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IFH 572: The RAW Reality of Being an Indie Producer with Miranda Bailey

Miranda Bailey is a prolific producer, actor and director, known for producing high quality independent films. Her passion for bringing compelling, well-crafted stories to the screen has been the driving force in her distinguished 15-year filmmaking career. Bailey has produced over 20 films, among them the Oscar®-nominated THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and the Spirit Award-winning THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, as well as James Gunn’s SUPER, the Sundance hit SWISS ARMY MAN, the critically acclaimed NORMAN and the indie hit DON’T THINK TWICE.

Bailey’s directorial narrative feature debut BEING FRANK, an offbeat family drama/comedy premiered in the Spotlight Section at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival and was theatrically released June 2019. She assembled a decorated cast including Grammy-nominated comedian, actor, writer, producer and New York Times best-selling author Jim Gaffigan, two-time Emmy winning actress Anna Gunn, Samantha Mathis and Logan Miller.  Karen Kehela Sherwood of Imagine Entertainment produced the film alongside Amanda Marshall of Bailey’s Cold Iron Pictures. Bailey’s made her documentary debut GREENLIT – a humorous documentary examining the hypocrisy inherent in Hollywood’s “green” movement – premiered at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival to critical acclaim and was acquired by IFC International. Bailey’s second documentary, THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST, the film was released theatrically by The Film Arcade and on VOD by Gravitas.

In 2018, Bailey teamed with Gurl.com co-founder Rebecca Odes to launch CherryPicks, a groundbreaking aggregate movie review and rating service by female critics for the female audience. The site went live in 2019 and over 800 female critics are subscribed to provide their reviews on the site.

A production powerhouse, Bailey’s Cold Iron Pictures has amassed an extensive list of critical and commercial successes, including SWISS ARMY MAN, starring Golden Globe-nominee Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, theatrically released by A24.  DON’T THINK TWICE, directed by Mike Birbiglia, starring Gillian Jacobs and produced with Ira Glass (This American Life) was distributed by The Film Arcade. NORMAN, directed by Joseph Cedar (BEAUFORD, a Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was released by Sony Classics. Bailey also produced I DO…UNTIL I DON’T, directed by and starring Lake Bell and Ed Helms.  Additionally, in 2019, she produced the Sundance hit documentary, THE UNTITLED AMAZING.

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Miranda Bailey 0:00
Hello. Is this Miranda Bailey? I'm like, yeah, like this is me something about her. Did you crash and audition last week for the da da da da And I was like, Uh, yeah, well listen that is unacceptable. I will tell you something right now, you don't do that in this town.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
This episode is brought to you by Indie Film Hustle TV, the world's first streaming service dedicated to filmmakers, screenwriters, and content creators. Learn more at indiefilmhustle.tv. I like to welcome the show Miranda Bailey how you doin' Miranda?

Miranda Bailey 0:31
Pretty good. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:33
I'm doing great. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm I'm excited to talk to you about your adventures or misadventures in the Hollyweird business.

Miranda Bailey 0:44
That's a good way to explain it.

Alex Ferrari 0:46
I'm sure you have a few stories that you can say on air and probably a couple more out there.

Miranda Bailey 0:52
I could say it all on air now.

Alex Ferrari 0:55
Well, that's, that's, that's amazing. So first question, How and why did you want to get into this insanity that is the film business?

Miranda Bailey 1:04
My father was friends with Brian Dennehy and Brian Dennehy became kind of my mentor resource. And I went to the set of Little Miss marker when I was a young child. And I saw this little girl acting with him and decided that I wanted to do the rest of my life. Because that was the women that were there were, I think a script supervisor now that I know who it is a teacher and the little girl. Sounds like so I'll be an actress. So then, I studied acting and then came well, while I was in college also was directing and writing just because it kind of came out of me and was producing accidentally in theater I didn't even realize it was producing. Then moved to Hollywood, Hollyweird and got very lucky at the beginning. You know, crashing audition got my sag card, you know, made a lot of money on a commercial, Denis Leary accidentally, my ego went really high, and crash roller once reality hits, and started getting partisan stuff that I didn't really have any control over. And so I decided to start making more stuff that I liked to be in, or to at least be in existence, then being stuff that I didn't like, anyway, now I got into producing.

Alex Ferrari 2:32
So I wanted to go back for a second. So I love to hear stories of when the ego goes up. Because it is fantastic. It's a wonderful ride. First part, at least. Wonderful, Rhys, how did you deal with it? Because I always, the reason I do the show is to try to let filmmakers know that you are in a boxing match, and you're gonna get punched in the face. I don't care who you are in the business. Punches are being thrown at you left and right. Most filmmakers don't even know they're in a fight, let alone that there's a punch coming towards them. That is one of those. That is one of those things that the ego when you get that first award, the first red carpet, the first time someone says ooh, you're like the next Spielberg or the next Nolan, or this kind of thing. The ego builds up. What so after you did that commercial with Dennis, Larry and made, you know, a gazillion amounts of money back then because I know what money was made. It was a national, I'm assuming. So you

Miranda Bailey 3:29
They had that played on the Superbowl.

Alex Ferrari 3:30
Oh, Jesus. So you were just like, this movie business stuff is easy. Why do people talk so hard about? So what was it? What was it like just going up? And then what was it that caused the fall of the reality when that punch came?

Miranda Bailey 3:46
Well, you know, you know, in hindsight, you know, 26 or seven or however many years later, I think I'm really lucky that my ego was slammed down so quickly. Because ever since then, it's been massive, you know, climb up this ice, you know, mountain, like ice climbing. I slept. Yeah, yeah. And so, I mean, it really was I was very fortunate. And, you know, I was 21 or 23 or something like that. So, you know, I didn't believe in fortunate I believed in you know, destiny. And,

Alex Ferrari 4:33
Of course, and you were destined, obviously,

Miranda Bailey 4:36
Well, I know I'm destined.

Alex Ferrari 4:39
Obviously, obviously, we all are,

Miranda Bailey 4:41
It takes a lot more work to get to that. I mean, I don't know exactly what my destiny is. I will be a grandma someday, I hope

Alex Ferrari 4:49
Okay, fair enough.

Miranda Bailey 4:51
But um, ya know, I was squatting in this house in Mount Washington and Every morning it was for sale party, we were in the basement, we put the mattress up and slide it behind the washers and dryers or whatever. And then we'd have to be out of the house. And my roommate at the time, and I had just gotten there, like, I'd been there maybe two weeks. And she had an agent through her aunt for commercial, and we didn't look anything alike, like at all. And she asked if I wanted to crash the audition to see what it was like. And I was like, Sure. And, you know, I was like, not nervous because I was crashing, I put on my ugliest dress, you know, so she looked hot. I didn't wear any makeup. I put my hair in long brown braids, because she had like a short blonde Bob and she was tall and skinny. And I was like, shorten whatever. And wrote my name down on the sheet. And then it's like eight and so I wrote like, independent. And then it's like their phone number and I wrote my phone number. And I think I was teaching Pilates at the time. That was like my job, which everyone didn't know what it was or like Pele it's what is it? At Pilates. And I remember driving like, like on the on this very curvy part of the 134. That's pretty dangerous. And my leg Motorola rings. And you know, there wasn't really caller ID and like, Hello. I'm gonna like, I'm like, yeah, like this is me something rather Did you crash and audition last week for the lottery? And I was like, Uh, yeah, well, that is unacceptable. I will tell you something right now. You don't do that in this town. Nobody does that in this town. Okay. You don't pass auditions. I was looking everywhere sending everywhere trying to find independent doesn't exist, and I can't believe you did. Don't ever ever do that again. And I was like, Oh, I won't definitely. Just real quick though. Like are you calling to tell me never to do it again? Or? Or am I getting a call back? She goes well, bolts honey. That's amazing love with the United talent agency straight case she's trying to appear. You've got her on Saturday, you've got to call back. Oh my god. This time. Here's your agent Socrates expecting your call.

Alex Ferrari 7:11
This movie business is super easy.

Miranda Bailey 7:15
I'm like, Okay, so like that Saturday, I go to the thing. I have one line. The word is the internet's I say the word the internet. I booked a job. It's an international commercial playing ball with Dennis Leary. I go on set I meet this really awesome girl. Samantha was I think we were friends for a while. I don't know what happened to her. And there was another guy on set I also kind of ran into through the through the worlds and we're like all at a coffee shop like computers or whatever. And like we would like look up and say the internet. But like Dennis Leary would like walk by us while it was talking to the camera. And it was so cool. And like it was it just felt so like I needed to be there. I loved it. And you know, and then I had a couple more auditions and couple more callbacks, but I didn't get anything. And then the department, the commercial department for UTA shut down. And they had to go find an agent. And that's when reality hit. It was not that easy. It was not and then and it was just definitely not easy.

Alex Ferrari 8:18
So that's that was the rise in the fall of the ego. And that's honestly your right, it was probably the one of the biggest blessings you had is at such a young age because I'm sure you've met a few people along your journey that that did not happen to them early on. And they're still dealing with their egos in their 30s 40s and 50s and older. And it becomes

Miranda Bailey 8:39
Much more devastating for them when things don't work out for me. I just expecting to not work.

Alex Ferrari 8:46
That's your, That's your place. You're like this is never going to have this movie. The money will never drop. That star will never sign. This is never Oh, it did. Okay, great. We're never gonna get into Sundance. Oh, were going to Sundance Great!

Miranda Bailey 8:59
Finally ended up at FCM after like a meal of a toy toil and just like crazy stuff, which had to happen from like a short that I directed as an exercise to get out of the documentary. I was directing. It was too dark for me. Sure. So I needed to make a comedy at my house. Now from that shore, that's how I got representation with echo Lake and ICM, and this was, you know, seven years ago, so like 25 years into struggling to try and you know, get the right representation then finally, like I remember when my dad short this guy emote to my manager now, but he's one of the first people I met in Hollywood. And, you know, he's, you know, he's, he's, he's big time, right? And I would never act even ask him or consider him to represent me. I mean, he's he saw a diverse movie greenlit that went to South by, it was like a comedic documentary and and whatnot but so golden in my short to get like notes or something like to see like, Hey, do you want to take a look at this and see if you have any like, thoughts. I called him back. He's like, incredible. This was amazing. I want to represent you and I'm like, What do you mean? I want to be your manager. And I'm like for what he's like directing and writing and I'm like, what does that mean? Like, what do you like? And she's like, I'll get your jobs and I'm like, Really?

Alex Ferrari 10:30
Okay, so, I don't know. But it sounds like that casting director for the Superbowl commercial sounds very similar to your manager invoice. Like, exactly. Now, I mean, you've worked on some amazing projects. You know, super and Swiss Army Man, I got to ask you about Swiss Army Man. How in God's green earth did that get made? Like how is that movie like that is so wonderful. It on paper? I can't believe this is a good pitch. It's a horrible pitch on paper. How did Swiss Army Man get made and thank you first of all, for having a part in bringing it to life? Because I'm so glad it exists in the universe. But how did you how did that movie get made?

Miranda Bailey 11:20
Well, you know, it's interesting because that is kind of like the point where my confidence as opposed to ego allowed that to happen. So you know, I did squid in the whale Before Noah Bombeck could get arrested like no one would no one would even glance his way after Mr. Jealousy right. But I there was something there and then this feeling, you know, in your stomach kind of thing. And then I had that same thing with James Gunn was super. And you know, I said yes to that. And then Diary of a teenage girl Mari. So these are all either fail. Like, you know, no one will hire this director again, or director, jail people or new directors that have a voice or like so I gave Jill Solomon her first writing job ever. Which never made the movie but it was from a short story called Courtney Cox's asshole. And then, I hired her to write me talk pretty one day into a script, but then it didn't end up happening. She wrote it, but the movie didn't end up happening because David didn't want to get made, but I still on the script. But so by by asked by after Mari, I was like, you know, I kind of feel like I know it when I feel it. And I had had some other directors that I worked with, where I didn't have that feeling. You know, that didn't work. So it was kind of like I knew it was it was it's like, I can't explain the kind of kinesthetic feeling in the air when you are like, No, you're like, I think this person has vision, like a vision of their own that is unique, which is pretty rare. I mean, I wish I did, honestly. Sure. I mean, I hope I do. I just don't know what it is yet. But so I had done job cedars Norman. And Ken, he's like a director with, you know, an incredible vision. And it was going to be his first American film footnote in Israel, which was nominated for an Oscar, which is most beautiful film. And so Oren moverman had asked me to come on, come on to footnote and on footnote, I admit, I guess I guess I had met this, you know, this team of, of financiers and this team of producers, and who I'd also knew some of them from time out of mind. Because Oren moverman is one of those people I think, has real vision. So this guy, Lawrence, he he's on his movies, and he comes into town and we're at this house, I'd finally gotten into the Soho House. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 14:06
That's when you finally got in.

Miranda Bailey 14:07
Like getting into the Aspen house because I still wasn't cool enough to get into Hollywood house. And there's no filmmakers here. So they needed filmmakers here. So

Alex Ferrari 14:16
Right, exactly.

Miranda Bailey 14:18
I'm still not calling out for the hot whatsoever, for the record, but

Alex Ferrari 14:24
I was. I was I was invited once. I pretend that I'm invited. Yes, exactly.

Miranda Bailey 14:30
Yeah. So he's got a lab. What are you working on? What do you got going on? I gotta go on. And he starts telling me well, this is what I'm looking to partner on. And he's given me one story. And I'm like, Yeah, kind of seen that before. And it gives me another story. I'm like, that sounds depressing. I love Dan Stevens. But no, that sounds kind of depressing. And then, you know, there were just a couple of these ones. He gave that. I don't have anything like new doesn't have anything like, it's like, well, I have one but You're probably not gonna like it. And it's something that these kids have never seen a movie before. You know, they made a music video. And you know, it's about a guy who falls in love with a dead guy not fall in love with best friends with a dead man and in the forest and his boners a compass. And it's called Swiss Army Man, and he uses the dead body like a Swiss army knife. And I was like, any actors attached? He's like, No, not yet. And I'm like, What's music video turned down for what? And I go.

Alex Ferrari 15:37
Oh, oh, those guys.

Miranda Bailey 15:39
Oh, okay. How about this Yes. greenlit will make a one and a half million dollars, because that's what I made diary for and the squid for. And, you know, it's two people, whatever. And let's set a meeting for tomorrow. And he was like, Really, that's like the last one I would imagine that you would use feminists be into. And I'm like, whatever. i It doesn't feminist, non feminist, you know, like, being lost in the woods, and being so what's your opinion on I hadn't read the script yet. So that night, I read the script. And it was like, insane. But if you know that music video, sure. You're like, I get it. And then the script still needed work or whatever. So Daniels come in, and I show up at the office. And I'm like, I say to Amanda Marshall. I'm like, Hey, so we have a meeting today for it's with Daniels. Who's that their music video directors. I've already greenlit the movie. You know, here's the script. And she's like, are you serious? I'm a guest. So she goes and she reads it and she comes back. She goes, you're not? You're kidding, right? Do not going to make this movie. She's, she's like, we're not making a movie about a guy who's Boehner tells them where to go Miranda, who was just his girl. He's like, she goes, and I don't even know how half of these things like how does he become, you know, a motorboat or like, whatever, like, watch this. So I play the music video. And she goes, Ah, wow, cool. I get it. We go and we meet with them. We tell them a couple of things about how we, you know, feel that the, you know, it needs to be dude, basically development stuff, and structure and stuff. Yeah. And we give this offer and of course now, this is where the Hollywood douchey this becomes Hollywood douching. This is where their agents and managers were like, Oh, great, we got an offer. So then they're like, well, we want 7 million. And now we're gonna shop it around. We have an offer from pictures. And I'm like, normally, if it comes back to if there's something that happens and something comes back to me, I'm like, you know, but with this one, I'm like, go ahead, shopping around.

Alex Ferrari 17:57
Let me know how that works out for you.

Miranda Bailey 18:01
Like have fun. I can't even get a black woman to be a lead. Okay, good luck with this. You know, like so, you know, and I tried many times, and it was it was hard. So they just did the companies that will put a lot of money behind things. It's like they need a sure thing, of course. And this was far from that. And so they went around for six months, chopped, it came back to us. And then we did a budget realize it was like around more around 3 million. And then we were like, Okay, well the best thing to do here because they at one point they were gonna play the parts, or Daniel, Daniel Quan was gonna pay for that play part. And I'm like, listen, we really need like, a indie art house. Starling. Yeah. And then you need your international like James Patterson type guy. Right. And so we went to Paul Dano because our new Paul Dano and and what Lawrence was working with Oren. And he said, Yes, and then we got James Patterson on but James Patterson didn't want to rehearse. And we were like, but these are like, even before a take. Okay, like, that's impossible. It's for the dead body.

Alex Ferrari 19:35
All of that. Like there's a lot of logistics. Yeah.

Miranda Bailey 19:38
Camera maneuvers, and special effects and practical effects and stunts, like you have to hearses. So, we were like, Okay, that's not gonna work. And I'm like, well, there's that Harry Potter kid. He's valuable. That dandy guy. So we call Daniel Radcliffe's agent and his agent was like, Oh my God, that clip has been begging to work with the guise of this music video if they ever were gonna do anything. Oh, wow, that was really easy. And that's how that's how they came on. And I have to say that Daniel Radcliffe, I mean, everyone knew Paul Danna was a genius, right? Yeah. But Daniel Radcliffe to me, just blew me away his. And watching him work and watching how precise he was in watching his getting to know him and like his process and being there. And I mean, that's the hardest role in the whole movie. I mean, there's only two roles in the movie really? Like they're really they're there. They both both of those guys. Paul and Daniel, like their champion.

Alex Ferrari 20:48
Yeah, no. Yeah, they're they're two titans. So two titans in the space. And when I saw that, I was just like, how in God's green earth Did This Get Made? Like how, like what things needed to line up for this to be in front of my eyes right now? Any baby destiny, it's destiny. So that's, that's a fantastic so right now i Now I can die in peace, that I know how this movie finally got to the screen. So thank you. So there's always that day on set. And I asked this of all my guests, that the whole world's coming down crashing down around you. And now most filmmakers say that's every day. But there's that one day that you feel like oh, my god, I can't believe this is happening. Why am I here? How am I going to get out of this? And it could be a million things. You've lost a location, the actor doesn't want to rehearse that day, whatever it is, what was that day for you on any of your projects? And how did you overcome it?

Miranda Bailey 21:45
I can think of two. Okay. The most recent was on God's country where there was suddenly a pandemic.

Alex Ferrari 21:55
Right, we heard that we had Julian on the show. So we heard that that holster because that was his too, by the way. So what's what's the other one,

Miranda Bailey 22:03
But I had to fire them.

Alex Ferrari 22:06
For your perspective is a little different.

Miranda Bailey 22:09
Yeah, and I and we had money in the movie or company of money in the movie, you know, you don't know if you're ever going to make it again. Obviously, that's it same you know, him as a film director, but like, for me is someone who is like, here's a people that may or may not ever work again. And I have a choice whether or not we can keep going another three days to finish the week, risking Tanduay getting back to London or not. Or pulling, pulling the plug. So Tanya, we can get back to her. Just brutal. Um, but fortunately, it all worked out. And we came back a year later. And we did it. So right, you know, and the other one was, on this film that I directed, called being frank with Jim Gaffigan, which premiered at South by the whole culmination of the movie of this guy, hiding between these two lives, ends up at this one, like, you know, Starling festival, in this small town. And it has to be very, very choreographed of where each person goes, we have two cameras, where where each shots going to be where it's so and so's place where so this was placed. And we have this, we had like, found our location, it was near this lake. And two days before we were and we're almost done with a movie, and it's like it's the final it's like the big scene. And if this scene doesn't work, the whole movie falls. But we had really, really figured out a way to make it work with the location like this tree here will block him here because we'll be here. This person will walk this way leading us over here to the popcorn to whatever right the all based on this location that had hills and levels because that way you could hide right? Like you could figure out a way to miss each other. So I'm onset directing this scene, which is already insane we didn't have enough extras for the pool it was freezing and they're extras on their phones. I'm like it's I've been that like just like the phone I'm looking at a phone I'm looking at a phone. Right right right. It's not a book put a book if somebody

Alex Ferrari 24:37
Wants a book

Miranda Bailey 24:41
And we kept moving the extras around you know like pool in different bathing suits and

Alex Ferrari 24:47
And time is in time is ticking and money's burning.

Miranda Bailey 24:51
Lunch break happens and turns out that for for the big scene that we're shooting, not next day, but the day after for two or three days, we lost the location, of course. But they have a place that we can go look at right now right over here, power that's available. And I'm like, okay, so me and my IDV or OCR get in the car, we go to the park, and it is just a lack

Alex Ferrari 25:26
Cinematic, extremely cinematic is what you're saying.

Miranda Bailey 25:30
And we look at each other. And he's like, none of the blocking that we had before her, or any of the setup will work. And I'm like, I know. And I'm like, so what's the chance of us getting the other place back and then another line producer, another bruise like zero. And I'm like, so what's the, what's the possibility of us not having to do it here and they're like, zero, this.

Alex Ferrari 25:58
And you gotta run and you've got to figure it out.

Miranda Bailey 26:01
Yep. And that was, after we shot that whole day. We went to Iran and I went to the park, and figured it out until sun went down. And then the next day during break, and during afterwards, we also kept figuring it out, how will how a block and how we'll shoot it. And then the next day, we began.

Alex Ferrari 26:30
But that's the thing that it is, I think that filmmakers don't understand it that the world is every day, every day, something goes wrong. Very rarely does everything go exactly according to plan because it never goes according to plan. And I love I remember the first day I walked them to set to direct my first big thing and I had a shot list that was obscene. And the first ad picks up and goes, Yeah, we're gonna shoot about five of these. Before lunch, I know you've got 40 We're gonna shoot. So pick the five you want. And if you're really good at those five, we might be able to add two more. And you're just like, but I spent all night putting that together like yeah, I don't care. That's not the reality of the world. And I always try to explain this to filmmakers before they go on like these, just the whole world's gonna come crashing down. And this is what it'll teach you in film school. They don't teach you how to adjust and pivot on the day second by second because the costume didn't show up. food's not there. You're losing locations. The camera doesn't work because it's frozen over or overheated. I'd like it's just obscene amount of things that could happen. And it doesn't really the only difference is when the bigger budgets is generally on a much bigger budgets, the studio stuff. Things still go I've still I've spoken to those those filmmakers and they're like, Yeah, we just we lost a location. Like even the big the 100 million dollar movie. They look like we just ran grabbed the camera, me and my DP and the actress and we stole I'm like you stole shots at 100 million plus movie because we stole shots. It's just

Miranda Bailey 28:11
I mean, this is what I love about camera tests. I'm always like, let's get it set. So our cameras can be usable.

Alex Ferrari 28:19
Ohh that's Amazing. Oh, that's great. I never thought of that.

Miranda Bailey 28:22
Yeah, I mean, being able to produce alongside alongside produce the movies, and watch and learn from James Gunn, and Mari Heller and Daniels and not and and the bad ones. Not that the bad. I'm not a list, you know, but there we have ones made mistakes. There was this one that was too afraid to talk to the actress. I'm like, she stopped folding laundry like she didn't she just talked to her dad, you know? And I remember he's like, Well, you tell her and I'm like, I'm not the director. You know, just knowing like, Okay, I if I you know, that didn't work or like, you know, seeing someone just do bad things to you know, or make bad choices, and seeing people make good choices and watching how different people prepare, you know, working with Mike Birbiglia and like bow, both actors who wrote directed and starred in their material, and I was able to produce those. They have very different ways of going about how they do it. And that was fascinating. And it definitely made me feel like hey, you know what, I could do that sometime. And it'll be totally different than theirs. But I've learned like, from there like brilliance, and then the and then the bad things that happen on set with with the same stuff, how they handled things. And producing really an enacting really kind of got me was my best film school as a director.

Alex Ferrari 29:49
Right. Right. Well, let me ask you a question as a producer, when you pick the wrong horse, in any department, it could be the director. It could be an actor. It could be a You know, as a crew person, when you pick the wrong horse, obviously, the higher on the on the totem pole being the director, the actors are the DP. How do you adjust that? Aren't you like you? Like, what do you do as a producer? Like, oh my God, he's not talking to the actress like, What? Are we going to finish our day? Are we like, how are

Miranda Bailey 30:18
Were pretty much screwed I mean,

Alex Ferrari 30:23
I love that.

Miranda Bailey 30:24
Yeah, I mean, it really, it's the script, right? It's the product. Sometimes it comes just as a script, and you build around it, sometimes it comes as a script, director, and then you help cast it. But it's that director's job to really hone it in. And it's my job as a producer to get the director's vision correctly. So even though I wouldn't have made the same choices that Lake Bell did on I do until I don't, my job was to support her choices. And that's kind of what you have to do as a, or the way I look at producing personally. And so I would say one of the most important lessons that I learned was producing or directing, or even mentoring, because I doing a lot of mentoring of people, not through programs, just individuals. Is, you really have to love it. Because if it doesn't make money, like anything I did, and I have done things thinking, Oh, this will make money never does.

Alex Ferrari 31:39
And then oh, this will never make money.

Miranda Bailey 31:41
This will never make money. And it does, but I love it. And it does. So it just makes, and I've done things that you know, this, this, you know, it's things. So, honestly, if you love something, because it's hard, if you love something, whether it's a commercial success, or a critical success or not. If you love being there every day, then it's still a win, you know? So and I'll go back to like, you know, with my bid Yeah, I loved I was like, you know, I was like determined to do his next project. After Sleepwalk With Me, I pretty much stalked him, you know, in a nice way without a craziness and was like, I don't want you could have turned in a bunch of blank pages. And I would have said yes, like, so I knew I was going to make his next movie. And that was a success. And so we were really lucky. But I didn't know I really didn't think it'd be Who the fuck wants to see a movie about improv actors not by make his next movie so badly that I was willing to overlook that plot.

Alex Ferrari 32:52
Right. That's how you like, I don't care, I don't care what it is,

Miranda Bailey 32:54
I don't care. Because, you know, and that was successful, you know, and I enjoyed, I enjoyed it. And, you know, became really good friends with Kate Micucci from that, and worked with beautiful people and great, great DPS and great, just great everything. Like, I love Mike, I love everyone on that, you know, Kagan's rad, everyone. So when when that stuff happens, it's really great. You know, and then when the for instance, with lakes movie was similar, you know, it wasn't a critical success. It wasn't a commercial success. But I really loved working on it. And I loved watching her work. And I love watching, you know, working with my friend Amanda on it. And, you know, we got to be in California and you know, Dolly wells and I became close, and she is hilarious. Yeah. You know. And so it's

Alex Ferrari 33:55
Now when you're looking when you're putting a PAC a project together, what do you look for in a director? Or the what are the traits that you specifically look for in a director?

Miranda Bailey 34:07
Um, well, I do seem to do a lot of I seem to do a lot of first time directors. So I can't really explain it because it's not like a looking, it's more of a feeling. And it's, if they can see it, and explain it to me, and I can see what they see. Then I know that they know what they're doing that what they want. If they're wishy washy, or you know, unsure, you just feel it in the room. And oftentimes, you don't even get to that point because you already feel it in the writing.

Alex Ferrari 34:52
With the writer directors, you generally work with writer directors, right. Seems like it. That's generally the way it goes.

Miranda Bailey 35:00
I mean, it's not a it's not a mandate or anything.

Alex Ferrari 35:04
What is what is the biggest misconception that people have about a producer and what they do?

Miranda Bailey 35:10
Well, people think we make money

Alex Ferrari 35:16
Do you make obscene amounts of money and just trucks of truckloads. You've got a Pablo Escobar problem like the rats are eating my money. I have too much money that

Miranda Bailey 35:24
I've got mattresses stack full of money behind me. It's just invisible. The best kind of money perceive success money

Alex Ferrari 35:35
That's the best kind. You can't spend it though. You can't spend it not to

Miranda Bailey 35:39
Like Bitcoin because it gets you into parties and restaurants. And you don't have to pay anything.

Alex Ferrari 35:47
Gotcha. That's the perceived the perceived riches of being a producer's wanting to know. Yeah, people think you're like, when you're in the film business. Oh, you must be making a lot of money. I'm like, no, no, no, that's, it's, that's the top one of one of 1% that, like, make that kind of grit. And that's all you see. I would say.

Miranda Bailey 36:07
Hey, I'm here I'm gonna tell you something!

Alex Ferrari 36:10
Im still fighting baby.

Miranda Bailey 36:13
Movie, or something's gonna happen where I will make money like actual money someday. $30,000 I will make more than that in a year. On a movie someday. I just got to stick in there. I just gotta hang in there

Alex Ferrari 36:31
Another 20 years. Ad I got this. I got.

Miranda Bailey 36:35
We're trying to do TV now. So I'm like, maybe there's money.

Alex Ferrari 36:39
Well, that's, I mean, everyone knows that. That's where the money is, is in television. So it's,

Miranda Bailey 36:45
Trying to get in the door of that is like, Fuck, it's hard. No, no. We just shot a TV show a Hindi nine episodes are selling now. I don't think that's been done yet.

Alex Ferrari 36:57
It's been done a couple of times. idea on the note is not a bright, it's not a bright idea, generally speaking, but the pandemic, you have to do what you got to do.

Miranda Bailey 37:09
Sorry, it's nobody GQ plus story. It's about mental illness. It was super important for me.

Alex Ferrari 37:18
I love this. I love I love that this is such a raw conversation. So people really have a look filmmakers who just are new to the business, get an understanding of what the business is really like, is there's so much perceived perception about the business. And I always tell people, the Hollywood's really good at the sizzle, but they suck at the steak. And

Miranda Bailey 37:39
Great, great if that's okay, is that a mug? Because I'll buy it.

Alex Ferrari 37:45
Because it's so true. Because Oh, and I always use the I always use the example of because I was from LA I lived in LA for you know, over a decade. And, and I always anytime someone came to town relative to like, Hey, we're not going to Hollywood Boulevard like no, you don't want to go to Hollywood Boulevard. I go no, no, that's where the Oscars are. I'm like, yeah, that that that 50 feet is basically all looks good. And I go that is a perfect analogy for the business. Because on Oscar night, Hollywood Boulevard looks amazing. But if you go a block over to the left or a block over to the right, you better hold on to the purse. It's and the farther you get away from the COVID another Kodak

Miranda Bailey 38:32
Oh, it's now it's just insane. But I was there for the Irish screaming the premiere. And I will say it looks just like you know the

Alex Ferrari 38:41
Oh, the Chinese Theater of course. And all of that stuff.

Miranda Bailey 38:44
That was awesome. But that's the only time I've ever or like when we did super. And that was at the Egyptian Yep, yeah. But don't go there just to like go see the stars because you can actually the stars go on forever. Oh, forever and ever go to the stars by the spied by the good coffee shop.

Alex Ferrari 39:02
It's exactly. But I use that as an analogy. Because it's a perfect analogy of what Hollywood sells. It sells the image. But the reality is, I mean, if you just if you live in LA for any short amount of time you realize it is a Boulevard of Broken Dreams. So many people go there with these bright eyed and bushy tail ideas about the business. And that that reality hits hard. And it's not an easy, it's not an easy grind. It is his grind. Like you just one day. And you're you know, arguably a very successful film producer. And in your you know, I mean, you've done some amazing projects. I mean, you've done you've done you've worked with amazing people you've made amazing films, but you're still you still awesome at it. You still grinding it you still do. And I tell people I'm like I know Oscar winners who are like I gotta still hustle the next project that you know the boss will get me into a party but it's not gonna pay my rent. Like

Miranda Bailey 39:58
By God's country. I remember someone one of my Hey, friends is distributors who's kind of betting on it or whatever they were planning on doing a words campaign? I'm like, Yeah, well, Warzone payment. Words don't keep the lights on. So bring your number up.

Alex Ferrari 40:12
Yeah. I don't want an Oscar nomination. Another million.

Miranda Bailey 40:18
It is you have, you know, there is an amount. I mean, I do, like a cockroach. And like, I feel like, you know, slowly the world, but people quit around me. And if I can just still be there that time.

Alex Ferrari 40:38
You just gonna wait everybody out. But you know what the, you know, the funny thing is about that. Keep working, keep going. But you know, what I and I've said this so many times, you know, I've been in the business close to 30 years. And I know people who are less talented than many people I know. But they just stuck it out. They had a willpower to keep going. And they're less talented, less experience, and they just keep that just keep grinding and they outwait everybody else. So people are like, Oh, I know this talented person like talent, man talents, the beginning of the conversation. It is, it is because there's, you know, a lot of talented directors and writers

Miranda Bailey 41:20
Talented is needed, like so I have this quote on my website, Miranda bailey.com. Yes. I just put on my website that that I read in the newspaper in the Hollywood Reporter that first week I was here, okay. Oh, I clipped it out. And I have it somewhere in some journal, you know, some pasted it down. And I don't know who said if someone important, probably. And it said talent isn't what gets you in the room. But it's what keeps you in the room?

Alex Ferrari 41:49
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Miranda Bailey 41:51
So I would I do think I'm talented at this point. But I know that that's not enough. And

Alex Ferrari 42:01
Then there's hustle, then there's experience, then there is craft and there's all these other things that you need to be good at. Not just just that,

Miranda Bailey 42:09
Yeah. You know, basically, if you can be, you know, for me, the most important thing right now is authenticity. Yep. And that is the hardest thing to find, when you first come to LA, probably for people who are going are getting into the movie business. And it's it's hard to be authentic, surrounded by inauthentic people. So but I think that the pandemic has really helped kind of the world realize what in every business what they want to be and who they want to be and who they want to be around. And I think that my hustle was really, really killing me before the pandemic, you know, authentic, but I was definitely doing things very fast. And I am kind of bad like this, like Sundance and South by has kind of gotten me on this again, and I'm like, whoa, whoa, spring break, let's go. Like, let's like, vacations get to kids. Yeah, it's more important for me to go to that go to the Oscars, it's more important for me to I live in Aspen now, like, it's more important for me to just, I don't care how much I like the project. If the person involved that is a producer involved, or a director, or social or even an agent involved or whatever is an asshole. I don't want to do it. No, because my time, my time now, I'd rather sit here and create this movie I'm working on with Oren moverman, or one of the five movies I'm working on or movement because I love him and he's my heart and soul. My brother that may never get made, then, you know,

Alex Ferrari 44:03
Life's too short. Life's too short. And as you get older, the the, the the level of crap that you put up with starts to drop dramatically. When you were 21, you'll put up with a whole lot of crap that you won't put up with at 41 or 51. And it just started you just start and it's you just start dealing with and it's so true. And you really start finding out what's important to you. Because when you're young and you're starting out in the business, it's all about the business, your entire identity is wrapped around the business. But as you get older you start to realize oh, I'm more than just a director I'm more than just a writer you hopefully get to that point that you realize I'm a father I'm a mother I'm a sister a brother I charity I do other things besides just this and yeah, it takes time it takes time. It takes time to realize and

Miranda Bailey 44:52
I think supporting other filmmakers like has been a you know are other people who want to be producers want to be writers or want to be directors and stuff. That's because Have a great joy in my life. They're not just making our movies, but even just helping them get their movies made that stuff is, is because no one ever helped me. And in fact, it was kind of the opposite. They tried to hurt. So I always said, you know, if I ever get to a point where I can be valuable enough to help other people, that doesn't mean give them money to make their movies, right. But give them support and encouragement, then I will do it. And that's been something you know, that's a non-country, which just premiered at South By the way that came about with me is, I had been Frank that I directed, and merkt ahead, Ingrid, which she directed at the bendfilm Festival. And we were talking as directors, and she told me about her next idea. And she's like, but I just don't know what to do. And I'm like, Well, you know, I'm here for you anytime you need it. And she's like, well, will you be my mentor? And I'm like, Yeah, of course. And so my relationship on that movie, obviously, it ended up becoming later on, you know, bringing on my company and my agency and like, I need the right publicist, and you know, now finding the right agent for her and, you know, finding the right festival to premiere out and stuff like that. I'm just so fucking proud of her.

Alex Ferrari 46:23
But that's, that's a joy. That's the joy that you look for now. And that's the thing that I look at, when I started this show six, almost seven years ago, my life changed. Because I started giving back, I started being of help being of service to other people. And and then now I get to talk to people like yourself, all the time, where I would have killed to have this conversation with you early on in my career. Now, I'm just like, This is amazing that I get to talk to you at a different place. And, and hopefully, my intention is not to get anything out of it. For me, that's I don't care. I'm here to have a great conversation that hopefully will help other people. And that's the intention I have with all my guests, regardless if they want Oscars, or if they're just a new filmmaker just starting out. And that has been so rewarding. And it's, it's changed my life. So I think you're feeling that too, just by helping others and mentoring others and giving back in that way.

Miranda Bailey 47:18
Yeah. So it's great, because then, you know, you're a part of something that you love. Right! You know, and and that's just that's, that's it

Alex Ferrari 47:29
Now, how, how, because you've been doing this for a while now. Can you tell the audience how the independent film space has changed in the last five years? Not 20? The last five, arguably the last two or three? How much more difficult? Is it to make a movie, get distribution, get your money back in return for your money for your investors? Is there how has it changed from, you know, 25 years ago?

Miranda Bailey 47:59
Well, we're in a very, very state of who knows because of the pandemic. Sure. So that's obviously problematic when it comes to shooting things. And if you get shut down because someone gets sick, or if there's a new variant and and you know, we are still in a pandemic, even though people are not talking about it, I mean, my husband and my two kids just got COVID Again, by longer so that I could get to Hawaii for my vacation. But I'd say one thing that I I'm, I think is great about the last five years is that the idea of windowing, which has, you know, has has collapsed, so there was for a while and are about 90 days is a real theatrical release. And otherwise it stay in dates. And there's really no in between. And then they were calling something called like broken windowing. And I'm like, that doesn't sound good. We call it creative windowing. So creative windowing. And but it was still very hard to navigate. And that what people don't understand is when you selling your movie, you're gonna get way more money from Florida and everything if you had a traditional 90 Day release. But you had to play in so many theaters, and your box office numbers had to be so much money in order for those deals overseas to actually kick in. So as soon as that change, you're kind of screwed. So for instance, with being frank, we released it through film, arcade and universal because we didn't want to take necessarily in any of the other offers, which is good because we made more money than the other offers by now. But our deal with Universal was a 90 day doing, which I didn't think would be the right thing for being frank. But that was the filmer K deal. If day and it should have been day in but Did you know universal at that time was doing 90 Day theatricals. So now, with us being able to watch at home, you know, marry me, let's say that now that the rom com coming back, which I'm like, hallelujah,

Alex Ferrari 50:18
Thank God.

Miranda Bailey 50:20
I need some more. I mean, that's my favorite genre. So I usually never get to but you can put it on TV and still make a million in the box office opening weekend. And on on Peacock, it had a gazillion people sign up for peacock and watch it that opening weekend

Alex Ferrari 50:39
I did. I did my wife wanted to watch it so

Miranda Bailey 50:44
The numbers or anything and I, you know, so that that's really great. I mean, I think the other thing and this is probably just for me, because other people I, I want to make I want to direct to one of those movies that you're like, oh my god, did you see the ALI Wong movie or the movie? And they're like, oh, yeah, I love it. Who directed it? I don't know. Like, it was on Netflix or it was on this. That is my ideal situation. Because then you do not have to be a director like with a point of view or say something or, you know, is he ripped apart? Or is it now in authentic way?

Alex Ferrari 51:21
Correct! No, you're absolutely right. It's changed so much. I can only imagine Disney how many how much how many subscribers Disney plus got from all the Pixar movies? Oh, yeah. All that stuff and HBO the whole last year? I mean, how many people signed up

Miranda Bailey 51:37
Played all the best they played lately? And Harry Met Sally. I watched it like four times.

Alex Ferrari 51:41
Exactly. So they're it's the game has changed so dramatically. Is there a place right now? In your opinion? For the well, we would have called in the 90s? That independent an independent film from the 90s? The? The slackers, the clerks the El Mariachi is the Brothers McMullen. Those films. Is there a marketplace for that anymore? Those kinds of films?

Miranda Bailey 52:03
Yeah, there is there is, you know, there's Magnolia, there's AFC neons doing their own wing, which is called Super. There's film arcade. Those, those are the ones who are doing those movies. And then, of course, there's self distribution models out there now that you can do that, you know, because there's nothing I mean, once someone asked at South by when I was on a panel, like, you know, what do you think about idea of self distribution to this and it's competed, that's I'm like, look, the more places there are, for us as filmmakers to be able to put our money or movie out there. So instead of it sitting on on our shelf, or in our closet, it's on Apple, or Amazon or whatever the better because no one wants to make a movie and not be seen. Now that has nothing to do with money, or minimum guarantees, or anything like that. But you know, there's more places for you to see a movie, there's ability for you to make a movie, the market. You know, big sales had been gone for a long time.

Alex Ferrari 53:14
Oh, yeah. And pre and pre sales as well.

Miranda Bailey 53:17
Well, pre sales is a totally different kind of thing. It's not in for independent film anymore.

Alex Ferrari 53:21
Yeah. The days of AFM and just having a poster. I mean, unless you have a relationship with buyers,

Miranda Bailey 53:28
I know Nick Cage movie that Stallone movie and movie you're fine, solid, but you know, or big or big director, but if it's like you need making a movie starring my best friend, you know, Zack, Sal Lin, we're not going to pre sell it.

Alex Ferrari 53:44
No, no, and you're right, it's just that that world is is gone. And I always tell people with with self distribution, you got to hit the ball so well, to get to make real money in that play in that space. You got to really know what you're doing, really understand a lot of different things to be able to generate three, four or 500,000

Miranda Bailey 54:05
That does it. So like the arcade, we do self distribution. I mean, Bleecker Street's also doing service deals. Sure. So you know, I think as long as you use those companies that really knows what what they're doing, and they'll guide you then then then you're good.

Alex Ferrari 54:23
Now I'm gonna ask you a couple questions ask them I guess what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Miranda Bailey 54:28
Um, don't

Alex Ferrari 54:30
Run away get an accounting job No. You gotta love it.

Miranda Bailey 54:36
You know, I don't know. My advice is always changing. You know, I would, I would say is understand that it is a collaborative art. And if you can't collaborate, you will make it because what doesn't bend breaks?

Alex Ferrari 54:53
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Miranda Bailey 54:59
That I am not fat despite magazines or movies, and what they have said, and then I don't look like everybody else. And I want to thank Shonda Rhimes. For this. She's the one who allowed people to go and be seen that are real people. Because when I got to Hollywood, I was called, not fat enough to be the best friend, or skinny enough. So but I was really funny. So I needed to gain or lose 20 pounds in order to be successful. And I was not pretty enough to be the lead. And those were the rules for me as a woman.

Alex Ferrari 55:38
Wow. And they told you that

Miranda Bailey 55:40
This more than once

Alex Ferrari 55:43
Wasn't like one outlier, it was a constant.

Miranda Bailey 55:46
That's just the way it was. Wow. And life is not over when you're when he turns 30 If you're an A woman in the business, in behind, or in front of the camera, my dad learned how to ride a horse at 65 years old. And he then became a horse champion by the time he was 75 years old. So you know, just stay on the fucking horse.

Alex Ferrari 56:12
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Miranda Bailey 56:15
Oh, gosh, True Romance. Number one favorite film of all time. That's amazing. Then I'm gonna go with my fair lady.

Alex Ferrari 56:25
Obviously, both double double, double.

Miranda Bailey 56:28
Thirdly, Some like it hot.

Alex Ferrari 56:31
Oh, very good. Wow, that's, that's a heck of a screening night. And run to where can people find out more about you and and see what you're doing?

Miranda Bailey 56:42
Well, my website mirandabailey.com, because my dad was smart enough to get my name on websites when they first started so lucky because you know, you know, Shaundra Wilson would asset by now has my writing, directing, acting producing in it. And it also has the some information on Cherry picks, which is a website that I started for female critics to kind of put them together and give a score for female critics. And that's the cherry picks.com That's a really fun. It's kind of like, I want it to be the cut meets Entertainment Weekly meets rotten tomatoes for women and non binary people. Fair enough, but it's you know, we show this was Army man's on there. I mean, Ford versus Ferrari, I will say is one of my favorite movies in the last five years. It's so good that

Alex Ferrari 57:36
It's such a good movie that says Miranda, it has been entertaining as hell talking to you and also very educational. I appreciate you taking the time out to talk to the tribe and dropping your knowledge bombs on them. So I appreciate you. Thank you again.

Miranda Bailey 57:52
I had to go drop something else. So thanks so much, guys.

Alex Ferrari 57:56
I love it. Thanks so much.

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IFH 571: The Ugly Truth of Being a Hollywood Screenwriter with Rich Wilkes

Get ready for on heck of a ride. Today on the show we have screenwriter Rich Wilkes.

Wilkes’ major-studio debut was as screenwriter of the 1994 film Airheads. The story revolves around a group of loser musicians called The Lone Rangers who take a radio station hostage to get their song played on the radio. Airheads was directed by Michael Lehmann and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

This was followed by a co-writer credit (alongside director James Melkonian) for the 1994 comedy The Stoned Age, set in the stoner subculture of Southern California during the 1970s.

The same writing and directing team then collaborated with The Jerky Boys to create the 1995 production The Jerky Boys: The Movie, featuring the eponymous comedians (self-described as “low-lifes from Queens”) as New York City youths who get into trouble with the Mafia when one of their prank calls leads them into a money laundering business.

Wilkes is credited as the sole screenwriter for the 2002 action-adventure film XXX and a “based on characters created by” credit as being as the creator of the XXX franchise.

Wilkes co-wrote the Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt, based on the New York Times bestselling book by Neil Strauss and Mötley Crüe. The film took 17 years to get made. David Fincher was initially attached to direct in 2004, followed by Larry Charles in 2008.

Rich and I had a raw conversation about what it is really like to be a screenwriter in Hollywood, warts and all. This episode should be reqired listening for any screenwriter thinking of getting into the Hollywood screenwriting game.

Enjoy my eye-opening conversation with Rich Wilkes.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Rich Wilkes how you doin Rich?

Rich Wilkes 0:14
Hey, man, I'm doing great, Alex, how you doing?

Alex Ferrari 0:16
I'm doing great, man. I'm doing great. Thank you so much for for coming on the show, man. I think we're gonna have a fun thing. Gonna be a fun episode. I have a good feeling about this. Because based on your credits alone, I think you're not gonna have a beer even though I don't drink but I definitely have a beer.

Rich Wilkes 0:33
Good. I want to learn something from you.

Alex Ferrari 0:35
So how did you? First of all, why did you get into this insane business? And how did you get into this insane business?

Rich Wilkes 0:43
It started I went to UC Santa Cruz. And they didn't have a film program. But I wanted to do film. So I did theater arts with a film emphasis. And they didn't have screenwriting major. So I did. I wrote my own major, which was a screenplay and submitted that rather than doing a film or a play or whatever. And then I went to American Film Institute for screenwriting. It's a two year MFA. After the first year, my one of my scripts got optioned by touchstone. And so they were going to pay me $10,000 For this option, and AFI at the time cost $10,000. And I figured, well, why don't I just pocket the $10,000 and quit? So I quit. Halfway through AFI never got my masters. But I figured the whole point of going there was to get a script. So since I got since I got the thing sold or optioned anyway, I bailed as quick as I could. Did that get produced? It actually did. Yeah. It wound up being the one. You had Chris Moore a few weeks ago on the podcast. It was the first movie that he produced. He was my agent

Alex Ferrari 1:57
It was glory days. It was glory days. That's right. Yeah. Alright, so we'll get we'll get into glory days in a minute. Was there a film that kind of lit your fire man, it was, is there not one movie that we that you saw you were just like, oh, I want to go into this business. I want to join the circus. It's it's that's what it is. We're we're all carnies and we've joined the circus.

Rich Wilkes 2:14
Yeah, I never really thought about going into the movie business until college when I met people that, you know, whose guy whose dad worked on mash. And I was like, Really, you can do that you can actually work on mash, you know, and that made it real for me that that, you know, maybe I could move to LA and work on something. But prior to that, I never had any clue that it was possible. I thought it was you know, it was very insular. And you had to grow up here and no, somebody. My favorite movie growing up was Gallipoli. The Peter Weir movie.

Alex Ferrari 2:48
Yeah. Mel Gibson. Yeah. Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 2:51
So I'm not of the I want to make jaws and Star Wars and Raiders kind of crowd those movies I love but they aren't the ones that maybe say, Hey, man, I want to do this for a living. I thought that Gallipoli was such a great combination of history and a personal story, that it blew my mind. So the after finding out that it's possible, and then studying it and going to AFI, and getting it set up, I've actually managed to since oh, I want to say 1991 30 years now, do this for a living without having to have another job, which is like, you know, ridiculous.

Alex Ferrari 3:31
And isn't that the isn't that the goal of this whole thing? It's like we can make a living writing or directing or just being part of the circus. I mean, that's,that's that's the goal

Rich Wilkes 3:43
That's the entire thing. Yeah, my initial thought was, I want to get into movie business because I don't want to work that hard. And this will give me a lot of free time. And he realized that doesn't really work.

Alex Ferrari 3:56
That that didn't work out that way and that's why people think that oh screenwriting, you wake up, you write for a couple hours and then you goof off all day and the rest of the day and that's it. And then some and they just and they throw up obscene amounts of money at you. Because you're you know, because everyone is shamed. Black and Joe Osterhaus back in the 90s so Well, it's funny because you know, like I was saying earlier before we got on you and I are similar vintage. So you know, we were coming up in the 90s which were it was a magical time it was a crazy magical time screenwriters. Were getting the you know, the, the option booms are the spekboom of Shane Black Joe Astor house and you know, two 3 million $4 million for a movie that lit a lot of fires of like, well, I'm going to be a screener. I can get rich being a screenwriter.

Rich Wilkes 4:45
Yeah, I you know, for me, it was it wasn't the boom time for that it was the boom time of being able to pitch a movie and then get paid to write it and by pitch it I mean a five minute pitch

Alex Ferrari 4:58
Like the player like the player

Rich Wilkes 5:00
Exactly. And then now you know, it's you have to have the script written with the star, the director of the financing before anybody consider it, but back then you'd go in and say, I got this idea, it's going to be Dog Day Afternoon in a radio station, it's going to be, you know, a lot of rock and roll music, blah, blah, blah, great fun, go, you know, go write it. And I would between me and my friends, you know, I would, we'd have five movies, five pitches, setup around town, and you'd knock out this script, and then go on to the next one. And it was so fucking easy. Because they had this incredible budget to develop their own material. They all the studios wanted to do that. So they would commission 125 scripts in order to make 20 grand, right? Right. So that was a lot of writers making a living off of, you know, these, these scripts for hire, which just, unfortunately, has completely gone away. And now I think if you're lucky, they'll put out six movies a year, a particular studio, and of those, maybe they make half and the rest are coming from financing from somewhere else. And they're just distributing the damn thing. So they aren't paying writers to come in and pitch and write these, these scripts for them. There's just there's no need for them to do that anymore.

Alex Ferrari 6:21
And the funny thing is, is which is which is bizarre is that now there's more need for content ever. There is a content boom, and there's been never been more money sloshing around in town than ever before. What is it 17 million? Excuse me 17 billion for Netflix this year, 33 billion for Disney plus, I mean, and you know, HBO and everyone's everyone's looking for content, but you would think that pitching would be the easiest way to get things done. And to be more of that, but you're absolutely right. It is gone the complete opposite way. You need the script, the star, the budget, the financing, you did literally, you know, plug and play project for them for them to look not even guaranteed for them to even have a conversation with you nowadays. It's insane.

Rich Wilkes 7:09
Yeah, this this changed. It was a market change, right when the Writers Guild was going on strike and Oh, yeah. So there was the housing bubble. And then the writer strike was coming and I had a pitch with Amblin and it was right before the strike. And I you know, they called me up the day of and they said, listen, we're changing our policy. Unless you're coming through the door with Will Smith attached to your pitch don't bother coming. And I'm like, if I could get Will Smith attached No, I think what the fuck do I need you for? Right? This is your function. I'm supposed to be the idea guy. You guys are supposed to be the MC the fucking movie. Guys. It's completely swamped now where producers who used to have deals on lots and a development budget and have their own you know, Slate are begging writers to write on spec in the hopes that that we can lower director to hop on board to lure a fucking actor who means something to lure Netflix into paying for it. And that's where I am on several different projects. It's it's a fucking joke.

Alex Ferrari 8:12
You know, it's, it's insane. And I you know, I know a lot of writers who you know, they have, because a lot of times, you know, people will look at an IMDB and they'll go, oh, you know, he only made that one movie. I'm like, yeah, that he might have made that one movie got produced. But he's been working in town for 15 years, on projects that never and he's made a really good living as a writer, but those days are, are slowly just going away to spec market. There is still a spec market, but it's literally a minuscule amount. It's very, very small. And there's basically just a one dude, one agent, Boxer bomb, who does all the specs.

Rich Wilkes 8:50
I mean, it just did the writers of these specs get Shane Black in 1994 money or no,

Alex Ferrari 8:56
No they're getting they're getting seven figures. They're getting some, but they're getting they're getting a mill maybe, you know, and again, we're throwing numbers around like you and I are like, you know, pooping out, you know, $100 bills, but it's not. It's not the way it is. But generally they are getting those but we're talking about one or two, where they were like, there were one or two a week. Now there's maybe a handful a year and they're not getting shamed black money. Do you know that? Do you know the story of though? What's the last Last Action Hero the same black class action hero story?

Rich Wilkes 9:30
Wait, last boy scout or

Alex Ferrari 9:31
No, no. Last Action Hero. Okay, the story this I heard this from a good buddy of mine inside the business who told me this is how this is how crazy the stock market got. And this was the top of the bubble. This is when it popped after this. It popped. The agent from Shane Black, called up. He called up Shane, what do you got going on? Because I've got this idea and they went out to dinner. They told us that he was right the idea down on the napkin. And it was the idea for Last Action Hero for everyone listening Google Last Action Hero honor Schwarzenegger, you know, I like it. But you know, we had a rough time. Anyway, he wrote, he took the napkin, went back to his office called every studio head in town and said I have shamed blacks next log line, no script. I have his next logline on a napkin. If you want to bid on it, you have to come to my office and read it. Don't send anybody you've got to come. So all six or eight studio heads showed up to this office read read the napkin. Two days later there's a bidding war he got 4 million

Rich Wilkes 10:38
Okay, I I I may be wrong but I think you have the wrong title because Zach pen and Adam left wrote Last Action Hero

Alex Ferrari 10:47
Are you Are you sure it's last? No.

Rich Wilkes 10:51
You're you must be thinking of Last Boy Scout. No,

Alex Ferrari 10:54
What's the last Boy Scout? Alright, we'll I think it was last year because I know but Shane Black wrote Last Action Hero. Alright, hold on everybody. Everybody stopped for a second we're gonna we're gonna now it's because I have to I have to check this. I'm almost positive he did because it made the most sense that he did. So let's go to handy IMDb live on the show. And let's see if if Rich's right or if I'm right because I've been telling that story for a while now. No one has ever called me on it and I'm almost I've almost bet money I'm like

Rich Wilkes 11:31
You know who would have called you on it is Chris Moore who is Adam and yes James at the top

Alex Ferrari 11:37
So Last Action Hero one second my modem is still loading up

Rich Wilkes 11:49
Good Lord let me do it.

Alex Ferrari 11:52
My my modem is still loading up. I have the free AOL disk.

Rich Wilkes 11:59
Are you plugged into the Pete's coffee down the block?

Alex Ferrari 12:08
So writers are Zack Pen. But hold on for a second. And you know what? Shane Black? No, it was Shane Black.

Rich Wilkes 12:15
He rewrote our guys Zack and Adam wrote the original spec Shane rewrote.

Alex Ferrari 12:23
So then it must have been Last Boy Scout then you are i by mistake. So I was corrected. Thank you, sir. For. For me saving face now for all the stories ever tell again. But anyway. Yes. Okay. But that's but that's how crazy this market was at the time and a lot of screenwriters out there still think it's the 90s? Yeah. And they're acting as such, where I think just you saying what we just discussed about, you need a package now you need Will Smith attached. That's news to a lot of screenwriters, a lot of screenwriters think that you could read the amazing script? And that you're going to get, you're going to get a produce just because of its genius. And I know you and I both have read scripts that are Oscar quality, that have never been produced are sitting on shelves right now. Is that fair?

Rich Wilkes 13:14
And then there's ones that you wonder how it got all of these movie stars attached? And yeah, made for a record amount of money. Right? When if it was a spec script, no one would look at it twice. Right! I don't know. I you know, it's not up to me to decide what's what's good and bad. But from my perspective, there's a lot of things that are are happening because it's from the production company of the star, and he's hooked up with a director and they've done three things together, and they know blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so it's like, okay, we know they're responsible for the money we know x amount of people are going to watch so and so do a fucking action comedy or whatever the hell it is. So we're gonna go with that, which is great. If you can be in that business. If you can be in the Adam Sandler read. You read my mind. It's fantastic. But there's not too much room in that bubble. I know.

Alex Ferrari 14:07
No. And which brings me to one of your first films. Airheads which had a young Adam Sandler, Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi, and I love that movie when it came out. I watched that movie when it came. I was like, it's so much fun. And it was Adam it was Adam it already come out with Billy Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore or not yet.

Rich Wilkes 14:29
No, this was he had only done a movie called it was something about a clown. Maybe he was in the bobcat Goldthwait clown movie, shake. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Maybe he was in like a ballroom scene or something. So he was in small stuff like that. But Airheads was his first studio movie. They wouldn't let him be the Brendan Fraser character. He had to be the the supporting guy. And from that, I got hired to rewrite Billy Madison which shot Right afterwards, okay, that's how I know that it came in that order. Okay. That's how I know about the Adam Sandler bubble because I'm not in it after doing two movies with him earlier. I had not known him since I think the cutoff was SNL. You either knew him in high school in college or an SNL. And then you're you're part of the crew, and then afterwards, I'm being facetious, but it feels like Yeah, I mean, he's still working with with Alan covert who he knows from, you know, college and and obviously, all of the cast members from SNL that he worked with, he's just got this wonderful group and why mess with something great, unless you're going to go off and do some, you know, uncut gems thing, which is brilliant. Yeah. All right. So let's talk about those guys. What about guys like them? The guys that do the guy who did Blue Ruin, man, I did. synchronic how are these guys getting money to make these movies? about forgetting about synchronic? Because that's got you know, that's already coming after the other one they did with with actors that weren't big. How do you get a Blue Ruin made?

Alex Ferrari 16:10
I mean, thinking about like uncut gems, specifically, as an example, I think, a film like that you need a you need a you need a 100 pound gorilla and Adam was that 800 pound gorilla. He'd already done punch drunk glove. So he's, you know, he's like, Oh, this is his other punch drunk love and he's done a handful of those serious roles he likes to do everyone's wrong. I think he's actually a really good actor.

Rich Wilkes 16:36
I agree but forgetting about him I'm talking about from the filmmaking side, right. Yeah, brothers,

Alex Ferrari 16:41
Right. But they but did they have Adam before?

Rich Wilkes 16:44
No, before that they had Robert Pattinson right and before that they had nobody right same with the Blue Ruin guy and the synchronic guys are now doing what they're doing Star Wars.

Alex Ferrari 16:56
Right? Probably yeah. Well yeah, same thing with Gareth Edwards and those kind of guys from

Rich Wilkes 17:02
So they start out doing a movie with with nobody in it and then on the next one they get an Anthony Mackie or a patent sin or a Sandler. And then now they're doing King Kong fights in Tron or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 17:15
I'd watch that.

Rich Wilkes 17:18
The money to do a blue ruin

Alex Ferrari 17:20
The thing it's like anything else man, you know, from you know, for me speaking to so many people on the show over the years and just my own shrapnel in the business trying to get my own projects made over the years. It is it is almost impossible to figure out what it is for it there's no one there's no one formula. So there is generalized formulas like it you got Will Smith you've got the rock you're gonna get you're in it's done. You know you got gal got you got Sandy Bullock. Yeah, you're gonna get a movie made. But it's luck, man. There's so much luck meets preparation meets opportunity. In I've talked to Oscar winners. I've talked to guys who just made a $5,000 movie I talked to everybody in between. It's always about Right place, right time. Right product. And, you know, if you if you happen to have a pandemic movie, at the beginning of 2020 script running around, yeah, it's gone. If you had a terrorist movie in 2001 Yeah, not gonna, you know, had a Vietnam movie in 76. Not so much it took Oliver Stone for ever to get to and made for and he had to do it. And look, that's a great example. Oliver, when he was on the show, I talked to him about platoons. Like I had to go out to this independence like absolute crazy man who did Salvador with him. Right? And from there, they're like my friend, and he's, I forgot. He's like, I forgot who the producer was. I can't remember the name. But he Oliver even did this act. He was he was a shyster. He was an absolute crock. But he's like, we're gonna go make this movie. Go go to Philippines make this movie the blue. Let's make it. And but that's, but that's interesting. That's insane, though. So there was an insanity. You found this one guy who had the money at a time period where it made sense because video VHS was starting to come home video was coming. I make the money and make the money. It's okay. It's okay. And he went up and let him go do platoon. And then that launched one of the greatest atour filmmakers of his generation. And then from that point, he had a run of 10 years that no other filmmakers ever had, like year after year after year after year, you know, but that's the thing. So there's a there's a level of this kind of like look, I mean, look at mariachi, I mean everyone always looks at Robert and mariachi. How did that get? How did it blow up? Right Place

Rich Wilkes 19:44
It seemed like you know Blair Witch Project is not going to it's an anomaly route. It's not going to punch through today. No way. But you know, guys like Ryan Johnson that are parlaying small independent movies into now doing the biggest movies in the business the roost So brothers were all of these people, you know, the guy who did a Jordan void Roberts who did that wonderful kings of summer. Yeah, I love that movie. And then he's gone to these $150 million movies that I, you know, all of the stuff that I loved in Kings this summer is is gone from those because they're not personal and they're not whatever. But God bless him. He's making these goddamn huge movies, they're blockbusters I'm just in fascinated by all of these guys who get to do it, but as you well know, go into Sundance or slam dance or what have you. When I went to slam dance, it must have been 9605 There was already 20,000 movies showing up, you know, being submitted 20,000 feature films, I can't imagine how many it is now. So

Alex Ferrari 20:53
It's 70. Think Sundance had 70,000 pre pandemic submissions.

Rich Wilkes 21:00
Yeah, So So the ability to to bust through, it is 99% luck, because I'm not more talented than 99% of the population. But I've managed to get a 30 year career out of it. Right. The same with with Keanu Reeves. Is he the most talented actor from his generation? What happened to all the other guys from that? From that same era? The Emilio esta vez and Charlie Sheen's and Kiefer Sutherland and all that kind of stuff. It's just like, wow, boom. Bertolucci wants to work with him. Scorsese. Great, and then suddenly.

Alex Ferrari 21:36
I mean, look, you got the matrix after will. Smith said no. And Brad Pitt said, no,

Rich Wilkes 21:41
Absolutely. But then he did it again. I'm John Wick. That's

Alex Ferrari 21:44
But he is, I mean, let's just He's the second coming of Christ. I mean, we all know that Keanu Reeves is the second coming of Christ. That's all just agree that that's the way it is. He walks on water. It's it's it's a weird thing. I mean, trying to try to pinpoint success in this business. And trust me, I've made a career of analyzing early in my career, I read every biography, I absorbed every DVD commentary, and laser disc commentary on that old, all of it, trying to figure out what the secret sauce was like, how did this get in? How did that get in? Well, I have to just Okay, so I have to make a short film, but then have the script ready for it. And then okay, so I needed to have a short film that blows up, then I have to have the script ready for it. Then I also have to have some sort of financing. Maybe I have to have a package ready together for it. So I went through all of those. It because I had I had a short film and oh five that blew up online in oh five before YouTube or any of that stuff. And I was being called by big producers, and I was being you know, courted around town and all that stuff. And they're like, Well, what do you have? I'm like, I have ideas and the like, well, that's not enough. So then the next time I did a few years later, I'm like, I had to have the script. Now. I had the script now. That wasn't enough. Okay, now I need to get a package. Okay, great. I have to break it down. I gotta get a budget schedule. I gotta get a pitch deck now. It's just nonstops. But then somebody will walk walk in with a script or an idea. And someone's like, Oh, I like that idea. How much do you want for I've heard that story. How much do you want for it? Oh, do you need a million I have a million. Let's go make a movie. It's like, it's resilience, man. It's just being in the game. And I think at a certain point, you just got to continue to be in the game. You know, I always talk to people from you know, people from the 90s Like, they're like a foreign thing. We are kind of our generation is but but you know, like talking to, you know, to, you know, let's say Kevin Smith or Robert Rodriguez and Ed burns those guys that came up in the 90s You know, I asked Ed burns specifically ago Ed, wood wood Brothers McMullen even make a dent today. He's like, No, no way in hell, Brothers McMullen would even be anywhere in the conversation. Clerks wouldn't be in the theaters, much less make $20 million in the theater like his did. Like off of a $30,000 movie. mariachi probably wouldn't make any noise today. Clerks wouldn't make any noise today. Like there's none of those movies would make nice today.

Rich Wilkes 24:16
I think I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but but movies still make noise. It's just not those movies. Because I just mentioned like, what like whiplash or Blue Ruin, or these ones, the smaller ones that I'm talking about. They do pop through and whether it's, you know, those $5 million Blumhouse kind of movies. There's some brilliant filmmaking going on. So it's not clear it's but it's a different genre. It's a different movie,

Alex Ferrari 24:40
But the backyard personal film, you know, like slacker that for that to do what it did like slacker, not in a million effin years, would that get attention today? It just it just wouldn't it be an arthouse film, but it wouldn't it wouldn't do what it did. Like it wouldn't go into theaters. But Also don't forget different timing, different place. There was an industry, there was an industry coming around business coming around independent film, which there wasn't in the 80s, really, in the 90s. And then VHS showed up and, and all that kind of stuff. So it's it's, you know, yeah, like someone like Jordan Peele with get out. And you mentioned whiplash, both of those are Jason Blum. Yeah. They're both Jason Blum. And how did you know Jordan Peele, nobody wanted to make it out. And you're like, Who are you the guy from Comedy Central. And you're doing comedy? Now? You want to do horror? Like, what is this?

Rich Wilkes 25:38
So So I don't I don't think it's fair to be so negative on. You know, Linklater wouldn't have a career now. And

Alex Ferrari 25:45
It would be different. It would be different different.

Rich Wilkes 25:47
Those guys are gonna, they're survivors anyway. And Jordan, Peele wouldn't have got his movie made in 1992.

Alex Ferrari 25:54
No, there's no way in hell. But the difference is, get out might have been made as a backyard as a backyard, India, and maybe would have gotten some notice. But the difference between both of those films is they had an 800 pound gorilla attached, which was Jason Blum. Yeah, true. And that that pushed that push that opened the doors and gave them a little bit of a budget game. It's like Jason's given a lot of opportunities to filmmakers, that wouldn't get opportunities in today's world that Jason Blum is an anomaly.

Rich Wilkes 26:25
Yeah, okay. But what did you see this movie called Under the Silver Lake? Oh, takes place in Silver Lake. Here in LA. It's another one of these little movies like the one that the synchronic guys did.

Alex Ferrari 26:37
Okay. I haven't seen it.

Rich Wilkes 26:38
Oh, who the 800 pound gorilla is behind these things, but they're fucking amazing. Little tiny movies. But I wanted to talk about a blown opportunities. Yeah. Just because you know it to switch it up. I worked in the late 80s, I believe was late 80s. With Chris Tucker. Right. Chris Tucker was on a roll from his movie with Charlie Sheen. Easy money or whatever the fuck

Alex Ferrari 27:04
Money Talks, Money Talks. Yeah,

Rich Wilkes 27:05
Yeah. And then he was on rush hour. And he was in Jackie Brown and whatever. And I was working with a guy named Antoine Fisher, the screenwriter. I was, he was a friend of Tucker's, and he had come up with this idea about Chris Tucker being the first double o agent. It was called double o sol. And he had set up the pitch. And it was with a producer I knew at Universal and they were like, Okay, this guy's done a couple of movies, and they partner me up with Antoine. So Chris Tucker is on the verge of Eddie Murphy. Will Smith style. Absolutely. Absolutely. We're working on this project. And he continuously is undermining himself and fucking himself up like we wanted Mariah Carey to be in a role in the movie. And there was this divas concert in New York. And he was supposed to fly from LA to the deepest concert, meet her backstage and picture on CO starring in this movie with him. Instead, they get a call at the production company and it's his brother or assistant or whatever. And they go, Yeah, I'm looking at our window. And I see a towncar. Yeah, yeah, it's to take him to the airport. goes, no, Chris Tucker doesn't ride in no half a car. He needs to stretch so get him stretch, or he's not going to the airport. They don't get him to the airport. That wasn't the only thing he did. We were rewriting the script continuously based on his whims where he would go, I ran into Tiger Woods at a party. Can we do a scene with me and Tiger at a golf course? And you're like,

Alex Ferrari 28:49
How do you jam that in? Yeah, how do Yeah, sure.

Rich Wilkes 28:51
And then we turn in the draft. Everyone's excited about him and goes, I've changed my mind. We want I want the whole movie to take place in Africa. Because he'd gone to visit Africa and had been inspired by something. And we're like, just shut your fucking mouth. And you would have had, you know, a spy movie. God only knows if it would have been a success, but it never got made and his career didn't go the Will Smith way. Because he got so fucking in his own head. He ruined it. Yeah, he did. He did, which was a bummer for everybody involved. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 29:26
Yeah, it was so funny because I always you know, I was a fan of him in the rush hour films and and money talks. And he was he was right on the brink of being Eddie Murphy. The new Eddie Murphy. There was no question. Yeah, but I always wondered like, what happened behind the scenes that his he just, it just fell off a cliff. He just fell off a cliff. He didn't he wasn't nothing. Like he didn't just do bid parts he like did nothing at all

Rich Wilkes 29:51
That I don't know. But I know that universal did not want to work with him after he fucked everybody around for so long.

Alex Ferrari 29:58
Of course, of course and that gets around town.

Rich Wilkes 30:00
Yes. The other one is is my cautionary tale which was I wrote a movie called Triple X is Vin Diesel. Yeah, of course. Yeah. But he call it a X game sort of James Bond. Sure. And then after that, every job I got, they were like, We want you to triple X this motherfucker. We want this to be just the same. But so I wrote Castle Wolfen Stein and I wrote another one for Vin called the wheel man about a, you know, getaway driver. But I was actively resisting doing triple X. I was like, I did triple x to get you know, to get into the blockbuster business

Alex Ferrari 30:40
In the party. You're invited into the party now?

Rich Wilkes 30:42
Yeah, so the first thing I did after Triple X, before it even came out, I got the dirt adapting the Motley Crue biopic I was like, that's what I really want to do. I wanted to do what the whites brothers did. Remember, they did American Pie. And then immediately, they jumped to you know

Alex Ferrari 30:58
About a boy, right? It was about a boy. Yeah, in Golden Compass.

Rich Wilkes 31:01
And all of these. Yeah, that's what I wanted. But everybody wanted it. So I would say, Okay, I'm going to write Castle Wolfenstein, or whatever it is, but it's not going to be filled with X Games craziness. I don't want to do that. I want to do it this way. And they go, Yeah, of course, that's exactly what we want. And then I turn it in, and they go, we don't want this, we want the shit that you said you weren't gonna do. And I was so resistant to being pigeonholed that I refuse to write one of those kinds of movies. And as a consequence, it took from between triple ax and when the dirt finally got made, it was a span of 17 years, right? Where I didn't get a feature film made, right? Because I was like, I need to write the classy. And I wrote a shit ton of classy book adaptations based on bestsellers, and whatever. I had one with the Russo brothers with Johnny Depp that didn't get make, you know, I mean, it's just an endless litany of classy movies that didn't get made. When I could have been,

Alex Ferrari 32:00
You could have been bussin out. Yeah, yeah.

Rich Wilkes 32:03
So anyway, that's a really my own bit of shooting myself in the foot the way Chris, Chris Moore was talking about the other day when he had the 5 million for the startup and refused to do podcasts. And

Alex Ferrari 32:17
So, um, yeah, no, that's a really interesting story. Because, you know, I always look, we all we all wish we have the the option one day to get in our own way. Because that like most people will never get to the place you got with Triple X. Bottom line, it was a huge hit. Big, big, big action franchise. And you know, when when the biggest stars at the time in the world and all of this stuff. Most people listening will never get there. But there's a lesson here, even for those who don't get to that level. It's getting in your own way, stopping things like oh, I don't want to do that, or I want to. So I'll tell you my story really quickly. And this is this is this is my early on story. Not nearly as exciting as yours. But I think there's a lesson here. So I was I was 20 caught I don't even know I was 20 something. And it was right before I wanted to turn into a commercial director. So I was editing. I was editing a lot. I was like the big one of the big editors in Miami. At the time in the in the late 90s. I was up getting paid obscene amounts of money to edit. And I got so far up my own ass that I was like, I'm gonna throw down 50 cheese on my demo reel to direct the image and I had to shoot on 35. And you know, the whole thing? Sure, yeah. So when I did all of that, put it out, I spent my and then I stopped editing. I just said, I'm not an editor anymore. I am a director. I am a director. I don't, I do not sell myself with editing anymore. When I'm dirty. I will not go down to that level. That's that the mentality that you had that I had at the time because it was so full of myself. And then I will get calls. I'm like, Nope, don't add any more. I'm a director only. So I start shipping out my my demo reels and spending money. Like it doesn't end. Because I'm like anytime now all I need is that one gig, it's gonna kick in. Yeah, one gig, I'll get paid five G's a day, you know, I'll get 3040 grand and in about a month or two anytime now, that day, never showed up. And then I got thrown into a dark dark hole that it was harder and harder. And then weirder things happen. I wrote a whole book about what my next adventures but that was the beginning of this hole that I fell into. That took me years to come back out of and I was able to crawl back out of it by just hustle and getting out of my own way. But so many of us as creatives we will start overthinking getting in our own heads. And man I can only imagine how old were you when you hit we need to triple X

Rich Wilkes 34:51
30 31

Alex Ferrari 34:53
Yeah, so at 30 31 I was still I was still it wasn't a complete moron. But I was slightly more on it might be my own personal journey. There's 20 20 year olds are much smarter than I was at 30. Sure. But at that age still, you still haven't lived. You've got a lot. Yeah. And you haven't been See, you haven't been beat up enough yet.

Rich Wilkes 35:15
But dude all of the people that we talk about, that we admire from Talentino, to Kevin Smith, they all made that jump and said, Fuck it. I'm doing it my way. I'm not going to cast so and so I want it to be my Michael Mann said, whoever the fuck all of those people did it and made the jump, but they stuck the landing where we did not. So the does that make them stupid? I mean, does that make us stupid for making that leap just like they did? Because we didn't have the luck to stick the landing.

Alex Ferrari 35:45
But the thing is, but that's the thing, though. So let's, let's analyze Kevin for a second. Because I've started Kevin, you know, Kevin came up with my movie because I worked in a video store. I was very upset about the clerk's because I work in a video. So when that came out, I'm like, son of. God, why did I think of that? And, you know, maybe video clips around the country were like, Ah, god, but after clerks, he did Mallrats his way. He wanted to do it his way. Studio gave him money, and it tanked and it was over for Kevin. It was over. The only way he came back out was because of chasing me. And there was the Weinstein's who gave him $150,000 To make as a throwaway. Like, Look, kid, here's 100 grand go make your movie, but that's all you're getting. And he got a Yeah, I happen to have a young Ben Affleck, which I know you worked with a young Ben Affleck as well, that happened to hit. If Jason Amy doesn't hit. We don't know who Kevin Smith. He's just a blip in history.

Rich Wilkes 36:43
Exactly. He is you and I. However, he did that stupid thing. But he stuck the landing and was successful at it. And that's why we admire guys like that. And we tried to emulate them. And it didn't work out in quite the same way.

Alex Ferrari 37:00
And that's a mistake that a lot of filmmakers and screenwriters make to this day they'll look at someone like Tarantino luck will Tarantino don't like and I always like to say, Tarantino is probably the most original writer of his generation, the skills and the way he tells stories is unprecedented. You'd like them or hate them. I don't care. There's no one who writes like him. He is the the Hemingway of his generation. Again, whether you love them or hate them. You can't deny what the man has done. Yeah, you can't compare yourself to him just like me comparing myself to Spielberg or to Fincher or to Nolan. Like these are people who are at the highest level. And look at Nolan. Like, that's a good point. Because you can't compete. You can't like, you know, can you compare yourself to Robert Rodriguez, how many people to this day people are still talking about mariachi to this day, people still use it as a reference point. And I'm like, you can't like Robert. He didn't he? He stumbled into it. It no one was ever supposed to see mariachi. It was supposed to go straight to the Spanish video market. And it just happened that someone said we're gonna release the and he said no, don't release this. This was like my practice movie. Yeah, Jesus Christ. Let me remake it. Don't let me so he did remake it and Desperado. Essentially, but a little bit better, like a little bit bigger. But that's but that's what he felt he literally stumbled into it. You know, you can't do that brothers MC Bolin. If he wasn't working at ET at Entertainment Tonight. And Bob Redford didn't jump on an elevator and he didn't have a VHS copy of brothers Bolin rough guide. And he handed it to Bob. And fucking like two months later, someone from Sundance called them is like, is your movie ready? We'd like to screen it. That doesn't happen. You can see what I'm saying. Like there was no way a PA from Entertainment Tonight was going to get into Sundance for an unknown like Edward Burns. But that's exactly what happened. So you can't you can't plan for that stuff. You can't. You can't like I met like I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Ebert. Before he passed at a screen I thought Amida I mean. But um, but I had the pleasure of being flown up to Toronto, because I was going like there was some producers and financiers who wanted to finance my short film of my feature film version of my short film in 2005. So I fly up there. And he's like, here's some tickets to a movie that we're distributing. go see this movie. So we went to the theater, we're sitting down, and in the back of the frickin theater is Roger Ebert. And people who don't know who Roger Ebert is, please google him. He's one of the greatest film critics of all time. He's the only one who's ever won a Pulitzer. That's how great he was. And we haven't, we haven't run up to him and start talking to him like, oh my god, this and that. And this is our movie like this before the movie starts and we We'd like to start talking to him. He's like, you know, I can't watch your movie. I'm like, of course not. You can't watch our movie, your Rodri. But why would you watch our little $8,000 action movie? And then all of a sudden, halfway through the conversation is that Can I take your picture? I'm like, Yes. And he's like, You know what, this will make a nice little, little piece for my blob on my blog. I'm like, Great, can we can we take your picture, and here's a copy of our movie. By the time we landed back in Florida, he'd already watched a movie and written a small review of the film on his website. And all of a sudden, I'm the only short film on the planet that has a Roger Ebert quote, and that and that, just but you see what I'm saying? How could you plan for that?

Rich Wilkes 40:43
You're welcome to do differently. I mean, if I guess in retrospect, if I had service, the, you know, if I milked the triple X vibe, as much as it was worth Sure, would I have been happier, spending my time writing movies that I wasn't excited about, rather than the time I've been spending on on adapting books that don't get made, I get a lot of satisfaction from all of these scripts that are sitting on my shelf that no one's ever going to read or see. It's weird. You know, it's, would I be happier the other way?

Alex Ferrari 41:17
So that's the question. So and this has turned into a therapy session, which I absolutely love. And I think it's something that we all need to hear therapy session for both of you. And I think and everyone listen to kind of get into it. But what I, this is my feeling like, again, I didn't have your experience, you had a huge hit, you were the belle of the ball, people wanted to work with you, because you had a monster hit in town. So the question is, could you have, the way I would have looked at it is this at 30, I would have put my big boy pants on, I would have written a handful of things that they wanted me to do. Gain and then step up a little bit more and step up a little bit more. Yeah. And, and maybe get a couple of maybe get another triple X, like style, success. And then and then at that point, start like once you once you establish yourself a little bit more, continue to write those for for a few years, not gonna hurt you. At that point on the side. You're working on other stuff, and like in trying to get other things made. But you're building up your reputation in town. And I've seen that from so many screenwriters who told me I didn't want to do it. But I did it because it was a paycheck. It kept kept me in the conversation. Yeah, and that's the difference.

Rich Wilkes 42:34
But here's what happened after I realized that I needed to make an adjustment, which it took me like, I don't know, let's say five years. Sure. I started taking these assignments that were very straightforward. You know, a remake of cliffhanger. You know, various action movies and whatever. Lightning didn't strike twice. They did not get made. Alright, it's fucking difficult to build one on top of another. Like the guy who wrote it triple X two starred. Ice Cube, right. Different director, different writer than that guy was. King Simon Kinberg. Yeah, I just had Simon on the show. Okay, so his version of Triple X grossed 25 million, and mine had bros 275 or two or whatever it was, yeah. quarter of a billion. Yeah, I guess it was 250. I don't know whatever the fuck it was. He went on to have a string of these action movies that were consistent, consistently getting made and moneymakers and whatever, and obviously more talented than me. But it has been consistently building to the point that he's a producer on movies, in addition to writing in addition to directing and whatever. So lightning struck with him even though his Triple X was a failure.

Alex Ferrari 44:00
But the difference with Simon is that he was lucky enough to land in the X Men universe at Fox. And the second he landed in the X Men universe of Fox, one hit left to another hit lead. And then he stayed in the end. He said, Did you see what he did? He stayed in the excellent up to Deadpool up to Logan as a producer. And he kept he understood, he's like, I'm gonna stick to this and he just finished releasing 355 With all the girls, which is unlike anything else he's been doing lately. But it's taken him years to do that. Now there are some there's some and there's nothing wrong with that because I still think some of the stuff he's done like he'll get Deadpool made, which is one of the best superhero he got Logan made. He wrote, he wrote days Days of Future Past which is probably arguably one of the better superhero genre time travel movies ever made. You know, he's definitely a talented dude. But he got on a train at the right time. When things were like, oh, and the way you know, studios work, oh, you know X Men. Well, let's keep him on. Okay, you wrote 1x movie, you could write another x movie. So same thing for you. I wrote one triple X movie. I want to add your spice to this. He kept riding that train, you decided to go against the trend and five years?

Rich Wilkes 45:20
Yes. So what I wound up doing is that what I wrote for legendary years ago, I wrote it adaptation of Kung Fu, they already had a director attached, they were excited about Sure. Because of that, I got recommended to write Iron Fist for Marvel,

Alex Ferrari 45:36
Okay. The movie, the movie or the show?

Rich Wilkes 45:39
The it was the movie,

Alex Ferrari 45:40
Okay, the movie Okay.

Rich Wilkes 45:42
This was they, they were doing the first for the first phase, and they were trying to figure out who's gonna be in the second phase. So they developed eight characters and picked four and made movies out of them. So my Iron Fist movie was not chosen. Right. But if it was, I could have been in the Marvel Universe. So even when it when it came time and getting the chance to write a Marvel movie early on, you know, when they were still in phase one. It did not work out for whatever reason, and I've had so many things that everybody does have movies fall apart, we have the financing, we have a director, we have everything lined up, and then it blows up with through none of your own, you know, so it's key to luck being a factor of bad luck is a huge factor in shit just blowing up and the quality of the movies that I've had that slipped through my fingers with the Russo brothers with Fincher with the thing with Dr. Dre, all of these great thing with Vince McMahon, all of these things that that fucking blew up on me. They, I'm fine with it, because it's happened so many times that Alright, here's what nobody knows about this one. But when they were shooting from dusk till dawn, sure. I was writing Green Hornet for some for Larry Gordon. Okay. Robert Rodriguez gets a hold of the script. I heard it to Clooney. They're going to do it together. I meet with Clooney. And he's so excited. We're going to start shooting. We got the money. We're going to start shooting in March. Right. Then he gets a phone call from Steven Spielberg saying I just started SKG DreamWorks. I want you to start our first movie Peacemaker with a call Mimi leader. So he had to drop out of ours because you don't say no to Spielberg. He did that one. Once he dropped out. Robert Rodriguez dropped out. They brought in Michel Gondry. He was involved with it 10 years before he actually made it at another studio. And it went nowhere with Michel Gondry. But we were I don't know, it was December when they pulled the plug. And we were going to be shooting the beginning of March. And that would have been fucking huge. You know, of course, me Clooney at that time. Robert Rodriguez at that time, it would have been really any of those that that have exploded and like so

Alex Ferrari 48:12
Alright, so then I'll tell you, I'll tell you my story. And then yeah, I want you guys because that is a 32nd story. This is a get together. Yeah, this these are great. Okay, so I'll tell you my story. I wrote a book. I wrote a book. Here it is. And everyone listening knows about everyone listening. Listen to the show knows about this. The book is called shooting for the mob. Oh, nice. Okay, so this book is based on my, my experience of almost making a $20 million movie for the mafia. Now, I was 26. See, no, no, let's let you know, we'll throw it down. Well throw it down. Don't get me wrong, you got much better, much better, higher quality stars in your story. But my I wasn't about to get whacked. There. But there's that. So I had a bipolar. Basically sociopathic gangster who gave me the shot, quote, unquote, to direct his life story. And I was then I was then our production offices were in a racetrack from the 1960s. So literally, I was like in a lounge and they built an office partition for me in the lounge. We hired production designers we hired DP flew in from LA, we weren't, we weren't prepped for a year, a year in prep a year. So while this is going on, he's hustling money to keep the office open, because he can't get the 20 million. But the crazy part and that's a that's a fantastic story, just a mobster trying to get his movie made with a young director. And I kept asking him like, and I've been directing already a little bit been directing commercials and, and all this kind of stuff. And I said, Why aren't you going after some like, like somebody who's Morrissey And then me, and he's like, Oh no, I don't like those. Those Hollywood guys. I want someone honest like you. Oh my Alright, great. So I'm there. But don't forget I was raised in the 90s under the 90s indie boom for everyone. Yeah, which were like the lottery, the lottery ticket. Everyone had a lottery ticket. The Kevin Smith's the Edward Burns. The Robert is slacker everyone. So I'm like this is got to be my lottery ticket. Right? So then Hollywood takes his guy seriously. And I'm flown out to LA. And I meet billion dollar producers. I'm in the penthouses of a huge producer like it's the scene from a true romance. I mean, his screening room, showing him the trailer that I'd shot that spent $10,000 I didn't have to shoot a sizzle reel of the movie that we shot it on film flew and actors it was a whole thing. So we did that whole thing. So I'm there with him. I'm at the Chateau Marmont, I'm at the fucking IV everywhere. And I'm like this got a discount to be this has to be real. Well, but while this is all going on, he's threatening me all the time. You're basically going to work with Joe Pachi. From Goodfellas. Like, one moment, one moment, he's the best, funniest dude, ever. And the next moment, he's like, I will, I will hit you over the head with a shovel and bury you somewhere. And imagine a 26 year old. I'm green as all hell truly. And I didn't know what the hell I was doing. And I'm like, I didn't have any defense against a guy like this. When I saw the adults are like, called the adults. The seasoned professionals around me were all scared to death. And these guys were all in movies for 20 years. And I'm like, What the hell am I gonna do? Then I'm like, flown out and I'm meeting I went to go meet Batman. So I go to Batman's house. Wayne Manor, like one of the actors who played Batman. Oh, these shall remain nameless. They're all they're all remainings. I'll tell you, I'll tell you after after we get off. Because in the book, my rules are if I met you, your name has changed. If I talked about you, we talked about you know, I had, we had meetings with producers. Mel Gibson, Robert Downey, Jr. William Hurd, Gabriel Byrne, like all the hot people from this is all 2001. It's all like, early 2001. This is all started. So I go to Batman's house. I'm there like this, like this close to Batman, Batman's, like, I want to be in your movie. You know, do you want to sleep over tonight, so we can work on the project. Like I think he's on a 25,000 acre ranch, you know, three days after Christmas. And then all of a sudden, after all of that, it's gone. It just goes away. And the gangsters like you know what, we're gonna go another direction after a year of this. And the movie never got as close ever again, to getting made than it was with me. But imagine, and I know you have this, you've experienced this at different levels, being so close to your dream. And again, yanked away from you constant like you know, constantly. I know you feel me because it's happened to you. But you've had but you've had success and you've had a career, doing what you love to do. It might not be in the way that you might have envisioned it. But you've had a career, you've had a career, like you said at the beginning of this entire conversation I've made I've made a living doing this. And that's great. But I but the frustration of all the money's about to drop. All this package is almost there. Oh, we're almost we're almost greenlit, I can only imagine that happened to me once at a large level. Then multiple other times at smaller levels, like you know, being flown around and meeting producers and having sit downs with actors. And you know, this and that I've gone through all of that. That's why That's why I have shrapnel that we all both have that's that's trapnell from from the war that we've been in, which is the business. But I could only imagine you going through this as well, because you're having that happen again and again and again. And you were in a position where this this really could happen. Like you weren't a young kid sitting down with George Clooney, you were already a seasoned screenwriter, it just everything kept falling apart.

Rich Wilkes 54:13
The thing that's interesting is that it happens at every level, anybody who's trying to get a student film made, try to shoot their own short film so high school, the actor falls out the location falls everything always is a problem. And so my thing when talking to somebody who wants to be in the industry is it is going to be a lot harder than you ever imagined it would be if I had known all of the things I don't know if I would have dared to enter this right right right knowing in advance how many setbacks there were going to be but I like to be realistic with people you're not going to you know star in one movie and have a career for the rest of your life right one hit and have a you know For dinner with Spielberg the next week, it is always in a constant struggle. And when you consider it took Spielberg 15 years to get his Lincoln movie made. It doesn't change no matter what level you're at. Amen. And I know for a fact that that George Clooney has movies that he wishes he could get made that he cannot correct. Same with any director you can think of the same with. I don't want to name the names, but it's the same. Across the board. No one is where they want to be, with the exception of maybe,

Alex Ferrari 55:35
Nolan, Anderson, Nolan Tarantino, and James Cameron.

Rich Wilkes 55:42
Wes Anderson, yeah, the Coen Brothers, you know, maybe this many. Yeah. And we're just talking in feature films. So it is an endless life or death struggle. Every single time, no matter what level you're at, and you have to be ready for that it doesn't turn into easy street ever. And this is the thing that impresses me most about Tarantino is, every time he sits down to write a movie, he has to write a movie better than a Quentin Tarantino movie, because below the level of a Talentino movie, it's a failure. He's competing with Pulp Fiction Kill Bill,

Alex Ferrari 56:20
He's competing glorious bastard Right, right.

Rich Wilkes 56:25
It's, it's insane. And everybody's doing that Spielberg's complete it competing against his entire, you know, filmography, so it never ever becomes easy. And Chris Moore, who you just had on Yeah, Oscar nominated movie right? Off the bat. Yeah. Never became easy after that. For him. He's still slugging away. Ben and Matt have had their this and that. It's never ever, ever going to get easier. So you better enjoy what you're doing. And by and working with the people you're working with. Because that at the end of the day, that's what it is, you know, 30 years into it and looking back and going Well, shit, either. I'm pissed off this whole time. Or I've loved every minute of you know, nowadays, like moving my Vince McMahon thing blew up a year ago. I am so appreciate the time I got to spend in the world of WW Yeah, yeah. And talk to his daughter and talk to him and talk to his right hand man. And, and, and have all of that no matter if it mounted up to anything. I really appreciate all of those things. And it's the same whether you're doing a short film, you're doing your $100,000 you know, feature, you're going around begging for money and people are trusting you and believing in you. And that's the thing that you got to that you got to appreciate.

Alex Ferrari 57:47
I mean, Rick Linklater said said it best he gave me the piece, best piece of advice is like, I asked him the question, like what advice you'd give for filmmakers, because it's gonna be twice as hard and twice as long as you thought. That's how long it's gonna take. It's gonna take twice, it's gonna be twice as hard as you think. And it'd be twice as long. I'd probably say it's 10 times harder. But that's, yeah.

Rich Wilkes 58:09
Maybe for him. It's twice but I mean, he's not he's not getting Oh, he wants to be

Alex Ferrari 58:13
Ohh I can I can tell you for a fact that Rick is not doing everything he wants to do. Because he told me directly. He's like, I want to do this, this, this and this. And I'm like, I'm like, but you're Rick be Richard Linklater, you're like an Oscar like, you know, I mean, boyhood. Seriously, who the hell makes boyhood? Like other than Richard Linklater? Like who's insane? It was insane enough. Yeah, to shoot a movie like boyhood. Like, oh, yeah, we're gonna shoot something. And maybe we'll have something in seven years. Like, that's insanity. But that's right. And but Rick doesn't care about. He's an artist, man. He is one when I met when I met him, and I've spent some time with him. He is a artist, and he doesn't care about markets and this or that he just has the pleasure. He's lucky enough to be able to do what he does, because he keeps his budgets low. And that's why you know, the Coen brothers get to do what they do because they keep the budget low. Woody Allen back, you know, when he was making movies, he kept his budgets low so he could do whatever the hell he wanted to.

Rich Wilkes 59:09
And stars want to work with guys like that. Because they're artists too. And they'll do it for a discount rage. And that's why Wes Anderson gets all of these brilliant people, you know?

Alex Ferrari 59:18
Yeah, PT, PTA, all of them. Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 59:21
So, the long and short is take the pleasures where you can get them. If at any point you get to make a movie, write a screenplay, act in something. That's something that most of the planet doesn't get to do, and most of the planet wants to do. So if you get close, if you get to edit your own movie that you shot on your phone, you are so far ahead of the game.

Alex Ferrari 59:45
It's your absolute you're absolutely right. And I call what we do the beautiful sickness, because it is. It is. It is it is it is the beautiful sickness because once you have it, the sickness you can't get rid of it. Like I can't, I can't. You really can't. It couldn't go dormant for decades. Honestly, I've had people come in, who are doctors and talk to me like, I just retired. Yeah, I really what I really want to do is direct. And it's it's a true sickness that doesn't go away. But it's a beautiful sickness. And I think that's a weird thing about our business, is that this is not I mean, I've talked to so many different people about this. We're the weirdest business on the planet, we're the only business on the planet that could spend $200 million, and literally have a worthless piece of product. Yeah, literally could have, it could literally be in it's happened before, that you've spent $100 million, and it just dies. And it's like, it's worthless, where at least when you spent $200 million in construction, you got to $200 million, you know, building or, you know, cookies, you could buy $200 million with a cookies at least you have some cookies you can sell. There's a product we have we sell air, we sell intangible dreams. It's such a weird business. And that's why it's so intoxicating.

Rich Wilkes 1:01:01
There are two things about it. One, we'd be doing it anyway, whether or not we had success. Whether you got that book published or not, they're sure that you would keep writing it. And to the thing that keeps you going is you're always one thing away from massive success. Oh, always, always. One I weigh up one script one performance and the

Alex Ferrari 1:01:26
One person you meet one person you meet one. Yeah, everything. Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 1:01:30
Yeah. So which makes it beautiful, you know, and especially when somebody like comes out of the blue and writes green to Reno, or somebody gets access at a later age, or somebody makes a transition like Jordan Peele did, from one genre to another, or the way Tom Hanks did. It's, that's what's intoxicating about it and and keeps you going.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:51
But, but the thing is that people listening have to understand is that that is the that's the sickness part of the sickness. That is the sick, that's the sickness part, because it's almost like a gambler. Like the next the next bet is the one that's gonna pop the next bet. And there's how many professional gamblers out there who make a living as gamblers a very small amount, but everybody like but Vegas runs on people who are not professional gamblers.

Rich Wilkes 1:02:18
It's funny because we started with God, we should we fucked up, we've got to temper our dreams and be realistic and we're ending with It's the fucking greatest slaughter you can possibly imagine one step away from working with Scorsese.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:31
But the thing is that the key is that if you bet on black, more likely you're not going to, it's not going to hit. So you have to find your own path that makes you happy. And that's the kitten that and that was the one thing that I kind of finally came to grips with later in life, which is like, I need to find what makes me happy. And it's not, it doesn't have to be working on a Marvel movie. And as I say, in every episode, anytime I bring up Marvel ongo Kevin Fahey, if you're listening, I'll take the meeting. So, but it's not about that anymore. For me. It's more about how am I enjoying what I'm doing? Yeah, am I am I providing value in one way, shape or form to my community in one way, shape, or form? Can I go off and make my own movies that are personal, and I don't give a crap if they make money or not? Because I make them for very little money.

Rich Wilkes 1:03:24
You know, it just made me realize that I've made this adjustment in my own life of trying things where I have no intention of making a penny from it. Yep. And having it be so satisfying. I wanted to be a singer in a punk rock band. So I did that and went on the Warped Tour. I always wanted to try stand up comedy. So right before the pandemic get like, in my 50s I went on stage for the first time at open mics and I've been doing it now for a couple of years. I'm terrible. I get no laughs But I hate it. I'm so nerve racked by doing it, but I'm forcing myself to do it because one day I hope to get comfortable doing it. And then I can at least look back and go Yeah, all right. I did it. I did it until I got comfortable. I'm not that funny, but it was fucking you know, it's a bucket list thing that I don't want to go back when I'm 90 If I make it that far and and and wish that I given it some effort. So it seemed when I went to cooking school because I wanted to do that and I was shitty at that too. But it was personally rewarding. So if you can do that with with music or poetry or like, what's the name? Seth Rogen now is doing pottery. You see him on Twitter doing all of his pottery is vases that he fires.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:44
Oh, and then Jim Carrey with the paintings.

Rich Wilkes 1:04:46
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So yeah, all of that shit is I think there's even more satisfaction when you have no plan on trying to make a living at it.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
You know, and I have to tell you that you're absolutely right. I mean, I look I stopped Did this podcast six and a half years ago? Wow. And I've been doing this for six and a half years, I was in a podcasting when podcasting wasn't the cool thing to be. And now everybody's like, Oh, I got a podcast. So I came in just because I wanted to, I wanted to give back to my community. I wanted to build an online business. I wanted to, to see what I can make a go of this. Sure. There's no way I would have told you, if someone would have told me like, yeah, you're going to be able to make a living doing this, you're going to be able to shut down your post production company, you're going to be able to retire from doing post production. And you're going to do this full time in a few years.

Rich Wilkes 1:05:37
What we're doing now you're making a living at this?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:39
110% This is all I do, this is all I do. This is not my, this is not my side, hustle. This is all I do. This is all I do it but it started as a side hustle. And I started it with an intention to make money with it at some point, but not to this level, I didn't think it was going to get to where it is I didn't think I was going to be talking to people like yourself or other the many guests that I've talked to, I would have never, if you would have told me that I would have had access to the kind of people I talked to, I would have said you're absolutely insane. You're absolutely insane. But

Rich Wilkes 1:06:14
What what you're providing is a resource for all the kids that want to be making films or doing whatever writing television writing books that didn't exist in the 1990s You'd have to buy Linklaters book or see, you know, oh, to a q&a at a film festival to find out what somebody did. And now on a weekly basis, I don't know how often you put these things out,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:42
Two to three times a week.

Rich Wilkes 1:06:45
Wow, that's a lot of talking.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:47
That's all I Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 1:06:49
But like you said that the Chris Moore one that that you just put out is filled with so much useful information from the past to the present. That's just invaluable. And I think you're putting giving everybody such a leg up. And then I'm hoping that it, you know, kicks it that we get some kick ass movies to watch out about, you know, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:13
I've been I've had I've had a few listeners who've been able to go off and make their movies. And they and I've been I've had the pleasure of having the back having them on the show. And they've told me like, if it wasn't for you, it wasn't for the show, I would have wouldn't have done this, this this or this. I had one I had one guy who wrote you like the story. He wrote a million dollar movie. He financed that himself because he's a commercial director, big commercial director in Australia. He's like, I want to go make a movie. He made a movie in Cambodia, about robots who come in and start like, you know, like, like, Soldier robots who come down, they drop them into the jungle as a test and they start killing tourists, American tourists. Alright, great, right. And you think that sounds like a asylum movie that doesn't sound like it's gonna look good at all. He sent me the trailer for it. It looks like a $50 million movie. It looks so good. He's like x outs after reading your your second book. This one about being an entrepreneurial filmmaker. He goes I'm not going to go with the studio's as I got a million dollar offer, but I'm not going to do it. I'm just going to self distribute it as an experiment. And he goes, I'm gonna do it because you because of you. And I talked to him a bunch and I guided him through it. I'm like, Alright, man, this is gonna be a hell of a test to my to my theories. And all he's made, he made his and he made his budget back in three months, three months. And he's gotten called from every studio on the planet, including, including, you know, the mouse and everybody else wanting him to because the quality of what he did was unheard of. And that was something that the show helped nothing his talent but helped him get to where he's at with this situation.

Rich Wilkes 1:08:55
I feel like we've we've taken a turn into the to positive, and I'm more cynical and sarcastic by nature. So I want to I want to get away from from

Alex Ferrari 1:09:06
No, no, it's all to hell. It's all the hell it's all to hell. No, this whole business, you're good. Why even be here? I mean, seriously, why even? Why even start down this path? You're going to fail? No, I'm joking. Look, I know where we're sitting, we are allowed to be cynical because we're both old farts. And that's and that and that's fine, because we've been around the block a couple times. But I hope what this episode has shown people is you know, the truth of what it's like being a creative in the business. And from two different perspectives, my perspective from someone who's really been I've really been looking outside into the party. I've snuck into the party a few times. I've even been invited into the party a few times. But security shortly thereafter, finds me and kicks me out. And that's fine and that and now I get invited to more parties, but it's all fine and dandy. You were in the party and then you had issues inside the party, and you've been able to maintain yourself inside the party. Even though there is a room with a rope, and that's where you really want to get

Rich Wilkes 1:10:06
Yeah, I feel like I'm in the NFL but I'm on the bench on the right you see everything on the team.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:14
You get the rig baby, you get the rig, you get the ring if I want to dress with the big boys. Yeah, you know, but it but it's it's a really facet. I'd like this conversation, I did not plan it to go this direction. So I'm so happy it did because this is this has been one of the more interesting, you know, conversations.

Rich Wilkes 1:10:31
I'm gonna be honest with you. This is the second best of your podcasts that I've listened to the I've only learned this is my second one listening to it. And this is definitely

Alex Ferrari 1:10:40
Your Listen, listen to yourself.

Rich Wilkes 1:10:43
Chris Morris here and then this one is down here. But I'm already getting sick of myself talking. So we better we're

Alex Ferrari 1:10:50
I'm gonna ask you I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all my guests. I think we've already asked the one question What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today? I think that's been the scope. Yeah, I don't even no. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Rich Wilkes 1:11:10
It was thing we talked about, take pleasure in the process. It's the journey not the destination, which is the worst cliche ever. But that is the that's what it is. You're not going to ever get where you want in life. So you better fucking enjoy whatever it is you have for the time you're here with me. You know, my one of my best friends getting a brain tumor and dropping dead in his 40s We're behind two teenage daughters. That teaches you everything you need to know. sad that it takes something like that. But you're like, Okay, that's it. I'm set for the rest of my life. My mental state is this is it. It's gonna it could leave anytime so fucking it.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:51
Absolutely. Tomorrow, like no, it's cliche this Tomorrow is not promised. And it's not guaranteed. But we all think it is. It's such a weird thing that we as humans do, but like oh yeah, I'll be here tomorrow. I'll be here tomorrow.

Rich Wilkes 1:12:03
All right. Well, we're both getting into Tony Robbins territory.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:05
I listen, man. Hey, listen. I'm gonna walk on the coals. I'm gonna walk on the coals. And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Rich Wilkes 1:12:15
Okay, Project bay park to Gallipoli and Caddyshack.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:21
Man, that's a hell of a that's a hell of a hell of a of a screening.

Rich Wilkes 1:12:27
I normally have a top five and Goodfellas is one? Yep. And I forgot what the other one is. But it was great. It's a great movie. Now recommended. In the cliche, it's always, you know, Star Wars and those are great and inspirational. But there's ones that just you know, are part of your life and Caddyshack and Jackie Chan. And these things have just sort of burrowed into my into my head and reflect a lot of it. Mostly, mostly it's it's music that drives me everything that I write or work, I can see how involved with music.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:05
Yeah, I get there's no question. I could see that your filmography. Without question, and well, for me, it's Shawshank Fightclub matrix.

Rich Wilkes 1:13:16
It's not a bad list.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:18
That's it. That's the those are the ones that just and again, of course, Star Wars and of course, you know, Clockwork Orange and shining and all of Kubrick and you know

Rich Wilkes 1:13:28
I wanted to be different though. I remember a Cuckoo's Nest mostly we're like,

Alex Ferrari 1:13:32
ah, can you imagine trying to get that movie made today? Huh? By studio. Good luck, taxi driver get get get Sony to do taxi driver today. Let me see how that works out. My friend. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It has been it's been eye opening to say the least. And I hope it helps some filmmakers and screenwriters out there, man. So thank you, brother.

Rich Wilkes 1:13:55
Yes, I was trying to hold up something that could hike that I could try to get it to pimp and my website. I don't know

Alex Ferrari 1:14:03
We'll put links to the to you in the show notes if you want to reach out man. I appreciate you.

Rich Wilkes 1:14:08
Alright, thanks, man.

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IFH 570: How I Made My Filmmaking Dream Come True with Andy Erwin

Andrew Erwin and his brother Jon are the filmmaking team known by most as the Erwin Brothers. The Birmingham, Alabama born brothers grew up around college football and entertainment. Their father, a local news anchor introduced them to the television industry at a young age. As teenagers they began their career in sports television with ESPN as camera operators.

After several years working in sports they transitioned into directing music videos and documentaries. They won music video of the year three years consecutively at the GMA Dove Awards working with some of the top artist in Christian, Country, and Rock music. They went on to produced the award winning 9/11 documentary The Cross and the Towers (2006).

In 2010 the brothers shifted their focus exclusively to developing feature films. Their first feature narrative, October Baby (2011), was a coming of age drama about a young girl named Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) trying to find her birth mother. After a strong grass roots campaign the micro budget feature debuted theatrically in the top ten eventually landing on the front page of the New York Times.

Andrew and Jon’s sophomore release Moms’ Night Out (2014), starring Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, and Patricia Heaton, was their first venture into comedy. The crowd pleaser had a successful theatrical run with Sony’s TriStar and continues to grow its audience on dvd as a cult classic.

Next Andrew and Jon tackled the epic true sports story Woodlawn (2015), starring Jon Voight, Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, and newcomer Caleb Castille. It was a deeply personal story for the Erwins. One of the characters in the Alabama story is their father, played in the movie by Astin. The duo continue to live in the Southeast as they write and develop stories of redemption and hope with a strong emphasis on their faith roots.

The inspirational true story of Kurt Warner, who overcomes years of challenges and setbacks to become a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. Just when his dreams seem all but out of reach, it’s only with the support of his wife, Brenda, and the encouragement of his family, coaches and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome the show. Andy Erwin, how you doing, Andy?

Andy Erwin 0:16
Great man! It's good to be with you. And good good to talk movies.

Alex Ferrari 0:19
Yeah, man. Absolutely, brother. So, man you've had, you've had a very interesting career, to say the least. But how did you get started in this insanity that we call the film industry?

Andy Erwin 0:30
I mean, I think anybody that gets involved, either they pay a lot for film school, or they run away injured during the circus, and we were kind of more of the circus kind of performer route. And so, um, you know, my brother and I, we were kind of studio rats, my dad was in news. Growing up, he was the news encouraging 11 in Dallas, and the CBS affiliate there. And so we always grew up around kind of the industry. And, you know, when we kind of became teenagers, they let us use the equipment from midnight to 4am if we worked off the books for $10 a day, and, and so it wasn't at the CBS affiliate, I won't name no one can say brookwater Child child labor laws. But we did that when I was 15, my brother's 12. And we just kind of fell in love with telling stories. And so I went off to college in New York, and and John was in high school, and I just heard what he was doing back home, I was like, that's way cooler what I'm doing. So I dropped out of school. And we started working on the weekends for sports networks, like ESPN as cameramen. And that paid the bills for us to the other five days of the week, to to be able to have this hobby grown out of control. So at that point, we live in Birmingham, Alabama, started a little production company ended up working into documentaries and music videos, with this idea of one day doing features but it took about 15 years till we got to our first one. And it was a it was a it was a crazy journey to get there.

Alex Ferrari 2:04
Very cool, man. And so you were you were you were hustling as a camera guy trying to get his trying to get their movies made. And you got your first micro budget film made, which was October Baby if I'm not mistaken, right?

Andy Erwin 2:19
Yeah, it was a small, it was a small budget film. We did it for about $750,000. 19 days shoot. There at that point, we were doing a lot of music videos. And so doing a lot of rock videos, we were kind of good at blowing things up. And so, you know, if we couldn't figure out how to interview video, we just blow something up. And in fact, the last treatment we did for a band called skillet, it's Dan comes out, things blow up, it starts to rain, more things blow up, it stops raining, everything blows up. And that was the whole treatment. And, and that video kind of blew me blew up. And so you know, and so we, we ended up directing more and more second unit kind of things. And getting on film sets, doing stunt sequences was kind of our thing. And then, you know, we just said it's now or never we need to take the opportunity to try to do you know, see what we could do on our own. And so we said, rather than lean into all of our tricks or anything flashy, listens to a small little character drama. And there was a friend of ours named Gianna Jessen that was had an incredible story about her life story that we heard and we just said, what if we fictionalized that, and kind of put it in the context of this kind of kind of romantic kind of coming of age story. And do that little $750,000 micro budget should have never worked? Did it? Like, if we had known what we know now, I mean, that like we would have told ourselves never to go for it. But we raised the money to both put it out in theaters and do it ourselves. And it made enough money to give us a chance to do more. So it was that was our that was our journey.

Alex Ferrari 4:04
Now that ignorance is bliss, isn't it? When you're young?

Andy Erwin 4:08
Yeah. Yeah, it is. It is. I mean, you because, you know, they say whatever, doesn't kill you makes you stronger. But there's certain things in this industry that actually kill you. And so, you know, I think if you knew all that going in, like we would never, I mean, I talk to my kids all the time. I'm just like, I look at like just the recklessness of a 13 year old and I'm like, Man, if I had known now when I was a dad, there was no way I would have done some stuff as a kid. Cuz he just like that could actually kill you. But you know, when you're young, when you're young and ignorant of those things, you just say hey, why not do it like this? And I think as a filmmaker, you know, it's better to try that stuff out early. And, and not to get a little bit more reckless and sometimes it works and sometimes you die.

Alex Ferrari 4:55
Exactly. Hopefully figuratively, not literally In our business now, but with October Baby, you actually took it out on your own and you actually did your own kind of the job do your own, like, for walling it off of it and getting it on the world. And how did you actually get it? Because it was a fairly big, big hit for such a small budget.

Andy Erwin 5:15
Yeah, I mean, for such a small budget, we felt like we really needed to be disciplined to do something that was just about kind of character relationships. And we've done this tiny little pilot for a small TV network that didn't make it. And we did a little, little pilot with this small cast that we that we fell in love with. And, in fact, one of the cast members that we discovered was James Austin Johnson, who is now the new Biden and Trump on Saturday live. He, he was in Nashville, and he sits broken out this year. But he was as funny little kid, there's 19 years old, you're in Nashville. And, and so we took that cost, and the pilot didn't get picked up. But we're like, we love this cast, let's insert them into this story that we're writing. And so we wrote it around that task. And when we get done with it, it wasn't meant to be a kind of a controversial film at all, it was really just based on my my friend Gianna story. But it hits some kind of, you know, raw nerves with different people and, and there's a lot of distributors that were nervous to kind of take it out. And we just had that we had that independent film spirit, they were just like, Well, why not take it out on earth again. So

Alex Ferrari 6:34
Again, the ignorance the ignorance is helpful

Andy Erwin 6:36
It's the ignorance. And then and then we went, we went and raised the money to put it in theaters and hired, you know, Samuel Goldwyn, to put it out. And it really should have been a train wreck, and it worked. And, and, you know, I think the goal with any independent filmmaker, especially early on, is for your product to do well enough to find an audience. You know, that's, that at least validates enough to allow other people to take a risk on you to let you do another one. And, you know, so we weren't aiming for a homerun, we were really aiming to, let's get on base. And let's do a story that we believe in. It's a story that we're proud of. But, you know, but it's not, it's going to shatter records. And let's get on base show that we can do this. Have one under our belt, and let's keep going forward. And that was what October Baby was for us.

Alex Ferrari 7:25
Now, with your music video background, what did you bring from your music video background into the into your narrative feature film? Because I mean, I've directed music videos a ton, and there's a lot of you get a lot of hours on set, which I think helps a lot. And you know, with, well, you deal with craziness that you would never deal with on a feature film.

Andy Erwin 7:45
Yeah, I mean, oh, my gosh. That that, I mean, I think there's a lot of things. I think, first of all, it's kind of like, you know, short films with a lot more volume to it, because you're working on somebody else's budget, you know, you're not having to go out and raise, you know, $20,000 a pop to do short films, you're, somebody's paying you to do it. And, you know, and back then there was actually budget for music videos, that's kind of, you know, going to where, you know, you can't do it unless, you know, you're a college kids, but back then they accept budgets. And I think I think several things, it allowed us to kind of get just time in the saddle, and to try different things. And I think just like any other art form, you know, for a long time, up front, you make your way imitating other people he's trying stuff on, until finally, there comes that moment where you find your voice, and you're like, Oh, this is the kind of stories I tell, this is my style. For a long time, up front, you're just trying different things on like, what it goes like this, it's like that, and doing music videos allowed us to kind of try a lot of hats on. And so we started out in more than a Christian contemporary world, and, you know, had a lot of fun there. But, um, but then, you know, moved into country song, and then we ended up doing a lot of stuff in the rock world. And that was where we just got to experiment. And the second thing was, is allowed us to learn how to deal with big personalities. And I think there's, you know, I think every actor wants to sing, and every singer wants to act. So there's, they're, you know, intrinsically kind of the same species. And, and I think he just learned to deal with, you know, fragile egos deal with people that need to feel safe. Know, artists, whether it's a music artist, or an actor wants to look stupid, and I think typically, a lot of the neurotic behavior that is exhibited is just from people being afraid of looking stupid. And so it is the loudest to learn how to navigate a lot of that stuff. So it knocks some years off of those headaches of learning how to speak that language. So that when we stepped onto a film set, it's just like, oh, okay, this personalities familiar, at least and, and then and then my brother, my brother in law Particularly the media is more visual. And he brought a lot of that visual style into how we shoot.

Alex Ferrari 10:06
Yeah, I mean, I think as directors, we, the thing I've talked to actors all the time is they just want to feel safe. And if you can make them feel safe, they'll give you the best, they'll give you the best they can. But if they don't feel safe, that's when the problems occur.

Andy Erwin 10:21
And I've worked, I've worked with a lot of actors that, you know, there's certain actors I've worked with that have a reputation for sideways sideways energy. And but, you know, I just, you know, a lot of them are like, no, they're sweethearts, as long as they feel safe, that sideways energy means he had a toxic film set, or a weak film director or somebody that didn't really know what they wanted. And they felt like they had to, it's the same thing that happens with kids, when like, you know, my kids at home, if there's not like some boundaries and stuff, and they feel like they're in charge, you know, they don't feel safe, then that's where you get all the sideways energy, but they really know where they fit in the family. And you're giving them really good boundaries, and giving them enough leash to be their own people, and not trying to control them, but you're trying to direct them. And it's imperfect science, but it's really about that safety. And that's what creates that with actors. And I think we started learning that with a lot of the crazy neurosis that happens on music videos.

Alex Ferrari 11:20
Oh, music videos. They are they are wonderful, aren't they? But if there was a podcast, we could just tell stories of what happened on set that we can legally say publicly.

Andy Erwin 11:32
Yeah! I would have to change all the names. There was one, there was one music video I did, where, where there's two artists that I won't name sure that that might have booked the men but um, but the the the label paired this, this group together, and they're a duo, they're famous duo. But they didn't get along. And so because they didn't really they weren't, like best buds, the way they appeared on the screen. They were like, two different artists that were sort of artists they paired together. And so, you know, they had their own tour bus each had their own tour bus. And it was a hot summer day, and we're doing this music video. And I would go into one's tour bus and say, so until, you know, we're ready to get on set. It's like, well, what so and so my partner, is he ready to go? Now is that why am I going out until he does, like, I'll be right back. And I go into their tour bus. And I'd be like, Hey, man, and I just went back and forth for like 30 minutes until I taught one of them into coming out first. And so it was constant.

Alex Ferrari 12:35
And I'm sure that's probably one of the most tame stories you have.

Andy Erwin 12:40
That's the one that I legally, I'm not afraid of getting sued for that one. So

Alex Ferrari 12:45
Now that you know, as directors, man, there's always that one day on set, that the whole world's coming crashing down around you. camera's not working you losing your life, the actor will come out of the trailer, all this kind of stuff. How what was that? What was that worst day for you? Which there's an argument of me that every day has one of those, but what what was the one that sticks out in your mind? And how did you get over it? How did you get through that process that day?

Andy Erwin 13:10
I think you know, I think as a director, you know, you always, I mean, the first two or three days of filming any film, the first few days of principal photography, you're questioning all your life choices, and you're like, it's all burning down. This is why I get exposed. This is where they find out that I don't know what I'm doing. You know, and it just and you develop kind of a little bit of that marathoners pace, and you get into a rhythm. And I think the biggest thing you have to learn as a film director is that you got to let certain fires burn, you know that, you know, you're not going to be able to put out every fire every day, you just got to get you got to you got to keep one from consuming the entire set. And so there's little fires, they're always burning got to get used to. There's any point in the day, there's at least five people that are going to be tested you. And I think as you have more time in the saddle, you get a little bit more calluses where you're like you're not, you don't lack empathy, you're not immune to the fact that it's hard. But you just have to be okay that people aren't okay with you sometimes. And but for me, the biggest catastrophe that ended up I think actually making a better film was on the movie Woodlawn, you know, and so Woodlawn was another independent film that we had done. So it was one that was the most personal to us. It was it was a story that my dad used to tell us as a bedtime story growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was the one that we wanted to make. And it's a true story about the last part of integration in Birmingham, Alabama in the 70s. And this one little football team that was the last integrate. And the first black superstar that came out of that system is Captain Kidd, Tony Nathan. And so we raised the money to do it. It was the most money we had raised at that point was about 13 million. And we went out to start, you know, it was a week last week of pre production. And I cast the kid out of out of London to play the role of Tony. I don't know what it is about British actors, but they make a big play the best people from the South. Just look at anybody on TV right now that's got a southern accent. I guarantee you, they're from England. But but sort of, so I cast this kid, really good actor that's going on to do some good things. And the week before we started filming, for whatever reason, that would not an explanation. The Embassy in pulled his visa, they wouldn't let him they wouldn't let him travel. And we're like, you know, we didn't have the budget to push. So, you know, instantly. I was like panic, I just said, and our casting director starts, you know, just throwing out all sorts of names of people that were good actors, but I'm like, what, are they athletic? Do they play football? You know, because it was so important that this actor be able to do a lot of in camera stuff. And, and so we were panic, there was this one kid named Caleb Castiel. That was the stunt double for Tony. And Caleb had auditioned for Tony. I hadn't seen this audition was a particularly good. But he just had this charisma that wouldn't quit and said, Well, if I don't get Tony, I'm going to do the stunt double. So he shows up the stunt double. And this kid played for Nick, Nick Saban University, Alabama. And he runs like a gazelle man, he just is pretty to watch. And I was just, you know, I'm kind of a person of prayer. And I was just like, man, what do I do? And I just Caleb's name popped in my head. And I was like, surely that him he's been in one TV commercial.

Alex Ferrari 17:05
Surely not. Talking to the voice in your head, surely not him.

Andy Erwin 17:13
Just it felt right. And he just had this, this, this spirit that wouldn't quit. So I called them up. And I just said, Caleb, I need you to get over to the studio. I'm going to give you every opportunity to win this role today. And he said, I've been waiting on the call, I signed my died today auditioned with the date and said, This is the day I got the role. He said, I just knew it was mine. And I was like, holy cow. So I threw him in a room with Jon Voight, who's playing there, Brian. And Caleb just in good acting is about how you respond. It's about being in the moment being present. And it's not about acting, it's about reacting. And Taylor just reacted incredible being in the room with an Oscar winner. And he had the skill. And the whole movie, we call this the whole team together said, you know, this movie is about rallying around this kid Tony. And the team rallying around him, we're gonna rally around Caleb, He's our guy. And so he became the star, he became number one on the call sheet that day. And it made the movie. And since then Caleb's broken out, he's on one of the leads on NCIS, Los Angeles now and is doing incredible for himself. But that was the day he went from being a stunt guy to being number one on the call sheet. And I think a lot of times on a film set, the worst moment where you feel like it's all going down. It doesn't always work out. But a lot of times there's a doorway there to make something better.

Alex Ferrari 18:38
You always plan you always may have a plan, but it generally rarely ever goes according to plan. And it generally, generally, I'm gonna say nine out of 10 times it's a better than what you expected.

Andy Erwin 18:51
It usually does. I mean, and I think that's the hardest thing for young filmmakers. I think it was a big lesson for me there. But for young filmmakers, and that was my third feature at that point. But for young filmmakers, there's this fear of if I let go of control, that that people are gonna see that I really, that I'm a fraud. And I think any artist feels that. And I think as a result, we hold it tighter to the best be like I don't want you to judge me. Don't Don't judge my ugly baby. And, and I think what I've learned is, when I do that, when I have done that, the best I can hope that for that movie, good turnout is the one that I have in my head. There's no room for discovery. But when you kind of loosen your grip and you trust the close group of collaborators to speak into that process and have this policy of best idea wins. Then there's this element of discovery where it doesn't matter where that idea comes from. If it's a great idea, let's use it. And it just it when you realize that you have control because you're in the chair. You are the director there A lot of power that goes with that, that allows you to look at other people's ideas. So you discover things that you wouldn't have other other ways. So it makes a better movie.

Alex Ferrari 20:08
You know, I always find it fascinating. I've had I've had, I've been blessed by speaking to so many amazing, high high and performing people in this business, Oscar winners, Emmy winners and so on. And it'll never ceases to amaze me. The whole concept of imposter syndrome is something that is so prevalent in I mean, I'm like, I talk to somebody, I'm like, you want an Oscars like, Yeah, but I get I get sick when I go on set for the first day. I'm like, Yeah, wow. And it's so I always like, I always like to let independent filmmakers know it's okay. Even even the top of the top legends have issues with imposter syndrome. It's not something that's just you. Everyone's got it.

Andy Erwin 20:50
Well, I remember hearing Joe Wright talk about the first day Yeah, on on set with Gary Oldman on darkest hour, and he's like, I thought my job was supposed to be just making the environment around Gary, right. So that he can, you know, do its thing and it gets in the first day. And Gary leans over is like, you know, what do you think? Was it too far? He said, Joe realize that that moment, he said, really great directors want to be directed away from really great actors want to be directed. And, you know, that idea that any you know, anybody always has that feeling of I don't really know if I'm doing it right. And so after directing point in Woodlawn, I love I love the minute, but he called me he called me late one night. And John was like, Andy, it's, it's it's boy. Am I any good in this picture? I'm like, you're great. He's like, if I'm no good, just kept me out. Just cut the character completely. As a job, go ask your Oscar, bro. You know,

Alex Ferrari 21:52
You're okay!

Andy Erwin 21:54
Or, you know, or, you know, I directed Cloris Leachman and she had Oscar and and this latest one Anna Paquin. She's the youngest Oscar winner. It's just it never goes away. It just all of us feel like how do we stumble into this job? You know, and there's, there's a fraction of a percent of people that are just so qualified, they can do whatever they want. And there's an arrogance that goes with that. But I think even in that case, even in that case, there's I think it's motivated by insecurity. You know, I had a great interaction with Denzel Washington when we were I was mixing underdog and we're on the we're on the sound stages at Sony. And he was mixing letters to Jordan next door. I had underdog Michael Mann was was mixing his TV series he's doing right now across the hallway. And then Jason Reitman was test screening. Ghostbusters on the fourth stage. So we're all on stage six. And I texted somebody, and I said, Oh, my gosh, how did I get on this stage? She's the imposter here. And my filmmaker friend Rob backs and all four of you.

Alex Ferrari 23:05
I'm sure I'm sure Denzel at one point or another said that the same thing about like you because he just like everyone starts somewhere, man. No one just comes out an Oscar winner. No one just comes out knowing everything. You got to go through the process. You got to get the bumps I always call you gotta get the shrapnel. And that shrapnel is what makes you man. But yeah, you're absolutely you're absolutely right. Now, man, I got to touch on I can only imagine man, I recently after I watch American bug, which we're going to talk about in a second. I went I went back I was gonna meet let me go. Let me go watch that, because I'd seen the trailers and never seen it. Man, that movie was was impactful. Man, it was such a powerfully emotional film. And it's just, it's such an oddity, because it's like, hey, let's make a movie about how a song was written. Now, it was one of the biggest songs of all time, but it's like, you know, to hear that, like, let's go see how my heart will goes on was written. Like, it's nothing. So how do you make that though? That would be an interesting, I've seen the making of that movie. Yeah. How did you? How did you get that? How did you get involved with that? How did you want to tell that story?

Andy Erwin 24:13
Yeah, yeah, you know, it was, it was funny because, you know, we do pedal into stories, and we do very much gravitate towards stories of faith. I think that's become much more mainstream experience over the past 10 years than maybe when we first started. It was much more a tiny little niche kind of early on but now it's kind of found its footing where you know, the same way that other niche genres like you know, superhero movies or horror films have found their footing in something that's more mainstream you know, but but but when we started we were trying to find that hopefully we've been part of that solution you know, as well as others like divan Franklin, but with with I can only imagine, you know, we were not smart enough to really go out and find great stories. They just typically land in our lap. And I was screening we did a comedy, I do not recommend directing a comedy. It is very tough. We did a small comedy. Our second film was a small comedy for Sony called mom's out. And, and it was definitely, you know, took years off my life but but in the middle of that I was tasked screening a comedy up here in Nashville. And, and I just was cold calling a lot of people in in the community that might be interested in watching it. And so I reached out to Bart Miller from the band Mercy Me who wrote the song I can only imagine. I wrote, I wrote him on Facebook, and I just said, Hey, we don't know each other. But we run in the same circles. I'm test screening my film tonight. We'd love for you to see it. You want to come see it? He said, wrote back right away. So I just moved here from Texas. Yeah, I would love to see it. And at the end of the film, he really enjoyed it. And he said, Can we talk? And he said, There's a movie studio that's been developing my life story, the story myself and past five years. I would love you guys to take a look at it. And I said, Well, it's kind of serendipitous. They sent us the script this morning. Oh, and it just was kind of one of those things. And then I was like, What are you doing tonight? And he's like, Well, what are you doing? I was like, I was gonna go watch Captain America at midnight. He's like, I was gonna do the same thing. I was like, did we just become best friends. But the whole stepbrothers thing, but I I read this, we read a little bit of script, and the script just didn't jive with me, because it was just that it was about somebody's life experience. And it ended on a downer note, and they said, you know, one day, Mark wrote a great song. And it was like, we're like, we're like, this isn't a movie. It has to be something universally relatable. And it has to be something that's beyond just the song. And we sat down with Bart, one day, and my brother asked them Bart, if I were to say, Can I hold a gun to your head and say, Is there a god? What would you say? And he said, Absolutely. Because the change I saw my father, he went from being the most abusive men are know, to be my best friend. And if something can change his life, they can change anybody. Really. That's interesting. And then I was doing an interview, about a year later, when we're promoting Woodlawn. And the host asked me off the air. He's like, what story are you working at? Looking at that next? And I said, Well, off the record, we're looking at the story of I can only imagine. He said, Oh, my gosh, he said, I was at the Ryman that night when Amy Grant pulled him up on stage and gave him a song back. That's the most magic thing I've ever seen in music. I don't know about this. So I call it Martin. I'm like this happened. He's like, Oh, yeah, man. That was the big magic night in my life. I forgot to tell you guys that. I'm like, you idiot.

Alex Ferrari 27:47
Help me help you!

Andy Erwin 27:53
Like, that's a movie. And I'm like, is your triumph. And so we engineered that whole film. From the standpoint of what would it be, I think there's something universally relatable about the kind of the Father wound that a lot of guys have, in particular people in particular guys, and that desire of every man because that fraud, imposter syndrome, wanting to have their father stand and applaud them. So we're like, what if we engineered the moment at the end, that is an empty room, and he sees his father, and the whole movie builds to that moment. And you know, and then, you know, this abusive father that eventually stands in approval. And for men in particular, when they watch the film, it catches them way off guard and brings really big emotion. Because of that, and it's beyond something of faith. I mean, faith is definitely a huge part of the story, but it's really about that universal desire of redemption between a father and son. And I think Dennis Quaid killed it. I think it's one of his best performances as the Father, and I'm really, really proud. I'm really proud of how the film turned out. And that was really the launching point. We had a disagreement with the studio on how to make it. They said there was only 17000 people on the planet that would watch it. Because it was just

Alex Ferrari 29:16
To be fair, to be fair on paper not a good sign.

Andy Erwin 29:19
No, not at all. Not at all. It's a song about a Christian AI. It's a movie by Christian song like they're really, in fact, the day that we started making it there was a big deadline article that said the music biopic is dead. And that was the same year that that stars born and Bohemian Rhapsody, and a bunch of others came out. So you know, guess the article was wrong, but But you know, I think we had a big disagreement and so we went out and again raised the money to both make and release it. We did a blended find a book PNA and the production budget, which was the production budget was about 7 million on it. And, and then we bought it out from under the studio and made it independently And then right before, right when we started shopping it, roadside attractions came along and said we know how to put this out because we specialize in kind of wards films that are niche. And they had just done Manchester by sea. And that was their big, you know, hit. And we're like, Okay, we'll trust you with it. If we can do this deal with your sister company Lionsgate too. And so Lionsgate stepped aboard, we did a deal with them and rented the system and put it out. And then little $7 million film did 86 million, it was so good breakout month,

Alex Ferrari 30:32
Not a bad so that so that turned out of what started at a studio studio didn't believe in it. The way you guys believed in it, you took it back from the studio, put your own money, your own money in and release it yourself. And then of course got all the money out of it.

Andy Erwin 30:48
But our investors didn't really invest. And we didn't do too bad either. I mean, my kids are going to college, but it definitely was life changing for us as well. But yeah, we did, we did get a page one rewrite, you know, our version of the story. And that's when the studio who had worked five years on it and couldn't crack the story. Didn't like that. And we decided, hey, we're gonna stick with our vision. And we made, you know, you don't always want to go all in, in the moment. But there's certain hands where you're like, This is my island moment. And so we pushed out all the chips in the middle of the table. And it was either going to be a success or a disaster. And we just happen to land on the front side of that.

Alex Ferrari 31:32
Yeah, it landed landed on black for you. And yeah, there's no question. But look, there are those moments in life where you're given a choice you like, are you? Are you in? Or are you out. And unfortunately, so many filmmakers make that, that they do that all in at the very beginning of their career. And they like mortgaged their house, and they want to tell the story, and it doesn't work out well for them. So your story is definitely an anomaly. But then for everyone listening, well, they did it. I'm like, Yeah, they did it. But look at the story they had, they had a song that millions upon 10s of millions of people around the world knew you had, you had an audience, that's what the studio didn't understand. They didn't understand that, that there was so much love for that sort. But then again, it wasn't just about the song, it's really about a son and a father.

Andy Erwin 32:19
It's about the ingredients, like, you know, that's why you can't go all in on every hand, you know, the ego and the ego, artists in each person that says, Oh, this is going to be, you know, that's only one component that the bit the bigger things are branded IP is king, you know, having something that has a following. Then secondly, so that has the story ingredients, you know, for us, we very much look at kind of how, what, you know what Jordan Peele did with Get out. I mean, he had a great horror movie, and appeal to his core fans. But he had this rare universal overlay to it that appealed beyond just, you know, slasher movies that had a social justice appeal that had a hitch Hitchcock feel, it was something very something for everyone or, you know, or movie like quiet place that did that same thing. It was about that universal idea of father tried to make his family safe. The father mother tried to fight for their family that was beyond a horror movie. And so those ingredients are rare. But we have the ingredients, you have the branded IP. And then the third thing is tank. It's all about timing. Like, I can only imagine could have happened 10 Other ways that 10 other times and I'd say no, no, there's times it fails. Right? It just the the timing was just right. And all this stuff lined up. And and we just happen to fall into that. And so

Alex Ferrari 33:49
So now your new film, American underdog, which, by the way, I absolutely love my wife and I we got the screener sent to us man with my wife and I my wife's like my wife doesn't know but football much, but I'm like, Look, it's a good movie. Look. It's got this guy in it. It's got Anna Paquin. She's like, Oh, Sookie, I'm like, yes. Okay, from true love. So she's like, alright, I'll watch it. And we're there on like, a Saturday afternoon. Oh, we just start watching it and we're just like, son of a bitch. This thing's grabbing. Holy shit. That's like it's grabbing, pulling me in like what the hell like I knew who Kurt Warner was. I didn't know the extent of his story. I knew he was an underdog but I didn't know the details. But but it's but the key was watching my wife watch it, who knew nothing. And she was like, getting involved in the emotion and the characters in the story. But football was just an aftermath. Like, that's just that doesn't even matter to her. It was all about the characters. And again, we were saying IP, I mean, you've got Kurt Warner, who's a very famous football player, and then you throw the word underdog and then you throw the word American underdog. Might as well just put up Stallone and rocky up there at the same time. Like, you were hitting up, but you are hitting a bunch of good. So when I saw it come through my, my view, first time the trailer, I was like, Oh, this is gonna do well this will be this. This is gonna do just fine. How did you guys get involved in this story, man?

Andy Erwin 35:14
Well, it didn't hurt that the Rams won the Super Bowl and gave us the home video but um, yeah, you know, it's again one of those things that fell to us. And I'm really grateful for it. But 20 years ago when I was a sports care, man, the only Superbowl ever worked was in 2001 Super Bowl in New Orleans. And it was Kurt Warner and his second Super Bowl against Tom Brady and his first and and you know that the story we tell in a movie had happened the year prior. And I just remember watching Kurt and being like, just intrigued by the guy. There's something very rocky ask. I mean, I think the films that influenced this one the most were rocky, Cinderella, man and warrior where there was really a lot of fighter stories about kind of one man against the world and fighting for something that the stakes that drove what what happened in the, in the arena. You know, there's something very rocky asked about Kurt, and but I just remember watching him go over the stands, interact with this spiky haired, beautiful lady. And that was his wife, Brenda, and I always said, I would love to know the story behind that I never knew that I was going to be 20 years later that my brother and I would be the one to direct the film. So when it came back around, I can only imagine him we then another movie after that. And then as we were finishing, you know, the touches on the script for the story we're gonna make, somebody said you ought to talk to Warner's, again, it's a film that stuck in development. At another studio, we specialize at that. And they said, but if the option is up and in, you might want to look at it. So we went to their house in Phoenix and said, you know, we're not here to pitch you what your story is, what do you think your story is? And Kurt said, it's about the things off the field that drove what happened on it. Everybody knows to football, but I want to, I want them to know what I saw in my, my wife, Brenda, and my son, Zach, who's disabled, and blind. And we're like, well, we can do that story. We know how to do that story. So when we stepped into it, and then the pandemic kit, and through all of our plans in the air, and then we finally, as we were writing the script, zactly vies a longtime friend from Shazam. And you know, and Chuck and all that. And DAX and I were talking on FaceTime one day, and we had the same agent, and he said, What's this Kurt Warner movie, I keep hearing my name thrown around. And I said, was that the book for the next three years? I wasn't going to pitch you. And he said, No, let me read the script. And I sent him the script. And he texted back at midnight that night, so let's make a football movie. And then I called, I called up the producer team. And I said, why this land? Exactly. I didn't mean to. But he said, and they're like, great. And so then it kept pushing because COVID And finally, we just like, if we push one more time, we lose that because he's going to do Shazam, too. And so we just call them and said, Hey, guys, what you screw it number that we have to hit. And they gave us the number we had to hit to make the movie. And we said, Okay, we've got to chop this schedule from 45 days down to 30. To make it and so it was the most stressful thing I've ever done in my life. But we kind of all that turmoil we focused it on. Like, this is the story we're telling, this guy had the deck stacked against him. And we're all going to live her own story together in the middle of trying to film in a pandemic, you know, and that once he was on board, he rallied around that and then Dennis Quaid, he looks so much like Romeo quaintness equate, I'll let you play anybody you want. But I think it's special when an icon plays an icon and I had been a highlight reel addict for meal. And I said to him, he's like, I'm you for me. I want to do it. And then you know, and then all these great character actors came on board like Bruce McGill, and you know, Adam Baldwin, and chance Kelly and all these guys. And then the really what's in it over the top was, we're like, it has to be about it's a co starring thing. It's not It's Brenda is very much the equal lead of the store. She's the underdog on the other side of the coin. And when Anna Paquin read the script, she fell in love with her. And she called me and she said, You know, I've never done anything interactive with really anything inspirational. I don't know anything about sports. I don't really know anything about faith. She's like, is that a problem for me playing the wife of a prominent sports star that's a Christian? And I said, Absolutely not. And as long as you can really try to fight to understand the person you're playing, and make it make what is important to her important to you. It's like That's exactly how I work. Like, well, who wouldn't want to work with an Oscar winner? And once she signed on it for me medically took off. And she had Zach paired so well together because Zach typically does the action comedy thing. And he doesn't well better than anybody. But Anna really grounded him really well with her drama and and typically goes for the hard, gritty characters. And the Chuan glass can artists kind of things. But Zack really kind of pulled her lifted her out and showed this lovable side that people haven't seen her before. And so it made an incredible, and just we just like, this is our moment, we have to do it. Now. If we don't do it now, it's never gonna happen. We just rallied around that. And again, it could have been a failure, but it just worked. So

Alex Ferrari 40:41
And both of them played parts that they generally don't play. I mean, you don't? Exactly Yes, Zack. No, I've never seen Zach in a dramatic way he they both killed it. They both I think did. He was Kurt. I mean, there's just no no question about it. And then when you see it that obviously when you see the the images of Kurt in the in the credits and stuff like that, which is just like, fine, man. It's just, it just hit it that I wasn't I wasn't prepared for it. Let's just put it that way. I think it catches, it catches you off guard. You know, I'm a pretty look, man. I've been a filmmaker for 30 years, it's hard to catch me. It's hard to catch me. So it's when a movie does get me like, Oh, son of I didn't see that comment. Generally could see things coming. I didn't see that come. And so you have and I and it happened with me. And I can only I can only imagine because I didn't I didn't see it coming. So the way you guys are approaching stories is it has a very unique perspective. And yeah, you're coming through faith, and that angle of it. But it's hits you at an emotional level that generally you don't expect as a film as an audience member, because so much of the stuff that we consume today. So McDonald's, fast food kind of entertainment, and then when a home cooked meal shows up, you're not ready for it.

Andy Erwin 42:05
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, if you're used to McDonald's, when, when there's, you know, broccoli on your plate, you kind of roll your eyes at first, even though that's really what your body needs. And so it's like, how do we dress that up in a way that makes it non threatening, but then allows still allow something of substance? And I think that, and I love hearing you say that? Because I think the audience that I value the most out of any audience. I mean, absolutely, we serve a Christian audience that loves stories of faith. And I don't, I don't, I don't, I don't apologize for that. But the audience that I valued their opinion the most, is the audience that we call the benevolent skeptic. The Benevolent skeptic doesn't have anything against faith, there's nothing that they feel negative towards it, but it's also not something they naturally consume. And when you can kind of catch them off guard, and earn the right to be heard, and leave them with something to chew on, and the things that they didn't expect. You know, it leaves them with something that maybe not a part of their natural daily diet. And I think it's really cool. When somebody from that audience, you know, we did another we did a, we did another film last year at the same time, which I don't know why we did that we're just a glutton for punishment. Well, we did a, we did a documentary called The Jesus music, which is about the history of Christian music. And it was one that was just a passion project. There's a love letter to a lot of our friends. And there was a there was a critic that I've since become really good friends with on through Instagram, but I didn't know him at this point. But he wrote he his critique of the film, and he said, he said, I'm a self professed, you know, you know, agnostic, borderline atheist. And he said, This is not my normal thing, but I expected one thing and I came in realize, you know, I feel like somehow the ER was tricked me and changed some of the neural pathways to my brain. And he said, I'm kind of pissed about it. And, and, no, it's like, it's like that dog on it. You let me in. And I think that that sacred ground because I'm not there to try to de force mean anything to anybody. I'm not there to try to create controversy. I'm just there to plant a seed of hope. I think people desperately crave right now,

Alex Ferrari 44:21
Right in America, dog American underdog is not is not preachy at all? No, it is so subtle. It is such a subtle message. But the message in there that rings the most to me is the story of the underdog, which everyone can, everyone can feel the story of hope, the story of love the story of a family. Those are the things that that ring the most out of that movie to me, and everyone can really connect with that. And then of course, you throw in American football, then you're ready to rock and roll.

Andy Erwin 44:54
Right! It was it was really cool because in that universal overlay, I think good filmmaker, influences The most in our career that we kind of aspire to is Frank Capra, Frank Capra. Frank that just that old school, you know, Sicilian optimistic immigrant kind of perspective in that world war two generation that blatantly peddled hope. And people a lot of times didn't know how to take it at first, you know, it's a wonderful I couldn't find its audience until years after the release. But he was just so good at it. And that's something I think in cinema we've lost that. For whatever reason, the backlash, backlash that we don't have the antihero, there's nothing wrong. The antihero, you know, I love the Godfather is one of my top 10 films I love. But there's become so much of that it's become so saturated in this fatalistic kind of perspective, that I think as a, as a industry, we've forgotten how to hope. Yeah. And so for us, I think the thing that we peddle without apologizing is a rush of hope. And it's a feeling that people don't know that they need, but then when they experience it, they walk away, they're like, I can't help but smile, and believe in something better. And, you know, for me, a lot of that hope comes from stories of faith, but there's something universally related to believing, you know, on top of that, that I think, is something for everyone, regardless of where they come from. That's what we want.

Alex Ferrari 46:23
Now, I'm gonna ask a couple questions asked by guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Andy Erwin 46:28
You know, I think your individuality your uniqueness is your brand. You know, I think a lot of times people come in, and I want to be like, you know, one size fits all to this. And I just want to be vanilla and kind of find I'll do anything. But I think it's your uniqueness that will make you stick out, I think that uniqueness will also present the biggest obstacles up front, because people want will want to put you in a box and say, Well, you need to fit over here, you just fit over there. Like I'm neither and and continue to lean into your uniqueness and find stories that display that at full volume, that allow there to be time for other people of like minded taste, to kind of center around your brand. And that will be you know, where you find your breakout. Like for years, David Russell struggled with finding out like, what's my brand, and he would have all that frustration, until he really leaned into the idea of my brand is a dysfunctional family. That's what I know. And so then he does stories like the fighter and Silver Linings Playbook enjoy. And those are all about dysfunctional families and their dish charming sense of the word. And that's where his brand really popped out. So I just think for me, my brand was about hope and about faith. And and that's what we leaned into and didn't refuse to be categorized in one side or the other. And, and then eventually the brand comes out of that. So that's what I would say. My biggest advice is embrace your individuality.

Alex Ferrari 47:57
And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Andy Erwin 48:00
Oh, man, that's, that's that's a tough one. I love en. Casa Blanca is probably my number one. I think particularly because they hadn't written into the movie when they started filming it. And it just discovered it along the way. It's perfect. It's so perfect. I would say that you know, it's wonderful. Life is number two. I love Frank Capra. And, and then I would say I love a movie that really caught me off guard when I watched it was Ron Howard Cinderella Man, I absolutely adored that movie. That was so good. For you, it'd be number number four and then number six through 10 would be Spielberg films.

Alex Ferrari 48:43
It just all just just let's just list them off. And where can people and where can people see American underdog?

Andy Erwin 48:51
Yeah, it's out everywhere now digitally on Blu ray everywhere, wherever things are sold. And it's it's doing really well and iTunes is number three on iTunes right now. So check it out.

Alex Ferrari 49:02
Brother Andy, I appreciate you coming on the show man. Congrats on all your success and continued success to you my friend.

Andy Erwin 49:08
Thoroughly enjoyed the interview my friend!

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IFH 569: How to Build a Career as a Screenwriter with J.Mills Goodloe

Today on the show we have director and screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe.

J. Mills Goodloe grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He began his career at Warner Brothers working for director Richard Donner. Goodloe worked from 1992 to 1995 as Donner’s assistant on Lethal Weapon 3 and Maverick, both starring Mel Gibson, then segued into producing where he developed and produced Assassins starring Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore.

In 1996, Goodloe produced Conspiracy Theory, once again starring Mel Gibson, along with Julia Roberts, and Lethal Weapon 4, the fourth installment of the billion dollar grossing Lethal Weapon series.

In 2001, Goodloe wrote and directed A Gentleman’s Game starring Gary Sinise, Dylan Baker and Philip Baker Hall. In 2005, Goodloe wrote the adaptation for the John Grisham novel Bleachers for Revolution Studios. Goodloe also co-wrote the screenplay for the inspirational sports film Pride, released theatrically by Lionsgate and starring Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac.

In 2014, Goodloe’s adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel Best of Mewent into production, starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden and directed by Michael Hoffman.

Based on the bestselling novel by acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson and Amanda, two former high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart, when they return to their small town for the funeral of a beloved friend. Their bittersweet reunion reignites the love they’ve never forgotten, but soon they discover the forces that drove them apart twenty years ago live on, posing even more serious threats today. Spanning decades, this epic love story captures the enduring power of our first true love, and the wrenching choices we face when confronted with elusive second chances.

In 2013, Academy Award nominated director Hany Abu-Assad was hired to direct Goodloe’s screenplay Mountain Between Us, a Twentieth Century Fox project based upon the novel by Charles Martin.

In the Spring of 2014, Goodloe’s original screenplay Age of Adaline began principal photography, starring Harrison Ford, Blake Lively and directed by Lee Toland Krieger. The film will be released by Lionsgate in the Spring of 2015.

After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever.

In 2014, Sony Studios hired Goodloe to write the screenplay Christian the Lion with Neil Moritz’ Original Film producing. His other projects include a scripted drama for Bravo Television called All the Pretty Faces which he and Jennifer Garner are producing.

Enjoy my conversation with J. Mills Goodloe.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome the show Mills Goodloe how you doing Mills?

J. Mills Goodloe 0:14
Very well, thank you.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
Thanks so much for being on the show my friend. I appreciate you coming on before I just want to even get started and how did you how did you get into this insane, insane business?

J. Mills Goodloe 0:26
It was a total fluke. And it had nothing to do with any pre determined strategy whatsoever. I was in college on this thing called Semester at Sea. And I ended up getting kicked off of it for many reasons, but I don't want to get into here. Yugoslavia. Now now Serbia and I had was with some girl that I was dating and she lived in went to USC. And I had I decided maybe I should go to California and what I do in California, I guess they could get involved in the film business. Because people do there and I had one friend of mine who I was went to Berkeley, his name is Chris Silberman. And he's now the chairman of ICM. Oh, nice. And he was a Cal Berkeley guy and his dad was a publicist and his dad got me my first job. And I had no idea about movie business. I'd never read a script. I didn't major in film studies. I didn't braider in English. Very not well. versed. I wish I could tell the story that I saw Star Wars when I was six years old and came out of the theater with my life. It's different and but it's completely fluke. And happenstance had no rhyme or reason whatsoever.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
So I like that story more because I've heard the Star Wars Story 1000 times, I'm part of that generation as well. So this whole like I just fell into it is probably infuriating to some people listen,

J. Mills Goodloe 1:57
Well, If I be like I would have fallen for some girl that was living in Seattle. In the 90s. I don't know maybe I would have gone to Seattle and whatever they do in Seattle,but it was like

Alex Ferrari 2:07
Coffee. You would have been in coffee. You would have been in coffee or Microsoft.

J. Mills Goodloe 2:10
Yeah, exactly. I could have been on the ground floor of Starbucks. But it was it just happened to be the one guy that I knew that could get me a job was in the film business.

Alex Ferrari 2:19
That's amazing. Now, doing a little bit of research on you. One of your first jobs was working with the late great, Richard Donner.

J. Mills Goodloe 2:29
How, how did you get in that was the gentleman was Chris Silverman who said he's, you know the name Chris or No,

Alex Ferrari 2:36
I know the name but I don't Yeah,

J. Mills Goodloe 2:38
He's the he's, I see all he runs all ICM and he was a film student that came out of college and his dad was a publicist. And they were doing this film called Radio Flyer. I remember Radio Flyer, yes. Directing that, and he was already shoot, he had just had finished it actually. And they were gonna do some pickups on it. And I somehow found out that he needed an assistant, a driver. And through a through luck and circumstances I ended up getting an interview with with Dick donner. And he, I did something really crazy in the interview, and I got the job basically being a gopher. Third.

Alex Ferrari 3:21
But what did you do? What did you do? But you have to what did you do? What was that crazy thing

J. Mills Goodloe 3:26
During the course of the my interview with him. And like I said, I'm just out of college. I never been on film set before. I'd never read a screenplay before. I didn't know anything about anything. But in the course of the interview, Dick had mentioned part of the job as being very, almost like an investigative reporter. It was all personal stuff. For him. It wasn't short films. And one of the things he said was, you know, like, this morning, I was talking to someone in my office about, I read somewhere, this is pre internet, by the way that you can, there's these devices which detect lightning. And he said, you know, like, I would just say, he's using this an example of the job. So I'd say to someone that's, you know, I'll say someone on my staff, you know, see if you can find out about that we can use it for shooting, let me just use as an example. And I had this epiphany that night. And the next morning, I woke up really early, and I called some people I know on the East Coast, and then I wrote my obligatory thank you letter for the interview. Once again, pre email, I wrote the obligatory thank you for it's a great opportunity, I'd love to be blah, blah, blah, all the same normals. And at the end is, by the way, if you're still looking for those devices that detect lightning, there are three companies that make them and I listed the three companies and the price and their address done. And later he said, while the guys they interviewed are the only one that actually paid attention and wanted to follow up with some throwaway comment I made in the meeting. So because he had brought up lightning detectors, I had had the foresight to be pre emptive to preemptively kind of go out there and give them an answer on a job that didn't have. And I did that. And that later kind of turned into something that I did when I was trying to get writing jobs, rather than doing your normal pitching, I'd go and write the first 20 pages and send it to a producer before I get hired, really. So that was another thing we did 18 pages.

Alex Ferrari 5:23
And that were obviously that worked out okay, for you.

J. Mills Goodloe 5:26
Well, it's, you know, if you're trying to hire someone to write a script for you, and you meet with six people, and it's a pitch situation, and all of them, they're kind of having the same things. And you can, you can make yourself a little bit different by like, Hey, you don't have to hire me. But look, I just wrote the first 12 pages, I wrote the first three scenes. If you like them, then clearly, you know, I've got a grasp of material.

Alex Ferrari 5:48
That that is absolutely the most ingenious approach. I mean, I've done this for a long time. I've never heard that approach. I have, I've never heard that it's so simple.

J. Mills Goodloe 5:59
Well, you also have to preemptively tell them, if you don't hire me, once again, I'm married to a lawyer, you have to say preemptively, if you don't hire me, that's fine. I'll send a I'll sign a release, you can throw them away. But hey, this is you know, I'll write the first three, four scenes for you and you. And you, if you like them, I'm listed, they hate them. They're not gonna hire you. And I'm glad they didn't hire you in the first place. Because they don't like your writing. But if you I mean, you've read you, you and I've read 1000s of scripts. Sure. If you, if you're a producer, and you read the first 10 pages, and you're like, yeah, that's kind of what we're looking for. You get the job. If you read 10 pages, then you're like, No, he's the wrong guy. And it takes me, let's say, it takes you a week to write those 10 pages. You know, otherwise, you're going to spend, you know, two months trying to get a job.

Alex Ferrari 6:50
Right. And it's the equivalent of like, I'll just shoot the first five minutes of the movie that, um, it's a lot cheaper, though.

J. Mills Goodloe 6:57
Yeah. Or if you're, you know, if you're an independent film director, right? Well, I mean, it's, it's a lot cheaper. Also, if you're going to try to direct a film, it is nice to see I'll shoot the five minutes, but then you're relying on actors.

Alex Ferrari 7:07
Oh, no, no, it's much more complicated.

J. Mills Goodloe 7:09
Yeah. Cinematography, no, you have to but with writing, it's just you. And these are the 10 pages, you know, and it's only up to you, it's only how you're taking the material

Alex Ferrari 7:21
And costing your time. And it's just costing you time. And it's just costing you a ton of time,

J. Mills Goodloe 7:25
But you know, what you spend. So I mean, you waste so much time in this business anyways, trying to get jobs, right, and spend weeks and weeks meeting the people and trying to get through the three levels to get to the guy that actually can say yes to hiring you. It's always labor intensive. So I'd rather labor intensive work to like write 10 pages. And you also find that if you write those 10 pages, they're not going to come back and say, Yeah, we kind of like you. But hey, can you write you know, the last 10 pages? Come back and say that? They're like, Yeah, but what do you think about the second act? Or the third act was like, no, they either get it or they don't get it? Right. So it's pretty great. Hey, you're going off the wrong track? You're not fine.

Alex Ferrari 8:09
Fair enough. So when you're working with Dick, I mean, I mean, Nick is such a legendary director, what was like the biggest lesson you pulled from working with him? Because I mean, you started off as a driver, but you eventually ended up producing and running and running Donner productions.

J. Mills Goodloe 8:22
Yeah. He said, if you if you produce my, if you can produce my personal life, you can produce my movies. That's great. And his personal life was much more competent in personal life, meaning that he had, he had three houses, and he had all of this stuff that he's always tinkering. And he's got cars, he's got houses, there's always things that he was about his personal life, and he had dogs, and you'd always kind of run his personal life. So the biggest the biggest thing, by far I learned for him is anticipating what's gonna happen around the corner, and you can also never tell him? No, he could never say to him, like, I don't know. Like, I'll give you an example. This is just multiple, I can give you so many examples of stuff that you do. But one of the things let's say is he's he would come on and say, I have an idea that, you know, my pool hat goes from three feet to seven feet. But you know, I don't ever use the deep end. This is how his mind works. So I get the pool. So it'd be three feet, three feet in the middle of the five feet. So I can have two, two, a shallow into the pool, and you're like, okay, and then I go out and I talk to people and meet with people, they come back and I give them a presentation about these are three companies that do it. This is the price this is how long it takes. And you'd kind of apply that to making films or you kind of have a task to get something done. And you can ever go back and say, I don't know how to do it. I mean, I used to jokes like I would go back to and say hey, the solution for something you want for your house in the Hollywood Hills is we got to tear down your entire house. It's gonna cost you $7 million to do it. But at least you had a solution. It's something, it's something you cannot go back and say you can't do something years to process information and find solutions to problems. And that helped with producing because when you show up on a film set at six o'clock in the morning, and you lose your location, right, you have to be rational and go to the director and say, Okay, we lost our location. I've thought about it I've anticipated there might be a problem. These are the three different solutions for us, ABC. And he taught me to think like that. And he taught me not to freak out not to panic. And in that situation, if you get to the film set, you need to have producers that that aren't saying, Oh my God, you're not gonna believe the worst thing to happen. We showed up this morning, and the building caught on fire and we have nowhere to shoot. I don't know what to do. Who are we going to call?

Alex Ferrari 10:51
Yeah, you can't do that.

J. Mills Goodloe 10:54
So he that's he really ingrain that in through his own. And, you know, through his the way that his mind works for the three through all the different things that he would do as we tried to train me to think that way. And he trained me to just be rational to always be looking ahead always anticipate contingencies. And basically, you know, just always have a cool level hadn't I had none of those skill sets when I started working for him.

Alex Ferrari 11:17
Now, I do have to ask because I'm such a fan of a lethal weapon, man. What was it like working on on those? You worked on the last one? For sure. Right?

J. Mills Goodloe 11:25
I did the last one. And the very first job I the film first films that I had with lethal weapon three, and I never been on a film set before. Okay, literally, I've never been to California before. I never been I was driving him to the set and the Suburban. And I'd be like, Oh my god, this is a film set. Like this is what people do for a living. And it was very intoxicating. And we made two of those films. And the first one I didn't I mean, I didn't know what a gaffer was, I didn't know what I completely over my head and like, but my job was just basically to get him to the set, and like go take his dog to the veterinarian. But by the end on the fourth one, which is the last movie I did with him, you know, but that was a different, you know, I was at the end those films were made at the end of an era. And that was in the late 90s, Terry Semel, Bob Daley studio films, and they kind of let him do make those films and there was no script. You get pages, you know, three days before you're shooting, and it was very, very a different system than it is right now of making films. Very old boys big office, Donner had an office on the Warner Brothers lot that used to be Frank Sinatra's bungalow. And, you know, you had one, Terry Semel and Bob Daley, if they just said, Hey, we're gonna make the movie, they make the movie, there's no meeting with marketing executives, there's no international people. There's no accountants involved. He just kind of did it. And they've trusted the people. And they made the film. And, you know, there's, I could write an entire book about the stories that I learned during the 90s, making five big studio films for Warner Brothers during those times and how they came together and how they were shot and how they were made, which will never exist in our business again.

Alex Ferrari 13:13
And is that just because they because basically, the studios have been bought out by all the big conglomerates now. They're just giant monster marketing machines, essentially.

J. Mills Goodloe 13:22
Yeah. And there's not less gut. There's less guys that just say, Hey, that's a good script. It's a gut to do it. I think there's so many other decision makers involved in it, as well as analytics. It's kind of like sports, you know, football, it's turned into analytics, and it's taken some of the fun out of it. But I assure you when they made those films, there were no analytics involved. There were no Donner never saw budgets, there was we never really no, there was no signing off in the budget. He but he was a very responsible guy. He was always he never went over budget or over schedule, but there was no tightening the screws on a budget, there was no CGI. And, like, very we didn't, we didn't have to like send, we can rewrite. See, we have writers rewrite scenes and never even send them to the studio to get approved. It sounds about the dailies.

Alex Ferrari 14:15
It sounds it sounds like this is like a magical alternative universe.

J. Mills Goodloe 14:21
It probably happened from the 60s until probably what do you think? 2000 2005? And then it all changed?

Alex Ferrari 14:29
Yeah. And then yeah, yeah. And I mean, I guess it's a movie like conspiracy theory. You know, there's no way a studio would make that today. I mean, just just

J. Mills Goodloe 14:38
THe didn't have an accident Julia Roberts in that and you know, Joel solver would pull stuff and put these movies together and how would they ever got made as but no one ever they've kind of left them alone. I think people haven't been in the studio world and that as a producer 20 years but they really left him alone and didn't give him a hard time about anything. And I'll tell you One quick story about making the movie assassins which was Yeah, easy. That was a which hausky brothers script.

Alex Ferrari 15:05
Yeah, the wachowski. Yeah.

J. Mills Goodloe 15:07
Well, now wachowski

Alex Ferrari 15:09
Siblings

J. Mills Goodloe 15:10
Okay. Yeah, siblings. But at that time there with these two guys. And I had this office at Warner Brothers and these two guys would walk behind my office every morning. They're trying to make matrix. Yeah, yeah, yeah, remember it? There. bookbags like walk back and there. This is before the first major came out. And they had this script called assassins. And Joel Silver for all of his foibles and all the things that are probably wrong with him. He's really great at busting down doors. So we have a script and this is this is will never happen again also. So he has a script on his own. And he goes to Sylvester Stallone, he says, look at slide. They're going to pay you $7 million dollars to do this. Here's a script. Donna's gonna direct it and the studio wants to make this film with you. And sly would read the script he says, Okay, great. Now the studio not read the script. And Donna did not read the script. Smart now, but he doesn't know that that day. He just knows that the IRS here they want so he told him the Warner's wants to Bob and Terry want to make it Donner's gonna do it and pay this amount of money. No one is that then he goes to donner. He says Guess what? He wants to do the film with you and Warner Brothers gonna pay you $5 million to direct a movie. But it's all ready to go. It's just read the script like it's ready to go. Then decrees like Oh, Sly wants to do it. Okay. And scripts pretty good. And and these guys are really hot because they did this movie bound and they're gonna matrix and Alright, maybe I'll do it. Then he goes to Bob antarious has got great news, guys. I got donner. I got sly. All you gotta do is paying him Place. Place. Pay sly seven. Pay donner, five. Here's the script. Let's go make the movie. So basically, he had a producer that completely packaged and put together movie and negotiated their deals without the other two parties knowing about it.

Alex Ferrari 17:11
That's brilliant. And that's also something that just doesn't happen to

J. Mills Goodloe 17:14
No. Now everyone know everything. Yeah. Anything and everyone's confirming like, like funds and never called dick to see if you actually read the script.

Alex Ferrari 17:24
But it was also Joel saying it. So there was there was a level of

J. Mills Goodloe 17:27
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Dick wants to make this with you. Sly wants to read the script. Oh, Jake wants to make it. Okay. Shall I want to make it with him? Okay, that's good.

Alex Ferrari 17:33
All right. And it's Joel Silver, saying it you know, at, you know, arguably

J. Mills Goodloe 17:36
He's kind of got away with it. And by the time he said, The greenlit and worked for it, because no one knew what the other hand was doing. It was a shell game, and they make the movie and then it's only at that time, it was only two guys that could say, Alright, here it looks like the movie. Let's make the movie. And that was it. And then once you've just convinced two guys to make the movie. You could I guess maybe it's a little bit like Netflix right now where there's a lot more autonomy but and the last thing I'll tell you, which is really crazy about those days is I'll tell you who's in the office. So I was in the office and I was donner. I got bumped up to kind of be an executive with him. And I hired a guy this kid from Michigan State named Jeff John's okay to be my assistant. Now Jeff, John, do you know who he is? I don't ended up running DC films. He was the head of the head Content Officer for DC films from Warner so all of the Batman's and everything that all that stuff now. He's the main DC guy now, across the way in Laurens office, Dick and Lauren, obviously we're married. There's a little guy in the front desk, named Kevin fight.

Alex Ferrari 18:39
I thought this was Kevin was

J. Mills Goodloe 18:42
On a desk that was about half the size of mine in my office right now. And he didn't have his own office and he was Lauren, second assistant. Lauren's first assistant was Scott Stuber.

Alex Ferrari 18:53
And that name sounds familiar.

J. Mills Goodloe 18:55
Scott's do around runs all of Netflix. Oh, there you go. That's why Cooper is he was head of use of his credit budget universal and now Netflix. He's, he has a green light. He's been there for maybe eight or nine years to greenlight, everything like that. So between Stuber Geoff Johns, and Kevin fygi, I was by far the most underachieving of that group. That's a that's a heck of a roll like and I was at the time I literally would be like, like Kevin fygi and I would go take their cars to this carwash on Lankershim on bank, and he would take Donner suburban and he would take Lauren's BMW, the seven series old school BMW, and we'd go twice a week like and sit and watch car get made but like the carwash that was like and detailed and detailed, of course, detailed once a month we had so that was our that was how we started out

Alex Ferrari 19:48
You mean the one that you mean not the that the old school carwash, right by Warner's? Yeah, that's yes. It's exactly where I lived. I lived down the street from Kevin

J. Mills Goodloe 19:58
Murphy go take turns. We take their cars to get washed. And that was like part of our mornings.

Alex Ferrari 20:03
That's amazing. That's amazing story now Alright, so

J. Mills Goodloe 20:06
It was a fun anyways, it was a fun era. It was the last gasp of a dying system. Yeah, a system that unfortunately died. But it was it was a really a fun fun time. And then it all went to shit. And Donna was off the lot goes off the lot. You can't pull that stuff anymore. And it kind of about all screwed up after that.

Alex Ferrari 20:27
Yeah, I mean, all we keep doing is remaking stuff. It's so hard to find original IP now. Because it's just so much money and so much. It's corporate. Everything's corporate like, yeah. And the funny thing is that everything that remaking is because of a system that allowed that kind of creativity to flourish. So like the 80s and the 90s. There was like, you know, can you imagine a lethal weapon today? No way. There's just no way a lethal weapon or conspiracy theories or assassins or any of those kinds of great Donner flicks in this inside of the studio system.

J. Mills Goodloe 20:59
Well, if you said the Goonies you know, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 21:01
Can you imagine the Goonies at a studio?

J. Mills Goodloe 21:04
I mean, that's, you know, when they're, when they're remaking Planes, Trains and Automobiles, that's when I started to really lose my mind, but they can't make I mean, you can't remake who they are. Kevin Hart, and

Alex Ferrari 21:15
Oh, no what with planes trains. Yeah, yeah, I know. He, there's certain because now they're starting to run out of stuff. Like, he can't just, I mean, there's only so many movies that were made in the 80s

J. Mills Goodloe 21:26
Make it another time. I heard that I heard though, that I've always remembered I'm sure you've heard it as well. Miss Stevens. smote Soderbergh said something really smart. And he said, rather than making successful films, they should go back and remake really great ideas that turn films that weren't turned out very well. So movies that you're like that was a really brilliant idea. And in the movie, either to the casting or whatever, it didn't really work but like go and mine the really great stories as opposed to only mine them bait made based upon box office.

Alex Ferrari 22:05
Oh, yeah. Like if you go back to point break when they remade Point Break, I thought that was just an atrocity. And, and the thing is, is like you can't read you can't that that that lightning in a bottle was then it was Bigelow is Swayze it was Reeves. It was that moment in time. You can't bring that into this world, but you could bring something that didn't maybe pop properly in that era. And then because no one will have any emotional attachment to those right.

J. Mills Goodloe 22:32
There was a great idea. Right? I have this I read this week. They're remaking Roadhouse.

Alex Ferrari 22:38
Yeah, I just read that to what Jake Gyllenhaal like

J. Mills Goodloe 22:40
Roadhouse was a great idea.

Alex Ferrari 22:43
It's Patrick Swayze. It's silly to me.

J. Mills Goodloe 22:46
That brilliant about the idea of Roadhouse.

Alex Ferrari 22:49
No, it's a bouncer in

J. Mills Goodloe 22:51
Harley Davidson. the Marlboro Man. Absolutely should make me

Alex Ferrari 22:53
Oh, God. Yes, yes, yes. Oh, God, that would be amazing. But yeah, you look at something like Roadhouse. And you're just like, well, it's to bouncer. And there's like, it's not a really great idea. But also at the time it came out because I was working at the video store at the time in high school, and I came out so I'm very familiar with. I love that movie. It was that moment in time that that thing that that that was Patrick, it was that moment, it was, you can't bring that out, like you can make something else that's kind of something like it. But it's not that you can't read it, you can't.

J. Mills Goodloe 23:26
Because the only this dalje would be is for people of our generation, right? That film and they're not going to be predisposed not to like it. They're No, no one's ever going to come out. So that point break was so much better the original wonder that rode out, I never Alger for people who have have an affinity for the original film, who are not going to like to remake and anyone that's younger than that. Doesn't care will have no idea what the film is. I think the scary thing is a few years ago, I was a writer, one of two writers on mountain between us. And I was talking to I've got two young children, but I had babysitter's who were 18. And I was telling them at 19 years old, and our I was telling them about Kate Winslet being in the film, and then not seeing Titanic. And you realize, wait a second, they're they're born in, you know? 2000 right at 91 was Titanic 9797. So like, you think that our references are very iconic references because you're like, oh, yeah, it's the girl that was in Titanic. But if you're born after that movie came out, you're not going back to rewatch Titanic. Because your upbringing has been social media, YouTube videos, tic TOCs and so forth. So you're not going back like you know, I'm gonna think about Netflix. I'm going to go back and start looking at really popular films the 90s so they had no idea about Titanic.

Alex Ferrari 24:55
Oh, my daughter's my daughter's were, you know, like nine They, they just saw Titanic. And it's probably because you asked you Oh, I know. I know because my one of my daughters is obsessed with Titanic. And the the actual event, not the movie, and I showed it to them and, and they're like, Oh, I've seen Jack before. And now they don't know it's Leonardo DiCaprio. It's Jack. So anytime a trailer pops up like oh, it's Jack, you know? And then oh, that's Oh, that's, uh oh, that's rose. Like they don't they don't see them as they just see them as those. But it was only because of us poking them to go into those like, Hey, you got to watch Star Wars. Or hey, you got to watch this movie or that movie.

J. Mills Goodloe 25:36
Star Wars now because there's they can go and you can get them caught up on Oh, offers that you know, but you look at Roadhouse. 17 year old 20 something year old kid right now he's going to see Roadhouse, they're gonna say I have no idea what Roadhouse is, I've never seen the film. And then the people that they actually are attending for that film detract, which is people like you and I won't we're not gonna like it.

Alex Ferrari 26:01
I mean, the only reason I would even remotely even considered it's because I'm a huge fan of Jake Gyllenhaal. And I'd be curious out of almost a morbid curiosity to see what he does with it. Because he's such a fantastic actor. Yes, but it's not I'm I'm not going because of Roadhouse. I'm going because Joel Hall Yeah, exactly. And it's just a warrior to

J. Mills Goodloe 26:18
Make it you know, if PT Anderson makes the move,

Alex Ferrari 26:21
Well then I'm gonna I'm gonna

J. Mills Goodloe 26:23
I want to get a normal off the off the conveyor belt director. Three, you know, can you do like 21 Jump Street, right?

Alex Ferrari 26:31
Oh, yeah. What you completely turn it on its head. And, and that's a completely reinvention of, you know,

J. Mills Goodloe 26:38
I don't like this thing be reading. I don't want break was not a reinvention of it?

Alex Ferrari 26:43
No, not so much. Not so much. Now, going back a little bit. So you you obviously got you start as a producer, how did you jump from producer to writer and writer, you know, what

J. Mills Goodloe 26:53
I wanted to always direct because of donner. And I realized that it's really hard to be a director without learning how to write. So I did it to be to direct films. And I directed a film that was not terribly successful financially, but it kind of forced me to be a writer. Then I wrote a second script to direct my second film. And that was basically kind of a lot of Magnolia is kind of a film called August and everything after, but I was only writing to direct films. And then that film, the second one didn't get made, even though I got really close with Michelle Pfeiffer and Annette Bening and crazy stories about that one, and then basically, I ran out of money. So you had to start writing, start to realize, if I want to be an independent director, I got to make some money. So I better start writing for other people. That was the only it was only it was kind of a backwards way of doing it. It wasn't it was I'll try to make my own films. I had an agent at Uta, because they really liked the script that I wanted to direct. And then I spent a year and a half trying to make that movie, and I couldn't make it. And then I said, I'm literally broke. I need to make an income. Maybe if someone would be stupid enough to hire me to write something and pay me to write a script, maybe I can get money that way.

Alex Ferrari 28:15
I love your perspective on everything because it's just such a, I mean, universally, I've talked to 1000s and 1000s of screenwriters and filmmakers over my career. And it's always the struggle in this thing. And I've got the watch Star Wars and you know, it's you know, it's James Cameron and it's Spielberg and, and all of this stuff and you're just like, I ran out of money, man. And I just,

J. Mills Goodloe 28:38
I just because I liked a girl.

Alex Ferrari 28:41
I mean, I got into the business because this you know, the girl I liked was in it and I you know, it's so refreshing to hear your your take on it. And I love like, how did you start writing? I needed money, man. I mean, I ran I ran out of money. I was like, Well, someone hopefully hire me.

J. Mills Goodloe 28:55
So broke. I found someone. I found this the one who and through some I found someone give me $10,000 Right, right. Karen bio pic. Okay, sure. And that was like, awesome. I got $10,000 My rent was 1400 a month. I was single. Where we

Alex Ferrari 29:15
Where were you living? In LA? Where were you living in LA?

J. Mills Goodloe 29:20
I was living in the flats of Beverly Hills. Oh, wow. I live in a studio apartment and $10,000 Allow me to live for three months.

Alex Ferrari 29:28
There you go. Yeah.

J. Mills Goodloe 29:30
And I was I was one of those guys. I went from producing really $120 million movies at Warner Brothers with donner. Who by the way in the nine years I was with him. We flew commercial twice. Twice. So I probably spent well over two or 300 times at Warner Brothers jet golf G fives all over the world. She's as he would do junkets in Europe. We take the Warner jet from Burbank to JFK spend the night the four C's the next morning take the Concorde to Paris where they the private jet go to all different our tours all around their life for nine years with him because I was always with him and that was those days vexes. I went from that to, I can't be here later, really hating the month of February, because there's only 28 days in February, which means I had to pay my rent faster earlier than I normally am used to. And I love those 31 days because it squeezed me another two days, two or three days to try to come up with my 14 bucks in rent.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
That's brilliant. Alright, so Alright, so you wonder the amazing story. So you're one of the films you did the gentleman's game, which you wrote, which you wrote and directed. You know, you've been obviously you've been watching dick, do his thing, you know, and he's a master at what he did. On your set. When you are directing What was the worst day you had, and how did you overcome it? Because we all have that day dread?

J. Mills Goodloe 30:57
That's an interesting question. My worst day that I had to set is when my cinematographer went rogue on me. Oh, that he stopped listening to me that he was going to set up stuff and shots on his own. And he was a very well known that had this. This is his this cinematographer named Conrad Hall.

Alex Ferrari 31:18
Oh, yeah. Conrad. Yeah. He's kind of famous in cinematography.

J. Mills Goodloe 31:22
Or his father Yeah. His father was famous. This is the son. Yeah. So his father was a DP on, you know, American Beauty and 1000s of other things. That was I but I realized, I learned so many things. Because when Donner would walk on a film set, people knew his reputation. And no one would ever Can you swear on this thing. So you can if you want to throw a couple articles in there, and no one mess with him on the film set, he carried a certain weight to him that he demanded respect. As a young first time filmmaker. I we've never been around a situation where you have to go to your crew, and have them believe in what you're doing. Because I never saw that. Right? For donner. In, you know, the 90s. He had been directing films since 1976. With the Omen, he had a direct salt and pepper with Sammy Davis and Peter Lawford. He had been directing the original with Steve McQueen, the rise of Superman. Yeah, yeah. So when he walked on the film sets, I never understood that you have to earn that level that people listen to you. And that was something I wish that I would have known. I thought that by virtue of my title that I would be in control of the set. And then people would listen to me. And also, I didn't know exactly, you have the answers to everything. So I was a little bit and I was very inexperienced as my first film. But that was an eye opener for me that you have to go on to the film set and really have the crew know, and feel that you know what the hell you're doing.

Alex Ferrari 32:56
And they will in a season crew will smell it out in the first five Melis fine pre production. Oh, God, you walk on that set, and you just go, Oh, this guy or this gal is way over your head, and then they'll tear and if you got a DP, who's somewhat seasoned, yeah, they'll take

J. Mills Goodloe 33:13
His mark. Yeah, he's trying to undercut me. And they really they smelled it, and it was a fight. And I knew, but you don't get that you're young. Now. I understand that now. Like, now I get how that works. But you know, I didn't, I wasn't aware at the time that if you lose the not the respect isn't the right word.

Alex Ferrari 33:32
But you lose the group. If you lose it. It's mutiny. It's mutiny.

J. Mills Goodloe 33:35
I'm gonna go the extra job the extra mile for this guy because I really see what his vision is. I was reading interview with PT Anderson yesterday. And I'm sure that you know, when that guy goes on the set because of who he is, and his resume, no one's gonna question him, whatever he says is golden. And he's the tour of that film set. If you don't have that reputation, and you're a first time director, they're going to be kind of crossed arms. You're going to get a paycheck, but they're really not going to bend over backwards.

Alex Ferrari 34:02
Yeah, his experience on Hard Eight versus his experience on his latest movie, slightly different pizza. Licorice pizza. Fantastic title. Yeah, it's a little bit different because he got railroaded on Hardey.

J. Mills Goodloe 34:15
But that's because it was a terrible experience on that

Alex Ferrari 34:17
terrible experience on harday and, and that was the producers. He hated the studio. He hated everything. Yeah. And he's like, I'll never do it again. And then that's when he got Boogie Nights. He finally they he said, I'll only do it, but you gotta leave me alone. And that's the first time he got a little bit of freedom. Just a bit. Yeah. Now, you also adapted a film for a book by Nicholas Sparks. How do you approach adaptation because you've done it a couple times? A few times.

J. Mills Goodloe 34:46
Fortunately, with with Nicholas Sparks on that particular film, it was very easy because he had made so many films during that time and he was really amenable to having you change things. was not. And I'd done a couple things. Also with John Grisham, both those guys were really good at understanding it's a different medium, and that they are going to be very loose with their material. So the first thing right off the bat would I had a source material that no one was holding as scripture in terms of what you could do with and there was also a certain I hate to use this word, but there's a certain formula, and how those films were made. And the producer that I worked with, right, had made two other films with him. So you kind of go in there went into a machinery that, you know, kind of what it is, and, you know, that film, you know, it was they were making a lot of those films those days as Michelle Moynihan, you know, it did, okay. There's some things I would have done better, but it was a it was an interesting experience.

Alex Ferrari 35:55
So but when you actually like the actual technical process of adaptation, do you like take the book and outline everything? Do you take what you like out of it,

J. Mills Goodloe 36:03
They go through the book a few times, and I get the idea of what it is, and I just start, I just kind of look at it as a, you know, this is the characters these the story, I'll just kind of know what the story is, I know the characters, okay, that that B, C, D, that doesn't work, this works out, it just kind of structurally kind of putting it all together. And that was more important on mountain between us because mountain between us as a better probably a better example, for an adaptation because that originally was a 400 and some odd page Christian fiction book. And that was going there and saying, okay, know what the story, you know, here's the story. But there's, you know, how much stuff got thrown out of that adaptation? It's like, it's really mainly a job of figuring out like, how much do I need to get rid of how much things can I condense? And how can I kind of streamline the narrative and come up with a narrative, but I look at it as just kind of like a little thing that I can refer to, as you're going through the script, to, you know, but unfortunately, this is the biggest problem that you have is you wish that in source material can take more dialogue? And you don't really can't really, you really notice how much dialogue in in in source material and novels do you have to is different. There's just something about it different than film dialogue than prose dialogue. I don't know what it is. But I think everything everything was an adaptation. There's so much of the prose in prose dialogue that I wished it'd be make my life a lot easier if I could just go in there.

Alex Ferrari 37:46
And just copy copy and paste.

J. Mills Goodloe 37:49
Yeah, I feel like it's much more difficult than that. So it's always a nice thing to have. I think both of them are both originals. And I think the misconception I'm sure your audience knows it's wrong is that they think that, you know, or strictly to the public, the general public, they think your adaptation is just when a cliff notes version of the book is take it's different. It's shrinking it down. It's a whole different animal. But they're, everything's hard.

Alex Ferrari 38:18
No, no, I mean, I'm in the middle of adapting one of my books, and I've lived the story. And it's just like, it works as a biography, or an autobiography, but it does not work. In film like this. This is gonna be a horrible movie, if I make it exactly the way I read. So I have to like,

J. Mills Goodloe 38:34
Just pick you pick the things. You think that right man, that's cinematic, I don't need that. I don't need that.

Alex Ferrari 38:39
We need all that away. Yeah, we got to change this character on we got to combine a few of these characters, we got to throw a better argue out of your own autobiography. I'm not I'm trying not to. I'm trying not to

J. Mills Goodloe 38:50
Have any emotional distance from that.

Alex Ferrari 38:52
I don't. That's the problem. I'm looking for a screenwriter, if you're available, we can talk. And no, it's honestly, with the producers I'm working with. I'm like, I just don't want to do it. I'd rather get somebody else to do it. And I'll be standing behind them. And I'll talk to them and I'll help them but I need someone with a fresh eye. It's so hard. It's so so hard.

J. Mills Goodloe 39:10
You got to be pretty Mercy, mercyless. And I think that you know, I've I said I was fortunate with those situations that the authors of the source material were really, really cool. Although I did do something that I made it a huge mistake on everything, everything. And I think I wrote one of the better scripts I've ever written in my career on that and the film does not reflect a lot of the things that I really liked in there. And the big mistake that I made in that film was I went to off of what the source material was I started making some decisions and some choices and they broke it into I broke off a little bit. I got a bit too loose with it. And the producers in the studio got me because the book was number one New York Times bestseller. They reminded me you can alienate too many people, you got to go back to source material. So I learned also that you can be too. You can also be too loose with it. Right? They got to lose to that one. And it's a weird thing when you're writing and I don't know if any people that if you agree with this or other people to do it is sometimes you're getting paid. And they're cutting you a check to do an adaptation, you feel like you need to do a lot more work, because to justify your paycheck?

Alex Ferrari 40:29
Right! Because you're not

J. Mills Goodloe 40:30
On that project or felt like I could have like, not coasted is not the right word. But I didn't have to do as much heavy lifting. And sometimes you feel like you have to do that the lifting to justify the paycheck, right getting paid on this. I have to like change things, I have to reimagine a lot of things I have to kind of open up the world. And sometimes you can open up too much. And instead of saying you know what they pay you just to? Yep. Well, I'm a little more faithful.

Alex Ferrari 40:57
Right, exactly. And the reason that the movies gave me produces because there's an original IP that they attached, the only reason it's being produced,

J. Mills Goodloe 41:03
I went too far askew on that one. I wish I could use some things that I put in that script. And another I think scripts are a lot of times, there's so much material that I've on films, I've had seven, I think seven movies made, there's so much material that on previous drafts that are like, it's like you have a garage and a car and at least like part of the spare parts around my office that I wished I can put in there. They try to find it never never works into other scripts. There's so many ideas and so much great scenes that I've written that I thought was great that I just can't repurpose,

Alex Ferrari 41:39
Right! Yeah, I've had that problem, too, is like you like, so good here, but I can't,

J. Mills Goodloe 41:44
I know, I'll find it, I can find that. That's such that's such a great idea. I'll find it in another movie. And then you never find it in a movie. It sits there. And he just gets so frustrated. Because there's there's some really good ideas in there. Like I just as on that movie, everything, everything that the character that Nick Robinson played in there, I had this great eye, this whole thread, they get attached to a bar code tattoo. Okay, and what didn't exist in the novel, right? Like this. My my thought this was such a clever idea. And he falls in love with the girl. And one day when they're together, she asked him about his bark there in Hawaii after the after she runs away. She asked what was barcode. And he said that when he was 12, he was 13 I had this whole story you had sit somewhere to a tattoo artist, because it was a date of his 18th birthday when he'd be in massive pain from his parents.

Alex Ferrari 42:34
And that's what the barcode represents.

J. Mills Goodloe 42:36
When he was 13. Like for like, like someday, when I'm 18 I'm this pain that I'm going through with my parents, I can always look at the tattoo, because they tend to the bar code represents the man that whatever the date is two, seven, whatever the is my. So you like you find ideas like that? Do you think they're really interesting, and that that talks about a character's internal pain. It's a physical reminder of why he's waiting to get away out of his house when he can finally move out when he turns 18. And you build in his whole story as you build these whole scenes, and it's never in the movie and I can never use that idea for a tattoo again.

Alex Ferrari 43:12
Geez, that's a that's a good idea, though. That was would have been that would have been fun. Now what

J. Mills Goodloe 43:18
Will that kid is like, my parents suck my dad's in a hole when I turn 18 And I can get out of here and I'm gonna force myself to brand myself to basically say on this date when I turn 18

Alex Ferrari 43:33
I'm happy. That's awesome. Now there's another film you did the age of Adeline Yes. I absolutely love that film. I'd love to.

J. Mills Goodloe 43:42
Well, that's my favorite movie. I've done that's my by far the most favorite thing and the thing I can't complain about

Alex Ferrari 43:49
Now I loved it and my wife and I watched it and we were just like, this is your kids? Nine they're about nine Yeah. Yeah, they're Yeah, they're kids aren't gonna watch it at Adeline just just yet. But um, can you tell me the story behind it? Because I Is there a little bit of a story of this one. I I've heard through the grapevine that there might be a little bit of an interesting story behind this.

J. Mills Goodloe 44:12
Yeah, this is this is crazy. There's a producer, unfortunately no longer with us. But a great man named Steve golden. And he started anonymous content. And he was he was, you know, he wanted Academy Award for Babel and for Birdman. And he was a really, really great producer. And I had written this script called August and everything after which never got into production, but it got people as I said it got a I was able to get an agent. And I was trying to direct that film. And I had a meeting with him when I go to Culver City. And I sit down with Steve and he's like, look, I love your script. It's a great script. I'm doing this movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind right now. And it's a total little pain in the ass. The other thing, too, it's good. But it's like it's hard. It's independent because I had written the script is kind of like magnolia. It was like this kind of big, sweeping, independent, interconnected items. It kind of later turned out to become the crash kind of thing, but crashing out by then. But basically what he said was, I'm doing Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. It's another was another great script. Great, Charlie, you're not Charlie Kaufman, but you're kind of like trying to do some interesting. I just don't want to do it. And he said, at the same time, because he's shooting two films simultaneously. He's also doing 51st dates with Sam.

Alex Ferrari 45:38
Both imagine the sides of the spectrum

J. Mills Goodloe 45:40
And the shooting simultaneous. And he said, You know what, so I'm just, it's just too hard. It's too hard. You know, anything, that's good. I could that's more digestible, that I can sell, I'd be really interested. And I said, Steve, you're in luck. I've got the best idea. I got the most high concept really that I can. It's like a one sentence perfect pitch. Hi, you know, because 51st days was a pretty high concept idea. Sure, the great he says, what is it? I said, Well, look, I need I want to go back and kind of put all my thoughts together. He says, he says, Can you come back next week? I said, I want to come back next week and pitch it to you. I can do it proper, because I wasn't ready to pitch in that meeting. Because I went into the meeting talking about this movie August and everything after mentioned this to me, I said great. So he calls out to a secretary or assistant he says, you know, have Mills Mills has come back Wednesday at 10 o'clock. Did you know okay, I shake his hands walks out. I'll see you Wednesday. 10 o'clock. I walked out there. I had no pitch.

Alex Ferrari 46:39
You didn't have an idea.

J. Mills Goodloe 46:40
Zero ideas.

Alex Ferrari 46:41
Oh my god. It's amazing.

J. Mills Goodloe 46:44
I got a really powerful producer. And I've got a meeting on the books.

Alex Ferrari 46:48
So you so you pull. So you pull the Joel Silver you you kind of pull the joseffer

J. Mills Goodloe 46:55
I got seven days to come up with something. And I have to do in seven days. And that's how I came up with Adeline Wow. And I came in there and somewhere on day like four I've heard a story. I think it was a short I think was Benjamin buttons or there's some things that yeah, that were percolating, like okay, maybe I have a girl that spent the entire 20th century as a 29 year old woman. And then I kind of did that and I went I pitched him on that Wednesday. And he said I really like it. This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you I'll give you like $10,000 to write the script and I'm only going to be $10,000 to do it but I'm going to be attached with producer and once you write it then I'll produce helping you to made and I was great because once again $10,000 with some extra money that I could live for another two or three

Alex Ferrari 47:49
While you wrote this thing.

J. Mills Goodloe 47:50
Exactly. So I said great $10,000 And they wrote I ended up writing the script and that was just completely but uh circumstances thing but I'm a big believer in in like right now I'll do it right now cuz this is I don't want I should say this but I'll say it anyways they're trying to do a limited series on Adeline now as they should yeah do but to do it like a whole thing spanning I'd like to see her basically taking the flashbacks that are in Adeline from her in the 40s and 50s Biddle whole thing around it. But I'm a big believer in and I've done this unfortunately too many times where I will call a producer and I'll say I have my pit I want to I have my pitch ready can we put instead of the bucks just so I can have to back into something I have to give myself deadlines to do things like that. And I did that with Adeline where it's just like I've got till Wednesday to do it. You just have to like as a writer, tell people you're going to be ready and you're gonna be embarrassed if you show up and say I've got nothing so you better get your butt in gear and do something.

Alex Ferrari 48:56
It's like It's like posting on Facebook. I'm gonna lose 20 pounds and here's here's my before picture.

J. Mills Goodloe 49:01
Yeah, tell the world you're gonna do it you better do it and with and with Adeline if he would not if he would have that only Honestly, the only reason that script ever gotten written was because he didn't want to do the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Alex Ferrari 49:17
Because it was just too complicated. It's

J. Mills Goodloe 49:19
Too hard for him to do. And if he would have said no, I won't do that whenever it only happened because I saw window as an opportunity to do it.

Alex Ferrari 49:26
And but how long did it take to get made that took 10 years I was about to say it wasn't overnight for 10 years get made. And what was the

J. Mills Goodloe 49:37
I have to tell you off the record. I can tell you I can't do off the reg I'll tell you a really funny story later about that though. Okay, so then how public this is, but there's how what happened over those 10 years. That movie at one point was going into pre production on it with set in Boston with Andy Tennant directing. Okay. Katherine Heigl, starring in Donald Sutherland playing the Harrison Ford Harrison Ford part and they were in pre production. And then it went and I got a call saying that the producer is gonna fight with Katherine Heigl. Just shocking. Yeah, she's this in the middle of her like huge rush, you know

Alex Ferrari 50:18
Of pissing everybody in Hollywood off. Yeah.

J. Mills Goodloe 50:21
No, but but it was also coincided with her run of doing like the bridesmaids movies and not like not was that movie shoot?

Alex Ferrari 50:29
No, no. Um, then knocked up. Yeah, knocked up and all of that 51st Yeah. 50 for

J. Mills Goodloe 50:36
Bright, yeah, bright, or whatever it is, right. But anyways, the moral of that story is I was devastated when I got that call. And I was I was practically in tears. And I, I took a long walk. And I'm like, I was so excited about this. I'm super my big break. It's all gone down the toilet right now. My career is over. I was devastated. And then you look back on it and say best, my entire career was changed because that iteration blew up.

Alex Ferrari 51:06
If it would have been a very different, totally different film.

J. Mills Goodloe 51:11
Totally different movie and, and I just, it just, there's a lesson in there that when things go bad, and go sideways, and you're all upset about it, I always go back to that and saying, God think that we're so glad it worked I just these are jobs that I've gotten that I've been devastated. You didn't get jobs, and then the movie turned out to be really bad.

Alex Ferrari 51:29
Yeah, and I literally was just talking to somebody I had on the show the other day about this exact same thing is like you look back on your life. And at the moment when you don't get the job or you don't get the girl or you don't get the production falls apart or something along happened. She's like, Oh my God, my world is over. And then a year or two later, you're like, Oh, my God, I I think thank God

J. Mills Goodloe 51:50
That that thing never happened me that I didn't get that job, or that movie didn't get made because it would have been a completely different movie.

Alex Ferrari 52:00
And I'm a big believer of it. What if the universe is pushing you in a certain direction? Something doesn't go the way it's supposed to. There's a good reason for that. I'm a believer of that. I truly because I've seen it so much in my life. Like, I mean, I was almost I'll tell you a little side story. I almost got onto Project Greenlight. Season two, I made it to the top 20 And I was this close to getting on and I was like, oh my god, I dodged a bullet.

J. Mills Goodloe 52:25
Then was the one at that time.

Alex Ferrari 52:27
Exactly. Who was the kid who won that that time? It was Shia LaBeouf. That was a Shia LaBeouf season. That was the Shia LaBeouf season. So it was yeah, the battle Shaker Heights.

J. Mills Goodloe 52:36
But again, you'd always that would have destroyed everything

Alex Ferrari 52:40
That would have I would have been known as the guy who was on Project Greenlight, nobody would have taken me seriously, which is what happened to unfortunately, to a lot of those directors. And then I did it again with on the lot. Remember that show on the lot. I made it to the top 20 of that show. And, and one of my best friends was the DP in it as well. So I'm like, Oh, this is gonna be great. I'll get on the show. You'll be my DP. We're gonna kill it. It didn't make it. I'm like my life is you know, I was I was flown out it was the whole thing. And then I look back. I'm like, Thank God, I didn't become a reality filmmaker.

J. Mills Goodloe 53:12
Yeah, and it would have never always been on your Wikipedia would always travel with you everywhere. Right? Really deep, deep hole to get out of so it does work. Yeah, remind yourself when things go sideways?

Alex Ferrari 53:26
Yeah, absolutely. That there's always a way. Um, I have to ask you, do you when you start writing Do you write? Do you start with plot or character? Oh, no, no, no. Okay. So do you. Listen, listen? Are you telling me that you just like sit down? Like, you know, I'm just gonna start writing and something will

J. Mills Goodloe 53:44
I ever? Any system that I do, and then I never write anything in screenplay form. Okay, so how do you write then I write in, I get a Word document. Okay, I'll get a Word document and I'll open on pay and I'll get one page. Okay, I'll say, Okay, what is the movie, this is the beginning the middle of the end, it will be, you know, maybe, you know, five bullet points. Like I know, at the end of the first act, this is going to happen. I know the, in the second act, this can happen. And this is you opening this again. And that's all I have.

Alex Ferrari 54:15
So not like a basically an outline, an outline, then basically,

J. Mills Goodloe 54:18
Yeah, but then day two comes around, and I'm like, okay, that's kind of the game. Now the first x gotta have at least I don't know, maybe 10 scenes in there in the first act. So like, okay, that it just starts growing and growing. And then I put a little dialog in there. And then I put too much description in there. And then it grows and grows and grows until about three months later. I've got a 50 page document that still in word form. That's just kind of building it out and only in the last day before I turned it in. I then turned it into a screenplay and I made it something that's very new. I don't know anyone ever does this, but I equate it to if you're a painter And you have two canvases, if I have a oil and acrylic, and I've got a paintbrush, and I'm going to the actual canvas to start to, you know, to do something, it feels like I'm really making a piece of art. If I have a second canvas over here and I've got a pencil and a pen was kind of playing around with like, I could put a sign here, I could kind of do that, okay, three months doing that, it frees you up mentally. So I've never believed I never had to believe I'm like India fade in page one interior office daytime, and then you're looking at something that's very structured in a very weird format. But if you just kind of let your mind free, just like the beginning and middle the end. So I do that in a very elaborate, I've done that to every script I've ever written. And that's the only way that I think even to the end, I get really specific about like, I just I think interior exteriors screws me up.

Alex Ferrari 55:56
And I tell you what, I do the exact same thing, but with my books. So when I write books, I do the same thing I never get into like the actual document that will become the book until like, it's like never know, I build all that out and I build notecards within each of those chapters that you Shriver. So it's just kind of go in there. And I just kind of organize it all and then when I feel that, it's all kind of written there, then I'll start copying and pasting into chapter one. And then I'll keep going Chapter Two

J. Mills Goodloe 56:23
You can also put a lot more stuff in also, like put as much stuff you want in there, right in, right. At your notes, I'll put in 50 note cards, 100 like I can add everything and then at some point, I'll just start cutting some of those things out and kind of shaving it down. But it feels like it's much more of a playful way of, of writing. And it just puts the pressure off of you, I think when you're starting a script, and you have to hate three and it descriptions very insane. And you know, like description should only be really be, you know, three law. And as you know, in screenplays that you have three, maybe four lines the most that you're you're writing small, you're writing tiny like this, whereas if you have some big huge piece of paper and you're like, oh, it never comes into play, let's say you know, I'm writing a scene, you know, an interior restaurant scene, you're like interior restaurant, there's this person, this person, there's a music, there's seven waiters, this is what's dressing, it's raining outside, you know, these three people are talking like this, the hostess is fighting with her boyfriend, the bartenders drunk, whatever you're kind of you create all that stuff. And I'll just write all that stuff down there. And then I can write the scene in the dialogue that two people, obviously, none of that's ever going to win the movie,

Alex Ferrari 57:38
But it helps you in the process.

J. Mills Goodloe 57:39
But it helps you just like, there's no I just write, I can write. And I just write a bunch of dialogue. And then and then the best line I've heard about write about writing, which is really smart is you always tell less experienced writers is you write a scene, you put everything in there, and then you start cutting it down. So if you took out one more word, the entire seat would make no sense. Meaning like you distill it down to like, everything is as tight as you possibly can be. And then to the point that if you change one little thing, then it's gonna collapse, but you shrink it down like that. So the point of what you said, what you do in your books, and what I do in screenplays is, you can't shrink everything down to the real essential stuff. Unless you start out here, and you can't, unless you write a bunch of stuff, and then you can start shrinking it down. It's really hard if you start if you start the scene only knowing that you're going to be shrinking it down, started big and shrink it down. Just don't mean working in the shrink down phase.

Alex Ferrari 58:40
Right! You're, you're you're creating a much larger piece of marble that you can start chiseling, as opposed to, as opposed to thinking like, Well, I only have three centimeters to chisel as opposed to three feet to chisel

J. Mills Goodloe 58:51
Yeah, and that'll be 10 feet of marble just I'll just do whatever I can do. It's maybe it's a psychological thing, but

Alex Ferrari 58:59
It's, you've done okay for yourself.

J. Mills Goodloe 59:02
I don't I'm not like I'm don't i I've never taken a film school class. I'm really instinctually Yeah, I don't really I'm not I'm not terribly well read. I don't really have a great film history. But just instinctually that's kind of a process that's worked for me. And if I don't, and I just get comfortable with it, and it just feels it feels freeing, because I know I never want to think about what I do too much. I think that's really important as a writer as well, and I'm sure you might understand this as well. If you really think about how you make your living or how you make scripts. It's very, very scary. Because it's so subjective. It's all in your head. Yeah, and it's really frightening so if you just kind of play around with it and don't really take it too seriously, and you're gonna be better off

Alex Ferrari 59:50
Preached my friend preach. Because, I mean, I don't know if you've had this experience, but there's sometimes writers, they they go up there But sometimes, and they're a little too in their own head, and then you're lost. When you get into that mind space you can't create. It's very, very difficult.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:00:09
It's scary if you think it's really, really scary, and I have a family and I've got a wife and you're like, my whole living is based upon the stuff that I think is right. You know, it's kind of like if you make it's the same thing making music. I mean, once your whole living was based upon being a songwriter, and the whole idea of being a songwriter is to say, that note sounds right, that song sounds good. Well, there's no empirical, Deaf Jack measure to it. It's a very subjective thing. Well, how I would freak out if I'm like, my whole career, my whole supporting my family is based upon a song that I think is good or bad or dialogue that's good or bad or or a scene or writing it's a really scary proposition to base a career

Alex Ferrari 1:00:55
With with that said, leaving it's all up Nope. Let me ask you a few questions. I asked. By the way, everything he said is absolutely true. And I've said this constantly it this is a ridiculous business. It's insanity what we do. And if you start to truly break down what we do as a business, it's not a business it really isn't like like a business is in Coppola said it the best is like, I was in the business from business for a long time. That's not a business. He wants to real business Wine, wine. At the end of the day, you stop some grapes, you put in a bottle, you market it, sell it, repeat. That's a business. Right? You never you know, and it's like, does it wine tastes good? Done. There's no question. It's gonna get sold because it's alcohol, as opposed to a script or movie. You can have the best filmmakers of all time who've made some doozies in their career. There's very few. I mean, the only one I've always said that has always hit a home run every time is Cameron. He's really never had a flop really.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:01:58
But every he's my neighbor. By the way.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:00
It was Jimmy, tell Jim, I said Hi, Tom. Can you get the avatars enough with the Avat? Can you can you can you please? But yeah, but other than that,

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:08
I'll tell you off the air. I'll tell you though. He's out of his house. And man, it's crazy. All right. Yeah. Like it's like Fort Knox over there.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:15
No, I've heard I have some friends who have worked with them. So I know a little bit about the house.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:19
That place is like I he has a he has a whole culdesac here if i is called a sack. You feel like

Alex Ferrari 1:02:28
All you see all you see is Terminator.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:30
Yeah. I mean, it's it's like, East Berlin. Like a Berlin wall there. It's like, why these guys on fire department

Alex Ferrari 1:02:39
Oh, no, I know. Yeah. The fire department. Oh, yeah. Yeah, the navy seals that are on

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:43
Secret Service guys. I'm scared to go down that

Alex Ferrari 1:02:47
We will we will talk off air. I'm not going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:55
I think the best thing to do if I was to if I was to start out fresh right now doing it. I would be writing and directing. I'll be writing small things that I can get made. The advantage of the business right now is when I first started out there were very small distribution channels. I mean, now there's so many distribution channels. And so many ways to do the film, I would say, to show off your writing, try to find something that you can write on a very, very small budget, maybe million dollars or less than million dollars, or 100,000 or 50,000, whatever it's going to be write something you can get made. That can be shot and use that as a calling card. Because people are more inclined to see a finished product that you wrote than a screenplay and you might have five great screenplays. It's really hard to get. No one's got actually known as five brains. But maybe one has one. One good screenplay that they read that they have written is really hard to get people to write that screenplay to read that screenplay and to pay attention to it. But it's very easy to shoot, or pretty easy to shoot something and to get a final piece of product into their hands to say, Hey, can you watch my movie? And if you can get if you can make a film, you can watch a film, you can get that first thing that people can notice your talent or your abilities. I don't think you can do it well from a script. I don't remember the last time that people said oh, that's I know the blacklist is a big thing right now. But that's been co opted I think in certain ways. But I think if you can have a finished product, you can be a lot more successful.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:31
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:04:36
I just keep slugging away at it. I think you just keep keep trying to get away with it. Don't take it too seriously. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. And certainly I know that's can you ask more specific question?

Alex Ferrari 1:04:53
Okay. Um, how about three screenplays that everyone should read? You're now you're gonna go ahead. But if you've never read a screenplay, know what?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:06
I don't really I read. I don't really Alright,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:08
So three, three of your favorite films of all time.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:11
Jerry Maguire,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:12
Great screenplay.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:14
Jerry Maguire is one of my favorite things. I love a lot of PTN and stuff. But Jerry Maguire is something actually the screenplay that I have read, which also breaks every rule of screenwriting you ever can imagine. And that's another example, Alex of the film that if you tried to make Jerry Maguire today, it would be devoured by Studio notes, because you're saying, Can you the first movie opens up with VoiceOver, which never comes back in the rest of the film? Tom Cruise plays Jerry Maguire, he marries Dorothy boy, they break up at the end of the second movie. Do you know why do you remember the film why they broke up? I found a man you remember what it is?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:51
I forgot. What is this? I don't remember specific reason. I've seen the movie 1000 times. What was the specific reason they broke up?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:57
She says to him, I'm so lucky. I found a man who really loves my son, and really likes me a lot.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
The great line, oh, great line.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:06:08
And she breaks up with him, basically, because he's just isn't into her that much. Or at least he hasn't shown. He hasn't shown it. And then after the rod tubewell thing, and he shows up as he had me Hello. He says, You know, I do love you and I want to be with you. But there is no precipitating or whatever the word is, there's no incident that happens, which causes them to break up. And if you would go to a studio right here, right? What causes the two of them? And they're married by the way? They are married? Yeah, they are to break to break up. Well, they're married. He's working a lot. He likes her. He's not cheating on her. His he really loves her son. He's just not into her that much. How can you possibly get through that? And I think those are that maybe that's those are the things that I find inspiring about any script is the ones that kind of get away with stuff that aren't notes. The best example of that is The Blind Side. Meaning that somehow John Hancock got away on making a film on the blind side. Every rule in there because I asked you, what is her arc in that movie?

Alex Ferrari 1:07:14
It I mean, and I had John on the show, and I asked him about that. And I think it was I think it had a lot to do because he had the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which was Sandy. And she protected the project a bit and that's you need that.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:07:28
That art. Does she have a bad relationship with her husband? No. Your kids fine. Yeah. She rich and wealth in the beginning? Yeah. At the end? Yeah. Every if you if you filter that through a studio notes, yeah, I know for a problem, they would give her an obstacle to overcome just no obstacles in that film. Anyways, if you look at those things, whether it be the blind side, or Jerry Maguire, that if you really empirically or dispassionately look at it, how many things would be noted to death on that by people that would say, you know, there's no reason for her for Renee Zellweger to break up with him. Make something make him more dramatic. Maybe you should get caught with another girl. Maybe you should be

Alex Ferrari 1:08:13
It but it would have been so formulaic. If they did that. It would have been a

J. Mills Goodloe 1:08:17
Thing for me. My other favorite movie is lost in translation. Yeah. Like what relations a great film it is. And you know what? This is another crazy thing, Alex? They're both married in the movie. Right? Yeah, I'm gonna make a movie about two married people who are each other. Right? One of them is much, much younger than them. They don't, they don't consummate that relationship. We don't see the last line of dialogue that they have a great arc with Bill Murray in that movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:47
You know, he's pretty much the same guy. She's She changes

J. Mills Goodloe 1:08:49
In time she changes a little bit nicer. She kind of maybe she's trying to figure out her life. There's no extra obstacles. There's no antagonist. There isn't. There's no antagonist in that movie. And it's a brilliant movie. And it works so well. So those are the things I look at. My two favorite films would be lost in translation, or Jerry Maguire. They break a lot of rules. They're they're they're walled off from bad development notes. And they're somehow were made for people not to give them a hard time about it. And those will those always look up to, because they're really, really hard to pull off.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:29
Mills, it has been a pleasure talking to you, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I hope everyone is off. I hope everyone's off the ledge. Because there were some moments on the show. Like this is tough, but I saw Star Wars and that's what I need to do from now on. So all these all my future. I saw my future but Thank you my friend. I appreciate everything.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:09:54
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it and you've got a wonderful show and I want to read your book.

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IFH 568: I Sold My Eggs to Finance My Indie Film with Sonja O’Hara

Today on the show we have writer, actor and director Sonja O’Hara. You might recognize here from my feature film On the Corner of Ego and Desire where she played an insane director at Sundance.

Sonja O’Hara is an Emmy-nominated queer writer, director and actor represented by WME and Management 360. She was chosen as one of the “10 Filmmakers To Watch” by Independent Magazine, selected by a jury from MovieMaker Magazine, the Sundance Institute and Austin Film Festival. (Past recipients include Barry Jenkins of MOONLIGHT.)

Sonja just directed two back to back features which are currently completing post-production: MID-CENTURY, a provocative thriller starring Stephan Lang (DON’T BREATHE) and two time Academy Award® nominee Bruce Dern, produced by Jeremy Walton (THE INVENTOR with Marion Cotillard), and ROOT LETTER, an adaptation of the popular Japanese PlayStation game, written by Tribeca Film Festival Narrative Prize winner David Ebeltoft and starring Danny Ramirez of THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER.

Sonja also created and directed the Webby award winning series DOOMSDAY which was nominated for the 2021 Daytime Emmy Awards. For DOOMSDAY, she was awarded the “Best Director” prize out of 4000 submissions at The New York Television Festival. Sonja sold her original series ASTRAL to Adaptive Studios.

I wanted to have her on the show to discuss not only her directing career but also wanted to discuss her remarkable story on how she financed DOOMSDAY…she sold her eggs! This is easily the most unique film financing method I’d ever heard of. She made a film about her experience called Ovum.

An offbeat young actress who will do anything for a part, ends up giving up a part of herself when her method acting exercise goes too far and she ends up selling her eggs.

Enjoy my conversation with the remarkable filmmaker Sonja O’Hara.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Sonja O'Hara, how're you doing Sonja?

Sonja O'Hara 0:15
I'm good, thank you so much for having me Alex. I'm excited to be here.

Alex Ferrari 0:18
Oh my god, I'm so excited to have you on the show people, people from the tribe might recognize you, as the star of my last feature film on the corner of ego and desire we have. I mean, you've you've, I'm not gonna say you've turned into Julia. Because a little bit because you're not directing a whole hell of a lot. But, but you're definitely not the crazy direct that you played in the show.

Sonja O'Hara 0:49
An extreme version of like, you know, the worst way that I could ever become, but

Alex Ferrari 0:53
No, no it was. So let's talk a little bit about just for everyone listening, how we met, and how we originally work together, and then kind of how that and we'll, we'll go. And that takes us to certain direction. So how did we originally meet and how do we work together?

Sonja O'Hara 1:09
Well, I had a mutual friend, I filmmaker named lava, Lucia. And Rob had told me that he was going to do this crazy experiment, where he went to Sundance to, uh, he was going to go to Sundance to act in a mumble core film, by this dude who's a director and also a noted podcast host. And I started, like, doing all my research. And I was like, This guy's real. Like, he has a movie on Hulu right now that I was like, checking out. And I was like, wow, I'd kill to do that movie. And he's like, you know, I think they might still be casting. And then I reached out to you. And sort of in fatica, Lee was like, I am this character, I can do this. And we had a phone call. And next thing I know, I'm being flown to Park City, Utah. I had never been there. I'd never been to Sundance, I wanted to go to Sundance, and I was 14 years old and Nova Scotia. And suddenly, I'm like, living right on Main Street, shooting a movie, like, like 24 hours a day, for the week of this thing. And it felt completely surreal. Like I never it was unlike anything that had ever happened to me.

Alex Ferrari 2:12
It was so funny. Because all three of you all the main characters, you Robin and Randy, all of you had never been to Sundance. So when you guys like I took you through I was your guide through Sundance, because I've been there so many times. All your reactions. Yes, you were acting fantastically but, but most of it was just like, oh my god,

Sonja O'Hara 2:31
I couldn't believe it. I was just like, the whole time. It was just you know, you've seen so much like footage, like behind the scenes stuff of these like Sundance, like gifting suites and the Sundance like you had like all these places, and we're like literally knocking on doors. And we're like in the Sundance lobby lobby, like filming, like, filming.

Alex Ferrari 2:51
And I would be getting upset. And I would be getting upset for people getting in my shot. I'm like, Austin, please like Alex, we're not supposed to be I'm like, I don't care. I'm a director Get out of my shot.

Sonja O'Hara 3:03
Yes, that was probably one of my favorite filming experiences ever.

Alex Ferrari 3:07
I mean, it was such a and I think that's how I sold it to you too. I sold it to all of you like, Hey, I don't know what's gonna come out of this. But at least you will have an amazing story in 30 years that you'll go. There's this one time I shot a movie at Sundance. And this is how it went down. At that minimum, you would have that? And and we did. And we definitely that definitely a story there.

Sonja O'Hara 3:27
Well I was a little scared at first, because you were like, you know, we're going to be a bit disruptive. And we're going to go in there and people won't know if it's real or not. And I was like, oh my god, I'm about to be a speaker at South by Southwest. Like, what if people think I'm obnoxious, like my character, and then you just forget all about your acting. And you know, it ended up just being a joy. But I was nervous.

Alex Ferrari 3:48
Yeah, I appreciate you thinking that this was as big as the Avengers than now everybody wouldn't be typecast as the crazy director. But not as many people have seen the film. But so, but it was really great. And we were so lucky because my producer, my co producer on the project, Adam had this ridiculous, ridiculous sweet apartment on Main Street. And I still remember we built we filmed you guys coming in. And the looks on your faces. You were just like, What is going on? It was insane.

Sonja O'Hara 4:23
You guys held that party there every year. And suddenly like everyone meeting at Sundance, I'm like, You should come to this party. Like I'm not telling them that it's going to be filmed and part of the movie I just think the network Hello Agents come to this party.

Alex Ferrari 4:36
Which brings me to another which brings me to another lovely side story to our adventures at Sundance on the corner of ego desire. Is that you know you were hustling hard from the moment you got there at the party. We have recorded conversations with you. Because at party if everyone doesn't see the movie There's a big Sundance party there. And basically, it's a live party. And you guys are just kind of thrown in there. And we're just kind of like ad libbing and having a good time. Yeah. But you guys were all miked. So I so while we were setting up a shot, you are literally networking with somebody, and you're like, Oh, the call me back on set, I gotta go. But here's my card. I'll talk to you a little bit. And I was just like, I heard that in post. I'm like, this girl, man. Oh, my God.

Sonja O'Hara 5:26
I know, I forgot. Sometimes I even know the love on me. And I would like meet a casting director or something else is like, absolutely choosing. And it was.

Alex Ferrari 5:35
So one thing. And one of those nights I think it was the night is Did you see the room the room with us, or you didn't see the room with us?

Sonja O'Hara 5:42
No the crew decided to watch the room, I snuck off to go to the APA agency party, because I had seen in variety, a list of parties that were happening for the agencies, and I knew no one that was going, and I just went off and snuck into the party. And mingling that night, I met an entertainment lawyer who ended up making a bunch of introduced introductions to the big agencies and helped me get with my agent all because I went that night. And I've always thought that, like, if I had stayed in and watch this movie, maybe my career never would have started at all. So very crazy thing, like just how it was serendipity you know?

Alex Ferrari 6:23
It was, well, if you would have never done the movie, you would have never had all of these opportunities. So it's it's so interesting, because, you know, we weren't paying the millions yet for our cast at the time of making that movie. So you were just like, I'm just gonna go on this adventure. I'm gonna just do my thing. But when you were there, you figured out I gotta, I gotta hustle this and I got a network and I got to try to do as much as I can. But it's such a great example of hustle. Because I mean, seriously, I, I was, I mean, hustle, respects, hustle. And you were you definitely there. So you guys, I yeah, I know, you guys want to sit down and like, you know, geek out over the room. And that's great. But I'm going to go sneak into the APA bar party. And all of a sudden, you got your agent there. And then some of the guests that I was recording, you you would connect with you like I remember like, I remember one guest specifically, who will remain nameless, got up from the chair after I got done interviewing him. And you bolted.

Sonja O'Hara 7:21
Send it on,

Alex Ferrari 7:22
Like this poor man, you were just like a hawk, like offer on fresh meat. You jumped in, you're like, Hi, I'm Sonia. Here's my card. And you eventually connected with that, that guy and he's been able to work with them. It's just really, it's really interesting to see how that all worked out. And then as the movie, you know, got made and everything I kept seeing on Facebook, you know, on social media, how you've been doing stuff. And I was like, Well, I mean, she's directing now. And she's like, I know you were a director prior to getting to ego and desire.

Sonja O'Hara 7:55
But before them I had been doing indie projects on my own right, like I had been doing self funded micro budget projects. And one of them ended up getting enough traction that I was like on the festival circuit with it, and getting to do some, you know, speaking as a panelist to talk about, like breaking out from just being an actor and as a multi hyphenate to like, you know, getting selling like a couple indie shows, but I wasn't yet being hired and offered scripts to direct things as a director for hire. And here I am playing this like pretentious, like art film director. He's like taking the world by storm. And like, next thing I know, after I do your movie, I'm like, I just moved, I hadn't even moved to LA yet at that period, because I flew in from New York to do the movie in Park City with you. And then I moved to LA right after that. And then I'm pitching on all of these director for hire jobs. And like saying some of the same things that we have in the movie. And like, in the movie, like even when I'm like, Oh, this is like the shape of water meets transformers. Like I'm still like having to like see these ridiculous comps. And pick the people are taking me seriously and giving me money to make the movies. I'm like this is very, very surreal.

Alex Ferrari 9:10
So that character would everyone if everyone listening while it goes and watches it, which is available everywhere on Amazon and all sorts of places. You watch it for free. But you know, you were an extreme version of directors. But at the end of the day afterwards, I've had a lot of filmmakers come up to me and even, you know, high end professionals in the business who have watched the film. They're like, Yeah, I know her. Yeah, I know that character. I know. I've spoken to that director. I've spoken to that filmmaker a million times. And I'm like, I thought we were really off the off the reservation. Personally. No, no, no, we're pretty close to the reservation apparently.

Sonja O'Hara 9:48
Because I think people like that care so deeply and that pretentiousness comes from insecurity and you don't yet have an outlet to prove your ability and you're just so extra and like I'm not really like a type a nerdy person anyway. And hopefully it doesn't manifest in me being a psycho, but I definitely have been, like, over amped about things. So, you know,

Alex Ferrari 10:07
No, you weren't you were built to play that role. There's no question about it. Now, you but you start off as an actor. So how and why did you want to get into this insanity?

Sonja O'Hara 10:18
I mean, I have been acting since I was a kid in Nova Scotia, like when I was growing up, I would see Elliot page at auditions. And I remember when when, when the movie hard candy went to Sundance, like my goal has been Sundance longer than I could ever remember. And at some point, I had, you know, moved from Nova Scotia to New York to the acting school. And then I moved to Los Angeles at 20 years old. I was fade down, always personal assistant, which was such a trip.

Alex Ferrari 10:47
Ohh my god the stories, the stories,

Sonja O'Hara 10:49
Stories, I know and she was had this production company, and she was doing an adaptation of the plane masterclass where she was going to be playing Maria Callas. And I just saw and she gave me the advice that if you wanted to have any sort of autonomy as an actress, you had to produce your own things. So when I went back to New York, and started studying screenwriting, and when I made my first feature at 25, my goal was really just to launch myself as an actor, and then you just fall in love with making movies. And in the process of that I hired a really lovely director for that feature, but I didn't bring that person on until I had already cast the project and rehearse the project and like done and blocked it. And, you know, was shortlisting it. And I became a director in the process of making that first movie ovum. And then you just like above, and like I thought, you know, I made like a budget, you know, a $17,000 micro budget feature, which is still bigger in budget than what you did Ego and Desire.

Alex Ferrari 11:44
Much, much bigger, much, much bigger.

Sonja O'Hara 11:48
I had the bug and I just couldn't stop making things. But I still, you know, acting was my first priority. And I still act and I still love it. But now, the like, the feeling of fulfillment I get from making movies and being part of every part of the creative process is unlike anything else like me, you know how it is?

Alex Ferrari 12:05
Yeah. No, I have to ask you, though, was, and I might be mixing the plot with the reality. Did you sell your eggs to produce that movie?

Sonja O'Hara 12:15
Yes. And made and was like writing about the process of selling my eggs to fund my very meta while I was actually selling my eggs at this, like, you know, these egg donor clinics in New York where they were looking for designer eggs, and they're like, she looked more like Amy Adams or Emma Stone. Okay, check this box. This is how we're going to pitch her to potential like, you know, people who wanted like Norwegian eggs, and then half Norwegian. And it became like a very surreal experience. And I felt like I was auditioning, just like, I'd go to a cattle call in New York. And it was the same as being at like an egg casting. And then I wrote about that and then funded the movie, and made like, $100,000 selling my eggs and dudes get like, you know, 75 bucks in the candy bar. Women can make real money. So I made multiple projects with the egg money.

Alex Ferrari 13:06
You know what? So so listen, I've heard I've heard everything. I've literally heard every which way to raise money for a movie. I've heard it either through my show, or through people I know or just watching the industry. I've never heard of this. This is the first time I've ever heard on you. Film director selling her eggs and producing multiple projects with her egg money.

Sonja O'Hara 13:32
Oh, yeah, egg money was really like the golden goose for

Alex Ferrari 13:36
No, no pun intended.

Sonja O'Hara 13:40
One day, you know, there will be like 18 year old egg babies that see a billboard for one of my movies. No, like, is that mommy? Like I know what's gonna happen. But

Alex Ferrari 13:50
You know, talk talk about commitment. I mean, I don't know how many how many dudes out there would sell their their eggs.

Sonja O'Hara 14:00
There was a day that I had to go from my egg surgery for my first round of egg donation to acting in a film where I had to go through an exorcism in a field and you're supposed to be like on bedrest. And I'm like, launching around like lying in a field and getting shot. And like, it was really they were like, you should, you know, like, be, you know, in bed for like three days. And I was like, I gotta act like this is why I'm doing it so

Alex Ferrari 14:24
The thing, the thing I love about you is your tenacity. You you have a tenacity, you have an energy, that energy that you brought to Julia in my movie. There is there is parts of Julia with you within you. There's no There's no question. Yes, the extreme versions are funny and everything like that. But this, you know, wasn't a stretch. Like I didn't know that when I cast you about all of this. I'm like, oh, you should direct him and stuff. But but as I started working with you and I started seeing your pride now, over the last few years after watching, you grow as a filmmaker and as an artist. I'm like hurt, you are so tenacious, which is such a lesson for everyone listening is like, I'm sure you had a billion nose. It's still good and still getting.

Sonja O'Hara 15:09
Yes. And I just like everyone goes on social media, we share the highlight reel of what we're doing. But we get nose constantly. We get notes from festivals, we get those for offers for movies, I audition for big things that go to stars all the time. No is such a standard, but it stopped even factoring into my confidence. Like I don't even care about the news. Like I don't even ruin my day anymore. Like I used to be really sad if I lose out in the role. Now. It's like, I close those emails. And it's like, one second later, it doesn't even like stay in my psyche. Like I'm now actually past projection. I wish I could say that was like that in the dating world. But when it comes to work.

Alex Ferrari 15:46
Oh, the heart is what the heart is. There's no question. Now, you did get a chance to work as an actor on some pretty big sets. In network, what were some of the biggest lessons that you pull from working on those big sets, you know, that you have brought in to your own directing.

Sonja O'Hara 16:05
I mean, I think that there were many directors that don't really talk to actors on set and are so much more focused on working with their DP. And actors just sort of feel like moving crops. And there were many times that I just felt like I'm seeking some sort of validation that I'm trying to find, like one morning to make bold choices or something that my choices are landing. And I felt like a lot of the time, people just didn't really care. Like you were just like a moving prop to many filmmakers, not the great ones, obviously. And I knew that I wanted to take care of everyone on my set as a director, and I don't care if you're a day player, if you have one line, if you're a featured background, like I wanted everyone to feel like they were part of it as a collaboration. Because when I feel safe and celebrated, I feel like as an actor, I can make bold choices. And when I feel ignored, I feel small. And then I'm more likely to you know, not do anything that's especially spontaneous. Right?

Alex Ferrari 17:00
Right. Because you're not feeling I always tell people, like actors want to feel safe. And they want they want a safe environment. So I just I love to hear your perspective on and I don't mean to keep going back to ego and desire, but it is our experience together working as, as an actor and the director. You know, that was a very intense and wild experience. I just met you that day. I had never physically met you any of the cast was almost Skype.

Sonja O'Hara 17:28
One zoom. Yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 17:30
It was just like, Yeah, we did a zoom. And that was it. So then, when we met, you had to figure me out pretty quickly.

Sonja O'Hara 17:38
Yes, and you are so good at fostering a sense of you are warm and kind. And the way that you are on your podcast is exactly how you are in person. So like I felt safe to make choices and to fall on my face, and like, be ridiculous. And you'd given me a script, none of the beats that we wanted. But you were so open to playing and taking like chances with things. And that just makes you feel emboldened to make choices and have a real performance. Like, I'm often afraid of directors. And I think many actors are that way too. And that just doesn't give people the you know, it doesn't make people feel ready to like, take on the world if they're, like, you know, afraid to make choices,

Alex Ferrari 18:18
Right! Absolutely. Because if you if you don't feel safe, then you're not going to not only give your biggest you're not going to give your all but you're also some actors might act out, some actors will be in a protective mode and say, Hey, I'm just going to take care of me because obviously, you're not going to take care of me. So I'm gonna just, I'm gonna just do me not listen to you. And then this is where problems occur because the director did not foster that environment of like, you are in a safe space. No one's gonna hurt you here. No one's gonna judge you here. Let's try let's play because that whole movie was trying and playing. We were all on an adventure. Like, I literally got on the plane and didn't know if I had a movie. Like you asked me like, Do you have something? I'm like, I think so. Like I don't know if I'm gonna make my 73 minute deadline than I wanted to make over 70 Like I think 70 over 70 minutes. I think Mark do plus one said if it's over 70 minutes, it's a feature. So I'm like I just need to make enough I need to shoot enough to get over. But we had no time to look at footage. Like I just saw glance by in like, I bring you over I'm like here this is a cool shot we got or here's Mormons, but we had no time we were running we were shooting we were like constantly on Oh that one night. By the way. I have to I have to I have to call you out on the one night that we shot on Main Street excuse me in the morning we woke up at the crack of dawn to go shoot the movie poster shot that whole sequence the snow was falling the lights do they remember the whole lights were all dimmed up on Main Street?

Sonja O'Hara 19:52
Like like it looked like we were on this like beautiful studio law right there would be no cars going down Main Street. We had to ourselves, I was able to stand in the middle of the snow on the road and just look out at like the Egyptian Theatre and all like genuine awestruck.

Alex Ferrari 20:07
It was it was, but you unfortunately made the one choice. I know you regret it, which was the pant choice that you made at the beginning of the movie.

Sonja O'Hara 20:15
Yeah. I thought I wanted to look like happen hot and we're talking leather pants and heels on like icy like total rookie move because like I listened your podcast was like, were double warm socks, like wear flat shoes. Bundle up, and I'm in these like, stylish freaking leather pants that I was like, Oh, great. And I was freezing. And I'm like shivering and dying. But that she would be she would wear that she would wear leather pants. So I stand by your choice. Voice.

Alex Ferrari 20:45
But the thing was, the thing was beautiful, too is you never ever complained. None of you did. No one complained. I think the only complaint I heard was when we were at the party and we were shooting outside. And the boys didn't have their shirts on. I mean that their jackets on they had their shirts on. And I just pulled them out there. And for a normal conversation that takes four or five minutes, you might be able to pull it off with maybe just a sweater. But we were out there for an hour.

Sonja O'Hara 21:11
I had a major confrontation scene.

Alex Ferrari 21:15
I had a parka. You had your jacket on, like

Sonja O'Hara 21:18
And they were just shivering. And they were such good sports about it. I could see they were freezing. Like you can see their breath like they're using it. But like poor Randy is like, you know, it was it was

Alex Ferrari 21:29
It was insane. Now, you got an opportunity, right? Shortly after we work together to direct your first feature as work for hire because of all these things. By the way, I'm still waiting for my residual checks. But we'll talk about that. No, I'm joking. I'm joking. But what was it like for you walking on the set for the first time on that kind of project? That's not your project that you're a work for hire? What's that feeling like?

Sonja O'Hara 22:00
It was pretty intimidating. I was lucky in that I got to bring my long term DP from Brooklyn, I got to fly him to Louisiana. And we had made so many projects on shoestring budgets that we have sort of an intuitive way of how we work. So but it was still hard to convey this sort of small way of working to suddenly being on a big set. Like they he's such an indie DP that he wanted to be camera operating. And they were like, What do you mean, you're the cinematographer, like, we're going to give you a team. And he's like fighting to operate his own camera. And I am fighting to hire actors that I know and trust that will give me great performances. And they're like, we have the money for some names. And you're like, okay, and you're just sort of like expanding. Like, there's so many times that I don't, I didn't have the sets to be able to do these epic, beautiful wives. And I'm having you do these tight, claustrophobic shots. And suddenly, you know, you're on a real set with real production designers and things that I just didn't have access before. To, and it sort of just expands, you know, you're able to do things you were never able to do before. And that was great. There were some ages and problems where I felt like they were older local crew members that I look like I'm like freaking 19 years old half the time. And like I'm on set and I always directed like a floral dress. And I have like no makeup and I'm like this like happy like and I don't seem like the typical director like a man with authority, the whole space.

Alex Ferrari 23:24
Where's your monocle? You didn't have a monocle. I mean nothing.

Sonja O'Hara 23:27
And like, there was one day that I showed up with like, no makeup hair in a ponytail, and like a T shirt and sneakers and someone thought I was a PA on my own set where I was a director, you know, and it's like, you can't take any of it. Like I had no ego about it. But for the first week, I felt like judgment inside i from these like really seasoned crew, like half of them had just come off during the whole season Queen Sugar, and then they're like on my movie. And it's my first time with like a real crew and these numbers of people. And but by the second week, they got what I was doing, you know, and then I'm still trying to do little indie filmmaker things. Like I'm trying to get my like Terrence Malick like shot at Magic Hour. And we're like about to lose the sun. And all the departments are like last looks last looks. And the script is like this isn't in the script. And you're like, Oh, God, I just want to be able to be creative and get this shot of my own journey on a swing, as you know, that just get lost in translation to make bigger films.

Alex Ferrari 24:23
So so that first week when you're done because I was gonna ask you that because like I was I was at one time I know it's hard to believe the young guy on set. I one point I was always the young person in the room, you are still the young person in the room. But one day soon, you will not you will not be the youngest person in the room. But I remember walking on sets, I was directing commercials and and I would have this DP or I would have this production designer out of this first ad who'd been around for 1000 years. And they look at this who's this kid and they start trying to you know, puff up their chest and like Now you really don't know what you're talking about kid and that there was no respect there. How did you deal with that as a first time, not a first time filmmaker, but a first time filmmaker this scenario,

Sonja O'Hara 25:10
I mean, I luckily had producers that believed in me that I had come in and beat now more, more, like, you know, filmmakers that had far more resumes than me, because I've responded to the certain script. And I knew an exact vision of how I would do it. And I impress them in the light phase when I was like making mood boards and cutting together sizzles and doing all these things to get this job. So they knew that I had a vision, and I was passionate, and the actors understood it. And because I'm an actor, first I speak actor, and there's no person on that set, that's not going to feel like I care about their performance. So me and the actors are always good. But there is some issue sometimes with crew members that like, often it's the first ad, they've done a million movies, often they went to AFI, they like are really qualified. And they see me as this like young person who maybe has gotten the job because of optics right now, or in a post me two world. And it's proving that Sure, absolutely. Women are getting jobs. But I also have a voice and a vision. And I can do this, and I'm not going to do it the way someone else would. And I might make mistakes, but I'm going to deliver a movie with heart that's good and has a unique point of view. But I might just do it in my own way. And trying to act like other directors is not going to be the way that I accomplish that. So I learned I the first while I was trying to be like every other director on set. And now I throw that out. And I'm the free spirited little happy director. And I know that I'm not like everyone else, but my way works, too. It's just a different way.

Alex Ferrari 26:38
So you know, I've had, I've had many female directors on set, I'm actually gonna set on the show, because I always love to hear their point of view and their experience, because it's an experience that I just don't understand. Because I'm not a woman. And I had to deal with my own things, you know, being a Latino filmmaker coming up. And there's, there was a whole, there was a whole thing that I had to deal with coming up as a commercial director. But as a female director, I have to imagine that, you know, you got not only ageism, but just guys were just like, Who is this chick? And how is how dare she direct? And it couldn't be

Sonja O'Hara 27:16
Film at me, you know, they're trying to, like, catch me?

Alex Ferrari 27:20
Or like, have you, you know, let's do this scene, you know, like that scene that really did on Blade Runner. And you're like

Sonja O'Hara 27:28
I've started to just own what I know. And what I don't know. Because I think that if somebody catches somebody posturing and pretending they know something that they don't, that's more of a way to lose them. And I might have different references than they do, right. And I might be talking about shots on euphoria. And they might be talking about Rashomon. But that's okay. You know, we can find different ways that there's like, a different way to meet in the middle and still make great movies.

Alex Ferrari 27:51
But, but as far as I mean, because you have the pressure of being a director, you know, on your first big set, and then you've got also these situations, and you you actually very eloquently said it, you know, they might, because of optics, you know, oh, that's why she got this job. You know, as a creative, do you have enough stress, just doing the job, let alone with all this other stuff? Is there a way? Is there any tips that you can give other, you know, female directors or other young directors who have to deal with things that might, you know, might not affect other other directors of different ages? Or races or so on?

Sonja O'Hara 28:27
Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of the time, the things that people are saying when they're upset, it's more that they wish they have that opportunity. It's not really about you and your work situation about where they are at that moment. Like largely, things aren't personal. And largely, people don't really care about you the other person, right? They're just like, endowing the situation with all the other people that they've met that maybe weren't deserving and maybe that person who's your first ad your second ad, is actually a killer filmmaker, and I wish that they would get these opportunities to but what I say is like, I didn't just get handed a job because of being a nepotism hire, right? Like I'm from no money in Nova Scotia, Canada, like I my mother remortgage your house to send me to acting school in this country, right? Like, I'm not from any of it. And I just made micro budget things for a long time because I loved movies, not so somebody would hand me, you know, a movie, like I didn't have any horse like aspirations. I just like to make good weird creative work. And it's just like finding those like, like minded weirdos who want to hire me to do it. So I largely Don't let these haters on set, you know, hurt me will get me down. And often they become my friends like the very people that doubt me the most, I often learn a ton from them because I don't have an ego about it. And there's so much like I have to learn, right? I'm a good filmmaker, but there's so much more I can learn. And I've just become like kind of Zen of like, it's okay, I'm gonna make a good movie. We're all in this together. But you'll know my name. My attitude about it.

Alex Ferrari 29:57
I always I always, you know for me three I always I've told this story on the show before, but I think it's it's a story that do needs to be repeated. I was on a show once that was, I was producing the show the whole series, I was the director. And we were under a lot of stress. We didn't have a lot of budget. But you know, we were able to shoot this whole show. And I had this older first lady who didn't know who I was had no, I'm not that I am anybody but understood, didn't do enough research to know that this is someone who's been directing for 25 years at the point that I did it. So I thought I was you know, who's this person who's this guy, and was giving me crap on day one. And I had to pull him aside and I said, Hey, man, look, I've been doing this for a long time. And I didn't want to pull them aside. Sometimes you got to show teeth. But I never showed teeth publicly. Because that's disrespectful was, yeah, always quietly, Hey, can I talk to you for a second? I'm like, Hey, man, I've been doing this for a long time. I don't appreciate the way you're treating me. And I've done this so much that between me and my DP, I don't need you. And I can, I don't need a first ad on this gig. I can do this by myself. So if you don't act, right, you're fired. And from that moment on biggest cheerleader he was? Yes, sir. No, Sir Howard, because he finally realized, oh, okay, this guy understand. And he was a frustrated director. And that's okay. It had nothing to do.

Sonja O'Hara 31:23
And they tried to make other people on your crew think poorly of you, because of their bad attitude. And I definitely thought things were, the crew has listened to my DP who's a man instead of me. And we're like, laying down dolly tracks for something that I was dead hadn't approved. And there are times that I have to just be okay being like, that's not what we're doing. And

Alex Ferrari 31:43
So children, children come back to the table. What we're doing,

Sonja O'Hara 31:48
When people called me miss, oh, like, I Miss Frizzle, from the little like, you know, on set, because like I do, I'll be like a really nice kindergarten teacher. But when people are condescending, I'm like, that's not how we're doing it. And then we like, you know, get back to what I meant to do.

Alex Ferrari 32:05
And that's a, that's a great way, a non abrasive way of doing it. And it's in people, it means you got to be pretty heartless and not react to that in a good positive way. And there's only so much that you can take before you you just go, Okay, I'm fine.

Sonja O'Hara 32:20
And you have to make your day and like there were times that it becomes bigger than me and people are getting in the way of that I'm like, Okay, we literally have to, and right now I'm only having to shoot maximum, maybe five pages a day. And you've told me stories about how many bajillion pages that you're doing. And I have such respect for that. But, you know, I'm like, I have to make my day I can't go over budget. And there's like a pressure there that's bigger than me and like my sentiments towards, like making art in a beautiful collective.

Alex Ferrari 32:46
It's, it's a really fascinating conversation. It really is. Yeah, and like that one show, by the way, we shot 96 pages in four days. And that's instant. And it was with Austin, my good buddy and DP, who's the best and he we were able to just knock it out. But it was just so funny, because I just had to run the first idea of like, dude, I'm literally paying you like, it's my production company producing this

Sonja O'Hara 33:14
All the time in LA where I go to a party. And people imagine that I'm just an actress, or I'm somebody's girlfriend. And it's like a bunch of crew guys that I could hire that I'm like crewing up for my next movie, right? And it's deep. He's talking down to me and acting like I don't know anything about cameras or lenses. And they're talking about like, glass and wood, all this stuff. And they just think that I don't know. And I might remain silent. But I'm like, You're not you could have had a job. And you just took yourself out of the running for this. Because you're being sexist,

Alex Ferrari 33:43
Right! And never just never judge a book by its cover. Never judge a book by it's just, it's old mentality. It's an old mentality. And that's how like, you know, when I was a younger filmmaker, they did that to me, they just would like, you know, they would like oh, this is a PA. I'm like, Nah, dude, I'm the director of the show.

Sonja O'Hara 34:03
Yeah, but then they get hard. And they see that I'm with a mega agency. And then there's like this quick about face and how they treat me. But it's, you know, you want to work with your friends. You want to work with like, cool down to earth, people that are going to be lovely when you're doing a 14 hour day, right? If you have an attitude, it's just not going to work, you know.

Alex Ferrari 34:20
Now on that first project or either of the two features that you've finished. There's always that day that we all all directors have, that the whole world coming down, crashing down around you. What was that day for you? And how did you overcome that obstacle?

Sonja O'Hara 34:39
Yeah, I had an actor on a project that had a really strong emotional response to he just wanted more coverage. And he wanted us to spend more time on a scene and the show must go on and I'd gotten what I needed. And there was an actor who just had a full breakdown, and was threatening to like, call their agents and more We're talking like history, Onyx. And like blaming everyone and not seeing logic. And it's going to cost our day like the actor was like refusing to do a stunt. And we had like all these things set up. And there were times that I think that so much of directing is just people skills, and be able to step up and be a leader and be like a freaking, like, I just have to like spin things and be kind and support. Because like, I'm knowing that I have to make my day I'm against the clock, I'm being told by the producers that I have to be able to get this particular actor to like, do his thing. And I'm just having to like hold hands and stroking egos, and all this stuff that I wonder if I'd have to do if I were a man, to be honest. But I got my I thought the person around, I like convince them. And on another movie, too, I had an actor who didn't have enough time was kind of a star who didn't have enough time for hair and makeup. And she just wanted to like blow our day, because she had the power to do so. And each time it's sort of like me getting like having an out of body experience and being like, Okay, I have to convince people to do the thing that I need for the to get the movie through it. And I just like, I don't know, it's like, my blood pressure is through the roof. But I'm just looking this actor in the eye, and like holding their hand and saying we can do this and convincing them to come to set. And it's just, I've had a number of those things.

Alex Ferrari 36:20
So it's interesting. I mean, I doubt that Ridley Scott was directing either of those projects that they would have been this issue,

Sonja O'Hara 36:25
They wouldn't have it would not have been. Yes. And then later, these actors become my biggest ally on social media and in the media, and talk about supporting female directors. And I always think it's interesting, because the reality isn't always that.

Alex Ferrari 36:38
Yeah, it's interesting, because you have to deal with things that I doubt that that that first direct that first actor who lost his his crap. Um, you know, I don't think he would have done it with someone like myself.

Sonja O'Hara 36:51
No, he wouldn't have he absolutely. He's a gifted actor. And like, you know, it's fine. And I forgive but

Alex Ferrari 36:58
No, no, no, but yeah, it's completely 100%. But it's, but it's great training for a director, because I've had that I've had, I've had actors who either weren't doing their job. And that all comes from insecurity, that guys, that was all insecurity and fear, and just.

Sonja O'Hara 37:14
And I have to say that now that the bigger actors like the marquee names, I've largely had wonderful experience, yes, have any sort of a need to do it, they want to have a smooth day, they want to make this a great cameo or whatever else. And they're lovely. And sometimes I do see like, it takes like a day for them to want to take my specific direction. Like before them, I see them sort of watching out for themselves. And they're worried that if they take a direction from an early career director, and it makes them look bad, they're the one that's going to suffer. And it could affect maybe their rate on the next movie, but they watch me direct other actors. And within a day or two, I've won them over. And then we're working together beautifully. And in tandem, you know? So it's just, it's, you know, and I think the more movies I do, you're just going to Command more respect, you know, ultimately, and I just worked with the beautiful Bruce Dern on the movie was the most supportive, wonderful human ever, like telling me stories of like, working with Hitchcock, and like collaborating with Tarantino. And like, I could have sat down and listen to this man talk forever, like our ADR session was in just like regaling his stories. And like, it was like the most fun ever, like he's the coolest dude.

Alex Ferrari 38:26
I mean, I've had the pleasure of working with those kinds of actors as well. And they're just, they're just such, they're old school, they're Pro, they come prepared. There's no ego, they're about the work. You know, and it doesn't matter if it's a $1 million movie or $100 million movie it did. They're bringing their stuff. But it's interesting that you say that they look at you for those first couple days, because they're protecting themselves. That happens with all directors to a certain extent, and all and all actors, because even from, you know, actors that I've talked to who are very established actors who work with really established directors, for the first time, you know, when you're on set, you want to figure out how, how do you? Is this going to work? Because you've got basically two titans. So you know, when Meryl Streep is on set, and she's working with Steven Spielberg, for the first time, you've got two titans. Yes. Now, either one has equal power. Yeah, for sure. They're just equal power. So, you know, obviously, they played the game long enough that they wouldn't have signed on unless they really felt that they could vibe and things like that. But at a certain point, you just have to figure out like, how it's one thing to have lunch with somebody and maybe even go away for a weekend and go to you know, and things like that and hang out with them and all this kind of stuff. But there's nothing being on set. And there was one story I will I will have heard which is so amazing. There was this one actor and I can't use their names because it was an Eric story, but it was brilliant. And I'll tell you who the actors are after we after we stopped. But there was this very famous actor who was chasing this very famous director. I mean, just chasing them to do this movie. And like, you got to do it, you got to do it, you got to do it. And finally he broke them down is like, Okay, let's do the movie. First day on set, that actor tested. That director, that director had been directing at that point, for two years. Very well known director, and the actor, very legendary actor. And he tested him, not to his face, but by his actions. So there was a scene that something happened. And there was a PA that was supposed to do something. And he was like, this pa isn't doing the thing the way he's supposed to be doing it. And I want him off the set. It that's it. And then the director came down is like, Alright, what's going on? He's like, I want them off the set. He's not doing what he's doing. Right. And he was testing to see how far he could push. And after the fact, then that director who is just old school directed a billion freakin things. Like it was a commercial director, and he did all this kind of stuff. He's like, you act, you do the thing. Let's start again. Wow. And never, and never and never had a problem with him again. But he was being tested by a very seasoned actor to see if he's got control, or am I going to be able to walk all over him? I don't care if he's a seasoned director or not. And the director just called them right off right there. They won instantly. And if he didn't do that, the whole shoot would have been hell. But from that moment on the shoot pretty much ran smoothly with that actor, though, and he's that actor is known for being difficult sometimes. But he's a genius. So I get it.

Sonja O'Hara 41:59
Well, right. Totally. And like there I was, like directing Stephen Lang, you know, obviously, yes. Come on. Don't breathe franchise, like he's amazing and super skilled. And he's such a force. But there are times that like, you know, he just requires a really professional set that moves quickly. And he deserves that, because he shows up, so ready to go. And he knows all day long, huge pages of dialogue. And it's like, I can't have my focus puller, doing like, everything has to go smoothly. And it's like, you just step up your game, and you're working with people like that. And like I learned so much from him. And by the end of the movie, he was like, I want to be in your next movie. And now we have this like, beautiful bond. But for the first couple days, he's watching me and then we'll go up to the monitor. He's like, That's a stylish shot. And then like, thank you. And you know, and it's like, he's looking at all of it.

Alex Ferrari 42:45
He's just been around. He's been around, he's worked with James Cameron, like, you know,

Sonja O'Hara 42:50
He's talking about working with these people and like having lunch with Dustin Hoffman yesterday. And you're like trying to not be intimidated. And he's not meaning to name drop. He's like, I just worked with Sandy Bullock this week. And I'm like, awesome.

Alex Ferrari 43:02
Tell Sandy, I said hi.

Sonja O'Hara 43:05
But like, they're the coolest. And I learned so much from working with those actors, but they don't give me any problem. Like they're there to up my game. And I you know, it's really collaborative.

Alex Ferrari 43:14
If you as long as you bring your A game with actors like that, and now only actors like that dps at that level. Oh, yeah. Production. No hope. You mean you weren't when you're working with an Oscar winning DP? You better know what you're talking about. And you don't need to know his job or her job. No, absolutely. You don't need to know about glass.

Sonja O'Hara 43:35
Yeah, I have to know what you want. And that's where I'm so involved with the shortlist, especially because I often act in things that I direct to. So I have to have such a relationship with my DP that for this last movie, mid century, the last week, I'm like acting in it for five days, and I get four weeks first, we're just directing. And we did the schedule that way deliberately. So you know, by then you can relax a little bit more in the last week. But those days that I'm acting and directing,

Alex Ferrari 44:02
How do you do that? Like, how do you do that? How do you like the one scene, the one or two scenes that I acted in the movie, we were together, I was playing myself. I was playing myself. And I was just like, it was just so awkward. And it was weird. And it was just like, how do you it's such a weird thing. I think every director listening should act in a scene with an actor just once. So they can see so because I saw your performance, you were like right next to me in the in the scene that we did together. And you would say stuff that would be like so audacious, that I haven't told you like I'm a disenfranchised millennial. I was like, I said, Cut. I want to slap you with that. Oh my god, that's so obnoxious. That's brilliant. Let's do it again. But being in the movie, and watching it from that perspective, is such a weird experience for a director because we're usually separated. Yes, it's so I love to hear your point. Because I mean, I don't consider what I did acting, I was just playing myself. But what

Sonja O'Hara 45:10
Cameo I mean, I don't know, for me, it's sort of trusting those collaborators, right, because even the days that I'm acting and getting to sit in hair and makeup, and like I'm having to like be holding my little monitor, and I'm still like directing. At some point, I have to turn off my director hat and be an actor in order to give the performance in my own movie that is going to be solid. So it's just on those days, really handing it over knowing that my DP knows exactly what I'm trying to go for. And trusting those around me and you feel like you're in a theater troupe at that point, and everyone has your back. And everyone's rooting for you to succeed, and trying it different ways. And just trusting and not being at the monitor and not trying to like do two things at once. Because then I can just see it in an actor's performance when they're like backseat directing. So it's like just trying to be present with my scene partner. And I've been lucky, like in this movie, I had a single Shane West and I grew up like I saw A Walk to Remember when it was like a shirt, right? You kind of have like a talent crush on these people. But it's just trying to be present in the scene. And then as soon as I'm done that scene, then I can go back to being the director. And then later in the edit, I might be extra anal about those scenes, because there are certain things that maybe micromanage and you're like, Oh, God, why did I do that? Or whatever. But it's really fun, and you feel very alive. But I try not to do three at once. Like if I'm acting, writing and directing, like, I think, ideally, I don't do more than two of those things on the same movie.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
Right! Because it's a lot. It's a lot. It's, it's, it's, it's so interesting. It's so interesting, because when you you know, I've had the experience now because of the show to, you know, speak and have long conversations with some amazing filmmakers. Some that I grew up with some that I have palette, I love the talent crush, I'd love that term talent crush. But you know, at a certain point, you know, that last for a minute, because I'm sure the first day when Bruce Dern walked on set, you were just like, Oh my God, but as a professional, you have to like, I can't, I can't get out right now. I need

Sonja O'Hara 47:09
I don't keep out my rules. I don't keep out till ADR when the movies in the can. That's how I could actually be a little starstruck. But before then we are just peers, we are on a set, right? coworkers. And it's like, you can't let any of that like mysticism about this person that you grew up watching. And but by ADR, that's the only time I'll ever take a selfie with an actor before then I'm like, a little more closed off, and I'm just trying to do my job. See what a big deal.

Alex Ferrari 47:34
Yeah, like you can't go on send the first day and just take a shot with them. Like, it's like, it's so you want to though.

Sonja O'Hara 47:40
I want to and I want to so badly but I've just learned that I have to keep like there's just a certain level of calm, I assure I can't even let myself fangirl like you're there to do a job. And you are there to make them have the quickest, most easy day possible. But then later, you know, when I become their friend, when you're promoting the film down the road, then they're like, oh my god, I had no idea you were even a fan because I was like, very chill.

Alex Ferrari 48:07
It's similar to me, when I'm talking to somebody, when I first meet them on the show. I'm like, okay, boom, boom. And after an hour, two hours of conversations and the recording stops. I'm like, dude, okay, that movie that you did, and then I'll just and then and then I'll pick up but I won't kick out prior to that. Because it's um, you can't, you just can't, okay?

Sonja O'Hara 48:24
We're having a rapport with them. And you're both equals, in that situation, you are having a dialogue and you're being of service to other people. And that's what I kept on reminding myself but later, I'm like, Oh, my God, you're my favorite actor, you know?

Alex Ferrari 48:35
So how do you so how do you I love asking this question of directors who work with these kind of caliber actors? How did you approach directing a booster and receive like, like, what was your literal approach to like directing them?

Sonja O'Hara 48:49
Well, I mean, I try to see everything they've done beforehand. So I'm never stumped, because Bruce Dern will throw an obscure movie at you. And you kind of need to know the reference. So I want to know everything about them before I try to read interviews before to talk about what their process is. Both Bruce Dern and Stephen Lang are actor studio guys. And I was an observer at their Actors Studio in New York. So I knew that I could talk to them about sort of method things and talk to them about private moments and just geek out about these things. And then I try to ask people just directly, like, how do you work, you know, and, and I'm just really cognizant of never getting in the way of the process, never ever giving someone a line reading. Like, it's really just sort of respectful. You know, what I mean? Like, there are times that you have in your head, like a certain idea of how you might want something to go, and then these people are going to throw such a different direction at you, that you just have to be so like, you are in awe of their ability, and I just I relinquish control and it might go a different way than I want but it's going to make me look good if I'm supportive of the thing that they're going to do anyway. And then just watching them do a take before I ever do give them any sort of direction and sort of earning that, you know, back in with them, and trying not to get too heavy, because there were a couple times in the beginning that like, I could write an essay on what every scene means. And like letting that go and trying to just, you know, sometimes it's so much simpler than you think. And you're like, Wow, this is brilliant. And I don't know, I mean, I think it's just like being kind and open. And, you know, they're, they're experts, and they'll make you look good. If you're just, you know, in any way, like, open and present, you know? Yeah, no, doctors are harder to direct than pros. That's how I kind of see it.

Alex Ferrari 50:32
I agree with you 110% professionals who've been around forever, who were sometimes legendary, these guys and gals, both that just, they just show up, they do their job, they know what their lines are. It's the younger actors, it's the more inexperienced actors is the is the more insecure actors, who are the problems that you have to

Sonja O'Hara 50:51
That's where a lot of my day will be working with somebody who's more experienced, and the bigger actors, but it's also like trusting that I have something to say, and that my directions are worthwhile, and that we're in this together. And I've gotten far more confident about like saying what needs to be said, without, you know, worrying that maybe I'll offend someone, because I think if you're invested in them having a great performance, and you're both together trying to make a great movie, you're just collaborating, and I try to not think about their stature, or anything else if you're just trying to make a cool fucking movie.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
Right! And they would, and they appreciate that. Because if you are like, Do you know who you are? Like, yeah, you can't, that that hurts the process? Because yes, that might be fun for a minute, but then you've got

Sonja O'Hara 51:36
No yeah. And I mean, like, I'm an actor, and they're an actor, and maybe we're doing a scene together. Or maybe I'm watching them doing a scene. But like, I don't know, we're just in it together and your team, team members together. And that's really like, given me a lot of calm going into set with these people. And like we're just in it together.

Alex Ferrari 51:54
Did you what was a big lesson you picked up from Bruce, as far as acting or see from just an actor's perspective, you're like, wow, I, I'm putting that in my toolbox.

Sonja O'Hara 52:04
I mean, Bruce does a thing called giving a doing a Jersey, where he makes you at the end of any take to just keep rolling until he basically says cut, and he's gonna throw out some improv things. And they're usually gems. And it was interesting watching Stephen Lang, who doesn't really do that, and Bruce, who's going to wing it, and like, do a total a bit and seeing them work off of each other. So you know, not calling up too soon. And sort of like letting them have their human behavior was something that was cool. And then Bruce likes his actors, Bruce reads lips, and it's really hard in a time of COVID with masks, because he's an older, he's 85 years old, right? And he wants to be able to read your lips in order for him to be able to hear things. So like, that was tough. Like, there were some miscommunications of just, you know, that's a challenge. And he likes his actors to be I mean, he's director to be like, really close, like, you're not back at video Village. And I'm like that anyway, like, I'm on the ground next to a scene with my mini monitor, like I'm like, right in the action. But he said he doesn't like directors that are like, distant and removed. And he likes people that are just really open and forthright. And like, I just learned so much from, like, just the way that he talks about movies. I mean, it's like being in a masterclass, but still trying to make us make our day because you can tell. Right? And you're like, it's film school, but I also need you to do this thing right now. And you'll laugh and like, do the thing. But

Alex Ferrari 53:31
That's That's to say, to say the least no, that's, that's, that's awesome. Because I yeah, I have to ask you, what do you what was there? Is there something that you wish your your you could tell your younger self? Is there something that you could go back and that you just didn't like, Man, I wish somebody would have told me this.

Sonja O'Hara 53:50
Yeah, I mean, I think that with auditions and casting, I see such incredible actors all the time auditioning for like projects that are wonderful, and they're not getting the part because they're literally not the type that you need to serve that story and do that thing. And I just thought I was awful and untalented all the time when I was younger, like the amount of time that I just beat myself up about not getting something and it was so completely out of my control and it had nothing to do with my ability. So just hearing like, you are enough. You have talent, you have a voice and you're going to have the career you want but be patient like I had no you know like I just wanted everything 10 minutes ago and you know I think it was just chilling out like was really important and I had no chill you know?

Alex Ferrari 54:37
I I'd argue still have very little chill but chill saw. Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, but that's the energy you have when you're when you're young is that you just are like this energy like I want I want to write like when I was in my 20s I'm like, why hasn't Hollywood figured out I'm a genius yet. What is going on? I should have I should be directing major motion pictures at this point in time. No, I mean, Orson Welles did it a 23 Spielberg did it at 27. I mean, what how old was Lucas when he did do a Star Wars? Like I mean, you start doing that kind of crap to yourself. And my everyone, I always asked that question, which I'll ask you in a second, like, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn? For me, it's patience. Patience, is patience is patience. And I'll drop a name from one of my former guests. Richard Linklater, who said, the best the best advice he gave, he gave us like, what are however long you think it's gonna take to get to your to make your movie, it's going to be twice as long, it's gonna take twice as long. And not done twice as long and twice as hard. For sure. Still, and he's still hustling it. He's still going after it

Sonja O'Hara 55:48
End up like achieving the things that you've always wanted. And then you realize like that your idea of like, achieving the goal feels good for a second. Like when I got my Daytime Emmy nomination last year, yeah, all I wanted was to be able to be like, I'm an Emmy nominee, and then you get it. And then you still feel like a big imposter. And it still doesn't like, you know what I mean? It's like, anytime you get the goal, it feels good for a second, and then you're still back to being yourself, and stuck in your own head with your own fears. It's and that sort of forever,

Alex Ferrari 56:19
It's the best piece of advice I could say to people is that the life that life and specifically our career, but life in general is the journey, not the event.

Sonja O'Hara 56:28
It is. And it sounds cheesy, and like it's so hard for people to understand it. But like, I love what I do, I'm gonna do this at freaking 98 years old. I'm certainly acting, writing and directing. It's the great love of my life doing this stuff. And it's such a privilege to get to do it. And like sometimes you have good years, and sometimes you don't, but like everyone, no matter what stage they in, that they're making it, they're still feeling like they're not enough and that they're not talented and like it doesn't that doesn't really go away. And I always just imagined one day, I'd have the big agency and I'd be doing bigger movies, and that my life would be without problems. And that like everything would feel hunky dory. And you still I still am like the nerd. I was at 17 and acting school in New York. Like that doesn't change, you know?

Alex Ferrari 57:11
No, absolutely. And one thing I'd love to just touch upon is that imposter syndrome is something that I've asked the biggest, most accomplished writers and directors in Hollywood, won Oscars, who've won Emmys, world legends. And they all say, I haven't watched it still, I still have it. And I'm like, But you, you you made friends. You know, and I had Martha Kaufman, who's who's gonna come on the show in a few in a few weeks. She said, Yeah, I still have it every day. And you're like, like, like security's gonna walk in. And oh, what are you doing here? You're not supposed to be directing who gave you get security? Get her out of here, or get him out of here? Well, it's a weird thing all the time. But that's an artist though. But that's a

Sonja O'Hara 58:01
And I think that you have to be vulnerable to make good art, and letting yourself be vulnerable. Lets like the demons come in a little bit to make you feel like why do you deserve this opportunity? And like, Why does anything I say matter? And like that happens. But I just tried to tell myself, somebody was going to get this job, why not me? You know what, like, you know that, like, we're all trying our best. And like, I'm just going to keep on making movies. And you just have to remind yourself that like you have intrinsic worth, and you have something to say, and that whenever people talk about waiting until the perfect circumstance to make a movie, I always get upset, because that's never going to happen. And growth is inherently uncomfortable, right? So the first time I ever do a new movie, I feel deeply uncomfortable. And I feel like I can't physically do it. And meanwhile, I've gone into pitch on that movie where I've tried to convince everyone. Oh, yeah, this is so easy. I've got this, I'm going to give you the best movie ever. And then I get involved with the creative process. And then you doubt everything. But I think that's part of what makes work good.

Alex Ferrari 59:03
But that's the process. But that's the process. Well, I mean, that happens with everybody, every director at any stage of their career. They're still they're still trying to figure it out. They're still like it's brand new to them. You know, again, and I've had that privilege of talking to these these these amazing artists and you just start to realize you're like, you put them up on a pennis pedestal. Yeah, but they're, they're filmmakers. They're there. They're writers. They go through the same they have to make their day. The camera might not work the sun the light might be going away on a $200 million movie. And on a $1 million movie. It they struggled with the same the process is the same. The paint brushes are different the players might be different. But foot like if I use of baseball or football analogy, if you're playing it with your friends on a field. High school football is the exact same is professional NFL football, right bought at home Another level and a whole other speed and a whole other level of performance. But the game is the game, no matter who you are, and at what level you're at, the game doesn't change. And that's, that's, you know, you could be playing on the sandlot. Or you could be playing in a major stadium. You hit the ball, you catch the ball, you throw the ball.

Sonja O'Hara 1:00:17
And I always feel better with directing. It's such a collaboration, right? Like, yeah, trust Bunheads. And you trust the people you're working with. Like, it feels like we're all in it together. Writing is a process that's far more painful for me. Because I feel like it's all me sharing my most like my demons on the page. And that I'm going to be skewered for it. And like, it's just such a different, more vulnerable process to me, and much harder for me to do it. Like I can daily show up to set and be a director and give my all and then like that with with acting too. But writing is like one of those things that I'm crippled with levels of like, you know, the imposter syndrome in a different way. So I think we all have like different things that, you know, come easier, and like writing will always feel like you'd like purging something really significant. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
That's amazing. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker, a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Sonja O'Hara 1:01:15
Make your micro budget feature, just go and do it. And no excuses, like, make this thing yesterday? Because you will not have somebody else give you money until you've put your heart and soul and finances into that first project. So go make it because that's the only reason I have a career

Alex Ferrari 1:01:29
And sell your eggs.

Sonja O'Hara 1:01:30
And sell your eggs. Absolutely!

Alex Ferrari 1:01:34
If you have to sell finance your first feature that way? Absolutely. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Sonja O'Hara 1:01:44
I think finding your tribe, like there's an urge when you first start to get into the industry that you want to reach up to people that are ahead of you. And I think that you're going to find most of your valuable collaborators with people that you're currently enacting class with, or you're making that student film with, and those collective of artists that were my own peers, or people that I'm now bringing with me from project to project and that feels really good. So realize the worst and the people around you.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:10
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Sonja O'Hara 1:02:13
Ooh, Mulholland Drive is probably my favorite film of all time. I'm all about Eve, and Betty Davis film Love that makes that makes sense. And who, um, I've been really obsessed with Fincher his films recently. Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
I mean, we're all they're all. I mean, you've talking to a Fincher fanatic. And I had Jeff crone worth as dp on the show. And we so geeked out on his process and how he works he's been he's been doing he's been working with him since fightclub. So you know, he did grow with the dragon that too and social network and like dude, social network had to get that shot how to do this. How do you do that? Like it was just fascinating. But yeah, Fincher note, no question.

Sonja O'Hara 1:03:02
I feel like I want to make a movie like Black Swan. I think that's I just psychological haunting stories of ambition are what keeps me up at night. And what I'm interested in making

Alex Ferrari 1:03:11
That makes that makes sense. And I think Julia would definitely like all believe, I think that's definitely our top. And what's next for you? I know, you've got 1000 projects going on. You should be doing the next Avengers soon. What's happening?

Sonja O'Hara 1:03:25
My movie mid century is going to be coming out this year, I said, signed with a very cool distributor. And you'll see news in the trade sometime soon about that. So that will be coming out. And then my series doomsday that got the Emmy nomination will be released on VOD and demand and all the streamers on March 1st.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:44
Very cool. And how about the other film you have going on.

Sonja O'Hara 1:03:48
The other feature is in post right now. And it's about to make its festival premiere. So I'll be able to announce some information about that soon.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:56
So I am so happy for you in all your success. And it's so fun for me because I literally was there at the beginning of this part of your journey. And I'm so glad I had a small, just a small part in helping you get to where you are today, just by casting you in a movie. I'm not taking any credit whatsoever for what you've done. But just

Sonja O'Hara 1:04:20
You were fundamental to where I'am today.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:23
I am not. I'm not hunting for I'm not hunting for a compliment. But I but I'm just glad that could be part of the the the journey in one small way. And I'm really glad to see it. And I every time I go on Facebook, I see your happy face pop up like hey, you know, it's me Quintin and we're just hanging out. I'm like, but, but you know, but that's the kind of stuff I'm like, oh good for her man. I'm so happy for you. So, continued success. I cannot wait to see the films you make in the future. And I hope this interview inspires a lot of other directors and female directors out there to tell their stories. So I appreciate you.

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IFH 567: Inside Pixar’s Brain Trust Turning Red with Julia Cho

Award-winning playwright and co-writer of Pixar’s TURNING RED, Julia Cho was born and raised in the arid suburbs of Southern California and Arizona. After a fairly uneventful childhood, she unexpectedly discovered theater as a teen and subsequently foiled her parents’ expectations of a life of respectability and normalcy.

Disney and Pixar’s “Turning Red” introduces Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang), a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter—an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically ALWAYS), she “poofs” into a giant red panda! Directed by Academy Award® winner Domee Shi (Pixar short “Bao”) and produced by Lindsey Collins.

Instead, armed with an MFA in writing from NYU and a prestigious fellowship at The Juilliard School, Julia launched herself into the New York theater scene. She soon landed residencies at the Sundance Lab and New Dramatists and productions at high-profile theaters in NYC and across the country. Memorable productions include “The Language Archive” (winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Award), “Aubergine” and “Office Hour.” For her body of work, she received the 2020 Windham-Campbell Literary Prize for Drama which wrote: “Alternately lyrical and sharp, rigorous and whimsical, Cho’s plays demand that we listen.”

Alongside her theatrics, Cho has also cultivated a career as a writer and producer of a broad range of television shows from cult sci-fi (“Fringe”) to character-driven drama (“Big Love,” “Halt and Catch Fire”). She also adapted the critically-acclaimed novel The Madonnas of Echo Park for HBO and Starz, which showcased her ability to transform eloquent fiction into dynamic and propulsive narrative.

Driven by keen curiosity and a passion for language, Julia strives to create work that expands our worlds and sparks our deepest empathies. She’s currently under commission for South Coast Repertory to write a new play and is a Co-Executive Producer for the Amazon series, “Paper Girls.” In other words, she’s following a movie about four thirteen-year-old girls with a series about four twelve-year-old girls. A project about four eleven-year-old girls is forthcoming.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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

Julia Cho 0:14
I'm doing great. Thank you so much for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on this show, I am excited to talk to an Pixar insider, what it's like to work inside of the magic machine that we all have grown up with and love so much. But that's not your only claim to fame. And we're gonna get into your whole journey, which is not, you just weren't born out of, you know, Pixar is womb, and you've been there all this time. You're you've done other things in life. So how did you and why did you want to get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Julia Cho 0:48
Oh, well, that's a how long is this podcast? I was not necessarily a decision, like an intention that I had. I mean, my first thought was theater, right? I had kind of grown up loving to read and wanting to be a writer. And for me, I got the theater bug as a teenager, and then just kind of found myself veering towards writing when I was in college and started writing plays. And at that point, I would say I was just a fan of the movies, I would just watch movies as a normal a person. And I do remember watching the Pixar movies even back then as a young adult and just being like, I love these. I know they're for kids, but I love them, you know. And there was one moment where I think I'm on a date with my who's my gangs, my husband now but we went on an early date to say Monsters Inc. And I remember, like, at the time, I was really just still a struggling playwright. And I just couldn't imagine anything more diametrically opposite to what I was doing. Because it was like what I did with these, like really heavy sad plays and tiny rooms the size of a closet that like 10 people saw. And then here I was watching Monsters Inc, which made me cry, but also just made you laugh. And, and it was so exuberant. And I just remember articulating to my husband, I don't know what to call somebody who becomes that, but we're walking out and I'm like, oh, it'd be so amazing to work at Pixar someday, you know. So I do, I start to become like a firm believer of putting it out there in the universe. Because I think the fact that I actually said that just started some atomic ripple maybe years later, came back to me, because then I continue to do plays. And then I was doing a play at Berkeley Rep. And just to make the long story short. Pixar is always looking for writers and Mary Coleman, who's the head of development there, among many jobs that she does. One of them is to always kind of be looking for writers to come to Pixar. And through a friend, who I have a friend who's a playwright screenwriter named Keith bunion who was working on onward, she, I think, came to me and actually came to see the play that I was doing in Berkeley. And so I think that's kind of how it started. So I would just say, in a kind of accident, the way through my theater, I actually ended up being tapped to come to Pixar, which I never would have ever predicted.

Alex Ferrari 3:05
It's so funny, because so many people who have the intention, like I'm going to work for Pixar, I'm going to do everything right to get on the radar of Pixar and do this or that and that and you did none of that. You just said hey, how cool would it be? And then if you would have gone back to talk to that person coming out of Monsters Inc. You're gonna go, Hey, you're gonna work on Pixar one day. And you're like, who are you? You're psychotic. Get away from me.

Julia Cho 3:25
Yeah, you're insane, Never gonna happen? No. And I do find that. Like, he keeps doing that, to me. Like I keep seeing ways in which you think that way to do life is to like, figure out exactly what you want and just head straight towards it. And some people maybe that works for them. But for me, it's always been kind of just steering towards writing as honestly as I can writing the things I want to write, you know, and just sort of pursuing that and then completely out of the blue come something that I couldn't have anticipated. And that's just been the way it's been for me. And Pixar was definitely like that, because I never never made that a goal. And I even think you could make it a goal like and to this day, I think, yeah, you can't it's Pixar has to find you. You can't you can't go knocking on the door and and hand them your scripts.

Alex Ferrari 4:15
It's yeah, it's kind of like, you know, I've had so many writers and directors on the show who've told me that Spielberg gave me a shot I'm like, how did you get this feeling? Like it's like I didn't like knock on his door and hand them a script. It just like that kind of that energy will eventually find you when, if that's the path that you need to walk and it's so interesting that no matter what you did along your path, nothing even there wasn't even an inkling because I looked at your your resume. There's nothing that says Pixar, like there's not even there's not even a short film. There is not like any even your story that shows you work that nothing says this would make a good Pixar screenwriter.

Julia Cho 4:55
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You know, and then and then I yeah, I think it's also been illuminating. because, you know, once I got there, I felt like yeah total fish out of water. And it was really gratifying then to meet the other writers and realize a lot of them had Motley backgrounds to you know, other playwrights I ended up at Pixar, not just me. And um, so I do feel like the perception is that there's a certain thing you'd expect at a Pixar writer. And then I have found that the actual writers are much more idiosyncratic. Interesting budge,

Alex Ferrari 5:23
Right! Exactly. Because it makes it makes the writing more interesting when you have a motley crew and Motley background, as you say.

Julia Cho 5:30
Yeah, yeah. And I think that, you know, no one there, I don't think I've encountered yet did feature animation before coming to Pixar, you know, and when you think of what that world is just feature animation riders, it's really small. And I think that Pixar feels like we've got that covered. You know, like, it's just like your know how to do feature animation. So what that kind of frees up is that the writer can come with a different set of skills. And I think that's been really great. That's sort of like, you don't have to overlap on our Venn diagram, you can actually have your own thing and we can have a place where we all meet, but we actually want people who think differently or have different experiences.

Alex Ferrari 6:09
Now you, you also went to Julliard and in the Sundance lab as well, early in your career

Julia Cho 6:15
Is that right. Yeah, I got to develop a play at Sundance and go to Juilliard. Yeah, I do playwriting residency there.

Alex Ferrari 6:24
Again, both things don't suck at all. If you're a writer, so what are some of the biggest lessons you took away from you, since you were such a young writer at that point, from working in those two amazing, you know, programs.

Julia Cho 6:38
Well, gosh, Sundance was really illuminating. Because I was so young, I think that was one of the first kind of professional ish experiences I had. And I just remember feeling like that first play I was trying to write, I really struggled with. And I just had a moment where I got to the point where I was so lost, and I was working on a piece of writing, but just felt like I couldn't like really land it. And I just remember getting on my knees and praying, I like literally prayed to God, I was like, I don't know what to do. And this play, I need to present it before the entire Sunday. You were all doing readings for each other. And I just remembered doing a prayer that I don't remember word for word, but the gist of it was like, please help me get out of my own way. Please, just larger force. I don't know what you are God, the universe just just take over, you know, because like, I think it, it's like, I think I couldn't articulate it at that age. But I think it was a sense of like, rather than trying to generate something from my ego, like, please help me tap into something and be a conduit to something instead, you know, and I think that was maybe the first time I'd really thought about writing in that way. Because I kept seeing writing as like something I did that was out of my ego and my identity. And, and I think that that was maybe the beginning of feeling like writing was if it was working right, it was actually me tapping into something or me channeling something, you know. And so I don't think I succeeded, to be honest, completely. But at least that was where I felt that first intuition of like, oh, there's a different way to to write. And then I think the thing I learned from being at Juilliard, which was some years later, I was a little bit more experienced, not very, I just remember so many teachers that were Marsha Norman Chris Durang, who are both like lotted, amazing, you know, American playwrights with a capital A and a P, you know, they're, they're amazing. And we would come in with our, like, 10 pages, like, we were just kind of the 10 pages. And I just remember that at the time, I was writing a lot of really just sad, dark stuff. And we would talk about our voices and what we're trying to write and actually our Marcia being like, you know, we all want to be Neil Simon, we all want to just write funny and happy, you know, and she's like, You are who you are, there's nothing you can do about that. You can't wish you're a different type of writer than the writer you are. So don't even bother, don't even waste time doing that. And that helped because I think I was in that mode of like, why can I write funny or happier things and he was just like, too bad. You just You are who you are. And then the other thing she would do, which has stayed with me, she always kind of referred to writers as warriors. You know, like, like, you know, I think the image of us is we're drunken and saw often. Just like lay around in her bathrobe was like, excited. And she really reminded us of how much courage it takes to write and how tough you have to do to write and she always spoke of us as you know, warriors if we were really engaged in doing it, right. So and then that kinda stayed with me.

Alex Ferrari 9:56
So you know, that's so funny because I you know, I've had the again the pleasure You're talking to so many amazing screenwriters and filmmakers. And I always ask, especially with writers, I go, is there ever a moment where you just wrote something down? And you go back to read and you go, who wrote that? That's not the amazing, not the amazing, but But you just like how to, like something literally hits, you tapped into something that wasn't you. But it is. This is what I found as a writer myself, when you tap into that thing, it is that that energy and this goes for Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Tony winners I've spoken to, they tap into that thing, but it comes in filtered through you. So it is a filtering process that you are the filter. So it comes out through your voice, but it still comes through you. And if it comes if you're not in the place of ego when you're doing it, because I've written in a place of ego, horrible, horrible, horrible to write in that place. But when you write when you're like what you said, then you feel something coming through you. It's so much easier.

Julia Cho 10:58
Yeah, it is. And it's rare. I think that's the thing. It's like you can't plan it, you just kind of and I really do feel like it started to come like you know, the way surfers go out every day, you just they go out every day. And some days, the waves are awesome. And some days away slack. Increasing felt like writing was like that I would show up every day. And someday I catch a nice way but other days they'd be like, Oh, nothing happened today.

Alex Ferrari 11:22
Great analogy. That's a great analogy. I love that.

Julia Cho 11:26
And because the waves aren't generated by the surfers, right, the waves are coming from. I don't know, whatever it is that causes waves, the tide the moon, the gravitational pull of the universe. Yeah, it definitely feels like I'm not generating the wave. I'm trying to catch it. But I can't catch it unless I show up. Oh, my God is just to show up.

Alex Ferrari 11:46
I will steal that. Because that's an amazing analogy. I love love that analogies. You're absolutely right. Because as a writer, as a creative, you're trying to catch waves, but you have to show up every day because you never know when the really gnarly wave is gonna show up and you're gonna be there to catch it.

Julia Cho 12:02
Yeah, and how many times I mean, I'm sure you've also experienced it like showing up and feeling like crap, like, oh my god, I barely slept. I feel depressed. I feel awful. Nothing good can come up today and then ends up being a great day like something happened. And vice versa. I've had days where I go in. I'm like, I'm ready.

Alex Ferrari 12:17
I was like,crickets

Julia Cho 12:21
Yeah. You're just like, Oh, my God. I woke up for this.

Alex Ferrari 12:27
This is really is this what it is? I'm not from your work as a playwright. How did that prepare you for writing in Hollywood writing in a writers room?

Julia Cho 12:37
It didn't, at all. Completely different and weird and hard. I mean, I think as a playwright, like other than the actual production part of it, it's like really built for introverts, you know, like, so solitary. And I think to go from that to being in a room with seven people, it really felt like Sorry, there's like no exit like it kind of like oh my god. I'm in like, a room with like, seven people that may or may not like me, and I may or may not like them. And there's a lot of vying because like, television was more so before like, really hierarchical, right? Like, everyone would show up and be like, Who's, who's the staff writer who's the code. Monkeys are trying to figure out where we are in the pecking order. And so I think that took a while to adjust to and I was really lucky, though. I mean, I ended up on great shows with a great show runners who were so amazing and nurturing about helping this poor little new the staff writer get her feet wet. But yeah, I remember being completely bewildered. One of my early shows is a show called fringe. And we would sit there Right, yeah, so again, somewhat similar to Pixar. Nothing in my experience.

Alex Ferrari 13:44
I was gonna say, prepared you for friends. I was gonna ask you, I was gonna ask you for because you're in the first season of fringe. You were a bunch of episodes in the first season of a fringe according to your IMDB. And I'm looking at it and I'm going, how the hell does she get fridge? Like that's a hell of a good plum first job.

Julia Cho 14:00
Yeah, no, seriously. Uh, yeah. So again, very similarly, I had written like, sad clauses for dumb people. But you know, the thing is, like, the place I wrote were just very relational and very, like, they were real, like, they weren't, like, you know, crazy high concept plays and abstract or experimental. So they were readable, which helps, I think, but you know, what, I think what I loved about television, though, is because they're like seven writers. It really is more like a team. And you don't need every single person to have every single skill, right? Like you literally have people playing different positions, like the way you would on a football team or something, you know, so like, at French, it was a really big room. Actually, it was like, I don't know, like 11 or 12 or something. I don't know. It just it was a large room as the fitting a large network kind of tentpole show, right, which doesn't really exist anymore, but back then, you still had those right? And I just remember being like, oh, like There's certain niches that we all play are all in, right? So there's the action guy, the Sci Fi person. And I realized quickly early on that I was like, Oh, I'm like the I'm the relational person.

Alex Ferrari 15:13
I deal with the relationships.

Julia Cho 15:15
Yes, yeah and I'm like, oh, like, I'm the one who like, does the emotional like, talk. And what was really great is by the end of the season, like I'm pitching crazy sci fi things to, like, I'm learning all the other way to be to, you know, like, there was a moment where I pitch some insane teaser that didn't go which was like the main character like, like, being attacked by like, like a troop of paramilitary and like laying them all to waste or something insane and unfilmable. But I just didn't on my show about her being like, look, we'll be dead. As is quiet play, right. And now she's, like, doing his big movie. You know, he was so proud.

Alex Ferrari 15:55
It was like, Look what we have done.

Julia Cho 15:59
Look how far she's come? But um, yeah, so So in that sense, I think that was my, my foot in the door is like the the feeling that like, oh, they still need, you know, like, one of the main characters was a woman, you know, fringe was the main character was, you know, this female. So I think just this recognition that like on a big series like this, we need lots of points of view and a lot people with different tools. So yeah, so even though my tool wasn't like a sci fi tool, I felt like I had other things that helped me. But yeah, how I got on and I look back, and I do think that that was really

Alex Ferrari 16:35
How did you like how did you get on there? Like who was?

Julia Cho 16:39
So I was on. That was actually not my first year, my first year was legal procedural, which what made more sense, frankly, that I was kind of approached for that because it's by a production company that was in New York. And the first showrunner, who didn't stay and become the boss of that, initially was supposed to be a man who was also playwright like so there were some, you know, reasonable things with fringe. I think it was just like that my agent at the time, was not the agent of the showrunner. But he was somehow like, just really involved with it. I forget exactly how, and so he could at least get my work read. So I think just being able to get me read was part of it. And then my. And then I think there was one play I had, where it was like a play called Durango that was about a dad and his two sons. And it was all just happened going a long road trip together. Yes,

Alex Ferrari 17:34
Now it makes all the sense in the world now.

Julia Cho 17:35
Yeah, I mean, I think like the showrunner and the other people, the production me read that and could really connect to it. And

Alex Ferrari 17:42
It's so funny how Hollywood works, because they're like, when it walked through the door, like, We need someone who's literally written the story about a father and a son who have to kind of go on a road trip, and then you walk in you're like, perfect hired. Like, that's so weird.

Julia Cho 18:00
And I think you're but you're kind of right because like French there was a female main character, but it was a father son story. It was like, you know, and so yeah, I think there's that but then I started jumped through the hoops of like getting read and and then also doing my interview and but we just, I just really got along with the showrunner and we click in the interview, so somehow, miraculously, I ended up on that show.

Alex Ferrari 18:25
Now how you also worked on another one of my favorite shows Big Love. Oh, really interesting. I love Big Love. Because I was I was a Paxton fan like such I mean, oh, I like rest rest in peace.

Julia Cho 18:40
He was wonderful to work with.

Alex Ferrari 18:43
I've heard nothing from people who I know who've worked with him. They said he was just a doll like a sane. Wonderful to work with. Uh, what was it like working on a show like that? Cuz that's a pretty big was ah, it was HBO if I'm not mistaken. Right. Yeah. So that's a big tentpole. HBO shows in the in the in the heat of sopranos like HBO had now. HBO was HBO at this point. It wasn't like at the beginning of like, we're just starting to figure out narrative like they you they've already broken through so much stuff. What was it like working on that show?

Julia Cho 19:16
Well, then that was a real experience, too, because I felt like I had gone from fringe, which was this JJ Abrams. You know, Alex Kurtzman and Bob RC, you know, huge thing. And then to go on to Big Love is kind of wonderful because it was more specific. It was more personal. It was more idiosyncratic reflecting the tastes of you know, the creators. And it just felt like going from something that was more mass, like mass market to something that was more like boutique, right? Yeah. Like and both really good quality in their different ways. But their tastes are so mellow. It was such a melodrama, right, like so to learn that genre. Like it was like I remember like the touchstones of this shows couldn't be more different because then

Alex Ferrari 20:06
Versus artful arthouse almost.

Julia Cho 20:08
Yes, exactly. So like fringe it was like you had to know, you know, X Files and things like that on Big Love It was like, you know, you had to know like Joan Crawford movie. It was like, you know, what do you mean, you haven't seen, you know, what was a Mildred Pierce, I was like, you have to watch Mildred Pierce and I'm like, okay, you know, and then and I loved it. And I was like, wow, like, how different to be in that world. And it was really amazing, just because like, everything was just, I mean, just the quality of everything was so high. Like, there was a bit more time and even even the quality of the food was like, wow, like,

Alex Ferrari 20:48
Listen, when you're on a suit when you're on a studio set, and that it's that crap, that crafty boy that crafting that lunch is a whole other world. I remember working out I walk on some shows. And it was like some Fox shows I was working on I walked on, I'm like, Wow, is that lobster? Or is literally are the grips eating lobster right now like is this? Because I come from an indie world where like, everyone's like pizza is like, whoopee. It's a it's a whole other it's a whole other experience. I mean, so you've been in a few. So you've been in a few writers room? Do you have any advice for young writers? Who if they have the opportunity to either be in a writers room as a writer, or as an assistant, or as a runner, what to do when you're in that environment? Because for my understanding, I've never been in a writers room. But for my understanding, it really all depends from the showrunner, it all starts at the show, like the showrunner could be a tyrant, or they could be the most wonderful, you know, kind of like inclusive, and I want to hear everybody's idea. And then that could be the tyrant who's like, it's my way of the highway. And everyone's fearful to even say a thing. And I've heard both, both of those stories. So I sounds like you had to lay the ladder, the good, very encouraging, fun environment. How do you navigate the politics of that room? Because they're in politics in those rooms?

Julia Cho 22:05
That's a great, yeah, that's a good question. I mean, you know, the funny thing is, like, I have had really nice show runners, but even so it's been a really complicated and very often kind of tense environment, just because everyone is under such an enormous amount of pressure. I mean, I would say that for anyone starting out, being in the room, in any capacity is actually a huge education. You know, it's like, if you want to be a writer, I do think the best way if you can find it is a position of being a writer's assistant. And I would say that, you know, I could be wrong. But even if the showrunners difficult, the writers assistant, the job is pretty clear cut, you know, you're just basically taking all the notes of everything that people are saying, and pitching, and then having to sort of disseminate them. So in some ways, it's like, I don't know how much better or worse your job can get. In some ways, like, unless there's, you know, interpersonal stuff. But I do feel like the job is pretty, pretty direct. And what it allows you to do is to understand how to pitch and understand how to listen and give feedback to and you're, basically you're learning all those things, you're seeing people in real time, do those things with each other. And I do think that perspective, makes it so that whenever I need an assistant, number one, if you're an assistant, I am always impressed, because that is not an easy job to get it. So you are some kind of rock star, just to get there. Yeah, I'm like, you're a rock star. I don't know what your background is. But you're super smart, and you're on it. And then the second thing I feel like when I am with these writers assistants is that I have been in rooms, I'm in a room now where the assistants regularly pitch like not often because I think that they are actually you know, busy taking the notes or doing other things. But their perspectives are always valuable and are always like, really smart. And so I think that as a writer's assistant, or someone starting out, initially, your job is to listen and to understand what the flow of everything is in the content. And then gradually, I think you can start contributing. And what I find nine times out of 10 is that if the contribution is very personal, like, Oh, we're talking about, you know, there's a story point of car accidents, and you know, and if you're an assistant who's been in a car accident, then by all means you should speak up and be like, I owe this one. This happened. I felt this way, I felt that way. Because that kind of stuff is always invaluable. You know, I think where assistants can get more into trouble is if they start like judging what's happening. Like, I don't think that's a good idea. Because, like, that's going to be hard for anyone to say or do. But I think as long as you're just contributing to the personal like, that's almost always like a really great way to begin getting, like winning the trust of the room and then eventually, you know, building on that and yeah, I think it's a really hard job but a really I mean, the ones who have been writing assistance writing assistance before, I think just have a complete leg up on the other writer.

Alex Ferrari 25:05
So if you if so if you have been attacked by a paramilitary group, and you have to lay waste to them with your superpowers, speak up, speak up.

Julia Cho 25:14
For you were developed your super mutant powers. sure how that works?

Alex Ferrari 25:19
How does that make you feel? Is that Is it like X Men? Does X Men get it? Right? Like, how does that work? But no, but so, on a writer's assistant side, that's great. But as a writer, you know, there is that it's that, like you said, tense, weird political environment. And I don't mean political in a bad way. It's just the nature of any time you get seven or eight people in a room together, there's a hierarchy. How do you not step on other people's toes? How do you like because there are do's and don'ts that are not written down anywhere? So like, you don't, I forgot, I've heard somebody in a writers room telling me like, you know, don't go behind somebody's back, say it in the in the room, things like that. But these are things they don't teach you. And you have to learn the hard way.

Julia Cho 26:07
Yeah, no, I think that's all really hard and difficult. I guess the main thing I would say is that if you're stepping into that room, whether as a writer or an assistant, like, I think the main thing is openness, you know, just to like, always assume people coming from a good place, as opposed to they're out to destroy me, which they might be, but at least initially,

Alex Ferrari 26:32
Let's walk in let's walk in with a positive attitude, as opposed to guns blaring, guns blaring.

Julia Cho 26:38
Yeah and you know, and then what I've also learned is that actually, I think everyone's nervous in the beginning, every now Yeah, everyone's nervous, even the higher ups, I think, because they're also trying to establish that I know what I'm doing. And I, who am I in this room and group. So I think there's that and then there's also, gosh, staying out of the line of fire as much as possible. Just like, you know, your head down. And if you're the new one, then it's sort of like, you know, perhaps the parents might argue at times, and you know, what is your role is to you're Switzerland, you're neutral, unless something really bad and unfair is happening. You know, I think he tried to just do your best fighting. But then you want so you're sort of like, you're the apprentice. That's how I felt when I was a staff writer, I really felt like I was the apprentice. And my goal was to exude an air of being everyone's little sister. Like,

Alex Ferrari 27:36
That was your way. That was, that was what you were doing? Yeah. So yeah, it's always horrible when mom and dad are fighting in the room, and you're just like, I'm not going to get on either person side. I'm just gonna stay here. Very quiet. And yeah. And they go Julia, what do you think? And you're like? No, it's so it's so it's Yeah. And it happens on a set, too. And you're on the set? You know, you see my, the producer, the DP and the director fighting or the producer director, why did you just like, Yeah, I'm over a craft.

Julia Cho 28:05
Yeah. Yeah, I'll just be over there eating frozen, you know, mocha bars or something? Yeah. You know, and I will say, like, I have, you know, been through difficult rooms, too, you know, and what, at least the silver lining on all that is that some of my fondest connections are came out of the hardest experiences, right? Because you actually do them really bond with the people that you're going with. There is something you know, it doesn't redeem the entire experience, but then at least you can be like, well, but I came out of it with these really tight, tight connections.

Alex Ferrari 28:39
That's awesome. That's awesome. Now, if you happen if you were able to go back to your younger self, the one that was going into the Sundance lab, and you could tell her listen, you're gonna have a crazy situation in the next few, these next year is going up. What piece of advice would you want to give her? And like, this is the one thing I wish I would have known.

Julia Cho 29:04
I guess I haven't been kind of thinking about this, you know, like, what would I have extended to my younger self, you know, because I am somewhere that I never anticipated. And this sounds a little hokey, or kind of like, I don't know, maybe to self compassion, a but I think I would have tried to unburden my younger self, from so much of the fear that she carried, you know, like this fear that I'm never gonna make it I'm never going to succeed. I remember like, when I was playing that earlier story about being on my knees praying. Yeah, no, exactly. It truly was because I felt like a failure. I felt like I am not able to do this. And I can't you know, and I guess what I would want to tell that younger self is this feeling. Go this. This is just a feeling. It's not True, you know, and that everything I have now was always in me, you know, it may not have been I had all the tools or all the skills, but I am the same person and I was always capable of the things that I could do. I just didn't know it. And so I think, where I don't want to necessarily give my, my younger self like an ego complex.

Alex Ferrari 30:26
Okay, dude, like, Dude, you're gonna Pixar in like, X amount of years, you're gonna kill it, you're gonna be with JJ Abrams, you're gonna be on an HBO show, you're gonna be no, you're not doing that. But I think what you're saying is so profound, because we all carry as creators, we all carry imposter syndrome with us at every level, every level of, of your career, there's a sense of imposter syndrome. But that fear of like, we're not good enough. I don't have I don't have the goods, this or that. And a lot of times, I know this, just from talking to you from your, your path. You might have been fearful of what you were doing. I don't I'm not good enough there. But you didn't even have the understanding of like, I'm not good enough to be a Pixar writer, because that wasn't even on your radar. Let alone low scale. Yeah, yeah. So it's, uh, you add so much more stress to your life for things that really are out of your control in so many ways?

Julia Cho 31:25
You know, and I guess it is, it's, it's complicated, because I'm not, I'm still sort of sorting through it. Because, you know, at the same time, my dreams were much more humble when I was smaller, which was like, yeah, just get to the Sundance data lab, I also realized that, like, my goals, were always kind of crazy high, because it was like, I felt like a failure, because I was trying to write something sublime. You know, like, I wanted to write something great. And you know, that that's not ambition, I think it's kind of just a sense of, like, I want to make something really beautiful, you know, and, and so feeling like I was failing at that was also just like, a profound kind of sense of it was like, an existential crisis or something. And, and I do think there's something to like, going back into your earlier self and being like, have the right goals, you know, what I mean, because like, don't make the goal, the success or the job, or the money or the glory, because all those things, you actually have not that much control over. But you can make it your goal to write something beautiful and honest and moving, or something that that helps you heal, or, you know, those are things that are in your control of what you can aspire to do. And the crazy thing is, if you do those things, then all the rest of this stuff will come by itself.

Alex Ferrari 32:45
That's so again, I'll use the word profound, because you're absolutely right, only from being on the path for a while, you can go back and say something that profound because you're absolutely right. When you're younger, you're like, I want to win an Oscar, or I want to, I want to I want to make, you know, seven figures in a year, like these kinds of goals that are really empty goals. But if your goal is I want to, with my work, help somebody I want to help myself heal. I want to help other people here. I want to really take somebody out of their busy day and have them last for an hour and a half. Like those are the goals that because everything if you do that, well, yeah, everything else comes because there's so many people looking for that writer.

Julia Cho 33:31
Yeah, and you know, there's a there's an Andre Agassi story that I really like he was raised by so cuz, you know, he was the child of an immigrant who, like drove him crazy hard. And I guess the story goes that he when he was growing up, he was a tennis prodigy, right? But what his, what he would do is he would just wail on the ball as hard as he could, he could just hit the ball as hard as he could. And his dad encouraged that, like, instead of telling young little Andre Agassi hit within the lines, he would say, hit the ball as hard as you can. And then eventually, it will be in the lines, but don't worry about that, like don't pull back your swing and hit the ball less hard. So that will go into the lines. Like what what you want is to actually have the hardest forehead anyone's ever seen. Right? And and it goes into line. But but don't hold back on that, you know, and I think there's something in that about like art and writing. It's like, if we're aiming towards the job or the salary, then that requires hitting in the line. You know what I mean? 90% of the time, but what you want as a young artist starting out is just hit the ball as hard as you can like, right out of your mind. Like right, the craziest freakiest like, and then

Alex Ferrari 34:40
You could pull it, you could pull that back.

Julia Cho 34:42
Yes, but once you're in the line, you can't, you can't hit it out, you know, start just

Alex Ferrari 34:48
Go big. Go Go big first because as you develop the big swing all the time, you can then learn how to pivot that swing a little bit over to the left just to get in the line. but you have the biggest swing on the court. And that's where

Julia Cho 35:03
All the crap is. But like do not, do not, you know, hold back on the power.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
Yeah, exactly what's great, good stuff. I love this conversation. Good stuff. Now I'm now now let's get to your new film turning red, which is a wonderful film. I saw it the other day. And I was really, it was blown away by the heart of it, the humor of it. It is such a movie of its day, meaning that the young people in it are not the young people that were in Monsters Inc, or in other older Pixar movies. This is a very relevant, updated, you know, experience of what it's like to be a young person. And I have two little young people in my life that I see through their eyes what they're going through now. And it's so different than what you and I went through. Thank God, there was no internet. That's all I'm saying. Yeah. Back there. So how did you so we were discussed how you got it you got into Pixar. As far as you know, getting courted to come in. I have to ask you, so you walk into the Pixar building, first day of work to start working? What is that like? Like just the pressure of like walking through those halls? You've seen the behind the scenes, I'm sure in some, some videos, and you're walking, you're like, Oh, God, what am I doing here? And that thing is so big. You must feel like this big.

Julia Cho 36:31
Yeah, it's a lot. It's a lot. I mean, I think I felt that way even just coming because you have to have an interview, of course, you get hired, right? So just like coming to be interviewed was really intimidating. And it's a beautiful campus. Like, it's just gorgeous. You know, and again, like coming from theater, which is like cramped, sticky floors, rats running through the dress. Shirt, like, oh my gosh, yeah, the aura is kind of hard to, to, like, yeah, you come in and everything glows. But I do remember, my first day of work. I couldn't remember the particulars. And I should also say my first day of work was not this project. I my first Pixar job was actually another project that then I didn't stay on and and then I ended up on Jomi. But when I showed up for that first official Pixar day of work, the aura lasted only about 10 minutes. And then I started working and it was so intense. I quickly, because because like I feel like a lot of their projects are like under wraps. Right? They have to be very careful. And so I felt like once I actually showed up, it's like, you're here, finally the writer sit down. And then they turned a firehose of story on it is like, here's all the things I've been thinking about, here's what we need to actually put into a script now, you know, and and you're just like, fire hose, fire hose, fire hose, you know. And so that that is sort of what it feels like that like 10 minutes of aura, and then eight hours of Firehose

Alex Ferrari 38:04
And then and then the aura is gone, though now this is just yeah, I gotta work. I gotta

Julia Cho 38:08
I hear a magical Mount Olympus where the gods live. And then you realize the gods are all really busy making their own.

Alex Ferrari 38:17
And here's a fire hose of story that you got to deal with.

Julia Cho 38:21
Here. You're not even a demigod you're just plaib

Alex Ferrari 38:24
A peasant. You're a peasant that has been allowed in. And now we're, yeah, now get to work.

Julia Cho 38:32
Get to work.

Alex Ferrari 38:33
Now get to work. It's so funny, because I think that I think we were talking about a little bit off air how pics are builds their story. Can you talk a little bit about your analogy of how Pixar so different than other animation studios or other studios in general and how they develop story?

Julia Cho 38:51
Yeah, I think that I was used to a more linear development process where you would have like a first draft. And then you have iterations of that first draft that just refined the first draft. And I think Pixar encourages you to throw away that and restart from scratch almost with your second and third and fourth. So it was kind of surprising to me how, how bold and even encouraging of boldness, they are at Pixar, every other place I had been had been about retaining as much as you could. And they were really about finding the best thing, even if it meant completely letting go of what you had. And I think that they had done it enough with enough movies that they have a certain confidence that that actually can work. Because it felt insane and hard to do that. Like what do you mean, we can't, you know, build off of the first iterations you know, and you know, we didn't throw out 100% of it, but it just felt like with every so take care reels process, you know where once you're greenlit into production, you have like six to eight screenings. And those first screenings, you're presenting the entire movie, and getting thoughts and notes on it. And so depending on how each goes that, so the first screening was a certain version, the movie, but then the second screening because of the notes and thoughts we got on the first was a totally different movie. And so I was saying to you how I feel like it's almost a prototype way of looking at story development, where I would imagine that if you could look back and see the I don't know, let's say, eight prototypes that the Apple iPod had, you know, you might have seen, like, the first prototype was maybe really different, you know, but what they're saying is like, oh, but the, the wheel works in this prototype. So let's keep the wheel and change everything else. And that's really kind of what it felt like, with each screening that we did, it'd be like, this part of the movie works. So let's keep that and then not go forward until every other part of the movie works as well as this part, you know. So with every iteration, you're trying to create the best movie as opposed to refining the first movie that you had.

Alex Ferrari 41:11
Right! And it's, it's like, I think, like you were saying, off air is kind of like because they are in Silicon Valley, up in up in Northern California. They are, they're their founders are tech, you know, Steve Jobs. And I've got it forgot his other name, not last year, but the other one there tech guy, so they come at it from a tech.

Julia Cho 41:35
And that's just my own pet theory, why the process is like this. But when I think about Pixar, you know, so often it's lauded as this creative, incredible company, which it is, but to me, when I really think about it, it's also squarely a tech company, because everything they do is based upon technology. And I think what doesn't get the credit is how unbelievably advanced their technology is, because they the technology is why the movies look so good. Like the animators might be doing the incredible animating that they're doing. But there are programmers who are creating, to rigging the movie, like, like, all the tools are made by Pixar, nobody, nobody's making the tools and Pixar is like, you know, buying them at Home Depot, like they are literally making everything they do. So it's it's a pretty incredible approach. And I think that, you know, way of creating technology, maybe even what the way programs are created might have influenced the creative process as well.

Alex Ferrari 42:35
No, did you work with the famous Pixar brain trust?

Julia Cho 42:40
Oh, of course.

Alex Ferrari 42:41
So what is that? What is that? So what is that process? Like?

Julia Cho 42:44
A really terrifying, I would say, I think the first time it was like, who's coming? Are you kidding me?

Alex Ferrari 42:52
So for everybody, so tell everybody what the brain trust is, if they don't know,

Julia Cho 42:55
So the brain trust, I don't even know where the term came about. But it's just that at Pixar. All the directors and creators weigh in on each other's projects. And so there is a brain trust of producers and directors. So for us, you know, the people who around who are weighing in when I initially came, it was Leon Krige Andrew Stanton And Pete Docter, of course. So you have like these people who are enormously intimidating because like, like I said, as I've said, like I came in not ever have you done any feature animation before. And here are the gods of feature animation, you know, like, you walk into the male building, main building, and there's like a whole case of the Oscars that these people have won just

Alex Ferrari 43:37
The director of monster Monsters Inc. is literally there.

Julia Cho 43:42
Yeah, so that was that was really like, Thank God Pete Docter is such a kind and grounded person, because it was really like I had to not fan girl when I saw him, you know? up all those movies. Oh, no, no, incredible, right? So so the brain trust is amazing. Because they come in and they they read the script, like so one of the first things we had to get greenlit into production was they had to, as a group approve the script. But then just with every reels like there's a long session, there's like, a whole thing where it's like a ritual now, right? It's like you present the movie, everyone watches the screening. And then there's like a two to three hour notice session, you know, of just going around the room and everybody chiming in. And the brain trust at one time can be as small as you know, 10 people or as big as 20 or more. So it's really intimidating, but it's also really, really helpful. And a big part of our brain trust was also I mean, Pete Docter was one of these producers, but Dan Scanlon who just you know, was doing onward and they came off it, and Adrian Molina was, I think the AP on it. So they all would kind of help not so there was a branch office, but then the three of them also felt like they really got kind of helped shape the conversation and pull out what they thought were the most pertinent things. And they gave us deep notes, they were not easy notes, they weren't just like my you just change the scene, or maybe this line we were, they were like, deeply structural nodes. And I think what makes it effective though, is I get, I mean, I get notes all the time. And being in TV, you get notes and executive notes from all sorts of people, you know, but what makes it nice at Pixar is you're getting the notes from other people who have wrestled with these same problems who have suffered through these same things. That sense of like, mutual understanding that they were coming at you from a place of people who had been there before, I think was enormously reassuring and made it a much more nurturing process than a destructive process.

Alex Ferrari 45:53
That Yeah, cuz I've always wondered what it was like to be in that room and go through that again. And again, it's not one time to it's you do it multiple times, over and over again. And it's that's that's that kind of deconstruction of the stories I was telling you, one of my one of my dear friends used to work at Disney animation, and they would just, like, completely throw away their entire movie. And they go, Okay, we got nine months to do the entire thing from scratch. And I asked you Is it is it like that a picture? And you're like, absolutely. It's insanity. Like, I have no idea how they do this. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. No, because also because they'll throw away like months of work. Like, it's not just like the writing has been thrown away. sets that digital sets have been built characters have been, I mean, there's been worth millions of dollars of development and a&r and everything and it's gone. If it doesn't work gone, the brutal

Julia Cho 46:45
Yeah, and you know, and I think the ideal is to do as little of that as possible.

Alex Ferrari 46:49
Obviously.

Julia Cho 46:50
Not the goal to throw things away, but but I do feel like there is a kind of commitment that is really nice, which is, they will they will fight for a movie that works and is up to what they believe in, you know, they will not let it go. Just you know what, forget it. It's good enough. I never heard that. I never heard it.

Alex Ferrari 47:13
I doubt that you ever will. Now when is when is it coming out? And where can people see it?

Julia Cho 47:21
So the movie is coming out tomorrow on Disney+, which is exciting. And I think actually today it's rolling out globally I want to say so I think other countries are seeing it in their theaters and there are some theaters that are showing it for a limited release. So I would say if anyone out there thinks this movie is up their alley, whether it's because you're Canadian or love boy bands or whatever. Yeah, like the widest net possible but I would say like if you can safely watch it in a theater it's really an amazing fun experience to watch it with a large group of people so whether it's streaming or in person, the movie will be out tomorrow so

Alex Ferrari 48:05
And there was and there was that's one of my favorite parts of the movie is the boy band scenario is just such a Brit like as I'm listening to him like oh my god these are all my girlfriends like that's how they you could tell that that came from that had to have come from personal experience of like you know who the between the director and you like it was so perfectly on point of the love that a young girl has for ridiculous boyband just lose their mind over it's perfectly done.

Julia Cho 48:39
Yeah, no, I think that was really a fun discovery to make like that her only goal in life

Alex Ferrari 48:46
Is to go to a concert for it was it? Was it called Otown?

Julia Cho 48:51
Well, there is an actual band called Otown, but the band for the movies purposes is called 4town

Alex Ferrari 48:57
4town. That's right now, but there was five of them.Brilliant. That's right. That's just absolutely brilliant. Now I'm gonna ask you a couple questions ask all of my guests. What What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Julia Cho 49:12
Just love it. Love what you're doing love writing love writing so much that nothing can make you stop writing and and pray.

Alex Ferrari 49:25
Lord, please help me get through the scene. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Julia Cho 49:36
There's so many things I'm still trying to learn. And I think the thing I've only started to learn now is how to integrate all the different parts of my writing selves. Because I did have a playwright self and a TV self and then it picks ourselves and I would keep them compartmentalize because I thought it would be I don't know what I thought. I guess I thought I couldn't be all those things at once. And I think now is me trying to be one coherent writer who does all of that. And does it all, you know, uses all of herself with each project she writes, no matter what the genre.

Alex Ferrari 50:16
So the dark movies, the dark plays are in a room with 10 people could be over at Pixar.

Julia Cho 50:23
Yeah. Actually, I used to think they were all so separate, but those boundaries were imaginary. They were illusions, you know, that I put there.

Alex Ferrari 50:34
And is there are there three pilots or three screenplays that all screenwriters should read?

Julia Cho 50:43
Three pilots of screenplays that all scriptwriter should read? Oh, my goodness. Three pilots, this is such a great question. Oh my god, I'm okay. I don't know how to answer this question.

Alex Ferrari 51:06
Whatever comes to the top of your head.

Julia Cho 51:09
Ah, can I also throw in some plays? Sure has actually like there are texts for sure. Sure. So I know it's like really esoteric, and I brought it up in something I was writing the other day. But there's this like really great play. This is so esoteric. It's it's a, it's Antigone. It's a modern adaptation event ticketing, which is like this really old play. Right. But it's one of my touchstones of like a young woman's independence and voice. And it's translated from the French. Again, this sounds so pretentious, and I don't mean it to you. But it's just such a good play. And it's called Antigone by John onwy. It's just filled a n fo UI LH or something. But Google Antigone. But then I would say that in terms of scripts, I think, I think there really is something to learn from, from reading Aaron Sorkin scripts, I'll just say this, because I think because he's such a master of dialogue. And I think he shows a way to kind of break the rules in a way that everybody it's like, he almost reinvents the rules, you know. And I think there's a lot to be inspired by with that. So I think reading his dialogue is like a masterclass in how to have a two hander. But then in terms of a pilot, gosh, I will confess, I don't actually read pilots too much, because I myself. I don't know what it is. But I think like, I don't want other voices to get in my own way. Sure. But if you are going to read something, I guess I just because I recently looked at it, and it's not TV Exactly. But I still find the the voice of something like Juno really inspiring because, like, so specific. So I would say that, and, and you know, I'm just gonna keep thinking about this question, because it's such a great question. Thank you so much. I had to really think about that. Like, what should you read? Oh, I would say this, I would read moonlight by Barry Jenkins. Oh, such a great beauty of something. You know, that's beautiful. Yeah. So yeah, a lot of light. And what's amazing is all those scripts are actually available. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 53:21
Yeah, absolutely. They're available online. A lot of them are available on our site, so you could definitely check them out. Julia it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It's been so much fun going down down the path with you on your journey and getting an inside look at you know, one of the greatest story telling machines in modern history and and seeing your perspective of the whole thing. So, continued success, and I hope everybody goes out and sees turning red, which is and maybe watches a boy band here there. Who knows. But I appreciate you so much. Thank you for for doing what you do.

Julia Cho 53:54
Oh, thank you for doing what you do. Are you kidding? Yeah, totally. Thank you.

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IFH 566: Confessions of a First-Time Director with Krystin Ver Linden

Today on the show we have writer and director Krystin Ver Linden. She has always steered the course of her career and her life with her love for film, and it shows through her work. She was recently chosen as one of Variety’s2022 “10 Directors to Watch,” a coveted honor. Ver Linden’s script Ride sold to Lionsgate with Joey Soloway attached to direct and was featured on the Black List. She went on to sell numerous scripts as well as the pitch Love in Vain, an unconventional biopic centering around blues music pioneer Robert Johnson. The pitch is set up at Paramount with Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mike Menchel and multiple-Grammy-winning recording artist Lionel Richie producing.

Her new film is Alice.

Alice (Keke Palmer) yearns for freedom as an enslaved person on a rural Georgia plantation. After a violent clash with its brutal and disturbed owner, Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), she flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering the year is actually 1973. Rescued on the roadside by a disillusioned political activist named Frank (Common), Alice quickly comprehends the lies that have kept her in bondage and the promise of Black liberation. Inspired by true events, Alice is a modern empowerment story tracing Alice’s journey through the post-Civil Rights Era American South.

We discuss how she got Quentin Tarantino became her mentor and much more. Enjoy my inspiring conversation with Krystin Ver Linden. 

Right-click here to download the MP3

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

Krystin Ver Linden 0:15
I'm doing pretty good.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm excited to talk about your new film, Alice. I get pitched all the time for people to come on the show. And when I saw your trailer, I was like, Oh my God, yes, I have to have her on the show. I have to say I need to see this film. And then I need to have I need to find I need to go inside the mind that came up with this film and see how the hell it got made. So first question, my dear is how did you get into the film and why did you want to get into the film business? This insanity that is the film industry.

Krystin Ver Linden 0:44
I it's all I've ever wanted to do since I was a little kid. So from the time I was about seven I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia. And I got it. I didn't get obsessed with Peter tool or the actors. I got obsessed with David Lane. And so my parents that I was really weird, but I was obsessed with David Lean film, so I wanted to see Dr. Zhivago everything he made and it took me down that path. Ultimately he was like a rock star. So then I got into Akira Kurosawa and are Andre Tarkowski. And Sam Peckinpah which Thank God my parents let me watch. And

Alex Ferrari 1:21
How old were you when you were watching Peckinpah

Krystin Ver Linden 1:24
This is later down. So I was probably 11 or 12

Alex Ferrari 1:27
Still way too young to be watching Peckinpah way too young. Your parents are horrible, but yes, good, good for the artistic, artistic development.

Krystin Ver Linden 1:37
But I realize all of my heroes were screenwriters. Yes. And that's how they became filmmakers directors. So in in, you know, in a neurotic panic in sixth grade existential crisis, I switched my trajectory to screenwriting because I knew that would be the the go the path into becoming a director. And thank God it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 2:04
And it's been smooth sailing the entire time, obviously. I mean, you just wrote your first script, you just you just got millions of dollars have been. I mean, money just falls in you could do whatever you want. Not generally, that's just been smooth sailing. Correct?

Krystin Ver Linden 2:16
So easy. You know, it's been taken at 11 years at all.

Alex Ferrari 2:21
You're an 11 year overnight success. So how did you get like, what were the first kind of gigs? How did you I mean, cuz I'm assuming you've been writing a lot since you, you began. But how many scripts did you write before? Something was purchased? optioned?

Krystin Ver Linden 2:39
Oh, man, well, it was kind of a weird trajectory. Because I started working with Quentin Tarantino became my mentor.

Alex Ferrari 2:47
Never heard of him.

Krystin Ver Linden 2:48
He's really nice, you know, cool, crazy guy, but he's trying to make it too.

Alex Ferrari 2:54
Yeah, he's hustling out there as well. Yeah.

Krystin Ver Linden 2:57
But he, um, I learned everything from him. And ironically, he was never my hero growing up, he was just, I looked at him as, oh, we have the same heroes in common. So we speak the same language. Um, but yeah, I learned, you know, how to conduct myself as a director on a set how you create a safe space for actors. And he just as a, as a screenwriter, as well, he, he helped me with, you know, don't write a screenplay and look at it as this is the this is the means to support myself look at it as I have a voice What is the story I want to tell without thinking of the outcome? And that was the big difference from when I was writing as a teenager versus when I started working with him. And yeah, I mean, I don't know how many scripts I've written because I was writing scripts free for since I was a kid. So I mean, yeah, there were tons and tons. But this the first script that sold was about Arthur Ashe, and I know it sold because that was when I finally listened to him. And I wasn't thinking of commercial was and I was writing my heart.

Alex Ferrari 4:15
Yeah, because our Arthur Ashe is that bio is going to get at least three $400 million budget ese comfortably, comfortably, huge, huge, very general market fill. Um, no, but so I have to ask you, though. How did you hook up with Quinton, how did that because every filmmaker, every young screenwriter in Hollywood would love to be mentored by Quentin Tarantino. So how did you guys meet and how did you how and what did you do for him as far as working with him?

Krystin Ver Linden 4:42
Yeah, so I met him. I started when I moved to LA I started throwing like underground movie nights. My uncle was a big boxer in the 70s. And so he broke Muhammad Ali's John took the title so he and and then he got into blaxploitation movies Before I was born, so every summer,

Alex Ferrari 5:03
Who was your and who was your father was a father or Uncle? Uncle? Yeah. Yes, I know. Of course. I know who came because I'm like, wait a minute. I just saw the Muhammad Ali documentary. It's not I remember someone breaking his jaw. Oh, wow. Okay. That's very cool.

Krystin Ver Linden 5:18
Yeah. And so, when I graduated, I moved down to his house, it was kind of in the back of my head of like, yeah, that'll be that'll, that's free rent. Um, so I started throwing up movie nights in his house, and they became like a little underground thing. And it was Edgar Wright, who I met who actually was throwing a movie night at his friend's house, and his friend was Clinton. So that's how we met and it was like to Highlanders meeting. Because Edgar said, Oh, she's a she's a cinephile. She loves movies, which is all it takes to start a battle.

Alex Ferrari 5:57
Oh, really?

Krystin Ver Linden 5:58
Arguing about getting smoke and random things at 10 o'clock at night. Um, so yeah, ultimately, that's how I met him. And the first thing we did together was, my job was to write out because he writes freehand. So my job was to type out everything that he wrote. So I knew my job was expendable. So I ultimately had to create value in myself, and, you know, so it was almost like working for Winston Churchill, or someone would paste the room. And you, you know, he's taught you're, you're, you're talking about a scene, and he's talking to himself, or you don't know, he's talking to himself. And then you know, he's, he's questioning, you know, oh, sure. I wonder if you should do that. And then you find yourself interjecting and saying, Well, you know, maybe you don't need all the rains on a reservation for 40 minutes.

Alex Ferrari 7:01
Just as a thing, so what were some if you don't mind me asking what was the first project so your actor you're out there typing as he's writing or translating his his scripts?

Krystin Ver Linden 7:12
Yeah. To be in hand and you type him out

Alex Ferrari 7:14
Right. So I have to ask, what was the first movie that you worked with him on?

Krystin Ver Linden 7:18
Inglorious Basterds

Alex Ferrari 7:19
So when you're reading Inglorious, it's a when you're typing in Inglorious Basterds for the first like, you're one of the first people in the world to see Inglorious Basterds as it's coming out. What the hell is that like?

Krystin Ver Linden 7:33
Daunting, intimidating, but it also, when you're 18, it's a, it kind of throws you right into to the, it throws you right into the mix of everything that would intimidate you later on when you like, made it. If you did it. So yeah, when it got to the point where I was, on my own set making movie, nothing about directing was hard or daunting. It was the COVID aspect that was hard and daunting. So it was almost like God said, Yeah, well, I'll finally give you what you want. But I'm going to make it

Alex Ferrari 8:17
A little bit harder, because you've got this other stuff. So you were on the set, and you basically kind of shadowed Quintin, a lot of times or not?

Krystin Ver Linden 8:23
Yeah, yeah. I learned how to make movies from him. I mean, ultimately, when you love film, and you study Sure, you learn from everybody. But that was like my film school.

Alex Ferrari 8:36
It's not I mean, listen, it's not a bad film, school. If you can get it. I'm just, I'm just throwing that out there. I mean, it's not a bad film school. What is the best advice you got from him? On as a director, as a director and as a writer,

Krystin Ver Linden 8:49
Don't be the filmmaker that sits in intense 10 feet away, staring at a monitor that's not filmmaking, that's not directing. And that's not leadership. So his whole his whole method and his one of the pieces of advice for me, was your camera. Your camera operator is your best friend. So wherever he is, you should be right there. And so your actors can see you because if they know you're right there with them, they'll give you everything they have

Alex Ferrari 9:24
They'll perform perform almost for you as

Krystin Ver Linden 9:27
Yes, exactly. When they know their directors, right. Just within a arm's length. They'll they will give you everything you have because they feel like man, I can see them I can see their reactions there. If it's cold, they're cold with me. We're weathering the storm together. It's a totally different experience.

Alex Ferrari 9:46
And then how about for writing?

Krystin Ver Linden 9:48
Ooh, um, probably what I said earlier, were don't write something as a means to an end write it because you have a story to tell.

Alex Ferrari 9:56
What is things and what is your problem? to writing, is it? You know what, like, when you sit down to write a story like Alice, how did you start this conversation? How did you begin? Do you wake up every morning and wait for the muse to show up, you just show up to the same place and you hope that she or he shows up and gives you a little little magic? What is your process?

Krystin Ver Linden 10:19
Well, when I was writing now, as I was like, in a flow state that summer, I remember, there was like, tons of eclipses. So it was like weird energy anyway. And anyway, but, um, no, I was in the middle of finishing a script. And my mom had sent me a bunch of articles. And she always does, like, you know, with any parent, they're trying to any parent with a kid that's remotely creative. They try to inject their little ideas into your

Alex Ferrari 10:46
Ofcourse

Krystin Ver Linden 10:47
There she, she sent me these articles. And they basically were 10 or 12 different articles about different people coming out in the 60s that were enslaved and didn't know slavery had ended in the Deep South. And so the more I dug into it, the more I was like, Oh, my God, this is it wasn't even a it. There was never a moment where I said, I have to write this. In that sense. It was more like, I remember reading the articles. And with in 48 hours, I just opened my own draft. And I was like, what would that even feel like it was more me trying to get a feeling of what that would be like in the best way I could. So I just started writing. I remember I just wrote the first scene. And then from there, within seven days, it was like, it felt like I was channeling. Within seven days, I'd written

Alex Ferrari 11:40
First draft? I always I always love asking writers that because I feel that that I as I write sometimes I look at the page, and like who wrote that? Like, how, how did that item whoever wrote this is fantastic. This is great. Yeah. Or sometimes it's like, This is dog crap. I obviously wrote this part. I heard the best analogy for the creative process for writers ever. When I spoke to the writer of turning red of the Pixar writer, Julia Chow, she said, it's like a surfer. Every day you go out, and you try to catch the waves, the waves come and you have no control over the waves. But you need to have your craft to a place where you can catch a big wave when it comes. Because if you're a newbie, you'll get that wave. It's just too much for you

Krystin Ver Linden 12:33
Daunting. And then you question I should be doing this.

Alex Ferrari 12:36
Right. But but you have to show up every day. And some days, the waves are good, some days, the waves are horrible, but you have to keep showing up. Like wow, like that is amazing. Because it is just waves of inspiration waves of that thing that we tap into as writers. And I was believe

Krystin Ver Linden 12:53
And trust, you know, that was a big thing I've learned now is trusting the process. Whereas five years ago, I would have panicked and said, Oh, that you know, this is the universe saying that I shouldn't be writing this. So you just stop. Now and even you know, Nikola Tesla, this is random. You know, he said creativity comes best at night, energetically. So I actually tripped with the script in writing. Now. I've never been a night writer, but I've been trying it and actually there is something to that. We're interesting. I mean, it's an easier channel.

Alex Ferrari 13:27
It's an easier channel, if you will,

Krystin Ver Linden 13:28
Yeah. Forces it calm down for the day.

Alex Ferrari 13:31
I love working. I like working early morning. So like it's still night. So yeah, it's like all Yeah, I'm getting I'm getting the down the downward spiral. I'm not at the top of the hill. But I'm getting the downwards. But yeah, when everything's quiet, and there's nobody to bother you. There's no phone calls. There's no emails. That is a fantastic. So So you came up with Alice, which is offensive? Can you tell the audience what Alice is about? So in a short sentence or two, just so people understand the genius?

Krystin Ver Linden 14:01
Yeah, should I get well, yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 14:03
Give it give a description. Yeah.

Krystin Ver Linden 14:04
Alice is about a woman on a plantation, who runs away, only to find out that it's 1973.

Alex Ferrari 14:13
So she's a slave on a plantation, very important part she's a slave. That's a whole other movie.

Krystin Ver Linden 14:24
Born into slavery. She only that's the only world experience. She's had her only world. And we get hints and glimpses that there might be something else out there. And when she does finally, make her escape, we realize that this family had been keeping up a tradition for 10 years after slavery was abolished.

Alex Ferrari 14:48
And the first person she meets is common, which is

Krystin Ver Linden 14:51
I would get, I would get in the car of common and that's what I asked myself when I was casting who would I if I were Alice running in To a world I didn't know, who would I get into a car when I would feel safe getting into a car with common.

Alex Ferrari 15:07
You know what, oddly enough, I know he's played some badass as in his day. But he has that face. He has a really kind of calm

Krystin Ver Linden 15:16
Journal about him.

Alex Ferrari 15:17
It's very calm. He has a very calm energy, if you will. Yeah, he's been in John Wick. And yeah, he's been a badass. No question. But when you see when you see his face, you don't it's it's Yeah, I agree with you. 100% It was great casting. Great, great.

Krystin Ver Linden 15:30
Because there's also this thin line between, we don't want the audience for we don't want the audience to want these two to get together.

Alex Ferrari 15:41
Right! You know, I was, I was finding that myself. I was kind of like, while I was watching the film, I'm like, Are they gonna get together? But she's got a guy back at the plantation. You know, so I'm like, is he like, so but there was never an instant that there was a look. Or there or there was a thing that you like, oh, there was never a hint of it. And it was just very, almost transactional. But with love if that makes any sense. Like a brother sister, like a brother sister love that. It wasn't. It was just great. I really enjoyed that. Now I have to ask, okay, so this script gets written? What's the process when you when you send it out? Who How did you get the financing for it? How did you get this film off the ground? I mean, it's not the easiest sell on paper. I mean, is that this is not there's no suit. There's no tapes. Now, if you would have had if Allison had a cape 100 million, but

Krystin Ver Linden 16:37
And, you know, attaching myself as a director first time, it wasn't like I had a short film to say, Yeah, look, I look, I you know, I have vision, I have an eye all I had was the writing. Um, so yeah, so I'd written, I've written probably five or six scripts that had sold at that point. And I was at the stage in my heart where I felt like, Okay, it's time to make the transition into what I really want to do. Writing is beautiful. I love it, it feels so it feels like flying, but I'm only using a percentage of what I'm capable of. And so yeah, you know, you write multiple scripts that you feel like a surrogate mother, you're carrying this child, and then you're handing it off to someone else. So when I wrote Alice, it was a story that felt every story feels cathartic. But this one felt different in the sense that I knew I could shoot it for a certain budget, you know, so it wasn't attaching myself to some big screenplay around saying, Yeah, you know, I'm capable of doing this. I knew it was something I could could do. That was doable and practical. But it was also something that felt very, very personal, just because I grew up in a small town, and didn't feel like I had a voice that was primarily white. And my mom's black, my dad's white, so you kind of feel like the odd person, you know, stuck in this little world. And you know, you have no voice, you feel just completely trapped only to leave. So there was something, something very personal about it. And I just fell in love with Alice. And so I attached myself as a director and my agents went out with it with the intention of if no one wants to do this with me as a director, and they just want to auction it as me as a writer. I will just put it on the show. You know, I'm not gonna I'm just I'm done doing that. So it was kind of like my intention to the universe is like it's either now or, you know, maybe not never

Alex Ferrari 18:54
You pulled the shot. You pulled the Shawshank you pulled the Shawshank . You pull the Shawshank .

Krystin Ver Linden 19:00
And yeah, so I met. Coincidentally, I was having lunch with Greg Silverman. He used to run Morgan brothers. And I had made a deck for Alice. And I, you know, it wasn't out to him. As a producer. I was just casually and I think that's why it worked. Because I was just casually talking about passionately talking about, yeah, there's this thing I want to direct and I was showing him the deck and he, he said, No, I want to help you get this off the ground. I want to help you make this. And so it was Greg's with Greg's help brought me to steel springs with Peter, who was the financier and producer. And it happened really, really fast. Like within probably three or four days. We were talking about casting and had casting agents. And then we cast Johnny Lee Miller first in New York and cast Kiki and then I met common here in town, and we hit it off and recast him. And I was like, wow, this is see this is when everything's when everything aligns. And then COVID hits and then the world shuts down.

Alex Ferrari 20:16
So when was this being shot? When did you start shooting the?

Krystin Ver Linden 20:20
No. So So casting happened at the end, like during November, December, January, February

Alex Ferrari 20:29
Of what year?

Krystin Ver Linden 20:31
2019 so February 2020. We were already like, okay, you know, the line producer, we had scouts out,

Alex Ferrari 20:40
Ohhh.

Krystin Ver Linden 20:41
You're enough to go. And then yeah, everything shut down. I remember watching the basketball game where they stopped playing. And I was just like, Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 20:52
It's so that I mean, that feeling must be I can't even imagine. I mean, I can't imagine because I've had I've gone through that not exactly like yours. But when you your whole life has been aiming to one direction and you get there. And then really unheard of the world shuts down yet, because it's not about you. The movie didn't fall apart. The funding didn't go away, the actor didn't leave the world shut down. And you're just like, really?

Krystin Ver Linden 21:24
What it was, I was like, you know, and then I get, I'm super spiritual. So I went to the place where it was like, Well, I attracted this like, this is my this is my version of the world. Another parallel universes The world hasn't shifted.

Alex Ferrari 21:40
So you're fairly powerful as a spiritual being if you alone, Brock COVID. If you think that you brought COVID to stop. This is the insanity of filmmaking. This is the insanity of being a filmmaker. Exactly. Amazing.

Krystin Ver Linden 21:54
But um, but yeah, I mean, I took solace in that short course, of course. But miraculously, we still plugged along, like the producer, like, No, we're going to Georgia on this date. And we did. So in June, we went down there to prep. We prepped for a month, we were one week out from shooting when one of our assistants tested positive. And then it ended up being a false positive, but it was enough. There was there was so much insanity 2020 that we were like, okay, for everyone's safety, we have to be rational. So we shut down. We, we came back in September. And in September, we were like, Okay, we'll just run and gun almost guerilla style, truly, like literally wrapping a scene and getting young go karts and rushing to the next, you know, to the next spot to shoot. Or studying. I remember study of one scene, and getting it going and leaving to direct another actor and another scene. So it was like, we were really just in a hurry to get this movie made. So it's 22 days of just the quickest, longest days of my life. But it was good, because on the next movie to have more days and more time will feel like, Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 23:23
Did you be like, what? 180 days? What am I John Woo, like, how is

Krystin Ver Linden 23:31
40 days don't be like, Whoa, we double A that's amazing.

Alex Ferrari 23:36
The one thing you'll never hear as a director, all you have is time and money. That's the one sentence that will never come. True. So as So as a first time director, you walk on the set, and you've been on multiple sets. And obviously you've been on some fairly big sets with Quinton, and you know, seeing how he dealt with big movie stars and his work. So I don't feel that it correct me if I'm wrong. I don't feel that you were intimidated walking onto a set yourself. But I have to believe that there had to be some sort of butterflies as a first time director coming on with this crew. I know when I was a first time director and when I was a young director, you know, you were afraid of the old 65 year old grip, or gaffer? Who's looking at you like who the hell is this? Pa? No, I'm the director. Oh, and that whole act so I'm imagining and that's from coming from a male perspective. So I can only imagine coming from a female directors perspective. What was that like?

Krystin Ver Linden 24:37
Well, you know, it's interesting. It two things I it wasn't that because every morning I would make a speech.

Alex Ferrari 24:46
So they said they knew you were the PA

Krystin Ver Linden 24:49
The director. And even though I had a mask and we all had masks, so I really never met the crew other than their eyes.

Alex Ferrari 24:57
So that was the kind of the best thing so there was no chance they just have to do do their job and they didn't have time to save

Krystin Ver Linden 25:03
I'm sure in a different world with more exposure, but there was like some weird safety and to see nice, but um, I would make my speech but the first day, there's butterflies, but the butterflies were coming from, oh my God, I want to be excited. But what if we get shut down, those two people are standing really close together, there's like a paranoia with COVID. But there's also the aspects even though I'd been on other sets, I'd never been around a method actor ever before. And John is a method actor. And so before before COVID Will Okay, before we started shooting, Johnny and I became really good friends. Like, you want to build chemistry with your actors. So I was sending him Ken Burns documentaries on the Civil War. Like to get him into like this, you know, the South, you know, the south shall rise again. Energy and, and sin, you know, Night of the Hunter sure, you know, is a movie where, you know, Commons dude or whatever. And so he I was like, Man, he's so cool. And we can talk about anything. We have great chemistry, and he's going to be great actor. And he is, oh, he's amazing. He told me he said, you know, once I get to Georgia, I'm going to be Paul. And I said, yeah, yeah. And he showed up. He wasn't joking. Like, Johnny didn't exist, there was this guy with a southern accent, who, who didn't know me, but was ready to work. And so it was the the, wow, no, my first movie having that experience, because method acting is a whole different beast that I had never encountered in my life, even as a witness. So it was it was interesting. And every day, you know, Kiki and and common common Johnny's days only overlapped ones. But it was just interesting to have Paul on set and never Johnny.

Alex Ferrari 27:09
So which is which is fascinating. Because he is a obviously Paul is, you know, racist. And you know, he's a slave owner and all of these things being directed by a woman of color. Yep. How does that I just have to like, how did like how did he take direction for women of color?

Krystin Ver Linden 27:33
It was insane. Like he you know, you would you would crash down? Or something is here. Yeah, okay. Yeah. I know you like he just, it was just a surreal experience is one of those things where, you know, you feel like Albert Brooks who's writing your life. person that would have come up with this situation.

Alex Ferrari 27:57
Right! That's actually I've never heard I mean, I look, I've heard a lot of stories in Hollywood. I've never heard of that. This specific scenario is so I mean, her Daniel Day, obviously his method. But he he played Lincoln, the opposite of Paul,

Krystin Ver Linden 28:15
I will say this, and I maybe it's because it was like the last few hours of shooting. And before he had to go home, Johnny, I will say Paul disappeared when common showed up because Johnny wanted to meet. There were exceptions to the rule when he broke character. He was like, Hey, man, I love you. You know, so I was like, okay, so

Alex Ferrari 28:38
So I'm common. If I'm common, you will you'll break character.

Krystin Ver Linden 28:41
And I guess you know, Paul can back up so Johnny can meet him.

Alex Ferrari 28:46
That is, that is fascinating. I've never dealt with a method actor in all my career I've been directing. It is I've heard stories. And you know, like Jim Carrey on on the set of Man in the Moon, who literally was channeling Andy Kaufman, for God's sakes on that film. They made a documentary about how crazy it's insane. Now I have to ask, you know, you have some very difficult scenes in the movie that are sensitive for both actors. For Paul and for Kiki. And for Alice. How do you direct scenes that are so difficult, emotionally? Because I mean, obviously, I think for Johnny, it might have I think it might have been a protective thing for him to be Paul, because he wouldn't have to, because Johnny didn't have a say in what was going on. But if he stayed as Paul, it'd be easier to do the job in my head. That's that makes sense to me. Because he's sweet. Right? So like Johnny probably couldn't do that. But Paul could, and how did you direct those scenes with Kiki and him and just the brutality of some of those scenes?

Krystin Ver Linden 30:00
Well, luckily, because we had so much time because of COVID. So we were constantly having a dialogue about how to handle these scenes and how to feel and what it's what it means if we get the right performance across. And so it was just taken very lovingly in every way. So, before we shot those scenes, we actually rehearsed them. So we could, you know, kind of get, you know, not full blown performances, but kind of get into dip your toe in. Yeah, dip your toe in and to kind of absorb and go home that night and think about it and feel it. And for Kiki, I know, it was very, very, very emotionally taxing. And so you know, even the scene where she's tied up, and has the school's bridle on, I was sitting literally sitting right next to her. And we're both crying and I in between takes I was playing music for and like sitting on the ground with her. And you just have to take it like that. Like we're two sisters. And we're going through this experience together. So

Alex Ferrari 31:20
That's, I mean, that's got to be that's that's why I have so much respect for actors, because I mean, to me to put yourself emotionally through that again, and again, I'm assuming you didn't do at takes of those scenes. So you weren't you weren't that director you didn't Cooper,

Krystin Ver Linden 31:32
The weird. The weirdest part was It was also during the presidential election. So in Georgia, there were huge crowds of Magga supporters. Sure, so we would drive to work on it to go to a plantation. And even specifically that day, I remember how many protesters were out so there was an extra layer of emotion of like the frustration of what our country how divided our country is. So it was just it was interesting. The layers that we had to navigate

Alex Ferrari 32:09
My god and just the the irony of what the irony of like, I'm going to a slave plantation to shoot a movie about free bass, basically, someone's you know, releasing them in freedom, while passing through a mag and seeing the separation between it's like oh my god, this is have we not grown since the Civil War? Yes, exactly. It's my God that you have so many layers to the production of this film like it there's so many onion layers like Shrek many layers to the onion. If you like if I if I might, if I may, quote The philosopher donkey. There's so many layers. There's so many layers to, to this. I mean, again, I just, I loved I love the job. By the way, Johnny. So good. I mean, such a bastard in this room. So fantastically wonderful. When you said he was metal. I'm like, okay, that makes all the sense in the world. By the way, the music. Fantastic to score the music in the background. It was so beautifully. Like, I'm like, Oh, I can jam to this whole album. Like it's just like such a beautiful way of doing it. And you know her she did the score. Rishi Coleman really did the whole score.

Krystin Ver Linden 33:28
Yeah, so I so when I, when I was writing the script, I did the needle drops. So the songs I was writing to. That's another Quintin thing.

Alex Ferrari 33:38
But yeah, imagine.

Krystin Ver Linden 33:40
With the score he had said. When we first met. He was like, you know, if you don't if you are open to it later on, you don't have to think think think on it now but no pressure. I would like to do the score. Or, you know,

Alex Ferrari 33:55
You mean, so that you meet the Oscar. The Oscar winning the Oscar winner? Yeah, sure. Sure. Got it.

Krystin Ver Linden 34:03
So, um, yeah, once we got to Georgia, I was sending him music and ideas. And he was sending me music, which is surreal, because he's a little kid common was my hero. Oh, my, it's so cool. And it was nervous because I at first I was like, Is it okay to send them like this idea? Because I'm not calm. You know, I'm not in the music business. But um, he was amazing. And he went above and beyond with scoring this movie and capturing the energy and like, I remember one day when we got back to LA and they were scoring. He called me and he's like, Hey, Chris. Shaka is in the studio. And I want her to do a song for us. What do you think? And it's like, what do you

Alex Ferrari 34:46
No! Absolutely not.

Krystin Ver Linden 34:49
Yeah, no, no, I know. Shocking, con No way. Never. He was pulling off stuff that with our budget we could have never done so Commons an angel.

Alex Ferrari 35:00
Wow That's That's remarkable. Like no no no Chaka Khan. Can you get Kpop though? Can you get a K-Pop band? But not Shaka. Shaka? What? No. That's, that's, that's, you know, it was so beautifully done I just felt when I listened to when I listened to scores from you for movies. A lot of times it's kind of you could just see that they were kind of like kind of like just thrown in. But this was so weaved in to the narrative. It just fits so beautifully and I didn't know calm and did it. And of course the needle drops are all beautiful. I'm like I love that song. love that song. love that song. But the references and when she's you know when she's watching. Was it coffee? Yeah, coffee, and watching Pam Greer and just like, man, that's some good stuff right there. That's just she looks fancy. She looks fantastic. The the production of the costume design. Oh, yeah. So good. So so good. Now on on the on.

Krystin Ver Linden 35:58
The costume designer didn't do shushing. Since you brought she did she did Joshua. Yeah. super talented. Woman I love her.

Alex Ferrari 36:06
Well, Shawshank is one of my favorite. I mean, I always tell people like it's your like Shawshank prize close to perfection. Yeah, as a writing sample as a directing sample. It's just yeah, the audience my audience understands my love for for Shawshank. So I won't go deep into the into the weeds on it. It's just one of those films. Now as a director, we all go through a day on set, where the entire world is coming crashing down around us. Losing the sun, the camera doesn't work. The method actor is having an issue. Something is happening. And you're like, Oh my God, why am I here? How can What was that day for you? If it wasn't every day? What was that for you? But was there a moment in that shoot where you just besides COVID? Yeah, is that something happened? You're like, how am I going to get through this? And how did you get through it?

Krystin Ver Linden 37:02
Yeah, well, they're the even the the first. The first scene in the movie. I remember the camera operators like the dolly isn't working for the opening shot. Just we kind of sat there and she's like, We have no time. Keep going. Just figure it out. So you're sitting there and so I come up with a new way of opening the movie. Um, so that was one experience. I mean, there were so many days like that. Probably the most daunting was when I had to be in two places at once. And this is probably on the fourth day. So you're still kind of getting into the rhythm and you're you're feeling sorry for yourself. Why am I here? Why maybe I don't want to do this. Maybe this isn't my life.

Alex Ferrari 37:59
Every director every director at one point or another had that conversation in their head, every director because it's just you sit there going. It's tough, man. This is tough work. I mean, directing the stress, the pressure, the amount of mental strain the amount of physical, the physical. The people don't think about the physical you can you got to get into shape. Exhausting be on your feet. All day have good shoes.

Krystin Ver Linden 38:22
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. But um, yeah, we've been to places at once and having to set up a scene and get it going with a kid, a child actor, and then running across to set up another scene that was a complicated shot, and then having to run literally running back and forth and things just weren't Cooking. Cooking, like just the camera like the just on a technical level things were there were some issues. And so it was it was stressful. And it was like, Oh my God, are we gonna even make this day and if we don't make this we don't have it in the budget to keep for an extra day. So you're there. It was just one of those like,

Alex Ferrari 39:06
Stress, stress. Stress on top of stress. Yeah, directors don't age. Well, I'm just saying directors. You'll be fine. Who?

Krystin Ver Linden 39:18
The women Sofia Coppola has kept her face

Alex Ferrari 39:22
Yes, she has. She has there's no question there the look. Yes. But generally speaking, there's still a couple more gray hairs are gonna pop out.

Krystin Ver Linden 39:34
They also didn't tell me the forces that be when I was shot listing. So during prep, my DP and I would actually go on location to every scene and shot list in real time. And I remember one day, we're shortlisting and I had like this elaborate thing I wanted to do and I was like, you know, Stanley Kubrick use this but it really wasn't his and it was I was going in or thing that he didn't care about and he was like, you know that This isn't the script we're gonna shoot, right? And he said in the sweetest way, and I was like, What do you mean? He's like, no, there, there's gonna there's always that moment before the movie where we have to, you know, you're gonna go over the budget and see what we need to keep and what goes and I was like, that's not gonna What are you talking about? Oh, yeah, long hold, you know you have that production meeting where he the DP and the production line producer and everyone sits down and you realize, okay, you have to cut I remember when that happened. They're like, Okay, you have to lose 20 pages. We're going to make because the COVID budget, doctor on the set

Alex Ferrari 40:42
Oh, yeah. aid into you. Yes.

Krystin Ver Linden 40:43
Testing was expensive. So that was probably the hardest, even though that's not shooting but tans your question. The hardest thing was losing 20 pages.

Alex Ferrari 40:53
And then you have to go through your baby and then just

Krystin Ver Linden 40:57
And have it still make

Alex Ferrari 40:59
Sense for you?

Krystin Ver Linden 41:00
Sense for me. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 41:03
Did you Did you ever suffer with a little bit of imposter syndrome? Um, ever in your life? As a writer,

Krystin Ver Linden 41:16
Probably. Every day in my life.

Alex Ferrari 41:19
I was about to say, I asked that question all the time, because it is something so rampid in as a creative we all go through it. And I've had the pleasure of speaking.

Krystin Ver Linden 41:29
And even talking to you. This morning. I was like, what, you know,

Alex Ferrari 41:34
What? why would why talking to me? Why me? Yeah, exactly. I'm like, that's amazing. That's ridiculous. No, I appreciate that. But, you know, I, I've had the pleasure of, you know, interviewing some really amazing peeper people on the show. And the common thread is imposter syndrome. I'm like, you want an Oscar? Yeah, but I still don't know. You know, what? You want two Oscars? I bet. You know, I'm still hustling. I'm like, how is that? So I always like to bring that up for filmmakers and screenwriters listening to understand that if you if you have imposter syndrome, everyone, everyone has it. Everyone has

Krystin Ver Linden 42:12
I remember in Quintin went out of Django, like went out to the studios. I remember he, at one point, when we met up for lunch, he was like, can you believe like they actually liked it was like, Do you not know who you are? Like, in my head? It's like, do you do not know who you are? Of course, they're gonna like it. Like what's your wife? Like? But he still is amazed when like people react to his, his screenplays.

Alex Ferrari 42:38
And I think the moment he doesn't, that's when the problems will begin. Yeah, I think I think there has to be that level of that level. There has to be something there because at the end of the day, yeah, you've done 10 Amazing things, but 11 could suck. It hasn't worked. I mean, look, you know, hey, there's very few directors who have a bad 1000. That's true. There's very few directors of bat 1000. Quinn, I'd argue is close to 1000. With all of his films, he's, you know, I think James Cameron is probably another one that you just like, Well, yeah, I mean, you know, but but some of the greats, you know, even someone like the rock star, David, lean, and pack and paw and Kubrick. I mean, I think Kubrick bat 1000. But that's just me, but I agree. I mean, generally know, his very first movie, that doesn't count. He doesn't consider that part of his can. And let's geek out for a second. Fear and Desire is not a real Kubrick film. It's not like he's like that was an experiment. It was like my student film. He's

Krystin Ver Linden 43:44
Such an easy thing. Yeah. So if it doesn't work if it's not a good movie. Well, that was that was really my first

Alex Ferrari 43:51
Fair enough. So fair enough. So then he's batting 950 All right, so he's betting he's batting 950. But if it doesn't work, that wasn't, I never meant to do that. It was just practice. But yeah, but that's the other thing too is so you know, when you start meeting and speaking to these people, you you grew up looking at and I mean, they are, they are movie Gods, but they're human. They're just human beings and they're artists trying to figure it out just like you are and and that's the thing I've come to learn from speaking to so many of these amazing filmmakers and screenwriters that just like they're just trying to figure it out. Yeah, there. They've got different levels of problems that you and I don't have. Like Quinn problems are not Kristen and Alex problems. Okay, that's, that's like I can't have Will Smith in my movie. That is a Quinton problem. Not a Christian and Alex.

Krystin Ver Linden 44:50
Do I pick Brad or Leo?

Alex Ferrari 44:52
Oh, let's just put them both in.

Krystin Ver Linden 44:54
Yes. Find a way to work with both budget to pay both

Alex Ferrari 45:00
Yeah, generally when Brad and Leo want to be in the movie, they the the money comes somehow magically, money shows up somehow with that. Now, you also premiered this film at Sundance, which was, I got to ask, I always love asking Sundance filmmakers, what was it like getting the call?

Krystin Ver Linden 45:18
Oh, my God, it was, it was one of the most memorable days in my life because I was my mom was in town. I was I was having that imposter syndrome or, you know, the mental crisis of what is this going to be? What's going to happen? You know, what's going to happen? All of the human worries that, you know, aren't really part of you. But umm

Alex Ferrari 45:44
Also all self constructed crap.

Krystin Ver Linden 45:49
Yeah, just the chatter and monkey brain, the monkey brain, I remember sitting at my computer, and I was literally thinking about, like, what is my life going to look like? And they, I got a call is like, a number I didn't from a state and recognized I thought it was like spam, you know, spam call. And I was like, Why didn't my phone tell me what to say? You know, so I just kind of like, answered it in a bad news, like, hello, is going to be an automated voice.

Alex Ferrari 46:17
It was gonna be like, can I talk to you about your car, extended Car Warranty.

Krystin Ver Linden 46:22
And there was like a silence. He's like, Hi, this is Charlie. And I was like, Okay. And then he was like, Yeah, Charlie, from Sundance, and I thought he was calling just to say, it didn't make it. They don't do that. I just did. Yeah, I just I wasn't, it was, you know, it's like Way of the Samurai logic, expect nothing prepared for everything, which is really bad logic. So I was just kind of bracing myself for that. Look, you know, it's, you know, we're limited year, we're not accepting as many movies blah, blah, blah, any he it was the total opposite. He was like, we loved it. You're amazing, and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. Um, which, you know, is nice to hear sometimes. Sure. And then again, he told me and I just remember feeling like I floated out of my body and floated around the house for a minute.

Alex Ferrari 47:15
And of course, unfortunately, listless this year, Sundance was not in person. So you didn't get the full Sundance experience. So not this year. I've been to Sundance multiple times. It's so great. I love Sundance.

Krystin Ver Linden 47:28
Yeah, I had the bags ready to fill up.

Alex Ferrari 47:32
Yeah. From the the gifting suites. Oh, god, yeah, the gifting suites and all of yeah, all that stuff. But that's if it's just a very special Sundance is a very special. Park City is a very special Yes. Yeah, no question. Now, when is this? When is the film coming out? And when is it available this Friday, it comes out this Friday, which would be March 18 18th. And it'll be available everywhere, or just in theaters,

Krystin Ver Linden 47:59
In theaters. And then two weeks later on demand streaming,

Alex Ferrari 48:03
Streaming everywhere, anywhere, you can get streaming rentals and all that kind of good stuff. Yeah. And what's next for you?

Krystin Ver Linden 48:10
Oh, um, you know, as a as a master of my own destiny, there are two things. So next would probably most likely be actually a TV series, and I have a film as well called 1968. But on the TV side, it is the rise and fall of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That sounds nice. Yeah, I did. And, again, bending the genre, and looking at it from a different perspective, from the point of view of a Pinkerton agent that has to get into the game in order to sabotage them. But he ends up feeling closer to the gang then actually the Pinkertons. So

Alex Ferrari 48:57
Really, I mean, if you're hanging out with Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, I mean, I'm assuming that's a pretty cool hangout. Yeah. So I have a couple questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Krystin Ver Linden 49:14
Follow your heart. Tell a story that isn't dependent on the outcome, but something that feels cathartic and true to you. And if you just want to be a director and not a screenwriter, I would say write a screenplay, because that will help develop your vision and a sense for the kinds of stories you want to tell regardless if you even want to do something with that screenplay. So

Alex Ferrari 49:44
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Krystin Ver Linden 49:51
Trust the process, have patience, trust in the universe.

Alex Ferrari 49:56
Enjoy the flow is get into the flow. Yes. Don't get out and push this river the river flows by itself. Yeah. During now I'm going to ask you to park question three of your favorite films of all time. As of right as of right now, at this moment in time, it could obviously change in the matter of 15 minutes. But at this recording three films,

Krystin Ver Linden 50:21
Uhh, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid by Tim Peckinpah. Um, Jesus Christ. See, then, then I blanked out. I'll do some contemporaries. Okay. Get the roses. Paul Thomas Anderson, there will be blood. Sure. Um, and then I would say Seven Samurai characters.

Alex Ferrari 50:49
Well, I mean, of course, I mean, so. So yeah,

Krystin Ver Linden 50:51
I mean, there's so many. But

Alex Ferrari 50:53
There's 1000s. There's 1000s Of course,

Krystin Ver Linden 50:55
And blink.

Alex Ferrari 50:56
And then three screenplays every screenwriter should read.

Krystin Ver Linden 51:01
Ooh. Um, I would say Goodfellas. I would say anybody out. Maybe I shouldn't eat

Alex Ferrari 51:17
Andy Hall still one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time?

Krystin Ver Linden 51:19
Yeah. Um, I would Yeah, I would say probably a nanny, probably a way any Woody Allen script. Um, and then I would say Kill Bill. Volume One.

Alex Ferrari 51:29
Volume One. Yes. I consider both of them one movie, the whole bloody affair,

Krystin Ver Linden 51:35
They are one movie and the script. I when I said volume on the script is actually one long script

Alex Ferrari 51:40
That he cut up into two. I think they I think he wanted to do one originally, right? Just one long movie, right? It was a studio that's like, no, no, no. We're gonna split this up and make more money. Yeah, exactly. Is he ever gonna do three? Is that ever gonna happen? Do you know?

Krystin Ver Linden 51:57
He plays around. Like, there can be moments where he'll cuz he loves to read what he's writing to his friends. Yeah, there are moments will where you'll be like hanging out and he's like, Hey, you want to read the thing? The next thing I'm doing and it's like, another Western. And then you're like, Oh, that's cool. Okay, and then like three months later, he's like, no, no, I'm not gonna do that. And so you never know.

Alex Ferrari 52:21
So you've listened to like pitches and scripts of his that will never

Krystin Ver Linden 52:25
He read on about post Civil War Western that Titan, like Django and all of them.

Alex Ferrari 52:34
So a part of the the Qt universe of course. Yeah. Yeah. I have to ask you one question. Maybe you'll know Is he serious with this whole 10 movie thing or 11 movie thing that he's like, he's gonna retire kick he can't retire.

Krystin Ver Linden 52:45
I think so. And I'll say why? Because his his life has changed so much. He's

Alex Ferrari 52:53
Sure sure. He was a kid. Yeah,

Krystin Ver Linden 52:56
So he's a father Quintin. So it's a different artists, you know, you can never say this. Yeah, I think he I think he will be equally as happy as a as a writer, as a movie writer.

Alex Ferrari 53:11
That's just a novelist like that. I think once upon a time in Hollywood was his first kind of,

Krystin Ver Linden 53:17
Yeah, and he has a podcast that he loves that fulfills him.

Alex Ferrari 53:22
Got it. So, um, Krystin, thank you so much for being on the show. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you. You're always welcome back. I can't wait to see your career flourish and see what you come up with next. I'm really interested. But thank you again, so much for coming on the show and continued success.

Krystin Ver Linden 53:38
Thank you so much.

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IFH 565: Inside Creating Top Gun & Writing in Hollywood with Jack Epps Jr.

It is an absolute thrill to have Jack Epps Jr. on the show today. The award-winning writer, USC Cinematic Arts professor and filmmaker is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He’s best known for writing Top Gun, The Secret of My Success, Turner & Hooch, and Anaconda 1997 screenplay

Jack first became involved in making films while doing his undergraduate at Michigan State University. Inspired by a student film festival, Epps made his first film the following semester which became Pig vs. Freaks that was later titled Off Sides.

Top Gun was Epps’ big break. He partnered with Jim Cash who was his screenwriting professor at Michigan State University, to write several projects and Top Gun was one of those screenplays. Top Gun’s success was seismic. It became a box office number one grossing $ 357.1 million on a $ 15 million budget while also stacking several accolades including an Academy Award, Golden Globes, and a number of other international film awards. 

As students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school compete to be the best in the class, one daring young pilot (Tom Cruise) learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom.

Epps is credited for the original screenplay in the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick which will be released this November.

Epps shares co-writing credits with Jim Cash and Hans Bauer for the screenplay of the Anaconda adventure horror film series of 1997 and 2004. The first story follows a National Geographic film crew in the Amazon Rainforest that is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who forces them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.

While the first film did not receive critical acclamation, it grossed $136.8 million worldwide against a budget of $45 million.

In the second film, Anaconda: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, the premise is quite similar. A scientific expedition team of researchers set for an expedition into the Southeast Asian tropical island of Borneo, to search for a sacred flower for which they believe will bring humans to a longer and healthier life, but soon become stalked and hunted by the deadly giant anacondas inhabiting the island.

Here is a clip of Gordon (Morris Chestnut) after being paralyzed from a spider bite, who comes face to face with death.

These are some classics and I couldn’t wait to chat with Jack about his creative journey—from his work as a cinematographer and an assistant cameraman on various local productions, to his love for writing or reviewing romantic comedies films like Viva Rock Vegas, and Sister Act.

Let’s dig in, shall we? Enjoy this conversation with Jack Epps.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:04
I'd like to welcome to the show Jack Epps Jr. How you doing Jack?

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01
I'm doing really well. Nice to be here. Thank you!

Alex Ferrari 1:09
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Um, I'm excited to kind of get into the weeds about your career because you've written some of some of the some, you know, classic 80s and 90s films that I grew up with. And again, the audience will get tired of me saying this, but you had an impact on my video store days when I was working at the video store. Great days. Oh, those. Exactly. So all of all of your films and your especially in the 80s and early 90s, all the stuff that you wrote was like I was there moving the boxes, rec recommending them to the customers got me good. So. So let me ask you, how did you how did you get started in the business?

Jack Epps Jr. 5:41
Well, you know, it's one of those sort of long stories in the sense of, I became interested in film as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. I'm from Detroit, Michigan, moved out to California because I just fell in love with movies. And I said, this is what I want to do with my life. I actually came out to California be a director, because I was making short films, had no money, virtually no contacts, and the best way to direct was on paper and started writing. And in through a friend I met at Michigan State Anderson House, his dad knew the producer of Hawaii Five O and said, If we wrote a treatment, he could get it to him. So we actually put together treatment called the capsule kidnapping, sent it to his dad who sent to the Phil ECOC, who sent the the showrunner, who then called us and said, We love this idea. So quickly, I sold it exact. So we sold this script, and and had a Hawaii Five o produced very, very quickly, I mean, and then we worked together for a couple years trying to get other things produced. And we sold a Kojak and things like that, but didn't really move forward a lot. At the same time. I had to pay rent. And so I was because I was a filmmaker. I was actually an assistant camera man. And so doing a lot of work on stuff like that. I actually worked for Orson Welles on the other side of the wind. River, what was that? Like? You know, it was really great because it was there is Orson Welles. In the story. How it happened is my wife was my girlfriend at the time. She was working as a typist. And so she got a call from her temp agents agency and said, Orson Welles needs somebody and she she was in Peoria now to film family. So she goes Orson Welles, I know the name but don't worry, just go meet him. Because I knew the less she would know the more he would like her. And so he hired her. And then I said, he got to get me on this film. You got to get me on this film. So I spent a couple months with Orson and Gary Graver on the piano was great because it's Orson Welles omit really nice. I mean, he didn't throw a temper tantrum. He wasn't like this big. He was just Orson Welles. And there's the guy and you some pitching myself. I said, I cannot believe I'm pulling focus on Orson Welles here.

Alex Ferrari 7:58
That's, that's amazing. And that booming voice that he has,

Jack Epps Jr. 8:01
And the whole persona.

Alex Ferrari 8:03
Oh, my God, that must have been amazing. So yeah, so and everyone listening, when you're starting off as a screenwriter, generally it works out that you write a spec pilot for a television show or a television show, and it gets picked up right away and then you start making lots of money just like yourself, correct?

Jack Epps Jr. 8:20
Absolutely not. What happened is I then my my college screenwriting teacher, Jim Cash had contacted me and said, We should write together. And so Jim and I went back to Michigan to pick up my motorcycle to drive back to California. I looked him up. We sat down at the school union, and we pitched out eight ideas. I didn't think anything work. We said, Thanks, goodbye. I was riding back cross country. And I said, you know, this idea actually works. And Jim and I spent the next two and a half years doing about five different drafts and figure out how to write together long distance because he was in East Lansing and I was in Santa Monica. We wrote a script finally, that I felt was ready to take it to go into the business to let out because I had learned enough through internships and things to know that you really have to enter the business at a high level, the script has to be very, very good read. It's got to be a good story and show off your work as writers and storytellers. And that script was called Izzy and Moe. And we got representation to major agency through a friend who recommended us and it got optioned by Bud Yorkin of Yorkshire and Lear. And so suddenly, we were paid some pretty good option money that may both of us say we should stay at this. So we were lucky that our first spec actually got options.

Alex Ferrari 9:47
That right and again, a lot of in a lot of times when a lot of screenwriters think that just because you get the option, it's an automatic production, and that's not the case. At all, most most option scripts don't get into production is that is that a fair statement?

Jack Epps Jr. 10:00
All right, is that the truth? I mean, it's what it what it does is what it puts it. So yes, no is emo never got made, but Yorkin, who was a European leader could not get it made. And so but what it did is it put us on a spotlight, people knew we were there. And then we did a second script, a second spec script, which was called old gold. And that was a sort of Charmin Chase adventure set in San Francisco, about a fortune 100 looking for lost gold from the Nazis that ended up in San Francisco. And then that got that got bought on an auction. And so we earned good money and he was like, Okay, this is now we're throwing ourselves into it. But that didn't get me

Alex Ferrari 10:46
I've spoken to so many screenwriters over the years and known many during my time in the in the business that sometimes you look at an IMDB filmography, and you're like, oh, They've only done three movies. I'm like, Yeah, but they've been working steadily for a decade. And just because they haven't been produced. I mean, they're still pulling in six figures a year, and working on major projects that just either they're rewriting or polishing or Script doctoring. And don't get don't get made. Is that your experience as well?

Jack Epps Jr. 11:16
Absolutely. And what I learned very quickly is that if a studio has a choice between their idea or your idea, they're always going with their idea. So why not develop their ideas, which they already invested in. And SmartKey has yet been tricked into your idea. You have to you have to make it, you've got to own it, but realize that you're writing for them, and you want to make the producers in the studios happy. So we then started writing an assignment. And we had six unproduced screenplays and then yeah, we did Dick Tracy. For four directors that got shelved wasn't kidding me. We then Simpson Bruckheimer. We actually through Jeff Katzenberg was involved in Dick Tracy because it was actually owned by Universal and Paramount. So as a joint production, they had international and domestic rights. And so Jeff Katzenberg liked our work and wanted to hire us after Dick Tracy and I had a breakfast meeting the famous ADM breakfast meeting with Katzenberg. And he rolled out six ideas of which I thought this really interesting idea be stood out to me. Yeah, based on this school pilots called Top Gun. And I thought, wow, I actually got my private pilot's license at Michigan State, they had a flying club. So I thought, Well, if the movie doesn't get made, I'll get to find a navy jet. So okay.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
It's a win win win,

Jack Epps Jr. 12:48
That one get made. So why would this one get made but flying a navy jet? That's a hard thing to get to do,

Alex Ferrari 12:54
You got to go through, you have to jump through a few hoops to get to that tough life to say the least. So So okay, so the original idea for Top Gun was basically it was Jeff Katzenberg, kind of throughout the like, hey, there's a school pilots figure something out.

Jack Epps Jr. 13:09
Well, actually, it was actually, Jerry Bruckheimer, okay, we found an article in a California magazine. Based on that there was a school and there are these pilots, and they were having fun. There was no story, no characters, but it was a potential world. And so Jerry brought it to, you know, the producer will do product to he was had to deal with Paramount, but Don Simpson and Paramount want to develop the idea. And so for for us, it was like, Okay, we had just finished a Tracy and that was not going into production. And so

Alex Ferrari 13:42
This is at 84-85 for Dick Tracy?

Jack Epps Jr. 13:44
Actually, if Dick Tracy was actually in the early 80s, right, I went in for directors on that project.

Alex Ferrari 13:51
And we'll get to that we'll get to Dick Tracy it a little bit down the line. But so so with Top Gun so you're basically on assignment, essentially you you got it was an open assignment. Jerry came up with the the concept of just the world and you guys came up with Maverick and Iceman and the whole thing. I mean, so Okay, so when you're writing this, it's another assignment. You're like, this is not going to get me both hell, we'll have some fun. And we're getting paid to do it. So you didn't think it was Did you have any idea that it was actually going to go into production? Did you feel something?

Jack Epps Jr. 14:24
Well, so basically, sips and Bruckheimer when I met with him, I said, Look, guys, I don't want to do this unless we can actually get the planes but I really don't want to have these like little CGI is not what it is today, right today. Hold off, but then you could not and so they agreed. We went back to the Pentagon. We got approval by the Pentagon. They gave me a technical adviser but even Pete Pettigrew. I went to doubt the NAS Miramar and I got to fly jets and

Alex Ferrari 14:57
you and you were in the back like you The Oh absolutely. Oh, absolutely.

Jack Epps Jr. 15:01
Yeah, that's amazing. A couple of things happen. One is the f 14. Wow, I fell in love with the plane. I really didn't know about military planes at that time. And I fell in love with it for one or two reasons. One, it looks incredibly cool on the ground. It's like, wow, this thing is just the fastest, most beautiful thing ever designed. And to it had two people flying in it a front seat or in a back seat. And I didn't really know about that. And that gave me a relationship. So I already went, Yes. I don't have to have guys going from plane to going on Maverick are you doing in Qatar? Are you so I can actually have these two people and form a relationship, which gave me a core to develop in the story. So I said, Great. We've got a relationship. But I'm looking for all the guys there are great. Get along. And I'm going for where's the conflict? What am I writing here? I've got to look for the conflict. And then it came to me, like one of those bolts of thunder. Lightning is what if one guy doesn't get along? What happens if you got a guy who sticks out like a sore thumb? What happens to this environment? Maverick is born. So I had the conflict. And then we just start building out the story from there in a sense. And I pitched the DOD and Jerry said, Look, we're gonna do a school movie, but it's kind of a real fight in the end, guys. We're not going to have a school. It's got it. He said, Yeah, like Star Wars at the end. Absolutely. That's what we're gonna do. We're gonna do Star Wars. You know, the big dog fights for real stakes at the end. So I did all this research, Simpson Bruckheimer. Great. I said, Look, guys, you got to leave us alone, just let us go away, we're gonna have to find a story. I can't pitch it to you, you got to trust us. And if you don't want to trust us get somebody else because we just can't go through this development process. We have to find it. And they were great. They said guys go away. Afterwards, they said they will never do that again. So we're at able to just find the story, you know, and that was a hard story to find this set in the school. And I mean, so yeah, it's a school guys flying around. What's the story there? And so for us, that was the big thing, breaking that story, finding what that art was, and who those characters were in the relationships and what the whole, the drama of it was.

Alex Ferrari 17:09
And, and I mean, obviously, the top cons of a classic film, and you know, when I was when I've seen I've seen it a million times. But that whole movie is all about character. It's like, the plot is the plot moves things along, but it is about character so heavily as opposed to like, Sherlock Holmes story, which is all plot and character kind of rides along. It. Would you agree? I mean, this is the Iceman and Maverick and his interest and his father and that, that baggage that he's carrying and, and the conflict between him and Iceman, which is just amazing. And we'll talk about all the stars aligning in a minute, but as far as the character, do you agree with that?

Jack Epps Jr. 17:52
Oh, yeah, I mean, I think that that's why we couldn't pitch it. It's almost unpickable script, because it's like, well, what happens? And it's like, because so much came out of the research, I did about 40 hours worth of interviews with pilots. But first, the Pentagon had insisted in there with me, and they wouldn't talk and I said, Look, you gotta get out. I'm sorry, I got to talk these guys alone. And they know I won't, and then they call the Pentagon. So yeah, leave me alone. And then the guys opened up and you know, learn about their lives and met these guys. So they were inspiring as people. But also Gemini were athletes. So we knew what it meant to be on a team and to and to try to make sure you're, you know, the sense of being, you know, one of the stars on the team, you know, you got to be the best, you know, that's part of what sort of the drive for excellence is. But it's a long way to get to your question. We had in the script shift, since the break ever loved it. They loved this movie, but Paramount said, I don't get it. I don't get it. Of course, it's all these planes in the sky. It's like this. So they said no. And they put it on the shelf. So there's number seven unproduced motion picture and so we thought we had something we believed in and so so did Simpson Bruckheimer but not going to happen. So we want went on to a next project Legal Eagles with Ivan Reitman.

Alex Ferrari 19:15
Not a bad, not a bad

Jack Epps Jr. 19:16
project. Not a bad thing. And Ivan was great. And it wasn't until the studio changed. It. You know, the executives and new chickens came in TrackMan cuzzo, who called Simpson Bruckheimer. I said, Guys, we have nothing in the cupboards Do you have anything you want to make? And they pulled the script down and said, Yeah, we got this project we'd like to make and they say go do it.

Alex Ferrari 19:37
That it's just just like that. And then what I find so fascinating about that film specifically is it was a perfect alignment where Jerry and Don where we're coming up they had they had already started building from Flashdance. I think it was in probably a little bit before, but they started to build but they weren't yet. Jerry and they weren't Bruckheimer Simpson company. pletely yet that Top Gun is what took them to the next level. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So you have young producers who are about to explode, they bring in a commercial director who had done one other I think he did what did he What was the other film that he did? Oh, hunger, the hunger. So, vampire so in brought him in, and then this young actor who had been had success with risky business, but yet wasn't Tom Cruise. All these things aligned. And it exploded into this this supernova, essentially. And that movie was a massive for people understood triple net wasn't around at that time. It's a massive hit. And one of the best recruitment tools The Navy has ever added probably still as to this day.

Jack Epps Jr. 20:59
We wrote the movie for Tom, yet we wrote it with him in mind from the very beginning, when we gave the script to Don and Jerry, I said to Don says Jerry, I said, think Tom Cruise when you read this? And and they said Yep, absolutely. And that was the only person that they they went after Tom. Yeah. But Tom, but the ability factors. Part of it was because because of character. You know, Mary is a bit of a jerk. And so he's, he's really arrogant. So you've got to have an actor that you're going to like that you're going to stay with, or else just going to go after this guy. I'm out of here. And so and Tom did that he was the young American, so to speak, and he represented that sort of this bravado and, you know, pushing it at the limit. And, and, and, and they nailed it. They got him and that was in he was great. He actually he understood it. And he's played Maverick for the rest of his career.

Alex Ferrari 21:49
It's such a Top Gun in the car and Top Gun. He said that's well, he developed who Tom Cruise is and Top Gun basically. And he's, I remember some comedians like I love that movie with Tom Cruise with these young cocky white guy. Oh, you mean every movie? Got it? Okay, got it. All right, great. Yeah, I got it. But but but to be fair, though, that is a very slippery slope as an actor and a character to play because you're right. He's arrogant as hell but yet for some reason. You love him. What do you think about Mavericks character? Is it partly how it's written? And obviously how Tom performed it. But I think there there was meat in the script that allowed you to feel empathy towards him. And I think it might be the father baggage that you kind of, because if you don't add that baggage, I don't think he's as there's no empathy there. I don't know. What do you think? Yeah, no, I

Jack Epps Jr. 22:45
think that's all part of the story. And I'm part of it, we made him a second chance character. He was the underdog. Remember, he didn't have he wasn't going first. He had to win. A Cougar had to hand in his wings for him to get in. So he was he was always the underdog. And we tend to root for underdogs. And Iceman, of course, immediately is is a is a great counterpart. And, and that rivalry makes your root for Tom, you want that you want him to stick a nice man's face and you're rooting for him. And and, you know, you also feel for him, you know, he's he wants to do it, right. He's got some stuff. He's got to work out. Hopefully you can work it out. Right. And

Alex Ferrari 23:22
he put but at the end of the day, he's a good guy trying to do good work. And you know, he's trying to be all you can be, as they say,

Jack Epps Jr. 23:31
we've got some things to learn.

Alex Ferrari 23:32
Yeah, no question. And and I mean, how were you excited to know that they were breaking making a sequel?

Jack Epps Jr. 23:37
Yeah, yeah, I was excited. And I was happy that one times involved and Jerry is doing it because Jerry be true to the to the movie. And I know that he'll keep the continuity going with that. And so I think, you know, I'm excited to see it. I've read it. I know, I know what they've done. I can't talk about it, because there's any talk about it, but I think people will like it because it is a continuation.

Alex Ferrari 24:01
It's a true sequel. It's a true sequel. Yeah.

Jack Epps Jr. 24:03
Yeah, it is. It's a continuation. It's it's not just a different movie. It's the characters come back and there's some there's growth and development.

Alex Ferrari 24:10
That's amazing. That's amazing now, so you're ready. Are you worried working to Legal Eagles when before Top Gun gets into production?

Jack Epps Jr. 24:19
Yes. So we went from having seven unproduced screenplays to three films in production in 11 months. Jesus, that's unheard of. It was insane. It was insane. Because suddenly, you have Tompkinson production legalese in production. See for my successes in production,

Alex Ferrari 24:35
she's so so and for people again, that weren't around at the time Legal Eagles will start obviously, Robert Redford, Daryl Hannah and Debra Winger. That was a massive hit. It was and then and then secret of my success, which by the way, personally, one of my favorite 80s films of all time, I watched that. When I was a kid I watched I must have watched that story in that film 100 times because I was I was Michael J. Fox. I wanted it you know, it was During it was during the Wall Street day. So yeah, I wanted to make it in business and all of that kind of stuff. And it was just such a wonderful film. And that was a huge that was a massive hit as well. It was it was Michael J. Fox at the peak of his powers.

Jack Epps Jr. 25:14
Yeah, right after back to feature one. And he was great. I mean, Michael was fabulous. We wrote it for him, we were brought into a rewrite. So basically, it was a screenwriters dream. Frank Price, who was the executive of universal new as well, like, at work? I pitched him an idea. And they said, what if we took that idea and put it into this movie we have wasn't called secret of success, success at that time, something else? And they said, Yeah, sure. So we did a page one and just went through the whole script. But it was great. As they said, We have to start on June 1, because we have Michael J. Fox, and then we have to end by August, something because he's going back to his show, family ties. And, and so they had to shoot what we wrote.

Alex Ferrari 25:56
Oh, so there was no chances to rewrite. So it was perfect for you guys.

Jack Epps Jr. 26:00
Exactly. So we just we just bust through it had a great time. And really, you know, no, you don't you write from Michael J. Fox gives you a lot of fun in the script. And we also wanted to not demonize business as it always is. But as you were saying, people with ambition, and that character, I have a you know, coming to want to make his place in the world. And also, I wanted to do a, I've always wanted to be a big Billy Wilder fan, and wanted to do a, you know, a character who's assuming an identity. So a guy who's playing two identities, I always want to work that and that's really difficult to write that and, and but it was fun. There was a lot of fun to do it. And we were really pleased with the outcome. And Herb Ross, who was the director was a Broadway director, so he liked the words. He wasn't one of your Broadway direct, you direct the words and he wasn't playing with him and was really just going for it. And I thought I thought the movie really worked out well.

Alex Ferrari 26:57
Now with those three films, I mean, it's kind of unheard of for a screenwriting team, a writer screenwriters in general to have that many hits back to back to back in such short amount of time as well. How did the town treat you? I mean, after top gonna loan? I mean, I'm sure your phone was ringing off the hook at that

Jack Epps Jr. 27:15
point. Well, in my as my agent would say, at that time, don't ask they're not available.

Alex Ferrari 27:22
Everybody was reaching out to you at that point. It was you were the belle of the ball, as I like to say,

Jack Epps Jr. 27:26
right, it was that stuff. And because we knew Katzenberg and liked him. We worked at Disney worked on SR act. You know, he did a major rewrite on that. Turner and Hooch You know, Jim, Jim didn't want to write Topcat originally, because he didn't like planes, like flying planes. So he had a phobia. I said, don't worry about it. We'll do it. So he did it for me. And then he wanted to do Turner and Hooch because it's a, you know, he's has dogs. He's like four dogs, and I want to write a dog movie. i Okay, I owe you one. So we sort of traded off it, you know, things just came our way. And so it was it was it was fun. It was different. Because we were unknown people left us alone. And and the more unknown, you got the more of a looking over your shoulder. And that was a very different experience in terms of just how that could change a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 28:15
And for people listening, especially young screenwriters coming up, I mean, yeah, you had a lot of success in a short amount of time, but you had been putting in the years of work. Prior to that, like you said there was seven unpaid or six unproduced screenplays. Yeah, you had representation? Yeah, you'd optioned a few things. But you would have been, it's not like you just woke up one morning and like, Oh, here's Top Gun, like it took you years to get to that place. And I think screenwriters young screenwriters need to understand that you've got to put in the work, and it's not gonna happen overnight.

Jack Epps Jr. 28:45
I think we were actually fortunate that we didn't get our first movies produced, I think we would have grown as writers. No, you're right. You're right. I think we have tapped ourselves in the back and say how brilliant we were. And we would have been very happy at that level. And, you know, first movers are fine, they're good reads. But we had to grow. And we had to work harder and dig deeper, to basically teach ourselves how, you know, just because they were trying to figure out how does this thing work, and to basically, and the more and more we got to character was was really, really the breakthrough, you know, telling stories about people lives in crisis. You know, rewriting is a big part of what Jim and I did together. And it you know, we just realized you had to dig in. I mean, like I said, for Dick Tracy, we went through four directors, and for each director, we did two drafts

Alex Ferrari 29:33
now, so let's jump into Dick Tracy really quickly. So I remember 9090 Very well, it was right smack in the middle of my video store days. So I was it was in the heat and that was Dick Tracy, I think and please correct me wrong. This is my assumption. Dick Tracy got greenlit and got fast tracked into production after Batman came out in 89. Because that kind of just changed. It just changed the landscape. All of a sudden superhero movies. Were it because Prior to Batman for people not understanding because now every week there's a new Batman or Superman or Marvel film coming out, but there was a time there was a time where there was one maybe and it took every two, three years before you'd get orders something like that. Before Batman, there was Superman and Superman had pretty much petered off after Donner left. So when Batman came out, which was a absolute insane, massive hit, Dick Tracy showed up and then Dick Tracy, I, you know, watching it, I mean, it had Danny Elfman music, it had a lot of tonality. From Batman, it was a dark Dick Tracy was, you know, that the world was so it was that way just so beautifully constructed. And the colors were so vibrant, and the PErforM I mean, you had to look at a cast, but Donna ALPA Chino will enforce I am Warren Beatty, it's just amazing. Was Am I Am I correct in saying that? That was the reason why I got fast tracked?

Jack Epps Jr. 30:56
Yeah, I think so. I think it was the, at that point, looking for something to the big superhero type movie like that, and it was ready to go. The script is ready. And in Warren, people saw him as the only that was one of the problems getting that movie made is that Warren was who everybody saw is the Tracy. There's nobody else. And that becomes a problem because we only make it with Warren. And when we start we first started the script with John Landis, who for my business would have been probably the most interesting, wacky, crazy. Tracy. John had that terrible Twilight Zone accident. He exited. Then we got Walter Hill, who was who taught me a lot. Walter was a screenwriter editor. Oh, a good director. Yeah. And he basically taught us a lot. He was funny, because we're a little arrogant, you know, you know, we've been doing really well. And Walter SS do a fix on the script. And we push back to No, we don't want to do this. And he said, Well, okay, I'll do it. I'll write it, don't worry about it. And we went, Oh, hold on a second here. You know, that's not a bad idea. We'll do it. Because you don't want to direct your writing. You want to stay the writer. So we said, oh, I think I understand what you mean. So you know, Walter taught us a lot how to hang in the game, and also how to focus the characters. Well, I mean, you know, and then, Walter, the, as I understand the story, you talked to Warren and Warren said, Can I watch the dailies? And Walter said, No, I never let actors walk daily watch dailies. And Warren said, Thank you, God. Movie crashes, Dick Benjamin comes on to do a cheap version, Dick Tracy. We cut the script down for budget. That doesn't happen. And then Warren ends up after a couple years, languishing, walking over to Paramount and getting the rights and moving the rights to Disney. And then once he's on board, he's driving I taught him we met, you know, more and more. I went met and talked and he's a good director, you know, I mean, so he was should I direct this? I said, Absolutely. You know, we're doing better than you.

Alex Ferrari 32:55
Yeah. And it was it was, I think people wanted it to be the next Batman and I don't, but it wasn't it was a hit. It didn't didn't do good business, right.

Jack Epps Jr. 33:04
It could business it wasn't quite what everyone wanted it to be. It didn't it didn't get the debt super numbers in there. There was to me, there was a lot of things crammed into that movie. Like me, it's even Stephen Sondheim songs. You can't complain about that. But they took up a lot of space. A bit of a musical. You know, Madonna's done. Yeah, I'm surprised no one's done. Dick Tracy, the musical so far since it would work?

Alex Ferrari 33:30
Yeah, Madonna was at the height of her powers as well. So they had to put there has to be a couple of you know, song and dance numbers Madonna, and it has, that's why we're hiring her. So and that's another thing that screenwriters and filmmakers sometimes don't understand is that there's there's just politics involved here. There's a lot of politics involved. And there's a lot of not only egos, but you know, agendas that need to be cramped like you said a lot of things were crammed in because there was so much pressure on that film I'm surprised that it did as well as it did because of the amount of pressure you they were they were hoping for another Batman and that's like that's you know, lightning in a bottle that doesn't happen very often. And it's still it was still good enough that it did do good business but obviously didn't you know break out into what what Batman was but it still holds up very well today. I watched it the other day it was it still holds up very well.

Jack Epps Jr. 34:21
Or the look is great. Richard silver did amazing art direction let's say the colors and Warren was working to create a sort of a comic book structure if you look at the setups are almost like it's by panels comic panel. He was trying to do that specifically. And you know, you've got great roles with with Dustin Hoffman doing mumble Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 34:38
Forgot definitely, of course.

Jack Epps Jr. 34:40
Yeah. No, he's all in everybody come in and do this little stuff.

Alex Ferrari 34:44
Like, exactly. He's just like, hey, can you just come down to do this character for us, please. But when you're Warren Beatty, you could do things like that? Not but I have to ask you though. How did you convert or adapt a comic strip to Twitter? feature film. I mean, it's not like a comic book, if I'm not mistaken. Right? It was mostly comic strips right? There wasn't like this all comic strip was just comic strips like you would read in the Sunday paper. So how do you take that and adapt it into a major motion picture?

Jack Epps Jr. 35:14
I'm a big believer in research. I did a lot of research on Top Gun secret success. We had a technical adviser from business so I could ask him questions about business because I didn't really I didn't want to make stuff up. I wanted to, you know, to, so I could put totally could feel like it's based on something for Nick Tracy. I asked, universal Can you get me all the comic strips that Chester Gould wrote? Like, can you get them and they got me from 1932 The first one Oh, all the way up into the mid 50s. So I sat down and read it like a book. I just literally read every comic strip. And I felt I could I want to understand Chester Gould's writing style, his intention, his storytelling, I want to know his characters. Because I had to be true to this. And I was, I was not the fan on the strip the gym was but I became a huge fan of Chester Gould, the creator, because He created all these wonderful characters. And I fell in love with characters, all that all his ghouls characters, and my favorite being the blank. I just thought the blank was so interesting. So it's like, okay, we're going to construct your own story, because I can't do none of the strip stories at work, but I can take the characters. And at the very beginning, John Landis said he wants to set around big boy Caprice in the roaring 30s, so to speak, 20s 30s. And so that was our original walking orders. That big boy Caprice at the center of the story, so we had to figure out okay, what can we do? And then once I found the blank, I said, Okay, now I've got a character I love. Let's figure out what the story is. And we and we started building that out with the blank at the center of the mystery. And then telling basically, you know, a basically prohibition style type story, which is sort of funny, those tropes and reach out and do those things.

Alex Ferrari 36:52
And the funny thing is now that, you know, Dick Tracy, always just speaking to his watch, and now we speak it to our

Jack Epps Jr. 37:00
exact Yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 37:02
It was pretty rare. It's taken. I think that was even part of the Apple ad campaign. They put a little bit of Dick Tracy in there, I think was even the Warren shot of him talking into it as part of the that's part of the ads. Now, you when you did Legal Eagles, you worked with Ivan Reitman, who's, you know, a legend in our business? What was it like working with Ivan and Ivan right after ghostbuster. So he was he was on fire and Fago as they say,

Jack Epps Jr. 37:31
Well, part of that was that our agent was frustrated too, that we didn't get anything made. We didn't get Top Gun produce. So he said, Look, I'm gonna put you in. I'm gonna put you with Ivan Reitman, because they'll make anything he wants to make. At that point, Ivan was the hottest director in the world. And so he had this amuse his idea. He wanted to do a thing about the art world, and why to do sort of a romantic comedy set in the art world and so is up for us to once again, figure out you know, what's the story? Who are the people? You know, it's like, okay, that's the assignment. Now, let's go figure out what it is. So again, I went to New York, went to the pace gallery, interviewed people, you know, just to figure out the environment of building building out the story. He did originally this this is one of the funny things originally he wanted to take the characters from Tootsie, the Dustin Hoffman Bill Murray characters and and that was the original cast idea, and wanted to put them build a movie around those guys. A whole different story, but that's what we got the district attorney and then we got the, you know, the whole the fleabag sort of guy, which gives us the relationship that I've been wanting to explore. Well, he said he we had half a script, he said, Look, I can't wait. I gotta send it to these guys. They won't sit around. Wait, I've been to half a script notes. Give it to me now. So yes, sir. You know, exactly half a script. They said to Dustin Well, Warren had just, you know, talked him into doing what's that crazy movie where you know, that horrible film?

Alex Ferrari 38:54
Which one? Oh, God.

Jack Epps Jr. 38:57
Oh, it star. It's just all right. The Tyson needs to do a star. So yes. So Dustin was available. A Bill Murray said I hate attorneys. I'll never play an attorney in my life. So suddenly, that idea crash. We've got half the script. So either goes, what about a romantic comedy with Robert Redford? You think you could do that? I said, Yeah, we can do that. I can do that. So we got to fly in the Columbia plane out to St. George, Utah, meet with Bob hung out for a couple hours into that world. And, you know, found out that he was, you know, sort of self deprecating guy and make jokes about himself sort of clumsiness, which we Yeah, exactly, really, and, and we see that and said, Well, Bob, we would love to make that as part of the character, which we did. We wrote it with that sort of character. Although when it came to set, he wasn't quite thrilled to play that character. So we got a couple beats of him, you know, dancing to singing in the rain in his apartment chewing on ice cream, so we got a couple of beats out of them. They're sort of out of character, but not as far as we want to go.

Alex Ferrari 40:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now with the thing about Legal Eagles is in those kinds of films. I remember them so clearly where it's a romantic comedy, but there is act, there's action and there's like thriller esque things in like, there's danger. There's real danger. I like remember, like movies like stakeout. And those kinds of that kind of time period. There were a lot. They don't make these films anymore. They're not really made anymore. And they're so wonderful.

Jack Epps Jr. 40:41
Yeah, they are wonderful. I mean, they get made us you can make a thriller like that, right. Hey, you can cope with a good idea, your thriller but but romantic comedies Gemini call them charming Chase movies, right? We were really influenced by North by Northwest in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks started, Preston Sturges. And then these sort of big romantic comedies were something that we did well. But now they don't make those anymore, and they sort of fell out of fashion. You know, a lot, I have to do with the Apatow comedy, and how that came in and changed the whole comic tone. And it just, they became dated, in a sense, I think that's why they've ended up on lifetime. And you don't see those movies anymore. It's just it's it's sort of comedy changes a lot. And in the comedy and and so those will be just sort of went away. I mean, you can still do the biggest action movies like that you should do them in action, and create that the fun. I mean, I think it's Tom's done Mission Impossible. He created that sense of that.

Alex Ferrari 41:41
But those are those but those are mostly action with some humor, as opposed to romantic comedy with some some really thriller esque elements and real danger elements. But it is a romantic comedy. But yeah, action films with humor. I mean, that goes yeah, even bit Beverly Hills Cop, you can argue is it's more of a comedy than it is an action film, but it's pretty even keel as far as thriller and comedy. It goes. Without question. Now, when do you when you start working on a script Do you outline?

Jack Epps Jr. 42:17
Well, you know, the greatest, the greatest piece of advice I got was from a writer I was doing an internship on a movie called Hearts of the West was Jeff Bridges. And the writer was really great. I Tony, Bill gave me the job. I have six months, three months of pre production, three months of production, which really showed me what a movie is. Not not a screenplay. But here's what movies are. And Rob Thompson gave me a piece of advice. I was talking about how you know how he does scripts and all this stuff. And he said, I used the card method. I said, What? Yeah, I use index cards, I break each scene into an index card. And, and that was like a light bulb within on my on my head and changed my life. Because from that moment on, I've been using index cards. So I, I beat out a story, not an outline, because an outline to me. I want I don't start on page one, I don't start the first scene, I start with scenes I like to see. So what's what is the scene I like to see. And then I'm going to look at that scene, it might be a middle scene might be the ending scene. And so I don't work in any linear map method, I basically start to visualize how I see the movie and start to fill in the pieces. And for me, that allows and I also have to see my movie, if I'm doing an outline, it's I'm looking at one page, what's on page four, or five. So by laying it out in a big table, and I married the right woman, she allowed me to have the dining room table for 20 years filled with guards. Wait the small table. And I basically I'd have i movies about 55 cards, something like that. But I go through literally hundreds of them trying to figure out the movie and I replay them. And I use colored cards to code relationships. So the main characters, the white card, and then different colored cards for the relationships to show. So I can track my relationships and subplots through the movie. But I'm able then to read them in columns and see my movie in one glance, I can sit down and I can show before I work in a scene, I can get the beats the character development, and I got a hole here, I can work on the hole and fix the hole. And I also can change cards around it will because there's no it takes a couple seconds to write a new card. There's there's no like resistance to making a change. Right? And when I feel I'm ready, I've got it, then I've got something to write.

Alex Ferrari 44:26
Do you do you start with the scenes or plot? Or do you start with the character first?

Jack Epps Jr. 44:33
Question. The biggest two things I'm looking for is one, what's the story? What's this about? What's the movie? What's the essence of it? And two, I'm always looking for where's the conflict in the story? Because I learned early on you write the conflict. I don't have the conflict. I've got nothing to write. So and then I'm looking for who lives in this world. Who is the person what is their story? What do they want? What are they trying to achieve? What's what I'm looking for? What are they pushing against what's the antagonistic force? What's the opposition? So I'm trying to find whose story it is. I'm looking for major relationships. So I'm looking to build all these things and understand it before I start going to cards. So I have to pretty much know whose movie it is and what I'm trying to tell. And, and that's something that I work out well in advance of beginning to plot the movie. Now, I pretty much know the story. It is.

Alex Ferrari 45:24
Gotcha, gotcha. Now, another film that you did in that time period, which I literally just watched with my daughters, who are young, Turner and Hooch. And I am sorry, I'm

Jack Epps Jr. 45:37
sorry. I always apologize, because I held back, show it to my kids until they were like, a 12 and 13. So to break their hearts,

Alex Ferrari 45:47
it was like, so we watched it. And that was the other thing, dude, like, by the way, spoiler alert, something happens at the end. But but the thing is, but the thing about that is that they were concerned about the ending when it was happening, because they were just like, Oh my God, oh, my God, is he is he? Yeah, but the way you were able to just bring in that light at the end with the puppies was absolutely brilliant, because I hadn't seen it. Since my video store days, I really hadn't watched in a long time. You know, like, sat down and watched it all the way through. And my wife and I both were just looking at like this so much. And Tom Hanks in the 80s was just so brilliant. And that huge. Oh my god, that dog was remarkable. How would it turn around who show up? Because I know Tom. Tom loves to make jokes about these like, Yeah, I did the doc movie. I don't know why did the duck. But he always jokes about it in interviews.

Jack Epps Jr. 46:41
No, no. All the time. Good. Saves money except his academy word Philadelphia. Yeah. That's right. Better accurate. Exactly. I know. I know. Well, it was it was once again, we're working with Disney and Katzenberg, these things go into production. And they literally didn't have things for Tom to play, Tom, you know, because what we what we became known as the guys to come in and bring character to it. Bring story. We're really good. We're good at fixing things. Like I can read the script and say, Okay, I like this. But this, here's what it needs to make it a movie. And so that was they had the dog but we just double down on the world's messiest dog, and we double down on Tom being the world's cleanest guy, and letting that sort of OCD character sort of, you know, be a problem for him and creating a love story and creating a relationship in there. So

Alex Ferrari 47:29
conflict, a conflict was in there just from the beginning.

Jack Epps Jr. 47:32
Right? Absolutely. And, and also, and making you fall in love with hooch is just this grisly, the worst thing that could happen to the character is the best thing to happen in the character. And what was so much fun about that project is that Tom was involved in development. So I would meet with the director and Tom would be there, and he'd be thrown out lines, I'll be writing all these lines out. Thank you. No doubt, you know. And the thing about Tom Hanks, he is who you think he is. He's a remarkable guy. And great to work with as generous as can be. And it was just such a pleasure to have somebody like that in a development meeting, just just helping develop the character because he and his concern was his relationship with OCE, he wanted to make sure that relationship was solid, because that's the core of the movie. And and we worked on that.

Alex Ferrari 48:17
Now the one of the one thing I really think is a learning moment here in the in the in the conversation is conflict, and how perfectly you know, Turner and Hooch were the conflict was self evident. There's no working for the conflict, like you just put two forces on complete opposite sides of the spectrum. And you just threw them together in a room. And it writes itself almost because of that. And I think that is something that screenwriters writing screenplays now are in their stories. I've read so many screenplays, and you know, you're doing coverage and things like that, where the conflict is almost forced, like, it's like, I don't buy that, like, oh, that there's no motivation there. You know, like, the bad guy has this motivation. And the good guy has this motivation. And it's like, really like convoluted. But the core of conflict from just something as simple as Turner and Hooch. It's built in. And I think as you if you're writing a story, having two characters who are just completely on two opposite sides of the spectrum, without any major details, but it's it's very basic, I'm clean, you're dirty. Oh, my God, we've got to live together. It's the odd couple with a dog and a guy is actually do we agree with that?

Jack Epps Jr. 49:32
Oh, absolutely. And it's one thing I learned early in, you know, figuring out how to write and what's what screenplays are about, is using relationships to produce conflict. And I'm a big believer in having multiple layers of conflict. I call them opposition forces. I want to make sure that my characters have a lot of opposition. And no matter where they turn throughout the story, there's a point of opposition there. And there are different degrees. It's not like it has to be everything's huge. It doesn't matter the main character is going on a journey. And the journey is fraught with challenges of different degrees. And what that character is is trying to do is get what they want, but ultimately what they need at the end and in the process trying to get what they want, they bump into opposition characters and opposition situations, which, which helps define the character because we see who is this character? Who is this person? Why do we root for them? What do we want? Are they you know, what's their growth arc through the story, and by using plot and relationship to help tell the story and create conflict. It allows me to explore the character from from multiple points of view, and allows a character to express themselves to different people in different ways depending upon the relationship and a lot and then I'm a big believer in in you don't want to rely on plot all the time. It's just plot. Because what I say is curiosity. Oh, what's gonna happen but emotion is character. And character is about relationships. It's not no no character exist by themselves. I mean, you know, a castaway. They had to create Wilson, because he needed somebody to relate to so what does he do? He creates this character Wilson, who I don't know about you, but Wilson falls off.

Alex Ferrari 51:13
Oh my god. Oh my god, volleyball. Oh my god. It's a volleyball.

Jack Epps Jr. 51:17
Used emotion to it. I'm going Wilson though.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
And you're like I'm Why am I crying for damn volleyball? Like, what? If that's the brilliance of Tom Hanks. That's the brilliance of Bob Zemeckis. It's just the built brilliance of all of that. I mean, that. I mean, how he did not win the Oscar for that before. She's it's great. It's, it's remarkable. And I have to also ask you another great 90 film that you made Anaconda. I mean, where did that come from? The giant snake movie. It's like, it's pretty sharp, NATO. And it's not nearly as bad, by the way. So please, I'm not I'm not comparing them. But the big fun, there's so much fun. There's so much fun. It's fun. But Anaconda. I remember when it showed up. And we're like, Well, this is genius. I mean, this is like, why hasn't? Why hasn't there been a giant snake? Where did that come from?

Jack Epps Jr. 52:09
You know, it was once again, the agents call and said, By the way, you know, Sony is looking for rewriting this. They said, Yeah, you know, whatever, you know, so we just sort of dropped in our laps. And it was a very interesting, it's very different than any other film we've done yet is there, all the CGI was already being done. So the graphics were already being worked on. So we could not change the basic graphic attacks of the snake. But the story from our point of view didn't work, the characters didn't work, there was no antagonist in the movie. And so our job was to basically rethink the story of the characters. So we came on board and recreated, who the characters were all new story of why they're going up to the Amazon, what was happening, all the relationships and people, we created all of that material, and had to weave it around all the CGI effects.

Alex Ferrari 53:02
It's because the attacks were already that's when you have your cards up on the board, like, yeah, these are the 10. We got to we got to navigate this.

Jack Epps Jr. 53:11
We got to make those things happen. So we had to create new characters, and new relationships and new problems and different characters being caught by obviously, because that's not a problem because it hadn't been cast yet. And so that was sort of a fun thing to do. And it's just sort of fun to you know, to kill people. The way I read

Alex Ferrari 53:33
is, yeah, it's Yeah, it is. There's a bit of humor in it, but it is definitely not your typical, you know, as far as your filmography is concerned, it's definitely not secret of my success.

Jack Epps Jr. 53:43
It is yeah, but I'll tell you, it gets from residuals, I can see how many people watch it and it's still one of the most watched movies. So that it was actually during the pandemic. It was a top 10 of Netflix for one week. I was going through my list. Yeah, I'm going down. Oh, what's the top 10 ago? What? Anaconda is number nine for the week. Okay, so that's like

Alex Ferrari 54:02
23 years old. How is that?

Jack Epps Jr. 54:05
Well, it's cast I didn't have any to do with casting. The casting is

Alex Ferrari 54:08
remarkable. Oh, yeah. Ice Cube JLo JLo

Jack Epps Jr. 54:11
Ice Cube. I got to beat Ice Cube years later. And I said by the way, I'm the guy who stuck you in that swamp with the camera. He goes oh, man, he did that.

Alex Ferrari 54:21
He did okay. He did. He did okay. He did well, he did fine. Now one thing you you've said a lot of that you do a lot of rewriting and you worked on on you know massive hits like Sister Act and diehard three and now that I know that you had a hand in diehard three. It makes sense because there's a lot of my two favorite diehards is diehard one and diehard three with four coming up and then two is the last one and I don't even consider any of the other ones. But three was such a wonderful buddy and talk about conflict. I mean, Sam Jackson and John McClement and Bruce on that was great. How do you approach rewriting a script? Because you've done it so often in your life and you have also have a book, called screenwriting is rewriting. So I'm sure you have a couple things to say about that.

Jack Epps Jr. 55:11
Well, you know, rewriting is the key, every writer is going to tell you that, in screenwriting is rewriting is where the title came from. Because you have to be willing to dive in, you've got to be willing to take notes. And you know, we become very precious with our material. We don't want to, we don't want to, you know, make changes. But when you're a professional writer, and the studio tells you, here's what we want, you can't you can argue and get thrown off the movie, that's not going to help you. Or you can stay there and try to protect the movie. And that's, that's what basically my approach is, let me work with and not everybody's an idiot. Let me work with the best I can let me work with their ideas. And the key is trying to figure out not just the specific notes, but what's what are the notes saying in general, and trying to work on the bigger notes, which is the response you're getting from from people. We always were pretty lucky that took the notes we got were brought to one, we're never huge. The biggest note we ever got was John Landis. When we do the first draft of Dick Tracy, we didn't put Jr into the movie. And his first note was Where's Jr. Tracy? We went, Oh, yeah, right. Okay, we have a junior Tracy, in which we had to actually start all over again, because that's the core relationship of the movie. So suddenly, we can't just what you can't do in writing is just plug things in, you have to realize that there's a cause and effect of everything in the screenplay. So if you put something in this scene, it's going to relate to scenes later. And part of that is realizing the way the puzzle fits together and the way that everything sort of works. So we're always approaching, I'm always approaching rewriting, as, you know, while I'm trying to figure out what the assignment is, to figuring out what the notes are, three, getting a game plan, I'm going to address this in a certain way, I'm just not gonna have at it. As a professional writer, I'm trying to save every bit of work I can. So I don't want to rewrite the whole script I love people throw the baby out, and they start all over again. No, I'm gonna try to preserve everything I can, and try to weave it in the new elements into this existing story if I can, but also, I've had words changed all the time. So I'm not precious, super precious on things. I'm only precious on things I know the story has to have. So what's the heartbeat of this story? What's the core emotional moment of this movie about? How does the audience relate to this movie, I'm not going to give that up. Because that does get damaged story. So rewriting is about figuring out what's a game plan and then going at it my approach is to do a series of passes, not to try to do everything at once I like to do character. First, let's make sure we get this character story. Really well told we know who this character is. I like to know what the theme is. And then I thematic balance, I want to make sure that I understand the plot elements are not only telling a good story, but they're helping reveal the character. And this is really important plot reveals character, how our character responds to the plot. Problem is what tells us a lot about the character. And so using my storytelling techniques to tell a story about a life in crisis is what I like to say movies are about lives in crisis. So is my character in crisis is the crisis substantial is enough to motorhome movie.

Alex Ferrari 58:32
Right, exactly. And well, let me ask you a question, though, when you're working on projects, like SR act, and diehard three, I know a lot of a lot of screenwriters don't understand why some people get credit and while others don't, you know, Lee, you know, technically on their name on it, how does that work? And can you explain a little how the DG that the BGA kind of, you know, police's, that situation. Sure. Well, the

Jack Epps Jr. 58:56
WTA was founded basically, for to to award credits, that's what went on strike for because in the 30s, you know, the studios would give credits to their brother in law and whoever it was, and so writers had no say in what how they were credited, and that's what the original one of the original strikes was for. So the DGA, WGI handles all of the credit determination. There's a a anonymous arbitration panel that is convened, and they basically read the materials and there's rules that the guild is laid down and how credit is determined whether story credit screenplay credit written by credit the different layers of different different credit and depending upon the work that you've done on the script depends upon what credit you deserve

Alex Ferrari 59:43
so it so that all right so that makes perfect sense because obviously Sister Act had and diehard three both have a lot of your touches, I can sense a spirit

Jack Epps Jr. 59:53
is there Yeah, they definitely do and sister acts as sort of a sore point with me because we were advised not to see credit because The movie was a disaster on the set.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:00:13
And, and I always felt bad about that, because I really liked the script. And so then of course, we went to well, you know, but we went to the premiere and I went like, Well, that was unfortunate because it there's a lot on Gemini in that movie, and we we feel a kinship to it. But you know, that's when they got away. So we're glad that we could basically put so much into it. It

Alex Ferrari 1:00:34
was it was it was there. I didn't I never heard that. I mean, I think I might have heard something in regards to the being a disaster onset and in nobody I knew no one was expecting subtract to be a monster hit.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:00:46
No, no, but I think any. Right and then from the first I was sitting at premiere for the first note, I went on it. And it was, it was not read for whipping Whoopi Goldberg. Originally, she was at Les cast, who was the winner for I'm trying to think of the actress to Broadway actress. I can't think of right now.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
Okay. Oh, she did. She did other movies. Yeah, yeah.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:12
I can look it up.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:14
Because now I'm fascinated because I cannot see Sister Act with anybody else other than the will be called her.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:18
No, no, she was the perfect cast. Absolutely. She was a perfect cast. That Midler.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
Oh, that myth. That would have been an interesting Sister Act. It wouldn't have been the same by any stretch. No, but it would have been interesting.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:33
Yeah, that was for bet Midler. And she didn't want to do what she said about two rows in front of me at the premiere. And I could tell that she slouched I think she even knew Oh, I you know, but what the was the perfect cast? Yeah, I think I think we bet I think she was in a good job. She's a talented actress, it would have been funny, but what the elevated that movie and made into what it was, what it is. And I think that was a brilliant casting that made it as a standout film and still is.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:57
And where can people find your book screenwriting is, is rewriting.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:02:02
It's on Amazon,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:03
it's on Amazon. And you run and you run it basically, because you want to help screenwriters, I wanted to kind of help them in that kind of process. Because rewriting it's hard, especially when you're not a professional writer, and you're like, become precious, and like, I can't do this word. And I know Stephen King's, like, just kill your babies.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:02:20
Well, it is you have to let go and letting go is really hard. And also how to approach it is hard. Because people get overwhelmed by notes, they get overwhelmed. They don't want to do it. They tend to take it personally, they tend to feel they've lost. You know, part of things about being a writer is the creative, creative people, we have a lot of insecurities, we there's a lot of imposter syndrome. And so now you're rewriting Oh, they found me out, and all this sort of stuff. And it's important for writers to know you're not alone. All writers virtually feel that. And that what you have to realize it's a process and that scripts don't get, you know, oh, I've written something. It's brilliant. Well, maybe there's some brilliance in there. But right now you got to get to work and make it into a movie. And be willing to let go of your darlings. And and realize that notes and feedback are what help you to write a better script. But my book is about how to approach it. How do you approach a rewrite, and it's not easy. And I tell you that you get 100 screenwriters in a room together, they all do it differently. So there's no one way to do it. This, this book presents My Way, which is really about organizing, I believe that you organize a rewrite and prepare for a rewrite. If you organize it, then all the sort of the right call the circle confusion of these notes, what should I do? Where's the answer? I don't know I'm doing it, you're gonna find me out. If you start to put it on paper and you start to organize it into categories, character plot, theme, scene structures, you know, just relationships, if you start to break those notes down and then address the notes that you're going to the most important for you. Oh, okay. These are the ones that start first to lay this thing out. It will get better over time, if you're willing to give yourself time which it's, it's, you know, it's the process, not the product. And that's where we're young writers have had, they want the product. And I can tell you that what was what the advantage of Gemini having seven unproduced screenplays is it became the process. We didn't believe there was a product

Alex Ferrari 1:04:24
right? Apparently our career is just gonna be writing stuff that never gets made.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:04:28
And there are guys who have as you say, you've earned a good living and never gotten a single thing made right. But are super talented writers. Absolutely talented. And there's no good reason that and my favorite script is never got produced. And it just Well, there it goes. That's just how it happened yet got close, got close and never got got done.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:47
I've read I've read script by by scripts by screenwriters that I'm like, This is awesome. This shoulder masker like this. This is amazing. This is remarkable. And there's tons of those scripts scattered on shelves and how Would from decades and decades, I remember when Billy went back and got the body guard and Unforgiven, out of the archives, and they brought it back out and look at turn into two hits, there's always these two. So it's about not only the talent, and the skill, but luck being at the right place at the right time.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:05:18
There's a lot of luck, but I also think it's staying with it. Right? Just you know, Damien Chazelle, said he had he had no the plan, you know, there's only a plan. And that's it. If you're in for it, you're in for it. Which means that you've got to be willing to dive in, do the hard work that has to be done. I also any writer listening to this, find yourself a writers group. Don't be out there. There. No matter where you are, what city you're in, there are people doing what you're, what you're doing, find them get together, give each other feedback, you're writing support group, it helps, it helps to get feedback. Secondly, you need people just to help keep you in the game. And realize that you will get stronger, the more you stay at it. And if you want to become a better writer, learn to be a rewriter because that's where you get stronger, because it teaches you how to be a better writer, because what you find out is I want to rewrite, so I'm gonna make sure I have all this shit down right from the beginning, so that I don't have to do this next time. So I'm gonna make sure my characters have a really good story. They have a really good strong one. I'm gonna make sure that I have great opposition in my story that I understand, you know, what is what is driving this movie and what the emotional stake is for the reader in the audience. I mean, those things you've got to have.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Jack Epps Jr. 1:06:41
Chinatown. Robert Towne who I basically interviewed my book, which was great talking about his rewriting process, and I think it really was because everybody's different and but Robert, it's he's really opens up and he's honest guy. It's, it's really amazing. I think that's a great script. And not on old script, but I love it is the apartment. Yep. Oh, yes. Come up a couple times here. Yeah. And I say that because to me, that script had a huge influence and Gemini because the character development, the storytelling, the emotion of it, Billy Wilder and Aiello, diamond are amazing. Just amazing screenwriters. You and I don't, it's always hard to say what is that other one? I'll tell you what's a good one to read? Okay. Read go look for the first draft of goodwill. Honey. Not not the one that got produced? Yeah, go read the first draft, or the first draft of Back to the Future? Hmm. Okay. Because what you see there are two scripts that that don't work too well, they got some real problems, especially back to future. And then you see what they ended up doing through a series of rewrites and needs. It teaches you that, that those guys you know, they didn't hit the ball of the park in the first swing? You know, they barely got the first base. And and it's it's I think the port is read scripts and didn't work. But the movies did because it shows you okay, they really work this they took the idea and and built it out. And they see what works. Oh, I see why this movie works. Now of course. Yeah. How could why were they it seems obviously to have those elements that they weren't there. And that the back the future off? You know, it is the the ending takes place. They had to get to a nuclear power plant to power the car back to get back to the future. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So it's this whole big thing that goes through this news. There was no clock tower. But But universal said, Guys, we don't have the funds for this. We can't do this. You got to do we got to do it on the standard lot. So they looked at the clock tower, and they said, alright, well, we'll have lightning hit the clock tower. You can't imagine the movie without it. I know that but he wasn't there. And they basically, you know, they just they just were okay, here's how we made it work.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:01
And it gives us hope. When you read when you read scripts like that gives us hope as screenwriters and filmmakers. You're like, look, they look like geniuses. And they are in many ways, but they don't not everyone hits it out. Like no one comes out of the womb, and writes the great American novel or the great American screenplay. It takes work, and even the best ones. I remember Casa Blanca, they were writing it on the on the set,

Jack Epps Jr. 1:09:23
writing on the set. Absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
And it's one of the best screenplays ever written. And it's like they were just trying to figure it out. You know, what looks like genius to us was some some screenwriters in there going, I don't know how we're gonna get to next.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:09:37
You know, I asked Robert Towne. I said, Does it ever get easier? And he said, eff No, no, and he wrote to me is one of the great screenwriters of all time and Robert, you've written all these great things is never easy. You know, it's so I mean, and that's the truth. It is a hard thing to do. But the most important thing is, is that one you're telling a story you you're passionate about. You have characters that that have a story to life going On a crisis at the heart of your movie, and or your TV show, why do we care? What's our emotional state? What does the audience care about? Why is it important for this character to basically achieve their need at the end of the movie, what it is emotionally that they need not only just the physical thing that happened, but what does it mean to them emotionally?

Alex Ferrari 1:10:20
Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business

Jack Epps Jr. 1:10:23
today? I would say that don't be frustrated, it's going to take time that what you need to do is to read a lot of scripts, see how they work. Make sure you have a support group writers group so that you know you're getting feedback as you're going along. Know when your script is ready, that's a question I get a lot is, when do you know your script is ready? You know, because there's a thing of, I don't want to send it out, I don't want to send it out. I don't want to send it out. Eventually, you have to let it go. Which means that you're telling your story as best as you can, or the feedback you're getting from people and you do need to get feedback. Is it you know? Is it not like to the heart of the story, and then send it out, take the bumps, whatever happens and then start another one? You have to continue? It's not it's not? I've seen so many people I have this one idea. My one idea. No, no, my pitching story is so I go, you know, you try to go pitch ideas, right? So I got the pitch I want to sell. I walk in there, it's my you know, my eight minute pitch. I've got my song and dance routine of doing the whole thing and they go, what else you got? Alright, now I got my three minute pitch. Alright, here's this one. I really like this one. They go Alright, what else you got? I get my thumbnail is 20 seconds ago. I love that one. I mean, so you just don't know what is going to hit. You don't know what's gonna strike the chord. Right? But if you write from your heart, and you write from your passion that will come through as a writer, and it's got to be a good read. This is a reading process. It's got to be a good read. And again, Damien Chazelle is listening to an interview he had on on fresh air. And Robin, I think it's Robin grosses and said, Damien, you did all these sort of horror movies and all these rewrites. What did you learn from that? He said, I learned how to make them turn to the next page. Credit. Is that to me, I CIA? Holes. I got chills because I think he's a cool character. And no, he learned how to hold their attention and make them read to the end. And I thought that's just brilliant and simple and honest.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
That's amazing. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jack Epps Jr. 1:12:39
I think understanding character, understanding what character was and I had a tough stay ahead. here's the here's a story how I learned the meaning of what how to write character and what true character was. This, Andy and I had sold a Kojak and we pitched the idea of a cop who shoots his partner. And we want to get the script screenplay. So we sold the idea for it. Right? Okay, they bought the idea. So we kept going and pitching to the showrunner. Okay, here's what the show is. He goes now I don't like that we can't came back and came back. We never got the script. We didn't get it. We watched Kojak. I watched the hired somebody watch the episode. And it blew me over like like a bolt. Okay, we were pitching plot. This veteran writer wrote story of a character. And the whole episode was about this character, and about his life and about his wife who was having a drug habit. And she was chained to a bed, and he was out there and he kills a partner and his whole life is falling apart. And all we were doing was doing people chasing running around shooting is like, no, the emotional core. That's what character is. And that taught me that I needed the center of my stories to have stories about people and lives that we relate to.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:48
Yeah, and I think and I've said this many times on the show before is that you remember character, you remember Indiana Jones, you remember James Bond, you might not remember all the details of the plots of those films, but you definitely remember those characters. And that's, that's what we're not emotionally attached to plot plot is just a vehicle in my opinion, you're attached to the you're emotionally attached to character, what happens to them, if they're going to make it if they're not going to make it, they're gonna find love, they're not gonna find love, or they're gonna beat the bad guy, or they're gonna beat are they the bad guy, whatever that is. That's what you are attached

Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:21
to. But you still have to have a good plot.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:24
Again, it's a vehicle. It's a it's a vehicle because it's

Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:28
what it's what pulls us through it. But you know, and you have to have isolated you know, cool shit happens. You have to be a part of it's a piece as well, it's sort of it you know, I'm good at set pieces. I love writing set pieces. They're fun to write, I think it's one of the joys of writing action movies is creating thinking of big set pieces. And it's hard to think they're really harder to write than people would think of, because it's all been done. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:49
it was a lot easier in the 50s 60s. To come up with these kinds of things.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:53
It's really hard to write something new and so but but if there if we don't care about that person at this center of it. It doesn't matter what happens. Um, it's not about the explosions. It's about the person in the explosions. And we're worried is he going to get out of these motions? and at what

Alex Ferrari 1:15:09
price? Right I mean, drastic Park is about dinosaurs. But we're not emotionally attached to the dinosaurs were emotionally attached to the characters and running around in that park. It's yeah, and I think sometimes I think some sometimes screenwriters get a little bit too uppity when it comes to plot. Like you were just saying with your when you were pitching Kojak.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:15:30
Yeah, yeah. Well, that's it. I mean, you have a tendency to Well, it's funny because you actually have to pitch plot, it's very hard to pitch character, because character development you but you have to have it there. And you tell it, and then you guys say, Okay, here's the story, because I'm looking for what are the events, and then how this person was woven into the story. But it's, that's that's pitching, which is a whole different game in itself.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:51
I've had many episodes about pitching just on pitching alone. And it's always tough. It's an art. It's an art form. It's an absolute art form. And last question, three of your favorite films of

Jack Epps Jr. 1:16:01
all time. Oh, three are favorite films of all time. Okay, well, we already mentioned one, which is the apartment because it just, I saw that when I was really young, and I never could forgive Fred Astaire no matter what made me Fred. About Yeah, no. Okay. All right. So and so I love that movie again. I like Chinatown for how it works and how it weaves? So isn't it? Yeah, it just is one that is, you know, you it's got a great sense of place. In the end, I'll tell you a movie that really had a huge influence on Gemini was the sting. Oh, that makes him ID that makes sense. I mean, yeah, it's because it totally kept you off guard off balance expectations. And the movie just it tricks you so many times. It was really and David S word want to wrote a wonderful script that basically I went to school on June, but we broke that script down every line every just the way it was done.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:59
And do you do you advise that to screenwriters to actually like take structure from other other screenplays and just maybe use it as inspiration to, because if it's been if it's been not storyline, but structure of like, this happens at this point, this happens at this point, and kind of start off, it's kind of like a roadmap a little bit. And it's gonna probably change obviously, as you write it. But I've seen a lot of I mean, if you look at I've said this so many times, if you look at Fast and Furious, it's Point Break, it's Point Break with cars. I mean, that's exactly the same story.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:17:27
Yeah, no, I think the danger is make copies, right? The danger is, I'm going to make a copy of something because I really liked a lot, doing homage to it, you can love it, and have a feeling and tone of it. But you got to tell your own story. And yes, you can learn how we structurally put this type of movie together what have successful movies, I mean, I I'd like to break down and understand how movies work. And and you know, what the core of the storytelling is? So yeah, I mean, absolutely. You can go in I mean, every all art is referenced from something else. But you want to make it yours. And yours is who that character is, what is the story? What's that emotional relationship going on? Because that then makes it yours. I'm not a big believer that this things have to happen on page 30. And page 40. In this sort of, I'm a big, I don't believe in that. There are there we definitely have a three act structure and culture. So as a beginning, middle and end we'd have we definitely have coming out of a first act where a character is thrown into a situation. I believe that I've learned that a mid mid term midpoint Plot Turn is really good. If you have something happened in the middle, it makes your second act easier to write because as a writer, the hardest place to write is the end of the second act. That's that's really hard, you know, easy. First acts are easy. endings are fairly easy. If you know if you set it up well, you can edit. But that big middle is really where it's hard. So you got to keep that middle moving. And that's where that's where I use relationship to keep that middle moving.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:56
But Jack, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to the tribe today and in sharing your knowledge and experience in in your screenwriting journey with us today. So thank you so much, Jack. I truly appreciate it, man.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:19:08
It's been fun. It's been fun chatting with I feel like we've been chatting for a long time. Like, I've known you for a while.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:12
Thank you my friend

Jack Epps Jr. 1:19:15
Pretty comfortable to do.

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IFH 564: SXSW 2022 Inside Making the Cow with Eli Horowitz

Eli Horowitz is the co-creator/co-showrunner of HOMECOMING, both the Gimlet podcast and Amazon series, which stars Julia Roberts and Janelle Monae. He received a WGA nomination for the series in 2019. Previously, he co-created of The Silent History, an innovative digital novel; The Clock Without a Face, a treasure-hunt mystery; and Everything You Know Is Pong, an illustrated cultural history of table tennis. He was the managing editor and publisher of McSweeney’s. He was born in Virginia and now lives in Northern California.

His film The Cow is world premiering at SXSW 2022.

Upon arriving at a remote cabin in the redwoods, Kath and her boyfriend find a mysterious younger couple already there — the rental has apparently been double-booked. With nowhere else to go, they decide to share the cabin with these strangers until the next morning. When her boyfriend disappears with the young woman, Kath becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for their sudden breakup— but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
This episode is brought to you by Indie Film Hustle Academy, where filmmakers and screenwriters go to learn from Top Hollywood Industry Professionals. Learn more at ifhacademy.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Eli Horwitz. How're you doing, Eli?

Eli Horowitz 0:14
I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thanks for coming on the show. Man. I appreciate you coming on the show you are your new film, the cow is going to be premiering at South by and we're going to get into the weeds on how the hell you made that thing come to come to life. I'm really curious to see how that came to life. It's a fantastic film. But um, but first man, how did you and why did you get into the film industry I mean, this is an insanity.

Eli Horowitz 0:40
Well, yeah, it's been a circuitous path. Me. I wasn't ever something I imagined would happen. Because this is my first movie. My first, I never even made a short film or anything. So I spent most of my 20s and part of my 30s A good part, my 30s kind of doing independent publishing. I work for this place McSweeney's. So I was editing and designing the books. And so that was my world for about 10 years or so. Moved from that into some kind of weird digital novel projects, some sort of apps and exploring geography, all sorts of weird stuff. I can ramble about if you want. From there, I stumbled into podcasting. And so I ended up CO creating the homecoming podcast with my with Michael Bloomberg. And that was sort of at this beginning kind of, of podcasting, stepping into the spotlight, these narrative podcasts. And it started Kevin Keener, and Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer. And so that got some attention. And as a result, it became the homecoming TV show, which Mike and I were the CO showrunner. So that was on Amazon for a couple years. And then from that, I ended up doing this. So it was really very much a one step leading to another never having a plan. You know, I'm from Virginia, and like, the idea of actually making a movie was always felt very far. So it wasn't even really on my radar.

Alex Ferrari 2:05
So the traditional way you make movies is what you're saying the traditional path that everybody goes down is what you're saying. Got it. So, so Yeah, cuz I, you know, doing research and you're like, Oh, this is these guys are the homecoming, you know, you did homecoming. And, and, you know, I'm obviously a podcaster. So, you know, I've been podcasting since 2015. When apparently it wasn't cool back then. Now, it's super now. It's super cool. People are getting deals off a podcast. I'm still waiting. I'm still waiting for my phone call. But but the but you had a narrative podcast. So how did you I've always been fascinated. How did you put together such a cast for a narrative podcast, which you didn't have, like, a wealth of history doing podcasts or anything like that? So how did you even get that small project off the ground?

Eli Horowitz 2:53
It was very strange. I mean, so it was with gimlet, this podcasting company that was kind of gaining some energy that's that gave it credibility. But it was their first narrative one. We were working with this producer in East Vancouver ring, who I mean, I was thinking we were just fine. Like, whoever or use my friends or something. She thought no, it could be more. And so she kind of led the train and trying to get them. But it was also, I think, a novelty. I mean, the first one we got was Catherine Keener. And it all flowed from there. And that was just, it was a huge shock. I don't really know why it happened. I can say it was partly because, you know, she just for the whole first season, she had to work for I think four days, you know, you're obviously an African into costume or makeup or anything like that. And, you know, they really get to actually act, which I think for most of them is what they actually liked to do. And more than anything, you know, be in the scenes, we designed to explore these characters. There was no setup, there's no tear down, there was no waiting in the trailer, there was none of that. Round the dough, I think it was an easy thing to kind of take a chance on. But I don't really know. I mean, the real answer is I have no idea. It was a strange fluke, that continues to have strange repercussions until today.

Alex Ferrari 4:12
And then how did you get the call that Amazon wanted to produce a show a narrative show based on this podcast?

Eli Horowitz 4:19
Well, it was one of these things where at each step of the way, the thing seemed somewhat plausible, the next step, right, so it's like, you know, once we had this great cast, then okay, some people are going to it's going to get some attention. It's not crazy. Then when it's getting some attention, it's well, sure, like people are gonna kind of Hollywood stick around and make conference calls, you know? And then okay, we're having a conference call where we have another conference call to each case, it was just like, flipping a coin and it coming up tails, right. And so no one thing was such a shock, but then it just happened kind of 13 times in a row and then six months later, we were there. You know, Julia Roberts and Sam Esmail making the TV show.

Alex Ferrari 5:04
That's pretty quick, too. That's a really quick turnaround.

Eli Horowitz 5:08
That might be slightly generous for the first episode, the podcast came out in November of 2016. and finished in I think, January 2016. We were in the writers room by August of 2017. So in the writers room, yeah, basically seven months after the podcast ended, and then it came out. Yes, seven months after that, or something.

Alex Ferrari 5:30
And how, and how did you attract Julia Roberts to tell me cuz she doesn't do TV.

Eli Horowitz 5:37
Yeah, it was another one of these things where it's like, when we were like having all our conference calls, people were saying, like, we heard Julia Roberts has entered Julia Roberts is definitely a big fan, you know, and it's like, exciting. But it's also like, really, in my old age, I've earned to like, alright, that's cool, you know. But then, because of that, it wasn't shocking when someone said that, again, that she was still interested. And then because of that, after we heared she'd be interested five times, well, then it made sense that she was doing it, you know, maybe I was delusional, but it just kind of one thing kept leading to another. I can't really explain it, but I stand back. I'm aware how strange it is. But

Alex Ferrari 6:14
So so have you been buying lottery tickets lately? Because there's apparently some sort of lucky streak that you should be taking advantage of? Even more. So you've used all, you know, and again,

Eli Horowitz 6:28
You know, plenty of other things. That's the only I mean, this, there's like a survivor bias or confirmation bias, but all this stuff, you never see all the things that fizzle, right, that going, oh, this person just did. And then you never hear about it again. Right? So it was give a kind of weird sense of it, I think, to hear these stories.

Alex Ferrari 6:48
Right! Exactly. And I always like telling the audience is like, look yet, because I've had a lot of I love dissecting the path of filmmakers and how they get, especially from their beginnings, how they got the opportunities, because it's so difficult to get into the business, you know, let alone when you're trying, as opposed to when you're not trying. And I've had many filmmakers on the show that weren't trying either and got these things. But I Oh, it's never like someone just knocked on your door. And like, here's some money, let's let's go make a movie. You're working, you're doing stuff that's putting yourself out there. And yes, certain chips fell at the right place, right time, right? Product kind of scenario that allowed this to kind of go, but it just like, Man, when that's your path, it's your path, man. There's just like doors just swing open. When you're supposed to be doing when you're walking the right path. Things just happen for you. And sometimes, you know, it doesn't. And most of the time since,

Eli Horowitz 7:44
I mean, you mentioned lottery tickets, I do think it's like that, like, you need to have a bunch of them, right. So I did a bunch of different projects, try a bunch of different things worked a bunch of different mediums, a lot of them, you know, did a book that probably sold like I wrote a book that was like 1500, people, you know, and you just keep kind of making things and doing things and then maybe something will work. For me, I didn't feel like the other thing didn't work, because I wasn't going towards a certain goal. I was trying to focus on the project at hand. So

Alex Ferrari 8:15
You were you were you were blessed without having the goal of being a filmmaker at 20. And you are struggling at a publishing company. But what you really wanted to do is direct, you are stuck, you're not stuck, but you were on that path, trying to make that work. And then these other opportunities presented themselves.

Eli Horowitz 8:32
I could never have done that. But I think a lot of people have to do you know, that really like having a goal and I don't think I would have had what it takes to really have that kind of focus and drive. While sensing, I've actually kind of convinced myself that I'm doing something that no one's ever done before or is even trying to do. Because if I feel that kind of crowd around me, it becomes a little depressing.

Alex Ferrari 8:55
Yeah, I can imagine. Now you also you with your partner, you guys will show runners on homecoming, which is yeah, very odd as well, that doesn't happen first time out, let alone you've done. Not even a short prior to this. So what was that experience? And how did that happen?

Eli Horowitz 9:14
Well, that was that was really due to Sam Esmail and to Chad Hamilton, his producing partner. So say my smells from Mr. Robot and stuff. And you know, I think he likes to kind of Blaze his own trail, too. And so very much had the attitude of like, you guys want to do this, just do it. You know, we'll figure it out. There's nothing fancy about it. And it also really helps her he, Mike and I were the showrunners Sam directed all the episodes of the first season. So you know, that took a big part of the classic showrunner responsibility off our plate in terms of like, managing all these different directors for every episode or recreating the show each time. But there was a ton to learn mica definitely knew more than I did going into it, he had been working as a production production sound for indie films for like 10 years before that, for me, everything was new. And again, the only the only way I was qualified or ready for it was because I hadn't really been qualified for anything else I'd done before. You know, when I was dropped into like editing, designing a book, I had done that for when I did homecoming, I had done a podcast before. So I did have a kind of sense that if you just pay attention and work hard, and listen, you can you can figure things out. And it sends it all a lot of it comes down to story, right. And I did think I had a good sense of that. Had a lot of experience of collaboration. So maybe like the core core skills I was sort of equipped with. But in terms of the details, I mean, yeah, I was in way over my head. I mean, I remember even you know, the first day on set, like putting on the headset, you know, listen in, and I was thinking, Oh, this is just like that scene in Notting Hill, when he goes, you know, like my reference point for childish. But you know, you learn you get help you do your best. And then I mean, that's still where I'm at very much. So you know,

Alex Ferrari 11:14
So you were Hugh Grant in that scenario, you were. That's amazing. So but also, I mean, I have to imagine because, you know, after I've spoken to so many different people on my show over the years, the one thing that's a common thread is imposter syndrome, which people just think at any moment, security is going to come and escort you off the set, I have to believe that you must have had that and by the buckets on that set, because literally, you're just like, I feel like I'm in Notting Hill I am I is someone going to come and take me off the set at any moment, it happens to Oscar winner, so I have to imagine that happen to you.

Eli Horowitz 11:49
I would say yes or no, yes. And probably for the most part, even on this movie, when we can talk about that, right? It's more like, I guess I have a constant. Sense of, of I'm trying to figure this out. But like I was saying for all those other projects. So it's not like that there's a level you're supposed to be at. And I'm not at that. It's like, I don't know what I'm doing. So let me try to figure it out. So it's imposter syndrome. But maybe without the panic. I mean, my biggest day of panic of this whole process was the night before the first day cast because I was directing that. And I didn't even know, I had never literally never seen anyone direct before. And it's a hard thing to you can't watch clips really on YouTube, particularly. I mean, maybe there's a clip someone could send me you know, so it's literally Googling, like how to direct you know, because I was sure these people would be like a plus plus, cuz I got these amazing actors. And it was all about how do I look like a director? How do I not like, just seem like a frog, you know, so that day very much had it. But then what I find is, you know, once you jump in, essentially everything is like everything else. On some level. It's like you're in this group or small group of people. You're trying to figure out how to make it work, and you're just trying to give and take and find solutions, you know,

Alex Ferrari 13:12
So you didn't say you didn't come on set with a director shirt on? I said director with a monocle and a bullhorn. You didn't you didn't do that.

Eli Horowitz 13:21
I had them in my bag.

Alex Ferrari 13:26
Yeah, that's always my favorite when I go on a set and I see the director has a director shirt on that says director on it. Like oh, this is this probably not gonna end well. It just says director it literally just says that. Oh, no, that isn't that is that is not only just a thing, on a project that I was on years ago, I wrote my first book was based on a meet you almost directing a movie for the mafia back in when I was in my 20s that the gangster that I was playing with the producer, literally bought shirts for all the crew members for the day that we were doing the sizzle. He put director on every shirt. So the entire cat, the entire crew was walking around with director. So think about imposter syndrome at that point.

Eli Horowitz 14:11
It'd be good to like I guess stop. Like if there was assassin coming for the director, then you have.

Alex Ferrari 14:16
So they're that sense. On that sense. I was safe that day, that day, I could at least two or three would have gone down before they got to me. So now

Eli Horowitz 14:26
The opposite. It's where when I get nervous, is when I feel like I have to look like I totally know what I'm doing wrong. Of course, that's one of the parts about directing. I probably still of course. I mean, there's many parts I still need to work on. But that's really one of kind of, because people do I think want to look to you as someone. I mean, there's a balance. You want to seem present and question collaborative. But I think it's also helpful to seem like you've got a you've got a clear vision, and everyone is going to play their part in that. And I always have, I think a tougher time of that second half of that. Captain like,

Alex Ferrari 15:01
Right! Because Because you've got to have that fine balance of everybody has trust that you know where the ship is going. But you're also open enough to and not to be so arrogant to go, I know everything, I don't need any help. So you get a really fine balance, like, Hey, I don't know this, how can we work and you have great collaborators, your DP, your production designer, your actors, you know, especially the caliber of actors that you know, you've been working with. So you can kind of work it all together, I have to ask, so when, when the first time you met Julia Roberts, and she walked into the room, dude, what's that, like? Me got a guy from our generation, just like, you know, Robert, you're like, What the hell, man?

Eli Horowitz 15:41
You know, it was crazy. But it was the same kind of thing, where by the time we got there, I mean, a, it was very strange. Like with Catherine Keener with Oscar Isaac, your swimmers trained even before that, which other kinds of authors that I've worked, you know, we're like, sure, we would even chain in my 20s. You know, that was like, so again, you kind of get used to the general phenomenon. And then also, you know, someone like Julia has been spending the last 30 years meeting people who are meeting her for the first time, you know, so putting people at ease and setting the good challenge to as she was such a professional to that whole project.

Alex Ferrari 16:21
That's amazing. Now on that on the on either both the, the podcast and or the show of Homecoming. What was the worst day where you felt like the entire world was coming crashing down around you? And how did you kind of overcome that? And that could have been completely internal. It could be a completely internal break. Which happens to all of us, by the way.

Eli Horowitz 16:45
Yeah, yeah. I'm trying to think I mean, definitely the, in some ways, it was that kind of night before the podcast started. Where I felt the most just like, Why did I do this? Can I just go home and said, you know, and once you're in it, you're just figuring it out. You know, like, they were certainly like, while shooting it, there's days where things are going wrong, or just long days or whatever, or, you know, I can't get into full stories. But to homecoming, got, you know, like, when you get more organizational and with levels of studios and networks, some of that can be kind of frustrating, let's say, but almost everything else after that first night, was in a it was out there as a problem to be solved. It didn't I can't remember a time when I felt like totalizing like, Oh, we're due, you know, we will just like well, let's let's figure it out, you know,

Alex Ferrari 17:50
I mean, you had hell, I mean, you have some hell of a collaborators on that show. Gorgeous, it was so well done. So well produced, so will act as a well written, you know, it's you could think directly half of, I mean, I'd say 90% of directing is who you collaborate with, between actors, and dp and all your crew, because they're bringing so much experience to the table. You just kind of like.

Eli Horowitz 18:15
In a way, it's the easiest job, you know, being the showrunner. I mean, sure, when I did, we just kind of like sit there and sort of say what we thought about things orientia Look, you know, but like, all the other work was everyone else was actually doing the actual work. Seeing the collaborators make so much of a difference. And that's how I like to work anyway. So

Alex Ferrari 18:34
Now, now the cow I just had the pleasure of watching the cow it is, is a fascinating film, to say the least. It stars. Two of our generations, great actors. Winona Ryder and Dermot Mulroney. I can never say his last name.

Eli Horowitz 18:53
Mulroney.

Alex Ferrari 18:54
Mulroney thank you. I thought. Dermot. Oh, yes, yes, exactly. But they, they're fast. They were just wonderful. And I have to ask you first how did you get this? What what how did you come up with this script first of all, and then how did you get money for this film? Cuz this is not blockbuster. You know, there's no, there's no capes here.

Eli Horowitz 19:18
Well, it was a nother fairly random thing. It was while I was working on homecoming, the TV show. I got this cold email from these guys at Boulder like this. These kind of knew it got about 11 movies, but then we get there with these two friends from childhood who were like 28 years old at the time, you know, mostly doing I think low budget horror. And they just asked if we could meet and you know, I was in LA we were I think writing the second season. I live in San Francisco. So it was kind of very out of place. Didn't really know attentive people. My wife was still back here. A friend right here. There's a girl you don't hang out. We hung out once, I guess maybe twice and then They and meanwhile, I was feeling somewhat frustrated in that second season. You know, I come from this kind of indie publishing background, very hands on you and all the things. And then the bigness of Homecoming, it has a lot of advantages, but also was becoming a little wearying. Just whenever there's that much money and size involved, it has ripple effects, both in terms of like, you know, all the different voices and factors you have to consider. And even just little things, like, you know, when you're choosing a location, you have to think of like, how you're going to park these five camera trucks at that little kit, you know, just like the physical size of it, wasn't you. So that was all the infield totally in tune with my DNA, just how I like to work and how I came up. And I think they picked up on that. And they were looking to work with different kinds of people. And so they just send me an email that said, like, if you want to make a movie, true crime thriller, or horror at 220 minutes, write and direct budget of $200,000. And that just sounded like such a nice change of pace, you know, when I was doing and also, it's a good experiment, like, I was probably ready to kind of probably be like, well, this world's probably not for me. And I thought, well, before I decide that, let me try working in this medium, but in a different style, and see how I feel about that, you know, and so it sounded like a great opportunity. You know, I thought I imagined kind of like Roger Corman type situation, you know, banging it out, getting it done figuring it out, no one watching. So it was that so then I just started writing, I thought it was a done deal. I guess it probably in reality could have fallen apart at any moment after that, you know, but I was like, I think I'm making this movie. So then I hooked up with my friend, Matt Derby, who someone I've written another book and did some other projects with him earlier, really talented writer and hard worker. But so the genesis of the actual movie, and the story was, well, how do you make a movie for $200,000? So the budget I said, ended up creeping up. As we got this cast and stuff, I think, more and more than 2 million or so that's a secret enough. They won't tell you that someday. Go. But meanwhile, what I had been doing while I was just before I did, the homecoming podcast was I bought and fixed up this rundown old cabin in the woods about an hour and a half north of here in the redwoods. And so I've been staying there sometimes and renting it out sometimes. And I thought, Well, one way to make it for cheap is putting it in my house.

Alex Ferrari 22:51
So that literally was your that was literally your place. Wow. That's a beautiful, that's a beautiful location.

Eli Horowitz 22:57
Great location. Yeah, the house is actually a mobile home. There's still wheels underneath it, but then this whole kind of cabinet around it. But yeah, the location is amazing under the road redwoods view. Oh, yeah, I just thought let's set it there. And that was before I had a story or anything, it was just, it's going to happen in this house. So part of what happened in the house

Alex Ferrari 23:21
You back, you backed into the budget, you backed into the budget.

Eli Horowitz 23:25
So that's how I work. You know, it's hard for me just to think of story in the abstract. It's, I sort of try and think a lot about the forum first with all my projects. You know, the whole story of Homecoming came out of what how do we tell a story and audio without a narrator? And every detail about the story kind of flowed out of that. So this was how, how do you make a movie turn $1,000? You know, I'm sure there's a lot of other ways that people have done it for less, of course, but starting point.

Alex Ferrari 23:58
Well, yeah, I mean, so Alright, so you start off with $200,000 you start backing into this thing. So you write the script, they give you they love that they read the script, they love the script. They're like, let's make this thing happen. Now let's get a cast together. How do you how do you get Winona and Dermot on board?

Eli Horowitz 24:15
I just wrote her a note. I mean, you know, went through normal channels, went through her manager, I believe, but I had two things in my favor, never met her before. I didn't know anyone who knew her. But one. She actually grew up for a lot of her childhood in this area in this kind of Northern California. Even some of these specific locations we went to we filmed half of the movie in Petaluma, which is actually where she went to high school. So there was kind of that whole connection. I don't know whether that sealed the deal or not, but I threw that out. And then also, her name isn't actually Winona Rider, that's

Alex Ferrari 25:01
No no, I wait a minute, if I may, if I may, because I am an 80's geek. Her last name is Horwitz.

Eli Horowitz 25:11
So more related anything, but I was able to throw that out, you know? And then we just sent the script, you know, and four days later, she texted me just like 11 at night and she texted me I was like, I dude, it's a no wanna love the script? Let's do it. That was another one. That was very strange moments, but I guess she liked the script. I mean, there was nothing else going for it. So

Alex Ferrari 25:36
That's, and then of course, once we're known as involved, then it's a little bit easier now to start building up on other cast

Eli Horowitz 25:41
I guess one other thing if we're looking for like life lessons, or whatever, I think another thing that helped was so McSweeney's and the publishing company I worked at for 10 years, she had back then been a big fan of McSweeney's. So that's just to say, like, when you make things and put them out into the world, their lives and ripple effect can go by very conventional patterns. You know,

Alex Ferrari 26:05
Listen, I just had a little yesterday, literally, this happened to me. I won't say who it is. But I got an email from a former guest, who's like, Hey, man, I just want you to know, I got this email from this guy. Take a listen. And I'm reading it. I'm like, holy cow, this person is listening to my podcast. And I'm like, how is that what? I'm like, and I just kind of like, put it out there. And I'm always fascinated about who you meet along the way. Like, dude, I've been a fan of yours forever. I'm like, What

Eli Horowitz 26:42
Ways or I can come years after the fact.

Alex Ferrari 26:44
Exactly. Yeah, it's and you don't do it because you're like, Okay, when I put this one out, you know, Steven Spielberg is gonna listen to this. I'm that's not Steven, by the way. I'm just throwing that out there. Everybody, it's not Steven Spielberg.

Eli Horowitz 26:58
But which, wow, that's exactly what you tamper with Steven Spielberg.

Alex Ferrari 27:06
It's really It's James Cameron.

Eli Horowitz 27:07
It's Steven Spielberg.

Alex Ferrari 27:09
It's James. It could be James Cameron. But No, I'm joking. Trust me, James is probably he's not listening to podcast right now. Let's just put it that way. He's an avatar world. So um, but yeah, you're absolutely right. You never know what happens when you put something out and how it affects other people. And that's remarkable. So So you got you got the one you got, you know, the big the big fish, which is well known. And then then kind of just as a ripple effect. I'm bringing everybody else in.

Eli Horowitz 27:33
Yeah. I actually worked with with Dermot Mulroney on homecoming here that he was in a couple episodes of that. And he was great to work with. And then yeah, but it really, you know, same as having Catherine Keener for the podcast, getting on it for the mood, makes things easier.

Alex Ferrari 27:47
Do you recommend? Yeah, it makes things easier. And I want people listening to understand that, that if you're able to nobody wants to be the first to the party. That's with financing. And that's with cast, though cast. If they really are attached to the project and the creator. It's easier to get a big name attached first before money shows up. And then that kind of helps the doors all start swinging open after the fact. I would go. But

Eli Horowitz 28:15
And having a date, I think right? Like having a production date is the only thing that like this is actually happening. It's not just one of the many other things in a big mushy pool.

Alex Ferrari 28:25
Right! Exactly. You get you get like we need you on November this to November this. That's when we're shooting. Are you available? Yep, we have an opening in that schedule. Perfect. Let's lock that in. And then now you're now you're in a mad rush to make sure every other part of the puzzle is prepared for that.

Eli Horowitz 28:41
Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 28:43
So what was the so Okay, so now you're directing your first feature? You've got an amazing cast. Yes, you're in your home, so you feel a little bit more comfortable. But you know, on that first day, man, when you walk on set as a director, man, what the hell was that like?

Eli Horowitz 28:59
Well, that was definitely there was definitely alive. And plus to that. I mean, I remember even more than the first day I remember when you're about to start the first scene. Because I had this great ad this guy, Travis LaSalle. And we worked on a bunch stuff. We had talked over a couple of just key basics, which was like, Oh, am I actually gonna, like they had this scene start like, they were already and I was watching and then Travis looked over me. I was like,

Alex Ferrari 29:31
Say action.

Eli Horowitz 29:36
And then we finished again, I was like, cut. So yes, on a very basic level I was doing um, but But it was great. I mean, it was especially just as it happened, like the first few days. The cast was super prepared. The crew was ready. We had good scenes. We didn't overload the days for those first couple. So yeah, that was really helped us get off to a strong start. And again, it's like I keep saying like, the, all the packaging or trappings or cosmetics. That's where it's kind of be unfamiliar and stressful. But then, once we were in it, you know, obviously knew this story really well had good relationship, I made sure to as much as possible talk to the cast, you might have actually rehearsal time. But individually with each of them, we had kind of multiple times talking to the script and the role in the scenes, which wasn't even so important for the actual content. I mean, maybe some, but it just really helped kind of build up this level of trust. So then when the scenes are working, you just get in there and say, what do we think I'm trying to get more like this? What do you think you know, and you're just two people working for a solution.

Alex Ferrari 30:48
Right! So that's how that that's how you approach directing the actors, you kind of just sit there like me, you obviously know what you want, in a scene you want and you know what you want out of the actors, but you're like, What do you think? How do you? How do you see this going? I mean, because again, when you're working with the kind of actors, you're working with them in a one on one deal, and they've been around the block so, so much, you'd be foolish not to listen to some other ideas at this point.

Eli Horowitz 31:14
But just as much for you know, other actors as well. Yeah, like 20 more. So yeah, I mean, the thing, I don't know how to do it all, you know, there's this other version of directing where you're kind of like, somehow eliciting these performances, I mean, I don't want to call it mind games, because that makes it sound too negative, although I'm sure sometimes it is a bad thing. But just like, pushing the buttons and triggering the moment and stuff and having a certain mystique, I just don't, I don't know how to pull it off. And that's when I would really feel kind of imposter syndrome. You know, I just find that too exhausting. So, and I've just been ever. I haven't in my experience, people haven't also responded to things like, you know, pretend like this table is on fire for this scene. Right? And like, that's your triggering sense memory. You know, it's a thing, and I'm sure it works sometimes. But I just can't take myself seriously, unless I'm just having a normal conversation with someone.

Alex Ferrari 32:12
No, the best is the I had a director on the show, tell me this amazing technique, which I've used since then as onset, where you tell one actor two people in the scene, and they're talking to each other, and you tell one actor to like, Okay, make sure that anything that this person says to you, you are completely rejecting it internally. And then the other one is, like, you say the opposite the other one, and then they don't know that as and when they're in the scene, they just start feeding off each other. And that that work, I think that's a really good way to kind of, it's not a manipulated, it's not a mind game. It's just motivations, but the other person doesn't need to know the motivation. It's a personal thing. But the fact that I found really works well as as a director, as opposed to, you know, if you want to make someone cry, you yell and scream and insult them on set like that's,you know,

Eli Horowitz 33:03
Right. right. I mean, every now and then I would get, I'm trying to think like, one thing I did that. Proud of that, I don't know, it probably had no effect at all was, um, so just couple which is going to give Brienne Chu this kind of a couple, they both had some tattoos. Take that too, as you know, for the character. But I had them come up with a matching basically matching pair of tattoos. And not tell me what they meant. So only they would know what those tattoos met. So I kind of thought that would kind of create a, you know, a sense of them as a couple with a secret, you know, right. Maybe that were mostly probably made me just feel like I was the clever guy for a day and made them feel. Yeah, I tried sometimes.

Alex Ferrari 33:57
No, exactly like that. But those are the those are the little fun things you get to do with actors. It's it's just a lot of fun. Was there a day on on the cow where you felt the world was coming down crashing around you as a director?

Eli Horowitz 34:09
Oh yeah, a lot of those? I mean, one thing I kept going back to was it was an interview with George Miller, who said that, like he was talking to some other young director who's giving them advice, and he said, like, the day will come when you feel that everything's going wrong, and you have no idea what you're doing. Just keep going. And then at the end of that, that director called him back and was like, Yes, that was good advice. But we didn't tell me was that that would be every single day. And yeah, that definitely happened. Almost every day. There was some time or another one it was just like,

Alex Ferrari 34:50
Yeah, yeah, the camera's not working. We're losing like the actors that there's something wrong with the location. There's, oh, there's, you did this during COVID as well. So there's COVID protocols. The money's not there foods not arriving at this time, the trailer does show up all this craziness that we have to deal with as a director. It's insane.

Eli Horowitz 35:09
Yeah, yeah, it was really just good to know that, like, my job is just to get through these 19 days, kind of as if we decide whether this is any good, whether this was a good decision, whether this is going to work out whether it was worth doing first place, just shut that part of my brain off, and just just get through it.

Alex Ferrari 35:31
And you did, man, and you got it, when you got it done. It looks fantastic. You get it through post. And then you guys submit to, you know, to the festival circuit, and you get the phone call, what was the phone call from South by like?

Eli Horowitz 35:45
That was great. I mean, it was it was another one of these things where you hear kind of rumblings before columns. But this was really my, you know, my two things I wanted was to get to go with it to a festival. And then for one of these for Brianne, and oh, and like, because I thought they did such a great job for them to see them like go on to bigger and better thing. Those are the kind of two concrete things that I could could look for, for this movie. Because everything else is so nebulous to go out into the world, some people see it, some people don't see it, some people like it, some people don't like it, whatever. But so it was really fun. So I'm so excited. I'm going to fly down to Texas tomorrow. And yeah, I'm just excited for the whole experience of it eating, you're seeing the other movies. I mean, also just after these two years of COVID, like I'm excited to see like a hunger food, open bar, you know, like, oh, yeah, it's gonna be lively things for me.

Alex Ferrari 36:46
Bring a bring a jacket, just going to bring a jacket. It's not, it's not hot right now in Texas. Just it's a little bit chilly, especially at night. Now, is there something that you could if you could, would you go back? And what would you say to your younger self, starting this part of your journey, like when you went into the, like on the podcast, if you could go back and like a few days before the podcast and go, Look, dude, you're gonna go through a hell of a journey. Right now, this is the one thing this is the one thing I wish I would have known.

Eli Horowitz 37:22
Two things. One is this kind of point I'm making where it's like, in the end, it just comes back to normal foundational skills, you know, if you know the story, and you're willing to talk and listen and be collaborative, and ask questions that can take you through almost everything to some extent, you know, so no need to panic about anything. And then the other one I'm still trying to keep an eye on is just make sure you have a decent sense of why you're doing the thing that you're doing. I think it's especially something that I'm grappling with now is, you know, in this industry, it seems like there's a lot of like opportunities that are half presented that are floated that you're supposed to chase for, there's a kind of a clear sense of like, what the ladder is, and you're supposed to always be moving up a bit. You know, previously, I'd have that as much because we were sort of, in my own little world doing things I was out of the publishing was on New York, I was living in San Francisco, it was just, it was easier to just focus on the thing at hand and try and do it as well as you can. And now there's, sometimes you'll you'll hear about something that seems like a good opportunity, or can I pass this up, or I should jump on it while I can. And sometimes that's true. But there's also just a kind of gravitational pull of those things that might not really speak to who you actually are, what you actually want to be doing. And so being willing to actually chart your own path in this industry that I don't think is particularly suited for that. Or they snap very encouraging of that. It's something I'm still trying to grapple with.

Alex Ferrari 39:10
Oh, yeah, you definitely have not walked the path of what Hollywood expects, or wants. Yeah, you've definitely been burning.

Eli Horowitz 39:18
I mean, even doing this movie, probably, like, if I had, I don't know, I'm just making this up. But like, you know, like, after going to Kolkata, which is like a big show, I think probably a lot of people would have thought like, well, now I should be trying to do a movie as big as that.

Alex Ferrari 39:34
Right! With a Julia Roberts style. You know, it's,

Eli Horowitz 39:38
You know, as I said, just being like, I like these guys. It sounds like a fun opportunity. Let me just do it. You know, I think I'm really glad I did. But it's still like, every week, there's something that you kind of need to check in with yourself about that. It's hard to calibrate. Exactly right,

Alex Ferrari 39:54
Right. No, I agree with you. 100%. And look, you're doing fine brother. Don't Don't You don't you? Don't you let anyone else tell you any different but you are doing just fine. I always tell people to listen to your gut man, if it makes sense to your gut don't if you start trying to play the Hollywood Game, you will lose because that game has been lost by the best.

Eli Horowitz 40:18
No one ever feels like they've made it no one can ever like snap their fingers and get what they want. Maybe two or three people entire ages.

Alex Ferrari 40:26
Even the two or three people in the entire industry that could do it is it is specific kinds of films, right James Cameron can make get avatar made which is an insanity, but arguably the only human being on the planet that could do something like that. But if he's like, what I really want to do is a comedy. That cost 500 million. You see that's not happen. That's not That's not how Spielberg couldn't get Lincoln made. Man. You know? Scorsese couldn't get Irishman made until Netflix showed up like, well, it's it there's very few

Eli Horowitz 40:57
You were to think you're ever gonna get to this like promised land if I just do this bad. You know, you're still always yourself.

Alex Ferrari 41:04
The only the only guy who could do that is Nolan. Nolan is the only human being right now on the planet could basically could do whatever he wants. He has it. He has a blank check right now. It's pretty amazing.

Eli Horowitz 41:14
I wonder if he feels like, you know, everyone, I think still feels kind of agreed, constrated or limited? Or why is this working out the way I showed? Or if I only this or?

Alex Ferrari 41:23
No, I mean, look, I mean, he's making a movie about Oppenheimer for $100 million at a studio. Not many human beings get to do that. So it's, it's pretty, but you're right. I don't think he's sitting there and going, ha, smoking the cigar going, Hey, so what else am I gonna do now? Let's Let's shoot it in black and white. While we're at it, let's. But it's always like I always like I always I don't know about you. But I always like watching, you know, the titans of our business take swings at the bat. Just at bat, because they're the ones that move. They move. They move the line, man, they move the chains for all of us. Because if they don't, man, you know, it starts started back in, you know, in the early silent days with Chaplin. They were all taking swings, and we all kind of move the whole medium forward. Right, right. Pretty remarkable. Oh, no, where's Where is? Where's the cow going to be screened? Like, what are the days and times?

Eli Horowitz 42:17
Sunday at the Zach theater that's the premiere and then it's Tuesday. I'll be there. Also, at the screening on Tuesday. I'm not sure which theater and then also I think Wednesday.

Alex Ferrari 42:28
Great. And there. Is there any distribution yet or not yet?

Eli Horowitz 42:31
Yeah, I think that's the what the festival is.

Alex Ferrari 42:34
Oh, I wish I wish I wish you the I'm sure I'm sure you'll do. Okay, brother, I'm sure you're going to do. If if your road that it's up to this point is any indication of how things are rolling out for you on certain things

Eli Horowitz 42:47
I'm only hearing about the good roads.

Alex Ferrari 42:49
No, I know. No, I look, I know. And I'm joking with you. Because I know there's been a lot of pain. I know, there's been a lot of suffering a lot of those things, a lot of things.

Eli Horowitz 42:56
I mean, I could list my four other projects in the last few years that you haven't heard of that you've never heard of, uh, no one's ever listened to they came out last year, you know? Oh, come on the show. You know,

Alex Ferrari 43:10
It happens. It happens. I know. I know. I know. But but I think on this, I think I think you'll do okay, if it is any indication after watching the movie, I think I think you'll be fine. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Eli Horowitz 43:26
I think like we're saying just finish things have things that exists around the world. Don't just try and wait for things to line up for that one big strike. Just make things.

Alex Ferrari 43:36
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Eli Horowitz 43:41
Honestly, the thing I've been finding myself lately is that actually like to work, because I kind of reflects it and like I don't want that sound. And then I sit around, and I'm just doing nothing. And I feel really grouchy all day like what do you know, some kind of guy something actually like doing these things you want to do them. So

Alex Ferrari 44:00
Fair enough, and three of your favorite films of all time.

Eli Horowitz 44:05
Of all time, I'm just gonna say in the last I'll have to just saying the last few weeks or something I don't even know all the time. I can say something I can say three films that helped inspire the cow. How about that? Fair enough. So one was this movie came out about maybe three or four years ago called border it's a Danish movie. That this is definitely goes in the category of the less you know, the better. These are really my favorite movies in general is ones where what the movie is kind of unfolds in front of you, as you're watching. Instead of saying like, this is a heist movie, and then it's going to be a fun heist, but you basically know the star in the middle, whatever. So borders the first one and that it's I don't mean to make it sound kind of impenetrable or anything. It's almost like a fairy tale, but me to noir and it helps really inspire The cow keeping with the bat category, maybe I would say pig, which I hadn't seen yet, when I made cow, but I felt definitely some affinity for, you know, there's definitely a whole cow pig, lamb livestock, triple feature movement coming on. But I really loved the way that one kind of created its own world and its own tone, it was a very specific tone, which I feel like some people even viewing didn't quite get. I mean, I know everyone can get their own view of it, but I feel like it was very aware of its own sense of humor and its own sense of strangeness, and was willing to, to be kind of elusive in that way. You know, something I wonder about for the cow and all my projects is like, are they a fun mix? Or are they neither here nor there. And that was very willing and bored or also want to just straddle those lines and be their own thing and just let the chips fall where they may. And then let's say I know something that I really liked was 10 Cloverfield Lane, just like a nice contained class movie that I thought was really smart about always being aware of what your expectations were, and meeting them quite soon, instead of like stretching out for an hour like wait, is it possible that this guy's lying or is it possible there you know, into there and 15 minutes and then do another and then another and then another? So really being conscious of the viewer and giving them a credit and playing with that being a dialogue with that? I thought that movie did a great job of

Alex Ferrari 46:49
Eli man, I appreciate you coming on the show. Congratulations on the cow I wish you nothing but success with the film I think it's going to do very well like I said before and just keep keep walking the path whether you do it you do it you do it. You do it just fine brother walk that path man. Thanks for being on the show brother.

Eli Horowitz 47:05
Alright bye bye!

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IFH 563: Writing Blockbuster Movies & Television with Danny Strong

Today on the show we have writer, producer, actor, director and Emmy® winning show runner Danny Strong.

Danny started his career as an actor in numerous classic films and TV shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls, then transitioned into screenwriting, exploding onto the scene with his 2007 script Recount which was #1 on the Hollywood Blacklist and became an award winning HBO Film.

Since then he has become a prolific film and TV writer, director and producer, garnering numerous awards for various projects, including two Emmys, a Golden Globe, two WGA awards, a PGA Award, and the Peabody Award.

Through out his career he has shown a wide range and versatility moving between mediums and genres with films like the political docudramas Recount and Game Change, the civil rights epic The Butler and the big budget action blockbusters Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part I and II).

He co-created the smash hit TV show Empire which won him the NAACP Image Award and he produced the civil rights drama The Best of Enemies starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. He has also written numerous theater projects having made his theatrical debut with a new book to the musical Chess that premiered at the Kennedy Center.

Strong transitioned into directing with several episodes of Empire. He made his feature directorial debut with Rebel in the Rye that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by IFC Films.

Over the years he has continued his acting career with recurring roles in many highly acclaimed TV shows including Mad Men, Girls, Justified, Billions and The Right Stuff. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, California and attended the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Enjoy my enlightening conversation with Danny Strong.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:17
I like to welcome the show Danny Strong how're you doing Danny?

Danny Strong 3:36
Good, Alex, how you doing?

Alex Ferrari 3:37
I'm doing well, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've I've been following your career for quite some time. And, and of course, a fan of many of the shows that you've worked on and things that you've written. So I'm excited to kind of jump into your process and what we do. So before we get started, how did you get started in this insanity that is the film industry?

Danny Strong 3:59
Wow. That's a very good question. So I was a theater major in college. And I did plays in high school. And I was able to get an agent while I was in high school. But I never booked anything. So I was it was wasn't exactly a successful time. So I never booked anything. But I kept you know doing theater non stop and then majored in college and then I booked a couple jobs in college. You know, I booked a couple commercials and then a roll on Saved by the Bell, the new class probably the favorite show of your audience. I think that's all they want, I think their audiences and not even the original set by about the new class that they're particularly. So I did that and then and then I didn't really start booking jobs as an actor until I graduated college. And it was a few months after I graduated that I booked an episode of Third Rock from the Sun which was a huge cinema And then a month later, I booked an episode of Seinfeld. And so now I kind of went from no resume to two biggest sitcoms on television, which was incredibly exciting. And then in the next six months, I booked Buffy the Vampire Slayer and did that for several years as a recurring. So so things started happening pretty, pretty fast out of college, although it seems like endless at the time. And then by that by the time I was 24, I was working full time as an actor, in that I was supporting myself. And I didn't need a day job. So that was very exciting. And it was, by the way, I wasn't even working all that much. But I was making enough money with sort of a combination of small guest stars on TV commercials, voiceover an occasional movie. It was real scrappy, of just anything, I can land, voiceover radio, jobs, you know, anything I could get I did and, and then I started writing when I was about 25. And that's when I wrote my first script, and didn't sell my first script until I was 32. So it took seven years of writing before I was able to get my first paycheck as a writer. That's kind of the faster the fast version

Alex Ferrari 6:19
Of the beginning of your career. And that's, that's fascinating, because, you know, as so many filmmakers think that it takes in screenwriters think it's overnight? Like oh, yeah, Danny Strong, he must have just jumped in like, Hollywood loves to put you in a box and you're the you are in the acting box. So when you try to break out of that box to do something else, it's even that much harder than if you try to go in at the beginning. Is that correct?

Danny Strong 6:43
Well, to be honest with you, that wasn't my experience at all. Okay, it was it was the second I started writing scripts. A couple people were a bit I Rowley about it, but but the scripts speak for themselves. Okay, so I, you know, once I was able to get some people to read that first script, I wrote what people really liked it. And then it didn't matter that I was an actor. And most people in the development world, which are the people who read scripts for a living, they know that actors that can write, make can make really good writers. So it's sort of understood that that's not an unnatural progression from actor to writer, they've got a real good grasp of dialogue, usually a good grasp of character. And it's in its many are many a writer, and many writers I've worked with either on staff on one of my TV shows, or just screenwriters that I know, started off as actors. So it's, it's a natural progression. So now I find that Hollywood can follow your lead times when you say what you want to do. So I want to do this. It's like, okay, well, are you doing it? Are you trying to do it? And if you are, then then people respond to that. It's usually not a situation where no, you're an actor, and you will never write you will never write. It's, it's really not as close minded is the perception is

Alex Ferrari 8:10
Very, very cool. So then, as an actor, what did you bring it from being an actor to writing? Like, what were the skill sets that you brought in? From just those two years of work and I'm assuming being on sets and watching everybody and all that stuff over the years.

Danny Strong 8:23
Yeah, I think that my background is an actor is sort of my biggest weapon as a writer, director, producer, everything it is, as a writer, it's I spent years and years reading and working on the best plays ever written in the history of humanity. Right, working on the plays of Shakespeare and check off and Ibsen and Edward Albion, Arthur Miller, and, and I spent years working on that material, and you're reading it, you're analyzing it, you're inside of it. And I think it's the inside of it. That is one of the biggest tools for me as a writer, because I write is someone who, you know, when I when I, when I start writing the dialogue, I write as if I'm inside the scene, playing the scene as the characters and and that comes from my background as an actor from spending endless numbers of years just doing that for a living or doing it for free. And, you know, doing all the plays that I did, and all the auditions I did, it didn't go anywhere. You're constantly just working on material. And and that's a different stage of the writing process than the early stages, which is the outlining stage for me. That's what I do. You know, it's sort of the the beginning stages. So, so less my acting background comes into play there. But then when it comes to actually writing the scenes, the acting background is a huge part of it.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
Do you recommend screenwriters take an acting class or two just to kind of get inside?

Danny Strong 9:57
Oh, yeah, I mean, why why were you how that'd be a bad thing. And I've been in acting classes. So I stayed in acting classes. Like I said, I was a theater major at USC, graduated. And then I stayed in acting classes the whole time until my first movie went into production when I was 33. So I spent 11 years in acting classes. And in my attitude was I treated it like I was a professional tennis player. And I just need to be hitting balls as much as possible. So I was constantly in class. And there would be writers and directors that would, from time to time come in, and they would, you know, be there for three months, two months, that sort of thing. And they go, yeah, their director and the writer and, and I couldn't think of a more valuable thing for either one of them to do than to do that.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
Now. Is it true I read somewhere that you used to rent videos from video archives, and there was a young store clerk they used to talk to quite often about movies is that true?

Danny Strong 10:59
Yeah. So I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, very different now than it was then it's like it now it's very wealthy. When I was a kid there, it was lower middle to lower middle class, sleepy beach town, right. And there was this avant garde video store where they would have foreign films, and the films would be categorized by director. And, and my mom knew I loved adult movies as a kid. So she would, she would take me there. And the clerk was this really eccentric young guy. And I was 11. But I looked like I was seven. And, and I would just spend all this time with him, getting advice on certain movies, and I spent so much time talking to him that it made my mom feel uncomfortable. She's like, why are you spending so much time talking to him while I'm like talking to him? And it was Quentin Tarantino. And it was and so I and because I was in there so much. They called me little Quinton. And that was my nickname. Wow. Yeah, it was little Quentin. And then many years later, Quentin got this huge award from the home video Association. And he asked if I would come to the ceremony. So and we live in stay tight is a you know, in my adult age, but but perfectly friendly, you know, and he loves that I became a writer. And he and he, he, in his in his big speech to the big to the audience, he had me stand up and introduced me as a little Quinton from the video store and told the whole story about how I used to read videos from him. And he had the funniest and that was literally he ended his speech. It was so funny, he said, he said, So now when I look back upon my career, and I see that little Quinton is so successful. Oh, I just think God that I was successful too. Because of little Quinton was successful. And I wasn't, I would blow my fucking brain.

Alex Ferrari 12:54
One of the amazing that it does it oh my god, that's an amazing story. Because it's on brand for Mr. Tarantino.

Danny Strong 13:03
It is very, very much on brand. Yeah. And then he finally cast me in a movie, which was so exciting. I was in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Alex Ferrari 13:10
Oh, right. That's right.

Danny Strong 13:11
My scene was cut, although it is in the DVD. And it was, it was an amazing experience getting to watch them direct for a day.

Alex Ferrari 13:23
That must have been awesome. Now, you know, with all you know, being an actor, you deal with a tremendous amount of rejection. And I'm assuming as a writer, you do as well, how do you deal with rejection? Because we get mostly, if I may say we get mostly no's then rather than yes's in this business, correct?

Danny Strong 13:40
Yeah. Yeah. It's all no all the time. I mean, now, that was why I started writing was that I was working as an actor. Like I said, I was supporting myself, but yet all year long, I would hear no. And the no would be no, they don't want to see you for the part. No, you didn't get the callback, or no, you didn't get the part. And that's literally, you know, three, four times a week. That's what you're getting. And it's maybe once every three or four months, you're finally getting a yes. And a great song you. So for me, I actually started writing to deal with the sort of subconscious trauma being rejected all year long. And then I remember there was a period of about 18 months, when I couldn't get arrested as an actor. I just went into this. I don't know what happened. I just couldn't get hired. And then that was part of the seven years where no one was buying my scripts. So it was like a brutal 18 months of, of things not working out. Now, what's great about writing versus acting, is that as a writer, you can go do it. So you can just you can just go write a script, it doesn't matter if someone has bought it. If someone's interested in it. You can literally just sit down and write whenever you want or whenever you have availability based on if you have a job etc. Right but you can Go do it. And so for my attitude is particularly on the writing, when you write a script, and then you're ready to show it to people or to take it out to market, whatever that means. You should be working on your next scripts. So that when the nose do start coming in, and the noes come to people at the highest levels of the industry there have the biggest screenwriters and biggest directors, you know, they're well this only get made if I can get one order to Caprio or Tom Cruise, and then they send it to an art gallery or Tom Cruise and they go, No, we don't want to do the movie. You know, so everyone deals with that. But as a writer, what you can do is you can just go start working on your next script, and it really does help get your mind off the rejection because you're creatively grooving on something new.

Alex Ferrari 15:48
No, do you? What is your writing process? Do you start with character? Do you start with plot? Do you outline?

Danny Strong 15:54
Yeah, it's a combination of things. It's sort of hard to say, because it differs for every project. But I will say the one place that is pretty kind of a standard starting point for me is research, right? So if I'm writing a true story, like in dope sick, it's the opioid crisis, well, I just start reading books. And then I'll usually read two books on something, just read it without even taking notes. So I get a sense of the global macro of the story, I get a sense of characters that have kind of popped for me, you know, hopefully, these books are good. Hope you pick the right ones. Yeah, yeah. Well, and by the way, I go to a certain amount of research to figure out what are the right books, you know, sometimes there's only one book, depending on what it is, but, but um, or even if it's a fictional piece, I'll start with research. You know, when I started, when I wrote Empire, the pilot, I started just watching documentaries on hip hop, right? Just let me just watch some Hip Hop documentaries. So so so that's phase one, which is just get information coming in, and then maybe notetaking, maybe not, then once I kind of feel like I've got a sense of the global. So let's say there's two books on something that I've read, and I'm like, Oh, I really get this now. Then I go reread those books. But now I'm taking careful notes. And I'm writing notes, I'm writing characters, I'm writing scenes, I'm writing all this information. Because things can inspire other things. Right? So I can get I can get it will be like, Oh, this Oh, look at it, there's a whole sequence that I'm coming up with based upon a sentence. You know, when I adapted the book, Game Change into the movie game change. There was one paragraph that was the gave me the inspiration for the entire film. And I was like, oh, that's the whole movie right there. That one paragraph, we're talking about Steve Schmidt did this and then he did this. And then he had to do this. And I'm like, oh, that sounds like my entire movie. It was and it outlined it for you. But film, yeah, was was essentially inspired from that paragraph. But so. So that's what it is, then it's like taking notes, writing scene ideas, character ideas. Sometimes it's stuff from the books or the documentaries, sometimes all it does is it starts inspiring ideas, and then I go off on my own tangent entirely. And then once I've finished the that stage of the research, and this is important, don't get bogged down in definitely in the research, because you can, you can do that for three years if you want, right. So what I do is literally, I try to do enough of it, where I feel like, Oh, I've got a sense of what this is and how I could pull this off. Um, then I'll start actually outlining from those set of notes and kind of freeform thinking that I've done. And then once I have an outline, before I go write the script, sometimes what I'll do is I'll go read another book, or I'll go read two more books. You know, sometimes there's like 20 books on something, right? And then there's a new set of ideas that come in. And then from there, then I go, actually, write.

Alex Ferrari 19:15
Now, I always love asking creators this, there's I always say that there's this kind of, well of inspiration that is ours, that we can tap into. It's kind of like almost being in the flow or in that state of mind, the flow state of mind. What is it in your actual writing process that allows you to tap into your creativity, that inspiration, the muse for better or worse, because sometimes the Muse shows sometimes she does it, you know, how do you tap into that?

Danny Strong 19:42
So I don't I just show up every day.

Alex Ferrari 19:45
And she shows and you let her know, hey, I'm gonna be here. If you're ready.

Danny Strong 19:48
I'm just there. I'm there every day and I'm going to do something. Some days. There'll be today I had all these great plans. Those plans did not succeed, but I did get something done. Yes. Clearly it happened today.

Alex Ferrari 20:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 20:13
And but something was achieved today, right? So so it's really a matter of just showing up every day. And you know, I say that inspiration is for amateurs. And I don't mean that in in a hostile way. You know, if you're, say, a lawyer, and you want to write a book, and you've always had this novel, you want to dry it, or you wanted to write a memoir of a case you had, right, but you're not a professional writer. But you're gonna try it by the way, you may be great at it, it's very possible that you are, but that's the kind of person who's like I need to be inspired. And maybe I need to rent a house by a lake, you know, and go away, because that's what writers do. And it's very romantic write, for me, I'm a professional writer, I've been writing now for 22 years, and and of those 22 years, I've been getting paid 15 of those years, which has its own set of, I mean, it sounds incredible. But there's a whole lot of stress that comes from taking people's money, and then delivering a script to them, right? So so it's literally a matter of, no, I just have to go do it. Now I'm at a point where I'm trying to take days off, where I'm like, just you shouldn't write on Sunday, you need to take Sunday off. You know, my fiance does not appreciate it, she would like me to take Sunday off. Yeah. And so it's it's um, but that act of doing it consistently, what it does is that you do it, then for the rest of the day, your mind is processing things that you don't even know it's processing. You may have hit some walls that day, then you come back the next day, and you have solutions to those walls that your mind has just figured out on its own throughout the course of the day. I've had so many solutions to problems company when I wake up in the morning. And it's sometimes it's it's that period where you're not fully awake, but you're kind of starting to get away. Oh, this is the best part. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and then I'd be like, but that solution would have showed up that next morning, had I not had the session the day before. So it's it's the consistency of the back the back of it is is what I think is is what I do. And I think it's incredibly important.

Alex Ferrari 22:27
Now your one of your scripts got to the top of the blacklist, which is recount was that the was that the you know, was? Was the town or was Hollywood taking you like taking notice of your writing? You know, heavily? I mean, because when you get to the top of the blacklist, everybody in town knows who you are. Was that like a career defining moment for you as a writer?

Danny Strong 22:50
You know, it actually wasn't because the script had already exploded. Okay, gripped, had blown up and become a huge deal. And then had already gone into production. And I actually found out about the blacklist on the plane ride home after we wrapped production. Oh, Jesus, isn't that crazy? Like I was sitting on the plane going through my phone and someone congrats, and I didn't really know what it was. And what was great was, that was the year the blacklist kind of became famous. And there were all these newspaper articles on the blacklist. And so to be number one on the blacklist the year was on payment. That's a very cool year. So, so it didn't add that disrupted already sort of changed everything for me before that, that was just a really neat kind of cherry on top.

Alex Ferrari 23:37
Now, how did you approach adapting the Hunger Games? Mockingjay? Because I mean, at the point that you came in on it, it already is a pretty well established franchise, and there has to be slight pressure on you.

Danny Strong 23:52
Yeah, the pressures enormous. That was a very strange job, because there was this enormous, you know, it was one of the biggest jobs in the business at the time, everyone. Yeah, I mean, it was just like, the first one was the biggest movie of the year. The second one was in production. Um, and so you had to go pictures. The franchise was particularly strong, in that that first movie was really terrific. Everyone really respected it. The book, The books were really beloved amongst a huge swath of age range. So it was a it was just I was really flattered when I got asked to pitch on it. I was told they'd gone out to 10 writers and I'm one of the 10. And to me, that was the when I'm like, Oh my God, how cool was that? And I'm like, one of the 10 that they've asked to, to pitch on this. And then lo and behold, I get the job right. Now, I hadn't even read the books before. They come to me to pitch and they asked me in that in that meeting, they said have you read the books? I said, No, I haven't. So I saw the first movie, and I loved it. And they said, Well, okay, read the next two books as fast as you can, and then come up with a pitch. So that's what I did. And then the job itself, it was very unusual because it was they wanted it to be really close to the book. There wasn't a lot of room for veering away from the book, which I totally understood and didn't disagree with. Then at the same time, they wanted some new ideas, of course, but they didn't like my new ideas. Right? Well, I thought I'd pick shag new ideas. And I always get like, Now now, you know, and so I, you know, and it was just this weird tightrope where I was like, Wow, I'm a really, really high paid plagiarist. You know, they just want me to stick to the book. So then I wrote the first, you know, part one of Mockingjay. And they really liked it. And they hired me to write part two. And I was, I was like, okay, it was, by the way, wasn't, I didn't love doing the job to be honest with you. Because of everything I just explained. Just weird. I mean, it was like, it was like, we want this really close to the book. Okay, but but then we want other things, okay, but we don't like what you're pitching. Okay, but we do like you now, you know, um, and it was I didn't, I just didn't enjoy working on it. But then they hired me to do the next one. Which was, I mean, it was like, Well, I can't say no, right. So so then I did, I did the next one. And then they brought in another writer, which was the first time that had happened to me, you know, they had me do rewrites? No, no, they had them do rewrites on three. And then I finished four, and I turned in four. And then by that point, they really liked the writer who did rewrites on three, and they had them do rewrites on four and they sent me on my merry way. They said by It was a pleasure. Not really. And and I was actually quite happy to move on from the job to be honest with you. Very honest answer.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
They're very, that's a,

Danny Strong 27:13
But that's what but yeah, that's how it went. It was it was like I wrote three they liked it. They hired me to write for while they simultaneously hired someone to do rewrites on three, they did that because they were shooting them at the same time. So there was they in their minds, there wasn't enough time. And and then so then I wrote four, then that same writer came on here, Craig, lovely guy. And then they had him do rewrites on four. And that that was the end of my journey on the Hunger Games.

Alex Ferrari 27:40
And that's the thing that a lot of writers don't think that there's a glow. Well, you know, Danny Strong is not going to get, you know, rewritten or that it happens to everybody. I talked to Eric Roth, and it happened to Eric Roth.

Danny Strong 27:51
Oh, yeah, it's not so not in movies at that budget. It's extremely common. And in this case, there were two movies before, in which these huge writers of high Academy Award nominated or winning writers were rewritten. So I kind of knew going into it that that's kind of the deal. And it was it was pretty common for big budget. tentpole movies to have multiple writers on them. So it's not like you I go in, I don't go into that job, thinking, Oh, this is my artistic vision. I sort of go into the job hoping that I can get through it without having people upset with me. Which, by the way, is not, you know, and I haven't done a job like that sense. Because of it, though.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
And you I'm sure you've been offered a pitch or you've been offered.

Danny Strong 28:40
Yeah, I get offered all the time, you know, different things. And, and I'm and I have done a few in that time period since then. But for the most part. It's a it was a very good life learning experience of situations I'd prefer not to be in.

Alex Ferrari 28:58
Right. And that's kind of where you've made your bones heavily in television where the writer is more keen, especially.

Danny Strong 29:04
Yeah, well, it's a combination of a few things, which is, right if it's time that the medium started changing, right where movie dramas started becoming smaller and smaller are not being made at all. And then there's massive tentpole movies, you know, like what I was working on, but I didn't enjoy working on it. So I didn't want to do that again. So literally for the next year and a half after Hunger Games. I was getting offered a sort of big tentpole things and I didn't want to do them. So then the drama that I want to be working on, they're not really making anymore, so I but I go and I make an independent film. And then simultaneously, television is now starting to take off dramatically, creatively, in many ways to a number of writers feeling like that's actually a much more interesting space to work in. On a multiple different levels, so it was like the business starts changing. I was very fortunate that right when that happens, I created the show empire that was a massive hit. So now I've gotten cachet. And some, you know, a lot of interest in me in a space that is simultaneously kind of becoming the booming space. So the timing was was really great. And I feel very fortunate.

Alex Ferrari 30:27
Now I have to ask you, because I mean, I'm a huge empire fan. I watched every episode and loved empire. I think I caught up to it on seas. I think you guys were in season three. And someone said, You got to watch empire. So I binged the first seat and I was just like, the writing was so tight. The characters were so outlandish. They were beautiful. How did you? What made you jump into this world? I mean, I'm assuming you haven't been hardcore hip hop your entire life. So how did you jump in?

Danny Strong 30:54
What was great was the only person who knew less about hip hop than me was Lee Daniels. Literally would joke about how we know nothing about hip hop, right. But when it happened was I wrote the movie, the butler that leaving directed, and then we'd become pretty close and post production on that project, where he really valued my feedback and notes. And it was the kind of thing where he started, you know, just saying, like, what are we doing next? What are we doing next? We're magic together, we're magic together. And that was before the film came out and succeeded. Right. So then I came up with this idea to do King Lear and a hip hop empire, you know, which is what Empire was. And, and I pitched the idea to lead annuals as a movie, he loved it. He just said that I love this idea. And then it was his idea, which was good as a TV show instead of a movie. And I thought, that's perfect. You're absolutely right. It's about a family fighting, which is what TV shows are about is about families fighting with each other. So that's how it all came together was, was an idea I had that I brought to Lee, based on the fact that we had just done the belt were together. And then the butler comes out and it was a huge hit. You're not remember it was one of the sleeper hits of the year, particularly for a movie that no one wanted to make. Yeah, not a tentpole by any step by any stretch, the opposite of a temple, right? It's kind of like, sort of in the category of one of the last dramas of that era when they would make these kinds of dramas, right, that have this kind of sweep and a motion to it. And so, uh, so we took this pitch out with with having just had this big hit drama, and then we had multiple bidders. And then and then that was that. So that's how it began, it was a random idea. I had one day listening to a radio news piece. On a deal, Sean Combs it just closed. And I just thought hip hop. So so cool, and dynamic and exciting. And I got to do a musical and hip hop, that's back that I knew nothing about hip hop did not determine, whatsoever. And then it's funny, because when I did Pixley, thinking, Well, I don't know much about this world, but I'll dive into it, but we will know a lot about it. And then literally, he's like, I don't know anything about hip hop. I'm like, really? He's like, No. And I'm like Me neither. So it's so that's where that's where Empire began.

Alex Ferrari 33:18
That's amazing that neither of you had a hip hop knowledge that you could bring to the table.

Danny Strong 33:23
No, he was really into Marvin Gaye. And like, like, it was like, loved Marvin Gaye and kind of that era of Motown. Sure. And, and I loved that era of Motown. Now, even though I feel like some of my tastes even went further back to the 50s. And pretty funny how these things can happen. But I think I think the lesson in that is, you don't have to live a life to write about it, or to direct it. And that is a that is not a popular opinion right now. And there's very much discussion right now of who gets to tell what story and if you haven't lived it, you don't have the right to tell it. And I fundamentally disagree with that. And I just think, well, if you had to live, everything you wrote, then just let's go set fire to most of Shakespeare's plays, you know, all the Shakespeare plays that don't take place in England, you know, even Macbeth, that doesn't count. Is that Scotland? Who the hell is he think he is? Right? Someone in Scotland, you know, I mean, let's just take let's take ship set that on fire right? So I just I just fundamentally disagree with it. It goes against sort of my entire background as an actor, stage actor lover of cetera so so an empire is as a prime example of literally two guys that didn't know anything about hip hop. And then we draw upon different things and what we don't know we weren't. And then you know, and then when it goes to series, in that writers room, we've got multiple writers in there that know a lot about hip hop. And they some real huge assets to it and in keeping the show alive,

Alex Ferrari 34:59
You know, It's funny because, you know, I had Taylor Hackford on the show. And we were talking about Ray, which is one of the one of the best, you know, musical movies. credible, incredible film. And he was telling me, he's like, Ray wanted me to do it. And but in today's world, I would have never been allowed to do Ray. And I'm like, Wow, what a devastating blow to cinema that you wouldn't have been able to make. Ray. It's I agree with you. 100%.

Danny Strong 35:23
Yeah, yeah. And by the way, there's there's like, I don't know, that doesn't mean to not be cognizant of certain sensitivity course. It's like, yeah, I don't know. I think everything has its own sort of has its own path. And we're doing a pilot right now that I'm producing. And it's it's basically eight women are the leads of this pilot, right. And this, the network wants a woman director, and I could not agree more. I'm like, Yeah, of course. Of course. It should be a woman director. It's about eight women. Right? It's like in the creator is a woman. But I just seems to me like I you know that that's a perfect example of as us out looking to hire a director. My partner on it on the producing side is a famous male director. And he completely agrees he's like, Yeah, we need to find a woman. So it sounds like every every kind of project has its own path or life. But as a writer, if you're not getting, you know, this is not an open writing assignment, and you want to write something that has nothing to do with your life experience. Go write it.

Alex Ferrari 36:30
That's your absolutely, you're absolutely right.

Danny Strong 36:33
I know what you're passionate about.

Alex Ferrari 36:35
One of my favorite characters of empire, and arguably one of the best characters written for television. That's 15 years. Cookie. How the hell did you come up with cookie? And how much did the Hajah I can never pronounce your dad? Yeah. How did she influence that character?

Danny Strong 36:52
So cookie lion, which I think is hilarious that it could be on my tombstone, he co created cookie lion is a is a it came from. So the show is King Lear and a hip hop empire. But it's also the line in winter and a hip hop empire, sort of both of those classical pieces. And Eleanor of Aquitaine is Henry, the second wife that he would put into a dungeon, you know, this, he put her an exile all year long. And then every year at Christmas time, he would let her outs of exile to see the family. And in the play the line and winter, the play takes place during Christmas time when he lets Eleanor of Aquitaine out of prison, and she just fucks his shit up, right? Like, literally, she just shows up and tries to derail all of his legacy plans. And that was one of like, the early ideas I had for Empire, which was that it would be sort of a fake. You know, like, like a fictional Jay Z, who was a older, you know, a, like an he had an empire like Jay Z, but he was older with these three older sons. And that and that his wife went to prison, selling drugs. And that drug money is what created is what is the origin story of his empire. Alright, so that the pilot would begin with, what's the inciting incident? She gets out of prison, and he doesn't know it. And she's coming back to get what she wants, what she deserves, what's hers, right? And she wants half the company and she wants her beloved Son, the only one that would visit her in prison, and the most talented to be take over the family company. And he shouldn't take over the family company, except for the simple fact that he's gay and his father fucking hates him for being gay is a template homophobic, right? So that was that was like the genesis of cookie wine that she was very much inspired by Eleanor of Aquitaine. It comes from that and then we Daniels had a sister that kind of had this vibe that he would talk to me about. And I remember when I pitched Lee, the movie when it was still a movie. And I talked about Eleanor aqua and everything I just said to you, I said to him in a shorter version. And I said, so this role, she's going to be like an expert in music, and she's going to become the music manager to her gay son. And I said she's gonna be like, Mama Rose on crack, and lead and you'll start screaming. Yes, darling. Yes. Darling. I love it. You know? It was, like I said, the perfect thing to get really excited about about this idea. And that was, that was that was the genesis of it.

Alex Ferrari 39:55
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 40:04
Then, once we got to shooting it, it went from the writers role to terace his role. And terace is a genius a to Well, I don't know, day two into shooting, Lee and I were an offer the pilot, we knew this can be if this show was successful, we felt this would be a breakout character that she was just just like she blew us out of the water, you know, on just everything he did. And the part very much I think it was an amalgamation of the writers but of her two, as far as she would, she would sometimes improvise, sometimes just tweak dialogue just a little bit. Sometimes she would pair dialogue down. And and I actually really learned how to write cookie by following terace Li and seeing kind of the stuff that she would reject or the stuff that she would, she would improvise really inspired a lot. And I remember in shooting the pilot, she had a Nika shows up and it's it's her her ex husband's new girlfriend, right? And it's literally it's the first time I think the audience sees and Nika and it's certainly the first time cookie season Mika and I had written some, you know, calm some just like dig that she does. And drazi took me aside we got along like gangbusters mean to Rosie? And she said, she's like, I don't know about this. And I remember what I'd written. And I said, oh, we'll just say whatever you want. And she went really I go Yeah, I say whatever you want. Right? At this point I had I've come to understood that this woman's a genius. And and so those, she starts to exit she stops. She looks at her and she goes, Huh, booboo kitty, and then walks out a herd of booboo kitty, I had no idea what she was talking about. I was laughing so fucking, that I almost ruined the take, except Lee Daniels was laughing as hard as I was. It was just like, oh my god, like, Oh, you're genius. Just you do it, and it will follow your lead.

Alex Ferrari 42:14
That's amazing. That's a great cookie story. It's a great story that you have obviously run a lot of writers rooms, what is it that you look for as a showrunner in writers for your writers room.

Danny Strong 42:25
I look for writers that. And I look for writers that are bold, that aren't afraid, that have a sense of originality. You know, one of the first things I say on day one day one of school is I say I don't want you to think about what you think the network wants, what you think the studio wants, or what you think the audience wants, or what you think what I want, I don't want you to think about any of that, I want you to think about what you think is great, right, we're gonna follow our own instincts, because of many writers that have been stamped on a lot of shows, you know, they're very, they seem very kind of programmed to clean about the network because of network notes. And then and then they write to the network's AST. Um, I don't do that ever, um, I write to my taste, and then I use the network to help me make it better, right. So I don't do what they want, I do what I want. And then I listened to their notes, though, on how I can improve it. And it's very collaborative. And it goes very well. You know, I don't have big blowout fights with my studio in my network. In fact, most of the time, we have a very fun positive relationship and experience and I'm very open to notes, but I'm not open to dictation. And I think it's a bad idea. Because if, if they could, if they're in charge of something, well, they should be writing it. Right, like I'm the one that has to execute it. And that philosophy which is highly respectful of them as essentially editors, has served me very well politically, but more importantly served me very well creatively, where I get a lot of great feedback from from from my my producers in my studio executives in my network executives, and I think people that come into that relationship a thinking that they're idiots and they're adversaries, I think it's a way to fail and then be people that go into that relationship just wanting to please them or wanting to write to what they think their taste is, is they're not following their artistic self and their artistic soul. And and I think the writer you know, particularly on a TV show needs to be there and on a movie that's what I meant to until until I'm you know, let go until the director has said thank you for your the script now go fuck yourself. happen in film, although most of my experiences on film has been that the director and I have gotten along very well, and I've stayed part of the process all the way through. But there is a power dynamic where once they're there, they're in charge. So then I have to maneuver, you know, kind of my way to either stay in their good graces or if you shouldn't have to then becomes like a different thing. But but a game worth playing, I think, for long term success on multiple fronts. Now, TV is different. You know, I'm in charge if I'm the showrunner creator, by the way, I supervise showrunner creators, and I don't boss them around, I don't tell them what to do. I'm like, they're to like, have, like, hey, what do you think of it? You know, I'll have a note. And then sometimes I'll pitch three or four solutions, only to help demonstrate what the note is, and then be maybe one of these ideas will work for them? Maybe not, but maybe it'll inspire something else. So so it's really, it's really going back to your question, you know, day one, it's like, let's not write for the network. And let's not write for what we think the audience wants. Because that's such a audience. I mean, the four people in a room and they'll all want different things out of story. Right? Right, we need to lead the audience. And and sometimes there are things that don't work in the story. Right, that it's not clear, or there's not enough depth, or it's or it's kind of lame, or, like there that can be improved. And that's what I'm open to, of like, how can I make this better? How can I make it deeper, funnier? If it's a if it's a thriller? More suspenseful, right? Depending on what genre you're working in? And then how can you find some things to subvert the genre so that it's rich and doesn't feel expected or, or it can be multi dimensional, and tone and style? You know, there's all sorts of things I'm trying to achieve. And worrying about what the network thinks is not one of them. I'm more worried, I'm more of like, looking forward to hopefully trusting them, so that it'll be like, Okay, so here it is. So help me like, give me some thoughts like, how can I make it better.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
Great, great answer. I love the answer. No, no, that was a great answer. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Danny Strong 47:24
Follow your bliss, like write, don't write what you think the market wants, right? What you think, is going to be great. You know, and sometimes the weirdest scripts and ideas make people's careers because they just loved it, by the way in the movie never got made, but it wants their career, I got them an agent and manager got them up. I know for jobs, right? So it's really about, it's really about writing every day, or five days a week is good, you know, like you can take the weekends off this week is four days a weekend, borderline three days a week, you're an amateur writer now, you know, it's so so you know, getting a lot of writing done, because you improve as you write, I'm constantly working on projects, and then don't write what you think the marketplace wants. Right? What you think is great, right, what you want to see, I've got friends that are professional, that were professional writers that had a lot of success. And for whatever reason, you know, things have have gone different ways for them. And sometimes they're still chasing the market. And I don't understand like, the market changes weekly. By the way, the markets are different now than it was five years ago, three years ago, years ago. I don't even really completely understand the whole market anymore, to a certain extent. And I think it's different for almost every buyer. I mean, I get you know, if you I know they all want to make spider man like that I get, you know, I just want to write Spider Man on every script, I write and turn it in and see if I can any motherfuckers exactly like that. It just becomes a whole intricate sort of dance. And I think the thing that I do is if I have an idea I'm really excited about I then we'll figure out okay, so how can this get done? What's the pathway to production to get this made, you know, oh, this is actually something you know, HBO Max could be really into or something that a 20 is a perfect age 24 movie, right? That doesn't mean you have a 24 passes, you're dead. But but you're like, it kind of gives you a sense of okay, this is a 24 this is more like a universal, like, I'll think about what makes these kinds of things. And then what budget does it need to be you know, if it's something that's a period piece that you know that that's like a period drama that's really small. While obviously I can't write a script, that's going to cost $60 million to make, right because it's most likely not going To get made unless David Fincher or Martin Scorsese,

Alex Ferrari 50:03
Ridley Scott Ridley Scott,

Danny Strong 50:05
By the way you made you couldn't end up landing one of them. Right. But but but for the most part, it's sort of like, okay, so So how can I make this for 5 million? 10 million, 1 million, 2 million? You know, is there a path to that? So there's, there's a number of things you can think about on the business side. But first and foremost, start with the creative side, and start with like, oh my god, I would love to see this movie. Oh, my God, I could write the hell out of this movie. I could crush this movie. Because that's how things get made. That's how writing careers flourish. Okay, is that that's my advice.

Alex Ferrari 50:43
That's great advice. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Danny Strong 50:49
What I just told you?

Alex Ferrari 50:51
Fair enough.

Danny Strong 50:53
100% true. took me six years, something like that to figure out? Oh, because I was writing high concept comedies all through my 20s. Okay, because Jim Carrey comedies were those those like real high like liar liar man, Bruce Almighty, those were the biggest hits, and I was trying to write comedies. So obviously, I got to write these because that's what the market wants. And, and they were pretty good. You know, I did a pretty good job. I got some attention from them. And, but none of them sold. And then all of a sudden, seven years later, I'm like, wow, I've just spent seven years writing movies. That is not really my thing. Good. Right.

Alex Ferrari 51:29
Good advice. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time, or three screen pilots that anyone should the screenwriter should read either one.

Danny Strong 51:41
Well, I would say my three favorite films are Apocalypse Now. The Sweet Smell of Success. Why don't we say number three, we'll say Chinatown.

Alex Ferrari 51:57
All good choices. And three pilots.

Danny Strong 52:00
Those are all three of my favorites. Three pilots have a madman pilot? Yeah. Wowza. Yeah, that's something to behold. I'm trying to because pilots are hard because you're setting so much stuff up. They're really hard. I, you know, I don't know if it's one of my favorites of all time, but a great pilot, and a great show from this last year was hacks. Yeah. That's a great pilot. And in the show is fantastic. It's probably one of my favorite things of the year was hacks and, you know, really set up these two characters and these two different places. And I remember there was a scene towards the end, because one's a comic and one's a comedy writer, and they just start shit talking each other in comedy. And it was like, you know, it just was like, like Star Wars with two lightsabers battling each other, except in their case, their lightsabers. What were their comedy skills. And so it was hilarious in character driven and tense all at once, which made it pretty effing genius. So big big hacks fan. I don't know I it's tough. Get you know, it's a I maybe I'm biased. I have a limited series this year with dope sick, but I think the limited series space is pretty incredible. Shows out this year. They're so well done, you know, Mayor of Eastwood, per Mary's town, here. He's calling it Murphy's book, or is that correct?

Alex Ferrari 53:37
It might be No, I'm not sure if it's East. I

Danny Strong 53:40
Whatever it is fucking great. White Lotus is great. And underground railroads

Alex Ferrari 53:47
Queen's Gambit. Yeah.

Danny Strong 53:48
Queen's Gambit is unbelievable. So there's these pieces that there are I don't know to me there's in some ways more exciting the movies. I get more excited about these these kind of prestigious limited series right now. And in that there, I just get more caught up in them. There it is. And they seem to break out in a bigger way than movies have for a little while. I mean, I don't know what movie was as big as the Queen's gambit was that year, right?

Alex Ferrari 54:16
Look at Squid Games. I mean, look at Squid Games for god sakes.

Danny Strong 54:18
Yeah, yeah, Squid Games is an ongoing but it's it's a it's just there's some really explosive rich stuff happening in that space right now.

Alex Ferrari 54:28
Dan, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend. I thank you so much for taking out the time and please continue to make great television. Great work out there. We really appreciate you man.

Danny Strong 54:37
Oh, Alex, thanks so much, man. It was so much fun chatting with you and and thank you to everyone listening to this. I really appreciate it.

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