fbpx

Want to learn how to write for Netflix? Join Story Expert John Truby for his FREE webinar May 25th

Day
Hour
Minute
Second

IFH 450: The Art of the $9000 Micro Budget Indie Film with Edward Burns


Right-click here to download the MP3

We have made it to 450 episodes of the Indie Film Hustle Podcast. The IFH Tribe has given me 450 opportunities to serve them and for that I am humbled. Thank you all for allowing me to do what I love to do so much. With that said I wanted to bring you a massive guest for this remarkable milestone. Today’s guest is a writer, director, producer, actor, and indie filmmaking legend, Edward Burns.

Many of you might have heard of the Sundance Film Festival-winning film called The Brothers McMullen, his iconic first film that tells the story of three Irish Catholic brothers from Long Island who struggle to deal with love, marriage, and infidelity. His Cinderella story of making the film, getting into Sundance, and launching his career is the stuff of legend.

The Brothers McMullen was sold to Fox Searchlight and went on to make over $10 million at the box office on a $27,000 budget, making it one of the most successful indie films of the decade.

Ed went off to star in huge films like Saving Private Ryan for Steven Spielberg and direct studio films like the box office hit She’s The One. The films about the love life of two brothers, Mickey and Francis, interconnect as Francis cheats on his wife with Mickey’s ex-girlfriend, while Mickey impulsively marries a stranger.

Even after his mainstream success as an actor, writer, and director he still never forgot his indie roots. He continued to quietly produce completely independent feature films on really low budgets. How low, how about $9000. As with any smart filmmaker, Ed has continued to not only produce films but to consider new methods of getting his projects to the world.

In 2007, he teamed up with Apple iTunes to release an exclusive film Purple Violets. It was a sign of the times that the director was branching out to new methods of release for his projects.

In addition, he also continued to release works with his signature tried-and-true method of filmmaking. Using a very small $25,000 budget and a lot of resourcefulness, Burns created Nice Guy Johnny in 2010.

Johnny Rizzo is about to trade his dream job in talk radio for some snooze-Ville gig that’ll pay enough to please his fiancée. Enter Uncle Terry, a rascally womanizer set on turning a weekend in the Hamptons into an eye-opening fling for his nephew. Nice Guy Johnny’s not interested, of course, but then he meets the lovely Brooke, who challenges Johnny to make the toughest decision of his life.

The film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. While he was releasing that film, Burns wrote, starred, and directed Newlyweds. He filmed this on a small Canon 5D camera in only 12 days and on a budget of only $9,000. 

Newlyweds Buzzy and Katie find their blissful life disrupted by the arrival of his half-sister and news of her sister’s marriage troubles.

In his book, Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life (which I recommend ALL filmmakers read), Ed mentions some rules he dubbed “McMullen 2.0” which were basically a set of rules for independent filmmakers to shoot by.

  • Actors would have to work for virtually nothing.
  • The film should take no longer than 12 days to film and get into the can
  • Don’t shoot with any more than a three-man crew
  • Actor’s use their own clothes
  • Actors do their own hair and make-up
  • Ask and beg for any locations
  • Use the resources you have at your disposal

I used similar rules when I shot my feature films This is Meg, which I shot that in 8 days, and On the Corner of Ego and Desire which I shot in 4 days.  To be honest, Ed was one of my main inspirations when I decided to make my first micro-budget feature film, along with Mark and Jay Duplass, Joe Swanberg, and Michael and Mark Polish

Ed has continued to have an amazing career directing films like The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, The Groomsmen, Looking for Kitty, Ash Wednesday, Sidewalks of New York, No Looking Back, and many more.

Ed jumped into television with the Spielberg-produced TNT drama Public Morals, where he wrote, directed, and starred in every episode.

Set in the early 1960s in New York City’s Public Morals Division, where cops walk the line between morality and criminality as the temptations that come from dealing with all kinds of vice can get the better of them.

His latest project is EPIX’s Bridge and Tunnel is a dramedy series set in 1980 that revolves around a group of recent college grads setting out to pursue their dreams in Manhattan while still clinging to the familiarity of their working-class Long Island hometown. He also pulls writing, producing, and directing duties for all the episodes.

Ed has continued to give back to the indie film community with his amazing book, lectures and his knowledge bomb packed director commentaries. Trust me to go out and buy the DVD versions of all his films. His commentaries are worth the price of admission.

When I first spoke to Ed he told me that he had been a fan of the podcast for a while. As you can imagine I was floored and humbled at the same time. Getting to sit down and speak to a filmmaker that had such an impact on my own directing career was a dream come true. Ed is an inspiration to so many indie filmmakers around the world and I’m honored to bring this epic conversation to the tribe.

Enjoy my conversation with Edward Burns.

Alex Ferrari 0:24
Now, Episode 450 was a pretty monumental episodes, I wanted to have a monumental guest. And today I have on the show, indie film legend Edward burns. Now Ed blasted onto the scene with his lottery tickets story, that lottery ticket story I talk so much about that filmmakers are always looking for and they're gonna make their film and get picked up and it goes off to make a million dollars in their career launches.

Well, that's exactly what happened to Edward burns with his film his 1995 film, The brothers macmullan which he made for about $27,000 on on weekends and and he was working as a as a PA on Entertainment Tonight while he was doing it. And he was Oh, there's just so much so many stories about how this movie got made. But it got bought by Fox Searchlight, and then went on to make $10 million at the box office, which catapulted Ed into into stardom, like overnight. And he followed up with she's the one with Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. And he continued to make film after film.

And he kept getting bigger and bigger budgets. But what he realized is that he wanted to have more freedom with his art and what he did. So he went back to the brothers macmullan model, which was low budget micro budget films. So he made a movie called newlyweds for $9,000. And he continued to make these low budget 10,000 $20,000 independent films because it allowed him to be more free as a filmmaker, and I really admired that about Ed because and not only became a very popular director and writer But he became a very popular actor starring movies like Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's masterpiece, the holiday, the Christmas classic, and many, many more The list goes on and on how many films and TV shows he's been in over the years. And many filmmakers, and many guys who get thrown into that kind of world could easily just cash out and Coast for the rest of his life in his career, taking acting roles and directing, you know, big things when they came along, and so on and so forth.

But not Ed man, he wanted to go back to his indie roots, and continues up to this day, in his indie roots. And I, I just so honored to talk to Ed, and have him on the show. We just went, I mean, this interview is epic. The first 30 minutes is how he was able to get brothers macmullan off the ground. There's been so many myths about brothers McMullan and how he got made and how it got sold. And we actually get the truth straight from the horse's mouth, as they say. And we talk about independent filmmaking about the micro budget model, his remarkable book, independent Ed, which chronicles his whole career from brothers McMullan all the way to his latest films, talking about how he broke them down how he's how he made them, he really wanted to give back as much as possible.

And I got to tell you, that book was an amazing inspiration to me to make my first film, this is Meg, and understanding that I could go out and make a micro budget film that could go out and make money and can get sold and to get licensed to Hulu, and so on. It was his book that really ignited that in me. And if you ever get a chance to get his DVDs of all of these micro budget films that he makes, his director commentaries are gold, absolute gold, and I'm gonna put links to all of those films in the show notes. This was an epic conversation, to say the least. And if you're an independent filmmaker trying to make micro budget films, this is the episode for you. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Edward burns.

I like to welcome to the show, Edward Burns. How are you doing Ed?

Edward Burns 7:27
It's great to speak to you. As I was telling you earlier, I've been a fan of the podcast for a long time. It's cool to be on.

Alex Ferrari 7:34
That's that's humbling and remarkable when I heard that from from your producing partner, Aaron, I was floored that you'd been listening to me, like I told him like sometimes you just sit in a room with a mic and you have no idea who's listening. So that's very humbling. And I I've been a fan of yours, man since since brothers macmullan days, you are one of those lottery ticket stories, those kind of Cinderella stories that you hear about from the 90s you know a lot with Robert and Kevin and and Richard Linklater and all those guys that came around and you came in that crop man of like, I always tell people, the 90s was just like such a glorious time to be a filmmaker, because it felt like almost every month, or every week, almost It was one of these stories that came out. Is that fair? To say?

Edward Burns 8:20
No. Probably it probably wasn't mean, I know. For me, it certainly was, you know, Sundance was the launching pad every year, you know, you would see those articles coming out of there. Um, for me, it was there was a couple of movies. You know, obviously, Rodriguez is El Mariachi. But I think before that, Nick Gomez had a movie called laws of gravity was made for 23,000. And that was really a huge influence on me. When I could see like, Oh, wait, you can make a feature film, or 20 grand all in. And they can then get picked up for distribution. Because really prior to that, what you would hear when you were in film school, and I'm in film school, and like 89 9091 Is that the way in is to make a short film.

Remember, there was there used to be something called the ISP used to run something called the independent feature film market down at the Angelika theater in the village. And that's where you know, you could get your short film in there, you know, all of the buyers and managers and agents, the whole like New York indie film scene would be there. And that was the launching pad. And I remember I went there with my first short film, and then we short films that had like, big budgets that were really high end production value. And I knew I would never be able to raise enough money to compete with that. Well, then when laws of gravity comes out. The living in your Greg rocky movie came out.

Alex Ferrari 9:55
Yes, right. And the one movie that always gets Doesn't get the credit that he deserves Robert Townsend Hollywood shuffle

Edward Burns 10:03
Oh, without a doubt that one was a little bit late.

Alex Ferrari 10:06
That was but that was he was still but it was still like he put it on his credit cards though. And yeah, right. It was Robert It was 8687. And he was in LA and he made it for like it was in the 20 to 75 range.

Edward Burns 10:19
It wasn't Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 10:20
it wasn't, it wasn't crazy. He put it on credit cards. He was the first filmmaker that I heard of that put it on his credit cards because I was working in a video store back in the late 80s, early 90s. So I remember Hollywood shuffle and it was just

Edward Burns 10:32
I'm waiting here is that I feel like that kind of 8787 Okay, yeah, so that's a little earlier

Alex Ferrari 10:37
it's right before it's before sex lies hits, you know, which was a million dollar but before he launched the Sundance and and before laws of gravity and mariachi and clerics and all that run, but he was one of the first to do it. But he doesn't get the the in the he's never in the same conversations and I always make it a point to point out how instrumental Robert Robert Townsend.

Edward Burns 10:57
Yes. Interesting. Yeah, I like so when would Metropolitan events that Metropolitan is probably but that's what you that's what right. What's that? What's what's once Metropolitan Stillman movie, that was another one.

Alex Ferrari 11:10
That's right. That's right. That was around. Oh, god, that was that was around that time. But also like, I mean, the ones that got the most attention. I mean, obviously Robert got the biggest. I mean, Robert Rodriguez got the biggest thing with mariachi like he that was that's still a mythical in the halls of independent film. People still talk about El Mariachi as this mythical thing. And in the same breath with clerks and brothers McMullan slacker, as well

Edward Burns 11:44
as probably two years before me, that was another big one. Because I think Rick made that for maybe in that 25 to 50 range,

Alex Ferrari 11:52
right and I was just had Scott Moser on the show. And and Scott was telling me I'm like Scott, what was the who was the things like oh, is slack or slack was the blueprint. cuz I'm like, you guys didn't have a blueprint? Really? It was like

Edward Burns 12:00
But before that though? You know, Long Island zone. Hal Hartley

Alex Ferrari 12:06
Yes

Edward Burns 12:07
The guy who? Who I feel like because he did three in the early 90s, you know he did was the unbelievable truth, simple men, and I forget the third. But those were all done, you know, in that under $100,000 budget range. And the thing that was interesting, back to sort of the whole, you know, short film versus a feature was seeing that every year, all of a sudden, you know, you had Hal Hartley then you mentioned Rodriguez, you had

Alex Ferrari 12:42
Don't forget Jim Jarmusch. Jim Jarmusch.

Edward Burns 12:44
But that's prior Yeah. He's more in the Spike Lee,

Alex Ferrari 12:49
she's got to have it. Yeah, she's got to have a time, right,

Edward Burns 12:51
you know, those guys came up mid 80s. This is more that early 90s micro budget, that then got distribution. And that was real, I think the thing that changed things, because it wasn't just make a short as a calling card to get an agent to hopefully make a Hollywood feature,

Alex Ferrari 13:06
Right

Edward Burns 13:07
more like, more like an indie rock band, who was like, you know, hey, we're gonna just put out our own thing. And this thing has its own value. We're not trying to parlay this into a gig to work with the studio, we're going to create something new here that then we can build upon. So that is really what changed, I think, in the early 90s. You know, if you look at Kevin Smith, you know, credit, you know, clerks is a is a micro budget movie, but he basically stays within that mill you, you know, I know I did as well. Um, how Hartley is another guy who did some guys or gals chose to sort of take that and turn it into sort of a bigger sort of more studio type of filmmaking career. And that's awesome. I think that's what folks were trying to do, like, treat it more like you're in a band. And it's like, are we make gritty sort of punk rock albums. And that's what we want to continue to do.

Alex Ferrari 14:05
So when you you know, when you were coming up, I mean, I mean, that's your story also is also quite mythical about the whole being a PA and, and working at et. Can you tell everybody because a lot of people listening might not know the story of actually how you got? Well, before we get how you got into Sundance. How did you get brothers Macmillan off the ground? We're like, what made you think that like, you can make it? I mean, I mean, it was It's nuts. It's that now you look at it, you're like, Oh, well, everyone could do that. But back then there was just no internet. There was no knowledge about this. Really. So how did you do it, man?

Edward Burns 14:41
Um, I mean, it's a crazy long story. And you just tell me to switch gears for Sears? really remember because it's like I make the film 28 years ago when I am. Basically I start when I'm 24 I think so. I'm coming out of films. Like you said, I'm a production assistant at a television show in New York, which basically my job was driving the band and setting up the lights. That's the extent of what I do. So I had plenty of time, it was a job that required no mental focus at all. So I spent all my time writing screenplays. I at the time, you know, one of the guys forgot to mention is Tarantino reservoir.

Alex Ferrari 15:23
Well, there's that guy.

Edward Burns 15:25
So I see Reservoir Dogs, and I'm like, okay, that is what I need to write. So I probably write in my four years, or three and a half years out of film school, by bgl, and scripts. Three of them are reservoir dog ripoffs. I am poring through the trades every day, trying to find or identify the agents or managers who sign first time screenwriters. So that's who I'm sending all of my trips, smile. And every day, my dad told me somebody is like, Look, there's absolutely another filmmaker out there who is out working you. So you need to make sure every day you do one little thing to chip away at the brick wall that separates you from the dream. So that meant, you know, I'm going to write a scene in my script, or I'm going to write another letter to an agent, or I'm going to send my short film into another film festival every day, I made sure I did one little thing. So I write all these scripts, I send them out, I get nothing but rejection letters back. And I'm, I come to the conclusion. And this has happened to me a couple times in my career, where I kind of recognize Well, maybe I'm just not that good. You maybe it isn't that they don't, they can't recognize what a talent I am. Maybe I'm just actually not. Right. Yeah, do go back to school and learn a little bit, right? And at the time, I see an ad for the Robert McKee story structure class. So a lot of people might poopoo that Nah, you know, traditional Hollywood structure is Bs, you know, free acts don't pay any attention to that. For me it was it was incredible. I go there and and you know, you learn a lot of this stuff in your you know, screenwriting one on one stuff in film school, but again, you know, a lot of it you forget or, you know, if you want to be like a cool already, kind of kid, you're dismissive of that stuff. This point after five rejected screenplays, I am no longer thinking I'm hot shit, I'm not dismissive of anything. I recognize, I need to learn. Right? So I take the class and you know, a couple of things that he said, that really struck a chord with me one was dope, what is your favorite genre of film? What do you like love to watch? That is the next screenplay that you should be writing. We like our write our script, like, you know, action do that. And at the time, I was like, a massive trypho and Woody Allen. Like, that's all I was doing. I was always watching. So I was like, okay, that's what I'm gonna do, basically, relationship, comedy drama, a little bit of an ensemble. You know, I'd look at those Woody Allen films, I'd be like, okay, that's a wonder, you know, for people on everyone listening to you, I think those are the words but one shot without a cut, that lasts almost two minutes of two people walking down the street in Manhattan, talking about their relationships. Okay, I know from my, my film school days, that's about as easy as you can do with no money. That says, as easy as seen as you can pull off compared to shooting, let's say, an interior scene in a crowded restaurant where I'm going to need to hire extras and whatever. So as I sit down as I want to leave Mickey, I'm like, that's what I'm going to do. I know, that's the genre that I want to play.

I decided to make an ensemble because I knew from my, my student films, and when you know, paying your actors, there's no guarantee that any of them are ever going to show up. You know, especially in New York, everybody's got other jobs and waiting tables and working in a gym. You know, you would have people just bail on you in the middle of issue. So I said, if I have an ensemble, and I cast myself and my girlfriend opposite me, I know that even if this thing blows up, I have a short film. And that's why and it's crazy way to write a screenplay. But I wrote it as for sort of different movies. The person who was the three, and then I listed all the locations that I knew I could get for free. So I knew I could get my parents house. So that was location number one. Then I knew every street corner and sidewalk and public park in New York City. I knew from my working in news days. You did not personally there was no cost to shoot there. And you would never be bothered. No cop would ever asked him certainly in the early 90s in New York, if you had a permit to shoot Now when New York was still hungry, then they could care less about three students out with a camera. Right? I was like, so that's what the movie will be. I'll have these three brothers. And the one movie is the movie that takes place in their house. And then they'll each have a girlfriend in Manhattan. And those will be my other three short films. So I kept thinking, if it didn't work, I could have a 25 minute movie 15 minute movie, 75 minute movie or

Alex Ferrari 20:26
so you've actually backed into, like, you backed into this film with Zastrow in mind,

Edward Burns 20:31
like, reverse engineer the whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 20:34
It's amazing. That's remark I'd never heard that part of the of the of the myth, if you will.

Edward Burns 20:39
It's kind of how I laid out the script. And, um, you know, so then, there was an article in the IPS old magazine independent, and they did an article on living in laws of gravity. And I forget the maybe one of the Harley movies, and they basically broke down those budgets. And they were like I said earlier, one was 23. One was 28. One was like 35. And I looked at that, and I said, based on my experiences with my student films, I was like, I think I can pull this McMillan's grip off for about 25,000, I think I get it in the can for 20 bucks. So my own when you don't get my dad was a company you are, I am working class kid grew up with no money, no connections in the business. We knew a lawyer and convinced this guy to put together a limited partnership. And we were gonna sell five $5,000 shares to get the 25 grand. He knew a guy who works on Wall Street. That guy gave him five grand. And that's all we raised. Yeah, so basically, we raised $5,000, I convinced my dad to give me about another four. And I basically tell him in this guy, with the nine, let me just go and shoot together, sort of a sizzle reel a trailer, and we'll use that to raise more money. But I knew that I was going to try and shoot the entire film for $9,000. That was my goal. So I set out I put an ad in backstage magazine that basically says, you know, no budget, indie non union, no pay, but we'll feed you is New York City. So I probably got 2500 headshots, through all the headshots. And then there's some, you know, great stories about you know, how I was able to get some of these actors, but you know, the part of Molly the older brother's wife, probably addition, 1520 actresses, and I'm thinking to myself, the script is terrible, because the scenes that these young actresses really just weren't playing. And I'm sitting by the camera, shooting her audition. I'm like, Oh, my God, this is good. Wow, maybe these scenes aren't some terrible. So Connie ends up being cast in the movie. And throughout the production, Connie was kind of like our, um, you know, she was our rig, we just knew like, okay, she's like, really the super talented one here. Um, you know, when you're acting opposite her, you better bring your A game. And so so we get Connie in the movie, the other actors are all unlike Connie, nobody had ever been on a set before. Nobody had ever been in front of a camera before. And I set out to go make this film. We probably shot about six days, over the course of maybe three weeks. And then I kind of run out of money. But I don't let the cast know that. And what we ended up shooting 12 days over the course of eight months. And what I would do is I would save up some money from work and hit my dad up for a little bit of money, or camera guy was working with Dick Fisher would say hey, look, I'm not working to Saturday and Sunday. I have the camera. buddy of mine is available to do Sam, who can you get from the cast that's available? And you know, I would then go all right, Jack and Mike are available. Let me see what scenes are still notch. And then the other crazy thing I did was it was we shot 16 millimeter,

Alex Ferrari 24:26
Right.

Edward Burns 24:27
We couldn't afford to buy any new cans of films

Alex Ferrari 24:30
or short ends,

Edward Burns 24:31
shortens.

Alex Ferrari 24:33
And 16 not even Super 16 but 16 short ends.

Edward Burns 24:37
Yeah. Leftover stuff from industrials. So, so it was cheaper for me to re enroll in Hunter College for one class, which I think was probably I don't know at the time, probably 300 bucks. So I can get a student ID because for the short ends with your student ID was Like 25% off or something like that. So I reroll in school are in order to get the cheaper price on the short ends. But then of course when we can't afford to develop anything until we're done shooting, so eight months after we get these 12 days done, we develop stuff. And then you know, from short ends, a lot of times some of that for that film has already been exposed. So, we've made the editing a little bit easier when you do like, Okay, well, we're cutting that scene because we just don't have that scene.

Alex Ferrari 25:27
So anyway, so you had eight months, that you had a bunch of film reels in your, in your in your apartment.

Edward Burns 25:34
After those first six days, we're just, you know, Dick says, Hey, I'm free on this day. I say great. I go buy some film stock, right? I call the actors, I come up with the scenes, we go shoot those two days. And then it's like, Alright, what are we gonna shoot again? I have no idea. But

Alex Ferrari 25:51
so how long were you with the movie in the can before you got to developed?

Edward Burns 25:55
Alright, so after we once we finished shooting, we had everything at that point. Then I go to the do art film labs. And it was a great guy random place named dick young, Bob Smith. Those are the two guys who rent. And to their credit. They were real supportive supporters of indie film and young folks in New York trying to make it happen. So you know, my dad went down with me there and explain to them Hey, I'll vouch for Eddie. But, you know, he's got this film, here's all the film. We'd love to get a process can pay for it all now. But if you can defer those costs will slowly paid off over time. And they were generous, generous half.

Alex Ferrari 26:35
So like, almost like layaway. Payment Plan for for development,

that that world does not exist. Now you have to find some very special people.

Edward Burns 26:45
I mean, could you imagine though, trying to shoot an indie film on 16 millimeter today on short ends like that is why for me and I've heard you talk about it as well. It is so exciting right now if you're a young filmmaker that you can pick up this friggin thing your phone and go and make a feature that's gonna look 100 times better than brothers McMullan locked up.

Alex Ferrari 27:08
What the lenses you can get the cameras you get, I mean, I shot I shot a whole feature on a little pocket camera and just got vintage lenses and just went out and shot a movie in four days. And when I got it, it looks stunning projected at the Chinese Theatre on a 2k abrez stunning, most beautiful thing I've ever shot. And I've shot things with much bigger budgets. And it was just this little 1080 p camera it was just gorgeous. So and now there's like four and 6k cameras in like the pockets. And it's just it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. So you edit. So you got to get everything developed on layaway, fuck a great start. Lay away, then you're editing it, I'm assuming what this is

Edward Burns 27:49
even crazier. So we have to beta because I work in entertainment tonight, of course. And they cut the show on beta. So what me and Dick would do is the end of the night. Like if we had a movie premiere, let's say because we covered those. We were the last people in the office, we'd leave the side door of the office open, you'll be left. Well next door to the Mayflower Hotel, have a drink, come back into the building at midnight, and then edit till five in the morning using their editing bays. And

Alex Ferrari 28:24
without without permission. So always ask for forgiveness, never for permission. Sorry, so you transfer everything to beta. Because I used to cut on tape as well on beta SB. Is there a film print of this? That's not a transfer from video? Did you ever go back to the neg? on anything? Yeah, eventually did okay. But first, you just cut together a video edit of that. Yeah, did you call it great.You did call it gray. But now there's no color gray, whatever it was, it was whatever it was

Edward Burns 29:04
whatever it was, It was no sound mix. Nothing. Other than, you know, we basically at the time, we just borrowed all of this traditional Irish folk music from this musician named Seamus Egan. And I'll tell you the story of like the great ending that happened for Seamus but at the time, you know, I couldn't afford a composer. And I thought I will just use needle drops from this guy. And he was a friend of a friend of a friend. So I knew that I could get to him eventually. But at the time, I was like, I need music for the film. I have no idea what's going to happen with this movie. I'm really when I make the film. Certainly you have the dream that maybe it'll get picked up for distribution. But as I said earlier, you know for five years, I'm sending out my scripts. I can't get even a phone call back from it. I'm hoping the film will be something of a calling card and then Maybe nothing else would go too fast or someone will see it. And I'll get an agent. So we got the film transferred to VHS at the time, it's two hours long. We're both exhausted. I mean, I know it's still a rough cut. But you know, it's your first film, it's your baby. I don't know what seems to cut. So I knock off a bunch of, you know, VHS copies of it. And then I start the process of doing the same thing. I'm poring through the trades, who are the agents who are signing first time filmmakers? What are the film festivals? What are the production companies and the distribution companies? Send it out everywhere film festivals, a year's worth of rejections. And then the you know, the the famous story is the Redford Sundance story, right. Oh, no, I'm working in Entertainment Tonight. Redford is there to do press for I believe it was quiz show. I, I know that you know, obviously, Redford, Sundance, I take one of these rough cuts with me. And I have my little, you know, 32nd feel rehearsed, so that when he gets up with his PR person, and usually you shoot these junkets in a, in a big hotel, so I know he's gonna go out the main room, I'll go out the second bedroom, cut them off as he's getting into the elevator, give him the spiel, hand him the tape, and we'll see what happens. So that's exactly what I do. And he listens to me. And he says, oh, okay, great. Well, we'll have someone take a look at it. And he hands it to his PR person and the elevators door, the elevator doors close. And that's it. And I think, well, I guess, you know, I was kind of hoping he would want me to jump in the elevator and hear more about it.

Alex Ferrari 31:45
And just take the take the private plane to his house. And then you know, all that stuff, of course, of course.

Edward Burns 31:52
doesn't work that way. But two months later, I'm at work. And I get a phone call from Jeff Gilmore, who was the programmer at Sundance at the time. And Jeff says, Hey, Eddie, so we got this movie here. It says it's a rough cut. Just want to know if you've finished it. I lie I say yes, of course I didn't. So it says a rough cut two hours. What's the running time now? I say 95 minutes? Because you know, that you both bills, Woody Allen films are world wealth. Lee, you know? And what scenes did you cut, and by this point, now in the movies a year old, so I've kind of seen it, and I'm less in love with it. So there's a handful of scenes I know, I want to cut. And then I just riff and name some other scenes. And he says, You know what, actually, that sounds pretty good art. We'll be in touch. Two weeks later, they call up and they say you're in. So now that's probably September.

Alex Ferrari 32:47
So hold on a second, when you get that call?What is that?

Edward Burns 32:50
I mean, like, the office and all of the guys that I work with, you know, the crew guys, they will work on the movie, you know, like they will done sound for you know, like they know, you know what we're doing with the editing machines. So definitely high fives and everybody's cheering like, I can't believe that holy shit.

Alex Ferrari 33:10
Our little Eddie our little ladies, he made good. He's, he's gonna get. He's gonna go to the show.

Edward Burns 33:14
That's exactly exactly what it was. No, I'm so now though. I have to raise another 25 grand at a minimum to finish the film. You know, because it's not on beta. So I gotta go back to the negative recut it right. Because Yeah, and blow it up to 35. And, you know, I've never done that before. I don't know how to do that, you know, my student films that that I made. I caught myself on a little like movie Ola. slicer. You know, we've had to sync up your your your your bag, sound to your picture and tape it together. I was like, I can't do that for 95 minute long movie. So um, I can't remember exactly how but I'm put in touch with Ted hope and James Seamus a good machine. And those are the guys who really, you know, quite honestly, at that time, took me under their wing. They came on his producers, and they helped me. You know, not only they taught me how to finish a film, but Ted was really invaluable in the editing room with me. You know, I knew I knew 20 minutes I could cut out of the movie like that. But that last 10 was tough. And he gave me two great bits of advice. Because look, I'm telling you, you don't need to see that the scene is so great. Use it in another one of your films. Because needless to say, the scene is never so good that you end up revisiting it wasn't the only thing he said is how many times we walked out a movie and said that was pretty good movie. But that was that 20 minutes in the middle of a kind of drag there was nobody ever walks out of the theater and says God there was a movie was really good movies too short. He's like I'm telling you, let's get this thing down to 95 you got a nice proof. comedy here puts a smile on your face, like, get people in and out. And I'm telling you, they get to enjoy. And it was, I mean, it was great, great advice. And that's what we did. So then the interesting thing was because we were up against the deadline for Sundance, and America dates exactly where I'm at. But I had to fly to Sundance for the start of the festival. And I don't know if they still do it, but they would have like a filmmaker orientation and what you did with all the filmmakers his first couple of days. And our first screening is until four days after that 10 hours to stay in New York, because like, he has to wait for the blow up to happen. So do our little blow up, Ted grabs it that day goes to the airport gets on the plane flies to Sundance we screened the next morning at the Egyptian so I never even get to see the film projected in Sundance

Alex Ferrari 35:57
Jesus Christ and then and then as the legend goes, then there's there's was there a bidding war for it?

Edward Burns 36:05
How many more um, we Tom Rothman at Fox Searchlight, you know, which was a brand new company with mold was the first movie they ever released. He, he was at the first screening. And again, the funny thing is, so they tell us like, and they lose because of the Redford thing. Like, there were 18 movies in we were the 19. So even on my flight to Park City, it was like an article listing all the movies and competition we weren't even mentioned. So we wrote a little bit of thing also ran. So you can imagine that, that

Alex Ferrari 36:40
that feeling just like I'm I'm it's are we are we here is because you just can't pick up Bob and call Bob, at this point.

Edward Burns 36:48
Beginning pick up a phone or do anything like that. Um, anyhow, you know, so we had a good crowd at the festival, we're, again, to my memory, we did not have many buyers there other than search, like, and at that screening. You know, it's pretty great. It's like, the reaction is great. I got to meet a lot of people and a bunch of agents, managers, and afterwards, they given you their business cards, and get a good lunch and all that. But you know, Rockman was there and that night, over dinner before even our second screening, we sold the movie to ....

Alex Ferrari 37:25
And what if you might be asking what was the final sales for we sold it?

Edward Burns 37:30
For 250.

Alex Ferrari 37:31
Jesus you must have been ecstatic.

Edward Burns 37:33
We were through the roof. I mean, we could not believe that cheese. And we had some box office bumps built into that would have gotten those two a half million. If the movie basically doubled clerks is domestic box office. And I think courts at the time did 1.2 or something like that. here that the movie would do 2 million, they thought was an absurd notion. Like you'll never get.

Alex Ferrari 38:04
I mean, there's no stars in it. It still is a $27,000.

Edward Burns 38:10
None of those little ones that we talked about, you know, they would do 400 506

Alex Ferrari 38:15
mariachi I think mariachi with Columbia Pictures pushing it in to put a million dollars in remastering it still only pulled in like a couple mil like two or 3 million theatrically if I remember correctly, so it wasn't like it was a blockbuster. Yeah, but yours was

Edward Burns 38:31
Yeah. So it ended up making, you know, it ends up doing $10 million. Which was just, you know, just nuts. But the the the, you know, it's talking about the guy's a good machine. And the other great bit of advice was from James Seamus. And he was like, look at when you're at the festival, who knows if we're gonna sell the movie, but I'm telling you like those 10 days, you will never be hired. Like there's a feeding frenzy that happens at the festival. And you know, when we see it every year, you know, these movies that sell for a ton of money at the festival that you know whether they warrant or not, who cares? Like filmmakers are getting paid, that's a good thing. But he's like, you better have another screenplay in your hand because they will ask you, what do you want to do next? And if you can hand them a script and say I'm doing this Next, you'll get that thing greenlit in a hurry. So I quickly wrote basically what I thought was a funnier version of brothers mcmullin because we didn't really think we would tell brothers we know that movie was she's the one and you know, grew up and basically said, What Seamus said he was gonna say, what do you want to do next? I said I want to do this. Here's the script, but she's the one and within a week that was greenlit so you know, I go out to LA for the first time in my life as the guy who sold the movie to boxer it's like and now I've got my second film greenlit with a $3 million budget.

Alex Ferrari 39:55
And that is the again, the lottery ticket. That is absolutely Lately the lottery ticket, and I constantly if you've heard the podcast, you know, I've talked about it so many times that filmmakers think that that is that's the that's the plan like no dude, that is not the plan. Eddie, he did not plan you didn't plan any of this it just you were just like Dude, if I get an agent out of this I'll be ecstatic.

Edward Burns 40:21
You know, my my producing partner Aaron Lumina view who you got to, you know, he talks about it as the bullseye. You know, when we're making our micro budget movies, you know, we always talk about like, the bullseye is not a business plan. You know what I mean? God jealous, because, you know, the big sick, for example, a more recent movie that went on to do really great businesses, then detailed work, doesn't need, you know, your film, my film, anyone who was going to do that business like that is the bullseye, you've got to come up with that's why like, I love your book, when you talk about identifying the niche audience that you've got to find and really thinking about back then, you did not need to think about the audience in the same way, because there were so few indie movies being made. I mean, there's still hundreds, but it's not like today.

Alex Ferrari 41:15
Now that's 100 a day.

Edward Burns 41:16
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 41:18
No, it's insane. I trust me. I know, I talked to these guys, every day. I talk to filmmakers all the time. And I'm seeing it because it's the best in the world the best. The good news is, anyone can make a feature film. The bad news is anyone can make a feature films. It's It's It's there's a gluttony of product. And but yeah, and that's,

Edward Burns 41:34
and you know, I mean, I've spoken at film schools and film classes over the years, and people bring that up, and why should you? I do too many films, and is it you know, now that there's no barrier to entry? You know, I'm like, Hey, what's the difference? Now, it's the it's the equivalent of a kid who can pick up an acoustic guitar, and just start writing songs, right? And he can throw them on to his, you know, however you would read, you know, on your GarageBand on your laptop, what's the harm in that? Like, you know, you can make a movie for a couple of 1000 bucks now. Why discourage anybody from doing that? Because what may end up happening is someone is going to create that movie. That is the equivalent to you know, Bob Dylan kind of reinventing sort of, you know, folk music or rock and roll in the mid 60s, you know, there will be a version of the Ramones that come from the indie film scene, and someone who kind of just was like, Hey, I only got five grand, I'm gonna make this little movie.

Alex Ferrari 42:33
And I think the best the best advice I've ever heard about that, because you know, you're right, you're absolutely right. But it's about finding that voice that thing that makes you special like brothers with Bolin was spawned from you to like, that's just such your that's that's definitely something in your wheelhouse from your personal experience and meant something to you. Like, I can't write brothers Macmillan, I would write it based on stuff I've seen. It's not something I experience. But like my last movie, I shot ego and desire, which is about filmmakers trying to sell their movie at Sundance, I can talk about that very clearly. And I can talk about the pain and the suffering of filmmakers, because that is something that's really in my purse, but that's my voice. And that's what filmmakers think today. They're like, Oh, I'm going to make a brother's McMullan or I'm going to make a mariachi or I'm going to make a Reservoir Dogs. like Nah, man, you failed from the moment you started, you got to do something that is really true to your own voice. Because that's the only kind of secret sauce we've gotright to stand out.

Edward Burns 43:35
Now, that's absolutely true. I mean, I've been I've told people like this, you know, I mean, as you said, I am one of the lucky ones right? I got the the lottery ticket, and it is still after 25 years and it was hard after three years. You know, what's my third movie tanked at the box office. You know, it's back to pushing that giant boulder up the hill, it is never gotten easier. And the only reason to stick with it is because you don't have a choice is because you love this thing so much. You have to do it. Like if you want to do it for all the other reasons you think it's cool gig you want to be famous one. know whatever those other reasons are? Forget about. It is too hard. It is too filled with disappointment and constant rejection that you know it if you're not in it, because you have no choice. You know, the movie gods have called you and they said Hey, man, this is what you're doing like it. Are you ready? That's the deal. No, dude, Listen,

Alex Ferrari 44:39
I've tried to I've tried to quit. I've tried to quit this crazy a bunch of times and I can't man I can't. I've tried. I've stepped out a bit for maybe a few years, but my foot was always back in it. I've literally tried to quit. It's like a bad drug man. Like you can't. You can't quit it because it's just something that is inside of you. It's like you can't not be An artist. It's so hard

Edward Burns 45:02
I look at all the films I've made. And I've made a couple that, you know, really just like they didn't work in any way, right? Yeah, critics didn't like or couldn't sell them. When we finally sold them. It was one of those terrible deals you speak about in your book, you know, the no advanced partnership with the shady distribution company that doesn't that

Alex Ferrari 45:21
you have a cigar and is like, Hey, kid, just give me a poster.

Edward Burns 45:25
Here's the thing. While making every one of those films, I had a blast, but you're on set working with these actors watching them. Bring your words to life. And on every single film I've done, I've met someone or worked with someone who is becoming their lifelong friend or a lifelong filmmaking partner. You know, my director of photography guiding Will Rexer he and I are I mean, absolute best friends. person we did together as a movie probably never even heard of looking for kitty. No we did on a lark because we wanted to shoot on that new Panasonic with the the oscillating glass filter.

Alex Ferrari 46:06
Which one did not the Panasonic TX did you shoot it?

Edward Burns 46:08
yeah yeah yeah

Alex Ferrari 46:09
No, you shot it on the DVR. So you got the adapter. So you got it. You got the adapter to put it? Oh, yeah, I've shot my first shot on the DVS. I edited on Final Cut pro 4

Edward Burns 46:18
And John Sloss had a company. What the hell do they call that they would do it a bunch of movies with that camera, I think was it. It was a movie with Katie Holmes. Yeah, that the pieces of April, pieces were but that was sort of the biggest success of us. But that was shot on that camera. And they would do these movies for $250,000. They got a special agreement with the unions. So you can make a union film for 250 with that camera as long as you abide by certain things. So I heard that I was like, I'm all in let's do it. And we quickly wrote a script. And we thought we'll just hire our friends. We'll kind of improvise it. And the movie, just I mean, it really just didn't work. But the great thing is, that's how I met well. So you know, even though it's tough, and it's brutal, and filled with disappointment, it's always kind of fun.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
No, that's that's what this whole journey is about, man. It's about those relationships. It's about those experiences. And I think a lot of filmmakers make that big mistake of the end game like the the the what is the end game? Is it when the movie is finished? Is it when it gets sold? Is it when it gets to a festival? Like what is the moment where the end happens? And if you're only looking for the end, you're going to be disappointed constantly. But if you're enjoying the ride, then that's a career. That's a life because you get I mean, and that's something that I so admire about you and your career is that you seem to be just having a good time.

Edward Burns 47:47
connected to that. And that thing, you're speaking about the journey, you know, Aaron and I, we made this movie in 2012. Fitzgerald's family Christmas. Yeah. And what we did with that was the idea. I mean, it's kind of a long story, but I acted in this movie with Tyler Perry, who obviously very successful,

Alex Ferrari 48:09
he's doing okay, he's okay. He's

Edward Burns 48:12
a man. He's like, you know, those first two movies you made that were so successful. And then you never go back and do anything about Irish families. Again, what because there's going to Super serve your niche. So even to your point, he's like, I guarantee you the people that love those two movies would love another's, that Irish family movie for me. And then you know, we can talk forever, like, you know, think about an evergreen title, Christmas movie, that's something that every year you can kind of hopefully resell. So I gotta had this idea. And I just made two other micro budget movies, I made a movie called nice guy Johnny for, you know, in the camper. 25 grand. That's a good story about why I made that movie that we made a movie on the cat and five D newlyweds got in the camp and 9000 so through those two films, speaking of like, you know, movies, were kind of successful in the in the micro budget world. But my casts were great. And I thought all these great young new actors in New York, so I was like, Alright, so Fitzgerald, I'm going to do is I'm going to bring my my new family of cast members and marry them to my old family of cast members that I worked with Connie Britton, Mike McGlone, will replace the mom and new to Gillette. And so it was sort of like, bring the whole family of our all of our actors together and make this movie. So we make a movie for $250,000 all in and I can get what festival we're trying to get into. Don't get in Aaron and I are devastated. And now we're waiting for Toronto. Everything is hanging on. If we get into Toronto, it's a whole new world for us, like you know, to get back to that level of a prestigious festival. We get into Toronto, we're high fiving you know, we think it's going to be great. We go to Toronto. Our screenings are great. But what doesn't happen is, you know, we don't sell the movie for millions of dollars. You know, we are not the McMullan story of Toronto, we're another one of the movies that played at a big festival. And as we're getting on the plane to fly home to New York, I was like, you remember the like the the endless, like weeks of anticipation, leading up to the we hear from Toronto did we get in? As like anything different today? Then, on that last day, when we were asked, not, not a single thing is different. So why do we get obsessed with the idea of, you know, getting into these festivals, it's great, and it's fun. But really, at the end of the day, the filmmaking experience was a blast. We worked with all of our friends, the outcome, really, I know, people say that's bullshit. And I don't believe that you don't, you know, you don't look at your thing, you know, your reviews or care about the box office. I'm telling you, and after 26 years, it's nice when the good stuff comes. But we really don't. It's like, we just know it, whatever happens, good or bad. Another 18 months from now, we'll have another script done. And we'll figure out how to make you know, we'll try and get 6 million to do it. If we can't do that and figure out the you know, $200,000 version of the movie.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
That and that's and that's only someone who's, who's got a couple of Gray's in their whiskey and in their, in their in their beard that can say things like that. Trust me, I've got a couple of myself. So yeah, exactly the gray beards. But the thing is that but when you're 20, you can't you don't you don't grasp that yet, when you're when you're young, you just don't grasp it, because you just haven't been down the road yet. So I hope people who are in their 20s are listening to these two old farts talk. I don't mean to speak for you, sir. But this old fart? Yes, you know, these two old farts talking about the olden days. But there's a reason why. What is it? There's a saying in my wife's Colombian, and she has a saying a Spanish saying that says the devil is more of the devil not because he's the devil, but just because he's just been around for a long time. And it's something like that translates into that. And it's a it's so true. It's like you just know because this has been around long. Now I have to ask you, though, when you jumped from Macmullan to She's The One. That's a slight budget difference. And also slight cast difference as far as the prestige of the actors you were dealing with, cuz I know Cameron, Cameron Diaz was in it. And obviously Jenn and Jennifer Aniston was in it was Jen was just starting, was friends, friends was still a thing at that point, right or not yet.

Edward Burns 52:40
It's funny, like nobody was a star yet. So Jennifer had I think it was it was after the first season of friends. Yeah. So you know, she's an actress on a sitcom. I read it the sitcoms very successful, but it isn't like, friends, you know, whoever would have been the big, you know, female movie star at that time. Right? Um, you know, and she came in and auditioned and was great. And you know, I mean, like, and just crushed apart. Cameron was in the mask, right? You know, so again, no one, you know, Cameron Diaz wasn't a household name by by any stretch that she was

Alex Ferrari 53:16
Oh she's, she is the girl from the Basque.

Edward Burns 53:17
Right? This is the girl from the mask, you know, a couple of years later, Something About Mary different deal. But you know, it's interesting, like two actors who, you know, an actress who kind of was the runner up to Jennifer's part, and the actress who was sort of my second choice for cameras part. We ended up casting in the movie and that was, Leslie Mann and Amanda Peet. Were also in that movie. So the real the heavy hitter that we had at the time, like the actor to be intimidated by as a really, really first time director. It was John Sloss. You know, and I knew John Mahoney from eight men out and Moonstruck,

Alex Ferrari 53:55
he says legend, legend, legend. So how do you do so as a as a quote unquote, first time filmmaker like in a professional environment? How do you handle dealing with the I mean, the I mean, obviously, you didn't have any giant movie stars you were dealing with? You had professional actors, like seasoned professional actors. How was that adjustment from no money? over 12 months was shorter, to now on a $3 million budget and a little bit more breathing room?

Edward Burns 54:21
That's it two things. One, the adjustment to working with the actors, I would say really wasn't much of an adjustment because nobody had a ton of experience. We were all the same age. You know, we're all just kids in our 20s doing it. You know what I mean? It wasn't like I was working with like, McNulty and you know, like a bunch of CS that's a bunch of kids making an indie movie in New York. So it was like we just hanging out and became friends. So there was no real intimidation factor. on set with the actors. Where I was truly intimidated was like walking on the set. Day one, we had a scene at the airport, JFK, you're going to have the terminal closed. Well, you know, there's 150 people there that are my crew. Now granted, I've met my department heads, we've been through pre production together, you know, I have good relationships with them. But when you you know, step onto the set and 150 people look at you and you're 27 years old, and they'll I got what's First up, Neil like, Okay,

Alex Ferrari 55:21
here we go, here we go. When that when the doll when the dolly grip has has shot, probably 70 or 80 features, and they're looking at I had to believe when you walked in a 27 you know that some of these cool guys were like this son of a bitch. How did this guy get this? And did you get that vibe on some of this stuff?

Edward Burns 55:40
Probably some of that, but it's funny. You mentioned the dolly grip was it was a taco guy named Hoff.

Alex Ferrari 55:46
Of course, his name was Hoff.

Edward Burns 55:49
We mean, say two words to me for about the first two weeks, but eventually, you know, I think I want them over.

Alex Ferrari 55:56
You broke, you broke them down and you broke them down I've had when I was when I was that young directing on big sets, doing my commercials and stuff. I would the same thing that you'd walk in the skies, you're just like, who's this? Like, they have to smell you for the first like half day before like, Oh, this this guy even know what he's doing.

Edward Burns 56:14
But the fun thing from that is, uh, there was a PA on that film, her name, Stuart, Nikolai. And I'm so I'm 27 at the time, he's probably 23. It's his first gig in the film business out of college. And he works in the location department. But now he's been my location, a main location scout on, you know, I did a public did a TV show a couple years ago called public morals. Now Bridge and Tunnel. So you know, again, back to the relationships thing. You know, he's a PA, who's my age, we become friends. You know, I ended up you know, he worked on sidewalks of New York. So over time, you know, as he kind of moved up the room, he then became sort of my locations guy, so

Alex Ferrari 57:00
and you never know who you're gonna meet along the way. Look at that, like the PA guy. I was talking to somebody the other days like the PA on Nova Scott. Scott was Scott Mosier was saying the PA on Mallrats ended up getting him the job or introducing him to the job. That got him The Grinch when he just directed the grants the animated feature. And it was because of that relationship. He was just cool. And they stuck. But if he would have been a dick him back, then that's it. There's no there's no game. Now, the one thing I out of all of our all those contemporaries that you had in that time period in the 90s, I think and remind me if I'm wrong, you're the only one that became also a full fledged actor, as well was there, I know, Tintina pops in and out. But like, you know, you go off and act alone. And you'll direct everything you act in. So you were one of those guys, you have a unique perspective on this. Because after she's the one, you worked on another little independent film called Saving Private Ryan, with an unknown director, Mr. Spielberg at the time, dude, what was that like, man? Like, just being on that show? And watching? I mean, the masterwork.

Edward Burns 58:14
Yeah. So I mean, as you can imagine, as a, so I, well, first up, it was like, for me, it was graduate film school, then I was very lucky, you know, when we were sort of, probably two days before shooting, when we're doing sort of our, our show and tell and showing you what we look like in our uniforms, and how we had all the weapons and all that. I said, You know, I hope you don't mind, if it was shooting, if I could just, you know, kind of hang out, look over your shoulder, if I get whatever you want. I just, you know, you're in this movie, you're welcome to, you know, stay on set all day long, if you want. So I took advantage of that, and, you know, used it as an opportunity to go to graduate film school. And it's funny, you know, you mentioned before, like, showing up on the set of she's the one and and, you know, the the intimidation, and also working with actors. And I will say on that film, and, and probably I didn't know Mike Mullen, I'm sure as well. I thought the role of the director was to be directing the actors all the time. So after a take, I'd say cut, and I thought I had to have some notes. And I thought maybe try doing it this way. I tried doing it that way. Or could you give me some of this and give me some of that, um, which feel we're, you know, we got a gang of us on that sample for this. For this, you know, five of us and for almost two weeks, equals action and cut. And that's it. And we do three takes and moving on. We start thinking he hates us and thinks we're terrible. We're waiting for the new pages of the script to show up to discover that we're all gonna die long before we find you know, Matt Damon, right. And then finally, we have a day where is I can't cut, cut cut any Come on over here. I need to try and do this and you know, Adam, you know, to Adam Goldberg, you know, I just kind of feel like you're rushing through this, maybe slow it down. And so it gives us all these notes. And you know, at lunch that day, you know, of course, I'll tell you give us the notes today. So much we go over we talked to resist, yeah, we asked him, he said, we'll tell you to know what the hell you were doing. And he's like, Look, I hire professionals, I assume that you've done your homework, and then you show up in the morning, prepare. So I'm not going to jump on you after your first take and sort of hurt your competence. By suddenly giving you a note, I assume it's going to take you three or four takes to find your way into it. Now some actors can get it on the first day can slowly fall apart is like I got an ensemble here with some scenes. I got five guys, you know, all talk. I sit back and I let you do and don't let you figure it out. And you know, for two weeks you did until today. So today I stepped in. And that absolutely changed my approach with working. next movie, I made sidewalks in New York. And at a grant that I was doing I work with Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Frieda, and you know, Rosario Dawson, which is, you know, probably a second movie. Um, but on that bill, that's what I did. I was just like, I'm gonna sit back and let them show me what they prepare. You know, and I, you know, you work with someone like Stanley, you know, first take, he does it the way that it's scripted, the second take, he kind of plays with it a little bit, and then he sees the you're giving him room to play. And then he kind of really does his thing. And you're like, thank God, I did not step in early and give them adult is now he feels so comfortable. And he's just giving me all of this great material. And that's the way I works. I very rarely give any direction. Now, unless an actor is sort of taking it off into a direction that's completely Well, you don't mean, the big one I do. Because, you know, I kind of do these talking New York movies is speed up the pace, you know, my New York actors kind of get the, the cadence of our eyes, I want the characters to speak. Sometimes other actors need to just speed it up a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:27
Was that the biggest lesson that you is that the biggest lesson you learned watching him direct?

Edward Burns 1:02:43
Then, and I guess the second one was, um, if something that he has pre planned, doesn't work, he doesn't beat the dead horse. You know, like, we had a pretty complicated steady cam shot where he's trying to link a bunch of us together. And he probably did it about four or five times. And I could tell him, and he honestly, dp, they just weren't happy with it. And, you know, I mean, like, it's a big, it's a big thing. You know, there's squibs going off and stuff. And he's like, yeah, just give me a minute. Just give me a minute. And he kind of goes off, and he takes, you know, five or 10 minutes, is looking at the scene and he goes, Okay, scratch what we did, I got a new way to shoot. And we took a totally different approach into the scene. We did a scene with the dog tags, where we shot it as scripted before lunch. And it was another one of those scenes where it just seems like yeah, I don't like it. Just I'm not happy with it. Pull this all together to lunch. He goes, guys, do me a favor, just improvise something here. I just want you to rip for 20 minutes go through the dog tags. And the funny story is in doing that, I read off a bunch of dog tags. And I gave a bunch of guys that I went to Grammar School with and they had you know, the I forget what writer was on set that day. But they recorded the the improv and then from that they rewrote the screen the that scene and we shot sort of a new version of it after lunch. So a The good thing was I got to plug all my buddies names in the movie. It's still there, Mike's his area or area and go Vinny repeat. So they love that right to be

Alex Ferrari 1:04:21
can you imagine, like you're sitting in the room and you're sitting there going?

Edward Burns 1:04:25
I didn't tell you so they're sitting in the theater, I walked off. So, but anyhow, like that was a very valuable lesson to like, you know, in your gut, I'm sure you can speak to this as a filmmaker. You have to trust your gut, like know when it doesn't work and when it's not funny or adjust, you know, it feels whatever your gut is telling you that and a lot of times you just you know you're afraid to make that kind of change on set because you know what's at stake right money. It's time and seeing Steven with with a movie that big make most out of change. We did not have you know, we shot that movie, it was scheduled to shoot 66 days we wrapped in 58 that's how efficient the filmmaker is, man. So, you know the other thing was you know, we shot all handheld and elbow light sometimes two or three cameras go into it for a dialogue See? So you know the movie I think after that sidewalks in New York, not only did I feel the directing style, but that's how I came up with the pseudo doc style. I was like, shooting this like an independent woman would bang in through seeds here. Because the cameras on you know, the the operator shoulder was shooting available light. People are overlapping dialogue. I was like, Alright, that's my next indie movie. I'm doing a pseudo doc for that very reason.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:52
Yeah, and I shot my last one minute, Little Duck Duck. And honestly, watching all of your DVDs, because you are so generous with your commentaries, reading your book, which by the way, if anyone has not read, independent Ed, you got I read this thing front the cover to cover before I made my first features. And I live I literally went out bought every available DVD. If I had a commentary, I got I got the special edition Marlin and she's the one I got. And you know, that whole style, like just getting out and going to do it like newlyweds. I was just like, you know what? That's that I could do. I can go out and do that. Because as filmmakers you get like, especially if you, you know, especially if you are a professional filmmaker who's maybe done commercials maybe work in bigger budgets, or worked in post and there's a there's kind of you get up your own ass in a way because you're like, Oh, I need a read, I need an Alexa I need. I can't make this movie for less than 7 million. Like, these are the kinds of things that you tell yourself. And then when you bust out like newlyweds, you know, and you're like, wait a minute, I got that here.I can go do this to like,screw it, let's

let's go on build something. It was extremely inspirational man. And that's and that's one of the big, big things about your career that I followed over the years, man is that you have no need to go back and make a $9,000 movie, you have no need to go make a quarter million dollar movie, you don't need to do that you, you could have very comfortably kept acting, maybe get one one movie every four or five years, that's four or 5 million or 6 million or something like that. Do some TV show you there's no need for you to go back and do Indies. But you keep going back. And that's that respect for the for the indie, that indie. You never left the indie roots, you go and play in the big budget stuff. No question. But you come back. And that's like, there's no other. I can't think of many other filmmakers of your, of your generation that does that. So man, thank you for keep doing that and inspiring us?

Edward Burns 1:07:51
Well I mean, it goes back to the age fun, right? I just like, you know, and you've done some bigger budget stuff. So you know, what it can be like sometimes to deal with, you know, and I have plenty of friends who work in the studio business, and they're great people, they're easy to work with. But it's a different process. You know, like I talked about sort of the times when Aaron and I will sit down and be like, Okay, we got to make a movie this year, we will talk about our two lists of compromises. And the two lists of compromises, we work off of our sort of, Okay, we're going to have to go ask someone for money, whether it's 1,000,002 million, 10 million, there are certain compromises that are going to come with that money, as they will fully expect to have the same in a lot of the decisions. You know, starting with title of the movie, some notes on the script, who you're going to get, if you're going to ask someone for $5 million, or $10 million, whether it's a studio or some indie financing, they are absolutely going to give you a list of names that you need to cast from in order to get that money. The other thing is, when you do get one of those actors, and you've got your $10 million, the good news is, you're gonna have a much easier time selling that movie. You've got a big boldface name on your on your poster, which is going to excite the folks at Netflix or wherever, right? So that's one set of compromises. The other set of compromises are the ones where it's like, okay, we're gonna make a movie for $25,000. And, you know, here are the compromises, we know we're going to have to make, we're not going to get a star, we're good. We're not going to get all the locations we want. We're going to have to be down and dirty odds are we're not going to make any money, you know, our fees are going to be sort of coming on the back end if the movies successful, and we know it's going to be almost impossible to sell. So Do we want to do this? Like, do we actually want to go make a movie, which is the $25,000 version? Or do we want to spend the next two to three years, trying to get that big name, the Trump age is trying to get the money, then trying to get the actor and then trying to get that movie up and running. And that is never a six month process. That is never a 12 month long process. That is several years of your life.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:26
And that's the one thing I want people to understand. Because a lot of people look at you and you're like, Oh, it's Ed burns, he could just call up a buddy of his that he's worked with and just like, Hey, can you Tom, Tom Hanks, can you come by and do my 25,000. And they just think that you can because you're in the system and you've been in the system, you've had success, that you can just make things happen. And the more I talk to filmmakers in this space, Oscar winners, and so it's the same story for all of them, other than Mr. Spielberg. And even then he had to go to India to get money for Lincoln. Like it still was a challenge for him. Everyone, filmmakers still have trouble still have all the same problems, different levels, but still the same thing.

Edward Burns 1:11:07
It's I mean, it just is never easy. And then look, if you're making a certain type of film. I don't want to say that that's easier. But you know, there are certain films that you know, that I'd say are more obviously commercial. You know, I was a kid when I'm in film school, you know, I'm full. I am not the guy who was falling in love with Star Wars and wanting to go make those kind of films. I did not love action films. You know, I mean, I loved Last Picture Show and tender mercies in the holidays. And I wanted to make, you know, small little dramas or I loved you know, films like The Graduate the World According to Garp. And like I said, to follow Woody Allen, or to make you know, talking comedy dramas, murders, you know, that, that the marketplace for those films has all but disappear. So, you know, I, you know, I if I wanted to call Tom Hanks, you know, it would probably I'd have a much easier time getting him if I had a sort of big budget idea movie, as opposed to what am I talking about? Right.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:16
So packaging together, a bigger movie would probably be a little easier for you, but yet, there's still hurdles and things you're gonna have to

Edward Burns 1:12:22
deal with scheduling years, and you know, a lot of your good friends, you know, people you've worked with, or you've got a relationship with, it still takes, you know, we're big movie stars, and they still don't get back to you for six months, you know, especially like you because you're trying to get them attached to raise your money, right? You're never gonna go near a $6 million offer here, like a script, right? Go to work.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:46
Right, exactly. Then you still got to jump through those hoops and their scheduling issues. And those agents is like, Look, I know, Eddie, it's doing his thing. But there's 6 million bonds right here. Let's go. Let's go. He's He's still trying to find his money. And that's the thing. I want filmmakers to understand that there is no magic key, there's no, there's no end of the rainbow that we all still have to deal with that even at the level that you're dealing with. And the kind of success that you've had in your life and your career. You're like when you just said that? You're like, yeah, that screws, Burt Chris burns his script, I got $6 million. Right here go with this. I seen those conversations. I've been part of those conversations and agents, like, yes. Like, it's so hard. I mean, unless they're like your wife, or your brother. And even then they're like, Look, man, I love you and all but I got $10 million to go do this other. right?

Edward Burns 1:13:35
Yeah. And look, you know, I mean, plenty of actors will do it. But typically, it is, you know, their passion project. Right? When they're going to go cut their fee to go do something a lot of times and you know, as well, they should, you know, it's like, they don't necessarily want to help you make your passion project. They've got that script they've been sitting on for years, and they're slowly putting it together and trying to get the financing to yourself.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:02
So it's something that you talk about in your book, which is brothers, but Marlin 2.0. Can you break down what brothers meant bond 2.0? Because it's something that I used extensively in my last two features. Okay.

Edward Burns 1:14:14
So yeah, so, you know, I back up a little bit, because it's kind of interesting how my career kind of is panned out, right. So I for my first four films, you know, it's we've volunteers, the one movie called no looking back, which really didn't do on sidewalks of New York, they will get, you know, pretty well. And I credit that to the fact that I'm still a kid, a screenwriter, who believed in outlining before he wrote his scripts. I still am a student of the game. I am not so arrogant to think that I don't need to go back and kind of you know, play with it a three act structure, and really kind of have a Outline that's, that's airtight before I sit down to write right after that, I decide for whatever reason, you know whether it's laziness or arrogance, I stop outlining. And then I make four movies I make these the point probably never will maybe you have most people Wednesday looking for getting the groomsmen and purple violets, right? All four movies get terrible reviews, all four movies don't work at the box office. And then after that, I am in directors jail, like I really I have my next script. And for about two years, I can't get it financed. And I'm in a very tough time getting ACARS attacks. You know, at first we were looking for 8,000,006 and four then two that were down to like 1.2. And Aaron and I have a meeting in the Hollywood Hills, some guy's house. And again, you know, you joke about the guy because you guys to get out of the side. Those deals. And still, they're kind of telling me how I need to make this movie. And I go back to the hotel, I'm staying in LA and we have a drink at the bar. And I'm like, it's over man. Like, how did this happen? Like, you know, it wasn't that long ago, I was the guy who made those big wallet. And now we're up here and this guy's telling us we got to rewrite the script based on his notes for a million dollars. I said it's over man, we are in directors jail. And over those beers were kind of joke around like how is it that when I was 24, I was able to write the brothers McMullan and with no connections and no money. And I didn't know how to make movies, I was able to make a movie that was you know, still to this day, my most financially successful film. I was like our then he was like, why don't we just do that again. So there on the napkin at the bar, we came up with Nick Mullen 2.0, which was basically the rules were how we made Macmillan and we wouldn't divert from that so $25,000 to get into the can 12 days of shooting, three man crew, all unknown actors, all actors had to bring their own wardrobe, how to do their own hair and makeup. And every location we had to get for free. Alright, so that was basically those were the rules. And the next day, we sat down, and we started and we said, we have to do an outline.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:31
So you learned a lot, you learned a little bit those last four movies.

Edward Burns 1:17:35
Um, and, you know, um, we, we both loved the graduate. And, you know, I remember we're talking about the movie sideways. We both loved we're like, Alright, let's just, it'll be two guys, let's just start with two guys. And we just started riffing and over time and turned into a kid and his uncle instead of two best friends. But, you know, and that's why I think for people, like if they don't know what to write, or they kinda have an idea, but they need, you know, sometimes it's okay to go look at one of your favorite films, and almost start to tell your story within the framework of their story. Right? Like you could look at, you know, I know, let's say I'm brothers Macmillan, I, at a certain point, when I was hitting the wall, I looked at head earner sisters, and I was like, oh, okay, I see what he's doing here. He's kind of weaving those three stories together, and then they come together, it seems to be every 15 pages in the script. Alright, so let me I gotta cut and paste this scene and move it there. So that's a very valuable tool, I think, if you're a young screenwriter, because, you know, even if you rip off the structure of your favorite film, for your first draft, you're going to do you should do you know, 2025 drafts of your script, by the time you do those 25 drafts, you know, it would be unrecognizable, if you're if you're playing with some structure stuff. So anyhow, um, what was it? Oh, so that's what we did. We just started outlining and, you know,grip maybe in six months, and then so let's go do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:16
And then use it was the first one on 2.0 was that nice guy, Johnny?

Edward Burns 1:19:20
That was nice guy job. yep yep

Alex Ferrari 1:19:21
And that was 25 grand. And then that did

Edward Burns 1:19:24
well, right. That actually, well, well, we do. You know, the other thing that happened was the movie that I spoke about, it didn't do well, purple violence, right? Um, that was a movie was actually Okay. That will be we couldn't get we were offered a couple of distribution offers. But again, like your book talks about it was really bad deals. You know, there was no chance that our investor was going to get any of our money back if we weren't with that, and it would be your typical New York la one screen. If we do decent, maybe they'll give us a few other markets, but we get to the writing's on the wall at that time. iTunes and just launched. They had the music for a couple years, but they just launched the movie sort of page of it. And I was starting to watch a lot of movies on iTunes. So I was like, Alright, why don't we go to iTunes? And most maybe they'll release us as their first all exclusive feature film. And because it was a new, basically a new bit of business of them. There's this idea. So profiles was the first movie ever released exclusively on iTunes,

Alex Ferrari 1:20:34
for transactional for transactional

Edward Burns 1:20:36
for a transaction. Yeah. And it did great. You know, I mean, it didn't do it didn't make its money back. But like we saw with those numbers, where we're like, okay, so we make a movie for $25,000. All in 125 posts, based on what purple violence? Did. We know we're going to you No worries, make some real money here. Well, that was the plan. And it did.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:00
So for everyone listening, though, what year was this?

Edward Burns 1:21:03
This is 2009 to 2010 is when it comes out.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:07
Okay. So that's why it is does not exist anymore. So everyone listening like I'm gonna do what Ed burns did like, nope, no T VOD, for independent films is essentially dead. Unless you can drive traffic. The the finding you on iTunes thing is gone.

Edward Burns 1:21:24
Even at that time, we think about we're basically, you know, we have an aggregator aggregator distributing that title, but because, you know, we're really the first one sort of embracing iTunes. We're getting a banner on the landing page. And when you go to iTunes, it was like, nice guy, john. You know, we were we ended up being the number fourth most rented title for one of the months that was out Who's heard of so

Alex Ferrari 1:21:47
nice guy Johnny did very well,

Edward Burns 1:21:48
that nice guy did very well. Yeah. Right. And then

Alex Ferrari 1:21:52
it as well. And right. And then and then you did you did you did a movie called newlyweds, which was 9000, which was, you know, when I saw that, I was just like, wow, this is it's an apartment. It's on the street. He's stealing all the locations. You know, it's just like, yes. Yes, yes. And it just and that one did extremely well, as well. Right, you know, so

Edward Burns 1:22:14
that we knew we finished Johnny, we had a blast doing it. And then we, you know, we turned it around real quickly. And we saw that it was it was working. Um, I had just read an article about people who are shooting commercials on the five date. So, literally that day, I jump on the train. I go up to b&h on 34th Street. I the five day I call my dp will I say, look, I just want this five day I saw this thing. Why don't we shoot a scene tomorrow to see if this thing works?

Alex Ferrari 1:22:49
Right?

Edward Burns 1:22:50
Oh, I had kind of an idea of something I wanted to do. I quickly wrote a scene I called my buddy who owns a gym. I was like, we need to come over to your gym. I'll be there for an hour. And we basically I said I'll play this personal trainer. And we'll shoot one half of the phone conversation as just a camera test. And that scene is in the movie. Of course.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:11
You never would never waste not what not?

Edward Burns 1:23:15
When we dumped it into you know my desktop computer after we shot like that. We crap that looks good. Okay, let's do it. So I just started writing them.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:26
And with them, you know you when you reach when you pick up my book and you kind of found me you were looking for distribution help and self distribution help. What has stopped you have you have you gone down the self distribution route just yet. Cuz there's a couple movies that I've summertime and beneath the blue suburban skies that are To my knowledge, I look, I can't find them. They're there. They haven't been released yet. What are you doing with self distribution? Have you tried self distribution? Because I think you would be an amazing candidate for it.

Edward Burns 1:23:55
Yeah, sounds nice. It's summertime. We actually did finally sell. And we're in the process of closing that deal. So I don't want to talk about it just yet. Fair enough. But, you know, buddy, the blue Suburbans guys, is one of my favorite films that I've made. Jeb really plays the lead. I mean, she is so terrific. We shot you know, we shot on the red. We shot in color, but we knew we were going to turn it into black and white. So we'll lit it according for that. So it's in black and white. A couple of years ago, I became obsessed with Ozu, Japanese filmmaker from the 50s and 60s. So you know, we had another time we'll talk about that film because we shot the entire film on on a 40 is one lens. The camera never moves to the entire film until the very last shot of the movie, but every shot is a still photograph. They'll be a real interesting action. exercise in sort of discipline. You know, again, I fell in love with this style and did all this research. I was like, kind of like with the five D. I was like, I want to try this. This is kind of an interesting way to make an indie movie. So that when we went to Toronto, we got one of the best reviews I've ever got COVID hit and so it's just been sitting on the shelf, but that is the movie that we were thinking, hmm, do I, you know, do we try some form of self distribution? But

Alex Ferrari 1:25:29
what's the

Edward Burns 1:25:32
I don't want to talk about the budget? I'll tell you.

Alex Ferrari 1:25:34
No, no, I want to tell you what the budget is. But isn't. I'm assuming it's not. It's under $10 million. Let's just call it that. It's an undertaking. I always tell people it's under 10 million bucks. It's under

Edward Burns 1:25:45
$35 million. Black and White sad drama with the cameras.

Alex Ferrari 1:25:51
Right? That's that sounds very, really happy with me. I think I think financially, that's a smart move. I'm just saying.

It's true. It's true. It's true. I'm just saying. Okay. We'll talk later about that. Now, you also do do you work on a great show called maad. City for another master Frank Darabont. Minh? Is there anything you learned from him? As far as storytelling? Because I'm, everybody knows on the show. I'm obsessed with Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile for that matter. I just, it's, it's just one. It's my remote throwaway movie. If it's on done, just keep going down that road. Did you mean you worked with him obviously closely in the film? On the show? What did you did you learn lessons that you can share?

Edward Burns 1:26:36
That's interesting. You know, I mean, I love frank, I love working with him. He's a great guy. His style is so different from what I do, and how I learned how to make movies. You know, like, we were talking before, like, I only know, from not having enough money, and having to compromise, right? Figure learning how to pivot and they like, oh, give me We can't have that location. Okay, well shoot on the street corner hurt, that act is not available. Let's quickly rewrite. You know, Frank does not work that way. I mean, like, so I think what I learned from it is, you know, he fights for his vision. Um, you know, if I, let's say, if I have a weakness, you know, I'm sure a number of weaknesses as a filmmaker, but one of the big ones is, I'm not willing to fight for certain things, because I know, there's an alternate way to do it. And there are times where I look back and think like, you know, what, I should have actually fought for that one, maybe that's why that turned out so good. Maybe you don't always have to pivot. Pregnant depends, you know, he like he has in his head and come hell or high water, he is going to make that happen. So so you know, and again, I then from that experience, you know, getting Michael right. Ran TNT at the time. I meet Michael on the set of that. And that's how I ended up making my show for TNT, Public Morals. And then Michael now runs epics, which is how I ended up making Britain tunnel for ethics.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:09
Yeah, so public morals was your first introduction, basically, to us being the creator of a show and you wrote the show, you act in the show you direct? Did you drop out? You didn't talk to all the episodes

Edward Burns 1:28:19
right or micro directing?

Alex Ferrari 1:28:20
So you wrote into Jesus Christ. That's a hell of a schedule to do as a TV. Like you're writing. He said, there is no writers room. You're the writer, you're the director, and you're the actor in television. That's obscene. It's an obscene amount.

Edward Burns 1:28:32
I wrote everything before him. Like I didn't.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:35
Yeah, you're not writing as you're shooting, obviously. But still, it's still a tremendous amount of work. And it's gorgeous. I mean, I saw parts of that show when it came out. And it was gorgeous, man, beautifully shot. It was so

Edward Burns 1:28:46
much fun. We we suddenly had money. You know, we're used to making things on the on these lower budgets

Alex Ferrari 1:28:52
Right?

Edward Burns 1:28:53
Budgets are significant. And you know, we'll and I were just in all of our glory was like, oh, what we finally get to play with the camera, because it's always capturing an image, you know, all the time. I was a blast.

Alex Ferrari 1:29:06
And then and now your new your new show, bridge and tunnel. How did that come to be? And I know you shot did you shoot this during? COVID? Right.

Edward Burns 1:29:15
Correct. Yeah, so yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:29:15
So how'd that come to me?

Edward Burns 1:29:28
Um, so I had dinner with Michael, Michael Wright. A couple of years ago, he had probably just taken over epics and he was looking for, you know, a half hour escape from the toxic news cycle. And from you know, a lot of the great shows that are on television can be, you know, pretty dark and depressing. So he's like, Look, we need something half hour, put a smile on your face something nostalgic Something period, you know, could you give me something that sort of totally like brothers mcmullin only about a group of guys like a diner. And I said, Okay, I like that idea. But maybe instead of six guys, one of them make it three guys and three girls. And then I kind of, you know, I've mentioned before the graduates, one of my favorite films, and always had an idea for a film, I didn't think it would be a TV show about, you know, a bunch of kids, the day after college graduation, or you come home, you're back in your parents house, you have to get reactivated to living at home after being gone for four years, reactivated to you know, all of your friends who are also home. And, you know, how does that pecking order reestablish itself, you know, a lot of times people talk about, like, that night at the bar before Thanksgiving, you know, everyone comes together, it's like, the old order kind of reestablishes itself. But I was also very interested, like the time period in New York, that I've always been obsessed with. And of course, you'd never obsessed with, you know, your era. Why was the late 70s, early 80s. In New York, you know, you got the birth of punk and hip hop and new wave and the art scene, and the fashion scene at the papa. So I was thinking like, that would have been the time to live in so and we like, I, that's another one where I got to reengineer the story to think about where these kids would be in three years, as they were in that world, and then kind of took the back three years, like, so Season One is sort of establishing the kid Jimmy, I'm gonna have end up as a photographer, the fashion world, he's a kid who's, you know, just returned from school, and he's a photographer, Jill, his girlfriend is gonna end up in the fashion world, and she's just graduated from fit, studying design. So that's kind of that was sort of where the ideas came from. And we're supposed to be eight episodes, I wrote eight scripts, and then COVID hits are writing kind of leading up to COVID. And it comes to the point where it's like, you're gonna pull the plug on the show. If we, if you know, it, production doesn't open up, again, production opens up, and we have all the COVID protocols, and we lose basically a fifth of our budget, to the COVID protocols, test week, you know, additional, you know, sort of nurses on set, you know, shorter days, trying to pull as many of your interior scenes to the exterior scenes, and then we find out that the city is not issuing film permits, and half the show takes place in Manhattan. So then I have to go back and say that I got to turn eight episodes into six, and cut out probably a fifth of the cast, and make all these stories work in these characters. backyards and front stoops and in the local bar. And in an art, you know, talking about pivoting to being able to do that, in an odd way. Um, you know, it turned it into a different challenge. I think, you know, for season one, it's a better show, because I didn't have all the, let's say, the bigger incident that Manhattan in their lives, Manhattan would have given me. So I really go into like, Okay, this has to be a character study. Now, let's go slower. But I got to be able to make these scenes work if you got like, you know, three guys sitting on their front stoop, talking about their love lives. kind of sounds like plasma.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:41
But it seems like you, but it seems like you have been, like you, your entire career has been building up to that moment. Because you are so used to not doing things and pivoting and, and doing things with money and pivoting and having to shift things around. You know, someone who might have only been able to play in 100 million dollar budgets will Wouldn't that was about that's the end of that. But you were able to adjust and pivot and move. So you all the all those tools you've put in your toolbox over your career helped you on a show a network show still.

Edward Burns 1:34:16
Nothing was like, you know, I mean, I'm talking to all my friends who are my department heads. And we're, you know, everyone was feeling like I was like, we want to go back to work. You know, I was like if Epic's is willing to do this, then I will figure out a way to do it. Because we all just needed to get out of the house.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:34
Set and change jobs and jobs for people to how to people

Edward Burns 1:34:37
So it really was it was just a blessing and my cast, you know, these great young kids who would total an anatomy class together, but they were so responsible. We got through the whole thing. We're getting six.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:51
That's amazing. That's amazing. So what's up next for you, man? What do you do next?

Edward Burns 1:34:56
I think we're looking good for season two. So I think that's it. I'm gonna start writing. And now you know, it looks like hopefully, we'll be able to take these characters into Manhattan, pick it up a year later, it'll be July of 1981. So, you know, the band will be at cbgbs. And the kids will be dancing in the nightclubs. And it'll be fun. Dude,

Alex Ferrari 1:35:19
I was I was I was raised in New York. So I'm a New Yorker originally. So queens, Jamaica, Queens. Okay, so I was I was, I was raised. I was raised in New York, and then finished off in Florida, and then out here, but, but I was from New York until 8485. So from 77, to something like, let's say, 76 to 85. And I was born in Florida, but that time here, I remember in New York, my dad was a cabbie. But he when he took me in, I do different days, he would take me I was sitting the front end that stuff I saw as running through Manhattan, and I remember breakdancing with hit and all of that kind of stuff. It was, it's hard for people to understand what it was like late 70s, early 80s. To it to be in New York, man. I'm looking forward to I'm looking forward to seeing that show. Now, I really want to,

Edward Burns 1:36:13
you'll dig, and the soundtrack is incredible.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:15
I'm sure.

Edward Burns 1:36:17
You'll really have a good time.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:20
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all of my guests. What if you could go back in time? And tell yourself your younger self? One thing? What would that be?

Edward Burns 1:36:33
All right. You know what? The advice I give myself is, no one is keeping score. Don't let your failures so much. Don't be overly precious. Yeah. Every little decision, you know, there were some opportunities maybe I could have had, that I just I was overthinking it and thinking, Oh, you know, this isn't the right movie for this time, even though I kind of love the script and what I was doing and wanted to do it. So you know, again, looking back on 26 years later, who cares? Nobody cares. If you had successes in these failures. Like it really, it's so doesn't matter. So I've been able to, you know, pretty much make a lot of movies over that time. But I kind of look at those chunks in my career where I didn't. And it's so hung up on it's got to be the right next

Alex Ferrari 1:37:32
isn't it? Isn't it? Just like filmmakers to think that everyone's watching us and everything that we do is so important. And it's just the thing that I mean, we I do it? Every filmmaker does it? And you're right. It'll stop you they'll paralyze you. They'll paralyze great advice. Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break in today?

Edward Burns 1:37:51
Hmm. Well, look, I mean, we kind of talked about it earlier, I would say like, Don't listen to the naysayers. You know, you you, you absolutely should pick up the camera and go make that movie. You can do it now. at such a low budget, that if it's terrible, kind of like all the terrible screenplays I wrote, you don't need to share with anyone, like the songwriter who's got you know, tapes filled with all of the half finished terrible songs. You don't have to let anyone listen to so go make the movie, learn from your mistakes. And that's the great advantage I think filmmakers have now is they can have a process where you're learning, you know, in the way that and poet novelist, a painter or songwriter can that was never a freedom afforded to filmmakers before the last five years. So filmmakers can go out and make short films, they can make low budget features that don't sort of bankrupt. So that's what I would say.

Alex Ferrari 1:38:57
And what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Edward Burns 1:39:03
I think it's sort of like, you know, don't be so arrogant to think you can't continually learn. Like I now. You know what it looked when I say not to blow smoke up your ass, but that's how I discovered your podcast. I'm trying to figure out what Don't I know about the indie film biz as far as like, how to self distribute a film. And that's how I discovered you. I'm constantly picking up new books on screenwriting. You know, this, someone has written the book and now I become obsessed with those masterclasses. So, you know, and, and the other thing is, you know, I've listened to all of them. And, you know, I would say for every, you know, I mean, there's certain filmmakers and screenwriters, we tell you Oh, no, no, it's got to be done this way. Don't do that. You have to show don't jump. You know, you, you take from those things that you know, that thing that That might work for you. But there is no one set of rules. Do this fortunately, otherwise, you know, you and I are both not here. Right? You know, so but that's what that would be the the thing I'd say just just, you should always remain a student of the game. You know, you can watch that first timers film and see something in that you never would have thought over. You're like, Oh, you know what? I never would have thought to attack that scene from that angle. It's something interesting. I like I mean, I bring up ozone, you know, I never, I hadn't even heard of him. We didn't study him in film school for whatever reason. I was listening to another podcast and Brian De Palma was on and he had written a book about transcend the depth trends, send them to men's meditation. Yeah. But to make storytime I forget the name of the book. But he made that movie last year, two years ago with Ethan Hawke, about the priests, right? Yeah. Doing press for that film. So I bought the book. I read that that turns me on to Ozu. I go deep on Ozu. I watch everything he's got. And then I'm like, oh, there's a new style of filmmaking. I've just discovered and you know, this will make it was making movies and you know, in the 50s, so close to two,

Alex Ferrari 1:41:22
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Edward Burns 1:41:25
I, you know, I mentioned my Texas trilogy, hands down. I mean, I go to them all the time, you know, tender mercies with Robert, the role of data, which is Picture Show, although it's hard. You know, two of them were written by Larry McMurtry is one of my favorite novelists. So those are my my three big ones. And then you know, I mean, I'm a New York guy, and I you know, I love gangster film. So godfather wanted to Goodfellas, you know, that's my, my holy trinity of, you know, just badass. You know, the best there is the gangster genre.

Alex Ferrari 1:41:57
Brother, man. I really do appreciate you coming on the show, man. It has been an absolute pleasure and honor talking to you, man. And thank you for the years of inspiration to us. All us indie filmmakers out here trying to hustle it out and trying to make it happen. Man, you have been a great inspiration since you came out with brothers with Marlon. And you've continued to feed the community with your books and your commentaries and everything else. So thank you again, man. I really appreciate it, brother.

Edward Burns 1:42:20
Awesome. Thank you, man. And I do mean it. Anyone else there anyone out there listening? Go to the backlog of these podcasts, they are filled with great information to help you on your way.

Alex Ferrari 1:42:31
Thank you, my friend. I appreciate that.

I want to thank Ed for coming on the show and dropping his knowledge bombs on the tribe. I also want to thank Ed for his inspiration over the years for independent filmmakers around the world. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including links to all those amazing DVDs with director commentary, as well as his amazing book, independent Ed, head over to any film also.com forward slash 450. And guys, the hits will continue to come on the indie film hustle podcast next week,

we have an Oscar nominated filmmaker coming on the show, whose films have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars to say the least. And the following week, we have another indie film legend from the 90s. I will not give you any more hints about it. But it's a very amazing episode as well. And if you haven't already, please head over to filmmaking podcast.com and subscribe and leave a good review for the show. It really helps us out a lot. Thank you not only for listening, guys, but for 450 opportunities to help serve you and help you on your filmmaking and screenwriting paths. Thank you so so much. This is just the beginning. There is some big big stuff cooking over at indie film hustle, and you will be hearing about it in the coming weeks and months. Thank you again. As always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there. And I'll talk to you soon.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 438: Selling Palm Springs for $17.5 Million at Sundance with Max Barbakow


Right-click here to download the MP3

I believe that most indie filmmakers have a dream of making a feature film, getting accepted to the Sundance Film Festival, and that film would be fought over in a massive bidding war that generates millions of dollars for the filmmakers. I’ve called this dream the lottery ticket mentally. I always say that someone wins the lottery every week somewhere.

Well, today’s guest is that lottery ticket winner. Today on the show we have director Max Barbakow, the filmmaker behind the largest sale at Sundance in history. His film Palm Springs sold for a record-breaking $17.5 million and .69¢. Those last cents is what broke the record.

The film stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and J.K. Simmons and was acquired by NEON and Hulu at the festival.

When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated when they find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.

I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to be a fly on the wall during a bidding war at Sundance. In today’s episode I take you through the improbable journey of this first-time feature filmmaker and his adventures of getting his film Palms Springs from the page to the Sundance record books.

You can watch Palm Springs on Hulu.

Enjoy my conversation with Max Barbakow.

Alex Ferrari 0:02
Well guys, we are in the Sundance Film Festival season. It is just finished up but I wanted to take you on a journey I wanted to take you on the dream path that all independent filmmakers dream of making your first movie, getting accepted to Sundance and selling it for a record breaking $17.5 million. Well, that's exactly what our guest did. Today's guest is filmmaker max Barba CO, who is the filmmaker behind Palm Springs, which holds the record for the largest purchase price of any independent film ever at the Sundance Film Festival. And it holds that record by 69 cents. That's right, they paid him 17 point $5,000,000.69 there's a whole story behind that I promise you now in this episode Max and I talk about his rise on how he got the bill made how he was able to get Andy Samberg attached and JK Simmons, how they got into Sundance and I've never been in the room when there's been a bidding war at Sundance for a film. But in today's episode you're going to be a fly on the wall on what it's like to be in that bidding war in the middle to three o'clock in the morning in a hotel room somewhere at Sundance while the lawyers and the agents are all battling it out. And you know Max was literally there just front row seat just going oh my god oh my god. Oh my god and we are going to go through that journey. I hope this episode is inspiring to you because it inspired me so without any further ado please enjoy my conversation with Max barber co I'd like to welcome the show max barber co How you doing Max?

Max Barbakow 4:24
Good man. How are you? Thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 4:27
There thank you for being on the show man. I've always said I told my wife this and it didn't happen when I was going to one of my wife was pregnant I said if we have boys my boys gonna be named Max Ferrari which would be dope man. That would be an amazing they I actually wanted to go Maximus max for sure. I mean, let's just go straight up. Let's do this if we're gonna go and she's like, I'm so glad we didn't have any boys because that would have been an argument.

Max Barbakow 4:54
The girl My mom wanted to name my brother max. My brother's seven years older than me and my dad. It was like, no veto Max is a name for an old dude who smoked cigars. My mom was like, Alright, whatever. And then I come along, and I guess he changed his tune. Initially, I'll take it though

Alex Ferrari 5:13
I have absolutely bad. So, um, before we get started, man, how did you get get started in the business.

Max Barbakow 5:19
Um, just I mean, it kind of happened with Palm Springs, but I grew up in a family that really like valued movies. So it was always kind of something that I was allowed to dream about doing, which is cool. And a lot of people it's like a very foreign thing. And I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, just up the coast. So la was kind of like, right nearby too. And it demystified the whole exercise of making stuff. And I just always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. So like, started documentary filmmaking, which seemed like a little more attainable, just because you could go out and shoot and then figure out what the story was kind of like as you were doing it, you know, there's like a low, gray, less involved, less of a blank page just to stare out, let's say, started doing that was doing freelance documentary stuff, I made a documentary about my adoption. That was a that was a feature length film that was kind of the first real thing I ever made coming

Alex Ferrari 6:14
out of college, which is Mommy, Mommy, I'm a bastard.

Max Barbakow 6:17
Mommy. Which, by the way,

Alex Ferrari 6:18
that's a great story. I saw this, I saw that clip on your website. On the website, it was so hilarious when your mom was telling the story, like, hey, my mama bastard. But that must have been me as a filmmaker, that must have been cathartic, just to kind of go through that whole process.

Max Barbakow 6:35
Totally. I mean, just to start something, it was the first thing I started finished

Alex Ferrari 6:40
to, you know, like, that's, that's a big, cathartic, that's a big thing for a filmmaker, and a feature no less.

Max Barbakow 6:46
Exactly. And then to pour yourself into it in a very intense way, and kind of do a lot of personal inventory in the excavation and kind of feel like I had become someone else, by the end of it, you know, and kind of like evolved was a super cool feeling. And I think I kind of got addicted to that, which is why Palm Springs is a little bit of the same way. It was a very personal movie, and a very intense kind of personal process with my buddy and DCR, who wrote the movie. And it's, it's, I love doing it, because that's I think I liked when I realized what making movies really was, I always like that to the idea that you would kind of chart your life through projects and kind of always go back to a moment and look at a project that you'd made or something and think about where you were, as you were making it. So it was always I don't know, I didn't I didn't know what I was doing. I was making a new bastard, which I also always trying to get back to, to that feeling of just like be like kind of learning a new language every time you're making something, and kind of just jumping off jumping into the deep end. But it really was just a great exercise in every facet of the process. Like I cut that movie myself, shot that movie myself. I kind of like, produced it myself. My brother did the music. But I got my feet wet. And I was able to get a job. I took that movie to a film festival and met a couple of producers that had done Silver Linings Playbook it was the year that that was out and I got a job is one of them had a kid that was adopted and kind of connected over the film. And I bothered the other one for a long time trying to get a job on David O Russell's next movie, which at that time was American Hustle and I got a job doing locations on that movie out Afton which was an incredible thing. It was kind of like I knew I wanted to go into narrative. It was a dream but that was kind of the bridge to go do narrative like the next year I went to film school at ASI. I kind of got into film school at the same time. And I was like well just watch that guy make a movie just made my my own movie. Now I could like kind of really feel like I kind of earned or like you had the necessary experience to go into like directing on a set, you know, working with partment heads and stuff like that. And then if I was great and and that was kind of like I met mbcr there who was a good buddy and a great collaborator and made a lot of stuff together. there with him and out of school decided we wanted to do a feature together, went out to Palm Springs to brainstorm came back with the idea of Niles and they kind of was in very unruly creative process from there like I know you said you like Groundhog Day, but it did not start as a time loop idea. Initially, we were very much arrived at that little into the process. But that's that's kind of how I got into making stuff.

Alex Ferrari 9:37
So okay, so you did a bunch of shorts with Andy as well. Um, yeah. And so I have to ask, because, you know, you're you're you basically lived out the dream of most filmmakers around the world. Where as in you make a movie. It's Yeah, there. You make a movie you you kind of live it You're living the dream that every filmmaker dreams of, which is essentially Hey, I'm gonna go write my movie with my buddy. And, and we're gonna go attach, you know an Oscar winner and really famous comedian and some other really amazing talent and, and then we're gonna shoot it and then we're gonna go to Sunday we're gonna get good assented to Sundance, get accepted to Sundance. And then we happen to go there and sell it and make it the biggest sale by 69 cents ever. at Sundance, I mean, you're essentially living the dream. So before we get to all of that amazing part of the story, how did you go from making shorts, to go into Palm Springs to figure out an idea for a script? Which, by the way, everyone listening right here is everyone's got an idea. Everyone's writing a script. Yeah. How did you get that package? How did you get Andy and JK involved in the project? Like, how did you get this whole thing up off the ground?

Max Barbakow 10:56
Um, well, the, the idea of going to make a feature, after a lot of shorts, and film school is just kind of an idea of desperation, kind of, you know, like we didn't, we didn't want to wait around and be and wait for an opportunity. And we had been given the opportunity to make a lot of stuff already. And we didn't want that to go away. So it's like, we got to make something we got to make something also, as I have been drilled so much in film school that I felt like I lost my instincts a little bit. So like the the mission with the movie was never to go attach big actors like that, or even make it on the scale that we made it out. It was like, let's go make something weird that feels like us, and could you know, around one location in a way that would help us rediscover our instincts a little bit. And it evolved from that place into something, you know, after, it wasn't even a wedding movie to begin with. It was it was like a I think it took place on New Year's and it was an existential comedy. We like to say it was like an absurd version of Leaving Las Vegas, like the dark comedy version of that movie, like a hipster goes to that Las Vegas to die, and then learns the meaning of life and decides to live. But it just evolved, it was kind of leaning into the process that we had kind of figured out for ourselves, Andy and I, which was locking ourselves in a room and trying to make each other laugh and try to make each other kind of acting as each other as each other as each other's therapists a little bit. And that's how a lot of those philosophical conversations about life and relationships. I mean, the movie was born out of a very busy wedding season where stuff started to feel the same. And I was like, hopeless, hopelessly single. And Andy had just gotten married in Palm Springs, and was kind of looking down the barrel at his life really stoked, but wondering if he was ever going to be as happy as he was on his wedding night, you know, and kind of those things were ingredients in this kind of this alchemic exercise, and it just got to a place where, you know, putting to commitment phobes stuck at the same wedding together felt like a really fertile premise for a movie, putting characters in their own version of hell. And we just follow the idea and worked really hard at it. And by the time the script was good, it it obviously gotten way bigger than a little movie, you could just go shoot in the desert, you know, there was like a time portal and dinosaurs and shed. So we you know, it just Andy's car siara got a manager who kind of knew what to do with it, he kind of became the third collaborator on the film and sent it around towns and around LA and it just got it got good reads. And it got passed up through UTA where Sandberg is represented and Sandberg Reddit was like, Okay, I'll meet these guys. And we went in to go meet with them and had a conversation and I kind of pitched the vision for the movie. And we got super lucky and that he was seeing the same movie that we were seeing, which was like, you know, comedy, yes, but something a little more driven by pathos, especially for him. There's, you know, it's a different term for him. And when we had the opportunity to meet with him in the lonely island as like potential producers, and then you know, him to star it was it kind of clicked. It's like, Oh, yeah, this could be our version of Eternal Sunshine, or punch drunk love a little more hard to comedy, but like, a generational talent and a goofball in terms of comedian doing a different turn something a little a little edgier for him, and it all kind of it all kind of clicked into like, Oh, this could be something pretty cool. And when he said, you know, that he wanted to do it and that they would produce and he would star and that I you know, was still gonna get to direct it to that level. It was an incredible thing.

Alex Ferrari 14:32
Yeah, that's so that's one thing I want to ask because I've sat in those meetings I've been in I've been in those meetings with with actors and things and getting you to be the first first time director and them giving you the reins. And I don't know what I don't know if you've even mentioned what the budget is. Can you say what

Max Barbakow 14:50
it was like under five or six credit but it was like at the time there was like four or something like that.

Alex Ferrari 14:56
So too, you know, and that's a fairly Large first film.

Max Barbakow 15:01
Oh, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 15:02
yeah, with basically your only narrative being a handful of shorts, and you and you and your documentary that you had done, you know, samples

Max Barbakow 15:09
for it, you know, that weren't similar in any way to the idea. So it's not like you're here's the short that could be the feature.

Alex Ferrari 15:15
Right, exactly. So that way. So it was basically you had a champion and Andy Sandberg, he was he basically said, I see your vision, you're gonna direct it, let's make it happen.

Max Barbakow 15:26
Yeah. And it was, it was, it was beautiful, because I don't if we had an Indy car and I hadn't gone in together, I don't think it might have played out in a different way. I think they recognize because they're buddies, like the Lonely Island came up together. And their friends, I think they saw us as buds wanting to make this thing. They saw how they could help us make it even better. And they're like, that's cool. Like, well, we'll do it. You know, I'm so lucky. They were into that. So we spent the summer after we first met them kind of doing a polish on the script together in that room that Andy and I had been in exercising our romantic demons make each other laugh, it just kind of got bigger with those guys. And Becky servitor, who was our other producer ran their company. And it was it was it was amazing. You know, it was it was unreal. That's no,

Alex Ferrari 16:14
it is very dreamlike. I mean, as a director as you're walking through this path, I mean, you've heard that any every filmmaker has heard these stories has heard you know, I always use El Mariachi or you know, yes. You know, you use it the Kevin Kevin Smith, or, you know, these kind of stories that you hear of this happening, but you're like, but when you're in it, like how does that feel? Like you're like, did you have a feel? Because I know I did. I like I came, I've come close to many damn times to even count. But at some point, do you just go this is gonna fall apart at any effing second? They're gonna fire me any second now.

Max Barbakow 16:54
That's it? That's it. It's totally it. It's like, not really, you know, but what you can focus on is like, is the work you know, I think it would have been totally different if, if, again, we weren't seeing the same version of the movie, you know? But like, we got we got so lucky in that way. They really did. And it was it's not a normal, lonely island movie, either. It's not it's a little nuanced, you know, there's a blended tone. They definitely made it funnier, and helped us like with the comedy and stuff. They helped us with everything. But like, yeah, it's it I you quickly learn to there's no room for that kind of insecurity just because there's so much you so much stuff to do, you know, so much stuff to think about. And especially on an indie movie, too. It's like, you're it's still the same scrappiness that we probably would have made the smaller version with you're just dealing with incredible actors, which is makes life easier. Everything so much better. Yeah. So like, that was a thing when you're dealing with like, it's like anybody like niyati Sandberg JK Simmons on set, they'll do it. We didn't have we shot the movie in 21 days, too, so didn't have any time. And you're like, they'll do a tank, you know, like, that was good. And I have to go like pretend to talk to the grip or something to come up with it. Like a note for them as I'm like, I'll go talk to this guy. Because, you know, it's, it's, we got so lucky in a way. And I was across the board with all the department heads to who had the same twisted sense of humor that we all had, and you know, just really got what was at the core of this thing. So it was an incredible experience. In that respect, which is what I was thinking about being a filmmaker, I always kind of thought about that. It's about having partners in crime, you know, you want to feel like you get away with something.

Alex Ferrari 18:31
Yeah, absolutely. And Andy and I've been a big fan of Andy Samberg for a long time. Back from the SNL days. I mean, I've just followed his career. I've watched Brooklyn nine, nine, I mean, like he's, he's, he's awesome. He's awesome. And he's a very unique voice and the way he does this thing

Max Barbakow 18:47
don't really take years to I didn't really realize it until we were working all together. But those guys were some of the first filmmakers that I looked up to when they were making there because they were just making stuff together and putting it on the internet channel one on one YouTube all that stuff and you're, you know, in high school you're like, Oh, these guys rule you know, like, we should do that. Like the first step I made was like, you know, like rip offs of like, dear sister in the doing stuff. So it was really they they're filmmakers do not not just comedians or performers.

Alex Ferrari 19:19
No, absolutely not. So what point did the story turned into this? Groundhog's Day? esque you know, time loop thing because it please correct me is Groundhog's Day, the first time there was a time loop in a movie in a comedy or is it just the most famous version of it?

Max Barbakow 19:38
I think so. There's like as with anything that's successful, I think there was like controversy when it came out that it was stolen from something like a boardroom or something like that, but I think it's

Alex Ferrari 19:49
probably it's a French film. It's a double leak. It was like dabbling.

Max Barbakow 19:57
But yeah, it evolved. I mean, it Really, we just started thinking about it really came from a place of character because we spent so much time working on like thinking about who these people were. And they're kind of compartmentalised versions of both like mbcr and myself, Sarah and Niles, that came first the foundations and Roy came in like, way, way later. That was like the last thing we put into the draft like a third person, he was here. It was so great. I sent it out. Yeah. When

Alex Ferrari 20:25
I said when that happened, when I watched it, that's a spoiler alert to everybody. But when that happened, when I saw that arrow, just show up. And then when you see it's like, oh, it's JK, oh, yes,

Max Barbakow 20:36
that's perfect. is the best. He's like, no, I we're gonna, you're trying to be on schedule. Right now I need to I will be running through the desert, I will be doing all that stuff myself. Like, this needs to happen, which is awesome. Which is the subject.

Alex Ferrari 20:52
All right, so so is working as a director, especially your first time working on a project of this magnitude? How do you direct an actor like Andy Samberg? Who's basically you know, he's, he does very, very good improv. And he's kind of like, you just kind of kind of like corral the lightning almost, cuz he's like lightning in the bottle all the time. Right?

Max Barbakow 21:15
Yeah. But he was very aware, because we had done work on the script together. And he comes from a writing perspective, too. And he's producer on the movie. So it was like having a real Christian came in, it was the same way. We had less time together like improv, but it was having like creative partners, you know, less than like, it was not like a mystery that you're trying to shroud an actor and they were very aware of like, what this thing was and why it was special. And their chemistry was going to be the engine of the movie. So for Andy, I think he was attracted to it, because it was a completely different term for it, that means playing like an indifferent defeated person. For the first part of the movie, you know, challenge, he was like, always very aware of anything that would be considered to arch, you know, or, or to wild or to goofy. And we were always kind of checking each other. But like he, he had it in, you know, he's done like, he's done turns on that are a little more serious, like in Celeste and Jesse did that movie. And that was one of those where you're like, oh, he has that, like, Is it like I could is a romantic lead for sure. He just had never met never made the decision to do it. So it was honestly just like a lot of communication, you know, and it was like, on this one, I realized every actor because we had a pretty big ensemble, it's like a two hander, you know, at its core, but there are a lot of different actors, and everybody worked in a really different way. So it's just about kind of like having that conversation upfront. How do you like to work? Like, what can I give you as a director, so I like to do things it's like, let's, let's talk about how it can be of help to you. And it with with Andy It was a lot of interest into was always a lot of like, conversations beforehand, like we did some rehearsals, and then just trying different versions of it on the day, you know, because we'd have a lot of time, like I said, so it's like, let's get it right. Just that intangible feeling where it's like this is this is the best version of it. Now let's go way this direction, way this direction, and then we'll do one that is completely out of left field. And then you kind of make choices in the

Alex Ferrari 23:13
Edit. So in you so we're working with someone like JK, who, obviously as an Oscar winner, he's he's amazing. He's an you know, he's played some very intense guys in his films. I'm assuming there was some sort of intimidation, just just meeting him and and having the potential of working with him. How does a first time director direct an Oscar winning actor? Like what is that process? Like? I mean, I had I've had other guests, and I've worked with Oscar nominees as well in my work. And I just go How do you want to be directed like, dude, I'm like, I'm just here. Because there's some people like if you're like, how can you direct Meryl Streep? Like, how, how does that work? So I'm assuming JK similar.

Max Barbakow 24:03
Yeah, I mean, he's intimidating just because of the roles that you associate him with. And he's also just been doing it for so long. And you know, he's, he's such a pro and such a legend. But the thing that I realized is everybody wants to be that that's what they're there for, actually want to collaborate actors want to be directed, you know, like he, he connected to the script and really liked the script. And he had worked with Sandberg before, too. So there was that familiarity they had played father and son and I love you, man. So they were they were friends. So he was there to have a blast and give it a go and like I, you know, you again, it's just communication. It's just something to work on. So like, how can we make this as easy for you as possible? A little movie for you legends, and it's like, I think he appreciated that too. And he, he came with so many ideas. That's the thing. It's like these people are legendary because they're so smart and so and so talented, but it is for them about the work if they're you know, they're not JK Simmons is not resting on his Oscar, you know, like and I'm sure Meryl Streep isn't resting on any of her nomination. She's just trying to do work that can make make her feel alive. Probably.

Alex Ferrari 25:14
Yeah, it's just about how I think you your answers absolutely on point, which is communication, like just seeing because everyone's different like Meryl and Denzel might want to be talked to differently and worked with differently than JK did and just have to have that open and then adjusting your directing style accordingly to them, not them adjusting towards you, because that's not gonna work as much.

Max Barbakow 25:38
Yeah, one thing I realize, like in it, it helps, even when it is everybody knowing what the coverage was, you know, obviously, like, was at the top of the scene and there again, there was no time. So just like, communication is everything. And if you if you could get through a scene, then you then you could have time to give people opportunities to play around, which is always great, because I mean, JK especially just had so many fun ideas. And we were shooting out of borders. And sometimes it was like, ah, who can't. We've already established that side. Like we can't do that. But that is like, that's why you're human.

Alex Ferrari 26:12
Right? And when you work with people of that caliber, you just like God, you make things so easy as a director makes life so much easier than having to pull everything. Now what was your expectation for this film? I mean, obviously has Andy Samberg has all these big, you know, big stars, but it's still in the you know, how, you know, 5 million below indie film and a marketplace that is full of, you know, good content, what was your expectation for this? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Max Barbakow 26:50
I mean, initially, before Sandberg, it was like, let's raise $50,000 or something like that from friends and go make something just get one, get an auction about and that still is what it still was. It's like, let's go, let's ride the creative energy of this and go make it and then when Sandberg comes on board, like in that first conversation, we all agreed the goal was to go to Sundance, you know, and sell the movie, like we weren't trying to go to a studio next It was like, let's go make this on the fly and have a Sundance experience and see what we can what we can do. And that was awesome that that we got in you know, we got, I got the call. And it was I was didn't pick it up because there's like a four It was like a I thought it was spam. And I picked it up. And it was a couple weeks earlier than I thought it would be calling. And it was a sprint to the Sundance deadline in the Edit to you know, that was kind of crazy. And they wanted us and then they wanted us in the US dramatic competition too. Which is like the real that's the, like 12 movies. Yeah, so like, oh, man, they're taking this seriously. So it still was like, let's go, let's have a good time. Like I learned very early on. Even going into that first meeting with the Lonely Island, it's like don't have any expectations. Just like enjoy it. Enjoy the ride. If you have any expectations there, it's going to be way different than you think it's going to be. So like we knew we had made something that we liked, we had no idea what to expect. We thought we had a good chance of selling it, but obviously not at the level that we did. And like a lot of people kept telling us when we're in the Edit, show to friends and stuff. And it would be Yeah, it does really feel like a like a Sundance movie demands like that's good sucks.

Alex Ferrari 28:26
Like, thanks for the next night. Thanks.

Max Barbakow 28:28
I think it helped us in ultimately in this in the sale and in the reception that it was there. You know, we were in a year there were a couple comedies but not really, you know, I think people it was kind of a cathartic release for people in that festival experience to go see something that was like, kind of full of joy and irreverence and a little different and, and kind of a kind of an escape from what normally is a lineup filled with like, amazingly poignant films that are really intense, heavy, heavy and darker. Yeah, heavy. So that helps but like, you know, I sat in the back and our screen and Park City or premiere and I had no idea how it really played. I know we got a laugh right at the beginning because it opens with a lonely island classics card and it was a roomful of acquisitions, people. So like that got a laugh. Okay, we got one out of the way. But, you know, I had no clue until we went to our after party and like offers started rolling in and then revealed like the response on Twitter was cool. So it was just, it was a blur, man, it was, it was truly insane.

Alex Ferrari 29:26
It was the first time you've ever been to Sundance.

Max Barbakow 29:29
Yeah, I never I never having a movie and so is cool. And it's what was that? Like? Everything? It's like the last film festival Film Festival for the foreseeable future.

Alex Ferrari 29:44
Exactly. So what was it like? I mean, because I've been to Sundance Scott's like, seven eight times in my life. And never had the pleasure. I've always been rejected. She's like that. Be the hot girl that always kind of teases you like maybe maybe we'll go on a date and Maybe in your mind, we're gonna go out on a date. But you just you ran up in first first one out. You got that day mean, even when you're there and you're gonna leave like is this? Isn't it the same feelings? Like at any moment someone's gonna come in the door and go, you don't belong here. Yeah. That's amazing. So you go to Sundance, you get, you know, you have this amazing, these amazing screenings, you're getting good stuff and then the offers are starting to come in from studios.

Max Barbakow 30:34
Yeah, from from, from like platforms and distributors and stuff. You know, it was at our premiere party it was, we were drinking really for the first time that weekend, like celebrating and then go to dinner. And it's the thing where they're like, Alright, stop, like sober up, like, we're gonna have gonna have some meetings tonight. And it became the experience that you read about and like, Oh, you know, all the books about and so on. I fit in one thing where we went back to a condo, and people just different companies came in, and were pitching us their vision for the film. And it was just so surreal to hear. Like, I always I love in prep, you know, like, we got meetings or you know, just page turn meetings and going through the shit that you're trying to pull off in a movie and everybody taking stupid stuff like blowing up a goat. So seriously, like talking about it. Like, it's great. Like, it's funny to me on that level, when you haven't really thought about pulling stuff off. And now you're dealing with acquisitions, people, like pitching their passion for a movie based on the same stuff, you're talking about, like, loads of money, you're just sitting there like, what is this is crazy, but it what it meant was that more people were gonna have a chance to see our movie, which was so cool, you know, that I kind of had contextualize the entire Sundance experience to it's like, well, the all this means is like, it's no longer ours really, like we've lived with this for so long. And like, we're going to this festival, people are gonna see it. And then like, people are either gonna hate us or they're gonna, you know, they'll be okay with it. But like, it's not going to be our little thing anymore. And, and when there was a response from from buyers, it was their offers and stuff. It was incredible because it just went oh, my God, like more more people beyond this festival are gonna see the movie, you know, are gonna bring it. Were you involved in

Alex Ferrari 32:17
that process? A lot. Because you producer as well on the project,

Max Barbakow 32:21
not not a producer, but they were super cool. And we were all you know, we were up all night and all in the same meetings and stuff like that. And

Alex Ferrari 32:27
so you saw you saw first that you were front row on all this stuff?

Max Barbakow 32:29
Yeah, yeah. No, I just didn't I just like this is great. Yeah. How much? Like how much

Alex Ferrari 32:33
do they like? I'm sure the first offer that came in, you're like, yes, take it. Yes. No. 5 million. 5 million. Yes. Take five. Yes. breakeven. It's fine. Let's just go Let's go.

Max Barbakow 32:47
I never I never understood I was all I was thinking while we were going through and I'm like, can't read this all go party and do this tomorrow, or go to bed and do this to really get down understand. And then it's like, oh, yeah, you do it all night. So they can't say like sleep on it and change their mind. That's why you go a night like that. That makes

Alex Ferrari 33:03
sense. That makes us exactly if you go to sleep tomorrow morning. This will not be here. No, yeah, that's how that's basically because if they wake up in the morning, you know, that wasn't that good. I can't, I can't. Is that high? It's that high of the Sundance screening. Was that too? How did you handle the altitude By the way, that must have been rough.

Max Barbakow 33:24
I was like, I honestly was just all adrenaline like, yeah, after I stayed the whole time, too, because I had never been so I wanted to see movies, and I wanted to meet other filmmakers and stuff and other like everybody else in the world kind of left on which it became this other experience, which I loved. Like I just was kind of like a film fan. They're seeing seen other stuff, but I I crashed after that, man. I like like, I like the adrenaline when and I was like, I I heard all over. Like,

Alex Ferrari 33:53
I'm not 20 anymore.

Max Barbakow 33:55
Yeah, I've been taking care of myself. Oh, that's right. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 34:00
Sundance, he has time. Isn't that does that to you? Yeah, that I've gotten sick almost every time almost every like last few times. I've figured out how not to get sick but you always altitude weather change. No sleep around a lot of people. It's I'm really curious to see what's going to happen this year with Sundance now because it's COVID and I can't force me they can't have a you know, there has to be a virtual version of it. But they can't be Park City is not there. Like you can't go to parks.

Max Barbakow 34:32
Yeah, though, and it's it's way different. I mean, I'm just so grateful that we had the Sunday live you could have played south by or Tribeca which would have been awesome. But that would have been a completely different experience. You know? So there's so many it's such a crazy year and there's so many great films that are you know, are getting lost. Change. Yeah, they got lost in there.

Alex Ferrari 34:54
Now what how did you guys come up with the whole 17.5 and 69 cents like how did that how does That happened.

Max Barbakow 35:01
That was a that was a key that one of our producer, like, just came up with that I think we're getting they're going back and forth. And 17.5 is the record. And rarely will ever gonna tie the record when they add like a little 69. And I just love that so much. It's like my favorite. It's my favorite thing because it also just holds a mirror up to the absurdity. And like, that was Akiva like, at 4am. Like she's Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 35:32
And now the thing is, to me, the amount of press that you guys got off of this off the sale was massive, I read somewhere that Hulu got like $50 million worth of press, just because they bought it for 17.5 and 16. And that 69 says, probably got it about another million or two of President would have gotten like that. But that must have been like, and I'm assuming everybody was bidding on it. But by the way, how did the neon get involved prior to the sale to Hulu or that together? They came in they

Max Barbakow 36:06
came in together it was partnership. And under looking at it, yeah. Which to me to begin with was like, pretty cool, because that just feels of this time, you know, it's like everyone, everything is gonna live on a streamer, you know that. But if you could have and you're gonna have a great theatrical release. And we did do drive ins with neon. And it's out film nation is now taking it out, like around the world, like it's playing in Italy in theaters, and it's in Russia and Taiwan and Taiwan and stuff, which is really cool. But like that to me, I was like, Oh, that's cool. That's a cool partnership like that feels like what how most movies should enter the world. Now. It's like you figure out where it's gonna live on a streamer. But then like team with a really cool taste making company to give it a little bit of a cultural moment, right and create a ripple so that that was always exciting to us. And they were great when the pandemic hit to just kind of like calling an audible and figuring out a way to still make it special. Despite the crazy circumstances, but then we did together and they they were great. They were when did it get released? What

Alex Ferrari 37:07
was the time like, what month July

Max Barbakow 37:08
time? so rough? It was rough, like in the neck you like so long? I was like, I don't even know. But it was definitely like, it was definitely the beginning just felt like one big snow day or something. You know, you're like, this is like, you know, like this is gonna be wacky and a little bizarre and maybe a little fun for a while. And July was definitely the point where like, God,

Alex Ferrari 37:36
everyone, just everyone just strapped in because the garden that I just started just started giving me tomatoes. And I learned how to make a mean sourdough like it's exactly, exactly. Now I have to ask you about how you know. So you have, you know, again, you you've got, you've lived the dream you've lived, I talked about the lottery ticket mentality, like so many filmmakers, what you said was basically their entire distribution plan is we're gonna make our $50,000 movie with no stars attached. And we're and our distribution model is to go to Sundance to get basically what you got. But the scenario, the timing, the cast the story, everything kind of it was a perfect storm, which is what a lottery ticket. You know, like I've said, and many I think even Robert and Kevin said this, like, El Mariachi shows up today, no one cares. You know, clerk shows up today, it's that no one's gonna see it. It's not gonna get you know, we don't see these directors. We don't those voices get squashed. Or it's not what we know it as today. So everyone's always looking at this lottery ticket. You know, at Sundance, Sundance is the lottery ticket. You won that lottery ticket. So I want to find out. What is it like winning the lottery ticket in regards to your career in regards to how the town treats you now? Because you're the belle of the ball, man, you won Sundance the biggest movie, and then you just didn't win Sundance, you sold the biggest movie ever at Sundance. So I'm assuming that comes with some sort of dancing, some sort of courting from people around. So how did the town treat you? And what was that experience? Like?

Max Barbakow 39:13
A lot of meetings, you know, you get to meet a lot of people, you get to just see you get kind of a fuller concept of what the, because you learned a lot putting the movie together too, right? We were trying to going out to try to find financing after the Lonely Island came on and we got to know kind of what the landscape was through the agencies and all that, but um, yeah, just get into to meet a lot of people. Getting to see what projects exist getting to kind of flirt and dabble and like think about projects and then realize, Oh, yeah, you always want to be self generating, like, like, anyway, you know, like, it's, I just, I'm stoked that I'm gonna get to work again. You know, that was the other thing at Sundance, when it went well. I'm like, Oh, yeah, we're gonna get someone someone's gonna pay. My mom is Like, employment, you know, it's like there's still a lot of speculative conversations, which are, it's always hard to sort out like, what's what's real or not. But that's just kind of, that's part of it. And I and I do say, I will say, like, I think the healthiest thing happened, which is that all this happened, and I've been at home, you know, like, there wasn't it, I think it would have been a little different if we were able to go places or go do a press tour, and it just like, it doesn't quite feel real still, it feels nice. It does feel real is having like certain work to do and projects to, like, get off the ground and stuff. That's really cool. And they're, they're actionable now because of the success of the movie. So, I mean, it's been, it's been cool, man, it's been, it's been a dream. It's like, it's always good to see something awesome to see something you made. People are engaging with it and makes you It puts wind in your sails. You know,

Alex Ferrari 40:54
that's why we do what we do. I mean, we, we make movies so people can watch it. Yeah, exactly. You know, and the more people that watch it, the more people connect with it, and actually like it. Oh, my God, that's the dream, you know, and if you can get paid. If you get paid somehow it can continue your continuous career. Why not? I love that, like, Hey, guys, we're gonna make another movie. This is awesome. Like, I'm actually employed for at least another couple years, at

Max Barbakow 41:24
least. Another movie and other thing and like another thing that we like, like and can choose from it. You know, it's like that, too. It's not just like taking the job for the sake of taking the job.

Alex Ferrari 41:34
And you said something, I want you to kind of clarify for people who don't understand when you say self generating as opposed to being like a director for hire, because I'm assuming you were pitched ton of stuff to direct and all that kind of stuff. And you've chosen I don't know, what what is your next project? And, and how do you

Max Barbakow 41:49
love that there's stuff that I'm attached to that, that were like directing assignments that but like, for me, it's always I'm, I'm about having that balance, like I want to work, I want to be working. And it's, I like I'm writing something right now. That's like a, like a passion project. And it's a labor of love. And I'm less, I like working with Andy a lot too, because there's another person in the room. And it's harder for me to stare at a blank page. And but I'm very passionate about this, I could do that. But like, I also want to go get back on set and stuff. So if there there's stuff that I could find a way into emotionally, and I think deserves to exist, you know, and I think it'd be really special. Of course, I'll go engage on that and try to get involved and make it. So for me, it's kind of like it's a balance.

Alex Ferrari 42:38
There. What is your next project? What's

Max Barbakow 42:39
the next project? Not not sure I'm writing this movie right now. That's that's about the the amazing Randy who actually just passed away yesterday. Rest in peace. That is super exciting.

Alex Ferrari 42:53
Isn't there a Jason momoa project that you're working on?

Max Barbakow 42:56
Yeah, they're trying to figure out when we could do that because of COVID stuff and scheduling stuff with that. Yeah, that's it's called the good, bad, good, bad and undead, and it's a it's very similar. It's Peter Dinklage and Jason momoa. It's like a buddy comedy. Nice, like a very, very self aware fantasy universe. I think we're just playing. The last Van Helsing version of Van Helsing is like, an alcoholic and a gambling addict. And no, as a vampire, we've taken a vow not to kill and a con artist comedy, they go around the village to village gone and people do this pretense to, to, to get them out. And they split the money. And then pretty soon, like a big bounce is put on their head and it becomes this giant chase movie. So it's like a very grounded human story about these two outcasts, you kind of bury a lot of their shame in this heightened world, which is kind of similar to Palm Springs. Right? That's, that's why I read it. I was like, this is really fun. Like, I could apply similar tools. You know, that sounds? That sounds awesome. I can't wait to see that. I

Alex Ferrari 43:58
hope I hope we are actually able to get that off. No big round one day, hopefully,

Max Barbakow 44:03
one day, hopefully

Alex Ferrari 44:04
to get on a set again, man. Just Exactly. I mean, do I mean, as I know, if I know a lot of directors and cinematographers who are working right now, depending on where they are in the country, or in the world. I mean, as a director, I haven't been on set since how, like, I don't want anyone to die. Because I'm making a movie. Like it's so yeah. How do you how do you how do you feel that you're going to get to back come back on the on the job?

Max Barbakow 44:31
I think from from what I've heard and and read it's it just is a lot you know, there's zones, it's a lot just very differentiated, like between shooting on film and shooting digitally. It's you have to be like very deliberate, you know, when the stakes are a little higher, and there's there's less room for for error. So I think it just is being very thoughtful with the number of people on set, which I think is good too. I think it's an opportunity, like redefine how many people you actually need to go make these things right. Think it's probably pretty hard for actors because you can't be as intimate. And for me, it's like, a no go go make something up. I think it's safe. But it's also you want to make sure that you're not. When you make something unsaid, I feel like it's already a set of compromises always. It's like once a compromise after caught, you know, you're always you're trying to just get it get into cancer, like this COVID thing is just a huge conference for everybody. Yeah, so it's, I don't know, man, I'm not I don't think I'm close to going back to anything. But hopefully soon, hopefully, in the new year.

Alex Ferrari 45:33
Let's hope man, let's hope now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all of my guests, all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today? past COVID? Like,

Max Barbakow 45:43
yeah, they don't quit, you know, find a way not to quit. Like, that's the number. I think a lot of people just quit. But it's about perseverance. You know, and also recognizing, what idea is the idea to or project to really put, because I do, I do believe it's important to I mean, you want to have a lot of irons in the fire, but you want to put all your eggs in the basket that deserves those eggs. So it's about having the self awareness and like the taste, to know what the idea is worth, what ideas worth kind of really investing in a lot of your time. And because I see that a lot. Just, there's a passion project that it's like, Man, this is not, this is not the one you know, it's like, you just have to know you just have to kind of be aware of that way. And a lot of times it comes from that's a gut, a gut feeling in an instant, you know, it's the one it's based on character, and it's based on on emotion.

Alex Ferrari 46:39
Now, can you also let everybody know, because I'm assuming a lot of people listening right now think that you are an overnight sensation that you made one script, and it's just you walked it over to Andy. And Andy said, Sure, and you got 5 million bucks, you won Sundance and your career exploded, that, please tell everybody how long this overnight success actually took.

Max Barbakow 46:59
We went to Palm Springs, to I'm talking about like, the beginning of your career. Oh, like, I started, that I graduated college in 2013 or 2011. And started like, doing freelance doc stuff and writing then, you know, and then what is it 20 2020. So like, nine years of, like, chasing it in a way, but not kinda like that, that's, that's part of it. It's the journey, you know, you're never ready, like, nothing to put into the work if it just happens, you know, you have no, you have no foundation to stand like you need that. Always. And now, it's about even when you're done with a project, it's about starting over, you're back to zero. So you also have to, like, figure out who you are now, to, like, put that to put that into the project, which is a whole nother, you know, layer of, of the process, at least for me personally, yes, but input Palm Springs that started in like, 2015, the first seed of the idea and kind of, you know, in, in just in like 2000, mid 2016. So it's been, it takes time, you know, we're not doing just this, but it's like, you know, that's the one like I'm saying, I'm like, this is, this feels special, this feels like it could be really cool. So we can't quit on it.

Alex Ferrari 48:15
Now, um, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,

Max Barbakow 48:24
I think patience. I mean, we're talking about it, but like, patience, you know, and being okay. With being in the moment, being okay, like very being sad about the work, you know, like, and just persevering, and not also not being turning off that whether it's writing or in the editor, whatever, turning off that critical voice in your head, and just kind of leaning into the process that that, that takes, I think, a little bit of experience,

Alex Ferrari 48:56
and what is the biggest fear you had to overcome to make this film? What was that thing that you had to kind of like, I gotta get past this in order to even be able to set foot on set?

Max Barbakow 49:07
I think failure you know, just just just, you know, getting past that and not putting the carpet like before the before the horse so to speak. And yeah, just not not even thinking about what it was going to end up as just kind of again, engaging with the process.

Alex Ferrari 49:26
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Max Barbakow 49:31
Oh, man. I would say Boogie Nights is definitely in there. I would say he gets alone either Fellini movie is really good. This makes sense.

Alex Ferrari 49:55
Both films that makes perfect sense so far, so far. You're on point you're on brands. So far so far.

Max Barbakow 50:03
And I would also say I look basketball a lot. I watched that again. Forever somehow under a movie. It is it is aged well, I think it's gotten much better with age, like sports fandom has become even more ridiculous on that, you know, it's like it's so

Alex Ferrari 50:25
and then it's that they actually created that entire sport. Yeah, like this rule. commitment. That's what like, again, learning from the Lonely Island and it's just like the silliest stuff. It's such commitment goes into that. And that's the genius of it. It's so all that silly stuff is always like so dense and so smart. And so well thought out, basically, boy, I just love that excellent, excellent choices. My friend. Excellent choices. Max has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show, brother, I wish you continued success. You are an inspiration to all of us independent filmmakers out here you you have walked the path that many of us dream to walk. So I truly appreciate you sharing your adventures with us and, and continued success. Man, I wish you the best.

Max Barbakow 51:10
Thank you, man. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 51:13
Want to thank max for coming on the show and inspiring the tribe today. It is truly amazing to feel like you were in the room when these big deals were being made at Sundance. And again, it really, really inspired me tremendously. And I recommend everybody listening to go watch Palm Springs on Hulu. It is a really really great film. Now if you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at indie film hustle comm forward slash for 38. And guys, I know most of us were not able to make it to Sundance this year. But if you want to feel like you're at Sundance, you should check out my movie that I shot at the Sundance Film Festival about three crazy filmmakers trying to hunt down a producer and sell their movie at the festival called on the corner of ego and desire. You can check that out at ego and desire film.com it's free on Amazon and on ifH TV. Thank you 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.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

On the Corner of Ego and Desire: Watch 10 Min of the Feature Film

Well, the day has finally arrived. On the Corner of Ego and Desire is finally available to the world. I know, I know, you guys have been waiting for this film for a long time. With writing and producing my book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Film into a Moneymaking Business,  the Rise of the Filmtrepreneur Podcast, and dealing with the entire Distribber debacle I have been slammed in 2019.

If you want to watch just go to www.egoanddesirefilm.com

At a certain point I just said we’ll we are close enough to just release the film near Sundance so that is what I did. The film will be released on Jan 21, 2020, just before the Sundance Film Festival 2020 launches. I thought that would be the most poetic release strategy. Check out the trailer below.

Three hapless independent filmmakers make the trek to the Sundance Film Festival and go through absolute hell in search of the elusive producer that is supposedly going to buy their independent feature film, all within 24 hours. With a producer who stole money from his mother’s retirement account to fund the film, to a director who thinks she’s the next Francois Truffaut, to an actor/editor who is a doormat for everyone, this motley crew of misfit filmmakers have a tough time navigating the chaotic world of the Sundance Film Festival. Ignorance, foolishness and above all ego drive the team to implosion as they struggle to realize their filmmaking dreams.

On the Corner of Ego and Desire was shot on a budget of about $3000 in just under four days, around 36 hours total of filming. Filmed on a 1st generation Blackmagic Pocket Camera 1080p using a Sigma 18-35mmlens as the main lens with a few vintage lenses rounding out the kit. It was edited, color graded and mastered on Davinci Resolve.

It World Premiered at the Raindance Film Festival, and played at NewFilmmakers, Bravemaker Film Festival and had its Los Angeles Premiere at the world-famous Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

The film will be available on Amazon Video, Apple TV, Google Play, Tubi TV and of course Indie Film Hustle TV. If you watch it on IFHTV you will get bonuses like an exclusive commentary track by me on how we shot an entire feature film guerilla-style at the Sundance Film Festival while the festival was going on, in 4 days, with a crew of about 3-4 people. You will also get to watch raw behind the scenes of the making of the film, a total of over 6 hours of filmmaking goodness. On the Corner of Ego and Desire is available for rental, purchase, and part of the IFHTV subscription.

If you want to watch the film just go to www.egoanddesirefilm.com. If you have already read Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Film into a Moneymaking Business, I use On the Corner of Ego and Desire as a case study in the book and discuss not only the making of the film but how I’m monetizing the film as part of my Filmtrepreneurial Model.

During these crazy times, I thought that the Tribe could use a laugh so I decided to release the first 10 min of the film online for everyone to get a taste of the madness that is On the Corner of Ego and Desire.

If you want to watch the rest of the film for free you can go to Amazon Prime or Tubi. If you want to rent or purchase the film to give a bit of support to IFH then you can go to IFHTV.com or iTunes. Enjoy the sneak preview of On the Corner of Ego and Desire. 

I breakdown the making of the film in my book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business (FREE AUDIOBOOK) Here is an article where I broke down the making of in some more detail Filmtrepreneur Breakdown: On the Corner of Ego and Desire.

If you like what you see please leave a review on Amazon and/or IMDB. It really helps the film find a larger audience.

Watch the film on

Please share this post with every filmmaker you can. On the Corner of Ego and Desire is my love letter to the struggles and insanity that is being an indie filmmaker. Keep on hustling!

IFH 362: Attack of the Film Threat with Chris Gore

Right-click here to download the MP3

Today on the show we have the legendary indie film champion, Chris Gore. Chris is the founder of Film Threat, a magazine that’s mission is to champion indie filmmakers while giving the middle finger to the Hollywood establishment. In this episode, Chris and I speak about the glorious 90’s indie film scene, his time being a part of the geek channel G4, his new documentary Attack of the Doc and the state of indie film today.

I’ve been a fan of Chris’ for years. I even ran into him on my first trip to Sundance back in 2005. Chris also wrote the guerrilla guide to marketing and selling an indie film, Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, 4th edition: The Essential Companion for Filmmakers and Festival-Goers

Here’s a bit of history on  Film Threat.

Film Threat began as a xeroxed fanzine started by Chris Gore and Andre Seewood in 1985. Only 500 copies of the first issue were printed and then distributed on the campus of Wayne State University on February 6th, 1985. It was on that campus that Gore and Seewood earned a reputation as disruptors by playing pranks on the film department and even going so far as to fake Gore’s death to promote a film screening. Seewood left after a year and Gore continued to grow the magazine beyond its xeroxed roots into a fully printed magazine.

Chris Gore moved the magazine to Los Angeles in 1989 and opened an office at the Cherokee Building on Hollywood Boulevard. In 1991, Larry Flynt acquired Film Threat which then split into two magazines – Film Threat was owned by LFP and Gore continued to champion underground filmmakers in the pages of the newsprint sister publication, Film Threat Video Guide edited by David E. Williams.

Gore briefly left the magazine in 1995 and Film Threat was then headed up by Paul Zimmerman. After Larry Flynt chose to cancel the magazine in 1996, the rights reverted back to Chris Gore. During the paper crisis of the late 90s, Film Threat printed its final issue in 1997

The Film Threat website launched just before the print magazine’s demise in 1996. Only two issues of this new incarnation headed up by Gore were published, a third issue which was completed never made it to the printer. Gore expanded the Film Threat website offering an email newsletter that contained reviews and news. The site expanded with extensive coverage of independent films and film festivals. Gore sold the website to Mark Bell in 2010. Bell headed up the site for the next five years with the rights reverting back to Gore in 2015. After an unsuccessful Kickstarter in 2015, Chris Gore chose to shut down the site for good. After public outcry over the site’s absence, Gore launched a new Kickstarter campaign in 2016 which succeeded. The website relaunched on February 6th, 2017, exactly 32 years after the first xeroxed issue debuted.

No matter the drama that occurred behind the scenes during its tumultuous history, Film Threat has always supported emerging indie filmmakers looking to make their mark. Film Threat’s mission continues…

If you love indie films then you will love this episode. Enjoy my conversation with Chris Gore.

Alex Ferrari 0:32
Now guys, today on the show, I have a very special treat for you. You know before the internet before so much information was available about indie film and all the things that we take for granted today. There was a time where that wasn't around. And in that time you were looking just searching for information about indie film about the latest filmmaker that just got signed to a multimillion dollar deal or how to even go to festivals, what to do with festivals with the film this information was not around. But there was a beacon of hope. And it started with a little magazine called film threat. And film threats been around since the 80s. And they've been a champion for independent filmmakers ever since then. Now the magazine and now website was founded by Chris Gore. And Chris is a very legendary figure in the independent film space. He wrote the definitive Film Festival guide Chris Gore's ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, the essential companion for filmmakers and festival goers. And he was also a member of the cast of the long running show talking about not only film, but geek culture in general Attack of the Show, from the TV channel, G4. And again before everybody and their mother had a YouTube channel talking about geek culture and independent film, g4 was really the revolutionary starting point of that along with film threat, and Chris was involved with both, he has been a champion for independent filmmakers, ever since he launched film threat. And I, I actually had the pleasure of running into Chris, at my very first Sundance Film Festival back in 2005. And you'll hear that story in this episode as well. I wanted Chris on the show, not only because, you know, I've been a fan of his and what he's been doing for independent filmmakers for all these years. But he also has a brand new documentary that he's putting together called Attack of the dock. If you guys were fans of Attack of the Show, he's putting the whole documentary about the whole show, interviewing everybody, including the original hosts, and all the people from behind the scenes and everybody involved with the show. And I was a big, big fan of the show back in the day. And Chris actually launched a Kickstarter campaign to get this documentary off the ground and boy has it ever it is gone like I think almost double if not almost tripled what he was originally asking for, and we need more help to get this documentary off the rebel. We'll talk about that as well in the show. But if you want to just know about independent film, what it was like to be in the glorious 90s when all of these filmmakers were up and launching Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, all these guys, Chris was able to not only be in the room but talk to these filmmakers at the beginning of their careers and throughout their careers as well and he is just a wealth of information about independent film and the independent film scenes. So without any further ado, please enjoy our epic conversation with Chris Gore. I'd like to welcome the show the legendary Chris Gore thank you so much sir for being on the show, sir.

Chris Gore 5:33
Well, I don't I don't get it I don't get introduced often is legendary. So thank you for that.

Alex Ferrari 5:38
Well, like I was saying, like we were saying OFF AIR You and I are of similar vintages. So we've, we've walked over the same dead bodies that sent as many a day

Chris Gore 5:49
Like a fine bourbon. That's what we're like. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 5:52
Exactly.

Chris Gore 5:53
We've been through all that.

Alex Ferrari 5:55
Oh, we got the shrapnel without question. We got some shrapnel in this business.

Chris Gore 5:59
For sure.

Alex Ferrari 6:00
So I actually I met you once you you don't remember I'm sure. But I met you once in oh six at the Mexican Cantina in the slam dance building in the slam dance hotel.

Chris Gore 6:13
I Oh, I remember that. I remember that. That was fun. That was usually where they have an open bar.

Alex Ferrari 6:18
Right, exactly. So it was that time and I was just starting out like it was like 2005 2006. And I remember meeting you for a minute. And you're like, Hey, how you doing? Man? That was and that was it. It was like, you know, real quick. It was good. People were going crazy. They were all around you stuff. But I never forgot that. And I've always been a big fan of film threat, which is a company so that you started. So I mean, we're going to talk for a bit. So I know we're going to get into this. And I know we could probably have a weekly show together. At this point. Yeah, we weave into By the way, everyone listening Personally, I've been talking for about an hour prior.

Chris Gore 6:51
Yeah, we've been trying to solve some sound issues, which I hope it sounds good. But also just like our conversation like that, we should have recorded that.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
It should have figured that to film geeks just talking. Yeah. Alright. So how did you get in this whole world of independent filmmaking in the first place?

Chris Gore 7:07
Well, I first of all, let's start back at the beginning with the first issue of film threat which came out in February on February 6 1985. And I was obsessed with the book Dune when I was in high school. I read it every year. Love that book. And then the movie came out. It was a colossal disappointment to me. Because I love David Lynch. I mean, David Lynch was an inspiration who was one of the filmmakers I loved I was fortunate enough to have parents who really were you know, encouraged reading and alternative media I went to see a lot of World Cinema I grew up like watching a lot of World Cinema as a kid. My mom would encourage me like go to the art house. Don't go see those movies at the mall. Right? And I remember growing up sort of hating john Hughes movies. I know everybody loves them, but I think the only one I liked was Ferris Bueller. Anyway, so that resulted that sort of like anger, the disappointment of Dune led to the first issue of films right, which was started with a guy named Andre seaward, who was my best friend at Wayne State University. We since parted ways, and I kind of took every issue of film threat just kind of got bigger than the last one. But really, my heart is in anything. I mean, it wasn't you know, back in 1985 independent film that word wasn't used. No independent film was born, I believe in 1989. Yes, so sexualized videos, when the United States Film Festival changed its name. Yep. When sex lies and videotape played that festival, and it had already the video rights are gone, but the theatrical rights were available. And then it went to Cannes won the Palme d'Or. And I believe that 89 is the year indie film was born. And then filmmakers like Spike Lee, you know, Jim Jarmusch, they were coming up there though. They were considered art films. But really, it was 89 I believe is when independent film was born. And then from then, you know, film thread covered anything that was considered cult alternative film that was sort of where focus was, but once that term was born, it was like, Oh, yeah, these are, these are all indie movies. You know, when you look at like, the landscape, and just you know, we had such a great conversation before this, you started recording. We're talking about just so how much because I actually understand what Coppola and Scorsese are trying to say. They're not I don't believe that the necessarily against these films but but the point is, is that they take up the oxygen on the room, they take up the conversation so that when you look on YouTube, the space that YouTube when people talk about movies, they obsessive Li talk about Star Wars, they obsessive Li talk about Marvel movies, and I feel like you've if you exist on a diet of Disney, Pixar Star Wars Marvel, it's gonna be bad for you. You know, it's sort of like eating living only on carbs. You know, it's not good yet. You got to have a balanced diet. You have to have a balanced diet and I believe a balanced Media diet is healthy little world cinema in their little independent film, some documentaries there. And then when the one Star Wars movie that comes out every two years and disappoints you, it's not going to be such a colossal disappointment, because you, you augmented your media diet with other types of movies. So the whole purpose the mission of films, which hasn't changed for the beginning, is to champion these films and give them a voice. So every day you're discovering new filmmakers, you're you're reading about short films, you never would have heard about playing at festivals. Every day, we post between three to five reviews daily, everyday, never not even on weekends. When we're at a festival. It's even more 10 or 15 reviews a day. From a diverse group of writers located all over the world. We have a writer in South Korea, oddly, who teaches English as a second language. Adam Keller he contributes reviews to the site so it really is many voices talking about all these films that you would never have heard about had you not gone to the website.

Alex Ferrari 11:01
And there's and there is a need for that now because I do agree with you like I ended look when Mark and Marty and and Francis you know because I know them personally obviously. So Marty and Francis said that what they said I I got the the there's a lot of people were like, oh, they're just the old grumpy men and there's a there that I get what they're saying. And look, look, it's Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese could say whatever Martin Scorsese wants to say. What he did do, though, is piss off. millions, if not billions, of people who have an emotional attachment to those films. Kevin Smith said it very clearly goes, Marshall says he doesn't have any attachment to these characters. But you and I do because we grew up reading those comic books and we're and and, and and really loving that that kind of culture of the other comic book culture. So they mean a lot to us. Like, you know, when I watched Avengers endgame, you know, and you know, what if Look, if no one's seen Avengers endgame, and I give a spoiler out right now, it's on you. I'm sorry. It's made like $3 billion. It's on you guys. But you know, when when what happens to Robert Downey happens and, and those characters and when all of them get to get like, there was so emotional, and you know, there's tears, you're coming down your face. That's what cinema is, if you're able to pull an emotion out, that is what cinema is. So to a certain extent, those movies are cinema at a very high level, not you know, not like boogy Buju kind of you know, very high class level, but it's doing what cinema was built to do. But I agree with what your comments are where it's you can't eat Look, it's just like when you have kids and you and they're away and they just eat pizza and ice cream all day. If you give if you if I gave my girls pizza and ice cream all day they would eat it they would eat it but they would they would pay for it. Right and i think i think what you're saying is perfect.

Chris Gore 12:58
Well I Yeah, I agree and also I think a lot of people forget that those Marvel characters not just about the movies you know this last decade of the Infinity saga it's the you know legacy of these characters in groundbreaking comic books also brought to life via animation I you know, watch those old 60s cartoons which are based on the original like a lot of the original jack Kirby art you know, with limited animation you watch those now they don't really move a lot that's what I thought they were based on the comic books so here it is an I get this is gonna sound cheesy, but every time that Marvel logo would come up and I'd hear that sort of music swell, I get chills and choked up because I grew up reading Stan Lee I mean when I was like you know seven eight years old I'm reading these comics now they don't hold up as well but they were operatic they were Shakespearean they were they were dramatic they were so so it's all that emotion built up not not you know from that and the movies so but at the same time, I love I saw the Irishman and I will say this let me confirm something for you. They are not going to make an Irishman theme park ride that's never going to happen

Alex Ferrari 14:01
Never ever

Chris Gore 14:02
It's not going to happen

Alex Ferrari 14:03
Is there's going to be Irishman t shirts or lunch boxes.

Chris Gore 14:06
No action figures that are one six scale you know Denero character. It's not going to help.

Alex Ferrari 14:11
I would I would pay for that by but I haven't seen the movie i would i would get

Chris Gore 14:15
This got her someone's got to have made a Travis Bickle. One six scale action figure happy with someone during Halloween cosplay is Travis Bickle. Halloween are at like Dragon Con. That's what I've seen those care. But see, you know, while I love this mainstream stuff, I understand it for what it is right? It's also, you know, these these corporations that are built on a world market now, not just the US market. So there are all types of different concerns. I think I think Francis Ford Coppola said it best when he was saying that studio filmmaking has evolved into factory filmmaking. It's factory filmmaking now they're just, this is what they make. They make factory films and it's made for the widest possible audience and you know, I like a good popcorn movie, but I also like a Like, you know, I saw this movie The other day, it was sort of a low fi sci fi movie called the other Tod. I think it's gonna be at AFM. I don't think it's even out commercially, but it was I see it. I'm dying to talk to the interviews on a podcast. But it's just you see that they made the movie they could with the resources they have. But if you look also Marvel they have really fostered a group of when you look at the creatives they go after they go after people who are you know, filmmakers, filmmakers, James Gunn, you know, like

Alex Ferrari 15:29
John Fabro, the Russo brothers,

Chris Gore 15:31
There was a they all came from indie film, they all had like movies at slam dance or something, you know what I mean? Like that, you know, so so I, that's what I think is great about Marvel, I think they've been the most successful of those entities. So I think Star Wars has had its share of problems. So that's, that's another, that's another conversation. But I really feel like a balanced media diet will make you appreciate a good studio movie, as well as appreciate a good indie documentary or whatever, like, my taste is all over the map. But I feel like, I feel like we're living in this golden age where there's so much of it. And that's why you need I, you know, I think people at least if they read films that on a regular basis, appreciate that we cover these types of films.

Alex Ferrari 16:18
Yeah, and they're not there's not a lot of coverage at these kind of films anymore. Like, as opposed to the early 90s. And the 90s, in general, which was a golden, it was the golden era of independent film, as we really won't know it today. Can you talk a little bit about because you were, you know, in the early 90s, in 8990 9192, in those those first six, seven years of the 90s, and 89. It was every week, there was a new masterpiece, it was every week, there was a new filmmaker, being crowned by someone in mountain Hollywood would come down. Usually, it's that one guy we'd like to I don't like to talk about. But of course, we all know who we're talking about. There was that one guy, but but the point is that he for whatever they he did bring up a lot of people on open doors for a lot of people. And as far as independent filmmakers are concerned, can you explain what the energies like cuz you were literally running in those circles back then, like

Chris Gore 17:15
It was it was, it was crazy. It was exciting. And we're doing you know, I'm actually doing a documentary about film threat, called film threat sucks. If you just go to YouTube, you can look up film threat sucks trailer, there's a sizzle reel that we put out there, which helped us get a deal to do a documentary. I'm I'm a producer on it. But I'm not directing it. I'm not like, I handed over 100 hours of VHS footage. But it's amazing. We've been going through the old film threat archives, because I saved everything. And at the time, those were letters. Let me explain what letters are letters is like an email, but on a really thin slice of wood. That's what that's what a letter is and used to mail them to people. And you would correspond any case, I saved all these letters. I have letters from Kevin Smith, actually, you know, just sending letters to filter up before he did clerks, right. Like he was a reader of films, right. In fact, there was an article on vice recently about the 25th anniversary of clerks and Scott Mosier and Kevin Smith bonded over being readers of film threat. But yeah, it was exciting. I mean, one of my experiences I remember being in the room, seeing because we did a set report on Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, right? We did a set report like this new filmmakers making a movie, it's going to be amazing. And got into one of the very first screenings to critics of Reservoir Dogs. And my memory of it was sitting there with a bunch of the people from the film threat crew, we would go to see movies and groups at that time. And we just looked at each other like oh my god, this is a revelation like this is like we're seeing like the anointing of a new, a new talent. And then I looked over and during the year seen, the critic from Entertainment Weekly got up and walked out and was like, horrified during that scene. Right so and, and it got kind of limited coverage and Entertainment Weekly. Of course, it wasn't till later. I feel like film threats always been the pioneer and on the forefront, but you'd get no points for that. It's like we discovered people early. We talked to those filmmakers at the beginnings of their careers. And then of course, they ignore us and so that they can do something with Vanity Fair. I think that happened recently with Todd Phillips who Todd Phillips to Joker, I I reached out to him on Instagram. I dm them. I'm like Todd, you want to do the film threat podcast. Never heard back. Phillips By the way, I knew him when he was a student at New York, New York, NYU. He ran the New York underground Film Festival he created it film threat released two volumes of VHS tapes at the time of shorts from the New York undergrad Film Festival and film threat also distributed Todd Phillips first feature film which was a documentary called hated ggl. And in the murder junkies, it was about Gigi Allen you during the making of that we're working. I remember sitting there in an office with David E. Williams, who was the editor of filter video guide and we're working on the the video sleeve for Todd Phillips movie.

Alex Ferrari 20:11
What is this VHS video stuff you speak of? I really don't understand.

Chris Gore 20:15
It was on magnetic tape and anyways, is the night before DVD,

Alex Ferrari 20:20
Ofcourse. Oh, and DVDs called and DVDs are sorry.

Chris Gore 20:25
Like, I know, I'm just as guilty as anyone else. I've I can't tell you how many times I've read bought Star Wars.

Alex Ferrari 20:33
Though I had the laser Desborough I had the lasers. I had the VHS I mean, come on.

Chris Gore 20:36
Yeah, I kept the LaserDisc. I still have the Criterion Collection definitive. I don't even I have nothing to play it on. But I own it. It's got a book anyways. But yeah, we got to call the GG Alan had died. I mean, he died tragically. And Todd Phillips went out to film the funeral. So we had to recut his movie. And we changed the rate of change obviously changed the video box that was in the middle of that happening. So we were kinda at the forefront of a lot of things happening because there weren't any other outlets really. I mean, film threat was, well, by the time it was 92, we split into two magazines, film threat video guide, and then film threat magazine. But my whole thing was I read this great essay years ago, which you got to find just look up on the internet that Matt graining had wrote about leaking subversive ideas into the mainstream. And he wrote a whole essay about this. And if you look at the Simpsons, oh, history, if that was done as a live action show, it could never have been done with the Simpsons commentary on drugs, religion, politics, the police, just everything. society in general, you could never do as a live action show, they would be they would be canceled as the kids say today. But, you know, that was my whole thing with film three is okay. We're going to sort of give it a mainstream, you know, candy coated shell, but then we're going to feed you underground filmmakers, like your Bucharest from Germany, or, you know, like, like, Allison Anders, or, you know, Kevin Smith, or, you know, these are the people that would be featured in film threat. And when you look now, I do think that back to Scorsese and copalis comment, like, the oxygen in the room is taken a little up a little too much. I think that it's really incumbent upon. I don't have to tell you this at all. But other journalists in this space to go, do you only care about clicks Do you care about click Beatty headlines? Do you only care about like, outrage and triggering people? Is it just sort of a thing of like, you know, there's a whole argument now, like Ray is the best Jedi who gives a shit? It gives a crap I have a daughter, I have a daughter, I'm glad that there's a female Jedi. I question that even like when the early Star Wars movies, I'm like, Are there no female Jedi? It just seems like film threat or Star Wars, a lot of different species, but not a lot of women in the galaxy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 22:53
And, and they didn't have an apparently they didn't have braas according to, according to Carrie Fisher back in the past.

Chris Gore 23:01
Nobody know. But it's just like, Look, these are these are stupid arguments. You know, I mean, these are just like, I mean, like you can like there's some Star Wars movies I like more than others, you can pick them apart. But if that's all you're spending your time on and spinning your wheels, you're missing out on hundreds, if not 1000s of incredible independent films and experiences. And my my whole thing, you know, there's been a controversy lately about white male critics, right, white male critics and whatnot. And, and I think the best thing we can do is constantly seek out diverse voices to talk about film. But the whole point of a movie is so that you can empathize with someone who isn't you so that I can empathize with someone who is not my same gender, or my same ethnicity. Or even maybe a spork? Right, you can sport

Alex Ferrari 24:01
I absolutely. I empathize with the sport I

Chris Gore 24:03
saw guys with a sport or someone who's not your same sexuality shaped like, who doesn't share your same sexuality the whole point. And this is why I love going to Sundance or film festivals that champion these films, and this diverse group of filmmakers and always have I talked to a friend, journalist recently I won't name who was complaining that Sundance has become so woke lately. I'm like, how long have you been going to Sundance it was always woke, just we didn't use that word. It's just whatever. We use the we overuse these words in a divisive way, when really, it should be about experiencing the world through someone else's eyes. And I think once you have the opportunity to do that, you're forever changed as as I have been by so many of the films that I have seen at Sundance in slam dance and South by Southwest and Tribeca in Toronto, and asi and so many of the festivals that I've had, I've have been honored to to be a part of and and have that opportunity, I know you as well. So I really think that a diverse media diet in film will just be eye opening to so much more that you that you can see.

Alex Ferrari 25:15
And I want to talk about about that was grant

Chris Gore 25:18
Sorry about that. I guess it's fine. It's fine. But if I could Mic drop this mic, can I tip it over?

Alex Ferrari 25:24
You could No, don't tip it over, please, for the sponsor for this up. I want to talk to you about the there's an 800 pound gorilla in the room that we always talk about in film in the film festival world, you wrote an amazing book called The ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, when there was no internet, really. And there was no other information about film festivals like this was the Definitive Guide to dealing with film festivals and doing all that stuff. You know, you've been going to Sundance arguably the very beginning. I've been going to Sundance for probably since 2005, I think was my first one. So I've been I've been there

Chris Gore 26:00
96. But I sent other people from film thread to cover it. Right? It's but you actually Eugene Hernandez of, of indie wire, on behalf of film threat actually went to Sundance right back in like, I don't know, 91, maybe 82.

Alex Ferrari 26:18
So you know, Sundance has always been kind of like the the crown jewel of the independent film world. And it's because they crowned so many kings and queens at that festival at a certain point in time they did. And that myth that mythos, of Sundance has has, it's still ringing To this day, where filmmakers believe that if you go into something, you get into Sundance, and you God forbid, when Sundance your entire life will change forever. With that said, Absolutely, if you get into Sundance, you're going to get attention. You're going to get some people but I know many Sundance winners who couldn't sell their film. Never got a callback,

Chris Gore 26:56
never. I'll give you this statistic, it's 80% of the films that play Sundance have no distribution, two years after Sunday, Sunday, so so that that myth that it's it's all going to change, I think it'll change for attention. I also think that it might be better to go to a smaller Film Festival, like dead center, you know, or something like that in in Oklahoma, like, where you you be as part of a smaller group, right? So I look on, I look on playing festivals is sort of, you know, this sort of tour, but if you look at you break down the movies that play Sundance, right, which is north of 200, right? south of 300. When you look at the films that play there, there's a certain percentage that are meant to get attention these budget studio movies, right?

Alex Ferrari 27:46
Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. Like, because when I was going, and even the 90s, there was no mini majors, there were no independent film was clerks. That was an independent film, not a $27,000 movie, or, you know, or, or six days a videotape, which was arguably a little bit more expensive at that time. But it was that range. Now you're talking about $10 million movies with, with stars that we know. And that's the

Chris Gore 28:10
indie. Well, but having said that, yeah, cuz I think this is the weird, I tend to look at the arguments on all sides. Okay. Okay, which probably makes me All right, at these days in this political climate fair does, I want to have some understanding of where things are. But there's a section of Sundance that has all these star films, they're star driven, right, with big actors. And a lot of what I'll say is, sometimes Sundance feels like a wrestling match, where the results of the wrestling match are, you know, determined, before the match begins, meaning a lot of films will go to Sundance, they already have distribution. And it's really about sort of kicking off our premiere. So it's a movie that is going to be on HBO in a month anyways,

Alex Ferrari 28:53
why Netflix, or an Amazon or

Chris Gore 28:55
Netflix? Yeah. And you know what, that's okay. Because those movies that have these big stars attract the world media, so that a new filmmaker who just made a movie with nothing, has the chance to get some some attention in the midst of all of that. So there still exists this desire to champion new up and coming filmmakers, the person who sold his collection, to, you know, to finance a film, Kevin Smith, with clerks. And that you know what I mean, that still exists. But the thing that gets and this is where I'll go back to the lazy media, the media is just lazy. They are the ones that only pay attention to those big films that are coming to Netflix are coming. You know, you're we're talking about filmmakers that can't afford a publicist. Right, which is why in my book, I actually tell you like, here's DIY publicity, and I would argue, looking back because people have asked, Are you going to rewrite it? And I look at the core information of the book hasn't changed. The mediums have changed, you know, now you can do a Snapchat, but I once argued with an indie filmmaker once I said you know, you can play the festival circuit, or you could take your 80 minute feature film, divided up into two minute segments, release your movie as an app, and more people might see it. Radical I know, but I feel like you have to be creatively radical. Because if you look at indie film, to me is on the forefront always of new ways of selling. And it even if you look at the way that studios sell their movies, they're using underground and guerilla marketing techniques to market in the big budget studio films, especially if you go to something like San Diego Comic Con, which is this big pop culture event that I've gone to that's also kind of, you know, experienced the same problems as Sundance. And that that problem is both Sundance and San Diego Comic Con, are victims of their own success. So no question. Exactly. But as a filmmaker, you have to try for that. But you always have to have a plan B, because that you got to have a plan B of like, you just have to assume you're not going to get in, but there's no reason not to try I mean people win the lottery, right? So submit to Sundance Toronto south by you know that you know the drill, and then and then submit to these smaller B festivals, you might not and or just take the pathway of getting your locking in your distribution. If you reach certain creative benchmarks. You can and you're able to backwards engineer, I co wrote and produced a film years ago called My Big Fat independent movie. And I just looked at like, well, what movies and then that's a it's a dumb spoof parody film. It did. Okay. 23% on Rotten Tomatoes, by the way, I just I don't want to plastic. I don't want to brag. I think that's still

Alex Ferrari 31:39
out there. Is it still out there? Do you own it still? Um,

Chris Gore 31:41
I got the rights back. And at some point, there'll be a digital release. Oh, you haven't released it digitally yet? Not digitally, but it is you can find it. Look, you can find it used on DVD on Amazon for like $2.

Alex Ferrari 31:53
Right. But you're going to do it but you're going to do a digital release on it. What

Chris Gore 31:55
did you did your release just so we can bring it to HD? Right. Okay, sure. So, so but like I just sort of backwards engineered like, Well, what do people in the space pay for this movie at this level? What are the kind of actors that we need to have in it? We had like Paget Brewster, Clint Howard, Bob Odenkirk has a big part in it. Like, I sort of backwards engineered what these movies make. And then so how much I should I should spend on the budget.

Alex Ferrari 32:24
Amazing. It's amazing. Like, do you thought this way? This is revolutionary?

Chris Gore 32:28
It's basic, isn't this? Yeah, I think it's because I I've always been somewhat entrepreneurial with launching film threat when I was effectively a kid, teenager at to, you know, just like I came from a pretty poor family back in Detroit. My parents got divorced. And I was young. I never knew that we were poor until I got to high school. And I'm like, what's with this all this ski club? And I think I might have had like two pairs of pants, you know, at the time, but like, I didn't care. I you know, I feel like and you're a father, I'm a father. I feel like when when when children are loved money, who doesn't matter? It doesn't if there's love in that family, you know, you figure everything else out, you figure Exactly. So I was so frustrated by like, I wanted to go to USC because my hero George Lucas, you know, bring it back to Star Wars. I wanted to go to USC and I could not afford to go to USC at all it was it was not an option for me. And I remember visiting my uncle in California and begging my mother to take me to the campus of USC, I walked into the campus bookstore, I bought a copy of every book I could it was a huge stack spent $200 on books. And then I wrote down the titles of every film and every every book, and every author and I read every single one of the books that the kids who went to USC film program, I read all those books. And then in my film class, which was at Wayne State University, basically a commuter college. For the I wrote, I typed out a list is two page list of here's all the books that the kids at USC read. We should read these books. I mean, I was I was so annoying in college. Not that that's changed.

Alex Ferrari 34:09
Oh, I was I was to my friend.

Chris Gore 34:11
Okay. Young, dumb and passionate. Yeah. So but I read all those books and I was just obsessed with like, well, I'm gonna get the same education I just and then you know, look, I'm a college dropout who wrote a book that some some colleges force you to read, you know, asi, USC, UCLA, I do speaking engagements there every once in a while and I'll, I'll point out that like you're paying for this education. I'm here speaking in front of you. And I'm a dropout because I looked at the money I was spending is just a clear choice for me. The money I was spending to go to college because I was working three jobs. I still had newspaper routes when I was in college.

Alex Ferrari 34:49
What is this newspaper you speak of?

Chris Gore 34:51
Yeah, exactly. It's another thing. And I was like, I can just read these books. I don't need to regurgitate to a professor to prove to this Professor that I had read the book, I can just read the book on my own. And then I started reading books about like how to publish a magazine, I read a book about marketing called which I, which is an A new edition, which I highly recommend called marketing warfare. And it's a history of marketing, which I read this when I was like 20 years old, you know, like these were in the wheel. Well, it's like, if I'm going to do a magazine, I need to know how to market things. If I'm going to make movies, I need to know how to market marketing warfare. It's the history of rivalries in marketing offer, Burger King, McDonald's, Coke, Pepsi, why some brands choose to be they choose actively choose to be a second or third in the space. Because they can be you know, they can be more profitable in certain senses. So it's fascinating book that that walks you through the history of, of marketing these various companies. So and then I also read books at Ogilvy and Mather Mather. George Ogilvy wrote a book about advertising confessions of an ad man, which is a great book, there's so much information there on fonts. Because one day, I would love to design a font, but no concepts of font usage. I was obsessed with stuff like that when it came to print. So so I feel like you know, and look at Quentin Tarantino he dropped out when he's not that I'm comparing myself to him, but there's no correct pathway to being successful in entertainment. Medium. There, there are people who went to film school and did that route and, you know, have advantages with with with money. And there are those that take other pathways Spielberg,

Alex Ferrari 36:34
Spielberg didn't get it turned Tino, you know, dropped out of school. He was in eighth grade, do me he, but he's a special case. He's an outlier. Without question. He's an outlier. But you know, and I always, we're the only we're the only business that that there is no clear path ever. There really isn't. I mean, there's something there's certain, like, if you want to be an agent, or you want to be a manager, you know, you want to do TV, if you're able to get into one of those programs, maybe if you work up up the way, but those kind of have fallen apart. They're not as big as they used to be those kind of mentorship. You know, right? Where they used to be, that was the only way. But nowadays with the technology changing, look, you know, this is what I tell people all the time, the world is changing so rapidly. Our business what was true, six months ago is no longer true now in distribution in the cameras we're using, and how we're like, there's so much radical change, that by the time you're like, Okay, I got it, you're gone. It's already it's already moved by the point like, like, you know, what, I think I got this whole 4k thing down. I'm like, that's fine. They're shooting 10k now Do we need to shoot 10k that's a whole other conversation. But cuz, you know, if you shoot 10k, the same camera they shot Guardians of the Galaxy with, it's gonna make your film a lot better, regardless of story. But But, you know, so there's things are changing so rapidly that you can't just look at what's going on. Now you have to look and think about what's coming around the corner. And like, just on distribution side, you know, because you and I both have a friend in common Linda from indie writes, you know, I've learned volumes from her, because I've seen numbers and they're like, and I've seen it in my own work. And I've seen it in another filmmakers that T VOD is pretty much dead. You know, transactional video on demand is pretty much dead for independent filmmakers unless you can drive tremendous amounts of traffic to those areas. Now, it's s VOD, and a VOD. Three years, two years ago, when I released my first independent film, I made a lot of money on T VOD. I know guys who made $3 million off their first movie with an over the dedicated audience on TV. But now that's gone. And now people like and I hear them, I consult them all the time. They're just like, Oh, I think we're gonna go to iTunes. Why? Like, so that's why I'm just my point that things are changing. So there is no path.

Chris Gore 38:49
Right? It hasn't. You have to pick your own path. And you have to you have to build your own audience. I think that that's important with this cache. Part of the reason I was coming on here was to talk about this Kickstarter that I have going on, currently, that ends November 12. And, and part of what we're doing with that is building building audience so that when the film does come out, right, we'll actually have an audience that wants to sit that may have just heard about it. I think it will, it will help us in the space in terms of distributions. So So yeah, I've got a Kickstarter, it's for a film that I want to make called Attack of the dock and attack of the dock is about this television show called Attack of the Show on this network g4 that was huge really dominated the nerd space from 2005 to 2013. And the show went away yet you know, I'm still going to conventions and people are still asking me Whatever happened to attack of the show what happened to the show. So I want to through this documentary, taking a static look back at the show, revisit an interview people who were involved behind the scenes and in front of the camera, Camera. And then also take a look at how like geek culture has changed between 1005 when we were all excited about all these new tech and devices, and we get together, and we'd have this sort of collective conversation to the kind of divided space that exists now the sort of fracturing of fandom due to I believe, social media. So So sort of by looking at the taking a lens, and pointing towards our recent past and looking like, here's how we used to talk to each other back Back then, now, how are we talking to each other now, because I feel like I think I can talk about this here is like, one of the one of the threads that I intend to explore is the way we talk to each other online. I feel that we're not going to solve, not one of the world's problems, hunger, economic disparity, the world race, and racism, and none of those problems will be solved until we learn how to speak to each other respectfully on the internet. Because if you just spend time on the internet and see the toxicity that's on our various social media platforms, you would think that we're spiraling towards Civil War Two, right? Except then I go out in the real world, and I realize no one cares. Most people, when you interact with them, I believe, our friendly, I believe our you know, I mean, you know, I feel lucky

Alex Ferrari 41:29
that we all run into our asses. I mean, there's always there's always that dude, and especially,

Chris Gore 41:34
there's always gonna be that jerky person that you know, is gonna get captured, being an A hole, like on camera like that exists. And that is a small percentage that will never ever go away, that will never go away. But the majority of people that I experienced in all my travels, and see, this is also easy for me to say, as an old white dude, right? But, but it's, um, you know, I feel like it's not as bad it's not as hopeless as it looks. Maybe it's something that people are sort of exercising demons online, that sort of like, it's this little Gremlin that comes out this sort of evil angry Gremlin that, that people have that that sounds like a horror movie. I'm pitching now that people express that online and then and then in real life, for the most part. I mean, you hear Milena people complain about millennials all the time. I love millennials. I think they're, they're the most polite generation. I'm not gonna sit there and crap all over millennials. There may be some work issues with that, but I work with me there's millennials that work out at film threat, but for the most part, my experiences, they're awesome. So it's just a different if a different criteria. But but so for this, if you go to attack of the doc DSC comm, it'll point you to the Kickstarter, and you can check out the video that we made, which is sort of a taste of the things that we'll explore. We just actually did cross our first funding goal, which was to start shooting the movie is 25,000 just to start shooting, we want to reach next milestone, we'll release the movie on Blu Ray hardcopies, which was only because everyone demanded that we do it. Like there's so many backers were saying how come there's no blu ray, it's like, people still like I buy blu ray, I know. But I'm not I've never considered myself a traditional consumer. Sure I should. I'm not. I'm not normal in a number of ways. But but it also will give us a budget to be able to travel, take the production on the road. There's just there gonna be a lot of legal hurdles to overcome. But we're just looking to make those stretch goals. You know, I know you know a lot about Kickstarter campaigns. I'll just tell you the one the one thing I've learned is that the way to have a successful Kickstarter is to first have an unsuccessful Kickstarter. Yes. Yes. It's like market research. So I launched this campaign summer of last year, which I realized was the biggest mistake I could have made was the timing never launched a Kickstarter in the summer. People are not on the internet as much they've got other concerns. Make sure you're average. The other bullet point what I learned, correct me if I'm wrong, your average backer donation is going to be around $40. That's pretty average. Because that's what willing people are willing to part with. And like, you know, if I never see anything fine. And and so I learned that and then having an unsuccessful campaign gives you market research to readjust the campaign to make it a successful campaign. So that's what we did in the second incarnation. We had all of our ducks in a row. We had like campaign assets up for social media, going weeks out into the campaign that we would roll out little by little so there'd be original material, and then we would create benchmarks for our backers, and then we would incentivize them, you know, like, helping to promote the campaign. I make sure that when someone backs it, they get message private message from me immediately. If not, Well, I don't know, I haven't been on I gotta check my phone. But one of the hardest things I've learned about doing a crowdfunding campaign is this. It's like asking everyone you know, how much money do you like me? I mean, it is, is

Alex Ferrari 45:18
it's brutal. It's brutal. It's brutal. I hate I hate it. I hate doing Oh. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Chris Gore 45:34
It's, it's just it. When I say hate it, I love engaging with fans. Sure, I love doing. But it is the energy that it takes to keep keep the strain of the stress

Alex Ferrari 45:46
is addressed to someone like me, that someone like me enough to get me to where I need to be. It's, it's the crowdfunding. You know, like, again, if we were talking about crowdfunding seven years ago, it's a different ballgame. But now I get hit up daily. Hey, support microphone support microphone support mic, and they don't know who I am. I don't know who they are. And they just don't respect it. Just shotgunning it and it's just, it's just people are just so fatigued of especially filmmakers, friends of filmmakers are abused at this. Yeah, for

Chris Gore 46:17
sure. But I've contributed to quite a few of contributes about 5050 back 50 things. I'm selective, you know, back some tech projects, and there's a movie that I backed like two years ago, that's a remake of one of my favorite 1950s exploitation movies, the head that wouldn't die, or the brain that wouldn't?

Alex Ferrari 46:34
Oh, I remember that movie. Yes.

Chris Gore 46:36
So some filmmakers have remade it. And it's now going to hit the festival circuit. I'm really happy for them. I gave him some money. You know, so so I back campaigns myself. But you're right, it is a constant. I will say that the best and most effective way is a direct ask, is a direct directly asking people you know, really, we're just trying to get to a milestone where we can. And the one the other lesson, I would say that I've learned is, postage is way more expensive now than it used to be. So I limited the number of physical rewards that we're giving away. It's a very limited number of physical rewards. So I did that's mostly digital rewards is what we're doing.

Alex Ferrari 47:16
Seriously, it's very smart to do it that way. Yeah. Even if it's like a video of you like doing a call out or doing an interview with someone for five minutes or talking like that. That's a value. And exactly do.

Chris Gore 47:27
And what we're doing is, is if you go to attack of the.com, the campaign ends November 12. I hope that you jump in even like I tell people like if people will a couple of misnomers about about a Kickstarter is they don't charge you the money. You're not being charged money. You can back it today, you won't be charged until well, it's actually be November 13. Because it's November 12. At midnight pacific time is when the campaign ends, but people you're not going to be back. So I hear the excuse, oh, wait until payday. But I'm going to forget. The other thing is, is that if you back the campaign just for $1, which I do I do, sometimes I'll just back a campaign for $1. Because then I get updates about the movie, just for $1. It's just it's just $1. Right. And what we've been doing with the backers is we have backers only videos. So we'll send an update to backers. And it's this is a video that's a private link that only backers can see. And this is how we're going to continue the project the way we'll be doing it. Which I've talked to a lot a lot of friends who are documentary filmmakers a lot of part of my focus with the film threat podcast, which is not like anything like what you're doing. But it's it's I interview a lot of filmmakers and doc filmmakers in particular. But the method that we're going about to do this documentary is I'm interviewing everyone involved in the show. And I've been in a lot of documentaries, myself a lot. They'll interview me for 30 to 60 minutes. And I'm in the documentary for two minutes, if you're lucky, if I'm lucky, which is which is fine, which is fine. I respect the choices of the filmmaker. And I thought like Wouldn't it be interesting if all the people that contributed to this crowdfunding campaign, we would interview people from the show that are really interesting. Sometimes they're not the stars and the talent that we're on camera will interview people. We'll film all the all of it. And we'll release the audio of that interview as a podcast only for backers. Awesome. So you'll be able to hear the 30 minute 60 minute interview with one of the editors or producers on the show awesome. They might get used or maybe they won't be used. Right. So if we reach a certain age, but one of the things I put as our highest milestone, I don't. It's been really difficult to get there. Our highest milestone if we get it. What I'm planning to do is release. I don't know any filmmakers ever done this. We want to release all of the footage used to make the documentary onto onto a cloud drive so that backers could go and re cut their own version of the documentary. I've heard I could take Yeah, I I mean, I know like similar things that Trent Reznor has, in his music has released tracks where he'll split the tracks. So you can mix your own version of his songs, which I think is great. So because the viewers that want us to watch Attack of the Show were so creative. I mean, they called it the viewer army, right? There was this viewer army that something would happen on the show. And within hours, there'd be means and crazy stuff and people communicating that sense of community, that sense of community that I don't believe exists. I really feel that fandom is fractured from all of this divisiveness that's permeated the culture. And I have tried to inoculate myself and be immune to it. But it's but it's it's difficult to it's just ubiquitous, it affects a lot of things.

Alex Ferrari 50:46
I'll tell you. I mean, for everyone listening, I used to watch Attack of the Show constantly. I mean, I was I was addicted to the show. I love the show. I was telling you off air that I was on the show in 2005 for like a like a like a minute. When I was interviewed at a convention when I was promoting my movie monster Palooza. No, it was it was kind it was a horror con. It was a horror convention in Florida, I think was the Florida, Florida horror con or something like that. Oh, I forgot I forgot what it was. But there was a guy dressed as Dracula, interviewing me with a g4 microphone, I'll never forget it. And I would love to get that footage when they were saying maybe check archives.org I'll see if I can find it. But it was great. I love the show. And if you guys are if you want to see stuff about independent film, and fandom, this is definitely go there's plenty of the episodes I'm sure like floating around YouTube or something

Chris Gore 51:35
girl, a lot of that there's a lot of that stuff and unlike archive.org, but really, if you just follow Attack of the doc on social media, it's we have Attack of the doc on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you'll see we've been posting clips, when we tried to reach a benchmark if you know, if we reach this, we'll release the next clip. So we've been releasing clips every other day. There's ways for people to participate and spread the word. We also have a private discord where fans have been talking, what we're what we're doing is in a way, we're kind of reuniting that fan community, just to watch Attack of the Show in favor of doing this documentary and part of the crowdfunding campaign is to convince some of the talents that are higher up to be involved in the document,

Alex Ferrari 52:18
I know there's one specific, the higher up, I'm sure we all know

Chris Gore 52:24
you're going to be in it a little, absolutely, she'll be in at one mean, but my attention with it is to interview everyone over the course of about six months. Yeah, and interview Kevin and Olivia last, so that I would save them to the end to kind of like, tell their own story. It's also I need to earn their trust, they need to see some of the film and I'll be able to screen some of the movie for them. So that they'll see what my intention is. They they need to know that my intentions are positive that, you know, I'm not looking to do a warts and all gossipy to hell all, you know, like, and truthfully, there wasn't really a lot of drama behind the scenes of Attack of the Show. I mean, I was on the I was actually on the show from the very beginning because I was on screensavers before it was called Attack of the Show. And I was until the very end of the show. The only person even even Kevin wasn't all the way to the end he he had left and then the show continued for a short time after. So I was sort of one foot in I was on the show, but I was also a fan of the show. See, I used to watch the show too. But I wouldn't watch me. I already know

Alex Ferrari 53:30
what I remember your segments your segments would come in. And he was just there to talk about film. It was it was awesome. It was a lot of fun. Not much now is evidence of this this interview. Now I want to ask you, in your opinion, what is the greatest challenge facing independent filmmakers today?

Chris Gore 53:46
How to make a living? That's the greatest challenge is how do you balance? You know, your your passion and creativity with being practical. This comes from being entrepreneurial when I was a kid that also comes from, you know, having to have health care, because I have children. You know, like, you know, those things are when you have those realities like Well, how do you balance that creative passion? If you're a creative person, literally, you need to be creative, like you need air to live. Right? So how do I get that creative expression, create a positive feedback loop where you're getting useful feedback from your audience as a way to improve your creative muscles and also make a living doing it. That is the biggest challenge. So how do you have that balance? For some people, you know, myself, I've usually been fortunate enough to have a job. That was not a big time commitment. Right. So I'd have a side job working on other projects. And that side job would be a thing that would, you know, be my main source of income, but it only said to spend 10 maybe 20 hours a week on it and Then my 4050 hours a week would be fully focused on the film threat website or a movie that I'm working on or some other filmmaker that I'm trying to help write that I think is finding that life balance. I think the best answer to that question might have come from my friend Dan Mirvish, who I know you know, yeah, Dan, from slam dance, his advice in trying to reach that balance was marry a doctor. Because he always says that he is. His wife is I don't think he minds me quoting him. In fact, he is his wife's a pediatrician. She is the main breadwinner. He can go off and go and not the den also doesn't make money.

Alex Ferrari 55:42
Yeah, you know,

Chris Gore 55:43
then does make money doing, you know, making independent films. He just had a successful crowdfunding campaign himself.

Alex Ferrari 55:50
18 and a half. Yeah.

Chris Gore 55:51
Yeah, exactly. So so I think that that's smart. If you're in Look, if you have roommates, you know, if you're, look, you're an actor, you're comedian. You move to move to Los Angeles or New York. You're going to have roommates. Right? You got to I live in a small place. I'd show you my place, but you're seeing most of it. I have learned to live below my means. Right? Amen. I don't have extravagant taste. me God. This sounds weird. Like, I know people I friends of mine are foodies. I am not a foodie. It is driven. It's driven everyone. I've been involved in a relationship with crazy to that, like I'm just not a foodie. I don't really care about food. If I'm spending a lot of money on food, then how can I afford movies?

Alex Ferrari 56:44
Everywhere everyone's got their everyone's got their passions? It could be comic books, it could be statues are like a life sized Yoda.

Chris Gore 56:51
collection in the background, it's pretty awesome that Yoda Yoda is my Yoda is my favorite Star Wars character. Of course, small. You underestimate Yoda. And Yoda is a badass. So Yoda,

Alex Ferrari 57:03
yes was a lost puppy. With the widow. He's he's basically a Buddhist, essentially. And he's a method of Yogi in some ways,

Chris Gore 57:12
like, like finding that balance. That is the biggest challenge. So how do you as a filmmaker, because I see these filmmakers I have seen it, they get themselves $100,000 in credit card debt. And if you paid the minimum, you will 30 years more often, I think the estimate is 30 years. And you would pay three times the amount. It's ridiculous. It's, it's so don't get into debt. live below your means. come up with something that's sustainable. You know, I love that sustainability is now part of our larger conversation when it comes to recycling when it comes to food consumption. Well, you need to have a sustainable lifestyle as an artist. Yes. So having, you know, and also backwards engineering, you said you made your film for like $3,000 shot at Sundance, like, of course, you'd never tell anybody that

Alex Ferrari 58:02
i did i do all the time. I know, for my platform, it makes sense for me to tell anybody that

Chris Gore 58:07
right? But But like, you know, I know what it costs. I know what my friends who do Doc's what they spend, they spend upwards of $300,000 over a million dollars for some of these documentaries, I intend to make. I intend to make the best movie possible, really, we have to get around the 100 range. So this is our first round of funding, hey, we can start shooting you know, at least gets started. But we want to reach those milestones. So we can we can make the film that I think that that everyone involved will want to see us make the other great thing about it with these backers. I'm very excited as they can suggest questions. We plan to whenever we're about to interview somebody, we're going to throw it out to our backers, what questions do you want us to ask? Right? Then time to propose questions that we've gotten some really amazing suggestions. So this movie is going to be made, I mean, I'm technically producing and directing it. But it's, it's going to be this collective effort. And anyone who backs the campaign, if you back the campaign for $1, you're going to see your name going by and the end credits gonna be tiny. It's gonna be in a list. So I'm also be a producer on it. So

Alex Ferrari 59:19
but the other thing is, too, and I was I always preached this as well is the the whole concept of having an MVP, a minimal viable product. So the balance between what the budget can be and we could go deeper into like the audience, and can the audience justify the budget and so on and so forth that you're going to but if you have $100,000, but you can make the movie for $25,000. Doesn't it make sense to make three movies for 30 $33,000 because now you're diversifying your portfolio and now you have a much better chance of recouping your money as opposed to throwing it all on that you get one one hit at the slot machine. Now you get three hits at the slot machine

Chris Gore 59:56
because hell but but the you know, the more valuable asset is Time, because time and focus, you only need one good film to break out to increase your viability and to take sustainability to maybe break out and direct a Marvel movie. Who knows? So, so I do you think that focus, I know for me whenever and I, I'm the worst person to say this because I am juggling so many projects at once juggle film thread, but I am very good. I think if I one thing that I know I'm able to do is break down processes to have a method that will lead to a result. So that's how film thread is able to compete with websites that are have far more resources and money, how you know, I'm able to do content on a low budget level. So coming up with those processes is important. And another project. I'll announce it here right now. Film threat is putting on an award show. Oh, yeah, we're gonna watch your called award this award this you can go to award this calm or just follow award this on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, award this the intention of it is because I'm a big fan of award shows. I love the Oscars. I love the Independent Spirit Awards. But I think in the marketplace, I'm sure you've seen this. I kind of feel like some of these award shows are ignoring the vast library of films. In some ways some award shows have just become Oscars, Jr. Yeah, yeah. So like the same people that the Oscars are at all these other award shows? What's the difference? award, this is going to be presented in LA, it'll be you can't buy a ticket to the Oscars. You can't get into the Spirit Awards. You can buy a ticket to award this. So if you go to award this calm, you're going to be able to go to an event where we're going to award low budget indie movies, these are true indie films. We broke it up the castle 10. So

Alex Ferrari 1:02:04
10 million, so $10 million.

Chris Gore 1:02:07
These are gonna be mostly movies under 100,000 but indie, sci fi, indie, comedy, indie horror, you know, indie, LGBTQ films indie, like we're breaking it down by genre kind of like the globes does. But all indie films, indie ensemble cast, we are going to give an award to the biggest Oscar snub. So whatever the Oscars ignored, we're going to take all the people that were ignored, we're going to nominate them, hopefully one will show up. The purpose of this is because when you look at award shows and how they function and how political and it is, it's Bs, it's a lot of bullshit. I can can I swear on this?

Alex Ferrari 1:02:47
Yeah, it's still like you ever have

Chris Gore 1:02:48
already. I mean, it's, it's it's something you make up. But genuinely, we see so many of these films. I'm like, why? And I'm a big fan of documentaries. But there are genres of documentaries, there are sports documentaries, there are, you know, music, documentaries, there are pop culture documentaries, there are social issue documentaries. I happen to like all of those types of Doc's. But why do they compete with each other? We know when it comes to awards, giving. It's always a social issue documentary that ends up winning the day, and that's great. But they're all other types of films. So we've broken up our documentary films category into multiple genre categories. The and when is this? What is this? It's the award show will be presented on February 6 2020 20, which is, oddly enough, the 35th birthday of the first issue of film threat coming out. That's awesome, same day. So we're going to put on this award show. And then I'll tell you what, the eligibility requirements are very simple. All you have to do is be commercially released in the previous year. So 2019, okay, you have to be so it doesn't matter VOD streaming, it doesn't matter. Even YouTube. Did your movie is your movie commercially available to see in some form. I don't care if it's on crackle doesn't matter. There's only one other requirement you need to be reviewed on film. threat.com. Okay, so if you go to film threat comm there's a little button at the very top that says submit, just click on submit, submit your movie to be reviewed. And once you get a review on film, threat, calm, you're commercially available, you know, because when you played a festival, you may not have distribution yet. It's not commercially available. We want to make sure that we're championing movies that people can actually see in some form. So February 6, is the date award. This is the event. I hope that it grows as an event. So that's awesome. Yeah, so so that's happening. So I hope that you'll mention it to some of yours, maybe on some other podcasts or you know what other episodes of your show. I'm excited because I've always wanted Do I feel like there's just a whole group of films? Like I even my taste in indie movies is like I like troma movies as much as I like this documentary. Yeah. Lloyd Kaufman's a hero of mine. Sure, sure. But Lloyd Kaufman's never gonna win a Spirit Award. But I will say that Lloyd Kaufman there's there's a distinct possibility that he and or some of his films will be eligible to win awards that award this

Alex Ferrari 1:05:25
and he might get the Lifetime Achievement Award at award. This is you should probably you should probably give him the very first Lifetime Achievement Award.

Chris Gore 1:05:32
Well, I think so because if you know anything about Lloyd Kaufman was mentored and foster talent like James Gunn, who who is one of the longest existing may If not, if not,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:43
except for all armies except for corpsman maybe

Chris Gore 1:05:46
it's more maybe corpsman. But like how active is corpsman? Now I feel like he's like occasion trauma may be the longest existing Independent Film Company. in it. I mean, going to can since the 70s. Right. And he, he wanted five years. So like 45 years, you got to read. I mean, you just read Lloyd's book, go make your own damn movie, make your own damn movie. He's just I it's an amazing book. He

Alex Ferrari 1:06:09
was like one of my first interviews I loved I love Lloyd.

Chris Gore 1:06:12
His love Boyd is very practical advice. Very much like a guy who fights and has survived. So so this is what we're trying to do with this event is it's our film threats annual event to acknowledge these films and give them a voice. And because we see so many things that only come out there, just direct to VOD, like those direct VOD direct tv premieres, right, like, why shouldn't they have I mean, competing with other films that are in the same genre and space? Right, horror, sci fi. So that's awesome dude, though. So yeah, check it out. We did it as sort of a test last year, we just did it on YouTube. And this year, we're kind of upping the game, and every year, we hope that the event will grow.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:53
That's awesome, dude, that's awesome. Well, you're definitely put in, you definitely find the good fight for the independent filmmaker, and have been for many, many years. So I do appreciate what you do. And they try and you're trying to shine the light and throw a little oxygen over this way, as opposed to just the Marvel and Star Wars worlds, which we all love. But I think you're right, you do need that balanced diet without question. Now, I want to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Chris Gore 1:07:21
The advice I would I would give is to make a one minute movie that is good. One minute, and then what you do is you make a five minute movie that's good. Then maybe you make a 10 minute movie. That is good. When I say good. I mean someone who isn't You liked it? And scale. Sometimes I meet these filmmakers that are like, well, I'm just gonna go they've never made a short film. They never made it.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:48
I just need 3 million, I just need 3 million

Chris Gore 1:07:50
3 million. How do you know you need 3 million? Basically, you need to fail when, when it doesn't matter when no one's looking as a way to learn? Yes. So make mistakes, if you can make a one minute movie, which is a lot to ask someone, because I can tell you when you scroll through YouTube, you know, I'm as guilty of it as anybody 15 seconds. I'm not there. I'm out, you know, first first 30 seconds. I mean, our attention spans have definitely eroded. So take baby steps learn your mistakes when it doesn't matter. And, you know, don't that whole philosophy, fix it in post? No, fix it in prep.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:30
Fair enough. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Chris Gore 1:08:38
Oh, God. Wow. Boy, that is a big that's like a that's an Oprah question. That's a big question. I think I think, really what what took me a while to kind of grasp was just to think strategically. And by that I mean, for good, not evil. think strategically of like, why am I having this interaction with this person? For some, you know, a lot of instance, I'm just out to make friends. Because I think when you met me, when we were at that party, at the bar, I remember, at slam dance, I'm just out to have fun and meet people. And that's great, but like, but I think that you need to think about And by that, I mean, think about what is this other person? What do they want, right? Is there a way for us to have a something that's mutually beneficial? And I feel that the way I've been able to build film threaten these other things is I try to seek out people that have a similar passion, similar goals, similar, you know, just something we're we're on the same page, we're, we're on the same team. I like to take people on idealistic fool foolish crusades. That's what I like to do. So anyone I'm involved with, whether it's someone I'm working with on an award show this award show, if it's someone I'm working with on film thread, if it's our video team, you know, it's all like we have the same passion. So I look for and I also look, look the What I like to give is I would like to make sure that the people that I'm hiring get something more out of it than money. Because a lot of time there's not a lot of money. So you got to see, well, what does this person want? Well, they want to credit great to make that happen. I want to experience great, you're going to get experience. Because when you look at and this circles back to awards, when they ask people, do you want to raise your typical 2% raise in the corporate world? Or do you want to be acknowledged as the Employee of the Year, most people choose to get some sort of some form of acknowledgement by their peers, because people want the attention and acknowledgement. So whatever you can do to build someone up, whether you're building, building them up in a way that helps them sort of reach their next level that that I think, is the so learning how to mentor I think was the thing that was something I've learned, you know, I feel like I'm still learning, right? Like,I'm not

Alex Ferrari 1:10:56
We all are, we all are every day. Now. Now the toughest question of all three of your favorite films of all time.

Chris Gore 1:11:06
Oh, wow. See, that is one of those questions. Were you asking? If I were a robot, I would explode. But a couple responses that one is Night of the Living Dead, the original 1968 George Romero film, because it's so iconic, he created the john van, he created the zombie movie genre. And then what he did was because he created the rules, you die, you rise from the dead, you can only die by getting shot shot. Right? He created that and basically made it open source. So other creative people could come and build on that, that. Like George George Lucas or another creator, they'll be like, we need to own all the IP, including all the names, including all of this. It's like George Romero made this little independent film and other people made zombie movies. And his casting of Dwayne Jones in the lead has been, I think, is phenomenal. The fact that he did that, then I'm not sure if that's the first film that had an African American lead in the lead. But people asked, Are you going to change the script, you change nothing about the script, and it just added so much more meaning? The other film I would say is slacker Richard Linklater slacker. I was fortunate enough to see an early cut of it on a VHS that Linklater sent a handwritten note to me. And I think in a document an interview in a documentary talks about that maybe film threat might distribute slacker. You sent me a version it was 20 minutes longer than theatrical version. I saw it it like blew my mind. I, I just blew my mind that film like what you could do with this? You know, I mean, it's a day sort of day in the life of Austin, Texas, and meeting all these odd characters that really feels like Austin. I love that movie. And then I would say probably the original Star Wars, because that's really what set me on a path. It really is. If you if you think about it, it's one of the biggest independent films ever made, because George Lucas was truly an independent filmmaker. Right? So Star Wars,Slacker,Night of the Living Dead 1968.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:05
Good. Good. Good trio. Good trio. Now, where can people find you and find out more about what you're doing and everything else?

Chris Gore 1:13:12
Well, let's list all the things I'm doing right now. Go to filmthreat.com. And we're films right on everything on social media. And if you're interested in being a being eligible for award this go to awardthis.com, we're award this on everything. If you're interested in contributing to my documentary, Kickstarter, and I will send you a personal thank you note, which will come from me, we'll start a conversation on on Kickstarter, just go to attackofthedoc.com. We're also Attack of the doc on everything. And my personal social media, which, quite frankly, I don't use so much anymore. My feed is pretty much just retweets from all of those other places. is just um, That Chris Gore on everything. So just go to That Chris Gore, Twitter, Instagram, on Facebook, all of that stuff. Thank you for asking.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:03
No worries, no increase, man. It has been a pleasure. We could we could sit and talk about film for oh my god hours if we had we should do something in the future without question, I think was a lot of fun, man. But thank you so much for being on the show, man, thank you for doing everything you've done for you know, and I don't want to you're an Oji. You know, you're an original gangster, you're an original gangster in this space. And you've helped a lot of filmmakers over the years with film threat and with what you've been able to do for independent filmmaking in general. So I really do want to thank you for the work you do and are continuing to do it. Because a lot of people could have just, you know, walked away but you you stayed in the fight and now you're you're back with a vengeance with film threat again, and now you're doing an award show when you're doing the doc and you're doing so much that you're really just trying to push and push the independent medium back to where it was in the glorious 90s. But I appreciate everything you do, brother.

Chris Gore 1:14:57
Well, well, let's wrap this up. Because Hey, I want to Just say Happy Halloween to everybody. I'm actually I don't know if you noticed I'm wearing a weyland yutani jacket. You know stroma logo on here? This is my Nostromo crew jacket. Yes. So you got to get your kids out for trick or treating us? I don't know. I don't know. Wait, is it cool to celebrate Halloween anymore? I'm just, I'm just a little tiny employee.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:24
At the age of my girls. Yes, we'll see how long that they're they're still young. They're elementary still. So it's still I'm enjoying every Halloween as much as I can every Christmas as much as I can before it all goes to crap. So Chris, thanks so much. Thanks, man. Thanks for being on the show, brother.

Chris Gore 1:15:43
Take care.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:45
I want to thank Chris for being on the show and just sharing his indie film knowledge with the tribe. Chris, thanks again, if you want to help Chris, with his goal of getting his film Attack of the doc made, and more information about the film threat and what they do as far as reviewing independent films and putting a spotlight on independent filmmakers in general, go to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/362. And if you guys are going to be at the American Film market, I will be there Monday and Tuesday. And if you happen to be there Tuesday, please do not miss my talk on micro budget filmmaking, where I'll be moderating a panel on that subject is going to be at 2:30 on Tuesday at the AFM and if you're interested in meeting up seeing we grab some coffee, talk about shop and talk about all the stuff that happened with the stripper and your films and things like that. Just hit me up at [email protected] Or I am me on Facebook. That's probably the best ways to get ahold of me. I wish you nothing but the best on your filmmaking journeys, guys. And as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 282: So You Didn’t Get Into Sundance…Neither Did I

Right-click here to download the MP3

Well, it’s that time of year again when filmmakers around the world get that dreaded rejection letter from the Sundance Film Festival. Below is my rejection email:

RE:  On the Corner of Ego and Desire

Dear Alex,

On behalf of the entire Programming team for the Sundance Film Festival, thank you for allowing us to consider your film for the 2019 edition of the Festival. Unfortunately, we were unable to include it in our program this year. Ultimately, we are forced to make many difficult decisions throughout our process, and we consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to view the latest work from the independent creative community.

We received a record number of submissions this year (over 14,200), and the number of worthy projects submitted to us is far higher than the number of slots available in our Festival program. The level of quality displayed in the projects we receive is higher each and every year, so it is never an easy process. We wish you the best of luck with your film going forward and we are excited see more of your work in the future.

Sincerely,

John Cooper
Director, Sundance Film Festival

Did you read that, 14,200 submissions? Getting into Sundance is a lottery ticket for sure but it isn’t as important as it used to be. Here’s what Mark Duplass wrote about it:

Annual Sundance Film Festival rejection reminder: Sundance is awesome, but Sundance is not everything. So many incredible films don’t make the cut. Don’t let it get you down. If you believe in your film, keep pushing forward. There are so many new ways to get it there. Good luck! – Mark Duplass

My indie films have played in over 500 international film festivals around the world and it has been a great experience and I’ve even been to a few big festivals like Raindance and Cinequest. I’ve also been rejected by EVERY major film festival in the world. SXSW, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, AFI and the list goes on.

Film festivals are great. I loved them so much my recent film, which got that Sundance rejection email,  On the Corner of Ego and Desire was a love letter to film festivals, Sundance and Independent filmmakers everywhere.

You have to understand that film festivals are not the only way to get your films out there anymore. Sure, getting into Sundance would be AMAZING but alas it wasn’t meant to be and you know what…it’s OK. This should stop you from moving forward on your filmmaking journey. Festivals are run by people with tastes and opinions. Those tastes might not be in line with your tastes and that’s OK.

Maybe you made an amazing film but there were three other films about the same subject so they had to flip a coin. I decided to make this episode as a therapy session for any filmmaker who has been rejected from Sundance or any film festivals.

I hope it helps. KEEP ON HUSTLIN’ NO MATTER WHAT! Keep that dream ALIVE.

Alex Ferrari 1:49
Today's episode, I wanted to talk about Film Festival rejections and Sundance rejections specifically. But I think this is something that we all go through I think this time of year is very depressing for 10s of 1000s of filmmakers around the world. And I felt that I needed to be addressed because I think we need a little therapy session all of us just to sit down and talk about getting rejected and how you deal with getting rejected and and how you move forward afterwards. Now many of you know that I directed a film called on the corner of ego and desire which was shot entirely at Park City during the Sundance Film Festival last year. And as I was making it, I was really hoping that magically one day it would play at the festival that I do love. It's a love hate relationship. But I do love Park City and I love that festival going to it and enjoying it. And I really wanted to make something that was a love letter not only to Park City to Sundance, but also to filmmakers. And yesterday, I got the letter, the dreaded letter from the Sundance programmer, says the word unfortunately. And anytime you hear the word unfortunately, in a letter from a film festival, it's not a good thing. So it kind of hit me like a you know, it's a lottery ticket guys, you know Sundance has a lottery ticket, there was 14,200 submissions this year. It is a record number of submissions. And there's only 193 spots. So it literally is a lottery ticket if you get in. It's just it's just insane the odds of getting into the Sundance Film Festival and getting harder and harder every year. So don't feel too bad about it because you're in good company. There's many of us out there that did not get in. And it also by the way, doesn't mean that your film is not good. Sunday has doesn't always get it right. Okay. There are many reasons why things didn't go your way and then get your film into Sundance festival, festival programmers and people who are looking at your films at these festivals. It's just their opinion. It's just their taste. Sometimes it just doesn't flow for them. Sometimes it does. You know, the the film that I worked on that got into Sundance obsolete idea got accepted in 2010. But a year earlier, it probably wouldn't have gotten accepted a year later prior and got accepted. But that year was a perfect time for that film. So sometimes it's just the way the cookie crumbles man, there's not much you can do about it. So you are at the whim of programmers and people watching your film and sometimes and I've been in those rooms behind the scenes at film festivals and I see how it's done. A lot of times they're you know, now it's linked but before they used to put DVDs in and just watch it and if they don't like it within the first five minutes, it's gone. Move on next. And a lot of you know sometimes you get like programming interns. You get some kids Who might have a bad day watching this, um, you know, 1819 year old is the first level of defense, if you will, to get your film seen by the people that really matter really are decision makers and sometimes I won't even get past them. So it's just such a weird process. It's great if you get in, but if you don't, it is sad. It is depressing, especially for some of these big, you know, top tier festivals. But I just wanted to give you a little bit of hope here because there are a few films over the years that Sundance has gotten wrong. One of them being Chris Nolan's The following, which was Chris Nolan's very first independent film was shot on black and white, rejected by Sundance, and it was even rejected by slam dance, but then he resubmitted the year after and it got into slam dance the next year. Another film that got in or got rejected was the king of Khan, a fistful of quarters, which if you have not seen an amazing documentary about classic arcades, and the guy who has the quest to get the number one highest score in Donkey Kong, that was rejected and went on to make millions of dollars at the box office. Another huge, you know, mistake, if you will, that Sundance did was paranormal activity. Yes, Sundance passed on paranormal activity. And for everybody who doesn't know paranormal activity is officially the most profitable film of all time, because it costs about $15,000 to make, and went on to make three, four or 500 million, something like that, and launched an entire new genre of filmmaking as well as SQL PL SQL upon SQL. Another great movie that got rejected by Sundance is mad hot balloon, an amazing documentary that went on to grossed over $8 million at the box office in this one of the top 15 docks of all time. So you know, they're not perfect, and they don't always get it, right. It's just the way it is, guys, it is the pressing, we all want to go down that road. I've been down that road a couple times, not in the festival. But I've seen it from afar. I've interviewed many filmmakers who have gotten into to Sundance and, and live vicariously through them. But it's something that I just wanted to, I think it was something I needed to address because I was feeling a little down. But you know what, it's all good. I can't wait for on the corner of ego and desire to get on ifH TV to get out into the world through iTunes and distribution, there might be a little theatrical, we're working on that. There's there's other ways to get your movie out to the audience that needs to see it. understand something that festivals used to be the only way filmmakers could get their films out into the marketplace out into an audience. But today's world they're not as important as they used to be. These top tier film festivals are not the only gatekeepers of independent film anymore. In fact, honestly, there aren't any gatekeepers with YouTube and going direct to your consumer and doing all these kinds of things like range 15 did that made over three $4 million independent film and deuce of spades, which was a hot rod film that went directly to the audience and she's made hundreds of 1000s of dollars off of that film. You know, there are ways around it. Now you don't need film festivals. It's nice. Yes, I would love to have that Laurel, that says Sundance on the poster. I would love to have that Laurel that says South by Southwest or Cannes or Toronto, or many of the other film festivals out there. But you know what, it's not needed anymore. It's, it's great. And in mind, you guys, my films over the years have been in four or five 600, film festivals, something along those lines with all of my shorts and features and things like that. So I've been to a lot of film festivals over the years. And, you know, I was lucky enough to have on the corner of ego and desire actually get into a top tier Film Festival, which was the rain dance Film Festival in the UK. And I'm so grateful for that. And so I was so excited to get in. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it out there, because I'm just not rolling that hard just yet. Couldn't afford to go out there. But it was extremely exciting. And my first film this is Meg got into cinequest which is an amazing film festival. And I was very blessed to go and actually experience watching that watching that film on the big screen at at the festival. So and it is a great experience, but you don't need to go after the big you know, or spend all your money on all these top tier film festivals. You know, you can break up your budget, you know, friend of mine, Noam Crowe Noam crawl, who's going to be on the show very, very soon. He he wrote down that there's a percentage of his budget that he puts in like 20% goes to top tier submissions. 30% goes to mid tier, and then let's throw another 30 or 40% Have your marketing budget into more niche festivals, you know smaller niche festivals that you can get in. So at least you can get some exposure for your project and, and some, some eyeballs on your film, maybe get a few reviews and get some attention on it. But these big festivals, everyone's going for them. So the competition is very, very heavy at those film festivals. And don't forget guys, you know, at least 98% of all filmmakers, regardless if they get into these big film festivals or not are still going to end up being responsible for their own distribution or getting their own distribution. You know, just because you went Sundance just before, just because you get into Sundance doesn't mean you get a distribution deal. Those days are so gone, just because you get into Toronto or Sapphire, Cannes, or Berlin, or any of these big festivals doesn't automatically give you a check, and a big distribution deal. It doesn't work that way anymore. Getting into any of these top tier film festivals should not be your distribution plan. I've had that conversation with too many filmmakers over the years. I go, what's your distribution plan, I'm like, Well, I'm gonna get into Sundance and sell it for 10 million bucks. That's just the way it goes. No, that's not a distribution plan that is a lottery ticket. So have another plan in place, Jeff. And that rare occasion that you might not get into any of these top tier film festivals. And I think Film Festival should be part of your release strategy part of how you're going to get your film out into the world. But it shouldn't rely on it 100% you should spread that thing out diversify different areas of your release strategy. So you submit to some festivals, but then go after some maybe smaller niche festivals, like I said before a mid tier festivals, think about live events, or doing a theatrical your own theatrical release through tug, or one of these other the utricle release services. You can go to schools, you could do tours, you could do workshops around it. You could do screenings, I mean, do spades, and I'll leave a link to her her interview, which is just legend, just search and mazing faith Granger, such an amazing interview with faith about what she does, she literally goes around the country screening her film charging tickets at these events that are where her audience is. So why couldn't you do something like that as well? Would it be even better sometimes to take all the money you would have submitted to film festivals and put that all into marketing online, into Facebook ads into Google ads or YouTube ads? to target an audience that you know you can penetrate to get eyeballs on your film and self distribute your film? You know, is that a possibility? It all depends on the film and all depends on the budget and genre and so on. But that's another option. You know, I don't want you guys to get too beat up about it too depressed about it. You know, I've gotten out to the point where I you know, it's like, hey, if I get in great, it's a surprise. It still hurt because I really thought that ego and desire had a great chance of getting into it because it was it's literally a love letter to Sundance. But and to filmmakers, but you know what it didn't happen. And also, by the way, got rejected by slam dance as well. So it's all good. You know, sometimes it's politics, too. Don't forget, a lot of this has to do with politics. Meaning, you know, is this the right film for us? It's just all a such a human experience manages, like people's opinions and people's tastes. It just it's all Bs, man. It doesn't mean that you don't have a good film. All right, just look at what you've done. Be proud of what you done. And just think outside the box a little bit. And sure, every year if I have a feature film, I'll submit it to Sundance. Why? Because it's literally the lottery ticket. It's just like, why not? You know, it's it's not that much money just to submit it. Let's Let's go VMs as long as you don't do it too late. But you know, just just don't get too depressed guys. And I wanted to kind of do this as a therapy session for all of us, that have gotten rejected by Sundance this year and are getting rejected on a daily basis by film festivals around the world. Your doesn't mean that your movies not good. Just keep talking. Keep going. And keep hustling man. It's all good. I promise you it will get better. It's not the end of the world. I do promise you that. So I hope this episode helped you a little bit get through your rejections and, and hopefully will help you get through rejections in the future. Please bookmark this episode. So when you get rejected by a film festival, you can come back and listen to it hopefully will make you feel a little bit better about where you are and what you're doing with your life. Just because you got rejected doesn't mean that you need to stop doesn't mean that you need to quit. None of that. So you've got to keep hustling. You've got to keep going no matter what These are just people's opinions. These are just people's tastes. If they don't line up with yours, it's okay. You're in good company, many of the biggest filmmakers around the world, never got into Sundance never got into can never got into South by Southwest, or Toronto, or Tribeca, or Berlin or Venice. It's okay. You're in good company. make art that is important to you make films that are important to you, that you love, whatever the genre is, and make it with every bit of heart you have, make it as authentically as you can, and make it come from you as an extension of who you are of your soul. And I promise you, it will work out, it will work out, be smart about how you get it out there. And don't just hang on the lottery ticket. All right. Again, I hope this episode was helpful to you guys, I'm going to put some links to some of the movies. And some of the things I talked about in the episode at the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/282. And tomorrow, I will be releasing all the films and courses and interviews and everything else I have going on for IFH in December, and it's going to be great. And I'm going to be playing around a little bit, probably December, I'm going to release everything at once. But then starting in January, I'm going to start releasing things weekly, as opposed to doing it all as a big chunk, it helps me out. It also keeps things helpful to you guys, so you can kind of keep track of everything going out. So I'm gonna play with that. Maybe I'll do it this month. Maybe I'll do it next month. I don't know, we'll see. But you're gonna get a lot of content. And I'm negotiating right now a bunch of big deals to get even more and more content on to IFH.TV. So and again, if you haven't Do you guys don't know. It is available on Apple TV on Roku. And on Amazon. Right now I'm working on the ISO app and the Android app. And next year, we'll be on Android TV and Xbox. And we will continue to bust out more platforms as they come along next year, and grow and grow and grow. Thank you again so much for your support, guys. And again, I really hope this helped you because I know how it feels. Trust me, I literally know how it feels right now. So talk to you soon guys. And as always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

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

Right-click here to download the MP3

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.

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.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

  • Heather Hale – Official Site
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”1138800651″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators[/easyazon_link]
  • StoryTellers on WalkAbout

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 236: Sundance, Hollywood and How to Break-Through as a Director with Qasim Basir

Right-click here to download the MP3

We have a very special episode of the Indie Film Hustle podcast today. Our amazing guest is Qasim Basir, co-writer, and director of the Sundance 2018 hit film A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. The film stars Power‘s Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good is the story of two people who meet in Los Angeles on the night Donald Trump is elected President of the United States. The film was just picked up by Samual Goldwyn Company for a theatrical release.

 

Qasim Basir wrote and directed [easyazon_link identifier=“B00I8H5AJS” locale=“US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Mooz-lum[/easyazon_link] (2011) starring Danny Glover and Nia Long about an African-American Muslim family and how their lives are changed by the September 11 attacks. The film received nominations from the NAACP Image Awards and Black Reel Awards.

Qasim Basir, A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., Sundance Film Festival, Sundance NEXT, Samual Goldwyn Company, Destined, Mooz-lum

Qasir Basir directing Omari Hardwick on-set of “A Boy. A Girl. A Dream”

Basir also wrote and directed [easyazon_link identifier=”B0788XDWB6″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Destined[/easyazon_link] (2016) starring Cory Hardrict. Basir won Best Director at the American Black Film Festival.

 

The film was shot as a true oner, meaning the entire film was shot in one take. To be able to achieve a 90-minute one-take cinematographer Steve Holleran frankenstein’ed a 50-pound antigravity rig and unconventional Sony camera and Panavision anamorphic lens combination.

Qasim Basir, A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., Sundance Film Festival, Sundance NEXT, Samual Goldwyn Company, Destined, Mooz-lum

Cinematographer Steve Holleran on the set of “A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.”

Qasim and I sit down and get raw, real and drop some MAJOR truth bombs on the tribe today. We discuss some the state of the film business from both of our perspectives, what it really takes to break-through and why he does what he does in the first place. This episode is truly eye-opening and I hope it resonates with you at your core.

Enjoy my conversation with writer/director Qasim Basir.

Alex Ferrari 0:03
Now today we have a very, very special episode of the indie film hustle podcast I have on as my guest today. Qasim Bashir. And he is the director of the film a boy a girl, a dream, which was accepted into the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. While he was there showing the movie, I was running around, shooting on the corner of ego and desire. But we did not meet on the streets there. We met at film con, on the same panel talking about directing and the business in general and Qasim and I really hit it off. And I told him that I have to have you on the show. You have such an amazing perspective on the business. And I want to hear what it was like going to Sundance doing all the things that you do at Sundance, and how he finally got his movie sold, how he made his movie, and how we got it off the ground. The whole experience of selling it to a big distributor which he's going to be getting a theatrical release with it as well, how it felt not selling his movie at Sundance, and also just in general, topics that are really important in not only in filmmaking today, but in in the world today. And we really get in this kind of raw conversation about, about the business, about both our perspectives from where we're sitting and watching the business grow and move in front of our eyes. And it is a very eye opening and intense conversation, which is a It was great. It was one of my favorite conversations I've had on the podcast. And I again, I thank him so much for putting it all out there in this interview and I really, really hope you guys enjoy it. And it's it's it's a doozy. So please, sit down and enjoy my conversation with Qasim Basir. I like to welcome the show Qasim Basir man, thank you so much for being on the show, brother.

Qasim Basir 3:47
Man. It's wonderful to be here, man.

Alex Ferrari 3:49
Yeah, thank you, man. Thank you. We We We met on a panel at film con. Where we we dropped some knowledge bombs and scared the shit out of a whole bunch of other makers.

Qasim Basir 3:59
I hope they stay with it, man.

Alex Ferrari 4:01
I know we scare the hell out of it.

Qasim Basir 4:03
It's no use to sugarcoat man it no use. Sugar coat.

Alex Ferrari 4:06
Absolutely not. But we did inspire a little bit. But you know, it's like a little you know, you give them a spoonful of sugar and then you punch him in the face. And that's kind of the way it is you kind of do both because if you just get the sugar, they're gonna get eaten alive.

Qasim Basir 4:19
Right.

Alex Ferrari 4:20
So first of all, before we get into all the amazing stuff that's going on in your life right now, how did you get into the business in the first place?

Qasim Basir 4:27
Oh, man, gosh, where do I start?

Alex Ferrari 4:31
I was born small boy, no,

Qasim Basir 4:34
Young boy. So I'm not so I let them jump around for a few significant moments. One, I took a class in high school. I'm from Ann Arbor slash Detroit, Michigan. Living in both places. When I was young. I took a class in high school. I fell in love with it. Never imagined I can make movies for a living. I didn't come up with much. I have four siblings is five less My mom struggled a lot. making movies just seem so far away so big, so grand, not something I ever imagined. So I played it safe. I went to college, I played football, I have a degree in criminal justice and pre law. And from the time I took that class from 17, through college, I would make little films here and there, just playing around with friends in the neighborhood, stuff like that. The summer before my senior year, I was at a family reunion in Natchez, Mississippi, my cousin's down, went to a party, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on the way back, we got in a car accident, I flew through a window of the car, and, and nearly died until I'm in the hospital. And this doctor, he keeps, keep checking on me. And I had a nurse who was taking care of us, I'm wondering why this doctor keeps coming in. And I'm like, you know, just be honest with me, I'm a football player, I get I can, I can take it. So he's like, you got these brain contusions, which are bruises on your brain. And with the next 48 to 72 hours, they could potentially swell. And you may not you may not live. And so when you're 22, and I'll face mortality, you know, it just, it really does something to you, at least to do something to me, it was the most important moment in my entire life, the most significant moment, because I laid there and said, God, if I go from here in the next two or three days, I can't really think of much as I've said, to this world, much I've contributed, you know, like, I just will be gone. And, you know, I think I started calling people that I know, just kind of like, just in case, you know, but I made it, you know, it's but I committed in that moment, to myself that if I if I make it through this, I'm going to do something that that counts, you know, some matters, which is what led me to make the kinds of movies I make, like, right, if you look at my body of work, everything I've made, I've tried to say something to the world that I think is is important, you know, and you know, it's it's, it's the thing about so so after that I went back and I finished school with that with that degree in criminal justice. That summer, I had actually taken the practice l sat prepping to take the real asset for law school, I canceled my appointment. And I went straight for this movie thing. And I just said,

Alex Ferrari 7:35
Oh, wait a minute. Hold on a sec. You had you literally went to law school. You're about to take the test to become a lawyer and you're like,

Qasim Basir 7:41
No, no, no, I didn't not the bar. Okay. I think go to law. So I was I was about to to apply to law. I was about to take the elves to law school. Okay, okay. Okay, good. I was gonna say, Yeah, I take an actus. Elsa the weekend before, in fact that those books from the practice Elsa are from the real asset because you did go through this whole like practice course. And we're in that truck that I that I flipped over and were burned in the accident. It was like, such a sign if there's ever got God was a subtle with you on that. What? If you wrote that script, I'm like, Man, it's a little on the nose. He's like, Hey, man, look, that's actually what happened.

Alex Ferrari 8:27
So literally, the car stopped, you flew through the window, and the books burned up. So God said, Stop what you're doing.

Qasim Basir 8:38
The car flipped the car flipped over I shot through the side window, which in itself is physics. Okay, so the imagine a car flipping, rolling over, shooting me through the side window. And the trajectory by which I had to fly at a 45 degree angle to go where I went inland wetland. Because if I fly straight up, I come right back down to the ground, right and I may not make it. If I come up the car as it's rolling over, it might roll over me right. So the split second that I had to fly at this 30 to 45 degree angle to fly into the woods and land was was crazy. And then my cousins pulled each other out of the truck and then it caught on fire. I can't make this stuff and the books

Alex Ferrari 9:30
And the car and the books caught on fire. So like God was telling you you need to go make some movies.

Qasim Basir 9:38
You know that was so then I just started making I went back to Detroit and I went through this period of like, grief sort of figuring out who I was. You know my football career was was over and you know, as a football player, you kind of take on this identity of tough on this and now this is all gone and You know, you survive something like that and look at the photos and the state I was in. It's all very a lot, you know. So I, so I went through this period, and then I made a movie about it called the inner inner struggle. That's a..

Alex Ferrari 10:14
Bit on the nose,bit on the nose, but on the nose, but go ahead, go ahead. When you when you identify so much with something like when you're young, you do that, because you're just trying to figure yourself out in general. But when you identify yourself with like, I'm the football player, or this or that, and that's taken away, you are just lost. It takes time for you to figure out where you are.

Qasim Basir 10:40
Yeah, I mean, because 910 years before that, you know, that's why everyone liked me. That's, that's what I was, you know, that's why I was popular, whatever happened because of it, that was all of it. And like, you know, I've, you know, my high school went to the state championship, and we got the trophy and we, you know, it's it's, that was my, that was who I was, you know, and so, yeah, that was the beginning for me and from there from making inner struggle, and then, like, I like will show it wherever I could and

Alex Ferrari 11:15
So real quick, how did you like did you finance it yourself? What did you just grab a camera and go shoot? Like, how did I put it all together?

Qasim Basir 11:23
Yeah, I I so I didn't spend any I just had a camera and some friends man like,

Alex Ferrari 11:31
And what camera Well, what just because it was it was a tape like it was a it was a mini DV? Yes, it was a mini DV. I had I actually have it around here somewhere. It's not a DVR to 100 day. Is it? Or is it a Canon? Can Can you hold on 20? sec? I hope not go look for it because we need to know. Okay. Canon hV 20. Okay, so it's a Canon HP 20. So it's just like the old school mini DV cam. Yeah, it's the old school mini DV here. It's not like I didn't I knew nothing about. So the point the reason why I wanted you to go find out what it was because I always tell filmmakers when they're like, Oh, well, you know, I want to make a movie and I but I need the red camera. I need the Alexa. Oh, God, just grab a camera and go shoot your movie. Yeah, yeah. Right. Like, just, especially when you're starting out, man,

Qasim Basir 12:24
Especially. Not only that, but especially now like, you know, you had this was an HDTV camera. So you got it. You have the tape and you got to import, you know, digitizing, digitizing, digitize, right, you have to digitize and you have to. Now you'd literally just drop that stuff in. You know, it's so much different in with the equipment now. And with the affordability of it. It's like crazy how much you can get down. But it literally was me and some friends got together. I my brother was in the movie. My cousin played the villain, you know, the antagonists? You know, and we were around campus like shooting and oh my god, it was a mess. Like, just the way we should? Like I didn't I my ideal you were doing? No, I didn't. I mean, I just you know, other than that class in high school, I hadn't taken another class that I had taken one acting class and college because I was into that too. But, um, but you know, it was it was just a grind of, you know, there were no permits, there. Were just we just shooting. And, you know, I don't suggest someone go and you know, I think in the, in the way of getting permits is different in different cities and stuff like that with cars, of course, you know, it was it was you know, and I put a little movie together and I will show it everywhere and pressed up some DVDs and sold them on the streets. It was I had them and my friend just reminded me put up a post on Instagram or something he just reminded me. It's like, Yeah, man. Remember, we're in a caste corridor, which is, which used to be like, dangerous, but now in Detroit. It's all gentrified, like nice. Like Brooklyn. Exactly. Gas chord or, and our movie because he does docs. And he's like, he's still doing a lot on his dock is on amazon prime. And, you know, my film just got picked up by Samuel Goldwyn. So he put up all these I remember, we used to have our movies at the liquor store, on consignment, you know, like, okay, man, if I sell any of these, you know, sell them for 15 sell for $15. Like the balls, I had to try to sell my

Alex Ferrari 14:37
15 bucks.

Qasim Basir 14:38
But I had a sign over just so people would know that. I'm from here, like, you know, sort of local because people in Detroit to see a DVD up there by a guy from there. That was more important than the quality. They were like, Oh, it's amazing. A dude made this movie and he's selling it.

Alex Ferrari 15:00
Dude, I did the same thing with my first short man, but I was selling in comic book stores, guys, so yeah, we all have to hustle man we orgasm no question. So, so this year has been a pretty amazing year for you. 2018 Yeah, your latest movie a boy a girl and a dream got accepted? I'm sorry. Boy or girl a dream. Others No. Thank you, sir. Oh, boy, a girl a dream. And then that movie got into the Sundance Film Festival this year. Yes. So that and you were there at the same time I was shooting my movie. Yeah. The trailer looks terrific, by the way. Oh, thank you, brother. I appreciate that. Man.

Qasim Basir 15:39
I love that story of because so many of us go through it. Just being at Sundance trying to put something together. Oh, my God is just brought up so much.

Alex Ferrari 15:48
You're the demographic do like filmmakers are the guys. I made this before. But we were both there at the same time. And then we met later on, first of all, and also congrats on getting distribution by Samuel go when you're going to get a theatrical release, dude. Yeah. Because it's not a guarantee. I always tell people like just because you're going to Sundance, there's no guarantee someone's gonna pick it up.

Qasim Basir 16:07
Right. And that's, and that's important. That part is important. And just to understand, you know, we left Sundance, we hadn't sold the movie. And in fact, it didn't sell till two months after, you know, and everyone's asking you, that's the first thing everyone asks you like, Oh, so did you sell your movie, did you? And it's just like, wow, this is this isn't stressful.

Alex Ferrari 16:30
And it's also it's also not the 90s when they were buying movies Left and Right,

Qasim Basir 16:35
Netflix didn't really buy much of anything. It's nothing. But they you know, I think they brought a couple things later. Okay. Amazon, Amazon Amazon was was not exist. And you know, as Yeah, so it's, it's, it's a real? Yeah, yeah, it was a real thing, man. And we had to be patient and we, you know, we held out and, and, and good on us for you know, my producer Dettori Turner, he was really, you know, intricate in that process. And hold now, like the last week, it's gonna be fine. You know, we'll figure it out. And, you know, then Samuel golden came back and, man,

Alex Ferrari 17:13
You're and you're good, dude. That's

Qasim Basir 17:16
Pretty company. I'm really they're really passionate about our film, they

Alex Ferrari 17:20
Well tell us a little bit about your movie, tell us tell, Tell, tell the audience what the movie is about?

Qasim Basir 17:24
Sure. It's, it's two people who meet and go on this thrilling ride together a journey together on in one night, where they fall for each other. They, they challenge each other? They, they they both sort of stuck in different ways. And then they kind of have this conversation about what do you really want to do in life to be and why aren't you? Why are you doing a little intense conversation? How on the first night, do you think what, what what pushes? What pushes that narrative forward? And I think what makes it kind of work is a lot of people. I think it because it takes place on election night of 2016. And I think a lot of people on that night or around that time were really taking inventory of where they were in life. And like, yeah, yeah, it's really figure out, you know, my place and all this and like, what I want to do, like, if I want to contribute, if I want to, if I want to be a party now. And so I think that that element on its own really allowed them to have these much deeper conversations that maybe you wouldn't normally have when we first meeting someone,

Alex Ferrari 18:33
And then you and you also shot the whole movie in a winner right? Yeah, yeah. Okay, so first of all, what made you decide to try to do a webinar for this kind of film?

Qasim Basir 18:42
So a few things. One, I love one I love I love bird making. It's on a ride and that they can't look away from Sure. Right? I love what they did with Birdman. I love you know, in The Revenant wasn't a wonder but they had these scenes view and you know that first battle scene, man. I mean, you will look up like why am I so into this? Oh, it's because I haven't cut what I haven't cut away to the wide exposure. I've stayed with them. I fallen off a horse. I saw arrow calm. I'm ducking. I'm literally like almost ducking. It's VR. It's almost VR, most VR man and I'm like, you know, it's the it's the next best thing to the immersive experience of VR. And I love that that kind of experiencing for him for where we are right now. As a country, man, it's easy to look away. You know, it's it's, and I think a lot of people are checking out you know, it's, it's easier.

Alex Ferrari 19:42
It's easier to check out than to deal it's Yeah, it's hard.

Qasim Basir 19:45
I mean, this stuff is hard, man. You're like, you're almost afraid to check your Twitter feed or your news and it's like, oh my god, what is what is happening today?

Alex Ferrari 19:53
I don't know. I don't know about you, but I turned off my notifications.

Qasim Basir 19:57
No, I absolutely turned my off my push, okay, yeah. When I want, you know, like, cuz I can't do

Alex Ferrari 20:06
Every minute like, Oh, Jesus, oh gee, yes.

Qasim Basir 20:08
Oh yeah. and you and you and for me it's like really understanding how this stuff works with my consciousness how it was, like filtering how much I actually bring in, you know, sometimes that stuff fuels me, you know, sometimes that kind of anger I have or, or disappointment I have a frustration with what's happening it fuels my art you know, and so sometimes I overdo it sometimes I need to see that stuff, you know, sometimes I need to see another, you know, young black man, you know, actually, I never need to see another one of those but like I, you know, I, sometimes when I when that stuff, it hurt it hits me in such a deep place that I'm that I've been learning how to transfer that and say like, okay, and for this film, this was my transferring all of those emotions, how I felt about the election into this movie.

Alex Ferrari 21:05
And now if you if you look at it, though, from a point of view of history, you know, when the Nixon thing happened, yeah, and the whole country went literally down the toilet, and everyone was depressed and angry. What came out of that was the 60s. Right, right, and the 60s and early parts of the 70s, which basically, they changed everything, there's a change that that decade changed the world. So sometimes you have to be pushed in another direction, in order to snap back to another place. I can't wait to see the film, dying, I'm dying to see and I really can't wait to see it. But sometimes that happens, and when you go through these kind of, you know, whichever side of you are on whichever side you're on, because it's it's different perspectives on both sides. Yeah, you know, some, some people are like what's going on other people don't like what's going on. But at a certain point, you got to go to the opposite direction to be able to snap back to a place you go into. And that's why I'm dying to see your film for what it is. And obviously, that's obviously one of the great reasons it got into Sundance, because it's not easy to get into Sundance, there's a few submissions.

Qasim Basir 22:14
It's a few it's a few. There's a couple this exists you please. Well, one thing I think is important here, as we as we talked about that, you know, people, people get disillusioned sometimes about the denial process. You know, it's it's important to know that before I got this movie in Sundance, over the last decade, I sent four things to Sundance. Which of which, none got it. You know, we all we all there we all. So yeah, this actually, I'm sorry that this is my fourth thing that I get to submit. So like I've sent I've sent some stuff there, man. And you know, none of it's gotten it. And so I've seen those, those those emailed those emails. Thank you for love was

Alex Ferrari 23:02
Really tough year, it was a really tough year, we it was a really hard decision to make this year. We regret to inform yourself. Go fuck yourself. Good luck. No, they don't say that. But they're actually really nice. They're the nicest fuse you've ever heard. Yeah. Especially from the big festivals, because they actually send out the little guys don't even send anything out. Yeah. Just see this enough to come out and be like, Damn, so. So then how did you? Okay, first of all, what was it like when you heard you got in? Like, what happened? The moment you found that you got in?

Qasim Basir 23:40
So so my fiance who co wrote this movie. She she's always on me about my voice. And sometimes my voice won't get full. And she's like, need to erase your messages. I'm like I get and, and in this day, I listened to her, and I raised my messages. And then the next day, I was working on I was working on something. I left the room, my office, and I came back and I had a message on my phone. And I looked at the message you know, iPhone, you can read the text. And it said, like, Sunday or something. I'm like, What? On Sunday, I'm like, Alright, Sunday to it. And they're like, this is this woman named Shari freeloader. She was like discharged from the Sundance Institute. I was like, Oh my God. And then I immediately without a moment, I was like, we got it. I know. Yeah, cuz they don't call you to say no, they don't call but there's there's sometimes they call you in there. Like it was so close. I really wanted to call you and just let you know. But there was something in me that was just I just knew like And I caught her back. And, and my heart was racing, you know, I just was I was, you know, it's excitement in this business, it's hard to get excited about stuff, you know, like, even when even when someone says, Oh, yeah, I'll do your movie, you kind of are like, okay, but

Alex Ferrari 25:18
That's like, that's like, for me, that's like four or five months old. And let's wait to the

Qasim Basir 25:23
Right, but this thing was like, was like this is happening. No matter like, short of some natural disaster, you know, this is happening. Right? And, and I call it and she sure enough was like, we'd like to, you know, we really loved your movie. You know, it was, it was one of the most unanimously approved of because they fight about movies a lot. As you can imagine, there's a lot of programmers there. And your movie goes through these different steps. Some people watch it, and then more people watch it. And then if it, you know, and so it's like, it's such a rigorous process, but she was like, this was one of the most unanimously I feel like everyone was like, Yeah, for this and, and that made me feel so good. And she made a few comments about the movie. And she was like, we'd like to invite you to premiere at 2018 Sundance told us and I, you know, I, I'm a football player. Took a knee. Knee, right? And I teared up a little, you know, a

Alex Ferrari 26:30
Little bit, man, you were sobbing like a baby. It's all good. You got allergy thing. Coming down. It's all good. It's all good. Viola Davis, you want us genius. That's amazing, man. I always because I've had a few Sundance winners on the show. And I always want to know what that feeling is like, because we all want that feeling. You know, is anyone listening to the show? Who makes movies we all want to get into Sundance man, you know, we all want to eventually one day win an Oscar, you know, or get into you. We all want to we all want people to go. I like you. I like what you're doing. Yeah.

Qasim Basir 27:07
And it's, it's, it's a great thing. It's, it's, you know, I so I didn't after just backtrack a little. After I stopped after that first movie, I my inner struggle. I was like, I was like, I got it. My aunt who's who's in advertising in New York, she saw it and she's like, you know, you got a lot of work to do technically, but you know, you there's something there, you got an eye, you know, you got angles. There's some things that you get performances out of people. And so I went on to like, you know, read every book, I could, I tried to, you know, everything I could do all the information, I just was soaking it in, and I still do, and I'm still everything I can to learn something. But you know, as a person who did not go to film school, you know, it's always to have something like Sundance under my belt now, you know, it means a lot and to have, and I think it means even more that I tried to get in a number of times. And you know, it was wildly significant for me, man, you know, I made a movie called destiny that came out late last year, which was in a bunch of festivals, won a number of awards. And like we premiered at the LA Film Festival and American black Film Festival where I won best director and actor lead actor one Best Actor recording How do you know that movie was last year? And that one didn't get it? You know? Um, so I I just gone through another Thanksgiving that thinks that Sunday has ruined for me.

Alex Ferrari 28:39
Just right, they always turn around holidays. Tell me about it, man. Tell me about it. And then the worst is like when I was when I was coming up, you know, I would submit a short film and it did get in and then I'd go to the shorts festival shorts block at Sundance in Washington. like shit man mines is better than that one. Yeah, yeah. That getting just because a star is in it. They are man

Qasim Basir 29:04
To really understand why like I just why certain film there's there's a whole you know this? I don't know, man. It's a tough thing. It's tough.

Alex Ferrari 29:14
Now, what was your Sundance experience? Like, man, like when you get there? Like, you know, take us behind the curtain a little bit? Yeah, for sure.

Qasim Basir 29:21
Um, so I've gotten to Sundance a number of times before, two or three times, I think maybe three. But I said to myself in 2013 that I'm not coming back without a movie. I made that that declaration. And I stuck by it. I just was not comfortable being there anymore. Just like hanging out, you know, and in trying to, you know, and I just, it was just something I need to give myself. declarations. You know, I need to give myself goals or timelines or things like that. That worked for me, you know, um, so I've been there and it's been Fun. But I but for this I was like the for this as like it. I gotta be honest, it was like stressful. You couldn't enjoy yourself. But I did enjoy myself. Absolutely man I absolutely enjoying myself. It was some great events, I met tons of people got a lot of great exposure man, the team I was with is was amazing. And you get you get invited to all the parties, you're meeting all the stars, all the big producers. And so but but then you're like, but then I'm like, the most like so our screening our premiere was until Monday, right? You know, the Monday of Sunday. So you go to that first weekend, you heard about all the other films and you are, you're waiting in anticipation for, you know, are people going to show up is are they going to like the movie, you know? Is it going to sell? Like, who has the sales agent doing? Are they getting people to shut to come like, you know, so all of that is happening. And then the movie plays and it's, it was one of the most I was like drenched in sweat. Because I was so nervous while it was playing. And I just I'm not normally that nervous things. But this Sunday, it's probably on, you know, and so you're working they can technically and the vibe was kind of low and the girls next to me and I'm just constantly telling him like pump it up, pump it up more and the lead actor Omari Hardwick was sitting behind me and like, here's Megan good like next to it. And I'm just like, oh, man, this is hope they like it. They hadn't seen it, you know. And so I Omari kept saying stuff to me to me, throughout the movie. Like, Oh, my God. But as it started going, people were laughing and sniffling. There were moments that I didn't know people would laugh that they did. I was like, Oh, that's great. You know, this stuff was working. And and then people stood up after the movie and clapped. And

Alex Ferrari 32:01
I must have been made. And as you know, which theater By the way, what theater? Did you premiere?

Qasim Basir 32:08
The library theater. Okay. Yes, the library theater. So it was about six 700 seats nice. Which was amazing. And it was packed. It was, you know, you couldn't get tickets to our movie. And then we started to have good buzz around the festival, and people were talking about it. And people were coming up to me and, you know, but and I would say for the next, like, 2436 hours, I had a great, great time. Our party was amazing. Tesla was one of our sponsors for our party.

Alex Ferrari 32:39
So like, of course they are,

Qasim Basir 32:41
Of course, the leader literally had for each one of us for me, um,

Alex Ferrari 32:47
they gave me a Tesla, bro, I'll be I'll be a bus. Driver. Yeah. Oh, no, no, not like, give for good like, oh, like at the festival? Oh, my God. No, I was gonna say, but he was just handing out Tesla's that Sunday. I'm gonna be pissed.

Qasim Basir 33:02
That would have been that. Yeah, but no, but why you're there. So you had like a Tesla with the drone for that next day? Until that night? Like, should they take it? Yeah, so I'm just like, going all these I can wait, let's stop here. Let's not, you know, and we had the ones with the Batman doors a flyer, you know,

Alex Ferrari 33:20
Were you jamming? You know, you driving by with the windows a little down low. And just like, you know,

Qasim Basir 33:26
Our own world, we were in our world. And we were just like, you know, chilling out. Awesome, dude. And so for that, that it was great. Like, we had an after party. And, you know, we, we had this room where we went with the actors and, and we all just kind of talk to each other. We It was a moment of acknowledgement for everyone. And, you know, to, to just to just because you get so much so much time for your q&a, you know, it's kind of quick. And you got to get out of there. But that was our moment to really, for people to acknowledge each other and it was just beautiful, man. And so but then the next day is it's back to the I'm back in my head again. My producer every 10 minutes, like who's making offers for the movie? You know who the next

Alex Ferrari 34:11
Screening,

Qasim Basir 34:13
Yeah, and then there's the next screening and then there's, you know, you go through the whole thing again, so it was it was intense, man, it was very intense, but I'm super grateful now you're the you're the full 10 days. Yes, I say the whole time and, and yeah, but it got each screening got easier. It got a little easier. And, and we left the festival with four offers for the film, but we were a little a little disappointed at the number they were a little low. But But then we you know, we held out and, you know, people came through and came back in, you know,

Alex Ferrari 34:51
Now I hear I hear there that. I know I think this is real. It's happened to other years did you get to go to Robert Redford house and have lunch? Yes, yeah, we did. Uh, the directors, the directors,

Qasim Basir 35:06
Directors, they put us on a bus, right? Some mountains, you know, right. A couple hours hour and a half drive. And you know you you're on the bus with the other filmmakers, you get to kick it and talk and his bs beautiful man, it really is.

Alex Ferrari 35:23
And what was it like when you when you saw Bob,

Qasim Basir 35:25
Because he said he's a terrific guy, man, he, you could tell he he really cares about this stuff, man. And to hear some of his stories about back in the day, and just the, just the trials that he went through. And you know, and people people got to realize, man, this, like everyone who's become great at this, like, almost every show, there's been nepotism, it's not whatever, but like most people who are doing this on that level man are like, have gone through it. And, and you you see the great parts and you see them and own red carpet and then their movies. But like, it's the stories before that, that I'm interested in man and for him that to talk about some of those and that's the stuff that really still resonates with him. He didn't talk about, you know, the last 20 years. He talked about the first 10 You know,

Alex Ferrari 36:21
When he was just trying to hustle he's like everybody else. Yeah, damn us. That's the movies that bombed a couple you know, he's had a few he's I think what he will come back from but Wow, man, sorry. So you shot this whole thing in a one or technically? How the hell did you do it? And did you do it kind of like Birdman style where he did

Qasim Basir 36:41
No magical cuts or is real. This is real. So it's it is a so it's a mountain, right? It is a mountain of, of work of prep of crap. Have you know, me and the DP became really good friends. You got to fight because he was over over my place constantly as we were, we had maps, we had photos we had, you know, we went to the locations and took video on our we had a small camera that we would just shoot stuff on we would get in the car and drive up and see how long that drive would take and go to Mel's diner, which is where we shot our diner scene go to the club that that we were going to shoot at on a normal night for work you know we weren't at the club like hanging but I'm like telling my fiance oh no I'm going to this like to work but yeah, so we would go to this club and like see what it felt like and you know move around there and meant by the time and I had you know I'm on the phone with with Megan and Omar he is constantly having these three way calls and you know, whenever we get a location you know, my my fiancee was actually also location manager and you know, she working working with her and Atari on locking down locations. And you know, by the time we got to the shoot man, it was like when we knew we we knew exactly where to go. We had the backup plans, we had the backup backup plans, we we kind of thought about everything, you know, everything we could think about like okay, what if, you know, we had an x and a large we had a bunch of pa is because we knew we would need people to just be out on the streets in case someone tries to run up to Omari Hardwick or making good and get an autograph you know as we're shooting like that's a real thing. Like you're in LA. We're in LA and these people are pretty famous. You know, um, Omar is going to fifth season to power this year you know. And Megan is everywhere, you know, so, so it's it's really, it's really something that just was all about the prep. I mean, we had a rig on the DP and you can go on our social social page, I've seen it. g where it was this anti gravity rig that was that was modified for this shoe. You know, we had to get an additional number of batteries to hook up just so that the camera can last that long. We needed to you know, the the memory cards added extra extra memory to it to the camera we we the rig which the whole device itself was 33 pounds. So the rig took that weight off of his arms and put it around his waist, you know, so you know that it would do these moves where it could go up to nine feet high and all the way down to the ground without him feeling that his arms which you know I don't know, anyone who here who could carry a camera. You know, imagine like a steering wheel like it's in front of you sure holding something for 35, you know, for for more than five minutes, 10

Alex Ferrari 40:11
Let alone 90 minutes.

Qasim Basir 40:12
Yeah, yeah. So So all of that we would, we would practice in these parking lots from these for the from these high schools, these high school parking lots on the weekend were me and steve steve hollering was the is the DP where we would go out with the team, the camera crew and practice the dismount. Because there were moments where we would have to the team would have to dismount that take the camera off the rig, he would unblock with the rig, take it off of his person, then they would hand him the camera back so that he can hop into the vehicle that we were that we were getting, because you're doing it seamlessly. We're doing as we're going but but we but in order to make it look natural, we had to practice that move, you know, hundreds of times, and I'm not even exaggerating, I'm sure. Like, you know, because the first couple of times, it's like this is the this jerking thing when it comes off. So you got to like you got to do it so that it's so that it's smooth. And you know, I mean, I could talk about that all day. But you know all about the prep.

Alex Ferrari 41:18
So you did so you did this in an actual one or you didn't do a Birdman, you cut. Right? Right? So it was an actual one or so at least post is easier.

Qasim Basir 41:27
Well, so he editing is quick, here's the thing. Post. So when you're when you're doing a wonder, you have so for example, reposition camera. If you edit in Premiere Pro, or anyone else Premiere Pro, there were probably 1000 keyframes

Alex Ferrari 41:54
Framing stuff.

Qasim Basir 41:55
I have I mean, because we were everywhere and reflect. You know, because there's four or five people behind it, you know, constantly moving. La, there's mirrors, there's windows everywhere, there's you know, we're a metal strip narrows. The club we're in there were mirrors everywhere, like so I would constantly see my face and this arm or whatever, a

Alex Ferrari 42:17
Lot of VFX the clean stuff.

Qasim Basir 42:19
So there was a lot of that. Yeah, so there was a lot of repositioning, there was a lot of a lot of repositioning a lot of cleanup up like VFX stabilization, there was some and then there's issues of like, noise and I did a lot of this post a while, you know, but but you know, you get this this program called need noise, right? Where, where you have, you have this, this effect that takes ages to render. And like this is stuff you don't really know about, like you, you think about a program that's going to take away noise, you're like, oh, I'll just drop that on at the end. And we'll be good. And it's like, this rendering process takes longer than anything I've ever seen. Like, it's longer than stabilization as long as then then and then putting a color effect on I mean, it's it's it's ages. So it's stuff like that, the little tedious technical stuff that that took most of the time.

Alex Ferrari 43:23
So So you didn't so you still had to do a lot of posts, but not editing. Right, right. But there was other stuff to do. Now, how did you get such an amazing cast man?

Qasim Basir 43:33
Um, well, that I can I can really attribute a lot of that to, to my producers is, you know, as a matter of us calling folks man, we, you know, I gave. So, backtrack a little bit at a BFF with my last one destined American black Film Festival. I won Best Director. And and Omari Hardwick was the ambassador with the festival. 2016 and so, you know, that that night before was also my birthday, and I was hanging out and you know, we hung out together. And Omar is familiar with my first couple movies, and he's a terrific guy. And, I mean, one of the best best people I know, in this business, and, you know, he, and one of those talented as well, and he, and he knew about my work and, you know, I had been talking to him about doing stuff over the years. You know, I'd seen him at Sundance a couple years before, you know. And so I gave him a call, man, you know, and, and, like, Hey, man, I got this crazy idea. You know, I think, you know, Omari Hardwick is a, he's a theatre guy, he's a poet. You know, he's good with improv, you know? So, that kind of stuff matters when you want to know your unique actors who are going to show up and know the entire screenplay, you know, so someone who has that kind of background is able to shift on on the fly, by having that theater background was was really important. The producer to Atari, he's, he's, he's good friends and business partners with with Meghan good, they've done a number of projects together. And so, you know, he called her up and, and then we all met up, you know, and, you know, Megan and I had been talking about another project years before. And so there had been some familiarity there and, and then, you know, the rest of the rest of those cats were basically a call from, from from, from Atari, you know, and, and we are casting director on who who helped with with with some of it, but, you know, it was a lot of sort of favorite pulley.

Alex Ferrari 45:49
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. relationships, man is always about relationships, man, always about relationships.

Qasim Basir 46:05
And those relationships are forged by you know, just being out there man. Like, you know, you figure out these circles and you you go to film, film festivals, especially, especially manual film festivals, you have more access to actors and all that than I think anything else you do, you know, because people are just there specifically to do that. And they're used to people coming up and talking and it's not, it's not like seeing somebody at a restaurant and walking up on you know, which can sometimes be off putting in and in and frustrating tactics. But you're at a film festival is fair game.

Alex Ferrari 46:41
It's like, you hear your so I was like Sunday's I always tell people Sundance is like Disney World. But instead of characters running around, there's celebrities, right? They're all they're everywhere. Like, first time I went there was like, Oh my god, there's that person and that person and that person, or that person. And the first time I went all I did was take pictures. I was like such a fanboy back in like, 2005 Yeah, it was crazy. Now since since since Sundance man, you must have been making the rounds around town.

Qasim Basir 47:11
Yeah, man. It's like, Man, it's, it's been. It's been one wonderful, really getting getting to know everyone and, and really figuring out what my next project is, you know, I would say, I feel I feel really good that, you know, in retrospect, you know, you sometimes you don't know why things are happening the way they are, like, you could look at an email from Sundance a couple years ago, and be like, Damn, you know, I didn't get in, I feel terrible. Maybe this isn't for me, whatever. Um, but I, I looked at it and said, Alright, well, let me keep writing. Let me keep grinding. Let me keep putting ideas down. So that now I'm at this point where I'm meeting everyone, and I have like, three, four things, you know, that are ready to go like you want to which one? What are you looking for? You know,

Alex Ferrari 48:08
Just add a check. And we're good.

Qasim Basir 48:10
Yeah, absolutely. So I'm like, here's some stuff I've done already. You know, I just left Sundance, we just sold our movie. Here's some things I wanted to, you know, I'm also reading a bunch of scripts, I've I have read a bunch of scripts in Sundance. But I'm sort of finding what's right for me, you know, I'm, I'm being very intentional about making the next project, the right one, you know, making it I've really began to figure out specifically what my voice is, you know, and so I feel like I needed to go through all that, to be at this point now, where I sit in those meetings, like really comfortable with where I am with the stuff I have to do with if they if with what I don't want to do, you know, I've been presented some stuff that I'm not interested in, and I'm fine with that. You know, it's not a it's I don't know if I would have been that that way, three, four years ago, maybe. But the confidence I have now and this idea that I know exactly what I want to do. And if there if there's a company that wants to get behind some of the things that I am doing, then great, let's go right and

Alex Ferrari 49:21
That takes just this takes time and to get that confidence. Yeah, yeah. Without question now, what what made you essentially want to tell stories, you know, and what's what's what draws you and keeps you interested in telling stories as a writer and a director,

Qasim Basir 49:38
Man, okay, um, I, so I got it. So I'm gonna, I would say that I was raised in, so I was raised, black and Muslim, right when I was probably probably Even to most feared demographics in this country,

Alex Ferrari 50:03
It's like not a good situation. I get you.

Qasim Basir 50:05
Yeah. It's like I've seen a level of, and, you know, I'm no, like, I don't like to sound like a victim, you know, I'm not, I use my experiences to empower me, you know, I say, like, all this stuff I've been through, I'm going to use it and turn it around. But I've, I've seen a level of, of ignorance, that creates an amount of fear that that makes its way into discrimination and to hate into racism. being raised the way out was where I was, I saw a lot of, you know, from the time I was a kid, you know, pushing cart in a grocery store at a grocery store parking lot. were passed by a woman's car, and she locks her door, and in my mind, 1314 years old, I'm like, Oh, she's about to leave. She locked her door. And she sits there looking forward with their eyes wide. And I'm like, Oh, wait, she's not leaving. Oh, she scared me. You know, and then it being ingrained in my mind at a young age, right? Damn. I'm scary. Like, okay, I guess, you know, so maybe let me let me try to like, you know, soften myself. Let me talk a little softer. You know, let me not talk this deep, resounding voice right. Like, let me let me like, Oh, no. So literally going through life almost apologizing grind, right? Like just subconsciously, like 100 times a day. I'm like, No, I'm not scary, right? Like, the first time and as a kid, I've worked all the time. And I save $1,000 when I was 16 to buy my first car, which is a huge accomplishment. Oh, yeah. Day one of driving said car, I was stopped by the police. And within 10 minutes on the hood of the car, as they searched the car.

Alex Ferrari 52:01
And this is a Detroit.

Qasim Basir 52:03
Oh, CNN Arbor. Okay, now, completely embarrassed in the town I'm living in when this you know, student, good student athlete. Now, I say all that to say, between that and post 911 the way people shifted their perception about Muslim folks who, which I've never seen anything as quickly and as drastically as the change in perception about people that has been promoted. And, and, and, and, and really pushed down people's throat in the media, that that's, that's come after, right? So you got you got people in their homes or at the movies, where a lot of this country's actually pretty segregated, right? So you have, you have people, the only the only access they have to a person of color, to a Muslim person, to a gay person, whatever is what they see on TV, or in the movies, right? And for one for like, if you look at the history of film, and as a black man, and I look at the history of film for black people, right? for 20 years, literally, one type of person was telling the story for everyone. So literally, one type of person who's not connected to my community at all was telling the story of my community, but only the most violent extreme and polarizing elements of who we are.

Alex Ferrari 53:29
Right when there are no and all cultures and and all

Qasim Basir 53:32
Exactly. So and that's what I'm and that's what I'm getting. I'm speaking from from my closer because I this is what but yes for all codes for Asian culture for for Hispanic codes, you're like telling just these elements and then wonder why you have a society that's terrified of these people that now when they pull these people over end up shooting these two because they've been fed all of these images that are terrifying Of course you ever show the the beautiful parts of them that the the the normal parts of them then falling in love them? So that just started happening 2030 years ago, right? With marginal Spike Lee and Singleton who just can who consistently started making movies and saying like, actually we're normal people to wear this to we have to Emily's you know,

Alex Ferrari 54:20
We have hopes we have dreams. Of course we have hopes and dreams. We go to school like you'd like you know, it's it's weird to even say it like it's like it should. It should have been never seen that. It shouldn't be.

Qasim Basir 54:31
People never see I spoke at a school in Chicago last week. And I said, I said, has anybody in here seen on screen? A Muslim dude hug his daughter. And no one could sit nor could say that. And I said, How many people have seen a Muslim dude as a terrorist on screen? Everybody Raise your hand. So how many have seen five? Everybody had their hands raised 10 few people put their hands but it's but these images It's that you put in people, they mean everything, man. And that's the long answer. To my, to your question of why do I do this? It's like, we got some balancing to do man. Like, it's okay to have a gangster movie or, or, or, or movie highlighting the pain we go through. But I think I think I think we need to have a balance, you know, and it's it's really imbalance for certain people in the way of, of the the perception of and the displaying of, you know, of us in on screen and in TV. So for me one, I love this, I love this shit. And I, I I feel like for me, if I didn't do this, I don't know, I probably wouldn't be alive. I probably wouldn't. I can't even imagine a life not doing this shit. Like this is this is my, this is my love. It's my therapy. It's my, you know, I've been through a lot in my life. And I and then my fiance told me she's like, awesome, if you didn't do this, you probably be crazy. I'm like, Yeah, well, I'm already a little crazy. But I didn't do this if I didn't write these stories and like, then talk about them and then put them out and see how other people feel about them. And, you know, I'd probably be not so one I'd love it to I want to contribute to the, to the whole so that so that these images can like these someone people are when someone watch someone their screen at home, they are literally inviting you into their home and these characters to to say a thing to them, right? That could essentially change their fucking life, man. We could literally put something in their heart or their mind, or their spirit that says, I look at this, this group of people differently now. I'm going to make a choice to be different to them when I see them in real life. And that's what like it could change their life. It could change their life.

Alex Ferrari 57:03
Yeah, that's what I can do. Yeah, without question. Now, let me let me ask you because I'm Cuban, from Miami. So a lot of so everyone anytime say something Cuban? Everyone's like, oh, Scarface. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Or if you're older Oh, Ricky Ricardo. Right? Right. You know, and that was the image of Cubans. Right. To a certain extent. It's, it's, and by the way, the one of the most famous keywords of all times Italian, which is Robert, which is helped shape. Right. Right, which is, you know, he did fantastic, but still, you know what I mean? So I get I get it to a certain extent. I mean, not to the extreme that you're talking about, but I feel you I feel you.

Qasim Basir 57:43
You have people it back in the day. Like Like, they didn't even have black people in the black. Can you imagine the the President of the United States in 1915 put his fucking stamp on the Birth of a Nation like a movie that celebrated the fuckin Ku Klux Klan said, This movie is amazing. Like, this is what it is the Black

Alex Ferrari 58:13
Panther of its day. Is the Black Panther of 20 1915. I gotta say, dude, I get you man and and and God bless you, man for doing for doing the good work that you're doing, man. And, and, and and I do think things are changing. Things are changing things. I mean, women directors are coming out women, people of color are getting more opportunities. And it's there's plenty for everybody. And there's plenty for everybody. And you know, and I know a lot of people who listen to this show are from all over the world. You know, there's always perspective and that's what what film is about?

Qasim Basir 58:54
Is it really be clear, yeah, let me be clear. I am wildly hopeful, right? I there has been massive change. And it is it is something for a movie like moonlight to win Best fishing, you know, for Jordan Peele to win, you know, Best Screenplay for you know, Ava DuVernay to be doing what she's doing for Rihanna or Greta gerwig virgin girl, what are you doing, she's doing for all of these folks. And all of the kinds of shows that are on TV now for Atlanta to be on, you know, for for insecure for him for all the all the shows that are that are just saying, Hey, we're quirky, we're, we're different we are that don't have to be like, Oh, I'm gonna go shoot everybody at the club. You know, it doesn't have to be you know, I'm gonna burn you know, it's it's, it's so so I absolutely see and I'm hopeful for what's to come. And and, and I'm thrilled to be a part You know, to be on this ride, man, this is like, I look at my parents who are in like my mom's, you know, from Natchez, Mississippi who is, was very close to the civil rights movement, and you know, all this shit they went through and I look at this as our, our movement, like just given all this stuff that's going on in the country, and everyone fighting for just for equality man, you know, what is trying to say like, Oh, we want everything, what people just want, people want to say, Can Can you, if anybody could say, look out to this country right now and say everyone's equal, call me please like, let me know how you feel that way. But like, people just want to be sort of see people, you know, do in their own ways. And I look at I look at what's happening in film right now as sort of a revolution. Yeah, and it's part and that's, that's our revolution, you know, people are still marching in the streets, you see the kids marching. Now you see, the women's while I was at the women's march in LA, you see all in all of it's part of it's happening on Twitter, it's happening. And it's happening in the movies and TV. So I'm, I'm thrilled about that. And I'm incredibly hopeful, man,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:10
Absolutely, man, I agree with you 100% in the power of what stories can do stories have the power to change minds and change the world. And they have again and again and again, throughout history. And I think we are in a very, very interesting time to be alive without question. So I'm going to I'm going to do a little rapid fire questions, I ask all my guests, what advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today.

Qasim Basir 1:01:38
Um, I would say a couple things. Keep yourself in tact. You're going you're, you're going into the NFL of, of professions. Life, if you look at all professions, you say, movies, like, if you look at an NFL player, his whole, like, he's gonna do everything he can to make sure he is ready and prepared to go out on that field. The same way with this man, I think this, this business puts people through more things than most more stress than most more pain than most. So when I say keep yourself intact, I mean, you know, hold on tight, whatever that means for you to strengthen yourself to go into this business. And just be patient, right? And also keep people around that are going to be honest with you, right? Like enablers are great, like, somebody's telling you you're great is great. You need that kind of encouragement, like your mom, your family. The people that are like, yo, maybe you should work on this, here's how this could be better. Who gives you good notes on a script, who like that's the kind of make sure to have those kinds of people around because you will go years, and stuff won't be working. And they'll say like, oh, they're just your your enabled friends might say, oh, they're just hating on you. Or maybe maybe it's just not that good. You know? The quality of stuff is increasing stuffs getting better. Oh, yeah. No, you got it. You got to be able to compete. So like having those people around that are gonna be real with you and be honest with you. And that part is easy. Man. Hearing people say that stuff. And you know, it's still not easy for me, but I know it's necessary. So those are the two things.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:26
Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career? Wow. I told you some Oprah shit, man. That's a good one. The power of now. Oh, yeah. What a great book. Eckhart Tolle Yeah, totally. Totally, man. Yeah, great book.

Qasim Basir 1:03:48
So he, you know, it was a time where, because, so I, for me, there's not much of a separation between my what I do and, and my person, right, like, my life is film. You know, it is this stuff, I'm always thinking about it. It's, it's everywhere. As I grow as a person, my work, also growth. That book came along, at a time where I was just beginning to understand the power of presence of consciousness, and this journey that I've been on to, to constantly try to be more conscious and be more aware. I find that the closer I get on this journey, the more significant my work becomes. It's bar none. It is, you know, along with studying and, you know, I'm subscribed to 20 different film channels on YouTube, that you can learn

Alex Ferrari 1:04:52
So much information on then there is

Qasim Basir 1:04:54
So much I mean, you know, I I've wanted to become better at my camera and cinematography knowledge, so the cinematography database is amazing, you know? And just, you know, because that's an area A few years ago, I wasn't as strong and so like, you know, I, you know, so it's, it's that kind of stuff. For me, I'm doing all of that but like in terms of my person, you know, the more developed me, the better I'm going to become as a director of the bedroom become in all those areas. So that book really was was one of the early books on on that topic. And I found that it had a drastic impact on my outlook in my life.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:36
Man, I anytime I study that card a lot. And when you when when you ever you hear him talk, it's just like, every sentence, you've got to kind of like digest. Yeah, yeah, he there's no fluff with him. Like, it's so dense. Yeah, it's a dense message that he puts out. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? I think patience. Yeah, that's, that's a that's a popular one on the shelf. That's my that's mine, by the way.

Qasim Basir 1:06:04
Yeah. Yeah. I think patients, man, it's, it's because And with that, I, you know, I've lost some years, you know, I've lost some years. You know, my, when I moved to New York, after Detroit, it was, you know, I was probably 2637 and I was like, I gotta get this done. Now. I gotta, you know, and I just missed a lot of stuff. You know, I will go to events and my mind will be so singular focus, I would forget to have fun. You know, I, I lost some years of fun. Now. My, my fiance now in my mid 30s. She's like, She's like, teaching me to have fun. And I kind of get emotional thinking about it. Because like, I, I get, I really, when she asked me, like, Well, what do you like to do? Kasem? Like, just for fun? I'm like, I don't know. Like, watch a movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:04
Or watch a movie? What's five rights? Right? Cuz I spent that was just all I was doing. Yeah, no, I was just I was the same way.

Qasim Basir 1:07:15
It's It's so I, I would say just patience and enjoy the enjoy the ride, man enjoy it. It is like, it's it'll, if you are doing the work like not to say like, Don't grind because you got to Sherry, but please carve out time for you to, to enjoy it. And, and the patient's. Like I talked about Robert Redford, when I was at the lodge for Sundance. He's, you know, he's what at, you know, he's talking about the time before he popped off, you know, that time is the stuff. That's the stuff, man, if you hear any of these guys, and these interviews of women talking about their journey, they're talking about that time that when they used to sleep on the couch, or their friends, when they

Alex Ferrari 1:08:06
It's not the most interesting stuff.

Qasim Basir 1:08:08
It's the stuff man. So it's like, Okay, this is more for me to talk about when I'm, you know, when I'm being interviewed, or when I'm, you know, but right now, I got friends, that that friendships I could develop, I got, you know, the relationships that matter, I while while balancing that with with the work, you know, because the work is vital. And all of that stuff, though. The the trappings, it's all a byproduct of the work, man, you know, that, like, if you think about it like this, the one screenplay is written by one or two people. And then it starts with that those people or that one person, let's say one person in a room, having, you know, going through whatever your white writing process is, like, for me, it's it's crying, it's sleepless nights. It's crazy music. It's just it's a tone, his tone is tormenting. And

Alex Ferrari 1:09:10
I can say, you know what, I can see that, I don't know why. That makes absolute sense. Why but it does.

Qasim Basir 1:09:20
But then from that script, then you got then you get producers, the boss and their people, then you get a team involved to make them, which is maybe 40. This is smaller room, then all of the actors and those actors teams. So if you have 10 actors who each have five people 50 more. And then there's, then there's the the so let's just say with any given movie, there's it starts with just that one idea that one person who then makes a whole ecosystem sure of people who have people and events and stuff surrounding thing, but it all starts with that work and that that work. Takes takes patience and it takes, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:10:08
Takes, it takes a lot of love man and I will go even farther to say that you got to love the grind. Because if you could love the grind, man, it makes the trip a lot easier.

Qasim Basir 1:10:17
Yes. Yes, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:19
So what are three? What are three of your favorite films of all time?

Qasim Basir 1:10:28
Children of Men movie. Pan's Labyrinth.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:37
Oh, Guillermo. Guillermo. I'm so happy he won this year.

Qasim Basir 1:10:41
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:44
I've hung out with him. I've hung out with him two or three times. And he is just the coolest. Yeah, curses like a sailor. But just just so awesome. Have a human being man. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It was it.

Qasim Basir 1:11:00
Oh, gosh, man. It's this is tough.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:04
Don't worry. It's not gonna be on your gravestone. I mean, just, you know.

Qasim Basir 1:11:08
I'm just like, trying to. I'm trying to think it's just so many phones that I've had and I really do this, you know, I really

Alex Ferrari 1:11:26
Just bring them down to a lie.

Qasim Basir 1:11:28
So I was I'll say Fight Club

Alex Ferrari 1:11:30
God dammit, goddamnit we can hang out. Fight Club is one of my favorites. Without and I've actually had Jim, the writer Jim rules on the show. And we've become friends and he dude, when we like if you listen to that podcast first 30 minutes or like, so how's David Fincher? Lately, fanboy doubt about it. Right. And so where can people find you on social media? or anything like that?

Qasim Basir 1:12:00
I'm at Qasim A Basir, which is Q A S I M A and B as in boy, a s i r?

Alex Ferrari 1:12:09
Very cool. Brother. It was here. Yeah, this has been an awesome, awesome interview, man. And it's a great conversation. very inspirational. I hope I hope the tribe takes a lot out of this man. So thank you for sharing your time, brother, I

Qasim Basir 1:12:25
Thank you. And I really mean it. When I say I truly appreciate what you do, man, this this stuff. Really. It really makes difference for folks, man. So thank you, Keep at it man, and keep at the work and

Alex Ferrari 1:12:25
Thank you Brother.

Qasim Basir 1:12:25
Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:28
I did tell you that this was going to be an intense episode. And it was, you know, Qasim was so raw, and so real, about his journey, and about what he's gone through in the business and his and his life. And I'm ever grateful that he shared that with us on this podcast. So thank you so much for being user, and you keep up the good work as well. And keep, keep putting up the good fight and keep making those amazing films. And I cannot wait to see your new one a boy, a girl a dream. It sounds amazing. And I did not have time at Sundance, because I was busy to catch the screening. But I can't wait to see it in theaters when it gets released very very soon. Now if you want links to anything we talked about in this episode, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/236 for the show notes include links to Qasim and his Twitter and all that kind of good stuff. And you'll be able to see some clips from his movie, a boy a girl a dream. And again, guys, thank you so much for such an amazing response to the new podcast, a bulletproof screenplay. It is been, it's growing so fast, and I cannot even explain how excited I am that you guys really liked it. So many subscribers have come on board and great review. So if you have not subscribed yet, and you're interested in screenwriting and storytelling, then just head over to screenwritingpodcast.com. And if you can leave us a good review, it really helps out the show a lot, especially when we're just starting out so helps us with the rankings on iTunes. And please, if you like what we're doing here at indie film hustle, and at bulletproof screenplay, and you really enjoy the content, and you find the value of it, please tell five friends, everybody should go out and tell five friends, hey, listen to the podcast, go to the website. And that's the way we're going to be able to grow the tribe, grow the community, and get this information out there and hopefully help so many more filmmakers and creatives in the world, so I need your help. I can't do it alone. So as always, guys, thank you and keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

IFH 214: Sundance Film Festival Survival Guide

Right-click here to download the MP3

This year will be the sixth time I’ve been to the Sundance Film Festival and I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks on how to survive the experience. I’ve many many mistakes when traveling to the festival. From the wrong shoes to not having Chapstick. These small things can turn into nightmares if not done correctly.

I teamed up with Adam Bowman from Media Circus (listen to his past IFH Podcast Episode here). Adam is a true veteran of the Sundance FilmFestival, this year being his seventeenth outing. Between both of us we have you covered.

Also if you want to get a behind the scenes / backstage pass to the Sundance Film Festival check out #crashsundance during the festival to see all the inside stuff we are creating from the festival.

Take a listen and take some notes. Enjoy and I hope to see you at the Sundance Film Festival this year!

Alex Ferrari 0:01
So I teamed up with my buddy Adam Bowman from media circus who's been there 17 times. And we kind of put together this top 10 tips on how to make your Sundance experience a little bit more enjoyable because we've made a lot of mistakes along the way. And there's some inside tips that if you're going to Sundance you really should know, and it covers all sorts of things. So without any further ado, enjoy our top 10 tips for surviving Sundance.

Adam Bowman 2:01
Welcome to the Sundance survival guide with your host Alex Ferrari. Adam Bowman. We want to give you 10 tips on how to survive Sundance. Yes, so the first one yes, very simple, very personal health and comfort. Yes, right. Yes, hand sanitizer, much of it, you're gonna meet a lot of people, you're gonna be shaking a lot of hands a lot. And you don't want to spread the germs around. But don't do it necessarily in front of people. You don't want to put them off or see germaphobe PRL in private. Yes, vitamins and supplements. So you had a regime last year.

Alex Ferrari 2:34
So last year, I mean, I've gone to Sundance, it's gonna probably be like six or seventh time I lost count. And every time I've gone, except for last year, I get sick, I brought I bring something back or I catch something while I'm there, which makes the Sundance experience less than optimal. So what I did last year is I got you stick with your Maltese, obviously, right but I got a general broad spectrum, immune boosting nice supplement that has like a nation all this kind of other stuff, and probiotics at sure biotics all the time, the other little secret I took was chlorophyll and not not to be not chloroform. We're not Bill Cosby anybody know? But chlorophyll which is to help oxygenate your blood with the altitude which we'll talk about another tip later. But those are the supplements that I took and kind of helped me good and again, the pleura and not putting your mouth hands in your mouth, you know, doing a lot of hand sanitizer to give your body a chance. It's tough because with all of the you know, extreme if you especially if you're coming from places not like LA, which is not you're not used to this kind of extreme weather, meaning cold weather period, right, and snow and altitude and you go from cold into a hot environment out back out the cold environment, you know it you were your immune system down really quick, right? So do everything you can so that's very, very important.

Adam Bowman 3:49
Alright, tip two for surviving Sundance is layers. Lots of them. You're in the snow. You're in the mountains it's high altitude. And the last thing you you know la wear and attire is just not going to cut it everybody in New York who's coming to the festival probably gonna be okay because they're really used to cold temperatures right now. But But yeah, layers are a key. The other thing is waterproof boots.

Alex Ferrari 4:11
Well, before we even finish layers, have you been tell me you've seen this? Women? Oh, yeah. actresses coming in from LA with miniskirts? I'm gonna say actresses. Okay. very loose term with her. And I just see them walking on Main Street with like miniskirts? Yeah. And not even stockings, no, just like and and high heels. They showed up to a party in LA. Right. They showed up to a party in LA. And they have a little jacket on and you just see them like, yeah, freezing their butts off. So don't do that. Just it's you're going into battle. That's right. This is it's an excursion it isn't. You're going out to Mount Everest. You got to really prepare yourself because it is not also a short thing. No, you're going to be doing this for two. You're gonna stand in lines outside. Yes. Yeah, it's just and depending on this on the year you go, it could be like this year we're looking at 20 to 30 degrees. But I've been there years where it's five, right and 10 and freeze

Adam Bowman 5:03
You will get snowed on you might get dumped on, like last year was a dump.

Alex Ferrari 5:07
Yeah, last year was like, with a foot and a half every night was dumping on it. But the other one the other tip you're saying is waterproof shoes.

Adam Bowman 5:14
Yes, absolutely. Because it right now is calling for snow that first weekend. And all the slush, and all the roads are good. It's gonna be super wet. And the last thing you want to do is walk through town. Because you're gonna your feet will be cold and wet all day.

Alex Ferrari 5:31
Yes. And I made the mistake on my first first couple actually, because I was an idiot, Sundance's where I used just regular socks, and not having water. I took sneakers, and like dress shoes for a party. And I would walk out and wait in line to get into a party or waiting too long to get in a movie. And my foot was frozen, literally frozen solid from the moment, you know, within 15 minutes, and you're just dying out there. So make sure they're waterproof. And another big tip as well as last year, I was just telling these guys, last year I bought insane boots that nothing could get it. Right But they also weighed five pounds. So there was that and when you're walking around, I was exhausted all day. My feet were killing me. But I was dry. So you have to find the balance as well. That's right. And then the other tip was the sock sucks.

Adam Bowman 6:17
Nice big heavy socks socks get wall insulates, even if it's wet.

Alex Ferrari 6:22
Yes. So wool thermal, get thick socks, not like two or three of your regular socks. That's not going to work. Don't get thermal socks. And arguably if it gets cold enough, I don't think it'd be that this year but like thermals underneath, are sometimes necessary

Adam Bowman 6:36
Sometimes are although keep in mind that if you're wearing thermals, and then you go to a party. You're done. Yeah, yeah, it's too much.

Alex Ferrari 6:42
It's too much. So depending on what you're going to do if you're going to be out all night, right, then yes, wear thermals. mittens.

Adam Bowman 6:50
Gloves are not a bad idea. You don't necessarily need the big thick, you know, ski gloves, but something to keep your hands warm while you're trotting around town area coffee making phone calls.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
And if you have something that can pull the fingers, oh yeah, fingers are here for your phone or for just being able to touch something. Yeah, that's really good. my gloves has something that you can actually stick like an iPhone or, or chapstick or something like that. Inside that hand warmers, the EDS, the hand warmers, I discovered them like trip three. And they're the best things the best investment you can make where there's these little packets, you crack them and it creates heat for like a couple hours. Yeah, you put them in your hands, you put them in your feet. Yep, put them wherever you put them in your pockets, put them wherever you want to be warm. Inner giblets warm, keeps you giblets warm, whatever you will write is well worth the miniscule amount and get them before get them on Amazon, get them Okay, I gotta tell you, just bring them with you.

Adam Bowman 7:44
REI is definitely Amazon's a good place for you. Alright, tip three is, there's a lot of stuff going on. But make sure you try to see movies,

Alex Ferrari 7:52
There is a film festival after all film festival that you watch movies there. And there's great panels. So that's another big, big, big thing a lot of filmmakers don't take advantage of is the panels, the workshops, the seminars that go on expertise that are around there and giving away free information is remarkable. And don't forget, I've actually met a lot of producers and people in the industry by walking up after the panel and going, Hey, I really loved your panel and just accessing them. And you would never get access to like a producer of a big television show or a big movie, you know, any other way. And if they're hanging around talking, that means they're open to it. And I've gotten meetings from that I meet with them later. And we make relationships and things happen. It's really, really valuable. And also don't forget, there's only not just one Film Festival. That's right. Two world class film festivals going on.

Adam Bowman 8:45
Right on top of Main Street. There's this film festival you might have heard of called slam dance. Yes. So you know, if you're having a hard time getting tickets to Sundance, go up and check out slam dance some great movies there. If you have a pass for Sundance, you're probably set. But otherwise you need to learn the app. The app is very it's never been easier to waitlist a movie, but you have to stay on top of it. And you know, make sure that you're ready right when that opening happens to weightless movies that are coming up. Yeah, the old days used to just literally sit in line. Yeah, three hours in the snow waiting to go see Yeah, then not now you can sort of see instantly whether it's worth your time to go and check out the the line for the movie. Yep. Alright, tip four is parties. How do you get into a party?

Alex Ferrari 9:27
Well, you either break in jump fences, yes, you can. And then you'll get arrested. But there's a lot of different ways you might it might be worth it, actually, and we'll say how we did it before but there's other ways you can do it. One, if you have a little bit of a little bit of a scratch, hire a publicist. Yes, if you can hire a publicist, pay them a couple grand 1500 bucks 2000 bucks. They might be able to get you on lists to get into any of these parties and or gifting suites and things like that in areas that you will not be able to get access to. So might be a good investment. to hire a publicist, other ways of getting into parties is while you're there meeting other people, right? And you will meet people, you could just go, hey, what parties you go into tonight, hey, I'm going to this party, Oh, great. I'm going to this party and you start hearing about where these parties are, you have a party network, there is a party network. And you'd be surprised that people that you meet there, you know, you might meet somebody on the side of the road, that's a big, high powered producer, director or manager agent or something like that. And they just know you as the dude that they partied with at Sundance. And then later on, you find out that they're this, you know, big, powerful person, totally what it's happened many times.

Adam Bowman 10:37
The other thing to think about when you're at a party, though, is that you are at altitude, so you're going to have the tolerance of an 18 year old with a fake ID, okay? You just cannot sit there and drink the same amount you were any other time you need to moderate your drinking, especially if you want to try to get to the next day, which is the other part is, don't go big on your first night. If you're tempted, it's the energy of Sundance, you're going to want to go big on the first night. Yeah, it's a mistake, because you're going to want to do the same thing the next night. And then the same thing the next night, no less same thing the next night. And if you're 18, you might get away with them too. Might you might get away with a day or two. But generally speaking, it's going to want it's going to just beat you down. Yes, it's a marathon. It's not a sprint,

Alex Ferrari 11:20
Sundance is a physical, it's a focused physical endurance challenge. Yes. It's not just about chilling out and having a good time and party, if you're going to do it. For real, it's a lot if you're going to need even three days. Even if you're staying three days, it is a marathon because after that first night, I remember waking up at two o'clock in the afternoon and half your day is gone, right? partied so hard is that eight o'clock screening. And you missed the eight o'clock screening of you know, the next big movie, right? So just take pace yourself, because it will, it will hurt you. Absolutely.

Adam Bowman 11:54
Tip number five, don't drive at Sundance, please don't drive it. You could drive to Sundance, but then don't touch it. Don't drive again.

Alex Ferrari 12:02
So if you're going to drive a car, first of all, do not drive apart in Sundance. Now. If you're going to drive to Sundance, that means you have a private parking space. Yes, a garage where you can park that car and never touch it again while you're at ever. Because if you're gonna try to drive around Sundance, you will not find parking, and you will make it hell for everybody else there. So don't do it. Use Uber and warnings on using Uber there is no lift. There's last year I couldn't even find a lift. So it's only Uber and Uber will price gouge you Yeah, like it's the surges are ridiculous talking about like I had to drive a block to carry a whole bunch of gear from one place to another. It cost me $40 I wanted to shoot somebody.

Adam Bowman 12:45
Also Uber drivers, a bunch of them come into Sundance just for the festival. And not everybody brings a four wheel drive winter equipped vehicle. Yes. So when that Prius shows up, to pick you up to take you to some party up in the hills, recognize it probably halfway there that the Prius is not going to make it and you're gonna have to walk half the way.

Alex Ferrari 13:05
Correct. So people are very well aware of that. Now, as far as getting around Sundance, there's an amazing Publix public transportation, the trolley. They have this little trolley that takes you to the buttons, also Trump buses.

Adam Bowman 13:17
Well, there's a trolley that goes up and down Main Street, right. But then there's the buses that go through all the Park City, they take you to all the Sundance venues, yes. And it's free. And there's a bus every five minutes,

Alex Ferrari 13:26
Right. It's an amazing system. And they've got it down to a science. So once you get to Sundance, as long as you can get down towards an area where there's a bus stop, you're you're good, you're golden, and you can walk around and travel around the whole festival pretty much for free. Alright, tip number six giveaways all at Sundance, there's tons of swag, super amounts of swag. everywhere you turn, they're giving you a beanie, a water bottle, water bottle, a scarf, a T shirts.

Adam Bowman 13:55
It's so much swag, and every magazine, every filmmaking magazine, ever, ever want,

Alex Ferrari 14:01
Is there. Yep. Now, with all this wonderful free stuff, you have to think about it in the long term. Meaning that if you start grabbing everything you they give you, you're going to carry this all day, because generally when you're in main street or Park, you know, and sometimes you're not going to go off to the hotel room, unless you're online Street, which you're lucky if you are poor, you're going to be carrying this all day. So just be aware of that. And with the altitude and with the climbing and all this kind of stuff. It's going to kill you. So don't grab everything. Look, magazines are great, but they're not. Yeah, like it's a magazine, guys. You know, it's an issue of America's in matok variety comes out all the time. You know, if you want to grab it, it's really important to grab it but don't grab everything that comes along. Because it's going to get a little bit heavy for you.

Adam Bowman 14:47
Alright, tip number seven meeting people at Sundance. There's a lot of celebrities there.

Alex Ferrari 14:51
Yeah. And take it from someone who came from the west coast or the east coast from somewhere that's not Hollywood. When I first got the Sundance, I was starstruck, like nobody's business, their stars, walk in the streets everywhere. There's directors that celebrity directors that you would know if you're a filmmaker walking around. So there is some protocol on how you approach people on the street. Generally speaking, if you see a celebrity on the street, be cool. You know, if you're a fan come up, like, it seems obvious, you got to but you got to be cool about like, Hey, can I get a picture or something like that, if they're on the street, they're generally going to know that this is what's going to happen. Because a lot of celebrities, they'll just come in, in a black SUV, jump into whatever thing they have to do, and then jump back out and don't left the riffraff right. But there are other celebrities, if they're walking and we are the river, we are absolutely the riffraff. But if they're there, they're generally there to meet them be seen and walk around, but just be cool. And they don't want to just be cool about it. Same thing with the producers or direct producers, other filmmakers, other filmmakers. Now, with that said, Please, if you meet a big producer, if you have Jerry Bruckheimer is walking down the street, or Tarantino or Lawrence Bender, and one of these guys walks down the street. Do not pitch them your movie, do not walk up to them and go, hey, I've got this movie's gonna be don't do that. No. What would your suggestions on how you would approach that?

Adam Bowman 16:17
You know, again, approach him as a fan say, look, I love your work. I appreciate everything you've done, you know, simple things like that. Let them know that you're, you know who you are, and you respect their work, but but they're not there to hear you talk about yourself. That's not why they're there.

Alex Ferrari 16:31
No, absolutely not. So just be aware that when you're going to approach someone of that caliber walking around Sundance, now networking, how do you network? How do you not network at these parties at these events at these workshops, and so on?

Adam Bowman 16:44
Well, first, again, you don't want to lead with this is my movie that I want to make, or I made a movie, you want to start with, you know, obviously introducing yourself as your name, what you do, and and trying to find some other common interest to talk about. The other thing is business cards, right? Yeah. Have a business card prepared? Have it look good. You know, when you when you're exchanging business cards have a system? Yeah, because it's so easy to collect so many business cards, right. And you know, when you're wearing your winter stuff, there's like 15 pockets, and it's very easy to lose them. Collecting the business cards is great, but you also need to follow up with them. So you need to know where that where the business card is. Connect with them while you're at Sundance. And then the most important thing is connect with them after Sundance.

Alex Ferrari 17:22
Yeah, like two or three days after the festival is over. It's much like dating. Yeah, exactly. He's got give him a minute to decompress. Because we said two guys have been married for a long time. This is true. But we have to get, you have to give them time to decompress. Don't call them the day after Sundance. Like they're not gonna give them a week, give him three, four or five days, and then reach out to them again. But that's that's about it, and you're gonna get so many business cards, you will lose them. So just make sure you hand them out and just be cool. That's the biggest advice we can give you be cool. Be Cool. Yeah.

Adam Bowman 17:50
Tip eight, if you can stay as close as possible to Main Street and Park City.

Alex Ferrari 17:55
And there's a lot of places near Main Street on our street. There's a handful of hotels, which are probably all both. But there are multiple houses Airbnb is going up the hill up like if it means if Main Streets right here, their houses that go up right on the side. And if you can get into any of that area, that's just a walk.

Adam Bowman 18:13
Absolutely. I mean, within a mile of Main Street, you're solid, anything outside of that you're running into issues of trying to get to Main Street, which goes back to one of our previous tips, don't drive and so that creates problems in itself.

Alex Ferrari 18:25
If you think you're gonna get a cool Airbnb and like, Oh, I'm only 1520 minutes out of Sundance. Don't do it. Yeah, don't do it. You're done. You know, it's not a good, it's not a good thing to do. Another big tip, though, if you're gonna go to Sundance with some go with Sundance, go with a group of people. Yeah, more people you can get you can rent out a bigger place, drop the cost down dramatically. And basically, every time I've ever got a Sundance, it's a hostile. Like, I've never had my own private room at Sundance, it doesn't happen. Even huge monster, you know, people in the business, right? millions of dollars a year, are sleeping on the floor, right or on a couch somewhere. Because there's just no space to you know, and that's just the way it is. That's right. 70,000 plus people inundate that city for that 10 days. It's an it's

Adam Bowman 19:11
It's not built for that

Alex Ferrari 19:12
It's not built very small percentage of that. So definitely don't stay too far out of a Park City if you're going to or a main street, if you can help it.

Adam Bowman 19:22
Tip number nine for surviving Sundance. Recognize you will be at altitude. What's the scene? What's the altitude of La?

Alex Ferrari 19:29
Zero Yeah, if you're going to be at 7000 feet, and trust me from someone who came from even actually lower than zero. I came from Miami. Yeah, which is literally under the water. And I got to I got to Sunday, hazmat and I it's the worst feeling in the world. Because you walk five feet and you're like, you can't grab your breath. It is brutal for someone who's not ready for it or let alone doesn't understand that's going to happen to you feel like you're going to die is horrible

Adam Bowman 20:01
Main Street is on an incline? Oh, yeah, no, no, it's it's a hill, it's a mountain, you're you're climbing up a mountain

Alex Ferrari 20:09
Every so if you got to go to slam dance from the bottom of the hill, you're walking up probably three, four or five blocks up,

Adam Bowman 20:17
It's about half to three quarters of a mile from bottom and top

Alex Ferrari 20:20
Right, and you're gonna walk it and you're gonna die a couple times a day, probably probably so you're going to die. That's why a lot of people wait for the trial, plus at the top or the trolleys in the trust to take you down or because they take you around as well. But just be prepared for altitude and understand that you're gonna have to deal with it. So like I said, in my prior tip, chlorophyll to oxygenate your blood will be good, any other stuff, any other supplement that you can buy, to oxygenate your blood will help you acclimate to it better

Adam Bowman 20:47
hydrate and hydrate lots and lots of water or what other kind of there's a stick or some sort of stick? Chapstick?

Alex Ferrari 20:55
Yes, chaps. Sorry. chapstick is so frickin important. I cannot express to you how important chapstick some sort of Vaseline core it's dry, it's high. I'm telling you, if you do not have chapstick, you will die because you will chop your lips. And there's nothing worse than being with losing your breath. Exhausted wet feet. Try to climb up the hill to get a chapstick which is only maybe one place in all of our city that

Adam Bowman 21:25
On Main Street. Yeah, I think that just that that Main Street deli there right now. I think that's the only place that

Alex Ferrari 21:30
And they sell it for $75. So just just bring a handful of chapstick with you. I think that'd be really beneficial to you.

Adam Bowman 21:37
Tip number 10. If you are willing, if you're able, if you have the know how to get out and ski.

Alex Ferrari 21:43
Yes, I've never partake in myself. I'm a fool. But I am also a Florida boy. Oh, there's that.

Adam Bowman 21:50
You can also snowboard.

Alex Ferrari 21:53
I know, I know. It's sacrilege, but I'm sorry.

Adam Bowman 21:56
But you could you can't. You can't. It's possible. But the slopes are empty. Yes, January typically has some of the best snow of the year. And nobody's on the mountain. It's also a great way, you know, it can feel really oppressive with all the people. And in Sundance, it's a great way to get out clear your head, you know, and sort of regroup before the next nighttime activities are that are going to take 10 years off your life. Yes, there.

Alex Ferrari 22:23
I'm actually 25 Yeah. And those are tips, guys. I hope that helps you out a little bit. If you're a newbie to Sundance, even if you're a veteran, sometimes you find these little tips. Absolutely. It's always a learning process. It took me a few years to pick up a lot of these things. So and Adam has been how many times this will be my 17th year. He is a veteran. I've been there about six to seven. So I've been there a few times as well. But between both of us, we probably have done everything that can't be done at at Sundance. Physically. Yes. And learn from our mistakes, please. Yeah, please and have a good time. It's an enjoyable experience. It's a very magical experience that there is honestly no other place on earth and no other Festival on earth that has this kind of experience to it not can not Toronto, they all have their unique total it's a Sundance is a very unique experience. So enjoy it. And it does go fast. So enjoy it while you're there, guys. It doesn't feel like it goes fast. No, no while you're there. No, but it does but it does it just fly right by. So enjoy yourself guys. And stay safe and don't drive.

Adam Bowman 23:32
Don't drive. And check us out. We're gonna have a web series going on interviewing great guests talking about the festival and their their films. And also don't forget to hashtag crashed Sundance.

Alex Ferrari 23:44
Absolutely. Talk to you guys soon. I'm telling you, some of those tips are gold. I've been sick so many times going to Sundance because of the weather and the change. And now with the seasons specifically with all this flu going around. definitely take heed to a lot of our suggestion, guys. So I hope you guys will be out there. If you are out there, please reach out. We're going to be doing a we're going to be doing a party, we're going to be at the slam dance at the top of the hill on Saturday between 2:30 and 4:30. I'm doing a lecture on Blackmagic cameras Blackmagic workflow that I did on the Hulu show dimension 404 as well as the space program and a little bit on this is Meg as well. So definitely come out. It's gonna be a couple hours and then there's gonna be a happy hour. Right after that between five and seven. Up at slam dance. I'll put the information in the show notes, which are at indiefilmhustle.com/214. And we will be recording lots of interviews and doing a lot of cool stuff. So definitely keep an eye out on the hashtag crash Sundance, which is going to be our hashtag throughout the festival. And you can also of course keep track of any film hustle social media accounts, Twitter and Facebook specifically, and you'll be able to see all of them Live interviews that we're going to be doing cool behind the scenes and some other little surprises that we have in store for you guys. So, as always keep that also going, keep the dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

  • Sundance Film Festival – Official Site
  • Slamdance Film Festival – Official Site
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B0007ZF4Q8″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Heat Packs[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B000GG7XGC” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Chapstick[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link keywords=”Snow Boots” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Snow Boots[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link keywords=”Snow Gloves” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Snow Gloves[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link keywords=”Thermal Socks” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Thermal Socks[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link keywords=”Immune Supplements” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Immune Supplements[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link keywords=”Natural Energy Supplements” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Natural Energy Supplements[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link keywords=”Chlorophyll” locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]Chloyphil[/easyazon_link] (for altitude sickness)

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)

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.

[thrive_leads id=’8866′]

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

SaveSave

IFH 160: Edward Burns – The Craft of the Low Budget Indie Film (The Brothers McMullen 2.0)

Right-click here to download the MP3

The 1995 film The Brothers McMullen was a game-changer. Not only did it start off the career of one of the most talented independent filmmakers, Edward Burns, but it also set a new avenue of possibilities for filmmakers everywhere. No longer did they need to hope for a big-name and big-budget studio to carry their story. Instead, filmmakers were given the hope to have their stories heard through a new avenue- the independent market. This is the story of how one small film that cost just $28,000 to make, paved the way to the indy film market AND earned more than $10-million while doing it!

Instead, filmmakers were given the hope to have their stories heard through a new avenue- the independent market. This is the story of how one small film that cost just $28,000 to make, paved the way to the indie film market AND earned more than $10-million while doing it!

What made The Brothers McMullen so game-changing was its production details. Formerly, movies were required to go through the writing stage, the casting stage, filming stage, post-production and of course, planned release. All of these were carried out by big-budget studios, taking a chance on their directors, actors, and producers—hoping for the best. That is a model that started in the early 1900s and carried through until landmark films and more importantly, landmark filmmakers challenged that model. The Brothers McMullen is a perfect example of pushing the envelope in terms of film production.

It was the spring of 1993 when film-lover Ed Burns first took to the task of writing his own production. He was employed at the television show “Entertainment Tonight”, as a production assistant, but longed to move into his true love- film. After writing the story of three brothers, he filmed it using 16mm film at his own home and around his neighborhood. Of course, at the time, it wasn’t unheard of to film a movie but to expect any type of commercial success –outside the neighborhood of family and friends—was a complete impossibility. Burns didn’t believe that.

Of course, at the time, it wasn’t unheard of to film a movie but to expect any type of commercial success –outside the neighborhood of family and friends—was a complete impossibility. Burns didn’t believe that.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Now, today's show, guys, I wanted to talk about a guy that you guys probably know about. His name is Edward Burns. He's a very famous actor and a director. He's one of those kind of legendary guys from the 90s, who had one of those mythical stories of a guy winning Sundance and going off to this amazing career. And the movie he made was the brothers macmullan. Now if you guys have not seen the brothers macmullan you definitely got to check it out. I'll leave links to every movie that I want to talk about everything that I'm gonna talk about in the show notes at indie film, hustle.com Ford slash 160. So I wanted to get that out of the way. So I could just talk shop here. So Ed burns made this movie called The brother took mall and he made it for about 28 grand. Now back in 1995. That was the equivalent of Kevin Smith making his clerks movie for 23 grand and Robert for making his Robert Rodriguez making and mariachi for seven grand and so on. So it was it was the thing he shot it all on film. And he was working as a PA, for entertainment tonight. And the story goes, that he actually made this movie, he borrowed money from his family, his friends and and made the got the 28 grand shot with film shot with short ends. He would edit his film on beta tape after hours at Entertainment Tonight, and he was just you know, killing himself for about eight months. Then one day that he was on a crew that was interviewing Robert Redford. So he literally brought a copy of his movie that he had caught at that point, had a VHS copy of it and literally ran up to Robert after the interview in the elevator and said, Mr. Redford, here's my movie, I really want you to see it. Robert Redford said thank you very much. He headed to assistant the doors close. And he said, Well, nothing will ever happen from that. Now a few weeks later, it gets a call from Greg Gilmore, who is the Sundance who was the Sundance program director. And he asked him, Hey, is your movie done? And he's like, Oh, yes, it is. Of course it goes well, we'd like to see a final version of this. And one thing led to another they got into the festival. And that kind of started getting things crazy. Because back then, you know, getting into Sundance, you know, you were it was a much bigger deal than it is now don't get me wrong. Getting into Sundance today is still a big deal. But the buying frenzies and things like that were not the same as they are now they were just insane. Back then people were getting deals left and right just because you were in Sundance, so he thought he was very happy to be there. And he got it sold to Fox Searchlight, which was just starting I was a little company at the time, a little indie version, an indie company that was owned by 20th Century Fox and brothers and while that was going to be the first release, he never thought in a million years that he would actually win Sundance, but he did. He was Best Picture that year, and you went crazy. And the rest of his career was launched. He went on to make I think 12 million $13 million on a brothers with Marlon for the first release. Then he got a big studio movie, which was I think about another $15 million at the time with little unknown people like Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston and an amazing cast and he any any kind of went on to do very well as not only a director but also as an actor. He wasn't Saving Private Ryan and so on. Now, I'm sure you're asking yourselves Alex, why are you talking about this guy right now? What what's so like, that's great. I don't have 28 grand and it's not 1995. So why are you talking about what what's the big deal? I'm like, well, the one thing that Edward Burns has been doing over the course of the last decade, is he still has been making these small indie movies. And as technology has changed, so has he. His movies been ranging anywhere from 25 grand all the way down to nine grand, which he made a movie called newlyweds for nine grand shot it in 11 days, and he shot it on a Canon five D and he had a three man crew now. I have since then, since kind of falling back into the Edward Bernays world. I've gone back and re watched a ton of his independent movies. And his DVDs are just plumb filled to the brim with indie film nuggets of gold knowledge bombs, and his director commentary he is so open, so free with the information that he gives you, because he really truly wants to help you as a filmmaker. And they're amazing. And they're dirt cheap. I mean, dirt cheap guys, you know, talking about two cents, plus shipping on Amazon dirt cheap. And he also wrote a book called independent Ed, which chronicles all of these movies and how he made each movie the struggles he had with each of these movies over the last decade of all the way from brothers McMullan all the way currently, I think I think it was 2013 2014 when he's making Fitzgeralds of family Christmas, which was his last big indie that he did before he did a show on TNT. And I did read that book, and it is mandatory reading for anybody in the indie film hustle tribe, this book has to be read by everyone listening to my voice right now. It is a game changer kind of book. Same goes for Rebel Without a crew, Robert Rodriguez, his book, and a couple other books, and I'm actually gonna start doing some more books stuff. Because I think books have been such an important part of my growth as a filmmaker and as a as a person, that I think I'm gonna start highlighting books coming going forward in the months and hopefully years to come. But this book is accompanied with multiple films that you can watch with multiple commentaries. And he has in his book, he goes over the Macmillan 2.0, which are the rules that he basically follows, to make an independent film in a truly independent film. Now mind you, you're saying, oh, but he's a big actor. Now he think he might be a big actor, man. But you know what people don't want to give, you know, people, it's hard, it's still hard to get a couple million dollars to make a movie even with an ED burns attached, you know, especially the kind of movies he wants to make, which are smaller movies that are not like big action movies, or genre movies, he's figuring out a way to do it himself. So the rules of the Macmillan 2.0 are very simple. actors would have to work for virtually nothing pretty much scale, which is above about a buck 25. Now for sag, sag ultra low budget contract, the film should take no longer than 12 days to film, do not shoot any more than with a three man crew. Actors use their own clothes. So there's no wardrobe. actors do their own hair and makeup. you beg, borrow and steal every location you can get your hands on. And one of the tips that Ed talks about in his book, and I've done this as well, and it does work is you promise the owner of the restaurant or the supermarket or whatever, you give them a big establishing shot in the movie, you promise them that you will have their name of their of their restaurant in the movie in a big establishing shot. And a lot of times that does work. And finally, use every resource that you have at your disposal. I was talking to a filmmaker the other day, who wanted to make a certain kind of movie. And I said, well wait a minute before you go down this road that you have really no resources in, what do you do? And he said, he was like, I'm a tattoo artist. And I said, Well, why don't you make a movie about that? You know that world very well. You have access to things like a tattoo shop and resources in that world that I don't have access to if I was going to start doing the movie about tattooing, it cost me a lot more than it would cost him so I said also by the way you pretty you know that market very well. Don't you do those? Yeah, I do. I know tattoo. Very well I know, the customers who you know my customers and the world of tattooing, the subculture of tattooing, I'm like, well, wouldn't it be easier to sell a movie to that culture, to that subculture to that audience, because you know, that audience, you have connections in that audience, you can spread the word in that audience, so much easier than you could try to make a generic horror movie, or a romantic comedy. And he's like, My God, you're right. So he took his resources, and he's gonna take his resources that he has, right, something around those resources, and then sell it to that audience, which is like, the bone is on top of it all. You know, Robert Rodriguez, and I've said this a million times on the show, he said, I have a Mexican town, I've got a police department that will let me borrow their guns. I've got a guitar case, I got a pitbull and a turtle. And let's go make a movie. And that's basically what he did with El Mariachi. It's not brain surgery, but you've just got to have the balls to go out there and do it. It you know, so when I went out and made mag, I did the exact same thing. I was like, we shot the movie in eight days, what of our resources, I'm like, well, Joe had access to amazing talent that we can bring into the project. Great, I have all my posts, I have all my camera gear, I have locations, I'll use my house, my edit suite. So it has production value, oh, shoot that scene in the back room over there that will shoot at your house and we'll shoot at your friend's Mansion House, then we'll go over here, then we'll go hike up to the Hollywood Hill, hollywood Hollywood sign and we'll shoot a scene up there and all of this stuff. And we wrote the whole script around what we had access to. And we did it pretty close to a three man crew, I think at the most heaviest day, we had a four four person crew meaning you know, me, Austin, which was my camera gaffer and a second camera and gaffer and the sound guy slash grip. And that's basically the core team and myself as the the first camera. And that was basically it. And then Jill did a craft services with me and, and she, she did this late. And then occasionally we had a PA once in a blue moon, we had somebody just kind of moving things around as a separate a second body. But generally we did that three man crew, and it is possible to do and when I release this as Meg, you'll see what we were able to do in eight days, not saying it's a greatest movie of all time, not saying it's it's gonna blow anybody out of the water or change the industry by any stretch. But we got something done. We made a good movie, at least a movie that I enjoy. And we're putting it out there. And guess what I made a feature film, I finally could put that on my resume that I've made a feature film that I'm proud of. And that's all we can hope to do. And if I one person out there likes it, which I know one person that's not my mom, like that out there already. Who has seen it from the festival experience. That's great. You know what, and like I've said before, I have no attachments to what happens with Meg. But to go back to what Ed was talking about is these rules. This macmullan 2.0 is a blueprint to go out and make a movie. Case in point, Jim de Flaco, who is a tribe member and made his first feature film, Long Island love story and used everything that Edward Byrne said in his book to make his movie, he shot his movie for 6000 bucks. It's an 82 minute movie shot in 11 days. And he did exactly what I did with a lot of his movies. And I'll put a link up to to the article that he wrote on how he made that movie. in the show notes. Once again, the show notes, any film hustle.com for slash 160 the end of the day, guys is I can talk to you guys about making movies all day long. I can give you advice on how to go out and oh, you could do this or you could do that and you can save money here. You can get this deal there. And you can get actors doing this way you could do write that script doing that way I can talk about that all day, all day for the rest of my life. The bottom line is you've got to get up off your ass and go make your movie. Go make your series go make something for God's sakes and stop waiting around. It's not about tomorrow. It's about now stop listen to that little voice inside of you. That's always kind of negotiating with you like oh well maybe next week we'll work on that script or maybe next week we'll we'll go out and start looking into cameras and and are going to find actors or developing that or doing that maybe next week Not right now cuz you got this this this or this. And if you think you got excuses all my life's too tough. I've got kids. I've got this. Tolstoy. Leo Tolstoy who wrote war in peace had 13 kids, Stephen King wrote carry on a typewriter that he held on his lap while working a night job at a laundry mat. If there is a will, there is a way. I don't want to hear any effin excuses. All right, you've got to get up and go do and if you can make $1,000 movie like Mark duplass says then make $1,000 movie if you can make a 9000 $1,000 movie, like Ed burns did, then do it. When you're done listening to this episode, guys, definitely go to the show notes. And there's a huge article about brothers with molan, how it was made. And also Ed burns and how he developed and does his work as well. Plus a ton of interviews and videos and tips that Edward gives you. They're all in that post. So thank you guys for listening. So, so much. As I said, Before, we are going to be releasing Meg, this is made in August. I'm hoping in the beginning, it's in the first week of August, I'm not sure just yet, we just got to get confirmation back from iTunes. Once it comes out, you're going to get sick of hearing about it until it gets released. Because we're going to try to do something very, very interesting with this as Meg, we're going to try to break iTunes. And I'm going to talk more about how I'm going to do that in the future. And also, I have a really special episode coming up on the podcast. That is has something to do with what stops us from being creative, and what stops us from moving forward. And it was a book that I read that I won't talk about just yet because I want to save it for the podcast. But it's a book that kind of has changed my life and has changed the way I look at everything that I do. But keep an eye out for that because I am going to be doing a special podcast and the next couple next couple of weeks. And I got a bunch of really cool interviews coming up as well. So if you like this episode, or you'd like to show in general, please head over to filmmaking podcast calm and leave us an honest review. It really helps to show out a lot. And please don't forget to spread the word man spread the word about the show about the website. I want as much of this information to get out to filmmakers who needed as possible. So thank you again so much for your support. And thank you for listening. And as always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)