I always talk about “hustle” and that “you have to keep moving forward no matter what” to make it in this business. Today’s guest is the most authentic example of those concepts I’ve ever met. Straw Weisman is a writer, director, producer, post supervisor, movie trailer writer/producer, film consultant, and film market guru. These are just some of the jobs Straw has done in his over 40 years in the indie film business.
Through his own company, Marquee Productions, Straw has supervised post-production and/or associate produced or produced over 75 films, including “Without Men”, starring Eva Longoria and Christian Slater, “Abel’s Field”, starring Kevin Sorbo, “Shine On”, starring Jenna Dewan-Tatum, “Order of Redemption” with Busta Rhymes, Armand Assante, and Tom Berenger, the multi-festival award-winning biopic “Crazy” featuring“Heroes” Ali Larder, “Magic”, a family film starring Christopher Lloyd as a talking dog, Richard Gere’s “The Flock”, “Sex and Breakfast”, starring Macaulay Culkin, “Say It In Russian”, featuring Faye Dunaway, the spiritually based sleeper hit “What The Bleep Do We Know!?”(which grossed over $16 Million at the box office), Tobe Hooper’s “The Toolbox Murders”, and the horror feature “Hatchet.” Marquee Productions has also played host to over 25 independent films, which have used its editing and audio facilities and Straw’s creative consultancy.
Straw and I have been working together on projects for close to 10 years. I wanted him to come on the show to discuss his career, how he keeps going, and what skills helped him to have such a long and sustainable career. Straw also shares a very intense story that will illustrate how tough and brutal this business can be.
My hope is that this interview not only inspires you but sheds a light on what is really needed to make it in the business. Enjoy my conversation with Straw Weisman.
Alex Ferrari 0:01
So guys, today on the show, we have an old friend of mine, his name is Straw Weisman, he is a writer director. He's also a post production supervisor VFX supervisor, a trailer cutter trailer producer, and I think about another five or six other jobs that he's done in his life, if not more, and I wanted to have him on the show because straw has been at this for over 40 years. And he is definitely the definition of the long game without question and also hustle. The man is is a tremendous inspiration to me, and has been for the time that I've known him. He is a he's a street fighter in many ways in this business. And and he just just keeps going no matter what. And he he's truly an inspiration to filmmakers. And I wanted him on the show to to kind of tell you guys his remarkable story. And straw was extremely open and honest and raw about what he's gone through in this business. And it hasn't been pretty. And it's something I talk about all the time. But his stories, specifically one that you listen to in this episode, we'll pretty much put your mouth on the floor. Because it's it's pretty intense. But just the tips and the tricks that he uses to keep going and to keep moving forward. And when one there's a wall in front of you, you stop, you look at the wall, you try to go through it, it doesn't work, you go around it, and you figure a way out to just keep moving. Just keep moving forward. And that is probably the biggest lesson this show could ever teach anyone listening to it, is to just keep going no matter what, because things will happen for you. But you have to keep going. So without any further ado, enjoy my conversation with Straw Weisman. Straw thank you so much for being on the show. Brother,
Straw Weisman 3:21
Alex, it's a pleasure to be here.
Alex Ferrari 3:23
Now full disclosure mean Straw have been working together for almost nine years now.
Straw Weisman 3:29
Something like that.
Alex Ferrari 3:30
Yeah, you were one of the first people I met when I came to Los Angeles for the first time, which is a good thing or a bad thing. I'm not quite sure just yet. Apparently, we don't hold it against each other. So I wanted to have you on the show because you are one of those rare people in the industry who've been able to maintain themselves and had a successful career as a filmmaker, for the course of now over 40 years, which is impossible because you're 27 but since you've I wanted people to understand what the benefits are of not just doing writing and directing, but all the other hats you do. We're going to get into the other hats and then how you combine all those other hats together to be a full kind of like full encompassing filmmaker that helps to get your movies out and keeps putting food on your table and keeps those checks coming in no matter what. So that's why I wanted to have you on the show. So thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to the tribe.
Straw Weisman 4:26
I'm happy to be here and I'm hoping discovered to discover the secret of that myself in this nation.
Alex Ferrari 4:33
Okay. So how did you first and foremost get get into this crazy business?
Straw Weisman 4:39
Alright, so I'm a graduate of Ithaca College. The year I attend the year I graduated Bob Iger was the teaching assistant in the communications business law class,
Alex Ferrari 4:57
And Bob Iger is who for the audience Bob Iger is today the president of everything Disney. Yeah, he's actually I think he was ranked the most powerful man in Hollywood right now.
Straw Weisman 5:10
There you go. So, I gret I, I after that I went to New York as a struggling screenwriter. And I wound up at a small Motion Picture distribution company called Michigan motion pictures. This is the heyday of independency African film distribution in the 1970s in met in New York, in LA, and New York was a thriving indie film community. And so I started it. Well, Dana burnback did not last there very long, because I was meant for other things. And I joined this distribution company, where they sold movies regionally, all over the country. And I started as what was called the film Booker. And I would track all of the movies that we were selling through their various different releases through the territories across the United States. Now there were sub distributors these guys all over the country, who received the prince book the local theaters, collected the money and then reported back and that was what film distribution in America looked like in the 70s 35 millimeter trailers 35 millimeter prints you mailed out your one sheets and your promotion stills. And that was state of the art.
Alex Ferrari 6:35
Exactly. You for communications. If you were lucky, you had to tell us what I don't even want to know what to tell exes. Way before the facts. Oh, Jesus. The dark in the dark ages got you by horseback by Pony Express Got it?
Straw Weisman 6:52
Fine. That's how you communicated with Europe. Oh, look, we got a telex overnight. Very exciting. Um, so that was that that was the climate ad as working for an independent film distributor. I was a struggling screenwriter. And they proceeded to mine. All of my different skill sets what Tim's were paying you, what can you do? So I started writing trailers and copy lines, which for me was an extension of writing because I was in New York to be a struggling screenwriter anyway. And before long, I was able to convince them that I should write screenplays for them. And a couple of the movies I wrote got made. The first film I sold my first screenplay when I was 23. It was a movie called pelvis. Kind of a take off on an Elvis esque character who comes to the big city. It was rated R.
Alex Ferrari 7:54
Now, how many films have you written over your course of your career?
Straw Weisman 7:57
IMDb says I'm a writer or co writer on 14 I think the number is 15. And there are quite a few uncredited writing participations since got it.
Alex Ferrari 8:11
Okay, so continue, sir.
Straw Weisman 8:12
Alright, so the first film, so I'm sitting in their offices, and the first film idea I had and pitched because by then I had learned that you had to sell yourself and your product. And this was a company that was they did for where they released movies, primarily starting on 42nd Street. And then around the world, there was a thing they design called the front, which was the which was an elaborate cardboard, cardboard, poster board display, about the movie playing in that theater,
Alex Ferrari 8:47
Like a standee like a standing in the video stores.
Straw Weisman 8:49
But like before standees Yeah, but they would do the whole front of the theater, both sides and the marquee, and it would be quite elaborate. And this was a way to get attention on in Time Square on 42nd Street on Broadway, you'd have this colorful front. And there were a few companies that specialized in designing those. And if you're doing a front of course, you're gonna have some copy some words. And that was part of it as well. This was a style of advertising in your face. Billboard if you will. And the guys I worked for the old guy I worked for is really good at designing slots. He was William Michigan, the owner of Michigan motion pictures, and I worked for him and his son Louis, a on and off for a lot of years I made pelvis with them. And I went on to make fight for your life with them. Fairly controversial film in its in its time. The guys that made pelvis with the lead actor Greg Gregory Fleming and the Director Bob Megginson bonded during the making of pelvis, which was a musical Before MTV, it was it had saw Gregory fleeman wrote it was meant to be a musical. And he wrote these pretty funny songs. And it actually was a musical before MTV.
Alex Ferrari 10:14
Yeah. Now, how was it? I mean, for the audience to really understand, what was it like being an independent filmmaker in the 80s? And in the early 90s?
Straw Weisman 10:26
Well, you it would depend on what job you were doing. I was, I was a screenwriter, and to support my screenwriting habit between selling movies, I did several other things. I wrote trailer copy, and commercials. For my various people in the industry, I wrote for some of the New York trailer houses, and that led to writing copy lines and print lines. Well, movie advertisements, the only thing really that I've ever done that with any joy or success. So I was writing for all of those agencies. I was screenwriting, I was driving a pickup truck for my my pickup truck for from my friends in Manhattan. We're doing commercial shoots. And I was a kind of super PA. I had a truck. I had a bunch of tools. I understood what I was doing and why we were doing it. Because I was already in production. And I worked all of those jobs simultaneously between successes as a young writer and then a young writer, director.
Alex Ferrari 11:37
And then you got to you got to direct What was your first film that you directed? The first film I directed was bedmates. Okay. And you're directed how many films over the course of your career? According to IMDb, I love that you keep referring to
Straw Weisman 11:57
The lines blurred because I've done a lot of uncredited directing consulting over the years. Sure. Well, IMDb says eight. And it for like, nine but one of those films, I'm not allowed to talk about too much. Fair enough. So so we might talk about it.
Alex Ferrari 12:16
Okay. Now, did you? And then how did you get into post production supervision?
Straw Weisman 12:22
Crazy enough? My while my directing career has been a roller coaster over the years, because when you make a move when you make a feature film as a writer, director, if your film doesn't get out there, it's a long climb back up to that next independent feature. Yep, you have to find another you have to find something else you're passionate about. You have to push to get it written, it has to be worthy. You have to cobble together some understanding about financing. And then you end you know, to go off and make it to being a writer director is hard work. What I found was that my marketing skills, my movie advertising skills, started in the early days of copywriting in New York. Were in demand. And I continued writing trailers and promos for most of the Hot Shot agencies in LA, when we finally when we finally moved out here, and again, writing writing advertising copy was to support my screenplay habit.
Alex Ferrari 13:29
Now, what was what was the average budget of an independent film in the 80s? Just for that you direct it, let's say, or you ready? Well, hearsay was a million dollar movie. And that was low. But and that was super low budget back then.
Straw Weisman 13:44
Well, the movies that I had participated in before that were much lower budget shot on 35 in the in the, in the late 70s, early 80s, you could make a feature film for $200,000. Now, you might say that's a good number for an independent film today. And Funny enough, it kind of is,
Alex Ferrari 14:05
It is the with the right with the right cast?
Straw Weisman 14:08
Yeah, you know, it, but but the question of film and lab, and labor and equipment and camera rentals and lenses, and editorial, and everything. Um, that was, and that was considered, you know, an okay, low budget movie to have that kind of money available.
Alex Ferrari 14:27
Right. Now, it was like in that time period, though, and I've said this before, is it kind of true that you really just need to if you were able to cobble together a feature film in more than one way it would get sold somewhere? Because there was just not enough product out there at the time. Is that a fair statement? Or were there a lot of feature films and I'm sure there were a lot of feature films that didn't get any distribution, but generally speaking, if you made something of some decent quality, you would get it out there and you would be able to make your money back. Is that fair to say?
Straw Weisman 15:00
Um, no, I think I think you would have have to have known what you were doing? Well, like I said, Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 15:05
Exactly. If you kind of knew what you were doing, and you kind of put things together,
Straw Weisman 15:09
There was a system in the set in the seven, before the 70s. And into the 80s. until the advent, really a VHS and data on the system was, you would, you would go make your movie, assuming you were truly independent and go make your movie, you'd finish it, you'd invite distributors, these these distributors like I worked for, they would look at the movie, and they would bid for your movie up in the independent marketplace. And they will take your movie out. And depending on what advertising cost and how honest everybody was in the field. And all of those other factors, your movie might make money, it might not. The theory was always that the intellectual property would live on forever. And you get revenues. But that's a hard past to travel because companies live and die libraries shift.
Alex Ferrari 16:05
Do you still get any revenues from any of those movies you did back in the day?
Straw Weisman 16:10
I'm getting. I'm getting revenue from some of the recent product.
Alex Ferrari 16:15
Okay, but not not not stuff that you did in the 80s or 90s. That just kind of like just went away. An example would be fight for your life lesson. So let's talk about fight for your life. Can you discuss a little bit of the Tarantino controversy with fight for your life and Django Unchained?
Straw Weisman 16:33
Okay, so fight for your life was a Desperate Hours like story about a non violent black family that gets home invaded by three desperate convicts, Kane, Ling and Chino. Equally, so we've got a white guy and Asian guy and a Hispanic guy holding a non violent black family hostage. And William Sanderson, who's gone on to be incredibly famous as an actor played Kane. The white, sadistic bigot language was really inflammatory. And
Alex Ferrari 17:15
Perfect and purposely so correct, purposefully. So
Straw Weisman 17:17
This was intentional. The idea was to be controversial. And as a young writer in Manhattan at the same time that people like David Rabe and Mamet, were writing on Broadway. My sense of the language I was entitled to use, pretty much knew no bounds, like anything you might see in the theater. It was hard, it was harsh, the racial epithets were aggressive. The kid Interesting, interesting side note, the kid who played the little boy is named Reggie vice would Reggie Bice would grew up kind of wanting to be wanting to be in film, after being in sight for your life. He now makes those biker movies and there's been a lot of successful films as a as a as a grown up since then,
Alex Ferrari 18:05
nNow how now How is that? Like, what's the Tarantino controversy and the whole Django Unchained thing?
Straw Weisman 18:11
So the film is the film. In the third act, the tide turns. And the black family, which is non violent and led by a non violent preacher kind of goes off the rails, and they violently reciprocate against the three convicts. pretty violent, pretty violent turn around. So fight for your life played some cities. People like john waters wrote about it in passing at the time. The black audiences tour seats out of the theaters in a couple of cities, not widely distributed,
Alex Ferrari 18:49
Straw Weisman 18:50
Oddly enough, not wildly widely distributed, people were afraid. Now, the thing is that if you hung around for the third act, after the after the degradation and insult part, if you hung around for the third act, the audience went crazy. Every time the family fled back, it was great. And you know, it's a value you'll find you'll find sites for your life out there in the internet. World landscape. Yeah. So Quentin Tarantino wrote favorably about it. Quentin put site for your life in his Grindhouse Film Festival, which he put together. It played at the Beverly, I think he and sage, Stallone, were collectors and had prints. And after that came Django and chain. Some people have said that there's a lot of similarity between what happens in Django Unchained and what happens in the third act of thanks for your life. I'm glad that Quentin is a fan of what we did.
Alex Ferrari 19:59
Fair enough. Fair a fair enough. Fair enough. Now, can you talk a little bit about how your marketing and copywriting that you did for for the advertising side of the film industry kind of helped you help helped you as a filmmaker and helps you get your product out into the world
Straw Weisman 20:22
As it's so to support my writing habit, on my end, trying to be a director, again, for each next success of film, my advertising business has come and come and gone in different different ways. For a while, we had a fairly busy trailer business that supported a lot of the independent films that went through the American Film market and Cannes Film Festival, world, maybe 10, or 15 years of this. But we saw, I saw a lot of independent movies, and I worked with a lot of sales agents. sales agents are always wishing for something, you know, they pick up a movie, and they say, make it look like some other movie, or only show these parts in that part. So we were continually taking movies apart and putting them together to make them look like they were supposed to do or make them look different than they were supposed to. or to answer one thing or downplay another. And this leads to a sense of marketing. What am I selling? Who am I selling it to? How we going to sell it? And most importantly, what is my client and my audience? wish they could get? What do they wish they could have? And that's the movie I tried to sell.
Alex Ferrari 21:45
So because I know marketing, and you and I've worked on on a handful of marketing campaigns over the years, the A lot of times trailers, and not a lot of times, most of the times trailers lie to you. And posters lie to you as as a consumer because you're expecting one thing and you get something else, or they give the entire story away in the trailer. What's your feeling, considering how many trailers have you worked on over the years?
Straw Weisman 22:11
I believe it's, I don't know, closing in on 1100. All right, so
Alex Ferrari 22:17
You've worked on a lot of promos over the years. Can you talk a little bit about not just the importance of the trailer for an independent filmmaker, but also how to actually do it properly and not give it all away? Or try to really completely lie about it? You know, there's, there's, there's a fine line between full blown lying, and, you know, and completely misleading the audience and selling it, there is a fine line between that where all the good parts are in the trailer and things like that. Can you talk a little bit about how to do a trailer correctly,
Straw Weisman 22:51
Every every movie is its own new product origination. every movie is the new kid on the block, to the degree that I can differentiate it from everything else in the cereal aisle of that particular you know, of that particular situation, because you're going to be in a mall with 17 other movies if you're lucky. Or a line on Amazon, you know, for somebody to select from a video screen, what differentiates you? What makes your movie worth seeing. So I'm always looking for some kind of a high concept. Whether it's the title itself, or something that tells me what the movie is about as quickly as possible. Because the audience today is making a snap decision. But it's always been about what is the audience wish they could say? I want to see a cool chick with a gun. I want to see a guy with a ripped shirt and a bandolier full of bullets and a submachine gun. Alright, who is head is on that body? Well, I want to see more if it's Arnold, or you wouldn't want to see more if it's articles or Bruce, then it's it's some guy who only had an independent film acting career as that bad guy as that guy. Right? Right. But we're always we're always looking to put it's like when you go out on a date with with somebody new you, you might dress up. So we're going to in order to get our date, we're going to dress we're going to dress the movie up. I say the same thing. Today I'm working. I'm doing consulting projects, among other things, where we cut in movies occasionally, and my rule is no bad shots, no bad dialogue, no bad acting. Because these are the things that instantly give away what we really might be. Now you say well, isn't it is it honest to show the bad shots and the bad dog? Well sure, but only if You're all nice. You're also committed to not necessarily selling.
Alex Ferrari 25:03
So then basically on another side is like a guy wearing Spanx to impress a girl on the first date because they want to hold in their gut. If Well, yeah, because you don't want to show that you don't want eventually you'll see the gut. All right now that first impression is really important. It's that makes sense.
Straw Weisman 25:23
If I'm doing a horror, if I'm promoting a horror movie, I want to scare you. If I'm promoting a romantic comedy, I want to warm your heart in a charming way. That promises a little, a little edge. Yes, I'm selling an outright comedy. What I show you had better be sunny, right? I mean, there are certain shows or a certain obvious things. As for giving away the movie, um, most people use their best explosion somewhere in their trailer. Because we don't know we the audience don't know whether it's their best explosion, or it's just one of their explosions.
Alex Ferrari 26:03
Or their or their only explosion
Straw Weisman 26:05
When they're on the explosion, the bigger explosion, and in that case, the producer comes into the editing room looks at the cut and goes Why aren't you using the big explosion? Now, we blew this thing up, show him where we put the money.
Alex Ferrari 26:20
Yeah. So there's a fine line. You've got to kind of walk when you're doing trailers. I see.
Straw Weisman 26:26
I did a trailer. I did a promo reel once for Arnold Colson Academy Award winning producer. Sure. Platoon among other things. And this was a movie about warrior helicopter interdictions of drugs on the southern border. I think it was released as Firebirds.
Alex Ferrari 26:47
Yeah, I remember Firebirds, I was Nick Cage. If I'm going to say hey, Nick Cage. Good shot. Yeah. Oh my gosh. So I'm writing and directing a promo reel. You cut. You cut that trailer, I remember that. You're either working in the video story.
Straw Weisman 27:02
Oh, one trailer. I don't know which one you saw. Okay. But yeah, it's it's on my it's on my website, which needs to be updated?
Alex Ferrari 27:09
I think so, sir.
Straw Weisman 27:13
So we're cutting this promo reel, the movie is not done yet. Very common. grabs the best footage, you have ratio to edit and cut a promo sure happens every day. And our reel is together. And I've got everything we have and it pretty dramatic. And I've hired a cool music supervisor. And we're using big music and it's exciting as Helen kapowsin comes in. And he goes, where's the goddamn explosion? And Arnold was a yeller. He was one of those guys. Still is probably sweet as hell. Very, very smart. Very sweet. And it is where the goddamn explosion. What we don't have the explosion. I'll take care of that. And he jumps on the Sony's production, send over that real test explosions we get. Okay, half an hour later, we get we get 35 millimeter footage, we get this explosion. And we copy it up. And we cut it in and we look at it and we go, there you go. There's the explosion. He says now there's 12 tests on this. We'll put them all in.
Alex Ferrari 28:14
Okay, and so we did. And suddenly and suddenly the trailer had a ton of stuff blowing up. And and that saw that movie. And it helped. It did that movie did where it was a touchdown movie. I remember it was a Disney release. Oh, yeah. Touchdown picked it up. Yeah, I remember that whole. Yeah, yeah, that's in my that's in my window of knowing every film that came out, there's about a five or six year window that I worked in the video store that I know every movie that came out ever during that period of time, because we had it. And that was one of them. Now, a lot of times in Australia, you and I have worked on God. And I can't even count how many projects we've worked on over the years. But a lot of times, I've know that you work directly with distributors, and distributors will buy a movie. And then they will bring you in as the as the genre. No character from La Femme Nikita the fixer, the cleaner, you kind of come in and you'll re edit it, you'll actually shoot new scenes, you'll actually bring new cast in. Can you talk a little bit about that process? Because I know that's kind of a hidden art, and a hidden thing that a lot of filmmakers don't know about. So can you talk a little bit about that?
Straw Weisman 29:28
Well, in every every occasion where I come into a movie that's already been started is unique and different because every independent film is unique and different everybody is the thing about independent films is that anybody with a credit card or rich and a paper bag full of money or an iPhone, now anybody can go out and make. So it's,
Alex Ferrari 29:55
Well why don't we use this one as an example and I won't say the name specifically but i think you know that that The one with the greatest the world's greatest dp.
Straw Weisman 30:04
Um, there's so there was a there was a movie about gangsters that we worked on together.
Alex Ferrari 30:10
Straw Weisman 30:12
Um, so in the case of that movie, we a filmmaker came forward and said, I've got this great movie, I've got this terrific movie about this gangster culture that thrives in the underground, the seedy underground of Los Angeles,
Alex Ferrari 30:28
And very original, very original.
Straw Weisman 30:31
Got this great footage, very contemporary. Sure. And our team looked at the footage, I was working with a company called new films International, and doing a lot of this acquisition, bring finishing money recut, reshoot mentality, kind of projects. And this gangster movie showed up. And my team said to me, can you can you turn this into something that we think we would be more saleable? And I feel like I'm choosing my words carefully? more carefully than I might.
Alex Ferrari 31:10
I don't I honestly don't think you need to be careful because I have a lot of disdain for that film. So knock yourself out. We won't say names.
Straw Weisman 31:18
But go ahead. It's one of my it's one of my favorite six it not be appreciated sufficiently movies of all time. So unfinished movie, because I said I could fix it and help make it a better movie. New Films international went on to acquire this low budget, indie gangster picture, contemporary gangster picture. And we spent quite a bit of time with the Writer Director, cutting it and eventually had to kind of push the writer director out of the process, because he insisted on holding to bad shots, shots of family members.
Alex Ferrari 32:01
Basically, he was insane.
Straw Weisman 32:03
He was he he was very passionate about his vision. Unfortunately, his vision was not in sync with with the people I worked for. thought they could shell
Alex Ferrari 32:13
So politically correct. I love it. I'm trying. You are you actually a wordsmith? So when I hear you talk and explain things like this? It's like an artist working it's like as a master artists working with words, because you're much more eloquent than I am, sir. Well,
Straw Weisman 32:33
It's one way of looking at it. Ultimately, he was he ultimately he was asked to not be part of the creative process. Yes, I finished the cut. With an editor I had done multiple projects with before. My, my, my, my, my sales agent distributor guys said, okay, pretty close. But, and then we added new scenes. So we went out and shot new scenes and integrated the new material with slightly more famous actors that had been in the movie before shows that it had a slightly newer look and better names. Sure. And that picture has gone out into the worldwide marketplace where you could find it today.
Alex Ferrari 33:14
And and it it sold it actually made money.
Straw Weisman 33:19
It did it did sell. There was amazing. There were actually there was actually almost a slightly different version of the movie than the one we finally finished.
Alex Ferrari 33:29
Yeah, remember, there was a the voiceover situation there. Well, we did it ultimately, it had a voice. So it was like the whole Blade Runner situation. Voiceover no voiceover
Straw Weisman 33:37
Needed. It needed a character to tell the story. And in the case of this movie, The character was you was Michael was was played by a Michael Madsen. Kind of a guy.
Alex Ferrari 33:50
Yeah, kind of a guy. Correct. The kind of Michael Madsen kind of guy. Correct. And
Straw Weisman 33:53
I think Michael Madsen might have even been in that picture
Alex Ferrari 33:56
He possibly could have been
Straw Weisman 33:58
At the character that told story. And a kind of a close mic technique like this. And this is about gangsters and good guys and bad guys. And some guys were so bad, you wouldn't want to hang out with them.
Alex Ferrari 34:11
You should have just done it. I don't know why you just didn't do it, sir.
Straw Weisman 34:14
As it turned out, like the man did that narration. But before that, we had we, we looked at the movie at one point and said, you know, and this was a marketing decisions and great marketing decision. We looked at the movie and said, You know, it might be better if the voiceover had an ironic, funny comedy element to it.
Alex Ferrari 34:38
Yeah, that's a direction to go to. And so I wrote so I wrote a guide to talk more like this. Oh, God, stop, just stop, stop. Just stop.
Straw Weisman 34:47
We did a whole version of the movie Jesus. We did an entire draft of the movie, right with a guy going and you know, there's no reason that characters in the corner with a frame because the continuity doesn't match
Alex Ferrari 34:59
No justice. Just just
Straw Weisman 35:00
We presented we presented that version and the end and the room, people had shuffled through the whole movie. And at the end as they should, the lights came up the set, the guy who owned the company, looked at the marketing guy and goes very funny at but I don't know if we can, I don't know if we could sell it this way.
Alex Ferrari 35:21
Second, a president of a writer, director, the writer director heard what had happened, and began and flipped out, of course, for four months about how I had ruined his masterpiece, I understand
Straw Weisman 35:40
Now later, but we later brought Michael Madsen in to read a slightly toned down version of this of the same narration.
Alex Ferrari 35:49
So delivered differently, this is a good point, this is a good point to make. For everyone listening, you know, we're not trying to make fun of an independent filmmaker trying to put out his work. But when and this is something that straws worked with a lot in his career, and so of I, a lot of times, there's delusions of grandeur, or there's filmmakers who just aren't honest with what they have in front of them in the marketplace, because at the end of the day, this is a product that's going to be sold, and this movie was made to be sold, it wasn't an RPS, it wasn't a movie that wasn't not going to be sold and didn't care if money was made or not. This was a this was a commercial endeavor. And, unfortunately, his ideals in his his vision, didn't match up with what the market was willing to pay for his vision. And the grandiose ideas of he had, you know, he also did a lot of stuff in the marketing world with YouTube with buying views, because he's like, hey, if we have over a million views, people are gonna buy it, because they think you know, so he bought a bunch of views on YouTube for his trailer. So it looked a lot bigger, there was a lot of mistakes the filmmaker made, and then just the way he dealt with the process.
Straw Weisman 36:59
And it was, at the end of the day, it's unfortunate more than anything else. Correct. It was no pleasure dealing with him, or his antics, or his frustration in the way he acted out. But the important thing, at every step of the way, the the people I worked with, did nothing but their best to try and make, bring something helpful to the product. Right. And that's, that's the good takeaway. There isn't a project I've worked on where I haven't, including the stuff I've written and the stuff I've directed, and the stuff I've ghost directed or ghostwritten or re edited, where we don't put everything we have into it, because we're hoping that what we bring to it is going to make a difference for it. And almost all of those pictures are out in the marketplace, almost every one of them.
Alex Ferrari 37:52
And and and without that assistance, they would be sitting on a shelf somewhere, or have them ever been finished. Right? Yeah, exactly. And some of them wouldn't have finished. So I think a lesson for filmmakers listening now is, before you ever get to that point where a distributor is coming in to finish your movie for you, because you didn't figure out the proper budget or how to do it properly, or just didn't know what you were doing or got in over your head. kind of figured this all out prior to ever getting to that point, because I guarantee you they'd much rather deal with a final product. But when you give a distributor your movie to finish, the creative control is going to go out the window because they've got the money now to finish your movie. And that's exactly what happened.
Straw Weisman 38:33
That's the flip side. Yeah. On the other hand, what he had wasn't a finished movie, right? Yeah. And there wasn't, and there was no view to the finish line except getting help. So you know, you got to applaud somebody for coming out of a different business and saying, I'm going to make a movie, and here's my vision and trying to get it in the cat. I'm a big fan of that. I made a movie with john Ritter in 2001 2002 called Man of the Year, we shot the whole movie in one night. And the movie was made out of my frustration for having to deal with the hierarchy of the film industry. I put out the word that I wanted to shoot a movie on one night, and I had 20 cameras show up and shot a feature film with 24 actors john Ritter sag independent movie. And we shot the whole picture in one night.
Alex Ferrari 39:28
And tell us a little bit about that, sir. That sounds fascinating.
Straw Weisman 39:31
It was man of the the premise of man of the year was that a guy was getting an award from his friends and company. So the whole the whole story takes place in a modern mansion, off Laurel Canyon, in fact, hill there, and it was all about the party. And I said I'm going to shoot the picture in one night. And everybody I know said you are out of your mind. And I said no, no, no, this is going to work and I recruited About 20 different cameras, well film or digital
Alex Ferrari 40:04
Video, this is video this video 2000,
Straw Weisman 40:06
Videographers, multiple videographers and all of the different rooms, the dining room, the bedrooms, the elevator, because this place had an elevator, the lobby and backed by the pool, and 24 sig actors improv technique from a written roadmap, which is to say that Christine Hodge, who was scraping the Red Hat from head of the class and john Ritter were secret lovers. We didn't write all their dialogue, but we established that they have to talk about what were the relationship where the secret relationship is, in the kitchen.
Alex Ferrari 40:40
Right? He basically did a script meant
Straw Weisman 40:43
What I call the skeleton, right? Got it. It's the it's the script inside everything, but the dialogue, got it, which gives the actors it and and I recommend this style for certain kinds of movies, because it's exciting as hell. And we shot the movie in one night. And I got had a guy named Ari green who was going to take domestic distribution. And we open theatrically for a week and this was after john Ritter died. And there was no john Ritter to promoted anymore. And But definitely, you know, this was a movie with up to nine split screens, which goes back to Abel ganz and Napoleon. This was a very busy video project. But it was a feature film blown up to 35, from Stan from 20 standard def cameras. And, and that's what me that that that 24 hours taught me that if you can make a movie in one night, you can do anything. Pretty much. Yeah. And it caused me to go on and direct right and direct the movie, same style called trunk, which was another another feature that and we shot that in four days.
Alex Ferrari 41:57
Yep, I remember that one. Yeah. With two red cameras. Yes. Yes, I was. I knew you then. Now like, Can you talk a little bit about the importance of cast in the in the in the international and domestic marketplace? When making an independent film,
Straw Weisman 42:14
You get to a crossroads. Sometimes. There are a very few number of reasons why people will be in your movie. They're living with you. They're married to you they're sleeping with you know, that's one. Sure. They want to make a lot of money and you have some, they love the script that you want them to be in? Well, for one of us for one of several reasons. So it's hard to get stars for your little indie movie. If, for example, your script is in great or your script is improv, like trunk. For trunk I cast an actress named Jennifer day, who I had seen walking around the American Film market in this skimpy is the possible clothing to go with her beautiful blonde looks. And I said, that's exactly what the heroine of my movie looks like. And I walked up to her and I said, Hey, Jennifer, you hardly know me, but I'm going to make you as a lead in my movie. And I did.
Alex Ferrari 43:14
And that's what I that's what AFM does.
Straw Weisman 43:17
That's what ansem does. But she was what I was looking for. And she had nerves of steel, to trust somebody like me, making a four day movie about a girl trapped in the trunk of a car being driven to her death by a serial killer. So yeah, it but cast makes all the difference. The reason that gangster movie got added scenes was that they could so that they could shoot additional characters who had marketable names. Guys who talk like this, for example. Exactly,
Alex Ferrari 43:53
Straw Weisman 43:55
Names, names, names are critical. I pocket, I'm working on packaging a movie right now. And I can't go forward until I cast a female lead for the seven days that we need her and she has to be acceptable to sell to foreign sales agents or we will not get funded. And that's the business. And that's the business. We're in independent filmmaking, as I've experienced it both as a marketing guy, and as a as a maker. You have to have nerves of steel. You either have to be independently funded, or incredibly technically adapt. or some combination of those things, or have good friends, or have great luck, or be marketed. Remarkably talented. And even then it's not an easy game. Because we're there are no it's independent film. There's no rulebook. Even at the American Film market level, where there's some rulebook, there's no rules. I could go out, I could go out this afternoon and make another one day movie if I wanted to.
Alex Ferrari 45:07
And if you had the right star in it, you could probably get it sold somewhere. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Straw Weisman 45:22
Yeah. And today, anybody, anybody who anybody who can hear our voices could take whatever video equipment they have, including their iPhone, or their iPad, or their Android, and go out and make their indie feature, because by now, it's already been done already. successfully. You know, you take your GoPro and make a feature I've used. I've used combinations of cell phones GoPros. Red, and Alexa in the same project? As you know,
Alex Ferrari 45:56
Yes, yes, I do, to my dismay, when dealing with it imposed. Which brings it which which brings us to post production supervision. Yeah. How did that happen?
Straw Weisman 46:06
So, Marquis productions, which is my production company. I was writing, writing movie advertising for a bunch of people. And at one point, I looked at my clients, and said, Well, I'm just going to start a production company. And I'm going to open offices and hire my editors and run it. It used to be the Weissman company clever enough name. But we opened marquee. And so now we are dealing with editing rooms, and a sound room, and editors coming and going. And the business is taking movies apart, and putting them together as trailers and teasers and delivering on 35 millimeter and delivering eventually on video. This caused me to have to be incredibly tolerant of my clients, because everybody's movie went down a different road, you would get video elements, you get film elements, you get transfers, with or without visible time code, you might not be able to match back. And you were forever having to make the best thing you can for the client out of the elements that they were able to supply. And I became I became really familiar with problem solving just to get through the elements. trailers are no different than features. They're just 85 minutes longer. Or the other way around features are no different. They're just longer versions of the same process, and attract 100 120 shots, maybe more visual effects, mains and ends, billing cars, music selection, so all of the all of the choices you're making in creating the trailer are choices that have to be made and making of a movie as well. It's the same, it's the same toolbox. I'm building a smaller building.
Alex Ferrari 47:56
Fair enough. Now. What, What kept you going all of these years, when many of your colleagues tapped out quit years ago? Because it's not easy?
Straw Weisman 48:08
Well, it's, I first I love what I do. I truly love what I do. At various times I've been driven and driven as appropriate by different things. In 1996 when my trailer company had offices that 6565 Sunset Boulevard. I was a partner in a recording studio called Hollywood recording. And in 1996, my my business partner Barry Skolnick, was shot dead in the parking lot early one morning, beginning of the business day. And as it turned out, the guy as it turned out, I had introduced him to the guy. I'd introduced him to a guy named Cole Allen, who was a who was a a factor, he lent money against receivables. And I had done business with Cole and I and Barry was my partner and friend and I introduced Barry a call. And before I knew it, Barry had borrowed a million dollars against paper the studio was out. And then one morning he was found shot dead in the parking lot. Wow. And Cole Allen became the key suspect in arranging that murder. Well, now Okay, you're talking about some stuff. Where is Mr. Allen? Okay, three weeks after Cole Allen was charged in the LA Times as a suspect. He died of a coronary and his body was cremated. Got it. In the aftermath of that, and partly to process the way I felt about having having what I thought what I thought I had done inadvertently was to introduce one of my best friends and partners. To the guy who had him killed. In the aftermath of that I wrote a screenplay called hearsay. hearsay was about the voiceover was about two friends who started a voiceover business. And one of them gets killed. I went on to sell that screenplay to a company called World international network. From this experience, I later learned how people come in and recut your movie. And re really and release it differently. And that's all I'm allowed to say about that part probably. Got it.
Alex Ferrari 50:44
I think you've said more than enough, but it does say it does talk about that. This is you know, a high stakes business a lot of times, especially when you're dealing with that kind of money.
Straw Weisman 50:55
People that was a million dollar feature on 35 millimeter, about about the voiceover business, and fast living and careless mistakes that I was looking at as my Oh, this is my Sundance movie. I imported a gentleman named chuy Chavez, a dp great name who got who shot star maps. Okay. Oh, yeah. And I brought him across the border. We flew him in just to shoot the movie. Right. And here's a here's a funny story. On the first night of shooting of hearsay, I am driving out to this less this location in Palmdale for a midnight start, because we're doing drive bys with the two lead characters. And I'm driving in my Jeep Wrangler. And I've got chewy Travis, who speaks not a lot of English and my friend seat, and I accidentally cut off a state trooper. And the next thing I know I'm being pulled over. And they go Oh, Mr. Weissman. Do you have any drugs or weapons in this vehicle? And I was on my way to shoot the first night of my movie, my feature film, right. director, writer director on a mission because the movies about the real life experience of my dead friend. Right. And the police officers drugs or weapons? And I say I think about it for a half a second ago. Yes, Your Honor. Yes, off the shirt. Oh, my God. Because what do you have? I've got some marijuana and I've got a loaded pistol. And they set and they asked me to produce both the marijuana and the gun Raghava locked up gun to the loaded gun. They spent 15 minutes holding it at the side of the road. And they said, Alright, we understand you're going out to Palmdale to shoot. What's the pistol about? Well, my friend got murdered in a parking lot. I'm making a movie about it. He died carrying a gun, because he was my partner to get murdered. And they said to me, you can go, this is your lucky night. And they gave me back my unloaded gun. back my marijuana. And I went out to the shoot the very first line of dialogue between the two characters and the first scene up that night, for which I arrived. 15 minutes late. One character says to the other, this is our lucky night. So we why do we do it? Life imitates art or art imitates life?
Alex Ferrari 53:41
Yeah. What I find fascinating about your story straw. Is that you've been? You've been doing this for 40 years. And you've been 40 to 42 apparently, allegedly 42 years. And either. Oh, yeah, sorry. So what I what I find that fascinating is that you've been able to do this for so long. You've been able to support your family, make a living, and enjoy this journey, that it's been long and hard. And like we were saying before, when we were talking earlier that you know a lot of times it's not about being the most famous director in the world, the most famous writer in the world. You know, we all want to be the next Tarantino or the next Nolan are the next Fincher. But we you said something really interesting when I said that, which was what do you remember? No, that without 1000 or 2000 view there couldn't be a Tarantino.
Straw Weisman 54:45
Well, he entered with the industry builds on itself without without Megginson and fleeman coming together on this set of pelvis, there would have been no f X
Alex Ferrari 55:00
That was another movie in the 80s. Yeah,
Straw Weisman 55:03
Yeah. Um, I wrote with I wrote with Charles Kasmin on a couple of movies we wrote I wrote, We co wrote a movie called the outdoors stirs. later changed, later changed to I think I remembered as the outdoor stirs. It was a spoof of a family wilderness movie that his brother Lloyd Kasmin released through trauma, right? You know, it's at the end of it. I, according to IMDb, I produced 41, I've written 14 I've directed a and that doesn't count everything. And those are feature films. So I look at it I look at it as a continuing slow, we're still doing it. We're we're finished. I'm co producing some wonderful independent product now. And and there's stuff coming up and we're struggling to get other stuff made, like everyone else should be getting everything they want made. It is a struggle. It's the nature of being independent, unless you're wildly successful, but
Alex Ferrari 56:11
And even wildly successful, people still have to hustle. I mean, Spielberg could even get money for Lincoln. Steven Spielberg,
Straw Weisman 56:18
I have a feeling Luke Busan is not going to go so big so soon again, because he's not having a positive indie film experiences. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 56:26
It's not Fifth Element. That's for sure. That's what I hear. Now, can you what is the craziest story, filmmaking industry story that you can share publicly? Besides the one you just shared? Besides the one I just yeah, besides the one, you're just here for the funniest, you know, the weird is the craziest, like, I can't believe this is my life.
Straw Weisman 56:46
Well, the last story is pretty much I can't believe this is my life. I think, you know, it all kind of runs together. For me, it's a, it's a stream of conscious. That just keeps flying back up in my face. As a reminder where we've been while we do, I've been on sets with major stars, I've had major stars yell at me, I've yelled back at people. I've had people hug me and then not take my phone calls. I've had people hug me and then take my phone call. It's, you know, in reflection, I think it's just, you know, it's just so far I'm looking forward to what the rest of the day brings every day. And that's and that's that part of why I do what I do.
Alex Ferrari 57:43
You learn to enjoy the journey, you learn to enjoy the path, the walking the path, as opposed to the destination, if I can, if that is that fair statement.
Straw Weisman 57:53
Well. I love what I do. I love going into an editing room and sitting with a writer director who's got a film that doesn't work, and watching, watching the cut in progress and saying, look, if we take out these things, and we add these things, and if you're planning our reshooting Let's shoot that. And you know, and we see the material start to come to life. That's exciting as hell it's like giving birth. Well, not exactly like giving birth, giving creative birth. Yeah, creative birth.
Alex Ferrari 58:28
Now can you can you really address this concept of how important it is in today's filmmaking landscape, that filmmakers no more than one or two skills in order to just be able to survive and thrive in the business.
Straw Weisman 58:42
I A good example is a promo class I teach at Santa Monica College, which is part of the promo Pathways program that they do. And in that promo class, you're forced by me. you're forced to write your promo. shoot your promo or get video for your promo, edit your promo, put music on it, and get a narrator or narrate it. And from that exercise that 32nd exercise as many times as we do it, you have to be a writer, a producer, a director, and editor, a graphic artist, a music supervisor, a sound mixer, and maybe a record store a camera operator. And what I know is that in this day and age, your your average 20 something is already way more gifted technically, in all of those areas, then then they even acknowledge they're all multi level communicators. But to have all of those skill sets to understand how those jobs work together in short form is to understand how they work together in long form. So if you can create small, you also have the potential capability to create big now if you can trailer, you understand the components of making a movie. Now go find the other 89 minutes.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:07
Great. Now what is the advice you would give an independent filmmaker wanting to make their first feature film,
Straw Weisman 1:00:14
I would say do not make a short. Now I know this controversial, I would say, write a feature script that you that you believe in, that you think is important, and has merit that might even change things that's that either hysterically funny or incredibly dramatic, or, or extremely heartfelt. But dig into your material come with something good. And then try to find a way to make it for no money, if you can. And the reason I say that is that the marketplace responds to product. And the shortest distance between a young filmmaker and a career is here is my product, here's my 8990 minute feature. And it's finished and it's ready to go. And it exists. And then the marketplace can pick and choose. Not everybody who does this is going to be successful, because it's not easy to do what we're talking about. But it's a great way to showcase a story, it's a great way to see if you have the chops. And it's hard to argue with your finished song. You know, I wanna I wanna I wanna I'm gonna, I'm getting around to is one story. Here, we shot this 90 minute feature. And we were smart enough to find a way to get it in the can take a look. And then the only question is, can you sell it? And who can you sell it to?
Alex Ferrari 1:01:49
Straw Weisman 1:01:50
And now you're a professional, independent filmmaker.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:53
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Straw Weisman 1:02:00
Wow, in business, the hardest lesson for me to learn was that my clients in the trailer in trailers and promos, and sometimes and sometimes in the rest of the creative process, that that is the that I have that I have strong opinions about everything. But at the end of the day, my clients are always right for them. For a long time I did for a long time, I did advertising for savant International, a lot of their trailers and promos, and my and my client was the guy who was selling. And what he would continually say is, here's my market, here's what I want. And when I deliver what he wanted, he was success. So listening to the people you're working for, makes a ton of sense. And there was no point in arguing that I didn't agree with him, it was easier to figure out a way to get where he wanted to go. It's a good form of commercial collaboration. I mean, you'll have your own chance to say, this is where I want to go and nobody can affect it. And I'll hang for the 170 8 million if I'm wrong. Gosh is what you know. Um, so that's one of the lessons I've learned. The other lesson I learned as a creative when I look at other people's material. I always ask what movie we wish we had.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:25
Straw Weisman 1:03:26
Because this tells us where we really want to go. What do we wish this was? What impulses and energies in the project that we're selling or marketing we're trying to finish? Do we most want it to have when it's done? What do we want it to be? And then I lean into that. And that seems to always work on some level? What is it what is your wish? It could be?
Alex Ferrari 1:03:52
That's a great question. Great question to ask yourself as a filmmaker. Now what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Straw Weisman 1:04:01
I like Tommy,
Alex Ferrari 1:04:03
Okay good film.
Straw Weisman 1:04:04
I think it was Tommy. I like casino good movie, which I could see any part of from the beginning the middle or the end wouldn't matter. Any time. Um and my third choices, a lot of movies. But those are those two those are the two that I would stop what I was doing whenever it would happen in playback. You know if I pulled across I like a lot of film and I because I work on a lot of film. I see a lot of film. So I'm constantly refreshing.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:43
Okay, no worries and work and where can people find you in the digital internet landscape sir.
Straw Weisman 1:04:50
And the digital internet landscape. I'm so I'm on IMDB straw Wiseman. And Now, I see American beach houses in release. bikini model Academy is in release conversation about possibly making a bikini model Academy to which I would call bikini model Academy dance attack. Of course, we're dance attack internasional. Of course, I'm co producing a very cool new indie feature called Captain black for a filmmaker named Jeffrey Johnson. We're just finished. We're just waiting for our first composite print right now. We're excited about that. I'm a co producer on an international feature with China called the jade pendant, which is scheduled to open later this year. I'm supervising a recut that I have a non disclosure on
Alex Ferrari 1:05:51
Of course, of course you do
Straw Weisman 1:05:53
For the moment. And then there's the back library movies like dying on the edge, which I wrote.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:00
But I'll put links I'll put links to all of those all your films, is there anywhere, if anybody wants to get in contact up? Where would they go?
Straw Weisman 1:06:09
Marquee produced address and email to me Marquis pro at AOL.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:13
And then orange, and you have a website, I'm assuming
Straw Weisman 1:06:17
I'm straw waistband dotnet. My website is as old as I am.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:23
Got it. Got it. So dial up, we got an
Straw Weisman 1:06:26
It's funny. We're creating websites for movies now, as part of our creative process and vendor relationships. One of the next things up is now that we know now that we're doing websites is to do a website for me.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:42
Sounds good straw man, thank you so much for your honesty, your your passion and your inspiration, and showing people that you can make a living in this business, but you got to add a lot of hustle to it. And you are definitely the definition of that, sir. So thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to the tribe.
Straw Weisman 1:06:59
Thank you, Alex. It's been great fun.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:03
So Wow. I told you guys that that was going to be pretty intense, and instructed to not disappoint, I want to give, again, a big thank you to straw for coming on and being so honest and raw, about his life and about, you know, just what he what he had to do to keep going in this business. And I hope that you guys pick up some lessons from this interview, because it isn't an easy journey. And I'm the first one to tell you, it's not an easy journey being in the film industry. And it changes so often now that you constantly have to be moving, and ducking and weaving, like you're in a heavyweight fight because things are coming at you at a completely different pace than they did when straw started. You know, but he's dealing with all of those things now and having the history that he had in the industry back when it was not the way it is today. But I just hope you guys find the strength to keep moving forward no matter what this industry throws at you. Because at the end of the day, if you really love it, and you really want to be in it, you're gonna have to fight, you're gonna have to hustle harder than you ever had in your life. And you better enjoy that journey. And enjoy that fight and enjoy that hustle. Because if not, you're going to be done. And you'll be in another business and doing something else and not following your dream as a filmmaker, a screenwriter, a storyteller, or any aspect of this business that you want to be in. But that concept of moving forward, no matter what hits you is the theme of this episode. And I really hope it just I drive it home really, really deep into your skulls guys, because I want you to succeed. I want you to tell your stories. I wanted you to have a business and do make a living doing what you love to do. And I hope that this episode and this podcast in general helps you on that journey guys. If you want links to anything we talked about in this episode, head over to indie film hustle comm forward slash 183 for the show notes, and I wanted to thank you guys all for all the well wishes for our Hulu deal. We've been getting emails and instant messages like crazy once you guys heard it on on that episode, I think was 180 that I announced that we got that Hulu deal so again, thank you so much for all the well wishes I I truly really thank you for it from the bottom of my heart and got some stuff cooking guys, so stay tuned. It's gonna be an exciting week at indie film hustle will be popping out another episode later on this week. That's some great guests in the can coming up some exciting stuff. I can't wait to share with you guys. But, but keep going guys no matter what. Keep hustling. Keep moving forward, all right. So as always keep that hustle going keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.
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Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
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Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
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Emmy® Winning Writer/Director/Actor
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