Eli Horowitz

IFH 564: SXSW 2022 Inside Making the Cow with Eli Horowitz


Eli Horowitz is the co-creator/co-showrunner of HOMECOMING, both the Gimlet podcast and Amazon series, which stars Julia Roberts and Janelle Monae. He received a WGA nomination for the series in 2019. Previously, he co-created of The Silent History, an innovative digital novel; The Clock Without a Face, a treasure-hunt mystery; and Everything You Know Is Pong, an illustrated cultural history of table tennis. He was the managing editor and publisher of McSweeney’s. He was born in Virginia and now lives in Northern California.

His film The Cow is world premiering at SXSW 2022.

Upon arriving at a remote cabin in the redwoods, Kath and her boyfriend find a mysterious younger couple already there — the rental has apparently been double-booked. With nowhere else to go, they decide to share the cabin with these strangers until the next morning. When her boyfriend disappears with the young woman, Kath becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for their sudden breakup— but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
This episode is brought to you by Indie Film Hustle Academy, where filmmakers and screenwriters go to learn from Top Hollywood Industry Professionals. Learn more at ifhacademy.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Eli Horwitz. How're you doing, Eli?

Eli Horowitz 0:14
I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thanks for coming on the show. Man. I appreciate you coming on the show you are your new film, the cow is going to be premiering at South by and we're going to get into the weeds on how the hell you made that thing come to come to life. I'm really curious to see how that came to life. It's a fantastic film. But um, but first man, how did you and why did you get into the film industry I mean, this is an insanity.

Eli Horowitz 0:40
Well, yeah, it's been a circuitous path. Me. I wasn't ever something I imagined would happen. Because this is my first movie. My first, I never even made a short film or anything. So I spent most of my 20s and part of my 30s A good part, my 30s kind of doing independent publishing. I work for this place McSweeney's. So I was editing and designing the books. And so that was my world for about 10 years or so. Moved from that into some kind of weird digital novel projects, some sort of apps and exploring geography, all sorts of weird stuff. I can ramble about if you want. From there, I stumbled into podcasting. And so I ended up CO creating the homecoming podcast with my with Michael Bloomberg. And that was sort of at this beginning kind of, of podcasting, stepping into the spotlight, these narrative podcasts. And it started Kevin Keener, and Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer. And so that got some attention. And as a result, it became the homecoming TV show, which Mike and I were the CO showrunner. So that was on Amazon for a couple years. And then from that, I ended up doing this. So it was really very much a one step leading to another never having a plan. You know, I'm from Virginia, and like, the idea of actually making a movie was always felt very far. So it wasn't even really on my radar.

Alex Ferrari 2:05
So the traditional way you make movies is what you're saying the traditional path that everybody goes down is what you're saying. Got it. So, so Yeah, cuz I, you know, doing research and you're like, Oh, this is these guys are the homecoming, you know, you did homecoming. And, and, you know, I'm obviously a podcaster. So, you know, I've been podcasting since 2015. When apparently it wasn't cool back then. Now, it's super now. It's super cool. People are getting deals off a podcast. I'm still waiting. I'm still waiting for my phone call. But but the but you had a narrative podcast. So how did you I've always been fascinated. How did you put together such a cast for a narrative podcast, which you didn't have, like, a wealth of history doing podcasts or anything like that? So how did you even get that small project off the ground?

Eli Horowitz 2:53
It was very strange. I mean, so it was with gimlet, this podcasting company that was kind of gaining some energy that's that gave it credibility. But it was their first narrative one. We were working with this producer in East Vancouver ring, who I mean, I was thinking we were just fine. Like, whoever or use my friends or something. She thought no, it could be more. And so she kind of led the train and trying to get them. But it was also, I think, a novelty. I mean, the first one we got was Catherine Keener. And it all flowed from there. And that was just, it was a huge shock. I don't really know why it happened. I can say it was partly because, you know, she just for the whole first season, she had to work for I think four days, you know, you're obviously an African into costume or makeup or anything like that. And, you know, they really get to actually act, which I think for most of them is what they actually liked to do. And more than anything, you know, be in the scenes, we designed to explore these characters. There was no setup, there's no tear down, there was no waiting in the trailer, there was none of that. Round the dough, I think it was an easy thing to kind of take a chance on. But I don't really know. I mean, the real answer is I have no idea. It was a strange fluke, that continues to have strange repercussions until today.

Alex Ferrari 4:12
And then how did you get the call that Amazon wanted to produce a show a narrative show based on this podcast?

Eli Horowitz 4:19
Well, it was one of these things where at each step of the way, the thing seemed somewhat plausible, the next step, right, so it's like, you know, once we had this great cast, then okay, some people are going to it's going to get some attention. It's not crazy. Then when it's getting some attention, it's well, sure, like people are gonna kind of Hollywood stick around and make conference calls, you know? And then okay, we're having a conference call where we have another conference call to each case, it was just like, flipping a coin and it coming up tails, right. And so no one thing was such a shock, but then it just happened kind of 13 times in a row and then six months later, we were there. You know, Julia Roberts and Sam Esmail making the TV show.

Alex Ferrari 5:04
That's pretty quick, too. That's a really quick turnaround.

Eli Horowitz 5:08
That might be slightly generous for the first episode, the podcast came out in November of 2016. and finished in I think, January 2016. We were in the writers room by August of 2017. So in the writers room, yeah, basically seven months after the podcast ended, and then it came out. Yes, seven months after that, or something.

Alex Ferrari 5:30
And how, and how did you attract Julia Roberts to tell me cuz she doesn't do TV.

Eli Horowitz 5:37
Yeah, it was another one of these things where it's like, when we were like having all our conference calls, people were saying, like, we heard Julia Roberts has entered Julia Roberts is definitely a big fan, you know, and it's like, exciting. But it's also like, really, in my old age, I've earned to like, alright, that's cool, you know. But then, because of that, it wasn't shocking when someone said that, again, that she was still interested. And then because of that, after we heared she'd be interested five times, well, then it made sense that she was doing it, you know, maybe I was delusional, but it just kind of one thing kept leading to another. I can't really explain it, but I stand back. I'm aware how strange it is. But

Alex Ferrari 6:14
So so have you been buying lottery tickets lately? Because there's apparently some sort of lucky streak that you should be taking advantage of? Even more. So you've used all, you know, and again,

Eli Horowitz 6:28
You know, plenty of other things. That's the only I mean, this, there's like a survivor bias or confirmation bias, but all this stuff, you never see all the things that fizzle, right, that going, oh, this person just did. And then you never hear about it again. Right? So it was give a kind of weird sense of it, I think, to hear these stories.

Alex Ferrari 6:48
Right! Exactly. And I always like telling the audience is like, look yet, because I've had a lot of I love dissecting the path of filmmakers and how they get, especially from their beginnings, how they got the opportunities, because it's so difficult to get into the business, you know, let alone when you're trying, as opposed to when you're not trying. And I've had many filmmakers on the show that weren't trying either and got these things. But I Oh, it's never like someone just knocked on your door. And like, here's some money, let's let's go make a movie. You're working, you're doing stuff that's putting yourself out there. And yes, certain chips fell at the right place, right time, right? Product kind of scenario that allowed this to kind of go, but it just like, Man, when that's your path, it's your path, man. There's just like doors just swing open. When you're supposed to be doing when you're walking the right path. Things just happen for you. And sometimes, you know, it doesn't. And most of the time since,

Eli Horowitz 7:44
I mean, you mentioned lottery tickets, I do think it's like that, like, you need to have a bunch of them, right. So I did a bunch of different projects, try a bunch of different things worked a bunch of different mediums, a lot of them, you know, did a book that probably sold like I wrote a book that was like 1500, people, you know, and you just keep kind of making things and doing things and then maybe something will work. For me, I didn't feel like the other thing didn't work, because I wasn't going towards a certain goal. I was trying to focus on the project at hand. So

Alex Ferrari 8:15
You were you were you were blessed without having the goal of being a filmmaker at 20. And you are struggling at a publishing company. But what you really wanted to do is direct, you are stuck, you're not stuck, but you were on that path, trying to make that work. And then these other opportunities presented themselves.

Eli Horowitz 8:32
I could never have done that. But I think a lot of people have to do you know, that really like having a goal and I don't think I would have had what it takes to really have that kind of focus and drive. While sensing, I've actually kind of convinced myself that I'm doing something that no one's ever done before or is even trying to do. Because if I feel that kind of crowd around me, it becomes a little depressing.

Alex Ferrari 8:55
Yeah, I can imagine. Now you also you with your partner, you guys will show runners on homecoming, which is yeah, very odd as well, that doesn't happen first time out, let alone you've done. Not even a short prior to this. So what was that experience? And how did that happen?

Eli Horowitz 9:14
Well, that was that was really due to Sam Esmail and to Chad Hamilton, his producing partner. So say my smells from Mr. Robot and stuff. And you know, I think he likes to kind of Blaze his own trail, too. And so very much had the attitude of like, you guys want to do this, just do it. You know, we'll figure it out. There's nothing fancy about it. And it also really helps her he, Mike and I were the showrunners Sam directed all the episodes of the first season. So you know, that took a big part of the classic showrunner responsibility off our plate in terms of like, managing all these different directors for every episode or recreating the show each time. But there was a ton to learn mica definitely knew more than I did going into it, he had been working as a production production sound for indie films for like 10 years before that, for me, everything was new. And again, the only the only way I was qualified or ready for it was because I hadn't really been qualified for anything else I'd done before. You know, when I was dropped into like editing, designing a book, I had done that for when I did homecoming, I had done a podcast before. So I did have a kind of sense that if you just pay attention and work hard, and listen, you can you can figure things out. And it sends it all a lot of it comes down to story, right. And I did think I had a good sense of that. Had a lot of experience of collaboration. So maybe like the core core skills I was sort of equipped with. But in terms of the details, I mean, yeah, I was in way over my head. I mean, I remember even you know, the first day on set, like putting on the headset, you know, listen in, and I was thinking, Oh, this is just like that scene in Notting Hill, when he goes, you know, like my reference point for childish. But you know, you learn you get help you do your best. And then I mean, that's still where I'm at very much. So you know,

Alex Ferrari 11:14
So you were Hugh Grant in that scenario, you were. That's amazing. So but also, I mean, I have to imagine because, you know, after I've spoken to so many different people on my show over the years, the one thing that's a common thread is imposter syndrome, which people just think at any moment, security is going to come and escort you off the set, I have to believe that you must have had that and by the buckets on that set, because literally, you're just like, I feel like I'm in Notting Hill I am I is someone going to come and take me off the set at any moment, it happens to Oscar winner, so I have to imagine that happen to you.

Eli Horowitz 11:49
I would say yes or no, yes. And probably for the most part, even on this movie, when we can talk about that, right? It's more like, I guess I have a constant. Sense of, of I'm trying to figure this out. But like I was saying for all those other projects. So it's not like that there's a level you're supposed to be at. And I'm not at that. It's like, I don't know what I'm doing. So let me try to figure it out. So it's imposter syndrome. But maybe without the panic. I mean, my biggest day of panic of this whole process was the night before the first day cast because I was directing that. And I didn't even know, I had never literally never seen anyone direct before. And it's a hard thing to you can't watch clips really on YouTube, particularly. I mean, maybe there's a clip someone could send me you know, so it's literally Googling, like how to direct you know, because I was sure these people would be like a plus plus, cuz I got these amazing actors. And it was all about how do I look like a director? How do I not like, just seem like a frog, you know, so that day very much had it. But then what I find is, you know, once you jump in, essentially everything is like everything else. On some level. It's like you're in this group or small group of people. You're trying to figure out how to make it work, and you're just trying to give and take and find solutions, you know,

Alex Ferrari 13:12
So you didn't say you didn't come on set with a director shirt on? I said director with a monocle and a bullhorn. You didn't you didn't do that.

Eli Horowitz 13:21
I had them in my bag.

Alex Ferrari 13:26
Yeah, that's always my favorite when I go on a set and I see the director has a director shirt on that says director on it. Like oh, this is this probably not gonna end well. It just says director it literally just says that. Oh, no, that isn't that is that is not only just a thing, on a project that I was on years ago, I wrote my first book was based on a meet you almost directing a movie for the mafia back in when I was in my 20s that the gangster that I was playing with the producer, literally bought shirts for all the crew members for the day that we were doing the sizzle. He put director on every shirt. So the entire cat, the entire crew was walking around with director. So think about imposter syndrome at that point.

Eli Horowitz 14:11
It'd be good to like I guess stop. Like if there was assassin coming for the director, then you have.

Alex Ferrari 14:16
So they're that sense. On that sense. I was safe that day, that day, I could at least two or three would have gone down before they got to me. So now

Eli Horowitz 14:26
The opposite. It's where when I get nervous, is when I feel like I have to look like I totally know what I'm doing wrong. Of course, that's one of the parts about directing. I probably still of course. I mean, there's many parts I still need to work on. But that's really one of kind of, because people do I think want to look to you as someone. I mean, there's a balance. You want to seem present and question collaborative. But I think it's also helpful to seem like you've got a you've got a clear vision, and everyone is going to play their part in that. And I always have, I think a tougher time of that second half of that. Captain like,

Alex Ferrari 15:01
Right! Because Because you've got to have that fine balance of everybody has trust that you know where the ship is going. But you're also open enough to and not to be so arrogant to go, I know everything, I don't need any help. So you get a really fine balance, like, Hey, I don't know this, how can we work and you have great collaborators, your DP, your production designer, your actors, you know, especially the caliber of actors that you know, you've been working with. So you can kind of work it all together, I have to ask, so when, when the first time you met Julia Roberts, and she walked into the room, dude, what's that, like? Me got a guy from our generation, just like, you know, Robert, you're like, What the hell, man?

Eli Horowitz 15:41
You know, it was crazy. But it was the same kind of thing, where by the time we got there, I mean, a, it was very strange. Like with Catherine Keener with Oscar Isaac, your swimmers trained even before that, which other kinds of authors that I've worked, you know, we're like, sure, we would even chain in my 20s. You know, that was like, so again, you kind of get used to the general phenomenon. And then also, you know, someone like Julia has been spending the last 30 years meeting people who are meeting her for the first time, you know, so putting people at ease and setting the good challenge to as she was such a professional to that whole project.

Alex Ferrari 16:21
That's amazing. Now on that on the on either both the, the podcast and or the show of Homecoming. What was the worst day where you felt like the entire world was coming crashing down around you? And how did you kind of overcome that? And that could have been completely internal. It could be a completely internal break. Which happens to all of us, by the way.

Eli Horowitz 16:45
Yeah, yeah. I'm trying to think I mean, definitely the, in some ways, it was that kind of night before the podcast started. Where I felt the most just like, Why did I do this? Can I just go home and said, you know, and once you're in it, you're just figuring it out. You know, like, they were certainly like, while shooting it, there's days where things are going wrong, or just long days or whatever, or, you know, I can't get into full stories. But to homecoming, got, you know, like, when you get more organizational and with levels of studios and networks, some of that can be kind of frustrating, let's say, but almost everything else after that first night, was in a it was out there as a problem to be solved. It didn't I can't remember a time when I felt like totalizing like, Oh, we're due, you know, we will just like well, let's let's figure it out, you know,

Alex Ferrari 17:50
I mean, you had hell, I mean, you have some hell of a collaborators on that show. Gorgeous, it was so well done. So well produced, so will act as a well written, you know, it's you could think directly half of, I mean, I'd say 90% of directing is who you collaborate with, between actors, and dp and all your crew, because they're bringing so much experience to the table. You just kind of like.

Eli Horowitz 18:15
In a way, it's the easiest job, you know, being the showrunner. I mean, sure, when I did, we just kind of like sit there and sort of say what we thought about things orientia Look, you know, but like, all the other work was everyone else was actually doing the actual work. Seeing the collaborators make so much of a difference. And that's how I like to work anyway. So

Alex Ferrari 18:34
Now, now the cow I just had the pleasure of watching the cow it is, is a fascinating film, to say the least. It stars. Two of our generations, great actors. Winona Ryder and Dermot Mulroney. I can never say his last name.

Eli Horowitz 18:53

Alex Ferrari 18:54
Mulroney thank you. I thought. Dermot. Oh, yes, yes, exactly. But they, they're fast. They were just wonderful. And I have to ask you first how did you get this? What what how did you come up with this script first of all, and then how did you get money for this film? Cuz this is not blockbuster. You know, there's no, there's no capes here.

Eli Horowitz 19:18
Well, it was a nother fairly random thing. It was while I was working on homecoming, the TV show. I got this cold email from these guys at Boulder like this. These kind of knew it got about 11 movies, but then we get there with these two friends from childhood who were like 28 years old at the time, you know, mostly doing I think low budget horror. And they just asked if we could meet and you know, I was in LA we were I think writing the second season. I live in San Francisco. So it was kind of very out of place. Didn't really know attentive people. My wife was still back here. A friend right here. There's a girl you don't hang out. We hung out once, I guess maybe twice and then They and meanwhile, I was feeling somewhat frustrated in that second season. You know, I come from this kind of indie publishing background, very hands on you and all the things. And then the bigness of Homecoming, it has a lot of advantages, but also was becoming a little wearying. Just whenever there's that much money and size involved, it has ripple effects, both in terms of like, you know, all the different voices and factors you have to consider. And even just little things, like, you know, when you're choosing a location, you have to think of like, how you're going to park these five camera trucks at that little kit, you know, just like the physical size of it, wasn't you. So that was all the infield totally in tune with my DNA, just how I like to work and how I came up. And I think they picked up on that. And they were looking to work with different kinds of people. And so they just send me an email that said, like, if you want to make a movie, true crime thriller, or horror at 220 minutes, write and direct budget of $200,000. And that just sounded like such a nice change of pace, you know, when I was doing and also, it's a good experiment, like, I was probably ready to kind of probably be like, well, this world's probably not for me. And I thought, well, before I decide that, let me try working in this medium, but in a different style, and see how I feel about that, you know, and so it sounded like a great opportunity. You know, I thought I imagined kind of like Roger Corman type situation, you know, banging it out, getting it done figuring it out, no one watching. So it was that so then I just started writing, I thought it was a done deal. I guess it probably in reality could have fallen apart at any moment after that, you know, but I was like, I think I'm making this movie. So then I hooked up with my friend, Matt Derby, who someone I've written another book and did some other projects with him earlier, really talented writer and hard worker. But so the genesis of the actual movie, and the story was, well, how do you make a movie for $200,000? So the budget I said, ended up creeping up. As we got this cast and stuff, I think, more and more than 2 million or so that's a secret enough. They won't tell you that someday. Go. But meanwhile, what I had been doing while I was just before I did, the homecoming podcast was I bought and fixed up this rundown old cabin in the woods about an hour and a half north of here in the redwoods. And so I've been staying there sometimes and renting it out sometimes. And I thought, Well, one way to make it for cheap is putting it in my house.

Alex Ferrari 22:51
So that literally was your that was literally your place. Wow. That's a beautiful, that's a beautiful location.

Eli Horowitz 22:57
Great location. Yeah, the house is actually a mobile home. There's still wheels underneath it, but then this whole kind of cabinet around it. But yeah, the location is amazing under the road redwoods view. Oh, yeah, I just thought let's set it there. And that was before I had a story or anything, it was just, it's going to happen in this house. So part of what happened in the house

Alex Ferrari 23:21
You back, you backed into the budget, you backed into the budget.

Eli Horowitz 23:25
So that's how I work. You know, it's hard for me just to think of story in the abstract. It's, I sort of try and think a lot about the forum first with all my projects. You know, the whole story of Homecoming came out of what how do we tell a story and audio without a narrator? And every detail about the story kind of flowed out of that. So this was how, how do you make a movie turn $1,000? You know, I'm sure there's a lot of other ways that people have done it for less, of course, but starting point.

Alex Ferrari 23:58
Well, yeah, I mean, so Alright, so you start off with $200,000 you start backing into this thing. So you write the script, they give you they love that they read the script, they love the script. They're like, let's make this thing happen. Now let's get a cast together. How do you how do you get Winona and Dermot on board?

Eli Horowitz 24:15
I just wrote her a note. I mean, you know, went through normal channels, went through her manager, I believe, but I had two things in my favor, never met her before. I didn't know anyone who knew her. But one. She actually grew up for a lot of her childhood in this area in this kind of Northern California. Even some of these specific locations we went to we filmed half of the movie in Petaluma, which is actually where she went to high school. So there was kind of that whole connection. I don't know whether that sealed the deal or not, but I threw that out. And then also, her name isn't actually Winona Rider, that's

Alex Ferrari 25:01
No no, I wait a minute, if I may, if I may, because I am an 80's geek. Her last name is Horwitz.

Eli Horowitz 25:11
So more related anything, but I was able to throw that out, you know? And then we just sent the script, you know, and four days later, she texted me just like 11 at night and she texted me I was like, I dude, it's a no wanna love the script? Let's do it. That was another one. That was very strange moments, but I guess she liked the script. I mean, there was nothing else going for it. So

Alex Ferrari 25:36
That's, and then of course, once we're known as involved, then it's a little bit easier now to start building up on other cast

Eli Horowitz 25:41
I guess one other thing if we're looking for like life lessons, or whatever, I think another thing that helped was so McSweeney's and the publishing company I worked at for 10 years, she had back then been a big fan of McSweeney's. So that's just to say, like, when you make things and put them out into the world, their lives and ripple effect can go by very conventional patterns. You know,

Alex Ferrari 26:05
Listen, I just had a little yesterday, literally, this happened to me. I won't say who it is. But I got an email from a former guest, who's like, Hey, man, I just want you to know, I got this email from this guy. Take a listen. And I'm reading it. I'm like, holy cow, this person is listening to my podcast. And I'm like, how is that what? I'm like, and I just kind of like, put it out there. And I'm always fascinated about who you meet along the way. Like, dude, I've been a fan of yours forever. I'm like, What

Eli Horowitz 26:42
Ways or I can come years after the fact.

Alex Ferrari 26:44
Exactly. Yeah, it's and you don't do it because you're like, Okay, when I put this one out, you know, Steven Spielberg is gonna listen to this. I'm that's not Steven, by the way. I'm just throwing that out there. Everybody, it's not Steven Spielberg.

Eli Horowitz 26:58
But which, wow, that's exactly what you tamper with Steven Spielberg.

Alex Ferrari 27:06
It's really It's James Cameron.

Eli Horowitz 27:07
It's Steven Spielberg.

Alex Ferrari 27:09
It's James. It could be James Cameron. But No, I'm joking. Trust me, James is probably he's not listening to podcast right now. Let's just put it that way. He's an avatar world. So um, but yeah, you're absolutely right. You never know what happens when you put something out and how it affects other people. And that's remarkable. So So you got you got the one you got, you know, the big the big fish, which is well known. And then then kind of just as a ripple effect. I'm bringing everybody else in.

Eli Horowitz 27:33
Yeah. I actually worked with with Dermot Mulroney on homecoming here that he was in a couple episodes of that. And he was great to work with. And then yeah, but it really, you know, same as having Catherine Keener for the podcast, getting on it for the mood, makes things easier.

Alex Ferrari 27:47
Do you recommend? Yeah, it makes things easier. And I want people listening to understand that, that if you're able to nobody wants to be the first to the party. That's with financing. And that's with cast, though cast. If they really are attached to the project and the creator. It's easier to get a big name attached first before money shows up. And then that kind of helps the doors all start swinging open after the fact. I would go. But

Eli Horowitz 28:15
And having a date, I think right? Like having a production date is the only thing that like this is actually happening. It's not just one of the many other things in a big mushy pool.

Alex Ferrari 28:25
Right! Exactly. You get you get like we need you on November this to November this. That's when we're shooting. Are you available? Yep, we have an opening in that schedule. Perfect. Let's lock that in. And then now you're now you're in a mad rush to make sure every other part of the puzzle is prepared for that.

Eli Horowitz 28:41
Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 28:43
So what was the so Okay, so now you're directing your first feature? You've got an amazing cast. Yes, you're in your home, so you feel a little bit more comfortable. But you know, on that first day, man, when you walk on set as a director, man, what the hell was that like?

Eli Horowitz 28:59
Well, that was definitely there was definitely alive. And plus to that. I mean, I remember even more than the first day I remember when you're about to start the first scene. Because I had this great ad this guy, Travis LaSalle. And we worked on a bunch stuff. We had talked over a couple of just key basics, which was like, Oh, am I actually gonna, like they had this scene start like, they were already and I was watching and then Travis looked over me. I was like,

Alex Ferrari 29:31
Say action.

Eli Horowitz 29:36
And then we finished again, I was like, cut. So yes, on a very basic level I was doing um, but But it was great. I mean, it was especially just as it happened, like the first few days. The cast was super prepared. The crew was ready. We had good scenes. We didn't overload the days for those first couple. So yeah, that was really helped us get off to a strong start. And again, it's like I keep saying like, the, all the packaging or trappings or cosmetics. That's where it's kind of be unfamiliar and stressful. But then, once we were in it, you know, obviously knew this story really well had good relationship, I made sure to as much as possible talk to the cast, you might have actually rehearsal time. But individually with each of them, we had kind of multiple times talking to the script and the role in the scenes, which wasn't even so important for the actual content. I mean, maybe some, but it just really helped kind of build up this level of trust. So then when the scenes are working, you just get in there and say, what do we think I'm trying to get more like this? What do you think you know, and you're just two people working for a solution.

Alex Ferrari 30:48
Right! So that's how that that's how you approach directing the actors, you kind of just sit there like me, you obviously know what you want, in a scene you want and you know what you want out of the actors, but you're like, What do you think? How do you? How do you see this going? I mean, because again, when you're working with the kind of actors, you're working with them in a one on one deal, and they've been around the block so, so much, you'd be foolish not to listen to some other ideas at this point.

Eli Horowitz 31:14
But just as much for you know, other actors as well. Yeah, like 20 more. So yeah, I mean, the thing, I don't know how to do it all, you know, there's this other version of directing where you're kind of like, somehow eliciting these performances, I mean, I don't want to call it mind games, because that makes it sound too negative, although I'm sure sometimes it is a bad thing. But just like, pushing the buttons and triggering the moment and stuff and having a certain mystique, I just don't, I don't know how to pull it off. And that's when I would really feel kind of imposter syndrome. You know, I just find that too exhausting. So, and I've just been ever. I haven't in my experience, people haven't also responded to things like, you know, pretend like this table is on fire for this scene. Right? And like, that's your triggering sense memory. You know, it's a thing, and I'm sure it works sometimes. But I just can't take myself seriously, unless I'm just having a normal conversation with someone.

Alex Ferrari 32:12
No, the best is the I had a director on the show, tell me this amazing technique, which I've used since then as onset, where you tell one actor two people in the scene, and they're talking to each other, and you tell one actor to like, Okay, make sure that anything that this person says to you, you are completely rejecting it internally. And then the other one is, like, you say the opposite the other one, and then they don't know that as and when they're in the scene, they just start feeding off each other. And that that work, I think that's a really good way to kind of, it's not a manipulated, it's not a mind game. It's just motivations, but the other person doesn't need to know the motivation. It's a personal thing. But the fact that I found really works well as as a director, as opposed to, you know, if you want to make someone cry, you yell and scream and insult them on set like that's,you know,

Eli Horowitz 33:03
Right. right. I mean, every now and then I would get, I'm trying to think like, one thing I did that. Proud of that, I don't know, it probably had no effect at all was, um, so just couple which is going to give Brienne Chu this kind of a couple, they both had some tattoos. Take that too, as you know, for the character. But I had them come up with a matching basically matching pair of tattoos. And not tell me what they meant. So only they would know what those tattoos met. So I kind of thought that would kind of create a, you know, a sense of them as a couple with a secret, you know, right. Maybe that were mostly probably made me just feel like I was the clever guy for a day and made them feel. Yeah, I tried sometimes.

Alex Ferrari 33:57
No, exactly like that. But those are the those are the little fun things you get to do with actors. It's it's just a lot of fun. Was there a day on on the cow where you felt the world was coming down crashing around you as a director?

Eli Horowitz 34:09
Oh yeah, a lot of those? I mean, one thing I kept going back to was it was an interview with George Miller, who said that, like he was talking to some other young director who's giving them advice, and he said, like, the day will come when you feel that everything's going wrong, and you have no idea what you're doing. Just keep going. And then at the end of that, that director called him back and was like, Yes, that was good advice. But we didn't tell me was that that would be every single day. And yeah, that definitely happened. Almost every day. There was some time or another one it was just like,

Alex Ferrari 34:50
Yeah, yeah, the camera's not working. We're losing like the actors that there's something wrong with the location. There's, oh, there's, you did this during COVID as well. So there's COVID protocols. The money's not there foods not arriving at this time, the trailer does show up all this craziness that we have to deal with as a director. It's insane.

Eli Horowitz 35:09
Yeah, yeah, it was really just good to know that, like, my job is just to get through these 19 days, kind of as if we decide whether this is any good, whether this was a good decision, whether this is going to work out whether it was worth doing first place, just shut that part of my brain off, and just just get through it.

Alex Ferrari 35:31
And you did, man, and you got it, when you got it done. It looks fantastic. You get it through post. And then you guys submit to, you know, to the festival circuit, and you get the phone call, what was the phone call from South by like?

Eli Horowitz 35:45
That was great. I mean, it was it was another one of these things where you hear kind of rumblings before columns. But this was really my, you know, my two things I wanted was to get to go with it to a festival. And then for one of these for Brianne, and oh, and like, because I thought they did such a great job for them to see them like go on to bigger and better thing. Those are the kind of two concrete things that I could could look for, for this movie. Because everything else is so nebulous to go out into the world, some people see it, some people don't see it, some people like it, some people don't like it, whatever. But so it was really fun. So I'm so excited. I'm going to fly down to Texas tomorrow. And yeah, I'm just excited for the whole experience of it eating, you're seeing the other movies. I mean, also just after these two years of COVID, like I'm excited to see like a hunger food, open bar, you know, like, oh, yeah, it's gonna be lively things for me.

Alex Ferrari 36:46
Bring a bring a jacket, just going to bring a jacket. It's not, it's not hot right now in Texas. Just it's a little bit chilly, especially at night. Now, is there something that you could if you could, would you go back? And what would you say to your younger self, starting this part of your journey, like when you went into the, like on the podcast, if you could go back and like a few days before the podcast and go, Look, dude, you're gonna go through a hell of a journey. Right now, this is the one thing this is the one thing I wish I would have known.

Eli Horowitz 37:22
Two things. One is this kind of point I'm making where it's like, in the end, it just comes back to normal foundational skills, you know, if you know the story, and you're willing to talk and listen and be collaborative, and ask questions that can take you through almost everything to some extent, you know, so no need to panic about anything. And then the other one I'm still trying to keep an eye on is just make sure you have a decent sense of why you're doing the thing that you're doing. I think it's especially something that I'm grappling with now is, you know, in this industry, it seems like there's a lot of like opportunities that are half presented that are floated that you're supposed to chase for, there's a kind of a clear sense of like, what the ladder is, and you're supposed to always be moving up a bit. You know, previously, I'd have that as much because we were sort of, in my own little world doing things I was out of the publishing was on New York, I was living in San Francisco, it was just, it was easier to just focus on the thing at hand and try and do it as well as you can. And now there's, sometimes you'll you'll hear about something that seems like a good opportunity, or can I pass this up, or I should jump on it while I can. And sometimes that's true. But there's also just a kind of gravitational pull of those things that might not really speak to who you actually are, what you actually want to be doing. And so being willing to actually chart your own path in this industry that I don't think is particularly suited for that. Or they snap very encouraging of that. It's something I'm still trying to grapple with.

Alex Ferrari 39:10
Oh, yeah, you definitely have not walked the path of what Hollywood expects, or wants. Yeah, you've definitely been burning.

Eli Horowitz 39:18
I mean, even doing this movie, probably, like, if I had, I don't know, I'm just making this up. But like, you know, like, after going to Kolkata, which is like a big show, I think probably a lot of people would have thought like, well, now I should be trying to do a movie as big as that.

Alex Ferrari 39:34
Right! With a Julia Roberts style. You know, it's,

Eli Horowitz 39:38
You know, as I said, just being like, I like these guys. It sounds like a fun opportunity. Let me just do it. You know, I think I'm really glad I did. But it's still like, every week, there's something that you kind of need to check in with yourself about that. It's hard to calibrate. Exactly right,

Alex Ferrari 39:54
Right. No, I agree with you. 100%. And look, you're doing fine brother. Don't Don't You don't you? Don't you let anyone else tell you any different but you are doing just fine. I always tell people to listen to your gut man, if it makes sense to your gut don't if you start trying to play the Hollywood Game, you will lose because that game has been lost by the best.

Eli Horowitz 40:18
No one ever feels like they've made it no one can ever like snap their fingers and get what they want. Maybe two or three people entire ages.

Alex Ferrari 40:26
Even the two or three people in the entire industry that could do it is it is specific kinds of films, right James Cameron can make get avatar made which is an insanity, but arguably the only human being on the planet that could do something like that. But if he's like, what I really want to do is a comedy. That cost 500 million. You see that's not happen. That's not That's not how Spielberg couldn't get Lincoln made. Man. You know? Scorsese couldn't get Irishman made until Netflix showed up like, well, it's it there's very few

Eli Horowitz 40:57
You were to think you're ever gonna get to this like promised land if I just do this bad. You know, you're still always yourself.

Alex Ferrari 41:04
The only the only guy who could do that is Nolan. Nolan is the only human being right now on the planet could basically could do whatever he wants. He has it. He has a blank check right now. It's pretty amazing.

Eli Horowitz 41:14
I wonder if he feels like, you know, everyone, I think still feels kind of agreed, constrated or limited? Or why is this working out the way I showed? Or if I only this or?

Alex Ferrari 41:23
No, I mean, look, I mean, he's making a movie about Oppenheimer for $100 million at a studio. Not many human beings get to do that. So it's, it's pretty, but you're right. I don't think he's sitting there and going, ha, smoking the cigar going, Hey, so what else am I gonna do now? Let's Let's shoot it in black and white. While we're at it, let's. But it's always like I always like I always I don't know about you. But I always like watching, you know, the titans of our business take swings at the bat. Just at bat, because they're the ones that move. They move. They move the line, man, they move the chains for all of us. Because if they don't, man, you know, it starts started back in, you know, in the early silent days with Chaplin. They were all taking swings, and we all kind of move the whole medium forward. Right, right. Pretty remarkable. Oh, no, where's Where is? Where's the cow going to be screened? Like, what are the days and times?

Eli Horowitz 42:17
Sunday at the Zach theater that's the premiere and then it's Tuesday. I'll be there. Also, at the screening on Tuesday. I'm not sure which theater and then also I think Wednesday.

Alex Ferrari 42:28
Great. And there. Is there any distribution yet or not yet?

Eli Horowitz 42:31
Yeah, I think that's the what the festival is.

Alex Ferrari 42:34
Oh, I wish I wish I wish you the I'm sure I'm sure you'll do. Okay, brother, I'm sure you're going to do. If if your road that it's up to this point is any indication of how things are rolling out for you on certain things

Eli Horowitz 42:47
I'm only hearing about the good roads.

Alex Ferrari 42:49
No, I know. No, I look, I know. And I'm joking with you. Because I know there's been a lot of pain. I know, there's been a lot of suffering a lot of those things, a lot of things.

Eli Horowitz 42:56
I mean, I could list my four other projects in the last few years that you haven't heard of that you've never heard of, uh, no one's ever listened to they came out last year, you know? Oh, come on the show. You know,

Alex Ferrari 43:10
It happens. It happens. I know. I know. I know. But but I think on this, I think I think you'll do okay, if it is any indication after watching the movie, I think I think you'll be fine. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Eli Horowitz 43:26
I think like we're saying just finish things have things that exists around the world. Don't just try and wait for things to line up for that one big strike. Just make things.

Alex Ferrari 43:36
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Eli Horowitz 43:41
Honestly, the thing I've been finding myself lately is that actually like to work, because I kind of reflects it and like I don't want that sound. And then I sit around, and I'm just doing nothing. And I feel really grouchy all day like what do you know, some kind of guy something actually like doing these things you want to do them. So

Alex Ferrari 44:00
Fair enough, and three of your favorite films of all time.

Eli Horowitz 44:05
Of all time, I'm just gonna say in the last I'll have to just saying the last few weeks or something I don't even know all the time. I can say something I can say three films that helped inspire the cow. How about that? Fair enough. So one was this movie came out about maybe three or four years ago called border it's a Danish movie. That this is definitely goes in the category of the less you know, the better. These are really my favorite movies in general is ones where what the movie is kind of unfolds in front of you, as you're watching. Instead of saying like, this is a heist movie, and then it's going to be a fun heist, but you basically know the star in the middle, whatever. So borders the first one and that it's I don't mean to make it sound kind of impenetrable or anything. It's almost like a fairy tale, but me to noir and it helps really inspire The cow keeping with the bat category, maybe I would say pig, which I hadn't seen yet, when I made cow, but I felt definitely some affinity for, you know, there's definitely a whole cow pig, lamb livestock, triple feature movement coming on. But I really loved the way that one kind of created its own world and its own tone, it was a very specific tone, which I feel like some people even viewing didn't quite get. I mean, I know everyone can get their own view of it, but I feel like it was very aware of its own sense of humor and its own sense of strangeness, and was willing to, to be kind of elusive in that way. You know, something I wonder about for the cow and all my projects is like, are they a fun mix? Or are they neither here nor there. And that was very willing and bored or also want to just straddle those lines and be their own thing and just let the chips fall where they may. And then let's say I know something that I really liked was 10 Cloverfield Lane, just like a nice contained class movie that I thought was really smart about always being aware of what your expectations were, and meeting them quite soon, instead of like stretching out for an hour like wait, is it possible that this guy's lying or is it possible there you know, into there and 15 minutes and then do another and then another and then another? So really being conscious of the viewer and giving them a credit and playing with that being a dialogue with that? I thought that movie did a great job of

Alex Ferrari 46:49
Eli man, I appreciate you coming on the show. Congratulations on the cow I wish you nothing but success with the film I think it's going to do very well like I said before and just keep keep walking the path whether you do it you do it you do it. You do it just fine brother walk that path man. Thanks for being on the show brother.

Eli Horowitz 47:05
Alright bye bye!


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