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

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 need Yeah, you're right. You need to you need to you need to. Have you ever met a stunt guy who didn't do that? All of them do it

Matt Stawski 52:13
Every single day because it's like, Hey, we're just suspending this guy from wires but they want the explosions, you know? So it's always like, oh,

Alex Ferrari 52:19
I need you to jump 10 feet. I could do it. 60 feet, and I could be on fire. Yeah, while there's a tiger chasing me. I'm like, Dude, I don't need no You need to relax. Every single suck I've ever met.

Matt Stawski 52:31
Oh, yeah. Oh my god. I live

Alex Ferrari 52:35
There the craziest day of the craziest carnies in our carnival. I mean, they are nuts. They are endless, best wonderful, wonderful, loving way. They are absolutely nuts and they make our films so much better. And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Matt Stawski 52:53
Okay, number one is going to be eight and a half Fellini, I'm obsessed with it, the whole thing feels like a dream. And it feels like looking at my own childhood even though it's a totally different culture. You know? Number two would be Natural Born Killers that thing just broke so many rules and all the all the formats they shot and how they shot it. And it's this like, awesome. Like Badlands love story, but updating and so 90s and it's I love that movie. And then man number three has got to be Clockwork Orange. It's just the I mean, I mean Kubrick I mean, every one of his movies can be in anyone's top 10 He was a director that made like the best horror movie all done the best warfare of all time. I mean, arguably, you know, the best drama of all time the best comedy, but Clockwork Orange is just I mean, it was my it has roots in my punk rock like high school upbringing. And that's just the movie we watched on repeat a million times.

Alex Ferrari 53:50
And you imagine releasing the first 20 minutes of Clockwork Orange in today's world?

Matt Stawski 53:57
I mean,

Alex Ferrari 54:00
How they how could they even do it then? And I'm watching I just watched it recently again, I'm like, his stuff is still so far gone so far out. Yeah, you could not release it. Can you imagine if a major studio released this?

Matt Stawski 54:16
Yeah, it's crazy too. Because everything that's like based off is really obscene and dirty and profane. You know books are always the dirtiest thing ever. You know? It doesn't matter how old it is like you could like you read it all Henry mo birthday like whoa, you know but you know that's where all the good movies come from is great books you know a lot of them do and so it's the the obscene will always be there. And let's hope the studios keep releasing it because they're the fun

Alex Ferrari 54:43
Matt man. It's been a pleasure talking to you, man. Continued success and congratulations on all the success you had and and thank you for bringing Blue's Clues to the new generation bringing all of them together, man. It's it's a lot of fun, man. So I appreciate you my friend.

Matt Stawski 54:56
Thank you for having me. Nice to meet you, Alex for sure.



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6 Filmmaking Techniques Alfred Hitchcock Used to Create Suspense

Although you may not have seen any of his movies (a situation which you seriously need to rectify), you’ve certainly heard the name, Alfred Hitchcock. He is recognized as one of the great minds of cinematographic history and is even hailed as the Master of Suspense.

Docu-series bringing the forgotten skills of Alfred Hitchcock to today’s pro filmmakers, film students, and the wannabe videographer. Experts examine each of the 20 episodes of television that Hitchcock himself directed.

WATCH Hitch20: Exploring Hitchcock’s 20 Works of TV on Indie Film Hustle TV

But what was it about this icon that made his movies such a huge success? What was the secret he used in creating suspense in his movies? How does Hitchcock manufacture suspense in his films?

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the methods Hitchcock employed in creating shock and suspense in his movies.

Before we can start analyzing how Hitchcock created suspense in his movies, let us first look at the difference between shock and suspense. To quote the man himself, he once said

“It is indispensable that the public is made aware of all the facts involved. Otherwise, there is no suspense.”

This means that with suspense, you are aware of what’s going to happen, but the anticipation is what makes it so nerve-racking. Whereas with shock, there’s no expectation of what’s to happen. In order words, you’re caught pants down.

Without going on much longer, let’s look at some of the ways Alfred Hitchcock has created suspense in his movies.

1. Hitchcock Leading Ladies

One of the more interesting techniques to create suspense Hitchcock employed was in his leading ladies. Other they were mostly blonde, they all went against most of the female stereotypes popular in the 1940s up to the 1960s.

While the most famous blondes of that era never appeared in his movies, there is no denying that his female leads were sexy in their right. Like most female leads, they were sexy but in a subtle way that combined fashion with fetishism.

They were also capable of mesmerizing their male counterparts who were most times handicapped either physically or psychologically. However, the women in Hitchcock’s movies were not just decorative pieces on the arms of their male leads; they were true lead characters.

This dynamic nature of his female leads and their willingness to take action (Madeline jumping off the church tower in Vertigo easily springs to mind) is probably what created suspense.

You never know what to expect. One minute you’re being seduced by a blond bombshell on screen and the next you see them jumping off towers.

2. Making Use of Subjectivity

Hitchcock often made use of subjectivity for a lot of voyeuristic purposes. Hitchcock’s characters had the uncanny ability to mimic the movie audience by a basic instinct to ogle an unassuming subject.

But this technique is not one of Hitchcock’s creations and in fact named Lev Kuleshov as his inspiration. This technique is known as “The Kuleshov Effect.”

By rhythmically repeating this technique, Hitchcock was able to cultivate suspense in a lot of his movies. He periodically switched from the ogler to the ogled which led to building the action.

What resulted from this was a feeling and anticipation of utter helplessness as you watch the character observe a dangerous situation unfold and you see he or she proved incapable of preventing the spectacle.

In the movie Rear Window, Hitchcock can build the suspense the audience feels by building the one felt by the character. This way the audience feels like they are one with the character or are sharing something personal and intimate together.

3. Information to Create Suspense

Hitchcock believed that information and suspense went hand in hand, he believed in showing the audience what the character was unaware of. If something was going to harm your character in the future, show it at the beginning scene.

Then you let the scene play like there’s nothing wrong. From time to time, remind the audience of the looming danger. This way you continuously build up the suspense level. Remember, the character is unaware of the coming danger.

One method Hitchcock used in increasing the suspense level was by having the camera playfully roam around looking for something or someone suspicious. This way, the audience not only feels like they’re involved in solving the mystery, but they also feel like they’re one step ahead of the character.


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4. Montage

Another method Hitchcock applied was in dividing action into a series of close-ups that were then shown in succession. This is a basic technique in cinematography. However, you should not make the mistake of thinking it is the same as throwing random shots together as you would see in a fight sequence.

This is a more subtle approach. First, Alfred Hitchcock starts with a close-up of a hand, then an arm, then you’ll see a face, followed by a gun falling to the floor, all of which are tied together to tell a story.

This allowed him to portray an event by showing different pieces of it and gaining control over the timing. You can also use this method to hide parts of an event from the audience so that their mind is engaged.

5. Keeping the Story Simple

The confusing and overly complex story requires the audience to memorize quite a bit. It’s hard to squeeze out suspense from stories like that. The key to Hitchcock’s raw energy in his movies is the simplistic linear stories he adopts.

They are usually easy for the audience to follow and grasp. Your screenplay should be streamlined, so it offers the highest dramatic impact.

Abstract stories tend to bore audiences. This is why Hitchcock mostly used crime stories that were filled with a lot of spies, assassinations, and people constantly running from the police. Plots like these aren’t necessary for all movies, but they are the easiest to play on fear.

6. Avoiding Cliché Character When You Create Suspense

Clichés are boring and easy to predict. When you create suspense the best characters are those with hard to predict personalities, make decisions on a whim instead of what is expected from the previous buildup. Audiences tend to find such characters much more realistic which makes it easier for something to happen to them.

What is a MacGuffin?

Many of you might have heard of the term “MacGuffin” floating out there in the ether, but what the is it? The answer is not that straightforward. Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock coined the phrase back in the days of his film 39 Steps and used it throughout his career.

When asked what a MacGuffin was Hitchcock told this story:

A man asks, “Well, what is a MacGuffin?” You say, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish highlands.” Man says, “But there are no lions in the Scottish highlands.” Then you say, “Then that’s no MacGuffin.”

According to Wikipedia:

In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or another motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a McGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot. The most common type of McGuffin is a person, place, or thing (such as money or an object of value). Other more abstract types include victory, glory, survival, power, love, or some unexplained driving force.

IFH 628: Confessions of a Hollywood Studio Test Screener with Terrence Martin

Terrence Martin is known for his films Holes (2003), Get Away If You Can (2022) and The Donner Party (2009).

His new filmGet Away If You Can” starring Dominique Braun, Terrence Martin and Ed Harris is about a troubled married couple hope that sailing across the open ocean might bring back the spark that’s been lost between them. But, their relationship is brought to the breaking point when one refuses to explore a mysterious deserted island.

Enjoy my conversation with Terrence Martin.

Terrence Martin 0:00
But it also taught me that people can love a film. But if it's not hitting the right marketing, or it's just not the timing that, you know, it can still not be a financial success.

Alex Ferrari 0:09
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 Terrence Martin man, how you doing Terrence?

Terrence Martin 0:24
Great, man. Thanks for having me. We love the show.

Alex Ferrari 0:27
Oh, thank you so much, man. Yeah, you've been telling me that you were you were a fan. And you've been listening to it. And it was kind of like a lifeline of like what's going on in the business while you were going through your opus of making a movie, an independent film for seven years and all that stuff, which we'll get to get into your to your new movie. But I'm glad I'm glad we could be a voice of reason. And scare the hell out of you as well, along with

Terrence Martin 0:51
Definitely hearing some of the other similar horror stories. And when you make something new, and you have your head down for seven years, when you come out the industry is completely different. So hearing from your guests, helped us avoid a lot of troubles as we sold our film.

Alex Ferrari 1:07
Awesome. Of course, of course. That's why we're here to doing that man. So how did you get first of all, why did you want to get into this insanity? And how did you get into this insanity that is the business?

Terrence Martin 1:16
Yeah, and I got bit by the creative bug really early. I grew up in like, blue collar town in Connecticut. This was not like the who's the boss, Connecticut. It was a pretty tough, a tough town. And I got into something they deemed the gifted program, right? Where they ship you off to another school with a few few people, which was like the worst thing you could call something at that time because all the other kids like resented you. But when I got to this special program, every week, the teacher said, Hey, what would you like to do? And I said, Well, I love storytelling, I love reading, I love movies. And she's like, go in that room and just write and I was I must have been in third grade. And I just started writing. And, and I would come back and the teacher would say now read it. So that to me and the class and and she would always say yeah, your stories are okay, but my peers, my friends would start asking me for these stories. So since third grade, I had a really great relationship with writing. And my cousin was in film school, she was much older than me, and she would then take her 16 millimeter camera, and we would make these fun little horror movies on the beach. Because, you know, it was the VHS generation. So I would skip school and come home with like a pile of movies. And, you know, I was really into horror films at the time. So it just was writing and filmmaking were pleasures for me at a young age. And I kind of stuck through through through college, I wanted to come straight out to LA at 18. But you know, parents are like, you're gonna get your degree, you know. So I went to a liberal arts school, and I was pretty miserable unless I was studying writing, filmmaking. And they allowed me to to finish here at UCLA campus, they were just starting this thing called the New York Film Academy in LA. And they let me do like, basically a half a semester as credits to take this program. And it was right on the UCLA campus and right after they went to you to Universal Studios, and they needed people to help with the summer program. And I got a job with them, which was basically just running all around the lot making short films with these like crazy high schoolers. So we would like be at the Psycho house one day making a film with one and one of my early students was Max Spielberg. So it was just like, crazy. Yeah, he didn't really love it had to love like Steven for filmmaking. But it was so crazy to be like teaching Spielberg son, you know, not really teaching just being a liaison for his short films. But it was a really cool. Yeah, it was fun, man. And it really taught me that I had a lot of work to do, because most of my other teaching assistants were straight out of UCLA, grad school. So here I am, like, hey, I'll help you get your film made. I'll read your scripts. And they were like, who are you? Man, you just came out of the New York Film Academy programs. So I realized straight off like this is going to be very competitive. And I better work hard, you know. So I just really started focusing on writing scripts and reading everything I could. I had already taken to Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey that was probably my favorite arc book about how the writing process should be. But then I just read everything, you know, put my nose to the grindstone and wrote 10 or 15 scripts and was lucky enough to have a manager take one out on the town. It didn't sell but it was the exact story of The Revenant. But told through the kids to the kids perspective, who was Jim Bridger, but it was that same strapping mission, which is like a famous mission. I remember going into two meetings. And just because they passed, I thought, well, if they're meeting I still have a chance to get this vague, you know, instead of just like cultivating a relationship, I would be trying to press you know, this mountain man script and I was meeting with this executive, she's like, Hey, you're really good with story. You're cool with characters, but we're working on Scooby Doo too. And I said, Can we call it Scooby don't make eyes rest. This American epic and her face was like, record stretch. And I thought, okay, like, I'm doing this all wrong.

Alex Ferrari 4:52
Like, why can we call it stupid?

Terrence Martin 4:56
I was making a silly joke, you know, but it was like, okay, Cool. Thanks for coming in for the meeting Terrance. We'll be in touch.

Alex Ferrari 5:04
So lesson for everyone listening, don't do what Taryn said.

Terrence Martin 5:09
But also realize like, I don't know that I want to be auditioning as a writer for Scooby Doo, like, I love the show as a kid, but I want to do my own stuff. And that's, that's when I started writing the Donner party, you know, which, which ultimately got me.

Alex Ferrari 5:21
So, so. So during this time, there was like a little, little side hustles you had to do in LA? To make a living, you've had some very interesting ones. Can you talk about your time as a test screener because test screenings, we all hear these legendary test screenings, like the airplane one, which was notoriously bad, because nobody wanted to admit that they liked it, or, you know, all these kind of movies that like the the ending of fatal attraction was changed because of the the test screening. So what tell us your adventures in the test screening phase and what actually goes on behind the curtain because I truly have never been, I've been in a test screening once or twice in my life, but I truly don't know how the studio's work within it and what the process is and who you know.

Terrence Martin 6:09
Sure. Well, I had, I had gone from the New York Film Academy and I knew that the summer program was ending, so I kind of just was walking around a lot and I got a PA job on holes, which is turned out to be kind of a hero to that generation was shot on the bus first movie, but man, it worked me I was a PA in the art department from start to finish. And I came out of that thinking, like, what kind of job can I do where I make my own hours, and I write and I don't know, if you ever living in LA, we see these guys like giving out free movie passes all the time. And the point that point is to rate the film. And I thought like, there can't be an easier sales job and get a person to see a movie. And it did turn out to be a lot harder than I thought. But it was still pretty easy. And it was really good money. Like if you put in the hours, you could work whenever you want, you could go to a cinema 12 at night and get people if that's what you felt like doing. And I liked the freedom of it. And they started to ship me off to other cities. So what would happen is you would get like a demographic you would say, hey, like I remember the ring was an early one, the first ring I went to San Diego and they wanted high school age, girls and boys. So we would go to high schools and we would talk to teachers and try to get like their perfect audience and then they would all fill out a questionnaire and the filmmakers get a score. Basically the main score is like how many people rated it very good or excellent. That's like the number one score because they can really say oh wow, we have a movie that super plays and then the other score is like how many people recommend it for sometimes the like it but they will recommend which can impact the box office. So I just went on this run for like four years of just a different city every Friday because basically if you're filling screenings they need you like they need people who are getting numbers just like any sales job. And we were killing it so I had this partner and we man we did the highest scoring movie just so people get an idea of like what studios really want was hitch Wilson it like I had never seen a movie score that high. I think it was like 99 or near 100 in both boxes and will and will snatch was at that screening and you just gave the scores to will and the director and their faces because they know how key the scores are to the studio and it's their faces just lit up like they won the Superbowl they were like, like that, like you can't get better than that like and the movie was a massive hit because it's such a such a crowd pleaser. You know, and I realized in the screenings when you make something just that pleases the crowd. It's a really special thing because the dramas even when they're good like Coen Brothers stuff, I don't know that they test so great because people need time to reflect you can't just put a paper in someone's face. Tall monkeys was one that didn't test well at all, but still had good critical acclaim and has now become a hit. But people didn't know what to make of it from the first moment. So it's not conducive to like saying, Yeah, I love this because you're just like, well, what the hell was that? I'm sure like 2001 You know, wouldn't test well either, even though it's a complete facet. Because Because these movies need more reflection. And probably the coolest thing I've ever seen in a test screening was I was working on Inglorious Basterds here in LA at the I forget what theater it was. But nobody had seen the film. And Quinton being who he was. And Harvey would generally bully when I worked for Harvey would generally bully filmmakers, he would use the scores to get to cut the movie he did. So quit and just took all the cards when they were done through the trash right in front of Harvey, and said I'm just going to talk to the audience about my film. And it was so great. It's so refreshing to see a filmmaker just so proud of his work. We can even want to see the scores. I mean, I wouldn't ever recommend this to a young filmmaker that has an opportunity. Unless your name is Alicia names. But yeah, but it was cool. Finally, a guy in the audience like had the courage to say hey, like, I don't know why you would use a David Bowie song in a period movie. And he goes because I'm the director and I love it. They're like, okay, cool. Okay, cool.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
Now, it's nice, but that's pretty fascinating. Now I've heard those stories. of Harvey during his heyday that he would bully filmmaker. I know studio 54 was a really big one. He just literally just took that away from the filmmaker and cut it up and made it into something that it really wasn't good. Later years later, the director got a chance to do a director's cut. But yeah, I've heard I'm imagine other studios and studio executives would use the test screening results to kind of bully or push around directors to get what they want. Right.

Terrence Martin 10:31
Yeah. And to be fair, sometimes the film's just not working. And right. Yeah. And they thought they had a crowd pleaser out. I thought they had a genre of film that scared people and it wouldn't work. So the directors would come in and recut it. I started work for Judd Apatow a lot. I did the first test screening of 40 Year Old Virgin. It was awesome. Because we were in 1000 oaks in the in the film broke. And there was only like 10 minutes left, like everything had been resolved. And everybody just stayed glued to their seats. And I remember I was sitting there, Seth Rogen, I said, man, like you are gonna be massive after this, because you could just feel it the energy, but John was really good because he's a comedy guy. So he could read the audience. And he could do a second test screening with a couple of key jokes and just tweak them in the editing room or reshoot something and then the crowd would explode. So for comedy I think test screening is like so essential even even on

Alex Ferrari 11:20
Even even on that level. But did you also see multiple test screenings on the same film so like you would see the original it tests bad they go back shoot, we had it come back and get like did you go through that process too?

Terrence Martin 11:35
Yeah, for for knocked up. I didn't test bad histones never tested that but but the ending was a boy, I think in the original in it. It was like addict joke. I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but I don't think Joe would mind. He's such a cool guy. And it was like you had so much that the whole whole movie that when you change it to a girl and he had the ability to read the screening and make that adjustment, and it just made you leave with this kind of like warm feeling not not just a joke. I thought that was pretty brilliant that he made that adjustment. And I saw that a lot with filmmakers that were open to the test screening and those were the filmmakers the studio's really wanted to work with because they they knew that their their their film could be changed and when a director was new and they were too married to it, I found like wow, like a lot of guys never worked again after a bad test screenings because they were they were inflexible with their with their film.

Alex Ferrari 12:28
You said you also worked on the departed, right?

Terrence Martin 12:31

Alex Ferrari 12:32
With with with a young and up and coming director at the time they Martin Scorsese, Marty, Marty, something like that. It's easy. So skeezy what was it? So I'd love to keep because he's legendary for being on our tour. Like, truly, you're not touching a frame of my movie. So what was a test screening of like a legend like that was? And was he in the room? Did you do it?

Terrence Martin 12:55
Yeah, that was exciting, man. Because of course, I'm a huge like, for me, like one of the tops like, I mean, he just he just hits home runs like that's what he does. So I was so excited. And we were in Chicago at this cool art house theater. But he had been so like, nervous about that. He told the projectionists not to start with film until he gave the okay, but nobody could find him. And it was my job to find him. So I'm running around the theater, looking through seats, all the lights are already down, like the movies ready to go. And then finally I find them and I get on the wire. And I'm like, Hey, I'm here with Martin. And the projection is it goes, Okay, cool. We can roll now. So he had already talked to his technicians and made sure like, on his command only to go. And the movie was almost exactly what what came on the final screen. There was there was a few key scenes where Jack Nicholson was really improvising that that I noticed were a bit shorter. And I thought that was a really smart move on his part. Because you could kind of feel like, Oh, this is great acting, but the story wasn't moving at the same pace that it was. And it was really interesting for me that he even he who is you know, such an artist. Yeah. And his his famous editor. Thelma was there so that was awesome, man.

Alex Ferrari 14:06
That was so so so so Jack, because I know in that movie, Jack Nicholson, he would kind of you know, I think you'd do a take or two or how many takes of the script and then Marty would go go nuts and see what and a lot of that did the improvised stuff did fall into the in the movie and it's such gold because it's Jack Nicholson

Terrence Martin 14:26
But if you saw that first cut before and like it was like that, like in a few companies with a couple of minutes extra which I love, but I realized like I mean he won the Oscar for that so he could feel you know, it's so interesting when when you're in the movie house, you can just kind of feel the energy dropping, you know, which is funny that I made such an art film get away if you can, because this movie would never test well if you like the movie, you don't make but I just needed maybe all that testing I needed to express myself in a in an artistic kind of way. You know

Alex Ferrari 14:59
What lessons did you learn from that test screening experience as a filmmaker yourself?

Terrence Martin 15:04
I think when I'm writing, and my hopes are to make a big bigger budget movie to really think of the audience, you know, like, really think of how you're making people feel if you're trying to scare them really get that right. Is it like you're writing for the audience in a way? You know, film is a business and these big budget movies need an audience. And it really taught me that the audience is unforgiving. Even with a free movie, they would leave often, you know, they would say, hey, this movie is not for me. And sometimes you'd be dealing with like a half a theater and you would realize like, these guys have spent millions and millions of dollars these are not small movies had made a complete flop. And, you know, if you're not thinking of the audience, there are certain budget levels, you can get away with art, right? But when you're doing these big films, man you need to deliver

Alex Ferrari 15:48
What was the worst screening of a big movie that you ever or you could say, I mean, like, test screening anymore.

Terrence Martin 16:00
It was a it was a DC comic that never got another one made. But I liked the filmmaker a lot. But it was like a true disaster. And it was his first feature. And he didn't want to make any other notes with the studio. And he never got he never got to do like they took a huge risk in hiring him. And did that movie get released that movie? Yeah, got released that got released. I'll just say it was a DC comic hero, not the main ones. But but it was quite sad because they put a lot in there was some innovative stuff with the sounds and the music, but it just didn't deliver in some of the effects teams were laughable. So the whole audience would laugh, and not a good way. And instead of cutting that, which they should have done, they left it in and it's just it really took people out because you know, if you don't deliver great CGI with these big tentpole movies, that's where people are judging the visuals, right? So it would have been so much smarter just to cut it out. But, you know, it was just, it was quite sad because he was about my age, and I just saw him just butting heads and I was like, this is not going to end well for this guy. You know?

Alex Ferrari 17:05
I mean, if you're Ridley Scott or Martin Scorsese, you can get away with that because you've already had decades of creating behind you but when you're first up man, you and you get a shot like that. Yeah, to play you got to play ball it's a balancing act where you need to protect your you know, your artistic and you know, artistic integrity, but at the end of the day, people are spending God God just hundreds, like 50 million 100 million dollars. Yeah.

Terrence Martin 17:35
This was and he had the audience telling him to like we do like overwhelmingly just seen as laughable cut it taken away but it just you know, sometimes the filmmakers stubbornness, like you like it, and you don't care that the whole world and maybe your careers never gonna get another shot like that. And

Alex Ferrari 17:53
Yeah, yeah, good. No, no, no, no, I feel bad. I feel bad. What did he say? What did he do?

Terrence Martin 17:58
He put on his battle hat. It wasn't at all like taking notes. It was just like, I am battling. And that's that. And, you know, we've never got a chance to make a big studio movie again.

Alex Ferrari 18:09
I mean, I feel so bad for the guys who did bad girl. I mean, that's, that's hurt. I'm like, even bad movies get dropped into streaming. Why would they don't have a shell of $100 million. And Michael Keaton was back for God's sakes. Man, like what is going on?

Terrence Martin 18:28
Even if it doesn't play? Like you have so many fans that are going to check it out? And comment on it and talk about it?

Alex Ferrari 18:35
Like they release cat woman when I mean, is it worse? Like how much worse can it be than cat woman? Or cats? Let's just put cats. How much worse get gonna be the cats for God's sakes. Yeah.

Terrence Martin 18:48
And you have like a thirsty film audience for it too. So even if it's bad, it's like you're gonna have people watching it. And that's the main thing was streaming because you want eyeballs and time. So that one thing prize me.

Alex Ferrari 18:59
I think they really actually if they decided right now they just say hey, you know what? We're putting it on HBO. Max. Do you know how many people would just watch it just that weekend?

Terrence Martin 19:07
All Twitter would just be talking about this.

Alex Ferrari 19:11
It would it would trend as the as the kids say Would it be trending? So is there a Do you have an insane story like that? Just like I can't believe this happened in one of these screenings.

Terrence Martin 19:22
Well, yeah, I mean, the Quinton was pretty awesome, because I was like, wow, someday to have that power as a creative force. But I had a really good one, which was kind of sad to what Denzel Washington he directed a movie called The Great Debaters and that scored really, really high. But at the same time, he had that movie where he was she was like a criminal kingpin coming up in American Gangster Yeah, totally. But he didn't drink that one. He was it was a really it was really really so all the energy of his directorial debut went to that film and even when I was testing it, everybody's like, No, I don't want to see that Denzel one. I want to see that crime one. So Even though that movie scored super high, audiences didn't come out for it. But I remember like working with, like, didn't sell a selection. And I had the cars and he's like, how much to make those all good. And I'm like, you don't need anything like they're wonderful, like people are really loving your film. But it also taught me that people can love a film. But if it's not hitting the right marketing, or it's just not the timing, that, you know, it can still not be a financial success, even with Denzel promoting it and and I don't think he actually he only directed it.

Alex Ferrari 20:30
No, I did. Did you? Did you also work with the academy in some way? I heard you say,

Terrence Martin 20:36
Yeah, I had a job of one of my early peers had a job right out of film school, like hosting talent coordination on the red carpet. So he would basically hire you as a page for the Oscars and the Emmys. And you would do it on Friday, and you would get like a program of the whole show. And you would see like, three celebrities that you are in charge of making sure they were on camera when they needed to be. And that would include like meeting them on the red carpet and greeting them and, you know, there's every every now and then there's like a person who doesn't show up when the nomination and that's that's my job, like somebody screwed up in my job because that's highly coordinated. So

Alex Ferrari 21:16
You shouldn't be in the bathroom is what you're saying.

Terrence Martin 21:19
Yeah, exactly. And they should know exactly Hey, your your awards coming up or you're presenting and to commercials, we take them to the green room or the or the producers really want you at the start of the show. And that was insane because I started that in my early 20s. And I remember early on, Russell Crowe was one of his first years and the Academy Awards. I forget if it was beautiful mind or, or what came first, but they really wanted him at the head of the show. But his publicist was having him do like, interview after interview and it's like, okay, like we're three minutes to go and they just say grab rustle. We don't even care if it's in an interview. So I, being a good employee just grabbed turns like he's gonna punch me in the face. And I was like, Oh, my God, like I'm about to get hit I max Maximus. Totally. I think this was maybe even free. Free Gladiator. But But he said, What do you want? And why are you bothering me? And I said, No, I worked for the for the show. Like, if you don't get your ass in the seat right away, you're gonna miss the whole opening of the show. And he's like, why don't you just tell me that right? Come on. And I ran him in Entertainment Weekly, the next day was a shot of him looking at me and you could see me in the corner like, like this, like really small. And it nobody knew the context of it, but it was really crazy. And but I that could have been like, I could have been that guy, you know that. Everybody would have been talking about that. The next day, Russell knocks out a page on the red carpet.

Alex Ferrari 22:42
So So in your new film, it's called getaway if you can tell me the journey of the seven year because you know, I'm all about filmmakers making their movies. And I know we're all nuts. You know, we're crazy. When you get to the seven year mark, at a certain point, you just gotta go is this is this really? Should I keep going? You know, did you did you finance the How did you re mortgage? refinance the house? Maybe first born? Like, what was it? What was the journey? Why did it take so long to get up and running?

Terrence Martin 23:16
Well, I had, you know, through all the screenwriting and nothing selling through managers taking my scripts out, I wrote a script about the Donner party in my mid 20s. I had this like stupid gold, I had to make a feature by 30. You know, like, of course, and I finally did with the Donner party. But instead of doing it on my own credit cards, I ended up taking other people's money who then had Final Cut. So basically, like, even though I put together a cast, we had Gary Oldman at one point wanting to do that movie, we had some really strong interest, but I gave up Final Cut. And I didn't know how dark a place that would take me to to see producers making choices. It's all subjective, but that I did not agree with it all and then have that movie, come out and sell the Showtime and it was an early stream or on Netflix. So it did get a platform. But I was really disheartened. I said, I'm never going to do that. Again. Even if a movie takes me 30 years. My next one is going to be 100%. And I fell in love. I found the love of my life with this woman, Dominique. And she She's like the kind of person that I would watch a movie with. And we both get annoyed with the same plot lines and get excited about the same movie. So I thought, hey, like our tastes really lines up. Like what if we just did a project together? Travel the world go to different islands. So it's not a total loss like the movie set mostly on this island off the coast of Chile, but we went to kawaii first we did like a year of scouting, you know, and even if I have to put my own finances and take a loss, we don't have any children at this point. Like it's gonna be a great life experience. And when we did the rough cut, it was just her and I and we submitted that seven years ago to Sundance and like right before, they made their announcements to get like 100 views. And we were like, Oh man, like Sundance is really considering our Vimeo link and then we got a letter from the head of At that time saying, hey, like you just missed it like, guys, like there's something here don't give up on this project. And we were like, okay, cool. Like I had, I had met Ed Harris to hear a potluck at the Academy Awards, and I knew I could get him that footage. So I said, Hey, like, what do you think of it? Harrison, my wife was like, the abyss is my favorite movie, like. So we had to configure what we had shot to work at in but but we had sent it to Ed and didn't hear anything for like, four months. And finally, I get this little handwritten letter saying, Hey, guys, I got your link, I started watching your movie, I'm intrigued by can't figure out how the link works. Send it to me again. And we were like, Oh, my God, we have a chance. And he watched it. And he said, Hey, like, let's meet for breakfast next day. And after breakfast, he said, I was meeting you to tell you I'm doing the show Westworld. So this was the first time he was and I won't have time to do it. But after meeting with you guys, and seeing how you're gonna fit my character in, um, down, you just have to give me a year. So that was a whole year of just waiting for him, you know, fair enough. But we were like, we have an icon now. Like we have Ed, if he's really supportive of division, he wouldn't have done it if we hadn't shot that stuff. You know. So we knew that we thought we had something special. And Ed did too. So this encouragement kept us going. But when we cut the the head, cut it, it felt so into the male energy, which we didn't want, we wanted it to be very balanced. So we had to find an actress to play Dominique sister, and we actually she's from Argentina. So we ended up testing, Martina Guzman, who's one of the top Argentine actresses, and they have a really similar like, but that took a long time because she has a Netflix she has two Netflix shows she does. And she was into it. But again, it was I think waiting about a year. So that's another year of waiting, and then a whole editing process. And then it was only during the pandemic when Domian I finally like said, Hey, we agree with this cut. We had been through a lot of editors, and we just, we couldn't get the story to where we both felt it was everything it could be. And during the pandemic we finally did. We had an editor named Ross, who really came in and talked to us quite a bit and worked with a sudden, we finally got it to where we said hey, like, we're happy with this. Let's let's take it to market.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
So after so what are you doing the seven years to survive? Brother? You're living in LA? I mean, like, are you doing the pay? You're not doing page stuff anymore? Obviously.

Terrence Martin 27:20
No, that was that's just a temporary job. Actually. It's a funny story, man. The guy who I tested who was the best test screener, like he could just, he was he was like addicted to Italy, and he would just go to get hundreds of people and he was my partner on the road. But he was like total gambling. So we would go to Vegas for like long stretches. Adam Sandler love to test his movies at this place called sandstone, which is off the strip. It's like this, but it has an AMC in it. So he did all his movies there. So I'd be stuck in Vegas with this gambling addict for weeks now. Go and you know, play blackjack with him every now and then and lose and just say hey, I hate it's like, I don't want to gamble at all. Like I'm not into it. And he said, Well, why don't we try poker man, like you can really beat the game. And I said, Really, I don't know much about poker. But it was starting to like blow up at that time. And because we had so much downtime, I started to read books on poker. And you know, within a month or two, I was making double what I was making testing and I can make my own hours.

Alex Ferrari 28:13
So I started became a professional gambler.

Terrence Martin 28:17
Yeah, this was like the early 2000s. And the games were just rich. Like even in Hollywood, I would go up and actors wouldn't even know like anything about poker and it was just like a freefall during that time. And I would just start going. I don't know if you know, the commerce is like the biggest poker room in the world. It's right off the five right here in commerce, like LA was the home of poker even before Vegas. Yeah. So I mean, I just put all that into the film, really? And I thought hey,

Alex Ferrari 28:46
So Okay, I got it. I got it. Okay, so let's back up here for a second because I've heard of I've heard a lot man, I've, I've, I've done almost almost 900 of these at this point in my, in my career here as a podcast or an interviewer. I've never heard I've had professional gamblers on the show. Yeah, some actors who actually became really good. And they've gotten to the world series of acts of poker, of poker. Yeah, of poker. So I know of the world. But I've never heard of a filmmaker becoming a professional gambler. And using that, to survive, and to make a movie with

Terrence Martin 29:21
Yeah, I mean, for me, it's like, I'm not a gambler. That's why I'm so good at poker, like the gamblers are why you make money. Like I'm just sitting there, I'm playing the odds. I'm waiting.

Alex Ferrari 29:29
Your professional, your professional poker player, not a professional gambler.

Terrence Martin 29:34
Although all the regulars would make fun of me, because my wife would make me like an organic sandwich and I would take out my sandwich and listen to calm music, and they would be like, you don't even try to pretend you're a gambler. And I wouldn't I would just sit there for seven hours and wait for big hands. And at that time, I don't know if you still could be I think everybody's gotten quite better at poker, but there are those that just blow off steam and want to gamble and that's kind of what you're looking for. You go on Friday, Saturday, Sundays and

Alex Ferrari 30:00
That's pretty fast, pretty fast. And then you would go up like up into the hills and stuff like that the actors houses and stuff.

Terrence Martin 30:04
Yeah, I would. But you know, those, those games can be quite game dangerous. Like I've had, I've had a really famous actor that I used to play with, you know, robbed at gunpoint at one of those games, like, people find out those games are going on, and they can be robbed, and you don't have like, the safety of the casino to resolve disputes. You know, like, I actually got into a really, really big fight got thrown through a window and had to choke out this pretty well known actor over a poker dispute.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
We will we will discuss who that actor is off.

Terrence Martin 30:38
You all like that. I say I choked him out, because he's kind of a tough guy. But it was either that or just kept pummeled to the

Alex Ferrari 30:45
Will tell Russell Crowe next time, he shouldn't be messing with you. I'm joking. I'm joking. No, that's, that's really fascinating. Man. I've never I've just never heard that. I've just never heard that filmmaker doing that. So that's yeah,

Terrence Martin 30:57
Filmmakers out there, I don't recommend this. Because you have to have a certain makeup, you have to like love chess, you have to love game theory, you can't be a gambling addict, you will just lose all your money. You have to just like anything put in the work. You know, I read five of the top books of the time before I even said, do you still do it? Yeah, you know, sometimes, but, you know, the, the movies now ticking in? Or? We're, we're hoping that keeps me off the tables.

Alex Ferrari 31:27
I mean, it's, that's fascinating. Because I mean, yeah, I understood that poker is, you know, a game that you can kind of understand. And it's there's, there is some chance, but if you're looking at how the how the table is being laid out, you can, you can actually it's you can actually make it a goal a bit of a profession out of it.

Terrence Martin 31:45
Yeah, and after a while you develop a database. So you see, like, you have an edge, even higher than the house edge that Vegas has over the gamblers like 1015 percentage, and the good games that can go even higher. So it's just like, if you know what you're doing, it's just, you know, there's there's no losing, because you just have to put in volume to cover the losses. But any night, you know, you get aces, you get it all in and you lose. You gotta be cool with these people when they do that, because that's how you're making money. You can't get frustrated with people for breaking your good hands. You know, that's, that's, that's why you're making money.

Alex Ferrari 32:19
That's fascinating, dude. So you got it. So I want to talk to you about as a director, you got Ed Harris on set, who is an absolute legend. There's a, you know, in the trailer alone of your film, there's some intense scenes with Ed, where he is yelling at you. Only the way Ed Harris can yell on screen. He's such a great yell, oh, my god.

Terrence Martin 32:45
Cast him and I get some anger out of like when

Alex Ferrari 32:48
He like that when I when I heard that. I'm like, oh my god, it's the rock. Oh, my God. Like it's just like that yelling. So the so one, how do you approach directing an icon like that who's honestly coming down from the Mount Hollywood, and doing a little indie film because he kind of, you know, I enjoy it. I think we could do some cool stuff here. But he's doing it out of just truly love. So it's not like he's getting a paycheck out of this major. Roach, directing them, you know, an actor of that caliber.

Terrence Martin 33:19
What I loved about it is he directed Pollock, and he started and himself. So he's like, really sympathetic to our journey as independent filmmakers, he volunteers at the Sundance Labs every year, he's, he's really a good soul of support. But, you know, as far as having him on set, I was really glad that I was playing a submissive character to him, because I could feed into that energy as an actor. There was one really key scene in the office, like very close to where, and I hope Ed won't mind me telling the story because that really helped the scene become better. And I was super nervous. And I'm saying action, and he's not coming. And I'm like, oh, man, this is the big scene. It's even hear me and it's like, a minute goes by two minutes go by I say action again. And then all I hear is I hear you, motherfucker. And he comes barreling in and does the scene. So the reaction you see, is not just acting, it's like, he shocked me into the emotion that was needed for that scene. And afterwards, he smiled, and he said, Was that cool? And I was like, Yeah, that was awesome. And I looked at the footage, and that was what we had used. He wasn't afraid to, to take those kinds of chances. And, you know, we were open to them. We had like, worked on the script a lot at his house, but he knew it needed something it felt felt stale, but you know, and he injected that energy into the scene and I really thank him for it because that's what you're saying that yelling scene that looked on my face is is not just acting, you know? It's doing it Yeah, me being like, holy like I didn't know if like I shouldn't say action, like, like my brain was just doing a million different things that and that was the energy that was needed for that scene. So I thought that was really generous of him and you know, he's he's a good guy like for him to play this character to that is a bit controversial in this Political time period. You know, what? Was was generous of him because he's not like that at all in real life. Like, he's so supportive and cool.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
And he, I mean, he's, I mean, it's you're releasing the film on the tail end of one of the biggest movies of the last. Last, and he's in it. He's in Top Gun. And he plays he's just so good, man. He's just so, so good. He just chews up the scenery, with his performances. And I mean, he's just remark he's such a remarkable actor. Is there anything that you took away from him as as a as a creative

Terrence Martin 35:36
From an acting standpoint, I learned so much because I acted when I was younger, but I was never big into like driving across town to audition. I just thought it was such a lottery ticket that I've had friends become successful at it, but they really put in the time. And I much rather write or do projects on my own. But what it does that I found really helpful is he actually does the scene before the scene of the movie. So through improv, and he wants to, like play that scene out. So he knows how to go into that scene. So when we do the dinner scene, like we say, Oh, hey, Dad, how are you making steak come in. So we kind of like lead up to that scene. And that was really helpful to make sure when you're on the scene, it's not just figuring it out, like you've already come to that energy. And I had never

Alex Ferrari 36:17
On set? but Oh, really, so you'd like, like you yell action, or you would like work it before the scene?

Terrence Martin 36:22
No, just in a casual kind of way. So it was like, hey, like what happened five minutes before we get into the scene. And we do like a little improvisational exercise. And I find that really helpful, because then when you get to the scene, like the energy is already built to there, you're not just like, starting from scratch. Yeah, it doesn't take that doesn't take that much time. And it must have developed that technique somewhere. That's something I'll take with me forever, I thought that was a really good way to go.

Alex Ferrari 36:47
I've never heard that technique. That's a really, really good technique thinking about that. Because a lot of times you as a direct action, and you just,

Terrence Martin 36:56
Start yelling at each other, like,

Alex Ferrari 36:59
You've got to rev yourself up to it. So at least if you have some context of what happens before and after the scene,

Terrence Martin 37:05
Yeah. And if you're not, like, nailed down to like the reality of the script, right? Because you're just improvising the energy of it, you know, you're not even shooting. So it's like a kind of a free fun exercise. And that's something man, that was great. I mean, working with him was just so good, because he's a filmmaker too. So he's constantly seeing it from that side. And I had a great time on the Donner party. And the actors were more like, into the idea of my character, this that, which is typically how you go. And I came away from that with a much different experience. Like I only want to work with people who really get the overall point of the story that you can talk with deeply about the themes and ideas and not just their character, but how it all relates to the greater greater whole.

Alex Ferrari 37:46
That's fantastic. Now, as directors I asked this question often on the show, you know, as directors, we all have that day that the entire world has come down crashing around us. It's usually every day, but there's the one day, what was that day for you? And how did you overcome it?

Terrence Martin 38:00
Oh, man, well, we shot on this island called Robinson Caruso, which we as filmmakers talk this like guy into giving us a renting us their their yachts and getting in and told the captain, hey, yeah, we can handle open sea, like we've never done it before. But I'm sure we'll be fine. And two days, I mean, it was like a four day journey. And about half an hour in I wanted to start shooting right away, and our editor's face, just like turns completely white. And by the end of the, by, by the midpoint, he was coughing up blood. And it was very scary. And I just thought, oh my god, I'm actually like, people are gonna die on a movie like this is a disaster. And by the time we got to the island, we had already crossed the halfway point. So we couldn't turn back. So as soon as he hits land, he gets to a phone calls and calls his girlfriend and when necessary, so he says, I'm so sorry for everything I've done, My life flashed before my eyes, I'm going to be a better man. And the whole energy of us, our crew, our small crew, going through that just make everything a breeze, because people really had like this profound sea journey, you know, that they really thought like, maybe they wouldn't come out of it. So. So that was a very scary day. I mean, if I think if we hadn't crossed the halfway threshold, we might have turned back and certainly wouldn't have the movie that we do have.

Alex Ferrari 39:16
And I have to ask you, man, because you know, it being done an independent film is tough enough, but you decided to do it in nature. You decided to go on boats in an island, and going underwater and surfing and all this kind of stuff. Like, yeah, don't do if Jaws taught us anything, is don't shoot on the ocean. I mean, they mean, come on. So how was what was that like on a limited budget?

Terrence Martin 39:44
I mean, it was a struggle, but that's the kind of stuff we'd love to do in life. I mean, not to that extent, we now know like, the voting part is not a fantasy of ours, but we thought if we're going to pay for a film, like let's have these experiences that we'd like to have in real life as a couple together, and then we'll make Got a film too. So it even if the film doesn't have any successful I've had these amazing experiences. And I love being outside. I love surfing. My wife is an advanced scuba diver. So all that stuff you see with the seals is all 100% realistic. And

Alex Ferrari 40:15
Did you get the seal? Did you get the seals in? Did you fly those in from LA? LA seals?

Terrence Martin 40:19
We got to seal Wrangler. You know, we actually had a local guy that was like, yeah, the seals bite people all the time. So that was like the extent our wrangling was like, Okay, let's go for it.

Alex Ferrari 40:30
This is the insanity of being an artist and especially the insanity of being a filmmaker like there's normal people don't do this.

Terrence Martin 40:41
We were also able and filmmakers can maybe other filmmakers can benefit from this we were able to take from Argentina, some of the most talented people of the Argentine industry, and their rates are just not Hollywood rate. So you're getting a guy and my guy Lucio, he shot 40 50 movies that are good movies in Argentina bend festivals all around the world. But you're getting a much different rate than Hollywood union rates. So we were able to keep the budget low. And I'm I'm sure any country that makes films probably in India, you can also find talented people, you know, you can look outside the Hollywood channels.

Alex Ferrari 41:14
Absolutely. I know a lot of filmmakers have done that shooting outside and there's a lot of talented crew around this world doesn't always have to be Hollywood other than seal Wranglers. You need from Hollywood without question. And the financing of the film was also financed by you.

Terrence Martin 41:28
Yeah, it was all self when we got aired, we had to go sag. So we actually took on some some executive producers, but the same problems started to happen where they wanted to, even though they promised to say we won't have any creative input, it's just the nature of when you take money from someone, you you have to invite that and this project wasn't that it was a passion project for my wife and I so it wasn't one that they could kind of massage into being too much of a thriller or this. So we ended up buying them out once once we knew like we were going to kind of put out the movie and you know, in a way that we weren't getting like a ton of money upfront, because that's still what a lot of producers want even though that's very rare. I've learned that from your show, like Donner party I think was like a quarter million dollars up front, you know, so that at least a year was that what year Yeah, exactly. So but producers still think that's going to happen now. And from your show, I learned like not only you don't want that because you want and an honest distributor and you want your ceiling to be much higher than that. And if your movie catches on, and you have 80% of it, like you can still stand to do

Alex Ferrari 42:29
By the way out of that a quarter million for Donner party. How much more Did you get after that?

Terrence Martin 42:34
I got nothing.

Alex Ferrari 42:36
Exactly. That's, that's the game. They're like, yeah, we're buying your movie for 200. We're not telling you buying it, but we're gonna still just That's all you'll ever see.

Terrence Martin 42:43
Yeah, and I didn't even have a point on it. It was just like a for hire job, even though I basically did a lot of the producing. And I just totally didn't want to work that way. Again, it's like, part of the beauty of this industry is freedom for me, you know, I love making my own projects. And even if they don't sell or I don't get a chance to make a big studio movie, like it's fun, like, it's exciting and fun to do art and craft and story and the Hollywood interaction can be very disheartening at times, you know, it's mostly rejection. Yeah, I try to keep my creative, very separate. And over the years, my ratio of like, pursuing the industry has gone way down just for mental health, you know, so the more I'm creative, the more I'm doing this. And even if it's just a hobby, which I hope it's not, it's fun, you know?

Alex Ferrari 43:32
Now, how did you get the distribution?

Terrence Martin 43:35
Well, we had a great lawyer, he's like, started out on Monster and and rather than then tried to showcase at festivals, he had given me the distributors that were doing very well during the pandemic, and giving his clients accurate payouts you've been giving money and actually paying their client Yeah, and not like a little bit of money, like a lot of money. And these are like indie films with with one or two known guys. And this was his top one. And he said, Do you mind if I just share the cut with brainstorm? And I said, Yeah, sure. Like, I'd like to go straight to distribution. I don't want to do this whole journey of trying to get into a great Fest and sell it that way. And they liked it. And they said, Hey, like, skip it all. Let's just put it out and see what happens. So we were like, right on. Let's do it. Let's put it out. And and we just did press and some people, the first waves were pretty negative, but now we're getting some rave. Some people are really responding to it. So I think over the years, well, we'll find our audience and at least if you get some percentage of people loving your film that that can be a lot, especially for an indie. And where can people see it? Well, it's on Apple TV, now it's on prime and then we'll find a streaming home down the road. I'm interested because of your show. Also on this ad revenue. Where are you? Oh, Avon. Yeah, Avon seems to be a way to make some so I'm sure we'll do that. And then we'll end up I'm sure at some point with a streamer and a more long, long term kind of deal.

Alex Ferrari 44:57
I mean, there's no question that this kind of film will very well with Avon because it's oh no it there's no question you put Ed's face on the thumbnail, and people are flying by and they're gonna It's he's so popular because of Westworld. He's just a legend because of who he is. You put his face on there with YouTube on there in the background, but it's Yeah. And Senator Sullivan um, yeah, and thumbnail going by and I always tell people this, what do you do when you're watching? When you're going on Friday night? You're screaming you're going through your stream, or whether it's HBO or Amazon or Netflix or Hulu or whatever? What do you do? You scan? And when do you stop? Either when you find something that's in a niche that you absolutely adore? So if you're a surfer, you're gonna watch a surfing documentary or surfing movie, if you're a skateboarder, or things like that, those things might attract you. But generally, it's a known face that you you're like, Okay, I know, because there's so much gluttony of product in the world right now. That for me, even to try for five minutes to try something that I'm not know. Like, I don't know,

Terrence Martin 46:07
Switch. I do the same thing.

Alex Ferrari 46:09
Exactly. But I got to the point where I don't even try unless it's something I've heard about or I feel about. So that's why Adam Sandler has three picture 100 million dollar deals every years because Netflix knows that when you're there on a Friday night, and I've done it, man, I look. I love Adam Sandler films. I think they're fun. They're escapist. They're, they're dumb and ridiculous. And they're funny, and they're just, they're just what they are. Yeah, they were they are what they are. They know what they are. And they try not to be anything else. But oh, and when there's a Kevin James David Spade, a Chris Rock. What's his name? The other guy from Bigelow, those guys all the characters that are all the characters that are in the Adam Sandler universe. Sure, when you're scanning and you're like, oh, this new Adam Sandler movie. I know what I'm gonna get. Because it's safe. So, you know, you rarely watch it unless you watch something like hustle. Which was the New Adam Sandler movie when he's a it's a drama.

Terrence Martin 47:14
I love it. Yeah, the basketball recruiter Yeah, I love what he does like uncut gems. So and, of course the one he did Paul Thomas Anderson, like when he ventures into that he probably loses solid his core audience but you can tell like he's really going for it. He's a great actor, too.

Alex Ferrari 47:29
And he actually could play basketball from what I understand. He's like a real like, he actually played basketball.

Terrence Martin 47:33
I heard he has a cord at his house. And it's like a little Hollywood Game that goes on. Yeah, example when I was testing Adam movies like the audience when you would come to them with an Adam Sandler movie. Their face would just light up with good vibes. So yeah, he earns that money because a certain percentage of our entire country and world just love the guy you know, like he

Alex Ferrari 47:54
Someone's watching them as much as he might be trashed out, they're like, oh, it's an Adam Sandler. Go f yourself guys as someone's watching him.

Terrence Martin 48:02
Yeah, and printed critical responses so on I mean, they they missed it on so many great classic movies. The first critical wave is very negative. And it's takes years and Adam is gonna go down as one of the top guys like Jerry Lewis, you know, like, an icon of comedy, no matter how, how the reviews were at the time,

Alex Ferrari 48:22
And you have to ask to reviews even matter anymore. They don't they don't have the like the Roger Ebert or time those thumbs could destroy a movie. Or make make or break a movie. And then the time of any cool news when that was a real site that did a lot of big stuff. I mean, they destroyed Batman versus Robin like they, they took down an entire studio movie, because of what they did. They said about it. But these these days it is there's too much content moving too fast.

Terrence Martin 48:56
Exactly. You'd love for to get the tomato, but great movies don't get the tomato because it's tomatoes, easy. It's almost like Siskel and Ebert. Thumbs up, thumbs down, you get the red tomato. It's like, okay, it's interesting.

Alex Ferrari 49:07
Right! And even then, how many I mean? Yeah, it's nice, like, 100% Fresh. We all want 100% fresh in our movies. Yeah, but generally speaking. It does who like doesn't matter? Yeah, it's not it didn't, doesn't have to sway. I mean, people used to sit there and listen to Gene Siskel, and Roger Ebert and whatever they said, exact moved the box office, they

Terrence Martin 49:32
They were our friends, right? They felt like friends of you who are talking movies to you. Like that's how I felt growing up. So when they really went and you could see that energy. It was like, I have to see that. So but yeah, there's no reviewer now I think that commands that level.

Alex Ferrari 49:46
No, no, there's not even a website that really has that kind of juice other than Rotten Tomatoes, which is just basically a bunch of critics. Yeah, it's just aggregate. Brilliant. Yeah. And then the audience. It's like it's a weird it's, I don't know. I don't know what Anyway,

Terrence Martin 50:01
we had one five star that didn't even get to Rotten Tomatoes. And I tried to get this five star review there, and he reviews for a major newspaper. But for some reason he's not a sanction, rotten tomatoes here, but it's a shame because it was like a dude who really fell in love with get away if you can. That's awesome.

Alex Ferrari 50:16
These are the frustrations of filmmakers. I get a five star review. I can't put it up by nature newspaper. But so my friend, I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. And if you've listened to the show, you know what these are, so you better be prepared? I do. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to get a break into the business today?

Terrence Martin 50:36
I would say fall in love with the process, you know, like don't let the negativity can get in you. And I've seen it happen to so many people. And really not only like spoil your journey in this business, but spoil your life in a way and you fall it fall in love with creativity and writing. And you keep that separate from the business. And I'm not saying don't put all the hustle you have into doing it. But really fall in love with that process. And don't let anybody take that from you at writing, directing acting like you can do those things on the cheap and have it not be related to your success financially. And I think that that's been a key for me and something I would recommend to every creative person.

Alex Ferrari 51:14
Now what is the lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Terrence Martin 51:19
Work with good people, man, even if even if, man I know how hard it is. But if you take money, as you know from taking money from the mob, it's not. To che, I know how hard it is now, because that's the science. You just want the money to do your project. But if you put those blinders on, you can really screw up your life or be killed literally.

Alex Ferrari 51:45
Yes, sir. As as my book has very, how not to follow your filmmaking dream, as I like to call it.

Terrence Martin 51:51
Yeah, exactly. So if you work with good people, you end up happy and that's nice.

Alex Ferrari 51:56
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Terrence Martin 51:59
This one is a tough one, because I was going to tell you, you should have a podcast just where you ask this question. It could be like five, bring up all your favorite guests and just talk about this. But because I'm writing like a bigger budget thriller, I've been studying thriller, so I'm just gonna give you the top thrillers of all time. And first is a sixth sense because I don't know if people now realize how big that twist was. That's all anybody in film was talking about was this twist to capture an audience's imagination with a twist. Like it's just I've been studying the script, reading it, seeing how it's been worked in. So I would say that, that's that's one 2001 Because it's I'm writing a sci fi thriller. And that's got the science but it's also got the thriller aspect, you know, the man versus technology. And it's just so beautiful. Like you can learn something new about it the each time you watch it, and my all time favorite thriller is Hitchcock's rear window. And I've heard it's just impeccably put together, beautiful cast, everything relates to the story. And because we'd get out if you can, we're so free and improvisational. I want to do a movie where you just Hitchcock was the best at shot structure, you know, like every shot, told a story and was related to the next shot. And so I've been really studying that film. I just think it's a wonderful movie.

Alex Ferrari 53:14
My friend, I appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your insane journey. Insane journey of making not only this film, but your journey through this business and how you've survived it because it is a it's survival and you're still at it, man. And I gotta give you props for that because a lot of people would have quit a long time ago, and just pick it just become a professional poker player full time. Exactly. No, you're insane. And that's okay. That's what we are. We are insane. So creatures that just like no, no, I'm gonna make my movie. Even if I gotta take money from the Bob. Fine. I'll just do what I gotta do. But I appreciate you my friend. I wish you the best of luck with your film. I hope everyone goes out and sees it my friend. Thank you so much.

Terrence Martin 53:59
Thanks a lot Alex.



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IFH 627: Creating Friday the 13th & the Horror of Hollywood with Sean S. Cunningham

Sean S. Cunningham had a successful career of starting films cheap and fast. Originally from New York, Cunningham had a vast knowledge of directing films and came to Hollywood. He started about the same time Wes Craven did. Cunningham meets Craven and decided to make a comedy-romance film called Together (1971).

Then they both shocked the world with the rape and ultra-violence of The Last House on the Left (1972). Craven directed the flick and Cunningham financed and produced. However Cunningham wanted to get a mix of comedy and horror and made Case of the Full Moon Murders (1973) and then started other comedy films like Manny’s Orphans (1978) and Here Come the Tigers (1978) .

Struggling in Hollywood Cunningham saw John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and wanted to make a follow up type film but would possibly regret it. Cunningham brought Friday the 13th (1980) into the cinema in 1980, a year of many other horror films.

Friday the 13th (1980) was a shocking, gory and violent film about camp counselors being slashed by a killer and had Betsy Palmer in the lead role. Little did Cunningham know that Friday the 13th would have never ending sequels. Cunningham gladly avoided all of them and Friday the 13th remains one of the most popular horror films in history. Instead Cunningham wanted to make it big when he brought a best-selling novel to the screen, A Stranger Is Watching (1982) with Rip Torn, but it was a disappointment. Cunningham went downhill with the over sexed teen comedy Spring Break (1983) and The New Kids (1985). Cunningham then produced House (1985) and several of its sequels. Cunningham next entered the world of underwater terrors after The Abyss (1989) was released. Cunningham did a follow up called DeepStar Six (1989), but it was a flop, however it beat another 1989 underwater thriller Leviathan (1989) at box office receipts.

Cunningham was finished with directing and moved on to producing films and teaching. He produced The Horror Show (1989), My Boyfriend’s Back (1993) and Friday the 13th’s last sequel Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). Cunningham then did yet another follow up to Friday the 13th with Jason X (2001).

Enjoy my conversation with Sean Cunningham.

Sean S. Cunningham 0:00
He told me, he's like, I have a dream speech. But his dream was he wanted to chop somebody's head off on camera. So you could really sell that had never been done before.

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 Sean Cunningham. How you doing Sean?

Sean S. Cunningham 0:28
I'm doing great. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:30
I'm doing great, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've you know, I've not only been a fan of of that little movie you did back in the 80s. With the person with the get the hacking and the stuff. I'm a fan of that, and what you did there. But I mean, I when I was in a video store, I worked in a video store from pretty much 88 to 93. Many of your movies were on my shelves from deep star six. And, and so many movies, spring break. And many other ones that you that you directed and produced, which you've done a couple of you've done a few things in the business, my friend, you've done a couple for sure.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:09
I've survived since the 80s.

Alex Ferrari 1:12
Exactly, exactly. So my very first question to you is, how did you get in this business? How did you start? Because you started back in the if I'm not mistaken, the early 70s producing?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:25
Yeah, I got well, it's weird. I was working on Broadway, some stage manager and I thought, Oh, maybe I could produce something off Broadway that would be that would be better than just stage managing all the time. And I looked at that. And I said, John, there's no way I would invest a nickel in an Off Broadway show. And let alone you know, recommend it to my friends and family. So I was looking around, do something. And then I guess the long story short was that I said, Well, if I were going to do a play, you get some actors, you get a script, get some costumes, you rehearse that, when you finish, then it's done and you show it to people. So making a movie can be more different than that. Exactly. And so that's how that's really how it started, I made a I made a sort of was the name used to be white coder, you know, an actor or come out in a white coat, and say in the better interests in the interests of better marriages in interpersonal relationships. I'm going to show everybody how to fuck better. Fair enough this week, but we didn't. This was before. Before there were any any overt pornography, but it was a it was a strange way to get started. But it spoke to the fact that I think one of my biggest assets is I didn't know what I didn't know. So therefore, I didn't have these red lights saying, oh, you can't do that. Or that's crazy. Or, you know, what are you doing? And I would just just kept staggering forward. And what happened with this, this little movie is that, oh, I needed to get in a movie theater. So I got the yellow pages, which they had then and when are movie theaters, and near the top of the listings was Brandt theaters. Now bingo Brandt was in his day, a legend his family owned a whole bunch of property in New York and they own theaters and 42nd Street. And he was very kind and he said he looked at your movie, I play a movie kid. And I said, Great. How does that work? And he explained it to me and and you know, a certain amount of money comes into the box office. And then after that we split it 5050 I said, Okay, that's how it works fine. And he ran the damn movie. I think it ran for something like 27 weeks or something on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. And so the Make no mistake, the movie is terrible. I mean, you know it, I mean, and even looking at it kindly. It was terrible. But I had something that other people didn't have as I was a producer of a hit movie. You know, it had play, you know, it got made for $1 and a half and it played in Times Square. And it made a bunch of money compared to what it costs. And so that was that was basically the beginning for me. And good. No, I was just that I I had a background in theater and then doing Broadway shows and Shakespeare and stuff like that. But what drove me when I first wanted the film business and continued to drive me for a long time was not to not to fulfill, you know, some great creative vision, you know, I just wanted to make something and sell it for more than it costs to make it, you decide a family, and kids and you know, all kinds of things. And so I had to I was in the movie business to make a living. Now, that's not to say I didn't enjoy a whole bunch of different things and, and different kinds of movies and try to, you know, tried to figure it out. But at the end of the day, I think that that was, that was one of my guiding principles is, you know, how can you who's gonna buy this, and, and why.

Alex Ferrari 5:59
And you know what, I'll tell you that's so refreshing, because most filmmakers that go into the business go into it as an artist, and not as a business person. And if you can find that combination of a businessman and an artist, or a business person and an artist, too, that's when you get real success. And it was really interesting that you came out as a producer first, correct. Before you before you started directing. And then you produced another little film with a young up and coming horror director, Wes something or other? Yeah. The last house on the left and 1972 you was that his first film as a director?

Sean S. Cunningham 6:36
Yes, it was. Wes and I met at 56, West 45th Street, and he was working as a cab driver. And he was also syncing up documentary 60 millimeter film down the hall. And, and we needed someone to help in the editing room, and we became friends. And, and there came a time when, when some of these guys that I knew, wanted to make a feature film for their driving theaters. And so they asked if we wanted to do it, I said, Yeah, I think so. Let's I never made them. This is a movie movie. And, and, and West said, you're all writing because he likes to write was one of his one of his things. And, and so we got this script, which is kind of roughly inspired by version spring. And, and, you know, and it had some, you know, dreadful, horrible twists in it. And we just, you know, it was like, I'm being kids sneaking out at night and drawing graffiti on the on the walls, and nobody catches, you go home, dude. And but that was, and that picture was turned into, you know, sort of a cult film. But this time, it was so disturbing to people who saw it. They wanted to close the film down or, or, you know, Lynch the people who made it. And, and it's true, and

Alex Ferrari 8:32
No, I know, it was 1972. I mean, you said,

Sean S. Cunningham 8:36
Was released we made in 71 70 71. And was like, how do you really becomes how do you do this? You know, I remember it was, yeah, it was shortly after, after last house. I went to California to see people in the movies for the first time. And there was a company called American International pictures, and met this guy called Sam arc off and he got me onto a few sets. And I came home with these stories. And it included. Say, Wes, let me tell you about this. There's a jam called script supervisor.

Far as we were concerned, you know, that was somebody that just took a roll of tape, held it up to the camera and gave, you know, clap to sync it up. Or if you had a cigarette to know how long it was on a certain line but but not only was a great idea, but I just didn't know that there was somebody that really did that job, professionally, and how important that job turned out to be. But that's the kind of less The kind of ignorance I was dealing with.

Alex Ferrari 10:02
And then also, I mean, back in the 70s. Look in the 80s. When I was coming up in the early 90s, there was barely any information about the filmmaking process in the public eye. I mean, you had to go to a film school and even in the 70s, I mean, film schools were starting to get off the ground with Coppola and those guys. And Scorsese and, and them coming up. But there was just wasn't a lot of information. Now, everybody knows what the script supervisor, everybody knows what like they, you know, ever you can make a movie with your iPhone. So it's so much more information out there about the process. I can only imagine you guys were just basically bumping around in the dark, essentially. Yeah, yeah.

Sean S. Cunningham 10:39
And you know, and we survived her lucky to get by. And then we went on to whatever the next, whatever the next thing was going to be.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
So then there was a another movie that came out out of California, that about this guy with a mask on, who was killing? Who's killing people. And it was a huge hit. I remember it was called Halloween. It was it was called Halloween, and it was a big hit. And then, was that the inspiration for you to start trying to figure out Friday the 13th?

Sean S. Cunningham 11:12
In some ways, it was I saw Halloween. Oh, gosh, I don't remember six months, maybe before Friday 30s. Before I decided to do phrase searches, maybe nine months, I don't know. But I thought the covers are made a terrific film. But what I really liked about it was that it was so small. And so so personal, you know, seemingly Curtis going around the dark house and some Steadicam stuff outside and, and and it just really worked. And so it's you know, it said, you don't have to have these giant crews and do all this big stuff. We could make a small movie song as so long as there was a market for it. And maybe you can figure out how to make how to make, you know, a scary movie, you know, at this point, last house was in my rearview mirror way back. And I didn't want to make some version of last house again. But and I had been I made two children's films in the late 70s, which a loved one was on baseball, the other side on soccer. And I thought that that was where my career was probably going. And the soccer movie was actually it was okay. But it got optioned by United Artists. And so they wanted to make it into a TV series. That was great. But it's gonna take six to nine months or, you know, to roll around. So how am I going to raise money? What am I going to do to keep the machine going? And when I was working on the kids, soccer roving. One of the things you do is you come up with trying to come up with titles, this movie opens, nobody comes better titles get a different title. And so you make lists of titles. And well, I was one day when making lists of titles. I said on Friday the 30s, huh, man, if I had a movie called Fridays or teeth, I could sell that, you know, that was the that was the entire thought. And so that, you know, cut to six months later, however, however long was the end of nose around the Fourth of July. And I said, Let's try to make let's try to make a scary movie. I want to call it Friday the 13th. And it was a question of, well, can you get the rights and who knows what the rights are? And I said, Well, yeah, I think so. And so I took out a full page ad in variety, you know, Friday, the 13th crashing through mirrors and glass, the most terrifying film ever made in. And I figured if there was somebody that had the rights to that isn't gonna respond. And few weeks passed, I never heard word one from a lawyer. And, and but I didn't hear from distributors said Well, I'd be interested in that. And I'd be interested in that. So we spent the rest of the summer trying to come up with a movie, which was okay, what's scary, what can you do this, like, scary? And, and be kind of fun. And Victor Miller, who I was working with at the time, you know, we said, well, what if it's sort of like, you're a kid and you're in bed and you think that, oh, there's somebody in the closet and the kids holy? All right. Well, well, let's make a catalogue of those things and, and see if we can include them in this sort of structure. So I was trying to Find set pieces that seem like, seem like they would go together and Reyes, roughly I mean, it's, you know, is kind of 10 Little Indians got a bunch of people in the woods dying and being killed. And so you in the audience say, Oh, who's doing that? Oh, not her, she's dead. But he died too. So he gets smaller and smaller. And it wasn't that it wasn't that I had ideas of trying in some way to imitate Johnsville. Halloween, it was just that we had a small budget, we didn't have any stars, we didn't have any distribution or production plans. But figured let's just try to make this thing and see it, see if it works. And, and then we'll come back to the children's film spring.

Alex Ferrari 15:55
So personal, it seems to me that that you guys were basically creating the template for this kind of horror movie, because I know John's had a high school that was a little bit bigger in scope. Then Friday, the 13th, you, if I'm not mistaken, was the first movie which is like, take a bunch of kids into the woods and kill them off one by one. I don't think that's basically a template for a film now like what?

Sean S. Cunningham 16:21
Yeah, I would hasten to tell you and anybody that happens to be listening to that, I think that there were so many shortcomings in Friday the 13th. And, and the film was grossly successful, not because of those things that we did wrong, but in spite of them. So what happened was, so what happened was that, oh, look at all the money they made, all they did is take a bunch of kids in the woods, chop them off, and, and there, you already have a movie, I think he killed 10, people will kill 20, it'll be so much better. And the thinking isn't far off of that. But I you know, over time, forever and ever. I keep thinking, no most important part of anything you do, like this is the story. And the story that you're going to tell. And it's very, very hard to come up with a good story well told. But that's, that's where the money is. And if you can figure out how to do it, or how to get a story, then you're off to a good start. And I think people who write good screenplays get paid a ton of money. And the biggest reason is that, so few people can do it, you know, and it takes, you know, it takes so long to learn that craft. It's not just getting a copy final draft and start typing. See, you know, it's it's different than that. So I, I think that my advice is, you know, three most important things in a movie or story, story and story.

Alex Ferrari 18:17
Without without, without question. And you know, when you're out there making this, it's again, it sounds like you guys were just literally bumping around that night, no pun intended. While you were making Friday the 13th. And you know, you've got a bunch of young kids, one of them happened to be a young Kevin Bacon, which is I always find fascinating. He'd done a I think he'd done Animal House. He was an animal house prior to that. And I'm sure he was just happy to get a job at that point. He wasn't sure. He wasn't. He wasn't Footloose just yet. Yeah. He wasn't great at you know, a great kill, if you will, if you're gonna say kids in that film. And so you so you decided to make this movie, you're starting to cast? Who gives you money for this kind of film that it is not? Other than Halloween? Been a financial success yet? Because it came up pretty. Pretty soon right after Halloween. So within a year or two, right? Yes, yes, within a couple of years. So Halloween is the only one that's done like, broke that kind of opened the door open about it and said, Hey, there's a market here, who who's crazy enough to give you the money to make this right now?

Sean S. Cunningham 19:28
What happened was that John, John's Halloween was a really good movie, but it was in the days of view used to go to Cincinnati, and you'd have 10 prints in the back of your car. Right and you sneak out some new newspaper ads and put up posters in the lobby and see if people came you might have radio as you know, you're trying to figure out how to do it. And if it works, okay in Cincinnati and you get your 10 prints or then hopefully it's When he prints you go on to the next market and now you've refined your refined your sales strategy, and you go to another market, but you never opened why that nothing was really never done. The first picture to open really wide in I think was 800 theaters at once was drawers. Right? And when it came time to figure out what are we gonna do with Friday 13th A backup and tell you that the money that came the money for Friday this Thirteen's came primarily from owners of theatres and drive ins. And we had we had worked on some other little things before. And I wasn't ever sure if I really wanted to get back into into bed with these guys. But I said what the hell, we'll just we'll make a movie and just do it. And so they have relationships with Frank Mancuso. And paramount. And we took it to Paramount and Paramount, the executives, for reason I can't understand they just loved it. And then what they want us to do is schedule a second screening, and then bring all the secretaries that they could and, and kids if they could enter the screening and wait for the ending and the popcorn go flying. And they laugh. And it was so mad, because at that point was head of distribution of leave at Paramount. And he decided he's going to take this little movie with the name Friday the 13th and no stars, and no apparent, you know, story to you know, to push and open it nationally. And it's like, okay, hold on your seats. I don't, because this could, if this hadn't failed, he might have lost his job. It was one of those. It was one of those like all in moments for him. And as it turned out, he was absolutely right. And he went on to become president of Paramount and do other things.

Alex Ferrari 22:20
But the when I if I remember the release of or studying, going back and studying the release of a Friday the 13th it was it was released widely. But the trailer for it if you just were basically selling the title, and there's some kills. And that was essentially it wasn't a story plot. It wasn't. It was just like it's called Friday the 13th the most terrifying day in the calendar. You know, next to Halloween, if that if that price scarier than Halloween because it's not a it's not a

Sean S. Cunningham 22:55
What I have found is it has universal psychic real estate, you know, people carry around this this thing about Friday 13th And bad luck. And, and it it transcends almost all cultures because every culture, they may not call a Friday the 13th. But they have a day of the year, which is predicated on top ladders and that kind of thing.

Alex Ferrari 23:22
Right! It's all it's all kind of bad luck stuff. Yeah. In Now, going back a little bit, though. When you were you came up with the characters you came up with you were you writing the

Sean S. Cunningham 23:33
Victor Miller, I and and Steve minor and Tom Savini were sort of fixated, I first had this notion of you know, 10 little Indians happening at a summer camp. And and Steve was going to be the line producer. And we're trying to figure out how to get a special effects guy. And we went and that and there's this guy in Pittsburgh, and Savini Gee, can we try to find them track them down and stuff and, and we did and he got in this car was his friend taso and came up to Connecticut. And he was so excited and so psyched to do this. And, and so we're all just working with Yeah, you've got a kid in the woods and he dies. Okay, what happened? And how do you make it scary and how do you shoot it? And and, and, and, and, you know, none of it could have been done? What you know, all four of us really combined to to make it make it happen.

Alex Ferrari 24:46
What a Tom do prior to that, like there wasn't a lot of

Sean S. Cunningham 24:51
Night of the living dead.

Alex Ferrari 24:53
Oh, that's the original?

Sean S. Cunningham 24:54
The original. I think that was that was his only that was his only credit Which, as you may recall, is pretty good credit. Yeah, well now it's a really good credit at the time. You know, what's this? What the hell is this? I want to see sound the music and I am in here.

Alex Ferrari 25:16
So he was just a young kid who's super excited about makeup and Roy, I think that's the movie that essentially launched his career after that he was a very, very busy man in the 80s.

Sean S. Cunningham 25:27
Oh, yeah, he continues to this day. No, he studied with a guy named I believe. I want to say did Clark, Rick Baker, Rick Becker, thank you. And, and he really knew how to do prosthetics and all that kind of stuff. And he wanted to do it. And he told me, he's like, I Have a Dream speech. But his dream was he wanted to chop somebody's head off on camera. You know, so you could really sell that had never been done before. And that Yeah, and so we figured out that, you know, very carefully the staging the blocking for for how we could chop this up. Well, first of all,

Alex Ferrari 26:11
I mean, you essentially ushered in the slasher, the slasher, as we know it, to a certain extent helped help help it help that along without question, and I think it was after Friday the 13th. That's when there was a couple of copycat just a couple of copycats. Chopping wall, Chuck slaughter, slaughter house,slaughter party ,chopping mall, genius! I was watching I watched the trailer the other day, I was like, what I remembered in the thing I remembered in the video store I used to I used to, I used to rent all this stuff, and people would come in and Friday the 13th we're all up there all 450 versions came out. And then you know, obviously Freddy, and all these kinds of that that decade is where all of the the characters that we you know, horror, horror lovers love like the Freddy's the Jason's the Michael Myers. And then then they started to go from there. But those are the original. The originals that came out of it, that whole thing. Now, look, as a director, we always have a day that we feel like the entire world is coming crashing down around us. And that we're that I mean, that's generally every day. But there's always that one day in the project, that you're like, Oh my God, I don't know if we're gonna make it here. Like I can't catch my get my day done or the camera falls into the lake or prosthetic isn't work. What was that? That? Were you? Did you have any of those days on Friday? The 13th? And how did you

Sean S. Cunningham 27:48
I think every filmmaker has had that day. I mean, there may be worst days, but the oh my god, I'll never work again day. Which, you know, you've you thought this movie was going to be set just going to work so well. And you've got as tight as you can. And then you show it to you show it to an audience. You're sitting in the audience. And they're getting ahead of you. And it's not working for this audience. And oh, why did they leave that in? I should have cut it out on what am I going to do? And and then you know, that's sort of like day one, and then you recon and, and try to come up with a movie that that represents what you were doing. But so for you. There's always that screening a screening doesn't necessarily have to be in front of a paying audience. A could can be first studio, it can be for a focus group, but it's one of the you're sitting there with strangers who have nothing invested in the movie. And they're going and what the hell is that?

Alex Ferrari 28:51
Was that empty? Was that ending? Always there?

Sean S. Cunningham 28:54
No, no, the ending was the ending was something that that one of my investors wanted to he wanted to try. And it just seems so stupid. Me This is a reality based 10 Little Indians thing. And I've said I get it. But I don't know how we can insert it into the movie because as it was conceived is she's just there and the thing that was scripted was everything was her on the lake and the police arriving and everything. And then just I don't know where this creature comes up out of the out of the bottom and grabs.

Alex Ferrari 29:43
It sounds horrible. By the way, it says yes, you're explaining a horrible idea.

Sean S. Cunningham 29:47
And it was and and and I said I wouldn't or wouldn't couldn't shoot it until we figured out what Wouldn't what would follow it? What's the epilogue the coda? You can't you can't just end the movie with a punch in the stomach like that it's, you know, no explanations or anything. And once we got the little there's little epilogue with Allison and hospital bed and, and dreaming about the things that happen. Did it happen? Did it not happen and stuff? Like, once you had that, okay, now we have least a place where it could go it might be understood maybe it was a dream, maybe it wasn't. And Sametime Savini just grabbed a hold of that. And he just, he was, he came up with this deformed creature. And, and, and he just and it had to work underwater and had to do all these different things. And and he, you know, he just, he created that. The that that creature that 12 year old boy or whatever it was, are a limb. I've tell you, sir, my son, Noah was supposed to play that role. It was mostly Jason in the lake until his mother found how you are not taking my son and putting them in the ice cold water. That's crazy. Get somebody else and so that that's how we that's how he lost the part in there. He could have held it.

Alex Ferrari 31:28
I'm sure. And I'm sure he was. I'm sure he's given me some somehow over the years over

Sean S. Cunningham 31:32
Over the years. Yeah. But at the time, it was like, Oh, good. I don't have to do it. Jesus that that water so called.

Alex Ferrari 31:38
I mean, he could be signing in conventions right now. Oh, yeah. Well, so so with the that's what one thing that always it's one of those trivia questions is like, who is the killer in the first Friday the 13th? And the wrong answer is Jason. Because everyone always says Jason is Jason's mom, but it's one of those one of those lovely questions. Now also, you know, I'm sure you've seen scream at this way in your life. It was a scream, and a lot of those rules that he put in the movie or Kevin, Kevin Williamson, who wrote it, put in the movie about don't have sex. You know, don't say I'll be right back.

Sean S. Cunningham 32:18
All the horror tropes and

Alex Ferrari 32:20
All the tropes. Many of those started in Friday the 13th Am I wrong?

Sean S. Cunningham 32:27
Yeah. Some of them did. I mean, it's, you know, you got 10 Kids in the woods, and you're going to chop them up. Okay. If they could do, yeah, and, but I think one of the things that happened is that people started to impose a morality on top of it, like, you know, the, the loose girl and, and the, and the pod has, well, they've gotta go, you know, because they're obviously the bad people who are not behaving well. It's a cautionary tale. So we're going to really be rooting for this one girl, but we're going to kill the others, because they're so irresponsible. And that just made makes a bad situation just that much worse. It's just, it's just a bad idea. And, and I think that the, the underlying, scary part of, of Friday, 30s, and things that followed it. I think it came from Jaws, that there's a shot in Jaws, about halfway through the movie, and they've opened the beaches, and it's sunny out, it's Fourth of July or something. And, and there's a shot of the shark going down, and he's looking up and, and he sees nothing but legs, and they're all people and young people and women and men and, and the and he's going to just eat somebody, and it really depends how hungry is it has nothing to do with, oh, I'm going to eat, you know, I'm going to eat that dope, dope smoking jerk, or I'm going to get the tramp or some, no, it can happen to anybody at any time, for reasons which are completely beyond our control. And knowing that I mean, I think that's a core beliefs that we all have. And we need to we have this cognitive dissonance because what we do on a daily basis is deny that anything really bad could happen to us. And on the other hand, there's a part of us that knows it could happen at any moment, the rational versus the irrational, you know, and we're hardwired to ignore it. But nevertheless, it's it's in there. And it's this the dynamic effect fairytales where you look at something that you know, is true, or could be true, and it's really scary. So you've freeze up, but when you see it in the safety of a movie theater, or you know somebody telling you a story about once upon a time You know, you get to be exposed to your father dying or, you know, being abandoned by your parents or whatever it is, that might happen. And, and you see it so many times, and as you see it, you get a little bit numb or a little bit numb, or to the thing that was really so scary to you in the first place. And, and in a way, it's sort of it's establishing value systems. And it's it's a way of teaching you to deal with or saying that there are tough things you have to deal with in life. And you can do it, then you know, and I think that that's, that's my understanding about how how horror films have, you know, a lot of them were at their core, they were fairy tales, that were

Alex Ferrari 35:57
It's cathartic. It's cathartic,

Sean S. Cunningham 35:59
And catharsis. And there's a book by a guy named Bruno Bettelheim, which called the uses of enchantment which really opened my eyes to this. And it's, you know, I, anyway, that's

Alex Ferrari 36:15
You actually answered a question that I hadn't I was about to ask, which was, why do you think these films have lasted the test of time? Characters like Jason and Freddy and Michael, that that we just keep coming back to these these monsters, even jaws? And those kinds of what was about them? What are about these films that people keep watching them, not only again, and again, but keep, like, I mean, obviously, from Friday the 13th there was maybe 234 You know, five big horror movies and obviously, the exorcist and all those kind of movies, which were different. But then the slasher genre, it just kept growing and growing. What is it about that genre of horror that people just kept going back to? And in many ways having fun with because originally, if I remember, Freddy, Friday was terrifying. But then Friday turned into a comedy routine with some more adventure and Jason

Sean S. Cunningham 37:17
I think what I don't think people keep going back to horror films. Because of their horror films, they go back to experience. You know, why does the kid say no, no, read me the readme of the story again from the beginning. And, and don't change it because oh, he doesn't like it when you change it. But you know, from the beginning. I think that some strange strange things happened to Jason and to Freddy and Michael Myers, I think, but he started particularly with Jason and flirty, his you went you went to the movie, for whatever reasons. He's going on a roller coaster. It's like, oh my gosh, oh, my God. Yeah, I went, Oh my God, and you know, and it becomes kind of a fun, crazy event. And then there's another and then you start saying, Okay, let's we're gonna have a softball game. Friday. searchings we're gonna have a softball game. We're gonna choose up sighs Okay, I got the big guy with a mask. Who do you got?

Alex Ferrari 38:27
The big guy with the mask that doesn't die. That guy.

Sean S. Cunningham 38:30
He'll be on my side. Yeah, you can have those for football players no problem. And the I think that I think that there's something in in the transformation of this called JSON pretty JSON, slash or flatten you kind of and that is that it's, it's it's, it's kind of Revenge of the Nerds on steroids. You know, so much of the audience feels like, you know, they did they were allowed to sit at the cool kids lunch table.

Alex Ferrari 39:15
Oh, and all the cool kids are the ones dying leader son.

Sean S. Cunningham 39:18
And the same thing happens in living dead, where you can shoot the principal of the school, if he's got that look in his eye, you know, and, and I, there's just kind of I think nobody's ever said that one for one. But I think that that's the, that's the thing that happens. And so if you're gonna go out and experience that now, it's sort of predictable, like a roller coaster ride where they're gonna be things that are scary and bloody and gory. But you can't scare me know that because I got the big guy on my side. People that you know, you go to a roller coaster ride In six flags or someplace, there's gonna be a lot of people get on a roller coaster. There's a whole bunch of people sitting on the bench. They don't want to get on the roller coaster and they're never going to get on the roller coaster. And and so that this experience is not for everyone. You can't make it for everyone. You're crazy if you think you can, because she can't. There are people that like the roller coasters on people that don't. And liking the roller coaster has to do with those moments where you have no control, you think that you're enormous Jeopardy, but at the same time, you're strapped in and in their bars and harnesses and stuff. But still, there's that moment and you know, and then if you're like a fan, you start, you know, putting your arms up in the air. I'm not afraid of anything. But no,

Alex Ferrari 40:51
I understand. No, but I understand where you're coming from. Completely. You're absolutely right. I've never thought of it that way. But that makes so much sense. Because in a lot of those movies, I don't remember it might have happened, but I don't remember them killing the nerds. It's always you know, the beautiful girl that the big jock. Those people that the cool kids are the ones that go that go first. I remember and I don't remember, many nerds getting knocked out? Because he's like, Well, yeah, it's equivalent of kicking the dog. Like you don't do that. You can get a dog, you can't kick a dog in the movie, because that's the villain. No, I didn't ask you. I do want to ask you, Shawn, after the movie comes out. It's a huge, huge hit. It is one of these, you know, biggest independent films of its day? I'm assuming you get a few phone calls. And how did the town treat you? And why didn't you keep going down that road? You know, as as a filmmaker, because you didn't do the second or third or fourth? Or any other Jason movie? Why didn't you go down that road? Where others have just curious?

Sean S. Cunningham 42:03
Well, if it were to happen again, tomorrow, you know, I I would definitely, you know, ordered my business life differently. But I didn't you know, Friday searching Susie took a bunch of kids in the woods and chopped them up. I didn't want to do that every year. And you know, find, you know, better machetes, and I wasn't what I wanted to do. Friday searching I was, I was naive enough. Like I said, my education took all time to think that, you know, they say, oh, Shawn, you made a really, really terrific hit movie, and we'd love to meet with you. And, and then it would always come around to so what do you want to do next? Now me? I thought Eric comes out. Yeah, I thought that the guy sitting behind the desk, has got a whole filing cabinet full of great scripts. He just hasn't found the right director. And and he's What do you want to do next? And my answer was kind of, I don't know, what do you got? The only thing that the guy sitting behind the desk will see here's, I'd like to do Friday the 13th every year until I die, you know, and oh, and I could have signed up at that point. I had no idea that that was you know, I thought I think I sound a phrase searching this is a sample real kind of she I can drag. You got anything.

Alex Ferrari 43:41
Now let me go back real movies. Yeah.

Sean S. Cunningham 43:44
And I'm gonna have a script supervisor this time.

Alex Ferrari 43:48
I hear they're important. It it's fascinating, because I've had a lot of people on my show over the years, who had these kind of like, lottery ticket moments. I mean, you were one of the you and John and Wes, you had these kinds of lottery ticket moments where you had extremely massive hits. And how you, you know, I've seen a lot of them just go go a different direction. Because like, I don't want to do that for the rest of my life. And every one of them said, If I would have known now, if I would have known then what I know now. Yeah, I would have done at least three or four more. Just just and then retire.

Sean S. Cunningham 44:37
Yeah. Well, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 44:40
But you had it but you had a hell of I mean, you had a hell of a run in the 80s as well. Yeah,

Sean S. Cunningham 44:43
I had I mean, I got a lot I got to make a lot of movies and and, and, you know, the challenge of making any movies you know, it's an it's like climbing a mountain you just get together with a bunch of people you know, Try to do this thing, it's really hard to separate from the content, it's just making movies is really hard. It's really hard work and you and you meet and bond with a bunch of people making movies is making room movies is the fun part of whatever, whatever we do, the rest of the time is spent trying to get the movies made, and that gets sold or sold. Yeah. I would. I know that I know that a number of your viewers are probably film students are people relatively new to relatively new to the business. And he talked about going to film school and so on. What nobody ever tells a film student is you go and you learn about the cameras, and you'd learn up and now you'd learn about certain kinds of media and, and you learn how to make and do all this great stuff. But there are no jobs for you, none, none, nobody's going to hire you to do that. If you really want to do that, what you have to do is along with everything else you've been doing, is learn how to raise money. And, and if and it's very difficult, and until you get a handle on that you're going around you know the script in your under your arm trying to get somebody to give you enough money or to make it for you, and it doesn't happen. It only happens if you find a way and yet being a type A personalities critically think you got to go out and find find a way to get enough money to make it. And if it's $5,000 Do you take your iPhone, you go out or your iPad and you go out and and and shoot it and do the best you can come back and make another one next week. And the week after that we got through that. Because that's the only way you're going to learn learn how to do it. And and nobody's going to give you the money to do it. You have to find and by the way, everybody gets money, different ways, different places, different times. Oh, but that's, that's one of the things that they don't teach in film school. And it's, you know, it's a critical lesson. And you know, you probably more than I but see a lot of people that are talented and they've got great footage and they can't get hired. They can't, you know, they can't break in. And but there isn't a way to break it. There isn't an apprenticeship.

Alex Ferrari 47:40
You know, for for directors is tough for other parts. Yeah. camera department art department.

Sean S. Cunningham 47:46
Yeah, but those yeah, that's, that's a completely other thing. Yeah. And, you know, if you have the, if you have the right bloodlines, for the right genes, you gauge that you can be, you know, a dolly grip, too. But I'm talking about the the, the people that you go to film school, you don't go to film school via grip, you go to be filmmaker, a storyteller and stuff like that. And that's what you have to keep doing. But you're going to be on your own for a long time trying to do that. And if you know that going in, it's it's better than if you don't.

Alex Ferrari 48:22
It's really and I appreciate that, because that's a very wise piece of information there. Because I've come to understand, I heard this the other day, and I thought this was fantastic. And so it's so perfectly defines our industry, which is, it is possible for anyone to direct the movie, but it's not probable. Okay? Because he's like, there's so much work that goes because at the beginning, everyone can make a movie like, oh, it's possible. Yeah. And now more than ever more than in your day, your day to day that was much harder to get a movie off the ground. Now, you could go make a movie for three or five grand, and you can. But the probability of that happening is very small. Because the amount of work, things have to line up, things have to fall into place. You have to be persistent. The perseverance years, like you said, to get things done. And you know, I've been in the business now closing in on 30 years. And that is really the definition of our business because it's possible. Yes, that's what Hollywood sells. Anyone can be a star. Anyone can be a director. Anyone can write a million dollar script.

Sean S. Cunningham 49:36
Oh, forget and nobody knows anything.

Alex Ferrari 49:39
And nobody knows anything. But you you can win. But the probability of you selling a script for a million dollars. How many scripts get sold for a million dollars? Right? A handful. How many filmmakers make a studio movie now? None. Very few young filmmakers make them is very small. So at just thought that was such an interesting and it's a raw, it's a tough pill to swallow, but it is the truth of our business. Would you agree?

Sean S. Cunningham 50:07
Absolutely. It's it's. Yeah, anyone can, but most people, you know, could could get it together to get a movie made somehow. Not likely, like you said, this is not probable, but it's a lot of work. And it has nothing to do with what you learned when you studied making movies. It's, it's an integral part of making movies, that's just ignore him. Thinking about a few things that that, you know, when I, when I talk to people, about the movies, my, I stay away from the technical, technical issues, because I don't know him as well as all the people that do them every day. But it seems to me that there are a few really important things. One is, I'm going to refer to something called your ad, the poster, or, back in the day, we call this the one sheet. But today, it might be the billboard on Sunset Boulevard, or the thumbnail in Netflix or the thumbnail. So what is the thumbnail for your movie? And because what is contained in there? If it's done, right, is the promise of what the movie is, you know, and you. So from day one, you know, what you promise the audience and then you have to deliver on that. But you have to keep coming back to it. You don't think about it later. If you think about this, I read the script and the pages did they just, you know, took all my emotional energy. I just couldn't couldn't stop reading it. Okay, what's the poster? How, you know, how are you going to? How are you going to get people in it? Because what you what you're doing for all intents and purposes is you're you're making this thing, and then you're stopping strangers on the street saying, wait, wait, wait, wait, come with me, please, I want to show you something. And it's a movie and you're really going to, I promise, you're really going to like it, please come with me. And you try to get him to your point and you put them in the seat. And that'll be 15 bucks. And then the guy has to sit there for the next two hours of his life, and leave happy. And that's what we do. And if he doesn't leave happy, you don't get a chance to do it again, or not very soon. And so I think that that's knowing what the poster is, and embracing the fact that you have an audience that is vital to what we do for a living. The other thing that I think gets lost and and that's who do you make a movie for? Who's your audience. And I think the way to approach it is you're creating a gift for somebody. And it's not for you to find yourself, and to work out your anxieties and work out.

Alex Ferrari 53:32
That's an art film, that's an art.

Sean S. Cunningham 53:35
But even when you're not feeling, you know, you you're making it for somebody else, and you want it to be good and you want to be able to give, give it to this other person, or people and they're going to be glad that they got it. And they'll they'll react to the fact that you really did the best you could to create this gift for them. And that is those are that's what you're doing if you're doing it right. And those aren't words you hear very often. But I think they're I think they're really critical.

Alex Ferrari 54:10
Those offensive I mean, those those words, I mean, I've been yelling both of those things from the top of the mountain for quite some time. Now, Shawn, it is something that's so important and filmmakers, they don't they don't think about it. They don't think about the poster. They don't think about the marketing. They don't think how they're going to sell it. And they definitely don't think about the audience. They just think about I want to make this movie I want to put this out there. But if you don't think of who this is for, it's just an expensive art man. It's just not a this is not paint on canvas. This is not writing a book. You know, this is this is expensive art that takes a lot of time, a lot of collaboration, a lot of things to fall into place for it to be done. Period, let alone well because there's a lot of movies made. And then there's this many that are really good and and stand the test of time, for whatever reason is and it is I appreciate you saying that and it coming out of your mouth. Hopefully, people listening will listen,

Sean S. Cunningham 55:07
They hear and wants to anyway.

Alex Ferrari 55:09
But it's interesting, but it's something that needs to be, especially for younger filmmakers or first time filmmakers, they don't understand that I wrote a whole book about that about like, understand your niche audience, understand your audience, and build a product for that audience, build that thing that serve them, and really connect with them. And it's it is something that is not talked about very often. So I do appreciate you saying that. There is one question I always have to ask this.

Sean S. Cunningham 55:38
I need you to go. No offense.

Alex Ferrari 55:40
No, no, no, no, it's not done on us that that kind of answer that that question. But I've always wanted to ask this question. Because you do go to cons. And you go and you sign a cons and, and I've been to MIT, I've signed up some, some cons. I've I've experienced it myself. And I've, I've gone to horror conventions. Earlier, when I had one of my first films and I met a lot of your contemporaries and all that stuff. When you first got called. They say, hey, Shawn, we know when they bring you over to a comic book convention or horror convention to sign what did you think your wedding?

Sean S. Cunningham 56:21
I'd say exactly what I saw. Are you out of your fucking mind?

Alex Ferrari 56:26
You are me.

Sean S. Cunningham 56:27
And when I'm one night was like, that's, you know, if, if you hit 62, homeruns, and a baseball, she's, okay, go sign up baseball. I but I'm just a guy. And, you know, to, to charge somebody for signing something seems crazy. And so I didn't do it. And, and I still I still do. Not many. But I really enjoy it because I get to I get to better understand people that are fans of the genre. And you get it, it's really, it's really kind of good for your it's good to be reminded of the people that are out there. And, and that they're often really nice people.

Comic book and horror that they're such sweet people, most of them I've ever met.

And Wes refer to themselves as wearing urban camouflage. Paint don't, you know, they don't want to stick out and they want to be with their be with people that share their values and their sense of fun and entertainment. But there's kind of a uniform, so that if you are one of them, you Oh, he's our he's our kind of people. And you learn that and I, I like I like interacting with the fans. And it's just, it means so much more to them than it has to be.

Alex Ferrari 58:22
Right. I understand. I understand that completely.

Sean S. Cunningham 58:25
And so I you know, I the notion of selling your signature traits still strikes me as goofy.

Alex Ferrari 58:36
It is a little goofy. And I remember I was at a I was at I think the San Diego Comic Con and I wanted to talk to an actor. And I won't say the name because I'm still a fan. But uh, but I he was just sitting at a booth by himself. There wasn't even an autograph scenario. And I had a statue of one of the characters he played this years ago. And I go, Hey, you know, can you sign this? And he's like, if you want to dedicate it is 275 bucks, if you want it non dedicated is 450 bucks. And I'm like, I'm just a fair match. I just if I'm not selling this, I'm just a fan. He's like, Yeah, that's the price. I'm like, wow. Okay, so there's a dark side to this is what? slumped, but it wasn't even he was just sitting in the corner by himself, like even in an autograph scenario. But it's interesting. It's such an interesting there's a bit there's been documentaries on cones and, and that whole subculture and stuff but I always wanted to ask someone like yourself, what did you think when they first asked you to sign something again?

Sean S. Cunningham 59:40
Yeah, it just seemed

Alex Ferrari 59:42
Looney! Yeah. My name is Mickey Mantle or Tom Cruise.

Sean S. Cunningham 59:46
Right. Right. You know, it's like, do you remember those? There's a TV show East Hollywood Squares. Yeah, I remember. Exactly. Right. And there are individual personalities in each of the boxes right and most of them were famous for being famous not because they didn't need anything you know what was a OJ Simpson's house boy Kato Kaelin he became famous for almost everything in the guest now.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:24
You want to you want to hear a funny side note when I moved to LA my second home was a townhome in Toluca Lake. And I lived across the way from Kate, okay. First, very sweet guy,

Sean S. Cunningham 1:00:39
You went straight to the top.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:41
I mean, I was there, but I arrived right in the middle of now I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. Sean, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:00:53
The smart answer is Don't quit your day job. But I think that, I think then what this has become, is something that you love to do. And this has to do with acting or directing or any number of different things. And it's quite possible, as you say, to do this with the very limited resources that we have at our at our fingertips. And do it and do it and do it and enjoy it. But and do that in the same way that you might enjoy. I don't know, playing softball with the guys over the weekend. You know, it's something that you can love and enjoy and and be fine. How you can do this thing that would then allow you to support yourself doing it is just, it's, it's possible, but it's not probable. Now, there are going to be people say yeah, yeah, whatever. Alright, what else?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:53
That's not me. That's not me.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:01:55
Right! What What else you got, and I say, well, story story story. And, you know, if you can either write or find somebody that really knows how to write well, and, and then tell stories. And don't think that what you're going to do is get it the first time out, or the second or the third. So what you have to do is, you have to keep making mistakes. And that's how you learn anything is you go out, you try something seems like a good idea, the time you fall down doesn't work, you get up and do it again. And the the amount of time it takes they throw around 10,000 hours. And that's not very long. But to convert the 10,000 hours that I think it takes the even heavier ante in the game, as I say, a writer. You can't go to, you know, Robert McKee over the seminar weekend, and then come home and write a great screenplay. You just can't, you get good guidance, but you just can't do that. When you have to, if 10,000 hours is let's just say you don't know anything about carpentry. You know, you've looked at cabinets your whole life, you know exactly what cabinets look like, but you don't know how to make them. So you apprentice yourself to a master carpenter. And he teaches you and you work really hard, five days a week, and Christmas off. And after four to five years, depending you will have put in your 10,000 hours. And at that point, maybe you can make one of those finely fitted cabinets and know how to stain it. Because that's all you've been doing for the last five years. And it's only five years. I mean, if you did that when you were 17 or 18 years old, you come out at the age of 23 as a filing cabinet maker, and then you then you keep building on that. But there's a great deal of I think there's a great deal of time and effort that has to be put into learning the craft. The art comes at the art comes at the end. And you know 90% of what we do is is a craft and it's like any other craft it has to be studied and learned and you have to do the heavy list lifting and you can't you you can't start as a star.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:30
But that's what the film schools teach you your star kid, right? Yeah, and that's that's the afford. Did you ever see the documentary? Jiro Dreams of Sushi? It was a it was an award winning documentary about this master sushi maker and in Japan like he's a he's the only sushi maker to ever win a Michelin star ever. And when you apprentice with him it's a 10 year commitment. The first four years If you don't touch fish, it's all rice. All you do is cook rice for four years. So you learn how to cook rice properly. And then you begin to start touching fish. After four years. Can you imagine?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:18
Yeah, it's Oh, god,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:22
There's such a brilliant, but it's such a great thing. It's like, you know, if you want to be a cinematographer, you just want to get on set and start moving lights around and start moving the camera. But no, you've got to learn so much technical knowledge,

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:34
And and you only learn it by doing it.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:37
Absolutely can't read about it, you can't watch about it. And

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:41
I think that, yeah, it's, if you want to make a career out of it, what you must do is sell a movie for more than it costs you to make.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:55
Every time Roger Corman style

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:56
That way, that way, you get to make another movie. And, and that seems overly simplified. But that's got to be at the core of what you're doing if you're trying to make a career out of it. But you don't have to, you can, you can get yourself a camera and microphone and go, shoot whatever you want, and play with it and come up with all kinds of things, show it to your friends, go to film festivals, all that stuff. And you can let you you know, certain people will come up with, I don't know if it's gonna be great art, but it could be really good stuff. But they're not trying to make a living doing that. You've got to have your day job, or married very well.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:40
That's amazing. Great advice. I've had that. That's some advice I've had on that. Like, I talked to one director. And he was advice you give them like rosemary. Well, that's what I that's what I did. And my wife helps me pay for all my movies. So now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:07:01
For me, it's not learning, but it's one of those things you you tried to do? He tried to do the right thing. Don't always do the right thing. And you nobody goes through life without making mistakes and having regrets. But you stay on the road and you do the next right thing. Everything you did yesterday was yesterday. So and that's I mean, that's that's a lesson to be learned every day. But that's, you know, let's try to do

Alex Ferrari 1:07:33
And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:07:38
Oh, so they go all over the place but I would say love actually saw the Lion King and maize in jars. He just I remember. I remember seeing the alien. The really Scott original. And that was just so good at what he did. He was trying you know, and he just the all all those were for me homeruns

Alex Ferrari 1:08:13
I can't I can't disagree with any of those choices, sir. They're all excellent choices. John, I appreciate your time. My friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It has been such a pleasure and honor talking to you about.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:08:25
Very nice of you to say that I hope I hope you got some we got some time I think we got a couple of you can probably trim this down to a nice tight seven or eight minutes. Appreciate it's really gonna, you know, add some music, a few sound effects

Alex Ferrari 1:08:44
And, and a good kill and then we're good that we then I could sell it.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:08:48
And you can sell it.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:50
Sean, I appreciate you my friend. Thank you for everything.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:08:52
Thank you very much. And we'll talk again I'm sure.



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IFH 626: Creating Hocus Pocus: My Life in Horror and Nightmare Cinema with Mick Garris

I am extremely excited to have on the show today a fellow podcaster, established producer, director, and writer, Mick Garris. Mick’s podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garris, dives deep into the devious minds of the greatest filmmakers and creators of your worst nightmares to bring their distinctive visions to life in fascinating one-on-one conversations. 

He’s renowned for his classic screen adaptation of Stephen King’s books like Sleepwalkers (1992), The Shinning and The Stand. and creator of 2005, Masters of Horror series.

The California native began his passion for storytelling as early as 12 years old – writing short stories. He launched his passion onto the journalism path at just 16 years old. Driven by curiosity, he freelanced as a film and music critic and landed interviews with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Rod Serling, and Ray Bradbury in the 70s. 

It’s remarkable what Mick accomplished in a time where everyone needed to know someone to get a foot in the door, let alone that early in life and without the help of social media. I guess folks were intrigued by his talent and drive.

While doing film criticism, Mick wrote specs, publications for magazines, and did some filming on 8mm. The guy lived the dream. The hard work began to pay off. His agent, Rick Jaffa read some of his specs, believed in him, and introduced Mick to Steven Spielberg. Mick ended up writing the first episode of the Spielberg sci-fi series, Amazing Stories, and seven other episodes.

He’s credited for writing screenplays like Psycho IV: The Beginning, Fly II, and the She-Wolf of London series. He was also was an editor on Spielberg’s other project, *Batteries Not Included, in which aliens help a feisty old New York couple in their battle against the ruthless land developer who’s out to evict them.

Garris has written and directed a lot of other horror classics such as Halloween comedy favorite, Hocus Pocus. The film follows a villainous comedic trio of witches who are inadvertently resurrected by a teenage boy in Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween night.

Garris and I talked about his incredibly difficult yet fun experience shooting his small budget directorial debut, feature sequel Critters 2. In the film, Eggs of the small but voracious alien creatures called Crites are left behind on earth and, after hatching, set their appetites on the small farm town of Grover’s Bend.

The man’s contribution to the horror genre has amazing. Can’t wait for you to catch up on my conversation with Mick Garris.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
I'd like to welcome to the show, Mick garris. How you doing, Mick?

Mick Garris 0:18
Great, Alex, thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:21
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Like I was telling you earlier, I was extremely excited that you agreed to do the show because you're you're your own established podcaster as well with with a great show. And you you've interviewed some giants in the business as well. So I was I was humbled that you said Yes, sir. So thank you so much.

Mick Garris 0:42
Well, I'm humbled that I'm able to work with some of my heroes. And it's a pretty exciting thing.

Alex Ferrari 0:48
Yeah, absolutely. So, um, let me ask you, how did you get started in the business?

Mick Garris 0:55
It's sort of a long story. But I had been writing since I was 12 years old, I wrote short stories and all that sort of thing. And, you know, I was born in LA so but no one in my family had any kind of connections to the entertainment business or anything. And so I started out as a journalist, and I interviewed people when I was like 16 years old, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and stuff in music. That's about right, Bradbury was my first interview, and Rod Serling was my second. So so I was always able to meet my heroes and learn about them, you know, something that was always really important to me was my curiosity. So I was doing film criticism and interviews and writing screenplays on spec and trying to make a go of it. And I finally had some material that made for agents wanting to meet me and maybe work with me, because an agent only wants to represent you if they think they think that it's easy to sell you. If you are a marketable commodity, it doesn't matter how nice a person you are, or you know how well you play with others. But if they feel that they can make money off of you, it's great. So I went through a couple of agents who never really did me any good. And I was, you know, making my living working at Tower Records and that sort of thing. My first job was as a receptionist at George Lucas's Star Wars Corporation, during the first Star Wars. And I actually operated our two D two on the Oscars that year, but I was basically a receptionist. But it allowed me entree to the universal lot and looking at how people made movies seeing Alfred Hitchcock on the lot towards the end of his life. And finally, a an agent named Rick Jaffa, who is now a very successful screenwriter with his wife and partner, Amanda silver. He was an agent at William Morris. And he was the first guy who read my stuff believed in me and actually got my material in front of Steven Spielberg's company. So I was doing publicity. And I'd hire myself to do making of is because it was a lot more affordable than the studio would spend. And it would give me film school on how to take pieces of film and put them together into a narrative, even in a documentary or documentary format. So I did the making of Gremlins, I did the making of The Goonies. And the first, I had an interview show on the Z channel, which was the first pay TV channel in Los Angeles. So I would interview filmmakers, who made the films that were scheduled to come up on the Z channel schedule. And one of those filmmakers was Steven Spielberg. And after we did the show, I mean, I'm doing all the talking here, Alex, but

Alex Ferrari 4:07
don't quote me, please.

Mick Garris 4:09
But after the show, he said, You know, I really enjoyed that. And he doesn't. He didn't usually enjoy all the interviews that people normally ask all the same canned questions and all but there was a shared passion for movies from a similar background as my own. So when I was making the making of The Goonies, on the first day of shooting in Astoria, Oregon, I was setting up the camera man was setting up the lighting and stuff to interview Steven for the documentary. And he said, You must do a lot of these sorts of things. And I said, what nobody should ever say to Steven Spielberg was I'm trying to do less because I'm trying to make a go of it as a screenwriter.

Alex Ferrari 4:56
What I really want to do is direct Steven, right? Yeah.

Mick Garris 4:59
Well I would never say something like that today, however, then he said, Oh, really we're looking for writers for this new show I'm doing called amazing stories. So it turned out, my agent had gotten amblin, a spec script of mine called uncle Willie, that is still never been made. But I got to read the coverage that they did in the last three words of the coverage were higher this man. So Stephen called me and asked me to, to write the first episode of amazing stories that was ever written. And I wrote it in three days. I mean, it was like a call from Steven Spielberg. And I'd

Alex Ferrari 5:42
love to do it. And by the way, for everyone listening, it's Steven Spielberg at circa what 8485.

Mick Garris 5:48
This was in 1985 85. So

Alex Ferrari 5:51
it's post, et and everything else he did prior to that. So he's already Steven Spielberg. He's been Steven Spielberg for quite some time. So it's like, basically, a god coming down from Mount Olympus and touching you on the shoulder and go, you now shall right.

Mick Garris 6:06
So yeah, I mean, we get a phone call. And I pick it up and Steven Spielberg calling from Mackerras and I'm looking at my wife and our little crackerbox house in the valley. And then they asked me to adapt, write a screenplay based on one of his two paragraph story ideas for amazing stories. And I knocked it out in three days. And they read it and asked me to do another one. And then a day and a half into it. I'm only halfway through. And he and Kathy Kennedy called me to ask me if I would go on staff as the story editor. And I had never done anything like this before. And so suddenly, I'm in $100,000, a year job back in 1985. Oh, and I was, I was on food stamps, when I got the job, also. So it's a convoluted story, but that's how I got my first writing job.

Alex Ferrari 7:04
So and again, not a bad first job. And no as, as first jobs go, not too shabby, not too shabby. So, which, by the way, which were you I mean, I loved. I was obsessed with amazing stories when it came out. I watched. I mean, my favorite one. I still remember to this day. I mean, obviously the Kevin Costner one was fantastic, which we think was the first episode, wasn't it? Steven directed that one.

Mick Garris 7:29
It was the second season the first episode,

Alex Ferrari 7:33
that one and I remember the train. I think Stevens did the train. Both of those. Yeah, right. I remember those two. But my favorite amazing story besides when Santa's got arrested, which was fantastic. Was the episode where the kid had the goo that you poured it on a picture and the picture came to life and right he was like a horny college kid. And he just was trying to get this girl on and you would get half a girl or too big of a girl and right. It was like trying to get it perfectly. Whoever kissed the girl first it was it was theirs forever. It was it was just obviously because was such a dream for any adolescents. And adults, obviously. And I love the ending of that. I'll never forget it. Sorry, spoiler alert for everybody. But it just spills onto Fangoria magazine or something like that. And it just fades to black. It was like, Oh, that's amazing. But I remember that show. So well. I guess I mean, that experience. I mean, it must have listened starting at that level must have. I didn't say Jay, did you what you understood later on that it's not all like that, like that was kind of like the red carpet.

Mick Garris 8:42
Right. But I was also 33 years old when it happened. So I had been writing for years and years and years. Like I said, since I was 12 years old is when I first seriously started writing. And so I've never gotten jaded about it, you know, the excitement of being able to do what you dream of doing. A lot of people get spoiled by it, and expect their lives to continue to be at the top of the heap. I'm always concerned that I'm gonna fuck it up. And you know it every time especially directing every time I I do it, I feel like it's my first time out and that I've got a lot to prove and, and being contemporary and being aware of the technology of filmmaking as it as it metamorphosis sizes. But as far as writing goes, writing has always been I'm a rather fast style writer, in that it comes easily to me and I love it. And I'm just lucky to have been born with a facility for writing and, and I I'm good with language and stories come to me quickly. I mean When I'm writing on spec, which is almost all the writing I do, I just sit down on page one, I don't do an outline or anything, I have an idea. And then I just plow into it and let the tributaries take me where as they will.

Alex Ferrari 10:14
But when you say that, and I've heard other various other screenwriters say the same thing, but do you agree that, you know first for screenwriters just starting out? You're able to do that, because you've been writing forever. So the structure and the you already almost instinctively know how to structure the story in a screenplay from stage one when you don't have the outline? But from somebody who's just starting out, would structuring them outline makes sense?

Mick Garris 10:41
Well, I think it depends on the writer, every writer works differently. And for me, I started out that way. Because I'd been writing but not writing screenwriting, I've been writing short stories in the leg for a while. But I've always watched movies and television my whole life. And I think that there's an intuition that grows within you, as you consume. Screen storytelling. So when you're writing on assignment, you have to do those steps, you do a treatment, and then you do an outline, and then you do a draft. And then because every step of the way, you're going to get interference from the studio executives, from the director, if you're not the director, and all of those sorts of things. So every way is valid for me. I used to think Wouldn't it be great if I took six months to write a script, think how good it would be. And for me, if I took six months to write a script, that means I'm having trouble and it's, it's labor, it's not, it's not coming out, like the magic, it's not storytelling, it's a job. And so I am lucky to be able to write quickly and and Lee and fairly simply, but, again, on the jobs where it's an assignment, then you have to take each step at a time. And then it's never your own unfiltered storytelling, you know, you're going through the hands of a lot of other people.

Alex Ferrari 12:12
Now, do you start with plot or with character, like when you sit down? Are you Do you already have a plot in your head? Or are you starting with the characters like, let's see where this guy or this gals adventure goes?

Mick Garris 12:23
Well, it's kind of half and half, I'll usually start with a character. And of course, every character you write, I tend to write my fiction, even I write books as well. A lot of my fiction is written in the first in the first person, and when you're writing a screenplay, every character is the first person. So they're always some facet of who the writer is, or who he or she imagines he is, or would like to be. It's, it's just a matter of empathy. And usually, I'll have an idea of a character who is some what thwarted in his life, whether it's romantically or ambitions. You know, there's there's a roadblock, and that roadblock is part of what the story is. And then I'll take a combination of who that character is and why his his quest is not an easy one.

Alex Ferrari 13:21
Now, when you said earlier that you you know, you shot a lot of making of documentaries of films, like the thing in Goonies and yeah, is it Gremlins as well? Yeah, so you're on the set with, you know, a Rogue's gallery of some of the most amazing directors of their generations. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from just just being there and watching their process day in because as I'm making up, you're there every day shooting? What's going on?

Mick Garris 13:54
If you're lucky with the budgets we had, I was there for a couple of days or a few days out of the production schedule. But surprisingly, the thing I learned most is how much of the movie is directed off the set the conversations with the production designer with a dp with the actors, all of those things, you're really seeing almost the finished product when you are on the set and watching them work. That said, watching how a director elicits a performance from an actor. You know, the lighting is already been planned out. The shots in general have been planned out depending on what the director style is. But the job of a director is to communicate. And a writer doesn't have to be very communicative. They're very different disciplines. A writer is monastic and own and mystic in a way, where as a director is confronted with being a social animal, he has to be able to To communicate, not only communicate what the overall movie is, so that each department head and each actor isn't making a different movie choice, but to be able to instill enthusiasm and confidence and excitement that they're doing something special, and to be encouraging people, whether they're cast or crew to do their best work, because they're going to make something really special together. And, you know, there are directors who are directors because they enjoy being autocratic. They like to be the boss, and they like to throw their weight around. Nobody's going to do their best work for somebody who yells at them. You get their best work by being a teammate and somebody who encourages the best ideas from every department, even if it's craft services. Somebody from craft Services has a good idea. I'll take it, you know?

Alex Ferrari 15:54
Yeah, absolutely. Not you, you. Your first Is this your first feature or one of your first features that you wrote? was called Batteries not included? Which Yeah, I have an absurd absurd love for because I remember it. I remembered it and everyone listening, please forgive me back in my video store days. When I was there, renting it out and recommending it to people. And it was a Steven Spielberg produced film. I remember you also co wrote that with a another. He's done okay for himself, Brad Bird, as well. Yeah. So how was it like coming up with that it was very cute, just adorable. It's just like an adorable.

Mick Garris 16:34
Well, it's, it's what Spielberg was known for in the day. So that story was originally an amazing stories episode called Gramps and Grammy and company. The idea was Stevens, he wrote out a paragraph or two. And then I wrote a screenplay for the TV show. And then he changed his mind and said, I think this idea is big enough for a feature film. So I wrote the feature film script, I wrote two or three drafts. And And then, when Steven brought in Matthew Robins to direct Matthew Robins brought in Brad Bird with whom he had written before. In fact, the first script I wrote for amazing stories was the magnet kid. And Matthew Robins directed that and he brought in Brad Bird. So I didn't write with Matthew or Brad. As you know, when it's a writing team, there's an ampersand between your names. And if you're writing and rewriting somebody, there's an and between your names. And I've been lucky enough to be the first writer on virtually every movie that I'm a screenwriter and not a director on. So yeah, it was very much Stephens idea. And Matthew Robins had co written Stephens first movie, the Sugar Land Express. And so he felt very, very beholden to him and gave Matthew an opportunity to do a big Hollywood studio picture, which worked out really well for him. But yeah, it started and ended with Steven Spielberg,

Alex Ferrari 18:15
as it as it always does. I mean, I've had the pleasure of speaking to some amazing filmmakers and writers on this show. And I cannot and I say this all the time, I cannot believe the the the Spielberg touch, he has touched so many careers, of filmmakers. I had john Lee Hancock on I had Kevin Reynolds on and they were telling me something like I had no idea that that that Spielberg was the one that kind of crack the door open for them. And he's, he's done that for so so many people around this, this business. It's, it's remarkable a truly truly is.

Mick Garris 18:57
It's kind of what he wanted to do with amazing stories. Yes. Get Martin Scorsese, and Clint Eastwood and you know, mucky muck directors. But he also gave first time opportunities to people like me, and Todd Holland, and Leslie linka glatter. And Kevin Reynolds, you know, directed one of the episodes. So, he really wanted it to be kind of a flower box for for new blooming directors and, and it was an opportunity you don't often get,

Alex Ferrari 19:30
yeah, and he's just, it just never ceases to amaze me the influence that that Stephen has had on on Hollywood history, not only for himself, but the opportunities he's given to so many people along the way. It's been pretty remarkable. I have to say that you're I think it was your first directorial film, critters too. Now, the time was classic, the time is close. So obviously, there were questions left over from critters, one that needed to be addressed. In a sequel, obviously,

Mick Garris 20:01
it was an absolutely necessary sequel that the world could not have lived without, until it came out. And opening night I went to my local theater in Universal City, and there were three people in the audience.

Alex Ferrari 20:15
So, how did you I mean, listen, I remember I remember critters do I remember critters? It was obviously after after Gremlins, so it was kind of like write a spin off of Gremlins. And there was to be charitable, it was a spin off, it's actually to be but to be fair, to be fair, there was one that was even a little bit more ghoulies was even actually a little little less, less connected to the original

Mick Garris 20:42
material. That's for sure. There's spooky there's ghoulies there's all kinds of little creature movies out there

Alex Ferrari 20:49
after Gremlins. Yeah, but so it was what it was your first shot directing really wasn't it?

Mick Garris 20:54
Well, I directed an episode of amazing stories, right. And before that, I directed, wrote and directed a Disney TV movie, which was my very first a one hour movie called fuzz bucket. That was a story that Steven rejected for amazing store.

Alex Ferrari 21:11
Fair enough. So well, kritis was, but that was, but it was a sequel. It was, you know, it was had a decent budget, if I remember,

Mick Garris 21:19
well, you know, for what we were doing. Your original critters was much better than anybody expected it to be. It was a $2 million movie, which, for a little indie, little creature movie was not insubstantial. And it was mildly successful at the box office, but made most of its money on home video. And so they decided, Well, time for critters to. And I think the reason I was hired, and Bob Shea, who was the head of new wine, gave me the opportunity to do this for four, which I will always be indebted. But David to he had written a script. And he was very happy where it was Bob Shea felt that it needed more. And rather than just hire another writer, the idea was to hire a writer, or director. So it would be a much easier game to to actually have the shooting script done by the director. And I believe that because kritters was very spielbergian in it's in the first movie and even more so in the second that they wanted an associate of Steven Spielberg, so maybe some of his pixie dust would rub off on the project. And because stylistically, you know, I absolutely was influenced by Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante in the making of critters to and by Warner Brothers cartoons and all those things. But the idea of Norman Rockwell goes to hell is something that fits very, very well into the Spielberg canon. And I think that's what they were looking for at New Line. You know, it was a PG 13. It wasn't an R rated horror movie. And, you know, we got away with one naked lady and some some critter violence that wasn't too incendiary. But yeah, it was an opportunity to be both writer and director. And it was on a scale that I thought was so manageable. However, it was special effects, kids, animals. You know, they had a

Alex Ferrari 23:30

Mick Garris 23:31
Yeah, action scenes, all this on a $4 million budget. And with that $4 million, we built the town, we did all kinds of amazing things. So we got a lot of bang for the buck. But, you know, Gremlins was made for $10 million. And Gremlins two was made for $60 million. So

Alex Ferrari 23:52
$60 million of Gremlins two cost. I think so I think that's a lot for that time period. That's it.

Mick Garris 24:00
It definitely is. But it came well after the first one. So

Alex Ferrari 24:04
yeah. Wow, that's remarkable. Now after krytus, two, you jumped on to another sequel, writing from from another successful another successful first film the fly, which is arguably a you know, classic at this point. And I would say so yeah. I love that film with a passion. Oh, God. And I mean, Jeff Goldblum in that kind of made Jeff Goldblum like that. And, I mean, Jeff had been acting for a while but that's I mean, I remember when that came out. Everybody was talking about the fly was like in his Cronenberg in you know, in his element of is fantastic. Now you pick then, of course, you get dawn, the daunting task of writing the sequel to a very successful loved film. How did you write Roche writing a sequel to such a hit

Mick Garris 24:50
very differently than what you see in the movie that that has, that was made. You know, I was the first writer on that and I came up with an idea I wanted it to be as respectable as the Cronenberg film. I Cronenberg is a friend, I love his work to death, and the depth and intelligence and humanity of that movie was something you rarely get any genre film, especially a monster movie, which, when you come down to it, it's that's what it is. But it's so much more than that. It's a romance. It's an impossible romance, which is a theme I really like and return to time and again, in my own work, fiction and film work. But so my idea was something quite different. It had to do with giving the baby up for adoption, because you know, she was going to have an abortion. But the original idea was that it would be an evangelistic group that takes the baby from her, as they do with other young mothers who don't want to abort, give it a good Christian household, but they are training it and all these other children in the way that in the Soviet Union in Russia and the 30s, they did lots of experiments where they would exercise children, mentally and physically to be far beyond the powers of mortal men and women. They would develop their psychic abilities, they would give them Olympic Training from from toddlerhood on, so that they would become superheroes, basically in reality. And, you know, I wanted it to be a Christian army sort of thing. So it was a really interesting, adult kind of attitude. But the head of the studio, wanted a teenage monster movie. First, Scott Rudin was our our production executive. And he's great and has gone on to produce a bunch of really high end movies for the Coen Brothers for lots of other people, has run into some metoo issues in the last year or two. But there was a change in management and wondered Goldberg, who was half of spelling Goldberg, the people who made The Love Boat and other TV shows, letter, Goldberg was named the head of the film studio, which was very controversial at the time, because he'd only done television and not features. And when a Goldberg wanted a teenage monster movie, so there was a lot of infighting between Scott Rudin and Leonard Goldberg. And I was, you know, in the middle, and trying to accommodate both masters and the opportunity, the author of critters two came to me. And so I had to leave had to leave the project to fly to which was in the middle of all those problems. Then Frank Darabont inherited all of those problems. Frank Darabont was the second writer and then Jim and Ken wheat, who had done it young Indiana Jones and some other things. They were the final writers on it. So it changed quite a bit from where I was and where it ended up.

Alex Ferrari 28:11
And Frank and also Frank did okay, as well, I think he's done. All right. He's done it. He's done. He's done. I think he's done a couple other things. I'm not sure what but he's done wonderful. things as well. Now, another film that you directed, which you didn't write, but you directed, and arguably was one of my favorite films. Growing up in the horror genre was sleepwalkers, I absolutely adored sleep walkers. And not just because it was it was just a cool, I must have been I was in high school, probably when that came out. So I'm dating myself, but I was probably around high school time when that came out. And I had the largest crush in the world on match anomic I mean, you're not alone. It wasn't just me, I'm sure. But I mean, holy cow. She was amazing. I just adored her, and then forgot the lead actress named who's also in the palace, Krieger. Yes, it was also a Blue Lagoon and charmed and Brian Crowe. Brian. Yes. broadcast. Thank you. Let's return to the Blue Lagoon. Yes, return to the blue the good. And then he went on to charmed and all that now it's kriega from ghost story. Yes, exactly. It's, it was remarkable. But you wrote an A you directed an original screenplay by Mr. Stephen King. Not too shabby. A writer himself. And he doesn't. I don't think he does. He I think this is one of the this was an original screenplay that had nothing to do with original material. So it was an

Mick Garris 29:42
original, his first original screenplay to be produced. Correct. And what was the slide? Oh, yeah. Well, I never met him until I screened it for him afterwards, but we would talk on the phone. And he was incredible. I mean, we've since become very good friends that have worked together a lot. And I'm lucky enough to have had four projects that he wrote the screenplays for himself. sleepwalkers was the first one. It was also my first studio movie as a director, and really my only studio movie as a director, feature film, all of the other stuff I've done has either been television or independent. And then after that, I mean, we got along so great. And he was so happy with how sleepwalkers turned out. And the battles that we had to fight together, that he asked me to do the stand the next year. And I had only done movies of a relatively small scale. And then along comes the stand, which is 100 shooting days, six states 126 speaking roles. I mean, always on the road. Just Yeah, massive and and that experience was also my first experience with an unmitigated success. sleepwalkers opened as number one in the movie theaters in America that year, that week, but dropped out very quickly. The stand became the highest rated miniseries ever. The four nights it ran, it was number 123 and four that week, but each of the nights went up. It was 50 million people watched it in North America each night. But it went up each of those four nights, which is very rare. And, you know, it was it was incredible to have made something first of all with Stephen King. But secondly, that cast I mean, Gary Sinise and Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and Matt frewer. And Rob Lowe, and, you know, so many people, but also to go into a supermarket and hear people talking about it the next day. You know, see, it's not something that happens very often. And you know, nothing I've done ever reached the heights of what the stand did. Well, except Hocus Pocus.

Alex Ferrari 32:08
Yeah, well, we'll get we'll get to Hocus Pocus on Reddit,

Mick Garris 32:11
which was actually written eight years before it was made. Right. My draft Anyway, there are 11 other people on it after me. But we'll get to that. But to to have your work talked about when nobody knows that I was the guy who directed it. And I'm standing in a supermarket line listening to people talking about how much they enjoyed it is an experience that is so odd and wonderful and thrilling.

Alex Ferrari 32:40
Yeah, I mean it. When I have guests on the show who have had obscene success, and a project, I always ask them what it's like to be in the, in the center of the hurricane when it comes into that kind of stuff. And for you it was the stand. And you know, 50 million plus people watching your work in the night in the 90s on television. Yeah, is something it is a major deal within the Zeitgeist. It was in the Zeitgeist wasn't it?

Mick Garris 33:10
It was and still is, you know, people still talk about it with the remake having just been done last year. It's amazing. And yet, because it happened on television, probably more people saw it than anybody saw any movie in the theater, but it's television. It's immediate, and then it's gone. It comes back on home video, but it's gone. So Spielberg wanted King and myself to do a movie with him together that King wrote called Rose Red, which became a mini series later when King and Spielberg couldn't agree on the direction it went. There was an 800 pound gorilla on each side. It was about

the size two juggernauts the 50 pound champion the wearing a banana suit, yes.

So, you know, because it didn't happen in a theatrical film. It's not the same as being in the eye of a hurricane. If your movie is in theaters and number one week after week after week, there it's a totally different thing. Plus, it's not the director, especially in television who is brought attention to and in this case, Stephen King not only produced it, but he wrote the screenplay himself. And so I've always been under the wing of either Steven Spielberg or Stephen King or any other Steve's you can think of but, but which is fine, but it doesn't bring attention to the person who is not the famous person on board. And, you know, I'm happy to be a guy behind the camera anyway. But, but career moves, you know, the this Rose Red project never happened. So I Didn't direct for another three years after having directed this massive success. So

Alex Ferrari 35:05
insane, that's insane. But to be fair, you know, being under the wing of either Stephen King or Steven Spielberg, not again, not a bad place to be in,

Mick Garris 35:13
I wouldn't change it for anything. luckiest guy I can imagine.

Alex Ferrari 35:18
It is it is pretty remarkable. And I know so many people are trying to break into it's like larceny, we're trying to break into the business. It's always like, I had a hacky, and I got a break, and I gotta get through the back door. Like it's, it's always something along those lines. Talking, and I'm sure you've come across this to talking to the people you've had on your show is things that happen a lot of times, it's just the right place, right time, kind of its right place. right time. There's, and all you could do is prepare you were waiting for 33 when when Steven showed up, and but you would have been preparing for that moment. All your life, essentially, yeah,

Mick Garris 35:55
it's not only right place and right time, but it's also the ability to deliver what people were looking for. And to be a person that people want to work with. Again, you know, if I were a producer, looking for a screenwriter, and I had some egomaniac pitching me in my office and telling me how to do things in the white, I no matter how good the story is, I don't know that I'd want to go through that process. But, you know, it's it's the ability to deliver to, you know, I was very lucky in that. At the time, I was confronted with Steven Spielberg, and I'm interviewing him on location for The Goonies, they were looking for something that I was capable of delivering, and that they saw, at the same time, my agent had sent to his people, a spec script to read. And so while I'm in Astoria, Oregon, while Steven Spielberg is in a story, Oregon, someone in Universal City is typing up coverage, saying they should hire this guy that he just spent time with. And, you know, the timing could not have been more fortuitous. And the good news was, there was material to back it up. That didn't come from me, but came from his development, people saying, take a look at this guy, we you should hire him. And I happened to be in front of him the day before he got.

Alex Ferrari 37:23
Now would you agree? You know, you've been in this business a long time. I've been in it over 25 plus years, you know, hacking away as well. I've dealt with people, the best advice I could give anybody trying to get into this business is don't be a dick. And I think that I think that is a mantra that a lot of filmmakers and screenwriters don't understand and you are a personification of it. Because it was because of you being so you know, you're able to work and connect with people like Steven, that he hired you again and hired you again. If you were if you were a dick, and that first that first pilot that you were writing the first episode you were writing at Kathy Kennedy and Stephen would have called you up like, do you want to be a story editor? And if that experience wouldn't have gone? Well, there's no batteries not included in your career could have gone on a completely different trajectory. Just by being obviously you have that talent and being able to provide the service that you said, you can write that nice is really something that a lot of screenwriters don't they underestimate how important because would you as a as a filmmaker and a producer, work with someone who might be slightly less talented or experienced, but wonderful to work with, as opposed to a much more superior writer, but just a complete ass? Well, no, I'd probably write it myself. But it's a general.

Mick Garris 38:47
Yeah, but no, that's probably true. I mean, I'd much rather write with somebody being if it's for me to direct. I'm going to write the last draft anyway. Sure. But yeah, you want to work with people who you respect their talents and their abilities, as well as being able to sit in a room and bounce ideas back and forth and have a good time doing it. You know, everything about making movies is incredibly difficult. And so the more fun you can have doing it, often it reflects now, it is often said that the hardest movies to make are the ones that come out the best. And that's not really true. And you can feel the camaraderie of of when a creative group is clicking with one another. But another thing about about screenwriting, is that spelling matters. It is literary, you know, it's, yes, it's a blueprint. And the the extreme example of that is Walter Hill shooting script for alien, which is just so spare and sparse and all but also, if you're writing a screenplay. You're not just laying down a blueprint. And first of all, you're not telling a director how to direct his shots. You know, that's not part of the job. But you are engaging the reader in the same way you would engage the reader of a novel, you want the descriptions, not only to just be guy goes in store sneezes, buys a box of Kleenex, you know, you, you want to embroider it with language that compels you. And it's not just strictly a schematic, which a lot of people feel it is. So being able to write well, writing fiction is a really good practice for writing screenplays, too, you know, Stephen King, you want to turn every page because he engages you, the humanity of his prose, the, you know, he writes very sparsely. But it is woven in such a way that it compels you to turn the page. And a screenplay needs to do that, too. It doesn't. It's not there just for an actor to mark in yellow marker, his dialogue, and not read the descriptions scenes in the scene in between. But those descriptions have to be compelling, they have to be interesting, and they can't just be nothing is harder for meter action movie script, where you're describing lots of action scenes in detail. I can't do it, I can't get through it. But, you know, anything that draws the reader in, whether it's fiction, or or screenwriting is the most important thing, you know, if, if, if writing had never been invented, if a camera came first, no one would have ever invented the written word. To take it down to, to cast it into history. But we have developed an ability to tell stories in engaging ways and the use of words. And grammar matters if I'm reading a script, and the first five pages have 42 typos and your and your are used improperly and things like that, I feel like I'm reading someone who is an amateur. And you want something that is more compelling than that.

Alex Ferrari 42:27
And also I have heard it referred to as the sea of white, you want that page to be a sea of white as much as you can be yet. But yet, especially in the descriptions, and I've said this many times on the show, I equate it to being a haiku, you got to really get a lot of information in with very sparse words. But you have to make it interesting for the reader, the shooting script could become something else. But the actual script that a reader reads a producer reads as a direct reads has to be that kind of thing that pops, but you can't, you can't spend

Mick Garris 43:00
it by, okay, go ahead and give you a description but make it captivating. You know, make it funny, make it really propulsive, you know, and I tend to fully capitalize important words in a script, whether it's introducing a new character or not, you know, I will make sure that you don't miss those important words they stick out.

Alex Ferrari 43:22
Right? It's it's, you don't have the luxury of writing a page on how that tissue feels. Right? where a lot of I've read a lot of scripts that do that, that the writer just like sits there and like, it's a 240 page script. Okay. You know, it's it's though,

Mick Garris 43:40
I'll tell you a story about Batteries not included. This, I felt my life was on the line. This was the biggest opportunity anybody had given me write a feature for universal and amblin and Steven Spielberg. My first draft was 140 pages. And beefy. Yeah, very. So I turned it in Ohio. It was a while before I heard back from Stephen. And then, you know, he called me into the office and I'm being dead honest here in painful ways. But he said, You know, it took me three sittings to read this script. And that's not a good thing. So but that was the best thing anybody could have said to me, and he did it. Because he wanted me to learn. He wasn't criticizing me. But he was telling me I'd fucked up. And so I took it to heart and I took it home. And I worked on it. I worked on brevity and I tightened it up and made it much better brought it in at 110 pages, and it got the green light. So I had learned my lesson, and it's a lesson that has stuck with me ever since.

Alex Ferrari 44:54
Now, you also worked with Stephen King, on the shining mini series, which is has a lot of being the shining. movie adaptations have a lot of lore behind it because of Stanley Kubrick's version and, and Steven, Mr. King finally came out and said, I despise it. I hate what he did with it. And I think that just two different things. I mean, Steve Stanley just did what he wanted with the material. Well, Kubrick did a Kubrick film and right not a king film,

Mick Garris 45:25
not a kenotic King film. And there's a big difference between them as artists. Kubrick is very cool. And King is very warm. The writing is all about the humanity. But also it's a very personal book to King. When he wrote it. He was a drinking alcoholic. And it was all about alcoholism and the guilt he felt for actually hurting his child breaking an arm of the character of jack Torrance, his child in a drunken rage. And so here he is recounting something that's personal to him. I I'm sure he never broke one of his son's arms. But, but he knew that there was a boiler that was gonna blow inside of jack Torrance, because he'd been in that boiler too. And so Kubrick turned it into something very chilly and very Other than that, and it became an iconic horror movie. But it was not a good adaptation of a Stephen King book. And that novel is one of my favorite novels of all time. And the good news was that Stephen King himself what after the success of the stand, ABC said to King, what do you want to do next? Anything you were all there? And he said, you know, I'd kind of like to do the shining like the book. And he wrote the script himself. And it's one of the best scripts I've ever read and certainly ever had my hands. And so because we had done so well with the stand together, and become friends on that, he trusted me with this three years later. And we were able to do something really special with that, too.

Alex Ferrari 47:03
Yeah, it was, it was remarkable. I love watching both versions and seeing the distinct differences between between your version and Stanley's version. And they live as different pieces of art in different ways. There's no glare on the same shelf in the video store. If we may go back to kids or kids just Google video store, you'll see it Yes. Very, very cool. Now, there was a there's a project or a film that you wrote that I don't think you thought and please correct me if I'm wrong, I didn't think you would think it would have the legs that has has had, nor the the love that has come from it. It was just Hocus Pocus. It's become this classic Hollywood Halloween film, but it's a Halloween family film. It which is pretty,

Mick Garris 47:57
which is pretty amazing to hit the you know, it was not particularly successful. Whatever came out, it was a very mild success, right. But over time, and it really started with the Disney Channel. They started running it on Halloween, and then ABC started doing it. And every year it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And people keep asking about a sequel and all that that's finally about to start production, right. And the merchandise. It's the biggest Halloween movie in history.

Alex Ferrari 48:31
And bigger even bigger than Halloween.

Mick Garris 48:34
Yeah, I would have guessed. You know, on, on Halloween day on free form, they show it back to back 12 times on that day. And every day of the month of October they show it

Alex Ferrari 48:47
and my children finally just watched it. They're not there. They're young. They're young girls. And we watched it on Disney plus, because it came on Disney plus and we watched it and I hadn't seen it probably since the video store days. It's just I see clips in it, but I hadn't seen and I said they're like what is so much fun. It's just like a fun and like, Oh my god, they're making a sequel and they're all coming back. Oh my god.

Mick Garris 49:11
Yeah, great. Well, and it's it's again, I was hired to do that because I was working with Steven Spielberg at the time. And the producer, David Kirschner who came up with the idea designed all the characters and everything had just done an American tale for Spielberg and amblin. So it was to Spielberg guys getting together with, you know what Disney wanted. And at first, Steven was interested in being a part of it, that it was like, oh, with Disney. Now we're going after the same audience and they were very competitive at that time. So it was almost a collaboration with with Spielberg, Disney and sorry, my gardener is

Alex Ferrari 49:55
it's all good. It's all good. It's all good.

Mick Garris 49:57
It's not to me, but that's it. Thank you But, yeah, it's amazing to hit with something that you go out on Halloween night and you see children dressed as Billy butchers and the Sanderson sisters, and they carry their big book, you know, the book of spells. And it's like, I helped create that thing. You know, this thing exists partly because of me. And it. It's really humbling.

Alex Ferrari 50:28
Yeah, it's something that just lives on and on and on. And you've, you know, you've been a part of things that that have shelf life, I think Hocus Pocus arguably, is the is the thing that holds like it's just hold, it's been going on and on and on, and on and on.

Mick Garris 50:43
Absolutely, absolutely. in it. You know, I have had the fortune of having worked on things that were not successful initially, that became either cold favorites are much more successful in their afterlife than in their first lives, you know, critters to shows in theaters and festivals every Easter and on television and stuff. It's one of the few Easter horror movies and you don't see critters one revived, you see critters to revive. And psycho for was only on Showtime when it came out. And you know, it was written by the same guy who wrote psycho one. And, you know, it has developed a love and the stand. Huge, and it still maintains its its power and to be able to create something. Popular culture is very much of its moment. It's not meant to last forever. But fortunately, I've been involved in some projects that have had a very long shelf life and a shelf life that continues to grow. And so maybe it's better to have flops, that becomes

Alex Ferrari 52:00
I mean, the residual payments become better later, I guess.

Mick Garris 52:03
Yeah, I wish. You know how residuals work. They shrink every time.

Alex Ferrari 52:08
I know. But is it like Seinfeld? Where you get a penny? You get 1000 checks that are petty? Yes. Yeah. And the stamps are more. Yeah, that's something that a lot of a lot of writers think that. I think and I'd love to hear what you think about it, because I think things have changed so much over the last 10 years is you mean before I mean, I've known a lot of people in the gills and that get those residual checks. And they do get smaller every year. And but then it boosts up when a new new release comes out. Like oh, it just hit HBO. Okay, great, Greg, okay, just a video. But in nowadays, with streaming and everything, it's not what it was once before. So I think a lot of young writers coming into like, Oh, I gotta get that sweet, residual residual money. Like we're gonna live in the life like Seinfeld and friends. And I'm like, I don't think that even exists anymore. I think that's that, that kind of residual, like, I mean, for instance, those guys, oh,

Mick Garris 53:05
yeah. pay TV and theatrical and that sort of thing. And network television broadcast, cable television, those residuals live on. But in streaming, you know, Netflix doesn't pay residuals, even for their original programming. So you got to make a big deal upfront. But I don't know what I would do if I were a new filmmaker starting out, because there are movies made by filmmakers you would know and films you've seen, and that you know, that you like, that are familiar, where those filmmakers can't make a living off of what they get paid to make them for. You know, it's in the world of streaming, it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. You know, who knows, from a little thumbnail on amazon prime, if it's good, or if it's not, and, you know, Netflix will produce movies that they don't promote, and just say, let's see what happens, see if they hit. Or they'll make something like birdbox, which connects in a big way. But the residual thing, you know, if you want to write or make movies, you have to do it out of a passion, and out of a true desire to to be a creative force. Because if you do it to make money, you're in the wrong business. Anybody who sets out to make money making movies is in it for the wrong reason, and they're not gonna make it

Alex Ferrari 54:33
right. What's that saying? How do you how do you become a millionaire in in the film business? Start with a billion. Yeah. It's, it's, it's so true. And I've had so many so many filmmakers over the years come to me like Well, yeah, you know, I'm gonna make this money and that money I'm like, honey, Sir, this is you. You are so in the wrong you know? Like, do you want to Do you run into this? I mean, I'm sure you've spoken to screenwriters coming up screenwriters and filmmakers over the years? Do you see a lot of that a lot, I call it a lottery ticket mentality where they think the next movie is gonna give them you know that they're going to get Steven Spielberg's eye, and he's gonna come down and do all this stuff, or it's going to hit Sundance, or it's gonna get me an agent that's going to give me a million dollar on my next spec, or do you see that mentality in people you want to,

Mick Garris 55:24
there's still enough of that happening, that it's, it's, it's worth, you know, don't give up a dream if your head if you've been pounding your head against the wall for 20 years and have never sold a screenplay, chances are good, that it may not happen. But then it might, you know, I've just reworked a movie that I wrote, I wrote a screenplay 30 years ago, called Jimmy miracle. And I've always thought it was the best movie idea I ever had. And Spielberg loved it at the time. But it wasn't a movie whose time had come. And it's a period picture takes place during the Depression. And so I thought, maybe I'll write it as a novel. And I rewrite it now and then. But I came up with an idea on how to completely revamp it. And keep all of the elements that made it exciting to me, but gave it new elements that made it even more exciting to me. And almost immediately it's been optioned, and we're taking it out to the studios next week. So you know, it's, you got to keep at it as long as you can stand. But if it's been 20 years, and you haven't been able to do it, then do it. Not, you know, don't live at your mom's house, mowing lawns in the hopes that you're going to make it as a screenwriter, if it hasn't happened for 20 years, go ahead and get your job as a lawyer, you know, finish school and, and do that. But, you know, a lot of times I wrote more when I was working a day job than I do working full time as a writer and filmmaker. But it's something it doesn't cost you anything to be a writer. And you know, it's a great hobby, regardless of whether things get made or not. I've written a lot of spec scripts that have never been made, or optioned. And that's just part of the game. But I get to be a better writer each time I do it.

Alex Ferrari 57:30
Now, there's one other project I wanted to talk to you about, which is I generally don't bring up short films on this on this show. But I mean, you worked on ghost. It was a famous short film, starring the late you're not that well. I mean, quote unquote, short work, starring the late great Michael Jackson. And your collaborator was also the late great Stan Winston. And and Stephen King. And oh, that's right. Stephen King was involved with that as well. So I mean, talk about a trifecta of icons, each of them an icon and you're working. What was it like collaborating with, with Michael Jackson, Steven and, and Stan on this, and the show for which I remember was not released in the States. While we're a long time. Yeah.

Mick Garris 58:24
I think it premiered on Halloween, like, two years after it had been made.

Alex Ferrari 58:29
Because I wanted to watch it. Yeah.

Mick Garris 58:32
It was an incredibly troubled production for a number of reasons, including the obvious ones. But Michael went to Stephen King, he said, I want to make the scariest movie ever because he had so much enjoyed making thriller in which I am a zombie, by the way, oh, I mean, what you should

Alex Ferrari 58:49
have led with that make

Mick Garris 58:52
very delete. But so I was shooting the stand at the time. And King had written a draft for Michael. And he'd recommended me as the director to Michael. And so I met with Michael and we hit it off great. He was very sweet. And so we started production and we shot for two weeks. It was originally going to be the end title song for family Addams Family Values. And once we were shooting, we shot for two weeks and never got to the musical number yet when you work with Michael, you worked on Michael time and it didn't have much to do with a 24 hour clock or even a 30 day calendar. So, you know he was great and hard working but it was really slow and two weeks into the shoot. Michael didn't show up the next day. And suddenly we started hearing about this scandal that had happened that none of us believed because Has anybody who'd worked with him could not believe that this was going on. And, to this day, I don't know what the truth of his of it is. My only experiences with Michael were really good ones, we became friends. But, you know, if he did what it said he had done, it's the worst thing in the world. And if he didn't, it's also the worst thing in the world. But he disappeared. And it turned out he was in Thailand. And then we were going to finish it in Japan and my line producer went to Japan and shipped all of the sets we'd been working on to Japan. And then they were shipped back it, it didn't happen for three years. And then Michael said, Okay, I'm ready. We're gonna do it now. Make it's gonna be great. It's

Unknown Speaker 1:00:48
gonna be fantastic.

Mick Garris 1:00:50
And it's been a very good, very good impression, Bella. Thank you. But I was already scheduled to do the shining with Stephen King next. And so I said, Michael, I can't just keep putting this off. I have a hard start date. And you don't. So I, I think you should talk to Stan Winston, they were friends. Stan is a very was a very good director. He had done pumpkin head at that time. And so I said, you guys are friends. He's doing the special effects. Anyway. You should ask him and he he did. And so I had shot two weeks worth of stuff. Including a lot of the visual effects stuff that stands company did digital domain Stan and Jim Cameron's company. And so Stan took it over and it was great. It was everything but the kitchen sink. It was a 35 minute movie that was originally going to be a seven minute music video at most a 15 minute video, but you know Michael ended up paying for the whole thing ended up costing $15 million the most expensive music video in history. And it was a blast but I would love to seen it through from beginning to end but that just though I wouldn't have been able to do the shining

Alex Ferrari 1:02:12
and I'll tell you I had the pleasure of going to stand studio visiting Stan studio while he was still alive and I didn't get to meet Stan but I got to go they took me through the entire studio and that that board room. Oh my god that boardroom for everyone listening the boardroom had the Terminator the predator an alien every like Tom Cruise's. Let's start from Interview

Mick Garris 1:02:36
with the Vampire all that Christopher Lloyd holding his head. Yeah. Facing stories episode.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:42
That's right. All of that stuff was it was two stories. I remember to two floors of all these things looking down on you. Oh my god. How cool is it to have meetings in here? Lucky, lucky people. Yes, absolutely. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What are three screenplays every every screenwriter should read

Mick Garris 1:03:05
every screenwriter should read well alien to see just how concise it can be. Anything by Preston Sturges to see just what what dialogue can be at its best. And you know, Billy Wilder in an eye all diamond as Sunset Boulevard is a great example. Now, none of those are contemporary. You know, I think some of the Tarantino's writing is amazing. He's not the best speller.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:34
But when you turn to you know, it's it's okay.

Mick Garris 1:03:37
It doesn't matter. Because his dialogue and everything is so great and the ideas are big. And, you know, most people will say, don't write a dialogue pay scene longer than four or five pages. He can give you 15 Great, great pages of dialogue. And he savor every word.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:58
You're in like Inglorious Basterds. I'd like that scene in the in the basement with all the Nazis that that was like 20 minutes. Amazing. 20 or 30 minutes of the movie was just that scene. It's it is it is truly, truly remarkable. Do you appreciate just as as a viewer and as a filmmaker, people and filmmakers and screenwriters who take the swings at bat? They might not always connect, but they take the big swings.

Mick Garris 1:04:25
Absolutely. You know, I think Jordan Peele doing get out was great. And then when he did us, he took bigger swings. They didn't connect as much. But it was great to see him make the attempt to do go beyond what he's already done. And yeah, I mean, obviously my favorite films are where it works in every level. But I love creative. There's is a couple of filmmakers named Aaron Morehead and Justin Benson, who write and direct their own movies and they take big fantastical swings, and they more often than not connect. And it's, it's really fun to see adventurous movies. And, you know, I'm not a fan of franchise movies, particularly within the horror genre. It's a, you know, I want to see somebody, I want to see the next David Cronenberg, you know, somebody whose films are so iconic clastic that they couldn't be made by anybody else.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:28
Right. Exactly. And, I mean, and carpenter, obviously with how that Yeah. And and Well, I mean, the list of things that john has done. Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Mick Garris 1:05:45
Write, and write and write and write, and the you need to be represented. But you need to write something that's not just good, but reflects a personality that nobody else has. It needs to be something an agent's taking home 30 scripts every weekend. And most of those scripts, he's not going to get further than five or 10 pages. And you need to galvanize your reader, and make that reader excited that he's reading a movie that not only is really great, but is something he feels an audience will come to see that he's not looking for an art film, although there are great commercial art films, you know, you're talking about a medium that costs millions of dollars to do it, right. And you're not just masturbating with a camera, we're doing something for an audience, not for yourself. Now, please yourself first, and please the audience as well. But if you imbue your writing with your own personality in a personality that stands out from all others, and makes your script, even if it's audacious, even if they don't buy the script, they look at it and go, this is a writer we should meet with who might be right for such and such a project. So it's just do the best that you can in the most original way that you can to differentiate yourself from the other 29.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:13
And then it is it is true that and I think a lot of screenwriters and filmmakers don't understand this is that they need to understand what their secret sauce is. and lean into that secret sauce. Don't try to be Tarantino cuz you're never gonna be Tarantino he's already Tarantino, right? You're never gonna be we really have a Nolan. We already have a carpenter, you can be inspired by them. But you have so but you have to be you have to have that secret sauce. And that's the only thing in the marketplace that nobody else has. Right?

Mick Garris 1:07:42
Yeah, I mean, your main your main target, is to get them to want to keep turning the page. Make your scripts readable.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:56
Excellent, excellent advice. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Mick Garris 1:08:04
Well, in life, I think there are still lessons I haven't completely learned. But as far as the film industry goes, I mean, it's always going to be up and down. You can do something huge, like the stand and not work again for three years. You know, same. It's, it's every bit as hard. The second, third, fourth and fifth time out is the first time maybe the wheels have been greased a bit in that people know who you are or know your work. But you have to keep proving yourself and you can't rest on your laurels because those were out real quick.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:43
And finally, three of your favorite films of all time. Okay. Dead Ringers. Oh, great. Cronenberg. Yes. Great writer Frankenstein. Yes. And Raiders. avastar. nice combination. That's a good that's a good movie night. That is a good movie night. They'd have nothing in common. Yeah. Now, where can people find watch your show and then consume your content, sir.

Mick Garris 1:09:15
Okay, my podcast post mortem with Mick garris is on Apple podcasts and every other podcast app around. We interview do interviews every other week. And on the alternating weeks, we do post mortem ama where you can ask Nick anything, and we solicit questions. I'm on Facebook at post mortem with Mick garris Mick garris pm on Instagram and on Twitter. And we'll keep things alive that way all the time. You'll know what's coming and when we're asking for questions from the audience, and all that stuff.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:50
And I will put that all in the show notes. Mick, thank you so much for taking the time for the show and dropping your knowledge bombs on My tribe today so I appreciate

Mick Garris 1:10:02
All right, always a pleasure. Thank you



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IFH 625: Indie Film Hustle Success Story – American Murderer with Matthew Gentile

Matthew Gentile is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

He most recently wrote and directed his first feature, AMERICAN MURDERER: a true-crime drama about a charismatic conman who became the FBI’s most unlikely and elusive top ten fugitive. Photographed in Utah during the height of the pandemic, AMERICAN MURDERER stars Tom Pelphrey, Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel, Jacki Weaver, Shantel Vansanten, Paul Schneider, Moises Arias, and Kevin Corrigan. Traveling Picture Show Company produced the film with Gigi Films, Productivity Media Inc, and Radiant Films International.

AMERICAN MURDERER opens in select theaters on October 21st and becomes available on streaming on October 28th.
And that for more information, they can follow me on Instagram @matthewlgentile or go to my website: www.matthewgentiledirector.com

A graduate of the directing program at the AFI Conservatory, Matthew’s thesis films FRONTMAN (which won 12 awards including the Student Emmy for Best Directing), and LAWMAN played over 100 festivals worldwide.

A Brooklyn native, Matthew holds a BA in English & Film Studies from Connecticut College and an MFA in Directing from the American Film Institute.

Please enjoy my conversation with Matthew Gentile.

Matthew Gentile 0:00
Every actor is different. They all have a different language. And you know, your job as a director is kind of figure that out, right? Not necessarily trying to figure them out and pinpoint them. Okay, no, you know, but figure out how they work what they need.

Alex Ferrari 0:13
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 Matthew Gentile. How you doing Matthew?

Matthew Gentile 0:27
Great, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:29
I'm doing good, man. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. You, you wrote me an impassioned email to, you know, to come on the show. And, and, you know, tell everybody, first of all that how you found me and what, what the show is done for you. Because I always love kind of sharing those stories with the audience.

Matthew Gentile 0:45
Yeah, well, you know, as we were saying, I found the show in 2020 and COVID. You know, I was in a phase where I just want to listen to as many podcasts as I could with all the time we have in our hands. And this one rang red straight to the top of my list, because I saw your episode with my mentor and dear friend, Judith Weston. And I thought you just did an incredible job interviewing her about her process, and how she works with directors and actors. And you know, Judith is such an important person to be in for so many filmmakers have benefited from her wisdom. I just had a consultation with her recently for my next film. And, you know, she, of course, just blew my mind and pushed me and she's, she's just so she's such a deep thinker about film. And I thought your interview did a really great job getting to the heart of it. And I've seen filmmaker friends of mine, you know, Film School alums, like Chloe Okuno, and Max Barbic, who I went to AFI film school with, I've seen them do great interviews with you promoting your film and promoting their films. And I just think what you really specialize in is getting to the core of, you know, indie films, how we make them, how do we get them out there? But like you said, you know, you're you Britain, cut through the delusions about the film industry, I think you're there just real conversations with filmmakers. I feel like when I listen to your podcast, and like having coffee, with the person you're interviewing, you know, I'm a fan. And, you know, as I'm doing the press rounds through this movie, I thought I gotta get on that one. I have a few on my lesson. Like, I want to get on that one on that one. So I'm glad you were so receptive, and had me on Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 2:21
I appreciate it. Man, I appreciate I try to, we try to break through the delusion of most filmmakers, because most filmmakers are delusional I was, I'm sure you weren't? Sure. There has to be a sense of delusion. I think to get into the business, you have to be delusional. To stay in the business, you kind of have to be kind of delusional there is this level of delusion for us to even do or try to do what we're doing because it's insane. In sane to get a movie off the ground shot film, and then when you're exhausted, then you got to find distribution. And then hopefully, you'll get a check. And hopefully, someone will give you another job again, it's just this. So you, there has to be a healthy amount of delusion, but a healthy amount, not a unhealthy amount, which is what I generally run into, was I was extremely unhealthy with my delusion for quite some time for a long, long time. So that's why I can speak about it so clearly. So Matt, so first question, Brother, how and why did you want to get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Matthew Gentile 3:25
Well, the story I typically tell is when I was 12 years old, my father showed me Doctor afternoon. She's 12 years old.

Alex Ferrari 3:35
It was it was the 80s It was the 80s kids, it was it was 80s or 90s.

Matthew Gentile 3:41
It was early 2000's.

Alex Ferrari 3:43
All right. So yeah,

Matthew Gentile 3:45
I think I'm in my 20s. But I'm 32. So the Yeah, I saw talk to everyone. I was 12 in the early aughts. And you know, it was a film that just completely blew my mind. You know, to the point where my father showed it to me, I kind of said, Hey, I don't want I want that. Give me more of that. And you know, that led to godfather. Films I grew up loving. But so I that movie really spoke to me, you know, set in Brooklyn where I grew up. I'm from Brooklyn, New York. And when I saw the film, you know, I was so captured by Al Pacino and his performance. Just really, I felt sympathy for him. Even though he was going around the bank putting the gun in people's faces. I felt so much like when he finally gets caught that last shot of the movie, when he's it's all on his face, and just everything about spoke. I mean, I was you know, I was into theater as a kid, I was into film, you know, so I was into the arts, you know, and so acting was something that was going on my mind writing stories was on my mind. So I had a creative energy within me like, you know, but I didn't know where to necessarily put her whatnot. But finally, one day, I was still age 12. My mom and I grew up in New York City. We're walking down the street You and they used to sell at these on the streets it I don't know where you're from but New York, from New York. Well, yeah. So they used to sell these stuff on the streets dance, they would have scripts like that were printed.

Alex Ferrari 5:12
Oh, when I went back in the early to the 2000s. I saw that in front of like NYU and like they have like, yeah, Fight Club and like the bootleg bootleg scripts basically

Matthew Gentile 5:24
Exactly. Like they printed off like Drew scriptor, Rama and like, put a cover with the like, Yes.

Alex Ferrari 5:34
Put the poster like but it was black and white version.

Matthew Gentile 5:37
Or like, yeah, or some generic still from the film. Like I think dog afternoon. It was the picture of like him holding the woman holding Silvia outside the bank. So I saw this script on the streets. I was like, Oh, they had only scripts and I saw a job do you afternoon I was crying. And my mom sees that. And so she bought me the screenplay for $10 is a Hanukkah present. And I took the screenplay, I read it. And I had a VHS and I watched the movie. And I read the script. I watched the film. And that was the first time I saw in my own life that like oh my god, words on a page could become images on a screen. And I was just really fascinated by that. And I love the screenplay architecture. Fred Pearson who wrote the script was you know, one of my favorite writers Cool Hand Luke I saw shortly after that also became one of my all time favorites. I know right Phil things in the movie said that Paul Newman and cool I look was the reason he became an actor. So you know, I think there's there's a lot of you know, these movies and Frank Pearson was incredible screenwriter. And he actually was also the artistic director of AFI. But he passed right before I started as a student. So, you know, dogs, it was kind of that one movie. And then there was another film watching experience that really kicked me out the door. senior year of high school, my English teacher showed a cure curse I was robbed. In a King Lear class. And it was a class just it was actually a class was interesting. CG was cool. He did a class that was called King Lear to end it. So same effects end game and King Lear, and about existentialism and all that when you're 17 you're on your journey English is so mind blowing. And I loved King Lear as a play. But the Phil Ron just shook the box. And it's funny because when I saw it, we saw it in like segments, because it's high school. So they show you like 30 minutes. That's a long movie. So it took like four weeks to watch run, but I couldn't get anywhere. So I was like, I really want to finish run like so badly. But seeing Ron and more than that reading about the process of how Kurosawa made that film. You know how he was 75 years old, and he was going blind. And he was his wife, who had been with his whole life and career had just passed away. And he mourned for two days and then went back to filming how he built castles and blew them up, like for real, and the costumes and the extras and, and I just thought the madness of this was so interesting to me. And I just you know, he quickly became my favorite director of all time still is I have a Seven Samurai poster on my apartment. You know, I just love Carissa Moore. You know, I love a lot of great directors, but he's my, that's my all time spirit animal.

Alex Ferrari 8:16
I will tell you that the I own two autographs. One of them is Akira Kurosawa know what I have when we get off. I'll grab that it's sitting over there. I'll grab it. I'll show it to you and the other ones George Lucas. Which I got on a on a Star Wars lunchbox

Matthew Gentile 8:31
Personally, that says disciple. Yes. At the world premiere of this film, American murder hybrid premiered at the Toronto Film Fest in Sicily. And Francis Ford Coppola was there showing the Godfather night before my film screened. And I got to meet him and I. And I asked him about Kurosawa and like his stories, and they were great. He's talking about how they would like go to the steakhouse and talk for hours. And I asked Coppola. He asked me what my favorite Kurosawa film was. And I said, Ron, and he said back Oh, my bad sleep. Well, it's like, of course, I know that. You stole the cake scene. Whether they stole the shots or not. But he then Coble asked me, he was going Okay, so you've seen this one. And then basically, he goes for me like, yeah, of course, I'll be I think 30 feature films, total, something like that. So he basically goes about 12. I've seen them all. And then he gets to one I haven't. I'm liking what's called Looking after, but it was really funny. He stumped me finally, and I was like, do I lie and tell him I've seen it, or do I just tell the truth and I told the truth. But it's a fairly light hearted comedy one that he did. I mean, he just made so many incredible films and masterpieces. And, you know, I think Coppola's famous quote was like most filmmakers make one or two masterpieces you know, carousel only made eight to 10. Like it's, you know, it's an ending Made them across such a and I know a lot of filmmakers have cited him like Florence Carson said, you know, comparison of Shakespeare or the Beatles, you know, and yeah, he's just an incredible.

Alex Ferrari 10:09
Yeah, it's like him and Kubrick for me. It's, of course, I want to Kubrick. They may you know, masterpieces like they just come in and they just do what they do. But it's pretty remarkable now on your on your filmmaking path. Based on your IMDB, which I was looking at you did a good amount of shorts. You made a good amount of short films before you even got to AFI. Is that Is that correct?

Matthew Gentile 10:36
Yeah, you know, I did I, you know, my film path was, you know, I in high school, I made like, think like one or two with my brother, actually, who did the score for the film. He's a class my brother's a classical pianist and conductor. Sure. And this was his first film score actually did an incredible job. He just won an award yesterday

Alex Ferrari 10:55
And the price and I'm assuming the price was right. I'm assuming the price was right back then. Was that the price was right for hiring your brother.

Matthew Gentile 11:02
Oh, yeah. He was very unexpected. He's still we're both expensive. But yeah, the price was right. So he was Yeah, but we, we wrote You know, we were kind of like the Gentile brothers in high school, we made a couple of movies and what I don't know if those are an IMDB they might be. Obviously IMDb keeps everything on there. But I know a lot of people try to get stuff erased from them, and they never do it. So they aren't they aren't extensive, or exhaustive. But I made a couple of films in high school. You know, I in college, I did a liberal arts degree, I went to Connecticut College. I majored in English and film studies. But it was a semester abroad where I went to the family film school in Prague, which I'm sure someone else but as I've talked about before, a lot of filmmakers kind of seem to have come through that. And that was my first time experiencing film conservatory. And I made a short film that I adapted from a Hemingway story called got in the ring. That, um, you know, that was my first time making film. I was like, oh, you know, this is it. It's, you know, writing and directing is what I want to do. Like, for sure, you know, it's kind of always there in the background, you know, but like, I remember being in high school, I was like, really obsessed with acting like that was like my passion. And as a teacher kind of say to me, great drama teacher, who was a good actor himself and had worked and, you know, was teaching in between jobs. And he worked with me a lot. And I kind of asked him, I was like, Do you have what it takes to be an actor and he looked at me and he was like, one of the truth like, maybe, but I think your director or scream, he assaulted me. And I was really great. At the time, I was pissed at him. So I want to say it was gonna be the next you know, Marlon Brando. Retrospective like what a great teacher because he really told me the truth and, you know, pushed me to where he could sense the passion for the arts, but he saw was being used in the wrong place. And so so you know, but around Yeah, junior year of college, that was one of my when I did that semester abroad in Prague at the family film school, that was kind of like, I would say, my point of no return to use screenwriting terms. You know, after that, I was like, I'm gonna go, be a director, whatever it takes. And then, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 13:06
So so when you're on your journey, now, I'm assuming you're getting paid left and right, you're making tons of cash as a director, right, just tons and tons and tons of cash all the way through.

Matthew Gentile 13:16
I don't know what to do with all of it.

Alex Ferrari 13:18
I mean, it was just, it was kind of like, it was kind of like Pablo Escobar, you were like burying it in the back. That was just so much guys. Over the years, you know, because it looked like from when you started to when you finally got your first American American murderer is your first feature, correct? Yes. So from the point of view, getting your first feature done, you did a whole bunch of short films. I assume you weren't getting paid for these short films. You weren't making a tremendous amount of money. So this is the thing I love asking filmmakers, because so many of us listening right now are going through this. How did you keep going? How did you wake up in the morning going? Am I on the right path? Because this is we're talking about better part of a decade. And yes, you're at school and you're and you're, you know, you're AFI in Prague, I get that part of it. And you're when you're surrounded by that the delusion continues. Because you're surrounded by filmmakers and film teachers, and you're learning and you're just like, Yeah, but at a certain point, you have to go, you know, how many no more? I'm assuming you had a few nodes along the way, as well. So how did you so what what tips what how?

Matthew Gentile 14:28
Well, yeah, I definitely talked about the path because you know, when I, you know, when I graduated college and decide, okay, I want to be a filmmaker. It's like, great, who doesn't? You know, who doesn't want to be a director screenwriter, so you know, or act, right? Yeah. And so, my parents my first job in the industry, I actually, I mean, I had a lot of internships throughout college, but I actually worked at William Morris Endeavor in the mailroom. And then I became an assistant there. And with one week's paycheck, which at the time, I think was $670 I made a short film for that amount of money. And that's the film that got me into AFI, which is not a cheap film school to go to as well I know is not. And, you know, so I went to AFI and was very felt very lucky to be there. It was, I think the youngest director, there are one of them at least, because AFI tends to skew older in terms of the applicants to graduate school, not an undergrad. And, you know, but at such a talented class. Like I said, Max Barbra Cal was my class. Chloe Hakuna was the year before me was director Akasha Stevenson, who just booked the Omen film and has been doing TV for five years was my classmate. So I had a really, I think, I hope we become a what was in the water that your class because there are so many talented directors who I think, you know, we're gonna graduate now six, seven years ago. And I think there's a lot of them are going to come out and blow people's minds. So it was, it was quite a class, it was a matter they weren't talented, to the point where it scared me that these these people were good. And so but you know, you graduate film school, and in my case, I was quite lucky. My short my thesis short. Well, what's cool about AFI actually is your first year you make three but they call cycle films, where you make really cheap, and you you know, like the the, they make, like $5,000 budgets, right, and you like, you go out and shoot them in a weekend and you come back at them, and then you screen them for your peers, and they go to and on stage and bellick My first press conference for American murder and Terminator which went very well only reminded me of it just from the physical act of walking up on stage to be like to talk to or ask questions. But in the case of backpass narrative workshop, you specifically go up on stage, I know a lot of filmmakers have talked about how it just made them, you know, throw up on the waist, or whatnot. But it was, it was really great. Honestly, though, because it really prepares you for the industry. Because, you know, when you do a test screening of a movie after that, nothing really fazes you. But um, you know, it was it was it was incredible opportunity. But so, you know, you graduate film school, and in my case, you know, my first three films I made that year, were not overly exceptional. My third one was my best so I was getting better. But then you make a thesis film your second year, and for me my thesis film frontman, which was probably at this point, like short film, six or seven in the game. That one really opened a lot of doors while the student me got a lot festival traction. And I had the opportunity actually, I was paid to do one short, but very little money by AFI to come back and direct law man, because the director of the year below man dropped out and left the team and so they needed a director. So they paid me like a TA salary. And I was able to do that. And that was actually my first technical, you know, directing for hire job. It didn't feel like that since I was extremely passionate about. But that was the first time I think I got paid to direct. And you know, when I graduated film school, I kind of was in a bit of an awkward place. So I was like, I was like, you know, do I, you know, I was an assistant before I was like, well do I go try to be an assistant to a director again, and I had some kind of almost there. And I think that's a totally valid path that I know a lot of people have done, but what I was sensing was I kind of needed to embrace the indie film, hustle and the entrepreneurial way of, you know, you know, support myself get through this work but like don't work for someone you know, like an alias director because you're going to be working for them 17 hours day or no time to work on your own stuff. And because I was having traction with my thumbs, I was like, I need to work towards getting my first feature paid. And so you know, I did when I graduate I'm gonna do all kinds of gigs from you know, I did reality TV under a fake name. I did like these awful like cooking.

Alex Ferrari 18:45
Allan Smoothie?

Matthew Gentile 18:47
Something like, Sean, something. Um, but you know, yeah, and I did whatever I could, you know, to like keep keep the lights on like really cheap a rumble, I didn't know what write my scripts, and then I'd be like, oh, I need to go do another gig. But finally, what actually ended up sustaining me through my years up to American murderer was script reading. I was I was qualified for that, because I had worked at William Morris. And that became the easiest and most sustainable way for me to, you know, work consistently and be able to write my own scripts, and, you know, have the flexibility to be able to stop finding too or, you know, binge down. I read a bunch but and it also was for me script dream was my screen read school, you know, AFI was my directing school and script reading for I can't say the sites right now. Because, you know, they like anonymity, but, you know, think big screenwriting competitions or, you know, sites like that. And, you know, they were my screenwriting school, they really allow they gave me a way to support myself. So that book without them, I don't think I would not be here because I came here to support myself as I became a professional writer, and director. And so the path towards getting American work or made, you know, a year or two out of AFI. I thought I thought I was hardship because my film wildcards and then I realized after five seconds, nobody gives a shit anymore.

Alex Ferrari 20:14
You know, they didn't just walk up and go, How much money did you need?

Matthew Gentile 20:18
Yeah, do you think you're good? Because you want to know more? Oh my god, and then no one cares. And they're because they asked you the first thing you do when you make, you know, anything decent, as they say, what's your next thing? You know, what's your next three things?

Alex Ferrari 20:30
Let alone the next?

Matthew Gentile 20:31
What's your next? Exactly. It's a what's next business as we know. And so, you know, I was kind of in between a call er, because again, I think, if I can give some advice, which I don't know, if you should listen to but you know it, you know, when you leave film school, I think a lot of people have different visions of like, what they're, or even if you don't go to film school, because, you know, there probably are more great filmmakers that didn't go to film school that did, arguably, who knows. But um, you know, whatever it is, when you decide to build a career for yourself, you know, like, I don't know, I think everyone's vision of their own career probably changed at some point along the way.

Alex Ferrari 21:07
Every single Yeah,

Matthew Gentile 21:09
Like, because I never set out to be necessarily Mr. True Crime filmmaker, you know, now, American murder, I could say, and one thing I'm very proud of, is it is 100% A movie I wanted to make. It's not a film. I was like, hired to do. I mean, I wasn't contracts, I guess. It's terms with the contracts. But I but I did. It was a film that came from inside very personal, very deep rooted not, you know, but, but we know that it's very hard to get movies made. And, you know, everyone has to figure out how to work in the business and how to make films how to get financing for them. And it's a constant struggle on crime.

Alex Ferrari 21:44
So how so that was my next question. How did you get American murder American murderer off the ground, because you have a really great cast? You know, I won't ask you the budget, but it looks good. It doesn't look like you made it for five grand. So like for five grand? Five grand, we sold it for 50. And I'm done. And

Matthew Gentile 22:06
You've never heard of

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Exact the highest sale ever for, that you've never heard about. I saw I signed nondisclosure. I can't even talk about it. But how did you get this? I know you did a short film version of it. And that I'm assuming, because that's, that's a myth as well, that so many filmmakers, I'm going to make a short film version of this script. And hopefully, that's going to get me to the feature. I did that multiple times in my career and never worked out. But it does work for some people. But I've heard in most of the times, it doesn't work, because it's just so damn hard. So how did you get this thing off the ground? How did you get your cast to agree to work with the first a quote unquote, first time director?

Matthew Gentile 22:51
All that kind of stuff? Yeah, no, that's, that's a great question. And so basically, you know, going back, I was, yeah, 2017 or 2018. I'm thinking, What is my first feature? What, like, what, what will it be? You know, and there were a couple, like, I was thinking, MIDI go, you know, trying to make something like, and I was very inspired by the Duplass brothers, who's, you know, I like their films by sensibility. As you could probably tell from the trailers, absolutely nothing like that at all. But I really like their stuff. And I love what they've had to say about indie film, just go out and do it. So I thought, okay, maybe I could make something for like 10 grand or 50, grand, even right, through Kickstarter, or whatnot. But, you know, I didn't quite have a story that fit that budget. Exactly. So I was sort of like, and then there was a film that actually, you know, an agent had sent to me, that was like, a home invasion thriller. That was like, you know, maybe like a small budget, but an offer to direct something. But, you know, the script didn't even work. And the writers of it didn't really, like want to change anything. So I realized I was like, if I shoot this, I'm just going to be a traffic cop, basically, and I'm not really going to have any, like, you know, not contributing much. And so I've kind of left that project, which, you know, people might give like, why are you doing that?

Alex Ferrari 24:09
Right, it was it was a gig. That's, that's a really interesting because

Matthew Gentile 24:12
Yeah, but I didn't want to do you know, because one thing about, you know, directing a movie as we know, your your side to that for life, you know, that's a 25 to life. You know, and so, look, I'm in movies don't always turn out how you want and, you know, every director, you know, has to take risks and swings and some of my favorites, you know, taking like real swings, and sometimes they're not understood in their time. But, you know, at the very least, I think you got to be able to wake up and say, you know, like, I did something I want to do or I'm proud of, or has my heart in it or whatnot. And so I was in this awkward time, so cut back a little earlier. I'm 14. I wanted to be an FBI agent before I was a filmmaker, and I used to go on the FBI as top 10 list with the dreams and hopes of helping the FBI catch a fugitive. And it's at this time that the face of Jason Derek Brown enters my life. You know, you got to see menacing faces, Osama bin Laden white Bolger, right. And then the surfer dude from Southern California. So the face stands out to me. And I'm like, What's that? That's interesting. Cut you 12 or so maybe 13 years later, I'm figuring out what's my first feature? Some storyboarding. A shoot I think was a really bad dentistry commercial. But I also used a fake name. And I, all of a sudden, as I'm storyboarding, I always have documentaries on the background. And the face of Jason Derrick Brown was popped onto the screen. Again, I was the first time I'd seen it. And like, since, you know, age 14, and I'm like, that's crazy. skystone essay? What, like, what happened here? What's the story? And so I became absolutely obsessed with the story. You know, because it was a camp, that's charismatic con man becomes a bank robber, just really, it's dark to me. And, you know, I have a great writing mentor, named Billy Ray, who always says that, if he's in, he's a great guy. You know, he has in his lectures, he's very, like, tough, you know, in terms of like, he's very, like, you know, coming to the delusions, in your face kind of guy from what I've said, but he's a great human being. I mean, he's like, just a heartfelt good guy. There's so much for political causes everything. There's a real mentor and match of a human. And he, he's his big philosophy always is, if I don't wake up in the morning thinking about the project, I don't say yes, he's in a position to turn down projects, which a lot of us aren't. But he you know, he's as if I wake up thinking about in the shower, I'm not, I shouldn't do it. And I think it's kind of similar about a film. And so I kept waking up thinking about Jason dark brown, this could be a really cool movie, and it felt like it to me. So at first I thought, maybe I'll try to write it and sell it as a script. Because it might be too ambitious for first movie, you know, this would be probably, you know, some some cachet behind it. So I got I thought, just give it a go as a script, because why not? And so I wrote the script. And at the time, I had known this actor, Jonathan gruff, who was about to be on the show of mine, Dr. And I knew him because, yeah, yeah. And, and he, I knew him because I used to tape his auditions in the William Morris mail. And so after my short did decently for me, I kind of touched with him to his agents, I think. And I said to him, Hey, would you like to be in this? You know, I'm writing a script for you. And he was like, oh, that sounds a pitched it to me. That sounds cool. Send it to me. And, you know, we'll see. And so he read it a few months later, he really liked it. And, but I don't think his agents did.

He wanted to do it, though. And so we kind of were like, I was like, great. So I have this guy I have, he's gonna show it's about to come out with David Fincher, that's pretty cool. And so I was kicking the thing around, it was hard to get people to read it. So to go to the proof of concepts, or I go into a company one day, and I pitched the script, and, you know, I pitch the dragons and you know, wants to do it. And they're like, you know, they have five out of 10 interested, so not great. And so I'm leaving, and this guy kind of pulls me aside and he goes, you need to do a proof of concept of the script. And I kind of like looked at him. And I was like, oh, yeah, like another short, great. That's the last thing I want to do. Right now I've done at this point, maybe eight, right? I'm like, you know, how many more shorts can I do? What am I going to do? What do I need to prove? And the guys that are very smart. Like I said, You've proven you can direct with those shorts, but you have not proven you can direct this. And I was like, Damn, that's pretty smart. So he gave me kind of a different instruction that this guy really kind of gave me he was like, but don't try to make a short work as a short, right? Because like, what makes a great short film and I honestly I even though some of my shorts didn't win awards, I would say I'd never made a great short film personally. I mean, very well made ones possibly have in areas for the time of being a student. You know, I didn't make pioneer by David Lowery ever or curfew by Sean Christianson. Like those were shorts that really like you know, had that or even mark McDonough shorts over the broken like those shorts had like real, you know, payoff structure. All right. My shorts were like really like good trailers first features.

Alex Ferrari 29:16
So that's exactly what you needed. That's exactly what you needed.

Matthew Gentile 29:18
And so I went for American murder inside just to shoot one scene. And we shoot one shot one of the climactic scenes of a SWAT invasion. We did it all in one shot. And I got Jonathan to do it. And when I made that when I shot that scene and put it up on IMDb, all of a sudden, mine 100 dropped and then a lot of people were interested in reading the script and wanting to know about so I was totally right. The script did become a really valuable calling card by the called the short became a very good calling card for the screenplay. However, it did not walk me up to a deal, you know. So I would say that I think what you were saying earlier is is accurate that it can help you get a step ahead, but it's not necessarily going to secure a thing because what happened was that they were Getting the script by that point had gotten a lot better. So people were interested, but some were interested in me not doing it. Because it was like ambitious and you have a script and run with it, thank you, but I wasn't interested in that. And then two different producers slash companies kind of came into my orbit that were very supportive of me directing it. That was traveling picture show company. My producers, Kevin Metacell, and Karissa fell, and Gigi films, Gia Walsh, those two came at me from different angles around the same time, they now debate who came first, it was geotech, Kevin grossa. And they, they saw my short, they read my script, that's all my other shorts, and they were like, Okay, we'll develop this with you. And we'll go through a process and we'll get it out to the right actors, and they really helped me, you know, because that process of working with them, you know, we developed the script for the year, roughly, I think, and there was option for me, and they were giving me notes, and I was doing rewrites. And that was my professional riding school. Right. You know, and then after that, we finished the script, you know, are like, okay, it's ready to go out for casting now. Awesome. And it's March 1 2020. So at that point, you know, we don't know where the world is gonna go are thinking, yeah, that'd be filming, you know, the third quarter of 2020 and get, get an actor touch and let's go. And then it didn't really look like it was going to happen, you know, for a little while. But what I decided to do in the pandemic, I was working, I had remote work as a script reader. So I was, you know, fortunately, I was able to keep working. But in my off hours, all I did was prepare with my team, non stop, I cinematographer and I shot listened script six times, I've worked with all my thesis shorts. And same with my editors. You know, one of them was doing pre visualization with me on all the set pieces were like, Let's hit this thing. Let's do my about every shot and like, be ready to go for tomorrow. And I was it was nice, because it helped keep people's morale up and the time when it was not great. And then, you know, we were getting, in terms of the big thing about getting this movie made specifically because it's really all about the character of Jason Derrick Brown was getting the right actor. And by this point, Jonathan was no longer available. He was shooting matrix and you know, millions of other things because mine better blew him up into, you know, exponential proportions. But he's the nicest guy. And you know, we had the most amicable authority for the project. But now we need to find our Jason and Tom Pelphrey came onto my radar because my producer GIA Walsh was watching Noah's Ark. And she said to Matthew, this guy's dynamite, and I had actually never watched it. So I was like, Okay, I guess I gotta watch Ozark. And I did it. It was a great show. He was phenomenal. And it's very clear that he was the guy, you know, like, you have a lot of people on lists, this business and whatever. But it became very quick, clear, quick, that he was the right actor to play this character, quality, the right range, and all that. And so we sent him the script, he came in, he became attached. And then once he got attached, the other actors came Orion.

Alex Ferrari 33:03
And yeah, everybody else started. So So you had a producer, you had producing team helping you put this in cool thing together the financing. I'm assuming they helped to put together as well once the cast came on. So you had you had a doubt around you putting this together?

Matthew Gentile 33:16
That was all Yeah, no, I mean, I can take credit for writing the script and directing the movie. I cannot take credit for financing of that. And I very little do with that other than material.

Alex Ferrari 33:26
Exactly. So, so Alright, so you're off. You're off and running. You're making your film. Is there a day as directors we always have that day that everything comes crashing down around you? What was that day for you? And how did you overcome it?

Matthew Gentile 33:41
I love that question. I've heard you asked him before. But I don't know if I was prepared for it. So the on the fly. The day when everything came crashing? I mean, look, you know film is anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The first day, we filmed a scene that took place on a boat party. So we're here to help, you know, and the first thing we shot actually quite easy. It was was Tom's character. Jason's shooting targets in a national parks are doing nice, beautiful wide shots. It's just one after you know, it's gone and some squibs on the paper, please shooting but really not too complicated. We're like, Okay, we got this. And you're like, Yeah, I think I heard I think I heard Yeah, I think I read more in the hanaway, the director of the novice, she was talking about how like, you know, there's always a feeling of when you're directing at first it's going like, Oh, this is direct. It's easy. I just do this overall. Or even even Bob Schrader said in an interview, he was like, yes, Charlie Rose. I think you asked him like this directing a hard job and he was like, Wow, no hard job. It's just a it's hard if you wanna make a great film, for a good film, but it's not like a think about theory. It's like it's quite, you know, comfortable as a job as far as jobs go. But anyway, so we filmed a paper plate shooting, we descend the mountain to go into this beautiful lake and shoot A scene where this character is filming himself having a lavish party where he's doing drugs, what? Wild stuff. And we get to the boat, and the winds start blowing us 40 miles per fucking hour on the ledge. Surrounded, boom, boom, boom, boom. And so I'm like, oh my god, we're not gonna have sound and I also was a small boat we were filming. So the only crew that could be there were me. Mike, my cinematographer was operating and our sound man and my Ed those four people on the boat, crew, and then 12 or so extras. And we played actors. So it was just a, it was funny, because as I was walking to the set, you know, I see all these se trailers, I see honey wagons and stuff. And I'm like, Oh, my God, this is like, a real movie. We're making a real movie, like I'm here. And then I'm on the boat, and my camera operator is hanging on the thing and the sound guys trying to get in. And I'm like, This feels it's film school. Still nothing changed. It's the same ship. The honey wagons and trailers are are fooling nobody. You know, it's, it's the same, it never changes. You're still chasing the day, you're still just sneaking under the radar you're trying to get like, every day is like robbing a bank. You know, I just tried to get the shots unique because we filmed that movie quite young 22 shooting days as the as intense shoot and a lot to get them with action elements and SWAT invasions.

Alex Ferrari 36:34
Yeah, it's not all in one location either. So it's like it's

Matthew Gentile 36:39
No we have 27. So it was, it was a pretty intense, it was an intense shoot. But honestly, though, like I say, as hard as it wasn't, you know, intense as it was, it was also incredibly rewarding, because here we were, in this time we filmed, you know, December 2020, November 2020, and did some second year, early 2021. So, we were filming pre vaccine, you know, pandemic, right. And we were getting to do what we loved. You know, my cinematographer, I guess it was my classmate from AFI my editor, you know, was also moved, both my editors were classmates of mine, so to be able to do my producer. So you know, I know by this point that's going to start filming for at least two or three years. I'm getting to basically make movie with my friends, you know, on a pretty, you know, for first time director of quite a nice scale. So it was really nice to be able to do that. And, you know, so even though it was insane. And with a cast that far exceeded any extra extensor. Your other question, you know how this guests come together? I mean, if you know, by the time we were making offers to people like Ryan Phillips, a Jacki Weaver, and a dean of an Zelle or Moises Arias or Chantal, all these people would have, if it wasn't COVID would have probably been busy. Right? They would write on their mobile Deena tours all the time. Right. Ryan's current or at Ryan works more than anyone I know, Tom the same. Like they're all you know, Chantelle just is always on a show. So it would have been really hard to I think, get these people. And so, you know, I was definitely am certainly Jack waver a two time Oscar nominee playing, you know, a great but small part. So it just no small parts, only small actors I know. But, you know, yeah, to have that luxury. You know, I mean, it's it's a no, it's great. It was hard. But I

Alex Ferrari 38:29
And since you've already direct, I mean, in some of your short films, you were directing some very seasoned actors as well. But when you when you're working with, you know, the kind of caliber of actors that you were working on in this project, I mean, you have to believe there's some intimidation, maybe? Or like, how do you approach a two time Oscar nominee? You know, how do you how did you kind of work with those actors to get them to where you wanted to be as a first time director? Because it's a very different than when you're Ridley Scott, this is not a conversation. I would never ask Ridley Scott this. Because he's got he's not 40,000 hours on set. No, no exaggeration. That time, but when

Matthew Gentile 39:08
Can be so confident,

Alex Ferrari 39:09
Oh, my God, you just walk it. On a side note here. I was. Remember, I thought I was talking to somebody who was working with Tony Scott. And he was on a commercial. And it was like five helicopters, like a bunch of stallions running down in the desert. And like, you know, cars, like all this craziness, and someone's like, Tony, are you are you like nervous? He goes nervous. He's like smoking a cigar. He's like, this is vacation for me. What do you talk about?

Matthew Gentile 39:37
I love him. Yeah. He's one of my favorite directors. He's actually the one director. He's the one director who has my birthday. Birthdays. Oh, nice. I'm so I've been doing scars, but I'm like, What a great burger. sherbert.

Alex Ferrari 39:53
So anyway, so how did you? Yeah, he was the best. There's no question he changed the acting. He changed action film.

Matthew Gentile 40:00
And by the way, he he discovered right Philip and film. Which movie in which movie crimson Crimson Tide has rights first movie, and

Alex Ferrari 40:09
Ryan was in Crimson Tide really? Oh, wow. I have to double check. That was before Cruel Intentions, obviously. Yeah,

Matthew Gentile 40:17
A few years. I think it's a couple of years because Crimson Tide was in the early 90s.

Alex Ferrari 40:22
Yeah, it was early 90s. But it was all about right and intense.

Matthew Gentile 40:26
Yeah. And he was on TV first, Ryan. He has a great he has a very interesting story about how he broke it, but I'll let him tell. But um, yeah, Tony Scott. I know. It was like a mentor to him. And he just did an interview. I learned this recently. Because I know that the next time I see him, I will ask him more about it. But he said, Yeah, he like went to Tony Scott's guesthouse things like, the kindest guy mentor. Yeah. So very, very cool.

Alex Ferrari 40:49
So how did you approach working with these actors?

Matthew Gentile 40:52
Well, you know, like, like, we said, yes, these are incredible actors. I am a first time director, and you know, naturally, you know, you're gonna even if you're as confident as Tony Scott are, you're gonna have some insecurities, you know, but I felt like, I mean, I, you know, the thing is, every actor and Dude, this is a Judas quote, and I'm glad I got her. You know, every actor is different, they all have a different language. And, you know, your job as a director is kind of figure that out. Right? Not necessarily trying to figure that out and pinpoint and be like, Okay, I know, you know, the figure out how they work what they need, you know, some actors, like, peek early in terms of their takes, right? Some actors are like, kind of real hot, take 123 Some actors need more to fight it. Right. And, you know, Jack Nicholson, famously was, like, amazing, I'll take one and then he kind of does the same thing, right? Or some did, there's only six stories, but how they, how they work, Leonardo DiCaprio likes to take a lot of takes to get to where he wants to go, you know, and, and so there's no one way. You know, that said, I gotta say, I don't mean to be falsely modest, like, I just felt so as a director, taking care of why these guys because they were all so good in different ways. Yeah. And that I didn't really feel that I had to do too much like, micromanaging or anything like that, ever. And I'm not that way with actors, because I personally, again, taught, you know, all the things Judith talks about her, not just her book, but also in our, you know, consultations that, you know, she read many versions of the script and worked me on it closely. And, you know, it's always about first incomes, enter into the relationships, what are the relationships of the movie that are the most important, and that's how I would kind of work. When I would work the, with the actors and say, like, we did zoom rehearsals, you know, we would really, I would focus, like one day would be alright, Tom, and Adina. The next day would be Ryan in the data, because a lot of interrogations or, you know, some scenes I couldn't rehearse didn't have some scenes. I didn't know for sure. But I did have some significance in rehearsals and chances to work with Tom. And I mean, they each were different, Tom, you know, came so prepared, knew his parts so well. And you know, it was really fun, because he would sometimes go off the page and adlib and do incredible things. But, you know, it says in terms of the intimidation of being a first time director, and having these high caliber actors, you know, one pretty great moment was we were filming a scene. And as we'll also answer your one on all white Rob story, you know, we were filming a scene that's really midway in the shooting, things seem to be going quite well, overall, you know, overall, we're making our days, we're getting good stuff. You know, the actors are great. And then we're filming one scene, with the three actors, I talked about some of the commentary, where they just like it, the scene wasn't working, you know, just get there. It's it was written, you know, you know, we read it in a rehearsal, we talked about it, and then we get to set it's just not there. Like something about it's awkward, right, the tones off, you know, they don't feel present. There's, they're struggling to engage. So I couldn't really tell what was going on. But I took the three actors aside, and said, as well, great actors. And I said, Listen, something's wrong on the page. You know, I failed you. I don't know what I didn't get it. Right. I'm sorry. Somebody drops the script. But this scene seems to have stumped me in us. So can you help me? Like, figure out what's on what's up here? And how can we make this like, what can I do? Thank you. I can I can rewrite blinds for you right now. Like, what do we need? And the actors all looked at me, and some of them are new that they do, and I think it helped them really lower their guard and go, Okay, this guy's going to work with me. And we figured it out. And the scene plays beautifully, you know? And so I had moments like that, you know, where it would just Just like sometimes just, you know, being like, like, I had everything in this movie, in my mind, like so prepared, right, the whole storyboard of the whole thing. rehearsals, you know,

Alex Ferrari 44:55
The COVID Prep, it's the COVID

Matthew Gentile 44:58
Scene breakdown. gallons of every scene costume Florida, every little thing that I could think of I did. And then you know, you get there and things change. But you know, I think something Jacki Weaver said to me, because every actor I worked with, I made a point to ask them either whether it was in the rehearsal, or the phone call before, you know, they kind of set because I do think it's important to try to meet actors before they show up in some way. So it's not possible to meet the person for a coffee. But if you can do that, I think that's the best. But I called up. You know, I remember talking to Jack, I always ask, How do you like to work? Because I have a number one question, but to get anything you get that? How do you like to work? What can I you know, and what, and then I would also ask him, because a lot of these people, you know, Tom was coming from David Fincher, right. Ryan has worked with Robert Altman and Clint Eastwood and has stories about that, you know, Chantelle, are some of the best TV directors, you know, Jackie, David O. Russell, and like, you know, the heaviest of heavy hitters, right. So, you know, I would ask them, like, what are the, in your experience? What are the best directors do you know, and something Jack, they all basically actually said the same thing, which was the best directors are prepared, organized, but flexible. That was the recurring answer. So they will always have a plan. You know, they would have their, their ship together, more or less, but they were also flexible for changes, because I think that's like, sometimes people just especially writer directors, like, I know, you are, you know, we get like, you know, we can be very protective of our work, you know, so I think having that flexibility to let people's ideas, but also, there's a danger of being too flexible. Right?

Alex Ferrari 46:34
So you gotta you gotta guide them in. Yeah, we gotta you gotta think and

Matthew Gentile 46:37
Then you're not really making a move anymore. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 46:41
Do that. Let's do that. Why not? Let's just try it. And then you're like, we've only we've only done a quarter of a page. A third of a page all day. Sorry, we didn't make our day. You know, there's one scene in the movie, you know, that. I always love asking directors is because this is a very awkward scenario for directors is the love scenes. Man, how the hell did you shoot some of these love scenes? In the movie? They're intense. And also, I mean, it's an awkward, it's not sexy. It's not a sexy thing. It's awkward for the for the talent. It's awkward for you like anytime I've ever had to do something like that. It's just like, how, you know, and I was doing it coming up in the 90s in the early 2000s. Where, you know, there wasn't a an intimacy, you know, agent on I forgot what it is an intimacy person on set to kind of guide you through the process. How did you approach that scene? And how do you make the actors feel comfortable? And do you clear the set? What how do you work that?

Matthew Gentile 47:43
Yeah, absolutely. And that it's those digits. I was not scared of the action, but I wasn't scared about right. Yeah, it's. Yeah, it's definitely it's, you know, I mean, look, I think number one, yeah, you have to have an intimacy coordinator. There's really no way around that. And of course, like, why wouldn't you? Right, right. So we have intimacy coordinator, we did clear the set as much as we could for you know, other than the person operating the camera or whatnot. Everyone did not need to be out, in a way. You know, and it's about making the actors as comfortable as possible. It's hard to what I made sure to do when I shot those scenes was to be very clear about what I wanted and needed, and to not as much as I love him be David Fincher. On that day. Do you know?

Alex Ferrari 48:36
One more time! Yeah, one more time!

Matthew Gentile 48:39
What you need and get out and, you know, try to make you be sensitive to that, because grafting is very hard. You know, I think I once said to none of my actors were difficult and as the truth, like, you know, I hate to sound so forth. But really, none of them were. And, you know, there's one time when I know one of them is like, I'm sorry, if I'm like, you know, this is hard for me, I'm figuring this out. And also, you know, my job is hard as director, and I'd say it's not, but I don't have to be up in front of that camera, and I'm gonna get vulnerable in front of that. Right? I can hide by the camera, I can hide behind my script pages. You can't you gotta be vulnerable and truthful. And to get yourself to that place is very hard, and then to be seen really is no different. It's just it happens to be a physical product. So it's just yeah, it's important, I think, to be sensitive to people and making sure they have what they need. And, you know, hiring the right people to do the job.

Alex Ferrari 49:33
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, when is this? When is the film coming out? Where can people watch it?

Matthew Gentile 49:38
The film will be coming out October 21, in select theaters, and then it will be on October 28. They'll still be in theaters, but it'll also be on demand and digital platforms. So you can rent it on all transactional VOD. So yeah.

Alex Ferrari 49:51
Now it's awesome to know 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?

Matthew Gentile 49:59
You know, While I'm, I think, trying to be a director, you know, I think learn, I think forcing yourself to write scripts is very valuable and important. Even if you know, you're not a good writer or you don't think you're a good writer, a lot of good writers don't think they're good. And a lot of bad writers think they're great writers. So I think, you know, because for me what really move the needle forward was writing, writing my screenplays, and you know, because I had to write myself into the director's chair. Personally, I do think making lots of shorts is great. I think short films are an incredible training ground. I know they work for me. And I know there were a lot of people I know. So I think making short films, I think, writing constantly and I think, you know, I'm gonna go back to Billy Ray Now, he says, You have to get that work, everyone. That doesn't mean it's such like a competition, I get that work, you know, bathrooms have to report Alex OFSAA Bauwerk, yourself, you know, I think constantly push yourself to do better to be better. And that's something I know, I'm taking myself right now, even, you know, I made a movie. That is my first feature. And in many ways, I'm very proud of it. But I'm also trying to learn how I can be better as a filmmaker and how I can go up because it's my first idea, like, on my last, so I think you know, yeah, and I think the tenacity is really important, because it's very easy to lose momentum in the process of moving. as a, as a director, I do believe you are responsible for charging the call. Because I think that's what everyone comes around. You know, I've seen a lot of movies fall apart, whether it's in development or whatnot, because or even post, like, you know, they get taken away, because the director kind of checks out. So I think as a director, when you're going to make a movie, you got to be ready to be like, Okay, I'm gonna spend, I can give three or five years to this thing. Because it's not just making the movie. It's like we said, selling it for distribution. It's, and I've said it myself many times, like, even now doing interviews, I was like, oh, man, if I hated this movie, I'd be so miserable. Get people to see it. It's an endless grind. And you're associated with that. So I think you know, yeah, my advice would be to have the tenacity and make sure that you know, the project, you're doing film, you're investing your time. And it's something you really want to do more than anything else.

Alex Ferrari 52:22
Three, film three of your favorite films of all time.

Matthew Gentile 52:25
Three or so my first favorite film is Lawrence of Arabia, seen it so many times on 70 millimeter on the big screen. Ron 95, Kurosawa total masterpiece that just blows my mind every time. And the third one I will go with for this one is also the Godfather, and people were out. But you know, upon my eating Coke, blood and all of that, I just, you know, I've seen that movie, not three times this year, and it just continues to hold up.

Alex Ferrari 52:56
Did you see Did you see the offer?

Matthew Gentile 52:58
I have not I heard it's great.

Alex Ferrari 53:00
I like it. I love if you're a filmmaker, you're gonna love the offer.

Matthew Gentile 53:05
That's what they're saying. Yeah, because that kind of the critics weren't. Because they don't get it. But people but people are loving it. I've heard I've had 10 People saying to me often guys,

Alex Ferrari 53:15
I mean, if you're a filmmaker, you've got to watch. There's very few quality projects out there about filmmaking. And that's just you sitting there going, Well, what happened here, it's like, it's crazy.

Matthew Gentile 53:31
I think I found the lesson that's taking me the longest to learn, I think is to never say never. I think that's something I continue to learn. Like, I get to a phase in film where like, I'm never gonna work with that person again, or I'm never gonna make that mistake again. And I'm never gonna, you know, do this gun or that kind of again, I think that while it's great to have a clear vision of what you want, and your career, I think, being open to possibilities and you know, not trying to control everything, because as directors we love control. You know, we love that and I think learning the biggest lesson that might be learning that actually you're not in control.

Alex Ferrari 54:11
Oh, no, no. As a director you are barely you're just trying to scrape some shots together for the day. You are you have no control of whether you have no control over locations. You know, no control over an actor not being able to get there or being difficult or a crew member who thinks he knows better than you or she knows better than you and giving you hassles and politics and fight you when you start listening to stuff. A director truly just like what wakes up and goes well help something's gonna happen today. Right? I hope that this camera working step one, good. Everyone here step two, always food is there no food, okay, no food, no lunch, everybody. Okay, so now we got to figure that out. Like it's just just very little You can control. But when you're there, you're just it's a carnival man. It's we're carnies. It's a carnival. It's but it's this insanity. That is I call it the beautiful sickness, that once you get bitten, it's with you and you can't get rid of it ever, ever, ever, ever, and it makes you to do insane things. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Matthew Gentile 55:23
No delusions about that, man. Yeah, no, but it's a plan. I mean, to be able to direct and write and, you know, like, in some regards, I don't think doing a movie at 100 million is very different from doing maybe a 5000. Like, it's all there. You know, there. Of course, there are differences, but it is at the end, they had storytelling and its narrative and its art and, you know, finding a way to make things work. You know, you look at the biggest directors talk, like, I love listening to interviews with Scorsese. He's still talking like he just started, you know, he's figuring it out, or Spielberg to the same thing. He's like, I wake up, and I have no idea what I'm doing, or I want to call in sick, right. It's, you know, so I think, yeah, I think being able to embrace that being out of control is something that I'm gonna have to keep learning. Sure. You, you and our listener and your listeners. Oh,

Alex Ferrari 56:12
Yeah. And there's I forgot what directors said this, but that I interviewed on the show, but it was one of these big, you know, kind of heavy hitter directors I've had on the show. And they were telling me the cat was doing this movie was like, $100 million movie studio movie. And then we went down the street and stole the shot. I'm like you what you what? It was? Yeah. Yeah. We just like between takes everybody was setting up and I just grabbed a camera and my DP and the actors and went down the street and just stole the shots. You're stealing shots at $100 million. He goes, Yeah, dude, it never ends. And I'm like, This is great. Because cuz you think you know, you're sitting there in your reclining chair like Peter Jackson was in, in Lord of the Rings. And it's just like, No, no.

Matthew Gentile 56:59
You always have you always have a day to me. You know, you always have there's never pages.

Alex Ferrari 57:04
You got to pay

Matthew Gentile 57:05
Never enough time. Never enough money. You know,

Alex Ferrari 57:07
Never enough time. Never enough money. It's it's but we're here. And that's what we love doing it man. Man, man, I appreciate you coming on the show. Brother. Congratulations on new film, and I wish you the best with it. And keep making movies, man. Keep doing what you love doing and, and getting getting the stories out there that you want to tell my friend but congratulations, seriously, you are at the top. One 2.1% of all filmmakers, you made a movie. And it's you know, with with a budget and with a cast. And that is good. And it's a rare thing in this world that we live in. So be very proud of yourself, my friend. So thanks again.

Matthew Gentile 57:43
Alex, thank you so much. And thank you for all that you do for filmmakers and for the films you make today. So thank you, and thank you for having me. It's a real pleasure to be here and this is a great fun!



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1. Billy Crystal 

There are performers that impact your life without you even knowing it and today’s guest fits that bill. On the show, we have comedic genius, multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer, director, and television host, Billy Crystal. We’ve seen Billy’s versatile work across all areas in the entertainment world, stand-up, improv, Broadway, behind and in front of the camera, feature films, television, live stages like SNL, and animated movies.

2. Thomas Jane

Thomas Jane is a prolific actor, director, and producer, with extensive credits including the series The Expanse and Hung, and the features The Punisher, 61, The Predator and Boogie Nights. Jane recently starred in in the hit thriller The Vanished, and his film Run Hide Fight world premiered at the 77th Venice Film Festival. Jane will next be seen in the anticipated drama series Troppo for IMDb TV/Amazon, based on the bestselling novel by Candice Fox, which he is also executive producing via his Renegade Entertainment banner.

3. John Leguizamo

Fast-talking and feisty-looking John Leguizamo has continued to impress movie audiences with his versatility: he can play sensitive and naïve young men, such as Johnny in Hangin’ with the Homeboys; cold-blooded killers like Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way; a heroic Army Green Beret, stopping aerial terrorists in Executive Decision; and drag queen Chi-Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

4. Edward James Olmos

Our guest today is 80s star, multiple-awards film, and theater actor, and activist, Edward James Olmos. Olmos’s roles in films or TV shows like Stand and DeliverBattlestar Galactica, broadway musical and film Zoot SuitBlade Runner as detective Gaff, and many others are some of the most memorable of all time and he’s still dominating our screens. While I could not resist talking about his iconic roles over several decades, we mainly discussed Olmos’ new must-see film, Chasing Wonders.

5. Eva Longoria

Eva Longoria has long established herself as one of the most sought after television directors in Hollywood. Named by Variety as one of their most anticipated directors of 2021, Longoria continues to hone her craft, seek new projects, and expand opportunities for others by paving the way for future women and minority producers, directors and industry leaders in Hollywood and beyond.

Her strong work ethic coupled with her passion for storytelling has led to a pivotal moment as she prepares for the release of her feature film directorial debut with Flamin’ Hot. She recently wrapped production for the highly anticipated Searchlight biopic about the story of Richard Montañez and the spicy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos snack for which she beat out multiple high profile film directors vying for the job.

Eva became well known worldwide thanks to Desperate Housewives, where she played a main character, Gabrielle Solis.

6. Guy Pearce

Guy Edward Pearce was born 5 October, 1967 in Cambridgeshire, England, UK to Margaret Anne and Stuart Graham Pearce. His father was born in Auckland, New Zealand, to English and Scottish parents, while Guy’s mother is English. Pearce and his family initially traveled to Australia for two years, after his father was offered the position of Chief test pilot for the Australian Government. Guy was just 3-years-old. After deciding to stay in Australia and settling in the Victorian city of Geelong, Guy’s father was killed 5 years later in an aircraft test flight, leaving Guy’s mother, a schoolteacher, to care for him and his older sister, Tracy.

Most recently, he has amazed film critics and audiences, alike, with his magnificent performances in L.A. Confidential (1997), Memento (2000), The Proposition (2005), Factory Girl (2006), The Hurt Locker (2008), The King’s Speech (2010) and the HBO mini-series, Mildred Pierce (2011). Next to acting, Guy has had a life-long passion for music and songwriting.

7. Kyra Sedgwick

Kyra Sedgwick is an award-winning actress, producer and director. She is best known for her Emmy and Golden Globe-winning role as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on the TNT crime drama “The Closer” and most recently starred on the ABC comedy “Call Your Mother.” She recently directed the feature film SPACE ODDITY, which stars Kyle Allen and Alexandra Shipp.


8. Lance Henriksen

Lance has been in over 300 films through-out his remarkable career.He’s mentored Tarzan, Evel Knievel and the Antichrist, and fought Terminators, Aliens, Predators, Pumpkinhead, Pinhead, Bigfoot, Superman, the Autobots, Mr. T, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal.

He’s worked with directors James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Sidney Lumet, Francois Truffaut, John Huston, Walter Hill, David Fincher, John Woo, Jim Jarmusch and Sam Raimi, but this is just skimming the surface.

9. Robert Forster

This week we are joined by legendary actor Robert Forster. Robert has been a working actor for decades, appearing in a classic film like Medium Cool, the iconic John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye80’s action classic Delta Force (love me a good 80’s action flixand Disney’s The Black Hole (one of my favorite films growing up).

He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, which he credits with reviving his career. Since then Robert has been on fire in the second half of his career, appearing in The DescendantsLike MikeMulholland Drive; Me, Myself, & IreneLucky Number Slevin and Firewall, just to name a few.

10. Edward Burns

Many of you might have heard of the Sundance Film Festival-winning film called The Brothers McMullen, his iconic first film that tells the story of three Irish Catholic brothers from Long Island who struggle to deal with love, marriage, and infidelity. His Cinderella story of making the film, getting into Sundance, and launching his career is the stuff of legend.

The Brothers McMullen was sold to Fox Searchlight and went on to make over $10 million at the box office on a $27,000 budget, making it one of the most successful indie films of the decade.

Ed went off to star in huge films like Saving Private Ryan for Steven Spielberg and direct studio films like the box office hit She’s The One. The films about the love life of two brothers, Mickey and Francis, interconnect as Francis cheats on his wife with Mickey’s ex-girlfriend, while Mickey impulsively marries a stranger.

Even after his mainstream success as an actor, writer, and director he still never forgot his indie roots. He continued to quietly produce completely independent feature films on really low budgets. How low, how about $9000. As with any smart filmmaker, Ed has continued to not only produce films but to consider new methods of getting his projects to the world.

BONUS: Adrian Martinez

Being yourself in any situation in life is hard for many people. Actors do make a living playing other people but the art of being comfortable in your own skin is a lesson we can all learn. I invited on the show Adrian Martinez, an actor, writer, producer, and soon-to-be-director, with nearly 100 film and TV credits.

Adrian’s career began as a high school track star on NBC’s “Unsolved Mysteries“. Some in casting have called Adrian, “the sidekick to the stars,” as evidenced by his recent sidekick trifecta– Will Smith’s sidekick in Warner Bros’ “Focus,” Ben Stiller’s sidekick in his Fox remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Will Ferrell’s sidekick in Lionsgate’s “Casa de mi Padre,” to name a few.


IFH 623: How NOT to Quit on Your Filmmaking Dream with Pete Chatmon

With a deft ability to balance both half-hour single camera comedies and one-hour dramas, Pete Chatmon has directed over 50 episodes of television including HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant, InsecureSilicon Valley, and Love Life, Netflix’s You, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Black-ish, Starz’ Blindspotting, FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and the Apple TV+ series Mythic Quest. He is in development on The Education of Matt Barnes with Showtime, for which he will direct the pilot and serve as executive producer and is currently co-executive producer and producing director on Reasonable Doubt, the first project to be produced via Hulu’s Onyx Collective.

His debut feature as writer/director, Premium, starred Dorian Missick, Zoe Saldana, and Hill Harper, and premiered on Showtime after a limited theatrical run. Chatmon also wrote, produced, and directed 761st, a documentary on the first Black tank battalion in WWII, narrated by Andre Braugher. Through TheDirector, his Digital Studio, he has directed, shot, and edited content for advertising agencies and Fortune 500 brands.

Chatmon’s career began in 2001 with the Sundance selection of his NYU thesis film3D, starring Kerry Washington. His most recent short filmBlackCard, premiered on HBO, and his narrative podcast, Wednesday Morning, engaged voters around the 2020 election. His podcast, Let’s Shoot! with Pete Chatmon is available on YouTube, iTunes, and all podcast platforms. In January 2022 his book, Transitions: A Director’s Journey + Motivational Handbook was released by Michael Wiese Productions

Enjoy my conversation with Pete Chatmon.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Pete Chatmon 0:00
Like choosing your battles and picking your moments. I feel like for the most part, if you do that, you'll be able to find a way to collaborate with anybody.

Alex Ferrari 0:11
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 like to welcome to the show Pete Chatmon, man. How you doing Pete?

Pete Chatmon 0:25
I'm doing well, brother. Good to see you, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 0:27
Good to see you too. Man. We've been trying to do this for months now back and forth between our schedules. Now I'm so happy we finally got to do this man. So thank you for your patience. And I'm looking forward to get into the weeds with you about the about the fun and easy world of the film industry.

Pete Chatmon 0:44
Of course, it's like snap, crackle pop, you know.

Alex Ferrari 0:48
I mean, just I make millions you I mean, I mean, that's the way it works, right? I mean, here's the thing, you can make a movie. I have a $200 million movie coming up. I don't know about you. But

Pete Chatmon 0:57
Yeah, I'm thinking 350 You know?

Alex Ferrari 1:00
I mean, yeah, push the edge. So first question, brother. How and why God's green earth? Did you want to get into this business?

Pete Chatmon 1:09
You know, I, I blame I blame my high school. I'm looking at what I think is a Super Eight camera. I can't tell if it's a Bolex or what on your on your

Alex Ferrari 1:20
I have multiple super eights and 60s back there.

Pete Chatmon 1:23
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, Oh, yeah. See the lower shelf now. And, you know, I had a, I had a Super Eight filmmaking class in my high school in New Jersey, Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. I was trying, we had to take these electives. And I had taken architecture in 10th grade, and we had to build a little house. And I thought I'd be an architect until we got into the measurements. And I mean, it was it was like, one 1,000,000th scale of a home, you know what I mean? But like, I was like, I like this, but it's not for me. And so I was like, Well, let me do photography. And I was like, this is cool. I did the TV station. That was cool. But southern about like the moving image just kind of really connected to me. So I picked up that Super Eight camera, my high school film teacher, George Chase had gone to NYU. And so I'm kind of hearing these anecdotes about NYU. And at the same time discovering the, the eyes, the reality of the director, you know what I mean? Like, oh, there's a, there's a person for whom, you know, what I'm seeing, you know, we can argue about the tour theory, but like, there's a person for whom is, is kind of heavily responsible. And in film was mostly responsible, arguably, for what I'm seeing. And I was, I think, in the same way, I was attracted to architecture in designing a world. Film spoke to me and I found that I was pretty fluent with what to do with the camera, and how to edit pretty early. And so I was like, it was like, it was like creative crack.

Alex Ferrari 3:07
Yeah, that's, that's, I call it the beautiful disease, because once you get it, can't get rid of it.

Pete Chatmon 3:13

Alex Ferrari 3:16
So looking through your filmography, man, I see that you did a tremendous amount of shorts, man, you did a lot of short films at the beginning of your career. And even throughout a little bit, what impact did shorts do for you to get you those first paid directing gigs? Because I'm assuming these weren't all paid short term.

Pete Chatmon 3:34
None of them were they were all their debt, fulfilling prophecy? You know, I'm saying, but I think that look, like I was gonna make it, I'll answer the question, but I'm starting here, I was gonna make a short in 2020. But when COVID hit, it was to come, it was too cumbersome economically to pay for all the COVID protocols. And so I made an audio podcast, one episode, audio, podcast, and narrative. And so I would make a short right now. Like, I feel like short filmmaking is its own little masterpiece. It's a great challenge to tell a story or, or pick a theme and deal with an event, you know, a setup an event and kind of propel the audience to imagine what happens after the conclusion. Because, to me, there's no resolution and a short film. It's too short. And so, you know, I made shorts throughout my NYU. Time I made shorts in high school, probably like 10 shorts, you know. And after I graduated, I just found like, shorts were the way to stay sharp, because you're it takes forever to make a feature film. And it's almost like in my mind, it's like if you're a Chef you cook, right? You can't say like, the last meal I cooked was in 1999. And it's now 2004. It's still a cook, but I'm still a cook. Right. So I was always making shorts, because it was keeping it was feeding my passion and, and keeping my keeping me energized. And so specifically though, for how it fed into my career, me and my, my thesis film went to Sundance, coming out of NYU. But that didn't necessarily, there was no real straight line to the next thing, you know, it took six more years before I raised the money to make my feature. And then, but in the middle of that I had made like two or three more shorts, which I use to kind of build awareness around myself as a director and filmmaker, while I was trying to independently raise money. So more people will become aware of like the kid from New Jersey. And then, you know, most recently, man like after, after two features, a doc and a narrative feature, you know, winning a screenplay competition at Tribeca, a whole bunch of, you know, branded content projects in 2014. I made a short just for myself. And it was kind of like, let me see what I can do when I'm not doing it for a client. And I paid for it, I paid $30,000 out of pocket. And that short, got picked up by HBO. And so that short, then led to a bunch of these director programs, and they helped me get my first television job. But I didn't get paid to direct anything narrative until 2017.

Alex Ferrari 6:50
So So overnight, is what you're saying. So just overnight, out of film school, you just jumped in just got mad money. So. So I want to, I want to take you back to take back a little bit what you said, because it was really interesting. I always love to point this out for filmmakers. Because there's such a myth behind getting into a Sundance or things like that. I mean, even getting into NYU, it's a lottery ticket to get into NYU, or USC or UCLA, one of these big film schools. And so you're already we're coming out of a really, really one of the arguably one of the best film schools in the country, if not the world. And then out of that your thesis film gets called into Sundance. So I want to just want to go back into your mind back then, man, right, because I can only imagine what that was like. Right? How old were you when that happened?

Pete Chatmon 7:41
Let's see. That was 2001 that it went to Sundance, so I was 20 some? Yeah, I was like 20 How old was never met? I guess? That doesn't seem right.

Alex Ferrari 8:02
Late 20s Let's say late 20s.

Pete Chatmon 8:04
Yeah, well, I was born in 77. That was 2001 So that was what 24 24 Alright,

Alex Ferrari 8:10
So you're 24 years old? So you obviously have the entire world understood at this point in your life? You're completely you're completely altogether there because I definitely was not but so when you're sent to Sundance you automatically this is it man. I'm ready to I'm on my way. I'm like, so am I right?

Pete Chatmon 8:28
Yeah, I thought I thought I was like, I thought all the dots had been connected. The phone's gonna start ringing you know and and part of that to man is like, you can you can feed you can buy into these things that people tell you or show you and and on one level like I always think about like, you know, when I was raising money for my future, and I will have thrived done it everybody wanted me to kind of look at their business plan. And I'd be like, Look your your appendix of of comparable films. All be lightning in a bottle. You know. Spitfire grill Yeah, whatever that sounds like you know $10 million pickups like it's not it's not real.

Alex Ferrari 9:18
So can I so Yeah, can I can I can I just take a shot at the dark of what those movies where are you? Napoleon Dynamite? Yep. Blair Witch Project? Yep. Paranormal Activity. Yep. Did they even go as far back as like Brothers McMullen or El Mariachi?

Pete Chatmon 9:34
Of course, of course. And it's like, and you're not even any of these genres. Right? But this is these are comparables and so you know, I feel like people buy into that and like, and even for me, like in film school, it was like, the, the kind of pinnacle of student filmmaking was Sundance, or Khan, you know, center foundation for student films. And so when that they'd happened. I was like, okay, cool. Like, I'm like, rubbing my hands together, like things are good. But it didn't work out that way, you know. And so it was a, but I always try and hop back and say, Well, what is the real lesson here? You know, like, like, I'm a big basketball fan and like, Kobe is one of my favorite players. And I remember like watching something that he was talking about, like this playoff game, where in his rookie year, he had three air balls, right? And in and he, people were laughing and booing. And he was like, Okay, well, what's going on here, it's like, I've never played 82 games, you know, high school is 3035 games, my legs are tired. That's why I can't I don't have any lift in my shot. So y'all can laugh. And y'all can do all these things. But I know how to train for next year. So like, they're my takeaway from that experience was like, A, I was in I went to NYU, and I kind of minding my own business, and I didn't really have anyone that kind of looked at me as their guy, any professor, you know what I mean? And this is, you know, it is what it is, right? Because you always have advocates. And and then at the same time, you know, I, well, that's really, that's really my main point. And that's kind of driven by the fact that there was after Sundance, we had a festival at NYU, where, like, if you just finished the film, you show it and it's selected. And there were awards at that festival. And they were using the fact that my film was one of six NYU films that went to Sundance that year, like they were using it as promotion and advertising. And then it didn't get recognized for any of the craft awards or anything. And at my young age, I was like, well, that how the fuck you doing that? Right? Like that's, you know, you sent me the cell.

Alex Ferrari 12:00
But you give me a trophy, bro, give me a gift certificate of participation, something

Pete Chatmon 12:05
Exactly. Like in my naivete, I got scheduled a meeting with the with the head of the department. And, you know, he, he a great guy, David Irving, one of my favorite teachers. And he was like, Look, we've had films that have won the student prize at Sun or won the short film prize at Sundance and have come back here and not received any accolades. I was like, okay to shake. But the takeaway for me was like, I bet, I think if I would have had more people on my side and advocating for me, I'm aware of what I was doing that maybe that would have been different. And so that's what drove me to the earlier question to make all these short films, because when I went back to New Jersey, after leaving NYU, I wanted to make sure that was never going to happen again. And people would be aware of me, and what I was trying to do,

Alex Ferrari 12:59
So that did you a favor, that is your favor, by by not by not being advocate for you, you have to like I gotta do this myself. And you started out and you start hustling it out yourself. Sometimes, things that happen to you when you're younger, and you're like, Man, why did that happen to me, they probably the best thing, that it forces you to go in a direction that you might have not gone through. So that's always fascinating to me, man. Because we you know, when you get that Sundance call, and you're like, oh my god, I got into Sundance, everyone's like, you're done. It's over. You should get those folks. Now. It doesn't it doesn't work that way. So between the Sundance short, and your first feature was, what six years?

Pete Chatmon 13:37
Yeah, because so you know, Yeah, cuz the short shot and 99 it took me so long to get, you know, get the finishing funds that it didn't go to Sundance until Oh, one. But it was 99. I graduated. And it was that was May, and it was June of oh five that I first that was that we started shooting premium. My feature.

Alex Ferrari 13:59
Great. Alright, so during those years, how the hell did you survive? Brother? How did you survive? How did you keep going? How did you mentally break through the barriers of? Is it I have to I have to have to guess that this was thoughts going through your head? Did I make the right choice? Am I on the right path? Am I really that good? Like it's all these because this is what goes through a normal director's mind.

Pete Chatmon 14:25
Right! Well, I gotta say, man, it's funny because when I when I when I get asked these questions, I realize how I can sound but fuck it like you're asking me so. So I always knew that I would work harder than anybody else. You know what I mean? Like, I just felt like, once I like I'm gonna I observe. I'm gonna sit back. I'm going to watch how this works. And then I'm going to gain some information about how and how it works right now, because it can work differently next month. It could work Definitely in New York from LA, but so like, there's always a playing field that I need to look at and get a handle on before I decide how I'm going to inject myself into the game. Right? And so, you know, I was just always like, Well, okay, I learned this. But I, the more I do, the better I'll get. So that's also what shorts were for. Right? Like, you know, I would, I would, I would, I would do things like, I would go home to my mom's for like holidays, and I make videos like my little nephew, or from his point of view, like when he was two years old, because I wanted to try shooting from a kid's perspective. And years later, when I did TV shows with kids, I had that in my back pocket, you know? So I feel like I'm kind of straying from from the answer. But I, I was never really deterred. I was always like, well, what's the information to take from what's happening right now? And that was driven by this question of like, is everything? Am I doing everything that I can? And I think the answer will always be No. So I can always refine and try and improve my outcomes.

Alex Ferrari 16:19
So you are asking the right questions, as opposed to the negative questions that I was asking. bottom bottom, I mean, bottom line is like, the, those three questions I asked you are the questions that go through a lot through a lot of, you know, directors, especially during those years, not months, years, that things aren't working out the way you expect them to work out a huge switched it in your mind. And you're like, What can I do to keep going? What can I you were asking positive questions, that created positive answers that kept you going in an easier way than the struggle I went through.

Pete Chatmon 16:55
Well, you know, I wish I could remember the quote that I put it on my Instagram a few months ago, but the person was talking about how, in the beginning, we don't have talent, but we have taste. And it's our taste that keeps us going. We make those early projects and recognize from our tastes, that it's not where we want it to be, but we have a target that we're going to reach and we're going to refine with each thing to there's a point where what we do, what we can actually accomplish is commensurate with our tastes. And it's always that taste and then like a little bit of ego to that lets you think that it's like, Who the fuck thinks they can be president? You know what I mean? Like, like, you gotta have a certain level of ego and like, and I think that you got to have a certain level of ego to to think that, you know, you're going to whether it's raise money independently, or, or be given hired to direct something that costs millions of dollars. Like, there's a particular kind of drive that I think, you know, fills this industry. And it's also why you get so many challenges sometimes because you put all those people with all that kind of drive in a room. And all hell breaks loose.

Alex Ferrari 18:13
Yeah, it's it's kind of like, I mean, it's it's a slight bit of insanity. I mean, you have to be insane to be in the film industry in general. At the beginning, there is an insane because there's such a, like, Who who are you, like you said, Who the hell are you think someone's gonna give you a million dollars to go make your vision? Like there's, there's a slight bit of an insanity and ego that is needed to do that, you know, can you imagine what James Cameron said, when he walked into Fox's office back in the early 2000s, and said, Listen, I'm going to make a movie about a new IP. There's, I'm going to build out an entire new technology. No one's ever seen it. Hell, I don't even know if it's gonna work. I just need 100 million just to see if we can get this ball rolling. It's probably gonna cost about 500 600 million. Right, right. Right, right. I mean, that takes, arguably, there's probably no other filmmaker on the planet that could have had that conversation anywhere. Not Spielberg, not Nolan, Finch. Nobody. But that's who James Cameron.

Pete Chatmon 19:16
Yeah. And you got to believe that you're the one.

Alex Ferrari 19:19
You gotta believe you're Neo man. And you're in the matrix, and you could stop bullets. And that's what a director does. And so now, so you so you made your first feature. How did you get from that first feature into television directing, how did you make that pivot? And what was that first gig that you got?

Pete Chatmon 19:38
And so so you know, it was it was that feature. That feature was premium. It starred Dorian Missick Zoe sat down a hill Harper, Frankie phase on Bill Sadler. And it was a romantic dramedy, and it was me trying to you know, shake up the genre and

Alex Ferrari 20:00
Your ego again, as we say ego again,

Pete Chatmon 20:04
And of course, I'm proud of it, but I often look at it and wonder like, and recognize all the things that I could have done better, because I was trying to be different before being before honoring some of the things that the genre needs, you know? And again, right, like, that's me, like, I got to always look, go back and say, like, what could I have done better in this thing? And so, you know, that led to the feature. And basically, man, it was like, it was there was just a stretch of, I'm working at NYU, and as assistant Production Coordinator, like signing forms and talking to the students about insurance and whatnot. I'm teaching at NYU, acting classes, and then production classes. I'm on committees at NYU, you know, and there's so much full circle next to it. Like, there was a point when I was on the film festival committee. And now I had an opportunity to advocate for films, you know, in a way that I felt like mine hadn't been advocated for, and kind of getting in those rooms and seeing the politics of these things like, all very eye opening and affirming, and understanding what's on the other side of our creative, you know, output. And so, yeah, it was really it was really that short film that I did for HBO, that HBO picked up that really led to TV. And in an interesting way. You know, I'll say, for the industry, because I entered with the short, or that was my kind of access point into the industry was a short, and then I did these director programs, Disney, ABC, HBO, Sony and NBCU. It's almost like not even almost all the things that I did before that short film did not exist for the folks in the industry, because that was not they were not involved with that. And so that is partly why I wrote my book transitions because I wanted to have something that could be like, Okay, here's like, the director's journey and motivational handbook that's like the subtitle, but like, also, it's like an autobiography of all these things that I've done. And now, for those who do read it, it's like, oh, you actually were doing this for a long time before that short. But you know, that, um, the first episode that I got, you know, and anybody listening, I can't, I can't say enough how much of it this thing is, so it's, it's just a marathon and it's full circle. My first TV job that I booked was blackish. And I had shadowed on blackish, in the disney abc program. But the thing that is important to note is that when I came to LA for the very first time in 2000, to 25 years old, you know, I'm out here thinking it's I'm going to connect all the dots and just go and raise the money for my film. One of the first people I met hanging out with the star of my short Dorian Missick, and who will be the star my feature, I caught up with him and his cousin and his cousin's buddy. And it was Kenya Barris. So cut to 14 years later, he was the first person to offer me a job because unlike everyone else, he was actually aware of all these things I had been doing, you know, on the east coast for 1415 years.

Alex Ferrari 23:39
Wow, man, this is one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show is because your journey is so indicative of, of a lot of filmmakers. And that just takes time. It's like, you know, I was in not to drop a name. But when Rick Linkletter was on the one of the greatest quotes he ever, ever heard about the film, and he was like, whatever you think it is going to take twice as long, it's going to be twice as hard as you thought it's going to be. Yeah. And it's so true, because, and I would argue would probably be 10 times as long as 10 times it's hard because, you know, when you're young man when you're in your 20s you're like any day now, I'm gonna get that call. Spielberg is gonna call me he's gonna bring me into his office. I'm gonna go to am universal. Get the call and drive on. Go into the ambulance. Go Mr. Spielberg. I love Raiders of the Lost Ark. You see anything in your mind you this is the this is the interaction. Hello, Steven. Hello, Pete. How are you? I saw Raiders of Lost Ark you didn't Did you see Raiders? What did you think? And that's that's that's how we all think that that situation? But it doesn't happen.

Pete Chatmon 24:42
Never played.

Alex Ferrari 24:46
I do know a couple people that that it actually did play out like that. But that's such a, again, these kind of lottery ticket anomalies in the business. Most of us and you're a success story. You're working in the business now. And for every one View there might be 10,000, who are still who's still grinding it out. They're trying to get trying to get made. So that's the reality I want people to understand. But it's not. It's not that I'm trying to kill dreams, it's for people to understand the realities of what they're getting into. Do you agree?

Pete Chatmon 25:16
I totally agree. Look here. I mean, here's something I say. And, and it's funny man, because like, I'm not trying to discourage anyone, you know, with this statement, but i There are several points in time where I could have just given up the dream, and I would not have been crazy, no one would have been like, Yo, he didn't try, you know what I mean? Like, like, like, from 1999, to 2017. And all the varying things that I did with a modicum of financial, you know, success, like barely, you know what I mean? Like, I could have quit many times along the way. And I would not have been a quitter for having done so, you know, but the fact of the matter is, I feel like, you've got to have that kind of like engine in your back that battery in your back, because you just don't know how it's gonna play out. And then if you do kind of pop off quick, you know, I kind of sometimes I feel for those folks that get there really quickly, because then, you know, they're in this position, they think, Oh, it's just like that. And then when you go from being hot to like, not you have yet you have no idea what it's like to, you know, have to navigate. You know, the perfect storm.

Alex Ferrari 26:39
And I've talked to some of those guys who did pop, legendary guys who have popped at that early time. And, man, a lot of times, you're just not ready, you know, when you imagine if you would have gotten your first TV gig at 24? Yeah. Can you imagine how the ego would have run wild with you and like you could have, I mean, I had met, I had an opportunity at 26 to almost make a $20 million movie with the mob. And that's a whole other book and story. But I saw the big movie stars, and I did all this whole thing. And I look back and go, Oh my God, if I would have actually gotten that gig and worked with the caliber of bars at that age, I would have absolutely self destructed, I would have, I was just not prepared to handle that.

Pete Chatmon 27:26
Right! I'll tell you, man, if I would have gotten my first episode of TV at 38 instead of 40. You know what I mean? Like, I don't know, if it pans out, like to the point where now. I mean, it's been what since 2017. Now I've done getting close to 60 episodes of TV like now, I'm attached to pilots, and I'm doing comedy and drama. And it's like, the amount of things that I had to have learned in my other pursuits, to recognize human nature and pitfalls and traps, that come with something that is as high stakes as television, you know, where people's jobs and livelihoods are on the line. And, you know, like, I don't think I would have, I don't think I would have navigated it as well. And so I'm actually, you know, thankful for, you know, how it's panned out, because now, it's just like, you start, it's like, when you get in the zone, I'm kind of, I beat the sports analogies to death. But like, when you get into that zone, and like you hear those athletes talking about, like, the game is moving slower, you know what I mean? Because, like, I see where people are gonna go, because I've been to so many scenarios that like, you know, on these shows where you don't get where you get a script late, or you get new pages, and I'm like, boom, boom, boom, okay, I've shot so many scenes that you give me give me a couple of minutes by myself, and I'll figure out a blockage and shoot it. You know, and that's just part of, you know, it's like what you pay a lawyer for, like you, you've gotten people out of jail for this before. You know, it takes you two minutes to do it for me, but it's all these years of what you've done before that allow you to keep me and maintain my freedom.

Alex Ferrari 29:19
I mean, I'll tell you what, and I agree with you 100%. Because as you get as you're growing and getting older, and you're going through the business, you're putting more tools in the toolbox. And it's not it's not a pleasant experience. Doing that stuff that at the time you're like, man, what am I doing? But only in hindsight as you get older you look back and go, man, thank God I didn't get on Project Greenlight. Big gotta didn't get on that reality show. I mean, I was there, man. I was, I was actually worst. I was at I was top 20 Brother I almost made a decision to so I get it and said like these kinds of things. You just at the time, you're like, my life is over. Oh my god. And then you look back I'm like, oh, man, I dodged a bullet. And it's in this essay. And that's life, though. You're like, Oh, thank God, I didn't think I didn't go on a date with that girl. She went crazy, or things. But that's life. And I think that's something that Film School doesn't teach you doesn't understand about as a director. It's a lot to do about lying about life experience, even more so than the technique and the craft, the craft and the technique you pick up along the way. It's a human nature thing that they don't talk about.

Pete Chatmon 30:30
Yes, right. Yeah. For people listening right now. I'm pointing at Alex.

Alex Ferrari 30:35
Absolutely man.

Pete Chatmon 30:37
I'm in complete agreement with that. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 30:39
So so let me let me ask you. So you got you obviously was shadowing through these programs on some of these shows. So you weren't new to set a television set. But when you walk

Pete Chatmon 30:50
I was I had never been on a TV set. The first time I shadow? I know the shadow.

Alex Ferrari 30:55
Yeah, I don't know. But after your shadowing, I'm talking about when you get your first paid gig. So yeah, when you're shadowing you're, you're on the set. And it's like you're learning and you're absorbing so much stuff. But then when you but when you got that first gig that blackish that and you're on set, and yeah, you've been there before, but now you You're the man. What is it like walking onto that set? Mentally? What are you dealing with mentally on that day?

Pete Chatmon 31:22
Right. What can I kind of give you a little story? Because I hear so I booked that episode first. And the way TV works is they booked well in advance. I think it might have been April of 2017 that I booked. So Season Three was still shooting. And I booked this episode that would shoot October into November of the same year for season, it would be the 12th episode of season four. So that's like at that point six months out. But what happens is you have three stakeholders that hire you, you've got obviously the showrunner, you know representing the show, you've got the the net, the studio, and then you got the network. And sometimes it might be the same company, but different departments like ABC Studios, and then there's ABC the network. But once I got that job now I'm kind of semi approved, right? Even though I hadn't done one yet. I'm semi approved. Then I had interviewed for an episode of insecure season two, and I was I had never done anything. So they were, you know, understandably, not looking to hire someone who had never done an episode of TV. And, but what but what they did offer was like, Look, we're thinking about doing this show within the show where like all the characters watch this show. And it becomes like a running thing. Like they comment on it and whatever. And if we do that, you know, we're thinking about hiring you for that. And so back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and they ended up doing it. And so it was called do north and then season two, it's what all the characters were watching. It was like scandal antebellum, you know, times, right. And so it starts so this was my first this is what got me into the DGA. And it starred Regina King, Scott Foley. Michael J. White, right? So like, oh, and it was, it was a one day shoot. And it was 14 pages. Right? And so I was like, that's crazy. But, you know, figure it out. And I remember on and they had to build this whole set, you know, where it's in, like a barn on the plantation, all that stuff. And I'm like, wow, this is like crazy. Like, this is like money. You know what I mean? Even though it's just a little thing within the show. And I remember there, we were getting toward the end of the day. And I was in the last scene, which was like a big, like, dramatic, you know, you're lying. And I did this and I'm fucking her and this and that, right? And so I was like, I don't have enough time. And I was like, Alright, I know how to get this, but it feels crazy. And I was like, Alright, look, everybody. This is how we're going to block it. And I told the crew like we're going to spend time blocking it. But then when we shoot this, I'm going to call freeze. And I'm just going to move the cameras to where they need to go next. Because I don't have time to shoot all of this. And it was like a weird thing. So I was like, Man, I feel like I'm exposing myself but like at the same time this is a unrealistic amount of pages to shoot. And this is the only way to get it. And so I did that and we got it and it was it was dope because I think everybody rallied around this like super gorilla. Yeah. And so anyhow, I did that that got me into the DGA that shot may 31. I have a very good memory. And so when it's not COVID fault, and then because I was in the program and ABC knew me, I they hired me to do some interstitials because they knew I did branded content. I did For interstitials, with the blackish kids for Walmart for back to school. So that shot in July of 2017. So now I'm wanting to blackish set with the black kids. And I'm working with some of the crew, and then grown ish got greenlit, and because I was approved, and it was a new show. And I don't know if everybody was like, if they were I don't know, but they offered me one. So I directed that before I directed blackish, even though I booked that first. So I got to get the TV episode jitters out of the way with people who were more of my age, you know what I mean? And also that I had just worked with on the commercials. And so when I showed up in October to do blackish, I at least felt I had shot and edited an episode of TV. And so some of the jitters were out but like, you know, when Laurence Fishburne walks on set,

Alex Ferrari 36:00
Morpheus, Morpheus, just

Pete Chatmon 36:01
You know, Tracee Ellis Ross, Anthony Anderson, Jennifer Lewis, like, you know, it's, it's different than I think, you know, all the shadowing that I did, I tried to treat it as if I had been hired to direct the episode. But when you really are there, and you're getting questions that you can't even anticipate, you know, what I mean? Or you're getting like, you know, you're dealing with interpersonal dynamics that you didn't put into your shot list. You know, I'm saying, like, like, it's just,

Alex Ferrari 36:37
That's very nicely, by the way, very nicely.

Pete Chatmon 36:41
Yeah, it's an element, you have to you have to rise to the moment and I feel like, you know, my thing was always, you know, talk slowly, but think quickly. And, and sometimes, like, you might feel like you're being silent for a while, and it might only be two seconds, but it's it's exaggerated in your, in your moment of feeling, inept, but I just never wanted to say anything that I didn't. I didn't believe or that I couldn't back up.

Alex Ferrari 37:12
So basically, what you're telling me is that you got a date with a really pretty girl in in October, and then all the other girls were like, well, he sent me he's gonna date her eventually, so we can date him now. And that's kind of like how it worked for you, but it isn't. You need to you need to be, you need to be you need to be Donnie Brasco. In this business, you need to have somebody vouch for you to be able to go oh, well, they vouched for him. And obviously he's got the goods, then we could hire him. But before that, before that Donnie Brasco moment, it's it's hard. It's not impossible. Right.

Pete Chatmon 37:51
And, and, and look, I was super fortunate that that first job was within a family. You know what I mean? Because I eventually did six grown ish, six blackish, and an episode of mixed ish, you know, and I'd be remiss to say to like, you know, I had a podcast in 2009 to 2011, with my buddy Anthony artists called the double down film show. And our final guest was Issa Rae, right after she raised the money for Awkward Black Girl to do like the final a big final episode. And so even that, like, there was a little bit of in the same way that there's a full circle with, you know, meeting Kenya Barris in 2002, you know, in 2011, there is that, in my branded content days, you know, I filmed a couple of interviews with her a year in like 2014 in New Orleans, you know what I mean? So it's just like, you're just marching along? And you don't you have all these kind of flanks that are all moving in the same direction. And you don't know, you know, when you're going to arrive at the at the target.

Alex Ferrari 39:01
Now, you kind of hinted at this, but I have to ask you, how do you deal with the politics of a set, which is something they definitely don't teach you on in film school, like the politics of inner interpersonal politics have nothing to do with you politics, I do have something to do with you. Or even crew members or actors, who are problems like meaning that they don't, they don't want to work with you that they have attitude. And then tear in film is a little different. Because if you're the director of a feature, it's a little you have a little bit more juice, but if you're, uh, you know, basically a freelancer coming in for one episode, how do you deal with that brother?

Pete Chatmon 39:38
Right. I mean, that's a great question. I first I never take anything personally, because there's so much that is connected to each person's livelihood and creative experience that I have nothing. I have no awareness of that. You know, and then there's personal stuff that people have going on. I just kind of like say, okay, Like, unless it's some wildly offensive, like, you're coming at me type stuff, you know, it's like, whatever. I also, again, I'm really trying to get a sense of the lay of the land because, you know, sometimes, you know, like shows that have been long running like you show up and like, it seems like people are talking to each other crazy, but they just been doing this for so long that family is a family, you know what I mean? But, um, so I try and find a way to give grace to that. I also learned in my faculty days, at NYU, there's a great deal of politics there, right. And I would just be like, Okay, I'm just, I'm paying attention. I don't really need to get involved here. Until it really seems like this is going to affect what I'm trying to do. So because sometimes there's a, there's somebody who's performative in their, in their outburst, or whatever mean, but like, until it's like, you know, we're going to take that class away from you, or we're going to change the curriculum, I'm just going to sit back here and be like, I'm watching. And now I maybe know where you stand. So a lot of it is really kind of, like choosing your battles and picking your moments. I feel like for the most part, if you do that, you'll be able to find a way to collaborate with anybody. I have had folks where my best efforts fell flat. And sometimes it's just about we just got to get the work done. You know what I mean? But even still, I never take it personally. And, and in a weird way, man, like karma. Karma does its own duty for you, you know.

Alex Ferrari 41:48
As they say, some famous person once said, Karma is a bitch. It's interesting, too, because there's no place anywhere that it's written, that you're supposed to have fun doing this job. It's, it'd be nice. It should be it should be fun. We're making movies, we're telling stories we're playing, make believe it should be fun. But there's no way that it's written that your DP has to be a cool dude. Or your or your or your executive producer, or the writer that you're working with, or somebody is, it's just a pain in the ass because of their own personal stuff, or their own baggage that they're bringing along. And you've got to learn how to deal with that. That's why I always tell people.

Pete Chatmon 42:31
Hey, I was gonna say, I will say, though, like, part of, I think, part of that, you know, there's, I don't know, if you have to curb your enthusiasm. You know, there's a, there's an episode where there had a dinner party and Larry, David's like, you know, you're not a good middle. Right. And it was like the person who was sitting in the middle of the table. You know, he's like, that person has a responsibility to conduct the conversation and keep it going. Right. And I feel like directing is kind of being a good middle. Like, you might even be a guest in this house. But like, can you keep things moving? Can you can you like, keep people excited and energized? And like, you know, like, can I bring an energy to this that, hopefully, maybe brings an energy out of people that they didn't have on last week's episode? So how can I take it upon myself to impact that? And also then make my experience better?

Alex Ferrari 43:35
Now is it meant if you had the opportunity to go back in time, and talk to little P? Little P who got it a Super Eight camera? That guy and go, Man, Pete? Listen, I know it. I know. I just I'm from I'm from the future. Ignore that for a second.

Pete Chatmon 43:53
I know it's weird.

Alex Ferrari 43:54
I know. It's weird. Just bear with me how like LeBron commercially, it's the old LeBron in the in the abroad, that kind of scenario. What would you tell yourself? What's the one thing that he's like, Man, listen, this is what you really got to look out for.

Pete Chatmon 44:10
I would just say, before the specificity of your question, I'd be like, I would say you're doing everything right. You know, you don't know it yet. But you are, you know, but if you're gonna ask me, what is the one thing you would look out for?

Alex Ferrari 44:26
Or be aware of, or,

Pete Chatmon 44:27
I would say, look out for yourself. Right? Because, you know, the, your real opponent is the person in the mirror. It's how long you can stay in the game. You know what I mean? And, and if you are aware of that, and if you can constantly check yourself, right? Because like, and I don't and I'm not trying to say like, people shouldn't have emotions and shit like you should like if you have a bad day, have a bad day. But like that doesn't If you had a bad week, right doesn't mean you have to, like, you know, throw things down the toilet or pivot away from like your dreams, like acknowledge the emotions and feelings, but just know that like, in trying to be positive about it, I'll say, not everybody is out here to keep you down or get you, but they're not necessarily working actively to boost you up. And that's fine. So like, don't do their job to yourself. Your job should be to make sure that you wake up every day and say, What do I need to do to attack this thing that I want? And I say attack and I need attack? You know what I mean? Because like, this is an active thing. This is a this isn't a, I mean, it's not whatever sound it's an aggressive thing. Yeah, you have to hustle America dry muscle, and be committed to it. And yeah, like, like, just remember, like, it's on, you know, obviously, there's all kinds of institutional shit and like, there's all kinds of other challenges and, and to, and there are outside forces, but like, it is on you to like, be aware of the forces that are particular to you, and then see what you can do to get around them. Because, you know, my, my outside forces as as a as a black guy trying to get into TV are different from, you know, Latin X woman or different from a military vet, or you know what I mean? Like, but still, your only opponent isn't, is in the mirror.

Alex Ferrari 46:38
There's enough obstacles in this on this road without you throwing some more in front of yourself.

Pete Chatmon 46:42
Right, but I always know. It's like in movies. I always like when when somebody like gets mad, and they trash their room. I'm like, I would never trash my room.

Alex Ferrari 46:51
I felt like destroying stuff through my journey in life. I've never like I gotta clean this up.

Pete Chatmon 46:58
I'll never trash my stuff.

Alex Ferrari 46:59
Oh, Never I'm not gonna throw throw my my life size Yoda against the wall. That's that's just crazy. Exactly. That's insane. You know, one thing I always wonder about because I haven't I've directed some television, but not at the level that you've directed television with, like a cast, the TV shows I've done mostly starting out in their one off miniseries kind of things. But when you're working with actors who know their characters better than you, much better than you. How do you direct that? What's your advice on that?

Pete Chatmon 47:35
You know, like, I mean, I'm looking right here, right, like I have on I have a post it note right here on my, on my computer. I have several ones. Right. I have, I think this is from Mike Nichols. He said, All scenes are all good scenes are either fights, negotiations or seduction, you know, through which a character is either nurturing, using or damaging. And so that is helpful to me in drawing out, you know, the best thing I've seen if perhaps it's not on the page. You know, when I talk to directors, I mean, when I talk to actors, I have things here like, I feel, I feel versus I think, because we can argue with what I think, you know, I think you should do try this, I think you should do this, well, I feel you should do this, you can't shoot that down in the same way, is as as I as I, as I feel. What if we were to, you know, instead of, let's do this, right, like, I remember the first time I said, Let's get one like this, and somebody was like, why don't want to do that, you know, I felt like, slapped, you know, and so how can I not feel that way? Again, I can change my language, you know, and also I'd like you to try. So it's, it's less about me imposing something, and more about me offering a road towards something that we can collaboratively agree on, you know, I'm saying, and even even, it's the same with working with with a with a DP like, I don't, I know this stuff. I don't I don't say throw a 35 on. I say, Let's get wider and do this and do that. You know what I mean? Like, and if they if they throw a 45 on it, like, let's get a little wider, you know, I mean, I don't I don't need to prescribe the exact path, because then I'm taking them out of the process. And so a lot of it I think question driven directing is much more successful in a for me not having somebody tell me no, and get me mad inside, and then be like, I can find out where they're coming from. You know, that times I'll even ask like, well, what's your approach here? What are you thinking in this moment? Because they may answer that question in a way that would totally nullify the note. I was I'm about to get, and I just saved myself embarrassment from looking like I don't understand what they're doing. And I think that's you that's a little more unique to TV perhaps because there's a, there's a protection over the character that, you know is the word choice is important. There's a longer connection to the character, where I think more things have been affirmed, versus on a film, we're looking to explore and find it. And so, you know, I'm also reading the person and seeing whether or not they are open to options. Because sometimes, you know, folks want to do it one way and like, feel that you're pulling the strings out from what they want to do. If you go get one different, or nuanced option, and maybe that's because every time they do, they use the other one, and they fuck up the overall performance in the actor's mind. So, you know, it's like, there's so many things that you're trying to read, engage. But in a nutshell, that's kind of the approach.

Alex Ferrari 51:08
That's a fantastic answer to that question. Because I've always I'm always fascinated about how you approach that love the question approach instead of, because in features is like, we're going to do this. Let's try this, because it's a feature. And we're still we're all kind of developing this character and this story as we're going along. But when you walk on blackish on season four, I mean, Lawrence, Laurence Fishburne already knows what Laurence Fishburne is gonna do.

Pete Chatmon 51:35
This thing, I think, I think we're all kind of at least I mean, maybe I am. I don't know if new younger folks are. But, you know, we're coming up. It was the idea. Like, the director was like this kind of like military drill sergeant, presidents who kind of, you know, commanded all things by Fiat. You know, what I mean? And like, I think that, you know, a, that's just part of how society was, you know, what I mean? And I, I personally don't feel the need to have that kind of presence. You know, because I know, I know that I'm, you know, again, these words get so I'm gonna say, I know that I'm in charge. And I, you know, I don't know if that's the right word. But I know that I'm like, captaining this ship, at least for responsible and responsible, right? Yep. And that doesn't have to feel like, I have to make you know.

Alex Ferrari 52:38
But that's, but that's, but that's a quiet confidence of just doing this so long that you don't need to prove anybody, anything to anybody. Because when you're younger, you're trying to prove all the time that you're you're supposed to be in the room. But when you get to our age, and we're in the room, we're in the room for a reason, man, we've lived life, we've got shrapnel and you know, the last thing I need to do is to prove to you that I can direct. Like, I've been doing this for a while, you know, I don't need to prove, like I'm trying to prove to you that I can conduct the conversation for a podcast, like I've done a couple of these. So it's just kind of like this. It's kind of like this couple, goodbye, a few. But the point is that you just feel comfortable. And you feel confident without arrogance. And that takes

Pete Chatmon 53:24
Yeah, and even now, man, like this is one thing I've been doing, as of, you know, the last maybe 10 episodes or so like, I'm no I used to always like I'd have my my iPad and script tation. And I'd be like, looking at the script while we're flipping the acting. And like, I don't even do that anymore. I don't even like, look at the script into rehearsal. Obviously, I prep and prep and prep from the script. But now like I just watch, and the moment it feels like I'm not watching something that I can see other people watching. Like, that's just the antenna that I'm governed by. And so sometimes they'll be like, Oh, wait, what's the line? I'd be like, ask the script supervisor. I don't know. That's their job. Like, I'm not trying before I would want Oh, I don't want to see like I don't know where I am in a script. Like, I don't know where we are in the script. But pick it up from you know, pick it up from what's tell them where to best pick up line is, you know, like, because my job is to is to preserve and protect the audience's experience and audiences not reading the fucking script.

Alex Ferrari 54:29
Isn't it interesting, though, like, I don't know about you, but when like when you first started in your 20s Man, you had everything down to that like you prepped and prepped and prepped and like you had storyboards and shot list and you and you were like over prepped. But then when nowadays you just get on the set and you're just like, I see what we can do guys. Let's just kind of feel it out today. You know, like I made like, I shot a whole feature that way. I just literally shot a whole feature. Yeah, we just got on location. All right. Take care. over there, let's put let's go through this whole thing. Alright, let's do this. That didn't work. Let's try it over that. And it's just kind of like it's jazz, you start becoming a jazz player. Yeah. As opposed to someone who's constantly reading music. Does that make sense?

Pete Chatmon 55:14
Oh, it makes perfect sense. You know, but the amount of the amount of music you have to have read to do that, right is, is is the is the thing that can be discounted, you know, and like, when when folks see people at the height of their craft, you know, what they don't see is the height of the prep, you know? So it's a, it's a, it's an earned it's an it's an earned approach.

Alex Ferrari 55:40
You know, it's interesting, like someone like Ridley Scott, who made his first feature at 40. And everyone's like, Oh, he's making his first feature at 40. And like, he had shot I think, 2500 commercials. He'd gotten saved. He's way past the 10,000 hour mark. Right. By the time he got his first future mentor, can you imagine what it's like walking on a set with Ridley now? I mean, I can't even comprehend the 1000s of hours that he has, that man has been on set. It's like his brother to Tony, they both were like that. And it's just that just just geniuses, they could just riff and they could just kind of go, but it takes time. It's not only how much music you read, how much music you write, as well, along that path? Yes. Without question, yeah. Now, as directors meant we, there's always a day on set that you feel like the entire world's coming down around you. It could be on the feature, it could be on the television, or you tell me which one it is. I always like to say most most directors like you mean every day, like, you know, not every day, but there's that one crazy, crazy day that you feel like the entire world's coming down around you like, I don't know, I don't know how we're gonna make it. I don't know how we're gonna get past it. That freeze technique that you use was could have been answered this question. But is there any other day that that happened to you? And how did you overcome that day?

Pete Chatmon 56:54
Man, you know, in the prep that we're talking about, that no one sees. You know, for me, like, I always, I always prep, and block scenes, as if I were making my feature. You know, that's always like my first swing, obviously, within the vein of the show, but like, my first swing is always like, I look at it, like, they'll never do, we don't have time for this, you know, but there are like kernels of something that are that indicate the kind of entry point to the scene that I can simplify. And so sometimes I ended up blocking scenes, three or four different ways before I'm like, okay, boom, that's what we're, that's what we'll start. That's what I that will be my target, because actors have points of view, and sometimes it changes, but like, I can always keep the essence of it, or I can pivot totally. So when things go haywire, oftentimes, I can kind of simplified down to what I like to think of as, like, the most important moment in the scene. Right? So like, if it's, if it's just like, all right, I gotta go, I gotta get real simple. And we got to do a winner. But the most important moment in the scene is this. And so we're going to make sure that that one or ends in a close up that I can tilt down in tag, whatever detail and then come back up and pan for the reaction, because that's the scene right there. You know, and so it's, it's kind of just knowing what the, you know, what the bare minimum is, as far as the audience understanding what what is happening, and knowing that all the toys and all the things and all the sauce that we can put on it are great, but at the end of the day, like, like, what's the what's the nutrient? And so, I mean, that happened, that happens all the time. I feel a little less pressure, I would, I will honestly say on on TVs, because more often than not, it's not my fault. You know what I mean? Like, if it's like, you know, I just did something last week, and like, the generator didn't work. So they had to go get another generator and bottom line, like, Yes, I had to become even more efficient, but I'm like, That shit ain't on me. Like,

Alex Ferrari 59:22
I didn't I didn't bring that generator. That's not my agenda.

Pete Chatmon 59:25
So I'm still gonna make the day like, I pride myself on making the day and I can make the adjustments. But, you know, if for some reason we can't, I mean, if everybody's being honest, we're all going to know why it didn't happen.

Alex Ferrari 59:39
Right! It wasn't because you were doing a 15 minute a webinar on a show that it's going to take maybe out of that 15 minute one or one minute.

Pete Chatmon 59:47
Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 59:50
It's not your extravagance is that a goddess here? It's the Jedi that didn't work, or the actor didn't want to come out of the trailer.

Pete Chatmon 59:57
Yeah. And then keeping a cool head to man like people There's like that that's so much of the job like, keeping a cool head and like, you know, if you think about, and this is TV specific, but like, I always make this statement, I feel like I need to go and actually do the math on this. But let's just say a day of shooting, you look at dailies, and you've got probably 30 to 40 minutes of footage, right? But you were there for 13 hours, right? So what people are going to remember, is that 13 hour experience with you not that 30 to 40 minutes of dailies, or at the end result, the 44 or 22 or 60 minutes show, and so like the experience that you give people as a person is arguably more or if not equally important to your work as a creative person.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
The best advice I always give filmmakers coming up like what's the best advice? I don't don't be a dick. Exactly. Yeah, don't be it. Because then there's people who have less talent, and are less experience. And I'll hire them faster, then I'll hire dick, who's more experienced and more talented. That's when you want to be on set for 13 hours with.

Pete Chatmon 1:01:19
Right. Right. Nobody needs nobody needs that in their life and like,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
And as you get older, but you just put up with less and less crap.

Pete Chatmon 1:01:28
Yeah. And that's why people work with the same people over and over again. It's like, I know what I know everything that's going to know all the vibes here. Yeah, perfect. Let's go.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:36
Let's rock and roll. Now, let's talk about your book transitions, man, because, you know, this is a book that I wish I had. I'm sure you wish you had it when we were coming up. Yeah, man. So tell me tell me what how that book came about? And what's the purpose of the book for the for the for the filmmaking community.

Pete Chatmon 1:01:53
It's exactly what you said it was I in all the years and that, you know, 99 to 2017 period, you know, I this this was what fed me, Word Wise, Fast Company, magazine, wired, you know, man, any, I forget what book club I was in, but I was getting books like, you know, 50 directors talk about their first, you know, their first feature. And, you know, I'm like one anecdote from that. I remember Mike figures had done whatever his first movie was, and I think he had a scene, I hope I'm not messing this up. But a scene that maybe were like, Tommy Lee Jones, or Edward James almost or something. And he ended up having to reshoot because he was kind of hesitant to give him the real thing. Like, he didn't know how to communicate the direction that he needed. And he just never did it. And it needed to reach you. And, and it was so tense, because now he's reshooting. It was like, I just need you to I can do this or whatever he said. And then he was like, oh, okay, I'll do that. Yeah, and this thing that he had been so apprehensive to do is like, you just got to do it. You know. So like, I was soaking up anecdotes like that, you know, reading story, you know, the 48 Laws of Power, the hero's journey, making a movie by Sidney Lumet all a Spike Lee's books, and I was just like, you know, I, I feel like there's a book that mixes all of these things that that is missing. And so, you know, initially, my book was called, Thanks for nothing. And it was, it was going to be I was after I raised, you know, 520,000 to make my feature. And I chronicled everything. And I was, like, I want to talk about how, like, not having had resources was the best thing for me, and how it shouldn't be a limitation for you. And then never wrote that, but like, I always kept a little document. And I would, and as I did more things, you know, shot my first commercial, did a music video for you know, six figures or whatever, I would kind of update and keep, like bullet points of what the lessons were. And so, once I got into TV, I was like, well, what's the real thing here? And, to me, the thing is, look at all these pivots. You know, I go from short filmmaker to feature filmmaker feature filmmaker to running my production company, you know, faculty member to you know, branded content guy, you know what I mean? And like, and now here, I'm at he Rhianna TV, and there have been principles along the way. So it's chronicling that journey. In a three act Hero's Journey structure with like the setup, the conflict, the resolution being getting that first episode, and then each chapter has a key word. That's kind of like the principles that guide you through this moment or this stage wherever it happens for you. And then lastly, it's like a mixture of like, how to inspiration and self help. And so that kinda like, I recognize that that was what I was always looking for in the things that I was reading. And so I wanted to merge everything into one. And, and then I have my own podcast, let's shoot with Pete Chapman. And so I took, I took 10 of the director conversations and have them in the back. So if you feel like, Oh, you're just hearing me talk about this stuff like, Well, no, you can listen to Oscar winning Matthew cherry, or, you know, Rob McElhenney, or Michael spiller or Millicent Shelton like and really get kind of, kind of hear the principles over and over again, that all these creative folks have had to subscribe to on their journey. And so yeah, that's the long winded kind of full, full throated, like genesis of the book. But like, it's been great, because I've found like, a lot of the responses and reviews have been that it's done exactly. For people what I don't,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:58
That's awesome, man. And I'm so glad that this book exists, and it's out there for people. As you know, I this is what I do all the time trying to help filmmakers along the along the path and, and let them know that they're gonna get slapped in the face and prepare for that slap. Just understand where you're going, and how, and get ready, get ready, and how you're gonna have to how long it's gonna take to get to where you are, man. But I'm glad that you put something together that as tools that people can really use and demystify a little bit of, like I always say Hollywood's real good at the sizzle, but subset the steak. And it's so damn true, right? It's so damn,

Pete Chatmon 1:06:38
Big fajita tray coming to your table.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:41
Basically eat a tray. But then it's like, oh, it's Taco Bell. Oh, man, what happened? Exactly. Now, one thing I wanted to ask you about because you've been able to do this, and you talk about it in your book, The the importance of pivoting and understand how to pivot. So many filmmakers and screenwriters for that matter, going through the business, they get stuck on one thing, and they can't see past it. So like, I'm only going to be a feature director, I'm only going to be a music video director, I'm only going to do commercials. And when other opportunities present themselves. They don't pivot. And you went from feature to television. I don't know if television was always the goal or not. But But you started off in shorts and features. So can you talk a little bit about that importance of being able to just kind of move and shake as things come at you?

Pete Chatmon 1:07:31
Yeah, yeah, man. I mean, look, I noticed in like the late aughts, I guess that's what people say, right? You know, oh, nine, like a friend of mine, seeth man, who's also in the anecdotes at the back of the book. He had done the disney abc program, and he ended up directing on Grey's Anatomy, and then the wire. And I was just watching like, Man, this is like, TV's kind of where the stories are, you know what I mean? Like, it was early in the shift. And it would only be cemented year after year as like, you know, the golden age of television revealed itself through new shows after new show. And so. And I also had the experience of six years to raise money for feature, which I paid myself $15,000 I'm like, this ain't sustainable. And so and if I'm a director, I want to direct I'll do anything that's, I want to go where the storytelling is, right. So that's why branded content commercials, music videos, TV film, like I'm trying to I have a feature script I have to finish in September, because I still want to direct films. And so yeah, man, it was just like, how do I get into that space? I looked at what was happening. I had I have my friend seat as like a kind of aspirational target look like Well, here's a guy that I know that did it. I know plenty of people who are going through these programs and aren't but like, here's somebody I literally can call and I know that did it. And so I just attacked it in the only way that I could which which was through these director programs, because it's such a either nepotistic or who you know, kind of dynamic of, well, how do I get into some category of being known? And so that was how that worked for me. And then even in that even in there, once I was kind of big toe in the door, I had to think about what what is the target? And you know, again, all these boring sports analogies, but like, what's the target? And it's like, well, I want to continue to be able to do like everything. So we made with my team, and at their suggestion to, you know, we made a concerted effort to go after half our single camera comedies. So it was and like, Oh, I'm just saying I want to do TV, it's like, I want to do half hour single camera comedies. Because both in front of the camera like Jamie Foxx are behind the camera like Adam McKay, you know, you've seen people go from comedy to drama, but not really the other. And so while I was trying to break in on comedy, I was also where I could having meetings with drama folks, you know, and shadowing on drama shows where I could, so I could someday get, you know, both of those feathers in my cap. And that was, I mean, it was a very concerted effort. And so like, the last year, or two of like, doing things like the flight attendant, and you, and then you know, even like, this kind of like genre blending things like love life, you know, like, that's been something that I've that I was trying to pivot toward from the beginning of ever getting an episode. And so, you know, I think it's important to kind of remain open, I think being platform agnostic is is a good idea. Because, you know, one thing I haven't ever done is a multicam. And I want to, and I need to because A, there are great multicam shows, but B for all we know, half our single camera comedies could could lose their their luster, it's cheaper to make a multi cameras. So anyway, and they might studios and networks might decide we're only doing that for the next three years. And then what are you going to say, Oh, I don't want to work.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:41
And that's the thing. The business for so many years, the business stayed the way it was for, you know, like 70 years. No films or films, you know, at here's the whole process from the filmmaking process to how I got out in the television was that then the cable companies came in and started messing things up, then VHS started to come in with streaming situations showed up, it changed the game completely again. So if you aren't, and now things are moving so quickly, and so differently, and so fast, things that were true a year ago are not true now. And then the pandemic happened, and then everything went out the window now. And then everything everyone started. So if you don't have the skill of pivoting, you won't make it long term. You won't make it long term, and you have to have that skill. And I love that. Yeah, it's rare to find a director who does blackish and Grey's Anatomy, you know, like, it's not that's not a television. Well, that's not normal. Normally, right

Pete Chatmon 1:12:37
No, there's not I mean, I, I mean, I know who I know, that kind of do or does about comedy and drama, but it's not. It's not 10 people, you know, and then also to man, like, you know, I feel very fortunate because I do I do networks, like I just wrapped Grey's Anatomy on Monday, and my next show will be the reboot of fatal attraction for Paramount plus with Joshua Jackson and Lizzie Kaplan. So that's a that's the streaming thing it's going to be it's like eight episodes, it's going to be doing all eight are you? I'm doing I'm doing the second the last episode, okay, you know, and then after that, I'm gonna go through the show Minx, which is HBO Max, and it's a period piece. It's a woman who kind of starts at playboy. playgirl asked magazine in the 70s. And it deals with a lot. It's a commentary on a lot of issues that affect women. And then after that, I'm going to do American auto, you know what I mean? And it's like, it's like, I love to kind of hop back and forth between these different things. And each show or each genre requires a different, like, approach, because some you tell the story with the camera, others, you have to find how to let the joke happen on screen in an interesting way. And yeah, man, it's a it's a, it's a concerted effort to be able to, to find opportunities and all of those.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:04
Now, brother, I'm gonna ask you a few questions, ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Pete Chatmon 1:14:13
So as a filmmaker trying to break into the business today, I would say first, to start positive, you know, you're breaking into it at a time where it's easier than ever to break into it. And you probably have more access to education than anyone ever before, even if you don't go to a film school. So go ahead and make something I would, I would challenge them, though, to think about what is important to them, what kind of it what kind of stories they would have responded to in the books or films that they've watched or read, and try and hone in as quickly as possible on the things that they'd like to be involved with saying that And then once they figure that out, try everything, try every position, you know, need as many people as you can, and just, you know, make a project every quarter. Every year you come out with four things.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:17
And that IMDb gets fatter and fatter All right, what is the what is what did you learn from your biggest failure?

Pete Chatmon 1:15:29
This is an interesting question, man. Because it's funny, man, I, I don't like, I don't look at things as failure. So I'm trying to, I'm trying to like, change that perspective to answer the question.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:47
Something that didn't go the way you'd like it to go, sir.

Pete Chatmon 1:15:49
Yeah. I guess that you know, I would say that, collectively, my, my failures would be moments where I failed to read the room. And so like, I'm thinking back to a project that, you know, it was early in my career, it was not a TV show. It was a web series. And like, people were asking me for, like, a shot list. And I was like, No. Like, no, I got this, like, you're good. Trust me, you know, and like, I it was like, 10 Page day that I was always making the day, and you locations were fluctuating. And so I was just kind of, like, it's a, I only got so much time in the day, to produce a shot list that I'm not necessarily going to like, adhere to feels like not the best use of my time. And so I was leading with that as an example. But on their end, it's a big project for them, you know, they don't know me, like, I know me. And they can't eat a bagel at craft service, with the same level of comfort. Of like, Pete's got it as they would have if they had some shot list that I wrote and say, here's what we're doing today. You know, and, and I could think of a variety of examples where a little misreading of the room, left people with a feeling that they didn't need to have, and I could have easily taken care of that. Now, at that moment in time, my process wasn't as sharp as it is today. So it was still harder to do but like, you know, you have to be able to look at something and say, Well, what was my involvement in that? And maybe, you know, instead of a no in that situation, I could have explained what I just explained to you which is like we don't have time proud you know, but how about we talk it out every morning? Whatever, you know what I mean? Like something give him some general bone give him something. So I would think I think listeners viewers extrapolate that as you want but I think failure to read the room is the Doom which is always what you can point back to for anything that doesn't go as well. Is it good?

Alex Ferrari 1:18:36
I have a challenge for you sir. Next Next job you go on, I want you to wear a t shirt and the backer says Pete's got it and just walk on the set. With a T in the back front on the front assess director on the back assist Pete's got it.

Pete Chatmon 1:18:49
Yeah, I like that. I like that. I'll report back let you know.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:55
I mean, and let me know how hard it is to get the next job after that. Sure. So Alex, I was fired off that. And now my agents will return my calls.

Pete Chatmon 1:19:04
Now I'm now I'm doing radio.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:07
Now I'm doing podcast I mean, seriously. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Pete Chatmon 1:19:17
I would say the lesson that it took me the longest to learn was work smarter, not harder. Because you part of your fuel. It's like, it's like going back to like that, that thing we were talking about earlier, the quote that I can't attribute to the person. You know, like, we're guided by our tastes until our talent can match it more or less. Like the other the flip side of that is, are they also included in that as like, we're guided by our hustle. And also being from New York. There's just something about like, I'm not working you you know, I mean, like I'm up earlier than you. laid it in you, you know, you eat lunch. I Don't you know, I mean, like, it's stuff like that. And so, but that that's not a, something you can do forever and be, you know, particularly particularly with the birth of our daughter, like, I can't I can't prep all weekend now. You know, that's not that's not what what I want to do you know what I mean? So it means that I have to be very, like strategic and methodical and deliberate about how I prep and take incoming matters and prioritize them. So that I'm dealing with what I need to deal with now for whatever is my next immediate milestone. And, you know, that takes a little while because it's like, well, that's not my process. I like to do this, I did that I was like, Well, you got a concept meeting today at noon. So skim through the script, and what you got to talk about, you can't highlight shit, you don't have time for it, you got to script it's more. So like, it's not my process. That's not my process. So you just have to, you just have to, you have to be nimble and flexible. And trust that. Now that you been hustling for so long, you've got the experience level to pivot from what made you comfortable before and find new, you know, new footing to land on and you'll still be just as, as great.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:34
I'm gonna just tell you a quick story that illustrates exactly what you said, when I was a kid. I was 20 something playing tennis like a madman. And one day I went to play tennis and there was like, this older dude, probably like in his at the time late 50s was older dude. Now we look at it like that's a young man, what are you talking about? But when you're your 20s, it was like this old dude. He's like, you want to play like, Yeah, let's play. And I was just 20 year old like, like that young that and this guy just sat in one fell on the tennis court and just went, and I'm running to this run. He just knew where to hit the ball. And I was working harder. smarter, and I never forgot that lesson. I was like, Man, how would you do that? It goes, I just put the ball where you weren't?

Pete Chatmon 1:22:26
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, just simple as that. Meanwhile, you're trying to blaze a forehand down the line where he's standing and he's like,

Alex Ferrari 1:22:34
Nno, no, I'm trying to reinvent the forehand in your own mind to hit the forehand, like no one has ever hit before. That's that's what you want.

Pete Chatmon 1:22:44
With topspin and slice?

Alex Ferrari 1:22:48
Which smoke that comes off. Last question, sir. three of your favorite films of all time.

Pete Chatmon 1:22:56
Oh, boy. Okay. Okay. Okay. So in No, man, that's fucking Okay. In no particular order. And I'll give a little reason with each. I will say Casablanca. Just just the perfect film, a film about the war made during the war. That it's about a little bit of a musical love story. Drama. Can't tell me it's not funny. It's funny as hell telling me it's not funny. You know, like, that's a good ass movie. I'm such a big fan of Spike. I love do the right thing. But I'm thinking I'm gonna say x, Malcolm X.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:42
That's a tough choice between the two men because x is a masterpiece. But yeah, but do the right thing did that. It's not only a masterpiece, but it just exploded on the scene. Like he was already spike. Yeah. Next. But men do the right thing, man when it came out. I was working at the video store. Yeah, I was working at the video store. Man. I was like, you gotta watch do the right thing. Like, it just exploded. There's few movies.

Pete Chatmon 1:24:11
It was visceral filmmaking. And, you know, but but x is like, it's like, it's like working at it's like, like all the films you've done before. Have like, prepared you for this film. And then just the performances is phenomenal from Denzel so that I'd say those two and then this might be weird, but maybe not. I'll say seven.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:38
Oh, it's one of my top five. Yeah, I'm a feature fanatic. Essentially. Yeah.

Pete Chatmon 1:24:43
It's that's, that's also I think, a perfect film in many ways. And I think for when it came out, it was one of the earliest representations of genre blending to a new degree, which is like it's like it's a buddy cop car. Ready to some degree. It's a thriller. It's a horror film. It's, you know, all of these things, and it leans on the right tone, and the right filmmaking tools in the right moments. And I think that's kind of what today's television does. There's genre blending. That gives you a little bit of what you know. But you know, a percentage of what you don't. But because you're able to anchor it in these genres you're familiar with, I think people going to ride with you.

Alex Ferrari 1:25:39
Right, and Yellowstone, and Breaking Bad and those kinds of things. Yeah, like, you can't tell me those aren't funny shows. But yeah, yeah. Now, I Brother, I appreciate your work. By the way, where can people buy your book? Where can people find out more about you and what you're doing my friend?

Pete Chatmon 1:25:57
Oh, yeah. So you can buy the book on Amazon or Goodreads. It's called transitions, directors journey and motivational handbook. I hope you buy it. I hope you review it. Let people know that you like it. I've also got a podcast called Let's shoot with Pete Chatmon, which is available everywhere. Spotify, Apple, all that good stuff. And then I'm at Pete Chatmon on Instagram and Twitter. And, yeah, I'm more active on Instagram. I find I'm not witty enough on Twitter. You know, don't have time to be witty. I got time to post this picture. But um, yeah, I love to share behind the scenes content and kind of go on some rants here and there about about the industry and filmmaking and directing. And yeah, man, this has been awesome to chat with you, Alex. I love what you're doing. I think it's a it's a fuel for for creative souls out there. So please keep doing it. And yeah, man, it's been it's been great to wrap it up, man. I really appreciate it.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:06
And I appreciate you for writing the book and for everything you do and being an inspiration to young young filmmakers around the world. And just I thank you, man. Thank you for your hard work as well, brother. Thank you, man.

Pete Chatmon 1:27:18
Appreciate you sir!



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IFH 622: The REAL State of Indie Film with Alrik Bursell

Alrik Bursell is a filmmaker, producer, cinematographer, editor and director. His been working in video production for over 10 years and worked on everything from feature films, to broadcast commercials to DVD instructional videos, if those even exist any more.

Alrik’s first feature film The Alternate was shot in the winter of 2019, did it’s film festival run playing over 20 film festivals and winning 15 awards worldwide, and have secured worldwide distribution for the film, which is coming out in the USA/Canada in September 2022.

The Alternate follows Jake, a videographer who discovers a portal to another dimension in which he has everything he has always wanted: the perfect version of his wife Kris, the filmmaking career of his dreams, and the daughter he never had.

Jake quickly starts traveling back and forth between these two worlds – spying on his other self, falling in love with the alternate Kris, and getting to know his daughter. Jake soon sees that his alternate is not as perfect as he seems and decides to change places with the alternate Jake and take the good life for himself.

Please enjoy my conversation with Alrik Bursell.

Alrik Bursell 0:00
As a filmmaker, you should just be aware of what you're up against and that like, these fantastical fantasy outcomes are like so so unlikely that they should not at all be embedded in your your your hopes and dreams for the success of your movie.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
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 back to the show returning champion. Alrik Bursell, How you doing Alrik?

Alrik Bursell 0:34
Doing good! Thanks for having me, Alex. I'm like so stoked to be back, man.

Alex Ferrari 0:38
Yeah, man. Thanks for coming back on the show. Man. I'm excited to talk about your new film The alternate, which is I know a long gestating project. I think

Alrik Bursell 0:50
The last time I was on the show, I was like in crowdfunding, like super sweaty, super nervous, just like please help me make people.

Alex Ferrari 1:00
Please help me please. Oh, sir. Can I have another cup of porridge?

Alrik Bursell 1:04
It happened though. So thank you, everyone.

Alex Ferrari 1:08
So now I wanted to have you on the show. Not to only talk about your new film, but I think it's a great opportunity to talk about the state of independent film, because it changes so rapidly so often in our business. I mean, yeah, God, I mean, it's from from basically from the 90s on it's been so 80s on basically, but the 90s on, it's really just changed so much. And it seems to be changing faster and faster. Every every month, there's something new showing up some new service coming up some new way to make money some way some new way, we're getting screwed by somebody, or some company or something. So there's always something so I'd love to hear your opinion on from your point of view. And from you know, obviously you do the interviews on Making movies is hard. And with Liz and and you guys are kind of on the pulse as well as I am on what's happening in the indie world. So in your opinion, what do you think? Where do you think the state of independent film is, sir?

Alrik Bursell 2:05
Well, I guess let's like try to define it a little bit better. Like do you mean, like indie film with like anybody? Like including, like known well known filmmakers? Like, you know, the Darren Aronofsky is of the world and people who are like making indie film, quote, unquote, on their own, but like you have budgets and things are you talking about, like the little, you know, people I'm talking about?

Alex Ferrari 2:29
Let's just put it this way. How many Darren Aronofsky is are listening to us right now? All right. So that so I don't Sure.

Alrik Bursell 2:37
It just frustrates me because like, you look at fucking indie wire or whatever, or some of these places, and they're like, indie film, and then they just start quoting all these like 5 million $10 million movies. And you're like, that's not really what indie film is, like, indie film to me is like million or under, you know, and people who are just scraping their budgets together, like don't don't necessarily have any massive talent, no one would know who they are. You know, like, that's kind of where I see like, indie film, it's like, the movies that like, you know, XYZ is picking up, you know, and like, you know, companies like that, like the smaller and

Alex Ferrari 3:11
A24, you know, the A24's of the world.

Alrik Bursell 3:13
Yeah, barely all the A24's is like, if you get to A24 toilet you kinda already.

Alex Ferrari 3:19
I mean, I'm seeing I'm seeing a bunch of the A24 films lately, and there's some that I have no idea other than the director who the hell they are. So there are those, but then there's the of course, they're everything everywhere all at once. Crowd as well. But yeah, but no.

Alrik Bursell 3:34
Yeah. But that's movies and stuff. saphenous is like, you know, booksmart Yeah, etc. It's like, you know, come on. I mean, like, I feel like A24. Like, maybe they are picking up some stuff that's like, you know, from these unknown, like struggling filmmakers, but I think for the most part, like if you get on their radar, it's like, you've kind of ascended to like another scope, then, you know, the majority of indie filmmakers?

Alex Ferrari 3:57
Yeah, exactly. Yeah,

Alrik Bursell 3:59
I should say.

Alex Ferrari 3:59
So no, I think so. To answer your question. I do think that like the the whale and the, you know, Darren Aronofsky is film that's coming out and a bunch of other films that you know, everything everywhere all at once is, quote, unquote, an indie film. And I would say it is because I talked to the boys. And it was it wasn't a $500 million movie though. Or it was basically the craft service budget of Dr. Strange. And they both match the multiverse in a very different way. So I think the state of independent film I think the artistic state, at that level is going strong. There's still a place for it. It's harder now I think to even be seen than it was five years ago, 10 years ago. But I'm talking more about the state of independence. What like, like the alternate like that kind of film?

Alrik Bursell 4:47
Well, yeah, I mean, I felt like you know, the what I'm seeing is, you know, you really Yeah, shoot your ass off to make your movie. You know, and then like, if you're lucky you get into like some some really great film festivals, you know? And then if you're a spike will the 1% you get into like, you know, South by Southwest, or these game changing film festivals that like, you know, agents and managers are suddenly paying attention to you, and you're getting those kinds of offers, and then your career is like, whatever, you know, but that's like such a small percentage of filmmakers, it's like, yeah, like, like, literally the 1%, you know, and then everyone else, it's like, you're basically get get you get into this film festivals, you're trying to get the best absolute distribution deal you possibly can. And then, you know, you get pumped out into until the digital marketplace, most likely, maybe you get on the streamer, maybe you'll get on the stream, or eventually later down the line in your in the life of your movie, but it's kind of like you're just out in the ether. And that's sort of up to you to do the promotion, and to get people to watch your movie. And then in that case, when you go with a distributor, is you gotta like split the profits and everything. But I think, you know, with going with a distributor, you get like, a lot of other bonuses, you know, like,

Alex Ferrari 5:58
Yeah, like not getting paid, like not getting paid. And, and no rewards, like access to a good depends, depends depends on,

Alrik Bursell 6:05
You could probably hire the same PR team, that your distributors hiring, you know, whatever, and do it on your own, and pay that money upfront, but like having that kind of support in the infrastructure can be helpful, like, we did get a lot of access, you know, to different outlets through them. And our, you know, our trailer ended up picking up like, you know, 160,000 plus hits, you know, on YouTube, kind of through, like, the work that that team did have, like, you know, hitting up all these different channels, and like getting the word out on the movie. So I think like, to some extent, like unless you want to be like, you know, managing a PR firm yourself, and then paying that cost up front, which is like, you know, you already spent all this money making the movie, like, do you really have another $5,000 to pay a PR team out of your own pocket, you know, when when you're going to distribute, maybe maybe you do, you know, if you want to do self distribution, but I basically feel like, I guess the state of what I'm saying is that, you know, even at the highest, like, even I had, like a level of success that is like, it's like really exciting and acceptable, we're kind of all on the same playing field still, you know, and like, it's like, kind of up to the filmmaker to to get the word out and their movie, and to, you know, have it, you know, recoup its investment hopefully. And then if not, like, you know, at least get you on to your next project. So I feel like that's sort of what the first feature I really feel like is useful for is like, you know, using that as like, you know, what your short film used to be like, your mom used to be your calling card. Now, I feel like your first feature is your calling card, getting those reviews, like you know, on Rotten Tomatoes, and like getting a rotten tomatoes rating, or, you know, at least just getting some positive reviews from some sort of critic, it's like, that's all ammunition you can use to make your next movie, like when you're approaching investors and protein production companies, you can point to your, your successes, and then that can be like, Okay, well here, let Now trust me to you know, take a little bit more money and go make my next movie, you know,

Alex Ferrari 8:00
So is the is the first feature, in your opinion, a loss leader? Or is there is there so

Alrik Bursell 8:07
I mean, I mean, I feel like there is like some potential but I think especially as a filmmaker, like you're definitely not expecting to get any any kind of payment on the first feature, you know, if you're lucky to get your investors money back, but like you as yourself, like, you're not gonna get any kind of pain.

Alex Ferrari 8:23
But isn't that but isn't that I mean, look, you know, I know we look at things from the artistic filmmaker and sanity Kearney world that we live in, it is insane, right? Here's the delusion that we have ingrained in us at a DNA level to be even in this business. But on a business standpoint, you look at it and like, it makes our business is so insane, that you spotted spend $100,000 on on a product and have no idea truly how to make that money back. Or, or million dollar hopeful hopefully, if you're at the million dollar stage, you've got a few things in place to guarantee it.

Alrik Bursell 9:05
But it seems like a lot of people even at the million dollar range are kind of in the same boat as $100,000 range. It's like I think when you get to the for the presale deal and you're like making a deal with a distributor, you're before you make the movie, and they're given you an MG before you even you know, go out and shoot anything. I think that's kind of where, like, it actually makes a little bit more sense business wise, where you're like, not just like, you know, hemorrhaging money into a project. But, you know, getting those deals isn't easy, you know, and passable set up and everything. I mean, I've seen it done a lot, you know, and like have people on the show and like talk to other people who like this is what they do. But it's it's definitely not like as easy as it sounds, you know, it's pretty hard to get that kind of, you know, that magic little deal to happen.

Alex Ferrari 9:50
Right! Exactly. And it is all those kinds of deals are all star based. They're not. They're not they're not artistic based. They're not like oh you

Alrik Bursell 9:58
It almost doesn't even matter.

Alex Ferrari 9:59
If it means, obviously because we've seen a lot of Nick Cage movies Bruce Willis movie,

Alrik Bursell 10:06
It just has to be like in the right genre. It has to have like the right no member of thrills it has to feature the star enough. And it's like it's got to hit some some beats. But besides that, like, yeah, it can be whatever.

Alex Ferrari 10:17
Yeah. And it's, I mean, I mean, I'm going to AFM this year. Are you going to him this year?

Alrik Bursell 10:23
Going to be out there, though, with multibillionaire. So if anyone's looking for cyber filler and international market. Yeah, we'll be out there on the booth, you know.

Alex Ferrari 10:36
So, you know, Bob, I'm going to be out there at AFM this year. And, and every time I go to AFM, it's just it's a it's an absolute education for people to go out there. Because yeah, even if they have no movie just to walk around to see how movies are sold. It is you have been there, right?

Alrik Bursell 10:52
Yeah, I went once and I tried, I was foolish enough to think that I could try to raise money for the alternate before it was made at AFM. And I did like 20 pitches to all these different companies and everything. And they told me all told me the same thing. It's like, oh, well, either if you have the budget, or you have the cast, or cast and half the budget, then we can talk. But if you don't have at least half the budget, or cast, or cast, you know, then we're not we don't care.

Alex Ferrari 11:18
There's not even a conversation. It's not even a conversation.

Alrik Bursell 11:21
And at that point, it's like, well, if I had cast in money, why would I even need you? I would just make

Alex Ferrari 11:26
Exactly, exactly. But you know, I was talking to a client the other day, who made a movie at the sub $100,000 range. And they they made them and they came to me and they're like, What do you think? And I'm like, You're not gonna make a dime. And then they're like, Well, what do I do and like, recast one of the spot one of your parts with a name actor, go out and get somebody for a day for like 10 or 10, or 15, grand, and Shoot it, shoot them out in a day, pepper them out for the entire movie, make sure there's enough of him in the movie or her in the movie. And now you've got someone on the thumbnail. And now you've got an opportunity to maybe make your money back. But without that person, you're you're dead in the water. And I just know, it's not a made. It's an absolute fact, because of the

Alrik Bursell 12:19
Oh, the kind of movie. Okay,

Alex Ferrari 12:21
That's the thing. It depends on the genre. So the genre of the film was not action. It wasn't, it wasn't one of those jobs. And it wasn't like, our house backyard film. So it wasn't like, it didn't, it didn't have a place to be. So I'm like, Dude, the only way you're gonna even try even remotely have a shot is getting a face on on the thumbnail. And he's exactly what he did. We worked and got a name actor, we worked with a distributor. And we went to the distributor and said, Hey, give me a list of 10 people who you would be interested in this bill, if they were in it. We went through the list and we just started knocking them off and making offers until finally one said yes. And we got him shot him out in the day peppered him throughout the entire movie. He's like, Oh, my God, the movie so much better. I'm like, yes, because you've got a real, like an actor who has real credits, who's a real professionals been doing this for years. And now we're going to go into the marketplace, but there's a fighting chance at that it's sub 100,000. It's sub 100,000. So that's it's a good, it's a good kind of place to be as a filmmaker is a sub 100,000. Because you start going to 5300 every every 10 grand that you go up, you better just know your shit better.

Alrik Bursell 13:34
Yeah, no, it's totally like keeping keeping your costs low. It definitely helps the chance of recruitment for sure. You know, and I think like, if you're self distributing, like if you can make $50,000 That's, you know, a genre film, you know, like an Action, Thriller, Horror, sci fi, whatever. I think the chances of recouping on 50k You know, especially if you're cutting out all the middle people is really high. But you know, then you have to ask yourself, like, what do you want to do with your life? Like, do you want to be you know, promoting a movie and selling a movie for like, two years? Like, it's kind of, you know, some people are really into that. And some people like me, like, don't really want to be like I can, I can spend, you know, like, a couple of months promoting a movie, but like, I can't do it for a year. That's just too much.

Alex Ferrari 14:18
Right! And that's the end. That's another that's another thing that's really interesting, because before you know, when you go to film school, they teach you how to make, you know, $100 million movie. And that's what they teach you to that like, and they tell you, you could do this, you could be the next Chris Nolan. And that's fine. And you might be but chances are, you're not going to be because there's only so many Chris Nolan's in the world. But I think that before there was a problem getting into the business because things are so expensive to make movies were expensive to make good high quality was expensive to make. But now that the bed the barrier to entry is so minimal. You could make I mean, I made my last two features for sub 10,000 and got one of them I got one of them on Hulu, the other one was sold and both of them were sold internationally, and I made my money back fairly quickly. But yeah, but the

Alrik Bursell 15:02
10,000 or less, that's, you know, you know, I mean, you got a chance,

Alex Ferrari 15:08
You gotta, you have a much better chance with with, you know, one had more faces in it than the other one didn't the other one had no stars in it. But it was basically experiments for me, it was just kind of like, let's see what happens. And I was expressing myself as an artist and all that kind of good stuff. But I think the problem we have now it's not that we can't make a movie, it's we can't get our movie seen. So if the filmmaker moving forward doesn't have some plan in place to get the movie in front of eyeballs to get into. And that's why I wrote my book about, you know, finding a niche, focusing on that niche and trying to build product or build films for that niche to get in front of that audience. Either you do it yourself, which I agree with you not everybody's got that, that thing in them that they can sell. So I get that, but they need to have something in place, whether that be working with a PR firm, having a producer who's really good partner with someone who's really good at it. And I think the end is that maybe have a distributor and distributors that I know. And in my experience, they're trying to figure shit out to

Alrik Bursell 16:09
No that and they're kind of in the same boat as we are, you know,

Alex Ferrari 16:14
They don't know what to do either. And they're trying to figure it all out. And I mean, I went to meetings at AFM during the whole distributor debacle, when that went down. And I got on my Yeah, and when I broke that story, I you know, my face was all over the place. So all these distributors were bringing me in to like, try to, you know, whoo, my apparent like two or 3000 filmmakers, I pulled together in a Facebook group that were pissed off a distributor. And they're like, Oh, give us those films. And I'm like, okay, yeah, I'll take the meeting. And I would ask them, and they would just tell me their shtick. And I'm like, let me ask you, what do you do this, he doesn't have any idea how you're going to make money back on these films, he does not. Now we just throw as many, we throw as much shit against the wall as we can, and something usually sticks. And that was really eye opening to me when they said that, because it's just before there was a plan that before there was like, you went to a distributor, they had this, this, this, this, this, this, this, I can go through this, I get money from this than this. And that still does exist at the 5 million and above the Nic Cage films, the, you know, 20 million and below that kind of genre stuff that still exists. But for the 100,000 and below 500,000, or below million and below, unless there's talent involved. It's it's very, very difficult for them to try to find a place in the marketplace. And then also, for when your movie is done. There's about 3000 other films sitting waiting to come in. So yeah, they don't spend as much time on your films. Is that Is that a fair statement?

Alrik Bursell 17:44
I think so. Yeah. I mean, like, when I was talking to my distributor for the alternate, like, you know, he definitely had a little bit more care into his thoughts about it, you know, like, he was like, you know, this, this is similar to a movie that we had a few years ago, we did really well with it, we think that this has a lot of potential to do the same kind of business, you know, and, you know, he kind of like went in it with that way, and that they were very strategic, or the way they were creating the art, I loved my art that I made, I thought it was beautiful. I have it on my, you know, framed poster over there. But like, you know, they're like, all the distributors like my, my international in the US were like, this is just not gonna work, you know, this just is not going to sell. And so then they made one and then like, suddenly that that's the one that everyone likes, it's their own the trailer, that distributor made the US distributor, then international distributors using that same poster, and I guess they're having a lot more success with it. But that poster, so it's just really interesting, the way it all works, and the whole the way the whole business works, and like what is eye catching? What makes people click, you know, and the theories behind it. But again, in the end, like you said, no one really knows. We won't know if it worked until we see the first quarter numbers,

Alex Ferrari 18:50
I'd argue second or third quarter numbers. Because it's, you know, AFM is coming up, and then hopefully, Ken will come up after that. And those would be the two big markets that they go to sell your film at. But it's, you just don't know. And that's the other thing you said very, you said something that's really important for people listening to understand, won't the poster that made them click? That is something that needs to be in the head of filmmakers because there's still this magical dreamlike thing with theatrical and yeah, all that and that's wonderful. And we all you know, many of us grew up with the theatrical experience and I want my movie in a movie everything every filmmaker wants their movie in a theater, because it's it's the ultimate experience of it. But unfortunately, unless you're Chris Nolan, you don't have the juice to do that all the time. So you're gonna live on a thumbnail? Yeah, and

Alrik Bursell 19:53
That is not even the best assignment the best thing for your movie, you know, exactly. Make a movie under a million dollars like you probably don't want To put the movie into theaters, because you're just gonna lose all this money paying for that and like the, the, like the the last you're gonna get from the from the theater owners or whatever. And then, you know, in the end, it's like you're taking taking away juice, as you'd like to say from the, you know, the online sales, because that's where you're really gonna get your money. But if it's like split between theatrical, and you know, the online, like, then you're not going to make as much money online. And, you know, like, that's where your real money I think is going to come in. So I feel like the theatrical is like a really beautiful thing. And if the distributor wants to do it, and they can make it work or whatever, like totally great, like, let's do it, but like, you know, I wouldn't push it filmmaker, I would let the people know what makes money and what doesn't make money, make those decisions, you know, if they think that the actual runs good for your movie, and you're actually gonna see some, some extra revenue from it, then great, but I just don't think that's 90% of, you know, movies at this budget level, you know,

Alex Ferrari 20:56
And isn't it interesting though, that you know, in the 80s, in the 90s, our films had a, a movie, you would be able to either buy it for 20 bucks on DVD, or VHS, or you would get someone would have bought it and other people rent it. Then when TVOD showed up, iTunes showed up, then you got 399 for your movie and 999 for your movie, that was your value of your movie per customer is that before obviously before that theatrical, you know, there was a ticket sale, and you would get a split of the ticket sales. And that was the value of your movie, where in today's world, the Netflix thing, the Netflix effect, and the Amazon Prime effect has now brought our our product down to less than a penny for review. And that's what the value in the marketplace is for our films without a major star or something that loves, like, brings it up or niche or, you know, word of mouth or festival that maybe gives it some sort of juice. But what do you think of that?

Alrik Bursell 21:59
I think that's why behooves you to keep your movie on for sale or rent or as long as possible and like not go to prime not go to these other, you know, avenues until you've really exhausted your sales, through rentals. And in, you know, digital sales, you know, or if you have a DVD or your DVD sales, you know, but I feel like a lot of people I see this even with people who are doing self distribution, they just want the movie to be out so people can see it. So they can like say, Oh, just click on Prime video, just click so they just upload the prime and they get it out quickly. And it's like, oh, no, no, no, if you made a movie for even $1,000 Like, don't just put it on prime, like make your friends and family or your network, rent it or buy it. And then suddenly, you're gonna get that $1,000 back, you know, but if you just put on an app, like you said, you're never gonna get not even $1,000. So you're never gonna get $1,000 back on Amazon Prime. I mean, maybe after like five years.

Alex Ferrari 22:53
Not even not even. I mean, it's literally it's literally they're trying to get fractions of a penny now, like they gotten down to a penny. And they're figuring out and in fractions of a penny for for certain for certain films. But the place that I've seen and I've I've been talking about for a while now is a VOD, a VOD seems to be the place where there is money still to be made. And even more so the next level of a VOD in something that people the filmmakers are really like, their egos get really twisted into not because of this is YouTube. If you can get on these YouTube movie channels that have 1,000,002 million, 5 million subscribers, and get a piece of that ad revenue, which is do YouTube as a VOD, you know, it's not just to be included in and freebie these are. These are real places. I see the numbers from from distributors. And I'm like, wow, this is the Avon is the place where I still make the most money off of my movies. And I think it's kind of where we're the it's the hopefully the place where we can make the most money because at that point is like someone clicks. And if your movie is good enough, and keeps them playing and watching, you're gonna get ad revenue. So it really is about how good your movie is. Have you heard the same thing and your world? Pretty much?

Alrik Bursell 24:16
Yeah, I feel like a VOD is becoming like a real crown jewel for returns for films at our level, you know, and some people even recommend, like just go straight to a bar and like don't even spend time on you know, the rental and the sales but like I feel like you know, for certain movies or just I guess certain distributors like they still feel that that's a role, you know, great place to make, you know, a big chunk of revenue. So they still want the six months or whatever a year, however long it is like doing you know those sales and then go to Avon afterwards.

Alex Ferrari 24:48
You know, it's really interesting with the whole TiVo thing, because everybody I talked to everybody I talked to you. Nobody makes money on TV unless you can drive traffic unless you can drive traffic and most distributors don't understand how to drive traffic, sit to hold it for six months. And T VOD is I feel I mean, unless the numbers are coming in, you're like, oh shit. But T VOD is just because it's up on iTunes and up on Amazon Prime Amazon to purchase or rent unless you can.

Alrik Bursell 25:17
Although Yeah, this is in YouTube and whatnot.

Alex Ferrari 25:19
Fandango. We know that stuff. You get five cents from Fandango. And you'd be amazed. But it's I talked to so many distributors now who are just like, I just want to go to Avon in the filmmakers are freaking out. And they go, they just don't understand that that's where the money is. And if you could drive all the traffic from the beginning to a VOD, you'll make more money than you will letting it sit on T VOD, because, unless you can drive traffic look, I had I had a success story of entrepreneurs successful Mark Toya who made a million dollar robot, you know, action movie in this, which sounds horrible in the in the jungle?

Alrik Bursell 25:57
To me, I love rice kinds of movies.

Alex Ferrari 25:59
What that movie, but the reason why that works is because the visual effects were on par with anything that the Marvel did Marvel Studios has ever put out. It's so good. I can't express to you how good it is. So he's gotta hear it. He had a over a million dollar deal with a distributor. And he just looked at the contract. He's like, I'm never gonna get my money. upfront, by the way, it was it was a million something upfront. And he's like, I'm never gonna make my money with the way this contracts laid out. Screw it. I'm just going to self distribute. And he self distributed the whole thing. And he's made I think it's six, six or $7 million. At this point. He made all his money. He made all the money back of the budget in three months on T VOD. But he ran Facebook ads. He ran YouTube ads here and just he was that PR firm that you're talking about? Right? Because he comes from a commercial background and he enjoyed it. And it worked fine for him. But it is possible in today's world, and he's still making money still making money. He's like, Yeah, I'm going to release another one. I'm going to I'm going to put another TV ad campaign out and I'm just and he's still got while is it? I don't think he's gone. I don't think he's gone to a VOD yet. I think he's he might have gone to it. Yeah, he did go to Avon prime. Yeah, he did to prime. And he put he's like Alex, I was making. I think he said like 30,000 a month on a VOD. And he was a billion minutes stream. And he's like, this is ridiculous. Why am I getting such little money? For so much? Amazon is getting so it's just like, but this world that we live in? It's crazy. Yeah.

Alrik Bursell 27:34
I wonder if he because I was on Prime right. Getting that which one of the one where it's like, you know, he was getting billions of images viewed and then getting 30,000 hours back. That was Amazon Prime.

Alex Ferrari 27:44
Yeah. But then he took by the way, he took it off Amazon Prime. He's like, screw this. And I'll just he's done. So he won't he's not doing any AVOD anymore. Right now. He might go into the two b's.

Alrik Bursell 27:54
I was wondering like what is to retail? It must be way better than that. You know, like if he was getting an early minutes viewed on TV, he probably getting lots and lots of money back?

Alex Ferrari 28:02
I'm not sure. And I have to remember. I'm not sure if he's on TV already. He hasn't been on TV yet. But that film will be top 10. On TV. It was called monsters of man. Okay, how to look at Monster monsters of man. Yeah, I have two interviews with them. The first one was us discussing him going on this adventure to do a million dollar self distribution experiment because he didn't give a care. He didn't care about the money. And he's like, Screw it. I don't care. And then two and a half years later, he comes back and he's like, Yeah, made about six $7 million at this. And I'm still going. Thank you. Thank you for your book, Alex. I'm like, Oh, Jesus. All right. So. So there is that was a wonderful case. That's a lot. That's like a turn. But it is a huge return. But he even told me he's like, I go he's gonna be a sequel. Because probably not because this is not a real business. He because he comes from the commercial world. So he's been doing commercials for 30 years. And he goes, That's yeah, he goes, Alex, I make more money on my stock footage than I do doing this stuff. Because it's that's a real business. And I was like, wow, and he's a businessman, and he's, you know, owns real estate and other things like that. So it's really interesting to see. And he and by the way he's been offered. He's been talking to all the big I mean, he won't say who but we all know, there's probably a superhero company or two that's talked to him already. And he's, and he's because what he was able to do, he was top I think when he went on to on iTunes, he was like number two. I think I think endgame was the only thing ahead of him. Like he just he just and people were like, Who the hell is this guy? Where did he come from? Why is this look so good? He did this for how much shadow Shadow Ball on reds. He's like had three or four reds with them and shattered all up in the jungles of the Philippines and stuff like that. Never never built a set, never built a set everything location.

Alrik Bursell 29:53
Wow. Wow, amazing.

Alex Ferrari 29:55
These are all great. These are great stories. But that's an anomaly. You're talking about it. Yeah,

Alrik Bursell 30:01
I mean, it kind of brings me to like, my overall point about independent filmmaking is like you're not, you're not really doing it for the money, right? You're doing it because you want to make movies. And because you have stories to tell, and you this is, this is the thing that you want to do with your life. And I don't think you even think you're doing it to like, necessarily start this career, that's going to be your main thing forever. I mean, we all hope that's what it ends up being. And we all hope that we get to that level. But I think if you're going out to make an independent film, like you should be just thinking about it as like, you're creating this piece of art that you need to create, because you are an artist, and you're a filmmaker, and you have the story that you have to tell and share with the world and that you want people to see. But like putting any more weight behind this than that, I think you're just gonna be let down. Because like, if you're, if you're going into it, like trying to make a bunch of money, or even getting a return on your investment, or, you know, getting an agent or a manager or starting your career, or you're gonna like start directing television, or I'm gonna get offers from Marvel or whatever, like all those kinds of things, like, you know, that's all pipe dream stuff. And I think like if you go into making your movie with those sort of pipe dreams, and that's like your expectation, there's nowhere that you can go but down, like, you're only going to be let down from experience. But if you go into it thinking like I have this movie I want to make, I'm really excited about it, I love the story. Like I really want to get this out to show people I want my movie to, you know, hopefully inspire someone else to make their movie or like, inspire them to think about like characters or my story, or whatever it is, if you go into it with that, like, you're more than likely going to enjoy the experience, because you're probably going to hear from at least one or two people who connected with your movie once you finally finish it and release it, you know. And so I think those are the kinds of reasons we should be going into making a movie like we should be focusing on the art itself, like not the outcomes of the art, which are completely out of our control. You know,

Alex Ferrari 31:51
That's what I do with my first two movies, I did the exact same thing. I finally because most of my career, I was under that delusion, of like this short film is going to blow me up or this thing is the thing that's going to take me to

Alrik Bursell 32:04
Have that right,

Alex Ferrari 32:05
Right. Right. So then I finally just I went, I'm like, I'm just gonna go make a movie. 3030 days later, I was shooting my movie after the moment, I said, I'm gonna go make a movie. And then that's the one that gets sold to Hulu. And that's the one that gets sold internationally. And then I shoot that other one at Sundance for four days. And, you know, and just go and just make a movie. I'm like, I don't know what's gonna happen with it. I as I was flying home, I was like, I don't know if I have a movie. Like, I didn't have time to see if I shot all the footage I needed. I don't know, I think I did. You know, things like that. So it's kind of like this. I when I let go of the outcome, man became much easier, much more fun to make movies. But let me ask you this, then why, and I know you've met a lot of filmmakers. And I know you are one as well as I, why is there so much delusion? In this profession? I mean, Cookie makers don't have this delusion, like I'm gonna make the greatest cookie ever. Generally doesn't. It doesn't work in other architects like, I don't want to make the biggest figures ever think of Frank Lloyd who? I'm the one like you don't say I'm sure they don't those people.

Alrik Bursell 33:10
Architects maybe a little bit closer that cookie makers but

Alex Ferrari 33:14
But but generally speaking, it's not. It's not that the infestation in the entire populace of that, that that group of artists is not as delusional as filmmakers and screenwriters for that matter, because what is it about this art form? Painters aren't that musicians? Maybe? But again, there's no, there's not that it's just I find such a delusion in what we do with so many people. So why do you think that?

Alrik Bursell 33:44
I can, I feel like it's embedded in the art form in a lot of ways. You know, like, if you look at, like, just think of like, the classic phrase, like, I'm gonna make you a star kid, you know, it's like, this has been going on since the beginning of cinema, like this whole idea that like, you can be a star on the stage of the screen, you know, and so I think you're going into making your movie, it's kind of natural to think like, yes, like, I could be the next Robert Rodriguez. Like, he did it. He scrapped his movie together as $7,000 or whatever. And like, now, he's a big star, like, I could be like Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino, or, like, you know, all these, like, complete, like, outliers in the industry. And it's like, you just, you know, you fall in love with these movies in with these artists, and then you kind of like, you know, start to see, like, Oh, I could be like that, like, that could be me, you know, you sort of see your idea of your movie and your art getting to that level. And so I think it's just sort of a natural progression. But I think, you know, it's obviously completely misguided. And I think it's into some way it's almost sold to us, you know, like, like, oh, well, what are the filmmakers by the Hollywood selves behind Hollywood? It's like this, like really enticing, like, yeah, come out to Hollywood and make your fortune, you know, it's like, you know, it's like this whole like, sort of thing and I think You know, you gotta look at and like maybe back, you know, in the 80s in the 90s, like it was much more likely that that could work out for you in that way.

Alex Ferrari 35:08
But less competition, less competition different marketplace. Absolutely. I know every month marketplace Yeah, every every in the 90s. Every month there was a Richard Linklater, a Spike Lee, John Singleton, Robert Rodriguez Tarantino and Kevin Smith. I mean, I could just keep the list keeps going on and on. Of every almost every month, it was one of these magical stories, Napoleon Dynamite, Joe Carnahan. I mean, it was just constant in the 90s

Alrik Bursell 35:32
More lucrative back then to like, AHS marketplace, you know, D Mark, in the marketplace, like, I think those two kind of lead into each other. And like, it was a way that people could, you could make a movie for zero money, and you could make a big profit, you know, like, and, obviously, movies cost a lot more back then. So it couldn't be zero. But like, you could make a movie for like, whatever, half a million dollars, a million dollars or something. And then like, you know, get a big profit back. But, but yeah, it's just not the same anymore. Like, you know, like, like, it's like the whole Napster effect of everything. It's affected films, it's affected everything, you know, all art form is suffering for it. And I think like now, you basically, you can't get that big of return on a movie so easily. It's like it's much, much more difficult. And I think going into it, like, as a filmmaker, you should just be aware of what you're up against. And that like, these fantastical fantasy outcomes are like so so unlikely that they should not at all be embedded in your your, your hopes and dreams for the success of your movie. Like you should definitely try to like, like, it's good to have dreams. It's good to have fantasies, but it's good to separate rate them from the art you're creating. Because like you don't want it to be entangled, because then you're just going to think that your art sucks if you're not famous after you make it.

Alex Ferrari 36:51
Right. And then you go into a depression, and then you just figuring it out, and all this kind of stuff. But isn't it fascinating that I know a lot of people listening to us right now are saying that's for everybody else. That's not going to be me. Yeah. Am I wrong? Am I wrong? Am I wrong? How many people listening right now have that thought in their head? Like, that's for other people? That doesn't? That's not me. And

Alrik Bursell 37:15
The other one that's different.

Alex Ferrari 37:17
But dude, I'd say the same thing. You said the same thing. We all we all go through this process. And only after years of being battle hardened by the business. And by the way, all of those stories that we're talking about the Roberts and the and the Clintons and the Kevin Smith's and all of that stuff. I've had a lot of those guys on the show. And I've talked to them about their struggles at the beginning. And they knew it was real for them at the beginning to hear they had success. But there was no guarantee for that success. And by the way, the one common The one common thing that I've gotten from all of those kind of like those 90s filmmakers I've had a pleasure of talking to is none of them had an outcome that they had in mind. None of them none of Robert wanted to go to the straight video market. That was a that's all he cared about.

Alrik Bursell 38:08
Business he saw that business opportunity. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 38:11
Right that was it. He wasn't expecting to get signed by Sony and and get it and he didn't even want a mariachi to be released. He's like, no, no, no, no, that was just I was gonna go straight to video. I didn't know that's not my first movie. He was freaking out about it. And like it's something like what Ed Burns did with Brothers McMullen where he was working as a PA at E.T. Entertainment Tonight. And they had Robert Redford showed up to do press for quiz show. And in the elevator as the doors are closing, Edward comes in hands him a VHS copy of brothers like Bolton's rough night. Here. This is my movie, Robert, please take a look at it. Three months later gets a call from Sundance. Yeah, Robert gave us a VHS how's that movie coming along? It's an almost done how can you plan that? That's what that was. Then saying like you hear these kinds of stories, you're just like, but that's the stuff that feeds the delusion. I think it just it's we all like how many people listening right now have put together a business plan? Probably not a lot but the people who have put together a business plan to raise money are using these as references of how movies are made. Blair Witch Project. Paranormal Activity, Napoleon Dynamite. Like did you think that

Alrik Bursell 39:27
You're gonna take the outliers off your

Alex Ferrari 39:32
You can't do it but that's every time I've read a business proposal. If it's a horror movie, absolutely. Blair Witch and, and paranormal activity are they and saw and saw

Alrik Bursell 39:41
Yeah, you got to take those out. You got to like look at the movies that are like, you know, not the ones that you know, completely exceeded expectations and blew up and were special movies of the moment or whatever, you know, like, like looking at like I don't know, like when I when I was making my deck for the altar and I looked at this movie called Spring I don't know if you've seen spring but um It's like a sci fi thriller that was made for, you know, right around the same budget as my movie. It did get to Sunday. And that Sunday in South by Southwest, I believe and you know, it did really well, I think was an XYZ movie. But like, those are the kinds of movies I was looking at, like ones that were made around for the same budget as mine, you know, didn't have stars, like, mine was gonna have stars and like, try to find those movies that look like your movie. But like, don't put a movie in there that doesn't look like your movie, because then you're instantly gonna do you know displeased and in mislead even your investors to, you know, thinking that, you know, you're gonna get something that you you can never deliver, you know,

Alex Ferrari 40:37
Now let's talk about your new movie, the alternate how, how long did this film get? Just was just getting started, get made?

Alrik Bursell 40:45
Well, so yeah, I wrote the first draft and like, I believe it was March of 2014. So what's that, like, over eight years, until like, this,

Alex Ferrari 40:55
This is insanity. This is the insanity that we live in. As artists,

Alrik Bursell 40:58
It takes a long time takes a long time. I mean, you know, and I went to AFM to try to sell it or to raise money for it in 2017. And so basically, from 2017, till we shot in 20, the end of 2019. That was like when I was like, actively working on it, and like trying to get it made, you know, I mean, I was still working out that whole other time. But it was more like just trying to figure things out. And, you know, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and, you know, failing at raising money over and over again. But then 2017 is when I raised my first amount of money, and then like, met my producer, you know, raise more money, and then eventually, you know, got it made a couple of years later. So yeah, it's been a while. It's been a while.

Alex Ferrari 41:40
It's been it's been a while, right? I always love asking this question of filmmakers. What was the, you know, as a director, there's always that day that the entire world comes crashing down around you. And that's generally everyday but what was the worst one on this day? What was the worst like moment in the production? And how did you overcome it?

Alrik Bursell 42:00
Yeah, I think it was the second day maybe of the shoot. And we were setting up the basement office set up for Jake, he's got this, you know, really cruddy office that he does his editing. And he's a filmmaker, sort of, like autobiographical in some way.

Alex Ferrari 42:15
I was, I was about to say, I was about to say,

Alrik Bursell 42:18
He's got a big beard, you know, come on, like, whatever. So, yeah, it was, I was in charge of the office, because I was I had all I was using my own computers, as Jake's computers in the office scene. So I was the one who was, you know, entrusted to, you know, make sure the computers were working and make sure that everything on the screen that needed to be, you know, on the screen was on the screen, and I was having all these issues, just trying to get set up, we were like, way behind, like, three hours behind on the second day in the office. And I had to like go and like, at lunch, I had to, like buy a hard drive, and like go pay like, like, get some money to pay somebody, like because I'm a producer too. So I had to like go to the bank get like a large amount of money. And like buy a hard drive. And like get back that was like during lunch and then get back and a half hour, 45 minutes or whatever to like, you know, direct and then somehow eat at some point. And I was just so upset man, oh, my God, and I recorded audio logs while I was making the movie. So like on on my podcast making movies, it's hard, you can actually hear the log of me like on my lunch break, like talking into the phone and just like freaking out about how everything is going wrong. And how we ever came in, I think I got back to the set after after getting those things. I just talked to my DP, I talked to my production designer. And we're just like, look, we're just going to do, we're just gonna, these are the scenes that we're going to be able to do today. This is what we're going to do, we're going to revise a schedule, I talked to my ad, obviously, and we just like, sort of broke down how you're going to solve it we got through the day. I don't think we went over if we did wasn't much. And then you know, we kind of had had to replan the rest of the week to make it work. And I think that was when we added another day to production because we were supposed to be out of the office in three days. And I think we ended up shooting in the office seating for four because we just had too much we had to do in there. But yeah, I think the way I overcame it was just like having these conversations with my team. Breathing slowing down, and then just you know, looking at the schedule, and then just like going, just checking off things that we don't have time to do moving them to another day and and making the movie man and you know, it ended up working out.

Alex Ferrari 44:24
Now, going with the theme of what the alternate is about which is kind of like alternate universes in the multiverse and that kind of thing. What would you if you had an opportunity to go back and talk to your younger self? And just for one thing, you could tell him and go okay, dude, this is going to be the trip about your filmmaking career. What is that one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career that was really difficult for you to learn along the way?

Alrik Bursell 44:57
That you really just like you don't need anything Special, like, you don't need any, like special person or special chip or is this, there's nothing that you can learn, that's going to open up the doors and like, you know, make you able to make your movie, like, you just have to make your movie, you know, and I think like, once I made the feature, it was sort of like, this is just like making a short, but like, you know, 100 times harder, you know, it's just like, you know, and it's not like, you know, shorts, 10 minutes in the movies, 100 minutes, it's not like 10 times, it's literally 100 times harder to make a feature. But I think if I just had known that, you just have to do it yourself. And the same thing that I did to make my short is the same, it's the same exact process I'd have to do to make my feature, but I just knew that and I knew that I didn't need any special, you know, sign of approval or, you know, manager or agent or big production company or like big check from an investor or whatever if I if I knew that it wasn't about that and it was just about doing the same thing I've been doing. I think I might have been able to make the feature a little bit sooner if I had that kind of that kind of knowledge and confirmation that it's just like you just need to do it you know?

Alex Ferrari 46:08
Amen brother preach baby preach. I think so many of us always wait for permission to thy permission for somebody Yeah, from somebody didn't make it and I think I got caught up in that same thing. That's why I was like, I was waiting for permission for 40 years. And I just said screw it. I'm just gonna go make my movie the way I want to go make it I'm just gonna grab a camera and grab some friends and make a movie. And employ worked out. You know, thank God it worked out. But yeah, we are. I think that's also built into the system is like, Hey, you could be a star kid. But you need my permission first. Exactly. And that's kind of in the in the DNA of us as well. We're now we're trying to just like, No, you can go and do it yourself. And you can get out.

Alrik Bursell 46:52
There's nothing stopping you. You know, like, no matter who you are, where you are, like, you have the ability to go make your movie, you just need to buckle down and do it. You know,

Alex Ferrari 47:01
And to be smart and to be smart about it. Don't go and make a you know, 100 100,000 or $500,000 period drama piece with no stars in it. Expect to make your money back.

Alrik Bursell 47:12
Please don't do that. Movie. I mean, I just haven't I love genre movies. And that's all I make, you know. So like, that's what I do. But yeah, I'd say like, for your first feature, if you make it a genre movie, you're gonna have way better chance at success. And if you go with any other genre like John drama or even comedy comedies are hard, man, you know,

Alex Ferrari 47:32
Comedies and dramas are are just, we just walk around AFM and tell me how many comedies and dramas not family films, not faith

Alrik Bursell 47:44
Flintstones. Flintstones based on family

Alex Ferrari 47:47
Different different conversation. Why? Because you're focused on a niche, you know, throw Dean Cain in and have a puppy save Christmas, and you've got a movie that's going to sell.

Alrik Bursell 48:00
You gotta made man.

Alex Ferrari 48:01
I mean, is it the dog that saves Christmas movie? I've said it so many times on the show. Make a dog the same as Christmas movie? You'll sell it?

Alrik Bursell 48:08
Yeah, no kidding. I feel like I haven't a couple of filmmakers on who do faith based and family films. And yeah, they're doing good. Just to say that I don't really good.

Alex Ferrari 48:18
They do? Well, because it's an it's an audience that not a lot of filmmakers focus on and they need content. That's one area that doesn't have a lot of content. Family Films, believe it or not, not a lot of content, even romance, like romantic comedies. Hallmark has that kind of covered. But um, yeah, it's just tough, man. It is tough. So the Go twos are always action thrillers, and sci fi. And on a lesser extent, horror, obviously. But there's so much yeah, it's whole it because it's so easy to do a horror movie like that's, I mean, in the sense of production, not making a good horror movie, but just in the sense of production. Anybody can go get a monster mask, go in the forest kill a bunch of teenagers and then you got a horror movie, or scary movie in the house or something like that. And believe me, I've seen that movie too many times. Yes.

Alrik Bursell 49:13
Rather, the thing that's so funny is is a really good version of that movie that everybody's gonna want to watch a billion times, but there's also like, 1000 bad versions.

Alex Ferrari 49:25
Exact look, there's jaws and there's Sharknado and I don't know how many times I'm gonna watch Sharknado I've never seen it. I think I've seen clips of it.

Alrik Bursell 49:35
But just think of the money man Sharknado Boy, that was a success, but on success,

Alex Ferrari 49:41
But it was in by the way launched an entire genre of like, you know, the alligator you hurricane and like, you know, Velociraptor preacher or whatever that movie was and they just, they just started combining crazy things after Sharknado but when you hear Sharknado you're like, Oh, yeah. understand what that means. Yeah, it's just yeah, I get it. Tornadoes with sharks. Yeah, got it. Got it done. Done. But if you're gonna watch a killer shark movie, which is the one you're gonna watch again and again, it's jobs. Yeah. No Holds still holds to this day. Even with the fake shark. It's still wonder,

Alrik Bursell 50:14
I wonder what our children will be saying about jobs in 1020 years. If they'll be like, yeah, JAWS is so fantastic or Jaws is gonna die out with our generation.

Alex Ferrari 50:23
I don't. I don't, man. Jaws is a masterpiece in the sense that it's just, I think, because we don't see the shark so often. And because that's the reason if we saw a lot of shark, he would have it'd be dated. Yeah, but that's one of those movies that you like it was in the 70s There's a handful of 70s films that hold there's a lot but there's, but like the ones that stick out, like in the especially in this genre range. There's not a lot of genre. 70s films, there's great dramas, there's, you know, but like genre, JAWS obviously Star Wars movie like Rocky. Yeah, rocky holes.

Alrik Bursell 51:05
It's so good. So good. Yeah, these are the requirements. And these are like my favorite movies. Like, we I mean, alien.

Alex Ferrari 51:14
Alien is, I mean, alien is alien. I mean, but But again, it was, it was done at such a high level at that time. So Jaws is is a masterpiece. It is an absolute masterpiece, and in horror, and in thriller. And what Steven was able to do in that film is will never be redone. It's just you think about like,

Alrik Bursell 51:33
What he went through to get made and like how many days they shot and like the whole month, the whole shark thing? And it's like, it's crazy, man. It's crazy. No, it

Alex Ferrari 51:43
was it was insane. Insane. One day, I'll have Steven on the show. And I'll ask

Alrik Bursell 51:47
Please, can I can I sit in the corner when you have Steven on the show and listen in I would love.

Alex Ferrari 51:53
I'm sure everybody's gonna want to. I'm gonna want to sit in the corner. One day. So this is where 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?

Alrik Bursell 52:11
Yeah, just just make your movie. And if it's a short, if you haven't made a short yet make make a couple of shorts. If you've made a couple of shorts and you want to make a feature, go make a feature. Even if your heart is telling you I need to make a feature. I haven't never made anything before in my life. Make the feature just go out and make whatever you your heart is learn you know make because that's what's going to be good. And then that's what you'll learn from

Alex Ferrari 52:35
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Alrik Bursell 52:41
Yeah, I think that like, you know, you basically you don't need permission. You know, like we were talking about before that you just need to go do do it with your team, create your network, create your family to go help you make your movies because like you're not going to be able to do it on your own. So find those those those collaborators and stick with them because they make all the difference.

Alex Ferrari 53:01
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Alrik Bursell 53:04
Good fellas. Alien Terminator.

Alex Ferrari 53:08
Solid, solid lists or solid solid list. I throw Alien and Aliens in there both because yeah, extra pieces.

Alrik Bursell 53:16
I was gonna say Alien and Aliens. I was like, That's too late. I gotta throw another one in there that I love to it's a terminator. First Terminator.

Alex Ferrari 53:24
Yeah, and Terminator two is also another masterpiece as well. But and where can people see the alternate and and also to find out what you're doing and the good work that you're doing.

Alrik Bursell 53:35
So if you go to my website, www.alrikbursell.com You can find links to the alternate and all the places and everything. It's, it's on Amazon, it's on Apple TV, iTunes, it's on Vudu. Pretty much any place that you can rent and buy a digital movie, you'll be able to find the alternate so go look for it and you know, buy it rent it and rate it, rate it wherever you can, you know, Rotten Tomatoes, you know, whatever IMDb letterbox or any of the places ratings would be great and be honest that you know and love good one. But you know, I want your honesty too.

Alex Ferrari 54:10
No honestly, just only good ones, please. I don't care about honestly.

Alrik Bursell 54:16
Oh, yeah. And I also have a podcast called Making Moves as hard. You can find us at making movies as hard.com we are only released one episode a week. I'm like Alex who can manage to release like 1000 episodes every week. But yeah, if you if you love these kinds of podcasts, you might like ours too.

Alex Ferrari 54:33
It's very I highly recommend their podcasts it is I've been I've been a guest on it a few I think a couple times if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, twice. I'm we're do we're due for another one soon. I think we're gonna might be doing one.

Alrik Bursell 54:46
We might be doing something very special. We can't announce it yet.

Alex Ferrari 54:48
I can't say anything. Maybe something's happening maybe. But, but listen, I mean, thank you so much for coming on the show and in talking shop with me and congrats. After this epic long, almost 10 years, almost like what eight years

Alrik Bursell 55:05
Almost nine years, nine now

Alex Ferrari 55:08
Almost nine years getting this me you finally you finally gave birth to this baby indeed yours. But Congratulations, brother and thank you for all the hard work you do and helping filmmakers out there as well my friend.

Alrik Bursell 55:22
Thanks, Alex. Thanks to you too. And yeah, I love your show and I love all the things you do and yeah, keep it going, man because if you're not around, I don't know what we would do.



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IFH 621: The Art of Directing Horror Comedies with Damon Thomas

Damon Thomas is well known for making documentaries. He’s documentaries includes Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and David Beckham: A Footballer’s Story. He also directed the hit shows Killing Eve (2018), Beethoven (2005) and Dracula (2020).

His latest film “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is a 2022 American supernatural comedy horror film from a screenplay by Jenna Lamia, based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Grady Hendrix. In 1988 best friends Abby and Gretchen navigate boys, pop culture and a paranormal force clinging to Gretchen. With help from a mall exorcist, Abby is determined to compel the demon back to the pits of hell — if it doesn’t kill Gretchen first.

The film stars Elsie Fisher, Amiah Miller, Cathy Ang and Rachel Ogechi Kanu. The film was released on Prime Video on September 30, 2022.

Enjoy my conversation with Damon Thomas.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Damon Thomas 0:00
It's not It's that thing again. I'm not overreaching. Does this feel right? It's just sitting right? You know, you have to constantly be your own worst critic guy, or is this crap?

Alex Ferrari 0:10
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, Damon Thomas. How you doing Damon?

Damon Thomas 0:26
Great, great bit tired. We had the screening last night the premiere, it was like 300 people at the Art fest. So it was a big night. Live Reactions like talking about it was a great night. I'm really pleased to be here.

Alex Ferrari 0:40
Great, my friend. Congratulations on your new film my best friend's actress exorcism, which is as insane as it sounds. Right. It's one of those titles like Sharknado like you know what you're gonna get?

Damon Thomas 0:56
I 100% agree with it. Like, as soon as I got sent that in my inbox, like in 2019. And it was like my best friend's exorcism. I thought this brilliant or, you know, you just can't wait to read it. And every moment since I got signed up to do it, where people say to me, Hey, what you're up to and I go, I'm doing my best friend's exorcism. People always smile. It's just, I mean, they go wow, really? And they go Yeah. I said, Well, you know, what is about

Alex Ferrari 1:26
It's about my best friend's exorcism. I mean, it's, it's, it's perfect. I mean, it's like jaw is like, you know what you're gonna get?

Damon Thomas 1:34
Wait. And yeah, so then you say is certainly at is great.

Alex Ferrari 1:42
You had me at hello. Hello. That's the brilliant part about it, too, as I was watching him just going. I love the 80s. I mean, everyone's doing 80s stuff now and Stranger Things is brought it back and made it cool. But for my generation, and I'm assuming yours as well, the 80s You know, is awesome.

Damon Thomas 2:03
So my first question is simpler times, right?

Alex Ferrari 2:06
Oh my gosh, can you America, simpler times when there was no Internet, there was no social media. I mean, there was you barely had remote controls on the television.

Damon Thomas 2:14
Right? I mean, I mean, when you think about you had to if you are going to meet someone you phoned, and if you had a dial up phone, you would

Alex Ferrari 2:24

Damon Thomas 2:24
He would slip on like the seven digit you go put the phone down, go start that whole thing again. And then you call your friend and say like, I meet you there, put the phone down, you go to that place. And if they weren't there, you were like, where are they? And then you'd have to find a phone box, call their house and go, do you know where they are? And they go where they left? 20 minutes?

Alex Ferrari 2:45
No, no, it's like yours last.

Damon Thomas 2:51
Oh, so you know, slight sort of off topic. But the feeling of boredom was something to behold back in the 80s. You know, what, if you have nothing to do, there wasn't that instant, kind of like dopamine hit off something new from you're like, oh, let's go down a rabbit hole down the internet now. And you would just use a stare and feel so bored. It was untrue. It was like a sort of sport. It was like, profound, bored.

Alex Ferrari 3:19
On you had three channels. And if nothing was on that you liked. You were pretty much done. Until you had a friend who had cable. Yeah, then you would go over and maybe get three more channels. And then you'd be if there's nothing there. You have to go outside and actually interact with other human beings. Scary territory.

Damon Thomas 3:35
Exactly. Or you had to like think of something to do didn't you had to go read a book? I get ya read. I mean, God read a book. I mean, wow. Anyway, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 3:47
it's just a bunch of now we just sound like two old farts talk

Damon Thomas 3:52
Said it

Alex Ferrari 3:54
Just two old farts talking about the old. Exactly, exactly. So my first question, sir, is how and why did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film business?

Damon Thomas 4:07
Oh, yeah. For me, it started when I watched Blade Runner in the cinema. Now, I just went, I need to be in that somewhere I need to be in that. I mean, even back then there was so little information about what that was working in the film industry. There was like we used to have this program that was just called film or whatever the year it was that Barry Norman used to present it was going to film 1985 or database two. And then you would just watch that and that was the only information and occasion you'd have an answer documentary. And that was nothing else. And then you might look up films in in encyclopedias, and now,

Alex Ferrari 4:46
We're dating ourselves so badly.

Damon Thomas 4:52
But the funny thing is my daughter that who's like 15 or takes me it was really interesting in that movie, they were like broke the fourth wall and you No, she's got her whole sorts of like terms of reference about filmmaking and everything is so amazing that you kind of got I just feeling we were just in the darkness in the wilderness. And so, so that I kind of got into documentaries. And then I kind of came, you know, I took me a long while to sort of find my roots into drama and started directing drama. But then, of course, I just always wanted to make the movie,

Alex Ferrari 5:29
Isn't it? Isn't it interesting, though, that I have kids as well, and they are, but you know, much more educated then. Because it's just so much more information about everything. Yeah. I mean, the you would get the occasional Star Wars making up or the Indiana Jones making and that was pretty much it. I mean, you didn't see anything else until in the later 80s. When, you know, then it started to become a little bit better than nine DVD commentaries and laser discs. Now really old commentaries on the laser, the criteria, laser distance, stuff like that,

Damon Thomas 5:58
Didn't you want it to hear like how he did stuff you? It was like, you know, behind the curtain, the The Wizard of Oz, it's like, how are they doing this stuff? How is it being made? How'd you do this? And whereas now they were, you can just go on YouTube and go, like, how do you do that, I'll just put it in, you know, and I'll find someone telling me how it's done. Or if someone would have made a film about it, it's, that is sort of great, because it opens it up to everybody in a way.

Alex Ferrari 6:24
But then then the bad thing is it opens it up to everybody. So now before you didn't have as much competition, like I always tell people like in the 80s, if you finished a film on 35, it was sold. Like you just good, bad. I mean, Toxic Avenger got theatrical release, like, it doesn't really matter. But now everybody's making a movie. And now it's about getting seen and all of that kind of stuff. But you were saying about your daughter knowing had the reference from references about that. The generation that's, that's now it is so educated in story. It is so difficult for the for us as filmmakers and storytellers. Because make something that's interesting that doesn't hasn't been done before. And every year that goes by, it's getting harder, and harder and harder to because, you know, things that worked in the 70s and 80s. Just don't they can't work and like I was showing, I think it was some kids were watching Rocky the other day, Rocky, Rocky, and they're like, because every because they've just seen every buddy rip off rocky. Yeah, for the last 4050 years. So it doesn't have the same umph to it as it used to. So it's how do you as a storyteller, kind of kind of deal with that? Because it is something very, very difficult things that Hitchcock never had to deal with weed.

Damon Thomas 7:47
I mean, I suppose every genre has tropes. So and the you know, the horror genre is a very broad church from slasher movies, to psychological horror, to sci fi horror, you know, to alien aliens knows amazing movies to kind of comedy horror. And so you either the, The Exorcist is sort of like the benchmark of like the hand. So Handbook of cartoons, you know, do you? Are you going to do the vault net? Are you going to do the, you know, are you going to do and, and how are you going to do it? And it's sort of interesting, because you're always going to disappoint someone, you're always going to someone's gonna go up. I wasn't scary. But the thing about it is I did it, what want the film to have this sort of tone that felt like an 80s movie. And then it kind of went into a completely new realm of like, oh, wait, you know, where did that come from? I wanted to stay within the same thing. So the exorcism for me was a great, I thought, can we pull off this thing where it's kind of scary and quite disturbing, but then it's funny. It's like, relieved by this real character of Christian lemma. And the thing is, because once you he's sort of desperate, but and, you know, when I when I first met Chris, we were talking about it rehearsing. I said, he's sort of a loser, but he's kind of a bit cocky. But he cocky or cocky loser? Yeah. And he does want this. He does want it really bad. So that when the demon shows himself and he just goes like, yes. Even a high five, she's totally chocolate sized. And for me, and it was great watching it last night, because people really enjoyed that moment, and really enjoyed Christian lemon. And I think actually, it's it showed me that there's kind of quite a nice group dynamic when you think you could really watch this movie with a group of friends. Oh, yeah. It's not like I don't think it's a sort of, well, you know, people will watch obviously watch your mobile device devices all the time, but it actually made me really think about that group experience of watching movies. You know, I went to the cinema As I see Thor and my son, you know, a week ago and now it's it is great being in the cinema, isn't it? There's something that is said. That's why I thought last night I thought it actually really helps when everyone's going through because like when, when the when there is she burns him address them. They all cheered last night. It was fantastic. Thank you not expecting it.

Alex Ferrari 10:27
But it's primal, theatrical experiences. It's a primal experience. And we're all around the fire. Yeah, it's a primal thing and group experiences of a story, where, you know, the core of all stories is basically to teach us not to be eaten by the tiger down the street. Yeah, you know, around around the corner. That was the point of stories around the campfire as they were, and then they evolved into morals and lessons and things. And now it's entertainment. Because we get a lot of the meat and potatoes from other other kinds of media. But it is, yeah, you're absolutely right, without question now.

Damon Thomas 10:58
But just also just to pick up on that point is, I think that even if you have never made a movie TV, and you know, but you've people sort of absorbed so much about, you sort of watch something you go, they're gonna get together, he's gonna die. He won't, you know, you just feel it right? If you feel that, you know it, because you know how these things work, you sort of said that when you get like, you know, say a series of severance or station 11, you're on TV, you let you go, I've got no idea where this is going. And they feel quite refreshing. And I wanted to do some things where you sort of felt I thought, it'd be funny if this felt like a movie that somebody thought they hadn't seen from the 80s. So have a bit of an 80s vibe. And but also, if you had an exorcist, it was just so unlike any excess, you've seen before, and, and to really get to make him so we I really set him up so that when he comes to the exorcism, you really enjoyed him. So that was the high fives that he's always doing. Up top, you know that stuff. But you know, he's cheesy, but you know, there were weightlifting, Christian evangelist, if you put it on YouTube, you can see these guys pumping iron for Jesus, and they exist that they were real, they were real people. So it's not far fetched. And he is a real person, he is like, totally believes that, you know, his purity. I mean, I even realized that he can't remember Gretchen's name. Yeah, it comes out in the middle of it. It goes, You know what, such a, it's so true. Because it's all about him.

Alex Ferrari 12:42
Obviously, obviously, you know, it's, it's brilliant. And you're right, it's so because we've just seen it so much. And we've seen it and we've seen it done well. And we've seen it some bad, you know, so like, if you're gonna see a shark, if you're gonna see a shark movie, and you've seen Jaws, it's gonna be tough for you to figure out a new way to do a sharp move, because it was done pretty much unanimously. The first exam the DHS is, it's the same thing. It's flawless.

Damon Thomas 13:10
I know some people then get disappointed if you don't do the things that have been done before. Because you're like, Well, what happened to that? Where's that? You know, and they go, but you're like, you were saying, how do you do different you're trying to find ways to either, like, reinvent the wheel, if it's already been filmed and done, like 1000 times. So you are, you're in kind of familiar territory, but you know, I did want to Yeah, as best as I best cuts just get that tone. Right. And, you know, if people you know, you can only do what you can do, you know, there's always

Alex Ferrari 13:44
Yeah, yeah, it Listen, it's we're in, we're in the world of everyone has an opinion. And everyone can express that opinion on Rotten Tomatoes, or on you know, mats and things like that, and social media. But at the end of the day, as a filmmaker, you just got to do what you got to do. One thing I love about about the movie is that you are able to balance humor and horror, which is not easy. It is not easy to do that as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, because I've seen really bad because if the balance is off, I've seen bad horror comedies, where if the balance is off, you know, like Evil Dead to an Army of Darkness. Like they'll those movies. You know what, Sam? Sam general, could do no harm. No wrong in my eyes. But yeah, but he's able to balance that and you were able to balance the horror and the comedy beautifully in this film. Oh, because it's not it's not easy. It's not easy.

Damon Thomas 14:35
Yeah, I mean, I think it comes from truce, I think. If your characters feel like the real article, even if they are heightened, I mean, we all we all know people that feel quite heightened type. So you're gonna meet people who are strong flavors, and they're real people. And Christian lemon is a strong flavor. And yeah, but as long as he's being truthful to that character in that sort of set of circumstances. And it's sort of balanced with, you know, Abby's kind of like sheer like, Oh my God. You know, it was one of the things I put in because he just sort of say actually is an exorcism. And it originally she, she went, Well, how do I do that? I just sort of I kind of said she would really go, well, it's not a normal thing. You know, generally, it's been fun but because it's an exorcism movie doesn't mean that everyone knows that, you know, an exorcism is something that is actually real. So so he talks about really patulous way, but he gets the job as an excellence as demon inside it, these these really patronizing to her. And I thought that's exactly what he would say, like, are you stupid?

Alex Ferrari 15:52
Come on, of course, it's just the team. Yeah.

Damon Thomas 15:55
So to your point is that if you have, it's like in killing Eve, I did a scene where Eve kills a guy with an axe, like being spurred on by Villanelle. But that's that scene is quite funny. Because the axe gets stuck in his back and says she can't pull it out. And so she's being shouted that, like, hits him again. She's saying I can't have access. And the guys go, Ah, it sounds kind of really disturbing. But it's funny because I think those things can sit right next to each other like, because the Coen brothers do it all the time. They kind of, you know, they put like, weight. And I think that it's it's a bit like when you go to a funeral that they're you feel like sometimes doing the other thing that you're not meant to like laughing, because it's the relief intention that you need, because of the emotional expectation. You're

Alex Ferrari 16:50
I'm sorry, I don't mean to trump your budget. Do you when you sell a funeral? Do you? I don't know if you saw this online somewhere, but some guy died. Okay, he died. And at his funeral, he put a speaker he had his family put a speaker inside of the inside of the casket. And as their as their this is part of his wishes, as it's being laid down. Like, hey, hey, no, no, no, no, no, I'm alive. I'm alive. And he's hitting and knocking and, and it's and people are pissing themselves. I mean, everyone's crying. But then everyone starts laughing because they know it's, what'd he do? I'm like, Oh, my God, that is so brilliant.

Damon Thomas 17:29
He's brilliant. He's fantastic. Isn't it as well for planning?

Alex Ferrari 17:34
That's, yeah, he I think he was sick and he was gonna die. I'm gonna do this. I'm going to do this, right. And my favorite tombstone ever is like I told you, I was ill.

Damon Thomas 17:44
That's brilliant. Very, very good.

Alex Ferrari 17:47
Now. So when you started your career, Damon, I'm assuming that the second you said, I'm going to be a director, that the trucks of money came in, all the doors came wide open and said, whatever you want to do, all you have is time and money.

Damon Thomas 18:01
Oh, my God, if only Yeah, I know. I've had it's a long journey. I did a degree at physics and I, of course,

Alex Ferrari 18:10
Prerequisite to be a filmmaker. Yeah,

Damon Thomas 18:13
I mean, I just got a job in, you know, I got a job in BBC News. And then I gave her up to go and work on an arts program and then gradually just did more and more documentaries that did drama documentaries with about Beethoven and other things. And then I got, yeah, just got a break. You know, someone actually approached me to do a drama documentary. And I said, why don't we just do a drama, and it was set in the Antarctic, and we had like 120,000 pounds. To make it said that I were filmed inside and out as an ice fridge. It was all set on one of Scott's Antarctic missions. So that said that their breath was all sort of

Alex Ferrari 18:54
Because there's no budget for VFX no budget for VFX.

Damon Thomas 18:57
Yeah. And we went we snowed up a studio. That was tiny. And yeah, it was. Yeah. So it started back then in 2006. So yeah, it's been a long road. You know, there's been a lot of us a lot of Miles.

Alex Ferrari 19:11
Miles on the tires, as they say. Yeah. So the question is, though, because a lot of filmmakers listening are going through these stages. And again, even in Oh, six. It was a different world than we are today. Like, you know, it's so much more difficult to get in now than it was in the early 2000s. How did you keep going? Is there any advice you can give to filmmakers? Right?

Damon Thomas 19:35
I mean, obviously, back then, it was a bit like if you wanted to make a record, you know, you you'd like you could you just couldn't afford to go into a recording studio, so they seemed very out touch beyond reach. I think the good thing about today is you can make a movie on your iPhone. And I think the thing what you learn by just doing it is sort of you know, How'd you make something that just kind of engages people? You know, and I think that that's the thing, if just start making stuff, even if it's you, you know, you and a friend do something about your life, suddenly, there's kind of like, you could be filming your own house when your garden or down the park or things that you kept. So they don't need huge production. So it sets something contemporary, and just start sort of just putting something together. Because the thing is, that's what people judge you about. They kind of look at you and see how do you well voice every last story? Can you do something funny? Can you make something? And, you know, it's amazing how you can engage people with something very small. It's like, Don't overreach. That's always the thing about filmmaking is, you know, don't just spend all your money on one shot and the rest of the film feels like it's no money.

Alex Ferrari 20:50
But Kubrick and Scorsese did it. Why can't I?

Damon Thomas 20:54
But, you know, I was reading gonna take because I love the shining.

Alex Ferrari 20:58
My favorite, one of my favorites,

Damon Thomas 21:00
Right! It's such an amazing film. And, you know, Jack Nicklaus axed 60 doors to get his Johnny. That's three. mean,

Alex Ferrari 21:14
I mean, you imagine, can you imagine taking one of the biggest movie stars in the world today? And you're not Stanley Kubrick and going, Yeah, or David Fincher at this point. And yeah, and just 66

Damon Thomas 21:29
Number 14. I like exhausted, like, axing costs,

Alex Ferrari 21:33
I think. I think I'm sorry, but I think Fincher on social network. When when I think Andrew Garfield had to smash the the, the laptop. Yeah. And they did like 40 of them had he had literally 40 laptops sitting down, because he knew it was good it because that's David Fincher.

Damon Thomas 21:54
Yeah, I mean, yeah, it's weird. We don't all have that. I mean, you know, his tutor, you could say he's right, because he turns out brilliant film, right? It his process network is, you know, that shining is a masterpiece. And they change, they change filmmaking daily, they change sorts of that, you know, when I, when I was doing killing Eve that I was quite influenced by, you know, Jack Torrance when he's sitting there, and the whole dance is going on behind it this whole I know, it's so like, at the edge of the world sort of madness. And so when I do killing him, I suggested that we do this, this kind of like afternoon tea dance. So you go into this environment and villain I was waiting there. And this is old fashioned music playing all these people just dancing. And it's like the edge of time. And I just, you get really influenced by, you know, but sorry, I was sort of digressing. I mean, in terms of filmmaking, you just have to do if the more you do, the more you sort of learn, because you sort of realize no sound is quite important, a good sound, you know, and it gets forgotten, you know, sound cooked, you know, to get great sound that you can actually use it because a lot of times we have to do re recording a lot of dialogue was it's like planes and all sorts of fridges on in the background. And, you know, someone just decides to sort of, you go to the quietest place in the world. And on that day, there's a guy getting his tree cut out. And there's like, you go over, you get like, people come over, go, can you not cut your trees? And he goes, No, I've paid for it. You know, you're like, oh, my gosh. But you know, it's all those. And you learn how I mean, you know, working as I started as a trainee news additive, you start realizing, Oh, you can cut that picture that picture, they sort of come together. Oh, yeah. How do you cut those? Oh, we actually need a cutaway on that, again, a detail shot because it's how it helps me tell that story. And you realize that sort of objects. If you see objects in someone's room, you can actually tell exactly who they are very quickly. And so art direction and all the bits you need, it's like a messy desk. It's interesting how some people do a messy desk, but it's sort of looks like a sort of presentation. It looks messy desks actually have smears on them and bits of crumbs. And it's all that kind of thing that you start to you become, you know, over the you just become super observant about things in a kind of really all the time, things that you sort of that make all the difference. Now, you may be watching it as a kind of year ago, like it doesn't feel right doesn't feel like a real thing. But you can't put your finger on why it doesn't feel real. It's a bit like doorframes. In a real house, they tend to have quite a lot of scuffs lower down. Because all the things have gone through them over time. If they look pristine, it looks like a new build. You know, it's sort of it's all those details that you start to get quite attuned to as a director when you start doing stuff. But you know, story is key, you know, what's the story? And is it engaging? It's sort of like you can dress things up with you can spend millions on effects, but they don't engage you about the human condition, then you ended up going, I don't care. You know, if you're going to see a film that was 100 million dollars, you saw that. Because we've seen everything go away.

Alex Ferrari 25:18
I mean, if Jurassic Park was just a bunch of dinosaurs walking around and be like, it'd be a documentary, you needed a story you needed to connect to those characters, you needed the magic that Spielberg brings in. Do you know On a sidenote, since you such as a Kubrick fan, do you know I'm sure you do though this but he, I think it was four Eyes Wide Shut, right. Had his assistant runner up for a year run around? Oh, no, not theaters? No, no, the the side tables of couples in a bed, and he just go into people's houses. It is take hundreds, hundreds of pictures of just how people kept the side tables at night. And he just used them as reference to build out his side tables for

Damon Thomas 26:05
And us who are things that

Alex Ferrari 26:09
You just get a bit but you're talking about someone who spent seven years prepping that movie. And it was great that he did but it was horrible that he did because we didn't get more Stanley Kubrick films, I wouldn't die. I would love to see what Stanley would do with today's technology. Can you imagine? Imagine?

Damon Thomas 26:25
I mean, you know, 2000 a while it's just it's so clever. And so, so interesting, you know, there was sort of being made in the late 60s. And it's kind of amazing, you sort of they are different times. And he was a particular, you know, very particular director. You know, I'm I'm also a big fan of like, really, Scott, you know, I think people people are still trying to make alien and Blade Runner. Yeah, they're still trying to make the air those are the benchmarks in the way that, you know, it's, you know, that sort of dirty future, like rain soaks, sort of the clash of kind of, like different cultures around the world, you know, that whole feeling? I, you know, it's it. Of course, they were, they were slightly you can feel it from the effects point of view, but they there's so the characters are so great. And they're stylization, mixed together, that kind of, you know, realization of is, you know, they had such an impact on me. And, yeah, it's why these, you know, you can still go back to this, but that's what I think about how many films you actually revisit, and we watch Apocalypse Now, you know, blew my mind when I watched it, I can still rewatch that film every single time because it's, you still see something new in it, and you just think it's so incredible. And, you know, and the conversation, you know, another amazing, amazing film, but also great, you know, surveillance, you know, I like I really liked that movie, the lives of others, which is another surveillance movie, you know, another brilliant film, because they're all about the human condition, but they just tell great stories really well told. And I think that that's what you're always trying to do. Whether we succeed.

Alex Ferrari 28:22
It's not easy. This is not easy, telling a good movie telling a good story. I mean, if you're a good storyteller, and even the best storytellers that we have in the film industry, they don't get it every time. There's very few that have impeccable photography, it's something else times,

Damon Thomas 28:39
Essentially. And the thing is, you know, nobody sets out to make a big pile of crap. You know, you've never noticed that says, you know, this year.

Alex Ferrari 28:48
I'm gonna, I'm gonna call me cat, I'm gonna make cat let's go make cat

Damon Thomas 28:52
40 million and then move on with me. Good. I read. It's just like, everyone he knows. It's it kind of, you know, it's a lot of people's lives, you know, spent dedicated to doing something. And that's why, of course, you know, I think it just takes a huge I think the thing about it is just not it's that thing. Again, I'm not overreaching? Does it feel right? It's just sitting right? You know, you have to constantly be your own worst critic guy, or is this crap? What is this, you know, you have to, and also you have to be able to work with people that you trust their opinion, so that when they go, that's why, you know, Robert Evans was such a great producer, because he was able to tell us some trouble if you become, you know, a celebrated director. You know, can you take criticism, because someone's hate give you a no go is any good, you know, and you go, right, actually, I think that's, and that's what I think sometimes does happen. I mean, look, you know, if if someone you know, you can make one shining in your life, you'd be happy with it.

Alex Ferrari 30:00
Oh my god. I wouldn't take any almost any movie out of out of Stanley's filmography and go. I'll take that one. You know, I'll take it all.

Damon Thomas 30:14
I mean, if and that's why these guys are amazing. And you just keep kind of going back on thing. Yeah, there's, there's no and that's why I kind of judge the film when I rewatch it. Right. It's it's like really disturbing. I don't want to rewatch it was definitely disturbing. But you know, it's funny how you can, if Jaws is on the show, watch a bit of Jaws, you know, when you just see it on a streaming platform you go, I'm gonna watch that tonight. We'll get back to it. Right you and kind of we, you know, because also these actors that are in there, you know, Dreyfus is so, so good, aren't they? There's such, the way that they inhabit those characters is,

Alex Ferrari 30:52
Is, is remarkable. Now, let me ask you, you know, as directors we there's always that day on set that we feel the entire world is coming down crashing around us. Generally, it's every day, that's everyday generally. But there's always the one

Damon Thomas 31:05
Offs in device device slowly.

Alex Ferrari 31:09
So so there's that one day, that's really bad. And you know, camera doesn't work last the location that guys cut into tree next door? What Yeah, what was that day for you on my best friend's exorcism? And how did you overcome it?

Damon Thomas 31:23
Ah, gosh, let me I'm trying to think of those days. Mistake 10. If we had like, a true chakra of a day on that, that's good. Yeah. Because the thing about it is doing it so long that you literally, it's like this sort of thing. When it comes, you just, you just let it, you sort of have to absorb it. And like I say filmmaking is like the same, but always different. Because of the actors and the team that you have. There's always that combination. And there's always something that will just go wrong. And you just have to, I think doing documentaries for years that allowed me to sort of pivot in a way of just going because I used to always turn up places like I've never been before. And they meet people film them, and they're going to film some shots. And you were just making up on literally, if you didn't get to Reki, because you couldn't sort of fly to America and meet the guy and go home again and go back and do you would just go and film them. And so you sort of so it's kind of like taught me that don't get too rigid. Apart from like, action sequences when you have to really plan on storyboards, and then pickoff shots, which takes a very, very long time. It's why like bond has like the main unit, and then it has the the action unit. They're running for like six months next to each other because of this so many shots. But I think that sort of doing documentary for so long. I just kind of if things sort of go wrong, I can just go well, let's try and do something else. It doesn't. For me, I kind of go, you know, and things just happen all the time, you know. And the classic one is you've got a driving sequence and you just go to the right just drive the car of them they go, I don't drive.

Alex Ferrari 33:22
I had fun on your headshot. But on your headshot, you say you ride horses, you play the guitar and you drive. That's when your special skills.

Damon Thomas 33:30
I always remember one guy said no, I spent the money on of dance lessons. I was you know, I literally just drive the car over here. It was like a really small oversight. And so we had to put him in the seat behind in the backseat and fill in such a way and just mine the steering wheel, but someone just drove in front of him but we got away with just that. It's just you just choose the camera angle. And just see just like that you just kind of go like, course no one's asked him if he arrives.

Alex Ferrari 34:04
But it's basically directing his compromise in so many ways. It's constantly compromising and pivoting and shifting. Because I don't know about you, I love to walk on set with and scare the hell out of my ad with like 150 shots on my shot list every day. And they're like, You are Yeah, we have eight hours. And I'm like I they're there in case things go well, I know I'm gonna shoot 20 of them. But

Damon Thomas 34:31
Exactly. And I think that is a sort of career of patience of just, I mean when you think about it as you're now it's that most of the day is spent lighting. Lighting is you know, lighting is key and makes everything look great. And you just so you know your block, size of your shots. You sit and then you start lighting. I mean They just spent a lot of time, right? And so it's like riding that wave of, oh, you know, waiting for last. But that's not the denigrating the director of photography, it's just like that is the life isn't it? So life off just kind of finding that in

Alex Ferrari 35:15
That it is then that inner Zen of place, you're like, Okay, we're ready, okay, three to how many two hours to 90 minutes, but it's gonna be two hours.

Damon Thomas 35:24
I mean, I'm the other interesting thing, I think, is that people who don't work in the industry often say, you know, when you work with actors, they go the other direction, they just do what you say, you can go. It doesn't quite work that way. Doesn't you know, that's not how it works. And they just don't understand that it's a very inexact. Science is really unique and special. And it's such a exposing amazing thing, that it's not just about you that you do that over there. It's not that it's a kind of proper creative relationship that you sort of embark on.

Alex Ferrari 36:01
Isn't it interesting that when when normies I call them normies people outside of the Carnival business that is our world, come on set. And they've only seen like, behind the scenes. Everything's edited. So like on set seems like it's, you're going fast. And they're sitting there like three hours later, they're sitting in the chair with with the headphones on for sound, and they're like, this is boring is crap. And like, is it like, on a mark on a Marvel movie? They'll spend, what, eight hours lighting for one shot? Yeah, because that's they have all the money.

Damon Thomas 36:37
In Bad Boy, just shoot two shots in a day. And just spend the whole morning just rehearsing, rehearsing a big shot that has a lot of moving parts. And that's what you do, you have to, if you're gonna shoot a shot, you got to shoot it well, or don't shoot it. This is the crazy thing sometimes about shooting is, don't shoot. That's another thing. That's another thing. I'd always say don't shoot. I'll say crap. But you know, don't shoot rubbish and shoots stuff. Because you're always going to look at later Oh, why didn't I just I knew, you know, I knew I

Alex Ferrari 37:14
I know.

Damon Thomas 37:17
And the thing about it is that's what you have to do as a director you have to go. It's not right, we need to, you know, it doesn't feel right. That's sometimes you set for a shot, and you have to have the competence. And it might have taken quite a long time to put the camera out there and the rigging or the guys the grips. And then you start looking at it. It's not right, we just actually need to be over here. And you have to have the confidence go strip it all out and have people around you that kind of out. Yes, you're making it. Yeah, we see it. And also don't get sort of that it also meant that you're doing something wrong sometimes like this, actually, you know.

Alex Ferrari 37:53
But that takes time to build up. Because when you're when you're first onset, you just don't want to look like you don't know what you're doing, of course, but as you get older and you've got more more shrapnel in you, you just go, guys, I made a mistake. Let's let's go over here. This is just not working. Let's say yeah, it's gonna take two hours. I'm sorry. Let's go.

Damon Thomas 38:12
Yeah. And you you're, you'll never regret it. Because you're, as you know, or just the footage that you get will be like you think thank God, thank God because you might as well choose something great. That took twice as long. I mean, it depends about obviously jeopardizing a location whenever you have to. That's why it's a sort of system of moving parts. You're always going, oh my god, can we, you know, we're only in here for one day, like the interior of the weird house, you know, there where it happens was actually there like the upstairs corridor. And this other building is sort of outside You'd never believe that we were that was the inside of the house. But we got real freedom to like smash it up inside. But we have such limited time in that.

Alex Ferrari 38:57
But is it but isn't it true, though, that you have to sit once in the edit room and go Why didn't I move the camera? Why did I accept that shot when I knew somebody was telling me? No, you've got to but you didn't have the balls or the confidence to change? Or? Yeah, you're in the edit and you're edit and you're in the edit room and you're like God I need either a guy God I gotta get saved somehow with this. Yeah, these are lessons you learn along the way and then eventually you just like I know I'll get the shots that I need. I gotta shoot that they ashtray why cuz I need a frickin cutaway?

Damon Thomas 39:35
Yeah. And it's just, yeah, yeah. That you have to rely on people around. You just have to rely a lot. But yeah, you. You sort of over the years, you're ill so you sort of see the problems coming. I think that's what happens. That's what I sort of say you sort of go, I know that we do this. That's not going to work probably because you've so been there like 10 times for sure. Thank you Get those of that and that kind of that. And that's why experience hadn't counts for a lot of question. I especially when you when you move and do different genres, occasionally you sort of come over here, you sort of think, well, I've done a shot like that I did a shot with someone underwater, I did that crash, I did someone leading over, you know, they just did it by putting your green spirit. And it's also knowing sometimes people can't, like, I just, I just did a thing about the Black Panthers in the early 70s. And we just needed someone that was on our Holland, I just saw sort of shape and a park with a pathway. I thought I'd be great. As soon as you put the car here, just put a green screen around, and everyone's sort of going, like, are you mad, you know, but we did it. Because I just knew it would work the shape. And I guess it felt like sort of lookout point that you could put a car on the head, you know, you just use like we did sort of, we had had to recreate the Mexican border. And we literally did it in like an Ikea car park. So you go on the tape record, you go. And it's just as concrete. And it was literally going I don't get it, I just don't see it. And you have to say, well, we put the all the crosses here, put the fence there, all the trucks here, we've put a lot of blocking load of big trucks on that size. And then it just sort of it's sort of you have to visualize it. I think that that becomes a thing as well that you start to visualize things within spaces. And I think that that is another thing you start to see. Because you start thinking, I do think and it's not all it depends what your life is directly about you. But I liked photography. So I liked it. Yeah, so you sort of like I like photographing, you know, you get quite into composition. And it's a bit like taking photos that people just, you know, when you think about it, like you always take a photo as sort of a shoulder highlight this is where you sort of get on the floor and you're like, oh, let's do that, you know, you're gonna lay on the floor, you're never gonna put the camera down there. But you have to start thinking about that when you start shooting as directors, you sort of think Well, where can the camera? Uh, how does it make me feel about what I'm looking at putting the camera in different positions, and that's another thing you start freeing ourselves up, about not just going here we are. But sometimes the symptoms sometimes the simplest things are just just as effective. That's the other thing. They just aren't just making things really flashy because in the end is the performance and the writing that are going to set it off.

Alex Ferrari 42:40
I mean you could look at some John Ford shots and you're just like well that's a masterpiece and they just have to just lock the camera off.

Damon Thomas 42:45
Yeah, and you know just lock it off look at just you know Yeah, and you know, that's a lot to do with location is that again just sort of going we've got to go all the way to this remote place will do that shot

Alex Ferrari 43:01
No no no IKEA IKEA and a green screen you got Lawrence of Arabia What are you talking about? If he would have had IKEA green screen we wouldn't even desert that's crazy.

Damon Thomas 43:17
He wouldn't be on Santa so much.

Alex Ferrari 43:19
It's so my last question to you sir is if you were able to go back in time and talk to your younger self is there one piece of advice you would give? Give him one piece of advice about your filmmaking journey like dude, you know, you really need to look out for this

Damon Thomas 43:34
I think is to do as much of it as you can sort of don't kind of just be waiting for the one moment that you feel is coming at a certain point in time just start shooting things just make a small film even when it's like you know drama set in your own house with your family you know, if you're just think of a story and also if it comes from you your own experience then it will be true Won't it so that if you if something has happened to you do you could do it and you'll be surprised at who can act sometimes as well you know you're and then by shooting sub two and keep it very small because do some of your very limited and just see if we can make narrative lasts for like two minutes or three minutes and put some music right then yeah, I think I think I obviously but then there was a source of it. We didn't have for you this technology whereas now you could just do it and I think that in a way we have too many tools. You know and

Alex Ferrari 44:38
And not enough story

Damon Thomas 44:40
Is true, though, isn't it? And so so kind of you you know what's the everything everywhere all at once that movie? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 44:48

Damon Thomas 44:49
Ah, what amazing what an amazing kind of, but also very, very interesting about the human condition. Isn't it's all about what people beaten to each other. And what it's it's, I mean, people with Frankfurter fingers. I mean, it's

Alex Ferrari 45:08
When I had them on the show. I'm like, Dude hotdog fingers, guys seriously? And they're like, Yeah, we were we were high. So I said something. Because like, this is insane guys, this

Damon Thomas 45:22
That's what I love about that film is like, it's like we learn to express ourselves with our feet. And I think Jamie Jamie Lee Curtis is there and then this little foot just cut this out to her face. And so that's, I just thought, I think it's, it's not but it's true to them. It's very true. It's perfect as perfect. I thought that's really clever. And it's just funny, very funny and touching. And those guys go,

Alex Ferrari 45:49
Damon, I can keep talking to you for about another five, six hours about geeking out over. I mean, we could just start talking about Kubrick for an hour alone. There's can people where can people see your new film My best friend's exorcism?

Damon Thomas 46:00
It's on Amazon Prime video now. It's it's released today the 30th of September and yeah, so

Alex Ferrari 46:08
Perfect Halloween film. Perfect Halloween.

Damon Thomas 46:10
Yeah, well watch it. We're friends. Yes. Like my first ad Steve Hall. Fantastic guy. He's doing a party tonight. They're re re enacting one of the lemon brands steeds tonight with his friends. I just Yeah, fantastic. Yeah. Watch it with a group.

Alex Ferrari 46:30
My friend. Congratulations on the film and continued success with with I can't wait to see your next films coming out my friend. So I appreciate you my friend. Thank you again.

Damon Thomas 46:39
Thank you Alex. Thank you!



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