no education. as to how to connect to that at all. So these great artists of inspiration, recognize that they are beyond ego, you have the actor who's all ego, it's all about being, you know, admired. And then you have the actor who sometimes accidentally trips into this space where they've entered a character, and they've created this life before your very eyes and really entered really gone in there. And they are living in those moments from the structure, they felt they're living in those moments. And they realized they are bigger. They're bigger than the personality. So then when somebody comes along and says, Oh, you, Alex, you're so great. They feel like an impostor, because I'm not that great explanation.

Alex Ferrari 15:51
It's it's really, it's really interesting, because that's a fantastic explanation of impostor syndrome, because you're absolutely right. And if you've noticed, you know, with some actors over the course of their careers, you know, the greats like a Meryl Streep can just walk in and walk out and tap into that at will, Steven Spielberg, as a director can tap into it, the great directors are great writers are great artists, they just tap in effort, almost effortlessly, at least it seems effortlessly from our point of view. And then there's, I love the way you say they trip into. So sometimes you see actors who trip into a performance, and they, they just connect with that character, but they're never able to get back to that place in their career, where they might even go all the way and win an Oscar, or get a lot of accolades, but it's whatever stops them from getting back there, whether it's ego, whether it's outside sources, but it's it happens in all all aspects of the business from directors, some directors make the most amazing film ever, you know, one of the most, and then they can't get back there. You know, and, and writers, writers as well, novelist and writers?

Jocelyn Jones 16:58
Well, you know, a lot of that's a lot of what the book is about. It's about it's about its intention, you have to intend it. So you have to kind of recognize this is what Spielberg and you know, Meryl Streep, and all these greats that you mentioned been like going to the painters, and Michelangelo, you know, they've recognized some sort of technique for themselves and what works for you doesn't work for me, it doesn't work for him doesn't, you have to give artists a lot of different colors of techniques and realize that each one is going to respond differently and make their own toolkit. But once you have that technique, you have to intend I want I intend to go beyond myself. And if once you've had that experience, two things happen. You either intend to have that experience again and chase what it was what combination that I put together that helped me do that, or you get lost in your own drums. So now I'm going to go to a really kind of woohoo word, which is vibration. You know, when you're around enthusiastic people, you're like, hey, you know, we respond to we are energetic beings and bodies and we respond to vibration, no matter how well you want to get about it. That's the deal. And so we want to be around the reason that audiences love actors is because they're looking at you know, and they go that guy's creating life when they do it right. In your in the theater. The audience releases from your own life and enters this parallel universes parallel story. And then when they come back to their seats and they walk out a theater, they go cheeses effect I can create that much life out of thin air. Maybe I could do a little better with my own. They are inspired to take control of their own life in some way. They recognize.

Alex Ferrari 19:05
Isn't it fascinating because I've I've had the pleasure of being in the room with some of the biggest movie stars in the world. And when you're in the room with them, you understand why they're movie stars. There's just something about their energy in the room and I've I've met in I won't name drop but I have met some and I walk in and just and just being around them you just go oh, oh I get it. I truly I truly get it. And in you know when you want and talking about the woowoo aspect of you know energy and vibrations of people and stuff. All you have to do is and I know everybody listening has gone through this. You've met somebody in your life. That after you got done talking to them, you wanted to take a shower because you feel slimy dirty could be a salesman, it could be customer a sales rep it could be it could be a teacher It could be anybody you know another just you just Feel? Oh, yeah. So whether you believe in the woowoo energy or not, I think everyone's had that experience at one point in life, and you just met somebody who just, oh, I just don't want to be around that person. And then vice versa. You meet somebody, you're like, Oh, my God, I, there's just so much fun to be around, there's so much energy around them. And it's, there's something about that conversation. There's no question about it, whether again, you want to get into the woowoo aspect of it or not. But I think everybody listening can agree that they've had that conversation. And if you ever do anyone listening ever does get to sit in a room and have a meaningful conversation. And even through my show, having conversations over zoom, you can sense why they are who they are some of these directors, some of these filmmakers, I've had the pleasure of talking to you, you just go wow, okay, I get it. I get it. You know, and I've had the pleasure. From the $5,000 first time filmmaker made this feature to Oscar winners, and everyone in between, you can sense where they're coming from. It's really interesting. One thing in your book I wanted to talk to you about is the stories that we tell ourselves, and as artists, you know, being an artist, and it took me a long time to admit I was an artist, by the way. That's another problem. A lot of times like, I'm not an artist, that's very pompous of you to say you're an artist, no, you got to admit who you are. And once you admit that you are an artist. I think artists, specifically artists have a special level of storytelling that they tell themselves because they are, especially people in the film industry and storytellers. Because we're so good at it. We're really good at beating ourselves up with these negative stories about what we're capable of doing, where we're going What's up and, and beating yourself up when you don't get the part or don't get the job or don't get the financing. And it's the stories we constantly tell ourselves, can you dig in a little bit about why we do it and what we can do to kind of rewrite that story to help us move forward on our path?

Jocelyn Jones 22:02
Oh, great question. Great question. Well, the way we do it is pretty, pretty obvious. And when I say it, I don't know if people will get it or won't get it. But we like sensation, you know, as people like strong sensations. So you know, you have drama, Queens, we call them drama queens. People who stir negative emotion, it's like an addiction. They're addicted to it. Why? Because of the sensations. Why do people take drugs because of sensations, we like sensations. So if you go, you know, just gonna keep doing it. And we'll keep bringing you back. But if you go to this aspect, that we are actually spiritual beings, of course, we like sensations. That's why we're here. We're here to experiences. Otherwise, we're out, you know, we're all spirit, we have no body, we have no tactile thing. So we're here for experience. And I think we're evolving and ascending, even perhaps. And so we're going from just any old sensations to, hey, wait a minute, maybe I can control this a little better. So some of the enthusiastic people you meet, they just seem naturally enthusiastic. They were well loved as kids, or they just most of the time, they were well loved as kids. And so they're settled in and they're confident and they're able to have just a more positive outlook on life and have more fun, and we enjoy them. And so it propels itself. But you can intend decide that you want more of that you can most of the people who are listening to your show right now, my guess is they're of an age where they have already let go of certain brands because they go, I want to take your power after I'm with that person. I can't do it anymore, man. You know, they never asked you about yourself. They're all complaint and the thing and most of it, you've heard a lot.

Alex Ferrari 24:07
It's energy suckers, energy suckers.

Jocelyn Jones 24:08
Yeah, their energy suckers, but we can we can also like not judging them and just say, okay, cool. You want to go but I'm not entering that. I'm not doing that. Because it's going to happen naturally in your life. I've discovered that most if you get my age, then the older people, you start losing your mom, you start losing your dad, you start recognizing the older people get, they will do this, they will kick up a lot of dust and a lot of negativity, because it makes them feel alive. You know, my mother could get apoplectic about butter. It was like this make no money here. You know, can we just go to it's very dramatic. And it was I would just so you know, I'm training myself. I'm training myself meditation. training myself in certain ways, and the biggest one is to observe people without judgment and to just look at what's going on. And then you kind of expand and you go, Okay, well, this person is doing this thing, and it has nothing to do with me. And I actually be kind of come have some compassion, understanding work, because I've done the same thing. We've all done everything. We've done all those things. So did that answer it?

Alex Ferrari 25:30
It does. It's fascinating, because, you know, we all look in our business, we run into very unique characters, to say the least. And I've had some of the most toxic human beings I've ever met in my life I've met in this business. And some of the most beautiful people I've ever met in my life, I've admitted this business, and everyone in between. And I've gotten to a place in my, my elder years, as I called, I have a little gray, I have a little gray, I'm not I'm not a kid anymore. But. But in my years walking the earth, I've realized that the more times when someone is blowing up on you, or something like that, nine out of 10 times, it has nothing to do with you. When you have a business partner or producer on a project that is egocentric, or wants control, or wants this or that or wants tension, or this has nothing to do with you. You know, it's unfortunate because you're involved with them in a project that is both of yours. So you have to figure out how to maneuver that world. But it nine out of 10 times, it's not about you. And I've gotten to the place where I feel most empathetic for people when they are acting that way. I'm like what happened to them that they feel that they need to act that way? Because that doesn't just come up like that. There's some if you start looking back, there's some deep seated stuff in there when their children are in this business, like this business can chew people up and spit them out all day, every day. It could destroy the lives it has. I mean, if you go down to Hollywood Boulevard, it's literally shattered with souls of Broken Dreams down there. It is. So it's it's not I think was David Chappelle. I was watching David Chappelle the other day. And he said, I think it was in the Actors Studio interview with Lipton, and he's like, there are no weak people in this business. If they're sitting on this stage with you, they are not weak people. It takes a special level of strength to make it in this industry at whatever level that is, and it doesn't have to be Oscar winning. It could just be making a living. He goes, there are no weak people in this business that that sustain themselves. And I thought that was such an interesting and profound comment, because you don't think of it that way. But it's absolutely true. You know it and I know it. If you're if you've made it in this business in any way you can, if you're making a living in this industry, you're not weak.

Jocelyn Jones 28:03
Yeah, yeah. Well, it goes back to story, which that was the part of the question we didn't quite answer is what's with the stories that we hold on to, you know, the stories are there to, you know, to stimulate all this negative emotion to have these experiences. But the stories are also hurt trapped pieces of self, you know, we're trained, you hurt my feelings, particularly if you're from New York, it's like, I don't care. As well, I learned that very early, but you do care. And that and artists care more than anybody. They're highly highly sensitive. We'll get into that, because my definition of artists are out there, they're more sensitive, and so they can pull this stuff out of the air. But in that sensitivity, they push a lot of things down and then people have experiences that are also horrific, and they push those things, they overcome them. But there are pieces of lost soul lost parts of themselves, that they've shoved down underneath. So people do therapy, why to let some of that out. And you know, this shaman call it soul soul retrieval, where you just create a space for a person to say out This hurt, this is what happened. Here are the tears I didn't cry, you know, and, and in so doing when you just can listen to a person, which is very rare in this day and age, people haven't been taught how to listen, you just listen to a paper person and intend to create this space for that part of themselves to be released, so to speak, you know, you create a home space and to grow and understand that, you know, you're more than yourself. When you're writing your book, Alex and it's that fluid, it's you and you, it's you and your higher self that connection. Wow, you know, I have trouble. I don't like to call this my evil. You know, I call it the book. Because it's a little weird. Just my book. You know, it's like, I feel like we just had a wonderful movie with the fish that in the seagull one's mine, mine

Alex Ferrari 30:58
Finding Nemo.

Jocelyn Jones 30:59
Yeah. Finding Nemo mine mine my book. It's not these are, you know, you want to help? That's a branding thing. You know, CB was asking, what is your brand? What is your brand? You went on two minutes, I loved it. About I was one of the two people I didn't know, I was one of many people listening? Because that's what we all want to do. We will we all want to contribute in our way, you know?

Alex Ferrari 31:23
Well, that's the that's I feel that's the goal of life is to find out what that that thing that you were put here to do, and then do it. And we're so afraid of walking that path, especially as artists, we're afraid of walking that path. Because, you know, there's been such a abuse of the artist over the course of millennia, that you know, the whole starving artists mythology, and that you have to struggle to be a good artist, and you have to be broke. And, and all of these kinds of the stories that are been told over the years. And I had I had an author on years ago, who said real artists don't starve. And it was and he was, he'd go back to like Michelangelo was extremely wealthy. And in DaVinci was extremely like these were wealthy artists of their time. So it's kind of like a myth about that you have to be a starving artist, and so on and so forth. But we as artists do, do truly have trouble walking that path. Like I told you earlier today, like earlier in this conversation, I took me a while to figure out that I was an artist, even though I was working in the business, I'm like, no, no, I'm just director, I don't have an artist, you know, because I didn't want to admit that to myself, because there was a lot of stories associated with being an artist. So once you accept that you are an artist, and you want to express yourself in a another big problem I've seen in the business, and it's something I struggled with for a long time is that so many artists believe that if they do not reach the highest pinnacle of their craft, they have failed. And that is such a horrible story to tell yourself, like, I didn't direct my first feature until I was 40. Not because I didn't have the skill set, or the ability to do so is because it had to be Reservoir Dogs. It had to be Pulp Fiction, it had to be clerks, it had to be Ilmari, it had to be a movie that exploded. And you know, I've arrived, kind of, and I think every filmmaker goes through that that you have if you haven't won an Oscar, he really hadn't made it. And it took me years to realize that oh, no, no, are you making a living? What's the definition of success in your and that's you have to define that for yourself. And those are those moments in your career where you let's say win an Oscar winning an award or work with a certain actor or work with a certain level of budget or so on and so forth. They're great, but they're fleeting. They're you win the Oscar, and then what? And now you got your back, you're back to it Monday morning. You know, so it's about that journey and about really defining what success is for you as an artist. And that could be used the analogy, if you're living in Kansas, making $50,000 a year and that's puts food on your table pays your mortgage and support your family as a filmmaker. I hate to tell you, you are a raving success rate because you're at the top top echelon of filmmakers. Yeah.

Jocelyn Jones 34:22
Well, let's define artists because, you know, that's everybody. So we're very exclusive about what as an artist, were so exclusive about what as an artist that you didn't want to admit that you were an artist, right? You know, well, I don't know that's an artist but not you said it beautifully. The stories we tell ourselves, but what is an artist? An artist is a guy who wins the Academy Awards. I don't think so. So, you know, in my teaching, I was always like, I looked for definitions, and I love dictionaries, and I looked in a lot of depth, you know, looking for this quintessential definition of artists, and I couldn't come up with it. So I came up with my own which is Basically an artist, you have to discover an artist, it's the expression of your own discovery. So the artist, if he doesn't discover something, he's going to express something that somebody else already discovered. So as to have happened to you, there has to have been an aha moment. You know, if you talk to painters, painters are fantastic, because they look at things differently. They don't look at the tree, they look at the space in between the branches, they look at the space, they look at the negative space, you know, so you have to have discovery, before you can express something or it's going to be you know, what is it called, when it's a copy, there's a wonderful word for that came from, yeah, not a representational, but there, you know, it's gonna be a clone of SO and there's nothing wrong with that we kind of have to imitate things for a while before we get on our own feet. But you want to intend discovery. So all technique and my techniques, usually in the form of questions, you know, where am I? What do I want all those questions, but there's a way to get in there a little deeper. You're Wait, you're asking the same question. And most people stop at the intellectual clever answer. Because they think, Oh, that'll look good. So they're operating from their ego, right? That'll look good, that'll sound good. that'll sell, you know, that'll be this.

Alex Ferrari 36:31
So you're telling me that there's ego in the film industry. Stop it,

Jocelyn Jones 36:40
That we really admire, you're not going to get rid of ego, we love our personalities, we spend our whole lives on them. But there's something beyond that. So even like I saw the, the, the interview did with Ed burns, and you know, look at his love, look at the size of his passion. And then look at the size of you responding to his passion. And talking about these, or you weren't in this kind of camera, or you weren't in the in this, you know, the the level of enthusiasm if you had, you know, one of those Geiger counters, it was just charts, that is beyond ego, you have elevated into joy, joy and creativity go hand in hand. So what is an artist, okay, an artist is someone who's discovered something and has the desire to express it, period. Now, and I, there's art in everyone, this is not popular, because we want to have the artists club. Here's the deal. We're not a club, you're in a body, you're creating a life you got here on the planet, however you got here, you got here on the planet, and now you're running a life. And that life is either happening to you, you know, you're just going with the flow of what's coming in. Or you are beginning to get the reins of your own life and say, you know, I'd like it to go like this. If you look at that interview with Ed burns, he has a lot of I'd like it to go like this that's out ahead of yourself that is creating it yourself. That is a story of you know, the big woohoo word is manifestation. But that's a real deal. And you manifest the best at the highest vibrations, joy, enthusiasm, joy and creativity. And the guy who's not running his life is the guy who's taking hits, you know, right, left and center life is happening. It sucks. It's terrible. I hate it, I guess. But I'm so emotional. I hate you all. That's life happening.

Alex Ferrari 38:50
It's fascinating that I agree with everything you've said. But one thing I would add to the artist aspect is that that definition of being an artist is the courage to walk the path. And that is something that we as artists don't have, you might identify as an artist. But to walk the path of the artist is difficult to it took me a long time I did everything else around myself. I was in the I was editing, I was doing other things, but not walking the path that I wanted to walk, which was being a director being a filmmaker, but I surrounded myself and was working in the in the orbit of others following their path. And I was helping them bring their art to life. And I thought that that was enough for many years for me, until I realized I was so unhappy doing that it was so scary. So it's finding the courage to walk the path and I'll go back to what you said earlier, that being an artist I think every soul on the planet is an artist because they are creating their own lives. Now I know that might be woowoo and a lot of people like oh what happens with life happens To you, and all that kind of stuff, I get all of that, look, we've all gone through stuff. But we I do truly believe that we create what we want in our life, you know, and it's all about, it's just like Henry Ford says, If you believe you can, or you can't, you're right. And it's you know it regardless. And then we're not talking about the secret here or anything like that. But whatever you believe you achieve it, it's if you're out of ego, if you're out of ego, and that is something that it's so interesting, because again, having the pleasure of talking to all these people, I ask these questions have them and, and I love listening to people's stories about how they made it in the business and how, and it's so random. Yeah, it's so random. Not one story is like another. I had an I'll drop her name, Eva Longoria on the show a few a few a few months ago. And her story was the most ridiculous story to get into the business I've ever heard in my life. She got walked got into a beauty contest, which she didn't want to do. But the first prize was books for school. So she just got in, she won it. She got the books, but because she wanted, she had to go to like the state competition. And by the way, all her all her life, she was called left Ada, which means the ugly one, her her mother, that was her nickname, The ugly one. So she was considering her own story in her own mind that she was the ugly one in the family. And the parents like don't do the beauty. Obviously, that was a fluke don't do. So she goes to the State wins, this wins the state finals. And then the winner the winning prize for that trip to LA. So she gets to LA and she goes, Hey, I like it here. I'm going to sit knows nobody. I'm going to stay. I'm going to try to be an actor. I think that'd be kind of fun. Literally, that's it. And then she got an apartment, got some roommates hustled it out for a handful years. And then one day at the end of like a 10 or 15 audition day, she goes in for Desperate Housewives. She's so pissed off. She's so everything. She's like, Whatever, I'm not gonna get this part anyway. And because of that attitude, she gets the part and her life changes. There's no logic to that. But she did have intention. And she didn't. And

Jocelyn Jones 42:24
Very high vibration of very high. You know, when you say you meet these movie stars, and there's something going I mean, it is true you meet different people that it's like this one's been around longer. This one maybe it's brand new, I don't know how many lifetimes here. People are different. People are different. And those people have a they're like you are you feel it. You feel struck by I mean, you know, it's science, we have a vibration extends about eight feet, there's a, I don't know, four feet, eight feet beyond our bodies, right? And those people even more so you know even what kind of room and you go like phone what's happening there. And it's also different. That's tricky for them having worked very intimately with movie stars, who have not trained because generally they come on the scene in a very young age, they don't train now everybody's powdering their nose and blowing air up their ass. And they get a little lost. And one of the reasons I was successful is because I really because of all those people at the dining room table, I really don't care who you are, I think in mind, I only swoon over one guy ever, which was Cary Grant. I mean, come on, you know, Grant, Cary Grant are like, Oh, well, what? But these other guys, you know, they're lost. And they're getting powder puffs. They have this big energy, but they get sucked up into their own ego because everybody's treating them in, in, you know,

Alex Ferrari 44:05
And you see it again and again. You see these stories of artists and every level director writer, they just kind of fist they burn out. A lot of times, they'll just, they're like a star, they'll burn out. I mean, I mean, a great example of it was Lindsay Lohan, who was such an amazing actress. You're such an amazing actress and to see what happened to her over the course of her career was tragic to watch. But I mean, you see some of her early work and you're just like, she is a powerhouse like she could have oh my god, the things that she could have done. Tom Sizemore. Yeah, another one who worked with every Spielberg Scorsese camera like every big director in the world, and he was an amazing actor, burned out.

Jocelyn Jones 44:56
What happened? What was the burnout, the burnout was by Lost in ego?

Alex Ferrari 45:02
Well, yeah, but that's what we that's what that's the main problem that we have as artists is I think as human beings we have to get, get a hold of our egos. We all have it, you know, and it's very, I always say that we have an MMA fighter on our shoulder. And he's quiet, they're waiting for the moment of weakness. And that's when they just pound you because you just like, you're like, I got you under control. I got you under control, I got you under control. And some someone goes, Hey, you look really good today. I think you could be the next this or that you're like, Huh, what, boom, there it comes. Just comes and knocks you out? There it is. I gotcha now, so it just waits there, it waits

Jocelyn Jones 45:40
To tell my students that, you know, they talk about their talent, which I you know, always kind of flipped my stomach a little bit. Well, you know, my challenges and my talent. And now, I'm going to tell you something very unpopular here. I don't believe you are your talent. I don't believe the actor's talent is the actor's talent. I believe that artists are the most sensitive people on the planet. And that level of sensitivity allows them to connect with our higher selves, allows them to connect with us, allows them to connect inspiration allows them to connect to the ethos and things floating around that need to be expressed on the planet right now, without acknowledging that when you do have a kind of inspiration taking on Lindsay Lohan and you don't acknowledge that, and you take it all to yourself and say me, it's me, it's me. Not good. It's like you're not acknowledging a very high conversation and a part of you knows that, and a part of you will begin to destroy yourself, because you are letting go of the most important that you were given, which is that connection.

Alex Ferrari 46:53
That connection. It's so funny. I have a great story. I don't know who told me this story, but it was a Michael Jackson story. And that Michael, I think it was either Michael or no was a prince story, excuse me. It's a prince story. And Prince called up his, you know, he he obviously famously has recorded 6000 songs that never got released, we will have a new prince album every year into the year 3000. That's how many songs are in his vault he was the level of genius is beyond what he was able. And I had the pleasure of working with some people who were very close to him. And I heard all these amazing stories. But one story always stuck out in my head was he would just call you at three o'clock in the morning. As a singer, a backup singer go, Hey, meet me at the studio. I have a song to record. And like But Prince can this wait till six or eight in the morning? It's three o'clock in the morning. He was like, No, we have to do it now. Because if I don't record it, it's gonna go to Michael Jackson.

Jocelyn Jones 47:53
Yeah. I know the story on several fronts. Hey, talk about?

Alex Ferrari 48:01
Yeah, he's like if Spielberg does it to Spielberg has said this publicly in interviews. He's like, when I get an idea for a movie, I understand that if I don't act on it, it will go to someone else within a month or two. And he's like, it's never failed, that when I've let go of an idea, three months later, I'm reading about that idea in the trades. And I've told nobody about it

Jocelyn Jones 48:26
Yes, it's in the air. It's in the ethos. My favorite of those stories is about a poet, a woman poet. And I can't remember her name, because that's my age. And she's she lived in the Midwest. And so she's out in the field, in her gardens in her fields. And she feels this poem coming on, like a storm would roll in this. And she knows it. And she knows that feeling. And so she takes off toward the house. And she's tracking for the house running running to chase because she knows if she doesn't get back to the house and she doesn't get a piece of paper and she doesn't get a piece of paper pencil that coin is going to go right by her and onto that another poet. And so she gets home and she gets her message, she grabs a paper to grabs a pencil, and she starts writing and she said she grabbed it by the tail and hold it in oh my god, out backwards. And then she had to reverse the poem.

Alex Ferrari 49:25
Wow, this

Jocelyn Jones 49:28
Ethos that's you know, and so let's talk about how because this is what I wanted to do in the book, how do you optimize that? How do you make your chance of being able to be in that space? And so here's all the technique and the questions and you have to have that as an actor because to teach you someone to know that they know how to go about it and so that that way, you know they don't do a great big movie of it's fantastic and then they have to reinvent the wheel every time so you have to give them some you No structure, so they know that they know. But how do you get to that place where you can intend and experience that opening more that inspiration more that flow. So you know, as a writer, my nose writer will probably do certain things every time we go to right. And those things kind of set up a certain thing. And then we hope that flow comes in and we start, right? Well, I guarantee you, when you look at those things that you are doing, you are in the present moment, you are not thinking or you are intending to get away from those thoughts about all of that stuff. So you can be here now in the moment. So in the book, I talk about this stuff that's been around forever. Meditation is not woohoo, it's just a really simple way to just settle in, we have so much noise going on, between, you know, I mean, come on with the television, and the media and the screens and the phones and everything, there's so much noise, and everyone wants our attention. And we don't even know what the truth is anymore. So my whole book was about, there is only one truth. And that truth is your truth. That's a connection to yourself, you have the perfect barometer for knowing what's true, if you can only connect to I call it your heart, you call it abuse, you can call it your soul, you can call it just that space, being in the present moment, it's all the same thing. You can get there from many different kinds of meditation, from meditating to sports, to you know, people talk about all kinds of different meditations for themselves. You can get there, I teach actors system, greatest exercise in the world, it's great for the planet. Just to observe life without judgment, use your intention to just observe what's in front of you, without judging. And then when you judge it, just like meditation, you're judging it. So then you become aware that you're judging, and that flexes a muscle. It's like going to the gym, you know, nature, you know, you can stay away from the ocean and think too much, you know, because that thing's going to come in and go, Hello,

Alex Ferrari 52:25
You know that, you know, that wave is fat, I could tell that wave. That wave, that wave is ugly, it didn't crest the right way. You never do that. You never go looking at a tree and go, Wow, that tree was ugly. Ugly tree. Like I have actually done that once or twice. But the tree was pretty gnarly looking. It came out of a Tim Burton movie. But um, but but but generally speaking it when you're in nature, you don't judge a bird. Or, you know, you generally don't judge that you just it is what it is. And, you know, in my, in my work, I've realized that things don't have a negative or positive charge. We are the ones who apply the negative charge or positive charge to it. And I love using the example of a fender bender. When you get into a fender bender, the person who you're driving everyone's safe, but you're getting a fender bender, you're like, oh my god, this is gonna cost me like $1,000 to get this repaired. So for you, this has been an absolutely negative experience. You take it to the mechanic and the mechanic in the body shop and the like, this is fantastic. I got more work. So the exact same event. Yeah, two different perspectives. So when you're looking at life and looking at certain things that happened to you, especially on your artistic journey, it is what it is. You can't it's not personal. It's not like you know, oh, I didn't get the fight and financing fell through. It is it is what it is. You being depressed about it or angry about it doesn't help you doesn't help the situation. If there's something you can learn from it, learn from it, grab those, those new those new lessons and move on, and to keep going but but sticking and hold. And this is something we do. I like so I did as an artist, you hold on to like I didn't get into that film festival. I didn't get that agent. I didn't get that actor attached to the project. And it just throws you for a loop and you start telling yourself these stories is that you they don't want to work with me. I'm a fraud.

Jocelyn Jones 54:29
This it's all in your head. Because trust. There is the possibility when you get into the fender bender and the guy's like hat because he has more work and you're pissed off because you've spent, you know, $1,000 however, there's also the added element of by the way you were about to cross 96th street and there was a huge accident right in the middle of 96th Street that you would have been directly hit or Oh you didn't get that Hopefully, but then if you've gotten that movie, you wouldn't have met your wife, or, you know, there is this beautiful thing of trusting. Because this is part of creating your own life, I'm in exactly the right place to learn that next thing that I have to learn to get to this goal that I'm trying to get to. And that element is trust.

Alex Ferrari 55:26
You know, it is so funny because I have written about this before where I was, I got into the top 25 of a show called Project Greenlight. Project One, green light, the old green light. Yes, Project man I was in second season, I'm in the first 30 seconds of the show. And they just use a clip of me, but I made it to the top 25 That year, I almost made it and I had like, I went through this far as you could get until they chose the top 10 or whatever it was, and I didn't make it. And I was devastated. absolutely devastated. Because you're like, Oh, my God, this was such a great opportunity, I missed my shot to be on this amazing show. And every filmmaker that made it out of that show didn't do anything. And it pretty much torpedoed their careers. Then I did another one called on the lot, which was Steven Spielberg show, which was about directors, it was on NBC for a season, I got flown out, I was right at the tip end again, didn't get in, devastated me who the guys who made it through that show, destroy their careers never got to do anything else again. So I was so just grateful that I didn't get on the shows. But that's only in hindsight. That because at the moment you feel like it's the worst thing that could ever have happened to you. But most of the time, and this is just me talking about my own experience. Most of the times when bad things happen in, in life to you, generally speaking, and this is again, my my personal experience. When you go looking back, you can see the dots are how you connected the dots. What happened because of this, what happened because of that. I'll tell you one other story. When I was coming up when I was coming up I did, I spent about $50,000 to for my directors reel shattered on 35 millimeter because there was no digital yet. That's how old I am. So I shot the whole thing, my whole commercial demo reel, and the the the DPS that I hired, and I use the word DPS because it was two of them on one show. How many times have you seen that ever happened and in the business, but I didn't know any better. And they were horrible. And I shot like a $50,000 commercial, it looked horrible. It was it was bad. And I wasn't having to play some money to get more money. So I was like, oh my god, I guess I'm gonna have to deal with this. Well, so happens that in the lab, the lab broke down and burned all of that film. It just just, it sat in the it sat in the in the in the chemicals and burned, it broke down just on my commercial. And only like a few things sort of like like, like a quarter of real survived. And I was like, This is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I've lost $15,000 I went back reshot the whole thing with a real DP. It came out beautiful got me work as a director and I moved forward. It was kind of like the universe was saying, we don't want this out there. We need to burn this because this is not going to be good for you and your career, we need to get rid of this. It's going to be a little painful right now. But in the long run, it's the best thing that could have happened to you. So these are the kinds of stories you again, as you get older, you start looking back at your life and you just start going, hmm, that girl that dumped me probably the best thing that happened to me, that girl that that girl that I didn't get to go out with probably the best thing that you know, because then you hear other stories of like, oh, yeah, she turned into a cycle with one of your friends. You're like, Oh, God, thank God, I dodged that bullet. These kinds of things, you start seeing these things. And you just start realizing, oh, there's something, there's something and this is me getting a little woowoo I believe the universe is that good universe, I believe the universe is here to kind of guide you in the direction that you are supposed to go on. Because I've just seen it so many times. Like if you would have told me 20 years ago, you're going to be a podcast or talking to some of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I'll be going first of all, what's a podcast? Secondly, out of your mind, you're out of your mind. And look where I am today. And then all and it's so funny, and I've said this on the show before. It's fascinating that for so many years, all I would have done was the kill that speak to people like yourself to people that earn my show, to have that kind of connection to people that quote unquote, helped me make it in the business let's say and then without Trying. Now they're calling me. And the funny thing is that I have a fairly decent Rolodex. And yet I don't ever call anybody,

Them for my projects or anything, because it's just not something I want to do. It's not the kind of relationships I'm building with them. If it's organic, it's different. But it's not like when I was like the desperate filmmaker, I would have like, called up. Hey, Ken, can you can you connect with your agent? It's so fascinating to me is that that's the reality that I'm in right now. And, you know, and people listening to the show who've been with me for seven years can see the transition from my very first episode, to where I am today and what we're doing. But anyway, we've gone off tangent A little bit here.

Jocelyn Jones 1:00:44
And not really, because I love the way you say, that's not something I wanted to, because in some way, or in you, that's what you wanted. This is a really important thing. The first indicator, you know, my dad asked me when I was like, literally just an acting out terrible teenager, my dad asked me this question. He said, you know, jossey, if you could have anything in the world, barring all obstacles, what would that be? And at the time, I said, Well, I don't want to go to boarding school, I want to live with you at the beach, and, you know, go to public school. And, you know, we could, I couldn't do that. At the time, because he was an actor, and he was on location. He was terrified of me, I, you know, he was he was a single parent, and my mother had sent me to live with him at 13 and said, you take her, she fears me. So he said, You got to go to boarding school. But then I got kicked out of boarding school. So I got what I wanted. Not in the best way. But we get what we want. So the tree careful. Be careful. The trick is to listen to what is that to be able to ask yourself, somewhere along the line to get to this podcast, you had asked yourself and you'd answered the question, and you'd move toward that podcast and you discover that, hey, this thing makes me really happy. More than oil and vinegar is the podcast, I'm really you know, and I can contribute here. And this is a real purpose, we get what we want. So the trick is to like, ask that question, wait for an answer that moves in you, not an intellectual one, but one that's exciting to you. And then you know, move toward that with actions every day and trust, you know, and that's what actors do. That's why I could take all the lessons that I gave actors, and plug them into people and say, Look, you can have a more artistic life, you can have a more joyous life, you can have more control over your life, using the same techniques that actors use to create a life people use those techniques to create your life.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:50
It's so fascinating, because so many, you know, talking to so many different filmmakers over the years and analyzing my own career, there's moments that you are creating a project, let's say, because you believe that that's what the market wants, whether that's going to take you to the next level or you are trying to intellectualize the craft. Not one successful filmmaker, or writer, in my experience on the show has ever done anything substantial, when they chase the market, or when they're trying to intellectualize their craft. When they do something that is meaningful to them, and is truly coming from inside of them. It's something that needs to come out of them. That is the key to success, but to have the courage to do it. And that's what these great artists do is they have the courage to go out there and fail. They have the courage to go out there and make whatever they want to make. And that might be ahead of their time. Every single Stanley Kubrick film did not hit their audience when it came out. It took generally it's about 10 years later, every one of his films about 10 years later, is when they really go back and go, Holy crap. That's the definitive film in that genre. Yeah. And to have the bravery to do that again, and again and again. And, you know, it's funny, because if you if you study Spielberg's career, and I love I mean, who doesn't love Steven, but he had such a run in the 70s, from Jaws to close encounters, and then he's like, I can do that. And then you could see where it went wrong for a second. 1941 if you remember 1941

Jocelyn Jones 1:04:40
I do I liked 1940 Well, I know but and I enjoyed it as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:45
But it wasn't it wasn't something that was obviously one of the biggest failures of his career. And he does not talk about what he learned a lot from that. I mean, don't get me Don't feel too bad. He did Raiders right afterwards. So he's okay. but it was something that went astray. Something went off. And I think and I think he said somewhere in an interview once. At that point, he felt that he could do almost no wrong because at that point, there's so many people's like, You are the greatest, you are the best thing since sliced bread at a point and he's like, Hey, I can't do anything I'm going to. I'm going to do my Doctor Strange. Dr. Strangelove. That's what it was. It was his Dr. Strangelove. You wanted to do Dr. Strangelove,

Jocelyn Jones 1:05:23
Do that movie. You know, it's always the question is did you make a movie you wanted to make? I mean, I've asked more filmmakers. Sometimes they say yes. And it was a fit, you know, and it makes them go. Yeah, it was. But I wanted to internalize that go and actually not really go back to courage because there's a wonderful definition for courage, which is, you know, what is courage? How do you get create, so you think you kind of like to have to get courage up, you know, it's like, Okay, I'm gonna get the courage, there's even an expression, when I get the courage to do this thing, you don't get courage. You actually, if you think of a doorway, if you think of a threshold, you walk through the threshold, and courage shakes your hand on halfway through and pulls you in, you know, you have to, you have to move toward it. So I'm, you know, because of 30 years of teaching, I believe, like this one has courage, just one doesn't have courage. You have you. Certainly, I'm not successful with all of them, there are certain ingredients that you can't teach. You can inspire courage, though, you can inspire it, sometimes somebody's just waiting for that one person to kind of make it go click in their head, and now move toward it. It's a tricky one, courage, your

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
Courage, and then also just dealing with fear, and dealing, I mean, I think fear in general, as, as people walking the planet, we all deal with fear and having, it stops us, it stops us from moving forward, it stops us in directions that we need to go to. And I'm talking about fears of a tiger, that's fine. Fear of a bear in the room. Definitely good. I'm talking about I'm talking about that other fear, that stops you from going down the road to write that script to make that movie to go to that audition to whatever that paint that painting, whatever that fear is of ridicule, fear of not being accepted, fear of your family, not accepting you or your peers, not accepting you, all of that kind of fear. When you can break through that. That's when that's when the breakthroughs happen. And Tony the longtime

Jocelyn Jones 1:07:26
Alex, but channel it, you know, great actors talk about, you know, they're great actors, and they talk about I thought I was gonna throw up I mean, opening nights are Yeah. But in what happens is you kind of collected and channel it. So when you teach young people about fear, or sometimes as you said, I've had seven year old people come and say, I want to be an actor, which is wonderful, that's awesome, and created acting careers for them. But when you tell them, these fears are absolutely natural, you know, those fears. Now, what you want to do is accept them and channel them into the work. They're just your talent looking for an avenue, because once you step out on stage, you're fine. Once the camera rolls, you got some place to go with it.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:15
There's this great story of Peter Fonda, who would go on on stage every night and right before every performance, he would throw up in the corner, every performance and he's Peter Fonda. So if Peter Fonda has issues, and is nervous before performance, yeah, that's a natural part of life. That's a part of being the artist. I remember having a panic attack on my first day directing my first short film, that I was arguably one of the bigger things I've done at that moment in my career. And it was, and I literally had a panic attack. I was like, it got into my own head. And I went to I'm like, I didn't do it on set, thank God. I said, Hey, guys, I gotta go to the bathroom, went out for about 10 or 15 minutes while they set up a shot and had my own panic attack quietly in the bathroom, quiet and started breathing, started meditating and I didn't even know what meditating was. I was like, I'm just gonna do whatever I've seen on a movie, close my eyes and started deep breathing and then slowly calm myself to the point where I got back out on on set because it was just so overwhelming as a director. A SEC can be a very overwhelming place for an actor, a sec can be a very overwhelming place. And having to deal with that kind of pressure. It's takes a special set of skills, experience and person to do that's what I've seen. Directors make one and they're done because they're like, I can't go through that again. Or an actor who goes through. I can't do that again. It's it's a special like I love being on set. I love it. I absolutely love being on set I love working with other people. I love all the the insanity that goes along with it and trying to figure out the day and figure out the performance and creating its art at the highest level I feel because there's a your company Finding with so many other great artists to come together to make one piece of art. It is, is one of my favorite places to be. But I can see where people just don't have it. They just don't have that thing. That and like you said, it worked itself out. If it's about how bad do you want it? Is this for you? And maybe you just have to test it to see, look, I had to open up an olive oil vinegar store and go down that path for three years to figure out you know, what? Retail? Not for me?

Jocelyn Jones 1:10:32
Wow, I mean, you do and and all of it adds up. It all adds up. But you are right. The filmmaking industry is very, very special. That you know, my husband was the director and director a lot of episodic, our long episode, and dramas. And then he taught at USC, and he was from USC. And he taught at USC. And he just the greatest thing about USC is you have to do everything those young filmmakers, oh, but except they have brilliant equipment. But they're all little gorilla filmmakers, and you put them in pods of three and five, and you have to do the sound and you have to be the cameraman, you may not think you want to do that thing at all. And then suddenly, you realize, I mean, one of his best friends from film school ended up being an Academy Award winning sound man, he thought they all think they want to be directors. But then when we're differently, everybody wants to be a director, everybody wants to be an actor. But he brought that it was wonderful syllabus that he brought to our acting studio. And we had actors, you know, making these films to discover what it's like. And we made directors, you know, out of the 30 actors who took that film course, maybe five of them are now professionally directing. So you have to be exposed to this, that you know everything because, you know, so you might want to costume or you might want to be the cinematographer. If you've never picked up a camera? How are you going to know? And we won't go into you know, education? Because I'd really you know that it's true with all education. What if we just talked to little kids and said, What is it that you think you want to do? Well, let's try that out. And what you know, the big question, if you can have anything wanted barring obstacles, what would that be? What do you think?

Alex Ferrari 1:12:22
I mean, I wanted to be an astronaut, but that's fine. I wanted to be an astronaut probably wouldn't have worked out really well for me. But, you know, that kind of made its way it worked? Why are you flying? I'm not particularly good in math, I don't have that kind of mind, I'd be a very creative astronaut. Wouldn't have been an astronaut to say the least. But yeah, you're right, you have to be exposed to some things. And just think and also, and this is a very difficult thing for some people to hear. Let's say you've had a dream of doing something, and you've had it since you were a child. And you go down the path, and it doesn't work out exactly the way you want. Because it nothing ever works out exactly the way you want it because that's just life and you real and then to come to grips with like, you know, maybe, maybe this is not what I want. Maybe it's I want to be a sound guy, or a girl. And maybe I want to do that maybe what I really want us to write, maybe that's where I find. But for the last 10 years of my career, all I wanted to do is direct but that's not working out the way I want it to work out maybe I really enjoy the writing process. Maybe I should be that's a difficult crossroads for artists to be cool.

Jocelyn Jones 1:13:37
But if you accept the fact that you're better at what you do, because of what you did, oh, so you may have wanted that thing and you did all that extra stuff and you learned all that stuff. But then you came to this thing and if you just come to this thing you wouldn't be just

Alex Ferrari 1:13:55
I wouldn't have a show today unless I would have gone to the 25 years plus of of shrapnel that I've gone through in this business. And you know, I direct when I want to direct I make my movies when I want to make my movies but I'm so happy doing what I'm doing. Everyone's like when you're going to make another movie like when I'm ready. What I'm good when I'm ready to do it, and I'll do it and you know, I like writing books now. I like doing this I like building companies. These are things that make me happy and I'm helping people so like, I It's okay, I have never given up on my directing. I think it's always going to be something I want to do because I love its addiction. It's a beautiful illness as I call it. Because we can't get rid of it. It's an it's an illness.

Jocelyn Jones 1:14:39
But then you go back to what is the definition of success. It can't just be the Academy Award. It's too small. So it's in that exclusivity that ego that says you are not if you haven't she's better than he is because she had a series for seven years and he's just starting out. It's just can't be that way That's not success, success. But the girl who has the series for seven years isn't nearly as happy as this guy who just booked his first, you know, five lines on a show. And he's like, I set out to do it. And I did it. And I'm 70 years old, and I'm acting for the first time in my life. You know, it's really about how are you doing day to day? Well, up in the morning, do you? Are you making as many grown choices, I'm living where I want to live, I'm seeing who I want to see I'm married to I want to marry two of my kids are doing great. You know, this are the components of successful life. And all of those are under our control.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:44
Yeah, absolutely. Without question, now, can you tell me where people can find your amazing book, the artists awaken the spirit within.

Jocelyn Jones 1:15:51
You can find it on Amazon, or any place that books are sold. Also have a website Johson Jones studio.com. And we are coming out with a 15 part documentary series on a masterclass that we shot with three cameras, that is amazing, that has actors who've studied with me for 2025 years, and brand new people, because that's what I like to do. And they are extraordinary. I've never seen anything like this when we went in with three cameras and shot an acting class. And, you know, we did that in eight weeks. And it's really quite beautiful. If I do say so myself, I didn't know what we were doing. I just thought, Well, why don't we and you know, just like all filmmaking, I thought, you know, your director, miles, my husband, and we did this film class, let's put some cameras in these people's hands and wear it out and figure it out. And now we've been editing it for three years, and discovered, oh, this is really a celebration of actors and acting.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:01
That's amazing. I'm gonna ask you, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a, I would normally ask a filmmaker, screenwriter, but artists trying to break into the business?

Jocelyn Jones 1:17:12
An artist trying to begging the business, I would really find a way to get in conversation with yourself, I would find your own autonomy. I would take counsel from one person and one person only, particularly as an artist, and that is yourself. And so meditation can help doing that. Just taking in nature because nature will stop your thinking a little bit because she's just you know, you go look at this, and create that space. To ask yourself these questions. What do I want and believe that you can have them but they have to come from you. Nobody can tell you.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:52
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jocelyn Jones 1:17:57
I judgment Judgment. I came from a very, very that's a great question. Ah, maybe emotional. I came from a very judgmental family. And then very proud of an artists are very judgmental. proud of the fact that I practice that every day in every conversation, just creating space for that other person to be to listen to them and let them be who they are.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:26
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Jocelyn Jones 1:18:29
Well, it's interesting, because you've said you mentioned Spielberg and my favorite Spielberg film is Empire the sun. So beautiful. What that film just knocks me out. And then you know, for some reason, I mean, there's so many but for some reason, I'd have to say To Kill a Mockingbird because that as a child is one of the first films I just entered into a world and didn't come out of forever. And third one, God gone completely. Oh Truffaut. Oh, you know what, it is merely the film. I think it's a loose word. The couple doesn't meet each other. He has a life and she has a life and see them in the restaurant and they pass each other tickets Happy New Year, Happy New Year. And anyway, at the end of the film, they get on the airplane, you go oh my god, they're finally going to meet and you see their luggage go up that you know this dome I'm talking about.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:24
I'm familiar with it. Yes. Yeah, I forgot the name of it. But yes, beautiful. Beautiful.

Jocelyn Jones 1:19:30
I would say that my third alternative.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:33
Jocelyn, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for for coming on the show in writing this book. And hopefully this episode has helped some filmmakers, some screenwriters, some artists out there, look inside themselves to figure out what they need to do to truly be an artist to truly make a living in this business and connect them to their to their true purpose of what they're trying to do here on Earth. So I truly appreciate you my dear, thank you so much.

Jocelyn Jones 1:19:59
Thank you, Alex. So it's been a tremendous honor to be on here. I love your show and I thought, wow, he's interested in this book. I love that. So, always a pleasure to listen to you and even more pleasure.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Jambox.io – Royalty Free Music for Indie Films – 20% OFF (Coupon Code: HUSTLE20)
  2. Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  3. Enigma Elements – Cinematic Tools & Assets for Serious Filmmakers
  4. Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook

Ultimate Guide to Darren Aronofsky and His Directing Techniques

Darren Aronofsky

STUDENT FILMS (1991-1994)

Few filmographies are as uncompromisingly independent and fiercely original as director Darren Aronofsky’s.  From his scrappy lo-fi debut in 1998 with PI, to the release of his revisionist biblical epic NOAH in 2014, each of Aronofsky’s feature films convey an artist with an insatiable intellectual curiosity and a deeply-sympathetic view towards the terrors of the human experience.

His strength of vision is both his greatest asset and his greatest liability– for instance, the unconventional spirituality that shaped the unforgettable images of 2006’s THE FOUNTAIN is also what caused mainstream audiences to stay clear for fear of having their fragile horizons broadened.

His willingness to court controversy might have held him back from bigger directing opportunities (he was once attached to direct a Batman film in the early 2000’s, only for his profoundly revisionist take to get canned in favor of Christopher Nolan’s famously “dark and gritty reboot), but it has nevertheless allowed him to accumulate a cultish fanbase just the same.

To some, the study of his career might be read as a cautionary tale; to others, a thorough deconstruction of one of the most vital voices in contemporary independent cinema.

Aronofsky was born February 12, 1969 in Brooklyn, to Charlotte and Abraham Aronofsky.  Both parents were public school teachers who no doubt influenced his intellectual curiosity from an early age.

Growing up in Brooklyn’s Manhattan Beach neighborhood, Aronofsky was continually exposed to a mix of Italian and Russian & Orthodox Jewish cultures– the future director himself was raised in the cultural aspects of his Jewish heritage, although the religious and spiritual aspects were not as emphasized.

Aronofsky’s early hunger for intellectual enlightenment soon led him beyond the confines of Brooklyn, supplementing his education at Edward R. Murrow High School with brief stints at the The School For Field Studies in locations as far away as Alaska and even Kenya.

His studies in Africa proved particularly influential, an experience Aronofsky cites as paradigm-changing and that led him to further journey on through Europe and the Middle East with nothing more than a backpack.

SUPERMARKET SWEEP (1991)

Aronofsky’s voracious appetite for knowledge eventually led to his enrollment at Harvard University in 1987, where he majored in social anthropology.  It was here that he met an animation student named Dan Schrecker and aspiring actor Sean Gullette, who would later go on to star in his debut feature, PI (3).

Aronofsky credits these two with stoking his dormant interest in filmmaking, leading to his eventual formalized studies in the craft (4).  In studying the history of the medium, he founds himself particularly enamored of the work of Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski, amongst others.

These studies would culminate in his senior thesis film, SUPERMARKET SWEEP (1991).  Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information to be found about the film, let alone a viewable copy, but it featured Gullette in a leading role and went on to become a finalist at the National Student Academy Awards.

This experience no doubt proved highly influential for Aronofsky, solidifying his desire to pursue filmmaking as a career.

FORTUNE COOKIE (1991)

After Aronofsky’s graduation from Harvard in 1991, he moved to Los Angeles to obtain his MFA in directing from the prestigious American Film Institute.  The two-year program resulted in the creation of two short films, the first of which is 1991’s FORTUNE COOKIE— an absurdist comedy inspired by the Hubert Selby Jr story of the same name.

Thankfully, an old VHS dub of the film has been made available in its entirety online, giving us our earliest glimpse at Aronofsky’s artistic development.  Written by Aronofsky and produced by Jody Teora, FORTUNE COOKIE concerns a middle-aged salesman who comes to believe his recent string of successes are the result of the good luck contained with an old fortune cookie he keeps in his pocket.

The short follows his highs and lows, forcing him to contend with the pushy aggressions of a rival salesman intent on figuring out his secrets, and a strange pervert who follows him around and makes unwanted romantic overtures from the cabin of his gigantic Cadillac.

Aronofsky’s broadly humorous approach strikes a curious tone, exemplified by literal fart jokes and purposely weird performances that would be almost Lynchian if they weren’t so over the top.  To his credit, Aronofsky casts the film entirely with middle-aged actors or older– a notable aspect in the world of student filmmaking, where the casts are typically comprised of the director’s friends or fellow students.

A distinct, albeit half-hearted, midcentury aesthetic defines the production design, with the characters dressed in baggy suits from the 1950’s and affecting a rapid-fire Transatlantic vernacular to match.  Aronofsky even sprinkles a vintage car or two in the background, but beyond that he makes no effort to hide the trappings of contemporary life.

Nevertheless, a degree of deliberate design choice evidences itself in the locations, which juxtapose sleepy, pastel-colored suburban environs with crumbling, graffiti-riddled industrial areas (perhaps as a comment on the breakdown of the American Dream myth, or something similarly heavy-handed in an appropriately film-school way).

Working with credited director of photography Usa Stoll, Aronofsky captures FORTUNE COOKIE in the square frame of analog video, which no doubt was less of an artistic choice than it was a mandate from his first-year directing professor at AFI.

His approach to coverage mostly eschews conventional over-the-shoulder compositions and reverse shots, in favor of having his actors continually break the 4th wall by addressing the camera directly.  A recurring visual motif finds Aronofsky framing his protagonist in a wide, flat composition and moving from one side of the frame to the other.

He repeats the action with the same framing in the subsequent shot, albeit a few yards down the street.  Most filmmakers would cover this same action as a continued dolly shot, but Aronofsky chops it up and fragments the line of movement as another way to convey that his protagonist is moving in circles without actually going anywhere.

The effect is like watching an old-school side-scrolling video game that doesn’t actually scroll when the hero reaches the edge of the screen.  A soundtrack comprised primarily of street performance-style percussion only vaguely foreshadows the urban character of Aronofsky’s future work, but a series of activity-based insert shots (presented in extreme closeup up and edited together in rapid-fire succession to a soundtrack of exaggerated audio effects) immediately call to mind the signature stylistic technique he’d perfect in PI and its follow-up, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000).

PROTOZOA (1993)

While his next student short from this period is also unreleased and only available for AFI student viewing in the school’s media library, Aronofsky’s 1993 short PROTOZOA nevertheless serves two vital contributions to his development as a filmmaker– one being that its successful completion meant receiving his and the other being his first collaboration with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who would go on to become a key creative partner in Aronofsky’s professional work.

The short, which apparently stars a young Lucy Liu, is reported by those who’ve seen it to be about a trio of slackers just drifting aimlessly through life– akin to human amoebas.

Several key aspects of Aronofsky’s directorial signature apparently emerge here, like his quick-cut insert shots and intellectual approach to religion.  PROTOZOA’s title itself would prove influential in Aronosky’s development, becoming the name of the production company in which he’d later produce his features under.

NO TIME (1994)

Aronofsky’s fourth short from this era– 1994’s NO TIME — appears to have been made after his graduation from AFI, and adopts the brazen Generation X attitude that marked pop culture in the 90’s.  At first glance, the film appears to be a slacker riff on improv comedy shows, anchored by a quartet of young actors playing various characters across several vignettes.

Shot by Matthew Libatique on color 16mm film, NO TIME resembles the style of FORTUNE COOKIE with its super-broad humor and moronic fart jokes that seem at odds with the darkly cerebral character of Aronofsky’s future professional work.

The visual style plays fast and loose with the rules of composition, frequently opting for close-ups that are almost claustrophobic in their nature.  It’s unclear exactly what Aronofsky was trying to achieve with NO TIME, unless he was trying to get this particular style of filmmaking out of his system early on.

Any director’s student films have a strong chance of bearing no resemblance to their professional counterparts.  After all, that’s the nature of film school– to experiment, to feel out, to play in the pursuit of establishing one’s particular voice.

Aronofsky’s professional style is so distinct and singularly his, however, that this quartet of early shorts really does leave one surprised as to how little they predict the unique artistic voice we’ve since come to cherish and anticipate.

Nevertheless, these first efforts constitute a crucial training ground for Aronofsky, and their creation within the confines of the formalized film education system provides him with vital resources and collaborators that would carry him towards professional success in the long-term.

In the short-term, these same resources would give him the confidence necessary to take that first step: the creation of a feature-length effort that would establish his voice as that of an uncompromising indie maverick.


PI (1998)

At its heart, the filmography of director Darren Aronofsky is concerned primarily with the conflict between faith and reason.

His stories find his protagonists as otherwise reasonable people laboring under some kind of delusion– a washed-up wrestler believes he’s on the verge of a comeback; a ballet dancer thinks she’s transforming into an animal; an intellectual pursues his late soulmate across time and space.

This line can be traced all the way back to his feature-length debut: the paranoid mathematics thriller, PI (1998).  One of the scrappiest debuts in recent memory, PI stages itself as a frenzied showdown between faith and reason in which a reclusive mathematician employs numerology in a bid to predict the stock market, only to unwittingly entangle himself with a cabal of hasidic Jews intent on decoding the true name of God.

As any proper debut feature should, Aronofsky’s script draws heavily from personal experience.  Set in his native New York City, the story finds inspiration in Aronofsky’s Jewish upbringing, which de-emphasized the religious aspects in favor of its cultural experience.

As a result, Aronofsky was raised to embrace his faith at arm’s length, always regarding it with a critical eye while never discounting its importance as an emotional motivating force.

PI reflects this rather literally as it charts the plight of its protagonist, the brilliant recluse Maximillian Cohen.  Portrayed by SUPERMARKET SWEEP’s Sean Gullette, Max suffers from debilitating cluster headaches, which prompts him to shut himself off from the outside world and sit before his homemade computer named Euclid as it spits out a random sequence of numbers he hopes will bring him riches on the stock market.

On the rare occasion he ventures outside his Hell’s Kitchen apartment, he tends to visit a retired Columbia professor and mentor figure named Sol Robeson.  A crucial bridge between Max’s logic-based perspective and the fanciful designs of the hasidic Jews, Sol is played by seasoned character actor Mark Margolis, easily the most recognizable face in the film.

When Max’s computer spits out a 216-digit number that he initially dismisses as nonsense, Sol is uniquely suited to convey the number’s spiritual significance, thus setting up Max’s increasingly perilous association with a pushy hasidic Jew named Lenny Meyer (played by Ben Shenkman), who sees Max’s mysterious number as the answer to a longtime mystery involving the true name of God that, when uttered aloud, will bring about the messianic age.

Aronofsky’s approach to PI’s distinct visual aesthetic is unavoidably shaped by its relatively paltry $68,000 production budget, but by no means is it limited by it.  In an era where shooting on video was becoming increasingly accepted, Aronofsky’s choice to shoot on film is a notable and vital one.

Working once again with his film school cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Aronofsky positions PI as not just a story told from Max’s perspective, but as a subjective experience totally contained within the confines of his mind.  Gullette’s noir-style voiceover plays a substantial role in this regard, but it is Aronofsky and Libatique’s extremely gritty and abrasive cinematography that can claim most of the responsibility.

PI’s radical high-contrast look stems from its acquisition onto black and white 16mm reversal stock, which foregoes the negative process by producing a positive print right out of the gate.

The savings in processing time are offset by a decreased latitude and an exaggerated grain structure, which in Libatique and Aronofsky’s hands results in a rough 1.66:1 image that resembles the earliest days of photography.  They push this conceit even further via harsh lighting setups and claustrophobically-tight compositions.

The camerawork reveals PI’s shoestring-budget origins, foregoing luxurious tracking shots in favor of simple locked-off setups and jittery handheld movements.

Several of Aronofsky’s technical signatures make their feature debut in PI, like rapid-fire activity inserts that portray a physical action like shutting a door or popping pills in a hyper-exaggerated manner, or a disruptive camera technique that has since become known as Snorricam, whereby the camera is rigged to the actor’s body with the lens pointing towards him, selfie-style.

This results in an effectively unsettling composition that anchors the actor firmly in the center of the frame while the background whirls and spins around behind him.

Aronofsky’s technical approach is even more impressive when considering that the entire film was shot guerrilla-style, having never secured any permits for their various locations.

PI also marks the first collaboration between the burgeoning director and his longtime composer, Clint Mansell, whose breakbeat electro-grunge score relentlessly pushes the action forward while becoming the musical equivalent of a drill corkscrewing its way into your head.

PI establishes several concepts and ideas that have since become key artistic signatures of Aronofsky’s.  Beyond the aforementioned religious themes that deal specifically with the director’s native Judaism, PI shares his profound intellectual curiosity– exemplified by Max’s efforts to find mathematical patterns in the flow of life around him, as if to “decode” the ways of nature itself.

The film takes great pains to point out how concepts like the Fibonacci Spiral and the Golden Mean recur naturally across a wide of biological phenomena, giving a semblance of mechanical order to the relative chaos of evolution.

The terror of the human experience is another major theme that courses through Aronofsky’s work, whether it’s the theatrical horror of films like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) and BLACK SWAN (2010), or the lower-key existential fear of oblivion and obscurity in films like THE FOUNTAIN (2006) and THE WRESTLER (2008).

PI establishes this artistic conceit via the perils of genius, whereby Max’s staggering degree of intelligence is both a blessing and a curse.  His mental powers endow him with an almost supernatural talent with mathematics, but they come at the price of his chronic, crippling headaches.

Aronofsky seems to ask: “how smart is too smart?”, as Max becomes so consumed by his need to decode the meaning behind the mysterious number sequence that he feels the need to literally drill into his brain as a means to make it all stop.

This idea of knowledge as a curse dovetails obliquely, but rather nicely, with Aronofsky’s exploration on religion, as it was Eve’s eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that cast her and Adam from the Garden.

Aronofsky further peppers PI with little artistic quirks, like having the actor from his student short FORTUNE COOKIE reprise his creepy pervert character in a scene on the subway, or having Max take a trip out to Coney Island– the primary setting of his next film, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM.

tumblr_mdfri2amqf1rovfcgo1_500

Considering its origins as a scrappy shoestring indie with an unproven director, no recognizable talent and an admittedly abrasive visual aesthetic, it’s fair to say that PI’s creators probably didn’t fully anticipate the degree of success their film would go on to achieve.

PI debuted at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where its buzz as one of the most talked-about films that year propelled Aronofsky to his first major career award: the festival’s prestigious Directing Award.  Artisan Entertainment acquired PI at the festival for $1 million, its investment paying off when the film went on to gross $3 million in its theatrical release.

The film world responded positively to Aronofsky’s arrival, awarding him the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay, and eventually giving PI the distinction of being the first feature film available for download on the internet (1).

Through sheer labor and fortitude, Aronofsky had kicked off his career in earnest, with PI establishing him as a maverick visionary poised to take the indie film world by storm.


CLINT MANSELL MUSIC VIDEO: PI R SQUARED (1998)

As part of the promotional campaign of PI’s release in 1998, director Darren Aronofsky highlighted the work of his composer, Clint Mansell, with a music video for the score’s de facto theme.

Titled “PI R SQUARED”, the piece takes a fairly basic approach that only seems complicated thanks to rapid-fire, subliminally-appealing cuts synchronized with Mansell’s frenetic breakbeat sound.

Aronofsky intercuts skin-crawling stock footage of ants with footage from the film itself– specifically, the sequences in which Sean Gullette runs around the city in a paranoid frenzy.

Combined with flashes of mathematical images like Fibonacci Spirals and complicated formulas, Aronofsky creates an overall feeling much akin to the experience of its feature-length counterpart. “PI R SQUARED” is a fairly minor piece, perhaps more of a marketing after-thought than a true-blue music video, but it nevertheless establishes the foundation for the advertising work that he would pursue later on in his career.


REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)

2000’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is often cited as the de facto film that “you must see, but never want to watch again”– it’s a gut-wrenching, nauseating, and nightmarish experience that aims to convey the inescapable horrors of addiction.

My first experience with the film was a memorable one– I was in high school, and one day a group of us gathered together in my friend’s basement to watch the film.  For two hours, we were glued to the TV screen, its lurid blue glow being the only light source in the room.

We were too morbidly curious and profoundly horrified to turn away, and by the time the movie was over, we immediately burst outside into the bright spring sunshine and ran around like idiots given a second chance at life.

It’s nearly impossible to achieve such a visceral film experience in the comforts of your own home, but REQUIEM FOR A DREAM delivered that and so much more, besting any of Nancy Reagan’s efforts to keep kids off drugs with a harrowing and uncompromising audiovisual experience.

For me, and for much of the film world, this was the first impression that director Darren Aronofsky left on pop culture.  He had broken out into the indie scene in a big way with 1998’s PI, but he was still an unknown quantity in the eyes of the larger cinematic community.

That all changed with the release of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, still considered to be one of the most controversial films of all time almost two decades after its release.

Aronofsky’s association with the project reaches all the way back to film school, beginning with his making of the short student film, FORTUNE COOKIE, in 1991– an adaptation of author Hubert Selby Jr.’s short story of the same name.

Selby was an influential force in Aronofsky’s artistic development, leading the burgeoning young filmmaker to purchase his 1978 novel, “Requiem For A Dream”, shortly after finishing school.

By the time he was cutting PI in 1998, Aronofsky had barely cracked Selby’s book open, so he lent it to his producing partner Eric Watson to read during an upcoming trip. As Aronofsky notes in his director’s commentary for the film, Watson would immediately approach him upon his return with an urgent desire to adapt Selby’s book for the screen.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is, at its most basic level, an anti-drug film– but that’s not exactly where Aronofsky’s interest lies.  Instead, his approach is informed by a simple question with profound implications: “what is a drug?”.

Far from simply being a story about narcotics, Aronofsky uses the framework of Selby’s story to dissect the inherently-addictive nature of our pleasure centers.

This inquiry drives the creation of a rich tapestry of characters, all addicts in their own ways, clustered together in Aronofsky’s native Brooklyn in an ambiguously contemporaneous setting– it could be today, or yesterday, or 1973.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM marks Aronofsky’s first time working with well-known talent, establishing his artistic reputation for driving his cast to deliver career-best performances.  Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans headline the film, each giving the entirety of themselves over to their roles.

Leto plays Harry Goldfarb, a scrawny, strung-out heroin junkie whose addiction compels him to continually steal his mother’s TV set and sell it at a pawn shop so he can score his next fix.

Bursty would take home an Independent Spirit Award for her performance as Harry’s mother, Sara Goldfarb– a frail and delusional recluse whose drug is the euphoria of adoration, causing her to go to dramatic lengths to lose weight for what she thinks will be an upcoming appearance on a television program hosted by Christopher McDonald’s flashy oil salesman, Tappy Tibbons.

Connelly plays Harry’s girlfriend, Marion Silver, an aspiring dress designer with a dark and moody temperament.  Wayans eschews his screwball comedic persona for a rare serious turn as Harry’s best friend, Tyrone Love– an up-and-coming drug dealer who isn’t as street-smart as he thinks he is.

Aronofsky structures the cascading rhythms of these characters’ arcs as something of a symphony, evoking the musical nature of the film’s title as he divides the action into four distinct movements (spring, summer, fall, & winter) that gradually build in intensity towards a shocking and deliriously-intense catharsis.

Aronofsky retains several prior collaborators from PI and his student work, including Sean Gullette and Mark Margolis, who cameo as an unnervingly pompous yuppie and a lazy pawn shop dealer, respectively.

Stanley B. Herman also makes his requisite appearance as a variation on the creepy pervert he’s played since FORTUNE COOKIE, unwittingly giving the film one of its oft-quoted lines in his lecherous “ass-to-ass” chant during a nightmarish sex party sequence.

Technical collaborators like cinematographer Matthew Libatique and composer Clint Mansell also return to lend their talents in service to Aronofsky’s vision.  REQUIEM FOR A DREAM presents old-fashioned 1.85:1 35mm film in radical new ways, pairing his picture with a hyper-aggressive sound mix to completely assault the senses.

A muted, naturalistic color palette complements a distinctly gritty texture while evoking the ramshackle grime of Coney Island with buzzing fluorescents and unforgiving sunlight.  Indeed, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is a decidedly ugly film, but one that’s nevertheless so richly-realized and surreal we can’t help but be drawn in.

Aronofsky and Libatique employ a variety of classical dolly, handheld and Steadicam movements in addition to expressionistic techniques like distorted lenses, spiraling overheads, extreme undercranking, and Aronofsky’s signature actor-anchored “Snorricam” shot, all of which editor Jay Rabinowitz chops up into a delirious split-screen brew that simulates the experience of an increasingly-bad trip.

Mansell’s score would prove instantly iconic upon the film’s release, imprinting itself into the collective pop culture psyche with its dark techno baseline and an intense string theme performed by Kronos Quartet.

Indeed, the score was a breakout piece of work for both Mansell and Kronos Quartet, helping to ensure the film’s longevity with a theme that has since been used and repurposed many times over, perhaps most famously as a battle theme for the trailer of Peter Jackson’s second installment of his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, THE TWO TOWERS (2002).

PI may have been Aronofsky’s breakout, but REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is the film that cemented his artistic aesthetic in the eyes of the public, establishing his technical and thematic signatures.

Having grown up around Coney Island and greater Brooklyn, the world of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is one that the director knows intimately and completely.

His familiarity imparts the film with an unforgettable sense of place, helping his audience to understand the context of the world that his characters wish to escape via their various addictions.  REQUIEM FOR A DREAM also represents the perfection of a technique he had been experimenting with since his earliest student work: rapid-fire inserts that depict distinct activities in extreme close-up.

Referring to these mini sequences as “hip hop montages”, Aronofsky employs this technique throughout the film as something akin to a punctuation mark preceding some of the film’s most bizarrely surreal images.

The audience is able to experience the same kind of rush his characters feel as they shoot up or pop pills– but just as we get to share in their loopy delight, we also must endure their pain and suffering as their addictions increasingly take hold.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is nothing if not a cautionary tale about the perils of addiction, a key pillar in Aronofsky’s career-long exploration of the dark side of the human experience.

Aronofsky shows how our ability to subvert our own biological chemistry and willfully manipulate our perception of reality comes at a high price– the more we give ourselves over to narcotically-induced euphoria, the more we lose of our authentic selves.

Addiction slowly saps of us our humanity, dimming the bright light of our individuality until eventually the light goes out.  Aronofsky’s inherent understanding of the human condition allows him to depict addiction for the waking nightmare it truly is, exposing drug culture’s sexy and appealing aspects as ultimately hollow and elusive.

Nearly twenty years after its premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM has steadfastly maintained its reputation as one of the most controversial films ever made.

The controversy began before its theatrical release, with the MPAA refusing to rate the film any lower than NC-17 due to, of all things, its sexual content.  To his credit, Aronofsky courageously refused to cut the film– after all, the shocking nature of its content was integral to the conveyance of the core message.

An NC-17 rating would mean that commercials couldn’t air on TV and prints ads couldn’t appear in newspapers, virtually guaranteeing a box office catastrophe.

In the end, Aronofsky chose to release the film unrated.  This move would allow him to distribute the film without edits or censorship, but it also meant that no mainstream theater chain would show the film either.

Thankfully, Aronofsky was able to leverage his indie cred and the film’s public controversy into a respectable run in arthouse theaters.

The film’s cult status was cemented with its successful performance in the home video market, with many no doubt adding the DVD to their collection as a must-own work of cinema that they’ll knowingly never take down from the shelf.

More important than REQUIEM FOR A DREAM’s profit margins, its warm critical reception reinforced the power of Aronofsky’s unique voice in cinema.  He had delivered on PI’s artistic promise with an unforgettable powerhouse of a film that served as the culmination of his early directorial output.

In closing this first chapter out on such a strong note, Aronofsky would begin a new one well-poised to meet the greater challenges of a higher artistic plane.


THE FOUNTAIN (2006)

Entering one’s thirties can be a loaded rite of passage– the telltale signs of aging like grey hairs, chronic pain from old injuries, and a slowdown of metabolism usually rear their ugly heads for the first time.  It’s a time when many start to grapple with their future and the realism of their prospects and dreams.

Thoughts about one’s own mortality can move from the realm of the impossible to the all-too tangible, but most don’t have to deal with the spectre of death directly.

In the early 2000’s, director Darren Aronofsky was entering this particular life juncture for himself, and found himself confronting death when his parents were diagnosed with cancer.

While they eventually overcame their illnesses, the process left the young filmmaker trying to make sense of it all– caught between the worlds of faith and reason, his intellectual rationality couldn’t reconcile itself with the staggering unknowability of oblivion.  Words simply failed him; thankfully, pictures did not.

All this internal turmoil caused Aronofsky to turn to his old Harvard roommate, Ari Handel, in an effort to develop a story that properly expressed his sentiments about the great beyond.  Their efforts would result in Aronofsky’s third feature film: THE FOUNTAIN (2006).

An ambitious and overwhelmingly unique meditation on death, eternity, and undying love, THE FOUNTAIN is a pivotal work in Aronofsky’s canon.  It was received upon its release as an artistic misfire, but it’s clear now that THE FOUNTAIN was simply ahead of its time.

Pop culture during the 2000’s was defined by its materialistic flash and taste for gaudy excess, so in hindsight it’s perhaps understandable that audiences decked out in Tom Hardy tattoo shirts and pink sweatpants with “Juicy” on the butt were not exactly ready for the psycho-spiritual brew Aronofosky had concocted.

The success of PI (1998) and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) gave Warner Brothers the confidence to finance Aronofsky’s vision, setting him and his producing partner Eric Watson up with an exponential increase in budgetary resources to the tune of $75 million.

Complete with epic battle scenes, gigantic set builds and an all-star lead couple in Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, THE FOUNTAIN was shaping up to become Aronofsky’s first big Hollywood film.  The lifelong New Yorker even relocated to Australia to settle in for a long, arduous shoot.

Inevitably, the studio got buyer’s remorse, and when Pitt departed the project because Aronofsky wouldn’t accommodate his rewrite requests, they seized on the opportunity to shut a massively risky project down and cut their losses.

Despite all this, the project wasn’t completely dead in the water– Warner Brothers, to their credit, still believed in Aronofsky’s vision enough to leave the door open to a revival should he bring the costs down.  The wounded director retreated to his writing while re-immersing himself in his roots in the independent sector, trimming away unwieldy battle scenes to better hone in on THE FOUNTAIN’s key themes and ideas.

In doing so, Aronofsky was able to shave his budget down to $35 million.  By 2004, Aronofsky was off to Montreal, Canada with his second greenlight and a renewed conviction in his vision.

the_fountain_1-620x349

THE FOUNTAIN’s story arranges itself as a triptych, depicting a man named Tomas and his quest across time and space to conquer death and live forever with his beloved, Isabel.

Aronofsky sets the action in three distinct time periods– the 16th century, 2005, and sometime in the distant 2500’s– with the action and story beats arranged so that they repeat, overlap, and cascade upon in each other in such a way that suggests a circular temporal structure of reincarnation rather than a linear, forward-pushing timeline.

In the 16th century, Tomas is a Spanish conquistador who has traveled to the jungles of South America in a bid to find the Fountain of Youth and win the hand of his beloved Queen Isabel.  In contemporary 2005, he is a driven neuroscientist desperately searching for the elusive cure to brain cancer before it claims his terminally-ill wife.

In the 2500’s, he is a meditative zen astronaut, traveling through the cosmos in his bubble spaceship towards the dying star, Xibalba.

Known primarily at the time for his fierce portrayal as Wolverine in the X-MEN films, Hugh Jackman proves a revelation as the three distinct incarnations of Tomas– each more grief-addled and tortured than the last.  Rachel Weisz handles the luminescent complexity of Isabel’s three forms so effortlessly that it’s hard to imagine Aronofsky initially didn’t want her in the part; she was his girlfriend at the time, and was sensitive to the potential accusations of favoritism that her casting might imply– until Jackman was able to overcome his resistance and sway him.

Weisz ties her three roles as a Queen, a wife, and an ethereal angel together with a wide-eyed wonder at the prospect of confronting oblivion– she’s unafraid of the Great Beyond, seeing death not as an end, but as an empowering transformation that will enable her to discover the wider universe beyond our perception.

Indeed, her musing that “death is the road to awe” handily sums up THE FOUNTAIN’s fundamental message, giving the film the necessary conviction to uphold its distinct tone.

Through these two souls and their various incarnations, Aronofsky fashions a profound narrative that resonates at the innermost levels of the collective human experience, drawing inspiration from a wide range of resources like Renaissance art, Western religion, and Eastern philosophy and meshing it together into something that feels at once both impossibly familiar and jaw-droppingly alien.

By this point in his career, Aronofsky had cemented his core group of collaborators, both in front of and behind the camera.

This includes talent like Ellen Burstyn and Mark Margolis– Burstyn following her highly-praised turn in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM with her appearance here as modern-day Tomas’ compassionate and maternal boss, Dr. Lillian Guzetti, and Margolis as Fr. Avila, a Franciscan priest accompanying 16th-century Tomas to the Mayan jungles.

Behind the camera, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, production designer James Chinlund, editor Jay Rabinowitz, and composer Clint Mansell also return– their individual efforts coming together in sublime harmony.

Celluloid film is already prized for its organic nature (especially in relation to the clinical, sometimes-lifeless sheen of digital cinematography), but THE FOUNTAIN finds Aronofsky and Libatique imprinting the 1.85:1 35mm film image with an unusually-tangible degree of organic texture.

Extreme closeups reveal the fleeting effervescence of life itself via the fine hairs on skin and rough tree bark.  Indeed, Aronofsky and Libatique shed the gritty, grimy lo-fi texture of their previous collaborations for a timeless aesthetic that looks at the specter of death with a romantic eye, painting it as an unknowable force of impermanent beauty.

An evocative black/gold color palette unifies THE FOUNTAIN’s three eras, complemented by limited splashes of green and red.  A “starlight” motif drives the film’s approach to lighting, illuminating Chinlund’s sets in bright wells of concentrated spotlights or the warm, ambient glow of candles while puncturing the surrounding darkness with pinpoints of distant luminescence.

If Aronofsky harnessed the spirit of John Cassavetes with his rough-hewn approach to PI and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, then THE FOUNTAIN channels the ghost of Stanley Kubrick with its plentiful one-point perspective compositions, abundance of overhead angles, and classical/formalist camerawork.

Rabinowitz brilliantly weaves the film’s three epochs together into a cosmic whole, employing classic techniques like match-cutting on action or similar shapes.

Naturally, a story like THE FOUNTAIN requires a substantial degree of visual effects, but Aronofksy’s roots as a scrappy microbudget filmmaker enable him to pull off his vision while both keeping costs down and ensuring his images’ technical integrity against the always-evolving nature of digital wizardry.

Aronofsky endeavors to capture as much of the film as practically as he can, utilizing only basic CGI techniques like compositing and rotoscoping.

THE FOUNTAIN’s most inspired touch in this regard is arguably its technique for realizing the vast backdrop of a dying nebula in space. To achieve this, Aronofsky employed macrophotography of various chemical reactions inside water– a process that reads as organic and entirely believable thanks to space and water’s shared physics.

In adopting this approach, Aronofsky was able to create realistic and astonishing visual backdrops for a fraction of the cost it would take for a computer to do the same.  Like Rabinowitz’s edit, Mansell’s already-iconic score unifies the disparate elements of THE FOUNTAIN into a singular entity, using romantic and intensely epic string arrangements played once more by Kronos Quartet as well as Scottish post-rock band, Mogwai.

As vastly different a film as it is to previous works like PI or REQUIEM FOR A DREAMTHE FOUNTAIN is nonetheless an inherently authentic portrait of Aronofsky’s distinct artistic character.

His intellectual, academically-minded and atheistic upbringing within a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and culture forms his lifelong search for the middle ground between faith and reason.

Despite opening with a verse from the Old Testament, the film takes great pains to ensure its narrative and thematic conceits can’t fit into a tidy box labeled for one particular religion– indeed, Aronofsky’s vision of Eternity marries the core spiritual tenets of Western and Eastern religions while also folding in elements of Kabbalah mysticism, Mayan creation myths and contemporary neuroscience into a singular cosmic experience.

In doing so, Aronofsky is able to capture the awe of oblivion, the afterlife, and creation itself without religious imposition.  Indeed, THE FOUNTAIN is the kind of film that a Christian, Muslim, or Agnostic alike could find profound spiritual resonance in.

Just as REQUIEM FOR A DREAM explored the dark side of the human experience through addiction, THE FOUNTAIN dissects ideas like death, grief, and religious fanaticism (seen best in a sequence set during the Spanish Inquisition).

Whereas his previous film’s depiction of chemical dependency made for an appropriately harrowing and dour viewing experience, THE FOUNTAIN’s treatment of its darkly existential themes is meant to inspire awe at the beauty of creation’s impermanence.

Death is a powerful force that we all must succumb to one day, but THE FOUNTAIN posits that Love is even stronger; death can be conquered– not by living forever, but by letting our divine capacity for love resonate through the ages.

THE FOUNTAIN premiered at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, generating a strong base of acclaim before its theatrical release.  Its domestic run, however, did not meet expectations– mixed critical reviews and poor audience attendance left THE FOUNTAIN unable to recoup half its production costs.

Critics admired the earnestness of Aronofsky’s ambition even as they dragged him for the film’s perceived failures, belittling his vision as a hodgepodge of religious gobbledygook that, while pretty to look at, made little to no narrative sense.

Time has revealed those sentiments to be shortsighted at best (and foolish at worst), as Aronofsky’s ambitious “failure” has only grown in esteem in the decade since its release.  Like a slow-blooming flower, THE FOUNTAIN’s multitudes of nuance and spiritual insight steadily unfold over time– each subsequent viewing drawing us deeper into Aronofsky’s vision, yielding ever-more elusive emotional truths.

These are the kind of ideas we expect to see from filmmakers nearing the end of their lives, not one barely into his thirties.  Remembering this, the spiritual profundity of THE FOUNTAIN becomes even more impressive.

Whenever “Best Of” film lists are compiled for the 2000’s (or the 21st century for that matter), THE FOUNTAIN almost always manages to achieve a respectable slot– even ticking upwards in rank every couple years as its ideas prove ever more timeless.

It may be one of the most misunderstood films of its decade, but THE FOUNTAIN is also one of its best.  For Aronofsky, it may not quite fully embody his aspirations as a cinematic masterpiece, but it is certainly a work that will stand the test of time– marking his transition from an upstart maverick to a mature artist in full command of his abilities.


THE WRESTLER (2008)

Everyone loves a good comeback story.  As long as cinema has been around, it seems, this particular narrative archetype has persisted.

It can happen either in front of or behind the camera, sometimes simultaneously– especially simultaneously, considering the trope’s usefulness as a tool for washed-up actors or tired directors to revive a flagging career.

In 2008, the latest comeback story to enrapture audiences was told by actor Mickey Rourke, who had finally delivered on the early promise of a career many had written off as a series of missteps and squandered opportunities by starring in director Darren Aronofsky’s fourth feature film, THE WRESTLER.

Rourke made himself particularly visible during the film’s promotional campaign, availing himself of countless media interviews and appearing at local screenings in LA (I managed to catch one of these appearances myself, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica just prior to its official release).

Indeed, the pairing of THE WRESTLER and Rourke was lightning in a bottle– a divine alchemy between actor and subject matter.  What often gets lost in this narrative, however, is Aronofsky’s role in the proceedings, and how THE WRESTLER serves as something of his own comeback story.

The sudden surge of career momentum that enabled Aronofsky to make 2006’s THE FOUNTAIN slowed just as abruptly in the wake of that film’s disappointing performance.

Having experienced his first major career setback by faltering under the scale of a mid-budget studio film, Aronofsky must have felt a return to the independent sector in which he had made his name was the appropriate move.

Indeed, a total artistic reboot seemed necessary in order to reclaim his forward momentum.  He found this fresh start in Robert D. Siegel’s screenplay about an aging wrestler attempting a comeback– a story he was strongly compelled to realize on-screen despite it not stemming from his own thoughts like all of his previous work.

Partnering with a new producer in the form of Scott Franklin, Aronofsky set up a bare-bones– yet ambitious– production that shot around the New Jersey area for thirty-five days.

The scrappy nature of the shoot didn’t provide Aronofsky with very much in the way of resources, but it did give the director the opportunity to reconnect with his independent roots and re-establish his artistic relevancy, all while making one of the most acclaimed films of his career.

file_532086_aronofskylead

The eponymous wrestler of the film’s title is Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up champion fighter far removed from his 1980’s heyday.

He’s got little to show for his prior success– he lives in a trailer park in rural New Jersey, his chest bears the scar of a major heart operation, and he’s estranged from his grown daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).  He’s still wrestling, albeit in the ramshackle regional arenas he used to dominate on his way up to the pros.

Rourke is nothing short of a revelation here, delivering a performance full of heartbreak and regret that reveals untold depths about both the character and the man playing him.

It’s hard to imagine the fact that Nicolas Cage was originally attached to star in the role (1), as it belongs so fully to Rourke– indeed, no other actor would likely have brought the kind of dedication Rourke does, like physically cutting himself to draw blood during a match just like a real wrestler might do.

Funnily enough, even Rourke apparently needed some convincing at the beginning.  He reportedly didn’t think very highly of Siegel’s script, but his desire to work with Aronofsky pushed him through his initial wariness.

Aronofsky even let Rourke rewrite all his lines (10)– a seemingly simple gesture that nonetheless shows the director’s growth of artistic confidence in his collaborators, considering how his first iteration of THE FOUNTAIN had collapsed partially because he refused to accommodate Brad Pitt’s request to make changes to the script.

As Randy mounts one last shot at glory in the form of a rematch with his former nemesis The Ayatollah, Rourke repeatedly shows the audience that this was the role he was born to play.

Rourke’s own career had followed a similar trajectory, and all the bad choices he made have led up to this singular moment that requires everything of him.  Clearly, the power from Rourke’s performance lies in its nature as an emotional and artistic catharsis for the actor himself– it is, simply, art imitating life.

Life would imitate art after the fact, with Rourke’s valiant efforts ultimately coming up short.  Despite universal praise from critics that positioned him as a lock for the Best Actor Oscar, Rourke would only make it as far as the nominee pool, losing the golden statue to Sean Penn’s similarly transformative performance in Gus Van Sant’s MILK (2008).

However, this development only matters if one sees the Oscars as the be-all end-all of a film’s artistic worth; the fact remains that Rourke delivers the performance of his lifetime, and the art form of cinema as a whole is made richer by his dedication and sacrifice.

Befitting its framing as an indie character study, THE WRESTLER surrounds Rourke with a limited set of supporting characters, most of them female to better differentiate Randy’s cartoonishly macho fantasy world from reality.

There aren’t too many people that Randy can relate to, but he finds something of a spiritual counterpart in a middle-aged stripper named Cassie.

Played by Marisa Tomei in an Oscar-nominated performance, Cassie also pays the bills by offering up her body to the entertainment of the crowd, her vessel having become more of a liability than an asset as she’s aged.  Like Randy, she too wears a mask when she’s working, hiding her real self away from her audience.

This includes Randy, who spends a great deal of time and energy attempting to make the transition from customer to friend, gradually coaxing the real Cassie out by the end.

Evan Rachel Wood excels as Randy’s estranged daughter, Stephanie, delivering a vindictive, bitter performance as a damaged college student who wants little to do with the father who is only now beginning to show interest in her.

Aronofsky fills out the remainder of THE WRESTLER’s cast with authentic performances by real wrestlers and other New Jersey locals, injecting a visceral realism to the proceedings while further differentiating the everyday from the garish theatricality that Randy deals in.  Finally, character actor Mark Margolis continues his streak of appearing in every one of Aronofsky’s features by making a cameo as Lenny, the cranky landlord of Randy’s RV park.

The visual aesthetic of THE WRESTLER differs so wildly from Aronofsky’s previous work that it functions as a complete artistic reset, switching out all of his key collaborators (save for returning composer Clint Mansell) in favor of new blood and fresh ideas.

He starts with the cinematography, eschewing a fourth consecutive collaboration with his regular DP, Matthew Libatique, in exchange for the services of Maryse Alberti– a french cinematographer renowned for her cinema-verite  documentaries.

Aronofsky and Alberti shoot THE WRESTLER on gritty Super 16mm film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, presenting a dreary, autumnal color palette punctuated with bursts of garish color via the wrestlers’ various costumes and the countless fountains of spurting blood.

Indeed, the grainy, organic texture of Super 16mm aptly captures the literal and thematic sheen of blood & sweat, further reinforcing the raw physicality on display.  Far from the sculpted theatricality and stagework of THE FOUNTAIN, THE WRESTLER harnesses the natural light found in its real-world locations, empowering the filmmakers with a nimble mobility.

Indeed, when it comes to Aronofsky’s camerawork, “mobile” is the operating word: inspired by the work of the Dardenne Brothers, his camera evokes sensations of searching or restlessness as it fluidly follows the actors around real locations.

There’s a degree of detached observationalism at play, albeit one that gradually diminishes itself in favor of a quiet empathy and compassion as the story unfolds.

While the cinematography strives for visceral realism, editor Andrew Weisblum adopts a tempered expressionism, utilizing jump cuts as visual ellipsis that compress time across one long, continuous action.

Another memorable moment finds the sounds of an audience cheering in anticipation of a big wrestling match juxtaposed with a tracking shot of Randy making his way from the bowels of a grocery store to the deli counter– to him, it’s just another performance, but the striking mismatch between sound and picture brilliantly underscores just how far Randy has strayed from his element.

While Clint Mansell returns to Aronofsky’s fold, his score (consisting of a spare guitar riff played by none other than iconic guitarist Slash) is downplayed in favor of a suite of needledrops that perfectly embody Randy’s mindset and 80’s heyday.

Classic 80’s hair bands like Quiet Riot and Guns & Roses make appearances on the soundtrack– a development that normally would gobble up the majority of Aronofsky’s budget and leave little left over for the film itself.

It’s a testament to Aronofsky’s credibility, as well as Rourke’s moving performance and THE WRESTLER’s resonant storyline, that many tracks were donated for free– including extremely iconic radio hits like Guns & Roses’ “Sweet Child Of Mine” (2).

Bruce Springsteen even got in on the fun, finding himself so inspired by an early cut of the film that he composed a new original song named for the film that would go on to be incorporated into THE WRESTLER’s end credits and even win a Golden Globe.

Despite its significant departures from Aronofsky’s established aesthetic and prior narratives, THE WRESTLER is undoubtedly preoccupied with the key themes that drive his artistic identity.

The New Jersey setting allows Aronofsky to ground his efforts in a sort of “home base”, harnessing the experiences and observations he’d cultivated during his formative years in the larger New York/NJ area.

The dark side of the human experience, previously explored to such chilling effect in all of his prior features, again finds Aronofsky dissecting another particular aspect thereof– specifically, pain, aging, and the distinct horror of having your body fail you.

Aronofsky goes to great lengths to show the extreme wear and tear Randy has accumulated throughout a lifetime of gruesome physical performance.  A large scar runs down his chest, leftover from a drastic heart bypass surgery.

His joints are creaky, his energy is low, and he needs a chemical cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs in order to function at the most basic of levels.

One of the film’s key generators of suspense is Randy’s battle against his own heart, which threatens to give out entirely if he exerts himself too much.  Naturally, this stands as a major obstacle to Randy’s attempt at a comeback, but what choice does he have when all he really has left to live for is the roar of an approving crowd?

Being of the advanced age that he is, Randy walks that fine line between delusion and conviction– he’s too old, too washed-up to recapture the glory days of his youth, the haters might say.  Every sign points towards retirement, but Randy truly believes he can be become a champion once more.

This aspect of THE WRESTLER’s story serves as a great example of the internal battle between faith and logic that marks Aronofsky’s work– albeit one that flips the script from previous iterations.

As seen in Max in PI or Thomas in THE FOUNTAIN, an Aronofsky protagonist is often a rational, intelligent person challenged by the presence of the unknown or the inexplicable.

Randy The Ram, however, is stuffed to the brim with faith in himself and his abilities, despite the cynical dismissal of the outside world who see him as a broken-down sack of hamburger meat.

While the screenplay did not originate with Aronofsky himself, it’s easy to see why he was drawn to it, and the act of approaching his signature themes from the perspective of someone else’s expression makes for one of the most nuanced and resonant works in his celebrated filmography.

As mentioned before, THE WRESTLER kicked off a wave of resurgent momentum for Aronofsky’s career after the disappointing reception of THE FOUNTAIN.  The film premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, taking home the Golden Lion in the process.

It went on to Toronto, where Fox Searchlight snapped up the distribution rights for $4 million.  Given a limited release in December of 2009 before going wide in January, the film debuted to almost-universally positive reviews and healthy box office driven by a savvy marketing campaign that created a meta-narrative around Rourke’s own comeback story.

Rourke even made a guest appearance on WrestleMania XXV with a fake storyline that paralleled his character in the film (3).  Critics honored Rourke’s courageous performance with the aforementioned Oscar nomination, as well as bonafide wins at the BAFTA’s, the Golden Globes, and the Independent Spirit Awards.

As for Aronofsky, THE WRESTLER is evidence of his graduation to a mature filmmaker with refined (yet still iconoclastic) tastes.  Nearly a decade on from its release, THE WRESTLER is fondly remembered as one of his very best works, re-establishing his pre-eminence in the indie sector while setting the stage for even bigger victories to come.


BLACK SWAN (2010)

The lo-fi independent production of 2008’s THE WRESTLER served to unleash director Darren Aronofsky’s ferocious creative energy, reconnecting him with the iconoclastic spirit that kickstarted his career.  He knew that he couldn’t afford to bask in the glow of his artistic redemption– he had to strike again, and soon.

Leveraging his newfound creative momentum into another hit was a task easier said than done, but thankfully he already had a project in the pipeline.

Back during the production of 2000’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Aronofsky received a script by Andres Heinz titled “The Understudy”, about off-Broadway actors in New York contending with the haunting appearance of their doubles.

He liked the general idea, but thought it might be more compelling if set within the world of ballet, being an insular subculture that is rarely depicted onscreen.

He commissioned Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin to craft a rewrite with this change in mind, resulting in what would become a nightmarish foray into psychological horror titled BLACK SWAN.  The project had spent the ensuing the eight years in development hell, finding a brief home at Universal before decamping back to the independent realm.

Despite the heat he’d generated with the success of THE WRESTLER, Aronofsky was turned down by every studio in town– even with a proposed production budget of $13 million, he found he couldn’t entice studios to bite on such an experimental genre picture, even with major stars attached.

Indeed, the indie iconoclast was confronting Hollywood’s New Normal: a post-Recession aversion to risk and a distaste for the cultural cache of The Auteur in favor of candy-hued “Content” desperately licensing any kind of pre-existing intellectual property that might draw an audience.

Thankfully, Aronofsky’s street cred in the indie world was strong enough to secure the funds he needed, enabling him to make what would come to be his most successful film to date.

Following in the grandiose footsteps of horror icons like Roman Polanski and David Cronenberg, BLACK SWAN tells a cautionary tale about the dangers inherent in the pursuit of artistic perfection.

Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, an ambitious ballerina plucked from obscurity to headline her dance company’s new production of Swan Lake.

Portman, who Aronofsky had attached to play the part as early as 2000, fully immerses herself into the role, going so far as to drop twenty pounds and spend countless months in dance training prior to the shoot.

Her long-term loyalty to Aronofsky’s vision would prove fruitful, propelling her through a career-best performance that would ultimately earn her the Academy Award.  She’s imprisoned in a childlike inner state, held there by her strict, overbearing mother Erica.

Played by seasoned character actress Barbara Hershey, Erica is a former dancer herself– albeit a failed one who projects her own ambitions onto her daughter and pushes her to be the prima ballerina she never was, all while denying Nina her agency and sexuality as a grown woman.

This arrested development proves a problem when Nina’s director, Thomas Leroy (iconic French actor Vincent Cassel) handpicks her to play the lead in his production of Swan Lake– a role that requires the successful projection of duality in the twin forms of the White Swan and the Black Swan.

Coaxing Nina’s dark side out from deep within proves a formidable task for the intense, narcissistic director, compelling him to employ psychological and sexual manipulation with surgical precision.

The ploy works, although a little too well– a monster awakens inside Nina, making itself known via nightmarish episodes of doppelgänger sightings and body horror that question her grip on reality.

This insatiable beast feeds off the dark energy of those around her, thriving off her sexual relationship with Mila Kunis’ Lily, a mysterious new dancer in the company, as well as the bitter despair of Winona Ryder’s Beth Macintyre, who had previously been Leroy’s star dancer before she was unceremoniously replaced by the younger and more-virginal Nina.

As Nina descends into her nightmare of perfection, Aronofsky embraces the conventions of the psychological horror genre even as he plays them against the everyday objectivity implied by the film’s documentary-style cinematography.

He deftly incorporates spooky subtleties and blatant jump scares alike, all the while dragging the audience deeper into Nina’s subjective perspective and making her eventual transformation into the titular Black Swan a viscerally plausible experience.

After the total collaborative reset of THE WRESTLER, Aronofsky brings back some of his key creative partners from films past in a bid to connect his new aesthetic to his artistic roots.

This includes recurring performers like Mark Margolis and Stanley B. Herman making respective cameos as an extra in the gala sequence and, naturally, a creepy pervert on the subway.  It also includes technical craftsmen like cinematographer Matthew Libatique, editor Andrew Weisblum, and composer Clint Mansell.

If its thematic similarities weren’t enough to position BLACK SWAN as a companion piece to THE WRESTLER, then the cinema-verite style of cinematography shared between them certainly picks up the slack.

Libatique adopts the handheld Super 16mm film aesthetic that Maryse Alberti developed for THE WRESTLER, giving the 2.35:1 frame a gritty, organic texture that stands in stark contrast to the film’s cosmopolitan setting and elegant subject matter.

The handheld camerawork gives BLACK SWAN an appropriate fleet-footed energy, allowing Aronofsky to quite literally dance with his actors.  Libatique’s approach differs from Alberti’s in its embrace of the horror genre, mixing the theatrical lighting of Nina’s professional world with the dim, natural glow of her personal one.

Framing favors tight, almost-claustrophobic closeups and compositions that allow Aronofsky to play with the literary idea of “The Double” by highlighting a reflective element in almost every shot.

Libatique’s efforts work in concert with new production designer Therese DePrez, who cultivates a color palette of black and white tones supplemented by secondary splashes of pale green and pink.

Mansell’s contribution is much more notable here than his spare work on THE WRESTLER, reworking excerpts of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake into a mysterious, brooding score underscored by a throbbing guitar that musically echoes the beast lurking beneath Nina’s refined exterior.

Like THE WRESTLER before it, BLACK SWAN’s narrative hinges on several of Aronofsky’s signature thematic preoccupations despite not authoring the script himself.

The film’s format as a psychological horror enables Aronofsky to plumb more of the pitch-black depths of the human experience– in particular, disease, body horror, and the idea of passion as a negative quality.

Some of BLACK SWAN’s most iconic moments stem from Nina’s body coming under siege from a bird-like presence within, like pitch-black feathers poking out from under the skin of her shoulder, or her knees forcefully cracking backwards into a horrific avian posture.

Coupled with terrifying hallucinations and sightings of her doppelgänger, these developments ultimately lead up to Nina’s total transformation into the titular animal– but did she really turn into a bird in full view of an adoring audience, or was it all in her mind?

Aronofsky deftly walks the fine line between the real and the imagined, further underscoring Nina’s conflict between belief and logic.  Logic would dictate that humans can’t simply transform into another animal; it’s safe to say that’s an objective truth (extreme body modifications notwithstanding).

However, by aligning the audience’s perspective with Nina’s subjective point of view, Aronofsky does away with the pesky hurdle of an objective truth and establishes a scenario where all things are possible.

The tug of war between faith and logic is the backbone of any good psychological thriller, and it’s directly because of Aronofsky’s exploration of this conflict in his prior films that makes BLACK SWAN so effective as an entry in the genre.

Whereas the exploration of faith in prior films like PI or THE FOUNTAIN used the prism of religion, BLACK SWAN is inherently about faith in oneself and how it clashes against expectations and discipline.

Few art forms are as rooted in the necessity of discipline as ballet– indeed, nearly every aspect of Nina’s waking life is dominated in some form by her vocation.  When she isn’t practicing in an insular studio sealed away from the bustle of the city, she hangs around her dingy apartment and practices some more.

She has no love life to speak of, and routinely denies herself small indulgences like the occasional slice of cake.  To successfully play the Black Swan, she has to learn to let go of her discipline and give in to a raw, animalistic drive.

The framework of the psychological thriller genre might imply that BLACK SWAN’s descent into madness is a cautionary tale about the dangers of losing one’s self to unchecked id, but in Aronofsky’s hands, the message instead seems to be that all the discipline in the world is for naught without the foundation of passion and inspiration.

Reams of critical thought have already been expounded about the idea that BLACK SWAN and THE WRESTLER are companion pieces, each working in complement to each other within a distinct chapter of Aronofsky’s artistic growth.

Indeed, their respective narratives frameworks bear many similarities as they each track a protagonist pursuing a career of demanding physical performance at the expense of a “normal life”.

When viewed together, it becomes immediately evident that the refined and cosmopolitan femininity of BLACK SWAN contrasts tidily with THE WRESTLER’s blue-collar, broken-down machismo.

The two films seem to inform and shape each other, despite being made separately– an observation that no doubt stems from the lingering vestige of Aronofsky’s original idea years back, which would have detailed a love story between an aging wrestler and a young ballerina before he decided it was better to split them up into their own respective films.

United in their shared aesthetic and thematic conceits, BLACK SWAN and THE WRESTLER are also tied together by their shared success– a one-two punch that represents the pinnacle of Aronofsky’s career as well as his artistry (so far).

After debuting as the Opening Night film of the 2010 Venice Film Festival, BLACK SWAN opened to warm critical reception.

A modest degree of success was to be expected given its genre trappings as a psychological horror, but the rave reviews from critics helped BLACK SWAN to find the kind of mature, artistically-discerning audience it might not have had otherwise.

Aronofsky’s crossover hit eventually joined the ranks of other classics like William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (1973) and Jonathan Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) as one of the few overt horror films to be honored by the Academy, earning nominations for Portman’s performance, Andrew Weisblum’s editing, Libatique’s cinematography, and even Best Picture.

Aronofsky himself would score his first Oscar nomination for his direction, thus formalizing the growing notion that BLACK SWAN was a truly special film in his body of work– the perfect alchemy of subject matter and his particular artistic strengths.

Portman may have been the only one to walk away with a gold statue that night, but the filmmakers could rest assured that their passion project had been formally canonized as one of the classics of 21st-century cinema.  Seven years on, BLACK SWAN has lost none of its darkly-elegant edge, with each passing year adding more fortification to the idea that Aronofsky had achieved an artistic perfection all his own.


MUSIC VIDEOS & COMMERCIALS (2011-2012)

Riding high off the success of 2010’s BLACK SWAN, director Darren Aronofsky turned his attention to a long-gestating passion project that aimed to reimagine the classic biblical story of Noah’s arc.

The logistical challenges of mounting such an ambitious project naturally made for a slower pace in development and pre-production, so Aronofsky filled his spare time (and bank account) with a series of music videos and commercials that would broaden his aesthetic portfolio.

METALLICA & LOU REED: “THE VIEW” (2011)

Aronofsky’s first music video in over a decade would be for a collaboration between Metallica and The Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed called “THE VIEW”.

His last music video was for Clint Mansell’s “PI R SQUARED”, and was comprised of grainy black & white footage lifted directly from his feature debut; “THE VIEW” brings back that particular aesthetic, opting for an extremely high contrast, monochromatic look.

Perhaps inspired by Lou Reed’s fire & brimstone vocals (spoken plainly like a poet prophet rather than singing), Aronofsky also incorporates expressionistic flourishes like lens flares and unstable double exposures that complement the over-aggressive macho posturing on Metallica’s part.

THE METH PROJECT CAMPAIGN (2011)

Anti-drug commercials have always been hailed for their willingness to shock and horrify.  Easily the highlight of Aronofsky’s short-form work during this period, he collaborates with The Meth Project for a series of four spots that recapture the graphic shock and visceral horror of 2000’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM.

Through the four vignettes– individually titled “DEEP END”, “ER”, “DESPERATE” and “LOSING CONTROL”— Aronofsky drops us right into a vivid scenario involving someone caught in the grips of a severe meth addiction.

We see a girl slashing her wrists, another girl overdosing, a young man tearing his little brother’s room apart in search of cash, and a boy reluctantly prostituting himself out to an older man.

Each vignette starts out with an extreme close-up of the subject’s face, awash in bright light and looking to the camera while an inner monologue plays.

The effect is almost tranquil– that is, until Aronofsky dials the exposure back and ramps the film speed to real-time, pulling back with his handheld camera to reveal the horrific chaos unfolding around them.  The ads made quite the splash when they debuted in November of 2011, generating waves of chatter about the campaign’s effectiveness as well as the excellence of Aronofsky’s craftwork.

YVES SAINT-LAURENT: “LA NUIT DE L’HOMME” (2011)

Aronofsky closed out 2011 with a case of artistic whiplash, veering from the graphic grittiness of the Meth Project campaign to the glossy elegance of a perfume commercial for Yves Saint-Laurent.

The spot, titled “LA NUIT DE L’HOMME”, features his BLACK SWAN co-star Vincent Cassel as a black-suited lothario effortlessly seducing a trio of beautiful young women across the city.  Each of the three locales gets it own color code, helping us to differentiate Cassel’s location via strong swaths of orange, blue and red.

Aronofsky creates a moody, cinematic look that juxtaposes baroque elegance with the crisp lines of modernity.  The piece is also notable for its contributions by several of Aronofsky’s frequent collaborators, including producer Scott Franklin, editor Andrew Weisblum, writers Mark Heyman and Ari Handel, and composer Clint Mansell.

KOHLS: “JENNIFER LOPEZ” (2012)

A 2012 commercial promoting pop icon Jennifer Lopez’s partnership with Kohls doesn’t particularly seem like it would appeal to an artist of discerning taste like Aronofsky.

Indeed, the bright, bubbly spot bears no evidence of his signature, maybe save for the string lights in the background that evoke the lighting aesthetic of 2006’s THE FOUNTAIN… but even then, that’s a stretch.

Aronofsky stages the piece as a single shot, strung together from multiple takes as Lopez dances and sings to the camera and undergoes several wardrobe changes.  It’s an admittedly slick piece of work, with Aronofsky’s relative anonymity behind the camera affording him the opportunity to play around with complicated technical ideas.

One could easily imagine Aronofsky taking the job just for the payday (especially while he was laboring to get an ambitious and risky passion project off the ground), but that line of thought does a disservice to the man’s natural curiosity towards his craft, which manifests through an eagerness to experiment with technique.

“JENNIFER LOPEZ” isn’t exactly memorable as a piece of advertising, but it is effective as a cohesive marriage of concept and execution.

When viewed together in the context of his larger body of work, these short-form pieces don’t evidence a substantial amount of artistic growth on Aronofsky’s part– indeed, pieces like “THE VIEW” and The Meth Project campaign find him returning to extremely familiar ground.

That being said, this period does show Aronofsky turning away from the inward-looking nature of his artistic approach and engaging with pop culture on a level that’s appropriate for an American filmmaker of his pedigree.

A longtime outsider and iconoclast dwelling on the independent fringe of Hollywood, Aronofsky’s brush with prestige in the wake of THE WRESTLER and BLACK SWAN’s twin successes meant he was now on the inside of the machine– a commodity that could be exploited for the material gain of others.  The challenge would now be maintaining that ferocious independence in the face of mainstream expectations and pressure.


NOAH (2014)

The biblical epic has always been a time-honored staple of American cinema, with some of the earliest films ever made drawing inspiration from the timeless stories contained within the “good book”.

In the latter decades of cinema’s existence, these biblical films tend to be marked by a high-profile controversy over their artistic interpretations– films like Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988) or Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004) have caused no shortage of consternation over their depictions of Jesus and the events of The Gospel.

These stories dare to humanize their iconic protagonists, which naturally tends to generate vocal backlash from the people and organizations tasked with preserving their sanctity.

The latest revisionist take to rankle the faithful is director Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH (2014), which seeks to expand upon the Old Testament’s classic, yet all-too-brief, fable of Noah and The Ark.  Aronofsky had been interested in the story since the seventh grade, when he won a writing contest with his entry on the subject (1).

After making his debut feature, PI (1998), Aronofsky partnered with his co-writer and former college roommate Ari Handel to write a screenplay exploring his unique take on the Noah story (1)– the crafting of which would ultimately take several years.

Despite the success of his recent efforts, THE WRESTLER (2008) and BLACK SWAN (2011), Aronofsky found it difficult to convince studios to buy into his $125 million passion project.

It was the age of “Intellectual Property” in mainstream studio filmmaking, and the world-famous story of Noah and his Ark somehow couldn’t quite cut the mustard.

To prove that indeed there was a modern audience for his revisionist take, Aronofsky rather cunningly commissioned the production of a NOAH comic book in 2011, and used the project’s resulting fanbase to quantify the worth of his “IP”– in other words, he went out and built the necessary audience himself.

Armed with Paramount’s financing and the collective resources of super-producers Arnon Milchan and Mary Parent, Aronofsky and his producing partner Scott Franklin soon found themselves embarking on the director’s most ambitious– and successful– film yet.

We’re all familiar with the biblical story of Noah and The Ark, but we’ve never seen it quite like this.  Ten generations on from Adam & Eve, humanity has split into two distinct clans– the barbaric descendants of Cain and the virtuous descendants of Seth, headed by patriarch Methusaleh (Anthony Hopkins) and embodied in Russell Crowe’s Noah.

Aronofsky seeks to deepen the sketch of a character that’s typically portrayed in The Bible, casting Noah instead as a reluctant man of faith with a horde of psychological demons tormenting him on the inside.

When he begins having nightmarish visions of a world destroyed by a deluge of water, Noah seeks guidance from his grandfather, Methusaleh.

Hopkins injects the role with an immediate gravitas befitting his career reputation, believably projecting the grizzled, magical aura of a man who is reported to be many hundreds of years old and is the last living person to have met Adam.

Methuselah advises Noah that a great flood is coming– a means for an unhappy Creator to purge the Earth of his unsatisfactory creations and start life anew.  What’s more, The Creator has tasked Noah with building a large ark in which to shelter two of every animal and his small family so that they can start over when the waters recede.

Despite his internal doubts and misgivings, Noah begins preparing for the Great Flood, constructing a massive arc with the help of several Golems– fallen angels whom God had transformed into hulking rock monsters when they came down to Earth to help humanity.

The first half of Noah is rather fantastical, adopting a LORD OF THE RINGS template in its approach to mankind’s origins– complete with a massive CGI-laden battle as Noah defends his ark from an offensive led by Ray Winstone’s Tubal-Cain, the brutal and vindictive figurehead of the Cain lineage.

The second half is where the film gets really interesting, when Aronofsky treats Noah’s riding out of the flood in the ark as a simmering psychological chamber drama.  Racked by a profound survivor’s guilt, Noah spirals even deeper into his obsession with fulfilling The Creator’s wishes.

His wife Naameh — played by Jennifer Connelly in her second collaboration with Aronofsky after REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) — becomes the voice of reason, imploring Noah to come back from the brink.  He also must contend with a rebellion from his two sons, Ham & Shem.

Played by Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, respectively, his two sons each have their own reason for turning on their father: Ham seeks revenge for the girl Noah allowed to be killed by her own people, and Shem seeks to protect his pregnant wife, Ila (Emma Watson), from Noah’s crazed crusade to extinguish humanity once and for all.

While all of this is happening, Tubal-Cain is stowed away in the bowels of the ark, laying in wait to wrestle control from Noah and re-establish his evil leadership.

NOAH affords Aronofsky the opportunity to work with an all-star cast, which even extends to the voice-only roles, with Nick Nolte and regular collaborator Mark Margolis providing the voices for two of the golems.  Behind the camera, Aronofsky’s core group of technical collaborators also return.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique injects NOAH with the epic feel of a big-budget Hollywood film, replete with an orgy of CGI creatures and epic battles that marks the film as one of the most technically-challenging for both Aronofsky as well as his computer effects team.

Combining a mix of 35mm film and digital Arri Alexa footage onto a 1.85:1 canvas, Libatique and Aronofsky render their range of dynamic compositions in drab earth tones.

Handheld close-ups complement an otherwise formal approach, with Aronofsky making a recurring visual motif out of a particular aerial/crane move that drifts up and away from his subject.

Indeed, he often strings this same movement across multiple successive shots, achieving a hypnotic effect that also showcases the volcanic grandeur of his Icelandic locales and production designer Mark Friedberg’s cavernous Ark sets.

Returning editor Andrew Weisblum faces a greater challenge than usual, with Aronofsky tasking him with the execution of a recurring motif that sees epoch-spanning timelapses rendered in a unique, rapid-fire snapshot style.

Clint Mansell expectedly provides NOAH’s original score, which once again commissions the talents of Kronos Quartet and possesses a swelling, romantic flair reminiscent of biblical epics of yore as well as  Aronofsky’s own 2006 feature, THE FOUNTAIN.

NOAH deals heavily in the themes and ideas that Aronofsky has spent his career exploring, the most prominent of which being the interior struggle between faith and reason.

This conflict is no doubt what initially attracted Aronofsky to a revisionist take on Noah’s Ark, as it would enable him to apply a cerebral approach to religious ideas– an approach that previously had made films like PI and THE FOUNTAIN so intellectually resonant.

A significant portion of the classic Noah’s Ark story finds Noah grappling with doubt from both within and from those around him regarding his outlandish visions of the end of the world.

NOAH takes this template and runs with it, applying a compelling (and borderline-psychopathic) twist that extrapolates Noah’s desires for the end of humanity to the point that he’s willing to murder a newborn infant.  He labors against all sound logic and reasoning, filled with righteous conviction that he is fulfilling The Creator’s divine plan.

Additionally, Aronofsky obliquely explores this theme during a montage that incorporates the aforementioned propulsive snapshot-style timelapse technique to detail the origins of the universe and mankind.

Noah recounts to his family the biblical story of creation found in the Book Of Genesis, but the images onscreen detail The Big Bang, the cosmic formation of the stars and planets, the beginnings of life on Earth, and mankind’s slow evolution from apes.

Aronofsky then goes a step further, with Noah explaining the generations of violence between the tribes of Cain and Seth while rendering this conflict on-screen via rapid-fire silhouettes of figures engaged in combat throughout history– including the recognizable forms of Roman centurions, Napoleonic troopers, WW2 fighters and modern-day soldiers.

It’s a stunning sequence that finds Aronofsky achieving something of a harmony between faith and logic by applying a figurative interpretation of the Bible that seeks to connect ancient ideas to immediate contemporary concerns.

For whatever reason, however, Aronofsky temporarily ignores this scientific approach in his portrayal of Adam & Eve in The Garden of Eden, rendering them less as flesh & blood human forms and more as ethereal alien-types with a golden glow.

filmz.ru

The dark side of the human experience is another theme that courses through the entirety of Aronofsky’s filmography, and the story of NOAH provides an opportunity to explore its very origins– murder, temptation, and the idea of Man’s Original Sin that led to his casting out from The Garden.

More specifically, Aronofsky explores sin as a stain that runs down through the generations, marking an entire line of people with a predetermined fate.  If The Creator made mankind in his image as a perfect being, then the introduction of sin marks the point at which we became imperfect.

Sin is what separates God from his creations, and the protagonists of Aronofsky’s films are often found attempting to close that gap with logic while struggling to overcome their imperfections– PI’s Max Cohen labors to find the true name of God via mathematics; REQUIEM FOR A DREAM’s scraggly group of heroic addicts used narcotics to seek enlightenment and euphoria; THE FOUNTAIN’s Tomas believes science is the key to immortality; THE WRESTLER’s Randy The Ram puts his body through the thresher for the worship of his fans; BLACK SWAN’s Nina Sayers works towards godliness in her mastery over her body.

NOAH continues this tradition by having its protagonist actually commune with his creator, risking the very future of humanity so that he can purge it of sin and start anew.

In both idea and execution, NOAH is most similar to THE FOUNTAIN— both are ambitious, big-budget indies about the cycle of death & rebirth as well as a direct reckoning between faith and reason.

By making NOAH in the first place, Aronofsky was flirting with the kind of disappointing reception and aura of “failure” that THE FOUNTAIN initially met with upon release.

Indeed, NOAH posed an even bigger risk, considering the significant creative liberties that Aronofsky took in adapting a section from what is easily the most scrutinized and sacred work of literature in human history.

On top of the inevitable religious controversy, NOAH faced criticism for its perceived white-washing, perpetuating the long cinematic tradition of casting all-white actors in roles that, historically-speaking, would have most definitely not been Caucasian.

The controversy might have even been of a higher profile, had Ridley Scott not stolen that particular spotlight with his release of EXODUS: GODS & KINGS that same year– a much more egregious display of white-washing considering his Caucasian leads were portraying ancient Egyptians.

Despite these controversies, NOAH outperformed expectations, earning mostly positive reviews and posting big numbers at the box office.

When all was said and done, NOAH had emerged as Aronofsky’s highest-grossing film to date, vanquishing any anxiety that it might be another disappointment like THE FOUNTAIN.  With NOAH’s success, Aronofsky proved he could handle big-budget epics with the deft, assured touch that marked his indie thrillers.

He had seemingly found his groove, and was now poised to consistently deliver more of contemporary cinema’s most visceral and strikingly original creations.


COMMERCIALS (2016-2018)

Following the success of his 2014 feature, NOAH, director Darren Aronofsky once again turned to the commercial world to sustain himself as he prepped his next big effort.

This chapter of his career finds Aronofsky bringing his iconoclastic vision to powerhouse establishment outlets like The New York Times and high profile fashion brands like Hugo Boss while dialing down the individuality of his artistic aesthetic to better accommodate the commercial interests of his employers.

HUGO BOSS: POWER OF BOSS (2016)

Aronofsky’s prior work for Yves Saint-Laurent established the director as a sought-after talent in fashion marketing.  In 2016, Hugo Boss enlisted him for “POWER OF BOSS”, a spot for their new men’s fragrance.

Starring the emerging actor Theo James, the spot exudes high-glamor and a slick, cosmopolitan vibe.  The Weeknd’s darkly seductive single “High For This” throbs over sensual closeups of bodies in motion– hands caressing bare skin, lips brushing together, and so on.

The spot contains a brief allusion to BLACK SWAN, in that Aronofsky uses mirrors and windows as a framing device to suggest the idea of “the double”, often with the subject being reflected twice-over in the glass prism.

While it’s still a relatively anonymous spot, “POWER OF BOSS” further evidences Aronofsky’s ability to capture glossy, slick images in addition to the gritty, visceral visuals usually associated with his repertoire.

NEW YORK TIMES: THE TRUTH IS HARD (2017)

In 2017, Aronofsky was hired to direct a quartet of spots for the New York Times, celebrating the role that their photojournalists play in bringing the immediacy of the news home to their readers.

Only three of the four appear to be available for public view, with Aronofsky adopting the same style of execution for each: a series of rapid-fire snapshots punctuate stretches of black while the photographer delivers a voiceover monologue (filtered to sound like a telephone call) about his or her experience in the field.

At the end of each spot, Aronofsky settles on a singular image in particular, showing how it becomes the key image for the news article it accompanies.  Aronofsky proves the right choice as the helmer of the spot, bringing his unique insights into the dark side of the human experience in the exploration of images featuring war & disease.

As of this writing, these pair of commercials represent Aronofsky’s most recently-released works, although he’s set to release his seventh feature film MOTHER! next month.  A psychological horror starring Jennifer Lawrence, MOTHER! promises to chart territory similar to BLACK SWAN.

If early buzz is any indication, Aronofsky is set for yet another hit in a string of well-received genre pictures that have embodied his operational prime.


MOTHER! (2017)

One of the lesser-talked about aspects of pursuing a career in filmmaking is the loss of that visceral or “magic” sensation that made us fall in love with the medium in the first place.

The ability to passively sit back and let ourselves get swept up in the story becomes hampered by an active deconstruction of narrative logic, performance, or mise-en-scene. Emotion & empathy takes a back seat to intellectual scrutiny, robbing us of the thrills or exhilaration that the filmmaker worked so hard for us experience.

Once in a while, however, a film comes along out of nowhere and lands with such increasingly-rare impact that we surrender the entirety of our senses to its power.

Despite marketing materials that heavily emphasized its supposedly-batshit narrative, I was not expecting such an outcome when I sat down to a screening of Darren Aronofsky’s 2017 feature MOTHER!— sure enough, however, I was so shaken by the film that I had to wander outside in a daze for nearly an hour.

I needed time to process what I’d just seen, but I knew I had loved every minute… and that most audiences would loathe it.

Aronofsky, of course, is no stranger to dramatically polarized reactions to his work— the foundation of his artistry is built upon it.  Ever since the protagonist put a power drill to his head in his debut feature PI (1998), Aronofsky has sought to elicit visceral exhortations of shock and disgust from viewers.

The difference, however, between Aronofsky’s gruesome predilections and the torture porn titillation of, say, the SAW franchise, is the intimidating intelligence that drives it.  The phrase “tortured artist” doesn’t seem particularly apt to describe Aronofsky; he typically comes across as a soft-spoken, buttoned-up intellectual in interviews.

Nevertheless, MOTHER! — easily the most ambitious marriage of his cerebral narrative approach and gut-wrenching visual flourishes — was born from a place of deep sadness and anguish on Aronofsky’s part (2).

Following the success of 2014’s NOAH, he reportedly turned his attentions towards a project that would be a first in his filmography: a film for children (3).  As it turns out, it’s a bit difficult to write for children when their future isn’t as rosy as their cheeks.

Indeed, how could anyone, when the world is on fire, fascist authoritarianism is on the rise, and family dinners are spent blankly staring into the glow of smartphones?  Aronofsky’s existential despair had built up like water against a dam, and the only way to relieve the pressure was to express it in the form of art.

Thus, MOTHER! was born, its first draft screenplay feverishly dashed out over the course of five mad days (whereas Aronofsky’s normal gestation period is measured in years (1)).

Like his script, Aronofsky’s latest Protozoa production came together exceedingly quickly, shepherded by his longtime producing partners Scott Franklin and Ari Handel over the course of a few months while Aronofsky conducted extensive rehearsals with his cast in a Brooklyn warehouse.

This gonzo strain of frenzied focus would carry on through to the shoot in Montreal and, ultimately, the finished product— itself a flaming phoenix of cinematic anarchy encompassing nothing less than the whole of human civilization.

mother!

The “plot” of MOTHER! is hard to describe, if only because it doesn’t operate on a straightforward narrative level.  Every character and event is suffused with allegorical meaning, rooted in the self-contained setting of an isolated farmhouse that seemingly exists outside of both time and space.

Jennifer Lawrence anchors the film as the eponymous “Mother”, a woman who has given the entirety of herself over to her husband, played by Javier Bardem and identified only as “Him”.  He is a poet, albeit a tortured one that suffers from a severe case of writer’s block.

Mother seems to exist only for Him, with no exterior or interior life of her own beyond fixing up their farmhouse and catering to his creative needs.  Their fragile harmony begins to fray when a Man (Ed Harris) arrives unexpectedly, seeking a place to stay the night while he passes through.

In letting Man in, however, Mother and Him unwittingly invite a cascading series of unimaginable, increasingly chaotic events that will come to include a funeral, a birth, and a fiery reckoning.

Aronofsky’s biblical and anthropological allusions aren’t exactly difficult to draw out, but the tidiness of their allegorical significance nevertheless resists close scrutiny.

In other words, Aronofsky gives us just enough detail to track the roles his characters play in the larger ur-narrative while leaving plenty of room for a variety of personal interpretations.

My own read of the film first requires further discussion of its technical construction and other thematic conceits, but there’s still plenty to remark about on the surface level of MOTHER!’s story, especially as it pertains to the performances.

If MOTHER! can be called a star vehicle for Lawrence, then it can also be said that Aronofsky never deviates from a cockpit view.  Everything orbits around Lawrence and her tour-de-force performance— she is the Earth (or “Gaia”, as Aronofsky himself describes her), and all the other cast members are satellites circling past her periphery.

The fact that Lawrence goes barefoot throughout the entirety of the movie so as to emphasize her organic connection to the farmhouse (1) points to the rich level of detail and commitment that she gives to a character who, at least on paper, serves as a relatively-blank cypher for the audience to experience the film through.

A nurturer by nature, Mother is endlessly giving of herself, wanting nothing in return except for the love of her husband, Him.

Despite his personal malaise over his lack of productivity, he is ultimately an exceedingly warm and attentive man who is able to return her love in full and still have some left over for his increasingly-needy houseguests.

Indeed, he is accommodating to a fault, welcoming of strangers with open, trusting arms because he can’t help but revel in their praise for his writing. By turning his gaze away from Mother, he inadvertently puts her through all nine circles of Hell until she has nothing left to give him… and even then, he still requires more of her.

Despite their significant gap in age, Bardem’s casting complements Lawrence’s rather well, balancing her character’s youthful naïveté with a seasoned, almost-otherworldly gravitas.

Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, as Man and Woman respectively, are the disharmonious yin to Mother and Him’s yang.  Their presence illuminates the unbridgeable gap between their host’s characters and proceeds to widen that chasm even further.

Identifying himself as a surgeon and teacher when he unexpectedly arrives in the middle of the night, Man proves himself a toxic presence in the house— it’s not enough that he’s simply intrusive, he also brings sickness into Mother and Him’s lives.

He’s constantly sneaking cigarettes, despite an alarmingly severe cough that speaks magnitudes about how little time he has left on this Earth. Woman proves equally abrasive, also arriving unexpectedly a day later and quickly overtaking Mother’s energies with her icy sexual aggressiveness and high-grade alcoholism.

Real-life brothers Brian and Domhnall Gleason play their two adult sons, the former a slimy misogynist and the latter a wiry, spoiled twerp who arrives in a red-hot rage over learning he’s been cheated out of his inheritance.

It’s at this point that MOTHER!’s cast loses control of its contained chamber-drama nature, with strangers multiplying at an alarming rate until the house is absolutely stuffed.  Most are nameless extras, but Aronofksy notably casts Kristin Wiig against-type as Him’s corporate-y publisher, credited only as “Herald”.

Indeed, a quick glance at IMDB’s cast listing for MOTHER! further shades out the biblical/mythical connotations of his allegorical ambitions, featuring bit-part characters named Cupbearer, Fool, Whisperer, Penitent and Devourer, among so many others.

Aronofsky’s technical execution reinforces his vision of MOTHER! as a 2-hour stress attack.  Once again working his trusted director of photography Matthew Libatique, Aronofsky returns to the 2.35:1 16mm film format that lent so much visceral grit and organic weight to previous films like THE WRESTLER (2008) and BLACK SWAN (2010).

These films, and now MOTHER!, etch into stone the idea that Aronofsky is not cut out to be a studio filmmaker; he thrives in the indie environment, where a smaller production footprint affords him plenty of nimbleness and his affections for lo-fi filmmaking formats and techniques are appreciated.

The 16mm gauge in particular has come to serve as something of a calling card for Aronofsky, with its amplified grain texture allowing his work to stand out amongst the hordes of slick, yet inescapably sterile, digital content that populates our screens today.

Its deployment in MOTHER! echoes the earthiness of the story while capturing an ethereal aura in the imperfection of its chemistry.  A lot of ink has been spilled about digital‘s increasing ability to match the quality of film to the point that, to the average observer, there is no discernible difference.

However, the fact remains that film is a chemical process whereas digital is an electronic one; one could shoot the exact same composition using the exact same lens and lighting setup, but the two resulting images will always be fundamentally different.

Aronofsky and Libatique understand this, using the increasingly-minute quality of celluloid’s distinguishing aspects as a storytelling tool— the volatile, unreplicable alchemy of exposing grain crystals to light (as opposed to capturing light onto an electronic sensor) imbues the light itself with life; a palpable, fleeting luminosity that underscores MOTHER!’s very existence.

As such, the quality of light on display throughout MOTHER! takes on an ethereal beauty: dim, cool daylight and the warm, sensual amber of incandescent practicals come nightfall.  This is, of course, before Hell itself arrives at Mother’s doorstep and bombards the farmhouse with a fusillade of garish fluorescents, ash-choked moonlight, and searing fire.

MOTHER! succeeds at generating an intensely claustrophobic atmosphere through a series of complementary artistic decisions passed along through the entirety of the production pipeline.  The film is shot almost exclusively handheld, immediately creating a present-tense realism and a restless energy.

To better unify the film’s perspective to that of his protagonist, Aronofsky and Libatique limit their coverage to 3 basic setups— the first being a closeup composition that is always tracking Mother’s facial performance as she moves throughout the farmhouse, the second being corresponding over-the-shoulder angles that aim to establish her spatial relationship to the events she’s witnessing, and the third being direct POV shots through her eyes.

The result is an effect akin to hyper tunnel vision, propelling Mother and the audience through a narrow space while intensifying the surrounding chaos.

Philip Messina’s production design further evokes the growing claustrophobia in his vision of the farmhouse itself, which incorporates a recurring octagonal motif both in its structure as well as various decorational elements.

An exercise in the marriage of interesting aesthetic design and thematic underscoring, the heavy usage of the octagon shape is quite appropriate to Aronofsky’s narrative.

The shape was employed by many ancient civilizations, who associated the number eight with the idea of “rebirth” or “renewal”, further entangling the relationship between the earthly and the divine in its merging of the square and the circle.

MOTHER!’s allegorical conceits deal heavily in the language of rebirth, suggesting an infinitely-repeating cycle of creation & destruction that echoes scientific theories about the perpetual expanding & contracting of the universe.

On a visceral level, the farmhouse’s octagonal shape serves to muddle the audience’s bearings, constantly subverting Aronofsky’s deliberate use of extended tracking shots that follow Mother through various rooms.

It’s a rather inspired idea, using the visual language & continuity of motion typically employed to establish spatial orientation, but within a form factor that actively obscures our sense of geography.

We always know what room Mother is in on an intellectual level, but we can never quite discern where she is in relation to the rest of the house— the corners always seem to be closing in on themselves… and by extension, us.

That Messina renders the farmhouse interiors in various neutral shades (similarly echoed in the clothes worn by the characters) results in an abstractified, relatively-colorless environment that boosts the narrative’s metaphorical, “outside of time” qualities.

In the absence of color within the frame itself, Aronofsky uses the remaining tools in his arsenal to give MOTHER! its tactile depth and contrast.  This includes aforementioned elements like lighting and a neutral color palette, but also post-production tools like visual effects, editing, and sound design.

The VFX work goes a long way towards establishing the farmhouse itself as a living, breathing entity that Mother is intimately connected to— she’s able to sense a delicate heartbeat behind the drywall and plaster, and can glimpse fleeting, skeletal visions of charred woodwork that pulse throughout the house like heavy breaths.

There’s also an arresting image of a lightbulb pooling with blood until it explodes and sends plasma splattering everywhere.

Returning editor Andrew Weisblum adopts a swift pace that builds exponentially in tandem with a hyper-aggressive sound mix, resulting in an effect that’s not unlike being caught within the whirlpool of a flushing toilet… spinning faster and faster as we circle the drain.

Notably, MOTHER! features no music whatsoever until Patti Smith covers “The End Of The World” over the end titles.  An original score by the late Johan Johansson was planned, and even produced, but nixed as early as the rough cut stage (4) when he and Aronofksy came to the conclusion that the film worked better without music.

Their decision — an admirable display of creative restraint — proves to be the right one; there’s something infinitely more disturbing about MOTHER!’s spiral descent into madness without the accompaniment of bombastic music cues constantly reminding us that we’re watching a movie.

The absence of score allows us to better witness the narrative from Mother’s viewpoint while denying the sense of safety and remove that stems from theatrical artifice.

If the entirety of Aronofsky’s feature output can be boiled down to a singular, unifying thematic idea, then it stands to reason said theme is the collision of logic and faith.

From PI’s besieged mathematician to NOAH’s eponymous biblical hero, the arc of each Aronofsky protagonist passes through this prism, giving the director an avenue to approach religion and belief from an intellectual standpoint.

Having been raised, as he describes, in a non-practicing, “culturally” Jewish household, Aronofsky uses his art to exhibit his primarily-anthropological interest in religion and its influence on human behavior.

As previously mentioned, MOTHER! stands as the arguable apex of this career-long excavation, its allegorical storytelling approach being the reason for its very existence.

In crafting a story about a woman under siege by recurrent tidal waves of hostile humanity within her own home, Aronofsky expresses a cinematic lament over our apparent powerlessness to curb runaway climate change in the face of self-enriching presidential administrations and pollution-friendly corporations, all the while tying in the grand sweep of civilized history to demonstrate how our self-destructive tendencies are dyed in the wool.

In other words, our ability and apparent willingness to eradicate ourselves is a feature of the species— not a bug.

As mentioned before, MOTHER!’s narrative isn’t meant to be taken at face value, instead assigning allegorical correlation with both religious and world history to make a larger statement on the human condition and our failure to be responsible stewards of the Earth (spoilers below).

As the personification of the Earth itself, Mother is endlessly giving of herself, inviting her husband and houseguests to take advantage of her generosity until she has nothing left to give.

The events of the film put her under significant duress, manifest at several junctures in the form of increasingly-violent tremors that push Mother to the floor.  These moments resemble earthquakes, illustrating the raw destructive power that lurks underneath.

Bardem’s character stands in for God, his profession as a poet/writer alluding to The Almighty’s unfettered creativity. The arrival of Man’s character signifies Adam, an already-compromised creation whose sickness alludes to the frailty of human life.

It’s no coincidence that the night after Mother accidentally catches a glimpse of a vicious scar over Man’s rib, Woman arrives on her doorstep.  Him’s office can be read as the Garden of Eden, his treasured crystal artifact becoming an object of obsessive temptation for Man and Woman not unlike the apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

We later learn this crystal is forged from the charred remains of the previous Mother’s heart, underscoring that her love and generosity is a precious gift that’s easily destroyed.

The hot-blooded murder of Man’s son by his other son is an obvious reference to the biblical story of Cain & Abel, while the boy’s subsequent funeral, attended by an increasingly-populous and out-of-control congregation, represents both humanity’s growing numbers and its wanton sinfulness.

The first half of the film culminates when some particularly-careless “mourners” accidentally rip Mother’s unbraced sink away from the wall and unleash a torrent of water that clears out the house; this can be read as an allegory for the Great Flood in the Old Testament, in which God drowned out his compromised creations and wiped the slate clean.

The ensuing argument between Mother and Him leads to their making up via making love, and Mother wakes up the following morning with the supernatural realization that she’s already pregnant.

Overcome with love and a regained appreciation for life, Him is struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration and immediately scribbles out the first new poem he’s written in years— a New Testament, if you will… the beginning of a new covenant with humanity based on compassion and forgiveness rather than tempestuous wrath.

The resulting text single-handedly resurrects his career, drawing in a growing tide of admirers whose lives he touched with the beauty of his words. This second half of the film is where the narrative really plays into the thematic throughline of Aronofsky’s work: his anthropological fascination with the bleakest, darkest aspects of the human experience.

Mother’s grip on the situation quickly spirals out of control as people keep coming— an endless wave of increasingly-frenzied fanatics who erupt into fistfights with each other and steal Mother and Him’s belongings as if they were precious artifacts to be hoarded.

In selfishly ransacking a farmhouse they’ve come to regard as a holy temple to their creator poet, they suggest the compounding dangers of rampant overpopulation and religious fanaticism.

Before Mother can kick each trespasser out of her house, the crowd has seemingly merged into a singular glob of chaos— a parasite or disease that is quickly devouring the Earth.

Aronofsky takes an evident truth — that it’s in our nature to destroy beautiful things — and maps it out over a harrowing, mind-melting escalation that sees each room in the house become a diorama for the horrors of the 20th century: famine, concentration camps, human trafficking, brutal riots, war, and terrorism.

By refusing to deviate from Mother’s viewpoint, Aronofsky expertly orchestrates a sense of overwhelming chaos and incomprehensible panic, evoking the deep existential horror that comes from both the loss of control and the absence of logic.

MOTHER!’s steep nosedive into the bowels of hell culminates in the birth of a baby boy, heralded as something of a Messiah by the frenzied masses below.

In what is easily the most disturbing, gut-churning moment in a film already stuffed with images of sudden blunt-force trauma, exploding jawlines, and even a blood-squirting toilet creature, Aronofsky easily outdoes the body horror of previous films like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) or BLACK SWAN by showing the crowd seize the newborn and feverishly rip it apart into bite-sized chunks.

This is a horrifically-literal echo of Communion, the sacrament celebrated by Catholics at every mass with the consumption of bread that’s regarded as “the body of Christ”.

That Him is all too ready to forgive the crowd for this unspeakable act reminds us of the Christian God’s compassion, knowingly sending his only son to slaughter so that humanity could be saved.

Mother, however, does not share Him’s compassion— the loss of her baby sends her into a murderous rage, culminating in her burning the whole house down on top of everyone (likely an allusion to runaway global warming, the inescapable terminus of humanity’s total domination over the planet).

While Aronofsky presents the majority of MOTHER! through a Western perspective, his final reveal draws from Eastern thought— specifically, the idea of reincarnation.

Evoking THE FOUNTAIN’s ruminations on the endless cycle of death & rebirth, MOTHER! ends with Him digging Mother’s heart from her charred body and forging it into a new incarnation of the precious crystal he keeps on display in his study.

As a new day dawns, the house builds itself back up from the ashes, and a new Mother (played by a different actress with a fleeting resemblance to Lawrence) wakes up in her bed just as she did at the beginning of the film.

With this final beat, Aronofksy alludes to the theoretical reincarnation of the universe itself: a continual expansion and contraction of the cosmos that provides a rather-tidy answer to the question of what preceded The Big Bang.

All of this is extremely heady stuff, to be sure, and poses quite the challenge in connecting with an audience that mostly regard movies as an opportunity to switch off their brains for two hours.

As it turns out, said audiences — especially those of the American variety — really weren’t up for an evening of sensory overload and confrontational anthropology.  MOTHER! earned itself an exceedingly rare “F” CinemaScore, reflecting the general repulsion manifest in its relatively-meager  worldwide gross of $44M over its $30M budget.

The film’s critical reception, however, tells a much different story: after premiering at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, jurors nominated MOTHER! for their highest honor, the Golden Lion.  Several prominent critics from Rolling Stone, The Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian subsequently issued rave reviews, applauding its allegorical audacity.

This isn’t to say that other reviews weren’t negative — indeed, there were plenty of critics who were all too eager to file scathing notices. If anything, MOTHER!’s polarized reception speaks to the success of Aronofsky’s efforts.

The repulsion is the point; when confronted with a visceral portrait of humanity’s capacity for (and long history of) atrocity, we should be disgusted and horrified.

Our collective desire to be & do better is the only way to break the cycle of chaos and bloodshed that will ultimately end in the boiling annihilation of the only home we’ve ever known.  Despite its perceived “failure” as a commercial product, MOTHER! succeeds in hammering its message home, and in so doing, confirms Aronofsky’s legacy as a creator of transgressive & fearlessly independent cinema.


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

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

Coen Brother’s Blood Simple Investor Pitch Trailer

blood simple pitch trailer, coen brothers

We all have to start somewhere and the Coen Brothers are no different. When they were struggling filmmakers trying to get their first feature Blood Simple off the ground they had an idea, why don’t we shoot a pitch trailer to show investors what we can do.

The Blood Simple pitch trailer starred unknown actor Bruce Campbell. Joel Coen discusses the trailer’s origins on the Criterion Collection’s 4K Restoration of Blood Simple.

“Sam Raimi taught us that if you call on the phone and ask people to invest in a movie they’ll tell you to go hell. But if you tell them ‘I have a piece of film to show you,’ then some of the would let you come into their living room and set up your little projector and show it to them.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to director and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld who light and shoot the trailer.

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 592: Tales From the Indie Film Trenches with Aram Rappaport

Aram Rappaport is filmmaker based in New York. Originally from Los Angeles, he began writing, directing and producing in his late teens including the one-take experimental film HELIX starring Alexa Vega.

He later adapted, produced and directed Max Berry’s acclaimed novel into the film SYRUP starring Amber Heard, Shiloh Fernandez and Kellan Lutz and wrote, produced and directed the original film THE CRASH starring John Leguizmao, Frank Grillo, Minnie Driver and Dianna Agron.

Set in the future when the US economy is on the brink of yet another massive financial crisis, The Crash tells the story of Guy Clifton, a federally-indicted stock trader, who is secretly enlisted by the federal government to help thwart a cyber-attack aimed at the US stock markets – an attack that could permanently cripple the economy.

THE GREEN VEIL is his first episodic project.

It’s 1955 and Gordon Rodgers has a dream. It’s the American Dream. And he almost has it made. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and daughter. He goes to church, he works for the government. A respected job for a respectable family man.

Gordon also has a mission. A nefarious secretive mission on behalf of the US government. It’s going well except for one final plot: The Sutton Farm. Owned by Native Americans Glennie and Gilberto Sutton, they refuse to be bought out. So Gordon must force them out by any means necessary. Maybe even abduct them. And it almost works, until the Suttons escape…

At home, Mabel Rodgers is losing her mind. Playing housewife is taking its toll. How she wound up here from a military aviator career, she still doesn’t know. When she discovers Gordon’s’ work folder marked CLASSIFIED she is drawn to the file. When she recognizes wartime friend Glennie Sutton as the mission’s subject, she has no choice but to explore the case herself. And Gordon can never find out.

Gordon’s dream is slipping away. His mission at work is failing. He’s losing control of his family. At what lengths will he go to hold it all together? At what cost to himself and others will he preserve his American Dream? Is this dream even meant for him…or is it all a conspiracy?

He also runs the hybrid creative agency / production studio The Boathouse for which he’s created and directed campaigns for such brands as Apple, Netflix, Victoria’s Secret and SingleCare amongst others.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Aram Rappaport 0:00
Or a production designer or an actor or a costume designer. If you sort of show up and tell someone you know, we can't afford that, or we lost the light, we're going to have to shoot it differently. You know, as a director, all you can do is really maintain like this even keel positivity around. Even though you know that it's probably a complete fuckup you're like, No, it's gonna work. This is gonna work. This is the right thing. You know, let's, let's keep going.

Alex Ferrari 0:26
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created a Enigma Elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like VHS and CRT images, smoke fog, textures, DaVinci Resolve presets, and much more. After working as an editor colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Aram Rappaport. How're you doing?

Aram Rappaport 1:20
I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 1:22
Thank you so much for coming on the show, brother. I appreciate it. We had one of your compadres on last week. Mr. Little guy, your new guy coming up John Leguizamo.

Aram Rappaport 1:32
Arch nemesis my arch nemesis. I hope I never speak to him again. But he's semi talented. So you know, I put up with them.

Alex Ferrari 1:37
You put up with him? Yeah, he gets the financing sometimes. So you know.

Aram Rappaport 1:41
Yeah. So, you know, I mean, don't give him a big head. He's gonna watch this and think he's, you know, powerful or something.

Alex Ferrari 1:47
Exactly. But, but I appreciate you coming on man. You've had you've had a heck of an adventure, you know, coming up to up the ladder as well. You've got some shrapnel, as well. Yeah. Without question, some indie film, some indie film shrapnel along the way, as well. So first question is Brother How and Why in God's green earth? Did you want to do this? business?

Aram Rappaport 2:08
The business in general? Oh, my God, what a? What a good question. I've never asked myself.

Alex Ferrari 2:15
I think I never did either.

Aram Rappaport 2:18
Right, exactly. It's such, you're just like, wait a sec, like now, existentially, I have to think about things. No, I mean, my, you know, originally I wanted to, to act and be an actor. And so, you know, I grew up in LA, my dad was a writer. And then he ultimately, you know, taught screenwriting as well. So when I was, you know, growing up in sort of training as an actor, and, you know, went through a lot of class and did that, you know, he had always said, you should really write for yourself, because that's going to, you know, be a mechanism to help you, you get things made. And so, you know, organic, sort of moved into writing a little bit, and then I realized, you know, it just feels better to sort of control the narrative from behind the camera. And really, you know, I was so interested in being on set, I would, you know, I did a couple little things. And I would always, you know, what are we shooting now, what's next, and, you know, the director would I was, but you know, I, you just stand over there until it's your turn to, you know, say your lines, but it's sort of interested me to be more, you know, mechanically, you know, involved in the process. And so, I think organically for me, you know, directing just helped control the narrative. And I think throughout the years, I've sort of learned that my skill set is really just, you know, helping everybody else who's actually talented, like, see the vision, you know, and motivating them to, to ultimately, you know, put their all into a project. And I think, sort of the only place for someone like that, that is inherently like, you know, not talented, but like, can rally the troops would be, you know, that leadership role, you know, to put it mathematically, but that that's so that's, you know, that's where I ended up and I, you know, I love it, and I think, you know, my, my trajectory, sort of odd, you know, you started with indie film, you know, did a few films and then and then sort of transitioned into commercials aggressively and did you know, for the last 10 years, been doing a lot of commercials and founded an agency called the boathouse where we're an agency studio hybrid. And so we do, we do a lot of commercials. And that's really, you know, where I've like, honed my skills, both on the storytelling side as well as really like, you know, from a production standpoint, and now this project to Greenville is like the first I mean, outside of Latin instruments, but this is really the first sort of like narrative driven thing I've done in quite a while so it was a really interesting transition back into that

Alex Ferrari 4:40
There is a an insanity isn't there for us to do what we do. It's because look at the beginning of the beginning, it's easy look when everything's going well, if it's never well, all the way it's never ever, ever, never never ever, like the doors all open. The money just flies in all you have is time and money to make your projects. That doesn't happen. But what When you're coming up, though, it's so hard. It's and there's so much. No, no so many noes against you. The grind is so hard you don't even there's no guarantee that anything that you're thinking of doing is going to actually come into life. That's right. Yeah, of course. How did how did you keep going in those early years, like when you were just grinding out short films and trying to just get your stuff seen and made and just just try to get your foot in the door?

Aram Rappaport 5:29
Yeah, I mean, so, you know, I never went to college. I never, you know, I, my mentality has always been sort of, like, you know, just get on the horse and pretend you can ride and, you know, see what happens. So, I mean, I admittedly made a lot of mistakes, right? You know, I mean, I would, you know, have always been very good at sort of pitching the vision or selling the vision, scrapping together a little bit of money, raising money, you know, pitching people on this sensational thing that we're going to do, and then really falling on my face, in the product in the production element, because I just didn't know what I was doing. So I think for me, it's a little bit backwards, right? Like, you know, a lot of people like, you know, I went to film school, I really honed my craft, and then I had a hard time getting into the business, I was sort of the opposite. I was very bullish in raising money and finding ways to produce things in a scrappy way, and then fell completely flat on the execution because that's where I was learning. I had never done it before. And I was just like, I'm, you know, this sensational, I'm gonna direct and do a movie and do this and do that, sort of usurped the craft itself. And I think that, you know, on my personal journey has been, like, really important, you know, moving away from this, you know, I want to do it, because it seems cool to you know, this is a craft and like, what am I trying to say, with these, you know, with these projects,

Alex Ferrari 6:47
So you were you were you were flying the plane while you were building the plane while you're flying?

Aram Rappaport 6:50
Absolutely! No, no. And I mean, we all are, I mean, I'm sure you have stories, where you're just like, I have no idea how I'm gonna shoot this this scene, but like, it might work. It might not work.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
It's, you know, isn't it fascinating dude, because so many of us and you know, and again, I had the pleasure of talking to some really insane legendary filmmakers, of course, of course, and I talked to them, and I asked them director questions, just direct questions that only a director doesn't matter what level you're at, you could be a short film director, or you could be a $20 million Oscar winner doesn't matter. But that what you just said is so indicative of a director like, Okay, we're here. Yeah, I don't know how we're gonna do this today. Let's, let's go. Because everyone thinks that the directors like Hitchcock, or like Fincher, that like did the shot 50,000 times in previous, and he's just basically just shooting with, with real people that get the shot, because he's already shot the whole movie and edited the entire movie and breathe is over a year, right? And then he's just like executing his vision. There's like, no wiggle room. And basically, that's the new generate that the 21st century Hitchcock in the way of approaching the project. But so many, most, if any, if not almost all, there's always scenes that just like, oh, well, the sun's not, says not where it needs to be, Oh, we lost, we lost the location. And so all my storyboards are gone. So you just have to kind of sit there and figure it out. But I wanted to kind of demystify that for people listening, because a lot of young filmmakers think that, Oh, you must be you're working with, you know, John, and you're working on these big projects with these big stars and all this kind of stuff. And you, you have it all figured out. And I and I know that you walk in with a plan, but the Fit hits the shed, bro, you got to roll and that's what makes a director is how to adjust and compromise and move through the stuff that's thrown at you all day. Correct?

Aram Rappaport 8:41
Totally. And I think it's like, you know, it's crisis leadership, right? Like, you, it's, it's, you know, everything's gonna go wrong. And that's okay. Like, you really have to embrace that. And I think the thing that I've learned, you know, in the beginning, you walk on set, and you think it's really exciting and sort of like it's a drug to have the power. Yes, yes. Right. I mean, you walk you walk on, and you think everybody's asking me things. Everyone's listening to me, I have all the answers. But but but then as you as you get very bad reviews on things, and people really sort of bring you back down to earth afterwards, you realize, you know, this is such a collaborative process, that it's okay to, to bring those trusted sort of pieces together, whether it's a cinematographer production designer, whatever, and be like, I know what I'm trying to say with this scene. I don't know how we're gonna get there. Let's all talk about it. And I think that's the biggest lesson that I've sort of learned over the years is this, you know, if you as a director have have have leadership and vision, but you can still be humble and execution, you know, you're going to thrive in a different way than if you have to pretend that you know everything because no one doesn't. Everybody says they had no idea how to I mean, Spielberg has stories about how the sun was in the wrong spot. And he's like, I don't know and he's obviously a genius on a different level where you think, you know, even though that son was in a different spot, he probably had eight ideas. And you know, he ran them by a cinematographer. And one of them was like the thing that they were going to do. But I think at all levels, I mean, especially for young directors, it's like, you know, rely on the people that you're hiring and and say, you know, I don't know this is my vision, though, that I'm steadfast and how do we get there, you know, and you're still going to be well respected.

Alex Ferrari 10:22
I love that this the you said the addictive kind of drug of the power. Oh, my God, like, and I have I'll tell the story real quick. When I was coming up, I made a short film that got a lot of attention around town and all that kind of stuff. And I had a I was like, one of the first to shoot like, which airsoft guns. So I was using airsoft guns was an action movie and all this kind of stuff. And I was using muzzle flashes and posts and stuff like that. So another filmmaker, another crew found out about us and like, Hey, man, can we rent your guns? And we're like, Sure. So I went down to the set. This is in Florida, like in the middle of South Florida, somewhere, went out one night, and I had a bag full of soft, soft.

Aram Rappaport 11:07
Bed full of weapons.

Alex Ferrari 11:08
Oh, no, no. This is early, early 2000s. So I'm walking in and then we go into the trailer where the director is, and the amount of pomp pompous, like arrogance of this guy. The he was three, three steps short of just having a monocle and a frickin bullhorn. I'm not joking. Like he was so far gone, bro. So I brought in he didn't know that I was a direct or anything. He was just talking to me like what's a PA? Which was like, even more disrespectful by just let it play it out.

Aram Rappaport 11:39
Right! Yeah. What do you think? It's his set?

Alex Ferrari 11:43
Whatever don't care you're gonna give me some money for these guns for the weekend. Sure. I'll take the cash. So he took the shotgun I shit you not do took the shotgun pulled out at a viewfinder. I'm not a viewfinder and pointed a shotgun at himself and said these will do and I'm like, Oh my God, even then I was still coming up. But even then I knew this

Aram Rappaport 12:07
Guy's out of his mind. Right, right. Right. Right. Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 12:10
Oddly enough, the movie didn't go anywhere. But but it's just it's just the the joy to

Aram Rappaport 12:18
Call him out by name called bush.

Alex Ferrari 12:19
I wish I wish I did. I didn't even give the the memory bank and space for his name, the name of the movie. None of it. I don't remember anything other than like a couple of things that happened that night. But I never forgot him. I'm like, Okay, so that's an example of what I don't want to be as a totally, totally. So. So alright, so when you got your so you've been making these short films, and then you get your first feature off the ground? How did you get that first feature? Which is always the toughest one to get off the ground? How did you convince someone to give you cash?

Aram Rappaport 12:49
So you know, I think um, so the first thing that I did was this. So I had a friend, Thomas Decker, who's an actor, and he was in I forgot what it was a show called The Sarah Connor Chronicles on flowers for a while. The Yeah, the Terminator thing. Right? Is that Yeah. And he played he played John Connor. And this is like, right when that show was coming out.

Alex Ferrari 13:13
Yeah, of course. I love that show. I used to love that show.

Aram Rappaport 13:16
Yeah, yeah. It was a great show with Lena Hedy. It was like, very, it was a very exciting to end here. He had wanted to be a director, and he is a director, he drinks a lot of like, very cool stuff. And he, he went out with sort of this group of friends, you know, in LA, growing up this sort of creative little think tank, and he said, You know, I'm gonna go make a feature. I'm not gonna do a short, I'm just gonna make a feature, I have no money. I'm gonna direct I'm just gonna get a bunch of my friends. And we're just all going to be in it. And he did that thing. And he put me in it. And you know, I think Megan Fox was an insight. Like, there's Brian Austin Green at the time, like some very, like, cool people did this thing. Who knows what happened to it, but it was super inspiring to see him. You know, he did that thing. And I was like, Oh, yeah. Wow. Like, he just pulled favors and cleanup, asked his friends to be in this thing. And it was, that was my impetus for saying, you know, oh, yeah, I want to go and pull the same favors. And, you know, and see if I can do it also. And so, you know, sort of, to a lesser degree, I mean, I didn't have a show, like he did, but I, you know, I was able to pull some favors with people and, specifically, you know, Leonard Martin's daughter, Jessie, who's, you know, a great friend who I've known forever, you know, she really likes supported it and was like, you know, what, I'll do makeup on this thing. And like, you can use my house and like, well, you know, this is like, right out of high school. And she was just show some sort of like the process and really, like brought in some, some cool pieces. And that was like, the first thing that was like how I did a first sort of feature. I brought in a cinematographer who was also sort of coming up and wanted a feature, you know, that's also another like, sort of piece of advice is this. You know, a lot of people do short films, right? Like, why not just do a like a really shitty 75 minute short film and then people want credits and they want to be a part of it. You know, one needs to be a part of a short film, but everybody needs to be a DP on a on their first feature. So like those are, you know, thinking outside the box in that way, like is super helpful leverage. I think that that was my first real thing where I thought, you know, let me try directing and I'll figure it out and you know, totally stuck then there was another thing that sucked another thing that sucks but

Alex Ferrari 15:16
Did is like my when I did my first feature I did exactly I think got a bunch of my friends over in LA. Yeah, this insane cast together of all these comedians shot the whole damn thing and like eight days, I was like, You know what, I'm going to dp this thing myself. Yeah. And you have to, you have to and I just like, I'll figure it out. And I'm like, if I could get it down the middle, I'll fix it in post because I'm welcome to the caller. So I'll do that. And you just and you just kind of go for it. And at the end, you're just like, hey, you know, I gotta make it was like it was just me proving to myself, I could finally get a feature made after like, so many years of doing commercials and music videos and other things I've done. I was just like, Screw it. And then it just worked out. But But yeah, you're absolutely right that and that's a big tip for anyone listening. Shorts. No one cares about truly, no one. It could be honestly the Oscar nominated or winning short film. No one cares. But on IMDb, it says feature, it adds a lot more value to people and, and they will build the work for you for free that work for you for cheap discount, just for the shot. It's a great piece of advice.

Aram Rappaport 16:22
And it feels it feels like it feels like now, there's just so many more mechanisms to create something that's feature length, or episodic length, versus just doing something because shorts are great. Like, um, you know, there's some fabulous shorts that are insanely cool. Oh, but I don't, but I don't know. And I don't know enough about that world that you think like, I feel like you know, even 10 years ago, you know, there were shorts that would come out of Sundance and be greenlit at a feature at a mini major, something where you would do like a Fox Searchlight, you know, based on shares, it feels like that just doesn't happen anymore. It was like, at a time when it was hard to get a short made. It was like, wow, that's a proof of concept. Now you're kind of like, it's this weird, aggressive. You know, we're at this place in indie film where you were, you know, excited. It's exciting. You can get things made for cheap, it's also equally as hard. But I think it's just it's it's you have to be so relentless. And that that's such a good point. Like, you know, if it's a feature, there's like some great talent that just will want to be involved. And that's what happened on the Greenvale actually, we had the cinematographer that I shot a lot of commercials with, he hadn't Luca, he hadn't done Luca fontina. He hadn't done a feature yet, or he hadn't done anything in the narrative space. And ours was a show. But it's still it was it was a narrative and he just thought I need I need this right now. Like I need this, I'm gonna kill it. My agents are gonna, you know, this is this is going to bring me to the next level on them on the feature side, and so he you know, and we paid him a lot less than we would pay him on commercials. And you know, in the end, he did it. And I think that and that's why you know exactly what you just said,

Alex Ferrari 17:50
Because he needs and I think nowadays the feature is the proof of concept. Right? Anybody can make a short in one shorts were hard to make, then that was a thing. But now that anyone can make a short at a very high level. Now you've got to like, just keep going. Just keep like I was at a festival once I saw 45 minutes short. I'm like, What's wrong with you? Yeah, just keep going. Get up like 20 Morning. Come on, do just just break 70 minutes like 68 to 70 minutes and you officially call yourself totally soulless keep going.

Aram Rappaport 18:21
And I you know what, my first thing that we just sort of I guess got distribution was this thing called the innocent that I was kidnapped true story in Chicago when I was 18. And we I turned it I've adapted it into this single take thriller that Alexa Vega girl from Star spike in Star Wars Spy Kids. She she started and it was this one take thing and we did it in Chicago, you know, in choreographed and and I learned how to use steadicam. And I shot it. And that's something where I'm like, it's going to be a feature. You watch it and you're like, this could have been a short, like, it could have been 10 minutes. 15 minutes, it would have been brilliant. It was 80 minutes, and we all fell asleep. But you know, I learned I learned through that process. You know, that's where I was like, you know, I want it to be a feature it's and by the way we had so much support because there's a features is one take thing and ever you know is Oh no. Yeah, you built

Alex Ferrari 19:16
You built up look, it's like a system when you do some of these indie projects. It's kind of like you're building up the carnival. So you you're the carnival barker. So when I did my first big short, and I had like, nobody and nothing. It was all like, Dude, it's all visual effects. It's gonna be an action thing. And I had like these storyboards and I had our concept art, and I made it look like it was the next excellent, you know, and everyone was like, I'm just want to see how this guy can even pull this off. And that's how many people jumped on board work for free. They're like, I just want to see you either fail or make it either one's going to be fantastic.

Aram Rappaport 19:48
100% 100% And it's like it's like you. It is like a traveling circus because you're like you're on location with people. You will never spend carnies before. carnies. Dude, we're totally kind of new I think like we're like sort of like highfalutin society societal, you know, boudoir carnies, but like it's bullshit. Like we go out there and we don't shower for a month. You're like eating shitty food. You know, not you like your grandma's catering with baked bagels that she found in the back of,

Alex Ferrari 20:16
If you're lucky, if you're lucky, if you're lucky, you get that?

Aram Rappaport 20:19
No, it's true. It's true. It's so true. No, but it's but but it's so exciting. Because you're like, you know, it's so much fun. And every step of the way you think like the only people that go through that process? You know, the only people that really not not if the film is good, who cares? Like if it's good or not, like, if you can get through the process, like, it's because you believe that your vision was like, absolutely unequivocably untold in any other way. And like, that's the thing that gets you whether it's true or not, who cares? You know, there's reviewers, there's this, there's distributors, but the fact that you can just get through that process means that you had such like resolute power, to be able to not give up on that thing. And that's like, the most fun to me, is challenging yourself, where you're just like, we shot nights, we you know, is an it's a 20 hour day, do I try to get one more take when everyone's exhausted? Because I feel like I need it? Or do I? Or do we just go home and give up and say, you know, this was good enough, it's probably going to cut you know, and it's those moments that challenge you on such an emotional level and a physical level, you know, and you think you get through that. And there's such a rush at the end of production, where you're just like, we did it, like we did that thing. Who knows if it's good, but we did it, you know, we got through that.

Alex Ferrari 21:32
And that's like, when Kubrick you know, would say he's like, hey, you know, we're all here. They built the sets, stay until we get it right. At five takes later, we can move on.

Aram Rappaport 21:45
Totally, totally, totally. And that's like, I feel like the one thing I've learned in commercials is sort of how to cut and how to, you know, sort of maintain the sanctity of like those performances and like, you know, protect the actors in that process. In a way that, you know, especially for this most recent thing, where we shot like eight episodes, and you know, five, we shot like 250 300 pages. So we were shooting 15 to 20 pages a day with with a single camera. And it all looks really pretty.

Alex Ferrari 22:13
I mean, you did a single on this single camera.

Aram Rappaport 22:17
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We will, because it's so so this is another thing. So Luca RDP really did not want to shoot with two cameras. Fair enough. And he wanted, you know, and by the way, like, I would challenge him on that, because I'm like, we're never going to make our days if you're trying to light a single frame, you know, we need to cover this in the right way. It turned out that he was just so fluid in the way that he lit and these images look like, I don't know if you've seen any of it, but the images Yeah. Yeah, they look like Norman Rockwell painting.

Alex Ferrari 22:46
Like, you read my mind. They look like paintings. He did a fantastic job and the production design in the, in the the wardrobe and the way was all laid out.

Aram Rappaport 22:53
And yeah, it's a gritty, it's a gritty world. And you think like, you know, that was one of those things where I just thought, you know, I've worked with this guy and commercial so long, I know how we were gonna, you know, we have a shorthand, you know, if I'm trying to sort of cut in my head. And, and, and we we can maybe make it work with one camera, you know.

Alex Ferrari 23:10
So that's, that's the that's the other thing that a lot of filmmakers don't understand, too. So like, let's say, you're a young filmmaker, you get your first project out. And let's say there's a DP, who he just super advanced, has done $10,000,000.15 $20 million movies, and he's like, You know what, I'm gonna do your $100,000 movie. Yeah, like the story. That is a death sentence. Because they it's a death sentence. Right? I've been there too. Because if they're used to those kinds of resources, they don't understand how to make $100,000 worth of resources work. You can go the other way. Yeah, it's really hard to go back. So like I you know, you can't give James Cameron $100,000 to make a movie like He's incapable of talent. He actually I actually knew somebody who worked with him. And he was talking to somebody on a set. And the, and the guy said, oh, yeah, I just made my features like, oh, great, man. Great. You know what it did? He goes, Yeah, yeah, just, you know, grab the 100,000 bucks. And I meant to make it. And you could see Cameron's face, the computer started to crack. He couldn't understand. He's like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so far, he's been so far, so long, James Cameron, that he couldn't grasp the idea of 100 Like, it's just what

Aram Rappaport 24:28
Go and by the way, we should all be so lucky. Like, I would love to not grasp the idea of like, I don't I don't do work around ideas that like

Alex Ferrari 24:37
I don't like what I'm like, you've been James Cameron for 30 years. So you don't understand these things. At least got for 30 years and you've shot 10,000 commercials and

Aram Rappaport 24:51
I was about to mention that because you know, going you know to having done commercials for a while now. You know, whether it's like, you know for Apple or Victoria's Secret or whatever, I mean, those, everyone says they don't have any money. But when it comes to selling products, if, if a client believes that that's a, if there's a piece of creative that's going to help, the money will be there. It's so different, you know, when you go back to doing something on the independent level where you just think I can't convince anybody that this crazy one or

Alex Ferrari 25:23
That I need the technical crane for five days.

Aram Rappaport 25:25
Yeah, exactly. We can't, we can't do it. So that was, but that was also super exciting to me. Because for me, it was like, you know, having having, I don't want to say it's a sterile world, it's a very exciting world being doing commercials, but like, you know, you're reporting directly to a purpose. You know, it's it's, it's selling brother, you're selling product. That's its commerce. I mean, that's, that's, that's the thing. It's not art. So it's a different, it was a totally different mindset, which was such a rush to be like back in that space and be like, oh, yeah, no, I don't have as much money. But I also can just do it the way I want to do it, I can just, I can go do this thing.

Alex Ferrari 25:57
And I don't have to spend, you know, eight hours lining a bottle?

Aram Rappaport 26:01
Who? Exactly, exactly, exactly. And it's one of those things where, like, you know, it plays into, I feel like, you know, I always try to like double down on like, what's my purpose? Like, why? Why do I want to do this? Why I'm, you know, and like, at the end of the day, you know, you want people to really connect with what you make. And I feel like that that's been a through line for me in terms of, you know, any commercial I do, there's the really good ones that like people are like, wow, that was a good commercial, there's the really crappy ones that still perform well. And you think, Oh, I'm glad it worked. But oh, I just wish it would have created better. And those are the moments that remind me that like, oh, yeah, like, I want to be a storyteller. Like, my number one goal is not just to do a job or facilitate a thing. It's like, you know, I want to be able to tell narratives that like really, you know, really, really hit and so it's, it's, you know, that's why it's nice, you know, it's fun to fight for, you know, anything to you know, to create anything linearly. I mean, it's and it's a miracle that ever gets paid, period. No, it's a mere I mean, it's a miracle. I mean, it's impossible, but especially in COVID now, and COVID.

Alex Ferrari 26:59
Now, oh, that's even worse. It's even, it's even more impossible to get anything made.

Aram Rappaport 27:02
It's possible. And John reminded me of that every day as he was getting rammed up the nostril with a COVID test telling me that he, you know, he was doing this for me, and, you know, so, you know, I thought he was gonna walk every time he got, like, I said, we could move to the, you know, the anal COVID tests if he wanted, but he, you know, he's stuck with the nose.

Alex Ferrari 27:25
So don't be stuck with the nose, you know, but you know, that's, that's, that's John. But I'm just saying Meryl Streep would have done whatever it needed to be. I'm just saying she would have done whatever Daniel Day would have done whatever it took. I'm just saying,

Aram Rappaport 27:39
Can you follow up with John on that, actually, because that's a very good, that's a very good point.

Alex Ferrari 27:44
I mean, I heard Daniel Day and Denzel day where I had no problem with whatever it was.

Aram Rappaport 27:49
John, what I tell the story a lot just because I like the article exists. But you know, in China, like during, you know, during the Olympics, I read some, there was some article that said, you know, China brings back, you know, anal COVID swabs for tourists at the airport manual, anal COVID swabs. And I brought this article to set and showed it to John and I was like, John, this is the new this is the new norm, so we're swapping out the nose for the you know, the anus, and and then I just walked out and I walked out and I said, you know, I'm like, It's not today today, you know, we're still doing the nose. But tomorrow the hospital is going to bring in the guys to do the the AMA. It's a different crew. And you know, I just wanted to let you know, and you know, anyways, great day. I'll see you out there. And then his assistant came running out and he's like, is is that are we doing the animals is that what was that a thing? I'm like, No, it's not a fucking thing. What do you tell him? Of course not. Why would we ever do that? That's crazy. I'd rather get COVID What do you mean? So that was that was that's my relationship.

Alex Ferrari 28:48
Oh my god. That's amazing. Ah, absolutely. The best story I'm going to use I'm going to tell that story everywhere

Aram Rappaport 28:54
That's why you can google it exists I'm not just like some

Alex Ferrari 28:57
No no but your story with John

Aram Rappaport 29:00
Yeah. That's that's an exclusive that's

Alex Ferrari 29:04
So are we are we are we doing the Adel swaps are we

Aram Rappaport 29:07
I'm like tell him Yeah, you should know you should have you should have you should have kept that going for a little bit. I should have filmed it the next day and had seen you should know

Alex Ferrari 29:14
You should have done you should have done a whole Jackass thing. Like they can't bring it and bring that like get one of the grips that John didn't see the guy doing it like

Aram Rappaport 29:25
100% Meanwhile, we're doing this like super deep dark, you know, 50s Drama on oppression and he's standing there in his like, you know, 50s garb like Wait, am I getting anal swab? Like what what's happening here, you know,

Alex Ferrari 30:07
Alright, so as directors, when we're on a set, there's always that one day, that the fit. It's the Shan, the lights, not there, the camera breaks that the there's annual swabs on onset onset, something happens that, that you you feel like the entire world's coming crashing down around you on on Greenvale or on any project. What was that day? And how did you overcome it as a director?

Aram Rappaport 30:35
You know, that's a good question. I mean, I think that obviously, you know, there's different types of people, you know, some people thrive under, you know, that immense pressure, you know, some people don't, I think that, you know, whether I make the right decisions or the wrong decisions, I usually, I enjoy that level of pressure. So I think for me, like, you know, I sort of expect those, there's a level of anxiety where I just expect every every day go wrong. So when all things go wrong, it's like, well, I was a great day. So I think my mindsets will be different. But there's always your I mean, I've had instances where actors have, like, you know, disagreed with a note and walked off, and we've had to shoot coverage of his female counterpart by herself. You know, we've had instances where I had an actor fire our first ad, because he hated him on something some years ago. And we were sort of left pick, you know, choosing between an actor and the ad. And, you know, I mean, there were just, I feel like, there, there have been some sort of crazy instances where, you know, everything that I've sort of done on, like, the linear space has been, you know, a passion project. So like, when people come to do that, it's because they're passionate about it. So when you challenge that, or change the vision, or adjust, or it's not what they thought, like, there's emotions run really high, you know, and that's exciting. But it's also terrifying, because I think when you're, whether it's a DP, or a production designer, or an actor, or a costume designer, if you sort of show up and tell someone, you know, we can't afford that, or we lost the light, we're going to have to shoot it differently. You know, as a director, all you can do is really maintain like this even keel positivity around, even though you know, that it's probably a complete fuckup you're like, No, it's going to work, this is going to work. This is the right thing, you know, let's, let's keep going. And, and, you know, that sort of, like resolute need to like, keep the troops marching is really important. And I don't know if there's any one specific thing it feels like every day or every few every day. Oh, there's always something that's, I mean, we've lost. You know, I think the biggest thing is always been, you know, working on on this latest thing, I think, you know, this was like a drama that also had, you know, tonally was sci fi as well, as, you know, there was some levity to how the characters interact, you know, John would call it a play, you know, it was a it was the dialogue was sort of like repetitious, and it did you know, it felt lyrical. And so I think a lot of that was worked out on set in rehearsal, and we had no time to rehearse. So those were the things that were the most challenging. Were sort of, you know, we're shooting 18 pages today, if you rehearse that scene one more time. Everything was was pertinent, you know, we lose another valuable scene at the end of the day, where we have to get an insert on the gun. If we don't, no one knows she has a gun. And that's the tension, you know, so things like that, what I think were that were the toughest were was sort of like, okay, like, you know, what, are we going to compromise on that still, collectively, if I step back, you know, this world still works. We need to lead people to believe that this thing works. I think those those those are the sort of things I felt like I've learned over the years is sort of like when to really compromise and when to vocalize that we need to get it right.

Alex Ferrari 33:58
Then there's the other thing to man is like that they don't tell you, especially when you're coming up, man, I don't know if this happened to you or not. But you get you know, you're normally I remember when I was the youngest guy on set. I remember I'm sure you do as well.

Aram Rappaport 34:09
Yeah, yeah. I'm, I'm I'm 20 20 and a half,

Alex Ferrari 34:13
I tried to at least 20 and a half. So, but when you're the youngest guy, or you're just starting out, the crew, most of the time is most of the times a little bit more experienced than you. And sometimes the actors are more experienced than you. Yeah. And that's when and that's

Aram Rappaport 34:30
When we often write like, I mean, there's always going to be someone that's more experienced than you. It doesn't matter if you're who you are really like you train

Alex Ferrari 34:37
To a certain to a certain extent. Absolutely. Yeah, you're always gonna be, but this is when this is what they don't teach you a film school, which is who's testing you to see how far they can push you. And that's the actors and that's also with key crew people as well. I mean, I've had DPS who were interested in their reel and that's so much interested in what I was doing. They just wanted to get their shot, because they knew that was going to be in the reel and then didn't really care about working, they took the project cuz they're like, Oh, we're gonna be on this location, I'm gonna get the techno crane. And I'm gonna do this and this, or I'm gonna fight for this shot because this is going to get my, there's going to be on my demo reel,

Aram Rappaport 35:12
And how would you handle that? So how did you like how would you, you know?

Alex Ferrari 35:16
So first so the first time it happened, I didn't know what the hell to do. And I had to like kind of, you know, the very first time it happened I had to, and I told the story before but I'll tell it again. My very first time I spent on my demo reel when I shot my 35 millimeter commercial demo reel. Wow, yeah. Oh, yeah, I'm that old. I shot I shot a cost me about 50 grand back in the day. All right. And I hired a DP team. So problem number one. Have you worked with the DP team? No, nobody does because it doesn't exist. But with these guys, they had to had a grip truck. They had access to the film camera, I needed a high speed film camera. We were shooting at 90 frames, you know, I was doing some like really fashion commercial stuff that I was doing. You know, I had a model who was a friend of mine and we were doing this whole exports model thing. And they were so they were mostly industrial guys. And sometime commercial guys, and not la sometime commercialized. This is Florida sometime commercial guys. So that means that they didn't have the same experience as a California or sorry anybody living in Florida. I I know a lot of good guys down there. But you know what I mean? Is just they just didn't have the experience that that the crews on the other side have a lot of times so they came in and I was so terrified that they didn't know what they were going to do with this film stock because we were shooting reversal stock.

Aram Rappaport 36:43
Yeah. Oh my god, I can't see that. I've never shown some of my life the anxiety. I can't even

Alex Ferrari 36:48
So shot on shooting on a reversal stock because I wanted to do that whole like MC g 90s.

Aram Rappaport 36:55
Yeah, blown out by looks amazing.

Alex Ferrari 36:58
It's fast as Wonder I love that. It's still one of my favorite things ever shot. So it was it's so it was we shot this whole thing. But I was so terrified because I'm like this is with with with reversal stock. You've got to have stop. Yeah, latitude. You can you can check you can check around. Yeah, yeah. So I like literally printed out an entire packet on how to shoot reversal stock. I was so terrified for the day. Yeah. And gave it to them. Do they? They must I mean, we shot it and we got it in the can. But they they took forever to light. They both of them are running around with their light meters like clicking every frickin corner. Oh my gosh. And then wait, and then high speed. Here that film cam go. Oh, yeah. And you hear that sound? And all I'm hearing is like $5 $10 $20 Exactly, exactly. It was just flying by and I'm like please Oh snap, please. Oh, snap. Please don't stop because of snaps. Oh my god, we're done. And I didn't have like rolls and rolls of

Aram Rappaport 38:02
Exactly. Exactly. You know, how are you gonna get more rolls if you're out like that. So

Alex Ferrari 38:06
It was it was insane. It was insane. So those guys i Then I then we did another spot the next day and they were so bad. They were trying to like muscle their way into what I was doing. And I was looking at what they were doing. I'm like this is not good. And I just at the end of the day, I scrapped the entire thing. I burned the negative. Wow, I literally burned I burned it. And then I rehired a new dp and I spent another $20,000 and shot the spot that I wanted the way I wanted to do it and got it done right so but with that those days those guys I was just like I was just constant and I was yelling out where it half stop. Were one for one like I was the one constantly yelling out I know what we need to be out here. And I was I was on them on them on them on them because I was just so insecure. Yeah, they you know, the by the way, first day one, the entire grip team walked off within 10 minutes that's how ridiculous that's my first day first day I'm spending all my money and the entire grip department walks away in the first 10 minutes because they were so unprofessional they didn't know what to do. So I was just like oh my god so that's that extreme but then I've had other TVs who are like older guys who just for whatever reason wanted to wave their you know what in my face and just right right right? No, no, I don't think that's the way the shot is going to be so then that's the point where you as a director have to go look man, we're gonna have a half cup conversation. You and it's not and but that's how you get tested and then actors test you within the first five or 10 minutes and they test you just to make sure that they feel comfortable. You're totally safe and safe. If they feel safe, they'll give you the world but if they don't feel safe that's when the problem starts.

Aram Rappaport 39:39
We agree that that's like you know that's why we did this project is because John and I haven't worked together you know we've shot too thin we you know, we shot a movie we shot the Netflix special and then you know we've done a handful of commercials together that he started that he's brought me in on to direct which has been amazing. But there was sort of a level of trust that was there. And the trust wasn't, you know, that's what people sometimes hear, they hear that and they go, Oh, he trusted you to make it to make him the best he can be. It's really, it wasn't about that it wasn't about the final result, it was trust, to explore, you know, and this trust, to be able to take risks, and own those risks. And that's the thing that, you know, you'll find a lot of actors will either, you know, really don't want to do, they're gonna give you what they're gonna give you, because they don't trust that when you're in the editing room, you're not going to completely fuck it up. You know, or there's the other ones, there's the actors that just go totally crazy and need you to hold them in linearly, you know, and remind them where we're at in the arc. And if you don't, you're not going to have a project, you can piece together, you know, from from a story beat perspective, but I think with John, like, the thing that I, you know, admire about him so much is that, you know, we sat down, and I pitched this thing to him. And, you know, he said, you know, he's a character who never played before, and he wanted, I mean, maybe he talked about already, but, but, you know, to be able to get on set and watch him do something different every take, that still was in the world, but they were different decisions, you know, based on different, you know, sort of like organic, you know, justifications, you know, what, whether it was an action or you know, you know, linearly he thought, oh, maybe I should be at a different point in my journey here. Let's try two things. The fact that he was so open to explore that is why this ultimately works and is successful, because we block shot, you know, 300 pages, and he was shooting, you know, seven dinner scenes back to back from episode one, episode eight, back to episode three, Episode Seven. And, you know, if we didn't have that trust, to sort of stumble through it together, you know, I think it would be like a very different projects. I think he you know, he's one of those rare guys that you just think of like, like, you've done everything in your career, you've, you've been everywhere worked with everybody, and you're still just trying to be better, like, better at everything, you know, and he and he's doing it. I mean, every step of the way, he bests the last year of his career. You know,

Alex Ferrari 42:01
It's interesting that, that that concept of allowing the space to explore Yeah, is so important to actors. And John spoke about it in the interview that we had that he's like, let me bump around. Yeah, me, me. There's a box. Yeah, I might not know where the end of the box is. Yeah. But that's your job to bring me back in if I'm going too far off, or the box that we're putting in, but let me play within the box. And don't just try to throw me down the middle because that's when you stifle me, you stifle me, you're not gonna get anything out of me. Totally.

Aram Rappaport 42:36
So and you think that you know, this is a guy that's like, a Tony winning playwright, you know, I mean, this is a guy who has a Smithsonian where like, you can't put them on set and say, you got to do this one thing I mean,

Alex Ferrari 42:47
He didn't align read him, give him a line reading see what

Aram Rappaport 42:50
His story is about that from from from certain movies where he goes, you know, a director was given me a line reading and it was like the three worst months of my life I just showed up. I was a robot. It's like, that's just some people like that. I mean, there are actors that want to go to work and just do the one thing go home like he's just not that guy, you know, and that's what you know, that's what Well, yeah, I mean, that's what I love about working with him. It's the most incredible thing in the world and like between that and his activism in this sort of like, I mean, he I don't know if he sleeps one hour a day or what but like, you know, I mean, he just was like, put on this earth to make waves in that way and you can't stop it.

Alex Ferrari 43:23
No, and it's really interesting to see you know, and we want to turn this into a John love fest because then he love that he'll love his his head's gonna get too big and you know, it already is was trying to know but no, but but in all honesty, though, like you look at look at an actor like him who's done so many different varieties, I mean, Moulin Rouge, and yeah, Juliet and casualties of war and, and you just, and then that the list just goes on and on. And just like, you know, I was when I was preparing for his conversation. I just went back through his IMDb in his filmography. I'm like, Jesus Christ. Like, there's so many movies that you just like, that's right. Carlitos way. Yeah, that's right. Oh, he was in that too. Oh, my God. That's right. He was and you just go back. And you know, like, I brought up spawn, because I'm like, no one ever no one ever calls out spawn the clown. It's one of the performances, one of his best performances ever since sanity, and he taught and that he said he, they didn't know what he had no idea what he was going to do up until the director yelled action for this entire time.

Aram Rappaport 44:30
I believe it Yeah. And I mean, he just blew up. We were talking at some point about the voice of the sloth and Ice Age and how he tried a bunch of stuff and also didn't know what he was going to do and, and the studio liked what he did or something like that man might be telling the story wrong. But then eventually, you know, he got behind the mic and did something and it was like, you know, that's it. That's the thing, you know, and it's it's incredible to see that. I mean, I hate him as a person but he's a talented.

Alex Ferrari 44:53
I mean, he's a horrible human being.

Aram Rappaport 44:56
As an actor, he's he's he's phenomenal to watch and hammering

Alex Ferrari 45:00
No but to be to be as to be as a performer. And this is also the way it is with directors or certain directors who work this way. That work kind of like on the on like my last film I did. I shot and four days at Sundance, about filmmakers trying to sell a movie at Sundance, I still owe the entire movie. I got there, and I just like, let's roll. And let's see what happens. And I was like, Oh, my God, this is what like, what it feels like to be an actor in many ways, because we were all as a collective Creative Collective, figuring it out along the way, to the point where when we got on the we're on the plane that like I said, Do you have it? I'm like, I don't know.

Aram Rappaport 45:38
Yeah, we don't know. Yeah, we'll put it together.

Alex Ferrari 45:40
I have no idea if we have a movie. I have no idea. If we haven't, I think we have a movie. My experience says, but it was in a such a low budget. And it was just kind of like me just experimenting, having fun, that you were just like, oh my god, this feels so you feel so alive, as opposed to being on a commercial set, where you're working with a client, and that has its own energy and its own thing. But this you feel like,

Aram Rappaport 46:03
Oh my god, there's an immediacy to it. There's such an immediacy to it.

Alex Ferrari 46:06
Right, like the Duplass brothers or John sweat Joe Salzberg, who did these kinds of like, you know, mumblecore films back in the day, that they're just kind of like, Here's an outline. Let's all figure it out today.

Aram Rappaport 46:17
Yeah, totally.

Alex Ferrari 46:18
Exciting is how to do that. It's terrifying. But it's so yeah,

Aram Rappaport 46:22
Yeah. It's exciting. Totally, totally. i It's more exciting. If it turns out well,

Alex Ferrari 46:28
Yeah. If it didn't work out, yeah. You're like,

Aram Rappaport 46:31
Oh, we went through that. Okay. I don't know if I'll do that again. But so

Alex Ferrari 46:34
Is there. Is there something that you wish you would have told yourself if you had an opportunity to go back at that first, the first beginnings of your career? To tell yourself Listen, Adam, this is you gotta watch out for this.

Aram Rappaport 46:47
Yeah, that's a good that's a really good question. I think, you know, there was this. I did a movie some years ago, called syrup with Ambit was with Amber Heard Shiloh Fernandez never heard of her. I never heard of her. Never heard of her never telling lots of other people. And it was based on a book and it was, you know, it was it was probably like, sort of the first, like, bigger thing that I did was an indie. You know, it was it was

Alex Ferrari 47:14
I saw I mean, it looks it looks amazing. It looks good to camera. You were talking to cameras that had a little vibe to it.

Aram Rappaport 47:20
Yeah, they talked to cameras, but you know, but it was it was also from a structural perspective is problematic, you know, we had to go back and do reshoots, and we had to, you know, it was, that's one thing. I've also learned, just as an aside, you know, there's a script that can read really well. But but but with experience, you learn what's going to play to an audience, sometimes that isn't on the page. And I think that's, that's the difference between those really, really good directors that can seat that can read a script, or a writer director, who can write something that they know is going to translate, because that was one instance, where we wrote a lot of direct to camera, talking at the audience Edrick in the fourth wall breaking, we started, you know, testing it, and we realized that like, audiences don't want to be talked to they want to be shown things, you know, and so it read really well, because it was this sort of flippant, cheeky dialogue about marketing, and people read through the scripts, agents love that actors love that. I mean, it was like we, you know, is a beloved script based on a great book. You know, we went and shot the script. And, and we were excited about it. I was excited about it. And then we watched it. And I was like, Wait a second, we got to go back. And we work things. Because it just doesn't, it doesn't we're not rooting for these characters in the same way. But I, you know, back back to your What was your question? I didn't remember. If there's something that you wish you would have told you younger self? Yeah. So so so I screened this, this film for a producer, and, and she said, You know, it's not there. But trust me, when I say it's not going to be your last movie, you're going to be fine. And I was wrapped.

Alex Ferrari 48:56
You don't? You'll work again,

Aram Rappaport 48:58
That's literally your work. You know, and that's like, I mean, because I always try to get back is really honest about these things. Like, you know, I've made a lot of shitty, like very, very bad things. Because I that's how I learned to make to try to make better than hopefully my work is getting better as we go. And this is hopefully not the best thing I'll ever do. And hopefully there'll be more, that's better. But you I think there are those guys that are those, you know, those filmmakers that just, you know, they pop onto the scene. And that's like, they their first movie is like a hit, you know, that was like, definitely not me, you know. And that was the biggest piece of advice I wish I actually took in was this notion that like, every time I did something bad I thought, well, this is the last this is the end. It's never it was never a learning experience. It was always like, this is shameful, you know, I'm shamed no one ever talks and

Alex Ferrari 49:42
You know, and you know what, and you're not looked at that stop me from making my first feature for almost 1520 years because

Aram Rappaport 49:48
Right there you go, there you go. Exactly exact cause of that energy of

Alex Ferrari 49:51
The the, if I got to make a movie, it's gotta be Reservoir Dogs. No, it's It's gotta it's gotta be. It's gotta be paranormal activities got to be something that it's explodes out of it. And that's then that's the mentality that was the kind of the Kool Aid that I drank from the 90s coming out, because that's what everything was like it had to be this huge thing.

Aram Rappaport 50:10
And those were those zingy indies where it was like the only indies you heard about were those indies that were just the best movies that had ever come out in those years like period, perhaps.

Alex Ferrari 50:19
Absolutely. And the directors all went off to have insane careers. So that was what I thought I had to do. I was like, Oh, I'm going to make something that has to be like, yeah, it has to be Reservoir Dogs. But then then you look back and you go, no, nobody else made a Reservoir Dogs. They all made their own things. Kevin made clerks. Linkletter made slacker that they they all did their thing. But and they were right time, right place, right product, all that kind of stuff as well. But at a certain point, you just got to just do it. That's when I when I finally hit 40. I just said screw it. I'm just gonna go make a movie. And from the moment I came up with the idea to the when we're done with production was two months.

Aram Rappaport 50:56
Yeah, yeah. Well, and that's what happens, right? You just you get that motivation. You just go and do it. And you have to be sort of like, you know, erotic about it. And blinded by it.

Alex Ferrari 51:05
No, I did it so fast. I couldn't talk myself out of it. Because if you said Yeah, six months, eight months, you're like, Oh, well, I need this camera. Or I need Yeah, right. This cast I didn't want to give myself so it was like a experiment on myself to just go I'm just gonna get it done to prove to myself that I could tell a story and I could sell a movie and and did all that. It was, it was fascinating. Now we've been we've been dipping around or toying around the Greenvale tell me about the green veil. And it's really interesting. John talks a bit about it in in his interview, I find it fascinating that you guys kind of did an indie series. So you know, self financed indie series that now you're out in the marketplace trying to sell, which is something that doesn't get done often has done been done, but not at this level that I know of it. Yeah, we're just kind of cast in this kind of production. So tell me about the project.

Aram Rappaport 51:53
So yeah, I mean, so So we, you know, I knew having been in commercials for a while, I knew that I wanted to try to get back into like, some linear expression, you know, some content that we you know, whether it was serialized content, whether it was a film, whether whatever. So we you know, just because I launched this agency in studio, we sort of had the facilities to launch a television film division as a financier. You know, we've sort of been blessed with our clients and subsidize that film and television production with money that we, you know, made on the agency side. And so this was sort of that first project. For me, that was like a proof of concept as a quote, unquote, like studio that's financing, just to kind of prove that we could do this. So I think for us, it's like, we knew that we wanted to be in TV, we've never done TV before. You know, we could pitch for years and try to figure that out. Or we could just go out and do something and sort of stumble through it. That's sort of always been my approach, obviously.

Alex Ferrari 52:56
As we've made many points of in this interview, it's great. And works for you, sir.

Aram Rappaport 53:03
And if you learn anything, it's don't do it this way. I'm sure there's an easier way it will take. But but but no, but I mean, you know, so I having worked with Java for John and I were just coming off the the Netflix thing that was a lot of fun, and, you know, received well, and, and John, I was reading these articles about alien invasions that happened in the 50s. And it was this very sensationalized period when there was a lot of, you know, repression and oppression, from housewives to, you know, Native Americans to immigrants to to everybody really, you know, was very oppressed in a certain way. It was post world war two women were working during World War Two, and they were, you know, really running things while men were off at war. And then they came back and there was this reckoning, you know, where women were now suddenly, housewives. Again, men were trying to like re command control of their families. And, you know, there was this insane eradication of sort of, like Native Americans. So anyways, I wanted to put all that stuff together because it just it felt like if we could sort of sensationalized you know, a story that sort of is grounded in a sci fi element where there were these, you know, these these sort of like, true reported UFO sightings with, you know, the themes of assimilation and oppression in the 50s it would make for like, a really interesting world. Like, at that time, I didn't know what it was gonna be, but it just felt like it was a really interesting, you know, let's do an anthology on oppression in America with a really interesting tone that feels like it's not just a drama and it's not just preachy, that it's you know, we've got a hook so I loop John in and said, you know, we can you play this like all American dad who's like Latin, but we don't save these Latin and there's these really hidden bizarre undertones of his patriotism. And John was like, you know, I've always wanted to play like a self loathing self hating, you know, Latin I mean, what he calls his you know, like a Trumpian lat Latin we are Trumpian you know, this supporter, you know, Latin Trump supporter of something. Got it. Got it. And, and so, you know, he was always fascinated with like the leader of the proud boys who's like this Latin guy and he's like, what what is he doing? Like how is that? Real? You know? And so, you know we

Alex Ferrari 55:15
Oh, I gotta stop. He's like, did you ever see the Dave Chappelle? Bit? Where he was the the blind? Ku Klux Klan? Yes, yes. Yeah, he was, oh my god, or something like that.

Aram Rappaport 55:29
It was literally it was literally that, you know, and so that's what we, you know, I said, Well, you know, why don't you play this all American guy who like, you know, obviously, there's some like, you know, deeply rooted, like systemic issues there. But you're tasked with, you know, assimilation, like native assimilation at the FBI, and you're, you're an American, you're an American and a patriot. And, and let's let you reckon with those issues, and he's like, I've never played that role before I trust that we can have fun with this and see where it goes. And from a from a, you know, not a therapeutic standpoint. But like, as an actor, it was something that he like, you know, wanted to embrace, and that that was the project. So we thought, you know, let's root it in this family with you and sort of, like, see where this thing goes. And that that's the Greenville. It's a story of Gordon Rogers, who's played by John Leguizamo. And he's tasked with native assimilation on the East Coast, which is something that happened was rampant, you know, in the US and in Canada's, you know, evident by the discovery of these boarding schools, and, you know, these mass graves under these boarding schools that we just found in Canada recently, but, you know, John's character is making way for a pipeline, and there's a lot of nefarious things he's doing. And his wife finds out that there was some, you know, he was investigating an alien invasion that may or may not be an alien invasion, and, you know, shit hits the fan from there. And, you know, John's character ultimately is forced to sort of reckon with, you know, who he is. And, you know, and where he's going, you know, in this in this world. And that's, and that's, that's how we got to eight episodes.

Alex Ferrari 56:59
And you got to Tribeca, did this screen yet or not?

Aram Rappaport 57:02
It screen yet screens on Monday night? And it's, we had an online thing on Wednesday, and then we just screened last night was our our second screening?

Alex Ferrari 57:11
And how's it? How has it been received?

Aram Rappaport 57:13
It was great. I mean, it was received really well, you know, we got a couple really positive reviews. And, you know, people seem very into it. And I think, you know, the challenge for us is obviously, you know, educating a marketplace on an independent TV show. And that's something that is, you know, it's it's, you know, we know, the sort of indie model of acquisitions. And,

Alex Ferrari 57:33
You know, isn't it isn't that fun? Isn't it? The fun part?

Aram Rappaport 57:36
It's just, it's a lesser known, you know, it's a lesser known reality, but I think like, you know, it's something that we feel really passionate about, I don't think we would have gotten this show made, had we not, you know, financed it. And, and developed it with John in a way that just, you know, he wanted to play this role. And that's, and that's what we did. And I, you know, he's, I would never want it, that's something I've learned is that, you know, working with new exciting actors is great, but working with like, your best friends that you trust and who trust you is, is is the best thing in the world. It doesn't matter what the project is.

Alex Ferrari 58:07
And that's because because you go because you've gone into war together. Ready, man? Yeah, you just you just use it. You've been in the shit, you've been in different level,

Aram Rappaport 58:16
It's a different level of trust that you just can't overestimate you.

Alex Ferrari 58:20
No, no, absolutely. Absolutely. The DP, I took the Sundance with me, I'd use I've done a couple projects with them. And I'm like, I could I just knew, shoot, just shoot, I know, it's gonna be done. And it's like, I don't have to worry about that. Because you just know, they're gonna get you back. And then you work with actors again. And again. You're like, Yeah, I know that they're bringing that toolbox with them today. And yeah, yeah. And they got your back. And when you're going, if you're going into the war, man, it's like full metal jacket, man, you just, you know, or, you know, you Joker, you know, or

Aram Rappaport 58:51
You just want to do better work. Also, when you're working with Yeah, I want you to be that, you know, that's the like, you know, yeah, I mean, there's something about I mean, that was always my thing with John is like, he has always just challenged me to, like, you know, let's make it a little bit better, a little bit better. Let's watch someone else show notes. Let's go, you know, and he's always had to, I mean, he's been vocal, but he's had to work harder than everybody else to get to where he is. And that is, you know, I was saying, I reckon with online history for morons, right? Like, you know, I'm a white Jew from the valley directing Latin history for morons, you know, I mean, that was something that I would have conversations with him about and be like, am I the right guy for this? Am I Are you sure you want me to? You know, and he would always say, you know, yes, you're the right guy. Because the vision that you your vision is what I want within this project. And like, that's ally ship, and it's okay to be an ally and it's okay to still support and try to be the best you can be. And so I feel like are, you know, something about, like you said, going into battle but with really dissonant views on things, and then challenging those views and sort of coming together with like, you know, a common narrative is the thing that, you know, I love most and sort of cherish about that relationship.

Alex Ferrari 59:57
Well, I mean, I really, I really hope you do well. With this in the same room I hope this is a new model for a lot of people out there because Look man, it's it's it's a tough slog doing indie films, man, you know, and I'm, I'm in the trenches every day talking to people every day about it from every aspect from the scripts all the way to distribution. I know what's going on with that. And this might be another avenue where creatives I mean, look, all the indie guys from the 90s. Most of them are going into television. Right, right, exactly. All of the early 2000s. Like, they're all into, because that's where the cool stuff. That's why television is. It's so cool. Yeah, so good. Because the writing is good. And it's just, you know,

Aram Rappaport 1:00:37
Explore a story and like multiple episodes, and

Alex Ferrari 1:00:39
You may take your time and build it up and all that stuff. It's, I've never done anything like That's incredible. Yeah. So I'm gonna ask you a few questions, ask all of my guests or what advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Aram Rappaport 1:00:56
A filmmaker is gonna try to break into the business. I mean, again,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
Just do it and see how it works out.

Aram Rappaport 1:01:02
I think you just got to do and and see, I mean, there's, like, you know, you just got to do it. I mean, you just gotta like, if you have a vision and a story that no one else is told, you know, that's something worth risking everything for. So go do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:17
What did you learn from your biggest failure?

Aram Rappaport 1:01:21
What did I learn from my biggest failure? You know, to just dust it off and get back up and shrug it off and do it and keep going. I think that's, that's always I mean, this is like, such a brutal town. You know, I mean, like, you know, if a movie is bad, an agent won't get you a job anymore. Yeah, an actor won't work with you or whatever. But it's all bullshit. I mean, who cares?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
Like, everyone, everyone's you know, when you're hot, you're hot. And when you're not, you're not. And it's like next. But then, five years later, you write something that everyone wants now and like, I don't know, I'm

Aram Rappaport 1:01:52
100%. Like, Ben Affleck. I think when he wanted his academy award, not the first one. But like, the second time like afterwards, like sort of his was surgeons or whatever, I think, you know, he said it best. He's like, you know, this business is about like, just not holding grudges, forgiveness. And just, you know, that's just I mean, it's certainly personal. Don't take it first can't take it. But because again, like you're like, as creators, like we're throwing everything into these projects emotionally and no one else is, the agents are not the executives are not no one's no one is throwing themselves into these things like so we take everything personally, of course, like we're going to, but at the end of the day, like, you know, you have to just expect the unexpected. If it doesn't work, you know, you get up and you do it again, if you were meant to do it, if it's truly what you have to do to survive, like you're gonna do it again.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:41
I tell you, I heard I was watching an interview with Taylor Sheridan this last weekend, and I'm just the biggest Taylor shattered and found in the way he's like, so amazing what he's doing. He's, he's working at a level that all afraid to be working at. Yeah, right now. And he said, You know, I've been in this town for a long time. I've never seen anybody bumped their head against the wall or crushed her head against the wall for 20 years. And then pop. Yeah, yeah. I was like, wow, that's such a profound comment, man. It really is. Because he goes, I've seen eight years. I've seen 10 years in 12 years, but I've never seen 20 years. And that's when I decided I'm always going to be the 11th on the call sheet. I'm never going to be number one on the call sheet. Right. And that's what he did. Yeah, because he's, you know, and he's working. And when he wrote his when he wrote the pilot, the first thing he ever wrote was the pilot for mayors of Jamestown. After he wrote the pilot, he's like, dammit, I wish I would have been doing this 15 years ago. Yeah. wasted all that time. Just just trying to make it I can get out as an actor and I really wanted to do this is where it needed to be. So and he goes, and this is something I think everyone listening should I think you might agree with this. The town will tell you what you are supposed to be doing. To a certain extent. To a certain extent, it's like, I'm never going to be a leading man. I'm not gonna be Tom Cruise. I'm not built to be Tom Cruise. I don't have the talent nor the looks to be Tom Cruise. But in my mind, I was like, I'm gonna be the next Tom Cruise. The town's gonna tell you maybe you're not Tom Cruise. Right but Tom Cruise I appreciate that sir. Thank you, I but but but you could be something else that is actually going to make you happier and actually more true to your path. So that you just gotta listen. Keep the ears open for that kind of stuff. Now what is the lesson that took you what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Aram Rappaport 1:04:28
I don't know if I've learned it yet. What's the lesson that has taken me the longest to learn? You know, to not try to do everything? Yep, I think that would probably be the biggest lesson I think. You know, it's easy for people on the outside to say you know, why don't you you know, delegate. And it's easy for us on the inside to say well, we don't have enough money. We don't have enough this. I have to do it. I have to do it. When you have the right support team around It is exceptional, like the things that you can accomplish are exceptional, no matter how much you want to control everything. You know, it's a movie. And sometimes, you know, you have to, you have to do multiple things, you have to wear multiple hats, and that's fine. But I think, you know, early on, I always felt like I really had to control things. Well, because no one's going to do better than you. Right? Right, right, or no one knows. Or it's proving the narrative that I'm the director, or whatever it is, you know, but I think like, yeah, as you you know, as you grow, you learn that the best thing you can do is let everybody else thrive, and then just take credit for

Alex Ferrari 1:05:41
I, you know, what, the masters have said that so many times, you're like, that's all you can do. Just, you know, whoever you're gonna get the credit at the end of it, just let it all.

Aram Rappaport 1:05:50
That's what, that's what I say, That's what I always say to the Chrome like you can give me if you want to, you know, over work to give me all these ideas, I'll still take credit for it. So that's fine. Work harder than many ideas. Let's go. No, I'm just joking. I mean, it is it is, I mean, you know, to be humble, and to be able to say, you know, what do you think, I don't know what this is gonna look like, let's let's talk about is, I think the biggest lessons,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:14
But that also, but also takes you minutes to get to that point.

Aram Rappaport 1:06:16
So you have to you have to, you have to go through that process. I don't know, if anyone on their, you know, their very first movie was like, you know, oh, yeah, I am going to just ask for everybody's advice.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:30
Because you're like, I'm not the director anymore. And then you get that chip on your shoulder, like, am I, the director, I have to, I have to prove them, the director, I have to have my name as a director, it can be only directed only and written by only an eye, and I have to do everything. At the beginning, you have to feel that way. But as you get older, and you get more settled into your and more comfortable in your own skin as a director, that's when you just go best idea wins.

Aram Rappaport 1:06:50
Right, right. And I think and I think also not over directing is also another big thing not over controlling, you know, I mean, there's, there's, there's actors, that you just need to set the camera and just watch them surprise you. And then there's actors that you really have to work with. And then there's actors that are somewhere in between one a little bit or whatever. But like really, recognizing that with actors with behind the camera talent, with the production design team with whatever it like there are, there are people that will feel more empowered and do better if you let them you know, and I think, you know, really understanding how to lead different departments, you know, in unique ways is something that, that is super, super important. And it's like, you know, I always tell people, like just ask, like, you know, ask someone like Simon, I talked to John about the first day about, you know, how do you want to work? Like, what how are you most successful? Like that's going to? Is it one take, or you warm up with three? And then we get into it on four? Do you want me to stop you in the middle of takes? Do you want me to let you complete even though we know it's wrong, like there's so many different avenues for how to, to lead a set. And I think, you know, very early on, it's like, you know, I'm going to do it this way. And this is what I'm doing. It's, it's my show, and But why now it's like, you know, it's, you know, really understanding the mechanisms that help people thrive is just the biggest thing that you can do. You know, as as a director and I there were multiple times, I think Donald Petrie told me once you direct, like Miss Congeniality, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 days, and he, he said, you know, don't be afraid to ask for help, like, Don't be afraid. And he was this is after this is I think I was going to syrup in New York. And I said, you know, what, what do you have, you know, I'm shooting in New York and blah, blah. And he said, you know, don't, you got to ask for help, you know, when you need help, you have to, it's going to be more endearing when you say, I don't know how to shoot this scene, let's talk about it. And people are going to work harder for you than if you just stumble through and just pretend you know what's going on. And everyone thinks, I don't know if this is right, you know, and that was like a really, you know, a really powerful thing. And then I was shadowing Rodrigo Garcia, who did a bunch of really cool movies. And he was doing this thing with a net Benning and I, you know, I think I was just shadowing him a couple days. And he said, you know, he just let her work. You know, he let her dictate everything and he covered the scene in a way that would let her roam around if she wanted to pick up a cup if she wanted to, you know, he knew he played your talent, you know, and that was like such an important lesson also, which Oh, yeah, like, you know, if you've got a great actress like you have to support what they're trying to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:22
You can't box him in you can't you can't like Okay, hit mark a hit Mark be but if she wants to flow. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's the thing they don't teach you man like sometimes when you and especially when you're working with these these actors who are at a different level, like John or a net and you know, and I've had the opportunity to work with some actors as well that I've just, you know, when they when you when you have an Oscar nominee on set, you just go oh, oh, that's how that's done. Yeah. Yeah. You just feel the difference. You just like oh, okay, so how do you how do you want to work? How do you want to do this? How do you flow? It's it's, it's a remarkable experience when you get to work with really, really talented people on all levels on every every every every crew member and actors.

Aram Rappaport 1:10:05
Yeah, and I think you learn how to you know, in film school or whatever I don't I didn't go but you learn you could learn how to technically lay a marker you know, marks you know and this and that or whatever but like the reality is you get to set and like that actor is not going to want to hit that mark and they're gonna want to have freedom they're gonna want to do so then what do you do? Like what happens that you know, and I think that's that's the thing that is it's so important that you go out and do it not just like within your community but like with random actors that you've never worked with before with a lot of crazy personalities because that's the thing that's gonna get you honing craft.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:41
Now, last question, sir, three of your favorite films of all time,

Aram Rappaport 1:10:45
Oh my gosh, okay. Big fish is I think my number one favorite movie of all time. I just, there's just something so magical about what Tim Burton was able to

Alex Ferrari 1:10:59
Add John on the show, John August on the show. Oh, did you really I talked to him about big fish do and it was just such a beautiful it's one of my favorite Tim Burton movies.

Aram Rappaport 1:11:08
Same, same same I know, I know. It was just something I mean, he tapped into something so magical with that film and the way that he tried to say I love most is the way he tracked that narrative. Those those those there were multiple narratives and by the time you get to the end it paid off to like I was sobbing you know at the end the movie I just wanted to do my whole life is just make people cry in that way and like be rooting for something and you think this is the you know, beautiful promo. That was number one. Number two Cider House Rules is a movie that I really love being back in the kitchen, right? And I just it just something was so you know, so moral and there were these multiple storylines that just really fit what they were.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:47
Michael Caine was in that too, right. Michael Caine was

Aram Rappaport 1:11:51
He played that in Charlize Theron was in that as the young Charlie, Charlize. I guess that's just a long shot. Yeah, she and then and then the last movie Pirates of the Caribbean. I just I love a spectacle, man. I just love it. Like, there's just something so powerful about like, like, everyone asked me, you know, oh, what do you want to do? Like a toy? This? I'm like, No, I want to direct like Pirates of the Caribbean eight. Like that's like, that's where I want to be. It's great. You know?

Alex Ferrari 1:12:19
You never know who's listening. You never know who's listening there. So if you wanna if you want to make the pitch now for Pirates of the Caribbean

Aram Rappaport 1:12:26
You know, I've got the pitch. Let's wait a couple years. Let's see what Johnny you know where Johnny lands, but

Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
You can't do without Johnny. You can't I don't care what you

Aram Rappaport 1:12:33
You can't do that. No, but I come I mean, pirates was just I mean, Gore Verbinski. He's again, he's one of those directors where you just this guy who's like cutting the scenes in his mind? Well, and he came from commercials and he and he's out there and he's shooting and he only shoots the things that he knows are going to make it and then he moves on. And you just think this guy is so efficient in the way that he is crafting scenes. And it's it's, it's, you know, it's it's incredible. Whether you love them or hate the movie, it's, you know, it's popcorn movie, whatever. But it's just, you know, the way that he sort of put that movie together and was able to get Disney over the line with what you know, Johnny Depp was doing and you know, Tony, it was just very cool.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:07
And I have to say, and I'm just gonna say it out, because what Johnny did, I've never seen an actor. Basically take an entire franchise on his shoulders. Yeah, he built it without Johnny without captain. Captain Jack Sparrow. It's another it's another movie based on a ride from Disney. Yeah, yeah. He and gore working together really transcended that to a place where it's made billions and billions of dollars. And he's beloved throughout the world because of this character. And he was able to tap into something I don't remember another man, another actor who has done that it

Aram Rappaport 1:13:51
And they know that and if you fail, if you break it down from like, I'm gonna go back to marketing but like a marketing perspective, like from from from a purely business perspective, like he was playing an inebriated Right. Like you imagine you imagine that like, if I wasn't exactly I'd be like, well, he can't do like, there's no way he can do that. Like, it looks like he's popping pills. And then they rolled and then he forgot his lines. Like what like, you're watching dailies from that, and you're just thinking how this does not fit into like our cinematic universe. So I just think it was just so like, how whatever happened, there was just the most amazing.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:31
Did you ever hear the story about the gold teeth from Johnny? No. So cute. When he was doing Jack, this is before anybody knew what he was gonna do with Jack. He already had it in his mind. And he's like, I really wanted five gold teeth in my mouth for for Johnny and they were like, little teeth, I'm not sure. So he walked in he goes, I need 12 gold teeth. And they're like, Okay, I'll give you 12 That's too much. like, alright, five, he's like, Okay, you got five. And that's how he got his five gold teeth for Jack Sparrow

Aram Rappaport 1:15:10
Back to the five gold teeth were offensive. I mean, he shouldn't have had those.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:15
I mean, obviously, I mean, obviously come obviously is a very offensive and nobody you're right on paper, it makes no sense why that character should work in a movie of that magnitude based on the property and the IP it was for a company like Disney like it doesn't make any sense.

Aram Rappaport 1:15:33
Right! Well, and yeah, and you're like, so you're gonna test that with 12 year olds and their pet you know, your parents can be you know, would you let your kid watch? You know, this misogynistic pirate who's dragging and stumbling around drunk all the time? Would that be endearing for you? What do you think? Like? No, it would have never I mean, that's crazy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:52
I don't even I would love to hear the story of how like after day one of like, what when the dailies came back, not good.

Aram Rappaport 1:15:58
I mean, I heard that they were freaking out. I'm sure like, why who wouldn't?

Alex Ferrari 1:16:02
But they were but the ship but but the train left the station already. And it's Yeah, John and Johnny was a star. And they're like, look, we're here. We're shooting. We're in the Caribbean. We're gonna make this movie. And he just, he just kept going and Gore was with him. And he's like, Nah, man. We're rolling this

Aram Rappaport 1:16:16
Part of the dailies for long enough for them to not have to reshoot or something because you think like that. I think that's what a crazy No, I would have loved to know what if you interview him? You gotta let me know. Let me know

Alex Ferrari 1:16:28
When I get shot when I get Johnny. He's a little busy these days. I think everybody in the world wants to talk to him when I get home. Hopefully I'll get go around one day. I'd love to talk the army. This has been a pleasure talking to you, brother. It really? I feel like I feel like you're I feel like your brother from another mother. Man. I think we both got the same similar shrapnel in our in our in our stone. Totally. How we do things, brother, this gratulations man, congratulations on the project on the Greenvale and I hope it does amazing for you and continued success brother, I appreciate it and and don't let jump push you around brother Seriously, just you know, sometimes, you know, just slap up a rock.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:06
I think I I blocked his number I bought. He's impossible. Isn't. He's impossible. He he made me promise not to tell the animal swap story. I told it because I'm just so bitter about him. You know right now because he always wants to work with me. He says, You know, I need to work with you. I hate all these other directors. You know, you're the only one I want to do everything with John calm down.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:30
Your little needy.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:33
Desperate. You know, I don't you know, I don't know. He's not busy. He's not working. I don't know what it is. But

Alex Ferrari 1:17:37
He just sits at home just waiting for you to call

Aram Rappaport 1:17:41
No we wouldn't have pressed for this thing last weekend on Friday. And they're asking him about seven other projects. And he's opening up musical the same day. And I'm like whiplash, I'm like, What do you mean, you're doing all this?

Alex Ferrari 1:17:52
He's like, Yeah, I'm doing this movie with De Niro. I'm like, of course.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:55
Yeah, I know. Right! Right. Of course. That was the that's the other thing. I mean, he was in Greece on Tuesday flew in. He said, Oh, I get this great thing with De Niro. De Niro was amazing. It was just beautiful scene and blah, blah. And I'm like, wait, you were in Greece with De Niro yesterday, like, what's happening right? And then he's opening a musical arm.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:12
That's a different world brother. That's a different world that you and I get to get to get to dip our toes and every once in a while? No, it's a different it's a different existence of life.

Aram Rappaport 1:18:23
And I hope people see this because he literally did something that he's never done before. And I think that's the thing I'm most proud of is being able to champion that that performance.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:31
No he's he's amazing, and I hope nothing of the best for you in this project. Brother. Thank you again for coming on the show

Aram Rappaport 1:18:37
Let's do this again!

Alex Ferrari 1:18:38
Anytime! Anytime!

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Need Distribution for Your Film? – Check This Out!
  2. Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  3. Enigma Elements – Cinematic Tools & Assets for Serious Filmmakers
  4. Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook

Christopher Nolan’s Micro-Budget Short Films: Doodlebug

In our ongoing series of spotlighting famous director’s first micro-budget outings, we present Christopher Nolan’s Doodlebug. Doodlebug was shot in 1997 and created the film during his university days using 16mm film.

This psychological short-film has gained a cult following, especially given the heights which Christopher Nolan’s now climbed since making it. The film concerns a grungy man, in a filthy apartment. He is anxious and paranoid, trying to kill a small bug-like creature that is scurrying on the floor. It is revealed that the bug resembles a miniature version of himself.

He squashes the bug with his shoe. However, every movement the “doodlebug” makes is later matched by the man himself, and he is later squashed by a larger version of himself.

Download Chris Nolan’s Screenplay Collection in PDF

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 591: How NOT to Get Screwed Over by a Distributor with John Kim

If you are a filmmaker that want to sell your movie to the marketplace then this is MUST listen to conversation. Today on the show we have John Kim, Founder and CEO of Deep C Digital Distribution.

With 25+ years of sales and marketing experience, John has sold over 3,000 independent and major studio movies and TV shows to all the major digital, cable, and retail platforms. As Vice President of Digital Distribution at Paramount, he managed the Digital Sales Team and digital account relationships.

Prior to this experience, he spent 10 years at Paramount and Disney managing over $1 Billion dollars of DVD/Blu-ray catalog business. Before entering the home entertainment industry, he served as a Brand Manager at Nabisco and a Marketing Director at Mattel.

Recently, John co-founded with Tyler Maddox, Voices Film Foundation (VFF), a nonprofit corporation uniting all people of color in the entertainment industry. John is a graduate of Yale University and has an MBA from the Kellogg Management School of Business at Northwestern University.

This is, by far, one of the most important conversations I have ever had on the show. Get ready to take notes. Enjoy my conversation with John Kim.

Right-click here to download the MP3

John Kim 0:00
As we flip from from riches to rags, and and a lot of people just can't deal with it.

Alex Ferrari 0:06
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created Enigma Elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like VHS and CRT images, smoke fog, textures, DaVinci Resolve presets, and much more. After working as an editor, colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. I'd like to welcome to the show. John Kim. How're you doing, John?

John Kim 0:59
Good. Thanks, Alex. How you doing?

Alex Ferrari 1:01
Good. Thank you so much for coming on the show my friend. I I appreciate you reaching out to me. I get I get hit up by a lot of you know, distributors sometimes I think distributors are scared to come on the show now. But many, many of them are. I've had producers reps on the shows. I've had sales agents on the show. And I've had a few distributors on the show as well who are brave enough to come on the show to just have honest conversations no other reason. And after doing research on you and looking you up, you've done you've done a few things in the business. You've been around for a while. This isn't your first barbecue sir.

John Kim 1:36
You know i i got nothing to hide. That's my whole shtick is because you know, I have been around I would have been selling for 20 years, I was at Paramount. I was at Disney did the independent distributor thing. And then I set up my own shop five years ago, and it's been a 30 year answered prayer. So you know, I I'm thankful. I'm very thankful.

Alex Ferrari 2:02
And you've seen this business changed so dramatically from the moment you started in it to where we are right now. I mean, I always love telling people ohh the 90s

John Kim 2:13
I was just trying to think back 90s Yeah, I was still alive. I was still doing this.

Alex Ferrari 2:17
Oh, the 90s in the early 2000s Where DVD was King and you could put out sniper seven.

John Kim 2:24
Yeah, I was putting I was converting VHS to DVD for Disney catalog stuff. So that was an amazing thing. I mean, you just you just pack a DVD and it could be riddled crap. And you know, you sell two main units. I mean, it's crazy.

Alex Ferrari 2:42
It was a different it was a different world. And I know a lot of times, filmmakers still think that we're in a different world. So I know a lot of filmmakers think that we're still in the 90s for like the Sundance scenario, where you gotta get to a film festival, and then someone's gonna discover you and someone's gonna give you billions of dollars and then you're gonna become rich and famous. And because in the 90s that happened almost every month, there was a there was El Mariachi, a clerks of Brothers McMullen. She's gotta have it all these kinds of filmmakers and directors a slacker. And if since then I've had a lot of those filmmakers on the show. And I asked them, I'm like, what is it like having that lottery ticket? And would you make it today? If that movie came out? And every one of them like, it? Probably wouldn't. It wouldn't. If slacker showed up today, if slacker showed up on your doorstep, and it showed up on John Pearson store your doorstep? Could you do anything with slacker today?

John Kim 3:40
Yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's amazing. What I tell people is, you know, it's a lot easier to go from rags to riches versus riches to rags. And basically the whole industry started from riches. And, and when you start from the riches and all sudden, you don't want to hustle and you don't want to kill for your own food, and right now you gotta shoot for squirrels. But if you've been feasting on, you know, five class meals, it's hard to like get down and dirty in a bit. You know, in any other industry. In progressions starting from that way gives you that discipline gives you the understanding versus the flip. And it's hard to deal with and I think that is the best kind of analogy right now where we're at is as an industry is we flipped from from riches to rags, and, and a lot of people just can't deal with it.

Alex Ferrari 4:32
And you're absolutely right. Oh my God, that's a great analogy, because, you know, we're shooting for squirrels, where before used to be eating, you know, big game, and it was easy. And they do just bring it like it. We were just saying, you know, you put out a crap movie on DVD and you'd make two you sell 2 million units. I would tell people back in the 80s because I worked in a video store back in the 80s when I was coming up as a kid. I used to see VHS show up and I'm like, oh, so if you just finished a movie In the 80s, it got distributed. Right? If you just finished a movie on 35, you had a minimal theatrical release somewhere. And it would go straight to video. And, you know, the Puppet Master series and full moon and all of those things and trauma and, you know, Toxic Avenger got a theatrical release, you know, things, things like that. So, the world is so, so different now. And so many filmmakers still live in the, in the, in the magical times where those those times don't exist. And even five years ago, I mean, I've been doing this show now seven years, from when I launched in 2015. To where we are now. I mean, it's so dramatically different.

John Kim 5:43
Yeah, I mean, it's it's a, it's unbelievable. I mean, if people really knew how hard it is, and if they really looked at the realities of the situation, as far as you know, how many people actually make money on on a movie, you know, and if they had a, you know, a total total right brain, you know, strategic brain and checking off all the risk scenarios that they wouldn't do it. So, but at the same time, innovation only happens with with those people that you know, that can dream and go beyond, you know, the realities of the situation. And then you get a Slumdog Millionaire, but people don't realize that's a one in a millionaire once in a month.

Alex Ferrari 6:26
But that's an anomaly. Yeah, there's that's apparently there's apparently and then let's let's let's dish them out paranormal activity, Blair Witch, you know, then all the movies from the 90s, you know, clerks, El Mariachi, all anomalies they are not there.

John Kim 6:43
I mean, as long as you know that, I mean, you know, you're, you're going for a lottery ticket is a good analogy as a lottery ticket, because people don't realize it is that hard. And for some reason. They think that, oh, this is my movies just as good as that. And this is a greatest thing. They don't realize that the marketplace doesn't care if you if you mortgage your house, or if you you know, you gave your left arm for something. It's just like, show me what you got. Because I could care less. You know?

Alex Ferrari 7:13
That's, that's the reality. Let's I want to give you an example. I want I want this to be laid out because I want people listening to understand. I'm going to give you an example of a film. And you tell me what you professionally think the film could do in the marketplace, if anything at all?

John Kim 7:29
Oh, don't give me don't put me on the line for estimates. No, no, I'm just giving you a thumbs up, I can give you a thumbs down.

Alex Ferrari 7:35
Give me just give me just give me a rough just give me a rough. Alright, well just give me a rough no name that No, I'm not gonna throw any. There's no particulars. This is just off the top of my head. We're going to make a kind of like a low budget film that has a respectable production value. So let's say it's $250,000. Okay, quarter million dollar and indie film, we're going to throw it in the genre of I'm gonna say, if it's a drama, I know no one's gonna buy it. So let's say it's a horror movie, a horror movie, okay, a $250,000 horror movie, with no stars in it. But respectable performances, the production quality is solid, the effects are solid, they got one of the effects guys from Nightmare on Elm Street or something. It looks good, quality trailer, not bad, very solid trailer poster, not bad has a nice little gimmick to it as a horror project. Now, I have no audience. Meaning that I personally as a filmmaker, don't have an audience, the actors in the film don't have an audience that we can we can kind of attach on to. So we're basically coming in cold. So if a movie like the N festival is on a horror movie doesn't really matter that much anyway. But let's say one scream fest, or one fan Gaura or something like that. So let's say wins a big horror festival or an audience award or something. What is the value of that product? in the marketplace today? And what kind of return? Can that filmmaker expect to make? If, if any at all?

John Kim 9:14
Well, first of all, like I said, I don't give estimates because one, you know, I don't I don't. I mean, it's just out the window at this point. There's no transactional value. No one's paying for anything because consumers have 50,000 titles at their American consumers. 50,000 consumer titles at their, at their fingertips with Netflix, Disney, and then Amazon alone. Right. And so, you know, even with Star Power stuff people aren't renting because they're looking at 499 Is that's too much because I already am paying 100 bucks per month, whatever between these services. I mean, I think the best, the best indication of like how much value inherently If your property I wouldn't touch this with a 10 foot ball. I wouldn't touch it with I would not take on this business because one. I don't feel good about you spending 250 And you come in not even close to making your money back. I don't want to hear you know, and I feel I feel bad for I would, I wouldn't, I'd much rather just not participate at all, and deal with your disappointment, because it's not even close. Not even close to coming back. This is again, this is what you just said, I would be like two seconds. Sorry, go go see someone else that is gonna tell you what you want to hear, which is oh, this is a greatest moment. Oh, we're gonna do this everything.

Alex Ferrari 10:43
So there's so there's no emoji for this?

John Kim 10:47
I don't do emojis myself.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
No, no, but you but you know, you get thinking that you as a sales agent connecting it to a distributor?

John Kim 10:55
Don't count with all the platforms.

Alex Ferrari 10:58
Right! Okay. So you wouldn't give it?

John Kim 11:01
I don't know, I don't want to, I wouldn't want to make me make a commission off of 20,000 bucks, right? It's just, it's just not worth the headache of all of that, you know, I thankfully, I'm not in a position where I need to chase you know, where your commission, you know, 10,000 and I will make money off 20% Off 10,025% Off 10,000? You know, 20,000 bucks. So what would that cost of like, a gigantic. What? That that causes way too much on me. So it's much easier just for me to say forget about it. Because,

Alex Ferrari 11:37
And so and then with a minimum guarantee. So a minimum guarantee is basically a number that a distributor will pay upfront for a

John Kim 11:43
No one given out MGS because it's hard, there's no guarantee in this business.

Alex Ferrari 11:48
Right! Unless, unless you're at a different level of of product. 100% Yeah, so So like, if you had you know, we just had Thomas Jane on the show a couple of weeks ago. If a Thomas Jane project comes across with, you know, Wesley Snipes, or some other, you know, starpower at a certain budget range, they are getting in Geez. But, but a different level of there's a different level,

John Kim 12:13
You know what that's like saying, Well, you know, the NBA is thriving. And I got I got LeBron on my side. You know, I got to LeBron movie. I mean, yeah, I like I like reading about this stuff. But I have no business like being in the same court. And, you know, I could play some good street ball, I you know, I shut the winning basket at the YMCA. But I have no business even dreaming or competing. But in the movie business is completely different. Because there's no score. There's no size, there's no like, objective, like, time or anything. Everyone just projects and thinks, Oh, my movie is 100 times better than this crappy movie. You know? What, how come I can't get a $21 billion of Netflix etc. And it's just but that analogy in comparison of what I just said with the NBA is really like how can you compete your case? If we're saying 250,000? That's a lot of money for a small person. It is. But it ain't nothing compared to million dollar per episode. So or 10 million per episode $100 million Doctor Strange million dollar movie. You know how, you know, how can you even you wouldn't do that with LeBron. I can play one on one with LeBron. No, but it's the same kind of comparison.

Alex Ferrari 13:27
And so there's a delusion which I talk about constantly on the show. There's a delusion in the sense that filmmakers come in thinking like I love movies, this is all I need to make it in the business. And that's what you need as a fuel to keep you going. 100% Without question, but like I was telling you earlier, before we got on the show is like my job here in the show is to let people know what they're going to need to do to go on this journey. And what what the reality of the road that they're about to walk is from people like yourself who've been down this road, and up this road and down this road and up this road and down this road. And we've seen so many heartbroken filmmakers along the way that we're trying to warn people, or I mean, I'm trying to warn people about the whole not horse. Sometimes there's horrors, but the obstacles that they're about to face, and there's nothing saying that you can't do it, but just be aware of what you're about to do and try to do it smartly. That's, that's all I tried to say.

John Kim 14:27
Yeah, so I'm a little bit different from your stamp from from where you're sitting. Because, you know, time is money for you. Yeah, yeah, time is money. And it's like, I'm not in the business of educating. You know, why of going through that speech, you know, and I'm not, you know, don't call me Doctor No, you know, I, if you don't want to hear what I don't want to what I'm about to say, you know, please, you know, move on and, and and speak to someone that that that that will tell you what you want to hear. You know, I'm not in a business again. I If this is more than, it's more than a business, like I said, it's like, yeah, I could make money doing that, but it's not worth it to me. It's like, you know, I just want to live the last chapter my stress free and where everybody's happy, right? And I don't feel good about knowing that someone's put in 250. And they're looking at 20,000 Odd return. And like me being a part of that, if you're lucky, if you're lucky for crying out loud, right? And so that's, so I, as a general rule, I mean, as a real rule, because I don't want to do this up and down. Like you were talking, like, I don't take on first time filmmakers, because it's like, it's just, it's just too hard. As far as they don't know what they don't know. You know, God bless you for not knowing it. And because you maybe didn't know, that's why Yeah, push forward. But that's not my that's not my, my, my dream of just, you know, killing a dream. You know, I'm Dr. Kill dream killer. That's not my I don't get any joy from and you can pay me 10,000 20,000 or $100,000. To, to be a part of that, you know, process of seeing your dream just not happen. That can't happen. But that's just not my but

Alex Ferrari 16:11
That's the dangerous and that last sentence is the dangerous part of our business is, there's always a maybe it's like going to Vegas, maybe I'm gonna hit it big this week. But But how many people hit the jackpot in Vegas every week. You know how many people win the lottery every week? Why win, but millions and millions and 10s of millions of people who try. So if your game plan is the lottery win, you will fail. If you're looking and I use baseball analogies all the time, if you're looking for a grand slam home run, every time you will fail. If you're looking for a bunt, or a single and constantly looking for singles, you might have a chance at the business because that means you're you're looking at small increments to get you to an update. So you make one movie for $50,000, you make $60,000 on it, holy crap, you are in the top one, one 1% of a 1% of all filmmakers. next movie, you get 100,000, you make 150,000 on return on that, holy crap, now someone gives you 300,000 Now you'd get some star power involved. And all of a sudden, now you've got a career. And I've seen filmmakers, friends of mine, who literally have done that start off with a $10,000 movie. But even in a $10,000 movie, they were smart enough to get Danny Trejo for for 15 minutes. And like I don't know how much he paid, they paid him back. That gold right there, gold. And now he was able to get $50,000 for his next movie. And then they brought Danny back and brought somebody else in there. And then all of a sudden, after you've done four or five of them, you look around town, you're like, well, there's not a lot of these guys around. Let's give him a little bit of money. And now we could put energy behind them. And now you've built a career up. But that's the mistake that so many filmmakers make the thing that the one movie that they're making is the one that's going to blow them up. You can't look at that like that.

John Kim 18:05
You're just going back to the sports analogy. It's like, you know, LeBron wasn't LeBron on day one. He went to high school, he progressed there, and he did it in college, and he didn't do anything in college and the other pros need college, you know, then it is a progression. And it's a skill, and it just isn't they didn't become, you know, a multimillionaire, you know, superstar overnight. And you're right with films, people just want that one magic bullet. And so the lottery scenario is what what they're chasing. But that progressive thing is, is exactly. I endorse that because I mean, it's a skill and you can't win overnight, just can't. And that's in any business, you know, outside of the movie business. You can't you can't or any sports team, you can't win on grand slam home runs every time at bat, you're just gonna fail. Right? You do have to regress. And so you know, back to our earlier conversation in the early studio days. Yeah, it was like a Grand Slam hit every time.

Alex Ferrari 19:05
You could literally be you could literally have the worst era and show up and hit a homerun. Exactly. You didn't even it was so easy to make money back in the 90s and the early 2000s. Because that was just a marketplace that we were in at that moment. 100% It was just the market and then now it's not it's actually the toughest time to make money as a filmmaker ever in history with the same caveat now, it's easier than ever to distribute your movie Get your movie out in front of an audience and make a movie is cheaper than ever. Because before the the barrier to entry was the cost to make the movie. My first commercial real was I'm 35 I had to pay 50 Grand i should force for commercial spots. You know back in the day to do it properly. To be a real commercial director. You had to shoot 35 Because there was no other option. And then now I can make an attitude for commercials for like five grand if I'm lucky.

John Kim 20:03
And by the way you can you can you can get worldwide distribution. But you're worldwide, I mean, easy. I mean, you can just take a couple 1000 bucks, and you can be in the world, which is amazing to your one little pebble across a 50,000 rock universe. So how you gonna stand? So, I mean, most people, they can't even make their delivery cost, but at the same time, you're right, what kind of access it was never there before worldwide access to 12 year old kid, you know, something?

Alex Ferrari 20:38
Oh, even putting it up on YouTube, which we'll talk about YouTube in a little bit. But even you could put something up on YouTube, you have worldwide distribution for your product. And and then also, you're not just competing against other filmmakers, you're competing against cat videos, you're, you're competing against kids, unwrapping toys. Those are eyeballs, that's time for people's lives.

John Kim 20:59
People, people, even when it's free, if you think about it, free is it's not a cost. It's a this. This is a consumers time. I mean, you bring it to me, I and even for 99. Again, everyone just thinks oh, all I got to do is you know, it's fine. And that was nothing. But it is something even when there's no time, it was on time. Right. So it's there's a lot of like fallacies and just theoretical hypothetical thinking. But it's like, you know what, I have my lemonade stand. And you know, why can't I make a billion dollar business? Right?

Alex Ferrari 21:38
Because everybody could put up a lemonade stand.

John Kim 21:40
Everybody can put up a lemonade stand.

Alex Ferrari 21:41
And it's a commodity as well. There's nothing special about it. Unless you're putting CBD oil or something like that.

John Kim 21:48
I mean, that's the thing. I mean, every story has been done, except one of those few exceptional ones, right? And everything is I mean, when you have to describe something and say, Oh, it's it's like this movie, but you know, like that. It's like, it's already been done that.

Alex Ferrari 22:02
Oh, no, it's just it's it's about it's about execution. It's about the combining of stars that align at the right moment with the right director, the right script, the right actors to become something that's bigger than ever. Look, there's I was looking at waiting, because I haven't seen James Bond, the new James Bond yet. I haven't seen it yet. And I'm waiting for it to come on Amazon. It's James Bond. It's the last Daniel Craig. And I'm like, I got too many other things to watch. I don't wanna spend five bucks right now. It's not about the five bucks. It's not it's not for me. It's not about I'm not like hurting for five bucks. But that mentality. I'm like, do I really need to watch it right now? Or can I watch the 50 other things that are in my queue right now? That are pumping out on Netflix on HBO? Max on this? Oh, the Batman just showed up? Okay, I gotta go watch the Batman. Oh, this new series just came in the full series, the full season came out. Just gotta go watch that. Do you see? So it's not just independent films. It's like, even even, even unless you're really a big huge giant James Bond fan. You're you can wait.

John Kim 23:04
That's obviously there's 50,000 movies out there. There's only 24 hours in a day. And as you said there's other forms of entertainment that was never there. There's cat videos and you know what the funny thing that the the finally kind of like hits home when you know I'm talking with you know, some some some filmmakers who just think it's easy. We don't know. Is it okay? And all sudden there's like, oh, you might be right about the sports analogy. Right? Then the other analogy is, is is what do you do? When's the last time you pay for movie? The independent filmmaker is like totally incentivized that you know, for the industry for himself, you know, to just make it good for everybody. But he's watching it for free. He's watching a pirate he's not paying for anything. Right. So, so think about it, like, you know, Joe, Joe consumer, your consumer could care less. They just want to make I want to be entertained now, right? I'm not in the mood for you know, some independent I want to help him out, you know, you know, stick figure animation. I want to watch a Pixar movie. There it is. So like, there's no incentive really.

Alex Ferrari 24:12
Exactly now. And we're I was going to ask you about TVOD. And I know the answer already. Which, you know, the answer is, is there any money in TVOD for independent filmmakers today?

John Kim 24:50
There are some some genres that that survived. There's always exceptions to the rule. Okay, so it in general I tell my clients without any star power, you know, without any, any, any any star that has, you know, millions of followers without any, you know, don't even bother going to your blog, which is crazy, right?

Alex Ferrari 25:12
And by the way, everybody who doesn't know tiebout has transactional Video on Demand,

John Kim 25:16
Which is straight to AVOD, which, you know, which puts all of this windowing over, you know, your original scope theatrical, and then you're supposed to go in a theoretical world, right? But you don't have any other ingredients. So you're gonna make more money on the AVOD straight up, you know, then doing all that wasting of time and money, you know, again, you need to do your objectives you think number one objective is to make money then then that would be the way if you're trying to brag to your your aunt that you're going to a movie worldwide, then you Okay, put it on iTunes, you're not gonna make any money. It's like, same thing with it's all changed so much. You know, it's like I used to be, it used to be a real like, honor, whatever a bragging point rather, if you were in, in Walmart,

Alex Ferrari 26:01
Right, yeah.

John Kim 26:04
And then on the back end, no one tells a story about a year later, where everything has been returned, and you're actually upside down losing money, right? Again, there's a lot of like, facts and details that people you know, choose to, to ignore or not tell. So it's always somebody who's always like, oh, yeah, I know, somebody did. This isn't like Yeah, right. And then those were putting in the frickin statements.

Alex Ferrari 26:25
And then those those return DVDs are then sold pennies on the dollar to Big Lots to Marshalls to all these outlets, all these outlet places that sell it for that's why you see the blu rays for $2 or $3. And that starts with tape.

John Kim 26:39
Yeah, Blu Ray was supposed to be the save of you know, did it you know, 3d was supposed to be a save, it's just like one it's like a bunch of 10 year old soccer, you know, soccer team, they're all just chasing for one thing and everyone's grabbing and you know, it was nothing is replaced to replicate the conversion from VHS to DVD. And since that, you know, everything is mission and all I wish we could just do that.

Alex Ferrari 27:04
The physical media and the physical media space, HD, you know, 3d, by the way, okay. It's like really, I need to see I need to see the extra pimple on that surface for the for some of these some of these older movies and 4k, do not do it. Because you can see the makeup you can see the cracking. It's like you don't it's old movies from the 70s. You've got to go in and clean it up digitally. If not, it just looks horrible. Some of the stuff again,

John Kim 27:31
I am I'm a widget salesperson. I just saw widgets. So you telling me that I really need the fifth version of a 1970 movies that I already have in DVD that I can't even tell you.

Alex Ferrari 27:43
How many godfathers how many Star Wars? How many Star Wars? Do we have 40 versions of the Star Wars films? How many? How many versions of The Godfather? Can we buy?

John Kim 27:51
Why I worked on like two different iterations of the Godfather boxing, right? It's how many times can you like come up with a 2030 agenda and a 25th and a 50th. And just like enough Hudson River

Alex Ferrari 28:03
Lease or Director's Cut,

John Kim 28:05
That was my, that's what I had to do is just make something spin on on the catalog of titles. But you know, at the end of the day, when am I going to feed my family? Am I going to you know, or am I going to get the 33rd version of something I already have? It's it will splitting hairs and you know, unfortunately, you know, so that's the reality of the situation. You know, when and if you're on the studio side, it's like if you if you you got to drink the Kool Aid otherwise just just don't show up for work.

Alex Ferrari 28:33
There's no question. There was one filmmaker that had on the show and he's actually gonna, we're trying to schedule him to come back on he's an anomaly. He's one of these anomalies I was telling you about. He reached out to me he had a million spent a million dollars. No stars except for Neil. God, I forgot his last name. He's a face. He's not a name. He's a face that everybody recognizes. Okay. Well, killer robots in the jungle. ex military have gone wrong, all this stuff. On paper. It sounds horrible. The pitch, right? It is easily one of the most insanely executed films I've ever seen in my life. He's been a commercial director for 30 years. He's a visual effects master. He did everything. It looks as good of quality as any studio movie ever made. That's how good the robots are. Because you know how hard it is to make robots look good in real life. In three months in T VOD, he made his money back.

John Kim 29:31
Okay. There's, like I said, there's always exceptions to the rule. But

Alex Ferrari 29:35
I'm saying that because the execution of that was so massive, and by the way, he has a marketing agency as well. So he understands how to do marketing. He understood how to do Facebook ads and targeted ads. And he had explosions and robots and he sold it for 399. And he pushed it to Amazon, and he was making money off of Amazon. He was making money off of T VOD. And he's still making money to this day, he's done very, very well with it. But he told me he's like I had a deal on the table. From big eight big Netflix wanted to buy it, but they were gonna give him nothing. Big studio, a big distributor wanted to buy it, who will remain nameless, was gonna give him a million something, mg. That's how good the movie was like a million to mg. He turned it down because of the contract. He's like, I'm never gonna see it, it's gonna take me forever to get this money. So so he's like, Screw it, I'll just do it myself. And he paid for everything out of his own pocket. So he didn't care. It was it was like, whatever. But that isn't in that, but that I'm using that as an analogy that has to be that is as perfect of an execution on all avenues, as I've ever seen in my life, because when he reached out to me sent me the trailer, I'm like, Who the hell are you? Like, I get some trailers for movies all the time, you get sent trailers for movies. If I sent you that trailer, you would go, I want to rip that movie. I'm sure I promise you and I'll send it to you afterwards. It's so good. But that's an example of perfectly executed, and even then he had less than a 20% chance of actually making any money. He was he he was just really good. Really good at what he was doing. Right.

John Kim 31:17
So I mean, again, if you aren't sure. I mean, how many? So what's that one and

Alex Ferrari 31:22
One, one in 30 years I've never seen a movie. So one in 30 years. I've never seen a movie like that in the way.

John Kim 31:29
Is that? Is that a good business model of? Like, I'm gonna compare myself to that, you know,

Alex Ferrari 31:35
Right. Well, yeah, and don't you love i love it in the it when people are trying to raise money, they always put Blair Witch and paranormal activity in their business plans. I'm like, Are you? It's it's come on. It's kind of like, Oh, if Tom if Tom Brady was my quarterback many years ago?

John Kim 31:54
Well, yeah, sure. If I had that defensive line. Yeah, sure. Like, yeah, it's like more power to him. I'm not gonna wait gonna, you know, get in the way of anyone's dreams.

Alex Ferrari 32:05
I don't view. But so. So let me ask you, my friend, you we talked about star power, how important is star power now and what kind of star power is needed to really make a dent in the business because I always tell people like, it's all based on budget. So if you get a certain kind of star, but the budget is so high, you need a, you need a star or group of stars to justify the budget to make sense financially. So if you get a Danny Trejo and you put him in a $10 million movie by himself, the chances of you making your money back are gonna be probably very, very difficult. That's right. But if you put in a Bruce Willis, in a $10 million movie, the chances of you're making money back is higher, because Bruce has a much bigger market value than Danny Trejo does for that budget range. Does that make that is that fair statement?

John Kim 32:58
I think so. I mean, let's be clear. Because there, I'll talk from a business because we're in the b2b to see game, right. So I sell to a platform that then sells to consumers, right? So there's a perspective of the buyer and there's your perspective of a consumer. So when you're flooded with this is a greatest movie ever. Now watch this. Watch this. Uh, yeah, right. I'm talking as a buyer, let's just say as a buyer of Netflix, okay. So it's like, yeah, yeah, I've heard this many times. Okay. So the easiest way to just kind of filter, you know, the aisle, maybe even think about it for just forget it. So I can just kind of have my own day is like, you know, used to be like, Okay, what's the theatrical but there's no theatrical. So, okay, so who's in it? So right away? It's like, no stars. Okay, there. Okay. So who, you know, that is of just a quick swath? It's a filtering filtering process. Right. And we know that, you know, just because you have Brad Pitt in a movie doesn't mean it's going to succeed.

Alex Ferrari 33:58
It depends, it depends on the genre of the movie.

John Kim 34:01
Exactly. So you know, but you also know that rapid isn't going to be an opponent. Right? So you've kind of gotten that's a kind of a surrogate filter for just that, as far as and also kind of a pseudo for production value. Okay, so he's not going to do some schlock.

Alex Ferrari 34:15
He's right. He's not going to do $100,000 movie.

John Kim 34:18
Yeah, exactly. Right. And so, so that is a first like, kind of suas then from a consumer standpoint, when you're just scrolling and you see 30 You know, movie after movie in your computer screen, it's like, you're gonna have you're gonna go into shock of all this stuff. So you have one second to like filter. If you see something that is familiar to the eye, subconsciously, it's gonna be a star. So from that standpoint, it's like helps you right and so, you know, the Super Bowl of advertising for any independent filmmaker, and you've probably done a lot of second is the package, right? If you're gonna if anything is going to spend, it should be on your packaging, because that is it. I mean, it's not looking at a poster The sideboard that you see when you're reviewing a creative is a thumbnail stret sketch. So if you're trying to put a tree at, you know, a montage of this, and that and mini movie, you know, it's like, it looks like a black box, forget it, right, but having one profile of the star boom, that catches your attention. So, you know, there are a number of stars that, you know, Danny Trejo is, is, is valuable, you know, he's valuable. I mean, if he just showed up, you know, for two seconds, and maybe in the end credits, you know, in the AVOD. Well, I put him on the cover, let's just put it that way.

Alex Ferrari 35:34
I know. That's, that's the yeah, that's that you're in a gray area there.

John Kim 35:39
But yeah, again, I'm selling widgets. It's what do you want me to sell for you? That's what you do. I'm not talking about like, all the rules, and, you know, MPa and Omni. That's not my thing. My thing is, I will sell you more units. He's in the credit, put them on the package. But to your point of like, you know, I mean, again, when you're talking even under $200,000 movie, I mean, that is just a drop in the bucket of your competition for Crayola, which is, you know, major studio millions of dollars. Right. So, yeah, there's definitely like Danny Trejo is, is very, very strong and AVOD. Very, oh, huge enabled.

Alex Ferrari 36:20
Right, and Thomas Jane, those kinds of guys, those kind of caliber of guys have value, major value.

John Kim 36:29
I mean, you know, again, if you can just make him show up for, you know, 15 minutes, or whatever, you he'll pay that back easy. That's a number of stars like that. But it's not, I mean, to be surprising how limited and by the way, depending on what platform you're at, you know, there are there are some stars on some of these platforms where the general public has no idea who they are. But they they meant gold. Right? They mean gold. And again, it's like, no one would know them except, like, if they're on a certain platform, and, and, and it's crazy. And, you know, again, the whole gamut of, of, of AVOD versus t VOD, and people paying you know, a BA, it is free. So, the cost of entry really is you know, I'll click on this I yeah, I like I hate my boy, Trent, Danny Trejo. I'm gonna watch what he's got, you know, if he's watching the grass, greener, you know, just watching the grass, cutting the grass. It didn't cost me anything. But I like my boy, Danny trail,

Alex Ferrari 37:30
Right, or Snoop or Snoop Dogg? Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg?

John Kim 37:33
His goal? His goal?

Alex Ferrari 37:37
Right. So So and I won't tell you how I know, you probably know this number, but I won't say it publicly. But I know how it costs a day to show up,

John Kim 37:48
Just to make them show up for 10 minutes.

Alex Ferrari 37:50
So the question is, and that's another thing. So, you know, I worked on a project years ago, years ago, where I was doing the post on it. And they were smart enough to had a million dollar budget and about 600,000 went above the line. But that was the only thing that sold that movie. Because they had an Oscar winner. They had some name actors in it, they had like it peppered like with a bunch of faces, and people they knew and some name power in it. And they were able to sell that movie. And I was and that was the first time I saw that the power of star power because the movie was okay. So, but the star power is the only thing that sold that movie. And when people to understand that, you know, it's like, oh, how can I get someone like Danny Trejo, like, if Danny's available and you're shooting in LA, and you're willing to pay his day rate for two or three days, it's more affordable than you might think in a scope of a grand scope of things that like I don't have a million dollars. I'm like, well, Danny's not a million dollars. You know, Sylvester Stallone is for a day. But you know, there are some like Nick Nick Cage for a while he was a million bucks a day, just straight up. But you put in a cage in a movie that you're sold internationally like that, because Nick Cage was in the movie. So there was moments of time though he was pumping out movies because he needed to get make money. So the want people to understand that you can have name talent in your movie. If you bring them up for a day. Some people I've seen I've seen some of these name actors. Five grand 10 grand a day 15 grand a day, right? Am I wrong?

John Kim 39:34
No, no, no, you're absolutely right. And that is that is much better money spent then you know trying to get it just right the whatever, you know, scene of of a car crash or whatever I mean, it's again it's that is well money, good money spent. There's there's actors that that will more than pay for themselves on those little small daily rates. And I would tell them, I Would I advise people just to do that? Because, again, you know, how, how can you compete against against projects that are spending millions of dollars? It's like, you can't put a name a name like that is crazy. It's a lot more affordable than you think. I agree with you. 100%.

Alex Ferrari 40:17
Yeah, and you were saying that, like, you know, you're scanning through and you see that little thumbnail of the actor. There's a reason why Adam Sandler, is Netflix is one of Netflix's biggest stars. And, and everyone thinks, oh, Adam Sandler, he's a silly guy silly movies. But the it this is a lesson for everyone listening. When you're scanning through and you see Adam Sandler, or you see, Kevin James or Rob Schneider, any of the group in the in the Adam Sandler universe. This is not for independent filmmakers, but just in general. You know, if it's a Friday night, and you're at home with your wife, you know what you're gonna get with one of those movies, there's no surprises, you know, you'll get a silly comedy, it's going to be somewhat enjoyable, and you'll have a decent time. There's no what's what you know exactly what you're going to get with an Adam Sandler movie generally, unless he's doing his drama stuff, like he has the new movie hustle out that he's goes off or, or gems. But generally speaking, if it's a comedy, you know what you're getting. And that's why he keeps getting these 100 million dollar deals from Netflix, because everybody just watch them again and again. And it's just one of those things like I just know what I'm going to get with Adam Sandler. So that's kind of the concept of my boy, Danny Trejo, my boy snoop. If snoops in the movie, I just want to see snoop. If, if Danny's in the movie, I just want to sit down and kick some ass for 510 minutes. And I'm solid, I'm good. But you know what you're gonna get when you get you see that cover. And that's what the audience is looking for. Whereas in that movie that I gave you the example of $250,000 horror movie, you know, that has no stars in it, I have to try to sell you on what my story plot is, I have to try to sell you on like, hey, take a look at my trailer. If you've lost, it's so difficult in that space. In the in the I need your money space, it's just so so difficult to do.

John Kim 42:18
Well, in the I need your money space in our consumer space. I mean, you got two seconds, because they have again, people don't realize it until they actually live it. I mean, they realize it until they see in their own household. Even at that level. It's like we got 1000s and 1000s of choice, you got your two seconds to catch your jet. No one wants to hear a whole buildup and storyplot when someone comes in with you as like, forget, I don't even need to just let me see your cover. And I can know right away whether it's gonna sell it and are saying your IMDB page, IMDB page that is, you know, for your audience, I am assuming is your is is a major, major selling vehicle for you. Because that is a Bible for people like me and buyers who just just want to know what the guy is not a consumer angle. Consumers don't know about it. I mean, look, Amazon even changed his name, you know, from IMDb to the freebie. Because of that, right? Even though it's all we got 10 million users and all that stuff. But yeah, it's not a consumer thing. But you know, having for a simple tool for so many users, if you're trying to get some, you know, someone to buy it or take a look, make sure your IMDB page things, you got the good cover, and you've got all the people in it. It's like okay, so that's the first power, we're talking about filtering and streaming, right? That's just an immediate filter.

Alex Ferrari 43:32
Right! And then you'll look at star power. So like, where's the ranking on the star power of the task? And even if you haven't heard about them, maybe they're the new hot guy that's coming out on top and Top Gun who's blowing up right now, but he doesn't keep up in about six months, his value is going to go massive, because our gun is going international. Right?

John Kim 43:51
Oh, yeah, I tell. Again, my arena is way way downstream. But when you know, my my clients are looking at some new movies, whatever they hate, you know, what do you see? Why should I care? I look at that star meter. The relative ranking is important, not the, you know, the rank in 5600, whatever, that doesn't mean anything. But if you have an act, all things being equal an actor with a 3000 score, so our meter versus a 10,000 you go with the higher the lower rank you want, which is higher the 3000.

Alex Ferrari 44:20
But again, when right, but there's a reference, there's a there's a caveat to that, because let's say there is a Danny Trejo and Danny Trejo happens to be in 10,000 that week, for whatever reason, and there's other kids who just showed up, it's 3000 because he's the new, young hot thing, but Danny has more value in general. So there's a balance you have to kind of look at as well.

John Kim 44:39
Yeah, I mean, it's a complex algorithm, but I don't, I don't know how it calculates, but it's, you know, internet mentions and press and all of this stuff. But it's, it's a nice tool. It can you know, you gotta look at all of the different points, but it's a very valuable tool just to say, Hey, this is, you know, again, all things being equal, you know, abilities and know that that is better to go with someone who's just more well known, even if, again, it's for people like when, like you, we don't know about them, but at least it's theirs. That's as as an objective measurement as there is out there. In the absence of anything, really. I mean, there's no like ding ding, ding. I mean, you got rotten tomatoes. But even that, it's like, who cares?

Alex Ferrari 45:20
Right, so so do you remember a time because you and I both have similar vintage? Do you remember a time where you could literally watch everything that came out that week?

John Kim 45:30
I mean, it's, it's changed. It's just yeah, like,

Alex Ferrari 45:34
I remember I remember working. I worked out and I remember working a video store. And I would literally watch every movie that got released that week, every week, because we had everything. There was like seven movies.

John Kim 45:44
What were we what would what

Alex Ferrari 45:47
Was a mom and pop was a mom and pop shop. That's the best time the mom and pop shops. So I just everything that came out. I would watch. And I tell people that like really? I'm like, Yeah, because it just it would cost too much money to make movies back then you just cost too much you would you wouldn't even begin to have a conversation with less than a couple million like that was and there used to be $20 million movies, real $20 million dollar movies. They used to be $50 million dollar movie $30 million movie studios would put out What About Bob? That cost them 30 million bucks. Right? It cost them that was tentpoles didn't show up until in the 90s is when it really started to really blow up like the 100 million dollars. And I mean $200 million. That was insane money back in the 90s. Remember Titanic those $200 million and if it was losing their mind now. That's the starting point for that tentpole you can't even have a conversation about a temple without a couple 100 million 150 170 5 million to start the conversation. Right. It's, it's insane. Now I want to I want you to demystify something for the audience, my friend, Netflix, everyone thinks that Netflix is this amazing Holy Grail. They have so much money they're spending and you see all these 21 billion 18 billion 15 billion? Obviously, everyone's like, well, I all I need is 100 grand? Obviously, Netflix didn't give that to me. Can you demystify the Netflix deal currently, because not the Netflix deal from five or 10 years ago, which is very different than the Netflix deal of today, for the audience.

John Kim 47:24
So in so the headlines of this 21 billion and all that stuff, that the world has changed, because there is just so much competition, right, and there is a there is now as you're seeing in the headlines, there's a finite audience, not a finite, but there's a there's a there's a cap to the number of people that are going to subscribe, and they're moving, they're moving from, and then they're moving in the new term that was never really talked about. Other than just subscriber growth is churn, you know, and that turned into like, Hey, thank you very much, I got the free month promotion, I saw my whole series, I binge watched it, thanks for giving it all available. I'm watching it, you know, and then I'm moving, I cut it off, and then go and then just kind of moving from service to service. So all of that million, all of those millions or billions they're spent on if you really look at it, they're spent on original programming TV shows, you know, the water cooler, you know, again, it originally was house of games, because and there's because they wanted people to subscribe to change services, and then stay there to watch you know, the whole episodes, the whole series, and the whole seasons, you know, a movie if you unless it's a Disney movie, a family movie, it's like, you know, you watch it one and done. Okay, feed me more. Right? So all those money, all that money acquisition is really spent towards that across the board. So you know, for them buying a little indie movie, you know, one, no one's gonna write about it. Number two, you're not going to get you know, you know, millions of people wanting to subscribe to Netflix for this little indie 100,000 movie you're talking about, right? So it ain't 100,000 I mean, it's like 10 15,000. And it's just, you know, a nice to have kind of thing, maybe 1% chance to get like a six month deal for 10,000 bucks. Let's just say, I'm not saying you know, but it's just change all that money is going to original programming TV, or you know, big name.

Alex Ferrari 49:19
You know, movies read notice I read

John Kim 49:21
Again, so the indie player, like, how can you compete again, it's just a different world, you know, to you three and a two to a small, independent first time filmmaker, whatever. 300,000 is a lot but that's like the lunch budget for what we're talking about on these $21 billion spent at Netflix. So it's just it is when people actually really understand I mean, all they read the headlines and they realize like, what is the actuality it is a demystification. Oh my gosh, like you gotta be kidding me kind of situation. Right, right. I mean, it's an even get that is like a miracle. Miracle. Yeah, it's a miracle. I mean, you're it's one in 100 but At the same time, again, it's a different objective, if you need to prove, you know that you got the street cred, you have instant credibility, if you have a net, if you're a Netflix producer, right? Oh my gosh, you're able to screen that out, you didn't make a lot of money on it. But that means you're good. And in fact, you are thing about progression as a, as a as a, as a filmmaker, that is a definite feather in the cap. You know, again, if you want to make money, that's not necessarily but all sudden, you're gonna get investors interested, you're gonna, you know, invest buyers, and she's like, Oh, look, and this guy's got some some skills. But it's not like, you know, it's not like this, you know, he got a seven figure deal that was, you know, Netflix is just like a little piddly thing. But, you know, you got some credibility. Good, great job. You know, I'm gonna I'm gonna talk I want to talk to you.

Alex Ferrari 50:46
So as a distributor, when you do with the Netflix deals, I mean, I'm hearing is telling me if this is true, or not, Netflix deals start paying at the end of the deal. Quarterly, they pay quarterly upfront, or they pay at the end, because I've heard different chord.

John Kim 51:01
I mean, yeah, every deal is different. Everything is different, everything is different. But again, congrats, but congrats to the person that gets a Netflix CEO, because that is a major, major accomplishment. You know, you know, then then the mate then the next big thing is, like, if you were able to get some actual money from,

Alex Ferrari 51:20
Right, like, if you got a Netflix deal, and you made money, holy cow, here's my here, they'll just start throwing money at you at that point. Yeah.

John Kim 51:27
I mean, it's all relative. But, you know, in the absence of, of any known figures, and all that, and everyone making things up, you know, that is definitely a feather in the cap is right. Okay. You're a player.

Alex Ferrari 51:44
Is Amazon a thing anymore for us as filmmakers?

John Kim 51:47
Well, everyone was I gotta like, make sure I don't say anything that

Alex Ferrari 52:00
I don't want to get you in trouble, sir.

John Kim 52:01
So the facts are, the facts are back in the day. People were, were very happy with with Netflix, I mean, with Amazon, then it's been cut, cut, cut cut of the, you know, down to a penny per hour. Again, this is all public information. speaking slowly. So everything was down on, on on Amazon again. Why? Why is because everybody in their city, a 10 year old kid could upload stuff. It's like that just the whole quality control is just not there. Right? It's back to your thing about, you know, back in the day, there were only 20 movies, but now anyone can make a movie, right? And so then you've got a glut of stuff. And I think how do you differentiate yourself between all sudden the 1000s of movies, right? But now that a VOD is becoming a thing. It's always been a thing. By the way, when we were watching cheers and friends. It was a VOD on network TV. It's just been an artificial we don't want to do that from a from a studio content provider. Because it the eyeballs weren't weren't wasn't there and you can train $100 bill for $1 Bill and make money.

Alex Ferrari 53:18
Right. And also and also the other thing was that before in the windowing schedule,

John Kim 53:24
AVOD was like way late it wasn't even contemplating a lot of contracts it was just so beyond right but now that it's like off now that we're looking for every nook and cranny money that we can get because theatrical was done you know, DVD theatrical, you know, and, you know, big checks so we're looking for every little thing AVOD is is is is starting to really become something where it's where it's worthy of being at launch right and not just you know, bottom of the barrel 20 years from now kind of thing and that's

Alex Ferrari 54:00
Hard but that's hard for filmmakers egos to handle.

John Kim 54:04
That's a thing is it an ego? It's a thing. It's you got to leave your I mean, do whatever it takes to make the movie, but I'm just telling you the realities of how you're going to make money right? So if you don't want to hear what anyone have to say, then then Okay, goodbye, fine. But you know, if you want to make money then you know and then and I think you can make money then then I'll talk to you but your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness when it comes to you know, your your right you're saying it's a just Yeah, great. You did that. But just you know, you want to make money. Listen, if say, otherwise, I don't want to waste my time. So what I'm saying is just just a reality, and you can choose to ignore reality fine, but just because you put your head in the sand doesn't mean reality isn't happening. Okay? And there's always exceptions. Okay. So again, there's always exceptions, right? I'm not an exceptions business. I can't I can't feed my family. If I'm just like, Wait Paying for exception to happen every 30 years,

Alex Ferrari 55:03
I just I just had a filmmaker who made a documentary about Michael Bidston, the MMA fighter, the the legendary MMA fighter. He fought with one eye. He literally lost his sight. And everyone's like, Oh, you can't fight and he won a championship with one eye. Is that saying now that all fighters with one eye can win the championship? No, it's an anomaly. There's, there's always an exception to the rule, always. But you can't look at the exception as the that's the way No, that is the exception. And they have to look at it that way. And I try. I tried to yell that at filmmakers so much. I'm like paranormal activity is not going to happen again. That was that movie at that time. At that moment? It just, you know, it was just a specific moment, El Mariachi will never happen again. It was that moment in time with that filmmaker with that film. At that in that's right product, right time. And right time period in history to make it by the way, it also by the way.

John Kim 56:05
I mean, it's a major accomplishment to one get funding and the greenlit get greenlit a movie for crying a lot, Major, because everybody you know, and by the way, everything looks good on paper. Until you know, then, how many? How many failed? How many failed? Movies are there that look great on paper? You know, I mean, right?

Alex Ferrari 56:28
Even the studios aren't going to read all the time.

John Kim 56:31
That's why they survive it is because they're in the numbers game to make 20 movies and hope that two of them succeed, the pay for the sins of all of the rest.

Alex Ferrari 56:39
Basically, the sins, I love that the sins of all. That's a great term.

John Kim 56:43
I mean, everyone's gets married, you know, but what is the divorce rate? 60%. But we're still getting married.

Alex Ferrari 56:49
Right? Because someone's making it work. There you go.

John Kim 56:53
But the stakes are even higher, or harder in the film business, you know, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 57:00
So let me ask you this, during the your time in the business, before you became a distributor? I'm assuming you've might have run into some nefarious people along the way. Some distributors who might have not been upfront with you on a lot of things. How and why, in your opinion, do you think that filmmakers gets almost always, almost always not always? So always exceptions, but the and I would I would fare that would be a fair statement to say that the majority of them either get the short end of the stick on purpose because there's something nefarious going on? Or because of lack of just it's nothing nefarious, it's just the business the way it is. And they're like, oh, they screwed me like, no, everything we've just been talking about. They took the movie, they did the best they could they couldn't make your money back. Life goes on. Why do you believe that there's so much monkey business with that with the Hollywood accounting and all of this kind of stuff. And it's from every, every place every bit in their studio. I mean, Hollywood accounting is a thing. Just like the cat. Just that's a that's a term you could look up that you could look it up, it's called it's there's an actual term in the dictionary, Hollywood accounting, is that they just like the casting couch was the thing prior to the metoo movement. Right? It was a joke. It was a running joke in movies like, oh, that he got it, she got the part because he was on the casting couch. So in the filmmaking side of things, oh, the distributor screwed me. That's just, it's just oh, that's just the way the business is. Why do you believe it is? And is it sustainable at this point, to continue moving forward, for filmmakers and for distributors?

John Kim 58:46
So I have 150 clients, and I would say 90% have been screwed over? More than more than twice. I mean, it's crazy out there. So they're, it's a crazy business. There are there are crooks, and then there are, you know, people that are making people that are legitimately making money. Yet the filmmakers aren't seeing a dime of it, but legitimate, contractually, they're making that money. Right. So, so as far as the crooks I'm not gonna name names. However. However, it's I always scratch my head. It's like, why did they keep on notorious? Everyone knows.

Alex Ferrari 59:30
Oh, yeah. Hey, Dave, unless you start I could start listing off names. And you'd be like, yep. And they just and they've been around forever, right?

John Kim 59:36
Like, how do they continue to do this? You know, and, and the reason why I believe they just continue is because there's a sucker born every minute. And these suckers because they gave their soul and their, you know, their house and a mortgage. They need to believe that what they're being told is going to is true. So they want Have to be they want to be misled fear wanted to say, hey, I don't even want your business I'm sorry. Sorry. And they're like, Oh, you don't see it, whatever. Okay, I'm dealing with the generalities. But you know, they just like, hey, this is great. And I can do this, I can do that. Oh, yeah. They want to be, that's how these the crooks continue to last for years and just find a new, there's a new filmmaker born every minute, right? So, you know, shame on you for not listening and doing your due diligence and all that stuff. You know, you had to call me and actually, I've had scenarios where I warned some people, you know, because it was my fiduciary setup, you know, this human right thing. Like I see an accident, do not go pull the key out of the way, right. I'll say that they just don't. And they're like, no, no, they believe me, John, I can do it. I've seen the projections. The projections, you know, I seen the contract. I see it, you know, and then two years, two years later, John, you're right. And out. 100,000? Yes, seriously, it's like, are you? I told you,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:05
I literally, I literally just consulted on a project. And I kept telling the producers and telling the producers don't do this, don't do this, this is what's gonna happen. Don't do this. This is what's going to happen. Don't and what happened. Six months later, a year later, they come back to me into like, we're never going to see a dime.

John Kim 1:01:23
Oh, my God, I'm like, a human thing. You told them and they didn't want to hear it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:29
They didn't they didn't want to hear it. They didn't want to hear it. It was it was just fat. It never ceases to amaze me. It never ceases to amaze me. It really never does. But because

John Kim 1:01:41
That's a it's a greatest strength is their greatest weakness. They were congratulations, you got investors, you've made a movie, you know, you did. And then then on the other side is like you want to hear you want to hear reality. So the reality is, I mean, again, that's perfect example. People don't want and so you know what, these people the crooks just continue to survive, because they say what they want to hear. Right. And then the other thing is, there are some contracts, real things that I'm like, just scratching my head, like, Are you Are you kidding me? Right. And so the things that I've seen, you know, from like, a lot of my, a lot of my clients that were there, it's like, you know, run, if you ever see a, you know, $30,000 marketing cap, you know, and then pay for expenses, you know, and, you know, social media campaign, you know, our delivery, you know, 30,000 is a lot of money. And that is is an excuse to never get paid. Right? And then the other trick is like, oh, yeah, we're gonna we're gonna have this a 15 year contract, 15 year contract. I mean, we're babysitters, right? And we're paid on an hour, we should be paid on an hourly basis. And this is your baby, and you don't give your babysitter a 15 year you can do whatever and come back to me in 15 years, don't buy we'll get back to you when they're grown and done, whatever. So those are like two like, easy, like, legal ways of just getting screwed. Right.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:11
I was at AFM walking around. And I get recognized when I walk around AFM, and filmmakers come up to me and they're like, Alex, I have this deal. Can you can you? I want you to can you look at it for me. I'm like, I just told me that the bullet points. I'm not a lawyer, but it was always go to always go to a lawyer, entertainment attorney. But give me the bullet points. And I'll tell you and the bullet points. And I've never seen anything like this. John. This was so blatant. 25 year. Wait a minute. 100,000. Marketing cap. There you go. Wait a minute, yearly. Yearly. So it'd be a $2.5 million. Wait, because the little there's a little word that says yearly on and I'm like, are you 2.5 Like so. And they had the they own the IP, as well. So they had IP and they get executive producer credit. And they get their logo up front. All of this and I told him like, you need to run away as fast as possible. So I go listen to it. She was like, Okay, I'm not gonna do this deal. I'm like, No, this is what you should do go back and counter it. I want to see what they say. So we countered, and they get back and they go, all right. 10 years, and $50,000 total. And I'm like so you were literally just trying to see you throughout the worst deal possible to see if you would bite and if you bite, it's on you. That's immoral.

John Kim 1:04:41
I mean, and people sign you know, because they've heard the company because they've heard of a company. Okay. You know, it's like, it must be okay. Um, I heard of them. But I Yes, it was that's just it's right there and straight up like legally stealing from somebody.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
It's legally stealing from somebody and I love what you just said because you've heard of them, or they've represented another movie in the past. That gives them the credibility, you're like, I want to be on the same company that released that movie. 10 years ago, when the owners might have been different, the world was different their, their business practices might have been different. All of that. And I hear that so much like, Oh, I just want to be on this, this big companies name or this company's name, because I've heard of them before, or because of they have this, this this, or they have this Oscar nominated movie at one point or another. I'm like, from when 97 late.

John Kim 1:05:36
Again, it's just a different reality. I mean, think about how much due diligence people do on on allows the, you know, $25, Amazon purchase, you know, let alone level, look at your reviews, go look at, look at this comparison shop, you know, selling your, you know, selling your house, having a real estate agent, sell your house, you know, you're gonna die, I want to see your references, and I want to watch them, you know, selling movies like, Oh, they got a great website. And look, they saw this one like 10 years ago, let's do it. This is gone.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:06
And it's and you're talking about the same amount of money of buying a house, right? You know, like, you know, buying a house, depending on where you live in the world. But you know, $300,000 buys a house 400,000, half a million, that's a lot of money net, for an individual for I mean, look, if I saw half a million on the floor, I'm picking it up, I don't know about you. I know. It's a lot of money. And they don't do the due diligence. They don't do the education. Look, when when I was buying my very first house, I educated myself on the process of buying a house back in the day when I did it. So and then understanding the ins and outs and who's this and that and, and think that's a more regulated industry.

John Kim 1:06:45
This is an unregulated industry.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:48
That's why there's it's such a wild wild west of all the time and it and you go to AFM, I mean, and you just see it, you see walking around, you see the same players doing the same games, and you see the movies, and I'm like, I know that filmmaker, I know he's got screwed. And I know that filmmaker, Nick, I know that movie, that guy behind that movie in it. So I hear the stories on both ends, I hear from the front and the back, you know, from the filmmaker and from the distributor, and look not to just shit on distributors, because there are good distributors out there. There are good there are people who trying to help and but a lot of times too, it's just the nature of the marketplace. You do the best you can sometimes as a distributor. And it's just like you were handicapped the moment you took the film on like that, if you would take on the movie that I gave you the example of when you're smart enough, you're smart enough not to take it. But there are distributors who will take that movie on, promise things that they truly believe possibly could possibly happen. And when they don't happen, then the filmmakers like the distributor screwed me now unlock the true. Very true. There is there are those those are rare, by the way, that doesn't happen all the time. I think it still leans more towards the the other angle of things. But it's just the business is so crazy and changing. Look in the 80s and 90s. In the VHS times in the DVD times. Everything pretty much stayed the same. For years, right? Like you made a movie. This was the output. This was the windowing, BPPV that stood like that for years. And prior to VHS it stood like that for 60 years. Like and

John Kim 1:08:27
There was limited and the projections were were spot were very good. Because there was a limited number of comps that you could then project and there's no variables work today is just like, there's no just throw out the concert COVID There's 1000s It's just there's no comps, right. And so, yeah, that's why I don't want to provide estimates because it's going to be wrong, they're going to be wrong. The question is, is do you? The main thing is do you trust that you're going to get paid? Do you trust that he's going to do what he says he's going to do? Do you trust that? You know, that it's trust? Essentially, that is it? Because everything else? I don't know variable, right? It's just, you know, it's like I can lead the decision maker is gonna see the movie, right? It's gonna be placed here, you know, you're gonna get placement, you're gonna get paid. And that is a lot unfortunately, in this business. Like in any other business, that's just the cost of entry, you expect that, but because there's so many bad apples just that is like, Wow, I can't tell you how many of my clients like why I'm not getting paid. I haven't been paid, you know, in year kind of check. To check. You know, I'm saying I mean, it's, it's sad, but, you know, I've been able to benefit just by doing that by doing what I'm going to say I don't go to the bathroom without your approval. You know, and that's why I want to be working only with people that I want to ask for approval. Otherwise, I don't I don't want to work with you.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:07
Because I've seen a couple of filmmakers with some egos. Just a couple, just a couple of a couple, a couple of delusional filmmakers along the way. By the way, I was one of them. When I was starting out, we all go through that we all go through the process. If you're smart, you go through quickly, and then you move on, and you grow up pretty quickly. But when you come into this business, you come in with stars in your eyes, and I love movies, and Scorsese, and Cor, Salwa and Spielberg and Lucas and and you see all these stories and you want to like I'm going to make the Godfather I'm going to make you know, Inception, I'm going to make Nolan film or Fincher. So that is what you need to get this. It's so difficult to get. Yeah, you need that kind of energy to make it. But once you're done making it, then you really know it's another step that they don't tell you at film school. They don't Hollywood doesn't sell that story. They don't tell it. They sell you the oh, look, this guy went to Sundance and sold the movie for $17.5 million. Oh, great. And now the Dow that's everyone's like, Oh, well, you know, Palm Springs sold for $17.5 million. I go. And I spoke I had that guy on the show. And we went through the whole process. And Hulu paid $17.5 million for that. Amazing. And you know why they paid 17 point 5 million won. I had Adam Sandler and Adam and Adam Sandburg in it. So that was JK Simmons. And they knew that based on their algorithm that Adam Sandberg is going to do very well on their platform. But more than that, the free press that they got for being the highest paid movie ever at Sundance, they estimated it to be like $100 million worth of free advertising for Hulu. So that was a strategic move. was the movie that valuable? At the end of the day, they probably not. But was it valuable for marketing to get more eyeballs on Hulu to get? You see, but that's no,

John Kim 1:12:06
That's the stuff that no one knows. That's my point to is like, no one really knows why. And just to say my movies better than movies, like according to you. But they don't know all these other things out and back to the you know, the waiting days. They don't know, like what actually made them might have happened. And that Cassius or to make it happen. Not that is still happening, right? It's like to just put your head in the sand and say, Yeah, I saw something. I see a Beverly Hills house. So what I'm incompetent in my house is incompetent. It's irrelevant.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:35
Right! Like, yeah, exactly. Like, I'm in Bakersfield. And I have a house, you know, but I saw a house sell for 4.5 million in the hills of Hollywood.

John Kim 1:12:46
And with that exact scenario of what we're talking about,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:51
You're absolutely I never thought I'd never thought about that. But filmmakers think but my house is good that they have a bathroom. I have a bedroom, they have a bedroom. I don't understand. I don't understand why mine is not worth the 4.5 million. And then you're like, oh, you know who lives in that house. Danny Trejo, Danny Trejo, Thomas Jane, Michael Madsen, Eric Roberts, and a few other guys live in that. And they were able to sell on Bruce Willis also lives in there as well. So now, that movie that that house is sold for point five 1.5 million, but your house you live in it. So it's not worth as much.

John Kim 1:13:31
We laugh at this scenario, but it is exactly what's happening to a lot of filmmakers.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:36
Wow, I've never I'm going to use that constantly. It is so brilliant of analogy, because there's there's two houses, but the two houses are not built on the same playing field. They're both houses. Yes. They're both films. Yes, exactly. But they're not equal. They're not equal in the market place in the marketplace. And the marketplace, you can live in it. You can live in that you can watch this movie, you can watch that movie. That's where the similarities end.

John Kim 1:14:10
But there's no such thing. There's no like, objective measurement. Right? You can say it's just like, Well, I think it's a great book. Well, I think it's a great. It's like, look at that. It's just chasing when, you know, unless it's like someone reads like, you know what, I don't I gotta make money. I'm only gonna sell I and I always want to work with people I want to work with. Right. So there you go.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:35
I mean, listen, John, what advice Listen, what advice would you give a filmmaker? What's that? What's that one piece of advice? What would the filmmaker that has a movie that wants to make a movie and wants to get into the marketplace right now. And once the makeup just wants to make it they haven't made the movie yet. So we're catching them before they make their movie. And let's say they could find a couple 100 grand $1,000 to $300,000 they can raise that one is the advice you give a filmmaker at that stage right now? And then what advice would you give a filmmaker who has that $300,000 movie with no stars in it? If there's any advice you could get?

John Kim 1:15:12
It's really hard to speak in generalities.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:14
Right, you really, it is case by case.

John Kim 1:15:16
You're right, whatever it is case by case, but I mean, a central tenet is make the cheapest possible movie you possibly can. Right? And because the return down downstream is just not it's just not their exception. Unless you're an exception. I'm talking you know, generalities, but you know, it just make it for the cheap. Get the best stars that you possibly can for your money. That's more important, any special effect anything whatever, because then you can put it on your your ad spend money on your, your, your your key art, that that's much more important than any little you know, then and that's your Superbowl advertising right there. That's more that's a big line item in your $300,000 movie. Get the best Star get the get the best art possible. And trailer trailer I mean, you know, there's some there's the trailers important because an o on a trailer, don't make your trailer a mini movie. It's called a teaser. Right? It's the T. Everyone wants to like little mini movies. Like you know what? I just saw the whole movie in two minutes. Thank you very much. I'm not gonna buy it. I'm not gonna see it because I saw it from beginning to end. All the best parts, too. I know. Those are your best parts. All the explosions are in a 32nd teaser, like, Oh, that looks interesting. I'm gonna do it. Right. It's just it's like, I mean, again, I want to say get in trouble with the, you know, it's a striptease, you don't show everything right. You just do a little bit that get him interested.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:58
You tease him? Exactly. You tease them.

John Kim 1:17:01
Right. So that's another thing again, I've seen that's the number one thing. Mistake is everyone makes a little mini movie a two and a half minute trailer, you're done in 10 minutes, 10 seconds. You know, it's just get someone they take another look. Right. So that's number one. Number two on the art piece, everyone thinks they gotta do this montage thing when they realize it's a two by two inch thing. And it's just like a black box. Everything on

Alex Ferrari 1:17:22
That's not the one that's standing on your wall. That's different. Like, you know, the poster, the poster you want to build for your wall so you can show people. That's a different poster than what you're dealing with your demanded thing.

John Kim 1:17:34
And by the way, on your thing, you could take a picture of me and you can say that the Jackie Chan is in your movie, because no one's gonna tell the difference.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:43
Why Wow. No, but you write so small, it's so small.

John Kim 1:17:49
And no one's gonna like fact check you but you take a picture. Actually, maybe it's Bruce Lee, not Jackie Chan. Because everyone puts you know, and then they put a whole like list of all the faces and it's like, it really is indecipherable. It could I'm joking, but it looks like that.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:04
So look at Netflix, if you if you just study Netflix right now, I was just watching this the other day, studying Netflix. And there was a movie that I watched and had like two or three stars in it. They choose a star. Like if you seeing red notice flashed by they either put the rock or they put Ryan rentals or put they'll put Galka got on it. They won't put all three generally speaking once the movie is because then because you just Oh, is that the rock up because you don't want to confuse them?

John Kim 1:18:34
Because it's a two thing and it's a squirrel so fast. You've got to catch up. And by the way, they know the analytics of exactly what's who sells what sells. Again, this is all stuff that behind that no one knows. Right? But I mean for the indie people for the end, here's another advice that you back to your thing. Don't do that. Don't do that. Because it is a pipe dream to get on Netflix, go to to VT go to most popular and look who who like look at all the stars that are selling on most popular and to beat those people. That's the chance where you can see stars like, you know, Joe Blow that you had no idea about, there's actually a star because he's selling more than Brad Pitt on the a VA channels. Right, that's more reachable because on a on a VA channel, you're competing. The love the playing field is a little bit less than it's not like iTunes, where you're competing against and vendors forget about you're competing not only to the production by 10 million of advertising, etc, etc. You can't compete. However, on the AI channels. There is a point of theories. It's a little bit late into it because you feel like you're competing against 10 year old 20 year old studio movies. Alright, so I've already seen that, right? So if you look at all the most popular, they're not the Titanic's because everyone's already seen them for. But you look at the most popular look at those stars all sudden you're seeing stars that you've never heard about. Right, and they're next to, you know, they're majorly bracket. Like this is the only playing field We're an independent indie benefit maker can actually compete, right where your your, so that's what I'm saying. Just know, know your limits, you know, again, it says you can dream. But if you want to get that first base, you want to get that bump start here and then go higher and AVOD is the place again, I'm, I'm talking sacrilege to every, you know, filmmaker and you know, all the windowing, and I've said it before you that is, is looking at what's selling and by the way that computers are in line, this is a straight up, like, what are the best sellers, right? And then also, you're gonna see stars in there that you don't know who they are, but you might want to hire them, because you know what algorithms pick them up, they're in your movie, they're gonna pop up in the two V's of the world. And by the movie, you know, I have 600 movies on TV, right? I was with two people and they were 40 I got three kids. You know, if I had another kid, I'm naming them to movie boy or girl. Till we can, boy or girl if to be and I've told them that you know, my friends that to be I've told everyone this because to be is going, I mean free. My number six might be freebie and number seven. Number seven is going to be YouTube. Okay? And that's gonna be you or two or whatever boy or girl because no one's gonna stop that YouTube engine. You got 5 billion people out there, right versus whatever. But, you know, these are little insights. Again, it's you can live in dreamland. But if you want to like really get some some some some some some points on the board. You got to play in this area because a $300,000 movie can't compete against $100 million movie period and no matter what we're except by these AR platforms, because the

Alex Ferrari 1:21:43
100 million because Dr. Strange. Multiverse is not on duty right now.

John Kim 1:21:48
There you go. You're not competing. That's why I'm saying don't even bother with iTunes because you're competing against Dr. Strange for crying out loud. How can you do that?

Alex Ferrari 1:21:55
James Bond?

John Kim 1:21:57
Dr. Strange 10 years from now. Okay, so I've already seen that. So I'm hoping it's free. So I'm open up for you know, watch something for Kerala different?

Alex Ferrari 1:22:05
What is it? What is the return? Give or take? Because I know like Amazon's like a penny. What do we is there is that public knowledge as far as what you get paid on to be but it's decent enough that you're happy?

John Kim 1:22:16
It's a it's a CPM

Alex Ferrari 1:22:19
Can you explain what a CPM is real quick

John Kim 1:22:20
CPM is is is what you're paid per 1000 views. Right, so. So when you think about it, it's like, per 1000 views, you know, you got it, you're gonna need millions of people to watch something, to vert to me of significant value. Right. So the big, the big, big fallacy, there's just the train wreck is happening now. And I just laugh right now is the buzzword is fast, channel faster, and all Avon, I'm gonna, I'm gonna direct consumer, I'm gonna fast channel, everybody and their sisters approaching me. They see me on LinkedIn, whatever. And they say, Hey, I want your movies, you know, you know, we can share the money. And we can have this direct channel and I'm going to be on the Roku box, and we're going to be on fire stick and all this. I'm like, Yeah, you will find people. So why would I use my clients movies to fund your business, that then we share five cents? You know, I'm saying because you can't get 5000 people, you can't get 5000 people to walk

Alex Ferrari 1:23:22
I have a million if I have a million or 2 million or 3 million subscribers, that's a different conversation, even

John Kim 1:23:26
Then WooCommerce even then, I mean, we're not talking subscribers. I mean, even we're even seeing the, you know, the big boys, Disney Netflix saying they gotta go to this AVOD market, because its number of subscribers is not even close to the number of people that want to watch free. by Amy.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:42
So you mean like television, television,

John Kim 1:23:46
That's what I'm talking about before. It's just I tell people, it's just back to the future. We're just going back to TV where it was free for ad supported. But people just you know, as content providers, it's hard to get millions and millions of people to watch something for those numbers to pay out. But they're not even close to what it was before on theatrical DVD. It's subscription, you know, money, which is all going away now. I mean, it's a matter of time. You know? So it really is just knowing your strengths. Thank you for me. I don't do theatrical. No, that's not my thing. I stick to my lane. This is what I do. Again, I'm squirrel hunting. And then, you know, then a elephant gets in the way and I sell it, you know, to, you know, a Sigourney Weaver, you know, a movie that just came out of nowhere, right, but I'm not like just waiting all day for that elephant to come in. I'm shooting squirrels, you know, and eating squirrels or eating and like I said, it's significant, but it's not I don't have my own lot. I don't have you know, 1000 people working for me, I don't have the DP of the bathroom do the payoff. You know where you know, the squirrels ain't gonna feed anything. But you put enough squirrels together and you got a major league meal. And then again, you know, an elephant comes in the way and, you know, that feeds the village. But this business model doesn't work for any studio, it doesn't work for even, you know, a lot of these distributors with lots of staff, whatever, right? It just doesn't. Right. 10,000 $20,000 You know, we can add up a lot. I mean, you were talking about I would, I would pick up $5,000 You know, if it was just there, you know, all day and night, but a lot of people because their costume, they can't even afford it, and they won't do

Alex Ferrari 1:25:29
It cost them more money to pick up that 5000 that it does. That's exactly it, make it exactly it. Yeah, just to have them run there. It's a different world. And I think and filmmakers really need to understand that that, you know, a giant distributor won't pick you up, if you're a small movie, unless they feel that they can make money with it, because it's going to cost more just to put you in the workflow, the funnel of getting everything ready into the assembly line of what they normally do to put movie out, it's going to cost them X amount of dollars, just to release your movie legit, why they have a marketing cap 33

John Kim 1:26:05
I'll take your 30,000 you know, that's my insurance, if that doesn't happen,

Alex Ferrari 1:26:09
Right. And they really cost them about three to four or 5000 to do what they're gonna do. But it's not even

John Kim 1:26:15
It's making you cry in my little portfolio folder. So I can have my you know, my office in one of the film festivals that didn't cost me 30,000 of marketing. And by the way, 30,000 mark up, you might as well just spit in the ocean. I mean, really? What can you do for $30,000?

Alex Ferrari 1:26:31
Not it's gonna be Yeah, it's gonna it's gonna be tough. It's gonna be tough. It's gonna be very tough

John Kim 1:26:36
Talk in general, I don't want to talk in studio. So I'm talking about you know, more, you know, independent filmmakers, where 200,000 is a lot of money. Let's just put it that way.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:44
Right. And can you really quickly? Well, how valuable is a film festival to you? Are you a laurel at Sundance, or at South Bay?

John Kim 1:26:53
Okay, so what? No stars outside outside of the, you know, outside of the name brand ones? Yeah, no stars, no stars didn't book to film festival. It might as well be, you know, junkie in my underwear. Having a screening. It doesn't matter. The only people that are making money on those film festivals are the film festival makers, because they're charging five to $10,000. For for your event, you know, so that thank you very much. And then I mean, it's almost a joke. I'm talking, I'm not I'm talking about non con, you know, non.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:27
So the Alright, so let's say everybody else everybody else is like other than the top 10 film festivals.

John Kim 1:27:37
As a salesperson, it's the last thing I talked about. Because you know what, most people could care less. They're not going to watch a movie of like, oh, this was the film The Audience Choice winner in the set in Timbuktu Film Festival. Who cares? It's hard enough to get someone to watch a movie, when you know, on on much bigger measurements, it's elastic. I mean, I don't even visit film festivals, because it's a joke. I mean, I almost wanted to have a test where I just put those little film morals, you know, you know, on the screen and just call it like, you know, festival just because you know what it's like Jackie Chan is gonna be gone. Who knows all his laurels look the same. People are not buying because it wants some awards. Those film festivals exist for these filmmakers to want to feel good about, about themselves that at least hear one on award. But it's not leading to a darn sale. Again, I'm talking general, I'm not talking generalities. Right. But even the top one is a con this that they can't sell me even Academy Award. Some of those movies can't sell more than 5000 bucks, you know, the crappy Academy Award? Okay. No, you're right. You're absolutely the names. It's just absolutely, you know, they make 10,000 points. You know, no one's talking about the actual money. But again, that's serious credibility, like I was talking with St. Do you want? Do you want an Oscar? Here you go. But a lot of those movies, they're making nothing. So if you've got the creme de la creme, that's nothing. What do you say about Timbuktu Film Festival and you know, Wisconsin or this and that. And

Alex Ferrari 1:29:07
I just wanted you to say it out loud, man. Because I talked about that constantly. And look at film festivals are great, and they have their place and it's fun, and it's great. But if you're thinking that that's going to bring dollars to the bottom line, there's there's probably three or four festivals in the world that might bring a little bit of money to the table. And that's still dependent on the movie still dependent on the genre. So dependent on a bunch of because I know films have won Sundance couldn't get sold and that was 10 years ago. When and that's still I think that's a holdover from the 90s though because in the 90s you put up a Sundance Laurel it was sold

John Kim 1:29:46
You also the DVDs to write so again, right different world it's a different world but you know, so if someone comes to me and says, Hey, man, I want these all I was like, Okay, who's in it? Nobody. Oh, what is the greatest I was like, oh, Okay, sorry. Go go go to someone who is going to tell you they're gonna make a lot of money on that movie, but I ain't taking it. Right. I know, because I I've tested this crap myself, you know, to the point of where I am joking, like putting a Jackie Chan it's calling a car, you know, Jackie Chan's Film Festival for grandma. So all the morals, and I've had, you know what I thought were like, Okay, this sounds pretty good winner of this, you know, in a big market film festival like major market, you know, and I couldn't, I couldn't give it away. Right? Because all those films and no one's buying and I'm in the mood tonight to watch a winner of this. The Timbuktu felt so good to watch this video, I made a movie based on that no consumer does.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:41
Right. Now it's a small, it's a small market of film of film lovers. That might care. But that markets so small, little, track them down

John Kim 1:30:52
And just call them up and say watch my movie, because I know you'd like these kind of

Alex Ferrari 1:30:55
Criterion Collection couldn't make their streaming service work. They go. And they are Criterion Collection. Like they switched it over they they joined another service, because they just couldn't make it work financially. And that says everything you need, because criteria collection means something to a very small group of film lovers. You know, you and I both know who Criterion Collection is. But if you walk down the street 9.9 out of 10 people are not going to give a crap about a Criterion Collection release. They don't care. So not that there's anything wrong with that, but they understand their lane and they do it very well. As far as the distributor is concerned Criterion Collection like they, you know, and that's another feather in the cap. If you got a movie, one of your movies and Criterion Collection you go. I'm there with Richard Linklater, I'm there with Kurosawa. I'm there with Coppola there with all this kind of stuff. So it's, listen, it's been a fantastic conversation. I have a couple questions I asked all my guests I want to I want to ask you before we go. This is these are fun, though. These are fun. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

John Kim 1:32:06
Man, that's that's, that's, that's deep. That's what we all go personal on that I'll just go. I'll just go film. Sure. I'll just go film and every every movie has a price. And just because, you know, you you think that it's worth something doesn't mean it's what the majority thinks. Right. And I think that that's the arrogance of major studios, you know, that make decision making based on on you know, the head saying I know this and you know, that's how quickies happen. Right? Yeah, they're not very worrying. They're ignoring, you know, what reality what the heartland what people want. I mean, they could care less about Steven Spielberg. You know, he's, he's a legend of filmmaking. But you know what, today's to the younger consumers today. It's like, who's Grandpa is this? I don't care. I ain't gonna pay more we care.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:04
We care about like, Oh, my God, let's go see West Side Story. And nobody loves the West Side Story

John Kim 1:33:08
And what happened right?

Alex Ferrari 1:33:10
And it was an Oscar nominee. And it was an Oscar nominated film. And everyone says it was like an amazing piece of cinematic. And it didn't do well.

John Kim 1:33:19
Exactly. And Steven Spielberg is, is the father of filmmaking. That is a perfect sample. So again, just you have to divorce yourself, you know, and just because what you think doesn't mean that's what everybody else in the world thinks, right? So every film has, at the same time, like I said, I have movies where I'm embarrassed to be selling them. They're not on my website. But they're selling millions. Okay? So it goes both ways. And you just have to be able to, like, try to divorce your own emotions and your own involvement. I mean, Spielberg Yeah, that's great. And then look at the marketplace, no reaction whatsoever, right or Academy Award back to the film festival. Okay, so how did that translate? So back to like, if the greatest filmmaker in the history of mankind is having that how are you stack up to that, you know, in your budget in your filmmaking abilities, and they can't work? And it can't work? Right. I mean, it's a hard, hard lesson to learn to accept that fact. Right, okay. You're telling me you really are like you're better than Spielberg? No, I'm not. Well, you're asking me to make more money than Spielberg. That's just your deep silence. Crickets. Again, I'm not in the business of Doctor No, I don't want to kill anyone's dreams. I don't even want to have this conversation with anybody that just even thinks this.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:42
Hopefully. So hopefully, this interview, you could just send this to people. This is you. Here's, here's me. Here's everything I'm gonna say to you. Watch it, don't watch it. It's up to you.

John Kim 1:34:56
Whole length is short to have these

Alex Ferrari 1:35:00
That's why you do it with someone

John Kim 1:35:02
That doesn't want to hear it. Oh, but my Aunt Millie likes this. Oh, but this this is different than

Alex Ferrari 1:35:07
That Millie have 10 million she wants to throw out your way because last question three of your favorite films of all time.

John Kim 1:35:18
Oh my goodness!

Alex Ferrari 1:35:19
Come on three of your three that come to your mind today.

John Kim 1:35:23
Today. I can't you know what it's become such a widget to me that

Alex Ferrari 1:35:29
I'll go back to the young, the young man who love for this business before you got jaded.

John Kim 1:35:37
Jaws. So jaws. Right? Yeah. So yeah, so again, it's all that baggage of all that and then, you know, now it's like, I'm going back to the last one to use that. But but he Okay, back in when I didn't even know about, you know, Hollywood and all that. Okay, very good. But yeah, it's just one painful to like. Because there's just, there's just so many like, you know, I saw so many movies now. It's just I, I am not the film critic, and I am not a film producer. And I could care less about the storyline are, you know, the beautiful special? That's not me. I just, that's why I can't even like answer your question other than Jaws, which was when I was like, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:36:22
Look John, it sounds to me that you you're journeyman, you've gone through this business a while you've seen a lot of carcasses along the way. And you've seen dreams get shattered, you've seen egos get destroyed, you've seen, you've seen successes as well, you've seen people do well and grow in this business as well. But you've seen too much, to not look at things differently. And it's similar to me where I just been through so much in my career, that when when young filmmakers or new filmmakers that could be 65. And show up by the way, I talked to many of those who show up and have no understanding, they might have been a doctor that had money and I want to be a really what I really want to do is direct, and they show up and they just get destroyed. Because it don't understand what they're walking into. And I always use the analogy of a fight. Whereas most people, most filmmakers walk into this business not knowing that they're walking into a ring. And you're walking in with Mike Tyson in 1987. And most people don't even know that they're in a ring, let alone an arena, let alone in a fight. And all of a sudden, while they're walking around going look at the pretty lights. Mike Tyson comes in and knocks them out. And they're like, and they're like, what happened? Where did this come from? And that's what I'm here to do is to let you know you are entering your inner ring with Mike Tyson and 1987 is to prepare prepare yourself for the punch. Because and I always say this too. I don't care who you are. You always get punched. We just talking about Steven Spielberg. He got punched, he got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and multiple other nominations. And he still got punched, everybody gets hit. But if I make but if I may quote the great Rocky Balboa, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. There you go. I gotta get him on the show. One day. I really because I know sly wood. Because you want to talk about a journeyman Holy crap. Can you imagine what slides gone through in his career? Oh my god.

John Kim 1:38:31
No, but let me just since you're talking about about about Sly Stallone, I want to just just say this story because it's also illustrative what we're just talking about going up. I watch rocky every day. I wasn't I wasn't. I was drinking the eggs. I was like doing. I was good. I was you know, in the tiger.

Alex Ferrari 1:38:53
Why the tiger? I have the tiger.

John Kim 1:38:55
Right. So then dial it back 30 years and then I have my own son who was also playing tennis, you know, at a high level nationally ranked, you know, top 100 in the country and like okay, maybe you could kind of watch rocky mint got right. And he's like, No, I don't want you for three years. I was telling you to watch Rocky. You gotta watch the car. Watch. This is a greatest movie. So finally I think is my birthday is I'm fine. I'll watch Rocky. Okay. We pop it in. We're watching it. And you know, we he's in the pet store and he's talking about you know, they will start fighting until like, an hour later. He goes, this is boring. And I'm watching it. I'm like one. This is boring. You know, things have changed. And you know, so things have changed. And then my point is it took me three years and I had my son to like, I'm not giving the car to make him watch it. He only watched it because it's my birthday. Right? It is hard to get To someone to watch a movie, right? That it's hard and then even when I got him to watch it because this is boring

Alex Ferrari 1:40:09
Because you needed to start with Rocky for much faster, much faster, much faster rocky three much fat and then Rocky Balboa even. Yeah, yeah, there you go. So Rocky was a drama Rocky's a drama.

John Kim 1:40:25
So it's like today's consumers don't have three years and a father like hammering him to watch a movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:40:33
Did he like it? Right? Did they enjoy the rest of the movie? Did you watch the rest of the movie?

John Kim 1:40:39
We turned it off. Oh my god, I died.

Alex Ferrari 1:40:43
I was eating raw eggs. Okay, you died a little bit that day.

John Kim 1:40:47
And then I watched and he goes, this sucks. I'm like, Oh my gosh. And I just kind of see where his point was. Right. That's how much things have changed from when we're just talking about the D days today. To today's consumer, if they're in a killing in like the opening credits, you lost the consumer. That's why dramas don't work in general, because these today's kids, and they could care less if it's on a big screen or a two inch screen. It's not like our days when we needed to be on the big screen.

Alex Ferrari 1:41:18
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter a lot. So now the world is AVOD. It could be watched on an iPhone. It doesn't have to be in the theater. Film Festivals don't really have that much in the market anymore. All these kinds of things. That world has changed so much. And I hope this conversation has shaken people to the core a little bit and really opened people's eyes about what this market place is right now. Because in six months, something else might come out and then a year.

John Kim 1:41:48
And that's not an exaggeration, because

Alex Ferrari 1:41:52
I remember when I went to AFM like three or four years ago, and everybody was talking about Ott, oh, everyone's OTT Oh TTL TTL. TT, and then afterwards like oh, it's that's my that's my that's my that's fine. And then Avod, Avod, Avod, Avod. Everyone's just trying to figure it out. Even the professionals don't know what the hell's going on.

John Kim 1:42:09
YouTube is the next thing.

Alex Ferrari 1:42:13
I've been hearing I've been hearing about YouTube, from my friends in the distribution space for a while. I'm going to do an episode about YouTube in the future. And that's the ultimate like if you think AVOD is like the end of the road. YouTube is an insult to a filmmaker, or it's an it's an insult to throw. Because that's where cat videos go.

John Kim 1:42:32
No, that's I was there. But now I am not. I am a proponent I saw in my own checkbook. Bam. It is the future when you think about it to make money. You got to zig when everyone is zagging. You got to be there before but I was there five years before we were in the Avon thing I had all those contacts because everyone's making fun of it. Myself included when I was at Paramount. Now everyone's going apparently Avon now that's getting now that's gonna get crowded. We never too busy everybody comes in YouTube is the next big when everyone's laughing and wait

Alex Ferrari 1:43:03
Until the studio's finally jump onto YouTube. And then it's again

John Kim 1:43:09
With what's the next thing

Alex Ferrari 1:43:11
What's the what's the next thing? Oh videos on Snapchat? I don't know. Like I have no idea. I have no idea it's it's so amazing. But I really John, I want to thank you so much for your time my friend thank you so much for your so your CAD being so candid and your rawness about the conversation and I hope this helps some filmmakers and please send this this interview to all the filmmakers that you talk to you guys if you want the truth just I'm not gonna do this watch the video just watch the video. This is not my business. This is Alex teaches. I don't teach just go there. Thank you so much.

John Kim 1:43:50
Thank you. Thank you

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Jambox.io – Royalty Free Music for Indie Films
  2. Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  3. Enigma Elements – Cinematic Tools & Assets for Serious Filmmakers
  4. Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook

Francis Ford Coppola’s Legendary Short Film: Captain EO

Captain EO was a 1986 American 3D science fiction film that was shown at Disney theme parks from 1986 through 1998. The movie stars Michael Jackson was written by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola(who came up with the name “Captain EO” from the Greek, cf. Eos, the Greek goddess of dawn). The film was shown as part of an attraction with in-theater effects. The attraction returned to the Disney Parks in 2010 as a tribute after Jackson’s death. The film was shown for the final time at Epcot on December 6, 2015.

The film’s executive producer was George Lucas. It was choreographed by Jeffrey Hornaday and Michael Jackson, photographed by Peter Anderson, produced by Rusty Lemorande and written by Lemorande, Lucas, and Coppola, from a story idea by the artists of Walt Disney Imagineering. Lemorande also initially designed and created two of the creatures, and was an editor of the film. The score was written by James Horner and featured two songs (“We Are Here to Change the World” and “Another Part of Me”), both written and performed by Michael Jackson.

The Supreme Leader was played by Anjelica Huston. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro was the lighting director during much of the principal photography. Captain EO is regarded as one of the first “4D” films (4D being the name given to a 3D film that incorporates in-theater effects, such as lasers, smoke, etc., synchronized to the film). Wikipedia

Download Francis Ford Coppola’s Screenplay Collection in PDF

SHORTCODE - SHORTS

Want to watch more short films by legendary filmmakers?

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

Ultimate Guide to Francis Ford Coppola and His Directing Techniques

EARLY WORKS (1962)

Few figures in the world of cinema cast a shadow as long as Francis Ford Coppola’s.  He’s a giant of the art form, with a handful of movies that have redefined film as we know it.  His inherent genius, which has cost him considerable grief throughout his career, is abundant enough to be passed down to his offspring.

Indeed, the Coppola family dynasty is something of a phenomenon– there’s his daughter, indie darling Sofia Coppola, as well as his filmmaker son Roman (and that’s not even counting more distant family like Jason Schwartzman or Nicolas Cage).  His recent films may only have a fraction of the power of his early work, but Coppola’s place in the annals of cinema history is undeniable.

Born in Detroit, but raised in New York City, Coppola found his love for film by way of the theatre.  Suffering from polio during his childhood, Coppola entertained himself by putting on puppet shows and dabbling with the family’s 8mm film camera.  This led to substantial training in music and theater, capped by a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University.

It wasn’t until he enrolled in graduate school at UCLA that he began formally studying film.  Influenced by the works of Elia Kazan and Sergei Eisenstein, Coppola was a member of the earliest wave of directors to directly benefit from a dedicated filmmaking program.  It was during this time that Coppola cut his teeth with shorts like THE TWO CHRISTOPHERS and AYAMONN THE TERRIBLE.

What’s interesting about the beginnings of Coppola’s career is that his work found wide distribution before he even graduated.  A full five years before he earned his graduate degree from UCLA, Coppola had already made several feature-length films.  Some of these have been lost to time, such as his first work– 1962’s TONIGHT FOR SURE– a softcore comedy meant to titillate rather than entertain.

THE BELLBOY AND THE PLAYGIRLS (1962)

His next work, however, exists in bits and pieces around the internet.  Also shot in 1962, THE BELLBOY AND THE PLAYGIRLS was more of an editing job than a directing one.  However, recutting and adding new footage to German director Fritz Umgelter’s film MIT EVA FING DIE SUNDE AN earned him a full director’s credit.

The film, shot in black and white, was yet another stag/nudie comedy.  The only clip I’ve been able to find, presented above, makes no mention of whether the footage belongs to Coppola or Umgelter.  It doesn’t appear to be dubbed, so for the sake of this article I’ll assume it’s Coppola’s.

This brief snippet shows an intimate scene between newlyweds, as the husband tries to cajole his timid new wife into sex.  Coppola shoots wide and straight-on, capturing the action dispassionately until we pull back to reveal that these characters are actually actors rehearsing for a play.

It’s a playful move on Coppola’s part to deceive us using only the boundaries of the frame– an effective trick that hints at Coppola’s budding desires to challenge convention and redefine the language of cinema.

BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN (1962)

That same year, Coppola found work as an assistant to legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman.  Coppola’s first task under Corman was a daunting one: westernize an existing Soviet sci-fi film entitled NEBO ZOVYOT for American audiences.

Coppola’s take on the material, subsequently retitled BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN, became a schlocky monster film, albeit one with the conviction and resourcefulness of a young director with something to prove.

BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN (presented above in its entirety) concerns a space race between a unified Earth’s two latitudinal hemispheres, set in a then-future 1997.  Which is hilarious, by the way.  When the South Hemis nation attempts to beat the North to Mars and crash-lands on a nearby moon, the two powers must work together and fend off vicious space monsters so they can return to Earth safely.

This film is probably the epitome of Eisenhower-era B-movie cheese.  Spacecraft models and props are janky, special effects are laughable, and the limited understanding of actual space travel is preciously quaint.  However, it is surprisingly watchable, if only for the glimpses of Coppola’s earliest directorial choices.

His largest contribution to the film, besides the dubbing over of dialogue with American actors, was to inject a space monster battle midway through the film.  Long before Ridley Scott made the sexualization of aliens cool in ALIEN (1979), Coppola crafted his dueling monsters to resemble vaginas and penises.  This was a common characteristic of the lurid films that Corman produced, all of which were churned out rapidly and cheaply to maximize profit.

Ultimately, these films aren’t reliable indicators of Coppola’s growth as a filmmaker.  Put simply, they’re glorified editing jobs where Coppola got to re-conceptualize an existing film and conform his edit accordingly.  However, they’re fascinating looks into how film school students gained experience in the early days of the institution, when the costly nature of celluloid prompted experience gained via unconventional avenues.

Coppola’s work with Corman would eventually lead to the making and distribution of his first, true feature film.  His early works served as important stepping-stones on that path, and now they serve as assurance for up-and-coming filmmakers that even the greats had to start somewhere.


DEMENTIA 13 (1963)

In 1963, director Francis Ford Coppola was deep into his apprenticeship with schlock mogul Roger Corman.  That year also found Coppola in Ireland, working as the sound man for Corman’s feature THE YOUNG RACERS.  When filming was finished, Corman found that he had a substantial amount of money leftover in the budget.

He may not have been a great film director, but Corman was undoubtedly a shrewd businessman, and he saw an opportunity to invest that money in Coppola’s untapped talent.

Corman gave the money to Coppola, with an assignment to stay behind in Ireland with a few of THE YOUNG RACERS’ cast members and make a low-budget horror film in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960).  Coppola responded to the challenge with DEMENTIA 13, his first true feature film of his own making.

While today the film comes off as understandably dated, low-budget and schlocky, it also offers a captivating insight into the mindset of a young, hungry director who would go on to become one of the greats.

The story of DEMENTIA 13 is well-rooted in classical and cliche horror-tropes.  When her husband unexpectedly dies of a heart attack during a late-night boating excursion, Louise Haloran (Luan Anders) unceremoniously dumps his body overboard and heads to his family’s ancestral home in Ireland.

  Acting under the guise that her husband is still alive and absent on a business trip, she maneuvers to get written into his mother’s will so she can cut out with a hefty portion of the family’s wealth.  What she doesn’t count on, however, are the meddlings of her husband’s two brothers (William Campbell and Bart Patton), their macabre obsession with their deceased sister Kathleen, and a mysterious axe murderer stalking the grounds.

Despite DEMENTIA 13’s campy, trashy roots, the cast seems to be aware that they’re working with a great director, accordingly giving themselves over entirely to their performances.  Anders is the archetypal Hitchcock blonde at the center of the story, and her shrewd, calculating ways aren’t as off-putting as they are lurid and compelling.

Campbell and Patton are the brothers to Louise’s dead husband, and they embody stubborn conviction and haunted torment, respectively.  Veteran character actor Patrick Magee delivers a standout performance as Justin Caleb, the family doctor whose gruff mentality raises questions about his true intentions within the story.

DEMENTIA 13 is positioned as a slasher film, but it also dabbles in the murder mystery genre by giving us a gallery of characters with their own potentially-murderous motivations.  Due to the speed in which Coppola wrote the screenplay, the identity of the murderer is easily deduced about halfway through the film– which doesn’t make for much in the way of suspense.

However, the pure excellence of Coppola’s craft, even at this early, low-budget stage, is undeniable.  DEMENTIA 13 is absolutely the kind of film that shouldn’t hold up fifty years after its release, but there’s a small, palpable aura of prestige that lingers over it.  Yes, it’s shlock, but it’s the kind of schlock you might find given a reverent release by the Criterion Collection.

Coppola’s camerawork is simplistic, belying the shoestring nature of the production.  However, its minimalism draw inspiration from classical filmmaking techniques that give the film a timeless feel.  This low-key approach amplifies the few stylistic flourishes peppered throughout;  the opening high-angle shot looking down on a rowboat bobbing in the lake, as well as the floating, dreamlike nature of the underwater photography come to mind.

As lensed by Director of Photography Charles Hannawalt, the 35mm film image uses the low-budget necessity of the black-and-white format to its advantage.  The contrast is crisp and moody, alternating between naturalistic and high-key lighting scenarios as needed.  A vicious knifing sequence halfway through the film uses rapid-fire edits to create disorientation and a sheer sense of terror.

The homage is so apparent that it matches PYSCHO’s infamous shower murder scene shot-for-shot.  This doesn’t read so much as Coppola trying to rip off Hitchock as it does as an example of Corman’s business model for deliberately emulating successful films in his cheap knock-offs.  The same practice still exists today, most notably in “masterpieces” like SNAKES ON A TRAIN,  churned out monthly by cheap production companies like The Asylum.

The music of DEMENTIA 13, provided by Ronald Stein, is appropriately gothic and mysterious.  It’s traditional in that it’s composed like most orchestral scores of its day, but Coppola’s rebelliousness as a young filmmaker gets another chance to shine with the sly inclusion of diagetic rockabilly music.  Using prerecorded source tracks may be commonplace in films now, but In the early 60’s, it was virtually unheard of.

The practice didn’t really gain steam until a generation of film brats like Coppola, George Lucas, Brian DePalma, and Martin Scorsese adopted it as an aesthetic trademark.

As a low-budget genre/exploitation film, DEMENTIA 13 doesn’t give us much in the way of a personal insight into Coppola’s psyche or development as a filmmaker.  While it trades heavily in the tropes of schlock cinema, such as weak acting and easily-corrected inconsistencies (if the film takes place in Ireland, how come nobody is actually Irish?), it also carries a great deal of pathos and understated style.

It might seem dated by today’s standards, but I was surprised to find how effective DEMENTIA 13 was as an old school chiller.  Its gothic iconography has considerable spooky charm, and it’s easily one of the better films within Corman’s extensive library.  But most of all, it’s a solidly-constructed first effort from a blossoming filmmaker (who was still in film school, to boot) who was on the verge of shaking up the entire art form.


YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW (1966)

It’s an inarguable fact that director Francis Ford Coppola benefited greatly from the nascent days of the film school institution.  Making a film wasn’t as commonplace as it was now– back in the 60’s, your film was remarkable for the fact that you even made it.

Coppola was a different force altogether– before he had finished his master’s degree at UCLA, he already had the successfully-released features DEMENTIA 13 (1963) and BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN (1962) under his belt.

In order to graduate, Coppola needed to complete his master’s thesis film.  Naturally, he crafted the most ambitious student film ever, a feat unmatched even by today’s standards.  This effort was 1966’s YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW, a feature adaptation of the David Benedictus novel.

Shot for the obscene sum of $800,000, Coppola’s little “student film” eventually premiered in competition at Cannes, secured distribution with Warner Brothers, and netted an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress Geraldine Page.  If this were to happen to a student filmmaker today, he’d be hailed as the second coming of Christ– but for Coppola, this was only a taste of things to come.

YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW tells the story of Bernard Chanticleer (Peter Kastner), a bookish, virginal young man who works in his father’s library in New York.  HIs mother Margery (Geraldine Page), sets him up with an apartment in the city but aggressively warns him about the dangers and evils of women.  Now living on his own for the first time, the sheltered young man’s eyes are opened to a whole world of sexuality and danger.

He begins dating the sweet Amy Partlett (Karen Black), but he quickly finds he can’t help himself when a beautiful, glamorous go-go dancer (Elizabeth Hartman) shows interest in him as well.  Caught between Mrs. Right and Mrs. Right Now (I hate that I just wrote that), Bernard learns that there’s a lot more to love than sex.

The performances are appropriately outsized to match the comedic, absurd plot developments, but they also traffic heavily in a rebelliousness that lends the film a countercultural quality.  The dynamics between the excitable Kastner and the seductive Hartman are well-drawn, if not a little cliche.

Kastner does an admirable job as the lead, delivering a performance reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman in THE GRADUATE (1967)– despite the fact that he had never seen it himself (THE GRADUATE was still a year away from release).   Hartman’s character of Barbara Darling is distant and cold, completely unaware of the psychological damage she inflicts on her suitors.  She fully embodies the weaponized sexuality that was an unintended product of the free love era.

Page’s Oscar-nominated performance is quite funny, if not entirely memorable.  Her conviction that girls are the devil is a well-worn character trait, but she performs the role with a fresh urgency.  Torn and Black would go on to have bigger careers after this film, so it’s incredibly interesting to see them as young upstarts here.

Torn is so young and fresh-faced that he’s nearly unrecognizable as Bernard’s stern, reserved father.  Black does an admirable job embodying the kind of girl that a budding lothario knows he should pursue, even if that comes at the cost of a milquetoast characterization.  While she’s innocent and sweet, she doesn’t judge Bernard for his transgressions, which is refreshing for her character’s archetype.

Bucking the trend of student films shooting on 16mm film, Coppola uses his considerable budget to film on 35mm.  Andrew Laszlo, serving as Director of Photography, gives the film a fresh, energetic look that suits Coppola’s countercultural aesthetic.

The cold grays of New York City are contrasted with bright pops of color seen in the young characters’ attire and props.  Indeed, all the adults are depicted in boring, neutral tones so as to make the teenagers’ vibrancy stand out.  One great instance of this is the film’s opening shot, which starts wide on a dull, quiet library scene.

Suddenly, the camera rushes in towards the door, and Hartman’s character storms into the room.  Clad in screaming orange and accompanied by the blasts of rock and roll music, her entrance signifies nothing less than the arrival of a new generation intent on upending the traditional order.

Editor Aram Avakian complements this attitude by employing fast-paced, experimental editing influenced by the then-burgeoning French New Wave.  Other stylistic flourishes, like on-screen titles animated to resemble typewriting, further push the experimental tone that Coppola is after.  As a result, the film must have felt very fresh and bleeding-edge in its techniques upon its release.

Robert Prince contributes a jaunty, energetic score, but the musical soul of the film belongs to rock band Loving Spoonful, which firmly roots the film in the teenage counterculture of the 60’s.  It’s unpolished guitar riffs chafe against the edges of the frame, encroaching ever closer and eventually consuming its characters entirely.

YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW finds Coppola combining his experience with his early softcore comedies with the hard-edged vitality of the emergent youth culture.  The film’s tone is breezy and playful, with the kind of boundless optimism and curiosity reserved only for the young.  There’s even a sense of burgeoning filmography to Coppola’s craft, manifested by the use of footage from DEMENTIA 13 as an art installation in a nightclub sequence.

By this point in his career, Coppola had yet to establish a consistent visual aesthetic, but his taste for experimentation and boundary-pushing is quite evident.  With the release of YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW, Coppola established himself at the forefront of his generation’s ascent into the industry.  Not bad for a student film.


FINIAN’S RAINBOW (1968)

Full disclosure- I’m not a big fan of musicals.  Something about people spontaneously bursting into song and dance makes me profoundly uncomfortable, and I can’t explain it.  Naturally, I approached my viewing of FINIAN’S RAINBOW (1968), director Francis Ford Coppola’s third true feature film, with a large degree of hesitation.

  While I don’t plan on watching it again, I have to admit it was much better and watchable than I expected it to be, thanks to young Coppola’s considerable storytelling ability and an evocative Southern setting.  FINIAN’S RAINBOW, distributed by Warner Brothers, is Coppola’s first big studio picture, and the modest success of the film would further propel his career to new heights.

FINIAN’S RAINBOW is about Finian McLonergan (Fred Astaire) and his daughter Sharon (Petula Clark), who’ve recently left their native Ireland to venture to the mythical land of Rainbow Valley, Missitucky.  Unbeknownst to Sharon, Finian is carrying a bag full of gold that he stole from a leprechaun named Og (Tommy Steele), and plans to place the gold in close proximity to Fort Knox so that it may multiply.

While Sharon falls in love with Rainbow Valley’s most eligible bachelor, Woody Mahoney (Don Francks), Og The Leprechaun tracks down Finian to Missitucky and attempts to take back his gold before he becomes mortal.  Toss in a little song and dance, and a lot of Irish stereotypes and you’ve got the idea.  It was by complete coincidence that I watched this very Irish film on St. Patrick’s Day, but my general amusement at that fact helped my enjoyment of the film overall.

Every member of the cast seems fully devoted to Coppola’s vision.  Even the seasoned movie star and dancing legend Fred Astaire gives himself fully over to Coppla’s whims.  Pushing 70 during the film’s production, FINIAN’S RAINBOW became Astaire’s last major movie musical.  It’s a great send-off that allows Astaire to retain his youthful vigor, dazzling grin, and fancy-free footwork despite his elderly, frail state.

Clark garnered a great deal of acclaim for her singing talent as Irish lass Sharon McLonergan.  Francks drew from the folk persona of Woody Guthrie for his portrayal of the rakish Mahoney.  Keenan Wynn is a good sport, allowing himself to be humiliated at every turn as the film’s racist, lily-white antagonist, Senator Rawkins.

The sprightly Barbara Hancock plays Susan the Silent, who is unable to speak but communicates effortlessly via dance.  As the cartoonish leprechaun Og, Tommy Steel received the bulk of ire directed at the film.  His goofy, slapstick-laden performance was decidedly off-tone (despite the inherent whimsical nature of the story).  I can’t say I blame his detractors– I hated that guy’s shit-eating grin, too.

FINIAN’S RAINBOW sees one of the largest casts that Coppola has ever assembled, and he does a great job filling out the population of Rainbow Valley with outsized, memorable personas.    The expansive world-building on display proves to be a great training ground for the kind of epic filmmaking Coppola would take on in THE GODFATHER (1972) and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979).

Indeed, FINIAN’S RAINBOW marks a considerable uptick in scale and production value for Coppola, who makes great use of all the extra toys afforded him.  The sunny, springtime exterior locales are given scope via extensive crane and dolly movements (and even the occasional helicopter shot), and all the set dressings required to sell his story are in abundant supply.

Curiously enough, Coppola mashes together location/exterior footage and sets made to look exterior with reckless abandon, oftentimes creating jarring transitions and leaps in logic.  While some of these sets were built for valid reasons (lighting a forest at night would be too expensive), others seem to have little explanation.

However it does illuminate Coppola’s internal battle over shooting the film like a traditional Hollywood musical or indulging his experimental, more-realistic tendencies cultivated in film school.  One instance of this indulgence is allowing specks of water to remain on the camera lens during a firefighting sequence, which gives the scene an immediate presence not unlike documentary.

While the film is decidedly old-school in its approach, an undercurrent of film brat rebellion charges the picture with a harder edge than it normally would have.

As lensed by Director of Photography Philip H. Lathrop, the 35mm film image– framed at the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio– is heavily saturated with the gonzo hues of Technicolor and lit within an inch of its life.  Coppola and Lathrop show an aptness for staging complicated group numbers with a breezy energy that draws the audience into being active participants in the song and dance.

The sleepy southern town of Rainbow Valley and its rich, brown/green color palette is fleshed out in great detail by production designer Hilyard M. Brown.    Ray Heindorf rounds out the list of technical collaborators with his arrangement of the musical’s many numbers into jaunty, energetic orchestrations that retain a decidedly Irish influence.

Having been released in the prime days of the Civil Rights movement, FINIAN’S RAINBOW’s racial and cultural politics have now aged into amusing, quaint oddities.  Its incorporation of actor Keenan Wynn playing blackface (having been magically transformed from white to black in the course of the story) was understandably met with controversy upon its release.

So many decades on, it still comes off as extremely politically incorrect, but is now more-easily written off as a product of antiquated cultural views.  This is further reflected in the film with earnest, positive expressions about the benefits of credit, and even asbestos.  Moments like these paint a fuller picture of an optimistic time gone by, albeit at the cost of losing a certain, timeless aura.

Coppola does an admiral job directing FINIAN’S RAINBOW, breezily clipping along the film’s 2 ½ hour running time so that it’s not a complete snoozefest.  There are many positive things to recommend about it– Astaire’s performance, and the set design to name a few– as there are negative.

Its cultural legacy has since become its relevancy to Coppola’s development as a filmmaker.  It was a huge step up for him, and the first real test of his talent.  The sheer task of directing such a big, mainstream production would efficiently prepare Coppola for the biggest challenges of his career, and would allow him to soar like Astaire himself when lesser filmmakers would’ve fallen flat on their faces.


THE RAIN PEOPLE (1969)

A year after releasing his first big-budget studio film (1968’s FINIAN’S RAINBOW), director Francis Ford Coppola was back in theaters with a markedly different feature film.  Channeling the experimental sensibilities and understated narratives of the French New Wave, 1969’s THE RAIN PEOPLE was a subtle, introspective road picture that eschewed all the frills of contemporary studio filmmaking.

For Coppola personally, the film is further notable in that it was the first project released under his fledgling production studio, American Zoetrope.  In the years since, American Zoetrope has been a source of great trial and tribulation for Coppola and his associates, but has consistently delivered on its promise of making original, thought-provoking acts of cinema.  As Zoetrope’s first feature release,  THE RAIN PEOPLE is a fascinating window into the principles and ideals that shaped an upstart indie studio into a cinematic institution.

THE RAIN PEOPLE assumes the perspective of Natalie Ravenna, a lonely housewife who abruptly picks up and hits the road upon learning that she’s pregnant.  Spurning her husband’s pleas to return home, she picks up a handsome, mentally stunted hitchhiker named Killer (James Caan).  The two form an unlikely friendship, with Natalie becoming something of a caretaker to the young man.

Inevitably, Killer falls in love with Natalie, which doesn’t make their situation any easier when Natalie becomes romantically involved with a lonely police officer named Gordon (Robert Duvall).

Coppola’s command of his cast’s performances, especially in regards to their emotional restraint, is superb.  Natalie, as played by Knight, is reserved and conflicted as she suddenly finds herself in the throes of a quarter-life crisis brought about by pregnancy.  It’s a haunting performance, and Knight was rightfully recognized for the strength of her portrayal.

In hindsight, the most interesting aspect of Coppola’s casting is the first instance of collaboration with both James Caan and Robert Duvall.  Everyone knows they’d both go on to legendary performances in Coppola’s next film, THE GODFATHER (1972), but not a lot of people know that Duvall and Caan were actually roommates at one point.  If that doesn’t compel you to amicably figure out who’s taking care of those dishes in the sink tonight, I don’t know what will.

Caan is fresh-faced and quiet as Jimmy Kilgannon, affectionately nicknamed Killer.  His character was a college football player who was left mentally stunted after a particularly bad concussion.  He embodies a child-like innocence, with an unflagging loyalty and obedience to Natalie that’s not unlike a dog.  Duvall, in contrast, is inquisitive and tough as a widowed cop looking for some rough love.

He’s dangerous and unpredictable, which makes him so attractive to Natalie in the first place.  The battle between these two men is well built-up to, and when it finally explodes, it does so with the force of an atomic bomb.

What struck me most upon watching this film was Coppola’s visual treatment of the story.  The picture, lensed by Director of Photography Wilmer Butler, is simple and unadorned.  Coppola and Butler are content to let the 1.85:1 frame simply dwell on its subject, passively observing long, quiet moments of reflection and malaise.

The lighting is as naturalistic as the performances, and the air of realism hangs heavy over the proceedings.  It’s almost the prototypical mumblecore film, what with its low-key look, simple performances and barely perceptible plot developments.

Ronald Stein, who previously supplied the score for Coppola’s DEMENTIA 13 (1963), creates a staccato, melancholy score here that also infuses a little bit of jazz into the rural West Virginian setting.  Contrasting with the musical bombast that was FINIAN’S RAINBOW, Coppola adopts a reserved approach to music that matches his minimalist aesthetic.  Even the film’s opening credits eschew music, opting instead for the quiet patter of early-morning rain and ambient clanking of garbage truck machinery in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

Curiously incongruent with the low-key nature of the photography, however, is Barry Malkin’s editing.  Borrowing heavily from the innovations of the nascent wave of cinema rebels in France, Malkin incorporates a variety of avant-garde techniques like jump-cuts, poetic juxtaposition, mismatched sound cues, etc.  Coppola and Malkin often pepper dialogue scenes with wordless flashes of perpendicular action, flashing forward or backwards to illuminate events that bring greater meaning to the dialogue sequence at hand.

The groundbreaking editing, when combined with the minimalist visual style, gives the film a very European vibe.

This points to a common, definitive trait of the “Film Brat” generation of directors– that of reference and/or allusion to classic works as well as the work of their contemporaries abroad.  Unlike the directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, directors like Coppola were part of a larger community of filmmakers inspiring each other in their attempts to redefine the language of cinema.

Coppola counts THE RAIN PEOPLE among the top five favorite films of his own making, and for good reason.  It’s a strikingly confident work, free of the studio interference that would come to plague him as he became more successful.  It was also his first collaboration with future STAR WARS  creator George Lucas, who served as production associate on the film.

Filmmakers like Lucas were one of the reasons that Coppola founded American Zoetrope– he sought not only to advance his own cinematic interests, but to further the innovative spirit of filmmaking by empowering like-minded directors and giving them the resources to create outside of a stifling studio system.

Ironically enough, Coppola’s next film would beholden him to the studio system more so than he ever wanted (albeit at great benefit to his career).  In that context, THE RAIN PEOPLE is an interesting look into an artistically pure Coppola, unfettered by outside opinions and influence, as he cements his particular brand of storytelling and characterization.


THE GODFATHER (1972)

What more is there to possibly say about 1972’s THE GODFATHER that hasn’t already been said?  It is undoubtedly, inarguably one of the greatest films ever made.  It’s a goddamn institution of cinema that dares you to find fault with it.  Yes, you could say it’s overlong, convoluted, even boring– but by no means can you not respect it.  I suspect that director Francis Ford Coppola had no idea what he was getting into when cameras first started rolling that fateful day in 1972.

Coppola initially took the job, not for passion, but for money.  American Zoetrope, the company he founded with the intent to liberate himself from the studio system of filmmaking, found itself in debt to those very same studios due to budget overruns on his good friend George Lucas’ directorial debut, THX 1138 (1971).  As the producer on that film, Coppola found himself deeply in debt and took on THE GODFATHER so that he could afford to feed his growing family.

It was precisely this familial element of the film’s genesis that threw the story into focus for Coppola.  Paramount saw another cheap gangster film that would turn an easy profit, but Coppola saw a sprawling epic about loyalty, family, and honor that became a grand metaphor for the ruthless mechanics of American capitalism.  So convinced of his own vision was he, Coppola endured a trial by fire wrought by studio executives who made very vocal their distaste of his casting and directorial choices at every step along the way.

It was the single most formative experience of Coppola’s career, even more so than his fiasco of a shoot in the jungle for APOCALYPSE NOW (1979).

We all know the characters, and we all know the story– to a varying degree, of course.  THE GODFATHER’s famously labyrinthine plotting slowly reveals itself only through multiple viewings.  By my own estimations, this was the the third or fourth time I’ve seen the film, but it was probably the first time where I was able to really follow what was going on throughout.

I also had the distinct pleasure of watching the film with my girlfriend (hi, Chelsea!), who was watching it for the first time.  Many of the film’s sequences are iconic, but it was refreshing to see someone experience it for the first time, and still be actively engaged in a story that is nearly forty years old.  This speaks to the great deal of timelessness that THE GODFATHER is imbued with– it’s truly a film that will endure through the ages.

THE GODFATHER focuses on the Corleone crime syndicate, a close-knit Sicilian-Italian family who have amassed a tremendous fortune through illegal gambling operations.  As run by aging patriarch Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), the Corleones are a well-oiled, efficient operation with friends in high places.

Set in New York in the decade following World War 2, THE GODFATHER chronicles the internal upheaval that the Corleones experience when pressure builds to join the increasingly-profitable narcotics trade, or risk losing their relevance in the world of organized crime.  As a man of honor and principe, Vito is staunchly opposed to dealing drugs, which angers the heads of rival crime families.

An unsuccessful assassination attempt on Vito’s life sparks open warfare involving his sons, particularly Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), a war hero and the youngest of Vito’s progeny.  When the heir apparent to Vito’s empire, hotheaded eldest son Sonny (James Caan) is betrayed by his brother-in-law and brutally gunned down in the street, and middle son Fredo (John Cazale) is deemed unfit to head the operation, Michael decides to assume control of the family.  However, the cost of this decision will be his very soul.

The performances in THE GODFATHER are career-defining, and nothing short of legendary.  A great deal of the film’s power comes from the sheer pathos and gravitas embodied by each and every character.  This is all the more-remarkable due to the fact that the studio infamously hated the cast and fought to have some of the key players replaced.

Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Don Vito (and famously refused to accept it in order to call attention to the terrible depiction of Native Americans in cinema).  Only 45 at the time of shooting, Brando assumed the affectations of a man twenty years his senior, all while under heavy prosthetic makeup and an elaborate jaw appliance that gave him a severe underbite.  His heartbreak at the sight of his empire crumbling and the corruption of his sons is heartbreaking to watch, and makes his performance one of the most iconic in history.

Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone became his career breakout and instantly established him as one of his generation’s top acting talents.  Pacino’s Michael is vindictive and ruthless while still remaining likable, which makes for a believable performance as a man fated to become the very devil he meant to dispel.  His character arc is one of the most compelling trajectories ever devised, and while it came close to a reality several times throughout production, it’s very hard to imagine anyone else other than Pacino in the role.

James Caan and Robert Duvall continue their collaboration with Coppola as Sonny and consigliere Tom Hagen, respectively.  Caan is all fiery temper and braggadocio as the heir apparent to Vito’s criminal empire.  Despite his presence in only 1/9 of the entire GODFATHER TRILOGY’s 9-hour running time, his presence hangs heavy over the entirety of it like a specter.

While Caan would continue delivering iconic performances throughout his career, his portrayal of Sonny Corleone will arguably be the one he is always remembered for.  Same goes for Duvall, who as Vito’s adopted son of Irish and German descent, is one of the family’s most trusted outsiders.  Acting publicly as the family’s lawyer, he privately takes on an advisor role to Vito, dispensing wisdom and objective reason.

Filling out the Corleone family is the inimitable Cazale in his film debut as middle son Fredo, as well as Coppola’s real-life sister Talia Shire as their sister Connie.  While Cazale’s true importance lies in the events of THE GODFATHER PART II (1974), the roots of those problems are firmly established here by depicting Fredo as somewhat of a black sheep, too stupid and clumsy to reliably lead the Corleone family on his own.

Filling out the cast are Diane Keaton and Sterling Hayden as key players in the Corleone family saga.  The impeccable Hayden plays Captain McCluskey, the repugnant, corrupt cop that Michael murders in cold blood.  Keaton plays Kay Adams, who becomes Michael’s wife in the film.

Her anglo-saxon, WASP-y ways stand in stark contrast to the Corleone’s reserved familial identity, a dynamic visually reinforced by having her continually clad in bright primary colors that scream compared to the dark neutral shades that The Family dresses in.  Her growing despair at the realization of Michael’s corruption is a focal point for the saga’s continuing conversation about ethics, and she becomes an avatar of sorts for our own arms-length distance from the family affairs.

Coppola finds an elegant way to visually depict this at the film’s end, when Kay stands outside the inner chamber of Michael’s office as his capos come to kiss his ring as the new Don Corleone.  We see the remove from her perspective, and then Coppola elegantly cuts to the reverse shot– a close up of Kay’s falling expression as the door closes on her.  The moment is pure cinema: the culmination of all that came before it and a charged beat that brings the film’s central conceit into clear focus.

The mastery of craft on display extends to the film’s cinematography, courtesy of Gordon Willis- a man who who’s ability to capture evocative shadows earned him the moniker “The Prince of Darkness”.  Indeed, THE GODFATHER is a very dark experience visually and thematically.  Shot on 35mm film, the image’s pervading darkness is broken only by strategically placed pools of light which create an exaggerated chiaroscuro without departing too far from reality.

Colors are washed out and desaturated, taking on a warm sepia tone that resembles a faded old family photograph.  The darkly handsome 1.85:1 frame is given life by elegant, classical camera movements and deep focus that highlights well-worn, distinctive set dressing by production designer Dean Tavoularis.  THE GODFATHER is often imitated and held up as a gold standard in cinematography, and after recent restoration efforts by Coppola himself, the film looks just as good as it did when it first unspooled on unsuspecting audiences forty years ago.

Any discussion of THE GODFATHER wouldn’t be complete with mentioning the film’s iconic musical theme.  Composed by Nino Rota, the theme has ingrained itself into pop culture so much that it is instantly recognizable, even among those who haven’t seen the film.  It’s a mournful waltz that effortlessly incorporates the major themes of the film into musical form.

The music is one of those serendipitous things that just resonates with the zeitgeist and becomes a part of the human experience– the mere mention of the words THE GODFATHER makes you immediately hear the song in the head (admit it, you’re humming it to yourself even now) .  Part of why the films will never be forgotten is due to Rota’s score being so damn unforgettable.  As for Coppola personally, it will accompany him in major milestones for the rest of his life– Oscar wins, public appearances, etc.  I’d bet it’s even played at his funeral.

THE GODFATHER is a master-class in directing, revealing new insights upon each subsequent viewing.  Many things, like Coppola’s inclusion of oranges in a given sequence as a bellwether of impending death are well known, but many more of THE GODFATHER’s secrets aren’t given up so easily.

Coppola’s rich explorations of the themes of family, loyalty, and obligation can be seen as explorations into his own cultural identity and heritage.  For Coppola, and Italian culture at large, communal rituals, traditions and ceremonies are major life milestones by which the plot points of our lives are played out.  The film begins with a lavish wedding steeped in Old World custom, designed to introduce us not only to this detailed world but to the complicated characters who inhabit it.

Conversely, Coppola ends the film with a baptism by both water and blood.  It’s the most stunning sequence of the film, and arguably the single best contribution Coppola has ever made to the ever-evolving language of cinema: as Michael’s nephew and godson is baptized into the Catholic Church (and thus delivered into the proverbial saving grace of God), Michael’s capos carry out an elaborate series of murders designed to knock off the Corleones’ rivals and consolidate power in a baptism of blood (thus delivering Michael into the hands of Satan).

It’s a bone-chilling and haunting sequence, effortlessly orchestrated by Coppola in a way that takes full advantage of his experimental affectations.  It literally created the cross-cut, a perpendicular editing technique that is still used to today to lend immense power to films like SKYFALL (2012) or THE DARK KNIGHT (2008).

Even Coppola’s contemporaries have referenced it, most notably in the Jedi extermination/creation of the Empire sequence in George Lucas’ STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005).  In this sequence in particular, THE GODFATHER’s hidden, double meaning as a title is revealed.  While initially presented in assumed reference to Corleone patriarch Don Vito, it’s not until the end that we realize its in reference to Michael as he fully embraces his descent into evil.

THE GODFATHER has left an enduring legacy on the American psyche that’s almost unfathomable to comprehend.  It was a bonafide phenomenon and instant classic upon its release, resulting in the highest box office returns and acclaim in Coppola’s career.

It catapulted him into the echelons of cinema’s great directors nearly overnight, and even though many of his contemporaries’ films have lost some of their luster upon reappraisal, THE GODFATHER still holds up as a sterling example of what cinema is and should be.  It truly is one of the greatest films ever made, and anyone who thinks different is liable to find themselves sleeping with the fishes.


THE CONVERSATION (1974)

I have a strange, contentious relationship to director Francis Ford Coppola’s feature film THE CONVERSATION (1974).  It is widely regarded amongst film circles as a masterpiece in its own right, and I tend to agree.  However, there’s something intangible that I find alienating on a personal level.  I don’t know what it is, so I can’t really explain it.

I had the same reaction the first time I saw the film in college– that of a deep, yet cold respect that left little in the way of actually loving it.  I was hoping that this might change upon revisiting the film, but I can’t really say that it has.

After the Best Picture win for 1972’s THE GODFATHER, Coppola was awash in acclaim and could choose any project he wanted.  Despite the calls to go right into production on a sequel to THE GODFATHER, Coppola chose instead to shoot a small, personal project as a palette cleanser.

This arguably began the trend of successful directors leveraging a blockbuster’s warm reception into making a passion project of their own design (a trend continued most recently by Christopher Nolan when he made 2010’s INCEPTION between the two final chapters of his DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY).

THE CONVERSATION concerns a private investigator named Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) who specializes in audio surveillance.  He and a team of associates have been contracted to record a clandestine conversation between two seemingly-innocuous pedestrians in a crowded San Francisco park.

As Caul refines and mixes his recordings in his warehouse studio, the nature of the conversation reveals itself to be of murderous intent.  Thinking he might be indirectly enabling a horrible crime to occur, Caul descends into an abyss of paranoia and mystery, convinced that he has become a target of surveillance himself.

The film was released just as the Watergate scandal broke, which made the story feel extremely relevant. The performances, which tapped into a fundamental distrust of authority figures, are striking without being over-the-top.  As Caul, Gene Hackman eschewed his leading-man good looks by donning ill-fitting glasses and an unflattering plastic jacket that looks not unlike a placenta.

However, he injects a paranoid pathos that is utterly compelling, taking us along for the ride as he descends into madness.  Caul might be one of the more intriguing protagonists in recent memory:  his career consists of recording unsuspecting targets, but he has developed an extreme case of paranoia about his own privacy– even going so far as to tear up his entire apartment when he suspects it’s been bugged.

Coppola also enlists the help of GODFATHER alumnus John Cazale, who plays Stan, Caul’s bookish surveillance assistant.  Out of the six films in which Cazale appeared during his lifetime, this is probably his smallest role, while also being his least neurotic/eccentric.  Despite the limited screen time, Cazale brings a highly memorable presence to the film.

It really is a shame that we lost Cazale so early, as he might have been one of cinema’s most treasured character actors.

Rounding out the cast is Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, and recurring Coppola collaborator Robert Duvall.  Garfield plays Bernie Moran, a sound surveillance expert from New York and a friendly rival of Caul’s.  Williams plays Ann, the anxious, vulnerable woman at the center of Caul’s surveillance.  Ford, who was introduced to Coppola via George Lucas’ AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973), plays Martin Stelt, a well-dressed businessman who stalks Caul in pursuit of his recordings.

It’s interesting to watch Ford in his pre-Han Solo days, as his developing talents are very noticeable.  He’s not particularly good in THE CONVERSATION, but you can tell the potential is there.  Meanwhile, Duvall appears in somewhat of a glorified cameo as the mystery man who commissions Haul to record the targets, only to find himself a victim of his own suspicions.

THE CONVERSATION has a much more even look compared to the amber-soaked visuals of THE GODFATHER.  Originally lensed by director of photography Haskell Wexler, Wexler proved to be combative with Coppola and was replaced by Bill Butler, Coppola’s DP from THE RAIN PEOPLE (1969).  The 1.85:1 35mm film frame is appropriately gritty and seedy, dealing in a bland color palette of grays and neutrals.

This color scheme is further reflected by Dean Tavoularis’ production design, which features cold, brutalist architecture at odds with its picturesque San Francisco setting.  Perhaps this is why I feel so alienated by the film– a great deal of the film’s story takes places in cold, imposing locales that blot out clarity and logic.  While opting for a relatively realistic presentation, Coppola does include an impressionistic dream sequence rendered in a cobalt blue through a thick layer of smoke.

Despite the unassuming visual presentation, Coppola makes artful use of his camerawork in a way that reinforces the story’s central themes.  A recurring visual motif is “machinery in motion”, most notably seen in the whirring gears of Caul’s audio equipment.  Telephoto lenses prove to be a boon to Coppola’s aesthetic, giving the film’s surveillance sequences a verite feel that’s highly effective.

The opening shot (a slow zoom-in from a bird’s-eye perspective that finds a single conversation amongst a crowd of people) is one of the most famous of its kind, praised for its virtuoso sound editing by legendary cutter Walter Murch.

The camera movements are mostly restricted to the functional movement of actual surveillance cameras (the ending shot that pans back and forth is the clearest example).  This is an inspired move from Coppola, and yet another example of how he has redefined the visual language of cinema throughout his career to better tell his stories.

THE CONVERSATION utilizes the jazzy piano work of David Shire for its score, which combines the sounds of swing and ragtime music with minor keys that suggest intrigue and mystery with sinister underpinnings.  While it may seem odd for such a low-key, paranoid film, the sound reflects Caul’s own musical inclinations– he’s seen throughout the film playing his saxophone along to jazz records when he’s alone in his apartment.

For the entirety of the 1970’s, Coppola found himself on a directing hot streak in which he could do no wrong.  THE CONVERSATION falls somewhere in the middle of this streak, and sees Coppola embracing the low-key aesthetics of his independent roots while applying them to the trappings of a big-budget genre picture.

Coppola looked to his filmmaking peers abroad for inspiration when crafting the film, a practice that would come to define the film school-bred directors of his generation.  His chief influence was Michelangelo Antonioni’s Italian hit, BLOW-UP (1966), which featured a similar plot of using recordings (photographs in Antonioni’s film) to uncover a murderous conspiracy.

It could also be argued that Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON (1950) was another big inspiration to Coppola, with its multilayered narrative featuring different interpretations of a single event.  These European sensibilities lend at once both a worldliness as well as a bracing sense of innovation to what was somewhat of a stale period of American filmmaking.

THE CONVERSATION went on to snag the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and has since joined the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress, thereby stitching itself into the very fabric of American culture.  Coppola himself has stated that THE CONVERSATION is his favorite film of his own, owing to the very personal nature of the story.  For Coppola’s production studio, American Zoetrope, the film’s success was a validation of everything he had set out to do with its creation.

By tackling a smaller, radically different film after the success of THE GODFATHER, Coppola bought time to creatively refresh himself before embarking on production of THE GODFATHER PART II that very same year.  THE CONVERSATION has aged remarkably well since its release, becoming a classic in its own right.  While I still found myself inexplicably put-off by its subdued charm, I can’t deny the film’s sheer excellence that has contributed to its longevity.  THE CONVERSATION still has many secrets to tell us… all we have to do is listen.


THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)

As a general rule, sequels are pale imitations of the original films whose stories they continue.  In the modern Hollywood climate where franchised properties rule supreme (and nine out of ten films are a sequel, prequel or remake), it’s almost unfathomable to think of a time when sequels were looked down upon with disdain.

  It would take nothing less than the man who single-handedly re-energized American cinema to make a sequel that stood on equal footing with its predecessor and usher in the age of the serial film franchise.  Released in 1974, director Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER PART II undoubtedly (and ironically) became the genesis for today’s serialized cinematic landscape.

There is considerable discussion as to which is the superior film, with a substantial camp proclaiming THE GODFATHER PART II as not only superior to the 1972 original, but one of the greatest films of all time.  Personally, I fall into this mode of thought as I find THE GODFATHER PART II to be a richer exploration of the themes of loyalty and succession that so brazenly defined THE GODFATHER.

The film marks a substantial expansion in scope and vision for Coppola, who enjoyed abundant resources and  minimal studio intrusion during the shoot due to the runaway success of the original film.  As such, THE GODFATHER PART II is arguably Coppola’s biggest, most-fully-realized film– and undoubtedly his best.

Picking up right where the first film left off, THE GODFATHER PART II finds the Corleone family thriving in their adopted home of Lake Tahoe, Nevada.  On the occasion of Michael’s eldest child receiving his first communion, interfamilial conflict is brewing anew.

The new leader of Clemenza’s spinoff caporegime, Frankie Pentangeli (Michael Gazzo), comes to Michael (Al Pacino) requesting his help in resolving a dispute with the NY-based Rosato brothers.  Michael refuses, citing a conflict of interests with the Rosato brothers’ employer, a Florida-based Jewish gangster Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg.

That night, an unsuccessful assassination attempt is made on Michael’s life, throwing the Corleone compound into chaos.  Michael travels to see Roth in Havana on the eve of the Cuban revolution, whilst trying to figure out who betrayed his family.  As the truth becomes evident that the betrayal rests inside his innermost circle of trusted advisors, Michael must sink to an unprecedented level of darkness to consolidate his power, even if it comes at the cost of his own family.

Meanwhile, a parallel narrative runs side by side Michael’s 1958 storyline.  This alternate story takes place in New York City’s Little Italy during the early twentieth century, as a young Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) rises to become the all-powerful Don Corleone introduced to us in THE GODFATHER.  Arriving in Ellis Island as a child refugee from his hometown of Corleone, Sicily, Vito adapts well to his community’s particular brand of American capitalism.

The major milestones of Vito’s life are presented in comparison with Michael’s own tyrannical reign, which creates nothing less than the grand American Epic in its chronicle of power and destiny.

Chances are if you ask any professional actor about their reaction to THE GODFATHER series, they will gush at length about their love of the performances.  The series boasts one of the most unexpectedly impeccable casts of all time, and THE GODFATHER II resulted in no less than five acting nominations at that year’s Academy Awards.  Of those five (Pacino, DeNiro, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael Gazzo), only DeNiro walked away with a golden statue, but that doesn’t mean any of the other performances are less distinguished.

THE GODFATHER PART II is Pacino’s show, showcasing his total embrace of moral bankruptcy and fundamental distaste for the necessity of his sins.  It’s a tour de force performance, embodied by a quiet, haunting intensity that lingers on a fundamental level.

DeNiro, an unknown whom Coppola cast after remembering his strong audition for the original film, is impeccable as the young Vito, channeling all of the physicality that Marlon Brando made famous while giving it the vigor and virility of a young man.  DeNiro’s Vito is the strong, silent type– a family man with vision and honor that could easily become a feared criminal leader.

The role was DeNiro’s breakout performance among mainstream American audiences (he had previously made a splash as Johnny Boy in Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS a year prior), and was a stunning first act to one of the most acclaimed careers in cinema.  The presence of young Vito makes the entire GODFATHER saga richer and is the best manifestation of Coppola’s exploration of what it means, to quote those infamous opening lines to the original,  to “believe in America”.

The supporting cast is just as compelling as the marquee talent, helped largely by the considerable investment audiences made in their emotional arcs during the first film.  Diane Keaton reprises her role as Michael’s wife, Kay, continuing her trajectory as a disenfranchised wife who finds she must do the unthinkable in order to truly hurt him as much as he’s hurt her.

Regular Coppola collaborator Robert Duvall’s reprisal of consigliere Tom Hagen is also given added responsibility this time around as a reluctant accomplice to Michael’s nefarious aims.

John Cazale returns as Fredo, playing a much larger role in the Corleone’s Shakespearean drama as the older brother who’s upset over being passed over.  Cazale’s performance in this film is easily his career-best, imbued with a seething resentment stemming from his incompetence.  As I’ve written before, Cazale was only with us as an actor for a very short time.

He only made six films before suffering a premature death, but what impeccable films those six were (the two GODFATHERS, Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION (1974), Michael Cimino’s THE DEER HUNTER (1978), and Sydney Lumet’s DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)).  Cazale is heartbreaking here in that his actions lead to very tragic consequences, even though he’s just trying to earn a little respect.  Cazale will always be synonymous with his depiction of Fredo Corleone, and it’s a shame he was never formally recognized for his subtle, excellent performance.

Talia Shire returns as Connie, who has fallen into bouts of deep depression and ill-advised relationships with men Michael doesn’t approve of, all as a way to get back at him for having her first husband murdered.  No longer the hysterical, tearful woman that she was in the first film, the Connie found in THE GODFATHER PART II is refined and elegant, taking her first steps on the path to becoming the Corleone matriarch after her mother’s passing.

A gathering of new faces breathe fresh blood and dramatically-rich conflict into the series, most notably Lee Strassberg and Michael Gazzo.  As the wizened Jewish gangster Hyman Roth, Strassberg was lured out of retirement to craft an unforgettable character who’s frailty belies a lethal menace.  Initially presented as somewhat of a buffoon, Gazzo’s Frankie Pentangeli is an unexpected, conflicted antagonist to the Corleones whose actions cause key members of the Corleone family to question their own motivations.

Surprisingly, a young Harry Dean Stanton pops up as Frankie’s bodyguard, who I had never noticed in the film during previous viewings.  And last, but not least, James Caan famously received his entire pay from the first GODFATHER for his one day shoot reprising Sonny Corleone for a flashback sequence at the end of the film.  The balls on that guy, but credit is due since he actually pulled it off.

One of the defining traits of THE GODFATHER series is that all the films visually resemble each other.  When taken together, all three films coalesce to form a single, nine hour magnum opus.  This is due in large part to Director of Photography Gordon Willis, who devised THE GODFATHER’s striking visual look and replicated it in subsequent installments.

The 1.85:1 frame, shot on 35mm film, is rich in darkness, continuing the sepia-tinged aesthetic established in the first film.  The increased budget means more resources, which Coppola uses to great effect to expand the scope of his story with sweeping, operatic camera moves and a heavily detailed period recreation by production designer Dean Tavoularis.

One interesting thing that Willis does to help differentiate the two time periods can be found in the 1917 sequences, where sunlight is depicted in interior sequences as an intense glow that gives a distinct halo to characters when they stand in front of windows.  This approach subtly recreates the evolving nature of photography at the turn of the century, where greater degrees of latitude had yet to be developed and there was a much harsher contrast between light and dark.

Composer Nino Rota returns with his mournful, elegiac waltz of a score that has lingered in our collective consciousness for decades.  With THE GODFATHER PART II, he builds upon themes and leitmotifs that  show the progression of Mario Puzo’s beloved characters and to reflect their growing inner turmoil as the stakes stack ever-higher.

Coppola also includes a variety of diagetic source cues that paint a bigger picture of the Italian culture at large.  This is most notable in the Fest of San Gennaro sequence (which I’ll discuss at length later), which uses the fascistic Old World sound of “Marcia Religioso” to astounding effect.

Put simply, THE GODFATHER PART II is a staggering accomplishment of directorial prowess.  That Coppola reached this level of skill so early on in his career is astounding.  While many sequels fail in their rush to rehash the story beats that worked in the original, Coppola’s original vision for THE GODFATHER was so strong and compelling that, when given carte blanche to do as he pleased, the subject matter yielded entirely new, unexpected and shocking ways for the story to continue.

Many casual filmgoers don’t know this, but while the original film was based off of Mario Puzo’s novel, there was never an accompanying sequel novel off which to base a film version.  The entire story of the Corleones in midcentury Lake Tahoe (and their presence during the Cuban revolution) are entirely new fabrications devised by Coppola himself, albeit with some help from co-writer Puzo.  The Little Italy sequences set in 1917 are derived from a single chapter in Puzo’s original novel, yet fleshed out in a way that contrasts Michael’s fall from grace with Vito’s rise to power.

Indeed, this parallel rendering of a father and son at the same point in their lives during different time periods is one of the most affecting and relatable aspects of the film, and an unprecedented, inspired move on Coppola’s part.  As a young man myself, trying to establish my career and rise up to become whatever person I’m meant to be, I often find myself reflecting on how my own father came to be the person that I now look upon as a leader in his community and a model of manhood and success.

Obviously, he didn’t shoot people or join organized crime to get where he is, but the pursuit of the American Dream is something that everyone can relate and aspire to, regardless of their trade.  So naturally, I respond on a profound level to this kind of portraiture that Coppola has developed.

There’s one scene in particular I’d like to highlight as profoundly effective on me as a filmmaker, while also being a master-grade illustration of what just might be the perfect cinematic sequence.  Succession and ascendance into power are primary themes in the trilogy, with an act of murder usually serving as the initiation into the upper echelons.

In THE GODFATHER, this is shown when Michael murders Salazzo and Captain McCluskey at a quiet Italian restaurant.  In THE GODFATHER PART II, we witness young Vito’s own baptism of blood, which takes place during the famous San Gennaro street festival in Little Italy.  Vito stalks the rooftops above the celebration, following the movements of his target: Don Fanucci, a wealthy gangster who’s been oppressing and intimidating the community.  The soaring brass of “Marcia Religioso” serves as a quasi-fascistic accompaniment to the proceedings and lifts it to the level of opera.

If THE GODFATHER is about rising to power via succession, then THE GODFATHER PART II– with its inclusion of this sequence and the Cuban revolution storyline–  is about taking power by force.  Coppola’s sequel is about the deposition of kings, and how delicate that power is to hold onto once achieved.  The San Genarro sequence itself is perfectly paced, with nary a single shot wasted.

Each detail and moment is precisely calculated to generate suspense: from Vito’s prolonged stalking, to his manipulation of the lightbulb, to the use of a towel to dampen the sound of his gunfire, to Don Fanucci’s stunned reaction to the messy, imperfect red button that’s been punched haphazardly into his cheek and through his brain.  As far as the construction of a sequence goes, it’s perfect.  Coppola earned his first Oscar for directing with THE GODFATHER PART II, arguably in large part to this simple, yet riveting sequence.

Due to the relative freedom he enjoyed making the film, THE GODFATHER PART II is a view into Coppola at his most unfiltered.  As his own family was growing and he bought an estate out in Napa, CA to house them, he channeled the insights learned from these life experiences into his depiction of the Corleone family.  The story is a deeper exploration of the customs and culture of his ancestral heritage, which yields some of the most memorable and dramatically-rich plot developments in cinematic history.  Furthermore, the story requires Coppola to run a production on a personally unprecedented scale, especially in the young Vito Corleone sequences.  For a filmmaker who’s start was in small-budget schlock films (indeed, Coppola’s old boss Roger Corman makes a cameo appearance in the Senate Committee scenes), Coppola rises to the considerable challenge with bold vision and an effortless grace.

Objectively speaking, this is the pinnacle of Coppola’s career as a filmmaker.  It was met with a huge box office take, but ironically had a modest critical reception that only grew as people had a time to reflect on it.  This proved to be beneficial as THE GODFATHER PART II swept that year Academy’s Awards, netting gold statues for Best Art Direction (Tavoularis), Best Score (Rota), Best Adapted Screenplay (Coppola & Puzo), Best Supporting Actor (DeNiro), a repeat Director (Coppola), and Best Picture.

All the more astounding for the fact that it was a sequel (and one that started the trend of including numbers in the title to boot), THE GODFATHER PART II became a phenomenon that cemented the series’ place in pop culture and cinematic history.  Furthermore, the Library of Congress deemed it significant and worth preserving in 1993 when it inducted the film into the National Film Registry.

A film can’t get any more successful than that.  Even though his recent output has been somewhat weak, Coppola remains at the top of the heap of respected auteurs precisely because of the lasting fallout from this film.  THE GODFATHER PART II is a cornerstone in the house that cinema built, and it will endure long after its makers are gone.


APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

Some films are to be cursed from their very inception. They taunt their makers with Herculean obstacles, only to break their spirits when they fall far short of their goals.  Some of these filmmakers would never recover (like Michael Cimino and 1980’s HEAVEN’S GATE), their careers never again retaining the same heady heights as their previous successes.

A select few manage to overcome these soul-crushing challenges, and fewer still actually manage to make a truly transcendent piece of work.  No film’s making more embodies the term “fiasco” than director Francis Ford Coppola’s passion project APOCALYPSE NOW (1979).  Shot as the follow-up to the unfathomably successful THE GODFATHER PART II (1974), Coppola suddenly found himself in those most treacherous of directorial waters: complete financial freedom.

  The production of APOCALYPSE NOW, which dragged on for close to three years, most certainly took many years off of Coppola’s life (as well as hundreds of pounds).  However, this sacrificial (and literal) pound of flesh netted him something much more valuable: immortality, in the form of one of the greatest and culturally significant films of all time.

APOCALYPSE NOW is nothing less than a cinematic descent into madness.  Based off Joseph Conrad’s lurid novella HEART OF DARKNESS, Coppola and screenwriter John Milius have kept the basic plot conceits while updating the setting from a turn-of-the-century Congo River to the Vietnam War.

Initially developed to be a directing vehicle for Coppola’s American Zoetrope colleague George Lucas, Coppola took the helm after Lucas departed to make 1977’s STAR WARS (a move which insulted Coppola so much they didn’t speak for years).  Coppola’s vision was to paint the Vietnam War as it truly was– a psychedelic, deeply disturbing voyage into the darkest corners of men’s souls.  Coppola aimed to make the greatest film ever created; an allegory for the entire American experience in Vietnam.  It’s safe to say that he more or less succeeded, despite the infamously-troubled production nearly killing him.

APOCALYPSE NOW tells the story of Willard (Martin Sheen), a burnt-out Army captain who’s sent out on a confidential mission: find and execute a rogue Colonel, Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who’s gone insane and established his own kingdom of brutality in the upriver jungles of Cambodia.

To transport him up the river, Willard is assigned a patrol boat operated by a small team of Naval officers.  As they inch ever closer to Kurtz’s savage compound, the men endure the hells and existential crises of the Vietnam War that rages around them.  When they finally arrive, Willard experiences a strange emotional connection to Kurtz’s deranged dogma that threatens to foil his mission and consume his sanity.

The film is a staggering achievement on all fronts.  As to be expected from Coppola, the cast is exemplary, with many turning in career-defining work despite the brutal filming conditions.  Martin Sheen, who replaced original actor Harvey Keitel two weeks into production, gives one of the best performances of his career as Captain Willard.

We first meet Willard as a strung-out husk of a man, rotting away in his hotel room in wait for an assignment that may never come.  Sheen’s haunting voiceover provides a dark, interior perspective to the events of the film, helping us to understand his psychological connection to Kurtz.

Sheen gives all of himself over to his character, even to the point where he infamously suffered a heart attack at the age of 36 as a result of the stress he endured during production.  With his haunting performance, Sheen seared himself into our collective consciousness and became an avatar for the American experience in Vietnam.

Marlon Brando, despite only having a few minutes of actual screen time, easily earns his top billing by ominously towering over the story as the near-mythical Col. Kurtz.  Coppola managed to lure the reclusive star into the jungle for one more collaboration, but Brando certainly didn’t make it easy for his exhausted director.  Famously, Brando not only showed up (late) to set overweight and bald, but having not read the screenplay or Conrad’s original novel.

Brando battled Coppola on every single element of his character, but given the unfathomable genius of Brando’s performance, it’s easy to see there was a method to his madness.  Coppola shot Brando in shadows and close-ups mainly as a way to hide his enormous girth, but in doing so, he created a staggering personification of unknowable evil.

Of his late career roles, Brando’s performance as Col. Kurtz eclipses even that of Vito Corleone in Coppola’s THE GODFATHER.  While he would go on to do a handful of roles in smaller films until his death, APOCALYPSE NOW marks Brando’s last great appearance in cinema, closing the book on one of the medium’s most talented personas with a pitch black conclusion.

Robert Duvall, who by this point had appeared in every Coppola film since 1969’s THE RAIN PEOPLE, channels a very different kind of unhinged psychopath in the form of Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore.  Duvall’s Kilgore heads the 9th Air Cavalry Regiment, a cocksure squad of gung-ho helicopter jockeys who tear ass across the jungle while blasting Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries”.

Representing the testosterone-laden braggadocio that led us into the Vietnam War in the first place, Kilgore barks each line with a forceful authority.  His eyes obscured behind pitch-black sunglasses, Kilgore’s specialized brand of cowboy diplomacy leaves nothing but fire and death in its wake.  His lust for war is matched only by his love of surfing, which he manages to pack in even under heavy artillery fire.

Duvall clearly enjoys the chance to chew scenery, which he doesn’t usually get to do under Coppola’s direction.  Despite a comparable screen time to Brando, Duvall’s performance is highly memorable due to his pathological delivery of enduring lines as “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the only one on the entire production who actually had any fun.

Accompanying Sheen on his journey upriver are the colorful characters of the PBR boat, manned by the gruff quartermaster George Philips (Albert Hall).  The late Sam Bottoms appears as Lance, a boyish California surfer whose clean-cut persona descends into a druggy haze as he tries to cope with the horrors of the war.

A young Laurence Fishburne (only 14 at the time) plays Mr. Clean, a cocky kid whose self-deceit over his own mortality will be his ruin.  Finally there’s Frederic Forrest, who previously appeared in Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION (1974).  Forrest plays Chef, a mustachioed saucier from New Orleans and an unpredictable, manic presence.  These characters help to establish levity and companionship as the circumstances grow more dire.

Rounding out the cast are Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, and G.D. Spradlin.  Hopper plays The Photojournalist, the strung-out jester of Kurtz’s court.  Hopper adds a great deal of energy late into the film, drawing on his hippie persona that he established ten years earlier in EASY RIDER while taking it to a dark extreme.

A pre-STAR WARS Ford, having previously appeared in THE CONVERSATION for Coppola, plays Col. Lucas, a bookish officer who briefs Willard on the mission.  Spradlin, who played Senator Geary in THE GODFATHER PART II, plays the general that gives Willard his assignment.

To create APOCALYPSE NOW’s acid-baked look, Coppola turned to Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro.  Filmed on 35mm film, Coppola and Storaro take advantage of the panoramic 2.35:1 aspect ratio to capture Vietnam’s nightmarish vistas.  A palette of saturated earth tones and yellow highlights gives a sweaty, slightly sick look to the visuals.

This burnt-out look is further complemented by the use of lens flares and relentlessly plodding camerawork.  Coppola utilizes a great deal of aerial photography to give an uneasy majesty to the proceedings, capturing Dean Tavoularis’ exhaustive production design in all its sprawling glory.  The editors (Walter Murch, Lisa Fruchtman, and Gerald B. Greenberg) make recurring use of crossfade transitions and double-exposed/layered shots that give the film the surreal aura of a bad acid trip.  APOCALYPSE NOW is easily Coppola’s most visually stylized film apart from 1992’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, accentuating the psychedelic, nightmarish nature of Vietnam.

Sound plays an enormous part in Coppola’s grand vision, beginning with its pioneering use of the Dolby 5.1 Surround sound system– which has since become the exhibition standard for all major films.  APOCALYPSE NOW paints a sonic portrait of Vietnam even more hellish than its imagery, punctuated by concussive bomb blasts and the menacing drone of helicopter rotors.

Coppola’s vision for a psychedelic experience extends to the sound design, where he synthesized many sound effects so as to be indistinguishable from the score (the helicopter droning being the most famous example).  Continuing his penchant for collaborating with family members, Coppola enlists the help of his father Carmine to craft the score.

Coppola the elder creates a foreboding electronic score that uses discordant tones to create a fundamental unease and an encroaching sense of malice.  Francis Coppola also utilizes the druggy sound of The Doors and The Rolling Stones to further establish the psychedelic aspects of his vision.

It’s a big feat when a filmmaker is able to indelibly link a pre-existing song to a film so strongly that they become inseparable.  The auteurs rising up amongst the Film Brat generation realized the power of well-placed music, not the least of whom was Coppola himself.  With APOCALYPSE NOW, Coppola creates several such such moments as easily as you would tie your shoe.

There’s the brooding vocals of Jim Morrison’s “This Is The End” playing over silent footage of napalm reducing an entire jungle to cinders, or the unforgettable “Ride Of The Valkyries” sequence (which was referenced later in Sam Mendes’ JARHEAD (2005) as a way to pump up young Marines on the eve of their deployment to Kuwait).  There’s even Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Susie Q”, which accompanies the appearance of three dancing Playmates during a rowdy USO show.  I can’t think of another film that so brilliantly and creatively mixes sound and music to such striking effect.

Coppola’s habit for experimentation with the language of cinema is on full display with APOCALYPSE NOW.  He paints Willard’s journey upriver as an allegory for a journey backwards in time, beginning with the machine-based warfare of the present and reaching back to the primitive, sacrificial nature of tribe-based social systems.

He also released the film without titles or credits, originally intending to tour the film around the country with printed programs.  While this didn’t exactly come to pass, most home video releases of the film omit credits, making for a fully immersive descent into madness free from conventional cinematic constructs.

In a rare move, Coppola appears in a cameo as a newsreel director who yells “pretend you’re fighting!” to soldiers as they run by his camera.  This is, of course, an allusion to the manufactured image that the television/entertainment complex depicted the war with, but it also goes a long way towards establishing the story’s startlingly self-aware viewpoint.

The Vietnam War was the first major war to be beamed directly into our households via television, and Coppola gracefully touches on the point while making a concise point about the media’s perversion of combat.

The story of APOCALYPSE NOW’s production has been extensively documented in print and film (most notably in wife Eleanor Coppola’s brilliant HEARTS OF DARKNESS documentary), so I won’t go into too much detail.  It was (and still is) the biggest production Coppola has ever mounted, with a scale and scope so staggeringly massive that one film could barely contain it all.

THE ODYSSEY-like nature of the story required an equally operatic point of view, which Coppola was well-equipped to handle due to his previous experiences.  What he wasn’t equipped for, however, were the almost-biblical challenges he had to face with shooting the film in the primordial jungles of the Phillippines.

Before he even could get a firm handle on his operation, the production ballooned millions of dollars over-budget and months behind schedule.  A six-week shoot turned into almost thirty, and the tempestuous tropical climate wreaked havoc on expensive sets as well as morale.  Coppola found himself shouldering nearly all of the burden alone, losing nearly 100 pounds during the process.  Simply put, the shoot was hell.  The fact that such a great film, let alone a coherent film, emerged from the wreckage is nothing short of a miracle.

APOCALYPSE NOW was made during the tail end of the auteur era, perhaps even contributing to its demise.     While it was met with widespread acclaim and box office success, its particular brand of scorched-earth filmmaking influenced directors like Michael Cimino to launch elaborate productions of their own– resulting in the atomic bomb that was HEAVEN’S GATE.  These two extravagantly-made films caused studio executives to assert more control over their runaway productions, and subsequently ushered in the epoch of the blockbuster.

Fortunately for Coppola, APOCALYPSE NOW was received as a qualified masterpiece on par with his two GODFATHER entries.  It managed to win the coveted Palm D’Or at Cannes, which is more impressive when you consider that Coppola only screened an unfinished cut.  It went on to win Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, and was even inducted into the National Film Registry in 2000.

In 2001, Coppola and editor Walter Murch went back to the source elements and created a new edit of the film, dubbed APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX.  This longer cut (running almost three and a half hours) included several deleted scenes that shed further light on Coppola’s darkly complex characters.  There’s significant debate within the film community as to which version is better.

For the purposes of this essay, I watched both versions to arrive at my own personal conclusion.  While both versions are excellent, I’d have to give the edge to REDUX, mainly for its more-expansive exploration into man’s primordial darkness.

APOCALYPSE NOW is an unforgettable film, made even more so by the utter misery the filmmakers experienced in shooting it.  Its cinematic legacy is assured, judging by the deep respect and reverence bestowed upon the film in the thirty years since its release.  Furthermore, it is the capstone to a truly remarkable decade for Coppola– each of his four films in this period went on to become cultural institutions in their own right.

All of this success came at a heavy price, however; to this day Coppola has been unable to attain such raw, visceral power in his subsequent projects (not even 1990’s THE GODFATHER PART III).

Did APOCALYPSE NOW use up all Coppola’s talent?  Did the overwhelming stress ultimately break him? Did he lose his soul to insanity like Kurtz or Willard?  We may never know exactly what happened in that jungle, but what came out of it was northing less than a bloodsoaked rebirth for cinema.


ONE FROM THE HEART (1982)

The word “irony” is not lost on director Francis Ford Coppola.  One could argue that Coppola’s entire career is ironic, due to him becoming a symbol of the very same studio system that he initially sought to oppose.  After entering the pantheon of great American filmmakers with his two GODFATHER films and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), his next project would ironically bring him back to down to earth with a massive failure matched only by Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE (1980).

This one-two punch of opulent misfires effectively ended the auteur era in Hollywood, with executives reasserting control over projects that subsequently usher in the age of the blockbuster.

After the success of APOCALYPSE NOW, Coppola sought to make the exact opposite kind of film– a breezy, low-budget musical filmed entirely on soundstages.  This project, entitled ONE FROM THE HEART (1982), was originally supposed to be made for only two million dollars– a mere fraction of the sum that consumed APOCALYPSE NOW.

y the time Coppola finished shooting, however, the costs had ballooned to over twenty-five million.  The film had become an albatross of a distinctively different breed.

ONE FROM THE HEART’s story is very minimal, instead choosing to focus its attentions on lavish set design, lighting, and visual trickery.  The plot is set in Las Vegas, where a young, unmarried couple– Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Teri Garr)– have reached a point of mutual dissatisfaction in their relationship.  Following an explosive argument, they set out into the night, intent on finding comfort in the embrace of new lovers.

Frannie finds herself in the bed of Ray (Raul Julia), a smooth-talking Latin lover and aspiring crooner, while Hank takes up with Leila (Nastassja Kinski), an alluring circus girl with a bohemian bent.  Throughout the course of the night, Hank and Frannie’s separate encounters lead them to believe that maybe they do really still love each other after all, and that love is worth fighting for.

It’s a story we’ve all seen a million times, but we’ve never seen it done quite like this.  The performances, while admirable, inevitably sink underneath the weight of Coppola and production designer Dean Tavoularis’ heavily-stylized mise-en-scene.  Forrest, a Coppola regular who had previously played Chef in APOCALYPSE NOW, now takes center stage and assumes the affectation of a young Marlon Brando in his brutish, blue-collar take on Hank.

Garr is energetic and makes the most of her comic abilities as the jaded, temperamental Frannie.  Julia and Kinksi do a great job of being attractive and exotically-alluring characters, each with their distinct charms.  Rounding out the cast, Lainie Kazan plays Maggie, a friend and confidant of Frannie’s, and veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton (who had previously played a bit part for Coppola in THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)) plays Moe, Hank’s curly-haired and leisure-suited best friend.

Despite the tired story tropes and underdeveloped characters, Coppola crafts an unforgettable look that’s based around an overarching theatre conceit.  Coppola famously eschewed location shooting, choosing instead to shoot the entirety of ONE FROM THE HEART on soundstages.  In this regard, the central conceit is the film’s biggest success.

Returning Director of Photography Vittori Storaro (working with Ronald V. Garcia) fills Tavoularis’ beautifully-designed sets with cathedral-esque shafts of neon light and striking bursts of color.  Coppola and his twin DPs have adopted an unusual aspect ratio (1.37:1), but it’s a little unclear as to why– perhaps it’s to further Coppola’s visual conceit by evoking the literal, square proscenium of traditional theatre.  This is further supplemented by real-time lighting changes not unlike one would see in a stage play.

Why take this visual approach, especially when it was largely responsible for extreme budget overruns?  I suspect that Coppola was actively trying to evoke what it truly feels like to fall in love– that is, finding beauty and theatricality in the everyday and mundane.  Romantic love brings heightened emotions that, upon future reflection, tend to take on an idealized, slightly surreal quality.  If this was indeed his intention, Coppola absolutely nails it.

Ever the experimentalist, Coppola continues his pursuit of redefining the cinematic language that was so eloquently established by his cinematic forebear, Sergei Eisenstein.    Besides the aforementioned proscenium conceit and in-camera lighting changes, Coppola plays with double exposures, as well as parallel action being projected onto the set to portray simultaneous events (as opposed to the more traditional cross-cutting).

This approach also extends to the music, where it eschews the traditional definition of a musical by denying the characters of song or dance.  Instead, the musicality comes non-diagetically, from the smoky, unmistakeable vocal chords of Tom Waits.  In his first original film score, Waits crafts a moody, jazzy sound resembling old torch songs that perfectly evokes the Las Vegas setting and Coppola’s melancholy musings on love.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s undeniable how well it actually works within the film.

If APOCALYPSE NOW saw Coppola at the height of his directorial powers, ONE FROM THE HEART is the first work in a long, drawn-out decline that would see his influence severely weakened.  Much like how Cimino’s excesses and self-indulgence on HEAVEN’S GATE led to box office disaster and the sinking of United Artists, ONE FROM THE HEART performed abysmally in theatres— forcing Coppola to declare bankruptcy.

It was a steep fall for a director who had been heretofore regarded as untouchable.  The majority of his output for the ensuing two decades were primarily efforts to pay back the massive debt he incurred on ONE FROM THE HEART.  To this day, his reputation has never fully recovered; not even a third GODFATHER film, shot in 1990, could restore him to former glory.

Thankfully, time heals all wounds, and all the venom spewed at and around the film upon its release has largely fallen away.  What remains is the film itself, left to stand on its own merits.  In this light, ONE FROM THE HEART is still a heavily flawed film, but its remarkable vision is creatively executed with considerable flair by a director firmly in command of his craft.  You have to hand it to Coppola: the man makes even failing look fantastic.


THE OUTSIDERS (1983)

I, like millions of other American kids, read S.E. Hinton’s teen angst novel The Outsiders in a high school English class and identified with it.  My favorite part of reading a novel in English class, however, was getting to watch the movie adaptation afterwards, which would always eat up a couple days of class.  Naturally, we watched Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation, which I remember quite liking at the time.  If memory serves me right, that might have even been the first time I had seen a Coppola film.

Thirty years after its release, Coppola’s THE OUTSIDERS has aged somewhat well, but certainly feels dated in that it’s rooted to a particular place and time.  The film was a modest success for Coppola, albeit a much needed one after the nuclear bomb that was ONE FROM THE HEART (1982).  It would be a crowning gem in any director’s body of work, but considering Coppola’s exceptionally strong oeuvre, it becomes a minor work at best.

The film adaptation of THE OUTSIDERS got its start when Coppola received a letter from a Fresno middle school.  The letter, penned by a teacher and signed by all her students, implored Coppola to turn the classic novel about lost innocence into a feature film.  Moved by this unique display, Coppola secured the rights to the novel and began production.

We’re all familiar with the story: the constant battling between the Soc’s– the well-heeled, preppy rich kids– and the Greasers– the poor kids from the the wrong side of the tracks– and how it manifests in a tragedy that claims casualties on both sides.  At the center of all this is Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell), a sensitive young man who aspires to something better than his hardscrabble existence.

In this midwestern town in the 1950’s, the teenage social constructs are boiled down to two distinct classes:  the haves and the have-nots.  It may be an unrealistically simplistic concept (after all, Hinton was only sixteen years old when she wrote the novel), but the story’s power is derived from the cultural cache these archetypes bring.  The stakes couldn’t be any more meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but in their world, every altercation means life or death.

The strongest thing about the film, by far, is the casting.  Coppola and producer Fred Roos assembled a pitch-perfect ensemble of the era’s brightest up-and-comers.  It’s fascinating to see so many well-established and respected stars as fresh-faced kids, full of optimism and energy. The aforementioned Howell is compelling to watch as Ponyboy, and his lack of star power is actually beneficial for serving as the audience’s point of entry into this strange, yet familiar world.

Matt Dillon is pitch perfect as Dallas, a hotheaded delinquent who serves as a role model to the more impressionable minds of the group.  Ralph Macchio, of KARATE KID fame, plays Johnny with the appropriate scruffiness and skittishness.  The late Patrick Swayze, by far the oldest of the cast, is thoroughly convincing as Darrel,  Ponyboy’s brother, guardian, and father-figure all rolled up into one.

Rounding out the cast are a mix of faces who were at the time just breaking out into the mainstream.  For many, this was their debut feature film.  This was certainly the case for Rob Lowe, who played the middle brother of the Curtis clan, Sodapop.  Lowe is energetic and sensitive like his younger brother, but unfortunately saw the majority of his screen time cut in the theatrical release.

Martin Sheen’s son, Emilio Estevez, plays Two-Bit, the Mickey Mouse T-shirt-wearing jester of the group.  Tom Cruise, baring a truly hideous set of crooked teeth, brings a manic, wild energy to his depiction of Steve.  Then there’s the inimitable Diane Lane as Cherry, an insightful Soc who bridges the gap and finds common ground with the Greasers.  In a film filled with heavy doses of male braggadocio, she’s a welcome bit of femininity and elegant grace.

Coppola eschews any extravagant aesthetic styling in favor of a toned-down, realistic approach.  As lensed by Director of Photography Stephen H. Burum, Coppola paints the rusted-out industrial environs of midcentury Tulsa, OK with a saturated, yet natural color palette and a high-key, noir-ish lighting scheme.

Interpreting the subject matter as somewhat of a rockabilly version of Victor Fleming’s GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), Coppola adopts the panoramic 2:35:1 aspect ratio and covers a fair amount of action with sweeping dolly movements.  This approach also extends to more stylish flourishes like projected backgrounds (the infamous “stay gold” sunset sequence draws many visual comparisons to the romantic cinematography of GONE WITH THE WIND).

As far as Coppola’s visual execution goes, THE OUTSIDERS is pretty straightforward.  There’s no discernible attempt at experimentation, save for Coppola’s affection for double-exposed, multi-layered images.  He peppers a few shots throughout the film that feature the subject in extreme close-up and a background element in wide shot, yet both are in equal focus.

This is indicative of Coppola’s attempts to push the boundaries of cinematic language, and he accomplished these tricky shots by using a split-field diopter on the camera lens, which works not unlike a pair of bifocals.  Other recurring visual elements, like the smoky park in which Dallas meets his violent end, and an on-camera appearance by musician Tom Waits, hark back to previous Coppola films by virtue of their inclusion.

Coppola’s use of technology as a tool to further his storytelling was also incorporated into an extensive rehearsal process before the shoot.  Video was a nascent medium in the early 1980’s, and Coppola was bullish about its benefits.  He incorporated video’s primary usefulness at the time– cheap image recording– to document the rehearsals, effectively constructing a video version of the entire film.  Yes, he was so excited about the ease of video shooting that he managed to shoot the entire film on video before he even began making the film itself.

Also consistent with Coppola’s previous films, THE OUTSIDERS is a family affair.  The aforementioned Estevez is Martin Sheen’s son, who we all remember played Captain Willard in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979).    Coppola’s own (late) son, Gian-Carlo Coppola, served as a producer on the film alongside Roos, Kim Aubry, and Gray Frederickson.

Coppola also enlisted his father, Carmine Coppola, once again for score duties.  Coppola the elder crafts a rocking/surfer vibe for his score, which complements the rebelliousness of the central characters.  Coppola the younger also included a mix of well-known rock tunes, like Van Morrison’s “Gloria”, as well as commissioned the  original ballad from Stevie Wonder that opens the film.

THE OUTSIDERS was severely cut upon its release in order to have a more palatable running time.  When Coppola again began receiving letters asking for a version of the movie that more resembled the book, he took it to heart.  In 2005, he unboxed the original negatives and put back in an additional twenty-five minutes.  He also replaced a great deal of Carmine Coppola’s original score with a variety of prerecorded rock tracks that give the film a distinct, entirely new flavor.

This alternate cut, known as The Complete Novel, now appears to have supplanted the original cut as Coppola’s preferred vision of the film.  The new cut was greeted with a great deal of praise and appreciation, not the least of which was by actor Rob Lowe, who saw the vast majority of his cut footage reintegrated into the film and his character’s importance boosted.

THE OUTSIDERS has aged only slightly since its release, but what struck me most upon revisiting the film is that it seems like it belongs somewhere within Coppola’s pre-GODFATHER early work, as opposed to his mid-career efforts.  It’s much more simplistic as a film, and there’s no grandiose statements about the nature of the American experience as there in his other adaptations of novels like THE GODFATHER (1972) or APOCALYPSE NOW.

In short, it’s a small story about male camaraderie and the deep bond formed in moments of crisis.  It’s unpretentiousness is one of its strongest points– offering an earnest, optimistic point of view that captures the boundless energy of teenage life.

In watching THE OUTSIDERS, I was briefly transported back to my first encounters with the material in high school, and I found myself waxing nostalgic about the good old days… a time where everything was simpler and affairs of the heart consumed every waking thought and desire.  I suspect this was Coppola’s intention all along, to return us to a more innocent place and time, in hopes that we’ll reconnect with the rambunctious child that still lives deep inside ourselves.  If that was indeed his intention, then THE OUTSIDERS is truly a success.


RUMBLE FISH (1983)

In 1983, director Francis Ford Coppola found himself in Tulsa, OK, and in the middle of a creative hot streak.  Midway into the production of THE OUTSIDERS (1983), Coppola approached the novel’s author S.E. Hinton, and asked if she had any other works he could adapt.

Hinton responded with Rumble Fish, an avant-garde, misunderstood novel that had failed to gain the kind of wide audience that The Outsiders did.  After Coppola read the book, he decided that not only was it going to be his next film, but that he’d film it back to back with THE OUTSIDERS, utilizing the same Tulsa locale and much of that film’s cast and crew.

Released later on in 1983, Coppola’s adaption was not met with the same kind of critical and financial success that THE OUTSIDERS enjoyed.  In fact, it sunk Coppola ever lower into debt and threw the existence of his independent studio, American Zoetrope, into jeopardy.

The film’s stylized, avant-garde aesthetic also turned off a lot of fans and critics, as it was so strikingly different from his previous work.  Like much of Coppola’s misunderstood work, however, it has gained a deep appreciation and a cult following in the years since its release.

RUMBLE FISH’s story isn’t immediately clear upon first viewing; indeed it strikes one as much more of an exercise in style-over-substance.  Set in an unnamed Midwestern industrial town in the 50’s or 60’s, the story revolves around a headstrong wanna-be hood, Rusty James (Matt Dillon), who spends his nights romancing the pretty, preppy Patty (Diane Lane), and engaging in wild rumbles with the town’s various miscreants.

One day, his older brother—known only as Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke)—returns to town after a long excursion into California.  Rusty James wants nothing more than to be just like his older brother, but Motorcycle Boy is old enough to realize the error of his ways, and finds it a difficult task to discourage his brother from following in his footsteps before it’s too late.

What’s lacking in story is more than compensated for by the brawny, muscular performances from Coppola’s young cast.  Dillon, taking on the lead role right after his work in THE OUTSIDERS, channels a juvenile delinquent of a different breed as Rusty James.

His is an idealistic machismo, and he’s set on proving his worth as a man through violent brawls and burning through the town’s supply of women.  In one of his earliest starring roles, Dillon proves to be a veritable force of nature.

Mickey Rourke, looking trim and handsome in his pre-boxing/hamburger-face years, goes against expectations with his portrayal of Motorcycle Boy.  Rourke is sensitive, quiet, and observant.  He speaks softly, but can be absolutely ferocious when need be.

  Motorcycle Boy is a deeply troubled character, haunted by unseen eternal demons that manifest themselves in colorblindness, occasional deafness, and bouts of withdrawn melancholy.  It’s a fine, pulpy performance that belies Rourke’s tough exterior.

The supporting cast is filled out with regular collaborators and faces new to the Coppola fold.  Diane Lane joins Dillon in hopping right from production on THE OUTSIDERS to play Patty, a teenage schoolgirl with a sultry, tempestuous temperament.

Two old friends from 1979’s APOCALPYSE NOW—Dennis Hopper and Laurence Fishburne—also join the fray.  Hopper plays Rourke and Dillon’s father, who’s a crazy-eyed, shambling drunk of a man—the kind of character Hopper can play in his sleep.

Fishburne, having physically filled out dramatically in the four years since APOCALYPSE NOW, is nearly unrecognizable as Midgit, a well-dressed confidante of Rusty James’, who may just be a figment of his imagination.

Then there’s Nicolas Cage and the late Chris Penn, in small roles that serve to challenge Rusty James’ self-proclaimed authority.   In keeping with Coppola’s tradition of casting family in his films, the bouffant-ed Cage (Coppola’s nephew) makes his film debut with RUMBLE FISH, and it appears he was just as loony and eccentric as he is now.

Furthermore, Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, appears in her own bit role as Patty’s kid sister.  What’s immediately apparent about RUMBLE FISH’s artistic merits is its bracing visual style.  Filmed on 35mm black-and-white film stock (to emulate Motorcycle Boy’s color blindness), Coppola and returning Director of Photography Stephen H. Burum craft a look unlike anything in Coppola’s body of work.

Drawing equally from the handheld, verite aesthetic of the French New Wave and the high-key, stylized chiaroscuro of German Expressionism, Coppola’s neo-noir is a hallucinogenic blend of realism and fantasy.  Clouds scream past along the sky while characters look up at them in wonder—a trick achieved using timelapse photography to suggest that time is lost on the young, moving much faster than they might realize.

The monotone look highlights the raw, sweaty nature of Burum’s cinematography, which is peppered with bursts of striking color whenever the titular “rumble fish” make an onscreen appearance.

This striking dichotomy is evident in two scenes in particular: the violent rumble that introduces Motorcycle Boy, and a wild romp through a downtown pool hall.  The brawl sequence, choreographed by a professional dancer, is almost elegant in its ballet of blood, punctuated by flashes of lightning and daring feats of acrobatics.

It’s an incredibly expressionistic sequence that calls to mind the laboratory creation sequence from James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), albeit on LSD.  The second sequence –more Cassavetes than Murnau– plays fast and loose with its camerawork in capturing the feel of a booze-soaked night on the town.  The sequence takes on the air of documentary, finding fleeting moments of unscripted interaction and revelry that could never be truly replicated with traditional methods.

Music, provided by composer Stewart Copeland, is equally as baroque and avant-garde.  It perverts the sound and conceits of rock-and-roll music into a fevered cavalcade of percussion that ramps up our anxiety, much like how the restless Rusty James must feel en route to a brawl.

This bizarre blend of picture and sound alienated a lot of people when RUMBLE FISH was released.  Many claimed that Coppola had gone too far in his attempts to deconstruct the art form and reassemble it in his own vision.

I can certainly see that argument, but I view the look as a shot in the arm for the medium during a period of time that saw a relatively flat, bland aesthetic become the commercial standard-bearer.  I know that I’m not alone in that assessment—its influences can be seen in a wide variety of subsequent works by then-burgeoning directors, most notably in Gus Vant Sant’s breakout debut, MALA NOCHE (1986).

There are a few other curious elements that peg RUMBLE FISH as distinctly Coppola’s.  There’s the aforementioned use of family members in the cast (and recruiting of sons Gian-Carlo and Roman in producing roles), but there’s also his copious use of smoke during expressionistic sequences, and a highly experimental sound design that calls to mind the inner psychedelics of APOCALYPSE NOW.

RUMBLE FISH also sees Coppola’s continuation of a unique preproduction process that he dubbed Electric Cinema, where he used green-screen technology to shoot his rehearsals against photographs or rough sketches of the location to create a full version of the film on video before production even began.

Is it a needlessly complex process?  Maybe.  Especially in a time where video often  equals the quality of film, the idea might now seem quaint and extraneous, but the benefits of an involving rehearsal process is really apparent in RUMBLE FISH’S final product.

I think there’s something to be said in the fact that, even after all the critical trashing and financial disappointment, RUMBLE FISH is in Coppola’s top five favorite films of his own.  Time has divorced the film from its overshadowing companion piece and given it an identity all its own.

It’s not for everyone, to be sure, and even those who give it a shot will find it an acquired taste at first.  At the end of the day, the film is an instance of a supremely gifted director using his substantial resources to carry out his full vision, without any regard for how eccentric it might appear.  In that regard, RUMBLE FISH is a piece of pure, unadulterated pop art by a strong-willed director who refuses to become complacent.


THE COTTON CLUB (1984)

There is a club in downtown Los Angeles called the Cicada Club, and stepping inside its doors is like crossing the threshold into another era.  Inside these walls, it’s as if time froze around 1944—the art deco architecture is pristine and polished, the live music is appropriately old-timey, and the clientele are impeccably dressed in tuxedos, zoot suits, and WWII army uniforms.

The effect is like stepping into that infamous photograph at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980).   The Cicada Club is a hidden diamond in downtown’s rough, and I would never have known it ever existed if my girlfriend hadn’t been dancing there for the past few years.

THE COTTON CLUB (1984), director Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up to his twin 1983 S.E. Hinton adaptations THE OUTSIDERS and RUMBLE FISH, very much plays in the same world as the Cicada Club, so much so that I couldn’t help but wonder if the film directly inspired the Cicada’s creation.

The film marks something of a return to form for Coppola, who was working from a script originally written by the creator of THE GODFATHER (1972), Mario Puzo.   Finding its origins in the oral history of the real-life Harlem club of the same name, THE COTTON CLUB was shepherded by THE GODFATHER producer Robert Evans, who brought Coppola onboard, despite his financial troubles following ONE FROM THE HEART’s(1982) bombing at the box office.

The film’s story dealt with organized crime and corruption in an opulent New York setting, which seemed like a perfect chance for Coppola to recapture some of that GODFATHER charm and success.

THE COTTON CLUB is set in Jazz-era Harlem, 1928.  Dixie Dywer (Richard Gere) is a promising cornet soloist who catches the attention of a local crime lord, Dutch (James Remar) and his emotionally cold flapper moll, Vera Cicero (Diane Lane).

As Dixie’s reputation as a talented musician grows, he soon finds himself the star of a hit Hollywood movie where he plays a ruthless mob boss.   This makes Dutch furious, as he believes Dixie’s performance is a thinly-veiled parody of himself.  When Dixie falls for Vera, Dutch declares open war on his former employee, and the Cotton Club is caught in the middle of the crossfire.

The film boasts several great performances from a committed cast, albeit the characterizations tend to be a little bit on the cartoonish side.  Gere is well-cast as the talented musician at the center of the story, bearing a pencil-thin mustache with suave confidence and righteous virtue.

His dedication even went as far as learning to play the cornet at an advanced level.  James Remar shaved back his hairline to resemble Al Capone in his portrayal of the crime boss Dutch.  The veteran character actor gives his antagonist a crazy-eyed stare, with a ferocious, murderous unpredictability.

Caught between these two men is femme fatale Diane Lane, who is on her third consecutive Coppola collaboration.  A woman firmly of her time, Diane’s Vera Cicero flashes the latest in flapper fashion as she uses her feminine wiles to advance her station in life, ultimately taking possession of a nightclub all her own.  She’s ambitious, feisty, and street-smart, which makes her attractiveness undeniable.

Filling out the cast are a variety of faces, many of which have been seen in previous Coppola films.  There’s his nephew Nicolas Cage as Vincent “Mad Dog” Dwyer, Dixie’s ambitious brother whose impatience is his undoing.  Laurence Fishburne makes his third Coppola appearance as Bumpy Rhodes, an enforcer for Harlem’s black elite.

Tom Waits also pops up as a programmer and emcee for entertainment at the club.  (I think there’s something interesting to observe in Coppola’s aesthetic with his continued inclusion of Lane, Fishburne, and Waits, but I’m not sure what that might be exactly). New to the Coppola talent fold are Gregory Hines, Lonette McKee, Bob Hoskins, and Jennifer Grey.

Hines plays Sandman Williams, a gifted tap dancer and hopeless romantic, with McKee as the target of his affections.  Hoskins plays Owney Madden, the owner of the Cotton Club with a firm authority over the feuding crimelords that frequent his establishment.  Jennifer Grey, who you may recognize as Matthew Broderick’s vindictive sister from FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986), plays Cage’s young, unmannered wife.

Stephen Goldblatt, Tony Scott’s Director of Photography for THE HUNGER (1983), finds himself in Coppola’s employ for THE COTTON CLUB, which sees a refreshing of talent behind the camera in many major departments.  Shooting on 35mm film, Goldblatt creates a reserved aesthetic that could be read as more of a stylized take on THE GODFATHER’s visual look.

The 1.85:1 frame draws from a brown, black, and red color palette that’s appropriately saturated to reflect the earth-tone patina of Richard Sylbert’s production design (who takes over for Coppola’s frequent Art Director Dean Tavoularis).  Coppola tells the story of THE COTTON CLUB with handheld and steadicam-based camera movements that complement the traditional photography, and he even throws in a few dutch angles for variety.

John Barry, he of James Bond fame, comes aboard as THE COTTON CLUB’s musical maestro.  Using a variety of string, woodwind and brass instruments, Barry’s score evokes the old Hollywood sound of The Jazz Age, which is also reflected in the many live musical performances that run the gamut from ragtime to swing.  There’s a distinct musicality to the film, which lends a unique vigor and firm sense of place and time.

Given its relative obscurity, THE COTTON CLUB is an unexpectedly strong work.  It performed terribly at the box office upon release, but was nominated for two Oscars (One for Sybert’s production design, and the other for editors Robert Lovett and Barry Malkin).

It channels Coppola’s strengths in the organized crime genre, and even has a few moments where it recalls the genius construction of THE GODFATHER, most notably in Dutch’s murder sequence towards the end.   This is further evidenced by Coppola’s collaboration with GODFATHER producer Robert Evans—although the two apparently had a falling out during production and Coppola banned Evans from set altogether.

There isn’t much in the way of personal development as a filmmaker on Coppola’s end.  Despite the inclusion of a few signature elements like double exposed frames, and an experimental sound design (one scene takes a diagetic tap-dancing performance and uses it as non-diagetic score in a parallel cross-cut scene occurring elsewhere), THE COTTON CLUB feels like it could have been made by a number of other filmmakers.

THE GODFATHER influences signify the film as distinctly Coppola-esque, but the slightly cartoonish treatment of the characters and violence suggests instead the vision of a director influenced by Coppola.  Like much of Coppola’s output in the 80’s and 90’s, it was made not because of a genuine ambition, but to reduce Coppola’s significant debt at the time.

THE COTTON CLUB, while not having aged as well as some of his other work, is a strong and underrated film   However, it pales in comparison to Coppola’s groundbreaking 70’s work, which was always going to be a tough act to follow.  But, if anyone can do it, it’s the man himself.

By this point in his career, Coppola was still a young man, with plenty of time to recapture glory—if only he could dig himself out of the hole opened up by his indulgences.


CAPTAIN EO (1986)

Following the middling reception of 1984’s THE COTTON CLUB, director Francis Ford Coppola found himself slowly but steadily pulling out of the debt spiral that began with 1982’s ONE FROM THE HEART.  Coppola could not afford to rest on his laurels, needing to work consistently to pay off said debt.

As his next feature film project began to take the shape of 1986’s PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, Coppola first would tackle a project of a very different kind, one that endeavored to quite literally push the boundaries of cinema.

The mid-80’s was an interesting time to be in media.  Conglomerations like Pepsi and Disney were tapping into American pop culture as a way to shill product.  Michael Jackson, the King of Pop himself, became heavily involved in corporate branding and lent an aura of star power to commercial campaigns.

His collaboration with Disney manifested in a short film/music video that would be played in the mouse house’s various theme parks as part of an integrated “4D” viewing experience.  Titled CAPTAIN EO and originally set to be directed by Steven Spielberg, this experience would incorporate hydraulic seats, scent sprays, synced smoke, lasers, and a variety of other things to create an immersive ride that went beyond 3D’s stereoscopic imaging.

The script was co-written by Coppola’s friend George Lucas, who by this point had already completed his groundbreaking STAR WARS TRILOGY and was well familiar with spaced-based swashbuckling action.  After Spielberg dropped out, Lucas’ old buddy seemed like a good bet to helm a project whose presentation lay in uncharted territory.

Due to its elaborate presentation, the story was appropriately simplified to feature Michael Jackson as Captain Eo, a brave space traveller who guides his crew to a dark, industrial planet in an attempt to breathe new life into its inhabitants with the help of music and dance.

Jackson’s crew is populated by a variety of space-age Muppets, a robot, and a stop-motion animation butterfly/rat thing.  Anjelica Huston is nearly unrecognizable as the Supreme Leader, Eo’s main antagonist.  The Supreme Leader’s makeup and costume design is one of the strongest points of the film, fusing a cyberpunk aesthetic with the machinations of a spider.

While frequent Coppola cinematographer Vittorio Storaro apparently served as a lighting director, Peter Anderson gets the cinematographer credit for CAPTAIN EO.  Anderson’s photography effectively captures the saturated, bright colors of Eo’s spaceship and the cold blacks of the Supreme Leader’s lair, in an inspired design from Art Director Geoffrey Kirkland.

Coppola crafts a slightly cheesy, chintzy sci-fi aesthetic that harkens back to his Roger Corman days.  Visual effects are quaint and intentionally shaky-looking, which I suppose adds a degree of charm.   I imagine that experiencing CAPTAIN EO during its run in various Disney theme parks was a sight to behold, but I just so happened to view the film on Youtube, which came from a VHS recording of the only time the film was ever broadcast on TV.

As you can imagine, it looked pretty terrible.  And unless the Mouse House sees fit to release the short to the public, this shitty VHS dub is the best you’re ever going to get.  At seventeen minutes long, CAPTAIN EO is basically one big music video.

And at a cost of $1 million dollars per minute of finished film, it also ranks as one of the most expensive films ever made (on a minute-by-minute basis).  For those accustomed to the idea of Coppola as the esteemed auteur behind THE GODFATHER (1972), watching CAPTAIN EO comes as somewhat of a shock.

It may even come off as a desperate, pathetic money grab on Coppola’s part—another rung lower in the fall from greatness.   Personally, I see the film fitting quite comfortably into Coppola’s oeuvre, albeit in unexpected ways.

Coppola’s career-long pursuit of redefining cinematic language is given a rigorous exercise with the demands of an immersive theme park theatrical presentation.  Not only did Coppola have to rely on sound and image to tell his story, but motion and smell as well.  It’s a literal bursting forth from the constraining proscenium wall that had so beautifully contained his ideas in ONE FROM THE HEART.

Watching the film now, CAPTAIN EO feels inescapably dated, as if it were a forgotten relic of 1980’s pop culture.  It enjoyed a brief resurgence when it was brought back to Disney theme parks in tribute form following Michael Jackson’s death in 2010, but the very nature of its conception means it can never be truly timeless like most of Coppola’s other works.

That is the nature of pop—an art form that is so focused on being “of the moment” that it completely overlooks the fact that the chosen moment passes by all too quickly.  At least Coppola’s foray into pop commanded a collaboration with no less than the King himself.


PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986)

Director Francis Ford Coppola spent the majority of the 1980’s taking on for-hire film work featuring commercially-viable stories as a way to erase the debt suffered by 1982’s box office disaster ONE FROM THE HEART.  Unfortunately, most of these films were hit-or-miss themselves, and the infallible talent that gave us THE GODFATHER (1972) and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) now seemed to be washed up, all of its promise drained.

The year 1986 saw a brief respite for Coppola, in the form of a feature film called PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED.  While not a particularly great film, it was enjoyable and channeled a certain nostalgia for midcentury Americana to modest box office gains.  Indeed, the film’s upbeat, optimistic tone mirrored the fact that things were looking up for Coppola, for the first time in years.

PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED is a dramatic comedy about a faded beauty named Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner), who is anxious about attending her high school class reunion after a bitter divorce from her appliance baron husband Charlie Bodell (Nicolas Cage).

When she’s crowned reunion queen (that’s a thing?), she faints during the coronation.  She wakes up, only to find that she’s back in the year 1960, and back in high school.  Blessed with the knowledge of what the future will bring, she relishes the chance to connect with long-dead family members and tries to reconfigure her romantic life to avoid her eventual marriage to boyfriend Charlie.  However, she learns that even a second chance at youth can’t change fate.

It’s a powerful question: if you had a second chance to re-live your youth, what would you do differently?  Coppola’s cast gamely explores this conceit through wry characterization that must be presented differently in two distinct timeframes.

As the central character, Turner changes gradually in a conventional arc, much like Jimmy Stewart’s character in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).  The weary Peggy Sue starts the film as a shell of her former self, reluctant to engage old friends because of the natural life-comparison that occurs at reunions.

Throughout the film, her dalliances with a mysterious young beatnik and a reconnection with her immediate family changes her outlook, making her cognizant of the true value of the people in her adult life.

Coppola continues his collaboration with his nephew Nicolas Cage, who plays Peggy Sue’s estranged husband Charlie Bodell.  A complete goober of a man, Charlie is presented as a schlubby, has-been appliance tycoon, but the past sequences show an outrageously energetic, wildly-bouffanted young man that aspires to fame and riches as a doo-wop singer.

Those who take delight in Cage’s eccentric characterizations will find themselves satisfied in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED—Cage adopts a strange vocal inflection for his character that’s nasally and off-putting.  Coppola almost fired his own nephew over the voice, but somehow Cage argued his case and it stayed.  The jury’s still out on whether it actually works or not, however.

The supporting cast is filled out with a variety of fresh faces that have since gone on to fame in their own right.  A young Helen Hunt and Joan Allen make appearances as Peggy Sue’s daughter and high school friend, respectively.

The most interesting bit of casting is a young Jim Carrey, who steals his scenes as class clown Walter Getz.  This is Carrey even before his IN LIVING COLOR days; that unmistakable gawkiness blessed with the elasticity of youth.  It’s really quite wild to see.

PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED is one of Coppola’s most straightforward-looking films.  Shot on 35mm film and lensed by legendary Director of Photography Jordan Cronenweth, Coppola paints his idyllic Americana setting in naturally saturated and bright colors.

Camerawork is non-intrusive, objectively and sedately capturing Coppola and returning Production Designer Dean Tavoularis’ midcentury rockabilly aesthetic.  One might say it’s bland photography, but it effectively sets the tone of the story and allows the performances to take center stage.

For the music, Coppola once again collaborates with Bond composer John Barry, who creates a lushly romantic score with traditional string instruments.  Like 1983’S THE OUTSIDERS before it, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED also boasts a selection of classic rock-and-roll hits from acts like Buddy Holly, who sings the song from which the film takes its name.

Overall, there’s not a lot to the film that classifies it as distinctly Coppola’s.  The only dead giveaway is the inclusion of his daughter Sofia as Peggy Sue’s kid sister.  There’s a distinct lack of experimentation, which gives a rather anonymous quality to the direction, but perhaps that is why the film was so well-received.

The age of Reagan wasn’t a particularly progressive time, so it makes sense that a box office hit could be achieved by playing it safe.  But in doing so, Coppola is able to zero in on what makes a film like this work—emotion—and scores his first bonafide hit in years.


FAERIE TALE THEATRE: “RIP VAN WINKLE” EPISODE (1987)

In the year 1982, actress Shelly Duvall began producing a television series called FAERIE TALE THEATRE.  Originally conceived as a nourishing antidote to commercial-heavy children’s programming, Duvall and company set out to create a series of fairy tale retellings with lavish vision and elaborate production design.

I like to think she started it to reclaim some assurance in the natural goodness of the world after Stanley Kubrick tormented her to the point of insanity on the set of THE SHINING (1980).

In 1987, the show began its sixth and final season with a retelling of the legend of Rip Van Winkle.  Director Francis Ford Coppola, still struggling to climb a mountain of debt, signed on to direct his friend Harry Dean Stanton in the title role.

Despite the depressing nature of this development, Stanton and Coppola really give their all to the charmingly cheesy children’s show.  It has aged terribly in the time since—its handcrafted set designs don’t hold up against the hyper-bright colors of LCD televisions—but what remains is a fascinating look at how far children’s programming has become, if not saying much in the way of Coppola’s directorial development.

We’re all familiar with the tale of Rip Van Winkle, who went to sleep as a young man and woke up twenty years later as an old man.  Told over the course of an hour, Coppola’s RIP VAN WINKLE fleshes out the story significantly, adding in an interesting dramatic through-line by placing the action in the Catskills of New York in the mid-1700s.

We first meet Van Winkle as a lazy oaf of a man that has to endure his screeching wife (Coppola’s sister Talia Shire) and her attempts to get him to do some work around the house.  One day, he wanders out into the mountains and happens across a band of pirates, or ghosts, or something.

They all end up having a merry time, get Van Winkle drunk, and he passes out.  When he wakes, it’s twenty years later and everyone he knows (save for his son) is dead.  To make things even more confusing, his country has seemingly changed hands overnight into the United States of America, and his loyalty to King George puts him at great odds with the patriotic townspeople.

Coming in six seasons deep, I can’t imagine Coppola had much of a say in the visual look of the show.  The series, or at least the episode I watched, seems to use a theatrical proscenium conceit much like Coppola used in ONE FROM THE HEART (1982).

This is supplemented by the lighting, which is heavily colored and stylized to match the intended mood.  Elaborate, hand-crafted backdrops and costumes populate the 4:3 television frame, and a crude version of green-screen visual effects seem to be employed to further add to the whimsical-ness.

Interestingly enough, RIP VAN WINKLE seems to be Coppola’s first brush with video as a finishing format (he had previously shot full versions of 1983’s THE OUTSIDERS and RUMBLE FISH on video using only rehearsal footage).  The magical-sounding music is provided by Carmine Coppola, Francis’ father, in what is yet another family affair for the seasoned director.

RIP VAN WINKLE is similar to 1986’s CAPTAIN EO short, in that Coppola indulges a cheesy, shambled aesthetic that seems considerably beneath someone of Coppola’s cinematic stature.  It’s a forgettable foray into disposable programming, and another relic in the video-tinged graveyard that was 80’s pop culture.

It’s a curious move by Coppola, but people will do some weird shit for cash. At least he continues to keep us on our toes.  And hey, a young Chris Penn is in it too.  I guess that’s something.  FAERIE TALE THEATRE: RIP VAN WINKLE is currently available on Hulu Plus, or you can watch it all on Youtube via the embed above.


GARDENS OF STONE (1987)

The 1980’s could read like a lost decade for director Francis Ford Coppola.  After the career coronation that was 1979’s APOCALYPSE NOW, there seemed to be nowhere else for Coppola to go but down.  Most of his films from this period are either regarded as outright disasters or merely forgettable.

  However, time has allowed these films to become removed from the context of their releases, and objective conclusions are easier reached.  As such, many of his lesser films are in a prime position for re-evaluation and tend to be better than most remember.

The year 1987 saw the release of GARDENS OF STONE, Coppola’s follow-up to the surprise hit PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986).  His first real heavy drama in more than a decade, Coppola channels the reserved vision of THE GODFATHER (1972) and THE CONVERSATION (1974) to tell the somber story of a tight-knit group of soldiers who stayed behind in America during the Vietnam War to bury those who came back in body bags.

  It’s a handsome-looking film, devoid of indulgent flash or a sense of self-importance.  As a result, GARDENS OF STONE—while not terribly well-received upon release—is a rare glimpse at the dynamo filmmaker Coppola had been a decade before, and is perhaps the strongest film to come out of that period in his career.

Returning to the emotional fallout of a war that he had previously explored in APOCALYPSE NOW, Coppola assembles several old friends to help him tell the story.  James Caan, who hadn’t been seen in a Coppola film since 1974’s THE GODFATHER PART II, plays Sergeant Hazard, a lonely military-man who made the army his family after his wife and son left him.

Together with his pal, Sergeant Goody Nelson (James Earl Jones), Hazard leads the members of Fort Meyers’ Old Guard: the stoic soldiers who perform ceremonial duties (like the 21 gun salute) at Arlington Cemetery military funerals.

An ambitious recuit, Jackie Willow (DB Sweeney), soon endears himself as a son-figure to these two old men, and they take an active interest in his development.  They support his desire to go the front lines of Vietnam (despite there not being a front line to speak of), even though they’re well aware of the horrors that await him there.

As the war rages on, the characters will find that holding down the fort at home won’t save them from the emotional turmoil of Vietnam.  GARDENS OF STONE is a return to form for Coppola, especially in his ability to command arresting performances.

There’s not an ounce of the hotheaded, cocksure Sonny Corleone in Caan’s portrayal of a middle-aged man who finds that marriage to the military isn’t exactly fulfilling.  Anjelica Huston, fresh off her collaboration with Coppola in 1986’s CAPTAIN EO, plays Samantha Davis—a middle-aged journalist who manages to dismantle Caan’s armor.

James Earl Jones is a particular delight, in a rare energetic turn that utilizes that lusciously smooth voice of his to charming effect.  I’m so used to seeing him as a grizzled old-man figure, it was arresting to watch him engage in young-man shenanigans like getting plastered and wailing on punks.  Lonette McKee, who previously acted for Coppola in THE COTTON CLUB, plays Jones’ feisty southern belle of a wife.

I wasn’t too familiar with Sweeney’s work before watching GARDENS OF STONE, but he is effective as the wide-eyed young man who naively yearns for glory on exotic battlefields.  It should be noted that this role was originally supposed to be filled by Griffin O’Neal.

However, a boating accident during filming that occurred due to his drug use not only resulted in jail time for him, but more unfortunately, resulted in the death of Coppola’s son and sometime-producing partner, Gian-Carlo.

A few familiar faces from APOCALYPSE NOW return for a PBR-boat reunion of sorts.  Sam Bottoms plays Lt. Weber, albeit he’s not given a terrible lot to do.  Laurence Fishburne, who by this point had become a regular in Coppola’s work, plays Sergeant Flanagan, a gruff drill sergeant at Fort Meyers.

And then there’s Elias Koteas, that absolute favorite character actor of mine, as a young military clerk in a small, early role.  If you were to make a list of all the great directors Koteas has worked with, you would be convinced that he might be the greatest actor to have ever lived.  He’s literally worked with everyone–maybe even more so than Kevin Bacon.

GARDENS OF STONE is a handsomely somber-looking film.  Shot on 35mm in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film retains the services of legendary cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, who shot Coppola’s previous feature.  Subtle, reserved camerawork complements a naturalistic lighting and color scheme, which draws from a palette of forest greens and khaki tones.

The late 60’s setting is recreated in great detail by Coppola’s production designer Dean Tavoularis, without having to resort to an aesthetic that’s not blatantly period.  The subtle, reserved camerawork is appropriate for the film’s serious tone, recalling the visual restraint that made THE GODFATHER so emotionally potent.

Coppola’s father Carmine returns to score the film, utilizing a mix of military-style trumpets and horns (in addition to traditional string arrangements) to create an elegiac mood.  Authentic military hymns are scattered throughout to give a greater insight into the ritualistic world of the story, and the use of modern rock music from The Doors during a bar brawl sequence further conveys the time period while also subtly calling back to APOCALYPSE NOW.

With its militaristic setting and detailed recruit drill sequences, GARDENS OF STONE brings to mind Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET, which actually came out that same year.  The two films couldn’t be any more different, however.

Whereas FULL METAL JACKET irreverently explores the inherent insanity and inhumanity of war, GARDENS OF STONE examines the emotional fallout that stems from that loss of humanity when (or if) the warriors return home from the battlefield.

There is a heavy sense of loss that pervades the film, visualized by endless rows of white slabs—each one signifying a lost soul taken in the name of their country.  This feeling really hits home due to Coppola’s personal connection to the subject matter.

I mentioned before that his eldest son, Gian-Carlo, was killed during production.  For a film that dwells so much on the experience of death as lived by those left behind, Coppola was able to tap into his own grief and channel it into a cathartic experience.

Family members have always been key collaborators in Coppola’s films, and the institution has always played a large role in the kinds of stories he tells, so it makes sense that the familial themes of GARDENS OF STONE are so prominent and poignant given the circumstances.

We may never know the pain of losing a loved one to armed conflict, but GARDENS OF STONE makes one universal truth quite clear—we will all experience loss at some point.  Unsurprisingly, somber stories about death and sorrow don’t exactly translate to big box office.

GARDENS OF STONE was misunderstood upon its release, bombing both financially and critically, and further adding to Coppola’s spotty track record in the 1980’s.  Today, it remains an under-seen and underappreciated work in his filmography, but it holds up to the ravages of time quite well.

As an elegy for those lost in Vietnam, it’s a sobering experience.  As an artist’s paean to his lost son, it’s devastating.  But ultimately, GARDENS OF STONE is a compelling portrait of a side of war that is seldom seen—the experience of those left behind on the homefront.  GARDENS OF STONE is currently available on standard definition DVD via Mill Creek and Columbia TriStar.


TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM (1988)

Despite the minor failure of 1987’s GARDENS OF STONE at the box office, director Francis Ford Coppola seemed to be experiencing a second wind.  Spurred on by the loss of his eldest son–a producing partner and car enthusiast– Coppola turned his attentions to a long-gestating passion project about a plucky entrepreneur’s quest to revolutionize the auto industry.

  Titled TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM (1988), the film was first conceived by Coppola in childhood, and continued to occupy his interest as his career developed.  When it was finally released, the film was met with substantial critical praise that resulted in three Oscar nominations—most notably for Martin Landau in the Supporting Actor category.  Despite poor box office performance, Coppola suddenly found himself relevant again.

Set in Michigan during the year 1945, TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM tells the story of Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), a successful businessman and local celebrity who desires to change the car business with an automobile of his own groundbreaking design.  Painted as a virtuous, insightful and gracious family man, Tucker finds his character and his patience tested when disapproving Big Auto tries to shut his entire operation down.

It’s rare nowadays to have a protagonist that is so earnest and optimistic, with nary a character flaw.  It’s a credit to Bridges’ inherent likeability and talent that Tucker comes off as compelling as he does.  Bridges’ Tucker is a natural showman—a visionary with big ideas and an even bigger heart.

  He draws inspiration from such forebears as Thomas Edison, and his obsession with detail plays like a midcentury Steve Jobs.  It’s an energetic, boyishly charming performance that helps sustain the film’s chipper tone without being off-putting to the cynical members of the audience.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Bridges playing the part, but interestingly enough, Coppola had initially envisioned the film decades prior with Marlon Brando as the lead.  Joan Allen, who previously worked with Coppola in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986), has a much larger role to play here as Tucker’s eternally-supportive wife, Vera.

Allen carries herself with an elegant, feminine grace—a grace that gives strength to Tucker in his darkest moments.  Her sharp, porcelain features are easy on the eyes, but admittedly confounding to logic—she doesn’t appear many years older than the actors playing her grown children!

As I mentioned before, venerated character actor Martin Landau was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Abe, Tucker’s grumpy business partner and advisor.  Landau plays the character as an old New York Italian type—one that wouldn’t be out of place in THE GODFATHER series.

His grumpiness soon proves endearing, and he effortlessly becomes one of the film’s shining strengths.  It’s a nomination well-deserved.  Among the faces returning to the Coppola fold are those belonging to Frederick Forrest, Elias Koteas, and Dean Stockwell.

Forrest, who was the lead in 1982’s ONE FROM THE HEART, plays Eddie, another member of Tucker’s team.  His relation to the family isn’t very defined, but it appears that he’s the chief mechanic and a good-natured cynic.  Koteas plays Alex, an ambitious designer who quits the Air Force and shows up on Tucker’s doorstep to ask for a job.

His talented drawings soon earn him a spot as Tucker’s key designer.  Stockwell, who appeared as various bit characters in Coppola films past, assumes the towering personality of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes in a short cameo.

Hughes seems to be an intriguing character in the minds of Coppola’s filmmaking contemporaries.  His close friend, Martin Scorsese, would of course go on to make THE AVIATOR (2004) with Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes during his Spruce Goose era (which also features in this film).

And finally, a baby-faced Christian Slater appears as Tucker’s ambitious son, Junior.  In his big screen debut, Slater shows a lot of promise, and it’s easy to see why he continued working after the fact.  Like Coppola himself, Slater’s talent seemed to fizzle out in middle age as well, and unfortunately Slater has since become more of a direct-to-video punch line than a prestigious actor of note.

Coppola re-enlists frequent Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro to capture the vibrant patina of Tucker’s experience.  The 35mm film is shot in the 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, lending an epic feel to a story about an equally epic life.

Scope is created through the use of sweeping crane shots, and Storaro uses strong yellow key light in several scenes to establish a golden, nostalgic tone.  Many sequences also adopt the conceits of early newsreel films, complete with kitschy black and white documentary footage and an overly earnest voiceover narration.

Production Designer Dean Tavoularis also returns, continuing the midcentury Americana aesthetic that Coppola sustained in his films throughout the 1980’s.  Overall, Coppola and company are able to make such a plucky character like Tucker succeed due to their embrace of an overtly kitschy, tongue-in-cheek tone.

For the music of TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM, Coppola eschewed his regular collaboration with his father, Carmine, in favor of working with Joe Jackson.  Jackson creates a plucky, big-band sound that fits in with Tucker’s grandiose personality and viewpoint.

The many period details are reinforced with the incorporation of a variety of ragtime and swing source cues that meld well with Jackson’s original score.  The late 1980’s and 1990’s saw Coppola tone down his experimental explorations, but TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM does feature an interesting new take on that timehonored cinematic shorthand: the split-screen telephone conversation scene.

Instead of simply using an optically-printed line down the middle to separate two simultaneously-occurring moments in space, Coppola uses negative space in the frame as a canvas on which to superimpose the other side of the conversation.

This works substantially better than it sounds in print, trust me.  It’s an intriguing way to subvert one of cinema’s most basic examples of visual shorthand, which can undoubtedly be traced to Coppola’s lifelong attempts to redefine cinematic language.

It’s worth noting that Coppola’s good friend George Lucas is credited as an executive producer.  This simple credit belies a bigger story, where after Coppola’s previous attempts to get the film made had ended in failure, Lucas rescued the project by setting it up at his own production company (Lucasfilm) and financing it himself.

It ultimately became a losing hand for Lucas, as the film fared poorly at the box office.  At least the critics appreciated it; I don’t think Lucas ever lost any sleep over misplacing a couple million dollars.

For our purposes, TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM is an intriguing insight into Coppola’s psyche, almost like a heavily-disguised biopic of the man himself.  Both men are blessed with large families that they entrust their life’s work with on a regular basis—Tucker creates and executes his designs with his family in his own home, and Coppola frequently utilizes father Carmine, daughter Sofia, sister Talia Shire, nephew Nicholas Cage and others in his films.

In addition, both men see themselves as the little guy that must do battle with overbearing corporate interests out to squash their vision.  And both men ultimately prevail by sticking to their guns and coming out the other end with an inspiring product to show for their efforts.  Coppola must have felt a great sense of relief when the film was well-received by critics—in a strange way, the warm reception validated his entire life story.

As a particularly brutal decade for Coppola’s reputation came to a close, the director was approaching middle age, and was beginning to think about his legacy.  To date, the majority of his studio filmmaking experiences had been difficult, if not absolutely dismal.

Coppola finished TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM thinking it was going to be his last Hollywood film.  He had diversified, branching out of film by launching his own lifestyle brand that included wine amidst other things.  He imagined himself continuing to make movies, but of the experimental independent kind.

Ironically, his studio days were far from over.  In the 1970’s, he was considered untouchable, but how would time judge him now, in light of the string of misfires that generated a massive debt that he had still yet to pay off entirely?   All of these concerns coalesced to form a desire to do something Coppola thought he’d never seriously do: tackle a third GODFATHER film.


NEW YORK STORIES SEGMENT: “LIFE WITHOUT ZOE” (1989)

Director Francis Ford Coppola closed out a particularly brutal decade for his career on a down note, unfortunately.   Having firmly established himself as one of the leading filmmakers in his generation (dubbed the Film Brats due to their being the first wave to come up through the institution of film school), Coppola collaborated with two of his biggest compatriots—Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen—on an anthology filmed named NEW YORK STORIES.

Each director crafted a forty-minute film that expresses their love for the city that never sleeps, but Coppola’s entry– LIFE WITHOUT ZOE– was the least-liked of the bunch.  Granted, it’s easy to be the lesser filmmaker when one is up against the likes of Scorsese and Allen, but LIFE WITHOUT ZOE can’t help but feel phoned in at best, and simply awful at worst.

In what could easily be a story devised by Wes Anderson, LIFE WITHOUT ZOE concerns a precocious young socialite named Zoe (Heather McComb) who lives in a hotel with her mother in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  She’s got the intellect and wit of a woman twice her age, and commands the unwavering loyalty of her Chanel-clad minions at school.

When a new boy joins their class—an exotic young prince from an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation—the girls get involved with his familial affairs and regard him as a major curiosity.  Meanwhile, Zoe attempts to reconcile her estranged father– a world-famous flutist (Giancarlo Giannini)– and her weary mother (Coppola’s sister Talia Shire).

If that plot sounds a little vague, that’s because the story itself isn’t particularly well-developed.  Coppola shoots from a script he co-wrote with his daughter Sofia (the traits that would later mark her own directorial debut are very noticeable even at an early age here), but the result is indulgent and out of touch.

  I’ve previously written about how I admired the fact that Coppola incorporated his family so much into his art, but LIFE WITHOUT ZOE and its successor, 1990’s THE GODFATHER PART III, stand as an example of when the practice crossed the line into nepotism and unnecessary indulgence.

The cast is comprised mostly of unknown child actors, but there a few recognizable faces.  The excellent European character actor Giancarlo Giannini (most would recognize him as Mathis in Martin Campbell’s CASINO ROYALE (2006)) is easily the best part of the film.

Shire, who has appeared in all three GODFATHER films, also turns in a great performance as Charlotte, Zoe’s beleaguered mother.  Comedic character actor Chris Elliott makes a small appearance as a robber, and apparently Adrien Brody is in there somewhere, but I never saw him.

Produced by Coppola’s regular partners Fred Roos and Fred Fuchs, LIFE WITHOUT ZOE also retains the services of Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro and production designer Dean Tavoularis.  Storaro shoots the 35mm film with an eye for bold colors, striking contrast, and canted camera angles.

Tavoularis’ production design is as reliable as always, but the influence  (some might call it meddling) of Sofia is easily seen via the film’s costumes, which typically are obscenely rich haute couture staples like Chanel and Louis Vuitton awkwardly worn by rich little brats stinking of stale Old Money.

Carmine Coppola scores the film, crafting a very 1990’s-style pop character that evokes Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound”, while also using the flute for whimsical renditions of famous childhood lullabies.  It’s weird, but it fits.

If it weren’t for a few instances of double exposures and crossfade cuts, the film wouldn’t necessarily stand out as a Coppola film.  This is the kind of Coppola that is capable of making JACK (1996), not the Coppola who floored us with THE GODFATHER (1972).

It might very well be the worst thing he’s made yet, but it’s not without its redeeming moments.  The family element of the film is poignant and powerful, especially in the relationship between Zoe and her father.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the fundamental disconnect lies.  For me, it’s the completely alienating tone and setting.  I realize that the upper crust of the Upper East Side is an exclusive world of decadence all its own within a city full of different, contained lifestyles, but I can’t help but only see repulsive, spoiled brats—and not quirky, precocious trendsetters as their makers intended them to be.

There also isn’t a great deal of inspiration driving Coppola here, and it’s always disappointing to see a great filmmaker not giving his best.  Fortunately, his next feature—a return to the venerable GODFATHER franchise—would see Coppola striving to work at top form once again.


THE GODFATHER: PART III (1990)

Facing a seemingly-insurmountable mountain of debt stemming from the box office failure of 1982’s ONE FROM THE HEART, director Francis Ford Coppola struggled throughout the 1980’s to make films that would dig him out, only to see them fail and Debt Mountain rise even higher.

By 1990, Coppola had to do something drastic, something he thought he’d never do—he had to make a third GODFATHER film.  Paramount had always extended a long-standing offer to him to make another sequel, but when he finally took them up on it, they kicked him while he was down.  They gave him only a million dollars to write, produce, direct, and edit the film, as well as a measly deadline of six weeks in which to write the script.

With the deck stacked against him, Coppola summoned everything he had to make a film that would stand up to the saga’s two cinema-defining predecessors.  In the end, the long-awaited final product—THE GODFATHER PART III—did modestly well at the box office, but disappointed its audience and has since become known as an “awful film”, the black sheep of a sterling silver lineage.

What most people forget, however, is that the film was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and despite a few fatal flaws, THE GODFATHER PART III holds up surprisingly well as an inspired, yet unexpected conclusion to an epic saga.

The story picks up in New York City, circa 1979.  The Corleone family consiegliere, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) is dead, and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is an old man intent on salvaging his legacy and bringing legitimacy to the Corleone name.

He taps his considerable wealth to buy a controlling share in Immobiliare, an ancient Italian real estate conglomerate with ties to the Vatican.  In doing so, he has to contend with the cardinals of the Catholic Church, who are well aware of his sins and fight to prevent his takeover.

At the same time, the bastard son of Sonny Corleone, Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) is rising fast in the mafia ranks, making known his intention to succeed Michael as Don of the Corleone family.  He begins an affair with his cousin (and Michael’s daughter) Mary (Sofia Coppola), while also battling with the Corleone’s family rival, Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna).

As these two story threads converge, Michael realizes that he can never be saved from his sins, but he can do everything in his power to save his family.  THE GODFATHER SAGA is known for its iconic performances, and while PART III more or less holds up to that standard, it falters along the way.

Pacino is as great as ever, imbuing his older version of Michael Corleone with the hunched back that comes with heavy burdens and aging complications.  We last saw him as a distinguished, suave young man, but PART III finds Michael as a soft-spoken diabetic, ashamed of his past and wracked by guilt.

It’s a haunting performance, especially in the film’s final moments.  Oddly enough, it was the only one of Pacino’s three performances as Michael not to receive an Oscar nomination, but it’s just as worthy.

Diane Keaton returns as Michael’s estranged wife Kay, who is also been made weary by time, but finds herself softening to Michael in her advanced years.  She no longer sees a murdering monster, but a good man who lost his soul doing what he thought was the right thing for his family.

Kay has always been the audience’s point of sympathetic access to this world, and her arc is necessary to hammer home the key theme of forgiveness and redemption.  As Corleone family upstart Vincent Mancini, Andy Garcia is the highlight of the film, channeling his late father’s hotheadedness and charisma to secure his place at Michael’s table, only to learn he was born a few years too late and organized crime isn’t really the Corleone’s thing anymore.

Garcia is sly and charming, a natural successor to Corleone’s criminal empire—he would have made a perfect Michael Corleone himself if THE GODFATHER (1972) had been made twenty years later.  The supporting cast is filled with actors of the highest caliber.

Talia Shire returns as Connie Corleone, fully in command of her status as the matriarch.  Her years in service to Michael have made her a calculating woman, not unlike a Lady Macbeth.  Whereas in PART II she railed against Michael’s tyranny, in PART III she is a full partner and Michael’s closest confidante.

An elderly Eli Wallach plays Don Altobello, a good-natured old man who becomes an unexpected nemesis to the Corleones in the wake of Zasa’s rivalry.  As Joey Zasa, Joe Mantegna steals his scenes with a smug, vainglourious attitude and a slippery, treacherous demeanor.

Zasa is the closest the film gets to a traditional GODFATHER antagonist, and Mantegna has never been better than he is here.  John Savage, who had once appeared in a film that took enormous inspiration from THE GODFATHER (Michael Cimino’s THE DEER HUNTER (1978), comes off believably as Tom Hagen’s son Andrew, a friendly priest on assignment to the Corleone’s native Sicily.

He doesn’t get a lot to do, but fans of the actor will find his inclusion memorable nonetheless.  And then there’s the elephant in the room.  I’m talking about Sofia Coppola, handpicked by her father to sub in for Winona Ryder after she dropped out of the key role of Michael’s daughter Mary.

Now, I respect the hell out of Sofia and truly love her directorial work, but it’s no secret that her acting is outright atrocious.  It might have even been the decisive factor which kept the film from attaining the same kind of Oscar glory that its counterparts enjoyed.

Her flat delivery and blank stare is devoid of life and robs the film’s resolution of substantial dramatic impact.  Coppola is to be admired in how he collaborates with his family to create great art, but charges of nepotism are ce