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IFH 503: From The Purge to This is the Night with James DeMonaco

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The Purge franchise is one of the most iconic dystopian action horror series of all time and the man behind it, James DeMonaco is not stopping anytime soon.

James is our guest today and even though we talk a great deal about the various Purge films he’s either written or directed, which are all fan favorites, we start off with his most recently released film, This Is The Night, that was digitally released on September 21, 2021, after a prior theater release on Sep 17, 2021.

This Is The Night, drama stars Frank Grillo, Lucius Hoyos, Jonah Hauer-King, Bobby Cannavale, and Naomi Watts. It is set in the summer of 1982 Staten Island with the release of Rocky III as its backdrop.

The story tells of an average teen who embarks on a quest in his Rocky Balboa-obsessed town that swirls in his family members. Watts and Grillo will play with his parents. His family must confront its greatest challenges and the family realizes that the only way to live is like there’s no tomorrow.

I have tons of questions for James in this interview, which I am sure you, my tribe will appreciate. I have been a fan of some of his work but clueless he had written other top-ranked films on my list, it came as an exciting shock to discover more that James has written, directed, or produced.

Besides screenwriting, directing, and producing projects like the Purge movies,  he’s also written for TV and gets credit for writing The Negotiator, Staten Island, Jack, and Assault on Precinct 13.  

As a child of 5 years old, he would beg his more for a pass to watch the 4:30 ABC network movies and would visit the cinema often. At seven years old, he went to see, Apocalypse at the cinema and that changed everything for him. Leaving that theater with the desire to be part of that experience of whatever happened on the screen. 

Through screenwriting, he landed his first production gig with director Francis Coppola, for the 1996 movie, Jack, starring Robin Williams. 

The inspiration for The Purge was birthed during James’s time living in Paris and Canada. It came mainly, from his relationship against guns even though he had grown up around cops.

The experience in Europe and Canada, in general, were the complete opposites he had observed. This was around the time mass shootings in America were on the rise in the early 2000s. Combined with an aftermath dark thought from a road rage incident curious about what it would be like if we all had a day pass, turned into a masterpiece original screenplay. But dressed in a science fiction dystopian world. 

The Purge: Anarchy – A couple is driving home when their car breaks down just as the Purge commences. Meanwhile, a police sergeant goes out into the streets to get revenge on the man who killed his son, and a mother and daughter run from their home after assailants destroy it. The five people meet up as they attempt to survive the night in Los Angeles. Watch the trailer here.

It was challenging to find someone willing to finance a ‘nihilistic’ and ‘un-American movie life The Purge. James and his partners got about fifty rejections because of how dark the script seemed.   

Until finally with help from Jason Blum who said it was a great fit for his low-budget horror model on his deal with Universal Studios, to be produced by Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes.

The studio took a shot at it and the first Purge movie in 2013 albeit on a $3 million budget, grossed $89.3 million. The film starred Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, and Max Burkholder as members of a wealthy family who find themselves endangered by a gang of murderers during the annual Purge, a night during which all crime, including murder, is temporarily legal.

The franchise includes The Purge: Anarchy( 2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016), a prequel, The First Purge (2018), The Purge TV series(2018 to 2019), and The Forever Purge (2021).

There is a sixth Purge movie in the works. And the franchise has grossed overall over $450 million against a combined production budget of $53 million.

We go deep in the weeds on these projects and James’s writing process.

Enjoy my conversation with James DeMonaco.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, James DeMonaco. Man, how you doing, James?

James DeMonaco 0:25
Good, Alex,thank you for having me, man. Man. pleasure.

Alex Ferrari 0:28
Thank you. Thank you so much, man. I appreciate that. Brother. Thank you for being on the show. I've been a fan of your work for a while man. And and as I dug deeper into your IMDb, I was like, Oh, he did what? He did that to? Like, what? So I have tons of questions. And we're definitely going to get to your new film. This is the night which I've had the pleasure of watching. And we're gonna go deep in the weeds on that one because that's that's that's a it's just a it's a fun movie. And very specific as we were talking about off air, which we'll get into. But before we jump in, man, how did you how and why did you want to get into this ridiculous business?

James DeMonaco 1:05
What's the perfect word ridiculous. Oh, I think um, I think it was weird. my newest movie, I think explains it the most. I was just a movie addicted kid. I was so moved by films moved by movies that I remember seeing something on. You remember the New Yorker? Do you probably remember this? Although probably all over the country, there was something called the 430. Movie. And ABC. Yeah, yeah. I can tell you're younger than me. But so it might not have been around. When you were all age. It was before 30 movie ABC right after the soap opera Edge of Night. And they had been weeks. So you'd have Steve McQueen week, Paul Newman week, monster week, Dracula week, and I became obsessed. My mom said at the age of five with the with this 430 movie and that was that was my introduction to cinema. Just everyday so no matter what I was doing, it was kind of known a neighborhood I grew up in well, seven years in Brooklyn and moved to Staten Island. No matter what age where I was. The neighborhood would hear my mom saying James it's 425 and everybody knew we were playing wiffle ball, you know, touched before. I don't want to cut down guys. I'll see you in an hour and a half, two hours when the movies over. And I went in and that was kind of my film school. And so but it was beyond that to my dad. I joke with him. I think he took me to very inappropriate films, not x rated films. He took me to R rated films. Yes, my two. I had a very young age like I saw. I saw Apocalypse Now. I think I was seven. I should not have been sitting

Alex Ferrari 2:30
no man. I think most 20 year olds it's a rough ride for 20 year olds little seven year old. Mines was Beverly matches Beverly Hills Cop. Flashdance. Yeah, you're young. Yeah. I'm a bit younger.

James DeMonaco 2:42
Yeah. So Apocalypse Now when I was seven, but that's the movie. I think that that's the one that changed everything in that. I remember leaving the theater saying to myself, whatever just happened to me, because there's almost a traumatic experience. I have to be part of whatever just happened on that screen because I felt like I was watching and I forget the feeling. I felt like I was watching another human beings dream. And I was blown away by that. I was blown away. I was like, that's the closest I'm ever going to be inside someone else's head. The imagery that I just saw, and I've always felt that that I like films that have not that films that have a dreamlike quality but i like i like that I'm inside someone else's head. I want to be there. And the more interesting the person the more interesting the dream you're showing me so that was that? That was the movie that changed it all. I was like, I got to get inside that I got to do that.

Alex Ferrari 3:26
Yeah, and the thing with America with Apocalypse Now is a lot of people look at it as as a narrative and it is has a narrative obviously, but it doesn't it's an experiment experiencial film, like space like 2001 Space Odyssey like you experienced that film. It's not as much on a like, like 2000 was hard to get keep the story the story is it's just the experience you walk out change and Apocalypse Now is that as well let alone for Francis and the whole team at shot that and by the way, anybody who's listening you've got to watch hearts of darkness the documentary about that movie

James DeMonaco 4:03
Oh best filmmaker I'm having to be it's the best doctors we about documentary about filmmaking ever I think right hands down

Alex Ferrari 4:10
I mean he almost almost Yeah, yeah he didn't he almost he almost killed himself a couple times.

James DeMonaco 4:15
margene almost died during storms is madness like but it captures that insanity as you know like the insanity of being on set the pressure the money pressure, the creative vision all that shed we told me it's but that movie that that documentary says it all been captured all Yeah, so I worked with Francis later which was

Alex Ferrari 4:34
which, which? We're gonna get into that in a second. Absolutely. But so so you get into so you know, you you walk out and that movie like for me it was at like, I saw it and I was just like, I don't know what I just saw, but I want to be a part of it. But then I put it away to like onto the video store in high school and then then I was exposed to like hundreds if not 1000s of videos and It was it was a whole other world.

James DeMonaco 5:01
Everything but it's weird you say put it away. I don't want to babble. But yeah, I that was also something about our youth. That's so different than now I saw Apocalypse Now it changed my life. But I didn't have access to it. Right, like, seven years from when video came. So it wasn't even on TV. I don't think Francis allowed it to be on TV. So it lived in my head in a very specific way without of repeat viewing that I think it grew, it grew into this mythological beast inside my head. And I think that was wonderful that I got to live with it in a very personal way. Less I watch movies over and over again. So I'm kind of a, I go against what I'm saying there that I love watching movies over and over again. But there was something about that when we were young that we didn't get to watch it immediately. Again, we learn to live with how to live with this kind of impression.

Alex Ferrari 5:45
Oh, for me, it was Star Wars that I saw star I the first time I actually saw Star Wars was on TV on a black and white. This this inch TV is the first episode of Star Wars, which was horrible, but I had already seen Empire Strikes Back. And I had already seen return on Jedi first Why? Because I was you know i was i was young. So I didn't get to see as I saw Empire in the theater so I returned but return was the one that really blew my mind cuz I was older at that point. And then I saw star so Star Wars was this mythical thing that no one. It wasn't around. I couldn't see it everyone. Like it was insane. So but it's a weird it's a weird thing. Even Scorsese and that whole generation talks about like, you know, having to go to the arthouse cinema to watch things like of course, our retrospective or, or a Kubrick rest retrospective or something like that, that you would get to watch these films again, but then with the video stores can you get to watch it again again, now literally anything anytime, as many times you want to

James DeMonaco 6:40
watch through any moment, any moment like Ethan Hawke wrote them a buddy Ethan I made a bunch of movies when he wrote to me like he goes, You must go see out of the blue. You must see it like goes to Dennis Hopper film from 1980. And I had never seen it I heard about it well in demands. But immediately like I was able to watch out of the blue last night like I got like video. Let me search a couple of things and there's out of the blue. Okay, so the access now, the wonderful also takes away It makes everything seem somewhat normal. It's almost it takes away from the advent of film,

Alex Ferrari 7:10
it's almost disposable. It's almost disposable. Where when you went to a theater it wasn't even if you went to the video store. It wasn't it wasn't but now you're you have Apocalypse Now next to it to a $1,000 indie movie dude exactly in the same in the same queue. And and it's sometimes it kind of like dilutes get diluted that magic

James DeMonaco 7:34
content takes away from it being so special and that's what's scary that's that's one of the reasons I made this movie is to say we did something about that communal aspect of the theater the event of it all driving to the theater waiting online makes it all special. We've taken all that away now all that's gone, you know,

Alex Ferrari 7:50
literally not because of the pandemic it's like real gone.

James DeMonaco 7:53
And we celebrated what we were already hearing right before this all happened right hearing the death of the cinema and now I think COVID is accelerated I hope listen not to get into but I hope that it you know, I hope that is a fuse that people want to get out of their houses I guess reunited.

Alex Ferrari 8:09
It will it will but I think it's gonna be it's gonna be a different than what we remember it. It's definitely never going to be the 80s or the 90s or even the early 2000s it's it's just not that's why I'm really curious about avatar. When it finally does come out is everyone going to go out to see avatar again? Is it going to do what we all hope it is going to do? Is James gonna save us all

James DeMonaco 8:31
I was looking at the boxes of Titanic reasoning someone brought up to 20 mil it did do that opened at 20 mil but it held 20 mil every

Alex Ferrari 8:40
million no it did 20 then it did like 30 then it just like the 30 and then it just kept going up. And then it slowly I remember because I tracked it then it went down because it came out Christmas. Then it like for the fruit it went up up a little bit then like started holding holding then Valentine's Day came up and it jumped to 60 and then it dropped back and then it just started to drop back down again slowly like 5545 it was just an insanity in 97 money. So

James DeMonaco 9:08
right exactly, exactly. It's something like that happening again. You know what I mean? That's what's scary. I hope

Alex Ferrari 9:14
I'm the last time that happened was avatar yes I mean even even the Avengers even the Avengers all their money's up front but avatar held and people kept going because it was an experience of going TO to see it in 3d only 3d movie I've ever enjoyed his avatar.

James DeMonaco 9:30
I'm with you. Same here same was the one I enjoyed. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 9:33
And that's the only time I would watch anyway let's get back on the track. Because I know we're gonna have it's gonna be a fantastic conversation. Let's just keep talking, talking talking. So Alright, so you start you want to get to the business you start writing scripts I'm assuming you start writing a whole bunch of scripts you write a whole bunch of bad scripts. Oh god bad a bunch of bad getting thing. How do you get your your first scripts sold? And was that first script jack?

Unknown Speaker 9:57
Yes, yes, indeed. It was so I wrote I was right I started writing scripts at 12 very early like you said is bad I always tell people that write bad scripts talk bad get them out get them out of your system to very bad scripts or something called clear read slam it was flying cars bad kids in the neighborhood a lot of bad kids in the neighborhood tough guys. guy that was scared of you know, all that kind of thing. writing about you know, Staten Island Brooklyn stuff. And then yeah, so probably literally 20 scripts before anything worthwhile even to peep I look back at them now. They're almost incomprehensible, but also trying to find scripts to read back then almost impossible. Right? Like, Manhattan? No, you could walk the streets they used to be I don't remember this. dude's on corners.

Alex Ferrari 10:39
By NYU, by NYU. Oh, yeah. But they're bootleg

James DeMonaco 10:44
like this. I found young guns at the age of eight like 19 Young Guns holy shit Young Guns too. But it was first script I saw my believable john fosco great writer. Yeah, Mike This is just so what that first screenplay is so written other than I had said fellas, books I think I'm saying Yeah, screenwriting guru. That really was the way I learned about the the structure of screenwriting. But beyond that, it was no act no internet, no access to really anything. So writing bad scripts, right? So I'd go to them can't get it. I don't I don't literally have one. I don't I don't know anyone who has any connection even to Hollywood or indie film, if that even existed. And I go to NYU. I'm there for grad there for a little while not enjoying the experience. I don't want to bad mouth. It wasn't for me. A lot of guy. A lot of people there had a lot of money. To me. Everything was about your senior thesis film building to that. And a kids had a lot of money to shooting comes from 50 to $100,000. Maybe when my bartending daily money, I could scrape up two grand to shoot a film and I'm like, yeah, you know, getting actors to be in their films to like Danny DeVito and Daryl Hannah, were in some short films, and I'm like, this is insane. I'm not gonna. So long story short, I was about to quit. I met a guy who had raised money through his dad, he had no money himself, but his dad had access to some money. And he asked me to write it. He had seen something I did small man named Gary annadelle, wonderful filmmaker. And he's like, Oh, right, my short film. Could you write it? So we wrote it together. And we ended up winning what's called a student Academy Award for the short film that he directed, I wrote, co wrote and produced. And we got he got off that William Morris as the agent as his agent. And we were like, wow, this is a big step. And I met with him because I wrote it. And I had all those trunk scripts, you know, I had 20 scripts that I had written over the years, but most of them were very dark. And Gary was a more Spielberg like director Zemeckis kind of et ish kind of guy. And, and the movie we wrote the short film was also in that vein, it was called read it had it had a pre contemplated good feel to it. Long story short, they're like you need to write something's de Monaco scripts are too dark for Gary to direct write something, a feature that Gary could direct, maybe we could sell it, who the hell knows? We ended up writing this thing in 17 days based on a crazy idea. We had one night drinking tequila, right, his Manhattan apartment about a kid pages fast. And we banged out the script project very quickly. And lo and behold, we'd give it to the agent. They're like, Oh, we think there's something here and they start sending it around. We were flying out simultaneous give a crazy story. We were flying off at a student Academy Awards that Monday we gave it to them on the Friday. So over that weekend, they read it. We're on a plane, we land in LA. And the ex head of Hollywood this is like this is almost fantastical, the head of Hollywood studios, Riccardo maestros, he just left his pose to give him one of those golden parachute producing deals is in a limo waiting for us at La x, saying I want your script. This is out of a movie. I'm not kidding, dude. We're like, What? Who are you? So we want to pay phone. We don't have cell phones. We call William Morris like, yeah, there's a bidding war going on and he really wants it. But don't commit. go have a drink with him and then get the limo to take you to Willie Mars. To crazies and I'm a kid. Gary's a kid from Cleveland. I'm from Staten Island. I'm like, This is madness. We're in a limo. Big power player in Hollywood. We record Oh, he's making secret phone calls. During the meeting. We go to William Morris is a bidding war on the script and ends up Disney buys it for Ricardo and thus begins the weirdest journey of my life and inauguration into this business. JACK goes into production they fire to get rid of Gary because Robin Williams is interested and Robin wanted Francis and somehow Gary's let go. Yeah, we all understood it. Okay. I was baffled that Francis wanted to do it. It was a good movie. So

Alex Ferrari 14:26
it's not a Francis. Yeah, it's not a Coppola style film.

James DeMonaco 14:30
I didn't and he was a very sweet was, you know, was bait you know, sentimentally would not send him an emotionally It was kind of like a movie that was around that time called searching for Bobby Fischer. That was the original love Gary Nye. And it was in the world. That's what kind of filmmaker Gary was and still is. And then so Francis is just his. It wasn't his style to be just blonde. It wasn't in any way shape or form. So we were shocked by that. Luckily for me, because jack did not turn out I could be very honest about it did not turn out at all how I wanted With the experience was amazing cuz I did get to live with Francis on his at the winery for over a month which was just as and I was 24 at the time I was quite young at this moment. I luckily had taken a couple of those trunk scripts show them to William Morris and they had sold them. So I had a couple in the pipeline one being ended up being the negotiator and I had a couple I sold cold another one called fire and rain that almost got made a new line another one called jacket fools. That was all of a stones company at the time. So I started my more genre stuff that was more me I should say. Whereas I had this weird thing going with Coppola and Gary my partner into my writing partner at the time on the jack script, and then due to be quite honest, it did not end up the way we any of us. I think thought I hate saying the word misfire, but I think Francis would also call it a misfire It's a strange movie that didn't call it last appropriately.

Alex Ferrari 15:51
You know what I mean? I've always liked anything Robin Williams does always fan you know, and I I miss I miss him in a way that I that I felt like I knew him. But I didn't. But I so jack is has a very special place in my heart and then that it's so odd because it seems like a robin williams movie. Yes, but it doesn't seem like a Coppola movie. Exactly. Yeah. And there was a young Jennifer Lopez in it at the time. A very young Jennifer Lopez I remember. Right I am asked I mean, Bill Cosby. So let me ask you a question. I meant like Apocalypse Now is the movie that got you going into this like what is it like meeting co like phrases in the winery?

Unknown Speaker 16:37
I've been to the winery winery.

Alex Ferrari 16:38
I've been to the winery. I haven't been I haven't met him but I've been at the winery. Which is is insane that wineries it's insanity.

Unknown Speaker 16:45
Living so you walk in we meet Francis I flying in he wants. He specifically calls me to any school. Here's the fun part. Dude, I'm living at home at the time. I don't have a pasta person. I'm living with my parents in Staten Island. I'll never forget this. I'm playing hockey in the street, literally roller hockey with the guys from the neighborhood. My mom yelling out the window said Francis is on the phone. He's calling my house. How old are you?

Alex Ferrari 17:07
How old are you?

Unknown Speaker 17:07
I'm 24. Just 24. My kid right still playing roller hockey. Alright, and France was calling my house. My mom is like shaking. It's Francis. He's talking to me. And he was calling to tell me about some software. He wanted to email me. I didn't know what email was. He's like, you got to get email James. So we could send a script to each other. I didn't know what he was even talking about. I had no email. So it was just wonderful. I still have the message him saying Hi, Mr. Mrs. De Monaco. It's Francis Ford Coppola. I'm looking for your son. We have the message on the tape. My parents saved

Alex Ferrari 17:36
it. Oh my god. Oh, the tape of course because it was

Unknown Speaker 17:40
a tape machine. So long story short, it was a very strange so we go to Gary and I go to the winery. And I have pictures I wish I had. I don't have I should get I was gonna show you one of me on food on the Apocalypse Now boat. It's in the middle of the winery in a giant field sitting there. This boat boat from Apocalypse Now that Fishburne and sheen and bottoms were on my top five favorite film. And every night Gary and I would sneak out to the boat. He lied to us. He didn't care Francis and we just hang out on the boat drinking beers and drinking and talking and Francis would come visit us and I'm like this is this is not really happening. This is a dream. This is a dream. The dream is the dream. And so the experience was lovely. And he's a lovely man. He's a wonderful human being. And unfortunately I think for all of us it just now just didn't come together artistically the way but I'll never I wouldn't trade the experience I guess you know, I got we got ripped apart by critics. Let me gene set shallot called Gary and I villainous nincompoops when he saw the film, which is

Alex Ferrari 18:35
so easy to criticize when you're sitting on the sidelines. So easy, so easy.

Unknown Speaker 18:40
Oh boy, that's hard. I gotta get used to this business. Oh, yeah, they

Alex Ferrari 18:44
don't they don't hold punches. They don't hold. But so so then you working with Francis, what was the one lesson you took away from Francis? Because I'm assuming he just was spitting out gold left and right. As far as just story and structure and things?

Unknown Speaker 18:57
Yeah, I think it was. It was about writing. It's Don't be so don't it's not so precious. Especially if you want to direct Don't be so precious about it. It's ever changing. And he got to keep changing with it. Like be inspired by everyone around you. And don't be like no, I'm beholden to the word. Don't be that director because he thinks he thinks directors like that ultimately do fail because they're not. They're not open to the artist around them, meaning actors productive whoever's giving you that nugget that you should then change or even a studio exactly is good. There are good ones out there. Good if the notes are good, hear them absorb them and don't be just like locked in. He believes he always felt that the people who are too locked in and saying I don't change a word. Really don't get too far. You got to be open to really making better and better and better. So I always thought was kind of because back then I was I was a pain in the ass. 24 year old Mike. No, I wrote it. That's what you say.

Alex Ferrari 19:53
I have to ask you this man because I know where I was at 24 How was the ego? How How did he How was the ego during that time because you're 24 you're from Staten Island, you're flying now hanging out with Francis Ford Coppola on the Apocalypse Now Poe, like, I gotta imagine that the ego has to be out of control.

Unknown Speaker 20:13
Absolutely, dude. And I got reprimanded, you know, bullshit. I got reprimanded by I'll never forget this. So we did. So we sell the script and you know, with, uh, with the talk of the town, sharing that sale, all that bullshit, and we get sent around, they sent a huge announcement. UTA was really March at the time, sent us into, to do meetings to do just meet everybody in town. What about waterbottle? tour? Exactly. And then right after that, I sold those other two scripts and I you know, I had I was probably full of beans at the time thinking I'm hot shit at 24. And the studios I won't say who it was a couple of studios who call the agents and said, you know, your, your boy sits there with his leather jacket on thinking he's top of the world. He's got a little be a little more open to what we have to say. And it was a great lesson though, man, and we really needed it. I need a little Smackdown you know, because, uh, you know, and then listen, jack came out. I got a big smackdowns

Alex Ferrari 21:01
Oh, I can imagine. I can imagine a 24 or 24 year old James with a leather jacket from Staten Island on Main Streets jacket on. Yeah, you're sitting there going like who these frickin West Coast guys know. Exactly. That's a

Unknown Speaker 21:17
learning learning. It's a process. And I think I matured very quickly though. I was, in a way jack forced me to say okay, okay, this is much tougher.

Alex Ferrari 21:25
Because you were you were for a moment you were at the top of the town and you were going up and you're like, you couldn't get bigger than working with Francis Ford Coppola and Robin Williams. Back on your first spec script. It's pretty unprecedented. So you're on this. I mean, it's unprecedented. And then you're like, going up and then. And that's, and that's the town. And that's exactly one moment. You're the hot shit and the next. Who are you? Exactly. Who are you? You're the guy who wrote them to voicemail? Yeah. voicemail. So then So from there, how did you get involved with this assault with precision 13 which I love the remake of that. How did you get involved with that?

Unknown Speaker 22:07
Right? So I'd written the negotiator with another buddy, childhood friend. And then we weren't doing much together. We had done a TV show together. But we weren't we were kind of not wasn't real partnership. We had just written that together. And then the French guys some French guys who came very close with had loved negotiate negotiated was very beloved in France, which I didn't know. And they had bought the rights to precinct 13 for a French direct and john Francois reshade. Good French directed to remake and they just had this thing like the guy from negotiate it should write it. And they called me through it through a man named Jim Stark, wonderful indie producer produce some of the early Jarmusch films. Anyway, Jim was in New York and he knew me through a woman called me said these French guys want to meet you. They flew in I hung out with them. I'm like, this is the weirdest now connection. And they were from a very renowned, kind of what we would call art film company called wine productions. I don't know they make all the oh no depletion films, Jocko do film, rust and bone to a profit wonderful films they make over the years. They've won con many times. But they love genre movies, the French love genre movies, which is wonderful. They love crazy, beautiful, dramatic films. They love genre films, they love coffee. And they were like, let's do this together. And I said, Well, I just want to get the bless, I'll come up with a take. So I made the cops, the bad guys. That was kind of my take on changing it, like always make the cops the bad guys. And it's not the gang members. So it's cop on cop. But that was kind of subversive, but I wanted to pick to I want to John's blessing. So we met john. We all met john john love to take on He's like, that's cool. And having John's blessing. I said let me go up now. All right. And we were able to get the financing from focus. And Jonathan Swan did a pretty good job. And yeah, it was a great that's where I met Ethan and I met also met Sebastian mrca, who ended up becoming my producing partner. We started a company together. And he's now produced all the films with Jason Blom. And also my new one. This is the night and my personal Staten Island New York so

Alex Ferrari 23:58
so um, but you did right. Did you write with john on this? The gentleman with you know,

James DeMonaco 24:04
just just met him at one time do that was it? Yeah, okay.

Alex Ferrari 24:06
I was I was meeting john met.

Unknown Speaker 24:08
I was still the coolest dude, the long hair. You know, I wish I was john coffin that so

Alex Ferrari 24:14
when I grow up when I grew up, I want to be

Unknown Speaker 24:18
I saw him. My buddy Steve a local DJ here on Staten Island we went to he took me he bought me tickets to john does these concerts I know about them. We went to the one up on pier 48 here in New York. JOHN plays all the music from his films being staged most scenes from the movies sold out as many years. Three years ago. Wonderful. Wonderful. Yeah, that's good to see that look for that John's traveling music tour is great.

Alex Ferrari 24:42
So I see your your writing and you you're doing really good job the negotiator you got jack, you know you're working right or at this point, but you want to direct Yes, because everybody wants to direct everybody. Right? As my old as my old joke goes when Going into an Uber in LA I go. So how's the script?

Unknown Speaker 25:06
Every gas station attendant? Why I don't think I ever went out there. I was so intimidated by that. on Staten Island. It was kind of unique. I'm writing screenplays. Oh, you're a big fish. Oh, you're a big fish out there. Yeah. Well, on Staten Island.

Alex Ferrari 25:19
Up. I can't walk the streets of Staten Island. I mean, exactly. So, so you get your movie, little New York or Staten Island, whichever name. I don't write names on it.

James DeMonaco 25:32
On New York. I wanted Staten Island to go. Right. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 25:35
So how did you get that project off the ground? due to

Unknown Speaker 25:39
I made a deal with all the with the French guys Pascal cashto Sebastian lemercier a saying if I do write this thing for john Francois Shea, you guys have to find the money for me to direct something. They were like, okay, we'll make that deal. It was kind of a handshake deal. And then I wrote I wrote a salt for you know, john Francois vj. We had some success with that they were happy. Then I wrote a strange little. I'm a Fellini fanatic. So this was kind of my Ode to the absurdity of Fellini films that always inspired me. And I've always found my hometown to be quite an absurd kind of place in a good way. So then I wrote Staten Island New York, which they responded to and Ethan respond met Ethan and I hit it off on assault Ethan Titans you know attach himself to the project with Ethan attach we got Lucas on to read the script and Luke financed it was why he had you know, Europa Europa core films. I think they will call Yeah, Europa core and Luke financed it he was a big fan of the film so we didn't you know, it was good it was it was a great I listen, I love the film. It never found its total way in America or played overseas. We did a lot of festivals, that kind of thing. So it's a weird movie. It's absurd. I but I've learned that I have a love of absurdity that I need to keep in check. If modern audiences love uncertainty the way I do so Sebastian is constantly checking my producers constantly checking my love of absurdity. So right

Alex Ferrari 26:54
yeah, the Fellini films not so and so bought a box office friendly. Eight and a half, eight and a half not not pulling in 100 million opening weekend.

James DeMonaco 27:08
I sneak in I try to sneak in and as you saw and this is the night with the man on the roof. Yeah. What lights on I sneak in my little bits of absurdity and whenever I could, yeah, that

Alex Ferrari 27:16
makes that makes more sense. So Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Now so you're working with Luke man? What's it like working with Luke beside because I am such a huge monstrous fan of loop from from Big Blue to the professional on my subway. I mean, I mean I've been I after I saw the professional I went deep into his archive Big Blue is big booth one oh my god it's wonderful. It's always a beautiful It's a beautiful movie subway and and of course with rights and fifth element and and then his later stuff as well. But the professional is one of those films for me. Yeah, Leah early on, as it should be called Leo. I mean, that's probably one of the most brilliant films I've ever seen.

Unknown Speaker 28:01
Genre wise is one of the best she's amazing in it. Leona. Phillipe is great and Gary Oldman is hopefully ignoring What's his name? JOHN Renault genre

Alex Ferrari 28:11
john Byrne. Whoa, Natalie Portman Gary Oldman at his height of his powers. Every loves off so good. What's it like working with him as a producer, man,

Unknown Speaker 28:22
he was great. He gave me one note he came to set he gave me a great note on set though. So he came to set on Staten Island. So we have lupus on on Saturday, which was great. In and of itself came to set Oh, shoot no the denorfia scenes in the forest. And he was watching the dailies I really liked your dailies, he goes but on every fourth of fifth take whatever you're maxing out at seven, take your last couple of takes. He goes just give everyone that direction of double timing it from camera to actor, he goes you're gonna want the option of everything being a tad faster. So just give yourself the opposite. You just have the camera go faster. If you don't wanna push in, have the actors move a little faster, because your mind at points need to speed things up because it's kind of a slow film on purpose. But he's like, just and I thought it was a great piece of advice that I use to this day. And then on the movie, he gave me one note too, which To this day, I still want to talk to him about it was a very graphic sex scene between Ethan and Julianne that no one ever got to see that started the film, where they're yelling at you, instead of saying I love you, they scream in each other's faces they want to come up with and they're both completely nude and they're just yelling at each other because they want to express their love in a unique way. And their way to do it is to yell. And it's it's a very it's an odd scene, but it's very emotional or emotionally fraught with all dislike passion. And he's like, I remember he called me and then forget this. I was in Manhattan at the time. He's like, James, I love your film. He goes but I have one note. He goes you're playing you have to cut the first scene and it was my favorite scene. I'm like, Why? He goes your movies jazz and that's heavy metal. And it stayed with me. Like oh, you said it too elegantly. I can't I can't I can't come back after that. After that, and he was not wrong but I fought to keep it in for it held them over here for a year and a half years and he's like okay, you could fight all you want show me cuts because No one right. And, uh, so yeah, it was a we got the same we got the same

Alex Ferrari 30:04
you fought off a year a year you were like driving. Let me fight dude, he

Unknown Speaker 30:08
let me keep cutting to try to fit it in exactly what maybe he was responding to that it came first and the movie has a disjointed time structure. sure you're able to move it around though he never bought it. She's like, No, no, you might be right. Listen, I'm not sure. But, you know, it was it was one of those things that I'll live with. I still think about it. It's it's

Alex Ferrari 30:26
still it's Yeah, and but it you know, it's you know, when you get when you get notes from like Coppola and Busan and or Carpenter like, what, like, it's hard to, I mean, you're talking about you're, you're talking to Monet and Van Gogh.

James DeMonaco 30:40
But the Masters, the guy who grew up, I mean, who taught us how to do this,

Alex Ferrari 30:43
right? So when they give you a note, it's hard to not listen, and they might be wrong. They're human, but it'd

Unknown Speaker 30:49
be wrong. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But it's hard. Really, it sinks into your soul and makes you truly contemplate it. Like, you can't you can't dismiss it, whether they're wrong or right, it can't be dismissed. So yeah, it's tough, man. It's

Alex Ferrari 31:00
so so alright, so that that first shoot that first directing gig you got what's the toughest day in that whole shoot, the day that you fell? Because I love asking directors is because I know what it feels like, when you're on set. And you're just like, the whole world's going to come down around me. I'm this close to a panic attack because of this pressure or that pressure this actors not doing this, or that lines up or that we're losing the sun, or the rains coming or the camera blows up, or what was that day for you? And how did you handle it?

Unknown Speaker 31:33
Dude, it's a great question, man. And it's happened. Excuse me, it's happened on every movie. There's that day, right? There's always navigate every movie and every movie. Hopefully I get to make more movies. every movie will have that day or multiple days where you're like, it's not working at all. It's not working like what we're doing is not working in any way shape or form. There was a scene with an offer. Do you know Jennifer's character goes and lives in a tree? He's a mom because don't movies about Staten Island is battling their feelings of insignificance being where the Forgotten borrow so insignificance is permeating it's a triptych. So you have this crazy mobster who to become somewhat infamous in his life, he's tries many he's trying to break the underwater breathing record, and he can't do it. So he's a tries other things to do. It's very strange story. And he's right. I'm gonna take the forest that they're knocking down so he goes to live in a tree because he knows they can't knock it down if he's in the tree. But I had too much dialogue. And this was a great lesson as a whole for me as a filmmaker. He's up in the tree giving this soliloquy that went on and it was more it was it was a dialogue with a cop who's trying to get him down. The dialogue wasn't working. It was simple as that dude, I wrote bad dialogue. Vincent knew it. I knew it. The crew knew it. Everybody knew it. I'm trying to rewrite on set we're losing light it's starting to rain. We're already over budget you know oldest shits all at once, but I can't let it go I'm like I gotta fix it right now here now so I'm literally with pen and paper they got me on the what like a cherry picker running pages up to Vinson who's sitting up in the tree waiting for me harnessed and it was very high. I'm afraid of heights so I'm like having panic attacks going up and down in the Jerry Baker trying to rewrite and I don't think guys ever got it right dude i don't think i did i still to this set like I didn't get it we missed it I missed it. And so yeah, and that's that day it's and you can't foresee that is what we still try it Sebastian and I my producing partner we still try to proceed that day now in the script form like can we see that day we talked about that day on set can we you can't you can't predict what day that will become that thing because you're an actor yeah you don't know what's going

Alex Ferrari 33:29
on it could be a million did there's so many different variables when you're shooting on set it could be an actor could be the scripts not working could be the lighting is not working with the camera the lens fogs up, because he you know it starts to rain you're losing sunlight, or the location you had all of a sudden they're like no, we're not shooting here today. Yes, there's all that there's just so many variables as a director you have to hold on to but there's that one special day because there's always that every day there's a little bit of that

Unknown Speaker 33:54
right that's always there right but yeah, that one day we don't get it right that's the that's why it stands out

Alex Ferrari 33:58
I think Yeah, and I think it's when multiple of those things hit you at the same time. Exactly. It's like that's the day the producer shows up like you're you're three days back you're three pages behind you're three pages behind three days behind

James DeMonaco 34:11
Yeah exactly.

Alex Ferrari 34:12
Yes read after three days to three pages behind this is a fiasco if you don't get this taken care of we're going to shut down the production This is a small

James DeMonaco 34:18
time Heaven's Gate Get your shit together.

Alex Ferrari 34:21
You see that guy over there? That's the bonding company guy Exactly. He's gonna take over this film in two days if you don't catch up

Unknown Speaker 34:31
because you know all the stories right Coppola there was a director down the said he says waiting in a car I forgot his name oh yeah yeah, exactly father exactly even stone says on I think I just read his book man if you haven't read it

Alex Ferrari 34:42
Oh, no. Yeah. Oh, he's Oh, what a great book. Great book.

Unknown Speaker 34:46
Oh my god, but that really explains like the pressure that he was on the where I was just kind of I mean, you think these guys weren't that meaning when we look back upon these masterpieces we think they were made. Because there's so no they weren't at all. They came from like tension Anger and passion and no money and so, you know,

Alex Ferrari 35:03
when when he was on the show when he was on the show he was talking about platoon and you know he was just came from El Salvador he did Salvador which is which was the middle of which you're in the middle of war zone and he's got like government army people shoot like he'd do i don't know i think he directed two horror movies prior to that. In fact the hand and something else the hand and something are really early in his career before even when for when the Oscar for Midnight Express and when he's when he's shooting platoon in platoon was just because he only got platoon made because the producer I forgot he's like a legendary genre guys like Yes, I like your movie. Let's move he has that. He's got the cigar. He has that the accent? It's like, yeah, was it make we make your movie you get 6 million. And like, let's go to the Philippines. And we like and that's and that was it. And he was literally an award he's got. I mean, remember the cast of platoon? like Johnny, Johnny Depp was like in it for five seconds. Like, and why?

Unknown Speaker 36:03
Because Johnny Depp sitting there as the translator. It's the weirdest thing. Yeah, it's

Alex Ferrari 36:06
like, and he would and I forget who was I think it was Charlie, Charlie Sheen or somebody who's like, we're like huffing through the frickin jungle dying. And you see Oliver Stone, like a general on a Jeep just passing us while we're walking to set he's just like, rolling by a peasant. You know, it's it's fascinating. I mean, and I think this generation of filmmakers don't really get this younger, gently, younger filmmakers don't get the the battles that the 70s and 80s guys went through even the 90s to but but really, like, try to make platoon today. Oh, try to make Full Metal Jacket. No, you're not getting Apocalypse Now. frickin taxi driver. Like Can you imagine? Like the wars that these these these filmmakers went through even Spielberg with jaws? Like like, yeah, there's that they went through that stuff that the younger generation doesn't really understand. I think a lot. That's why hearts of darkness.

Unknown Speaker 37:14
Yeah, shows what he went through. And I always say that it's the biggest personal indie film most expensive indie budget or tour film ever made, right? I mean, until until his new one that he's about to make. I can't he had megalopolis no written back when I was working with him 25 years ago, and even before that, and it always broke my heart over the years. I've been talking to Laurence Fishburne about this on assault. We were brokenhearted that a man of Francis's stature couldn't get the money for megalopolis. Like doesn't, why can't someone step up and give him the 150 mil and let that man of all men who you're not going to give it? How could you not give

Alex Ferrari 37:47
him? Well? If Netflix if Netflix or Apple doesn't show up? or Amazon doesn't show up? Someone's got it? Come on, guys. Yeah, you gave Marty 200 million for Irish. Exactly. I mean, you could give him 150 for my mental ease. I mean, yeah. But I'm sorry. But I'm so happy. I just had this conversation with another guest the other day, I was like, I'm so happy that a man who's 82 years old, is an N is by all stretch, retired, more money than he ever needs in his lifetime. Finally, because he's been broke a million times. Because of his insanity. He's like, I'm gonna go back down, I'm going to throw down $100 million on his own money to think about it to do to do this store, because I think the world needs it. We need guys and gals out there. taking those swings.

Unknown Speaker 38:36
Yes, we do. And you guys who can take the swing meaning? Well, I mean, he's personally feel there's only a few of the 10 there's only a few who could take those swings, right? So we need them to do that bold work, because maybe that'll create a new era of the bold work like we had in the seven days. You know what I

Alex Ferrari 38:51
mean? Look, and we can talk about Cameron for I mean, Cameron every every time he goes up to bat, he changes the game. Absolutely every like from the Abyss to aliens determinator. To True Lies to Titanic and Avatar. He changes the game like he literally changed the industry with Avatar. And and Nolan is taking these huge swings up at bat, you know,

Unknown Speaker 39:15
just like versus the walker Nolan's doing it. Now he's taking the reins, right. He's taking those big swings. And now I love seeing Quentin take the huge swings lately. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, it was a huge once upon a time, a huge fan. I can speak about that movie all day. So we have those guys, and they got to keep doing it. Because you know what, not everyone has read up this.

Alex Ferrari 39:35
But the thing is, where are the young guys doing that? You know, like,

Unknown Speaker 39:39
where we're making it too hard to do it? I don't know. You know, that's what I wonder. I don't know, dude, it's hard. I say.

Alex Ferrari 39:45
I don't think you know, I don't think God it's like the the guys and the gals who are getting these opportunities. There's very few who are going to get the same kind of shots that they did because the game has changed so much. Lately, the game the game is completely different. Like we We were talking earlier, it's like if it's not doesn't have Spider Man in it. You know, good luck trying to make $150 million movie it just doesn't make financial sense for the studio to take a risk like that

Unknown Speaker 40:10
that on anymore. Exactly. Now if you're on right, your audience has just gone so they know it's terrifying again, that's what goes back to my movie like is it going to be awesome is going to become like opera houses where we're only seeing certain kinds of films, the films, almost everything else will be relegated to strangers. That's what's terrifying to me as we move forward. Yeah, it's kind of you know, financial. I don't know. I don't

Alex Ferrari 40:32
even I don't I don't know either. I don't know where it's gonna go. But I've always said that too. I've always said that. I think that cinema is going to go the way of Broadway where it's going to be it's going to be 50 $150 tickets to go see an event film that cost $500 million. Exactly. And that's and then there'll be the arthouse films and those things that maybe go to the Alamo Drafthouse, or yes, those kind of films, but it's not the 80s 90s early 2000 it's gone. I think those days scary. Yeah, yeah, that's scary. But we'll see man like, I think we could always hope and pray and I know but and I know a lot of the younger listeners are like these two old farts talking about

James DeMonaco 41:15
Aki Ray What is he doing?

Alex Ferrari 41:17
Exactly? What is Rocky? But anyway? So I can ask him when you write Do you What's your writing process? Like? Do you outline do you start with character? Do you start with plot? How do you how do you start the process?

Unknown Speaker 41:29
Whether it's I think usually it's a some kind of conceit dude, some kind of like, oh, some world that I'd like to purge was a conceit first. You know, of this, this this crazy day, this new holiday in America. So start

Alex Ferrari 41:41
off with

Unknown Speaker 41:42
the seat like the theme, the plot, that's the theme. Yeah, it was like this, you know, yeah, they can see the theme the story usually saw, usually story based, not character based. Man, that's not true. I shouldn't say everything's different. But whatever I do start with, I just start jotting down little notes. I am an outline guy, though, I do build to an outline. So I believe in the outline process for myself. And the outline, I don't want to say is more important than the script. But it is the architecture upon which the script is built. So I take a lot of time on the outline. constantly going over that I write on little cards, I put them on a wall and person a book in the cards, and I type them up. So they're really embedded in my brain. And then once that process is done, then I'll go to script. And the script takes shorter amounts of time, I will say, if I do well, in my outline process, the script process is a tad shorter. But then my rewrite process is immense. Because I do give the script I have my readers who I love and trust, who I do believe every writer needs because I think we have to listen to people and look for patterns. I think they don't always know. But you can when talking to people, you can see the patterns of what if they're all focusing on the same area or the same character, you know, there's a problem there. So yeah, it's a hell of a process in that, yeah, the outline, the outline is actually the biggest part of my process, I'd say, I agree. outliner

Alex Ferrari 42:51
I am a huge outliner I outline my books, I outline my scripts outline everything I write I because just makes life easier. It just like you have all these, you have everything laid out like okay, now I just have to write this scene, I don't have to think about where this scene goes, at least at this price, that process. And when I'm laying it all out, it just it just the writing process is just like almost, it's just like you're just adding in stuff. But like the building of the of the foundation, you know what it is, it's like building the house, you need the frame and the foundation of the house. And then you can decorate, decorate and put the room here. Now I'm going to put the wall This color is going to be purple, I'm going to put this it's so much easier. And I know a lot of a lot of writers love to like it. They hate the concept of outline or structure. And I'm like, Guys, you can't build a house without a foundation and walls and beams. But within that structure, you could do 1000 million different variate how many houses are there in the world,

James DeMonaco 43:47
you know, architecture? Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 43:48
But you need that as opposed to just like I got a bunch of wood. I got a bunch of cement. Let's just go. Let's just let's see what happens. I need to

Unknown Speaker 43:56
know where I'm going and what I'm building to. And someone said to me, Well, don't you want to be inspired? I'm like, Fuck yeah, I'm inspired in the outline process. I'm running around my room, I got a drink some tequila, I got my head. Music is a big thing for me too. I pick a, I pick one track of a song either. It's a soundtrack, one track of a soundtrack, a song, something that represents the movie to me in one track and I put it on a loop. And I keep it on my office 24 seven during that period. So whenever I enter into the office, that song is on and it puts me right back into the movie. So that's a big part of it. That's really cool. And it's finding that song is the hard part that takes some time to like okay, what represents this movie wholly in one track that I can keep on that loop? Anything from Bjork to Hans Zimmer, you know, find something that represents that particular piece. You know, floy wrote, like, you know, purging You know, I think the third purge was to welcome to the machine by Floyd. It could be anything, you know, anything that kind of whatever the fuck I'm feeling at the time so and that that becomes incredibly helpful to find the perfect track but it takes time.

Alex Ferrari 44:59
It When I was writing a script at once I my script my music was the soundtrack of Desperado. And from Robert Robert Rodriguez Desperado and Ansar Giuliani's all of those just the whole and just and it makes that whole I do a mix I do like a mix mix a mixtape an old school mixtape, but but on my playlist, and I do that and just let that run again and again and again. Same thing while while I'm writing going right, exactly, because it just gives you the exact juice that energy. Well, I mean, I think I think was Robert said in an interview once that he was he was writing. I forgot one of his scripts. He was writing to the soundtrack of Dracula and john carpenter. Yeah. And he was just like he just had the soundtracks playing in the background as he's writing. So but I love your idea that like you leave the you have it on 24 seven so that

James DeMonaco 45:49
when I entered them for like Pavlov's dogs

Alex Ferrari 0:02
So man, the purge. What What the hell, man? I think that's, I think that should be a quote like the purge. No, I mean, when I first when I first saw it let me just write down. Sorry. So when I first saw the trailer to the purge, I'm like, first of all, that is genius. Whoever came up Why didn't I think of this? which I'm sure a lot of people thought because the concept is so it's so high concept. It's just like, there's one day all crime is legal. go at it. That's all you need. Yeah, as far as a logline is concerned, you just like shit. And you could go and you can make these movies from here in which which we've we've made a few. So how did you come up with the purge, man? How did you get into that? Dude is where I came up with?

James DeMonaco 1:02
Well, I guess the seed of it started when I was in. I was posting that Lucas on film. The first one. I'm still with the first one I directed. I was in France. They made me posted, which was wonderful. So I was living in Paris meeting for Asians and Europeans. And it was again this kid from Staten Island like this is a strange life. I've walked out with Forrest Gump. And but I noticed the relation I've never been a fan of guns I've always been very scared of guns. I grew up a lot of cops had guns I was just born naturally inclined to retreat from the the gun. I never took to it as some people do. But I noticed the relationship with guns in Europe was different than I'd seen in America. That was just something different. I don't want to get too political. But it was just different to me like this is different. We no one has a gun here. I know a lot of people with guns in New York. And in other places. I've traveled Florida and one on here in America. So that was in my head about and I would always know. shootings were beginning to happen. mass shootings in America were on the rise as they were happening in the 2000s still happening. So all these thoughts were in my head. I was living in Canada on something else for a couple of projects. And it was different there to the feeling state. They had guns but it was still different. Long story short, I was in a road rage it all coalesce together. I was in a road rage incident with my wife in Brooklyn on the BQE mother go on and sorry, guy cut us off. He was drunk as hell. He almost killed us. I got into a fight with literally fist fight with his drunken lunatic. I get back in the car with my mom, my my mom, my wife, Freudian slip on my wife. And she says something that stayed with me forever. And she's a nice woman. She's a doctor. So she didn't really mean it. But she was all passionately aggravated by this crazy person. She said, I wish we all got one free one a year. And I know what she meant, like, well, we all had one murder we can commit without going to jail. And it just stayed with me. It was this is one of those statements. It's a dark statement, babe and but I took it home. And in thinking about the lack of gun controls in America that was always bothersome to me. It all just came I woke up one day with this idea for a holiday that I thought could be a metaphorical kind of discourse on what I felt was the lack of gun controls in America, like how far can we take this? Where could this go in a very science fiction dystopian kind of world or utopian as depose pretends? And that's where it started. And then I started outlining. doing my thing, listening to whatever track I was listening to I was listening to penderecki I think at the time, that was the track that he was listening. And we right so I finished the script Sebastian was producing my producer, you know, my producing partner, I keep referencing, but we started sending it around. Even Luke was on set. It's incredibly anti American and so nihilistic and dark that I he didn't think he could finance it. And Luke wanted to make my next movie have to stand out. Nobody's like it's too dark. It's too anti American. He didn't see an audience for many people that was not just losing 50 people said that to us. Like literally we just kept getting the same anti American sentiment about the whole thing. Blom I knew blonde from 20 years but not 20 Well, at that point, it was 10 years, but I knew Jason in 9899. He he had optioned a couple of scripts for me right after he left Miramax and we hit it off he was good. We just became friendly stayed in touch he was not doing the horror thing I sent it to him. And he's like oh, this fits my my my low budget horror model we can do this in one house. It fits perfectly into the world I'm doing I have a new deal at Universal. I'd like to be this my first film at Union like Dude, I wrote this to be like a Michael hanningfield like funny games, a tiny film, we play the Angelika in New York. I don't see the mass appeal for the film because like people have been saying it's incredibly dark and anti American. And oh, Greg bump the next one, dude, we're all good. Great. All right. Well, so So long story short, Jason got it. They read it at Universal. They thought it was quite dark too. But they were like, okay, it's your your low budget model. Maybe we'll take a shot at it. Even after watching the first cut. They didn't know if it was the actual like it is quite dark and spotless. And Jason kept pushing I could Jason the credit he saw he saw the mass appeal, I guess of the

Alex Ferrari 4:48
conceit and it but it was it was the first Blum house. It was the first

James DeMonaco 4:53
blumhouse at at uni he had done I think what's the insidious but not Universal was okay. It started I think paramount. So we were the first new under his 10 years. At that point, it was a five year deal. So and yeah, and even that opening weekend was a shock. They, they told me literally the day before that tracking said, we were doing 10 mil. And I was like, Oh, that's good for $2.5 million film. Even my agent said if you do 10 that's a nice weekend, man. Because I always all I'm concerned with is I want to make another film. Of course, I don't need you know how that, you know, it's like, how do I get to do my next film? And I kept saying to my agents, what does it need to do? So that's not considered a disaster? And I'm in director hell. And they said, Well, if it does 10 that's a wonderful opening. And then we ended up doing almost 30. So I think everybody was shocked by it was a crazy weekend. It was almost like the jack sale. It was one of those very surreal, weird nights.

Alex Ferrari 5:45
Yeah, and I think it was the, you know, I think when you watch a film like the purge, it's a it's a release, the same release that you feel if there was a night that you could do anything is the feeling. So it was it was kind of like a way to release a lot of pent up, I think it still is all those movies is a way for people to kind of release in a safe

James DeMonaco 6:07
in a safe way. Right? And like a roller coaster where you get to scream and yell and live. Right is a catharsis to it, right? a societal catharsis, like we say in the movie, and you had captured something and it captured something. Yeah, it captured something. But it's still hard to define what that totally is because different people have different interpretations of the film. You know, black audiences have almost a different interpretation. We saw that a strict I want to say there's a strong racial divide. But even when I made Part Four, when I hired Dr. MacMurray, he said he was in college, they would teach the purge as a metaphor for black plight in America about how the impoverished and the blacks were treated in American society. They took the whole movie as as a metaphor for that. And I was like, wow, this is incredible how the movies being interpreted across across the country, so yeah, strange, strange. And even though European audiences, you know, what's called American nightmare in Europe. So they look at it as a very, you know, strict strong indictment of the American system of violin, you know, how we deal with guns and violence here. So, it's very, it's interpreted very differently around the globe.

Alex Ferrari 7:07
So the, you know, as a writer, as a creator as a director, there's very few times in a filmmakers career if ever, that you get to tap into the Zeitgeist. Yeah, this films taps into the Zeitgeist it is a it's it's an adjective now you know like it like people use it as like kind of just need a purge you know, are they like I just I wish I could do a purge today. Like it's it's it's something that's really within the site guys, I got to ask you, man, what does that feel like to like just be a creator of something like that, like some of the some of the greats that we've talking about? Like obviously Francis with the Godfather? It's in the xyc is obviously the person The Godfather and at the same film, but But yeah, hasn't did the psychos What does that what does that feel like as a creator?

James DeMonaco 7:56
Dude, it's, it's still, it's still strange, man. It's still weird. And I don't take any of it for granted. It's even though what sometimes I've heard fatigue. I'll be the first to say it. But I don't take that for granted that people truly seem to have loved it and adopted it. Like even my cop buddies saying all the like the Caribbean Day Parade, I think was recently they stopped the parade every year with the purge sirens. You know, I was watching. I'm a big baseball fan. I was watching I think a Tampa Ray. I think it's techniques, the Devil Rays. They use every time someone strikes out, they play the sirens as the strikeout theme. So if that happens, I see that all the time. No. sirens are like they really truly entered in and even on Halloween, the weirdest thing is seeing kids in the neighborhood in both Manhattan where I'm more in Manhattan and Staten Island, both neighborhoods you'll see totally dressed up as characters from the film. That's the one that gets me the most. I don't know, when the two young will go that you haven't seen this movie, have you? You shouldn't be watching this yet. Me they are watching films they shouldn't be watching. So man, it's weird. And it's humbling and it's still I don't take any of it for granted was so lucky that we got to make I thought it would be one film so that the fact that it's five, maybe six I wrote six. So who that you know, it's strange, man. It's strange. You

Alex Ferrari 9:04
so you've was it like you just kept writing a bunch of them? Or you're like, are you doing them one at a time?

James DeMonaco 9:09
One at a time? One at a time? I'm usually fueled by the political climate of Election Day. Yeah, Election Day. Exactly. Horn five got even more political because I think I can be very political in the directors we hired to do foreign flags. I did direct foreign five, or even more political than me. So we pushed it even further. And the studio has to keep us in check. So we don't stop proselytizing and preaching. Which we want to do. But we easily could I guess, within the format, but yeah, so no, right. Right. So the new one I wrote, I didn't think I was gonna write a new one too. That's the all honesty. I was like, I'm done with the purge five is good. It's the end of America. And purge five ends when it feels like the end of America. I woke up eight months ago, and I had a new idea and no joke. I call to action. I pitched it to him and he's like, I hate you because I like it. And he's like, okay, we're gonna have to do that. So we picked the bomb. He liked it. Peter Kramer at the studio liked it. So I wrote it. And so I have the script, everybody happy with it but I don't know. I don't know enough about the financials of the business to see if they want to I don't know yet if they know what because of COVID

Alex Ferrari 10:08
here right now maybe not but the thing is to that the that each one of them is done gangbusters. Like they just keep making money. And they're already dude. Yeah, it's they just keep me like in some go like like it keeps growing like you know, worldwide. The

James DeMonaco 10:25
third I mean, which is very rare usually they go down. Yeah. Yeah so you know this Yeah, so this one went up in four or five because of COVID we went down a little bit but I think still a very amateur business perspective. It seems like it did okay during COVID it's very hard to tell anymore Do Dorian

Alex Ferrari 10:43
on imagine and imagine on VOD, and all that they Yeah, it must do insane business.

James DeMonaco 10:48
Yeah, maybe God could. But they don't they don't get those numbers with me though. Sadly. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 10:53
What? Why would they share the numbers with the creators? That would be insane. That'd be insane. I gotta ask you, man, what's it like working inside the Blum house family man? Because I mean, he's got such a unique position in Hollywood. There's nobody else that as what he's got. It's insane.

James DeMonaco 11:10
He found some little niche man I give him. He's and what? Yeah, he founds he finds like the new Roger Coleman. You know, in some ways, but with a studio backing? Yes. We're the studio behind him. Exactly, dude. And he's got it. He's got greenlight power up to a certain point. So he's got great power. And he protects defeat, I've always he really protects me creatively, and he's not. Jason, when he hires you, when you get hired into the blumhouse. World, he kind of as the hiring is, that's the most input he has in the process, meaning He's like, I've hired you to make the movie now you go make the movie. I'm not gonna interfere with that. Yeah, he has, you know, Cooper Samuelsson who's one of his, like, right hand man over that, you know, you get some creative input from Cooper. But for the most part, you're left alone to go make your film. And that's my favorite part of working. blumhouse is his great creative control. Now I'm with the part series, there was a studio, the head of the studios, Peter Kramer, who became a great ally of the series, and we worked with him creatively. So we had Peter too. But what Jason is a great, he's a great defender, if the filmmaker wants you know, there was a lot of at the end of three was in question at point, Jason really backed me on what I wanted to do at the end. And it was it got a little tense with the studio, but they're wonderful to work with to I can't bad mouth universal, and all because I actually think what they're doing is kind of bowls, he would, you know, there was a strong political commentary within the purge that many studios, I do believe, would shy away from, and they kind of let me and my partner filmmakers explore these, potentially, you know, when you're when they're trying to appeal to the most part studios to the four quadrants, you know, this, when we start saying something about guns, even though it's metaphorical in the future, that could put off a part of the audience, we know that they let us do it. They really don't make us because I think the purge is so inherently socio political, it's impossible to not make, of course, some commentary on the state of affairs within American society. And they let us do it, man, I give them credit for letting us do it. Now. We do work on district budgets. I will say that we're not making we don't have Jurassic Park and, you know, Fast and Furious budgets at all we have, we have that catering budget, maybe? Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 13:15
You got you got. You got Vin Diesel's writer.

James DeMonaco 13:19
Budget, exactly. lunch money, so. So I think that helps us retain the freedom because if we started going higher up in budget, obviously, oh, I budget less freedom. And Jason makes us very well aware that it's hard. It's very hard to make the personal decide, you know, this to do shooting action. Shooting act like shooting horror on a low budget is one thing. Shooting action on a low budget is very, very difficult. Because you got squibs, you got stunt work. And we have, as I said, purge phones are not just horror films. To me, they're more Action, Horror, or sci fi. So they're very hard to make. And it's very hard on the cruel say that we've had some, we've had some great nervous breakdowns on set by many crew members, because we've gone to, we're just pushing them too hard, including myself. I mean, we're all in it together. But we are on a very strict parameters budgetarily, which I think allows us to have that freedom,

Alex Ferrari 14:07
right? And then if you can make it for price, you have all the freedom you want. But if you have 30 or 40 million bucks to make a purge, you're just going to be more people involved, because there's just

James DeMonaco 14:19
risk the simple bad dude, exactly. It's more of and if y'all want that with my new the new one I just wrote, it's not it's not a personal but it's just moving on to what Pete Davidson, that we know if the budgets higher. And Jason said this too, if it's higher, it might be with Jason it might not be, but it's higher, we're gonna get we're gonna have to start dealing with notes, a lot of notes. You know, if we keep it low, we're not going to get many notes. And it's a tough thing because I also want some toys on set. I want the time to build, you know, a creative vision, a directorial vision, and sometimes when you're running in gun gun, and you don't have time for that extra special shot, and that's where you get. And as I've now done so many films on that run and gun style, there was a point where you step back and say I'd like to play a little more like to have a little more freedom

Alex Ferrari 15:01
so so yeah, so a techno crane everyday

James DeMonaco 15:05
Exactly. Steady camera techno crane

Alex Ferrari 15:09
though every every day I was when I was in when I was in Florida True Lies was shooting and I went down to the set in Miami just to see James shoot and i was i don't know i was a kid I was in high school or something like that and I went there and I just had a couple of friends of mine who had people in the business who were on set I didn't get to go on set I was right outside of set and they go you see that back there? It was every single toy a filmmaker could ever ask for cranes steady cams, tech knows helicopter sitting sit no drones sitting sitting there's not just in case James wants to play with

James DeMonaco 15:55
power to me because I'm literally gun to my head to like tell us what day you need that techno crane and you got to use it that day and you never get it again and on this is the night I really wanted to techno crane in the in the theater sequence you know when they're in that theater because I thought that needed to be very operatic poetic so that was it I got my technical writing that day and God forbid like that didn't line up I don't have a technical training and that's it so and yes everybody you know he's taught I love the freedom then I'm not getting notes but then he's not looking at well then you know directorial II stylistically you're locking yourself in to just you know go in handheld and maybe on sticks and maybe a dolly but when I see the toys that you know Nolan and cam Oh all these guys have you like IMAX? Yeah Yeah exactly.

Alex Ferrari 16:39
Screen IMAX Yeah, no and for anybody anyone directing if you've had the pleasure of shooting with a tech now you'll understand why you can never go back it's so did I shot it I shot a shot something with a techno and I had it all day and I was just like oh what have I been doing my entire career I need a techno every everywhere

James DeMonaco 16:59
if people don't realize what a techno you could do more than what you think you could do with a techno meaning even standard shots you could throw the towel in the techno right you could

Alex Ferrari 17:06
you could just move that anywhere any Yeah, do do it across the table go around here even even if you just want to do setup changes you just right you could go

James DeMonaco 17:18
done simply it's like oh let's just reverse the guy the tech no

Alex Ferrari 17:22
and just move here so you don't have to move the entire crew and the dolly in the tracks and that

James DeMonaco 17:28
by exactly Oh yeah, that's freedom you start saying well maybe too I sacrifice get a bigger budget then I have to deal with node so it's you know,

Alex Ferrari 17:37
it's a balance it's it's a balancing act. And by the way, almost every filmmaker has to deal with that and exactly even at the highs even at the highest levels is level yes you know unless you're Spielberg Scorsese Nolan Fincher you know you get what you want at that at that level but at a certain point you know, you're gonna have to compromise everyone everyone's got to compromise at one point or another I

James DeMonaco 17:59
think movies all compromise and then the question is everybody's How do you compromise creatively and not lose not lose that go from 10 to five How do you maintain a 10 with the compromise that state thing to kid you can figure that out? Then your God but I've obstructions movie mc voluntario films with the five obstructions? No, I

Alex Ferrari 18:18
nursing that one. I'm gonna babble quickly. You

James DeMonaco 18:19
got to see it. It's about savaria takes his film school director. And he gives him a like an experiment he says you're going to make the biggest bunch This is the best film we ever saw was this guy's name is Jorgen length. Jorgen. Let's student film. buncher he says is the best film ever, because you're gonna make it five times each time, I'm going to give you a different parameter to work within one will be no sound. One is the actor's can't move. And wow, last parameter is no parameters. You could do whatever you want. And let says it's the hardest of all. He says every time you gave me something, I was able to figure out how to work within it. When you gave me nothing. I didn't know what to do. And it's a fascinating and it says something about the process to me that sometimes the parameters are good, because it forces us to get very creative. But sometimes they can be very bad.

Alex Ferrari 19:03
So imagine if Imagine if someone gave you $200 million for a person will be like your head would explode. What

James DeMonaco 19:09
to do. I'd be like, I don't want I got to shoot in the water. I wouldn't know what to where do I go?

Alex Ferrari 19:13
Do I need a dinosaur? Okay, I'll put a dinosaur like I mean, yeah, I mean, it's a terminator comeback. Let's just do we have the rights for that. Let's just throw the Terminator. Crazy. Now I want to talk about your newest film, man. This is the night which I absolutely adored. I watched it yesterday. It's fresh in my mind. Our friend Greg, when he pitched the story to me. I was just like, this whole the whole movie is surrounding the release of Rocky three in Staten Island. Yes. And I'm going What? First of all awesome, because I remember watching rocky three in the theater. And I saw that I saw that belt come by and the rocky three came up absolutely Yeah, I remember all of that. And I was just like, oh my god and obviously rocky three and four is you know, they're amazing all the rocky films, almost all the rocky films are amazing. Almost all almost all five we don't talk about app. We don't talk about five, right? We don't talk about five but one through four and then Bow Bow and Yeah, exactly. And even the creed. Yeah. Yeah creates a great, but um, so tell me man, first of all, how did you pitch this idea to the blue mouse and just go Hey, man, we're gonna do this movie about the opening. Surrounded around the opening of Rocky three. And if we were talking about earlier is like, it's very specific. It's like, it's like the opening of like, you know, Goonies, or the opening of Howard the Duck, like it's such a thing. But I get I mean, Staten Island and Rocky, I get it. So please, please explain it.

James DeMonaco 20:53
I think it you know, it was rocky was such an immense figure growing up here in Staten Island in Brooklyn. It gets to me it was always the Italian American thing, but I did. And speaking to people It seems to transcend the Italian American experience, but it was big here very big. I mean, to the point where people would dress up as Rambo and rocky in school. I remember the day before the rocky movies, people would hold Stallone's posters. Everybody had a stone sure everybody owned rocky like that was also like I tried to get into the bully in the film like this. Rocky is not for you is for us. Like there was an ownership of who loved rocky more who you know, but it was an immense love of the character that really just taught, you know, tore into the culture of the Italian America, especially where I live in the south shore of Staten Island, white, Italian American. So I always had this it was such a big thing. Even in my family. We had scrapbooks on rocky it meant something to us. I don't know if he was this blue collar guy who rose up you know that we just loved this idea of the American dream that Italian American could win that we really adopted this character so by rocky three that mythology had grown, and I remember waiting three and a half hours online for rocky three, and the whole island was there. I mean, it was fights on the line, people were fighting for seeds fighting for position on the line, the local mob boss and showed up there's a lot of monsters in my neighborhood. So all that stuff that's in the movie was very real. And the excitement of the movie, the building, I cut a scene out when Anthony wakes up and he's yelling into the neighborhood, like who's got the paper? What time is it starting? It was just too long the opening but so that that was all real, that's all very autobiographical. that excitement for the film and, um, and it I always wanted to capture that because also, it's not just about rocky Yes, specificities they are. And that's all I think a lot of fun. And it was a big thing here. And I think it was a big thing in the country made $100 million, the film. But for me the movies about my love of cinema and how it inspired me and how I was touched by all the still to this day, very touched by these movies, they would stay with me, inspire me, change me Give me empathy for various cultures, whatever they did to me, they taught me I always said my like, my religion was cinema. And I wanted to pay homage to that. And also specifically, I want to pay homage and really encapsulate what I think is a magical experience of being in a movie theater, which I don't think can be replicated at home No matter how hard we all try. I have a huge screen. I tried to make it at home, it just doesn't. That communal setting of us all together. And I hope it doesn't go away as I fear. So the movie was an homage to that experience and I hope people I hope people still have it I know they have it with the Marvel films. I feel like it's going away and so other aspects of of our industry, but it was so prevalent so big to me such a part of my childhood and I know other people so I know this is I think a more universal feeling. Yes, it has the specificity of Rocky three which is really fun, I think. But hopefully and is one specific scene in the movie where I show them why the family and the community watching rocky three, but I purposely don't show the film. I really don't only show it down the barrel, a little lens, and it was a big editorial decision. Everybody was kind of fighting me like you need to show rocky three. And I'm like no, it's not about rocky three. It's about the people watching it. It's about the emotional response. Even when I met sly he's like oh the movie more and he was wonderful Stallone he's like you should show movie you know show rocky three more. So we tried it it didn't work because suddenly you want to watch rocky three you actually want to start paying attention to rocky three the narrative and it changed the emotional response to what should be is about these people reacting to

Alex Ferrari 24:08
what they're watching and if I may if I may say the way you shot the experience of watching rocky three was beautiful the shots of the projector and the light bulb turning on and then you would see the upside then you see the film of the rocky three coming in and and you see the upside down rejection of rock and you would see and I found myself looking at like what's seen is that like okay, like it's like it's like almost there but it's not there. It was bright because you had me because that brings me in because you're like what's going because I have no I mean rocky three is one of those movies as if it's on just turning remote. Rocky four is on you're like watching if anything you fast forward to the to the training montage and the fight. It's just one of those those those are the kinds of movies those are the five secrets. I could watch the fight sequence a minute They tell you a factor trading secrets. And then I want to go. And I got to work out afterwards. I was like, actually, I should be working out more

James DeMonaco 25:06
raw eggs workout, right? That's what rocky does. Yeah, so

Alex Ferrari 25:11
and a lot of the stuff that's in the movie, The subplots, the the topics you tackle a wonderful and how you tackle them with kid gloves. You really did me talk about bullying and finding your own identity and the the toxic masculinity of of that era of your father's of our fathers. And it was just that generational thing where you touch you really touch upon a lot of things. And it's such a unique thing because it starts off as one thing and then it's turned into another feeling and then there's that absurdity when I see a priest or was it the priest

James DeMonaco 25:49
on a skateboard?

Alex Ferrari 25:51
Recently, the skateboard and Christmas I'm like, What is going on? But now that I spoke to you, I'm like, this makes sense. Yes. This makes perfect sense. I believe you snuck in your Fellini see and I appreciate I appreciate that, sir. But it's wonderful once once the film come out.

James DeMonaco 26:08
So coming out this Friday plane in Manhattan. So we gotta we got a very small release. But we got a release, which makes me very happy because I think how do you make a movie about the communal experience about theaters and not having at least in a theater in New York. So it's playing at the NGO village in the village East in, in Manhattan, Angelica. And yeah, we'll be there for a couple of weeks. And then we're on a p VOD video on demand and the people that buy the film next week on the 21st or the 22nd. Okay, and then eventually Netflix eventually I think that's December though, that's far away. So nice. So people will get to, you know, they'll get to see the film, which is great. And I just, I hope it drives them to the movie theater. That's the goal like see the film at home and at the same at home, but go to movie then go to a movie and see another movie. It's okay. It's okay.

Alex Ferrari 26:48
It's just that you know, it's fine. Just do it. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life

James DeMonaco 27:00
the longest to learn is to is to get out of my own way. Yeah, that makes sense. That makes

Alex Ferrari 27:10
me Oh, absolutely. Oh, no, we the roads not there's nothing in the road. Hold on. Let me throw some crap on there. Exactly. To make it a little tougher on myself. Oh, yeah.

James DeMonaco 27:19
I mean, make it all tough on myself. Get out of my own way. Get out of my own head. Get out of my own way. Yeah. Three screenplays that every screenwriter should read. Oh, Rocky, Rocky, Rocky one. Ah. I read the first draft of Benjamin Button, not the one that got made. Who's the writer, female writer. This is terrible. I wish I could remember her name. It was so beautifully written. I wish we could look that we both should look this up at some point, I'll find out and send you the so the first draft of Benjamin Button written in the 90s that it's not the one they use for the movie that we saw was the most beautiful script I'd written at the time. And then I would say any Steve's alien script any screams by Steve Zaillian is beautifully written. Oh, and one more if I could add one more Unforgiven by David Webb people.

Alex Ferrari 28:01
Given Jesus Yeah, great movie, and three of your favorite films of all time.

James DeMonaco 28:05
Oh, okay. Ah, God, it's gonna be so cliche godfather to Raging Bull. Apocalypse Now. I know it's boring. But that's that's the top three.

Alex Ferrari 28:14
I would I would say godfather one and two are just one movies for me.

James DeMonaco 28:18
We fight about that one day.

Alex Ferrari 28:20
You can sneak that you could sneak that in if you want to get to it.

James DeMonaco 28:23
Yeah. My Fellini's come right to roll my annamma cord and cuckoo's nest and Cool Hand Luke and Dog Day right after I'm gonna sneak those into the box. Yes, that's

Alex Ferrari 28:30
awesome, man. James man, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, brother. Yeah. I yeah, the show is always open and you're welcome on anytime. I know. We could talk for a good four or five hours picking out.

James DeMonaco 28:43
Let's keep in touch my friend. This is wonderful. Appreciate it, my friend. Thank you, man.


  • James DeMonaco – IMDB
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IFH 179: Oscar® Winner Russell Carpenter ASC – Shooting Titanic

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I can’t tell you how excited I am about today’s guest. I sat down with the legendary and Oscar® Winning Cinematographer Russell Carpenter ASC. Russell has been shooting blockbusters for over 40 years and has shot films like Ant-Man,  xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Charlie’s Angels, The Negotiator, True Lies, Monster-in-Law and classic 90’s action flicks like Hard Target, The Perfect Weapon, and Death Warrant.

He won the Oscar® for his cinematography on the second highest-grossing film of all timeTitanic. We go down the rabbit hole on shooting Titanic, working with James Cameron, crazy Hollywood stories, how he approaches each project and much more. This episode is a treasure chest of behind the scenes stories and cinematic techniques from the highest levels of Hollywood.

Get ready to be entertained and have your mind blown. Enjoy my epic conversation with Russell Carpenter A.S.C.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
Guys, today is a amazing episode. I'm so excited to bring this episode to you. Today's guest is Oscar winning and legendary cinematographer Russell Carpenter. Now if you guys have been under a bridge, or under a rock somewhere for the last 30 years, Russell Carpenter is the cinematographer of not only some of the biggest movies of all time, like Marvel's Ant Man, triple AX, Charlie's Angel, the negotiator, True Lies, monster in law and some of my favorite 80s and 90s action films, hard target, which was john woos first American movie, the perfect weapon and death warrant, but the one I'm leaving out is probably his largest and biggest movie ever, actually the second highest grossing film ever. Titanic. Russell, by far is one of the sweetest and kindest souls I've ever had the pleasure of talking to. Now, Russell is not only famous for working on Titanic, but also working on just with the most amazing directors and filmmakers over the course of his career, none being probably more prolific than the legendary James Cameron. And Russell and I sit down and talk about his almost his entire career, as well as working with James Cameron, how he got the job on True Lies, which is an amazing story, and how he got the job. And then from there, how he got to Titanic. And what was it like working on the biggest movie of all time, at the time he was making it. I mean, it was a $200 million movie when nothing was even close to a $200 million movie, that to have that kind of scope and to deal with what he was dealing with on a daily basis, all the stories, all the rumors of the project going down and and it's going to be a complete catastrophe. And it was just a thing that you can't understand in today's world, what he went through, on on Titanic and the just the mere size of it all, and how he was able to handle that is a lesson for any cinematographer working not only on big movies, obviously, but even on smaller indie movies. And he just recently did an indie movie. And we talk a little bit about his process with that, how he works with directors, how he sets up his movies. I dug in really deep and he was so kind to give us almost 90 minutes to answer all the questions I had for him. He was so, so generous to do so. So get ready for an epic, epic conversation with Russell Carpenter. I like to welcome to the show Russell Carpenter, the legendary Russell Carpenter, thank you so much for being on the show. Russell.

Russell Carpenter 4:26
It is a pleasure to be here.

Alex Ferrari 4:28
Thank you so so much. And I'm so glad I ran into you to in cinna gear down in LA.

Russell Carpenter 4:33

Alex Ferrari 4:34
Amazing. It's amazing what happens when you're here in LA?

Russell Carpenter 4:38
Yeah. It's been a year is the place that you'll go constantly running into anybody you ever met.

Alex Ferrari 4:46
You right? Absolutely. Everybody in the business kind of walks in there and, and you're they're walking around like crazy. So I wanted to ask you this first start off at the very beginning when you were born. No, I'm joking. When How did you get into the film History in the first place why what made you want to become a cinematographer?

Russell Carpenter 5:06
I at first it was just play something to do with my friends I I grew up in Orange County area the deepest, darkest very republican Orange County. This was about two ice ages ago when we were when we were playing we were we were working with a super, super eight millimeter cameras, and it was just dumb things to do to keep ourselves occupied my friends. I in fact guy my sister, Maureen, who is the status of the four of us children, were raising these ugly animals. She wouldn't say that called Chuck their desert lizards are they and they look like roadkill when they're alive. Oh my god. And but there because I grew up watching things like your original King Kong over and over and over again. Because it was on the local station so much. We decided we would make a monster movie. So we tied we took one of her lizards call a chuck Wallah. And incidentally my my best friend in the world with named Chuck Waller. And so we tied strings to the lizard I mean, thread to the lizard put plastic, I mean, paper, paper wings on the lizard, and fluid endlessly back and forth in front of a landscape painting. And that was our that was our first movie called it came from the pet shop. We worked. We worked our way up from there. So I was afraid at the time eventually got out of high school dodge trap by doing AV TV, audio visual television kind of stuff. And I at that time, you know, I didn't have the money to go to USC or UCLA and I was terrified of those places. They were so vague. Right and guided by me when I I went to instead went to San Diego State state collared San Diego State College at the time became San Diego State University. And I had the supreme luck to get a job at a at a public television stations very small one. And that's where I really actually got to work with 16 millimeter film and I made every mistake in the world but at least I you know, I learned these mistakes by doing and that really gave me an opportunity to instead of just learn about it, learn about film in a classroom, learn about it by just going out there and doing it. And I stayed in. I did that for a while until I was offered a job there. I quickly discovered that I can't really I had a trouble just going every day to the same job and sitting in a little desk and I couldn't do it. So I I quit. I went to Hawaii for a while. I lived on tuna fish and peanut butter. best best served together I found out as well slept on beaches and I was I was on a beach north end of Hawaii at kalalau Valley and and one morning I woke up and there were these helicopters with 17 from the sky and they were landing on the beach around me. These guys got out wearing t shirts shorts and they had these cases and the sad pan of vision on the side you know this was out in the middle of nowhere and it turned out that they were there to film the the gosh what year was this?

Alex Ferrari 9:12
What this is not Hawaii 50

Russell Carpenter 9:15
No, it was not it was the Jessica Lange

Alex Ferrari 9:18
Oh King Kong.

Russell Carpenter 9:21
And I stayed. I watched this happen and it just kind of it was literally a sign of in the heavens and maybe I should get back and get back to California and do something and I I got a job at another public television station and after working there for a couple of years. I hooked up with a director, Tom Everhart who we were both tired of edifying people and he wanted to make a low budget or picture so he convinced this I would guess Call a an office furniture czar to to find our little movie if this fellow's life can be like the most prominent zombie in the movie, obviously, obviously, we had to have a plane crash, or the remnants of a plane crash in the in the movie, so we almost burned down somebody's backyard reading that. And then miraculously this little movie was was released not, you know, not like for like four days or something. Sure, sure. That gave me false hope. And I, I'm not far but move north of LA. And that's where the I wouldn't call it the starvation started. I think my false hope was just that false hope. And, and I, I was afraid. The My problem was I was just afraid to make phone calls, just just people. And I realized that lots of other people had had, well, at that time, we had 16 millimeter demo reels that we had to, you know, show the show to people and we would just, you know, put them in their hands and then we wait the two to three weeks it would take them to rapidly look at the real right. And it was it was a good experience for me I I just learned that not to be so afraid I was still mortified. Eventually what happened was a friend of mine that had been working with in documentaries and they moved up to LA and they were starting to do things and they would get me in on on interviews with things. And from there it was really you know, what I would call it was like a lightning fast 15 years.

Alex Ferrari 12:10
Overnight success.

Russell Carpenter 12:12
Yeah, overnight success 15 years of, you know, just waiting and waiting and waiting for the for the very next thing the cabinet. But in the meantime, what I was doing was i was i at that time again, it was like VHS tapes or beta tapes that I would watch the work of cinematographers that I really admired. And I watched these things backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards and and, and learn learn from that. That was kind of how I learned plus the little time I would have on the on the set and I was starting to do their dramatic form stop if you could call it that because it wasn't really dramatic. It was kind of schlock This is called like it was but shit. But it got me on a set. And that was the best experience. I I I could have and I just moved from zero budget to no budget to you know, you know, budget movies, and, and it was much harder to get into the union. So I just, I just kept doing this as I worked my way along.

Alex Ferrari 13:27
So yeah, so basically, you were just grinding it for 15 or 20 years until you started really getting some momentum built up for yourself.

Russell Carpenter 13:37
Yeah, and I would say I mean, to people who are who are in the same position, I just said, if there was one thing, besides learning as I went and really go into as many seminars as I could and and all that, for me, it it became just a matter of persistence and it in one way it was miserable. But waiting that in the other way I did have anything else I knew how to do so I kind of had to stick with us, you know, even when it just seemed like grimmer than grim. And so, so I But eventually, I got to the point where I said I think I can make a living at least doing the the independent films and and the other thing that happened was sometimes things would happen that were like sure seemed like sheer disaster, you know, and and they actually led to something were to a break. Like, for instance I I did four episodes, one two years before I was fired. Okay, why were you fired? Well, a couple reasons. One, I would walk you know, with it. I would walk into somebody's office, they say, oh, Russell, you know, I want to talk to you about one thing I said, you know, the the dailies, you know, the, the film, it's, it's just too bright, you've got to darken it down this, we don't want this to play as purely broad comedy. And I said, Well, I you know, I'm just thinking well I that's like the way I look at it, I don't know quite what they're talking about them. And then literally, like 10 minutes later somebody to wrestle I want to talk to you about it take me into the room, their room, and look, I looked at their TV set, and they say, this, this is this is the Wonder year, it's supposed to be brighter, your lighting mid to dark. And I mean, literally, oh my god. And I'm just saying, Oh, I don't think I'm long this this job. And also at that time, and I didn't really understand that. Well, the people ran the shows called show runners. They, they really wanted the DP to kind of tell the director what, what to do, because the directors would come in and they were at that time. TV I did like, TV traffic cops of a person who really ran the show was the showrunner and, and, and I was coming from the space of the directors, the boss, I want whoever he or she is, I'm serving that person. And that, and that did that really kind of for that show made me the wrong person for the job. So I got I got fired from that. I didn't know what to do. I was you know, I was doing in between I was doing like these odd job things for they hadn't been called man. Like it was a temporary employment agency called manpower. And that was and, and I would do jobs. Like one of the worst jobs I ever had. But it was enlightening was was I worked. I lasted half a day, I worked at this place. It was like this mom and pop, vegetable, liquid vegetable, vitamins or your plants.

Alex Ferrari 17:24

Russell Carpenter 17:25
I sat with about 20 other people in a room. And we went by hand, we put labels on these on like, cheese guy who would walk around and tell us, yeah, no, no, this guy will go to the right, you know, or speed it up or whatever. And it was the most mindless thing you've ever done. And I asked the guy next to me, I said, How long have you been here? And he said, five years. And that was an epiphany. The epiphany was wow, you know, there are probably millions of people in the world who have jobs. And, and, and however miserable, it seems at times I at least I have a job. And at least when I'm doing it, I really love it. And it just be me. I don't know, I didn't really get me over anything, except at least have an appreciation for the, for the job, or the job. And but, uh, but what happened was I did like after that show I had was really running out of money. I took a shot I was trying to get out of doing I was doing a lot of IBM C or z level for when we get this. Something that I'd really didn't want to do was pet cemetery too. And it was, but I haven't the greatest time and the people were great. The director was great. And one of the people who was in that was Eddie Furlong. And he had just he had just not too long ago. Then Terminator two. And, and yeah, he was very young. And so but and the people who were kind of his own tech guardians said, Oh, you know, something about you get along really well with Jim Cameron.

Alex Ferrari 19:23
So. So before we get to Jim, because I have a bunch of questions about about Titanic and your relationship with Jim, I want to take you back a little bit to one of your first films and I've just dying to hear what experience was like and what lessons you learned from shooting critters to the main course. Ah, well, let's see. Because I mean, that's the thing that a lot of people only see the Oscar they only see not from you. But generally when they see someone successful in the business, they only see the end result of 2030 years of grind.

Russell Carpenter 19:59
Yeah, and I That's what I have to say is that for all of that, I mean there are there there are a few cinematographers in the business who seem to you know, like, rise out out of the depths of the ocean. I mean, full blown cinematographers right, you know, Janusz Kaminski or or chivo

Alex Ferrari 20:25
Achievement yeah chivo Orville Moser one of these guys

Russell Carpenter 20:28
Oh, oh my god they're poorly formed You know? And they're they're like 14 years old. They're shooting you know, these these master pieces and I'm and why am I still on the bunny slopes of light you know just you know, grinding it out you know, that's dirty moolah. I don't know how the world works. But I do know that if you keep putting out the energy, eventually, I mean, thing, things, things happen. And I I, I had a great time with with critters too. And I and you're just trying to, you know, even though even though you're looking at your heroes in at that time, I was looking at people like guitarist urara. And I'm shooting critters to take something from run by here, oh, that I can apply to this and add it or try to make the the light a little more interesting. And yeah, so eat each, each thing you do is somehow putting a part of your personal camera together, because we all talk about the gear and stuff like that. But the real, the real gear is the real camera is the camera inside, the one that you're putting together that you'll be putting together for your whole life is that and, and anytime you get on a set on anything, it's just, it's just an excellent opportunity to, to not only develop the vision, but to learn how to develop the vision while things are falling apart. Because in a way on film sets, they always are. Because there's usually never enough time. There's usually I wouldn't call it the daily emergency but but a lot of things just don't happen. The way you imagined they might, especially when you're starting out because people that you're working with are have usually have about the same experience level that that one what as a young cinematographer, so I would just take these, these little things that I could do and maybe I will certainly wasn't every shot, but but I would say okay, at the end of the day, I could say that I did some terrific stuff with that shot or that shot that shot and, and so it wasn't it was never a situation where, oh, I felt that I'm a good good enough to wait for a script that was not the I that ideal never happened it was I had to eat, right? gotta pay the mortgage, what I did to get experience, and I think that that was one of the best person that I know who worked in a lab, he said you just said Do everything you can do, you know, to just do every everything you can do and that turned out the the way that that worked for me, it evolved I have and I have talked to cinematographers to say, No, I I will wait until I have a script that I think is worthy of being of shooting and that work that work for them. But I the I just I picked the path that I needed to pick out of necessity

Alex Ferrari 24:17
Basically. Now you so and during that time during the time you were doing a lot of horror movies like Nightmare Before nebera on Elm Street and the legendary puppet master which was one of my favorites I love that must have been such fun shooting puppet. Well I that I only did I did. Like conditional share digital stuff.

Russell Carpenter 24:40
At that time I would do anything that I could work either nightmare and I'm sorry that I mean those those spells were actually a lot. They were really a lot of fun. And they were done in basically warehouses out in the Santa Clarita Valley. Kind of, they say way off the grid. They were at, gosh, I forget what years these is this question of bending at users. That was 89. Yeah, yeah. 89 it was, again, it was much, much harder. But let's just say the union has really changed a lot. Now. Now I see the Union as as, as much more realistic in terms of their, their educational programs. And it's not like it's, it's not kind of like life and death just to get into the union. But at that time, it was it was, it was tougher. So those of us who needed a place to paint to do something, we were we, that was what we worked on things like getting a new line, the company that did that very nicely with a relatively new company. And this, this was a place that we could work. And then we also again on I also met other other cinematographers and filmmakers who I've known forever, my, my gaffer Levine, we met in the 80s. And we've been working together ever since. That's a long, long relationship

Alex Ferrari 26:21
Now. And then you also during that time, you started getting some more action work. And and you actually worked on some of my favorite action movies of the late 80s and early 90s. Like, the classic death warrant by junk lavonda. Perfect, perfect weapon. Hard target.

Russell Carpenter 26:38
Yeah. When I when I look back on the carpenter opens where it will be right, right up there, because you never had more than three word sentences for the started to say, you know, was it was it was, yeah, it was action. It was action. Yeah. And the oven. And about as mindless as they come. But yeah, again, I work in. And that was the thing. One is one thing leading to another is the director of death ward. I just like that Derek Reagan, his father, his father was going to do with this film, a Japanese sci fi movie that had at the time. a phenomenal budget. I think it was

Alex Ferrari 27:32
55 55 million bucks. I have. I'm looking at it right now. It's a monster budget for its day. It was sold a crisis, right. It was called Total crisis.

Russell Carpenter 27:41
And, and it turned out to be an unwatchable movie. But I did good work on that film, I was really happy with what I did. And so I went back and I collected bits and pieces, I got this and that. And then I went in and I basically retime the thing myself, use as my showreel. So here I have my whatever it is, okay, let's say $55 million, show real job. And I didn't know what to do with it. But so I had that I had something to show and as you go along, you just have to because because as a cinematographer, you can be the potential cinematographer that you want to be, but you have to show people that you're, in fact, validly a real cinematographer. So that's why it's even even if something that you do is the acting is bad or worse, but somehow, you you can cobble it together, skillfully, either yourself or whether they get the help of an editor. And you use that to show people but showing people something that you've done is that's absolutely paramount. They you you have that? So, yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 29:00
Now as far as there was one movie in that time period in the early 90s, a hard target, which was a big deal back in the day because it was john woos first American film, what was it like working with john and how did that that change because I know he was used to, I mean, I think hard boiled and the killer they shot in like 250 days or something like he just sat and just shot. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You didn't have that on hard target. How was that? That relationship to work with on that on that movie?

Russell Carpenter 29:42
That it was amazing. When john is is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and you go How is it that this guy is making the most violent movies are just mere are they're, they're clever. They're very, but you know, there's a lot of blood flying around,

Alex Ferrari 30:08
And dogs and doves, and and dum dum stuff stuff.

Russell Carpenter 30:14
First we've got we had our obligatory job. And it it, it was I know it was hard on john, in the sense that in America, he said, and he said this to me after the film he has he says one thing I've learned is that in America celebrity is everything. So he said celebrities, and at that time, you know, john Claude London was huge. And he said, and therefore they have a, they have a lot more input, not only in how things are shot sometimes, but especially how things are cut afterwards. And, and he said that, that was probably one of the reasons we we eventually went back and did some really great films back in China was that he was not used to dealing with the political culture in, in Hollywood. And it was not used to that I mean, really being the God on the set. Not that I'm not saying that in an egotistic No, no, no, I'm saying it in the sense that vision, it's the vision, yeah, record vision. And he said, if he wanted to do a big action scene with, um, you know, amazing action, he literally have hundreds of people who would want to do this crazy ass stuff, that that would be very hard to pull off in the United States, like, given the regulations that they have here, sir. But the, but that the experience of working with him was great, but also learning, the way that he shot was very different in terms of how action is staged in the United States, in the United States, you'll take your action and your take your moments, and you'll shoot in pieces, this piece in here, and then we move this piece in, it doesn't necessarily have to be shot in an order. JOHN would arrange his shots action, as though it was a kind of putting all the springs into a fine Swiss watch. And just every little piece of action would lead to another piece and flow into it. And, and so you, instead of doing all these little pieces, says he would do, he would make it more of a ballet and in make sense as a whole. But in order to do that, and this is where it it, it falls on the cinematographer who's working with with john is that he'll want to do it with seven or eight cameras, of course. And, and how you get one how you light for that. And, and then one how you how it's almost impossible to keep the other camera but shot, but somehow you do it. And so we would do these takes and we do it once or twice, and he would have it it might it might take us them, you know, several hours to set these things up. But once it happened, you just go, oh my god, this shot took us to this camera. And he then he knows that, okay, he's going to use two thirds of a second have this shot, which is going to take us to the other angle. And that may last three seconds, which will take us to the other angle. You know, it was really amazing.

Alex Ferrari 34:07
So then basically, instead of instead of doing seven or eight different setups, you would work really hard to get everything in one setup. But you basically have done you're done the scene are done that that sequence.

Russell Carpenter 34:19
Yeah. And it's it also it's harder on the stand people in the actor, because you have to make it look like every hit connected. And but it these things had an energy though, when they were cut together. That was really great. Yeah, so I learned not not only a lot about how to shoot for multiple cameras, but I also learned something about you know,

Alex Ferrari 34:50
Staging and editing and flow. Yeah, I mean, even hard target a few I mean, you watch Hard Boiled Do you watch the killer, and then you watch our target. You can tell he's handcuffed a bit. But yes, yeah, but but you can see the whoo come out.

Russell Carpenter 35:06
Yeah, yeah. You know? Yes. And some of the signature things that he liked to do he certainly, he certainly did those but, but but then you can also I've been so here, this is a jungle I know what it is and then you go back and you look at hardware, and they have a lot. I mean, there's a lot more going on those bells. Yeah, I mean, they're, they're amazing.

Alex Ferrari 35:33
No, they're master but they're masterpieces of action. I mean,

Russell Carpenter 35:37
There Yeah, there. Yeah, you go back and look at The Birdcage seeing

Alex Ferrari 35:43
The opening of hardboiled Oh my god.

Russell Carpenter 35:45
So yeah, just oh my god, what planet did this come from? I mean, it's, they're, they're really amazing film. So. Yeah. So. So that was a great experience.

Alex Ferrari 35:57
So So you were starting to talk about how you and Mr. Cameron got together. You were saying that you met. You worked with Eddie Furlong after Terminator two. And as people said, Hey, you would work well with Jim.

Russell Carpenter 36:08
Yeah, at the time he was. Jim wanted to do a wanted to do an independent film of

Alex Ferrari 36:18
A drama. Yeah, that drama that he wanted to do a thriller or something like that he wanted to do I heard about that.

Russell Carpenter 36:23
Crowded room, this this. This is a famous film that's ever been made about the life of a person who had like 15, or six school personalities. And it's been around Hollywood for I don't know, Eon. And somehow it's never gotten made, but he wanted to do that. And so, Eddie's people and also some other people who knew me, I guess suggested to Jim, that he should meet me, I got we, there was a party at the end of at the end of pet cemetery, too. And I think he came to that we talked for a little while I like, you know, I was, I probably had the life force at the time. Like, I have a piece of wood or something, you know, just and then it was weird, because because after that, I was I was in Louisiana, in New Orleans with john Woo. Do because that, well, that film fell apart. Right? I but what I did do was I did show my $55 million sample.

Alex Ferrari 37:39
Amazing, real amazing sample real.

Russell Carpenter 37:41
Yeah. And he liked it. And but the film fell apart, because I was like, well, that's okay. So I didn't, you know, I just go back to while doing the Jiwoo film. And it's really weird. I got this phone call from his producer while I was there. And said, she said, what, when you get back to town, I want you to have lunch with Jim Cameron, he has his project we'd like to talk to you about. So and this is before the internet. So my crew and I start to get every copy of variety that we can possibly get. And I'm getting through these varieties trying to see what what he has, because in my mind, I'm thinking he's got a little documentary or he's got something something little project that he needs this.

Alex Ferrari 38:37
This is and this is the conference, this is that that's the phone call that at that point in, in, in Hollywood history. And so this point as well, you get that calls, like hey, Jim Cameron wants to meet you about a project. I'm assuming that's a really big deal.

Russell Carpenter 38:50
Well, it was a big deal. But I couldn't put my I couldn't put my I couldn't put the rustle. I knew up to that point. in the same room. Oh, and it's a it's a big feature. So I'm looking through these things. And all I can see is Oh, he's doing something with Arnold Schwarzenegger called True Life. And I go right past that. Of course. That's not what we're talking about here. That could be free.

Alex Ferrari 39:18
But you could even believe that you would be even up for that situation. Yeah, but when I got back, exactly. And when I got back and called, call this producer up there, and lunch was set up. And again, it was surreal. We were in near his house in in Malibu, and we're sitting down at Tony's two burner. Yeah, I guess that's what it was called. And he starts talking about this film and it's in my head is kind of exploding. I can't believe he's talking about this. Phil. Right. And this is this is how Jim hi Somebody, so we're you know, so he's starting to talk about the film. And he's talking about this and this. And like halfway through the conversation, he says, he starts using the word we. And it says, and then when we get to Washington are these kinds of problems, you know, and then after that, you got to go there, and we've got to be ready to do that. And I'm, and I'm sitting there, you know, like a dog. Here, I can't even understand. I'm looking at it. But I can't understand. surreal, completely surreal. It was totally surreal. And so we have lunch, and I leave, and I and I call him my agent. And I say, because by that time, I had an agent, I said, I think I was just hired to do this big picture. And he called me back two days later, and she says, Yeah, you knucklehead, you know, yes, you were hired to do fulfill. And, and then it That, that, I guess, of course, that opened the gym camera. Light. And it was very interesting, because of the pre production went really, really well. You know, and I just felt like, of course, I felt like I had a lot to prove and stuff like that. And, and then, and then we started filming and and that that went really well to was go, Oh, my God, and just never let this happen yourself. Because this is what I did. I said, Well, I don't know what because I had heard stories about other cinematographers. That worked with him, and they were good stories. I don't know. Maybe Maybe I'm the person who cracked the code? No. Let's go so well. And so all those legendary James Cameron stories, at least on True Lies didn't happen.

Russell Carpenter 42:03
They didn't have that up until about the fourth weekend. And this story I tell a lot, because it's it's it has something to do with persistence, I guess. And also something to do with the fact that, that sometimes you've got to develop a skin a tough enough skin that, you know, that he realized that it's not about you, when I went out on plenty of interviews was turned down plenty of times and you know, you're kind of in the same boat that an actor is, well, you're going to meet with a lot of rejection, and you just cannot take that personally. Just go back. Just keep doing your thing. And hoping that the next thing comes along when it eventually it will maybe not as fast as you wanted it. But there it is. But so we we were he had been watching everything on the on the web that time on the cam video. Yeah. And so now we're in a, we have a screening one night, it's the first time we're in a theater, in the gyms the screening room. Is there about 40 people in there, they're all department heads. When we're, the film starts to roll. And we're watching a scene in a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger has just returned from his first mission met, he was up in the snow. And he he returns home and he goes over into the room where Jamie Lee Curtis is sleeping goes over, looks at himself in a mirror as he takes up his wedding, or you know, or something like that. And so that shot comes on. And it's it's a little dark, and I think I'm gonna have to have them do a reprint on this printed up a few points. And all of a sudden I look over at Jim who's sitting beside me. And he's just sitting there shaking his head. Jim, Jim, what's wrong? And now he says loud enough. So I'm sure everybody in the room says he says, I have the highest paid actor in this or any parallel universe. Let's see as I can. Tim, well, I'll just print out three points. I think everything is okay. So no, you print this scene up three points and you ruin the mood of the scene. And that loud enough for everybody to hear. So I you know, from then on, I just want to die because as he waited the wait a couple more minutes. And then he'd say something about you know, as shattered come up that was maybe a little overexposed. And you'd say Where on earth did you learn to read the light? Oh, louder. You know, and, and so on. That I endured like three more comments like this. And literally, before they turned on the lights, and you know, before the light was all the way up, I think I was out of that room. I just ran out, you know, and I, I was out, I went out to the parking lot, I called my wife and I said, Well, I, you know, I had my run with Jim Cameron, I toured, this was my last day, I guess, aliens were horrible, blah, blah, blah. And I look up and there's the first assistant director, and the, and then one of the producers and they're just smiling at me. They're laughing. Right? And I go, What? What? And and they just say, you know, he does that to everyone? And I said, No. and No, he said, just call. You know, they said, he gave me a name of a couple of other signal companies that just call him. You know, talk to them about this. I did, I talked to Mikhail Solomon and the best thing. He said, What did he use the line about? You know, where on earth? Did you learn to your baby, say, his grandmother could shoot better than this? Or, you know? And I said, Yeah, and that. I said, Okay, I know, I really have to have this credit. And I'm going to stick it out. And there were days that would go fly. And there were days that just felt like somebody hooked me up to two high voltage wires, and I was being electrocuted for the entire day, you know, until they called wrap. And that was my that. That was realize that was true lies. And that that was if there was ever a trial by fire picture that was that was it? For sure.

Alex Ferrari 46:55
I mean, you hear I mean, I mean, I studied Jim's career fairly closely in the abyss, I mean, one of the one of the craziest experiences of all time, and you hear all these stories about him and I. And you know, I actually knew some people who worked on Avatar and how he changed over time, but yet still very, very, Jim. But so I wanted to ask you about working with what has changed over time. I've heard he's, I heard and this is just again, from secondhand. I've heard he's softened a bit. He's not as like he would be back in the prior before Titanic stage. But he's still Jim. Yeah.

Russell Carpenter 47:37
About Well, when the thing about Jeremy, is whenever he gets an opportunity to work with them, or maybe somebody like him, who's coming along, is that there's a singularity of vision and almost a laser like concentration on the scene that he's doing. I mean, I've never seen anybody concentrate, like, and I've never seen anybody working harder than he does on the set. I mean, it's, it's amazing. I mean, how can somebody be that invested second after second, you know, because the rest of the rest of us mortals seem to say, Okay, I just did that. Now, I've got a chance to take a breath, maybe I'll just go over to the craft service table and do this. That doesn't seem to be Jim, to me. He is, I mean, there's, in terms of pure devotion, to what he's doing. I've never seen another person like him. And my experience, and, and that's, that's really something and he. And my sense about him is that every time he does a project, he goes out and says, There's something I don't know how to do. But it's something I've never done, you know, with True Lies, it's why I've never really shot, you know, a comedy, you know, so I'm going to do a comedy, or, you know, or Now, here's Titanic. And I'm going to make, I need to make a film that not only succeeds as an action film, but I've got to make a film that totally succeeds. As a love story, are the actions not going to mean very much. And so he he's, he said, he says, Well, I don't know how to do this film net and finish that Suzanne attitude and and, you know, he I don't think he expects everybody to be perfect, but I think I know he expects everybody we're doing the absolute best job. They can that they know how to do now. And that's that's saying a lot. And I mean, I think for the storms that come up, when they do come up, if you learn not to take them personally and know this is you This is this is gonna last another minute, and then it's back to work, then then then you have a chance of not having a nervous breakdown.

Alex Ferrari 50:11
And some people and some people just can't handle that some people take it too personally and then this business, I think is one thing I've learned over the years is, you can't take it personally, a lot of times, you just can't you got to move on.

Russell Carpenter 50:22
No, you can't take it personally. And then on the other hand, especially as a director of photography, you need to so if there's eggs on the SAT, you also need to develop the skills that you're not the main source of that. Or you're doing something to, you know, okay, we all know that things have to be done. They have to try to do them in a certain time. But you, I think I would, really starting out, I would mistake my passion. When I say, Oh, this is just passion. But you know, in some ways, I look back at him and say, Well, that wasn't passion, you were just being an asshole.

Alex Ferrari 51:08
There's that,

Russell Carpenter 51:09
Yeah, you can learn to have that passion. And this took a long time to learn, you can learn to have that passion, and also have a roaring good time, because you're doing one of the best, you're in a position of having one of the best jobs, at least I think that anybody can have.

Alex Ferrari 51:26
Now, when when working with a director, that's so hands on, like, what advice would you give? What advice would you give to a cinematographer who has a very hands on director, meaning that he's very involved with the visual look of the film and how his shooting, he might even tell you a little bit of like, I want this here, because that because a lot of times, you know, with Jim, and I talked to Mr. Cameron, he's obviously a very technical director, and he really knows a lot about what you're doing and pretty much about what everybody else

Russell Carpenter 51:56
Is doing on the set. And as as probably often quoted, it helps me he'll, he'll tell people that that he knows. And, and the whole miserable aspect of that is that is probably right.

Alex Ferrari 52:11
Correctly, when you're working with a genius, it's like a fear

Russell Carpenter 52:14
And I, I wouldn't put Jim in that category of being a genius. I do. I think he, I think, because you at one point you go, how can somebody who's so technical into a movie that's also has so much imagination, and and the way he paints and how he how, with his camera angles and the structure, the structure of his script, he sets up a totally immersive experience, you know, and that is that they have that technical side and that that, that artistic side all firing, you know, on, on all all cylinders, you know, they're they're all work. Although, you know, that doesn't happen with Jim you, you know, and I guess in my personality, makeup I, I'm a pleaser. And I do I am that person who says this is the director's vision, how can I help this director with his or her vision? board? And so you go in. So there's Jim on one end of the spectrum, who is just happy to set up and, and frame every, every camera, you know? And, you know, what, like, a titanic. It's interesting, like, as a cinematographer, I had, I had the freedom to do things the way that I thought they should be done, but if I wasn't doing what he wanted, he would definitely let me know.

Alex Ferrari 53:59

Russell Carpenter 53:59
When he would say, No, no, I want that's not it, I want this. Or, or I think the light here should be hard or something like that.

Alex Ferrari 54:09
Or he literally would get that detailed, like no, I this needs to be it's like almost like a Kubrick in that sense that has such a complete control of the vision that if he doesn't see you doing what he wants, he will push you or nudge you in the proper direction, according to his vision.

Russell Carpenter 54:26
But I also tell directors that I know don't have those chops, you know, they're wonderful people who have come from lighting or some other and especially now it's much much easier with digital light. Look, if you see something that that that for some reason doesn't work for you. Just Just tell me and I and you know, and unless it's something really good I really don't agree with that. But I'm I'm just said, Okay, well, yes, I can do this a little different. And let's see, if you enter, you know, in a second, I'll come back and say that that's right that it's it's not so much technical, it's just something, it's you. It's story driven, most people. So as a cinematographer, you go, okay, on films, there are lots of things that are the same. But I've always found every single film to be different. And a lot of that has to do with how you work with a with a director, I did a lovely film in India called parch. Very low. And the director was fantastic. We really never really, after she called me what, where she felt the heart of the story was or, or, or this particular scene. We didn't really talk about lighting, we, and she, and in this situation, I was I would suggest blocking, I would say, okay, given what I just saw, we could do it this way, this way, in this way. And because we're on a budget, I know if we do it, we'll do it this way we tell the story. And it, we just shave a couple shots off the scene. Because we're doing it more efficiently. So So as a cinematographer, you can be a service in to any kind of director that you're working with. But again, with if it's a Jim Cameron, we know that they're going to have lots of input about things that other directors may not care a bit about. It's very, very flexible, busiest that way.

Alex Ferrari 56:41
So let's talk a little bit about that little film Titanic. That is, you know, we've heard legendary stories about, you know, stories from the set, I knew a few actors on the on the set that have told me a lot of stories. I mean, at the time, it was the biggest budget film in American and filmmaking history, and Hollywood history. I mean, you basically had every toy you ever wanted as a cinematographer. on set, I'm imagining Can you can you tell me what it was like working on a film of that size? And also that magnitude, because everybody in the world was looking at that movie and looking how it would finish and how it would end?

Russell Carpenter 57:23
Or, or a lot of the work, what we'll say, Are your younger listeners who certainly are grieving that the film was such a phenomenon when it was being made. There was actually on the front of variety, I think, there was a there was an outline box with called Titanic watch, because I thought this thing was going to be just a just ghastly flop, because it was the most expensive movie at the time. And there, there were, occasionally there would be setbacks, because things were being tried that had never been tried before. Right. And also it was it was what I call a a very special movie, in that it was a hybrid movie, in the sense that a lot of its heart and soul was with the David lean epics, you know, Ryan's or Dr. Zhivago, or, you know, the, the, those big films had had a beating heart like that. And yet, it was, it was, it was using, technically, it was using some very, very old techniques. And at the same time, it had, the other foot was distinctly in the future, in terms of being done with computer, probably cutting edge at that time, you know, when, when the film was in pre production, they hadn't really worked out a really viable way to make realistic ocean water.

Alex Ferrari 59:17
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Russell Carpenter 59:28
There were two, two things that I would read in the paper is because now it's good. It wasn't just the trades, it was the LA Times. One was that things were unsafe on the set. And that is not true. That week, we had sometimes safety meetings that would last up to an hour because we had an international crew. So you had to you had to do all the safety notes and in English or Mandarin In Spanish, because we were in Mexico, and then we had a lot of Hungarian stunt people. So, so but but safety was was really, really at the top of everybody's agenda. And Jim Carrey is definitely not well, you know, people are expendable kind of thing. So whatever, somebody cracks or rip breaks a leg. That wasn't, I didn't. And the other thing was, well, they're just, they're just down there every day figuring out how to throw gold bullion into the water, this thing is so expensive, you know. And that wasn't the case, either, you know, people would come down from the studios and try and figure out how to make things be less expensive, and they weren't coming up with you solutions either. In fact, in fact, the thing was, the film was so big, it was hard for anybody to get a get a handle on it. And when I came down, the first time I went down there, where it was before to Rosarito Beach. The studio had really been built, it was a work in progress. And there was an excitement about it, it was, it was like, well, this is how the Gold Rush was, you know, buildings coming up, like, you know, crazy in days, I would go, I was actually working on another movie at the time, this was happening. So I'd come down on the weekends. And, and it's like, every weekend, there's another big building just came up. And there's a there's the tanks are being built. And it was really quite a sense of excitement about it. And then but what happened was, you know, on a, on a regular film, you have a sense of where everything fits in. And here are the pieces and you can look at the film as a totality. This film was just so big. We just had to look at it. I do week, and it was you're constantly putting out one fire after another. Oh, this says it This isn't ready. You know, it's like, let me just adjust. For example, my john Buckley was my gaffer on that, that picture, he went out as a ship was being built, and he was trying to figure out what how to table something. The Titanic is basically the whole thing is a just a huge piece of scaffolding, I mean, a huge piece of scaffold on water. Yeah, well, but, but yeah, but not much of the ship was ever in, in water. I mean, that's part of the illusion that they the tank parts, most of the tank was just three feet deep, just just deep enough. So a lifeboat could be in the water. And, and you'd have like three inches of clearance at the bottom of the water. You know, it's kind of like being at Disneyland that way. And so it was easy to move the lifeboats around, and then much closer to the ship. That then the tank was dug much deeper so people could jump off the side of the ship and not land in three feet of water. They had to you know, have these 2020 feet deep there. And I mean, it was this crazy. Let's just, you know, and this this podcast would go way too long.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:33
No, no, no, please. No, we're fine. We're fine.

Russell Carpenter 1:03:35
How people figured this out, I mean, how things were scheduled. The ship itself, and a lot of the sets were basically engineered the same way. cemeteries engineer, lighting a coffin into the hole, you have cables under the, let's say you have holes into the coffin, and then the punches you unwind the winches, and the the cable or straps loosen, and they they start to take the weight of the coffin and it drops into the hole. That is the same thing that was the same thing as how that huge ship was. was dropped, right. And also we had sets that had to be dry in in her run seamless eight, say take that giant dining room with those lights in there. We shot our dry scenes and then a month or two later came back and shot the web scenes. And we were in a that dry set was actually built inside a tank. So now filled up with water. And we have to change all of the lights out because they're going to go under water and they have to stay lit because that's what happened with the lights on the Titanic. So So now you're into all kinds of logistical things. So to make it look like the water is rising, with one end of the set would be lowered on straps until the water started to creep in, and then the rest of the set would be lowered to make it look like the water was rising at a pretty fast rate. And then then you end the take, and you go back to one, but going back to one

Alex Ferrari 1:05:26
Can reset everything,

Russell Carpenter 1:05:28
Reset everything. And there were times that the set would go into the water and there's chaos happening. You've got hundreds of people and and all that all the silverware all the table claws, they start to float around, and we're talking, you know, what, 100 tables or something like that. They're floating everywhere. So resetting is not an easy thing. And that that was just kind of the story of all the amazing takes at the end of the, at the end of the movie where the ship's going down and hundreds of people are running up and down. The the ship, that was probably the last film for real when you saw 300 people running up and down now, right? Because four years later, you'd have one not even that long. You along comes Peter Jackson with Lord of the Rings, and he's got 1000s of orcs or whatever running around. And they're all they're all computer driven. And so. So Titanic was really that that movie that made the push out of out of what we call the more classic kind of filmmaking. So how about how did you shoot?

Alex Ferrari 1:06:46
Like, how do you shoot a film of that size, like just on a technical standpoint, that the mass amount, how big was your camera department?

Russell Carpenter 1:06:55
That would depend on what we were shooting, we started off with the smaller, smaller scenes. And we'd have one or two cameras. And that was when we go along that way for a while. And then when we got to the really big stuff that's well for the cinematographer. And for everybody, that's when the craziness happens is you've got Jim would say, Hey, you know what, let's go outside tonight, I want to see the whole ship. And and we're going we weren't even scheduled to do this for like three more days, we're not even sure that we can get everything up and running. Because this is going back to how when you talk about the immensity we wound up with something like 40 miles of cable inside the ship. And the ship, when you go around. When you look to the other side. All it is is it's scaffolding. scaffolding. And once I have it has what looks like a ship on it. And then only the two top decks of the ship are built along the real ship. They end with smokestacks and stuff like that. And so, again, back to my gaffer, when we're talking about the immensity of things, he says, he comes back one day and he says, well, we're going to start out with we need we need 1500 lights. And yeah, that's what I

Alex Ferrari 1:08:32
What kind of lights are we talking about? Like lights, lights, like film lights?

Russell Carpenter 1:08:37
He said, Well, I counted, we counted the portholes, we've got 750 portholes, we need, we need what we call a visible light that the camera can see, that looks like it should belong there. And then we want a we should have at least a 1k pointed out of every port home. Okay, and so so we've done we've done the portholes and we're up to 1500 lights. So he starts to put his list together. And he goes to 20/20 Century Fox. And, and john gets a little letter back a little note that it's very, it's a very nice note, but the subtext is you're insane. You don't know what you're doing. We're going to send down some people who are going to help you figure out how many lights you need. Okay, they do that. So they go up so they go out with john. This is in pre production. Yeah, what? They come back at the end of the day. guys say you don't have enough lights, you need more light. And they were right. And I have to hand it to 20th Century Fox. They found lights they went to warehouse They fed, you know, and they they refurbished a bunch of, of lights. Because at the end of the day, you have just you have those 1500 lights just for the portholes you have and a lot of them have to be sealed there has to go underwater right. And then you have all the lights and all the sets for the whole movie. And I now the number is slipping my mind but we had a phenomenal amount of lights not only decorative lights but lights that we had to use ranging from everything from the the huge lights that kind of like the ship at night to, to everything we needed to make the movie because because you can't you have to have your lights hidden clustered, because you can't just say, Oh, I need a five can move it from the stern to the bow, which is 800 feet away. You know, that's not going to work. So so it should john Buckley's credit. I mean, it was just an enormous undertaking to do this. And but the number of lights was in the 1000s of cable, the cabling for this thing which looked like I call it said like if you ever saw that movie, Brazil by Terry Gilliam it looked like a Terry Gilliam version of company in the 50s. I mean, it was a complete cluster, whatever of of cabling and how it all stayed on, I'll never know. And, and, and it was, it was a constant battle. Because Because lights, you know, they your life and they go off, you know, right?

Alex Ferrari 1:11:54
That's 1500 my mind hurts, my brain is hurting thinking about trying to keep track of a shot because there was no high end visual, I guess they could have done something visual effects but, but like you want 1500 like 700 and something portals, you're in the middle of a shot, one of the lights goes out, like,

Russell Carpenter 1:12:10
Oh, my God. And boy, we learned our lesson the first night because we I mean, we had a lot of people back there be, you know, in the scaffolding area, but it because it was the first night and I think we were shooting a couple days earlier. Like john would see some lights go out or worse, Jim would see some lights. And I said one of those lights doing that. And and you'd look over and you hadn't noticed I mean, oh my god. Yeah. And so john would say get somebody down to so and so and so and so and this is God's honest truth. So somebody would run back there. And, and eventually, you'd see the lights go on. And then about three minutes later, we'd hear you know, this is so and so I'm down here, I don't know where I am, I can't find my way out, you know, with some of these beats coming at me because I'm you know, I'm really starting to get nervous, you know, realize that we would have to play a zone system from then on and the same person, we put everything in quadrants. So like, going up, you had level you you'd have level, you know, ABC, you know, all the way to wherever it was. And then and then horizontally, you'd have a number. So every every quadrant and we'd have the same person organize this is work the same fairly small quadrate Night after night, because that is that was the only way we could do this efficiently. But it that that looking back now it seems funny, but when you're waiting when the directors Wait, it wasn't so

Alex Ferrari 1:13:55
I mean, it's it's it's honestly, it's a miracle that no one got hurt.

Unknown Speaker 1:14:00
Yeah, I think in construction, somebody's done. Oh, really? Yeah. And we did have let's see, some somebody else got hit by a car walking along the road down there. That was That wasn't on the set. Right. And, and then that we had one big night that had been rehearsed for weeks where they that at the end of the at the end of the movie that the stern of the ship goes near vertical. Yes. People start falling down. And this was a they were what they were falling down into was a bunch of stunt pads covered in green. So we could extend the the tissue make it look longer. And they had it all worked out. So the timing so one person would fall and they were when I say fall they were all on these things. These descender rig the Senator Pan rig It would slow the fall down if it's still look real, but it would, you know, they were literally falling or under control, but they had to get out of the harness and then jump out of the pad, you know, not get out of the harness but disconnect. But on the first two takes in the, in the excitement of it all. Like, some people weren't getting out of the way. So the next person down, like somebody cracked a rib. And Jim just said, Hey, we're not doing this anymore. So more people submit it's going to really get hurt. And so we came back later, and they're really significant falls. They were done by

Alex Ferrari 1:15:46

Russell Carpenter 1:15:47
CG Yeah, CG base based on a real person doing a call it that then became a CG person. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:55
He was cutting edge, because there was nothing like that. At that point. There was nothing like that at that point.

Russell Carpenter 1:15:59
Yeah. And if you look back at it now, you know, you could Yeah, you can pick certain things apart and go, but that person is not quite Rocky. Right. That must have been Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:09
My favorite. My favorite spoof or the biggest mistake I've saw in Titanic if I could be so bold as to call something out was when Jack's running down the hall while the waters rushing behind them him rose. And you see the face that they plant they face replaced the stun people. And you can that's the the only really like blaring visual effects shot. I was like,

Russell Carpenter 1:16:32
Yeah, that that that was the one where, you know, he really tried to make that work. And I guess, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:40
He pushed the technology too far.

Russell Carpenter 1:16:42
Yeah. And now crazy plate. placement is is common place. But at that time.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:51
Now there's one. There's one more question about Titanic I had. And this is a I've read an American cinematographer magazine article years ago that I think you gave about the wide shot of the ship sinking into the water that the bulbs because they were hot. The bulbs on the actual deck not like film, movie movies, lights, but actual lights. practicals would hit the water and they would pop. So then after you would reset, you would have someone go in there and have to re unscrew and screw back in new lights. Is that true? Or is that something some truth here,

Russell Carpenter 1:17:24
That timing on all of those scenes where that started out, basically looking dry and then sinking into the water timing was of the essence, because let's just take the dining room, dining room, when we shot all the dry, the dry for dry seems like dinners and stuff like that, basically normal lives. But when that same set was waiting to sink into the water, all the bulbs had to be enclosed in a glass fitting, they had to be watertight, because as soon as water hit any of these bolts, they would explode. Yeah. Also, if they just stayed on, eventually, the heat would build up inside that airtight container. And it would explode because of the heat. So what we had to do was I mean, and again, because we had so many people in the scenes, we would work and work and work and rehearse, rehearse and rehearse, get our hunger camera set up, then you would do and this is this is just common thing, especially with with sinking, you'd have to do a set search with divers joline set was nothing or and there was nobody down there who had been left behind somebody who hadn't heard the we're gonna shoot, you got it. So that would be time consuming, too. So awesome. So you're looking at another 20 minutes, just to do that. Then the real action once you call action, the real action has to happen within a minute and a half. Because as soon as you roll cameras with the lights come on you roll cameras, and then you know that about a minute and a half from now, these lights have to be underwater or they're going to explode. So that's that's the timing issue of it all is there was this kind of this one and a half or two minute drill, that thing had to happen so that the lights would go underwater but inevitably if you So let's just say let's just say 100. Lights. Okay, you got to take two, seven of those lights have gone out. So we had a team that would run in, grab those lights and then replace them with lights that were working. That part didn't take us because we were prepared for that, that it will take as long as it you know, it might have Wow.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:24
Now what? And I know you've given me so much of your time today, Russell, thank you so much. I have a few more questions if you're if your game. You're alright. What is the biggest lesson you learn from shooting Titanic? Because that is it was unlike a an experience that most cinematographers will ever have.

Russell Carpenter 1:20:43
Yes. In fact, my crew who worked with me for a long time, he said, Yeah, gee, Ross, when are we ever going to do the big movie? And

Alex Ferrari 1:20:54
Be careful what you wish for?

Russell Carpenter 1:20:55
Yeah, yeah, that's right after typing. The end of the day, the last the last day, called wrap and instead of a big movie. Yeah, people like zombies just wandered to the parking lot and got into their cars and drove away. Broke, broke, broken, broken souls, broken spirits. Yeah, yeah. That's the biggest lesson was on a on a film like that that gave you you can't be overwhelmed by trying to gobble up the whole experience all at once. If then you'd never start, you just know. For me, it was, okay, I've got the scene, I'm going to do the best I can on this scene this day. And I know I've got a group of really good people who are working on the sets that we're going to shoot, you know, a week from now or two weeks from now. Just to really just hang in there. And, and do do your very best that you can with what's in front of you. And that was the only way I got through.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:09
Yeah, cuz if you try to get right, if you try to eat the entire cake, you'll never get through, you have to take it bite by bite, slice by slice day by day. Yeah. Now, what's the biggest mistake you see young cinematographers make?

Russell Carpenter 1:22:27
Well, because because I've seen a lot of really great young cinematographers. And I don't know what, what what else is happening. I think, gosh, the only thing I think is that there were there was a value in shooting film, and that you really had to know, your stuff, what, what you can do with exposure. And the only thing that I'm hearing from the lab is that, that sometimes people shoot, thinking that they can fix everything in when they when they get into the, you know, the post production process. And they, you know, and I can't say that I've seen because I've never seen that, but the labs have, and they say, we don't, these people will know that their film could look so much better. If they really paid attention to the lighting of this actress or this actor. That and, and, and, and try to do as much of the work on the day long while you're shooting. And then also know, also, because you have a very good, then if you have a very good sense of what can be done and should be done in post, you can say, You know what? That wall over there is too bright right now. But I know it's going to take me 15 minutes to fix that now. And I can do it in 30 seconds in post, you can just in that kind of knowledge that would be a big, big help.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:07
All right. That's it. That's very, very good advice. Now, what would you do on a business standpoint? But film business standpoint? What advice would you give a cinematographer wanting to break into the business?

Russell Carpenter 1:24:21
Well, besides the thick skin and, and knowing, hey, you've got to be in this for the long run. Those are the first two things. I I there's so many things, just learning to work with people. That's such a because lots of people are really good at what they they they do, and they're not good. At the people end of it, I would I would say the cinematographer even though you just want to be an artist, the cinematographer has to be an artist of course, but a scientist enough enough to Know what the camera that he or she is working with, can do what it's capable of, you also have to be a manager because as you go along, you're going to have to start to manage how, how your, your, what your your people, your weapons are, how they're position, you know, terms of who's, who's doing what, so you're getting the most efficient use of them. And then and then a politician, a politician. And I mean, not, not the smarmy sense of every often thing. But it is a political business. When when I shoot a test with inaccurate, inaccurate part of what I'm doing there, I mean, the screencast is not only not only learning what I need to know, but really imparting to that actor or actress that I will have their best interest at heart I want to make politically, I want them to be comfortable, you know, that. set for them, it's going to be a safe place where they can do their best work. So there's that politic, political in the sense that somebody did a bonehead thing. We did a bonehead thing and instead of yelling at them know, people make mistakes. This person was trying to do their best job vile people as if the biggest issue I have is that I know somebody who's very competent, and they're just not trying that, that's a big issue for them. That, that so So anyway, there are so many things you've got to be able to do and make make our while while catastrophe is happening around you. That's the other thing. Those. So, in a nutshell, those I pay attention.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:55
Now, I'm actually the last few questions that I asked all my guests. Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career? Oh, these are? These are heavy questions. I don't even know. An answer to right. Well, I didn't know I don't have an answer. All right, well, then we'll move on to the next question. It's okay. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in life or in the film business?

Russell Carpenter 1:27:37
In life and the film business, because it seems like whatever whatever we choose to do in life, there are there lessons that that were here, it seems to me, we have to learn. And when is say as passionate as I am, or as fast as I want to go or whatever, as good as I want the picture to look, I have to have empathy for what anybody on the set is going through. I mean, I think developing empathy that it's somebody might be at work, and they might be coming up a very, very troubled to us home life. Or, or they're working and we haven't maybe they're they're working with a with some injury that's healing or, or just that I could say something. I don't think it happens much now. But I could certainly see it happening earlier on. You say something that's meant to be a joke. And yet it cuts to the quick with somebody and and you just have to hit just trying to again have the empathy of what it's like to be another person on the set. Works. Happy having to work with me what what is that experience like? So

Alex Ferrari 1:29:02
The excellent excellent answer. And what are three of your favorite films of all time? Oh, my God, and pick anything that comes to mind? Okay,

Russell Carpenter 1:29:12
Yes, for the look of it read searching for Bobby Fischer because I love the story. I love the way it was shot. Oh god there's so many

Alex Ferrari 1:29:28
Searching searching for Bobby Fischer is such a that is like a DPS movie. Isn't it? The what he did? And the name I'm sorry, please forgive me the name. Oh, yes, Conrad Hall. What he did with like he was shooting with mirrors. And he was what he did in that movie for cinema on a cinematography standpoint is remarkable, right?

Russell Carpenter 1:29:47
Yeah. And just the guts that it took to do some of the things that he did and had but how beautiful that one look. And not and how it was shot. My camera was placed because a lot of the time That we really are putting yourself in the place of this very young, young I guess, like 11 years old chess and, and that was good. Oh god, there's so many more films and I you know, red shoes which a lot of people? Yes, Red Shoes is just I to me I thought that was a stunning, stunning film and a marvel of the Technicolor process and I probably got 100 100 more probably. Right now right here. That's what comes to mind.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:34
And last question. What was it like winning the Oscar?

Russell Carpenter 1:30:40
I have been asked that. And I think it's a shirt for me. It was really weird. I thought when I found out it's all about the dress, you know. But if my wife's dress when she was great aware, but it was at that point I was not. I think I was so serious. I didn't really allow myself to feel the joy, the kind of kick in the pants that that must be. It the end. What happened was I won the Oscar. And within eight hours later, I was in the hospital. I various night, I passed a kidney. And I didn't pass but I had a kidney stone in such agony.

Alex Ferrari 1:31:34
So you really couldn't you couldn't relish in the achievement.

Russell Carpenter 1:31:38
Yeah, yeah. So it was like, Yeah, but it's really weird. Like, right now I feel like I'm enjoying what passes for a career as a much, much more I would have been much, much more fun on the set appreciating a lot more. And, and and I have, I would say a little bit or maybe maybe a considerable about more of tranquillity. Because early on, I was just so nervous about, you know how things were going or not going in. Now I I look back and I say Yeah, well, like right now I'm going through a period where nobody seems to be calling. And now I'm going through a period where too many people have called on it, or whatever. Right? That's, I just say, I can take what's kind of on the plate with more ease than I did before.

Alex Ferrari 1:32:39
Russell, I want to thank you so much for your time and amazing stories and amazing advice. You're giving our listeners, thank you again, so much for being here.

Russell Carpenter 1:32:50
Okay, well, thank you very much.

Alex Ferrari 1:32:52
That interview does not disappoint. Russell again, is so amazing. And thank you, Russell, so much for taking the time out. I know, you're literally just got back from Bali and heading over to Vancouver and you had two days to rest. And you took an hour and a half of that time to speak to me. So thank you again. And I hope you guys got a lot out of that interview. You know, it was just such a thrill for me to sit down and talk to Russell and to pick his brain about his process and his first hand experience of working on some of the biggest movies of all time working with the biggest directors and filmmakers of our generation. So it was such a pleasure and humbling experience doing this so I hope you guys got a lot out of it. I know I did. I got really jacked up and really inspired and kind of start shooting again. But there'll be more on that later. But anyway, guys, thanks again for listening. If you want to see anything we talked about in the show, head over to our show notes at indie film hustle.com forward slash 179. This is a long one, so I'll keep it short. Keep that hustle going keep the dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




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