Right-click here to download the MP3
The Purge franchise is one of the most iconic dystopian action horror series of all time and the man behind it, James DeMonaco is not stopping anytime soon.
James is our guest today and even though we talk a great deal about the various Purge films he’s either written or directed, which are all fan favorites, we start off with his most recently released film, This Is The Night, that was digitally released on September 21, 2021, after a prior theater release on Sep 17, 2021.
This Is The Night, drama stars Frank Grillo, Lucius Hoyos, Jonah Hauer-King, Bobby Cannavale, and Naomi Watts. It is set in the summer of 1982 Staten Island with the release of Rocky III as its backdrop.
The story tells of an average teen who embarks on a quest in his Rocky Balboa-obsessed town that swirls in his family members. Watts and Grillo will play with his parents. His family must confront its greatest challenges and the family realizes that the only way to live is like there’s no tomorrow.
I have tons of questions for James in this interview, which I am sure you, my tribe will appreciate. I have been a fan of some of his work but clueless he had written other top-ranked films on my list, it came as an exciting shock to discover more that James has written, directed, or produced.
As a child of 5 years old, he would beg his more for a pass to watch the 4:30 ABC network movies and would visit the cinema often. At seven years old, he went to see, Apocalypse at the cinema and that changed everything for him. Leaving that theater with the desire to be part of that experience of whatever happened on the screen.
Through screenwriting, he landed his first production gig with director Francis Coppola, for the 1996 movie, Jack, starring Robin Williams.
The inspiration for The Purge was birthed during James’s time living in Paris and Canada. It came mainly, from his relationship against guns even though he had grown up around cops.
The experience in Europe and Canada, in general, were the complete opposites he had observed. This was around the time mass shootings in America were on the rise in the early 2000s. Combined with an aftermath dark thought from a road rage incident curious about what it would be like if we all had a day pass, turned into a masterpiece original screenplay. But dressed in a science fiction dystopian world.
The Purge: Anarchy – A couple is driving home when their car breaks down just as the Purge commences. Meanwhile, a police sergeant goes out into the streets to get revenge on the man who killed his son, and a mother and daughter run from their home after assailants destroy it. The five people meet up as they attempt to survive the night in Los Angeles. Watch the trailer here.
It was challenging to find someone willing to finance a ‘nihilistic’ and ‘un-American movie life The Purge. James and his partners got about fifty rejections because of how dark the script seemed.
Until finally with help from Jason Blum who said it was a great fit for his low-budget horror model on his deal with Universal Studios, to be produced by Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes.
The studio took a shot at it and the first Purge movie in 2013 albeit on a $3 million budget, grossed $89.3 million. The film starred Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, and Max Burkholder as members of a wealthy family who find themselves endangered by a gang of murderers during the annual Purge, a night during which all crime, including murder, is temporarily legal.
The franchise includes The Purge: Anarchy( 2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016), a prequel, The First Purge (2018), The Purge TV series(2018 to 2019), and The Forever Purge (2021).
There is a sixth Purge movie in the works. And the franchise has grossed overall over $450 million against a combined production budget of $53 million.
We go deep in the weeds on these projects and James’s writing process.
Enjoy my conversation with James DeMonaco.
Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, James DeMonaco. Man, how you doing, James?
James DeMonaco 0:25
Good, Alex,thank you for having me, man. Man. pleasure.
Alex Ferrari 0:28
Thank you. Thank you so much, man. I appreciate that. Brother. Thank you for being on the show. I've been a fan of your work for a while man. And and as I dug deeper into your IMDb, I was like, Oh, he did what? He did that to? Like, what? So I have tons of questions. And we're definitely going to get to your new film. This is the night which I've had the pleasure of watching. And we're gonna go deep in the weeds on that one because that's that's that's a it's just a it's a fun movie. And very specific as we were talking about off air, which we'll get into. But before we jump in, man, how did you how and why did you want to get into this ridiculous business?
James DeMonaco 1:05
What's the perfect word ridiculous. Oh, I think um, I think it was weird. my newest movie, I think explains it the most. I was just a movie addicted kid. I was so moved by films moved by movies that I remember seeing something on. You remember the New Yorker? Do you probably remember this? Although probably all over the country, there was something called the 430. Movie. And ABC. Yeah, yeah. I can tell you're younger than me. But so it might not have been around. When you were all age. It was before 30 movie ABC right after the soap opera Edge of Night. And they had been weeks. So you'd have Steve McQueen week, Paul Newman week, monster week, Dracula week, and I became obsessed. My mom said at the age of five with the with this 430 movie and that was that was my introduction to cinema. Just everyday so no matter what I was doing, it was kind of known a neighborhood I grew up in well, seven years in Brooklyn and moved to Staten Island. No matter what age where I was. The neighborhood would hear my mom saying James it's 425 and everybody knew we were playing wiffle ball, you know, touched before. I don't want to cut down guys. I'll see you in an hour and a half, two hours when the movies over. And I went in and that was kind of my film school. And so but it was beyond that to my dad. I joke with him. I think he took me to very inappropriate films, not x rated films. He took me to R rated films. Yes, my two. I had a very young age like I saw. I saw Apocalypse Now. I think I was seven. I should not have been sitting
Alex Ferrari 2:30
no man. I think most 20 year olds it's a rough ride for 20 year olds little seven year old. Mines was Beverly matches Beverly Hills Cop. Flashdance. Yeah, you're young. Yeah. I'm a bit younger.
James DeMonaco 2:42
Yeah. So Apocalypse Now when I was seven, but that's the movie. I think that that's the one that changed everything in that. I remember leaving the theater saying to myself, whatever just happened to me, because there's almost a traumatic experience. I have to be part of whatever just happened on that screen because I felt like I was watching and I forget the feeling. I felt like I was watching another human beings dream. And I was blown away by that. I was blown away. I was like, that's the closest I'm ever going to be inside someone else's head. The imagery that I just saw, and I've always felt that that I like films that have not that films that have a dreamlike quality but i like i like that I'm inside someone else's head. I want to be there. And the more interesting the person the more interesting the dream you're showing me so that was that? That was the movie that changed it all. I was like, I got to get inside that I got to do that.
Alex Ferrari 3:26
Yeah, and the thing with America with Apocalypse Now is a lot of people look at it as as a narrative and it is has a narrative obviously, but it doesn't it's an experiment experiencial film, like space like 2001 Space Odyssey like you experienced that film. It's not as much on a like, like 2000 was hard to get keep the story the story is it's just the experience you walk out change and Apocalypse Now is that as well let alone for Francis and the whole team at shot that and by the way, anybody who's listening you've got to watch hearts of darkness the documentary about that movie
James DeMonaco 4:03
Oh best filmmaker I'm having to be it's the best doctors we about documentary about filmmaking ever I think right hands down
Alex Ferrari 4:10
I mean he almost almost Yeah, yeah he didn't he almost he almost killed himself a couple times.
James DeMonaco 4:15
margene almost died during storms is madness like but it captures that insanity as you know like the insanity of being on set the pressure the money pressure, the creative vision all that shed we told me it's but that movie that that documentary says it all been captured all Yeah, so I worked with Francis later which was
Alex Ferrari 4:34
which, which? We're gonna get into that in a second. Absolutely. But so so you get into so you know, you you walk out and that movie like for me it was at like, I saw it and I was just like, I don't know what I just saw, but I want to be a part of it. But then I put it away to like onto the video store in high school and then then I was exposed to like hundreds if not 1000s of videos and It was it was a whole other world.
James DeMonaco 5:01
Everything but it's weird you say put it away. I don't want to babble. But yeah, I that was also something about our youth. That's so different than now I saw Apocalypse Now it changed my life. But I didn't have access to it. Right, like, seven years from when video came. So it wasn't even on TV. I don't think Francis allowed it to be on TV. So it lived in my head in a very specific way without of repeat viewing that I think it grew, it grew into this mythological beast inside my head. And I think that was wonderful that I got to live with it in a very personal way. Less I watch movies over and over again. So I'm kind of a, I go against what I'm saying there that I love watching movies over and over again. But there was something about that when we were young that we didn't get to watch it immediately. Again, we learn to live with how to live with this kind of impression.
Alex Ferrari 5:45
Oh, for me, it was Star Wars that I saw star I the first time I actually saw Star Wars was on TV on a black and white. This this inch TV is the first episode of Star Wars, which was horrible, but I had already seen Empire Strikes Back. And I had already seen return on Jedi first Why? Because I was you know i was i was young. So I didn't get to see as I saw Empire in the theater so I returned but return was the one that really blew my mind cuz I was older at that point. And then I saw star so Star Wars was this mythical thing that no one. It wasn't around. I couldn't see it everyone. Like it was insane. So but it's a weird it's a weird thing. Even Scorsese and that whole generation talks about like, you know, having to go to the arthouse cinema to watch things like of course, our retrospective or, or a Kubrick rest retrospective or something like that, that you would get to watch these films again, but then with the video stores can you get to watch it again again, now literally anything anytime, as many times you want to
James DeMonaco 6:40
watch through any moment, any moment like Ethan Hawke wrote them a buddy Ethan I made a bunch of movies when he wrote to me like he goes, You must go see out of the blue. You must see it like goes to Dennis Hopper film from 1980. And I had never seen it I heard about it well in demands. But immediately like I was able to watch out of the blue last night like I got like video. Let me search a couple of things and there's out of the blue. Okay, so the access now, the wonderful also takes away It makes everything seem somewhat normal. It's almost it takes away from the advent of film,
Alex Ferrari 7:10
it's almost disposable. It's almost disposable. Where when you went to a theater it wasn't even if you went to the video store. It wasn't it wasn't but now you're you have Apocalypse Now next to it to a $1,000 indie movie dude exactly in the same in the same queue. And and it's sometimes it kind of like dilutes get diluted that magic
James DeMonaco 7:34
content takes away from it being so special and that's what's scary that's that's one of the reasons I made this movie is to say we did something about that communal aspect of the theater the event of it all driving to the theater waiting online makes it all special. We've taken all that away now all that's gone, you know,
Alex Ferrari 7:50
literally not because of the pandemic it's like real gone.
James DeMonaco 7:53
And we celebrated what we were already hearing right before this all happened right hearing the death of the cinema and now I think COVID is accelerated I hope listen not to get into but I hope that it you know, I hope that is a fuse that people want to get out of their houses I guess reunited.
Alex Ferrari 8:09
It will it will but I think it's gonna be it's gonna be a different than what we remember it. It's definitely never going to be the 80s or the 90s or even the early 2000s it's it's just not that's why I'm really curious about avatar. When it finally does come out is everyone going to go out to see avatar again? Is it going to do what we all hope it is going to do? Is James gonna save us all
James DeMonaco 8:31
I was looking at the boxes of Titanic reasoning someone brought up to 20 mil it did do that opened at 20 mil but it held 20 mil every
Alex Ferrari 8:40
million no it did 20 then it did like 30 then it just like the 30 and then it just kept going up. And then it slowly I remember because I tracked it then it went down because it came out Christmas. Then it like for the fruit it went up up a little bit then like started holding holding then Valentine's Day came up and it jumped to 60 and then it dropped back and then it just started to drop back down again slowly like 5545 it was just an insanity in 97 money. So
James DeMonaco 9:08
right exactly, exactly. It's something like that happening again. You know what I mean? That's what's scary. I hope
Alex Ferrari 9:14
I'm the last time that happened was avatar yes I mean even even the Avengers even the Avengers all their money's up front but avatar held and people kept going because it was an experience of going TO to see it in 3d only 3d movie I've ever enjoyed his avatar.
James DeMonaco 9:30
I'm with you. Same here same was the one I enjoyed. Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 9:33
And that's the only time I would watch anyway let's get back on the track. Because I know we're gonna have it's gonna be a fantastic conversation. Let's just keep talking, talking talking. So Alright, so you start you want to get to the business you start writing scripts I'm assuming you start writing a whole bunch of scripts you write a whole bunch of bad scripts. Oh god bad a bunch of bad getting thing. How do you get your your first scripts sold? And was that first script jack?
Unknown Speaker 9:57
Yes, yes, indeed. It was so I wrote I was right I started writing scripts at 12 very early like you said is bad I always tell people that write bad scripts talk bad get them out get them out of your system to very bad scripts or something called clear read slam it was flying cars bad kids in the neighborhood a lot of bad kids in the neighborhood tough guys. guy that was scared of you know, all that kind of thing. writing about you know, Staten Island Brooklyn stuff. And then yeah, so probably literally 20 scripts before anything worthwhile even to peep I look back at them now. They're almost incomprehensible, but also trying to find scripts to read back then almost impossible. Right? Like, Manhattan? No, you could walk the streets they used to be I don't remember this. dude's on corners.
Alex Ferrari 10:39
By NYU, by NYU. Oh, yeah. But they're bootleg
James DeMonaco 10:44
like this. I found young guns at the age of eight like 19 Young Guns holy shit Young Guns too. But it was first script I saw my believable john fosco great writer. Yeah, Mike This is just so what that first screenplay is so written other than I had said fellas, books I think I'm saying Yeah, screenwriting guru. That really was the way I learned about the the structure of screenwriting. But beyond that, it was no act no internet, no access to really anything. So writing bad scripts, right? So I'd go to them can't get it. I don't I don't literally have one. I don't I don't know anyone who has any connection even to Hollywood or indie film, if that even existed. And I go to NYU. I'm there for grad there for a little while not enjoying the experience. I don't want to bad mouth. It wasn't for me. A lot of guy. A lot of people there had a lot of money. To me. Everything was about your senior thesis film building to that. And a kids had a lot of money to shooting comes from 50 to $100,000. Maybe when my bartending daily money, I could scrape up two grand to shoot a film and I'm like, yeah, you know, getting actors to be in their films to like Danny DeVito and Daryl Hannah, were in some short films, and I'm like, this is insane. I'm not gonna. So long story short, I was about to quit. I met a guy who had raised money through his dad, he had no money himself, but his dad had access to some money. And he asked me to write it. He had seen something I did small man named Gary annadelle, wonderful filmmaker. And he's like, Oh, right, my short film. Could you write it? So we wrote it together. And we ended up winning what's called a student Academy Award for the short film that he directed, I wrote, co wrote and produced. And we got he got off that William Morris as the agent as his agent. And we were like, wow, this is a big step. And I met with him because I wrote it. And I had all those trunk scripts, you know, I had 20 scripts that I had written over the years, but most of them were very dark. And Gary was a more Spielberg like director Zemeckis kind of et ish kind of guy. And, and the movie we wrote the short film was also in that vein, it was called read it had it had a pre contemplated good feel to it. Long story short, they're like you need to write something's de Monaco scripts are too dark for Gary to direct write something, a feature that Gary could direct, maybe we could sell it, who the hell knows? We ended up writing this thing in 17 days based on a crazy idea. We had one night drinking tequila, right, his Manhattan apartment about a kid pages fast. And we banged out the script project very quickly. And lo and behold, we'd give it to the agent. They're like, Oh, we think there's something here and they start sending it around. We were flying out simultaneous give a crazy story. We were flying off at a student Academy Awards that Monday we gave it to them on the Friday. So over that weekend, they read it. We're on a plane, we land in LA. And the ex head of Hollywood this is like this is almost fantastical, the head of Hollywood studios, Riccardo maestros, he just left his pose to give him one of those golden parachute producing deals is in a limo waiting for us at La x, saying I want your script. This is out of a movie. I'm not kidding, dude. We're like, What? Who are you? So we want to pay phone. We don't have cell phones. We call William Morris like, yeah, there's a bidding war going on and he really wants it. But don't commit. go have a drink with him and then get the limo to take you to Willie Mars. To crazies and I'm a kid. Gary's a kid from Cleveland. I'm from Staten Island. I'm like, This is madness. We're in a limo. Big power player in Hollywood. We record Oh, he's making secret phone calls. During the meeting. We go to William Morris is a bidding war on the script and ends up Disney buys it for Ricardo and thus begins the weirdest journey of my life and inauguration into this business. JACK goes into production they fire to get rid of Gary because Robin Williams is interested and Robin wanted Francis and somehow Gary's let go. Yeah, we all understood it. Okay. I was baffled that Francis wanted to do it. It was a good movie. So
Alex Ferrari 14:26
it's not a Francis. Yeah, it's not a Coppola style film.
James DeMonaco 14:30
I didn't and he was a very sweet was, you know, was bait you know, sentimentally would not send him an emotionally It was kind of like a movie that was around that time called searching for Bobby Fischer. That was the original love Gary Nye. And it was in the world. That's what kind of filmmaker Gary was and still is. And then so Francis is just his. It wasn't his style to be just blonde. It wasn't in any way shape or form. So we were shocked by that. Luckily for me, because jack did not turn out I could be very honest about it did not turn out at all how I wanted With the experience was amazing cuz I did get to live with Francis on his at the winery for over a month which was just as and I was 24 at the time I was quite young at this moment. I luckily had taken a couple of those trunk scripts show them to William Morris and they had sold them. So I had a couple in the pipeline one being ended up being the negotiator and I had a couple I sold cold another one called fire and rain that almost got made a new line another one called jacket fools. That was all of a stones company at the time. So I started my more genre stuff that was more me I should say. Whereas I had this weird thing going with Coppola and Gary my partner into my writing partner at the time on the jack script, and then due to be quite honest, it did not end up the way we any of us. I think thought I hate saying the word misfire, but I think Francis would also call it a misfire It's a strange movie that didn't call it last appropriately.
Alex Ferrari 15:51
You know what I mean? I've always liked anything Robin Williams does always fan you know, and I I miss I miss him in a way that I that I felt like I knew him. But I didn't. But I so jack is has a very special place in my heart and then that it's so odd because it seems like a robin williams movie. Yes, but it doesn't seem like a Coppola movie. Exactly. Yeah. And there was a young Jennifer Lopez in it at the time. A very young Jennifer Lopez I remember. Right I am asked I mean, Bill Cosby. So let me ask you a question. I meant like Apocalypse Now is the movie that got you going into this like what is it like meeting co like phrases in the winery?
Unknown Speaker 16:37
I've been to the winery winery.
Alex Ferrari 16:38
I've been to the winery. I haven't been I haven't met him but I've been at the winery. Which is is insane that wineries it's insanity.
Unknown Speaker 16:45
Living so you walk in we meet Francis I flying in he wants. He specifically calls me to any school. Here's the fun part. Dude, I'm living at home at the time. I don't have a pasta person. I'm living with my parents in Staten Island. I'll never forget this. I'm playing hockey in the street, literally roller hockey with the guys from the neighborhood. My mom yelling out the window said Francis is on the phone. He's calling my house. How old are you?
Alex Ferrari 17:07
How old are you?
Unknown Speaker 17:07
I'm 24. Just 24. My kid right still playing roller hockey. Alright, and France was calling my house. My mom is like shaking. It's Francis. He's talking to me. And he was calling to tell me about some software. He wanted to email me. I didn't know what email was. He's like, you got to get email James. So we could send a script to each other. I didn't know what he was even talking about. I had no email. So it was just wonderful. I still have the message him saying Hi, Mr. Mrs. De Monaco. It's Francis Ford Coppola. I'm looking for your son. We have the message on the tape. My parents saved
Alex Ferrari 17:36
it. Oh my god. Oh, the tape of course because it was
Unknown Speaker 17:40
a tape machine. So long story short, it was a very strange so we go to Gary and I go to the winery. And I have pictures I wish I had. I don't have I should get I was gonna show you one of me on food on the Apocalypse Now boat. It's in the middle of the winery in a giant field sitting there. This boat boat from Apocalypse Now that Fishburne and sheen and bottoms were on my top five favorite film. And every night Gary and I would sneak out to the boat. He lied to us. He didn't care Francis and we just hang out on the boat drinking beers and drinking and talking and Francis would come visit us and I'm like this is this is not really happening. This is a dream. This is a dream. The dream is the dream. And so the experience was lovely. And he's a lovely man. He's a wonderful human being. And unfortunately I think for all of us it just now just didn't come together artistically the way but I'll never I wouldn't trade the experience I guess you know, I got we got ripped apart by critics. Let me gene set shallot called Gary and I villainous nincompoops when he saw the film, which is
Alex Ferrari 18:35
so easy to criticize when you're sitting on the sidelines. So easy, so easy.
Unknown Speaker 18:40
Oh boy, that's hard. I gotta get used to this business. Oh, yeah, they
Alex Ferrari 18:44
don't they don't hold punches. They don't hold. But so so then you working with Francis, what was the one lesson you took away from Francis? Because I'm assuming he just was spitting out gold left and right. As far as just story and structure and things?
Unknown Speaker 18:57
Yeah, I think it was. It was about writing. It's Don't be so don't it's not so precious. Especially if you want to direct Don't be so precious about it. It's ever changing. And he got to keep changing with it. Like be inspired by everyone around you. And don't be like no, I'm beholden to the word. Don't be that director because he thinks he thinks directors like that ultimately do fail because they're not. They're not open to the artist around them, meaning actors productive whoever's giving you that nugget that you should then change or even a studio exactly is good. There are good ones out there. Good if the notes are good, hear them absorb them and don't be just like locked in. He believes he always felt that the people who are too locked in and saying I don't change a word. Really don't get too far. You got to be open to really making better and better and better. So I always thought was kind of because back then I was I was a pain in the ass. 24 year old Mike. No, I wrote it. That's what you say.
Alex Ferrari 19:53
I have to ask you this man because I know where I was at 24 How was the ego? How How did he How was the ego during that time because you're 24 you're from Staten Island, you're flying now hanging out with Francis Ford Coppola on the Apocalypse Now Poe, like, I gotta imagine that the ego has to be out of control.
Unknown Speaker 20:13
Absolutely, dude. And I got reprimanded, you know, bullshit. I got reprimanded by I'll never forget this. So we did. So we sell the script and you know, with, uh, with the talk of the town, sharing that sale, all that bullshit, and we get sent around, they sent a huge announcement. UTA was really March at the time, sent us into, to do meetings to do just meet everybody in town. What about waterbottle? tour? Exactly. And then right after that, I sold those other two scripts and I you know, I had I was probably full of beans at the time thinking I'm hot shit at 24. And the studios I won't say who it was a couple of studios who call the agents and said, you know, your, your boy sits there with his leather jacket on thinking he's top of the world. He's got a little be a little more open to what we have to say. And it was a great lesson though, man, and we really needed it. I need a little Smackdown you know, because, uh, you know, and then listen, jack came out. I got a big smackdowns
Alex Ferrari 21:01
Oh, I can imagine. I can imagine a 24 or 24 year old James with a leather jacket from Staten Island on Main Streets jacket on. Yeah, you're sitting there going like who these frickin West Coast guys know. Exactly. That's a
Unknown Speaker 21:17
learning learning. It's a process. And I think I matured very quickly though. I was, in a way jack forced me to say okay, okay, this is much tougher.
Alex Ferrari 21:25
Because you were you were for a moment you were at the top of the town and you were going up and you're like, you couldn't get bigger than working with Francis Ford Coppola and Robin Williams. Back on your first spec script. It's pretty unprecedented. So you're on this. I mean, it's unprecedented. And then you're like, going up and then. And that's, and that's the town. And that's exactly one moment. You're the hot shit and the next. Who are you? Exactly. Who are you? You're the guy who wrote them to voicemail? Yeah. voicemail. So then So from there, how did you get involved with this assault with precision 13 which I love the remake of that. How did you get involved with that?
Unknown Speaker 22:07
Right? So I'd written the negotiator with another buddy, childhood friend. And then we weren't doing much together. We had done a TV show together. But we weren't we were kind of not wasn't real partnership. We had just written that together. And then the French guys some French guys who came very close with had loved negotiate negotiated was very beloved in France, which I didn't know. And they had bought the rights to precinct 13 for a French direct and john Francois reshade. Good French directed to remake and they just had this thing like the guy from negotiate it should write it. And they called me through it through a man named Jim Stark, wonderful indie producer produce some of the early Jarmusch films. Anyway, Jim was in New York and he knew me through a woman called me said these French guys want to meet you. They flew in I hung out with them. I'm like, this is the weirdest now connection. And they were from a very renowned, kind of what we would call art film company called wine productions. I don't know they make all the oh no depletion films, Jocko do film, rust and bone to a profit wonderful films they make over the years. They've won con many times. But they love genre movies, the French love genre movies, which is wonderful. They love crazy, beautiful, dramatic films. They love genre films, they love coffee. And they were like, let's do this together. And I said, Well, I just want to get the bless, I'll come up with a take. So I made the cops, the bad guys. That was kind of my take on changing it, like always make the cops the bad guys. And it's not the gang members. So it's cop on cop. But that was kind of subversive, but I wanted to pick to I want to John's blessing. So we met john. We all met john john love to take on He's like, that's cool. And having John's blessing. I said let me go up now. All right. And we were able to get the financing from focus. And Jonathan Swan did a pretty good job. And yeah, it was a great that's where I met Ethan and I met also met Sebastian mrca, who ended up becoming my producing partner. We started a company together. And he's now produced all the films with Jason Blom. And also my new one. This is the night and my personal Staten Island New York so
Alex Ferrari 23:58
so um, but you did right. Did you write with john on this? The gentleman with you know,
James DeMonaco 24:04
just just met him at one time do that was it? Yeah, okay.
Alex Ferrari 24:06
I was I was meeting john met.
Unknown Speaker 24:08
I was still the coolest dude, the long hair. You know, I wish I was john coffin that so
Alex Ferrari 24:14
when I grow up when I grew up, I want to be
Unknown Speaker 24:18
I saw him. My buddy Steve a local DJ here on Staten Island we went to he took me he bought me tickets to john does these concerts I know about them. We went to the one up on pier 48 here in New York. JOHN plays all the music from his films being staged most scenes from the movies sold out as many years. Three years ago. Wonderful. Wonderful. Yeah, that's good to see that look for that John's traveling music tour is great.
Alex Ferrari 24:42
So I see your your writing and you you're doing really good job the negotiator you got jack, you know you're working right or at this point, but you want to direct Yes, because everybody wants to direct everybody. Right? As my old as my old joke goes when Going into an Uber in LA I go. So how's the script?
Unknown Speaker 25:06
Every gas station attendant? Why I don't think I ever went out there. I was so intimidated by that. on Staten Island. It was kind of unique. I'm writing screenplays. Oh, you're a big fish. Oh, you're a big fish out there. Yeah. Well, on Staten Island.
Alex Ferrari 25:19
Up. I can't walk the streets of Staten Island. I mean, exactly. So, so you get your movie, little New York or Staten Island, whichever name. I don't write names on it.
James DeMonaco 25:32
On New York. I wanted Staten Island to go. Right. Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 25:35
So how did you get that project off the ground? due to
Unknown Speaker 25:39
I made a deal with all the with the French guys Pascal cashto Sebastian lemercier a saying if I do write this thing for john Francois Shea, you guys have to find the money for me to direct something. They were like, okay, we'll make that deal. It was kind of a handshake deal. And then I wrote I wrote a salt for you know, john Francois vj. We had some success with that they were happy. Then I wrote a strange little. I'm a Fellini fanatic. So this was kind of my Ode to the absurdity of Fellini films that always inspired me. And I've always found my hometown to be quite an absurd kind of place in a good way. So then I wrote Staten Island New York, which they responded to and Ethan respond met Ethan and I hit it off on assault Ethan Titans you know attach himself to the project with Ethan attach we got Lucas on to read the script and Luke financed it was why he had you know, Europa Europa core films. I think they will call Yeah, Europa core and Luke financed it he was a big fan of the film so we didn't you know, it was good it was it was a great I listen, I love the film. It never found its total way in America or played overseas. We did a lot of festivals, that kind of thing. So it's a weird movie. It's absurd. I but I've learned that I have a love of absurdity that I need to keep in check. If modern audiences love uncertainty the way I do so Sebastian is constantly checking my producers constantly checking my love of absurdity. So right
Alex Ferrari 26:54
yeah, the Fellini films not so and so bought a box office friendly. Eight and a half, eight and a half not not pulling in 100 million opening weekend.
James DeMonaco 27:08
I sneak in I try to sneak in and as you saw and this is the night with the man on the roof. Yeah. What lights on I sneak in my little bits of absurdity and whenever I could, yeah, that
Alex Ferrari 27:16
makes that makes more sense. So Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Now so you're working with Luke man? What's it like working with Luke beside because I am such a huge monstrous fan of loop from from Big Blue to the professional on my subway. I mean, I mean I've been I after I saw the professional I went deep into his archive Big Blue is big booth one oh my god it's wonderful. It's always a beautiful It's a beautiful movie subway and and of course with rights and fifth element and and then his later stuff as well. But the professional is one of those films for me. Yeah, Leah early on, as it should be called Leo. I mean, that's probably one of the most brilliant films I've ever seen.
Unknown Speaker 28:01
Genre wise is one of the best she's amazing in it. Leona. Phillipe is great and Gary Oldman is hopefully ignoring What's his name? JOHN Renault genre
Alex Ferrari 28:11
john Byrne. Whoa, Natalie Portman Gary Oldman at his height of his powers. Every loves off so good. What's it like working with him as a producer, man,
Unknown Speaker 28:22
he was great. He gave me one note he came to set he gave me a great note on set though. So he came to set on Staten Island. So we have lupus on on Saturday, which was great. In and of itself came to set Oh, shoot no the denorfia scenes in the forest. And he was watching the dailies I really liked your dailies, he goes but on every fourth of fifth take whatever you're maxing out at seven, take your last couple of takes. He goes just give everyone that direction of double timing it from camera to actor, he goes you're gonna want the option of everything being a tad faster. So just give yourself the opposite. You just have the camera go faster. If you don't wanna push in, have the actors move a little faster, because your mind at points need to speed things up because it's kind of a slow film on purpose. But he's like, just and I thought it was a great piece of advice that I use to this day. And then on the movie, he gave me one note too, which To this day, I still want to talk to him about it was a very graphic sex scene between Ethan and Julianne that no one ever got to see that started the film, where they're yelling at you, instead of saying I love you, they scream in each other's faces they want to come up with and they're both completely nude and they're just yelling at each other because they want to express their love in a unique way. And their way to do it is to yell. And it's it's a very it's an odd scene, but it's very emotional or emotionally fraught with all dislike passion. And he's like, I remember he called me and then forget this. I was in Manhattan at the time. He's like, James, I love your film. He goes but I have one note. He goes you're playing you have to cut the first scene and it was my favorite scene. I'm like, Why? He goes your movies jazz and that's heavy metal. And it stayed with me. Like oh, you said it too elegantly. I can't I can't I can't come back after that. After that, and he was not wrong but I fought to keep it in for it held them over here for a year and a half years and he's like okay, you could fight all you want show me cuts because No one right. And, uh, so yeah, it was a we got the same we got the same
Alex Ferrari 30:04
you fought off a year a year you were like driving. Let me fight dude, he
Unknown Speaker 30:08
let me keep cutting to try to fit it in exactly what maybe he was responding to that it came first and the movie has a disjointed time structure. sure you're able to move it around though he never bought it. She's like, No, no, you might be right. Listen, I'm not sure. But, you know, it was it was one of those things that I'll live with. I still think about it. It's it's
Alex Ferrari 30:26
still it's Yeah, and but it you know, it's you know, when you get when you get notes from like Coppola and Busan and or Carpenter like, what, like, it's hard to, I mean, you're talking about you're, you're talking to Monet and Van Gogh.
James DeMonaco 30:40
But the Masters, the guy who grew up, I mean, who taught us how to do this,
Alex Ferrari 30:43
right? So when they give you a note, it's hard to not listen, and they might be wrong. They're human, but it'd
Unknown Speaker 30:49
be wrong. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But it's hard. Really, it sinks into your soul and makes you truly contemplate it. Like, you can't you can't dismiss it, whether they're wrong or right, it can't be dismissed. So yeah, it's tough, man. It's
Alex Ferrari 31:00
so so alright, so that that first shoot that first directing gig you got what's the toughest day in that whole shoot, the day that you fell? Because I love asking directors is because I know what it feels like, when you're on set. And you're just like, the whole world's going to come down around me. I'm this close to a panic attack because of this pressure or that pressure this actors not doing this, or that lines up or that we're losing the sun, or the rains coming or the camera blows up, or what was that day for you? And how did you handle it?
Unknown Speaker 31:33
Dude, it's a great question, man. And it's happened. Excuse me, it's happened on every movie. There's that day, right? There's always navigate every movie and every movie. Hopefully I get to make more movies. every movie will have that day or multiple days where you're like, it's not working at all. It's not working like what we're doing is not working in any way shape or form. There was a scene with an offer. Do you know Jennifer's character goes and lives in a tree? He's a mom because don't movies about Staten Island is battling their feelings of insignificance being where the Forgotten borrow so insignificance is permeating it's a triptych. So you have this crazy mobster who to become somewhat infamous in his life, he's tries many he's trying to break the underwater breathing record, and he can't do it. So he's a tries other things to do. It's very strange story. And he's right. I'm gonna take the forest that they're knocking down so he goes to live in a tree because he knows they can't knock it down if he's in the tree. But I had too much dialogue. And this was a great lesson as a whole for me as a filmmaker. He's up in the tree giving this soliloquy that went on and it was more it was it was a dialogue with a cop who's trying to get him down. The dialogue wasn't working. It was simple as that dude, I wrote bad dialogue. Vincent knew it. I knew it. The crew knew it. Everybody knew it. I'm trying to rewrite on set we're losing light it's starting to rain. We're already over budget you know oldest shits all at once, but I can't let it go I'm like I gotta fix it right now here now so I'm literally with pen and paper they got me on the what like a cherry picker running pages up to Vinson who's sitting up in the tree waiting for me harnessed and it was very high. I'm afraid of heights so I'm like having panic attacks going up and down in the Jerry Baker trying to rewrite and I don't think guys ever got it right dude i don't think i did i still to this set like I didn't get it we missed it I missed it. And so yeah, and that's that day it's and you can't foresee that is what we still try it Sebastian and I my producing partner we still try to proceed that day now in the script form like can we see that day we talked about that day on set can we you can't you can't predict what day that will become that thing because you're an actor yeah you don't know what's going
Alex Ferrari 33:29
on it could be a million did there's so many different variables when you're shooting on set it could be an actor could be the scripts not working could be the lighting is not working with the camera the lens fogs up, because he you know it starts to rain you're losing sunlight, or the location you had all of a sudden they're like no, we're not shooting here today. Yes, there's all that there's just so many variables as a director you have to hold on to but there's that one special day because there's always that every day there's a little bit of that
Unknown Speaker 33:54
right that's always there right but yeah, that one day we don't get it right that's the that's why it stands out
Alex Ferrari 33:58
I think Yeah, and I think it's when multiple of those things hit you at the same time. Exactly. It's like that's the day the producer shows up like you're you're three days back you're three pages behind you're three pages behind three days behind
James DeMonaco 34:11
Alex Ferrari 34:12
Yes read after three days to three pages behind this is a fiasco if you don't get this taken care of we're going to shut down the production This is a small
James DeMonaco 34:18
time Heaven's Gate Get your shit together.
Alex Ferrari 34:21
You see that guy over there? That's the bonding company guy Exactly. He's gonna take over this film in two days if you don't catch up
Unknown Speaker 34:31
because you know all the stories right Coppola there was a director down the said he says waiting in a car I forgot his name oh yeah yeah, exactly father exactly even stone says on I think I just read his book man if you haven't read it
Alex Ferrari 34:42
Oh, no. Yeah. Oh, he's Oh, what a great book. Great book.
Unknown Speaker 34:46
Oh my god, but that really explains like the pressure that he was on the where I was just kind of I mean, you think these guys weren't that meaning when we look back upon these masterpieces we think they were made. Because there's so no they weren't at all. They came from like tension Anger and passion and no money and so, you know,
Alex Ferrari 35:03
when when he was on the show when he was on the show he was talking about platoon and you know he was just came from El Salvador he did Salvador which is which was the middle of which you're in the middle of war zone and he's got like government army people shoot like he'd do i don't know i think he directed two horror movies prior to that. In fact the hand and something else the hand and something are really early in his career before even when for when the Oscar for Midnight Express and when he's when he's shooting platoon in platoon was just because he only got platoon made because the producer I forgot he's like a legendary genre guys like Yes, I like your movie. Let's move he has that. He's got the cigar. He has that the accent? It's like, yeah, was it make we make your movie you get 6 million. And like, let's go to the Philippines. And we like and that's and that was it. And he was literally an award he's got. I mean, remember the cast of platoon? like Johnny, Johnny Depp was like in it for five seconds. Like, and why?
Unknown Speaker 36:03
Because Johnny Depp sitting there as the translator. It's the weirdest thing. Yeah, it's
Alex Ferrari 36:06
like, and he would and I forget who was I think it was Charlie, Charlie Sheen or somebody who's like, we're like huffing through the frickin jungle dying. And you see Oliver Stone, like a general on a Jeep just passing us while we're walking to set he's just like, rolling by a peasant. You know, it's it's fascinating. I mean, and I think this generation of filmmakers don't really get this younger, gently, younger filmmakers don't get the the battles that the 70s and 80s guys went through even the 90s to but but really, like, try to make platoon today. Oh, try to make Full Metal Jacket. No, you're not getting Apocalypse Now. frickin taxi driver. Like Can you imagine? Like the wars that these these these filmmakers went through even Spielberg with jaws? Like like, yeah, there's that they went through that stuff that the younger generation doesn't really understand. I think a lot. That's why hearts of darkness.
Unknown Speaker 37:14
Yeah, shows what he went through. And I always say that it's the biggest personal indie film most expensive indie budget or tour film ever made, right? I mean, until until his new one that he's about to make. I can't he had megalopolis no written back when I was working with him 25 years ago, and even before that, and it always broke my heart over the years. I've been talking to Laurence Fishburne about this on assault. We were brokenhearted that a man of Francis's stature couldn't get the money for megalopolis. Like doesn't, why can't someone step up and give him the 150 mil and let that man of all men who you're not going to give it? How could you not give
Alex Ferrari 37:47
him? Well? If Netflix if Netflix or Apple doesn't show up? or Amazon doesn't show up? Someone's got it? Come on, guys. Yeah, you gave Marty 200 million for Irish. Exactly. I mean, you could give him 150 for my mental ease. I mean, yeah. But I'm sorry. But I'm so happy. I just had this conversation with another guest the other day, I was like, I'm so happy that a man who's 82 years old, is an N is by all stretch, retired, more money than he ever needs in his lifetime. Finally, because he's been broke a million times. Because of his insanity. He's like, I'm gonna go back down, I'm going to throw down $100 million on his own money to think about it to do to do this store, because I think the world needs it. We need guys and gals out there. taking those swings.
Unknown Speaker 38:36
Yes, we do. And you guys who can take the swing meaning? Well, I mean, he's personally feel there's only a few of the 10 there's only a few who could take those swings, right? So we need them to do that bold work, because maybe that'll create a new era of the bold work like we had in the seven days. You know what I
Alex Ferrari 38:51
mean? Look, and we can talk about Cameron for I mean, Cameron every every time he goes up to bat, he changes the game. Absolutely every like from the Abyss to aliens determinator. To True Lies to Titanic and Avatar. He changes the game like he literally changed the industry with Avatar. And and Nolan is taking these huge swings up at bat, you know,
Unknown Speaker 39:15
just like versus the walker Nolan's doing it. Now he's taking the reins, right. He's taking those big swings. And now I love seeing Quentin take the huge swings lately. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, it was a huge once upon a time, a huge fan. I can speak about that movie all day. So we have those guys, and they got to keep doing it. Because you know what, not everyone has read up this.
Alex Ferrari 39:35
But the thing is, where are the young guys doing that? You know, like,
Unknown Speaker 39:39
where we're making it too hard to do it? I don't know. You know, that's what I wonder. I don't know, dude, it's hard. I say.
Alex Ferrari 39:45
I don't think you know, I don't think God it's like the the guys and the gals who are getting these opportunities. There's very few who are going to get the same kind of shots that they did because the game has changed so much. Lately, the game the game is completely different. Like we We were talking earlier, it's like if it's not doesn't have Spider Man in it. You know, good luck trying to make $150 million movie it just doesn't make financial sense for the studio to take a risk like that
Unknown Speaker 40:10
that on anymore. Exactly. Now if you're on right, your audience has just gone so they know it's terrifying again, that's what goes back to my movie like is it going to be awesome is going to become like opera houses where we're only seeing certain kinds of films, the films, almost everything else will be relegated to strangers. That's what's terrifying to me as we move forward. Yeah, it's kind of you know, financial. I don't know. I don't
Alex Ferrari 40:32
even I don't I don't know either. I don't know where it's gonna go. But I've always said that too. I've always said that. I think that cinema is going to go the way of Broadway where it's going to be it's going to be 50 $150 tickets to go see an event film that cost $500 million. Exactly. And that's and then there'll be the arthouse films and those things that maybe go to the Alamo Drafthouse, or yes, those kind of films, but it's not the 80s 90s early 2000 it's gone. I think those days scary. Yeah, yeah, that's scary. But we'll see man like, I think we could always hope and pray and I know but and I know a lot of the younger listeners are like these two old farts talking about
James DeMonaco 41:15
Aki Ray What is he doing?
Alex Ferrari 41:17
Exactly? What is Rocky? But anyway? So I can ask him when you write Do you What's your writing process? Like? Do you outline do you start with character? Do you start with plot? How do you how do you start the process?
Unknown Speaker 41:29
Whether it's I think usually it's a some kind of conceit dude, some kind of like, oh, some world that I'd like to purge was a conceit first. You know, of this, this this crazy day, this new holiday in America. So start
Alex Ferrari 41:41
Unknown Speaker 41:42
the seat like the theme, the plot, that's the theme. Yeah, it was like this, you know, yeah, they can see the theme the story usually saw, usually story based, not character based. Man, that's not true. I shouldn't say everything's different. But whatever I do start with, I just start jotting down little notes. I am an outline guy, though, I do build to an outline. So I believe in the outline process for myself. And the outline, I don't want to say is more important than the script. But it is the architecture upon which the script is built. So I take a lot of time on the outline. constantly going over that I write on little cards, I put them on a wall and person a book in the cards, and I type them up. So they're really embedded in my brain. And then once that process is done, then I'll go to script. And the script takes shorter amounts of time, I will say, if I do well, in my outline process, the script process is a tad shorter. But then my rewrite process is immense. Because I do give the script I have my readers who I love and trust, who I do believe every writer needs because I think we have to listen to people and look for patterns. I think they don't always know. But you can when talking to people, you can see the patterns of what if they're all focusing on the same area or the same character, you know, there's a problem there. So yeah, it's a hell of a process in that, yeah, the outline, the outline is actually the biggest part of my process, I'd say, I agree. outliner
Alex Ferrari 42:51
I am a huge outliner I outline my books, I outline my scripts outline everything I write I because just makes life easier. It just like you have all these, you have everything laid out like okay, now I just have to write this scene, I don't have to think about where this scene goes, at least at this price, that process. And when I'm laying it all out, it just it just the writing process is just like almost, it's just like you're just adding in stuff. But like the building of the of the foundation, you know what it is, it's like building the house, you need the frame and the foundation of the house. And then you can decorate, decorate and put the room here. Now I'm going to put the wall This color is going to be purple, I'm going to put this it's so much easier. And I know a lot of a lot of writers love to like it. They hate the concept of outline or structure. And I'm like, Guys, you can't build a house without a foundation and walls and beams. But within that structure, you could do 1000 million different variate how many houses are there in the world,
James DeMonaco 43:47
you know, architecture? Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 43:48
But you need that as opposed to just like I got a bunch of wood. I got a bunch of cement. Let's just go. Let's just let's see what happens. I need to
Unknown Speaker 43:56
know where I'm going and what I'm building to. And someone said to me, Well, don't you want to be inspired? I'm like, Fuck yeah, I'm inspired in the outline process. I'm running around my room, I got a drink some tequila, I got my head. Music is a big thing for me too. I pick a, I pick one track of a song either. It's a soundtrack, one track of a soundtrack, a song, something that represents the movie to me in one track and I put it on a loop. And I keep it on my office 24 seven during that period. So whenever I enter into the office, that song is on and it puts me right back into the movie. So that's a big part of it. That's really cool. And it's finding that song is the hard part that takes some time to like okay, what represents this movie wholly in one track that I can keep on that loop? Anything from Bjork to Hans Zimmer, you know, find something that represents that particular piece. You know, floy wrote, like, you know, purging You know, I think the third purge was to welcome to the machine by Floyd. It could be anything, you know, anything that kind of whatever the fuck I'm feeling at the time so and that that becomes incredibly helpful to find the perfect track but it takes time.
Alex Ferrari 44:59
It When I was writing a script at once I my script my music was the soundtrack of Desperado. And from Robert Robert Rodriguez Desperado and Ansar Giuliani's all of those just the whole and just and it makes that whole I do a mix I do like a mix mix a mixtape an old school mixtape, but but on my playlist, and I do that and just let that run again and again and again. Same thing while while I'm writing going right, exactly, because it just gives you the exact juice that energy. Well, I mean, I think I think was Robert said in an interview once that he was he was writing. I forgot one of his scripts. He was writing to the soundtrack of Dracula and john carpenter. Yeah. And he was just like he just had the soundtracks playing in the background as he's writing. So but I love your idea that like you leave the you have it on 24 seven so that
James DeMonaco 45:49
when I entered them for like Pavlov's dogs
Alex Ferrari 0:02
So man, the purge. What What the hell, man? I think that's, I think that should be a quote like the purge. No, I mean, when I first when I first saw it let me just write down. Sorry. So when I first saw the trailer to the purge, I'm like, first of all, that is genius. Whoever came up Why didn't I think of this? which I'm sure a lot of people thought because the concept is so it's so high concept. It's just like, there's one day all crime is legal. go at it. That's all you need. Yeah, as far as a logline is concerned, you just like shit. And you could go and you can make these movies from here in which which we've we've made a few. So how did you come up with the purge, man? How did you get into that? Dude is where I came up with?
James DeMonaco 1:02
Well, I guess the seed of it started when I was in. I was posting that Lucas on film. The first one. I'm still with the first one I directed. I was in France. They made me posted, which was wonderful. So I was living in Paris meeting for Asians and Europeans. And it was again this kid from Staten Island like this is a strange life. I've walked out with Forrest Gump. And but I noticed the relation I've never been a fan of guns I've always been very scared of guns. I grew up a lot of cops had guns I was just born naturally inclined to retreat from the the gun. I never took to it as some people do. But I noticed the relationship with guns in Europe was different than I'd seen in America. That was just something different. I don't want to get too political. But it was just different to me like this is different. We no one has a gun here. I know a lot of people with guns in New York. And in other places. I've traveled Florida and one on here in America. So that was in my head about and I would always know. shootings were beginning to happen. mass shootings in America were on the rise as they were happening in the 2000s still happening. So all these thoughts were in my head. I was living in Canada on something else for a couple of projects. And it was different there to the feeling state. They had guns but it was still different. Long story short, I was in a road rage it all coalesce together. I was in a road rage incident with my wife in Brooklyn on the BQE mother go on and sorry, guy cut us off. He was drunk as hell. He almost killed us. I got into a fight with literally fist fight with his drunken lunatic. I get back in the car with my mom, my my mom, my wife, Freudian slip on my wife. And she says something that stayed with me forever. And she's a nice woman. She's a doctor. So she didn't really mean it. But she was all passionately aggravated by this crazy person. She said, I wish we all got one free one a year. And I know what she meant, like, well, we all had one murder we can commit without going to jail. And it just stayed with me. It was this is one of those statements. It's a dark statement, babe and but I took it home. And in thinking about the lack of gun controls in America that was always bothersome to me. It all just came I woke up one day with this idea for a holiday that I thought could be a metaphorical kind of discourse on what I felt was the lack of gun controls in America, like how far can we take this? Where could this go in a very science fiction dystopian kind of world or utopian as depose pretends? And that's where it started. And then I started outlining. doing my thing, listening to whatever track I was listening to I was listening to penderecki I think at the time, that was the track that he was listening. And we right so I finished the script Sebastian was producing my producer, you know, my producing partner, I keep referencing, but we started sending it around. Even Luke was on set. It's incredibly anti American and so nihilistic and dark that I he didn't think he could finance it. And Luke wanted to make my next movie have to stand out. Nobody's like it's too dark. It's too anti American. He didn't see an audience for many people that was not just losing 50 people said that to us. Like literally we just kept getting the same anti American sentiment about the whole thing. Blom I knew blonde from 20 years but not 20 Well, at that point, it was 10 years, but I knew Jason in 9899. He he had optioned a couple of scripts for me right after he left Miramax and we hit it off he was good. We just became friendly stayed in touch he was not doing the horror thing I sent it to him. And he's like oh, this fits my my my low budget horror model we can do this in one house. It fits perfectly into the world I'm doing I have a new deal at Universal. I'd like to be this my first film at Union like Dude, I wrote this to be like a Michael hanningfield like funny games, a tiny film, we play the Angelika in New York. I don't see the mass appeal for the film because like people have been saying it's incredibly dark and anti American. And oh, Greg bump the next one, dude, we're all good. Great. All right. Well, so So long story short, Jason got it. They read it at Universal. They thought it was quite dark too. But they were like, okay, it's your your low budget model. Maybe we'll take a shot at it. Even after watching the first cut. They didn't know if it was the actual like it is quite dark and spotless. And Jason kept pushing I could Jason the credit he saw he saw the mass appeal, I guess of the
Alex Ferrari 4:48
conceit and it but it was it was the first Blum house. It was the first
James DeMonaco 4:53
blumhouse at at uni he had done I think what's the insidious but not Universal was okay. It started I think paramount. So we were the first new under his 10 years. At that point, it was a five year deal. So and yeah, and even that opening weekend was a shock. They, they told me literally the day before that tracking said, we were doing 10 mil. And I was like, Oh, that's good for $2.5 million film. Even my agent said if you do 10 that's a nice weekend, man. Because I always all I'm concerned with is I want to make another film. Of course, I don't need you know how that, you know, it's like, how do I get to do my next film? And I kept saying to my agents, what does it need to do? So that's not considered a disaster? And I'm in director hell. And they said, Well, if it does 10 that's a wonderful opening. And then we ended up doing almost 30. So I think everybody was shocked by it was a crazy weekend. It was almost like the jack sale. It was one of those very surreal, weird nights.
Alex Ferrari 5:45
Yeah, and I think it was the, you know, I think when you watch a film like the purge, it's a it's a release, the same release that you feel if there was a night that you could do anything is the feeling. So it was it was kind of like a way to release a lot of pent up, I think it still is all those movies is a way for people to kind of release in a safe
James DeMonaco 6:07
in a safe way. Right? And like a roller coaster where you get to scream and yell and live. Right is a catharsis to it, right? a societal catharsis, like we say in the movie, and you had captured something and it captured something. Yeah, it captured something. But it's still hard to define what that totally is because different people have different interpretations of the film. You know, black audiences have almost a different interpretation. We saw that a strict I want to say there's a strong racial divide. But even when I made Part Four, when I hired Dr. MacMurray, he said he was in college, they would teach the purge as a metaphor for black plight in America about how the impoverished and the blacks were treated in American society. They took the whole movie as as a metaphor for that. And I was like, wow, this is incredible how the movies being interpreted across across the country, so yeah, strange, strange. And even though European audiences, you know, what's called American nightmare in Europe. So they look at it as a very, you know, strict strong indictment of the American system of violin, you know, how we deal with guns and violence here. So, it's very, it's interpreted very differently around the globe.
Alex Ferrari 7:07
So the, you know, as a writer, as a creator as a director, there's very few times in a filmmakers career if ever, that you get to tap into the Zeitgeist. Yeah, this films taps into the Zeitgeist it is a it's it's an adjective now you know like it like people use it as like kind of just need a purge you know, are they like I just I wish I could do a purge today. Like it's it's it's something that's really within the site guys, I got to ask you, man, what does that feel like to like just be a creator of something like that, like some of the some of the greats that we've talking about? Like obviously Francis with the Godfather? It's in the xyc is obviously the person The Godfather and at the same film, but But yeah, hasn't did the psychos What does that what does that feel like as a creator?
James DeMonaco 7:56
Dude, it's, it's still, it's still strange, man. It's still weird. And I don't take any of it for granted. It's even though what sometimes I've heard fatigue. I'll be the first to say it. But I don't take that for granted that people truly seem to have loved it and adopted it. Like even my cop buddies saying all the like the Caribbean Day Parade, I think was recently they stopped the parade every year with the purge sirens. You know, I was watching. I'm a big baseball fan. I was watching I think a Tampa Ray. I think it's techniques, the Devil Rays. They use every time someone strikes out, they play the sirens as the strikeout theme. So if that happens, I see that all the time. No. sirens are like they really truly entered in and even on Halloween, the weirdest thing is seeing kids in the neighborhood in both Manhattan where I'm more in Manhattan and Staten Island, both neighborhoods you'll see totally dressed up as characters from the film. That's the one that gets me the most. I don't know, when the two young will go that you haven't seen this movie, have you? You shouldn't be watching this yet. Me they are watching films they shouldn't be watching. So man, it's weird. And it's humbling and it's still I don't take any of it for granted was so lucky that we got to make I thought it would be one film so that the fact that it's five, maybe six I wrote six. So who that you know, it's strange, man. It's strange. You
Alex Ferrari 9:04
so you've was it like you just kept writing a bunch of them? Or you're like, are you doing them one at a time?
James DeMonaco 9:09
One at a time? One at a time? I'm usually fueled by the political climate of Election Day. Yeah, Election Day. Exactly. Horn five got even more political because I think I can be very political in the directors we hired to do foreign flags. I did direct foreign five, or even more political than me. So we pushed it even further. And the studio has to keep us in check. So we don't stop proselytizing and preaching. Which we want to do. But we easily could I guess, within the format, but yeah, so no, right. Right. So the new one I wrote, I didn't think I was gonna write a new one too. That's the all honesty. I was like, I'm done with the purge five is good. It's the end of America. And purge five ends when it feels like the end of America. I woke up eight months ago, and I had a new idea and no joke. I call to action. I pitched it to him and he's like, I hate you because I like it. And he's like, okay, we're gonna have to do that. So we picked the bomb. He liked it. Peter Kramer at the studio liked it. So I wrote it. And so I have the script, everybody happy with it but I don't know. I don't know enough about the financials of the business to see if they want to I don't know yet if they know what because of COVID
Alex Ferrari 10:08
here right now maybe not but the thing is to that the that each one of them is done gangbusters. Like they just keep making money. And they're already dude. Yeah, it's they just keep me like in some go like like it keeps growing like you know, worldwide. The
James DeMonaco 10:25
third I mean, which is very rare usually they go down. Yeah. Yeah so you know this Yeah, so this one went up in four or five because of COVID we went down a little bit but I think still a very amateur business perspective. It seems like it did okay during COVID it's very hard to tell anymore Do Dorian
Alex Ferrari 10:43
on imagine and imagine on VOD, and all that they Yeah, it must do insane business.
James DeMonaco 10:48
Yeah, maybe God could. But they don't they don't get those numbers with me though. Sadly. Yes.
Alex Ferrari 10:53
What? Why would they share the numbers with the creators? That would be insane. That'd be insane. I gotta ask you, man, what's it like working inside the Blum house family man? Because I mean, he's got such a unique position in Hollywood. There's nobody else that as what he's got. It's insane.
James DeMonaco 11:10
He found some little niche man I give him. He's and what? Yeah, he founds he finds like the new Roger Coleman. You know, in some ways, but with a studio backing? Yes. We're the studio behind him. Exactly, dude. And he's got it. He's got greenlight power up to a certain point. So he's got great power. And he protects defeat, I've always he really protects me creatively, and he's not. Jason, when he hires you, when you get hired into the blumhouse. World, he kind of as the hiring is, that's the most input he has in the process, meaning He's like, I've hired you to make the movie now you go make the movie. I'm not gonna interfere with that. Yeah, he has, you know, Cooper Samuelsson who's one of his, like, right hand man over that, you know, you get some creative input from Cooper. But for the most part, you're left alone to go make your film. And that's my favorite part of working. blumhouse is his great creative control. Now I'm with the part series, there was a studio, the head of the studios, Peter Kramer, who became a great ally of the series, and we worked with him creatively. So we had Peter too. But what Jason is a great, he's a great defender, if the filmmaker wants you know, there was a lot of at the end of three was in question at point, Jason really backed me on what I wanted to do at the end. And it was it got a little tense with the studio, but they're wonderful to work with to I can't bad mouth universal, and all because I actually think what they're doing is kind of bowls, he would, you know, there was a strong political commentary within the purge that many studios, I do believe, would shy away from, and they kind of let me and my partner filmmakers explore these, potentially, you know, when you're when they're trying to appeal to the most part studios to the four quadrants, you know, this, when we start saying something about guns, even though it's metaphorical in the future, that could put off a part of the audience, we know that they let us do it. They really don't make us because I think the purge is so inherently socio political, it's impossible to not make, of course, some commentary on the state of affairs within American society. And they let us do it, man, I give them credit for letting us do it. Now. We do work on district budgets. I will say that we're not making we don't have Jurassic Park and, you know, Fast and Furious budgets at all we have, we have that catering budget, maybe? Yeah. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 13:15
You got you got. You got Vin Diesel's writer.
James DeMonaco 13:19
Budget, exactly. lunch money, so. So I think that helps us retain the freedom because if we started going higher up in budget, obviously, oh, I budget less freedom. And Jason makes us very well aware that it's hard. It's very hard to make the personal decide, you know, this to do shooting action. Shooting act like shooting horror on a low budget is one thing. Shooting action on a low budget is very, very difficult. Because you got squibs, you got stunt work. And we have, as I said, purge phones are not just horror films. To me, they're more Action, Horror, or sci fi. So they're very hard to make. And it's very hard on the cruel say that we've had some, we've had some great nervous breakdowns on set by many crew members, because we've gone to, we're just pushing them too hard, including myself. I mean, we're all in it together. But we are on a very strict parameters budgetarily, which I think allows us to have that freedom,
Alex Ferrari 14:07
right? And then if you can make it for price, you have all the freedom you want. But if you have 30 or 40 million bucks to make a purge, you're just going to be more people involved, because there's just
James DeMonaco 14:19
risk the simple bad dude, exactly. It's more of and if y'all want that with my new the new one I just wrote, it's not it's not a personal but it's just moving on to what Pete Davidson, that we know if the budgets higher. And Jason said this too, if it's higher, it might be with Jason it might not be, but it's higher, we're gonna get we're gonna have to start dealing with notes, a lot of notes. You know, if we keep it low, we're not going to get many notes. And it's a tough thing because I also want some toys on set. I want the time to build, you know, a creative vision, a directorial vision, and sometimes when you're running in gun gun, and you don't have time for that extra special shot, and that's where you get. And as I've now done so many films on that run and gun style, there was a point where you step back and say I'd like to play a little more like to have a little more freedom
Alex Ferrari 15:01
so so yeah, so a techno crane everyday
James DeMonaco 15:05
Exactly. Steady camera techno crane
Alex Ferrari 15:09
though every every day I was when I was in when I was in Florida True Lies was shooting and I went down to the set in Miami just to see James shoot and i was i don't know i was a kid I was in high school or something like that and I went there and I just had a couple of friends of mine who had people in the business who were on set I didn't get to go on set I was right outside of set and they go you see that back there? It was every single toy a filmmaker could ever ask for cranes steady cams, tech knows helicopter sitting sit no drones sitting sitting there's not just in case James wants to play with
James DeMonaco 15:55
power to me because I'm literally gun to my head to like tell us what day you need that techno crane and you got to use it that day and you never get it again and on this is the night I really wanted to techno crane in the in the theater sequence you know when they're in that theater because I thought that needed to be very operatic poetic so that was it I got my technical writing that day and God forbid like that didn't line up I don't have a technical training and that's it so and yes everybody you know he's taught I love the freedom then I'm not getting notes but then he's not looking at well then you know directorial II stylistically you're locking yourself in to just you know go in handheld and maybe on sticks and maybe a dolly but when I see the toys that you know Nolan and cam Oh all these guys have you like IMAX? Yeah Yeah exactly.
Alex Ferrari 16:39
Screen IMAX Yeah, no and for anybody anyone directing if you've had the pleasure of shooting with a tech now you'll understand why you can never go back it's so did I shot it I shot a shot something with a techno and I had it all day and I was just like oh what have I been doing my entire career I need a techno every everywhere
James DeMonaco 16:59
if people don't realize what a techno you could do more than what you think you could do with a techno meaning even standard shots you could throw the towel in the techno right you could
Alex Ferrari 17:06
you could just move that anywhere any Yeah, do do it across the table go around here even even if you just want to do setup changes you just right you could go
James DeMonaco 17:18
done simply it's like oh let's just reverse the guy the tech no
Alex Ferrari 17:22
and just move here so you don't have to move the entire crew and the dolly in the tracks and that
James DeMonaco 17:28
by exactly Oh yeah, that's freedom you start saying well maybe too I sacrifice get a bigger budget then I have to deal with node so it's you know,
Alex Ferrari 17:37
it's a balance it's it's a balancing act. And by the way, almost every filmmaker has to deal with that and exactly even at the highs even at the highest levels is level yes you know unless you're Spielberg Scorsese Nolan Fincher you know you get what you want at that at that level but at a certain point you know, you're gonna have to compromise everyone everyone's got to compromise at one point or another I
James DeMonaco 17:59
think movies all compromise and then the question is everybody's How do you compromise creatively and not lose not lose that go from 10 to five How do you maintain a 10 with the compromise that state thing to kid you can figure that out? Then your God but I've obstructions movie mc voluntario films with the five obstructions? No, I
Alex Ferrari 18:18
nursing that one. I'm gonna babble quickly. You
James DeMonaco 18:19
got to see it. It's about savaria takes his film school director. And he gives him a like an experiment he says you're going to make the biggest bunch This is the best film we ever saw was this guy's name is Jorgen length. Jorgen. Let's student film. buncher he says is the best film ever, because you're gonna make it five times each time, I'm going to give you a different parameter to work within one will be no sound. One is the actor's can't move. And wow, last parameter is no parameters. You could do whatever you want. And let says it's the hardest of all. He says every time you gave me something, I was able to figure out how to work within it. When you gave me nothing. I didn't know what to do. And it's a fascinating and it says something about the process to me that sometimes the parameters are good, because it forces us to get very creative. But sometimes they can be very bad.
Alex Ferrari 19:03
So imagine if Imagine if someone gave you $200 million for a person will be like your head would explode. What
James DeMonaco 19:09
to do. I'd be like, I don't want I got to shoot in the water. I wouldn't know what to where do I go?
Alex Ferrari 19:13
Do I need a dinosaur? Okay, I'll put a dinosaur like I mean, yeah, I mean, it's a terminator comeback. Let's just do we have the rights for that. Let's just throw the Terminator. Crazy. Now I want to talk about your newest film, man. This is the night which I absolutely adored. I watched it yesterday. It's fresh in my mind. Our friend Greg, when he pitched the story to me. I was just like, this whole the whole movie is surrounding the release of Rocky three in Staten Island. Yes. And I'm going What? First of all awesome, because I remember watching rocky three in the theater. And I saw that I saw that belt come by and the rocky three came up absolutely Yeah, I remember all of that. And I was just like, oh my god and obviously rocky three and four is you know, they're amazing all the rocky films, almost all the rocky films are amazing. Almost all almost all five we don't talk about app. We don't talk about five, right? We don't talk about five but one through four and then Bow Bow and Yeah, exactly. And even the creed. Yeah. Yeah creates a great, but um, so tell me man, first of all, how did you pitch this idea to the blue mouse and just go Hey, man, we're gonna do this movie about the opening. Surrounded around the opening of Rocky three. And if we were talking about earlier is like, it's very specific. It's like, it's like the opening of like, you know, Goonies, or the opening of Howard the Duck, like it's such a thing. But I get I mean, Staten Island and Rocky, I get it. So please, please explain it.
James DeMonaco 20:53
I think it you know, it was rocky was such an immense figure growing up here in Staten Island in Brooklyn. It gets to me it was always the Italian American thing, but I did. And speaking to people It seems to transcend the Italian American experience, but it was big here very big. I mean, to the point where people would dress up as Rambo and rocky in school. I remember the day before the rocky movies, people would hold Stallone's posters. Everybody had a stone sure everybody owned rocky like that was also like I tried to get into the bully in the film like this. Rocky is not for you is for us. Like there was an ownership of who loved rocky more who you know, but it was an immense love of the character that really just taught, you know, tore into the culture of the Italian America, especially where I live in the south shore of Staten Island, white, Italian American. So I always had this it was such a big thing. Even in my family. We had scrapbooks on rocky it meant something to us. I don't know if he was this blue collar guy who rose up you know that we just loved this idea of the American dream that Italian American could win that we really adopted this character so by rocky three that mythology had grown, and I remember waiting three and a half hours online for rocky three, and the whole island was there. I mean, it was fights on the line, people were fighting for seeds fighting for position on the line, the local mob boss and showed up there's a lot of monsters in my neighborhood. So all that stuff that's in the movie was very real. And the excitement of the movie, the building, I cut a scene out when Anthony wakes up and he's yelling into the neighborhood, like who's got the paper? What time is it starting? It was just too long the opening but so that that was all real, that's all very autobiographical. that excitement for the film and, um, and it I always wanted to capture that because also, it's not just about rocky Yes, specificities they are. And that's all I think a lot of fun. And it was a big thing here. And I think it was a big thing in the country made $100 million, the film. But for me the movies about my love of cinema and how it inspired me and how I was touched by all the still to this day, very touched by these movies, they would stay with me, inspire me, change me Give me empathy for various cultures, whatever they did to me, they taught me I always said my like, my religion was cinema. And I wanted to pay homage to that. And also specifically, I want to pay homage and really encapsulate what I think is a magical experience of being in a movie theater, which I don't think can be replicated at home No matter how hard we all try. I have a huge screen. I tried to make it at home, it just doesn't. That communal setting of us all together. And I hope it doesn't go away as I fear. So the movie was an homage to that experience and I hope people I hope people still have it I know they have it with the Marvel films. I feel like it's going away and so other aspects of of our industry, but it was so prevalent so big to me such a part of my childhood and I know other people so I know this is I think a more universal feeling. Yes, it has the specificity of Rocky three which is really fun, I think. But hopefully and is one specific scene in the movie where I show them why the family and the community watching rocky three, but I purposely don't show the film. I really don't only show it down the barrel, a little lens, and it was a big editorial decision. Everybody was kind of fighting me like you need to show rocky three. And I'm like no, it's not about rocky three. It's about the people watching it. It's about the emotional response. Even when I met sly he's like oh the movie more and he was wonderful Stallone he's like you should show movie you know show rocky three more. So we tried it it didn't work because suddenly you want to watch rocky three you actually want to start paying attention to rocky three the narrative and it changed the emotional response to what should be is about these people reacting to
Alex Ferrari 24:08
what they're watching and if I may if I may say the way you shot the experience of watching rocky three was beautiful the shots of the projector and the light bulb turning on and then you would see the upside then you see the film of the rocky three coming in and and you see the upside down rejection of rock and you would see and I found myself looking at like what's seen is that like okay, like it's like it's like almost there but it's not there. It was bright because you had me because that brings me in because you're like what's going because I have no I mean rocky three is one of those movies as if it's on just turning remote. Rocky four is on you're like watching if anything you fast forward to the to the training montage and the fight. It's just one of those those those are the kinds of movies those are the five secrets. I could watch the fight sequence a minute They tell you a factor trading secrets. And then I want to go. And I got to work out afterwards. I was like, actually, I should be working out more
James DeMonaco 25:06
raw eggs workout, right? That's what rocky does. Yeah, so
Alex Ferrari 25:11
and a lot of the stuff that's in the movie, The subplots, the the topics you tackle a wonderful and how you tackle them with kid gloves. You really did me talk about bullying and finding your own identity and the the toxic masculinity of of that era of your father's of our fathers. And it was just that generational thing where you touch you really touch upon a lot of things. And it's such a unique thing because it starts off as one thing and then it's turned into another feeling and then there's that absurdity when I see a priest or was it the priest
James DeMonaco 25:49
on a skateboard?
Alex Ferrari 25:51
Recently, the skateboard and Christmas I'm like, What is going on? But now that I spoke to you, I'm like, this makes sense. Yes. This makes perfect sense. I believe you snuck in your Fellini see and I appreciate I appreciate that, sir. But it's wonderful once once the film come out.
James DeMonaco 26:08
So coming out this Friday plane in Manhattan. So we gotta we got a very small release. But we got a release, which makes me very happy because I think how do you make a movie about the communal experience about theaters and not having at least in a theater in New York. So it's playing at the NGO village in the village East in, in Manhattan, Angelica. And yeah, we'll be there for a couple of weeks. And then we're on a p VOD video on demand and the people that buy the film next week on the 21st or the 22nd. Okay, and then eventually Netflix eventually I think that's December though, that's far away. So nice. So people will get to, you know, they'll get to see the film, which is great. And I just, I hope it drives them to the movie theater. That's the goal like see the film at home and at the same at home, but go to movie then go to a movie and see another movie. It's okay. It's okay.
Alex Ferrari 26:48
It's just that you know, it's fine. Just do it. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life
James DeMonaco 27:00
the longest to learn is to is to get out of my own way. Yeah, that makes sense. That makes
Alex Ferrari 27:10
me Oh, absolutely. Oh, no, we the roads not there's nothing in the road. Hold on. Let me throw some crap on there. Exactly. To make it a little tougher on myself. Oh, yeah.
James DeMonaco 27:19
I mean, make it all tough on myself. Get out of my own way. Get out of my own head. Get out of my own way. Yeah. Three screenplays that every screenwriter should read. Oh, Rocky, Rocky, Rocky one. Ah. I read the first draft of Benjamin Button, not the one that got made. Who's the writer, female writer. This is terrible. I wish I could remember her name. It was so beautifully written. I wish we could look that we both should look this up at some point, I'll find out and send you the so the first draft of Benjamin Button written in the 90s that it's not the one they use for the movie that we saw was the most beautiful script I'd written at the time. And then I would say any Steve's alien script any screams by Steve Zaillian is beautifully written. Oh, and one more if I could add one more Unforgiven by David Webb people.
Alex Ferrari 28:01
Given Jesus Yeah, great movie, and three of your favorite films of all time.
James DeMonaco 28:05
Oh, okay. Ah, God, it's gonna be so cliche godfather to Raging Bull. Apocalypse Now. I know it's boring. But that's that's the top three.
Alex Ferrari 28:14
I would I would say godfather one and two are just one movies for me.
James DeMonaco 28:18
We fight about that one day.
Alex Ferrari 28:20
You can sneak that you could sneak that in if you want to get to it.
James DeMonaco 28:23
Yeah. My Fellini's come right to roll my annamma cord and cuckoo's nest and Cool Hand Luke and Dog Day right after I'm gonna sneak those into the box. Yes, that's
Alex Ferrari 28:30
awesome, man. James man, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, brother. Yeah. I yeah, the show is always open and you're welcome on anytime. I know. We could talk for a good four or five hours picking out.
James DeMonaco 28:43
Let's keep in touch my friend. This is wonderful. Appreciate it, my friend. Thank you, man.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.