fbpx

Film Production Books You Need to Read – Top 11 List 2022

1) Rise of the Filmtrepreneur: How to Turn Your Independent Film into a Profitable Business

It’s harder today than ever before for independent filmmakers to make money with their films. From predatory film distributors ripping them off to huckster film aggregators who prey upon them, the odds are stacked against the indie filmmaker. The old distribution model for making money with indie film is broken and there needs to be a change. The future of independent filmmaking is the entrepreneurial filmmaker or the Filmtrepreneur.

In Rise of the Filmtrepreneur author and filmmaker Alex Ferrari breaks down how to actually make money with independent film projects and shows filmmakers how to turn their indie films into profitable businesses. This is not all theory, Alex uses multiple real-world case studies to illustrate each part of his method. This book shows you the step by step way to turn your filmmaking passion into a profitable career. If you are making a feature film, series or any kind of video content, The Filmtrepreneur Method will set you up for success. (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE)

2) Indie Film Production: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking

Indie Film Production explains the simple, basic, clear cut role of the independent film producer. Raising funds to do your dream project, producing award-winning films with a low budget, putting name actors on your indie film-it’s all doable, and this book guides you through the entire process of being a successful producer with bonus tips on how to effortlessly maneuver through the sphere of social media marketing and fundraising tactics. One of the best film production books I’ve read. Also check out: Suzanne Lyon’s Film Producing – Podcast Interview

3) The Reel Truth: Everything You Didn’t Know You Need to Know About Making an Independent Film

The Reel Truth details the pitfalls, snares, and roadblocks that aspiring filmmakers encounter. Reed Martin interviewed more than one hundred luminaries from the independent film world to discuss the near misses that almost derailed their first and second films and identify the close shaves that could have cut their careers short. Other books may tell you the best way to make your independent film or online short, but no other book describes so candidly how to spot and avoid such issues and obstacles as equipment problems, shooting-day snafus, and dozens of other commonly made missteps, including the top fifty mistakes every filmmaker makes. (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE)

4) So You Want to Be a Producer

Few jobs in Hollywood are as shrouded in mystery as the role of the producer. What goes into film producing, how does one get started, and what on earth does one actually do? In So You Want to Be a Producer Lawrence Turman, the producer of more than forty films, including The GraduateThe River WildShort Circuit, and American History X, and Endowed Chair of the famed Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California, answers these questions and many more. (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE)

5) Produce Your Own Damn Movie by Lloyd Kaufman

When it comes to producing, no one speaks with more authority than Lloyd Kaufman, founder of the longest-running independent film studio, Troma Entertainment. He reveals the best ways to seek out investors, scout locations, hire the film crew and cast talent, navigate legalities, and stay within your budget. One of the most entertaining film production books out there.

Also check out: Lloyd Kaufman’s Interview Podcast

6) Independent Film Producing: How to Produce a Low-Budget Feature Film

The number of independent films produced each year has almost doubled in the past decade, yet only a fraction will succeed. If, like many filmmakers, you have no industry connections, little to no experience, and a low or ultra-low budget, this outsider’s guide will teach you what you need to know to produce a standout, high-quality film and get it into the right hands. Written by an entertainment lawyer and experienced director and producer, this handbook covers all the most essential business, legal, and practical aspects of indie film production. One of the best film production books on the market. (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE)

 

7) The Producer’s Business Handbook: The Roadmap for the Balanced Film Producer

With The Producer’s Business Handbook as a film production guide, you’ll learn to create the relationships that the most successful producers have with the various participants in the motion picture industry-this guide provides a global view of how producers direct their relationships with domestic and foreign studios, agencies, attorneys, talent, completion guarantors, banks, and private investors. You’ll also become familiar with the team roles needed to operate these companies and learn how to attach and direct them. For those outside the US, also included is information on how to produce successful films without government funding. (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE)

8) Producing for Profit: A Practical Guide to Making Independent and Studio Films

In Producing for Profit: A Practical Guide to Making Independent and Studio Films, Andrew Stevens provides real-world examples and his own proven techniques for success that can turn passion into profit. Far more than just theory, the book outlines practical applications that filmmakers of all levels can use to succeed in today’s ever-changing marketplace. Readers will learn how to develop screenplays that are commercial, and how to negotiate, finance, cast, produce, sell, distribute, and market a film that will make a profit. (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE)

9) The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking by Michael Polish

Less than a decade since they began working in the movies, Mark and Michael Polish have established themselves as critically acclaimed, award-winning independent filmmakers. Their innovative approach to art direction, use of digital photography, and ability to attract stellar talent to their modestly budgeted films sprang from necessity; now these aesthetics have become admired trademarks of their work.  Also check out: Michael Polish’s Podcast Interview

10) The Complete Film Production Handbook

This book is for working film/TV professionals and students alike. If you’re a line producer, production manager, production supervisor, assistant director or production coordinator–the book has everything you’ll need (including all the forms, contracts, releases and checklists) to set up and run a production–from finding a production office to turning over delivery elements. Even if you know what you’re doing, you will be thrilled to find everything you need in one place. If you’re not already working in film production, but think you’d like to be, read the book — and then decide. One of the best film production books out there.

11) Producer to Producer: A Step-By-Step Guide to Low Budgets Independent Film Production

Maureen Ryan’s Producer to Producer is a clear, concise, and complete guide to independent film production, full of excellent practical advice for both newcomers and experienced producers. I have produced ten independent features, and have often been asked to recommend a book to teach people about what I do. This book will now be my immediate first choice. So many how-to guides to producing get far more details wrong than right– Producer to Producer is as accurate a guide to the current independent producing process as I have seen to date. (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE)

IFH 639: I Almost Died Making My Indie Film with Josh David Jordan

Josh David Jordan is a Texas filmmaker, director, actor and artist. Starting off as an actor, He appeared in several feature films, as well as the sitcom, SCRUBS. He began to slowly transition myself behind the lens. Josh worked on MTV featured music videos for the Polyphonic Spree, Rhett Miller of the Old 97’s and many more.

After premiering his short film, SAM AND GUS, and winning several film festival awards, along with audience awards, Josh decided to write and direct his first full length feature film, THIS WORLD WON’T BREAK, which won 14 film festival awards, received distribution, theatrical release, dvd and on every platform. Josh recently directed Joshua Ray Walkers hit single and directed the live spot on The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. Currently in preproduction for the feature film El Tonto Por Cristo.

Enjoy my conversation with Josh David Jordan.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Oh, I think when you say you did, Barney, what did you do on Barney?

Josh David Jordan 0:04
I was the character. I could do the voice and I could be inside.

Alex Ferrari 0:08
Oh, yeah, the voice and what you actually were inside the Barney outfit

Josh David Jordan 0:11
I wore the costume. And they filmed that at Katie studio this episode. So I was right next door. And I thought, This is my big break, man.

Alex Ferrari 0:21
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Josh David Jordan, how're you doing Josh?

Josh David Jordan 0:35
Man, I'm doing fantastic. I'm been so excited to be on the show. I was like whenever I wake up, and I'm going to go on a bike ride and I check my to see what apps to see what podcast have, you know, the newest I see yours. I get super pumped. Because it's the perfect bike rides an hour around my lake. And I listened to it every single time. It's like, it's the most inspiring thing to be riding your bike and listening to this this podcast.

Alex Ferrari 1:00
Oh, I appreciate that very much man. And, and I do put out a couple of them a week. I know why I love it. Love it. It's it's been my insanity for seven years, just continuously putting out just a lot of them. But I appreciate and I'm glad it's always nice to hear that because like I said many times before on the show, I just talking to a mic in a room and you just really don't know the impact that makes on people out there. So I appreciate you reaching out and, and telling me about your story about your movie, which is you know, it's it's an interesting, it's an interesting journey, man. I'll be honest with you. So I get pitched daily to for filmmakers to come on the show. And it's it's it's always got to be something special for me because at this point we're on like episode 630 or something like that. I've heard a lot. And a lot of things have been on the show. So if they call me up and they go, Hey, man, I made a movie five grand. I'm like, I made two movies for five grand doesn't matter. Like, that's no, I need it's not 9091 anymore. Your story was was really interesting to me is the budget that you did some of the interesting things that happened behind the scenes, which we'll talk about. And, and the quality. And it looks so gorgeous. Ben, so congrats on the look of that film. And because it it just I I don't see it often. I see I see any films that your budget range. And I'd be honest, it looked like crap. They might be good stories. It might be fun, but they don't look good. Yours looks six figures plus easy. So that was one of the things that caught my eye. So that was that was the combination of a bunch of stuff that got on the show.

Josh David Jordan 2:41
Yeah, that's that's the film. That's the film this role won't break. You just described it in a nutshell. And it was really hard. Alex when I would go to as I'm pitching for our, our next film, and people were like, No, we loved your movie. It was gorgeous. And I was like, Yeah, that was what do you need for this one, another two, three mil. And I'm like million. And I'm like, Oh, we did this for 36k. And they kind of shut down and they're like, oh, and they're not really interested. I'm like, it's so bizarre in this world that we live in of like indie film, if you can do it. And like imagine what I could do for $500,000. But it seems like it doesn't work that way. For some reason. As an as for me for right now. It hasn't worked out that way.

Alex Ferrari 3:21
So when you talk to investors, that's tell them yes, 2 million, please. Yeah,

Josh David Jordan 3:28
That's exactly how much it cost.

Alex Ferrari 3:30
I need to know exactly what I have budgeted 2 million cash. When can we start? Don't ever tell them the budget if you can help it.

Josh David Jordan 3:38
I've learned my lesson. Believe me, I've learned a lot of lessons. A lot of lessons.

Alex Ferrari 3:41
I would have, I would have I would have if I was coaching you I would have told you listen to everybody at cost. quarter million half mil.

Josh David Jordan 3:49
But in the revisor your book because that's gold, right? Already already. We're not even in five minutes, and you're already given gold.

Alex Ferrari 3:57
But it's but it's so true. Because you again, when investors are looking at you like oh, he only made it for 30. They don't look at it, like look at the value. They look at us like oh, they're not real. They're not a serious situation. And that's just short sightedness. Yeah, I mean, look at Robert Rodriguez. He, you know, imagine if they would have been short sighted with him.

Josh David Jordan 4:15
That's the thing. It's a different we live in a different world now.

Alex Ferrari 4:18
Oh, and then some don't get me started. Don't get me started on that. It's just he assumed that the 90s was a great time and it's ruined us all.

Josh David Jordan 4:26
Ruined. It has had I'm a kid of the 90s for sure.

Alex Ferrari 4:30
So how did it so first, the first question, Brother, how did you get started in the business?

Josh David Jordan 4:34
Yeah, so my, you know, going way back my dad was a traveling evangelist. He still isn't he still was a preacher. And me and my brother were on the road with him. three piece suits, we would open up his white tent revivals. And so I mean, I grew up in the South and the Midwest. And so like LA and New York were so so foreign, right. I mean, that was this is pre internet. This is pre everything and just blockbusters and, you know, I wasn't even watching foreign films because how cuz you know, especially traveling, we were homeschooled on the road. But my dad was a cinephile. And so he made sure that when we were going to these little small towns, we would go see movies, and the motels that we stayed in, we'd stay up late and watch TV. And that got me going. And then his favorite film is, It's a Wonderful Life. And I remember like, the way it made him feel, I was like, I want to do that. I want to, I want to, I want to make that. But you know, being a 16 year old kid, and in the south, you know, it's impossible pre internet pre like, digital cameras, just. So I go to the library, and I would get books on like, Alfred Hitchcock, or whoever it was, and just, it just seemed like a fable to me. And then I knew that acting. They were doing school plays, that's as close as I could get. Maybe I could be an actor and then go off to Hollywood. started acting, I still do acting, and I was in University of Missouri. And I was doing theater and I was miserable. Because I wasn't making films. I just didn't know what that I wanted to create and tell the story. Not really just be a day player, you know, a day or two, and then you go home and you're not really your hands aren't in it. And I went to Dallas, Texas, and started going to Katy acting studio, which was for film and television. And they walked in one day as well. My first days there, they were like, Hey, how tall are you? I said, I'm six, two, they will come with us. So at the time, Barney was a pretty big deal, the dinosaur and he was going through contract negotiations and they were trying to frazzle him. So I got to do one episode of Barney. And I thought this is then I'm in the TV world. Well, he renegotiated his contract and he went off and did his own thing.

Alex Ferrari 6:47
Oh, that's when you say you did, Barney. What did you do on Barney?

Josh David Jordan 6:51
I was the character. I could do the voice and I could be inside.

Alex Ferrari 6:55
Oh, yeah. The voice and what you actually were inside the Barney outfit

Josh David Jordan 6:59
I wore the costume. It was filmed. And they filmed that at Katy studio this episode. So I was right next door. And I thought this is my big break, man. You're not meant to be Barney. I mean, I'll take anything at this point.

Alex Ferrari 7:13
Money's money catches Jeremy. I mean,

Josh David Jordan 7:17
Everyone loves Barton.

Alex Ferrari 7:19
No, they actually just released a documentary that I hate Barney or hate me or something like that. And, by the way, that my daughter saw that walk by they're like, why do people hate Barney? I go. Don't Don't sing the song. Don't Yeah, don't don't don't. Please don't do it now, because I'm not gonna do it to our listeners. Because once it gets in the ear, it's an ear worm. And it's done.

Josh David Jordan 7:41
Yeah. So that didn't work out. But I kept pursuing it. And I was going on commercials. I was in a commercial for Wingstop with a chimpanzee and Troy Aikman. I thought maybe I can do this. And I only did like two or three of those. And then I got the call that I got a part on scrubs the TV show. So I fly to LA. And I'm in the episode, my choosiest choice of all bunch of lines. And I was like, Well, this is it. You know, because that day, I was coming in Michael J. Fox was leaving. So I got to meet Michael J. Fox. And it was you know, I was in Hollywood. I mean, I was in Hollywood on that day. Those on those two days. And then, you know, the pumpkin happens. And I fly back to Dallas, Texas. And then here I am bartending when my episode airs in a bar bartending watching my episode. And I was like, I don't think this is working out. I don't think this is I don't know what's happened. It's not really working out. There's a disconnect here. Yeah. And so yeah, so I'm a part of the okra house theatre here in Dallas, which has Matthew Posey as the artistic director, and he's been Magnificent Seven, No Country for Old Men, true lives. Piers bras Brosnan suns, and I've been there for 10 years. And little more satisfying. There's no auditions, Matt calls you on the phone and says, Do you want to be in this next play? I'm writing it for you. And I took that to heart. And I was like, Wait a minute. I'm surrounded by actors. I'm surrounded by people who have cameras. What if I write for everyone, and we just make this film? So that's how that part started.

Alex Ferrari 9:23
Wow, man. So I have to I always like asking this question. Because there's so many people listening who are in your boat, because not everyone's in LA, or New York or Atlanta or any of these big hubs where a lot of production is going on? I wasn't when I started. I was in Miami, you know, and I remember I would have killed for a podcast like this when killed to have this kind of information back in the 90s. Are you kidding? I mean, the closest thing I got was entourage. And Project Greenlight.

Josh David Jordan 9:48
This is true. All that is so true. I think we're the same age. Yeah, we're the same. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 9:54
Same vintage as they say. The same vintage as they say. So it's pretty remarkable but question I have is as especially as an actor, I'm assuming there was a couple of nodes along the way. How did you? Or did you not get any nose?

Josh David Jordan 10:09
Oh, no, my gosh, it was all nose. I drove to Austin, I bartended one night, and my agent was like, she was sending me on stuff. And God bless her soul, she was doing the best she could. And I drove, I left at four in the morning from the bar, drove to Austin, Texas, I had an 8am call time I walked in. And I was the only non Asian male in the room. And there was like, 50 in there, it was for Dell commercial. And she didn't read the notes. And it was basically they were looking for an Asian male for this. And suddenly, I didn't just take knows. So I went and I said, Hey, can I still read? Because I was thinking to myself, either I'm not getting this at all, or I'm 100% getting this wrong. It's always, yeah, I've always looked at it like that. I've always looked at it. Like, there's something on the other side. And the thing is, I mean, you can't learn that stuff. In a book, you can't learn how to have thick skin like that. Or to just be like, look at yourself in the mirror, be like, I am crazy for doing this. But so it's everyone else who has made it before me. They just kept up with the crazy. And so I just kept that I thought I was gonna make it in my 20s when I had a full head of hair and no gray in my beard. But you know, instead, I made my first feature when I was 42 years old. And you know what? I'll take it, you know, cuz I'm making my next one when I'm 45. So that's a pretty good the windows are getting closer, I think.

Alex Ferrari 11:32
Hey listen, brother, I made my first feature. 41. So I, you know, and I could have done it. And there's a whole conversation about how why I didn't do it before. But But yeah, I mean, it's okay. It is what it is. The question I was gonna ask is, how do you keep going, like, when you keep getting the nose? And I think you answered it to a certain extent, like, Yeah, you had a positive attitude about the whole thing, just like, there's something on the other end, I got keep, just keep going.

Josh David Jordan 11:55
Yeah, for me, it's like cinema and film. And just the FYI, you know, in the meantime, I make a lot of music videos. And I just I have to create, I mean, I don't know what that is, I wish there was times I would tell my wife, I wish there was a switch, I could turn it off, I could turn off. I don't want to create switch. But you know what I can't, you know, and you just got to deal with it, you know, and luckily, you know, for me is like having your podcast and your book and people who are putting things out, it's you now you can hear it from others is you're not necessarily failing, you just haven't hit the right stride or hasn't, you know, a lot of it is hard work. And a lot of its luck, a lot of its timing. And if you're gonna make it, you just you're gonna have to measure all those things. And hopefully it all hits at some point, you know,

Alex Ferrari 12:44
Right. And it's just this constant, just relentlessness of you have to keep going. Trust me, dude. Like I tried to quit so many times. So many times I tried to quit and I couldn't I just I'd always come back to it in one way shape, or form. And it is it is the beautiful illness as I call it. It is it's an illness that you just can't get rid of it just can't get rid of it.

Josh David Jordan 13:08
I mean, I don't have a film of the Dallas International Film Festival, but I'm there because I have to be around it. I have to sit there and watch all the shorts and I have to talk to these filmmakers and I love Q and A's I love film festivals. So that's one of the reasons I love making films is like man once the our last film all around the world. And I was like oh great. Another addiction with film. Great. Now I love film festivals. You know I love

Alex Ferrari 13:32
Yeah, I mean, I used I used to go so many of them. I would say guy just can't anymore. But uh yeah, but I agree. But I feel you brother No, I feel the especially that first few times. You walk the red carpet, you see an audience with your film in it and and then you see other cool films and have you been to Sundance yet?

Josh David Jordan 13:52
I have not been to Sundance, I've been to South by Southwest. But yeah,

Alex Ferrari 13:55
Go to Sundance man it is. It is a magical experience just to go to Park City and just be there. It's it's probably the most magical I made a movie there. Because of that, because there's just such a magical experience as a film festival. But anyway,

Josh David Jordan 14:09
I think there's like crazy part of me. It's like, I think that I'm gonna go because I'm gonna go with a film, but maybe I won't. So I'm gonna keep I'm gonna keep hacking at it just for half a second. And hopefully I can bring one there.

Alex Ferrari 14:20
I heard that a couple of times.

Josh David Jordan 14:22
I know. I know.

Alex Ferrari 14:23
But it just in case. You might not enjoy.

Josh David Jordan 14:28
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 14:29
While you can still go up that hill. Because trust me, it ain't easy brother. In my 30s it was not easy, because he's so damn high up. You can't breed. But that's a whole other conversation. So tell me about your film. The world won't break.

Josh David Jordan 14:48
Yeah, so this world won't break. I was writing several things. And I was trying to find something on Netflix One night my wife was like, What are you doing? I spent like two hours trying to find trailers. You know, when she's like, we haven't even watched anything yet. And it's almost 11. And she goes, What do you want to see? And I was like, what kind of want to see a movie about a country singer who doesn't make it, like we see the ones of the guy who falls from grace and it gets old. And you know, or we see the young guy who makes it. And he says at the stadium, and I was like, how about the 40 year old? Who doesn't make it? Like, what do you do at that point? When you're, and I was writing from my own personal, like, struggle. All my friends here in Dallas, Texas, you know, in Austin, they're all country singers. And I'm in the friend rock, which I go to all my friends shows. And I was like, Man, I have a friend who one night at a barber having a whiskey and he was like, telling me the exact same thing. He's like, What do I do? He's like, I can't quit, because I've just put in 25 years of my life. But I can't really keep going because I'm getting old. And it it's not happening. And thirdly, what do I do? He's been, you know, a singer songwriter, his whole entire life. And it you know, it does pay the bills. But no, it's not on the marquee. He's not selling out the big shows. And I was like, Oh, I can write that. Because I was in, you know, I hustle here, as a bartender, and also in the photo and video world. So I was like, starting to put it all together, and realize, well, I got the people, I got the actors from our, our acting studio, I have all these great locations that I bartend at. And I can start calling on favors for the last 1520 years I've been in the photo and video world and staying late and taking care of things. And so I just started asking for inclines for favors. And so when we you see my actual budget, it's like $386,000. But when you take out all the end times, is 36k. Because I got locations that were five, six grand a day I was getting the main guy who owns bulk productions, call me one day is hey, I want to help out with your movie. And I was thinking, you know, monetarily with money. And he goes, put a list together. And whenever you need that stuff, it's yours. So got a grip truck, you know, I had all of this stuff. And I had all of these talented people who were sort of in the same boat as me as like, they want to create something commercial works great to pay your rent and to pay your bills. But like it's not feeding that thing inside you. That's not why everyone went to film school. I didn't go to film school. This one won't break was my film school, man. It's insane. So that was the whole premise of how to get started. And I had one guy, he was going to give me $25,000 $35,000 Excuse me. So that was going to be 60 grand ish. I was like, We can do this. I can pay everybody just a little bit. We can shoot this, you know, in 15 days. And I drove to go pick up the money. He takes me out to lunch. And basically he tells me No, I'm not gonna do it. I'm gonna do I'm gonna put this money somewhere else. He was like, sorry, this guy's a multimillionaire. And I didn't know what to do. I've literally freaked out, I paid for our meal, tried to leave and realize he drove us there. So I had a ride back in the car with this guy, I get in my car. As I drive off, I throw up because I'm so freaked out because we're supposed to start in three days, I run a red light. I call everyone and I say Hey, guys, it's off. We're not going to film the movie. And it got quiet. And then one person goes, we'll see in a couple of days. And everyone said, I'll see in a couple days, Josh, we had to make this film. And I had been I'd put so much work into it. Because I didn't have the money for locations. But I would drive every weekend and scout and take pictures of time of day, I would go to thrift stores, I got all the clothes. And whenever we would start shooting, I would actually be the wardrobe guy. There's a car in the movie that is really prominent in the film. And I would have to drive that to set get an Uber, go back, get the grip truck, drive back on the way grab coffee and breakfast stuff and bring snacks. I had to do that through the entirety of the film and I was sleeping two or three hours. But man, I was getting to do it. And I don't know what that thing is that clicks inside my head. I'm sure other creatives is like, you're on fire. You're at a 10 and there's no stopping you at that point. Because it's like that thing if you stop you feel like it's all gonna go away. So that was how I got it going.

Alex Ferrari 19:30
Man he's in that's the insanity. It's an insanity that we go through.

Josh David Jordan 19:35
Yeah, and then the, the crazy part, we were gonna start six months before that. And we had a play that night. And Matthew Posey left the theater. He's, he's one of the leads in the movie. And someone opened up his door and shot in there six times and shot him in the face. And so I'm getting phone calls at three in the morning and everyone's saying Were you with Matt, are you with Matt? I'm like what What happened? They said, Josh, he's in Baylor, they're not sure if he's gonna make it. And he knocked out all six of his teeth. He almost lost his tongue. And I'm using one of my best friends and I'm freaked out. But I'm also like, Man, I'm never gonna be able to create anything. That's, you know, he's the creative director of this theater. Yeah, so that was how it all started. So just the fact that that happened, and we kept rallying around, it's pretty insane because everything after that wasn't shot in the face, but it felt like and at times, it felt like shots in the face of all the things that were falling apart.

Alex Ferrari 20:40
You know, it's really interesting, because you did a semi auto, autobiographical film, my first movie was a little bit like that. But the second movie was definitely semi autobiographical, which was on the corner of ego desire. And if I think all three films talk about the same thing, which is not only chasing your dream, but I think as you get older, you start to define success differently. What you define success as a 20 year old is not how you define success as a 40 year old. Is that a fair statement?

Josh David Jordan 21:14
Oh, 100%.

Alex Ferrari 21:16
Right, exactly. So the the character in your film, he's like, I'm 40, or that friend of yours, the bar is that I'm 40. It's not working now. But I'm making a living, doing some singing and songwriting. But you know, I'm not. I'm not a huge star. But the question is, do you need to be a huge star,

Josh David Jordan 21:34
Right. And that's the point. And the cool thing about it is the guy at the bar, who was telling me that story is the guy who plays the lead in my movie, he had never been in a movie. But his music is, so I was like, How does not? How does the world not hear your music? So it's kind of a little bonus there that I got to like, put him on the big screen on the biggest screens. And I was like,

Alex Ferrari 21:57
He's great. Yeah, he's

Josh David Jordan 21:58
He's Greg's phenomenal. He's phenomenal. So it's kind of like, it was a really cool moment for me and him to be like, we both just did it. That's insane.

Alex Ferrari 22:08
Right! We both we both kind of fulfill the dream together. In a different way, we helped each other fulfill our dreams in a certain way. But I think and everyone listening, I think it's something that really needs to be asked. Because I know a lot of people listening like yourself and other people, you know, before you made your movie, we're figuring out, man, it's not working for me, man, it's I'm not making it I'm not I'm not Chris Nolan yet. I'm not David Fincher yet, I'm not Tarantino yet. And, um, and I always said, like, you're not going to be those guys, those guys are those guys, you've got to be the best view that you can be. And at the end of the day, there's only going to be a handful of people who are going to get the opportunity to work in those in those sandboxes. Oh, for sure. It's just, it's just numbers, the amount of people who want to do it. And then there's out of those people who want to do it, how many are really even capable, if given the opportunity to do it, you know, at the top of the top.

Josh David Jordan 23:05
Yeah. And I pretty much saw that sandbox and knew I couldn't get in it yet. So I brought my own sand and poured it beside it. And I played with like I was playing with these guys in the sandbox. And that can give you a lot of like, when you're in a film festival, and your movie trailer is playing before like blockbuster movies, because they'll do that they'll program things like that. And I was one of the very few people to make a trailer pre go into festivals, like a really good trailer. Because we were at the Glasgow Film Festival, and our movie played the theater, the trailer played before every single event in every single movie. And that that alone keeps you going. Just seeing

Alex Ferrari 23:50
Exactly, it's just how you define your success. And if you can make a living doing what you're loving to do, and you really just love the process and not the outcome. That's when you because it sounds like you enjoy I mean, I know we'll go deeper into the headaches of the insanity of this film. But at the end of the day, you enjoyed this process. And did you have an outcome I mean, we all dream of getting into a big festival or we get you know getting found or getting, you know picked out of the crowd all the 90 stories that we heard, but were you happy were you happy at the end of this week? Like you know what, I'm good. I'm solid. It doesn't make a billion dollars I'm okay with that. I'm gonna make my next movie is that

Josh David Jordan 24:31
Yeah, yeah, I mean for sure. For me, it was like always dream really big like I always say like, well ahead and practice your academy award speech in the mirror. Because you never know and it can give you a little bit of but you know in the back of your head that you're crazy and that's insane. So that we are opening red carpet event was actually at the Dallas International Film Festival, and we ended up winning Best Feature and that was our first showing. And then we when we got into the Australia Film Fest of all, we got into the Glasgow Film Festival, and we got to travel to all these places. And a lot of the places put us up in really nice places. And so the fact that it was really cool because overseas, a Texas film about a country singer is just like, it's so foreign, huge, huge. So the Q and A's and the people coming up to us, you know, when you play a movie like that here in Dallas, Texas, it's like, we'll open the front door, bro. You know what I mean? Over there, it was like Australia, especially that was a that was a trip for sure. So you know, and I don't know if we talked about what happened with the film after that, or if we get into that later. Okay, cool. Yeah, I can I can talk about that.

Alex Ferrari 25:40
But yeah, you're right. And it's you see, but that's a different level. That's probably something you didn't expect. No, right. You didn't expect that? No, not that thing. So it's just interesting, the way the universe works, that's all it's just really fascinating how it works. And, and again, for every all the young, the young uns listening, you know, for a couple of old fogies who've been doing this for a few years, you know, you will redefine success for yourself, you know, and, and it's not giving up on the dream, you always, always hope and you keep going. But if you just enjoy the process, and not attach yourself so much, that that's where all the pain comes in. Because when you attach your outcome outcome, that you're like, I'm doing this movie, to get discovered, or to blow up or to make money, you're done, you're done. You gotta like, I love doing what I'm doing. And I don't care what happens at the end, I hope, and let's position ourselves the best we can to be successful. But at the end of the day, it's still just about the process. And that's it. It's kind of like a painter that way. Like, you know, painters generally don't pay to like, I'm going to sell this for $100 million, like, Van Gogh just painted and never made a dime.

Josh David Jordan 26:47
I was telling my wife just, I'm gonna touch on that. I was telling my wife she was we're talking about she goes, What do you want out of the film besides freaking blow up and a soundtrack to blow up and we become the new ones. You know, that's, you know, we win an Academy Award. But you know, I said, what I really want is a kid in a German library or an old bookstore, to pull off the shelf that this roll won't break DVD, watch it and his mind be blown that there's a place like that. It happened. Alex, someone emailed me and talked about the film that he saw in somewhere in northern Canada, his kid and he talked about this fictional place called de Belem in Dallas, Texas. This guy plays country music, and he wrote the greatest review, I think he was like, 16, or 17. And I was like, man, you know, I didn't conjure up the fame and the money, but I conjured up a kid pulling off a DVD and another, and another country, so that was really special to me. I was like, okay, that's, that's a way of me. I feel like I made it. Right. I felt like I actually was at our library. And I was scanning it to see if you might check it out. And it was like, this roll won't break. And then Thor, I was like, I'm cool with that. I'm okay with that.

Alex Ferrari 27:55
If you remember what you said at the beginning of our conversation, is when Dad Your dad saw, It's a Wonderful Life and how it made him feel and you're like, I want to do that. Well, you just exceeded. Yeah. And you you want you want you want 100% That was the goal you wanted. You wanted to affect people with your work. And you did that not only once, probably multiple times. But that's the one that picked out so that I just want people to listen to that. That like it's not always about the Oscar. It's not always because I've talked to Oscar winners. And it's not all it's cracked up to be. Don't get me wrong. We all want one. And I wouldn't mind one. I put it right behind me on this. I put it right there. Exactly.

Josh David Jordan 28:37
It'd be funny. If in fact, that kid's name was Oscar, but it wasn't amazing.

Alex Ferrari 28:43
When you tell the story again, has the name skip

Josh David Jordan 28:47
Gold gold tips go yeah.

Alex Ferrari 28:50
But alright, so there was a few other things that happened in this this film. before. Before we get into the really crazy story that happened to you. I always like asking this question, what is the worst day on production? And how did you overcome it? And that, that pre production or post production what was like that day you've got the whole world has come crashing down? No,

Josh David Jordan 29:13
I'll tell three real quick. Day one. I'm going into the oldest gymnasium in the world with the oldest owner. It's in Dallas, Texas. The guys at he just turned 90. And I had a monologue for him. And we're carrying all this gear up. I mean, huge c stands and rollers and huge lights. And he smoked he smoked cigars and he was Josh come in here. I was like, yeah, he goes, I'm not doing the monologue. And he left. And I was like, what? And he comes back in he goes, you can still shoot here. I'm just not doing it. And he was the chunk of the of that saying he was the old guy. And so I walked in and I said, here's the deal, Doug, can you just say that This one line, which is a line that you hear two more times in the movie, so I had to have that one line. And he looked at me ask that it'll be a close up. And he goes, I'll do it. And he does the line. And so, so what that was the worst thing that was happening on day one, and then we still we worked out of it. Okay, day two, I thought it'd be a good idea to have these boat scenes where he's fishing on these unless Lake. Well, I don't really have a huge crew, but we had three boats. And it was like, 90 mile an hour winds and I said, action, all of our boats go away. And we all go in different directions. And I was like, What am I thinking? It's my first feature film, I'm gonna shoot on a lake. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm doing. And there was self doubt. And all of a sudden, two boats come over. It was a friend of mine. She worked for the rowing team, and she was like, Do you guys need help driving some of this around? So she helped out. And the rest of the day was stellar. was stellar. I guess you know, the third one would have to be when we had just picked up the new El Camino. Okay, so the day before we shoot our lol a week, the El Camino in the car, the engine blew. And I was like, the whole point of this is this guy doesn't have a truck. He has an El Camino. You know, it's all it's old and rusty. We put the word out like we need a El Camino. What a crazy thing to ask for in the world. And somebody on Facebook said their mom's new husband had one in the garage. There was old rusty and brown. I was like what? So I haul over there and grab this thing. He gives it to me for the whole entire shoot, it gives me the keys as you'll have fun. And as I'm driving down the road, I'm like, Dude, I'm batting 1000 Even though I'm kind of within in the first two pitches. And then as I'm going up the hill, smoke starts coming out of this El Camino. But it was just a water pump. We fixed it in the cars in the whole movie. So you're not gonna go on and go on and go on

Alex Ferrari 32:05
Everyday there was something I'm sure

Josh David Jordan 32:06
Every, you know, Alex every single day something was going on. And something happened on our last week and a half our last week and a half of filming. It was perfect. And I mean, I'm telling you, it was like summer camp. And we all had a blast. We're pulling rabbits out of the hat, special effects that we were doing in camera. Everything was happening. And we ended on that high note. But the first half, I mean, it was every single day something was happening that I had to fix on the fly for sure.

Alex Ferrari 32:43
I mean, going back to the lake shots, did you not see jaws? Not here what Spielberg said. Don't

Josh David Jordan 32:53
At least least listen to Steven at least right?

Alex Ferrari 32:55
I mean, it's like a funny side story. I was talking to Kevin Reynolds who did Waterworld and he called up Steven. And he's like, What should I do? He's like, don't shoot in the ocean. He's like Nah, I'll be fine.

Josh David Jordan 33:10
I got a soft spot in my heart for Waterworld. I love Waterworld.

Alex Ferrari 33:13
I listened Peter who wrote it, who's a good friend of mine who's on the show. And Kevin was on the show. And it's oddly one of the most successful IPS the universe has ever had. Oh, wow. I didn't know if you know that or not. They made so much money off of Waterworld.

Josh David Jordan 33:33
Oh, well, good for them then. For a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 33:35
No, no, no, everyone always like oh, Waterworld, like the You know what, I don't know if you've been to Universal Studios and in Florida or in LA.But there's a Water World ride. 20 years later, they still are there and they're still one of the most popular attractions. And they've made so much money with WaterWorld IP. It's in seeding and

Josh David Jordan 34:01
That's another thing. A disaster turns into a profit. I love I love it. I love it. That's positivity for

Alex Ferrari 34:09
You mentioned to me in your email pitch that you there's something happened at the Alamo Drafthouse. What?

Josh David Jordan 34:18
Okay, so you know, making the film was insane. We know we shot for 26 days, over over a year and a half because I had to keep giving the gear back. And luckily, Greg didn't accidentally shave his beard off or Roxanna didn't get pregnant, like I was. I mean, I was walking on thin ice by doing that I was just everyday thankful that we were getting another day. And and they always say, like, you know, don't have a lot of locations. Do you have no money for a film where we shot in 42 locations. That's why he has the grand, the grand pneus of it. But I was always sleeping three hours a night and then when I was given some dailies to some different people grandma's around. South by Southwest wanted it. This is the previous year. And we were still filming. We still had, you know, half the movie to film. So I was rushing, rushing rushing, and my son who's now 21, he co edited the film with me. And so he even worked on it when I was at work that I would work on it with him. And when I got home, and I was still working a full time job and getting this film. And I was driving back and forth to Austin getting the color done, because it wasn't working out. And I wasn't sleeping. There was like a, it was a deadline to have the DCP in the hands of the festivals. And it was before, you know, the next morning before seven, well, I stayed up for like three days maybe and got the DCP and the blu ray, which was a gift actually from def, they provided that if you've got another festival, they would provide you a DCP and a Blu Ray, which was huge. And I'm driving back from Austin. I drop it off in the mailbox for the programmer to upload it. And I eat some breakfast. And my wife goes, we should go celebrate. You just your film is done. You're You're done. It's blocked. It's an DCP. And so we go to the Alamo Drafthouse and we're watching a movie and I'm like, why the trailers all vignetted I couldn't figure out why there were vignetted. And I started to like sweat. And I started. And I for half a second. I didn't know where I was. I didn't know I was in a movie theater. And the lady asked if I wanted a margarita. And I said no. And my wife turned to me like, Whoa, he must not be feeling good. If he was turned down a margarita. And I stood up. I walked out into the Alamo Drafthouse parking lot. Were there at 1030 shown or 11am showing because we, you know, we've just finished, and I'm walking around, and I know I need to, I need to, I need to sit down, but I can't sit down and all of a sudden, I can't feel my left hand. And then pain starts going up. And I can't really my heart can't really control. And I'm walking to my wife has no idea where I'm at. Well, she follows me in the parking lot. I walk in the Alamo Drafthouse. I'm on my hands and knees. And I look at the guy, Jorge, who I've known. He's at the front desk. And I'm trying to say, call an ambulance because I'm dying. I mean, this is it. And then my last thought, when I was trying to see amulets, I realized, well, I'm not going to be in the memorandum, I'm not going to be in the memory of in my own film, and I let go, I start to pass out and I go, I think that's pretty peaceful. And I, I'm out, I wake up, and my wife over me, she's on the phone, she's called our doctor. And she goes, I could hear it, I'm coming back in like, it's just a ringing noise. And he goes, she goes, you're having a panic attack. It's not a heart attack. And what happened was all the adrenaline that I had built up over those past months and weeks and year prior making the film, when I dropped off the DCP my brain goes, and we're done. And we can't go any farther. We're done. We've completed job well done. And then my body goes, sia and I, if you look up Wikipedia, a panic attack. It says symptoms and it says it feels like you're going to die. And I had to like, go to a functional medicine doctor for a long, long time, and build up my immune system. And he said, you just have to take it easy medical, because you will have a heart attack. And it won't be a panic attack. So yeah, I almost died on the Alamo, which would have been a perfect place if you really I mean, come on. Why? right smack dab in the middle of it, too. I was on Browse right there.

Alex Ferrari 38:54
If you're watching this movie of your life, Josh. I mean, it's it's pretty like it's like the it's the point of what is it the the point of no return and a point of no return? But the all is lost moment. In the screenplay. In the movie. You're like, Oh, he's made the movie. Wait, he's dying at the movie theater. Right? He is movie. All his loss. That is the I mean, you can't sell poetic.

Josh David Jordan 39:20
Yes, that's how and that's how Bob Fosse he died. I found out at a premiere. He had worked so hard, and he dropped dead in front of the marquee. I was like, poetic, poetic for sure.

Alex Ferrari 39:32
I mean, it's Well, I'm glad I'm glad it worked out with us. I just uh, you know, I just as a side note, my first film broken I had a panic attack on set. Oh, oh, I had a full blown panic attack that had to actually go I'm like guys I got Give me a minute. I went to the bathroom. And I had to get my give me like 10 or 15 minutes guys set up the lights or something like that because it was so overwhelming to me because I had never done it. It was just, it was just something it was it was a huge project for me at the time, it was all this stuff. And I, I literally just started to try to meditate and breathing in and out and there was nobody there to help me. And I was just like, Yeah, it sucks, dude, I've had probably two or three panic attacks all based around the film industry.

Josh David Jordan 40:19
I have to one was recently but the cool thing is, I can tell myself, you know, I have a lot of methods now to where I'm like, You're not having a panic attack, you just need to chill out for a little bit. And so once you've had it, but man, it's obviously never had it. But they say most ambulance rides. People are thinking they're having a heart attack. It's a panic attack. And by the time they get them to the hospital, they're like, Oh, I think I'm good. Because they give them the IV and it calms them down. But everyone thinks it's a panic, a heart attack for sure. Or stroke or something. Good Lord.

Alex Ferrari 40:51
I mean, that's an amazing story. But Well, I'm glad you made it, brother. I'm glad you might. And that's a warning for all filmmakers. You know, you're still human. And there's a lot of stress, especially when trying to get a movie together and things happen and how many heart attacks and panic attacks has has happened to filmmakers in the course of the last 50 or 100 years?

Josh David Jordan 41:12
Yeah, all movies cost something. It may be your heavy.

Alex Ferrari 41:17
It might be you know, how did you get now how did you because you've mentioned a couple times you've read my book, how did you decide to go with distribution?

Josh David Jordan 41:26
Yeah, so look, the timing of your book was great, because we were coming back from Scotland with the movie think Glasgow Film Festival. And we were things were starting to really happen with the buzz of the film. And we Funny enough, we were talking to Alamo Drafthouse and they were gonna put it in all the Alamo Drafthouse is like a little short deal, and have Greg play like a little and we can sell the merchandise the soundtrack. So we're I was working that out when we were in Scotland, on the airplane. And we had gotten word that South by Southwest, even though we weren't in a competition, what they were like, you know, maybe we can work something out where we can premiered in Austin, you can do a festival thing. And all our phones went off and said South by Southwest cancels. This was like early, early, early COVID. And a time we landed everything, all the other film festivals, we were part of everything else shut down. So I'm back to I mean, in theaters mean, Alamo Drafthouse especially closed its doors. And so it was like, I just made a movie. What I do with this, and I, you know, I am still thankful that we were able to least do that huge run of festivals, get the movie in the can, because I know a lot of friends who like we're shooting a film with the head, like kids in it, you know, the age of 10. And then COVID Gone, gone. Because those kids don't look the same. They have half a movie in a can. I mean, it breaks my heart to think about it. A lot of people lost a lot of things. We were very lucky that we still walked away, you know? So I'm, you know, I'm depressed. And I'm like, Okay, well, I'm just gonna make the DVD myself. And so I figured out how to do all that. I told people, if you want a signed autograph, I'm only doing 100. If you want a signed autograph of the DVD, it's 30 bucks. And we threw in some stickers, we sold out like that. Three grand, I have three grand, I make 1000 DVDs. So they're in my garage. And I'm like, Well, what do I do with this? And I did the whole like stuff before and all the different menus. And because of COVID. And because of so many film festivals that shut down that didn't have films come out. They're cut in half, what movies are for distribution, content, everyone's at home, everyone needs to be watching something. And people are running out of content. Well, my phone starts to blow up, like literally. And I was talking to a lot of different distribution companies. I mean, some and you know, I love how you talk the truth about how some of these are predatory. I mean, Alex, it was so sickening, you know, especially like, I've almost died. You know, I'm not gonna give you my film. I like give you this. You know, it was like 40 45% for 20 years now. Gee, yeah. Oh, and then we're going to redo your posters. I don't know if you've seen our poster. Our guy who did our poster did a phenomenal job. Yeah, of course. It's like they wanted to redo the poster redid the trailer and they just wanted to spend the money would be coming in. And then we got a phone call for the one that we went to with who was cast say their name on the map to you. Yeah. So this little company called Passion river films. reached out and I looked them up and they worked with libraries. I was like, okay, they don't really do theatrical, but they were like, you can keep your theatrical and you keep DVD rights and all these things. I was like, This sounds too good to be true. So I reached out to Ben and Jim Cummins over at vanishing angle. And Ben was nervous because Ben's name can be saying that wrong. I said, Hey, do you know about passionate River and they go, and Jim was like, Yeah, Thunder Road, they have Amazon and DVD sales, we sign out with them, because they're phenomenal. And they'll put it in every library in North America, including Canada and the US. And so they sent over the paperwork. And they like, we love the trailer. We love it. It was a two year deal. I'll say it. It was a two year deal for 20%. I mean, and they're gonna, and they're going to put it into every library and they're going to buy all the all the DVDs that I had. They said, We'll sell those for you. And we'll take a percentage by putting them into libraries. And so some libraries, if there's a big enough metroplex, though by 1015. And so they set us up, it works so well with us, and they put us through, obviously, we did the T VOD, the transactional. And then I still have theatrical right. So I was going around once COVID was over with and we're showing we're selling out here in the Dallas Fort Worth area 600 seat theaters. And that's just for us. And then they said, Hey, there's this new thing called Tubi. Goes and this is predecessor, they're pretty new. This is 2020, the beginning of 2020. And two, he needed content. And they loved our runtime The weather was country music and that they can advertise with like Chevy Miller Lite, bloodline Wrangler. So as of now besides the DVD sales, which sounds crazy to BS right there. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. You know, I mean, you talk about on the show, you know, I remember like, I was talking, I was chasing daylight when you would talk on the show, because you were speaking the truth. And then a month later, you know, tug is gone. I'm like, oh, you know, that was my plan. And it's just like, something pops and something goes away. And you were talking about Avon. And I remember you talking about and I was like what advertising video on demand. There's, I feel like I'm gonna make it on Amazon and iTunes and dude, I choose. It's the lowest. Oh, it's horrible. Yeah. Then we got some good Vimeo stuff. Because like in Australia, that's one of their platforms is Vimeo for, for certain films that aren't rated? And yeah, so I 100%. As of today, own the film, VOD, DVD, theatrical, I own 100% of the of the rights of the shots amazing. And we had a great win a great prize, the best kind of run, you can do, like right now it's on Amazon Prime for free. And we're gonna keep it on there. Because it's a nice calling car. Because we're making our new film for people to like, go watch that, and watch it for free. And then once the next one will happen, we'll take that down, or you can rent it and then I'll start to build a collection, you know, Blu ray DVD and, and have it through our own website.

Alex Ferrari 48:12
Dude, I'm so happy that the book helped you with that. And the show helped you with a lot of this stuff that you're talking

Josh David Jordan 48:18
100% I always tell people, the three things that every if you're if you're a filmmaker, or if you want to be a filmmaker, or if you're needing to go level up in a different area, the three books that you have to have on your shelf is indie film has a filter printer. Right Rebel Without a crew. And then I really like Dan's book, this immersive guide to filmmaking. Oh, yeah. People should get your audiobook because it's really, it's really stellar. It was really listened to. And for some reason, I learned a lot of new things. I've just re listened to it on a drive. And I was like, Oh, that's really that's really solid if you listen to it, because it sounds like I read and I kind of blank out. So I listened to it and then went back and thumbed thumbnails, some stuff in your book for the next film that's coming up that I didn't do in the last one.

Alex Ferrari 49:09
And then the audiobook to also has extra stuff that I just stopped in the middle. And I'll just start like, real quick.

Josh David Jordan 49:14
Right, Gary Vee. I love it.

Alex Ferrari 49:17
That's why I got it from Gary did. Like I'm doing that when I have when I do an audiobook.

Josh David Jordan 49:23
That's brilliant. Brilliant.

Alex Ferrari 49:25
It's great. No, I'm so happy that that is the case. And that's a real great success story and distribution because I'm sure you were getting predatory stuff left and right and all over the place.

Josh David Jordan 49:37
It's make Yeah, making this it's really gross. And it's, you know, for a filmmaker, I think if maybe if I wouldn't have almost died, I would have just been exhausted enough to give it away. And I think what happened was I was exhausted. I almost died and I was pissed. And I was like, I'm taking this thing. I'm alive again.

Alex Ferrari 49:59
I'm back!

Josh David Jordan 50:02
I will sell these DVDs.

Alex Ferrari 50:04
I will say that's that's genius. That's really a genius way of looking about it. And libraries are a big thing that people don't don't understand, you know, also cruise lines and airlines too, for certain movies. You can get it. There's so many no streams, sorry, your airline? Yeah, it's so many revenue streams that you can create and go after distributors who just focus on those kinds of things and getting you into those places.

Josh David Jordan 50:28
Yeah. And because of your show, someone was talking about we funder. And so we were going that route for the next film. And then we got film independent to support us as a 5013. C, people can do tax write off. So it's like, I've learned so much in the past. And then like, with your show, and having people on, I'll listen to an hour. And then like five minutes, someone says something that like changes the trajectory of the film of the next film. I'm like, I'm listening to it. Like, I get that. And I've been there. I've been there. I've been there. I've been there and the EU hadn't been there. And I write that down. And then it really, you know, there's so many things that our fingertips that I think, you know, if people really want to do it, you can do it. It's out there for you.

Alex Ferrari 51:17
And so the film is a bit of a financial success for you.

Josh David Jordan 51:20
I mean, like I said, I'm not like, I'm not rich and famous, but we're in the black.

Alex Ferrari 51:28
You get your money back, you made your money back. Yeah, like you are in the top one person, one per one, one 1% of filmmakers.

Josh David Jordan 51:35
And the cool thing about it also is like, it's still I still get checks, and it pays for all the stuff that we have in our websites, it pays for our CPA, our LLC, it's like, you know, the film still. And once we get the next film made, we're really going to push this one break again, because a lot of people didn't get to see it. Right, because of just all the content. And we can repackage that it's forever, you know?

Alex Ferrari 52:02
Yeah, I mean, you could put that movie out. Right? Right. You could release it right now.

Josh David Jordan 52:07
Were given blu ray, and then vinyl, we're on a waiting list for a vinyl record. So we're going to package it with a Blu ray. Because you said one of the beginning of one of your shows you says the niches isn't the riches.

Alex Ferrari 52:19
The niches. Yeah. Yeah. And you have

Josh David Jordan 52:24
Yeah. And then the next film is about an orthodox monk on the coast of Texas. So it doesn't get more niche than that, you know?

Alex Ferrari 52:30
Yes. The name of that one El Tonto Cristo

Josh David Jordan 52:35
El Tonto Por Cristo

Alex Ferrari 52:37
Yes. And so that means basically translated if I am, I am Latino. So, the Fool for Christ essentially,

Josh David Jordan 52:46
Yes, that's exactly right. It's like, you know, it's not a Robert Eggers style film. It's not scary, but it's going to have that vibe. It'll have a neat, we're shooting in black and white. I'm doing I'm breaking all the rules. I've already broken rules. So we're shooting in one sick sick one, and black and white.

Alex Ferrari 53:04
Just but you're shooting color and taking the color. I mean, the black and white later, right. Are you shooting? Yeah. Keep keep the color just in case.

Josh David Jordan 53:12
Oh, believe me? Yeah, technology, technology. We're using the newest red. And it's like with this technology. If we get in there, like, oh, it's like,

Alex Ferrari 53:23
Just just keep the color for distribution, just in case. Like we love the film, but you shot it in black and white. I can't sell it. And you've got no stars in it. So it's gonna be a tough sell. They're like, well, you know what, I could just turn that color right back on for you. Yeah. That's what it takes.

Josh David Jordan 53:40
We have been less stars this time.

Alex Ferrari 53:42
Good. Good. Yeah. Always, always get a face man. Always get on can. Josh, man, I appreciate you coming on the show man telling us your insane story. I'll ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. Cool. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Josh David Jordan 53:57
You know, I think it's really quickly. It's like a Chinese parable that I once heard about a man they had a beet farm and the beets all dried up. And the kid was like, what we're gonna do, we're ruined. And the father was like, maybe, maybe not. And then all of a sudden, all these horses came up the hill. And he was like, Oh my gosh, we're gonna be rich. And his father said maybe maybe not. We don't know. Well, as he was trying to train the horses, the horses broke his leg, both legs. And he said son said now I'm crippled. This is the worst thing that ever happened as far as that maybe, maybe not. And then the Chinese army came over the hill. They said we need your son for war. And he said, case crippled, and they left and all those men got slaughtered. So basically, when you're making an indie film, and your transmission blows up, or someone gets shoot in the face, it's not the end of the world. It's not.

Alex Ferrari 54:50
I may be the guy who gets shot in the face. It could very definitely be the end of the world.

Josh David Jordan 54:56
Or me or me and Alamo Drafthouse for sure.

Alex Ferrari 55:00
Yeah, I get I get that. I've heard that parable. So what is it wonderful parable? What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Josh David Jordan 55:08
You know, everyone always says this and it's the truth is like, the whole Calvary is not showing up by Mark Duplass. But I'll take it one step further and say, like, sometimes you're gonna have to do everything, because it's not going to be just yours. Until maybe one day you know, you are Wes Anderson. And you can tell if someone with color pink you want. But right now, just do it yourself. And if you don't find joy in that, and this is not for you.

Alex Ferrari 55:38
And three of your favorite films of all time?

Josh David Jordan 55:41
Oh, man, I forgot about this one. I'm gonna say Badlands. Yeah, I'm gonna say it's a wonderful life. Now, I'm George Bailey. At my age. I feel like I'm George Bailey. And number three is a tie because it's Point Break and karate kid. And because that shouldn't those films like shouldn't be so shouldn't have worked. And they did. And I love I love rewatching him. I just saw one break here in Dallas on 35 millimeter. It was gorgeous.

Alex Ferrari 56:17
And I'm assuming you've seen Cobra Kai? Oh, yes. Of course. I mean, it's, it's, it's awesome. Yeah. Brother, man, where can people find out more about you your films you're in we're gonna watch your movies.

Josh David Jordan 56:31
Yeah, you gotta joshdavidjordan.com. And that's gonna have everything about the new film, if you want to be if you want to invest, or if you want to throw money our way. It'll have this roll on break where you can buy that. And then all my links. I'm on Instagram and Twitter. Yeah, because when the pandemic happened, someone hacked my Instagram and Facebook account and they deleted them all. So I just restarted them. That really stinks. So go there. Follow me there. And yeah, that's it.

Alex Ferrari 56:59
Brother. I appreciate the story. I appreciate you coming on. I appreciate all the support for what I do all these years and I'm glad you made it. Glad you're alive. That this movie didn't kill you, though. It did try. Yeah. But I appreciate you brother. Thanks again.

Josh David Jordan 57:15
Welcome to Texas and I hope I see you in Austin man.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

Ultimate Guide To Tony Scott And His Directing Techniques

ONE OF THE MISSING (1969)

tsscott

Truth be told, when I made my long list of directors to study for the purposes of this series, Tony Scott wasn’t on it.  I’d seen a small number of his films, and while I constantly found them to be entertaining, I didn’t see much of a reason to include his work for analysis.  It’s funny how death can suddenly encapsulate a life’s work and make it worth study.

Even the most commercial, formulaic filmmakers have something to contribute to the art of cinema.

All throughout the month of August 2012, I was preparing to cover the films of the Coen Brothers– that is, until August 19th, when Tony Scott leapt to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro.  I was struck by the outpouring of grief among the film community, and of the fond remembrances of his work.  His suicide was sudden and inexplicable– nobody saw it coming.

 Truth be told, he had been scouting locations with Tom Cruise for TOP GUN 2 only a few weeks prior.  What possessed this man, blessed with fame, fortune, family, and good health (despite his age), to end it all?  I’m well aware that my own analysis of the man’s work won’t generate any answers, but perhaps in my own way I can come closer to understand the mentality of a man who loved making movies, but was doomed to always toil in the shadow of Ridley Scott, his brother and an admittedly much more skilled filmmaker.

Growing up in midcentury England, he initially had no plans to become a filmmaker at all.  Instead, he went to the Royal College of Art to study painting.  It wasn’t until Ridley’s success with commercials that he was coaxed into the world of filmmaking.

Scott’s first directorial effort was a short film he made in 1969, titled ONE OF THE MISSING.  Shot on black and white 16mm film, the story concerns a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War who sneaks up on a Union encampment, only to be trapped under a pile of falling rubble from a collapsed building.  As his hopes for escape rapidly dwindle, he begins the agonizing process of summoning up the courage to commit suicide.

In his more recent career, Scott would gain a reputation for highly stylized, hyperkinetic camerawork, but ONE OF THE MISSING is much more steady and level-headed in its execution.  Serving as his own director of photography, Scott constructs a visual language comprised of extreme close-ups and a locked-off camera that is limited only to pans and zooms.

Despite the more straightforward visual presentation, he eschews dialogue and creates a surreal ambient sound bed out of heightened natural background noises and atmospheric dream textures.  It’s slightly trippy, and sets an experimental tone for what could be a fairly straightforward narrative.

Scott adeptly uses quick edits and unconventional frame compositions to jarring effect, amplifying the agony of being buried alive.  While watching a man struggle under immense weight could get boring after a while, Scott ups the suspense by introducing the fact that his own gun has fallen in such a way that the barrel is pointing directly at his face, and could go off at any second.

Cutting from the soldier’s frantic eyes and to the cold, uncaring black hole of that barrel ratchets up the tension and keeps the viewer intrigued.  Even with his first directing effort, Scott shows a knack for generating engaging action.

ONE OF THE MISSING also contains a great cameo– just as Tony had played the titular role in Ridley Scott’s debut film BOY AND BICYCLE (1965), so does Ridley return the favor, appearing as a handsome young Confederate officer.  It’s incredibly interesting to see the filmmaker as fresh-faced young man, especially now when his general public image is that of a grizzled old man.


LOVING MEMORY (1971)

tsloving

At a scant 50 minutes, LOVING MEMORY (1971) can barely be called Tony Scott’s first feature-length film. As a quiet, pastoral character film, it’s quite the anomaly within his action-oriented canon.

The film follows an old couple in midcentury England who accidentally run over a young man on his bicycle. They proceed to take the body back to their home in the country and store it in the attic.  While the husband spends his days building a mine (seemingly by himself), the wife cultivates a one-sided friendship with the carcass, telling it stories of her youth and her dreams.  It’s a very creepy story that raises more questions than it answers.

Shot in Academy ratio 16mm black and white film, Scott builds off the visual language that he established in his earlier short, ONE OF THE MISSING (1969).  He locks off his camera on a tripod and limits his movements to pans and zooms.  He also employs a recurring visual motif, where he starts close up on a subject from an overhead angle, and then slowly zooms out to reveal them as a speck against a wider landscape.

 This is repeated several times throughout the movie to dramatic effect.  For the firs time, Scott utilizes cinematographers outside himself.  With LOVING MEMORY, he employs the services of Chris Menges and John Metcalf.

On an audio level, Scott maintains a naturalistic atmosphere of heightened background noise, and whispered dialogue.  Indeed, what little dialogue there is in this nearly-wordless film is barely intelligible. We have to strain to hear the words before they dissipate in the air like breath vapor on a cold day.  The only music is non-diagetic, played from a creaky gramophone in the couple’s rustic house.

LOVING MEMORY is the slightest strand of a story, but it’s strangely compelling in a morbid way.  Scott gives us just enough visual information to create a sense of curiosity and mystery to the proceedings.  Why does this woman dress up the dead boy as a soldier?  Why is this man building a massive mine all by himself?

Why did they never alert the authorities as to the accident?  These questions coalesce to form an incredibly enigmatic film.  It’s a far cry from the types of film that Scott would very soon be making his name on.


NOUVELLE DE HENRY JAMES: THE AUTHOR OF BELTRAFFIO (1976)

tumblr_lt3b6de6s71ql19sro1_1280

In 1976, Tony Scott broke into television with an episode of the French series NOUVELLES DE HENRY JAMES.  His particular episode, “THE AUTHOR OF BELTRAFFIO” deals with the tale of a heated in-family feud that ends in tragedy.

It’s tough to track down the full version, but the first five minutes or so are available via a French website with no subtitles.  As such, it’s difficult to discern exactly what’s going on, but it does provide a few avenues in which to examine it in the context of Scott’s development.

The most notable aspect is that it appears to be the first of Scott’s works filmed in color.  While he would be noted later on for his extreme use of color, “THE AUTHOR OF BELTRAFFIO” employs an even, natural color palette.  True to television screens of the day, it looks to have been shot on regular 16mm with a 4×3 aspect ratio.  Lighting is also naturalistic, yet with high contrast.

Scott also utilizes a locked-off camera limited to quick pans and zooms, but rarely moves the camera around the subject of the frame.  He also uses immersive sound effects to realistically place the audience in the aural landscape of his pastoral imagery.

I can only imagine where the narrative goes from here– the synopsis makes it sound as if it gets pretty juicy as it goes on, but the selection I viewed was pretty low-key energy-wise, and a more than a little dull.  Chalk it up to generational and cultural differences.  Scott would later make television a significant portion of his career, and “THE AUTHOR OF BELTRAFFIO” represents the first step down that path.


THE HUNGER (1983)

As his breakout debut feature, 1983’s THE HUNGER finds Tony Scott establishing his personal style.  Being somewhat of a box-office disappointment upon its release, THE HUNGER has since achieved cult status for its incredibly unique and stylish depiction of vampires.  While it is very much a product of its time, the film manages to feel fresh and daring, especially when compared to the neutered vampires found in today’s cultural landscape.

Personally speaking, I hate the over-saturation of vampires in pop culture almost as much as I do zombies. THE HUNGER, however, makes up for it by eschewing the cliched vampire tropes while cooking up entirely new ones.  Almost a decade before Ann Rice’s leather-clad goth vampires glam-ed it up on screen, Scott presents his vampires as androgynous, highbrow creatures of grace, elegance and taste.

There are no fangs to be found here– instead, they siphon the blood from their victims by making an incision with a tiny blade that they wear as necklaces.  They can go out in daylight, and can even appear in mirrors.  In a nod to traditional lore, they do sleep in coffins– but only as a final resting place, just like the rest of us.

THE HUNGER concerns an ageless vampire couple, Miriam (Catherine Deneuve), and John (David Bowie), who haunt the hippest punk/goth clubs and drink their victims’ blood to stay young forever.  One day, however, John begins aging rapidly, and by nightfall he is a decrepit old man.  No amount of blood will restore his youth.  In his desperation, he reaches out to an anti-aging researcher, Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon).

As Sarah becomes more involved in her investigation of John, her young, nubile body is seen by Miriam as John’s successor.

The storyline could easily be pulpy genre fare, but Scott fashions a tone ripped straight out of the pages of Vogue.  The performances are compelling, especially Bowie, who is perfectly cast as a supernatural, androgynous vampire.  Deneuve works well as the seductive Miriam, and gradually reveals more depth and malice as her storyline progresses.

The most surprising performance was Sarandon, who fully embraces the lesbian overtones of her relationship with Miriam in order to become the agent of her demise.  She uses her natural intelligence effectively in her depiction of a curious researcher on the verge of a great discovery.  Scott’s older brother, Ridley, would use Sarandon to great effect almost a decade later in THELMA & LOUISE (1991), but Tony gets first crack at her and allows her to generate one of her most iconic performances.

Scott worked with Director of Photography Stephen Goldblatt to establish a unique look for the film, and he would later incorporate many aspects of this look into his overall personal style.  In a striking contrast to his earlier, low-key work, Scott shoots on anamorphic 35mm film, thereby allowing the film stock’s deep contrast to create striking backlit silhouettes.

The picture is dark, very dark– most of the lighting comes from background sources like blown-out windows.  Scott uses the recurring motif of billowing curtains as an effective framing device, especially in the film’s climatic scene where the obscuring of certain figures in the frame becomes crucial.  In a bid to reflect the cold nature of his vampires, Scott gives the film a steely blue color palette– offset by the use of bold reds (like the blood or a woman’s lipstick) to punch through the gloom.

His camera-work is low-key for the most part, choosing to stay bound to a tripod and limited to zooms and pans.  However, he makes up for it in stylish, experimental editing (especially in the opening credits).

He also uses music effectively, creating a striking juxtaposition between classical music, original music by Denny Jaeger and Michel Rubini, and punk songs.  For instance, the film opens with the Bauhaus track, “Bela Lugosi Is Dead”.  It’s the perfect choice to illustrate that these vampires are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

At the same time, Scott uses well-known classical music to score a majority of the film, as a reflection of the vampires’ elegance.  One particular moment that stands out is the use of classical music during a lesbian sex scene.  A lesser director would’ve embraced the grindhouse, exploitative nature of that story development, but Scott’s take elevates it to high art.

This was my first time seeing THE HUNGER, and I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought I would. Scott’s mainstream debut is as solid as anything his older brother Ridley did during that time period, and sets the stage for a long, successful career.


SAAB COMMERCIAL: NOTHING ON EARTH COMES CLOSE (1984)

While Tony Scott’s first credited commercial is for DIM Underwear in 1979, his epic spot for Saab is his first publicly available commercial work (as far as I’m aware).  It’s notable mainly for the fact that it would later secure him the job of director for 1986’s TOP GUN.  That said, there’s some striking elements that would later find their way into the feature film.

As his slick visuals are highly suited towards commercial work, it’s no surprise that Scott is behind some of the most iconic commercials of all time.  After his work on THE HUNGER (1983), Saab contracted Scott to direct their “NOTHING ON EARTH COMES CLOSE” spot.   The concept is very simple: the utilization of a series of parallel cuts that favorably compare a Saab car to the sleek lines and powerful performance of a fighter jet.

Atmospheric visuals, slow-motion walking, aviator shades, the fetishization of a plane’s elegantly sculpted steel…. all the hallmarks later found in TOP GUN are present here.  What is interesting is the dreary weather present— one would think that Scott would have sprung for dramatic sunset shots on a clear day.  Whether intentional or an inevitable occurrence on the day of the shoot, the overcast weather doesn’t put a damper on the spot’s high-soaring spirits.

As most commercial work inevitably becomes, the spot comes off as incredibly dated and even a little cheesy.  That’s to be expected.  If anything, the spot captures a certain mid-80’s zeitgeist, and is an intriguing preview of the career-making film that Scott would soon embark on making.


TOP GUN (1986)

Tony Scott’s second major feature film, 1986’s TOP GUN, tends to be a watershed moment for people my age.  It’s endlessly quoted, parodied, and adored by guys at my reading level (almost exclusively of a certain frathouse persuasion).  Even a class retreat at my high school had a TOP GUN theme, so it’s surprising to most people that I had never seen the film until only a few weeks ago.

Seeing it for the first time as a grown man, almost thirty years after it’s release, I was hard pressed to get as jazzed about it my contemporaries have been.  Basically, it’s goofy as shit.  It’s undeniably cheesy and dated, but it manages to capture a certain zeitgeist of 1980’s pop culture.  It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience– the aerial photography is still pretty thrilling after all these years, but I was rolling my eyes during a majority of the running time.

In the context of Scott’s career, TOP GUN is the film that made him a mainstream and sought-after director. It catapulted him into the level of success that his brother Ridley was enjoying, and firmly established a style that he would utilize throughout the rest of his career.  It was also his first collaboration with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, two powerhouse producers whose films would come to define an era of high concept blockbusters.

Maverick.  Goose.  Iceman.  We all know the players, and we all know the story, so I’m not going to waste time recapping the plot.  Tom Cruise delivers a breakout performance as Maverick, utilizing his boyish charm and cocksure swagger to great effect.  A slim Val Kilmer is the primary antagonist of the film, but ultimately is forced to swallow his pride when a larger threat to national security looms.

Tom Skerritt and Kelly McGillis are memorable in their respective roles, and even Meg Ryan shows up as Goose’s wife-turned-widow.  Nothing groundbreaking here, but everyone gives their best with what they got.

Visually, TOP GUN is a striking departure from Scott’s previous feature THE HUNGER.  For one, it’s shot on the Anamorphic aspect ratio, creating wider vistas and more cinematic compositions.  Contrast is high and colors are super-saturated, favoring the warm orange hues of southern California.

Acting as the director of photography, Jeffrey Kimball imbues the film with a glossy, epic feel while keeping the camera steady and locked-off, favoring composition and music-video edits rather than actual camera movement.  The aerial dogfight photography is admittedly where TOP GUN excels– it’s gorgeous to behold, even now in our post-IMAX world.  Since the cameras are mounted to the actual fighter jets, you get the feeling of being there in the action and soaring across the clouds.

Another stylistic element that became Scott’s trademark is firmly established here, having previously been explored in THE HUNGER.  Much of the interior action takes place in rooms that are backlit by intense, washed-out daylight screaming through the windows.  There’s almost always a framing device, like a billowing curtain or more consistently, venetian blinds.

In that sense, Scott seems to be borrowing a page from the production and lighting design of his brother Ridley’s BLADE RUNNER (1982).  It’s actually pretty distracting when you notice how often it shows up in his films.

A second visual motif is Scott’s use of dramatic, magic-hour skies.  He adds a lens filter to the camera to make the heavens a deep red while maintaining the normal daylight colors in the bottom half of the frame.  It’s become a visual cliche by now– slow motion shots featuring men of action doing their work while backlit by a setting sun– but Scott truly owns it.

Other parts of the movie don’t age so sell.  Specifically, the music.  Scored by Harold Faltermeyer, it certainly exudes an unmistakable mid-80’s feel, but I just can’t get over how goofy it is.  It’s just inherently silly.  Kenny Loggins’ “Highway To The Danger Zone” shows up three times, and the cheesy, crunchy guitar riffing doesn’t help any aspirations to timelessness.  (Same goes with the recurring love theme, “Take My Breath Away”).

It’s fun to be sure, but it definitely didn’t make me want to go hop in a fighter jet and shoot me some commies.

More than enough has been said of the blatant homoerotic undertones of the film– it’s so prominent that I suspect that it was Scott’s intention all along to make the film really about the strange fetishization of masculinity the military fosters.  We all know about the beach volleyball sequence, the moments of rivalry between Maverick and Iceman where their faces are so close that they could kiss, etc.

What’s more interesting to me is how it’s almost a perfect crystallization of a bygone era, or of a very specific moment of time in American history.

TOP GUN was released at the height of Ronald Reagan’s administration, and it wears that influence on its jumpsuit sleeve.  The film illustrates the excess of a superpower who’s largely unequaled.  They have the biggest, baddest toys that money can buy, and they fly them with wild abandon because..why not?  There’s always another one waiting in the wings!

Hell, they even wear aviator sunglasses at night.  Everyone in this film in convinced of their awesomeness and supremacy over everyone else.  It’s an incredibly Reagan-era mindset, right down to the nameless communist country they end up fighting at the film’s climax.

Ultimately, TOP GUN is just a very, very silly film disguised as a serious blockbuster.  Despite my own opinion, I can’t discredit it’s influence on pop culture and, even, modern filmmaking.  It’s the film that put Tony Scott on the map and Tom Cruise in our hearts, so that has to count for something.  There was even talk of a sequel in recent years, but with Scott’s recent suicide, it’s uncertain how that will pan out.


KENNY LOGGINS MUSIC VIDEO: HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE (1986)

What would a mid-80’s blockbuster film be without an accompanying music video for its breakout soundtrack hit?  We certainly wouldn’t have this little gem for Kenny Loggins’ “HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE”, would we?

This music video was crafted entirely as a marketing tool for Scott’s feature film TOP GUN (1986).  It’s notable in that Scott himself also directed the music video, most likely when they had some leftover film and time to kill after wrapping early on the last day.

“HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE” falls into the most tired trope of music videos for motion picture music. It alternates between footage/B-roll from the film, and a mullet-ed, dead-eyed Kenny Loggins while he mouths the lyrics and gropes at himself like a total weirdo.  Oh, and hey, there’s the aviator shades they wear in the movie, too!

The only dead giveaway that this is Scott’s work is in the way that the blown-out daylight is filtering in from the venetian blinds.  It strives to match the color tone and look of TOP GUN, despite being shot on the 4:3 aspect ratio intended for television.

It might have seemed cool back in the day, but it’s the heights of cheese today, so it’s really hard for me to take it seriously and judge it on artistic merit.  Ultimately it just seems like an afterthought and barely represents even a blip of development in Scott’s overall career.


GEORGE MICHAEL MUSIC VIDEO: ONE MORE TRY (1987)

The recently-departed George Michael was a huge star in the late 80’s, and it only made sense that a director of equal stature should direct the music video for his single “ONE MORE TRY”.  Those duties fell to the capable hands of Tony Scott, fresh off his blockbuster success with 1986’s TOP GUN.

Shot on the 4:3 aspect ratio intended for television, the look of the music video bears Scott’s unmistakeable fingerprint.  In a tone that evoke his gothic debut feature THE HUNGER, Scott films George Michael mainly in silhouette against blown-out daylight.  Everything is draped in a colorless patina, with a cold, blue tone. All the furniture is covered in sheets, and the windows are dressed with billowing curtains.

It’s so quintessentially Scott that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little bit.

What’s most interesting about the video is the camerawork, or rather, the lack of it.  Scott frames a majority of the video in a wide, static full-body shot that’s held for two minutes before cutting away to a closeup. He uses said extreme close-up of George Michael’s too-perfectly manicured beard sparingly, and is quick to cut back out to the wide shot.

This was a time when music videos as a medium were still being figured out, and what the proper format should be.  The idea of “music video editing” hadn’t quite come into play, so many music videos (this one included) were content to simply be moody performance pieces.  It’s a technique that serves to put more emphasis on the song and its lyrics, as well as the performer, rather than any flashy techniques.

Ultimately, it’s a very low investment in terms of Scott’s involvement; it most likely was a one day shoot that pocketed Scott a few thousand bucks without having to work too hard.  It’s barely a blip in terms of his personal development, but it serves as further validation of his cache within pop culture.


BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 (1987)

Tony Scott followed TOP GUN’s (1986) mega success with a big-budget sequel to one of the biggest film franchises of the 1980’s.  BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 (1987) features Eddie Murphy at the top of his game– a bittersweet sensation considering how dismal his career has become.  Proving that Scott had the chops to handle a huge franchise film, the movie builds on his penchant for slick action and stylish visuals, while also delivering a heavy dose of humor throughout.

I haven’t seen any of the other BEVERLY HILLS COP films, so I had a fair amount of catch-up to play in regards to figuring out who these characters were.  Murphy is the wise-cracking, fast-talking Axel Foley (a zeitgeist 80’s name if I ever heard one), who’s tendency to shoot off his mouth rather than his gun gets him into a fair amount of trouble.

Presumably, he returns to his native Detroit after whatever happens in the first film, where he is called back to LA’s sunny streets when his friends at the Beverly Hills police force run afoul of a nefarious crime syndicate.

An effective comedy relies on strong performances, and BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 certainly delivers.  This younger, edgier Murphy is infinitely more watchable than today’s hollow incarnation.  80’s comedy personalities Paul Reiser and Judge Reinhold presumably reprise their characters from the first film.

Reinhold’s character was my personal favorite– an uptight, whitebread guy who becomes loosened up throughout the case and finally lets himself have some fun.

I got the biggest kick, however, from all the celebrity cameos throughout.  Chris Rock shows up as a valet at the Playboy mansion, long before anyone knew his face or name. Hugh Hefner shows up too, looking a spry 25 years younger than what I’m personally used to seeing.  Gilbert Gottfried even shows up, using his unmistakeable screech of a voice to great effect as a smarmy lawyer.

Celebrity cameos in general tend to be a cheap gimmick, but Scott uses them to solid effect here and keeps our attention from flagging.

Despite it being somewhat of a broad action comedy (and a sequel warranting a look similar to its predecessor), Scott utilizes all the hallmarks of his trademark style here.  Lensed in the Academy aspect ratio by TOP GUN’s Director of Photography Jeffrey Kimball, the picture is quintessentially Scott: high contrast, with saturated (yet naturalistic) colors favoring warm orange tones when in Los Angeles, and cold blue tones when in Detroit.

 Lighting is also supplemented by bursts of neon and that old standby: overblown light filtering in through venetian blinds.  He also retains his affectation for dramatic, orange skies.  It’s a good fit for the subject matter, and the sunny climes of southern California.

Other visual tricks include mounting cameras to moving vehicles, like Foley’s sports car.  It comes off as a ground-based interpretation of the epic camera-mounted shots of fighter jets in TOP GUN.  The camerawork is steady and mostly stationary.  Again, he relies on cuts and composition to tell the story, rather than relying on moving the camera.

Scott retains the services of TOP GUN’s composer, Harold Faltermayer, who creates a synth-y electronic score that reprises the iconic BEVERLY HILLS COP theme song (admit it, you’re humming it along in your head right now).  Scott also peppers the soundtrack with popular contemporary rock songs– which means that twenty five years after its release, it now just sounds incredibly dated and silly.

However, the film is clearly a product of its time, so the music is congruent with all the other outdated elements.

All in all, the film is consistent with the then-burgeoning Simpson/Bruckheimer brand.  It’s a mass market release that deals in the heights of 1980’s escapism- fast cars, big sunglasses, tropical locales, high-riding bikinis, and long hair.  It’s notable as Scott’s first overt comedy, albeit wrapped up in action that’s more along his wheelhouse.

It would be entirely disposable entertainment if not for the BEVERLY HILLS COP brand (which has no cultural cache with me personally, but certainly does for a large swath of the population).  If anything, the success of BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 proved that Scott’s success with TOP GUN was no fluke– he was one of the top mainstream Hollywood directors of his time, and he was there to stay.


DAYS OF THUNDER (1990)

As Tony Scott’s first major work of the 1990’s, DAYS OF THUNDER is obviously trying to recapture past TOP GUN (1986) glory by swapping fighter jets with race cars.  That said, it’s not  nearly as cheesy as its predecessor, but recycles many of the same style elements and story tropes.  As a result, the reheated leftovers can’t quite amount to the undeniable cultural impact of Maverick and Goose.

In the beginning of the 90’s, the producing team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer had a near-monopoly on the highest-grossing American studio films.  They developed a certain gung-ho, patriotic style that utilized huge budgets to deliver super-sized thrills.  They shepherded an entire generation of action directors, from Michael Bay to Simon West– but Scott is arguably the finest director in their stable.

With DAYS OF THUNDER, Scott again works with these producing powerhouses to score another box office hit.

Scott re-teams with Tom Cruise, who headlines the film as Cole Trickle: a young hotshot race car driver whose supreme confidence is shaken when he’s involved in a traumatic accident on the job.  The characters of Maverick and Cole are essentially the same– the key difference being the length of Cruise’s hair.

Robert Duvall is incredibly effective and believable as the blue collar, Southern-drawled farmer/car engineer who’s lured back into racing and becomes Cole’s mentor.  A young Nicole Kidman is the love interest, but updated with a 90’s twist.  Keeping in tradition with Kelly McGillis’ whip smart flight instructor in TOP GUN, Kidman plays an equally whip smart doctor who is strongly resistant to Cruise’s charms.

It’s also interesting that she seems to be using her natural Aussie accent here, instead of going for the expected American one.  Kidman would later go on to become Cruise’s real-life wife for a spell, as well as his on-screen one in Stanley Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT (1999).

The supporting cast is filled out with strong character actors like Randy Quaid and John C Reilly.  Knowing how Quaid has somewhat spiraled out of mental health in recent years, it’s really interesting to see him here as a cleaned-up, slick shark of a businessman.  I didn’t know he had that kind of range.

It being a new decade and all, Scott switches up his team of collaborators behind the camera, but still achieves a look that’s consistent with his past work.  Ward Russell serves as the Director of Photography, and ably accommodates Scott’s fondness for high contrast, warm color tones, dramatic orange skies, and an epic-feeling Anarmorphic aspect ratio (not to mention that damn daylight through the blinds!).

 The camerawork is low-key, choosing to stay locked-off and compositional rather than flashy for a majority of the story.  The pace of editing and placement of the camera ramps up substantially, however, during the film’s racing scenes.  Mounting the camera to the cars like he did to the jets in TOP GUN, Scott ably puts the audience right there on the track and gives off a strong sense of speed.

The story is, unfortunately, almost a note-for-note rehash of TOP GUN.  It’s not as strong or compelling as its predecessor, and the love story is stale and formulaic, but Scott creates a few memorable sequences. One of my favorites was a wheelchair-bound racing scene through a hospital corridor.  It goes to show the intense competitive spirit inherent in these young men and why their profession is everything to them.

It’s a lighthearted moment, to be sure, but it’s also a great insight into the characters’ psyche.

DAYS OF THUNDER marks Scott’s first collaboration with Hans Zimmer, who has since become one of the most sought-after composers in today’s filmmaking scene.  Zimmer crafts an electronic, synth-y score that strives for the pop zeitgeist that TOP GUN’s score achieved.  With the 80’s firmly in the past, and grunge rock planting its roots in dank Pacific Northwestern basements, the soundtrack must’ve sounded a little cheesy even back then.  Today, it’s another goofy element that dates what could otherwise be a timeless film.

This was my first time seeing DAYS OF THUNDER, and perhaps it was the outdated DVD transfer, but I had a hard time connecting with it— if even for the fact that it was a rehash of a story I already didn’t connect to in TOP GUN.  That being said, I can’t argue against its solid box office success and standing in 90’s pop culture.  It’s another notch in Scott’s belt of bonafide action successes.

It was around this point that Scott was crystallizing his “brand” as a helmer of big-budget, big-star-name action vehicles.  It’s a decidedly different tack from what his brother Ridley ended up taking, but by focusing his craft on this particular frequency of the cinematic spectrum, his natural talents allow him to turn otherwise-disposable entertainment into enduring fan favorites.


REVENGE (1990)

The year 1990 saw the release of two feature films from Tony Scott.  The first, DAYS OF THUNDER, was met with significant box office success, but his far stronger effort that year was REVENGE.  It’s a much smaller, moodier film, but Scott still imbues it with his unique sense of style and edginess.

It’s not a great film by any means, and it certainly hasn’t earned quite the cache that his bigger movies have, but with REVENGE, Scott shows he’s at home with small thrillers as much as he is big action spectacle.

REVENGE is the story of Michael “Jay” Cochran (Kevin Costner), an ex-Navy fighter pilot who spends his first few weeks of retirement in Mexico under the hospitality of a wealthy Mexican businessman and close friend, Tiburon Mendez.  When he finds himself falling for Mendez’ beautiful wife, Miryea, he goes against his own personal convictions to begin an affair with her.

Their romance meets a tragic end when Mendez discovers the affair and attacks them.  Left for dead, Cochran is resolved to track down Miryea, who’s been sold into prostitution, as well as take revenge on Mendez himself.

REVENGE deals in extremely murky morals, which I found to be quite refreshing.  Costner is first presented as a principle, rather vanilla guy who loves his dog and his country.  He at first resists Miryea’s advances, but then quickly (and uncharacteristically) gives in to his lust.  In doing so, he betrays his good friend and Miryea’s husband, yet we’re still expected to sympathize with him.

When the time comes for him to hunt Mendez down in revenge for nearly killing him, it creates conflicted feelings for the audience– why are we rooting for a guy to get revenge when he was the one who did the wrong in the first place?

This strange dynamic is tempered by an antagonist who is only lashing out because an unspeakable wrong was originally done to him.  Anthony Quinn plays Mendez as a sophisticated, Mexican gentleman of wealth and loyalty.  Sure, he’s got a history of being unhinged and is seen to go a little bit too far in his business dealings (assassinating business associates and going completely apeshit on Cochran’s countryside cabin), but throughout it all he’s a man who values integrity and respect.  Those are his operating principles, and it makes him a sympathetic villain while also maintaining the sympathy of Cochran.  It all reads as an inevitable collision of two runaway trains.

Madeline Stowe is effective as Miryea, Mendez’ wife and Cochran’s lover.  It’s tragic to see the consequences of her actions unfold.  I was only recently made aware of Stowe as an actress, previously seeing her for the first time in Michael Mann’s THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992).  I was definitely more impressed with her tragic performance in REVENGE.

The rest of the cast is filled out with actors I don’t particularly recognize, although John Leguizamo makes a baby-faced appearance in one of his earliest film roles here.

Behind the camera, Scott re-teams with Jeffrey Kimball, who again serves as Director of Photography. Together, they replicate Scott’s trademark look: high contrast, dramatic skies, and extremely saturated colors skewed towards the orange spectrum.  With REVENGE, however, Scott starts experimenting with drastic coloring– a style he would adopt fully in his later 2000’s features.

He paints the Mexican landscape and searing heat in an unrelenting, aggressive orange tint.  The camera-work follows suit with his previous films– low-key and languorous (with the exception of the action sequences).  Other Scott fingerprints include the use of intense light streaming through curtains and venetian blinds and a fighter jet sequence that recalls the action of TOP GUN (1986).

Jack Nitzsche provides a forgettable soundtrack, but from what I remember of it, it sustained the tone of the picture without intruding on it.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would.  It’s a surprisingly erotic thriller that finds Scott getting down and dirty to deliver a lean, mean piece of pulp entertainment.  It’s stature has grown in recent years, and is arguably better than DAYS OF THUNDER, his mainstream contribution that year.  I just can’t believe they killed the dog.  That’s gutsy, man.


TRUE ROMANCE (1993)

Tony Scott created his strongest works whenever he paired with an equally gifted screenwriter.  Having found a large degree of success from his collaboration with Shane Black in THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991), Scott’s next project would stem from the mind of 90’s break-out wunderkind, Quentin Tarantino– arguably one of the most original, dynamic, and controversial voices in cinema to this day.

The result was 1993’s TRUE ROMANCE, a Generation X take on the “lovers on the lam” film done so eloquently before with Arthur Penn’s BONNIE & CLYDE (1967) and Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS (1973).

TRUE ROMANCE is one of Scott’s most seminal films, and with good reason.  Tarantino’s referential, witty dialogue meshes well with Scott’s aesthetic, and the cast is compelled to deliver some career-best performances.  Despite being nearly twenty years old, it hasn’t aged a day.  Scott foregoes a flashy, stylish look for something more subdued, subtle and timeless.

It’s clear that BADLANDS is a huge influence on the film, and indeed, TRUE ROMANCE almost plays out like a grunge perversion of the same story.

TRUE ROMANCE is a simple story about a boy meeting a girl.  However, it just so happens that the boy is an aimless slacker (whose internal monologue with himself takes the external form of hallucinating Elvis) and the girl is a prostitute.  Clarence (Christian Slater) spends a magical night with Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a woman he met in a movie theatre (because where else would a Tarantino romance start?).

When she reveals to him that she is a prostitute, he offers to free her from the grip of her slimy pimp so they can be together.  To make a long story short: Clarence’s meeting with the pimp (Gary Oldman) goes horribly wrong, he kills the pimp and steals a briefcase of coke, and the lovers flee to Los Angeles with the coke’s mafioso owners in hot pursuit.

As a general observation, actors love working with Tarantino’s dialogue, and it’s certainly evident here. Christian Slater, who frankly has never been better than he is in TRUE ROMANCE, is likeable and sweet, despite his scruffy appearance, cheap sunglasses, and propensity for violence.  As Alabama, Patricia Arquette is sweet and virginal, while fully aware of her sexuality.  She’s a smart cookie trapped in a bimbo’s body.

Together, they have incredible chemistry that singes the edges of the frame.  It’s very clear that Tarantino meant for TRUE ROMANCE to be a modern update of the “lovers on the run” films he grew up with, and the characterization of these two lovers bears his umistakeable stamp.

The supporting characters are equally as strong.  As Alabama’s pimp, Gary Oldman is utterly unrecognizable behind rasta dreadlocks and metal teeth.  It’s a shocking performance, considering how fresh his take on Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY is our collective consciousness. Samuel L. Jackson shows up in one scene as well, biting it fairly early on.

As Clarence’s cop father, Dennis Hopper is a welcome presence.  He’s a straight arrow, an exhausted part of the establishment.  As a blue collar, middle-aged man, his performance is a far cry from his career-making role in the rebellious EASY RIDER (1969).  It’s a brief appearance, but he brings an incredible amount of depth to his role, and accomplishes arguably the finest performance in the film.

Michael Rapaport, who never truly established mainstream success outside of television, plays Clarence’s actor friend in Los Angeles, and finds himself as the fulcrum on which the action of the second half swings. Christopher Walken makes a one-scene cameo as the drug lord who’s cocaine has been stolen.

His interrogation of Hopper is one of the most famous dialogues in film history, and he burns the screen with a menace that hasn’t been equalled in his performances since.  The future Tony Soprano– a fit and trim James Gandolfini– appears as Walken’s right-hand man who follows the lovers to Los Angeles.  Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore also show up as a pair of tough, wisecracking LA detectives who find themselves way in over their heads at the film’s climax.

And last but not least, Brad Pitt shows up in the minor, yet incredibly memorable role of Floyd.  As Michael Rapaport’s character’s stoner roommate, the young Pitt is hilarious and incredibly believable.  Having made his feature film debut in Ridley Scott’s THELMA & LOUISE only two years earlier, Pitt is able to squeeze in a career performance (making the most of minimal material) for the younger Scott brother.

I had seen TRUE ROMANCE once before in college, and enjoyed it.  Watching it again, and having since seen Malick’s BADLANDS, the similarities were impossible to ignore.  Tarantino has built a career out of paying homage to his influences, but TRUE ROMANCE is just different enough from BADLANDS to barely escape plagiarism.

For instance, the score, composed by Hans Zimmer, sounds almost exactly like the theme for BADLANDS.   It uses the same instrumentation and tempo, but the notes are inverted, as if this film were BADLANDS’ mirror opposite.  The film also opens with a voiceover spoken by Arquette, which apes the manner of speaking heard in Sissy Spacek’s voiceover.   Instead of idyllic midcentury suburban images of Americana, the voiceover is played out over a contemporary, post-industrial Detroit whose buildings are rapidly crumbling from neglect and abandonment.

Despite the similar storyline, Scott imbues the film with enough of his signature that it stands strongly on its own two legs.  Reteaming with cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball, Scott brands the frame with his particular aesthetic: Anarmorphic aspect ratio, high contrast, deep saturation, dramatic skies, overblown light through venetian blinds, and a color balance favoring warm orange tones (even in the cold Detroit environments).

Camerawork is similar to Scott’s work of the era, with a locked-off camera limited to pans, zooms, and dollies in terms of movement.

As an LA resident, it’s fun to catch all the little easter eggs in regards to where the film is shot.  For instance, the Detroit theatre where Clarence and Alabama meet is the Vista Theatre, a small arthouse cinema near my apartment in Silverlake.  The Safari Inn in Burbank serves as the seedy motel where the lovers shack up when they arrive in LA.  But interestingly enough, the geography of the film insinuates that its located off of Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, not out in the Valley.

Once in a while, lightning strikes, and all the elements come together to create a truly memorable film. With incredible performances, sharp writing from a voice that became the zeitgeist of 90’s pop culture, and stylish, effective direction, TRUE ROMANCE deserves its place in Scott’s canon as one of his best works.


CRIMSON TIDE (1995)

By 1995, the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer brand of movies had become firmly ensconced within the American film industry.  These films were heavily patriotic, bombastic, and flashy– but more often than not, had skillfully told stories at their centers.  In 1995, Tony Scott again collaborated with these producing titans to create CRIMSON TIDE, an action film about the struggle of power in a nuclear-armed submarine.

In the grand picture of Scott’s filmography, I would consider it a minor work– however, it’s an exciting, well-crafted story about male power struggles in a time of conflict.  And most notably, for our purposes here, CRIMSON TIDE marks the first movement in a major stylistic shift that would Scott would adopt for the remainder of his work.

By the mid 90’s, the Cold War was history, but the lingering residue continued to fuel the entertainment industry like it had in the decades prior.  CRIMSON TIDE tells the story of Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), the commander of a nuclear missile submarine.  He subscribes to a simple mantra: there are three truly powerful men in the world: The US President, the President of Russia, and the Commander of a US nuclear submarine.

Naturally, this is going to be a story about the struggle of power.  The opposition comes in the form of Ramsey’s new XO, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington, in the first of many collaborations with Scott).  When a transmission implying the launch of Russian nuclear missiles is cut off during an attack on their submarine, Hunter and Ramsey spar over whether to initiate a missile response when there’s a reasonable doubt over the transmissions’ accuracy.

The performances in this film are full of pure testosterone.  In fact, I don’t recall a single female in the entire cast.  Hackman and Washington are captivating as the two leads,  whose opposing ideologies (guts vs. reason, action vs. caution) provide enough fodder to pad out the film’s running time without losing our attention.

Viggo Mortenson (who would later go on to star in 1999’s G.I. JANE for Scott’s brother, Ridley) plays the officer unfortunately caught between his loyalty to his friend and to his commander.  Scott also utilizes TRUE ROMANCE’s James Gandolfini as Hackman’s thuggish enforcer.  There’s a lot of bravado, angry barking, and swearing between these men, but the claustrophobic confines of the sub and the life-or-death stakes of their actions makes it riveting instead of grating.

I had never seen CRIMSON TIDE before, and truth be told, I would frequently confuse it with THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (they’re both submarine movies with shades of red in their titles, get off my back!).  Now that my ocular organs have ingested it, I’m sure it’ll be much harder to get the two confused.  Since the film is seventeen years old, I expected it to be a little dated (especially because the Cold War hasn’t been relevant for about half of my lifetime), but I was surprised to see how well it holds up on a technical level.

Scott trades in his previous collaborations to work with a new Director of Photography, Dariusz Wolski.  While the established Scott aesthetic continues here (Anamorphic aspect ratios, high contrast, dramatic skies, warm orange tones in exterior shots), Wolski seems to encourage Scott to refresh certain components of his style.

As a result, this is the first film in Scott’s canon where the tone of his late-career work would come into play.  Wolski subdues orange colors, favoring the clinical blues, greens, and even reds of the claustrophobic submarine setting.  Wolski even uses dramatic color blocking to light scenes, where one half of an actor’s face might be lit entirely in red, while the other side is lit entirely blue  It’s a more diverse, slightly colder color palette that suits the machinery of the military/industrial complex.

Scott even starts mixing up his tried-and-true camerawork.  While keeping true to his preferences for a locked-down, stable camera and wide compositions, he plays around with the film’s unique setting.  With CRIMSON TIDE, he begins to introduce handheld camera shots, lens flares, dynamic close-up shots, canted angles, etc.

All of it gels together in a quick, punchy editing style influenced by music video cutting (most noticeably in the opening credits, which is a quick compilation of news footage bringing us up to speed on the state of current affairs).

Being a Simpson/Bruckheimer production, Hans Zimmer naturally provides his services on the score.  It’s a loud, brassy score, but iconic and memorable.  I had heard the theme years before just by virtue of being a Zimmer fan, but it works incredibly well in the context of the film.  My only complaint is that it supports the tone a little too well, as it tends to cross over into the realm of propaganda from time to time.

One of the cool things about ingesting a director’s entire work in chronological order is that I’ve begun to notice small referential things, like little in-jokes.  For instance, Hackman’s character carries around a Jack Russel terrier throughout the film, which just so happens to be brother Ridley’s favorite dog breed.  The man is as enthusiastic about them as I am with pugs.

Scott also references his debut film THE HUNGER (1983) by playing the classical music from that film in Captain Ramsey’s quarters.  Ramsey even dons a red baseball cap similar to the weathered-pink one that Scott infamously sported throughout his career.

Ultimately, CRIMSON TIDE is a compelling post-Cold War film that turns the focus of the conflict inward.  No one is truly a bad guy– each is acting in what he perceives to be the best interests of the United States.  The story stresses the need for pause and double-checking oneself, even in the most stressful and dire of circumstances.

It’s all reverential and highly ceremonial, much like the military itself, but the performances make the whole thing come alive.  While it’s not a wholly unforgettable film, CRIMSON TIDE’s value in cinematic history is only diluted by the strength of other Scott works like TRUE ROMANCE and MAN ON FIRE.


THE FAN (1996)

By the mid-90’s, Tony Scott had firmly established himself in the pantheon of Hollywood’s most bankable action directors.  His 1996 effort, THE FAN, continues his streak of high concept, big budget action films with compelling stories at their centers.

Stories about psychotic stalkers and their celebrity obsessions abound in pop culture, and while THE FAN has mostly been forgotten in the years since its release, it holds up quite well as an effective thriller. Robert DeNiro stars as Gil Renard, a San Francisco Giants superfan whose preoccupations with all-star Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes) spiral downwards into psychosis.

This was my first time seeing THE FAN, and I was struck at how tempered Scott’s depiction of DeNiro’s madman initially was.  We see his complete transformation, from schlubby knife salesman who can’t even be a good father without screwing up (despite his best efforts), to completely unhinged psychopath holding Rayburn’s son as a hostage.

DeNiro does a fantastic job of generating a fair amount of sympathy for his character early on.  He’s just a regular guy that loves his Giants and his kid– sometimes these two loves butt heads up against each other, but who hasn’t been there, right?  He’s disorganized and is treated horribly by his boss.  For much of the film, we’re rooting with him to overcome these difficulties.  It’s a nuanced, intricate performance where the shift to total psycho is a gradual, believable one.

Wesley Snipes also turns in arguably one of his career-best performances here as new Giants teammate and MVP Bobby Rayburn.  He’s fast-talking and cocky, like other African-American protagonists in previous Scott films (Eddie Murphy and Damon Wayans come to mind), but when he must assume the moral high ground in the second half, he compellingly delivers the desperation of a man whose son is in mortal danger.

The supporting characters are comprised of notable faces.  John Leguizamo, in his second appearance in a Scott film (and his first English-speaking role in one), plays Rayburn’s manager as an energetic, street-wise businessman.  Benicio Del Toro shows up, albeit with ridiculously ugly red hair, as a rival Giants player who’s stolen Rayburn’s lucky number.

It’s a small but pivotal role, as he is the catalyst in Renard taking his first steps into madness.  A pre-fame Jack Black even shows up in one scene towards the beginning, as a radio show employee.

Right off the bat (…pun intended?) it’s apparent that Scott is trying to emulate the tone of a Martin Scorsese film, albeit while keeping his traditional aesthetic intact.  He collaborates once again with Dariusz Wolski to create an image that’s high in contrast, deeply saturated, and favors warm orange tones during exteriors and cold greenish hues under fluorescent lights.

Skies are dramatic, and overblown light through venetian blinds abound.  However, everything else points to a heavy Scorsese influence: the introduction of handheld camerawork, punchy editing and breakneck pacing in the vein of a music video, experimental cuts (like a deep red tint dominating the image during Benicio’s murder), and the strategic use of slow-motion.

Even the casting of DeNiro is a dead give-away to Scott’s intentions.  While initially coming off as an emulation however, it’s important to note that it’s leading Scott to further cement a new directorial aesthetic– one which would become inarguably his own.

The Scorsese-fest continues in the music arena.  While Scott retains the services of Hans Zimmer for a traditional score, he also peppers the film with an eclectic (if maybe misguided) mix of pop and rock songs. He leans heavily on The Rolling Stones to establish a certain tone, but falters in his choices of tracks. Namely, he simply copies the Scorsese catalog of their greatest hits (and the ones most over-used in films): “Sympathy For the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter”.  While it’s unoriginal, it fits the aesthetic of baseball as a sport in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Scott also uses a curious mix of Carlos Santana and Nine Inch Nails songs, the latter of which are meant to convey the inner psychosis of Renard.  Although, it gets a little Jerry Sandusky when Trent Reznor’s lyrics “I wanna fuck you” can be heard over and over while DeNiro holds Snipes’ son hostage.  While the soundtrack is probably an accurate reflection of what was popular sixteen years ago, it is the only element that really dates the film.

Having just seen The Giants play at Dodger Stadium a few days prior to watching THE FAN, it was really interesting to see how passionate their fans truly are, even a decade and a half later.  I witnessed the zeal and bravery with which the small number of Giants fans cheered their team on, amidst the veritable sea of Dodger lovers– so DeNiro’s leap into psychotic obsession wasn’t too big of one to believe.

It’s a very interesting backdrop for a film that plays with the inherent obsessiveness of being a diehard baseball fan, while daring to cross the line into dark territory.  THE FAN is a moody, stylish thriller that perhaps has been unjustly forgotten by time, but holds a special place in the hearts of its dedicated super-fans.


THE HUNGER: THE SWORDS EPISODE (1997)

In the mid-90’s, for reasons completely unknown, Showtime created a television anthology series loosely adapted from Tony Scott’s debut feature, THE HUNGER (1983).  It lasted for two seasons, and as far as I’m aware, didn’t make much of a splash in pop culture.  While undoubtedly serving as one of the guiding hands behind the whole production, Scott himself only directed two episodes.

“THE SWORDS” (1997) was the pilot episode, and effectively captures the tone and spirit of Scott’s feature, while introducing an entirely new setting and cast of characters.

After the heavily experimental, slightly schizo opening credits (most likely influenced by the opening titles for David Fincher’s SE7EN (1995)), Terence Stamp appears as a sort of Master of Ceremonies.  Wearing Scott’s famed pink baseball cap and strutting around a baroque mansion, he briefly sets up the story and bows out.  It’s not unlike the opening segments to similar horror anthologies like TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

The story of “THE SWORDS” concerns a young American man who comes to London to study acting.  Along the way, he becomes involved with the denizens of an underground punk club, who introduce him to a supernatural stage show called “The Swords”.  During the show, a beautiful young woman has her abdomen impaled by a sword, only for her to be completely unharmed when it’s withdrawn.

The young man becomes obsessed with the show, and with the girl.  They begin a passionate affair, whereby the woman is impaled by a decidedly different kind of sword.  It all ends tragically when the trance of love trumps the trance that allows her to survive her nightly impalement.

I have to applaud the producers and Scott for creating a show based off a vampire movie, and having the gall to not make the pilot episode about vampires.  It sets up the notion that the grounded mysticism in the original feature will remain intact, but a multitude of other supernatural stories will be explored.  Scott recreates the tone of THE HUNGER with the same kind mix of baroque London settings, classical music, and underground punk clubs.

Director of Photography John Mathieson frames the action in a television-ready 4:3 aspect ratio.  The image is classical Scott: high contrast, deep saturation, blinding light through curtains and venetian blinds, and moments of extreme color manipulation (mostly in the hosting segments with Terence Stamp).  Colors veer towards the warm side of the spectrum, only to switch to a cold, almost inhospitable blue in exterior scenes.

The camera stays locked-off, and mostly limits its movement to pans and zooms.  Scott also shows draws on some experimental, playful techniques, seen here in the form of canted angles and spinning the camera in a corkscrew fashion.

Besides the inclusion of his trademark pink baseball cap, Scott throws in a couple of other nods to his career.  For instance, Hans Zimmer’s theme for TRUE ROMANCE (1993) shows up when the young man and the showgirl first begin their affair.

On a completely unrelated note, there’s also just a lot of general weird British-ness on full display.  Watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

THE SWORDS” finds Scott returning to the medium of television, as well as to his roots as a director.  It’s a small-scale story that he tells effectively within it’s half-hour running time.  He doesn’t let the boundaries of a smaller screen constrain his imagination, and as a result, he undergoes a creative refreshing that will propel him onward as the millennium comes to a close.


ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)

After a brief stint in television, Tony Scott returned to features and his longtime producing team, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.  Their collaboration resulted in ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998), a frenetic thriller that capitalized on an increasing public paranoia over government surveillance capabilities in the internet age.

While dealing with its potent themes in a typically ham-handed fashion, the film has proved over time to be eerily prescient on the government’s tendency to abuse this significant power.

I remember seeing the trailer for ENEMY OF THE STATE when it was released, but mainly because at twelve years old, I was becoming cognizant of movies as a business as well as an art form.  I had only started making films myself a year earlier, and as such was beginning to pay attention to films as something more than just entertainment.

However, since it was rated R, there was no way in hell I was going to see it anytime soon.  As it turned out, my first viewing ENEMY OF THE STATE was only a few days ago, nearly fifteen years after its release.

The film concerns Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith), a DC labor lawyer who finds himself on the run from the NSA when he comes into possession of a videotape recording the murder of a prominent statesman. Initially clueless as to why he’s the target of the secretive organization, his attempts to find the truth make him more aware of the extent of their surveillance operations.  It’s a high-concept, big budget idea that’s perfectly suited to Scott’s sensibilities.  Furthermore, ENEMY OF THE STATE is the first film that embodies Scott’s post-90’s aesthetic– one that deals in extreme color manipulation, frenetic camerawork and rapid-fire pacing.

The performances in the film, while not terribly memorable, are solid enough to hold their own against Scott’s aggressive direction.  ENEMY OF THE STATE was released as Will Smith was becoming a major film star, but he wisely plays down his comedic roots for a more grounded and subdued performance.

While it’s not as accomplished as some of his later, more serious work (such as Michael Mann’s ALI (2001)), it’s a great example of his capability to believably achieve that range.  Jon Voight plays the NSA executive who carries out the central murder, and who then must cover up his tracks as the truth leaks out.  He’s cold, relentless and methodical– believable both as someone who would be trusted to head the most secretive surveillance agency in the world, and as the main antagonist.

The supporting cast is made up of familiar faces, who were still breaking through at the time of its release. Barry Pepper plays Voight’s right-hand man with a palpable degree of menace and competency.  Tom Sizemore makes his second appearance in a Scott film, showing up here as a thuggish business owner (and not some gruff war junkie like he’s known for).

Scott Caan is memorable only for the fact that he’s made a name for himself recently on ENTOURAGE and HAWAII-FIVE-O.  The film also has some fun with the hacker subculture, personified here by Seth Green and Jamie Kennedy working in full-on geek mode.

Jason Lee plays a small, yet central role as a documentarian who inadvertently discovers that his footage of duck migration patterns has also captured a murder.  Since his big moment is a large chase sequence, the role has some pretty large physical demands.  Thankfully, as a professional skateboarder, Lee is more than capable.  (I also found it pretty funny that he has a University of Oregon mug in his apartment).

Other players include Jack Black, appearing in a much larger capacity than he did in Scott’s THE FAN (1996), as well as small cameos by Phillip Baker Hall and Gabriel Byrne.  And last, but not least, Gene Hackman plays a large role as the reluctant mentor to Smith when he’s in over his head.

I found his inclusion to be inspired casting, not only because of his successful collaboration with Scott in CRIMSON TIDE (1995), but also because its nod to his infamous performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION (1974) as a man besieged by surveillance paranoia.

With ENEMY OF THE STATE, Scott makes a huge break from many of his key technical collaborators. Newcomer Dan Mindel serves as the Director of Photography, enabling Scott to crystallize a new visual style that he would bring to the remainder of his work.  Shooting on an Anamorphic aspect ratio, the image is high in contrast, with saturated colors and warm tones despite the wintery DC setting.

Dramatic skies abound, as do his signature “light-through-the-blinds” shots.  Camera-work is mostly steady and locked-down, favoring composition rather than movement.  However, when the action kicks in, Scott has no qualms about going completely handheld and frenetic.  Establishing shots gets an epic punch, usually shot from a helicopter circling its subject.  Scott also designs many shots from an overhead perspective to mimic the surveillance themes of the story.

Scott also foregoes another collaboration with Hans Zimmer, choosing instead to work this time around with Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams.  It’s an electronic, string-heavy score that’s fairly typical of its time and of it subject matter.  Nothing too memorable.

As time has gone on, it’s fairly easy to poke fun at the film’s heavy-handed approach to government surveillance.  It’s presented as an omniscient eye on every little activity, and even then it’s clear the technology was made up by the writers (a fairly dubious 3-D rotating program for surveillance cameras comes to mind).

A recurring shot features a fairly shoddy CGI satellite whipping around the world and feeding information to the NSA.  Even the opening credits are built around surveillance footage, much like his brother Ridley would do a few years later in BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001).  However, in the fifteen years since its release, the Patriot Act and its fallout have certainly lent the film the proper justification for its paranoid atmosphere.

Even though it’s made with a palpable pre-9/11 innocence in regards to surveillance and terrorism, it’s eerily prescient today.  (Also, am I the only one that noticed that Voight’s character is shown to have his birthday on September 11th, an eerie coincidence given what would happen on that day three years later?)

Ultimately, it’s pretty easy to chalk ENEMY OF THE STATE up to typical, blockbuster/Bruckheimer silliness. Sure, there are moments of blatant studio ham-handedness (there’s definitely a scene where downtown LA tries to pass for Maryland.  The use of the reflective 2nd Street Tunnel isn’t fooling anybody).

But its prescience can’t be denied, even if it is just popcorn entertainment intended for mass consumption. In Scott’s canon, ENEMY OF THE STATE is an important work, mainly because its his first, full embrace of a new directorial style that would have an overwhelming effect on his legacy.


THE HUNGER: SANCTUARY EPISODE (1999)

In 1999, Showtime greenlit another season of Tony Scott’s television adaptation of his own film, THE HUNGER (1983).  Tony Scott returned to direct “SANCTUARY”, the second season’s first episode, and takes full advantage of the new resources bestowed on the production from the success of the first season.

Full disclosure: I haven’t watched any other episodes of this series besides the ones that Scott has directed, but with SANCTUARY, it seems Scott radically tinkers with the show’s format.  He dispenses with Terence Stamp as the de facto Master of Ceremonies, choosing instead to place the original film’s star, David Bowie, in the spotlight.

What’s interesting though, is that Bowie seems to have been worked into the narrative itself– not just as a host, but as a main character.  He plays a long-haired, eccentric artist-turned recluse who nurses the wounds from a recent scandal within the stone walls of his converted prison estate.

Giovanni Ribisi appears as the story’s other main character– a young man seeking the guidance and mentorship of Bowie’s artist.  However, he’s nursing a gunshot wound and harboring secrets of his own.  Overall, the performances are remarkably strong, making the most of admittedly pulpy genre material.

Bernard Couture serves as the Director of Photography in his first collaboration with Scott.  He frames the action in the television-standard 4:3 aspect ratio, while mainly keeping in line with Scott’s signature aesthetic: high contrast, even colors that favor the blue/green end of the spectrum, light through curtains, etc.  The camerawork is much more frenetic, keeping pace with Scott’s evolving techniques.

He makes use of wild pans, trucks zooms, spins, time-ramps, etc.  When he doesn’t cover the action in a standard medium-to-wide shots, he cuts in for extreme close-ups of lips, eyes, hands, etc… all of which lend an air of mystery to the piece.  The second season no doubt received a much bigger budget than the first, and it’s on full display here with the camera trickery and production design.

Scott’s adoption of music-video editing techniques continues, beginning with the same SE7EN-inspired opening credits as the first season.  He also builds on ENEMY OF THE STATE’s (1998) surveillance imagery, and introduces a new signature technique:  abruptly freeze-framing the action with a timestamp, effectively turning it into a black and white snapshot.  It’s an incredibly literal way to depict the time-honored cinematic notion of “the ticking clock”, but it works well enough within his style.

Scott re-teams with Harry Gregson-Williams for a hard rock-inspired musical score that’s appropriate enough for the setting.  It’s fairly generic and unremarkable, but it’s effective in capturing the tone and sustaining our interest.

SANCTUARY paints a disturbing portrait of a psychotic artist’s downfall.  Bowie’s character desperately wants to create a work of lasting art that will bestow upon him immortality– but the price he has to pay will be higher than he ever imagined.  With its macabre twist ending, it’s easy to see why this story would be included in an anthology series like “THE HUNGER”.

The imagery is provocative, gory, and oftentimes over-the-top (a naked woman on a crucifix comes to mind).  There’s plenty of nods to the original film as well, with a flashback to a nightclub-esque art show that recalls the punk stylings of the original film, as well as the overtly homosexual imagery (Ribisi is seen performing oral sex on a man).

There’s even references to Scott’s other work, such as mentions of Elvis that bring to mind Christian Slater’s preoccupation with him in TRUE ROMANCE (1993).

With SANCTUARY, Scott finds ample opportunity to experiment with the limits of his newfound aesthetic. It’s a far, far cry from his early works like LOVING MEMORY (1971), but the development of Scott’s unique style is palpable and easily traced.  By this point in his career, Scott was already 55 years old, but his work has the energy and attention-span of a man half his age.

This flashy style would serve him well in his upcoming commercial ventures, as well as allow him to carve out a comfortable little niche of his own within the action genre.


COMMERCIAL WORK (2000)

As the world turned the corner into the new millennium, Tony Scott found himself in-between feature films.  During the year 2000, he directed (to my knowledge) three commercials:

BARCLAYS BANK: “BIG”

The first spot, from banking giant Barclays, finds Scott directing Anthony Hopkins as a satirical, exaggerated version of himself.  In a spot appropriate for a large banking conglomerate, the theme of the spot is “Big”.  Hopkins addresses the camera directly, expounding upon his affinity for all things “big”.  He’s seen in his opulent mansion, then as he’s driven in a luxury towncar down the tony streets of Beverly Hills.

Knowing what’s happened to the global economy as a direct result of Big Banking’s actions in the last five years, this spot would be incredibly tone-deaf if it were to come out today.  It’s laughable now to buy into the idea that huge banking conglomerates are actually good for us.

But I digress.  Getting back to the craft elements of the spot, Scott frames for the 4:3 television-standard aspect ratio.  He imbues the image with a more conservative aesthetic that’s still recognizably his: high contrast, with its desaturated colors tint-ing slightly towards the cold green end of the spectrum.  His camerawork is steady and locked-down, save for a few strategic dolly shots.

A pulsing, cinematic score gives the spot a softly-buzzing energy that supports the tone.  Stylistically speaking, it’s an effective and well-constructed ad.  Too bad it’s an ad promoting an organization run by a bunch of assholes.

BARCLAYS BANK: “BIG” is available in its entirety on Youtube, via the embed above.

TELECOM ITALIA: “BRANDO”

In 2000, Telecom Italia created a campaign promoting its services via the appearance of a small armada of Hollywood heavyweights.  Scott directed two of these spots, the first of which was “BRANDO”.

In the spot, Marlon Brando (in what’s probably one of his last filmed appearances ever) sits on top of a huge canyon, ruminating on how quickly technology has upended the world he’s lived in for so long, and how it might be of benefit to his legacy.

The spot allows for Scott to essentially go crazy with his signature style.  The footage is edited heavily, almost within inches of its life.  We cut from sweeping helicopter-bound vista shots to extreme close-ups of Brando’s craggy, weathered face within milliseconds of each other.  The image is super saturated in an almost duo-tone fashion, with shadows running unnaturally blue.

There’s also black and white flash frames accompanied by text that punctuates Brando’s dialogue. Exposure slides up and down with reckless abandon, as if it were a strobe light.  Part of me thinks that even Brando himself couldn’t have stomached this rambling, incoherent mess.

It’s more of a brand awareness spot than actively advertising a service or product.  It’s an instance of Scott’s enthusiasm for style trumping the substance. Personally, I think it does a great disservice to a figure that’s as towering as Brando.  Scott should’ve toned down his bombastic style and let Brando’s words speak for themselves.

TELECOM ITALIA: “WOODY ALLEN”

Scott’s other ad for Telecom Italia starred Woody Allen doing what he does best: paranoid rants.  Thankfully, Scott’s style is incredibly restrained here.  He chooses to ape the style of his subject, taking full advantage of Allen’s mannerisms to create a quirky, wonderful spot.

With WOODY ALLEN, Scott eschews his personal style and goes for an even-colored, low-contrast visual palette.  He shoots from overhead and street-level, making effective use of zooms and tracking shots.

The framing is reserved, showing Allen in full for most of the spot.  The quick cutting is the only element that tips us off to Scott’s involvement.

Unlike BRANDO, this is a fantastic ad that melds the subject and message together quite well.  It’s a comedic take on the potential neuroses that stem from an expanded life expectancy that only a man like Allen can deliver.  The light-hearted, SEINFELD-esque music over the visuals is the icing on the cake.


SPY GAME (2001)

SPY GAME (2001) was director Tony Scott’s first feature film of the twenty-first century, but its focus is very much on the American Century that preceded it (and how it continues to shape the world stage today).  It’s one of Scott’s best films, and my personal favorite of his.

I’m unsure of how my original DVD copy of SPY GAME came into my possession.  One day, it just appeared on the bookshelf nestled in between the others.  I was at the age where I began voraciously consuming films, not just for entertainment, but to study the craft I aimed to pursue as a career (a decision I had made only a few years prior).  As such, SPY GAME became the first Tony Scott film I ever watched, right around the time I became aware of his brother, Ridley.

SPY GAME plays like an intense romp through the various theatres of the Cold War, from the perspective of two CIA agents.  The action is framed by a story set in the present-day, and almost entirely within the labyrinthine confines of CIA headquarters.

It’s Nathan Muir’s (Robert Redford) last day on the job before his retirement, and he’s been called into a meeting with CIA bureaucrats to divulge his knowledge on the exploits of his old apprentice, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), who’s been captured during a failed rescue mission at a Chinese prison.

Muir recounts his relationship with Bishop, from their meeting in Vietnam to their collaboration and subsequent conflict in mid-80’s Beirut.  All the while, he clandestinely uses CIA resources at his disposal to plan a raid that will rescue Bishop.

It’s an incredibly intricate and involving story that allows Scott to work at his highest level as a director.  The extended flashbacks to Vietnam, West Germany, and Beirut aren’t just a way to visualize Muir’s stories on-screen, they inform the present-day narrative and give a justified context to his actions.  We see Muir utilize the tricks he’s accumulated over his entire career, almost like a student taking a final on the last day of school.  It’s a subtle, interesting way to frame a story that spans decades.

The performances are incredibly strong, especially from the two leads.  This was the first time I had ever seen a performance by Redford, and it informs all subsequent viewings of his work for me.  He’s stoic, paternal and incredibly sly.  It’s easy to see why Pitt’s Bishop is so successful under his mentorship.  Muir’s friendly, affable demeanor is disarming– and he knows exactly how to use that to his advantage.

By contrast, Pitt is young, brash, and hotheaded.  The character as written has a tendency to veer into cliche, but Pitt gives a captivating performance that makes the character come alive.  It’s funny that the two men almost resemble each other in appearance, but it does go a long way in establishing a completely believable friendship.

SPY GAME is arguably the best fusion of story, subject matter, and Scott’s personal style.  Scott keeps his aesthetic restrained just enough so it’s not distracting, but allows for a unique punch to the pacing and visuals.  He re-teams with ENEMY OF THE STATE’s cinematographer Dan Mindel, who imbues the Anamorphic frame with deep contrast and stylized colors.

 Due to the globetrotting nature of the film, Scott gives the images a different color palette depending on the location and time period.  Vietnam is extremely high in contrast, incredibly grainy, slightly overexposed and heavily saturated with a golden tint that borders on duo-tone.  Scenes that take place in West Germany are more blue and desaturated (while Hong Kong/China is shown to be blue and heavily saturated).

Beirut has saturated, even colors with a slight overexposure.  And finally, the present-day sequences set in DC are evenly-colored and saturated for a pseudo-neutral look.

Other elements that make up Scott’s style present themselves aggressively throughout the story.  There’s the always-reliable “overblown light through curtains” trope, timestamped black-and-white freeze frames, time-ramped establishing shots filmed from a helicopter, as well as a constantly moving, restless camera, among others.

Scott’s preoccupation with surveillance imagery is ripe for exploitation in a story about the CIA, and he finds ample opportunity to include mixed media and found surveillance footage.

Scott continues his collaboration with Harry Gregson-Williams for the film’s score, which actually results in a surprisingly memorable set of tracks.  Gregson-Williams infuses the picture with a crunchy, technopop theme composed of pulsing electronic elements and soaring, cinematic strings.  There’s also the presence of a haunting male vocalist during the Beirut sequences that works incredibly well.

I’m such a fan of the score that I’ve used bits and pieces of SPY GAME’s score as temporary backing tracks to some of my own early works (which we will never, ever discuss).  Frankly, I think it’s some of Gregson-Williams’ best work, and elevates the film itself to an entirely new level.

It’s easy to see why Scott decided to direct SPY GAME.  The themes are potent for exploration, nevermind the fact that they are well within his wheelhouse.  It’s funny to see the paranoia within the CIA, and how information is kept from one’s allies – not just one’s enemies.  In the world of SPY GAME, knowledge is a commodity more precious than gold, and Muir knows it well.

His ability to stay one-step ahead of his superiors is what allows him to orchestrate a full-scale military operation under their noses.  SPY GAME is an effective survey of the Cold War, a thrilling meditation on information as currency and power, but ultimately, it’s a riveting film about a “father” risking everything to rescue his “son” from certain death.

When he’s working with good, original material, Scott shines brighter than any other director in his league. SPY GAME, an extremely underrated gem of a film, is a testament to that fact.  There’s a reason that, even after watching the majority of his output, this film is still my favorite of his.  It may not be his greatest work in the eyes of the public, but it deserves to be seen, and it rests comfortably in that little nostalgic corner of my memory.  In the twelve years since I’ve seen it, it’s only gotten better with age.


THE HIRE: BEAT THE DEVIL (2002)

In 2002, the world of branded content was still in its infancy.  Advertisers were well aware of the power of the internet, but they didn’t quite know how to harness it.  While today’s branded content is more stealthy and subtle, advertisers in the early 2000’s essentially created longer-form versions of traditional commercials.

BMW was just such a company, creating a campaign comprised of a series of action-oriented short films, with the intent to show off their cars in a bombastic cinematic fashion.  Naturally, Tony Scott became involved, and their collaboration resulted in “BEAT THE DEVIL”, one segment in the viral video series “THE HIRE”.

In wanting to create a big frame for a small canvas, BMW certainly didn’t skip on the details.  Clive Owen stars as a driver of little words, whose character recurs throughout the various segments.  BEAT THE DEVIL also stars the legendary James Brown (appearing as a highly fictionalized version of himself), who sold his soul to the Devil years ago for success and wants to strike up a new deal.

Owen’s driver transports Brown to a meeting with the Devil, who turns out to be an effeminate cross-dresser (Gary Oldman), and their meeting culminates in a drag race that will settle who gets to keep Brown’s soul once and for all.

This is an incredibly strange short film.  While appropriate for a commercial, Scott’s heavy stylization and overcooking of the visuals doesn’t mesh with the short film format.  The result is a jumbled, incoherent mess of a narrative.  Truth be told, I only know the synopsis because I had to look it up on IMDB. With his Director of Photography Paul Cameron, Scott seems to be using the format to test the limits of his aesthetic.

The image has an extreme amount of contrast and saturation, as if it’s been left to cook in the desert sun for a hundred years.  There’s a heavy orange tint to the colors, and Scott oftentimes rolls the exposure up and down, superimposing shots on top of each other and burning them together.  He continues his affinity for extreme close-ups of lips, eyes, hands, etc., as well as the time-stamp over the black-and-white freezeframe.  Camerawork is all the over place, veering from locked-off, steady shots to canted angles and rack zooms.

Scott also introduces a few new visual elements to his style, as well.  He incorporates flares of light into the shot, as if light leaked into the camera during shooting and burned the film.  He also incorporates sound design at an overly-dynamic level, creating sound effects for every camera movement and running the dialogue and sound effects through heavy sonic filtering.  He also starts adding English subtitles on top of the visuals as a way to punctuate the dialogue and highlight important words and phrases.

There’s some interesting performances here, not all of it good.  Clive Owen isn’t given much to do as the lead character.  He gets to drive the BMW and make it look good, sure, but he’s more of a periphery character in the narrative.  James Brown is a better actor than I imagined him to be, and his arc is a nice nod to his roots.  However, he mumbles so hard that its often difficult to understand what he’s saying.

Gary Oldman is by far the best performance, channeling his psycho pimp character in TRUE ROMANCE (1993) and going full-glam for his role as the effete Devil.  He’s nearly unrecognizable, and bursts at the seams with energy.  It’s incredibly foreign, coming from the recent memory of his performance as Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY.

Danny Trejo also appears as the Devil’s bodyguard.  And in perhaps the most surprising twist, Marilyn Manson shows up in a brief, bizarre cameo that has him earnestly reading the Bible.  Weird stuff.

BMW obviously hired Scott because they wanted him to bring his signature style to their project, but the end result is way too hyperactive for its own good.  It’s full of interesting imagery, but narratively, it’s pure chaos.  In regards to Scott’s development, it’s clear by this point that he has no intention of abandoning his newfound style– and that he plans to keep building on to it until the whole thing collapses under its own weight.


COMMERCIAL WORK (2002-2003)

As he prepared for his next feature film, MAN OF FIRE (2004), Tony Scott embarked on (to my knowledge) two commercials that would allow him to further develop his style.

US ARMY: “SPECIAL FORCES- ICE SOLDIER” (2002)

Putting Scott and the US Army together for a spot is a no-brainer.  Who better than one of our most accomplished action directors to craft a spot about our real-life heroes? The content is fairly typical for an army recruiting commercial– epic backdrops, helicopters, camouflaged soldiers with impressive weapons and gadgetry, etc.

Basically it looks like the coolest session of CALL OF DUTYyou could ever play.  Visually, Scott’s style is a good mesh with the Army’s own aesthetic.  The extreme contrast and warm color tones complement the gritty action.  The handheld camerawork and rapid-fire editing reinforce the urgency of armed combat.

Scott even finds ample opportunity to indulge in his affinity for surveillance imagery.  The whole thing is wrapped up in a slightly cheesy rock score that’s reminiscent of Scott’s TOP GUN(1986).  All in all, a fairly effective, if not entirely memorable, ad.  “ICE SOLDIERS” is currently available in its entirety on Youtube via the embed above.

MARLBORO: “ONE MAN, ONE LAND” (2003)

In 2003, Marlboro contracted Scott to dip his English toe into the world of American cowboys.  Channeling his work on Telecom Italia’s “BRANDO”spot, Scott creates a veritable storm of images that are anything but the typical idea of cowboys out on the hot desert range.  The visuals oscillate wildly in color temperature, running the gamut to cold, warm, and completely desaturated.

Contrast is extremely high, creating a stark, dreary look.  The skies roil with ominous clouds, threatening the cowboys’ way of life.  Scott also continues to experiment with the visual notion of a “light leak”– letting bands of overexposed film smear the image.  He dials the exposure up and down rapidly, as if it were some rodeo strobe light show.

Composition shifts between close-range and afar so jarringly that it’s oftentimes hard to tell what you’re looking at.  Ultimately, the experimental techniques Scott uses result in another incomprehensible mess of a spot.  It quite simply doesn’t convey its message, and whatever message we can glean comes out jumbled and fragmented.

The fact that the audio is squeezed through several heavy sonic filters doesn’t help the clarity very much.  Much like the “BRANDO” spot, “ONE MAN, ONE LAND” contains several visually arresting images, but it smacks of overindulgence on Scott’s part.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that he was using the commercial medium to push the boundaries of style and aesthetics, but I strongly feel that it’s an extreme mismatch with Marlboro, a brand that is well-known for its stoic and conservative ads.


MAN ON FIRE (2004)

Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE (2004) is often mentioned in the same breath as some of his strongest films.  To be sure, it’s certainly a polarizing film given its subject matter and Scott’s hyper-aggressive aesthetic.  I tend to agree with those in the favorable camp, in that Scott backs up his flashy visuals with a real emotional connection between its two leads that lies at the center of the story.

MAN ON FIRE tackles a subject and a world that is unfamiliar to most Americans.  In present-day Mexico City, wealthy citizens are faced with the sober reality of having to hire bodyguards for their children due to the regularity with which they are kidnapped and held for ransom by thieves looking to make a nice, easy payday.

Enter Creasy (Denzel Washington), an alcholic, schlubby ex-serviceman who is hired to provide protection for Pita ( Dakota Fanning), the young daughter of wealthy expat parents.  Over time, Pita’s charm causes Creasy to let his guard down and, subsequently, the two become close friends.

When Pita is inevitably kidnapped and presumed killed in a handoff gone awry, Creasy bypasses the incompetent, possibly corrupt police to find her captors.  However, his attempts at finding out the truth uncovers a wider conspiracy with shocking revelations and tragic consequences.

Like SPY GAME (2001) before it, there’s something about Scott’s direction that just fits. Mexico City is a seedy, dangerous place, and Scott goes to great lengths to capture the ugliness of its underbelly.  It also doesn’t hurt that many members of the cast turn in strong performances.

Like his turn in Antoine Fuqua’s TRAINING DAY (2001) or Spike Lee’s MALCOM X (1992), Washington turns in a damaged, career-highlight performance as the burnt-out Creasy.  It’s a difficult role that requires the audience to sympathize with him as the protagonist, even when he’s brutally torturing Pita’s captors.

Fanning’s Pita is equally important to the success of the film, and a poor performance could derail the entire story.  Thankfully, Fanning is more than capable– pulling off an astoundingly nuanced, believable performance beyond her years.  Her love for Creasy feels palpable and realistic, and we can’t help but fall in love with her too.

Fanning ably avoids all the traps of child acting (overacting, mugging, being annoying, etc.), and delivers a subtle performance that deals in gestures and the light in her eyes, rather than her words.  Scott takes his time in developing her relationship with Creasy, so when the abduction finally comes, an hour into the film, it’s positively heart-wrenching.

The supporting cast is also effective, filled out by recognizable character actors.  Christopher Walken, in his first appearance in a Scott film since 1993’s TRUE ROMANCE, plays Rayburn, an American expat living in Mexico City and Creasy’s closest friend.

By 2004, Walken was in the throes of his “kooky/possibly insane old man” image in pop culture- but here, he delivers a nuanced, toned-down performance that perfectly fits our idea of someone who would leave the country and go live in Mexico City.  His sunken eyes are an asset, suggesting a haunted past that he’s trying to escape from.

Mickey Rourke, who was also enjoying a career renaissance at the time, plays the wealthy family’s trusted lawyer, Jordan.  It’s a reserved performance that sees Rourke with short, cropped hair and impeccably tailored suits, in stark contrast to his wild, rock-and-roll persona in reality.

The character of Jordan is a snake in the grass, who might know more about Pita’s disappearance than he lets on, and Rourke portrays that duplicity with his trademark flair.  Rounding out the cast is an effective, if not entirely memorable Marc Anthony as Pita’s successful, slightly effete father, Radha Mitchell as the mother who finds the limits of her compassion tested, and CASINO ROYALE’S (2006) Giancarlo Giannini in Latino makeup as Manzano, the only uncorrupted member of Mexico City’s police force.

Now firmly within his new aesthetic, Scott takes the opportunity to test the limits of the style like had done in previous commercials.  In his first feature collaboration with Director of Photography Paul Cameron, he incorporates all the mainstays of the “Scott Look”: extremely high contrast, and severely saturated colors that favor the green and blue spectrum of light.

Overblown light billows through curtains, and the hard sun roasts the vibrant Mexico City setting.  Scott’s affinity for dramatic skies continues– even normal blue skies have brilliant cloud formations.  He also ramps up the energy with his music-video editing techniques, incorporating a whole host of processing tricks on top of the visuals– double exposures, flash frames, rolling/strobing exposures, generally overcooked colors, etc.

The camerawork is hyper frenetic, ranging between locked-down and handheld, with the constant being that it’s always moving.  Scott even finds room for 360 degree circling shots (a technique that I personally am not a fan of).  On top of all this, Scott implements incredibly dynamic subtitles that animate across the screen, sometimes  replicating the english dialogue for punctuation and emphasis.

With MAN ON FIRE, Scott completely owns the look and effectively uses it to convey the chaos of its subject matter and setting.  Scott continues his collaboration with Harry Gregson-Williams on the score, which implements the Spanish guitar as a key musical component.

What’s interesting is that the eclectic mix of score and pre-recorded source music is layered into the sound design in a surreal, experimental way.  It’s filtered through a gauntlet of processors and sometimes even used as sound effects– quite an interesting approach.  A stand-out musical moment finds Washington descending upon a hellish nightclub to extract some answers and up his body count.

Scott features a feverish, techno rendering of Clint Mansell’s iconic theme for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) that echoes Washington’s chilly, unpredictable state of mind.  Another moment finds Lisa Gerrard, the female vocalist who provided her haunting voice for Ridley Scott’s 2000 film GLADIATOR, performing a choral coda during the film’s climactic trading sequence.

MAN ON FIRE is a tough story, because it requires the audience to sympathize with the slightly evil, yet justified, actions of a man lusting for retribution.  One of the film’s standout sequences involves Creasy extracting information from a gangster whose hands are tied to the steering wheel of his car.

When the thug is unable to come up with an answer to Creasy’s questions, Creasy brutally saws one finger off at a time and cauterizes the wound with a car cigarette lighter.  It’s a squirm-inducing sequence that is certainly cold-blooded, but it’s also very timely from a socio-political perspective.

MAN ON FIRE was released during the height of the Iraq War, when the United States was forced to examine its conscience in light of reports about the horrible torture methods government officials used to extract information from our perceived enemies in the war on terror.  These shocking leaks forced Americans to ask themselves: how can we root for ourselves when we’re just as beastly as those we’re fighting against?

MAN ON FIRE intelligently adds that ambiguous morality into its themes and subtext, and as a result, makes the story that much stronger.  If you ask me, that’s why it’s so highly regarded amidst Scott’s canon.  It’s a pulpy thriller that isn’t afraid to ask its audience some hard questions.

Of course, it stands to reason that the cliched explosions and gunplay dilute that message and keep a good movie from being great, but Scott has crafted a fine piece of mass entertainment with a relevant message. Its standing in the hearts and minds of cinemaphiles has grown over time, and will most likely go down as Scott’s late-career masterpiece.


AGENT ORANGE (2004)

In the mid-2000’s, branded content was beginning to take off as a viable alternative to traditional advertising.  As such, it became embraced by companies with unconventional origins and attitudes, namely those who came of age in the dotcom bubble.

Amazon.com is just such a company, and in 2004, it contracted Tony Scott to direct AGENT ORANGE, an experimental short film about finding your soulmate amidst the clutter and congestion of daily life.  The story is pretty simple: boy takes the subway everyday.

The boy is always dressed in orange, in stark contrast with the green world around him.  One day, he spots a girl also clad from head to toe in orange.  He catches only a glimpse of her before the subway doors close, but he’s immediately struck by her.  He spends his days afterwards looking feverishly for this girl, hoping to be reunited with her and get their love story started.

Scott works with new Director of Photography Stephen St. John, but his visual aesthetic doesn’t change one iota.  The image drips with heavy contrast, and extremely saturated colors that favor the green and orange spectrum of light.  Seeing as they are complementary colors, the juxtaposition works incredibly well, and the orange pops vividly against the sea of green.

The camerawork is frenetic, pulling in close for detailed shots of faces, hands, objects, etc.  The stylized editing also throws in double exposures, light streaks, and flash frames.  The result is a hyper-active, ADD-laden acid trip of a love story.  I think it works fine within the context of the narrative and its themes, but its very easy to see how it could turn a lot of people off.

Scott is a big proponent of experimental sound design, evident even in his earliest work, ONE OF THE MISSING (1969).  Here, he creates a surreal sound bed that utilizes traditional coal-powered train sounds in place of the electronic whine of modern subway cars.  The recurring train horn is abrasive, but so is Scott’s style in general, so it’s somewhat trivial to criticize it.

My personal impression of the film is that it was dated even on the day of its release.  By this point, Scott was an old man, and the production design very much betrays the sense of what an old man might consider stylish and edgy.  It rang false to me, and resembled more of an out-of-touch student film than a work by one of cinema’s inarguably edgy directors.

Even that name, AGENT ORANGE… it’s so self-aware and lazy, yet desperate to seem to hip and contemporary.  As you might be able to surmise, I’m not the most ardent supporter of this film.  AGENT ORANGE is another negative notch in a wildly uneven filmography.

I don’t fault Scott for shooting it in his trademark style, but funnily enough, it’s also complacent and tired. It’s as if Scott didn’t feel the need to challenge himself at all.  If anything, AGENT ORANGE is the result of Scott simply treading water between feature films.


DOMINO (2005)

We all have guilty pleasures.  Movies we secretly like even though we know we’d catch holy hell from our friends if they ever found out.  For me, Tony Scott’s DOMINO (2005) is just that- a guilty pleasure.   An immensely guilty one.

DOMINO is different from most biopics in that Domino Harvey lived her life as a tough-as-nails, badass bounty hunter, but the plot of the movie chronicling her life is almost entirely fictionalized.  Domino tragically died a few months before the film’s release from a drug overdose, but this cinematic monument foregoes factual accuracy in a bid to capture her inimitable spirit and zeal for life.

All throughout her life, Domino (Keira Knightley) has felt different than the other girls.  She was more into playing with knives and guns, instead of dolls and boys.  She falls in with Ed (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez), two bounty hunters who teach her the tricks of the trade.

Swiftly realizing her gift for bounty hunting, she becomes an invaluable addition to the team and eventually attracts the attention of an eccentric reality TV producer.  Now faced with having to perform their jobs in front of a cadre of television cameras, the trio find themselves in the middle of a larger conspiracy involving the mafia and the DMV.

It all builds to a psychotic showdown in Las Vegas where Domino’s mettle will be tested and her destiny will be met.  The cast is well aware of the inherent insanity of the plot, and to their credit, they bring an unmitigated zeal to the proceedings.  Keira Knightley completely shreds her prim and proper persona to become a razor-sharp, super-tough, emotionally damaged hellcat of a bounty hunter.

She uses her words, her guns, and her sexuality equally as weapons of mass destruction.  She singes the screen with a dangerous charisma that’s undeniable.  It’s undoubtedly my favorite performance of hers. Mickey Rourke, fresh off his collaboration with Scott in 2004’s MAN ON FIRE, shows up as Domino’s mentor, Ed.

Ed is a tough old bastard who’s seen his fair share of battles, and I really can’t imagine anyone else but Rourke in the role.  He clearly is enjoying himself and the character, which makes his portrayal that much more likeable.  As Choco, Edgar Ramirez is a strong, almost silent presence.

He lets his dark, highly expressive eyes do most of the talking for him, and when he does speak, it’s in a mumbled Spanish.  He’s a wild, unpredictable personality who bubbles at the brim with internal demons and restlessness.

The supporting cast is up-to-snuff, as well.  Lucy Liu plays an FBI interrogator, in a recurring and bookending sequence that frames the story and allows Domino to recount her life events in a dramatic fashion.  Liu remains a stoic, emotionless presence who approaches her exchange with Domino as a kind of chess game.

The role doesn’t allow her to emote very much, but she does a lot with very little.  Christopher Walken, in his third collaboration with Scott, plays the eccentric reality TV producer with a manic energy.  He fully embraces his kooky public image and savors every sleazy aspect of his character, even down to the blond highlights.

Mena Suvari plays Walken’s assistant, who complements his quirkiness with a bookish, anxious charm that holds its own against his aggressive characterization.  Other notable appearances include Delroy Lindo as Domino’s bail bondsman boss, Mo’Nique and Macy Gray as a full-on-ghetto pair of DMV employees/thieves, Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering (the BEVERLY HILLS 90210 guys) playing fictionalized, douchebag versions of themselves,  and Tom Waits as a feverish desert prophet.

The whole cast is dedicated to carrying out Scott’s zany vision, and the result is nothing short of pure chaos.  It could be argued that Scott reaches the zenith of his filmmaking style with DOMINO.  He’s subsequently built on his style with each work, and I don’t see how he could possibly top DOMINO’s distinct blend of anarchy.

Working again with Director of Photography Dan Mindel, Scott crafts an image that’s akin to being left out to cook in the desert sun for years.  The contrast is obscenely high, colors are saturated to the point of oblivion, and the overall image veers towards a stylized super-green and orange tint.

It’s not just the mid-tones either– black shadows are rendered in a deep green, highlights are blown out and border on yellow or blue, depending on the mood being called for in a given scene.  Film grain is slathered on the image like a liberal heap of butter on bread, while various color elements bleed off the frame like they’ve been processed to death.

In essence, DOMINO looks like a two-hour long music video, complete with double-exposures, strobing lights, reverse, fast, and slow motion ramps, and other tricks.  The film is very much a product of its time, in that its unique style is made possible only because of the rise of digital, nonlinear editing systems that surpass the physical boundaries of traditional cut-and-paste film editing.

What would normally have to be accomplished via a time-intensive date with an optical printer can be done in two seconds with the click of a mouse, all without any degradation of the image.  Camerawork is mostly handheld and anarchic, favoring extreme close-ups.  Scott also finds ample opportunity to throw in dynamic, animated subtitles that appear in different fonts and punctuate the dialogue.

Harry Gregson-Williams returns to the score the film, bringing a heavy metal sound that’s appropriate to the proceedings.  The rest of the soundtrack is populated by an eclectic mix of source music, ranging from gangster rap to Tom Jones covering Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come”.

Scott even finds an opportunity to include the rave remix of Clint Mansell’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM score, which he previously used in MAN ON FIREDOMINO is consistent within Scott’s particular brand of storytelling.  He finds moments to incorporate surveillance imagery, as well as over-stylized action.

The screenplay, written by Richard Kelly of DONNIE DARKO fame, allows for maximum indulgence on Scott’s part.  One of the most potent themes of DOMINO, however, is the satirical aspect of reality television.  Sure, it’s broadly sketched, at times approaching SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE levels of parody, but it is a great counterpoint to Domino’s anti-establishment spirit.

Despite the grim, brutal acts of violence that abound, Scott always approaches the proceedings with a wry sense of gallows humor.  By taking itself way too seriously, the whole thing might have sunk under its own weight.  So why do I like this movie?  Admittedly, I know I shouldn’t.

I’ve railed before at how I sometimes find Scott’s style to be abrasive and of no extra value to the story itself, and by all expectations, DOMINO should fall into that category.  Honestly, I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Perhaps it’s the desert setting, or the casting.

Or that, like 2001’s SPY GAME, I first saw the film in the theatre when I was in college, and it now resides in a nostalgic little corner of my memory.  Or maybe it’s an instance of Scott finding the perfect marriage between style and subject.  Whatever it is, it appeals to me on a bewildering level.  It’s far from Scott’s greatest work, but goddamn if it isn’t entertaining as all hell.


DEJA VU (2006)

In 2006, Tony Scott re-teamed with Jerry Bruckheimer in what would ultimately be their last filmmaking project together.  That film was DEJA VU, and was released to mixed reviews and middling box office success.  It was a far cry from the box office phenomenon of their first collaboration, TOP GUN (1986), but their last team-up has beared underrated, yet highly flawed, fruit.

DEJA VU is an action thriller about time travel, one of many in a long line of science fiction films.  However, to its credit, the premise is incredibly novel (if slightly unrealistic), and generates a strong amount of narrative currency.  Denzel Washington plays Doug Carlin, a seasoned Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency veteran who’s been called in to investigate a terrorist attack on American soil.

In New Orleans, a ferry becomes a waterborne-bomb responsible for the deaths of 500 men, women and children.  In the aftermath, Carlin is teamed up with FBI agent Paul Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer), who introduces him to an incredible new technology, code-named “Snow White”.

In essence, Snow White harnesses all the digital surveillance tools at their disposal to create an omniscient view of the past– specifically, four days into the past.  They can only visit one spot at a time, and it can only be viewed once before being gone forever, but it allows the user to assume God-like levels of surveillance and observation.

When Carlin begins to suspect this amazing new device is really a time machine, he orchestrates a plan to travel back in time himself to prevent the bombing of the ferry, and the death of the woman at the center of it all.  I had never seen DEJA VU before, and had passively avoided it in theatres when I heard the middling reviews.

To be honest, I had incredibly low expectations coming into this film.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself thinking- “Hey.  You know?  This movie is actually kinda good!”.  Don’t get me wrong, those looking for high art and deep questions will find their hunger in-satiated, but if you’re looking for an entertaining ride with a hint of depth, then you can do a lot worse than DEJA VU.

This is first and foremost a Tony Scott film, which means that the actors will bring high levels of energy and zeal to their roles.  Everyone here turns in some great performances.  Denzel Washington, who has since become DeNiro to Scott’s Scorsese, depicts a quiet, focused, and dedicated servant of justice.

He’s somewhat of a generic hero, but Washington’s undeniable charm generates the appropriate amounts of sympathy for his character.  Val Kilmer, by contrast, has become somewhat of a pop-culture punching bag lately.  Known for his Brando-esque ballooning in size and questionable role choices, he does a great job as a bookish FBI agent burdened by the implications of his great machine’s existence.

It’s a subdued, layered performance that will make you rethink your punchlines about him.  Paula Patton plays Claire Kuchever, the girl at the center of the story.  Initially presumed killed in the ferry blast when her body washes up on shore, her autopsy reveals several chronological inconsistencies that rivet Carlin’s attention.

As he uses Snow White’s eye to zero in on her life building up to the blast, he finds himself falling for her. Thankfully, Patton’s charming smile and sensitive demeanor make it all too easy to buy into.  While the character descends into stock damsel-in-distress territory in the last two acts, Patton does her best with which she’s given.

The supporting cast is nicely rounded out by some recognizable faces.  As the terrorist mastermind behind the bombing, Jim Caviezel channels the cold, sinister nature of Timothy McVeigh and his twisted take on patriotism.  He’s unrelenting in his focus, personified by a soul-piercing, icy stares.  Caviezel makes for a curious villain, especially after his turn as turn-the-other-cheek Jesus in that infamous Mel Gibson torture porno.

Veteran character actor Bruce Greenwood appears as the mandatory bureaucrat hack that jeopardizes Carlin’s mission, and Adam Goldberg fills the mandatory “sarcastic techno-geek” role that’s as standard in science fiction as cup holders in a new car.  Despite their somewhat-cliched roles, each brings a unique layer of characterization to his performance and makes it his own.

Visually, Scott tones his aesthetic way down to more conventional-levels of style.  Working again with Director of Photography Paul Cameron, Scott eschews the frenetic chaos that had become his trademark to create an image that’s subdued and even.  Some of Scott’s visual quirks persist: high contrast, heavily saturated colors favoring a yellow/orange tint with shadows that take on a blue/green tone.

However, the camera is much more steady and even, covering the action in traditional wide and close-up shots.  He also makes use of slow-motion ramping, and employs 360 degree circling dolly in multiple instances.  The Anamorphic aspect ratio adds a considerable amount of punch to the frame, especially in Scott’s helicopter-circling establishing shots.

And of course, this wouldn’t be a Scott film without overblown light shining through curtains and blinds.  Scott also continues his collaboration with Harry Gregson-Williams for the score, which takes on a conventional cinematic tone with soaring strings against a pulsing electronic beat.

It’s effective and brings a large degree of emotion to the action, but let’s just say you won’t find yourself humming these songs anytime soon.  There’s a lot of good going for this film.  The setting is New Orleans whose wounds from Hurricane Katrina are still raw and open.

In fact, there’s even footage of the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, where Caviezel has his hideout.  The story goes that the film was originally supposed to take place in Long Island, but New Orleans serves as a much more memorable and unique locale.

Another strong point of the story is the technological time-warping device at the center of it all.  While it requires a huge leap of the imagination in order to buy it as a viable machine, the way it works and its explanation within the film is incredibly novel.

The machine itself strongly resembles a miniature version of the Large Hadron Collider, and much like the LHC, “Snow White” is very bold and experimental in its wiring.  It is initially presented as a massively detailed composite image of the world as it was four days ago, stitched together from the wealth of digital data afforded by satellites, cell phones, and surveillance cameras.

Omnisciently, it can even go into private residences and spy intimately on anyone they choose.  There’s a catch, however– due to the amount of time needed to render this composite, they can only view what’s exactly four days in the past, and cannot rewind or fast-forward.

It’s a very crucial caveat to a machine that bestows God-like powers upon its user, making him or her choose the subject of surveillance wisely.  The applications of this technology is where the film finds its strongest moments.  The whole thing has a MINORITY REPORT-esque “pre-crime” bent, albeit with primitive, clunky tech that’s much more realistic.

The tech also allows for an incredibly novel spin on that old action film classic scene: the car chase.  Because of the real-time, localized nature of the machine,  Washington’s Carlin finds himself behind the wheel in pursuit of Cavaziel, who is actually leading the chase from four days in the past.

That dynamic makes for an incredibly inventive and, frankly, brilliant scene that finds Carlin switching his focus from the present to the past instantaneously like he’s chasing a ghost.  DEJA VU doesn’t skimp on depth, either.  Any film that concerns itself with time travel is going to have to at one point address those nagging paradoxical questions.

Scott takes a simplistic tack, comparing the flow of time to the flow of a river, and if the flow finds itself diverted from its original course, it simply follows a different, yet parallel track.  This is dramatized via a series of clues left behind in Claire’s apartment, the most chilling of which finds Carlin listening to a voicemail that he left for her a few days ago, which is strange considering he just found out about her existence earlier that day.

While that little thread unfortunately is never capitalized upon by the film’s denouement, the rest of the clues in Claire’s apartment are explained in fascinating detail when Carlin travels back in time to save her.  A lesser director would get entangled in all the minutiae and logic paradoxes, but Scott juggles the disparate elements with grace (although, to be fair, he does drop the ball here and there).

DEJA VU is important to highlight in the context of Scott’s career, as it shows a dramatic scaling back of bold style in order to balance it better with the story.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a great film, but it is certainly underrated and deserves better than its current reputation.


NUMB3RS: “TRUST METRIC” EPISODE (2007)

In 2007, Tony Scott returned to the medium of television to direct the season 4 opener of Scott Free’s series NUMB3RS.  The episode, “TRUST METRIC” finds the main characters trying to track down a former colleague, who’s escaped imprisonment after being branded as a spy for the Chinese.

The overall bend of the show is that complex math is used to solve big crimes, and generally how math can be applicable to seemingly-unrelated fields. I had never seen an episode of this show prior to watching TRUST METRIC, and honestly, I don’t plan on watching any more.

That’s not to say it’s a well-crafted show– it’s just that police procedural television isn’t exactly my cup of tea, regardless of whether math is involved or not.  However, I’m not here to talk about the show itself; my focus is on Scott’s performance as a director.  So, without further adieu…

Television is a tricky medium for directors, because they have to conform to a pre-established look decided upon by the show’s producer or creator (unless they are directing the pilot episode).  Hiring a director like Scott with a highly-developed personal style is an even tricker proposition.

However, Scott manages to re-tool his unique aesthetic in a way that conforms to the existing tone. Utilizing Director Of Photography Bing Sokolsky, Scott imbues the image with high contrast, as well as colors that skew towards a steel blue/green bias.

As is typical with framing for television, Scott covers the action fairly close-up, punching in for tight shots of hands, feets, lips, etc.  Camerawork is mostly handheld, and Scott employs rack zooms and 360 degree tracking shots to add punch to his more-traditional compositions.

The actors are competent, as is to be expected from a middle-of-the-road TV show.  The series stars Dave Krumholtz, a hard-working character actor who has worked for everyone from Judd Apatow to Aaron Sorkin.  NUMB3RS provides a welcome starring role for Krumholtz, and it’s satisfying to see him excel in the role of a mathematical genius who uses complex equations and algorithms to solve crimes.

Val Kilmer, puzzingly, also shows up as the episode’s antagonist– a bespectacled evil doctor proficient in interrogation and torture tactics.  Why a high-profile film actor like Kilmer is in a series like NUMB3RS is most likely attributable to the assumption that he and Scott forged a friendly working relationship on the set of DEJA VU (2006).

As for the episode itself, there’s some interesting moments.  While the story falls into the familiar television trope of overly expositional dialogue, its action is well-executed (a harrowing subway escape sequence comes to mind), and Scott juggles the fractured narrative with a steady, competent hand.

Besides my general impression that the show is to be commended for making math compelling enough for primetime TV, my other impressions were a little more scattered:  “Hey!  There’s the bad guy from GHOSTBUSTERS 2!“  “Oh look, they’re scrawling complicated math equations on a glass wall!”

A spooky observation:  the episode’s climactic battle takes place on a yacht in San Pedro Harbor, which is where Scott would leap to his death five years later from the Vincent Thomas Bridge.  The bridge itself is visible in the background of some shots.

Overall, Scott’s particular aesthetic transfers over into the realm of television without any significant compromise.  The pace is lightning quick, which suits Scott’s sensibilities quite nicely.  It’s still a step back from the chaotic heights of his style’s development, but it’s consistent with the general paring-down of sensibilities he was undergoing at that stage in his career.


 DODGE: “LAUNCH” COMMERCIAL (2008)

tsdodge

In 2008, Tony Scott created a high-octane action commercial for Dodge entitled, “LAUNCH”, which kicked off a campaign showcasing the new Dodge Ram truck.  The spot is classic Scott, through and through.  The image is high in contrast, with saturated colors that skew warm.  The camerawork is handheld, or mounted to helicopters for some truly epic framing.

This is a spot that knows its target audience.  Featuring regular guys wearing t-shirts with traditionally-male professions emblazoned across their chests (cowboy, fireman, etc.), these dudes bomb down treacherous hills and blast through structures with reckless abandon.

Set that to some heavy rock music and top it all off with a massive explosion, and you’ve got the ultimate guys’ commercial.  And whose sensibilities are better suited explicitly to guys’ tastes than the guy who directed TOP GUN and  CRIMSON TIDE?

It’s easy to argue that Scott took the job as a quick way to make some money doing what he does best, but it’s hard to deny that this commercial must have been an absolute blast to shoot.  It’s a fun embodiment of Dodge as a brand, directed by one of the best action directors in history.  Win win.


THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (2009)

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (2009) is a contemporary update on the 1974 film of the same name.  While largely a forgettable film, it’s notable within Tony Scott’s canon as his only remake.

Not having seen the original, I can’t speak for the remake’s quality in regards to its parent’s, but I can say that Scott’s film was produced at the height of the (still-ongoing) remake craze that gripped much of contemporary studio filmmaking in the late aughts.  Like others of its ilk, it’s a mediocre affair made distinctive only by Scott’s personal aesthetic.

I had incredibly low expectations of this film going into my first viewing of it a few days ago, and while I wasn’t blown away by the end result, it was more entertaining than I was willing to give it credit for.  The film follows a fast-talking terrorist (unfortunately) named Ryder (John Travolta), who hijacks a NYC subway train and holds its passengers for ransom.

It all comes down to Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), an MTA traffic operator reluctantly drawn into the crisis, who must negotiate with the wildly unpredictable Ryder for the hostages’ safe return.  Despite the formulaic script, the actors make the best of the scenario and commit fully to Scott’s vision.

In his fourth collaboration with Scott, Washington eschews his handsome leading-man aura to play a schlubby, unconfident guy caught in a high stress situation.  Thankfully, he is given a morally murky backstory of his own, which comes to light during the course of the movie, and makes the character of Garber much more compelling.

Washington disappears into the role, which is about as good a compliment as you can give an actor. Conversely…..John Travolta.  Man, what is up with that facial hair?  Whoever is to blame for that monstrosity needs to have their thinking privileges revoked.  His performance fares slightly better, channeling the high energy, manic whackjob character he played in John Woo’s FACE/OFF (1997).

Like Garber, Ryder is given some depth in the form of a twisted code of honor, but he ultimately falls prey to the same tired villain cliches (“I’ll die before I go back to prison!”).  The supporting cast is filled out with some interesting faces.  PT Anderson company performer Luis Guzman shows up as a disgraced MTA conductor and the brain of Ryder’s operation (which we later get to see sprayed against the subway walls).

Despite hiding behind a thick nose bandage and yellow sunglasses, he is essentially playing himself.  John Turturro gives a subdued, buttoned-up performance as a hostage negotiator for the NYPD who has to impotently coach Garber in negotiation tactics when Ryder demands to speak only to him.

James Gandolfini, in his third Scott film appearance, channels Rudy Giuliani in his incarnation of NYC’s Mayor.  It’s a strong performance that’s a mix between Tony Soprano, Giuliani, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.  In a nice touch of humor, he’s shown not to be a fan of The Yankees, his city’s biggest baseball team.  Perhaps he’s a Mets guy?

Scott continues the general toning-down of his aesthetic, allowing the story to dictate the images.  Working with Director of Photography Tobias Schlesinger, Scott maintains an image that’s high in contrast, with saturated colors.

Together, they use a color palette that changes for each key location- warm tones for exterior city shots, cold blu-ish/neutral tones in the MTA operations center, and steel-green under the fluorescent lights of the subway car.  Scott’s usual camera moves are all present- rack zooms, helicopter-based establishing shots, circular dollies, punchy close-ups, etc.

Camera work ranges between handheld and locked-down, favoring traditional, stabilized compositions. Scott even finds opportunities to throw in visual tricks like dynamic subtitles and timestamp freeze-frames. Scott’s love for surveillance imagery is incorporated via a live video chat subplot involving a girl watching her boyfriend’s captivity on her laptop.

(It’s a little implausible that one can get an internet signal down there, but whatever.  HOLLYWOOD!)  A few new visual tricks are introduced, beginning with the slow expansion of the studio logos to fill the entire frame, as well a Google-Earth like map of NYC that whooshes the story from one place to the next.

The editing, whenever possible, reflects the relentless onslaught of an incoming subway train.  Other visual elements, like a lens flare or a rack zoom, are accompanied by a dramatic sound effect (usually the sounds of the subway).  What little flash the movie does have going for it is evident mainly in Scott’s visual rendering.

Harry Gregson-Williams continues his collaboration with Scott on the score, creating yet another work in a string of wholly unmemorable soundtracks.  To be sure, the score is effective in the context of the film, and helps sell the stakes, but  I literally can’t remember a single note from it.  What I do remember, however, is Scott’s use of a (heavily chopped and edited) Jay-Z track during the opening credits.

“99 Problems” blares as the city of New York rushes by and spotlights Ryder walking purposefully through the crowds.  Is it the best use of Jay Z’s song?  No.  Does it fit with the tone Scott is trying to convey?  Sure. Does it set the stage for a high-energy crime flick?  You bet.

As Scott’s penultimate feature film, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 is a minor entry in an impressive, yet scattershot oeuvre.  It’s an effective action film, but nothing more.  Another case of style over substance, if you will.  While Scott’s legacy won’t soon be forgotten, I’m afraid I can’t say the same for this film.


UNSTOPPABLE (2010)

UNSTOPPABLE, released in 2010, was Tony Scott’s last feature film before he took his life in August of 2012.  By turning in one of his finer directorial efforts, Scott goes out on a high note, with a genuinely solid capstone to an incredibly scattershot body of work.

Most directors never have the luxury of knowing what their final film will be.  If they do, the project is usually very sentimental, nostalgic, and bittersweet.  However, the vast majority of them read like business as usual, secure in the confidence that there’ll always be a next project.

With Scott, it’s tough to gauge where UNSTOPPABLE stands on that spectrum, as the circumstances surrounding his suicide are so mysterious.  We’ll never know whether or not Scott was actively aware that he was making his last feature film.

It’s especially eerie when you take into account that Scott filmed scenes of UNSTOPPABLE under the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, where he would later jump to his death two years later.

UNSTOPPABLE takes place among the rural Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, where rough-and-tumble blue-collar trainmen spend their days manning smoke-spewing steel snakes.  The rails are a way of life for these people, fueling their economy and feeding their families.  In terms of setting, it’s the most fully realized of all of Scott’s films.  The atmosphere has a palpable grit that makes the film really work.

The story begins when a half-mile long train carrying city-leveling amounts of flammable chemicals gets away from its conductor and begins barreling at top speed towards a large population area.  As various efforts to slow it down fail, the task falls to two wise-cracking trainmen (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) to attach themselves to the back of the runaway train and halt it themselves.

Scott is at his best when he collaborates with Denzel Washington, an observation that certainly applies here.  As a veteran train-man on the verge of retirement, Washington’s Frank is grizzled and gruff.  It’s somewhat fitting that Scott’s key career collaborator is shown in his last Scott film appearance as a man looking back on his life and career.

Frank is a member of the old guard, dispensing a wearied sage advice only when a young gun earns his respect (which isn’t often).  Like his character in THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123(2009), he has a few skeletons in his closet, which add depth to his character and make him more soulful.

Conversely, Chris Pine wisely eschews the trappings of his star-making turn as Captain Kirk in JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK (2009), to play Will, a brash young father who’s trying to clean up the mess he’s made of his life.  Will carries a chip on his shoulder due to coming from money in a historically-poor part of the country, and his anger problems have led to marital strife and a series of odd jobs that never last.

He knows he has to prove himself, and he’s frustrated because it seems no one wants to give him a chance.  Together, Pine and Washington’s on-screen chemistry crackles with energy and the ball-busting humorous dynamic you would expect from two regular guys in a blue collar profession.

The supporting cast is also effective, headed by the ever-reliable Rosario Dawson as Connie, a local trainyard operator for the runaway train’s corporation, AWBR.  Mostly confined to her microphone in the operations room, her role is similar to that of Washington’s in THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, orchestrating and coordinating the rescue effort from afar.

She excels in a boundary-pushing role that only falters at the end when her character is shoehorned into becoming a love interest for Washington.  Perennial human punching bag Ethan Suplee plays Dewey, the hapless conductor who lets his train get away from him and instigates the potential for massive catastrophe (way to go, man).

Despite having all kinds of shit heaped onto him by the other characters throughout the film, he takes it on the chin like a good sport and comes out somewhat likable.  A typecast Lew Temple plays AWBR’s man on the ground, racing alongside the speeding train in his truck.

He’s all manic energy and country drawl in his second collaboration with Tony Scott (his first being a bit part in 2005’s DOMINO).  As Oscar Galvin, the stuffy executive charged with looking out for the interests of AWBR, character actor Kevin Dunn serves as the main obstruction to Will and Frank’s efforts.

Galvin is the film’s pseudo-antagonist: a driven, stubborn man who, despite his intelligence and competence, can’t see the forest through the trees.  I spent a long time trying to place where I had seen Dunn before, before I realized that he was my favorite cast member in Michael Mann’s pilot for LUCK (2011).

Kevin Corrigan, an immediately recognizable character actor and frequent performer for Martin Scorsese, channels a young Christopher Walken in his depiction of an FRA inspector who finds himself thrust into the rescue effort.  Scott accomplishes something truly special with UNSTOPPABLE, in that he brings in a real lived-in sensibility to the visuals.

He eschews the sleek, flashy sheen of his previous films for a wet, gritty, and cold look.  Despite the story occurring in that space between the end of Autumn and the first snow, he draws a vivid beauty from the rural surroundings and smoky industrial landscape.

Setting-wise, Scott is coming full circle with his boyhood in the industrial fringes of England, as well as the gritty environs of his first films, ONE OF THE MISSING (1969) and LOVING MEMORY (1971).  The setting also allows him to add an element that, until now, hadn’t been present in his films: subtle social commentary.

At the time of its release, America was in the throes of the Great Recession’s death grip, with industrial/rural areas hit the hardest.  Whole towns, entire ways of life were on the line, not to mention the heated conflicts between unions and their corporate employers.

It’s all reflected in the film, albeit in a very overt, action-movie way.  But this subtext informs the characters and their motivations, and the result is a thematically rich film that’s also incredibly entertaining.

At the end of the day, UNSTOPPABLE is a Tony Scott film, and nowhere is it more evident than in the cinematography.  Working for the first time with Director of Photography Ben Seresin, Scott is up to his old tricks: high contrast, stylized color tones favoring the green/blue side of the spectrum, etc.

The overall color palette is mostly desaturated, except for reds and oranges, which punch loudly against the dreary blue mountains.  Skies and sunsets are still dramatic whenever possible (one would think it’s always sunset in Scott’s universe).  Camerawork is mostly locked-off, utilizing traditional framing that allows the setting to really soak into every frame.

Scott also continues to make frequent use of circular dolly shots, helicopter-based establishing shots, speed ramping.  The look is more subdued than films like MAN ON FIRE (2004) and DOMINO, which is consistent with a general paring-down of style in that stage of his career.  Even his famous dynamic subtitles are more subdued, crafted with a sensible, conservative font that animates rolls across the screen with little flourish.

Scott’s musical collaboration with Harry Gregson-Williams would come to an end with UNSTOPPABLE.  For his last Scott score, Gregson-Williams crafts a traditional cinematic-sounding work that sells the action and the high stakes, but once again fails to deliver anything memorable or transcendent.

However, it’s inarguably better than the source music that Scott chooses to end the film on.  It’s a screeching Crunk track that’s moronic and obscenely off-tone with the rest of the film.  Really, it’s an incredibly baffling choice.  My jaw literally dropped at how bad of a choice it was.

I honestly can’t envision what was going through Scott’s film when he threw the track over the credits, but it threatens to undo all the goodwill Scott generated in the preceding two hours.  Given that this is his last film, and thus the last statement he’ll ever make as a filmmaker, I can’t imagine a worse note to conclude a career on.  It’s really that bad.

(Another baffling musical choice: re-using the rave remix of Clint Mansell’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM theme in a scene that takes place at Hooters.  Seriously.  Did Scott like the track that much?  Could you imagine trying to choke down wings with this blasting in your ears?)

My only big gripe with the film is the laziness in which the news footage is handled.  Scott strived for a heightened realism in all his films, but the treatment of the live news report, which makes up a large percentage of the film, seem like an afterthought.

I understand that the news organization should be that bastion of unbiased media, Fox News, (because Twentieth Century Fox produced the film) but there’s a lot that defies the reality that Scott works so hard to create.  For instance, a dude says “bitch” on live TV, without any kind of forethought or attempts by the news reporter to censor it.

When they show photos of Frank and Will on-screen within the news report, the photos are well lit, and of professional quality.  In other words, they look staged.  Something tells me that two blue-collar guys aren’t regularly posing for professional glamor shots.  More candid photography would have gone a long way towards credibility.

And speaking of photography, the news footage is simply filmed footage for the movie, with a TV-looking filter slapped over it.  Last time I checked, the news didn’t capture its footage with 35mm film.  It’s lame, it’s lazy, and it took me out of the movie repeatedly.

Ultimately, these are all minor complaints.  The fact is that UNSTOPPABLE is a solid film that also ranks as one of Scott’s finest.  He had been on a downward trajectory in quality after MAN ON FIRE, but he managed to squeak out a win at the last second.

Scott’s films tell us very little about the man himself, because he was a utilitarian filmmaker– an action-genre maestro that was always more interested in entertaining us than making us think.  But with UNSTOPPABLE, Scott lets the socioeconomic subtext sink deep into his story, and provides his fans with a dramatically-rich experience and a sense of closure to a high-octane career.

Scott’s train has been barreling forward at full speed for almost 45 years now, and now that it’s been stopped, we can pause to reflect on the ride.  And what a ride it’s been.


“LIVIN’ THE LIFE” COMMERCIAL (2012)

Perhaps it’s fitting that an unabashedly commercial filmmaker’s last work is… a commercial.  Shortly before his death, Tony Scott directed a commercial for Mountain Dew, entitled “LIVIN’ THE LIFE”.  The concept is comedic, dealing with a man fantasizing about a life of extreme luxury when billionaire Mark Cuban offers him a huge sum of money in exchange for the last can of Diet Mountain Dew.

It’s about as conventional as commercials get, in terms of the concept.  Mark Cuban has proved to be a great sport in lampooning his image in pop culture as an obscenely successful businessman (if not a very successful actor).  The story is cute, but one can’t deny how much of a cliche it is within the world of commercials.

The ad agency was really reaching for the stars on this one.  Visually, it’s a Scott work through and through.  The image is high in contrast and incredibly saturated with bright, warm colors.  Scott makes good use of his circular dolly, rack zooms, and Hollywood mega-budget playthings (helicopters, tigers, mansion fountains, etc.).

Basically, it’s a license for Scott to shoot whatever wild luxury scenario he can come up with him.  To say the scope of that imagination is limited is an understatement.  Overlaid with a terrible hip hop song, the spot is short, punchy and ends with the gag that, despite all these crazy riches, the protagonist would still rather have that last can of Diet Mountain Dew.

It’s somewhat sad for a director’s last work to be a commercial, as it suggests something of a career failure, or a fall from grace.  However, Scott dabbled in all mediums and made no bones about enjoying his craft, whatever the end product may be.  In this case, it’s Scott who has the last laugh.


A DEBRIEFING

DÉJÀ VU

The Director Series is at its most effective when I’m analyzing the careers of the deceased, as I can view their works in totality and make observations about the course of their full development.  For the living, obviously I’m tracking developing careers that are still evolving and changing.  From that perspective, I can only assess a living filmmaker’s development from that particular moment in time.

Prior to reviewing Scott’s work, I had always approached his films with a degree of caution.  In all honesty, I hadn’t planned on reviewing his films at all, but the outpouring of love and respect from collaborators and industry personnel in the wake of his death made me rethink my own judgement on his standing within the art form.

The first time I saw a Scott film (2001’s SPY GAME), I wasn’t even really aware of who he was.  Even when I did know who he was, I always held his work at arms-length, seeing him as an inferior, strictly commercial version of his older brother, Ridley.  In fact, I had always thought that perhaps Scott always felt he was working in Ridley’s massive shadow, and could never quite get out of it in his own right.

I was wrong to assume that.  Tony Scott and Ridley Scott, while brothers, are two entirely different people with entirely different interests and concepts about what a film is.  As it turns out, Tony was more interested in films as thrill rides, and while that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a completely legitimate pursuit.

The course of Scott’s development as a filmmaker shows a career that started from humble, foreign beginnings, and then took off into the stratosphere of the American pop cultural landscape with the release of TOP GUN in 1986.

For the remainder of his career, he remained in those lofty heights of mainstream filmmaking, weathering the occasional heavy turbulence, and touching back to Earth slightly battered, but more or less whole.  His films, while made for mass consumption, aren’t for everyone– but it can’t be denied that an overwhelming majority of his feature films were huge commercial hits.

He also accumulated his share of key collaborators– people who worked with him again and again because they admired his work ethic and the way he told stories.  Producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, actors like Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, Directors of Photography like Dan Mindel and Paul Cameron, Musicians like Harry Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer.

All of them frequently turning in their best work under Scott’s direction.  Scott’s choices in film weren’t driven by any particular theme or story preoccupation.  Rather, he was a man inspired by the high-concept idea that promised thrilling action.  Competing fighter pilots jockeying for a place at the top of their class.

A power struggle inside a nuclear-class submarine.  A man left for dead and hellbent on revenge.  A female bounty hunter just as tough as the boys.  A runaway train.  Scott was a stylist that photographed the hell out of his subjects, and as a result, he cultivated a distinct look that influenced countless young filmmakers.

Scott wasn’t content to simply limit his craft to cinema either.  He dabbled in music videos, commercials, and television, and also took an active role in Ridley’s company Scott Free, where he became a producer for a variety of other projects.  In his early years, he aspired to be a painter, and he fully realized that dream by painting in light, color, action, and special effects.  His canvas was a largest one of all: the silver screen.

In terms of my own impression of his work, I may not have liked a good number of his films, but I respected them.  There’s a degree of intelligence at work in each of his films, which is more than I can say for counterparts like Michael Bay or Brett Ratner.  I found his work to be wildly uneven in terms of quality.

For example, I think his debut film, THE HUNGER (1983) deserves a spot in the Criterion Collection.  SPY GAME is my favorite film of his, but TRUE ROMANCE (193) and MAN ON FIRE (2004) will always grapple for best film overall.  DOMINO (2005) is a guilty pleasure.

I wouldn’t lose a night’s sleep over the thought of never seeing THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (2009) again.  At the end of the day, everyone is going to see something different in his films, and if that isn’t the definition of art, I don’t know what is.  Sure, he made his films in a bid to win the box office, but he made them in his own uncompromising way, and it’s clear that he loved all of his creations.

Scott made the kinds of movies he loved, and had little pretensions about his work.  His films may have never had the prestige of a major award or festival play, but you could always count on him to deliver a strong opening weekend.  He had a remarkable knack for capturing energy on film, frequently utilizing as many as four or six cameras to capture spontaneous moments.

Some of his films, like TOP GUN, are ingrained in the public consciousness as nostalgic archetypes.  And for a long while in the early 90’s, he was one of the premiere tastemakers in big-budget Hollywood filmmaking.  To ignore the contributions of this man on the medium would be like ignoring the influence of an entire film movement.

Scott’s films didn’t do much in the way of exposing personal aspects of the man himself.  Indeed, he was very quiet about his private life in general.  In that respect, the reasoning for his shocking suicide will never be known.  Reports of being diagnosed with a terminal illness turned out to be false, as did the notion that drugs might have played a part (the coroner found negligible amounts of anti-depressants in Scott’s system).

 


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

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

 

By all accounts, he had a successful career, his health, and a beautiful family.  He even had a full slate of exciting projects in development including TOP GUN 2 and a remake of THE WARRIORS.  So why end it all?

It’s not my goal to speculate.  What’s done is done, and what’s left behind is an admirable body of work that injected an explicit sense of style into mainstream filmmaking.   Tony Scott has bequeathed an aesthetic legacy that pushed boundaries and gave us new ways of looking at the world.  Quite a feat from a young boy in England who just wanted to be a painter.

IFH 638: The Business of Selling Story with Ken Atchity

Today guest is author, publisher, and producer Ken Atchity. Ken recently produced the global blockbuster (Jason Statham) and is the founder of Story Merchant. Ken wrote the best-seller Sell Your Story to Hollywood: Writer’s Pocket Guide to the Business of Show Business. I wanted Ken on the show to discuss the business side of screenwriting, a part of the industry that isn’t spoken about enough. We also discuss the “story market.”

Here some background on Ken.

In 1976, Atchity founded L/A House, Inc., a consulting, translation, book, television, and film development and production company whose clients included the Getty Museum and the US Postal Service. L/A House began by extending Atchity’s teaching of creative writing to manuscript consultation and soon moved on to publishing with the production of Follies, a magazine covering creativity, and CQ: Contemporary Quarterly; Poetry and Art of which he was editor. In the 1980s L/A House moved into television, with a syndicated television pilot of BreakThrough! of which Atchity was executive producer and co-writer.

In 1985, L/A House began development of a set of video/TV romance film projects entitled Shades of Love, which became 16 full-length films, produced in 1986–87 with Atchity as executive producer, that aired throughout the world, distributed by Lorimar, Astral-Bellevue-Pathe, Manson International, and Warner Brothers International, nominated for Canada’s Gemini Award; in the U.S. they premiered on Cinemax-HBO.

In 1989 he sold L/A House and founded AEI (Atchity Editorial/Entertainment International), a literary management and motion picture production company. Atchity sold Steve Alten’s Meg to Bantam-Doubleday at auction in a $2.2M deal; and then to Disney, partnered with Zide-Perry, for $1.2 (later, to Newline Pictures for a similar price). Incorporated in 1996, its name was changed to Atchity Entertainment International, Inc. in 2005.

In 2006, he and manager-partner Fred Griffin of Houston’s Griffin Partners along with a group of investors from Louisiana and Texas, acquired The Louisiana Wave Studio, LLC in Shreveport, Louisiana from Walt Disney Productions. The LWS is the only tank specifically designed to make waves for motion pictures in North America. Films produced at the LWS include The Guardian, Mayday—Bering Sea, Shark Night 3D, Streets of Blood, and I Love You, Philip Morris; along with numerous government and industrial films.

In 2011 Atchity was nominated for an Emmy for producing The Kennedy Detail (Discovery) based on their clients’ Jerry Blaine and Lisa McCubbin’s New York Times bestselling book by the same title published by Gallery/Simon & Schuster in 2010. AEI’s films include Joe Somebody (Tim Allen, Julie Bowen), Life Or Something Like It (Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns), and The MEG (Jason Statham).

In 2010, Atchity also founded Atchity Productions and Story Merchant.

Enjoy my conversation with Ken Atchity.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome Ken Atchity, man, how you doing, sir?

Ken Atchity 2:55
Good. How are you doing? Very good. Nice to be with you.

Alex Ferrari 2:58
I appreciate it. Thank you so much for being on the show. I truly appreciate it. I know you're a busy man. So thank you for taking the time.

Ken Atchity 3:04
My pleasure.

Alex Ferrari 3:06
So before we get started, how did you get started in the business?

Ken Atchity 3:10
Well, in show business, I got started because I was a professor, working with stories, analyzing stories and helping people construct stories and of course, writing my own stories. And I just decided that I wanted to be on the other side of the coin, so to speak, I didn't want to be on the critical side, I wanted to be on the, you know, the making side, and get stories out to the world both in publishing and in film, and television. So I came up with an idea that ended up being 16 movies. And the rest was history. I just went on from there.

Alex Ferrari 3:47
Very cool. Now, in Europe, you you obviously focus a lot on story. What makes a good story, in your opinion?

Ken Atchity 3:57
Well, what makes a good story is is the reader or the audience not being able to forget the story? I mean, that's the ultimate test of a great story, I think, and that it really changes their lives in some way. Either. It really entertains them or It teaches them or shows them something memorable, that they have a hard time forgetting. To me that's the main, you know, the main symptom of a good story.

Alex Ferrari 4:23
Is that focusing more on plot on you know, the structure, is that talking about character, or is it a combination, like what are some of the elements?

Ken Atchity 4:31
Oh, it's a combination, but but the primary thing is character. Okay, so creating an unforgettable character. One of the signs of that is that, that people will start telling you things about the story that didn't even happen in the story. Because they, they they got the characters so well that they have yet you know, imagine the character in other settings. So I think the number one important thing is a good character, what we call the protagonist, who is the first actor in the story and who makes the story happen based on a need of theirs, and then has to go out and somehow battle against an antagonist, you know, obstacles to that need and accomplish it or tragically not being able to accomplish it by the end of the story. In your opinion, what

Alex Ferrari 5:19
does make a good a good protagonist?

Ken Atchity 5:22
Well, generally speaking, it's it's a flawed human being, it's somebody that we can immediately relate to, because of some problem that they're having. One of my favorite examples is lethal weapon. You know, Revell, Gibson, being a homicidal, you know, homicide detectives and as suicidal homicide detective, that's kind of hard to forget. So in the one of the opening scenes, he's actually playing Russian roulette, as he wakes up in the morning, and skwiggs, a cold beer has been, you know, puts the gun to his head. But it you know, he, he's, he's survived that day and goes on to another day, but you immediately can't forget him, he a guy who goes out and does his duty, despite the fact that he wants to kill himself, because his wife had been recently killed, etc. So, I mean, there are all kinds of memorable characters like Rain Man, and, you know, Silver Linings Playbook. You just go from one to the other, but it's usually the characters that you remember.

Alex Ferrari 6:29
Yeah, I never, I mean, there are obviously very good plots, you know, I remember, you know, Usual Suspects being you know, has the plot was so amazing. But generally speaking, it is character that drives like, that's what you really connect to, because they're the human beings that you're connecting to, that's something you can actually hold on to correct,

Ken Atchity 6:47
right. And one of the observations that you have in the in the film business is that the character is great. The plot is replaceable, so that that's what leads you i i specialized recently, in selling book lines line, you know, books, that my clients have written several on the same characters, and making them into series. So we're heavily involved in setting up series, and what buyers in Hollywood are trying to buy is they're trying to buy the characters, you know, they, they buy the characters, and they can go on making movies or episodes about those characters, without reference to the plots that the original author came up with. Sometimes they use this plot, sometimes, the writers, you know, the television writers, or film writers just make up their own plots to go with that character. Are you?

Alex Ferrari 7:38
Are you um, when you're consulting your clients now? Are you recommending that they if you're writing a book, let's say that you're, you're not just writing one book that you're writing series of books based off the same character, kind of like a Sherlock Holmes, or, you know, or, you know, jack Ryan or something like that?

Ken Atchity 7:55
Yeah, I mean, I, I end up doing that, because I kind of have the ultimate home run from a financial point of view for a writer is to sell a television series. And so one of my writers took the train in to see me the other day, and we sat there at lunch. And he, he done two novels already that were pretty good. And I told him, you should start thinking about, you know, writing another novel using the same character. And I did that a couple of years ago with another writer, Texan. And he's now written three books with the same character that caught my attention. And I took it out to a pitch meeting with a major producer a few weeks ago, and I could pitch it in two sentences. And the minute he heard about the character, he said, that's an obvious series. Let's Let's do it. So we're partnered on on the series, just because he heard about the character and the world the character finds himself in. So that's obviously a good reason to write more than one novel on the same character, not to mention the fact that you're much more likely to sell multiple copies of your novel, if you have several other novels that somebody can read with the same character.

Alex Ferrari 9:08
Yeah, I recently got, I was recently found the show called Bosch, which is a based on Michael Connelly's series of books. My grant it's so well done so well. And the character is, he's such an interest the Bosch character is so interesting, because he's he's a flawed human being. But yet he's not Indiana Jones. He's not Sherlock Holmes. He's not superhuman by any stretch. But yet you're just drawn in and if obviously, it's the actor, but the character itself and the world that that Michael created. It is fascinating. I'm seeing that because of all the streaming series and there's so much opportunity for filmmakers and for and for writers out there now. I mean, we are pretty much in the gold rush of story at this time.

Ken Atchity 9:54
Yeah. Would you agree? Absolutely. I mean, look at Breaking Bad and and look there and you know, the escaped from Connemara you know, limited series, but it's the characters that that draw you into it. You know they the plot. isn't that important. I mean, if you think about Bosh, like how many plots Can you remember right away?

Alex Ferrari 10:17
It takes me a minute it takes me a minute to, like, I have to go back to season one he had to do this season three, he had to do that. But it's Sparsh. It's like Indiana Jones, like you know, you know, it's it's it's James Bond, like how you know, how many plots of James Bond Do you remember? But you boy, you remember James Bond pretty clearly.

Ken Atchity 10:35
Yeah, exactly. And, and sometimes to show Hill, how the plot is harder to remember, they'll put the plot in the title, you know, the temple of Dune or Raiders of the Lost Ark, just in case you you forget, because you're not gonna forget Indiana Jones, for James Bond. So you think, you know, call his books after his villains? Because they're the ones you have to think about to remember Goldfinger and, you know, Dr. Know, etc, right. But you don't need to be reminded about James Bond. That's why you're reading the book or watching the movie.

Alex Ferrari 11:07
So in today's world, that we have such a huge opportunity for writers to be able to put, you know, write content, create content, do you recommend instead of going after possibly a screenplay, which is a one off to actually focus on series to focus on limited series? Is that where the marketplace is kind of leaning now? Because there's just so much need and want for original content? Now? Is that a smart move as a writer?

Ken Atchity 11:36
Yeah, it's definitely a smart move. It's, it's a little more difficult move. But it's a smart move, because we have so many channels demanding programming, that it's hugely competitive, mean, new, you know, broadcasters are born every year, whether it's Hulu and Apple recently, or Amazon and Netflix, the generation before, or you know, in the old days, the HBO and Showtime and even older days, the network's that they're all competing for, you know, stories and series, one of the big decisions we have to make when we go out with a series is whether it should be a network series or cable series. Because of the difference in content, obviously. But But clearly, that's it's not only it's not only easier to sell a series in this demanding market, but it's also it's also the smarter way to go because, honestly, the smartest writers and the best writers of all gravitated to television, television, you know, years ago, 1520 years ago was regarded as kind of a wasteland of no man's land. And it was very hard for us feature a feature writer to even want to go into television. And now it's just normal that television is dying for feature writers and rating feature writers. And more importantly, the feature writers are starting to write original stuff for television, because it's so difficult to set up a movie. By comparison, movies are still being made and huge numbers are being made, but not by the studios. The studios are limiting what they do to four or five movies a year where they used to do 30 or 40. And so the explosion of growth there is an independent films, but an independent film can have a very long road to production, because of the uncertainty of financing and the distributors reluctance to actually put them in theaters compared to the big blockbuster from, you know, Disney or from Warner Brothers. So all together television is a much friendlier and smarter environment. For writers I think to to aspire to.

Alex Ferrari 13:47
Do you agree with what Spielberg said about the implosion of Hollywood where this this whole new Hollywood the studio's to some specifically, which is just blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster that eventually one of these is going to pop that we're there's going to be a studio that's not going to be able to take a $500 million hit. And they're just going to go under and it's going to be kind of like this bubble that's gonna pop eventually do agree with that. Because I mean, it is riskier and riskier and riskier as I mean, we're talking about I remember when Titanic came out, and everyone's like, $200 million budget, everyone was like, insane. Everyone. $100 million budget was a lot of money. Now. Now we're talking 300 $350 million budgets, and plus marketing. So we're talking half a billion dollars to make a billion and a half dollars. What do you I just a curiosity just from from your perspective?

Ken Atchity 14:37
Well, it's complicated if he were, you know, if he were talking strictly about moviemaking. It would be easy to agree with that. But the truth is, studios don't make most of their money from movie making a studio, head of the studio head, somebody lunch with him one day and he said don't don't ever accuse me of being a filmmaker. I am a toy salesman. Makes films to advertise my toys. And most of the money that's made by any of the big studios is in merchandising. And so hopefully, if they have a $300 million bus, they'll be making it up from, you know, the $500 million they're making on another movie, or even on the merchandising from the failed movie, because there's no end to it. And, and plus, the studios are generally owned by international conglomerates. And those conglomerates are heavily invested in real estate. You know, the suit, one of the reasons they buy, the studio is for its real estate. And so I don't quite agree with him that that's going to happen easily. But it certainly could happen if a studio made three bad judgments a year. And all three were upside down. It would be difficult for them to survive it. And they do though. I mean, they do. Paramount has survived that several times. And you know, it's sad. I mean, DreamWorks has not really quite survived it. So they end up being more or less part of, you know, universal and that's basically the fate of studios has been acquired by another studio as Fox was just acquired by Disney, which still blows my mind. Fox was such a distinctive studio. And so is Disney the fact that they're all now in way the same conglomerate. It's just very upsetting and weird. It just, you know, narrows the number of places I can sell the movies, you know, my clients movies?

Alex Ferrari 16:30
Yeah, with without question and yeah, it's it's a weird world that we're living in. I think they're the the amount of stories that are being told. The channels are smaller at the big at the highest levels. It used to be many more studios, many more things. But I think we could thank George Lucas for all this merchandise, because he was basically the first one to really to do it, honestly. I mean, they didn't merchandising prior to George Lucas, but no one's done it as good as he has. From that point.

Ken Atchity 17:03
Yeah, I think no one kind of focused on it the way he did, from the very beginning. He was he recognized the value of the merchandising, in fact, you know, the story is that that fox, who financed Star Wars wasn't as interested in the merchandising as they were in the movie. I'm not sure that story is true or not, but it's, it is a legendary story. Yes, it is. And now, you know, now the Disney has acquired the franchise, you know, they're very careful to continue the toys, because that's where Walt Disney made all of his money is, you know, from Mickey Mouse t shirts, and Mickey Mouse dolls and all those other characters sitting on the shelves, like like they are in the background of, of your office there.

Alex Ferrari 17:54
Yes, my Yoda. All that good stuff. Right. Now, can you discuss a few pitfalls to watch out for on the business side of storytelling? Because I think storytellers are artists, we're, you know, filmmakers, we're just artists, we don't want to think about business or, you know, a distribution or a month, let somebody else deal with that. What are some pitfalls that we should look at in this new world that we're walking into? And that we're in currently, but I think that the the, the, the two avenues between business show and business are really starting to cross a lot more than before. So are there any pitfalls that you can kind of help help us watch out for?

Ken Atchity 18:35
Yeah, my, my second last book was called, you know, sell your story to Hollywood writers handbook to the business of show business. And I always tell my clients that the more they know about business, the better, the better, they're going to be in terms of being in this business and making a living out of it. And people, like you said, they're not that they're not that interested in the business part of it. But to me, the most upsetting situation for a writer that they should be looking out for is what's called reversion. And that means that you sell your story, you get some money up front, which is option payment, you even may get the right payment that occurs on the day of principal photography. But if something happens, three weeks into that, and the movie never gets finished, never gets shot. Your movie, your story, which was brilliant enough to get somebody to invest a lot of money in it, and to raise money for it is suddenly in limbo. And I can't tell you how many wonderful stories I've sold in the past that are in limbo and are likely to stay there. There's one in particular that a new finance group approached me a few months ago and said, we want to make this movie. We almost almost made it 10 years ago, if you'll recall. And yes, I do recall because we sold it to a distributor, and now it's in what's called turnaround, which means the distributor has its its claws on the story. They will not release it to another financer without the financer pain, not only how much money that studio had put into it, but also 10% interest a year, since then. So it ends up being a ton of money, like 50 times the amount of money that they actually spent on it, because of the interest. And, and that story basically is, you know, can be gone forever, and this Limbo state, and it's something to really look at to make sure that your attorney, your agent, your manager, has got a strong reversion clause that says something to the effect that if your movie is not made, within five years of of the, you know, the the data was contracted for, that it will revert free and clear to you, as opposed to go into turn around, where the studio can hold it up, you know, for for money. And God, we must have a dozen great stories in that situation. And it's, it's a huge thing to worry about. And of course, the other thing is to make sure that if you're a writer, especially over an animated film, that you are getting a true part of the back end of the story, meaning the profits of the movie, you know, they so rarely does that happen in Hollywood, that those points, as they're called, are referred to as monkey points, because I suppose only a monkey would believe that they're actually going to get those points. But if you have a really good attorney, there are things you can do to make sure that doesn't happen. And people don't really think about this on their first two or three deals. But after those deals, especially after something has happened, to show them what they might have made, have they had a better deal. You know, they'll they will get smarter about it. And we try to educate our writers, in fact, in that real fast Hollywood deal that we do. Online, it's a course on how to succeed in the business of show business, not just, you know, not not just the show part, but the business part. And people do I mean, obviously, people like Lucas and Spielberg have done pretty well for themselves, because they, they went to business school and learned the business part of it.

Alex Ferrari 22:20
Yeah, I was, I was told years ago when I was meeting with an agent that he's like, when I'm looking for a creative writer or director, I'm looking for three people, I'm looking for a politician. I'm looking for an artist, and I'm looking for a businessman. And Isn't that it? I think that was really great. It was a great window into what really is needed in this business. You know? And is this those three things? Because if you if you have just one of those, it won't work. You have to have all three, because a lot of people don't talk about the politics behind the seats. That's a whole other conversation.

Ken Atchity 22:59
Yeah, no, it is. Mostly it is 90% of the effort. It's dealing with the people dealing with the business. And honestly, when they say that creativity is you know, creative ideas are a dime a dozen. That isn't literally true, but maybe a quarter a dozen, you know, there are lots and lots of ideas, and they never make it to the screen unless you have those other qualities of business and, you know, political savvy, how to deal with people. Because you know, there's a there's a set of rules about how to operate in Hollywood and one of them is being a fun person to work with and stain off of everyone's life is to shortlist. It's a guy like that

Alex Ferrari 23:42
i like i like that term. Life. I've heard of the Life is too short. I've never heard it called that life is too short list.

Ken Atchity 23:49
And one of my books I I talk about it and what it takes to get on that list. And at a certain point, no matter how creative you are, and how brilliant your ideas are, nobody wants to hear from you. Right and

Alex Ferrari 23:59
even into some of these legendary directors and writers for that matter, that that are super talented, and they win Oscars and they make lots of money, but they're just horrible human beings, or horrible to work with the moment they stumble, it's over the the second they trip up, the second thing they stumble, it goes they never get to they never get back in. And but if you're a super nice guy, you know, like I use Ron Howard all the time, because Ron Howard is such an amazing filmmaker. And he's had he's had really strong bombs in his career, but he's also had really strong hits. But he's I heard so many good things about working with him.

Ken Atchity 24:41
Everybody likes him. You know, he returns people's phone calls. He's always nice. He doesn't show his the arrogance that he deserves. He doesn't act like it. You know, he's, he's humbled because whatever the reason is his character It was not destroyed by success and too often Success can destroy character. And I try to tell my writers that when they fail a few times that they're actually building character. So they'll do better. You know, in the long run,

Alex Ferrari 25:13
I call it trap milk. It's like you need a little shrapnel, you need a little scarring, you know, to toughen yourself up and to kind of go through this business.

Ken Atchity 25:21
Yeah, that's right. It's absolutely right. Now, can you can storytellers

Alex Ferrari 25:25
in today's world make a living with their stories? And if there is, what are some other ways that storytellers could make money with their business with their with their stories, besides just you know, trying to pitch a studio? Or you know, at the larger levels? Or do you have any advice on like what other writers could be doing to sell their stories or make money with their stories?

Ken Atchity 25:46
Well, of course, because of the Internet, and Amazon in particular, everyone can, you know, publish books that used to have to go through gatekeepers, mostly in New York to get to that point. And Hollywood is in love with books. So if you're going to try to sell a story to Hollywood, the best possible advice I can give you is to write it as a book first. And in the old days, hollywood used to insist that it be from a major publisher. But that's all changed in the last 20 years. And I discovered about 10 years ago that I was having a much harder time sell books, selling books to New York than I used to. I used to sell 30 or 40 books a year, and two, all the publishers, but then they were always, they were also bought up by the big conglomerates. So every major publisher of which they used to be about 50, they've now gotten down to about four. And those four have purchased the other 36 imprints and made them part of their, you know, they're big flags, because they're owned by herrschaft and Bertelsmann and Penguin, Putnam and so on. And as a result, they don't buy new voices the way they used to, they're not interested in unknown writers the way they used to be. So I got upset about that, because I didn't have as many books to take to my Hollywood lunches. And I decided about eight years ago now to start our own imprint, story, merchant books of which we now published over 300. And, and I set up a whole bunch of them as series and as movies, because they look like books, and they talk like books, and they sound like books. And so people go, I gotta read this, and I take the book to lunch with me, and they go home with it, and read it and call me in a few days and say they, they want to make it into a movie. So any any writer can do that they can put out, you know, go to to Amazon and print their books, or they can come to a company that helps them do that, like one of mine does. And that's a huge thing they can do. And, of course, they can also edit and help other writers and a lot of writers make a steady income by doing that. But there are more opportunities, I think, than ever before, to make a living as a writer.

Alex Ferrari 28:11
And do it in like, again, today's world that we have so much opportunity in the streaming space in the streaming space specifically, do you recommend that screenwriters begin to create their own video content to create a pilot or create instead of walking in with a just a pitch to walk in with a sizzle reel, or a scene or, or even a full blown pilot that they shot, you know, for 15 or 20? grand, you know, as a proof of concept? Or like in was it It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, that basically that's exactly what they did, they shot a pilot and then went off to do I think four or five seasons with that with that pilot with the same actors. I think even they just added a few more bigger names. So what do you think?

Ken Atchity 28:53
I think it's a visual medium. And if, if you know how to do it, then by all means, that's what you should be doing. Because that's what we're all looking for. We're looking for movies, you know, for moving pictures. And I have a client who kind of behind my backs. He was a business, not a business writer. And I had sold to his business books. And then out of the blue, he told me a couple of years ago, you know, I decided to make a dream of mine come true. I made a movie. And he he I couldn't believe it because he seemed like not the complete opposite of a guy who would make a movie, because he was a button down businessman. But he did make a movie and I saw it and now I'm helping him get a distributor for it. And he's also written a brilliant novel. And it took him years to get up the courage to do either one of them, but he's done them both and nothing's stopping you now me were the one thing about the creative world it is it's free. You're free to think outside the box and the boxes are not like they used to be ever since Jeff Bezos came along. The entire world has changed as much as it did when Gutenberg printing At the printing press or, you know, back in the old days, when someone invented writing to take over from the oral tradition, we're going to see through a sea change as big as either one of those not bigger. And where, whereas there used to be maybe 20,000 books published every year in the United States, it's now over a million books published every year. And a lot of them are horrible. A lot of them are really bad. But more than ever, a lot of them are good. And a lot of them are better than, you know, books that were published before. It's just the statistics, know, a lot of books means a lot of better books to, to you,

Alex Ferrari 30:41
can you talk a little bit about the need for marketing and understanding marketing branding, because you just said a million books are being published a year. So that's great. And it's great opportunity that our stories are getting out there. But because of the just the sheer number of amount of content, let's not even get into video content will take us 20 lifetimes to just watch what came out this week, alone. But on the book side, or just on the story side alone, without marketing, and this plays for both screenwriting, for for Novel Writing and filmmaking, the understanding of marketing and branding to get eyeballs on your book on your product on your story is more vital than ever before. And I think I find that even mediocre writers who understand marketing and branding go a lot farther than

Unknown Speaker 31:30
brilliant writers

Alex Ferrari 31:30
who have no understanding about it.

Ken Atchity 31:32
Yes, that's absolutely true. And I wish I had your speech you just gave to, to show all of my my author clients who, whose books we publish, because I give them the same speech. And and I, you know, if they're not willing to market, they're not going to be the ones that are visible. I mean, the speech that I always give is that sales depends on marketing. And there is no direct relationship between marketing and sales, there is no magic formula. But one thing for sure, is that a book needs visibility of somebody, somebody's going to buy it, they've got to see it. And so visibility is directly related to sales, because in the absence of visibility, there will be no sales, you've got to make it visible. And the formula is, you know, some advertising agency agencies talk about his impressions. And they say that you need at least four or five impressions before somebody will think about buying your product. So that's why in the slick magazines, you see ads, you know, full page ads for BMW or air mace, or, you know, clothes a quick vote tequila, it's not because there's a direct relationship between you see a BMW ad and you run out and buy a BMW, it's because you have a lasting impression from seeing an expensive ad in these magazines. And that's number one. And then you see a billboard with a BMW on it, and then you watch one go by enviously, and then you you read about one on Facebook that somebody just bought. And by the time you get up to four or five, and you're needing a car, you're going to be tempted, you can't go to every showroom and look at every car. So chances are BMW is going to be up there in the, in the top, you know, whatever percentage of cars you look at. And same is true as a book, they say you need five impressions. So Amazon ads, Facebook ads, blog, site tours, making a, you know, making a trailer for your book, anything you can think of doing we have services that we offer authors to, and they're things that help you get reviews, one of the primary things on Amazon is getting at least 20 reviews. And once you've got 20 to go for, you know, go for 100 reviews, once you go for 100. You go for 501 of my novels has 400 reviews or something like that at this point. And that just means that the sales start getting serious. And they also say that, as I mentioned before, if you write three novels with the same character, and then you're much more likely to get a following, because when somebody looks at it, and they get intrigued, they think oh, and here's two others. So if I liked this one, I can come back and read a couple of others. People like to do that they like to binge read, just as I like to watch, you know, binge watch bush or other TV series. That's the way we're doing it. Now. If you feel like Madam Secretary, chances are you're going to wait until the whole season's available and, and sit there and watch them on a weekend. more likely than tuning in the same time every week. And doing that we're one of our big viewing changes is that we watch things on our own time as opposed to watching them on the network's time and I'm not sure how Much longer that commercial networks are going to last, given how much pressure we have on us for, you know, to use our time.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
Yeah, I'm noticing that too, because, you know, even, even with even with mainline shows, I mean, Netflix kind of ruined us with the bingeing situation at Amazon and everything else. So now, like, when you're watching a network show, you're just like, Ah, it's, I gotta wait a whole year or whatever season to watch this whole thing play out, it's annoying.

Ken Atchity 35:32
It's not to mention having to go through the commercials. I mean, it's, it's just unbelievably annoying. I mean, I've even got to the point where, you know, I, I like to, I like to watch the news a lot during the day. So I'll get up at you know, when I get up at five o'clock, and, and record, CNN, and I don't start watching it for a couple of hours. And that way, I can go through the commercials because I, I just don't have the patience to, you know, turn off the sound during every commercial and, and they're endless, you know, they seem like they last 1015 minutes, before you get another 10 minutes of content. So that way of watching is, I think not going to be around too many more years, I think we are going to be binge watching everything uninterruptedly. And of course, that means the economics of everything will change because the networks exist based on commercials You can't blame them for, for doing what they have to do to exist. But but the cables have done is come up with another financial pattern, you know, to keep them going.

Alex Ferrari 36:34
Now, one thing that we all do, as storytellers and as creatives, we always have to deal with something called rejection. How do you in your opinion, how do you deal with rejection?

Ken Atchity 36:45
Well, I just do so many things that I don't have time to stew about it. You know, it's like, if you're, you have that much out there. And I I've written about rejection many times and in many different books and blogs. And basically, rejection is not something you should spend an ounce of your emotional time on. Because it's, it is a category that is required for success. I mean, if you don't fail, and if you want to call rejection failure, if you don't fail, you're never going to succeed. Because everyone who's ever succeeded, has done it through failing or being rejected. Just imagine if you were selling, you know, vacuum sweepers from door to door, if you got discouraged and had to go out for to the local bar for a drink every time you got the door slammed in your face, you would you would quickly become an alcoholic and not sell very many vacuum sleepers, right. And so what's interesting is in the book business, they actually use the word rejection. But in the film business, they never use that word I don't think I've ever heard it, once. They they simply, if they say anything will say they're passing, more likely, they're gonna say, especially to me that the door is always open. This just isn't fit here, right now. We just got a rejection on a major series that we know we're going to sell. And it from a major company stars, who told us, we have to pass on this right now, if you understand. But please come back here after Christmas, after the holidays, if you haven't set it up. And the reason has to do with, you know, regime change and all kinds of things. It almost never has to do. Yeah, it never has to do rarely has to do with the story itself, assuming that you've got a good story. So you just have to get used to it. And I tell my clients that the best way to get used to it is be working on something else, all the time. So your objective toward the thing you worked on before. What you have control over is what you write, you have no control over the fate of what you've written. And you shouldn't waste any time thinking about that. You know, once you've gotten it into the hands of somebody who knows what they're doing to represent it, you should simply start you know, creating more stuff and get put together a whole gallery of things you've created.

Alex Ferrari 39:12
Yeah, I also there's there's an element with storytelling in general is being in the right place at the right time with the right product. And there's certain there's certain time periods that a certain story, it makes absolute sense that would never fly in today's world. I mean, I always use Blazing Saddles, will never get made it to taste. Many of Brooks's movies would never get in today's world. But like I had a film that I was pitching around town eight, nine years ago, which had a female lead, kind of like comic book II style movie. And everybody would say, Oh, you can't put a female as a leader and an action movie. That's insane. Why would you do something like that? So I was a little ahead of the curve. Regardless if my story is good or not. That's it, you know, but the point is just the concept of the constant thing I was saying I heard and there weren't many movies being made that had female leads where now, female lead action movies are not a big deal. I mean, depending on the type of movie it is, and, and so on and so forth. So I do I do believe that that there is a certain timing good place for certain stories. Have you run across that as well? Oh, yeah, I

Ken Atchity 40:19
I don't ever forget, I was walking down the street in New York one day. And I got a phone call from a publisher and said, I am so sorry to be getting back to you. What, three years later? It has, is that book still available? And I said, I think it is we have some interest in it. But I think it's available. And of course, it was not only available, but the author had forgotten it existed. And long story short, I ended up making a three book deal, you know, that day, and the author was flabbergasted because he had moved on to other things as I had advised him to do. But the story set, you know, its timeliness had just suddenly occurred. And recently, I sold a movie that was on up channel on a novel that we had been trying to sell for 20 years. And there just wasn't a market for it. And we finally sold it and it was on two years ago, it finally played 10 did very well. And you simply would never know that it had been waiting around for 20 years. Like the Meg was the Meg, the biggest movie of the last couple of years that I've done 540 million worldwide to date that was sold 22 years ago for the first time. And it was simply in limbo all those years, going from one studio over the other from one writer to the other, and finally got made and, you know, knocked out the box office as, as I predicted it would 22 years ago. And that that's just happens all the time, a story's time has come, or it hasn't come. You can't predict, you know, whether your overnight success will happen in 20 years or in, you know, overnight.

Alex Ferrari 42:07
Now, with the mag specifically though, I think 22 years ago, it would not be the same movie as they made today, technology was just a little bit more advanced today than it was 22 years ago.

Ken Atchity 42:18
In fact, I think that was a good thing for the movie. You know, we plus it was much less expensive than it might have been 22 years ago, because the technology was is so much more advanced. And you know that that's true. So it's, it's almost like every story has its own fate and its own God in charge of it. And you really have to let it go the way you want a child at a certain point and make its way in the world or not.

Alex Ferrari 42:45
Now with with the movie, the mag specifically for people who don't know the movie, the mag was it was basically kind of like a jaws. But with a prehistoric shark that was just the size of a skyscraper,

Ken Atchity 42:58
a prehistoric 70 foot long shark, as opposed to a 12 foot long shark or, you know, 20 foot long forest. So not only do you need a bigger boat, you need to have a bigger ocean port to deal with. And so that that was a story that led to I think we sold seven more mag books for Steve after the first one, and then another six or seven books that are not about mag. So he built a whole career out of it while waiting for the movie to get Finally, you know made.

Alex Ferrari 43:33
Is there going to be a secret?

Ken Atchity 43:35
Oh, yeah, they definitely will be a staple. Soon as the US Chinese financing situation gets, you know, settled down. Both sides living in complete uncertainty every moment. That's the only impediment there there is right now to the story.

Alex Ferrari 43:54
Now, you obviously have pitched many studios, because executives, you've yourself been a studio executive. Or you have been a studio executive, correct? Oh, no, no, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. So you have pitched many studio executives. How do you any advice any tips do you have to pitching a studio executive your story?

Ken Atchity 44:15
Well, that's a good good question. Because I teach pitching all the time. And pitching is extremely rare opportunity because you have to be in the room with a person, you know who can buy something. And that doesn't happen very often. That's why we write treatments and written pitches. Because you know, an oral pitch is is a chance and and I learned quickly as a literary manager that at least 50% of the time, writers are the last person you want to bring into the room to pitch their own stories, because they have a very bad habit that they go into a trance when they start pitching and that trance means that they may be very excited and But they're no longer in contact with the eyes of the buyer. And as a as a professional salesman who spent all my life selling buyers and rooms, that's all I care about is your eyes. But I'm trying to tell you a story. Because I can tell within a microsecond, when you've lost interest in the story. And if I keep pitching you, then not only have you lost interest, but it's going to be impossible to recover your interest. And you're creating a negative view of the story. And writers don't even see that because they're in a trance, you know, they're in their own creative trance. And I always tell them, I'm going to kick you under the table, when that happens, so that you can come back to consciousness and, you know, recognize what's going on. Because most pitches are long when they should be short. Most pitches go on for 20 minutes when they should be two minutes long. Because the way you really sell somebody in the room is you get their attention in those two minutes. And then you let them ask questions for the next 20 minutes, until they're invested in the story that they that they got intrigued by in the first two minutes. So it's a it's a real art to be pitching. And it's something that the more you think about it, the worse you're going to be. And I'll tell you one story, I know we have to wind down at some point. But I once took a writer, a brilliant novelist who's going on to write for television, to HBO to Michael Fuchs, his office who was the head of HBO in those days. And we in practice his pitch at Warner, which was the financier that partnered with me to take it in there. And we went in said, Hello, there was a few minutes of chitchat. And Michael says to him, let me let me hear the story. So this guy, despite every warning, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a little packet of three by five cards. And Fuchs said, what, what is that? And he said, these are just my cards, you know, to prompt me and he said, Wait a minute, didn't you write this novel? And he said, Yes. He said, How long did it take you? He said, a couple of years, he said, You You worked on the story for two years, you wrote a novel, it became a best seller, and you have to use cards, get the fuck out of my office, sorry, get out of my office. And we left, we left the office, that was the end of that sale. And it taught me you know, an important thing. Every time I go to a writers conference and talk about pitching, I tell him, you know, when you come up here to pitch, you're not going to have paper in front of you, and you're not gonna have your computer, you know, computer screen open, you're just gonna look at me and tell me the story. And if you can't do that, and you're not ready to do the pitch, so come back next year. And you know, when you're ready when you know your story. So pitching is, it's got to be from the heart. It's like telling the story. Imagine, you know, you go to Thanksgiving, you sit down with your dreaded uncle, because every time he wants to tell a joke, he takes out some three by five cards, so he can read the joke to you. I mean, that that's exactly what you know, it is the danger of a writer pitching. Well, I'm a writer, I need words, words come from your heart, they don't come to your, you know, from your screen.

Alex Ferrari 48:22
Now, do you have any advice? Any advice for about protecting your work? There's so much rampid, you know, thievery, or, you know, people just stealing ideas? Is there anything you could tell the listeners? How to Protect help protect your work?

Ken Atchity 48:39
Sure. I mean, first of all, I don't agree at all that there is so much rampant stealing of ideas. Okay. I, I ran across that and 30 years in the business, maybe twice. Were in both cases, I'm almost sure it was totally unconscious and unintentional. Because people go, you know, executives go to hundreds of meetings, pitch meetings. And if an idea comes up two years later, in another meeting, or somebody's looking for an idea, even though they take notes during meetings and trying to keep it all straight, they might not. They might not remember this is where they heard it. But mostly I never see this. JOHN Gardner, who was one of my mentors, a famous novelist, said that he once had written a story about a giant Alligator, and never sold it. But then found out that a movie had just been made. So he snuck into the theater and watched the movie. And he said, I almost fell to my knees after the after the after the movie, thanking God, that my story had never been sold because I thought, let somebody else take the rap for this hideous idea. You know, but I keep moving so fast that people can't keep up with me and that's the way you protect yourself by moving fast. You know? Not worrying about it. On the other hand, if you have to have an answer to that, you There are two ways to do it, you go to the Writers Guild of America west.org, and you register it, register your story register, your treatment cannot register ideas. Or you go to the Library of Congress, copyright register, and a page and register register it there. Those are about the only two legal ways to protect your story. And they don't protect your story, by the way, any good attorney would want me to make point to sell, they protect your claim to have written the story. The truth is that American copyright, international copyright, except for China, immediately protects what you've written, the moment it's written, you already copyright it legally. But to register your copyright, you can go to the copyright office and register online. And that proves your claim that on this, you know, particular day, you claimed that you wrote the attached story. And that way, if it ever comes to court, you can show you registered this and the only one only way someone can beat you, in your claim is by showing a registered ID two years earlier. And that has happened. Some big lawsuits have been won by, you know, false claims of authorship, by people who had registered a story two years after they're already been registered by the person who really wrote, you know, the story. So yeah, I wouldn't worry about it, I would spend like 1,000th of the percentage of your effort worrying about, you know, you're losing your your rights to something, spend the rest of it, writing a news story. Fair enough.

Alex Ferrari 51:48
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What, what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Ken Atchity 51:58
Right, just write. And before you write, watch every movie you can get hold of every movie you can see, especially your favorite ones. And read the screenplays. It's just shocking to me how many people send in things to us, that indicate that they don't know anything about movies. And they always start with something like, you know, all the movies made today are horrible. They're not like they used to be. Which by the way isn't true. There's so many contenders for the Oscar in every category. It's crazy. I mean, as somebody has to watch all these movies for the academy and one vote on them. That is just a preposterously untrue thing. But people say it all the time, which indicates to me that they don't watch movies. Certainly, I would tell a novelist. You know, don't write a novel until you've written read a lot of novels. And that's the number. You know, watch that, watch movies, read screenplays, and then write your screenplay. And just keep writing. Now, what

Alex Ferrari 53:02
is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Ken Atchity 53:08
That is such a good question. I don't I don't know if I'm ready to answer that yet. The lesson that took the longest to learn was I guess, being disappointed that people don't do what they say they're going to do. I don't think I still learn that. Because I see oh, you know, I deal with a lot of people. And at least half of them are more do what they say they're going to do. And they you can count on. They say they're gonna do it, they're gonna do it. But the other half don't. And it just surprises me that they don't and I don't understand, they swear I am going to do this. And then they just don't do it. And my brain was not constructed to, you know, either do that or understand how people can do. So I guess that's probably it.

Alex Ferrari 54:00
It's it's fairly shocking that people don't do what they say they're going to do in Hollywood. I mean, I've never heard of that before. It's very shocking. It's the first I've heard, I

Ken Atchity 54:09
guess what you'll find is true in the real estate business. And in you know, the architectural business and in the cookie business, every business, a cookie business. Yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 54:20
Now, what is, what did you learn from your biggest failure?

Ken Atchity 54:28
Well, I guess what you learn from failures, never take anything for granted. And, and choose only the best people to work with you. And in particular, I would say choose people that are better than you. When you work when you're putting together a film for example, in any given field of the film and the given department, people that you can learn from because when you choose a weaker person that will We'll come back to haunt you. It's guaranteed. And you know, I have made that mistake and several times, and I don't want to make it any worse. So that was probably answer that question.

Alex Ferrari 55:15
No. And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Ken Atchity 55:18
My favorite films of all time t that is that you think I get that question so often you think I'd have a pat answer to it. But one of them is a movie called fatso, which you probably never heard

Alex Ferrari 55:29
of have heard of that? So it was in the 80s, if I'm not mistaken.

Ken Atchity 55:32
Yeah. donvale always written, directed and started by Anne Bancroft mill mill, you know, Mel Brooks, his wife, one of my all time favorite movies, and and you mentioned the usual suspects, I definitely would put that up there somewhere. The pawnbroker one of the most unforgettable movies I've seen. I could watch it over and over again. I love life or something like it one of the movies that I made. I think it's still a good movie. I watch it on airlines whenever I can. Just extremely charming. It burns Angelina Jolie. But yeah, there's so many great movies. I, I kind of hate the question because it makes me choose when in fact, I'd rather give you a list of 100. Sure,

Alex Ferrari 56:24
sure. It's like choosing your favorite kid.

Ken Atchity 56:27
Yeah, exactly. You're not supposed to do that. Right?

Alex Ferrari 56:30
That's what they that's what they say. And now Is there anything you want anything you're working on anything, any new books, any new courses, things like that you can talk to the

Ken Atchity 56:38
audience about? Well, I just finished a book a few months ago called tell your story to the world and sell it for millions. Because I realized that, you know, having learned to to do storytelling on the front porches of Louisiana, my Cajun relatives who could come out and get you in laughter within seconds and others could put you asleep within seconds, who didn't know how to tell stories, I realized that there was no book that exactly showed you how to get from the front porch, or the dining room table, you know, all the way to signing a deal that could be worth millions. And that's what the book tries to do. I wrote with my vice president of story merchant called Lisa, Sarah Sally, we both had wanted to write a book like this. And so it just came out a few months ago. And it basically takes you from A to Z. And I'm really happy with that one.

Alex Ferrari 57:35
Very cool. And where can people find out more about you and the work you're doing?

Ken Atchity 57:40
My main website or the four or five companies that I run serving writers in various capacities. The main website is story, merchant calm, because it kind of shows you what all the different companies are, and you lead you from one to the other. And it shows you the movies and things that we've done, that we're proud of, and some of the movies that we're planning to do and series that we've set up.

Alex Ferrari 58:07
Very cool. Ken, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend, thank you for dropping the knowledge bombs on the tribe today.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 637: Lighting for David Fincher & Michael Mann with Erik Messerschmidt

Award-winning director of photography Erik Messerschmidt, ASC has a natural eye for arresting and spellbinding images, thriving in a role that allows him to combine his love of art, craft and science. Recently, he lensed Devotion for director J.D. Dillard, based on the real-life story of a Black naval officer who befriends a white naval officer during the Korean War, with both becoming heroes for their selfless acts of bravery.

He also is currently shooting Michael Mann’s biographical film Ferrari, starring Adam Driver, Shailene Woodley, and Penélope Cruz, and recently completed shooting David Fincher’s The Killer, starring Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton.

Previously, Messerschmidt shot Fincher’s passion project Mank, chronicling the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s turbulent journey to write Citizen Kane alongside Orson Welles. Messerschmidt’s meticulous and striking black and white recreation of the period’s aesthetic earned him the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, an ASC Award for Outstanding Cinematography in a Feature Film, a BSC Award for Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Release, a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Cinematography, as well as Best Cinematography award nominations from the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics Choice, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.

In addition, Messerschmidt co-lensed several episodes of the HBO Max original series Raised by Wolves from producer Ridley Scott. He also shot the first and second seasons of Fincher’s hit thriller series Mindhunter for Netflix, earning a 2020 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (one-hour) for episode 206.

With a background in the fine arts world, Messerschmidt honed his skills while working with such renowned cinematographers such as Dariusz Wolski, ASC, Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, Phedon Papamichael, ASC, Claudio Miranda, ASC, and Greig Fraser, ASC. Messerschmidt now lives in Los Angeles and is a member of IATSE Local 600. He is represented by DDA.

Enjoy my conversation with Erik Messerschmidt.

Erik Messerschmidt 0:00
I think to be to be a working cinematographer. You have to these days you have to be practical. You have to be responsible and practical and thoughtful and you have to sort of, you know, the cost of the day on a major motion picture is expensive.

Alex Ferrari 0:14
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show, Erik Messerschmidt. Did I get it right, sir?

Erik Messerschmidt 0:31
You sure did.

Alex Ferrari 0:33
I appreciate it. Man. Thanks so much for coming on the show, brother.

Erik Messerschmidt 0:37
Thanks so much for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:40
So you've, you've done a few things in the business. So far? You know, you're a young man, and you've you've been playing with some bills, some heavy hitters over over the course of your career. It's pretty interesting.

Erik Messerschmidt 0:52
I've been really fortunate. Yeah, I've been I've been I've been really fortunate to work with some great people, for sure.

Alex Ferrari 0:58
Without question, so my first question is, how did you and why did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film business?

Erik Messerschmidt 1:08
Well, you know, I, I was a kid that loves to make stuff, you know, I love to take things apart, I love to build things I was, I was terrible athlete. But I was creative. And I like to take photographs. And I like to paint and I like to play music. And I was you know, I was always doing stuff. And I got involved in in theater really early when I was kid. And I was I was never really interested in performing. But I was always interested in doing stuff behind the scenes. And that kind of led led me to a life in the movies, I think, you know, to some degree, I liked the camaraderie that I liked the the shared experience of it. And, you know, when it came time to go to college and think about what I wanted to do with my life, it just sort of seemed like a, like a fit. And honestly, it wasn't so much about the work and the beginning, it was about the experience, you know, it's about doing stuff with people, really, you know, sort of, like, you know, photography in the beginning really interested me, but it's, it's a it's a solo occupation, for the most part, you know, in most cases anyway, it's like, it's just you and your camera, which I think can be really meditative. But but it wasn't really what I want. And I wanted, I wanted to experience with a team, you know, so I just kind of landed in, in cinema, I guess, you know, went to film school and, and came out on the other end, trying to figure out what to do the next 40 years of my life or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 2:51
Now you came up in a time where you really needed to kind of go through the mentoring process, in the scope of like, you'd get on set, someone takes you under their wing, and you might have learned some stuff in film school, but it really starts it's all the film said. And you've kind of worked your way up and you did a lot of gaffing work you did second unit work until you became a cinematographer. On your own right. And so many filmmakers today, especially cinemabox young cinematographer said they just come out and they're like, I'm a cinematographer. Because I have a Canberra and and then I've worked with some of them, and I go, Oh, you you've never seen Blade Runner. Okay, then. It's like, it's an interesting time. Because now, when you and I were coming up, because we're similar vintage, a slightly bit older than you, but a similar vintage. You know, it was so expensive, man, everything was so damn expensive. The gear was so expensive, and, and you couldn't get access to this stuff. So you really couldn't practice on your own. And I'm assuming you came up on film as well.

Erik Messerschmidt 3:53
I did. I did. Yeah. I mean, I, my, my generation of film students, you know, we didn't have HD cameras, or I don't think, you know, when I was in school, even had the digital camera wasn't even part of the conversation. You know, we were processing 16 millimeter film or, you know, the, the senior students and the MFA students were shooting in 35. And, you know, it was like an investment to make a movie at that time. I mean, it's still a it's obviously but, but for us, you know, it's like, you had to two cans, you know, to do 400 foot rolls of 60 millimeter and you had to skirt counted, you know,

Alex Ferrari 4:28
Ohh, but every time you know, I know, every time you heard that little sting, like that's money. That's money just flowing now. Yeah. roll and roll and roll.

Erik Messerschmidt 4:40
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, it was like back when rehearsal meant something. You know, I, you know, I, I think I'm really glad I had that experience. I'm glad I did it that way. And, you know, I I think it's important, you know, I mean, I know I don't think that what We do or certainly what I do. For A Living can be learned in school. I mean, there's something you know, it's like you learn things like how to, you know, you kind of learn how to how to react to imagery, I think and how to critique imagery and how to think about movies and how to think about, you know, the big picture idea of storytelling and stuff to some degree in film school, and you learn about your own tastes and what you're attracted to, and that kind of thing and how to communicate with other people, you know, all those skills that are incredibly important. But, but you don't learn much technique and film school, I, you know, because you just don't have enough time. You know, it's like, it's like, a film set is a complex environment, you know, it's, it's, it's an environment of, of technology and equipment, and it's math and science. And it's also personality, you know, storytelling and creativity. And it's, it takes time, I think, to learn how all those things congeal, you know, and how to navigate it. And so, yeah, I mean, I, I really believe that the kind of the mentorship idea or the idea of matriculating through the processes is a really good one. It's something worth protecting, you know, I mean, I came out of film school, and I was like, I'm a cinematographer. You know, I had business cards, I think so, I mean, prefer

Alex Ferrari 6:24
business. That's all you need is a business card. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Erik Messerschmidt 6:29
Fake it until you make it right. But you know, I, and I got to LA and, you know, I shot some music videos and some short films, and I was like, I'm gonna be a DP, and I'm gonna do it. And then, of course, the reality of life hit me and I had, you know, my parents, you know, we didn't have any money, I didn't come from a wealthy family, my, you know, my parents or teachers and librarian, you know, it's like, we, so I, you know, I kind of had to make it on my own to some degree, you know, and figure out how to make a living and pay my rent and all that stuff. And, and, in the end, I wouldn't have tried, I wouldn't trade it for the world. You know, I mean, I got to meet so many great people. And I, I learned from them, you know, you absorb their, their technique and their, their process. And I think that's crucial. It's certainly been incredibly important in my life.

Alex Ferrari 7:14
Yeah, you worked on as, as you started really coming up as a gaffer. And you did you gaffed on a lot of big shows. I mean, you worked on Ant Man. I know with Russell Russell did and with Russell, who is the sweetest human being ever,

Erik Messerschmidt 7:28
like, lovely. Yeah, he

Alex Ferrari 7:29
is such a lovely, soft spoken guy. And I'm like, how did you work with James Cameron for? Like, how those two personalities work, man? And he's like, I'll tell you some stuff off air. But well, I'm sure you've, I'm sure you've heard a couple stories as well. But but as a gap, so as a gaffer, can you explain to everybody what it meant to come up as a gaffer? Because the DPS I've worked with in my career, who came up as gaffers, I find, are so well versed on set, they just, there's just a different way of looking at the set how to do a set up, you've already been doing what you're telling somebody else to do? Because you're like, yeah, just set that over here to the end, they just do their thing? How did I prepare you? How did that prepare you to be a DP? Well, you know, I think

Erik Messerschmidt 8:21
there's a couple things. And look, everyone's got their own process, and everyone has their own, you know, their, their own path. And for me, I was, you know, I was lucky, I liked lighting, you know, I liked the I liked the stuff, initial, you know, like the process of being on a set and getting in the mix of it, you know, you know, when, when your Gaffer, you're in the movie quite early, you know, you're, you're, you're in a lot of the early conversations, depending on how much the Director of Photography chooses to involve you. You're, you know, you're often on the early scouts, you're certainly on the tech scouts, you're in a production office, you're negotiating with the producers, you're negotiating for equipment and labor resources and stuff. And you're, you're oftentimes in meetings with the director and trying to figure out how to accomplish certain things and you're in a great position to observe those conversations happen, as well as you know, a bit of a fly on the wall in a way that, you know, camera operators and assistants are not, you know, your, your camera operator, you're rarely on a tech Scout, you're very rarely in the office and prep. And, you know, you may have intimate conversations with a DP and the director about how they're gonna approach certain things. But, but, but I think when you're a gaffer, you're really kind of in the thick of it. And for that, you know, for me anyway, it was incredibly helpful to learn how to prep and how to, you know, learning how to read blueprints and draft and how to communicate with the art department. You know, your, you know, as I was a gaffer, I spent a lot of time in production designers, offices and art directors offices and sitting in there with a draftsman and you know, your, your, you know, you learn about all that stuff, and you have to get Good adequately, if you're going to survive, you know, so that, you know that process and that that part of my life was was incredibly helpful to me. And then, of course, you know, that's doesn't even include all the conversations you have with the DEP in Premiere, then also obviously, during, you know, during, during the shoot, you know, when you're shooting, you're, you know, at least when I'm a DP, my closest allies, always my Gaffer, you know, I'm on there, the person, you know, they're, you know, kind of the, the most effective weapon I have, and then also, you know, the shoulder that I cry on most cases, you know, so, you know, because they, they're sort of, you know, the gaffer isn't isn't a really good position to kind of observe objectively about what's going on in on a set, you know, the operators often in the mix, they're there with the, the actors, they're there with the director, they're in there, they're working every shot, and there's hyper involved, and the gaffer is, you know, working in the setup and getting a setup, right, and then they're in a position to kind of step back and watch the shot, take shape. And so I find the gaffer is really good person to kind of turn to for objection, objective feedback of what's going on and how the shot is taking shape, and what they think could be improved and all that stuff. I mean, you know, not not always even just in lighting, just in terms of generally what we're doing, you know, as filmmakers. And so, you know, I always when I look for a gaffer, you know, what I look for filmmaker first and foremost, you know, beyond what their what the lighting skill might be, or their personnel management skill is, you know,

Alex Ferrari 11:42
now, there's,

Erik Messerschmidt 11:44
I'm really glad I came up that way, you know, no question, no

Alex Ferrari 11:47
question. And there's something that that they don't talk about very often, anywhere, let alone in film school, is the politics on set. There are politics that you have to deal with, within the crew, there's different politics groups, there's the producers and the directors, but even just within the camera department, there's politics, they, you know, and on set and on, you know, the production designer, how do you approach dealing, because I'm assuming it hasn't always been a smooth, smooth a coast, the entire career, you've had, you've, you've probably run across some politics on set and how to deal with it and how to properly you know, not step on people's toes and how to even fight for your own, you know, as a DP even fight for your own vision, while still serving the director. But there might be other departments that are pushing on you, because it's easier for them, but might not serve this the movie, there's all sorts of agendas on set that they just people don't talk about. So can you kind of discuss that a little bit without obviously, naming apps?

Erik Messerschmidt 12:47
Sure, no, you're absolutely right. I mean, you know, film set, film set is full of creative people, you know, people get movie business because they, they want to, they want contribute, you know, and they, they want to participate. And you know, I think I think generally people in movies sets and film crew, they have the best intentions, you know, generally people you know, they really want to make a great movie, they want to, they want to do the work, they want to participate, but also, you know, a lot of the work is sometimes just service job, you know, move this from here to there, do this, do that, and that can happen. You know, for someone in my position with a director, you know, if you're paired with a really strong director, and I just need to put a 29 millimeter lens here, that's the shot 29 millimeter lens here, you know, and you may personally think God would be so much better on 35 and pull back a little bit, you know, be you have to be careful about you know, when you assert yourself, you know, and you have to read the broom and understand what's going on and sort of you know it's, you know, I think it's about timing you know, and you're right it's it's there are people with agendas and there are people that desperately want to be heard and there are people who who are people who get frustrated when their voice is not heard, you know, and and and then sometimes you have to deal with that you know, and and it's you know, it's that is part of the job for sure, you know, I mean there's there's a bit of air traffic control and personnel you mentioned being a director photography, especially in a bigger movie, you know, where there's, you know, you might have an operator who's very outspoken and wants to communicate straight with the director you have to figure out how to when to assert yourself into that conversation when to allow that conversation to happen, how involved you want to get if you know decisions are being made that are outside of your you know, what you think might be appropriate for the scene when to interject without making someone feel bad, etc. You know, it's it can be complicated. You know, it happens for production designers to you know, so how do you, if you're director photography, how much ownership Do you want to take over things like color palette in our costume designers, production vendors to you know, you sort of have, you know, the direct photography, production design and costume designer are often tasked to sort of forming an aesthetic, the aesthetic principles of the movie, you know, you know, obviously, with the help, and with the leadership of Director, but you're, you know, in many cases that, you know, those three people, I think, end up sharing that responsibility, and to be honest with you, probably the Director of Photography gets a disproportion amount of which really should go. In many cases that should be more equally shared, I think, but, you know, it's, it's, it's challenging, you know, you I think you hope that you, you end up with enough people who are generous and thoughtful and are able to share themselves creatively, you know, the, the, you don't run into a lot of problems, it's not to say that they don't exist. And, you know, I also think that there's something to be said, for debate and disagreement, you know, on a set, you know, it's like, some of the best work I've done has come because a production designer, and I disagreed about a direction to go on a particular set, or a particular way to design something or, you know, especially like, complicated physical effects, you know, sort of things like that need, that, you know, there's that are different than a couple of walls in the camera, you know, it's those. Oftentimes, if, you know, two people meet and are strong minded, it's like, well, let's do this. Now, I think we should do this. And then, you know, if it's a safe space creatively, then you work something out if it's not a safe space, that's where it gets ugly, you know. But I think, you know, that's sort of the idea of it being a place for ideas that you can then, you know, debate is important. But I don't know centers your question. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 17:00
no, it is no, no, no, it's it's a complicated thing. It's a very tough, you're on eggshells kind of situation. And it is a case by case basis. Like as a cinematographer, you know, when you're working with a strong director, and you have worked and are currently working with two of the strongest directors in the business, Michael Mann and David Fincher on your on to have two projects are coming out next year. I mean, they're really strong directors, Fincher, specifically, you know, I had had your friend and colleague Jeff Corona worth on. And you know, I talked all about like, Dave is legendary for being so technically precise with everything. And he's, he almost has a Kubrick esque vibe to him in the sense that he could maybe like the damn thing himself, like Kubrick used to be able to do so technically good stuff. You know what I mean? So how do you as a cinematographer approach working with someone like David, cuz I know you've worked with 900 which, by the way, gorgeous love that. Please tell me. Another season is coming. Soon, please. I want another season. I think I'm not the only one. We all want another seats.

Erik Messerschmidt 18:11
Me too. I'm with you, man. I'm with you. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 18:14
But like, how do you like, that was a different? That was a different scenario. I think that was kind of when you first started to work with David directly as a cinematographer, correct?

Erik Messerschmidt 18:23
That's right. Yeah, that's right. So how did you? I, you know, I, I had seen Jeff work with David and I, you know, I mean, I have Jeff ism is an incredible mentor to me, you know, I mean, I owe him so much. And, and, you know, Jeff is a real master at managing the set and managing the environment and supporting the director he's working with, you know, I mean, I've worked with Jeff, when I was a gaffer, I've worked with Jeff on with many other directors, other than David as well, you know, and Jeff is always consistent at making, you know, he's protects the director and, and, and supports them in whatever way he you know, he can find that they need support. And I think that's something I learned from Jeff is, is, you know, the, the role of a cinematographer is fluid. And it's not a binary black and white thing. It's not like, Okay, I do this and you do this, it's, it's, it's much broader than that. And I think part of it is you you, you meet someone, you talk to them, and then your, your first day on the set, you really learn what it is they need from you. Or, you know, and they don't always tell you, you know, I mean, I think is some directors you know, often think they need something other than what they what they actually need to, you know, I mean, they're there. They're not always the best people at stepping back and observing what it is how best they need to be supported, you know, I mean, I think None of us really are, you know, you sort of have to inquire and ask ask him, you know, what happened there, you know. But, you know, David is not that case, Dave is extremely good at sort of recognizing where he needs help and what he, what he needs. You know, Dave is an extraordinary communicator, he's very clear and concise, and, you know, his tremendous economy language. So you can say, quite clearly clearly about what he what he wants to accomplish. But he's also, you know, he's, he's been, I think, a bit mistreated because he is incredibly collaborative. At least that's been my experience with him are the same thing, you know, very open to ideas. And yeah, and, and excited about ideas and wants people to bring ideas to the table, he just wants them to, he wants really a date ideas to be presented in a in a reasonable way, with enough time to act on them, you know.

Alex Ferrari 20:57
And helicopter shot right here.

Erik Messerschmidt 21:00
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You know, no, it's like, I think that's, you know, that's really what you want a director is you want someone who has, who has a vision, who has a plan, who says, Okay, we're gonna do this, and this, and this, and this. And if there's room for improvement, or room for other ideas, you can voice them when it's appropriate. And they could, you know, it's, it's up to the director about whether or not they're going to take that idea or not, you know, like, I don't think of my job as being one necessarily that that requires me taking ownership of anything. I mean, I think it's like, you know, I want a film I'm working on to be a dictatorship. I mean, I think that that's where the best work gets done. Honestly, it should be a benevolent, benevolent, you know, it should be ideally, but, you know, it's, it's, I hope that I, you know, I come and approach something, and I, and the director I'm working with, has brought me there, because they, they, like, are interested in my point of view as well, you know, so So I want to bring something to the party. And and I think, you know, it's certainly my relationship with David has been that it's like, we, you know, we make a very good team in terms of evaluating what's going on in the set and, and bifurcating our collective responsibility. So even though and you're absolutely right, David could for sure, show up and, and talk directly to the gaffer and say, put that light there, put that right there to, you know, whatever. But he also knows that I have a skill, and I have a communication method with the gaffer and I have taste, and I have a point of view that, you know, for whatever reason, he sometimes likes and is willing to let me run with, and then if he doesn't, like something, he points it out. And that's okay. You know, I mean, that's, I think that's part of the job, and it's really a lot of it is, is helping the director, you know, hold the walls up of their sandbox so that they can play, you know, and right. And that's the way I try to look at it, you know, as much as I can, I mean, it's ego always gets in the way a little bit, you want it, you know, you really want it. Sometimes you feel strongly about whatever it is you're going to do. And you know, and you you know, if you know if it seems appropriate you debate and if it's, you know, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you know, you're not the director, and that's how it is.

Alex Ferrari 23:21
And I think you're right, I think you said that David kind of gets a bad rap. Sometimes I think it's because of the legendary number of takes he takes and that thing that kind of has been like the, the mythology of the myth of working with David like you're gonna do, it's like Kubrick, again, we'll go back to Kubrick, you're going to do 70, you're going to do 70 takes and he might take it, take three, but he's going to push you to 70. Because that's just the way his process is. And from someone who's worked with him, is that true? He does do 62 extra stuff, every take of everything. I mean, he will.

Erik Messerschmidt 23:58
I mean, David David wants to do until it's right. And I think he should, you know, I think absolutely should I mean, and, and you know, it's like, Look, I've been in a DI suite where we haven't done it. Right. And it's painful. Oh, you know, yeah. You know, and, and, you know, no, nobody walks out of the movie theater and says, at least they made their day. That's so great.

Alex Ferrari 24:25
You should actually get T shirts made and give it to give it to the department. And just like no one looks at the theater and say, Oh, they at least they made their day. Yes, you're absolutely right. But that's that's why but that's why it's me that's why his movies look the way they look and that's why they are the way they are it's I mean, there's something really magical about a Fincher from all the way back to you know, from seven even alien three with all the problems he had with that but seven and Fight Club and the game and, and all of those films. There's so much specific almost, when I look at him because I'm a huge David Fincher fan. He's almost surgical, with how he approaches telling the story. It's almost like a surgical scalpel almost like it's so clean and every edge is almost done. Right. And I think that just comes from 10,000 commercials and music videos he shot before he ever got onto a film set. Yeah. Yeah, I

Erik Messerschmidt 25:29
mean, look, it's like, I think I would what is important to appreciate about David and I think any any filmmaker is that the that? You know, David, in particular, though, is very aware of film technique and film grammar, and kind of, you know, the, the, the, he's, he's incredibly cinema literate. So if you said to David, hey, I need you to go out. And let's, let's take this, you're gonna take this commercial, but I needed done in the style of Gianluca, Don, you could absolutely do it, you know, it's like, David's, David's choice of technique is, is is in art. You know, I think. And, you know, I think I think people discount and it's, and I wish it was taught more in cinema is the idea of this kind of balance between between intent and working practice, you know, the idea that you have, you have, you know, the Kubrick methodology of like, this is the shot, I'm going to shoot, and it's going to be this shot, it's gonna be on a 2027 millimeter lens. And the focus is going to be here, and I'm gonna get it until it's perfect, right. And it might take all day, but I don't care because I need this shot. And then on the other, to have a kind of French New Wave or Cassavetes or whatever you want to call it. If this kind of Veritate idea of like, well, let's just go out and shoot, you know, Lars von Trier kind of thing. Like, let's just go out and shoot and be spontaneous and exciting and fun. And we're gonna get some stuff and we'll figure it out in the editing room, and there's some intent there. But you know, they're both completely valid ways to make a movie. But But both of them have a tremendous effect aesthetically on the movie. You know, and, and so it's so your point is quite right. Like you don't get the David Fincher look, once you do it until it's perfect.

Alex Ferrari 27:23
Did you imagine a John Cassavetes style David Fincher film? Can you imagine? That would be like, just David Cameron. No. But you know, the other,

Erik Messerschmidt 27:36
the other side is true, too, you know, if you you so it's, I think that you know, you have to kind of if there isn't enough attention made towards the environment of the set and the methodology through which you make the set has has a huge bearing on how the movie feels emotionally. You know, I mean, we love to talk about shots and in film school they live in okay, we do this handheld, and it will be exciting. What's way more nuanced than that, you know? Because you could do you know, I mean, there's handheld shots and and you know, the great example I was not handheld actually but some a dolly but you know, the shot include, or Jane Fonda is walking through the, through the through the club and she's she's eyeing or a shutter and it looks spontaneous, you know, that shot looks like it's just a walk through the club chain, and we're gonna follow you, we're going to pull back on the dolly and it's like, no, it's been if you watch it a couple times, you realize how incredibly rehearsed it is. You know, and, and, and that's, you know, I think that's the great example of like, the perfect card trick of cinema is like making someone believe they've seen something spontaneous, when in fact, it's incredibly rehearsed, you know, and David is, is, you know, better than anyone I know, at exactly that.

Alex Ferrari 28:50
Now, is there is there any story that you can share publicly? With? Have you and David working on said something fun, something like, I learned something that day by seeing him work, something that you can share publicly? We could talk after hour after we've hit the record button off, we could talk about other ones?

Erik Messerschmidt 29:12
I you know, think about that a little bit. I yeah, probably, I mean, there's every day, you know, we're sort of confronted with with stuff. I mean, it's like you know, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 29:25
well, let me let me ask you this. Let me let me ask you this. What was the what was the worst day for you as a cinematographer? On on working with David that you felt like the entire world was going to come crashing down around you? Which we all have those days on set. And how did you how did you overcome those days and it could have been anything from a camera foot fell on the lake to the actor didn't come out of the thing are the sun's going down? We're losing the light. What is what was that day for you and David? Sure.

Erik Messerschmidt 29:53
It was, you know, the first day we the first day of shooting on manque. We we had we had had plan, we were sort of like we had we had a plan that that, that MGM and Paramount would have two different looks. The Paramount would be this sort of soft lit very, like gray environment. And it was because it was sort of the low rent at the time. And MGM would be glamorous and hard lit and lots of contrasts. And, and that's how we would you know, and that was a conversation we'd had a lot in the beginning of the movie, you know, like in the prep, we talked about and talk. And then we, you know, implemented a bunch of lighting plans as a result. And the first thing we shot a man because the scene where, where Gary Oldman is gambling with his buddies in the writers room, and they're spinning the spin the coin, there's a whole there's a whole kind of bit with them. And they've got a, they've got to show girl who's who's who's they have a, they have a secretary who's dressed as a show, girl, it's the sort of like, it's it, there's, you know, levity in the scene, and it's sort of silly, you know, and we're going to do it softly. And we're just going to tempt the windows, blow them out of the soft sideline, you know, and that's what we did. And we showed up. We rehearsed the scene the day before, and it was lit. And, you know, we looked at it, and then we started shooting. And, and at lunchtime, David pulled me aside, this is not working. This is working is it's wrong, this is wrong. And, you know, I'm quite literal person generally, and and immediately internalized it, you know, it's me. Yeah, exactly, exactly. Yeah. And, you know, and really what it was, was, it was a conversation of like, hey, we made this decision to do it this way. And we can't do it this way. We need to, we need to change change the look. And, you know, of course, yeah, I mean, I started feeling oh, my god, what have I done, but then it's, you know, it was a, it was a decision that we had made that that that was wrong, and he was quite right, actually, you know. And so we we quickly moved over to the second scene, we shot and they're playing cards, and it's, and it was intended to be this kind of very dramatic splashes of light. And there's patterns on everybody's face. And it's sort of classic noir kind of style lighting with a lot of smoke. And so, okay, so we'll go, we'll pivot, we'll shoot the scene, the next day, we're going to go back and shoot this differently. And he you know, so we finished the first scene, he was really happy when they finish the second seems quite happy with it. And then we went back, and we started talking about how we could do it differently. And, and, you know, we backed it all up, and we put hard light out through the, through the windows instead and talking, I explained to him what, what I thought we could do differently. And then we shot the scene, and it worked great, you know, but it's sort of like it, it was that moment of failure, you know, sort of like, Oh, my God, what have we done, you know, but in actuality, the conversation was really it was just, you know, between two people trying to figure out what what could be improved, you know, and that's, that's one of the great things about David is he's very open like that when it's not working.

Alex Ferrari 32:59
And it's so funny, because I'm, I'm sure there's other cinematographers listening right now going, if I would have shot a scene with David Fincher and then went to lunch, and he came up to me at lunch, and I came in, yeah, first half day didn't work at all. I can only imagine the internal Oh, my God, because I mean, I've been around DPS all my career. I know how they think they're like, holy crap, I've, I've screwed this film up. And that's at, let's say, my level. Can you imagine if David Fincher walks up? Or Michael Mann rocks up? Or, or or Joseph, up somebody like some of these big directors and say something like that. But it automatic isn't funny how you automatically thought just for? It's me. But it was it was a It's not that you like underexposed something that is unusable. No, we exactly executed what we had planned to do. But it is not working. Stylistically, it's not like there was a problem with your technique. What you what you went after you got, but it's not working. That but you internalize the difference.

Erik Messerschmidt 34:01
Yeah, of course. I mean, because it's, you know, it's, I think, also, when you're cinematographer, you are, I think, to be to be a working cinematographer. You have to these days, you have to be practical, you have to be responsible and practical and thoughtful. And you have to sort of, you know, the, the cost of the day on a major motion picture is expensive, you know, and it's, you want to use your resources wisely, and you want to make the right choice, you know, and, you know, the idea of reshooting something, because because it doesn't look the way the director wants it to look is it you know, immediately feels like failure? You know, I actually, I quite think that's it's actually the opposite. I mean, I think that the sort of that is the process of developing and creating something with someone is, is learning about what's working, what's not in in the end, because we sort of looked at it together and we thought it we thought about what could be improved. It opened up a lot of Thanks for us on that film and, and help. And, and also, it ultimately made us better collaborators and sort of it made it, you know, improve the film enormously. And so it was like, it just, you know, it takes fortitude to make that decision and that moment because there was technically nothing wrong with the scene, it just didn't look quite right. It didn't. All the camera direction we did is exactly the same, you know, the performances are quite similar to you know, I mean, it's like it's not like, like you say it felt like it was under mistaken, you know, slightly underexposed, three stops or something.

Alex Ferrari 35:38
Exactly. I gotta ask you, because you're working on some pretty big budgets right now. I mean, the movie you're doing with David the killer? I'm sure not an independent film. And the one you're working with, with Michael Mann, Ferrari, which, obviously I have to go see. It's my, my grandfather's company. But then, you know, you're talking about massive budgets, the pressures heavy on a normal cinematographer. On a basic budget, there's a lot of people asking you things on a director as well. But you know, your, your department, what's it like dealing with not just five people, you, I'm assuming your crew is fairly massive, and you've got a lot of things going on, and then you've got responsibilities here and there. And then, like you were saying costs and, and make it, it almost seems like the pressure of all the crap that you have to deal with, overpowers the creative pressure almost. So there's a balance that you have to do. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Erik Messerschmidt 36:45
Yeah, I mean, I, you know, you're right. It's, it's, I think that's really where the importance prep comes in. And, you know, it's, I believe, you make the movie and the prep, and, you know, if you're, if you do it right here, you know, you're coloring the lines, when you're shooting, it doesn't mean that there isn't room to go outside the lines occasionally and make adjustments, but it's, you know, it makes all that stuff easier. If you know, where you're going in the prep, and you sort of have, you know, you have a visual plan, you have, you know, you have a logistical plan about how you're going to move equipment and people and what your locations are going to be what your schedule is, it's, it makes all that stuff substantially easier. You know, it's it's complicated, if you if you haven't done that, obviously, and then you sort of are you're making the making the creative decisions and the aesthetic, sort of, you know, overarching artistic stuff, at the same time, you're trying to solve logistical problems and to meet, you know, that's a real recipe for disaster. So, you know, if you can, if you can prep the movie in advance with enough kind of understanding of what's going to happen, and, you know, with a little bit of contingency for weather, whatever, then it alleviates a lot of that stress, but you're right, I mean, you know, a lot of the job on a bigger movie, like that is is just personality management and people management and, you know, you're sort of, you're trying to get people pointed in the right direction, you know, I mean, the movie I did with Michael, you know, we had really big camera department, we're usually in a shooting three or four cameras at any given time. And so, you know, it's, you're not in a position necessarily, where you can control every frame, you know, I mean, what David and I, it's like, we kind of set every shot together, and we're like, okay, we're into this, and we're gonna do this, we're gonna, you know, we're picking each lens together and going through, okay, this is the camera and this is the camera and then that, you know, not every movies like that, you know? Sure. And, and sometimes they wish they were, you know, I mean, it's sometimes it can spiral out of your grasp a little bit, you know, you have to clot back but um, but, you know, there's, there's a bit of kind of allowing things to happen, you pay out lead, and then you kind of pull it back when you can sort of try and figure out who's who's right for which shops and you know, it's it's a process of like, anything, you know, any kind of massive creative endeavor like that.

Alex Ferrari 39:11
Now, I do have to ask, man, is it a, was it a dream shooting manque in black and white, like how you just don't get that opportunity? In cinema today? Like, I'm sure you got called by tons of your cinematographer friends at the ASC going. So what was it like? It's like shooting, shooting black and white at that level. Just I mean, unless you're the Coen brothers that does it once in a blue moon. But that's generally studios just won't allow it. So this was not only black and white, it was black and white in the style of, of the Golden Age of Hollywood. So what was it like as creatively just living in that in that world of blacks and grays and whites and all that? Well,

Erik Messerschmidt 39:58
I you know, I mean, honestly, I was really intimidated? I can imagine. I, you know, I wanted to make the right choices, you know, I mean, it's, it's hard. It's like a, you know, I, I was at the time, I was particularly conscious of the fact that the black and white could easily become cliche, you know, and, and derivative of something, you know, it's just I didn't want it to be like, Oh, they're doing the Venetian blind thing, you know,

Alex Ferrari 40:26
painting the shadows on the wall now painting the shadows on the wall. Yeah.

Erik Messerschmidt 40:29
You know, so it's like, I think, you know, I was, sort of, you have the idea about what you're gonna go out and make, and then you're confronted with the, you know, the realities of the limitations and locations present to you, or the stage sets present to you. And you start, you know, it's like filmmaking is compromised, you know, so you're always convert into, you're always sort of coming to a coming to an intersection figuring out okay, A or B, I'll do this, I'll do this. And you sort of hope that the decisions that you make, in the broad sense, congeal enough to make something that's consistent, you know, it's because it's really hard to see the movie, you know, on day six. And I, you know, I, I think, you know, if I've learned anything from David, it's like, and Michael, actually, a lot of the great directors have worked for him. It's like, you have an idea and stick with it, you know, don't get cold feet, don't get you know, and I did you know, there were moments on bank where I was worried. And, man, I don't know, are we being bold enough? We may not. I went out and had a beer with David one night. And I said, I don't know, man, I got worried we're not being bold enough and worried people are going to be critical of it. And he was like, fuck them. Nobody's doing exactly what you should do. Just keep his hold, you know, hold the course. And it was, you know, at the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear it because I was getting insecure about what we were doing. And I wasn't sure exactly if it was right. But yeah, I mean, I mean, in terms of black and white, it was, I mean, God would incredible opportunity, you know, to do something that that very few people get to do, and something I really was excited to do. And something I quite honestly was not comfortable doing. When we you know, when we started that film, and I got more comfortable with it. And I did a ton of research. And I looked at a lot of images and lots of tests, and so figured out what it was we wanted to do. But we also we, you know, we wanted to make our own look to sort of our own style. And that was scary, you know, yeah, it was considered in the subject matter. You know, so like, I you know, I just felt I felt the weight of honor and Greg Talan. And, and Orson Welles and the film in the film community as a whole, you know, when we were making the movie, I really, you know, wanted to want it to be respectful to what, you know, the kind of importance of that movies. Well, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 42:50
I mean, Eric, I'm stressed out, as you're talking about, and I didn't shoot the damn thing. I mean, as you're talking, I'm like, Oh, my area, Orson Welles. And it's Citizen Kane. And, and every filmmaker in the world is gonna see this because everyone's seen Citizen Kane. And I can imagine you could just drive yourself mad. Thinking about this?

Erik Messerschmidt 43:13
Yeah, easily. Yeah, for sure. For sure. Or you can just go to work and have a good time. And

Alex Ferrari 43:18
you know, and it's another movie, and you just have to, you have to look at it. Like it's another movie. If not, you'll you'll psych yourself out without question. Now I do. You know, you are working with Michael Mann, or I'm not sure if you're, I think you're in post production at this point in that film. If I'm not mistaken,

Erik Messerschmidt 43:32
we can just watch. Yeah. So what

Alex Ferrari 43:35
I mean, Michael man is a legend, man. He's a legend. In our, in our business, and, you know, as well, legendary stories, you know, I was in Miami, when Miami Vice was going on. So and I came up in my room. So all I hear is about Michael Mann, Miami, Vice stories from all the old crew guys that I used to work with on the commercials today. Yeah, I was on there when Michael and Eddie almost came on it like you hear these stories about what happened back then. So what's it like collaborating with someone like Michael, because this is your first collaboration with him? Correct?

Erik Messerschmidt 44:11
Yeah, it was, I mean, you know, I don't really want to talk a lot about the movie because we just finished it and we just, we just made the sausage and now we're going to age it a little bit and a little while someone's going to cook it up, and then you guys are going to taste it and you have to let us know if we did any good, you know, but I you know, look, it's like the great thing about this job is coming in and and watching other people, you know, learning how other people make their movies. And, you know, as a cinematographer, I think it's your you know, it's your job to come in and, and kind of like I said earlier, they figure out how it is you can help you know, what is it this person needs from me? And it's often very different, you know, it's, it's, it's often you know, doesn't. And so there's, you know, there's a process of discovery, I think creatively with people and also just just straight up logistically about where, where does my cog fit within this machine. You know, and the thing about Michael is that he is probably the most tenacious person I know, I mean, he will fight for forever for his film, and he will fight for his actors, and he will fight for the you know, but most importantly, he fights for the story, and he fights for what he thinks is important for the scene. And nothing else matters. And I really admire that about him, you know, I mean, he, he is not distracted by the kind of incidental stuff that that, you know, me and my fellow cinematographers would go crazy about, if it detracts from something that is dramatically important to him. And I think, by the way, that he's, he's absolutely right about that. And it's something I really learned from him, is, you know, you protect the film and the story first, and, and, and all the other things are, are secondary. So, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's an interesting environment to participate in, and, you know, the kind of energy that that feeds is, is exciting, and sometimes complex and, and frenetic, but, but, you know, but Michael, you know, he's a, he's a force and, and he's, he's incredible, you know, and it's, and the thing is, you know, I have been fortunate to work with a few directors of his vintage and, and, you know, they, they, there's, there's something really special about working with people that have been through, you know, we're not talking 10,000 hours, we're talking 100,000 hours, you know, of, you know, understanding instead of a language understanding, blocking and thinking about the same thing about and then doing it their way, you know, and they're not distracted about, like, well, this is how you're split, you know, you need an over the shoulder, and then you need a two shot and you should get the pod and you know, Michael doesn't work that way. It's not, you know, he's, he's, he's working in, in his language exclusively. And, and that's, that's really cool, you know, because a lot of filmmakers, especially younger ones, will turn to you and say, Well, what do I need? Now? You know, how many shots to tell this scene or whatever, and you can have your opinion. But, but, you know, I think it's, you know, as cinematographers we're sort word failure to provide guidance and assistance, and, and, and interpret things visually and contribute. But but, you know, I think of all the directors that I admire, the ones who speak through the frame are my favorites. You know, the directors that really kind of our, you know, appreciate it, you know, approach it holistically, are, are the ones that I respond to the best and so, so I'm really cautious when I when I inject too much of my personal opinion, into a director's workflow, they haven't asked for it. You know,

Alex Ferrari 48:27
if I may piggyback on your sausage analogy, the, it's kind of like a great chef, who has made the sausage 1000 times the way that it's in the textbook. And now they're just, they're just kind of riffing. It's kind of doing like kind of jazz, in a sense. And like, well, well, you really need to put the meat in the casing first, as a no, I'm going to put the casing in the middle, I'm going to wrap the sausage or the meat around it. And then I'm going to bread it, and then I'm going to deep fry, and then there's the you're just approaching it a different ways. And everyone's like, Oh, wow. But he understands the basics of how to make or how to shoot a scene exactly how its textbook supposed to be done. But because he has so much understanding of the medium of the language, just like David, they could just riff and do whatever they you don't need a two shot. You don't need a once you can cut the whole damn thing on a long shot on 100 mil through a tree, and it works. You know, you're like, oh, but on the textbooks, any film school teacher would go, don't do that. But they just understand that language is like a Tarantino, like they understand the film language so well, that they just they riff, it's jazz. It's like watching jazz play and you are one of the collaborators in the band. Working with a master jazz players kind of like you know, if I may use jazz as an analogy. You're there and you're just like watching just go on. I handed him the trumpet, but holy cow, I didn't know he was going to Do

Erik Messerschmidt 50:00
that with it. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. You know, I mean, it's like, yeah, you know, it's I mean, if you're going to run with the allow me to run with that analogy a little bit, it's like if you know, for playing jazz, then then then in that, you know, in those situations, I'm really just trying to make sure everybody's in tune. Oh, great. And you just want to make sure that we're just trying to, like, you know, it's like, okay, I get it. Now we're gonna go, Oh, we're going to do alright, cool, let's play Dr. Lewis around your little sharp, you know, like, let's just like just sort of attenuated a little bit. Enough. You know, and, you know, that's, that's a wonderful thing about this job is, is watching how people make movies and learning how they're different types of movies, you know, different ways to make movies. You know, and also learning about the kinds of movies that you want to make, you know, I mean, it's like, every time I finish a film, I think about the types of collaborators I'm going to seek out to, you know, and the types of work I'm interested in doing the things I'm less interested in doing. And, you know, I'm definitely someone you know, I quite like the kind of surgical type of filmmaking I like, puzzle pieces of figuring out how to, you know, you know, I, you know, Hitchcock is like, machine and filmmaker, you know, this sort of, like the puzzle of, of, you know, show the person seeing something and show the audience what they see, you know, even the, you know, it's a vast simplification of it, but um, you know, thinking about how to break a scene down into its bare bones and tell the story that way is is, is the type of filmmaking at the moment anyway, that I'm interested in. But you got some notes like,

Alex Ferrari 51:51
you got some good collaborators, that kind of, I mean, David, for me to to talk about puzzle piece directors. He is he's definitely that guy. And Michael, exactly the same. I mean, but David, specifically, like he is looking, not to blow smoke up David's ask, but he is our Hitchcock. He is our Kubrick, they will never be anyone like Kubrick or Hitchcock. But in our generation, there's very few filmmakers who are surgical as him. And then Michael has his, there's never going to be another Michael Mann. And people will be studying Michael Mann's movies, in film schools 100 years from now. And same thing with David, you know, and same thing with Tarantino and Nolan, and, and some of these other greats, there's a handful, that are our generations, Hitchcock's and our generations, Kubrick's that you just you sit back and you get you're lucky enough to get to work with with some of these guys, man. I mean, you must smile every day going to work, I imagine most days.

Erik Messerschmidt 52:53
Most mostly, I'm worried about whether or not that Condor got parked in the right place.

Alex Ferrari 52:58
Is the techno crane here, why is it the technical? i? So, you know, it's like, go ahead. No, no, if there's like, if you had a chance to go back and tell your younger self, who's just starting off in the business, one thing, what would that thing be?

Erik Messerschmidt 53:24
It has nothing to do with the equipment. Oh, great. Thank you. I'm worrying about it. Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 53:31
You mean to tell me I don't need the latest. I don't need to shoot 24k or 48k? No, and by the way, you're coming from? No, but the thing is that you're coming from the perspective of one of the most technical directors and working with David who is he's always on the cutting edge with reds and, and what you guys did with manque. And, and even then you're saying it's not always about the latest camera or the latest lens or the latest lights? No,

Erik Messerschmidt 54:03
I mean, some some of the best Doc's we didn't make with it with a 60 watt light bulb, you know, I mean, it's, it's, I mean, you know, it's sure, I mean, technology helps you, you know, technology makes things easier. But it doesn't give you better taste, and it doesn't it doesn't give you better ideas. You know? And, and when I was younger, if I had spent more time thinking about the ideas and less time thinking about the equipment, I would have had a better chance you know, I got you because you get seduced, you know, you get seduced in film. Oh, by you know, you read Americans for magazine and ICG magazine and they're all the advertisements and everyone was trying to sell you this and that and and you start to think, oh man, if I shoot through five millimeter on my film, my film will be better. You know, if I get an 18k Then I'll be able to, you know, and it's Yeah, it's funny, it's like, the longer I spend this business, you know, and the more I have to kind of repent for the, the, the requests I make to producers, the more I remind them that, that the things I need are generally scheduled driven, they're not aesthetic, you know, you know, for example, if if, if I, you know, if I can shoot the establishing shot at 9am, when it's backlit, and it's beautiful, and there's, you know, mist in the air and stuff, I don't need anything, I just need the camera. But if this the actor isn't available till 3pm, than I need all this, you know? And, and that's, that's unfortunately, the problem of the big movie, you know, the small movie is nimble enough to make that choice. Yeah, great. You can shoot at 9am or shoot at 9am. You know, let's figure that out. You know, um, on a on a big Marvel production or, or, you know, a big war movie, like devotion, you know, where you're sort of, you're balancing, you know, you're balancing aircraft, and you know, when, when the, when the ceiling is lifted, so the the planes can take off, can't necessarily shoot it at 6am, when the light is perfect, you have to shoot it 11 or whatever, you know, so you have to figure out how would you know, and the compromises become about seeing the big picture and not being myopic around? What is what is immediately important to the image versus what's important in the movie, you know, and, and that's kind of, I think, ultimately, the biggest lesson for me, it's been like, learning to recognize how my needs impact the rest of the film, and how to best navigate it and sort of advocate for what I think is important without detracting from what's important for the film as a whole. You know, and I think a lot of younger cinematographers fall in this trap of like, no, no, no, it has to, I have to shoot anamorphic. And I have to, you know, and then they spend $4,000 a week on lenses, and then there's no money for costume, you know, it's like, so it's, it's, you know, it's it's important to be thoughtful, I think about how you, how you absorb the resources of a movie as a cinematographer, and how you how you advocate for the things you need.

Alex Ferrari 57:21
Now, you brought up the version, which is your new movie, which another small, independent film you've been doing. Can you tell everybody a little bit about the movie? And I mean, it looks gorgeous, man. I saw the trailer for it. It absolutely looks stunning. Again, you get into play with some beautiful toys in a vintage piece. I mean, you really get to have some fun, man, you're having some fun with some nice toys. I know you. I know. You had to suffer in Italy, with Michael Mann on the latest film. I'm sure the food was horrible. The weather was bad. I mean, you're you're you live in a tough life, sir. But But devotion tell me about devotion.

Erik Messerschmidt 58:01
Devotion, you know, I got I got a phone call from from a friend of mine. First, Franklin, who was whose first ad that I'd worked with a lot with Joe Kaczynski and, and an old friend of mine, and he called me up one day I was in Chicago doing the finale of Fargo, the TV show Fargo, my phone rang and he said, Hey, I got this script, you should read. I'm producing and I said I didn't know that he had started producing and I said, okay, cool. Bruce Yes. And over. And he sent me the script. And I read it. I was like, Oh, my God, this is so great. You know, it was a it was it's a war film. But it was really a drama in the under under the guise of war film. And, and he was period. And he's he you know, he said, Look, I've got airplanes, we're going to shoot it for real. We're not going to do a bunch of visual effects. We're going to land an aerial unit, they're gonna go up and they're gonna put these planes in the air. We're going to choreograph this. And I think you're the guy to do it. I want you to meet with the director. And I said, okay, cool. Yeah, getting on the phone. So we met I met JD dealer the next day. And we had, I don't know, two and a half hour meeting, and we just talked about everything. We talked about the movie. We also talked about life. And we talked about cinema, and we talked about history and race and politics, and, you know, a lot of things that related to the movie and a lot of things that didn't just because we became fast friends and, and I, you know, I finished the Zoom call. My phone rang, and it was Bruce and he said, Hey, do you want the job? Yeah, of course, I want the job. So we did it. And it was great, because I had, you know, they had they knew that they had they had bitten off a big chunk, and they wanted to do it right. The producers really, you know, wanted to support the film and they were prepared to sort of support the film. So I had a lot of prep time and I sat with JD and we you know, we we sat in LA and we Ah storyboarded and, you know, brainstormed ideas about how we can approach and what worked and what didn't we talked to people, you know, the guys that have done Dunkirk and guys that have done midway, and we, you know, we sort of just did our research and we looked at stuff we liked and stuff we didn't like, and, and, and then, you know, when Thomas production designer joined the movie, and then the three of us would sit down and talk about different ways to call, you know, how much of the aircraft carrier to build and you know, how we're going to shoot the Bucks stuff, and what can we do for real and, and then Kevin LaRosa, and Mike Fitzmorris joined the party and they were there are aerial unit makes it space areas up and Kevin area coordinator and a second unit director, aerial director, anyway, got involved, and that was like, a whole new world opened up to me and I, you know, I hadn't a shot scenarios, but mostly like helicopter, establishing shots, very simple things, you know, and, and they had a whole different set of tools available to them, that they started explaining to us what they could do when we started, you know, hold little model planes up in the air and storyboard as she, you know, kind of Lo Fi previous videos and thought about how those sequences were going to work together. And, you know, it was great, we had some incredible experience making a movie, it was, you know, a lot of people that really, really cared about it, and one of the sports ad and the project, and we're excited, and we had producers that were just incredibly supportive through the whole process, and really wanted us to succeed, and we're willing to listen to an outlet that that maybe otherwise would have been expensive, you know, there was certainly plenty of visual effects solutions to our problems, that would save them a lot of money, but I think would have would have been detrimental to the film and, and, you know, that fortunately for us, they agreed, and they were willing to go down the road with us and try to figure out ways to do a lot of it for real and that, you know, that I think, in the end paid pay dividends. So, you know, I'm really thankful to them that they were forward thinking in that way, you know, I guess maybe it's backward thinking because it's how it would have been done 75 years ago.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:14
So so they pulled like a Top Gun Maverick. They had like, no, no, we're gonna put the they're gonna put the planes in the air, and we're gonna shoot this. Do you see a movement? Because you're working in the bigs in the studio projects like that? Do you see a movement or almost a slight backlash against so much visual effects? So heavy visual effects and be like, No, let's get it for real. Because I mean, even Nolan, on on dark night, when he flipped that 18 Wheeler, he did it for real. You know, and you can tell, and you can sense that there's something organic on screen, that when you're able to do things real it you I mean, I think that's one of the main reasons Top Gun Maverick was such a massive hit, among other reasons. But just something we just haven't seen before. You don't see that in today's world. So I'm assuming that yeah, you know, what you are, what you guys did, and devotion is going to be, you know, similar in the sense that you did it. But do you feel that as a cinematographer, that there's a movement towards like, let's get the see if we could do this for real back? back the way it was done even 20 years ago?

Erik Messerschmidt 1:03:19
You Yeah, yeah. I mean, I, you know, so called Richard Donner did it? You know, I mean, I think it's, I think, you know, I mean, I, yeah, he looked, the audience knows, we can do anything, you know, I mean, the audience seen Guardians of the Galaxy, you know, no disrespect to Guardians of the Galaxy, but they know that, you know, they know we can take them face when you know, we can put you on an alien planet, we know we can, you know, fly to the center of the earth. So it's it's not you know, that it's it used to be the David Copperfield event magic show, you know, that's what the the audience would go to the theater for, right? They go for the spectacle. And now I think the audience goes for the car, the sleight of hand car trick. You know, they want to they want to feel it, they, they would prefer to they would prefer to not even notice that it's happening instead of seeing this kind of all the razzle dazzle on screen. That's my opinion anyway, but so I think I think when you can do it for real and you can do it for real with with the assistance of visual effects, maybe you clean up the clean up the stick that's holding the camera on the plane. Things like that. Right? It's different than making a plane you know what I mean? And it looks different, and it feels it feels different and I also think in some ways it forces filmmakers that that mode of thinking and and look there's there's plenty of visual effects and devotion, but but we set some rules for ourselves and say, Okay, well, we're going to put the camera. We're only we're only going to put the camera in places where we could put a camera on real aircraft. So we're not going to, you know, we're not going to put the candidate play in front of a blue screen, and fly around, fly the camera around it on a techno crane and give you all these crazy shots and go, you know, go through the landing gear and up over the flaps, and you know, we're not going to do that stuff we're going to do well, we're going to do things that you could really do, basically, that, you know, that apply to physics to some degree. And I think you're gonna see more like more of that. And I think actually, you know, Tom Cruise deserves a tremendous amount of credit for as someone who is, is promoting the idea and saying, Hey, look, you know, Sam is important, and it's worth protecting, and it's a national treasure, and we have to, and we have to, you know, the, the audience deserves something better than then then, you know, revisiting the virtual camera through, you know, through the wormhole, or whatever, you know, I mean, it's there's, there's, it has to be story forward and thoughtful and considerate and respectful to the audience, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:08
and again, there is plenty, Pandora's not going to be shot practically, you know, that's not a practical, you can't go to fly to Pandora and shoot those things practically. So there is a place for that kind of storytelling, you know, when you go into the quantum realm, and man, probably not going to build a set or a miniature for that it's going to write, but if it's something that can be directly, if something that can't be done, it should try to be done, especially at that budget level.

Erik Messerschmidt 1:06:34
Yeah, yeah. I think so. And, you know, I think also, you know, with all due respect to to other filmmakers, it's it when you do it, if you do it digitally, you can make it up later. If you do it for real, you have to decide in advance. And that's intimidating to some people, you know, you have practical considerations, you have to think about, you know, if you're, if you're Dick donner, and you're going to, you're going to drop the drop the gasoline truck, you know, for real with a real pyrotechnic explosion, to be considered of how big the explosion is going to be, and are the cameras gonna be and what the, you know, what the location considerations are, and you have to plan and you have to go and tech Scout, and you have to say, Okay, we're gonna put the camera here and put the camera here to put the camera here, and we're gonna suspend it from a truck, or we're going to drop in there, it's gonna explode them, and it's going to be four days of cleanup, and we're going to pay off all the local businesses, and it's, you know, like that it requires advanced thought in the way that doing the gasoline truck, you know, shooting a plate doesn't, right. But there's obvious, significant advantages to doing it for real, it's just more difficult. And it requires, you know, sort of consider it requires directing to some degree, you know, and I, so I, you know, I'd support that idea. I just, I just wish more people did it. And I wished and I and it's part of why I like working with older directors, because they understand that, and they, they advocate for it, you know what I mean? They don't go for the easy solution, because it helps location department, they have to pay off that business or whatever, you know, we're gonna drop the truck for real and we're gonna blow it up. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:16
can I have the can I tell you story really quickly, because it's it this is going to exactly what we're talking about. I had Simon West on the show, who was a legendary action director, and he was telling me how he did the Con Air gag when the plane crashed in Vegas. And they found a hotel that was going to be demolished and like, hold on. Can we run a plane into the front for our movie? And they said yes. And there was it's shut down Vegas for a minute. But the thing was, and this is goes to your point of like, you have to plan ahead. He had six cameras on that on that shot. It was a one take you had there was one take someone said something over the over the the walkies the cameras, they just took off but none of the cameras were rolling. First they do is like oh crap. Oh crap. Get to turn it on, turn it off and turn it on. We're going we're going and everyone's like, freaking out. And then he's like, I had six. But then to have four of them didn't work. So I had two. And then we're like, okay, and like he told the whole story like three when three didn't make it. There's all film by the way. And then the two made it and then at the end we only really one was out of focus because it's the first ad. Oh, that's right. The crews Couldn't the crews were eating. crafty. And they everything was going to the cameras were going and they had to run to turn them on. All right. So at the end, they had one shot, one take on one angle, and that's the angle they got for us like I can't go back and shoot it again. This is why you had six if I would have had five we would have been in trouble. But there's a diff Well, you

Erik Messerschmidt 1:10:00
know, it is it is it is, you know, I think I think it's sent if filmmaking has been made, it's easier now. You know, it's a lot easier. I'm, you know, when I was growing up, and I was, you know, I came out of film school with one film, you know, and it was like, I had, you know, it was it had been transferred to beta SP and I had a VHS tape and I would go and show it to people and hand them the VHS tape and look at my movie is NTSC, you know, had locks on it great quality, you know? Yeah, exactly. And then, you know, and if I wanted to make more copies, I had to go find a place that had had an sp deck, because I couldn't do the VHS, you know, it was like, long before DVD. And, you know, kids come out of film school now. And they have like, six movies that have all been made, you know, on a RED camera, or, you know, an Alexa or something. And, God, I mean, I would have been, I would have privilege, you know, what a tremendous privilege to have. And, you know, so that, that, and I think that extends outward into cinema. So you know, so when people are like, Oh, I don't have any opportunities. I'm, I'm not that empathetic.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:10
You know? I'll listen. I mean, I spent 50 grand on my first demo reel versus a commercial director shooting on 35. Because you had to shoot 35. And that would make beta SP masters and then I would convert them to three quarter inch. And that's what I would send out to the agencies because VHS that's that was for amateurs. So then was the cost. I'm at the big with the big clam cases. And I read the FedEx I'm all over the place. And, and it was like, and now they're like, oh, yeah, shot this thing on an iPhone. And I'm like you sent

Erik Messerschmidt 1:11:41
like, yeah, exactly. Yeah. So you know, there was no video when I was, you know, when I first came on the show,

Alex Ferrari 1:11:49
there was no internet certain let's just go there was no internet. There was no, there's definitely no video. There was no video online, especially when I came out. Yeah. Not Not good. Not good video, at least. Now, when does the motion come out?

Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:07
November 24. And

Alex Ferrari 1:12:09
2002. Right. So just for the holidays, it seems like it seems Yeah. cinematic experience. You gotta go see it in the movies.

Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:18
I hope everyone does. Yeah, we did it. There's an IMAX release. If you have an IMAX theater near you can see it. That's exciting. First film I've done it's been IMAX and yeah, I think it's you know, it's it's certainly a story and a film that deserves to be seen Bay, it was intended to be seen big, you know, we shot it to be seen big.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:38
So now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:45
Everybody's going to tell you no, and your work isn't any good. And you can't do it, and you got to ignore

Alex Ferrari 1:12:50
them. Fair enough. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,

Erik Messerschmidt 1:12:56
that there's always another job, but um, but you have to, there's, there's always another job. And the time off is is more important than the time at work. So you got to prioritize, you have to you have to prioritize your time off with the people that you love. That's, that's, that's the thing. That's, that's most important, I

Alex Ferrari 1:13:17
think. And as I've talked to a lot of DPS in my day and worked with them, they're like, dude, the divorce rate is pretty high. I mean, it's, it's no joke, it's no joke, especially when you become successful as a DP. The balance is really difficult. It's difficult to do. And that's something they don't tell you, when you start walking down this path.

Erik Messerschmidt 1:13:38
No, they don't. But that was really, I mean, look, you know, I I think I spent 28 days in my bed last year, you know, I mean, it's, it's, it's, it's challenging. You know, I spend a lot of time in hotels, a lot of traveling, and it's a lot to ask for your loved ones and your family. And, yeah, you know, if they don't, you're right, they don't teach you that film school. And they should, and we know when I speak to students, or whatever I try to, I try to say, Listen, you know, if you want to get in this, make sure that you're ready for that, you know, because it's, it's, it's, it can be quite, quite challenging for sure.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:15
It's the carny life, sir. We are just carnies and putting up tents, putting on shows, and taking the tent down, getting everything on the train and going to the next location, setting up shop again, we're carnies at the end of the day. Now and last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Erik Messerschmidt 1:14:33
Oh, God, how much time do you have?

Alex Ferrari 1:14:35
Just three, three of your three of your favorite films that come up in your mind today?

Erik Messerschmidt 1:14:41
Oh, my God. I mean, I, you know, people ask me that question all the time. I think Chinatown's way up there. Close Encounters you know, I should pick up I should pick a foreign film because it's underrepresented in the list. Fair enough. Bear. And my colleagues will judge me, but I'm not going to do that. I mean, I think Raiders of Lost Ark probably, I mean, it's just it's like those, think about the movies that I, they're the movies I admire and I respond to creatively and then they're the movies that I have seen 100 times and that is one of them. It's like one of those movies that I've just probably, I've probably seen it on written 50 times

Alex Ferrari 1:15:23
and they move and they move the the medium forward, all three of those movies moved the medium forward in one way, shape, or form. And Steven for sure. And I can't even start talking about Steven, I mean, Jesus, I mean, I've had so many people on the show who have worked with Stephen and I just yeah, I'm not gonna gush over Stephen. But yeah, but brother man thank you so much for coming on the show sharing your sharing your experiences with us and I can't wait to see devotion and hope everybody goes out into theater and actually sees it sits in a theater just like they did Top Gun Maverick and enjoy the real life spectacle that you kind of put together brothers I really appreciate your time and and continue doing some great work I can't wait to see Ferrari and the killer that those to another to film. I mean, again, you're you're doing okay for yourself right now, sir.

Erik Messerschmidt 1:16:13
Thanks. Yeah, I'm trying. I'm trying one day at a time. A pleasure, brother. Thanks. Appreciate it. Thanks. Cheers.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 636: The RAW Truth About Screenwriting in Hollywood with Rick Najera

Today on the show, we have award-winning screenwriter, actor, director, producer, and sketch comedian Rick Najera. Rick is also an author, playwright, coach and national speaker with an expansive portfolio of credits in all forms of entertainment.

From starring in films with Sidney Poitier, George Clooney, and most recently Mario Lopez to writing sketch comedy for Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx, Najera is best known for starring on Broadway in his award-winning, self-penned stage play, Latinologues, directed by comedy legend Cheech Marin. Najera is only one of three Latinos to ever write and star in their own play on Broadway.

As a screenwriter, Najera has written dozens of scripts for TV, film, and the stage, starting out in the industry as a staff writer on the groundbreaking urban comedy series, In Living Color, for which he wrote more than 30 episodes. Najera went on to write for Townsend TV (10 episodes), MAD TV (47 episodes), East Los High – a Hulu original (21 episodes), and more.

He penned the feature film Nothing Like the Holidays starring Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, John Leguizamo, and Luis Guzman, which won him an ALMA Award. Najera learned from great writers like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, and Scorsese to “write what you know and has been a pioneer in Hollywood telling his American experience from a Latino perspective.

Rick and I discuss the raw truth about working in Hollywood, writing comedy, working with greats like Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx, and much more. This is an entertaining and informative episode. Get ready to take notes.

Enjoy my conversation with Rick Najera.

Alex Ferrari 0:09
I like to welcome to the show, Rick Najera, man, how are you doing, Rick?

Rick Najera 3:28
Good, Alex, how you doing?

Alex Ferrari 3:30
As good as we can be in this crazy mix up the world we live in today, sir.

Rick Najera 3:34
It is a crazy mixed up world. Yeah, it's so much going on. But you know, different stuff. I'm sure that everyone's tired of hearing about COVID interactions and things like that. Let's talk about film.

Alex Ferrari 3:44
Absolutely. Absolutely. So first and foremost, sir, how did you get into this ridiculous business?

Rick Najera 3:51
You know, it's very simple. Um, I thought of the, the one thing that would just totally destroy my life and make my life really horrible. And I went, let's go for that job. And it had to be writer, because that is the probably one of the worst jobs you can get in Hollywood. It's just, you know, really horrible.

Alex Ferrari 4:08
Now, why not? Why, sir? Why? Well, I

Rick Najera 4:11
Well, I mean, I have to tell you, first of all, it's a lonely business. So it's not like, you know, it's lonely. No one, you know how many times they go, Oh, my God, there's, that's the writer of that film. You know, it's even you could name off Star Wars. They'd go, Oh, my guts. Oh, wait a minute, is that James Earl Jones Oh, my God, not for you. Because people are are attracted to the to the man or woman in the podium. You know, and that's, that's the person I mean, we've had years of now, you know, the the cult of the director like Orson Welles and people like that, or, you know, Quentin Tarantino, but say Quentin Tarantino, Orson Welles, were also actors, they're performers. So they were hybrids. And I think that's kind of what's coming to the world now is more hybrid. I mean, yes. writer you know, I'm a proud member of the WTA I've you know written a lot of things but now I love my union are great. And my favorite things are screeners I used to get but we don't they don't really send at the screeners like they used to

Alex Ferrari 5:14
know that as much anymore now yes like you go online

Rick Najera 5:17
to see something like one thing I don't want to be online is a freakin pandemic. I don't want to be in five a screen.

Alex Ferrari 5:25
Yeah. I want to go to a theater and watch it theater. I

Rick Najera 5:27
want popcorn. I can't watch a movie without popcorn in my hand. There's so it's, it's it is the it is more of what I think I am in a lot of certain performers are and writers and people like that. We tend to be Heifetz. And the old world of Hollywood actually was the Model T Ford world. Right? Like, the the writer does eight hour, you know, he does the eight o'clock hour family sitcom, that's the guy and this person's the single camera guy. And that person's this no, this is a writer, but he's really comedy. And this is this. So they approach writers that way. It's being Latino. I had to always create my own job. You know, there wasn't, you know, we talked earlier on the show that there isn't a lot of Latino writers. And there's there's a reason for that. But they're just we're just few or a few and far between. I was on a plane I think was hosted in Lopez and one of the writers were going to some event, and there's like three Latino writers on the plane, I say, this plane goes down. We've lost half the writers in Hollywood. And at that time, it was kind of the truth. It was like it was like, we've lost half the writers the display goes down. I mean, and I hope I mentioned along with Josephina in the other writer, for sure it was it would go you know, but it was true. It was like What a tragedy is sad because, you know, no one wants to be the first in Hollywood. Or like, you know, people have called me a pioneer in some ways. You know, Pioneer I got I've never wanted to be a pioneer pioneer really is a bad job. Because pioneer gets killed by the bear gets cholera syphilis some mercury poison and a silver mine and some

Alex Ferrari 7:15
What's that? What's that? So it's like game Oregon Trail Oregon Trail trail. Yeah,

Rick Najera 7:19
just the worst things you can imagine Eagle the eagle takes your baby yeah your feet you have no fingers or hands you've got no personal hygiene fair enough fair to add and you're you're just hoping to syphilis kills you instead of a Native American and well that's it's just bad it's so I want to be the guy that shows up in the train you know what the you know the nice mustache and Joe show up with a train and and all that kind of world that's the kind of guy I want to be I don't want to be a better yet. The guy shows in a jet just right to New York even better. You know, it's great. But pioneers a bad thing to be you don't want to be a pioneer. It's just the danger level of Pioneer is really up there. I went to Australia to film something. And that place was dangerous already. I could imagine someone going that place and being a pioneer. They have everything there will kill you. spiders, snakes, every the people I mean, kangaroos box. I mean, it's crazy. Oh, kangaroos aren't even cute animals, like I saw King like seven foot high. And they will gut you with their feet. You know, so you go walk up with a carrot your mouth and what to feed it gently, you know, with a gill kill you. And so it's that's to me, Pioneer. So I do not want to be a Latino pioneer. Because first of all, they don't no one cares. And

Alex Ferrari 8:37
no one do. So by me. So when you when you started out? I mean, you started out? How did you like start getting work because I look, I'll tell you what, you know, I came up as a commercial director and in post production as a Latino in Miami. And, you know, I started off in editing Latino, you know, commercials and doing other stuff or South America and things like that. But it was a little it was hard to break through to the American market for and that was This is the mid 90s where things are a bit different now in regards to accessibility, like I mean before, get more and and then that whole crew

Rick Najera 9:14
and those guys aren't even doing what you say particularly Latino stories.

Alex Ferrari 9:18
No, they're no they're they're not there but they're still but they're still you know, Latino, you know, let's call it Latino directors and and Robert Rodriguez and and you know, and all that kind of stuff. It was it was a different world so I could only imagine what it was like for you as a writer coming up in the 90s

Rick Najera 9:36
Well first of all, they were surprised I could write in English what's the bigger surprise what could I do you understand the words it was very hard you know it's it's I got in this business because I believe you can be anything you want to be you know that was drilled in my head you can be able to ever you want to be and and I believed it So I said I'll be an actor because being an actor you can be any character want to be and then this business spends their entire energy telling you can't do that. And now those exceptions are starting to happen. I'm watching with Shonda Rhimes. I'm a big fan of, you know, people like that. But on the whole, for the 90s, just the 92, like when I first started out was, it was a 92 it was I got an in living color. And I got that after being an actor. I was, I was working a lot, you know, as I got into acting, I did you know, I mean that did shows every show from Colombo to whatever to you know, China beach and all these pilots and you know, West Wing, and I just didn't like the roles. I finally it was one day I was doing a film called Read surf with George Clooney. And we both were leads. And he had 1020 Auditions afterwards, I had zero. And we both release. And I said, Well, why what he's going on 20 shows why, why can I? They said, Well, he's going out for white roles. You only play Latinos. So it was ingrained. It agents, managers, everyone, you play Latinos now which led to can you play? At that time, it was like you're either gonna be drug lords, which hasn't changed terribly much because look at Narcos and shows like that, or you're the gardener or your you know, whatever it is, it wasn't like, you know, Dr. Sanchez, we need to We're losing him. Dr. Sanchez. We're losing. You know, it was always you know, you know, quick cut, you know, Pan left. And Dr. Sanchez is I'm just working here as a gardener, but part time I am also a doctor to help with this situation. So that

Alex Ferrari 11:46
I want to watch that I want to watch that medical drama. That's Dr.

Rick Najera 11:48
Sanchez. He's a gardener by day. But ER doctor at night. I learned this during the war, you know, salads. Teach people back up. And also

Alex Ferrari 12:02
gardening. Because I do like the gardening. It's steady when

Rick Najera 12:07
it calms me down. One night, er, gametime gardening. And I also have him. I bring the truck around. And I also make lunch for the people.

Alex Ferrari 12:19
Oh, of course, of course. Great. That's a funny

Rick Najera 12:23
dimensional character. I didn't know that. You know, so I just I just said, listen, these roles aren't, you know, they're dumb. I was very insulted by them. And I was I started off as a classical actor as an actual actor at the Globe Theatre in San Diego was as it lawyer playoffs, I did Time magazine 10 Best Production years American Conservatory Theater, all the best theaters in the nation. And the minute they found out I was Latino, there's like this. And it wasn't a secret was it wasn't walking around going. My name is Rick Nash. It sounds like an Arabic word cried. You know, nothing is exotic. And obviously not Anglo American is when I got very, you know, stuck in playing the Latino. So I said, um, if I'm gonna play a stereotype, I better written it. So I just started writing the roles. And I've turned the stereotypes upside down. I would I play a drug lord, but he was a news fanatic. You know, I talked about the news. I was I was watching the news last night, you know, talking about

Alex Ferrari 13:25
these Scarface who watches CNN?

Rick Najera 13:28
Yeah, I heard about a man. His name. He he was executed in Texas by lethal injection is ironic, no. Lethal objection. He was a drug lord. So I'm thinking to myself, for his last meal. He asked for steak, french fries and a Diet Coke. Why would you order a diet? Are you worried about the calories we're talking about? I would do that I would take care of and really create, you know, flip and flip them out and change them around. And it was it was a tough fight because you're you're in a battle with Latinos themselves. And that you you know, because it's because you're going to you every every time you're performing Latinos looking at you going, No, he's not that good. Or I don't like him or for 1000 reasons. Mostly. We're Vidya you know, Andy, of looking at someone. And so, you either people assume you're full of yourself, I gotta get that people assume I'm full of myself. You've done all these shows. You must think you're the most incredible person in the world. And I go, No, not at all. And I'm the most insecure person in the world. Those shows make you insecure. Okay, Hollywood is geared to make you insecure. It's actually geared when you walk in the door and they look at you and they said they're just not good looking. Or walk in the door. You're not sexy. Hey, you know, old, but it's like the words they used. I was like, vibrant, wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 14:55
No, it's not. It's not it's not a ton that builds you up. It's not it's not look like Brad Pitt and George Clooney were having problems getting roles when they were young. I mean, I mean, yeah, it took it took a minute. It's a George Clooney took a while before he actually hit.

Rick Najera 15:11
George Clooney. I'll tell you a story. I worked with George years ago, and we did that read serve together. And he invited me to his house to have two

Alex Ferrari 15:20
is this free? Is this pre or post? Er?

Rick Najera 15:23
Oh, this is this is I believe, pre er, like, like, so he's, he's still hustling at this point. Still hustling, still hustling? And he's hustling and I go to his house. And he has a pet pig. Pig? Like, yeah, so we're in his house, you know, doing tequila shots, and we're talking is a few of his friends over. And he says, you know, we do the movie, we'll get a bad guy, and I'm the good guy. And so we're gonna cut or not hang out together to keep that kind of denture. I said, understandable. No problem at all. And I look at his house with George. It's a great house goes out. Thank you. I go. So what do your parents do? What are your parents? So did

Alex Ferrari 16:08
he test himself?

Rick Najera 16:09
He looks at me and he just goes, it's my house. I go, I go, Well, what do you do? I'm an actor. I go. I'm an actor, but don't have a house like this. Because he really what he done pilots and stuff like that, but so he's making money, but he wasn't, you know, so I didn't know. And I said, Well, I'm an actor. How come I don't have a house? Like the house? Like there's so many because you just have to ask for more money. It's nice that Okay, last remember money? The truth is, it was just math. If you audition for 20 different roles, you're going to get one. And when you came to the Latino actors, there wasn't many roles. We didn't have many Latinos writing those roles. And even now, half the time when there is a Latino show, I almost assume I'll never get on there. Because Latinos, a lot of times they don't want to hire you themselves. Because they're looking at going no, I want to have this cast filled with all these white writers behind the screens and stains. And I am talking major Latinos who have told me no, I want to have some, you know, white writers around me. Because to them, that's success. So that's changing but but it's it is a very tough business. And it's sad because the least thing, the reason all of us go into art, and you know, I'm sure it's the same with you too, is it? You want to comment and explore the world you're living in and talk about it and show people look at this. This is such a unique way to see those I was just watching you know, Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad and I love that writer. And I was looking at I what I love about his writing is and in Shonda Rhimes to what I love about the writing is they'll take it anywhere. And a lot of times when you're dealing with Latino stories, particularly you have Anglos, you know, white Hollywood telling you what a Latino story is. There's the difference was

Alex Ferrari 18:09
like they did it with black, what's a blood? What's a black story? What's a gay story? What's with any whatever, whatever minority it is, I'll tell you what kind of story it is.

Rick Najera 18:17
Exactly. And that that is the problem. And so that's been the issue. And a lot. That's why I became so independent is why I produced my own shows and stuff like that, because I had to.

Alex Ferrari 18:29
So there's a you, you got started with a living color, because for people not for people who aren't aware and living color when it came out. I mean, Kenan was kind of like an 800 pound gorilla that could really do whatever he wanted, especially after the first season because it was such a runaway hit. And if you haven't if you don't know what a living colorize it was basically just you know, a Saturday Night Live sketch comedy,

Rick Najera 18:51
which is Chappelle Show. Yes, Chappelle Show before the Chappelle Show,

Alex Ferrari 18:55
right. And it was Yeah, and before that, it was like really, Saturday Night Live was the only thing on Yeah, honestly. But in living color just hit the mainstream in a way that I mean, it really hit the zeitgeist. So I could only imagine what was it like working with you know, was Were you there when Jim was there? Jim Carrey worked

Rick Najera 19:13
with Jim till four in the morning. I mean, this is this is my day. Okay. I'm working with Jim to like four to write a sketch called you know, the juice man. She's a fan sketches like juice, juice juice, his character Gray, and about 10 o'clock I go, Hey, what if he so crazy with his juice that he thinks he can fly or something and jumps out the window? That's a horrible idea. For the morning, Jim. Hey, what are you with the juice guy so hyped up the juicy things you can find jumps out the window and dies? Gets a great idea. Oh my god. Brilliant.

Alex Ferrari 19:51
You're gonna go far. Jim. I borrowed my words.

Rick Najera 19:55
And I say Jim's a very you know, and it's like Jamie Foxx was hiding in my office because He was in some fight with so and so. And you know Katie was upset about something and and Jennifer Lopez and walking and going Rick and I be an actress. Do you think it could be an actress? Right? I told her yes, you can. So it's like Rosie. Oh, you know, Rosie Perez, Perez and and, you know, Rosie, and I would and Jennifer would have lunches together because we'd be only Latinos there. Right? You know, the one of my favorite times in living color. I wrote a sketch because they wouldn't let me act. They're like, Dude, you really can't act you gotta write. No, no, just do it. Because most of the acting staff are the writers were actors and performers, some of the great performers. Some of the best performers were not on stage. They were actually you know, guys like Robert Schimmel are great stand up comedians, you're like, these were the staff. I mean, you know, the people you just it just goes on who's who's in fact, I'm the bliss famous person in that room. Like, one time has an event and Jennifer Lopez there and say, Hello, Jennifer, say hello to Jennifer my ad, spend some years you probably will remember me. I don't want to go up there and get amazed by her security detail. And I just would like to avoid that for my ego. She's gonna say something, and I'm not gonna say anything. So she's walking up was Marc Anthony, and I get to meet Mark entity years later. But she walks up, he recognizes. And she runs up and gives me a hug. That was such a beautiful moment. And she goes, Rick, we've done so well, haven't we? And I just looked at I was like, Well, I'm at the party, too. But I

Alex Ferrari 21:34
really well. But my security detail hasn't gotten here yet know,

Rick Najera 21:38
my security detail. Still getting the press pass and trying to get past there. My main security guys on the floor being arrested right now. priors. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 21:49
And this is a rented suit. This is a red.

Rick Najera 21:53
So a lot of times, you know, that was, you know, that's really what the day was like, you just had tons of people around. It was a very exciting time, especially for people of color. To me. Just amazing. And it was Fox and Fox would let you get away with stuff even though Fox now seems to be against people of color. Good. All right. There's a time,

Alex Ferrari 22:14
though not the time, but they let that when Fox first showed up, as far as the network was concerned, they had nothing to lose. So they just they just like we got married with children. Sure. The anti Cosby Show. Great. So why not? It was

Rick Najera 22:29
basically this kind of you had to be, it was the bad boys. Yeah, we were the true not ready for primetime players. And it was it was such a unique time in Hollywood, and it I'd still have my Living Colour jacket that they gave me. So give me a jacket. And I didn't know as a hit show until I work one day at an airport. Because remember, we're there all day long and a night to four in the morning or some amazing, you know, ridiculous amount, the price so many sketches do so much work. That meant none of us had a personal life. Right? You know, no one had a personal life. So I didn't, you know, you'd work till Friday, but you'd be done about four, whatever it was, you go to sleep the next day takes you one day to get yourself together, you feel like you just beat like a pinata. And then Sunday, you're like, oh, I should get my laundry done. Or I should get to pay some bills or do whatever. And then oh my god, what happened this time? I gotta be there. 10 in the morning to pitch. And one time the pressure pitching was so hard because you're in a room with Robert Schimmel. The greatest writers ears, you know, Larry Wilmore, all these people that are, you know, are in the room with you. And everyone's got to get something on the air. Everything's got a because if you don't you pitch and they say, Oh, I love that idea. It's great. Okay, well go with that idea. That idea that you're had to work. And this wasn't nice. This wasn't Oh, we're so wonderful idea. This is great. Let's go for with this. It was like, Alright, you got to 12 gets done. It's pretty

Alex Ferrari 23:59
brutal. Those rooms for my worst part,

Rick Najera 24:02
they'd walk in and say you got nothing. They don't want any of your pitches, you bet. You're going to pitch again in a few hours, some ideas. So you'd have to come back when you've worked all amount of time on this, to come back with a story. And if they didn't like it, for whatever reason, it just, you know, science was not gonna play that. Well. That's like work Nana, you had to come up with new ideas. So you're constantly coming up with I had one writer as you know, well known writer worked on tons of shows. He gets in there. And it was intimidating me because he walks up. So yeah, I've got 108 I kept a list sketches. These are 180 sketches that will just you know, no one will stop these ideas. This is the best pitch. I've worked for a year coming up with ideas for this show. He's telling me and stuff. I'm like, Wow, I'm intimidated. And I got my big list of sketches. I got about 200 of those. That means you know, not for you know, not guaranteed kill it's still good. Could you to my car at 300 those, you know, they're good premises, maybe Need some work? Maybe they do it to be, you know, BS or and maybe five days. And he's like this whole math Wow in a humble within a week, he comes to the office and goes, I got nothing man.

Alex Ferrari 25:12
They destroyed me mad they destroyed

Rick Najera 25:15
nothing. And he's like thinking ideas. So So I would see grown men cry. Wow. And I was people needed ideas bears like crack because like cracked in the 90s or 80s It's like, you know, it was it was sad so they would go through so much material and you would have to come up with ideas and you know like to work on other shows later years later, like mad tv. Or

Alex Ferrari 25:41
how has it worked because matte TV was like the kind of almost the, the sequel to live in color in some ways. In

Rick Najera 25:47
some ways. It was a sequel, but living color had more of the stand up comic sensibility. Jamie Foxx, that's the Mad TV had the Groundlings sensibility, yeah, more like sketch comedy from the Groundlings. There's a very particular Groundlings is a very particular style, they use a lot of wigs, they use a lot of different stuff. They're you know, they look at Pee Wee Herman and will Pharaoh as they're saints, you know, they pray to them. And so there you have a different style. But to me, it was kind of cultish in some ways, because you had to have that school. I like the stand up comedy schools, the chapels those guys like that, because they in stand up comedy of the Comedy Store. But then you've got the improv, then you've got the Laugh Factory, but each one has their own style and schools. So as much more varied. Groundlings was a very definite style. Then came UCB and all these other others.

Alex Ferrari 26:41
And What years were you at Mad TV?

Rick Najera 26:44
Gosh, I gotta think maybe like around 2005 or something like that.

Alex Ferrari 26:53
Starting starting around? 2005

Rick Najera 26:54
I think I think I remember. I mean, I wrote a lot of those things. And it's in my IMDb and i i read this stuff. And I'm like, What I didn't remember so

Alex Ferrari 27:02
you miss you miss the time that Julie was there. Julie Michelle Jones. Oh, yeah.

Rick Najera 27:07
What is a Julie Julie I worked with later on Julia and I work together and Latino locks either showed up on Broadway. Well,

Alex Ferrari 27:14
she's wonderful. She was my she was the star of my first feature. Wow. Which one was that? This is Meg. She and I directed her comedy special. And I've been friends with Jill for about a decade. Jeff. Tonto stages. Wait,

Rick Najera 27:30
this is a very close friend. I really like her like because because I interviewed her for my, my podcast now in America, you know? Sure. I don't want to siphon your million man. Audience.

Alex Ferrari 27:44
I'll put a link i'll put a link in the show notes. So

Rick Najera 27:46
yeah, put a link to the show. Because you know, Listen, guys like me don't have the audience to you do. So, but I'm here in America to hedge Julia and she's just a great person. You know? She did. She didn't, you know, I think it was Reno 9110. Yeah, she's like that. So it's it. The comedy school in Hollywood is very small.

Alex Ferrari 28:08
Yeah, that's one thing I've made since I got here. almost a dozen years ago, I met Julie three months in, by the way. Three months after I got here. I met Julian she started in a short film that I shot like, I was hired to do within within three months of getting here. It was like, and I when I got here, like this is Hollywood. Great. This is the way it's always gonna be. I'm just gonna like in that whole project turned into a shit show. And you know, but she was wonderful. We always stayed in touch.

Rick Najera 28:33
We say this is Hollywood. This is Holly. Now this is all I know.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
This is Hollywood. Yeah. But it's very small town. And everybody knows everybody. It's so weird. Because and the more I do these show, like when I do this show in my, my other podcasts. I'll talk to a guest and I'm like, Oh, I know. Do you know this person? Yeah, I know that person. Like, and it's just like, everyone knows everybody. So if you and this is something for the audience listening. Don't Don't be an ass. Because you will get back to you people will talk.

Rick Najera 29:06
I know, it's with me. It's like, you know, I go through through Mum, you know, normally for me, it's it's I've run into more just I don't think people understand. I don't think they've ever stood because I don't fit anything. You know, it's not like you go you're not in a box. I'm not a box. I write a director, actor, you know, I've done everything, you know, VP and network and, you know, do all this stuff. Not a big network, but it's still a network. And so I've seen the world very differently. And, and I come up like, I'm gonna do a T, a web show in February on a web show. A masterclass right, in February. So, so people go like, Hey, he's actually teaching are doing some like that. Because I came from school, you had to do everything. And that's very Latino. Like, oh, I know. I've never met a Latino that you You go to front of Home Depot. Can you do tile? Oh yeah, I can do can you do plumbing? For sure I got my tools. Can you do surgery surgery? Can you? Oh yeah, I can do quite crack open the heart. I need a donor. But then I got my tools. I guess you got a donor I got my tools. So it just, that's where people have been.

Alex Ferrari 30:24
I mean, look, I have a hat on this says hustle. I mean there's there's there's I mean, it's it's it's on brand for me, sir. I

Rick Najera 30:29
understand woke up this morning. Every day. I'm hustling Everyday everyday I'm hustling. Because, like, even even before Yeah, every day. That's our mantra. Everyone hustle.

Alex Ferrari 30:42
It's just, it's just the way it is. It's just the way this

Rick Najera 30:45
is where it is. And I thought about my son started acting as commercials and doing quite well. And he was like, how do you want to do commercials right now I want to study school. And like, in part of me was like, if I worked, if I was in Tijuana, you would have a box at Chick place in your hand going to a chiclet you'd work that's the way our Latinos are, you know, it's like, some, you know, people go I have children, because I love them. And also it's like Latinos. Like, we need a crew, and a little bit to get there. But my family that's hilarious, even though I can't stand it.

Alex Ferrari 31:26
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You you, you were able to make a, you know, an anomaly in Hollywood, which was a movie called nothing like the holidays, which was a holiday Christmas movie, which I saw. And when I saw them, the cast is amazing. And it was a Latino basically a Latino Christmas movie with a with a real representation of what it's like. And you know, it's always, you know, it's always weird with with Latinos, because we're, we're not just one block, where we're 30 or 40 Different tribes, if you will, depending, you know, I'm Cuban, Mexican, and, you know, you know, everything from everywhere, you know, from Chile every so everyone has their all different kinds of traditions. We all kind of have similar traditions. Yeah, but so you know, nothing, nothing like the holidays. I saw I saw myself in it, but it still wasn't a Cuban Christmas, you know, but it was

Rick Najera 32:32
it still there are certain things you relate to like, like, you know, do Latina logs as long as I did. And, you know, getting that show on Broadway is the first successful Latino play on Broadway. Right? They called it a play. Right, which to me, it was more of a comedy special series of monologues, but they call it a play, which put me in direct competition with all the big multi-millions. I'm like, No, don't call me a play called theatrical event or something like that. I brought Latino logs back, I could actually get Tony for revival. But, you know, a lot of times when you would do work like, you know, Latino logs and that kind of stuff. People didn't know what to label it. You know, we're hard to label you know, nothing like dollars we use Ah, I'll tell you where you can relate your Caribbean. Yeah. And are Ricans are still Caribbean now. Sure. The joke is Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico would call Cubans to vase in two ways. And that means basically I used to have so it's like every every time you meet a Cuban in Puerto Rico, like I call where they me back, that's not an avocado back on Ah, the avocados would fall from a tree kill you. You know, it'd be like, everything was just hyper beautiful what Cuba was. And of course, that's a human aspect that we're looking back. Like, I thought my years in high school are wonderful. Now I'm like, now I luckily Don't Look Back in high school. That was the best time of my life. Because but if people do they look back and they go I was a football captain are always so

Alex Ferrari 34:07
I'll tell you I'll tell you a joke. If I may be so bold as to tell you a joke. If what's the difference between an Argentine and a Cuban like so the Argentinian thinks he knows everything but the Cuban knows. He knows everything.

Rick Najera 34:20
Yes. It was like, it was like, it was an Argentinian if they can. If they sell you what they're worth would they think they're worth paying millions.

Alex Ferrari 34:33
But that's good, but those are those kind of look subtleties. When you're writing when you're writing. You know, it's like I remember doing commercials for Latin America and I literally had to version out. Yeah, 30 different videos. Because if you if you have a Puerto Rican vo guy in Mexico, that's not gonna fly. No, you have to It's so it's you know, that was the first time I kind of really understood like, oh, okay, this is like that's everything. is a little different. So when you're writing for this kind of audience, it's not easy. You're trying to appease a bunch of different audiences.

Rick Najera 35:07
What I would write like what I would my writing I've, I've worked everywhere in the United States and outside the United States. So I've worked for Mexico with fertility sit down in Mexico. You know, I've worked a lot of like, all speaking horrible Spanish, which is, to me the most amazing thing because I grew up Chicano in California. We're, we're known for getting a C in Spanish. That's like our deal. If, if that's Chicago, you speak great Spanish, you're not a Chicano. It's like, hasn't disappeared to America. They're interviewing me in Spanish. I'm like, Ah, let's give me a headache. Oh my god, I gotta get this thing. And of course, understanding and doing this but, but a lot of words, I just don't know. You know, like this, this quick side story. I was in, in Mexico and in Chihuahua, Mexico, and I had a bodyguard and it goes, his car keeps driving by me. And he goes, we have to leave and I go why? Because to guide us and I go oh, there's a there's a mural around here. I'd love it. I love his work. So cannabis is wonderful. I thought he said see get us you know, it got it. So finally I go back to the hotel and I go where's that mural? You're gonna show me because what mural like go see cantos because Sicario sees like directly me. I go. Oh, what does that mean? He goes assassins. I go assassins like those guys driving by me were assassins. Like, how do you know? It goes because they kidnap me I call the kid have you? Because yeah, go well, what kind of bodyguard are you if you're getting kidnapped by the same people that doesn't protect me?

Alex Ferrari 36:41
I'm gonna have to let you go. I'm sorry.

Rick Najera 36:43
Because I go who normally do bodyguard this the the chief of police of Chihuahua. So bodyguard for the chief of police. This guy was a major guy. It took him 24 Narcos along with army guys to capture. And but it's you know, I didn't know. So when I started working for you know Mexico and places like that I had to have an education because it's it there's so much different flavors. So if I do if I go to Miami and perform, and I do one of my monologues then the truth is, if I do a monologue, take Cuba Libre, which is about a Cuban prostitute and Cuba, you know, very, you know, gut wrenching hard monologue to perform not by me an actor and actress in the company would do that. And I'd hear people crying in the audience, because it affected them so much. Yet, when I was doing night monologue button 11 in New York on Broadway, a whole nother cry and feel sure. So I can tell what cities are performing. And if I'm doing if I was doing, say, Miss East LA on the West Coast about a beauty pageant girl that doesn't want to give up a crown. I would take to New York I did as Miss Puerto Rican Pride Parade. You have to shift it a little bit, you shift it you adjusted and in Miami. I'm doing alien resorts and I'm saying, you know, I'm basically yelling screw Cuba. Screw Castro. Right, right. Every Cuban is applauding me and loves me forever. Sure. So you're playing to the audience? You have to you it's what committee the RT did. minidoll RT was, you know, was a form of theater throughout Italy. And around I think it was, you know, the Renaissance area around that. People go to each town and listen to the gossip, listen, and the taking. If you live a Saturday Night Live, any of these shows now in Sketch wise, that's what they are. They're comedians are listening to the gossip. They're putting it out there. You got the audience going, Oh, I can't believe they went there. And what comedy is that cathartic release of ideas and expressions that you shouldn't be able to say on stage. But since you're saying it, you'll get an applause and laughter.

Alex Ferrari 38:58
Now, you I mean, you have you're very unique in the sense that you you had a Broadway show, a hit Broadway show. Excuse me. A what? It's not a show. It's not play. It's a it's a special

Rick Najera 39:10
special. On Broadway,

Alex Ferrari 39:14
it was on Broadway, and you did. So how do you approach as a writer? How do you approach a Broadway show?

Rick Najera 39:21
You know, a, you approach the same way you do with all writing, which is basically the story. It's a big beginning, middle and end. You're on the way I learned writing with my father. We were very poor. And he would go to see a movie, and he couldn't afford to take me so he'd come back the movie. And he would explain the movie to me was such graphic detail and this and that. And then years later, I see the movie and I'd be really disappointed. I was like, oh, it's boring. My dad told me so much better, so much better until the story and the man what he felt. And I learned storytelling to him. And that's really what it is is telling a story now. You can take a story. And like say Mandela Are you? Okay? That's Yoda as a child, and ever seeing Yoda as an adult. And then when you look at a story, like Breaking Bad and you go, well, Breaking Bad, here's Saul, before Breaking Bad. You know, here's his the early part of his career, let me understand where we're coming up, coming up. So we're all going through stories that we just don't know the ending most of time. And that's also true in life. It's like, we could sit there and have this great, you know, wonderful conversation and this and then it's like, Did you hear what Oh, do you mean? The COVID? Oh, no, not Alex. So it's like, yeah, immediately afterwards, somehow, he went out, a plane up and a plane dropped from the sky, or anything. And that's the thing is we don't know the end of the story. And that that is what life is. So as storytellers we're making up how we think the story is, but there is no ending. Because the biggest lie a storyteller tells is, and this is what said, you remember, as a child, what we heard was, and they lived happily ever after. Well, that's a lie. Because I saw OJ Simpson one time as a kid. I remember seeing OJ Simpson go out. Wow, he's with this blonde woman and like, I was like, impressed. I think it was a was a I think it was a busboy or something.

Alex Ferrari 41:15
He did the Naked Gun movies. I mean, he writes to me, you're like, Oh, my

Rick Najera 41:19
God. Now cut two years later, he's in a white Bronco going down the freeway in a slow chase and then stop there. And they lived happily ever after. Yeah, is it happening? So it doesn't we don't live happily ever after. So storytelling is a continual evolution of a human life. From before and after. And so that's why you know, stories are so you can take a story like Breaking Bad and go to the prequels or go to the sequel or go this is still a story, but there are every story has a beginning, middle and end. But the end is there will be no end. It continues until somehow. I mean, you look at the greatest books are. Our stories are never ending. You know, in fact, there was a movie called The never ending story.

Alex Ferrari 42:05
There was three of them, apparently. Three of them. I only saw the first and second I didn't even know there was a third

Rick Najera 42:12
gear. Is this true Hollywood. It's a never ending story. There's always a different way to tell the story. It's like, how many it's like you started noticing your older when you go. Oh, that's the remake? What?

Alex Ferrari 42:23
Oh, tell me about it. Are you kidding me? Yeah, as you start looking at like, how many Batman like I remember when Batman 89 showed up. And it was the biggest event of the year. I mean, 89 was an amazing was an amazing year for movies. And now what is there been like? 15 Batman's?

Rick Najera 42:41
Like Batman online. It's it's there's a guy who plays Batman, which is the voice. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He's scares his wife.

Alex Ferrari 42:49
Oh, that meant that bad dad bad that.

Rick Najera 42:51
Yeah, yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 42:52
he's so good. It's so good. So

Rick Najera 42:54
many versions of Batman and then you kind of look any go. There's only so many versions of stories, you know, me with basic structures beginning, middle and end. And then you go, whose eyes are we swatching the story through? Are we watching it from the Father, the Son, the daughter, who's who have worked my entrance in the story. So stories as complex as they are really are, are very simple. You know, we learned them as kids and we need that completion. We need to feel that completion, like yeah, you fought, you know, like Alfred Hitchcock, when he's doing vertigo, and the man is standing there, he's conquered. You know. Jimmy Stewart has conquered his fear to be on top of that ledge. And you go, wow, that moment, but you know, there's a story after that he has to go down the down, walk down the stairs, call his office tells us you know, this is what happened, explain it fill out paperwork, then he has to go home, got to serve himself a drink. And later on he dies but his son takes up the mantle v you know, so it is This is what life is we're a neverending story and as as writers and people are telling people's story that we recognize and we hope they recognize it too. And nothing like the holidays is a family story that just happens to be Latino.

Alex Ferrari 44:15
Right, exactly. Now, you've done a lot of acting and writing in your life. What do you enjoy doing more?

Rick Najera 44:23
I like acting more for one reason this difference here's here's a difference acting omission hair ready for you on the set. Now, here's writing. This is a piece of crap. What are you talking about? We made it das Dogen is dead. He's not available. Guys in rehab. You got to write it for this person. What is going on with you? I said you're talented.

Alex Ferrari 44:47
I mean, this is supposed to be a positive show about writing. So I'm not sure No, no, it's

Rick Najera 44:53
positively miserable.

Alex Ferrari 44:54
And no, no. It's it's, it is I'm actually one of the more honest shows about the film industry that there is on on in podcasting. So I'm very real and raw about it. But what you just said is not wrong.

Rick Najera 45:10
No, no, it's not wrong. Because yeah, I remember being in living color. It was a very classy example. I was wearing sweats looking like, just the worst homeless person you could imagine. been writing for days. And I remember seeing this actor hidden under five, Michelle did one line. And he was like, there's all these women around me. He's talking and everybody's yeah, I've done this. I've done this. And, and me is like, a coffee. I need coffee. It's what are you doing in line? I just need food, you know, and they were totally different being treated. And so when I would act, it's it's just how well they treat actors is such difference, you know, a writer unless you're a major showrunner. You might be treated a certain way. But on the whole, they just, you know, the, the writers are the guys that were getting beat up in high school. You know, they were the ones who went to Comic Con and came back and told all their friends and things like that. I didn't sit that form of writer I tended to be much more street. I grew up with tough people and situations where and that's one thing about being a Latino is literally like, just in living color. Remember, Salma Hayek came to visit me one day and all the all the male writers who, you know, totally lost lost their mouth. Oh my God, look who's visiting you. You know, and she wasn't even famous this point. I took her Danny's actually. And we had lunch at Denny's and

Alex Ferrari 46:39
I came this is pretty this is pretty Desperado. Well,

Rick Najera 46:43
big time pre Desperado. She just flown into LA. She'd been maybe three months in LA.

Alex Ferrari 46:48
So the year a year a year away. Like that's probably like, she was like 9495 When she did that was like yeah, it was like 9392 I think it was sure she was Fresh Off the Boat Fresh Off the

Rick Najera 47:00
Boat. And here's an ironically, I'm talking to you know, Jennifer Lopez monitor lunch knob cool. Okay, I'm going to lunch. What are you gonna do? I'm gonna meet the guy. I just Latino called me up and she wants to meet me. Because some of Latino writers how rare we were. And she, I took her to Denny's gutter. You know, I got the Grand Slam, obviously.

Alex Ferrari 47:23
I mean, you want to treat them all right. So

Rick Najera 47:25
you're right. No, I just told her. I said, Look, I have one hour and Denny's is right next door to Denny's. Get guests on Denny's. Denny's. You know, a $2 biscuit too. And so I took her there. And we were talking she said, you know, you confuse me, you're a writer, you're an actor, you do everything. And I try to explain to her that she came from the world of Televisa, right? Where you were an actor, and you're a writer, and you're a director and all these different things. And I'm like, as a Latina, as a Latino in Hollywood, you have to do everything you just need to do because you, you always have to remain relevant. You always have to be doing something. And you always have to have something to say. And to do that to be fresh and be relevant. To talk you. You've got to be out. You got to be out and about. And I would luckily as a stand up or as a comic, when I'd go out and do stand up comedy. You're out normally. But once I got married, it was difficult to do that. I became a dad, I did a Showtime special called diary of the dad man, which was about becoming a dad. You know, it was a unique thing because I did not want to be a dad. You know, I've told my kids that many times. bargain with them. I did not want you I didn't even want you here didn't even want you. You are a mistake.

Alex Ferrari 48:46
On fact that one night of the kealan leuco came out you were

Rick Najera 48:51
right on your mother. No, it was you know, I I tell him joking. Of course the church did. I did not you know it, but men, you know, especially Latino men, we weren't necessarily taught, we were taught to work, you know, you're gonna work and you brought and never see your kids. But you better bring home money and you better do all these different things. That was your idea. You know, you don't see little boys playing with dolls going someday I'm gonna hold the doll like this in my hands and rockets asleep. And no, we're not. We're not trained that way. So, for me having spent so many years in the business and and it was it was um, you know, it's like, I can't believe I just got married, you know, and I am and she got pregnant right away. And literally right away. I mean, she told me she's like, it'll take me years to get pregnant. Of course, in vitro, most of my friends are doing in vitro. And I'm like, now here, I'm Mexican. There's one thing our people do extremely well. Pregnancy naturally,

Alex Ferrari 49:55
so you brush you brushed your shoulder against terrorism. That was I looked

Rick Najera 49:58
at her you know? look better and it was done. It was it was like, you know, I was ugly

Alex Ferrari 50:04
using the force and using the Force use the force. There you go. You're pregnant. You're pregnant at this point.

Rick Najera 50:11
So she got pregnant. And the kids right away. We have three. So you're still married? So, you know that's in Hollywood.

Alex Ferrari 50:21
That's a that's a that's a success in Hollywood.

Rick Najera 50:23
Well, I it was our 18th year anniversary. But I

Alex Ferrari 50:27
mean, you're so let's, let's put, let's just clarify for everybody listening. What a miracle it is that you're still married. You're in Hollywood, and you're a stand up. Yeah. And, and a stand up and a performer and a writer. So I mean, you really are you are an anomaly, sir. Because I know I've known many a stand up in my life, and worked with many and it's, they are very interesting souls.

Rick Najera 50:51
Well, the thing was stand ups. You know, it is it's a rowdy world. There's there's not no two ways about it. It's just a very rowdy drink, talk hang out, world, you know, it's like and that's, that's a unique thing. You know, that was really kind of kind of straight, I think. But you know, women don't ever give you extra points for that. They don't go so amazing. You know, it's like he expected and that's, and I think it is so yeah, we've been married 18 years and being married in Hollywood is probably the real toughest job. Not only but you

Alex Ferrari 51:25
So you started off as you started off as a stand up. First.

Rick Najera 51:29
I did. Well, I started off as an actor. I was an actor. I did. You know, I mean, every cop drama, Hill Street Blues, I'm at my age myself. But I was like the last year of Hill Street Blues that

Alex Ferrari 51:41
wasn't that shot in black and white. And it was like that invite by Gunsmoke.

Rick Najera 51:44
He was next to Gunsmoke set. I remember that. And and they were talking about a show called Gilligan's Island. They didn't do it years later. And I it was I did the Spanish version, Gilberto silent where we would go back to you'll hear something that sounds funny shirts getting cross what's going on?

Alex Ferrari 52:08
You're just too soon. Too soon. Too soon. Too soon, too soon.

Rick Najera 52:12
Yeah, it was. You know, I mean, you it was a it was unique in Hollywood, that, you know, it's actually I mean, in a weird way. It's tragic. Yeah. All it is, you know, you go and you say, my father was in Vietnam, and World War Two. And how many world war two movies ever seen a Latino? And then you go and how many do you see in Vietnam? Vietnam. I think the platoon has, has a camera pan and have a guy with a Virgin of Guadalupe, you know, statue or something? I think that was it. Anyone? Oh, they represents every single Latino that that went through Vietnam and, and did that whereas my family actually did it. So I saw how Hollywood never told her stories. What Diaz became my, my passion was a teller stories.

Alex Ferrari 53:02
Did you ever see the movie Hollywood shuffle? Yeah, no, I

Rick Najera 53:06
worked with Robert Townsend. I looked at his TV show.

Alex Ferrari 53:09
Right. So Robert, I mean, I and I, and I've said this on the show multiple times. I think he's, he doesn't get the credit he deserves because he before he was like, before that whole I'm gonna go do my movie on a credit card thing of the 90s and clerks and, and then by the Archie and that whole thing. He did it first. He and he did it in 87. I remember because I was working at a video store at the time. So I remember it,

Rick Najera 53:34
where it was rare things you hear? Yes, I

Alex Ferrari 53:37
was. I was working on a video so that time,

Rick Najera 53:39
and I remember, he's gonna bring back video. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 53:43
And he made that movie specifically because he was exactly what you're talking about in the Latino experience he was talking about in the black experience, which was Hollywood wasn't telling him a story. They're gonna tell you you're gonna be the slave or you're going to be the gangster or are you going to be this? And he there's this great skit in Hollywood shuffle where he's, he's like a duly like a Juilliard trained actor. And he's talking with a British accent. And he has a whole bunch of African Americans who are speaking British. And then all of a sudden, you have, like, the whitest guy in the world going Nah, man. When you talk jive, you got to talk like this. And you see them trying to train the African Americans how to talk gangster and so it's just so it was such a spear into Hollywood. It's so wonderful. It was

Rick Najera 54:26
so true. I remember that. Yeah, I was in. I was doing general hospital as an actor on General Hospital. And I played one from the Biscayne islands. And this has been me years ago. I'll tell you how long ago was I was I was at you know, Latino Golan kind of character. Okay. Oh, Monica. Poor traveler helped me Monique. So I thought

Alex Ferrari 54:47
this is this Armando Bondi. So Ricardo Montalban stop.

Rick Najera 54:50
I wrote for the guy new Ricardo my

Alex Ferrari 54:51
work with all these beautiful you know, everybody, you know, do you know?

Rick Najera 54:55
I do and I don't want to.

Alex Ferrari 54:58
Have you worked with Robert did you ever work with Robert,

Rick Najera 55:00
I met Robert Robert came to live in color and I brought him to I toured around and live in color. And he invited me to his his movie. And I saw as I went to the screening of it it or yeah, oh, yeah, he didn't know anyone in Hollywood. And I was like, Hey, you're Mexican, Latino, I am doing live in color. Please come by, I'd love to show you around. And that's how you do it. You'd actually call people up and say, Hey, man, I hear you're Latino. I'm letting them do alright, cool man. Want to come by are? It was it was a very much a feeling of helping one another. I don't think that is just now. But the time it was, there was Paul Rodriguez. And

Alex Ferrari 55:41
there was there was not many men. I know George

Rick Najera 55:43
Lopez. I knew George you know, we all knew each other coming up. So, you know, it's very much a small world where you said, you know, every buddy, you just call people up. I mean, you just you just did. So Robert, and guys like that. And George and so we were very rare. But before us came, you know, Ricardo Montalban. I remember working for him and writing him a speech for some, you know, theatrical event, and, and I was like, I felt like a kid. I was at his house. Beautiful house. And he was like, Ricky, Ricky, no, no, no. Ricky. What about he called me Ricky. I mean, that's how that's but as a Latino, we understood he was the adult he was the the man. So we had a great deal of respect for him. I mean, Eddie almost is my neighbor. So

Alex Ferrari 56:33
I've met Eddie's, Eddie's wonderful man. And he's wonderful

Rick Najera 56:38
guy. Yes. The guy's like, he's like family, just saying. I mean, I love the guy.

Alex Ferrari 56:43
Yeah. I said, I sat down with him talking. I had lunch with him once and I was talking to him about Miami Vice. And he was like, Oh, let me tell you about my advice. And he'll just go into this whole, like, all the backstories. Like, yeah, the other guy when I replaced them after three episodes, and then Don Johnson came in, and I set him straight, like day one. And that was the end of that. And like, he just started talking to all this stuff. And he was, he is so cool. And Blade Runner and all that. I mean, he's just, he's at

Rick Najera 57:07
all of us. He season. He's a legend. And that's, that's the thing is like, that's the part of Hollywood, like, we're people that, you know, like, got to work with Cheech Moran, he directed me on Broadway. He's amazing. And my other show Latino thought makers, right? Interview these these celebrities, star. I think, for me, it fits my purpose in life, that I feel Latinos are the solution, never the problem. And if you get to know us, you'll realize that. So what Latino thought makers does, which I do that show is introduce people to Latinos in a different way to see us as the solution, not the problem. And what comedy does comedy opens door like, I worked on culture clash, which was at Fox, I was one of the writers on that show culture clash in living color, mad TV, I could go off comedy wise, it's pretty, it's a pretty good resume, you know, in terms of who I've worked with, and all that stuff. But those aren't the moments, the moments you remember, are the silliest moments in the world, just like when, at the end of the day, when you're in a studio, and everyone's putting away all the equipment, and now it's, it's getting to be sunset, and you feel you've been part of a dream factory. You've done something. Those are the moments I remember, I just go that's such a beautiful, they taught the Martini shot. No, no, those are moments where you go, yeah, it's worth it. All the pains worth it. Yeah. And it's it. I remember that because I saw I remember, as a kid, I saw movies, black and white film, and the guys is that he's an actor, and his whole life has been every time he's about to make it. It gets he gets drafted to the Korean War. So he cut to just 50,000 Koreans coming toward my Chinese. He said, machine gun, shooting it and all these, I mean, just everything. Finally he gets the big roll of his life. And he's about to walk on stage. And someone turns them goes, is it worth it? And he looks at me goes, yeah, it's worth it. And this is after 50,000, Chinese, all these things, all the stuff he's gone through. And he goes, it's worth it. And I think that's what it is, is that when you do it, and it's we share a love for something that is hard for other people understand it's tangible. We love the business of making up stories.

Alex Ferrari 59:27
And but isn't it insane? But that's the insanity of this. This whole thing I've been saying for a long time that it's it's an illness. It's like once you get once you get bitten by this, it's in your bloodstream and it will never go away. It will flare up. It can be dormant for 20 years, but I'm talking I sometimes I talked to filmmakers who were like, Hey, I just turned 60 I'm retired. But what I really want to do is direct so what do I need to do and like and they were a doctor or something like that all their life? He's like, I really wish I would have gone down that road. But now I'm here and I want to do, it never goes away. Even I've, you know, I've been in this business 25 plus years now, and going in and out, and I've wanted to leave, because it got so difficult sometimes. And I literally just like, I can't take the pain anymore. And I would go for a minute and then I would come back, you know, and I'd always have one foot in or one foot. I never truly left it ever. You'd never

Rick Najera 1:00:29
truly retire. I always tell people because I every time I meet somebody, you know, they anyone who makes it announced that I'm retired. I'm not doing this anymore. They're always back the next year going okay, well, my God really bored. Alright. It's like just never say retired because it's not a, an occupation. It's a lifestyle. Yeah, when you sit down you say My lifestyle is being an artist, my lifestyle is creating my lifestyle is doing that. And I can do it through stage page or many different forms. And and this is just like us having this podcast and us talking. We're sharing a love for a craft or an industry. And you're not necessarily industry really for the craft for sure of it. And that's that's really what it is. We're sharing a love for something that we truly

Alex Ferrari 1:01:18
do love. Now what so what do you say to writers listening right now? And filmmakers for that matter? listening right now who are struggling to get their voice heard to get their thing out there to get their their work seen? Or? Or they're just going there? They're basically in the Korean War right now. And there's 50,000 Chinese coming at them. Or the enemy is coming at them? How, what kind of what's the words that you can say to them to keep them going? And to keep that dream going?

Rick Najera 1:01:51
Messy? It's actually it's, you know, I haven't thought about this for a while. So thank you for bringing this up. This is why I like talking about the industry with other people. You really kind of you think about Oh yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:00
you work it out. You work it out. Work it out. So

Rick Najera 1:02:02
the workout is this. Um, my father was a door to door salesman, man, he would go door to door and I when I do stand up, I give him an accent. The truth is he didn't have an accent but no, but it's funnier with an accent. When you're with an accent. I hate to say it, but it really was people. Because if I did with his regular voice we would like so your you said your dad's Mexican. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:23
Oh, hold on a second one I my friend. Yeah. Okay. Okay, now, I understand.

Rick Najera 1:02:30
So, but my father, you know, would tell me this story. And he was a member of Toastmasters and all Stephanie's book beautifully. He told me it, Rick, I really want you to speak beautifully. If you spoke beautifully, be very proud of you. So that's why I became a Shakespearean actor at the globe, my 17 I wanted to speak beautiful. So I studied Shakespeare and I memorized it and all that. So one day told me, you know, I was auditioning for something, I didn't get it. And he goes home. Okay, so that ain't good debt. And normally, I was, as I lived, grew up in San Diego. So I was working all the time. I mean, I was like, an actor that could work. And because the, the talent pool was less none. I mean, there's great people, but there was just more more. I didn't have to audition to get 50 people, the National Search and 2500 It'd be 15 people, 15 people, and I knew most of them not doing so I auditioned for a second city, improv Chicago. They're doing a special in San Diego. And they hired two unknown actors. You know, for the first callback, I didn't get it. They weren't sure when the second callback finally got it. I told my dad, I'm auditioning for this thing. And I didn't get it. Because what let me tell you story goes every day I go out and I knock on the door. And I say, I try to sell my things. He pots and pans he sold. Because then I go to another door. But around the 100 door. Finally someone says yes. You have to knock on a lot of doors. You hear no. Before you finally hear the one. Yes. And that was it. Knock on doors. So I went back to the audition. I got I got the role. And the other unknown actor in San Diego was Whoopi Goldberg. So why Whoopi Goldberg and I got a second city improv special together in San Diego. So that was a

Alex Ferrari 1:04:21
true story. So that's, that's pre Color Purple. So we talked 8483

Rick Najera 1:04:26
It was it was pre her one woman show. Oh, oh, wow. So it was there. I was a kid. I was like, What 17 or something? Yes. At the Old Globe, and then I had to audition. I think I just turned 18 And I felt she was speaking in a bars. You know, she's a full 72 The bad influence but she was but she told me what she taught me that improv is saying yes. And you know what acting is and writing and all this stuff is saying yes, to a dream. But you you know if you remember the star outriders hearing that it's remember, you have to hear a lot of nose before you hear. Yes. And once you get that mantra in your head, you will you know, and here's a second one. What you think is success may not be read your idea of successes. Oh, yes, absolutely. So that's a that's a lot of times, you know, cuz I, I, I struggle with it. You know, like, sometimes I'm like, I'm the biggest loser in the world on my Lord. You know? Sure I get to play on Broadway. But Lin Manuel Miranda.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:30
Wow. Well, it's always that there's always a bigger fish. There's always a bigger fish.

Rick Najera 1:05:34
Hamilton. Oh, I did 137 performance with an extension, the first one like that, while they were off Broadway, and they said, Hey, you could be Broadway. So it got people thinking that direction. But the man just nailed it. And so. So you start to get that comparison. You know, and I think about it. It's like, well, Whoopi Goldberg wired I Whoopi Goldberg,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:55
why did I win the Oscar for gold? Yeah,

Rick Najera 1:05:57
you know what I mean, to Jennifer's just a fly girl, what happened to me, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:02
but don't forget, look at what we've been where we are. Looking at some accomplished,

Rick Najera 1:06:09
you have to kind of look at it and go, you know, maybe success. To me, in the end, for my success in life has been my three children. That's it. If I looked and said, Look, if you go all your success in life that you've done, if your three children are your measure of success, then I'm a successful man. Now, if my measure of success was an Emmy, you know, I get a nomination. But if I got, once I get that me or if I got an Oscar or whatever. And you have to learn that your ideas, success is the process. It's the that's what life is life's a process, you wake up you, you try to find love, you try to keep love, once you find it, you try to you know, all these 1000 things of what our evolution isn't, you know, and I, I saw my relative Mike was much older now. And, and, you know, I gotta tell you, old age does not look pretty. It just looks like oh, man, this looks bad. But I've never heard them complain. I've heard them understand this is life, that they're happy when they wake up. And you know, and that's the word, their attitude is, you know, this is a good day. It's, it's if you stop comparing yourself to others, and compare yourself to you find and you find that happiness, then I think you're successful. Because in the end, the moments that truly make you a human being and can truly make you give back and what is our humanity is the love our kindness and how we you know, like you said earlier, don't be a jerk, because people remember, I constantly meet people every day that will walk up to me and they go, hey, you know, I work with you years ago, I always go was a jerk.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:57
That was that was a nice to you.

Rick Najera 1:07:59
And I've never heard anyone say I was bad. I've never heard that. You know, maybe because I'm asking him I look you're imposing and intimidating Batman, mask yourself. I'm simply, I add a simple rule was very much so of to judge a person by their character of how well they treat someone that can do absolutely nothing for them. Right? That's it. So if I walk on a set, or whatever it is, if I see a scar, someone else treating an intern or a PA or someone badly, that's my judgment of that person. But, but I gotta tell you, I've had so many actors and stars that I've met, that are truly nice people. Truly great people. You know, you know, I look at certain people and I go, they're a good person. And luckily, when I meet them, they tend to be I haven't been fooled that often. Where I go, Mother Teresa. Whoa, that was a surprise. She was rough man. Attitude.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:03
She still owes me 50 bucks.

Rick Najera 1:09:06
So close. I'm a miracle worker, watch this. Look, that's my leopard. Get away from the way I look at it, though.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:19
Yeah, that is wonderful. That's wonderful.

Rick Najera 1:09:23
If we fall in love with the process, and we enjoy it. That's the thing because, you know, you're constantly writing you're constantly doing stuff, you're constantly testing yourself and and it is a business that it's it's a beautiful art surrounded by a very ugly business. That's the reality. You know, that's, that's truly it. But then again, you know, some of the greatest stuff in our world can be bastardize or changed or you know, best intentions or whatever. You have to develop in yourself, your purpose. And once you find your purpose. And once you say this is my happiness is larger than you, then you giving it the best you can as long as you're grateful for little things, I mean, be grateful for you calling me up and putting me on your podcast and having a nice conversation. Being grateful for that, that's, I'm grateful for it. That's the thing to be grateful for you, you know that be grateful for the little things. And that way, when the big things come, you'll still use you haven't changed, you're still grateful.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:28
I'll tell you when I when I when I let go of that whole comparison thing. And, you know, it took me years before I got my first feature done. And I was capable of doing it 15 years ago, who could have shot I could have shot that was the dream is the dream is the feature the feature the feature. And but the thing was, I compared myself to Robert Quinton, because I came up in the 90s. So I was like, Oh, my first feature is got to be a mariachi, it's got to be reservoir die, it's got to be this big thing. And that pressure, the art can't handle that kind of pressure. Like it's not built to do that. So when I finally hit 40, and I was attached to another huge project, and that project fell through again. And I was just like, You know what, I can't do this anymore. I'm 40 I got it, I got to do it. And then within 30 days, I was shooting my feature with Julie. I called her up on my joke call your friends, we're gonna go make a movie. And we shot this kind of like improv, you know, Curb Your Enthusiasm, style, style, you know, you know, story about her loosely based on her life. Yeah. And we just did it. And but but I liked it. And I also never attached any outcome to it. And that's the other thing with art. Like, if you were like, I need to win the Oscar, you're never you're gonna you're setting yourself up to be miserable. It may

Rick Najera 1:11:37
not, you know, it may not be for you. You know, I mean, that's the thing is, is it. You know, if you if you as an artist, you believe there's a higher power because I think you have to as an artist, you have to me I know Ricky Gervais always talks about he's an atheist. But I think if you really broke it down, he would hope to believe there's a God and something great something, something, something that we all do. Because the truth is, we in the place of things in life, we need to have something we can look and go there's a reason we're here, there's some higher being that goes, there's a reason you're here. And we want to believe that because as artists, if you look at even the Bible, you know, I went to, I've read so many, you know, I went to seminary, very few people know that. So I it says, the beginning of Genesis says, Man, God created man in the image of God created, you know, basically, so you're creating the image of God, trust your creator was God. So God creates you, your wife, your children, wherever, in the image of this higher power. His act of creation, is what art is to create. And if we're in his reflection or her reflection, then we are creators itself. That is our natural thing to be as creative, be creative people. And so creation and be creativity is storytelling. And it may be done to a commercial, it may be done because I've cried over commercials when well done. Oh yeah. You know, you that to get haiku up in only 30 seconds or a minute. You're going to create this world that will will touch you, then that's beauty. I mean, think about it. So like I looked at and I remember you know I did want a character was Alejandra was a busboy that was a macho guy, all the women. He thought did a great character because I said I worked as a busboy. You know I was my only had three jobs in my lifetime there were not related to entertainment one was a busboy. It was so traumatic after three months that

Alex Ferrari 1:13:44
was a true a true artist. So

Rick Najera 1:13:48
that was my my my

Alex Ferrari 1:13:50
took dramas Iwo Jima.

Rick Najera 1:13:54
He asked me to bring water no ice out my foot. Remember that? Like it scarred me.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:59
It scarred me.

Rick Najera 1:14:02
Good. The waiters. And the busboys, were so confident. And I remember I'd see I saw a busboy in a 10 speed bike, drive up to a woman and start talking to her. And I'm thinking, you're on a 10 speed bike with no very little command to the language and you're going up to a woman go, Hey, how are you? Yeah, my name is Alejandra. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:23
how would you do? How do you do?

Rick Najera 1:14:27
It kind of attitude. And here, I'm like this educated, you know, there's been actor type, working as a busboy for three months, just scandalized by this. And I'm thinking that man's a happy man. Yep. He's honestly happy. And his whole life is happy and he's loves life and all stuff. Michael asked what you want to be. You want to be the person because every day, every you know, I nearly died a few years ago and I came back from a coal mine. I bought stuff and people are like, Oh my god, I wrote a book about it almost white And it was about a Hollywood but it really was about Saxon in my head. And so I came back. And I remember being in a coma and almost sort of voice of God going, you want to go back or you want to stay like a literal voice. I can't remember exactly what the accent sounded like, so I can't go. God was Puerto Rican.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:26
He sounded like, he sounded like Tony Montana. It's like, did you wanna go back? Or did you want to stay here?

Rick Najera 1:15:35
They don't like. But I remember hearing you want to go back and stay. And I said, I will I still have some things to do. And so I came back on my body. And I, you know, once you feel the pain in your body, like, oh, no, because I changed my mind, I'm going to have it. But I worked myself through and I just said, a simple mantra. This is about six years ago, I said, I will do no harm. And I will be kind. And that'll be compassion of is not not that I was a bad guy. I will do what I just said, I'll be grateful. I'll remember being grateful. And that's the thing. That's what you do so. So if you sit there you say, you know, because a lot of times, I'm sure I think I'm reading right? And me too, is it? We're in this business? And we're constantly going we've got to do this, you know, our ambition is always the ambition of Yeah, why should I get any more and more, or I want them to recognize me as the genius that I am. Well, I

Alex Ferrari 1:16:33
let that go while ago I the time. Now I'm just now. I mean, this is what he did he just become more liberal. Like, you know, I just look, I just want to be happy. I want to enjoy the process. Yeah, that's much more important to me than Bhaskar.

Rick Najera 1:16:50
I'm Harvey Feinstein, I just want to be loved. I look at and I go, I want to make the world a better place whenever I can. If not that, then thank God for the world that I've been given. You know, thank God for every little miracle. And you know, I think wasn't me says, Louis CK actually said this. And, you know, he said, you're 40 you're in a plane, 30,000 feet or whatever. It's a miracle. And you think about that, and I go, I mean, you right now on a podcast, I'm seeing you you're seeing me. It's a miracle. It is. We you know, as a kid, I'm watching three channels, three networks, you

Alex Ferrari 1:17:36
know, and when you hear that,

Rick Najera 1:17:39
yeah, or, or better yet, when I was grew up in San Diego, we heard the Mexican national anthem, because the the disc were over on the side of Mexico. So you sit there go, that was I Love Lucy, then that the Da da da, da, da da. Standing tall singing the Mexican national anthem. But I appreciate what you got. That's what I tell anyone that's listening about this business is that you appreciate every single moment. You appreciate everything. You guys the miracles all around you. If you think that way, then it doesn't matter whether you so called made or not. Yeah, you're making it. You're making it?

Alex Ferrari 1:18:20
Yeah, absolutely. Rick, I I appreciate you coming on the show. It's been it's been an absolute joy talking to you, sir. Where can people find you?

Rick Najera 1:18:29
Well, you can always check me out on on on Aaron America. It's on revolver podcasts on Apple and other stuff. And then check out Latino thought makers. I'm doing a show with Cornel West, Dr. Cornel West from Harvard law college, and that's going to happen January 28. And then I've got a if you check out my site, you'll I will have a class on writing that I'm doing with Sanjeev Chopra, Deepak Chopra's brother, and Jackie Ruiz who just quit publisher. So I'm constantly even with this COVID You know, you got to work and keep going, keep going. You got you got to work because if anything, I just look at and I go, I go. Newton, came up with his best theories during pandemic. Shakespeare wrote Lear during a pandemic. And even though we're in this time of pandemic, and I'm, like you, you know, said you watch the news, you go, Can it get any worse? I'm expecting Godzilla walking down any avenue and anything that happened,

Alex Ferrari 1:19:30
the Mole People should be taking over any moment. Yeah,

Rick Najera 1:19:33
you know, maybe I'm even thinking maybe that lizard people idea is true. I have no idea. I don't,

Alex Ferrari 1:19:38
I don't know. Hey, whatever, you never know.

Rick Najera 1:19:42
But if I can love my life, and be grateful, and and be kind to another person every day, and I said, that's, that's what we're gonna do. And if the greatest production of my kids then I'm fine with it.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:56
Rick, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend. Thank you so much for for what you're doing and continue continue making people laugh, man and making people think so I appreciate you, brother.

Rick Najera 1:20:05
Thank you. Great talking to me. Good. Consider your friend now for podcast brothers anytime.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. IFH Academy –  Get MASSIVE Deals starting Black Friday to Cyber Monday!
  2. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  3. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  4. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

Screenplays: FREE Download 2022-2023 Oscar Contenders UPDATED

UPDATED Nov 2022: If you want to be a screenwriter, you need to read a lot of screenplays. And if you are going to read film scripts might as well read some of this year’s best. Below is an active running list of 2022-2023 Oscar Contending Screenplays. I’ll be adding new screenplays as they become available, so check back often.

PLEASE NOTE: These screenplays are FREE and LEGAL to download for educational purposes. The studios will only keep them online throughout the awards season, so the clock is ticking. Enjoy. 

When you are done reading, take a listen to Apple’s #1 Screenwriting Podcast, The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, with guests like Oscar Winner Eric Roth, James V. HartDavid ChaseJohn AugustOliver Stone, and more.


2022-2023 Oscar Contending Screenplays

2021-2022 Oscar Contending Screenplays


2021 Oscar-Winning Screenplays

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

2020-2021 Oscar Contending Screenplays

WEBINAR INSTRUCTOR - DIALOGUE1

Want To Learn From Oscar® Winning & Blockbuster Screenwriters?

Learn from some the best screenwriters working in Hollywood today in this FREE three day video series.

2020 Oscar-Winning Screenplays

Parasite – (NEON) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Original Screenplay)
Jo Jo Rabbit – (Fox Searchlight) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Adapted Screenplay)

2020 Oscar Contending Screenplays

2019 Oscar Contending Screenplays

2018 Oscar Contending Screenplays

SHORTCODE - SCREENPLAYS

Want to read more screenplays by the best screenwriters working in Hollywod today?

The Bulletproof Screenwriting collection of screenplays are organized by screenwriter's & filmmaker's career for easy access.

Screenwriter’s Screenplay Collections

We started a new weekly series where we highlight a screenwriter and post a collection of most if not all of their work in one online resource. Sign up for our weekly newsletter above to get weekly updates sent to your inbox. Here are a few recent screenwriter collections:

I also decided to include a bonus area where you can download some of the best screenplays of the last few years. Over 175 screenplays in all. Happy reading!

Best of 2016 Screenplays

Best of 2015 Screenplays

Best of 2014 Screenplays

Best of 2013 Screenplays


BONUS: Oscar Nominated and Winning Screenplays

IFH 635: From DIY Filmmaking to Directing Studio Films with Matt Stawski

Matt Stawski is a Grammy-nominated filmmaker and director of Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Big City Adventure, an original feature-length Blue’s Clues & You! movie, premiering Nov. 18 exclusively on Paramount+. Marking Stawski’s first feature film, Blue’s Big City Adventure is a sing-and-dance-along musical spectacular for the whole family, featuring all-new songs and choreography with the show’s beloved hosts–Josh (Josh Dela Cruz), Steve (Steve Burns) and Joe (Donovan Patton)—and fan-favorite animated characters. The movie also features BD Wong, Ali Stroker, Taboo, Alex Winter, Phillipa Soo, and Steven Pasquale’s special star appearances.

On A trip to New York City, Josh and Blue get help from Steve and Joe, but a greedy man plots to make the Big Apple his own and he hasn’t learned to share, With Blue on the trail, She must go on an adventure and save her friends and NYC before it’s too late.

Born and raised in Detroit, Mich., Stawski began his career “borrowing” truckloads of gear from his local TV station and filming punk bands with his friends.  After attending Columbia College Chicago, he immediately moved to Los Angeles, where he began directing music videos full-time. From 2006-2019, he directed videos for a wide array of artists, including CeeLo Green’s epic video “F**K You,” which garnered Stawski a Grammy Award nomination; “Hey, Soul Sister” for Train, as well as Fall Out Boy, The Wanted, Ne-Yo, Paramore, Fifth Harmony, Snoop Dogg and more. During that time, Stawski also began working in television, filming pilots for Awesomeness and Nickelodeon.

Stawski is currently in development on an original horror film titled Monster Mash with Universal Pictures. In his free time, he gets lost in the Sierra mountains, practices close-up magic, and hosts a secret horror movie drive-in at an undisclosed location.

Enjoy my conversation with Matt Stawski.

Matt Stawski 0:00
Like we had all the dance figured out with, with the dancers. And this thing happened when we were playing the song on set and like people were like snapping their fingers and bobbing their heads and we're like, yo, let's just, let's really lean into the Little Shop of Horrors of it all. And even the background, you know, all the background actors that were sitting in the seats like they just like kept BB in their heads, almost like Betty Boop, you know, everyone's like moving to the beat.

Alex Ferrari 0:22
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book, Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show, Matt Stawski. How you doin, Matt?

Matt Stawski 0:36
Good. Thanks for having me. Alex, good to meet you.

Alex Ferrari 0:38
Thank you for thank you for coming on the show. Brother. I really appreciate it. You know, I was I get pitched on the show all the time for people to come on. And I heard your story of the DIY beginning of your career, just kind of like hustling it out, grinding it, doing these crazy music videos to get started and then all the way to where you're now where you directed your first feature for a studio. The Blue's Clues Spider Man far from a far from home? Or yeah, no way home version, which will get

Matt Stawski 1:09
Treatment oh my god, people. The internet is a great place sometimes, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:14
You know, sometimes sometimes it's a beautiful place sometimes. Every once in a while. It's it was well, so my first question is how and why God's green earth? Did you want to get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Matt Stawski 1:26
Oh, man. i Wow. Why did I want it? That's that's a question I've probably never been asked. I think I was just I was into it. Because like a lot of people, I was just making stupid short films with my friends, you know, were young, you know, running around the woods making horror movies, one wasn't called hacker was was like my first stupid or movie, I made my friend Mark. And then another reason was because I just had access to equipment. You know, my, my high school was a cousin on Warren, Michigan, and we had a radio station TV station. And we would, you know, the second half of your day, you know, your fourth, fifth and sixth hour, you just go to the radio station, it was like this red place where there's like stickers on all the walls and like my teacher and green hair. And we just got records from all the record labels, they would send to all the radio stations first. And we were like a high school station. We weren't even a college station. But we had access to all this red music. And that's where I learned how to edit by doing like radio dramas. So I did a lot of like audio editing. And I learned how to shoot local bands, because we would be able to rent out cameras, and we would just go shoot bands. So that's kind of how the music video thing started was was at my local like radio TV station. So I guess that yeah, that's beginning.

Alex Ferrari 2:44
That's how you got started in and put, I gotta imagine that the second you decided to go to being a filmmaker, that all the money came in, and you were living large and life was good. And it was everything was easy. You got yeses all the time. Right.

Matt Stawski 2:57
Oh, yeah. The I have to I'm trying to sell my fifth yacht because, you know, I gotta I gotta for the

Alex Ferrari 3:05
For tax reasons for tax purposes. I understand. I understand. I two souls my seven last week. It's fantastic.

Matt Stawski 3:13
Too many, you know,

Alex Ferrari 3:16
Too many Exactly. But when you got started, I gotta imagine during those early years, there was a lot of rejection. And a lot of just like not, you know, you're talking about doing music videos, which I'm assuming a lot were free at the beginning just to get your reel up. What did you do to keep going when that door just kept getting slammed in your face?

Matt Stawski 3:37
Yeah, that was I mean, I think when, when you're young, as long as like, I had Final Cut Pro. And I had my parents computer, you know, and friends and I we throw our money together. I mean, yeah, we borrowed gear from the school, you know, to shoot stuff. But we also bought like VX 1000s and VX 2000s. Like those skate video cameras. And as long as we had a camera and editing gear, we were able to, you know, I mean, yeah, the band and the label would be like, Hey, we got 500 bucks for a music video. I'm like, Cool. That's the guest to get to New York, you know, and that happened multiple times. But like, you know, at the time, like, I don't know, everything was cheaper. We were all I mean, high school, we're living at home, so I don't have any bills to pay. But when I got to college, you know, we were able to really stretch $1 You know, so we would shoot tons of stuff on like 500 or $1,000 budgets. I remember we got like our $7,000 budget and our mind was blown. For this video for this band called Evergreen terrorists. They're like this hardcore band from Florida. I'm still good friends with Josh James Susan that then he's actually getting into videography now and I'm kind of helping them with that but but we got 7000 bucks to shoot that in Detroit and we use all the money to get like a real Chapman dolly and like 16 millimeter, you know, camera, good lenses, some real lights and it was me and like two other guys and a makeup person and Hold it all up to the roof to this rooftop like 10 stores like literally at Chapman Dolly, a champion Dolly. And yeah, we had, we had like no no pas or grips or electricians or anything, we just did it all ourselves. And so it was, it was like, up until the point where I was like, actually doing music videos and record labels, I was still like wrapping up all the chords and putting all the lights away, you know, like everything you could do on a non union shoe. We're just used to it, you know, so we had tons of situations where, even though we were we, you know, you write a lot of treatments, and you get rejected a lot. But those treatments, those times, we did get the opportunities, even if the label had 500 bucks, you know, like, we just had to be creative. You know, we just had to learn how to shop in a fabric district and learn how to go to a party supply store and get confetti poppers, you know, and just like weird things to add production value to a video when you can't build sets and, and really like, you know, the city of Detroit, like just scout the city and find the cool alleys to shoot in and find the picturesque areas and shoot when the lighting is good. And all that stuff that you know the guerrilla filmmaking stuff, you just kind of learn on the fly, you know,

Alex Ferrari 6:08
I'll blow your mind because I'm I'm a bit older than you. So in the 90s and the 90s. I remember working on $300,000 budget music videos. With which low and third third string artists, not even the top. That's not That's not top level. That's not the Taylor Swift of their day. It was third string, they were the backup singers of the real people who were the label was trying to get out. I remember specifically, and I'm like, Dude, seriously, there was so much money. Yeah. Then Miami, no less in Miami. Now even in New York or LA in Miami.

Matt Stawski 6:44
Yeah. Where where you don't have access to like multiple rental houses and stuff. And that was I mean, I was I think that was the biggest budget I ever. I mean, I did a commercial that was bigger. But music video wise, like the Disney videos, videos, I did like the kid videos. Those were that was the budget and that was considered big like, well, it well, we could shoot two days instead of one, you know. But but but I mean, I yeah, I got into the game, right when I was just doing this, but a lot of the, you know, I heard a lot of stories from you know, a lot of Aedes and kind of lectures I worked with, you know, being on the set, like the Michael Jackson set where he didn't show up, and it was a foreign issue, and everyone got paid full rates. And they just said that, you know, kind of a thing. And now, so,

Alex Ferrari 7:27
So much money, it's so much money was coming on, right. It was insane. Well, I mean, also to be fair, I mean, everyone was still selling, you know, $20 CDs. Yeah. Yeah, there wasn't. It was a whole other different business model back then.

Matt Stawski 7:42
The checks where you get five cents, you know, residuals on Spotify and stuff, you know, like,

Alex Ferrari 7:49
It costs more to send the check than the check is worth. Yeah, yeah. So just send me a stamp. Send me a free stamp. Would you do that that are valuable? Yeah. So so when you were so you did a bunch of stuff, like, you know, like, and I did a bunch of that stuff, too, coming up as well, like doing these commercials and stuff like that, that wasn't getting paid? Well, when you first had a real client. And it was a big budget. When you walked on set. You had a real crew? Yeah. You know, and that was you're not wrapping cable anymore. Yeah. What did that feel like? Like, when you were in the first time you were in $100,000 Plus budget? You're like, Oh, God, this is real. Like, pressure. How did you deal with how do you feel on that day?

Matt Stawski 8:31
Yeah, you know, I can remember it too. It was it was like a follow up boy video in 2008. That I did. And, and that one was I think, like Pete once was dating Ashley Simpson. And I remember, there was like, paparazzi on set and like, you know, people doing a bat. Like, I think she had a reality TV show that was filming. There was like, all these cameras. And like, I don't know, you know, there was the MTV people and the BH one people and then our cameras. And so it was, it was intimidating, but but I do remember, like, Pete ones had my back, you know, he saw I did this Anthony green video that was really trippy with lots of animation. And that's the reason I was able to do follow up boy, because he he vouched for me, he's like, I want that I want that weird trippy animation style. And so you know, when the artists kind of, you know, has your back like that, all it takes is to sort of get a couple shots in the can and show the band, you know, and like, show them what it's going to look like. And when they sort of like how it looks, you just get that confidence boost. And then like the artist is going to they act a little wacky or on set, you know, and then they, you know, kind of give it their all and everyone sort of trusts you. So it's just, I think, I think early on though in that stage that I'm not gonna say fake it till you make it. But that sensibility does make sense. Like, you may feel like you, you know, there's some impostor syndrome for sure. But the I think the main thing about their acting that, that I've realized, like, in the last, I mean, I don't know pretty recently, maybe in the last five years is you just have to be the person in the room that knows the most about the thing you're doing. You know, if you're going to, you know, make a music video about whatever Detroit you just got to do your history and be able to tell all the executives all the, you know, record label people, artists like yo, Detroit, this isn't this, the spots are great. This is awesome. You know, you just have to, you know, do your research and know the most, you know, kind of a thing. So with music videos, it was all about pre production, just having insane storyboards, and references, and film clips and all this stuff. So when you're on set, you're showing the artists all this stuff, you know, I guess we didn't have iPads back then. But just flipping through via your laptop computer, and just showing the record label like, Okay, this guy knows he's got a vision. And he thought about this a lot. You know, I hated living. I think I had nightmares about, like, coming up with shots on the spot, you know? So, yes, it's intimidating. But if you just like, have tons of references with you, and like, really tell all your department heads exactly what you're going for. And then it's been that confidence kind of, you know, swells inside you.

Alex Ferrari 11:00
It's funny, the like, literally last week, my daughters were listening to a song. And they're like, what's the song? And there's like, then I don't get the data. I'm like, that's, that's CeeLo Green. And this is like, am I can we see the video? Like, I've never actually seen the video of this video. So I literally watched the CeeLo Green video, forget, like for four or five days ago. Not knowing that you directed it? Yeah. Oh, cool. Not knowing that you directed it. I just it just it was a happenstance. The universe has brought that to it. So now it's like it's fresh. In my mind. I just saw it like literally four days ago. And then I'm doing research and you're like, son of a heat directly. What was that CeeLo Green, because that was such a massive hit. First of all a green. I mean, so massive. Was that the thing that just took your career to another level?

Matt Stawski 11:55
It was for sure. I mean, that's the thing that got me representation. It got me an agent and a manager. You know that. You know, Eric Garfinkel and Britain Vizio and they're the ones that taught me the and the narrative industry, the film industry and got me reading scripts and all that so that that video was a big, a big help for me, for sure. And we didn't you know, it was the whole story behind that's really interesting, because I was working at refus TV, which is, you know, this woman, Kathy pelo runs that she also has a record label called Sargent house. And she's this like incredible, just punk rock woman that knows everyone she's like, knows the New York party scene. And she hung around with all these, I think she was a model back in the day, and she hung around with all these legends and she knew people in the theater and the Broadway world. And she was a commissioner for Atlantic Records as well. So when that track was, was kind of sent out, the song was called fuck you. And a lot of big name directors passed on it. Like I don't quote me, but I think like Mark Romanek and Spike Jones and Chris Cunningham, like all pass on that artsy room, you know? And she was like, well, we got like, a 60k budget, and we got to do this and one day and so I got to like write on it. And I just wrote that like Motown do copy treatment. And he loved it. So you know, enter, enter 16 hour day, you know, try to shoot this thing a candlelight Jack's up in the valley. And, and that's what like, kicked it all off. So it was a really good, like, I have to think Kathy pelo for that because, you know, a lot of people don't know, everyone's break is always a weird story like that, like it was right place at the right time, you know, kind of a thing because she happened to be the commissioner for that right for that video. And a lot of people happen to pass on it just because the song was obscene, you know, the title

Alex Ferrari 13:44
At the time until they did forget you which we need some radio play guys.

Matt Stawski 13:48
Yeah. And it just it had that viral thing because it was like an obscene title. But it was such a happy going do I? Like, like, you know, it sort of, you know, made fu this popular Mimi viral thing, you know, and so it's, it's, I always thought that was kind of fun. How that, that, that? That whole thing happened. It was it was quite the clip interest.

Alex Ferrari 14:11
It was it was what year was that? Was that? I mean, it was 2010. Exactly, because it still had a vibe. Because I remember the 90s when you had the MC G's of the world and the Michael Bay's of the world, were they using the cross processing and really vibrant colors. You had really vibrant colors in that I remember it wasn't gone like MC G Smash Mouth video was the day but it looked beautiful. And then you mixed in this whole like musical aspect to it, which was like, which is which was the sign of like, where you're going? Because this way you love musicals, and we'll talk about the musical side of you in a minute. But it was really, it didn't look complex in the sense of the budget. It wasn't it was one location essentially, and fluently. Wasn't that crazy? But it wasn't it wasn't expensive. budget it wasn't it was you did a lot with the money you had, and made it look really good. And one located basically one big look, or whatever.

Matt Stawski 15:08
Yeah, and we just like, it was one of those things where you just use the look, use the advantage of that location and neon lights and the colorful walls, and we just like saturated all the lights. And there was also something that happened to like, that was the first job I ever did with Lindsay incred. My choreographers and they did the blues movie too. And every music video in between, and we sort of like we had all the dance figured out with with the dancers. And this thing happened when we were playing the song on set, and like people were like snapping their fingers and bobbing their heads, and we're like, yo, let's just, let's really lean into the Little Shop of Horrors of it all. And even the background, you know, all the background actors that were sitting in the seats, like they just like kept bobbing their heads, almost like Betty Boop, you know, everyone's like moving to the beat. And that just added this, like, kind of funny, nostalgic touch to the whole thing. And I think everyone just loosened up and all the you know, all the people that were playing all the roles in the film and the different Seelos like, we're just real loose, and I think people were just vibing because it was a good song. You know, you don't always get like, a good song to times you have to do you know, I've done every kind of video, but that was just a great song. And I really loved it. So everyone was just bobbing their head the whole time. And it just we capture that energy, you know?

Alex Ferrari 16:17
And how did the town treat you after that? After that video? belle of the ball,

Matt Stawski 16:24
I booked I booked it good. You know, I kind of stepped up as far as music videos go. You know, and I was able to book a lot of jobs, and I was really riding that momentum. I think if I could go back in time, you know, I mean, I guess I, I would, I can't say I'd like change anything about my life. But I probably would try to use that momentum to push myself more towards narrative earlier, you know, because I, you know, I'm 37 now and, and I probably could have gotten into the narrative world a little bit earlier, but I just I just kept booking music videos for years. And that's kind of why I stalled on the narrative thing, because I was just working and Yeah, exactly. And you

Alex Ferrari 17:02
You got you got five yachts, brother, you gotta I mean, that's a lot to support.

Matt Stawski 17:06
Yeah, yeah. After the second yatch, I just had to keep doing the music videos, because the budgets got by yachts. I'm talking like the paper ones you fold up, you know? And, obviously, sir. So but yeah, I was I was booking some work after that. And it was cool. You know, it's a good feeling to do like eight music videos a year. I mean, I know some people like turnout 20 a year. But with all the post effects that I do, you know, I always do. It's like editing my own stuff. So eight was like keeping me really busy. And, and yeah, I was really busy after that, for sure.

Alex Ferrari 17:35
That's awesome. And now, we all as directors, there's always that day on set, that the entire worlds come crashing down around you. And you don't think you're going to make it you're not going to make it and arguably that's every day. But there's generally that one event that really stands out on a project. If you don't want to say the project, you don't have to say the project. But if it's a project, you could say say it, and what was that event? And how did you overcome it as a director?

Matt Stawski 17:59
Um, I have to say that that's only happened. I mean, yeah, we have tough days. And yeah, we have to like, you know, kill setups and weather happens and things like that. But like the toughest day it was this video I did for me it for me to the friend like me, it's a it was a Disney video, he was doing a cover of Bill and song. And it was just one of those days where the the setup for everything, we just didn't have enough money and enough people to light this location. And there was this big pole in the middle of our location. And it was so hard to move the camera around there and really tried to like, I mean, we at the end of the day, we pulled it off. But it was one of those days where we really ran out of time. And I had to like, kill half the shots, like literally half the shots. But, but they were the narrative shots and, and something and I mean, this is this is an interesting thing that happened. And this legitimately happened, we shot we shot nail against a wall for the performance stuff, you know, let them pretty just put like a blue color on the wall and let them all orange. And we shot a white medium close up. And that was like the performance coverage. He's an incredible performer. So it was like we had great stuff. And all that footage got corrupted in the cards or whatever. So the insurance for the production actually covered us they have another day of shooting. So we were able to get him on the stage and light him even better and getting better performances out and and no one was stressed out. So all that time that we didn't, you know, all the shots that we didn't get were able to get on the second day because a card was corrupted. And insurance actually covers that somehow, you know, I don't I don't know how that all works. But we got another day. So that was the most like that was one of the days where I realized like, wow, we're not gonna get it, you know, and the video looks cool, you know, his performance was incredible. It's all about him. So but I've never had I mean, I've heard those stories you know from you know, some Some more like season, you know, guys and gals that have worked with have, you know, the hurricane comes through and blows the, you know, the flags over and he stands flying and somebody got injured and there's like, you know, like, you know, people suing people and all that, like I've heard of that, you know before. I've never had like a nightmare day like that and I don't know maybe it's, it's a little bit of luck and a little just being prepared kind of a thing you know. But

Alex Ferrari 20:26
Listen, when I was putting my demo reel together, I shot 35. And I sent it up to do art, because I'll say it out loud. In New York, and they, the machine broke and burned out all my neg. For two of my spots for two of my out of the three spots. I did two of my spots gone. It was 20 25 grand out of my pocket, gone. And they're like, we'll do the new rolls again, for free. I'm like, Oh, really. And I was so young. I could have sued them. I should have done. I mean, I should have easily gotten because come on. So I had to go back and that's why my demo reel cost 50 grand but I lost it and I was better actually got back I got a better set of DPS. I did it. Same thing is you got to do it again. figured things out differently. It was an expensive lesson, but it was a lesson nevertheless. Imagine that.

Matt Stawski 21:13
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's, that's I mean, I can remember back times like heart like like hard drives have gotten corrupted and things like that. Turned are like the weather my generation, your generation. We've turned into like command safe people like I'm always hitting Command save commands, making double backups and triple backups and like sending a hard drive to my parents just so I know. In Michigan, there's a hard drive with the thing in case my house burns down, you know. So when that happens, you turn into a worrywart for sure, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 21:42
No, it's in I came up with when the first habits were coming up, and those things crashed all the time. So I became an opposite, opposite, opposite opposite. Constantly. It's it's a habit. Now I'm used to the new stuff that just kind of saves in the background constantly for

Matt Stawski 21:56
Everything, it's a whole different thing. So but oh my gosh, I still have all those hard drives. Do they just like every time I do big creative stuff, and it's like, I don't even think the power outlets work anymore. You know, like, but I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 22:11
I just, I just moved from LA to Austin last a year ago. And I did that had a box of FireWire. 400. Yeah, yeah. And I and it all worked. They all revved up and I just downloaded them all into a solid state drive and just started dumping them like I don't need this. I don't need that. And then just put nice drills in the holes.

Matt Stawski 22:33
Yeah. Just recycle them. Yeah, I drove home recently. My like, I had like some sixteenths and 35 I can't get rid of mine. Yes. And

Alex Ferrari 22:43
I couldn't get rid of it. Yeah, my closet right now. I can't 35 I got 35 16 Super Eight, and a kick in pockets of them buckets of these 35

Matt Stawski 22:53
Prop someday you need it to like, you know, the other

Alex Ferrari 22:56
day did the day I actually I just retransfer them all to 4k or 6k actually, because I did everything to standard def before. Because I was like, You know what, let me go back and take a look at some of that stuff. And I did I transferred. So but eventually I'm gonna have to go to have to.

Matt Stawski 23:12
Yeah. Because because, you know, our mansions don't have the space for them anymore. You know,

Alex Ferrari 23:18
Obviously, I mean, we have to say that that's in my West Palm Beach,

Matt Stawski 23:22
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 23:25
So another thing a lot of people don't talk about, especially filmmakers don't understand is the politics of a set. And musically, I I came up later in my life I was I joined a music video crew. And I did a lot of big music videos in the post side. And I was on set and you know, Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg, you know, ludicrous. All these kinds of people are coming up. And I saw the insanity. Yeah, it's insane, like insane on set with a music video set. But when you started getting onto these other sets that weren't, they were more professional, quote, unquote. And you had these older crew members who saw this kid? I gotta imagine you got some pushback. Did you deal? How did you deal with that?

Matt Stawski 24:13
Yeah, I mean, I My personality is I'm very passive. You know, I'm, I can say, if I'm, if I'm confrontational, it's as kind as I can possibly be. I know. I mean, I had to, I always knew I was the young guy on set, you know, and I think anyone's gonna deal with that if you're directing because, you know, you're always going to get crew guys that are, you know, little little older than you. But, you know, I can't think there's ever been any like conflict. Like I know, there were probably people. I mean, obviously, we'd had like our 18 hour days where you're pushing people to art and stuff. And I learned from really good producers not to do that early on because someone gets an accent on the way home that's You know, I only had I had a very short lived career as far as pushing people too hard and having long days. And I luckily I worked with some really good like, I worked with this guy, Mark Russell chef is his nickname. I don't know if you've ever read, he's an incredible ad. And he was big in the music video seemed like he worked with Hype Williams and Mark Lobeck Yeah, he was like Hope's guy for a while. And when I got to that, like budget range where I could afford them, you know, he was my ad, and he had my back. And he was one of the, you know, like, the best Aedes are the ones that can like, you know, kind of yell and get everyone to listen to him, but like, kill you with kindness at the same time, you know, like, kind of, like, when it's time to, like, get the shot, like, let's go. He's that guy. And he, he sort of taught me a lot that I know, and he always had my back on set. And I think that helped a lot with those situations, because he was a veteran. And so just like the directing department being sort of, like supportive like that, like, he was able to push back at any of that, you know, like, any credit smirks or anything that came from some of the older people on set. And, and I also, you know, like, if you can remember someone's name and shake their hands on, look him in the eye and compliment them, if some let you know of some lighting looks incredible. It's not just the DPS, the gaffer, you know, it's like, so it takes a village every time and, and as long as you, you know, really make sure everyone sees that their craft is, is seen and respected and that they're doing a good job. I think that that's like the key, you know, to, to sort of getting that respect even being younger, but I don't know, if there was anyone that was a little bit better, just because I was young, like, whatever, I don't care, you know, I'm too focused on this insane, where there's so many shots you gotta get, and you have this amount of time and the clients like looking over your shoulder, like there's too much other stuff to worry about, you know, so

Alex Ferrari 26:56
Gotcha. Yeah. So I mean, if you have a good if you have a good first ad, or do good DP to to kind of Yeah, to help you with that stuff. That's helpful. But sometimes you I mean, I had guys who literally just like, literally try to chop my legs off underneath from underneath me. While on set, it's a different certain things you just have to figure out. I mean, at what point at some someone I walked on center that I thought it was a PA UPM hadn't met me yet. And they're like, Alright, you go get the service go. And I'm like, Dude, I'm the director.

Matt Stawski 27:29
Yeah, that's happened to me recently, actually, because, like, I had a couple, like, like, our second ad was like, like, because I just, like T shirt and jeans because I'm there to work. You know, I'll be on my knees like, and I'll get my hands dirty. And all you know, it's like, he's like normally the directors I work with, like, show up like with a suit and tie and makeup and their crazy hair and all this and I'm like, yeah, man, I'm just like your to work. You know, it's the same mentality. Like, it doesn't matter if you're sitting like and I also like don't like to sit like I'm always trying to stand because that was like it musically a world it was like, you see a shot, you're gonna run over and talk to somebody and then like, you just can't be on your on your butt. You know, I haven't had that luxury yet, you know, so maybe in a commercial I sat because that's like the bottle.

Alex Ferrari 28:12
Oh, yeah. It's all about like, four hours on live in the frickin bottle. I mean, yeah. And the clients, they're like, you're like, just do just just do let me know when you want me to yell action.

Matt Stawski 28:22
Yeah. But when you got like, a million setups in, you know, no time to do it. Like you're just, you're running. And I think as long as I mean, in a lot of people see that too. They see how physical the job can be, too. So it's like, back from that too, you know? So

Alex Ferrari 28:40
That's, that is true, though. If this crew sees you busting ass, yeah. But if you're sitting on a recliner, with your coffee latte, you know, in their button. They're like, Hey, guys, I need you to lift that crane up. 10 stories amici up. They're not that you need to do it. But they just need to see that you're. You're a general man. You're a general running, running the unit. And yeah, and they got to see you moving and they got to see that you're into it. But if if there's pretension Oh man, it's hard. You lose. You lose your crew you lose everything.

Matt Stawski 29:13
Yeah, yeah. And that's like, that was a big part of do like I never like I was never like posing for photos or like, you know, like, oh, yeah, I'm doing the whole the whole thing like look at this set we built you know, like, you know, like now you just like, you get a shot you go you talk to the actors or artists first then you talk to your DP then you talk to your ad and then you you know, you make sure they know what to communicate to their team. And and you just you just go in order and whenever the you know, the record labels talking to you, everyone else needs to like, you know, their first obviously but but yeah, it's just it's just making sure if you communicate that I think you get that respect. Like if you're very clear, and there's no like question marks or people are confused as to what they're doing. You know, and even if people say you make if they see you make decisions like You know what we're running out of time we gotta cut this shot. Like, if you do stuff like that, too, they're like, Okay, he's not gonna, like run us into the ground like we're gonna get through the day, you know? So, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 30:11
So if there was a statement, if you can go back in time and tell your younger self at the beginning of this journey, one thing, what would that one thing be?

Matt Stawski 30:19
It would be shoot a short film way earlier. Because my agent and manager were like, were always telling me shoot a short film, do a short film, you know, you don't? Yeah. Yeah. And, and I was, I don't know, I think I wasn't like cocky when I was younger, but I definitely was like, Oh, I can just go straight from music videos to features, you know, like, did it Fincher did it? Exactly. Yeah. And, you know, my first short film I did was, like, you know, with with, that looked good was like, 2016 2017. And I should have done that way earlier. Because, and just like learning narrative, you know, like, I think, you know, I learned a great deal in school, I actually really liked college. But you learn the most from just watching movies, just putting on the criterion channel and watching old shit, you know, like, and that's, and that's sort of the best film school. So I think, I mean, I do like to watch a lot now. And I did watch a lot in college and stuff, but I think I would have I mean, I have friends that you know, 400 they watch four movies a year, you know, it's like, like, every night they watch the movie. And I think that's the best because that the influences from all those films is going to like, consciously or subconsciously make its way into your film. I think taking taking your references and style from old stuff is the best way to go. Because if you take it from new stuff, it's obvious like, Oh, they're ripping off euphoria. They're ripping off, you know, you know, whatever new, you know, Tarantino movie or whatever. But if you take for a while, Tarantino kicks from oil. So that's a big circle.

Alex Ferrari 31:48
It's a vicious. It's a vicious circle. Yeah. No, you're absolutely absolutely right. That's why like, you know, PT Anderson, stole a shot from Boogie Nights from I am Cuba, that no one had ever heard of, unless you had a criterion, LaserDisc of it, or your Martin Scorsese or friends or for Coppola, who produced it or released that. And everyone was like, this shots amazing. And I'm like, wait a minute, that's from I am Cuba. But it's such a great shot. And it's so beautiful.

Matt Stawski 32:14
You know, I saw that for the first time just recently, because I had never heard of it. and Cuba. Yeah. I saw that one shot and I was this like, what is this? Like it? Just how did they do it?

Alex Ferrari 32:28
Yeah, no. And the thing that they did was how they did the stuff we're talking about? 1950s Yeah. Technology. These Yeah. Tank of 35 millimeter cameras. I mean, the tanks weighing a ton. Yeah, they're flying them around. Like they're like an iPhone on a gimbal. Like, it's not I mean, just insane. And then from the seal from a rooftop down an elevator walking around into the water, like, mind blowing mind blown.

Matt Stawski 33:01
And that's why that's why the whole practical way is always the best like and I think people even people that swear by CGI, you're not just gonna good CGI for sure. And I I like certain amounts, but you subconsciously know it's not real. You know? But when you put that real practical thing there or the camera really, you know, like what in your auto does and what they did in what's top good? Oh, yeah. Even talking Yeah. So that three times in the theater because I was just like, I noticed really happening and kind and

Alex Ferrari 33:33
Can you imagine if that would have been CG? Can you imagine if that was just wouldn't have made the money? It wouldn't people will be like,

Matt Stawski 33:39
Alright, yeah, that's a really good example of something that everyone's gonna hear before they see that that it was all real, you know, so there's like a good I think I think films should definitely have campaigns behind them if they do pull off crazy practical things, you know, like, like, even what was that film that came out? Victoria the one shot was a film you know? They said like, yes, this actually is a one shot film. It's not like a Hitchcock floor ground pass that we're doing like we shot this. I think they did it three times. And the second time was the one they used or something like that, but that was a full they started at 2am and or 3am and the film ended at 5am and it's an actual one shot thing and I don't care who you are if you know that information before you see the film it's going to make the experience that like when the guy plays the piano or he catches the thing or they have the squibs and the guy gets shot like you just know like wow, this was all planned out you know and it's

Alex Ferrari 34:35
It's another experience like seeing the the 18 Wheeler flipping dark night you're just like yep, you can tell that's real like that's there's no seeds you can't CGI the way it looks the motion the things that cook it just too complicated. For it to look real the way they

Matt Stawski 34:53
Did they did they do a Jackie Chan on that and show the show it multiple times. I can't remember if it was like

Alex Ferrari 34:58
Oh you mean like what I I'm sure they did. I'm sure the edit was like that. But it once it left, it was there. And then I think they probably cheated a little bit as far as just the edits, but nothing was. And then I think boom, boom, boom, I think they probably dam the dam like three times, like the Jackie Chan style. But

Matt Stawski 35:17
Yeah, you think in the edit, they were like, oh my god we have 18 Incredible angles of this but we can only show like three you know like because they pride so many. I also, I mean, I can't remember this, but I thought I saw a viral video. Where did they shoot that during the day and they just colored it to be nice. I

Alex Ferrari 35:33
know. I think that wasn't the behind the scenes. At least the behind the scenes that I saw was done. Yeah. Yeah. So it was yeah, that would be too difficult. Day for Night is tough in general. Like yeah, to do something like that with the light. No.

Matt Stawski 35:47
I think maybe it's because like, I remember seeing somebody filming from their apartment. And it's like daytime, you know,

Alex Ferrari 35:51
Maybe it was the preppers I don't know, because they had you know, it wasn't I don't think it was a one or I think they I think they could do it more than once. But who knows. But now we're getting it now we're getting into some geeky film stuff. Yeah. So yeah, you want to filmmakers get together we started going down that road. Yeah, I am. Cuba turns into Chris Nolan real quick. Yeah. So so your your feature film debut? Is the new film blues big city adventure. Yes. How did the guy who directed fuck you? The Blue's Clues. You know, you know a big Paramount release? You know? How did that happen? How did you get involved in this movie, man?

Matt Stawski 36:38
I have to say it's it's i i worked with Brian Robins back in 2013. Brian Robins Sure. You know was head of Nickelodeon had Awesomeness TV he when when he was at Awesomeness TV. I did like a sort of Team musical thing with him called side effects. And I just stayed in touch with him over the years. He then eventually got me like an Aquafina commercial. And then I did like a pilot for Nickelodeon with them. And I think the the script was kind of sitting around for a while with Blue's Clues, you know, like they had always wanted to do it. And the timing was right, because, you know, Steve went viral last year. And as far as the CO viewing ship, a lot of the adults that grew up with Steve now have kids that are growing up with Josh. So I think from a just, like, promote, like a free promotion standpoint, like, like, if the parents are gonna watch it, the kids are gonna watch it, because you're gonna watch it, you know, just it worked out, the timing worked out. And Brian just called me and he was like, Hey, man, like, we got this thing. And it's a musical. And I was kind of in that musical because he gave me a lot of creative freedom. Like, obviously, I don't forever want to be in the kids space. I don't want to be in the preschool space. But I want to show like, hey, I can take something with a you know, like an indie budget, and stretch every dollar and make it look like three to four times more than what we really had. Because that's what we had to do in the music video world. And, you know, fingers crossed, I hope like, like, I know that like our movies coming out the same day as disenchanted. You know, the big Disney tentpole, whatever, you know, they pride 100 million bucks on that. And if we compete in the smallest degree with that on streaming, like to the smallest degree, we put a dent in that. And that's cool, because we did have, you know, yeah, it was it was like an indie budget, but it was still a lot of the ways and the techniques we used were, you know, ragtag DIY ways of doing things. And so I was, I was kind of like, I liked the challenge of it, I knew the brand was important and existed and I just had this, this, you know, the fact that I was going to be able to make colorful, beautiful musicals. And with the musical genre, it's fantasy, so you can break so many rules. And so we're gonna do a lot of fun stuff. As far as the fantasy of it all. I was I was game. And also like, I'm not rich. So I'm going to take every job I can get. Like, literally, that's part of it, too, like I was, I've never been able to pick and choose my jobs, you know, so it was on top of the fact that it's an incredible opportunity. Like, you gotta keep working. Because in this industry, if you become irrelevant, it's a hard Pat back. You always have to have something like cooking in the oven. You know,

Alex Ferrari 39:17
There's 400 there's 400 guys or gals right behind you waiting in the wings to take over? Yeah, what you left, whatever you left behind. Oh, look, what when you were coming up as a little bit different. It wasn't as much competition. Definitely. When I was coming up. It wasn't as much competition but now.

Matt Stawski 39:34
Yeah. Yeah. Because you can use I mean, the, you know, the, this camera looks incredible. Now, you can even do that fake depth of field thing too. So it's like, man,

Alex Ferrari 39:46
It's insane. It's you imagine if we had this cup technology? Well, we're coming up as kids.

Matt Stawski 39:53
It was especially music videos to you know.

Alex Ferrari 39:56
500 That's an extravagant budget.

Matt Stawski 39:58
Yeah, yeah. that it's funny that this kind of like, this has been a problem sometimes because, like, my choreographers will film dance. And they'll, they, they're also directors too. And they like to kind of test out what kind of camera moves could work with the dance, but they're using this. And when we get on set, I'm like, well, we can't move that fast. This is big Steadicam or it's a dolly or you know, whatever. So it's like, a lot of times, you know, you have to, like slow down when you're when you're rehearsing things, but, but yeah, it was, you know, it was also just like, what a big opportunity and I just couldn't pass it up. You know, and I love and I love Brian and Nickelodeon is great to my, my partner Nikki Lopez works for Nickelodeon, too. We just happen to both have projects in Nickelodeon, so it's definitely a good family there. For sure.

Alex Ferrari 40:47
Listen, one of my first jobs was working in Orlando, Florida, Nickelodeon studios. You're at the OG I was the Oh, I saw Brian many times walking behind on set. Yeah, cuz he was producing stuff back then using all that and yeah, I serve for a a for trivia that no one cares about. One of my first pa gigs was global guts. Oh, I was on I was a Spanish translator in global in global gusts. So they would bring in like the Spaniards and the South American kids and I would be the ones translating for them. And I was on set there. And it's Oh, it was it was amazing.

Matt Stawski 41:24
Correct. Yeah. The global guts was the glowing democratic, right. It was like,

Alex Ferrari 41:28
Right. Yeah, it was it was a little bit different. I never did. I never did guts. I did global guts. So it was just always the international kids coming in. And man, it was so much. I mean, that was we're talking what 96? Yeah, yeah, in the hayday. So I remember seeing Brian and I remember seeing Brian, you know, on head of a class when he was, ya know, back, back back back in the day. No, I I've watched his career man. And he's pretty, he's a pretty remarkable dude. Like, he really hustled up to the point where now he's running the studio gotta give it to,

Matt Stawski 41:59
And, and everything Nickelodeon did in the 90s was so cool. I mean, it's still it still is like a really cool, like, company that takes a lot of chances. But I was defined by that, you know, this the Ren and Stimpy slime, like Nick magazine, like all that it was so different than Disney, you know, because there was there was Disney and there was Nick. And as Nick kids grew up a little weird, you know, and

Alex Ferrari 42:22
I would agree with you on that, that. They would do that.

Matt Stawski 42:25
Yeah. Yeah, so

Alex Ferrari 42:28
So when you This is something I've always I love asking the director who does musical and I've never done a musical scene. I mean, I've done music videos, but that's different. You're talking like a musical scene? Hey, I'm just gonna bust out into song. We're gonna start dancing in the middle of Central Park. How the hell do you approach something like that? And let alone with CG characters on top of it?

Matt Stawski 42:50
Yeah, yeah. I mean, like, the, the, the mentality of the music video is still there. You know, like, there is still but I think the most important thing that the biggest difference is transitioning into it, you know, because you, I mean, obviously, the old MGM musicals, they would just be talking and then boom, and then they start singing. But I think like, nowadays, you kind of have to justify, you know, like, the MGM musicals. It was always there putting on a show, you know, so that's where the musicals came from. And then, you know, but but some musicals like, like, the umbrellas of show was that sherbert I can never say that word. They were just singing the whole time, kind of for no reason. You know, it just was a musical. You know. So our, this film was kind of that same thing where Josh was auditioning Broadway is the flavor. But our justification of the musical was always the sounds of New York, the things happening around you that sort of create a soundtrack if you really listen. So the build up to all the numbers was really important on this one. So that's why that transition into the first musical number he's like, it's all chaos. And there's cars honking and people you know, car squealing and people yelling out hotdogs, pretzels and all this stuff. And then he kind of slows down and closes his eyes and his hairs heartbeat you start hearing like, oh, like the taxi cabs are honking and rhythm and the bucket drummers are playing in rhythm. So using the sounds of New York, that was how we got in and out of these musical numbers. And that was the thing. Yeah. Yeah. Because he can't you know, if you just start singing, dancing, like that's fine, but it's so much cooler, if you like kind of transition into sort of justify what you're seeing on screen. Is is a story element that Yeah, yeah, exactly. So and the other the other differences kind of, you know, when you kind of cut the dialogue to and the timing of everything, and I mean, it's that that's an interesting thing, too, because you have to like have a metronome going. You know, and like practice the dialogue because if you're recording dialogue, like you can't have playback going so you have to really rehearse all the dialogue that is in between two sections, and we were doing a lot like the songs that we that we did play back on set or not I think like the songs we ended up with, and I remember like we we shot this one section twice that Josh did. And we liked him so much we just doubled up the chorus in post production and just like made it longer because he danced really good from these two different angles, you know, so there was a lot of frankensteining and post to and that like drove you know, Steph thank my incredible she produced all the music and wrote one of the songs happiness is magic. And I mean, our post production was insane and I definitely drove her crazy but she was such a trooper and we change the song so many times after the fact but you know, it's it's a lot of you know, you fall in love with shots and you just got to use them all so you change the song I think the transitions is the biggest difference because in a music video just starting song plays on the left so

Alex Ferrari 45:50
Now there's another aspect to this film that was really interesting. It's the Spider Man No Way Home effect, where all of the hosts from all generations came in through the multiverse no I'm joking, but all come in. That was probably a big of a deal to Blue's Clues fans as watching Spider Man, no way home for you. And I when we saw that were like, Oh my God, that's Toby. Yeah, that's Andrew. And they're all together. And I'm like, I get chills when I talk about this. Because it's such a geek. You just like, you start like tearing up. You're like, oh my god, I remember when I saw Toby a spider man. So I imagine the same thing happened with the Blue's Clues people, like, I'm sure the parents were like, Oh, my God, there is a shot. And there's this. So how, what was when you guys when you read the script, and all that was that whole thing, bringing that all together as a director.

Matt Stawski 46:45
I mean, I thought it was cool when I first read the script, but I didn't I didn't realize the impact because I didn't grow up with Steve I was you know, Steve came out and I was a little bit too old. So it was more like one of those things when, after the fact, you know, like not, not after we were shooting, but after I got on the project. And he did the whole viral thing and talk to the camera. I realized like it actually makes sense. He was such a I mean Blue's Clues the first time, you know, the character, looked at the camera, talk to it gave the kids time to react and talk back. This is interactive TV show thing was pretty revolutionary. And he meant a lot to a lot of kids, you know, and they're all 2530 now. And, you know, just when you look online, and all the comments that whenever you post something, I mean, people were like, Yo, you helped me get through this, you helped me deal with anxiety, you know, you just like you shaped my life when I was like when I was an outcast. And I just went watch Blue's Clues and felt like somebody was listening to me. And it's, I didn't realize how much of responsibility was to both myself and even him performing in the movie. You know, how many people love that guy and putting them all together? I mean, I by the time we were shooting, I was like, Yeah, this is important, because there's all the rules of Blue's Clues, you know, like, you have to make sure you talk to the camera at eye level, you don't look down at a kid you don't look up at a kid, you know, you're talking on their level. And Steve was teaching me a lot of that stuff, too. You know, before we were shooting because he directed a bunch of Blue's Clues as well. And you know, seeing them all together. It's it's it is that thing, you know, because I mean, in the theater when Spider Man happened and people were throwing popcorn in the air stream, couldn't even hear seen, because people were screaming, you know, and everyone knew it was coming. You know, it had to guide my girlfriend. I wanted miles miles to be in there somehow too. But maybe that'll happen.

Alex Ferrari 48:31
Next time next time, we don't get greedy. Don't get greedy. I know. We got the spider but it's a spider verse. Okay, come on.

Matt Stawski 48:39
But but you know, like with this one, too, you know, it's coming. But we really paid attention to like, building up their intros. And when the first time you see them and even like the comedy because they're also they're also different. Yeah, they all were hosts, but their, their sense of humor is and the fact that like, you know, Joe is still wearing a stupid purple pink shirt, you know, and he runs a presence store, but the rent is high. And it makes a joke about that, you know, and the fact that Steve is this bumbling detective that has this great heart, but you know, he needs a piece of a bar of soap to help them you know, find clothes and stuff. Like it's, it's just so funny and, and ridiculous. You know, and, and it's so heartwarming. I mean, these guys are incredible, the show is incredible. And it was great to be a part of that and see it all happen. And again, it was something where I read the script, I was like, this is cool, but then once you sit down and work with them, and see them all on set, you're like this is this is a big deal. It's like 25 years in the making. So I was glad to sort of lend, you know, my my point of view, you know, to that whole process.

Alex Ferrari 49:37
Now when is it coming out? And where can people see it?

Matt Stawski 49:41
It's November 18 on Paramount plus, and you know, I don't know if there's gonna be rocky or you know, Midnight showings of it, but I think a lot of fingers crossed that happens because there's a lot of silly stuff in the movie that you could you could throw a pretzel at the screen or you could like you know, toss salt over your shoulder or whatever. I I feel like there's a lot of that fun stuff, but, but yeah, it's November 18. And I think internationally, it's like November 19. And then it's gonna come out at some other some other countries in December but yeah, Paramount plus,

Alex Ferrari 50:11
I mean, if the whole thing goes to hell, man with your career, at least, you know, and 20 years you'll go to a convention. It's just this little sign some autographs. Yeah. So I mean, I mean, you're good. You're setting.

Matt Stawski 50:21
Yes, I will, I will get those residual autograph, whatever, you know, sounding a little Funko doll that Steve came out with and

Alex Ferrari 50:30
Now I'm gonna ask you a few I'm gonna ask you a few questions ask all my guests What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Matt Stawski 50:37
I'd say write and conceptualize what you know. You know just if you if you're obsessed with Christmas make a Christmas movie if you grew up in if you grew up in Chicago make a movie about Chicago if you know a certain neighborhood there write about that if it's your cultural background and you're and you're really invested in that just write what you know because when you pitch in a room and you know more than the executives about something, you know, they will genuinely want to hear that story. You know, if you make a movie about something you know about you know, it shows you know so if you know something from back like you can be the get you have to be the only person that can make that movie.

Alex Ferrari 51:14
Good. That's actually really good advice. What lesson would what lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Matt Stawski 51:22
Oh, gosh, more hours left on this now it's it's never worth it. I think I think on set it's never worth it to do anything that isn't safe. You know, there's always those awkward, there's all those there's those moments where like, obviously an A like there's so many people on set that don't want to do unsafe stuff, but you can sense when you're pushing something a little too much when a crew member is pushed a little too much when an actor's push too much. It's just never worth it like find a different solution because you don't want someone being too tired when the drive and home you don't want an actor to lose your respect. You don't want someone getting hurt. It's like it's just not worth it. Don't take chances with safety.

Alex Ferrari 52:02
Yeah, and I've had too many stunt guys come up to me and like I could I could be on fire like I don't ne