Being a podcaster now for over 600 episodes I’ve heard all sorts of stories on how people make it in the film business. From Sundance darlings to blind luck. Now today’s guest story is easily one of the most incredible and entertaining origin stories I’ve ever heard. We have on the show today award-winning director, producer, and screenwriter, Sacha Gervasi.
Sacha won the screenwriter lottery with his first-ever screenplay, which was a un-produceable short film script, caught the eye of the legendary Steven Spielberg. That script, My Dinner with Herve would eventually be expanded and released in 2018 by HBO. The film stars the incomparable, Peter Dinklage.
Unlike most writers/directors who go on to produce their debut films, Gervasi’s 1993 entry project wasn’t made until just three years ago. I promise you, Sacha spills every detail of the fascinating story of his encounter with Hervé Villechaize, the famous little person from shows like Fantasy Island and films like James Bond’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Hervé was arguably one of the most famous people in the world in the late ’70s and early 80’s. Sacha sat with Herve in a marathon interview, and the connection they forge during their brief, yet impactful meet.
After his life-changing encounter with the Fantasy Island star, which followed Hervé’s abrupt and unfortunate suicide, Sacha was determined to get his story told in its entirety and justifiably. He ditched his mid-level journalism job in England and moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at UCLA after developing the script for My Dinner with Herve.
While on the climb-up, Sacha wrote screenplays for The Big Tease (1999) and The Terminal (2004) which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Tom Hanks. The comedy-drama film grossed $219.4 million at the Box office with a $60 million budget and has become a holiday classic in the UK.
Tom Hanks played an Eastern European tourist who unexpectedly finds himself stranded in JFK airport, and must take up temporary residence there because he is denied entry into the United States and at the same time is unable to return to his native country because of a military coup.
In 2008, Sacha made his documentary directorial debut and executive produced Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
The amazing documentary premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival about a heavy metal band that never gave up on their dreams of being a successful band. Anvil was established in 1978 and became one of the most influential yet commercially unsuccessful acts with thirteen albums. The documentary ranks at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
He also directed the 2012 film Hitchcock, a story about the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho (1969). It starred Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlet Johansson.
Sasha is such an interesting human being, I had such a ball talking with him. We talk about the film business, his origin stories, his screenwriting craft, what he’s doing now, and so much more.
Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Sacha Gervasi.
Alex Ferrari 3:56
I like to welcome to the show Sacha Gervasi, man How you doing? Sasha?
Sasha Gervasi 5:03
I'm good man. How are you?
Alex Ferrari 5:04
I'm doing great man. I am I'm excited to talk to you, my friend. we've, we've talked a little bit off air already. And it's I wish we could record it.
Sasha Gervasi 5:14
Frankly, cannot put on this podcast,
Alex Ferrari 5:16
obviously and legal or legal reasons. So I knew just from those few interactions we had that this is going to be, this is going to be fun, without question. And you so I wanted to ask you when we before we start the whole thing, how did you get into this ridiculous business?
Sasha Gervasi 5:37
I got into Well, I was always fascinated with film. I went to a school in unequal Westminster and I started the film club at Westminster School in about 1980. And my what I would do is I would go with my housemaster of I called Tristan Jones Perry, who was literally a character Brideshead Revisited a brilliant mathematician, completely, Ill functioning socially, but really a wonderful man, we wouldn't he would accompany me to Soho where we would pick up 16 millimeter prints of films. And so I remember bringing to all my classmates, I was 15 or 16 at the time, movies, like don't look now and Easy Rider. And so I loved film at school, and, you know, kind of got into actually getting the 16 mil prints and putting them in the film club. So I think it was a very early dream, but I never thought I'd actually end up working film. Because I was for many years, you know, a really terrible musician. And I was struggling with my own mediocrity for quite a few years, even though I ended up in some bands, you know, actually did some stuff. But the reality was, I think the real dream was always film. And ultimately what happened was, I was in the music business, got out of the music business. And then I decided I was offered an opportunity to work for a very sort of famous British satirical magazine called punch. A fantastic guy. They're called Sean McCauley. I called him up, he was the features editor, and pitched him an idea over the phone, I got through to him and Secretary was out to lunch. And he gave me my first assignment. And so I started as a journalist, and I worked for work for punch, punch, punch magazine, and associated newspapers, Evening Standard Mail on Sunday, and I would do kind of profiles and interviews with what I thought to be interesting people. And remember, in one week in 1993, I think it was I interviewed Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols released
Alex Ferrari 7:25
in February, that must have been a hell of an that must have been a hell of an interview,
Sasha Gervasi 7:30
an Italian restaurant in Greek street in Soho, and he ended up throwing a chair at me, because he didn't like he was promoting his book, no black, no Irish, no dogs, which was a great book, but he didn't like the sound of my voice and thought I was a tosser and decided literally to throw some kind of, you know, Art Deco chair in my general direction, which of course made it but that same week, I interviewed, you know, Ted Heath, the former British Conservative Prime Minister, you know, and many, many people along the way, and I just would meet all these fascinating characters. And journalism, for me was just a, you know, an opportunity to try and make money writing, even though I wasn't really, you know, that wasn't really my end goal. But it was massively fun for me to fly around the world. And I remember my first foreign assignment, I was flown by associated newspapers to meet this young prodigy violinist called Sarah Chang and Florence, and I met her. She was 11. And this was brilliant musician who we had performed some exquisite. I think it was of all the I can't remember what she was doing at the time. But you know, she had an entourage her dad, her cousins, her mother's there was like, 40 adults in the room while I interviewed this 11 year old genius. Yes, I have these incredible kind of experiences just meeting very different types of people. And I think all of that ultimately, as you know, probably, if you know, a bit of the story is that, you know, one of the interviews that I was sent to do in the summer of 1993 was was to interview Herve vilchez, who, you know, had been the star of Fantasy Island, and 10, you know, 10 years after you've been fired by Aaron Spelling was in quite a bad condition. I was sort of sent to this interview, kind of as a joke. You know, while I was waiting for, frankly, something more important. So the Gore Vidal interviews appears in, in the film, and ultimately, that experience changed my life and led to screenwriting. I know that sounds very strange, but I was sent from London to LA to do a series of important show business interviews as if that really exists as a concept in reality, and have a village with the kind of throwaway joke piece, you know, and they said to me, you know, get 500 words with the midget, you know, where are they?
Alex Ferrari 9:37
So that's your, cuz I didn't know as a tester to write that's it. Yeah.
Sasha Gervasi 9:41
Yeah nicknack in the bond, film and write a seminal, kind of famous kind of cult figure in the 1970s and, frankly, the most famous little person that's successful that the person after that, that had been at all And you know, I went in there filled with judgment and cynicism and you know, fuck I've got to get through. This is the this is the dregs of celebrity I've been given like the, you know, the formerly famous dwarf from fancy Island, the
Alex Ferrari 9:45
one hit wonder the one hit wonder almost
Sasha Gervasi 10:14
Yeah. I was like, wow, this is really where my career is, you know, I'm interviewing tattoo, I wanted to shoot myself. Well, I won't say I knew I was gonna say something terrible. But anyway, so we, we went to meet at Liberty Chateau in West Hollywood, and I was with this photographer who was sent from the newspaper with me and his, his name was Sloane Pringle. I mean,
Alex Ferrari 10:38
you can't make this up. You can't make this up.
Sasha Gervasi 10:39
You can't make that up. Not a stage name slump. And, you know, Stein was like, Look, we've got to get to this other place. We have half an hour just get your interview. And so you know, I just went through what was your life class, the island, The Man with the Golden got the stories and I literally was packing my shit to go away. Right? To say, you know, thank you heavy. It's been wonderful, great stories about Fantasy Island. You know, it was all the ludicrous kind of showbizzy stuff we knew. And I was putting my stuff and I turned back and Herve had come off his chair and around the corner, and was holding a knife at my throat and I was like, I'm about to be shipped to death by tempted by tattoo is about to kill me. And I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And he wanted to get my attention. He was like, he literally said to me, You wrote the story before you got here. You prejudge me, you have no idea who I really am. You just see me as a joke, you know, on this show. And I'm just like a sort of Sunset Boulevard, kind of sad, past celebrity. And he was right. He was absolutely right. He wasn't really threatening me with my life. He just wanted to puncture kind of this bubble of judgment and cynicism and disinterest that I kind of clearly walked in with. And he said, if you want to hear the real story of my life, come meet me tomorrow night. So I was so shocked. I was like, you know, because my editors said, Look, 500 words, three paragraphs, you know, where are they now? They didn't really, but I there was something about him that was so fucking compelling. So human and a broken and, but also interesting, I mean, such a charismatic person, that I decided to meet him. And I ended up spending three days with him. And he told me his life story with such kind of emotional intensity and need. And you know, as as I'm sure any other journalists will tell you, when someone tells you the story of their lives, they become quite mad, because how often do you tell all the major emotional events of your life and badger let's take advantage of it, I actually found him so different to how I imagined him to be to me the whole thing was like a lesson about judgment and pre judgment. Because I really did just see him as being defined by his size, and being defined by these kind of quote unquote, you know, jokey roles. But at the end of the three days, I was so compelled, I went to see him at the universal Sheraton where he was staying. And I remember having this really weird feeling and it's actually recreated in the film my dinner with Herve and we shot the final scene of where the actual events have taken place in the same lobby of the universal Sheraton. 25 years after it happened, it was just a very weird thing to think pledge, recreate the scene with, you know, I'd have with her back in the same place. And, you know, I went up to his room, and he had all his band mail laid out, and it was just so sad, you know, it was like he said, they still write to me, and, you know, I just felt I felt they it man, I just, you know, I reconnected with them, I felt, here's this guy who's been basically totally destroyed by the cruel fate of, you know, his biology, and was totally rejected by his mother, and became famous. And of course, none of it really worked, you know, worked for a time, but you know, and then, of course, he lost his mind, blew up his career, and was just, but also underneath, it was really just a painter, you know, he really is really a very talented artists who have won prizes, and gone to, you know, some very famous art schools in Paris. And he was the youngest painter, for example, to be exhibited in the museum of Paris. And he was just an extraordinary character, I really connected with him at the end. And so I remember going back and he had all these photos of his life, and he says, you take these for your article in 2000 slides of his whole life, and I'm like, thinking to myself, my editors want like maybe one photo, and you know, like, what am I gonna do, but I felt like I had to take it. And we went down in the elevator together, and then he sort of tagged me on my sleeve, and he pulled me into very close to him, and he said, he had tears in his eyes, and he said, Tell them I regret nothing. And I just had this like, fear of like, what is going on this? I just knew something was going on. I didn't quite know what it was. But it was just so like, such a shiver up my spine. And I just had this connection with this weirdo that you would never think I would never Why would I connect with this guy? You know, it just we have something in common and yet we have everything in common. I just was newly sober. He was clearly struggling. During our three days together, he tried, you know, I told him that I was stopped drinking, and he was like constantly trying to get me to drink and take him to strip clubs. I mean, it was, he was like the devil and an angel. He was just like, the most interesting, charismatic and unusual person I think I've ever met in my life, probably to this day. And I ended up having this bond. And anyway, so I go home to London, and I've got basically 14 hours or 12 hours of these little micro micro cassettes that used to have, you know, you recorded. I remember listening back to this thing going, how the fuck am I going to put this in an article to take to my editors, like, I'm really interested to begin with, and then I come back with this anyway. So I got a call from Kathy self, who was his girlfriend who I'd met during the sort of three day interview. And Kathy called me at home, it was a Sunday, it was like 615, in the evening, Sunday, September, the fourth 1993. I'll never forget it, it was a really pleasant early afternoon, late afternoon, evening, and the phone rings, it's Kathy and Kathy says, have a committed suicide four and a half out. And I know we will have wanted to let you know that that happened. And just to let you know how they really connected with you, and is so happy that you have this interview. So I'm like listening back to these tapes now. And suddenly, I have a whole new perspective. And the perspective is, this guy knows that he's gonna kill himself. This, this is like some random, you know, English journalists, some young kid who knows nothing has been sent to interview me, I'm just gonna grab him. And I'm gonna give him the whole story about the family about everything. And it really like was like, you know, what do I do with this, I started crying when I listen to the interview again, because I understood that he was absolutely conscious of the fact that he was telling someone his story for the very last time, and he was clearly planning to do this, I decided to change my whole perspective on the article and come at it from a point of view of here, I was walking in this judgmental, cynical British journalist to knows nothing. And I was just completely captivated by this extraordinary character. And he opened his heart to me. And then, you know, six, five days after we see each other, he kills himself. And so the whole article was about so I do a 5000 word piece. And I take it into my editors, the paper, and they were like, this is great. But this is not what we asked for. We wanted you to go do a stupid, funny story. And I was like, but this is the truth. I mean, this is the story important. And luckily, I had already spoken to someone else who I thought would take the story. And they agreed, okay, we'll take the story, and plot it and publish it the way you wanted to do it. And I went to my newspaper, I said, You've got to give me front cover. And I need, you know, six pages, whatever it is lots of photos. Here they are, you know, the whole thing. And so I had this extraordinary thing where they basically said, No, we sent you out there, we own the story, you're going to rewrite it. And it was really tough, and I just couldn't really do it at a certain point. And in the end, someone else rewrote the story. It was, I think, four pages or two pages, somewhere in the middle of the magazine. And I really felt horrible, because I'd had credibly important personal experience completely out of the blue. With this person, I was essentially his suicide note. And here were these guys who would just didn't give a shit, they would just get it to me summed up everything about British journalism, and that and those newsrooms at the time. And the editor literally came out of the room and said, well, Giovanni's top two midgett, which means made a major commit suicide, where do we send him next, and everyone's laughing? And I'm like, Wait, hold on a second, like, this guy is a human being, and you guys are just your pigs, you know, and they're all bitter. And they're all just, you know, judgmental, and they're not, you know, none of them probably wanted to be writers or painters, or filmmakers, and none of them really were willing to take that risk. And so it's much easier to sit on the sidelines and judge than actually take a risk, you know, do something. And so I just got that was where the idea for the film was born. And so I'd never written a script before. And it leads into my very first script. Well, I wrote a short script, a 32 page screenplay. I've never written one before, called my dinner with her back. And I thought, This is great. It's a short about the most famous short man in the world. You know, what I didn't understand is that I'd written essentially, an unmistakable $2 million short film that once someone looked at it, they were like Paris in 1940, and Barbados. I was like,
anyway, um, became an interesting thing, because I wrote this script from the heart to feel like, I felt like the newspaper robbed me of the truth of that story. And so the script was my first attempt to tell the story from a technical point of view. And I, I ended up being read by Steven Spielberg. I mean, that script that I was, you know, got to speak But you
Alex Ferrari 20:01
made the 32 page $2 million short film about a dinner with her but unbreakable, unbreakable called my debt my eat my dinner with with aurvey about the most famous short man in the world, that script. How did that 32 page script that's
Sasha Gervasi 20:19
another story you see as as So, okay, here's the story. This is crazy story. So I had applied to UCLA film school and I was really on the fence about whether I wanted to go and I got for whatever it is, I got I applied to UCLA. So I was in LA doing all these interviews have a and the kids from Beverly Hills 90210, by the way, on the same trip that I interviewed her, but you know, when he pulled the knife on me, the interview was going to was the kids of Beverly Hills 902. That's how I also interview. So I'm like, Well, I'm sitting there listening to these imbeciles talking about this terrible show. And all I'm thinking is about tattoo shaming me. And what happened back then I'm like, I was so disinterested. 24 year old. Anyway, so. So, anyway, so I was I was basically I applied to UCLA because I was in LA so much. And I do I went back to the original dream, you know, I was, I was at school, and I started my Film Club, and I loved film. And, you know, I really wanted to see, you know, UCLA was a legendary school, you know, that so many fantastic filmmakers, and I was a huge I am a huge Paul Schrader fan. And Paul Schrader had been at UCLA, and he's just an extraordinary and USC seem to be like the, you know, really successful, rich kids and UCLA was the kind of, you know, messy disaster. It felt like Anyway, it was much cheaper. So I just applied to UCLA. And I got into UCLA. And so I was in LA. My mom said, Go to LA, I knew not a single person, not one person. And so my mom had an old friend called Ruthie Snyder, who she grew up with in Toronto. My mother came from Toronto, and then it moved to New York, whatever, and then to England. And she said, Look at my old school friend, you know, she hadn't seen her in like, 30 years. I was like, great. I walked up in LA. I have some woman I don't even know. Anyway, so she was very kindly introduced me to her daughter Fonda Fonda Snyder. And what happened was, I got invited she said Fonda was running a company called story opolis, which was a bookstore and in LA, opposite the IB restaurant, Robertson, and Paul Allen, that, you know, the Microsoft guy was funding this kind of children's bookstore. And so she said, I were doing a dinner. Do you want to come? I didn't know her at all. Anyway, so I go to this dinner. And I and I get there early. Because you know, I don't know anyone at all. I'm like, you know, I'm talking to the waiters.
Alex Ferrari 22:47
What year what year? Are we talking?
Sasha Gervasi 22:49
Like 93 to 92? three foot 494. Right. Something like that. Yeah. And anyway, so I'm in my suit, like, cuz I'm very English. I'll put on a suit or the card for me, whatever. So I go there. And I look at this, these long tables, and they're having a dinner to honor the incredible author Maurice Sendak, who did Where the Wild Things Are. So and I'm looking at this table, and I'm looking at David Geffen, Peter Guber, you know, but like the people coming to this dinner would like and so Fonda was like laughing because she thought I was going to some kind of, you know, like free festival
Alex Ferrari 23:26
Sasha Gervasi 23:28
What I was talking to so she thought was very funny. So anyway, so I see all these kind of luminaries, Oliver Stone was at the dinner, I think, and you know, unbelievable, so I'm nervous as hell. I'm no one. I have no idea. I'm smoking met read more Brits. Like, without stopping. I've smoked two packs. Anyway. So I go outside. And I'm watching all these Hollywood luminaries through the windows, if you know aware of where new line needs to be opposite the IV. The story of this was all glass and they had this kind of little area, Piazza area with benches. So I'm sitting on the Piazza benches watching through the windows is like Oliver Stone and David Geffen. And all these people arrived, going, what am I doing here? I was thinking about going anyway. So this tramp comes up to me, who was like wearing some sort of that kind of grungy Seattle look or whatever. And it was sort of a bit befuddled, and he sits down and he says, you know, do you have a cigarette? I was like, Sure. So I ended up chatting with him. And we started talking and smoking cigarettes, and he was very nice guy. And he said, you know, what are you doing? I said, Well, I'm English. I'm actually here. I think I'm going to go to film school. And, you know, and he says, really, what, what, what are your plans? I said, Well, you know, I'm going to become a screenwriter. You know, I'm going to be a screenwriter like that. And he looks at me and goes, hmm. And I literally remember thinking I looked at him, I thought maybe I can help this guy. Maybe I could just give him I don't know, some money for the bus or something. I don't mind how he seems nice. So anyway, so we're chatting. We're getting on incredibly well and talking about, you know, America versus England and the favorite TV shows and customers But I can't remember. But it was great conversation and we're big cigarette smokers. Anyway. So I'm watching the assembled mass through the windows, we both are on this very beautiful woman comes out and goes up to this tramp. I thought perhaps to give him money. I didn't really know. But she comes up to him. It turns out, it's her husband. And she is coming to this event. And by the way, he is coming to this event. And I'm like, okay, they're letting the homeless in his open community. I mean, we've got the luminaries, but we're also we're working with. So I, so I was basically just like, okay, so anyway, whatever. So she says, Who are you? And I said, Well, I'm Sasha, Razia come from London. I'm going to UCLA. I'm going to be a screenwriter. And Elizabeth says, Oh, really? That's what my husband does the tramp. And I'm like, Oh, okay. So So who are you? Oh, he's called Steve Zaillian.
Alex Ferrari 25:54
He's like, Oh, my God,
Sasha Gervasi 25:56
the Oscar the previous year for his screenplay for Schindler's List. So I could not speak.
Alex Ferrari 26:03
Sasha Gervasi 26:05
dad's one of the greatest
Alex Ferrari 26:07
Sasha Gervasi 26:08
ever together right now, then. Doesn't matter. Unbelievable. And so anyway, we go into the dinner. I'm like, freaking out. Elizabeth finds it very funny. Cuz I'm like, you're steaming. Okay. You're Elizabeth Second. Okay, great. So then I find out but I'm seated like three seats away from him my card, you know, next to the head of new life, you know, sees me freaking out. And he finds it hilarious,
Alex Ferrari 26:37
because he's 16
Sasha Gervasi 26:39
as well. So that will like laughing at me anyway. So I couldn't speak after that, because I felt like I behaved like such a dickhead. Like there I am proclaiming, I'm a screenwriter. And there I am next to the academy award winning writer.
Alex Ferrari 26:52
So the equivalent of me of a kid going to Steven Spielberg, you know, one day I'm going to be a director. Right? Not knowing that that was Steven Spielberg.
Sasha Gervasi 27:00
I went into a massive shame spiral. And I remember just eating all the food and picking out on dessert I was trying to eat on my feelings. It was so I was so nervous. I felt terrible. I felt like an imposter. And I felt like I really made a fool of myself in front of essentially, I've never seen him but I'd read all his screenplays. I'd read searching for Bobby Fischer. I'd read his awakening script, you know, it was extraordinary. I, you know, there is so you know, serpentina and other scripts and bad manners, whatever these things. were, you know, he was just an extraordinary human Bob town to me with the guys, right? So I'm like, meeting him made a photo. Anyway, at the end of the dinner. He comes over to me and he said, here's my phone number. If you want to have a coffee, let's have a coffee or whatever.
Alex Ferrari 27:48
How many? How many days? Are you in LA at this point once you arrived?
Sasha Gervasi 27:54
like three weeks? in LA. I know my mother's friend from high school in Toronto. And I'm meeting literally, but so anyway. Now I had written that my dinner with her a script, right? But I didn't know what I was doing. But I had this script. So he said, Do you have anything, you know, that I could read?
And I said,
I have the script. And I told him the story of meeting have any found that story? Very interesting. Yeah. Anyway, so I ended up sending him the script to where to where to where he lived in Santa Monica. I sent him the script. And I didn't hear anything,
Alex Ferrari 28:31
as you know. Yeah.
Sasha Gervasi 28:33
And I was like, okay, I've met Mick Jagger. I've given him my demo tape. And I'm a loser. And I made a fool of myself. And I offer basically the given bus money home. I mean, it's just like, a full on disaster from start to finish. So I was in my little $100 a week apartment. I was living in West Hollywood. And the phone goes and this is like three months later. It seems alien. I'm so sorry for not getting back to you. I've been on a project that's finished. Now. I just happened to get to your script. And I think it's really good. Would you like to have coffee? I drive down theatrics and cinema. In fact, my friend Adam dropped me off because I didn't have a car because remember, I felt Well, for the first two, three years in LA. I did not have a car traveling by bus or walking, which was fine, right? So I'm going to I got dropped off at diederichs. I had a coffee with Steve. And he said, I think this is special. I think you're a writer. I think you're right to go to UCLA. And I think this is a very important and special piece of work. And I was just like, Jesus, I've never written anything. This is the first thing I wrote. And so in the end without getting into it, because there's lots more obviously to chat about. He gave that script to Steven Spielberg. And so I myself on the set of Amistad you know 10 feet away from Anthony Hopkins, you know, right on the on the set with Steve introduced because Steve was oh We're working on that I've rewritten the whole thing was to me to Steve, Steven Spielberg, and I just couldn't believe it. And he complimented me on the script and said, Would you like to watch and was could not have been that nicer. And ultimately, that ended up that led to me working with Steven on the terminal. So it was all through Steve's alien, like literally had I not had that chance meeting with Steve had Steve not been as cool and generous and so unpretentious and kind with me. He was just extraordinary with me extraordinary. Like, you know, in life when you get people who suddenly appear in a certain moment and their aim is alien was for me. He was absolutely an angel. I would not like everything that's happened since that moment, I would have absolutely no career without Steve and his belief in me and and at times when it was really, really tough. You know? Yeah. Anyway, so
Alex Ferrari 30:57
alright, so you basically had and I've talked about this a lot as because I mean, so many screenwriters listening tonight and filmmakers as well who are listening. You You, you look up to people, like you know, Steve Zaillian, and, and Spielberg and, and I, I consider them to be Gods on Mount Hollywood. They're literally like Greek gods in Mount Hollywood. And when one of them decides to come down with the peasants and touches you on the shoulders that you now shall be a screenwriter. You now shall be a director that literally happened to you. And, and he was, and he wasn't even. And the funny thing is, if I if I may go full Greek mythology on you, he was like, hidden. So he was in disguise. Oh, my
Sasha Gervasi 31:40
God, because I was totally myself. I had no I was I didn't, I was giving this guy cigarettes and possibly giving him money. And possibly any screenwriter, helping him when I discovered he, too, was a superhero.
Alex Ferrari 31:54
Oh, my God. No.
Sasha Gervasi 31:56
It was like magic. Because had I not look, I'm very like, had I known it was Steve's alien, I would have probably completely clammed up. And I am. And so therefore, it was a massive gift. It was like such a weird and wonderful thing. And, you know, he and his family and Elizabeth and Nick and Charlie would just have been fantastic.
Alex Ferrari 32:16
Well, yeah. So I have to ask you, because I mean, and I've spoken to other people on my show as well, they've had these kind of magical paths. Because this is a this is absolutely lottery ticket. This is magical. And so so many ways. Do you believe in it, there has to be some sort of fate in this because the chances of this happening? Do you believe there are other things that that kind of guide, because I do, I truly do. Like when doors are supposed to open for you, they opened for you in a magical way that you just can't understand, you know, how how I get how I have had the opportunities to talk to certain people on my show, like yourself, and like, what's happened to my show what's happened to my career, all these other different things, when something's supposed to happen? It happens in a way that you will never know. Like, if I would have told you this exact story, when you were flying over to LA to go to UCLA, you would have said, you're you're mad, you're mad, if I would have told you that tattoo was going to be the catalyst for your entire career, you would have said, That's right. You're insane. So what do you what do you What's your feelings on that?
Sasha Gervasi 33:24
Also, him threatening me with a knife?
Alex Ferrari 33:26
Obviously. I mean, that's, that's the given.
Sasha Gervasi 33:29
The whole thing I do, what how can you ignore that? I mean, there's obviously something going on. I'm not saying that goes on for everyone all the time. That doesn't go on me all the time. But I think there are certain critical moments in life when things happen when you meet someone. And I think it's all about being open. And recognizing it. Because, you know, a lot of times we don't recognize things. Yeah, so I got very lucky because, you know, without getting too much into my personal story, I didn't really, you know, a pretty bad time with drugs when I was younger, and I, you know, nearly was not here. And I think when I got out of that was able to figure out, like, actually, I don't really want to, I actually do want to be here. And here. When I sort of got clear of that. I just saw everything in a strange way as a huge blessing. Because it's like, you know, whenever things would be going badly, you know, I would say to myself, you know, for a dead man, you're not doing that badly. You know, I'm alive. I may and I definitely have that appreciation of life at a very basic level. I don't take stuff for granted. And so I think when you carry that energy, perhaps you invite sometimes positive perhaps the negative but in this case of very positive things. You know, I was recently kind of, you know, in recovery clean and sober when I came to LA like coming to LA was all about a completely new beginning. And I think when you've been through a tough time, and I'm sure many of your viewers have And listeners have been through their own version of that, you know, you know that there's something about getting through it where you just, you want to live. Yes. And that brings stuff to you. And I think that that may be that was an example of that. I don't really know. But I was just, you know, I think when I nearly pop, you know, when I nearly was not here. It's very humbling. Oh, I think that, you know, like, I think the problem is, I see a lot of Hollywood, you know, screenwriters sell their first script for a ton of money, and then it all goes to their head, you know, and, and I had that later, I actually have to say, I call myself all that, you know, because it does affect you, right? When people start telling you all this shit, and you have to really watch it. And I would say, as a writer, as a writer, particularly in Hollywood, you know, if you don't seek humility, it will find you.
Alex Ferrari 35:53
Sasha Gervasi 35:54
amen. You will be fired, you will be, you know, taken down and denigrated, and all that. And so, you know, and actually, Suzanne gave me a great good advice. He said, it's a roller coaster, when it when the corner get squeaky, squeeze on tight, just hold on, you know, and I think that, I've always done that there have been some terrible, terrible moments, as well as some extraordinary moments. And I think that, you know, it is about not being a wanker. Being You know, one thing when people like that, but I think what happens is, you get these moments of grace. And clearly, that was some kind of a miracle with Steve, you know, it's when the ego cuts in, and it starts taking credit for all that shit, you get into a lot of trouble. So you have to just count your blessings and go, thank you, rather than start making it about you. And that is something that, you know, we're all prone to at different times. But you've got to watch for that. And I've certainly, if I haven't been watching for it, I've learned the lesson the hard
Alex Ferrari 36:50
way. I mean, the ego is the I mean, listen, the ego is one of the the thing that we all fight every single day, and I believe in the in the film industry, more so than ever because, man it is, so it is so enticing.
Sasha Gervasi 37:07
Having an ego is kind of like, you know, that night in the Monty Python, we get knocked off, and then his leg does that flesh wound. It's like a quivering stump, you know, that's like, a screenwriter will come here,
Alex Ferrari 37:19
come here, I'll take you.
Sasha Gervasi 37:23
You know, it's just a waste of your energy, just better get real and take your breaks when you get them. And and pass it on. That's the key thing. Yes. If people come into your path, and you feel even if you can make it like a tiny difference, but you know, you don't delude yourself into thinking you could do what someone likes things only Steven Spielberg could do. But if you can actually help someone, even if it's reading a script, or listening or whatever, you know, do it, man, because you got given that times 10. And I think it's in a strange way, it's, it's your duty to do that. It's the pay forward. It's not you, you know. So that's, I just think if you're coming from basically a place of honesty and fairness and trying not to be a tosser, trying not to be and catching yourself when you are, then you know, you're going to be alright, you're going to go, you're going to survive the crazy times of the roller coaster, and the ups and downs and the rapids and the river. And there will be plenty, as I'm sure you know, most of your, you know, writers, no, it's just very, you know, and you can go from the hottest thing to the coldest and the hot, you know, and it's like, try not to pay attention to the temperature reading, focus on the process, and the long term plan, because, you know, today's hottest screenwriter is tomorrow's cold is like, I've got, I've got the best reviews and the very worst, you know, it's like you'll have all of it. Try not to get buy into it too much. I think just focus on Okay, I got to deliver this script, and I got to deliver this movie or whatever. Stay in what you do, you know, and don't worry about the other bullshit.
Alex Ferrari 38:46
And look at Herve, I mean, look, I mean, he was the hottest biggest thing in the 70s you couldn't, just couldn't, he was everywhere. I mean, he was, he was so hot, and look where he
Sasha Gervasi 38:59
was the lesson of the Hyundai story. And he went ahead and he got into it with Ricardo montalban. And he wanted to trailer as big and basically spelling fired him because he was completely out of, you know, out of control. And, you know, he was destroyed, he went from, you know, a TV star on an ABC show getting 30 or $40,000 a week in 1979 8081. to, you know, when I found him having to flush his toilet by taking water out of his swimming pool to flush the toilet because the water had been cut off. You know, it was really extreme. So yeah, here's an example to me, you know, and I also fell for him because there was clearly he realized that he kind of completely fucked himself, you know, and if you go you know, his ego was not his amigo as they say, you know,
Alex Ferrari 39:51
what, like, that blew everything off. So
Sasha Gervasi 39:53
anyway, yeah, there are so many examples of that you know, of just don't take the work seriously. They just don't take yourself too seriously.
Alex Ferrari 40:02
Now, so let me ask so you're working with Steve and Steve Steve's on on terminal. What is that? Like did Steve bring you in? I think he It almost sounds like he Donnie Brasco. Do. He's like he's a good fella. He can come in with me. So he kind of like vouched for you. You walked in and Steve's like, I want to work with you on the terminal is how did that? How did you first of all, how do you collaborate with it? Well, it
Sasha Gervasi 40:25
was waterparks really who I work with mostly waterparks. It was then running Mike's also brilliant producer, who we develop the script together. And then initially what happened was that Tom Hanks came into just thinking my first meeting with Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks said he would like to do the script. And then I went to meet him in his office in Santa Monica. And it was, it was unbelievable. It was hilarious.
Alex Ferrari 40:47
Well, what happened? What happened when you?
Sasha Gervasi 40:49
I can't remember I think I had I said, I've got to do something really? No to I'll come up with a joke. So I think I came into his office. And Walter Park said, and here's Tom Hanks. And I looked at Tom and I looked at Walter and I said, but you said Tom holes. And then he laughed his head off. And then we became friends.
Alex Ferrari 41:10
Oh, my God. Oh my God. That's a myth.
Sasha Gervasi 41:13
A notable entry. It was hilarious. So we ended up having a good time. And I ended up being hired. So anyway, so he came on to terminal he wanted to do it. And then originally, actually, Sam Mendez was gonna direct the film. And I met with Sam and Sam was like, don't change the word of the script. And then it sort of all went quiet. And it was really weird. I was on a research trip with Tom Hanks in Europe. And we were working on this other project, but unfortunately, never got made. It was called comrade rock star. It was a great project. And Tom was very into it at the time. And so we flew on on the DreamWorks jet, which was also another, of course,
Alex Ferrari 41:48
why wouldn't you?
Sasha Gervasi 41:50
I went, and we went to, we went to Berlin, to do search and meet various people to do with the Conrad rock star story. And we were staying at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. You know, this point. I didn't know what was happening with time. And I knew Tom was interested in it. I knew we were developing this other thing. And so Tom was on the catch me if you can, you know, press junket. And I remember I got a call. Tom's driver or whatever called and said, You know that there's a car downstairs, you know, go and have dinner with Tom, right. So I got into the car and I go into this restaurant in Berlin, which I think was called Vaughn or vow, I can't remember it was this big room with a like a gallery and like a main floor. And there was this table of like, 20 people. And there's an empty chair at the end, and there was waterparks, Leonardo DiCaprio, and suddenly, you know, Tom Hanks or whatever. And then there was a guy not facing me, just as I walked in. And Tom was with Steven. And Tom said, Hey, Sasha, yeah, Steven Sasha's here. And Steven Spielberg turned around to me, and he said, congratulations, we shoot November the fifth. And I was like,
what, what are we?
Alex Ferrari 43:02
What are we? What are we? What are we shooting
Sasha Gervasi 43:05
his moment where he said, I'm gonna drag the terminal. And I just was like, they were all again, that they were all laughing at me, because I was just like, so.
Alex Ferrari 43:13
I feel that I hear a theme here, that when I hear a theme here, Sasha, that when, when these giants when the gods when the gods get together, and they see the and they see that the commoners walking among us, they they like to poke fun at them, essentially, is what I hear
Sasha Gervasi 43:32
the same thing with sweetness of all right, oh, yeah. So in fact, when Tom Hanks told me he was going to attach himself to the script, he said, I was at his office, he said, will you drive me home? I said, Sure. I didn't really know. I thought maybe he couldn't afford Uber. I didn't really understand.
Alex Ferrari 43:48
Don't give them don't give him No, he don't give him changed for the bus like you were gonna do.
Sasha Gervasi 43:52
Steve gave some bus tickets designing and then I thought I'll help him with some vouchers. Anyway, so I'm driving. So this is a true story. So the mirror stories that I'm driving with Tommy's in the passenger seat, I'm driving by, you know, very excited, I've solved my first script. And I've Of course, got a Cadillac cuz I'm an idiot. He said, Why did you go from Britain? Why did you lease a Cadillac? And I said, because I'm from Britain, you know, and so anyway, I driving along and he says, I'm just gonna hold the steering wheel for just a minute. And I said, Sure, do you Okay, so he holds the wheel. And he turns to mean, he says, I'm going to start in Terminal. And I was like, because he knew I was gonna have a moment. And so we held the wheel. So Tom did that. And then we had the when Steven Spielberg told me, he was directing the film in Berlin. So it was quite, you know, you're outside. This is my second movie. So I've done a small hairdressing comedy called the big tease at Warner Brothers that no one saw which we made 4 million. And then, you know, suddenly I'm doing the Spielberg Hanks movie. Number two, right? So it's like complete madness.
Alex Ferrari 45:03
Oh my god. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. And I have to ask you that, because I told you off air, I absolutely adore the terminal. I adore it. I, my wife and I watch it every few years because everyone's, you know, between the story and the characters, and of course, Hanks his performance and and in Stephens direction. I mean, how did that story come together? Like it's based on a real story, right?
Sasha Gervasi 45:40
I called them Alfred, the Sarah, who lived for many years at a Paris airport shelter ago, he was an Iranian dissident. It was a true story, when it is done, who escaped escaped into, into France illegally, and came back to go to his home country, they discovered that he was he would probably be imprisoned or executed if he got on the plane back to Toronto. And so but at the same time, he did legally been in France, so they wouldn't let him back out. And they said, Just wait in the terminal a minute. So that was a whole story with, you know, a lot of political complexity. And it was about many things. And we decided, well, let's just take the scenario of a man stuck in the airport based on the true story. And let's do something slightly different. So that became, you know, Victor Navasky and crocosmia, and all of that stuff that was in the film. So does that mean, people love that movie? And it's sort of it's sort of, you know, what, some people love to initially not everyone, but over the years, it's become kind of has this own life. And in England, I started to realize it's become a christmas film on the BBC, like five years ago, like, either plays Christmas Eve or Christmas Day on BBC One. BBC, you know, it's sort of a bit of a tradition. Now, I didn't really realize that. But it's obviously great to be part of something like that. And, you know, it was an extraordinary experience having this film made by obviously, some of the greatest people, people had to study the film school, and then, you know, six months, I'm working with them. Yeah, no, it was without those guys. And Spielberg was just, he was extraordinary with me, incredibly generous. And it was hard. You know, when this is happening to you don't really understand what's happening in you, right? You don't handle it brilliantly. I didn't really, it was only like now years later that you really understand my God, Steven Spielberg decided to make your movie. Wow. You know, I kind of knew it at the time. But I really know now. And I really feel grateful to Steven and to Tom and to Walter and to Steve's alien for really creating that whole scenario. So I'm lucky.
Alex Ferrari 47:43
I mean, lucky. I mean, I can only imagine reading a textbook with Steven Spielberg in it. And then a few months later, or a year later working with him. I can't even I can't even comprehend that. Now, you You are not just a screenwriter, you're also a director. How did you make the jump from screenwriting to directing?
Sasha Gervasi 48:06
Well, I just decided that I was gonna direct something. I wanted to be a director always. And then I thought, you know, because what happened after terminal was that I got offered lots of kind of big studio comedy rewrites and stuff, right, you know, and I thought, I obviously had this incredible experience, but I didn't really want to be, you know, just doing big assignments all the time. I really wanted to see if I could be a filmmaker and to you know, have a go. So I realized no one was really going to give me a chance. And I realized that I'd have to, you know, think think it through on my own. I knew this band. And then tie a tie into what we what we talk about later with our mystery special guests. Yes, I, I knew this band when I was 15 called Danville, a Canadian heavy metal band. And I met them when I was 15 at the marquee club in London, in 1982. And I got into the dressing room and I ended up talking to them. They'd never been to London before they were my heroes. I said, Have you been here? They said no. I said, I'll give you a tour of London. I ended up taking Advil, you know the band behind metal on metal and, and, you know, strength of steel and hard and heavy. I ended up taking them on a tour of the Houses of Parliament, the Tate Gallery, and I took them back home to meet my mother. You can imagine my mother's how thrilled she was when she opens the door to find me with the four members of a 15 year old 5050 with posters on the wall of that band. She's completely she said, You've got 10 minutes, get them out of it. Anyway, so they will find me quite entertaining. And I found them I'd say they said look, what do you do next summer. I said, Well, I'm old school holiday. Do you want to come on the road with us? Rob Reiner, the drummer of amber was named Rob Reiner. Like as in the director of spinal tap. You couldn't again make that shit up. And Rob said, Would you like to be my drum tech on this tour? So I following summer, I lied to my mom. She was never letting me go on tour with them. But I told my dad, they were split up he lived in New York. I said I'm gonna spend this Somewhere my dad went to my dad and I said, I'm going on tour with this heavy metal band will you meet them to make Give me your blessing and my father, you know taught economics at Oxford. So you know that Andrew was not his core demographic band. And they met and he was you know, he gave them a talking to and said protect my son, but he gave me the go ahead to go on tour. We went on a tour of Canadian hockey arenas in the summer of 1984. And I learned how to play drums from the drummer of and or Brian and on that tour, and had you know, an incredible experience. I was just really young. Yeah, at I went on three tours, I think at three, four or five or four or five or six. I can't remember but I was a, you know, a drum rodeo is a roadie. So I met those guys, and I loved them. And I remember this young guy, this young Danish tennis prodigy, or prodigy or player called Lars Ulrich, who was around my age who was around at the time and anvil fan and Scott Ian, who later went on to be anthrax. And basically 20 years past, I lost touch with Advil. And then I realized that you know, all the bands that influenced you know, Metallica, anthrax, mega death or whatever, they don't become mega bands and and all that disappeared. I went online, I figured out and I figured out that they were playing like pub gigs in like Northern Ontario. It was still going after 30 years. And I was like, why are you still going? So I wrote to the lead singer, whose name is lips. And I said, Come to California lips flew out, he was wearing exactly the same scorpions t shirt he'd been wearing. Last time, I'd seen him in 1987. He was like, frozen in time. And he was going, my band's gonna make it man, it's gonna be great. We're gonna do it. And I was like, thinking to myself, he is completely mental, like, What is he talking about? It's over, right? But there was something so infectious. And actually, I took him to see Steve's alien mental that weekend when he was in LA. And I'm sitting there with Steve making coffee, and we're looking out as lips is talking to Steve's wife, Elizabeth. And he's saying, Who the hell is this guy? And I told him the whole story. And he said, there's a movie there. There's a movie about friendship and not giving up on your dream. And it's bittersweet, and you should direct it. And I said, wow. And I did. And it became and so it was and it was one of the enville
Alex Ferrari 52:13
the story of anthem.
Sasha Gervasi 52:16
And I just rolled the dice, no one was gonna pay for it. I financed it myself. And I within, I think, 12 weeks of that encounter with Steve, down on the beach with the lips. I was in northern Romania, shooting Advil on one of the worst tours that you've ever, ever seen the film. I mean, it was beyond a disaster. Oh, my God. And so that and that movie, then, you know, became my directorial debut, which then came into Sundance. And, you know, still to this day, actually, you know, people love that movie. Because it really is about not giving up. And it really is about, you know, doing something for the right reasons and passion, and you know, all of that stuff.
Alex Ferrari 52:55
absolutely remarkable. So that documentary, which has become a cult phenomenon. People love that movie. And you were telling me, like, everyone says, is your best work ever?
Sasha Gervasi 53:07
Well, people love that film. It's so well, it's also done from a place of total naivety innocence, and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just following a feeling. And I think the film captures that, the essence of it. And it just has travelled so far and wide. And it was like an amazing story, because he was this banner that the movie in one sense is essentially a portrait in failure. And yet, every band loves this film. And in fact, ACDC we're doing a stadium tour and invited Anvil to open for them. I remember standing on the side of the stage with Anvil, a giant stadium and 50,000 people are shouting, Advil, Advil, apple, and it was just like, you never know what's going to happen. You just never know. Like, we had no idea that any of that stuff, we had no idea that, you know, they went to the total rock awards, you know, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin came up and bill to thank them for inspiring him to keep doing what he's doing. And it's like, you know, it was just like, we were at the Bowery Hotel in New York. And, and, and lips is smoking a cigarette on the terrace of the bar, and he comes out, he said, this is really interesting guy, and another guy, and they really like the movie and I don't know who they are. Maybe you can go talk to them. For me. I'd like to know more about them anyway, so go out with lips. And it's Chris Martin of Coldplay and Jay Z. And they're talking about and they had no idea. They had no idea if anyone
Alex Ferrari 54:28
they live in this. They live in this black bubble.
Sasha Gervasi 54:31
Yeah, I mean, the premiere in Hollywood. We did the premiere at the Egyptian theater, Dustin Hoffman came to the premiere. And he's in tears after the movie coming up to lips and Rob and Rob is like, has no idea who he is. And then after about 10 minutes he he turns to me he goes, is that the guy from Pappy? Oh yes. I feel happy. Oh, was wonderful about this is they're just living their own magical world. But were it not for that there would have been no movie to make about, you know, and then I'll be turned into as inspired, you know, other bands and certainly a lot of other movies about bands. Emotional,
Alex Ferrari 55:12
amazing. Amazing. So then, okay, so from story from from Anvil, so I'd love the title and what the story is. Great title. So once that happens, that's a documentary. But then you're, then you're thrown into more narrative work. And one of the films you worked on was Hitchcock,
Sasha Gervasi 55:29
which, well, that's that, but it's all to do with Advil,
Alex Ferrari 55:33
right? Like, how did Advil, get you? Hitchcock?
Sasha Gervasi 55:37
So what happened was that Tom Pollack, who was another angel of mine who would run universal from 85, to 95, incredible guy, and he was partners with Ivan Reitman, and they had Montecito pictures, and they financed them they did, you know, and they, they were fantastic. You know, they, they just supported young filmmakers. I actually got my first fan letter with about Ando was from Tom Pollack, who saw the film and said, This makes the old guys think they can keep going, and I want to meet you. Anyway. So they had this assignment for Hitchcock. And I was like, Okay, I'm fast. I'm, you're obviously Hitchcock. I'm fascinated subject. I thought it was based on this thing that Hitchcock in the making of psycho. I thought the book was brilliant. And I was just like, so I thought, okay, I'll you know, my agent said, we'll just go in and meet Tom Pollock. He likes your movie and, and the, the meeting began with, it's lovely to meet you. We love and Bill, you're not going to get this job. But anyway, let's just meet we just wanted to meet you. Yeah. And I was just like, you know, when someone says, something's not gonna happen, you're just like, fuck it. Okay, whatever. So I just, I said, this has got to be about Alma and you know, the, the unknown force behind hitch and it's got to be fun and irreverent, and tongue in cheek, hopefully. And it's, you know, it's only a movie, you know, like, Don't take it too seriously. It's meant to be sort of droll in the way that Hitchcock was, so I pitched them this. Anyway, they were like, well, this is great. But you know, Anthony Hopkins, pretty major actor, you know, probably you're not going to get past him. Anyway. He was a massive and OFAC was an apple fan.
Alex Ferrari 57:18
Oh my god,
Sasha Gervasi 57:20
how it just goes to show like you're coming from a place and you're doing it for your own fucking reasons. Fuck everyone else. And somehow. So Tony was like, let's do the film. And then Helen was like, love it need a bit more of our so I did some work on the script. You know, it was john McLaughlin script, but I did do a little work on the Alma roll. And yeah, and then the movie came together and such like made the film. So you know, it was and then I got Scarlett Johansson. I did have this weird moment where I was in rehearsals with with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. And I was like, I can't believe I'm actually in. I can't believe that talking to me, let alone like, you know, listening to a potential suggestion. Anyway, it was. I learned so much. I mean, you could imagine like working with those people in Scala Johansen and Jeff Crone and laugh and the incredible Pam Martin who cut the fighter was cutting the movie and working with searchlight. I mean, it was an extraordinary learning experience.
Alex Ferrari 58:20
Yeah, I, you just says like, I can't believe I think if there's a biography about you ever, it's gonna be I can't believe I just can't believe this is happening. Because it's from everything you've told me. There's just been one amazing event to Atlanta. And I know look over the years. These are the highlights and I know there's been ups and downs throughout like anybody's life. But again, just like Herve just like Steve Zaillian and then and then you're like, you'll never gonna get past it. Anthony Hopkins, because I watch saw your documentary. I'm a huge and,
Sasha Gervasi 58:51
like, in it three times. Yeah. Like mean is like, what
Alex Ferrari 58:54
is the what are the chances that the legendary Anthony Hopkins would be a fan of a, basically a failed metal band from the 80s that you happen to make a documentary about? Because you have, by the way happened to be
Sasha Gervasi 59:11
the thing that people should take them all of this? No, the thing that people should take for this is the deep down inside. Anthony Hopkins feels like a failed metal band from the 80s. You know, we all you know, have like it's a human right. We all you know, we're always on ourselves, and we're most more critical of ourselves than perhaps anyone elses. And it's, you know, so it was just it was very truthful. You know, it was about flawed human beings who are trying their best who don't actually necessarily succeed. And I'd say, of all the people I've met, who, some of whom are massive successes, they don't necessarily think about things like that or feel that they often just carry the wounds of the failures with them. Structurally, it's just a weird thing that I've observed. I don't know if it's true, but I think that that Sometimes true. So, you know, some of the greatest successes feel like failures.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:04
Oh, no, I mean, I can get 1000 good reviews. But I'll focus on the one bad review. And it's just, it's, it's human nature. And it's so overwhelming because you're looking you've obviously been given literally 1000 reviews are fantastic. But there's that one guy or gal who just like, you know what? terminal? Yeah. But then there's 1000 other ones that are just like, right. Now,
Sasha Gervasi 1:00:29
there's a great English newspaper, but I can't forget it. It's a terrible review. They said something like, watching this film was like standing in a waterfall of vomit and treacle,
Alex Ferrari 1:00:42
oh, my God, what a visual.
Sasha Gervasi 1:00:46
And I just thought, you know, okay, but what I'm saying is, you remember, I just remember that, I don't remember anything else. Apart from that, like the worst kind of shave. You know, and I don't know, maybe that's just human nature.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:59
I was, I was talking to Troy Duffy, the the famous director from boondock, saints, that whole legendary documentary, ledgering documentary, as well. And he told me, he's like, there was this one review, I he goes, by the LA Times, I think it was so brilliantly written, that if you're going to get smashed by someone, at least, let it be a really good writer, because it was entertaining, it was
Sasha Gervasi 1:01:26
world class beating, you're gonna have to deal with that man, you're gonna have to deal with getting shipped in every part of your body by someone at some point, you're gonna have a knife sticking out of it. But you know, you've got to kind of also ignore it. It's like, you know, having been also having been a viewer, myself, and having been a journalist, I really do understand what's on the other side of that, you know, a lot of those people are blocked creatives, they're blocked filmmakers who aren't able to actually do it themselves for whatever reasons, either they don't have the talent or the courage or both, or whatever, or it just hasn't happened, you know, so, you know, so it's, they're kind of bitter, slightly, a, some of them and others are really constructive. And they use the criticism to try and say, actually, here's how you could have done a better job. And here's, you know, and you can actually learn from a great review, you learn a ton of shit. So it's important to be aware of them and look for the stuff that you can learn from, rather than taking any of it too seriously. Because when it gets like, nasty, you know, the person's got, like an axe to grind. Like, you know, people have a, they've got an agenda that's not really about, you know, like, sometimes you read a review of something, and you go, and you've seen the film, and you go, they obviously did not see the same film. The film they just had this is that this was, this is a review based on the what they wanted it to be, and what I was, you know, then go make your film. You don't I mean, but everyone's entitled to be creative in their own way. Anyway, so it's you, you can learn that for I think you can learn
Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
Oh, no, absolutely. I mean, I mean, Roger,
Sasha Gervasi 1:02:55
although highly entertained by the, you know, standing in a waterfall of trouble and vomit, which is I mean,
Alex Ferrari 1:03:01
I mean, that's amazing. But like Roger Ebert literally got the Pulitzer for his criticism, his film criticism, and he's, he's one of those. And he loved filmmakers, he loved filmmakers. And I have a Roger Ebert story, I'll tell you off afterwards, that when he he was kind to a short film
Sasha Gervasi 1:03:16
of mine, for example, when we have when we had an NGO, right? No, we didn't know how anyone, if anyone was even gonna see it, let alone review it. And it was incredible. I got the New Yorker one week, and we had two and a half pages from Anthony lane. He's one of our greatest viewers. And he said, this is all about mortality and aging. And this is the ravages of time. And I was like, Oh, my God, you know, I will know. But what I'm saying is circumstance, people will get stuff from it that you didn't even intend, yeah, that you do something for a pure point of view for you, then you do something for an emotional point of view, or you want to tell a certain story. And if there's something pure about it, people will bring in their own interpretations which you had no idea, you know, yeah. So I feel lucky when that happens. And it has a couple of times, and I feel good about it and the other stuff we learn from
Alex Ferrari 1:04:06
Okay, I wanted to touch on something really quickly for you. Because you've I mean, you've obviously played you know, you've roamed in circles, with you know, legendary filmmakers, and you've worked with studios and you've worked inside the machine. Can you touch a little bit about the politics of working and navigating those waters? Because
Sasha Gervasi 1:04:24
I would say what I've what I've learned is very simple, is listen to everyone. executives, producers go crazy. If they feel they have not been heard. You know, I just think that when when you're in a development meeting, a writer or a director shuts an idea down without entertaining it, that person gets really mad. And look, to be fair, those people are considering giving you millions of dollars to go off and make your dream come true and tell your story. You know, the least you could do is at least listen to them. doesn't mean you have to take their suggestion, but at least be civil and at least Do that. And I see a lot of people get into problems where they're just like, oh, that guy's an idiot, you know, he's also writing you a check for $10 million, about listening to that part of it, you know, so, but there are certain techniques, when you do have someone in the creative mix who's absolutely stupid, you just keep that to yourself. First of all, don't say anything. And then you can do something called IOI, which is technique I use, have you heard of IOI? I have not. Okay. It's, it's a term called it's It stands for the illusion of inclusion, where what you do is you listen to that absolutely stupid idea. And you pretend to No, you got that, that's great. I'm gonna try that, you know, knowing that it's done. And you just let them feel that they've been considered and that their thoughts have been entertained. So that's, but just be nice to everyone. Even if it's like, this should take place on a skateboard on the moon, you know, just go. Okay, you know, let's, let's see what we can do with that, you know, so I just think it's best to be polite, and use the IOI technique, if in doubt, because, you know, there's nothing worse than a frustrated filmmaker who wants you to do something. And who is not a filmmaker, but who's an executive or producer, or, you know, someone who everyone just wants to be heard. So that's one thing I would do is listen to everyone. Even if disagree, just be politic. Just don't tell people that idiots people do not like to hear that. They're idiots.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:20
And by the way, and you might, and this is something I've seen throughout my, my, you know, being a student of the industry for the last 20 odd years, is that there might be a moment where you have the power and you are hot, and you have the power to crush somebody. Yeah, but that power generally doesn't hang forever. And there will be a moment where you go down. I mean, even Steven Spielberg, I mean, I remember 91 when Hulk came out, everyone's like, It's over. It's over. He's done. He's done. And hooked. By the way, still one of my favorite i'd love hook, but it didn't do well. And he's like, Oh, he's, he's washed up. He's not. And then Jurassic Park is Schindler's List, same year.
Sasha Gervasi 1:07:02
The same? Yeah. But you know, probably took that as like, well screw these guys. I'll show them you know, sometimes down. But really, it's like, anger is a powerful emotion. You could wrap it in the right way. You know, it's like, it's a very powerful thing. You know, I think when I direct an Advil, I was like, I got something to prove that I, you know, yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna do it. Like, I'm just doing it right. And I think that so use it, like, whatever your cards are, even if they're shit, use the power of what they give you, even if it is disappointment, anger, frustration. People, listen, people write you off all the time, all the time. And they take delight in it. Nothing Hollywood than the sharpen Freud aspect, right? Luckily, I hang out with a group of filmmakers who are extremely supportive of one another. Like, for example, Alexander Payne, you know, whoever it is, you know, we, we read each other's scripts, we're supported, you know, we give each other notes and thoughts and stuff, I try and support all other filmmakers, you know, because it's so hard. Oh, my God. You know, sitting in judgment and kind of belittling people and trying to you know, it's just not, it's just not the way to live. Because if that's what you put out, that's obviously what you're going to get back. If you put out support genuine help and generosity, that's what comes back to you. Amen. Very, very simple. So it's really math, it's physics actually. Just, you know, be smart about it. And the people who are hot and take advantage and you know, put people down and, and, you know, act like they're hot shit, you know, guess what ain't gonna last. And then you will come a time when you want people when you're down to be supportive of you. And because you are such an asshole when you are hot, they won't do that. You've there's many careers where people were so unpleasant as they went up that when they got hit, no one wanted to help the Knights coming. You know, endless executive studio heads will make it No, just, you know, what is it that a wise man learns from his own mistakes? A genius learns from the mistakes of others, you know, just look around? Because if you just learn from what other people do, you know, you know, take that information they get.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:16
Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests because I know I could talk to you for about another hour. And I might actually with our mystery guest and a little bit. But a few questions ask all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?
Sasha Gervasi 1:09:29
Well, for me, I would absolutely say that Chinatown. I would absolutely say that Steve's aliens. Shooting script of Schindler's List is extraordinary. There are so many The Godfather.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:45
Yeah, of course.
Sasha Gervasi 1:09:48
The Graduate script is incredible. Sunset Boulevard is incredible. You know, even I read recently again that the original Magnificent Seven script is You know, so those are the kinds of scripts that were an A useful technique. If you're blocked as a writer, which I've been many, many times, I nearly threw me out of UCLA at the end of the first year, because I didn't finish a script, I started three and finished. Now, a great thing is take a great script, like it's trying to town and begin typing it out, as in copying it out. So when I've had a blog, I'll take a Rob town script, or Robert Towne script, or a steep learning script, or a Scott Frank script, depending on you know, and I'll sit down, I'll begin typing it out, you unblock maybe because when you've like, got nine pages into Chinatown, it's that something just by the proximity, the engagement with the energy of that kind of intellect and ferocious kind of justice, it just somehow could just push your block. So it's a technique I just discovered by accident, because I was so frustrated. And I actually started writing Schindler's List, if you actually go and copy a script out in is great for unblocking.
Alex Ferrari 1:10:58
That's what I what I thought when I when I'm writing, one of the things I found as well as like, when I get blocked in something, I'll actually just go back to the beginning, and just start reading. And just that process of going, it's kind of like getting the it's kind of getting the momentum going. So as you're reading, then it just kind of and then you.
Sasha Gervasi 1:11:16
But then there's a potential trap there, Alex, which is you can also have people who spend 10 years polishing the first 30 pages, it's important to write a compiler is less than you've got to write a complete bad script, but just get the end, even if it's total shit, because it's much harder to go from nothing to something than from something to something better. So just get to the end, even if it's trash. Another trick people use is right, the end seen first. So you kind of know, okay, but I'm getting there, you know, so you don't have this big, you know, wild, sort of massive unknown ahead of you, you know, you're going to end on this scene, which you've already written. So I would say that, I agree with you, the layering, and the going back and forth is important. But I also know people who can get stuck in the pattern of writing 30 to 50 pages, and then overnight, just write the rest,
Alex Ferrari 1:12:11
I go back to I go back to like that scene or a couple scenes back, I try not to go back all the way to the beginning. Because if I go where the beginning, I get caught. And you're right, it's it's like this kind of Whirlpool.
Sasha Gervasi 1:12:22
Exactly. That gets you. If you're if you're a good writer, or you think you're a good writer, you know, that you get, you have to work yourself into a place where you're basically taking notes, and you're basically getting something, it's not about you creating it, it's about you allowing it, it's doing the kind of grunt work so that you can kind of deserve actually to get to get what it is you have to sort of earn it through hard work, if that makes
Alex Ferrari 1:12:47
sense. So yeah, so and I think this is, I believe this completely is when I'm writing, I honestly, sometimes I don't even know who's writing like, I'll just I'll be it's almost channeling, if you will, like something is just like they're talking and it's talking by themselves. And I'm like, Okay, I'm just here to write this stuff out. Do you as you as a writer, do you feel that as well,
Sasha Gervasi 1:13:06
I think in the best cases, when I remember when I was really writing the draft of the terminal that Spielberg said that he wanted to do, I remember being in a zone for the first time where it was just like I was irrelevant. I was just in the stream, just kind of servicing whatever the story was that wanted to come through, and it is blissful. But guess you're just able to not you're not responsible for it, you're not the source of it. But you're doing the work, you're earning your place by kind of like servicing, you know, your creativity. And it's a it's a freeing feeling. And actually, when you're starting to write, it's a lot of work, and it's horrible, and you get headaches, and you want to distract yourself with any number of things. But if you just push through, then you reach that time where it's just like, okay, the thing basically is working on its own now. And you just allow it to kind of pull you where it wants to go, rather than you determining everything. I think that's the difference. You'd go from cerebral to kind of creativity being the spirit that pulls you through the thing and gets gets it done. You know, I did not do the best work I've done. Like it comes from somewhere. Hopefully there's some source out there. And I think people who take credit and think that they're geniuses, you know, I don't know, I just I would say that if they're being honest, they know that, you know, they're merely the facilitator. I think I don't think they're the facilitator then the probably have a crash at some point.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:34
Absolutely. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Sasha Gervasi 1:14:38
Write a fucking good script. I mean, it's as simple as that.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:42
You put that on a T shirts or
Sasha Gervasi 1:14:43
put that on a T shirt? No, it's not like having part you know, going to the right parties and meeting people. There's a certain amount of bullshit that you can do and have the right agent But at a certain point, your script will find its home. If you just focus on the work, just focus on the work, not the bullshit or the trades. Or you know what your task
Alex Ferrari 1:15:01
Sasha Gervasi 1:15:03
And don't jump on a bandwagon? And don't, you know, just do try and be you. You know. So I do think the screenwriting courses I find UCLA massively helpful, you know, the full time program, but there's also the professional program is fantastic. There are some great teachers in it, you know, go and meet other writers, man, find your group of people, you know, that you respect and trust, work together, support each other, read each other's material, you know, engage, but focus on the material, because the material will get the actors, the actors will get the film made, you know, because actors want a great role. So if you're writing, you know, strong roles, you know, you can focus on getting good at that it will fall into place. That's my feeling.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:43
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry our life,
Sasha Gervasi 1:15:52
I obviously I'm still learning it. Just to be really grateful for every thing that tap is happening right now. Like right now, because that's really all we've got, you know, I've got like, right now, I'm really enjoying this chat with you. Right? Thank you. You know, but because as we're doing this, I never really obviously do stuff like this very often, when I'm promoting a film, I do an interview, I never really do an in depth chat or anything like this. So for me, as you're asking me these questions, I'm like, remembering all the fighting, that I had to all the fighting I had to do to get all of these films made, to get them seen to get anyone to be bothered. And it just reminds me that like, you know, I just feel lucky and grateful for that. So what I'm saying is right now I'm in that because you're replaying to me all this stuff, and I don't think about this stuff. So I think staying present focusing on the work, I would, I would say, you know, be genuine, be genuine in your dealings with people be genuine in the emotion you're trying to put on the page. You know, if it's being funny, be genuinely funny, like, do stuff for you, not because you think other people are gonna like it. Yeah. most authentic to your voice. Like Anvil is a movie that like literally no other person could have made apart from me. My dinner with Kobe is a movie that literally no other person could have made apart from me. What are those stories that are so singular to you and your existence in your experience, and what you want to say in the world, that you alone must do them. And I think if you're coming from that place, you know, you can just get through a lot of bullshit. You know, life is short, man, we're not here for that long. For long, man, you know, so you might as well go for it and, and Don't bullshit around. And also procrastination. I think that's a lesson I could still learn. I still procrastinate. I still, you know, go well, I maybe I'll watch that daytime TV show. It's really fascinating. I really want to learn about haymaking in Flanders in 1765 it's fascinating. It's just I'm trying, I don't want to face the pain. But I am a shit writer who must earn my place at the table every time to become a slightly better writer. You write a really good, you feel good about it, you go back to the beginning page ones blank, your total shit again, all that experience is gone. You've got to climb another mountain, and it's just as fucking hard. That's my experience. So don't procrastinate still working on it. But I would say I probably wasted two full years of watching bad daytime soap operas, televisions, game shows and useless historical programs.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:28
And this is pre This is pre Netflix pre populates. Now what is what did you learn from your biggest failure?
Sasha Gervasi 1:18:41
Only work at studios where you like the studio head word namely that is you learn you know in the immortal words of yes keyboard is Rick Wakeman, who played keyboards for years. He said success is buried in the garden of failure. And so that's important by the way you know we have our special guests
Alex Ferrari 1:19:04
Yes, we're gonna we're gonna be there in one second Give me one second and we're gonna bring him in and
Sasha Gervasi 1:19:13
then I feel it and I
Alex Ferrari 1:19:14
know I can I can feel the energy as well we're gonna bring him in in a minute because I just want to finish right off and last question sir. Three of your favorite films of all time.
Sasha Gervasi 1:19:24
Oh my god with nail and I with nail and I have you had with now my Bruce Robinson genius film? Yes. As
Alex Ferrari 1:19:30
long as was that 80s
Sasha Gervasi 1:19:32
Yeah, yes, that's gonna pay for the killing fields. Yes. With the with Leyland I terribly uncommercial film one of the most brilliant films of all time, Richard II grant, Bruce wrote and directed the film. If I were to pitch that film, no one would buy it to unemployed actors go away to Wales for the weekend. That is the plot of Withnail and I can do it is absolutely fucking brilliant, sweet smell of success one of the best scripts ever. But I guess the Tony curve Is Clifford Odette's and it's late. James Wong How is the camera man it is. Kendrick directed it. Brilliant. So I'd say that also Chinatown I have to go with Chinatown again. This is a nice sweet smell of success Chinatown. And also Christmas American movie I love
Alex Ferrari 1:20:19
Oh my god so good
Sasha Gervasi 1:20:20
cause spinal tap. Yes, but I will say Bertolucci's underrated masterpiece, the last emperor won the Best Academy at seven o'clock. If you go back and look at that film, it's unbelievable. I have a 35 millimeter print of it. So those are some of my films. I love the Bond movies obviously not the Pierce Brosnan period. A little bit limited. But yeah, so stuff like that. Any jack tatty is fantastic. And all that jack tatty stuff made its way into the original script of terminal. So yeah, those are films British films. I also love the long Good Friday with Bob hoskin. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:20:57
Sasha Gervasi 1:20:59
Fantastic British film.
Alex Ferrari 1:21:01
Sasha, we could, I know, we can keep talking for hours about your insight, you're easily one of the most interesting screenwriters I've ever had in the show. Your adventures are mythical almost in its way so much drug fueled. I mean, I mean, this is Hollywood.
Sasha Gervasi 1:21:18
I like the sound of
Alex Ferrari 1:21:20
Exactly, but I appreciate your time. And thank you so much for for coming on the show
Sasha Gervasi 1:21:25
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
- Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)