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IFH 417: How to Make Indie Films That Make REAL Money with J. Horton


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Today on the show we have filmmaker and Filmtrepreneur J. Horton. Jason has been in the film industry for as long as I have and has been making movies ever since. What sets him apart from other filmmakers is that he actually makes a living making his films.

Jason figured out the formula that would allow him to make a living doing what he loves to do. He produces low-budget feature films and uploads them to Amazon Prime. He collects TVOD and SVOD revenue. His key is volume. This year alone he produced 14 feature films.

We discuss how he chooses his niche audience, how he shifted from only narrative films to directing niche-focused documentaries, and how he’s able to produce so much content.

Enjoy my conversation with J. Horton.

Alex Ferrari 2:32
Now guys, today on the show, we have filmmaker and filmtrepneur J Horton. Now Jason is a filmmaker who figured out how to make a living, making films. And I know that is a weird concept. But he actually makes a living in all he does is make feature films. And in our conversation, we go over his techniques, what he does, how he does it, how he monetizes all of these films. And what is the secret sauce to his success. Now he is not a billionaire or making millions of dollars by any stretch of the imagination, he'll be the first to tell you but he has figured out how to make a living. That means he only does this to generate revenue to support him and his family. And that, to me is the dream as a filmmaker to be able to just do what I love to do and get paid to do it. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with J Horton. I'd like to welcome the show J Horton man How you doing brother?

J Horton 3:51
Very good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 3:52
Oh, man, thanks for doing this man. I'm a fan of what you do and how you do it. I it's rare to find filmmakers who get it and and and figured out how to make a living as a filmmaker which is you are in the top 1% of 1% of 1%. And, and and yeah, I would like like you saying your YouTube videos and a lot of stuff your content is like I'm not rich by any stretch of imagination, but I make a living doing what I'd love to do and that's why we got I wanted to kind of bring you on the show to explore about

J Horton 4:28
Yeah, and to be to be fair, it's taken me a long time to get there and a long time to change my mentality from you know, I'm going to be Quentin Tarantino to I'm going to make a living as a filmmaker.

Alex Ferrari 4:40
Right and I think we all you know, you're You and I are in similar vintages as I like to say yes, so um, you know, when quitting came out, we were probably in our in our youth, if you will. And everybody of our generation wanted to be Robert Rodriguez Kevin Smith, Quintin Tarantino you know, Richard Richard Linklater. You know, John Singleton, Steven Soderbergh, like they're all those guys. But Tarantino has that rock star, you know, vibe to him when it came out. And I think he, as wonderful as he is, he did hurt a generation of makers because we all figured out like, we're just never gonna be Quintin Tarantino like it's, it's, it's hard pill to swallow for a lot of filmmakers. It's just never and it's okay because nobody's ever gonna be Quintin Tarantino. So tell us a little bit about how you got into the business.

J Horton 5:32
Okay, well I basically I got started doing movies because I couldn't do anything else. I was small, I didn't like sports, I watched movies all the time. So that was I was always a major focus of mine. And then you know, speaking of Tarantino, he, you know, Reservoir Dogs came out when I was 18 like coming out of high school. So like that, like for the first time was like, Oh, this sort of director does this is this is a director I could do this. Now. It took me another you know, four years to get into college and you know, kind of start studying film. But you know, by the time I had finished there, like I was chomping at the bit to make a movie. So, you know, I did my first movie right out of college, you know, we saved up a few $1,000 me and a friend and just we had the Panasonic dv x when it first came out

Alex Ferrari 6:20
dv x was it the A sir, was it just a straight up? You have the A

J Horton 6:25
I believe we had I think it was before the A.

Alex Ferrari 6:28
So it was the first first generation got it.

J Horton 6:30
I'm pretty sure it

Alex Ferrari 6:31
Wasn't that a great little camera man? I'd love that.

J Horton 6:33
It was you know, I still like like the look of it. Sure. I did a I did a I mean I did a really one of my not ladder movies but like mid career movies like way after HD had kind of taken over. I think it was like 2010 but I liked that look so much. I actually shot one last feature on it you know, I still have called a trap which I did quite a bit but yeah, love that look.

Alex Ferrari 6:57
That look was awesome. And it was just for people who just don't understand what that camera was. It was the first 24 p camera so it was the first time we could see a film look inherent in the image before then all we had was like the Canon XL which was oh it's just horrible disgusting. It was disgusting and then you met and you mix that with Final Cut Pro I think was four maybe four or five

J Horton 7:25
I think I started on five but I'm again I'm

Alex Ferrari 7:27
It's around yeah it's around there so you combine those two remember yet the plug in the cable and then let the let the final cut like run through the tapes to digitize high rez which was standard def and I know everyone listening to like it's just too old farts talking about the olden days no understanding how awesome that was like it was insane

J Horton 7:49
So I still had you know the mentality that you know I'm going to be big I'm going to be a Spielberg I'm going to be a Tarantino and be Rodriguez but I'm making this small movie and I didn't realize it at the time but I was laying the groundwork for you know my Later career. So anyway, we we finished this movie it was originally called Rise of the undead many years later distributor changed it to rising undead. But anyway, we sold it to York entertainment. Like just right out the box. I don't know if you know her to your work but Okay, so York was like one of the first like predatory distributors. So and I didn't know I didn't know anything about distribution marketing nothing I was the deal make my what was the deal. God 12 year license on the sales fee was like, the cap was over 50,000 or 50,000 something ridiculous. And I honestly don't remember the rev split. I think it was like a 60-40 maybe something like that.

Alex Ferrari 8:54
But you never made it. You never saw a dime.

J Horton 8:56
Not from them. No.

Alex Ferrari 8:58
Did you get the movie back ever?

J Horton 9:00
Um, years years later, which I'll get into that a little bit later. That's how I discovered Amazon and started doing shelf distribution was. But um, so anyway, we finished it. We sold it to York, and I was like, and they didn't release it. You know, like, uh, you know, it was in blockbuster. It was in Hollywood videos like, and I didn't care so much about the money at the time. I was like, Hey, I have a movie out. We'll see some momentum next year

Alex Ferrari 9:26
Can stop you right there for a second. That is the worst disease that we as filmmakers have. When we're first starting out. We're like, Oh, well, I see it on the shelves or I see it on Amazon or I see it on iTunes. And I've arrived and I don't care really about the money. You'll never make it as a filmmaker if you don't change that mentality. Agreed?

J Horton 9:47
Oh, totally agreed. And what I was about to find out was that no one else was going to give a shit that my movie was in blockbuster. You know? So like, I get it out and we're living in New Orleans at the time and you We were planning to make the move to LA Katrina happened. And we moved right after Katrina. So I get to LA. And I have this movie, and it's sim blockbuster. And I'm like, LA is going to just be like, welcome. Come direct our movies. You know,

Alex Ferrari 10:15
Here's 20 million. Here's 20 million

J Horton 10:17
Oh 20 million, or even one. I mean, I wasn't quite that, you know, delusional state. But I was still delusional. I mean, I was thinking a million or 500,000,

Alex Ferrari 10:28
at least that's nothing,nothing. they handled that they just handles out to anybody who walks in the door.

J Horton 10:35
So, you know, I'm, you know, I'm querying production companies and studios, you know, and just, you know, if I ever do get responses, they're pretty much like, lol. Send. So, but so, so here I was, uh, you know, I directed this feature film, you know, I graduated college, I'm in LA. Nobody will hire me for anything. I'm like, Hey, I directed this. I wrote it. I edited it. I could, you know, I could do editing. I could, you know, I could do I work the camera. I could do camera work. I could, I mean, I couldn't do work for free. I mean, like, I couldn't get a job. So I was back working at Starbucks. You know, it's like, you know, six months goes by still no job. And I finally get an assistant editor job on this rinky dink horror movie, I think it was called butcher house. And the special effects guy on that was getting ready to shoot his first movie, and I still had that dv x. And his dp had quit. I wasn't really a dp, but he was like, Oh, you have the camera. You know, we're shooting tomorrow, come shoot my movie. And that kind of set me off on my path. You know, I worked for that guy. And then his EP was a filmmaker named john Claude Lamar. I started editing and directing for him. Then I got noticed by the Garcia brothers and I started directing for them. You know, I just every that just beget everything. And I kept moving.

Alex Ferrari 11:56
And it just, it just kept rocking and rocking. Alright, so then. So you have a fairly long IMDb. I've noticed.

J Horton 12:04
Yes.

Alex Ferrari 12:05
How many movies? Are you popping out a year now?

J Horton 12:09
Oh, man. Um, I mean, at my height, I was probably doing 12 a year.

Alex Ferrari 12:14
So one, one a month, one a month,

J Horton 12:16
One a month. So one of the companies I started actually both the companies I was directing for their their business model, they were doing micro budget movies, like between $10,000 or like $60,000. You know, they got a little bit higher later on. But anyways, so they're making these movies, they get like one, you know, B level actor, they'd have him for a day, they had had the movies pre sold. And they were just impressed by my ability to be able to work within their time frame. You know, so we would shoot these movies in five or six days, sometimes less. And then you know, I would have less than a month to edit them feature films, you know, put them sure like the that date, that release date would be set before we started shooting like they had both of the companies had set deals with different distributors and aggregators. So like they would we would start shooting in April, and the movie would be like on the shelf in June, just like boom, and they would do them. You know, at least one a month. There was one month with the Garcias where I shop for movies. We did one and we did one. Pretty much a no it was actually that period was concurrent, like one after another. So we did. We did one movie and one day, I'm sorry, two movies in one day, one movie in two days. movie and five days. And then another movie and four days.

Alex Ferrari 13:36
How do you do two movies in a day? Like I look I've shot fast.

J Horton 13:40
I'm sorry? Not in one day? Oh, you're asking I gotcha. I gotcha. Yeah. Okay, how do you shoot a movie in one day?

Alex Ferrari 13:45
Yeah. I mean, you do I know how to do it. You just put the camera up, and you let the actors act. And it's basically master shot theater?

J Horton 13:53
Well, it can be on what, what worked for me. And now I'm not saying these are great movies show. We still shot them in a day. But sure, better than you would think. So like, what we would do is, you know, we had, we would go to sets like stage sets. And you know, we would so have so many scenes in the living room set, we'd set up three cameras, we would run each scene twice. You know, I mean, you know, unless somebody flopped or something, but we'd run two times full through with two completely different sets of coverage. So I would end up with, you know, six pieces of coverage per scene, on average, okay. And what I'm one of my apps was he was really, he was really good. So we like we would set him on the second take on a long lens and be like just fish get my inserts. And I wouldn't even always have them set. I would just be like, get where you can get and then everybody else would have standard coverage. And my editing background helped me do this as well. Yeah, I mean, can you please tell the audience how important understanding editorial helps you make these kind of films? Yeah, I never wanted to be an editor. I never wanted to edit anything. I edited my first movie out of necessity, but you learn, like if you want to get into directing or writing or any editor, it's one of the best positions to move up. Because like, not only are you learning the entire process, what works, what doesn't how shots fit together, how much you actually need, you're also setting with the director and the producer, sometimes the finance years, if you're lucky enough to be on set, you're sitting right there with the main producers and the visiting the people that visit. You know, like the bigwigs, the guys with the money. Like, I mean, I've gotten movies, you know, small movies financed from being on that set and talking to those people. You know, so I think I think editing is probably the best, you know, maybe dp on bigger things. But like in India,

Alex Ferrari 15:49
But even even dp as an editor, as editorial allows you to figure out what you need and how fast you'd need to get it and what you absolutely need. And then also, it's one thing being on set, but it's another thing being in a room with producers directors financier's for, arguably two, three weeks at a time sometimes I mean, in your your case a lot faster. But generally speaking, it could be months that you're working together, you know, and those relationships build up.

J Horton 16:18
And one of my very first gigs after I started working besides the horror movie, I was operating camera on this 24 hour shoot, it was this weird ass comedy documentary. I'll spare the details. But we were I was setting there with the main producer because we were doing some live TV editing on it. And you know, so I talked to him for a few hours. And you know, offhandedly mentioned that I was a writer, and he was looking for a zombie script. I didn't have one, but I was like, dude, I could write one in two weeks. And, you know, a month later, we're shooting edges of darkness, which was, you know, my first California, you know, directing.

Alex Ferrari 16:55
Very cool, man. Sorry. So you're popping out a lot of movies a month, what is your business model as a filmmaker, so kind of explain that to film to the audience.

J Horton 17:07
So, at the time, when I was making all of those, I was working for other people. So I was like, a hired gun, I'm watching their business model. So the business model was basically, you, you know, you have to, it's a quick release model, you know, like, you have to put out so much material a year, you know, and most of them did, okay, but these aren't, you know, they make it for 50, they might make 75,000, in the first year, or they might make 100, or it might break even, you know, they had a pretty good track record for not losing. But, you know, it was a volume business for those guys. And so I'm sitting there watching these guys, I'm like, Okay, I get the business side of it. Now, if I can, if I can fine tune the creative, and you know, make these a little bit better, which, you know, I believe you can, like, that's, that's a good, that's a good model. And then, you know, I started working for a larger company for a while and animation company, which kind of took me away from filmmaking for about two years. And then last year, year before last, I started getting back to basically taking their business model, but creating it for myself. So like that, that's what I'm doing now. And I chose a slightly different path with what I'm doing now. So like, I had talked to a producer, because so three years ago, I shot a movie called Death day, or it was called the campus, the distributor changed it later. I have that a lot.

Alex Ferrari 18:33
But they tend to do that.

J Horton 18:35
Yeah, this, but this movie, I think, I think our hard budget was like, I don't know, 45,000, and maybe another 20 or so and post, but so it was decent for a micro budget. And you know, we shot it anamorphic you know, I was pretty happy with how it turned out and basing my password. I was like, Man, I'm gonna make 100 grand first year on this easy breakeven, you know, so it comes out and like late 2017 or early 2018. And it just wasn't the case anymore. It failed pretty spectacularly. Like I didn't make anything and I'm still like, you know, dealing with investors and whatnot on it. So I was kind of in a spot where I'm like, this business model that I came in professionally on, like, it's not really working anymore, because like these guys, they were making these movies so fast, but I don't want a month but you know, they weren't particularly they weren't all great. They and they weren't making money anymore. But in you know, 2010 2014 money was still flowing. Yeah, yeah, you could make a movie for $50,000 put Eric Roberts in it and still, like make money. You know, not anymore. Now. They're like Eric Roberts. Oh, shit. I got 30 of those. Yeah, exactly. I mean, I remember I was at Cannes a few years ago and one of the I overheard a producer or distributors saw I'm saying if I see one more fucking movie with Eric Roberts over the screen

Alex Ferrari 20:04
I I've mentioned Eric a couple of times because I one year as a post as a post supervisor worked on three Eric Roberts movies, just myself, and I'm like, he must have done about 20 to 25 movies that year. And it's just he just died looted his whatever value he might have had, you know, there's an end, there's a handful of those kind of actors who could do that kind of stuff. But in for people to understand in 2010 2011, DVD was still a thing. That was huge, it was still a thing. And at that time, streaming had just started to the idea started to germinate. And Netflix has just started to do it. And as the technology got better and better, but so you could literally put out a crap movie for a $50,000 crap movie with Eric Roberts and you pull 100 grand off of it just Oh, yeah. comfortably comfortably. Those days are gone. Yeah, that in that sense, in that sense. So how did you switch your business model currently?

J Horton 21:01
Okay, so the other thing that happened, I think it first happened around 2010. Amazon box, which became Prime video direct, it was somewhere around that time, I think we were still putting them up through CreateSpace. Like, it was a self book publishing thing, but she had a DVD. And when streaming first came out, you could you could upload your movies through there, and hardly anybody knew about it film, right.

Alex Ferrari 21:25
And you and you were basically a big fish in a very well, a small pond, because it wasn't a lot of people a lot of competition.

J Horton 21:32
Exactly. And that, you know, that first movie, the rights hadn't expired, but the company had went under, so I got the rights back on that I still had the rights on trap. And I think one other, so I put these three movies up, and I kind of just forgot about it, you know, they were making five or six bucks a month, something like that something small. But I think it was 2000 A year later, like 2013, one of these movies, like just out of nowhere, like I wasn't promoting it, nothing, it just it just popped up. Like it was making, I think it was around, I think at the height, it was making almost 2000 a month, but it was bouncing between 1002 1000 a month for almost 12 months, like I made, I made the budget on it, then this movie was at least six years old, maybe seven. And I was like, for the very first time. Like, I mean, there's something to this, like self distribution thing. So I you know, I finished my stent directing for the other guys and you know, had the failure with campus. And then was like, I'm going to try to go back to this self distribution model, you know, so, and a producer had told me that they were having a lot of trouble, you know, with do narrative features, you'll get lucky, but he's like, you should try documentaries. And at the time, I had no interest in documentaries whatsoever. But I was like, wow, I mean, I like to make stuff let me let me make a few and see what happens. So I just really as fast as I could make them. I made I think it was like six documentaries and I did these and like I want to say two months.

Alex Ferrari 23:07
Full Feature.

J Horton 23:08
Yeah, like between between 60 and 90 minutes. So with streaming with streaming documentaries, like if you hit over the 60 minute mark, you can kinda you can sell it as a feature try anyway. So between 60 and 90, so like I would and I mean these are talking head kind of documentaries there be you know B roll but you know most of its stock you know, I do I do the interviews and like a day, you know, like I would set up five people interview them for a couple hours apiece and just boom, knock it all out. So and I was just basically throwing shit at the wall. I was I had subjects I was interested in, but I had no idea what the market would bear. So I'm trying to figure that out. So I do these six and and each one's in a completely different genre. You know one about a dog rescue one about medical cannabis, you know, when about Brexit? I forget the other three but So anyways, I put them out really quick.

Alex Ferrari 24:04
And so what made you choose those topics? Were you actually going after hot topics or hot niches or something like that Rubble, the soup mentality behind it.

J Horton 24:14
I was I was trying to figure it out. Um, and at the time, I was whatever I had access to, like, what was the what was the path of least resistance? What am I interested in? What could I spend a couple of weeks on and not want to puke? You know, I had a friend that ran the dog rescue in Vegas. So like I went down there and did that one, the the Brexit one, I have a filmmaker friend that's in the UK that wanted to shoot interviews for this. So I was like, Okay, here's the interviews, here's the questions. You go out and do it and we'll do like a red split on it. You know, so he did that and then I posted it and distribute it. So I do these like six movies really quick and again is kind of just like testing the market. As another thing that had happened is I had another documentary from way back when about Katrina that a friend of mine had made, and it had popped up out of nowhere and was making money. That's another reason I decided on the documentaries. So through those six, I started to see okay, like the dog rescue for one did did well, like I was making a round $1,000 a month on it, maybe a little less, how much of the cost spent? Nothing. I mean, my time, you know, I spent three days shooting it, and probably, maybe maybe five days editing it.

Alex Ferrari 25:32
So it was all basically you use all the resources you had was your camera and your adult gear basically, that you already have paid for, essentially.

J Horton 25:39
Yep. Yeah, I had my camera. Small light kit. Sound. Yeah. So yeah, that's, that's, that's pretty much how we did all those The only time you know, we never paid we always did it on a rough split situation. But if I was working with another filmmaker that was shooting the interviews, we would just work out a back end split on it, and then they would do the interviews, but most of them was just me. And by the time those because, again, these things and at the time, Amazon was still putting out movies pretty fast. So I would self distribute on Amazon through prime video direct, I would take the US in the UK, and then I would use film hub to fill out you know, any foreign or, or you know, different platforms that I couldn't get to and this was before to be kind of, you know, sparked up, but later on that became a thing. So I'm looking at these six I'm looking at the the dog rescue did well, the Brexit did okay. Um, I did one on filmmaking, which did abysmal. So I was like, okay, unless, unless I'm going to tie the filmmaking into, you know, like, you know, how to or something is, you know, just stuff about filmmaking not not so much. Yeah, that didn't work. So anyway, I looked at the success or failure of these sex, and then I started being a little more selective on my subjects. You know, like, I moved in I did one on Bigfoot that did, like it did crazy. By I think, I think I streamed 10 No, I know I did. I streamed 10 million minutes. For three months in a row for for Bigfoot documentary for a Bigfoot documentary. So it's like again.

Alex Ferrari 27:16
Yeah. So it'd be an interesting, okay. So because I'm fascinated with this, because so Bigfoot obviously is a very niche audience, that people who believe in Bigfoot and want to follow up a forum want to learn about Bigfoot. But it's a fairly dense audience. There's a lot of people who believe in Bigfoot and want to listen to about this and there's whole industries wrapped around Bigfoot. I even found out. I found out a friend of mine told me that there was a erotica, Bigfoot erotica, where I'm not kidding you. I'm not kidding you. So for anybody in the audience who wants to play a trick, this is what my buddy and I did. My buddy had a brother who was was in it. These were grown ass men. So he's got a wife. It's got kids and everything. So he wanted to make sure he wanted to play a trick on his brother Mike, why don't you do this next time you're over at his house? Go on the on the computer on his laptop and look up. Bigfoot erotica. And just leave it there. And let us we find it. And, and it's not like pornographic. It's just, like, people writing stories about Bigfoot erotica, like you like, and he, I'm not even gonna get to a couple of them. And I was just like, oh, my god, there's there's something for every freak in the world. And if there if there are any Bigfoot erotica, listeners out there, forgive me. I just don't understand you. But anyway, so just I'm sorry, I had to tell you that story. But so so Bigfoot, that that that niche is fairly, it's kind of like UFO or Loch Ness Monster, or any of these kinds of niches? So you basically just interviewed a bunch of like Bigfoot hunters or something like that?

J Horton 29:00
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, basically, like, what the Bigfoot one. I took a look at the marketplace. Like I looked at probably 20 different documentaries on Bigfoot. And there are a lot of them. Yes, I'm like, Oh, so there is going to be a lot of competition here. But what I didn't see was, there weren't a lot of just like introductions into the subject. Like just like a general, this is the thing. This is what cryptozoology is. So it seems like all the filmmakers are so focused on I'm going to provide new information or I'm going to show like this new picture of Bigfoot and you know, nine times out of 10 it's complete, like obvious, you know, bullshit.

Alex Ferrari 29:39
Yeah. So but but you're saying that 10th time, it's real and there's a real Bigfoot

J Horton 29:44
Im saying it's more believe a little like, it looks a little better.

Alex Ferrari 29:47
Sure, sir. Okay. So that's interesting. So that's, that's interesting for the audience to take note of that if there is a lot of competition in a documentary space about a subject an introduction to It might be a weigh in and apparently it was five.

J Horton 30:04
Yeah, or or it might be going more specific to it could be either way. But you know, I at this at around the same time, I was also just like very late to the game starting to get into the YouTube stuff. And I'm watching all these videos on YouTube. And some of the best marketing advice I've ever heard comes from these, like the people that have been successfully grown their YouTube channels and do the videos about like how to grow your YouTube channels, should you follow the right people and the information is like it's gold. And they're talking about retention, they're talking about how to niche down. Why and all of a sudden, I'm thinking about these movies, because you're also getting something on Amazon called CR customer engagement ranking, you know, which is this, like, nebulous thing that nobody can figure out, but it's how they base their rate of pay. And it's it's based on things like, how long are you retaining your audience? How are your reviews? Are people clicking on your movie watching? You know, 30 seconds and clicking off? Are they actually watching it through? Are they reading it? Are they engaging with it? You know, what, 100 different factors. But the retention thing really, that they kept talking about on YouTube really, like started seeping into my documentaries. I'm like, Okay, so then I started thinking about structure and a whole different way. So I, you know, it's not necessarily just this three act structure peaks and valleys. How do I keep people for that, especially that like, critical 15, first 15 or 20 minutes? You know, I'm not saying the rest of it's inconsequential. But, you know, I started thinking, you know, like, you don't have you know, in this day and age on screaming, you don't have 10 minutes to get the audience. You know, it used to say with screenplays, you know, you got you have 10 minutes to set up your story.

Alex Ferrari 31:43
The first five, you got five pages, and if it's not,you got it.

J Horton 31:47
Yeah. And, and now, with with the streaming stuff, I'd say it's maybe even less, it's like, if they're not into it, and like 90 seconds, they're like, okay, click off, go to something else. So anyway, the retention thing really, like, changed things for me, the Big Foot movie, like just seeing how well that did and how the marketing worked. Like how you can, you know, target a specific niche. I just, it just opened it up. And that now when I look for subjects, I look for things that okay, what is something? It doesn't have to be supernatural? But what is something that has a group of people that are into it, like these people that were in the Bigfoot?

Alex Ferrari 32:27
So okay, so yeah. So how to explain the process of you picking your niche, and how you like, what are the checklist things that you need to kind of look for, in order for you to spend at least two weeks on a project? At least and I mean, at least two? Yeah, two weeks? Yeah. I mean, no, it's like, now it's around two months, but okay. But yeah. I love you. Like, I can't I stand on this project for two weeks without losing my mind. And I'm thinking to myself, are you kidding me? Most filmmakers listening are like a year to two in like two weeks, even two months is is vacation?

J Horton 33:03
Very short. Yeah. So I start with my interests, or something that I'm interested in learning more about, for example, I like I'm not into Bigfoot. But I was I was really interested to see why other people were, you know, like, and that was, that was kind of my focus. And I did a UFO one, like, in a similar manner. You know, I'm the dog rescue. I'm a dog lover. So moved into that. But so the first thing I do, so like, say, Okay, I'm gonna do a Bigfoot one. I google Bigfoot, you know, and I start looking at what's popping up first, you know? And if, if, like, I can find the audience fairly easily, like where they're congregating. You know, there's a lot of like Bigfoot, for example, you go to Facebook and type in Bigfoot, you'll get like, groups. Yeah, 1000 groups, you know, with and there's hundreds of 1000s of members and some of these Yeah, like saw, so I was like, Oh my gosh, like, just on these Facebook groups alone. I can, I can push this movie. So but I mean, that that was a no brainer. The alien one was a no brainer. Animal Rescue stuffs a no brainer. You know, it's like, but then you get into some, like, I hear people pitching stuff all the time. And it's like, maybe a little esoteric, or it's a little looser. Like, you know, like we're doing one and you know, it. It's, you know, it's a it's a coming of age story about you know, growing up, you know, look, yeah, way too way too broad way too broad. You know, and or maybe the guy does have an incredible story, but like he started as a football player and then and then he became a scientist and then you know, it's just like too segmented and there's not enough in the one area. So I try to find something where it's, you know, pretty laser focused in terms of audience and where I find them. So those are my main things why I'm interested in can I sell it?

Alex Ferrari 34:57
Now when you when you so let's go back to Bigfoot. For a second, so when you were marketing it, how did you how do you go about marketing? Your your films to the niche? Once you've identified the niche audience? How do you go about marketing to that audience and what the cost is involved?

J Horton 35:16
Okay, so most of it, at least a start was social media like free stuff. You know, on Facebook, I targeted the groups, you know, I would I created a page for it. But the only thing I would do with that page is occasionally boost a, you know, a post or a video to that target audience. I don't do a lot with paid ads, maybe 100 200 bucks a month, probably total across the board. So I would mostly just find these the audiences online. So I do the Facebook groups. And somebody had mentioned Reddit and I was like, you never see people promoting on Reddit. And I was like, Oh, fuck Reddit, okay. But you have to be a lot more clever on Reddit, because it's a it's a discussion based platform. So it's like, if you're just throwing up a link to your thing, nobody's gonna look at it. But if you establish, you know, line of communication, then you can do it. But it's hard. I've been banned from a couple of groups for, you know, throwing up some links, but for the most part is it works good. And then the other one, I discovered that no filmmakers are talking about the silicon bonus tip. Pinterest. Like, you. I didn't even know what Pinterest was. I don't remember who recommended it. But I was like, Okay, I looked it up, signed up. And I was like, Oh, so it's like recipes, I don't know. But just just for shits and giggles, I put up somebody told me to do short videos. So I created a business account, which is free. And I put in like, I don't know, maybe a dozen, like 30 to 45 second video clips from, I think two movies, you know, and you can put the URLs to where you know, you want to send them in there and you can create your thumbnails, all that. So anyway, I do that, put them off, and then just walk away. I'm like, Okay, this isn't gonna be nothing. The next day, I look at it, and my Pinterest page had like 35,000 page views, like in less than a day. And

Alex Ferrari 37:12
But what was the what was the topic? What was the niche?

J Horton 37:15
Um, one of them and it was, so I did two one was the Bigfoot one, you know, okay. Okay, Bigfoot, I see it. The other one was, oh, man, was it Brexit? Or they It was either Brexit or the animal rescue? I can't remember what

Alex Ferrari 37:29
All three, all three have very passionate groups.

J Horton 37:31
Yeah. But they, they just they, I was like, wow. And they were actually watching the videos like the like, the average video watch length was like, I don't know, 20 seconds. And these were, you know, 30 to 45 second videos. And like, I'd say, 10%. Were clicking on the link. So I was like, That's huge. Yeah, they give you all those metrics. I was like, holy shit. So like twice a week, I would put up like 30 clips. Within, I want to say, the first three weeks, I had over 300,000 pageviews. I guess that's about as high as I've gotten a month now. But that's every month. That's about what I do somewhere between two and 300,000.

Alex Ferrari 38:15
So you're using Pinterest as a marketing machine for your projects? And it's free. And now it's free?

J Horton 38:20
Yeah, totally free. I do a little bit of paid promotion. Just I'm even experimenting with it.

Alex Ferrari 38:26
How is it? How is how is the paid paid on Pinterest.

J Horton 38:30
Um, I mean, it's kind of like Facebook, but you can do lower amounts. So like, I'll do something for like five bucks for you know, whatever, five days or something just to just to see, because every now and then, because I put a lot of clips up there. So I'll put 10 up there. Six, six or seven of them. We'll do like 1000 views in the first day. And then like three of them, we'll do like one, you know, so like, I'll take the ones that do one and I might give them a little push, you know, get us around, you know? Yeah. Just Just a push it. And then there's a social media scheduler called tailwind that works specifically with Pinterest. And it does all this like scheduled reposting. Because if you have multiple boards, you can take those pens and then repost them to other boards. And you know, go opens up the audience. So like, I'll do that once a month. And I just set them up on a repeating basis. So at once every month or two, and that post will come back up.

Alex Ferrari 39:25
And how many boards do you have on Pinterest?

J Horton 39:28
Um, I don't know, maybe 20. Okay, like, I mean, I have a lot of projects, and I don't do them. I started doing them specific to just like one project. And then I started grouping them into projects, because the more boards you have, the more you can share between the boards. And I noticed that and again, I've only been doing this for three or four months now. So it's fairly new. But you know, and this also coincides with COVID. So it's it's hard to tell where the bumps come from. Sure. I have had, like on my library titles, like maybe a 15% bump in overall sales, you know, since I started implementing some of these things, and you know, like I said, it's hard to tell.

Alex Ferrari 40:12
Yeah. So what is your distribution model right now is strictly Amazon only and then we're going to talk about Amazon in a minute. But do do do do t VOD s VOD Eva, do you go anywhere else other than amazon for your to generate revenue.

J Horton 40:32
So this is all changed for me dramatically in the past three months. So prior to February, my model was to do Amazon, US and UK on my own, put it put it up directly upload it to prime video direct to film hub for the rest. That's pretty much what I do, maybe, maybe do some physical media myself, either through my website or do the media on demand thing. I I personally never had a lot of luck with physical media, but it's something that I want to, like get a little more into on the coming months, even though it's feels like it's going out. But I'm, I'm sorry, I lost my train of thought.

Alex Ferrari 41:11
The I lost my train of thought to revenue TVOD SVOD AVOD.

J Horton 41:16
Okay, so that was that. So, um, I would launch a movie in T VOD, and I would keep it on T VOD has long as it was making more than I think $300 a month was my cut off on that. And if it was falling below that, you know, then I was just like, Okay, let me switch over. So as you know, start out at t VOD, moved to s VOD, and all

Alex Ferrari 41:39
All Amazon, Amazon,

J Horton 41:40
All Amazon. All Amazon. And sometimes that would happen very quickly. Like say I put a movie up. And you know, in the first week, I have rented your, whatever three units. My okay? This isn't working, move over to s VOD. And in my experience, and it's I know, it's not a popular opinion. But when you're dealing with movies this small, like and I still feel even with the changes that as far as still, overall, for small movies superior. Like the the discoverability is just it's it beats the rates. You know, like if you if you do this little movie, it's so hard to get people to rent an independent feature. Let alone buy, let alone buy. Yeah, so and maybe this is something that will change and I know some other filmmakers that have had better luck with the T VOD, but me personally, I never had the, the amount of marketing work that you need to push this to make the same amount of money on T VOD that you make on s VOD, is it's astronomical. I mean, I can put a movie out on s VOD, even at the one cent an hour and turn over $1,000 in a month, fairly easily. Like not every time but fairly easily. But on TV, you know, I'd be I'd be lucky to crack like 200 bucks, you know, on those particular titles.

Alex Ferrari 43:01
It's interesting, because I've been trying, I've been yelling that from the top of the mountain for a long time as well, that T VOD is essentially dead. For independent filmmaking. It only works if you have an audience that is passionate about your film, or you are the subject matter or something like that, that you can drive them. And that's going to be a short window of maybe 234 months if that. That's the only time that for an independent and again, for the budgets we're talking about. We're talking about, you know, 50,000 75,000 and below, kind of projects. T VOD is and I'd argue even a million in below t VOD is still a tough, it's still a tough sell. Unless you're unless you're tapping it through a lot of marketing. Or you have recognizable talent, like really recognizable talent.

J Horton 43:50
Yeah, it wasn't until I actually started, like networking more with other filmmakers that were putting out movies and selling them where you realized how little some of these movies were making. You know, like some of these movies, man, I, you know, just, you know, I just signed a couple movies. attendee right. So I've been looking at a lot of their other movies. And like, there's some x, there's some excellent stuff. They're made. Oh, yeah, I'll say but between 75,000 and say, 150,000. And that are making 20 nothing.

Alex Ferrari 44:20
And oh, yeah, there's some they're making nothing. And they're just some they're making, you know, 50 100 bucks. Yeah. A couple bucks up. Yeah. And it was sobering. It No, it is it's in. You know, I think that's one of the things I love about indie rights because they have both of my films as well is that they allow filmmakers to see the truth of what films are really worth and if you don't market them, and if you don't do them, this is what it's gonna happen. And it's sobering. It is sobering for filmmakers to kind of understand that like, Oh, I don't have the prettiest baby. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now Back to the show. No, you don't that, you know, there are ugly babies. Unfortunately, in independent film they're in, you know, it's like no, there's no the babies are simply more than than cute babies. Exactly. But everyone thinks that their baby is gorgeous. Yeah. And I understand that, but it's just the cruel reality. And then now let's talk a little bit about Amazon. And how brutal they have been with independent filmmakers. I mean, so it was my experience. early on. They were you want you can make a lot of money through f5 like 12 cent. Oh my god. 15 cent and you sound like, sound like a lot. But you can make 1515 cents on your money.

J Horton 45:50
Let me interrupt just for a second. So at 15 cents an hour. My Bigfoot movie was so on Amazon. I made I think $1600 on it in July, right or I'm sorry, June.

Alex Ferrari 46:02
But this last June? this last June?

J Horton 46:05
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Just last month. Okay. So that exact same movie at 15 cents an hour would have been like $25,000, something like that. My math isn't great. But I know it's over 20 are robbed.

Alex Ferrari 46:18
Wow. So yeah, you could have been making? Yeah.

J Horton 46:22
So and it and you can count on a new release, like kind of maintaining that basic ballpark for about 90 days. Sure. So you know, like, I mean, I could have cleared, you know, 50 to 60,000, in three months on that movie that I made for, you know, less than $500 that when I paid for a couple interviews, but you know, you know, that is, oh my gosh, what I think about that i get i get emotional I get a clip. Because I mean, now 50% of titles are going to make a cent are going to make one penny has anything. Any movie with a car of under 50% is one penny, the sliding scale stops at 50%. like, Whoa, I mean, the the Bigfoot, for example, at the car was 43% 43%. one penny 50%? Five, five pennies. So like

Alex Ferrari 47:16
So you would have, you would have made 6000 7 8000 bucks, something like that.

J Horton 47:22
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Just of with a 5% differential, which is and then try to figure out why your car is what it is. There's no figuring it out. I used to think there was like, if you have enough data, you could crunch it, you can figure this stuff out. But there's so many unseen factors. I heard from another filmmaker that has a relationship with someone that works in Amazon, and they wouldn't tell them what the factors were. But they said there's well over 100 factors that go into car. You know, it's not just your rating, it's not just how many minutes you stream, like it could come down to, they put more weight if somebody watches your movie in New York City, as opposed to watch it in, you know, bumfuck, Indiana, like there's a there's a difference, or this person that watches the movie purchases more other stuff. So your car is high.

Alex Ferrari 48:16
So you have no you have no

J Horton 48:18
No control, no control, there's no and there's people that just say, Well, if I just if I just do the advertising, right, if and I was one of these people, I would i'd preach it when I first started doing YouTube videos, I was like, just you know, you do your marketing, right? You do this, you do this, you do that your cer will be higher, you can still do it. And I was still defending Amazon. I was like, Oh, you know, they're there. They're toughening up standards, because they got a lot of crap on their ad. But like, it's gotten ridiculous now. And now they're purging even more movies. I just I lost the movie two days ago.

Alex Ferrari 48:51
They just decided to just it's like, I'm out. We're done.

J Horton 48:54
just pulled it and it had a cer of over 50%.

Alex Ferrari 48:57
So why did they pull it? They don't tell you.

J Horton 49:00
They won't tell you. I mean, now it was not doing good numbers. So maybe it was that. But who knows.

Alex Ferrari 49:09
So So now what do you do?

J Horton 49:12
So what I do now, I no longer do direct to Amazon, I still use Amazon because it's still it's still a thing. I still make $1,000 a project there. But I don't put them up myself any longer. Like if I'm gonna if I'm going to do a release, I'll either I go to indie rights first. And I'll see if they want to pick it up. And if it's something that they're not interested in, or if it's something that maybe I'm not so proud of. I'll just I'll go straight to film hub and I'll give it all the film hub

Alex Ferrari 49:41
I give and how is it how's it How's filmhub working out for you? Is that? are they paying are they getting like what I'm curious to see, I haven't heard of a lot of success stories with some help. So I would love to hear what your experiences.

J Horton 49:53
So I've had good experiences with foam hub. I still don't make as much collectively I film hub as I was making all Amazon, but it grow it grows every month. So what I like about film hub is that, you know, the the first, like two movies that I ever got on to BTV were, you know, through film hub, you know, and I do pretty good on to be through film hub. Um it's not, it's, it's, it's good, yeah, they pay quarterly, and they pay out. I think it's like, three, but like quarterly and one. So they're always like a quarter behind, which I don't think people under understand that. So they'll they'll bitch about it. And the numbers aren't astronomical, like, unless you get on like a hit out on tubi 90% of those channels are making, you know, pennies or a few dollars. But it does, it gives you a little more visibility. And then if you get onto a good platform, you know, it can like I'm just now getting to the point where, like, my titles on tubi are making more than what they're making on Amazon. But it took me almost a year to get there.

Alex Ferrari 51:02
Right. And there's also not all your projects are on to be just a handful.

J Horton 51:05
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Because like, I'd have to be I think I have I think I've uploaded 15 movies on the TV. And out of the 15 I think six are on TV. I mean, on film, pub, and six are on TV.

Alex Ferrari 51:20
So what I'm what I'm hearing is, well, first of all the what they had to ask you like, what do you do if you have $150,000 indie film with no talent attached? And it's a narrative film? Well, my first thing I probably would make $100,000. Right. But but there's a lot of, but there's a lot I do a lot of filmmakers out there that have that mentality. Like it's only 150,000 it's only a quarter of a million. It's only 100,000. And it's a it's a drama, and I have no stars in it. And they expect like in today's marketplace, as we're recording this. What are your what, what are the options because your business model works, because your overhead is extremely low. Like when you make a movie for 500 bucks. And you're generating consistently 1000 to 2000 to 3000 bucks a month, or let's say for the first year, let's say you generate off that movie 10 grand over the course of its lifetime. That's a business. Like if you make a product for 500, you make 10 grand off of it. And it's a volume business as well. You can't do one of those you need to do 12 in order to keep them going. And you got to keep them going and keep slipping but you also have a library as well. So how many films do you have in your library that you own and are generating revenue with even if it's a few dollars a month?

J Horton 52:45
I think 20 right, right now I think 20

Alex Ferrari 52:48
Alright, so you have 20 features that you're generating revenue with? Yeah, that's in your this basically is the entrepreneur method is what I've been preaching with my book, like, overhead really low, find a niche audience market to that niche audience, rinse, repeat, and just and just keep doing and build that library that you own and control to continuously generate revenue for you. And when there's a new platform, boom, have a new revenue stream, you could just dump in 20 films.

J Horton 53:18
And I think what I'd say about the the $100,000 Yeah, yeah, is cuz I still like my passion is to still, like do narrative film. Like, I believe me, I just I love making movies. So I get a lot of pleasure out of the documentaries, but I still want to make narrative stuff. But to be 100% honest, and you know, nobody wants to hear this. But I don't know how to make money on $100,000 narrative feature without a star. Like, I don't know, you might get lucky, you know, I could I have kind of an idea about what to do, but I don't know that it'll work. So what's the risk now? Yeah, it's a risk. It's a huge risk. So what I do now is I treat the documentaries has, this is my day job. This is like, my, this is my more fun day job. And then once a year, you know, I take some of that raise a little bit more money and make a narrative movie. And if the narrative fails, oh, well, you know, like, I still have my income from the documentaries, you know, because I just don't see like how at that level, to have a sustainable business model making narrative features I I know there's people that do but I don't see it. So I

Alex Ferrari 54:35
Not without without stars, or without really understanding your niche, and really understanding the business about it and creating ancillary product lines and create like all these other things that you can do. It's just you got to be so perfect. Like you can't can't be sloppy at all, like your business model. You can be as little sloppy, you're young because your budgets really low. Like when I made My last feature, it was about three grand. Yep. You know, I shot it in four days, okay? It's like I'm not, it's not that big of a deal. I'm just, I'm just making something that's fun. And it's narrative. And it was, you know, it's so is it was for my audience and all that kind of good stuff. But if I would have made that movie for 100, grand, forget it. Yeah, if I wasn't even a non I, it just, it's just so it's so difficult. And that's why I wanted to have you on as an example, as a case study for filmmakers to understand like, this is better or worse, it is the new normal, you have to figure out how to generate revenue. And I applaud you. Because you've been able to create a day job for yourself that you control you own and continue to give you passive income. Like once the work is done, that will continue to pay you something for a while.

J Horton 55:58
Yeah, I mean, I have, you know, I have almost 50 I have an almost 15 year old movie that I still make a couple 100 bucks a month off of, you know, so, I mean, I get pushback from people, sometimes they're like, Oh, well, it's easy for you to say, because you have, whatever, so many projects are just throwing matter, you don't care about them. It's not true. Like I care deeply about everything I do. But like, I this is what I need to do to make a living, like I am not, you know, I graduate, I graduated college, but I didn't finish law school, I didn't do any of that. So like, at this point in my life, like, I can't afford to make $100,000 movie and have it fail. Like I

Alex Ferrari 56:41
That's done, you're done. You're done. It will crush you it would crush you. I get it, I get it. And that's what filmmakers don't understand. Because they'll take that risk, and then they'll get crushed, and they'll never come back. They'll never they'll never come back into the business because they can't. In you've been able to establish yourself making these films and look at it. At the end of the day. I always filmmakers always have this issue with art versus commerce. And it drives me It drives me nuts. It drives me nuts. Like we all want to be Scorsese, we all want to be Nolan. We all want to be Fincher, we all want to be Kubrick. And that's fantastic. And these guys are, you know, on Mount Hollywood, and they're like, they're, they're their gods and mount Hollywood, there's no question. But they come from a different world, different existence than the rest of us. Like this is like if I I've spoken to directors of that caliber. And when I tell them that I made a $3,000 movies, they they're there, they just you can see things just, it's like they don't it's like a malfunction, like short circuit, magnetic Johnny five malfunction. Like it's like freaking out like you, it doesn't compute it, they can't wrap their heads around that. And because they just come from a completely different existence. It's like an NFL player talking to a high school player. Like it's just, we both do arguably the same thing. We're both playing the game, but are completely different levels. And there's nothing wrong with either of them. It's just, it's just different. But filmmakers so much get caught up with the art in the dream that they look down upon. What I like to call the blue collar filmmaker, someone like that comes in as building a business around what they love to do. And you go I had another I had another director on who does. Michael Oh, five, five, and he does lifetime movies. Oh, yeah, yeah, lifetime movies. And all he did is like he pops out like four or five of these a year. And he's gotten built up to the relationship that he can just he just gets financing from the companies. And he just works. He's just always working. He's flying to Greece. He's flying all over the place. He's me. And people are like, Oh, you make lifetime movies. And I and I told him that I'm like, anyone who says that? Screw you. Because this man is living? The dream that most filmmakers would kill to do. He's getting to do his art for a living. Yep. Yeah. So how and how dare you judge what my art is, or my art isn't and what you feel that it should be? I don't care. It's irrelevant. You know, many people don't like Tyler Perry movies. Oh, yeah. Yeah. There's a lot of people despise Tyler Perry and the films he makes. He's laughing all the way to the bank. All the way. All the way. Now, but real quick, do you use email lists at all? Or do you do

J Horton 59:43
Yes So. Again, this is this is something I mean, you know, a lot of my business really has like blown up and changed so much over the last year. So I would say actually, even prior to like 2018 I was still Pretty firmly in the, like, I just want to make, I just want to make movies, I don't care about the business. You know, it took a good 10 years of me getting kicked around before I'm like, Okay, wait a minute, I do need to make I need to make some fucking money. But um, so yes, I do use them on my email list isn't huge now, I think it's like maybe 5000. I run it through my website. And now through Patreon, and I, you know, I'm collecting them. And I like I send out, you know, once a month newsletter, and then I'll send out like, kind of a project specific one once a month. And I'll kind of maybe I'll lay some other titles in there as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:39
And you're now in now you have a podcast, you have a YouTube channel that you're building up, is that part of? Are you trying to build yourself up as a brand in the filmmaking space to to attract filmmakers to what you're doing as another potential revenue stream or things like that? Can you explain what you're doing?

J Horton 1:00:57
Yeah, so the YouTube thing started out. Honestly, it started just I was looking for I was I was because I get questions online all the time about my business model and about how I'm making movies. So I was like, oh, like, people seem really interested in this information. So I was just like, I'm just gonna share some of this information. And you know, I did a few videos and the response for it was so good. And I start looking at other people like yourself that were working in the filmmaking space, and I'm like, oh, maybe this is a thing. Like, I wasn't thinking about immediately monetizing it or anything. I was like, I'm enjoying doing it. But let me, let's, let's see where it takes me. So I started, I started doing it and getting taken a little more seriously, and watching the YouTube videos, and you know, building the channel, I mean, I'm still probably a year away from making any real money from it, you know, but it's, it's something you got to build, you can't just, you know, just start your baking buddy, say, I enjoy doing it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:58
And that's the other thing I want people to understand is like, a lot of people look at what I've done with indie film, hustle and my other companies. And they're like, Oh, well, you know, you've been like, I've been doing this five years, it took me two and a half to three years, to start really getting traction, and to quit my day job and to you know, not to post production anymore, and only direct when I want to direct and it took time. And that's and like, even with what your business model is one film at a time to build up a library.

J Horton 1:02:29
It all takes time. I mean, the the documentary stuff, you know, it took it took six or seven months before I was making like enough money on the documentary is that it supplemented my income. But that's like, I wasn't that fast. That's fast. But that is that is fast, but it wasn't automatic. It's definitely what I said. But then, like the YouTube and thing and all that those are those are like law. Those are long games, you know, and you know, you get it, you do get a few more eyeballs on your projects from that as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:01
Yeah, exactly. So that's hopefully helping. Yeah, you're you're using the model, like, I'm going to show you how I made the Bigfoot documentary. And oh, by the way, if you want to watch it fit books of documentaries over here, for Yeah, watch it for free on tubi or on amazon prime or something like that. Totally. And by the way, once Amazon kicks you off, it's done. Right? You can't put that movie back on his.

J Horton 1:03:21
Yeah, it is done. Now. I know. You guys didn't hear this from me. And there are filmmakers that will retitle do new art, and then they'll upload through film hub. Like if you do it through your same account, they're gonna catch you. But like, say you go to film hub or somewhere else and have it put up or create a new account with a new title, you might get lucky. But most likely the same thing that got kicked off the first time is going to get kicked off again. So official rule is once it's done, it's done. There's a few ways to get around it. But even if you do, is it worth the risk? I I don't do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
And you don't use aggregators, you don't use like an aggregator to put it up on iTunes or Google Play or in Fandango or any of that stuff, right?

J Horton 1:04:11
No, no, I did. I did an aggregator once, for iTunes, and I did it on campus that day. And I think I made $75 with it. iTunes is really hard to push. Yeah. But yeah, so no, I don't, I don't again, like I'm making these movies, like so fast and so cheap. If I'm paying $1,000 per platform, like the movie might not even make that much. So it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense. I don't do it. I'll give up that 20% from film hub, you know, because it's nothing up front. But our indie rights or India or India or any rights is same thing. But I wouldn't, I wouldn't pay to be placed.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
Very cool. I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

J Horton 1:05:05
If you can do anything else if you enjoy doing anything else do it. I'm not saying look, I am I don't regret it. I've lived a great life. I like I do something I enjoy for a living, but it is not. It looks a lot cooler in the brochure. It's not awesome.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:25
And you mean it's not like, it's not like watching the the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark? It's not like that at all.

J Horton 1:05:30
No, it's endless. It's nothing like entourage. But, and then my second part to that would be study like it like if you're young, you're just getting started, whether it's in school or on YouTube, or in books, study business, and marketing, less be considered that to be 60% of a movie success. It's probably more than that. But I'm gonna say 60. Like, it's like, it's it's more that's more important than the movie being good. As far as selling, you know? Absolutely. Because there's always been some marketing.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
There's a lot of good movies out there that no one watches. And there's a lot of bad movies out there that make a lot of money. Yeah, yeah. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

J Horton 1:06:21
Probably has to, especially on my narrative features to stop doing trying to take on too much myself? Yeah, trying to trying to do too much you need to like movies as a collaborative art. And like you have you have to get even even on the docks where I'm pretty much a one man crew. I still have people that I can count on to do this or that go to people who are experts in their area. Just you know, don't don't try to take on too much yourself.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:50
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

J Horton 1:06:54
Three films. Oh, um, I'd say this changes week to week, but um, the World According to Garp. Yeah, Evan Williams movie, that means a lot to me. And a lot of a lot of my favorite movies have to do with what's going on at the time. And I just I bonded with my mother over that movie, like really, like, really in a really powerful way. And I just I always love and it's one of Robin Williams Best Dramatic performances. Great movie. My second one. And again, I hate to Yeah, I always feel like self conscious when I talk about charity, though, because I don't want to be that filmmakers, like I would turn to you. And I say Reservoir Dogs. And again, not necessarily like you know, I think he's made better movies, but like Reservoir Dogs. And when it came out, that was my gateway movie like that. I mean, I'd seen all kinds of stuff, but it was right there. And then hearing him talk and talk about john woo and talk about Walter Hill and talk about French New Wave. And all of a sudden, it just opened up this world. I'm watching all these Godard movies and I'm watching you know, the killer and hard boiled and bolt in the head. And it just it and it showed me what a director could be. I just I didn't. I had. Up until that point. I had seen pretty much every Walter Hill movie, but it wasn't until I heard Tarantino talking about him that I like put the two and two together. Like oh, 48 hours in the long writers like Oh, the same guy. Yeah, so that so Reservoir Dogs, and then um, maybe Amelie after?

Alex Ferrari 1:08:27
Yeah, yeah, that's been on the list many times.

J Horton 1:08:30
Yeah, just just a visual style. And it's so beautiful. Like I've done I've done a lot of like nihilistic horror movies and stuff. So it always seems weird, but some of the things that affect me the most are these like, basically like, positive, sweet, like, movies? And I don't know that one. Like, I can watch that over and over.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:51
Very cool. Now where can people find you?

J Horton 1:08:54
So I have a website. It's www.jhorton comm you can pretty much Find me on you know, Twitter, Instagram, wherever at @JHorton. My YouTube is JHorton or The J Horton. Yeah. And that's about it.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:11
Very cool. Jamie, you are an inspiration sir of and a personification of the film entrepreneur method. So I do appreciate you coming on and dropping the knowledge bombs on the tribe brother. Thank you so much, man.

J Horton 1:09:23
Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
I want to thank Jason for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. He is a true film entrepreneur and is expanding his film entrepreneurial Empire on a daily basis. I hope you get some inspiration from Jason and what he is doing because there is no excuse anymore. Why you as a filmmaker can't make a living doing what you love to do. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/417. And guys again, don't forget about our Black Friday sale at ifH Academy. We also have cinematography courses, crowdfunding courses, the best selling indie film producing workshop, as well as the foundations of screenwriting series. And so, so much more. Just head over to IFHacademy.com. Thanks so much for listening, guys, as always keep that also going, keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 402: Debunking Myths & the Future of Indie Film with Emily Best

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Today on the show we have returning champion Emily Best. Emily is the founder and CEO of the crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark, which she started with a group of independent creators after the challenges and lessons of producing my first feature film, Like the Water

“Storytelling can change the world – when everyone can see themselves reflected in the stories we share, we empower all people to take part in shaping how we see our past, our present and our future.” – Emily Best

I wanted to have her back on the show to talk about the state of indie film and how filmmakers can survive and thrive in the future. I recorded this interview before COVID-19, just around the time TUGG went under (you can read about that here).

We have a spirited conversation about the future and how the mindset of filmmakers needs to change to make it in the future. Enjoy my conversation with Emily Best. 

Alex Ferrari 0:27
Well guys, today on the show, we have returning champion Emily Best from seed and spark. And I want to have Emily back to kind of talk about the state of indie film, how to debunk a bunch of myths that filmmakers have about not only the filmmaking process, the distribution process, how to raise money, all those kinds of things. And I couldn't have a better guest to do that. And I do want to let you know that we recorded this pre COVID so there will be no mention of Coronavirus or anything like that. In this episode. I recorded around the time that the film The film, theatrical film aggregator, I guess you would call it tugg went under. And we kind of talked a little bit about that and future film aggregators and all that kind of stuff as well. But there is some amazing, amazing content in this episode. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Emily Best. I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Emily Best. How are you sweetie?

Emily Best 3:20
Thank you so much for having me? I'm doing all right. It's a Friday.

Alex Ferrari 3:23
It is a Friday. It is a Friday. I'm so glad to have you back. You were one of my original guests. I think you were like in the 20s if I'm not mistaken of the podcast, and now we're getting close to 400. So it's been four years over four years since we've spoken. I mean we spoken but we haven't been on the on the show. So it's it's crazy. It's a lot has happened in your world that in mind thing. I remember you were a great interviewer back then. So I'm super excited to experience x plus 400 hours of practice I am I have the pressure, the pressure. I don't know if I could take the pressure this is this is way too much. So for people who don't know who you are Emily, can you talk a little bit about who you are, and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Emily Best 4:12
Yep. I am the founder and CEO of a company called seed and spark. Think of seed and spark like a Digital Studio. We are built to increase equity and inclusion and entertainment and optimize for the cultural impact of the work our creators make. Fundamentally I believe Equity and Inclusion happens when creators can make a sustainable living from their work wherever they are. Diversity has to be both demographic and geographic and along a lot of dimensions. And building equity is really about building pathways that everyone has a fair chance of using. So our company is sort of divided up into three pieces that all work together to form our version of this Digital Studio and unlike studios that profit off creators our hope eventually is just to profit with creators. We have a national education program, we teach about 120 live workshops a year in more than 50 cities. And we have some online education as well. On our website, we teach creators the tools for creative sustainability, we teach them how to understand connect with audiences learn to monetize them. We teach pitching, we teach distribution, then we have a crowdfunding platform that has the highest campaign success rate in the world. And until this year, we have been entirely focused on motion pictures. We've helped more than 2000 projects raised over $25 million with the highest campaign success rate in the world, which is about 80%. And this year, as I said to you, before we started recording, we're rolling out across other storytelling verticals. So the highest campaign success rate in the world is now not limited just to filmmakers. If you make, you know, podcast, books, games, software, music, theater dance, what am I missing, there's so many ways to tell stories. If you're a storyteller in any medium, you can now take advantage of our suite of tools. And then we work on on distribution with creators. So we do have an online streaming platform. It is highly curated right now because it's it's actually not our core focus, we really see the streaming platform as a tool in the toolkit of creators who are building creative distribution strategies. And that's really where we have focused our attention. So we work with creators on building event ties distribution, sort of rolling their, their content, I have to say content now, because we're not just talking movies and shows anymore, rolling your stories out for live audiences in different places, through various event tie strategies. And then our newest addition is we have found a pathway for right now just film, although we have figured out that it won't be just for film in the future. But our pathway are to bring films into workplaces to help companies build more inclusive workplaces. And so if you think of that education is sort of the pipeline and the creator cultivation. Our online platform is where you can build audiences and make your work. And then we have these distribution strategies. So that's a studio it just built really differently for the things that we care about.

Alex Ferrari 7:32
That's that's man, you're busy lady. We're busy. I mean, I thought I hustled My God, you guys are Stephens bark hustle. tmcs. Exactly. So you, you, you lot how old is seems Mark's been around for how many years now?

Emily Best 7:52
Seven, and a pinch, Sherif. We launched in December of 2012. Okay, and we relaunched the website and what is time, Alex 20. The Fall of 2015, we relaunched the website. And that I would say was really when we kind of started to get off the ground because the first version of the website as any, anybody out there who used us pre 2015, sorry about the technology. We were doing our level best.

Alex Ferrari 8:22
You actually you actually talked to me around that time it was around the fall of 2015 is when I launched the podcast in the summer, so we would have probably been around that time when I interviewed you. Well, I can't I can only tell you from my experience, everyone listening, I crowdfunded my first film, this is Meg, with seed and spark in 2017. I think it was 2017 if I'm not mistaken, and I had a wonderful, wonderful time. And I first of all, I can't stand crowdfunding personally, it's just too brutal. It's, it's really hard. It's hard. It's brutal. It's emotional. It's just it's rough. But the experience with you guys and working with the platform was wonderful. And, and we were able to fund the film completely. And I was able to shoot the movie pretty much in in black and like I was in the black when I was shooting. So that was amazing. Case Study, and we're gonna follow up with you after Yeah, I mean, I was literally I was because I already started shooting because it was such a small budget before we launched the campaign because it was just me a camera and my main actress, I'm like, Okay, before we bring in all the other cast, let's just shoot all the stuff we're gonna shoot at you in your house. And we did that. So as we were shooting, like in my crowdfunding video, there was there was scenes from the movie already, because I was already shooting so I was already shooting the movie. So when I was all said and done, we looked at the numbers. I'm like, I think we can literally be free because we didn't have to worry about money. Yeah, so I looked at the entire experiment and the entire experience is an experiment for me. as a filmmaker is like, you know what, I'm just gonna try this. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. It's, you know, it is what it is. But it worked, it did very well. And also got it It also got accepted to. So we sold it to Hulu. So it was great.

Emily Best 10:15
So when when you're already in the black, we like you're not worried about sales price as much. And you're just like, that's the cherry on top. That's awesome.

Alex Ferrari 10:22
No for that film and went to Hulu, I got sold internationally to different territories. And I and I, you know, I sell it on my own streaming platform, and I still make money with it all the time as well. And my partner who's the star of it, Jill, we're very, we were extremely happy and see the spark was just wonderful part of it. So that's why I always promote you guys. Because you're, like I say you personally are kind of like a shining light in the mud. In darkness that is destroying this industry in so many ways.

Emily Best 10:51
We're in it, we're in a weirdly dark time for as much money as there is going into the business. We are in a weirdly dark time. I mean, you and I talked about this. I don't know a couple weeks ago, I came out of this sort of January festival scene. I'm feeling really distressed. Because you know, I go there. And I talked to festivals, and I talked to indie distributors and I talked to platforms and I talked to theaters and I talked to creators, I talked to producers. And none of them are like I'm rolling in cash. They're like, Where the fuck is the money? Money, I'm not making money, he's not making money. They're not making money. She's not making money, like, Where is the money. And I'm scared when when distribuir closes, when tug shuts down. There is an indication that the ecosystem is not super healthy right now. And it doesn't surprise me. So over the last seven years, we've seen the great pivot to streaming, right Netflix 1010 years ago decides we're going to go all streaming, they have this big vision, they're not wrong about it, except that nobody's talking about the fact that they're not a profitable business. Right, they have a ton of income. But it doesn't seem to be coming from a model that nets profit. In fact, they're $26 billion in debt 20 to 26 like that.

Alex Ferrari 12:23
They're using the Amazon, they're using the Amazon model that they're just gonna go into debt and debt and debt. But the main difference between the Amazon model and them is Amazon is extremely diversified where Netflix is not.

Emily Best 12:33
Yeah, that's right. And so we see that happening. And there are a couple of things that that really bothered me about this model. Number one is, as everyone else in the industry has gone, the way of subscription streaming, there are three things that are happening that I think are challenging, and I'm gonna name them up front. So you can remind me because by the time I get to number two, I will already forgotten. That's what small having small children did to my brain, I understand. Number One has to do with personalized recommendation algorithms. Number two, is what it does for creators long term sustainability. And there was a number three, look, I've already forgotten what the third one was, maybe I'll get there. So number one is, if all of these major companies are competing around subscription streaming, what they're competing for is the most of subscriber time they can so that you don't have time to like go to another platform, right? They want to be your sort of soul space. It's by competing for subscriber time, it means they're optimizing for keeping you on the platform. And they're all doing this through personalized recommendation algorithms, personalized recommendation algorithms, those are like math functions that are trying to figure out what you would want to watch. If they are programmed to keep you on the platform. They're programmed to keep you comfortable. They are not programmed to challenge your worldview, or change your mind or make you think differently, or build empathy for your neighbor. Now from the place that I sit in the universe talking to creators all across the country who are trying to tell untold stories, and raise up voices that have not been listened to, for the last century of Motion Picture entertainment. They are trying to build bridges, build empathy, change minds change perspectives. And yet the mechanism for delivering entertainment is literally programmed to thwart its cultural impact. So that's challenge number one. Now, I think that leaves a lane wide open for creators who want to build real community for platforms that want to bridge the online and offline experience and for theatres and festivals to become this meeting place. Because if the platform is programmed to keep you there, and to isolate you inside your own bubble, there's always research now that shows that personalized recommendation algorithms create the same kind of content bubbles on your streaming platforms, you get in opinion bubbles on social media, right? So so that's one challenge that has to do with like audiences are getting isolated. Good and insulated with the way that entertainment has gone even as we have the rise of equity and inclusion in entertainment, and these creators want to do exactly the fucking opposite of that. Since you haven't scolded me, I'm gonna assume I can continue to drop that.

Alex Ferrari 15:15
I mean, I was just gonna let you go, and it's okay, I've dropped an occasional f bomb on the show as well. So you can, you can go, thank you. You're passionate, and I appreciate, you're passionate about it. And listen, I have some episodes that make a sailor blush. So

Emily Best 15:32
I probably won't do that. But I did. I did finally read something that said people who swear more trustworthy. And I was like, that's why I do it. Sure, sure. But that works. The second thing is that we're starting to see these Digital Studios, operating like the pre trust bust studios. So they're signing all these first look deal where they own all your material upfront. And there, they are spending a shit ton of money on a few creators who have no long term upside against the content. So it used to be, you know, you could you could sell off. I mean, what your experience is, is there's like a really long tail monetization strategy. And if you build something that's really good, and it has presence and

Alex Ferrari 16:22
Seinfeld, friends or

Emily Best 16:24
Anything like that, like you could make money on it for the rest of your life. That is going away. Yep, it is right. And creators across the board are beat or being turned into work for hire against their own IP.

Alex Ferrari 16:39
See, even down, it's an emergency, they're coming.

Emily Best 16:45
But this part is crazy to me. And I see creators like lining up to give away their IP into 99 year contracts with Netflix, who could cancel you after two seasons, because it's financially beneficial for them to do so. And then they own your content forever. Yep, your baby your stuff. Right, they can decide where you go, somebody who is not talking to you is writing a recommendation algorithm that may never surface your content to the appropriate audience because they, you know, the math function hasn't really figured it out. So that's the second piece that I think is, is a huge challenge and is is really disrupting the marketplace. And the final piece is that with the exception of Disney, Apple and Amazon, Disney makes content to drive to their live events. And Apple drives you to buy devices, and Amazon is selling you content. So you buy toilet paper from them, right? But the other the at&t, right, which is now Time Warner, right? They own the pipes, they own the devices, they own your internet into your house, and they own the content on those pipes. Like these are massively consolidated conglomerates. These are not ethical business models. And they are driving the price of creativity down as they're competing for one another. It's sort of like Uber and Lyft. Like in order to compete, they have to drive the price that they are paying drivers down, down, down, down, down. So you're commoditizing creative labor, yes. You're not giving people an opportunity to build long term equity. And they're sucking up a ton of capital. But these are not profitable business.

Alex Ferrari 18:30
It's not sustainable. It's not sustainable at all. But I wanted to ask you, because I've wrote I've written about this a lot as well. I believe that there is a devaluation of media in general of visual media because it happened with books in the book. And in the in the publishing industry. First, it happened then in the music industry. And now it's happening to us. So if you want to see a model of what we're going to be just look at the music industry, there used to be 10, student 10 labels. Now there's like four. And before you used to have to pay $18 for a song now it's essentially free. Beyonce is making Beyonce, one of the biggest stars in the world is making a 10th of a cent every time it's played on Spotify. And that's considered good. So there's no sustainability into and that's where we're all going in the in the in the film industry. Would you agree?

Emily Best 19:18
Yes. And the way that musicians get around it is they tour and they build a direct relationship with their audience. And that's what creators across industries have to learn to do. Yep. So that's what that's really what we're building on the distribution side. I'm seeing spark is like the infrastructure for creators to be able to tour things like movies. And there are lots of examples of it in in is, you know, 10 years ago was 10 years ago or eight years ago with a film called good Dick was one of the first sort of, you know, widely lauded self theatrical releases, but people had been doing events is releasing I mean, don't sis dolomite? Yeah, exactly dolomite you have Tyler Perry, Cheryl Bedford did this with dark girls. I mean, there are people who have been doing versions of this because they've been left out of the mainstream in the first place. Um, I actually think dolomite is one of the best examples or a creator of any kind to follow. Most especially because like he wasn't discouraged while he was bad at it.

Alex Ferrari 20:28
He was he was like, he was like a successful ad would.

Emily Best 20:32
But yeah, but he was, but he was basically like, while I'm bad at it, I'm just going to work until I get better at it

Alex Ferrari 20:38
Exactly.

Emily Best 20:40
Perfect, and therefore I quit. It was such an incredible story in that way.

Alex Ferrari 20:44
And he also what he also understood his audience, he understood his niche audience, and he made a product for that niche audience. And I watched that movie. And as I'm watching that movie, I was just like, this is amazing, like roadmap. It's a roadmap on how to do it. And he liked he took risks. He put all his royalties up from his music, his comedy albums, to the and he did like 10 movies or something like that. And he owned them.

Emily Best 21:07
It's also a lesson to make stuff that's important to your audience, right, like, seen at the end, where his co star stops him and says, Nobody puts people like me, I've still been like, Nobody puts people like me on the screen, like, it does. It does matter, right. And so I think all of this is an opportunity. What it means is, filmmakers have to stop subscribing to the myth of getting picked. They really have to stop stop subscribing to the like, I'll just go away and make the perfect thing. And then I will get noticed. Like, it just doesn't work like that anymore. Not if you want to build long term career equity, like, could you maybe write a really great script and get it picked up by netflix? Sure. It's a lottery ticket. Is that but is that also not only is it a lottery ticket? Like is it the best way to build long term career equity? I mean, I don't know like go ask people who've had their shows that they worked on for years and that they loved and nurtured, canceled after a season or two with no information or data about how that decision was made. And see what they say.

Alex Ferrari 22:15
Exactly, it's because I feel that not only screenwriters but I think filmmakers are living in the past and they're making movies like it was 1990 and then all of a sudden, you know, for lack of a better term Miramax who was the the company I know, but that was the company in the 90s who did what they did they you know, if it's not Miramax, Fox Searchlight or Sony classics those guys, they came in and and and built up, you know, built up these careers area, you know, remember in the 90s in every every month, mariachi clerks reservoir, you know, Linkletter like there was so many, and so many filmmakers are still living in that amazing stretch of launching white male filmmakers careers. Exactly. There was the occasional john Singleton and Spike Lee, but that's, you know, a rarity, and none and then Robert, the only Latino in the bunch. I think, being a Latino myself. So that's why I love Robert so much. But yeah, but that's basically what it was. And people are still thinking that and I think now this is the first time I've actually even thought about this. But you're absolutely right, is screenwriters are still living in the world that you're going to write a spec script or either get a job on on a show or sell it or something like that. But that's not sustainable anymore, because you're not going to get the back end and the residuals that the industry has, has lived on. I was talking to an actor the other day, who was a very, he was a very successful character actor. He's been in 1000 things. And he was telling me He's like, Alex, that the residuals are gone. Like I used to do one or two national spots a year commercial spots, and he was good. He was good, those are all going away. And now 80% of films are being done with non union. So the unions are starting to lose their their power. You know, it's it's a very scary time. And I keep telling people, this is a good economic time. We're not in we're not in a downturn, we're not in a crash per se. It right 2008 happens again, or worse. What do you think's gonna happen to the tugs and distributors of the world, even Netflix's of the world for that matter? Yeah, I mean, I

Emily Best 24:21
think I think that's a really interesting question to ask because there are some companies like seed and spark like gum road, who we built ourselves to be around for a while.

Alex Ferrari 24:34
You have a solid foundation.

Emily Best 24:36
Yeah. And a business model that I mean, crowdfunding emerged from the ashes of the 2008 financial crisis, right? That's, that's what crowdfunding was built to overcome. At the time, it was like people who had rich uncle's, their rich uncle's weren't investing and so they had to turn to a thing and now crowdfunding has gotten A lot more sophisticated. And also we don't have like, there was also built on the like Facebook, open social graph, which doesn't exist anymore. A lot more sophisticated, but it's also available to a lot more people. And, you know, we've certainly spent all of our time making it a tool that anybody from any kind of background can actually use successfully. But it means, you know, it means coming to work differently. In terms of the the financial time, I think there are more tools available to creators to monetize their work than ever before. But it's not. You don't make your work the same way that you would, if you were aiming for a Netflix and you don't, you know, you don't raise two and a half million dollars for a movie and make it and then figure out who's going to buy it Oh, like, I just don't think you should do that anymore.

Alex Ferrari 26:00
You can do that with $100,000, let alone two and a half million new lessons 100,000 you can lose.

Emily Best 26:06
I was gonna say it's actually more important not to do it with $100,000 movie. And that's, that's why we started teaching workshops on distribution is to really give creators the tools, they needed one like, Okay, so we've been teaching these crowdfunding workshops for half a decade now. And we started teaching them in Atlanta, and we did a creative marketplace survey there and a few other cities where we were teaching where there's like big, solid, creator communities, and like a lot of talk about like creating a sustainable, independent ecosystem. And so we surveyed creators on what what are your challenges and funding and team building and distribution? And in funding? everybody's like, Where are the investors? Right? Which is like, just a question you have for the rest of your life.

Alex Ferrari 26:50
Where's the money? Where's the money? Yeah.

Emily Best 26:51
The second question is like, what are the challenges of building team and those are like, you know, finding the core team, making sure it's diverse enough, being able to pay them like these sorts of things. By the way, what we have seen from economic surveys of our crowdfunders is that 80% of money raised in crowdfunding goes to pay cast and crew, which I find really exciting. That's awesome. Because it's a job creator. And the final section we asked about was distribution. And we laugh, we have a laugh in the office, because most of the answers to the questions that we asked about distribution, were just literally question marks.

Alex Ferrari 27:30
Nobody knows. Nobody knows.

Emily Best 27:31
People didn't know what they didn't know. And we're like, Okay, let's do this. So we created sort of a distribution one to one about like, what what is it really, really to distribute in this marketplace? Like, what are the steps? What are the capabilities, what are the possibilities, we interviewed a bunch of like key players in independent distribution and TV, etc. And then we built we, we pulled together a bunch of case studies of creators who took the time to really get to know their audience, built up the important organizational partnerships and influencer partnerships and festival partnerships, and, and really always had their larger career in mind. And similar to your story, managed to really well monetize their films, and make sure those films reached the audiences that they really cared to reach with them, which we have myriad examples of where distributors fail to do it. And something I often do in the room. Because, you know, we're in cities across the country. And so some cities who are like, you know, basically never featured in movies that we all see on the big screen, right, like cities that are kind of absent from our national imagination. So I go in, and we're in a, we're in a room of 200 people. And I'll be like, okay, Who here is working on a project, that's like, really not like anything that's been made before. And like, half the hands might go up. And I'm like, cool. I just want you to know that that means no sales agent has ever sold a movie like yours before. And no distributor has ever distributed a movie like yours before. They are not the experts. They know things based on their past experience. But you've just told me they've never had an experience like working with a creator like you on a movie like this. So if you don't show up, being able to talk to them about who your audience is, how they like to be reached, how they like to be talked to everything that dolomite knew about his audience that got the the record label to call him and the studio to call him. It wasn't until he knew all those things, that distributors were literally lining up to work with him. Right? And because he knew all that the popular critical opinion didn't mean shit doesn't matter. Right. So I feel like there's just this mentality that like, I'm just the creator and I all I'm supposed to know is the creative thing. If you don't know at least enough to be dangerous. You're done. Yeah, and there's so many examples. movies. Like there was there's some really terrible statistics actually of like movies made by black directors, who would go to Sundance and get a nice looking distribution deal. And the distributors really didn't know what to do with black films Besides, like, put them out on DVD during Black History Month. I'm not joking. It's just ridiculous. I have specific examples to point to, and they don't make their money back. And then that is a mark on the Creator, not the distributor. Correct. And that is a mark on an entire quote, unquote, niche audience, even though it's like 13% of our population, plus everybody else who doesn't need to look like the protagonist in the movie to enjoy it. There's a lot of us, by the way, right, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 30:46
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Emily Best 30:57
So it's, I think it's, it's just a time for us to deeply reevaluate the myths of success, our system and start elevating different stories about what's successful.

Alex Ferrari 31:10
So I, you know, I went to, I wanted to ask you this, because, I mean, I've been I've been neck deep in the distribution side of stuff now for a while. And then once I got involved with the distributor, you know, debacle and became kind of like the spearhead of that situation, which by the way has not finished, we're still going through stuff with that that scenario. I was invited to go speak at AFM, and I know your feelings about AFM. But I've read your feelings on AFM. And that's fine. I completely understand. By the way, AFM dropped two days off their schedule for this year, because na went from a place anymore because it went if we went from 800 distributors down to 351, this year, and then next year is probably going to be less. And but the one thing I did notice, because I went this year and I went last year was the that I just realized that nobody understands what's going on. None of the distributors are really at this at that level, the mid and low level distributors, which are where a lot of these indie movies would get picked up by you know that the big, not the big studios, not the Fox Searchlight, or even God forbid any of the major studios, there's only a handful up there that will even look at them. So we're talking about mid level and below. They were clueless, like I literally was in meetings with with distributors, and they were trying to pitch themselves to the distributor, you know, people, filmmakers, like hey, we want to help this, you know, we want to pick up all those distributor movies. I'm like, haha, okay, so I would do the meetings. And I would just sit there and I would listen to them. And I just asked them about their business model. And they would just lay out this old rehash crap kind of system. Yep. And then I just turned to one of them. I said, you, you guys really don't know what, what's going on? Do you have no idea how to make any money with these? Do you? There's no guarantee.

Emily Best 32:56
It's every time I talk to somebody who's launching a new new streaming platform. And I asked them what their customer acquisition strategy is. And they're like, Oh, you know, like Facebook ads, whatever. I'm like, cool. You're gonna compete with Netflix and Apple, and like they're buying all the keywords that might matter to you. And and frankly, if your differentiator is like diverse content, for example,

Alex Ferrari 33:17
Or indie groups that Oh, yeah. And there's a lot of indie distributors, like indie streaming, no one cares. No, this is not 2019. India is a budget level, it is not a genre. Not anymore. Like in the 90s. That's when indie kind of started, that was the whole indie genre, which there were and there were a lot less films and all that kind of stuff. But when you launched your streaming service you had an audience built in from your email was perfect, was really smart.

Emily Best 33:42
And even then we fundamentally don't believe that that's the right path forward. Like, it is a tool in the toolkit of creators who are building these larger connective strategies. I'm like, for me, if you're going around and doing amazing events around your movie, let's say or your podcast launch, or you're doing like live book tour, or whatever, that stuff should be available online, so that after the event when all those people had a great time, go home to their friends and are like, I just watched this amazing movie and their friends, like where Can I see it? The answer can't be nowhere. Which is often the case, right? So to us, there are some versions of what was formerly known as day and date that we think when built around events can we've actually seen can really work Naomi mcdougald Jones's shuffle vampire tour is an incredible example.

Alex Ferrari 34:34
Friend of the show, friend of the show.

Emily Best 34:36
Yes. out everybody go by the wrong kind of women.

Alex Ferrari 34:41
Yes. She's great. She's what she was, well, she was wonderful. And I had her when I heard about her story. I had her on the show and, and she's very frank about the whole situation. She's, how depressing it is. And you know, like, you know, when she went to like her day in and day and she's like, but iTunes, the numbers weren't there. I'm like, Well, that was the one thing I was gonna say about FM. I realized that See VOD is essentially almost gone for independent film. It's dead unless you can personally give a very rabid audience. And you could drive that for maybe a week or two. But the days of what the Polish brothers did with four lovers only half a million dollars on TV that's gone.

Emily Best 35:15
You drive it to your own website at this point, or you drive it to like what Naomi did is drive it to seed and spark. We're getting paid between 20 and 50 cents a minute stream, then it's valuable,

Alex Ferrari 35:25
Right? So then, so it's a TiVo has gone. s VOD is kind of like if you if you're lucky enough to even get an S VOD deal, meaning like a Netflix or Hulu deal, which those deals are very far, few far between now because they're just focusing on their own content. Yeah. Then you got amazon prime, which now rakes from a penny to an hour to 12 cents an hour, depending if your algorithm likes you. So that's not really the greatest thing. So now the big keyword is Avon. So Avon is where a lot of money is being made. And I saw it, I saw I see the numbers from A to B, I see the numbers from Pluto. Now, peacock is gonna come out as an A VOD platform as well. So a VOD is that we're all going back to television is hilarious. But that's where the that's where the money is for independent films next year, it could be something else with the landscape changing so rapidly, because you and I both basically win since 2015, you know, basically been coming up together. And we've been, you know, we're in different sides of the battlefield. I feel like you see us you're at some point, I'm over here. I'm in this trench, you're in that trench. But we're both seeing what's happening. And as it's just insane, that the whole landscape is changing so rapidly, that these quote unquote, professionals have no idea what's going on. And I think the the, the casualties are the creators and the filmmakers.

Emily Best 36:41
Yeah, I would argue that it's not necessarily they don't know what's going on, as it doesn't behoove them to pay attention to it. There's not too scary, right?

Alex Ferrari 36:51
To have ostrich syndrome,they have an ostrich,

Emily Best 36:53
They're disappearing really rapidly. There's some of them who have, you know, one of the indie distributors out there who I won't name, still occasionally picks up movies out of the festival circuit does kind of mostly service deals, they do like 30 movies a month,

Alex Ferrari 37:12
Will not be named but we all know who it is actually backed up by a softcore porn business. When it's like, you know, you know, like, skinemax?

Emily Best 37:26
Like zombie sluts to or whatever. Yeah, like, yeah, that's, um, and that's fine. They're not upfront about it. But like, that's fine, like, do that business.

Alex Ferrari 37:37
But that's not what they said. That's not that's Oh, my God, it's so.

Emily Best 37:47
So I feel like, um, you know, nobody is going to solve the problem of distribution for creators. And something that we just keep saying over and over again, is distribution is not something you get distribution is something you do great part of your job to build your career. I don't as the CEO of my company get to be like, Yeah, but actually selling shit to customers is not my problem. Like that's insane. Only problem is business, that business. There is like, there is no content without a consumer, unless you are super rich, and are just making things for fun. It's a hobby, like a hobby. Yeah, if you if you want to make a sustainable business, you have to care about your unit economics, and you have to care about your customer. And you have to know about your customer, and you have to know how to find your customer. And like creators. I've seen creators sort of shudder at all this stuff. And I'm like, sorry, but like, What makes you so special, that you shouldn't have to think about the person who's going to spend their hard earned dollar on the thing that you made, when in fact, your audience is probably just as smart as you think you are. Preach, preach and preach. And the reason that I love and invest in crowdfunding so much is like, you cannot find a person who has run a successful crowdfunding campaign who doesn't have five at least audible stories of this person found out about my crowdfunding campaign. Who either you know, knew me from way back then or I've never met them before in my life. And they were so inspired. They did XYZ for my film, and it changed the game. Like everybody has that story. Like we have a I shot my first movie in Maine. And so if you're going to shoot a movie in Maine, like there has to be a lobster vaccine or what are you doing?

Alex Ferrari 39:44
I mean, seriously, why why would you not?

Emily Best 39:46
And this guy showed up on time in the morning with a giant baki bought us 25 lobsters which was 5x the number we actually needed and dropped them off and was like you kids, have fun. left.And that happened because of our funding campaign.

Alex Ferrari 40:07
That's amazing.

Emily Best 40:08
I don't honestly know, we would have kept the lobster vaccines specifically, if somebody hadn't been like, y'all bring your lobster because like, it's expensive. So so I feel like the thing that you discover when you start to really meaningfully engage with your audience or your customer, if I'm allowed to call them that, is they will love you and support you and do things for you. You haven't imagined, like we three of the filmmakers who have used our website throughout the years just became investors in seed and spark. That's awesome, right? thumb at very, very small amounts who were just like I just you what you did on the platform, change things for me, I want to get involved in your next. So your audience may be the next group of people who support your film. And cultivating that audience is about making everything that happens after this film easier for the next one, and the one after that.

Alex Ferrari 41:00
So Emily, what you're telling me, let me get this straight here. You're telling me that as a filmmaker, you have to think about your audience, you've got to think about the business, you also have to create your art, and you're not just going to get picked out of the crowd or someone from out Hollywood's gonna come down and tap you on the shoulder and say you will now have a career for the rest of your life. Is that what you're saying? What is that? You want to hear it clearly, please?

Emily Best 41:23
Yeah, finding a river if you don't like it. I didn't pick capitalism. Not my like, favorite version of economics. Okay, but like, this is the one we live in. And the landscape we live in is there is a ton of opportunity. Finally, we the chip, you can literally go online and with free tools, you can make your movie available behind the paywall tomorrow, right? That was not true. 50 years ago, right, or what I don't know what his time anyway,

Alex Ferrari 41:51
10 years ago was very difficult.

Emily Best 41:53
Um, so there is tremendous opportunity. But we live in an incredibly fragmented marketplace, across independent creators, that is incredibly consolidated at the top. And the reason that we go out and educate filmmakers is because the more consolidated it gets the top, the steeper that mount Hollywood becomes, and the harder it is to ever get picked at all.

Alex Ferrari 42:22
If that's what your goal is,

Emily Best 42:24
Well, the thing is, if you super invest it, look at dolomit. He's super invested in building a direct audience relationship, no matter after he got told no. And then they called him. And that's what happens. You build a really great audience, they come fucking calling you.

Alex Ferrari 42:41
I can only tell you that since you started you were one of my first guests from the moment that I interviewed you to the moment I have now. I've been trying to get into the Hollywood I look, I drank that kool aid that mariachi Kool Aid A long time ago. And it took me until I was 40 to make my first feature film, because I was waiting to get picked or playing the game. And I changed the rules. Because I said, You know what, I'm not gonna wait any more that tools are here, I'm gonna go out and do my own thing. And the second I changed the rules, and I said, You know what, I'm not gonna play by your rules. I'm gonna play by my own rules. I'm gonna create my own little sandbox. Yeah, and I'm gonna do my own thing. And the second I did that, in these last four and a half, almost five years, you I can't even tell you how much how many people have come. You've contacted me purely because I'm doing my thing. I'm doing it my way. And I don't need them. It's kind of like a bank loan.

Emily Best 43:28
Here is like a credit doing more than that, though. Well, you are you are amplifying the voices in the community who are making more opportunities available for creators, you're sharing your experience incredibly openly. You're making it easier for somebody else to make that switch that you made earlier on in their career, and you're providing them the tools and information to do that. And that's some that's the superpower I think we have. The challenge with the notion of independent film is independent sounds like it means a lone wolf, doesn't it? No. We will not create an infrastructure for ourselves that can compete with any individual Hollywood studio unless we are unified. And it's what people like Naomi did when she went on the road for the joyful vampire tour. They were literally filming and cutting episodes at like Kiwi is a genius like I don't know how she did it on camera, cutting the thing putting the story together. And it was amazing. It was amazing. You know, and and probably driving the van sometimes. Anyway, like I think there's the, the sharing it back and building the expertise and kicking the door open and pulling the people up behind you. That's actually the most powerful tool we have for manifesting a really healthy ecosystem. And I do think it's on the businesses to be super transparent about their own unit economics and their own, you know, capacity to stick around because There are some platforms that that creators are relying on that are super, super leveraged. You know, and it makes it hard for them to stick around that makes them really vulnerable. So I just think it's like, you know, it's a time where we do have to be, we do have to be experts in our industry, because it's on us to remake it in the, you know, in the, with the values that we really actually want to, we care about

Alex Ferrari 45:30
No, no question and and it's, it's tough enough. Everything we're talking about is tough enough as independent films like this is, like, remember before the tough part was to make the movie now that that's not the toughest part anymore, the technology has made it so affordable, now that you can make an affordable, good looking independent film, the problem now is getting it sold, getting it out there doing all that stuff. And then it's tough enough without companies like distributor going under and and you know, doing what they did. And and the situation with tug is another scenario, which is still developing story. But

Emily Best 46:04
Yeah, we don't know what we don't we don't we don't know. But with with, with companies like distributor, I think it's so important for filmmakers to ask really key questions about how they make money and how they distribute money. Now, look, there's not a lot you can do if a company is like literally not being forthcoming about what's actually happening,

Alex Ferrari 46:23
or mismanaged or just look, companies don't wonder all the time.

Emily Best 46:26
Totally. It's an especially in our business, it's like it's distribution companies have been going out of business since the dawn of time. It's not anything new. I think that we talked about this with distributor, the aggregation platform is not a distributor, those are two very different,

Alex Ferrari 46:46
They should be just a pass through, they should just be a service, their post house, essentially,

Emily Best 46:50
it's it's very often that some of these technology solutions are sold as sort of distribution, you know, deals or solutions. And they're not. They're just technology solutions. And I think it's important to be forthcoming about what it takes on behalf of filmmakers to really leverage the tools. So like, we weren't just going to build a crowdfunding platform and be like, this is the best one why cuz it is a crowdfunding platform is what the fuck you make of it. But that's not also fair to say to people, like, here's a great tool, get good at using it Good luck. Like, the reason that we invest so much in education is like if we want to be the quote unquote best in the world, it's only because our creators are the most prepared, they're the most prepared to succeed. That like our secret sauce really isn't more than that, is that we we prepare creators probably better than anyone else. And we're, we're sticklers about it a little bit

Alex Ferrari 47:54
As you should look, come on. This is a such a brutal business. I mean, I'd rather you be a stickler than, you know, getting your hand your ass handed to you

Emily Best 48:03
Be a stickler and have you have a good first successful crowdfunding experience, then, you know, burn you on credit, like, these are the platforms that have like 10 11% success rate, like people come to us all the time. from other platforms being like I had a terrible experience, I never thought I was going to crowdfund again. And they come to one of our workshops, and they start to feel like a glimmer of hope and possibility or on crowdfunding, we've converted a lot of people who've had unsuccessful campaigns into successful ones, by simply preparing them, and we can't do it all for all facets of the business, we're not here to prepare you to produce like for production, we're not here to prepare you for every single element. And we certainly can't conceivably prepare everyone, because you know, every film, in this case, every film is, could have a totally unique distribution plan that's actually appropriate for it. So what we can do is equip creators with enough knowledge to prepare themselves. But like, that's as far as we can take it, and you're doing a lot. Sure, but I just think like, you know, there is a big personal responsibility piece here. And I totally, I get the like, why should I have to do at all and I'm like, because capitalism, frankly, and like, I don't like it either. But, but I would rather do it all. And I say this to people all the time. Probably 70 to 80% of my job is shit I don't particularly love to do. Right. And I do it because the 20 to 30% is so rewarding. I wouldn't have it any other way. And PS, I get to choose who I work with. And I don't have to work with assholes and that I will choose to sleep over for the rest of my life. Like if I have to lose sleep over other parts of the business so that I never have to work with an asshole happy as a clam. But that's I mean, I think that's part of it is like, you know, there we also sell creators this myth that like When you're really successful, all you have to do is the is the cool part. No. And that's just never true. There's always like, I'm pretty sure that a lot of those really successful actors don't love going on 20 City press junkets Oh,

Alex Ferrari 50:17
yeah. But they know the business. They understand the business.

Emily Best 50:20
You know, and we all have a version like it's what is it? Like everybody has to eat a shit sandwich. It's what ships in to tolerate eating?

Alex Ferrari 50:27
No, it's no it's a gamble though. Tourists I heard him speak once. And he said, being in Hollywood, like eating a shit sandwich, you could change the bread, you could put some lettuce on it, you can put a little nice vegan mayo on it whatever you want. But at the end of the day, you're still eating shit. That's exactly it. Now, the one thing I've been pushing a lot in, in the last year or so. And I've been talking about it loosely over the course of all the time I've been doing this, but is the concept of being a film intrapreneur being an entrepreneurial filmmaker. And I do truly believe that the only six The only way for moving forward is to become an entrepreneurial understanding every business creating multiple revenue streams, that includes touring, that includes ancillary product lines include services, you could build all these things around films and or companies and or filmmakers and creators. And you're not just handing it over to a third party company and praying that they're going to give you a check. That could be one revenue stream, but not all of them. Is that is that Do you agree with that concept?

Emily Best 51:34
Yeah, you know, there's a, there's a term that a friend of mine introduced to me recently, which is that of a portfolio career. Yes. And I think when you talk about creative entrepreneurship, it's often not built around a single vertical of storytelling, or a single monetization stream, right? Like, I don't think anybody is really just making money making even the big directors are all directing commercials on. Like, Scorsese directed a lineup like yeah, cuz they probably were like,

Alex Ferrari 52:08
He was making a commercial the hiring an actor.

Emily Best 52:11
Yeah, exactly. Like whatever it is, like, like there are you have to diversify your revenue stream over time. And I think for freelancers, it can feel super hectic to think about, well, I have to do a little of this, and a little of that, and some brand work and some whatever. And then I do my own stuff. But the concept of a portfolio career is like, you know, my experiences that some of the most multi talented, multi capable people I've ever met, happened to end up an independent filmmaking for whatever reason that is. And so these are people who it's not just that they have multiple talents, but they have multiple interests. And I do think there is a way to synthesize that if you think about all of these interests, laddering up to a portfolio career, it's a career that actually is built up out of all the things I'm interested in and talented at. And I don't have to feel like I'm just a jack of all trades, master of none. like to be a CEO. It's a portfolio job. Oh, God. Yeah. Right. Like you have to have leadership and management skills and some HR skills and some like, a little bit of technical understanding and a little bit of it. It's a it's a portfolio job. Being a film director is a portfolio job, you have to know so many things about so many things, just to make a set really go the way that you want it to go beyond the

Alex Ferrari 53:31
Politics and all of that stuff.

Emily Best 53:33
Yeah, being a producer, one of the most portfolio jobs in the universe, like you have to be able to, like organize all the coffees and entice and dazzle investors like it's a crazy fucking job. So I think like it's in line with the full skill set. And if I think about the creators who have built incredible long term IP value, the duplass brothers work with a lot among them, like Mark talks all the time about going up the Hollywood Hill, like coming out of their first like big Sundance premiere studio thing. And realizing that was not what they wanted to do, then making everything for super cheap, owning all of the IP and now having a giant library to license long term wealth that they have built, right?

Alex Ferrari 54:23
Yeah, exactly. Like what Tyler what Tyler Perry did, he's built an entire Empire. Dude,

Emily Best 54:28
and has anybody made a more baller move than Tyler Perry recently, teaching a former Confederate army base and converting it into a big deal.

Alex Ferrari 54:39
One of the biggest studios in the world, honestly, and yeah, and Hollywood still adores them. And Hollywood still ignores him. He's kind of like the the most ignored mogul ever. Like you don't need them. He doesn't know he doesn't and he knows it. You know, he used them for what he was good for. But now he easily now he's got what a Netflix deal going on. And also have other stuff that he's got going on. It's it's, it's insane. And I love that, like the duplass brothers are amazing. There's, they're, they're one of the they one of the inspirations for me making this as mag, because I did it with a scriptment and, and I did all that stuff. And I was lucky enough to, to meet not meet. But I saw mark and Jay speak one on one of their book tours for that great book that they wrote like brothers. And I had one of the winners of the of your of your thing. The heroes. Yeah, yeah. Oh God, to their two young girls, that Megan and Hannah. Yes, they were out filmmakers. They were on the show. And they were just so excited to be filmmakers. It was just like, so happy.

Emily Best 55:45
I wish I could bottle their energy and distribute it to everybody because I just, they're having a like, you know, it's hard. But like, they managed to have fun in ways that I just really admire. They said, the silliest, most wonderful birthday message I've ever received in my entire life came from those two. And actually, Megan has become an instructor for seed and spark. So she's teaching our workshops. I'm just about to go to Winston Salem, and do a creative sustainability summit with her. Yeah, so they're, yeah, they're remarkable.

Alex Ferrari 56:18
I mean, what you guys what you're doing Emily, and what you've done for me, you are honestly one of the few good people doing what? I don't think that's true. I really appreciate No, no, no, listen, listen. Before you before you stop me, I'm gonna say something. Okay, cuz I know you're gonna do that. No, no, no, no, no, look, there are many good people. And there are many good people, you know, taking the taking up arms, and there are many. But you're one of those shining lights and have been since I started, I've started 20 years ago, 25 years ago in the business, but during this time, though, you know, we've been coming up coming up there, I've seen people come and go, I've been I've seen people, companies come and go, people rip people off all this kind of stuff, you've been very constant. And only you've only had the, the the best intentions in mind, at least from what I can see from what I have known of you is you're truly trying to help creators, you're truly trying to help filmmakers with your platform and the way you're doing it, and doing it on your own. And by the way, by dancing to your own song, you know, there's no question about it, you definitely are dancing to your own song. And you created a platform that you're like, you know what, screw the big boys, I'm going to do it my way. And I'm going to help filmmakers, and I'm gonna help great now you're helping all creators with your platform. And, you know, that's what I try to promote with indie film, hustle, and with my other companies as well, is to try to help educate and push filmmakers forward. And also give them a nice nice spoonful of reality. Because I'd rather them get a spoonful than a punch in the face from somebody else. And and I think you do the exact same thing. So I do appreciate you doing what you do.

Emily Best 57:55
That's so kind of you. I does. On our door, the door between our conference room in our kitchen and the office.

Alex Ferrari 58:04
Yeah. Can you see what that says? This is we are truth tellers. That's awesome.

Emily Best 58:09
That's a really important key thing. So when you talk about the dose of reality, yes. I think the most important thing we can do in this business to help ourselves and our peers is to tell the truth. Yes. To be honest about the experience of good, bad and indifferent to, it seems inspark we feel like it's our responsibility to like really research things and understand the real dynamics of what's going on and like make whatever phone calls we can make behind the scenes to like, find out what's really going on to talk to creators who've had distribution deals that like look favorable and like, unpack, well, how did it actually go, you know? We are truth tellers, I feel like really defines what we're trying to do. Because I think we're in the business of telling fantastic stories. We can't do that about the business of telling the stories. Because we've really shot ourselves in the foot buying a myth that doesn't exist. Oh, yeah. dispelling those myths in favor of giving people something they can do every day that they own, that they control. That's so much more exciting to me than like, I mean, I love making it like that. filmmakers like Meghan, Hannah got to work with the duplass brothers. Like, that's so delightful. It's so wonderful. But like, Mark and I joke like the the whole point of a crowdfunding rally is when you get to the end of it, you've already raised money and built your audience like you don't need us anymore. You know what I mean? getting picked would be the icing on the cake, but you've proven to yourself You don't need to get picked. You can pick yourself

Alex Ferrari 59:59
that's Amazing, absolutely true. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions I ask all of my guests. Okay, what advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?

Emily Best 1:00:10
Sorry, to break into the business today. Start talking to your audience, get to know them, get to love them get to understand them. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life, I think my actual, it's not a lesson. It's like constant maintenance is how to be responsive and not reactive. So in leadership in team building and decision making, when you're working with lots of people collaboratively in this age of like instant digital communication, text messages, text message, and emails and all of that, it can be very tempting to just react and, you know, right back right away. And I think being responsive and building a little thoughtfulness into how you react when people say things to you that you have strong reactions to where people write things to you that you have strong reactions to. And that is a that is a forever challenge. And so I have to be in it like a good space in order to be there. So whatever care it takes me to maintain this sense of responsiveness and not reactiveness I think is really important.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
Emily, I can't thank you enough for being a champion of filmmakers and creators out there and in for doing fighting the good battle that you are fighting every day. So thank you so much for everything you guys do at Seton Spark.

Emily Best 1:01:35
Thank you. Thanks for this great podcast and great interview Alex.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:40
I want to thank Emily for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. If you want to get links to anything we talked about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/402 and I'll also have links to the first episode Episode 23 that we do with Emily which is really an masterclass in crowdfunding for filmmakers. Thank you guys for listening. I hope this episode was of value to you on your journey. As always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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Martin Scorsese Masterclass: Learn Directing from the Master

Martin Scorsese Masterclass: Learn Directing from the Master

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films—from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street—have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach to filmmaking, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make—and watch—movies.

Click below to watch the trailer and pre-enroll in his class:

You can ENROLL in the course now to this game-changing filmmaking course. Click here to gain access


Martin Scorsese Masterclass: Learn Directing from the Master

  • Martin Scorsese teaches you directing, filmmaking, and storytelling across 20+ video lessons.
  • Interactive exercises
  • A  downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.
  • Lifetime access, with classes that never expires
  • Learning materials and workbooks
  • Accessible from any device
  • Watch, listen, and learn as Martin Scorsese Masterclass teaches his most comprehensive film directing class ever.
  • Office Hours: Upload work to get feedback from the class. Martin Scorsese will also critique select student work.

Click here to gain access

If this class is anything like past masterclass’ you are in for a treat.

Screenwriting/Filmmaking MasterClasses:

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Martin Scorsese Teaches Us All

Known for movies depicting the harsh realities of American life and careful filmmaking style, renowned director and producer Martin Charles Scorsese was born on the 1st of November 1942, in Flushing New York.

He was raised by his Italian-American parents in the Little Italy district of Manhattan which is fondly remembered by him as a village in Sicily. Both of his parents Charles and Catherine worked part-time as actors and had a hand in setting the stage for their son at an early age.

Scorsese’s childhood activities were quite limited due to his severe case of asthma, and rather than playing sports his older brother, would take him to a movie theater or he would spend most of his time in front of the television.

This was the age when his love for cinema developed and gradually turned into his passion. He loved stories about Italian experiences and was especially besotted with the work of Michael Powell. At the age of eight years, he was already drawing his own storyboards and got seriously interested in filmmaking.

Although he was raised in a catholic environment and for a while also weighed the idea of entering priesthood before he decided to pursue filmmaking.

Scorsese knew that he was headed down the right path when he earned $500 scholarship to New York University with his 10-min comedy short.

Martin Scorsese attended the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University doing his B.A in English 1964 and M.F.A films in 1966. He made short films like What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963) and It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964). 

After completion of MFA, Scorsese worked as a film instructor briefly. In the year 1968, Scorsese made his first feature length film a black and white I Call First later retitled Who’s That Knocking at My Door? a close portrayal of life in the streets of Little Italy,with his fellow student actor Harvey Keitel and an editor Thelma Schoonmaker both of whom were to become part of his team for 40 years.

Another short film of note is The Big Shave. Watch below:

Mean Streets which was directed by Scorsese in 1973 was first of his films to be acknowledged and praised worldwide as a masterpiece.

Featuring the same characters from Who’s That Knocking at My Door?the film depicted the elements which had become the signature style of Scorsese’s films like unsympathetic lead characters, dark themes, the Mafia, religion and uncommon camera techniques combined with contemporary music.

Brian De Palma, who had introduced Scorsese to Robert De Niro, Mean Girls sparked the most dynamic filmmaking partnerships to have blossomed in Hollywood history.

Hard hitting films which aided in the redefinition of the generation of cinema were made by Scorsese in the 1970s and 1980s. Taxi Driver which is a realistic masterpiece of 1976 earned Scorsese the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival which fixed the status of De Niro as a living movie legend permanent.

Soon after Scorsese had made the documentary about this parents, Italianamerican (1974), he started on his first studio picture Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974).

An effective drama about a widow Alice (Ellen Burstyn) who sets off to California from Mexico, after the demise of her abusive husband and her teenaged son (Alfred Lutter). Ellen Burstyn won the Oscar for Best Actress which made a point about Scorsese disciplining his one of a kind talent.

After proving that a conventional film could come from him, Scorsese shocked the film viewers with Taxi Driver (1976) which was a cringing tour of a disturbed Vietnam veteran’s odd madness. Written by Paul Schrader and scored by Bernanrd Herrmann, it is a fascinating and horrifying watch.

De Niro gave a remarkable performance as Travis Bickle and Keitel did justice to his small but key role of the threatening and seductive pimp Sport, keeping the 12-year-old Iris (Jodie Foster) in slavery. Scorsese cast himself in a small cameo of a jealous husband.

It is known as the most disturbing and most controversial Oscar nominee for best picture till now. Taxi Driver won Oscar nominations for De Niro, Foster and Herrman. It was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival and is considered to be the best work of Scorsese.

New York, New York (1977) was a rethought of the 1950s musical of Hollywood which was marked by its elaborate sets and unnatural lighting. It was made to look that way specially to arouse the triumphs of the past by George Cuker and Vincente Minnelli.


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Featuring De Niro as the cocky character of Jimmy Doyle who is a saxophone player working in a big band with lead singer is Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli).  Their love affair could not survive and this the self-destructive Jimmy drifts away from the domestic life and pregnant Francine.

De Niro performed very convincingly while Minelli was able to evoke her mother (Judy Garland) with staggering authority.  Though critical reviews were mixed, it was a commercial flop which later developed a cult following because of the obvious affection for Hollywood it depicted.

The 80s brought some really great films by Scorsese. In 1980, he made the brutal but brilliant Raging Bull which was a loose adaptation of Schrader and Mardik Martin about a former middleweight boxing champion Jake La Motta.

Scorsese made this violent biopic which he called a Kamikaze method filmmaking. It was voted the greatest movies of the 1980s receiving eight Oscar nominations which included Best Actor (for De Niro), Best Picture and Best Director.

De Niro won and Thelma Schoonmaker for editing. Raging Bull was filmed in high contrast black and white and this is where Scorsese’s style reached its peak.

Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with Robert De Niro was his next project, The King of Comedy (1983). Again De-Niro gave a very original performance as a stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin.  It is a mockery of the media world and celebrities and how a loner character becomes famous through a criminal act.

Rupert practices a lot but has no talent that is why he fails and ends up kidnapping a late-night TV star Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) in exchange for a 10 minutes time on his show. Failing at the box office, it has become increasingly well acclaimed and regarded by the critics in the years since the release.

The German director Wim Wenders counts it amongst his 15 favorite films.

After Hours (1985) happened to be a small but an amusing diversion of its kind which was made by Scorsese in an underground filmmaking style. Featuring Griffin Dunne as a mild New York word processor who is in endangered because of some lunatics he comes across on a long strange night.

Michael Ballhaus was the cinematographer of this low budgeted film which was shot on location in SoHo neighborhood. It is a rather unusual depiction of what Scorsese could do if he only wanted his viewers to have fun.

Along with the music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad in 1986, Scorsese made The Color of Money which was a sequel to a much appreciated and loved The Hustler (1961) of Robert Rossen. The movie starred Paul Newman with Tom Cruise co-starring. It was Scorsese’s first official attempt in to mainstream filmmaking.

Fast Eddie (Newman) now retired, smells new talent in the pool shark Vincent Lauria (Cruise) and taking him under his wing, shares all of this knowledge. But they part ways and face each other at an Atlantic City tournament.

The Color of Money earned Paul Newman his Oscar and also offered Scorsese the power to finally secure his backing for a project which had been a goal for him for a long time: The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). 

The Last Temptation of Christ was based on Schrader’s adaptation of an epic 1960 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. The novel narrated the self-doubts of Jesus as he carried out his mission and told about Christ more in human terms rather than divine.

Willem Dafoe was well-casted in the role of Jesus but few critics were not too thrilled with the rest of the unusual cast of Hershey as Mary, Harry Stanton as Paul and Keitel as Judas. Scorsese made a major comeback to personal filmmaking with this movie.

Prior to its release, it was a low budget independent movie but the uproar it caused with worldwide protests, it became a media sensation. The variation on the Gospels in the form of this movie earned Scorsese his second Oscar nomination.

New York story which had fashioned Scorsese’s reputation, was the basis of the fame of GoodFellas (1990). Adapted from non-fiction Wiseguy of Nicholas Pileggi, the story is about a small-time Brooklyn mobster Henry Hill. Scorsese displayed his incredible mastery of the medium in unexpected ways innovatively.



Roger Ebert named it the best mob movie ever. It is considered as Scorsese’s best achievement and was nominated for six Academy Awards. Joe Pesci won an Academy for Best Supporting Actor. Scorsese was nominated for Best Director.

Film won many awards which included a Silver Lion, five BAFTA Awards and more. GoodFellas was put on No.2 on American Film Institute’s list of top 10 gangster films after The Godfather.

Cape Fear (1991) the remake of a cult 1962 film of the same name, was a commercial success. It was Scorsese’s 7th collaboration with De Niro.

A stylized thriller, Nolte starred as a southern lawyer Sam Bowden whose family is being terrorized by ex-con Max Cady (De Niro) whom Sam had gotten jailed and now he was seeking revenge.

It received mixed reviews but grossed $80 million domestically and as Scorcese’s most commercially successful film until The Aviator (2004) and The Departed (2006).

The success of Cape Fear enabled Scorsese to get the big budget he desired for his version of Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence (1993). It was lovingly completed and subtly portrayed the upper crust of New York City in the late 19th century.

The plot is about an unconsummated love affair between a sensitive lawyer Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Countess Ellen (Michelle Pfeiffer). Highly applauded by critics upon the original release it did not do well on box office.

Casino (1995) was set in a 1970s tale of Las Vegas that marked the comeback of the GoodFellas talent team. It centered on a male whose peaceful and well-ordered life was upset by the arrival of unpredictable forces. De Niro and Pesci pairing had great chemistry, as seen in GoodFellas.

Having received mixed views from critics, Casino was quite a box office success. It’s excessive violence bought it the reputation of the most violent American gangster film to date. Film had incredible supporting performances. Best Actress Academy Award nomination was earned by Sharon Stone for her work in this film.

Return to a familiar territory, the director Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader manifested a pitch-black comic intake quite similar to Tax Driver in Bringing Out the Dead (1999). 

Starring Nicholas Cage as a New York paramedic who is about to crack under his stressful job, similar to earlier Scorsese-Schrader teamwork, the final scenes of spiritual restoration clearly were reminiscent of Robert Bresson films.

Among other cast were Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore, John Goodman and Patricia Arquette. Receiving positive reviews generally, it did not gain much critical acclaim like former Scorsese films.

Gangs of New York was a project which Scorsese had been meaning to do since the late 1970s. With a production budget in excess of $100 million, it was the biggest and most conventional film to date.

It was set in the 19th century New York like The Age of Innocence but it centered on the other end of the social scale. Marking the first collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese who later on became a must in Scorsese films. Starring as an Amsterdam Vallon he was seeking revenge for the murder of his father by Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis who was like a godfather figure to the rowdy Five Points mob.

Gangs of New York got nominations for 10 Oscar awards which included nominations for Best Actor, Best Picture, and Best Director it also earned Scorsese his first Golden Globe for Best Director.

The Aviator (2004) was a lavish and large-scale biopic of a film mogul and eccentric aviation pioneer, Howard Hughes which again reunited DiCaprio and Scorsese. It was a lavish re-creation of the Hollywood of 1930s and 1940s.

DiCaprio gave the appropriately intense explanation of a man who was driven by his own passion, intellect as well as acute case of his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Receiving high appraise, The Aviator garnered 11 Oscar nominations as well as massive success at the box office with Academy Award recognition.

It was also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards which included Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. It won Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Actor. The film ended with five Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography.

The Departed (2006) was Scorsese’s return to the crime genre which was a Boston-set thriller and based on a Hong Kong police drama Infernal Affairs, 2002.

This film earned Scorsese his second Golden Globe for Critic’s Choice Award and for Best Director, first DGA Award and Academy Awards both for Best Motion Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Director.

It again starred DiCaprio along with Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg.  Matt Damon and DiCaprio starred as doubles living on opposite ends of the law. Colin (Damon) played the role of a Boson detective who was raised by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a crime lord since childhood so he could become his mole.

And Billy (DiCaprio) was an undercover cop who was assigned with the dangerous task of getting into the organization of Frank Costello whose character was found on the psychopathic mastermind Boston mobster, Whitey Bulger. Being Scorsese’s biggest box-office hit after Shutter Island, Scorsese finally earned his Best Director Oscar for this.

Scorsese also directed a couple of musical documentaries. The concert film Shine a Light (2008) starring The Rolling Stones and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005) was a wide survey of the iconic singer/songwriter.

It does not cover his entire career but focuses more of his impact on American pop industry, his beginnings, and his transformations. Scorsese earned an Emmy nomination and won a Peabody Award as well as a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video.

2010 brought Shutter Island starring Leonardo DiCaprio the fourth time in a Scorsese film. The cast included Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow and Ben Kingsley which were first-timers with Scorsese.

Based on a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane it starred DiCaprio as a U.S marshal who travels to search for a missing patient in a psychiatric facility deserted in the Boston Harbor. And soon the detective story becomes closer to a horror film. Film was a box office smash and became Scorsese’s highest grossing film.

The year 2011 brought Hugo which was based a novel The Invention of Hugo Carbet by Brian Selznick. Hugo was a 3D adventure drama film and the most expensive production of Scorsese. It started Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfied, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law, Ray Winstone and Christopher Lee.

The story is about a once celebrated filmmaker who runs a toy store Georges Melies (Kingsley) who has become bitter about the destruction of so much of his world and his niece and 12-year old orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield) manages to bring him back to the world.

Meeting critical acclaim, Hugo was nominated for 11 Oscars and Scorsese won his third Golden Globe Award for Best Director. Nominated for 11 and winning five Academy Awards, Hugo also won two BAFTA awards.

Another of his musical documentaries, George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011) won Scorsese an Emmy Award. The three and half hour documentary explored the life of former Beatle.

Branching out further into television, Scorsese executively produced the Boardwalk Empire (2010-14) which was an HBO drama series about gangsters in Atlantic City at Prohibition period. He also received an Emmy Award (2011) for directing the show’s first episode.

The too-real and somewhat harsh portrayal of New York City was Scorsese’s claim to fame initially. Returning to his familiar haunts of the Big Apple, Scorsese brought The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) which was a deterrent tale based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir making it into a biographic black comedy.

Marking the fifth collaboration with DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street starred DiCaprio as the stock trader Belfort who engages himself in a huge securities fraud case which involved corruption on Wall Street, manipulation of stock and the practice commonly called as “pump and dump” and the corporate banking world.

The screenplay was written by Terence Winter. Among the other cast included Jonah Hill and Mathew McConaughey. Belfort fell afoul of the rules and of course the law but not before training himself and his associates in immense wealth.

Leonardo DiCaprio won an award at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor- Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The film also earned a nomination for the Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for five Academy Awards which included Best Picture, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Best Adapted Screenplay for the work of Terence Winter.

Martin Scorsese received his 8th Oscar nomination for Best Director and the film also was nominated for Best Picture. Scorsese is to direct The Irishman which shall star Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. He has also informed that his long-planned biopic about Frank Sinatra shall be coming soon.

Scorsese’s next documentary will be about former president Bill Clinton for HBO. According to an announcement Scorsese will be directing a biopic on Mike Tyson which shall star Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx as Tyson.

The Scorsese List

The story I’m about to tell is any film students dream. Back in 2006, a young film student by the name of  Colin Levy met with Martin Scorsese after winning an NYC-based short film festival.

When Levy met with Scorsese the young film student had not yet had the privilege of watching some of Scorsese’s most celebrated masterpieces (including Taxi Driver and Goodfellas). Ever the film teacher Martin Scorsese gifted the young Levy with a magical list of foreign films he should watch. The list in itself is a film school.

Levy said,

“I labored over a thank-you card, in which I expressed the overwhelming impression I had gotten that I don’t know enough about anything. I especially don’t know enough about film history and foreign cinema. I asked if he had any suggestions for where to start.”

He received the following note from Martin Scorsese in response:

scorsese_foreign-film-list_blank
Courtesy of www.colinlevy.com

If you are a film student or cinema buff this is a remarkable list of films to watch. So what are you waiting for…get to watching. Professor Scorsese’s orders!

Filmography:

 2016 Vinyl (TV Series)
 2014 The 50 Year Argument (Documentary)
 2011 Hugo
 2010 Public Speaking (Documentary)
 2010 Boardwalk Empire (TV Series)
 2010 A Letter to Elia (Documentary)
 2008 Shine a Light (Documentary)
 2007 The Key to Reserva (Short)
 2006 The Departed
 2005 No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (TV Series documentary)
 2004 The Aviator
 2004 Lady by the Sea: The Statue of Liberty (TV Movie documentary)
 2003 The Blues (TV Series documentary)
 2001 The Neighborhood (Short)
 2001 The Concert for New York City (TV Special documentary) (segment “The Neighborhood”)
 2001 My Voyage to Italy (Documentary)
 1997 Kundun
 1995 Casino
 1991 Cape Fear
 1991 The King of Ads (Documentary)
 1990 Made in Milan (Short documentary)
 1990 Goodfellas
 1989 New York Stories (segment “Life Lessons”)
 1987 Michael Jackson: Bad (Video short)
 1986 Amazing Stories (TV Series)
 1985 After Hours
 1980 Raging Bull
 1978 The Last Waltz (Documentary)
 1976 Taxi Driver
 1974 Italianamerican (Documentary)
 1973 Mean Streets
 1970 Street Scenes (Documentary)
 1968 The Big Shave (Short)
 1966 New York City… Melting Point (Documentary)
 1959 Vesuvius VI (Short)

Martin Scorsese’s Favorite Films

Here is Martin Scorsese’s Top Ten list of greatest films of all time:

Martin Scorsese Film School – A Personal Journey Through American Movies Pt1

Martin Scorsese is a master craftsman in the art of cinema with an encyclopedic knowledge of Movies. It is a pleasure to hear his views on early American cinema where his love of the silver screen was awakened and “colored his dreams”. I am sure he could talk about cinema from any country in the world just as intelligently and passionately.


Martin Scorsese Film School – Director’s Dilemma – A Personal Journey Through American Movies Pt2


Martin Scorsese Film School – Storyteller – A Personal Journey Through American Movies Pt3

“The American film maker has always been more interested in making fiction than revealing reality.” Martin Scorsese


Martin Scorsese Film School – The Western – A Personal Journey Through American Movies Pt4

For the rest of videos in A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies click here.


 


BONUS: TOP TEN Online Filmmaking Courses


If you liked Martin Scorsese MasterClass: His Secrets & Directing Techniques take a listen to:
Stanley Kubrick – Breaking Down the Master’s Directing Style

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IFH 321: How to Prove Your Doubters Wrong

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In this episode, we discuss proving your doubters wrong. Proving to yourself that if you have a dream and you have some hustle then damn it you can do it. Why are people so scared of your success? We get into it. Enjoy!

Alex Ferrari 1:37
In today's episode, guys, I want to ask you how many times someone has told you you can't do something? How many times has a family member, a friend, a co worker, a stranger? A teacher tell you, you're not going to achieve that dream? You're not going to amount to anything in this life? How many times has that happened to you in your life? Now before you answer the question, a better question to answer first is, how many times have you believed it? How many times have you let that thought? consume your mind your thoughts, your actions? And worst of all your mindset? Because I'll tell you something, I've been told many times that Oh god, you're gonna be in the film business. How can you make a living doing that? That sounds crazy. Or even people who are in the film business go, Wait a minute, you're freelance, oh, my God, you don't have a steady paycheck? Aren't you scared? Or were like, what are you going to do? I don't think you're going to be able to make it Oh, my God, all of this kind of crap. I've heard all my life by small minded, very fearful, very scared little people. When someone says that to you, they're just saying that about themselves. It has nothing to do with you. They're so afraid of you possibly succeeding that makes them look bad. That hurts their little egos. So that's why they say things like that to you guys. That's why they say things like that to me. You know, many people said, What are you going to do? Oh, I'm launching a podcast, I'm going to open up a blog. And I'm going to try to help filmmakers. And even today, when I tell people what I do, I can even see it in their face, because they just don't understand. There's it's like, how do you make a living? Like how do you? How do you do things? Like how can you do that? Like it's baffling to them? To see what I've been able to do in my own life in my own career. Oh, and the best is when you tell them, oh, I made a movie for three grand or I made a movie for five grand. And it's world premiering over at the Chinese Theater this weekend. And they're like what, and that goes into what we talked about before haterade, an episode 319. But we won't get into that we talked enough about haterade about hating on people being bitter and angry. But I wanted to address this because I feel that there's so many tribe members out there who've been told again and again, that they can't do it. That it's too tough. That you don't live in Hollywood, you live in Ohio or you live in Bali or you live in in Mumbai or you live in the Sudan and you just are not able to make a living as a filmmaker or as a screenwriter or as a creative Because all artists are broke, right? There are a whole a whole episode about on that. And if you want to listen to real artists, real filmmakers don't starve. That episode I'm going to put in the show notes. Because it's such a good episode about the myth about the artists who's always starving and you can't make a living and all that stuff. It's crap. It's absolute crap. So understand, when people degrade your dream, tell you you can't do it. Oh, it's either them, projecting their own failures on you, or their inability to believe past their own mindset that anyone else could do something. Do you think that Robert Rodriguez, when he made El Mariachi was telling a whole lot of people that he was going to make a an action feature film for $7,000 back in 1989 9090, that he had to sell his body to science to raise the money that he was a lab rat in order to save the get the money to make his movie? That's insanity, right? Do you think that a young 17 year old director who becomes basically a mercenary and starts ghost writing short films and selling them on blogs to raise money to make his short film? Is that is that possible? That's Jonathan Perry, by the way, Episode 313. If I'm not mistaken, that hid that's his story. People would have told all these people, you can't do that. That's insane. How many people told James Cameron when he was about to make Terminator that you can't make a sci fi action movie? on a on a what I think it was a four or $5 million budget back in 1982. He was basically trying to make a studio movie at that budget range, I think it was even less than that. A sci fi action movie no less. Or that he's gonna make a movie about a bunch of blue people with technology that no one's ever heard of how many people said he'll never be able to make anything happen? How many guys understand that every artist, every filmmaker, every screenwriter, every every creative out there has always had someone waving their finger at them, saying, You're not going to make it. You're not going to get their kid. Your dream is too big. You're just that you don't have that you don't have the goods. You know, and I'm here to tell you this. I want you to prove them wrong. I want you to work so hard. and educate yourself so much and hustle. like no one's ever hustled before, to prove them wrong. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players to ever play, the game was cut from his high school JV basketball team. Michael Jordan did. And what did he do? That was basically someone telling them, you're not gonna make a kid. So basically what they said, the coach said by not having him on the team, that you're not good enough to make it. So what did he do? He went all summer, and hustled and practice and trained and educated himself so much, that by the next year, when he came back, not only do they make the JV team, he made the senior varsity team. And the rest is they say is history. Everyone gets people saying you can't make it. It's only the ones that believe that that don't. Do you believe it? Do you believe that you're not capable of getting to where you want to be? Do you believe that your dreams are not achievable? Do you believe that you were put on this earth to have this yearning inside of you that will never be quenched? Seriously, do you believe that? Do you truly believe the universe is that? Do you truly believe that the universe is here to punish you and constantly berate you about this dream that you have? Well, if you do then you're right. But if you don't guess what, you're right as well. I don't believe the universe is out to get me. I believe the universe is here to help me. I believe that whatever I want to do in life will be achieved. Maybe not overnight. But one day if I keep Working hard and keep pushing and keep hustling, and keep educating myself. I will achieve whatever I want to achieve. Period. I always love that movie Rudy, which is a great movie about a student who wanted to be on the Notre Dame football team, the college football team. But he had no talent. He had no height, he had no strength, he had no size. He was not a football player. But his dream was to be on that field and play as an order Dame football player. And he did everything he was obsessed for years, to finally he got his shot, he worked so hard that he finally was able to get his opportunity. And he had two plays, just two plays, as in Notre Dame football player. And after his second play, the team carried him off the field. It's the only time in history that any player had been carried off the field. I want you to understand that dreams are wonderful. They're great. They're that fuel that is inside your soul that makes you get up in the morning and do things and move forward and, and have those that mission in life. I got to tell you, though, dreams do change. They shift they morph as you go on life. The dreams I had as a 19 year old or 20 year old film student. It's very different than the dreams I have now. As a almost 45 year old filmmaker. Are they similar? Yeah, I still want to make movies, I still want to make a living making movies. I still want to make the movies that are important to me that will help impact people's lives entertain people in one way, shape, or form. But they're very different than the dreams I started out with. Very, very, very different. So understand that. Things can change. Things can move around. other opportunities. Other things that you will discover along your path might make you happier. Other dreams might come in into your world, other things might want it like you might start off being wanting to be a screenwriter and you write and you write and you write and you write and all of a sudden you realize that I want to write a novel. And all of a sudden you discover that you love writing novels. And it's something you can do and all of a sudden doors are swinging open for you to be a novel writer. Where the screenwriting world the doors were closed, for some reason, at this point, and you go make off a novel and you write a novel and guess what that novel gets optioned in a studio to make a movie and guess what they're gonna call, they're gonna call you because you have a handle the screenwriting knowledge that I've been building up all these years, I want to write the screenplay of this. It happens, guys, but I want you from the bottom of my heart to prove all of those naysayers wrong. prove them all wrong. And the only way you're going to be able to do that is by work by hustle, the termination. educating yourself every single day, moving an inch forward every single day being willing to do things that others are not willing to do. That is what's going to make you succeed. I'll get I'll bring back Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan wins the one of his many championships. And guess what he's doing right after the championship? Once the stadium empties, and everyone's calm, and people are still partying, in the locker room, he's out on the court, practicing the shots that he missed. That's a true story, guys. He's doing things that others are willing to do. Are you willing to read two or three books a week? Are you willing to dedicate two hours three hours extra a day, to educating yourself on the filmmaking craft on the process on practicing filmmaking and practicing editing on learning a new skill that you could put in a toolbox a new tool to put in that toolbox? Are you willing to do it? Because that's what's going to help you prove them wrong. The power of you making your dream come true lives in your hands, not in anyone else's hands. I don't want to hear that. Oh, I'm not making I'm not getting the opportunities that I want. I'm not doing this. Make your own opportunities. That's what I did. I wasn't invited to the party, I wasn't invited to the big Hollywood party. I snuck in a couple times in the course of my career, but I wasn't invited. And you know what? I started to make my own party, I started to make my own path. It's not easy blazing your own path. But you know what, nobody else here has a lot less competition over here. It's great. And I'm happy. And I want that for you guys. So prove them wrong. So anytime you're feeling a little low, listen to this podcast. Hopefully it will light a fire in your butt to move forward and prove them wrong. Hope this episode helps you guys out. I really wanted to bring a little bit of positivity, and not just beat you up like I've been doing with all these tough love episodes, I wanted to give you an episode that really can help really set that fire in your belly, a flame. I want to turn that spark into an inferno. Because I truly, truly want you guys to succeed in whatever you're trying to do. Again, I might have some books for you to listen to in the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/320 to help you along your journey. If you haven't already, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave a good review for the podcast. It truly truly helps us out a lot. And I have a couple things I'm working on in the indie film hustle lab. I'm cooking up some insane things for you. And you guys know when I say there's some stuff coming. You best believe that there's some stuff coming. So keep an eye out for that guys. And again, I hope that this episode really lit a fire in your stomach in your belly to prove them all wrong. And not to believe any of that crap. Because when you believe it, that's when it stops you when you don't believe in that kind of negative energy and that negative thoughts. That's when magic happens in your life. As always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. prove them wrong. And I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 313: Why You Are Failing Your Filmmaking Dream

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WARNING: Listening to this episode might shake up your life. 

Seriously, on today’s episode, I get RAW and REAL with the tribe. This is by far one of the most impactful episodes I’ve ever recorded. Truth bombs will be dropped. Hearts may be broken. The purpose of this episode is to force you to confront some real and raw truths about your filmmaking journey. My hope is to help you not turn your filmmaking dreams into filmmaking nightmares.

Watch this video for some inspiration before you listen to the episode.

These are questions that I have asked myself on multiple occasions. These questions have helped me refine and sharpen my filmmaking dream. I hope it does the same for you. Prepare yourself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. = )

Alex Ferrari 2:33
Now guys, today is going to be a rough episode for many of you. This episode is going to be a mega truth bomb for many of you. And I wanted to put this together because I've kind of been you know me, I've been analyzing I've been studying and kind of just going deeper and deeper and deeper, not only within myself, but also in many of the filmmakers I work with. And I see patterns and I wanted to kind of bring it up in this episode. So the first thing I'm noticing and I think everybody listening will understand is all filmmakers want to have success in their career. Whether that is making big budget studio films, or personal little indie films. We all want some sort of success in our film. We all want to be able to make a living doing what we love to do. We all want to have respect from the film industry from our peers. We all want to pick up that phone pitch an idea and get financing with complete creative control on that film or project you are pitching. Most filmmakers want fans who love their work. They want mega fans of their films. They want conventions to be created around their films. And the fans celebrate their films. Many filmmakers want that many filmmakers want to win Sundance Cannes, Toronto or even the ultimate filmmaking prize. And Oscar. filmmakers love that it's easy to love that it's easy to want that and to live in that. If you ask filmmakers or screenwriters, what they want out of their career, most of them will say something like I just said, but I hate to tell you, but that means nothing. The better question you need to ask yourself is, what pain Do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Knowing that answer will have a much greater impact on your life and career than you'll ever know. I know a lot of you are going Alex, what are you talking about? What pain Do you want in life? Let me explain. Every one wants to be a great filmmaker or a great screenwriter. But not everyone is willing to suffer through the 1000s of hours it takes to learn their craft. Not everybody wants to write 10 or 20 screenplays. Before they sell a produced the next one, not every filmmaker wants to hustle on us on a set as a PA and wake up at three o'clock in the morning, to get there before everybody else does to make coffee, to learn to, to pay their dues to learn from other people watching them on the set to watch other masters, you know, master their craft in front of you to learn from them. They don't want to go through those hours, they don't want to go through that pain that struggle. Not everyone wants to make 30 short films that no one will ever see that teach themselves the craft of filmmaking. This is exactly what Robert Rodriguez said before he did El Mariachi, not everybody wants to put in the time, gather some friends and actors to come together to make a film with little or no budget, and have to deal with egos and personality and production problems and then trying to get the movie shown to people in Film Festival submissions and rejections and then trying to find a distributor to get the money back that you that you pulled together some magical way to get that going. Not everybody wants to do that. filmmakers and screenwriters want to be successful, but many without taking any risk. Without the sacrifice, without putting in the time it takes to be a success in their field. All screen martyrs won a million dollar sale from one of their screenplays. But not many of them are willing to take the rejection after rejection from agents and the business and producers. All filmmakers want to make a living, doing what they love to do, but don't want to deal with learning how to raise money, or marketing or distributing their films, or how to build a base or any of that stuff. Happiness requires struggle. how good you are at handling those negative experiences will determine a lot. Our life is not determined by the good experiences we have. That's super easy. We all love good experiences. We all want positive experiences in our life. It's easy to deal with that. It's easy to get up there and get the award at that Film Festival. What's not easy is making that movie, going through all the negative experiences that you have to go through to get there. Our lives and careers are determined on how well we handle negative experiences. The rejections, the naysayers, your parents or spouse that don't believe in you, your friends that think you're crazy, that agent that will return your call that film that doesn't get into Sundance, it is your ability to handle those negative experiences that will take you to the positive ones. We all want to have an amazing body. But not many are willing to wake up early every day and hit the gym five to six times a week, change all their eating habits and make better choices in their lives. We all want that amazing body. We all want the six pack. Not everybody's willing to put in the work. We all want to be the rock. We all want to be making millions upon millions of dollars and have millions of fans adored and following you not saying all of us but many of us want something like that. But man did he put in the work man did he put in the hustle for decades for time and years. That is the difference between people who make their dreams come true. And those who just sit around fantasizing about their dreams. I don't know about you, but I could sit for hours dreaming, fantasizing about my filmmaking dreams about my screenwriting dreams about being up there and getting the award How many of you listening have made an Oscar speech into the mirror? I know Don't laugh. Don't laugh. I know a few of you have. Because we all have in one point or another. How many of you have fantasize about selling that million dollar script or getting that phone call getting that check and showing it to your wife or your husband? showing it to your family to go Hey, look, I did it. All those naysayers, all those? All that negative crap you threw at me here? shove it up your butt. I made it. How many of you fantasize about that? Well, that's easy. It's wonderful to be in that world, isn't it? It's wonderful to think about the amazing spouse that you'll get with, that's perfect for you. But you're not maybe not willing to do everything it takes to attract that perfect spouse into your life. What's hard, is getting up and doing something every day to get you closer to that dream, regardless of the outcome. Regardless, if you succeed, or if you fail, as long as you learn and move forward. That's all that matters. Are you willing to fail? Are you willing to take the risks needed to succeed in your career or in your life? Will you be that bitter filmmaker or sorry Ryder just making excuses why they never made it. Will you be those guys those filmmakers who blame everybody, everybody else for why they didn't make it? Why didn't he get that chance to make it? Or will you make the decision right now, to change, to change your habits, to make a commitment to learn something new every day. The faster you learn, the faster you earn. Say that again. The faster you learn, the faster you earn. You will earn more in your life, you will earn more in your career, the faster you're able to learn something, to put it in your toolbox to build new tools to grab new tools and put them in those toolboxes. Are you willing right now to get up early and work out? Are you willing to get into the best physical shape of your life to meditate every day? So you can be more centered and creative? The question is, what are you willing to do to make your dream come true? What pain Do you want in your life? What struggle Are you willing to endure to reach the mountaintop that you want to reach? getting good at dealing with negative experiences, is getting good with dealing with life, not just this business. But life. If you want to be a rock star, you can't just want to be up on the stage and getting all those fans and all those yells and cheers and applause. You got to want the hours of pain, learning the guitar, let's say the countless late nights of playing and dive bars, dealing with other people's egos, bandmates egos and attitudes and dealing with the never ending rejections of the music business. You got to want that you've got to be able to endure that. Because that's what's gonna get you to that stage. That's what's going to get you to the applause and to whatever other reasons you want to be up on that stage. If you find yourself wanting to be a screenwriter, or filmmaker, month after month, year after year, but nothing is happening, then maybe you actually don't want it. Maybe you just actually want the fantasy. Maybe you don't want what you want. Maybe you just enjoy wanting the dream. Living in that fantasy, that ever intoxicating fantasy. I promise you that this filmmaking dream, this screenwriting dream will not be pain free. It won't be all unicorns and rainbows. Wanting success is easy. We all want some sort of success in our lives. The question is, what pain Do you want in your life? What is the pain that you are willing to sustain? If you can answer that, then you are on the path to making your dream come true. Are you in love with the result of the dream? And that actually the process of getting there? Be honest with yourself? Because if you don't answer this question soon, and honestly, tomorrow, you will wake up and you will be 70 bitter, angry at the world for not giving you your dream. Don't be that person. If you're not in love with the process of screenwriting or filmmaking, then you will fail at it. You need to love the journey, not the destination. It's like having a dream of getting to the top of Mount Everest. But discovering that you really don't like the climb a whole hell of a lot. You want the reward, but not the struggle, not the process of getting there. This career, this life does not work that way. Your success is defined by what you're willing to struggle for. screenwriters who write and write and have 20 to 30 screenplays in their desk drawer finished are the ones who get an agent who make that sale. filmmakers who direct short after short, or micro budget film after micro budget film and learn along the way, are the ones who build a career. The ones who embrace the craziness and uncertainty of the film business are the ones who make it. Our struggles, determine our successes. Choose your struggles, choose the pain you want to endure wisely. I've been enduring pain for 20 odd years in this business and sometimes buckled me to my knees to the point where I couldn't get up that I might have left the business for a little bit. But at the end, I kept going. Just like rocky says, if I may quote the famous Rocky Balboa, it's about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward. That is what life is. That is what this business is. We are all writing a book of our lives. Each day, each experience and decision is another entry in that book. When your last chapter is written, what will it say about your decisions, your dreams, and your life? I hope that lit a fire under your butts today, guys, I think this is a good episode to listen to. And listen to often, it will hopefully fire you up, it will hopefully guide you and give you that motivation to keep moving forward day in, day out. I want you to make me a promise that you're going to ask these questions to yourself, and be honest with yourself. Because I've seen so many filmmakers waste their lives. Because they didn't answer the question. What pain Do you want in your life? What struggle Are you willing to endure to get to your dream? What risks what calculated risks are you willing to take to get to your dream? What uncertainty Are you willing to put up with? To make it in this business? You have to answer these questions, honestly. Because if you don't, like I said before, you're gonna wake up tomorrow, and you're going to be 70 bitter and angry at everyone. Don't be that guy. Don't be that girl. All right. Thank you for listening. I hope this episode is of service to you and also promised me something else. If you liked this episode, please share it with somebody you know who needs to hear it. I need to get this out there. I want this to help as many filmmakers, screenwriters or anybody in this world that I can help. So if you know somebody who needs to hear this truth, then please share this episode, share the YouTube video, share the link, which is indiefilmhustle.com/313. Share it to anybody in our new book, everybody that you know that needs it. I appreciate you guys. I appreciate everything you do for me on a daily basis. I appreciate all the emails and messages and goodwill that you send me. And I hope I'm returning that to you guys with the work that I'm doing on a daily basis. Thank you guys again. So so so much. And as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 280: Misadventures in Micro-Budget Filmmaking with James Morosini

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Today’s guest is actor/writer/director James Morosini. His film Threesomething is a micro-budget film that he jumped off a cliff to make. With this being his first feature film as a director he definitely had some misadventures. In this interview, we go into the details of his journey making and distributing his film. We also discuss how he made a clip from the film go viral on YouTube.

Zoe, Charlie, and Isaac spend a night flirting with the idea of a threesome… until it finally happens and all hell breaks loose. While two fall deeply in love, two test their sexual limits. They each discover fantasies they never thought they had and try things they never thought they would. This sexy comedy will make you squirm with its hilarious awkwardness and challenge your ideas of sex, love, and friendship.

Below James wrote an amazing article detailing his misadventures so when you are do listen to the interview the article is required reading.

Enjoy my conversation with James Morosini.

Alex Ferrari 1:47
Today on the show, we have Writer Director James Morosini. And he directed a micro budget film called three something and it's pretty interesting his story and how he made this micro budget film and, and truly his misadventures making it because he had really never directed a feature film prior to this movie. Now he is an actor, and he's been in many films and TV shows like American Horror Story and lethal weapon. But this is kind of his first journey into making a micro budget feature film. And he truly did have some misadventures in it. And it was a pretty fascinating story. He wrote an article on the blog many, many months ago when it came out, if not a year or so ago, when it first came out. But we finally got our schedules to match and have him on the show to tell us all of these crazy stories of how he made it, how he got it out there, and so on. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with James Morosini. I like to welcome to the show James Morosini man, thank you so much for being on the show, brother.

James Morosini 2:52
Yeah, man. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 2:54
Yeah, man, we we, we connected a while ago and very before you started making you move while you were making it a try to put it all together and talk a little bit about your making of and stuff like that. So I'm glad to see it actually Finally, was finished.

James Morosini 3:10
I know man, me too. I it's been quite the journey. Yeah, I think we're talking about when I was still kind of shooting it and, or editing it. And I was You and I were talking about kind of like, the best way for me to go about, you know, on the next steps of like, you know, the whole festival experience. And the best way to think about that.

Alex Ferrari 3:32
Well, before we get into it, so how did you first get into the business because you have a unique story how you've got to this point as a director. Oh, yeah, dude. Um, okay. I mean, I guess I might do my uncle was Christopher Reeve, the actor. I'm sorry, Your uncle is Christopher Reeves. Yeah, it was even Superman.

James Morosini 3:56
Yeah, yeah, it is pretty awesome. I know. So I grew up with it kind of in my family, but I didn't really do much but I would like mess around with the video camera and stuff when I was younger. And then and like, make stupid little videos, but I didn't really do any plays or anything in high school. I'm, I'm for context I'm, I make a living. I am an actor. And then I and then I write director I'm not acting. So So yeah, and I, you know, I did a my first play was right after high school, I done a bunch of like little film projects in high school. How I did this play with it at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. And then from there, I went to USC, and studied theater for a couple years and then started kind of studying independently, and then really dove into learning about film and stuff and making my own projects and then And then afterwards, I did a pilot with Comedy Central and then that just kind of snowballed into other projects and other opportunities.

Alex Ferrari 5:11
Cool, man, I mean, you've been acting I mean, your IMDb is fairly impressive. So, as an actor, you you are working actor. I'm a working actor anymore. You're a unicorn. a unicorn. Exactly, no. I mean, it's, it's funny for you to say like, you know, I act as my full time job. And I just direct on the side. It's, it's weird for you even to hear those words. Because so many people are killed dying just to be able to make a living as an actor.

James Morosini 5:40
Yeah, man. I mean, I, you know, I am also dying to make a living sometimes. And then, and then it works. And it's like, great for a few months, you know?

Alex Ferrari 5:49
Yeah, it's up and down

James Morosini 5:50
Back to like, not working and just kind of living off the money you've made. Yeah, that's

Alex Ferrari 5:55
And hopefully those residual checks come in.

James Morosini 5:57
Yeah. And they're there. They're like, you know, it's like finding like water in the desert sometimes. Oh, fuck, you're in this. They're definitely, definitely happy to get them when they go.

Alex Ferrari 6:09
So you decided to jump in and make a kind of micro budget, independent film? And you kind of learned along the way if I'm not mistaken.

James Morosini 6:19
Yeah, I mean, I had made a bunch of shorts before. And I, I've always since I was younger, you know, I've, I've pretty much been watching a movie a day, for for a really long time. And so I've always been kind of obsessed about making a full length film. And I've made all these like, little shorts and taught myself kind of how to how to do it, you know, just by watching like, videos on YouTube and stuff and asking a billion questions. And so yeah, man to make the feature, I just kind of I, I the idea that was so scary to me. Because it seemed like such a different thing. In terms of like, you know, like, how do you make that much content? And so, yeah, I felt like I was kind of, like, my attitude through the whole thing was like, I'm okay. I just want to finish this film. And I'm gonna try to have faith that as we go, we'll be able to kind of figure out the things we don't know. And, and, and I think we're, I think we're really successful in doing that. Because it's like, you know, we shot, you know, we had, like a scriptment knows that.

Alex Ferrari 7:34
I'm very well aware of those.

James Morosini 7:36
Yeah. But we Yeah, we had, like, you know, some scenes were totally written, some were kind of more vague and outline, and then we were also able to kind of like, we shot chronologically, so we're able to, like, adapt that to how things were going.

Alex Ferrari 7:51
That's, it's, it's, I mean, as an actor, I know. A lot of actors love to have the the security of the of the script, the security of the words. And it scares the hell out of a lot of actors having this improv, like, free wielding, vibe on set, how did you feel about it working with the actors?

James Morosini 8:12
Sure. I mean, I think it was such a small production among friends that we all there was kind of the energy in the room that like, we're only going to use this stuff that works. So there was, there was really a lot of room to fail and be bad. And I've found that and I found that room to be bad is the only thing that allows really room to be very good. Because if you're playing it safe, it just kind of ends up being pretty middle of the road. Yeah, so we, you know, it would shoot a ton. And then we use like slivers of footage, where things really popped and connected. And it was usually the moments where people were kind of caught off guard or like, you know, where were things weren't going as planned?

Alex Ferrari 8:59
Where was raw and natural,

James Morosini 9:01
It's raw and there's, you know, authentic? uncertainty and yeah, we'll figure things out.

Alex Ferrari 9:08
So the name, so the name of the movie is called three something. Three, something Yeah. Can you give the two minute pitch? Or what two second pitch?

James Morosini 9:16
Yeah, sure. It's about a group of friends that try to have a threesome, and the reality falls short, or it turns out differently than their fantasy. And that's kind of what the movie explores, is the difference between fantasy and reality. And it also explores kind of explores, like people trying to live up to images, you know, the guys in the movie are really trying to be to experience their masculinity and do this threesome and it turns out it you know, they're actually way more sensitive than they'd like to admit. You know, and ever, everybody's kind of like falling on their faces. It's kind of about people like, in their 20s and cute 20 somethings. No, it's it's, you hear that pitch a lot. That's why I make that joke. But But yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's about kind of fantasy and reality and how that plays into things like love, sex and friendship.

Alex Ferrari 10:29
And what is what was the budget of some of you on me asking?

James Morosini 10:32
Um, I don't want to say it on here. Under a million? Definitely under a million? Yes. Okay, how long did it take you to shoot. So we shot, we basically did it in a few different legs of shooting, we did like 11 days of production. And then I edited a rough cut, showed it to a bunch of people basically got tons and tons of feedback. And then, and then we did like, a few other legs of like, pick up three or four day bursts to, like, fill out the film and to kind of like, you know, some of the stuff we threw away, and then added to and, and, yeah, I mean that our intent around the whole thing was realizing like, because we didn't have a ton of money, the thing we could do really well was to be nimble, and to like, and to, to, you know, go about doing things in, in a less rigid way, where like, we were really trying to just get stuff that felt really, really raw and honest. Because I think that's, that's, that's one thing, when you're doing something with a lot with less money that you have on your side is the ability to do that.

Alex Ferrari 11:42
Now, how did your acting experience help you in directing the film?

James Morosini 11:47
Yeah, I mean, I think my, my bullshit meter for myself is is fairly high. So like, I I'm really aware when I'm, when I'm not being truthful, in my own acting, or if I'm like, pushing or manufactured, or, I'm just not, if I'm, if my acting is kind of like, if it feels, it feels fake, it really bumps me and it's like, I can't, it's, I know when I'm phoning it in, or when I'm, or when I'm not, and I'm really connected to something. And so I think I have a heightened sensitivity around that with other actors as well. And I, I kind of just tried to talk to other actors, how I am talking to myself in my head. And and I think, I think as an actor, you know, actor directors have the thing on their side where they can they kind of can use vocabulary and, and express nuance in a way that they would to themselves. There's they kind of understand like this, this other way into communicating that there's really subtle things.

Alex Ferrari 12:55
Now you're the style of the film, when you were shooting it, it was a very kind of Joe Swanberg Mark duplass style, kind of running gun.

James Morosini 13:03
Um, yeah, I mean, yeah, it was like a mix of, you know, things being super structured and specific. And then a mix of times, we're like, Alright, let's just kind of like, let the camera run and and figure it out as we go. And then, you know, we turn it off. Talk about what was working, and then we've refined stuff and then and then, you know, shoot it again. And, yeah, it was like, it was like, it was like a, it was kind of like an iterative refining process. So like it, we wasn't like, we went into it, we're like, here's exactly what we need. The whole thing was kind of exploration, you know, and, and we refined it as we went.

Alex Ferrari 13:51
You're kind of doing the rewriting process while you're on set, like Yeah, exactly. Just kind of just kind of chiseling away at things, trying things experimenting. And apparently sounds like you had the luxury of time. Yeah, sure. It's such a low budget,

James Morosini 14:04
Also the luxury of enthusiasm. I mean, we were all like we really really want to make this film and we were all not paying ourselves so like the only reason we were there was to make something really cool that I that that's an experience that is is really amazing because it's rare yeah cuz nobody because then nobody's there wondering when they can you know go home people are just like let's you know we're here to make something and to connect in a real way and you know, when there's that energy on set I feel like it it it really adds to the to the peace

Alex Ferrari 14:43
Oh, there's no question about it I from firsthand experience, when you have that kind of energy on set where everybody's they're all going towards the same goal all no one's giving you attitude, no egos are involved. We're just trying to make the best work possible. It is a wonderful experience.

James Morosini 15:00
Because it kind of leaves room for people to go like, I don't know, or like to not need an answer right now. And there's kind of flexibility in that, that can be really nice and, and can can find, like, unexpected things and kind of follow your whim in a way that you're not really able to when you're like, you know, really trying to make your days and write

Alex Ferrari 15:23
It because every minutes costing you 1000s of dollars.

James Morosini 15:26
Yeah, exactly. When there's when there's a little bit more room like it. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what that gives you, but definitely something of value.

Alex Ferrari 15:36
I think it's I mean, from speaking from someone who did to have these kinds of features, it's it's the wonderful world of being completely free. Yeah, yet being terrified because you literally have just a sliver of something to hold on to.

James Morosini 15:53
Right. Yeah. Yeah, no, that terror is definitely it feels ever present.

Alex Ferrari 15:59
Like, but it's a good kind of terror. It is, you know,

James Morosini 16:04
I mean, it's it's the terror of like, feeling embarrassed. Really, like you're Yeah. Cuz you're like, you just really don't want to screw the pitch. Yeah, I think they're really afraid to look stupid. I think that's like a really a driving force for everybody's like, people want to, people want to appear to others, like they really have their shit together. And and it's scary when you're at a place it not knowing because you're like, should I need to know the answer now? Or it needs to be good. And, and? Yeah, I kind of found it. Like, it was like, we were constantly going between, like, wanting there be space to play and find it. And then we would go to be like, Okay, well, we need something right now. Like, let's, you know, what's the best thing we've got? And you know, and just roll with it. Yeah, man. And then it's like, you know, you'd, you'd get what you got that day. And then you cut it down to kind of like the exactly what it needs to be and how it fits into the already existing footage. And then from that, it's it's like, you're kind of like, I guess it, I guess it's kind of like, You're, you're building a puzzle. And then you're like, Oh, we need a piece of this. And then you're going out and getting that piece but it but it's almost like starting with a partial puzzle

Alex Ferrari 17:28
Your writing with, you basically have a rough draft, and you're going out and writing the story with the camera and the actors.

James Morosini 17:35
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then you're keeping expenses as low as possible, so that you have that luxury to do that. And there's something about, okay, we're on, we're on set, everybody's here, we have to make something, there's something about that pressure that can sometimes lead to like it like because then there's not all the steps between the moment of inspiration, when you're like, Oh, I have a great idea, I'm going to put it in a script form, then I'm gonna send it to producers, then I'm gonna attach a cast, then we're gonna plan a day to shoot it. By the time you get to actually making it that moment of inspiration was like, you know, it could it could be like a year or two or even more ago, where it's like, it's not really that inspiring anymore. Or it might not be, you know, but if you're like, Great, let's just, let's go do it. Like, you're going to find something that inspires you on the day, and that thing is going to you're going to be able to experience that, from watching it.

Alex Ferrari 18:32
Now, what is the biggest mistake you made while making the film? Wow. It's hard to say, Man, I mean, the whole thing. I mean, like, the whole thing was a mistake the whole day. I'm not.

James Morosini 18:42
Yeah, it was my first feature in the whole my whole mentality around it was like, I want to fail as much as I want to be as ambitious as I can around this. And then I also want to fall on my face as much as I can to understand to learn from falling on my face, right? And then also realizing that no matter how bad a certain scene turns out, we can always cut it and then learn from what didn't work and reshoot it. So, so nothing, you know, even though you're shooting it, it's not if it doesn't cost a lot to make, and there's, you know, few enough people involved where they're kind of down to that ride. Nothing's that final, you know, so you can you can, you have again, you have the room to fail, in terms of like, I'm trying to think of like a big mistake. Oh, no, man.

Alex Ferrari 19:40
Well, let me let me rephrase the question. If you can go back and tell yourself something before you started shooting, what would it be?

James Morosini 19:46
Yeah. Um, I think I mean, honestly, you just be like to try to enjoy it more.

Alex Ferrari 20:00
That's a really you know what, that's really good because when you're in that intense pressure cooker, you don't enjoy the ride. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

James Morosini 20:19
No, and I didn't I mean, I look from like the time I thought of the idea to like now it being released on all the platforms, it dude it like, a lot of it was was less fun than it could have been had I been had I want it, you know, a little bit more loosely. But it was like, you knows so much of it is is motivated by like, You're, you're afraid and you just want to get it made. And and so you're just you're kind of in a panic state a lot of the time. And I just wish I could go back and be like, Dude, it's not that serious. Just relax, relax, you're going to make it it actually, it doesn't matter if at the end of the day, it actually doesn't matter. Like, you're, you're just just just chill out.

Alex Ferrari 21:15
I think if you learned that lesson, the entire process was worth it. Because it's such a valuable lesson to learn. And I've had many years to learn it.

James Morosini 21:24
Totally man. And I think it's one you have to learn over and over and over. No, I it. Yeah, it's like just the future is a scary thing. But it but right now isn't necessarily so if you can just be where you are in the process right now and dive in there, then you'll be fine. You know,

Alex Ferrari 21:44
Now you so you finish the movie, you edited it. And and now what is a marketing plan? What was your ideas of how to get it out into the world?

James Morosini 21:52
Yeah, we use a lot of social media ads and, and, you know, we had relationships with a lot of different blogs and, you know, things like this. And, and, and also, you know, the film, you know, going to cinequest was was really useful.

Alex Ferrari 22:12
They're they're wonderful. They're Yes. Where I premiered. It was great.

James Morosini 22:15
Yeah, man, they're really awesome. And oh, and you know, we released a little chunk of our film online. We released one of the scenes, and somehow it went viral. That's like, eight and a half million views now.

Alex Ferrari 22:31
Yeah. And when you say somehow it went viral. I mean, look at the title. Act like you didn't know what you were doing. Okay?

James Morosini 22:43
I guess threesome scene.

Alex Ferrari 22:45
Threesome scene, generally is gonna get a kick.

James Morosini 22:49
If you search threesome on YouTube, it's it's one of the first videos that comes up.

Alex Ferrari 22:55
I mean, to be fair, though, I guess. Yeah, that was and to be fair, it was a threesome scene, not the threesome

James Morosini 23:02
Scene that they were looking for. I know people people back you can look at the analytics on it. And people tend to stop watching when they realize that it's not the kind of threesome scene they were looking at.

Alex Ferrari 23:13
Aren't any three some scenes like that on YouTube? They don't allow it.

James Morosini 23:16
I know. I don't know why people are going on YouTube to look for porn. It doesn't really make sense. There's there's a porn, like very few clicks away. Like it's not like you have to like, have to go hunting for it on YouTube. Like, there's plenty of porn that you can go watch.

Alex Ferrari 23:34
Well, I mean, it was a strategic plan that you did that. And I saw that I was like, look what these guys did. That's great. Fine, you know, they they use the viral thing to the UPS degree. Yeah. And it's like 8 million plus, and you're still probably getting 10s of 1000s of views and then on a daily basis.

James Morosini 23:51
I guess I feel bad that I'm now I don't really feel bad. But there's a part of me that I guess feels a little guilty that there's all these disappointed masturbators out there that are

Alex Ferrari 24:01
One of them is your question. Did you actually make any money off of that on YouTube? Did you actually monetize it or no,

James Morosini 24:07
No, no, we didn't we use it was it was still so early on in the process that we still had our temp music in there. So we just like put it out with one of the songs. It was really like, the reason I go like it somehow went viral is because I literally just uploaded a small part of the rough cut onto YouTube. And I didn't push it at all it just found somehow. But yeah, it's it's the, you know, I've done so many shorts where like, we released the short and then we're sending it to everybody we know and we're doing this we're doing that this we really just like uploaded and it somehow, you know, to the partner one day we just started climbing like 50,000 views a day and we were like, Dude Did someone you know samurai, the dude that I wrote and produced and acted in it with he and I will Dude, did you pay for these views? Like, just be honest, be honest, he paid for the views because there's a lot. And I, I kind of didn't believe him and still until it started hitting like a million and stuff

Alex Ferrari 25:12
Because it's costing cost too much money.

James Morosini 25:14
Like, there's no way he spent like $1,000 to get a million views like that. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 25:21
That's Yeah, cuz and that's something that anyone listening don't do that don't buy views. It's just not I had a guy I had a guy a filmmaker, that I worked on their film and this guy was just an egomaniac. And he he put his trailer up. And he'd like paid for like two or 3 million views on that trailer. And that was what he led with every single time he spoke about the movie. Look, our trailer got two or 3 million views. There's so many people wants to watch it. You've got to buy it and no one bought it. It's just a waste of time.

James Morosini 25:53
Yeah, I don't think people really care doesn't really move the needle in terms of people's enthusiasm. They're like, Oh, cool, X amount of millions of views, like, people just want to see a good movie. Right? And so the trailer sucks, and you have 50 million views like it does. I'm not gonna want to see the movie if the trailer sucks, or if the you know, or if the teaser doesn't look interesting.

Alex Ferrari 26:16
Right? Right. Right. Right. No Question. Now, what was the what kind of distribution plan did you have for the film?

James Morosini 26:22
I mean, we didn't really have a plan going into it. Our plan was to, you know, our last resort was going to be to self distribute, go through stripper, or potentially put it on VHS, where it's like, you know, you pay each time you want to watch it. So yeah, I mean, that was, that was like worst case scenario, which wouldn't have been that bad. But, uh, I went, but then we just we went to Sundance this past year to support a friend's film. And I met one of these guys that works at gravitas. And we we started talking about Burning Man, and Vipassana meditation. And then I mentioned that I had made a film and he's like, oh, cool, man, send it to me. And I was like, Alright, whatever. And I sent it over. And then we got a call a couple weeks later being like, Hey, we want to make you an offer on your film. And so yeah, it's funny that it can be that simple is like awkwardly standing around a Sundance party and meeting a random person. And to sell your film.

Alex Ferrari 27:32
That is, what Sam's lens is for. Totally, in many ways you the contacts you can make at Sundance. It's just I mean, you're from LA. I'm from LA. So you know, I'm from Boston. I mean, you live in LA. Oh, yeah, I'm from I'm from the East Coast as well. But no, but we both live in LA. So we, the businesses around us, but it's so spread out, and we can't there's, there's people you can never in a million years get access to. But within Sundance in that four or five block radius, everyone, there's 50,000 people that are in the business. Yeah. Amazing. I love I love going to Sundance, it's so fun. It is it is a unique experience in the world, there is no other place like it, ever, you know, that time of year is very, very special. Now, would you make another movie in the same kind of way, the same kind of style, budget and so forth.

James Morosini 28:21
You know, it wouldn't be my first go to I guess I'm interested in exploring how to put a movie together more traditionally, with kind of the same spirit as we made this film, but I do want to challenge myself to make another kind of movie. You know, that that is kind of like, I don't know, I want the steak. Even though I want to go into it and have fun, it's up. I really like feeling. I like the feeling of butterflies as I'm making a goal. I like the feeling of like it feeling like you're performing a high wire act. Yes. The whole thing like that, that adrenaline is is an intensity is something that I think really can bring a lot of people together and, and creates kind of this, this, this feeling that you're on this like mission with these people and that that's kind of why I love making movies and acting and stuff is because you're kind of like I don't know, you're trying to do this, this weird difficult thing with with people. So no, I don't know. I mean, we made a movie, right after three something in a similar way. We we I don't think we were as we didn't have that feeling around it. We were like, yeah, we can do this. It's fine. Like we'll just throw it together. And it didn't have the same magical quality that threesome did so we just we ended up changing the form of it now it's it's it's a little it's a it's a short series. But I'm still glad we made it because it's like we wouldn't have made that short little series have we just been like, yeah, let's just wait Till somebody gives us multiple millions to make our next film. No, I the next film I want to make is it's kind of a personal story. Based on my experience growing up in Boston, I was like 14 or 15 obsessed with mafia movies. And I sold pot to make friends and got caught. And so the movie The movie is about, it kind of has the sensibility of like an eighth grade or like a ladybird. It's kind of like awkward teenage years, but it's structured like a Goodfellas or something where this kid desperately wants to be a gangster. But he's so clearly not.

Alex Ferrari 30:42
So Napoleon diamond dynamite meets, Goodfellas Got it?

James Morosini 30:45
Exactly. The The, the the feeling that I don't know, I just I love those movies growing up. And so that that's the film I'm putting together now. It's called acne.

Alex Ferrari 30:56
Nice, very cool, man. So I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?

James Morosini 31:07
Yeah, so I think I think the advice I would have given myself as I was, as I was trying to break into business was just, it would just be to be as bold as you possibly can. Don't worry about just take, take shots, just just have ideas of things you can do to, to move forward and just do those things. Just learn through failure, don't, don't be afraid of falling on your face. And then also just try to do something, try to do something kind of scary every day. Whether that be reaching out to someone you really respect or writing down a conversation you had or you would like to have. And then kind of like changing one of the elements to make it more fantastical or cinematic. For example, I just had my my girlfriend, I got this cat. And then we had to return the cat. And it was this whole debacle that kind of reflected like, the nature of our relationship and stuff. And I wrote a short but I changed the cat to a monkey. And so it's like, now I gotta love the song making that person but but anyway

Alex Ferrari 32:18
You're gonna get a monkey, you're actually gonna get a monkey

James Morosini 32:20
I try to get a monkey. Yeah, I don't know, the idea. One of the main things that appeals to me about the idea is like, how am I going to get a monkey? And how am I going to American director Becky? Yeah, how am I going to direct the monkey

Alex Ferrari 32:36
I The advice I could give you as a director who's worked with animals? Just make sure the budgets really low. But yes, it's gonna take you a while.

James Morosini 32:49
I'm pretty excited to figure it out. But But yeah, so the advice I would give is just to fail as frequently as you can. to not try not to care what other people think about you. And then to just to just to try to like, try to figure out what makes you weird or insecure and then make things about about that.

Alex Ferrari 33:11
Very cool. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact in your life or career?

James Morosini 33:16
Yeah, I think I think there's a few Elian Czanne's book called my life, it's a life. That book is unbelievable. And I really connected to it because it's about an actor that wanted to say more than than just acting and kind of had this like, feeling of unrest in them. And so we started directing and it's extremely candid and, and really awesome. And then another book. I don't know I'm reading. I'm reading the book Cassavetes on Cassavetes right now.

Alex Ferrari 33:52
He has a good book. That's it.

James Morosini 33:53
I love it, man. Yeah, it's it's really inspiring.

Alex Ferrari 33:56
Anybody who wants to make movies like the style of your movie or the cell that I made in my films. You got to watch Cassavetes, you've got to study Cassavetes because he was the godfather of that kind of stuff.

James Morosini 34:08
Yeah, true man

Alex Ferrari 34:10
Without question. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn within the film industry or in life?

James Morosini 34:18
What is it honey attracts more flies than vinegar?

Alex Ferrari 34:23
Very true.

James Morosini 34:24
It's just like, if you're upset, just like try to deal with it on your own and try not to just don't be a dick.

Alex Ferrari 34:30
There's the best advice you can give anyone just don't get

James Morosini 34:33
Like feel sometimes like yelling or getting upset with other people can feel like it's going to be productive. But it actually never works. It just like the only thing that person then ends up experiencing is is their feelings being hurt. They're not really they stop listening to what you're trying to even communicate. And then you also just then all of a sudden feel guilty and you can't even think about the thing you're trying to communicate. You just feel bad for you. Not being kind. Yeah, I think that that's one that's like you have to regularly remind yourself is like, Hey, be nice. Everyone's here for 80 years if they're lucky, and then they die. So just fucking, like everybody's really a lot more fragile than they seem. And, and everybody's just kind of doing the best they can. So try to be try to be good to other people because that's,

Alex Ferrari 35:25
Now we're three of your favorite films of all time?

James Morosini 35:27
Wow. Okay. I think one that I recently saw is going to make the list movie called Toni Erdmann.

Alex Ferrari 35:42
Just just got two more they just come to mind.

James Morosini 35:44
Okay, okay. I really like das boat.

Alex Ferrari 35:48
Oh, that's boot. That's boots. Yeah, yeah, movie.

James Morosini 35:52
And I love and I love I mean, I've seen been red lines so many times. I think it's kind of structurally all over the place. But there's something just like, so ambitious around it. And like, so, so raw and like, kind of random that I that I really love.

Alex Ferrari 36:12
Yeah, it's well, that's Malik. Yeah, it's Malik. I'm actually we're actually doing the director series that I have on YouTube, which is basically diving in and breaking down and dissecting that movie right now, actually. Which is such a great way all this stuff is is such an insane journey to watch stuff. Yeah. Now, where can people find you?

James Morosini 36:35
They can go to my website, JamesMorosini.com. And they can see a bunch of stuff I've directed and other stuff. They can just hit me up from there. And, and yeah, my movies available on Amazon, iTunes, all of the streaming and on demand platforms. It's called three, something that's three spelled out, not the letter. And yet, check it out. And if you dig it, let me know.

Alex Ferrari 37:00
Very cool, man. I put all those links in the show notes.

James Morosini 37:04
I'm on Instagram and Twitter.

Alex Ferrari 37:06
Very cool. I'll put all those links in the show notes. And James thanks again for being on the show and sharing your experience brother.

James Morosini 37:12
This was so fun. Thanks, man.

Alex Ferrari 37:15
Thank you, James for coming on and dropping some experience knowledge bombs on the tribe today. And, and sharing sharing your adventures or misadventures in making your micro budget feature film. So thanks again, so much. If you want links to the movie, or anything we talked about in the episode, please head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/280. And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my us. listeners out there members of the tribe, Happy Thanksgiving, you guys are probably all stuffed right now listening to this, or it's a day after two days after. And you're still stuffed. Because that's that's what we do. So happy. I have a great weekend, guys have a great long weekend. And don't forget, we are having that Black Friday sale for IFH.TV. If you sign up for IFH.TV, you get a coupon for a free month that you could give to anybody, filmmaker, friends, families, colleagues, whoever you want, and I made a nice beautiful little e card, they will get sent to you. So you could just forward it along with a code. And that could take advantage of IFH.TV so that's going to run until Cyber Monday. So of course just go to indiefilmhustle.tv or IFHTV.com have a good turkey day guys. And as always keep that also going keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 240: How to Work the Film & Television Markets with Heather Hale

Today’s guest is Heather Hale, author of How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators. Heather Hale is a film and television director, screenwriter and producer with over 50 hours of credits. She is currently under contract to direct an indie romantic comedy.

She directed, produced and co-wrote the million-dollar feature Absolute Killers (2011) which was marketed by distributors at Le Marche du Film and the American Film Market. She wrote the $5.5 million dollars Lifetime Original Movie The Courage to Love (2000) which starred Vanessa Williams, Stacy Keach, Gil Bellows and Diahann Carroll.

Heather’s new book How to Work the Film & TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators was just published this summer by Focal Press/Routledge while her Story$elling: How to Develop, Market and Pitch Film & TV Projects will be published in 2018 by Michael Weise Productions.

For over two decades, Heather has served as an international keynote speaker, teacher, moderator, panelist and custom workshop facilitator for film and TV markets, festivals, writers workshops, colleges and universities and Chambers of Commerce around the globe, including creative adventure weeklong retreats such as StoryTellers on WalkAbout.

Enjoy my conversation with Heather Hale.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:34
I'd like to welcome to the show. Heather Hale, thank you so much for being on the show, Heather.

Heather Hale 2:50
It's my honor. Thanks for having me, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 2:52
So before we get into it, I really want to know how did you get into this crazy business?

Heather Hale 2:58
Oh, gosh, people always ask your breaking story. And you probably know, well is anyone we all have like five times do we have to break back in and you know, you can never rest on your laurels. And so I don't even know which one you know

Alex Ferrari 3:12
The first one. Let's just start with the very beginning.

Heather Hale 3:14
I don't even know what the first one is. I will say the who knows. But what most people look at as my break in was the courage to love which was a lifetime original movie. And the speed version to that was my aunt passed away. So this is a top total Hollywood Story. So with, you know, dog groomers and hairdressers. My aunt passed away she and my parents became executives of her trust and that we became we had to handle a townhouse in Pasadena. And foolishly I didn't grab it because you know, I wanted to live in LA not Pasadena. And selfishly, I'm such an idiot. I such

Alex Ferrari 3:56
I would have taken that bran

Heather Hale 3:58
I'm an idiot. I appreciate that now gorgeous garden jacuzzi. Like, I'm an idiot. Okay, we've established I'm an idiot. So anyway, that we became executives or trust, and my parents couldn't afford to debt service that and their own mortgage and all that. So we had to rent it out and we had to rent it out ASAP. And so we're literally like, packing up the garage of a woman who never moved in 40 some odd years, while we're grieving while we're dealing with the wake and all of that, while there's a moving truck with the other people moving in like it was that crazy. So as I'm moving banker's boxes out, and the new renters are moving banker's boxes in. They one of the wife says, hey, I've got a great idea for it. That would make a terrific movie. I understand you're a screenwriter. And how many times have we all heard that like every Hey, I have an idea. You do all the work. And you use all your relationships and resources and we'll split the profits and probably I'll sue you for stealing it. Like it's just never out. But I sat her down and I said, Okay, like, I don't want to do this, but let's do it. Because I'm an idiot. We've established Yes. And we literally sat there with a plate of brownies and ice tea, and I handed her a legal pad of paper and a pen. And I said, Let's write a deal memo. And I want it in your handwriting. So we can't say you didn't know what this was. And we wrote out this deal memo. And I was really careful. She claimed that her son was Vanessa Williams music producer. And how many times have we heard people say, I couldn't get it to so and so I can do this. Yeah, so I had her put, you know, my name is XYZ, Heather is XYZ. My son is Vanessa Williams music producer, and she put his name in there. And I will get this script to this. Vanessa Williams, like, that's that that piece was what made me do it. And so then I told her, I would mentor her and help her and support her and she wanted to write it. And I was just going to help her as a friend from the sidelines. And so over the next three months, I read and read on the research junkie, you know, most writers are voracious readers. So I knew everything about New Orleans in the 1830s. And this woman is amazing. The first African American nun ordained by the Catholic Church is really powerful story. And over the three months, she wrote back and faxed me This tells you how All right, me. That's me, like five pages describing a room. And that's as much as she had done in three months. And she begged me, Heather, can you please write this? And I said, Okay. And so I wrote this outline. And we got the outline to Vanessa Williams. She kept her word, she was good to her word. And then Vanessa Williams got it to Emily. Gosh, Gershon, at the William Morris at the time. And Emily called me we had sent her a five page outline, which bear in mind was really well researched, it was historically accurate adaptation was a powerful story. And we sent it to her and my associate, in her zeal and enthusiasm. I don't want to say lied, but eagerly told her wait till you read the script. It's fantastic. course, there was no script, of course, right. It's just an outline, just a five page treatment of what the beat outline was really well written in prose, really, really engaging of what we were going to do. Sure. And so I get a call from Emily Gerson Sainz, who says, I understand the script. No, I didn't get a call. I was told. Emily wants to see the script. She and Vanessa are going to be at the Cannes Film Festival in 10 days. So could you send it to him?

Alex Ferrari 7:55
Sure.

Heather Hale 7:56
And there, it was a god moment. And I literally picked up the phone before I had time to think and quit my job. Wow. And I told my boyfriend, I'm not leaving this computer. Until I have that script. Done. Like, this is my break. It was scary as all get out. And I called Emily, which was very terrifying. Like one of the first people I've ever called, was like the head of William Morris, who's waiting for a script that's not written from me. And I gently said, so how firm The date is that deadline? She goes, she goes, Oh, bless her heart. bless her heart. Oh, honey, it's not from not for me at all. I I love the project, the NASA loves the project. And Vanessa and I are going to be in Cannes at the same time, loving the project. So I'm not sure when that will occur again, when the two of us will be together interested in your project. At that moment, we will be and so I went, Okay, thanks. I got the phone. And then I realized I didn't have 10 days I had nine because I had FedEx it. So I literally wrote and wrote and wrote and then I would hit print fall asleep. My boyfriend would read I had girlfriends, people writers group. So I would like email them the 12 pages I'd written I would email them the 17 pages I'd written I, I would sleep and then I would wake up and I get back at it. And I would put in people's notes, fix all the typos keep cranking so I had literally copied the treatment, threw it into final draft first script I'd ever written and just went for it. And it got set up. And it was a five and a half million dollar feature on lifetime and 2000 and then you know, I had to break it all over again. But let's call that my break.

Alex Ferrari 9:51
That's that was the most passive aggressive way of saying the deadline is the deadline. Right? But but good for her because It was true no and you know what and you know what? Yeah but that description that for people listening that that description of how she she spoke to you eautiful is exactly how people in LA talk in those positions, though then general everyday No. Generally never say no. They're generally never like they are there are the you know the art golds of the world. There are but but a lot of them will do this kind of passive aggressive. Yeah. And it's, it's honestly an art form.

Heather Hale 10:34
It's an art. It's like on my vision board to be unflappable. And if you ever if you've listened to Shonda Rhimes, his latest book, I listen to it on audio tape, I love to listen to like Tina Fey and Amy Schumer all their books, Andy kailyn on when they narrate on their audio books. But so listening to Shonda Rhimes, which was awesome. I, you know, she coined the word badassery. She said, you know, they say it's not a word unless it's in the dictionary. But in my Microsoft Word, I right clicked and added it to my dictionary, so it's a word. So I have like, unflappable, badassery on my vision board. That's my goal is to be able to not cuss and swear not raise my voice, not lose my temper, but say so eloquently. And maybe it's passive aggressive, but it is an art form exactly what you mean and still be smiling and look like you're being courteous in such a team player when you're really laying down the bottom line.

Alex Ferrari 11:30
And that is an art form. And this Yeah, without question. So So let's talk about markets, film markets, television markets, that's one of your expertise is, which it all started there, right? Because I had to get it to cat you have to get the cat. Exactly. So can you explain to the audience what the difference is between film festivals and film markets?

Heather Hale 11:51
Sure. I think that's actually one of the least understood and even people who have been in the business forever. Because you'll have people say, it's funny. I never know whether it's can or con because I get corrected no matter how I said someone's gonna correct me. So they'll say they're going to Cannes. But are they going to the festival of the market because the festival in the market are on opposite sides of the cross that you know this promenade, and they're going on at the exact same time. And people can fly around the world and realize that they have credentials, they've paid two or $3,000 in here and there at the festival when they meant to be at the market and everybody they want or or worse I mean at least that you can probably Jerry rig but what if you're in the wrong city at the wrong week, you go to the Berlin you know, the main event to go to the European film market. And you ended up at Berlinale at you know and or you're at the different the TV markets and you're in the wrong week. Everybody you paid 3000 or 5000 to go see is not even there. Yeah, so I think it's really important. So so so real clearly like festivals, we were talking about Sundance before we went live fest. If you think of show business, you can think of the festivals as the show and markets as the business of the entertainment industry. great analogy because festivals are open to the public. Usually, they're all about audience enjoyment. They're all about the craft, they celebrate the love of the art. It can be about a specific genre, or locale and it's all about community. So film fans and TV lovers from the public can come and enjoy premieres fun parties, they can vote, you know, especially for audience awards. But these competitions are curated by taste making gatekeepers and they award prizes based on their judgement of quality. And the audience response and critical reviews is what everybody's looking for. And that's what can launch these surprise breakout hits are dashed the hopes of what everyone thought was gonna be a winner. And as you know, there are no prizes at markets.

Alex Ferrari 14:06
The only prize is a check.

Heather Hale 14:08
There's no prizes, right and the press are often blocked from the screenings because they don't want spoilers leaked. So markets are the entertainment industries trade shows and like everything else in show business, they tend to be more glamorous, faster paced and more intimidating than any other business sector. And so these markets getting on the market floor is typically restricted to accredited industry professionals. So you have to have bought a badge you have to be a player to get on that floor. And then those products or content, the film and television things you might have seen shown at film festivals or television festivals are what is bought and sold business to business and then turned around and parlayed to the to the wider public. So there is this symbiotic relief shipped between the two circuits. So it's possible that a film that does fantastic at Sundance gets picked up by a distributor and is then sold internationally, like a cute little Little Miss Sunshine is bought at Sundance, and then they turn around and sell it to Europe, that European film market. So and then the same, the same thing can be in reverse. Maybe a product does really well at a market. And they choose to use the film festival platform as their promotional marketing to create some audience awareness and create buzz. So

Alex Ferrari 15:36
It's at Sundance every year,

Heather Hale 15:38
Every year, Toronto, Midnight Madness, you name it. So one of the things I think that helps put things in perspective is the size and scope of the material presented. So if you look at like a typical Cannes Film Festival, there's like 21 films that are in competition officially. And then right across the promenade is Lamar Shea to film, which is the Cannes Film market. And there's 3030 500 films at the market. So that shows you the size and scope because what's being sold at the market are shown or screen or viewed, is literally the entire year's inventory, and a backlog of the year before and what. So it's a good year to three years worth of assets that are competing in this incredible, incredible den of noise, to try to make a blip on the radar for anyone to notice you like it the one of the most humbling experiences ever, is to walk on a market floor with your little one sheet. Right? And think My poor baby. And I will tell you, it kicks you in the teeth and says, Is your logline strong enough is your pitch like you're competing with George Clooney on the market floor looking for money, right? Like that's there. I mean, you don't normally run into them, but they are they're raising money. And so your materials have to be so not just slick and professional. But the concepts and the execution has to be so viscerally grabbing, that someone's willing to risk money on them. And so it really does make you take a step back and check yourself that nobody cares about your hopes and dreams and aspirations. They care about are you bringing them something they can make money off of?

Alex Ferrari 17:31
Can you talk a little bit? What can you name a few of the big markets that people should look out for?

Heather Hale 17:36
Well, of course the can the Lamar shaida film is the Cannes market. The European film market is probably the second largest now the American Film market is the third. And then and then there's there's a ton of others. There's the Hong Kong film art, there's the Asian film mark, there's TIFF, com, then titanosaurs, the Latin American one, but another thing that's kind of bubbled up, which I think is really fascinating and helpful for independent filmmakers, is you have the film markets over here and you have the film or the of the film and TV markets over here. And you have film and TV festivals. Oh, and for the just real quickly for TV markets. You have Nat p, which is the National Association television program executives, you have real screen you have kids screen again, the Hong Kong film art is both you have the MIPS we call them the MIPS sweet, so there's mipi mc doc MC formats. And then you have like Nat p in Europe, there's just a ton, Bogota has one. And but in between, you know, you've seen I'm sure that the independent film arena that was such at the golden era in the 1970s people are talking about the Renaissance that we're seeing, and the golden era of television that we're seeing, which is really kind of the shift of independent filmmaking going to television because we have this convergence of film and TV, where the what we call over the top television, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, these, you know which are almost telcos right there, they're almost ISP fees that are offering this is all the issues of net neutrality, but that that is an opportunity for them to create these they create content and deliver content. So in the middle, where the independent filmmaker can often get lost because the studios are doing the huge blockbusters and the networks are doing their channels. What's bubbling up is this co production market scene. And that's where things like cinema in Rotterdam and the Berlin Berlin all a co co pro market, which is over like while the European film market is going on. And while the Berlinale Film Festival is going on, they kind of seamlessly overlap with the Berlinale co production market, which is where independent producers can find financing where they can find production partners where they can find distributors were willing to see projects that are works in progress. And so here's another difference between film festivals and markets. People will tell you, like, you know, as a screenwriter, never send your script out until it's just kick ass as good as it could possibly be. Right? That's it. Okay. So with films, they tell you never to submit to a festival until it's perfect, right? Because it's being judged. So a lot of people miss perceive that and come over to the market space and say, Oh, I can't show it to them. I can't do this because it's a market. Well, they're accustomed to seeing things with holes, and placeholders. And we're going to do the special effects on this. And, you know, they've even done studies where people had missing scenes or animation, they didn't even know that the animation wasn't there, because they were so caught up emotionally in the moment. So a market there, they're happy to see a talent reel for a possible reality show host or a character that we're going to build a world around in their mail you, they're accustomed to seeing, like, let's say you're shooting an independent film, and you're not going to be ready by the market. But your opening sequence is awesome. You just show that as your sizzle reel or trailer or just some selected scenes, and at the market that professionals use to scene products in every stage of development. So that's yet another difference that people you know, will come with the wrong misperceptions that limit their opportunities.

Alex Ferrari 21:39
Now, who should attend markets in general? As far as filmmakers are concerned? Like, should it be at what level of of the process should they go?

Heather Hale 21:48
Well, I think it depends on what your goals are and what your product is. So you will see on the net p floor or you know, MIPCOM IP TV, on the TV markets, people who are not in the industry at all, who might have a sizzle reel on themselves often, or an idea or concept. And they're trying to sell a game show they're trying to sell a reality show they're trying to sell some nonfiction thing like Adam ruins everything, you know, some sort of an edutainment type product. And even if they all they have is a one sheet that's a good one sheet and a good concept. They can literally you know, buy a badge and go pitch almost door to door You know, they're going sweet to sweet. That's another thing. You know this, but maybe your listeners don't. You look at something like the AFM at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. They literally move every bed out of every room. And every suite becomes a sales office. So some market floors have booths like a trade show, where you know, you go from booth to booth to booth on a market floor nappy has these towers where you go up to the suites, and again, they've moved the beds out. So you walk in, and there's the table and chairs, and there could even be cubbies set up with offices for receptionist and all that, actually at the Loews hotel. I was one of two people sleeping there, during the AFM, which was you talk about the shining light, step out into an empty hotel, and you're the I'm not even like there's no room service. There's nobody there. Just closed down. It's It's surreal. So that's, I think. So anyway, to answer your question, Who goes, so if you're a director, you want to go over to festivals, because that's where they're celebrating you. At the markets, it's largely producers. So you might be a writer, producer, director, producer. So if you're wearing a producer hat, and you're trying to raise money, or you're trying to initiate distribution interest, that's a really good place to be another way a lot of producers can use markets that they may not be aware of, is not on the first few days. But on the last couple of days, you can go in with your really great one sheet or sizzle reel. And when the distributors are have gone through the bulk of their meetings, because remember, they've paid 30,000, probably to be there. So you show up selling them and they've paid a ton of money to sell. You're in their way. You're in their way. But the last few days, they are thinking about the next market and they're trying to build relationships as well. And the cocktail parties are all great opportunities for this. But let's say you come in and you've got your indie film project, you got a million dollar project and you have a hit list of 10 stars that you think are really good. It's really a good idea to take that simple bulleted list. don't bore them just go in. Here's my one sheet. Here's my logline. These are the 10 stars I'm thinking of, and you might be blown away where they say this person's not marquee value. This person will never get distribution. I like this person, this person is really good. And someone on that list you might not be aware, is really huge in the breath block or the mint, the new MIT, you know, might be something that you weren't aware was a company, a person who would really attract the Chinese market, you know, I'm always trying to think of the other markets. Or they may say, Oh, I like all of these eight mafioso, guys, these character actors, and they're all really good. Have you thought about x, y, z, and they adds names to your list. And that is priceless information. Because it and they may tell you look, if you get any one of these people off this list, come back to me, and we'll talk about a distribution. It may not be a distribution commitment, because you know, it's hard to say, Yes, I will distribute your film when it's an unknown commodity. Of course, it's not in the can. So that's, I mean, that's the thing is your your film is probably never worth more than when it's nothing yet.

Alex Ferrari 26:03
And to a certain extent, you're right,

Heather Hale 26:05
Right. Everyone can imagine in their mind's eye the very best it could possibly be.

Alex Ferrari 26:11
But a lot of times also do you do you agree that depending on the cast, yeah. If the cast is big enough, there will be commitments to distribute then in there purely because they know if you can afford Nicolas Cage? Yes, you're the project is going to be at at least a somewhat of a benchmark that I know I could sell, because you're not gonna hire Nicolas Cage and do a $20,000 movie.

Heather Hale 26:37
Right? Well, I will. Yes, I agree. But I will say that there's two parts to that. One part is that if you get Nicolas Cage, like I got Vanessa Williams true. It's not you getting the money. It's probably Nicolas Cage, or Nicolas Cage is contacts, resources, referrals. So one of the things I suggest people do is make their hitlist for who they want as their stars for lead actors, and look and see who's got a production company and go get to the production company of the star you want. And let them be partners with you because now they're that much more financially incentivized to come on board and be a real partner. And then that's when the ball starts rolling. You know, my dad always used to say that the most precious asset in Hollywood is momentum. its momentum, you know, and its traction getting people to have it's, it's making your enthusiasm contagious, so that you can get some traction so that you can create some momentum momentum because you can work for 10 years on a project and blow dust off of it. And if you get the right people to shine their light, man, things happen fast, you know, that's the overnight success. So I think that is a huge part of it. And then the other part I will say, is, a lot of times people make their hit list and they're hit the hit list reveals a lot about you. If you have Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep on your hitless. They exactly they may be very polite because they're so polite, but they're laughing at your neophyte ism, right, because it's so delusional. But if you come in with some really amazing actors from say, Breaking Bad, or you know what I mean? Like, some animals obtainable? Yeah, if you mentioned their name at your family holiday. No one else at the table who's not in the business will know who you're talking about? Or maybe you show them their picture and they go oh, yeah, yeah, I know that guy. But the difference is with a distributor, they know that the caliber like David Morris, if you remember, if you know who he is, he was in the Green Mile. He's a fantasy or Freddie Highmore. You know, right now in the in the good doctor, and he was in Bates Motel. So Freddie Highmore at a holiday function. The average person not in the business, Michael, I don't know who that is. Well, do you watch the good doctor? Oh, yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 28:59
I do. Okay, that's about Rob's rush,

Heather Hale 29:03
Obvious rush. He deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award already. I love him. But what I would say is that when you come to a distributor with someone like that, they may not be, you know, cinema marquee value that he can open a movie by himself, of course. But what that tells the distributor is the caliber of acting is going to attract other very strong actors. It's going to attract good directors, it's going to attract people who are going to that's going to raise the bar of their, of their work. So that so if you came with a feat, it's like, in the old days, you needed your Sylvester Stallone or Van Damme to sell DVDs in Asia. Sure, right. But it's changing. It's changing a lot. So now the mass, you know of YouTube competition. It's quality that rises up So having a good concept well written, well executed with really good stars. I think our star culture while it's still hugely important, you look at any advertisement, it's all about celebrity. But it's changing because of the fragmentation of the dial and what the Internet has done to revolutionize our business.

Alex Ferrari 30:18
So you mean Steven Seagal versus mike tyson is gonna have problems? Not if they're fighting. That was the that was the most AF me. AFM movie. This year.

Heather Hale 30:31
You remember when it was a couple Emmys ago where they put all the YouTube stars on the red carpet? No, I didn't. Okay, this was a couple of years ago. And they took all these YouTube stars with millions of followers. And they thought, oh, we're gonna tap into their site, guys. And what you realize is asking questions on a red carpet is a skill set that Ryan Seacrest and the people who have earned the right to eat, they're like, they didn't know who they were talking to. They were disrespectful. And they thought that their 15 minutes of fame was going to carry them on red carpet. And people forget, this is a business. Right? And so I think it's fine to stop cast, maybe one YouTube slab. And if you are a YouTube celeb, then then cool, that's you. But make sure you populate that cast with rock solid actors around you. Because everyone in the business can see through a fame run.

Alex Ferrari 31:27
And it's getting it's getting like before, it was all about how many followers you have. And I have to a certain extent, a lot of casting decisions now are made on social media. If the if there's two actors of equal caliber, equal credits,

Heather Hale 31:44
That's assuming they're equal caliber and equal credit. Exactly. It's not usually that case,

Alex Ferrari 31:49
Usually not, but if you assume that they're, you know, at the same playing field, yeah, I'm gonna go with the one that has the bigger social follow.

Heather Hale 31:55
Absolutely. But they also have ways of assessing your digital footprint. Like I have a widget in mind when I look on Twitter. I know how many of your followers are fake? I mean, you bought?

Alex Ferrari 32:11
That's before?

Heather Hale 32:13
Yeah. And a huge thing is your engagement. Like are you perceived to be authentic in your engagement with a legit tribe? Right, you know, we have our our mutual friend, Richard bato, the are bound stage 32, his crowdsourcing for filmmakers book is all about that, like it's being authentic to a community. So I think it's really important that people, like it's really important to have a social media following and a social media presence and be authentic. But it's like anything else that, you know, it's the quality of how you do it, you can't just buy a million followers and slap up promotional stuff. Because first of all, those million followers probably aren't even real and don't care. So they're not going to leave in droves. But the real people are, if all you ever do is throw up, you know, JPEGs of your book that you're selling,

Alex Ferrari 33:01
Right! A perfect example I always use is there's this filmmaker that I was working with on a project years ago, and they spent I'm gonna say they spent like about four or $5,000 buying views. Yep. of their trailer. Yeah. And nothing and we all know it. Right. So but they thought the like the end, I think they got I think it got up to about a million and a half 2 million views that they spent money. It all spent. Yeah, nothing organic, no interaction, no anything. But they were touting that to distributors. Like, look, we've gotten 2 million hits on our trailer, give us money for our movie. There's an audience out there for it. Yeah. And that might have worked in 1995. Exactly. But not today. And people can definitely tell when it's, look, it's not hard to find out if you're if they're fake or not. You just have to look at the engagement. And even the engagement they're trying to fake now. And it's still so difficult to fake real engagement.

Heather Hale 34:00
Yeah, I know someone a very high profile author, producer, TV person. So I am and they've passed away and they were very beloved. So I won't throw them under the bus because that would be disrespectful. Sure. But they hired friends of mine to go online into the chat rooms and take on this was way back in the day. So it is not new. You said chat. Yeah. Yeah, take on personas. So they would have three, four or five different personas each and get into debates and arguments with themselves, right like and be trolls and jerks and you know, so that other people would jump in and then they'd get out of that chat room and go start somewhere else. So that Pete that there was buzz and engagement. But I think that, you know, first of all, people are really savvy to that now. And then the flip side of that is too bad because the person who really busts their tail to get a million or 2 million followers legitimately and then goes to Bandy that about the marketplace. Now everybody's pretty jaded, and even if you earned them and spent 15 years creating that following that, like, yeah, yeah, but that that comes back to the quality of the content and the material.

Alex Ferrari 35:08
You know, and also and also, and I know we're going on a tangent with social media, but it's important in regards to what we're doing is also the the proof is in the pudding, you know, like, yeah, you know, I'll tell you right really quickly, if you're real or not purely buy a bike, do a post, yeah, do a post and we'll see how many retweets they get, or how many reactions they get, and see how much traffic I can generate off of it. If it's something that's adding too much. I'll tell you in a second, like, Here you go, boom. And, you know, so when people find people who are actually real and authentic, they gravitate to respect.

Heather Hale 35:42
Absolutely. I'll tell you something beyond the social media is also your assets, your marketing assets. So I help people create pitch packages, sizzle reels, practice their pitch and all that. And I've been a judge at you know, nappies player, TV player contest bondage for a bunch of things. Yeah, forever. So one of them at one market. And again, I don't want to, you know, hurt anyone's reputation. I just share the spirit of the story. This gal came in and she was competing. And she, the first round ever, there were three rounds. And the first round was to pitch verbally. And so this girl came in and pitched her heart out on I think it was a mafia comedy, like a sitcom. She was so hysterical. We were like wiping tears, though. I think there were eight or 12. I don't know, several judges, I don't remember how many judges about eight, let's say. But we were laughing, literally slapping our needs wiping away tears cracking up, she had us eating out of her hand and we loved her. We loved her project. We loved everything about her. So then she made it to the second round. And in the second round, she brought in her sizzle reel. And in her sizzle, she had spent $250,000. No. And she had I don't know if it was friends or I don't know who these actors were. But in this sizzle. The production value was awful. The timing was awful. The acting was awful. The costumes were awful. And 250 100%. And that is not the only time I've seen that I've seen people do better with zero budget than 250. I've seen lots of bad how

Alex Ferrari 37:28
I'm just figuring out how do you spend a quarter of a million dollars on a sizzle reel? Like how do you do it happens all Oh my god.

Heather Hale 37:37
So because companies want to get paid. And they I think prey on delusions. So. So what happened was and I'm proud of myself, I'm not bragging but just it's hard to find people who will tell the truth in Hollywood and I do always get in trouble all the time. So I will say I'm here at it when it helps. So she was gonna get knocked out. And I spoke up in the, in the voting round with her in the room and said, I got to tell you, I said I'm going to point out the elephant in the room because everybody was giving her feedback on the sizzle reel. Yeah. And I said to her to enter the fellow judges, I said, Look, that sizzle reel, unfortunately, you have wasted $250,000, you know, on her face had she's almost in tears. You shouldn't be she was almost in tears because everybody was ripping the sizzle reel to shreds, and she was going to get knocked out of the contest. And she had spent all this money. And I said Look, I said I'm gonna vote to put you through on the caveat that you pitch verbally, again, because you had us, you had us imagining your vision, and this sizzle reel is going to kill you. So you need to never show it. Anyone again ever. I don't care how much it cost. I don't care how much lead tears went into it. It's going to shoot you in the foot. It's an albatross to your project. Let it go consider it a mistake. And and and she everybody changed their votes. And we put her through and she pitched verbally. And she did that she didn't win. But she was like number two or number three. And she was really grateful. And I mean, it's heartbreaking to tell someone that but it's true.

Alex Ferrari 39:19
You got to you've got to tell the truth. And it's not even up for debate. It was just like, Look, this was horrendous. Yeah, you're hurting yourself by

Heather Hale 39:28
To acknowledge how fantastic she did without even a piece of paper. That that shows the integrity of the idea, her passion, her personality, her ownership and authenticity with that material. As the writer she had earned the right to stand up and bolus over and it was so well executed on the page. It is not her fault that the collaborators didn't rise to the occasion and she can find other collaborators because she owns the intellectual property. It's her baby.

Alex Ferrari 39:58
Absolutely, absolutely. So How How should someone with a digital series approach to television market in today's world? Because now, as you said, everything's going towards television? What How should someone should they do a pilot? Should they just come in with the idea? Should they do have a full series produced? What do you What's your suggestion?

Heather Hale 40:19
Well, I think all of those you know, it's like Hollywood How do you break into Hollywood? Well, let's give you the 2000 ways we all know friends who've done it, you know it there's no right or wrong. I will say there probably some quicker avenues than others and then the minute you say this is the way you do it, then there's some breakout Blair Witch success that you know, it's this stuff that happens the angry orange, I don't know if you're familiar with that. I mean, I, there's a ton of examples of stuff. But one way they do watch just as we were talking about earlier, within social engagement, there are people who put up Twitter accounts that are in the voice or the point of view of one of their characters and then voice and that's, I think, how eight things about my daughter eight roles about my daughter got done was started off a Twitter feed, you know, it was that such a unique, authentic voice. So coming up with ways to select I think was angry orange was a little two minute thing that was an orange, literally an orange. marquee face drawn on it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 41:18
He's. He's done very well.

Heather Hale 41:21
Yeah. So they were like 32nd two minute things, but they were so freakin funny. They went viral. And you know, I forget who it was. pretty famous gal. I should remember her name. But she said viral is not a business plan.

Alex Ferrari 41:35
Like Sundance is not a distribution plan. Sundance is not a distribution.

Heather Hale 41:39
That's like saying, I'm going to buy a lottery ticket. Yes. Somebody, somebody who buys a ticket will win. But your odds, like that's not the business plan. Go ahead, throw the penny in the crib.

Alex Ferrari 41:52
I'm quitting my job today. Because my next year, I'm covered because I'm going to do the scratch off.

Heather Hale 41:57
Exactly. Yeah. So I mean, I pro pennies and fountains and I'm all about superstitious little rituals. Cool. Do it by your lottery tickets. I all the more power to you. But Call me if you went please sleep call that

Alex Ferrari 42:10
Five projects. Yeah.

Heather Hale 42:11
Yeah. So but some of the things they can do one, of course, if you're like, I judged the Marcee web Fest, several years back, and that was fascinating, because you know, Josh Gad, yeah, of course. Okay, Josh, Gad one. Oh, lover. Yeah, yeah, he's all off and Buting the beast, but he also had 1600 pen, if you remember that as a short lived series. So right before with Dharma, the girl who played Dharma and Dharma and Greg, right before that. He was submitted into the Marseille web fest. And it was me and I think the Warner Brothers digital VP, bunch of really cool people. So we were, you know, sequestered in a room for 12 hours watching nothing but websites went to a web series, one after another. And there were people who had fantastic business plans, and ancillary marketing and Merchandising, and it was so well like sales and marketing 101, like, or not even that PhDs and sales and marketing. But we weren't engaged by their content. So what difference did it make, right? And then you had people who had years of seasons and seasons, like hundreds of episodes. And then you had Josh Gad with like two little three minute sketches that were practically SNL. And again, we're in hysterics. So I think it comes down to the quality. So if you have, let's say you have a web series that's won some awards, don't expect someone to watch eight episodes of it, grab the, you know, 30 seconds or two minutes of the very, very, very best footage. And don't feel like it needs to be five minutes or seven minutes or any of that. If it's if you have a really good two minutes, that's the beginning, middle and end. And there's a little bit of weak stuff, when in doubt, cut it out, cut it out, cut it out, if it is not very, very, very best cream of the crop. You know, they say Shakespeare threw away 95% of his stuff. I don't know how anyone knows that. But you know, I believe it as a writer,

Alex Ferrari 44:07
I'm sure and I would love to be in that trashcan.

Heather Hale 44:10
Exactly. But that's what I'm saying. You got to throw away kill your babies, kill your darlings, and then only take the cream of the crop and then that tease, you know, you sell the sizzle, not the steak, you want to elicit their interest and intrigue them to want more. And you may not show them more. You may get into a room. They're really engaged. They have their different ideas and you go in their direction because he who has the gold wins. Don't feel like you owe it to the material to bring in your old crap that they might not what find what tickled them because it might be different, like what Spike TV is interested in is going to be quite different than what the sci fi channel is interested in.

Alex Ferrari 44:50
Sure. Exactly. And that's a problem for a lot of creators is that they spend so much time so much money creating something they want to show it all exactly. It's and you just like maybe pictures, right? It's your baby, you want to show baby pictures to everybody. I try not to do that. But But every once in a while, just for, you know, exactly. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. But at the end of the day, you've got to take off your Creator hat and put on your business hat, put on your marketing hat and go, Okay, what I got to look at this with clean eyes, and you can't have someone who can do it for you

Heather Hale 45:36
And ditto your YouTube channel, maybe you have a YouTube channel that's got all of that on there. But you have a branded YouTube channel that only has the best of the best that represents the show, which is, you know, you think of what you put on social media, especially what you're putting on that is projecting to the industry is your 24 seven shingle. Don't put crap out there. And if you do, like, hide it in a way that only friends and family can see it, but if you're gonna put it out there on your website, anywhere, you know, it's way better to have three great two minute clips, then something that's, you know, really, two hours of bad. No, that's what they say the greatest sin in Hollywood is to be boring.

Alex Ferrari 46:21
Yes. And there has been plenty of that going on at the movie theaters lately.

Heather Hale 46:25
Yeah. And on the market floors and at the festivals and co production markets. You know, I used to joke that, you know, the perfume of Hollywood is desperation.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
Oh, God, that's a great line. And it's so true. Yeah. And you and and because I used to wear that, that Oh, we've all worn it. We've all to desperation.

Heather Hale 46:45
Yeah. And the purse and the deodorant. Like it comes out. It's the Bo of Hollywood. It's desperation also.

Alex Ferrari 46:51
I mean, it is something that you can smell on someone. Yeah. So fast into the room into a ballroom you can smell and and I used to, I used to just just it would it would rain around me. I should spring out of me like, what's his name from Charlie Brown? The guy who's always dirty? Up rock? Yeah, he would just always walk. Yeah, it was around me all the time. Yeah, I would meet someone when I first got here, I would meet someone, you know, at another level, higher level or just a place that I could? And I'd be like, I hate doing it at the end, you would just go after them. Yeah. And they could just be like, Okay, he's that and that would be the end of it. No. And I happened to me a bunch of times till I finally, I don't know how I did it. But naturally, I just stopped it and became more giving and more of service to people I meet trying to be.

Heather Hale 47:42
And that I think is the is the to me, networking is the highest form of service. It's what do they need? How can I help them and you hope that by the time it pays forward 10 times somewhere it comes around back to you. Right? But you know, when you're trying to intentionally network, you know, one of the most prudent things is to ask them about them in their projects, because and that's the thing you have to be careful of with you is because when someone asks a writer about their project, oh, no. Right? We love our babies, we want to talk about them. That's all we want to talk about. So you really are it's kind of like being on a first blind date after a divorce. You don't really want to talk about your ex, right? So you want to listen and ask questions. And if the conversation comes back around to you be locked and loaded with a silver bullet. That's really quick and easy than kills.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
Right! But don't don't but don't walk up with that bullet in hand just yet. Don't shut it off.

Heather Hale 48:35
Z or the machine gun. Yeah, God on silver bullet.

Alex Ferrari 48:40
I it's, it's it's just so funny. And I meet and I was my next question was gonna be about networking. And I think we're on that topic now. But like, sometimes I'll be speaking and, you know, people will come up and they'll just, they're just kind of like, you can tell that they're they're just wanting to their I call them energy suckers, even successful people. Right? Yeah, just energy suckers. They just want to obsess Empire, vampires, they just want to start from you. And, you know, you as you get older and you've been in the business long enough, you'd become attuned to that. That frequency very quickly, or your hair goes on and as they come up as they approach you, yeah. Oh, desperation. There's the odor desperation. There's the O of BS. You know, I'm not trying to do anything, but I'm just trying to impress you because I've done this, this and this. I know this. I could definitely get your project that this person because I cut their hair.

Heather Hale 49:37
I'll tell you two quick little stories about that. I was I you know, I'm not a vain person. You know, we all get beat up so much. I guess you just don't have time or energy to be vain. You just working hard

Alex Ferrari 49:51
Not on this side of the camera, at least.

Heather Hale 49:53
Yeah, yeah. So I was at an event. It was a women's event and I was talking to a group of women and you know, I'm a I'm a first I'm a, I was a first time director, I think I've done two things now. But you know, I'm really still a rookie, I really am trying to break in as a director. So I was at this event and I have done I had directed a million dollar feature, which on the one hand, anyone in the business knows like soup to nuts. That is, that's like an ultra marathon series like that. It's a huge accomplishment, whether it made any money or not, it got in the can. And it got picked up by two distributors. It was at the AFM and right, huge, it was at Walmart Best Buy. Okay, so who cares if it's any good or made any money like that, just the fact that we got from point A to point z, and I did not die or kill anybody, right? So and it had meatloaf and Ed Asner and Eddie Furlong, so I'm at this event. And I'm feeling like simultaneously proud and scared, shitless and insecure and blah, blah, blah. And these girls are talking about all the stuff they've directed, and they're posing and dropping names and being all the all this. So I'm just sitting listening because I really need to network and I really need to learn a lot more. And I need to expand my horizons, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, I can our listening to them give all sorts of advice and tell me what I should do. It comes around that one of them his entire directing oeuvre was a PSA. And he had done a short film. So I sat there and not that I'm all bad. But I sat there respectfully listening to all and and then when they asked me what I had done, which like the event was almost over, and I was like, Oh, you know, just a million dollar feature with meatloaf. And yeah, and then I walked away because they like seriously put their lap late. Like I said to her, they they had done a free public service announcement for 30 seconds. And that was what they directed. Sure. The flipside of that I was going to say is when people are posing, you know, the, if you have to get a catcher's mitt out to catch the names that they drop, no, odds are, they're full of it. And if you call them out on it, well to have two stories. I had a guy who told me and I won't say who he is, because he's kind of a power player. But he told me he Ma, it'll be too obvious. He had directed a little movie called and then I won't put the movie in, but it was a huge movie. Sure. He had no he had he had line produced a little movie called insert huge movie here. Sure. And I was like, Oh my god, I better check my ego. And so I sucked it up and let him treat me like shit because he was a misogynist. He was awful. And then I optioned my material to him, which was a huge mistake. And then I googled because nowadays you can I am in the bathroom like now I've learned like, excuse me go to the bathroom, IMDb the shit out of their lies, right. But it turned out he had second unit line. Oh, no, he had told me he had produced it. But he had second unit line produced it. Which is he's basically Yeah, producers like finding the money soup to knotting it. And second unit line producing is someone who was hired to cut checks for a couple of days.

Alex Ferrari 52:58
Second, not even the main line producer the second

Heather Hale 53:00
Second unit line producer when he told me he produced it. But then the third I was gonna say because it goes the other way, too, is people who drive the flashy cars and have the gorgeous, can sometimes be so so encumbered and sold, leased and so fake about what they're projecting is their image, that they don't have the money to scrape together, change out of their depth for iced tea at a McDonald's, right? Yep. And sometimes you'll be with someone who's driving a beat up car, and they're not inexpensive shoes. And they do not offer to pick up the tab that's on somebody else's expense account. And they are the person who owns 21 homes free and clear and could actually find your film, but they're not trying to impress you, and they are cheap. And the reason they're rich is because they're cheap. And that doesn't mean they won't invest in your film. So I mean, it goes both ways.

Alex Ferrari 53:55
I do find and this is against only from years of experience, that the people who are the big loud mouth, the people who are the boasters Yes, there are those guys, you know, that are the Brett Ratner's of the world that are those kind of people, you know, and do actually know these people and actually have the money and stuff. And I threw bread out there because he deserves to be thrown out there. And I have no problem with that. But there but most of the times you're going to you know if you see the guy quiet in the room, and he's in the room, first of all, she's in the room. That means that they've done something to be in that room. Yeah. And generally speaking, they're not going to be the boasting guys and not going to be the ones dropping names. If you see Steven Soderbergh's car. He drives like a 2005 2008. Pre Buffett does too, by the way, right? Exactly. Because they're not trying to impress anyone. They're damaged. Yeah, they're very, they're rare in LA. They're in the business in general, you don't meet those people very often. They're rare on wall street there were Nashville's, ya know, they're everywhere, and they're very vague in every industry, but in our business, you know, you don't meet those people. So what I do actually meet people like our be Suzanne Lyons who's, you know, like you as well, people, you know, people who are actually doing what they're saying they're doing and are not boasting about, hey, I've got you know, 300,000 followers and you know I have this or I have that the proofs in the pudding. Yeah, like, Look, you just, you know, go and look, you know, look me up, I don't care, you know, look, or they'll say, look, you know, I want to talk about it.

Heather Hale 55:38
And that, quite frankly, is the value to your website and social media, you know, the more I feel like it, my website's not perfect, but I try really hard to have it projected good image. But I think that's good, because you can have a conversation, give them a business card, and then they can do their due diligence on you. And they can check you out after the fact they can check your bio, they can check your credits on IMDB. And so you can just be a human being involved and engaged in the conversation and not be trying to spit out your resume. So, you know, that is that's how I think you can be using your marketing and social media and those things to, to back you up with this 24 shingle that's out there all the time, but just be a human being when and be present in those conversations.

Alex Ferrari 56:24
Now, we've gone off off the rails a little bit in this interview, because we were talking more about markets. But this all works into the network. It all works out. But can you add, can you throw a few insider nuggets of things that we should look for at film markets, things that you like, I wish I would have known this doing a market before?

Heather Hale 56:44
Well, there's so much that I wrote a book on it. So like, that's before, that's actually the whole reason for the book was because you said you had gone to one of your first markets recently. Really kind of like blown away and overwhelmed. I think anyone in this business should just get on a market floor as fast as possible. Because you what you learn and how humbling it is, will really put things in perspective for the rest of your career. So whether you sell anything, Oh, go ahead,

Alex Ferrari 57:12
No, it's a product. That was the thing I said in my review of AFM like, it's so humbling, because they don't care about the craft. They don't care about the artistry they don't care about. It's a product. And yeah, and as soon as you understand that changes your perspective, a whole I don't care what your personal project, they don't care about it.

Heather Hale 57:30
Yeah. And they're not being mean either. They're just, it's not even callous. They're just so Matter of fact, and they can smile while they're just eviscerating you. painful. Leave a case you know, it's art to us but they don't care. They don't care.

Alex Ferrari 57:49
Obviously Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson not a lot of art in that movie.

Heather Hale 57:52
So So I will say that honestly, like I I'll tell you like how the book started. And then I'll tell you a couple secrets. I was at the American Film market in 2013. I booked all the speakers and I was helping focal press come up with their line, their franchise line, the AFM present. Sure. And so they had a focal press it said, you know, who do you think would make a good author for one of our books or in our series and who would be a good subject matter expert and is like, you know, you need to get RB to do something on crowdsourcing ad got him on a panel is like you've got to get no but nobody's talking about that. And I gave him all these names of people and I'd gotten another friend Anne Marie Guillen on the finance panel. I just really tried hard to get, you know, some new fresh voices that we needed to be hearing at the AFM. I was actually really proud because people told me later they opened up the full page spread, and I was Hollywood Reporter daily variety. And I had all the pictures for the all panelists. And people, at least a dozen people wrote me privately and said, I don't know how you did it. But it was 5050 female male, and it was every color of skin under the sun. That's because normally we don't see that. So I was really had like my own private agenda to try to really diversify what we saw, so that you weren't ghettoizing like putting all the women on one panel, because we don't know when you can avoid that panel, or all the people of color on one panel, and that's our diversity panel, but get one on every panel. That was my golf. Good. Anyway, um, so. So when I was helping her, I was giving her all these people that I think I got eight or a dozen friends book deals that year. She said, Well, if you come up with anything else, let us know. And I said, I can tell you right now what you're missing. And she said what? I go, you've got the American Film market presents and no one's ever written a book on how to work the markets. And her face just dropped like yeah, da it's like always the obvious that we miss. And so I said, I'll, I'll write it, you know, and I, of course, didn't feel like I was a guru. I just knew I could research and I reached out to at least 200 People I did interviews for a couple years for that book. So some of the things I learned at one at one AFM I was sitting there and I won't mention names of companies, I will tell you privately.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:11
Sure, no problem. I appreciate it.

Heather Hale 1:00:13
Anyway, I was sitting there with a girlfriend and we were going into meet someone I had interviewed, because that was another thing I did. I used it to network like crazy so that I could meet 200 people that were, you know, international sales agents and distributors and all that a financier, as an investor. So are sitting there to meet one of the people who I'd interviewed with. And we were on the other side of this cubby wall, because, you know, they sometimes have these temporary cubby walls and like there's four feet of empty room, you know, that it's the wall is not there. So on the other side was somebody pitching. And on the other side of another wall, were a couple people. So there was an established distributor, who was teaching a wet behind the ears, rookie distributor who was new to their company, of how to do what they needed to do. And I don't know how much you know about, like, I do my own budgets and schedules, and I can my views and stuff. So I don't know how much you know about this, but it hit us. But basically, when you do an independent film, you have to often do a SAG bond, right? Okay, so let's say you have a million dollar film and your budget for your actors is, let's say 200,000. So sag might make you put up 200,000, or 50,000. But you have to put up a bond, so that if for any reason you flake out and don't pay the payroll for that week, sag can dip into this bond, that it's a formula that they make you that they hold the whole time. So if you need a million dollars, you actually need 1.2 million, because you got to put this money up that sits there that you can't touch until you get it back. And so this distributor was explaining to the other distributor, the new distributor, how they could basically make a commission off you getting your sag bond refunded to you, if they use the wording for gross receipts into the account they were managing, okay. So in other words, they're supposed to be selling your film, and getting a commission from Turkey or China or you know, wherever they're selling it. And as those monies come in, they take 10% 20%, whatever their commission is off the Pasha. She was teaching him how to get the bond, the savings account, you raised blood, sweat and tears that you had sitting there to pay your actors, that when you got it back from sag, they could take 10 to 20% of it because it passed through their account.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
So let me let me clarify something you're telling me that there are unscrupulous distributors in the marketplace? Can you imagine this? Is this an exclusive?

Heather Hale 1:02:45
And they were training one another down the daisy chain? How to screw independent producers? So I know, shocking, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:53
I've never heard anything like that.

Heather Hale 1:02:56
Like you're gonna take a commission off my savings account that I barely scraped together to make this Phil Street. What is this? Oh, my God, and then they want us to sign a contract that says, Oh, yeah, yeah, you can handle my money. I trust you. Yes. Yeah. So those are the kinds of things So literally, during the course of writing this book, I will say, I am this probably not politically correct. But we've established I'm an idiot, yes. I probably will make very little money off this, you know, because the publisher makes 80%. You know, funders are bad. Okay, so I don't, people are like, oh, I'll buy your book. I'm like, thanks. Like, what am I like? Maybe I'll see two cents. 10 years from now? I don't know. So I was so frustrated writing this book, because all that I was learning and all of that. And then I didn't even want to do as two years of work for free. For what, right? But what kept me going was storytellers around the world, content creators, people who have a dream, people have a passion, people have a story that is so under their skin, that they're working for two or five or 10 years for free speculatively. And I thought I got to help them. I got to help them navigate these markets. I got to help them stop being screwed. I got to help them save money. And I will tell you, this is really inappropriate. And I love it. I really need to edit it. No, we won't. I was in the AFM series originally in the franchise. Sure. And I was part of that. And it was always going to be that and it was kicked out. Because of many of the things I said of how to save money and how to you know, okay, if you can't afford a badge, here's what you do.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
Well, Heather, Heather to A to A to A FM's Kravitz defense here. I'm sorry, but I get that.

Heather Hale 1:04:46
And I edited it all out. You know what I mean? just done, the damage was done. And so the truth is, you know, there's a lot in this book that the markets don't want you to know. And the other thing was by the end of it, I was like, okay, you Here's how you work around the markets. Here's how you take everything you've learned. Yeah, that work on a market floor. And here's how you DIY it. Here's how you do YouTube. Here's how you use social media. Here's how you sell not business to business, but business to consumer, because that is revolution that Amazon and who else there still in the middle, you literally could have your own website and sell your books and your movies and your TV if they're good enough directly to the crowd that you're creating. So I think it was too independent and too irreverent, too real. And I have a problem with that.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:34
No, look, I I gave away. I give away a lead generator for if you sign up to my email list, six, six tips to get into film festivals for free or cheap. Yeah, exactly. And I think I got into over 600 film festivals in the course of my career, and I paid for probably less than 5% or 10% of Yeah, yeah. But you know, sometimes I wrote the film film festivals the wrong way. I'm like, but guys, look, you know, it's awesome.

Heather Hale 1:06:03
It is. It's such a hard business. You know, people are like I would volunteer for variety. sommets I bought I volunteered for everything I couldn't afford to go to. You know, so I'm a little pee on peasant with a name badge, but I get to hear the studio execs telling it like it is to, you know, be a fly on the wall to the $5,000 a seat thing I can't get into. So you just we one thing about independent filmmakers is we are scrappy. We are resilient. And we are pitfalls and we need to learn to be unflappable badasses.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
No. Can you say that? Can you talk? We spoke about the book a bit, but what's the name of the book? Where can they get it?

Heather Hale 1:06:42
It's called how to work the film and TV markets. And it's available on Amazon. It's available. You know, it's actually add a lot of the markets the the publisher took it to the AFM and it sold out in the first day. I'm sure so yeah. So my website is HeatherHale.com and I will put a plug because it's not even cost them any money. But on HeatherHale.com, I'm pretty sure it's /howtoworkthefilmandTVmarkets is all sorts of giveaway stuff. Like it has a calendar of the map of the markets all around the world, co production markets festivals. And I'll tell you that that calendar, that matrix took me forever, because I had to line up what was going on simultaneously, what was an ad junk event? What was going on? Like if you're going to another country? What could you also hit while you're there, it's a really great calendar, I've got the facts on packs. So who's got housekeeping deals where I've got them archived, so you can look back who used to have a deal with what studio and what distributor, it's got so many different sets of information. So and that's all you know, it's got a global map, it's got all the market statistics, it's got some great full color, key art examples. It's got a Union's low budget matrix, because if you can ever make sense of that game of Sudoku, good luck, right? So it's got anyway, it's Heather hale.com, how to work the film and TV markets, and it's got tons of giveaways. And then and then also on there, there's a 21% off on Amazon and 20% off the publishers like a code. So you know, it's gonna make my two cents go to one. But you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:20
I love the honesty, it's awesome. And I'll put all of those links in the show notes. So I have a few questions left that asked all my guests, all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Heather Hale 1:08:36
Oh, we have another hour. Now. Honestly, this is gonna sound really cliche and soapy. And but it's so true. It's just so frickin true. And you remember, you get reminded of it every year and every decade. And that's just be true to yourself. Be true to yourself, be authentic, and know who your friends are, because you will learn over and over and over again, who they are and who they aren't. And, you know, if you're going to be miserable, working around the clock at two in the morning, you damn well better make sure it's something worth working on. And I would say also, you know, when we create film and television products or content, I mean a lot of people artists hate to hear it referred to as product and content, but at the marketplace, that is what it is. It's a art over at the festivals. But whatever it is that you're creating, that you're generating, you are essentially exporting our culture. So I would beseech you to please be careful that you're really espousing values you actually hold not lowering to pander to the lowest common denominator of what you think you can sell. Because you could have a breakout hit with something that's actually meaningful. You know, you look at Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day and you know, there are films out They're and there's nothing wrong with entertainment, like cult hits, like there's so much good stuff out there. But, you know, do stuff you're really proud of. And that really means something to you. And it's cool if it's comedy, Thriller, Horror, whatever it is, but I mean, even look at alien aliens. Those are real horror, like in silence of the lamb and the believers, like there's some scary shit out there. And it's still entertaining. So I'm not saying it has to be g rated Disney answers for sure. I'm just saying, make sure that what you're saying with your art is really what you mean, because it's easy for it to get, you know, going through that gauntlet to get like GMO two headed shaped weird. That's not what you meant at all right? You know, stay true to yourself, stay true to your voice. And, and one thing that is good about Hollywood, there are many, many, many, many, many good things about Hollywood. But one of the things I love most about it is it is a society and a culture, where Everywhere you look, people are following their dreams everywhere. And it is exciting. It's entrepreneurs, I call them everywhere you look as people who passionately believe. Usually they're scams and posers and flakes, and felonies and all that. But most of the heart that beats in Hollywood, is people who have a mission for something they want to say that so under their skin, that they're trying to figure out a way to say it and hold true to that. And, you know, it's like I always say, you know, I'm a I'm a voluptuous girl. So I'm lucky because I'm very thick skinned, because you need a rhinoceros skin to survive in Hollywood. But one of the hardest things is to keep your heart open, and to stay responsive to the communal consciousness and to have empathy for other people's worldviews and points of views. So if you can, don't be a dick,

Alex Ferrari 1:11:55
That's, that should be on a T shirt. If that's not it, don't be there. That's like the best advice you could have in Hollywood. Don't be just don't be a dick.

Heather Hale 1:12:02
Yeah, be a nice person. And that doesn't mean be a doormat. It means be an unflappable badass who can cheerfully tell the truth and be honest and be you know, have good intentions and, and, and write great stories because the world needs them.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:20
Amen more now than ever. Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

Heather Hale 1:12:29
Oh, boy, this is gonna reveal my libertarian roots. And probably Atlas Shrugged or the fountainhead. Okay, really? I know that's not an industry book. But sure. Oh, it's all about golf coach.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:46
I gotcha. I gotcha. I gotcha. No problem, no problem. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Heather Hale 1:12:56
Oh, my goodness, there's so many out. I'm not sure I've learned them all. Um, okay, well, I'm stealing this from my dad, but I think he would allow me to, and I'll probably cry because he recently passed. But um, you don't have to make every mistake personally. Interesting. And that you can surround yourself with mentors, and mastermind groups and friends. And you can learn from other people's mistakes and advice. And that doesn't mean, you know, don't have to make every mistake yourself.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:32
If you're smart, you can learn from others mistakes. And yeah, because I mean, why wouldn't you? Sometimes Sometimes you have to learn it by sticking your hand in the fire. But if people tell you, hey, I've been burned there, don't put your hand there.

Heather Hale 1:13:45
And that's why you have to know who your friends are. Because there are a lot of people who are going to tell you, Oh, don't put your hand in my cookie jar, when really you can build your own cookie jar, and they shouldn't be in your kitchen. To know who your friends are. Because your friends. And I'm very blessed to have a few who will tell you when you're being a shit. Who will tell you when you're being myopic, who will tell you when you're not seeing the forest for the trees. And and then there's times where and I've had this happen many, many, many times, where you know, you have an email and you send it to a few friends to make sure that they vet it to make sure it's not too emotional or you're not saying anything that could be slanderous, or whatever. It sometimes you can have. And I had this happen to my fact that it's an old story I've told many times, but I wrote to Sherry Lansing once, and everybody in my circle said no, don't send it. Don't send it. Don't send it. No, you'll embarrass yourself. No, you're reaching too far. No, no, no. And guess who called me Sherry Lansing,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:47
Really? Now by the way, can you tell everybody who doesn't who Cherie,

Heather Hale 1:14:51
She was the first woman to run a studio and she repairment like Titanic and you name Yeah, she was behind.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:58
She was a beast.

Heather Hale 1:14:59
Yeah. Like Behind every successful film for like a decade and a half? Yes. So all I'm saying is that there are times when all your friends and fans and champions who have your best interests at heart, I'm not saying they're wrong, but they are not seeing either how big you could be no, or the path that you're seeing through the trees. Or sometimes you know, it's not a lottery ticket, sometimes it's just luck and you reach out and with this sharing Lansing example, I'm I can give a million others. It was some connection I had, that I knew she would respond to, you know, you can see someone's Achilles heel, you have a tender spot in your heart that you know that that thread will connect you to them. And if you authentically speak to that, and sometimes your rage, I mean, I've had, you know, knock down fights, not fights, but verbal, with people who I loved and adored, who were eight, we were able to come back around, because we spoke our truth. And we realized we were like, kind of out of sync. When we both heard the other person's point of view. We understood it and got it and we got our friendship back on track and, you know, that could have been derailed, and it's the stronger friendship for it.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:16
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Unknown Speaker 1:16:19
Oh, for sure. I have to say my Groundhog Day and Shawshank Redemption.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
I was gonna say those two for sure.

Heather Hale 1:16:25
For sure, for sure. But I'll say a couple others. One of my favorites, a little teeny, teeny film, waking that divine love waking that I'm in love with. That is one of my all time favorites. And I have to say this won't be those would be my top three. I'll leave it at that. Those are my top three.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:45
Yeah. Heather, thank you so much for for sharing with the tribe and dropping some very big knowledge bombs on us. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show.

Heather Hale 1:16:57
Thank you. It's my honor. And my pleasure. And I hope that everyone learned something, or at least had a good laugh.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:03
Thanks. I really want to thank Heather for dropping some major knowledge bombs about film and television markets on the tribe today. And if you guys have not had the opportunity to go to a market like AFM or Cannes, or MIP, D or MIPCOM, definitely, if you have an opportunity go and do it, even if you have nothing to sell. Just go and understand talk to people understand the process of how independent film and Independent Television series are sold. And the more you understand about that process, and about the business of selling your product, you will be so much more successful and get to your goals faster and faster. Trust me, I learned not only a ton with this as Meg but I had already learned a lot about selling movies and going through that process throughout my career. But I learned so much more just doing with this as Meg as well. And now in the new film on the corner of ego and desire. I'm taking all that knowledge and bringing it to that project. So the more you do, the more you learn, the better it is, I tell you when I went to AFM when I've gone to Toronto, at their mini market, there's so many amazing nuggets of information you can get. So please, if you have an opportunity, do it cuz you will not be disappointed. If you want links to anything we spoke about in this episode including links to Heather's book, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/240. And if you haven't already guys, if you love the show, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave us a five star review. It really really helps me out a lot helps out the podcast a lot to get it ranked higher, to get more people to see it and listen to this information. So please just head over to filmmaking podcast.com and leave us that five star review. Thank you so much. And as always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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David Fincher: The Ultimate Guide to His Films & Directing Style

1999 was a watershed year for people in my generation, as it no doubt was for other generations as well. On the eve of the new millennium, we were caught in a place between excitement and apprehension.

The 21st century loomed large with promises of technological and sociological innovations, yet we were beset by decidedly 20th century baggage, like an adultery scandal in the White House or the nebulous threat of Y2K.

This potent atmosphere naturally created its fair share of zeitgeist pop culture work, but no works had more of an impact on the public that year than The Wachowski Brothers’ THE MATRIX and David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB. I was only in middle school at the time, but FIGHT CLUB in particular captivated my friends and I with the palpable substance behind its visceral style.

As a kid already consumed by a runaway love for movies, FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest instances in which I was acutely aware of a director’s distinct voice. As such, the films of director David Fincher were among the first that I sought out as a means to study film as an art form and a product of a singular creative entity.

His easily identifiable aesthetic influenced me heavily during those early days, and despite having taken cues from a much larger world of film artists as I’ve grown, Fincher’s unique worldview still shapes my own in a fundamental way.

David Fincher was essentially the first mainstream feature director to emerge from the world of music videos. Ever the technological pioneer, David Fincher innovated several ideas about the nascent music video format that are still in use today. This spirit of innovation and a positive shooting experience on the set of 2007’s ZODIAC eventually led to him becoming a key proponent of digital filmmaking before its widespread adoption.

A student of Stanley Kubrick’s disciplined perfectionism and Ridley Scott’s imaginative world-building, David Fincher established his own voice with a cold, clinical aesthetic that finds relevancy in our increasing dependency and complicated relationship with technology.

David Fincher was born in 1962, in Denver, Colorado. His father, Howard, worked as the bureau chief for LIFE Magazine and his mother, Claire Mae, worked in drug addition facilities as a mental health nurse.

David Fincher spent most of his formative years in northern California’s Marin County (a setting he’d explore in his features THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC), as well as the small town of Ashland, Oregon. Inspired by George Ray Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), an 8 year-old David Fincher started to make little movies of his own using his family’s 8mm film camera.

Having grown up in a time when film schools were well established, David Fincher—rather interestingly—opted against them in favor of going directly into the workforce under Korty Films and Industrial Light and Magic (where we would work on 1983’s RETURN OF THE JEDI).

It was David Fincher’s time at ILM specifically that would shape his fundamental understanding of and appreciation for visual effects, and his incorporation of ILM’s techniques into his music videos no doubt led to his breakout as a director.

AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: “SMOKING FETUS” (1984)

At the age of 22, David Fincher directed his very first professional work, an anti-smoking ad for the American Cancer Society called“SMOKING FETUS”. Anti-smoking ads are infamous for being shocking and transgressive as a means to literally scare people out of lighting up.

“SMOKING FETUS” was the spot that undoubtedly started it all by featuring a fetus in utero, taking a long drag from a cigarette. The crude puppetry of the fetus is horrifying and nightmarish—an unholy image that delivers a brilliant whallop.

David Fincher has often been called a modern-day Kubrick because of his visual precision and notoriety for demanding obscene numbers of takes—a comparison made all the more salient when given that both men shared a thematic fascination with man’s relationship (and conflict with) technology.

David Fincher’s modeling of his aesthetic after Kubrick’s can be seen even in his earliest of works. Shot against a black background, the fetus floating in space resembles the Star Child of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). “SMOKING FETUS” brought David Fincher to the attention of Propoganda Films, who subsequently signed him on in earnest, effectively launching his career.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” (1984)

Due to the strength of “SMOKING FETUS”, 80’s rock superstar Rick Springfield enlisted David Fincher to direct his 1984 concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. The responsibility also entailed the shooting of four pre-filmed music videos to incorporate into the live show.

“DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” features three vignettes: a man dancing amongst the ruins of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a happy-go-lucky TV show for kids, and a ballroom filled with socialites oblivious to the nuclear missile launching from underneath the dance floor. The piece establishes several traits that David Fincher would incorporate into his mature aesthetic like stylized, theatrical lighting, an inspired use of visual effects and elaborate production design.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “CELEBRATE YOUTH” (1984)

“CELEBRATE YOUTH” is presented in stark black and white, punctuated by bright pops of color like the red of Springfield’s bandana or the indigo of a child’s sneakers. This conceit further points to David Fincher’s familiarity with special effects, as such a look requires the shooting of the original footage in color and isolating specific elements in post production.

The look predates a similar conceit used by Frank Miller’s SIN CITY (both the 2005 film and the comic it was based upon), so it’s reasonable to assume that David Fincher’s video very well could have served as an influence for Miller. “CELEBRATE YOUTH” also highlights David Fincher’s inspired sense of camera movement, utilizing cranes and dollies to add energy and flair to the proceeds.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “BOP TIL YOU DROP” (1984)

“BOP TIL YOU DROP” tells David Fincher’s first narrative story in the form of a slave revolt inside of a futuristic METROPOLIS-style dystopia. This is Fincher’s earliest instance of world-building, using elaborate creature and set design, confident camera movements and theatrical lighting (as well as lots of special visual effects) to tell an archetypal story of revolution.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “STATE OF THE HEART”(1984)

Rounding out David Fincher’s quartet of Rick Springfield videos is “STATE OF THE HEART”, which compared to the others, is relatively sedate and low-key in its execution. While the piece takes place inside of a single room, David Fincher still brings a sense of inspired production design in the form of a cool, metallic color palette. Indeed, “STATE OF THE HEART” is the first instance within Fincher’s filmography of the cool, steely color palette that would later become his signature.


THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984)

All of the aforementioned music videos, while capable of acting as standalone pieces, were produced for eventual incorporation into Rick Springfield’s larger concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM.

With his first feature-length work, David Fincher more or less follows the established format of concert films—performance, audience cutaways, wide shots that give us the full scope of the theatrics, etc. He makes heavy use of a crane to achieve his shots, partly out of necessity since he can’t exactly be on-stage, yet it still shows a remarkable degree of confidence in moving the camera on David Fincher’s part.

And while it probably wasn’t Fincher’s idea or decision, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM contains a pretty blatant Kubrick nod in the form of a guitarist wearing Malcolm McDowell’s iconic outfit from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

The concert film format doesn’t allow much room for David Fincher to exercise his personal artistic voice, but he does manage to add a few stylistic flourishes in the form of visual effects that were added in after the live filming.

He adds a CGI blimp hovering over the stage, as well as fireballs that erupt from various places throughout the stadium (several audience cutaways appear blatantly staged to accommodate the inclusion of these effects).

Despite being something of a time capsule for ridiculous 80’s hair rock, it’s a high quality romp through Springfield’s discography that briskly clips along its brief 70 minute running time without ever really sagging.

Fincher’s involvement with THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM wasn’t going to net him any opportunities to transition into features, but it did generate a significant amount of buzz for him in the music video and commercial world, where he’d spend the better part of a decade as one of the medium’s most sought-after directors.

The success of THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984), director David Fincher’s feature-length concert film for Rick Springfield, led to a very prolific period of music video assignments for the burgeoning auteur. In three short years, David Fincher established himself as a top music video director, held in high regard and higher demand by the biggest pop artists of the era. It was the golden age of music videos, and Fincher was the tastemaker at the forefront developing it into a legitimate art form.


THE MOTELS: “SHAME” (1985)

In his early professional career, Fincher’s most visible influence is the work of brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, two feature directors who were quite en vogue at the time due to blockbuster, high-fashion work like BLADE RUNNER (1982) and THE HUNGER (1983). Tony in particular was a key aesthetic influence, with David Fincher borrowing the English director’s love for theatrical lighting and the noir-ish slat shadows cast by venetian blinds.
For The Motels’ “SHAME”, Fincher makes heavy use of this look in his vignette of a woman stuck in a motel room who dreams of a glamorous life outside her window. Because computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy at the time, Fincher’s penchant for using special effects in his music video work is limited mostly to compositing effects, like the motion billboard and the fake sky behind it.


THE MOTELS: “SHOCK” (1985)

David Fincher’s second video for the Motels features lead singer Martha Davis as she’s chased by an unseen presence in a dark, empty house late at night. The concept allows Fincher to create an imaginative lighting and production design scheme.“SHOCK” also makes lurid use of Fincher’s preferred cold color palette, while a Steadicam rig allows David Fincher to chase Martha around the house like a gliding, ominous force. This subjective POV conceit echoes a similar shot that David Fincher would incorporate into his first feature, 1992’s ALIEN 3, whereby we assume the point of view of a xenomorph as it chases its victims down a tunnel. The piece also feature some low-key effects via a dramatic, stormy sky.


THE OUTFIELD: “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” (1986)

By 1986, David Fincher’s music video aesthetics were pretty well-established: cold color palettes, theatrical lighting schemes commonly utilizing venetian blinds, and visual effects. While The Outfield’s “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” was shot on film, David Fincher embraces the trappings of the nascent video format by incorporating tape static and a surveillance-style van.


THE OUTFIELD: “EVERY TIME YOU CRY” (1986)

David Fincher’s second video for The Outfield in 1986, “EVERY TIME YOU CRY”, is a concert performance piece a la THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. Like the latter’s incorporation of rudimentary visual effects, here Fincher uses the technology to replace the sky with a cosmic light show and add in a dramatic moonrise.


HOWARD HEWETT: “STAY” (1986)

In “STAY”, a piece for Howard Hewett, David Fincher makes use of another of Tony Scott’s aesthetic fascinations—billowing curtains. He projects impressionistic silhouettes onto said curtains, giving his cold color palette some visual punch.


JERMAINE STEWART: “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” (1986)

While Jermaine Stewart’s “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” is a relatively conventional music video, David Fincher’s direction of it is anything but. The core aesthetic conceit of the piece is the playful exploration of aspect ratio boundaries. David Fincher conceives of the black bars at the top and bottom of your screen as arbitrary lines in physical space, so when the camera moves to the side, those lines skew appropriately in proportion to your perspective. He takes the idea a step further by superimposing performance elements shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio over the main 2.35:1 anamorphic footage, giving the effect of visuals that transcend the constraints and the edges of their frame.

You can watch the video here.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1988-1990)

Throughout the 80’s, David Fincher became a director in high demand thanks to his stunning music videos. As he crossed over into the world of commercials, his imaginative style and technical mastery began to command the attention of studio executives, who desired to see his visceral aesthetic to features. During the late 80’s and early 90’s, Fincher churned out some of his most memorable music video work and worked with some of the biggest stars around.


YM MAGAZINE “HER WORLD” (1988)

While his “SMOKING FETUS” spot for the American Cancer Society in 1984 was his first commercial, Fincher’s “HER WORLD”, a spot commissioned by Young Miss Magazine, kicked off his commercial directing career in earnest. The spot stars a young, pre-fame Angelina Jolie walking towards us, clutching a copy of YM Magazine as several cars painted with the words “sex, “love”, “work”, “family”, and others zip and crash around her in a ballet of violence. Even when working in the branding-conscious world of advertising, Fincher is able to retain his trademark aesthetic (indeed, you don’t hire someone like Fincher if you want a friendly, cuddly vibe). His characteristic cold color palette is accentuated by stark lighting and slick streets. An eye for stylized violence that would give 1999’s FIGHT CLUB its power can be glimpsed here through the jarring collisions of the cars.


Alien 3 (1992)

The runaway success of director James Cameron’s ALIENS sequel in 1986 turned the property into a major franchise for Twentieth Century Fox. Executives wanted to strike with a third ALIEN film while the iron was hot, but coming up with the right story proved tricky.

Adding to the threequel’s film’s development woes, a revolving door of writers and directors experienced immense frustration with a studio that was too meddlesome with its prized jewel of a franchise.

In a long search for an inexperienced, yet talented, director that they could control and micromanage, Fox settled on David Fincher—a rising star in the commercial and music video realm with a professed love for the ALIEN franchise and its founding director, Ridley Scott.

Fincher jumped at the offer to direct his first feature film, but in retrospect it was a naïve move that almost destroyed his career before it even began. His supreme confidence and bold vision clashed with the conservative executives, causing a long, miserable experience for the young director.

He eventually disowned ALIEN 3, abandoning it to flail and die at the box office. However, as Fincher has grown to become recognized as one of America’s major contemporary auteurs, his debut has undergone something of a reappraisal in the film community, with fans choosing to see the good in it instead of the bad.

More than twenty years after its release, ALIEN 3’s legacy to the medium is that it makes a hard case against the kind of filmmaking-by-committee that meddlesome studio executives still impose on gifted visionaries to this day.

ALIEN 3 picks up where ALIENS left off, with Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Hicks (Michael Biehn), and Newt (Carrie Henn) resting in cryosleep as their ship, The Sulaco, drifts peacefully through space.

However, in their hibernating state, they are unaware of the fact that an alien facehugger has stowed away onboard their craft. Its attempts to penetrate and impregnate our heroes leads to a fire on deck and the cryosleep chambers are jettisoned away in an escape pod that crash lands on nearby on Fiorina 161, a sulfurous industrial prison planet colloquially known as Fury.

Tragically, Hicks and Newt don’t survive the crash, but Ripley does when she’s discovered by a group of inmates and nursed back to health. Once restored, Ripley finds herself thrust into an all-male, religious extremist culture that hasn’t seen a woman in decades.

Ripley quickly toughens up to counter the sexual aggression of the inmates, but her problems multiply when its discovered that one of the alien xenomorphs has followed her to Fury 161 and is picking off the inmates one by one.

A distress signal is dispatched to a rescue ship, but Ripley and the inmates still have to contend with the xenomorph before help arrives, a task made all the more difficult by the lack of conventional weapons anywhere in the prison facility, as well as the discovery that Ripley is hosting the embryo of a new egg-laying Queen alien inside of her.

In her third performance as Ripley, Weaver yet again transforms the character via a radical evolution into a tough, resilient survivor. Her arc throughout the three films is compelling, and for all the controversies over the film’s storyline, Weaver deserves a lot of credit for never phoning it in when she very easily could have.

Hers is the only familiar face in this hellish new world, save for the mutilated visage of Lance Henriksen’s android Bishop (and his flesh-and-blood counterpart that appears towards the end of the film).

Among the fresh blood, so to speak, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance and Pete Postlethwaite stand out as the most compelling inmates on Fury 161. Dutton plays Dillon, a tough, righteous voice of spiritual authority that the other inmates can rally behind.

Dance plays Clemens, the sensitive, intellectual medical officer who helps Ripley acclimate to this harsh world and harbors a dark secret of his own. The late, great character actor Postlethwaite plays David, an observant prisoner with a high degree of intelligence.

David Fincher’s collaborations with director of photography Jeff Cronenweth in the music video realm led to Fincher hiring his father, the legendary Jordan Cronenweth, as ALIEN 3’s cinematographer. Best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 masterpiece, BLADE RUNNER (itself a huge influence on Fincher’s aesthetic), Cronenweth was being slowly consumed by Parkinsons Disease during filming.

The earliest of ALIEN 3’s several considerable production woes, Cronenweth’s condition deteriorated so quickly that cinematographer Alex Thomson had to step in and replace him only two weeks into the shoot. Despite this setback, ALIEN 3 is a visual stunner that firmly established David Fincher’s uncompromising style in the feature realm.

Fincher’s stark, grungy aesthetic translates well into the theatrical anamorphic aspect ratio format, with the smoky, industrial production design by Norman Reynolds giving Fincher plentiful opportunities to incorporate artful silhouettes and his signature cold, desaturated color palette (only David Fincher can make a palette that deals heavily in oranges and browns feel “cold”).

Fincher’s emphasis on architecture and world-building manifests in a subtle, surprising way—he chooses to shoot a great deal of the film in low angle shots that look up at the characters and expose the ceiling. This creates an air of helplessness that pervades the film, like we’re way over our heads and drowning in despair.

While this hopeless mood ultimately might have contributed to the film’s failure at the box office, it’s an inspired way for David Fincher to communicate a real, tangible world that draws us into it—most sets are built without a ceiling so a lighting grid can be easily installed overhead, but by showing the audience the existence of a ceiling, it subconsciously tells us we are in a place that exists in real life… and that the events of the film could very well happen to us.

Fincher and Thomson’s camerawork in ALIEN 3 is also worth noting. Fincher has always had a firm, visionary command of camera movement, and the considerable resources of studio backing allows him to indulge in sweeping, virtuoso moves that bring a fresh, terrifying energy to the film.

A particular highlight is a tunnel sequence towards the end of the film, where the xenomorph chases the inmates through a huge, twisting labyrinth. David Fincher uses a steadicam that assumes the POV of the Xenomorph as it rages through the tunnels, twisting and spinning at seemingly impossible angles to communicate the alien’s terrifying agility and speed.

The industrial, foreboding nature of Fincher’s visuals are echoed in composer Elliot Goldenthal’s atmospheric score. Instead of using traditional symphonic arrangements, Goldenthal blurs the line between music and sound effects by incorporating non-instruments and electronic machinations into an atonal blend of sounds.

In many ways, this approach proves to be even scarier than a conventional orchestral sound could conjure up. To reflect the medieval, religious nature of Fury 161’s inhabitants, Goldenthal also adapts haunting choral requiems that weave themselves into his tapestry of ominous sounds and tones.

ALIEN 3’s infamous production disasters are well documented, hopefully as a means to ensure that the film industry as a collective learns from the production’s mistakes. These woes began during the earliest stages of pre-production which saw the hiring and resigning of director Renny Harlin before Vincent Ward came onboard for a short period to realize his vision of a wooden cathedral planet populated by apocalyptic monks.

While a semblance of this conceit remains in the finished film, the script was changed radically several times before cameras started rolling, and even then the filmmakers didn’t have a finished version to work from. The ramifications of this were numerous, from actors being frustrated with constantly-changing character arcs, plot inconsistencies, and even $7 million being wasted on sets that were built and never used.

The process was particularly hard on David Fincher, who was constantly fighting a losing battle against incessant studio meddling that overruled his decisions and undermined his authority. Fed up with the lack of respect his vision was being given, the young director barely hung on long enough to wrap production, and walked off entirely when it came time for editing. The fact that he ever decided to make another feature film again after that ordeal is something of a miracle.

Despite constant challenges to his control of the film, Fincher’s hand is readily apparent in every frame of ALIEN 3. A science fiction film such as this is heavily reliant on special effects, a niche that David Fincher’s background at ILM makes him well suited for.

Computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy in 1992, so Fincher and company had to pull off ALIEN 3’s steam-punk vision of hell and the devil through a considered mix of miniatures, puppets, animatics and matte paintings. Some of the earliest CGI in film history is also seen here in the film, in the scene where the skull of the hot-lead-covered Xenomorph cracks under the sudden onset of cold water before exploding.

Fincher’s fascination with technology plays well into the ALIEN universe, where the complete absence of technology—and for that matter, weapons—is used as a compelling plot device to generate suspense and amplify the hopelessness of the characters’ scenario. In order to vanquish the monster, they ultimately have to resort to the oldest form of technology known to mankind: fire.

ALIEN 3 fared decently at the box office, mostly due to franchise recognition and the considerable fan base built up by the film’s two predecessors, but was mercilessly savaged by critics (as was to be expected).

Long considered the worst entry in the series until Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet gave David Fincher a run for his money with 1997’s ALIEN: EVOLUTION, ALIEN 3 has become something of a cult classic as Fincher’s profile has risen. Fans forgave the film of its transgressions because they knew Fincher’s vision had been hijacked and tampered with. They knew that somewhere out there, in the countless reels of film that were shot, David Fincher’s original vision was waiting to be given shape.

In 2003, Fox attempted to make amends by creating a new edit of the film, dubbed the Assembly Cut, for release in their Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set. Fincher refused to participate in the re-edit, understandably, so Fox had to go off his notes in restoring the auteur’s original vision.

The 2003 Assembly Cut differs markedly from the 1992 original, restoring entire character arcs and adding a good 50 minutes worth of footage back into the story. There’s several key changes in this new cut, like Ripley being discovered on the beach instead of her escape pod, the Xenomorph bursting out of an ox (and not a dog), and the removal of the newborn alien queen bursting out of Ripley’s chest as she falls to her death.

The end result is a much better version of the film, giving us greater insight to the characters and their actions. While it doesn’t quite make up for the studio’s stunning lack of respect for Fincher during the making of the film, it ultimately proved that their concerns that the untested young director didn’t know what he was doing were completely unfounded, and were the film’s ultimate undoing.

The experience of making ALIEN 3 would be enough for any director to quit filmmaking forever, but thankfully this wasn’t the end for David Fincher. He would go back to the music video and commercial sector to lick his wounds for a while, but his true feature breakout was just on the horizon.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1992-1995)

The abject failure of ALIEN 3 was director David Fincher’s first high-profile disappointment. It nearly made him swear off filmmaking altogether and he publicly even threatened as much— but when the dust settled, Fincher was able to slip back into commercial and music video directing with ease. Working once again in his comfort sphere, David Fincher churned out some of his best promotional work between the years 1992 and 1995.

NIKE: “INSTANT KARMA” (1992)

1992 saw sports gear giant Nike commission Fincher for a trio of commercials. The most well-known of these is “INSTANT KARMA”, which mimics the energetic pace of music videos. David Fincher’s touch is immediately evident here, with his high-contrast look that incorporates key components of his style like silhouettes and a cold color scheme.


NIKE: “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” (1992)

Nike’s “BARKELY ON BROADWAY” is shot in black and white, a curious choice for a high-profile spot like this. The central conceit of a theatrical stage show lends itself quite well to Fincher’s talent for imaginative production design and lighting. Like “INSTANT KARMA”, “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” has taken on something of a cult status, especially because of Charles Barkley’s cheeky persona.


NIKE: “MAGAZINE WARS” (1992)

The third spot, “MAGAZINE WARS”, revolves around the conceit of sports magazine covers in a newsstand coming to life and causing a mess. The idea is heavily reliant on visual effects, which comes naturally to David Fincher. While it’s a brilliant idea, it’s one that’s most likely inspired by a similar scene in Gus Van Sant’s feature MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, which had come out only a year earlier.


NIKE: “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” (1993)

In 1993, Fincher once again collaborated with NBA superstar Charles Barkley on another spot for Nike called “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” that makes use of some potent old world imagery that David Fincher’s prime influence Stanley Kubrick used so excellently in 1975’s BARRY LYNDON (while also foreshadowing the eerie Illuminati imagery that Kubrick would depict inEYES WIDE SHUT six years later). The piece is textbook Fincher, featuring a dueling orange and blue color palette, theatrical lighting that highlights some excellent production design and casts artful silhouettes.


BUDWEISER: “GINGER OR MARIANNE” (1993)

Also in 1993, Fincher took on two spots for Budweiser beer. The first, “GINGER OR MARIANNE” features young adults playing pool and debating their preferences of old TV character crushes. The pool hall is lit in smoky, desaturated warm tones with high contrast, as per Fincher’s established aesthetic.


BUDWEISER: “CLASSIC ROCK” (1993)

The second Budweiser spot, “CLASSIC ROCK”, features a handful of middle-aged dudes golfing and arguing over their favorite acts. David Fincher utilizes the high contrast natural light on the scenic golf course, supplementing it with a subtle gliding camera as it follows the characters. The result is a pretty conventional, but no less well-crafted, piece of advertising.


CHANEL: “THE DIRECTOR” (1993)

Fincher’s spot for Chanel, called “THE DIRECTOR”, is an excellent example of his “grunge-glam” aesthetic. The piece makes evocative use of its cold, blue color palette and smoky, European urban setting, with the director’s high contrast lighting bouncing off the wet streets and old-world architecture. Fincher’s fondness for revealing the artifice of the shooting process is incorporated into the narrative, as his opening vignette is revealed to be the shoot for a large movie, with the titular director being shown mostly in abstract, silhouette form.

COCA-COLA: “BLADE ROLLER” (1993)

Fincher’s filmography owes a lot to the work of Ridley Scott and his brother, Tony Scott. Ridley’s influence in particular is deeply felt in the fundamental building blocks of David Fincher’s aesthetic, and Fincher’s “BLADE ROLLER” spot for Coca-Cola seems to be directly lifted from Ridley’s visionary sci-fi masterpiece BLADE RUNNER (1982).

We see a dystopian city of the future, characterized by neon lights and Asian architecture, bathed in perpetual smoke and soaked through to the bone. Fincher’s signature high contrast, cold look plays directly into the BLADE RUNNER style, which the young director builds upon by adding his own flourishes like artful silhouettes and a high-energy camera that screams through the cityscape.“BLADE ROLLER” is one of David Fincher’s most well-known commercials, and easily one of his best.


AT&T: “YOU WILL” CAMPAIGN (1993)

It’s not uncommon for advertisers to create entire campaigns with multiple spots centered around a singular idea. In 1993, AT&T wanted to communicate how their technologies were going to be at the forefront of the digital revolution, which would have long-term ramifications for how we live our lives and connect with others.

To convey this message, AT&T hired Fincher—a director well known for his fascination with technology—for their “YOU WILL” campaign. The campaign is a series of seven spots that actually predict many of the things that are commonplace today, albeit in a laughably clunky, primitive form that was the 90’s version of “hi-tech”.

The spots show us various vignettes of people connecting with others through AT&T’s theoretical future tech: GPS navigation, doctors looking at injuries over video-link, video phone calls, sending faxes over tablets, and more. Fincher’s high contrast, cold palette serves him well with this campaign, further enhancing the appeal of this promising technology that aims to transform our lives.

Looking back at these spots over twenty years, it’s easy to laugh at the clunky tech on display, but it’s remarkable how much of it they actually got right.


MADONNA: “BAD GIRL” (1993)

David Fincher’s output during this period of his career was heavily weighted with commercials, but he did make a few music videos, one of which was another collaboration with pop diva Madonna for her track “BAD GIRL”.

The video incorporates some Hollywood talent in the form of Christopher Walken who plays a silent, watchful guardian angel of sorts and supporting character stalwart Jim Rebhorn, who would later appear in Fincher’s THE GAME four years later.

The look of“BAD GIRL” is similar to Fincher’s previous collaborations with Madonna, featuring high contrast lighting, diffused highlights and a smoky, cold color palette. The video is very cinematic, no doubt owing to a large budget afforded by the combined clout of Madonna and David Fincher (as well as Walken’s goofy dancing, seen briefly towards the middle).


LEVI’S: “KEEP IT LOOSE” (1993)

The first of several spots that Fincher would take on for jeans-maker Levi’s, “KEEP IT LOOSE” features the director’s iconic blue color palette as a static background, with a variety of actors composited into the scene dancing wildly and expressing themselves in their hilariously baggy 90’s jeans.


LEVI’S: “REASON 259: RIVETS” (1994)

1994 saw several more Levi’s spots put on Fincher’s plate, with “REASON 259: RIVETS” being the standout. The piece features the cold, blue high contrast look David Fincher is known for, along with a premise centering around tech—in this instance, a machine that is able to punch a single jeans rivet into someone’s nose as a decorative stud. The spot as it exists online currently can’t be embedded, but you can watch it here.


THE ROLLING STONES: “LOVE IS STRONG” (1994)

Fincher’s video for The Rolling Stones’ “LOVE IS STRONG” is shot in high contrast black and white, featuring grungy bohemian types in a smoky, urban setting.

The video shows off Fincher’s natural talent for visual effects, as he composites his actors as giants against various NYC landmarks, using the dwarfed city below them as their own personal playground. It’s a pretty simple concept, but extremely well-executed and staged—a credit to Fincher’s meticulousness.


SE7EN (1995)

In the mid-90’s, a script by newcomer Andrew Kevin Walker called SE7EN (a stylization of “seven”) was making the rounds and generating excitement all over town. Readers and creative executives alike hailed its bold, original storyline and that ending.

That audacious, coup-de-grace ending that nobody saw coming. That ending that could possibly never be put into the finished film and thus had to be rewritten and castrated into oblivion for fear that its inclusion could break cinema itself. Indulgent hyperbole aside, it was the ending that cajoled a young David Fincher back into the director’s seat that he had so publicly sworn off after a catastrophic experience with his debut, ALIEN 3 (1992).

While David Fincher didn’t have enough clout on his own to drop mandates that the original ending would remain as written, his stars (Hollywood heavyweights) Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman did, and they used that clout to back up this untested auteur. As such, Fincher was in an enviable position to infuse this hauntingly original story—free from the baggage of franchise—with his unflinching style and uncompromising vision.

SE7EN takes place in an unnamed, crumbling metropolis of perpetual precipitation and endless blight—an oppressive environment where hope goes to die. Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a longtime member of the city’s police force, is in his last week of retirement, with a young, headstrong detective named Mills (Brad Pitt) arriving in town to take his place.

On their first day together, they are called to a murder scene where an obese man has been forced to literally eat himself to death.

Initially assuming it to be another one of the city’s routine murders—business as usual—, a similar scene at a lawyer’s office the next day (where the victim was forced to carve up his own body and the word “greed” is painted on the floor in his blood) prompts a second look at the fat man’s murder scene (where Somerset finds “gluttony” written in grease behind the fridge).

This discovery prompts the detectives to realize that they are in the midst of a killing spree perpetrated by a psychopath who carries out his murders in accordance with the seven deadly sins and leaves behind grisly scenes that taunt and challenge his pursuers. With the days passing and the bodies piling up, Somerset and Mills must race against time to deduce the killer’s identity and stop him before his grand plan reaches its shocking and grisly conclusion.

Morgan Freeman is pitch perfect as the insightful, bookish Detective Somerset—a man haunted by the mistakes of his past and the city that threatens to consume him. His presence lends a great deal of gravitas and authority to the film, grounding the outlandish story developments in reason and logic and making them all the more scarier because of their realism.

Brad Pitt’s performance as the hotheaded, impatient Detective Mills is interesting in that the performance itself tends to be wooden at times but we as the audience are still pulled into his swirling emotional whirlpool.

Perhaps it’s only because Pitt has become such a sublimely subtle actor in the twenty years since that his forcefulness in SE7EN reads now as a younger man struggling with inherent talent but an unpolished craft. Mills’ impatience and stubbornness is well set-up throughout the film—when assigned a handful of heavy philosophical books by Somerset, he opts instead to read the Cliff Notes versions.

Because he takes shortcuts and is quick to action without necessarily thinking things through, he’s in a prime position to be manipulated by Spacey’s John Doe and play into his twisted, murderous scheme.

Speaking of John Doe, Kevin Spacey absolutely murders it as SE7EN’s creepy, calculating killer (puns!). Spacey imbues this psychopath with a degree of intelligence and brilliance that one doesn’t necessarily expect in their garden-variety serial killer.

For Doe, his life’s work IS his life—he has no job or relationships to speak of, only a single-minded focus to complete his grand plan and etch himself permanently into the criminal history books. As evidenced by Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series, Spacey is at his best under Fincher’s direction, and their first collaboration together in SE7EN results in the actor’s most mesmerizing performance in a career stuffed with them.

While the potency of SE7EN’s story hinges on this trifecta of brilliant performers, Fincher doesn’t skimp in the supporting department either. He enlists Gwyneth Paltrow (who coincidentally was dating Pitt at the time) to play Pitt’s supportive, sweet wife, Tracy.

Paltrow has something of a bland reputation of an actress, but collaborating with auteurs like David Fincher, James Gray, or Paul Thomas Anderson bring out the very best in her and remind us why she’s an excellent actress.

Paltrow takes what could easily be the standard non-confrontational, supporting house wife stock character and infuses it with a creeping pathos and dread— grappling with moral conflict over bringing a child into the dark, overbearing world that Fincher has created on-screen.

In another nod to director Stanly Kubrick’s profound influence on Fincher, FULL METAL JACKET’s (1987) fire-and-brimstone drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey shows up here as Somerset’s weary precinct captain. Additionally, John C McGinley shows up against-type as a militaristically macho SWAT commander, as does Mark Boone Junior as a shady, scruffy informant to Somerset.

To accomplish his stark, pitch-black vision, Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Darius Khondji, who is able to translate David Fincher’s signature aesthetic (high contrast lighting, cold color palette, silhouettes and deep wells of shadow) onto the 35mm film image.

The film is presented in the 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, but in watching some of the film’s supplemental features (and with no other evidence to go on), I’m convinced that Fincher and Khondji didn’t actually shoot anamorphic.

It appears the 2.35:1 aspect ratio was achieved via a matte in post-production, which plays into Fincher’s reputation as a visual perfectionist who uses digital technology to exert control over the image down to the smallest detail. This control extends to the camera movement, which uses cranes and dollies for measured effect, echoing John Doe’s precise, predetermined nature.

In fact, the only time that Fincher goes handheld is during the foot-chase sequence in Doe’s apartment complex and the finale in the desert, both of which are the only moments in the film that the balance of control is tipped out of any one person’s favor, leaving only chaos to determine what happens next.

While SE7EN was filmed in downtown Los Angeles, David Fincher intended for it to stand in for an unnamed East Coast city, which he successfully achieved via a mix of careful location selection and production designer Arthur Max’s vision of oppressive decay.

A never-ending, torrential downpour of rain amplifies Fincher’s signature grunge aesthetic, although its presence was initially less about thematics and more about creating continuity with Pitt’s scenes (who had to film all of his part first before leaving to work on Terry Gilliam’s 12 MONKEYS).

Howard Shore crafts an ominous score that utilizes a particular brassy sound evocative of old-school noir cinema, but its’ in Fincher’s source cue selection that SE7EN’s music really stands out.

He uses a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” for the opening credits, foreshadowing David Fincher’s later collaborations with NIN frontman Trent Reznor on the scores for THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Other standout cues include a Marvin Gaye track playing in the Mills apartment, and—in another nod to Kubrick—classical arrangements that waft through the cavernous library Somerset conducts his research in.

It’s also worth highlighting SE7EN as Fincher’s first collaboration with Ren Klyce, who would go on create the visceral, evocative soundscapes of Fincher’s subsequent films.

Overall, SE7EN is a supreme technical achievement on all fronts— a fact realized by the studio (New Line Cinema), who then mounted an aggressive awards campaign on the film’s behalf. Only Richard Francis-Bruce’s crisp editing was nominated at the Academy Awards, with neither David Fincher nor his stellar cast getting a nod.

Despite the cast turning in great, truly original performances, it’s apparent that Fincher’s emphasis on the visuals and the technical aspects of the production came at the expense of devoting as much energy and attention to the performances as he probably should have.

The result is a visually groundbreaking film with slightly wooden performances, despite the cast’s best efforts and a first-rate narrative.

An oft-mentioned aspect of SE7EN is its haunting opening credits sequence, designed by Kyle Cooper. The sequence acts as a preview of John Doe’s meticulous psychosis, with jittery text trying to literally crawl away from the disturbing images that we’re shown in quick, rapid succession.

Shot separately from the main shoot after the original scripted opening credits sequence was trashed, the piece both pulls us into this sick, twisted world and prepares us for what comes next. The sequence was shot by late, great cinematographer Harris Savides—who would go on to lens Fincher’s THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC (2007)—and edited by Angus Wall, who has since become one of David Fincher’s key editors.

Fincher, more so than a great deal of his contemporaries, uses the opening credits of his features to set the mood and the tone of his story in a highly creative and stimulating style. His incorporation of the technique began in earnest with SE7EN, but the practice hails back to the work of Alfred Hitchchock, who pioneered the idea of opening credits as part of the storytelling and not just an arbitrary device to let the audience know who did what.

SE7EN is one of the earliest instances in Fincher’s feature filmography in which his aesthetic coalesces into something immediately identifiable—no small feat for a man at bat for only the second time. The film places a subtle, yet strong emphasis on architecture—specifically, an early twentieth-century kind of civic architecture seen in noir films and old New York buildings (a mix of classical and art deco).

There’s a distinct claustrophobic feeling to the city David Fincher is portraying, which is reinforced by his framing of several shots from a low angle looking up at the ceiling (implying that the walls are closing in around our characters).

Fincher’s fascination with technology is also reflected in a mix of cutting-edge forensic tools and outdated computer systems that are used by the protagonists to find their man. Lastly, a strong air of nihilism marks Fincher’s filmography, with the incorporation of its philosophy giving SE7EN its pitch-black resonance.

Several story elements, like the moral ambiguity of Detective Mills, the rapid decay of the city aided and abetted by uncaring bureaucrats, and the darkly attractive nature of John Doe’s crimes cause a severe existential crisis for our protagonists.

SE7EN was a huge hit upon its release, and put David Fincher on the map in a way that ALIEN 3 never did (or could have done)—precisely because it was an original property in which Fincher could assert himself, free from the excessive studio needling that plagued top-dollar franchises back then (and still today).

This freedom resulted in one of the most shocking thrillers in recent memory, jolting audiences from apathy and re-energizing a fear response that had been dulled by the onslaught of uninspired slasher films during the 80’s.

SE7EN, along with Fincher’s other zeitgeist-y film FIGHT CLUB (1999), is frequently cited as one of the best pictures of the 90’s, perfectly capturing the existential, grungy essence of the decade. Above all, SE7EN is a gift—for David Fincher, another chance to prove himself after the failure of ALIEN 3, and for us, a groundbreaking new voice in the cinematic conversation.

That, my friends, is what was in the box.


THE GAME (1997)

Director David Fincher had built up quite a career for himself in the commercial and music video realm through his association with Propaganda Films. After the breakout success of his feature SE7EN (1995), Fincher was able to leverage this newfound clout into a collaboration with Propaganda for his third feature, a suspenseful puzzle thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock called THE GAME (1997).

THE GAME’s origins are interesting in and of itself, with Fincher actually being attached to direct the script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris as his return to features after his abysmal experience onALIEN 3 (1992). The sudden availability of SE7EN star Brad Pitt forced the production of that film to go first and delayed THE GAME by several years.

Ultimately, this proved to be a good thing, as SE7EN’s runaway success set THE GAME up for similar success with a built-in audience hungry for the visionary director’s next work.

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker who lives by himself in a huge mansion outside of San Francisco. His solitary existence keeps him at an emotional distance to those around him, a result of some deep emotional scarring that stemmed from his father’s suicide during childhood.

On a particularly fateful birthday (having reached the age his father was when he killed himself), Nick’s brother Conrad (Sean Penn) shows up with an unusual present: the opportunity to participate in a live-action game, organized by an enigmatic entertainment company called Consumer Recreation Services.

Nick ventures over to the CRS offices to indulge his curiosity, but after a rigorous mental and physical evaluation, he’s ultimately deemed unfit to take part in the game.

So imagine his surprise when he arrives home that night to find a clown mannequin in his driveway (placed in the same position that his father was found after jumping off the mansion’s roof), and the nightly news anchor interrupts his television broadcast to address Nick personally and announce the beginning of his “Game”.

Trying to ascertain just what exactly is going on, Nick follows a series of perplexing and macabre clues, eventually encountering a waitress named Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) who may or may not be a part of this Game.

As his life is manipulated to increasingly dangerous degrees, Nick loses control of his orderly lifestyle and begins to question CRS’ true intentions for him—- is this really just a game, or is it an elaborate con designed to drain his considerable fortune and rub him out in the process?

With THE GAME, Fincher has constructed an intricate puzzle for the audience to solve, wisely placing the narrative firmly within Nick’s perspective so that we’re taken along for his wild ride. Because the story is so dependent on shocking twists and turns, subsequent re-watchings can’t replicate the exhilarating experience of seeing it for the first time.

However, Fincher does a great job of peppering clues throughout that are so subtle I didn’t even notice them until my fourth time around, such as Unger’s character being on the periphery of the first restaurant scene without so much as a close-up or wide shot of her face to announce her presence.

Likewise, Nick’s first visit to CRS contains a strange interaction wherein the receptionist appears to give an order to the Vice President of Engineering (played by recently-diseased character actor James Rebhorn)—- why would a receptionist be telling a VP what to do?

These are only two subtle clues in a story that’s absolutely stuffed with them, which makes for something new to find with each re-watching.

Douglas turns in a fine performance as a cold, lizard-like Scrooge archetype. Nicolas Van Orton plays like a subdued, less flamboyant version of WALL STREET’s Gordon Gekko, which works because the distant, calculating aristocrat archetype is one that Douglas can pull off better than anyone.

David Fincher’s casting of Douglas also adds reinforcement to the idea of Fincher as Stanley Kubrick’s heir apparent (Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, was also a famous film star who headlined Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY (1957) and SPARTACUS (1960).

As the cold, cynical waitress Christine, Deborah Kara Unger is a great foil to Douglas’ character, as well as an inspired female part that resists becoming a conventional “love interest” trope. Her ability to mask her feelings and intentions is crucial to the success of THE GAME, leaving Douglas and the audience constantly trying to figure out where her loyalties lay.

Sean Penn’s role as younger brother Conrad is smaller than his usual performances, but he is no less memorable as a disheveled, mischievous agent of chaos. The late character actor James Rebhorn may have never held the spotlight in his own right, but every one of his performances was never anything less than solid, as can be seen in his performance as the disorganized, CRS VP of Engineering Jim Feingold. Rebhorn’s talents get a chance to truly shine in THE GAME, becoming the human face of the ominous CRS entity and, by extension, the film’s de facto antagonist.

David Fincher also throws in some small cameos in the form of fellow Propaganda director Spike Jonze as a medic towards the conclusion and SE7EN’s Mark Boone Junior as a private investigator tailing Nick.

THE GAME is also Fincher’s first collaboration with the late, great cinematographer Harris Savides in the feature world (they had previously shot a number of commercials together). The anamorphic 35mm film frame is awash in steely blues and teals, accentuated by high contrast lighting that signifies David Fincher’s signature touch. Flashback sequences filmed on 8mm provide a dreamlike nostalgia that appropriately dances along the line of sentimentality and melancholy.

Savides is well-suited to translate Fincher’s vision to screen, ably creating a push-and-pull dichotomy between the sleek polish of Nick’s old money world and the slick CRS offices and the seedy grunge of the back alleyways and slums that Nick’s Game takes him to.

The film is essentially about Nick’s loss of control, which juxtaposes his confused flailing against deliberate, observational compositions and precise dolly movements as a way to echo CRS’ forceful herding of Nick along a predetermined path.

This visual precision is highly reminiscent of Kubrick’s work, and very well may be what it would have looked like if Kubrick had ever decided to make an Alfred Hitchchock thriller. Another nod to Kubrick can see in the video slideshow that Nick watches as part of his initial evaluation, which in and of itself highly resembles its infamous counterpart in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

SE7EN’s Howard Shore returns to create the score for THE GAME, crafting an intriguing, brassy sound to reflect the propulsive mystery and peppered with a tinge of melancholy piano that hints at Nick’s inability to move past his father’s death.

David Fincher’s stellar ear for needle drops also results in the incorporation of the White Rabbits’ iconic “Somebody To Love” as a psychedelic taunting mechanism in the scene where Nick arrives at his mansion to find it’s been vandalized with black light graffiti.

All of these elements are tied together by Ren Klyce’s sound design into an evocative sonic landscape that draws us further into the puzzle.

Fincher’s music video work often explored the boundaries of the film frame, transgressing arbitrary lines to see what was being hidden from view. Most of the time, this meant that the artifice of the production process (crew, set facades, equipment, etc.) was made known to the viewer.

THE GAME is an appropriate avenue to explore this idea in feature form because the story concerns itself with what happens when Nick is essentially placed inside of his own movie. This plays out in the form of any close inspection of a given object or development by Nick reveals its inherent fakery and connection to filmmaking.

Christine’s apartment is revealed as a fake set via various set dressing techniques Nick stumbles upon. The hail of gunfire directed at Nick and Christine by masked gunmen is comprised of harmless blanks. Nick’s iconic plunge from the top of a San Francisco skyscraper is cushioned by a giant stunt airbag.

The game Nick has been thrust into is an elaborate, deliberate manipulation of actors and events designed to take him on a film-like character arc and transformation.

To this effect, architecture (another of David Fincher’s thematic fascinations) plays a huge role in the proceedings. Fincher’s locations and sets are always architecturally impressive, and THE GAME doesn’t disappoint in the classical style seen in Nick’s mansion and San Francisco’s financial district, as well as the sleek modernity of CRS’ futuristic offices.

David Fincher often frames his subjects from a low angle in order to show the ceilings—this accomplishes the dual effect of establishing the realism of the space as well as conveying a subtle sense of claustrophobia (a sensation very important to THE GAME’s tension).

Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft makes great use of lines as a way to direct your eye (especially in the CRS headquarters set). These lines subtly point Nick (and by extension, us) in the right direction to go despite the orchestrated chaos around him.

Fincher is able to find several instances within the story to indulge in other fascinations. THE GAME uses technology to striking ends in advancing the plot, like the television magically talking to Nick in his own home, or the hidden video camera lodged inside the clown mannequin’s eye.

A distinct punk aesthetic runs through Fincher’s filmography, with the most literal examples being found in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011), but even in a cold-Scrooge-turned-good tale such as THE GAME, David Fincher is able to incorporate elements of punk culture in a natural way (the aforementioned mansion break-in and black light graffiti vandalism sequence).

And finally, Fincher’s approach to the story is informed by a nihilistic sensibility, in that Nick is inherently a cynical, selfish person, along with the prominent theme of suicide and the ultimate revelation of the film’s events as orchestrated manipulations and inherently false.

THE GAME was a modest hit upon its release, bolstered by a compelling story and strong performances that were, in this author’s opinion, much better than those seen in SE7EN. By achieving a balance between engrossing performances and superb technical mastery, Fincher shows off huge growth as a director with THE GAME.

Ultimately, the film itself was somewhat lost in the sea of late 90’s releases, and for the longest time it languished on a bare-bones catalog DVD with a neglected transfer. Thankfully, THE GAME has undergone something of a cultural reappraisal with the release of The Criterion Collection’s outstanding Blu Ray transfer.

Now, THE GAME is often referenced among film circles in the same breath as his best work, and is fondly remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s (alongside SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB). For David Fincher, THE GAME cemented his reputation as a great director with hard edge and reliable commercial appeal.


FIGHT CLUB (1999)

1999’s FIGHT CLUB was the first David Fincher film I ever saw, and it became a watershed moment for me in that it was absolutely unlike any movie I had ever seen. Granted, I was only in middle school at the time and hadn’t quite discovered the world of film at large beyond what was available in the multiplex.

FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest experiences that turned me on to the idea of a director having a distinct style, a stamp he could punch onto the film that claimed it as his own. My own experience with FIGHT CLUB was easily dwarfed by the larger reaction to the film, which has since become something of an anthem for Generation X—a bottling up of the 90’s zeitgeist that fermented into a potent countercultural brew.

Coming off the modest success of 1997’s THE GAME, director David Fincher was in the process of looking for a follow-up project when he was sent “Fight Club”, a novel by the groundbreaking author (and Portland son) Chuck Palahniuk.

A self-avowed non-reader, David Fincher nonetheless blazed through the novel, and by the time he had put the book down he knew it was going to be his next project. There was just one problem—the book had been optioned and was in development at Twentieth Century Fox, his sworn enemies.

Their incessant meddling and subterfuge during the production of Fincher’s ALIEN 3(1992) made for a miserable shooting experience, ultimately ruined the film, and nearly caused Fincher to swear off feature filmmaking forever.

This time, however, he would be ready. He was now a director in high demand, having gained significant clout from the success of SE7EN (1995), and he used said clout to successfully pitch his vision of FIGHT CLUB to Laura Ziskin and the other executives at Fox.

The studio had learned the error of its ways and was eager to mend relations with the maverick director, so they allowed him a huge amount of leeway in realizing his vision. Armed with the luxury of not having to bend to the whims of nervous studio executives, David Fincher was able to fashion a pitch-black comedy about masculinity in crisis and the battle between modern commercialism and our primal, animalistic natures.

The novel takes place in Wilmington, Delaware (home to the headquarters of several major credit card companies), but Fincher sets his adaptation in an unnamed city, mostly because of legal clearance reasons (which would have been a nightmare considering how much FIGHT CLUB disparages major corporations and institutions).

Our protagonist is the unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton), an insomniac office drone obsessed with Swedish furniture and support groups for serious, terminal diseases he doesn’t have. He finds in these support groups an emotional release and a cure for his insomnia, achieving a stasis that props him up while pushing down the nagging feeling that he’s wasting his life away.

His world is up-ended by the arrival of the acidic Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fellow support group freeloader that confounds his perceived progress at all turns.

Constant travel because of his job as a recall analyst for a major car manufacturer provides some relief, and it is on one particular flight home that he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), whose effortless cool is unlike anything the Narrator has found in his so-called “single-serving” flight companions. Upon returning home, he finds his apartment has blown up due to mysterious circumstances. With nowhere else to turn, the Narrator calls up Tyler on a whim, who offers him a place at his ramshackle squatter mansion on the industrial fringes of town.

As the two men bond, they discover a cathartic release from an unexpected source: fighting. They channel this release into the founding of an underground brawling organization called Fight Club, where similarly culturally disenfranchised men can get together and unleash their primal side in bareknuckle grappling matches.

Soon, the duo’s entire outlook on life and masculinity changes, with the Narrator in particular taking charge of his own destiny and liberating himself from his perceived shackles at work.

In Fight Club, they have tapped into something very primal within the male psyche—a psyche subdued in the wake of rampant commercialism, feminism, and political correctness, just itching to be unleashed.

Fight Club grows larger than Tyler or The Narrator had ever hoped or expected, with satellite chapters popping up in other cities and the purpose of the secretive club evolving to include acts of domestic terrorism and anarchy.

When The Narrator finds himself losing control of the monster that they’ve created, he comes into mortal conflict with Tyler, who has gone off the deep end in his attempts to fundamentally and radically change the world.

Norton brings a droll, dry sense of humor to his performance as the Narrator, a medicated and sedate man who must “wake up”. In what is one of his most memorable roles, Norton ably projects the perverse, profoundly morbid thoughts of his character with sardonic wit and a sickly physicality. This frail, scrawny physicality is all the more remarkable considering Norton had just come off the production of Tony Kaye’s AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998), where made him bulk up with a considerable amount of muscle.

In his second collaboration with David Fincher after their successful team-up in SE7EN, Brad Pitt also turns in a career highlight performance as Tyler Durden, a soap salesman and anarchist with a weaponized masculinity and radical, seductive worldview that he is fully committed to living out.

His character’s name and persona have entered our pop culture lexicon as the personification of the unleashed, masculine id and the grungy, counter-commercial mentalities that defined the 1990’s.

Helena Bonham Carter counters the overbearing masculinity of David Fincher’s vision while oddly complementing it as Marla Singer, the very definition of a hot mess. Marla is a cold, cynical woman dressed up in black, Goth affectations.

Her aggressive feminine presence is an appropriate counterbalance to Tyler Durden’s roaring machismo, as well as serves to highlight the film’s homoerotic undertones. Meat Loaf, a popular musician in his own right, plays Bob—a huge, blubbering mess with “bitch tits” and a cuddly demeanor, while Jared Leto bleaches his hair to the point of anonymity in his role as a prominent acolyte of Durden’s (and thorn in the side of The Narrator).

To achieve FIGHT CLUB’s oppressively grungy look, David Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, the son of legendary DP Jordan Cronenweth (who had previously worked with Fincher on ALIEN 3). The younger Cronenweth would go on to lens several of Fincher’s later works due to the strength of their first collaboration on FIGHT CLUB.

The film is shot on Super 35mm and presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but it wasn’t shot anamorphic—it was instead shot with spherical lenses in order to help convey the gritty tone Fincher intended. Indeed, FIGHT CLUB is easily David Fincher’s grungiest work to date—the image is coated in a thick layer of grime and sludge that’s representative of the toxic philosophies espoused by its antihero subjects.

The foundation of FIGHT CLUB’s distinct look is built with Fincher’s aesthetic signature: high contrast lighting (with lots of practical lights incorporated into the framing), and a cold, sickly green/teal color tint. David Fincher and Cronenweth further expanded on this by employing a combination of contrast-stretching, underexposing, and re-silvering during the printing process in order to achieve a dirty, decaying look.

The production of FIGHT CLUB also generated some of the earliest public reports of Fincher’s proclivity for shooting obscene numbers of takes—a technique also employed by David Fincher’s cinematic forebear, Stanley Kubrick.

Both men employed the technique as a way to exert control over their actors’ performances and wear them down to a place of naturalistic “non-acting”. While this earns the ire of many a performer, it also earn as much respect for a director willing to sit through the tedium of dozens upon dozens of takes in order to really mold a performance in the editing room.

In a career full of visually dynamic films, FIGHT CLUB is easily the most volatile and kinetic of them all. Fincher employs a number of visual tricks to help convey a sense of surrealist reality: speed-ramping, playing with the scale of objects (i.e, presenting the contents of a garbage can as if we were flying through the Grand Canyon), and Norton’s Narrator breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly (a technique he’d later use to infamous effect in Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series).

Production designer Alex McDowell supplements David Fincher’s grimy vision with imaginative, dungeon-like sets in which to house this unleashed sense of masculinity, all while countering the sterile, color-less environments of the Narrator’s office and apartment.

Interestingly enough, the Narrator’s apartment is based almost exactly off of Fincher’s first apartment in (soul-suckingly bland) Westwood, an apartment he claims that he had always wanted to blow up.

THE GAME’s James Haygood returns to sew all these elements together into a breathtaking edit with manic pacing and psychotic energy, creating something of an apex of the particular sort of music-video-style editing that emerged in 90’s feature films.

FIGHT CLUB might just be the farthest thing (commercially-speaking) from a conventional Hollywood film, so it stands to reason that a conventional Hollywood score would be ill-fitting at best, and disastrously incompatible at worst. This mean that Howard Shore, who had scored David Fincher’s previous two features, had to go.

Really, ANY conventional film composer had to go in favor of something entirely new. In his selection of electronic trip-hop duo The Dust Brothers, Fincher received a groundbreaking score, comprised almost entirely of drum loops and “found” sounds. I have almost every note from that score memorized—I used to listen to the soundtrack CD almost every day during high school as I did my homework.

And then, of course, there’s The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”: a rock song that will live in infamy because of its inclusion inFIGHT CLUB’s face-melting finale. Sound and picture are now inextricably linked in our collective consciousness— I defy you to find someone whose perception of that particular song has not been forever colored by the image of skyscrapers imploding on themselves and toppling to the ground.

The music of FIGHT CLUB is further heightened by the contributions of David Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce, who was awarded with an Oscar nomination for his work on the film.

A main reason that Fincher responded so strongly to his initial reading of Palahniuk’s novel is that it possessed several themes that David Fincher was fascinated by and liked to explore in his films.

On a philosophical level, the story contains strong ties to nihilism with Tyler Durden’s enthusiastic rejection and destruction of institutions and value systems, and the subsequent de-humanization that stems from Fight Club’s evolved mission objective (which extrapolates nihilistic virtues to their extreme).

The novel’s overarching screed against commercialism also appealed to Fincher, who gleefully recognized the inherent irony in a director of commercials making a film about consumerism as the ultimate evil. David Fincher plays up this irony throughout the film by including lots of blatant product placement (there’s apparently a Starbucks cup present in every single scene).

This countercultural cry against commercialism and corporate appeasement is inherently punk, which is yet another aesthetic that Fincher has made potent use of throughout his career.

With FIGHT CLUB, David Fincher also finds ample opportunity to indulge in his own personal fascinations. His background at ILM and subsequent familiarity with visual effects results in an approach that relies heavily on cutting-edge FX.

This can be seen in the strangest sex sequence in cinematic history, which borrows the “bullet-time” photography technique from THE MATRIX (1999) to turn Pitt and Carter into enormous copulating monuments that blend and morph into one single mass of biology.

The idea of stitching numerous still photographs to convey movement (where the traditional use of a motion picture camera would have been impractical or impossible) also allows Fincher to rocket through time and space, such as in the scene where we scream from the top of a skyscraper down to find a van packed with explosives in the basement garage.

Architecture also plays in important role, with Durden’s decrepit (yet organic) house on Paper Street resembling the grand old Victorian houses in LA’s Angelino Heights juxtaposed against the faceless, monolithic city skyscrapers that are destroyed in the film’s climax.

Here, as in his earlier features, David Fincher tends to frame his subjects from a low angle looking up—this is done as a way to establish the realism of his sets and locations while imbuing the subjects themselves with an exaggerated sense of power and authority.

FIGHT CLUB also contains Fincher’s most well-known opening credits sequence: a dizzying roller-coaster ride through the Narrator’s brain.

Beginning with the firing of impulses in the fear center, the camera pulls back at breakneck speed, with our scale changing organically until we emerge from a pore on Norton’s sweat-slicked forehead and slide down the polished nickel of the gun barrel lodged in his mouth.  It’s an incredibly arresting way to start a film, and prepares us for the wild ride ahead.

Finally, FIGHT CLUB allows David Fincher to really play with the boundaries of his frame and reveal the inherent artifice of the film’s making. This conceit is best illustrated in two scenes. The first is the “cigarette burns” projection-room scene where the Narrator reveals Tyler’s fondness for splicing single frames of hardcore pornography into children’s films by explaining the projection process to the audience in layman’s terms.

This scene is present in the novel, but Fincher’s approach of it is further informed by his own experience working as a movie projectionist at the age of 16, where he had a co-worker who collected random snippets of a given film’s most lurid moments into a secret envelope.

The second scene in question is Tyler’s infamous “you are not your fucking khakis” monologue to camera, whereby his intensity causes the film he is recorded onto to literally wobble and expose the film strip’s sprocket holes. The effect is that of the film literally disintegrating before our eyes—the story has gone off the rails and now we’re helpless to do anything but just go along for the ride.

David Fincher’s terrible experience with the studio on ALIEN 3 directly contributed to FIGHT CLUB being as groundbreaking and shocking as it was. When studio executives (most notably Laura Ziskin) inevitably bristled at the sight of David Fincher’s bold, uncompromising vision in all its glory, their attempts to tone it down were blown up in their faces by a director who had already been burned by their tactics once before and was one step ahead of their game.

A great example of this is Ziskin asking David Fincher to change a controversial line (Marla Singer telling Tyler Durden that she wants to have his abortion), which David Fincher responded to by agreeing to change the line under the condition that it couldn’t be changed any further after that. Ziskin quickly agreed, because how could anything be worse than that?

Imagine her outrage, then, when Fincher came back with Marla’s line changed to “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school” and she couldn’t do anything to change it back. Once David Fincher knew how to play his meddlesome executives to his benefit, he became truly unstoppable.

FIGHT CLUB made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and its worldwide theatrical run was met with polarized reviews and box office disappointment. Quite simply, audiences were not ready for Fincher’s abrasive vision.

However, it was one of the first films to benefit from the DVD home video format, where it spread like wildfire amongst eager young cinephiles until it became a bona fide cult hit. It probably couldn’t have been any other way— FIGHT CLUB was made to re-watch over and over again, to pore over all the little details and easter eggs that David Fincher and company peppered throughout to clue us into the true nature of Tyler Durden’s existence.

FIGHT CLUB’s release also had real-world implications in the formation of actual underground fight clubs all across the country. In mining the dramatic potential of a fictional masculinity crisis, FIGHT CLUB tapped into a very real one that was fueled by a noxious brew of feminism, political correct-ness, the new millennium, metrosexuality and frat-boy culture (a subgroup that glorified the carnage and violence while ironically failing to recognize the film’s very palpable homoerotic undertones and thus assuming them into their own lifestyle).

Fifteen years removed from FIGHT CLUB’s release, the film stands as the apex of the cynical pop culture mentality of the 1990’s, as well as a defining thesis statement for a cutting-edge filmmaker with razor-sharp relevancy

If you want more inside info on the making of Fight Club, take a listen to the IFH Interview with FC screenwriter Jim Uhls.


PANIC ROOM (2000)

The expansive, sprawling nature of FIGHT CLUB’s story meant that director David Fincher spent a great deal of the film’s production in a van traveling to and from the film’s four hundred locations. Naturally, he wished to downscale his efforts with his next project and find a story that took place in a single location.

He found it in a screenplay by David Koepp called PANIC ROOM, inspired by true stories of small, impenetrable fortresses that New York City’s wealthy elite were building for themselves inside their homes. Because the story lent itself so well to an overtly Hitchockian style of execution and form, David Fincher approached PANIC ROOM (2002) as an exercise in pure genre, refusing to “elevate” the material with the infusion of potent allegory and subtextual thematics like he had done with FIGHT CLUB or SE7EN (1995).

The film is expertly constructed in a way that only Fincher could have envisioned, with top-notch filmmaking on par with any of his best work. However, PANIC ROOMwas somewhat lost in the noise of 2002’s other releases, and thus doesn’t enjoy the same cherished status of David Fincher’s higher-profile work (despite the argument that it should).

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is a recently divorced single mom, looking for a new home in Manhattan for her and her young daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart). They are shown a beautiful, expansive brownstone complete with cathedral ceilings, original crown molding, and a panic room—a hidden concrete room outfitted with survival and communications tech and designed as a refuge in the event of a home invasion.

Despite Meg’s misgivings that the property is simply too much house for the two of them, she buys it anyway. As Meg and Sarah sleep during their first night in the house, three burglars—Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) break inside.

Meg and Sarah are awakened by the commotion, and instinctually barricade themselves in the panic room. Any assurance of safety soon vanishes when Meg realizes that she never hooked up the panic room’s dedicated phone line, along with the revelation that what the burglars are after—millions of dollars in US bonds—is hidden in a floor safe underneath their feet.

What ensues is a suspenseful, contained thriller that would make Hitchcock green with envy as Meg and Sarah fend off this trio of unpredictable male intruders who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Jodie Foster is compelling as lead heroine Meg Altman, a fiercely maternal woman whose initial mild-mannered-ness gives way to a resourceful, cunning bravery. Interestingly, Foster replaced original actress Nicole Kidman, who had to leave the production due to the aggravation of an earlier injury (she still has a voice cameo as Meg’s ex-husband’s new girlfriend).

Despite the short notice, Foster exhibited enormous dedication to the role by giving up her chair on the Cannes Film Festival Jury as well as working through the pregnancy of her second child. Kristen Stewart, who was only eleven at the time of filming, turns in a great performance as Sarah, Meg’s punk-y daughter with a cynical attitude and intelligence beyond her years.

Stewart provides a nice balance to Meg’s refined femininity with a rough, tomboyish and androgynous quality (something which Foster had herself at Stewart’s age). In making the character of Sarah a diabetic, Stewart is able to become an active participant in the suspense and engage us on a personal, visceral level.

The three burglars prove just as compelling as our female protagonists due to a complex combination of values and virtues that causes conflict between them. The most accessible of the three is Forest Whitaker as Burnam, a professional builder of panic rooms and a sensitive, honorable man who projects a warm, authoritative presence.

This complex physicality is essential to the success of the role, and Fincher’s choice of Whitaker, who he previously knew not as an actor but as a fellow director at Propaganda Films, is an inspired one. Burnham is compelled not by greed but by obligation to his family, meaning that while he’s misguided in his attempts to right his wrongs, he’s not beyond saving.

His antithesis is Raoul, a mysterious, volatile man who quickly asserts himself as the group’s dangerous wild card. Raoul is played by Dwight Yoakam, a country singer turned actor who injects a great deal of menace to the proceedings.

Jared Leto, who previously appeared in David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB in a small role, benefits from the expanded screen presence that the character of Junior affords him. Junior is the self-designated leader of the operation, but he quickly finds control of the situation slipping from his grasp as the night unfolds.

Leto finds an inspired angle into what would otherwise be the stock hotheaded, impatient villain archetype by turning Junior into a trust-fund kid who’s ill-advised attempts at giving himself some edge (take those atrocious dreadlocks, for instance) only lead to the hardened criminals he’s trying to impress taking him less seriously.

PANIC ROOM, like all of Fincher’s pre-ZODIAC (2007) feature work, was filmed in the Super 35mm film format. While shot open-matte in the full-frame Academy aspect ratio, the finished film is presented on the widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio so that David Fincher had total freedom to compose the frame as he saw fit. He did it this way, as opposed to shooting in the anamorphic aspect ratio, because he apparently hates the limited lens choices and shallow depth of field that plagues the anamorphic process.

Fincher hired Darius Khondji, who had previously shot SE7EN, but Khondji left the production two weeks into the shoot due to creative differences with David Fincher’s meticulously planned and extensively pre-visualized approach (which stifled any on-set spontaneity). Cinematography duties were then passed on to Conrad W. Hall (not to be confused with his father, the legendary Conrad Hall who shot ROAD TO PERDITION (2002) and COOL HAND LUKE (1967)).

Hall Junior proves adept at replicating Fincher’s signature aesthetic via a high-contrast lighting scheme and a cold color palette whereby traditionally warm incandescent bulbs glow a pale yellow and the harsh fluorescents of the panic room take on a blue/teal cast. Fincher’s mise-en-scene is dotted with practical lights, creating an underexposed, moody image that is bolstered by a “no light” approach—meaning that David Fincher and Hall sought as much darkness as they could get away with, primarily using the extremely soft light afforded by kino-flo rigs.

A highlight of PANIC ROOM’s look is a constant, fluid, and precise camera that glides and floats through the house, as if unfettered by the limitations of human operation. This technique is achieved through the combination of the Technocrane and CGI that stitches multiple shots into one, seamless move.

The best example of this in the film is the virtuoso long take that occurs as the burglars break into the house. We first see them arrive, and swoop through the house as they try various entry points, all the while taking the time to show us Meg and Sarah asleep and unaware of the impending danger.

This shot would have been impossible to achieve before the rise of digital effects, a revolution that Fincher helped usher in due to his familiarity with the process from his days at ILM.

Because of his natural grasp on digital filmmaking tech, he is able to turn this incredibly complicated shot into a “thesis” money shot that condenses his entire visual approach to the film into a single moment while effortlessly establishing the geography of the house and orienting us for what’s to come.

As I mentioned before, the extensive location shoots and setups required by FIGHT CLUB resulted in Fincher desiring a singular, contained scenario for his next project. In developing PANIC ROOM, he realized he wanted to create the entire house as a studio set (a la Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW (1954) so that he could exert complete control.

Toward that end, he hired SE7EN’s production designer, Arthur Max, to construct the full-featured house inside a large soundstage as one continuous structure whose walls could be flown out to accommodate a camera gliding through the set.

Max’s work here is nothing less than masterful, as nary a seam of the complicated construction exposes itself throughout the entire film. The same could be said of the fluid edit by Fincher’s regular editor James Haygood, working in collaboration with Angus Wall.

Wall had previously edited bits and pieces of David Fincher’s commercial work, as well as the opening credits to SE7EN, but PANIC ROOM is Wall’s first feature editing job for David Fincher, and his success here has to led to continued employment in Fincher’s later features.

After a brief hiatus taken during the production of FIGHT CLUB, composer Howard Shore returns to David Fincher’s fold with a brassy, old-school score that oozes intrigue and foreboding.

During this time, Shore was consumed with scoring duties for Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, so PANIC ROOM was an assignment taken on precisely because of its low musical demands.

As it turns out, Shore’s work in PANIC ROOM is generally regarded as some of his best and most brooding. The score is complemented by a superb sound mix by David Fincher’s regular sound designer, Ren Klyce.

When done right, genre is a potent conduit for complex ideas and allegory with real-world implications. PANIC ROOM is essentially about two women fending off three male home invaders, but it is also about much more: the surveillance state, income equality, the switching of the parent-child dynamic…. the list goes on.

A visionary director like David Fincher is able to take a seemingly generic home invasion thriller and turn it into an exploration of themes and ideas. For instance, PANIC ROOMaffords Fincher the opportunity to indulge in his love for architecture, letting him essentially design and build an entire house from scratch.

The type of architecture that the house employs is also telling, adopting the handsome wood and crown molding of traditional brownstone houses found on the East Coast.

Architecture also serves an important narrative purpose, with the story incorporating building guts like air vents and telephone lines as dramatic hinging points that obstruct our heroes’ progress and build suspense.

Again, David Fincher employs low angle compositions to reveal the set ceiling in a bid to communicate the location’s “real-ness” as well as instill a sense of claustrophobia.

Fincher’s fascination with tech is woven directly into the storyline, which allows him to explore the dramatic potential of a concrete room with a laser-activated door and surveillance cameras/monitors.

The twist, however, is that despite all this cutting-edge technology (circa 2002, provided), both the protagonists and the antagonists have to resort to lo-fi means to advance their cause. Another aesthetic conceit that David Fincher had been playing with during this period is the idea of micro-sized objects sized up to a macro scale.

In FIGHT CLUB, this could be seen with the shot of the camera pulling back out of a trashcan, its contents seemingly as large as planets.

Fincher echoes this conceit in PANIC ROOM via zooming in on crumbling concrete until it’s as big as a mountain, diving through the gas hose as the burglars pump propane gas into the panic room, and jumping inside the glass enclosure of a flashlight to see a close up of the bulb spark on and off.

David Fincher ties this visual idea in with another signature of his films—imaginative opening credits sequences.  With PANIC ROOM, he places his collaborators’ names against the steel and glass canyons of New York City, as if the letters themselves were as big as skyscrapers and had always been a part of their respective structures.

As interesting of an idea it is, I’m not sure the large scope that these credits imply fully gels with a movie that’s so self-contained and insular.  And finally, the punk/nihilistic flair that hangs over David Fincher’s filmography has a small presence in Kristen Stewart’s androgynous punk stylings, as well as the appearance of The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious on one of her t-shirts.

Fincher’s desire to exert total control of the shoot via meticulous set-building and extensive computer pre-visualization ended up working against him, making for a long, strenuous shoot bogged down by technical difficulties and slow advancement.

However, the effort was worth it—PANIC ROOM became a box office hit upon its release, receiving generally positive reviews.  As a lean, mean thriller, PANIC ROOM is incredibly exhilarating and well-made; perhaps even one of the best home invasion films ever made.

More importantly, PANIC ROOM would be the last feature that David Fincher ever shot on celluloid film (as of this writing).  The 2000’s would bring the swift rise of digital filmmaking, a technology that Fincher—as a noted perfectionist and control-freak—would swiftly embrace.

PANIC ROOM closes the book on the first phase of David Fincher’s feature career (marked by gritty, subversive fare shot on film), heralding the arrival of a new phase that would solidify Fincher’s legacy amongst our most prestigious filmmakers


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2002-2007)

After the release of director David Fincher’s fifth feature, PANIC ROOM (2002), he took a five-year hiatus from feature work. However, this doesn’t mean he was lounging poolside with margaritas for half a decade.

He was hard at work in other arenas: prepping a sprawling film adaptation of the infamous San Francisco Zodiac murders during the 70’s, as well as taking on select commercial and music video work. During this five-year period, David Fincher created some of his highest profile (and most controversial) short-form work.

Fincher’s 2002 spot for Adidas, called “MECHANICAL LEGS” is a great little bit of advertising done in the classic David Fincher visual style: high contrast lighting, steely color palette and a constantly-moving camera.

The entire piece is a digital creation, featuring a pair of disembodied robot legs exhibiting superhuman agility and speed as they test out a new pair of Adidas sneakers. Fincher’s flair for visual effects and dynamic compositions really makes the spot effective and, more importantly, memorable.


COCA-COLA: “THE ARQUETTES” (2003)

I remember this particular ad, Coca-Cola’s “THE ARQUETTES” when it came out, as it received a lot of airplay based on the popularity of the titular couple following Courtney’s successful run on FRIENDS as well as their combined appearances in Wes Craven’s SCREAM films.

Of course, I had no idea David Fincher was behind the spot when I first saw it, but having grown accustomed to his aesthetic, I can easily spot it now. It’s evident in the desaturated warm tones that favor slightly colder yellows instead of typical oranges, as well as the high contrast lighting. The spot’s tagline, “True Love”, is poetically tragic now after the couple’s divorce in 2011.


XELEBRI: “BEAUTY FOR SALE” (2004)

In 2004, Fincher was commissioned by Xelebri to realize a stunning concept in the spot for “BEAUTY FOR SALE”. The piece takes place in a futuristic world, filled with the imaginative production design and world-building Fincher is known for, and bolstered by the visually arresting conceit of normal people wearing supermodel bodies as costumes (achieved through clever CGI and other visual effects). A cold color palette and high contrast lighting wraps everything up into a neat little David Fincher package.


HEINEKEN: “BEER RUN” (2005)

Fincher’s spot for Heineken called “BEER RUN” is also a commercial that I remember quite well from its initial run, primarily due to the fact that it was a big, lavish Super Bowl ad. The piece stars Fincher’s regular feature collaborator Brad Pitt as himself, adventurously trekking out into the urban night for a case of Heineken while avoiding the hordes of paparazzi.

Visually, a green/yellow color cast is applied over the image which accentuates the high contrast lighting and evokes not only the color branding of Heineken itself, but David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB (1999). Dynamic camera movement and the inclusion of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” over the soundtrack further point to Fincher’s confident vision.


NINE INCH NAILS: “ONLY” (2005)

Fincher’s only music video during this period was created for Nine Inch Nails’ single “ONLY”. Fincher had already been associated with NIN frontman Trent Reznor due to the inclusion of a remix of Reznor’s “Closer” in the opening credits toSE7EN (1995), but this is the first instance of the two men working together directly. This is notable because Reznor would go on to become a regular composer for David Fincher, beginning with 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and continuing to the present day.

Interestingly, the video is presented in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, but the look is classic Fincher: high contrast lighting, a steely/sterile grey color palette and a constantly-moving camera that gives the simple concept a dose of electric energy.

The concept serves Fincher’s fascination for tech, with a Mac laptop acting as the centerpiece to this 21st century orchestra. CGI is used to inspired effect in incorporating sound waves on the surface of coffee, as well as conveying Reznor’s face and performance via those needle-art slabs that were popular during the era.


MOTOROLA: “PEBL” (2006)

In 2006, David Fincher reteamed with his cinematographer on THE GAME (1997), the late Harris Savides, to shoot a commercial for Motorola called “PEBL”. The spot tracks the long, slow erosion of a rock until it becomes so smooth that is adopts the form factor of Motorola’s Pebl mobile phone.

Fincher uses CGI in the form of meteors, craters, and weather to portray eons of time in only sixty seconds. This spot was filmed with digital cameras, and is credited with giving Fincher and Savides to adopt the format for the production of their next feature collaboration, 2007’s ZODIAC.


ORVILLE REDENBACHERS: “REANIMATED” (2007)

A commercial recently started airing that digitally recreates the late Audrey Hepburn, and understandably caused a lot of furor. There’s a huge ethical debate about using CGI advancements to bring long-dead celebrities back to life, a debate that more or less began in 2007 when David Fincher and Orville Redenbachers had the audacity to bring Orville himself back from the dead to hawk some popcorn.

I understand advancing the technology so that it can be used for necessary purposes (i.e, finishing the performance of an actor who died during production like Paul Walker), but the final effect is never truly convincing. It’s mildly upsetting at best, and pants-shitting horrifying at worst.

Here, Fincher’s familiarity with effects works against him, with his excitement at bringing dear old Orville back from the dead perhaps blinding him to the resulting “uncanny valley” effect. “REANIMATED”is easily one of Fincher’s most controversial videos, and for good reason.


LEXUS: “POLLEN” (2007)

Another spot that’s heavily-reliant on CGI, Lexus’ “POLLEN” is set inside of a greenhouse that was created entirely in the digital realm. Here, David Fincher is able to exact total control over his image and dial in a high contrast, steely color palette that highlights the car’s streamlined design.

The main takeaway from this period of Fincher’s career is his experimentation with digital cameras and acquisition would result in his overall confidence in the format and its future. Once he shot the majority of ZODIAC on digital, his film days were basically over.

His early adoption transformed him into the poster boy for the cinematic potential of the nascent digital format on a large, blockbuster scale.


ZODIAC (2007)

I’ve written before in my essays on Paul Thomas Anderson and The Coen Brothers about how 2007 was a watershed year in modern cinema. That specific year saw the release of three films that are widely considered to be the best films of the decade, the apex of efforts by specialty studio shingles like Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent.

Mid-level divisions like these flourished during the Aughts, with studios putting up considerable financial backing into artistic efforts by bold voices in an attempt to capture the lucrative windfall that came with awards season prestige.

It was a great time to be a cinephile, but it was also ultimately an unsustainable bubble—a bubble that would violently pop the following year when these shingles shuttered their doors and studios turned their attention to blockbuster properties and mega-franchises (ugh) like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As an eager student in film school, 2007 was a very formative year for me personally. It was the year that Anderson’s THERE WILL Be BLOOD and The Coens’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN were released, but those films are not the focus of this article. This particular essay concerns the third film in the trifecta, David Fincher’s masterful ZODIAC.

When the film was released, I was already a David Fincher acolyte and had been awaiting his return to the big screen five years after PANIC ROOM. As I took in my first screening of ZODIAC on that warm, Boston spring afternoon, I became acutely aware that I was watching a contender for the best film of the decade.

ZODIAC’s journey to the screen was a long, arduous one—much like the real-life investigation itself. The breakthrough came when writer James Vanderbilt based his take off of Robert Graysmith’s book of the same name.

From Graysmith’s template, Vanderbilt fashioned a huge tome of a screenplay that was then sent to director David Fincher—helmer of the serial-killer-genre-defining SE7EN (1995)—basically out of respect.

Fully expecting Fincher to pass, Vanderbilt and the project’s producers were quite surprised to learn of the director’s interest and connection to the material— but Fincher himself wasn’t surprised in the least. He remembered his childhood in the Bay Area, where Zodiac’s unfolding reign of terror was the subject of adults’ hushed whispers and his own captivated imagination.

In an oblique way, ZODIAC is an autobiographical and sentimental film for David Fincher—a paean to an older, more idyllic San Francisco whose innocence was shattered by the Zodiac murders and ultimately lost to the negative economic byproducts of rampant gentrification.

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ZODIAC spans three decades of San Francisco history, beginning in 1969 and ending in 1991. The focusing prism of this portrait is the sense of paranoia and panic that enveloped the city during the reign of terror perpetrated by a mysterious serial killer known only as The Zodiac. Simply murdering people at random is a scary enough prospect to shake any city to its foundations, but Zodiac’s command of the media via chilling correspondence sent to newspaper editors and TV stations allowed him to disseminate his message and strike mortal fear into the heart of the entire state of California.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) takes up the Zodiac beat and finds an unlikely ally and partner in plucky cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose familiarity with pictorial language and messages aids in the endeavor to decode the Zodiac’s cryptic hieroglyphics.

Meanwhile, Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is breathlessly canvassing the populace and questioning hundreds upon hundreds of suspects in an effort to crack the Zodiac case, only to find frustration and confusion at every turn.

As the months turn to years, Zodiac’s body count continues to rise—until one day, it stops entirely. Time passes, nobody hears from the Zodiac for several years and the city moves on (including the increasingly alcoholic Avery).

That is, with the exception of Graysmith and Toschi, whose nagging obsession continues to consume them whole. With each passing year, their prospects of solving the case drastically decreases, which only amplifies their urgency in bringing The Zodiac to justice before he slips away entirely.

What sets ZODIAC apart from other serial-killer thrillers of its ilk is its dogged attention to detail. Fincher and Vanderbilt built their story using only the facts—eyewitness testimony, authentic police documentation and forensics evidence.

For instance, the film doesn’t depict any murder sequence in which there weren’t any survivors to provide accurate details about what went down. Another differentiating aspect about the film is the passage of time as a major theme, conveyed not only via on-screen “x months/years later” subtitles but also with inspired vignettes like a changing cityscape and music radio montages over a black screen.

ZODIAC’s focus lies in the maddening contradiction of factual accounts that stymied real-life investigators and led to missed clues and dead-end leads. The true identity of The Zodiac was never solved, and the film goes to painstaking lengths to show us exactly why that was the outcome.

ZODIAC attempts to deconstruct the larger-than-life myth of its namesake, but it also can’t help exaggerating him in our own cultural consciousness as the serial killer who got away—a modern boogeyman like Jason or Freddy that transcends the constraints of time and could pop up again at any time to resume his bloody campaign.

ZODIAC centers itself around a triptych of leads in Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo. The author of the film’s source text, Robert Graysmith, is depicted by Gyllenhaal as a goody-two-shoes boy scout and single father who throws himself into a downward spiral of obsession.

His sweet-natured pluckiness is the antithesis of the hard-boiled, cynical detective archetype we’ve come to expect from these types of films. Downey, per usual, steals every scene he’s in as the flamboyant, acid-witted Paul Avery. Ruffalo more than holds his own as the detail-oriented police inspector in a bowtie, David Toschi (whose actions during the Zodiac case inspired the character of Dirty Harry).

These three unconventional leads ooze period authenticity and help to immerse the audience into the story for the entirety of its marathon three hour running time.

By this point, Fincher had built up such an esteemed reputation for himself that he could probably cast any actor he desired. With ZODIAC’s supporting cast, Fincher has assembled a, unexpected and truly eclectic mix of fine character actors. John Carroll Lynch plays Arthur Lee Allen, the prime suspect in Toschi and Graysmith’s investigation.

Lynch assumes an inherently creepy demeanor that, at the same time, is not overtly threatening. Lynch understands that he has a huge obligation in playing Allen responsibly, since the storyline effectively convicts him as the Zodiac killer posthumously (when it may very well be not true at all).

When the Zodiac killer is seen on-screen, you’ll notice that it’s not Lynch playing the role. David Fincher wisely uses a different actor for each on-screen Zodiac appearance as a way to further cloud the killer’s true identity and abstain from implicating Allen further than the storyline already does. Additionally, this echoes actual survivor testimonies, which were riddle with conflicting and mismatching appearance descriptions.

Indie queen Chloe Sevigny plays the nerdy, meek character of Melanie. As the years pass in the film, she becomes Graysmith’s second wife and grows increasingly alienated by his obsession. She possesses a quiet strength that’s never overbearing and never indulgent.

Brian Cox plays San Francisco television personality Melvin Belli as something of a dandy and honored member of the literati. His depiction of a well-known local celebrity oozes confidence and gravitas. Elias Koteas plays Sergeant Mulanax, an embattled Vallejo police chief, while Dermot Mulroney plays Toschi’s own chief, Captain Marty Lee.

PT Anderson company regular Phillip Baker Hall appears as Sherwood Morrill, an esteemed handwriting analyst whose expertise is thrown into question as he succumbs to an escalating alcohol problem. Comedian Adam Goldberg appears in a small role as Duffy Jennings, Avery’s sarcastic replacement at The Chronicle, and eagle-eyed Fincher fanatics will also spot the presence of Zach Grenier, who played Edward Norton’s boss in FIGHT CLUB (1999).

ZODIAC is a very important film within Fincher’s filmography in that it marks a drastic shift in his style, ushering in a second act of creative reinvigoration fueled by the rise of digital filmmaking cameras and tools that could match celluloid pixel for crystal.

Fincher’s early adoption became a tastemaker’s vote of confidence in a fledgling technology and substantially bolstered the rate of adoption by other filmmakers.

Having shot several of his previous commercials on digital with THE GAME’s cinematographer Harris Savides, David Fincher was confident enough that digital cameras could meet the rigorous demands of his vision for ZODIAC and subsequently enlisted Savides’ experience as insurance towards that end.

Shooting on the Thomson Viper Filmstream camera in 1080p and presenting in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Fincher is able to successfully replicate his signature aesthetic while substantially building on it with the new tools afforded to him by digital.

Because of digital’s extraordinary low-light sensitivity, Fincher and Savides confidently underexpose their image with high contrast, shadowy lighting—many times using just the available practical lights, which resulted in moody, cavernous interior sequences and bright, idyllic exteriors. Fincher also is able to create something of a mundane, workaday look that stays within his established color space of yellow warm tones and blue/teal cold casts.

The procedural, methodical nature of the story is echoed in the observational, objective camera movement and editing. David Fincher’s dolly and technocrane work is deliberate and precise, as is every cut by Angus Wall in his first solo editing gig for Fincher having co-edited several of his previous features.

Wall’s work was certainly cut out for him, judging by Fincher’s well-documented insistence on doing as many takes as required in order to get the performance he wanted (it’s not uncommon in a David Fincher film for the number of takes to reach into the 50’s or 60’s).

To my eyes, ZODIAC is quite simply one of the most realistic and authentic-looking period films I’ve ever seen, owing credit to Donald Graham Burt’s meticulous production design. Burt and Fincher aren’t after a stylized, exaggerated vintage look like PT Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), but rather a lived-in, well-worn, and low-key aesthetic.

Absolutely nothing feels out of place or time. Fincher’s borderline-obsessive attention to historical detail extended as far as flying in trees via helicopter in one instance to make the Lake Berryessa locale look just as it did at the time.

Practical solutions like this were augmented by clever, well-hidden CGI and digital matte paintings that never call attention to themselves. Funnily enough for a film so predicated upon its historical authenticity, David Fincher also acknowledges a surprising amount of artistic license taken with the film’s story— compiling composites of characters and re-imagining real-life events in a bid for a streamlined, clean narrative.

In developing the film, Fincher initially didn’t want to use a traditional score, instead preferring to incorporate a rich tapestry of popular period songs, radio commercials, and other audio recordings.

Toward that end, he used several different styles of music to reflect the changing decades, such as jazz, R&B and psychedelic folk rock like Donavan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, which takes on a pitch-black foreboding feel when it plays over the film’s brilliantly-staged opening murder sequence.

Once the film was well into its editing, Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce suggested that the film could really use some score during key moments.

David Fincher agreed, and reached out to David Shire—the composer of Alan J. Pakula’s ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976), a film that served as ZODIAC’s tonal influence.

Shire’s score is spare, utilizing mainly piano chords to create a brooding suite of cues that echoes the oblique danger and consuming obsession that the story deals in.

The story of ZODIAC is perfectly suited to Fincher’s particular thematic fascinations. Architecture plays a big role, with Fincher depicting San Francisco as a city in transition. He shows cranes on the skyline, holes in the ground waiting to be filled, and most famously, an impressionistic timelapse of the TransAmerica tower’s construction.

This approach extends to his interiors, specifically the Chronicle offices, which slowly transform over the years from a beige bullpen of clacking typewriters and cathedral ceilings to a brighter workspace with low-slung tile ceilings and fluorescent light fixtures (as seen in the well-composed low angle shots that pepper the film).

Nihilism— another key recurring theme throughout David Fincher’s work— pervades the storyline and the actions of its characters. Because they’re unable to solve the mystery and tie things up with a neat Hollywood ending, they either fall into an existential crisis about all their wasted efforts, or they simply lose interest and move on.

Fincher’s exploration of film’s inherent artifice is present here in very meta stylings: film canisters and their contents become promising leads and clues, and the characters get to watch movies about themselves on the screen (Fincher makes a big show of Toschi attending the Dirty Harry premiere). ZODIAC’s unique tone and subtext is perfectly indicative of David Fincher’s sensibilities as an artist, and frankly, it’s impossible to imagine this story as made by someone else.

ZODIAC bowed at the Cannes Film Festival to great views, its praise echoed by a cabal of prominent critics stateside. They hailed it as a masterpiece and Fincher’s first truly mature work as a filmmaker—the implication being that the maverick director was ready to join the Oscar pantheon of Great Filmmakers.

The critics’ high praise hasn’t eroded since either; it consistently ranks as one of the best films of the decade, if certainly not the most underrated. I wish the same could be said of the box office take of its original theatrical run, which was so poor that it only made back its budget when worldwide grosses were accounted for.

Thankfully, the release of Fincher’s director’s cut on home video managed to bring the film a great deal of respect and attention. As a reflection of David Fincher’s strict adherence to facts and eyewitness testimony in making the case for Arthur Lee Allen as the Zodiac, the long-dormant case was actually re-opened by Bay Area authorities for further investigation. When the pieces are put all together, the evidence clearly points to ZODIAC as Fincher’s grandest achievement yet.


THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)

With some films, there’s an intense connection that you can’t fully explain. It resonates deep inside of you, in that cloud of unconsciousness. At the risk of sounding a little hippy-dippy, director David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008) is one such film for me. It feels like a life that I’ve already lived before, despite the fact that I’ve never been to the South and I was born too late in the twentieth century to remember most of it.

Yet, there’s something about the film’s eroded-paint interiors in particular that reminds me of a distinct time in my life, a time when I was re-discovering my hometown of Portland, Oregon with new eyes during summer breaks from college.

I only realized it after my most recent viewing, but the film also sublimely foreshadows major developments in my own life: The treasured tugboat upon which Benjamin Button spends a great deal of his early adult years is named The Chelsea (coincidentally the name of my fiancée), and the love of his life is an elegant dancer (again, the soon-to-be Mrs.).

I can’t make it through the film without tearing up a little bit (or a lot), especially during the last montage where David Fincher shows us the smiling faces from Button’s life as Button himself opines in voiceover about how relationships are life’s biggest treasure. The scene utterly slays me. Every. Single. Time.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is based off the F. Scott Fitzgerald book of the same name, published in 1922. A film adaptation had been in development since the 1970’s, associated with a wide variety of big-time Hollywood names like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Nicholson.

Due to the storyline of a man aging in reverse, which would require 5 different actors playing Button at various stages of his life, the idea never picked up much steam. A leading role split up between five men wouldn’t appeal to any one movie star, and the studio couldn’t justify the required budget with unknowns. After a while, most executives considered it to simply be one of those great screenplays that never got made.

By the early 2000’s, executives began to realize that CGI technology had caught up with the demand for a single actor to portray Button throughout the ages. They brought FORREST GUMP scribe Eric Roth aboard to try his hand at a new draft, but the project really began generating momentum when Fincher, fresh off his success with 2002’s PANIC ROOM, became involved.

Working with Spielberg’s producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (in addition to his own regular producer, Cean Chaffin), he developed the film simultaneously with his 2007 feature ZODIAC, which ended up going before cameras first. David Fincher’s creative steerage was instrumental in securing the participation of Brad Pitt, and with the decision to forsake the novel’s original Baltimore setting in favor of New Orleans and its generous post-Katrina tax incentives, the project was finally given the greenlight after decades of development.

Within Fincher’s filmography, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is just that—a curious case. It’s his most honored film, and certainly his most emotionally resonant and powerful. However, the film is not well-liked amongst the film community at large, let alone his devoted fanbase. It is commonly accused of maudlin sentiments, which at the time of its release were at odds with a cynical American mentality wrought by terrorism and an unpopular war abroad.

However, as the long march of time strips the film of the context of its release, its fundamental integrity increasingly reveals itself. Like its sister project ZODIAC, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON makes a strong case for one of the best films of its decade.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is bookended with a framing narrative that concerns an elderly woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett) lying on her deathbed in a hospital while Hurricane Katrina approaches. She implores her daughter to read her a series of journal entries she’s saved in a box, all of them written by a mysterious man known only as Benjamin Button.

His story begins on the eve of World War 1’s end in New Orleans, where a baby is born with quite the defect: severely wrinkled skin and a frail condition that’s consistent with an old man at the end of his life.

The baby’s mother dies during labor, and the father, wealthy button manufacturer Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), flees with the baby in horror, abandoning him on the back steps of a nursing home. The home’s caretaker, a fiercely maternal soul named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) discovers the baby and takes him in as her own, giving him the name of Benjamin.

The child confounds all expectations as he continues growing up into an elderly-looking little boy, appearing better and healthier every day. Benjamin (Brad Pitt) fits right in with the residents of the creaky old nursing home, and they become something of an extended family around him. One day, Benjamin meets a precocious little girl named Daisy, who sense just how different he is, and they begin a lifelong friendship.

As the years give way to decades, Benjamin continues to age in reverse, becoming more youthful and virile as he sets out into the world on a grand adventure that places him against the backdrop of the 20th’s century historical moments.

He becomes a master sailor, battles Nazi submarines in open waters, and even experiences a secret love affair with an old married woman (Tilda Swinton) in Russia. When Benjamin returns home from his adventures, he finds Daisy has grown into a beautiful young woman as well as a successful ballet dancer in New York.

Their attraction towards each other alternates erratically, never overlapping until Daisy’s career is cut short after getting hit by a taxi in Paris. Middle age sets in, and as Daisy becomes acutely aware of her mortality, she and Benjamin finally give in to each other and start a grand romance.

When Daisy announces she’s pregnant, Benjamin becomes withdrawn emotionally—he’s reluctant about becoming a father because as the child grows, he’ll only get younger still and, as he puts it, “(she) can’t raise the both of us”.

As Benjamin’s singularly unique life plays out, the film reveals itself to ultimately be about the heartbreak of age and time. It plays like a melancholic yearning for youth, while at the same praises the experience of life and living it to the fullest with the time you have.

Brad Pitt’s third collaboration with David Fincher is also his most sophisticated. As Benjamin Button, Pitt needs to be able to convey a complex life through all its various stages and differing attitudes. The main through-line of Pitt’s performance is that of a curious innocent, who soaks in everything around him with wide-eyed glee because he was never supposed to live long enough to see it anyway. The majority of Pitt’s performance is augmented by CGI, but his characterization is consistent and his physicality is believable across the spectrum of age. Simply put, Pitt’s performance is a career-best that takes advantage of his off-kilter leading man sensibilities.

Blanchett’s Daisy is an inspired counterpart as a complex character who is both tender and cold, idealistic and practical. Like Pitt, Blanchett must convey the full spectrum of womanhood with her performance, and does so entirely convincingly (with a little help from CGI “youth-inizing” techniques and conventional makeup prosthetics).

Tilda Swinton plays Liz Abbott, Benjamin’s mistress and lover during his short residency in a grand, old Russian hotel. Swinton, like Blanchett, is capable of playing a wide variety of age ranges, and here performs beautifully as an older, sophisticated and worldly woman who introduces Benjamin to the world of caviar and secret love affairs.

As Benjamin’s adopted mother Queenie, Taraji P. Henson is a revelation. She projects a strong, resilient dignity that allows her to essentially run the show at the old folks home Benjamin lives in. Mahershala Ali, better known for his role in Fincher’sHOUSE OF CARDS series, works for the first with the director here as Tizzy, Queenie’s lover and a distinguished, mild-mannered father figure to Benjamin.

Jason Flemyng plays Benjamin’s real father, Thomas Button, as a man besieged by melancholy over how his life has turned out. He’s a rich man, but all of the money in the world couldn’t have prevented his current situation, so he keeps Benjamin at an emotional distance until its time to pass his legacy and wealth on.

And last but not least, Elias Koteas— in his second consecutive performance for Fincher following ZODIAC—plays Monsieur Gateau, a blind clockmaker. Consumed by grief after losing his son to the Great War, Gateau constructs a clock that hangs in the New Orleans train station and runs backwards—thus paralleling Benjamin Button’s own life.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON furthers David Fincher’s foray into the digital realm. Working with a new visual collaborator in cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Fincher once again utilizes the Viper Filmstream camera to establish an all-digital workflow. Indeed, not a single frame of the film was ever printed to film before the striking of release prints.

Acquisition, editing and mastering was done entirely with bits and pixels— ones and zeroes. Presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the film is easily the director’s warmest-looking picture to date. The frame is tinged with a slight layer of sepia, while the warm tones veer towards the yellow part of the color spectrum and a cold blue/teal cast defines the current-day Katrina sequences.

The incorporation of practical lights into the frame creates a high contrast lighting scheme while making for moody, intimate interiors that evoke the old world feel of New Orleans.
Fincher’s color palette deals mainly in earth tones, which makes the presence of red (see Daisy’s dress during their first romantic date) all the more striking when it finally appears.

Red in general seldom makes an appearance in David Fincher’s work (except for blood, of course), a phenomenon that can be chalked up to Fincher’s self-avowed aversion to the color as it appears on film due to its distracting nature. However, with Daisy’s dress in particular, the costume designers were able to convince Fincher that the distraction served a legitimate story purpose.
For a director well known for his dynamic sense of camera movement, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a surprisingly sedate affair.

While certain key moments are punctuated with dolly or Technocrane movements, for the most part David Fincher is content to let the frame stay static and allow the performances to take center stage. This approach is bolstered by returning production designer Donald Graham Burt’s exceptional period reconstructions (themselves augmented with CGI and digital matte paintings).

Fincher’s regular editor Angus Wall stitches everything together in a deliberate, meaningful fashion that eschews flash in favor of truth and emotion. Kirk Baxter joins Wall, and would go on to become part of Fincher’s core editing team himself.

For the film’s music, David Fincher collaborates with Alexandre Desplat, who creates an elegiac, nostalgic score that sounds lush and romantic. Desplat’s work stands in stark contrast to the moody, foreboding scores that Howard Shore or David Shire created for Fincher’s earlier films.

Fincher supplements Desplat’s whimsical suite of cues with several historical needledrops that fill out the period: southern ragtime, R&B crooner hits like The Platters’ “My Prayer”, and even The Beatles’ “Twist And Shout”. Above all of these, the incorporation of Scott Joplin’s Bethena waltz stands out as the most powerful and cutting of cues (in my mind, at least). The song is as Old Time Dixie as it comes, but it’s a nostalgic little tune that resonates with me on a very strange level.

I can’t hear it without tearing up a little, and I can’t figure out why besides the obvious beauty of the song. The best way I can describe it as if it’s some remnant from a previous life that only my unconscious soul recognizes—which is an odd thing to say coming from a guy who doesn’t believe in reincarnation.

For a lot of people, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON doesn’t feel like a David Fincher film, mainly because of its overall optimistic and sentimental tone that stands at stark odds with the rest of his emotionally cold, nihilistic filmography. However, the film is right in line with the trajectory of Fincher’s other thematic explorations.

While the passage of time is a key theme specific to the film’s story, it builds upon the foundation that Fincher established in ZODIAC (a story that also took place over the course of several decades). The old world New Orleans setting allows for lots of Victorian/classical architecture in the form of ornate southern mansions and municipal buildings that, as the years tick by, give way to a distinct midcentury modern feel (see the duplex where Benjamin and Daisy’s daughter is born).

And finally, despite being shot on digital, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON plays with the artificial constructs of the film medium. Flashback sequences, like the blind clockmaker scenes and a man getting struck by lightning seven times are treated to look like old silent pictures from the Edison era—jittery frames, contrast fluctuations, and heavy scratches, etc.

These filters, applied in post-production, serve to differentiate the flashbacks from the sumptuously-shot main story, but they also clue in to a curious phenomenon that has risen out of the industry’s quick shift into digital filmmaking: the treating of digital footage to look like film, which is akin to a vegetarian trying to make a soy patty taste just like the chicken he refuses to eat in the first place.

To my memory, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is one of the earliest instances of applying filmic artifacts onto a digitally “pure” image, along with Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR in 2006.

It’s a commonly held tenet that age softens even the hardest of personalities. The production of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON saw David Fincher enter middle age and come to grips with his own mortality after the death of his father. As such, the film stands as a testament of an artist looking back on life and softening his edge without sacrificing who he is.

The film’s release in 2008 was met with modest commercial success and polarized reviews, with some deriding it as aFORREST GUMP knockoff while an equally vocal contingent hailed it as a technical triumph and a masterpiece of storytelling.

Fincher had his first real brush with the Oscars after the film’s release, with his direction receiving a nomination in addition to a nomination for Best Picture amongst a slew of actual Oscar wins for its groundbreaking visual effects work in seamlessly mapping a CG face onto a live-action body performance.

The cherry on top of the film’s success was its induction into the hallowed Criterion Collection, which—while met with scorn by Criterion fanboys for its perceived maudlin mawkishness— earned Fincher his place in the pantheon of important auteurs. It is an admittedly easy film to dismiss for cynical reasons, but THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON holds many treasures for those who choose to embrace it.

Like its unique protagonist, the film will persist through the ages precisely because of its poignant insights into the meaning of our fragile, fleeting existence on this earth.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2008-2010)

The release of 2008’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON found director David Fincher without a follow-up project immediately in the pipeline. His search for new material would eventually lead him to Aaron Sorkin and 2010’s masterful THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but due to the fact that the story wasn’t nearly as development-intensive as his previous film, Fincher was able to squeeze in a few commercials. His most notable work from this brief period consisted of multiple spots done for Nike and Apple, both giants in their respective fields.

NIKE: “SPEED CHAIN” (2008)

One of several spots that Fincher created for Nike in 2008, “SPEED CHAIN” is simply masterful in concept and execution. It depicts the evolution of speed, starting with a snake coming out of the water, morphing into a man, a leopard, a car, and finally a speeding bullet train. The piece is presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, as well as his signature cold color palette and dynamic camera movements that are augmented by CGI.


NIKE: “FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” (2008)

“FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” is yet another exceptional piece of advertising, set to a trip-hop remix of Ennio Morricone’s score for THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) as two young boys grow and develop essential football skills like agility and strength. It all culminates in a key confrontation between the two on the field as they collide with explosive force. Alongside the ever-present visual signatures, the piece is indicative of a major fascination of Fincher’s from this period in his career—the passage of time.


NIKE: “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” (2008)

Fincher’s third spot for Nike, “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” is heavy on the post-production, framing Olympians in film frames as the strips themselves run and twist through the frame. Shot by THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON’s cinematographer Claudio Miranda in David Fincher’s characteristic steely color palette, the piece also falls in nicely with Fincher’s continued exploration of the film frame’s boundaries and the mechanics of film itself as an artificial imaging medium.


STAND UP 2 CANCER: “PSA” (2008)

Stand Up 2 Cancer’s “PSA” spot features several vignettes in which celebrities (and scores of regular people too) stand up and face the camera—an admittedly literal concept. Several of Fincher’s previous feature collaborators make an appearance here: Tilda Swinton, Morgan Freeman, Elle Fanning, and Jodie Foster. Others, like Susan Sarandon, Keanu Reeves, Casey Affleck, and Tobey Maguire also pop up.


SOFTBANK: “INTERNET MACHINE” (2008)

David Fincher’s “INTERNET MACHINE” is a spot for a foreign cell phone company that, to my knowledge, never aired stateside. It’s a strange piece, and so dark that we almost can’t see what’s going on at all. Cast in a heavy, David Fincher-esque green color tint, Brad Pitt walks down the street and casually talking on his phone— all while CGI cars are blown away by apocalyptic winds behind him.


APPLE: “IPHONE 3G” (2009)

In 2009, Fincher did two spots for Apple’s iPhone line of products. The first, “IPHONE 3G” teases the secrecy that usually surrounds the release of a new iPhone by depicting the complicated security process of accessing the prototype stored within Apple’s laboratories.

The sleek, high contrast and steely look is characteristic of Fincher, but fits in quite sublimely with Apple’s own branding. The colorless set is full of various security tech and looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick movie, which is fitting for a director whose work is profoundly influenced by him.


APPLE: “BREAK IN” (2009)

“BREAK IN” advertises the imminent release of the 3G’s successor, the iPhone 3GS. This spot echoes the look of “IPHONE 3G” with a similar steely color palette and Kubrick-style set piece, but this time around David Fincher has a little more fun with the storyline and technology on display.


LEXUS: “CUSTOM CAR” (2009)

“CUSTOM CAR”, done for Lexus, is simple in concept and execution, featuring Fincher’s steely, cold, urban aesthetic and fascination with mankind’s relationship to technology—seen here via the convenience of custom car settings that help identify ownership in the absence of visual differentiation.

The piece isn’t available to embed as far as I can tell.


NIKE: “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” (2009)

Fincher’s 2009 spot for Nike, “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” is incredibly artful in its high contrast, black and white approach. It might be one of the most expressionistic depictions of football I’ve ever seen.

David Fincher’s characteristic use of CGI as a storytelling tool (not just for visual flash) can be seen at the end, where the football player/protagonist retires to the locker room and exhibits a lizard-like skin pattern of scales.


NIKE: “GAMEBREAKERS” (2010)

“GAMEBREAKERS” is all computer-generated, and as such it hasn’t aged as well. It looks more like an old videogame, but perhaps that was the intent. Fincher once again works with cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who shot live-action face elements that were then mapped onto CG bodies. The idea is similar to the tech employed for THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, but reversed and applied to a dynamic action sequence.


THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

Facebook is easily the biggest, most transformative development of the early twenty-first century. It completely revolutionized how we communicate with each other, how we keep in touch with old friends and family, and even how we use the Internet on a fundamental level. It single-handedly ushered in the era of “Web 2.0” that experts spent most of the 90’s predicting and theorizing about.

The fact that Facebook was born in the dorm room of some Harvard kid meant we had entered a brave, new digital age. We were now in a world that benefitted the young and the savvy, the likes of who didn’t wait to “pay their dues” or obtain a blessing from the old guard before going about casually changing the world.

At the end of the day, however, Facebook is a tool. A product. A collection of ones and zeroes organized just so and projected onto our monitors. So, when it was announced that THE WEST WING creator Aaron Sorkin had written a screenplay based off “The Accidental Billionaires”, Ben Mezrich’s book on Facebook’s turbulent founding, the question on everyone’s minds (as well as the film’s own marketing materials) was: “how could they ever make a movie out of Facebook?”

As Mezrich’s book revealed (and Sorkin’s screenplay built upon), the inside story of Facebook’s genesis was fraught with a level of drama, intrigue, and betrayal normally reserved for Shakespeare.

Sorkin’s script, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, was a high-profile project from day one. It attracted the efforts of top producers like Scott Rudin, in addition to well-known personalities like Kevin Spacey, who signed on to executive produce the film. Directing duties were eventually handed to David Fincher—- the right decision, given that literally nobody else could’ve made this film as masterfully as he has done here.

When THE SOCIAL NETWORK debuted in October of 2010, it enjoyed very healthy box office receipts, mostly due to the name recognition of Facebook as well as a collective curiosity about its eccentric founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Others—like me—simply came to worship at the altar of David Fincher, subject matter be damned.

Because life is unfair, THE SOCIAL NETWORK came close to Oscar glory but was ultimately robbed by some movie about a cussing monarch or whatever that nobody will remember in ten years. There’s a strong case to be made that THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the best film in Fincher’s entire body of work, but that’s a hard case to argue considering the strength of the rest of his filmography.

One thing is for certain: we hadn’t even completed the first year of the Teens before David Fincher had given us a strong contender for the best film of the new decade. THE SOCIAL NETWORK uses Zuckerberg’s deposition hearings as framing devices, allowing for the bulk to story to occur as flashback while the “present-day” sequences orient us in time and space and help keep us on the same page as the characters.

We see Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) under fire from two fronts—Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) are suing him because they believe Facebook was an original idea of theirs that Zuckerberg stole, while Zuckerberg’s former best friend and Facebook CFO is suing him because he cheated him out of millions of dollars that were rightfully his. Fincher then transports us to Cambridge, Massachusetts during the mid-2000’s where Zuckerberg was an undergrad at Harvard.

When his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) dumps him for being a cold, cynical little twerp, Zuckerberg goes home and creates Facemash—a website that compares randomly-generated portraits of female students. The ensuing traffic crashes Harvard’s computer network and gains him a large degree of notoriety among the student body as well as disciplinary action from Harvard’s board.

Word of his antics reach the Winklevoss twins (henceforth known as the Winklevii), who hire him to realize their idea of a Harvard-exclusive social networking site called Harvard Connect while dangling the vague possibility of an invitation to their prestigious Final Club in front of him like a carrot.

But in bouncing their idea off of his friend Saverin, Zuckerberg realizes he has a much better one, disregarding his commission to build Facebook with Saverin instead. The popularity of Facebook explodes around the campus, turning Zuckerberg and Saverin into local celebrities. It’s not long until the site expands its user base to other Ivy League schools as well as Stanford, located right in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Understandably, the Winklevii finds themselves humiliated and infuriated by Zuckerberg’s deceit, and so begin building a nasty lawsuit against him.

Having left Boston for the warmer climes of Palo Alto for the summer, Zuckerberg and Saverin hustle to find more capital for their successful little business, eventually starting a partnership with Napster founder Sean Parker, who helps set them up with meetings with big-time investors as well as some primo office space.

As Facebook is launched into the stratosphere, Zuckerberg finds himself accumulating enemies faster than friends. Much is made in the film about the inherent irony of the creator behind the world’s most successful social networking endeavor losing all of his friends in the process.

This idea is most potent in the major conflict between Zuckerberg and a scorned, exiled Saverin who rages back with venomous litigation after he’s deceived out of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential earnings.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK would live or die on the strengths of its performances, a notion that the technically-minded Fincher recognized and applied to his strategy by putting an unusual amount of focus (for him) on the performances.

Beginning with a generous three weeks of rehearsal time prior to the shoot, and following through with consistently demanding obscene numbers of takes (the opening scene had 99 takes alone), David Fincher led his cast into delivering searing, career-best performances.

The lion’s share of the attention and the film’s only acting nomination at the Oscars went to Jesse Eisenberg’s pitch-perfect performance as Mark Zuckerberg, or rather, the fictional version of the real-life Facebook founder that Sorkin had created. Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg as a cold genius with sarcastic, antisocial tendencies. He is regularly absent from the present—his mind is elsewhere, preoccupied by his duties back at the office.

At the same time, he can be calculating and ruthless when he needs to be. As Eduardo Saverin—the initial investor and embattled ex-CFO of Facebook—Andrew Garfield delivers a breakout performance. Decent, passionate, and perhaps a little squirrely, Saverin is Zuckerberg’s closest friend and confidant; a brother. But their relationship is a Cain and Abel story, and because of his blind trust that Zuckerberg will do the right thing and look out for him, he inevitably assumes the Abel position.

Pop icon Justin Timberlake— in a performance that legitimized his status as a capable actor— plays Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and Silicon Valley’s de facto “bad boy”. Timberlake easily channels a flashy, cocky, and flamboyant physicality that’s at once both undeniably attractive to Zuckerberg and duplicitously sleazy to Saverin.

Fincher’s casting of Timberlake is quite playful, and he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pointing out the irony of a pop star playing a man who single-handedly transformed (some might say ruined) his industry.
Fincher’s eclectic supporting players serve as rock-solid satellites that orbit around the film’s three titanic leads. David Fincher’s series of collaborations with the Mara clan begins here with the casting of Rooney Mara as Erica Albright, Zuckerberg’s ex girlfriend. She’s patient and honest, but in a no-bullshit kind of way that’s not afraid to tell people off and put them in their place.

Mara’s character is presented as a major driving force behind Zuckerberg’s actions, with their breakup becoming the inciting event that drives him to create Facemash in the first place. Mara turns in a spectacular low-profile performance that would lead to high-profile roles in other films, not the least of which was as the lead in Fincher’s next project, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Rashida Jones, better known for her work on PARKS & REC, plays the admittedly thankless role of Marilyn Delpy, an insightful young lawyer in Zuckerberg’s deposition. Her knack for comedy is well documented in her larger body of work, but in THE SOCIAL NETWORK she shows off a fantastic serious side that is consistently realistic.

Armie Hammer’s dual performance as the Winklevoss twins was yet another of the film’s many breakouts. Hammer’s portrayal of the film’s primary set of antagonists required the dashing young actor to not only change his physicality between Tyler and Cameron by mere degrees, but also to undergo the arduous process of motion-capturing his face for its later digital compositing onto the body of actor Josh Pence.

Pence, it should be noted, is the great hero of the piece, as he valiantly forfeited his own performance in service to Fincher’s vision. And last but not least, Joseph Mazzello turns up in his highest-profile role since 1993’s JURASSIC PARK as the anxious, nerdy Dustin Moskovitz— Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard and one of Facebook’s founding fathers.

As I’ve grown older and more entrenched in Los Angeles’ film community, I’ve found that my connections to major studio films have become increasingly personal, and my degrees of separation from the prominent directors and actors I admire decreasing exponentially. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a personal flashpoint then, in that a lot of my friends and acquaintances are a part of the film.

I suppose this is due to the story’s dependence on talent in their early twenties, as well as just being associated with the larger Los Angeles film community at the right time. For instance, my co-producer on my 2012 feature HERE BUILD YOUR HOMES, Josh Woolf, worked on the film as a production assistant and was there during the filming of the aerial title shot with Zuckerberg running across Harvard Square (a shot we’ll address in detail later).

Additionally, an actor friend of mine who I shot a short film with in January 2014, Toby Meuli, plays one of the more-prominent Harvard students during the Facemash sequence. A member of my group of friends from University of Oregon makes a brief appearance during a Final Club party sequence in which he chugs from a bottle of liquor and hands it off to Andew Garfield standing behind him.

I even went to a party in Los Feliz in 2010 that was thrown by the young woman with a pixie cut who was featured prominently during the opening frat party sequence. And finally, Mike Bash—a very close friend of mine—was cast in a great scene that followed the Bill Gates seminar. He was originally the guy who didn’t know that it was actually Bill Gates who was speaking. The scene was initially shot in Boston, but his role was cut when David Fincher eventually decided that he didn’t like how he directed the scene.

Rather than live with what he had, David Fincher reshot the scene in LA with new actors. Naturally, Bash was pretty despondent over his exclusion from the finished product, despite my assurances that he achieved a dream that eludes the grand majority of aspiring (and successful) actors: receiving direction from David Fucking Fincher.

David Fincher’s foray into digital filmmaking soldiers on in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but this time he swaps out the Viper Filmstream camera with its maximum resolution of 1080 pixels for the glorious 4k visuals of the Red One camera.

His FIGHT CLUB cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, returns to shoot THE SOCIAL NETWORK in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, ultimately bagging a Cinematography Oscar nomination for his trouble. Fincher and Cronenweth convey an overall cold tone without relying on the obvious blue side of the color spectrum. Warmer shots are dialed in to a yellow hue, with a prominent green cast coating several shots.

David Fincher’s visual signature is immediately apparent, once again utilizing high contrast lighting and practical lamps that make for dark, cavernous interiors. In shooting the film, Fincher and Cronenweth pursued a simple, unadorned look. Combined with the digital format’s increased sensitivity to light, most lighting setups were reportedly completed in twenty minutes or less.

The camerawork is sedate and observational, containing none of the flashiness of its kindred tonal spirit, FIGHT CLUB. When the camera does move, the name of the game is precision—meaning calculated dolly moves or the motion-controlled perfection of the Technocrane. There’s only one handheld shot in the entire film, when Timberlake’s Parker drunkenly approaches a bedroom door at a house party to find police on the other side.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK marks production designer Donald Graham Burt’s third consecutive collaboration with Fincher—and third consecutive period piece. Thankfully, reconstructing the mid-2000’s isn’t as arduous a process as recreating the 70’s or large swaths of the twentieth century.

The major challenge on Burt’s part was replicating a well-known campus like Harvard in an authentic manner when the school refused to let the production film on their grounds. Shots filmed at Johns Hopkins University, as well as various locations in Los Angeles are unified in time and space by David Fincher’s editing team of Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter.

The director’s adoption of digital techniques extends well into the post-production realm, with any promise of the technology’s ability to make editing easier going right out the window because of Fincher’s preferred shooting style.

Fincher had routinely used two cameras for each setup, effectively doubling his coverage, in addition to regularly demanding dozens upon dozens of takes until he was satisfied. At the end of it all, Wall and Baxter were left with over 268 hours of raw digital footage to sift through—a momentous task made all the more complicated by David Fincher’s tendency to mix and match elements from various takes right down to individual syllables of audio to achieve the cadence of performance he desired.

The new tools that digital filmmaking affords have certainly unleashed Fincher’s control-freak tendencies, but when that same obsession results in his strongest work to date and Oscar wins for his editing team, it can hardly be called a bad thing.

One of the most immediate and striking aspects of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is its unconventional musical score, written by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor in his first scoring job after a series of casual collaborations with Fincher (SE7EN’s opening credits and the music video for Reznor’s “ONLY”).

Partnering with Atticus Ross, Reznor has managed to create an entirely electronic sound that not only evokes his own artistic aesthetic, but also complements the film’s tone perfectly. Reznor’s Oscar-winning suite of cues is quite spooky, incorporating a haunting droning sound that unifies all the disparate elements. It almost sounds like someone dancing upon a razor’s edge.

The now-iconic main theme uses melancholy piano plunks that recall nostalgia and childhood, slowly getting softer and lost to audio buzz and droning as Zuckerberg strays from innocence. Another standout is a rearrangement of the Edvard Grieg’s classical masterpiece “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” that appears during the Henley Regatta rowing sequence, which sounds as through it were filtered through the manic, electric prism of Wendy Carlos (Stanley Kubrick’s composer for THE SHINING (1980).

Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce layers everything into a coherent audio mix that would net him his own Oscar nomination. Klyce and David Fincher’s approach to the sonic palette of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is quite interesting, in that they don’t shy away from mixing in loud music and ambience during crowded scenes like the opening tavern sequence or the midpoint nightclub sequence.

The dialogue is almost lost amongst the loud din of activity, becoming a counterintuitive strategy to invest the audience and signal to them that they’ll really have to listen over the next two hours. Despite being a primarily talky film, the experience of watching THE SOCIAL NETWORK is anything but passive.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK takes all of Fincher’s core thematic fascinations and bottles them up into a singular experience. The director’s opening credits are always inspired, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK is no different (despite being relatively low-key).

Echoing Zuckerberg the character’s composed, plodding nature, David Fincher shows us Eisenberg running robotically through the Harvard campus late at night, which not only establishes the setting well, but also introduces us to the lead character’s relentless forward focus. Treating the text to disappear like it might on a computer screen and laying Reznor’s haunting theme over the whole thing are additional little touches that complete the package.

The title shot in this sequence, where we see Zuckerbeg run through Harvard Square from an overhead, aerial vantage point, also shows off Fincher’s inspired use of digital technology in subtle ways. The shot was achieved by placing three Red One cameras next to each other on top of a building and looking down at the action below.

This setup later allowed Fincher to stitch all three shots into one super-wide panorama of the scene that he could then pan through virtually in order to follow Zuckerberg. It’s insane. It’s genius.

Mankind’s relationship to technology has always been a major staple of David Fincher’s films, a thematic fascination influenced by his forebear Stanley Kubrick. In THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Fincher’s career-exploration of this theme comes to a head as the story’s main engine. The saga of Mark Zuckerberg is inherently about computers, the Internet, our complicated interactions with it, and its effect on our physical-world relationships.

Whereas Kubrick painted technology as dehumanizing and something to be feared, Fincher sees it as something to embrace—- something that distinctly enhances humanity and differentiates one person from the other. In David Fincher’s work, the human element tends to coalesce around the nihilistic punk subculture.

Our protagonist is inherently nihilistic and narcissistic, willing to burn whatever bridge he needs to advance his own personal cause, despite his actions not being fueled by money or power. The story hits on Fincher’s punk fascinations with Zuckerberg’s rebelliousness and devil-may-care attitude, in addition to the overt imagery of antisocial computer hackers and the inclusion of The Ramones’ “California Uber Alles”.

Finally, Fincher’s emphasis on architecture helps to evoke a sense of time and place, mixing in the old-world Harvard brownstones with the sleek modernism of the Facebook offices and deposition rooms that echoes the film’s subtext of the old guard stubbornly giving way to a new order.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK is easily David Fincher’s best-received film. When it was released, it scored high marks both in performance and critical reviews, going on to earn several Oscar nominations and even taking home gold statues for some of the big categories like Editing (Wall & Baxter) and Adapted Screenplay (Sorkin).

Ultimately, Fincher himself lost out on its deserved Best Director and Best Picture awards to THE KING’S SPEECH, but anybody could tell you which of the two films will be remembered in the decades to come. THE SOCIAL NETWORK again finds Fincher operating at the top of his game —a position he’s held since SE7EN even though he only broke through into true prestige with 2007’s ZODIAC.

It may not be an entirely accurate reflection of its true-life subject, but THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a pitch-perfect reflection of what Zuckerberg left in his wake: a society that would never be the same, fundamentally changed by a radical new prism of communication.


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

The late 2000’s was a golden era for young adult fiction in both the novel and film mediums. Just look at the runaway success of the TWILIGHT series or THE HUNGER GAMES—books or films. Doesn’t matter, because they both are equally prominent within their respective mediums. Despite your personal stance on these properties (trust me, I want them gone and buried just as much as you), you can’t deny their impact on pop culture.

During this time, another book series and subsequent set movie adaptations captivated an admittedly older set—Stieg Larsson’s MILLENNIUM trilogy. Named after the muckracking news magazine that central character Mikael Blomvkist works for, the books (and movies) comprise three titles: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, and “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”. In 2009, the first of the Swedish film adaptations came out based on “Dragon Tattoo”, featuring newcomer Noomi Rapace in a star-making turn as the series’ cyper-punk heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

As the Swedish film trilogy proved successful both at home and abroad, it was inevitable that the major US studios would remake the property for American audiences. The task fell to Sony Pictures, who set up THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO with super-producer Scott Rudin overseeing a screenplay by esteemed writer Steve Zaillian.

Rudin’s natural choice for a director was David Fincher, who he had previously worked on the very successful THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) with. Fincher was drawn to the story of two mismatched misfits trying to solve a decades old murder, despite his misgivings that he had become the go-to guy for serial killer films after the success of SE7EN (1995) and ZODIAC (2007).

The tipping point came in Fincher’s realization that he would be at the helm of one of the rarest projects in mainstream studio filmmaking: a hard R-rated franchise. As expected, David Fincher delivered a top-notch film with Oscar-caliber performances and effortless style. For whatever reason, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO didn’t connect with audiences, and its lackluster box office performance probably aborted any further plans for completing the trilogy.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is structured differently than most other thrillers, in that it eschews the traditional three-act design in favor of five acts. This might be perhaps why the film floundered in the United States, where audiences have been subliminally conditioned to accept the ebb and flow of three acts as acceptable narrative form.

The film’s first half tells a two-pronged story, with one thread following Mikael Blomvkist (Daniel Craig)—a disgraced journalist who has recently lost a high-profile lawsuit against wealthy industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. After taking some time off from his co-editor gig at news magazine Millennium, he is approached by Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a rival of Wennestrom’s and a wealthy industrialist in his own right. Vanger brings Blomvkist to his sprawling estate in rural Hedestat under the auspices of authoring a book of his memoirs.

However, the true purpose of Blomvkist’s employment is much more compelling—to try and solve the decades-old case of Henrick’s granddaughter Harriet, who went missing in the 1960’s and is presumed killed.

Blomvkist takes up residence in a guest cottage on the property and dutifully begins poring over the family records and taking testimony from the various relatives, some of who have shady ties to the Nazi Party in their pasts.

Meanwhile in Stockholm, a young computer expert named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) grapples with the fallout of her foster father’s debilitating stroke. She’s forced to meet with state bureaucrats for evaluation of her mental faculties and state of preparedness for life on her own.

Her case worker—a portly, morally-bankrupt man named Yils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen)—forces her to perform fellatio on him in exchange for rent money, his abuse eventually culminating in Salander’s brutal rape.

However, he doesn’t expect Salander’s ruthlessness and resolve, made readily apparent when she returns the favor and rapes him right back.
Blomvkist requests the help of a research assistant, and in an ironic twist, is paired with Salander—- the very person who performed the background check on him prior to Vanger’s offer of employment.

They make for an unlikely, yet inspired pairing—both professionally as well as sexually. Together, they set about cracking the case, only to discover their suspect is much closer—and much deadlier—than they could’ve imagined.

James Bond himself headlines David Fincher’s pitch-black tale, but it’s a testament to Daniel Craig’s ability that we never are actually reminded of his secret agent exploits throughout the near-three-hour running time.

Craig has been able to avoid the sort of typecasting that doomed others like Mark Hamill or Pierce Brosnan before him, simply because he refuses to let his roles define him. As disgraced journalist Mikael Blomvkist, he projects a slightly disheveled appearance (despite still being an ace fucking dresser). It may not be the most memorable role of his career but he turns in a solid, faultless performance regardless.

The true spotlight goes to Rooney Mara’s cold, antisocial hacker punk, Lisbeth Salander. Mara underwent a radical transformation for the role, even so far as getting real piercings, tattoos, dye jobs, even having her eyebrows bleached.

Considering her previous collaboration with David Fincher was as the squeaky-clean girl-next-door Erica Albright in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Mara’s appearance in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is gut-level arresting.

The depth of Mara’s talent is evident in her unflinching confrontation with the most brutal aspects of her character arc. By giving herself over to the role entirely, she’s able to take a character that was already so well-defined by Rapace in the Swedish versions and make it completely into her own. Her Best Actress nomination at the Oscars was very much deserved.

Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Robin Wright round out Fincher’s compelling cast. Plummer is convincing as Henrick Vanger, depicting the retired industrialist as a good-natured yet haunted old man, as well as a bit of a dandy.

Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger is the current CEO of the family business, and his distinguished-gentleman persona cleverly hides his psychopathic, murderous inclinations. Wright plays Erika Berger, Blomvkist’s co-editor at Millennium and his on-again, off-again lover. Wright is by her nature an intelligent and savvy woman, as evidenced not just here but in her subsequent collaboration with Fincher in HOUSE OF CARDS as Kevin Spacey’s Lady MacBeth-ian spouse.
In keeping with David Fincher’s affinity for digital filmmaking technology, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO takes advantage of the Red Epic digital cameras, the next generation of the type that THE SOCIAL NETWORK was shot on.

The film is presented in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but again it is not true anamorphic. Besides being a reflection of David Fincher’s general distaste for the limitations of anamorphic lenses, the shooting of the image in full-frame and the later addition of a widescreen matte in postproduction is a testament to Fincher’s need for control.

This method allows him to compose the frame exactly as he wants, and the Red Epic’s ability to capture 5000 lines of resolution allows him an even greater degree of precision in zooming in on certain details, blowing up the image, or re-composing the shot without any loss in picture quality.

This technology also affords better image stabilization without any of the warping artifacts that plague the process.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth returns for his third collaboration with Fincher, having replaced original director of photography Fredrik Backar eight weeks into the shoot for reasons unknown.

Despite his initial position as a replacement DP, Cronenweth makes the picture his own, with his efforts rewarded by another Oscar nomination. David Fincher’s signature aesthetic is very appropriate for the wintery subject matter, his steely color palette of blues, greens and teals evoking the stark Swedish landscape— even warmer tones are dialed back to a cold yellow in Fincher’s hands.

The high contrast visuals are augmented by realistically placed practical lights that suggest cavernous interiors. Fincher’s sedate camera eschews flash in favor of locked-off, strong compositions and observant, calculated dolly work. When the camera moves, it really stands out in an affecting way.

Nowhere in the film is this more evident than in the shot where Craig’s Blomvkist is in the car approaching Vanger’s extravagant mansion for the first time. Presented from the forward-travelling POV of the car itself, the mansion grows larger in the center of frame— the symmetrical framing conceit suggesting ominous perfection.

The fact that the camera is stabilized makes for a smooth foreboding shot that takes any sort of human element out of the equation and replaces it with a fundamentally uneasy feeling. In the commentary for the film, David Fincher cites a favorite book from childhood, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”—the sequence in which Harker approaches Dracula’s Castle serving as inspiration for his approach to this particular shot.

The connection is certainly not lost on this writer. Like several key shots in Fincher’s larger filmography, the Vanger Estate Approach (as I like to call it) would become a tastemaker shot that has not only been copied in his successive project HOUSE OF CARDS, but in subsequent pop culture works by other artists as well.

Production designer Donald Graham Burt returns for his fourth Fincher film, artfully creating an authentic sense of place in the Swedish locations while showing off his impeccable taste and eye for detail.

Editing team Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter are key collaborators within David Fincher’s filmography, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO would become their second consecutive Oscar win for editing under the director’s eye.

Their work for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO really utilizes the advantages that digital filmmaking has to offer in realizing David Fincher’s vision and creating a tone that’s moody but yet unlike conventional missing-person thrillers.

Angus and Wall establish a patient, plodding pace that draws the audience deeper into the mystery before they’re even aware of it, echoing Blomvkist’s own growing obsession with the case.

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his music partner Atticus Ross reprise their scoring duties, giving the musical palette of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO an appropriately electronic and cold, wintery feeling.

Primarily achieved via a recurring motif of atonal bells and ambient soundscapes, the score is also supplemented by a throbbing, heartbeat-like percussion that echoes Salander’s simmering anger as well as the encroaching danger at hand.

One of Reznor’s masterstrokes is his reworking of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the opening credits and trailer, featuring vocals by Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. Given a new coat of industrial electronic grunge, the rearrangement instantly conveys the tone and style of the film.

Fincher’s needledrops are few and far between in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, but one sourced music track stands out because of the sheer audaciousness of its inclusion. In the scene where Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger tortures Blomvkist in anticipation of butchering his prey, he fires up the basement’s stereo system and plays, of all songs, Enya’s Orinoco Flow.

I remember the moment getting a huge laugh in the theatre, and rightfully so—the song is just so cheesy and stereotypically Nordic that it acts as a great counterpoint to the sheer darkness of the scene’s events.

The laughter instead becomes a nervous sort of chuckle, the kind we employ to hide a certain kind of fundamental unease and anxiety. Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce was nominated for another Oscar with his standout mix, taking this noxious brew of sounds and turning it into a razor-sharp sonic landscape that complements David Fincher’s visuals perfectly.

On its face, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t seem like it would call for a substantial amount of computer-generated visual effects. Fincher’s background in VFX results in the incorporation of a surprisingly large quantity of effects shots.

Almost every exterior shot during the Vanger sequences has some degree of digital manipulation applied to it in the way of subtle matte paintings, scenery extensions and weather elements that blend together seamlessly in conveying Fincher’s moody vision and desire for total control over his visuals.

His affinity for imaginative opening title sequences continues here, in what is arguably his most imaginative effort to date. Set to the aforementioned “Immigrant Song” cover, the sequence plays like a dark nightmare version of those iconic James Bond title sequence, depicting key moments from the film in abstract, archetypical form as a thick black ooze splashes around violently. The choice to incorporate a black on black color scheme is undeniably stylish.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO sees David Fincher at the peak of his punk and technological aesthetic explorations. While not Fincher’s creation, the character of Lisbeth Salander fits in quite comfortably within his larger body of work—the culmination of a long flirtation with punk culture.

She is most certainly the product of the cyberpunk mentality, which values not only rebelliousness but technological proficiency as well. Unlike other depictions of this subculture in mass media, it’s easy to see that Fincher obviously respects it for what it is and aims to portray them in a realistic manner.

He builds upon the downplayed foundation he laid in THE SOCIAL NETWORK here by refusing to generate fake interfaces for Salander to use. He shows Salander actively Googling things, looking up people on Wikipedia, etc—he doesn’t shy away from showing corporate logos and interfaces as they appear in real life.

While a lot of people have a problem with blatant product placement, I can respect a director who doesn’t go out of his way to hide (or aggressively feature for that matter) brands and logos when depicting a realistic world. After all, we live in a world awash with corporate branding, so why pretend it doesn’t exist?

David Fincher’s body of work is defined by a distinctly nihilistic attitude towards story and character, even though I don’t believe he’s nihilistic himself. With THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in particular, these sentiments are a prominent part of the storytelling.

These protagonists are morally flawed people who aren’t afraid of doing bad things to get ahead. They’re mostly atheists, and they don’t care whether you like them or not. The themes of abuse that run through the narrative also reflect this overarching mentality, playing out in the form of authority figures exerting their influence and selfish desires over the women that depend on them.

We see this reflected both on the bureaucratic level with Salander’s lecherous case worker, as well as on the familial level in Harriet Vanger’s repeated rape and abuse at the hands of her brother and father.

Architecture plays a subtle, yet evocative role in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. One of the core themes of the story is the clash between new Sweden (Salander’s weapons-grade sexual ambiguity and technical proficiency) and old Sweden (the Vanger family’s moneyed lifestyle and sprawling compound).

This clash is echoed in the architecture that Fincher chooses to present. The Vanger estate consists of classical Victorian stylings and rustic cottages; compare that to the harsh lines and modern trappings Martin Vanger’s minimalist cliffside residence (all clean lines and floor-to-ceiling glass), as well as the whole of Stockholm—very much the model of a modern European city. In showing us this duality of place and time, Fincher is able to draw a line that also points us directly to the narrative’s major emphasis on the duality of man.

Despite THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO’s impeccable pedigree and unimpeachable quality, it was a modest disappointment at the box office. It opened at a disadvantage, placing third on its debut weekend and never rising above it during the rest of its run.

There were, of course, the inevitable comparisons to the original series of film adaptations, with purists preferring them over David Fincher’s “remake”.

Having seen Fincher’s version before I ever touched the originals, I quickly found that I couldn’t get through the first few minutes of the Swedish opening installment—Fincher’s execution, to me, was so much more superior in every way that it made the originals look like cheap TV movies of the week.

Unfortunately, we will probably never get to see what David Fincher would have done with the remaining two entries in the series, as the poor box office performance of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO most likely put the kibosh on further installments.

But, as I’ve come to discover again and again since I’ve started this essay series project, time has a way of revealing the true quality of a given work. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is only three years old as of this writing, but the groundswell of appreciation is already growing—hailing the film as the most underrated in Fincher’s filmography and an effort on par with his best work.


HALO 4 “SCANNED” TRAILER (2012)

In 2012, the long-awaited, highly anticipated HALO 4 was released for the Xbox 360. During the buildup to the release, the game-makers enlisted director David Fincher to craft an unconventionally long commercial/teaser trailer.

Titled“SCANNED”, the piece takes on the POV of Master Chief, showing us flashbacks from his life as he was selected for the Master Chief program, surgically enhanced, and let loose into the galaxy to protect Earth. The flashbacks are triumphant in nature, which only underscores the severity of the situation when we cut to the present and reveal Master Chief in captivity, facing off against what appears to be a greater threat than he’s ever encountered.

“SCANNED” is a combination of live-action and all-CG elements, evoking the slick commercial work of David Fincher’s earlier advertising career as well as reiterating his confident grasp on visual effects. The high contrast, cold/blue color palette is one of the piece’s few Fincher signatures, in addition to the focus on the futurist technology required to make Master Chief in the first place. At two minutes long, “SCANNED” is a supersized spot and must have been incredibly expensive. Considering that both the HALO video game series and Fincher have huge fan bases between them, it’s a bit surprising to see that their collaboration here wasn’t hyped more than it was.
There’s not a lot of growth to see on David Fincher’s part here, other than the observation that his long, successful commercial career has made him the go-to director for only the highest-profile spots and campaigns.


HOUSE OF CARDS “CHAPTER 1 & 2” (2013)

Director David Fincher has long been a tastemaker when it comes to commercial American media. His two pilot episodes for Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS, released in 2013, are simply the latest in a long string of works that have influenced how movies are made, how commercials are engineered, and how music videos have evolved.

Due to HOUSE OF CARDS’ runaway success, he has played a crucial part in making the all-episodes-at-once model the indisputable future of serialized entertainment and reinforcing the notion that we’re living in a new golden age of television.

HOUSE OF CARDS had originally been a successful television series in the United Kingdom, so of course it had to be re-adapted for American audiences, who presumably have no patience for British parliamentary politics.

On principle, I think this is a terrible practice that discourages us from learning about other cultures based off the assumption that we’re too lazy to read subtitles. But like Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) before it, once in a while the practice can create an inspired new spin on existing work that distinctly enhances its legacy within the collective consciousness.

HOUSE OF CARDS’ origins stretch back to 2008, when David Fincher’s agent approached the director with the idea while he was finishing up THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Fincher was interested in the idea, and enlisted hisBENJAMIN BUTTON writer Eric Roth to help him executive produce and develop the series.

After shopping it around to various cable networks around town, they found an unexpected home in streaming movie delivery service Netflix, who was in the first stages of building a block of original programming in order to compete with the likes of HBO and Showtime while bolstering their customer base. Along with LILYHAMMER and the revived ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, HOUSE OF CARDS formed part of the first wave of this original programming, which took advantage of Netflix customers’ binge-watching habits by releasing all episodes at once instead of parsing them out over the space of several weeks.

It was (and still is) a groundbreaking way to consume television, and despite the naysayers, the strategy worked brilliantly. Funnily enough, the reunion between Fincher and SE7EN (1995) star Kevin Spacey didn’t occur out of their natural friendship, but because Netflix found in its performance statistics a substantial overlap between customers who had an affinity for David Fincher and Spacey, respectively.

As such, executives at Netflix were able to deduce and mathematically reinforce the conclusion that another collaboration between both men would generate their biggest audience. This also gave them the confidence to commit to two full seasons from the outset instead of adhering to traditional television’s tired-and-true practice of producing a pilot before ordering a full series.

Admittedly, the use of metrics and numbers instead of gut instinct might be a cynical way to approach programming, but in HOUSE OF CARDS’ case, the idea really paid off. Under Fincher’s expert guidance, Spacey has delivered the best performance of his career and HOUSE OF CARDS has emerged as one of the best serialized dramas around, rivaling the likes of such heavyweights as MAD MEN, THE WIRE, and BREAKING BAD.

Fincher directed the first two episodes in the series, which takes place during the inauguration of fictional President Garrett Walker. Walker wouldn’t even be taking the oath of office if it weren’t for the substantial canvassing done by House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in exchange for the coveted position of Secretary of State.

After taking office, however, Walker has a change of heart and reneges on his promise. Underwood shows grace and discipline in accepting the President Elect’s decision, but immediately begins scheming how to manipulate his way to the top. He’s simultaneously challenged and reinforced by his wife Claire (Robin Wright), the CEO of a prominent nonprofit and a strong-willed leader in her own right.

On the President’s first day in office, Underwood targets the new nominee for Secretary of State, Michael Kern, via an education reform bill— which is revealed to be radically left-leaning and unacceptable to the public’s interests.

Underwood leaks the bill to the press through Washington Herald reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), whose story on the matter lands on the Herald’s front page and prompts the education reform chairman to step aside and designate Frank himself to head up the authorship of a new bill.

It isn’t long until Underwood manages to unseat Kern by exploiting his handicaps via hardline questions from the press, subsequently installing a pawn of his own as the new candidate. Over the course of the first season, Underwood’s machinations and orchestrations will whisk him up into the upper echelons of power and within a heartbeat of the highest office in the land.

Kevin Spacey has always been a well-respected actor, but his performance as Frank Underwood reminds us of his unparalleled level of talent. Underwood is an unconventional narrator, straddling a line between an omniscient and personal point of view.

A southern gentleman from South Carolina first, a Democrat second, and currently the House Majority Whip (a temporary position, to be sure), Underwood is a ruthlessly calculating and manipulative politician—but at the same time he’s endlessly charismatic and armed with an endless supply of euphemisms and folksy proverbs.

Although Spacey and David Fincher haven’t worked together on this close a scale since 1995, it seems they’re able to slip right into the proceedings with a great degree of confidence and comfort.

Robin Wright, also on her second collaboration with Fincher after THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, plays Underwood’s wife, Claire. Every bit as strong and calculating as her husband, the character of Claire adds a distinctly Shakespearean air to the story by channeling the insidiously supportive archetype of Lady Macbeth.

The CEO of a successful nonprofit firm, Claire pulls her weight around the Underwood household and becomes Frank’s rock during difficult times. Wright does a great job of making Claire inherently likeable and relatable, despite her outwardly cold characterization.

With HOUSE OF CARDS, the Mara family has established something of a dynasty in their collaborations with Fincher. After Rooney’s career-making performances in THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, older sister Kate proves every bit her equal as Zoe Barnes, a wet-around-the-ears journalist for the Washington Herald. Plucky, street smart and ambitious, Barnes is able to use her intelligence as a tool of empowerment just as well as her sex.

Corey Stoll and Mahershala Ali, as Peter Russo and Remy Denton respectively, prove to be revelations that stick out amidst the clutter of David Fincher’s supporting cast. Stoll’s Russo is a politician from East Pennsylvania who has problems with alcohol and drug abuse. He’s severely disorganized and impulsive, despite his promising intelligence and ambition.

Ali’s Denton is almost the exact opposite—super focused, disciplined, and exceedingly principled. Denton is a high-powered lawyer who serves as a great foil to Underwood’s scheming. Ali’s performance also benefits due having worked with Fincher on THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

Like all of Fincher’s late-career work, HOUSE OF CARDS is shot entirely digitally, taking advantage of the Red Epic’s pure, clean image to convey the series’ sterile, almost-surgical tone. Instead of hiring a cinematographer he’s worked with before, David Fincher enlists the eye of Eigil Bryld, who ably replicates the director’s signature aesthetic.

The cold, steely color palette has been desaturated to a pallid monotone in its treatment of blues, teals, and greys. Warm tones, like practical lights that serve to create a soft, cavernous luminance in interior chambers, are dialed into the yellow side of the color spectrum.

The aesthetic deviates from Fincher’s style, however, in opting for a much shallower focus—even in wide shots. Curiously, the aspect ratio seems to be fluid from format to format. When streamed on Netflix, HOUSE OF CARDS is presented in 1.85:1, but watching it on Blu Ray, the image appears to be cropped to Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, making for an inherently more-cinematic experience.

HOUSE OF CARDS plays like an old-school potboiler/espionage thriller, featuring shadowy compositions and strategic placement of subjects in his frame that are reminiscent of classic cloak-and-dagger cinema.

The camera work is sedate, employing subtle dolly work when need be. The effect is a patient, plodding pace that echoes Underwood’s unrelenting focus and forward-driven ambition. Perhaps the most effective visual motif is the inspired breaking of the fourth wall, when Spacey pulls out of the scene at hand to monologue directly to camera (which makes the audience complicit in his nefarious plot).

Spacey delivers these sidebar moments with a deliciously dry wit, enriching what might otherwise be a stale story of everyday politics and injecting it with the weight of Shakespearean drama. The foundation of this technique can be seen in 1999’s FIGHT CLUB, where David Fincher had Edward Norton address the audience directly in a few select sequences. HOUSE OF CARDS fully commits to this idea, doing away with conventional voiceover entirely.

While it’s been used in endless parodies since the series’ release, the very fact that the technique is commonly joked about points to its fundamental power.

Another visual conceit that has been copied by other pop culture works like NONSTOP (2014) is the superimposition of text message conversations over the action, rather than cutting to an insert shot of the message displayed on the cell phone’s screen.

Considering that characters have been texting each other in movies for almost ten years now, I’m frankly surprised it took us this long for the on-screen subtitle conceit to enter into the common cinematic language. It’s an inspired way to dramatize pedestrian, everyday exchanges that act as the modern-day equivalent of coded messages in cloak-and-dagger stories.

Behind the camera, Fincher retains most of his regular department heads save for one new face. Donald Graham Burt returns as Production Designer, creating authentic replicas of the hallowed halls and chambers of Washington DC. Kirk Baxter, who normally edits Fincher’s features with Angus Wall, goes solo in HOUSE OF CARDS and weaves everything together in a minimalist, yet effective fashion.

The ever-dependable Ren Klyce returns as Sound Designer, giving an overly-talkie drama some much-needed sonic embellishment. The only new face in the mix is Jeff Beal, who composes the series’ music. Beal’s theme for HOUSE OF CARDS is instantly iconic, fueled by an electronic pulse that bolsters traditional orchestral strings and horns— echoing the romantic statues of fallen heroes that dot the DC landscape with a patriotic, mournful sound.

The series doesn’t rely on much in the way of needledrops, so David Fincher’s inclusion of two pre-recorded tracks is worth noting. The first episode features an inaugural ball where we hear Dmiti Shostakovich’s “Second Waltz”, which cinephiles should recognize as the main theme to Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT (1999).

Additionally, the second episode features Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” when Russo goes to visit a conspiracy theorist in rural Massachusetts. While not exactly the most original choice of music, it’s appropriate enough.

For visionary directors like Fincher, television is tough because of the need to work within a strictly defined set of aesthetic boundaries. While this is changing and becoming a better stage for visually dynamic work every day, the basic rule of thumb is to direct the pilot in order to set the style in place and make the entire series conform around it.

In that regard, HOUSE OF CARDS as a series absolutely oozes Fincher’s influence, despite 24 of the (to-date) 26 episodes being helmed by different directors. This phenomenon can be ascribed to the fact that David Fincher’s episodes dovetail quite nicely with several themes and imagery he’s built his career on exploring.

Take the opening titles for instance—while they are usually part and parcel with the conventional television experience, Fincher makes them his own by showing time-lapse footage of Washington DC locales, suggesting the bustling scope of his stage while further exploring the passage of time as a thematic idea— also seen in earlier work like ZODIAC (2007) or THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

This theme is also reflected in Fincher’s depiction of DC’s iconic architecture. Like he did in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, his compositions and location selections when taken as a whole suggest a clash between the old Washington and the new.

Old DC, marked by classical, colonial structures like The White House and The Lincoln Memorial, face off against the growing tide of steel and glass towers, or the modern infrastructural design of subway stations. A key takeaway of HOUSE OF CARDS is that Washington DC, a city defined by its romantic memorials to the past, is increasingly modernizing into a world city of the future.

This transition is aided by mankind’s increasing dependence on— and complicated relationship with—technology; another core idea that David Fincher has grappled with throughout his career. HOUSE OF CARDS’ focusing prism is communication: cell phones, text messages, the Internet, Apple computers, CNN, etc.

The series goes to great lengths to depict how information is disseminated in the digital age, with government and the media forming a complex, symbiotic relationship.

In asking the audience to root for, essentially, the bad guy, HOUSE OF CARDS echoes the strong undercurrent of nihilism that marks Fincher’s stories. Underwood is less of a protagonist than he is an antihero.

Objectively, he’s a bad person who’s scheming to outright steal the Presidency to rule the world as he sees fit. In real life, we’d react to this sort of notion with outrage—just ask anyone who’s ever irrationally obsessed over a particular birth certificate of a certain standing President. However, we can’t help but root for Underwood to succeed, simply because he’s just so damn attractive and charismatic (on top of actually being, you know, a fully-fleshed out, relatable person with moral shades of grey and not a stock villain archetype).

HOUSE OF CARDS’ groundbreaking release was met with quite the warm reception. It was nominated for several Emmys (a big deal for a series that hadn’t been broadcast first on television), and launched Netflix into HBO’s orbit in terms of compelling original content.

For Fincher as a director, HOUSE OF CARDS served as a great comeback after the disappointment of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. The series, whose third season is scheduled to premiere in February 2015, is a confident, near-flawless exploration of man’s lust for power and our complicated governmental structure—and wouldn’t be nearly as successful without David Fincher’s guiding hand. My one regret with HOUSE OF CARDS is that he didn’t direct more episodes.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2013-2014)

Director David Fincher barely had any time to notice the modestly-disappointing performance of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, what with the continuing development of several projects he was attached to make. It would be 3 years before he was back in cinemas with another feature, but the years between 2011-2014 were by no means a fallow period.

His sheer love for directing and for being on set couldn’t keep him away for long— and so in 2013 he returned to the arena that first made his name, armed with a new commercial and a new music video.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: “SUIT & TIE” (2013)

You couldn’t go anywhere in the Summer of 2013 without hearing Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” on the airwaves. As Timberlake’s own bid for Michael Jackson’s pop throne, the song’s broad appeal couldn’t be denied.

The inevitable music video for the song couldn’t be trusted with just any filmmaker—it was too high-profile to go to anyone but the biggest directors in town. Most likely due to their successful collaboration in 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Timberlake chose Fincher as the director for “SUIT & TIE”—their union begetting one of the better music videos in many, many years.

Fincher’s visual aesthetic proves quite adept at its translation into the world of high fashion and style. He uses black and white digital cinematography and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to echo the polished, sleek vibe of Timberlake’s song.

While a lot of his earlier music videos were shot in black and white to achieve a sense of grit, David Fincher’s use of it here echoes the crispness of a black tuxedo against a white shirt.

There’s a great interplay between light and dark throughout the piece, both in the broad strokes like the dramatic silhouettes he gets from his high contrast lighting setups, as well as smaller touches like Timberlake’s white socks that peek out from between black pants and shoes (another homage to Michael Jackson).

Despite being primarily a for-hire vehicle for Timberlake and a selling tool for his single, “SUIT & TIE” manages to incorporate a few of Fincher’s long-held thematic fascinations.

Fincher’s exploration of our relationship with technology sees a brief occurrence here as Timberlake and Jay-Z utilize state of the art recording equipment in the studio, as well as employing iPads as part of the songwriting process.

David Fincher features Apple products in his work so much more prominently than other filmmakers that I’m beginning to think he has a secret product placement deal with them. Architecture also plays a subtle role in the video, seen in Timberlake’s slick, modern bachelor pad as well as the Art Deco stylings and graceful arches of the stage he performs on.

One strange thing I noticed, though: the size of the stage itself doesn’t match the venue it’s housed in. For example, when the camera looks towards Timberlake, the stage extends pretty deep behind him like it was the Hollywood Bowl.

But when we cut to the reverse angle and see the audience, the venue is revealed to be disproportionally shallow and intimate. If you were to draw out the geography onto a blueprint, you’d realize it was a very unbalanced auditorium. Most likely, these two shots were shot in separate locations and stitched together with editing.

As his first music video in several years, “SUIT & TIE” finds Fincher working at the top of his game in familiar territory. It’s easily one of his best music videos and will no doubt serve as a taste-making piece and influencer for many pop videos to come.


CALVIN KLEIN: “DOWNTOWN” (2013)

Later the same year, Fincher collaborated with his THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO star Rooney Mara in a spot for Calvin Klein perfume called “DOWNTOWN”. Also shot in digital black and white, the spot finds David Fincher and Mara eschewing the punk-y grunge of their previous collaboration in favor of an edgy, glamorous look.

Mara herself is depicted as a modern day Audrey Hepburn—being adored by the press as she attends junkets and does photo shoots—but is also seen engaging in daily urban life and riding the subway (while listening to her iPod, natch). Fincher’s love of architecture is seen in several setups, the most notable being a shot prominently featuring Mara framed against NYC’s George Washington Bridge. The whole piece is scored to a track by Karen O, a kindred spirit of Mara’s and Fincher’s who provided the vocals for Trent Reznor’s re-arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Overall,“DOWNTOWN” is a brilliantly executed and stylish spot that sells its product beautifully.


GAP: “DRESS NORMAL” CAMPAIGN (2014)

2014 marked director David Fincher’s return to cinema screens with his domestic thriller GONE GIRL, following a three year hiatus from feature filmmaking.  It also saw the infamous provocateur release a series of four commercial spots for the blandest clothing label in the business: Gap.

In a transparent bid to regain some cultural relevancy, Gap released a campaign entitled “DRESS NORMAL”, a move that could be construed as the struggling brand capitalizing on their sudden popularity amongst the emergent “normcore” crowd– arguably one of the more idiotic non-trends in recent memory.

To his credit, Fincher achieves Gap’s goals brilliantly, creating four effortlessly cool and stylish pieces (despite what some of the more-cynical voices in the blogosphere might say).  Titled “Golf”, “Stairs”, “Kiss”, and “Drive”, all are presented in stark shades of black and white, rendered crisply onto the digital frame.

Fincher eschews a sense of modernity for a jazzy mid-century vibe, with the old-fashioned production design and cinematography coming across as a particularly well-preserved lost film from the French New Wave.  Each spot pairs together a couple (or groups) of beautiful urbanites living out the prime of their youth in generic urban environs.

David Fincher’s hand is most evident in the sleek, modern camerawork that belies the campaign’s timeless appeal.  He employs a variety of ultra-smooth dolly and technocrane movements that effortlessly glide across his vignettes while hiding the true complexity of the moves themselves.

All in all, Fincher’s “DRESS NORMAL” spots are quite effective, injecting some much-needed style and sex appeal into Gap’s tired branding efforts.


GONE GIRL (2014)

Since the beginning of time, men and women have been at odds with each other.  One of the grand ironies of the universe is that testosterone and estrogen act against each other despite needing to work in harmony in order to perpetuate the species.

We scoff at the term “battle of the sexes”, like it’s some absurdly epic war over territory or ideology, but the fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard we try to bridge the gap, men and women just aren’t built to fully comprehend each other like they would a member of their own sex.

Yet despite these fundamental differences of opinion and perspective, we continue coupling up and procreating in the name of love, family, and civilization.  In this light, the institution of marriage can be seen as something of an armistice, or a treaty– an agreement by two combative parties to equally reciprocate affection, protection and support.

Naturally, when this treaty is violated in a high-profile way like, say, the murder or sudden disappearance of someone at the hands of his or her spouse, we can’t help but find ourselves captivated by the lurid headlines and ensuing media frenzy.  Names like OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, or Scott Peterson loom large in our collective psyche as boogeymen symbolizing the ultimate marital transgression.

The treacherous world of domesticity serves as the setting of director David Fincher’s tenth feature film, GONE GIRL(2014).  Adapted by author Gillian Flynn from her novel of the same name, the film marks David Fincher’s return to the big screen after a three year absence following the disappointing reception of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

In that time, he had refreshed his artistic energies with Netflix’s razor-sharp political thriller HOUSE OF CARDS (2013), with the serial’s warm reaction boosting his stock amongst the Hollywood elite.

Fincher’s oeuvre trades in nihilistic protagonists with black hearts and ruthless convictions, so naturally, the churning machinations and double crosses of Flynn’s book were an effortless match for his sensibilities.

Working with producers Joshua Donen, Arnon Milchan, Reese Witherspoon, as well as his own producing partner Cean Chaffin, Fincher manages to infuse a nasty undercurrent of his trademark gallows humor into GONE GIRL, making for a highly enjoyable domestic thriller that stands to be included amongst his very best work.

GONE GIRL begins like any other normal day for Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck).  But this day isn’t like any others– it’s the fifth anniversary of his wedding to wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a privileged New York socialite and the real-life inspiration for “Amazing Amy”, the main character in a series of successful children’s books authored by her parents.

He leaves home to check in on the bar he runs in the nearby town of North Carthage, Missouri, expressing his dread of the occasion to his twin sister Margot, who mixes drinks there.  When he arrives back at the generic suburban McMansion he shares with Amy, he finds a grisly scene– overturned furniture, shattered glass, streaks of blood… and no Amy.

The police launch an investigation into Amy’s whereabouts, with her status as minor literary celebrity causing a disproportionate stir in the media.  He’s taunted at every turn by deceitful talk show hosts and news anchors, as well as clues from Amy herself, left behind in the form of letters that are part of gift-finding game that’s become their anniversary tradition.

In her absence, the clues have taken on a more much foreboding aura– channeling similar vibes and imagery from David Fincher’s 1997 classic mystery THE GAME.  The media’s increased scrutiny on Nick’s life and the history of his relationship with Amy drags his flaws as a husband out into the light, where they’re subsequently used against him to raise the possibility that he just might be responsible for her disappearance.  But did he kill his wife?  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but the truth will be more surprising than anyone could’ve expected.

Ben Affleck headlines the film as Nick Dunne, skewering his real-life image as a handsome leading man by bringing to the fore a natural douchebag quality we’ve always suspected he possessed.  Dunne covers up his supreme narcissism and anger issues with a thin layer of charm, finding the perfect balance between a sympathetic protagonist who is way in over his head and a slick operator who thinks he’s got his game on lock.

Affleck proves inspired casting on Fincher’s part, and it’s nice to be reminded that besides being a great director in his own right, he’s still a great performer.  As Amy Dunne, Rosamund Pike conjures up one of the most terrifying villainesses in screen history.

An icy, calculating sociopath, Amy will do anything and everything necessary to carry out the perfect plot against her husband– even if the physical harm she deals out is on herself.  Pike’s skincrawling performance resulted in the film’s only Academy Award nomination, but it’s a well-deserved one that will be remembered for quite some time.

If the pairing of Affleck and Pike as GONE GIRL’s leads seems a bit odd or off-center, then Fincher’s supporting cast boast an even-more eclectic collection of characters.  Neil Patrick Harris– Doogie Howser himself– plays Amy’s college sweetheart Desi Collins.

A rich pretty boy and pseudo-stalker with bottomless reserves of inherited funds, he’s so intent on dazzling Amy with his high-tech toys and spacious homes that he’s completely oblivious to her machinations against him.  Primarily known for his comedic roles in TV and film, NPH makes a successful bid for more serious roles with a performance that’s every bit as twisted as the two leads.

Beating him in the stunt casting department, however, is maligned director Tyler Perry, whose films are often derided by critics as patronizing and shamelessly pandering despite their immense popularity amongst the African American population.  The news of his involvement in GONE GIRL with met with gasps of disbelief and confusion by the blogosphere, but here’s the thing– Tyler Perry is great in this movie.

He effortlessly falls into the role of Tanner bolt, a high-powered celebrity lawyer from New York, soothing Nick with his seasoned expertise and wearing expensive designer suits so comfortably they might as well be sweatpants.  He’s extremely convincing as a whip-smart, cunning attorney, never once hinting at the fact this is the same man who became rich and famous for wearing a fat suit under a mumu.

Emily Ratajkowski and Patrick Fugit are great as Nick’s jiggly co-ed mistress Andie and the no-nonsense Officer Gilpin, respectively, but GONE GIRL’s real revelation is character actress Kim Dickens.

Calling to mind a modern, more serious version of Frances McDormand’s folksy homicide investigator in FARGO (1996), Dickens’ Detective Boney is highly observant and sly– almost to a fault.  The joy in watching Dickens’ performance is seeing her internal struggle against the growing realization that none of her prior experience or expertise could ever prepare her for Amy’s level of scheming.

GONE GIRL retains David Fincher’s signature look, thanks to the return of his regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth.  As a team, they’ve built their careers out of using new filmmaking technologies to fit their needs, and GONE GIRL isn’t one to break the tradition.

One of the earliest features to shoot on Red Cinema’s new Dragon sensor, GONE GIRL was captured full-frame at 6k resolution and then thrown into a 2.35:1-matted 4k timeline in post-production.

This allowed Fincher and his editing partner Kirk Baxter to re-compose their frames as they saw fit with razor-precision and minimal quality degradation.  This circumstance also afforded the ability to employ better camera stabilization in a bid to perfect that impossibly-smooth sense of movement that Fincher prefers.

As one of the medium’s most vocal proponents of digital technology, David Fincher inherently understands the advantages of the format– an understanding that empowers him with the ability to make truly uncompromised work.

Appropriate to its subject matter, GONE GIRL is a very dark film.  Fincher and Cronenweth use dark wells of shadow to convey a foreboding mood, while Fincher’s signature cold color palette renders Nick’s trials in bleak hues of blue, yellow, green, and grey.

Red, a color that David Fincher claims to find too distracting on film, rarely appears in GONE GIRL, save for when he specifically wants your attention on a small detail of the frame– like, say, a small blood splatter on the hood over the kitchen stove.

Despite the consistent gloom, the film does occasionally find short moments of warm, golden sunlight and deeply-saturated color.  Fincher’s slow, creeping camerawork leers with omniscience, placing its characters at an emotional arm’s distance.

Knowing Fincher’s background as a commercial director, it’s not surprising to see GONE GIRL throw around nonchalant product placement for flyover-country conglomerations like Walmart, KFC and Dunkin Donuts.

Looking back over his other features, it’s clear that David Fincher has never been one to shy away from the presence of well-known brands in his frame– indeed, a large chunk of his bank account is there as a direct result of his interaction with brand names and logos.

Product placement is a controversial topic amongst filmmakers, with many seeing the intrusion of commerce as an almost-pornographic sacrilege towards art, but Fincher’s view seems to be that reality is simply saturated with corporate logos, branding, and advertisements, so why should a film striving for realism be any different?

In Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his musical partner Atticus Ross, Fincher has found a kindred dark soul, and their third collaboration together after 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t surprise in its aim to bring something entirely unexpected to the proceedings.

Working from David Fincher’s brief that the music reside in the space between calm and dread, Reznor and Ross’s electronic score for GONE GIRL is characterized by soothing ambient tones interrupted by a pulsing staccato that conveys the razor-sharp undercurrents of malice that Amy so effortlessly hides behind her statuesque facade.

Outside of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, it’s hard to think of a composer/director partnership where each artist’s aesthetic is so perfectly suited towards the other.  Reznor, Ross, and Fincher have cultivated a symbiotic relationship that, together with Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce and his consistently excellent and immersive soundscapes, elevates any project they undertake into a darkly sublime experience.

A nihilistic sentiment abounds in the style of GONE GIRL, falling quite effortlessly into David Fincher’s larger body of work.  The same attention to detail and insight into the banal side of law enforcement (paperwork, legal red-tape, etc.) that marked 2007’s ZODIAC is present in GONE GIRL’s almost-clinical depiction of the day-to-day process of investigating such a luridly mysterious crime.

Two of David Fincher’s most consistent fascinations as a director– architecture and technology– play substantial roles in the drama, but never at the expense of story and character.  The architecture that Fincher concerns himself with in GONE GIRL is the domestic structures in which we house our families, or to put it another way, the castles in which we shelter our charges.

However, as seen through the perspective of David Fincher’s particularly dark and ironic sense of humor, our suburban castles instead become prisons.  The neutral tones of upper-middle-class domesticity that pervade Amy and Nick’s McMansion are almost oppressive in their blandness, while the structural elements on which they’re painted bear no characteristics of the values of those who inhabit them.

Fincher reinforces this idea by shooting from low angles to expose the ceiling, suggesting that the walls are figuratively closing in on his characters.  Likewise, Desi Collins’ grandiose, rustic lakeside retreat is simply too spacious to ever feel constricting or claustrophobic, what with it’s cathedral-height vaulted ceilings and oversized windows letting in an abundance of sunlight.

However, Desi has rigged his well-appointed home with an overblown array of security cameras and other surveillance, effectively trapping Amy inside if she wishes to remain under the auspices of “missing, presumed dead”.  And speaking of technology, David Fincher places a substantial focus on Nick’s distractions with video games, cell phones, oversized televisions and robot dogs.

This “boys with toys” mentality is quite appropriate to Fincher’s vision, as it is crucial to the authenticity of Amy’s convictions that Nick has fallen prey to that all-too-common suburban phenomenon of men turning to the stimulation afforded by electronics and gadgets after growing tired of their wives.

The dangers of growing complacent in your marriage– whereby we distract ourselves with screens instead of with each other– is a key message in GONE GIRL, and Fincher’s career-long exploration of mankind’s relationship to technology makes him a particularly suitable messenger.

Thanks in part to GONE GIRL’s high profile as a bestselling book as well as David Fincher’s own profile as a highly skilled artist with a fervent cult following, the film was a strong success at the box office.  As of this writing, it actually holds the records for Fincher’s highest-grossing theatrical run in the United States.

Critical reviews were mostly positive, and while it received only one nomination for Pike’s performance at the 2015 Oscars, it’s generally regarded as one of the best films of the year.  The tone and subject matter of GONE GIRL may not feel particularly new for Fincher (a notion that may have played into the film’s lack of Oscar nominations), but this well-trodden ground provides a solid platform for David Fincher to perfect what he already does best: delivering taut, stylish thrillers with razor-sharp edges.

Now firmly into middle age (52 as of this writing), Fincher could be forgiven for what so many other artists his age do: slowing down, mellowing out, looking backwards, worrying about legacy, etc.  It’s pretty evident however that he has no intention of doing any of those things.  While his next feature has yet to be announced, he’s deep in development on several projects running the gamut from theatrical to television.

Fincher’s skill set may have become more refined and sophisticated in its taste, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone soft on us.  Indeed, he’s actually grown much sharper.

He’s cleaved off extraneous waste from his aesthetic, and in return he’s able to focus his energies to the point of laser precision.  One only needs to look at GONE GIRL’s gut-churning sex/murder sequence to see that he hasn’t lost his unflinching eye for the macabre and his affinity for stunning his audience out of complacency.

He may be older, yes, but in many ways, he’s still that same young buck eager to shock the world with Gwyneth’s head in a box.


Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics and Indiewire. 

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. 


David Fincher’S FILMOGRAPHY

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IFH 140: 6 Mistakes To Avoid Your First Day On a Film Set

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6 Mistakes To Avoid Your First Day On a Film Set

1. Arriving Late

If you’re not early, you’re late. I aim to get to work at least 15 minutes early each day on a film set. This gives me time to set up, read my call sheet and sides, cram in some extra breakfast and make my boss a coffee. If you are late on day one you instantly create a bad reputation for yourself and this industry is built on reputation and relationships. Set your alarm early for the first day, pick out what you need to wear the night before and make sure you’ve had a look at where you need to get to so you don’t get lost.

2. Forgetting Names

No one will remember your name but don’t let that be an excuse to forget theirs. It’s great if you can remember as many names as possible on your first day on a film set, at least those in your department. This will make you stand out and give you the best chance of them remembering you. I sometimes even write down people’s names in a notebook or phone when they aren’t looking so you can refer back to it. Alternatively, you can also ask the production office for a crew list to help you remember who’s who.

3. Asking An Actor What They Do

You’ll be trying small talk with whoever is standing around. It’s pretty embarrassing when you ask an actor what department they are in or what they do. Embarrassing for them I guess, as they expect that you’ll know them from the seven short films they released on Vimeo last year. As long as you are polite I’m sure they’ll get over it. I’ve asked Mel Gibson’s son what his last name was. He politely replied ‘Gibson’. That makes sense, I thought.

4. Phone Ringing During A Take

This is even more embarrassing than when you wet yourself in kindergarten and had to go to sickbay to get some spare clothing. Don’t let your phone ring on set, especially during a take. At least have it on silent or even better, just turn it off if you don’t need it for some kind of emergency calls. Your Facebook and Instagram updates can wait until you get home. If your phone does ring during a take I can guarantee the crew will remember who you are and be hassling you each day until you provide a case of beer for your sins.

5. Walking Through The Back Of Shot

Film sets can be a daunting place at the best of times with crew members rushing about knowing exactly what to do and where to be. You’ll find it hard on day one to even find a place to stand that is out of the way. Have a good look at where the cameras are pointing and make sure you don’t settle in the back of the shot. It’s always embarrassing when you hear “Cut!” and the director berates the person that was standing in the shot only to realize that it was you…

A safe bet is near all the equipment trolleys. Usually, this is fairly close to set but enough out of the way until you discover your place on set.

6. Standing In The Actor’s Eye line

An eye line refers to where an actor is looking in the scene. It may be directed at the other actors, it could be out to the horizon or it could be an imaginary moving car that is driving in the distance. So, why should you stay clear of it? Actors are performers and they need to feel secure during filming.

You’d likely not love fifty people gawking while you feign ‘true love’ and awkwardly kiss your sweaty co-star in a claustrophobic studio. Such a kiss could only be made worse by a wandering PA aimlessly ambling into their line of sight. If you need to be close to the action during the scene, try and hide behind some equipment or set dressing so that you remain inconspicuous. Alternatively, turn your back to them or simply look down at the ground while the scene is played out. Don’t move around and fidget.

Alex Ferrari 0:56
So today on the show, guys, I wanted to talk about being on a film set. And it's something that a lot of us are on and especially when you're first starting out, there's a lot of things you a lot of mistakes, you make things you don't know secret languages that are spoken. And I've been blessed enough to meet a guy named Matt Webb. Matt Webb has worked on some big blockbusters down under over in Australia, New Zealand, working with George Miller have met on Mad Max, The Great Gatsby hawkshaw Ridge, the new Pirates of the Caribbean and alien covenant as just a name a few. So the guy has been on some major sets and he's an assistant director. And he wrote a book called set life a guide of getting a job in film and keeping it and Matt is doing a lot of writing for indie film hustle, we brought him on as a contributor. And you know, you know sometimes I forget what it's like being someone that's just jumping on a set for the first time since I've been on so many sets in my career. And it's really great to get this perspective and and he brought up a really good point, you know how to avoid some mistakes on your very first day on film set, which could be the most nerve wracking time to be on a film set. I still remember when I got my first pa gig, working, working on a show at Universal Studios Florida back in the 90s. You know, the first day you don't know what to do You don't mistake so he came up with six mistakes you should avoid and I wanted to go over those mistakes. Because I think they'll be very helpful for a lot of people listening, a lot of the tribe who are new to the industry. So very first thing and I think this is a great, a great tip, regardless of being on set or not arriving late. If you're not early, you're late and that's no question about you always try to arrive at least 15 minutes early to set that shows hustle that shows people that you're serious about being there. And that again goes through our life. You know, I always try to be early if you're late if you're if you're on time you're late and you always should keep that in mind with all things but especially on set especially when you're going on your first day. Try to be there as early as possible because I guarantee you people who hire you will notice that people who do hire, do look at hustle, look at not complaining, look at whatever that you ask them to do. You just do. And those are little tips, little side tips and I might be throwing a couple nuggets out there as I go through these six tips of things that will help you get a job and keep a job. Next forgetting names. This is something I need to improve on. I'm horrible at remembering people's names I remember everyone's face but I try hard for me remember names and I'm trying to fix that but it's something that you starting out in the film industry and being on set. remembering names. Huge, huge deal so if you have a smartphone, or even an old fashioned piece of paper little notebook which you should always have By the way, if you're a PA or first day on set, always carry a little notepad in your back pocket to make notes or anything like that or use your smartphone to do it. But when you meet somebody when they're not looking write their name down and write something that they're wearing that day maybe to make you remember so if they're wearing a hat they're wearing this or they're wearing that helps you remember and you got to study this on the during the day in the set. Just try to remember names because believe it or not If you do remember people's names right off the bat, they will notice you it's a sign that you care. It's a sign that you're taking this seriously. So definitely do not forget names. Mistake number three, don't ask an actor what they do. I know on a set, there's a lot of downtime, and you know that you're waiting for setups and things like that. So you might just not have anything to do at that moment. So you're trying to make small talk with people hanging around the set. And you you walk up to an actor, and you go, Hey, what do you do? What department are you in? And they go, I'm in the next scene. It's extremely embarrassing, and it's not a good thing. So just make sure you know who the actors are in the scenes before you ask that question. Matt writes, in the article, really great little thing, he was on Hacksaw Ridge, and he walked up to Mel Gibson son, he's like, Hey, what's your last name again, and he just very politely quietly just said, Gibson, and pretty embarrassing to say the least. But, but definitely just find out who the actors are, before you start asking those kinds of questions. Mistake number four, for God's sakes, don't let your phone ring in the middle of a take that pretty much is the nail in the coffin, if you're a PA, and in turn, a camera guy, anybody on set. If your phone rings in the middle of a take, you could have a Christian Bale blow up, depending on who the actor is, or the director or the producer or the DP, there's many department heads will lose their frickin minds if a phone goes off. So, for God's sakes, keep your phone on silent. Mistake number five, walking through the back of a shot. Sometimes, depending on how big the set is, depending on how big the scene is, you might inadvertently be standing in the back of the shot. And I believe me, this has happened to me on many of my shoots, where I have a PA, a camera guy a grip, who doesn't have an awareness of where the cameras are what we're doing at that moment. And I see them in the shot in the background and post and I'm like, you've got to be kidding me. And I've seen that on other movies I've worked on I'm like, Oh look, there's a grip in the back. Oh, look, there's a PA or look, there's a guest that showed up. And they have no idea what's going on. And they were just hanging out in the background, and they ruin the shot. So if you're lucky, it will happen in on the day as a directory, you'll be able to find it and fix it. But if you're in post, and you have somebody that's constantly sitting there, which I've seen happen, they got to spend 1000s of dollars sometimes to clean that person out because it'd be too expensive to go back and shoot. So please be aware of where the camera is, what the setup is, and what's going on on set. So whenever you're sitting down or hanging out, make sure you're behind the camera in a place that's safe, because you do not want to be the guy or the girl who is braided by the director or the producer or by the PR department head. Because you are just not aware of your surroundings and ruined a shot you're talking about 1000s and 1000s of dollars, sometimes a minute to be on some of these bigger sets. But on a film uneven on an indie film. It's still a lot of every minute that passes is valuable. So please, don't walk through the back of a shot. Don't hang on the back of a shock. And the final mistake to avoid is standing in an actor's eyeline. Now, for you for everyone who doesn't know what an eyeline is when an actor is working. And they're just they're acting in a scene and you're standing right where they're looking off camera that could take an actor out of the moment that they're in trying to create that magic that they're trying to create in front of the lens. So always avoid the actors eyeline, it's very disrespectful and it's an amateur move. You don't want to be in the actors eyeline. Now some actors are cool with it. Some don't care. But some like as I said before Christian Bale that whole Christian Bale blow up was specifically because a dp was right in his eyeline and he lost his crap. So do not be in an actor's eyeline. It's just disrespectful. Don't be jumping around. Don't be looking at your phone in their eyeline Have some respect for actors have fun and respect for what they're doing. And I guarantee you if you're new on set and you do it, you will get burned and you might not get hired again. So to avoid your eyeline, just turn your back to them. You could turn your back to them look down at the ground just don't hit that don't look at their eyes don't just don't, don't stand right in the middle of the actor's eyeline turn your back. Don't make any moves. Be still until the scenes done and then move if you're actually caught in their eyeline. So do the best you can just to be respectful. And that's it guys. Those are six mistakes that you should avoid on your first day on a film set. I hope that helps you a little bit. Matt's book set life is really awesome, by the way, and you could get a link to the book on the show notes at indie film hustle.com forward slash 140 How was this helpful Guys, please, if you like the episode, share it, share it with everybody, you can share it with all your friends through social media, email, whatever, please spread the word. And by the way, you guys have been spreading the word. The podcast has been growing in leaps and bounds. I think those last 10 episodes at that Sundance series I did really kind of ignited a lot of people. Last week's episode or earlier, the last episode, excuse me, on why I edited on DaVinci Resolve for this is mag, that was a that was a really successful podcast, everyone's really talking to me about it and really like it. So please keep spreading the word it's really helping out the podcast is really helping out the site. And at the end of the day, we're helping more filmmakers. And that's really, you know, what I'm trying to do is trying to get as much information out there some real information out there as as possible. So thanks again so much, guys. And don't forget that Meg is world premiering at cinequest on March 4 at 320. Now, myself, Julie and a bunch of the cast and crew are going to be at the Saturday screening and the Sunday screening Sunday, we have it on March 5 at 8:30pm. And then we've got another three screenings throughout the week. So if you're out there in cinequest, or you're near the San Jose San Francisco area, or LA area want to make the trip up to cinequest. It's a lot it's a great festival, a lot of great information, a lot of great panels and, and workshops and stuff like that, definitely check it out. And I'll put a link in the show notes to to all the if you want to buy tickets or want to get access to the world premiere, that'd be great. I also have a lot of cool stuff coming because I'm a maniac. And I apparently have no no life. But I actually do believe it or not. But I have a lot of cool cool stuff coming up for you guys on how we're going to be self distributing. This is mag, we're going to I'm going to be going through the entire process and documenting the entire process of how we self distribute this as mag, how we are released strategy, and you guys are going to be a part of that. And I'm going to talk more about that in the coming weeks. We're hoping hoping to release this is Meg in the summer for online and I will talk more about where and when in the coming week. So guys, as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 111: Sean Baker: ‘Tangerine’ How to Shoot a Sundance Hit on Your iPhone

I’ve recently been looking and studying alternative shoot methods to shoot a feature film. One name that keeps coming up is Sean Baker. His ground-breaking film Tangerine made more noise at the Sundance Film Festival than the winner that year. The film was also produced by the indie film legends, Jay and Mark Duplass.

Tangerine was shot completely on an iPhone. Yes, an iPhone. The great thing was that after his Sundance screening no one in the audience or at the film festival knew that the film was shot on an iPhone.

What I respect about Sean Baker as a filmmaker is that he didn’t focus on the technology when promoting his film, he let the story, actors and film speak for itself. If you haven’t seen Tangerine you are missing out. 

I wanted to put together a post that highlighted what can be done with minimal filmmaking tech and a great story. Sean Baker has definitely what can be done in today’s filmmaking world.

Below are a ton of videos explaining the process Sean Baker and his director of photography Radium Cheung, HKSC went through making Tangerine, as well as a bunch of videos explaining tips and tricks on how to turn your something you shot on an iPhone into cinematic gold. Enjoy my conversation with Sean Baker.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:01
So guys, today on the show, we have um, first of all, I'm really excited to have this guest on the show Sean Baker, the director of the Sundance darling tangerine, the man has shot a movie or shot a movie on an iPhone, and that was the the big, big event. He made more noise and I think the winner did at that year Sundance, which is 2015 and his ability to to make a movie look amazing, great story. Very energetic if you guys haven't seen tangerine, you've got to watch it. And he shot it all on an iPhone. And it was remarkable to watch and I really dug in deep on how how he was able to do it what he did all the technical stuff, as well as like, you know, did he have permits on the shoot all that kind of stuff, and the story behind the movie and, and what happened to him after Sundance and so on and a really an exciting interview to have with Sean. And I wanted to bring them on the show so I can show you guys that look. It's all about the story. It doesn't really matter if you have the latest render the Ravens Alexa, latest, Alexa or whatever, the next big, you know, 15k camera is it's about a story. And it's about using the camera that's probably going to use be used to tell that story. And he chose the iPhone, you know, that wasn't a no budget movie. It wasn't like he just ran out with five grand and made a movie had a budget. But he decided to shoot with the iPhone because it was the right tool for the right story at that time. And the next movie he's shooting right now, which we'll talk about is being shot on 35 millimeter. So it that's something that as filmmakers we have to understand we have to choose the right medium and the right camera for the right format. For the kind of stories we're trying to tell like Darren Aronofsky did with Black Swan and the wrestler which he saw on Super 16 millimeter and how Christopher Nolan shoots IMAX on a lot of his movies because that's the format that he likes to use for his storytelling. So I wanted to bring him on the show to really kind of show you guys what's capable of being done and Shawn is amazing gives a lot of great great knowledge bombs. This episode. So sit back and enjoy my conversation with Sean Baker. I am very grateful for our next guest, I'd like to introduce Sean Baker to the show. Thank you so much for jumping on the show, man. I appreciate it.

Sean Baker 5:14
Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 5:15
Oh, thanks, man. Thanks. I'm a first of all, man. I'm a huge fan of tangerine and Greg the bunny. But we'll get we'll get to both of those later. But first of all, I know a lot of people like to say that you were an overnight success. Which is wonderful to say. But you've been actually doing the hustle for about 15 years if I'm not if I'm if my math is correct, right?

Sean Baker 5:39
No, it's a little longer actually. Decades more like I mean, I don't want to give away exactly how old I am. But, but it's over 20 years, actually. So it's yet easily over 20 years, because I made I actually shot my first feature. four letter words and 96 which is 20 years. And so and yeah,

Alex Ferrari 5:59
And what did you shoot on when you shot that movie?

Sean Baker 6:01
We shot that on 35 millimeter.

Alex Ferrari 6:04
What does this what is this 35 millimeter you speak of?

Sean Baker 6:09
Which is such that it almost makes me cringe. I know. You're totally joking.

Alex Ferrari 6:15
Yeah, there is somebody who is listening. Yeah, like, what is this? 35 He speaks of? Is this a new camera?

Sean Baker 6:21
I know. I know. Scary. It is. But no, I actually it was weird, because at the time, I had purchased the short end off of 12 Monkeys, The Terry Gilliam film, and that must have been what like two years prior that like 94? I think so we

Alex Ferrari 6:41
Actually sitting in a classroom, they were sitting on a refrigerator for two years.

Sean Baker 6:45
Yes, yes. But, uh, or my parents freezer or something. But they were all you know, it was totally good. We never lost, we never had one problem. And two years later, we shot the film. But then it took me a while post production is always is always a problem for me. Always a problem for me. It's post production either leads me into some sort of spiral, whether mental, physical, whatever. But basically, that took me over four years to figure out the proper way of cutting that film. And but I was in my 20s. And you know, time is, is definitely a different thing in your 20s it goes by way too, way too fast. And you don't even realize it was that door? Yes. And it was during those four years, actually, that Greg the bunny was, was established and discovered and sort of fell into my lap. So it was that was happening at the same time. So But anyway, I know I just rambled but it was it's been over 20 years. Yeah, and that overnight success thing is I don't I think it's such an incredible rarity if that really is ever really does happen to somebody. I don't think there's even even Tarantino out of film before Reservoir Dogs you know, like everybody. Nobody's an overnight except

Alex Ferrari 8:00
I think the only guy that I can say that was an overnight success was Robert Rodriguez. Because yeah, cuz he literally just busted out with El Mariachi. And before that he was doing short films on VHS at home. So I think he literally right, almost an overnight success. Right? He was trying tree can you imagine that man 23 And that kind of pressure and attention and you know, the whole town chasing you. I mean, how he's survived is beyond me.

Sean Baker 8:28
Right now. It's very inspirational. It's just shows that you know, it's that hard working, proactive mentality. That's very, that's important. And, and it's what leads to I think, ultimate, you know, ultimately, exposure it just even if you have to just keep on knocking on that door. That door of the industry for 20 years, eventually they, they they, they they listen,

Alex Ferrari 8:52
You know, and that's what I that's what I preach at Indie film hustle all the time. Like guys, there's not a short game here, man. This is a long game.

Sean Baker 8:59
It's literally it's literally last man standing. You know, it really is. It is you're right. You're right. It's crazy. It's crazy. And so you really your lifestyle and your quality of living can suck for 2530 years until you finally you know and a lot of my friends who I went to high school with are are almost retiring, if not already retired. And I feel like my career is just beginning while they have made enough money over the years in banking or whatever to retire. It's really crazy.

Alex Ferrari 9:32
Yeah, no, it's it's it's it's it's a brutal. Um, we're scaring the hell out of everybody listening. Yeah, but so how did you get into the business? Why did you why did you want to get into the business in the first place?

Sean Baker 9:45
Oh, it's all the way back to first grade quite honestly, I was. You know, I was one of those kids. I was gonna be a fireman or, you know, construction worker and the next day my my mother brought me to the local library. Were they were showing, I think, from what I remember. Now, of course, it was first grade. So I'm not sure whether I'm just making some of this up or whether the memory is really there, but I think they were showing 16 millimeter short scenes from the universal monster films. So I remember sitting through the scene in which the mummy rises and gets stabbed. There was the, you know, Dracula rising for the first time and then there was of course, Frankenstein the burning mill sequence At the end of James Welles Frankenstein. And that just stuck with me it just seared right onto my you know, prefrontal cortex I was just like, pre frontal low I was like, Oh my God, that image of just the of Boris Karloff looking through that. Yeah, looking through that spinning mechanism of the mill. I just remember going home that night and saying I want to be a filmmaker. And so my parents were you know, they had the super aid equipment around because of family movies. Home Movies then a few years later VHS kicked in and I was like one of those kids like what you mentioned earlier with Robert Rodriguez like making making tons of those like a real like, and they were most of them were rip off you know, they were remakes

Alex Ferrari 11:22
That's what you do when you're starting out you you literally copy completely but then eventually you find your voice

Sean Baker 11:28
Right but there was like, you know space wars instead of Star Wars. I think some of them we didn't even like retitle them we just did Red Dawn. Okay, we're gonna make our own Red Dog. Which is an incredible like, I love I would love it

Alex Ferrari 11:43
You should actually post that somewhere shot seriously, that must be amazing.

Sean Baker 11:47
It's a time capsule because it shows the way that kids growing up in the 80s How how nuclear war and how the threat of you know a war with with Russia at the time was actually a real thing and how it was actually in our nightmares and that was something that it's so today watching it is such a completely it's mind blowing to see little 13 year old going you know, commie scum it's really but anyway so throughout the my high school junior high in high school, I did a lot of that I even went I even I was living out in New Jersey, my parents about in New Jersey, so I actually got to go to like film courses at School of Visual Arts during my high school years, and then when I got into NYU Tisch and I spent the four years there making some decent films 16 millimeter. I'm, I was proud of a few of them. I I actually didn't make a senior film because I was still sort of editing my junior film. Instead of making a senior film, I actually produced somebody else's senior film. And but during that whole time, I was just sort of, I think I was being very much influenced by a whole new way of, you know, the whole the European and in the cinema, because I I did not know much about it. Going to NYU, of course, I knew the biggies. I actually was even a I was a projectionist and a theater manager in a small little cinema that's now closed in New Jersey. And they, during the days, they showed Disney films, and at night, they showed whatever the new foreign film was, you know, so you know, you I got a little taste of that stuff. But it wasn't truly I don't think it was a focus until I was at NYU. And I discovered, you know, the French New Wave, really the front. I mean, of course, I knew about the French New Wave, but I and I had seen the classics, but I never really like it was like diving into Eric Rohmer, and really discovering that stuff. And that opened up the world to like, and then you have you had placed I don't know where where are you based?

Alex Ferrari 14:16
I'm in I'm in LA.

Sean Baker 14:18
You're in LA. Okay. In New York. And LA is so great right now in terms of, you know, different cinemas and everybody's perspectives. Oh, it's so great. It's wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 14:29
I just saw Lawrence of Arabia and 70 mil the other day. Oh, were forgot that damn thing that theater. But it was down the street and they were showing like vertigo the next day. The next week. I was like I couldn't make but they're like, do that stuff all the time here. I'm from Miami originally. So there was nothing like that down there. Really. And here like every week, there's something new like a whole Brian De Palma retrospective and you know, like, oh,

Sean Baker 14:53
Yeah, it's great. It's great. And thank God and now now you have all these, you know, archivists who are, you know, and all these blu ray labels who are making sure that the original negatives are being restored and rescan to 4k, it's so it's so it's great. It's a great time for, you know, making sure that you can see all these old classics in the proper way. But anyway, um, so in New York, New York was wonderful as well. And it still is, it's, it's, it's changed a lot. But at the time that I was at NYU, you had like, you know, Kim's video was like, the big thing where you could see almost anything you wanted to see. And then there were, of course, all these retrospective houses and there was the, there was a cinema village and Bleecker Street Cinema and which was dying, which was at the very end of its run, when I came to NYU, but it was still there. And you still had 42nd Street if you wanted to take advantage of that. Yet the last year or two of of the deuce. And then and then there was Anthology Film Archives, and that's where I've discovered I got to see like Rocco and his brothers on 35 millimeters. So that was really like, Okay, I'm going to pay attention now to the Italian Neo realism that brought me back to, you know, to seek and and then I think that by the time I graduated, I was I was really and Richard Linklater was out there and sugar Berg and I was like, You know what I'm going to try to I'm going to make one of these small personal films. And, and I happen to be lucky enough to land a job at a small publishing house right out of NYU. And that allowed me to cut my teeth on some of their industrials, which in one or two happened to be like a nice commercial, like a slick commercial. So I was able to put money aside and that's what allowed me to buy that Rostock for four letter words. And then that that happened, and so yeah, that's really the way that it

Alex Ferrari 16:59
Started up.

Sean Baker 17:00
That's yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 17:02
Now you're talking about Greg the bunny. That's, that was such a fun show, man. How did that come about? How come how did that come to being?

Sean Baker 17:08
Well, we Okay, so it was during that time where it was Dan Milano Spencer Shenoy and, and I were just basically waiting for things to happen, you know, a few years after NYU, and we didn't know exactly I was in, I had this film that I didn't know how to cut. You know, I wrote it in a nonlinear style was supposed to be sort of like a rush, Amman, sort of mystery train thing going on. But what happened was that it wasn't working. So it was taking me all these years to figure that out. And then we were all doing our odd jobs and our temp work. And I remember one night, it just happened to be that there was this Dan Molano had a little puppet sitting around that his apartment in the East Village. And I think it came from like a short film that he that CRISPR Ghosh actually was was who I co wrote, tangerine with and starlet with, he was the one who actually, he's like the fourth unofficial member of Greg the bunny, because he's actually the one who found the bunny puppet back in the day. And so, so Dan Molano, picks this thing up and starts riffing on it with it. And I have this VHS camera, and I just pick up this VHS camera, and we just start documenting him. And he just starts improvising, like you wouldn't believe. And we realized, you know, we already knew Dan was like this comic genius, but to see him put up, make a voice, you know, create this voice, and just start riffing, we're just, we're an all and we thought, why don't we put something up on Manhattan? Neighborhood network, which was public access here in Manhattan? That's awesome. Yeah, we, this is pre YouTube, you know, the way you got exposed back then got exposure. And we next thing you know, we Morris, William Morris was actually watching this stuff at the time that we watch public access. Yeah, there is. Yeah, that's they had that's how they look for fresh talent, you know, going to film festivals and watching public access.

Alex Ferrari 19:22
Back in the day back in the day.

Sean Baker 19:24
Yeah, so we, we next thing, you know, somehow through through Gil Holland, who is a independent film producer, who, you know, you look him up, he's, he's, he's done a ton of he's helped bring a ton of movies together over the years. He actually was the one who I think connected us with IFC, the you know, the, the No, not the distributor, the the actual channel UFC channel, and they asked us to do these Greg the bunny interstitials which were basically just us making fun of independent film. I mean, we were parodying independent film, so we're able to do like five to 10 minute little parodies. We did a you know, David Lynch parody, we did a blue. What is it? Any every everything you can imagine? I mean, we had like, Yeah, we had even the Godfather somehow wound up on there, even though that wasn't really an independent, but you know, we just, we, we parodied these movies and and then, that just started rolling, you know, and a few years later, you had Neil Moritz and bringing it to Hollywood. And you had, we had one year in which it was on Fox. And the year, the year that it was on Fox was, was both our best and worst year, and also it best because it got us our fan base, and we were able to, you know, we had Seth Green on the show, Sarah Silverman, Eugene Levy, and it was like, the year that just basically said, okay, at least we, the, the public knows we exist. We, I feel as if it was creatively terrible. I mean, you know, it wasn't, wasn't our vision. But it gave us the opportunity to then continue after Fox, we went back to IFC, this time, with even longer parodies with bigger budgets. And we did that for a nice two year run in like, Oh, 506. And then after that, yeah, and then 2010 and shout factory actually put out a DVD of both seasons. And then and then MTV gave us a spin off in 2010. I guess I was Wow, six years ago. But and that was a spin off with the other character by the name of Warren the eight. So basically, we had like this thing that kept me afloat and kept us afloat over the years, it was a great way of having fun practicing with improvisation comm comic improvisation, which is something that because I learned how to do that, I think how to work with my actors that way with Greg the bunny, it led to the way I work with all of my actors today in these in these features. And it was, it was a way of you know, paying rent in which we didn't have to get a nine to five it was a it was a way of just you know, we weren't getting rich, but it was basically just keeping us afloat, keeping us fresh, and also just allowing us to experiment and, and to hone our craft, you know,

Alex Ferrari 22:37
I mean, seriously, that's like the that's the filmmakers dream right there. Like you're able to do what you love. Sure, you're not living the entourage dream, as I like to call it but you're live. You're making a living, and you're making a living doing what you love to do you get to play, you get to experiment. I mean, Fincher did it in his way with commercials. So it'd be right and all those and Spike Jones and those guys, that's how they made a living. But if you can find a way to make a living creatively, my God, that's like the DRI Yeah. And then something will probably

Sean Baker 23:06
Exactly and and I feel as if, you know, there were, you know, of course, there were those years where I had to resort to you know, doing between seasons and I would go and do you know, industrial type stuff I would edit and but I always tried to keep in the industry somehow I didn't want to like just go off and do something completely outside not even related to film and TV at all. I always tried to stay even if I was editing other people's stuff or shooting stuff. I always tried to stay within the industry just so that I I felt like I was just keeping, keeping my practice up, you know,

Alex Ferrari 23:45
Keeping you keeping your skills sharp. Right. So um, so how did tangerine come to come to light, man? How did you get the idea for tangerine?

Sean Baker 23:54
Well, I So okay, so So really quickly, I'll just do this in 30 seconds after Greg the bunny came about I still said I want to make cinema I and I made I co directed this film called takeout with shuicheng XO, which was a tiny little standard definition, almost like a dogma 95 ish film here and it was in Kino Lorber put it out there. And it was like a real Neo realist little slice of life about a undocumented Chinese worker in Manhattan. That led to me saying I like this. This realm I'm working in I like, even there, you know that. There's still there's humor still in here, but I'm talking about serious issues here. And I think that that's where I want to go. That led to Prince of Broadway, Prince of Broadway. Got me a little more note. Got me some festival circuit recognition. We got to travel the world with that film that got released. Eventually Lee Daniels helped us get it out there. By by presenting it in doing a special presentation thing. So now I had takeout and I had prints of Broadway. And I think what really helped me there is that those two films, got nominated for Spirit Awards. And they sort of competed against one another in the same year. And, yes, that's what it looked it made it look to the outside, that it was like a one two punch thing, but it actually wasn't. Yeah, take out was made a couple years before it just took forever for it to get exposure. So so, you know, we we were the it was released the same year as Prince of Broadway. And I think that, that together, got me those two films together got me attention. And then at that point, thank God, you know, Ted help, came on board and helped me find financing for starlet and starlet got, you know, did its whole got released through music box, did it, you know, got its nominations and everything like that. And that actually is what led me. Well, no, that was a weird period of time there because I thought that starlet was going to open all the doors I needed to have open, you know, and I was in a place where I was like, oh, no, I don't know what's gonna happen here. Because I couldn't find the money for a bigger budget film. And Mark and Jay Duplass were told me, Hey, if you ever want to make a micro budget film with us, we love Prince of Broadway. And if you can do give us like a prince of Broadway, we would be more than happy to finance it and find, you know, to co finance it. And I and I said, Oh, I don't want to do another micro budget. These are too hard. They're sucking the life out of you. And they, they're just, they're just, you know, they're really just, I thought I made too many I've already made three, why do I have to make any more? I already have made four at that point. Why do I have to make more, but life just works. It dictated that I have to make another one, you know. So we were I remember calling mark and I'm saying I said something like, I guess I'm ready to make another one. I can't believe the budgets gonna be like, less than like, a third of what I did starlet for but Okay, here we go. And he was like, Okay, what's your idea? And I said, the center of the corner of Santa Monica and Highland. And he was like, Oh, yeah. Excellent. All right. Yeah, there you go. Let's do it. And I said, okay, but now I have to start the whole immersion process. Because with all these films, I do a lot of time, I spend a lot of time in the environment that I'm shooting, because I feel it's the only right the only way to do it. So there's that whole immersion thing I have to do and that takes months. So Chris and I had to go and just start like literally pounding the pavement and going up to people and asking them what they know about the area and etc, etc. And eventually we found my tailor and Katana Kiki Rodriguez. Kiki was introduced to us by Maya. And, and it was after it was just spending time with the both of them and their friends and hearing a ton of different stories. And finally, there was a story that Kiki told us that was semi based on a real experience in which, you know, which is the main plotline of tangerine in which a, you know, a transgender sex were finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and she's off to find this cisgender woman who is part of the affair, and that was really what just stuck with us in terms of wow, that is dynamic. And it's it's also has a lot to say. And there's, there's so much to read into there. So let's do that. And, and that's really how it came about. As we got closer and closer to production and realize that unless we truly ask people to work for free completely, I would not be able to shoot on any anything, you know, any high end camera, so I can maybe shoot on one of the DSLRs. But everybody was doing that at the time and I wanted it to look different. And then then as we got closer and closer, and I realized wow, if the iPhone has now gotten to the point where it has totally acceptable video quality, and with the with a few other tools involved, I can really elevate this to a cinematic level and then that's really where it was like okay, and then it'll help us also, with working with all these first time actors and some of the non professionals and people off the street. They won't be intimidated by an iPhone. So I remember It was really that was one of the deciding factors. And I called up mark, and we started talking about this. And Mark was very supportive of it. He was like, yeah, man, do it. Let's do this. And we shot some tests so that we knew it look good. And Technicolor actually gave us a wonderful favor and allowed us to put it on their big screen over there.

Alex Ferrari 30:22
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Sean Baker 30:32
So, and when we saw that it was holding up on the big screen, we all were excited and said, Yeah, let's move forward with this. And I, I remember going to Sundance that year, thinking we were going to be one of many.

Alex Ferrari 30:49
We're on an iPhone an iPhone.

Sean Baker 30:51
Yes. And it wasn't we were like the only one which was really strange to me. So, so I'm not saying we are the first film to be shot on an iPhone, but I did that year at Sundance, we are the only film on the iPhone. And I think that that really just that first screening in the what is it? The Eccles library?

Alex Ferrari 31:13
Yeah, that's a big, that's a big ask.

Sean Baker 31:16
It's and see how big that thing is. You know, we weren't even in that one. We were in the next section. We were in. We weren't in main comp.

Alex Ferrari 31:25
Oh, you weren't a main competition?

Sean Baker 31:27
No, we are in next.

Alex Ferrari 31:29
So okay, so then the do you want, but you won Sundance didn't you

Sean Baker 31:33
No,

Alex Ferrari 31:34
You didn't win Sundance, I think, you

Sean Baker 31:37
No,

Alex Ferrari 31:38
You just just made the most noise.

Sean Baker 31:41
We made noise, I guess. But I mean, the next section looking back now, at that year, I'm so happy we're in the next section because like,

Alex Ferrari 31:52
Explain the next section. Explain the next section.

Sean Baker 31:55
It's just a another, I guess it's just like a, a section, the way that can has their main comp but then has all these other sidebars in a way? I guess it's it's just considered, you know, a side category that focuses, I guess, the way that somebody can look it up. But basically, I think that the way Sundance describes it is that they're, they're focusing on like, I don't know, innovation, and up and come Yes, the future of film. You know, Locarno has that section two, they call it the filmmakers of the future something so a lot of the festivals have these sections. And with this was a year in which James White was in competition, I think what else was in next? Next was really strong that year. So So I was really, you know, honored to be a part of that section. And you had never been in before. No, no, no, we was weird because we were on their radar. I just don't I think that, uh, I think what happened was that starlet was given to them too early. And that's a lesson by the way, you asked me to think about like lessons learned. That's a big, that's a big lesson. It's extremely I learned that early on, actually. You you really, really have to make sure your film is 100% percent preventable when you're presenting it for the first time to anybody to anybody. I I think that I, I unfortunately, gave them starlets at like almost a two hour cut. And it was just like, it was like this is way too long. And you know, they didn't know whether or not whether or not this film would be good or not. They had no idea so so you know, but but they did. They did at least I think I kept on their radar. And then of course mark and Jay helped out I think, yeah, I mean, you know, they're just they're their names on the film alone helped get the thing, you know, exposure? Sure. Yeah. Of course. And and Magnolia. They were the most excited about it at Sundance, and I love magnolia. You know, they put out wonderful films, they put out my two favorite films from the previous year. Force majeure. And, well, it's not one of my favorite films, but I definitely respect it necromancer. necromage Did I just say necromantic Nymphomaniac

Alex Ferrari 34:44
Yes, Laura

Sean Baker 34:44
I'm, yeah, I'm I'm Laura's Vaughn tree or is one of my favorite directors of all time. So the very fact that I'm on the same from my film is being put up by the same distributor as his stuff meant everything in the world. So I we were very excited about magnolia. and they said that they would give us a theatrical run, which was very important to me. Because with all of my films, except for my first I've had a theatrical run. And I want this to continue. You know, even though I know we're, we're really getting close to cinema in the theaters dying, I feel as if there's still, you know, there's still Yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 35:23
So there's definitely magic there. Now, can you explain a little bit about the tech that you used when shooting tangerine

Sean Baker 35:30
It was it's not complicated in any way, shape, or form, it was literally the iPhone five s at the time, right? Shooting 10 ad, with an app called Filmic Pro, which is a great app, now, it's advanced along with the phone, so you can shoot 4k, you know, log on your new seven if you want. But at the time, we were shooting five s with Filmic Pro there, they had this wonderful feature, they have this wonderful feature on there in which the there's a the out, you can actually change the compression quality. So you up you can up the the quality of the compression. So it's actually it looks better than than the video you would normally get from just, you know, going into camera mode on your phone. So anyway, so there's that app that we use, then there's we use a an anamorphic adapter, not a lens, because you really you can't you have to use the iPhone lens or using an iPhone, but it's an adapter that fits over the lens and allowed us to shoot in true scope. So we were shooting 235, we stretched it out in post, Filmic Pro allowed us to shoot a 24 frames a second. And we colored it in well, I cut on Final Cut on Final Cut. And then we we colored in results. So basically, it was a very simple process. It wasn't as you know, quote, unquote, pimped out as everybody likes to think it was it was very, very simple.

Alex Ferrari 37:06
Yeah, no, I actually did some research on on how you did it. Because I was very curious. When I saw the movie I was I'm a colorist I've been a colorist for almost 20 years as well. And, you know, I was really curious. When I saw it. I was like, wow, it looks really good. And it's a very unique look, it's not something that you would get from other digital format. So I was really curious on how you did it. So I did a lot of research on how how you put the whole thing together and everyone thinks was like, Oh, it was like, you know, you spent you know, $5,000 pimping and like, no, it's no, it was a few things like you just said, yes. But But I also and I love and this is one thing, a lot of filmmakers. Since we talked to a lot of filmmakers, they're like, oh, you know, you should you know, the tangerine was shot on an iPhone. I'm like, Yes, tangerine was just shot on an iPhone. But shot that was his fifth movie. And he knew what he was doing, you know, and it's not like a bunch of guys just grabbed the phone and they just got out of film school, like, Hey, let's go make a movie. It took you know, you have to know what you're doing. And you know, it's not like you just grab the phone, like you said and adapt or the proper, proper app, things like that. So that's the thing that doesn't get explained a lot. And people just say iPhone Sundance feature, and that's all they hear. But there is a lot right. There's a lot of other stuff that you did to get what you got.

Sean Baker 38:20
Um, yeah, I mean, you know, I just I I guess that I just wanted to make the film look as good as it could look as unique as possible. And shooting those tests really allowed us to find a look, you know, and and also you shooting in Los Angeles, Los Angeles has a certain look, it really does. No matter what anyone says. Everybody every city has its every place has its own look, and it almost dictates a style. And Los Angeles dictated this orange style on us. It just simply did because of the we're shooting a lot of magic our stuff we were shooting towards. So we took advantage of that low winter sun. That low winter sun is enhanced by the pollution in the air that gives us this beautiful these beautiful orange sunsets. And so we just kept shooting that stuff thinking that it would Okay, cool, man. Are we overdoing it? No, not really. And so, you know, just kept moving forward with that. And it gave us this tangerine look. And it's part of the reason that we actually settled on that. The name on the title tangerine

Alex Ferrari 39:27
That's awesome. That's awesome. And now how many people are on your crew?

Sean Baker 39:31
Oh, it was tiny. And it was really just like my, my really close team. Yeah. Darren Dean. Shi Ching. So both of whom, you know, I've worked with before

Alex Ferrari 39:46
And they were and what were they what were they?

Sean Baker 39:48
Well, you had those two doing production. They were both producers, Darren, but then she Ching was also costume design and continuity and she was also acting And she also was the woman behind the counter at donut time. And so she had to do continuity while acting pretty insane. Then you had Christopher Ghosh who was the CO screenwriter. But he is he's the type of writer who is present on set all the time. I mean, we were, we were rewriting stuff as we were shooting, so it was important to have him there. And, and he was also doing, you know, we all had to be our, we all had to be production assistants, you know, we all had to like, go and get meals, you know, when you know, and then you had iron Strauss, who was specifically sound, and then radium, Chung, and I shot it. And that was literally it. I mean, I don't, I'm trying to wrack my brain. The actors, of course, were always helpful, you know, car and car gleon played Razmik coming in and helping us we had, you had PJ redzone. Yeah, or James red zone. And you had, of course, the girls, my Kiki, and helping us out in terms of navigating through their, their, their neighborhood and their worlds. So that was really it. I mean, like, and Mark and Jay, were incredibly hands off in terms of produce. Executive producers, Marcus and Carrie Cox, who also put money into it were extremely hands off. That it was it was really, it was this sort of, I it was, it was almost, when you're in that mode of like, almost desperation, where you're like this, this one has to get recognized, you're in this weird bubble of just, you're just like, it almost goes back to it felt like making some of those VHS films in high school, you know, we're just making it up as we're going along. And just not not making it up in terms of the story. But just like, trying to figure this thing out is with the very little money that we had. Part of the just really quickly part of the style actually just came from the energy of that area, I mean, you can look at my other work, and you can see it's much slower and much, you know, it's not as as hyperactive. And this film was, I think part of it was iPhone, and part of it was the energy of the area. It may it was just telling me to move the camera more and more and so I had my little my 10 speed, I don't know if it's tend to be but I had my bicycle on set and that was sort of the dolly. So I'd be on my bike with my with my left hand on my handlebar and my right hand holding the little stabilizer, which I forgot to mention, but that was the other tool. It was like it was a it was the tiffin smoothie made by steadycam and are made by tiffin. And basically it was this little This was before there was the internal stabilizer in the iPhone. So you needed this in order to shoot on the five s and it actually looked really good and it allowed me to get a lot of different angles and get on my bike and you know, just just go do 360s around my actors and and be very free with the camera so so yeah, yeah, that's that's really how it happened.

Alex Ferrari 43:19
Now, did you I know you just recently moved out back to the East Coast right?

Sean Baker 43:23
Only to do post production on my new film. We're here in New York we're taking advantage of the tax incentive here for post and and my girlfriend Samantha Kwan is actually in a play Viet gone which is part of the Manhattan Theatre Club so so it's a it's because we both need to be here at the same time so

Alex Ferrari 43:47
I didn't know if you knew or not that donut time is closed.

Sean Baker 43:51
I did I always thought you know what? So I very upset to hear about that.

Alex Ferrari 43:56
Yeah, I drove by the other day I was like, Well, no,

Sean Baker 43:59
I actually was trying to get the signs but we could not contact the owners and then on top of that if I had all the money in the world I would definitely make that my production office that would be awesome thing

Alex Ferrari 44:12
I know. Oh, can you imagine that? Yeah, people who don't know that corner like I've driven it a million times. And like they don't have the energy in that corner it's pretty insane.

Sean Baker 44:23
Yeah, it's weird. It's like it's it's with Prince of Broadway. I caught the the end of an era when i The film is about the West African hustlers who sell counterfeit goods in the wholesale district. Well, the wholesale district is really now like the Ace Hotel and like all this, this gentrified section of the city. They've all moved down to Chinatown. I caught the very last bit of that era. It looks like I did the same thing happened with tangerine because that area has completely changed. You have you know the donor time has closed Do you have, you know, galleries moving in there? It's a very, it's very different than it used to be. I mean, for three decades, it was a, it was almost like an unofficial Red Light District, which was not only focused on, you know, trends, gender sex workers, but also, you know, gay hustlers and cross dressers, and it was a, and that lasted all the way up to maybe like, two years ago. And then yeah,

Alex Ferrari 45:29
And that was it. No, I had this is a question I've been dying to ask you. Did you have any shooting permits? Or did you just go really the whole thing?

Sean Baker 45:37
No, we did. Actually, we did. Okay, we had permitted we permitted for different corners, and we tried to blanket permit up and down Santa Monica. We, and of course, we permitted in when we were shooting in the interior interiors of locations, we always had. permission. The only thing that we stole was the bus in the subway.

Alex Ferrari 46:04
Okay, because that was just too expensive to get the permits.

Sean Baker 46:07
Yeah, we didn't have the we Yeah, insurance would not, would not handle that. So we Yeah, I guess these few years later, we can admit that we still have stuff.

Alex Ferrari 46:21
Don't Don't Don't be Don't Don't be ashamed. It's okay.

Sean Baker 46:24
I but I also always want to emphasize that, you know, it's, it's I can, as a as an independent filmmaker, I, there's a responsibility, I have to tell other filmmakers, you really have to do what's safe. So it's about safety. You know what I mean? Yeah, especially. So

Alex Ferrari 46:44
That's why I was I was dying to ask you, because you're like, it's one thing to kind of, like shoot in someone's house that's really controlled. And you know, you, you know, not to get a permit, maybe, but like, right on the street on that corner, or anywhere within a two mile radius of that area. I was just, I was wondering, I'm like, like, did they really just run and gun it? Or did they actually do it? Yeah.

Sean Baker 47:06
It was a, it was a combination. I mean, you know, we didn't let people know, we were shooting. So therefore, you had a lot of people in which were made, you'd have to chase them down after the fact and get their releases, because that's required in the United States. It's not required. It's not required in another country, or some other countries. You know that right? I mean, like, you can go to, yeah, you can go to Taiwan, you can go to, you can go to Korea, and you can shoot on the city street and not have to get anybody's permission, because it's a public space. That's the way it should be. But you know, we have a very litigious, you know, society, and we're all looking to cash. You know, it's just ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Alex Ferrari 47:48
Unless you're a documentary documentary, then that kind of opens it up a little right.

Sean Baker 47:52
But then, of course, then there, we've reached the point where we're blurring the line. You see, I like to say that I make hybrid films, which you know, blurs the line between narrative and Docu. So where do you then how do you then say, well, this day, I'm shooting in a docu style. So therefore, I think I should be allowed to get away with certain things. And you know what I mean, I just faced this with my, with my new film in which there was this constant. It was a union film. And which changes everything, by the way. Yeah, but when, but, but when you're shooting, and then you see somebody on the street, and you're like, that person looks amazing. I wonder whether that person is a character and you start talking to that person. And if that person like, is interesting enough, you're like, oh, wow, I should just make and I should just improvise a scene right now with this guy, or this girl, and then you do it. But if you're doing it, like, if you're doing it, under sag rules, or under union rules, you have to Taft Hartley, that person, you have to suddenly pay it before that, before you even turn the camera on. And if you agree that you're going to be shooting that person, and that person is going to speak, you have to give that person whatever the day rate is, which is like $900 That would be an impossible way to make the film's I've made up to this point, like, you simply can't do that you have to, you know, there should be another there should be another way of working in which people can, you know, you almost contest the waters and then agree whether or not that person if that person makes it into the final cut, then the Taft Hartley that person, that's the way it should be. There has to be a way now that we've actually moved into a place where we are making these hybrid films, we have to figure out new ways of you know, of making them like the legality of making them and they end the the logistics of making them they that has to change. It really does because it was incredibly frustrating on my last film, where I was suddenly felt as if I was unable to make, I wasn't able to do what I've done before. And the whole reason I'm making this film and have the opportunity to make this film is because of the films I've made before. So suddenly, I'm in a place where I'm like, Hey, thanks for me give me so much more money. And I but I can't give you the same product. Because we are now you can, you know,

Alex Ferrari 50:20
No, no, I agree. No, I agree with you. 100%. And yeah, I just finished doing my first feature. And it was great. Oh, thanks for that. Appreciate it. And I tell you, you know, we we kind of ran running Gunda yeah, there's just no, there's no way like, you know, when you're at a bigger level, and you have bigger budgets. Yeah, I'm all about it, man. But when you're just hustling from the street level up, literally, with tangerine, from the street. You know, yeah, you kind of just have to have some sort of freedom. And I know that unions are starting to work a little bit more with with indie filmmakers, because so many of them are just leaving. They're just like, You know what, I'm screwed. I'm just gonna go elsewhere to make my movies and all that runaway, all that runaway productions happening, especially here in LA, but it's just sad to be a balanced man. Like you can't expect there has to be you can't expect guys like you and me to have to pay the same thing that Avengers does. Right? You know, that's true. It just doesn't make any sense. But now we brings up a good point. Have you? Did you do any improvisational improv is improv in tangerine? Or was it all scripted?

Sean Baker 51:26
Oh, no, there's there's a ton of improv. There always is with everything I do. I asked for improv. Improv takes. So there will be some scenes will be very tightly scripted. But even if they are, by the second or third take, I'm saying hey, why don't you put it into your own words? You know what I mean? Like, don't memorize this stuff. As long as we are getting the point across and we're hitting the beats. That's all that matters where it's like, if we get from point A to point B, that's all that really matters. And so yes, there was improvisation

Alex Ferrari 52:03
How much and how much of it made it the final cut? In your opinion, percentage wise, that was improv versus scripted?

Sean Baker 52:08
Okay, it's really hard to say but maybe like, see, it's hard to say because after a while, I will blur suddenly telling them Yeah, I was intentionally telling them don't learn this line. But basically, what you're saying is that you have to, you know, you're mad at this person, because of this reason, you know, so it's giving them the general sense. I have to say, though, that Kiki, and Maya, they delivered some of my favorite. Well, and no, the entire cast Mickey O'Hagan, who played you know, Dinah in the film, they have, each one of them has a diamond, you know, each one of them has gold in some of their improv. Kiki, one of her lines was, she comes from the hills, she's a hillbilly, you know, that that was her. That was her, Maya Taylor saying, you know, you know me so well, don't you? That was an improvised line, or you see right through me, don't you that and that line is so important, because, you know, critics have picked up on that, and the trans community actually has picked up on that line as it being very, a very important line for the film because it's for once, you know, the, the, the exchange is being seen through the eyes of the sex worker instead of the, you know, the customer and and so therefore, it's, it's aligned like that, that I just have to say, thank you so much to my actors for because they brought something to the table that not that elevated the entire film, you know what I mean? The entire experience so, so that's why I love improv and that it all goes back to Greg the bunny, you know, it all goes back to Dan Molano being such a freakin genius and me being like, how do we capture this genius? You know, how do we how do we write? Right? We work how to. And so over the years, I've figured out a way of working with my actors, where I'm basically part of the conversation, I just cut myself out, you know, so you'll sometimes like in starlet where they're all on the all the, all the three of them are on the couch, smoking weed, and just smoking about talking about whatever. I'm sort of like the fourth part of that conversation, but I'm just behind the camera. And I'm sort of, like if I hear something that I, I think could develop into something into a one liner or something funny, I'll say, Hey, let's go in this direction. And then oh, can you repeat that line, but this time, give me this at the end of that line? You know, so we're basically helping one another, figure out the best way of delivering the material and and I think that that's really just like, improv is what makes me the most excited especially because I'm the editor. I'm the editor and editing is so monotonous and it's it puts me into a really bad state. But if I if I can at least

Alex Ferrari 55:06
No, no, no do any bad. I've been a cutter cutter for 25 years did I know which

Sean Baker 55:12
Okay, you know, yeah, yeah, it's really, it's a lonesome place. So it's the only way when you're there, though, you want to be excited and you want to be entertained. So a lot when I get when I have like five takes, and they're all slightly different because of the improv that keeps me thinking and keeps me awake. It's not just about, Oh, does the continuity work on this shot? No, it's about like, where is the best material. And it's actually like rewriting while you're in post production, because you're given a lot more to write with, you're given like, you know, if five ingredients instead of the one ingredient being repeated five times, you know what I mean? So

Alex Ferrari 55:52
No, no, absolutely. Absolutely. I love working with actors to improv and, and that whole storytelling process. Absolutely. It just, it makes it much more fun, and lively. It keeps you awake. Like you said, it does keep you awake, because I've edited movies that are like, the same, like five takes of the same exact lines being said, just with different infant infant, you know, like how the face looked at this and that, and that just becomes monotonous. But when you have five different takes, and then trying to cut those, by the way trying to cut those with other coverage, when they're not the same. That's yeah, becomes even more fun.

Sean Baker 56:23
Yeah, that's the hard part is very hard. Yeah, very hard. But you know what, you figure it out. And thank God that audiences will accept, like jump cuts, these days, they'll accept jump cuts, and there's a certain style of filmmaking that leans towards the Docu style, which will allow you to like to get away with a lot more stuff than you would in then you know, in then just traditional lockdown camera stuff. Even though I do have a lot of lockdown camera, I really do have a lot of lockdown camera on the new film. But I had a lot of lockdown camera. It's just you don't think about it. But I actually do have locked down cameras in starlet and tangerine. And these days, you can play with the you can actually use matting and comping to help you, you know, fix problematic scenes, you know by like by by, you know, splitting the screen in half and using the earlier part of the second take on the right side and using another part of another take on the left side. You know, that sort of thing. If you have a lockdown camera, you can do that. Yes. And I've been doing a lot of that stuff that actually that that opening scene of tangerine is actually a lot more complicated than just a shot reverse shot. It's actually there's a lot of that stuff going on in there. You just don't see it. You don't see it. Actually, yeah, I had to play with the traffic. Because the traffic's going in every which direction if I just you know, but But on that corner. In order for it to work continuity wise, I had to do a lot of that cheating in post.

Alex Ferrari 58:10
That's awesome. Now, can you tell me a little bit about your Sundance experience? Because I know a lot of people listening it's that is the holy grail that is the top of the mountain for a lot of filmmakers, though I know, you know the reality it isn't. But that is such a notch on the belt. Like how was your experience going there? Because obviously, this is the first time you were there. Sure you had J and Mark's name on the movie, which got you a little bit of attention. But at the end of the day, if the movie is not good, it doesn't really matter. So before the first screening and after the first screening, I'd love to hear your experience because I know I read that Steven Soderbergh prior to sex lies and videotape in 1989. B, he literally was sitting alone at that one diner that's on Main Street that everyone is at. And nobody even knew who the hell he was. And then the second it was really, he there was just a, just everybody. Well, he was a rock star. He became a rock star all of a sudden,

Sean Baker 59:02
Yeah. Well, I don't know. I don't know if that's actually a mic. Listen, I'm neurotic. I'm crazy. So it's like the whole time it was actually not the best experience in the world in terms of, you know, I was just, there's a lot of babysitting going on because, you know, you're looking after your crew and your actors and you're hoping everybody is having a good time and not freezing. And, you know, there's there's a lot of that just logistics of going through the week. I actually, you know, you don't want to party too hard either because you have business to do so. So a lot of it was just about anticipation of who's going to buy the film and for how much and then for me looking back at that time, it's a it is a little bit of a blur, but what I do remember the most significant part of the of the whole week For me, was being in the room with Magnolia with Mark, with my agent and with Josh Braun from submarine, which is a sales agent agency that just and just listening to Magnolia give us their pitch about what how they would release the film, hearing mark and the others talk about what, what we would like. And that was really like, okay, good. I'm learning something here.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Sean Baker 1:00:42
I've been in the industry for over 20 years, but this is fresh to me, I'm learning how a film is acquired, and relate and how the relationship is formed between even though I've done this before, this was the Sundance one, this is the Sundance experience, because you know, I sold starlet on a Vimeo link, it showed it showed at South by Southwest did all right there critically. But music box didn't even see it there. They they saw it on a Vimeo link. So this is a very different experience. And that was what I that was the takeaway, where I'm like, this is very interesting to see the way that Mark do plus works, the way that things are negotiated. That was really great. And so the rest of the time was really just about you know, doing all that press, which is, you know, it's it's, it's, it's fine. It's fun, you're getting exposure, and

Alex Ferrari 1:01:38
Yeah, you opened and it opened up some doors for you obviously.

Sean Baker 1:01:42
It did it did it. It actually, you know, led to, to, to me being able to find financiers for the newest film, which is the first time I'm working, you know, above a million dollar budget. And it's also just, it's also was it allowed me to, you know, to work with a movie star, you know, like, you know, Willem Defoe is is, is is an incredible actor. He's amazing.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:16
So it talks about you, did you tell us about your new project?

Sean Baker 1:02:19
It's called the Florida project. That's what it's literally called. It's not the working title. It's called Florida project. And

Alex Ferrari 1:02:26
I'm assuming you see, I know

Sean Baker 1:02:27
Some people, some people didn't even know that until like the wrap party. They're like, what are you gonna call this? And I'm like, What are you talking about? Florida?

Alex Ferrari 1:02:36
Did you shoot a Florida? Yes, we did. Where did we just shoot?

Sean Baker 1:02:40
Okay, well, here's this. Here's the crazy and very sad part. We started shooting less than a week after the shooting at the pulse club. You know, we were shooting in Orlando and Kissimmee. And so we had that going on that that week, we had the little kid who was unfortunately killed by the alligator. Yeah, that other shooting. I mean, it was a very strange summer there. It was a very, you know, and then they just got hit by the hurricane last week. So it's such a it's that area, why not had a break?

Alex Ferrari 1:03:16
This is why I left. I mean, it was a rough it. Yeah. A lot of stuff happens in Florida, unfortunately. Yeah,

Sean Baker 1:03:21
Florida really is I mean, it it. I looking back, it was like a trauma for us. I mean, we really is a very traumatic experience. I mean, but we were shooting we also put ourselves in that situation. We put ourselves in the dead, you know, in the in the middle of the incredibly hot summer in the middle of Central Florida. Right.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:45
Mr. 30 pounds.

Sean Baker 1:03:47
Yeah, yeah, we're shooting 35 millimeter. We're using moat primarily kids, because it's like a little rascals movie. So you have like kids 35 millimeter sun, you know, and then plus all the other craziness going on. It was we just like set ourselves up for just an incredibly hard shoot. But in the end, I think we got something I'm in post production now. So we'll see. I mean, I know that the performances are incredible. I really am very happy with my cast.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:21
Now, how did you work like and this is, you know, directed to Director How would you direct William Defoe, like how do you do that? How is that conversation?

Sean Baker 1:04:30
He is, you know, most of the time, just letting him do what he does best, you know, just he has he and he brings his, his, you know, masterful, you know, instincts to the table. So he, you know, 99% of the time we're on the same page where he already he understands the character, he understands the scene. And it's more about just tweaking and when When I'm when there was something that I thought we weren't on the same page about, it's simply a conversation. And the great thing about Willem is that he's such a nice guy. He's like, the nicest guy in the whole world. So I never I, of course, I was intimidated, but it wasn't that much intimidation. And plus, on top of that, it was just such an incredible as I said, incredible heart credibly hard shoot, that there wasn't a lot of time it was, it was like, We got to get this right right now. So let's just figure it out. And we Dessau would figure it out and move on. He was just, you know, he, just an incredibly nice guy who was very easy to work with and who wanted us to experiment. You know, he almost I bet he almost wish we shot it on the iPhone. So there was more experimentation. But, you know, we're shooting on 35. We're suddenly like, you're, you're really, you're almost down to two setups an hour when you have Yeah, yeah, yeah. When you have an iPhone, which is 100 setups an hour if you want it to be so it's a very different way of making a film.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:15
Why did you choose 35, by the way,

Sean Baker 1:06:20
Because, ultimately, I feel it's a project by project. It's on a project by project basis for this film, I felt because of the subject matter. And because of the environment that I really wanted that cellulite look, I mean, look at I there's i i love the way that tangerine looks on the iPhone, I feel that there's no other way we could have made that movie for that budget. And and even if we had a multi million multi million dollars to make tangerine, I still, you know, feel as if the iPhone was the proper way of doing it. But that doesn't apply to Florida project. I'm Florida project, I needed a slicker look, I truly feel as if you know, the organic nature of celluloid is so incredibly beautiful. And that I wanted to capture that I wanted to capture the Floridian colors, etc, etc. Plus, on top of that there is another thing that I think a lot of filmmakers aren't talking about need you we really should be talking about this stuff. More like the way that Nolan does. And Tarantino is that we have to hold on to this medium. It's very, we're letting business tell us how to make our art where we're, you know, we're having the industry say, oh, it's easier and cheaper to shoot on digital. So therefore, guys do that. Well, that's horrible. I mean, that's not we're filmmakers. First and foremost, we should choose our canvas. You know what I mean? This is not we shouldn't have it dictated upon us. And, and I think that, you know, we cannot lose celluloid. I mean, if we should have that choice to shoot on it if we want to, and if we have the money to do it. And I think that we have to fight to do that. And there there are filmmakers out there, like, you know, James Ponsoldt. And, and Ty West who are saying, Look, I'm gonna, I'm shooting on 35. You know, you are I'm not making the movie. And that's how I'm, that's how I'm starting to go where it's like, there will be reasons for me to shoot digitally. But, but if I can shoot on 35, I'm going to because ultimately, the image is an incredible image that you really cannot, no matter what anyone says you can not imitate with digital. Not yet. You can't and not really. Absolutely, yeah. So that's one of the reasons and then also, there's that archival thing that nobody's talking about either. That, you know, even if you shoot digitally, I feel as if you should do a film out now you can say well, where will I find the $50,000? I don't know. I don't know. I'm trying to find $50,000 to do a film out on takeout because I feel that takeout is a film that deserves it and and it would look the way we really wanted it to look if I was able to do a film out but film out costs you know so much money so right you know, it's it's it's this weird sort of this is just a dilemma that we've always been having to face that we're we're working in the most we're working with the most expensive art form, which yes, you know, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:28
Yeah, I know I trust man. No, I wish we could just grab a piece of paper and a pen and draw something or or write a song or play an instrument and you and you're good but no, we we've picked the pretty much the most expensive form of artwork maybe other than an architect.

Sean Baker 1:09:43
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:45
So um, so last two questions. I asked my all my guests the same two questions. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in life or in the film business?

Sean Baker 1:09:59
The little longest to learn? Well, I Oh, god, that's a hard one. Because see, I one of the lessons that I teach, that's a hard one, I, one of the lessons that I learned early on, but I'm still having to always remind myself is is just to just just to do it, just to be proactive, and don't wait for anybody to tell you when or when not to do something, I think Amen. I think that that's the lesson that even to this, to this day, I have to remind myself that that's how I, you know, I got to make my last couple of films because I made those first three on my own. Even when people told me oh, you should wait until you know, you get a backer, you know, you should wait until whatever until you're working. And I and I, and I didn't wait. And because I didn't wait. It's because and that's why I'm, you know, able to, to finally make somewhat of a living in this industry. So I would say that's a lesson that, that you're always going to be shot, people are going to pressure try to pressure you out of it. So that's a lesson you constantly have to, you know, keep relearning and keep, you know, being on top of that, you know, you just really have to be your own motivator and, and, and really your own cheerleader.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:39
No, no, no question about it. I couldn't agree with you more, my friend. It's yeah, I was the I forgot one of my guests said this that I know, it was actually Robert Rodriguez, I was listening to an interview he did, or lecture he did. And he says that karma. The universe conspires to help you once you become active. The thing about it is sitting down that you can't there's no opportunity for the universe to give you anything. Like it's not gonna like you know, Mark Duplass is not going to knock on your door and go here. Here's the money. Let's go to Sundance, it doesn't work that way. Like you have to get that momentum going and just do whether it's good or bad. That's indifferent. Just did something good will come out of it. Exactly. And what are the three of your fit was three of your favorite films of all time? In no particular order?

Sean Baker 1:12:25
Oh, gosh, yeah. This is funny, because I get asked that a lot. And it's always the list always changes show, I realize that like, it just happens to be and you know, in October of 2016, I guess the films that mean the most to me right now are I would say Lars von Trier is the idiots that really hasn't changed actually, for quite a long time. Because, yeah, I consider it extremely see. That's where, like when people say, Well, wait a minute, you're talking so passionately, about 35 millimeter, but that film is a standard definition video film. You know, it's like, that's where I'm also at the same time, I always have to remind myself that ultimately, it is not about you know, the, the format, it's about the content. That was something that that's a lesson that probably I'll never learn. So much so, so yes, it is that film and then I would say a march of the wooden soldiers, the Laurel and Hardy, you know, comedy? Yeah, yes, awesome. Babes in Toyland. I just I love that film so much. And I consider that comedy one of the, you know, it's hardly aged at all. It's almost 100 years old. And oh, my gosh, God, this is a heart is so hard. I can't believe I would have to say Harold and Maude.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:59
No, yeah, that's been on that's been on the list of many of my guests.

Sean Baker 1:14:03
Yeah. Yeah. It's hard to deny it. So

Alex Ferrari 1:14:07
Harold, the mod is an awesome, awesome movie. Now what is now where can people find you online?

Sean Baker 1:14:11
I am. I'm on Twitter at. Let me see what my handle is. I think it's at littlefilm. It's L.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:20
I'll put the link in the in the show notes. Don't worry about that.

Sean Baker 1:14:24
Thank you. Yeah, no, thank you. Yeah, and I have a just to say, one of those professional pages on Facebook if you want to want to find me there. And but most of my stuff that I get out there is through Twitter, and it's really just a lot of like, it's pretty geeky. just me talking about like what blu rays I've watched.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:52
But um, well, that's why I met on Twitter as well. So Oh, there you go. Yeah, yes, it does work. You know your mate. I'm still never, I never am shocked at who I can connect with on Twitter. It's fascinating. I've gotten so many amazing guests and talk to people and just connected with people that it was Twitter. It's just through a tweet.

Sean Baker 1:15:15
I, I actually think that social networking and just the internet in general is such an amazing new way of, of work. Also, if you can apply if you can figure out a way of, you know, using it, exploiting it to, to as much as you can in film. You know, I cast my new film. Well, I did a lot of casting with tangerine, through things like you know, Instagram and Twitter and the snap. But the the new film, Florida project has one of the leads who I cast through through Instagram.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:54
That's insane. Yeah, it's, it's pretty, it's great.

Sean Baker 1:15:58
Yes, she never acted before, but I knew her personality was was incredibly interesting. And she had the right look, and she was funny. And next thing you know, she's holding around against Willem Dafoe.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:11
And that's the way the world works, my friend. That's the way the world works. Shawn. Matt, thank you so much for taking your time of your busy schedule. I know you're in post right now. So thank you for jumping on the show and dropping some knowledge bombs, man.

Sean Baker 1:16:22
Oh, thank you so much.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
And there you have it, guys. I told you, Sean was awesome. I was so happy to have him on the show. Because I was dying to ask him a whole bunch of questions about how he shot this thing. And I think we got into a pretty deep into into how he made tangerine. I'm excited about his new movie as well. And if you want any of the show notes, head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash 111. And in there, you'll also have a complete explanation of all the gear he used iPhone filmmaking stuff, and all sorts of cool stuff. So definitely check out the show notes on that one at Indie film hustle.com forward slash 111 Don't forget to head over to free filmmaking podcast.com And leave us an honest review of the show. It really really helps us out a lot guys i I know you're busy. I know you're right now but right now listen, if you if you're on a you're on mute right now, you're in a train somewhere, or you're sitting around waiting, listening to this at a coffee shop, just take a second, go over to your iTunes, leave us a review. Leave us a good review. It really helps me out a lot, man, I really, really, really appreciate it. And don't forget to head over to free film book calm. That's free film book calm and download your free filmmaking audiobook from Audible. And that helps support the show and keeps us going my friends. So thank you again, so much. I've got a lot of cool stuff coming up for the holidays, got some new stuff I'm cooking up. And I'll give you updates on this as Meg as I get them. So oh and by the way, I'm going to be heading over to AFM next week. I'm going to be there around on Monday. And I'm going to be checking things out over at AFM. I've never been to AFM. So I'm really curious about AFM and see what all the hoopla is about. So I'm going to be checking that out. And then I am going to also be at Sundance this year guys. I'm going to make that announcement. Now I am planning to be at Sundance regardless if Meg gets into Sundance or slam dance. This year, I am going to be heading over there. And I'm going to be doing some live podcasting. I'm going to be doing some pictures videos streaming the whole ball of wax while I'm there. So keep an eye out for all of that stuff. And you'll be able to see the Sundance experience through the indie film hustle lens, which is what I hope hopefully we'll be with Meg in one way shape or form that would be awesome. But But either way, I'm going to go over there and I haven't been there in close to a decade. So I can't wait to go there and share that all that stuff with you guys as well. So thanks again guys, and keep that hustle going. keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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