Scott Copper (Director, Screenwriter, Producer) made his feature film directorial debut in 2009 with Fox Searchlight’s Oscar-winning CRAZY HEART, which he also wrote and produced. The film, which starred Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall, earned three Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Actor (Bridges) and Best Original Song (T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham). Cooper won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and earned WGA, USC Scripter and Independent Spirit Award nominations, for his screenplay.
Cooper’s follow-up was the Leonardo DiCaprio/Ridley Scott-produced OUT OF THE FURNACE, starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Zoë Saldana, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard. For his work as writer, director and producer, Cooper won the Best Debut and Second Film Award at the 2013 Rome Film Festival, where he was also nominated for a Golden Marc’Aurelio Award. Next was Cooper’s 2015 Warner Bros. gangster film BLACK MASS, which Cooper both directed and produced and which made its worldwide debut at the Venice International Film Festival.
The box-office hit garnered wins from critics associations across the country, and earned lead actor Johnny Depp the Desert Palm Achievement Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, as well as a Best Actor nomination from the Screen Actors Guild. In 2017, Cooper’s western epic HOSTILES debuted at both the Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festivals, earning widespread critical acclaim. The film reunited Cooper with his OUT OF THE FURNACE star Christian Bale and featured performances from Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane and Ben Foster. Cooper followed this up with ANTLERS, an exploration of yet another genre in the Guillermo Del Toro-produced horror film. Searchlight released the film to acclaim in October 2021.
Most recently, Cooper re-teamed for the third time with Bale on THE PALE BLUE EYE, an adaptation of Louis Bayard’s novel of the same name. The film tells the story of a series of murders at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1830 and a cadet the world would later come to know as Edgar Allan Poe. Robert Duvall, Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall, Toby Jones and Harry Melling round out the cast. The Netflix film will debut in Fall of 2022. Born in Virginia, Cooper now resides in Los Angeles.
Please enjoy my conversation with Scott Copper.
Scott Copper 0:00
I mean, even when you work with trusted collaborators, there will be moments on set where there is Sturm and Drang as the director, and as the writer and as the producer, you have to be able to solve those issues.
Alex Ferrari 0:12
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book, Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show, Scott Copper man, how you doing, Scott?
Scott Copper 0:26
Great. Thank you, Alex.
Alex Ferrari 0:28
Thanks for coming on the show. Man. I'm a fan man. I've been a fan for a while. Man. You you're doing some really good work, brother seriously, man.
Scott Copper 0:35
Thank you. Thanks. So upper and tougher.
Alex Ferrari 0:38
It's man, I I was just talking, I was just talking to somebody a few minutes ago about how the movie business is changing so dramatically, even from when you made Crazy Heart to now getting somebody to the movie theater. If avatar is having a problem. I mean, is a problem? You know,
Scott Copper 1:01
I suspect people go out for that though.
Alex Ferrari 1:04
I did. And I saw it. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life. Like what Jim Jim did was, ya know, it's remarkable, but it's doing well. But people are like, Oh, I should be doing better. And there's a lot of pressure on a movie like that. But other than avatar in Top Gun last year. It's tough to get people out.
Scott Copper 1:24
Man. Yeah, well, in fact, maybe that was happening also a little bit before COVID Certainly accelerated during COVID. Look, it's expensive to consider dinner and parking and then price of a movie, maybe for the kind of movies that I make. And some of my favorite filmmakers, perhaps the ticket prices should be lower. And then right will be more likely to come out because there really is nothing like experiencing. And in fact, that film will not have the same effect on you, regardless of what it is if you're watching it anywhere. But in this.
Alex Ferrari 2:05
There's no There's no question my friend. But But you've lived a very interesting life in the film industry. You've you've you came up as an actor. So my first question, how did you and why did you want to get into this insanity that is the film industry?
Scott Copper 2:19
Well, look, it's you don't choose your obsessions, your obsession, you choose you right very much. I also spent, I was born and spent a lot of my formative years in this kind of artistic crown jewel of Virginia called Abingdon, Virginia, where the State Theatre is also a lot of great music comes out of that, that region, the mountain empire, as well as a lot of arts and crafts. So the arts were always a part of my life. My father would take me to see films at a young age at a local college. And then you know, when you're young, and you're transfixed by that, and you also had spent time as an actor, Christian Bale and I had discussed this, that people who get into the film business aren't meant to have office jobs. And I think I realized that at a young age, I also realized at a young age that there were actors who were a whole lot better at this vocation than I, especially when you're on the other side of the camera and your first film is your you're recording Jeff Bridges for posterity and Robert Duvall and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Colin Farrell, that quickly makes you realize that there are people who do it a whole lot better than you. And then my second film was Christian Bale and Casey Affleck and Woody, Willem Defoe and Sam Shepard and, and Forrest Whitaker and Zoey Sadat. And then I'm like, Okay, well, I'm definitely not gonna be an actor again. So, but quite honestly, Alex, this is I mean, I couldn't imagine a better job than being a film writer, a film director. I mean, I suppose being Mick Jagger, or Bano, Eddie Federer, someone who's a rock star, right and sings to at 100,000 people, certain events. But I love being able to express myself as a filmmaker. I love the people that I've met over the course of my career. I mean, look, I've been for an actor with an unremarkable career, I have been incredibly fortunate as a filmmaker, I'll just say that.
Alex Ferrari 4:31
You know, it's interesting, because a lot of people like, you know, everyone could play basketball. You know, generally everyone could take a ball and try to make a shot, but we're not all Michael Jordan or LeBron James. And, and that's, I think that's where you were at?
Scott Copper 4:44
Well, sure. I mean, even Robert Duvall, who was my mentor and expressed to me and still does how much he liked me as an actor Jeff Bridges the same thing but but I just have much more fun doing this and and I never even really had A chance to grow as an actor, I wasn't getting the kind of challenging parts that, that I now write for actors and I adore actors. And performance is critical to me and, and, and working with actors that I've always admired. And, you know, also being able to work with actors that teach me something, as Jeff certainly has, or Robert ball or Christian. Or even Johnny Depp. So I'm blessed man i But that's, that's just the truth.
Alex Ferrari 5:36
So at what point? Because I'm assuming as you were going down the path as an actor, there might have been some rejection not much, I'm sure but some rejection all
Scott Copper 5:45
The actor who isn't? Who isn't rejected a lot. Right. So I'll look at started 12 I mean, so yeah,
Alex Ferrari 5:53
He had he had a good start. That's Little Spielberg independent film thing. He did. Yeah. But so when you're going so when you're going through the the acting process, at what point did you say, you know, what, I'm not going to hit the all star team as an actor, I want to jump to the other side of the like, what was the point where you just said, I'm
Scott Copper 6:14
I was just auditioning a lot, and you know, kind of becoming a bridesmaid coming in second. And, and, and not getting the parts that made me want to become an actor in the first place. I think everybody who's you know, a young actor coming up in the 90s, one, you know, a career or at least I did, like Sean Penn or dinero, or PacMan or Pacino. So, when you're not getting those parts, and you're going up for leading men, and you're not really loving them, but you have to support yourself. It just, ultimately, the rejection, that's a lot. And I mean, look, we all get rejected, certainly in the arts, sure, when you make things that, that take big risks, for sure. But it was really just the continual process of of auditioning and films that I would have liked to have been in not getting parts in them. Whether it would be thin red line or Saving Private Ryan. And then I was doing a Western with Duvall being directed by the great Walter Hill, who's also a mentor of mine. And, and and you've all said, you know, you should really write something. And of course, I ended up at the time I had spending a lot of time considering writing the film about Merle Haggard. He had too many ex wives getting the rights were difficult. So I ended up writing precis Hart and Duvall was the first person to read it. And, and you know, Alex, the truth is when Jeff Bridges says yes to your film, it changes your life. And that's exactly what happened to me.
Alex Ferrari 7:52
So is that how you got? Because I was gonna ask like, you're basically a first time filmmaker at this point. Yeah, you've been on set for a long time. But you're a first time writer.
Scott Copper 8:00
That's right. never directed a film. I've never directed a commercial. I've never directed a high school play. But I know this world. And I know that by surrounding myself with great collaborators, production designers, customers, cameraman, women, that sort of thing that I knew that I can tell the story. And Jeff, I remember it is is though it were yesterday, Jeff said, so this is your first time. Yeah. So it is. He said, Well, I've had a lot of success with first time directors, Fabulous Baker Boys being one of them. That I'm in. And you know, Alex, at that point in my life was never the same.
Alex Ferrari 8:40
And so I have to ask you, first day on set, you're sitting, you're the big man on your big man on campus first day? How do you deal with not only the pressure of the first day and making sure that you make that first day, but you're looking through the lens? And you see Jeff Bridges? They're like, and you're directing a legend? Multiple legends, by the way in that film? How do you deal with that as a director?
Scott Copper 9:07
Well, you deal with it by forgetting to call cut. And my ad cabinet shows looking at me as the scene had finished. And I'm transcendent, this is the truth and I'm transfixed and, and she looked at me, she said, and I said, Cut. And literally, it was like, my god, I remember that night that Jeff Bridges is taking dialogue that I have written in taking it to places that I never expected. And that's especially because I've written specifically for him. That's the sign of a great actor. And now, five films later it's happened in, in every film, thankfully.
Alex Ferrari 9:46
So the one thing that's so impressive about your work not only the writing and the directing, but the cast that you're able to attract is honestly unheard of. I mean, your second film, that list of actors, any one of them could have been the star. But a lot of them took secondary roles because they wanted to work on the project. How do you attract all of these? I mean, it's film after film after film after film. As I'm going through filmography, I'm just like, how the hell is this guy grabbing, I know it's the material. But like, even good material doesn't attract a lot of times because of politics and schedules. And this or that.
Scott Copper 10:23
And often that is that is the case, it's difficult to get all the actors that you're referring to everybody else wants, and trying to fit them into a schedule is often one of the most difficult things to do about making a film. But I think, look, certainly the success of of of Crazy Heart has helped when when you're filming, your first film is nominated for three Oscars of wins a couple. That certainly changes the calculus for everybody else, when they see how wonderful Jeff is Maggie and Colin and Duvall, and on and on and on, right. So that probably doesn't happen if that film doesn't have the success, but it did. And then out of the furnace had kind of like a murderer's row of actors that all of whom are, you know, considered to be favorites of mine. So I think once those two films were made, I think actors felt like you know what he, I can feel safe with Scott, because that's the key is to really make an actor feel very safe, safe to take big risks, knows that I'm going to protect them not only on the day when we're shooting, but also in the cutting room. I think the actors that we're talking about know that I'm more interested in films that push me into an uncomfortable space, I've spoken to all of them about the great danger is really doing safe work, where all of the edges are sanded off, so that a lot of people will like your film, The Academy or people who are voting bodies, right. And I think they realize that those don't, those concerns don't really concern me. So it's all about telling a very honest story, a very authentic story. And a story that's not afraid to not let the audience off the hook. I think striving for consensus is not something that I tend to do. I don't make films out of fear, and certain actors respond to that.
Alex Ferrari 12:32
And so another thing about working with all of these amazing actors is I know that all of them have very different processes. So as a director, I mean, as a director, how do you handle like when you have, you know, four or five different of these actors in, in a scene? You can't just yell out direction, you got to kind of go,
Scott Copper 12:52
I've never do that I own two actors that nobody hears, but the actor, I'm actually exactly mixer has turned off all mics and nobody on set will hear the direction that I give Sam Shepard, right? Where Robert Duvall, Christian whomever it is, I think, why don't think I know you have to be very specific, with actors. Don't talk in the abstract. It's really about who is your character? What does the character want the scene? What's the subtext? And again, make them feel safe, safe and free to take big risks. And every actor comes at a scene differently. Casey Affleck and Willem Defoe couldn't be more dissimilar in terms of styles. You have to on the day balance those styles to make sure that all ideas are welcome. But that we're all trying to serve the theme of the film. And what's the subtext of a theme. And then when you cast people, Willem Defoe has made that around probably 100 films or Christian who's made 50 Evolve is made 100 I mean, it's like, and I've said this before, it's almost as though you're like a jockey at the route. Imagine wanting to be at the Kentucky Derby, you're on the best. And it's a little bit of guidance here, a little bit of guidance, they're showing the whip, you know, and then let them run rest of the work. I mean, that's the key is like not getting in their way. And helping an ice ball would always say to me, the key to being a successful director of performances, which is what I hope I am, is knowing how to help an actor when he or she is in trouble.
Alex Ferrari 14:29
Now with crazy heart you I mean, again, you very rare example of your first film being nominated for three Oscars. It doesn't happen quite very often. How did you
Scott Copper 14:42
I gotta be honest
Alex Ferrari 14:43
Yeah, I that was my question. How did you handle the print not only the pressure, the accolades the year, the greatest the ego trips, being in the center of that hurricane and then after winning, you know, the film winning a few a couple Oscars, and how the town entreated you because Hollywood's a dangerous place. And, and but you already been in town a bit as an actor. So you've seen a few things that I'm Oh yeah. So how did you deal with it man?
Scott Copper 15:13
Well, by making a film that was the complete polar opposite, which was out of the furnace, which, you know, I hope to make as an L.A giant crime film. Right, that would remind me of smaller version of The Deer Hunter, right? And you feel like, okay, well, you're definitely not going to sand off the edges. You're not going to strive for consensus, you're gonna make a film that is as hard hitting as the people experience who actually live there. Right. And fortunately, that's where Christian and I met in Braddock, Pennsylvania Mayor John Fetterman, who's now the senator from Pennsylvania. Right. And I know how tough it was to live in a place like that probably still is in Braddock. So if you're being authentic to tell him the story, that's really the key. And you don't worry about what others will say. You know, worried about what category voters will say you don't worry about what critics say because if you look at most of Stanley Kubrick's films, they were not well received when they first came out.
Alex Ferrari 16:18
All of them almost I think all of them unanimously were not well received.
Scott Copper 16:21
And time is what settles the score. Right? So often, you see movies that go on to win Oscars and receive a claim and you watch them 234 years later, if not sooner, you've and you realize that they don't really hold up right so if you're if you're playing and these actors that I work with know that you're playing for the long game. And really what what means something to me is that when I hear from people who are also filmmakers who have responded to me whether it's Bogdanovich with crazy horror, whether it was Michael Cimino calling me or William freaking after seeing out of the furnace, you know, Michael Mann, who was has been very kind to me, Mike Nichols, like all of these people that I admired, really reached out to you after seeing your films and, and continued to applaud you and continue to push.
Alex Ferrari 17:14
How do you as I mean, as a filmmaker, there's so many traps with that, because you know, when you're getting you're, you're basically the people you admire calling you telling you that you're great. And to keep going. The ego has to fall into how do you keep that in place? Because that's a problem when you have so much
Scott Copper 17:33
Yeah, of course, yes. And you have to, of course, my wife would disagree with saying that I feel like I have no ego she
Alex Ferrari 17:42
Wives do that.
Scott Copper 17:43
Yes. But ultimately, it's really about serving the story about telling the stories that that you want to tell. And you and Alex, what you try to do is, is try to keep ego out of any decisions that you make. Which is often very difficult for artists to do, whether you're a painter or whether you're physician, whether you're a filmmaker, Jeff Bridges, said to me, I don't care what happens to a movie when it comes out in terms of winning awards that the reward is, is in the journey for him. And it's the experience and the more movies that I make. That's the truth. It's when you and a group of gifted collaborators are, are all striving for the same goal. And I think that's really important. I think, also, I have tended to try to figure out how the how to tell the truth about how tragic and unfair life is without losing hope. You know, most narratives lie to the audience about how life works out. And shocking. Yes, and
Alex Ferrari 18:53
Hollywood does that. No, you're kidding me?
Scott Copper 18:57
Yes. So that's our bread and butter. It is yeah. So for me really, it's it's about, you know, working through the difficulties in my life by dressing them through art.
Alex Ferrari 19:09
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, the one thing that's not spoken a lot about in, in the filmmaking space, especially in the film, schools, and for young filmmakers coming up, is the politics of the set. As a first time director, you know, you have collaborators who you might have chosen wrong, you know, incorrectly that you didn't align with what you want it or or try to enforce their vision on top of the director. Have you dealt with any of that? And if you have, how did you overcome it?
Scott Copper 19:37
No, frankly, I haven't. Because I didn't think so having gone to film school, actually, all six of my films have been incredibly harmonious. Now I work with the same crew largely over and over because we have a shorthand, and you know, my films are not inexpensive and every moment counts. And every minute is, you know, you can just hear the dollar sign I think it was Kubrick again who, who said that actually, prepping is much easier editing, you're much more relaxed. But when you're shooting, it's like you're in this cauldron of fire because you have to make so many decisions every day. And you're dealing with production designers, actors, cameramen, and women sound. Everything is coming together at once. So the key is, how do you hire people that see the world as you do, who will make push you to become a better filmmaker, because I didn't go to film school and all of my film school is reading as much as I can about film directors, watching their movies over and over and over with the sound off, how do they move the camera. Most importantly, when they don't move it, how they use composition and missile scene and lighting, staging, to help tell the story. And which is more and more difficult because we're living in the most impatient of ages. Because of this, right? And because we're getting instant, in social media, we're getting instant gratification constantly, and that we were no longer patient. We have to you have to really resist that when you're making a film. Because if you were to put an audience today in front of 2001 I knew what that was. Barry Lyndon The Godfather even and it never heard of these actors have seen it, people would find it painfully slow, boring. And if they were watching home, they would turn it off. Not everybody but a lot of people. And you have to resist that. You have to say okay, well, this is the story I'm telling you, you might find it to be a slow burn. But I said this before making you know, experiencing a film in a cinema is not like getting an enema. You don't want to have wanted to get over as fast as possible. luxuriate in Stanley Kubrick's world, or in Jane Campion's world, or countless other filmmakers that have inspired me for years. Right? That's the key. So. So it's really about trying to assure an ego, hire people that see the world as you do know their work incredibly well. Take meetings with them. And then you will just learn to push one another. I mean, even when you work with trusted collaborators, there will be moments on set where there is Sturm and Drang as the director, and as the writer and as the producer, you have to be able to solve those issues, you also have to be open, and realize that all ideas are welcome. And that is the key, you can't only just say it's my way, you have to very strong vision. But it's clear that there are people that you hire, who will bring ideas to make you not only a better filmmaker, that makes the film better.
Alex Ferrari 22:46
Now, how do you approach the writing process? Because your your, your, your work is so character driven? How do you how do you just deal with the writing process?
Scott Copper 22:57
Quite quite frankly, and and I work very long stretches from early in the morning, through lunch, take a break, and then get back at it because I do kind of what Coppola did, which is like this vomit draft, where you don't go back and edit. You literally write the story from page one to page 120 or however long it is without going back to edit and reading it it very often will be terrible to see if if this is a story that you would want to race out to see on Friday night. That's my litmus test. And before I became a writer, I would study Robert towns work I would study free King's work I would study the network perish is the whoever. And I would I would try to understand these are all people who write characters. How is it that they're telling the story largely through subtext. And they're telling it visually, they're telling it with spare dialogue? All these sorts of things that you just keep writing, writing is rewriting and and eventually you come to a place where we feel like you can share a screenplay with Robert Duvall, who's the first one to to read crazy art or now, the person who reads all my scripts, whether he's in them or not, is Christian Bale. Right. Christian has been making films since he's 12. He'll tell you if a story of a character is working quickly. And it's great to have and I'm very fortunate to have those kinds of trusted collaborators who read my things, and help guide me because so often, and even in the editorial process, you get very Snowblind it's snowballing and you can't quite see think things are great. But then there are other people who will come in and say this didn't quite land for me. This isn't working. This is overstated. This is understated. So all of those sorts of things. I'm just getting a text from my pal Casey Affleck right now speaking. So Alex, that's really hitman. It's about how do you use other people's ideas? Look at I mean, I can't say enough to young filmmakers read great screenplays. see not only what a writer is trying to express, but what they aren't. So much is left to the unspoken, that will make a real connection with the audience. And I tell people all the time, first time filmmakers tell the truth. write stories that are close to you that you know, and personalize everything. Because then if you do, your theme will become universal. And it will speak to most everybody because we're all suffering, right? And we all if you if you deign to make the kind of films that I do, you want to move people, or you want to challenge people, a great filmmaker who shall remain unnamed, once said to me, and this guy's one of the greats. He said, Scott, if everybody likes you film, it's likely not very good.
Alex Ferrari 25:57
Very true. Now do you outline at all
Scott Copper 26:02
If I'm adapting something, if I'm writing an original, it's funny because I use Kubrick again, because I've read everything he's ever said, Oh, me to my friend to me to all of his interviews. And he would never direct an original screenplay always has to be based on existing material, because he says you can sit down in one city and tell this is a story that I want to tell. This is what I want to spend the next five years of my life. Outlining can be really quite helpful. If there's existing, the pale blue i Very sprawling novel, more characters that I could, that I could or should explore on a two hour timeframe different if you're making a limited series. Something that's longer, more sprawling, you should certainly outline but original screenplay. It helps it helps to give you guideposts as you're writing for sure. But certainly, if you're adapting something, and it's really all about finding the essence of the novel, or nonfiction pieces, or magazine, or whatever it is you're adapting podcast. And then it helps to outline that for sure. But there's also something very freeing about not knowing where narrative is going. You have a kernel of an idea, like out of the furnace and off I went in and just wrote, and I was doing press for crazy hard. I was in Pittsburgh, drove over to Braddock, Pennsylvania, wrote very specifically for all of these locations, took images. Out of that came the narrative. So I do both. I've just just adapted something that I hope to make certainly my next film or a film after that. And I didn't outline, I'd read the novel four or five times William Goldman, but certainly once he realized he was going to read something and read it two or three times, did I like it the second time as much as the first, what are the themes? Who are the characters that I'm going to exercise, who the characters I'm going to focus on. That's, that's the piece that I just that I've just adapted with that. When you have someone who's given you a great piece of source material, like for instance, those by art in the pale blue eye, you can take that. And if the author knows and understands that a film is very different than a book, you could just use a sea and off you go. So it really is is project continue whether I outline or not. I don't do always.
Alex Ferrari 28:42
Now, as directors, there's always that day on set where we feel like the entire world's coming crashing down around you the sun's every day there is that but there's that one day that's like, oh, I don't think we're going to make it that day that you like holy cow. What was that day on any of your projects? And how did you overcome it?
Scott Copper 29:00
Well, you never have enough time. Honestly, even though you've got and I've got 55 days to shoot this Jesus, I had 24 for crazy heart. Every day by the time you're finished up, you know, there are no easy days on a film set. One of them of course is is if you have to vacate a location because it's a restaurant that you've rented or someone's house and they're ready to move back in. Or it can be because you have monsoon rains coming and that would have been in hostiles where I was shooting the sequence towards the end of the film where Rory Cocker this character before he before he meets his maker and it's pouring rain and it's I think it's probably 38 degrees. It's going to be snowing later. Rory is dressed only in a very thin shirt, but we hadn't quite gotten the scene but I could tell that he was. He was very affected by the weather and was starting to become hypothermic. I'm not a doctor, I'm supposing I can see how it was affecting him. In these monsoon rains up in the Continental Divide, you just can't control but it was giving me everything that I wanted in the scene. So you're trying to balance somebody's help with also trying to know that you have to vacate a location, vacate a location and trying to balance the scene but and I would go to Rory and say, Listen, I think we have this. But I'm also very concerned that you are experiencing something now that you shouldn't be. No, Scott, I haven't quite gotten it is what Rory would say, we're going to keep pushing. And then you're sitting behind the monitor next to the lens and you're thinking okay, man, I've got to stop him because he'll keep going until it until he falls down. Because he's that kind of actor he's so great, Rory, great actors I've worked with. So seems like that really pressure you or when the monsoon rains and rattlesnakes have come out of the ground, they're everywhere, but you're still shooting, you know, those sorts of things. So it's all about really balancing. And you know, if you're 810 1000 feet above sea level, and oxygen very difficult for people, it's always trying to balance those sort of things, or shooting the pale blue eye and and it's eight below zero. And those are long days. And you want to make certain that the crew are well taken care of. But if you're the writer, director, producer, and you're in a location, and you're focused on that, and then but you're also concerned about the crews. Well being you know, those are things that you really have to juggle as a filmmaker they certainly don't teach you in film school having gone to film school, I don't know for sure, but I suspect they don't rattlesnake. Elevation,
Alex Ferrari 31:57
I missed the rattlesnake. Bears bronze class. When I went at least it wasn't there. It wasn't in the curriculum. I went I went.
Scott Copper 32:08
Right. Maybe there should be a class on.
Alex Ferrari 32:10
I mean, if someone's listening at USC USC film school should have that exactly. Now, I've talked to so many writers that when they are when they're writing, and it happens, it's happened to me, it happens to every writer, I think, is when you're writing you, you're almost channeling, you're almost like it's something flowing through you to what point to the point where after you're done, you look at and you go, Holy crap, who wrote this, this is good,
Scott Copper 32:41
Almost every time. And quite frankly, it comes from a very deep, subconscious place. I mean, you're very conscious as you're writing it. But you're not questioning that my wife asked me that all the time when she when she reads something. She's like Jesus, where'd this come from, and you can't quite really understand it. And, and quite frankly, the more films you make, and the more experienced you become known as a film director, but as a film writer, the more difficult it gets about saying less, and not over imparting to the audience, and trying to give them enough information to keep them satisfied, but not too much information. And that's where you become more conscious about it. But generally, if you're writing, if you're in that flow, and that stream of consciousness, and it's coming from a place, don't question it, and don't stop
Alex Ferrari 33:30
So it seems like it's, you know, we could call it the other side, the ether, wherever ideas come from ethics, Spielberg talked about it. And I think Prince and Michael Jackson talked about it as well, like where ideas come from. And I think Spielberg said it in an interview where he's like, if an idea comes to me, I know that if I don't act on it, in a week or two, I'll hear that Marty got it, or someone else got it, because the idea needs to be birthed into the world. And they chose you first. But if you don't move, they'll move on to the next one.
Scott Copper 34:02
Look at those are three geniuses that you just mentioned. So I wouldn't question any of that, but I think he's probably right. And I try not to I try not to question anything, honestly, in terms of where it comes from, because when you make the kind of films that that I make you you have to understand that no two people see the same film. Right. And which is why I think it's so frankly, absurd to rank art as we do in America. What's the best, you know? Who do you Who do you think's a better painter Cy Twombly or Jackson Pollock? You're gonna have very responses, right from a number of people when you present them with that. Are those better Meyer miles or Coltrane? Right? Those were things in the fact that we that we rank are something that are a whole nother discussion. Keep out. But you can't really be concerned with any of that when you are making a film, or when you're. So these come from don't know, how are people going to receive this?
Alex Ferrari 35:13
Oh, God, no, you can't think that. No, you have to just let it come out. And, and that's where I think a lot of writers
Scott Copper 35:20
Will be generic and easily forgotten.
Alex Ferrari 35:24
One thing I've noticed with your work is, it seems that there hasn't been a drop off. Meaning that the level that you were able to set the bar, you were able to sit with Crazy Heart, you've been able to keep that film after film, on the level of the writing and the directing, because to be honest, and I know you know this as well, there are directors who pop, but then they overthink or they and then you could start seeing it in their work, their work starts to drop off, unfortunately. Do you think when you wrote crazy heart where you were basically, there was no pressure to recreate the heart? Oh, no, no, that nobody? No, no. So it was such a freeing experience that you let go? Yes. Do you? Are you able to continuously do that with your work? Or do you start to get in your own way and stop that flow sometimes from happening?
Scott Copper 36:13
Well, both only because my work explores the darker corners of the human psyche. And since crazy heart have gotten progressively darker, although pale blue eyes, certainly it's not that I mean, that's much more accessible. So you try to guard against that, only because you know that your films affect people in ways and I've been to countless screenings over the last six movies, where people have come out of my films as though they were just, you know, festivals, screenings, because they were just hit by a two by four. And you can tell that they were deeply moved or deeply angered, or upset. Whatever it is. So you're sometimes mindful of that, like, you know, and I never tried to make the same film twice, you make it music film, you make a gangster movie, a Western for our family, hard trauma with antlers. And now this. So I never tried to repeat myself, but I also never let the audience off the hook. And that is something that you sometimes have to be reminded, because look we want I mean, movies are an expensive endeavor, and their investment want their movies at least to break even. But they want to make money. You know, it's cliche as it is it is show business and not show art. So I've been lucky to make the kind of films that I make. And quite frankly, I think actors and other directors, whether they're my contemporaries, or people that I have long, long admired became a filmmaker, because of them, have embraced my work in ways that the public just isn't aware of. And that really keeps you going. Walter Hill, got an email from Walter today, telling me how much that he loved pale blue eye. And what he thinks is my same reason I bring it up because you just mentioned it, and how he's seen my career ascend. And if you know, I think people are thankful when directors really, really respect the audience, and want to give them something that's challenging and something that's different, and most importantly, something that, and I do believe this will stand the test of time.
Alex Ferrari 38:31
Let me I gotta ask you this question. Because I mean, we you and I are both of the generation that remembers all those great filmmakers. You talked about all those great movies, from the 70s in the 60s in the in the 80s. And I feel like those kinds of filmmakers and to be honest filmmakers, like yourself aren't dangered species right now. Because of what's happening in the in the business. There's, it's, it's just getting crazier and crazier. And if it wasn't for people like Netflix, you know, a pale blue eye, which is your new movie. That's not getting a theatrical release today. That's not being made today. It just wouldn't get made unless it was with a streamer who wants to do that kind of work. Because the studios, honestly, if Scorsese is having a problem getting his films made, and he has to go to netflix. We're all in trouble.
Scott Copper 39:28
So we'll make it his new film.
Alex Ferrari 39:30
Right, exactly. So what do you think about the future of where we're going? Because as a film lover, I'm seeing I'm seeing a problem, the new generation coming up. It's,
Scott Copper 39:41
I mean, Christian and I just spoke about it today. Because the pale blue eyes debut on Netflix, it's been in theaters for the last two weeks. I mean, I'm eternally grateful that Netflix have allowed this film should people want to see it in the big screen experience to debut in the top markets. All over the world, you got two weeks to see it in a theater, if you want to see that. And should you want to wait until it comes to your house, which is what most people will do to your home theater. That's how the majority of people will see my film, then that's how they're gonna see. I am eternally grateful that Netflix, Apple, Amazon are making films that the legacy studios no longer want to make, because those are the films that that the reason I became a filmmaker, and the movies that still excite me, I mean, I've been asked to do major superhero films, or the kind of films that that guarantee an audience have been offered as many times and have as of yet elected not to do them because I want to tell these stories. Stories that make me want to race out to see a film on Friday night. It's getting tougher and tougher. Because if you look at this fall, and some of my pals their films, that debuted in cinemas just no one came to see them. And these are excellent films, and made them with the highest craftsmanship in great performances. And it's a bit terrifying, and we're heading into potentially strike here. we potentially could be facing the facing, you know, economic headwinds. So all of these things make it more difficult for people to get their films made. Certainly more difficult than than it does for Scorsese. Or, or, or your those Landmaster, myself, whoever are making, you know, challenging adult dramas. But still, it's never easy. And I fear that people until we're really beyond COVID, which we certainly are not. I think an older audience won't come back. And I think ticket price is probably going to have to come down to entice people to come back to the cinemas. But I can assure you because you look around the world are such great cinema being made. And those are the films that I most respond to, quite frankly, international filmmakers who've inspired me a great deal over the last 1520 years. They're still getting their films made. Their their home, countries sometimes help subsidize them, which we don't quite have here. It is getting tougher, but then every year movies come out you think okay, great. This is why we love cinema. It's just just getting harder and harder. Alex and James Rockwell any filmmaker, you should make the film you're about to make is though it's your last.
Alex Ferrari 42:58
Yeah, and it's good. You know, a lot of times, well, first of all, I think what you said about foreign films, we're getting access to them so much easier now because of streaming services. They're just coming in, and something like parasite winning the Oscar and things like that, that would have never happened. No, 1020 years ago, we just wouldn't have happened. So that's a good, those are good signs. But the younger generation of filmmakers coming up because I teach these filmmakers I they listen to me all the time. And, and they watch the show. And it's I see them at festivals, and I see them at events and I talk to them and it's just it's so much harder now to get stuff off the ground than it was before and especially to tell the kind of challenging stories that you're telling. And I mean, any of Kubrick's films, any of them tried to release them today. Oh, any Kubrick film today release it. It's not it's not even possible. You can you imagine the Clockwork Orange, I watched the other day, just the first. The first 20 minutes of that. I'm like, you can't release that today. It's just not in today's environment. You can't release a film like that. Or a taxi driver?
Scott Copper 44:10
No. Are you kidding? Are students dispirited from from following their passions? Or do they you know, it's gonna be a tougher road to hoe?
Alex Ferrari 44:21
Well, this is the thing, man, I think that filmmakers, the younger film generation coming up, are still stuck. A lot of times in the glory days, which in many ways for our generation was the 90s, which was the independent film movement, the Sundance movement where and I've spoken to a lot of these filmmakers, you know, the Ed Burns and the Robert Rodriguez and the Tarantino is these guys that there were legendary stories of what happened in the 90s. And they're stuck into that world that like think that that's the path and I keep yelling from the top of the mountain. This is not the way anymore but you can't. I talked to Ed burns about Brothers McMullen. That movie wouldn't make it De Klerk wouldn't make it today. El Mariachi wouldn't make it today. Slacker wouldn't make it today. It's there and they think that that's the path. So then I have to kind of break that illusion a bit. And then they go, Well, what do I do? And I go you that the game is so different now. And it's so much easier to make a film. But it's so much harder to get it seen. Because when we were coming up, it was impossible to make a film cos you needed 35 You need 16 If you were lucky, and then you had to really understand technology, you really need to understand lighting now anyone can make it I had Shaun Baker on a few a couple times on my show it what did he did with tangerine with the iPhone and and cameras are so cheap and things look so good
Scott Copper 45:45
Sean's doing it the right way.
Alex Ferrari 45:47
No, Sean is amazing. And he's, you know, Red Rocket, I love red rocket. I saw I saw that in the theater shot that 16 It was great. But that but that it's I think people are starting to get disheartened a bit. And I think what we're our generation looked into the 90s, let's say for for hope. And and of course, obviously the 70s and the 80s. And the 60s and the great filmmakers and the legends. We were we kind of like if you remember when that when everybody wanted to grow up to be a rock star, right. Then, in the 90s, everybody wanted to grow up to be a director, because Quinton made it so cool. And Robert made it so cool. And it was just like everybody. Yeah, so Soderbergh everybody was so cool to be a director. Now, the younger generation didn't, they want to be content creators. They want to be YouTubers to tell their stories, and they're able to monetize they're much faster than they could with film. And then don't get me started about film distribution, which is a whole other world that I've deep into as far independent film distribution. So it's such a difficult, it's so hard, man, at certain levels. Yeah, you're gonna get the rank Googlers that come out of film school and, and make some great films and your film like crazy are these but these are anomalies. I mean, your story is an anomaly, right? So I don't know, I don't know where this conversation is going. But I just love to hear your thoughts on where you think from your point of view.
Scott Copper 47:09
Well, now you might want to crawl up in the fetal position. Jesus, Alan Toro, who write my film antlers, and yes, it was a great pal of mine said, he said, Look, you know, if COVID remind us of anything, we know that we need food. We need shelter. We need medicines, and we need stories. And we will always need films, we will always always need long form television. Whether it's content, as you mentioned, on YouTube, whether it's short films, people need stories we always have ever since when we go back to caveman, right, the corpse of corpse, in cave art in caves in France and elsewhere. So that I'm not concerned about what I am concerned about are the economic headwinds. The difficulty to entry for the marketplace? The marketplace and distribution. And my hope is that that I don't know that we're on the tail end of COVID. Hopefully, still have it now. And it's as bad as ever as intense as ever. Hopefully, once people come back, the older audience come back to cinemas, perhaps it will get easier. But I don't know that film going is the first choice for 18 to 34 year olds. I have kids, they love going to the cinema. They try to go as often as possible. But it's also because I'm a film director, I love to go to the movies. But they're also on Tik Tok all the time. And they're on Instagram and they're on YouTube. owns YouTube. Yeah. So it's it's there are many things that are challenging our time for movies. Because it's expensive and time consuming to get to the to the cinema. I hope that changes. I hope that that will shake out with COVID and the Lego studios now realize that making films, like the films that I make are more important, but it's really all about economics always has been,
Alex Ferrari 49:25
But you know, it has but I think that the studios are now run by corporations and by boards of directors. Oh, but before they were run by filmmakers, you know, you know, I mean, arguably Iger, Bob Iger is probably the only guy who understands it. Look what he's done with Disney for God's sakes. He got his back and think he's back. He understood he understands storytelling understands filmmaking. But I remember growing up I worked at a video store and we would have movies like What About Bob? You know, and these smaller films in Virginia. Right, exactly. So the smaller films with big stars Nice budgets, you know, 10 million 15 million, that there was a shot that do 10 Of those, and one would pop, and the other ones would do, okay, and then maybe two or three would bomb, but they will all work together. And there was more content, more ideas, more things. And that's why we're going back to those times to mind those ideas, because everyone's terrified of doing that kind of stuff right now, where Netflix, and Amazon and Apple aren't scared to do that, because their business model is different. That's right.
Scott Copper 50:28
And I suspect that there are a lot of different streaming platforms, which are expensive for people to have six or eight of them. I imagine that there will be fewer going forward. And but those will still be providing great content. And that's, of course, Netflix and Apple and Amazon Disney plus who are well capitalized. But then I think you'll probably also see some consolidation. And the less buyers the worse off for all of us.
Alex Ferrari 51:03
Agreed my friend agreed that's without question
Scott Copper 51:06
Companies like Sony Pictures, classics, and my good friends at Fox Searchlight who backs Yeah, a couple of my films, and they and they really are run by filmmakers. Films, year in and year out. They're great supporters of film
Alex Ferrari 51:24
Scott Copper 51:26
And, and and now and of course, Netflix, Netflix as a whole division that will allow you to make Romo or Bardot or power of the dog or the pale blue eye or on and on and on. And hopefully we can continue to make that because there's so many young filmmakers who are listening to this podcast or your podcast in general, who have stories to tell and should be absolutely, there's no problem. And if you can, if you have that burning desire that says this is the only thing I can do with my life, which is ultimately what I said, then you'll find a way to succeed and tell your story.
Alex Ferrari 52:01
Amen, brother, I think that's that's the key is it's not and maybe you should, maybe you can back me up on this. It's always not about the talent. But perseverance, because there's a lot of people who are around. They're like, man, they're not the best, but they just stuck it out.
Scott Copper 52:18
They just survived. Oh, yeah, we all know examples of that for sure. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 52:24
And that's something they don't teach you in film school. It's like, I don't look, Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan got cut from his high school team talent wasn't enough talent wasn't he had to go and hustle and work and build it up and keep going. And, and that's something that I try to I try to yell at from the top of the mountain here as well.
Scott Copper 52:41
Hey, if you had my pal, Adam Sandler on to talk about hustle,
Alex Ferrari 52:45
Please, I would love to have Adam on the show. Please call them up and let them know because I love the show. He should be on. I don't know why he didn't come on hustle. I love by the way, love that movie, love.
Scott Copper 52:56
He's a great, great man. And he's great in the film. And
Alex Ferrari 52:59
If he's if you want to talk about Adam, and people always ask, like, how come Adam keeps getting all these this deal on Netflix? And I always say like, the reason why is because when you're on Friday night with your wife sitting on Netflix, and you're scanning all those thumbnails and you see Adams face. You go, I know what I'm gonna get. And I'm gonna get some livers, man, and he's going to be super funny. Or when he gets into this drop dramatic stuff, which is so underrated. It's dramatic acting great. He and he just he gets it and he understands his brand. He understands what he's doing. And man, he unlike any other actor, I really, he's he's done such amazing stuff over the years. Whether you like yeah, whatever you like. I don't care if people like his films or not everyone has their opinions on stuff. But you can't deny what the man has done. And continue to do it keeps knocking it out of the park. I love to hustle. I love to hustle. So good. I love the guy. So let's talk about the pale blue I you know with Netflix, I you know, it looks beautiful dude. It's stunning. It is stunningly shot. It almost reminded it almost has a Sleepy Hollow vibe to it as far as it gets. Yeah, that's right, that that has that kind of texture? Well, for sure. It's It's stunning, man. So tell me how that that whole thing came to be and and how you were able I mean, I'm assuming you gave the script to Christian Christian said yes. And then Netflix.
Scott Copper 54:31
Yeah, he read it probably a lot. I don't know 10 or 12 years ago after we get out of the furnace. That he was too young to play Augustus landour The world where he detected with too old to play. Edgar Allan Poe, but we'd always talked about it. I mean, I've written a lot of things that I think he and I will make at some point. It's all about as we discussed early on in the podcast, all about timing availability, what we feel like making but we both We're interested in what drives someone to madness, how much pressure has to build before they explode. And violence is what causes morality and decency to erode and otherwise decent people. Right? real horrors seldom have easy explanations. And that's what we wanted to explore with the story. In terms of the aesthetic. It was a it was a brutal shoot is all my wife thinks I'm a masochist. But like I said, it was incredibly cold was bracing winds coming from the northeast, or just almost revenant style. Yeah, it was it was tough. But that was all in serving kind of this Gothic aesthetic, and, and really trying to serve as a, an Edgar Allan Poe origin story, that the two hours that take place in this film, motivate Poe to become the writer that we know and love, the writer of the McCobb, the man who bequeathed to us detective and horror fiction, the man who writes about tragedy and death and the Satanic and the occult, and where life ends and death begins, all those sorts of things that kind of course, through this narrative. And I thought that again, in trying not to do Safe Work. Christian stood on that ledge with me. And then we both took the took the leap, and we're, yeah, so once I attached Christian, my agency, creative artists took the screenplay out and, and we got a lot of bids from Legacy studios, a lot of bids from streamers. But Netflix made us an offer that we thought was too good to pass up in terms of having both a theatrical experience and streaming my first platform experience. And also, quite frankly, there there have the ranks are filled with great filmmakers who really understood the film and allowed me to make the film that you see. I hoped that people find it, you know, starting today on the on the streamer and, and allow people coming behind me to make films that are similarly difficult to make in this marketplace.
Alex Ferrari 57:21
And you've worked with Christian so many times now. I mean, you guys are you're the Scorsese to his dinero at this point, or to his DiCaprio, at this point. Christian is one of the greatest actors of his generation. There's no no question one of the greatest actors of his generation, and his physical transformations that he's done over the course of his life, which I know it's harmed his health.
Scott Copper 57:43
Oh, it has to harm himself. And
Alex Ferrari 57:46
There's nobody who's ever done anything at that again, and again, and again. And again, from the machine is to Batman. You're like, what, how? Tao? How? It's really remarkable. What is the what is the biggest lesson you've learned working with an actor like him?
Scott Copper 58:05
No detail is too small. And always striving for the truth. always striving for excellence, and realizing that we can always do better. And you need people like that to make you a better filmmaker. spoken about it publicly, Christian is my closest pal, my closest collaborator, is a brother to me. And and I'm thankful that as a director, I've had someone who has served as a muse for, for the stories that I want to tell, and people continue to come out and see our work, it won't be the end of it, our collaboration for sure. But he pushes me to be the best filmmaker I can be. And and quite frankly, I admired him more off the set than I do on music is incredibly devoted father and husband and you'll never see Christian in the public eye. You never see him on talk shows. Because he always thinks the less the public knows about him, the more easily they will believe Him as Batman, or Dick Cheney, or Augustus landour and the pale blue where he pumps his gas who he's partying with, where he went through holiday. Never see it.
Alex Ferrari 59:16
Yeah, it's almost a Daniel Day Lewis vibe to because when Daniel, he just wouldn't you don't? Nothing. You didn't do nothing about it. He just show up. 310 years later, I'll do a part now.
Scott Copper 59:27
And that way, you're able to be transported with the filmmakers to a world never even question. Hold on. Is he dating?
Alex Ferrari 59:36
You're right. You're right. He's brilliant. He's brilliant on multiple levels without question, and I have I continue to write for him. Now I have a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
Scott Copper 59:49
Tell personal stories, tell personal stories that you know will connect in a very universal way to people in America. Are people in Iran, people in Afghanistan, people in Ukraine, all people need stories tell make personal films?
Alex Ferrari 1:00:08
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Scott Copper 1:00:14
It's difficult but patience, and to believe in yourself into Believe in your stories and to believe that you will ultimately cultivate your talent in such a way that it will be undeniable that people will want to work with you. But it all takes patience and experience.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
And the toughest question of all three of your favorite films of all time.
Scott Copper 1:00:38
I would say even though I have yet to make a documentary, I love them. I would say Barbara couples, Harlan County, USA. That's a great movie. One thing that really has influenced me the Maysles brothers salesman. It's another I would say John Pierre Melville's, Last Samurai.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:06
Nice. Very nice, very nice list. My friend, Scott brother, I appreciate you coming on the show and and sharing all your knowledge and experience with the audience, man and please continue to make movies man.
Scott Copper 1:01:15
Great questions, man. Keep it up and please people. In all seriousness, don't lose faith. We got to tell stories.
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