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IFH 588: How I Got My Film Directing Off The Ground with Sean Mullin

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Sean Mullin is an award-winning filmmaker.  His critically-acclaimed feature film debut as a writer/director — Amira & Sam — won the top prize at numerous festivals and was distributed theatrically by Drafthouse Films. He’s the co-writer/co-producer of the film, Semper Fi – alongside Oscar-nominated director Henry-Alex Rubin (Murderball) and Oscar-nominated producer David Lancaster (Whiplash).  Lionsgate released the film theatrically in 2019. He’s the writer/director of a feature-length documentary – Kings of Beer – about the world’s most intense brewmaster competition, which was released theatrically in 2019.  He’s the writer/director of It Ain’t Over – a feature-length documentary about baseball legend, Yogi Berra – which will be released in 2022.

Prior to his filmmaking career, Sean served in the military. He was stationed in Germany as an army officer, but finished his time as a Captain in the New York Army National Guard – where he was a first responder on September 11th, 2001. For several months, he spent his days working as the Officer in Charge of the soldiers stationed at Ground Zero – and his nights performing stand-up comedy.

Sean holds an MFA from Columbia University and a B.S. from The United States Military Academy at West Point. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), as well as the Producers Guild of America (PGA).  Sean is represented by UTA. He resides in Los Angeles, where he runs Five By Eight Productions and is a guest lecturer at USC, AFI and West Point.

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra is one of baseball’s greatest. He amassed ten World Series rings, 3 MVP awards and 18 All-Star Game appearances. He caught the only perfect game in World Series history. Yet for many his deserved stature was overshadowed by his simply being himself and being more recognized more for his unique personality, TV commercial appearances and unforgettable “Yogi-isms,” initially head-scratching philosophical nuggets that make a lot more sense the more you think about them. In telling the whole story, It Ain’t Over gives Berra his due in following the life of a savvy, commanding, bad-ball hitting catcher with a squat frame but also a D-Day veteran, loving husband and father and, yes, product endorser and originator (mostly) of his own brand of proverbs now ingrained into everyday life.

Granddaughter Lindsay Berra tells his story along with his sons, former Yankee teammates, players he managed, writers, broadcasters, and admirers (such as Billy Crystal), plus photos and footage on and off the diamond. Berra famously said,

“I’d be pretty dumb if I started being something I’m not,”

and It Ain’t Over lovingly makes clear he stayed who he was for the benefit of baseball and everyone else.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Sean Mullin 0:00
You know onset as a director, you have to, you have to really listen to what your actors are doing, see what they're doing if they're doing great stay out of their way, if something's rubbing you the wrong way you got to investigate.

Alex Ferrari 0:07
Today's show is sponsored by Enigma Elements. As filmmakers, we're always looking for ways to level up production value of our projects, and speed up our workflow. This is why I created Enigma Elements. Your one stop shop for film grains, color grading lots vintage analog textures like BH s, and CRT images, smoke fog, textures, DaVinci Resolve presets, and much more. After working as an editor colorist post and VFX supervisor for almost 30 years I know what film creatives need to level up their projects, check out and enigmaelements.com and use the coupon code IFH10. To get 10% off your order. I'll be adding new elements all the time. Again, that's enigmaelements.com. Well, guys, Today we continue our coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival and I sit down with writer director Sean Mullin. Now his story is remarkable how he was able to get this little independent film off the ground, losing half the budget, a few weeks before production, how he was able to rally to get that going, where that film became a huge hit and launched his career to his latest film. It ain't over the Yogi Berra documentary, which is remarkable, by the way, and everything in between. So let's dive in. I'd like to welcome to the show, Sean Mullin. How you doin Sean?

Sean Mullin 1:35
Great! How are you Alex?

Alex Ferrari 1:36
I'm good, man. I'm good, man. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Brother. You we're gonna talk about your new film. Eight ain't over. Which is of the late great Yogi Berra. And, and I learned so much about you, you watching it. And when when your pitch came across my desk, I was like, Well, I gotta gotta I don't want to wait until it's mainstream. I got to see it now. And I fell in love with it. Because as I'm sure you know, you probably fell in love with it, making it make you fell in love with the okie just making?

Sean Mullin 2:09
Absolutely no, it's definitely a surrogate grandfather for the pandemic for me, and a lot of a lot of folks involved. So absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 2:15
So before we get before we get down to the your latest project wanted to go back back into the archives. So why God's green earth? Did you want to get into this business?

Sean Mullin 2:27
Um, you know, I don't think I wanted to I think anybody who wants to? I don't know, I'm a little skeptical of maybe. Yeah, I don't, you know, it's, I just was more of a I mean, it just came out of me. You know, I just felt like it was something as a kid, I was always writing short stories, I was always the one kind of getting people together and telling jokes in the corner class, I got in trouble a lot, obviously, for that. And yeah, I just was always a storyteller. And I got a kit when I was at, you know, going to West Point for College. And you know, about a video camera, and I recorded on my buddy's telling stories and all that stuff. And so and, you know, I just always wrote and always, you know, that just kind of, I don't know, came came out pretty organically. So I just feel like it's who I am, really is, instead of like, who I wanted to be

Alex Ferrari 3:14
Fair enough, because I agree with you. If somebody wants to be in this business, you got to look at them a little outside, especially now that if you've got some, especially if you got some shrapnel on you, you know it literally like you know, battle hardened through through business, it's you look you like, do you really do you want to go down to like, my son wants to be in the business, I don't run away. Is there anything else you can do? If there is and you love it?

Sean Mullin 3:41
I do that I've been teaching on and off for the past decade. And that's one of the first lectures I give is like, Listen, if you can live with yourself doing anything else do that. But if you can't, if it's a calling of it's something inside you, well, then you're screwed. And just, you know, good luck, you know, go go after but, but but be passionate, don't give up and work hard and you know, collaborate and all the things you need to do to create great work.

Alex Ferrari 4:05
I call it the beautiful illness because it's it's a thing you stuck with it. You can't get rid of it. It's with you for life. No, no vaccine is gonna get rid of it. And it could, it could go dormant for decades. But oh, wait. I have 60 year olds coming on like I was a doctor but I really want to do is direct.

Sean Mullin 4:26
Grab a camera, grab it.

Alex Ferrari 4:28
Grab a camera doc, and you can finance your project.

Sean Mullin 4:31
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 4:33
Now, I have to ask you, you had a very interesting start to your, you know, your career, if you will, outside of the film industry where you were in the military. And then you were also one of the 911 first responders. Is that correct?

Sean Mullin 4:48
I guess I was in Manhattan. I was the plans officer for the New York National Guard on the morning of September 11. So before before the attacks, we didn't need too many plans and then we needed a lot obviously that De and so I ended up ended up spending the first two weeks full time and then I was kind of part time for a couple of months. And then in January of oh two it would have been they, they gave me a new title and promoted me to captain and put me in charge of the soldiers at Ground Zero from from like, January until August about to and I was I was in charge of the bridges and tunnels in Manhattan and Ground Zero, just making sure you know, Everything was running smoothly. So and at the same time, though, I was, I had, I had moved to New York City, I'd left active duty and moved New York City a couple years prior and become a stand up comedian. And there was a new theater had just opened Upright Citizens Brigade UCB Theater opened in 99. So I started doing improv theater, and I was, so it was kind of a weird double life of working at Ground Zero and doing comedy at night. Kind of. Yeah, well, it was it was.

Alex Ferrari 5:48
It doesn't even say a joke back then. I remember like, yeah, that Saturday Night Live episode, like, Absolutely. Can we be funny?

Sean Mullin 5:55
Can we be funny now? Absolutely. Yeah. Giuliani wonder whatever happened to him? i But yeah, I mean, I don't think I did comedy for until probably at least October, November, you know, it definitely took about a month or so off. And then it was hard. It was hard. Time was a crazy time in the city, but very formative time for me. And while I was at Ground Zero, I applied I said, screw, you know, again, this is what I this is what I'm going to do with my life. I'm going to be a storyteller. So I applied to grad school. And I got accepted spring about two into Columbia's MFA program for film directing. And that's why I left the military summer Oh, two and right. I mean, I was in my uniform one day, as last day I shaved actually was August 15 2002. And I and I went to Columbia the next day for grad school.

Alex Ferrari 6:37
I imagine that the work that you did at Ground Zero and also in the military prepared you to be a director, in many ways, because of just organizing large groups of people making sure things get done.

Sean Mullin 6:50
Absolutely. No, no, it's interesting. The first thing some people will hear, you know, or some people say to me, when I tell them I've gone to West Point and all that they'll be like, well, how are you? How are you a filmmaker, this is a completely different worlds. And I you know, I jokingly I was interviewed by West Point Magazine did a little piece on me after my first film, and I was kind of tongue in cheek said, West point's the best film school in the country. I mean, I obviously, you know, a little bit of a joke there. But, um, leadership is really what it's all about, and being able to command your unit and you when you have a film set, it's the same thing creating this environment where everybody where you're inspiring people, you're not, you're not just telling people what to do, you're actually inspiring them, inspiring them. And yeah, I mean, I think there's so many parallels to being a good leader in the military and, and a director who can get the vision across, while also, you know, navigating all the obstacles that arise during production.

Alex Ferrari 7:40
Now, I was going back into your IMDB and I went all the way back to the bottom. Where you get that first pa gig? Yeah, sure. What was that with? I'm sure I'm sure.

Sean Mullin 7:56
I do. Yeah, the best thief in the world was the name of the film. And I was a PA, they found out I had come from ground zero. And so they put me in charge of all walkie talkies, they put me in charge of anything. even remotely all logistics. I mean, I was running all the truck. I was doing everything I but it was great experience. You know, it was? Yeah, it was the summer that would have been summer oh three, my first real onset gig.

Alex Ferrari 8:17
And I'm assuming, of course, you were paid very well. Very handsomely, handsomely.

Sean Mullin 8:22
Still living off it actually still living off the interest?

Alex Ferrari 8:26
No, but so what was the biggest lesson you learned? On those days, those first days on set, because I remember when I was I was a PA. I was just absorbing everything. Like I just absorbed what the director was doing, what the production was doing. I worked in the office I worked on set. I was just absorbing as much what was that lesson? That was the thing that you learned that first those first few weeks?

Sean Mullin 8:48
I think the biggest lesson for me was I had just finished my first year of grad school. So I'm on a real set. And I interned for the production company that produced the movie in the spring. And so I was had been involved and read the script and got to meet the director and everything. And I I think for me, the biggest thing I learned is that I can do this, like I pictured myself in the director's chair, and I felt competent. I mean, yes, I was a PA, you know, but I felt it didn't feel like such a far stretch and demystify the process a lot. And it actually got me really excited that I knew, you know, once I had the funds and the ability to make a first feature, I would be able to I felt confident I'd be able to pull it off.

Alex Ferrari 9:28
Isn't it funny that most pas are sitting there going I could do better

Sean Mullin 9:35
I could, you know, but I just it didn't. I didn't feel like it was beyond the reach of my capabilities. I felt like I felt good. It felt like vindication. Like okay, I see what he's doing. I see he's got a shot list. I see he's gonna stop and I can talk to actors. I know that world to a bit. So yeah, it was really it was really kind of an exciting time, to be honest.

Alex Ferrari 9:56
And as well as when you're standing because I've worked with a ton of stand Throughout my career, and it is a it is a, such an art form. And it's so hard to do good stand up like it's one of the hardest things in the planet to do, honestly. And knowing that you are stand up as well that you got up in front of that mic and everything. What did you bring from that to your directing? Because there, there are some skills that overlap, but what was it that but it wasn't anything you brought up,

Sean Mullin 10:25
I think the biggest thing was just being in the moment because even you know, being in the moment as a director is the most important thing, you know, I mean, in all this years and years of headache and, and sweat and tears and blood that go into like getting a script in the right place, and getting everything attached and getting the money, all that matters is what's between action and cut, right. And you've got to really, really to be locked in. And I'm extremely focused right there in the moment. And that that's always will stand up to you had to be it but you also have to react, right you have to react to the audience and you have to you know, and stand up and then you know, onset as a director, you have to you have to really listen to what your actors are doing, see what they're doing, if they're doing great stay out of their way, if something's rubbed you the wrong way, you got to investigate. And so I think that's probably the biggest thing I got was just the ability to really be in the moment and, and receptive to shifts in tone, or, you know, anything else that might throw off the story.

Alex Ferrari 11:18
I mean, to be fair, I mean, directing is compromise. I mean, the whole thing was constantly compromised. I always love I always love coming to set with this obscene lips shot list. And I gave it to the first ad in the first day. He's like, you know, we're not gonna make it. There. It's there just in case. I have to have 50 shots before lunch. I know. I got it. I got lunch. I know we'll get the five case.

Sean Mullin 11:42
I did a lot in grad school because again, the military, you know, I'm a six foot five military guy, you know, so they everybody's like, Oh, he can tell people what to do without being a jerk. And so So I did a lot of a dealing. And that really helped that helped inform my directing as well. I'm, I'm very selective with my shot. I'm much more I'd rather have less setups and more takes is kind of my approach. So

Alex Ferrari 12:01
Yeah, exactly. Now, how did you get your first film Amira and Sam off the ground?

Sean Mullin 12:09
Oh, my goodness. Yeah, that's definitely a long story. But it was just, you know, it had been about set it took me seven years from the time I got my MFA and Oh, six till that time we shot we shot summer of 13. And it was just a real struggle. I had written some other scripts. I had worked as a screenwriter I, I got hired, right. I got hired to write two scripts pretty quickly out of grad school, one for Britney Spears, which was pretty insane working with her for a year to say the least. And then another one and another script that couldn't be more different. A military drama for an Oscar nominated documentarian, Henry Alex Rubin, who had did Murderball that documentary Murderball, I wrote a I wrote a I wrote a screenplay for him. I actually got hired write that screenplay when I was in grad school, and oh five, and the film actually got made 14 years later it came out. But two years ago, it's called Semper Fi. And so that that script, so I was working as a screenwriter, I was doing other things. My creative partner from Columbia, Mike Connors is my best friend and we have a crush coming out here in LA, he, he made a feature that I produced, called allegiance in 2012. And so producing his feature, I really started to understand, you know, what it takes that really, if you're going to make an independent film, you you've got to especially don't come from any means, you know, you've got to you gotta figure you know, figure it out, you know, last thing my parents ever bought me was a one way plane ticket to West Point, you know, so I, you know, I've been I've been out here hustling, trying to scrape together scrape together money to get things made. And so yeah, we just, I was able to kind of get I got, I landed with a great production company. I got very fortunate, we introduced a burst company, Matt Miller and Eric Lochner at the time, have a company called vanishing angle and they actually fast forward that they are they vanishing angle? Is the production company on it ain't over as well. So it's just a good a good lesson in keeping up relationships, but at the time, it was it was Matt and Eric Now it's run by Matt and Natalie Miller, Natalie Metzker. But, um, but yeah, so we I got, you know, we got the script, I got the script to them, we, we got some money together, we thought we were gonna make it for 600k We went out made offers, we got Martin star attached, which was incredible, was really exciting. He had never been the lead in a, in a in a feature film before, let alone or romantically, let alone a special forces. You know, Greenbrae. So it was really something different for him a real departure, but he, he was really drawn in with a script, and I think I was able to sell him over over lunch, and we got him attached. And then and then we got Deena Shahabi, which was like this incredible, incredible actress. She was still in grad school at the time getting her MFA at NYU and acting she's since blown up she's doing a million things and she was just on this archive at one which was a big Netflix thing but she did Jack rock Jack Ryan and all this other stuff. She's an incredible actress, but this was her first film as well. So lead role and yeah, so it didn't we killed ourselves, you know, and then and then half the budget, you know, half the money. felt, you know, we had, we thought we had 600 we have kind of verbal commitments for 600. And then by the time we're shooting, we had 300. So I had to cut another week. So instead of a four week shoot or three weeks shoot, and it was just a mess was we shot 97 pages and 16 and a half days, which was a real, real, I mean, a real difficult difficult thing. But, you know, through all the through all that through all that trial and tribulation, we ended up having a really wonderful premiere and we ended up winning, winning awards, you know, over 10 film festivals and we got, you know, picked up by Alamo Drafthouse, Tim League, saw the film, watched it, bought it, and put it out in Alamo Drafthouse theaters, which was really exciting. And I got signed it, an agency and all that stuff. So it kind of it served this purpose of what I needed to do. And I also just, obviously, love the film, so means a lot.

Alex Ferrari 15:46
It's fascinating that, you know, I'd love to hear this kind of stories of like we had 600, then we really only had 300 that you kept going is a testament to your ability and everything, your team's ability to just make it happen because it happens so often. And so many filmmakers coming up, they don't understand, like, when the money drops that the concept of the money dropping until it's in the bank until it's an escrow that you can pull, pull a check. It's nothing.

Sean Mullin 16:14
It's nothing. No, no. And when I said we had 600, I think we have 10 grand in the bank. I mean, we have 600 And then that money in I mean, Meg Jarrett, I mean, she's the real angel to that project. She was she was she wrote the first check. And then actually, Peter Sobel off, who was who ended up producing, being one of the lead producers, Peter, and Mike's, who were big producers on the yogi doc, they actually, you know, came in as well and brought some money. And so it was just nervous. We were raising money all the way up through prep, and it was a nightmare. still finding locations, it was a real mess. But at that point in my life, also the film, the film was anything that I would, you know, I think it's too much. I think I cram too much into it. I just I was like, this is like, this is my shot. This is it. This is the only film I'm you know, this is, this is the only film I'm ever gonna get to make. It's been seven years since grad school. And it was really tough, was married, had a young daughter, you know, I was like, what, um, you know, this is it, this was my shot. And if it and so I just, there was no way I was backing down. And if it didn't, if it didn't succeed, I, you know, I don't know for sure what I would have done.

Alex Ferrari 17:13
As they say, you went up to the plate, sir. And you and you and you took you took a swing. And that's, I mean, I've been there. But I've been there that, you know, you're like, This is my shot. I got this has to go the train is left, this is leaving the station on this day. It's over. Regardless of what happens. We're making something

Sean Mullin 17:31
If I'm following if I'm following Martin and Deena around with a camera, you know, for a few weeks, we're gonna get something but everything fell in place. I just had an incredible, incredible support. And Terry Leonard was a producer, who, who really came on board and really helped out with that. And my cinematographer Danny Vecchione, he, Danny, also cinematographer on worked with him on multiple projects since he shot the yogi doc. So again, a lot of lot of my key creative relationships were started with that film.

Alex Ferrari 17:57
Now, as you know, many times when we're on set as a director, there's that day, that moment, Dad, you're losing the son. Camera breaks, the actor can't get to set. How was that moment for you on that film? And how did you overcome it?

Sean Mullin 18:16
I mean, there were there were about 13 of those. But no, I mean, there's one in particular, Dena still brings up uniques I'm still really close. I mean, Dina, and Martin and I, we get together for dinners all the time, and we're really still close. And we really bonded during that, you know, again, that's another kind of similarity to the military, but you bond through the stress. Right? Um, and, and so there was one so we, you know, the film, you know, there, there are different days, you know, we were averaging over seven pages a day. So that was pretty tricky. But there was one day where we had a ton, there's a long scene that takes place in a in a bed, which is like a 10 page scene. So that was night, we got like 14, like we got like 12 or 13 pages that day, which is huge. So but we had an Action Day where we had all of our boat scenes and all of our motorcycle scenes, which were it was just our kind of most logistically challenging day and we had the weather had to be right and everything had to just be perfect, like we had didn't have a minute to spare. And we couldn't, when we got on the boat to shoot the boat scenes, we we didn't have enough people as myself DP producer sound, and then the actors that's all we could fit on the boat. And on one of the take we you know, on one of the takes, we it was a perfect take, I loved everything. But Deena had left on her jean jacket because she was cold. And so the continuity it wouldn't cut it all and it was a big Medius part of the scene and and I I just I almost broke I mean that was the closest I came to breaking because we I didn't know if we could do it again. So we had to circle back around something has to match and then the weather and then I've got this motorcycles waiting for us which we've got to get to them in time to get the sunset motorcycle shots and I'm on the boat and it's just so that that was probably the closest I came to, to kind of breaking. I mean, there's a lot of emotional moments. I mean, the the most emotional moment making it though was when you know when we told all the agents and everything I knew there was a six $7,000 movie. That's what went out to Martin and everything like that. And for Martin Starr is like, Oh, that's not a lot of money. I can't believe it and, and about two thirds of the way through the shoot, we were shooting the scene at this mock police station, and Martin pulled me aside. And we had been through a lot at this point. And he, and he said, You know, I don't know how I go, Sean, I just need to tell you, I don't know how you guys are pulling this off for 600,000. And I just, I just started, I just started crying. I just started crying. Tears came out of my eyes. And he's like, what's he's like, what's up, and he gave me a hug. And I said, God, we only have 300. And, and he hugged me back, and he started crying. And we're just there hugging and crying each other outside this, you know, made up police station, that we shot somewhere. So anyways, it's moments like that. It's a lot, you know, it's a lot.

Alex Ferrari 20:50
Now, is there something that you wish somebody would have told you at the beginning of your career? A piece of advice or something?

Sean Mullin 20:57
Oh, man, I don't know. You know, I'm not a, you know, I'm not a big like, regret guy. I have looked back. I don't you know, I just I've never been good at that. So no, I mean, you know, I'm sure, yeah, I mean, it could have taught me a lot of things. I feel like,

Alex Ferrari 21:09
Hey, you're not gonna get you're gonna get through

Sean Mullin 21:12
Your 300. I mean, you know, just how, you know, I mean, I think I was ready. I think I was prepared for how hard it was. I mean, I, you know, it's just been, it's been very difficult been very difficult on even personal relationships and stuff. And, you know, it's just been hard. It's been a hard, hard road.

Alex Ferrari 21:28
It's and that's the thing that so many young filmmakers coming up, don't understand that this is not an easy path. This is the art the artists path is not an easy path. But the filmmaker path is even more complex, because we cost so much for us. And we have to convince other people to come along with us. It's very difficult to do it all by yourself, if not impossible. So it's, it's it's I always like bringing these kinds of stories up. So filmmakers listening, especially young filmmakers understand what's ahead of them, not to scare them off, but just to understand the rules of the game. Mm

Sean Mullin 22:02
Hmm. Yeah, you almost have to just be possessed, you know. Yeah. Which is, you know, for better for worse, but, but you need a lot of collaborators, you need a lot of support, you need people to vouch for you. That's why I now, you know, vouch for younger filmmakers of whenever I can, and help out. I've had interns over the years. I've got another one this summer. Giselle does Nia, she's really great. So I'm looking out for her, trying to, you know, trying to pass along any advice I can. And actually, I teach a class I teach. I teach two classes over at AFI, AFI the MFA program and directing and I teach in the fall. It's like a directing 101 is a four semester program I teach. In the fall, I teach a, like a direct one on one class shot, shot selection, shot progression, you know, kind of basic directing class, Intro to directing. And then the fourth semester, I teach a class called the first feature where we go through and we do case studies of dozens of first features and you know, what works, what doesn't so I'm doing my best to pass along any knowledge I've gotten over the years to make things a little bit easier, but it's never gonna be easy for anyone.

Alex Ferrari 23:04
I mean, you could you could tell somebody don't put your hand in the fire because it's gonna it's hard until you get into that fire baby. You don't you really don't really don't know. That's true. That's so true to hear all these stories by us old timers sitting around talking about it, but until you're in the interior, as they say, you're in the shit. You really won't know what's what's going on. Now. I when I was looking at through your your filmography, I'm like, okay, so he did this amazingly wonderful romantic comedy. How does he go from I mean, a romantic comedy to Semper Fi which is complete one ad you know obviously much bigger budget you know, a bigger cast and action and different tone How did you get like as a as a as a creative and as a director?

Sean Mullin 24:27
Yeah, I mean, I don't really when I'm looking at stories, I don't look at the genre. Or, you know, even even you know, I don't really necessarily pay attention to format you know, I'm doing more docs now. But I it's really about to me, it's about character and story and for, for me that the stories that have resonated the most are stories where there's some sort of tension between perception and reality. So for Amir and Samos, the perception and reality of a veteran returning from war and an Iraqi refugee, it's this kind of star crossed lover thing where Are there there's a tension there. And with Yogi I mean with yogi, the perception of Yogi versus the reality of Yogi. So I, for me, that's what I'm really keyed into is every story I've gotten involved with has some sort of tension between perception and reality. And so I don't really, you know, whether it's a comedy or drama or dark or scripted, I don't think any of that matters it to me, it's about kind of, you know, the story and the characters. And if I can, undercover, some sort of tension that is compelling.

Alex Ferrari 25:27
How did you approach the action? Because you hadn't at that point, have you shot any action at that point?

Sean Mullin 25:33
Or are you top up for Semper Fi? Yeah. So actually, so I did not direct Semper Fi. So I, you wrote, you wrote down? No, no, no, I'm sorry. Yeah. So Henry, Alex Rubin, who did a Murderball Oh, he ended up No, no, he directed it. So I was just a, I was a co writer, I co wrote the script with him. And then I was a co producer on as well, because I was involved. I mean, I mean, this is 155 drafts over 14 years and not one dime until I until until, until, you know, the first day of shooting really so.

Alex Ferrari 26:01
So at that point, you should like yeah, I'm going to be involved a little bit.

Sean Mullin 26:05
Well, I tried. Yeah, I tried to be as involved as they'd let me

Alex Ferrari 26:09
Now when I saw Beer Fest. And it was really interesting because I love the way you shoot docks. It's very interesting, very cinematic. It's, you know, there's some term documentarian, so shoot it like a documentarian. But you seem to shoot it like a documentarian with a cinematic eye. And

Sean Mullin 26:28
Kingsbury, you're talking about? Things were different. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 26:32
I just had I just had Jay on the show. I'm sorry.

Sean Mullin 26:34
Oh, did you know Jay was amazing. No, no, that was fun. Those little those. Yeah, that was my first my first documentary was called kings of beer. And yeah, I tried to bring again, I brought my DP who's a really incredible cinematographer Danny Vecchione, and he, he's got a real cinematic eye. And so we, you know, we visually try it, we tried to visually design it, you know, as kind of, you know, to make it look kind of, I don't know, as cinematic as possible. And yeah, I'm glad I'm really proud of it was my first doc. And, you know, it's also it got a little bit a little bit of a stink on it, I think for some people after the release, because it was financed by Budweiser. So a lot of people were like, Oh, this is propaganda. This is stuff, but I was like, Listen, you know, I did get paid. First time in my life, I got paid really well. I was like, Oh, this is what directors get paid. Or this is like, this is this is I could do this, like every Yeah, exactly. I got I mean, and so I understood, I understood that end of it. So yeah, Budweiser, did finance it. But they weren't involved. You know, they weren't super involved with the editor or any of the stuff. It was really up to me. And I was really, again, went after care and went after perception versus reality. When I touch again, this is a perfect thing is probably one of my best examples where if I tell you who are the top five Brewmasters at Budweiser, you probably will firstly you didn't know they had multiple Budweiser as theirs, but you probably like oh, they're heavyset, white, bearded white dudes from the Midwest, like just pressing a button. Homer Simpson taken a nap right? But no, I mean, it was. It was the five top brewmaster there 65 breweries around the world that brew button the top five that I followed for a year, where African American female African American male, a Chinese man from Wuhan went to Wuhan, actually, which was crazy shot there right before everything happened. didn't speak any English. And then another woman from Canada who brews in New Hampshire, and then and then the white dude, who was an Army combat vet, which was like really fascinating story. So you know, it again, flipping flipping people's perceptions of what a brewmaster might be. And I'm really proud of the film and it taught me how when I was finishing up post with that is when I got the call from Peter microblogs, saying, Hey, we know the bears, we've got an incident would you be interested in directing a documentary about yogi? And I was like, I actually my initial reaction was like, Well, let me give me a B because Yogi seems to perfect like what's the drama? What's the tension? Right? What? And then I started reading I read some books and I went online, I watched some videos and I was like, oh, no, there's there's something here. There's there's a real tension between who he was and who people thought he was. So I dove in.

Alex Ferrari 29:02
Yeah, so So let's talk about anything over because Yogi agreed with you like I when I watched the film, I knew Yogi is a pitchman. I mean, I knew him as a baseball player, obviously. But I really didn't understand the impact that he had had on the Yankees. And not only on Yankees on the baseball on baseball itself, and how he was not respected as or putting the light that he should have been in because he was as good, if not better than any of those guys on those teams that he wants championships there.

Sean Mullin 29:35
There's one stat that's and this is just the baseball people out there. But there's one stat that we didn't, we couldn't share in the movie, you know, you have 90 minutes to tell this guy's incredible, you know, 9090 year journey and so we couldn't fit everything in. But there are only two players in the history of baseball to finish in the top four of MVP voting for seven straight years. And that's really tough to do because it's really about consistency and finish that high and MVP voting. I mean, you'll give one three of them but he finished the top four set Been years in a row. The only other player to do it was Mike Trout. So, you know, he's not talked about though, in the same same kind of levels of some of these guys. And so that was definitely something we were we were going after it. He's also an again, just from the Yankees legacy. I mean, he's the only I mean, if you look at his life, we kind of we cover this on the dock, but like, you know, he came up as a rookie and met Babe Ruth and shook hands with Dave and got to know him a little before they passed. And then and then he was mentored by DiMaggio and and he was a, you know, he was a, you know, teammate of mantle. And then, you know, he's a coach. He's a coach. Yeah, and Maris Of course, and Whitey and that whole crew and then and then fast forward to he's a, he's a coach for you know, Guidry and Willie Randolph and reds. And then And then he's the manager for Mattingly. And then he mentors, you know, Jeter and Gerardi and that whole crew too. So there's no Yankee, there's nobody who's done that front from shaking hands with Babe Ruth to mentoring Derek Jeter. There's, you know, he really is the connective tissue. Absolutely. The backbone of the Yankees.

Alex Ferrari 31:03
Yeah, it was and then you know, that whole 14 year bit with him and George Steinbrenner. Yeah, I mean, that that was insane. Do you know that I when I was down in Florida watching spring training, I got George Steinbrenner to sign my baseball.

Sean Mullin 31:16
Well, there you go.

Alex Ferrari 31:18
He was citing Baseball said I made it onto ESPN. Like even some kids were looking for George Steinbrenner.

Sean Mullin 31:25
Yeah, I mean, he was an interesting guy. I mean, you know, I think Bob Costas put it well, in the in the documentary and he was a polarizing figure. But but you know, he did love the Yankees. And he did love Yogi they had, they had obviously a bit of a falling out. But we were able to interview Georgia somehow. And he was he couldn't have been more kind and just really wonderful about things he had to say about yogi. So it was really nice to be able to talk to so many wonderful people. I mean, you saw the interviews, we got some great ones. So

Alex Ferrari 31:50
Oh, no, some amazing ones. But I have to ask you, so when I've had other people on the show, we've tackled large, you know, you know, just kind of like big shadows of people, massive personalities. How do you approach someone's legacy like this? Because I know you were doing it with the help of the family. So that actually helps, obviously, that you're not doing it against the wishes of the family and everything. But how do you even approach telling that story? I mean, the pressure on you, like people are going to look at this documentary, this is going to be what people look, go back and look at about yo, because there really isn't a definitive documentary. God.

Sean Mullin 32:26
Not I mean, not. Yeah. I mean, there is no, there is June 11. Yeah, there will be. No, we were really proud of it. And know, the family was incredible. Like, the biggest concern from day one was to not make it some sort of like hagiography, some sort of puff piece, some sort of AI that's documentaries that just put their subjects on a pedestal. And then I call these things and this is very, I was very upfront with my producers on day one. I said, I don't want to do a Wikipedia doc, a wiki doc, where it's just like, they were born. They did this they did that there's a difference between emotion, right, which is what I'm after, and information, which is what you can google right. And so I I'm really, really had to play emotionally. I think it does play. I don't know, I let you leave if you agreed, had agreed.

Alex Ferrari 33:11
I teared up a few times. Yeah.

Sean Mullin 33:13
Yeah. So in if it doesn't have those emotional, that emotional component to it, I'm not interested in directing it. So I was very upfront with that from day one. So it was like how are we going to tell the story in a way that is going to really get to the heart of audiences and so but at the same time without, you know, without it being, you know, just too much of a like it's like a puff piece.

Alex Ferrari 33:37
Yeah, absolutely right. Because some documentaries are just very informative. Just a second Wikipedia style erotic that we can dock with the concept.

Sean Mullin 33:45
Yeah, I just I'm working on two docks right now two other docks and and yeah, that's just my that's my number one thing is what can what can we offer people that is actually truly cinematic that is actually going to engage them in a way emotionally, you know, in lives right here instead of living up here, you know?

Alex Ferrari 34:00
Yeah. And then the whole new Yogi Berra knew that whole backstory, but I didn't know how deep it went. Why he was called yogi. I always wondered why he was called like, that's obviously not his Italian name. Right, right. Yeah. There was no there was one piece in the in the documentary that blew my mind. I just could not believe that to happen. Because he's, I think he was the first he caught the first no hitter in the

Sean Mullin 34:26
game. He got the Yeah, he got Yeah, he called he called all 97 pitches. So like, you know, so Larson was just like, locked in like, tell me Yogi what to do.

Alex Ferrari 34:35
And he never he never called me never didn't check them off.

Sean Mullin 34:38
They didn't check them off once in 97 pitches.

Alex Ferrari 34:40
So he got so then and then. Yeah, later, decades later, he makes up it's Yogi Berra day.

Sean Mullin 34:48
Well, you can't Yeah. You can't. Well, it's that, you know, it's the type thing in a documentary too. I'm always looking at where if I were to script it, it would the producers would throw it out. They said is ridiculous. And that's when you know, I think you've got a doc that really works is when there's a moment that is so unbelievable that you couldn't have scripted it. And that definitely that moment, you know, had that, you know, and it's also a great example of that information has been out there forever. Like, you could have read that on Wikipedia, and you can read it and but it's in books, it's a fact that he was part of these two, you know, these two perfect games. But but until you see it until you are involved in two, you're experiencing it through everything he had gone through, that's the difference between again, you know, kind of, you know, a cinema treatment and just a, you know, just a little wiki doc thing.

Alex Ferrari 35:35
Now, on a business standpoint, when you know, because I've studied docs for you know, most of my career, I'm a big fan of docs. But on a business standpoint, it's I always find it so interesting when filmmakers work on Docs to have a built in audience. So especially when it's a larger than life figure like yogi, how hard was it to get the financing to put this whole thing together all that because people think, Oh, you're making a Yogi Berra Doc, I mean, the money must have just been rolling it.

Sean Mullin 36:09
Listen, that's a whole nother. I mean, you know, I was extremely, extremely fortunate that from day one, Peter and Mike Sobel off, who were the first to, they're the ones who put the whole kind of project together at the very beginning and called me and asked me to direct they went out and raise the budget themselves. I mean, the two of them, you know, they and I mean, I couldn't have been more fortunate to work with, you know, to more supportive, you know, you know, just bold, you know, producers and the first thing that they did, they went out and, you know, they were out while they were out raising the money, I went and I turned right back to vanishing angle, Matt Miller and Natalie Mesker. Again, who produced my my first feature mirror and Sam, you know, years ago, and I said, Hey, would you guys want to team up with the cellblocks has to be a good team, they can kind of go out, raise the money and leave that front. You guys can handle the production side of it. And then I got my old editor, Julian Robinson, from Amira and Sam has incredible editor. The film is very well edited. And all the archival he had to he had to dig through and all this stuff. So I got Danny, my old cinematographer who kind of put the band back together and made it happen. But as far as raising the money, fortunately, you know, Peter has really good ties to a lot of folks who are huge Yankee fans, and he's a big finance guy in New York. So he was able to, you know, him and Mike were able to to make it happen somehow.

Alex Ferrari 37:27
Right. Exactly. Because I mean, yeah, if you tap into there's a certain pool in New York.

Sean Mullin 37:32
Yeah, absolutely. No, it was nice. Well, the craziest thing, the craziest thing is over the course, over the course of making this documentary, Peter and Mike have gotten involved in are now minority owners in the Yankees, actually. So they actually own a piece of the Yankees two, which is, which is totally totally aside from the doc just happened. So. So that's pretty cool. Yeah, they're great. They're a great team.

Alex Ferrari 37:53
Yeah. So and then you've gotten to Tribeca, obviously. So what was it like getting that call, man?

Sean Mullin 37:59
It was wonderful. It felt like the right place. You know, it just felt like this is where we this is, this is where we wanted to premiere the film. So we knew it. We knew it. We were hoping, and they called us right away. And they called us super early back in like November, like I think November, you know, way, way early. And wow, that's really I mean, yeah, before they even closed, you know, before they even close submissions, and they're like, hey, we want this we want this and we got excited. And then we were able to get an incredible incredible you know, if you know the indie film business, you know, you need a great sales agent. And so we you know, we started at the top and we took a stab at John sloths at Cinetic. And, and and he you know, he flipped for it. He's been so caught him and the whole team is Cinetic have been really incredible. So they're selling it so that's great. So yeah, just started putting all the all the all the pieces together.

Alex Ferrari 38:45
Man, I really hope it gets out there. Because, you know, for for any baseball fan out there. I mean, Yo, he's just, I mean, even if you're not a baseball fan, if you're a certain age, you know, Yogi is purely because he did 1000s of commercials. Versus man, it was like even the doc he's like, I don't know, I'm doing some it was Aflac or something like that.

Sean Mullin 39:08
Amtrak Aflac. Didn't know which one it was like, it's one of those. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 39:13
I'm getting a check. It's fine. Yeah, but you seem like such a sweet guy, man. And such an authentic guy. Like it was one of those people that you just, they don't make souls like that anymore. Like, they truly don't.

Sean Mullin 39:23
He just, I mean, this is what I tell people about the film is, it was a real, real honor and pleasure to tell a story about someone who just always did the right thing. He just always did the right thing. He just that was that he just had every turn, whether it was you know, you know, breaking the color barrier and help, you know, help him you know, befriending you know, Jackie Robinson and Larry, Adobe, and all these guys who are coming into the league who, you know, whatever, just a return. It's really the film is really about a life well lift. And it's a broader, you know, we you know, one of the kinds of templated films we looked at when we were looking at these docks was the the Mr. Rogers stuff luck, you know, had come out. One of the things that and that was one of the films that's that actually sparked the Sobel off to call me today because actually I got the call from them in July of 18. So it was the summer that moved. So this this projects been going on for years. You know, and I got the call in July of 18. And they had just seen that dock and they were like, we need to do something kind of in that vein for yogi. And so, yeah, just a real. I mean, I was extremely honored. And, you know, and just the fact that, you know, Lindsey is happy with the great granddaughter, she's incredible. She narrates the film, and, and I'm just excited for the rest of the bear the biggest audience to have seen the film so far has four people. And we're premiering in 1000 seat theater next Saturday, so it's gonna be it's gonna be something

Alex Ferrari 40:41
Now, really important question is, though, did was Jackie safe?

Sean Mullin 40:47
You know, what's the craziest thing? I mean? You can you know? Yeah. Did you like that little piece in the film that back and forth

Alex Ferrari 40:53
Oh, fun. It was, as I'm talking about Jackie Robinson, there's a very famous play at a play at home plate where Yogi thinks he got him. But Jackie was ruled safe. Jackie, great Jackie Robinson and to his grave.

Sean Mullin 41:08
Oh, is he right?

Alex Ferrari 41:10
You know, he was. Even when you sell frame by frame, I was watching it. I'm like, What do you think I first saw it. When I first saw it. I'm like, Nah, he's he got him out. There was like that one sequence from the other angle. And I'm like,

Sean Mullin 41:25
That's what's really great about it. So from the front angle, he looks out and then but from the reverse angle, he definitely looks safe. So but he I mean, it's the safe route. It's great. I mean, what it's what's great about baseball too, right? Is that, yeah, that was game one of the 55 series. And it was a really big deal. And, you know, he was at his height. And Jackie was, you know, these were these were characters who were larger than life, you know, and to have that massive play at home plate, but in the steal of home and who steals home anymore. So it was just, it was a real, it was yeah, it was really great. But now if you look at that's the great thing about if you look at it from one angle, he looks clear, clearly out and another angle, you know, he looks safe. So what's great,

Alex Ferrari 42:01
Now I'm gonna ask you a couple questions. Ask all my guests are sure. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Sean Mullin 42:10
What advice, um, you know, that's, you know, start making films, no matter how big or small just start start shooting, start learning learning, learn the craft, understand what a shot means, understand. When you're subjective, it means something when you're objective, it means something, learn how to compress, learn how to elaborate, learn how, learn the fundamentals, you know, just through, you can shoot, you know, one of the one of the classes I teach at AFI and I taught at USC for for a few years before as well. They've got a great program there. And, you know, I, I just would run my students through these, like very basic exercises, like character a wants something from character B, and, you know, create a story, you know, dialogue, and just how do you articulate beats? So just like learning the basics of like, how do shots add up to, you know, an emotional impact, you know, with with an audience and so I would, I would just say, start shooting, you know, on a video game on your phone on whatever, start telling stories, start writing, you know, if you can write, you got a leg up as a director, I'll tell you that if you can write you really do because nobody's, you know, nobody's gonna just give a director a great script. You know, the great scripts are few and far between, as we all know, and so nobody's going to give one to you if you're starting out. So if you can write that's great. If you can't write find a writer, team up with a writer, co write with a writer, you know, adapt a short story, it's amazing how many first features are adaptations of short stories or something that exists. So don't be afraid to grab a piece of material from somewhere else. Tchaikovsky's you know, childhood is one of the great all time great first features and it was an adaptation. So yeah, anyway, it's just that'd be my advice is just to go out and learn. Hone the craft. It's the same thing with acting. And some actors, oh, I want to act like do some theater. Like get learn how to act like learn the craft. And you know, before, you know, you try to make it big, you know? So that that'd be my advice.

Alex Ferrari 44:05
No, and what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn, whether in the film industry or in life?

Sean Mullin 44:11
Well, I'm still I mean, I don't know, man, I'm still learning just from the lessons take me the longest to learn. Gosh, I'd say you know, how important relationships really are relationships and collaborations. I think, you know, I knew it, I knew it, it kind of instinctually but looking back at the past 15 years, you starting to see, you know, people pop up again, again on my projects and just knowing that like it's really building this kind of, again, to use a middle you know, military term, you know, unit you know, this, this this kind of, you know, brigade or whatever you want to call it, of supporters and cultivating support from other filmmakers, but also just, you know, financiers and just champ you know, understanding that it takes a lot of people to believe in you in order to To make it through this and being very respectful of that, anytime anybody does believe in you, I'm really honored that to be grateful for it. And yeah, I think that's, that's the biggest lesson that I've, I've taken away. And three of your favorite films of all time, a Russian film from 1959 called Ballad of a soldier, which I think is probably one of the all time great, great films I recommend. It's also a film a lot a lot of people have seen, so I highly recommend checking that one down if for anyone out there I love the 55 movie. Marty Petrowski is Marty is really high up on my list as well. And then good as I mean, I'm a big welcome to your fans of reprise his first feature. This is one of my favorites, too. So I don't know. I mean, geez, I could I could name I probably about 50 favorite films, you know, but those are three that just popped off my head.

Alex Ferrari 45:49
Sean man, I appreciate you coming on the show. Brother. Congratulations on a great a great film. And I look forward to seeing more stuff from you in the future brother and thank you for bringing Yogi out of the shadows and showing showing who Yogi really is in your film brother, so I appreciate you man. Thanks again.

Sean Mullin 46:04
Yeah, no, thank you for the time. I really appreciate it. Yeah.

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